I know it has been a while, but lovely Riana Everly has been good enough to write an epilogue for her amazingly good book, “The Assistant”since I asked if we couldn’t get a view of Edward and his unconventional wife later in life, and with a grownup Elizabeth with Darcy. And lately, Riana has returned from her trip to Europe with her family, and sent me the copy of the aforementioned Epilogue!
You can contact Riana via these links;
Universal link to the book: www.books2read.com/theassistant
Now, I will let you read the Epilogue/Short Story! Happy Reading!
The Assistant – Epilogue: A short story
by Riana Everly
Edward looked down onto the streets of Derby from his room at the inn. The cobblestones shone wet from the night’s heavy rains and the air hung heavy with the smell of smoke, but the sun was struggling through the clouds, which in turn were thinning by the moment. The tang of memory hit Edward as keenly as the scent of fresh-baked bread from the kitchens below. It had been nigh on seventeen years before, on a day very much like this one, when he had last stayed in this room. That was the day his life changed, and oh, what a blessed change it had been! He chuckled at the recollection and took a lingering glance around the space before gathering the remainder of his belongings to load onto the coach for the last stage of this journey. His business completed to the satisfaction of all parties, he was headed back to his family.
The distance was not great—a mere ten miles—but the necessities of a late appointment the day before and another this morning just as the town was awakening had kept him in Derby overnight. Now he could put those cares away for some several days and enjoy the holiday he had planned. So enrapt was he in his memories and musings that he felt he had just settled into the carriage when it turned off the road and onto the path that led to the estate he had come to know so well. It was here that his dear wife had grown up, and here that his brother-by-marriage had settled with his own family, happy to care for the land that had been so hard won.
And there, running from the house, were the figures he would recognize anywhere. His two young daughters, still little girls in lace and bows and ribbons, all giggles and squeals and the gap-toothed smiles of childhood, tumbled over each other in their excitement at the sight of the carriage. As soon as it came to a stop, even before the grooms came to see to the horses, Edward had alighted and scooped the two children into his arms, covering their rosy faces with kisses, uncaring of his own face and clothing being covered in the remains of whatever jam they had eaten at breakfast. “Julia, Helena! How are my two best girls?” He laughed with them and whispered a secret about some gifts in his trunks. He had not been away for long, but he missed his family! Julia would soon be too big to embrace like this, and he vowed to enjoy every tickle until that day arrived.
Standing up now, he could see his sons waiting for him. Thomas wished for a hug and an embrace such as his sisters received, but he was clearly reticent. Edward well recalled the days when he, too, felt too old to demand such obvious paternal affection. Beaming his joy, he strode over to where the twelve-year-old boy stood and threw one arm around the lad’s shoulders, whilst ruffling his other hand through his son’s fair hair. “I trust you have been keeping a keen eye out for your mother and siblings, eh Tommy?” He was rewarded with a smile that mirrored his own. “I found that game you so enjoyed at a shop in Liverpool. We shall have plenty of time to discover its secrets before returning to London next month.”
And there, behind Thomas, lurking in the shadows, was Samuel. He was nearly fifteen years of age, quiet and serious, already taller than Edward, and lanky, with his father’s sandy hair and his mother’s pale eyes, as well as her startling intelligence. Sam would not appreciate such a physical show of paternal love, but would be well pleased with private chat after the chaos of the arrival had settled, when the two could talk man-to-man. Tea, and perhaps a game of cards or chess—those would suit Sam well.
And there, with a smile that after seventeen years could still illuminate his heart in the darkest of nights, was his wife. His beautiful, charming, unconventional wife. She said not a word, but waited quietly in one corner of the entry until all the rest of the party had dispersed back into the house, and then she grabbed his arm and pulled him into her corner, where she welcomed him home with a kiss that would surely shock their children. “I’ve missed you, Edward,” she whispered, before pulling him in for another embrace.
Before long, Edward’s belongings had been sent to his rooms to be unpacked, and the family were gathered in the morning room, where his brother-in-law and his family were waiting to greet him.
“Good success, Edward?” the gentleman asked.
“The best, Harry,” Edward answered between sips of coffee and nibbles of scone. “I shall have to take on another associate soon if business keeps up this way. Even with all the troubles,” he alluded to the armies of unemployed former soldiers trying to keep body and soul together, and to the severe shortages of flour and other staples, “we are doing tremendously well. I shall see about sponsoring more spaces at the local school for bright children in the area, and shall be able to double my contribution to the children’s hospital in London. We have been fortunate and what better way to show our gratitude than to share our fortune with the needy?”
“And that,” Harry’s voice took on a serious note, “is why you are the one man I know good enough for my sister.”
