“For centuries, ownership of land and estate, and all its attendant responsibility, has been the main and only sure basis of power for any respectable Englishman,” Fitzwilliam had once lectured Charles Bingley during a walk to Oakham Mount last month.
At the time, anxious to lose the company of his friend and her sister so she could indulge in some privatetime with Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth had impatiently only half-listened to the men’s conversation.
Now, as she stood at Pemberley’s trademan’s entrance and viewed the two outbuildings, behind which lay the sixty-six household offices of Pemberley, and where an army of servants, almost all Derbyshire bred, considered Pemberley their home and Fitzwilliam their own beloved master, Elizabeth could not help but recalled Mr. Bingley’s response.
“I readily own that I possess no little trepidation about taking on the responsibility of a landowner, Darcy,” Mr. Bingley had replied, “but in my defense, I must remind you, besides that I have neither the temperament nor inclination for it, I was not born and bred as you have to expect the possession of such daunting power as my birthright.”
Softly, Elizabeth chuckled. Mr. Bingley was correct in all his points. Fitzwilliam, a tender and attentive a husband any bride could wish for, was first and foremost the Master of Pemberley. The mantle of power cloaked about his shoulders with an enviable ease that mere mortals, herself included, could only marvel at. Yet, she sobered, she could not escape the ugly thought which troubled her. In marrying her, a portionless woman who brought him, beyond a lively mind and impertinent wit, no land or fortune, no connection, no discernible advantage, Fitzwilliam’s power as a landowner had decreased.
A flock of dove flew overhead. Elizabeth followed them with her eyes. The birds landed on the lantern of a small, octagonal shaped dovecote next to the poultry yard and the duck pond. Curious about the construction of the building, Elizabeth headed toward it, ruminating as she walked.
Mrs. Reynolds was an experienced and efficient housekeeper, ever so helpful and respectful, but Elizabeth had no doubt the success of her own tenure as mistress of Pemberley was dependent on her earning the respect and, if she was fortunate, affection of the rest of the staff.
Yet, how was she to rise to the responsibility as Mistress of Pemberley when she felt so ill-equiped? Pemberley’s annual income may be only five times that of Longbourn’s, but infinitely more bewilderingly complex. Her new home has a postman’s room, a lamp room, a knife room… A room for every imaginable chore there was that she, in her previous life as Miss Elizabeth Bennet, had never even given a thought of, much less took an interest in.
She could blame her mother for ill-preparing her, but she could not. It was her own laziness, preferring to spend her hours scampering about the wild paths of Hertfordshire, hiding in her father’s library, or losing herself in the fictive world of books.
“If you were thinking of entering, I wouldn’t advise it, Mrs. Darcy,” a voice said somewhere to her left. “It’s damp and dark in there.”
Startled, she stopped. She had reached dovecote.
An old man, hatless and coatless, the buttons of his waistcoat misaligned, his forehead knotted in a half-fearsome, half-comical frown, stood three feet away.
She glanced down. He was also shoeless. His feet, brown and bare, were caked with a dark green mud. “You have the advantage of me, Mister…?”
“Diggory Feild.” He raised his hand and gave her a mock doffing of his invisible hat and dipped his knees as if performing a country dance. “I do odd jobs for the farrier and sometimes the gamekeeper.”
She deliberated directly addressing his insolence, but the anticipatory gleam in his eyes told her he was expecting just that reaction. Instead, she glanced back at the building and kept her voice casual,”How many birds the dovecote holds?”
“Over a thousand, but gamekeeper culled them all down a few years ago. Building’s empty.”
“I saw a few birds flew in,” she said, curious now why he did not want her to explore the building. Longbourn had a dovecote, half-timbered and smaller, but it held as many birds. Besides using pigeons’ droppings as a fertilizer on the farm, her father’s bailiff sold them to the tanner for softening leather.
“Probably no more than ten or so straggling pairs nest in there. The steward thought he might use the building for something else.” His bare feet treaded in place on the cold ground. “The Darcys have never been keen on squeakers at the table.”
“Squabs, nestlings, you probably call them.” He walked toward the pond. “Going to be cold soon, next day or so. That pond is shallow enough for the ice house to be filled if it gets cold enough to freeze. Come, Ma’am.”
Elizabeth had taken a few steps before she stopped, chagrined she’d followed his commanding voice.
He didn’t pause. “I’ll show you the ice house. You’d more than likely trip over it otherwise.”
Irritated, she squared her shoulders and channeled her husband’s always-at-the-ready imperious manner. “In a moment, Mr. Feild. I wish to peek inside of the dovecote first.”
He stopped then and favored her with a glare. “You wouldn’t look too pretty to the Master with pigeons’ slop on you.”
“I’m familiar with the inside of a dovecote. I shall watch my footing,” Elizabeth returned icily, ignoring his mention of her husband. If it wasn’t for her concern over the servant’s shoeless state, she’d have him dismissed for his insolence.
A low door, about four feet, on the southeast wall opened with a surprising well-oiled smoothness that startled her momentarily. Immediately, the pungent odor of pigeons’ excrement swooped down over her. Grimacing, she held her breath and fought not to gag. Before she stepped inside, she directed the ill-mannered servant to wait outside. She ignored his protests and closed the door on him.
She waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. Faint shafts of light beamed from the dormer windows allowed her to see rows and rows of nesting boxes circled the inner walls. Gentle cooing mingled with the soft noises of feathers rustling, intermittently interrupted by the occasional shrill squawks of the nestlings.
From the sounds the birds made, there were definitely more than ten pairs here.
Mindful of the potence, a central pole with braced horizontal beams where ladders could be hung to access the nesting boxes, she gingerly made her way to the center. About to climb a ladder, the unmistakable sound of person breathing heavily checked her.
I’d meant to write a little vignette about Elizabeth exploring the grounds of Pemberley, but I got bored of her dancing through fields of lavender flowers having la la la flowery thoughts about Darcy, so I decided to give her a little conflict and suspense here. Problem was, the piece got too long for one post. Part 2 will be posted 12/8.
Hmm. Other writers write about fancy saloons and drawing rooms and assembly rooms. Me, for sure I’m descended from servant stock, for my muse pushes me to write about smelly laundry rooms and slop-filled dovecotes and lamp rooms and so forth.
Click here for Part Two.