It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a sheep farmer in possession of a flock must be in want of a buyer.
The sheep, all prodigiously woolly and baaing at a loud volume, scattered across Mr. Darcy’s fields, driveway and onto the grounds of his ancestral home while he watched from the back of his horse.
“Move along!” Mr. Wentworth, his steward, was waving his hat and pushing the sheep farmer to herd the flock in the right direction. Namely off the lane and estate of Pemberley.
Mr. Darcy would not be surprised if the damnable contrary animals did not next stampede straight for the lake in front of his home. That was the only consistent action he had been able to perceive from the beast’s behavior. They would see a possibility of making his life more troublesome and immediately pursue it.
“Johnny, bring the dog over here. Get those sheep out of the fields!” yelled the sheepherder, one of Mr. Darcy’s tenants.
The tenant’s son, ten years of age and old enough to help with taking the sheep to the market in Lambton. Unfortunately, Johnny was small for his age and could not see over the mounds of wool on the sheep. And their herding dog was also too short or muddled to be of much aid either in the matter.
Mr. Darcy was trapped, unable to proceed down his long driveway to his home or even ride on the grounds as the sheep were everywhere and immovable, as only woolly sheep can be. He had galloped from London to arrive a day early, before the rest of his friends. A hot bath and good supper was all he had yearned for the last ten miles.
His horse was not enjoying the noises or the bleating beasts rubbing up against his legs, either. Their wool looked greasy and smelled of a particular stench he never wanted to smell again. It was a miracle it ever ended up as crisp white fabric at all.
But Fitzwilliam Darcy knew his riches were due to generations of sheep farmers and so he did not grumble the wait. Not until his horse’s patience ran out at being so near his stall and not making any progress. His horse reared up repeatedly, attempted to step sideways but was wedged by ewes on all sides. When Caesar gathered himself to rear up, Mr. Darcy knew it was time to find an alternate route home. Lest he be forcefully removed from his horse’s back.
Mr. Darcy guided Caesar towards a slightly less thick portion of the flock and encouraged his horse forward through the dense gathering. Caesar knew the way home, but his eagerness to get to the rubdown and oats awaiting was no rival to the stubborn nature of Derbyshire sheep. Especially those laden down with wool.
The advance was slow. Caesar thrust against the sheep in front of him, causing them to baa louder. Caesar’s ears were pinned back and Mr. Darcy fortified himself as well as he could for a biting and kicking horse. The unending baaing had given him a dreadful headache. He was positive they could have made faster progress in winter. In a blizzard. On foot.
He sighed as his horse stepped forward. The number of times they had marched against the tide in the last several minutes could be counted on one hand. After what seemed like hours, he could observe at last the final curve in his driveway. But the lane resembled a sheepwalk. He would ask his steward what had caused this ramification, after he had supper and a bath. Mr. Darcy would not disturb the sheepherder attempting to round up the mischievous livestock.
Mr. Darcy nudged his horse towards the left of the lake, which had fewer sheep, but Caesar refused and instead yanked to the right. This was not a development he had expected, as his horse was normally a docile and obedient gelding. But he understood why, as going around the lake to the right was by far the shorter distance to the stable yard.
With a click of teeth, he pulled the rein to the left. “Come, Caesar. We will arrive much quicker if go this way and avoid the larger grouping.”
He was grateful his friends had not traveled with him. Mr. Darcy had departed London a day early, to perfect preparations for the small party consisting of his sister Georgiana, Mr. Bingley, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, and Miss Bingley. It was luck they had not accompanied him into this muddle.
But even though Caesar had flicked an ear back, the horse refused to move, neither moving to the right or left. Mr. Darcy sighed and dismounted, hauling the reins over the horse’s head. He would have to lead his horse the rest of the distance. Hopefully, once they reached the lake, he could mount up. He did not want to arrive, leading his horse as if he had tumbled and could not get up again. The news would fly around Derbyshire before he would have finished his bath.
It had been a long day, and thoughts of final preparations before his guests arrived filled his mind. They had tramped past almost the entire side of the lake and were near a copse of trees when he saw a flash of white before he was hit in the legs. Thrown through the air, Mr. Darcy landed on his side and rolled, picking up speed while he frantically grabbed at the lawn before landing with a large splash in the cold lake.
Gasping, he pushed up from the muddy bottom and stood. Wiping the sopping wet hair out of his eyes, he glared at the sheep standing staring at him from across the lake. Caesar was nowhere in sight, and most likely had dashed straight to the stable. He sighed again. At least no one had seen his disgraceful fall. But he did not place good odds on his entering Pemberley without a servant noticing him. “Damnable, cursed creatures!”
Mr. Darcy struggled to pull his booted foot out of the mud. His progression towards the nearest bank, opposite from where he had been, was quite slow. The waterlogged clothing was heavy, and he kept sliding on the mud. After just a few steps, he slipped and fell, landing face first in the lake. He heaved himself out of the lake again, sputtering and pulling at his cravat.
His valet would have an apoplectic fit at the state of his clothing. None were fit to be worn again. Yanking his cravat off, he hurled it towards the bank. Followed by his jacket and waistcoat. His shirt was half out of his breeches, but surely it did not matter. No one but a servant would see him in such a state, most likely a stable lad jogging to determine what had happened to Caesar’s rider.
Mr. Darcy stumbled slowly, determined not to slip and fall again, towards the bank nearest Pemberley. Finally out of the lake, he cautiously walked up the bank towards a copse of trees, his boots squelching. Thank goodness he had seen no visitor’s carriages parked at the front steps. That would have been too much of a blow to his pride.