We survived another week! School is letting out early for the semester in my state. The last day is May 8…sort of. Students that need some additional help will continue with modified assignments and schedules until May 22. My son will have one short writing assignment a week from May 11-22. I will have to make up something for my daughter to do as well, because I can’t see it going over very well if she gets to enjoy herself while he has to do some work. Even if it’s just a little, tiny bit. I’m sure all the parents reading can hear the whiney complaints of “It’s not faaaaair!!” ringing in their ears.
So, we are in countdown mode over here. Just a few more weeks until summer vacation…and maybe I’ll have more writing time. I keep going back and forth on how unstructured I’ll let the summer get. Would you like more than one chapter a week?
We’re flipping back to Darcy for this chapter. You know what they say, still waters run deep.
“Come in, come in,” Darcy said to his visitor after the butler announced him into his private study. “I am glad you have called.”
Darcy motioned for Guilford to take a seat and asked if he would like anything to drink. They had met several times at Jackson’s, and their friendship was growing. It was now time to call upon each other’s houses. Darcy had done so yesterday and, today, Guilford returned the courtesy.
The two men talked of boxing and politics for much of the visit. At the proper time, Guilford stood to take his leave.
“Allow me to introduce you to my wife and our sisters if they are with her.” Darcy led his guest to the drawing room.
“Dearest,” Darcy said as he showed Guilford into the large room decorated with blue curtains in which his wife and sisters sat. “This is James Guilford, the newest Viscount Calverton, although he does not want anyone to know that.” Darcy teased and winked at his friend, who laughed. “Guilford, my wife, Elizabeth Darcy, and my sisters Georgiana Darcy and Mary Bennet.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Elizabeth smiled. “My apologies on the death of your brother.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Darcy,” Guilford said before grinning at Darcy. “Your husband sings your praises, so I admit I was quite eager to meet you. Thank you for your condolences, but my brother and I were not close.”
Guilford greeted Georgiana and Mary, and then Elizabeth invited him to sit. Once they were all seated, Elizabeth led the conversation.
“I understand I have you to thank for my husband’s new-found hobby. How long have you been a patron of Gentleman Jackson?”
“I cannot take the credit for Darcy’s interest in boxing. He is natural in the ring. I have been a fan of the sport all of my life but have only joined Jackson’s a few months ago. Previously, my wife and I lived in Manchester, and few seriously studied the sport there. I am afraid most of my practice has been barn posts and old saddles.”
“How interesting!” Elizabeth offered a plate of treats to her guest, but he refused. “Did your wife grow up around Manchester. Pray forgive me, I am uncertain if I ought to call her Lady Calverton or Mrs. Guilford. I am afraid my husband’s tease has got the best of me!”
Darcy chuckled. “If you only knew how rare of a victory that was, Guilford, you would send a toast in honour of my triumph.”
“Your wit is sharper than mine,” Guilford said with a smile. “She would request to be called Mrs. Guilford. However, I suppose when Parliament is called again, we shall have to begin using our formal titles.”
Elizabeth nodded and smiled, but she shot Darcy a look that had unspoken understanding in it. Darcy returned her gaze with a slight nod and smile. His wife was very clever. Darcy could see that she quickly perceived one reason Darcy felt such friendship for his new acquaintance was that they were both new to titles that they only begrudgingly accepted. Darcy, at least, had the benefit of knowing most of his life that he would inherit his title. Guilford unexpectedly became the viscount when his elder brother died unmarried. Darcy hoped that Elizabeth and Mrs. Guilford might be able to establish a similar bond.
“Anyway, Sarah did grow up in Manchester.”
“And how does she find the adjustment to London?”
A gleam of uncertainty and sadness flitted past Guilford’s eyes. “She would hate for me to answer for her, although I thank you for asking; most do not.” His gaze strayed to the clock. “I fear I have far overstayed the proper time for a visit.”
He stood and bowed to Elizabeth and the other ladies. “Thank you for such an agreeable conversation and your offer of refreshments. I hope you will call on my wife, Lady Darcy. I believe she would dearly enjoy your company.”
Darcy felt his gaze soften as he watched Elizabeth’s smile grow, and she accepted the invitation with pleasure. He knew how desperately she needed female companionship in London.
“I would love to meet her. Please, do return soon and expect to stay much longer.” Elizabeth smiled. “We are not in the custom of being so formal and turning friends out at regular intervals.”
“Ah, more of the enchanting country manners you have talked about, Darcy. I grow quite tired of how some in London behave as though time means more than friendship.”
Elizabeth blushed a little under the praise, and Darcy hoped he had not said anything to his friend that his wife would dislike. He had been very taken with her lively manners from the start.
Just before reaching the door as he showed his friend out, there was a knock. Allowing the butler to answer, the Earl of Liverpool emerged.
