Young Fitzwilliam Darcy
Darcy and Bingley arrived at Pemberley at the end of July and, for the first ten days, Bingley was the sole guest. They followed the same pursuits as the previous year during the morning and provided company for Mr. Darcy and Georgiana in the evenings. Georgiana was delighted with the visitor who would, occasionally, read stories for her enjoyment or be a guest at her make-believe tea parties. The senior Mr. Darcy also enjoyed Bingley's company; he was impressed by his open, easy manners and cheerful, smiling disposition. He sometimes caught himself watching his son together with his younger friend and thought "they are like brothers and, indeed, had dear Anne not lost a baby in '88, Bingley would be the same age as Fitz's brother."
One of the first guests to arrive for the annual shooting party was Pierre de Bourgh. Both Darcys were happy to see him for he had missed the previous year's shooting. They noticed, however, that he was quieter and more withdrawn than usual when even Bingley's pleasant talk and obvious interest in learning about his background did not raise his spirits.
After Bingley's departure for the north, Darcy spent more time alone with Pierre trying to elicit the reasons for his changed temperament. At the end of a morning spent together on horseback Darcy's efforts were rewarded. Pierre finally spoke of his problems.
"I know I have been quiet and dispirited, Darcy, but I am so tired of this endless war with my country. I have now lived as an expatriate for eight long years. Last winter I met a beautiful young lady, half English and half French, very intelligent, and quite accomplished. I wish to pay my addresses to her, but how can I when I have nothing to offer."
"I think I understand now, Pierre. The war has been dragging on with no hope of a victory, at least not while the opposing forces are limited to sea battles. You do not think your young lady would accept you at present?" Darcy queried.
"I can ill afford to marry in my present circumstances," Pierre mourned. "I live in town with other expatriates, eking out a small income by giving lessons in French. Until I can return to France, either to reclaim my estate or receive compensation for its loss, I must remain silent about my feelings and intentions."
"I am very sorry for you, Pierre," Darcy commiserated. "Let us hope that Napoleon and the Allies will grow weary and bring hostilities to a halt. In the meantime, there is nothing we can do except get some exercise by a good gallop over the fields. Come on, Pierre, I will race you to the pond."
That evening Fitz spoke to his father about Pierre's problems, but the older man, although he understood the reasons for Pierre's despondency, could offer no solution other than a fervent wish for the end of the war. Nevertheless, they both insisted that Pierre remain at Pemberley for as long as he cared to stay after the others in the party departed.
One morning early in September Darcy and Pierre rode into Lambton to call on Mr. and Mrs. Stone. As they approached the door, a lad in farm laborer's clothing emerged from the house and headed down the road but they paid no heed, knocked, and were welcomed by Mrs. Stone.
When Mr. Stone joined them he mentioned that the lad who had just left was a former pupil in his church school who had sought his advice. "He has just been dismissed from a farm in the next county because the farmer has decided to replace most of his laborers with machinery and horses to save a few shillings. Poor Joe is very reluctant to leave his widowed mother and younger sister to find work in a factory in one of the large northern towns," Mr. Stone told them whilst still pondering the problem.
"What is the lad's name?" asked Darcy, "I believe I may have met him before."
"Joe Miller," replied Mr. Stone, "and he is a bright lad and a hard worker."
"Excuse me Mr. Stone and Pierre, I shall return soon, but first I must catch up with Joe," Darcy exclaimed as he ran out of the door and down the street. "Are you the same Joe Miller who likes to plant horse chestnuts and tend gardens?" asked Darcy as he caught up to the boy.
"Yes I am, Mr. Darcy. And you are my rescuer of several years ago," remembered Joe with a wide grin.
"Mr. Stone just told me that you are looking for work?"
"Yes I am. I was dismissed by the farmer I worked for in the next county because he bought this new machinery that he thinks will save him money. I doubt it will, and I swear it won't do the job half so well."
"You are probably correct in that, Joe. If you are still keen on planting and growing, why do you not come to Pemberley tomorrow; I will introduce you to Mr. Wickham, our steward. I am sure he could find work for a promising gardener such as you," Darcy suggested.
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy. I should like that. I will be there tomorrow morning," Joe replied, his grin growing wider. He whistled a happy tune, as he continued down the street to his home and Darcy turned back to Mr. Stone's house.
Darcy, eager to inform Mr. Wickham about the offer to Joe Miller and to request his help in providing employment for the boy, went directly to the Steward's office on his return from Lambton. Within a week Joe Miller was working as an apprentice gardener at Pemberley and both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham were delighted with the new employee. They found him to be hard working with an inquisitive mind, eager to learn all the latest farming and gardening techniques.
Pierre de Bourgh left Pemberley to return to town just as George Wickham arrived in Derbyshire. The latter had spent the five weeks since leaving school with friends in such fashionable towns as Bath, Brighton and Bognor where constant balls and parties were more to his taste than the quiet country life of Pemberley.
Mr. Darcy, hoping to settle his godson into a respectable profession and aware of his poor performance at school, had used favours owed him to enroll Wickham at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, for the Michaelmas term. He discussed this action with his son, asking him to help Wickham, if he was able to do so, and to suggest that they travel to their colleges together. The younger Darcy did not believe Wickham would either seek or wish any help from him unless he had found a sudden eagerness to study, but refrained from expressing these doubts to his father.
Mr. Wickham and his son were invited to dine with the Darcys a few days before the two younger men were due at Cambridge. That dinner provided evidence to the senior Darcy that the former childhood friendship between his son and godson had cooled over the years as their interests diverged. George Wickham contributed little to the conversation whilst it centered on Pemberley, the countryside, politics, or the war with France, but when the senior Darcy questioned him about his summer travels he became animated and lively. He described the society in which he had spent his summer, the latest fashions, dances, and gossip with such spirit that it was evident to both Darcys that he preferred superficial to deeper subjects.
At the end of the evening after the visitors had left, Mr. Darcy thought about his godson, Wickham. He had found George's manners impeccable, as usual, but compared to Bingley's easy manners and open countenance, George's smiles and demeanour were not genuine. "There is something very calculating about his manners," thought the senior Darcy. "Whilst his lips smile, the emotion does not reach his eyes; they remain cool and wary, as if he is trying to surmise his effect on the company. The boy is filled with vanity and I fear his interests are very shallow; I wonder whether he will ever settle down and enter the church or any other profession. I hope that Cambridge will have a beneficial effect. In the meantime, I shall say nothing to Fitz; I do not wish to ruin whatever remains of their friendship."
On their journey to Cambridge Wickham regaled Darcy with further and more explicit tales of his exploits and entertainments in Bath and Brighton, but Darcy was not very interested in hearing them. Instead, he decided that he would try and advise Wickham that such behaviour would not be well received at Cambridge.
