The maid pulled apart the curtains, and left the tea tray. As soon as she had withdrawn, Elizabeth opened her eyes and lifted her head from the feather pillow. Darcy, in his nightshirt, was beginning his ablutions with water-pitcher and bowl.
“Oh, Darcy,” she fairly wailed, “only look at the rain!” He turned from his splashing and smiled at her warmly.
“Derbyshire can be damp in winter, I believe I neglected to warn you when making my proposals,” he said teasingly, and turned back to his mirror. “No; I remember mentioning the rain on neither occasion.”
“Damp! My dear, it is pelting down sheets. Just look at the window-pane. And we were to have a long walk in the hanging-wood, which we did not reach yesterday. I have always wanted to see it.”
“Where is your philosophy, Elizabeth? You have a whole lifetime, and many summers, I hope, to inspect our hanging-woods. Today we shall enjoy ourselves indoors. There is still more for you to explore within Pemberley House, I do assure you.”
Elizabeth got out of bed, wrapping herself in her white baptiste peignoir and went over to him. They embraced warmly and some silent moments passed, ending with Elizabeth’s low laugh.
“Heavens! You are as damp as it is outside.”
“Never mind, I am only happy that your ardour precluded your waiting until I was dry.”
Elizabeth blushed and she changed the subject. “Well, and what have you in mind for entertainment indoors? It is true I have seen over the entire house now, but I have been so busy with arrangements, and learning where everything is and who everyone is, I have not become as tolerably familiar with my new home as I ought to be.”
“What do you say to the library?” Darcy suggested. “I have always meant to show you its contents, and have never yet achieved that.”
Elizabeth brightened at once. “Oh, yes! Let us go to the library immediately after breakfast.”
He gave her a last hug. “We will. Dress warmly, and I will tell them to build a fire in there. The damp does get into one’s bones.”
An hour later, they pushed the great library doors open and were greeted by a noble fire roaring in the handsome fireplace. Elizabeth looked about, glad of more leisure to study the room, which must, she thought, surely be one of the most beautiful in all England. The library faced north, the long windows framing the green hills and woods rising behind the house, a magnificent landscape. Comfortable seats and alcoves were scattered throughout the long, large room, with paintings interspersed between the tall standings of books, dark red, dark blue, and golden in their ancient bindings.
“How beautiful,” she breathed.
“Is it not? I confess it is my favorite room in the house. The Darcys have always been reading men, and the collection holds some very fine books of great antiquity.”
“Which is the oldest?” she asked.
“I believe our edition of Erasmus, the Moriae Encomium, from 1523. There are several other sixteenth century works, and a beautiful edition of Chaucer – here it is, the antique Speght edition of 1598. It is not the one I read, myself; too rare and fragile, I read a more modern copy.”
“Do you like Chaucer, and read him regularly?” Elizabeth asked in wonderment.
“Indeed I do, he is an old favorite, and I venture that you feel the same, for you are a student of human nature, and he is the best.”
“Oh yes! I learned to love to read Chaucer because he is my father’s favorite, too. He would always laugh to himself about the Wife of Bath. I ought not to say so, it is not respectful, but I believe she reminded him of my mother.”
Their eyes met and they laughed. “I am glad your father has such good friends to keep him company,” Mr. Darcy told her warmly.
“Yes. And you have many of our other favorites too, I see – Peregrine Pickle and Gulliver’s Travels, and oh, all of Johnson. I have never yet read his Tour of the Hebrides, and have longed to do so, but my father did not have it.”
“Do you like to read travels? We have many such – over here,” and her husband led her to shelves packed with gentlemen’s travels through several centuries.
“Oh, yes, I have been reading Miss – Miss Wollstonecraft’s letters from Sweden, which are so peculiarly interesting. However, I think it was a writer of fiction, Mrs. Radcliffe, who has most made me want to visit Italy; reading her Udolpho and The Italian, I quite felt I was there. And some of the descriptions in Corinne were sublime, though I don’t like Madame de Stael’s writing as well.”
“I have been hoping,” Darcy said diffidently, “not to read travels with you, but to take you a-journeying on the Continent. Should you like to go to Italy in the spring, Elizabeth?”
“Would I!” she gasped, and could not keep from clapping her hands.
He nodded. “Then we will. I shall delight in showing you its beauties – and Italy, your beauties, my beloved Elizabeth.”
“I never dreamed of such a thing in my life!” she exclaimed. “The Lakes were my farthest aspirations.”
“We shall see them too,” he smiled. “But meanwhile, we have this rainy day to get through, and probably a good many of them, until we go to London for the Season, after Christmas.”
She looked at him with sparkling eyes. “I do not think we will ever grow tired of being at home together in Pemberley, do you, Darcy? And it will take a long lifetime to read even a portion of so many thousands of books!”
“That is what I have been thinking. It will be an autumn and winter such as I have never experienced at Pemberley, with you here, my Elizabeth. We shall read together – and what luxury, if you will read to me!”
“To be sure. I shall read you some of my favorite novels, Miss Burney and Miss Edgeworth and Miss Austen – “
“Why, I have read them all! Many times, too.”
“Have you? I imagined you amused yourself with classical scholarship. It looks like it, if these shelves are any evidence,” and she indicated the volumes of Herodotus and Horace, Euripides and Virgil.”
“Certainly, any gentleman who has had a classical education finds perennial pleasure in the oldest authors. Do I collect that you feel the miss of such an education yourself? Will you like me to be your instructor?”
He had seated himself on a peculiarly carved wooden chair by the fire, and without more ado, confident enough to be familiar, Elizabeth climbed onto his lap. He caressed her, and the subject of books was forgotten for a few moments.
“I do hope that our marriage will give me some more solid education than I received in rummaging through my father’s much smaller library, and by patronizing the lending-library of Meryton,” she told him, abstractedly smoothing his hair.
“We will revel together in books, Elizabeth. I can hardly comprehend the pleasure it will be.”
“Nor I. But Darcy!” she exclaimed, “Whatever is this thing you are sitting upon?”
“Oh, this? It is quite a clever device, the chair turns into a library stair – get up, and I’ll show you.”
He demonstrated how, by opening up the wooden frame, a solid set of stairs to reach the highest shelves might be formed.
“Will the wonders of Pemberley ever cease?” she marveled.
“I hope not. Do you know what I should like, Elizabeth? If you would read to me from the Arabian Nights. I suspect it would be something, to hear those stories told in the voice of my own lovely Scheherazade.”
“Oh, if you wish, I will. My father never would let me read it; now I shall find out why. But oh, Darcy, look! It is clearing up – so suddenly too. There is the sunshine, positively streaming down from out of those silvery clouds.”
“You are right. By afternoon it may be dry enough for our walk, after all. We have just time for one story. Come and sit with me on the sofa. It is much softer than that hard chair, and I can put my arms about you.”
He took her hand and they reclined together on the pretty striped satin sofa, the Arabian Nights on their knees.