Trouble In Paradise
The fire was burning with great energy in the yellow drawing room of the Darcy's London home. It was a cold January day but between the leaping flames in the fireplace and the zeal displayed by the newlyweds as they read the morning post, the room was quite warm.
"My dear, you must release me now. Mrs. Harris is waiting for me," Mrs. Darcy said as she attempted to fold her letters neatly in her lap.
"She can wait a little longer," her husband mumbled as he continued to nibble on her ear.
"I don't believe Mrs. Harris will approve of me making her wait for very long and you know she and I are not on firm footing."
"Damn the servants. I've been admiring your left ear all morning and this is the first chance I've had to examine it more closely."
Elizabeth Darcy laughed in spite of herself but was determined to remain strong. She removed his right hand from her shoulder and his left hand from around her waist and stood before her husband who was still sprawled on the sofa.
"You have given me a duty, sir, to run your household for you. I take it very seriously and must convince Mrs. Harris of that. I believe she thinks I've been quite lazy for letting her have all the authority this first week, but now it is time for me to take control. It is daunting. Look at my hands, I believe they're shaking." Elizabeth held her hands out to her husband who promptly grabbed them and pulled her back onto the sofa.
Fifteen minutes later a rather flushed Mrs. Darcy hurried into her sitting room where Mrs. Harris was already waiting with a very disapproving look on her thin face. Elizabeth began to apologize for her lateness but then remembered her husband's parting advice to take control. She stopped her excuses and sat as regally as she could and motioned for Mrs. Harris to sit as well.
"Very well," she began and cleared her throat. "Let us begin. First of all, breakfast. I believe we could do with less food. Mr. Darcy rarely has more than a cup of tea and I..."
"Mrs. Darcy, if you will permit me to interrupt," Mrs. Harris said.
"Of course," Elizabeth said and immediately regretted it.
"I have prepared for you a list of all the household items that must be purchased for this house each month. Now of course, when you are not at home, the stores need not be so ample, but as you can see, it takes a great amount to keep this house running as it should."
"Yes, I see, Mrs. Harris. Thank you. Perhaps I may study this."
"It is for you. Now, the other servants. We have twenty-five indoor servants not including myself and Mr. Bates. I keep a close watch on the cook and maids and advise Mr. Bates on the footmen."
"So many?" Elizabeth inquired but hastily added. "Of course I would not wish to displace anyone of their job but it does seem an excessive number for only two people."
Mrs. Harris looked down her nose at her mistress. "If I may be so bold, Mrs. Darcy, you do mean three people. Miss Darcy also lives here." She paused for a moment as Elizabeth colored and then continued. "Cook watches the scullery maids but the housemaids report directly to me. They do a fair job. I am watching that Eliza girl. She is a little sloppy with the hearth ashes and I may have to sack her but the rest, I am proud to say, work very hard. Now I don't know much about your maid."
Elizabeth stiffened slightly. She had hired a ladies maid for herself a few weeks before her marriage and while she was quite satisfied with Marguerite, she knew Mrs. Harris did not approve of the young French girl.
"My maid, of course, will report only to me," Elizabeth said.
"As you wish, madam. Now, we have always served breakfast at 8:30. That is when Mr. Darcy likes it. Lunch is always at 12:30, tea at 5:00, and dinner at 7:30. I trust that has been satisfactory to you?"
"Actually, Mrs. Harris, I would like dinner at 8:00." Elizabeth had no idea if her husband would care for that hour but she had to show Mrs. Harris she could not make all the decisions. "And I would like to discuss each day's menu with you on the morning before. Let us say at 9:30."
"Very well, madam," Mrs. Harris sniffed.
"Also, Mr. Darcy and I are announcing we are at home to receive callers. I should like them to be shown into the blue drawing room."
"That is on the north side of the house, madam," Mrs. Harris said.
"Yes, I suppose it is." Elizabeth did not see the significance of that and Mrs. Harris did not enlighten her. "Thank you for your thorough household list. Is there anything else we should discuss?"
"No madam," Mrs. Harris replied.
"Then you may go. Thank you, Mrs. Harris," Elizabeth smiled at her.
Mrs. Harris curtsied dutifully and left the room.
Elizabeth hurried to find her husband. Not finding him in the yellow drawing room, she went to his library where he was immersed in his newspaper. When he did not look up as Elizabeth entered the room, she tiptoed behind him and clapped her hands over his eyes.
