Yes, the new book is still coming, and I need your help! It still doesn’t have a title (more on that later) and has one scene left to be written, but it’s time to start sharing the early chapters because the publication date is December 2. Yay! This is the high-angst plot bunny where Elizabeth is engaged to someone Darcy cares about deeply. Yes, I absolutely promise a happy ending for Elizabeth and Darcy, and I won’t kill anyone off to get it.
If you haven’t yet read it, please read the first chapter which I posted some time ago first! It’s brief, but it contains crucial information. Today’s chapter starts two weeks prior to that, giving the background on how this terrible situation came to pass. I’ll be posting another chapter next week, and then things really start rolling!
So, the title. This is where I need your help! Most of my best titles have come from reader suggestions and I’ve got a list of great ones from this Facebook post. I’ll list some of the top ones at the end, and I’d love your thoughts and suggestions!
This is a very low-angst chapter, just setting the stage for the storms to come, so, unlike the first one, it’s safe to read before bed! It starts with Elizabeth in Derbyshire with the Gardiners, just after her visit to Pemberley, but in this story, Darcy hadn’t yet arrived there. And so it begins…
The small mirror in Elizabeth’s room at the White Hart Inn in Lambton reflected her fatigue as she plaited her hair for the night. It had been a long, trying day. The journey from Bakewell had been pleasant enough, and she could not complain that their tour of Pemberley had lacked either beauty or interest. But seeing Darcy’s home, even in his absence, and hearing the housekeeper’s praise of the Master of Pemberley had brought up painful memories and regrets. Fortunately he was not there himself, and was not due for a fortnight, by which time she would be heading back to Longbourn, so at least she was spared the embarrassment of meeting him again.
A tapping came at the door. “Lizzy? Are you still awake?” It was her aunt’s voice.
“Yes. Do come in.” What could Mrs. Gardiner want? After all, they had spent the entire day together. As her aunt slipped inside, Elizabeth asked, “Is something the matter?”
“That is what I came to ask you,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “You were very quiet today, not at all yourself, and I wondered if perhaps our tour is not to your liking, or if you are displeased with Derbyshire.”
“Oh, no! I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed our travels. The countryside here far exceeds my expectations. I love the steep hillsides and the starkness of the terrain. I believe I could happily remain in Derbyshire for a very long time.” It was all true, and perhaps it would distract her aunt.
But Mrs. Gardiner was not easily fooled. “Is something else troubling you, then? I do not wish to pry, but even your uncle noticed you seemed out of spirits at dinner.”
It would probably be simplest to tell her the truth, or at least some of it. There was no reason to tell her aunt that seeing Mr. Darcy’s home had left her melancholy, half-regretting the opportunity she had missed. “I have been thinking about my future,” Elizabeth said quietly. “Jane and I had a talk before I left Longbourn, and it made me see how difficult our current position is. Neither of us will find husbands in Meryton. The few marriageable gentlemen there have their sights set elsewhere. Even when Meryton was overrun by single militia officers, none of them showed serious interest in us, and why should they? Who would be willing to marry one of us, when it would mean someday caring for our sisters and mother as well? Even Jane’s beauty and sweetness are not enough to overcome that disadvantage.”
“You are afraid of ending up a spinster?” her aunt asked gently.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not mind that idea; I have thought it rather likely for some time. But I always assumed Jane would marry, and that after my father’s death I could live with her family. But Jane has not had even a hint of an offer, and she is now speaking of trying to find a tradesman to marry simply to avoid being a burden on our relatives. It made me realize how selfish I have been to rely on her to secure my future.”
“I do not think the situation is that bleak,” her aunt said. “After all, you are but twenty. But there may be something to what you say about being at a disadvantage in Meryton where your family is well known. Perhaps we should make more of an effort to introduce you to eligible gentlemen in London.”
“Jane just spent five months with you in London.” And came home without an admirer.
Her aunt sighed. “True, but she was pining for Mr. Bingley, and we made no effort to put her forward. I know men who might be interested in you or Jane. Perhaps not the marriages your parents would have dreamed of for you, but good men with reliable work and prospects for the future.”
