Time passed quickly, as it often does when one is learning new things. Before Elizabeth even realized it, two months had passed since she had come to live at Pemberley.
Bingley and Jane were wed, and Elizabeth had cried in sorrow over missing her favorite sister’s wedding. Jane wrote Elizabeth a long letter describing the ceremony, which was as simple as Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s had been, due to the constraints of mourning. She dedicated a full page to describing their mother’s ecstatic behavior in regards to the wedding. Apparently Darcy had some competition as Mrs. Bennet’s favorite son-in-law, although Jane did mention that her adoration of her daughters’ husbands seemed to be in proportion with the amount of money that each had. At reading this, Elizabeth smiled and rolled her eyes. Their mother would never change.
To compensate for not attending the wedding, Darcy had invited the Bingleys to spend a week at Pemberley with them.
“Why is time going so slowly?” Elizabeth asked Harriet Stewart, her lady’s maid, as her hair was being brushed. “I am so excited to see my sister, and it seems as if she will never arrive.”
“It always seems to be that way, does it not?” replied Stewart. “Good things take so long to happen, but bad things seem to arrive in an instant. Take heart, ma’am. They will be here soon.”
“If only I could get the menu resolved,” said Elizabeth with a sigh.
“Is there a particular problem with the menu?” asked Stewart curiously.
“I thought not, but every time I try to speak with Mr. Porter about it, I am left feeling like the most foolish person in the world. Why, just yesterday I told him that I would like to serve goose, and he argued with me for a quarter of an hour that it must be venison that was served! He seems to be upset with whatever I set the menu to be.”
Stewart spoke gently, as she knew that her mistress was not yet used to running a house by herself. “He ought not speak to you like that. It is not proper, nor is it his place. The lady of the house determines what is served for dinners. Have you spoken with Mr. Combes about it?”
“I have, and I have reason to believe that he has spoken with Mr. Porter, but nothing has changed.”
“I hesitate to suggest this, ma’am,” said Stewart, “but might it not be time to take this issue to Mr. Darcy?”
“I had hoped to deal with this without involving him, but perhaps you are right. I will consider speaking with him.”
Elizabeth felt suddenly tired of the topic, missing the easy conversation of her sisters. Perhaps that was why she asked her next question.
“Tell me, Stewart, have you a sweetheart?”
Stewart flushed a bright red. “I would not say that I do, ma’am.”
Elizabeth smiled. “But your rosy cheeks tell a different tale,” she said. “Surely there is more to this story. Please, Stewart, it would bring me such great joy to hear of your happiness.”
“It is Thomas, my lady. The first footman.”
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. Thomas was tall and very handsome, with a head of wavy blond hair and a bright smile. She had not spoken with him to know his character, but if he was anywhere near as amiable as his countenance, Stewart had chosen quite well indeed.
“Does he know of this admiration?” asked Elizabeth.
If possible, Stewart flushed even more deeply. “He does not. Certainly, someone like him would have little interest in someone like me.”
“Someone like you! You are a lady’s maid at one of the grandest estates in the country. If anything, he should be honored to have someone as fine as you esteem him.”
“He has never so much as glanced in my direction.”
“Sometimes men need a bit of a push to see what is right in front of them,” said Elizabeth, thinking of Bingley.
“Mrs. Darcy, I beg you. Please do not bother yourself with this.”
Elizabeth just smiled. She was not about to make a promise that she knew she could not keep.
Elizabeth needed an ally in her plan. Naturally, she turned to Georgiana.
“Stewart and Thomas?” said Georgiana. “Oh, they should look so charming together!”
“Yes, they should, if Thomas had any idea of her feelings.”
“Oh, that is a dilemma indeed!” Georgiana was silent for a moment. “But what if two Darcy women were to come up with a scheme to encourage the two of them?”
“That is indeed was I was hoping you would say,” said Elizabeth. “Let us plan how we can make this happen.”