"Wickham, permit me to give you some advice. Do not talk of such exploits at Cambridge unless you wish to remain without friends and have only very few acquaintances. Whilst you are perfectly free to conduct yourself in whatever manner you wish, you would do well to be discreet in your actions and conversation; others will think better of you if you keep abreast of your studies, current politics and the war with France and discuss those during your dinners in Hall."
"You surprise me, Darcy. Are the Cambridge gentlemen not interested in the fashionable world as I am?"
"They may be interested, but they know better than to discuss indiscretions and gossip except with their very closest friends and only in the privacy of their rooms."
"Then, whilst we are in the privacy of this carriage, Darcy, tell me about your season in town? I would really like to learn about White's Club and the ball at Almack's; what success did you have with the young ladies you met?"
"There is really nothing to tell. We had a good dinner at White's and the ball at Almack's was everything one could wish for in a ball . . . hmm, except the refreshments were rather meager, but that is normal at Almack's," Darcy confessed with a slight smile.
"That is all? You did not make any conquests amongst the young ladies?"
"No, nor would I talk of it to anyone had I made any conquests, as you describe it," Darcy replied, essentially closing the subject. "But I am willing to inform you of the customs at Cambridge and what will be expected of you during your time there, if you would care to listen?"
After Darcy had listed the customs and tutorial system at King's College which, he presumed, were the same at Sidney-Sussex College, he noticed a slightly worried expression on Wickham's face. "Why are you worried, Wickham?" he asked
"I had not realized that the tutorial system would involve such personal attention. I have been used to hiding at the back of a larger classroom where I was never called upon to recite."
"You will not be able to hide during your tutorials, but with some serious study I am sure you will do well."
"But, Darcy, I have very little knowledge of Greek or Latin."
"Well, I can lend you my notes from Eton. I have lent them to a friend but he will no longer need them this term. As soon as they are returned, I will bring them over to you. They may help a little."
"Thank you, Darcy. I would be very much obliged," Wickham muttered, realizing that for the first time he might actually have to do some work.
The carriage stopped at the porter's lodge of Sidney-Sussex College to deliver Wickham and his trunks before proceeding to King's College where Darcy alit to be greeted by several friends. He thought no more of George Wickham until, a few days later, FitzClarence returned the notes Darcy had lent him the previous year.
The following morning, on his way to a tutorial at Trinity College and already dressed in his cap and gown for that appointment, Darcy stopped by Sidney-Sussex College to deliver his notes to Wickham. The porter informed him that Wickham's rooms were in Cloister Court and Darcy strode along the cloister to allow enough time for brief explanations of the notes should they be required. As he rounded a corner, Wickham's rooms were directly ahead; Darcy was glad to see the oak door standing open, meaning that Wickham was in his rooms and available to visitors.
Within a few strides Darcy was at the door, opened it, but stopped at the threshold, repelled by the sight before him. Wickham was sitting in a chair with a young girl in dishabille on his lap. The girl ran off when she saw the visitor, whilst Wickham rose with a smirk, exhibiting no shame or guilt. Darcy was disgusted, thinking "I might as well have talked to the carriage horses as to Wickham during our journey; he obviously did not heed a word I said."
Darcy handed the promised notes to Wickham but made no offer to explain them or give any other help. Thereafter, whenever Darcy saw Wickham out and about in Cambridge he gave a very slight bow or nod of acknowledgment but made no further effort either to converse with him or to introduce him to any friends. Their former friendship was extinguished, replaced by a mere formal acquaintanceship.
"Listen to this, Father," Darcy exclaimed at breakfast one morning at Pemberley a few days before Christmas, "Pierre de Bourgh is planning to return to France and asks me to accompany him. What an adventure!"
"Does he give a time for his departure? Read me his letter, if you please," the senior Darcy replied with a worried frown. He knew, from Gazettes received from Hatchard's, that a preliminary agreement for a peace treaty with France had been reached two months previously and hostilities had ceased for the moment, but nothing had, as yet, been signed. Now he feared that Pierre would rush to France and would, in effect, travel into imminent danger and put both himself and his son into harm's way.
"Pierre starts by wishing all of us a happy Christmas season. He then continues:
You have doubtless heard of the proposed agreement for a peace treaty between England and France. As soon as this treaty is finalized and peace returned, I am planning to travel to France to see about my estate. I want to discover whether the estate remains unoccupied or, if it has been taken over by others, whether I can be recompensed in some measure for its loss. This is of utmost importance to me and my future, as I explained last summer.
"I would be very pleased if you would accompany me on this journey. I am sure that any settlement will be a matter of months and, in the meantime, we could travel through France and, perhaps, as far as Italy where I have some friends. If your father gives his permission and you can arrange to delay your studies at King's College for an indefinite time, I am certain that the education you would receive during these travels would be extremely beneficial.
"For the moment, I only ask you to think about this idea. These preliminary arrangements may all come to naught. Yours, etc.
"What do you think, Father?"
"I am very glad that Pierre has the sense to wait until a final treaty is signed. I feared that he would rush off immediately and put himself into danger."
"Yes, but what do you think of his request for me to accompany him?" Fitz asked impatiently.
"It is very kind of him to wish for your company. I always hoped that you would have an opportunity to travel, as I did as a young man little older than you now are, but I always imagined that you would finish at Cambridge before you set out on such a tour."
"If I can defer my studies at King's College, this seems a perfect opportunity to see and learn about countries other than England. Such an offer may not come again."
"True, this may be your only opportunity. I do not put any trust in Napoleon's offer of peace nor in our government's willingness to give him what he wants. If a peace is finalized I fear that it may not be of long duration."
"Exactly my thoughts on the matter, Father," Fitz smiled, as the two said in unison: "Carpe Diem!"
"Think about it, Fitz, as Pierre has advised and seek the opinion of the Dean and your tutors. If they agree, I have no further objections," Mr. Darcy said as he left the room.
When Darcy returned to Cambridge in January 1802 he was eager to meet with Mr. Lamb, Dean of Students at King's College and with his tutors; he had thought long and hard about Pierre's invitation and had further discussed it with his father, both of them deciding that it was, indeed, the best opportunity for Darcy to widen his knowledge and gain new experience.
Within a few days he had obtained permission for an indefinite leave of absence from Mr. Lamb, provided that the tutors agreed. None of his tutors had an objection and, in fact, encouraged him to seize this opportunity to visit as much of the Continent as he could.
Only Mr. Steel, his history and current affairs tutor, made any demand upon his time; he requested that Darcy keep a journal throughout his travels, explaining, "I do not mean a daily log of when you woke, what you ate, or even who you met, unless it or they are of special interest. I mean you should make notes of anything that strikes you as out of the ordinary or typical to a particular region; make notes of the architecture, the roads, the condition of the general populace, their customs and festivals if, indeed, they are different to those in England. You might also wish to make note of any particular military emplacements, whether defensive or offensive. You never know when such information may become very useful in the future when you have returned," he added with a sly, knowing smile.
