To clear up a few questions: Darcy’s relationship to his aunt is explained in this chapter and I also wanted to go over peerage rules.
Many titles could pass through the female line to the next male relative. Some could even be *held* by a female in her own right. Occasionally, titles were even created for women. When a woman holds a title in her own right, meaning without it being from her husband and was therefore created or inherited, it is called suo jure.
Magdalena, Lady Darcy is the Baroness by de jure because the title is technically abeyant (meaning held waiting for one heir to emerge). After her father (Lord Henry Darcy) died, the title fell abeyant between her and her sister (Isabella, Darcy’s grandmother). Although Darcy’s grandmother married and had a child who also had heirs, by law the title remains in abeyance until Magdalena dies. Although we know by science she would not conceive a child at eighty, the law does not take into account this sex-specific technicality. If a man can sire an heir until death and pass on a title, so may a female. Thus, Lady Darcy holds the title in name only (de jure) and only her death or a court ruling honoring her claim will end the abeyance. As of this point in the story, she owns one-third of the claim (although Darcy and Georgiana have not submitted claims) and must await a court ruling, which often dragged its feet in hopes of a male heir. Her being called Baroness is a courtesy title. Fitzwilliam Darcy is her heir presumptive in the way that Mr. Collins is Mr. Bennet’s heir presumptive.
Additionally, Darcy’s grandfather took the Darcy surname so that his heirs would have it when it came time for them to inherit. As such, although Magdalena Darcy is sister to Darcy’s grandmother, they share the same last name.
Other matters: In the first chapter 3 sources of conflict emerge: E/D relationship, B/J relationship & Wickham. They can’t all be dealt with simultaneously. 🙂 So, for the curious minds about Bingley, bear with me. It is NOT forgotten although other conflicts become more pressing for many chapters.
My Dearest Niece,
I send you my love as does your uncle and cousins. The girls greatly miss you, and you are welcome back at any time. I know my words are poor comfort after all the turmoil you have been through, but recall a great life can come from the loss you have faced.
Your loving Aunt,
“Did you enjoy the performance, Lizzy?” Mr. Edward Gardiner asked the niece sitting to his right.
“Very much. I can hardly recall a time I enjoyed the theatre more,” Elizabeth replied. In truth, however, her mind had wandered.
She had arrived in London yesterday with Sir William Lucas and his daughter. Tomorrow they were to leave and continue their journey on to Hunsford, Kent where Sir William’s eldest daughter, and Elizabeth’s former best friend, now lived with her husband. Ordinarily, she would have much to look forward to with such a journey, and she always enjoyed spending time with her aunt and uncle, yet she felt unsettled. Whilst they did not often go to the theatre, and she always enjoyed the outing, tonight, her mind was full of other things. Now that she could no longer speak to her father, she began to wonder if she should have.
Elizabeth had been following her uncle blindly through the crowd, too anxious to appear normal, when she accidentally stumbled into a solid form.
“Pardon me! I am so sorry!” she exclaimed while reeling backwards.
Strong hands captured her elbows and steadied her. “Are you certain you are well — Miss Bennet!”
Elizabeth heard the astonished tone of Mr. Darcy’s familiar voice and finally looked up. Of all the people she had to crash into in London, it had to be him?
“Forgive me, Mr. Darcy. I should have taken better care of where I was going,” she said.
“Think nothing of it,” he said with a kinder tone than she could recall from their meetings in Hertfordshire. “You are uninjured?” he anxiously looked her up and down.
Elizabeth allowed a soft chuckle to escape before her reply. “I am sturdier than that.”
“Indeed. I recall you walking several miles to visit your ill sister. Surely one misstep in a crowded hall did you no damage.”
Elizabeth knit her brows. She was confused by his continued and odd conversation. He suddenly seemed to recollect himself.
“It is a surprise seeing you in London. Have you been here long?” He seemed to anxiously scan the room. He likely wanted to find an acquaintance to escape to or hoped to leave before her other relatives came upon him.
“No, I am only here for one night at my aunt and uncle’s before going with Sir William Lucas to visit his daughter who is now settled in Kent.” There was no mistaking his look of anxiety eased as she confirmed her family was not nearby. “My eldest sister has been here many weeks, though,” Elizabeth said in a sharp tone. She was confident he knew of it. “Have you never seen her?”
Elizabeth had expected to shock him. Instead, he looked confused. “No, I have not had the pleasure.”
After an awkward silence between them, she heard Jane’s anxious voice. “There she is!”
As the rest of her party approached, Elizabeth curtsied and made to leave, but Mr. Darcy suddenly spoke. “How is the rest of your family? I hope they are in good health.”
