Posted on: 2014-06-08
She knew he would assume it was his man entering the dressing room. As she expected, he was completing his bath, his back toward her. When he stepped from the tub, her breath caught in her throat. Perhaps in time she would become accustomed to him. He could easily have been a model for a sculptor attempting to capture the majesty of a Greek god. Pemberley, like other fine homes, displayed a number of such classic renderings in stone. They rivaled the quality to be found in London's museums. But Pemberley's owner outranked them all, in her view.
When he looked over his shoulder and saw her, he quickly reached for his dressing gown and put it on. It was the reflex of a gentleman not used to a lady entering his bath. But upon a second more of reflection, he seemed to hesitate. He sashed his garment only loosely, and told her, "I know that expression. You have some mischievous purpose, I wager."
"That is not a very welcoming greeting."
"You know you are always welcome -- even when I know by your twinkling eyes that you are preparing to tease me yet again. Fortunately, I have learned these past few months as your constant target to bear abuse with resignation."
"And after a statement like that you call me a tease?"
"What did you do with Haddley? Is he likely to disturb us?"
"I asked him to wait in the hallway because I needed a moment alone with you. I have something serious to discuss."
He harrumphed. "Serious, is it? Then, of course, I am at your disposal, especially since you left our bed before I awakened."
She shook her head in mock exasperation. "Really, I did not come in here to--well, I did not come for the reason you seem to think." She paused and cleared her throat before continuing with a sly half-smile, "I will admit, however, that witnessing you step out of your bath is a pleasure that -- I could partake of repeatedly." Tilting her head to the side and shaking it slightly, she added, "You should see yourself."
"Ought not a wife be allowed certain liberties if she is so fortunate as to have a husband who reminds her of Adonis, or, maybe Apollo? Yes, Apollo, that's better! Upon due consideration, I think that is more in keeping with your nature." Since his dressing gown was still half open, she could easily trace the path of his blush. He could be a man of quick and sensitive reactions. It was also obvious whatever embarrassment he felt was mixed with pleasure.
She continued, "While Adonis is merely the god of beauty, your fondness for cultivating knowledge in many things makes you a better Apollo."
"In other words, you find me more than a pretty face."
"Exactly! I would share you with the world if I believed we could find a talented enough artist to do you justice. Since we probably cannot, I believe you will have to settle for being mine alone."
"Are you quite done with this assault upon my dignity?"
"Well, that is a rather grumpy response to what I thought was an elegant compliment."
"I am sorry to disappoint you," he said in a solemn voice as he walked toward her, "and, after further consideration of the seriousness of the matter, I find that --" Suddenly his arms were about her and he pressed her to him. "Mrs. Darcy, you force me to take actions to stop your mouth." He kissed her with admirable thoroughness and seemingly without a care that he was taking her breath away. .
When he finally released her, he looked smugly satisfied at his work. She was rumpled and much in need of repairs by her lady's maid.
She chided without heat, "Now see what you have done to me, Mr. Darcy. I really do have something serious to discuss, and I must demand your attention, sir."
"You always have my attention, Mrs. Darcy," he said, gently backing her toward the wall. He tangled his fingers in her hair, undoing still more of the handiwork of the lady's maid.
She tilted her head and tried to glare upward at him but could not quite manage it when she could see so clearly in his eyes that he was besotted with her. "A woman worthy of being pleased," he had described her after he proposed the second time, and several months into their marriage, he obviously held that opinion still.
She still marveled that he had ever started on the path to love her. In many superficial ways, they were opposites. Shortly after he proposed, she said to him, "To be sure, you knew no actual good of me -- but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."
However, her reasons for falling in love with him were quite clear to her. Indeed, she did not fall but, rather, made a calculated leap, based upon consideration that Fitzwilliam Darcy was an excellent man and they were well suited. Where her mind had led, her heart followed with an absoluteness that left her as besotted as he.
With her gloriously rational choice now pressing his still dripping body against her, it was all she could do to protest weakly, "Sir, you must stop distracting me. You will make me forget what I came to say."
"But I like distracting you, wife," he said, nuzzling her neck. She particularly liked his voice when it was low like this, demanding and pleading at the same time. A woman on a mission, she resisted.
"How would you have me please you," he persisted, the words a statement rather than a question, muttered with his hands still busy.
She found the will to push him away. "I have something to say and I cannot think when you are this close."
He sighed and let his hands drop to his sides. "Are you truly serious about talking? You really thought my bath would be the best place for talk -- after you flirt with me? Do not misunderstand. I encourage you to flirt with me as much as you wish." He grinned and raised both brows. "But, if you want to talk seriously, you would best consider waiting for me to dress and then meeting me in my office."
"I did not want to risk our being overheard by servants. This is the one place no one would draw near enough to hear."
Her remark caused him to look sharply at her, frowning, his mood dampened. His voice was gentle but there was no doubting the reproof in it. "Concern that the servants will hear is a needless worry, my dear. As I have told you, Pemberley's servants are very well-trained. You are still learning your role as their mistress, but I assure you, they will not take gossip beyond this house, however much the downstairs may be abuzz. If you are still worried about the unfortunate business between our cook and the manservant -- I do not see that we have anything more to discuss."
How formidable her husband's face could look when his mind was made up, never mind that the rest of him was mostly bare. She suspected that most people facing his sternly set visage would let a matter drop.
She lowered her head and tried playfulness. "As your wife, I know I must learn that you always know best and you can control almost everything. I am trying to be properly obedient and demure. This is what you wish?" Head still down, she looked upward to see how her statement had affected him. He was not amused.
She shrugged and went on anyway. "Seriously, my dear husband, I wonder if we were high-handed. I think we gave too little regard to their attachment."
"I disagree. We talked about this. All I am certain of is that she likes him, and not that it goes in reverse. But even if their fondness is reciprocal, how long will it last? He is barely twenty-one while she is nearly forty. Whatever is between them will surely prove ephemeral," Darcy said.
"Suppose you are wrong? Do you recall my sister and your friend Bingley?"
She thought from the expression on his face that he was probably stifling some haughty reply. His lips pressed together and he briefly closed his eyes.
When he opened his eyes, he smiled -- or, at least he tried. "I suppose you bring that up because I made an error there. This is a different situation. We are talking about servants and I have a responsibility as their master. You must understand, more is at stake than the feelings of two people . . ."
