>Treasures Lost Then Found Again
Authors note: I got to thinking that, as wonderful as Elizabeth and Darcy's story is, it could hardly be unique. This story plays on the theme that nothing is new under the sun. As my writing skills are rusty and computer skills virtually non-existent, please bear with me. Hope you find something to enjoy.
It must have started out as an insignificant caretaker's cottage, there could be little doubt of that. The rough hewn stone exterior promised nothing more, and it's small, squarish, unadorned interior delivered still less. From humble work-a-day beginnings it fell yet further, into abandonment and ill-repair. One day, no one alive remembers how long ago, it was discovered by a young child named Darcy, on whose family lands this cottage stood. The small, low-raftered room saw new life, as a throne room one day, a pirate's cabin the next. It went on to be discovered and abandoned, treasured and forgotten, by successive generations of Darcys. And so it goes.
It was now forgotten, but soon to be discovered by someone who was neither a child nor, strictly speaking, a Darcy.
"THAT old thing?", said Fitzwilliam Darcy to his bride of several months, "Elizabeth, I fear ten miles round will not be enough to contain you. Persist in wandering about like this and you'll find yourself having tea at Oak Hill with Lady Prescott." Of course this was said with a smile, some large degree of exaggeration (Oak Hill and Lady Prescott were seven miles distant), and no small degree of pride. His wife shared his love of physical exercise, and was in fact an excellent walker.
Elizabeth's next visit to the cottage found it cleared of leaves and debris, scrubbed clean, with roof and glazing patched. This somehow came as no surprise. "I used to be quite fond of that old place," said Fitzwilliam, by way of explanation. "In fact, I spent many happy hours there, playing jailer to Wickham's convict. Very fond memories, indeed." The next time around saw them both. His stated purpose in coming was to see how the repairs had gone, and his unstated one to see what else could be done to add to his wife's comfort. As touched as Elizabeth was by Darcy's thoughtfulness, she could not help but be amused by such a flurry of activity over something mentioned in passing.
"Really, Fitz! Let's not add the library just yet. And the more I think about it, a ball room might seem a bit much. Now, a small breakfast room perhaps..."
"Nonsense. I only mean to add some simple furnishings, much as it was when I first found the place. If you should happen to get caught outside in a storm you will at least have decent shelter nearby," and taking a quick glance at the hearth added, "I'll need to have the chimney cleared as well."
"And a housekeeper, Fitz. We're becoming quite grand now."
"Nonsense." Darcy shook his head and smiled. He knew that one day Elizabeth would thank him for his foresight. With the purpose of being on the spot whenever that should happen, he took to walking with his wife more often. The wait wasn't a long one. On what had promised to be a fine day, a sudden gathering of clouds caught them midway between Pemberley and the cottage. One shared glance, and by mutual consent they ran towards the least grand of the two. There is nothing formal about a cottage and, without the ever-present servants lurking about, Elizabeth's thank you was spontaneous, and pleasant. A sudden hug, and an upturned pretty face simply demanded a kiss in return, there was nothing else to be done. Yes, Darcy congratulated himself, he had great foresight indeed. Over time, the cottage or "The Palace" as Elizabeth came to call it, became the destination of their walks, not just a pleasant turn aside. It was found to be an ideal place for ruminations at the window, debates by the hearth, picnics on the lawn. Cravats were loosened, hair came unpinned, and an occasional bare foot could be seen. And, since a cottage will not tolerate starched notions, Darcy's somewhat formal demeanor, already improved by his wife's attentions, became by degrees even more yielding.
Here, "Elizabeth" became "Dear Lizzy" at last. Here, Darcy learned to laugh at all things ridiculous, even if he were part of the catalog. Here, a deep and steady love, founded in friendship, respect and mutual attraction, was forged stronger still.
As the summer months approached, The Palace increased in importance. They would visit there frequently, often together, sometimes alone for solitary musings. It was on one of those solitary rambles that Darcy pondered what it was about this place that made it so dear, how something so inconsequential could have afforded such pleasure at two very different times in his life.
His had been a structured childhood. Though indulged by loving parents, he was given strict guidelines to follow, a strong sense of duty, honor and right, and a deep appreciation of all that it meant to be a Darcy. Yet, there had been moments when he could be free, unshackled from societal expectations, and allowed to be, simply, a boy. Many of those happy moments had taken place here, within these walls.
Fitzwilliam recalled the day he first discovered the cottage, stumbling upon it quite by accident. He was on his way to go fishing in a small brook he had found, an insignificant offshoot of the trout stocked stream his father frequented. Such a slight indication of a path could have been easily overlooked, if he hadn't dropped his tackle box. But a path it was and, as Fitzwilliam had never before explored it, he must go down.
