Ghosts of Pemberley

By KaraLynne Mackrory

Approx. 8500 Words

Blurb: Takes place at Pemberley during Elizabeth’s visit in the summer.

Update: This short story was recently published as Shades of Pemberley in Meryton Press’ summer anthology: Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer

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“Does the lady know the master?”

Elizabeth looked up sharply at the housekeeper of Pemberley and replied in a subdued manner as she shook her head, “Only a little, ma’am.”

Returning her eyes to the glass case of miniatures before her, Elizabeth once again looked up on the face of the man who not three months before had proposed marriage to her.  His jaw set in that familiar way, both portraying strength and security.  She listened as the others resumed their conversation around her.  She registered the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, continued praise of Mr. Darcy and her uncle’s responses.

A slight pressure at her side caused Elizabeth to look up at her aunt who leaned in at that moment to whisper, “A fair picture of Mr. Darcy she makes, Lizzy.  Not at all like you experienced in Hertfordshire.”

Elizabeth managed a tolerable answer, vague in its assent enough to make her aunt’s eyebrows rise in question.

Releasing a breath, Elizabeth continued in a low voice, “Perhaps we have been mistaken.”

She could tell her aunt wished to reply to such a statement and Elizabeth was relieved to see that the group was beginning to move on to the next public room, thus preventing it.  She was not yet in control of all her faculties and emotions yet to be able to discuss Mr. Darcy with her aunt.  All that she had heard and seen since coming to Pemberley, along with the much read letter from him at Rosings, continued to race through Elizabeth’s mind with amazing strength and she began to think she knew not herself, let alone the gentleman whose home she toured.

The tour group consisted of her aunt and uncle and another gentleman of middle age with his young daughter.  The other two arrived at Pemberley requesting to tour the home just as Elizabeth and her relations had.  Elizabeth focused on the girl as they walked towards the next room.  The young girl could not have been older than sixteen and for some unaccountable reason, Elizabeth was reminded of herself at such an age.  She was slightly taller than Elizabeth was, but the rest of her features were similar.  Elizabeth turned her head and closed her eyes tightly.  She was envious of the girl’s youth and innocence.  She had probably not gained enough knowledge of the world to have the regrets Elizabeth had.  She longed for the days when her mind and heart was carefree of the knowledge that the only man out there that perfectly suited her was lost to her because she had tossed aside his offer into the fire of her misguided convictions.

Sighing heavily, Elizabeth followed her group and continued the tour, all the while equal parts grateful that the master was not expected home until the next day and distressed with the idea of never seeing him again after only just learning what manner of man he was.

 

***

 

Darcy coaxed his mount into a more respectable speed as he approached the outskirts of Lambton.  It would not do to have the master of Pemberley be seen riding helter-skelter through the town.  Darcy had left his sister and guests at the last posting inn to arrive tomorrow.  His excuse, a need to speak with his steward.  The truth, a need to have the solace and quiet Pemberley afforded him.

Even after three months, his mind was still disquieted by what happened at Rosings.  Elizabeth’s refusal still stung to the very reaches of his soul.  He had come to terms with it as best he could and determined to correct those faults in his character that Elizabeth’s refusal had shown him.  He had wished that this arrival at Pemberley could have been with his new wife.  Now that was an impossibility.  Elizabeth would likely never set foot over the threshold of his home.  For this reason, he needed to arrive at home alone, out of the scrutiny of his sister and friends.  Away from their questioning glances and certainly without Miss Bingley clamoring for his arm’s escort into the home.

With the town now just behind him, Darcy allowed his horse to choose its pace as the grounds and woods surrounding them were now familiar.  The animal, recognizing the nearness to his own home stables, eagerly picked up the pace and Darcy was grateful for the added speed.  The day was hot, unusually so for August, and the wind at his face felt almost cool against his skin.

 

***

Elizabeth was unusually subdued throughout the tour.  From every room she felt her admiration of the home she could have even now claimed as her own grow.  The prospect from every window more pleasing to her than the last.  It seemed the owner’s taste coincided perfectly with her own and the fact only made her feel her loss more acutely.

When the party entered the long gallery hall, Elizabeth looked up at each picture with solemn contemplation.  She paused momentarily at the portrait of Darcy’s mother, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy.  The lady before her seemed to look at her with a peculiar expression, almost as if she was really scrutinizing Elizabeth from the canvas.  Elizabeth turned to her aunt and shared her observation.

Her aunt laughed, patting Elizabeth’s arm as she said, “Do not be ridiculous, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth returned the laugh but glanced back at the painting more than once to feel the same strange sensation.  The thought flew through her mind that she wondered if the great lady would have approved of her son’s choice for a wife.  Little did it matter now, but Elizabeth still felt unreasonably hopeful that she would have been approved.

With each subsequent portrait, Elizabeth looked for that similar turn of features, an eyebrow here or the shape of the jaw there, that she could recognize as the forbearer for the current Mr. Darcy.  She smiled to herself when she reached to portrait of Mr. Darcy’s father.  The man she knew was the very image of his father.  The only difference being that the son inherited the same intelligent, expressive eyes of his mother.  Elizabeth relished for a moment or two at the closeness to Darcy she felt while encompassed in the room full of his ancestors’ images.  Here were all the people who loved him.  Elizabeth felt a part of the group as she realized then, that she too loved Mr. Darcy.  She felt bonded with these people if only for their shared affection for the man.  Walking slowly onward, she knew the moment she came to the face she so longed to see.