"Yes, Sir. I think that is a good idea, and I shall certainly maintain a journal, if only to remember my travels in later years," Darcy promised with a grin.
Within a week of the signing of the Treaty of Amiens in March, Darcy went to London and conferred with Pierre. The latter was to leave for France by the end of the month, whereas Darcy would follow in May, at the end of term at Cambridge. They pored over maps of France, the German Principalities and Italy, drawing up a list of places they wished to see. This was then cut down to a more realistic itinerary, all the time realizing that even that list would be curtailed if travel conditions proved too difficult.
Finally they fixed an approximate date for Darcy's arrival at Calais, the twentieth of May. This date allowed Pierre seven weeks to deal with his personal financial affairs before returning to the port to meet his young friend and take on the additional burden of tour guide, teacher and advisor.
Darcy stood on the deck of the vessel carrying him across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, enjoying the sun on his face, the wind ruffling his hair, and the smell of salt water in his nostrils. He looked back at the amazingly white cliffs wondering when he would see them again. He observed the billowing sails above his head and the choppy waves running below the keel, thinking that the ship's motion was very similar to that of riding a lively stallion in need of exercise; to keep one's balance just follow the rise and fall of each movement whether of a horse or the deck of a ship.
He laughed briefly at this thought before looking around to see whether he had been observed, but he was alone on deck. The other passengers preferred to remain below, avoiding the wind and sun, believing themselves too ill to venture outside. Little did they realize, Darcy thought, that the fresh air on deck removed any imagined ailments felt inside their airless quarters. Darcy, excited to be setting out on his travels at last, thought back on the past weeks during which he had counted the days until his departure. He had returned to Pemberley for his Easter holiday to spend as much time as he could with his father and Georgiana, since he knew it would be many months before he would be home again. He had been happily surprised, therefore, when his father suggested that he and Georgiana would meet him at Cambridge and accompany him to town at the end of the summer term.
He smiled as he remembered Georgiana's six-year old face filled with awe when he showed her King's College Chapel. "It is so big and so high," she whispered, afraid to speak in her regular voice in such an imposing church. She had also been delighted to be invited to tea in his rooms along with their father. Georgiana had so enjoyed her short time in Cambridge that, during their carriage ride to town she announced very firmly "when I am old enough I want to study at King's College like William!" The elder Mr. Darcy had tried to divert her from this wish but, in the end, had to make her understand that, being a girl, she would not be allowed to study at any college, either at Cambridge or Oxford. She thought it most unfair, but said no more on the subject.
The ten days in town had been filled with business matters, although Darcy had saved part of each day to spend with Georgiana, whilst he had tried to avoid social engagements to spend his evenings in his father's company. During these evenings Mr. Darcy had advised his son to take great care in Paris; "If it is still as I remember, the city is filled with dark narrow streets and cul-de-sacs. Take great care, my boy, that you do not run into some bandit or thief on a dark night. And remember, never drink the water; if nothing else is available, drink wine, for the water will certainly render you very ill, indeed."
Darcy had parted from his father and Georgiana five days before. The farewells had been painful, but he had promised Georgiana that he would come back with a special present for her, whilst his father had assured him that the only present he wanted was his son's safe return. As the carriage left their town house, he looked back at the tall, older man holding the little girl's hand and was filled with a mixture of regret at leaving them and anticipation of the adventure ahead.
He broke his journey to Dover at Rosings to spend three days with his Aunt Catherine and his cousin Anne. His aunt's reception had been very different from his father's farewell. She could not understand why he must travel to the Continent and every evening engaged him in a running monologue:
"There is nothing for you in France. You would do much better to finish your studies and take your place in the select society into which you were born. You will only pick up bad habits in Paris, be accosted by demi-mondes and find yourself in savage company. I advise you to think again. It is not too late to write to Pierre and tell him you have changed your mind."
Darcy paid scant attention to her, but was happy when his days at Rosings were ended. He bade his aunt and cousin good-bye after listening to Lady Catherine's final advice: "Remember what you owe to your family and their good name; do not disgrace them by succumbing to the arts and allurements of some French coquette!"
"Aunt Catherine will never change!" Darcy now thought as he saw the coast of France ahead. Within the hour he went below and prepared to disembark in Calais. As he stepped on to French soil he was happy to see Pierre waiting for him.
"Welcome to France, Darcy," said Pierre as the two greeted each other, "I have dinner and accommodations for us at Dessein tonight. As soon as we collect your trunks, let us be on our way there. You must be hungry and tired after your crossing."
"Thank you," Darcy replied, "I must admit that I am hungry but not too tired to listen to your news. Have you settled any of your business affairs?"
"I have made good progress. I will tell you everything over dinner. Come along."
As the two walked toward the Inn, Darcy looked around at the narrow cobblestone streets, not very different to those observed in Dover, and the sailors and fishermen around the dock area. But it was not until they arrived at Dessein and a strange pungent smell of cooking met him at the door that he realized he was not in England anymore.
"What is this?" asked Darcy as a plate of small shells was placed before him at dinner.
"Escargot" smiled Pierre, "Snails! Try them, you will like them. Now that you are in France you will have to adjust to new tastes as well as new sights, sounds and smells."
"How do you eat them?" asked Darcy, wondering silently, "and why would you wish to?"
"You see this small fork?" Pierre showed Darcy, "Just put it into the shell and draw out the meat inside, like this," he said before putting the snail into his mouth and savoring its taste.
Darcy followed Pierre's direction, tasted the tiny morsel of meat and exclaimed in astonishment at the delicious sauce surrounding the meat: "This is wonderful. What is in this sauce?"
"L'ail et beurre--garlic and butter," Pierre explained. "You will find garlic in many French dishes, Darcy. It is a small bulb plant, the strongest of the onion family, and very popular in this country. You had better acquire a taste for it if, for no better reason, than for self-defense. By eating garlic yourself, you will not notice the strong odor from the breath of others around you!"
"I think I have already acquired a taste for it as well as for snails," Darcy grinned. "Now tell me about your estate; what shape was it in, was it occupied or standing empty, and what progress have you made in settling your affairs?"
"I found the country estate, just north of Rouen, in sad disrepair. The house has remained empty except for our old housekeeper and her husband. They stayed because they had nowhere else to go and managed to keep a few rooms habitable. The fields, however, have lain fallow for several years; a few peasants have recently tried to farm some of the outlying fields. With the help of a lawyer friend in Rouen, I think I have found a buyer for the house, but I am not yet certain whether I shall receive the purchase price in one sum or whether he will rent the house for a few years before paying off the remaining sum.
"My friend also suggested that I try and sell the fields separately to local farmers or peasants. They could become tenant farmers until such a time as the price for the fields has been met. You will see for yourself when we visit the estate. We shall be able to stay in the house as I have asked Madame Ladoc to clean and air some of the rooms for us. But first I thought we would travel along the coast road, stopping at one or two fishing villages before heading south toward Rouen."
