The Trouble with Mr. Darcy
Pride and Prejudice continues ...
By Sharon Lathan
Sourcebooks, Inc. Copyright © 2011 Sharon Lathan
All rights reserved.
An Excursion Abroad
In the weeks following Colonel Fitzwilliam's marriage to Lady Simone Fotherby, the reality of Elizabeth Darcy's second pregnancy was affirmed. The spring to fall months of 1819 unfolded in peace, exciting travel, and the anticipation of new life with no problems of magnitude occurring and no warning of the winter troubles to come.
One may presuppose that Darcy's giddiness over watching their second child grow within his wife's womb would be less ridiculous having experienced it once already.
They would be wrong.
The unparalleled ecstasy of fatherhood as he daily interacted with Alexander, who he loved with an emotion formidable in its power, augmented his delight in anticipating the appearance of their second-born.
Alexander was young but seemed to grasp in his immature intellect that a special event was taking place. He joined his father in patting and talking to his mother's expanding belly, reverently touched the amassing pile of tiny garments, and gradually assimilated that all of this strange activity meant a baby was soon to join their family.
Lizzy's symptoms of pregnancy never reached beyond the standard vague discomforts of the first trimester and were less severe than with Alexander's gestation, the comparison to how perfect she felt while carrying Michael notable.
Lizzy's vitality meant there was nothing to prevent Darcy from proceeding with his secret plans to travel abroad with his family. Lizzy gleaned a few hints and suspected he was plotting something extravagant for her birthday in May—after all, he had a reputation of overindulgence—but was flabbergasted when he dramatically unveiled the entire itinerary over a romantic dinner one night in March.
From that moment on, Lizzy and Georgiana were dizzy with excitement over the trip. Darcy's arrangements included shopping expeditions and modiste appointments for the trunks of new attire they would need. Neither woman argued over it, instead leaping into action with Lady Matlock alongside, since she and Lord Matlock were joining the journey.
Despite not being able to embark upon a gentleman's Grand Tour of Europe due to his father's precipitous death, Darcy had traveled throughout the countries across the English Sea numerous times so knew of the fundamental requirements and the various hazards. Organizing was second nature for him, and with the proper assistance and references from friends, he enjoyed the process, leaving nothing to chance. Lord and Lady Matlock seemed to have acquaintances in nearly every city in Europe who were agreeable to accommodating the travelers, and when that choice failed the finest hotels were reserved. Elizabeth was dumbstruck at the amount of pre-planning and assembling of equipment necessary for an expedition abroad. Darcy refused to divulge the cost, but she knew enough to conclude it must be staggering.
The company consisted of Darcy and Lizzy, George, Georgiana, Alexander, and Lord and Lady Matlock. Mrs. Hanford, Samuel and Marguerite, Mrs. Annesley, and Lord and Lady Matlock's personal servants accompanied as entourage. Darcy and Lord Matlock insisted on shipping their private carriages with them rather than trusting the ofttimes poorly manufactured rental coaches.
They departed England in April. Having their resident physician as part of the traveling troupe with his assurance that all was well with the expectant mother eased Darcy's lingering worry. The anxious father and husband did fret somewhat, as was natural, yet aside from an ever-increasing abdominal girth, Lizzy was vigorous throughout the whole escapade.
The weather held favorably for the Channel crossing from Dover to Calais. That was a major boon for the non-seafaring Darcy men in one respect as the calm waters did not jostle the ship, but not so fortunate in that the lack of wind extended the time of the crossing. George and Darcy kept to their bunks in various degrees of misery for the entire ten-hour voyage, but Alexander did not suffer as acutely as his father or uncle. Lizzy held him in her arms and stood at the railing. She loved the rolling waves and relished the spray and smell of seawater for every moment of the journey.
The port of Calais was another matter entirely. It was chaotic, dirty, fetid, and plain frightening in how ramshackle the docks, at least to her untrained eye. Darcy assured her it was perfectly stout and safe, but considering his frantic need to disembark and place his feet on solid ground, she was not trusting of his guarantee! There were no mishaps and the hours necessary to unload their equipage gave them time to recuperate within the warmth of a hospitable inn near the docks. Lizzy discovered her fascination and agreeableness returning as she observed the diverse humanity and unfamiliar activities from behind a glass window.
"What are they doing there? What is that contraption? Who are those men, do you think?" And on it went, the others patiently answering her inexhaustible queries while Lizzy jotted notes into the blank journal Darcy had gifted her for the journey. Georgiana's curiosity was as intense, but she maintained a semi-serene demeanor in sharp contrast to Lizzy's blatant enthrallment.