 

***

 

Sliding down from his horse, Darcy walked it toward the pond for a drink as he sat at the lake’s edge to rest.  Home, finally, home.  Sitting, as he was on the grass by the water’s edge, Darcy pulled at his cravat, finally loosening the restraints of the cloth.  He looked across the expanse of his gardens and wondered if she would have approved of his home.  Her good opinion was rarely given, and thus more worth the earning.  Darcy felt an unaccountable wish to show it all to her.  Closing his eyes, he lowered his head and sighed.  It was not to be and he had to accept that.

Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned and saw the groom approaching him.  Darcy stood and handed his crop to the young man.

“Welcome home, Mr. Darcy.”

“Thank you, Thomas.  It is good to be home, finally.”

Darcy allowed the groom to gather the reins of his horse and begin walking him towards the stables.  Taking another moment to look across the land before him, Darcy turned heavily and followed.  When he reached the path that led either to the side entrance to his home or the gardens, Darcy chose the gardens.  They were lovely at this time of year and he felt a need to see them in all their glory.

Rounding the corner of a hedge, he stopped dead in his tracks.  Not twenty yards away from him stood a woman bending over to take in the scent of a rose before her.  His heart beat wildly in his chest and he felt as if he might be dreaming.  Elizabeth!  It could not be, and yet she was there before him.  Heedless of his appearance, he strode purposely towards the woman, calling her name softly after only just reaching where she stood.

“Miss Elizabeth!”

The girl turned in surprise when she heard the man’s voice and shock registered in her face. Instantly she lowered her head as she curtsied.

Darcy stammered, unable to breath for a minute in the weight of his disappointment.  He felt all the blood drain from his face and his heart ached profusely.  It was not she, but another.

Fumbling over an apology, Darcy replaced his hat upon his head.  “Excuse me, miss.  I thought you were someone else.”

He looked then and saw that there were several others in the garden, all fixed in their gaze at him.  There was an older gentleman, and a fashionably dressed couple, further out.  The older gentleman approached then and addressed Darcy.

“The master of the house, I presume, sir?”

Darcy managed a tolerable bow and said, “Yes, sir.”

“We were just touring your beautiful home and gardens, sir.  They are some of the loveliest my daughter and I have ever seen.”

Darcy glanced briefly at the young girl again.  How could he have mistaken her for his Elizabeth?  The girl was younger by many years and blue eyes looked up at him with a mixture of admiration and wonder.  Blue eyes, not sparkling brown.  He turned then to her father and recognized immediately the mercenary glint in the man’s eyes and realized his approach and notice of the man’s daughter had planted ideas in the older gentleman’s mind.  Darcy immediately stepped back and spoke in a more general manner.

“Thank you, I hope your party enjoy the rest of your tour.” Here he included a glance at the fashionable couple and nodded to include them in his statement before saying, “If you will excuse me.”

Darcy turned then and quickened his pace towards the house, his boots crunching noisily on the gravel walk out of the gardens.  Taking out his handkerchief, he rubbed at the sweat from his brow.  The disappointment of thinking he saw Elizabeth and then finding it was not she weighed heavily in his breast and his composure was in threads.  What a fool I have been, of course she would not be here.  What possible reason would Elizabeth have to come to my home?

Upon entering his home, he was immediately greeted by the surprised voice of his housekeeper.
“Mr. Darcy, sir!  Welcome home!  We had not expected you until tomorrow, sir.”
“Mrs. Reynolds, thank you.  Yes, I have come ahead of my group to meet with Mr. Saunders.”

Darcy paused as he handed his hat and gloves to the awaiting footman and then addressed his housekeeper again.  “Mrs. Reynolds, I encountered some people in the garden.”

“Yes, sir, they have just finished the tour of the public rooms and I have handed them off to the gardener as a few of the party expressed a wish to see the gardens.”

Darcy allowed his disappoint to turn to frustration as he looked over his shoulder towards the gardens again.  “Now that I am home, Mrs. Reynolds, I trust that the home will not be open to more visitors.”

“Of course not, sir.”

“Good.” Darcy breathed and looked down at the woman whose presence in his home was of a longer duration than even his own mother’s.  His tone softened, he said, “Please send Rogers up to my chambers to prepare a bath.”

“Yes, sir, and again welcome home.”

Darcy smiled then, and put a hand on the woman’s shoulder.  “It is good to be home.”

He felt it then as the conviction spread throughout his being.  It was good to be home and to be back on familiar, safe territory.  No more strange country estates with beguiling, intriguing ladies.  No more visits to relatives only to see the same beguiling woman.  No, here he was safe from seeing her.  With a deep breath, Darcy started up the stairs towards his room.