The two of them planned, laughed, and generally enjoyed each other’s company for most of the morning. By the time they were done, they had contrived of a plot that they hoped would bring Stewart and Thomas together. They just had to wait for the right time to put it into action.
The afternoon was much less pleasant. Elizabeth spoke with the cook once more and received no more satisfactory an answer than she had the previous times they had spoken. Mr. Porter insisted that venison was the proper thing to serve at such a meal and would not be budged.
Elizabeth did not care so strongly for goose rather than venison, but she saw this as a test of her management skills. She was the mistress, and he was the cook. She was more than happy to listen to his opinions and to take them into account. However, outright insubordination was a different thing entirely. If she was going to be successful as the mistress of Pemberley, she had to learn how to deal with issues such as this. She resolved to speak with Darcy right away and get his opinion on how to deal with the situation.
She knocked on the door to his study and he tersely bade her enter. She sensed that he was in a sour mood, but there was little time to resolve this issue.
“I am having some difficulty with the menu for the Bingleys’ dinner,” she began. “I suggested goose, but Mr. Porter is insisting on venison—”
Darcy slammed shut the ledger he was reading. “I do not care what meat is served,” he said. “You are the mistress of this house. I depend on you to deal with issues as trivial as what will be served for dinner.”
Elizabeth turned on her heel and barely made it out of the room before angry tears began. He, Darcy, was the one who had told her that he would assist her in learning the management of Pemberley! For him to speak to her so dismissively! After everything she had done and everything she had learned, the first time she brought a problem to him, he had the gall to be upset! Well, if he wanted her to deal with the issue, deal with it she would. She once again called for Mr. Porter to speak with her.
Elizabeth sat regally in her chair when Mr. Porter entered the room.
“I have no interest in repeating the conversations that we have had already,” she said coolly. “I am the mistress of this house. You are a servant in this house. We will have goose served at the dinner, and that is final. If you ever again speak to me with the disrespect that you showed me earlier, you will no longer have a job. Have I made myself clear?”
She saw the defiance drain out of her face and knew that she had triumphed. “Yes, madam,” he muttered.
“I am glad we have come to an understanding, Mr. Porter. You are dismissed.”
As soon as the door to the study closed, Elizabeth began shaking like a leaf. It felt ridiculous to threaten a man’s livelihood over venison, but she could not allow him to dictate what would be served. She passionately hoped that Mr. Porter would share what happened with the other servants. She had no desire to repeat this situation with anyone else who hoped to test her.
Darcy raked his hand through his hair. There was currently quite a large bit less money in his safe than his ledger indicated. He and his steward had spent the morning trying to reconcile the amount, and Darcy was beginning to think that a thief was responsible. But how could someone access his safe? No one had the combination except him. Was it possible that he had left it open one night? If he had, then nearly anyone in the house could have taken it. The money was not so much the issue; he could deal with the loss of that. But the idea that he might be housing a thief? That was untenable.
He knew that he had been short with Elizabeth when she had come to him, but the issue that he was dealing with was substantially more important than what meat would be served.
At that moment, Darcy’s steward burst through the door.
“I have found the discrepancy!” he cried.
“What is it?” asked Darcy.
“Look, back here, two weeks ago, these two numbers were transposed, and so it looks like there should be more money than there actually is.”
“Did you calculate the ledger from then to see if the numbers reconcile?”
“I did, sir, and they do.”
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief and slumped down in his chair. He was not harboring a thief under his roof. This was the best possible outcome.
“Sit, Mr. Chase,” Darcy said. “Have a drink with me. I think that we both deserve one.”
“I would agree, Mr. Darcy.”
In his relief, Darcy forgot entirely about his exchange with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth waited for an apology from Darcy, but none was forthcoming. When she saw him for dinner that evening, he seemed much less angry, but he did not mention a word about what had happened earlier. This, she felt, was an important piece in figuring out who the real Mr. Darcy was. She resolved to never bring another problem to him if it could possibly be avoided. He might say that he was willing to help, but his actions proved that false.