She could feel almost palpably his effort to be patient with her. To save him aggravation, she might almost have given up. But she believed strongly that she had the right of the matter and thought that he, being a reasonable man, could be made to see it her way. She interrupted, "It can always be said whenever any two people fall in love that there is more at stake than just the two. Other people are always involved."
"Please let me finish." He took a breath and went on, "I think you believe I am being selfish in this. It is true I would be exceedingly loathed to lose Cook from my kitchen. The woman is a marvel. But that is not the only reason for my decision. And, I am hardly holding her hostage here. If she wished to leave, she could and, given her skills, she could easily find a good position elsewhere."
"But not at Goodhaven. That is, in one of your favorite phrases, the material point. You are sending the man she loves to another estate whose family already has a cook of longstanding. They would not displace him even for our Miss Amelia Baker, and she would not want to take a lower place. I do not know her well, but I trust Mrs. Reynolds who tells me how proud she is."
"I am glad she would not go to Goodhaven in pursuit of Mr.Wainwright. For me to encourage that would be to send Pemberley's problem to another gentleman's estate, and it would be wrong. The best thing for Cook and Mr. Wainwright is to be separated."
"In effect you take him away from her, like a toy snatched from a misbehaving child."
"Elizabeth," Darcy muttered, his irritation now clear. "We discussed this. Given the young man's attractiveness to women, and Miss Baker's objections to other women showing interest in him, they are prone to go on creating uproar on a regular basis. Separating them is the best solution for everyone."
She turned away slightly as she considered the best way to proceed. She knew her husband had been known to fire servants caught in adulterous relationships, and she agreed with the principle. Darcy had been willing to ignore the cook and her young man as long as he had no specific evidence they were acting improperly in private. He had let his steward and his housekeeper manage the situation, expecting that eventually the problem would dissipate as the couple naturally drew apart.
Unfortunately, the latest argument between the cook and a particularly pretty young maid was impossible to ignore. The maid had arranged a meeting with the manservant in the stable yards. The cook spied upon them and soon had the maid face down in mud. She ignored the entreaties of the manservant to let the girl up. The noise attracted a crowd. The girl happened to have relatives on staff and they jumped into the fray to protect their kinswoman. The scrappy cook took on two newcomers and still had the best of the fight until a fourth person entered to help the maid's side by pinning down the cook's beefy arms. At that point, to prevent the cook from being pummeled while she was held, the cook's young manservant friend John entered the fight on her side. He was quite tall and strong, and together, he and the cook had a definite edge although it was two against four. It took several buckets of water dumped over the brawlers to end the fight. Surprisingly, no one was significantly injured.
Under almost any circumstances, the incident would have been enough for the cook to be let go since all witnesses agreed she threw the first punch. In fact, once the heat of moment passed and the combatants, all decent and sensible people usually, had time for sober reflection upon their shocking behavior, they all expected to be dismissed from Pemberley.
As it turned out, no one was fired. The cook knew all of Darcy's favorite dishes and was very creative in coming up with new concoctions to tempt his palate. He did not want to let her go, and if he was not going to fire her, he was too fair a master to punish the other servants much more severely than a warning. The pretty young maid was given an exceptional severance and a good character and sent on her way to train for a lady's maid position in London. This "punishment" left her ecstatic, and before leaving she even apologized to the cook for her hasty words, that had resulted in the cook slapping her. The pretty young girl's relatives who had defended her from the cook were discreetly forgiven by their master, the matter never to be spoken of again.
The housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds gave Cook a good dressing down, threatening that she would be let go if anything similar happened again. But Darcy also decided a more permanent solution was required to help the cook stay out of trouble. She would certainly forget the manservant if he was gone. As with the pretty maid, a position was found for him elsewhere. Elizabeth noted proudly of her husband that he had had behaved with more tolerance toward his servants than many masters would have.
But she still thought his decision was wrong. "The solution is good for you because you get to keep Cook exactly where she is. But when I met with her to discuss the weekly menu, the poor woman was on the verge of bursting into tears. I believe she had just learned that her friend John was being sent away."
"Did she complain to you?" Darcy asked darkly.
"No, I think she probably knows better than that. She said nothing at all of it. It was in her face and the heavy way she moved. I'm sure that Mrs. Reynolds acting for you was quite clear as to how things must be, and what can Cook do but accept it? I tried to put it out of my mind, but, Fitzwilliam, I can not. I know how I would feel is someone tried to take you from me, and that is what we are doing to Cook."
Darcy bit off frostily, "You compare us to the situation of our cook and a manservant."
"They are two people and we are two people. Does their being servants make their love less real? Where would you and I be if my mother had her way and had forced me to marry William Collins? She thought that was in everyone's best interest at the time."
Darcy's stern face became, impossibly, even sterner, but his voice showed his effort to control himself. Gently, he said, "My dear, I love your kindness and generosity but I think you are making a ridiculous comparison."
"Am I? Is it ridiculous to believe that our duty as master and mistress requires us to consider the damage we might do in the lives of these two people. Is it right that we thwart their happiness for our comfort? Perhaps they are meant to be together."
"Meant by whom?" Darcy asked suspiciously. His lip came dangerously close to curling contemptuously. "The Greek god of love, perhaps? Was it he who suggested that the cook Miss Baker strike another person?"
"I agree it was very bad for her to do so."
"It's one thing for Cook to ply a young man with goodies in her kitchen. I understand from Mrs. Reynolds the other servants grumble, but I have said we would ignore that and let Cook run the kitchen as she will. However, it is a different matter when she knocks a maid into a mud puddle for speaking to him. Eventually, young Wainwright will choose someone who is younger and prettier. I can only imagine the row if Cook is near when it happens."
"How can we be certain that he will choose someone other than Amelia?"
"Cook's first name," Elizabeth reminded him. He must have known that since he had known Cook far longer than she had. "I understand the manservant John aided Amelia when she was being accosted."
Darcy sighed wearily and said in the tone of someone stating the obvious, "She was not accosted. She was definitely the aggressor -- even she readily admits that."
"But the point he fought beside her and I find it -- " Elizabeth paused -- "romantic that he would want to protect her. Though I know it does not excuse either of them for being in a brawl."
"Elizabeth, he is young and handsome, and Cook is not."
"That is rather ungentlemanly of you to say. She is -- well, beauty is not everything. Maybe he sees something else in her."
