The morning light was creeping into the room, and Elizabeth Darcy stretched and yawned as she slowly awoke. Her eyes slowly fluttered open, and she smiled lazily as she reached over to the other side of the bed. She sat up and looked around, finally realizing her husband had gone early that morning on business. She fell back down onto the feather pillow and ran her fingers through her hair. She took the end of a lock and twisted it around her finger all the while smiling to herself and thinking, what a glorious day this would be!
She finally rang down for her maid and then began to open up the drapes. The sun shone in and illuminated the newly renovated room. The entire town house was finally finished and she was immensely proud of the outcome. No longer was the interior dark, but the fresh paint and new paper had completely turned it around. Darcy had left all the selections up to her, and she appreciated the confidence he had shown in her abilities and taste. She had never taken on anything like it, but she found the finished product, and her husband's sincere approval of it, to be quite satisfying. Now that it was finished, there was nothing to be done but to enjoy it.
There was a knock on the chamber door and Elizabeth opened it expecting her maid. What she saw was a huge bouquet of the palest pink roses that she had ever seen. She took in a breath when she saw them and the servant poked his head around the side of the bouquet and smiled broadly.
"Bring them in and put them on the table in the sitting area." She exclaimed in delight. The servant did as she requested and left the room. She looked at the bouquet, inhaling the fragrance of myrrh and gently touched the petals of one of the roses. They were magnificent and Elizabeth had never seen anything of the like. She counted twenty-two roses in all. She finally noticed a folded note tucked in the middle of the foliage and carefully reached in to pull it out. She recognized the familiar handwriting of her husband.
One only turns two and twenty, once.
Elizabeth beamed with delight, for May was the most wonderful time to have a birthday and there could be nothing more wonderful than sharing it with the man she loved. A servant brought up tea and scones, and her maid arrived to help her dress for the day. She carefully chose a new pale yellow frock and instructed her maid to do a little something different with her hair. She did not feel ordinary this day, and she was sure that there was nothing that could happen, which would dampen her spirits in the slightest. She looked at herself in the mirror and complimented her maid on the twist she had accomplished with her hair. After taking another look at her beautiful roses she left her room for the study where she intended to compose a letter to her sister Jane, until her husband came home.
"Good morning, Mr. Greeley!" she sang as she came upon the aging butler.
"Madam. A most happy birthday to you."
"Thank you Mr. Greeley," she floated by him. "It is a splendid day to have a birthday!"
As she walked down the hallway, she heard a commotion in the foyer and when she turned around, saw Mr. Greeley opening the front doors.
"Visitors? At this time of day?" she thought to herself and her curiosity made her give up any ideas of letter writing. As Mr. Greeley stepped aside from the door, she caught a glimpse of her visitors.
"Mama!...Papa!" she exclaimed in complete surprise. "I did not expect to see you!"
"Oh my dear Mrs. Darcy!" tittered Mrs. Bennet in the highest of pitches.
Mr. Bennet kissed his daughter. "Happy birthday, Lizzy!"
Mrs. Bennet scurried over to Elizabeth and patted her cheeks. "Ah, two and twenty. It seems like only yesterday that I suffered to bring you into this world!"
Elizabeth looked at her father and rolled her eyes. Mr. Bennet simply chuckled and allowed Mrs. Bennet to continue her observations.
"Oh my! What a splendid house! Is this really all Mr. Darcy's?" she rattled on. "I simply cannot believe it. It is so grand...and the neighborhood...well!" she exclaimed as her hands flew up into the air.
Elizabeth cut her off. "Yes, mama. This is our town house." She worked up her courage and finally asked her parents. "Why did you not write and tell us you were coming? We shall have to open up a room for you, before you can get settled."
"My dear! We wanted to surprise you!" Mrs. Bennet giggled.
"Yes, this is quite a surprise." She smiled nervously.
"There is no need to open a room for us. We are staying with the Gardiners, Lizzy." Her father explained. "We thought it best not to intrude upon you and your husband, without warning."