“I have news, Edward!” his wife wandered over from the sofa where she had been sitting. “You will never guess who is coming to visit, and to stay for some days, even!” Without giving him a chance to respond, she continued, “None other than Lizzy and Darcy and the children! They arrive this afternoon. It seems Darcy wishes to confer with my brother about how he is integrating the new factories without turning farmers off their lands. Whilst the men set about that matter, we shall have the pleasure of Lizzy’s company. Are you not delighted?”
Indeed, he was. Lizzy had long been his favourite niece. From her earliest childhood, Edward had predicted she would make a splendid match, and this she had, enticing one of the best—and wealthiest—men in this part of England to fall in love with her and marry her. Darcy was quiet and reserved almost to extremes, but he and Samuel had found a connection much like his own with his niece, and Edward was most pleased with this choice of relations. Lizzy could not have done better, for she and her husband suited perfectly, each with strengths to complement the other’s relative shortcomings. They would be welcome guests indeed.
As promised, the Darcy’s arrived in plenty of time before dinner to settle into their chambers and give the children some time to grow accustomed to the house. Arlenby was much smaller than Pemberley, but it was not their home and tender feelings must be accommodated. The older of the two, a son and the pride of his father’s life, was curious and sharp-witted, sounding much older than his three years when he spoke. The other, still a baby at thirteen months, was a sweet little girl who looked the image of her mother. They were only slightly younger than Harry’s children, and would remove to the nursery when not being doted upon by their parents and cousins. Edward’s youngest daughter, now eight years of age, immediately appointed herself baby Beth’s protectress and special guardian, cooing, “I can look after the baby all by myself! Yes, I can!”
Will, the Darcys’ son, scampered across the room in which the families were gathered. “Where is Cabal? I know he was with the other carriage. Has he not yet arrived?” The young voice seemed at odds with such clearly enunciated words and such perfect sentences.
“Cabal?” Harry asked.
“My hound,” Darcy replied. “He accompanies me when I travel. The children are quite lost without him. He will stay in the stables…”
“If he makes friends with my own hound, he may stay in the house,” Harry interrupted, earning a rare and brilliant smile from his guest.
“Thank you. Let us make that decision later. For the nonce, I would be pleased to conduct my son to the stables.” This pronouncement was met with general approval from all the children, and within moments the proud Mr Darcy led an excited contingent from the room, a veritable Pied Piper albeit with far less sinister motives.
“Darcy is far from the solemn youth I knew as a lad,” Harry smiled at Lizzy, who held baby Beth on her lap, the only child not to join the procession. “You have improved him.”
“Nay, sir, he is as he always was. He requires only comfort and the company of good friends to allow his true nature to shine forth!” She bestowed a beautiful smile upon her host, and Edward felt his own lips respond in kind, so pleased at the happiness evident in his favourite niece.
The following day Darcy and Harry retired to the study to discuss the matter that had brought the latter thither, and Edward and his dear wife spent some hours attending the discussions, for although the topic was of no personal relevance to them, it was a matter of interest and one that must affect the entire country at some time or another.
“For all its prosperity,” Darcy explained to the others in the study, “Pemberley is traditional—backward, even—in its economy. I know that industry is the way of the future, and where I must venture if my land is to retain its value, but I cannot countenance throwing good farmers off the good land. I have established some small mills on marginal land and at some of the fast-moving streams that flow down from the crags and hills, and still, I know this is not enough. You seem to have found some creative means to keep your farmers on your lands without sacrificing the productivity of your factories,” he directed to Harry, “and I would be most pleased to hear your ideas.”
Harry nodded and reached for a pile of maps and plans and began to explain his own careful plans and how they had unfolded over the past several years. Edward followed the conversation with interest, his mind wandering only occasionally as some notion or another sprung up as to how his own business might benefit from the concepts under discussion. With his own comments and those of his astute wife, and the morning passed more quickly than he could have imagined.
When they broke in the early afternoon for refreshments, they found Lizzy and Harry’s wife in animated conversation with their youngest children playing contentedly at their feet. Baby Beth had discovered the joys of building towers of wooden blocks and then sending them crashing to the ground with squeals of joy, and Harry’s two-year-old daughter Emily was contentedly ripping up scraps of three-day-old newspaper.
“Where are the others?” Darcy asked as he bowed low over his wife’s hand and caressed it with a kiss.
“Samuel made mention of a pond, and Will insisted on visiting it. Between Julia and Helena and Miss Lemmon’s careful attention, I saw no reason not to permit the outing. The day is fine, too fine to remain close to the house.”
“A grand plan, my dear,” Darcy smiled. “And it is excellent for cousins to grow up to be friends as well as relations. Such close connexions will serve them all so well as they grow.” Edward was aware of Darcy’s deep friendship with his own cousin, and concurred.
The six adults were soon settled at their own repast when noises from the garden doors drew their attention, and a gaggle of children rushed into the sunny parlour where their parents sat with tea and sandwiches. Faces were kissed and heads ruffled, until Darcy asked, “Where is Will?” His voice was cold, his eyes icy. This, Edward now knew, was a sign not of indifference or disdain, but of distress.