Elizabeth did not want to spend her entire life in London. It was an enjoyable place to visit, but after a time there, she always craved the freedom of the countryside. “I am not desperate yet, my dearest Aunt!” She tried to sound amused, even if she did not feel it. “If I cannot marry a man I respect, I would rather find a position as a lady’s companion. Perhaps that would allow me to see more of the world.” But she could not help remembering Miss de Bourgh’s fawning companion, who saw nothing of the world and had to tolerate every whim of the lady she served.
“I hope you know your uncle and I will always do what we can to provide for you.” The assurance with which Mrs. Gardiner spoke told Elizabeth that this discussion had already taken place. The Gardiners were well aware of her situation.
Elizabeth hugged her aunt. “You are all that is kind and generous.” But the Gardiners had four children of their own, and having to support five Bennet sisters would be an enormous strain on them.
Her aunt smiled. “You are very dear to us.”
Elizabeth forced herself to rally her spirits. “But enough of this gloom! What plans have you for tomorrow?”
“I thought we would call on Mr. Morris at the rectory. He was very kind to me after he took over the living when my father died, and I confess I would like to see the house I grew up in once more.”
“I should like that, too,” said Elizabeth.
“My dear Mrs. Gardiner!” said the elderly gentleman with a fringe of white hair. “Why, you do not look a day older than when you were keeping house for your father all those years ago.”
“What a flatterer you are, Mr. Morris!” exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner warmly. “Why, I have four children now. Pray permit me to present my husband and my niece, Miss Bennet.”
The rector shook Mr. Gardiner’s hand heartily. “It is a great pleasure, sir. Miss Bennet, are you enjoying your visit to Derbyshire?”
Elizabeth curtsied. “Very much so.” There was something about the old man’s warm smile that made her trust him instinctively.
Mr. Morris gestured to a tall young man standing the opposite doorway. “Drew, come meet my new guests! Are you already acquainted with Mrs. Gardiner from the days when she lived in Lambton? She would have been Miss Carlisle then, the daughter of old Mr. Carlisle, who had this living before me. She left Lambton not long after I became rector here.”
“That would have been before my time,” said the younger man with a friendly smile. “But I am honored to meet you.”
“In that case, Mrs. Gardiner, may I present Mr. Darcy, my former student and – if dare I say it – my current protégé?” asked Mr. Morris. “He has recently been given the living at Kympton.”
Elizabeth started. Darcy? Not the Mr. Darcy she knew, thank heavens! Apart from his height, he bore him no resemblance. This gentleman’s straight, light hair, angled jaw and cleft chin were unlike Mr. Darcy’s dark curls and chiseled face, and he lacked the habitual haughty expression. Instead, his open countenance seemed to be all affability. But given his name, and living not five miles from Pemberley, he must be a relative, perhaps a cousin of some sort. A distant one, most likely, as she had never heard mention of cousins on the Darcy side. His clothing seemed to suggest a poor relation – tidy, but not particularly fashionable, with his coat sleeves showing wear at the elbows. No, obviously not a close relation to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, thank heavens.
Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed, “Kympton – why, that is a lovely village! I remember visiting the parsonage there when I was a child. A charming house.”
A shadow seemed to cross the young man’s face. “I am still becoming acquainted with Kympton.”
“It takes time to settle into a living,” said Mr. Morris. “May I invite you to sit down?” He ordered a tea tray and began gently encouraging Mrs. Gardiner to tell him about her travels and her life since leaving Lambton. Almost by default, the two young people were left to sit together on a loveseat. Elizabeth felt a certain trepidation that this new Mr. Darcy might yet prove as haughty as the one she could not forget, but, as the conversation between Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Morris turned to people she had never heard of, she said, “Lambton seems a charming town. Do you know it well?”
He smiled, setting aside his tea and cake untasted. “I lived here for two years when I was a boy, studying with Mr. Morris, but I have been away since then, first in London, then serving as a curate until two months ago. Mr. Morris has been very helpful to me in learning what is expected of me here.”