Elizabeth was indeed grateful for her father's wisdom and foresight, especially concerning her marriage to Darcy.
Mrs. Bennet interrupted again, "Lizzy! Where is your husband? I should like to see my son-in-law."
"He is away for the morning, mama. However, he should be back very soon."
"How delightful! We will be a surprise for him as well!" Mrs. Bennet giggled again. She was simply besides herself as she looked about the house.
"Yes, mama. I believe it will indeed be a surprise for Mr. Darcy to find you here." Elizabeth smiled and bit her lower lip.
Darcy completed his business and hurriedly boarded the carriage, telling the driver to head for the town house. He sat back in the seat and laid the package he was carrying next to him. He started going over his plans for the evening in his mind.
"All right...the flowers were delivered and supper reservations have been made. The theater reservation was confirmed and I have the gift." He looked down at the package on the seat. He glanced around the carriage and then took the package and hid it under the seat, beneath a folded blanket.
"Yes, yes. That will do." he mumbled to himself as he checked his watch. He sat back and heaved a sigh, finally able to relax a bit. He thought to himself what a glorious day this would be! He had made plans to take his lovely wife out on the town, just the two of them. He smiled to himself in anticipation of a most romantic evening.
The carriage pulled to a halt and Darcy bolted into the house, anxious to wish his wife a most happy birthday. As he entered the house, he handed his hat to Mr. Greeley.
"Mr. Greeley. Where is my wife?"
"In the parlor sir. I should tell you sir..."
"Not now Mr. Greeley," and Darcy took off for the parlor at a speed which poor old Mr. Greeley could just not match, however much he tried. Darcy reached the parlor doors and flung them open with a broad smile on his face.
"My love!" Darcy exclaimed, then froze where he stood, eyes wide and voice stammering. "Mr. and Mrs. Bennet!"
Mr. Greeley came to a halt next to Darcy. "I should tell you sir, that Mr. And Mrs. Bennet are in the parlor."
Darcy just looked down at the old butler and calmly said. "What a surprise."
Mrs. Bennet immediately descended upon Darcy, complimenting the town house and his exquisite taste in paint and paper. Mr. Bennet shook Darcy's hand and inquired as to his health and whether or not he was taking proper care of his daughter. Elizabeth plopped down in a chair, her cheeks flushed, as Darcy tried to decipher the reason for such a visit by his in-laws. After a few moments, Elizabeth decided it best to show her parents around the house, thus giving her husband a chance to digest his utter surprise at having found her parents unexpectedly in London. As they passed Darcy to quit the parlor, Elizabeth looked up at him.
"The roses are beautiful, my love. Thank you."
He smiled and kissed her on the cheek as she left. Mr. Greeley came in the room with his hands behind his back.
"Sir. I shall change your dining reservation. How many will there be now?"
"Make it Six." Darcy grunted, the smile slowly leaving his face.
"And the theater, sir?"
"Yes, sir." Mr. Greeley started to quit the room, then turned around. "I know it is a bit early, but I poured you a glass of claret, sir. Over on the table."
Darcy eyed the aged butler. "Mr. Greeley, tell me? Why is it that you have never married?"
That afternoon the Darcys accompanied the Bennets back to the residence of the Gardiners. As they entered the house, the Gardiner children came running up to Elizabeth, hugging and kissing her and wishing her a happy birthday. She hugged them in return and thanked them for their fond wishes. The youngest boy tugged on Darcy's pant leg to get his attention.
"Hello, Mr. Darcy."
"Hello, Robert," Darcy answered.
"How is Pemberley?"
"Very good, I think."
The boy wiggled in his shoes, still having a hold of Darcy. "I hope we behaved ourselves enough, so that we can come back?"
Darcy smiled down at him. "You may come back at any time."
The boy grinned from ear to ear and turned to his youngest sister. "I told you so." He whispered to her and they ran back to see Elizabeth.