It took nearly four hours to unload, examine everything for damage, take care of the proper legalities, and hire the required help. Brokers lined the harbor with shingles hung above dingy doorways to offices squeezed between pubs. Recommendations gave the men a starting place rather than trusting to luck, and the third businessman approached possessed what the foreign travelers would need: an experienced coachman and former soldiers with impeccable records who knew the roads, and were brave and skilled with firearms.
The women had been prepared for the demand to hire trained escorts prior to leaving England, including the fact that each gentleman would carry loaded weapons with additional pistols secreted inside the carriages.
"Decades of war and terror and then Napoleon's defeat have left far too many people homeless and starving—thousands of ex-soldiers without employment and no skill other than how to kill. Some turn that to lucrative business, such as those we will hire to be our guards. Others turn to thievery and highway robbery." Lizzy shivered at Darcy's words, remembering their lethal encounter with bandits. "We will be cautious," he finished firmly, embracing her tightly.
Traveling in larger groups also tipped the odds in their favor, making it less likely that an attack would occur. As luck had it, two other families were on their ship and thrilled to join them for the journey to Paris, and two other companies were already ashore waiting for the next ship to dock in hopes of adding members to their caravan before departing. It was fortuitous for all involved.
Finally they regrouped, leaving Calais for a leisurely meander toward Paris. The careful plotting by the men succeeded, the days of travel passing pleasantly with halts for rest or interesting sights to explore.
Then Paris! Georgiana's feigned serenity disappeared as the vast city drew near, and upon crossing the first cobbled bridge spanning the Seine her giddiness equaled Lizzy's.
"Are we there, Brother? This is Paris?"
"The outskirts. Paris proper is yet a few miles and then we must cross a quarter of the city to reach Marais."
"How long shall it take? Will we pass the Bastille? Or the Luxembourg Palace? Or Notre Dame? Or ..."
"I shall stop you there, Sister! I have no idea whether we shall pass any of those places on our way to Hôtel d'Arlatan."
Both Lizzy and Georgiana stared at him in shock, Lizzy finding her tongue first. "Are you admitting to not knowing the precise route and layout of Paris?"
"Remember that I was last here several years ago when I traveled with Mr. Bingley. I am certain much has changed with Napoleon's restructuring plans and now Louis XVIII continuing the project, not that I tried memorizing routes then. I can tell you that the Place de la Bastille lays within the Marais arrondissement, but where it is in relation to Hôtel d'Arlatan I do not know. In fact, I trust Uncle Malcolm on this aspect of the journey as he knows the owners."
"So you are not fully versed on every detail of the townhouse we are to stay in, not even where is it?"
Darcy smiled at his wife's tease. "I know it is on the Rue Andre Dolet near the Parc du Rolens Croix, that the view is reportedly incredible, and the hôtel beautiful. Beyond that I am at the mercy of guides, thus why I shall not attempt to play navigator. That is why we hired Parisian coachmen in Calais."
"Ah, I did wonder about that," Lizzy nodded. "Quite wise. Well, I do pray they are recent residents if the streets are under construction."
"Paris, and actually all of France, has suffered decades of unrest. The evidence is visible still."
He was correct in the latter statement. Buildings in partial states of repair were common, as were piles of rubble and destroyed gardens. They kept to major thoroughfares so views of poorer neighborhoods were rare, but glimpses revealed areas of filth and decay not yet touched upon. But clearly the coachman leading the way knew his job, diverting frequently from blocked avenues or unsightly obstacles, weaving in a haphazard fashion along roads laid without a pattern remotely organized.
Most of the scenery was pristine and beautiful so the lengthy ride was enjoyed immensely. Darcy pointed to certain architectural oddities or vegetation not indigenous to England, but he was ignorant to a large degree. Paris was much like London in the ancientness to the city, meaning there was little cohesiveness to the styles. Modern Greek neoclassicism stood alongside medieval Gothic, the disparity bizarre but expected. Elaborate gardens were frequent, as were gated lawns and miniature woods. The deeper into the city they went, the grander the passing surroundings until finally they crested a residential avenue lined with palatial private homes and halted before the iron gate of number eighteen, the plush mansion owned by the Marquis Dissandes de la Villatte.
The elderly marquis, an acquaintance of Colonel Fitzwilliam from the war, greeted them with warmth and hospitality. As Darcy had promised, the townhouse was beautiful, with ornate, spacious guest quarters overlooking the courtyard gardens. Every top floor window afforded stunning views of the city streets, a nearby park, and glimpses of the Seine.
Their host and hostess were courteous in every way. The food was delicious, the servants exceptional, and the accommodations superb. Their three weeks in Paris passed in a blur of fêtes, operas, museums, and sightseeing. It was not enough time to adequately view all that Paris had to offer, but eventually they bid adieu to the Marquis and Marquise Dissandes de la Villatte to embark on the second leg of their journey.
