How is everyone doing? We’re still hanging in there here. My kids are definitely getting restless and less cooperative with school. Today, they announced they were ending the school year two weeks early. Hopefully, that will mean more writing time again soon.
We’re back to Lizzy in this chapter. Darcy has been taking some physical punches while Lizzy has had the mental blows. Let’s see how she’s doing.
Elizabeth sighed as she looked at the clock in her empty drawing room. The last visitors had departed over two hours ago, and there was still another hour remaining to her “at home” hours. She gave Mary, and Georgiana leave to enjoy themselves an hour ago. The first week she had been in London, visitors were tripping over themselves to come and gawk at the new Lady Darcy. However, there were countless insinuations that she was a fortune hunter.
Elizabeth was certain the breach with Darcy’s aunt, and uncle did not help anything. Additionally, while Jane had just married a duke, he was relatively unknown in Society, and his father had a terrible reputation. The scandal of Lady Catherine’s birth stood in their wake. When all things were added together, it appeared to the ton that Darcy had married a social climber who likely entrapped him. Additionally, their hasty marriage before Lady Darcy’s death was suspicious.
For days, Elizabeth met the interlopers with pride and dignity. Her intention was to let them see there was nothing amiss and that she would not return any unkindness with hostility. Gossip always dried up when there was no fuel. However, she had thought there must be a few ladies with whom she could make friends. There still might be, but they apparently were not calling on her. Her drawing room had been all but empty for a fortnight.
Coming to a decision, Elizabeth stood to her feet. Ringing for a servant, she called for the carriage to be readied and a message sent to her sisters. She was through waiting for the ton to come to her.
Minutes later, she sat with Mary and Georgiana as the carriage made their way to Bond Street. “Where shall we go first?” Elizabeth asked her sisters.
Georgiana and Mary grinned at one another before answering in unison. “The music shop!”
Elizabeth laughed and happily agreed. She could not be happier that Mary got along so well with Darcy’s sister. As they were soon to travel to Bath, Georgiana had not resumed her lessons with Signor Clementi. Fortunately, Mary seemed to provide a distraction. Elizabeth had thought Georgiana enamored with the instructor. Perhaps all she needed was a friend with similar interests.
Once at the shop, the three ladies took their time browsing the merchandise. Georgiana, under more cultured tutelage than Mary or Elizabeth ever learned, had many new recommendations for them. Elizabeth was almost embarrassed at how difficult the pieces were. Her new sister vastly overrated her abilities.
“My dearest Georgiana,” Elizabeth said gently, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this piece is a bit much for me. Would you recommend one at a more moderate skill level?”
“This is moderate, I had thought,” Georgiana scanned the music. “I think it is in your ability if you would apply yourself more.”
Elizabeth sighed. Applying herself more to the pianoforte had always been her weakest point. She enjoyed playing, but only for limited periods. It was not a passion for her the way it was for Mary and Georgiana. Additionally, she now had new duties as a new wife and as Lady Darcy. Soon, they must attend Society events and host their own, in addition to her husband’s Bluestocking endeavours.
At last, Georgiana took in Elizabeth’s nervous demeanour and smiled. “It is no matter. We shall purchase it now, and perhaps in time, you will feel comfortable attempting it. For now, we shall seek you a new piece over here. My brother does enjoy lively tunes as well.”
Elizabeth laughed as she followed Georgiana to another section of the store. “Indeed, my interests lie in livelier music as well.”
“That is just why you and Fitzwilliam are the perfect pair.”
“Miss Darcy?” a young lady said who had just entered the store.
Georgiana turned to look before waving the lady, now accompanied by a middle-aged woman, to their group. “Lady Agatha, Lady Rochford. How nice to see you.” The ladies curtsied to one another.
“We had heard you were still in town,” Lady Agatha said.
“Indeed. My brother and his wife will remain for a few more weeks.”
“Will he take his seat in Parliament then?” Lady Rochford asked. “Or will he wait until the next term?”
“I am uncertain,” Georgiana frowned and glanced at Elizabeth. “Perhaps my sister might know.”
Lady Agatha picked up a piece of music and hastily put it back as though she had touched something disgusting. “Gracious. What are you doing in this area of the shop? I am sure I have not played these sorts of tunes since I was eight years old!”
Mary shifted uncomfortably beside Elizabeth, and she could sense Georgiana’s unease.
“We all have different preferences and abilities,” Georgiana smiled.
“You are even more talented than Agatha,” the older woman said. “Surely you cannot be shopping for yourself.”
“I am with friends,” Georgiana motioned as though Mary and Elizabeth had somehow escaped their notice before.