"I am eager to see it, Pierre," Darcy assured him.
"Our Paris house, on the other hand, has been occupied by several families," Pierre continued. They have each taken a floor of the house and are very eager to purchase their apartments. Luckily, I persuaded one family to make three rooms available for us during our visit to the city."
"You seem to have done well," Darcy marveled. "You will be able to enjoy your travels without worrying about this business."
"That is true. I am very happy, if these purchases can be firmly arranged. But I must tell you--I would like to visit Frankfurt-am-Main in the German principality of Hesse-Cassel where I have heard of someone who can help me get the money I shall receive from France to England. Would you mind if we visit Frankfurt on our way from Rouen to Paris? I know this detour will delay our arrival in Paris, but if that is agreeable to you I can settle my business and can then really enjoy our remaining travels."
"Pierre, you know that your business is of utmost importance, and I leave the travel itinerary entirely in your hands," Darcy smiled.
"I must also warn you that travel conditions here in France are not up to the standards of those in England. The roads are in poor shape and there are constant delays for toll payments of varying amounts. And most of the inns are sorely lacking in amenities; I have sometimes found the food scarce and rooms at a premium. Even here, the two of us have to share a room tonight, if that is agreeable to you," Pierre queried.
"I do not mind sharing a room with you, Pierre. Remember, I am probably more accustomed to this from my days at Eton than you are," Darcy reassured Pierre.
"On the other hand, it could be worse," Pierre continued. "At one inn on the road to Paris I had to share a room with a complete stranger. Even then I counted myself fortunate, for the stranger was another man. One of the travelers on our diligence, the public coach, a Monsieur Patrot, was obliged to share a room and bed with a Madame de Nouaille, a lady he had never met before! The next morning he reported that he had slept very well on his side of the bed," Pierre smiled as he recounted this tale for Darcy's amusement.
"In that case, I am happy that I overrode my father's wishes that I travel with my manservant Although Robert was eager to accompany us, I feared that it would put an added burden on our freedom of movement. As I told my father, I am sure that, if needed, we can always hire some local man instead of worrying about Robert's welfare."
"You were quite correct in that assumption, Darcy. It is very much easier to travel as unencumbered as possible in France."
After a good night's rest in a room where they were happy to find that, instead of sharing one bed there were two, they arose to a typical French breakfast. Darcy was amazed at the lightness of the bread--croissant and brioche as Pierre informed him--but he preferred to drink tea to the strong coffee favoured by Pierre.
They departed from Calais in a hired carriage, following a westward road along the coast, passing miles of sand dunes, rocky inlets, and small fishing villages. An hour before dinner they arrived at Dieppe, where Pierre had engaged for a room and dinner at the Cheval-Blanc. This inn, the only one in the town, was not as comfortable nor was its food as well prepared as at the Dessein, but Darcy hardly noticed; he was more interested in observing the activity around the harbour where some of the smaller French warships were anchored. He paid particular attention to the sailors, trying to determine whether their condition was equal to or worse than those of their English counterparts.
The following morning saw them on the road again, still heading west along the coast until they reached the village of Etretat in time for a long walk on the beach before dinner. They found the Inn reasonably comfortable and the village so charming that they decided to stay two full days before completing the journey to Pierre's estate near Rouen.
Darcy, who had never been to the sea shore in England, enjoyed his new experiences at Etretat. He and Pierre rode horses along the beach and in the water's edge or on the dunes each morning. He watched the fishing boats setting out in the morning, observed some old men mending their nets in the middle of the day and, when the boats returned at sunset, he looked on as they unloaded the day's catch, trying to name the variety of fish. The second day was particularly warm and sunny and Darcy decided to try some sea bathing. Within a minute of entering the water, however, he emerged shivering declaring the water to be even colder than the pond at Pemberley. Pierre laughed as he admitted to Darcy that he had experienced the chilly waters of the English Channel as a young boy and would never, voluntarily, bathe there again.
The carriage rolled through a broken gate and along a gravel path between tall grass and overgrown shrubbery as it arrived at the De Bourgh house, about ten kilometers north of Rouen. Darcy was surprised to see a very modest house ahead of him. "Why, this is nothing like the chateaux that I have heard of in France," he thought. "It is much smaller than Pemberley, smaller even than Rosings. Instead of the Earl's mansion that I had expected, it is merely the size of a country squire's house in England."
Pulling up to the front steps, there was nobody to greet the carriage. Pierre knocked on the door and had to wait several minutes before it opened a crack to reveal a pair of suspicious eyes. When Madame Ladoc realized who had arrived, the suspicion was replaced by a brief smile as she opened the door wide. She greeted them with apologies for the delay followed shortly by a string of complaints about the army deserters in the area, the fear that they would be robbed, the trouble of answering the door with the rheumatism in her legs, and a host of other minor problems. Pierre smiled at Darcy as if to say "This is normal, do not take any notice of her."
The three rooms opened for their use were sparsely furnished with grimy windows and dust on the mantel and tables. Pierre apologized for the rooms' condition, explaining that "During the last few years the house was commandeered by the army. Madame Ladoc told me that at first only the officers lived here, but later it became a general billet for conscripts and, recently, a haven for deserters. Each of these groups either stole the furnishings or broke it up for firewood. Anyway," Pierre recollected, smiling broadly, "Madame Ladoc never concerned herself with the cleanliness of the rooms; her interest always lay in the kitchen and the preparation of the food. I have asked her to try and find a local woman willing to help clean during our stay, but I am not sure whether she has found any such person."
When dinner was served Darcy was again confronted with a tempting new dish. "Are these quail legs, Pierre? They are too small for chicken legs," he enquired.
Pierre laughed, saying "No, these are cuisse de grenouille--frogs' legs--again in a garlic and butter sauce. Madame Ladoc remembered they were my favourite when I was young and she prepared them especially for my return."
"They are, indeed, delicious," Darcy decided. "As far as I am concerned, Pierre, Madame Ladoc need never clean the rooms if only she will produce meals such as this."
"I tend to agree with you, Darcy, and we will not stay here for more than a few weeks. Let us enjoy the food and not worry about the dust; I only hope I can sell the house, collect the money, and be rid of one burden in France. Tomorrow I would like to go to Rouen and visit Monsieur LeDroit, my lawyer friend, to see what progress he has made. Would you like to accompany me, Darcy? After I have finished with LeDroit I can show you a little of the town."
"I would like that," Darcy agreed.
The following morning they drove to Rouen, a medieval town dominated by the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, and proceeded directly to a narrow street of half-timbered houses where M. LeDroit worked and lived. They were shown into the advocate's ground-floor office and greeted warmly by a thin man of medium height, a few years senior to Pierre with lively, bright eyes and an intelligent expression. Pierre and LeDroit, after a few general remarks about the former's travels, discussed the sale of Pierre's property whilst Darcy listened to their conversation, impressed at LeDroit's abilities and demeanour. "He does not wish to waste his or our time," he thought.
