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Authors: Elizabeth Aston

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Chapter Six

After lunch, although heavy clouds threatened further downpours it was not actually raining, and Phoebe suggested they take advantage of the break in the weather to venture outside. A walk to stretch Louisa's legs after the hours in the carriage would be welcome, she was sure, “And it means that you will be able to escape Betsy for an hour or so.”

They went out of the French windows which led from the small downstairs drawing-room into a small, circular conservatory, fragrant with the scent of jasmine. From there, they went down some steps and into the cold, damp air of the gardens.

Phoebe turned left, as Louisa knew she would.

“I thought we might call in at the stables just for a moment,” Phoebe said, when taxed with this.

“I know your equine moments, and if you fall into a discussion with Mr. Jessop as to the points and merits of some horse that Mr. Darcy has bred, then I shall abandon you.”

Phoebe laughed, and said she would do no such thing.

The stables were a short way beyond the house, through a handsome arch with a large clock that struck three as they went into the cobbled yard. Mr. Jessop, who was Mr. Darcy's
head groom at Pemberley, was there, inspecting the shoe of a handsome grey gelding. Phoebe greeted him as an old friend and ran a hand down the horse's gleaming dappled neck.

“He's new, isn't he?”

“He's one of a matched pair of carriage horses that Mr. Darcy has had sent up from London. They're young and need more work and to learn their manners before he'll trust them to London streets. You looking to take a horse out, Miss Phoebe? Not that you're dressed for riding, but if you're planning to, just let me know and I'll send one of the grooms out with you.”

Phoebe laughed. This was an old point of friction between her and Mr. Jessop. She preferred to take a horse out on her own, and dispense with the groom. Jessop, of a previous generation, considered it unsuitable that any young lady should ride out alone, even if she was only riding within the extensive grounds of the Pemberley estate. It wasn't merely a matter of propriety; what if the young lady took a toss, and they had to search the grounds to find her?

“Have you a suitable mount for Miss Louisa?” Phoebe asked.

Jessop released the horse's leg, and signalled to a lesser groom to come and lead the animal away. He scratched his chin and looked at Louisa. “She'd best take out Mrs. Darcy's bay mare,” she said.

“Will my aunt mind?” said Louisa.

“It's not often Mrs. Darcy rides, as you know. Your mother, Mrs. Bingley, rode her the last time she was here. She's a keener horsewoman than Mrs. Darcy ever was, and you take after her, if I may say so, Miss Louisa, with nice light hands and a good seat.”

“As long as the bay mare isn't too skittish,” said Louisa.
“I'm not such an intrepid horsewoman as Miss Phoebe, remember.”

“The mare's a comfortable ride for any young lady. And what about you, Miss Phoebe? Will you be waiting to take out Viper?”

Phoebe laughed. “I'd love to, Jessop, but I wouldn't dare. It's not that I don't think I could ride Viper, but I do know that if my uncle heard that I had mounted him, I would be in trouble.”

“Just give me the word, Miss Phoebe, and I'll have Marchpain saddled up for you. He's in the third stall along, go and have a look. Sir Henry Martindale bred him, and I advised Mr. Darcy to buy him, he's a lovely ride.”

Louisa raised her hands in a gesture of defeat. “I knew how it would be. Phoebe, I shall leave you to the horses, and go down to the river. No, you are happy here, and I shall be just as happy on my own.”

 

Louisa walked along the parterre on the southern side of the house and round the west end. From there she walked down the path that took her to the river, walking with care, as it was slippery after the rain. At the bottom, she crossed on to the stone bridge that arched over the river, and stopped to look down into the limpid waters, where green weed was moving lazily in the slow current.

Lost in thought, she didn't hear the sound of an approaching horse until horse and rider were only a few yards away. She looked up to see a complete stranger, a man who looked to be in his early thirties, sitting astride a nervous young chestnut, which he was controlling with some skill. He rode with the straight-backed style of a military man, wore a blue coat, and seemed very much at his ease.

“The house is closed,” she said, assuming that he must be a visitor anxious to see round the house, although it was more usual for sightseers to be in a party. “There is no point in going any further.”