“Terrible, is it not?” he said in a cheerful undertone. “My advice is not to try the cake, especially if you are fond of your teeth.”
Elizabeth could not help smiling. “I thank you for your kind advice, but I would not wish to offend our host.”
The young man took the teacup from her hand and placed it beside his own. “He will not be offended. He is too kind-hearted to dismiss his cook when she has nowhere else to go, but he is well aware that her food is nigh inedible.”
“A kind gentleman, then,” she said.
“The best I have ever known,” he said simply. “But I have learned never to pay a call here when hungry.”
No, this Mr. Darcy was generous in spirit, quite unlike the one she had met in Meryton and whose memory still haunted her, especially after visiting his home the previous day. Why could she not simply forget him?
Mr. Morris leaned towards Mrs. Gardiner, saying something softly. At her nod, he said, “Andrew, I believe Mrs. Gardiner might enjoy seeing the upstairs rooms, but my old knees are too tired to give her the tour. Would you be kind enough to do the honors?”
“Of course, sir.” The young man rose to his feet.
“How very kind of you!” exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner.
“He knows the house almost as well as I do,” said Mr. Morris. “Mrs. Gardiner might be interested in hearing about your Parsonage House, too, Andrew.”
“Indeed, sir,” he said politely. “This way, Mrs. Gardiner.”
After the two had left the room, Mr. Morris rubbed his hands together with a twinkle in his eyes, encompassing both Mr. Gardiner and Elizabeth in his gaze. “Forgive me for failing to offer you the tour as well, but I have my reasons. I believe Mrs. Gardiner may be in a position to offer young Drew some much needed advice, and I wished to give them an opportunity to talk. When the Lord is good enough to send a kind lady who was raised to run a parsonage just at the moment when Drew was begging me for advice on that very subject, the least I can do is to offer them time for discussion.”
“He is unmarried, then?” asked Mr. Gardiner.
“Yes,” said Mr. Morris. “He was a curate before coming here, so he is familiar with his pastoral duties, but that position did not include a parsonage. The one that comes with his living was not well-maintained by the last incumbent, and the servants are a slovenly lot. Servants are always a challenging issue for clergymen since they are both our employees and our parishioners, and poor Andrew has no experience at running a household.”
Mr. Gardiner chuckled. “Whenever I compliment my wife on her household management, she always says it is much easier than running a parsonage. I assumed that was because she was still a girl when she took over the household after her mother died, but she says her duties were different, with parishioners coming by and the responsibility to them.”
“You have a very capable wife. She made it look simple. I did not realize how difficult it was until I watched my late wife struggle to learn the duties of a clergyman’s wife.”
Elizabeth’s brows drew together. Her friend Charlotte never complained of finding her duties onerous, but perhaps that was because her servants lived in terror of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s frequent inspections of the parsonage. Charlotte would never have to worry about discharging a bad servant, because Lady Catherine would have long since done so on her behalf.
Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Andrew Darcy did not reappear for over a quarter of an hour. When they did, Mrs. Gardiner’s face was alight with interest as she told the young man, “We shall find a way, never fear!”
“Ah, my dear, I recognize that expression!” said Mr. Gardiner. “You have a new project.”
Delicate color rose in Mrs. Gardiner’s cheeks. “Only a very small one. It will not take away from our holiday, I promise you. I am simply going to visit this young man’s parsonage and perhaps offer some advice on how to manage it; that is all.”
Mr. Gardiner smiled broadly. “And help him find a new housekeeper and staff, and suggest how he might redecorate it, and half a dozen things that I cannot even dream of.”
Mr. Andrew Darcy drew himself to his full height. “Mr. Gardiner, I have no intention of imposing myself on your wife in any way.”
Her uncle guffawed. “Lad, my wife is never happier than when she has a new project! It will undoubtedly be a high point of our trip for her. And now I will not need an excuse to sneak off to find a fishing stream, as Mr. Morris has kindly offered to loan me his tackle.”
