Would you like to spend part of your summer in the Lake District? In this delightful vignette by C. P. Odom, we will join Darcy, Elizabeth, and the Gardiners on their excursion. C. P. shares his own creation for the scene.
Summer in the Lakes
Tuesday, June 23, 1813
“Oh, that is a beautiful little valley down there, William,” Elizabeth said eagerly, her head craned to look out the window on her side of the coach. “Can we stop there for just a little while?”
“Ho, Jamieson!” Darcy called. “Pull up and move to the side of the road!”
“Yes, Mr. Darcy,” his driver responded, and the coach came to a stop by a fence just beside the road.
“Are you sure you wish to stop here, my dear?” Darcy asked. “We are pressed for time if we hope to make Ulverston by nightfall.”
“But it is not even noon. I heard it mentioned that it is merely fifteen miles from Lancaster to Ulverston. Surely we have sufficient time to arrive before nightfall.”
“I am sorry, but we cannot take the shortest route. We would have to pass over the Lancaster Sands, and that road is quite treacherous. The Sands are only passable at the very lowest of tides, and even then there are shifting sands and quagmires. We shall have to take the circuitous route. It is three times longer, but at least it is safe.”
“But surely this wonderful coach of yours is up to the task…”
“No, Elizabeth,” Darcy said firmly. “The shorter route always requires a guide who usually knows where the most dangerous spots are. But even with a guide, people have died when they stumbled into unexpectedly dangerous spots or when the tides started rising in contravention of expectations. I love you too dearly to chance harm over the saving of a few hours. If you wish to explore this little copse for very long, we shall simply return to Lancaster and travel to Ulverston on the morrow. It is not as though we have to keep to a rigid schedule, after all.”
“Listen to your husband, Elizabeth,” Mr. Gardiner said from the other seat. “I have heard of the Lancaster Sands, and Mr. Darcy is entirely correct to be wary.” Aunt Gardiner nodded in agreement, either from her own knowledge or because she trusted her husband.
All of this was a surprise to Elizabeth, but she made no argument. She recognized the tone of Darcy’s voice; he was acting as her protector, and he was absolutely immovable in that role. And with the added agreement of her uncle, the question was absolutely settled.
“Very well. I had not realized the danger, but I bow to your knowledge. It is far more extensive than my own.”
“The past three weeks have been delightful, Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “Your husband’s suggestion that the four of us take the excursion we had to forego last year was an inspiration, and it would be a shame to court danger for no reason. But let us have a look at what you have discovered. There seem to be wonderful aspects almost everywhere about the district, even in the most obscure places.”
Darcy had descended by this time, and Elizabeth eagerly took his hand to step down beside him. The coach stood just off the road beside a rough wooden fence, and Darcy’s two footmen stood waiting to do their master’s bidding while the driver remained at his seat.
“I do not think we shall need any assistance,” he said to the pair. “We should not be long and just want to look around for a brief time.”
“Very good, sir,” said the older of the two men. “Call us if you need anything.”
Mrs. Gardiner was being assisted down by her husband by this time, and Elizabeth had gone to an opening in the fence.
“Look! There are steps down into the hollow! Other travellers must stop here also.”
“Interesting,” her husband responded, looking around. “It is the most likely explanation, but who would have built them here? There seems to be no sign of a house or cultivated land nearby.” He saw Elizabeth already move through the opening in the fence, obviously intending to descend the stone steps.
“Be careful, dear! Those stairs look old and could have moss growing on them from the rains,” he called in warning.
“The steps do not appear unduly hazardous,” she said, stepping down carefully in any case. Quickly, she continued until only the top of her head was visible.
“Oh, this is lovely down here! Everyone, please come join me.”
The other three travellers walked to the top of the steps, by which time Elizabeth had already reached the bottom and was looking about in obvious delight. Darcy lost no time in joining her though the Gardiners paused partway down.
“Look all around!” Elizabeth said, her pointing arm swivelling around the full extent of the hollow, which had a small lake populated with rushes and lily-pads. Several streams wound downward toward the lake that seemed to drain somewhere on the other side. “It is so quiet and restful, is it not?”
“Quiet?” Darcy said in amusement. “Between the birds calling in the trees, the frogs croaking from the water, and the crickets and locusts singing their songs all about, I can hardly hear myself think.”
“Oh, you know what I mean!”
“Of course I do, dear,” Darcy said with a laugh. “I was just teasing you.”
“Which you are doing with increasing skill. I thought it would be my purpose to tease you, but somehow you seem to be teasing me far more than I expected!”
“I think the reverend mentioned something about better and worse…”
“You do keep reminding me of that, sir!”
The SLAP! of a largish fish jumping up at a flying insect and falling back into one of the slow-moving streams drew their attention, and Mr. Gardiner was quick to give the alarm.
“Look, my dear!” he cried, twisting about and pointing to the ripples spreading out on the surface of the stream. “A trout, I do believe! Oh, if only I had my tackle with me!”
“Which is why my aunt and I contrived to leave it behind, dear uncle,” Elizabeth said gaily. “William said many of the streams would be bursting with fish after the spring rains, and my aunt and I knew we would not have enough time to indulge your obsession every time we passed near water.”
“Exactly correct, Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner said, looking approvingly at the Darcys. They were likely not aware of their close proximity on the grassy sward, but she could easily comprehend how comfortable they were with each other. Once more, she felt warmth flow through her at the clear attachment between them.
