The tea shop in London was placed on the market for sale. The family began packing their meager belongings, and the supplies they had for the shop. Most of the items were sent by wagon to Lambton, to be placed in the shop there, and in the small house attached to the shop. The family would be moving in a matter of days. Darcy and Georgiana had been at Pemberley for nearly a fortnight, and they had accomplished much in preparation of the arrival of the Bennet and Gardiner families.
Lord Matlock assisted in the sale of Gardiner’s Tea Emporium, speaking with the solicitors on behalf of Mrs Gardiner and her family. Lady Matlock had taken Elizabeth to purchase gowns, and a wig she could wear until her hair grew out. This made Elizabeth feel a bit more confident in her appearance, and allowed her to begin acting as the young lady she was.
Richard had leave from his duties, so he had already left for Pemberley. He planned to assist in the preparations for the shop and the living quarters for Mrs Gardiner, her children, and her nieces. His parents planned to visit Pemberley after spending another week in Town.
This would allow the families to be together for Christmas, with the Matlocks arriving three days before the holiday. With the move, Mrs Gardiner was concerned for her children, as she wished to make this Christmas a good one for them. Losing the life they all knew the year before, especially with no extra funds to purchase even a bit of holiday sweets for the children, let alone a gift, Mrs Gardiner and her nieces wished to make their holiday a generous one. Kitty and Mrs Gardiner had been sewing clothes for the Gardiner children, while Elizabeth had purchased a few items for each child. Jane had also made a few items for her cousins, dolls for the girls, and she purchased a wooden horse for Edward.
Elizabeth’s gifts for the children included books for each, pencils, crayons, paper, and a box of assorted sweets from the confectionery shop in Town. She had also shopped with Jane to purchase coats, hats, mittens, and mufflers for each of the children. New boots were in order for the children, and the adults as well. Moving to the north in wintertime was going to be far colder than any winter the Bennets or the younger Gardiners had ever known. So there was need for warmer clothing.
The Bennets and Gardiners were invited to the main house of Pemberley for Christmas. Rather than invite them for a particular meal or time, Darcy and Georgiana informed their guests they were to join the Darcys by four in the afternoon on Christmas Day, and would be guests at Pemberley until after Boxing Day.
At first, Mrs Gardiner felt the invitation was far grander than it should have been. Only after speaking with Lady Matlock, did the widow accept the invitation for her family.
The children were to stay in the nursery of Pemberley. It had been many years since there were children in the halls of the great estate, and Darcy was thrilled to have the sound of their voices in play. The staff at the grand house was prepared for the children, having ensured the nursery was aired and thoroughly cleaned, and all of the toys from Darcy and Georgiana’s youth prepared to be in the hands of children once again.
Elizabeth was in awe of the rooms she was assigned to use during the stay. Between the bedchamber, the dressing room and a small sitting room attached to the bedchamber, Elizabeth estimated there was more room than the living quarters above the tea shop her family had shared in Town.
She knew that Darcy was wishing to impress upon her his acceptance of her and her family. Elizabeth remembered her surprise when they arrived in Lambton, and entered their new home and shop. Darcy had gone out of his way to ensure the new shop and living quarters were ready prior to the family arriving in Lambton. There had been hothouse flowers in vases on the counter in the shop, and on the mantle piece of the fireplace in the main living quarters’ parlor. Elizabeth and Kitty would utilize the bedchambers above the new shop, leaving the living quarters behind the shop to Mrs Gardiner and her children.
Darcy had even gone so far as to hire a maid to help with household chores, and assist in tending the children when necessary. The young lady who had been hired was the niece of Mrs Reynolds, the Pemberley housekeeper, and was named Beatrice. She informed Mrs Gardiner immediately that they were all welcomed to call her Bea, as she was only called Beatrice when she was in trouble with her mother.
Christmas Eve was celebrated with a grand meal in the family dining room. Darcy was thrilled to have Elizabeth seated to his right, as he had done when they dined at Darcy House. Georgiana had acted as hostess for her brother, and planned to have Elizabeth seated next to Darcy at all meals.
After the dinner was enjoyed, the ladies removed to the music room, while the men enjoyed their cigars and brandy.