With their business finished, LeDroit invited Pierre and Darcy to dine with his family the following day, an invitation they happily accepted. They parted in good time for Pierre to show Darcy the only important sights in Rouen--the Palais de Justice, the place where it was believed Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, and the square in the front of the impressive Cathedral.
The following afternoon they dined with the LeDroit family in their comfortable home above the law offices. Darcy soon discovered that the family's chief source of entertainment centered around small dinner parties amongst their friends or evenings at the theatre when a performance was available. After dinner, as the men drank Calvados--a regional apple brandy--they arranged for LeDroit to bring Monsieur LeGrandet, the prospective purchaser of the DeBourgh house, to see the property two days hence.
When Pierre and Darcy met Monsieur LeGrandet they had to smile. Instead of an imposing figure, as his name implied, he was a short, rotund man with a florid complexion and a decided air of recently acquired wealth. Indeed, they soon discovered that he had been a customs official for the Normandy region during the days of the Directory who had, no doubt, accumulated his newfound riches through graft and bribery. He had lost his position under the new government, the Consulate, and now wished to retire to a quiet country life. He was well pleased with the house and its surrounding garden, wished to purchase them, and arrangements were made for further meetings between the parties to take place in LeDroit's offices in Rouen.
The following weeks Pierre and Darcy either spent their days in the town or riding to the outlying farms in the area arranging for the tenancy or sale of the remainder of the estate. Whilst Pierre conducted his business, Darcy had plenty of time to walk through the narrow streets, always ending in front of the Cathedral. He noticed the different shades of light on the great front, changing from pink in early morning, to yellow in the middle of the day, nearly purple in late afternoon, and a deep blue at night. He was moved by this sight and it left a deep impression on him.
After nearly three weeks' negotiations Pierre had settled all his business in and around Rouen; he had sold the house outright and had let the fields to tenant farmers. They left all the remaining details, such as collections, in Monsieur LeDroit's hands and arranged to meet him again in Paris, bade farewell to Madame Ladoc and departed for Frankfurt.
"Pierre, are you certain that you will settle in England? Why are you determined to sell all your property in France?" Darcy asked, curious about Pierre's decision to leave his native country. "It appears to be very pleasant with some beautiful country which only needs more care in cultivation than it has had of late. Where will you live should you decide to return to France?"
Darcy had been pondering these questions whilst the carriage rolled across unremarkable but fertile plains, dotted with small villages and even smaller farms. They had crossed the Somme and were headed towards the Meuse when Darcy's curiosity finally overcame his reluctance to pry into Pierre's affairs.
"I have quite decided to live permanently in England," Pierre replied, somewhat surprised at Darcy's questions, "and I shall try to give you all the reasons for my decision." Alone in the carriage, they could converse without fear of being overheard; they settled back in their seats, Darcy prepared to listen to Pierre's reasoning and Pierre more than happy to explain them to make sure they were sound.
"The first, and principal, reason is the young lady I mentioned to you last summer. We were often in each other's company last winter and, about a month before I left for France, I gathered up my courage and asked Marie Louise to become my wife. Much to my relief and happiness, she accepted me!" Pierre grinned at Darcy.
"Congratulations, Pierre! I am very happy for you," Darcy smiled with honest joy. "I had hesitated to ask about her, since I did not wish to give you any pain."
"Thank you. To continue, I formally asked Marie Louise's father, Mr. Jackson, for her hand the day after her acceptance. He was very amenable to my request, provided that I could settle my affairs here in France, and she was willing to wait for my return. Mr. Jackson is an English gentleman–a man of wealth and property who has dealings in the City–whilst Mrs. Jackson is descended from the French nobility. She moved to England on her marriage, some two and twenty years ago, and Marie Louise was born in England. Since Marie Louise's family is all in England and I have none remaining in France I prefer to settle in London instead of removing her from familiar surroundings. And I do not trust Napoleon to remain peaceful for long. I think he is only using the present Treaty of Amiens as a time to gather new forces, a temporary truce before he renews his attempts to dominate all of Europe. If we lived in France and war breaks out again we would be cut off from Marie Louise's family and our friends in England; that is a thought too terrible to contemplate."
"That is very sound reasoning, Pierre. I am not sorry that I asked, considering the happy answer you have given, and I am glad you have just cause for your decision," Darcy stated.
"Our engagement has not been formally announced," Pierre continued, "because I do not yet know how long I shall be away and Marie Louise is very young; she turned twenty last month. Her parents did not want Marie Louise to abandon all amusements during the season for lack of an acknowledged, but absent fiancé. Therefore, I hope that she remains as true to me as I do to her, but if she meets another, then I suppose it was never meant to be."
"That is very philosophic of you, Pierre," Darcy said in admiring tones.
"It is not so much a matter of philosophy, Darcy, as one of optimism and confidence in our attachment. Even without Marie Louise, it is no hardship for me to settle in London. I do not care for the atmosphere in Paris today. It is not the city I knew and loved. When I was growing up we spent eleven months of the year in our Paris home and my parents were frequently at the court in Versailles. But our former home is now split into apartments, the society I knew is either dead or scattered all over Europe, and the Paris of old is filled with a dirty rabble. Indeed, certain sections of the city are so unsafe at night they make the worst London streets seem like a haven of respectability."
"Nevertheless, I am anxious to see Paris," Darcy admitted, "but your reasons for leaving France are very sound, Pierre. You seem to have thought of every contingency and I now understand your eagerness to finalize the sale of your properties and get the money to England as soon as possible."
The long June days allowed Darcy and Pierre's carriage to cover more miles than would have been possible at other times of the year, despite the poor roads. Conversation, reading, and stops for meals and rest for the horses lightened the discomfort of the four day journey to Frankfurt. Only on the third day, when their carriage crossed the Ardennes forest, was their attention caught by the scenery surrounding them. The thick trees rising on either side of the road and the sun's rays filtering through their leaves gave the impression of riding through the nave of a cathedral; conversation stopped while they gazed in awe at the passing view. Finally, on the fourth day the carriage crossed the Rhine at Koblenz and by the end of the day their carriage rolled into Frankfurt.
After a night's rest at a comfortable inn, Pierre and Darcy went in search of the Schnur Gasse near the center of the town, looking for a building containing a leather dealer as well as the merchandise business of the Rothschilds. When they arrived at their destination they entered the shop and Pierre, in halting, elementary German, introduced himself to a young man behind a counter and asked to see Mr. Meyer Amschel Rothschild.
"Papa," the young man called to another man at the back of the room, continuing to say something that was entirely incomprehensible to Darcy and Pierre. A tall, spare man of about sixty years turned around and looked at them. Dressed entirely in black, he had a small pointed beard and the brightest dark eyes that seemed to pierce through them although his voice was soft spoken and his manner courteous.