"I completely filled my journal with memories of France." Lizzy patted the thick, leather-bound book in her lap, her eyes riveted on the disappearing Paris landscape.
"No worries," Darcy squeezed her hand, "I have another in my trunk. Two, actually, just in case."
"You think of everything, do you, Mr. Darcy?"
"I do try." He grinned smugly, leaning to kiss her nose.
"Well, I am sure I will recall something I missed to add in betwixt the future delights to jot down, so thank you for your foresight and thoughtfulness." She sighed, gazing again out the window. "I do wish we did not have to leave. Who knows when we shall be able to return, what with babies being born and all," she concluded, rubbing her slightly rounded midsection.
"I am sure William will manage to bring you again, Lizzy, along with your children." Georgiana tugged on Alexander's jacket tail, the seventeen-month-old perched on his Aunt Giana's lap with his face pressed against the window.
"Easy for you to be philosophic! You will return later this year to dwell for months, after trekking through exotic Italian locales. You must visit all the places we missed in Paris with details written and sketches drawn. I insist you do so to allay my raging jealousy."
"Have no fear, dear sister." Georgiana laughed. "William has purchased extra journals for me as well, and I have my paints stowed carefully for colored visual renderings. It will be as if you were there!"
"Now that peace reigns in Europe, travel is easily accomplished. I do promise to bring us back, Elizabeth. And I am sorry the trip must be truncated, but we must be home before our baby is born."
Lizzy leaned against his side, smiling into his serious face. "Silly man! You know I jest. Well, for the most part. Indeed I wish we could tarry longer, but what would that truly accomplish? There is not enough time to see the entire world so there would forever be more. I am blessed to see what I have as it is more than I ever imagined. I thank you for that, love."
"You are most welcome. It is my pleasure."
"And now we are on to another adventure! What do you think of that, Alexander?"
"Go. Bye," was his answer, adding an enthusiastic bounce.
"We shall see very high mountains in a few days, sweetling." Darcy pulled his son onto his lap, nuzzling the soft neck. "When you spy them you will be amazed! Your Great-Aunt Mary has a lovely chateau at the base of the Alps. We shall have enormous fun."
The Swiss estate owned by Baron Oeggl sat on the easternmost bank of Lake Genève in Switzerland near Villeneuve. Darcy had visited his Aunt Mary and her family twice in his adult life, but on both occasions he traveled to their home north of Vienna in Austria, never venturing close to the Alps. Of course, one could see the towering, perpetually snow-clad mountains from many portions of Austria and Switzerland, but the dramatic effect was lost with distance. Thus his eagerness was equally distributed between visiting family and touring the countryside.
George's thoughts on this portion of their trip were vastly different.
Cold weather was not a friend to the man who had dwelt in India for the greater part of his life. He had anticipated his robust Englishman's blood reasserting itself, thickening as it were, to tolerate the cooler climes of England. Certainly he had never been bothered by the chill when a youth and young man, and his transition to the heat and humidity of India had been fairly easy. Perhaps it is old age, he mused with chagrin. Naturally he was stubborn about it, continuing to don his preferred warm weather garments while dramatically whining about the freezing air until everyone assumed he was exaggerating. Therefore it was with surprise all around when Dr. Darcy launched into a spending frenzy in the weeks before departing England that was equally as involved as the females. He had numerous appointments with Darcy's tailor—something else to grumble about—with a dozen thick wool suits, three overcoats, hats, sturdy boots, and woolen stockings the result! All were of the finest cut and modern style, but sported something daring or dashing about them. He was still flamboyant George, after all, and thus enjoyed the taunts received.
The temperature in Paris proved to be a bit warmer than London in March. This offered him the chance to wear the elaborate sherwanis brought along for formal events just in case, the exotic effect better than usual among strangers not immune to his charms. However, the idea of Switzerland any time of the year gave him shudders. It was not the main reason he had never visited his eldest sister, but his reluctance to trudge through snow did weigh in there to a degree.
"When did you last see your sister, George?" Lizzy asked one day as they were preparing for their holiday.
"When I was at Cambridge, two years and a bit before I completed my apprenticeship, she and her family traveled to Pemberley. I took a hiatus and spent a month at home before I needed to return."
"And that was the last time?" Georgiana asked, turning from the trunk on the floor to stare at her uncle.
"Do not be so incredulous, Georgie. I am not a horrid brother, not really. You must remember that Mary is eleven years older than me. We were never very close, partly due to the age difference but also because Mary was unlike the rest of us." (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Trouble with Mr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan. Copyright © 2011 Sharon Lathan. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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