***

Gazing up at the large portrait before her, Elizabeth’s eyes lingered on the small smile on Mr. Darcy’s face.  It was a smile she now remembered having sometimes been directed at her.  Looking at it now, she was struck with how it seemed to be one of contentment and happiness.  That thought stirred something within her chest and she became transfixed with the expression.  He was certainly a handsome man, no denying it.  His dark, brooding eyes, once so disconcerting to her whenever they pierced her from across the room, now seemed to be boring into her very heart.

After several long minutes, Elizabeth turned in resignation from the portrait only to find herself alone in the gallery.  Spinning around, she saw that her group had continued on and she, in her distracted state had not seen it.  Taking one more moment to look upon the face of the master of the house, Elizabeth quickly turned and strolled through the nearby doorway in hopes of catching up with her party.

Darcy’s determined steps faltered and eventually stopped just as he passed the gallery hall.  Closing his eyes, Darcy took a moment to breathe.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he had seen Elizabeth again.  Slowly, he turned around and walked with great hesitation towards the gallery.  The empty room before him caused him to rub his eyes and question what he saw.  It is this infernal heat! Turning around again, Darcy summoned one of the passing maids and called for a large glass of cool drink to be brought to his chambers immediately.  It would not do to have the master seeing ghosts from his past.  Not for the first time, Darcy thanked Providence that he had decided to arrive a day ahead of his guests.

***

Elizabeth stopped, puzzled.  She had looked in the primary rooms along the hallway outside of the gallery and had seen no sign of her family.  She laughed to herself at the absurd nature of her situation.  Here she could have been mistress of this home and yet she was now only a lost visitor.

After unsuccessfully encountering several other empty rooms, Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief to see a maid emerge from around the corner.

“Excuse me, but I seem to have lost my party.  We were touring the home.”

The girl curtsied and smiled kindly at Elizabeth.  “I believe they have gone to the garden, miss.   But that was some time ago.”
Elizabeth smiled, “Oh, thank you.”

She began to walk again, determining to quickly find and rejoin her family when she stopped and chuckled again.  She knew not which direction she was going still.

“Could you please direct me towards the gardens please, I am afraid I am quite lost in this great house.”

The girl smiled in amusement. “I believe they exited off of the East Terrace into the gardens there.  You can reach them easily if you follow along this hallway to the end there, take a left along the corridor and then your first left again.  The doors to the garden are through the sitting room just to the right.”

Elizabeth thanked the girl once again and turned to leave when she heard another maid come and speak to the one who had helped her.

“The master is home and requests a drink brought to his room.”

“I am on my way to the kitchens now, I will go pass on the order.”

The other maid thanked her and rushed off in another direction.  Elizabeth stood frozen, a fear of such magnitude now griping her heart that she could not find command of her limbs.

“Excuse me…” Elizabeth addressed the maid again, her voice cracking with emotion, “Excuse me, but did I just hear correctly that your master is home.”

The maid looked at her now with some confusion.  “Yes, it would appear so.”

Elizabeth nodded and now suddenly filled with dread at possibly encountering him, managed to propel her legs briskly down the hallway.  Her head whipping around at every sound, down every hall, praying that she could just manage to escape the house without his notice.  Oh, what was I thinking, coming to his home!  What will he think of me?  Her thoughts only further increased her pace as she tried desperately to find her way out of the house before he could encounter her.  To be in his house after the way she had so horribly abused and accused him in Kent would look most improper and unfeeling.  It would seem as if she was throwing herself at his feet.  Retched mistake!

 

***

 

Darcy emerged from his chambers after his bath with a renewed and invigorated feeling about him.  It felt good to get cleaned up after his travels and now that he had been out of the heat of the day for a while, he felt certain the apparition of Elizabeth would no longer appear, making him question his insanity.  Rounding the corner, he encountered his steward.

Darcy smiled, “Mr. Saunders.”

“Mr. Darcy, sir.  Welcome home.” Bowing, he continued.  “I was just coming to see you as Mrs. Reynolds said you had business with me.”

Darcy nodded his head and together the two walked the length of the hall in the general direction of his study.  They were discussing developments on the estate since he had last been there when they turned the corner of yet another hallway.  Darcy stopped his relaxed stride causing the other man to stop.  Mr. Saunders was used to his master’s thoughtful gazes and thought nothing of it. He turned to him and just continued on in his discourse as they stood in the their places.

Darcy watched calmly as a vision of Elizabeth at the other end of the hallway came before him.  She had walked into view and turned, her back to him, to look out a window at the end of the hall.  He watched disbelievingly as she slipped up onto her toes for a better vantage.  The charming picture she presented made him lose all other thought and although he knew he was imagining her image again, he could not help his heart from beginning to beat strongly within his chest.  The sun gleamed through the window she peered through, surrounding her in a heavenly brightness.  When he heard a quiet sigh come from the ghost of Elizabeth, he began to hope that perhaps she might be real.  He had hoped and been disappointed twice already that day and did not wish to experience it again.

Reluctantly he turned towards his steward and interrupted him.

In a slow, steady voice meant to keep his own heart and mind from galloping off with his composure and possibly his sanity, he said, “Mr. Saunders, sir.  Could you please tell me if you see a young lady down the hall at the window?”