“Yes, they all are well. We have heard nothing of Mr. Bingley and his sisters. I trust they are well, only busy with London,” she said just as Jane and her aunt and uncle approached. She did not miss the heightened anxiety across Jane’s face when she detected whom Elizabeth had been speaking with and heard the name of Bingley.
“Elizabeth, what happened?” Mr. Gardiner asked her but glared at Mr. Darcy. Belatedly, Elizabeth realised they really should not have continued their conversation so long.
“I was so enraptured still with the performance, that I was not watching where I stepped. I was unknowingly separated from you and stumbled, literally, into this acquaintance of mine, Mr. Darcy. We met last Autumn. He stayed with his friend, Mr. Bingley, who leased Netherfield Park.”
A look of recognition flickered across Mrs. Gardiner’s face, and her uncle’s features cooled as well. From the corner of her eye, she saw Sir William and Maria Lucas say goodbye to a friend and draw near to their assembled party. As Elizabeth made the necessary introductions to her aunt and uncle, she consciously watched Darcy’s reaction. He looked anxious, but there was not the expression of hauteur she had known him to have in Hertfordshire.
“It is absolutely capital to see you again, Mr. Darcy!” Sir William said and nearly bounced on his toes. “Did Miss Eliza tell you we are soon to be visiting Hunsford? You will recall my eldest daughter, Charlotte, of course. She was fortunate enough to marry the rector to your very aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
“You are to be at Rosings?” he asked in a tone that Elizabeth felt accusatory, but no one else seemed put off by.
“We shall stay in the Parsonage, of course,” Elizabeth replied. “I doubt we will see the estate at all,” she said. At first, she could not understand why he would be so possessive of the place, but then she recalled that he would marry his cousin, the heiress of Rosings.
Darcy smiled, confusing Elizabeth greatly, before replying. “You are mistaken then, Miss Elizabeth. My aunt takes a very minute interest in her parish. I know she often has her rector and his wife dine with her and know she would extend the courtesy to their guests.”
“Indeed! I had not expected such condescension,” said Sir William. “However, now that I think about it, I am not surprised. I have often noted such elegant breeding among those at court.”
Elizabeth tried to hide a smile. Before Mr. Darcy was required to reply, two tall and elegantly dressed ladies approached. One was about the correct age to be Mr. Darcy’s grandmother or other older relative. The other lady had a womanly figure and shape, but her youthful face and nervous demeanour were that of a girl just entering society.
“Fitzwilliam, would you introduce us to your friends?” the older lady asked.
Mr. Darcy complied. Elizabeth then learned that the ladies were his aunt, Lady Magdalena Darcy, and his sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy of whom Elizabeth and Jane had heard much from Mr. Bingley’s sisters. Elizabeth expected a haughty attitude, but there was only graciousness from Lady Darcy and shyness from Miss Darcy.
“It is a pleasure to meet any acquaintances of Fitzwilliam’s,” Lady Darcy said. “Will you be in London for long?” she asked.
Sir William hedged. “We are breaking our journey to Hunsford, Kent from Hertfordshire to visit my eldest daughter. She lately married the rector to Rosings estate.”
“Oh! My cousin, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is the mistress of Rosings!” Lady Darcy exclaimed. “How fascinating! Fitzwilliam shall soon be visiting there.”
The two talked of Rosings for a few minutes while Mr. Darcy, to the exclusion of nearly everyone else, spoke to Elizabeth and his sister. “Georgiana, Miss Elizabeth is a delightful performer. I am sure you share some common interests in musical selections,” he said gently.
“I recall from your letters,” Miss Darcy murmured. “Do you not think, Miss Elizabeth, that the new music we have recently had in London to be of the most expressive kind?”
Elizabeth hid her surprise that Darcy had written of her and smiled at the young girl. “We certainly live in exciting times. Among the terrible things about this war is that it takes so much the longer for us to get the newer works from Vienna, where so many of the other best composers reside.” She stepped closer to Miss Darcy to say in a conspiratory tone, “Perhaps you will just have to write your own works.”
Miss Darcy gasped, Mr. Darcy chuckled and most surprising of all, Lady Darcy said, “That is precisely what I have been attempting to tell the girl for months!”
Elizabeth blushed at her forwardness, but the titled lady met Mr. Darcy’s eyes and then nodded her head as though they decided something in silent communication. She spoke with authoritative gentleness. “This is not the fashion at all, but I am an old woman entitled to my eccentricities. I invite you all tomorrow to my home in Park Lane at two.”
With the invitation to the illustrious address in the Mayfair district, any expectation Elizabeth had of Sir William declining the offer died. He agreed with alacrity, and her relatives were no less agreeable. As they boarded the carriage to return to the Gardiner residence, Elizabeth’s worries about Wickham’s vulgar boasting evaporated. In their place, Elizabeth could only wonder about the strange set of circumstances that now meant she would be visiting both sets of Mr. Darcy’s titled aunts in as few days.
