Young Fitzwilliam Darcy
After their night at the opera, Darcy and Pierre decided to acquaint themselves with another Milanese custom, the daily meeting at the Corso. They walked to the Porta Orientale in time to see the low-slung, open carriages arrive, each transporting the beautiful ladies of Milan society, make one circuit of the square, and then line up one next to another to enable their occupants to converse with each other or with the gentlemen who attended on horseback or on foot. Whilst Pierre and Darcy were watching this strange custom, the Comtesse de Gercourt arrived in her own carriage and hailed them.
They walked over to her carriage, stationed at the end of the line, to greet her and exchange pleasantries. Darcy, a little shy of this fashionable lady, allowed Pierre to carry the conversation. The latter was not prepared, however, for the detailed questions concerning their future travel plans how long were they expecting to stay with Jean de Rohan, where would they go after they left Lake Como, did they have plans to visit Florence, Rome, and Venice?
Whilst Pierre tried to answer her specific questions with generalities, Darcy stood by silently wondering why she was so interested in their movements. He also noticed that, although the Comtesse addressed herself to Pierre, her eyes were trained on Darcy. He was relieved, therefore, when they could reasonably make their excuses and take their leave.
At dinner Darcy questioned Pierre about the Comtesse and her obvious attention. "Tell me what you know of her, Pierre" he asked "how long have you been acquainted with her?"
"Most of what I know I have heard from other emigres in London. I only knew her as the wife of my father's very good friend whilst I was a boy."
"So you knew her whilst you were growing up in Paris?" Darcy asked.
"I was introduced to her at one of my parents' parties, but I do not really remember her. She was Cecile de Volange, convent educated, whose mother arranged her marriage when she was only fifteen years old. She was taken from the convent and, within a few months, married to a man twenty years her senior. I believe I remember my mother telling me that the king had attended their wedding. After their marriage, of course, she became part of the same social circle as my parents in Paris and Versailles. She had a son within the first year of her marriage, but no more children."
"What happened to her husband and son," Darcy asked.
"Both the Comte de Gercourt and their son were at Versailles when the king was taken prisoner by the revolutionary forces. They were imprisoned at the same time and met the same fate. Her son was only fifteen when he was executed, but the mob showed no mercy. Cecile was visiting her mother and friends in the country and had wanted to take her son, but the Comte insisted that the boy belonged at Versailles. I do not think she ever forgave her husband or recovered from her loss. I believe she managed to flee to Nice and then, later, to Italy to avoid the French mob, but I know little of her life since I have been in England."
"I feel sorry for her. It must be terrible to lose both a husband and a son at the same time," said Darcy sympathetically.
"Your sympathy for her son is very commendable, Darcy, but it is misplaced for her husband" Pierre smiled. "I think she is probably happier now than she ever was during her marriage."
Darcy was gratified to know of the Comtesse's background, although he remained puzzled by her stares. He put her out of his mind, however, when he and Pierre left Milan early the following morning and, by the time they arrived at Lake Como, his anxious discomfiture was quite forgotten. It was replaced with excited delight at their first view of the lake from the water's edge at Como, a town known for its trade in silk and cotton from the east. They surveyed the long narrow lake surrounded by mountains and stretching as far as the eye could see all the way to Switzerland, but did not stop long to admire the sight. Instead, they proceeded along the road on the western side of the lake.
Within an hour they rolled through the very small town of Cernobbio and, a half mile further turned right to follow a long drive rolling gently downhill to a sixteenth century house, the Villa Garrovo, situated on the edge of the lake and named for the mountain stream which ran through the grounds.** They were greeted by their hosts, Jean de Rohan and his wife, Louise. Jean, two years older than Pierre at one and thirty, had been the latter's childhood friend when they attended the same school. Pierre had also been acquainted with Louise when they were both very young and he was, therefore, extremely happy to meet them again after many intervening years and changes in fortune.
At dinner Darcy and Pierre met the Rohan's other guests, Monsieur and Madame Duvalier and Signor and Signora Fiori, as well as Louise's mother, Madame Lemaire who lived with her daughter and son-in-law. The general conversation at dinner and the pleasant evening of music and cards bode well for Darcy and Pierre's visit. As Darcy retired for the night in a handsome chamber overlooking the quiet lake and the hills on the far side he looked forward to the ensuing weeks with pleasant anticipation.
Although Jean de Rohan had rented the Villa Garrovo on yearly leases, he had also acquired the rights to shoot in the wooded hills beyond the villa's grounds, to fish in the lake and to hunt for deer when the season started in late October. Darcy was enchanted by the beauty of these new surroundings the densely wooded hills and more distant mountains, dotted with small villages, dropped directly down to the lake which, in turn, wore a necklace of grand villas between Como and the Villa Garrovo. He enjoyed the mornings of shooting and fishing in company with other gentlemen and the occasional visit to a neighbouring villa; when no sport was offered, he walked in the woods or rode along the lake.
After ten days of such pleasures, both Pierre and Darcy were surprised when Jean announced at breakfast that there was to be an addition to their party: "The Comtesse de Gercourt has accepted our invitation to join us and will arrive today in time for dinner. We have invited her to be our guest for several years," he added in explanation, "but this is the first time she has been induced to accept. I wonder what has enticed her this year after so many refusals."
At dinner it was plain to Jean and, indeed, to the entire company what had induced the Comtesse to arrive at the villa. Her partiality and frequent glances at Darcy were obvious to all who observed her, providing much amusement for everyone except the object of her admiration. Darcy was, as previously, discomfited and puzzled, especially when he had to counter teasing remarks from the other gentlemen. Late in the evening Madame Lemaire pulled Darcy aside saying "I have just realized of whom you reminded me when I first met you and why the Comtesse is so engrossed with you. You bear a great likeness to her cousin's lover and an acquaintance of her family before her marriage, the notorious rake, the Vicomte de Valmont. He was a very handsome man who relied on his looks and charm to seduce nearly every woman of his acquaintance."
Darcy, blushing, doubted that he was as handsome as the Vicomte and he knew he did not possess the charm to seduce any woman. He thanked Madame Lemaire for the information and decided to ask Pierre what he knew of Valmont and his connection with the Comtesse. Pierre, however, was no assistance to Darcy because his knowledge of the Vicomte had been gleaned from older friends in London who had talked of his reputation but had not known him.
Within a few days Darcy grew accustomed to the Comtesse's company and, indeed, found her to be a charming and well informed addition to their company. He particularly enjoyed her musical talents on the piano, the harp, or with a song. She spoke knowledgeably of history, art, architecture and current politics in France and Italy. Enjoying her sound understanding, Darcy relaxed around her and raised no objection when she suggested she accompany him on of his walks in the woods or the gardens of the villa. Darcy soon realized that she was the most accomplished lady of his acquaintance and he duly complimented her on her wide range of interests and understanding. "You must have received a very good education at your convent," he stated, "very much better than any available to young ladies in England."