"They are not well-matched as life partners."
"They should be allowed to decide, rather than we, especially when we are really concerned with furthering our own interests. Otherwise, we are being selfish and cruel."
"Ah, you say we but you mean me. I am beginning to be reminded of the time you were George Wickham's advocate because you thought I had been cruel and unfair to him. Am I again the villain?"
"That is such an unfair thing for you to bring up," Elizabeth snapped. She paused to calm herself and speak more mildly. "I made an egregious error in judgment then and I recall your assuring me you could understand how it happened."
"I did say that, and I did understand. But I do not like being accused of acting wrongly now when I am trying to maintain peace at Pemberley -- and doing it in as kind and generous a manner as I can. Very few masters would be so temperate as I have been."
"I know," Elizabeth agreed.
"But an incident such as this the fight among our staff cannot happen again."
"I recognize the cook was wrong in her actions. Can you not see that we might be wrong, too, to separate them?"
Darcy smiled indulgently as he put his hands gently upon her shoulders. "Let me try explaining another way. Certain politics exist among servants on a staff as large as ours. Longbourn was probably too small for you to have experienced this. It's all quite apart from us as their master and mistress, and it is usually best for us not to interfere -- to let them work it out themselves.
"Now, the material point is, Miss Amelia Baker holds a position of some power on our staff. She has favored John, and I believe he is afraid to say no to her. I do not think that he likes her as she likes him. Usually, I would do nothing about it, and allow him to figure it out for himself. But the situation is having too great an effect upon everyone else."
"Oh. You think he cannot say no but is now in truth happy to escape her?"
"Exactly. Miss Baker can be a very forceful person. John, in contrast, is rather mild and easily led. My dear, please trust me. I believe I know what is best."
He pulled his wife to him in a gentle embrace. "You smell wonderful," he mumbled, as he started again to explore her body.
"So do you," she said absently. After a minute of relaxing in his arms, she said, "Would you ask him?"
"Ask who what?"
"Ask John what he wants. Ask him if he loves her."
"If he says he wants her, should we not then let them be together?" Elizabeth persisted. "Would you ask him? I think it's more likely he is afraid of opposing you, now that you have decided to send him away. He may be afraid to say he wishes to claim her."
Darcy considered the matter. He glared at his wife. Finally, with the merest nod of his head, he indicated assent. She smiled and sighed happily.
Biting his bottom lip, he asked, "Now that that's settled, would you stay awhile?"
"Fitzwilliam, it is fully daylight and we both have duties. In fact, I believe you bathed in advance of a meeting you are to have shortly with your uncle among others?"
"There is time." His hands tightened about her waist.
But she pulled away. "They traveled here at your convenience and I hardly think it would be kind to make them wait."
"I would barely be an hour late, if that. And they spent last night here. It is not as if they had to rise early and travel. Waiting in the comfort of Pemberley is no hardship."
"It would be embarrassing if they thought you were late because -- you were delayed by your wife. Also, my apologies, but I have several things in my day that cannot wait. I will send Haddley in to help you dress."
She ignored his pout, adding pointedly just before she slipped out the door, "John Wainwright is to leave for Goodhaven at dawn tomorrow so I hope you will speak to him at your earliest convenience after your other meeting today. We will talk tonight, shall we? Perhaps instead of two people parting in despair, we will find ourselves able to encourage a marriage. I would be delighted with that outcome."
She knew her husband well enough to discern a nod where a stranger might have sworn he had not responded at all.
She thanked him and left.
Posted on: 2014-06-15
Before her marriage, she had settled it with Mr. Darcy that they were to be the happiest couple in the world. The act she had just committed did not make her very happy, and she thought, he probably even less. But it had to be done.
For all of his many virtues, he could be cold and selfish -- never to her, of course, and that she relied upon. She could see, she believed, what he, for all his brilliance and goodness, could not. He was man of great privilege, accustomed to having his way. Although she had certainly known little of want or deprivation in her own life, her position as a woman gave her, in contrast, an opportunity to be more aware of fear, necessity and injustice. Not all women would see as she did, but her softness for strays and the mistreated was a long-standing feature of her personality.
Where he saw nothing of note, she saw a tragedy in the making, and she could not let it happen. She knew she was right. Still ... she also knew what it was for a wife to nag and wheedle, and a husband to grow more silent, when he was not being sharply sardonic. That would never be her and Darcy, Elizabeth assured herself. He would forgive even the impertinence she showed this morning.
Her husband loved her in a way that, sadly, her father might never have loved her mother. Thus, Elizabeth felt confident she could be far more successful at manipulating her husband than Mrs. Bennet had ever been at manipulating hers.
"Everything will be well, and, I'll do it just this once, never again," she whispered aloud to herself. "But this is important."
It was Lady Catherine's fault Elizabeth could not give in on this. Darcy's aunt had attempted to block the Darcys' marriage with innuendos and veiled threats. Officious, unfeeling harridan she was, she cared nothing for right and wrong, or for love, only her own comfort and convenience. Darcy could not truly want to play the role Lady Catherine had, albeit the lovers in this situation were servants rather than a gentleman and a gentlewoman. Elizabeth believed she and her husband should be more circumspect since they held power over servants that Lady Catherine had never held over them.
"When I meet with my husband tonight, I will tell him that greater power should be wielded with greater kindness rather than greater disregard. If ever there is a man anywhere who will agree with me, it is my Fitzwilliam. I simply need to explain it well."
But all day she worried and tried not to remember how he looked at her when she quitted his dressing room. She was locked in thought and did not hear herself being hailed until a rough voice was fairly screaming her name. "Mrs. Darcy!"
Startled, she looked up to see at the door of her office stood none other than the object of her efforts, the short, broadly built Amelia Baker. The cook looked abashed and lowered her head, bowing at the same time she curtseyed. "Pardon for interrupting you, ma'am. I'm sorry to bother you, but I needed to ask something."
"Really?" Elizabeth saw the eagerness in the woman's face and wondered if she had come to plead her case directly.
"I thought it was important. Mrs. Reynolds said it was on my head if I bother you, but I needed to ask."
Elizabeth drew a deep breath and thought she saw something in the woman's face she had once seen in her own. It was in that awful moment when she realized she could have loved Darcy and, at the same time, she thought that no such happy marriage would be. Thankfully, time had proven her wrong and brought Darcy back to her arms. Amelia Baker had probably given up almost all hope, even as she had once done.
