I’ve been working on a new Darcy and Elizabeth story! You may have read a chapter of it on my blog a few years ago. The Netherfield and Bennet groups went to a manmade grotto and then Darcy and Elizabeth got stuck in one due to a cave in!
I dusted it off a few months ago and really like the direction it’s going in! We depart from Canon early on in some ways, as you’ll see from this prologue. If you did read the chapter that I previously posted, that has now become Chapter One and this Prologue is new and must be read first.
I will be sharing the first two chapters here on my blog. Afterwards, it will be a Patreon exclusive story.
Elizabeth Bennet stared in wide-eyed wonder at the splendour of Pemberley grounds. The open carriage allowed her to take in woods to her right and sweeping fields on the left. Out of the corner of one eye, she caught her aunt and uncle sharing a smile before turning their attention toward her. They sent her looks of excited anticipation, and in the next breath, she saw why.
Suddenly, the forest evaporated, giving way to the well-manicured park of gently rising ground, drawing the eye to the simple magnificence of the house. Elizabeth’s breath left her on a small gasp.
“How do you like it, Lizzy?” Mrs. Gardiner asked.
“It is perfect,” she answered in an awed whisper.
“I knew you would be most pleased with Pemberley,” Mr. Gardiner laughed. “We have seen half a dozen other fine estates on our trip here, and yet you found some reason to dislike them all. You get that from your aunt, I suppose. She is a Derbyshire girl through and through.”
Mrs. Gardiner grinned but shook her head. “She is only my relation by marriage. She could not have any similarities with me by blood.”
Elizabeth finally found the capability of speech even as excitement began to consume her. What must the interior and park grounds be like? “I have felt more akin to you since the first moment we met than almost anyone else I do share blood with.”
“Yes, I will never forget it,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a fond smile. “You were but four then, and now here you are ten years later. Time has changed many things, but it has not changed who you are, in essence, Lizzy Bennet. The wilds of the Peak would mean more to you than any of your sisters. So I confess that I was pleased when your mother said Jane should return to Longbourn and you come with us in her stead.”
“Poor Jane,” Elizabeth said.
They had spent the summer in London with their aunt and uncle Gardiner. Jane had just come out and even had a suitor. However, Jane did not love him and was not ready for marriage. She did nothing to encourage him, and he left the area without ever proposing to her. So ended Jane’s first chance at romance. She was eager to leave London and put the episode behind her, despite knowing a disappointed Mrs. Bennet would greet her at Longbourn. Jane’s loss had been Elizabeth’s gain. So the fourteen-year-old girl was exchanged for her elder sister and treated to the holiday her relatives had planned.
The carriage stopped before the house, and Elizabeth waited for her uncle to hand her down. They were greeted by the butler, who offered them entrance. Next, they were taken to a parlour and provided refreshments. Shortly after they arrived, the housekeeper appeared. Thus far, the experience of touring Pemberley was no different than any of the other houses they had visited. Still, Elizabeth could not help the anticipation that welled inside her. Something about Pemberley made her think it was already more special than any of the other structures. They had been built to impress and impose as nothing more than vanity projects of some family that spent most of their time in London or other estates. Yet, Pemberley seemed to be a place a real family called home.
Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, took them through the principal rooms. The woman enthused about the Darcy family between comments about specific furnishings and answering any questions the Gardiners had. Her master, Mr. George Darcy, was kind and generous. Elizabeth had heard similar words from other servants before, but they had always sounded rehearsed and scripted. House servants were hardly trained actors, and their lines never left the listener believing what they said. Mrs. Reynolds must either have a history on the stage, or her praise was by far the most genuine Elizabeth had ever heard.
“I must admit, though,” Mrs. Reynolds said as they entered the late mistress’ study, “that as much as I revere Mr. Darcy and Lady Anne, it is the children that are the apple of my eye. Master Fitzwilliam has the best demeanour of any child I have ever met.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner shared a laugh, being parents to three children themselves.
“We are often told that as the children age, they will become more pleasant,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “Our youngest is not yet three and believes he rules the house. However, our eldest daughter has finally been able to join us for tea and will sit and embroider with me. I never felt sorrier for what I put my own mother and governess through than I have since becoming a mother myself.”
Mrs. Reynolds had listened with respect but now smiled broadly. “I have known Master Fitzwilliam since he was four years old, and while his patience has certainly improved with age, I do not think his personality has altered at all. He was always the gentlest thing. His mother, unfortunately, had delicate health, and he learned to sit with her quietly from an early age before her untimely passing. Even now, he is most astute to the feelings of others.”
Mr. Gardiner chuckled. “How old is this paragon? I have five nieces and an anxious sister, you see. She would never forgive me for not putting forward the question. This is the second eldest with us.” He motioned at Elizabeth, causing her to blush profusely.