"I am Meyer Rothschild, sir" he said, "May I be of service to you?"
Pierre began to state his business, but before long Rothschild stopped him to call for another assistant who spoke English and could translate. Once Pierre had made clear that he needed help in changing French francs into English pounds and have the latter transferred to London, they were informed that this was only a merchandise shop and that all financial and monetary business was conducted at the house of the Green Shield on the Judengasse. They arranged for a convenient time to call there the next day and, after obtaining directions to the Jewish ghetto, left the shop.
"Where on earth did you hear of Herr Rothschild, Pierre?" Darcy enquired as they walked back toward the inn
"Several of my friends escaped from France through Germany before they arrived in England. They told me how helpful this Meyer Rothschild had been in exchanging coins, jewelry, antiques and other valuables into pounds or any currency they might wish. They assured me that he was honest, reliable and discreet."
"I hope he is all that," Darcy mused, thinking that he had never had any dealings with such a man.
As they walked through the town they found Frankfurt to be a bustling place, alive with traders from all corners of Europe. They entered a small café for a drink and were surrounded by a polyglot of different languages–German in different dialects, French, English, Italian, Greek and perhaps Polish or Russian.
Back at the inn they met several English businessmen and joined them for dinner at the large communal table where platters of sausages and sauerkraut were handed around and beer flowed freely. Conversation was lively, mostly concerning Napoleon and whether or not the present peace would hold. Darcy listened with interest without contributing very much to the discussion; Pierre, on the other hand, was in his element in discussing the present and future relations between France and England.
The following day Darcy and Pierre walked to the Judengasse, carefully following the directions. They found the twelve foot wide street wedged between the city walls and a trench with a pair of heavy iron doors at the entrance and, over an arch, the words "Under the Roman Emperor's Majesty and the Holy Emperor's Protection." They walked along the narrow, crowded street where women gathered by their doors, children played in the street, and every few feet groups of men conversed in yet another foreign language that neither Darcy nor Pierre could understand. They looked at each other, Darcy raising a questioning eyebrow, as they were assailed by an overwhelming odor from the mud and garbage in the street.
They found the sign of the Green Shield on a semi-detached house towards the end of the street, knocked and, as the door opened, a bell rang through the small house. They were admitted by a young, red-haired man who introduced himself in English as Nathan Rothschild. As he led them along the corridor running to the back of the house beside a very narrow staircase, he explained that he had been living in Manchester for the past four years and was visiting his family. They entered a small room at the back of the house to meet with Meyer Rothschild whilst Nathan acted as interpreter.
Pierre arranged with Meyer Rothschild that all the money owed him from France would be forwarded to Frankfurt and from there on to Nathan in England. Darcy watched these proceedings more and more impressed by the Rothschilds' general business acumen and their incisive knowledge of European trading. He noted that Nathan Rothschild might be a very useful business contact for his father.
This was a new and unusual but certainly the safest way for Pierre to transfer his funds from France to England. Heretofore Pierre would have had to wait for and carry the funds himself and guard them from danger. Now there was no pressure on Pierre; Monsieur LeDroit would send the funds to Meyer Rothschild who would forward them to Nathan for deposit in Pierre's bank in London.
With the meeting completed, Nathan offered to accompany Darcy and Pierre into town, since he was expected in the shop on the Schnur Gasse. "What is the language I hear, Rothschild?" asked Darcy as they made their way through the crowd in the Judengasse.
"That is a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish," Nathan informed them, explaining "the older men speak Hebrew but the everyday language is Yiddish. That is a mixture of Hebrew and German–a language used exclusively in the ghetto and not well understood outside this area."
"Then how do you conduct business in Frankfurt and, indeed, in other parts of Germany?" Darcy asked, curious how such a language barrier could be overcome.
"My father had to learn German as he conducted his business, and even my older brothers and I had to perfect it when we were allowed into the business at age twelve. We are now teaching our younger two brothers to speak it better than we ever did. I arrived in England without speaking or understanding English, but luckily I picked it up quickly," Nathan grinned.
"Why are so many people crowded into this one street?" Pierre asked, curious about conditions in the ghetto.
"This street is the only one where Jews are allowed to live in Frankfurt," Nathan informed them. "There are more than three thousand people crammed into three hundred houses. Our house only has two bedrooms, a drawing room, a small kitchen, and the office in the back, yet my parents think themselves fortunate to have such a house. I am one of their ten children, five boys and five girls."
"That is a very large family," Darcy said, slightly envious of the many brothers and sisters, "you probably had much fun during your youth."
"We were certainly a close-knit family, crowded together as we were. And we learnt much of the business at our father's knee. In that respect we are very fortunate–the business can remain entirely within the family."
Arriving at the Schnur Gasse, Pierre and Darcy invited Nathan to join them for a drink at a café, but he declined, saying "I thank you for your kind offer, but I am not allowed into a café or inn here, although in Manchester I am free to go wherever I wish. I can endure the proscription in Frankfurt since, in two days, I shall return to England. By the way, if you have any letters for your family or friends there, I shall be happy to forward them on my return. You could leave them for me at the shop on the Schnur Gasse before you leave Frankfurt."
"That is very kind of you," Pierre and Darcy agreed, and said they would avail themselves of this offer to send word back to England. That evening Darcy retired early to write his letters. He sat back in his chair, thinking about the Rothschild family, their living conditions, and the amazing way they seemed to overcome all the obstacles placed in their way. "I have much more admiration and respect for such a family than some of the gentlemen I know at home who waste their family fortunes and idle their time away at their tailors or at the gaming tables."
On the morning of the fourth day after leaving Frankfurt the carriage carrying Pierre and Darcy rolled through the streets of Paris and into the courtyard of the De Bourgh house. The large iron gates hung open off rusty hinges whilst much of the wall fronting the street lay collapsed in a pile of rubble, but, as Darcy alit from the vehicle, he was amazed at the size of the house before him. "Why, this is a veritable mansion," he thought, "equal to Buckingham House in London."
Business establishments and shops occupied the ground floor on the three sides of the building surrounding the courtyard, whilst many owners of these businesses lived on the floor above. The second and third floors were rented to a variety of families ranging from government officials to artists–a total of four and twenty homes and eight businesses carved from one formerly private house.
Pierre and Darcy entered a tailor's shop, located in the central portion of the house, where Pierre was greeted by the owner, Monsieur Moyenne. After introductions were completed, the latter led them upstairs to meet his wife and settle into the rooms they had made available for their stay in Paris. There were six rooms in the flat, of which three had been made available to Pierre and Darcy–a bedroom each and a small study between the bedrooms. The remainder contained a drawing room, their hosts' bedroom, another small study and a kitchen whilst the central entry hall served as a dining room.
"This house is three times as large as your house in the country, Pierre," Darcy stated whilst they were settling into their rooms. "Your town house appears equal to Pemberley but your country house is only the size of our town house."
