My kids had Spring Break this week and my husband was home because, originally, we had plans to go somewhere as a family. Instead, I had lots of writing time!
We get to spend some time with Darcy today. I have to admit, this chapter had me chuckling when compared with all those brainy bluestocking women.
The following morning, Darcy left his home on Brook Street for his usual walk to Brooks’. Just as he turned onto Bond Street, he was hailed by some acquaintances.
“Darcy!” Lord Cranmoore called out.
“Good day, sir,” Darcy replied before bowing to the young man and his friends. He hoped to make the encounter brief as he did not care for their set.
“We were just talking about your wife.” Thomas Jessop, an MP funded by Cranmoore’s patronage, said.
“Indeed? I do not believe you have met Lady Darcy.” He stood a little straighter, already offended, and turned so they were mostly in an alley between two shops.
Cranmoore’s third crony, an inconsequential gentleman named Peters, spoke up. “We hear she is stunning and one of many sisters.”
“It is true she is the second of five daughters.”
“Too beautiful and too charming for a bluestocking,” Cranmoore grinned.
Jessop nodded. “I understand she is skilled in conversation.”
“I would like to converse with her when you are through,” Peters said.
“Beg pardon?” Darcy’s hands balled into fists. He forced himself to remain still and breathe. Surely he misunderstood.
“Come now, Darcy,” Cranmoore soothed and pulled them deeper into the alley. “I will give you that rehabilitating your wife’s image as a bluestocking is inventive, but we have all seen this before.”
“I see. And what is it you are imagining is the truth?”
“There is only one way a woman can get a man to the altar if it does not fatten his purse. There is a bet at Brooks on when the babe is to be born.” Jessop laughed.
“There is another as to if it is even yours,” Peters added.
And with that foolish comment, Darcy lost his restraint. His right fist made a connection with Peters’ jaw, sending him stumbling backward and crying in pain.
Cranmoore cursed and swung at Darcy. He ducked out of the way and jabbed into the earl’s stomach. Cranmoore hunched over with a groan, but Darcy’s victory was short-lived as a blow beat against his back. Lurching forward, he caught his balance and turned to face Jessop wildly running at him. Just as he attempted to dodge, Peters appeared at his side. The man’s fist slammed into Darcy’s left eye, momentarily blinding him and allowing his arm to be grabbed. Cranmoore pinned his right arm. Peters was now free to assault Darcy, whose attempts at jerking the men off of him and kicking were to no avail.
“Hold still, and we will make sure you can go back to your whore in one piece,” Cranmoore laughed.
“Too bad that I won’t promise the same to you.”
Darcy turned his head to find the owner of the new voice. He did not recognise the man but had never been happier to see a stranger in his life. The man punched with quickness and power.
“Although I have seen your mistress, Cranmoore. She can’t afford to be too choosy, so she will likely keep your ugly face.”
Enraged at the taunts and the blow he had received, Cranmoore turned his attention to the unnamed attacker. In the confusion, Darcy’s boot made contact with Peters’ head, and the man sunk to the ground. The sickening sound of bone cracking and Cranmoore’s yelp had Jessop loosen his grip on Darcy. Seeing his moment, Darcy swung but missed. Sweat and blood dripped down his face and blurred his vision. His left eye was swelling shut. He was fatigued from the attack and could barely muster the energy to raise his knuckles again when the stranger pummeled Jessop. He fell to the ground in a thud.
Darcy stretched his arm out to lean against a wall and catch his breath. The stranger disappeared from sight for a moment before returning with Darcy’s hat, which had flown off in the fight, and handed it to him.
“Wear this low. We’ll get you situated at Jackson’s, and when you leave no one will wonder at the bruises.”
“It’s just down the street,” the stranger said, motioning for Darcy to follow.
As they emerged back on Bond Street, the man said, “The name is Oliver Guilford.”
“I am very pleased to meet you, Guilford,” Darcy said with a chuckle through cracked lips.
Given Guilford’s pugilistic abilities, Darcy had guessed the Jackson’s his new friend meant was Gentleman Jackson’s boxing academy on Bond Street. Darcy was familiar with some of the basics of prizefighting. He had seen a few matches in the countryside. Growing up, he and his cousins and Wickham practiced on one another. Darcy knew enough on how to use his fists if needed. However, Guilford had shown a skill and precision which Darcy lacked. The other man had also maintained a level of stamina which had exhausted Darcy despite his athletic build from riding, fencing, and cricket.
The two men entered the building. Darcy followed Guilford through an entry and into a cloakroom. A servant was rung for to mend Darcy’s coat and to blot up the blood. Next, he was led to a room with several benches and chairs on one side of the room. On the other, there was a long table of various basic medical supplies one would need to heal cuts and bruises. A tall cabinet, undoubtedly, stored more times.
“Sit.” Guilford motioned to a seat before busying himself at the medical table. “We do have a surgeon we use for severe ailments, but I can fix you up right enough,” he said with his back to Darcy.
Soon, Guilford turned and approached Darcy. He handed him a mirror and a cloth wet with alcohol. “It will sting, but it’s for the best. Have you ever been stitched before?”
Darcy covered a low hiss from the burn of the alcohol with a laugh. “Many times. I like to take credit for my cousin’s fine sewing abilities. He’s in the army, and between having to repair his gear and see to minor wounds, he’s nearly adept as any lady with a needle and thread.”