"Guess who is here?" she sang out.
"Hmmm. Could it be the lovely and ever charming Mrs. Harris?"
"No, but you are close."
"Ah, then it must be Cook."
"Would you know her if you saw her?" Elizabeth asked as she moved around to the front of the sofa where he was sitting. "I believe I have only seen her once."
"Then you had better get more acquainted with your servants, my dear. How did it go with Mrs. Harris?"
"Very well, I think. She is a little intimidating, but I think I handled her well."
"Don't ever let the servants know you think them intimidating, Elizabeth. Especially Mrs. Harris. She has been a very loyal servant but I believe feels she has been mistress of this house these past five years. You must show her you are the mistress."
"Oh, I believe I can tame her." She reached up and traced her finger along her husband's jaw. "Just as I tamed you."
"Is that right?" Darcy looked sideways at her. "I believe, madam, you have barely begun." He cast the paper aside and gathered his wife in his arms.
It was only a few days later when the Darcys were at home to receive their first callers since their marriage. But, to Elizabeth's relief, those callers were well known to her already - her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Elizabeth ran in search of her husband. Unfortunately, the floors were newly polished and she started to slide and soon found herself sitting very unlady-like on the floor. She muttered to herself as she picked herself up only to see Mrs. Harris standing before her.
"Are you quite all right, Madam?" Mrs. Harris asked.
"Quite all right," Elizabeth said as dignified as she could.
"Madam should know that the floors are polished every Thursday."
"Yes, thank you. I will be more careful on Thursdays." She brushed her hands off on her gown and went into the library.
"My dear, our first callers are here!" she announced to her husband.
"Oh, bother," Darcy said as he folded his newspaper.
"You will not mind so much, I think. They are Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Come to the drawing room with me."
As they left the library, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy began to go in separate directions.
"Where are you going, Elizabeth?" Darcy asked.
"To the drawing room. The blue drawing room."
"But we always receive guests in the yellow drawing room."
"A little change is good. I told Mrs. Harris to put all our callers in the blue drawing room."
"But that is on the north side."
"Yes." Elizabeth wanted no more of this conversation and walked ahead to greet her callers.
Once greetings were exchanged, Darcy felt the need to apologize to the Gardiners.
"I am terribly sorry to move you, but I believe we should go into the other drawing room. This is the coldest room in the house and you'll find the other room much more cheerful during the day."
Elizabeth's eyes flashed. "There is no need to move our guests from room to room, my dear. It is perfectly comfortable here."
"Oh, yes, I am quite comfortable," Mrs. Gardiner agreed, concerned they had walked unknowingly into a tiff between the newlyweds.
Darcy laughed. "You'll forgive my Elizabeth. She is not aware yet that during the winter, we use the yellow drawing room so the sun may warm the room."
"What difference does it make, my dear? It is not sunny today anyway."
It was only then that Darcy realized his wife was on the verge of losing her temper with him. "Well, we always use the yellow room," he mumbled weakly but he sat down.
As the visit progressed, tempers were soothed and the hour went quite rapidly. Elizabeth asked her aunt and uncle to stay for tea but they expressed regrets and promised to call again soon. Elizabeth's easy temper was soon ruffled again though, for when she returned from seeing her relations to the door, she saw her husband speaking with Mrs. Harris.
"From now on, please tell Bates to put our guests in the yellow drawing room during the day. Mrs. Darcy was not aware how cold the blue one can be."
"Of course, sir," Mrs. Harris said and walked away after eyeing Elizabeth's flaming cheeks.
"Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth exclaimed. Darcy turned guiltily to his wife. Elizabeth continued in a harsh whisper.
"Why did you contradict my orders to Mrs. Harris? She has little respect for me already and this only confirms her notion that I know not what I am about! I made a very simple request. There is no need to countermand it. After all, you made me mistress of this house!"
"Elizabeth, please. Why are you angry? It was a simple mistake and no harm is done."
"You are mistaken. There is harm to my authority here."
"Let us go into the sitting room." He held out his hand for his wife but she did not take it and preceded him into the room.
"Mrs. Harris only has respect for you," Darcy tried to calm his wife down but Elizabeth snorted.
"I have not earned her respect, according to her, but I am trying very hard. Please do not cancel my orders, at least not without consulting me first."
