During these troubled times, I am finding even more solace than usual in my favorite romance novels. Romance novels have always been a place to turn to when I yearn to feel a lightness of heart. They create worlds where I can forget the pressures of the day, learn about matters of the heart, and enjoy the romance of a moment.
I wrote the following vignette last summer, and it was included in Meryton Press’s Summer Holiday blog series. I’m re-posting it now for those who may have missed it, or for anyone who would like to send their minds and hearts to the lovely summer gardens of England.
This vignette takes place at Rydal Mount, the home in England’s Lake District where William Wordsworth spent most of his adult life. Elizabeth and Darcy are traveling in the area a year or two before Wordsworth rented the home from Lady le Flemming.
When thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies (139-142)
—from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth
The carriage drove over the old stone bridge, and Elizabeth Darcy leaned her head out the open window, the better to see the lovely creek below. The horses moved on—their hooves clapping loudly on the stone—and a moment later, the house came into view. It sat upon a little hill, its white plaster facade warmed by the afternoon sun.
“Oh! Fitzwilliam, it’s beautiful!”
Across from her, her husband, Fitzwilliam Darcy, smiled and leaned forward to gaze out the window as well. The sloped roof of the house was punctuated by seven chimneys, their milky tone contrasting sharply with the grey slate roof. Gardens surrounded the house; indeed, flowers and foliage seemed to burst from every corner.
“I thought you would like it, my love,” Darcy said.
“It is exactly what I would wish a summer home to be,” Elizabeth replied, her eyes glowing as they roamed over the lovely scene.
Before long, the carriage pulled to a stop, and a groom began to attend to the horses. Two footmen appeared to hand Elizabeth and Darcy out of the carriage, and Elizabeth found herself being ushered inside the house by a welcoming woman who appeared to be the housekeeper in residence.
“Welcome to Rydal Mount, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Lady Flemming sends her apologies for not receiving you herself, but she has been called away to tend to a sick relative,” the plump older woman was saying.
“I do hope it is nothing serious,” Elizabeth said, looking at her husband who was handing his hat and staff to the footman.
“I do not believe so, ma’am,” the housekeeper replied. “Lady Flemming has an elderly relative that lives but twenty miles away. She is often called from Rydal Hall to attend her. Please, allow me to show you to your rooms.”
She led the way up the rather narrow stairs to the master’s chambers. The room was simply furnished, yet there was a touch of elegance that spoke of good sense and taste. The adjoining room—the mistress’s chambers—was as bright and cheerful as Elizabeth could wish. The white walls were modestly adorned with art that looked to be painted by the residents of Rydal Hall. A large window occupied most of one wall, and as it was curtained with only gauzy cotton, the sunlight of the summer afternoon streamed through, warming the room within.
The housekeeper left them, and Elizabeth turned to Darcy, clasping his hand. “How did you know, my dear, that this house would be so perfect for our summer holiday?”
“I saw it once, several years ago,” Darcy replied, pulling her closer as he spoke. “I was traveling in this part of the country, and stopped to visit Sir Daniel Flemming and his wife, Lady Anna. Sir Daniel was keen to show me the improvements he had made to some of the outer buildings, including Rydal Mount.”
He wrapped his arms around her, pressing her body close to his. After five months of marriage, Elizabeth had grown accustomed to his casual touches, but the thrill of his embrace was as strong now as it had been the very first time she had felt his arms around her. She sighed, leaning into his chest and resting her head on his lapel.
“It was such a peaceful spot,” he continued. “The gardens were especially lovely. When I heard that Sir Daniel was looking for a tenant, I knew immediately that this would suit us—that it would suit you, my love.” He crooked his finger below her chin, drawing her face up to his. A smile played about his mouth as he leaned in, kissing her slowly, delicately.
The kiss deepened, and Elizabeth wound her arms around his neck, content to be in his arms. After a moment, however, he withdrew.
“We should change out of these dusty things,” he said.