“Oh, I understand,” Lady Rochford nodded. “I applaud your charitable heart. You may introduce us to your friends.”
Georgiana turned to Elizabeth with tears in her eyes. She appeared uncertain about what to do. To encourage the girl, Elizabeth stepped forward and looped her arm around Georgiana before smiling encouragingly.
“This is my new sister, Lady Elizabeth Darcy, and to my right is her sister Miss Mary Bennet. Sisters, I present The Countess of Rochford and her daughter Lady Agatha.”
“Oh.” Lady Agatha said, immediately dropping her false smile.
The Countess tugged her daughter back before saying in hushed words, “I must say, Miss Darcy’s earlier words ring true. We all have different abilities, and it is never too late to learn, even for a Cyprian. Good for you.”
Elizabeth had sensed their arrogance from the first moment they entered the store and was no stranger to condescension. However, speech left her at the lady’s words. Grasping for composure, Elizabeth mustered a polite smile.
“My dear,” Lady Rochford turned to Lady Agatha, “I am afraid we must rush off to our next appointment.
“It was very good to meet you,” Elizabeth called after them.
The Countess cringed at Elizabeth’s voice and ushered her daughter out the door. Elizabeth’s shoulders dropped. Half the peerage thought she was a witless bluestocking, and the other half thought she was an uneducated seductress.
Georgiana and Mary immediately murmured soothing words, and the three sisters decided to finish their purchases. Next, they deserved a treat at Gunter’s Tea Shop after the encounter they endured. Elizabeth attempted to shrug off Lady Rochford and Lady Agatha’s rudeness. However, she grew tired of having to always defend herself and feel as though there were enemies everywhere.
Why could she not enjoy her newly married life as all other brides did? She had fallen in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy—not Lord Darcy, a descendant of bluestockings. Jane married a duke, and yet she still enjoyed a honeymoon. Indeed, when she did arrive in London, she would probably not face the scrutiny that Elizabeth did. There were many barons; there were far fewer dukes.
Mentally, Elizabeth scolded herself. It was unjust to be jealous of Jane. Firstly, Elizabeth loved William and would not trade him for anything—especially Jane’s situation, where Elizabeth was still unsure there was genuine and lasting love on either side. Secondly, Jane would do all she could to ease Elizabeth’s burdens. She would never think so selfishly.
After the ladies arrived at home, Elizabeth withdrew to her chamber to rest. The events of the day had given her a headache. The fact was that Elizabeth only felt compelled by duty to resume the Bluestocking Club. For that matter, there seemed to be no interest in it. How could she convince her husband that she simply could not fill his aunt’s shoes?
The thought made her heart constrict. Elizabeth hated the idea of disappointing him. It had seemed like love was enough when they courted in the lanes of Rosings. Now, Elizabeth was unsure. She may no longer believe she and Charlotte were real friends, but the woman’s words resounded in her mind. Charlotte had claimed love or companionship were unnecessary to have a successful marriage. She believed that it was useless to attempt to know a person as they always changed due to the events of life.
Elizabeth knew, of course, that people evolved throughout their lives. However, she had firmly believed people remained the same in their essentials. Darcy had once been so focused on duty that he walked away from Elizabeth. Despite this error, she had admired that quality about him. Kitty and Lydia’s selfish actions proved what happened when one did not consider the duty they owed their families. However, now Elizabeth worried that the old claims of duty weighed heavier on her husband than ever.
Fitzwilliam Benjamin Conyers Darcy had been named after several noble branches of his family, as well as one of the original male Bluestocking. The expectations of others were imprinted upon him from birth. His most beloved aunt’s dying request was that the Bluestocking Club reestablished. He would never give up on that dream, even for Elizabeth. No, what he would do is find someone else to be the hostess. Someone more qualified—perhaps as he should have done in finding a wife.
“Do not be so dramatic,” she muttered to herself.
William loved her. She knew that even if she could not be the hostess of the Club, his love would not alter. Life always had a way of twisting and curving. The task set before her was not how she first envisioned married life. Once she had accepted the responsibility of reforming the Club, Elizabeth had not expected it to be quite so challenging to begin. However, the real problem lay in her own insecurities—not in the unexpected trials of life and the opinions of others.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not know how to overcome her fear of failure. She had no experience in ton life. As frustrating as life at Longbourn had been at times, she had known who she was and was entirely comfortable in her role.
By the time Darcy had returned from Gentleman Jackson’s, Elizabeth had mostly talked herself out of her self-pity. Attempting something new would always cause anxiety and distress and failure at the first endeavour did not mean she ought to give up. Still, she could not shake the feeling that until her heart was fully invested in the scheme, she would always struggle with self-doubt.