"Yes, of course, you are right," Darcy said. "Will you forgive me then? You may remind me anytime you like that you are mistress here."
Elizabeth knew in her heart her husband meant no harm and her temper was beginning to soften. She smiled at him. "Very well, I do forgive you. And we may receive guests in the yellow drawing room in the winter."
Darcy walked to his wife and kissed her forehead. "Thank goodness. Elizabeth, I believe we had our first argument."
"I believe we did. Let us hope all of them are as easily resolved as this one." She put her arms around his neck so she could receive more kisses.
As her husband nuzzled her neck he thought of something that would make Elizabeth feel more the mistress of the house. "My dear, perhaps you could order Mrs. Harris to have dinner served earlier. It has been very late these last two days. I have been ready to eat at 7:30 but it seems we do not receive our meal until 8:00."
His wife pulled away from him. Darcy was concerned to see her eyes flashing again.
"Well, my dear, I made a change there too. Forgive me for forgetting to tell you, but dinner will now be served at 8:00." With that, she walked out the door.
There was little or nothing Darcy would not do for his wife, so he readily adjusted his habits to prepare for dinner to be served at 8:00. Elizabeth had a naturally sunny temperament so she would never stay angry at her husband for long but he did not want even half a day to pass with her being cool to him.
Elizabeth had studied the list of household expenses Mrs. Harris had presented to her very carefully. She was not sure of the fair cost of items that were bought in London and decided not to question her housekeeper on that topic. However, there were some expenses that she had no idea what they could possibly mean. She decided to bring these up during her daily meeting with Mrs. Harris.
"Mrs. Harris, I have a few questions brought up by your list. Why do we purchase calfskin?" Elizabeth asked.
"Mr. Darcy likes to have all his books bound in the finest calfskin, madam. Whenever he buys a new one, he sends it back to the bindery along with the calfskin."
Elizabeth smiled at this extravagance of her husband's. "And why do we buy carnelian?"
"We make our own seals, madam, from the carnelian. It is the best red quartz. Mr. Darcy uses several seals. One for business, one in town, one at Pemberley. Is there anything more, madam?"
"Well, yes there is. Why do we purchase smelling salts every month?"
Mrs. Harris raised her eyebrows. "Certainly a lady need not ask that question?"
"Indeed I do. I never have use for smelling salts and surely Mr. Darcy never did. I can't believe Miss Darcy needs them either."
"I believe in keeping the salts fresh. One never knows when they may be needed."
"And we throw the old salts out?"
"Of course, madam."
Elizabeth sighed. This was going to be difficult to change and she suddenly felt very tired with these trivial matters. "Very well. Thank you, Mrs. Harris. You may go."
Her husband was having lunch at his club today. She missed his company but was happy her sister Georgiana would be arriving next week to spend some time with them before the newlyweds left for the Continent on their honeymoon. She immersed herself in a book after lunch until visitors came to call on the new Mrs. Darcy. Mrs. and Miss Fawley were known to her husband but not herself. Still, she made their acquaintance graciously, knowing full well they were only there to gawk at Darcy's bride. After they left, Elizabeth returned to her book and soon became reabsorbed.
After some time, she was surprised to hear the clock chime four times. Surely her husband was home by now. She wondered why he had not come to find her. Putting away her book, she looked in the library. He was not there so she went downstairs to his office. She was surprised to see Mrs. Harris leaving the room, wiping what looked like tears from her eyes. The housekeeper had not seen her mistress but headed toward the servant quarters.
Elizabeth knocked once and then peeked into the room. Darcy turned away from the window and looked at her with surprise but a smile soon came to his face when she came to him for a welcoming kiss.
"How long have you been home?" Elizabeth asked as she adjusted his collar and cravat. "I saw Mrs. Harris just leaving."
"I just arrived about fifteen minutes ago to find Mrs. Harris waiting for me." Darcy looked uncomfortable. "Dearest, can you tell me what happened between the two of you this morning?"
Elizabeth looked confused. "Nothing out of the ordinary. We went over the menus as we always do. She seemed not to approve of my choice of fish for tomorrow but that is common. Nothing else. Why?"
"You went over the household accounts with her?"
"I had a few questions, nothing serious. What did she say?" Elizabeth was getting impatient.
Darcy cleared his throat. "She seems to think you were accusatory in your comments to her and that you do not trust her."