"Yes, our life was centered around Paris and Versailles," Pierre replied, "and our country estate was merely an investment and a place for escape during the worst heat of August. Unlike your family, mine was uninterested in country pursuits; they preferred salons, soirees, theatres, and other amusements to be found in the city."
"Do you think you will be able to sell all the flats?" Darcy wondered.
"I certainly hope so. Monsieur LeDroit foresees no difficulty. He will join us next week. I am afraid I shall have to leave you on your own whilst we conduct this business, but I will show you the most interesting places before he arrives," Pierre assured Darcy.
"Thank you, Pierre. When I know my way around I am sure I shall do very well on my own."
During their first week in Paris, Pierre often accompanied Darcy through the streets which were as narrow as those of medieval days in London. Darcy was very grateful for the native guide for he soon realized that the city was formed of a labyrinth of by-streets, cul-de-sacs, and alleys that would confuse the most intrepid tourist . There were no pavements and only a central channel for a gutter; on fine days the refuse piled before each door caused dust and bad odors, whilst after a thunderstorm a sea of glutinous mud spread across the streets. Yet walking remained the easiest and fastest means of transportation around town and the streets were thereby crowded from dawn till well after dusk.
They walked to the Tuileries to watch the fashionable world promenade, to the Luxembourg Gardens where they found quieter family groups, or to the Jardin des Plantes, so named with typical Parisian irony because it was filled with animals. Their favourite destination, however, remained the small garden of the Palais-Royal where the lawns and flower beds were surrounded by arcades filled with cafes, shops, billiard rooms and a reading room. Darcy particularly enjoyed the Café de Valois where chess tournaments were held and where he could find a friendly game at most times of the day.
Pierre, Darcy and Monsieur LeDroit, after he had joined them, were amused each afternoon when the enormously obese second consul, covered in decorations and dressed in the fashion of pre-revolutionary days complete with wig and tricorn hat, accompanied by his loyal and devoted friends and surrounded by footmen, promenaded along the arcades, at a pace regulated by the slow steps of the great man. Whilst the onlookers laughed and greeted the procession with cheers and cat-calls, the daily promenade never altered. "Why would a high government official make such a fool of himself?" thought Darcy whilst joining the general laughter.
After dusk, when much of the crowd had returned to their homes, the true character of the Palais-Royal could be found in the number of beautiful women under the arcades. Whilst Darcy had difficulty distinguishing between the well-dressed shop assistants and the equally fashionable looking young women promenading after dark, Pierre assured him that the latter's trade was not in goods but only in services – good services. "Oh!" mumbled Darcy, red-faced as he realized what Pierre implied.
After a while, Darcy learnt to differentiate between the young ladies, but when he walked in the Tuileries gardens he wondered about the Merveilleuses whose transparent dresses left nothing to the imagination. "Many are courtesans," Pierre informed him, "and others are just young women trying to pattern themselves on the first consul's wife, Josephine." They were sometimes accompanied by gentlemen in equally strange outfits, the Incroyables, whose tail coats and breeches were so tight and their cravats so high that they could scarcely breathe. Their fashion statements were ruled by incoherence for they disregarded the weather; if it was raining and the streets muddy they wore their white stockings, whilst if it was hot and sunny they wore boots and heavy coats.
Darcy, who was about the same age as these strangely dressed Parisians, thought them and their fashions quite ridiculous and something he had no wish to emulate. He disliked arriving at his destination on wet evenings with mud on his stockings and soon requested Monsieur Moyenne to make him a pair of long, dark trousers in the fashion of the sans-culottes. Ready the following day, Darcy wore the trousers when he and Pierre were invited for an informal evening with Monsieur LeDroit at the latter's friend, Monsieur Martin, a Paris lawyer who would look after Pierre's interests in that city after LeDroit returned to Rouen. Darcy was not prepared, however, for his friends' comments:
"Have you become an avid Republican, Darcy?" Pierre grinned, whilst LeDroit added "Ah, I see you have adopted the fashion of our sans-culottes. You approve our Revolution?"
"No I have not taken on the Republican cause, but these trousers will mean I do not have to worry about mud or my stockings wrinkling around my ankles," Darcy replied with a good natured smile. He felt very comfortable in his long trousers, and bought two more pairs from the tailor before they left Paris, determined to wear them frequently when he returned home.
Through introductions by Monsieur Martin, Pierre and Darcy were invited to dine in the homes of the new elite of society, financiers who had replaced the former aristocracy in prestige. But the dinners turned into something akin to a crowded public banquet where the guests gorged themselves on too much food, had little conversation, and neither Darcy nor Pierre saw any breeding or manners. They preferred the small dinner parties given by their hosts, Monsieur and Madame Moyenne, when no more than a dozen friends gathered for a meal and a game of cards.
The longer they stayed in Paris the more Darcy found it to be a city of contrasts. As he walked down a respectable street one morning he suddenly found himself in a square where sheds, booths, and red umbrellas contained a market. Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, coal, and clothing were sold there whilst jugglers, clowns, and other performers provided a side-show for the amusement of all who passed by. On the far side of this square, Darcy saw live animals being herded into the butchers' shops and, within minutes, heard the bellowing as they were slaughtered for the day's supply of fresh meat. He was disquieted at finding such respectability next to the horror of a slaughter house, yet the Parisians found nothing strange about such proximity.
Houses built along the Seine blocked all view of the river except from one of the few bridges. On their way to the Ile de la Cite, Pierre and Darcy stopped to survey the river, only to find floating mills and laundry boats spoiling the view. Arriving at Notre Dame, they admired the great front with its ornate doors and carvings. Darcy was amused when he noticed a gargoyle that he thought resembled his Aunt Catherine.
"Look Pierre, that gargoyle at the top, does it not remind you of Lady Catherine?" Darcy laughed, pointing up at his find.
"Oh, yes, a beautiful and somewhat familiar grotesque," Pierre smiled.
"Grotesque? Indeed!" Darcy agreed.
By the beginning of August Darcy was eager to leave Paris and continue their journey. The city had become unbearably hot, the air was putrid, his favourite walks no longer held any attraction, and he felt in need of some real exercise such as riding and swimming. Although he had noticed some youths swimming in the Seine, au natural, by jumping off a coal barge, the dirty water and the lack of privacy had deterred him from joining in their sport. He was extremely happy, therefore, when Pierre announced, "Darcy, it is done. The entire house is sold and we can finally get out of this city."
"Well done, Pierre! Who has bought it? I thought you were having difficulties selling the flats to the individual tenants."
"Through Monsieur Martin's connections, the house has been bought as an investment by Monsieur Delahaye, the financier. We were invited to his house for that overcrowded dinner, if you remember."
"Yes, I remember him," Darcy recalled, "but what will he do with the house? Will he move in and evict all the tenants?"