Elizabeth applauded her husband for recognizing this woman. He promoted her to the enviable position of cook shortly after he became of master of Pemberley. But for all his fair-mindedness, he could not see Cook's pain. Not as Elizabeth could. She determined anew to be the instrument of this woman's deliverance. With a gracious smile, she encouraged her to enter. "Tell me what you need."
Breathlessly, the cook blurted, "The bailiff Mr. Hardison had to shoot a deer trapped in a broken fence and did not want the meat to go waste, so he brought it right to me. I can prepare it to be stored, but would you wish it for dinner tonight? If I start soon, I can have it ready. That's why I ran to tell you."
From the cook's face, Elizabeth could tell that her own reaction had not been what the cook sought. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I should probably have listened to Mrs. Reynolds and not have bothered you. I will stay with the menu we already discussed." The cook was bowing and curtseying again as she made ready to leave.
"No, no, stop," Elizabeth orderly, a bit more curtly than she intended. The cook winced and halted in the doorway.
"I am glad you you came to tell me. I was just surprised because I thought there was something else you might wish to bring up." When the cook merely looked blank, Elizabeth continued, "But fresh venison be would be excellent, especially with the additional guests we have tonight."
"That's what I thought, too, ma'am."
"But are you sure there is enough time to prepare it? We would not want it to be tough or to lose flavor because it is cooked too fast."
"I will wrap the haunch in paper and pastry and put it on a spit. It will be ready in time, and I promise you it will be tasty," the cook replied confidently.
"Very well. You never disappoint us." The cook glowed at the compliment and said thank you several times.
Elizabeth smiled indulgently. "Since you are here, there is something I had been wondering about. This will just take a moment -- come back into the room. I understand you came to Pemberley alone at eighteen and you have been here since. Is that true? You have no family?"
The cook, startled, was silent. Elizabeth bit her lip and said, "Perhaps my question was somewhat abrupt. Please forgive me if I have made you uncomfortable with my curiosity."
"Oh, no, ma'am," the cook rushed to say. "I was just surprised. Nobody ever asks me about myself -- except for John, I mean, Mr. Wainwright." She paused, flustered. "I'm not used to anyone else ever talking to me." She looked immediately horrified at having admitted such a thing. Elizabeth thought she probably meant by "no one," Mr. Darcy. He famously avoided conversations with Cook and passed most his compliments through Mrs. Reynolds.
Ignoring the awkward admission, Elizabeth said, "Your skill in the kitchen is extraordinary, and all the more so, I understand because you are largely self-taught. We had a very good kitchen and cook at my former home where I grew up, Longbourn. But you have prepared meals that exceed any I have ever eaten -- and Mr. Darcy, who has more experience than I, speaks very highly of your meals."
"Oh, ma'am, thank you. I am glad to know he enjoys my cooking. Thank you for saying." The cook stopped and visibly swallowed. Elizabeth was afraid the poor woman might be overcome. She was obviously trying to collect herself, as she suddenly held herself very tightly, standing straight. Her eyes were shiny and she wiped them once or twice when her mistress glanced away.
"Please tell me how you learned, then, I am curious," Elizabeth gently encouraged.
As if slowly measuring each word, Cook explained, "My stepfather I guess you would say he was, taught me basic things. My own father died before I was born and my mother married but then she died, too. I had to earn my keep. My stepfather was always threatening to toss me out, specially after he married again and had more children. As long as I could cook something that would please him, I could stay. I had nowhere else to go, of course, so I learned to be good."
It was one of the saddest stories Elizabeth had ever heard, made even sadder by the woman's matter-of-fact manner. For her to rise to become the chief cook at Pemberley without the support of any family was no mean feat. The job was most often held by a man, and the grandest homes often sought French cooks. One was on staff at Pemberley, too. He was a Parisian sophisticate loftily contemptuous of almost everyone downstairs at Pemberley, but he answered to the Derbyshire country-bred, rough-spoken Miss Baker.
Thinking of the odds Amelia Baker had overcome, Elizabeth had to stifle a sound of commiseration. She thought the cook might feel humiliated by pity. Elizabeth also knew the woman was generally disliked by her fellow servants, who saw her as gruff and difficult.
"I understand that you also taught yourself to read. Also rather remarkable, I must say."
"Well, I didn't really do it all by myself. The old curate helped me. Mr. Endicott, he's dead now, rest his soul. I thought a good cook ought to know so I would study each night, after my duties was done. I wanted to be able to read other recipes and to write down my own, not have to hold them all in my head."
"Have you thought of marrying and perhaps having a family? If anyone in the world deserves it, I think it is you. I want you to know that Mr. Darcy and I will do everything we can to help make it so if you wish it, Amelia."
Elizabeth thought the cook hesitated in replying because she was overwhelmed with pleasure by the possibility being offered her. But, in reality the servant was smiling shyly because her mistress remembered her first name. In a house the size of Pemberley, servants became used to being known to their employer by their job title and only more intimately by their last names. Since Mrs. Darcy was still quite new here, and there was a large staff; it was a great compliment that the young mistress cared enough to already know her first name.
Cook would have still have thought it was very kind of the young mistress even if she had known Elizabeth had been in the habit of calling servants by their first names at the smaller estate where she grew up. Elizabeth knew that here at Pemberley servants were referred to by surname or title and she usually said Cook. But, in this moment, concerned as she was for her servant's happiness and even identifying the cook's feelings with her own, Elizabeth thought calling her Amelia was perfectly right.
"You may have to leave Pemberley, but -- "
Horrified, Amelia Baker jerked her head up. Elizabeth stared at the servant, who was silent but obviously distressed. "Amelia, please speak. What is wrong?"
"Ma'am, if I may say -- "
"You have my permission to speak freely. What is it, Amelia?"
"Please don't make me leave Pemberley. I am sorry about the trouble I caused, but I already promised I would never do it again."
"But, Amelia, now that Mr. Wainwright is leaving for a new position, will you not miss him?"
The cook seemed to attempt to calm herself. "Oh, yes, I will. He's my friend."
"And, he is a fine looking man," Elizabeth said. She noticed the cook seemed startled by the statement. In fact, Cook looked faintly disapproving at such a sentiment from the young mistress.