"Not at all!" the Comtesse replied, smiling at the compliment. "When I left the convent I was as ignorant as any other fifteen year old. But after the terror, when I lost my husband, son and home, I understood that my life would thereafter be greatly altered. In a new country and with only a few friends I had but two choices. Either I could try and maintain the life I had known with a few friends who met constantly to bemoan their losses and talked of their former happier days, or I could make a new life for myself. I chose the latter. I knew that I would have to rely on my wits and proceeded to improve my mind by extensive reading."
The Comtesse encouraged Darcy to tell her of his own background and education and, over the next few weeks, he told her of his family, Pemberley, his education and some of his friends. With her encouragement he even confessed his discomfort in the company of young ladies and his inability to find suitable topics of conversation. She was sympathetic to his plight, realizing his innate shyness, despite his erudition and correct manners.
They were walking alone in the woods out of view of the villa when Darcy finally summoned the courage to ask the Comtesse about Valmont, relating to her what Madame Lemaire had remarked regarding his resemblance to the Vicomte; she was amused by his curiosity, but answered him honestly.
"Yes, you bear a close physical likeness to Valmont," she said. "Indeed, when I first met you at La Scala I thought I was seeing a ghost, because the Vicomte has been dead for the past five and twenty years. But since then I have come to realize that your character is very different, you are younger than when I knew him and considerably more innocent. The resemblance is not as close as I thought earlier. If I may be so bold to ask, have you ever been in love, or even with a woman?"
Darcy, with a heightened colour, said honestly, "The answer to both those questions is no. But tell me, was Valmont as bad as has been reputed was he, in fact, a rake?" Darcy asked.
"Oh yes, his reputation was quite deserved. He used his humour, charm and lies to obtain the object of his desire no matter who might be hurt in the process. You, on the other hand, prefer to speak the absolute truth, and you will in all probability continue to do so no matter whom you might hurt," she smiled. Leaning towards him, she gently caressed his cheek, stood on the tips of her toes and placed a light kiss on his lips, as if testing how he would react.
With such an invitation Darcy reacted the same as Valmont himself might have done at the same age he embraced the Comtesse tightly in his arms and returned her kiss with greater ardor and longer duration than she had intended until she pushed him away and broke free, saying in a breathless voice "Not here, not now."
"Where, then, and when?" mumbled Darcy roughly, but quickly remembered his manners, adding in a humble tone "I beg your pardon, madam. My impropriety was unpardonable."
Smiling at both his impatience and his apologies, she cautioned "you must have patience. We are liable to be observed here, even in these woods, and I do not wish to mar either of our reputations." They continued their walk in silence, each lost in their own thoughts of anticipation and planning until the Comtesse finally spoke.
"At the moment you are yet only a boy, but if you care to accompany me to my home in Rome, I can teach you to be a man. I believe I could show you many interesting places in the eternal city."
"I should like that very much," Darcy grinned.
Within the next few days Darcy discussed this invitation with Pierre. The latter preferred to remain with his friends at Lake Como until Christmas, but urged Darcy to accept the Comtesse's invitation, adding "this will be a great chance for you to see Florence and Rome with a more knowledgeable guide than I would be. I shall join you by Christmas when the de Rohans intend to travel to Venice. In the meantime, I urge you to take every opportunity of enjoying yourself" he added.
Early in November, after the Monsieur and Madame Duvalier had left and as Signor and Signora Fiori were preparing to depart, Darcy and the Comtesse said farewell to their hosts and Pierre. They settled into the carriage and departed for a week's stay in Florence on their way to the Comtesse's home in Rome.
Author's Endnote: Villa Garrovo is now known as the Villa d'Este. It was renamed by the Prince Regent's wife, Caroline, Princess of Wales, when she bought the villa in 1814. Through presumed descent from the Este family, she baptised it with this name. Subsequently, in 1873, it became the Grand Hotel Villa d'Este which is still going strong today.
Florence is best seen from the surrounding hills at sunset, bathed in golden light and the river Arno winding, like a bright ribbon, through the midst of the buildings surrounding the great dome of its cathedral. That is how Darcy first viewed the city as the carriage rolled over the last few miles after days on the road from Lake Como.
"Beautiful" breathed Darcy.
"I thought the same when I first saw Florence," the Comtesse assured him. "We shall arrive at Signora Bernardo's house in less than one hour, in time for dinner and a good night's rest."
"Tell me about Signora Bernardo, madame. How is she related to you?"
"Cecile, remember?" she chided gently. During their first day on the road to Florence she had, in fact, asked Darcy to call her Cecile when they were alone and had asked what she may call him.
"My Christian name is Fitzwilliam, but very few people call me that. My father calls me Fitz, but all my friends call me Darcy," he had told her.
"Very well, Darcy it shall be until I can think of something more suitable," she had decided. Now as they covered the last miles into the city she explained "Signora Bernardo is my aunt, my father's sister, who married a Florentine merchant before I was born. She is now widowed, but has remained in the house she shared with her husband for over forty years. I did not know her very well until I arrived in Italy from Nice ten years ago. She is very kind and graciously allowed me to stay with her for a few months until I decided to remove to Rome. She is quite old, in her sixties, and all alone so I try to visit her once a year, although this year I stayed with her on my journey to Milan and had not planned to visit again so soon," Cecile smiled.
When Darcy met Signora Bernardo he found her to be everything that Cecile had said: very kind, hospitable, knowledgeable about Florence, and elderly. She excused herself early after dinner admitting "at my age I tire very easily. I wish you both a good night and a pleasant day tomorrow because I shall not arise before you are out and about in the city."
After the old lady retired Cecile and Darcy took the opportunity for some quiet conversation, getting to know each other a little better and sitting close together in front of the fire in the drawing room. "My aunt is a very light sleeper, Darcy, and as I do not want to upset her or bring any impropriety into her house, I fear that your patience will have to be tested again this week," Cecile warned him as they were retiring for the night.
"I understand, Cecile," Darcy replied, "and I appreciate your reasoning. May I wish you a good night's rest," he said raising her hand to his lips.
Early each morning Cecile accompanied Darcy to show him the more interesting sites in the city before returning to spend the remainder of the day with her aunt, leaving Darcy to explore at leisure. He walked from the Piazza of the Grand Duke to that of the Cathedral with the Gothic tower of the Campanile and the Baptistry with its intricately carved bronze doors. There he found an untrodden square in the pavement known to all as the "Stone of Dante" where, according to the Florentine story, he used to bring his stool and sit in contemplation. Looking around, Darcy wondered whether Dante had contemplated the Inferno or Paradise in his view of the square.