There at the very end, standing in a field strewn with wildflowers, was someone's little house. Certainly someone must live there, as pretty and well tended as it was. But then again, if someone did live there the path would have been quite worn down. Well, a quick look in the window would solve it once and for all. Fitzwilliam hesitated, wondering about the propriety of such a act, until he remembered that these were Darcy lands, And even if they weren't, he was a Darcy and that should make it right, "I think", he added to himself. Unfortunately, as the inside was quite dark, not much could be seen beyond the gauzy curtains. He could just make out a table and two chairs by the hearth and, it seemed, a small cot on the other end. He gave it another look, just to be certain. Yes, that was all.
No clothes, no pots and pans, certainly not enough to call it a home. As is the general rule, the less a small boy knows about such a great mystery, the greater is his need to solve it. With that principle at work, and fishing long forgotten, Darcy ran home to see his father and inquire after the place. Even in his childish excitement, Fitzwilliam could sense that his father did not share his degree of enthusiasm. In fact there was a note of disappointment, or sadness perhaps, in his father's voice when he answered, "No one lives there son. I used to play there as a boy." A treasure of this magnitude demanded to be shared. As Fitzwilliam went off to find his friend George Wickham, he could just overhear his father say to his mother, "Anne, we've been usurped. The Castle is seized. I knew I would rue this day."
Young Darcy was far too single minded that day to consider his fathers words, except to think that it was, perhaps, a little odd that finding something so wondrous should make anyone unhappy. He would be single minded on this day as well, as his thoughts drifted towards other, more recent sources of happiness. Fitzwilliam considered another treasure, so dear, that he had once lost, and of the blessed opportunity he'd been given to claim it again.
So lost in thought over these recollections was Darcy, that he found himself taken aback by the sudden sound of wood creaking, accompanied by a shaft of bright sunlight.
"Fitz?" Darcy turned to see the subject of his reverie standing at the door. "I thought I should find you here. We missed you... well, Georgiana missed you..." Elizabeth had to stop and smile, before her was a happy man. "Mrs. Reynolds has lain down the law, dear. 'You've missed breakfast, you shan't miss tea'. And, I believe we're in for an unfortunate change in the weather. Perhaps we can turn back together?"
Darcy was surprised, on checking his watch, to see that time had indeed slipped away from him. And now that the subject was brought up, he was, in fact, rather hungry. Drawing his wife's arm through his own, they set off for Pemberley. They hadn't gone very far before it was determined that the weather was most definitely about to change. In fact, it became obvious that a storm of some importance was coming swiftly upon them. The air turned unnaturally still, the winds came and then the sky went black. There would be no out running this storm. A person inclined toward the philosophical will approach every situation with the ability to bear it, if not with grace, at least with good humor. With only a hat, a bonnet and a small parasol to protect them, it seemed philosophy was in order. In the tradition of the lone foot soldier rushing to meet the oncoming cavalry, Lizzy, in the face of what promised to be a downpour, calmly opened her parasol. They burst out laughing and ran back towards the Palace.
Breathless and drenched they fell, laughing still, into the room. Thoughts of tea were quite overthrown, but at least other comforts could be had. With all thanks to a flint and dry kindling a promising fire soon provided light and warmth. But it was soon discovered that some lingering problems remained. Major problems of great import. What to do about the clothes soaked quite through? What to do about the droplets of rain shining like diamonds in Lizzy's hair and one, very troublesome, glistening just above her lips? What to do about the intoxicating rhythm of the rain? These were serious matters that a man and a woman in a cottage with a fire must solve for themselves. And so they did. And so it goes.
It was, perhaps, coincidence that after the prescribed period of time a greatly anticipated event took place. Pemberley had an heir, a fine healthy boy named for family and friend. A bright, curious child who in a few short years would be free to indulge an adventurous nature.
Who would one day in breathless haste say to his father, "Sir, I've found something today! I walked for miles and what do you think? I've found a cottage, a lovely one! Down in the north wood, just beyond the brook is a path. I took it, and there it was! Who lives there sir?"
Of course it had only been a matter of time. That day, with more than a hint of sadness in his voice, Fitzwilliam informed Elizabeth, "My dear Lizzy, I'm afraid we've been overthrown. The Palace is taken."
And that day the world had one less mystery. Darcy now understood why his father 'rued the day' young Fitzwilliam stumbled upon that old cottage twenty-five years ago. Twenty five years hence, young Charles Bennet Darcy and his bride will solve similar mysteries in much the same way.
And so it goes.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.