The adults settled themselves in the parlor and Mrs. Gardiner served tea. She could tell that her new nephew had received quite a surprise by the unexpected arrival of his in-laws. Darcy did not possess his poker face on some occasions, especially when he had not had sufficient time to let the situation soak in. Mrs. Gardiner thought it best to try to talk to Elizabeth alone during the course of the visit. Perhaps she could assist her niece in running interference between her husband and her parents.
"Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, we would be most happy if you would join us for supper tonight." Darcy inquired of them. "I have made reservations at the South Park. For the six of us." He tried desperately not to show his disappointment as he thought of a romantic little table, candlelight and the reservations for two that he had made only that morning.
"The South Park!" Mrs. Gardiner gasped.
Elizabeth's eyes widened, for she had never heard of it. "What is the South Park, Aunt?"
"It is only the finest establishment for haute cuisine, in all of England." She sat back in her chair and smiled. "I have always wanted to dine there."
Elizabeth turned back towards her husband and gave him a warm and genuine smile. He was satisfied with her response, and it was decided that they would all meet at the South Park at seven.
The Darcys left their family and traveled back to their town house. Elizabeth nestled up next to her husband in the carriage and he realized it was the first time all day that they had been alone. He put his arm around her and she leaned over and kissed him.
"Happy birthday." He whispered between kisses.
"Thank you." She whispered back. "Thank you for everything. I can see that you are a little disappointed."
"Am I that transparent?"
She gave a little laugh and kissed him again.
"I confess I had made plans for this evening...which did not include anyone other than you and me." he sighed. "As I have said before, I am a selfish being. I have trouble thinking beyond myself at times."
Elizabeth lovingly scolded him, "That is far from true, Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Elizabeth had a firm hold of her husband's arm as they entered the South Park. The headwaiter greeted them and escorted them through the dining room to their table. The South Park was an exquisite place, with so many finely dressed patrons and so many other people scurrying about with trays of beautifully prepared food. As they waited for their guests to arrive, Darcy ordered himself and Elizabeth an apÈritif.
The Bennets and the Gardiners were shown to the table. Elizabeth saw the look of awe on her mother's face. She hoped that the experience would be such that Mrs. Bennet was rendered speechless. However, she had slyly asked her aunt to instruct her mother on the etiquette required in such a fine establishment, before they arrived. The waiter brought apÈritifs for the rest of the party, and Elizabeth began the conversation by telling everyone what a splendid birthday this had turned out to be. Mrs. Bennet sat pertly at the table, picking up every piece of silverware to inspect it. Darcy took the liberty of ordering for the table, since no one else was versed enough in haute cuisine to tackle it. Mrs. Bennet listened intently as Darcy made his requests from the menu and nodded her approval after every selection. When the seafood appetizer was brought forth, she squealed in delight. Mr. Bennet however, refused to eat anything that had ever had a protective shell as its means of self defense.
Mrs. Bennet decided there must be some conversation at the table, so she proceeded to inform Darcy of the labors she had suffered to bring Elizabeth forth in the world exactly twenty two years ago. She also informed him that it was a very good thing for himself and Bingley, that she and Mr. Bennet had managed to have such admired daughters, instead of being blessed with sons. Darcy, every now and then nodded his head in agreement, and tried to take solace in the anticipation of being alone with his lovely Elizabeth at some point in the evening. Elizabeth could see Darcy's growing impatience with her mother, by the slow reddening of his ears and the way he managed to clench his jaw.
Their meal was brought out and served to them, one course at a time, by a servant on each side of the table. Delight upon delectable delight was served, but however delicious the food was, Elizabeth found the whole experience most exasperating,. Darcy's impatience grew with every forkful, for Mrs. Bennet was indeed insistent upon monopolizing him in conversation. Elizabeth despaired at trying to apprehend her mother's attentions, and blushed now and then as she looked towards her aunt and uncle for some relief.