The party arrived at Lady Darcy’s residence with anxious punctuality. Elizabeth noted the simple elegance of the home. Never having heard previously of Mr. Darcy’s connection to another titled relative, she researched the matter the night before.
Her ladyship was the eldest daughter of Barbara Fitzwilliam and Lord Henry Darcy, the last Baron. Her title was one of the few remaining that could pass through the female line. As she had no children herself, for years her heir presumptive was her nephew. George Darcy’s father had taken the Darcy surname when he married the Baroness’ sister. When George died, his son Fitzwilliam Darcy became the new heir.
Elizabeth considered Charlotte’s words to her about the rich having reason to be proud. She supposed Charlotte would say the same about the titled. Yet, why was Elizabeth only now hearing of it? Should not Darcy wish to tell everyone? Perhaps he merely assumed all the world knew of it. When a Bennet journeyed to London, they stayed with the Gardiners, where gossip of nobility and their heirs had no significance. They were not like Sir William, who regularly attended St. James’, nor were they like Mr. Collins and salivated over peers. In truth, whilst Mr. Bennet was one of the foremost gentlemen in their corner of Hertfordshire, Elizabeth suddenly realised how insignificant they were compared to the peers of the world.
Elizabeth spoke very little as she was seated near Miss Darcy and Maria. She had hoped the two girls, of such a close age, would encourage each other to talk more but they were both too terrified. Elizabeth soon realised Mr. and Miss Darcy must be frequent guests to Lady Darcy’s house as Mr. Darcy seemed to play the host quite well. Although, his aunt was by no means infirm. After the tea-things had been taken away, a tour was offered. Miss Darcy had gone to speak to Lady Darcy, leaving Maria alone with Elizabeth when Mr. Darcy approached. Before he reached her side, however, Maria fled for the safety of Jane and Mrs. Gardiner. The behaviour humoured Elizabeth and its contrast to how she imagined her youngest sister, Lydia, might behave, made Elizabeth give out a resigned sigh.
She no longer trusted Mr. Wickham, but it did not mean she had to like Mr. Darcy. In truth, her reasoning for believing Wickham’s story about Darcy was out of a desire to find a fault real enough for others, like her father, to dislike Darcy. To Mr. Bennet, it was not sufficient that Darcy had insulted his favourite daughter upon first sight or was too haughty to mix with their neighbourhood functions. Nor was the fact that he obviously used his influence over his friend, Mr. Bingley, a concern for her father. Her father made light of the fact that his eldest daughter, Jane, now suffered from a broken heart. Elizabeth knew it was simply her father’s way of expressing concern by interjecting humour. However, Elizabeth had mixed feelings about approaching him with her concerns about Wickham.
Still, for Lydia’s sake, Elizabeth would speak to Mr. Darcy and hope to understand Wickham better. Her sense of justice revolted at approaching the man she suspected responsible for causing her dearest sister’s heartbreak, but Jane was too kind-hearted to listen to Elizabeth’s beliefs on the matter anyway. It was not truly choosing loyalty to one sister over the other.
“Miss Elizabeth,” said Mr. Darcy. “My aunt has given me the task of guiding the tour. I know you would wish to see the library but am uncertain about the rest of the guests. Do you think we ought to start or end the tour there?”
Elizabeth looked at him carefully. She had been accused of being a “great reader,” said in an insulting tone by Miss Bingley, while she stayed at Netherfield. Elizabeth had tried to demur, knowing Society’s opinion on well-educated women, but then Mr. Darcy had turned the matter around on her and claimed he believed an accomplished lady improved her mind by extensive reading. Elizabeth had assumed he said it only so she might be found insufficient whether she enjoyed reading or not. Now, knowing that she was wrong to trust Mr. Wickham and hearing the conversation of a relation Darcy apparently admired, she thought better of it. He intended no insult, it was only her own insecurities which made her read tones into his voice he did not inflect.
Yet still, a part of her wondered if Mr. Darcy meant because her uncle was in trade he would not enjoy the library. She raised her chin. “If I consulted only my own feelings we would never leave. My aunt and uncle enjoy reading, and Jane does as well. I believe ending the tour there would be pleasurable to all.”
Darcy looked immediately relieved, and Elizabeth castigated herself that she had assumed the worse about him, again. “I have enjoyed getting to know your aunt and uncle,” he said.
It looked as though he wished to say more, but the others were ready for the tour to begin. He spoke well on the curiosities in each room and knew the history of the house. His aunt sometimes supplied entertaining anecdotes. Having been through the principal drawing rooms of the first floor, the group made their way downstairs. Here they stopped at a small conservatory, a recent addition as smaller gardens were becoming the fashion.