"What?" Elizabeth said with a laugh.
"She feels you were questioning some expenses."
"Yes I did but only because I did not understand them. I only asked for a simple explanation and was quite satisfied with her response."
"You did not convey to her in your tone or expression any suspicion?"
"No, of course not. But apparently she chose to infer that."
"Dear, Mrs. Harris has been with us for ..."
"Yes, I know, I know. She has been with you for five years and has run this house in an exemplary manner." Elizabeth sighed heavily. "Well, your exemplary housekeeper is not enamored with her new mistress. She probably would not like any woman coming in to take control of a house she has had the complete run of for years."
"Elizabeth, I am sure Mrs. Harris does not dislike you."
"I assure you, sir, she does. And I am most upset that she chose to come to you with this story. Why could she not ask me this morning why I asked her those questions? Again, she forgets I am the mistress."
Darcy was silent some moments. He knew Elizabeth meant no harm this morning but Mrs. Harris was convinced she had. How could he bring both sides to an accord?
"Elizabeth, perhaps if you explain to Mrs. Harris that your questions were completely innocent, she would understand. She says she can not work in this house if the mistress does not trust her."
His wife turned to him with a fiery eyes. "I will do nothing of the kind. If she can not work here, good riddance." With that she turned her back on him and hurried out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Her husband groaned. He had always been lucky with servants before so this was something he was not used to dealing with. Certainly this problem was not worth arguing about with his wife though. However, knowing her temper but also knowing how quickly she got over things, he decided to wait until later to try to discuss this with her again.
Tea was served in the yellow drawing room. Darcy was relieved to see when he entered the room, that there were no visitors today. He would be able to appease his wife better without an audience. Thinking that perhaps he would be greeted frostily, he was pleased to see her greet him with a wide smile. His heart melted as she drew his arms around her waist and reached up for a kiss.
"I wish I had your talent for regaining my good temper so easily. Especially after you've been treated so insensitively by your boorish husband," Darcy said.
"Hush. You were perfectly reasonable. I have been thinking what to do about Mrs. Harris."
"You are right, my dear. We should let her leave if she wants." This is not at all what Darcy had planned to say but knew he would say anything to keep his Elizabeth happy.
"No, of course not. What would I do without a housekeeper? I do not even know how to go about hiring one. I will let her stew on this tonight though. But tomorrow I will explain why I questioned her. I will not apologize though."
"Of course not," Darcy said, vastly relieved.
"Fitzwilliam, I promise I will do better with her. Do you forgive my temper?"
"Of course." He kissed the top of her head and lingered, breathing in her fresh scent. It was with some regret that he let her break away.
"And now I shall pour the tea."
This installment was written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek.
An uneasy dÈtente reigned between mistress and housekeeper in the week before Georgiana Darcy returned to London. Mrs. Harris accepted Mrs. Darcy's explanations of her questions as if she had received an apology. They continued their daily meetings but spent no time discussing expenses.
Hugs and kisses greeted Georgiana when she arrived at the house. The young lady had insisted on giving her brother and new sister six weeks alone together before she would descend on them but everyone agreed six weeks had been too long and her presence was very welcome.
Georgiana was also glad to see some of her favorite servants, especially Mrs. Harris. She reached for the housekeeper's hand and held it tightly while she exclaimed over how much everyone on the staff had been missed.
"Mrs. Harris, you know not how I missed you while I was staying at Morgan Hall with the Ramseys. No one else knows how I like my scones toasted and honey with my tea except you and Mrs. Reynolds and I dare not ask for such special favors from my hosts or I would be called a difficult guest."
"Oh no, Miss Darcy, that could never be," the delighted lady cried. "You have always been the easiest young lady to please. I wanted to thank you again for the dear, thoughtful Christmas present you sent me. Do you see?" she held up an embroidered bag hanging at her waist which jingled with keys. "I wear it always and your work is so fine."
Elizabeth watched this exchange with an amused expression on her face. She had hoped to gain an ally in her sister but now saw this could never be. So the correct manner in dealing with Mrs. Harris would have to be worked out on her own. Her husband, watching her, guessed her thoughts. When Georgiana excused herself to go to her rooms to see to her things, he suggested his wife should wait with him in Elizabeth's sitting room.
Darcy did not bother closing the door, knowing that Georgiana would be joining them shortly.