“Will?” Lizzy’s alarm was clear.
“Is he not home?” Miss Lemmon gasped. “I had thought he had returned with the girls, just a few minutes ago.”
“No,” Helena stated, “he did not join us to look at the roses, but rushed back to the pond where the boys were.
Samuel’s eyes grew wide. “I did not see him at the pond after he followed you,” he directed at his young sister’s. “We all thought he returned to the house with Cabal.”
“He is with Cabal?” Darcy’s voice, whilst still tight, eased the smallest amount.
“If he is with Cabal, he will be safe,” Samuel asserted. For all his own alarm, Edward knew the deep affection his son held for the Darcys’ large hound, and was quite convinced that the dog would protect its people with its life.
“We must find them! We must be off at once!” Lizzy leapt from her chair, and rushed off, calling for her hat and boots. Harry barked orders at the maid, who in turn dashed off to assemble a party of servants to assist in the search. Darcy was already at the door, calling for directions to the pond, whilst Harry’s wife assured everybody that she would remain with Miss Lemmon and the children, and would take care of baby Beth.
Despite Samuel’s confidence in his canine friend, the panic in the room was palpable: a three-year-old was missing!
Quick plans were made, and the various searchers ran off in their assigned directions to locate the child. He could not have travelled far, although he had been missing for nearly a quarter of an hour. Darcy’s voice shouted that he seemed not to be at the pond, although everybody held that dread that the boy might have fallen in and drowned. Lizzy could no longer hold back her tears and ran off to her husband who was stripping down to his shirt and breeches in order to dive into the pool of water to assure himself that his son was not in its depths.
In the chaos of tears and shouts and wringing of hands, Edward looked at his wife. “You don’t think…?”
“He could not know if it,” her sweet voice replied, “but we must be certain.” She now called for her own boots, and Edward did likewise, before meeting his lady at the door closest to the laneway that would take them to their destination.
“Where are you going?” Lizzy called from the gardens, her voice breaking with distress. Darcy had seen no sign of Will in the pond, but there were other dangers all around.
“An idea… just a thought… it cannot be, but one never knows…” her aunt replied as she moved smartly down the lane.
“I will join you!” Lizzy rushed after them, heedless of the state of her dress or of her red eyes.
The three moved quickly down the avenue of trees and shrubbery, past the edge of the property and into the woods beyond, whence came the trickle that fed the pond. There came to their ears the sound of rushing water, of the stream grown bold and swollen by the recent rains, and then the sound of a dog barking.
“Cabal!” Lizzy shouted, and in the distance, her husband’s voice echoed, “Cabal!”
The dog barked again, and then again. By the time the adults located the source of the barking, Darcy had caught up with them, and he added his voice to the calls of, “Will! Will!”
“Mama, Papa, I am safe!” A small voice sounded through the trees. “But I cannot come to you, for I am marooned.”
Where on earth, Edward wondered with distraction, did a three-year-old learn a word like “marooned?”
They broke through into a clearing by the stream, and there on a small island in the rushing water, stood young Will, with faithful Cabal at his side.
“I wanted to know where the water came from for the pond,” he stated, “and when I found this river, I decided to examine the rock here,” he pointed calmly to a large pink and black variegated stone. “But then the branch holding back the water broke away and I was stranded. Cabal came to be with me, but he could not carry me to safety.” The dog was, Edward could now see, covered in wet mud up to his haunches.
Darcy, already wet and muddy from his dive into the pond, delayed not an instant, but strode into the rushing waters, confident in his own strength and superior height. He reached his son in moments and carried him back to the safety of the shore, Cabal following obediently, his job of ensuring the child’s safety now completed. Edward’s mind flashed back to a similar incident so many years ago and he shivered at the recollection.
Hugs and kisses and cries of wonderment and alarm at the boy’s adventure ensued, his parents alternately angry and relieved, consoling and chastising, and before long the group returned to the manor house. Edward rushed ahead to alert the other searchers that the young fugitive had been found safe and sound, and by the time the others entered the house, they were met with warm blankets and the guilty good wishes of all.
“Uncle, Aunt,” Lizzy breathed when at last she felt able to relinquish her son from her arms, “however did you think to go to the woods? Whatever made you look there?”
Aunt Gardiner pulled the young woman into a quick embrace and winked at her husband. “Does she not know, my dear?”
Edward smiled and let his eyes drift back to a day not so different from this one, seventeen years before. “Ah, Lizzy, now that is a tale. Did I never tell you the story of how I met your aunt?”
Wasn’t that just lovely? And Sweet? Did you remember how Aunt Gardiner and Uncle Gardiner met? I chuckled at the ending, and just plain loved it personally!
Guys, that was that for this time! I will be back soon with “The Best Laid Flight Plans” with Leigh Dreyer. See you soon!