Mr. Darcy and the Naked Maja

Their first Christmas was a real delight for Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. They arrived from two weeks of blissful solitude in London after their wedding to find Pemberley in a flurry of activity, with preparations for the holiday in full swing. The festive season itself was pure joy, with long visits from the Gardiners, the newlywed Bingleys, and even the Bennets. The stately halls of Pemberley rang with the laughter of children, the amorous whispers of not one, but two pairs of newlyweds, and the general joy of everyone else. There were parties, the traditional Yule log, church on Christmas morning, and an amazing Christmas dinner orchestrated by the redoubtable Mrs. Reynolds.

By Twelfth Night, all the guests had departed—with plans to gather over the summer—and winter settled over Pemberley in earnest. A week after the holidays had ended, the three Darcys lingered over their breakfast. “Georgiana, if you require any new books or music, please give me a list this afternoon. I plan to place an order tomorrow. Elizabeth, it has been our habit to place an order with the bookseller’s in London shortly after the holidays. I can give you a copy of the catalogue, if you would be good enough to write down your order today as well.”

“That would be lovely, Fitzwilliam.” Elizabeth smiled. She had seldom been able to order whatever she wanted from a London bookseller’s catalogue. With breakfast out of the way, Georgiana left for her music room, and Elizabeth and Darcy strolled arm in arm to their adjoining studies. They had tried placing a small desk for Elizabeth in his study, but for various reasons, it had proven to be inconvenient. The room next door had been fitted out for Elizabeth, and the communicating door ensured they could be together whenever they wished.

Elizabeth followed her husband into his study and waited while he handed her the massive list of available books. When he said, “Order anything you wish, dearest. Just put your own name at the top of the list so your package will be delivered to you,” she smiled and kissed him before taking the list to her own study. Two hours later, she sat back and looked at her list. It included the latest two-volume set of Mr. Wordsworth’s poems as well as some other contemporary poetry. She was embarrassed to note that there were no less than five novels, but she reasoned that Georgiana could enjoy them, too. And she had selected a rather weighty tome on the subject of household management and accounts, wishing to check herself not only with her husband and with Mrs. Reynolds but with a recognized expert on the subject. She wrote her name at the top of the list: Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, thinking how well it looked and sounded.

Darcy smiled and nodded his approval when she handed him her list, and he suggested several additional volumes of contemporary poetry. “It’s an area where we are somewhat lacking,” he observed. He placed Elizabeth’s list together with his own much longer list and Georgiana’s which consisted mostly of sheet music. Then he stood and held out his arms to her. “It’s hours yet until we have to dress for dinner, and it has begun to snow. Let us sit and enjoy ourselves by the fire.” His wife could make no argument to that, and so they did.

As January wore on, the weather turned bitter cold, and there seemed to be a snowstorm every few days. Although Mr. Darcy rode out in all weathers to attend to Pemberley, the afternoons provided the perfect opportunity for long talks, quiet intervals of reading, and other activities. The Darcys made the library their headquarters, and everyone knew not to disturb them there when the doors were locked.

Mail was not getting through efficiently because of the unusually foul weather.  The usual time for a letter to make its way from London to Pemberley was one and one-half days, and the post always arrived before breakfast. However, the shipment of books arrived one morning after Darcy had already left on an errand with his steward. As usual, Keasey, the butler, sorted the mail and gave it to a footman for distribution. The footman laid the parcel addressed to Mr. Darcy on the desk in his study. He handed Miss Georgiana’s to her in the music room. And he found Mrs. Darcy in her own study and set her package down for her.

Fate, as we all know, has a fickle finger. If Darcy’s secretary, Mr. Owsley, had not been marooned in London by the bad weather, this story might have had a different, and far more prosaic ending. If the clerk at the booksellers had not been so vain as to refuse to have his eyes examined, he might have had spectacles, and the story would not have taken place at all. If the post had gotten through to Pemberley on time, all the residents might have been home, and the books might have been received and distributed by Mr. Darcy himself with far greater efficiency than the butler and the footman. But, Gentle Reader, as I have warned you, fate has a fickle finger, and the fickle finger writes, and having writ, moves on, nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears blot out a word of it.

Georgiana was delighted with her parcel of music and got to work immediately on one of Mr. Mozart’s lovely and difficult sonatas. She was soon blissfully unaware of her surroundings.

Mrs. Darcy was puzzled by her parcel. Although it was addressed to Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, it contained two treatises on contour plowing and new methods of crop rotation as practiced in the Colonies, one volume on the prevention of common diseases of sheep, and a book on investments which she clearly remembered seeing in her uncle Gardiner’s office. There were several books written in Greek which must be classics.

And, finally, there was a large and beautifully bound folio volume entitled “Beautiful Women Throughout the Ages.” The book was newly published and printed, and to Elizabeth’s great delight, it was illustrated with fine engravings and exquisitely rendered color plates. She noted some of the newly-arrived Elgin marbles, beautifully and faithfully replicated with the engravings. She opened the book a little further on and found gorgeous images of a medieval Book of Hours, followed a few pages on by several blissful and serene renderings of the Madonna and Child. She was captivated.

Then she opened the book again towards the very end, where she found lovely portraits of illustrious ladies, many done by artists who were still living. And last of all—last of all was a color plate that caused her eyes to open wide and her cheeks to turn pink. She was glad no one was present but herself. She closed her eyes, opened them again, and bent over the picture to study it carefully.

Darcy came in about two hours later. Informed by Keasey that the book delivery had arrived, he went straight to his study and opened the package directed to him. It contained five novels, several books of poetry, and a large, dry-looking book on household management which in his opinion, his wife did not need. It seems their packages had been misdirected. She most likely had his, though she could certainly have entered his study to exchange them. He tapped on her door, and when there was no answer, he opened it and looked around it.

He found his pile of books waiting on Elizabeth’s desk, just as he had expected. He replaced them with her selections and carried his own back to his office. Everything was in perfect order with the exception of the book of plates and engravings he had ordered more than a year ago. It would make a stunning addition to Pemberley’s collection of books on the fine arts, and he was disappointed that it was not there. He made a mental note to write to the bookseller, laid his books aside, and went off in search of his wife.

His first stop was the library, which also adjoined his study. He unlocked the door from his study into the library and went in. There he found his wife reclining on the chaise longue by the fire in precisely the same attitude, and precisely the same state of undress, as the principal figure in Goya’s “La Maja Desnuda.” He had never seen the portrait personally, but with her dark hair and creamy skin, his Elizabeth certainly bore an uncanny resemblance to the subject of that portrait. His mouth went dry as he noticed the book resting on the couch next to Mrs. Darcy.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy.” She ran her fingers lightly—and suggestively—over the spine of the volume before replacing her arms behind her head. That attitude, of course, showed her lovely bosom to perfection, and he concluded that Nature had endowed his wife somewhat more generously than the Maja. He was a lucky man. But what was she saying? 

“My education in the fine arts is woefully lacking. I thought we might begin with this engraving of Mr. Goya’s painting and proceed back through the volume in an orderly fashion.”

To the Library

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