Guilford grinned. “Good. I hadn’t thought you were a dandy. Still, I assume this was many years ago? You do not look the sort to still be roughhousing with his cousin.”
Darcy allowed Guilford to lean his head back and toward a lamp. Cleaning the wound had hurt worst than the stitches, so Darcy continued the conversation while his new friend worked. “My housekeeper and sister surely wish it were so.” He chuckled. “I required stitches after a cricket match last year. And only two or three months ago, I lost my seat on my mount and landed on a jagged rock. I will admit that I did not recover from that nearly as fast as I used to.”
Elizabeth had been all concern when she saw the scar. A smile tugged at Darcy’s lips. He wondered how she would kiss his newest injuries better. “Of course, those concerns now fall to my wife.”
Guilford tied a knot and then cut the thread. “Ah, I thought you had the look of a new bridegroom about you. Is that what started it all?”
“How did you guess?”
“I can think of very few other things that would provoke a gentleman to strike another on the street.”
Darcy’s jaw set tightly. “They insulted my wife.”
“To me, it looked as though they hoped you would react as you would. Why else would so many approach you at once?”
“You may be correct.” He would consider the possibilities of what that meant later. “Thank you for your assistance on the street, as well as just now.”
Guilford waved off the thanks and nodded his head toward a door. “Care to have a look around?”
They entered a large room. There were about a dozen shirtless men at various stations. A few spared one another. Some lifted weights or did exercises. Darcy watched as two fought in one corner, a small group around them.
He had always enjoyed the physicality and precision that fencing took. It was structured and had many rules about posture and footwork. In many ways, it was as much an intellectual exercise as a physical one. However, there was a part of him that he was embracing more and more that longed to shake off the shackles of refinement.
Darcy quickly saw that bare-knuckle fighting in Jackson’s salon was far different than the wild displays he had seen in his youth. As Guilford talked, Darcy understood that Jackson had established many rules for the sport. Still, there was a freedom about the men as they thrashed one another with their fists.
The practice match went on for fifteen rounds. Each round lasted until one man had fallen over. They then had a thirty second break to catch their breath, be sponged off, and take a gulp of water. When it was all over, both men sported cuts and bruises but identical grins and shook hands. Upon closer inspection, he recognized them as MPs. One was a Tory and the other a Whig. Instead of arguing about politics, they seemed to have found common ground in boxing.
Consulting his watch, Darcy decided he better leave.
“You ought to come back. Work on that right hook of yours. We can teach you to keep your guard up better, too,” Guilford said.
“I will think about it. Although, I sure hope I do not need to use it outside of this arena.”
Guilford chuckled. “Self-defense is always worth knowing—I tell my wife and daughter that as well.”
“You have taught them prizefighting?”
“They do not come here,” Guilford said with a glance at all the men in various states of undress. “However, yes, I have taught them quite a bit. I suppose that might shock and displease you. Still, I do not think women are any different than men in their need for exercise or their physical abilities—for the most part.”
“No, no. I am not displeased at all. I confess to being astonished but only because I seldom find another gentleman who sees eye to eye with me on the subject.”
“It is not as common in our class,” Guilford nodded. “However, think of all that the women in the middle and lower classes do.”
“I quite agree. Well, Guilford, thanks again for your help. I think I shall come back and take you up on your offer.”
“I will be here next ___.”
The two gentlemen shook hands, and although Darcy’s left eye was partially swollen shut and his body ached in various spots, he felt more at ease than he had in months.
When he arrived home, Elizabeth and their sisters gasped in concern upon seeing his face. He was sent directly to his bed-chamber to have a hot bath. When he got out, Elizabeth fussed over him and examined every mark on his body, applied poultices, and kissed all his tender spots. Roguishly, Darcy thought to himself that sparring at Jackson’s would be worth every bruise if this was the welcome when he got home.
“He teaches his wife and daughter to fight?” Elizabeth said in wonder after Darcy had told her about his conversation with the man.
“Why not?” Darcy shrugged. “Should you like to learn?”
“Oh, I do not know,” she said, taken aback. “Would you really teach Georgiana? Can you truly picture her attempting to strike a person? Why she might faint from the mere thought!”
“All the more reason you ladies ought to be taught how to defend yourselves. However, if you do not wish it, then I will not insist. I should hope you would never need it, but I cannot be with you everywhere, and evil men do exist.”
Elizabeth sighed. “They do, I agree. And do you really wish to go back?”
“You have wished for me to find more male friendships, and I witnessed enough to believe I might find a few that would be willing to entertain the idea of the Bluestocking Club.”
“I hardly see how pummeling each other lends to an intellectual discussion, let alone the belief that it is important.” Elizabeth raised a brow in challenge.
“Do not be so quick to presume others. Am I not intelligent and educated? Yet, I am also interested in physical pursuits such as boxing.”
Elizabeth’s brow lowered, and her lip twitched, but she would not admit that he might be correct. It did not bother Darcy, however, as he had entirely different ideas of physical pursuits worth following at the moment. He reached for his wife and pulled her in for a long, slow kiss. When they did not return downstairs until just before dinner, neither Georgiana nor Mary asked why.