As Darcy walked along the streets he noticed the heavy, fortress-like buildings, their small, barred windows giving them a suspicious look; he could imagine Machiavelli in these surroundings, devising his political schemes in the endless feuds between the old Florentine families. He admired the sculptures and paintings by Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in the Uffizi gallery and was enchanted by the Ponte Vecchio, housing goldsmiths and silversmiths below the long gallery of the Grand Duke.
In the evenings Darcy related his day's travels to Cecile and her aunt, making for lively conversation at dinner. Signora Bernardo happily told him the tales and legends that had been passed down through generations of Florentines, filled in his gaps of knowledge about the medieval and renaissance days in the city, and the histories of the painters and sculptors. "I seldom have the opportunity to speak on my favourite subject, Florence and its history," she said whilst thanking Darcy for his questions and attention to her answers.
At the end of the week they said farewell to the Signora and continued their journey to Rome. They rode through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, but as they drew near to their destination Darcy became increasingly nervous. Whilst Cecile slept, her head on his shoulder and his arm around her to cushion the carriage's jolting, he examined his feelings of curiosity, anticipation, apprehension and extreme lack of self-confidence.
Women are a foreign species to me. If father had invited wives and daughters to our annual shooting parties at Pemberley perhaps I would be more accustomed to their ways. Is Cecile really willing to be my teacher or have I misread her signals? Does she expect me to make the first approach, or should I wait? I do not wish to be ridiculed for my naivete, but I also do not wish to overstep the bounds of propriety. Such thoughts went round and round in his head until, as the carriage entered Rome, Cecile awoke and smiled at him, giving his hand a friendly squeeze, almost as if she surmised his thoughts, his doubts and anxiety.
Cecile's home, a large first-floor flat, was located on a quiet street not far from the base of the Spanish steps. As they ascended the marble steps inside, the door stood open to reveal a housekeeper, a manservant and a maid waiting to greet their mistress and her friend. After a late supper in front of a fire in the library-cum-study, Cecile guided Darcy through the others rooms in the flat. He found a drawing room spacious enough to hold frequent parties, or salons as Cecile referred to them, a dining room, three bed chambers at one end of the flat and four smaller chambers for the servants at the opposite end near the kitchen.
Darcy wished there were more rooms to visit, as his nervousness remained unabated throughout the tour. Cecile, aware of his discomposure, took leave of Darcy at the door of his chamber. She reached up to kiss him and, as before, he returned her kiss with ardor as his curiosity overcame his anxiety. He smiled in happy relief as Cecile whispered "I shall be with you soon". Alone in his room he thought "perhaps my fears were unnecessary. Now I am very curious, although I remain anxious; I hope she will find me pleasing."
Darcy had removed his coat, waistcoat and cravat before he was drawn to the window by a song coming from the small taverna across the street. He watched as the patrons emerged, thinking "how carefree they are, whilst my insides are tied in knots." Lost in thought, he did not hear the soft knock on the second door to his room and, not until it opened a crack, did he realize that Cecile's chamber lay beyond that door. He turned around to behold Cecile in a very sheer robe, her hair falling over her shoulders and down her back, a vision of loveliness. "Venus," he breathed softly.
She took his hand and gently led him to the bed where she let her robe slip down to reveal, in Darcy's eyes, a living, breathing statue more beautiful than any he had yet seen on his travels. A rush of desire overcame him. "What was it you said as I entered?" Cecile asked in a teasing tone.
"Venus," he replied. "You are the personification of Boticcelli's painting The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi, perhaps only more beautiful."
"I fear you flatter me," she smiled as she helped remove his shirt.
"Not at all. You know I always speak the absolute truth," he reassured her. Darcy put his arms around her in a tight embrace just as Cecile leant forward towards him, causing both to lose their balance and tumble on to the bed.
Darcy awoke to the strange sensation of long hair across his neck and face, some of which tickled his nose, and a bare arm flung across his waist. For an instant he did not know where he was until he saw Cecile asleep next to him. Not wishing to wake her, he lay quietly whilst he recalled the previous evening. Waves of emotion had washed over him in quick succession, from nervous curiosity to eager desire, hesitant excitement to breathless passion and, finally, to sleepy relaxation. He remained happily relaxed as he watched the sun creep into the room, thinking "My fears were entirely unfounded. Under Cecile's tutelage everything was easy and natural."
"Good morning, David," Cecile said as she opened her eyes and smiled at Darcy.
"What did you call me?"
"David. If you see me as Boticcelli's Venus, then I see you as Michelangelo's David. In truth, the resemblance is quite striking," she added.
"Now I fear you are flattering me."
"Not at all, but I think we had best keep these names for our private moments within this chamber or mine."
After they had dressed and breakfasted Cecile showed Darcy the way to Rome's most significant attractions, excusing herself from accompanying him because household duties would keep her fully occupied through much of her first day back in the city. He found his way to the Coliseum, one great wall reaching to the sky the other crumbling down to the ground, the walls and arches overgrown with moss and long grass growing between the slabs of stone under his feet. From the upper halls he looked down on ruins all around the Forum, the Palace of the Caesars and the Temples of the old religion and saw the ghost of the Rome he had read of in his many hours of classical studies. He walked through the Forum, thinking of all the ancient Romans who had trod the same path, before returning to Cecile's flat full of enthusiasm for this city and determined to discover every corner of its long history.
Over the next five weeks Darcy explored Rome by day and increased his intimacy with Cecile by night. He appreciated her fine mind, her figure and elegance; with her guidance he learnt how to please and be pleased by a woman, giving him added self-confidence and overcoming his innate shyness. This proved to be a useful asset for the many evening parties he attended.
Cecile invited guests to her home at least two times each week. One evening a week was devoted to her friends amongst the French emigres and Darcy soon saw the truth of Cecile's statement that they lived in the past. Their conversation centered on the glory that was Versailles, the old ways of Paris, and their wish for the return of the monarchy in France; Darcy listened attentively to the tales of their lives at court or in Paris and, when he considered the inequality of wealth and the waste perpetrated by the aristocracy, he understood why the populace of France had revolted. He again determined that no such inequality should touch Pemberley or any of the people dependent on that estate.
Other evenings involved what Cecile called "her salon" when artists, writers and musicians were invited for dinner, lively conversation and musical performances. Darcy preferred these evenings; he eagerly joined in the conversation and appreciated the music, especially when Cecile performed on the harp or the piano. None of the guests seemed to question Darcy's living arrangements, nor did they seem to care; only two of Cecile's friends, priests from the Vatican, looked at him in a way which made him feel guilty and ashamed. When he later mentioned their frowning looks to Cecile she laughed and assured him.
"Please believe me, they do not care whether you are living here or whether we are sleeping together. They are perfectly accustomed to that. They do, however, look on you as a heretic; they consider the Church of England and, in fact, all Protestantism as a form of heresy for breaking away from the one true religion. They will probably try to convert you, but if you disregard their attempts and disapproval, they will soon come to accept you for the gentleman that you are."