His steward was puzzled at the change in topic and at his master’s strangled sounding tone but obediently looked down the hall.  He could feel his master’s face fixed upon his own as he looked.  The hall was empty.  He turned back towards Mr. Darcy and said with concern.  “Sir, I do not see any lady.  Are you feeling well?”

Darcy allowed himself to turn then and behold that the window was, indeed, empty.  His jaw flexed and he swallowed hard.  Is Elizabeth’s ghost to haunt me now at Pemberley?  His spirits lowered further, he addressed his steward.

“I am well.  I think perhaps I spent too much time in the heat today.  I shall be fine in a short while, I am sure.  Shall we proceed to my study?”

Mr. Saunders nodded, reluctantly allowing the subject to drop although he had a feeling his master was further distressed than he let on.

***

Elizabeth smiled and sighed again as she continued down the hall.  From the window she could see her family on the garden lawn.  She was close and would soon be returned to them where she could beg them to leave at once.  A sick headache or something would do.  Until she was safely secured in the carriage back on the road to Lambton, she could not breathe easily.  There was always a chance she would encounter him and that she could not bear.

She reached for the handle of the first door on the right, the one she was sure from the instructions the maid gave, would contain the doors to the terrace.  She tried to turn it but it was locked and so, puzzled, she walked on to the next door, only it was locked as well.  Beginning to panic, she quickly walked to the last door, the only one at the end of the hallway.   Relief washed through her when the handle of the last door turned.  Feeling her escape was close, Elizabeth rushed into the room several steps.

He shoulders sunk as she looked all around her.  The room was beautifully decorated in a pale yellow with white molding, at least what she could see of the room, for all the furniture had drapes covering them.  This could not be the room the tour had been led through to the terrace.  When Elizabeth turned to exit the room, her anxiety once again rising in her throat, the door unexpectedly closed with a resounding bang.  Rushing to the door, Elizabeth panicked when she found the knob was stuck and she was trapped inside.  Spinning about she looked for another exit and seeing none, she turned again to try the doorknob.

Heedless of the attention she might then garner, Elizabeth allowed her emotions to overcome her and she banged mercilessly against the door, calling for help from within.  When several minutes of her heated pleas resulted in no aid, she sunk heavily down to the ground, her eyes filling with tears.

It was not her incarceration that she wept over.  She knew eventually her absence would be noticed, perhaps even now.  Once it was, someone would go looking for her and then she would be found.  No, the tears that now poured down her cheeks with impressive fluidity were for the fear that her discovery would be made known to the master.  That he would look at this as an attempt to secure him once again and worst of all that he would think ill of her for it.  Lowering her head to her hands, Elizabeth wept tears of the condemned.

***

After an hour of steady work, Mr. Saunders no longer worried for his master for as soon as they reached the study, Mr. Darcy had dived into the work with unobstructed attention.  When a knock interrupted their work, Saunders was thankful for the break.

“Enter.”

“Mr. Darcy, sir.  I apologize for the interruption.” Mrs. Reynolds walked in as she spoke.

“You are not interrupting, Ma’am.  Mr. Saunders, I am afraid, likely welcomes your arrival anyway, for I have worked him quite unforgivingly this past hour.” Darcy said good naturedly with a glance at his steward who betrayed no such relief and only bowed at his master’s words.  Turning once again to his housekeeper, he noticed her worried brow.  “What can I do for you, Mrs. Reynolds?”

The older lady twisted her apron and then smoothed it again before she spoke.  “Sir, it has come to my attention that a young girl from the party that toured the home earlier this morning has gone missing.”

“Missing!” Darcy stood.  “How is that?”

“Well, it seems she was separated somehow from the others of her party and has not been seen for some time now.”

Darcy rubbed his jaw and went to the sideboard for a drink.  “I suspect the young girl is somewhere about the gardens.  Are you quite sure she is missing?”

“Yes, sir.  I have enlisted Thomas and a few of the other footman to search the gardens.”

“Very good.  Please keep me apprised of the results of your search, Mrs. Reynolds.” Darcy said in kind dismissal but his housekeeper did not depart.  Cocking one eyebrow, he said, “Is there something else, Mrs. Reynolds?”

The older lady paused, seemingly to decide whether or not to proceed.  Finally, she said, “Sir, the lady’s relations claim she is acquainted with you.”

Darcy’s mind flashed back to his encounter with the young lady in the garden.  “I would hardly call it an acquaintance,” he huffed.  Shaking his head, he was beginning to wonder if this ‘disappearance’ was planned.  “We met only briefly in the gardens when I mistook her for someone else.  I did not even get the young girl’s name.”

Mrs. Reynolds seemed to find his answer helpful.  She breathed deeply as she said, “Well, that answers one question.  Her relations seem to think they did not see her even come out to the gardens, but if you say you spoke to her there then there can be no chance she is somewhere within the house.”

Darcy turned abruptly to his housekeeper, a look of displeasure on his face.  “They very well did see her in the gardens; I spoke to her father when I spoke to the lady!  What kind of game is it they think they are playing?”

Mrs. Reynolds seemed confused by his question.  “You spoke to her father?  I distinctly recall them saying the young lady was their niece.”