"How are things between you and Mrs. Harris?"
Elizabeth sighed. "About the same as yesterday and the day before that. I wonder if we will ever be friends."
"There's no need to be friends with her. Just to be civil to each other should be enough."
"Oh, we are very civil. Exceedingly civil I fear I shall break just from the exertion of it."
Darcy moved to his wife and put his arms around her waist to pull her closer. He bent his head down to her ear and whispered, "Soon we will be away from here. Only you and I, seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world."
"Oh, I can not wait," she sighed reaching up to him.
"Oh, excuse me, sir, madam," Mrs. Harris's voice was heard. She stood at the doorway with a maid who was holding a tray of tea things. Elizabeth broke away from her husband and walked to the window staring stonily out.
"I just thought Miss Darcy would like some refreshment here before lunch." Mrs. Harris waited while the maid hastily arranged the items on the tray and then they both left the room.
"There she goes again," Elizabeth said angrily, still staring out the window. "She is always walking in on us."
"Hardly, Elizabeth. I really don't know what you're talking about."
"Why today of course, and yesterday she came upon us in the upstairs hall, the day before I was greeting you at the door, another time it was outside the library. I remember being particularly embarrassed when she found us sitting on the stairs with me on your lap."
"Exactly. We must be more discreet especially now that Georgiana is with us. If we can't contain our exhibitions of affection in private, then we have no one but ourselves to blame. And what about the other servants? It is not just Mrs. Harris. I was rather embarrassed when Marguerite walked in on us last week."
"That was not her fault! How could she know we would return to the bedroom so soon after breakfast. It's not like she saw anything shocking."
"No, but it shows me that you are determined to dislike Mrs. Harris and everything she does."
Elizabeth started to retort but saw Georgiana walking towards them from the hall. She flashed a warning look at her husband and then greeted her sister warmly.
The next three weeks were busy ones. The Darcys spent much time out in public with Georgiana, going to parties, dinners, plays, and even the opera. The trunks were also pulled down from storage, for the Darcys were to leave for their honeymoon trip the beginning of March and would not be returning until the middle of May. Before she left, Mrs. Darcy wanted to make arrangements for a dinner to be held in her London home when they returned. They would be in London for just a week before going to Pemberley but Elizabeth knew she would have to host her London acquaintances before their trip to the north.
Georgiana sat with Elizabeth while she went over the arrangements of the party with Mrs. Harris. Mrs. Darcy had found that having Georgiana with her during her meetings meant the housekeeper would be a little warmer in her responses to her mistress.
The Bingleys also arrived in town at this time, much to Elizabeth's delight. Her favorite evenings were when the Bingleys, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Georgiana were gathered in the drawing room for cards, music, and conversation.
Elizabeth and Georgiana returned home one afternoon after visiting Jane in Grosvenor Street. Darcy had business with his solicitor that afternoon so Elizabeth did not expect to see him there, but she was surprised to see Mrs. Harris standing in the hallway, apparently waiting for her mistress to return.
"Mrs. Darcy, I must speak to you on an urgent manner," she began.
Elizabeth took off her gloves, bonnet, and coat and handed them to the footman. "Very well, Mrs. Harris. Let us go into my sitting room."
As Elizabeth seated herself at a table in the room, she motioned for Mrs. Harris to sit as well but the lady remained standing.
"What is it you need to tell me?" Elizabeth asked patiently.
"Please forgive me madam, for bringing up such a subject but I feel you should know that your maid has been behaving most indecently with one of the young male servants. I have been noticing most significant glances between them for at least a week or two and upon observing their actions more closely, I resolved that something was afoot. Forgive me for not telling you sooner, but I wanted to be sure I had all the facts."
"And those facts are...?"
"This morning I found them..." Mrs. Harris cleared her throat. "Well, they were in the linen closet in the servant's hallway. Her cap was quite askew and I am afraid they may have been doing something very improper. She said she was just getting linen for you and he was helping her get it from the highest shelf."
"And you did not believe her?"
"If you had seen them, madam, you would not have believed her either."
Elizabeth conceded that Mrs. Harris may have been right but she was unsure if this created a problem for the household. "Thank you, Mrs. Harris. I must think on this. And I must speak with Marguerite."