With this reassurance, Darcy relaxed and delighted in his days, evenings and nights in Rome. When Pierre joined them a few days before Christmas he found Darcy to be more mature, livelier and more talkative than he had ever known him to be, and marveled at the transformation, whilst Darcy was happy to see Pierre again and this time play the role of guide to the city.
They walked across the Tiber to the Vatican, where they both admired the square in front of St. Peters, although they thought the interior of the Cathedral to be bare and cold; only the frescoes under its dome drew their rapt attention. Another day they walked up to the gardens of the Villa Borghese to obtain an overview of the city below, then down the Spanish steps and along the via Condotti, admiring the displays in its fashionable shops. Their favourite outing was to the Piazza Navona to sit at a café and admire the fountains; and, of course, Darcy showed Pierre through the Forum, the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus, explaining their history during their walks.
On Christmas eve Cecile invited Darcy and Pierre to accompany her to a private, by invitation only, mass in the Sistine Chapel. They were amazed at the size of the Pope's private chapel, much larger than most town churches in England, and even more amazed to look up at the ceiling and see Michelangelo's frescoes.
"The agony of working at that height," Darcy murmured to Cecile.
"But, the ecstasy of the result," she replied, smiling at him.
On the last morning of 1802, for the first time in many months, Darcy woke up feeling homesick. Although Cecile was asleep next to him and he had all the comfort and attention he might ask for, his first thoughts that morning were of Pemberley, his father and Georgiana on her seventh birthday. He realized that it would be several months yet before he would see them again because, the previous day, Cecile had asked him and Pierre to accompany her to Venice for the Carnival. They both wished to see that city and had happily accepted her invitation, although it would mean delaying their return trip to Paris and home to England.
That morning, with thoughts of Georgiana on his mind Darcy, accompanied by Pierre, set off to find a suitable birthday gift for his sister, leaving Cecile to oversee preparations for her big annual New Year's Eve party. They went to the area of Rome where artists and craftsmen sold their etchings and miniature models of the ancient Roman arches, columns and temples reproduced in bronze, alabaster or marble.
They admired the models of the columns and temples, but thought them unsuitable gifts for a young girl. They saw etchings by Giovanni Piranesi, a friend and teacher of Robert Adam; Darcy knew his father respected Robert Adam's work, but the nine foot height of these etchings would not only make their transportation very difficult but also deter their display at Pemberley. Instead, they found an artist whose etching of the Coliseum by moonlight delighted Darcy and he bought it as a gift for his father.
"You have captured the view perfectly," he complimented the artist, "that is exactly how I saw the Coliseum on a recent night, when the full moon threw just such a contrast of light and dark shadows on its crumbling walls. What is your name?"
"Thank you, sir. My name is Battista and you will find my signature in the corner. It is good to see young foreign gentlemen back in Rome. For the past six years we artists and craftsmen have had very few visitors to purchase our work, but if the peace holds, we hope more English gentlemen will follow next year," the artist said in explanation of the large choice of etchings and miniature models for sale.
"Perhaps you can advise me. I am looking for a gift for a seven-year old young lady, but I do not think these models and etchings would please her. Where could I look for something suitable?" Darcy asked.
"I know where you might find what you are looking for," Battista replied. "There are some artisans two streets away making truly unique Roman souvenirs -- micromosaics. These are small mosaic decorations crafted from minute fragments of coloured glass, called tesserae, cemented together to depict early pastoral scenes or ancient buildings, including the Coliseum. They can be as small as two centimeters to four or six times that size. I am certain you will find a very pretty gift there."
"Thank you, Battista," Darcy said as he left the studio with his etching under his arm. They followed the artist's directions to where the mosaic artisans had their studios and were soon absorbed in studying the variety of miniature masterpieces. They were informed that as many as fourteen hundred tesserae were used in one square inch to ensure each mosaic's perfectly detailed picture. After much hesitation, Darcy decided to purchase a small mosaic depicting a pair of doves for Georgiana which could be set into a pendant to be hung on a necklace. Pierre agreed that it was, indeed, a beautiful gift and one she would treasure as a memento of her brother's travels.
At another artisan's studio Darcy found two mosaics, one of Boticcelli's Venus and another of Michelangelo's David. He purchased them immediately for Cecile and asked that they be inlaid into a small tabletop, similar to one he admired which held a pastoral scene. He was assured that the table could be completed within a week and delivered to Cecile's flat before they left for Venice. After purchasing several other, less personal small mosaics for gifts at home, they departed from the craftsmen's area. Darcy was very pleased with his day's accomplishment and happily anticipated the evening's party and the new year.
Two weeks later Cecile, Pierre and Darcy arrived in Venice to find the Carnival, which traditionally starts a few days after Christmas, already in progress. Their convoy of gondolas wound its way through a network of canals, ending up at the Grand Canal and the home of Cecile's friends, Signor and Signorina Cipriani. One side of the impressive mansion fronted the Grand Canal whilst the other side opened on to a small street. They stepped up to the wooden landing dock where their hosts, both wearing masks and long capes, waited to greet them.
Inside their mansion the Ciprianis removed their disguise to reveal they were a little older than Cecile, but very welcoming to their younger guests. No sooner had they been greeted than Jean and Louise de Rohan returned from an outing, still wearing their masks. They had been guests of the Cipriani's since before Christmas. Darcy soon decided that this would, indeed, be a very merry party; the Ciprianis, he observed, were engaging hosts who loved fun and a good joke, particularly when the joke was at their expense.
Early the following morning Darcy, Cecile and Pierre set off to outfit themselves with the proper attire for the following weeks -- mask, cape and hat. Darcy chose a traditional, sharp-beaked black mask, a black cape with a high standing collar to hide the back of his head and a black tricorn hat edged with white, the only touch of light on his outfit. Pierre chose the same cape and hat, except his mask was white, whilst Cecile's mask was silver. For evening and indoor masquerade parties they each chose more ornate masks; Darcy's had a permanent smile with slight dimples in each cheek, Pierre's looked sad and had one tear descending from the right eye, and Cecile's was the face of a Harlequin. They returned to the mansion wearing their new attire, with only their eyes visible. They sauntered down the passageways that pass for streets seemingly incognito and part of the Venetian population.
Darcy soon grew accustomed to his unrecognizable self and reveled in his newfound freedom behind his masked facade. When they were out in the Piazza San Marco he would sweep deep bows to any fine looking female form just for the fun of being released from his usual propriety. He believed that nobody could recognize him, allowing him to forget all the strictures he had been given throughout his childhood: remember that you are a Darcy and a Fitzwilliam; that you must never bring disapprobation to your family; that you must, at all times, behave with the proper hauteur and manners to befit your station in life. He became very light hearted and relaxed, determined to enjoy every moment of his time in Venice.
