Mrs Darcy's Diamonds
A Jane Austen Jewel Box Novella.
Elizabeth is newly married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the richest man in Derbyshire, owner of a vast estate, and master of Pemberley House. Her new role is daunting at first, and having to deal with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a daily challenge. But, Elizabeth is deeply in love and determined to rise to every test and trial she is forced to endure. When her husband presents her with a diamond ring, part of the precious and irreplaceable Darcy suite of jewels, she feels not only honoured and secure in her husband’s love, but also ready to accept her new responsibilities and position.
Mrs Darcy knows she will face exacting scrutiny at the approaching Christmas Ball, but it will be her chance to prove that she is a worthy mistress, and she is excited to be playing hostess to the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the gentry families of Derbyshire, as well as Mr Darcy’s French cousins. Antoine de Valois and his sister Louise have arrived at the invitation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth is delighted that this young and lively couple are helping to bring Miss Georgiana Darcy out of her shell. However, when her ring goes missing before the ball, Elizabeth is distraught, and her dilemma further increased by the threat of a scandal that appears to involve the French cousins.
Mrs Reynolds gave Miss Georgiana Darcy the message her mistress had left as the latter was crossing the hallway after her morning ride. A striking girl, and tall for her tender years, her appearance was of an assured young woman, belying her true timidity and shy character. Her deep blue riding habit made the perfect foil for her fair hair, which was now tumbling in unruly curls from the top of her head, a result of the fresh breezes and a gallop across the fields combined.
Mr Darcy’s sister felt unequal to the duty, but put on her bravest expression. If Elizabeth trusted her to be left in sole charge of Pemberley in her absence, then she would do her very best.
‘Most guests will be arriving this afternoon, Miss Darcy, so I would not worry too much,’ said Mrs Reynolds reassuringly. ‘Mr and Mrs Darcy will be back by then - they’ll be here to greet their guests, I am certain.’
‘Oh, thank you, Mrs Reynolds,’ Georgiana replied, her voice betraying her nerves. ‘I must admit, I do not relish the idea of meeting our guests completely on my own, and without Elizabeth or Mrs Annesley, I am sure I should not know what to say to put them at their ease.’
‘Well, I am sure you would not deny Mrs Annesley some time visiting her family for Christmas. She would not have left you if she didn’t think you were making such great strides in confidence.’
‘Mrs Annesley has been such a wonderful companion, Mrs Reynolds, and I know it will do me good to learn to stand on my own two feet. And I am so lucky to have Mrs Darcy, too.’
‘I may be talking out of turn, Miss Darcy, but it was a very fortunate day when your brother met his spouse and brought her home to Derbyshire. Mrs Darcy has made such a wonderful addition to Pemberley; everyone has taken her to their hearts.
‘Oh, she has indeed, Mrs Reynolds, and I’m so overjoyed to hear you echo my very thoughts. My sister has such a way with people and I am learning all the time. Yet, although she has already taught me so much, I feel quite nervous at the prospect of introductions without her by my side. There are so many new people to be met with, and I shall be completely confused by so many names I have not heard before.’
‘Do not fret, Miss Darcy,’ said Mrs Reynolds, placing a hand on Georgiana’s arm. ‘I shall be there, and your aunt will, no doubt, offer her advice. Lady Catherine is in the saloon at this moment.’
Georgiana wanted to smile. She’d not missed Mrs Reynolds’ tone of voice when talking of her aunt, and although the stalwart retainer had uttered nothing untoward, Georgiana knew Mrs Reynolds disliked Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Reynolds was often on the receiving end of her ladyship’s ‘advice’ and despite Mrs Reynolds’ cheerful countenance on each occasion of having been scolded, it had not gone unnoticed by most of the family that the housekeeper enjoyed her own ways with words to soften the verbal blows.
‘Then I’d best join her,’ said Georgiana, ‘as soon as I have changed. Goodness, what a mess! My skirts are covered three inches in mud, but what fun I’ve had. I went the same way Elizabeth showed me yesterday. It’s a challenging ride, but once in my stride I felt I was flying. And I really must fix my hair or goodness knows what my aunt will have to say. It’s quite fallen down, but such freedom is pure joy!’
Just at that moment, the butler, Bramwell, appeared at the top of the steps leading from the front doors. Behind him stood two of the most elegant people Georgiana thought she’d ever seen. There was an air about them and a celebration of fashion not usually seen in the Derbyshire countryside. They exuded sophistication and more than a touch of the exotic. The dark-haired gentleman who was appraising Georgiana’s appearance with an expression of mild amusement wore a long cape over a navy coat, cut away to show his fine muscular legs in mustard breeches. He did not look like an Englishman with his olive complexion and black eyes
that stared at Georgiana for so long and so searchingly, that she found she was soon studying the floor with great interest. His lady wore a pelisse of peacock blue with gold fastenings, trimmed at the throat in black velvet, and a contrasting bonnet in white satin with a jaunty ostrich feather.