“I am sure he said the lady was his daughter.” This kind of machination was exactly why Darcy had avoided any eligible ladies since his majority.  All of them except Elizabeth, of course.

Mrs. Reynolds nodded and began to exit the room when a thought struck Darcy.  “Mrs. Reynolds, a moment.” When the lady stopped, Darcy asked, “What name did they give you?”

“It is a Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner of London, sir.”

Darcy shook his head, “No, I do not have any acquaintance by that name.  Do what you can to find the lady and see that they are sent on their way.”

“Yes, sir.”

Darcy had just shaken the ill-temper the encounter had caused and had just begun work with his steward again when they were once again interrupted by his housekeeper.

“Yes, Mrs. Reynolds?”

“I am sorry to interrupt again, sir.  But the grounds have been searched thoroughly and the lady has not been found.  Furthermore, her relation, Mr. Gardiner, insists on speaking to you.”

Darcy’s eyebrow rose in astonishment.  “He insists? Pray, who is he to demand my attendance on him?”

As soon as the words exited his mouth, Darcy thought of the rebuke Elizabeth had so skillfully thrown at him in the parsonage at Hunsford. ‘Your selfish disdain for the feelings of others.’  Frowning, Darcy rubbed his forehead and drew in a deep breath.  If he was to become a changed man because of her, he ought to at least start at home.  If this girl was truly missing, the man must be quite worried.  Here was his chance to practice concern for the feelings of others.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Reynolds.  Forgive me for my rude outburst.  Please show the man in.”

When Mr. Gardiner was shown into his study, Darcy was startled to see it was not the man from the garden, but the gentleman that had been with the lady standing some ways off.

“Mr. Gardiner, sir.” Darcy offered his hand to the gentleman who took it warily.

“Mr. Darcy, sir.  I understand you do not acknowledge my niece’s acquaintance with you but I am afraid I must beg for your assistance anyway in finding her.” The man’s voice wavered in the last causing Darcy to look at him with compassion.

“Mr. Gardiner, I fear I may have been mistaken as to your identity and that of your nieces when I said that I did not have a prior acquaintance with you both.   If you say that I should know you, then you will have to forgive me and remind me of the nature of our acquaintance.”

“You are correct in that we are not acquainted but you are certainly acquainted with my niece.  You met her when you were lately staying in my sister’s neighborhood in Hertfordshire last fall.”

Darcy visibly started when Mr. Gardiner mentioned Hertfordshire and his heart began to race even as a feeling of hope mixed with worry began to fill his chest.  “Sir, the name of your niece would be?”

Mr. Gardiner laughed humorlessly, “Forgive me, I thought your housekeeper had already told you her name.  My niece is Miss Bennet of Longbourn.”

“Miss Bennet!”

“Well, I should say Miss Elizabeth, rather.” Mr. Gardiner corrected himself.

Darcy was momentarily overcome with emotion to think that Elizabeth had, indeed, been at his house.  Suddenly the image of her in the gallery and in the hallway came to his mind and he rejoiced in the fact that she had in actually walked these halls and that his mind had not deteriorated to the point of seeing her apparition.

Mr. Gardiner cleared his throat causing Mr. Darcy to come out of his heightened state of happiness and back to the realization that Elizabeth was even now missing somewhere at Pemberley.

Concern flooding his features, Darcy walked briskly to the door and called for Mrs. Reynolds, and Withers, the butler.   Summoning them to his study he immediately gave directions for them to call up on all available footmen to search the gardens anew.

Mr. Gardiner was pleased with the obvious concern on the gentleman’s face and glad to have finally cleared up the misunderstanding so that Elizabeth could be found.

“Sir, I promise you we will find her.  If you would like to join your wife again in the salon, we will keep you abreast of the situation, you have my word.”

Mr. Gardiner was about to protest and ask that he be able to be of some assistance in the search for Elizabeth when he recalled the emotional state of his wife as she worried for her favorite niece.  Nodding, he said, “Please find her Mr. Darcy.  My wife and I are very concerned for her.”

“I will let no harm come to her, sir.  I am sure we will find her right away.”

Darcy instructed Mrs. Reynolds then to ensure some refreshments were made available to the Gardiners and to notify the household staff to begin searching the home as well.  Darcy signaled to his steward to follow and together they strode determinedly out of the study.  Darcy paused only briefly at the foot of his stairs to decide whether or not to search the grounds with the footman or to look in the part of the house where he had seen her.  I actually saw her!  He rejoiced momentarily at the thought and then indicated to his steward up the stairs.

Upon reaching the hallway where he had seen Elizabeth he turned and went to enter the first door.

“Why is this door locked?” he demanded.  “This door is never locked.”

“I do not know, sir.” Mr. Saunders answered uneasily.

Darcy turned to the door then and knocked on it, “Miss Elizabeth, are you in there?”

When there was no answer, he turned to his steward.  “Go and fetch the keys to this room.”

Darcy continued down the hall then and tried the next door, angry to find it locked as well.  When his call for Elizabeth went unanswered there too, he continued down to the last door.  It was his mother’s old sitting room and was never used.  Although there was no reason she should have been in there, he had to search thoroughly.  Just as he was about to reach for the door, he heard the sweetest sound he could imagine.  Her voice called from behind the door, “Mr. Darcy, sir!  I am in here.”