“Oh, good. You are in, Darcy.” The man said without any other greeting. “I had thought to find you at your club, but I hear you have not been there in weeks.”
Inwardly, Darcy steeled himself. The earl was not his favourite person. His politics were too harsh for Darcy’s liking. The timing of his visit sent Darcy on alert. Liverpool had recently become the Prime Minister, and while Darcy had little political sway at present, he was in the other man’s debt.
“Shall we talk in your study? Do you still have that excellent port?”
Liverpool began to walk in the direction of Darcy’s study without waiting for his host or even acknowledging the other man in the hall. Darcy sighed and spoke to Guilford once Liverpool was out of earshot.
“I apologise. I was not expecting him and do not approve of his rudeness.”
“Think nothing of it.” Guilford waved Darcy off. “When I married Sarah, I severed ties with most of London Society. I never thought I would be attempting to make my way in it again. He does not know who I am.” Guilford looked away for a moment before returning his eyes to Darcy. “He will want votes from you and promise you something in return.”
“Yes, I know. He shall not get them.” Liverpool had only just become the Prime Minister after Spencer Perceval was assassinated the previous month. It was natural for Guilford to assume that Liverpool was still amassing supporters.
“Do not forget you are nearly kin now.”
“My wife’s sister marrying his step-great-nephew hardly makes us related.” Even as he said it, Darcy’s insides tightened. Everyone in London played the connections game. Liverpool was now part of Darcy’s closest connections—far more than when he was merely a yearly guest at the estate of the earl’s step-sister.
“Yet, that is how he will spin it,” Guilford said. He was raised in London politics as his father had been in the Cabinet years ago.
“Thank you for your warning. I think I have it well in hand.” Darcy continued showing his friend out and promised to send an invitation for the two families to dine together soon.
The more pleasurable part of his afternoon over, Darcy entered his study. Liverpool had made himself comfortable in a chair and with a glass of port.
“This really is exquisite stuff, Darcy,” Liverpool said as he took another sip.
“Thank you.” Darcy poured a small amount in the glass he had been using earlier.
“That is one of the things I like about you.”
“You value sophistication. You are not afraid to pay for high quality.”
“What do you want, Liverpool?” Darcy eyed him with distrust. He did not really know the man outside of a few cricket matches and one dinner party he had hosted years ago.
“A few weeks ago, my nephew was so eager to get a certain runaway militia officer transferred into one of the recently deployed units.” He paused and studied Darcy under hooded lids. “Did you think I would not discover that had to do with you?”
Darcy’s stomach flipped. He had not expected Liverpool to be so direct about Wickham. Darcy had even dared to hope that Liverpool did not know of it, and any debt of honour he felt toward the earl was on his side alone. What had Dorset said to his uncle when securing Wickham’s position? Darcy attempted to keep his face neutral, and his voice indifferent. “Go on.”
“Well, I require intelligent, respectable, young men like yourself. There is a war with America to prevent, and we are working on a treaty with Sweden and Russia. Napoleon’s control grows closer to Russian borders every week. It is only a matter of time before he tries to invade.”
“Surely, you are not offering me a cabinet position! I have not even taken my seat yet.”
“No, no,” Liverpool shook his head. “Not yet. However, I will need gentlemen I can trust to travel as my emissaries. If they do well, then greater positions may be in their future. Why not have a powerful political legacy to go with your new title? Bring some glory back to the family name.”
Darcy set his glass of wine down. “The name Darcy does not lack any honour or glory.”
“If that is how you see it. I meant no insult.” Liverpool drained his glass and passed it back and forth between his hands, staring at it rather than meeting Darcy’s eyes. Finally, he set down the goblet and met Darcy’s gaze directly. “Think about it until the next session. Come and see me if you desire to serve your King and government. Or,” he shrugged, “stay away if you can live with yourself and forget what you owe your honour.”
With that, Liverpool stood and showed himself out. Immediately, Darcy rang the bell for a servant to ready his horse and inform his wife he was headed out. He needed to work his anxiety out of his body.
Arriving at Jackson’s salon*, Darcy cast his eyes about for a familiar face. He sparred with Guilford most often, but he was not always available. Finding a gentleman who Darcy was comfortable with and close in his size and ability, he communicated with the man before shoving his hands in specially padded mitts.
Darcy and his partner took turns warming up their muscles with practice swings into the punch mitts. After several minutes, they exchanged them for enormous padded gloves. While men who engaged in boxing for competition still favoured bare-knuckle boxing, Darcy saw no reason to insist on such brutal standards. He still ended up with bruises and cuts aplenty. However, the gloves likely prevented more terrible injuries or even death, which often occurred in street fights.