Elizabeth tried again. "I only mentioned that because you say you are fond of him. That is why I thought you might wish to follow him when he leaves Pemberley."
Puzzled, the cook said slowly, "He is as nice a young man as you can find. I have enjoyed knowing him. Are you saying I should follow him because of the trouble in the stable yard?" Then, reddening deeply, she said more quickly, "I'm sorry about that, but do we both have to leave? Not that I am saying it was his fault -- but he's happy to go. He has a chance to train for footman at Goodhaven. If he stayed here at Pemberley, it would take longer for a spot to open."
Taken aback, Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. "I take it he has not asked you to go with him -- what would you say if he asked?"
"Why would he ask such a thing? He knows how I love Pemberley."
"More than you love Mr. Wainwright?"
Cook looked perplexed at the question. And, Elizabeth began to realize she might have made a mistake. She asked, "Is it money? Is that why you do not want to leave your position here at Pemberley? Mr. Darcy and I could give you money to cover. . ."
Before Elizabeth could finish, the cook went to her knees, "Please give me another chance. I promise not to cause anymore trouble. Do not make me leave."
"Would you like it if Mr. Wainwright could stay here at Pemberley?" Elizabeth asked, a little desperately. She could not believe she could have been so wrong about Amelia Baker's feelings for the handsome manservant. Could it have been only a flirtation of the moment for her rather than a deeper attachment?
"I think he's happy to leave, and I do pray you will not make me go."
Elizabeth said the only thing left to her to say. "Mr. Darcy and I are grateful for your loyalty. Thank you, Amelia. We look forward to dinner."
Cook happily bobbed a curtsey and left.
Elizabeth hoped she could stop Darcy before he sat down to speak with the manservant. With speed that was a hair's breadth away from seemly, she made her way to her husband's door, which she found closed. A nearby footman told her, "Mr. Darcy had a meeting with the Earl of -- earlier, but that is over. He's talking to a servant now." She knew it was the footman's subtle way of informing her she could knock and go in if she wished.
"Is he speaking with Wainwright?"
"Yes, ma'am, I believe so."
Just then, the door opened and Wainwright exited, looking pleased and happy. Elizabeth frowned and wondered if his expression had anything to do with her words to Darcy regarding her desire to see a wedding. She left her husband's door before he saw her. Tonight would be soon enough to discuss the state of love and marriage among their servants. Perhaps she could think of something to say that would be better than anything she could think of at the moment.
Posted on: 2014-07-29
Meanwhile, prior to Elizabeth witnessing Wainwright leaving Darcy's office . . .
Darcy had an entirely satisfactory meeting with his uncle, the Earl of-- , regarding several measures they planned to put forth in Parliament during the next session. The master of Pemberley then reluctantly but immediately moved to do as his wife had bid.
He could only wonder himself. What changes marriage had wrought in him in mere months! He would never have inquired into an underling's intimate feelings before he became Elizabeth's husband. It was the sort of thing men such as he did not do.
As John Wainwright entered his presence, Darcy could see how unnerved the young man was, too. Darcy smiled at him to put him more at ease. Although Wainwright probably did not know, he held a special claim on his master's sympathy. Wainwright turned up begging on the streets of nearby Lambton several years ago. In London no one would have noticed, but the unknown foundling stood out sharply in the small town. It was a mystery how he had come to be there, perhaps left off by a mail coach or some other vehicle passing through. He would say only his name and nothing else about himself. Some suggested he had lost his memory. Darcy launched a search for relatives but, despite the less than common name, no one claimed him.
All of this happened just as Darcy's own father was enduring an illness that would eventually take his life. Left with the care of his sister Georgiana and a very young man himself, Darcy could pay little attention to an orphan who seemed good-natured but was obviously not gently bred. He hesitated to bring the boy directly into his home where he would be in close contact with his young sister. Darcy was relieved when a prosperous tenant family took in John. The farmer had only a son, and he was close in age to the orphan. If nothing else, the boy would provide help to work the land but both the farmer and Darcy hoped the relationship would become more.
Unfortunately, the son and the orphan disliked each other from the very first. The farmer discounted the childish arguments because he recalled how he and his brother had fought, and they were blood. But then John experienced a growth spurt that left him notably taller and much better looking than the underfed, pale orphan he had been. The farmer's son began picking even more fights and John usually tried not to hit him back. One day he did, and the farmer's son lost two front teeth as he fell against the plow.
The farmer turned John off his land. Darcy came to his aid with the offer of a small parcel of land to farm as a tenant. The plot was on the fringes of the estate and had not been worked for a few years, but it was all that Darcy could offer at the moment. Alternatively, John could take a position as a man-of-all-work at Pemberley House. The hours would be long but he would always be assured of food and shelter. And he would not be alone. John chose to enter service.
After being at Pemberley several years, and with size that made him look of age, something in John's air still made him seem more a boy. Presently, he seemed barely able to lift his head in the presence of a master he had known for years. Darcy could only hope he would advance in a new place despite his shyness. He was certainly too tender a morsel to stay under the gruff cook's thumb. It would be like handing Georgiana over to Wickham.
But Darcy quickly reminded himself that the contrast of innocent youth with mature cunning was not the same. The cook was no Wickham. She was probably at worse a lonely woman. In the few times he had been able to witness her with John, her fondness for the young man seemed obvious. He always thought women's imaginations very rapid, leaping from admiration to love, and love to matrimony, in a trice. The cook might well be in love and John have no idea. And whatever romantic notions Elizabeth had for a marriage, this boy could hardly be held responsible for feelings he had not encouraged the cook to have.
"Wainwright, I have brought you here to discuss the cook."
John's head shot up and his retiring expression was suddenly sharply focused with concern. "Has something happened? Is there something amiss with her? Whatever it is, I am sure she meant no harm."
A little taken aback, Darcy observed, "You seem to care quite a bit for her."
"She is -- she is my friend. Is she in trouble?"
"Do you mean has she struck any other young women on your behalf?" Darcy asked sarcastically. "No, that is not the reason I called you here today."
The young man bit his lip and lowered his eyes.
"You know, you must be careful how you behave toward women and what you say to them. You would not wish to give a woman the wrong impression, especially of strong feelings that you do not actually possess. It can lead to expectations you would not want to raise."
"Yes, sir," John said dutifully.
