Love lost and found…a Pemberley maze of misunderstanding and mischief.
A host of Jane Austen characters from Pride and Prejudice return in this sparkling romantic comedy.
Mr Darcy’s cousin, Lady Sarah Fitzwilliam, is not a peaceful person. Lively and headstrong, she’s a thorn in the flesh of her stepmother, who intends to see her safely married and out of trouble–ideally to the eligible Lord Winterbourne.
Mr Darcy, returning to Pemberley from his travels, is looking forward to a tranquil weekend at home with Elizabeth and her sister Jane, and some pleasant shooting with Charles Bingley. But when Lady Sarah turns up on his doorstep to hide from Lord Winterbourne, his plans are disrupted and Pemberley soon fills up with a host of visitors, both welcome–Captain Octavius Hyde, a gallant naval officer–and unwelcome–imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the tiresome Mr Collins.
Lost in a labyrinth of her own making, and with Lady Catherine doing her best to force her into marriage, can Lady Sarah meet her match, help Lord Winterbourne to his happiness–and rid Pemberley of its unwanted guests?
Elizabeth and Darcy return to Pemberley hoping for a quiet weekend only to find they have a visitor – Lady Sarah Fitzwilliam – Darcy’s cousin. She is escaping from measles amongst her younger half brothers and sisters and also from a proposal of marriage which she isn’t sure she wants to accept. While Darcy and Elizabeth are not too disturbed at Sarah’s arrival they are somewhat put out when Sarah’s suitor also turns up. It seems the peace of Pemberley is doomed to be shattered as more and more welcome and unwelcome visitors arrive.
This is a light hearted short story/novella very much in the tradition of the rest of this author’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ spin offs. It is an enjoyable and amusing read with some laugh out loud moments too. It kept me entertained and amused for a couple of hours as it is well written and the Austen characters who make an appearance are true to their originals.
Recommended to anyone who likes well written Austen sequels as well as those who enjoy amusing and light hearted historical fiction.
MR DARCY’S HOUSE PARTY
“Great characters, great comic moments, great romance.”
As the carriage turned through the gates into the long drive that led up to the house, Mr. Darcy said, “I am glad to be back at Pemberley. I look forward to a period of peace and tranquillity after our time in London.”
They were on the sweep, the coachman was drawing in his reins–but what was that? Another carriage? A post-chaise with steaming horses was being taken away round the side towards the stables.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy looked at one another in surprise. Who had arrived at Pemberley? This was no afternoon call by some misguided neighbour; that post-chaise spoke of a long journey.
A footman hurried forward to let down the steps of their carriage and Darcy handed his wife out of the carriage, remarking, “You are quite sure you have not invited anyone to stay?”
“The Bingleys are coming for the shooting, as you know, since you arranged it with Charles, but they do not come until Thursday,” Elizabeth said. “Besides, that is not their carriage.”
Instead of the usual neat line of servants waiting to greet their master and mistress, there was a hubbub in the spacious entrance hall. True, the steward and the butler were there, and the housekeeper, all of them looking slightly disconcerted. But there was another person standing in the centre, a tall young woman in a travelling cloak who had taken off her hat and was tucking her hair into place, saying in a decided and familiar voice, “My cousins are not yet back? And I am not expected? Well, I do not know why that is, for I sent an express from London.”
She turned and saw Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Smiling, she came over to greet them. “Cousin Darcy, and Cousin Elizabeth, how pleased I am to see you.”
“Sarah,” said Elizabeth, as she kissed the proffered cheek. “Whatever are you doing here? It must always be delightful to see you, but I had no idea you intended to pay us a visit.”
“Nor had I,” said Mr.. Darcy. “While I am pleased to see you, cousin, as always, your presence here fills me with a sense of foreboding. I trust there is nothing amiss in your family?”
Lady Sarah Fitzwilliam was the eldest daughter of Mr. Darcy’s uncle, who was the present earl and head of the family. She was a young lady of one-and-twenty, and a particular favourite of Elizabeth’s. Mr. Darcy liked her too, but he knew and was wary of her lively ways and independent spirit, both of which her father held to be the reason his daughter was not yet married.
Sarah said cheerfully, “Nothing seriously amiss. I am come here on account of the measles.”