When the men made their way towards the music room, Darcy was stopped in his tracks at the sound of the pianoforte being played. He was certain that the person playing it was not his dear sister, but it was not until he heard the voice begin to sing that he realized he had never heard Elizabeth’s voice sound so heavenly. Not wishing to interrupt her, the men remained at the door of the music room, listening to the beautiful voice, singing a Christmas carol.
As she finished her song, Elizabeth was surprised to hear the men clapping as they entered the music room. Darcy walked to the pianoforte, offering his hand to the young lady who had become so dear to him.
“Miss Elizabeth, you have a delightful voice. It was a pleasure to hear such enchantment in Pemberley.”
“Sir, your sister is far superior when it comes to musical talents.” Elizabeth blushed.
“In playing, Georgiana has had the bonus of having masters, where you did not. But it was the spirit you portray in each word you sang, which had me hypnotized. You have the voice of an angel.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Though I do not believe your words, for I believe you are prejudiced in your view, I do thank you for your kind words. Now that you men have arrived, let us enjoy some real musical delights, as Miss Darcy has agreed to perform.”
Shocked, Darcy turned his head and looked at his sister. “My dear sister, can this be true? You have agreed to perform for our guests?”
Shyly, Georgiana nodded her head. “Miss Elizabeth and I made a wager when we were still in London. She won the wager, so I am playing before a room filled with people.”
Darcy laughed. “Dare I ask what the wager was?”
Georgiana smiled. “Why of course. I bet that you would be proposing to Miss Elizabeth the day they arrived in Lambton.”
It was Darcy’s turn to redden from embarrassment. What his sister did not know was how many times Darcy had wished to propose to Elizabeth. He had stopped himself, as he wished to give her time to know him better. Time to become comfortable with the life that he wished to share with her. And most importantly, time to feel like a young lady once more. Darcy was certain that he would soon be proposing to the young lady who stole his heart, but he did not wish to rush her.
Jane Bennet took the seat on the bench beside Georgiana, prepared to turn the pages for her charge. This allowed Elizabeth to sit on the sofa, next to Darcy, where they could converse easily.
“In the morning, I thought we should attend church service, after we break our fast.” Darcy explained his plans. “Then afterwards, we can return here, and exchange gifts. In the afternoon, we could take the curricles out for a turn about the grounds. If it had snowed, we could have used the sleighs, but, alas, the weather cooperated for your moving to Lambton, not sharing snow for Christmas.”
Elizabeth giggled lightly. “Yes, Mother Nature has been wonderfully kind to allow us to move without the weather interfering. I am certain that there will be plenty of times in the future to take sleigh rides at Pemberley.”
Her words brought joy to Darcy, as it spoke of the future, a future shared between them. Taking hold of her hand, Darcy used his thumb to gently caress the back of Elizabeth’s hand. “We will take as many sleigh rides as you wish, when we have snow on the ground. Until then, we will have the curricles.”
“I look forward to spending the time getting to know Pemberley better. There is nowhere I have ever seen that is so naturally situated than is Pemberley. Why, the house appears to blend with nature, as if it has always been here.” Elizabeth smiled. “When the weather is pleasant, it will be difficult to keep me from exploring every bit of the grounds.”
“And I look forward to taking you to some of my favorite places. There is a lovely spot near the lake, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic. And there is another spot, on the hill, that overlooks the entire valley. There are paintings done from that location. I have one of the paintings hanging in my study in Darcy House.”
“It will be my greatest pleasure to visit those places with you. And thank you, Mr Darcy.”
Darcy looked at her confused as to why she was thanking him. “There is no need to thank me for showing you my home.”
“The thanks was for all that you have done for me. Even when you thought I was a man, your kindness and caring showed in all that you did.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Though it was late at night, and his guests were sleeping, Darcy found sleep evading him. It could have been for many reasons, though he knew, most likely, it was due to Elizabeth Bennet sleeping just down the hall from his own bedchamber. The anticipation of having his guests arrive had afforded him little rest for over a week, as his dreams shared with him the life he desired with Elizabeth at his side. The joy that his dreams brought him was immeasurable, though the dreams also left him frustrated, especially when he dreamed of Elizabeth fulfilling her wifely duties. He prayed that she would not find the task to be too arduous.