Lady Darcy treated her assembled guests to a horticulture lesson on a breed of orchid. “It is a funny looking flower,” Maria finally felt bold enough to say. “So different than the usual roses you see often displayed.”
“This is true,” her ladyship replied. “However, I think they are increasing in popularity. I would not be surprised if some of the other great houses of England specialise in growing them.”
“We may see them on our Summer tour then,” Mr. Gardiner said.
“I do not think they could ever become the favourites of Society the way tulips were,” Sir William added.
So began a discourse on the fascinating history of tulips in the Low Countries. Lady Darcy included information she had read in the original Dutch and promised to show them a copy of a portrait she had. Maria and Miss Darcy were attentive listeners but, having read such before, Elizabeth moved about the room. Mr. Darcy silently came to her side.
“Some would think the history lesson holds no interest to you,” he said.
“Do you come all this way to scold me or to tease me?” she asked.
“I do not dare do either. I daresay you are the proficient at teasing,” he offered a small smile.
Elizabeth laughed. “How impolitic of you! Leaving me to say you must be the proficient at scolding!”
“I am the guardian of a much younger sister,” he said.
“She does not seem the sort to need much scolding. My sisters on the other hand…” she trailed off. Should she take the opportunity to ask about Wickham? She chewed her bottom lip before deciding. “I am glad to have a moment of privacy with you, Mr. Darcy.”
Darcy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and then lowered with a mixture of pleasure and satisfaction settling upon his face. “Is that so Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, I would speak with you on a matter of some delicacy.”
Darcy’s breathing grew harsher, which confused her as they did not move. He remained silent, so she pressed on, “Actually, I owe you an apology, sir. At the Netherfield Ball, I all but accused you of harming Mr. Wickham.”
She blushed and looked down before adding, “I am sorry to say I believed many tales he spun about you and has been telling the neighbourhood for many weeks now.”
Taking a cleansing, steadying breath, Elizabeth paused again for a moment. “But I have recently learned he is not a gentleman and not to be trusted.”
She glanced up to see a look of extreme displeasure upon Darcy’s face. At long last, he managed to inquire, “Has he harmed you in some way, Miss Bennet?”
“No!” A heavy silence remained between them, and she felt Darcy’s unspoken interrogation. “I take it by your response, though, you believe him capable of doing harm? Such as blackmail and extortion?”
“Along with gambling, cheating and lying, those are among his favourite activities. Have you heard him plan to blackmail someone?”
Elizabeth hardly knew how to reply but was certain Darcy would know if she completely disassembled. “I only overheard him planning to extort money from someone he knew well.”
He furrowed his brow. “You are certain that is all you heard?”
She chose not to answer. “Is he truly capable of following through in his schemes? He seems to lack a sense of industry and if he has invented this false tale of your dealings then might his imagination run a bit too fanciful?”
“Oh, I assure you he is perfectly capable of plotting.”
A chill ran up Elizabeth’s spine at Darcy’s words.
“Fitzwilliam, while I can well understand being distracted by the enchanting Miss Elizabeth, you are doing a very poor job of your duties,” Lady Darcy called from the doorway before leading the other guests from the room.
Elizabeth blushed, and Mr. Darcy also looked embarrassed. After clearing his throat, he spoke. “I am unable to explain my knowledge in more detail at this moment. I could call on your uncle tomorrow, before you leave, and explain matters to you both.”
“That will not be necessary. I will pass along the information to the appropriate party,” she quickly said. She could not fathom how he intended to have a private conversation with her and her uncle without rousing the interest of Sir William Lucas.
He looked at her intently. “You are certain he has not threatened you in any way? Should you ever need to speak about him, I hope you know to trust me. Her ladyship was correct last night. I will be journeying to Rosings in just over a fortnight. I leave for Pemberley on the morrow, but we will meet again soon, should you then feel the need to tell me more. If you or your family ever need my assistance, Lady Darcy always knows the best means to contact me.”
Elizabeth mutely nodded and followed Darcy to her ladyship’s library. She could not fathom why Mr. Darcy was so attentive to her.
Despite his kind words, Elizabeth found very little sleep that night. She wondered again and again if she ought to say something to her uncle or if she should have told her father. Writing to him would be nearly useless, as not only was he a terrible correspondent, he could not be relied upon to even read her letters. Elizabeth could not forget, however, that Darcy had a feud with Wickham and had just as much reason to lie as the other man had. Dark circles shadowed her eyes when she left with Sir William and Maria the next morning, but she had determined Wickham’s words were merely idle boasting. If nothing else, how would they ever pay for the cost of an elopement? Elizabeth was hugged affectionately by her sister and aunt. Sadly, her little cousins had not come downstairs as they were suffering from a cold.