P&P200: After Church Picnic & Surprise
**This P&P200 vignette is the fifth of several I have written for the weeks leading up to the double wedding event on Nov. 16. First was Darcy Surprises Elizabeth on 10/29, then A Most Important Dinner at Darcy House on 11/1, An Enlightening Tour of Darcy House on 11/2, and Mr. Darcy Goes Shopping yesterday. Read those first! All are inspired by the Darcy Saga, and may even contain small portions of “flashback” moments I wrote within my sequel. However, all of them are altered a tad to present a differing POV and contain additional information I never wrote before. So they are new material to be enjoyed as part of the awesome Austen Authors P&P200 extravaganza! Thanks for reading, Sharon Lathan
Sunday morning dawned with a slight chill in the air due to the intermittent breeze, but sunny and blue-skied. For everyone it was a planned day of rest. No shopping, business, or other major undertakings were on the agenda. In every way the fine weather and minimal expectations were advantageous to Mr. Darcy.
While dining at the Gardiner house the night before, Darcy casually mentioned that depending on the weather it might be a lovely afternoon to stroll to Hyde Park, perhaps enjoying a relaxing picnic. Easily accessible from Grosvenor Square, the eastern portions of Hyde Park required only a short walk and were typically less crowded than the popular areas, such as Rotten Row. It was kept tentative, although the two Bennet women were agreeable, and the Gardiner children thought it a capitol idea! Darcy had a special reason for hoping Sunday remained as pleasant as the days previous, but in an effort to maintain the surprise, he acted blasé.
The meager thespian skills he possessed served to divert suspicion as to his Sunday afternoon plotting, but failed utterly when Lizzy asked him if he and Georgiana planned to attend worship services the following day in hopes that she could accompany them.
“We do plan to attend service, yes,” he answered, brows lifted as he trained wide eyes on Lizzy. “We typically do unless absolutely unable for some reason. Of course you are welcome to join us, Elizabeth, but would you not prefer to worship at the church you usual do when in Town? With the Gardiners?”
“You are very kind, William,” she patted his hand where it lay on his thigh, “but there is no need to spare my sensibilities. You know that we are not regular church goers, as I know you are. Faith is important to you, and I respect this. I cannot promise my beliefs or dedication will immediately align with yours – maybe they never will – but as your wife it will be my duty, and joy, to accompany you as often as you wish to worship.”
Never one to easily articulate his innermost feelings, especially when caught unawares as he was in this instance, Darcy simply lifted her hand and bestowed a lingering kiss. “Thank you,” he whispered, traveling his lips to fingertips, palm, and inner wrist before being reminded by the gruff clearing of Mr. Bennet’s throat that they were not alone!
A carriage was sent for Lizzy and Jane early in the morning, Mr. Bennet badgered into accompanying as an additional chaperone, and together the group of five walked from Darcy House to Grosvenor Chapel, a mere two blocks south on Audley Street. A deeply spiritual man since his youth, primarily the result of his grandfather’s intense personal faith, Darcy was overcome with happiness to be escorting his betrothed to the place where the Darcy family had worshipped while in London since the church was built nearly a hundred years prior. The only thought more profoundly stirring to his soul was the vision of standing beside her at Pemberley Chapel. That led to imaginings of their babies being christened there, and their children someday married within the ancient stone walls, at which point he forcefully shoved the thoughts aside or he would never be able to concentrate on the service!
By noon the Gardiners arrived at Darcy House, the children jumping about the foyer in their enthusiasm to enjoy the promised picnic, feed ducks, blow dandelions, catch frogs, and all the other magical delights envisioned at Hyde Park. Darcy smiled at their antics, ensuring the youngsters that while frogs may prove challenging to uncover this close to winter, the ducks were plentiful. That statement was enforced by the appearance of a maid with four bags of bread crumbs specifically to feed the ducks. The shrieks of glee from the children would have rattled the rafters, if Darcy House had rafters. The youngest Gardiner child hugged Darcy’s leg, his big hand ruffling the soft hair before the sprite danced back to her siblings.
At that moment he glanced up to see Lizzy observing him with a tender expression and moisture glistening in her eyes. He was baffled at first, then it dawned on him that she had never seen him interacting with children. Perhaps she assumed, or feared, that he did not care for them or would consider them unruly. Logically he could understand if that were her presumption. He was well aware of the attitude he conveyed by his serious demeanor and rigidly disciplined pose. It was an appearance he struggled to alter, Lizzy’s pointed condemnation at his disastrous first proposal still ringing in his ears. Although he knew that she understood him better now, and had seen his lighter side and frivolous nature in smaller portions while with his sister and close friends, he also comprehended that she probably held on to doubts.
Crossing to where she stood by the door, he bent and kissed her cheek. Finally deciding he did not know what to say, especially with people within earshot, Darcy chose to offer his arm, bringing her as close to his body as possible. In time he was confident that his actions would speak louder than words.
Eventually the necessary supplies for a perfect outdoor dining experience were assembled, including an assortment of items required for entertainment and frog capture – if so fortunate – and the group set off. Darcy and Lizzy were the last ones through the door, Darcy pausing on the threshold to hand Mr. Travers a folded and sealed parchment.
“I expect him within the hour. Two at most. Make sure he gets this when he arrives. Instructions are inside.”
The butler affirmed the order would be carried out. Lizzy held her curiosity until down the steps, but Darcy’s answer was cryptic.