‘Monsieur and Mademoiselle de Valois, Miss Darcy,’ Bramwell announced.
Good heavens, thought Georgiana, they’re French, and I am certain my conversation in that language is severely limited.
‘Bonjour, Monsieur et Mademoiselle de Valois,’ Georgiana stuttered, remembering to curtsey.
‘Good morning, Miss Darcy,’ said the gentleman in reply. ‘I assure you; it is not necessary to speak in French. We never have unless with our papa and he is buried these last four years.’
Georgiana met the easy expression of the young man standing before her holding out his hand. She took it, not knowing whether she should also offer condolences.
‘We have never met before,’ he continued, ‘but I am your distant cousin, Antoine, and this is my sister, Louise. I am afraid we are rather early to be met by the family. Forgive me, but our journey here was rather shorter than we’d anticipated. We came to the north from London the day before yesterday, and have been travelling round the countryside, but I could not wait to see Pemberley nor meet my relations.’
His companion held out her hand. ‘My brother is so very eager in everything, Miss Darcy, and though I insisted we would be better leaving our inn later this afternoon, he would not listen. I am very pleased to meet you. We have heard so much about you from our mother who corresponds regularly with your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Our mother and your aunt grew up together ... they are cousins on their mother’s side.’
It was impossible to feel ill at ease with this brother and sister who were so open and friendly that she stopped worrying about her appearance and almost forgot to be shy. Georgiana could not think that she’d heard of these French cousins before, or ever heard her aunt mention their name, but she
shook hands warmly.
‘I do apologise that my brother is not here to greet you, but he is out
on business this morning. He is not expected to be long and I know he will be looking forward to making your acquaintance so much. Do come in and make yourselves at home. I am sure my aunt will be so glad to hear you’ve arrived ... I will take you to see her at once.’
Mrs Reynolds immediately saw Georgiana’s hesitation and took charge. ‘Miss Georgiana, if I may be so bold, might I suggest that I show our guests to their rooms so they can settle in. I am certain Lady Catherine can wait a little longer to be united with her family ... I believe Miss Anne de Bourgh and Mrs Jenkinson are expected from Scotland within the hour and her ladyship will be much taken up with them and other matters.’
Georgiana heard the wise housekeeper’s words with relief and knew that the kind lady was thinking of her. She knew her state of dress and unruly hair would be the subject of much unwanted attention and disapproval from her aunt, leading to many questions she would not wish to answer. If Lady Catherine discovered she’d been out riding by herself, there would be trouble. She smiled to herself at the thought - goodness, how much things had changed since darling Lizzy had come to Pemberley. Not that she was very sure her new sister or her brother would be so pleased that she’d gone riding by herself, but filled with a sense of confidence returning, an assurance such as she’d enjoyed in former years, she’d followed her feelings. It was so long since she’d listened to her heart, and when the sparkling, crisp morning had beckoned with the idea of a ride across the fields, she’d given in to temptation.
‘Mrs Reynolds, what a perfectly splendid idea,’ said Antoine, turning to beam at his sister. ‘I would not like to disturb my cousin at this hour ... we will meet at a more convivial time.’
His sister caught Georgiana’s eye and smirked. ‘Not to mention the fact that our cousin would be scandalised by our early arrival. Thank you, Mrs Reynolds, I know our late invitation must have caused you some extra work, but Lady Catherine insisted, as soon as she discovered how close we were to
Pemberley. And your brother is so kind, Miss Darcy - such a generous gentleman in accepting us as if it had been his very own idea. We received a letter from him just this very morning.’
It was plain to see that Mrs Reynolds had taken to the young couple immediately. ‘There can never be too many young people at Pemberley, Miss de Valois, and there are rooms enough for many more. I’ve known Mr Darcy since he was a small boy and generosity is his middle name, if you understand me. Come along now, if you please, we’ll soon have you comfortable.’
Georgiana watched them ascend the staircase followed by Bramwell and the footman laden with luggage. She wasn’t quite sure whether she’d imagined it, but when they reached the top and before they turned off along the corridor, she saw Antoine turn to look back down at her. It was as if he’d known she’d be staring after him and she felt her countenance suffuse with crimson at his discovery, as he winked knowingly before disappearing from sight.