The younger man visibly thawed. “There is a fine trout stream that runs not far from my parsonage. Perhaps you would care to try your luck there.”
Mr. Gardiner beamed. “That sounds delightful.”
Elizabeth smiled dutifully, though she had no interest in fishing, refurbishing a parsonage, or calling on even a distant relative of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, no matter how amiable he might be. But her aunt and uncle had been kind enough to invite her on the journey, and it was her job to be pleased by whatever activities they selected. Perhaps she could go exploring in the hilly countryside while her aunt and uncle were occupied.
Paying a call to Mr. Andrew Darcy’s parsonage sounded dull, but there was nothing Elizabeth liked as much as exploring new places, and she certainly could not complain about the drive. The countryside had an invigorating loveliness, with steep hills rising on each side of the road, and sheep dotting the hillsides under a clear blue sky. The village of Kympton was delightfully picturesque, with neat stone cottages lining the road and a square-towered church rising above it.
The parsonage stood at the end of a gravel lane, a large house covered with ivy, its lines more impressive than Mr. Collins’s parsonage in Hunsford. The ivy needed trimming, and a workman was repairing some missing fence slats. Roses bloomed by the doorway, but the bushes were scraggly.
Elizabeth, still uncomfortable with the idea of spending time with a relation of Mr. Darcy, hung back while her uncle knocked on the door. She bent down to sniff one of the roses, closing her eyes as the sweet fragrance filled her. At the sound of the door opening, she straightened to see the young clergyman himself in the doorway, looking past her aunt and uncle, gazing at her with an arrested expression.
Oh, dear. So much for not attracting his attention. Not that she had been doing anything provocative, and there had been no reason to think he would answer his own door rather than have a servant do it…except that the reason for their visit was that he was having problems with his servants. Of course, she had not thought she had done anything to attract Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s interest, either.
She put a practiced social smile on her face as they entered the house and did her best to fade into the background, saying nothing as he instructed her uncle on how to find the trout stream and then showed the ladies to the sitting room.
“I apologize for the state of the room.” Mr. Andrew Darcy gestured to the mismatched furniture. “The previous incumbent used it as his sickroom when he could not manage the stairs, and we are still restoring it.”
Mrs. Gardiner stood in the middle of the room and turned around slowly, inspecting it thoroughly. “Still, the structure appears good, as does the woodwork. The paint looks fresh. I think it will do very well.”
“The steward at Pemberley made some repairs before I arrived, but I told him I preferred to take responsibility for the rest.” He sounded a bit stiff about it, as if he disliked working with the steward. “As I told you before, the staff are my greatest concern. There is conflict between the ones who were already here and the two I brought from London, and I do not know how much to trust the housekeeper. She is now suggesting I hire another maid, which seems excessive to me, but I know nothing of how to manage a household.”
Mrs. Gardiner said, “Perhaps that is where I can be helpful. You live here alone, do you not?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“How much entertaining do you intend to do?”
“Entertaining?” He looked surprised at the question. “I suppose I must be ready to receive calls from parishioners and neighbors, but I think it would be inappropriate for a single clergyman to hold any sort of party.”
“And how many servants do you have?”
He counted on his fingers. “The housekeeper, the cook, two maids, and a gardener were already here. I brought my personal manservant and his sister, and said that we must dismiss one of the maids. The housekeeper was very unhappy about that.”
Mrs. Gardiner’s eyebrows rose. “All for taking care of one gentleman living alone who does not entertain? It is a large house, admittedly, but I fear your housekeeper is taking advantage of you.”
He sighed. “I was afraid of that, but my lack of domestic knowledge has hindered me in arguing with her. I would be most grateful for your view of how many servants are necessary.”
Mrs. Gardiner pursed her lips. “While you might need a little extra help while setting up your household, your housekeeper and cook should be able to take on other duties in the household, so a maid and one manservant should be able to meet your needs adequately. If you were married and had a family, it would be different, although if you had a wife, you would not need a housekeeper at all.”
Mr. Andrew Darcy flushed. “Alas, the right young lady has not yet come my way. Your assessment sounds sensible, but leaves me with the question of whom I must ask to leave.”