"Mr. Darcy?" Mrs. Gardiner inquired of him. "I am very grateful for your kind invitation this evening. I am sure your plans for this evening did not originally include all of us." She gave Mr. and Mrs. Bennet an informed look.
"I confess, they did not." Darcy tried not to sigh as he spied his wife who anxiously awaited his reply, wondering what he would say. "However, I am very glad you could join us...as well as Elizabeth's parents." He managed to choke out as if something he had consumed had gone down his windpipe the wrong way.
Elizabeth kept telling herself, over and over again, that this was a test of her fortitude and compassion. Life must hold some trial for her, otherwise her life of happiness with Darcy would be relatively uncontested. Mrs. Bennet watched as couples walked back and forth past their table, nodding their acknowledgment of her son-in-law, and watching his response in return. At one point Darcy stood up and bowed to a gentleman who approached the table. The gentleman returned his greeting and Darcy introduced everyone at the table to the Duke of Lindley. The Duke reached out and took Mrs. Bennet's hand.
"A pleasure madam."
Mrs. Bennet blushed and tittered her approbation then looked at Mr. Bennet in complete satisfaction. Elizabeth could barely maintain her composure as she saw her mother's reaction. She thought it possible that her mother may just be having a better time, than she had ever had in her entire life.
Sometime between the last course and dessert, Darcy turned to Elizabeth. "My dear, if you will excuse me for a few moments?
"Of course." She smiled at him.
Darcy turned to Elizabeth's uncle. "Mr. Gardiner, if you care to join me, there are some men in the lobby whose acquaintance could prove advantageous to your business."
"Why, thank you Darcy. I would appreciate the introduction."
The two men left the table and headed for the lobby. As they reached the doors, they encountered the Duke of Lindley again.
"Mr. Darcy." He bowed again to Darcy and Mr. Gardiner. "May I say, your mother-in-law is absolutely charming!"
Darcy looked blankly at the Duke. "Sir?"
"She is all loveliness." The Duke stood proud, with a drink in hand. "I say, loveliness, indeed." He nodded his head and continued his mingling with the crowd in the lobby. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner stood with their mouths slightly open, digesting what they had just been told. Darcy thought it inappropriate to laugh, however much he was tempted, until Mr. Gardiner looked at him and laughed out loud, shaking his head and muttering the word, "Incredible." Darcy did indeed introduce Mr. Gardiner to his business acquaintances. Darcy admired Mr. Gardiner's easy and confident manner and both men came to view the other as trusted friends. On this occasion, however, Darcy had another motive for asking Mr. Gardiner to accompany him. As they were ready to rejoin their party, Darcy inquired of his uncle.
"Mr. Gardiner. I hope I am not taking too many liberties, by asking you to do me a small favor?"
"Why, just name it Darcy," the kind gentleman replied.
"Sir, I had made other plans for later this evening." He stopped and looked Mr. Gardiner in the eye. "For Elizabeth and me."
Mr. Gardiner raised an eyebrow and smiled at Darcy. "Mr. Darcy, I believe that it is getting rather late for my wife and I to be out. I will suggest that the Bennets accompany us home, as soon as our meal is concluded."
Darcy let out the breath that he had been holding in and grinned wide. "Thank you, Sir."
The two men found their way back to their party and settled in as the last course was being served. Elizabeth gazed at her husband who for the first time that evening, looked extremely comfortable and happy. Mr. Gardiner informed the party that they would soon need to call it a night, for his business would need him early the following morning. Elizabeth saw Darcy cover a smile behind his napkin at Mr. Gardiner's proclamation. Her eyes flashed her good information, as Darcy caught her look. Mrs. Gardiner also suspected more to Mr. Gardiner's pronouncement, than simply his need for rest before a day at the office. She smiled her approval at her husband and reached under the table to give Elizabeth's hand a motherly grasp.
The party soon left the South Park and Mr. Gardiner called for his carriage. The footman inquired of Darcy, but he declined saying that they would wait for a time.