"You may be wondering what that has to do with the cook? Well, a man should always bear in mind that women are -- different. Sometimes men use that on purpose to mislead them. If a woman thinks a man cares about her, she might be hurt -- very hurt -- to find he does not."
"People can do mean things," John offered.
"Yes, and sometimes they can give the wrong impression, not meaning to."
Darcy waited to see how John took that before he continued, "That is why I wanted to talk to you about the cook. It seems she may be hurt."
"Can you truly not understand? The cook is hurt because it seems you do not care for her as she does for you."
"But that's not true," John objected. "I do care for her. Who told Amelia, that is, Miss Baker, I don't care for her? She has no cause to be hurt. I care for her more than anyone in the world."
Darcy's eyebrows rose. He lowered them just as he remembered to close his mouth. He harrumphed and, after a moment of thought, asked, "What do you mean when you say you care for her? Do you mean you love her?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
"I said I love her, sir. I know many here don't like her but they don't really know her like I do."
"But she is so old --" Darcy regretted the words and abruptly cut off his statement, which would have contained additional impolite characterizations of the cook..
"What does her being old have to do with my loving her?" John asked, his tone one of honest curiosity.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing." Darcy shut his eyes tightly and tilted his head upward toward the ceiling. It was one thing to do his wife's bidding but galling to find out she might have been right all along. Without opening his eyes, Darcy asked, "Have you told the cook that you love her?"
"Yes, sir. She knows." John smiled shyly. "It gives her comfort to hear me say it. She says no one ever said that to her before."
"So that is why she feels justified in striking young women who talk to you, trying to keep them away from you?"
The young man hesitated, as if he did not understand the question. "I-I-I suppose so, sir. But she has promised not to slap anyone else. She has not, has she?"
Ignoring the young man's question, Darcy asked, "Do you realize her heart is breaking because you are leaving?"
"I know she is sad to see me go. But she understands I want to leave."
"Then why are not taking her with you?"
"What? Take her with me?" John repeated the words as if he could not believe he had heard them.
"Yes," Darcy said, his mind suddenly made up. "You will take her with you and marry her."
"Marry Miss Baker? Why in the world would I want to do that, sir?"
"You told me not a second ago that you love her. And you have told her you love her. Can you not understand that she would be heartbroken you are leaving?"
Wide-eyed, John was speechless.
"You have made promises with your actions, your attentions to her."
Darcy waited, and when there was no reply he accused, "You have availed yourself of her company. Do you deny it?"
"No, I don't deny it, but -- "
"The two of you have been close. Close?" Darcy stared and hoped his meaning would be clear without his having to be explicit.
Finding his voice, Wainwright said more loudly than he perhaps intended, "It don't follow that I want to marry her! How can you say such a thing? Marry Amelia? That would be -- no, no." He shook his head as if the idea was too outlandish to be considered.
Darcy, who would have sympathized only that morning with such a sentiment, now found the young man's attitude highly displeasing. "Why, not? She is good enough to be your friend but too old and homely to be more?"
"I would never call her that!" Wainwright was on his feet and apparently forgetting he was speaking to his master. "She is a fine woman, a good woman. But a man don't marry every woman he likes -- or even loves."
Darcy also rose. "There are certain things I will not allow at Pemberley--and the master at Goodhaven also believes as I do. I understand that you are young, but you are old enough to understand that certain actions are sinful. And the world being what it is, women -- generally speaking -- suffer more than men for certain actions. A man should keep the promises he makes, both with his words and his actions. Now, sit back down."
Wainwright did so immediately. Darcy said, "You will marry this woman because it is the right thing to do. You will be a good and faithful husband."
In response, the young man seemed to surrender. He put his head into hands and rocked his entire body back and forth. "She told me you would do this. I did not believe it. I did not believe it."
"You mean, Miss Baker predicted I would make you marry her?"
"No, she never said that. I don't think she ever thought that."
"Then, what do you mean that she told you I would do this?"
Wainwright did not immediately respond. Dazed, he looked into his master's eyes. Darcy repeated his question.
"She has been telling me for years," Wainwright said, "almost ever since I came to Pemberley. But I never believed it could happen to me, not even after what you did to Willie Higgins."
At that name, a cold dread begin seeping through Darcy. He sat back in his chair, his back suddenly straight. "You are speaking nonsense," he said.
"Amelia, that is, Miss Baker, told me I had to be very careful when women try to flirt with me and chat me up--I could end up just like Willie."
"I have no idea what you mean. He lived up to his responsibilities, as a man should."
"He did what you made him do. Sir."
"We are not here to bandy idle gossip. I will not have it."
Willie Higgins had been a hired hand available to put in a day here or there where need arose on the various tenant farms of Pemberley Estate. Sometimes he would do odd work in the stables or yards around Pemberley House, too. A man a few years under thirty, he had come only recently to the country. A tenant farmer's granddaughter, Mollie Brown, took an immediate liking to him, and he accepted her public flirting with good humor. Their fellows and neighbors remarked upon how they were both red-haired, blue-eyed and freckle-faced, perfect foils for friendly jokes.
But Willie was not laughing when Mollie Brown identified him as the man who put her in a family way. Mollie's grandfather insisted Willie was the one he had seen jumping through the window of the Browns' cottage more than once. Mr. Brown's son, Molly's father, was dead and the old man appealed to Darcy. He gave Higgins the choice of leaving Pemberley or marrying Molly. Without Darcy's approval, Higgins would probably not find any other place to work in the entire county.
Few had seen a stiffer, more unhappy groom than Willie Higgins. Indeed, the happiest person at that wedding had been old Mr. Brown, who now had a strong back to help him on his farm. When the baby, a girl, was born, it had a head full of dark, curly hair, deep brown eyes and olive skin. It was apparently one of those odd occurrences when a child takes back a few generations. Or something. Darcy had tried to push his doubts to the back of his mind, but the child's appearance always bothered him.
"Are you telling me," Darcy said, "that you know for a fact Willie Higgins was not the father of Molly Brown's child?"
Wainwright raised his hands palms outward. "All I know is what Willie told me. He said he had never touched her -- and I'm not certain of what it takes to become a father, but I do think you have to touch the woman?"
Darcy narrowed his eyes. It would seem that the young man was asking the question seriously. Instead of responding, Darcy harrumphed and asked his own question. "So, the cook warned you I might make you marry someone?"