“I would suggest that your housekeeper is already trying to take advantage of you, and you might be better off without her. I assume you would like to keep the servants you brought with you?”
The young clergyman straightened. “I most certainly would. That is part of the problem, too. The cook has taken a strong dislike to them.”
Mrs. Gardiner nodded. “I think it would be best if I could meet your staff. Perhaps we could begin with a tour of the house, and you could introduce me to the servants as we go. That way it would appear less as if I am here to judge them.”
The young clergyman nodded. “A good plan. Shall we start with the kitchen?”
Elizabeth trailed along behind them as they proceeded to the rear of the house, but before they even reached the kitchen, a woman’s raised voice reached her. “Stay away from me, I tell you!”
A quieter voice spoke soothingly, but Elizabeth could not make out the words.
The first woman shrieked, “Keep your filthy hands off me!”
“Oh, dear,” groaned Andrew Darcy. “It appears you are about to see my cook at her worst.”
“Is she always this temperamental?” asked Mrs. Gardiner.
His mouth twisted. “No. Only when it comes to the servants I brought with me. She hates foreigners.”
“Ah. Just as well to know the problem, if we are to try to fix it,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“True.” He stepped back to usher them in.
The kitchen was large, replete with the aroma of chicken and onions. A pile of chopped turnips and apples sat on the table, perhaps ready to go in the pot hung over the fire. The sight of half a dozen tiny puppies nursing on a dog in the corner next to the hearth caught Elizabeth’s eye and made her smile.
On the opposite side of the room, a lanky, middle-aged woman in a soiled apron stood with her back pressed against a tall cupboard, a bloody cloth clutched around her hand. A smaller, dark-skinned girl with a colorful scarf wrapped around her hair stood before her and spoke in a musical, accented voice. “The master knows I am a healer, and—” She stopped as she noticed the newcomers.
“Myrtilla, what seems to be the matter?” the young clergyman asked.
The dark-skinned woman shrugged. “Cook, she cut her hand, and she won’t let me help her. There is no one else, and it must be sewn.”
“I want none of her filthy witchcraft,” muttered the cook. “She’s a devil!”
Elizabeth grimaced. There would be no simple solution for this problem. Africans were a common sight in London, but likely less so in rural Derbyshire.
“It is not witchcraft,” said Andrew Darcy. “Myrtilla’s master in Antigua was a surgeon, and he trained her to assist him and to provide treatment to other slaves. She can help you.”
The cook scowled ferociously. “She’s not touching me!”
The young man sighed and turned to Mrs. Gardiner. “You see the difficulty.”
“I do indeed.” Mrs. Gardiner eyed the cook. “Since you are unwilling to accept your employer’s direction, I suggest you find someone else to treat your injury.”
With a heave of her shoulders, the cook gave the young clergyman a wounded look and stomped out of the kitchen.
Myrtilla’s lip curled. “The maid will stuff that cut with spiderwebs and give her an infection, but only touch her with pure English hands.”
Elizabeth stared at her, unused to servants expressing disdain so openly in the presence of their employer, but Andrew Darcy seemed unsurprised.
“I am sorry, Myrtilla,” said the clergyman. “It is wrong of her to speak so to you.”
Myrtilla’s only response to this was a swift, wordless glance.
Mrs. Gardiner said briskly, “Mr. Darcy, might I speak with Myrtilla privately? I would like to understand her situation here better.”
He nodded. “Myrtilla, I have asked Mrs. Gardiner’s advice on the staffing of the parsonage. Pray speak truly to her about your experience. Do not tell her what you think she wishes to hear, just the truth.”
The former slave sniffed. “As you wish.”
“We will leave you to discuss it, then. Miss Bennet, would you care to join me in the sitting room?” the young clergyman asked.
Elizabeth glanced at her aunt, who waved her away. This was just the sort of situation Mrs. Gardiner excelled at resolving, and since she looked perfectly in her element, Elizabeth returned to the drawing room with the clergyman. It was so odd to hear him called Mr. Darcy, especially given how very different he was from the one she knew. She imagined servants would scurry to obey that Mr. Darcy.