Elizabeth stepped back. “Measles? Have you measles in your household? Then I wish you had not come, for though I suppose the children are bound to get it in due course I would much rather they did not have it just now.”
“Well, no, there is not the least danger of that. I had the measles myself when I was small. But both my half-sisters have gone down with it, and so mama was very concerned to keep me away from the nurseries and out of the house. She feels it would be inopportune were I to go down with the measles at this time.”
Mr. Darcy said, “I believe it is rare for persons to have it twice.” As he spoke, he was handing his many-caped coat to the butler and peeling off his gloves. Elizabeth’s maid was attending to her and, once she had shed her hat and pelisse, she said, “I do not know why we are standing around here in the hall.” She addressed the housekeeper. “Mrs. Richards, you will see to it that her usual bedchamber is prepared for Lady Sarah and her boxes are taken up.”
The Darcys and Sarah went up the stairs and into the drawing room, where Sarah flung herself down on to a sofa, and said, laughing, “I’m afraid I have not been entirely truthful. In fact I lied, for I told mama that I never had the measles.”
Mr. Darcy, who had positioned himself in front of the fireplace, regarded her with a quizzical smile. “And why did you feel obliged to perjure yourself, Sarah?”
“Oh, because I so wanted to get away. My brothers are out of London and I could not think of anywhere else to go. You know Mama disapproves of so many of my friends and relatives and it is quite the custom when anyone is in disgrace or ill for them to be sent here to Pemberley. And I am afraid I am in disgrace, as well as supposedly being in danger of catching the measles. I was not sent, exactly, but it comes to the same thing.”
Elizabeth said, “What have you been up to now? When we were in London, your brother told us that you were shortly to become engaged, and indeed, the news was all over town.”
Sarah was no longer laughing, and she said with a sigh, “Yes, Mama made quite sure that such a rumour was spread around town, but it is not entirely true. It seems that William Winterbourne, who as you know has recently come into title, estate and fortune, intends to make me an offer. He has been serving abroad in the army, but his new responsibilities oblige him to sell out. So he is back in England, and apparently in want of a wife. Mama urges his suit, and tells me my father will be mighty angry with me if he returns to hear I have refused such an excellent offer. I find the whole situation rather difficult, and so I decamped as fast as I could. You do not mind, do you, Cousin Darcy? I will be no trouble. I will just employ myself quietly in such domestic duties as Cousin Elizabeth feels inclined to lay upon me and you need not be disturbed at all.”
Mr. Darcy appreciated Sarah’s smiles and good humour, but, as he informed her, he also had a good idea that things were rarely tranquil when she was there.
Elizabeth had noticed the dark shadows under Sarah’s eyes. Despite her laughter and light-hearted remarks, it was obvious that she was not quite at ease with herself. So she said, “I am delighted that you are here, and although it is very shocking that you should deceive your Mama, I know just why you did so. My sister Jane will be here tomorrow, and the three of us may be very comfortable together. She has not been in town a good while, and will be glad to hear from both of us all the news of town and about the latest fashions.”
The mama of whom Sarah spoke was not her mother, but her stepmother. Her mother had died some years before and her father, after a decent period of mourning, had married again, taking a rather younger woman as his second wife. She was not unkind to Sarah, but had no understanding of her and no affection beyond what she felt was her duty. Now that her own two daughters were grown to an age where they might be brought out, she was anxious for Sarah, an accredited beauty, to find herself a husband and quit her father’s house to make her home elsewhere.
In her opinion, it was unreasonable for Sarah to be still on the shelf, as she put it, and more than once had marvelled to her husband about his daughter’s single state. “It is astonishing that she is not yet married. With her breeding, her fortune and her beauty you would have thought that she would have accepted one or other of the eligible men who would have been very glad to offer for her, and indeed did so. But no; none of them would do for her. She is too nice, or perhaps too wilful. And you, my lord, have been too indulgent a father.”
Her father sensibly made no response to this familiar lament. He knew how difficult it had been for his daughter to lose her mother and Sarah reminded him of his first wife of whom he had been truly fond, although he had the wit never to say so to his second wife. “She will marry in her own good time, let her look about and find a man to suit her. She will not be happy with just any husband.”