Mrs. Harris was not ready to be excused. "If you'll forgive me, madam. I know you have not had much experience dealing with servants but let me tell you, if you let shenanigans like this go on between them, it can become quite scandalous. And I am sure I do not have to tell you that seeing things like that can be quite injurious to a young girl like Miss Darcy."
Elizabeth wondered if Mrs. Harris was also referring to the shenanigans that went on between her and Mr. Darcy. "I am sure Miss Darcy will be quite all right. Please tell Marguerite I wish to see her."
This was a dilemma Elizabeth was not sure how to resolve. Her maid was only a few years younger than herself so she could sympathize with a young lady's yearnings for love but she was also a servant and was expected to behave in a fitting manner to her station, especially a station so closely connected to her mistress.
A firm knock was heard at the door and Elizabeth called out a directive to enter. Both Mrs. Harris and Marguerite entered the room, much to Elizabeth's dismay.
"If you please, Mrs. Harris, I will speak to Marguerite alone. I will call you if you are needed." She waited for her housekeeper to reluctantly leave before she turned to her maid.
"I understand you have formed an attachment to one of the male servants. Is that true, Marguerite?"
"Oh no, madame." Marguerite appeared to be shaking and looked on the verge of tears. Elizabeth's heart softened.
"Come, sit down." She led her maid to the sofa and sat next to her.
"Marguerite, if you tell me the truth, I will not be harsh with you."
The tears started to spill down Marguerite's cheeks. "Oh, please, madame, I will never put my place in danger. It is just that.... Robert is a nice man. He means no harm at all but ... Well, it is lonely here, sometimes, and he has been very nice to me. It is no more than that, I promise you."
"You must realize, Marguerite, that you represent me to the rest of the household. Anything you do that is embarrassing, embarrasses me. Therefore, I must ask you to do something for me."
Her maid looked tearfully up at her mistress.
"There must be no secret kisses in the closets or the hallways or the stairs. If you are courted properly by Robert, I will not object. But it must be done on your day off, and of course, on his day off. If there is any scandal, Marguerite, I will have to let you go."
"Yes, madame. But madame, we do not have the same day off."
"What day does he have off?"
"Well, if I am not going out on Fridays, you may have that day off too instead of Monday. We shall have to see week by week. You do realize, Marguerite, that many months will go by when you do not see him for he does not go to Pemberley and you will."
"Dry your tears. Things may work out. I would hate to lose you to love so soon, but I will not stand in your way."
Her maid curtsied before she turned and ran out the door, leaving Elizabeth to wonder how she would approach this solution with Mrs. Harris. Her husband would not be too pleased by it either.
Darcy dismissed his manservant so Elizabeth could speak with him while he dressed for dinner. She had something to say but did not want to discuss it in front of Georgiana.
"Not another tiff with Mrs. Harris, I hope," Darcy said as he struggled with his cravat. "Damn, I can never do this while I look in the mirror."
"Here, let me," Elizabeth said moving to him and began to efficiently straighten his attire. "No, we have not had a tiff though she is putting her nose where it does not belong. This is about Marguerite and is solely my concern."
Darcy waited for her to continue.
"It appears that Marguerite has become infatuated with one of the footmen. I suppose he feels the same about her. There have been a few long glances, perhaps more than that. It has put Mrs. Harris out of temper. I do not know if Bates knows of this. The footmen are his domain and Marguerite is mine."
"Well, that won't do. We can not have servants misbehaving below stairs. Or above stairs either."
"One can hardly keep a girl of nineteen from falling in love."
"Oh, Elizabeth, are you going to take her side? You must understand. There are certain animal urges that the lower class find hard to overcome. That's why they have so many children."
Elizabeth put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Are you being quite serious? And those urges you have every night? They are not of animal intent?"
"But we are married. The lower class does not wait for marriage. What would you do if Marguerite came to you and told you she was, well, you know. If you discharge her now, she will be able to find another situation. But if you wait until she is with child, she will be ruined."
"I do not believe she has done anything to cause her to be with child. And I'm not about to discharge my maid just before we go on our trip. What will I do without her? This is what I have done. I have told her she must not do anything to embarrass us and must not see Robert in the house. But they may keep company together on their day off."
Darcy scratched his head. He had never had these kinds of servant problems before.
"What does Mrs. Harris say?"
"I do not care what Mrs. Harris says! I am sure she wants Marguerite out on her ear this evening because she is one servant she can not control. Will you let me make this decision?"