Her current companion said, “I dearly hope your aunt can help with this. Myrtilla will not answer my questions about what happens below stairs. It is unlike her to be so resentful and angry, and I suspect there is a reason for it.”
“She is a freed slave?” asked Elizabeth.
“Yes, as is her brother.”
“People who have lived here all their lives may be predisposed to dislike newcomers,” said Elizabeth diplomatically.
He gave her a rueful look. “Perhaps, but I fear there is more to it than that, and I am ill-equipped to deal with it. In the household where I lived in London, there were several freed slaves among the servants, and no one seemed troubled by it.”
“In London, it is hardly unusual–” She broke off in mid-sentence when a large ginger tabby jumped up on her lap. One of his ears was bent and scarred from an old injury, but he rumbled a purr. She scratched his cheeks until he turned in a circle and curled up.
“Oliver, you are not supposed to be in here,” Mr. Andrew Darcy said mildly.
“Is your name Oliver?” Elizabeth asked the cat. “It suits you.”
“Forgive me. He is supposed to stay out of the sitting room, but he is such a friendly fellow that he always wishes to be where people are.”
“He is perfectly welcome on my lap.” She leaned down and examined his scarred ear. “Apparently he is not as friendly with other cats, or was it perhaps the dog I saw in the kitchen who did this? You must be an animal lover.”
He flushed a little. “I am fond of animals, it is true. I never intend to adopt them, but somehow it happens. Oliver came to me when I rescued him from a group of boys who were mistreating him. The dog is not actually mine, only the puppies. A farmer was going to drown them, and I persuaded him to let me take them instead. I had to bring their mother here to care for them, but once they are weaned, the farmer wants her back.”
“You would get along well with my sister Mary. She is always trying to rescue animals. What will you do with all those puppies?”
He turned his hands up with a wry smile. “I have not the least idea, only that I could not watch them drown. Their mother is apparently a good sheep dog, so perhaps they will take after her and other sheep farmers will want them.”
Most likely he would have difficulty placing them, since there were always more dogs than homes, but being soft-hearted was hardly a crime. It showed how different he was from his cousin, the Mr. Darcy she knew, whom she could not imagine taking in a litter of mongrel pups, no matter how generous the Pemberley housekeeper had claimed he was. The very thought of that proud man in such circumstances made her smile. She stroked the cat’s back, the vibrating purr soothing her. “It is very hard to resist a puppy.”
“Yes. She finds England chilly, and so prefers to work in the kitchen because it is always warm.”
“It appears that she is actually working in the scullery because the cook will not permit her to touch any food destined to be served, while the former scullery maid is now the parlor maid because your housekeeper would not permit a woman with Myrtilla’s complexion to work above stairs.” She ran her fingertip along the mantelpiece. “Good enough, I suppose. Your cook disobeyed your direct instructions to your face. Another issue.”
Andrew Darcy frowned. “Myrtilla has mentioned none of this to me.”
Mrs. Gardiner gave him a sympathetic look. “She grew up in the land where a slave who complained about a white servant would be whipped. While she thinks you are a good employer and well-meaning person, you are still a white man. That means the best you can hope for is to be the most trustworthy of Satan’s minions in her mind.”
Lines etched between his brows. “No doubt her life has given her reason to believe that. What would you suggest I do?”
“That depends on how much you wish to keep Myrtilla here. The simplest solution would be to find her another position, but that still leaves you with an insubordinate cook.”
“Myrtilla stays. She has done nothing wrong, and has suffered enough for the prejudices against Africans. She is hard-working and has valuable skills.”
Tilting her head to one side, Mrs. Gardiner said, “That is important, though I would be remiss if I did not point out that Myrtilla also tends to insubordination, and she does not show you proper respect.”
He smiled ruefully. “It is true that she can be difficult, but I prefer to overlook it because Myrtilla also has non-domestic duties, and I appreciate those characteristics there.”
