There had been little time for exploring Pemberley’s grounds what with adjusting to her new position as mistress, generally finding her way round such a large house, and being busy receiving callers eager to greet the new bride, so when Mr Darcy announced he was taking a few days off from estate business to please her every whim, Lizzy knew exactly what might please her fancy.
Wrapping up warmly against the cold weather, they set off across the formal gardens where nature was at its most restrained. Frost mired the stone planters on the balustrade, which in the summer had been filled with a riot of blooms, and Darcy gripped Lizzy’s arm tightly as they descended the stone steps and walked along the path that led to the wilder scenery beyond.
‘Have a care, dear, I would hate you to slip on the ice.’
Lizzy gazed up at her husband. He was so protective and always thinking about her welfare, but the last thing she wanted was to be kept permanently wrapped up like an ancient porcelain figurine or constrained in any way.
‘Do not worry, my love, I have my stout boots on, and I am known for my excellent walking skills,’ she retorted, and easing her arm out of his firm grip, she broke into a trot, and ran on ahead down the path before he realised she’d escaped. ‘Catch me if you can!’
Elizabeth’s laughter rang across the gardens. She looked behind her to see that her husband had taken up the challenge, and was bearing down on her fast, which made her laugh even harder. Spurred on to run like the wind, she pelted hard through the iron gates at the end, which separated the gardens from the park. Lizzy entered a beautiful stretch of land by the side of the stream, every step bringing a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods into view. Frost glittered on every blade of grass and sparkled like diamonds on the rocky outcrops in the distance, silvering the distant hills like shimmering mist. He was closing in on her as they entered the woods, and running past the water glinting in the winter’s sunshine, they ascended some of the higher grounds; where they were rewarded by sublime views of the valley, and the opposite hills. Elizabeth spurred on ahead through the hanging woods before skipping and running down to the edge of the water. She knew he was almost upon her when she saw the bridge, which Lizzy remembered from her walk last August, and the glen with room only for the stream and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood. Elizabeth longed to explore; and leading her husband on, sped swiftly along the winding path.
Finally, with her heart beating so hard she felt it might burst; Lizzy was forced to stop and catch her breath. Within seconds Darcy caught her and had her trapped in his arms. Gasping for air, and laughing so much she felt she might explode Lizzy surrendered at last.
‘I knew you could not catch me,’ she said with a grin.
‘And I made sure I did not. I enjoyed the chase, quite as much as when I was courting you.’
‘Whatever do you mean? You cannot be telling me that you were always in pursuit of me.’
‘For longer than I think either of us were aware. And you must admit, we had some sport with one another.’
‘We did, indeed, though it has to be said I oft had the upper hand,’ Lizzy said, smiling coquettishly.
‘On that subject I shall be silent as a gentleman should be. The lady must have her way.’
Lizzy pummelled him with her fists. ‘Oh, arrogant boy, I might know you’d try and have the last word.’
I haven’t been along here since I was a child,’ said Darcy ignoring her comments and looking about him, ‘though I do not recall it looking quite so lovely as it does today.’
‘I daresay you were intent on chasing rabbits or some such sport,’ said Elizabeth still panting for breath but aware that her husband’s eyes were observing her carefully. ‘I do not think small boys are still long enough to appreciate the beauty around them.’
‘No, you are probably right, but I certainly acknowledge it now.’ Darcy twisted a curl at her throat around his finger. ‘These woods with you at their heart have never looked finer.’
‘Flattery will not prevent my running away again,’ Elizabeth teased and looked away with a toss of her curls.
‘I have you now, and I am never letting you go again,’ Darcy whispered tenderly into her hair.
‘I am happy to submit for the time being, kind sir, if only to get my breath back for a moment.’
Darcy threw back his head of unruly dark curls and laughed. ‘You won’t escape me another time.’
‘And that sounds like a challenge, dear husband.’
Fitzwilliam Darcy gazed into the fine eyes of the woman he adored. ‘I am ready for you, Mrs Darcy. Let’s see if you dare to run this time.’
He tightened his grip bringing her closer until there was no space between them, backing her up against a twisted oak tree. Elizabeth felt the weight of his body pressed against her, and his lips on her cheek, peppering her face with kisses. Passions rising, Darcy found her mouth with the lightest touch, but then she felt him hesitate before he stepped back away from her. He looked solemn and grave as Elizabeth stared back into his dark eyes, black as slate in the dim woodland light and watched their breath making wisps of smoke on the cold air, the sound magnified in the quiet space, redolent with the scents of earth and moss. She saw him staring, drinking in every feature but boldly never left his gaze. She willed him to kiss her, hoping he would not take long.
‘This is your kingdom, Mrs Darcy, I do hope you like it,’ he said at last. ‘These woods and all you survey are ours to share.’
‘I simply adore it … and with you at my side I truly must be the luckiest creature in the world.’
‘I love you, Mrs Darcy with every last breath in my body, and I know all of Derbyshire and Pemberley will soon love you just as much.’
Elizabeth’s laughter broke the stillness of the air. ‘Oh, my darling Darcy, how did it take me so long to know how much I love you too.’
Stepping closer once more, he ran his fingers along her cheek, cupped her chin in his hand, tilting it towards him. Closing her eyes, she felt his fingers in her hair and his lips on her own. It was a slow and tender kiss, and Elizabeth felt herself sinking under the spell he cast so easily. She pulled him closer, willing it to last forever. They neither spoke again; both feeling that time in such a sacred place was so precious that words alone could not do justice to their feelings. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Pemberley woods seemed to embrace them in a moment never to be forgotten.