His evening mask gave him the same release at the numerous masquerade balls; he danced more frequently than was his custom, although he gave himself away as soon as he spoke his accented Italian was soon discovered to belong to a young English gentleman, a particular friend of the Comtesse de Gercourt. Cecile also felt that her mask and cape made her invisible to all the gossips. She sat close to Darcy, holding hands, with no care for their reputation, as they traversed the city in gondolas in full view of every passerby.
One evening, before a party at the Cipriani mansion, Pierre asked Darcy whether he would care to participate in a particularly amusing evening. "Yes, of course," Darcy replied, "but how can you make it more amusing than is usual?"
"We could exchange masks and wait to see who amongst the guests will see through our ruse or who will be fooled by the switch and think you are Pierre and I am Darcy," Pierre suggested with a big grin.
"That is a capital plan, Pierre," Darcy agreed. Before they left their rooms that evening they were dressed in identical evening attire; their suits, shirts, stockings, shoes, cravats and watch fobs all matched perfectly. With their masks switched, there was only one method to tell them apart and, of course, Cecile was the first to spot it Darcy was two inches taller than Pierre and she understood their scheme immediately, but promised to abet them in their fun. That evening she paid particular attention to Pierre, behind Darcy's mask, whilst Darcy wandered around the room, not daring to speak in case he gave himself away.
Their hosts and the de Rohans soon caught on to the exchange but also held their tongues. The invited guests never realized that they had been fooled and it was several days before they realized that Darcy was the taller of the two young guests staying at the Cipriani mansion. Another evening Cecile decided to switch masks and outfits with Louise de Rohan whilst Pierre and Jean traded masks and Darcy wore his own. That evening the gossips thought that Darcy was paying an inordinate amount of attention to Louise, although they saw that Cecile and Pierre were similarly enjoying themselves. They did, however, feel sorry for Jean de Rohan who had to suffer his wife's attentions to another gentleman.
Darcy, Cecile and Pierre spent one day without their Carnival costumes when they went to the Island of Murano to see the ancient art of glassblowing. They were fascinated with the entire process, from watching the molten, red hot glass being drawn from the furnace on to the long rod, to the blowing, shaping, cutting, and cooling process. They admired the many goblets, vases, mirrors and ornate chandeliers that were displayed in the showrooms attached to each workshop. Before they departed the island, a truly industrial area, they purchased some deep ruby goblets and an accompanying pitcher as a gift for their hosts, but Darcy forbore buying any glass to take home because transportation of such delicate artwork would prove nigh impossible.
After they had been in Venice for three weeks the pace of the gaiety picked up. Where there had been one evening party each day, there were now two or three at different hours. This became a point of contention between Cecile and Darcy. She wanted him to escort her to various afternoon parties whilst he wished to walk through the alleyways exploring Venice. He preferred to watch the people in the streets and markets behind his mask to meeting the same company that he would very likely see again in the evening.
"Darcy, I really wish for your company this afternoon. We are both invited to attend the Montaigne's party and I would like to introduce you to them," Cecile pleaded.
"I had planned to accompany Pierre to the markets near the Rialto bridge," Darcy excused himself, "but I am willing to escort you to their house and call for you when you are ready to leave."
"But no, that will not suffice. I need your attendance at the party itself."
"Oh, very well. This one time I will succumb to your wishes," Darcy replied, unhappy at having to forego his planned outing, but willing to accommodate Cecile on this occasion.
He regretted his decision throughout the afternoon. On entering the Montaigne's house they were requested to remove their masks and capes and Darcy felt exposed as Cecile introduced him to the other guests, mostly women of Cecile's age who delighted in idle gossip. He soon understood why Cecile had wished for his company; she wanted to show off her trophy, leaving him to sit by himself, bored with the chatter and the company. He swore to himself that he would never again succumb to her pleas.
A few days later Cecile again asked for Darcy's company at another afternoon party, but he remained adamant in his refusal. He escorted her to the door but declined to enter the house. He excused himself and assured her that he would call for her in two hours. When she emerged from the party she was very cool to Darcy, complaining that his absence had exposed her to ridicule.
"You only wish for my company to impress your friends," Darcy accused, thinking "and perhaps to invoke their envy."
"You enjoyed my friends' company in Rome. Why do you not wish to spend time with them now?"
"When I met these particular friends in Rome their conversation was a novelty, but now I have heard it all before. They never talk of anything new; only the subjects of their gossip change and I do not care for either rumours or idle speculation. You can never convince me otherwise. Perhaps we should agree to disagree on this point."
"There is nothing I can say to entice you to change your mind?" Cecile queried.
"No, I refuse to yield and perhaps the less said on this matter, the better," Darcy stated.
The subject was dropped but not forgotten. Their first major quarrel was not easily mended. The obstinacy of one matched the stubbornness of the other, each refusing to submit to the other's wishes. For the first time Darcy began to think that it might be time to leave Cecile and return home, although he continued to enjoy her company in bed every night.
During the final weeks of the Carnival, the private gaiety spilled out into the streets. There were parades along the canals or passageways, jugglers, acrobats and clowns performed in small squares, and a constant crowd of people filled every alleyway. Darcy, Cecile and Pierre, along with the de Rohans, returning to the Cipriani mansion from an afternoon party to prepare for another that evening, were awaiting their gondola in a small square. Their attention was drawn to the antics of some clowns and acrobats, except Darcy's, who stood next to the canal keeping a watchful eye for their transportation. Suddenly the crowd in the square grew to double its former mass as a parade rounded the corner, pushing everyone out of its way and, like a file of dominoes, one person backed into the next. Cecile was pushed violently against Darcy. Unaware of the sudden crush behind him, he lost his balance and, with no other body to save him, fell into the canal.
Pierre and Jean quickly reached out to assist Darcy from the water. He emerged with his dignity severely impaired, his sodden clothes dripping on the ground, but with a broad grin saying "it is lucky I learnt to swim many years ago." In the gondola, however, none in the party wished to sit near Darcy. The fetid smell emanating from his person forced him to sit alone in the prow of the gondola.
The last week of the Carnival was the liveliest of all. The constant round of parties grew to a fever pitch, leaving little time for rest and less for true enjoyment of each separate event, but at the stroke of midnight signaling the start of Ash Wednesday all gaiety ceased. Masks and costumes were put away until the end of the year and Venetians returned to their normal lives.
At the end of the week the de Rohans departed to return to Lake Como whilst Darcy, Cecile and Pierre said goodbye to their hosts and left Venice for their journey to Rome. They had enjoyed Venice when it had been alive with activity, but the city had now settled into a solemn winter atmosphere, damp and cold, and unlikely to provide further interest or pleasure.