So, as the rest of the house slumbered, Darcy was in the game room, playing billiards by himself. He was half way through a solitary game when the door opened, and his cousin entered the room.
“Ah, William, I thought I might find you here,” Richard said. He walked over to the wall where the pool cues were kept, choosing one for himself. “Care to have me join you in a game?”
“By all means.” Darcy declared, forgetting the game he was playing to recover the balls and set up for a new game.
Richard broke the set. “So, you are enjoying having your lady love staying in your home.” It was not a question, but a declaration.
Darcy nodded. “Far more than I should. It has been bloody difficult to not sweep her into my arms and take her to my rooms. How can something feel so right and so wrong at the same time?”
“The rules of propriety that control our lives can be cruel,” Richard chuckled. “So, what is this rumor that I heard about you kissing her when she was dressed as a young man?”
This caused Darcy to lose control, missing his next shot. “What did you hear?”
“I heard that Miss Elizabeth, or should I say, Master Elijah, had been injured during a robbery attempt. While checking the wound, you decided the treatment she required was to be thoroughly kissed, in the tea shop, where you could have been seen.”
“Unfortunately, that is the truth. I am grateful that no one saw us, and I must correct you, in that I was certain that Elizabeth was a young lady, and was only pretending to be a young man.”
“How did it feel to think you had fallen in love with a young man?” Richard inquired, throwing Darcy’s aim off once again.
“I…I…never fully believed that Elijah was a man. Something about him, I mean her, made me feel that she was a young lady.”
“What if you had turned out to be wrong? What if she was truly Elijah Bennet, a young man?”
Darcy shook his head. “I am grateful I will never have to answer that question. And I will be extremely grateful on the day she agrees to be my wife.”
“I am grateful you have found your match, William. From everything I have seen and heard about her, she is perfect for you.” Richard clapped his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Now, let us finish this game and find some sleep. Tomorrow will be an exciting day, and you would not care to miss the festivities.”
~~ ** ~~
With the breakfast partaken of quickly, everyone assembled with their outer wear prepared to attend Christmas service at the church in Kympton. The living of the parson at Kympton was a highly valued one, and at one point, Darcy’s father had intended to give the living to George Wickham. Fortunately, after Gerard Darcy died, his son was all too aware that his childhood friend was unsuited for such a position. Wickham had accepted financial compensation, stating he preferred to study law rather than becoming a clergyman.
The parson for Kympton was Mr Rawlings, a young man who was only a few years Darcy’s senior. The two men had had many debates in the years that Mr Rawlings was at Kympton, with the men always finding pleasure in the discussions.
After church services, the family and friends returned to Pemberley’s main house, where they gathered in the drawing room for the gift giving. It had been agreed upon by the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families that the Gardiner children should have a Christmas they would never forget. And so it was.
Mrs Gardiner wiped tears of appreciation from her cheeks, as she watched her children open gift after gift. They were given clothing, toys, books, and confectionery delights. And Darcy had opened a bank account in each of the children’s names, placing a shilling in each account.
“When I was a boy, my father opened an account for me at the bank. It was my choice to save my funds or spend them. It was my desire to have my very own horse. Not one owned by my father or the estate, one that was truly all mine. I purchased Apollo when I had saved enough. Now that he is older, I do not ride him as much, but he has fathered several of Pemberley’s finest horses.”
Edward Gardiner looked at the small booklet that he had been handed. “Mother said that if we did our chores, we would receive an allowance. My sisters stated they wished to purchase silly things, like ribbons and dolls. But I think you were wise, Mr Darcy. I would like to one day purchase my own horse.”
A smile crept on to Mrs Gardiner’s lips. It pleased her to see her children being shown the kindness and care she had been unable to give them during the year. The year she wished had never happened. And even though she was pleased, pain was always near the surface, as she thought of her husband and younger son. She missed them terribly, and knew that they would have been excited to be part of the celebration. Mr Gardiner had always enjoyed Christmas, claiming it brought out all the magic in the world.
This was her first Christmas without her husband; the first without her younger son. Those were the milestones that were difficult to comprehend. A year had come and gone, even though her loved ones were not there with her.