Their seconds and umpires chosen, the bout began. Darcy attacked with a ferocity he had not shown in the building before. Anger coursed through him, adding force and speed to each swing. Instead of Mr. Carson’s face, it was Wickham Darcy saw, giving him a more significant incentive to duck each jab sent at him. It was always Wickham. Darcy’s glove punched into his opponent’s stomach. Wickham would never leave him be or let him have any peace. Another strike landed on Carson’s shoulder. Would that he had thrashed his one-time friend long ago when they were only lads, and Wickham first displayed any sign of malevolence.
Carson fell, and they retreated to their corners for the allotted time. Darcy stood to his feet with ease and met the mark with anticipation roiling through him. Darcy placed another punch into Carson’s side. The man groaned, and Darcy wished with all his heart it truly was Wickham he had inflicted pain upon. He had been too kind to the man too many times. Wickham’s face hovered before Darcy’s eyes, taunting him.
You will never beat me. You can never protect your precious Elizabeth.
Darcy swung again and made contact with his opponent’s body. He had thought everything worked out perfectly to save Elizabeth from as much pain as possible.
Stay away if you can live with yourself and forget what you owe your honour.
Liverpool’s words taunted Darcy. How dare he say it would be dishonourable to refuse him? How dare he use his assistance with Wickham to manipulate Darcy into something against his morals? Carson gained ground, and Darcy’s vision whirled after a blow to the head.
Darcy staggered back, taking a knee to allow himself thirty seconds of recovery. He surged forward, Carson flinching in fear.
Will Elizabeth go with you to some foreign post? Succumb to disease in the colonies? Or will you behind home…and lonely?
Wickham’s voice in Darcy’s head silenced only when Carson fell down. Stupidly, the man stood up once more and made it to scratch.
I only wanted your money and connections, sounded in Darcy’s mind before Bingley’s visage appeared before him.
You could have let me marry Georgiana. My death will be on your head. Richard slipped in front of his eyes.
Only Elizabeth and Georgie matter. I will find a way to keep us happy and safe. Darcy internally chanted it over and over again as his demons and ghosts of friendships flashed before him.
Finally, after eight exhausting rounds, Stephen Carson, barrister of the Middle Temple, failed to make it to scratch.
“No more, Darcy. No more,” he said before rinsing his bloodied mouth. His lips were cracked and bleeding, a black eye was forming, and bruises were raised on his cheeks.
Darcy accepted the victory but never felt less like a champion. The men parted on cordial terms. Darcy was hardly the most skilled student, and they would both likely take greater beatings someday. Still, Darcy regretted that he took his anger and fear out on an innocent man. His rage at Wickham was lessened, but his fear threatened to overflow from behind his carefully practiced expression of calm and reserve. He could not dine like this. Elizabeth would see through him in an instant.
Returning to his home, and while cleaning up, the need to have Elizabeth comfort the raging emotions would not clear his mind. He exited his bath and dismissed his valet. He entered Elizabeth’s chamber without a knock.
“Leave us,” he said in a commanding tone to his wife’s maid. The woman dutifully scurried away.
“William,” Elizabeth scolded before standing and turning to face him. Then her eyes took in his countenance. “Oh.” She fought a smile, and a light blush fanned her cheeks.
“We cannot—we do not have time before dinner is to be served.”
Darcy stepped forward, conveying his need for Elizabeth in his eyes. There was too much of every emotion jumbled in his mind. They sapped him of speech. He kissed her where her neck met her shoulder, feeling her shiver. He flicked his tongue over the sensitive skin, and she deeply inhaled before arching her neck away from him and allowing him greater access.
Blind desire filled him. He needed to hold her in his arms, to kiss every inch of her. Only then could he lay to rest the visions that had tormented him. She was his, and he was hers, and nothing could separate them—not Wickham or any other soul. Only when united in love and passion could Darcy find rest and peace.
When his lips found hers, she hungrily kissed him back, matching his ardour. There was no sweeter invitation or welcome for Darcy, and he devoted all of his energy and focus to his wife until well after the dinner hour. However, when she lay in his arms afterward, them both exhausted and sated, unease crept into Darcy’s mind again. He ought to tell her about Liverpool’s visit. It’s what she would do for him. He could not give voice, though, to his anxieties or fears. Admitting his continued bitterness and anger at Wickham, confirming the scoundrel’s intrusion into their life once more was more than Darcy could burden Elizabeth with. While he loathed dishonesty and longed to free himself of his cares, he hated more the thought of Elizabeth suffering in any way because of his choices.
I will keep us happy and safe, he announced in his mind once more. Wishing he could defeat the very real concerns which threatened their contentment the way he had tamped down the flashes of them in his mind, he kissed his wife’s forehead. He may not be able to keep his silent promise. He would die trying, though.