“He is two and twenty now and just finished at Cambridge. I mean no offence to Miss Bennet or your other relatives, but I do not know who would ever be worthy of him. I do not mean an heiress or lady from a noble family — Mr. Darcy is only a gentleman and married an earl’s daughter, after all. However, her character must be something quite special.” Mrs. Reynolds’ brow furrowed. “Indeed, she will need a certain type of demeanour for companionship or else he will be most miserable. When the time comes for him to be the master, I am sure he will select his wife with utmost care and an eye for duty. Fortunately for him, both parents were always in agreement and dedicated to his happiness above any material considerations. Surely, he has many, many years before he needs to worry about such things.”
They moved next to the family gallery. Mrs. Gardiner took a moment to speak with Elizabeth. “I hope you are not too embarrassed by your uncle’s words or offended by the housekeeper. She seems to be a most loyal servant.”
Elizabeth smiled at her aunt. “How can I be offended by such esteem she has for her master’s son? It speaks far more about her affection for him than any slight toward me. She seems to think no woman in the world worthy of him. Perhaps she felt freer saying it to us than she would a peer’s family, but it was all said in kindness. As for my uncle’s words, I assure you that I am used to far worse things from my mother.”
“Oh, Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a slight laugh before linking their arms. “I do worry about you. Fanny means well, and Jane manages to bear it all. She has a firmness of character where I do not have to worry about her being pressured into anything but is docile enough that it appeases your mother.”
“But I am not?” Elizabeth asked with a rueful laugh.
“You could stand to be a bit more sly and not speak about your feelings and thoughts so openly to your mother lest she thinks you constantly defiant. Look at Jane; she did not love Mr. Edwards and felt unready for marriage for many years. But, rather than proclaim it to her mother, she did everything to the letter that your mother prescribed…it was merely her lack of enthusiasm for it that was obvious to the gentleman.”
“I could promise you that I will try when the time comes,” Elizabeth said, “however, I do not think I would mean it. I cannot be anything but myself. Jane does not act a part for Mama. She is sincerely kinder and more selfless than I am. It presents no duality in her mind to be an obedient daughter and also remain true to herself.”
Mrs. Gardiner sighed. “I suppose you are correct. The children are getting older, and your uncle and I mean to have you visit us more often. I fear you have some trials ahead of you, but we will always support you.”
“And here is my young master,” Mrs. Reynolds said as they reached the end of the gallery. “This was done just a few years ago. Is he not a most handsome young man?”
Elizabeth’s eyes arrested on the portrait of Fitzwilliam Darcy. He wore a small, fond smile as though he looked on someone he loved very dearly and meant the entire world to him. It was the sort of smile that warmed her heart. Yes, his features were everything society wanted in a young man. He was handsome and healthy with broad shoulders, a strong jaw, and clear eyes. However, it was the expression he wore that spoke to Elizabeth more than anything.
The housekeeper’s words swirled in her mind. One day, she hoped to meet a man who could look at her with that expression. It was not one she could ever remember her father bestowing on her mother, but one she often saw exchanged between her aunt and uncle. She would not be sold off to the highest bidder or reshape herself to suit someone’s opinions. Staring up at this young man’s image, she vowed to herself that she would only marry for the deepest mutual love. She would wait for her very own Mr. Perfect.
The tour of the house ended shortly thereafter, and the head gardener took over. The interior had been stunning, a pleasant mixture of classical and artistic features and modern tastes. However, it was the grounds that awed Elizabeth the most. Here there were no incongruous landscape designs reminiscent of France or Greece. Instead, there were several good English gardens. Lady Anne had a fondness for roses and lavender. To the west lay pastures and meadows for sheep grazing, but they were also a favourite among the men of the family for riding.
The footpath around the lake was five miles and beckoned to her. Forests were her favourite in the summer on a sunny day. The light dappled through the leaves, highlighting pockets here and there where trees or flowers might suddenly grow in otherwise moss-covered areas. Mrs. Gardiner did not wish to walk so far, but Elizabeth was encouraged to follow the main route independently.
A gentle breeze played with Elizabeth’s bonnet strings. It provided refreshment from keeping the summer day too warm with the added exercise. Bird song accompanied her much needed time of solitude. Now and then, noise from the forest directed her attention as her presence startled away a rabbit or deer.
It had been a holiday of awakening for Elizabeth and her first real trip outside of Meryton. There was an enormous world outside of the confines of a small market town where she knew everyone, and everyone knew her. However, if Meryton and Longbourn were too unvarying and familiar, Elizabeth had quickly observed that much of the rest of the world was full of false appearances and deceit.
She had never had Jane’s outlook on life and been so determined to believe the best of everyone. Mr. Gardiner talked of having to be careful to not be taken in by unscrupulous travel advisers. Each destination they stopped at until arriving in Lambton had been ostentatious, the people often pretentious or grovelling. Elizabeth yearned for some reflection of reality and genuine humanity. Aspects of Pemberley were more working farm than grand estate. It provided something like a balm for her heart and reminded her of home.