Lady Matlock came to take the seat beside Mrs Gardiner. “You have endured more in a year than most people know in a lifetime. I admire your courage and strength.”
Mrs Gardiner was shocked by the lady’s words. “All will be well. I am still recovering from the move, that is all.”
“My mother lost two children to an epidemic, Mrs Gardiner. I will never forget her words to me. She said that no mother should ever face the terrible loss of having a child die before her. It is the parents who should die before the child, especially a young child. I wish there was a way to take the pain away. All I can do is offer you words of comfort, and to tell you that I am always willing to be a confidant, if you require one.”
“Your ladyship, your kindness is overwhelming. I am grateful for all you and your family have done for us. My children have endured this past year, and to see them so happy, and provided for, is more than I could have expected. Before Lizzy cut her hair and pretended to be Elijah, I thought for sure we would end up destitute and begging on the street. My family could have ended up in debtor’s prison if we had been unable to pay our bills. And now look at our lives. All due to your kindness. If you had not visited our shop, and encouraged your nephew to do so as well, I do not know where we would be at this moment, though I am certain it would be somewhere less grand than here.”
“So you approve of Pemberley?” Lady Matlock inquired.
“Who could not approve of this estate? It is the grandest estate I have ever visited. What I find the most impressive is that the Darcy family has taste and refinement, yet have not turned to many of the furnishings I have seen in Town. Some of the chairs I have seen in the shops are elegant, yet highly uncomfortable on which to sit. The furnishings here are quality, yet comfortable.”
“My brother-in-law always stated that he preferred to have comfort over opulence. His favorite line was ‘What good is all the money in the world if you are unable to sit down in comfort.’ It was one of his excuses for not visiting my husband’s other sister, Lady Catherine. Her home is filled with useless furnishings that should have been thrown on the rubbish pile or burned for kindling.”
This sparked a round of laughter from the pair. To those who witnessed the two ladies, it was clear to see that they would have a long friendship ahead of them.
Just then, a delighted squeal of approval was heard from Martha and Edward Gardiner.
Edward came running to his mother, holding out his prize, with Martha following close behind him.
“Mother, look, look. Lizzy gave us books. They are our own, Lizzy said we may keep them. She says that mine is filled with stories, and that her father read to her and her sisters from the same book. Lizzy says it was one of her favorite books when she was my age.”
“And she said this one was another of her favorites.” Martha added. “Julia has a picture book, as she is too young to have words in her book.”
“So you feel you received treasures today?” Mrs. Gardiner asked sheepishly.
The sparkle in each of her children’s eyes spoke of their delight. Edward clasped his book to his chest. “This has been the best Christmas ever. Everyone has been so kind. Did you see the clothes I was given? I will look like a proper young man.”
“I will be a proper young lady, in the gowns I received. They will make me as elegant as Miss Darcy.” Martha danced about slightly.
“I believe it would be wise if you showed your gratitude. Perhaps you could go around the room and tell each person that you appreciate their gifts.”
Edward and Martha nodded their heads and, hand in hand, made their rounds to thank everyone. The maids who had been made temporary nursemaids to the Gardiner children took charge of the young ones and led them back to the nursery, leaving the adults to prepare for church.
“Mrs Gardiner, your children are delightful. They have added so much to our holiday.” Georgiana declared. “Hearing children’s voices as they are excited makes the day seem so much happier.”
“I must agree with my sister.” Darcy stated. “It has been far too long since we have had children in the house. Why, I even caught Mrs Reynolds gazing into the nursery, watching the children. When she turned and saw me, she declared it the most perfect Christmas in years.”
Mrs Gardiner accepted the compliments on behalf of her children, pleased that they were behaving so well. They had been her blessing, the reason to continue rising each day. And each day, she was growing stronger.
“Aunt Gardiner would not tell you, but she is thrilled to have returned to Lambton. Since our uncle’s death, raising the children in Town has been a necessity. Now they will have a better life, in the country, with better air and being able to play outdoors.” Kitty said. “The children are wonderful, and when we were living in Town, they truly behaved far better than could be expected. Now, they will be able to behave like children.”
“Mrs Gardiner, your children are always welcome at Pemberley.” Darcy smiled. “As are all of you ladies. The doors of Pemberley are always open to you.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~