But his lordship was presently in Sweden on a diplomatic mission, and Sarah’s stepmother ruled the roost while he was away. Her intention was simple if ill-natured: to make life in the family home so unpleasant for Sarah that she would gladly accept matrimony as a happier alternative. Lord Winterbourne had declared his interest and Sarah’s father had said, before he left, that he fancied Winterbourne might be the very man to make Sarah happy, and so her stepmother felt she was doing no more than her duty in forcing the issue.
The Darcys and Sarah dined quietly and well together in the smaller of the two dining rooms, and then after dinner Mr. Darcy went to his study.
“Has he gone to read?” Sarah asked Elizabeth. “Are we such dull company?”
“No, he merely intends to deal with all the papers and matters that his steward will have left for him regarding the estate and affairs at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy will not want to be engaged on business when the Bingleys are here; he will want to take out a gun, not to be sitting at his desk. We shall go and sit in the red salon, where we may be comfortable and you can tell me why you do not welcome Lord Winterbourne’s suit. I know him slightly, he seems a most agreeable man. But of course, one does not marry a man because he is agreeable.”
Sarah sat back on a sofa, her feet tucked up beneath her in a way that would have had her mama shrieking with horror, and said, “Lord Winterbourne is naturally domestic, of an excellent character and perfectly good-tempered. No woman could want for a better husband, but I think such a man deserves a better wife than I would ever be to him. However, I have known him most of my life and I am sincerely attached to him, and so in the end I think, Why not? I must marry, I suppose, in due course, and with my sisters–” she ended with a sigh.
She didn’t need to complete the sentence, for Elizabeth was well aware of the difficulties between her and her stepmother.
She went on. “Papa will be back soon, and I know that it will be much easier for him to take Mama’s part in this matter. He wants to see me married well, and he, like everyone else, considers his lordship a most eligible suitor now that he has come into the title and fortune. Given that I have no great objections to Lord Winterbourne, I feel I should accept him, although–”
“Although?” Elizabeth said.
“Although I am not entirely sure I want to accept him.” Another sigh. “How much I envy you, Lizzy. In my cousin Darcy you found a man who suits you in every way, and when I come to Pemberley it is so pleasant and comfortable and exactly the kind of home a woman might wish for. It is just such a home as Winterbourne can offer me. Your life is an altogether pleasant one and I ask myself, why should my life not be like that? Lord Winterbourne is a man of character and position, and now he has come into a great estate I would have all the material things a woman could wish for, and yet–” She looked pensively into the flames before continuing, “And yet I do not love him. I have a great affection for him, I admire and respect him, and I love him as a dear friend, but I don’t love him as one should love a husband.”
“That is a problem indeed. Is there no other man, perhaps without such a position or fortune, whom you do feel you could love in that way?”
Sarah looked up and smiled, laughing herself out of her gloomy mood. “You are tactfully asking if I am fallen in love with some half-pay officer or anything like that. No, I am not in love with any of the men who would be willing to offer for me, and there are quite a number of those, I do assure you. I do not say so out of any vanity or pride or false esteem of myself, but any young woman in my situation is always going to have men who want to marry her for one reason or another.”
“I know of at least two men whose affection for you has been sincere, indeed passionate. You are capable of arousing very strong feelings in the opposite sex. Has no man ever touched your heart?”
Sarah shook her head. “Had you met any other man that you felt you might marry, before you became engaged to Mr. Darcy?”
Elizabeth replied, “Oh, I met men that I was happy to flirt with, but no, my heart was not deeply touched until I fell in love with Mr. Darcy. We cannot all perhaps be so fortunate, and yet I do feel that somewhere there must be a man who would suit you in every way. Is it really so, have you never been in love?”
Sarah shook her head.
The children were brought down from the nurseries and Sarah played blind man’s buff with them. The game ended up with them so thoroughly over-excited that Elizabeth had to put a stop to their antics and summon their nurse. This nurse had been with the family for many years and had been nursemaid to Mr. Darcy’s younger sister; she felt well able to speak her mind, and did so. “High time Lady Sarah was married with children of her own. She should know better than to get them so hot and bothered.”
“It is only her sense of fun, and the children did enjoy the romp,” Elizabeth said.