"Would you walk with me, Elizabeth?" Darcy whispered to his wife.
She smiled and nodded her approval, and bid her relatives a wonderful good night. She and Darcy walked arm and arm down the side of the street leading towards St. James' and they turned to wave to the Gardiners and Elizabeth's parents as they drove by. Elizabeth looked up into the sky. There was not a cloud in it and the air was extremely warm for a May night. She wondered just where it was that her husband was taking her, and she was very happy that they were finally alone.
Where are we going, love?" Elizabeth asked her husband.
"I thought we would walk around the palace, to the promenade." He looked down at her with a smile. "You will tell me when you want to go back?"
"I am an excellent walker, Mr. Darcy," she laughed. "I can keep up with you quite well enough. I thought you knew that?"
"I never doubted it for a second. I only inquired out of concern for my wife, is all. You have had a very long day."
"Yes, I have. But I am not willing to call it a night yet, Mr. Darcy, for I have only just been privileged to have you to myself." She said slyly. "Tell me, what is this promenade?"
"You have never been to the promenade?" he asked and she shook her head. "The promenade is an area of the court, where people can walk about, especially at night and gaze at the stars." He cleared his throat. "Mostly lovers, I think."
"Really? And have you ever been to this place for lovers, Mr. Darcy?"
"A time or two...only to look at the stars." He said as innocently as he could. "I have been told by acquaintances that it is a place for lovers."
Elizabeth turned her face away from him to hide a grin. She heaved a pretend sigh as she continued, "In Hertfordshire, people just walk out into their parks and gaze at the stars. I myself have done it many times."
Darcy gave her a sideways glance and she laughed at his seriousness. Having pity on him she committed, "Quite alone, I assure you."
"Well, you are not in Hertfordshire, you are in London. And you are not alone, you are with me. And seeing as it is a fine warm night and a rather special occasion, we are going to the promenade, where we shall look at the stars...among other things."
"What other things, might I ask?" she teasingly protested.
"Did you think you were the only person with cause to celebrate this day?" he chided. "Did you not know that it is the Queen's birthday celebration as well?"
"I did not," she pouted.
"Well it is, which is a great advantage to us, for we can stroll in the promenade and watch it."
"Oh." She whispered a little disappointedly, having believed him to have been much more romantic than simply wanting to take her there for entertainment.
They walked onto the promenade, which was lit by torches lining the walks. They passed finely dressed members of court and other people who strolled along arm in arm. After some time the path took them onto a foot bridge and Darcy stopped to look below into the water. It was quiet, except for an occasional passer by, and those who came by were no more interested in the Darcys, than the Darcys were in them. Darcy looked up into the sky holding Elizabeth by the hand and she looked up as well. A rather unique smile came over his face. It was a reflective smile, as one might look when they have a secret. Not seeing too much of interest in the sky however, he turned his attention towards her beautiful face which was illuminated by the flame from a nearby torch.
"This is a grand place for lovers. Is it not?" he whispered as he leaned down to kiss her lips. She parted from his kiss and went to speak, however he put his hand up to her mouth and shook his head slightly. He slowly leaned over and kissed her again, this time his hands caressing her lovely face.
"I confess...I have been here more than a time or two." He spoke low.
Her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed a bit, at his revelation.
"After I left Kent last spring, I stayed here in London for some time. You know the particulars well enough. However, what you do not know is that I would come here at night during that time. I would walk around and try to clear my thoughts, especially those of you, since I believed I would never be fortunate enough to meet with you again."
Darcy stopped to consider his words, and Elizabeth continued to wait in silence.
"I was always alone when I came here...but I always left with visions of you. As hard as I tried I could not forget you. Perhaps it was not the very best of ideas to come to a place where there were so many people in love, but I was not a very rational man at the time." He smiled but Elizabeth thought she saw a sadness in his eyes.
"Each time I departed here, I would fancy that someday...if it were my good fortune...I would bring you here just to kiss you on this bridge."