“I suppose you are right,” Elizabeth murmured.
Darcy chuckled at her reluctance. “Do not worry, my love; there are more delights to come.”
Elizabeth blushed and looked at her boots. Darcy once again lifted her chin with his finger.
“I have a surprise in store for you, and I do not wish to spoil it. Come—let us change. I shall await you downstairs.” He gave her one impish look, and then left her. Her curiosity sufficiently piqued, Elizabeth called her maid and hurried to undress.
She availed herself of the washing basin then chose a lovely cotton afternoon dress from her trunk. It had come through the long trip largely unwrinkled, and Elizabeth was quite pleased with her appearance once her maid had done up the buttons in the back. The muslin was creamy white with tiny little sprigs of yellow flowers embroidered throughout. Delicate puffed sleeves revealed her pale and shapely arms, and a lace fichu tucked into her bodice. It was far too warm for a shawl, but she did procure her parasol.
Refreshed and changed at last, Elizabeth made her way downstairs. She found her husband in the library where she knew he would be. He sat, book in hand, with his long legs stretched before him. He looked up and smiled—the full, engaging smile that was just for her.
“There you are, my love,” he said, rising and setting his book aside. “You look positively enchanting this afternoon.”
Elizabeth looked down at her frock. “Do you like it? I had it made especially for the trip.”
Darcy took in her gown, his eyes moving over her in a way that made her shiver slightly. “It is quite beautiful,” he said, “though I confess that the gown is not what caught my attention.”
He took a step closer, and linked her arm in his. “It is you, my love—your fair cheek, your lovely lips, those eyes that will forever bewitch me. You are lovelier than any dress.”
“And you, sir, are charming,” Elizabeth said archly, but her heart beat faster at his words, and she drew him closer to her side.
“Are you ready for your surprise?”
“I think you are the better judge, husband of mine. Will I suit the surprise?”
“You are perfect. Come, let me lead you.”
He drew her out of the library toward the back of the house. A small door at the end of the hall opened upon the back of the property. As soon as she stepped through the door, Elizabeth felt she had been transported to a fairyland. Flowers of every sort were in full bloom, their heady fragrance filling her senses. There were roses—dozens of roses—as well as foxgloves, lavender, agrimonies, daisies, and bellflowers.
“Oh, my darling,” Elizabeth breathed. “It is so very beautiful!”
Darcy placed his hand on the small of her back, leading her forward through the blooms. “As are you, my love.”
Elizabeth leaned her head against his shoulder in reply as they walked arm in arm down the garden path. Were it not for her deep love of Pemberley, she felt she should be happy to live her whole life in this very garden.
They rounded a bend, and she glimpsed her surprise at last. A lavish picnic was set upon the neatly trimmed lawn beneath a beautiful horse chestnut tree. A large blanket held all sorts of culinary delights, and two footmen stood at a discreet distance, ready to attend them.
Darcy led her to the blanket, holding her hand as she settled herself down. Then he relaxed next to her, leaning back on his shoulder. “Do you like it, my dear?”
“Of course I do! It is the perfect beginning to our summer holiday.”
“I am glad it pleases you.”
“It does, indeed, and you do, as always.”
She leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss, despite the footmen. Darcy merely raised an eyebrow at her boldness.
“We are here for two whole weeks,” he said. “I thought the vistas of the fells and lakes could wait while we recover from our journey.”
“A very good thought,” Elizabeth replied, taking a piece of ham from the basket and setting it on a plate for her husband. She served another for herself. “Though you may regret it.”
“I may never wish to leave this garden nor the charming house. Rydal Mount is exactly where I should like to live, had I not been blessed with the good fortune of being mistress of Pemberley.”
Darcy took her hand, raising her fingers to his lips. His eyes blazed with the passion she had come to know these past five months. “Wherever you are, Elizabeth, is where I wish to be.”
“And where I wish to be, my love, is by your side.”
Originally posted on the Meryton Press blog.