"No, that is the beauty of his plan. He is buying it purely as an investment and will continue to rent the flats to these or new tenants–whoever can pay his rental price. He has already given a down-payment to Monsieur Martin on my behalf, and will continue to pay off the outstanding sum owed over the next year or two. The final details will be worked out and I shall have to return here in six to eight months, but now we are free to be on our way."
After a congratulatory dinner with Monsieur Martin and Monsieur LeDroit, Darcy and Pierre entered their carriage two mornings later and left Paris.
"Look at the vines, Pierre," Darcy said as their carriage rolled through the province of Burgundy, "do we have time to stop and, if they allow, tour the vineyard?
"We have plenty of time, Darcy, if you wish to stop. My friend, Jean de Rohan does not expect us at Lake Como until the middle of September. We have more than a month to do and see whatever we wish," Pierre assured his friend.
Darcy wanted to see if wine production might be feasible in Derbyshire, but after visiting a few vineyards, he realized that neither the soil nor the climate around Pemberley would be conducive to a grape harvest and gave up his idea of founding the first English winery. Pierre and Darcy did enjoy their visits, however, and appreciated the different vintages offered for tasting.
Leaving Burgundy, Pierre and Darcy spent a night in Lyons before continuing south along the Rhone valley. A few more days over rough roads brought them to Avignon and from there they headed east to Provence. Darcy was particularly delighted with the scenery on this leg of their journey; valleys filled with fields of wild flowers and lavender, olive groves climbing up the foothills, and both surrounded by small mountains frequently surmounted by a fortified village.
Their intended destination was Nice, a town popular with the British aristocracy before the war with France. Tobias Smollett's rather sardonic account of his two year stay in Nice in his Travels in France and Italy, published in 1766, had begun the city's fashionable repute with the British. Darcy had read Smollett's book and was curious to see what changes had been made in the intervening years. The stretch of coast from Cannes to the Italian border had belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia, a close ally of England and hated enemy of France, until the summer of 1792. After the fall of the Bastille, many French aristocrats had joined the English in Nice, thereby avoiding the guillotine. When war broke out between France and the Kingdom of Sardinia, panic seized not only the French émigrés but, indeed, most of the population of Nice. By the time French troops entered the city much of the population had fled to Italy, leaving only the poorest to assist the troops in their pillage and plunder of the fine villas left unattended.
As Pierre and Darcy discovered on entering the city, Nice had suffered the same fate from the French troops that Paris had suffered from its own population. Buildings were in ruin, the nouveau riche inhabited the finest villas, and entertainment was raucous and vulgar. They only spent two nights in Nice before retreating to Antibes, a quieter port town with a great fortress and sandy beaches. They settled into a comfortable inn, prepared to enjoy the azure Mediterranean sea, the warm sun, and the new taste of the Provencal cuisine.
They explored Antibes, the ancient town of Antipolis, and found some of the Greek and Roman remains of the Temple of Aphrodite or Venus. Most mornings they rode over the open fields of the Cap d'Antibes, the rocky cape jutting into the Mediterranean. On hot days they found coves where they could dive into the warm water, swim, bask in the sun on the flat rocks, and ride back in time for dinner. Other days they explored further afield. They drove up into the mountains to visit St. Paul de Vence, a walled town of medieval streets and houses. They walked the length of the two cobbled streets contained within the walls before Darcy decided to climb the ramparts to view the surrounding valleys by walking along the top before returning to their carriage. They visited Villefranche, a beautiful harbour town set in a quiet bay, former base for the British fleet. They found a pleasant, though pebbly beach for swimming after which they ate a delicious dinner of bouillabaisse and freshly caught fish at the small harbourside café.
Three weeks of sun, exercise, fresh food, and no worries or business meetings for Pierre had benefited both of them; they were relaxed at the beginning of September when they embarked on their travel to Italy. Their journey took them through Monaco to the Italian frontier at Menton and along the Mediterranean coast to Genoa. They only spent one night in that port city before continuing on to Milan.
Darcy and Pierre found a comfortable hostelry in Milan, a bustling city of little architectural beauty but filled with an elegant society with its own customs. One of these was their daily late afternoon drive, known as the Corso, which gave respectable society the opportunity to meet and exchange news and gossip. Another was to attend the opera at La Scala, especially on the opening night of each production. On their first day in the city, Pierre and Darcy discovered that they had arrived just in time for the start of the new opera season.
Having managed to obtain box seats for the opening performance of "The Marriage of Figaro", they arrived at the theatre where Darcy, admiring the exterior architecture of the building, noted that it greatly resembled Pemberley in style. Inside, however, he realized that it was quite different with its great marble foyer and grand staircase leading up to the boxes. As a footman ushered them into their assigned box, Darcy entered eagerly to look at the theatre's interior and the audience assembling on the floor below, only faintly hearing a female voice call out, "Vicomte de Bourgh? Vicomte Pierre de Bourgh?" Pierre stopped at the entrance to the box, looked around, and found the source of these questions approaching him.
"Madame," he said with a wide smile as he recognized the lady as a friend of his parents, one of the many French émigrés who had fled first to Nice and then to Italy.
After the customary courtesies, she enquired "What are you doing in Milan, Vicomte? I thought you were settled permanently in England."
"I am settled in London," Pierre assured her, "but since the Treaty of Amiens I have been back to France to sell my estates, and now I am traveling with a young friend. We are only in Milan for a few days and then continue to Jean de Rohan's villa at Lake Como."
"Will you do me the honour of introducing me to your friend?" she asked.
"Certainly. Darcy!" Pierre called from the doorway.
Darcy had heard their voices in the background but paid no attention; he was much more interested in the view from the box and was unprepared for Pierre's command. He pulled himself away from watching the audience below and turned around slowly. As he faced Pierre and the lady by his side, the latter gasped, took a tiny step back and turned ashen, as if she had seen a ghost, before struggling for composure as Pierre introduced them: "Fitzwilliam Darcy, Madame La Comtesse de Gercourt."
Darcy walked towards them, noting the strikingly handsome, petite lady with Pierre. Although she was considerably older than Pierre, her large blue eyes were bright, her brown hair dressed becomingly and her dress fashionable. Darcy took the Comtesse's outstretched hand to kiss, adding "I am happy to make your acquaintance."
With an impish smile she enquired, "Is this your first opera, Monsieur?"
"No, Madame, but it is my first visit to La Scala," Darcy replied, rather shyly.
At that moment the orchestra began the overture, the Comtesse de Gercourt left their box to enter her own, and the opera began. Darcy was fascinated with the performance on stage, giving it all his attention. Nevertheless, between scenes, he felt as if he were being watched; when he looked away from the action below, he caught the Comtesse's eyes looking at him with a quizzical expression. He felt quite discomfited by this examination, fearing that there must be something amiss about his person yet he knew he was appropriately attired; nor did he believe himself handsome enough to warrant such attention. Nothing, however, could detract from his enjoyment of the music as he decided to ignore the lady's glances.
Continued inPart 5
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