Darcy rushed towards the door and opened it immediately.  He walked into the room as his eyes scanned the it for her.  There, standing near on the dusty sheet covering the divan, Elizabeth stood, her face awash with several emotions, her cheeks growing into a deeper pink as the seconds ticked.  Darcy was momentarily frozen at the sight she presented.  He had wished so dearly for her to be in his home as his wife, had suffered severe disappointment earlier when he had thought she was there and finally felt such relief and joy to find that she was.  Now that the fear of her safety was gone, he was left only with the embarrassment of having encountered her at his house.  Before either of them could say anything further, there seemed to be a movement in the air and the door closed behind Darcy.

The door’s slam brought Elizabeth first to reality and she rushed towards it.  “Oh, no! The door!”

Darcy whirled around to watch her and much to his astonishment the door did not seem to want to open although he had not encountered any trouble gaining entrance but a moment ago.

“Please allow me, Miss Elizabeth.”

She obediently stepped aside, though whether to allow him to try to open the door or because his scent and sudden proximity discomposed her, it is for the reader to determine.

When he could not open the door either, he banged on it and called to the other side.  Mr. Saunders, having just returned from retrieving the keys came rushing and could be heard just on the other side.

“Saunders!  Thank goodness.  Open this door, man.  I have found Miss Bennet, and we are now stuck inside this room, the door seemed to have locked on us.”

“Right away, sir.” And the sound of keys jangling could be heard on the other side.  Darcy looked sheepishly towards Elizabeth; unable to help himself now that he was certain she was real and was in fact there with him.  He gave her an apologetic smile as he turned again towards the door.

Elizabeth was reeling; feelings of both extreme mortification and tender emotion warred in her heart at the site of his small smile.  She could not easily determine if he wished more for their release or continued incarceration.  If it were not for the not infrequent heated glances that he directed at her occasionally, she would have guessed it was the former.  She recalled then the look that came upon his face when he first entered the room.  Her heart beat wildly at the memory of the sincere happiness that infused his features upon seeing her.

“Mr. Darcy, the key for this room is not working,” came Saunders from the other side.

“Not working?  What do you mean, man, open this door!”

“I have tried, sir. But it none of the keys are working.  They will not even go into the lock?”

“Are you sure you have the correct keys?”

“Yes, sir.  Mrs. Reynolds assured me they were the correct ones.”

Darcy cursed under his breath and looked once more to Miss Elizabeth.  Turning again to the door, he talked through the wood. “Go and tell the Gardiners we have found Miss Elizabeth and have Mrs. Reynolds come with the master key.”

Mr. Saunders’ reply was muffled by his boot steps away from the door as he rushed to do his master’s bidding.  When his footsteps could no longer be heard, Darcy slowly turned around towards Elizabeth.

He gave her a depreciating smile and said, “I am sorry Miss Elizabeth for this.  Please, allow me to make you more comfortable while we wait.”

He rushed to the divan she had been standing at and removed the cover so she could sit without the dust.  Then he removed another cover and sat on the seat across from her.  Their silence was deafening.

“Welcome to Pemberley…”

“Please, sir, I apologize for…”

Darcy smiled as they seemed to speak at the same time and he indicated she go first.

Elizabeth began to feel all the mortification of their situation and thus poured forth, “I am sorry, Mr. Darcy for what may look in a mistaken light…I mean, we were assured that the family were not in or we would not have presumed… and now…”

Darcy laughed quietly causing her to stop her speech.  “Miss Elizabeth.  You are perfectly welcome at Pemberley at anytime you wish and you were not misinformed.  I came a day before my party unexpectedly.”

“Thank you.”

“And how do you find Pemberley?” he asked cautiously.

“It is marvelous, sir.  Very pleasing.” Some unpleasant thought must have crossed her mind as her brow creased and her voice died away.

“I am glad to hear it.”

Elizabeth ventured a glance up at him through her lashes and was pleased to see he was smiling and did not seem to think she was trying to gain his favor.

Both were relieved then when sounds on the outside of the door alerted them to the approach of several persons.

“Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth rushed to the door, “Uncle!” she laughed with relief.  “I do not know how this happened.  One minute I was with you and my aunt in the gallery and next you were gone.  I tried to catch up with the group but then I think I may have made a wrong turn and gotten lost.  I confess, I panicked and rushed into the first room that opened for me but then I was somehow locked in!”

Her natural lively demeanor lightened the atmosphere both within and without as both sides contemplated her explanation with soft laughs.

“And are you well?” her uncle called through the door.

“Yes, thank you.  Mr. Darcy found me a moment ago,” she said as she turned to look at him over her shoulder.

“Mr. Darcy, you are locked in that room with my niece too?”

Darcy stood then and walked to join Elizabeth at the door.  “I am Mr. Gardiner.”

“Alone?”

Elizabeth and Darcy both colored at the tone her uncle used.  “Yes, sir,” came the unsteady reply from the master of the house.

