The third book in the One Thread Pulled series features the challenges Elizabeth faces as a new bride and is set largely at Pemberley. It will be released in autumn of this year if all goes according to plan. The current working title isn’t the final title, but I thought that the Austen Authors’ readers might still enjoy a draft excerpt of a scene between Elizabeth and the housekeeper of Pemberley. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Chapter Nine
The time had come. Elizabeth spent the better part of a day pondering and planning her conversation with Mrs. Reynolds. She notified the housekeeper through a note delivered by the butler that she wished to meet to discuss household matters at ten o’clock the next morning. With every desire to be fair, she had even included an agenda for their meeting.
At the appointed hour, Mrs. Reynolds knocked on the door of Elizabeth’s sunny little office. Elizabeth welcomed her and invited her to sit, noting that the provided agenda was clutched in the housekeeper’s hand.
“Mrs. Reynolds,” she began, “it has been a month since we arrived at Pemberley for the summer and you have graciously allowed me a few weeks to settle in, and I thank you for that. It is time, however, that I more fully engage as mistress in my husband’s houses.”
Mrs. Reynolds sat at the edge of the seat, her face composed, but Elizabeth detected a trembling in her hands that betrayed some unease. “Of course, Mrs. Darcy.”
Elizabeth smiled warmly at the woman. If her plan was to be successful, she had to determine what had caused the housekeeper to develop such an attitude toward her in the first place. “I would like to know more about you,” she began. “When did you come to serve at Pemberley?”
Mrs. Reynolds adjusted her position in the chair, sitting a bit further back on the cushion, but still with a stiffened back. “It has been above twenty years now, mistress. The master was but four years old when I came to Pemberley.”
“So, you have known him since he was a very young child.”
“Aye, that I have, and what a wonderful child he was. Such a loving, trusting boy. I have never heard a cross word from him in his entire life, and that’s a fact.” She adjusted her position again, pushing herself further until she met with the back of the chair.
“Never? That is remarkable,” Elizabeth replied. “I would dearly love to hear more of what he was like in his youth, and contemplate on the temperaments of our future children.”
Mrs. Reynolds’ face relaxed into a softer expression as she began to reminisce. As she spoke, Elizabeth recognized that the loyalty that she had detected in her husband for his housekeeper was returned a hundred-fold in her feelings toward Darcy. We have something in common, and that is our love for Fitzwilliam. I can build on that. Elizabeth smiled encouragingly at the housekeeper, allowing the memories to flow for several minutes.
“It sounds to me as if when Lady Anne passed away that you took it upon yourself to be like a second mother to him.”
“Oh no,” Mrs. Reynolds replied. “I took nothing on myself at all. It was Lady Anne herself who made me promise to look after him. She worried for him. He wasn’t like the other boys, all wild and rattling away. He was such a tender-hearted lad, so earnest and gentle like his mother. That boy was always conscientious and mindful of all that would fall to him someday. From an early age, he demonstrated a strong will to be as good of a master as his father had been. And he is, Mistress. He is the best brother, the best landlord, the best master there ever was.” Mrs. Reynolds’s face shone with unadulterated pride in the man.
“This, I have seen for myself.” Elizabeth nodded and smiled, adding, “And the best husband too.”
At this, the barest hint of a frown crossed Mrs. Reynolds’s lips before she pressed them together and made no reply. An epiphany rained down in Elizabeth’s mind. There it is. I should have perceived this sooner, for it is so apparent now. She has raised him so high in her mind that she does not think I am good enough for him. Oh, dear. This is what I must overcome if there is to be harmony between us. I must seek her good opinion yet I have never done such for anyone.
“We may yet be here for some time, Mrs. Reynolds, and I find myself in need of a refreshing cup of tea.” The housekeeper moved as if to stand. “Oh, please do stay seated.” Elizabeth stood and moved to where the bell ropes hung, tugging gently on the one for the kitchen. She had wisely anticipated this move and spoken to Mrs. Cook the day before, advising her that when the summons came, tea service for two should be brought to her little office. She had also presented the cook with the tea she wished to use, rather than from what was kept under lock and key by Mrs. Reynolds.
“Tell me, Mrs. Reynolds, how much time does Mr. Darcy spend here at Pemberley in the course of a year?”
Another frown, although this one was not directed at Elizabeth. “Not nearly enough, to my mind. We are lucky if we see him for six months of the year combined. These past few years it has been even less than that.”
“But Pemberley is so very beautiful,” Elizabeth replied. “I cannot imagine what might keep him away so much.”
Mrs. Reynolds had clearly grappled with this question herself. “The master has many friends and interests. With a house in town, well, there has been little other than matters of the estate to call such an important man as he home. Besides, Lady Matlock is very attached to Miss Darcy and so the girl often is to be found with her relations in town.”
“Yes, I met Lord and Lady Matlock earlier this year when I was living in town with my aunt and uncle.” Elizabeth paused, letting it sink in before she continued. “Lady Matlock has been very good to me. It was she who sponsored my presentation at court. I am much in her debt, and have seen for myself how close she has grown to Georgiana.”
Mrs. Reynolds leaned forward slightly. “Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam determined that Miss Darcy’s ability on the pianoforte required the tutelage of the masters in town. The girl would play and sing all day, and a lovely sound it was then, and it is a joy to hear it ringing through the halls of Pemberley since she has returned.” She hesitated and added, “Do you know, since old Mr. Darcy passed away, the family has not wintered here even once.” Her eyes glistened. “The young master has employed a competent steward to oversee the affairs of the estate while he is away.”