Darcy did his best to console her. “It is unlike you to be so timid, my darling,” he said before pressing a kiss to her forehead after they had retired for the evening. “It was not very long ago that you cut an arrogant lord in waiting down to size and took on Lady Catherine at her own dinner table.”
“I know that I can stand my own against rudeness and ignorance. However, I had thought we would have allies.” She sighed. “When I argued with you in Kent, your opinion meant very little to me, even as I hoped you would help me regarding Wickham and Lydia. My sense of worth did not dwell on your approval.”
“And it does now?” Darcy looked at her with a furrowed brow.
Elizabeth knew he probably had dozens of things he would like to say or ask. Still, he had also learned to bide his time and let her speak as she wished rather than to press her with his anxieties.
“I would think less of myself if I fail. Lady Darcy is a bluestocking.”
“Just because my aunt was, it does not mean that you have to be. Reforming the Club may be impossible. It was always more of my aunt’s dream, and even she had been unsuccessful. Do not fret about it.”
Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. “Truly? You would not be disappointed?”
“Your happiness means more to me than anything else.” He pressed a kiss to her lips. “Do not worry about it now. If you desire to take up the occupation again once you are more settled in your role, then you should do so. However, if you never feel that you are suited as a salon hostess, then it is of no consequence.”
Elizabeth was unsure she could admit defeat so quickly, but hearing her husband support her if she failed meant the world to her. “I love you, William,” she murmured against his lips.
The following afternoon, Elizabeth sat in the drawing room with her sisters as they practiced a duet when the butler brought the mail in. Elizabeth leafed through the thin stack. There were not near as many letters and invitations as she had expected. Darcy kept assuring her that Society was thin in London after June. Still, she suspected much of it had to do with their disapproval of her. Her eyes leapt to see a letter addressed in Lydia’s elegant and swooping hand. Putting the others aside, she opened it first.
I hope this letter finds you well. I am as well as can be. Her Grace reminds me that my body is not my own at present, and the many changes and sensations can hardly be helped.
The last several weeks that I have spent with Her Grace and Lady Selina have shown me how much I might have benefitted from a guiding female hand. I know you and Jane always tried to be that light for Kitty and me, but we were too headstrong to listen. I know our family may have never been able to afford a governess or to send us to school. Mama did the best she could. Yet, she had been raised to think that all a woman needed in life was to marry. I wish she had been educated differently.
Sometimes I despair at the thought of what might become of me. I am equal parts excited and terrified. I cannot be what I once was. Sometimes I think it better to allow someone else to raise my child. However, I could never be the same Lydia Bennet. How could I sit in drawing and ballrooms and act as if nothing had changed? How would I feel when all of the ladies I would be expected to spend time with are innocent and know nothing of regret and folly?
On the other hand, if I keep the babe, I face an unknown future. There are days when that appeals to me more than the alternative. I am not sure I ever felt very confident in my role as Lydia Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter. But might I be a lady’s companion? An actress? An artist? For the first time, it feels like I have limitless possibilities.
Does that make me wicked? Her Grace does not think so.
I worry about the future in other ways too. What if I do not survive giving birth? Will you be my baby’s godmother, Lizzy? I am not asking for you to raise the child. I could never request such a thing of Lord Darcy. But I can think of no one better to oversee my child’s life and education. Make him or her a bluestocking, that they may be wiser than their mother.
Goodness! How solemn I have made this letter. I would write more, but Selina is calling for me. We are going on a walk, although she is great with child. I promise to write again soon. Please tell Mary that I miss her and greet Georgiana for me.
Until we meet again,
Elizabeth wiped a tear when she had finished read. Lydia signed her name with an extra flourish, and Elizabeth was reminded of when her sister was ten years old and drew hearts over the “I” in her name. Here, Lydia was more grown-up than she had been a few weeks ago, and yet still half child.
Lydia had been correct. Their parents had failed them, although not intentionally; they had both done the best they could. If only educating women on subjects outside of basic skills and their ability to ensnare a husband was fashionable. If only there was a group of witty and outgoing people who offered opportunities for female intellectualism…
A grin spread across Elizabeth’s face. She had hoped for motivation, and here she had it. She had intellectually known that she and her sisters could have benefited from a better education. However, reading her sister draw the same conclusion and beg for Elizabeth’s assistance, cemented her resolve. The Bluestocking Club was not needed for nameless and faceless strangers, but for her own family and their future generations. She may have always had a compassionate heart for strangers, but something about the call of duty and affection to her family could reach past her fear when other tactics failed. Now, when she was ridiculed again, she could square her shoulders and remember that she was doing this for Lydia and her future niece or nephew.