What’s this?? Do your eyes deceive you? NO! It really IS a new chapter!
Thank you all for your patience as my health and other projects have taken my attention for well over a year. Sometimes stories just need to take longer to brew and other ideas jump ahead in the line. As much as I have said a writer should not rely entirely on a muse to get words on a page, it is very difficult to fight against the muse when it is present. There’s also a great deal of fear about how this book will be received as Darcy and Elizabeth are already married and I do not intend to put much conflict into their marriage.
My goal for 2020 is at least one new chapter a week until this story is finished. I will probably also share other stories. There is one, however, that I plan to put straight to publication as it will be part of a bundle. More on that later.
I hope each of you are well and healthy. Now, on to the chapter.
“The Marchioness of Bute, her daughter, and her sister Lady Louisa Stuart have called. Are you in, my lady?” the butler asked Elizabeth as she sat in the drawing room with Georgiana and Mary the following day.
“Oh!” Elizabeth cried. She was unaccustomed to being called “my lady.” Today was not one of her usual calling days. Still, Elizabeth supposed she should not refuse a marchioness so early in her tenure as Lady Darcy. She glanced at Georgiana for confirmation of what she should do.
“The Marchioness is the granddaughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife to the former ambassador to Turkey.”
“Ah,” Elizabeth said as she nodded.
The ambassador’s wife was noteworthy in bringing the Turkish practice of variolation against smallpox to England after convincing George II’s wife to inoculate her children. She had been born the daughter of an earl. She not only used her position to advance medical training and save the lives of thousands, but she also wrote about her travels. Her literary skills extended to her granddaughter Louisa, also an accomplished author, although she remained unpublished. Given their heritage, Elizabeth assumed their approval was critical to her goals of re-establishing a bluestocking club. The ladies were shown in, and Elizabeth steeled herself for an examination.
The Marchioness swiftly introduced her entourage and sat before Elizabeth could extend the invitation. After reciprocating introductions, the ladies remained mute for a long minute.
“This is a small room,” the Marchioness finally observed in a tone so reminiscent of Lady Catherine that Elizabeth nearly chuckled.
“I suppose when compared to some drawing rooms, it might be.”
“Indeed,” her daughter, wife to a new baronet, nodded. “My drawing room is two or three times the size.”
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes.
Lady Louisa harrumphed. “Do not be vulgar, Barbara. What is more important about what Lady Darcy has said is that this drawing room may also be construed as larger than some.” Her eyes fell on Elizabeth’s sketchbook. “I see you sketch. I know Miss Darcy is quite proficient at the pianoforte. Do you have any other skills, Lady Darcy? And do you, Miss Bennet?”
Mary shifted in her seat but deferred to Elizabeth as the married sister. Elizabeth smiled coyly and answered, “I regret to say that I do not think my skills are very worth mentioning.”
Lady Louisa frowned at her. “Surely, your husband married you for something!”
“I believe it was because he loved me.” Elizabeth raised her chin.
“Yes, but there must have been some attribute which inspired his love.”
“I am afraid you would have to ask him. I assure you that I wonder about my good fortune daily. However, I suppose that is how we all feel when in love. Lord Darcy often says the same to me.”
“We can all guess what it was that earned your love,” Lady Barbara muttered under her breath.
“Perhaps you paint,” Lady Bute suggested quickly to cover her daughter’s faux pas.
“Alas, I do not,” Elizabeth refuted unapologetically. “I only sketch and merely for my own amusement.”
“What inspires your muse?” Lady Louisa asked.
Elizabeth swiftly understood that, although she was not the highest-ranking woman in the room, Lady Louisa had the most forceful personality. Therefore, the other guests would defer to her. “Architecture is my primary source of study. I would not say I have any muse. It is not as though I wake up one day driven to the brink of madness and draw out the perfect arch in a fit of desperation.”
“Good heavens,” Lady Bute threw a hand to her chest. “When described in such a way, I sure hope not. I suppose that is why I have always distrusted the artistic sort.”
“I do not mean to say that there is no beauty in the passion those driven by the muse experience. Many of our greatest works in history were the product of such. However, many were also commissioned products. Michelangelo’s skill is undisputedly on display in the Sistine Chapel. Yet, that was a commissioned work. Skill and passion are not mutually exclusive.”
“I would not know,” the Marchioness demurred. “Lord Bute has always been against such popish things that I have never seen a copy of the chapel. Although, I think he visited on his Grand Tour.”
Lady Louisa narrowed her eyes at Elizabeth. “Do you draw for a commission, then?”
“No, ma’am,” Elizabeth confessed.
“So, your skill is lacking, then.”
“Elizabeth holds great promise as an architect. Her sketches have been examined by the famed architect George Dance himself!” Georgiana exclaimed from her seat.
Elizabeth smiled and gave a slight nod to her sister-in-law. She did not need assistance in handling this situation.
“When have you met George Dance?” Lady Louisa asked.
