Previous chapters: One
Over the next two days, Darcy often wondered at his brother-in-law’s ability to bear Mrs. Bennet’s effusions and the silliness of her second youngest daughter. Dorset took to the notion of marrying into the Bennets far easier than Darcy had. The morning of Jane’s wedding, Darcy made some mention of it to Dorset.
“I suppose they do not bother me because I am less insecure about my position I the world.”
“What do you mean?” Darcy had never thought of himself as insecure.
“I am a duke,” Dorset shrugged. “It is hard to get any higher in the world short of being the legitimate offspring of a royal. Everyone is beneath me. It is silly to be so concerned about just how far the differences are.”
Darcy mutely nodded. He knew growing up he would one day inherit Pemberley and also the barony. It was hard enough to find balance amongst his peers as the heir to such an estate and relative to a powerful earl. He had fought hard to hide his connection to the barony. For Darcy, rubbing shoulders with one too low could be as precarious as reaching too high. It was a complicated world to navigate and something he had never done with much success. He supposed if he were already at the top rung of the ladder he would not worry about it as much.
“Besides,” Dorset added, “do not you Bluestocking sorts believe there is nothing education cannot change?”
Could education change even Mrs. Bennet? Lydia seemed sincere in her desire of wanting to change. In fact, knowing the truth of his mother and the mistakes she made at the same age, he should not be so quick to judge. From reading her letters, it was clear she had no interest in marrying his father at first. She likely understood the consequences of her mistakes long before she consented to the marriage. It was only after being with the Bluestockings that she had found whatever she was searching for.
“Speaking of that,” the Duke continued, “Jane has expressed interest in joining your club. We had thought after a brief holiday, we could join you at Bath.”
“You will not be returning to Knole?”
“Should the worst happen and Lydia’s condition become known then it would be best for us to be as far away from the scandal as possible. The Duke and his new Duchess would be expected to entertain more. It is better to have as few visitors as possible now.”
“Indeed. You are more than welcome to visit us in Bath. I know Elizabeth shall enjoy her sister’s company. Will yours be joining us?”
Dorset laughed. “Selina does not care for those pursuits and will be too busy with the baby. Cordelia may wish to accompany us. Although, I confess to desiring to have my bride’s attention to myself.” He winked at Darcy.
Darcy chuckled and shook his head. He would not take Dorset’s bait but wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. He longed for the peace and solitude of Darcy House. Georgiana had stayed with relatives and those first days of his marriage to Elizabeth in absolute privacy would be memories Darcy would always cherish.
“Will Miss Darcy go with you to Bath?”
“Yes,” Darcy tugged on his waistcoat. He did not like leaving her alone for long. Additionally, Elizabeth had shared her concerns about Georgiana’s music master. If a romance were budding between the two, he would snip it now. At the rate she was going, he would send her to a nunnery to rid her mind of beaus and husbands for a few years. In the coming years, he knew he would rely heavily on Elizabeth to take his sister in hand. “We will collect her in London. Today, Miss Mary travels with us.”
A footman appeared, explaining the carriages were ready. The gentlemen gathered in the hall to await the dowager. Elizabeth had stayed at Longbourn to assist with the preparations for the day. It was their first separation since their wedding and Darcy hated the feeling of the cold bed beside him all night. Glancing at Dorset, the duke looked as calm and unflappable* as ever. Darcy mentally chided himself. He paced around the chamber, anxious to see Elizabeth again while awaiting the dowager. Finally, she descended the stairs, and they set off.
Jane’s wedding to the Duke of Dorset went as all church weddings do. If pressed, Darcy might have observed that the wedding breakfast at Longbourn seemed to have many guests of distinction and more flowers than he often saw but upon the whole, such things were lost on him. It was just as well. He knew it pleased Mrs. Bennet and she decorated as much out of triumph as pride. He knew enough from having a sister that ladies were far more aware of what one another wore or how a household was run than men were. There was also the practical situation that by showcasing Longbourn to its best, no one would say that Jane was so far out of Dorset’s sphere.
Darcy stood in a corner watching Elizabeth with her sisters and wondered when they could leave. They would be departing for London at the conclusion. In addition to Mary, they would convey the dowager to Town. Darcy now regretted the decision, for he would much rather have Elizabeth in his arms the entire time as he had on the way journey there.
Reminding himself that he would bear this and more for Elizabeth and his discomfort would be short-lived, Mr. Bennet approached him.