Mrs. Gardiner drew back, her eyes widening. “I see,” she said in a voice that dripped ice. “Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking I could be helpful to you. Lizzy, let us go find your uncle.” She rose to her feet in obvious dismissal.
Andrew Darcy immediately leapt up, looking confused and worried. “I am sorry if I offended you. I do take your concerns seriously.” He paused, looking inward as if reviewing his words, and then said angrily, “Good God, if you thought I meant…I assure you, madam, it is nothing of the sort! I would never, ever…” He bit down on his words, obviously struggling to restrain himself. “Myrtilla assists me in my work for the abolitionist cause. She provides a first-hand account of the experience of slavery. To be willing to argue powerfully for her truth when others deny it requires a certain willingness to be disrespectful and difficult.”
Mrs. Gardiner’s stiff posture relaxed, and she pressed her hand to her chest. “In that case, I apologize most sincerely for my misapprehension. I fear I have seen too much misuse of servants in my day, and I am very glad to hear your reasons are quite different.”
He was still breathing heavily, and Elizabeth wondered if he would accept her aunt’s apology. But he said, “You are quite forgiven, and I am happy to know there are people like you who stand up for the rights of servants.” He gestured to the chair Mrs. Gardiner had vacated, an obvious olive branch.
She apparently accepted it, for she sat down. “I see, then, why you would not wish to quell Myrtilla’s attitude.”
He looked amused. “Stronger men than I have tried that, and using weapons I would never employ. Myrtilla is what she is. It has made it difficult for her to remain in employment, which is why she was willing to take this post so far from her family and friends in London. Hence my great reluctance to dismiss her.”
Mrs. Gardiner nodded, as if this answer satisfied her. “My advice, then, would be to tell your cook that her services are no longer required. Put Myrtilla in her place. Tell your upstairs maid to that she is expected to assist Myrtilla as needed, including in the scullery.”
“The housekeeper will be unhappy. The cook is her friend and ally.”
“Then you would do well to look for a new housekeeper, for more than one reason. Myrtilla claims she has mistreated her.”
He winced, and then spread his hands. “I thank you for convincing her to confide in you when I was unable to do so. How would you recommend I find a housekeeper who is more trustworthy than this one?”
Mrs. Gardiner pursed her lips. “I would advise you to ask the housekeeper at Pemberley for recommendations. She is likely to be aware of who might be available and who should be avoided.”
“Not Pemberley.” There was an edge to his voice. “I prefer to leave Pemberley out of my domestic issues.”
Elizabeth studied him, her interest piqued. His reaction was odd; after all, he had just been given a valuable Pemberley living, so was presumably in favor with the Master of Pemberley. What could be the source of the tension? Then she stopped herself. The subject of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley was one she would be wisest to leave alone.
“As you wish,” Mrs. Gardiner said equably, but Elizabeth thought she was a little taken aback. “I can make some inquiries among my friends in Lambton. They might have some ideas.”
So, now you’ve met Drew Darcy through Elizabeth’s eyes! What do you think of him so far? Next week you’ll get to see more of him, as things start going wrong. Very wrong. 😉
I’d love to hear your thoughts about a title, as I’m getting a bit desperate here! Or any other ideas for a book that tells what happens to Darcy when the woman he loves is engaged to the man he’s sworn to protect? Main themes in this story are family secrets (why was Drew disowned?), duty to family, and Darcy’s steadfast loyalty. Obviously, Elizabeth’s engagement to Drew is the key obstacle. Abolitionism, tropical botany, and a desire to explore uncharted lands (both Darcy and Elizabeth) all play major roles. Here are just a few of the reader suggestions on Facebook: Uncharted, His Brother’s Keeper, Mr. Darcy’s Oath, In the Name of Love, The Ties that Bind, His Brother’s Betrothed, Uncharted Hearts, Bound by Duty. Do any of those jump out at you? Any other brilliant ideas? If you come up with the title I choose, I’ll credit you in the acknowledgments and send you a signed copy. 😉
I hope you’ll come back next week for more! Read the next chapter here!