A knock at the door announced the arrival of their tea, and Elizabeth occupied herself with ladling out the tea leaves and pouring the boiling water over them into the warm, fat china teapot. Mrs. Reynolds watched the preparations in silence. Elizabeth used the nippers to cut a few lumps of sugar, and when the tea was ready, the usual inquiries of “one lump or two?” and “cream?” further revealed the frugal nature of the housekeeper, who took her tea with “one small lump” and no cream.
Soon, both ladies held steaming cups of tea, and Elizabeth resumed the conversation. “Now, where were we? Oh yes. What you have said about the occupations of Mr. and Miss Darcy in town makes a great deal of sense.” She took a sip. “Pray, do you know Mr. Darcy’s friend, Mr. Bingley?”
Mrs. Reynolds’ face brightened. “Why yes, he is one of the master’s dearest friends, as I suppose you must know. He spent several months at Mr. Bingley’s estate in Hertfordshire last fall. I understand he was recently married.”
“I imagine Mr. Bingley will bring his new wife to visit Pemberley very soon,” Elizabeth said, “I shall have to write to Mrs. Bingley and hasten that day.”
“I should very much like to see that amiable young man again,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “I cannot but hope that this new wife of his is nothing like his sisters.” Her face colored as she realized her faux pas. “It isn’t my place to speak on this however, please forgive me.”
“Do not be concerned, Mrs. Reynolds, there is nothing to forgive. I can promise you that Mrs. Bingley is the kindest, sweetest-tempered woman you will ever meet, and she is nothing like Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst in any way.” She took another sip of her tea and wondered why the housekeeper had not raised her own cup yet. “I know her almost as well as I know myself, for Mr. Bingley married my elder sister.” At this, Mrs. Reynolds’ eyebrows raised in surprise. “Oh yes, it is true,” Elizabeth said with a laugh. “Mr. Bingley’s estate is but three miles from my father’s home in Hertfordshire. Mr. Bingley became enamored with my sister nearly as quickly as she returned the favor and it was but the work of a few months before they were married.”
At this, Mrs. Reynolds did lift the cup to her lips, as if to purchase a moment to work out the implications of this intelligence. Upon tasting the tea, her eyes widened and she abruptly set the cup back in the saucer, staring at it suspiciously.
“Do you not like the tea, Mrs. Reynolds? It is a blend that is my particular favorite, which I ordered myself from London.”
With some reluctance, Mrs. Reynolds smiled. “It is delicious. Perhaps the best I have ever tasted. It was unexpected, that is all.”
“I am so very glad you like it. I asked the shopkeeper in Lambton to carry a stock of it, and he has kindly obliged. Eager, in fact, when I informed him that the merchant from whom it is procured is married to the daughter of his predecessor.”
“His predecessor?” Mrs. Reynolds shook her head and ventured another sip of tea.
Elizabeth leaned toward the housekeeper and lowered her voice. “You may remember the former shopkeeper, Mr __________. He had but one child, a daughter. One day, a London tradesman named Mr. Gardiner came into his shop, vending his wares. Mr. Gardiner was smitten with Miss _______ and he courted and married her. He has, in the ensuing years, become a very successful merchant with a large warehouse bursting at the seams with the finest quality of goods imaginable.”
“I do remember him. Miss __________ did well for herself, then.”
“Aye, for Mr. Gardiner, although he is a tradesman, is a man of intelligence, refinement, and fashion, as you will see. His wife, born and raised in Lambton, is genteel and very elegant. A most excellent woman with understanding and information beyond her station.”
Mrs. Reynolds’ interest was piqued and although she did not recall ever meeting her, she enthusiastically endorsed Mrs. Gardiner. “I am glad to hear it. Our Lambton girls are the best in all of England, for being raised in the shadow of Pemberley, they cannot but be so.”
“I am pleased to inform you that you shall have the opportunity to meet them both,” Elizabeth said and sat back to await Mrs. Reynolds’ response.
“I do not understand,” she said. “If I never met the young lady when she lived in Lambton, how can this be?”
Elizabeth paused for another sip of tea. “Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, you see, are my aunt and uncle. Mr. Darcy got on very well with my uncle and invited them to stay at Pemberley when they are in Derbyshire on their tour of the northern counties this summer.” As she set her cup into the saucer, she watched the housekeeper carefully. This was the true test of Mrs. Reynolds. If she did not scorn Elizabeth’s connections in trade, she felt there was a chance of proving herself worthy in the woman’s eyes.
“The master is a man of great discernment.” Mrs. Reynolds held the saucer still in both hands as she processed the information Elizabeth had just provided. “Your uncle must be a very fine man to earn his approval.” A slight tremor rocked her teacup as she heard her own declaration. She scrutinized Elizabeth as if with new eyes. “Yes, to earn the approval of Mr. Darcy is something, indeed.”
“Indeed,” Elizabeth echoed as she raised her cup to disguise her smile. Success. There is still much work to do, but the door is open now. She closed her eyes in relief and re-opened them slowly, smiling at the housekeeper with a renewal of hope. “Let us start with the household accounts and discuss the agenda I wrote out in the order written. I would most particularly like to hear your thoughts on the Christmas gifts for the villagers. I know it is early, but I should like to personally order them from my uncle when he is here to ensure that they are of good quality and procured at the best possible price. My husband has told me of how cold the winters are here, and I am sure that many could use a good coat.”
Mrs. Reynolds smoothed out the paper she had brought and nodded with a lowered head. “Before we begin, mistress, there is something I must give you.” She unlatched the chatelaine that had been in her keeping for over a decade, the keys rattling as she did so. “You are mistress now. I believe these belong to you.”