At the end of the first week of March, after a four day journey from Venice to Cecile's flat in Rome, Darcy and Pierre both found letters awaiting them. Pierre's letter was from Monsieur LeDroit, requesting his return to Paris at his earliest opportunity to finalize the sale of his property. Darcy's was from his father making an equally urgent request.
My dear Son,
I thank you for your letter of November last containing your good wishes for Georgiana's birthday. She was quite delighted to receive your greeting, and insists on adding a few lines to this message.
We are both well, but missing your company. I and Mr. Wickham are occupied with the tenants, necessary repairs to their houses, and plans for spring planting of the home farm during these winter months, whilst Georgiana is busy with her lessons. She informed me yesterday that she has learnt a new song to play on the pianoforte when you come home.
I do not wish to shorten your travels unnecessarily, but I must warn you of further impending trouble on the Continent. On a recent visit to town I heard much talk in government and military circles of renewed hostilities, perhaps as early as this spring. I hesitate to interfere with either your education or pleasure during this tour, but I sincerely urge you to begin making arrangements to return home; I would not wish you to be caught on the wrong side of the Channel if the war is renewed. If Pierre's business affairs are successfully completed I think it best if you both return as soon as maybe. Georgiana and I are both anxious to welcome you back home.
Your affectionate father,
Thank you for your birthday wishes. I miss you and wish you would come home. Mrs. Parsons is my new governess and teacher. She says my writing is much improoved (scratched out) improved. Do you think so?
I love you. Georgiana
After comparing the information contained in their letters, Darcy and Pierre agreed that they would end their grand tour in Rome, travel back to Paris and from there to England. They decided to break this news to Cecile that evening. Darcy was happy to have Pierre's assistance at such time, for he feared her reaction. Would there be tears, or pleas to prolong their stay?
Darcy's concern was unnecessary. Cecile accepted their news in a calm manner saying, "I thought that the letters awaiting your return to Rome would mean your imminent departure. I shall be sorry to see you go, but I realize that you both have homes and business elsewhere." She also suggested that instead of returning to Paris overland, they go by sea from Rome's port to Villefranche or Marseilles. "This would save you many days of uncomfortable travel, and a sea voyage across the Mediterranean is usually calm and pleasant."
"Oh yes, Pierre!" Darcy agreed excitedly. "That would be a delightful way to reach France. Two or three days on the sea would suit me very well. How say you, Pierre?"
"I am reluctant to board a ship until I absolutely must, to cross the Channel back to England," Pierre admitted. "My last experience on that stretch of water was extremely unpleasant. But if Cecile is correct and the Mediterranean is really calm, then I agree it would be a more expeditious route to Paris."
They made enquiries the following day and heard of a trading ship, the Doria, due to leave Portus in ten days bound for Villefranche. Although they were warned that their passage would be aboard a working ship and that the accommodations were very basic, they nevertheless decided to book a cabin for the voyage.
The last ten days in Rome were bittersweet for Darcy and Cecile. They enjoyed some very tender moments in private, all the while knowing that their time together grew shorter each day. They went out for walks along their favourite paths, had long talks about Darcy's future and reminiscences of the past few months, and paid farewell visits to many of Cecile's friends who had made Darcy welcome in their midst.
The day before Darcy and Pierre were set to sail, Cecile became very quiet and a little sad. Darcy noticed the change and tried to devote every spare moment to her enjoyment. He fully expected to bid her adieu at her flat the following morning, but during dinner that last evening Cecile announced that she would accompany them to Portus, a two-hour drive from Rome. Both Darcy and Pierre tried to dissuade her from this plan, cautioning that she would have to return home alone, unaccompanied. She was adamant, however, claiming that she wished to see them safely aboard their ship. The two men looked at each other, one raising an eyebrow, the other shrugging his shoulder; they knew there was no argument when her mind was set.
They left Rome in Cecile's carriage early the next morning. Darcy and Cecile, after a nearly sleepless night, sat close to each other, savouring every last minute and tried to make desultory conversation with Pierre. Darcy felt very conflicted he regretted leaving Cecile and Rome yet he eagerly anticipated the sea voyage across the Mediterranean. They arrived in Portus in time to see their trunks loaded on board and retreat to a harbourside inn for refreshments. Darcy insisted that Cecile remain at the inn whilst they boarded, preferring their parting to occur in private. She agreed to this plan and, when the time came and Pierre had preceded him to the ship, he kissed her hand, held it and squeezed it longer than propriety allowed, gave her a penetrating last look, noticing the moisture brimming in her eyes, and quickly turned, crossed the quay and boarded without a backward glance.
When the Doria set sail a few minutes later Darcy and Pierre remained on deck at the stern, watching the stretch of water between them and land grow ever wider. They saw Cecile exit the inn, walk to the water's edge, and wave to them before turning to enter her carriage for a lonely ride home.
As they had been warned, their accommodations were quite primitive; a very small cabin contained two hammocks for their use, a wash stand, and a small rail and some pegs on which to hang their clothes, but no chair or table. Additionally, there was one all-purpose room below deck which served as a lounge, rest area, dining hall, and general meeting place for all the crew and passengers. They agreed that for the few days aboard it would suffice.
Darcy and Pierre joined the captain and those members of the crew who were not on duty for dinner. Captain Marco, they soon learnt, was a most entertaining host. He regaled them with stories from his twenty years' experience sailing the Mediterranean. He told them of his calls at the fishing port below Taormina in Sicily to drop supplies for the Dominican monastery high up on the cliff above the harbour with Mt. Etna looming as an ominous backdrop. He watched the donkeys, laden with goods from his ship, wending their zig-zag way up the hillside until they were lost from view, but he never ventured up to the town, preferring to remain on the dockside. He told them of sailing past the volcanic island of Stromboli, a truly impressive sight at night when its continuous eruptions and flames were visible for a great distance, thus earning its nickname as The Lighthouse of the Tyrennian. Captain Marco was happy to have a new audience for his tales, whilst Darcy and Pierre were delighted to listen to tales of places they had not had time to see for themselves.
After an early night, Darcy was up and on deck at dawn the following morning, enjoying the crisp air, the wind, the creaking sails above and the calm, deep blue sea below. He was thinking about Cecile, trying to gauge his feelings now that they had parted and would probably never see each other again. Did I love her? If so, love is a very tepid emotion; I feel no sudden ache or pain at the parting, nor do I feel any pangs of longing to be with her again. I am very grateful to her, I admire and respect her, and I hold her in high esteem, but there must be more than that necessary to evoke the deepest kind of love? Pierre's voice suddenly aroused him from his reverie: "You had a very restless night, Darcy. I hope you are not pining for Cecile?"
"No, not at all," Darcy replied. "My restless sleep was only due to the hammock it was too short for me and whenever I tried to stretch my legs I woke up and feared landing on the deck."