“He was a guest at Knole Park on the day I visited. Lord Darcy arranged for my invitation and for Mr. Dance to review my creations. I was very honoured by my husband’s consideration of my endeavours as well as Mr. Dance’s willingness to critique my work.”
“My interest is so piqued I really quite insist that you allow us to view them.”
Elizabeth handed her sketchbook to Lady Louisa, who mulled over the pages with an ever-deepening frown. It appeared she did not approve of what she saw. Elizabeth presumed the lady did not know enough about architecture for that to be the source of her displeasure. She guessed the lady before her did not approve of Elizabeth drawing medieval ruins rather than the profile of every acquaintance she had. How curious as Lady Louisa was a writer!
At length, Lady Louisa passed the book on to her sister-in-law. She spoke while the others viewed the drawings with a less discerning eye. “Let us not play about, Lady Darcy.”
“I will attempt to answer anything with honesty and frankness,” Elizabeth said with a disarming smile.
“You intend to re-form the Bluestocking Society. It was a hodgepodge all those years ago with Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu inviting sons of merchants to mix with peerage. I can see you will be just the same.”
“Lord Darcy and I do plan on re-forming the Bluestocking Society. We fully intend to invite learned men and women from all walks of life to our meetings. If that makes you uncomfortable, there is no need to accept our invitation.”
“There will be no need to accept it because you will never have enough support to send one.” Lady Louisa rose, and her sister-in-law and niece followed suit. “There is no desire for a club built upon the premise that ladies can do anything as well as men.”
“I should say not!” The Marchioness exclaimed. “Imagine! Next, she will suggest we have female generals.”
“Indeed,” Lady Barbara joined in. “Who could think about defeating Napoleon with all those handsome officers around.” Her mother and aunt looked at her, and she seemed to think better of her expression. “It would be indelicate for a woman to be on a battlefield.”
“Surely you do not think women are only capable of sitting home with their embroidery,” Elizabeth said. “Did not your grandmother, Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, travel to Turkey? Are her memoirs any less accurate than a man’s? Her suggestions to the royal family regarding the prevention of smallpox have saved countless lives!”
“Do not presume to tell us about my grandmother,” Lady Louisa snarled. “Her experiences drove her half-mad. There is no other reason a lady of such high quality would write so much about inappropriate intrigue and dress as a Turk.” She walked to the door. “I take leave of you ladies, but do not imagine I plan to visit again. I shall warn all I know of your bluestocking harlotry.”
When they had left, Elizabeth’s shoulders slumped. They had grown sore during the visit. She leaned against the sofa as her sisters attempted to soothe her.
“Fitzwilliam will not stand for that sort of treatment,” Georgiana said as she caressed Elizabeth’s forehead.
“I do not intend to tell him. He has been very concerned about the Club and me as well as facing his own ordeals.” He had no male companionship now that Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam were not part of his circle. Additionally, he would take his seat in Parliament soon. Elizabeth supposed that would not be made any easier by the fact that he was estranged from his uncle, a powerful earl.
“Elizabeth,” Mary chided, “he will want to know.”
“Let us wait and see if there is any consequence to this meeting. I am not the sort to believe that everyone relies on one person’s opinion. Indeed, they are hardly the pillars of society.”
“What shall we say if Fitzwilliam asks?” Georgiana’s eyes rounded.
“I will not tell you to lie. I do not intend to lie either. This was not my first call, nor will it be my last. In creating this club, I knew there would be opposition. I am not deterred in the least. Those are the sentiments I will dwell upon if pressed to give any details.”
Georgiana and Mary agreed to do likewise before Elizabeth encouraged them to return to their previous pursuits. As it happened, they were so engrossed with their activities that by the time Darcy returned, there was no sign of unease among the ladies and so his inquires were minute.
In their chambers that evening, Darcy held Elizabeth to his chest as they talked about their day.
“Did you enjoy your club today?” Elizabeth asked.
Darcy frowned. “I did not, and I do not know that I like the ridiculous custom that says I must be away from you for all of the day simply because you are a woman, and I am a man. We have many similar interests.”
“That is true,” Elizabeth agreed sleepily. “You certainly should not do something simply because it is expected. Can you not use the time to make new acquaintances and further the establishment of the club or your position as Lord Darcy?”
“Perhaps I might. However, I find most men at Brooks’s have fixed ideas already.”
“If only there was someplace gentlemen could meet without the confines of political posturing.”
“Indeed. How did you ladies entertain yourselves today? I do not recall you saying.” Darcy felt his wife tense in his arms. She had evaded his question earlier but had not seemed out of sorts.
“We did nothing out of the ordinary. Mary and Georgiana continued to work on their duet and other pieces while I sketched.”
“What has upset you?” Darcy knew by the way Elizabeth continued to avoid his questioning that she did not want to discuss something.
“I am not upset.”
“You say that, and yet I can see the beginnings of a frown.”
“Maybe that is only because you are annoying me.”
“Me? Annoying? Preposterous!” Darcy chuckled. “I have made a study of your looks. Allow me to say that I have been the recipient of your displeasure enough times to know this one.”