“You shall see in good time, Miss Elizabeth.”
In no time at all the blankets were spread and the adults settled comfortable. The children had dashed off to explore, the nanny scurrying about to keep track of them. Mrs. Annesley, Georgiana’s companion, laughed and rose to assist the poor woman. The fine food prepared by the kitchen staff was served, wine was poured, and conversation flourished.
Eventually Mr. Gardiner left his relaxed perch to stroll toward the pond, “Just out of curiosity,” gesturing for Mr. Bennet to come along. Mrs. Gardiner rolled her eyes. Georgiana shared a conspiratory glance with her brother, turning then to Jane and Mrs. Gardiner to suggest a walk along the edge of the wooden area to the north. It was unlikely they did not understand Georgiana’s true purpose was to allow her brother a solitary interlude with his betrothed.
Lizzy wasn’t fooled either, but she calmly gazed at the shimmering blue water and gently waving bulrushes, saying nothing. Nevertheless, she didn’t expect more then the luxury of private conversation with the man she loved, so was very surprised when he pulled a box from the bottom of one basket.
He placed it unopened on his lap and took ahold of her left hand before speaking. When he did, huskily choked with emotion he tried to hide, Lizzy’s heart began to flutter.
“I have something I wish to give you, Elizabeth. Well, two somethings, actually. First I must apologize for the delay in bestowing these. They were safely under lock at Pemberley and required a secure, trusted staff member to deliver them to me. Then I wanted to have them cleaned, polished, properly sized, and inspected for any damage or necessary repairs. After years of wear, and many more years of sitting undisturbed, I was unsure of their condition.”
His fingers traveled to the simple diamond ring encircling the third finger of her left hand, twisting it slightly. Looking back at her eyes, he smiled, the power of his love beaming from his eyes and hitting her forcibly. “When I placed this on your finger, what I did not tell you because I wished it to be a surprise, was that, while lovely and now yours, I never intended this to be your betrothal ring.”
Darcy slipped it off her finger, placing it into her right hand and curling her fingers around. Opening the box on his lap, he reaching inside and withdrew another ring. “That honor belongs to this ring.”
Lizzy gasped. The ring was gold and adorned with a one-carat star sapphire of vivid blue, centered between two half-carat diamonds. It was exquisite.
“My father designed this ring for my mother,” Darcy explained as he slid it onto her finger. “We tend to believe it an embellished tale, but the story was that he searched all over England for the most exquisite sapphire he could find. Each time he told the story the search took longer and his travels extended,” Darcy laughed softly in remembrance, “but I know the basics are true. He waited four years to marry Mother, until she was old enough according to old Lord Matlock’s opinion, and loved her profoundly. Nothing but the very best was ever good enough for her, as far as my father was concerned. I know she would want you to wear this, Elizabeth, not because it is my desire, and of course it is, but because Father told me so.”
Lizzy was so overwhelmed that she could not speak. The ring was gorgeous, and fit her perfectly, but it was the emotions and history attached that touched her heart. Darcy rarely spoke of his parents. She knew this was solely due to the rawness of grief that all these years later continued to weigh on his soul. Perhaps it was too soon when she still knew little of his past and deepest thoughts, but she hoped that someday her love and the family they would create together, God willing, would heal the residual wounds.
She had no time to recover and stammer an inadequate thank-you, however, because Darcy was again reaching into the box.
“This gift is yours, as will be all the jewels at Pemberley, and I do not want you to feel obligated to wear this at our wedding if it does not properly accompany your gown. I simply wanted you to have it, since it has always been my favorite of Mother’s jewels, and to consider it, if possible.”
Lizzy wanted to laugh at his polite entreaty. As if she would dream of refusing! It could be a hideous piece and she would not have the heart to deny him! Fortunately, that was not the case.
The necklace was stunning. A chain of sapphires and diamonds, delicate and masterfully crafted with gold filigree arabesque. He placed it around her neck, not latching since it was far too elaborate to wear at a picnic, but held it there while his fingertips caressed her nape.
“Beautiful,” he whispered. “Almost as beautiful as you.”
They continued to stare at each other, bodies close but not touching, other than his fingers – which were driving her mad with fiery sensations sweeping down her spine – and the spell may never have been broken if not for a voice intruding.
“Sorry to interrupt, Darcy, but I was hoping you might direct me to where my betrothed disappeared to? Nice to see you, of course, and you as well, Miss Elizabeth, lovely necklace by the way, but my Jane is who I really wanted to see.”
The surprise appearance of Mr. Bingley, who was not expected to arrive in London until tomorrow, was greeted with great fanfare. Jane saw him from afar, dashing away from Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana in an impulsive manner more typical of Lizzy. Naturally Lizzy teased her mercilessly about it, but Jane did not care in the least. She was too delighted to be reunited with her love. Darcy made no attempt to hide his smug satisfaction at pulling off the secret.
It would be hours before Lizzy had a chance to capture Darcy alone. At that point she was abundantly clear how delighted she was to wear the necklace for their wedding, how honored she was by the ring, how much she appreciated him sharing of his parents, how much she had enjoyed the Sunday service, and a long list of other items she was happy about. There were many words spoken during this period of thankful expression. There were also many, many non-verbal communications. Both agreed that the latter got the message across more succinctly, and certainly in a more pleasurable manner.
**Stay tuned for more in the days/weeks ahead!