Mr. Gardiner only had eyes for his watery prey and avidly sought another repetition. His search, however, was in vain, and after finally giving up, he shook his head sadly and looked at Darcy. “Do you see how my own family conspires against me, Mr. Darcy? I suppose I am too predictable, but it is an incontrovertible fact that those who are not anglers simply do not understand the fascination.”
“Be patient, sir. I also am an angler, and I shall make sure you have a chance to indulge your passion.”
“You will? That is encouraging news!”
“Certainly. Remember, we shall be stopping at Pemberley for a week after we leave the Lakes, and there are several places up in the hills that I have been meaning to investigate for years. We shall have sufficient fishing to assuage that obsession of yours before returning to London.”
“Oh, you are a magnificent host, sir! Simply magnificent!”
“And at least your wife and I shall be able to allow you both to get this out of your system in comfort. And Georgiana should have arrived by that time, so the three of us can entertain ourselves while you men are doing your indulging.”
Darcy looked up at Mr. Gardiner. “I do believe you have a point about non-anglers, sir…”
“If you are finished feeling sorry for yourself, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said archly, “perhaps you might consider escorting me about this little lake? I could get into all sorts of trouble by myself, you know…”
Mrs. Gardiner looked up as she spied Darcy and Elizabeth returning from their walk around the small lake. The walk had taken longer than expected; at least an hour had passed since they started.
Or, she thought, looking more closely, it is more possible they tarried for some embraces and probable kisses since they were out of sight several times. But I am so pleased to see both Elizabeth and Darcy still acting much like a newly married couple, even after almost three-quarters of a year of marriage.
She and her husband were sitting together on one of the stone steps, and she nudged him and nodded her head toward the approaching couple. He smiled at her conspiratorially, their minds following the same pathways as is so often the case with long-wedded pairs like themselves.
But he restrained any comment until Darcy and Elizabeth were quite close. “I was growing worried that both of you had managed to get lost, Mr. Darcy. But you appear to have braved the ordeal without incident.”
“Though I do suspect we shall be returning to Lancaster as you suggested,” Mrs. Gardiner added. “The afternoon sun is not as warm as it was earlier, and this stone has grown quite cold.”
“I am sorry, Aunt,” Elizabeth said, glancing at Darcy with obvious fondness. “I kept finding all manner of things to investigate and look at during our journey.”
“Such as frogs, many a large trout, foxes trotting in and out of the bushes in search of dinner, and even a very large covey of quail that took off as we approached.”
“I did see them explode in the air from here,” Mr. Gardiner said. “But, since I am much more a fisherman than a hunter, I would have been more interested in the trout than the birds. But there is good hunting and fishing here. I cannot believe someone does not own the land, but perhaps they are absentee owners and do not exploit it as they would in other areas.”
“It does take an excursion to get here,” Darcy said, “and I have not seen any houses before arriving here. And you are correct, Mrs. Gardiner. Lancaster it shall be.”
“And we should be on our way if we hope to find an inn with rooms,” Elizabeth said sadly. “I am sorry to have occasioned such delay, but I love exploring so. This hollow is completely wild and untended except for those stone stairs and the fence, but it is almost as delightful as Pemberley.”
“And we know how much you love Pemberley,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “When we visited at Christmas, it was difficult to keep you indoors, even when the weather turned colder.”
“I had to stop her several times when snow fell and she was searching through her closet for her snow boots so she could go tramping about,” Darcy said, looking at Elizabeth fondly.
“Which I later found in your closet, sir!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Can you imagine? Imprisoned by my own husband!”
“Much like when you were first married,” Mr. Gardiner whispered in an aside to his wife. His comment should have been inaudible, but he had forgotten Elizabeth’s near-supernatural hearing since her cheeks reddened and her eyes swivelled to meet Darcy’s.
“Um, yes…well,” Darcy said, obviously amused but having trouble framing his words. “I suppose we had best be on our way. I see that Williamson is taking the feed bags off the horse, so he must have the team ready to leave.”
After Mr. Gardiner arose and helped his wife to her feet, they turned to climb the stairs to the waiting coach that one of the footmen had ready for them, the step down and the door open. Elizabeth had her arm through Darcy’s as she turned to look about the little hidden valley once again in approval.
“It is such a lovely little place, and I had a wonderful time,” she said, but she resisted as Darcy started to turn toward the stairs. She raised her head and cupped her hand to her mouth, and he lowered his head to hear her whisper.
“I do so love you indulging me in such an unplanned manner. I dearly wish we had taken one of the blankets from the coach as we departed, but I supposed we would have had no possibility of concealing what I wished to do with you when we were concealed by that large thicket.”
“In which case, we would have been even later returning, and your cheeks would have been red all the way back to Lancaster. But I am sure we shall find an inn with a large bed for the two of us.”
“I am depending on it, my love,” Elizabeth said eagerly. “I am depending on it!”
What did you think of this visit to the Lake District? What about the valley? Did you enjoy the part about Mr. Gardiner and the trout? I laughed at the ladies having left his tackle behind! Doesn’t this sound like a lovely holiday! We would love to hear your thoughts.
Thank you, C. P. Odom for allowing us to spend this lovely day with some of our favorite characters.
Books by C. P. Odom
A Covenant of Marriage Coming This Fall
Pride, Prejudice, & Secrets Audiobook Available the end of July or first of August.
A Most Civil Proposal Audiobook coming late August or early September.