Elizabeth sighed and nestled closer to Darcy’s chest. He allowed her the time she needed to order her thoughts and choose her words. While he waited, he stroked up and down her back. He would never tire of their private moments like this. After a few moments, Elizabeth broke the silence.
“The Marchioness of Bute and her sister-in-law Lady Louisa Stuart visited today.”
“Did they? I did not think today was a calling day for you.”
“It is not. I did leave my card with the Marchioness last week, so she ought to know when I was available. I am certain it was intended as a slight.”
Darcy nodded in agreement. “Yet, you permitted them entry?”
“I did and soon regretted it. I was eager for their approval, especially Lady Louisa. I was unaware she did not approve of bluestockings.”
“It is strange to consider that she does not given her grandmother’s intellectualism. However, we always knew the Club would not meet with universal approval. I am sorry you were alone for the first encounter with criticism.”
Elizabeth buried her face in Darcy’s chest and shook her head. She stayed in that position as though she drew strength from his nearness.
“I was not put out of sorts by their disapproval. I was unprepared, however, for their vehemence. Lady Louisa even called me a harlot.”
Darcy clenched his jaw. He had not supposed a lady of her breeding would use some base words. “You should never be so abused, let alone in your home. The audacity!” He squeezed Elizabeth tighter. “Why on earth did she call you a harlot?”
“I had mentioned admiring Lady Wortley-Montagu’s works. Apparently, Lady Louisa is among the ones that criticise her writings for their description of Turkish bathhouses.”
Elizabeth paused but remained tense. Darcy knew there was more to her story. “What else?”
“The ladies had asked after my accomplishments which are sorely lacking. I admitted to an interest in architecture. The Marchioness’ daughter as much as said that I must have seduced you into matrimony.”
For several minutes, Darcy held Elizabeth silently in his arms as he mulled over what she had said. “Is it their disapproval which upsets you? The insinuation of impropriety?”
Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes as she considered his question. He kissed her forehead. “You need not have an answer now.”
“Perhaps, I feel inferior. I ought to have more skills. Why must I be so perverse and have an interest in what is considered unsuitable?”
“All this does is testify to the strength of your character. You found a way to maintain your interest even while others discouraged it. Imagine how much easier it would have been if you had the support of other ladies. Do not give up your interests now when you are in such a position to unapologetically assist others.”
“And my lack of accomplishments?”
“I will love you even if you never fill our homes with mediocre fire screens. You may design a new structure that we will build specifically for such a purpose if you like.”
Elizabeth laughed. “That would be quite unnecessary.”
“I am sorry that we married so late in the Season. Many of the ladies that I think you would enjoy have already left for their estates. Julia Jenkinson is in confinement. However, I think we will have a few invitations to house parties this summer. Do not think all of Society is like Lady Louisa Stuart.”
“Thank you for making me talk about this. I had wanted to spare you my anxieties.”
Darcy lifted Elizabeth’s chin and claimed her lips in a slow kiss. “We are husband and wife. We are to support one another. Please do not keep concerns from me.”
“I promise.” Elizabeth nodded before a slow grin spread across her face. “I am curious as to one point, the ladies asked about.”
“What is that?”
“Why did you ever fall in love with me? I am not the most beautiful woman you have seen, and I have no accomplishments that could have awed you.”
“It is true that I dismissed your beauty at first sight. However, I had not known you a fortnight before I was impressed with your wit. I began to watch you, eager to hear what you would say next. The more I watched, the more fascinated I grew.” He paused and trailed his hand down the curves of her body. “Your eyes entranced my first. Your figure I also noticed. When you arrived at Netherfield with mussed hair and a flushed face, I confess my mind leapt to very carnal images.”
Elizabeth blushed. “I do not think I should tell the Marchioness that.”
Darcy kissed Elizabeth’s neck, savoring the sigh he heard and the feel of her increasing pulse against his lips. “No, these words are only for you, Lizzy Bel.”
She trailed a finger across Darcy’s chest, causing him to shiver. “I thought you did not like me then.”
“I liked you too much then. I felt my danger. I told myself it was only an attraction.” He pulled back and stroked Elizabeth’s cheek as he stared into her eyes. “At Netherfield, I learned more about your intelligence and character. You were a woman with whom I wished to converse. You were a lady that I thought could befriend my sister. Reconciling my admiration of your beauty and appreciation of your mind and character took time.”
“When did you first know you loved me?” Elizabeth’s question ended in a gasp as Darcy expertly moved his hands about her body.
“The Baroness attempted to matchmake for me. I realised that my previous qualifications for a wife were exactly what she wanted for her club. Then, I realised there was only one lady who had interested me beyond companionship. I yearned for her spark in my life even when I had not seen her in months. What could it be but love?”
“And then?” She ran her fingers through his hair.
Darcy placed a lingering kiss on Elizabeth’s lips before moving to whisper in her ear. “Then, I knew I had to claim you.”
There was more to it than that, and Elizabeth well knew it, but further thought grew impossible. She pulled him to her, and Darcy showed her all the ways he loved her.