They could both hear her uncle encouraging the steward, who now had the master key from the housekeeper to move quicker to unlock the door.

“Mr. Darcy, sir.” Saunders called from the other side.  “None of the keys are working.  I am afraid we will have to send for the locksmith in Lambton, sir.”

Darcy sighed, “Then off with you, sir, return as soon as possible.”

If he was being honest with himself, his urgency was more for Elizabeth’s uncle’s sake because if it were up to him he would gladly welcome any additional minutes in her sole company.

Those on the outside soon left.  Mr. Saunders to send for the locksmith and Mr. Gardiner to assure his wife that Elizabeth was well, although he was reluctant to leave knowing his niece was alone with a gentleman just on the other side of that blasted door.

The two occupants of the room turned then to each other and shrugged as they walked back to their seats in silence.

Finally, Elizabeth ventured to speak.  “Thank you, Mr. Darcy for finding me.”

“You are most welcome.  However, perhaps you should hold your thanks until I can manage to get us out of here,” he said with a slight upturn of his lips.

She returned his smile. “This is a very lovely room, sir.  I wonder that you have it covered as it is.”

Darcy looked about him; it had been a very long time since he had been in that room.  “It was my mother’s favorite sitting room.  She spent much of her time here.  I had thought to have it redecorated for Georgiana but she preferred another sitting room on the west side of the house.”

“I am sorry, I did not know it was your mother’s.” Elizabeth said sincerely.

“Do not be concerned, Miss Elizabeth.  It holds only happy memories.  It is just that we do not often use it so to protect the furnishings I had them covered.”

Elizabeth sighed, “I am sorry that after today’s debacle you will not be able to claim it having only happy memories.”

“I do not see any reason to change my assertion.”

Elizabeth blushed and turned her head, unable to say anything for a moment for the beat of her heart was so intense at his words.  When she regained some of her composure, she shyly looked up through her lashes at him and smiled, “Thank you.”

Darcy involuntarily twitched, having only just held his muscles in check to stay where he was and not join her on her couch when he saw her lovely smile and the sparkle of her eyes.

“What brings you to Derbyshire, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I am visiting the area with my aunt.  She lived for some time as a girl in Lambton.”

Remembering his manners after their unusual reasserted acquaintance, he asked after her family and she confirmed they were all well.  After several other stilted topics, the silence returned.

Darcy adjusted herself on his seat as he sat uncomfortable in the silence.  Without warning then, his chair collapsed underneath him and he fell backwards, crashing to the floor.  “What the…oomph.”

Elizabeth jumped from her seat to go to him. “Mr. Darcy, are you alright?”

He looked up at her leaning over him and began to laugh quietly.  When he saw the corners of her lips turn upwards, his mirth doubled and he laughed more heartily.  Elizabeth began laughing as well, delicately placing a hand over her mouth as she reached towards him with the other.  “May I assist you, Mr. Darcy?”

Darcy laughed again as he took her hand in his and managed to stand.  Once safely on his feet again, his laughter died away at the beautiful sight before him.  Elizabeth eyes were slightly bright from her laughter and her warm hand was still in his.  He realized he had been looking at her with undisguised longing when she stopped laughing and quietly looked down from his face to their hands.  Reluctantly, Mr. Darcy released her hand.

“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth.  I did not realize the furniture in here was unsafe.”

He smiled when she giggled again and said, “It is not often that a lady can assist a gentleman in such a way.”

Darcy chuckled and watched as she turned to resume her seat.  It was then that he was forced to step forward quickly when she stumbled, catching her around her waist.  Both stiffened at their sudden closeness.  Elizabeth willed her heart to slow despite feeling his strength pressed against her back and Darcy required several moments after releasing her to compose himself.

“It seems we are equal now,” Elizabeth ventured to still the suddenly thick atmosphere.  “Thank you for preventing my fall; I cannot think what it is that caused me to stumble.”

They both looked at the smooth rug and then at each other.  Darcy could not deny his heart any longer and despite the warnings of his mind that he should not proceed, his words spilled thus from his mouth, “Elizabeth…” he noted her sudden intake of air at his use of her Christian name and continued with more spirit, “you must know the state of my heart.  Indeed, it is not changed since I last declared myself, except to say that I, quite possibly – no most assuredly – love you more than I did then.”

Elizabeth gasped and her hand flew to hear heart, feeling its rhythm beneath.  She looked up to him then with eyes filling with joyful tears.

He came to her then and secured her hand in his.  “If your feelings are the same as they were last April, please tell me at once.”

She silently encouraged him with the beginnings of a triumphant smile as her disbelief that he should still love her began to melt away to a conviction in her heart causing hope to grow there.

Darcy began slowly, “If, however, you find that your feelings have changed,” he caressed the small hand resting in his, “then I would ask that you reconsider the answer you gave me then.”

Elizabeth let out a small sob as her joy overwhelmed her upon hearing his words.  She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it tenderly.

“Elizabeth…” Darcy whispered as he watched her hold his hand to her sweet lips.

“Will you?  Can this dream possibly be true?”

He smiled as he watched her smile in that wonderful way he loved.  “Yes.”