That earned no more than a sniff in reply, and the tired and dishevelled children were led away to the quieter realms and discipline of the nursery. Tea was brought; Mr. Darcy joined them once more; the evening came to an end.
Sarah took her candle and went upstairs to her bedchamber, where her maid, Tindall, was waiting for her. Half an hour later, Sarah was in bed. At the door, Tindall held up the gown she had just taken off. “Look at this greasy spot, my lady, whatever is it?”
“Soup,” said Sarah, inspecting it with a sleepy eye. “I was laughing so much at some witty remark my cousin made that I dropped my spoon and it splashed.”
“You ought to be more careful. Now, don’t go reading in bed and hurting your eyes, you need a good night’s sleep by the look of you.”
Tindall had been her mother’s maid and, Sarah reflected as she lay back in the familiar, comfortable four poster bed, she would probably forever treat her though she were still ten years old. She said, “Leave the bed curtains drawn back, there is no need to shut out the night here in the country.”
She yawned, blew her candle out and lay for a moment, listening to the sounds of the countryside that came in even with the shutters closed. A breeze rustling through the trees, an owl hooting, a sheep baaing. She had a great sense of relief at being here and no longer in London. She had escaped from the oppression of family life, escaped from her stepmother’s sharp tongue and the mixture of threats and cajoling constant good sense, endlessly reminding her that she must be aware of her duty, must be aware of the fate that lay ahead for young women who turned down suitable matches.
Here at Pemberley she felt safe, as she always had done. She could expect no recriminations or harsh judgements from her cousin Darcy, nor from Elizabeth. Here was tranquillity, here no eyes watching her, no rumours came snaking in via the eager tongues of London society. Just the pleasant companionship of people she knew and liked, and who knew and liked her for what she was, not what she ought to be.
There would be nothing to disturb her spirits. She could get back into her skin and feel at ease once more. She need not think about Lord Winterbourne, nor about the decision that must be made. In the end, no doubt, she told herself with another yawn, she would probably marry Lord Winterbourne, and she supposed they would be as happy as many other couples. He was a kind and estimable man; it would be his concern and his duty to make his wife happy.
People did marry when they were not in love. Perhaps they fell in love later, or perhaps those who did marry in love then repented as passion dwindled into indifference. Marriage was such a strange state. Certainly she had an example of true matrimonial happiness here in front of her at Pemberley. How often did marriages turn out so well, though? Was the Darcys’ union not the exception rather than the rule?
Still a girl when Darcy and Elizabeth married, she had been well aware of the amazement at the inequality of the match. So many spiteful comments, so many prophecies of doom. Her aunt, Lady Catherine, had been beside herself with rage and fury that Mr. Darcy had rejected her daughter, Anne, and married a nobody. Elizabeth had brought no great name, no fortune, nothing except her own clever and delightful self, which Mr. Darcy felt was more than enough–as indeed it was.
She had a good idea of what the next days would bring. Tomorrow she would pass a day just as would best please her in her present mood: talking and walking with Elizabeth, enjoying conversation with Mr. Darcy when he emerged from his papers, playing with the children. The day after, the Bingleys would arrive. The gentleman would shoot, the ladies would spend those hours together. And when she grew restless, she would go for a vigorous walk in Pemberley’s extensive grounds–no need to have a maid or footman accompany her–or ride out on one of her cousin’s horses.
Her mind drifted to London and her life there. In due course her sisters would recover from the measles, and her father would come back from abroad. Her father might recall she had had the measles as a child. She must hope he wouldn’t say so to Mama. If he did, why, when she was back in London she would shrug and say, “Oh, did I indeed have the measles? I do not remember it.”
Sarah’s prediction of spending her time at Pemberley in tranquil chat interspersed with vigorous exercise seemed likely to be fulfilled. The morning passed in easy conversation and then she had a horse saddled and went out for a ride. In the afternoon, Mr. Darcy emerged from the estates office, announced he had had enough of poring over maps and leases and proposed a walk. The children, delighted to be with their father, frisked about him, their puppy barked and gambolled, hoops were rolled, laughter rang across the lake.
The little party was returning in this happy mood when their attention was caught by the sound of a carriage approaching along the drive.
“Oh, no,” cried Elizabeth. “Visitors, just when we were so comfortable. Goodness, who can it be in a curricle, with such fine horses?”