Lost in her thoughts, she had passed the halfway point and was now closer to returning to her aunt and uncle than she was away from them. Accustomed as she was to the sounds of wildlife, Elizabeth did not immediately turn to look at the sounds coming from beyond the path until she recognized the speed at which the animal moved indicated something either terrified or utterly unaware of her presence. Indeed, it sounded as though it were chased. Uncertain of what would emerge any moment from the forest, Elizabeth ceased her movements. A startled cry flew from her throat when instead of a large animal, two young men came running past her, one nearly tackling the other.
She stood rooted in place, blinking back in surprise as they heedlessly continued past her as though she had been invisible. The speed at which they travelled likely rendered her little more than a blur. Elizabeth had no brothers but knew well enough the sorts of physical pursuits active young men found for themselves via her male neighbours. Then, a moment later, there were thuds, and the sounds of punches exchanged, friendly given the laughter that followed.
Finally collecting her thoughts, Elizabeth determined to move forward once more when she noticed a gentleman’s hat had fallen by her feet. She picked it up and dusted off the dirt, wondering if she should disturb them to return it or leave it be.
“Had enough yet, Fitz?” one man said to the other. “Admit it, I am the superior athlete!” The sound of fists flew once more. “Oof! Not the face!”
“Just making us equal,” a different voice said. “Georgie thinks it funny when our black eyes match.”
What on earth had Elizabeth stumbled upon? Was Fitz the Fitzwilliam of the portrait? He hardly seemed to be acting as elegantly as she expected from the housekeeper’s description. However, she was dying to see him in truth.
“That’s it. You win!” The second voice said between pants.
“Aha!” Not-Fitz cheered. “Victory is mine! And won’t your father be proud of me?”
Elizabeth scowled. She did not much like the sound of Fitz’s companion. Why did he need to impress the other man’s father? Before she could understand why it mattered to her or where this protective feeling for a stranger came from, one of the men came trampling back in her direction. He paused in alarm and blushed a little at seeing her.
Elizabeth could not help but stare back. This was the Fitzwilliam of the portrait but so much more life-like. The artist had done a fine and complimentary job but had failed to capture the real spirit and energy of the young man.
“Pardon me,” he said, finally and began moving toward her. “I am sorry if we frightened you. We had no notion of there being any visitors….” He trailed off, his colour heightening.
“Hat your?” Elizabeth said and held it out for him. Immediately her cheeks flooded with heat, and she wished a hole would open up in the path and swallow her. “I mean, is this your hat?”
“It is, thank you.” He approached her. “This is certainly not the gallant meeting that my family legacy deserves. However, I hope you have enjoyed your visit.”
“I have, sir,” Elizabeth said, new waves of heat took her over. “You must be Master Fitzwilliam, then.”
“I am.” He had taken the hat and yet seemed unsure of what to do next. Elizabeth had no idea how to move on from such an awkward moment either.
Not-Fitz emerged. “Fitz, what is taking you so long?” He stopped at seeing them together, a mischievous smile appeared. “Ah, who have you met?”
Fitzwilliam looked at his feet for a moment. “Forgive me, I did not think of introductions. You already know that I am Fitzwilliam Darcy. This is my friend George Wickham.”
Mr. Wickham had none of the reserve and unease that Fitzwilliam did and immediately stepped forward to bow over Elizabeth’s hand. She had never had a gentleman do such a thing before, and she turned redder than ever.
“You toured the house already?” Mr. Wickham asked. At her nod, he added, “I hope Mrs. Reynolds did not bore you too much with her praise for Fitz. No wonder you look so thunderstruck. She talks as though he is a Grecian god.”
“George, you are embarrassing her. Quit flirting; she does not look as though she is even out yet,” Fitzwilliam chided. “We need to return to the house, but it is not proper that we approach with her.”
“My apologies,” Mr. Wickham said to Elizabeth. “Indeed, I am quite sorry that we cannot walk with you, but Fitz is a stickler for manners. Unfortunately, we have not been properly introduced, so we must commit the greater offence and leave a young lady unescorted.”
“I do not mind,” Elizabeth said. “I am used to walking alone at home. I will be quite well.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Fitzwilliam said. “I hope this will not taint your remembrances of Pemberley.” He continued to look at her curiously until Mr. Wickham nudged his side, then he put his hat on and walked off in the opposite direction.
Numbly, Elizabeth took a few steps forward, remonstrating herself for her stupidity before realizing that she had not even given her name. She did not know whether that was better or worse. She surely did not impress him and was not even out of the schoolroom, so it would matter for nought. Surely they would never meet again, and their current ages made any further relationship impossible. Still, to be dunderheaded and anonymous to him seemed like a greater crime. She glanced over her shoulder in a ridiculous attempt to memorize as much of his build as she could. At just that moment, he did the same, and their eyes met. Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat before racing at an alarming rate. Had she just met her Mr. Perfect after all? It was the height of folly to nurture a tendre based on their interaction, but Elizabeth knew the world would never be quite the same for her.
Eager for more? I’ll post one more chapter here and then you can read the rest early by becoming a Patron on Patreon!