"She always warned me, long before Willie, to be careful. She said I have a nice face. Women like me and she thinks I'm too easy, too trusting. So she would take care of me."
"Such as feeding you the best things in the kitchen?"
"Well, yes, but I would have sat and listened to her anyway. I love to hear her talk. She tells great stories and has a way of putting things. The others downstairs don't know what they are missing."
"But now you don't want to marry her?"
Wainwright shook his head. "I never wanted to marry her. I never thought such a thing."
"Suppose she did say she wanted it? Would you marry her?"
John drew a deep breath as he looked thoughtful. "Amelia always told me not to marry any woman I didn't want to marry. So, no, sir. I would not marry her." He took another deep breath. "I would not let you force me to do it, sir. Even if it meant you throw me off Pemberley and would not let me go to Goodhaven either. Amelia said I should be my own man and choose the woman I want, when the time comes."
"She taught you well," Darcy said with a snort. "Well, just so you understand, I would not force any of my people, servants or tenants, to do something against their will."
"Well, except for Willie."
"I gave him a choice."
"That situation was different."
"Our meeting is at an end, Wainwright." Darcy felt irritated, and despite his scowl at John, he was irritated at himself. If it was true that he had been wrong about Higgins, there was little he could do now to fix it.
With an effort, he smiled at the young man before him and said warmly, "John, I will miss you and expect you to do well at Goodhaven."
"Thank you, sir. I will do my best." He left his master's office smiling, too. He passed Mrs. Darcy on his way out, but she seemed distracted and did not acknowledge him.
At dinner that evening, the Darcys' guests were unstinting in their praise. In the presence of the plentiful and extraordinarily good food, conversation was short at first but as guests satisfied hunger and began to push past satiety, everyone slowed down, and talked more. The food loosened tongues and spirits and caught the diners up in a little bubble of happiness. They would worry tomorrow about whether they had eaten too much, and some would regret the final mouthfuls as they paid with pains of gout and other aches. But that would be tomorrow.
Course after course flowed over the table. Everyone lingered over the venison and requested extra servings. Servants brought up platters of the meat hot from the spit and served it directly. The other selections setting on the table inevitably became cold and lost some their charm, but the venison was always fresh, and as the cook had promised Mrs. Darcy, tasty. Some slices were crisp while pieces taken from the center dripped with delicious juices. Pemberley always offered a legendary table, but tonight's meal would be a standard to judge meals by for a lifetime.
Elizabeth and Darcy could only look at each other fondly at the opposite ends of the table. Each was pleased to delay the time when they must talk. But the meal, good as it was, could not go on forever. Nor could the amusements and chatter afterwards. Finally, the guests made their way to their rooms. Elizabeth discreetly whispered to Darcy that she would come to him tonight.
As she entered his bedroom, he thought he had never seen her nightgown before and wondered if it was new. He admired the way it outlined the curves of her body and dipped rather precipitously in the front. He was about to compliment her when she reached up to pull his face down to hers. She kissed him as only a wife could, and only in the intimacy of their private quarters. For some minutes, he forgot what he wanted to say.
Finally, breathless, he drew away. "My dear, I am afraid I have bad news," he said.
"Before you tell me your news," she replied, "you must allow me to apologize."
"For what?" he asked, sitting on the bed and pulling her to him.
"For insisting that you talk to Wainwright when I could see you really did not want to. Can you forgive me? I was so sure that she loved him -- "
Darcy finished her statement, "But she does not."
"No, you had the right of it all along. It would have been better for us to leave the matter as it was."
"Much as I love hearing you tell me I am right, I must admit in honesty that I was not."
"Oh, no, is he in love with her?"
Darcy shook his head. "Thankfully, no. I cannot say for certain what it is between them -- a sort of love, I suppose -- but not of the kind to bring about a wedding."
"Thank goodness!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Imagine my surprise when I realized that Miss Baker is love with you."
Darcy leapt up, spilling Elizabeth off his lap and she had to scramble to gain her footing.
"Sorry, husband, I should have put that differently." Elizabeth grinned and sat back down on the bed.
"You are joking?"
"No, I am quite serious. What can it be but love when she refuses to leave her position cooking for you despite any and all inducement?" Elizabeth paused to enjoy the spectacle of her husband's face contorted in dismay, before she smiled and added, "Perhaps it would be more correct to say she is in love with Pemberley -- and with whom it lets her be. And that all depends on you, so in that sense she is love with you."
"You are teasing me again."
"Not really. Well, perhaps a little. But I am also a little jealous of her."
"I never even talk to the woman!"
Elizabeth bit down a grin and turned her head so her husband would not see. "True. But, when I think of what you were willing to do to keep her here, in your kitchen, well, it seems to me her feelings are not completely unreciprocated . . ."
"You forget I was willing to marry her off and let her leave, if that was what you wanted, wife."
"Happily for you, husband, Miss Baker let me know in no uncertain terms she did not want to leave. It never occurred to her to ask that her friend John stay."
"I would have let him stay. But he does not want to."
"So, as I say, you were right all along."
Darcy shook his head no. "In my conversation with young Mr. Wainwright, I learned of things I may have been very wrong about. Interfering in the lives of others is a dangerous business."
"And I am sorry. I promise I will not do it again," Elizabeth said with real seriousness and not a hint of teasing.
"I meant myself. I was thinking of myself." He drew his wife to him. "I know you. Your kindness and caring will lead you to interfere again. We will both probably interfere again, but we will be there to watch each other and I hope, to keep each other from making too much of muddle of it."
She sighed, looking into his eyes and seeing clearly he was still besotted with her. She hoped it would always be so and, with no false modesty, she expected it probably would. She certainly could not imagine an end ever to her loving him.
The young married couple promised to go forward with the greatest of confidence, knowing they would sometimes make mistakes. They would be there to listen to each other and to sometimes correct each other -- or, at least, try.
The Darcys would have been cheered had they been able to hear certain conversations taking place elsewhere on their estate that evening.
Conversation Number One in the Pemberley main kitchen:
"Oh, you scared me! What are you doing lurking there in the dark?" scolded Amelia Baker.
"I was waiting for all the big doings to be over. Any of that venison left?"
"Yes, would you like a plate?"
"It's only right that you should have some since you are the one who shot it, Mr. Hardison. I thought you would have come up earlier. I was keeping some warm for you in case you did but it is better fresh, so I am glad you did not come a minute later."