It was odd that he should be there, for the gates had been closed behind her carriage when she had driven through, and yet this man had somehow entered the park. He looked very much the gentleman, but even so, he had no right to be here, Pemberley was not a public park to be ridden through at any man's whim. “Neither the house nor the grounds are open at present.”

“And when they are, it is no doubt only between the hours of ten and one,” he replied. He touched his hat with his whip. “Your servant, ma'am. I am not here to see the house, but to pay a visit.”

“A visit? Whom are you visiting?” Not her, that was certain, and who else was there? Phoebe? It didn't seem likely.

“Since you ask, I am here to see Mr. Drummond.”

“There is some mistake, there is no Mr. Drummond here.”

“No? I stand to be corrected, but he was certainly here a week ago, and I have no reason to suppose that he has left.”

“This is Pemberley, have you mistaken your destination?”

“No, I believe not. It is Mr. Darcy's seat, is it not?” He ran a knowing eye over her. “Are you one of Mr. Darcy's daughters?”

“I am not.”

“No, you don't look like him, although I do see a likeness to Mrs. Darcy.”

So he was acquainted with Mr. Darcy; well, that was something, but it still did not justify his appearance here, in pursuit of the mysterious Mr. Drummond.

“Mrs. Darcy is my aunt. But you are mistaken if you think a Mr. Drummond is here. No one of that name is at the house.”

“No, he will be about in the gardens at this time of day. And he resides, so I am reliably informed, in the South Lodge.”

“The South Lodge?”

“Mr. Drummond is in charge of the works which Mr. Darcy has put in hand. He is also an old friend of mine.”

“A gardener, a friend of yours?” Louisa's eyebrows rose in disbelief. Gardeners were excellent people in their way, she herself was on the best of terms with the gardener at home, and had a great admiration for his expertise, but for a gentleman to call such a person his friend was extraordinary.

“An old and close friend,” the man said. “You will no doubt make his acquaintance if you are staying here. Good day to you.”

And with that, raising his whip to the brim of his hat again, he dropped his hands, and the bay, after a spirited leap sideways, cantered off up the path.

Louisa watched the rider go, a frown furrowing her brow. “Mr. Drummond! ‘My friend the gardener'? What was all that about?”

Her mood of peaceful contemplation broken, she gathered up her skirts so that she might walk more briskly. It was beginning to spit with rain, and giving up her plan of a longer walk, she headed back to the house.

 

Mr. Drummond, seemingly oblivious to the rain which was by now falling quite heavily, put down his measuring rod and greeted the blue-coated horseman with enthusiasm. “Arthur! Good God! What brings you here?”

Arthur Stanhope dismounted and drew the reins over his horse's head. “How are you, Hugh?” He held out his hand, but as Hugh Drummond lifted his own to show the mud on it,
clapped him on the shoulder instead. “I'm visiting my sister, she lives not half a dozen miles from here.”

“Of course, Lady Martindale. I had forgotten she lived in Derbyshire.”

“Yes, and hearing that you were installed at Pemberley, I rode over to see how you do. It is a magnificent house, I have to say.”

“It is good to see you, Arthur, it's been two years or more. And so you've finally sold out, no more strutting around in your fine Hussar uniform all day and then dancing the night away in dashing style in every capital city of Europe.”

“We cavalry men don't strut,” said Stanhope. “Can we go in out of the rain? Or are you obliged to work outside in all weathers?”

“Good lord, no.” Drummond called out to a boy who was pushing a barrow almost as big as he was. “Will, leave that. Go to the stable and tell a groom to come and take Mr. Stanhope's horse.” And then, turning back to Mr. Stanhope, he said, “We can take shelter in the glasshouse. This is only a shower, it will soon pass.”

Hugh Drummond was a lean, wiry man, just the build for a Light Bob, which had been his regiment when he was in the army, while his much grander and richer friend, Arthur Stanhope, had been destined for a crack cavalry regiment the moment he decided, quite against his irascible father's wishes, to sign up. The two men had first met at Cambridge. Hugh Drummond, a vicar's younger son, and Arthur Stanhope, the eldest son of a noble landowner and statesman, might not have appeared to have much in common, but nonetheless, they became firm friends.