"I agree, I also prefer a solid bed to swinging in a hammock all night. I was afraid your moans were sounds of misery instead of merely discomfort," Pierre smiled.
"I am a little sad at leaving Cecile, but I cannot claim to be unhappy. I always realized that our liaison would end when it was time to go home; I only hope that Cecile is not unhappy."
"How do you feel about Cecile, or should I ask how did you feel about her?" Pierre tried to understand his friend's emotions.
"I have been standing here, thinking about that very question. I was flattered by her attention and I shall always be grateful to her as the best teacher I have known. I admired her fine mind, her wit and understanding, and I enjoyed her body and fashionable elegance, but, when I think about her, I really believe that my heart was not touched. Perhaps the fact that she is a French widow living in Italy and much older than I am, was against my forming any serious attachment. I often wonder what it is to really love a woman. Many years ago I asked Mr. Stone, at the time of his engagement, what it is like to be in love. I shall always remember his reply. He said that, for him, it was the knowledge that his life would not be complete without Miss Field, as she then was, by his side every day and that it was like coming home to the other half of his being. I did not feel that way about Cecile."
"I am glad to hear that you are not hurt by the separation," Pierre said with relief in his voice. "I think that perhaps you were infatuated with the lady, but that will pass soon enough. You are still very young, Darcy. Do not try so earnestly to discover one of the world's great mysteries. When you find true love, believe me, you will know it and, I vouch, it will be a much greater emotion than any you felt for Cecile."
"Thank you, Pierre, for allowing me to think aloud, and your observations are well taken. May I also ask that you keep this between ourselves? I should prefer that my father only know what I feel ready to tell him if and when he might ask, and I certainly do not want my aunt Catherine to hear any of this."
"You may be assured of my silence, Darcy. Now, are you ready for breakfast?"
By noon on the following day, the Doria sailed into Portoferraio, a small port on the island of Elba. They only stopped long enough to unload some barrels of wine and to load further barrels of olive oil before sailing away again by late evening, but it allowed Darcy and Pierre time to walk along the quai and stretch their legs. They had learnt from Captain Marco that neither the town nor the barren island held much attraction, but its small population needed supplies and the Doria was one of the few ships to make regular calls at the port.
Luckily for Pierre, the sea remained calm and the remaining days aboard passed pleasantly. Five days after leaving Rome the Doria sailed into the sheltered bay of Villefranche shortly after dawn. Darcy and Pierre said good-bye to Captain Marco and his crew, disembarked, and prepared to spend that day and night at an inn high on a bluff overlooking the harbour. They were both in need of a good night's rest in a proper bed before setting out on the long journey to Paris.
Darcy and Pierre arrived in Paris at the end of March, returning to the same rooms in Pierre's former home that they had vacated six months earlier. Mr. LeDroit joined them the following morning and for the next ten days he and Pierre were busy finalizing the sales of the flats. Pierre received full payment from a few buyers, but more frequently the sale involved payments over time.
In the meantime, Darcy walked through the city, noticing the demolished buildings along many of the major streets. The rubble lay where it had fallen and no effort had been made either to clear the debris or to rebuild in the empty spaces. He wondered why the government would allow the city to acquire the mien of a gap-toothed hag and decided to ask Mr. LeDroit if he knew the cause.
"Oh yes," the lawyer informed them, "the first consul has announced a grand plan to rebuild Paris, but little has been accomplished in the past months. Ever more building are being destroyed whilst there is no final design for their being rebuilt. I fear that our first consul, instead of being a great designer and builder, is in reality a great destroyer."
"Is his power so great that the other two consuls have no say in what is to be done?" asked Pierre.
"Not only is he the only one to have a voice, he is very close to disbanding the consular form of government and taking it all on to himself," Mr. LeDroit said.
"That does not augur well for the continuation of this year's peace," supposed Darcy.
"The first consul, I fear, is only using this time to rebuild his forces," Mr. LeDroit admitted rather indiscreetly. "His ambition is boundless and will doubtless lead us into renewed fighting whenever this program is completed."
"Perhaps it is fortunate that we are on our way home, Pierre" Darcy smiled at his friend.
A few days later Darcy walked to the river to admire one of his favourite views from the bridge. He was very surprised to notice that instead of young men diving into the water from barges lining the shore, there was now a long shed and workmen engaged in crafting endless rows of boats. They were strange looking boats with very shallow drafts, a hybrid form of barge, rowboat and sailing vessel. He saw numbers instead of names painted on the bow and stern of each and wondered to what purpose they were to be used. He returned to the same scene every morning for the next few days and the only daily difference in the scene were the numbers on the boats; they increased from ninety up to three and ninety. Darcy estimated that each boat was completed in a little more than a day.
By the end of the week Darcy insisted that Pierre accompany him to the river. He wanted Pierre to question the workmen, knowing that if he were to question them himself his accent would probably give him away as an Englishman and he doubted whether he would get an honest answer. When Pierre gazed at the scene below the bridge he was astonished and happily complied with Darcy's wishes to know more.
Pierre strolled down to the river and around the shed where two workmen were completing the numbers on a boat. He hailed them, asking "what kind of boat is that?"
"We do not really know. We only do what we are told and ask no questions. We are happy to have work and be paid a good wage."
"The boat looks like an outsized rowboat with a great square sail," Pierre suggested. "Do you know its purpose?"
"Oh yes," said the older of the two men. "To transport the military to England, of course!"
"Of course," Pierre agreed. "I suppose they move down the Seine to the coast?"
"Yes, when two or three are finished they go in convoy to make room for more as they are built."
"How many are to be built?"
"About two hundred in all and, as usual with the authorities, they want them ready by today," the old man grumbled with a sardonic chortle.
"In that case I will not keep you longer from your work. Thank you and good luck," said Pierre as he retreated back to the bridge and caught up with Darcy. The latter had heard the conversation below and was anxious to discuss its import with Pierre.
"Do you realize, Pierre, that in two or three months England might expect up to three thousand French troops on its beaches. I estimate about fifteen men in each boat and they seem to be building them at nearly one a day. That was number eight and ninety, so give or take another hundred days to finish the work, there could be an invasion attempt as soon as this summer."
"You are correct, Darcy. I think it is very good that we are on our way home." Pierre suddenly laughed, saying "little did the men below realize they were giving information to the enemy!" They returned to their rooms in very good humour with their day's work.
At dinner that evening Darcy asked Pierre and Mr. LeDroit how much longer they would have to remain in Paris. He wanted to get back to England as soon as possible now that he had some very important information to relate.
"I hope we can leave in three days' time," Pierre said, knowing of his friend's eagerness to get home.
"Yes, two days' work should be enough to finish everything here in Paris," Mr. LeDroit agreed, "but do not forget that you are also needed to finish the sale of your property in Rouen."
"How long will that take?" asked Pierre.
"No more than four days or so," Mr. LeDroit assured him, "and then you can be on your way to London."