“I am unsurprised to find you in a quiet corner,” the older man observed with a raised brow.
“I am merely doing my part to hold the wall up,” Darcy held back a smirk.
“My daughter has already rubbed off on you, I see,” Bennet chuckled. “We have not had much time for conversation. Would you follow me to the library?”
Darcy nodded but inwardly groaned. What could Mr. Bennet desire to speak about now and just when it appeared to Darcy he was so close to being on his way? Darcy sat across from Bennet in the library and refused the offered wine.
“Your courtship with Elizabeth was a whirlwind,” Bennet observed.
“I suppose it may look that way to an outsider. However, I would have it no other way. I look upon those memories—even as they were fraught with tension and turmoil—with a fondness for they made me worthy of Elizabeth’s hand.”
Bennet stared at him silently for a long moment. Setting his wine glass down, he finally spoke. “I suppose she was very angry with me for not reading her warning about Lydia.”
“Sir, perhaps you ought to speak to her about that. I can say, however, that our feelings matter very little in light of the situation.”
“That you are attempting to save both my daughters—and by that my family—from ruin? You must find me the most careless of fathers.”
Darcy sighed and closed his eyes. This was not the time for this conversation. “Sir, my very first concern has been Elizabeth’s happiness and well-being. She feels deeply for her sisters and parents. Finding Wickham and Kitty was necessary. Kitty would not leave him, assuring their marriage and her safety became tantamount. However, you owe your thanks to Lydia’s situation to your newest son-in-law.”
“He never would have met Jane if not for you.”
Darcy regarded his father-in-law carefully. It was said in more remorse than thanks.
“He will be very blessed to have her for a wife and Society will gain much from her as a duchess.”
Bennet nodded. “It is hard not to wonder if I have failed them all since I have so clearly failed the younger ones.”
Darcy raised his brows. “I hope you do not regret your blessing upon Elizabeth’s marriage to me.”
“No,” Bennet shook his head. “I was hesitant about the quick reversal of her opinion about you, but I have come to see you are an upstanding gentleman and deserving of her. The efforts you have made toward our family prove to me that you esteem her far more than I had supposed any man capable of feeling.”
“I suppose I was raised with more intention to be respectful toward the female sex than most.” Darcy paused then added, “I say intention because I did fail to recognize the feelings of Elizabeth and many others, but I hope not due to prejudice about her abilities or feelings as a woman.”
“I like you,” Bennet said abruptly. “I did not expect to like someone in your position. I probably encouraged Elizabeth’s prejudice and any misunderstandings you had. I certainly never thought I would like the man who took her away from me. Instead, I think you are exactly what my family needs. Will you promise to look after them for me? Jane and Kitty may have husbands, but it is you who can protect them.”
The solemn look in Mr. Bennet’s blue-gray eyes made Darcy match his expression. “I had said that my first consideration was Elizabeth’s happiness, but you should know that I do consider your other daughters as my sisters. We are family. I vow to do everything in my ability to see them safe and happy.”
Mr. Bennet before sighing in resignation as the shrill voice of Mrs. Bennet rang through the house. “You and Dorset are better than me. I would not have willingly tied myself to a family with a mother like that.”
“Mrs. Bennet can be overly exuberant,” Darcy acknowledged. “However, in her heart, she only wants what is best for her daughters. That is not so different than you. What will you do with an empty house?”
“Do not remind me,” Mr. Bennet stood and motioned for Darcy to move to the door. “I gave serious consideration to refusing Mary to leave with you or inviting Kitty to stay.”
The master opened the door just as Mrs. Bennet rounded a corner. “Make haste, Mr. Bennet! They are set to leave!”
With a yearning look toward his library, a shrug of the shoulders, and a boyish shake of his head, Mr. Bennet followed his wife to the drawing room. Darcy held back a moment. Still new to the family, he did not know what to make of Mr. Bennet. Had he loved his wife when they married? Darcy fervently hoped he would never feel the way about his marriage that his father-in-law did.
“My lord, we require you as well,” Mr. Bennet called from down the hall and interrupted his thoughts, “lest you want me to send my wife to Bath.”
Darcy’s feet were in motion before his father-in-law had finished the tease.
Elizabeth squeezed Jane tightly before she boarded the carriage with her new husband. The Duke and his new duchess would be staying at Ashworth for the night before going on their holiday.