She was transfixed on his face and the emotion it conveyed. They stood staring at each other in silence for some time, until he wrapped his arms around her, embracing her.
"Oh Elizabeth," he whispered. "Do you know how much I love you?"
She closed her eyes as he held her. Never had her heart been so full, and never had she been as happy as she was at that moment in his arms, in the heart of London.
A loud noise came from above and Elizabeth startled and looked up to see of all things, fireworks. She was puzzled, but delighted. He smiled and said, "The King and Queen know how to celebrate."
They watched the spectacle leaning against the foot bridge, holding each other tight. When it was over, Darcy kissed Elizabeth again. He took her hand, walking her back to the South Park. They walked along in silence, for there really wasn't much more to say, and then entered their carriage. Darcy smiled and cuddled his wife, then he realized one more thing. He let go of her and reached under the seat, pulling out a package.
"I almost forgot." He said grinning as he handed her the package. "Your gift."
She took it from him and opened it. It was dark in the carriage and she could barely see. Darcy knocked on the ceiling of the carriage and they stopped and a coachman poked his head in. Darcy took his lantern and told him to go on. Elizabeth opened the box and reached inside pulling out a finely painted porcelain box. She lifted the lid and music filled the coach.
"How did you know?" she asked in wonder, then she realized. "Jane!"
He laughed and said, "We had a fine conversation one morning at breakfast. There is one advantage to the amount of time it takes you to get ready in the morning."
"I have always wanted one." She said as she ran her hand over the smooth glaze. "What a beautiful music box."
"Then you like it?" he asked.
She gently placed it back in the box, then threw her arms around his neck. "I cannot find the words to tell you what a fine day I have had. Fitzwilliam Darcy...you spoil me."
He managed to squawk out, "Yes, I do," as she planted a kiss on his lips.
When they arrived at the town house they were faithfully greeted by Mr. Greeley. However, the aged butler was becoming used to receiving very little response from his master and mistress. For it appeared that they were always too preoccupied with each other to notice him, and he in turn, learned never to inquire as to what time they would be wanting their breakfast.
That night, Elizabeth lay onto the feather pillow and ran her fingers through her hair. She took the end of a lock and twisted it around her finger, all the while smiling to herself and thinking, what a glorious day it had been! She looked over at her husband, who was sound asleep. He looked so peaceful, with a hint of a smile on his face. She sighed contentedly and leaned over to kiss him on the forehead. She whispered, "Shall I tell you how I pined for you, Mr. Darcy?" She smiled again and said, "Well...perhaps one day."
He stirred, moving his arm over to her and drew her to him, as his smile broadened.
The Darcys left London for Pemberley a fortnight later. Elizabeth went to enter the coach, but stopped and turned to Mr. Greeley.
"I shall miss you Mr. Greeley. You will take care of yourself?"
"Yes, madam." He said.
As she entered the carriage she thought she heard him say, "I shall miss you." However, she never was really sure.
A year later, one day in May, Elizabeth walked into the study at Pemberley. The Darcys had not gone to London that season, for Elizabeth was about to have their first child. She found her husband sitting behind his desk with a letter in his hand. As she walked closer to him she could see a tear in his eye. She wrapped her arms around him and gently took the letter from his hand. It was a post from London, informing them that Mr. Greeley had passed away three nights earlier.
Darcy insisted that Mr. Greeley be buried in the Darcy tomb on the Pemberley grounds. Mr. Greeley had no family, so there was no one to object.
Years later, Darcy had taken his children out for a walk and it just so happened that they passed the Palladian structure where all the Darcy ancestors rested in peace. The children were curious and ran down to look at the carvings on the front of the structure. They looked at the names of Darcy after Darcy, then came to one they did not recognize from the stories that their father had told them of their relations.
"Papa? Who was Mr. Greeley?" his daughter inquired.
Darcy looked at the name inscribed on the tomb. "He was one of the very best..." he stopped and smiled, "...friends, the Darcy family ever had."
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