"In my calculations we might reach London in about a fortnight then," Darcy thought aloud. "Perhaps I should write to my father and ask him to meet me there on my return."
"If you will give me your letter, Darcy" Mr. LeDroit suggested, "I know of a very reliable, fledgling courier service that I have been using. This service, started by the Rothschilds, is very discreet and speedy between Paris and Frankfurt and I know they run regular messages to their brother in England. I am certain they would deliver your letter with all possible speed."
"Thank you Mr. LeDroit," Darcy smiled, "I shall write a letter tonight and give it to you early tomorrow morning. I hope it will reach my father in time to allow him to travel to London before our arrival."
Paris, 10th April, 1803
My dear Father,
I hope this letter finds you and Georgiana well. Pierre and I are arrived in Paris and hope to leave here in three days. We shall then have to make a stop in Rouen before reaching Calais for our journey across the Channel. I hope to reach London in a fortnight from today.
If this letter reaches you in time, I should like to request that you meet me in London on my arrival or as soon thereafter as possible. There is an urgent matter that I wish to impart to you and your friends in town.
I am eagerly anticipating our reunion and my return to Pemberley.
Your affectionate son,
This letter was duly dispatched the following day and three days later Darcy and Pierre accompanied Mr. LeDroit to the latter's home in Rouen. They arrived in that city late on the Thursday before Easter and little work could be accomplished the following day, Good Friday. Darcy and Pierre would have to remain in Rouen until the following week to complete all the details affecting the sale of Pierre's estate.
In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. LeDroit proved to be congenial hosts. Their home was not large, but comfortable enough for their young guests, and Mrs. LeDroit paid particular attention to the preparation of excellent meals. On Easter Sunday Darcy and Pierre were invited to accompany the LeDroits to mass at the cathedral. Darcy was happy to admire the inside of this cathedral as well as the outside, but the mass made him miss England and the familiar Church of England services. He thought the low chanting of the priests rather depressing and he particularly missed the voices of the choir and the boy sopranos singing familiar hymns to lift the congregation's spirits. He was now counting the days until he could be home.
Darcy and Pierre left Rouen the following Wednesday and stopped at Abbeville for the night on their journey to Calais. The town, a relic of medieval times, contained several wood framed buildings with white plaster surmounted by thatched roofs; except for its historical interest there was nothing attractive to its tumble-down atmosphere. They found rooms in the town's only inn, a larger ramshackle building similar to all the other dwellings. Their rooms left much to be desired, the damp walls giving a musty air to all its contents and providing a haven for a variety of insects and field mice, but their evening meal was well cooked country fare and very satisfying. They were entertained during and after their meal by tales of days gone by of the time when the Inquisition's spy had stayed there, or the days when it had served as the town's only brothel as well as inn. They smiled at these tales, which they heard with a large grain of salt, knowing how histories get embellished with each retelling.
They continued to Calais the next morning and reached the port the same evening, only to find the harbour inn very crowded with people waiting for ships to cross the channel. A gale force wind had been blowing all day and looked likely to continue for quite some time. They managed to secure one room for themselves if they did not mind sharing with another guest, an Englishman about Pierre's age. They were agreeable to this arrangement and, with their night's rest assured, Darcy decided to stretch his legs with a walk along the waterfront and pier.
The rain held off but the wind was fierce as Darcy stepped out of the inn. The waterfront was nearly deserted as he walked as briskly as he could against the wind, watching the rolling waves pound against the sea wall. Only one lone figure sat near the pier, seemingly unaware of the elements, sketching the scene before him. Darcy walked over to him and watched his work for a short time before remarking "if you will permit me, you have captured the stormy seas very well indeed."
"Thank you," the young man replied, "I am trying to depict the different colours of the sky and sea as they change in the storm."
"I can see that you have precisely captured the lowering clouds and the scudding waves breaking over the pier," Darcy said admiringly as he prepared to return to the inn.
At dinner Darcy and Pierre were joined by the same artist, who introduced himself as Joseph Turner of London.
"Are you Joseph Turner the associate royal academician?" asked Darcy, displaying more interest than he had previously.
"Yes, I am, but I was elected a royal academician last autumn," Turner replied.
"Congratulations. We have been traveling for the past year so I must have missed that piece of news," Darcy smiled at Turner. "My parents were very impressed with your first exhibition at the Royal Academy, I believe thirteen years ago? I remember my mother talking of your skill and her amazement that you were then only fifteen years old."
"I thank you for your compliments, but my work is constantly changing and, I hope, progressing and there are many critics who are not at all complimentary," Turner said ruefully. " I was trained at the Royal Academy, but I am sure they think I am quite a revolutionary. I enjoy capturing nature in all its elements and especially the way light reflects off water, whether during a storm such as today or in bright sunshine. I particularly enjoy sunsets over the water."
"If you are looking for interesting light reflecting off water," Darcy responded, "I suggest you travel to Venice. We were there this past winter. There is water everywhere and the light changes constantly."
"I would certainly like to travel there, but first I will have to see what happens on this troubled continent."
"Ah yes, the natives are restless, I fear," added Pierre, as the three joined in convivial laughter.
Turner was their unknown room companion and Darcy and Pierre were happy to have such a congenial guest willing to share his quarters. After a good night's rest, the trio awoke to a full blown storm rain falling in sheets, a loud, blustery wind, and waves breaking even higher than the evening before. No ship ventured in or out of harbour that day. Turner spent the day in their room, working on a watercolour of the Calais pier in the storm. When Darcy saw the painting he asked if he could buy it. Turner told him that it was only a small study for a larger painting to be finished at the Academy, but Darcy insisted that it was a perfect reminder of his grand tour and his last days on the Continent. The artist was convinced, sold the painting to Darcy and then recreated it for his own use.
At this time Darcy pulled a very rough, rudimentary sketch out of his pocket and asked Turner if he had ever seen a boat of that shape or size. "Yes," the artist replied, "I saw such boats when I was at Le Havre two weeks ago. I thought them so strange that I made several sketches."
"If you can spare one or two of your sketches, may I have them?" requested Darcy. "I think it could be of some national importance and, as you can see, I am no artist."
"Of course, I shall be happy to give you a front view and a side view, particularly if you can make some good use of them," Turner said, happy to be of service.
That evening the storm had blown itself out and on the second morning Darcy awoke to sunshine and a calm sea. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze and before long all those waiting at the inn were boarded on ships to cross the channel to Dover.
Pierre preferred to stay below deck during the day's crossing. Darcy and Turner, on the other hand, preferred to remain topside, the latter busily observing every nuance of the light whilst the former was eagerly watching for his first sight of the white cliffs. When they finally came into sight Darcy insisted on bringing Pierre up on deck to admire the view as they both realized that in another hour or two they would be back on English soil.
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