For all of Elizabeth’s fears that Jane did not love her husband, she perceived affection and determination when she said her vows. Throughout the wedding breakfast, Jane snuck glances at him. Elizabeth had never faulted the young duke’s looks, and on that front, Jane must find much to like. He had always doted on Jane and been accepting of her family. It was only a lingering worry that he might be too like his father that made Elizabeth uneasy about the match.
“La! Jane a duchess! Who would have thought,” Kitty said from beside Elizabeth. “And you are a baroness.”
“Actually, a baron’s wife does not have the right to be called Baroness. The previous Lady Darcy held the title in her own right, not through a husband.”
Kitty furrowed her brow. “I can never keep it all straight. I suppose if Wicky becomes famous in the war then they might give him a title as well. Lord Wickham does sound most agreeable.” Kitty sighed.
Elizabeth looked at her sister. She seemed more a child than ever with her whimsical dreams. “How are you today? You must be overtired from all the excitement of the day.”
For a moment, Kitty looked just as she did whenever Lydia got something she wanted. “Today has not overtired me. Why would it?”
“Forgive me. I had thought ladies in your condition—”
“I was mistaken,” Kitty snapped. “Lydia is the first in everything.”
She stormed off. After sending a pleading look to her husband, Elizabeth followed. She found her sister crying in her old bedchamber. “Why are you jealous of Lydia? Do you not understand her misfortune?”
“I was the first to be married, but Lydia will be the first to bear a child. His child!”
“I thought you did not believe her claim.”
“I do not believe he loved her,” Kitty sniffed, “but of them being together, I do believe.”
“That is quite the change in thought.” Elizabeth rubbed her sister’s back. “What caused it?”
Kitty sat up and wiped at her tears. “He told me. He—he—he said I was nothing compared to Lydia in our bed.”
Elizabeth gasped. She had understood Wickham was one of the vilest men in existence but had not thought he would stoop to such things.
“It was just before he left for Spain—thanks to your and Jane’s husbands!”
“I am very sorry,” Elizabeth gathered her sister to her chest. “I wish you could have been free of him.”
“Well, I can’t,” Kitty huffed. “I hate him now. I hate them both.”
“Do not hate Lydia. She has enough regrets. You, at least, have the respectability of marriage.”
“If he dies in Spain then I will never have born him a child. Lydia will always have a greater claim on him and his affections. It is what a woman is meant for—”
“Indeed, it is not!” Elizabeth scolded. “If a woman bears children then it is a blessing in her life to be sure. However, there is far more to us than marriage and babies.”
Kitty looked at her sister uncertainly. “Mama always said—”
“I want to be happier than Mama was, do not you? She made having babies—a son—her entire mission in life, and it has brought her only disappointment and anxiety. You are too young to despair. There is much about the world to learn.”
“It is too late,” Kitty shook her head. “Some mistakes you cannot come back from. Besides, Papa always says that Lydia and I are the silliest girls in England. I am too stupid.”
When Mr. Bennet had not read Elizabeth’s letter warning him about a possible plot against Lydia, she had felt little more than momentary frustration. He did not read letters frequently and she ought to have spoken openly to him. This is what angered Elizabeth about her rearing. Her sisters had no confidence in themselves. What he meant as playful jests nurtured something very different in his daughters. She had scolded herself many a night for partaking of the teasing as well—but then she was a child.
“No one is born silly, Kitty.” Elizabeth sighed. “It is our choices that mark us, and we may alter them at any time.”
Inviting Kitty to Bath was on the tip of her tongue when Mrs. Bennet barged in. “Lizzy! Your husband wishes to depart. Come along!” She bustled to the bed with an outstretched hand and then paused for a moment when she saw how her daughters were posed. Rather than asking what upset them, she stroked reverently stroked a cheek to each girl before shaking her head and pulling on Elizabeth’s arm.
“Write to me, Kitty, and I will do the same,” she called over her shoulder despite her mother’s criticisms. “Never forget who you are—a Bennet.”
Sighing, Elizabeth steadied herself for the carriage ride to London. Her husband was not fond of traveling. However, Mary had a quiet nature, and the dowager understood when those around her desired silence. With any luck, they would nap or read most of the way. After embraces to her mother and father, Kitty had remained upstairs, Elizabeth entered the coach. Although seated next to her husband, she could not help but feel that with each hoofbeat she was being dragged further and further away from the world she knew for one she might never understand.