In short order, Pemberley's chief bailiff was happily munching away at vittles as good those that had graced the plate of Mr. Darcy himself.
Hardison said, "A man could live and die for a meal like that."
Amelia Baker laughed. "I was just about to give you more, but you must promise not to die. Too much of a good thing can make it into a bad thing."
The rangy bailiff hardly looked as if he was in danger of death from overeating. While some among the nobles and the gentry suffered from the blessings of plenty, it was seldom a curse experienced by those further down the scale. Hardison was fairly well off as working men went but he looked as if he could stand a few good meals in rapid succession.
"I suppose there can be too much of a good thing," he agreed slowly. "What will you do now?"
"Go to bed. The undercook will take care of the breakfast meal. He is already planning on croissants and all manner of his fancy French baked goods. I will be able to sleep in."
"No, I meant -- what will you do now that the boy is gone?"
"Well, he's not actually leaving until first thing in the morning. But what do you mean, what will I do now that he's gone?"
"I mean, who will warm your bed? Do you have anyone in mind? I thought I would come quickly to put in my bid."
Amelia stared long and hard at Hardison. When it dawned upon her that she had indeed heard what she thought she had heard, she raised her arm slowly. Her face screwed up into a mask of rage. Surprised, Hardison wondered why she was looking that way. It is accurate to say he was still surprised when her muscular arm came down in a slap across his face, although he had watched it coming. The blow knocked him off the bench. He sat on the kitchen floor, taking a few seconds to recover.
Finally able to speak, he howled, "Owww." He felt his jaw, hoping she had not loosened any teeth. "What the -- " he whimpered. "What's wrong with you?"
"How dare you! What kind of woman are you suggesting I am!" Amelia was breathing in and out very fast. Hardison got his wits about him and moved quickly away from the reach of her arm should she plan to strike again.
"Well, everybody knows what you and boy was doing. Nothing wrong with it. A man likes a pretty piece so why shouldn't a woman if she can get it?"
"What? I was not doing that. Just get out. Get out1"
Suddenly, Amelia was crying, her breath coming out in great gasps as if she was crying. It was bad enough that everyone about hated her but they all believed she was a -- an immoral woman. She wondered if Mr. Darcy thought that, too--oh, and Mrs. Darcy. Oh, no.
She turned her back and sank upon the bench. Her shoulders shook as she wept, and she was surprised when she felt a hand tentatively touch her shoulder. Looking around, she saw Hardison had not left.
"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to offend you. Everyone just thought..."
"Everyone was wrong. Now go away and leave me alone."
"Well, woman, you have to understand why people would think that. You were like a mother bear at any woman who dared even talk to the boy."
"He was my friend, that's all. A good friend. Very nice, kind young man."
"A little stupid," Hardison observed.
"No, he is not! He is just too good for his own good sometimes. That's why I tried to look out for him. He just needed to grow up a bit."
"So you mean there was never anything between you?"
"We are friends. I love him like he was my own -- not that I have any children of my own."
"Oh," Hardison said. "Oh, now I feel really ashamed of what I was thinking. Can you forgive me?"
Some months later, after Charles Hardison married Amelia Baker, he learned with absolute certainty that young Wainwright had not known Amelia the way too many had assumed. Hardison was approaching fifty himself and had never married though there had been the random prostitute or widow along the way. He was not expecting innocence. And it was not so much innocence that Amelia offered as a simplicity he could trust. Also, the woman could cook. He was happy to become second only to Mr. Darcy in her priority. Indeed, he suspected that sometimes she even gave him the best things from her kitchen before they ever reached the master's plate.
Conversation Number Two in a Tenant Cottage:
He brought the baby to her mother, who groused and tried to ignore the ragged crying. With an aggravated huff, Molly Brown, now Higgins, turned over and loosened the front of her gown to allow her daughter access. Lacey latched on immediately and drew hungrily.
Molly said, "You're a good man, Willie Higgins."
"Thank you. Wife."
He watched over them until the child finished, then lifted her to put her back in her crib. These night feedings would soon be over, he thought. They were already starting to wean her, and she rarely awakened in the night.
When he came back to bed, Molly said, "You're more patient with her than I am. I don't think I could handle her without you."
"Maybe you just need to grow up a bit. Good thing you have a birthday coming -- you'll be twenty." He chuckled at her startled expression. "Right, you will be twenty?"
"No, nineteen. Oh, Willie, you're just teasing me, ain't you?"
"If a man can't tease his wife, his very pretty wife, then who can tease?"
Suddenly, her eyebrows drew together and tears were running from her eyes. "I ought not be your wife."
He pulled her to him and buried his face in her hair. "And, why is that? Too young for me? Well, you chose me and now you're stuck with me."
But she could not be bantered into a happier mood. Still sniffling, she moaned, "You should just pick up and leave me."
"What, and leave some of the best soil on the Pemberley estate? I don't think so. You won't be getting rid of me that easy--not now that you caught me."
"I don't deserve you, Willie. You are a good man, too good a man..."
"Yes, well, come here then and give me a kiss. There's a good wife." He kissed her with passion but he held back from taking it further than a kiss. His hand stroking her flame-colored hair, he whispered with deadly seriousness, "I love you, Molly. I do. I did not think I would the day we married but I do. And, Lacey, she's more my daughter than she could ever be any other man's." They had had the conversation before and he thought it would probably come up again. He would tell her as many times as she needed to hear it.
"I'm sorry I tricked you."
He grinned and winked. "Just never do it again."
A day came when Darcy visited the Brown farm and told him he would pay to have the marriage put aside. Darcy was not even certain of how he would do it, but he would bring his considerable wealth and his connections to bear upon correcting a mistake. His mistake. He also promised he would see to the financial care of Molly and her baby.
Willie thanked him politely and said no. "Mr. Darcy, you may have made a mistake but I didn't. I will stay with my family, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Higgins. Please know you will always have my support. You are a fine man, sir."
For Willie, those words were a treasure. It was the start of a lifelong friendship between Willie Higgins and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and there was no man Darcy admired more.
Willie and Molly Higgins had four more children after Lacey, each of them as red-haired and freckle-faced as their parents. While he loved all his children equally, and they knew it, Lacey Higgins also always knew a special place resided in her father's heart for her.