They joined the army at much the same time, and served together in the Peninsula under Wellington. They had both
been injured in the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo, and had been invalided back to England for several months. Stanhope had insisted on his friend staying in the Stanhopes' London house, and receiving treatment from the eminent physician who was called in to attend to Arthur himself. “Not that Dr. Molloy will do any better at poisoning you with dreadful potions than any country doctor, but he charges more, and so his medicaments must be more efficacious,” Arthur had told Hugh, trying to hide the concern he felt when it seemed likely that his friend would lose an arm.

But Hugh Drummond kept his arm, and stayed in the army until, after Waterloo, when he realised that the chances for advancement would become more and more limited for a man in his position, he returned to England and studied to become a lawyer.

“We can take shelter in the pinery over there,” said Drummond, breaking into a run as the rain began to pelt down in earnest.

Stanhope followed his friend through the narrow door that led into a large glasshouse. It was gloomy and a smell of damp, warm earth pervaded the air. “So Mr. Darcy grows pineapples, an expensive and difficult business, I am told,” Stanhope said. He walked to the centre of the glasshouse, where a small fountain stood empty, its spout thickened with verdigris.

“Yes, and it's hard to keep an old glasshouse like this at the right temperature and properly ventilated, and Mr. Darcy's head gardener is in a constant state of worry about his plants. You can't do much to improve conditions. Look at all the broken and cracked glass.” Drummond pointed to the glass roof above his head, with open spaces where the glass had fallen out all together. “And it's the devil of a job picking up all the
glass from the leaves and the plants. Fortunately it's not my responsibility.”

“So what is your responsibility, and what exactly are you doing here?” Stanhope asked. He reached down to investigate a broad, spiky leaf. “By the way, there's a colony of beetles taken up residence here.”

“I dare say. I'll tell Grayling, he's the head gardener. Excellent man.”

“You were always keen on botany and horticulturalism yourself,” said Stanhope. “And your father is extremely knowledgeable, is he not?”

“Yes, and it's that knowledge which explains why I'm here, and not sweating away in a room in London dealing with whatever legal cases I can get my hands on.”

“I remember you were going in for the law. Were you called to the bar?”

“No, no, it would have been far too an expensive venture for me to become a barrister, it is so many years before one can hope to make an income, and so private means are essential. No, I qualified as a solicitor, and then, by chance, a most fortunate chance, my name was mentioned to Mr. Darcy. I am now in charge of all his properties and estates, and of course the principal one is Pemberley. Since Mr. Darcy has a wish to improve the park and gardens, and to make some necessary modernization in the way things are run, I have taken it upon myself to spend some weeks here this year, putting the works in hand. One of the plans is to build a modern glasshouse or two, and so, in due course, Mr. Darcy will be able to grow a great many more pineapples for his table.”

“Are you intending to pull this one down?” Stanhope asked, looking around him. “I suppose it is quite small, it is the
fashion now to construct much larger glasshouses. However, these older ones have their charm.”

Drummond frowned, and taking a small knife from his pocket, he crossed to the nearest set of glass panes and dug it into one of the wide wooden struts that held the glass in place. “Soft as butter, it will fall down of its own accord in a year or so, this is all rotting away. And besides, we are much more scientific these days. It is better to have a lighter structure, with narrower glazing bars, so that more light is let in. I will show you the designs for the new glasshouse, if you are interested.”

He looked at his friend with a sudden smile. “But I bore you, you are not interested in glasshouses and horticulture. What do you do with yourself now you are no longer in the army? You will be following in your father's footsteps, I dare say; I am sure a glittering political career awaits you. When do you take your seat in Parliament?”

“Never, if I can help it, not until I'm obliged to enter the Lords, and I hope my father lives to be a hundred, to put off that evil day.” Stanhope took off his hat and ran a finger along the brim. “I swear this is wilting in the damp, I shall have to change my hat maker.” He smoothed his hair with an impatient gesture before placing the hat back on his head. “I am not interested in domestic politics.”

BOOK: Mr. Darcy's Dream
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