Her husband rolled his eyes and was silent for some moments. Finally he looked at his wife. "This goes against everything I ever learned about treating the servants, but I will let you make this decision."
"You are very wise," Elizabeth said smiling at him.
"Yes, I believe I am very wise to let you have your own way. But so help me, if something happens, I will not let her stay in this house. I will not let Georgiana see a servant working here in disgrace."
Elizabeth knew this meant putting great faith in her maid's moral standards but felt she would have to trust her good sense. "Very well, I agree. I will tell Mrs. Harris of my decision tomorrow. Let us go to dinner."
Part 7 and The End
Elizabeth Darcy waited pensively for her housekeeper to be seated before she began but Mrs. Harris spoke first.
"Mrs. Darcy, I have urged Bates to discharge the footman, Robert. He says he will not until he speaks to you. I hope you will support me in my decision. I will not see this house disgraced."
Elizabeth was silent for a few moments more while she formed her thoughts into coherent words. This meeting was not going to go the way she had hoped.
"Mrs. Harris. This is a decision you have no right to make. I will listen to your recommendations about all of the servants because I know you only have the best intentions. But no servant is to be dismissed without consulting me. Even the lowliest scullery maid."
"I have made all those decisions for the past five years!"
"That is only because there was not a proper mistress to run this house. Now there is one and I will authorize those decisions. That does not mean I will not require your assistance or that of Bates. But the final responsibility is mine."
Mrs. Harris glared at her mistress in icy silence.
"Marguerite and I have come to an understanding," Elizabeth continued. "There is to be no contact between her and Robert except in the course of their normal duties while they are in this house. What they do on their own time is of no concern to us as long as it does not embarrass us. I will tell Bates to inform Robert of that as well."
Elizabeth waited for her housekeeper to respond but after not getting a word, she continued. "If you see anything inappropriate, you may tell me but please do not address my maid about it yourself. Is that understood?"
"Madam," Mrs. Harris finally said. "You are stripping me of my most important duties--overseeing the operations of the household staff. If that is the way I am to be treated, I must leave your employ at once."
Mrs. Harris waited for Mrs. Darcy to object but her mistress only sat back in her chair and looked at her. The seconds could be heard ticking off on the old clock in the corner. Still neither woman would speak.
First she shifted on one foot, then the other and glanced quickly around the room while forming the words in her head that would save her from this situation. Finally Mrs. Harris spoke.
"I know you are a modern woman and have modern ideas about running a house. I am an old woman who has only known one way - to keep my mistress from any unpleasant duties. If you wish to take on such a bothersome burden, it is your right to do so. I have only been shown kindness from this family and leaving it would be a great sacrifice. I hope you will forgive my sudden outburst of anger and attribute it to the fear of change."
Elizabeth nodded her head. "Very well, Mrs. Harris. I believe I understand you and I hope you come to understand me. At least I know one thing. We only want the best for this family. I know it has been difficult for you to accept me as one of the Darcys but it is an incontrovertible fact. We may have to tread carefully around each other for a little while longer, but I hope soon we come to an arrangement that will leave no room for questioning."
"If you have no further questions, perhaps we can discuss tomorrow's menu now."
After receiving no complaints on her choice of soup for tomorrow's dinner and no disagreements over the dessert, Elizabeth felt her meeting had been very successful and was eager to find her husband. She finally found him in the billiard room, honing his skills for a future game to be played with Mr. Bingley.
"Well, my dear, how did it go this morning?"
"Very well, very well indeed. We almost lost Mrs. Harris this morning though, but I believe she may be seeing the error of her ways."
"Of course the mistress makes no errors."
"Of course not. She is quite infallible."
"Then you are feeling a little smug, I see."
Elizabeth merely smiled.
"Perhaps a game of billiards will precipitate more humility."
"Sir, you have the advantage of me. I do not know how to play."
"What? How remiss of me. I must teach you now. Come here."
His wife moved to his side and looked expectantly at him.
"The first thing, of course, is to know how to hold the cue stick. If you will permit me."
The rest of the morning was spent very enjoyably learning the proper placement of hands upon the cue stick and adjusting one's position over the billiard table. It was not until Mrs. Harris interrupted them (again) for lunch that the newlywed couple broke up their game. Elizabeth descended the stairs in the secure knowledge that she was the mistress of the Darcy household.
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