Darcy then gathered her into his arms and pressed her head against his chest.  Her sweet lavender scent tickled his senses and he thanked her for the gift of her hand.

“You know I saw you both in the gallery and in this hall earlier today.”

Elizabeth pulled back in surprise, only to find herself tucked quickly back into his arms as he would not allow her to disengage from his embrace.

Laughing, she said, “If you saw me, why did you not present yourself?”

Darcy laughed as well as he answered, “I thought perhaps you might have been a ghost.”

“A ghost, Mr. Darcy!  Really, I believe you must be deceased to be a ghost,” she teased.

Darcy smiled at her playful manner. “Well, what was I supposed to think then?  I had no idea you would ever come to Pemberley, in fact I was sure you would avoid it at all costs.” He felt her cringe and he gave her a squeeze before continuing, “and then when I looked again to where I had seen you, you were always gone.  Perhaps ghost was not the right word.  Vision, maybe.  Either way, I began to worry for my sanity.”

Elizabeth chuckled and managed to sit back so she could see into his face.  “And have I assured you that I am no vision, or the apparition of a departed soul?”

Darcy’s lips twitched as he looked at her with a roguish glint in his eye.  “As to that, I am not sure.  I fear there is only one way to be certain.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and encouraged him to elaborate.

Darcy shrugged his shoulders and said, “I believe, madam, the only way for me to know for sure is to kiss you.”

Elizabeth blushed even while she laughed at his rouse.  She looked up at him then and boldly replied, “Then do what you must, sir.  I would not have you be mistaken.”

Darcy became serious then as his eyes lit with a fire she had seen before but only just recognized as desire.  Her eyes fluttered closed as he leaned in and captured her lips in the sweetest of kisses, followed by a few more that were decidedly less sweet.  Pulling away, both had brightened cheeks and unsteady breaths.

Elizabeth recovering only slightly better than Darcy, smiled as she asked, “And so, sir.  Am I a vision or specter?”

“Oh, my Elizabeth.  You are definitely real.”

Elizabeth blushed as she leaned into his embrace once again, allowing all her worries and cares from the day to dissolve away.

“I am afraid, sir, that when they finally open that door, you will be made to marry me.”

“Is that so?” Darcy chuckled and played along.

“It is, sir.  For I believe I am fairly compromised now.”

“I will do my duty then.” Darcy said with mock solemnity.

It was then that they could hear sounds from the other side of the door.  Standing, they both went to the door to listen.  It was the return of Darcy’s steward, Mr. Gardiner, and the locksmith.

They exchanged greetings through the door before the locksmith assured him he would have the door open as soon as possible.  Out of habit, the locksmith tried the doorknob before pulling out his tools.  The door swung open easily and both those within and without stared at each other through the threshold with obvious disbelief.

Elizabeth rushed into her uncle’s arms and rejoiced in their freedom.  Darcy shook his head and once again looked at the door with disbelief.  He even stepped back into the room, closed the door and opened it again without trouble.  Disregarding the puzzle for a much more pleasing thought, he looked toward where Elizabeth had just released her uncle.

Mr. Gardiner looked at both their heightened colors when they met eyes and cleared his throat.  “Mr. Darcy, would you perhaps have any business to discuss with me in your study?”

A slow smile spread across Darcy’s features as he looked unabashedly at Elizabeth with total admiration.  He did not even change the direction of his gaze when he answered the man, “Yes, I believe I do.”

Darcy turned and indicated that the group should precede him down the hallway.  He smiled at Elizabeth as she took her uncle’s offered arm and walked ahead of him.

 

 

“Well, Anne.  I hope you are proud of yourself.”

            “I am quite proud of myself, thank you dear.” Anne Darcy said as she hovered near the hearth in her favorite sitting room.

            “I do not know that they needed your interception, though.” George Darcy hovered near her and gazed down at her with tender love and the indulgence long held for his sweet wife.

            “Nonsense!  You saw the way the two of them were suffering today.  She is a sweet girl and our dear boy just needed a chance to show her he still loved her.”

            “I cannot help but think, my dear, that chances may have arisen at some point for that to happen on its own.”

            “Psssh.  Darling, in matters of the heart, you must defer to me.”

            George Darcy smiled and wrapped his arms around his wife.  “You are quite right, of course.”  He nuzzled her neck and continued, “But the doors?  Was that really necessary, my dear?”

            Giggling, Lady Anne pushed her husband aside to pretend to be affronted.  “Of course it was.  How else was she to end up in this room, and he as well.  I will concede the chair breaking was a bit theatrical but it was so sweet the way she helped him up.”

            “And her tripping on the rug?”

            “Oh that was entirely out of my hands.  I had nothing to do with it.”

             George looked at his wife with a skeptical brow. 

            “I swear, darling, I did not make her trip!  But I will grant you the results were fortuitous.”

            Kissing his wife, George said, “Come, dearest.  I believe if we hurry we may be able to see our son’s interview with Elizabeth’s uncle.  I remember my interview with your father with painful accuracy and would not wish to miss this for the world.”  He chuckled as he held out his arm to escort his wife.

            She gladly slipped her arm into his and together they drifted through the walls to the study.

 

 

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