We are down to the final week of school for my county! My son will have a few extra assignments for the rest of May but not the full load. I will finish writing on a contracted story this week, and then I can spend more time on this one!
Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club is now available for pre-order. I selected a date of December 31, but my goal is this summer. I would love to get it out in July. However, if we’ve learned anything this year it should be that we can’t remotely predict the future. So, for now the date is set at December 31 and that will give me plenty of time–just in case. Here’s the link!
By the way, the price may go up once it’s released. I usually release my longer novels at $7.99 and I suspect this one will be longer since the first one was the longest story I’ve written at nearly 110,000 words. It was over 600 pages in print! However, my aim is never for a certain number of words. I just want to tell a good story. Some of them are shorter and some of them are longer.
What did you think of Darcy in the last chapter? Elizabeth meets Guilford’s wife in this chapter. Will she be nicer than the other ladies of the ton? Tell me what you think when you meet her!
A few days after Guilford had visited at Darcy House, Elizabeth called on his wife. Propriety dictated that she begin the acquaintance by leaving her card. Lady Calverton followed suit, which indicated that she would welcome Elizabeth as a guest.
Elizabeth had returned the calls from the few ladies who had deigned to visit her. However, there was no enjoyment to be had on the occasion and, thus far, the acquaintances were not furthered. None of the ladies had reciprocated with a second call. Although Guilford seemed very amiable, there was no telling what his wife might be like. To add to Elizabeth’s anxiety, it was the first call she had made on a woman previously unknown to her, and she did not have the benefit of her sisters being with her.
Upon arriving at the modest townhouse a few streets away, Elizabeth quickly saw that she had worried for nothing. Lady Calverton welcomed her with a genuine smile.
“I am so pleased to meet you at last,” the lady said while serving tea. “I have heard much about you from my husband.”
“Oh, dear,” Elizabeth said with a chuckle. “I hate to hear such things. I fear that I can only disappoint in reality.”
Lady Calverton chuckled. “I can see your point, but I did not mean to insinuate any such thing. My husband is most impressed with yours and thought we might become friends. I have few enough in London.”
“I completely understand,” Elizabeth said, fervently nodding. “I understand you were raised in Manchester. I have never been there, but I believe it is a thriving city. How does it compare with London?”
“There is no comparing the two. Some things are similar to all cities, I suspect. There are dirt and grime. The wealthy live on the fringes of the destitute, which they pretend do not exist. However, London Society is very staid and entrenched in its beliefs on class. Manchester has far fewer gentry and a larger middle class. Many tradesmen and merchants have become quite wealthy, especially with rapidly growing factories. However, such revolutionary changes are not always met with appreciation from all.”
“How fascinating.” Elizabeth smiled. “I am also displeased with the pretensions of London. My earlier experiences with the town were merely on pleasure trips with my aunt and uncle. They circulate in a very different society than Lord Darcy. So I was unprepared for the prejudice and cruelty that I have experienced. However, I care too little for their opinion to be overwrought by it.”
“I applaud your mindset!” Lady Calverton exclaimed. “I believe I heard that your uncle is in trade?”
“Yes, he has a warehouse on Gracechurch Street.”
“We are not so different, it seems. Most of my family is now in trade. My grandfather had been a rector in a small parish. His father had been a gentleman, but as the younger son, he did not inherit. There are millions of stories like that, and the ton seems to forget that it could very well be their grandchildren in the position of being shunned one day.”
“That is too true,” Elizabeth agreed before sipping more of her tea. “My maternal grandfather was a solicitor. His son might have chosen to enter that field, but instead believed his present occupation was more profitable. Many noble families are in debt. Their sons will soon have to choose between providing for their families and remaining gentlemen in the strictest sense of the word.”
“Quite right. That is exactly how my husband saw it. You know, I assume that he was cut from his family’s notice for marrying me?”
“I did not know, but I do think he hinted at it. I think he preferred to leave you to decide how much to share.”
Lady Calverton looked at her hands, a small smile playing on her lips. She murmured, “He is so considerate.” Then, she squared her shoulders and raised her head. “I do not tell everyone such intimate details about our life, but I believe we understand one another, Lady Darcy. And I believe we are in similar positions.”
Elizabeth smiled encouragingly. Her hostess sighed and took a sip of tea before speaking.
“The old earl was in debt and had nothing to offer my husband. None of the usual professions appealed to him. Instead, he decided to buy a factory in Manchester. Once there, he decided he ought to do more than merely own the building and learned to oversee the production. We met at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends. Well, the earl was displeased enough with his son entering trade but could keep it rather hush from London. He knew as much as anyone that if one is rich enough, people do not care where the money came from. However, when James proposed to me, the earl had had enough. He declared if we should wed, then James must never show his face to the family again.”
Elizabeth gasped. “How awful. I am very sorry they reacted so to your happy news.”
“Thank you, but neither of us felt the loss acutely. I suppose I would have liked to be more accepted by my husband’s family. Still, everything I have heard of them makes them sound so mercenary and even cruel. I do not think I have lost anything by not having their friendship.”
“I must say I agree with you.”
“Now, there was no communication between our houses for nearly ten years. James’ brother had died, and no one sent word to us. James was the heir, and his father never relented in his edict. We never knew for we did not read the Society section in the London paper. We cared nothing for any of them—not one of James’ friends had stood with him in his decision to marry me.”
Elizabeth shook her head at the news. No wonder Darcy felt so akin to James Guilford.
“Well, when the old earl died, James had to be notified by law. We seriously debated staying in Manchester and letting the earldom rot, but James thought we might do more good by taking up his duty. We had only been in Town a fortnight when he met your husband.”
“Thank you for sharing your story with me. Does your husband have other family living? How do they find your marriage?”
“His mother has coldly tolerated my presence, and his sister has yet to say a word to me, although she will call on me in her mother’s presence. I have not met all the more distant relatives—although that perhaps says enough on its own.”
“I can empathize to a degree. My husband’s aunt, uncle, and cousins refuse to publicly recognize us. However, I am very blessed with my husband’s sister. Unfortunately, their parents are deceased, but I am unsure if they would have approved of our match. I hope your family makes up for the deficiency in his.”
Lady Calverton grinned. “Indeed. I have three elder brothers. Their wives are like sisters to me, and I dote on my nieces and nephews.”
“You must miss them very much.”
“I do, but we shall see them in a few weeks. It will not be the same as when we all lived near each other, but hopefully, we can visit a few times a year. What of your family, Lady Darcy? I believe you have four sisters?”
Elizabeth smiled and hoped it did not look as brittle as it felt. “Yes, I am the second out of five. My eldest sister recently married.”
“To the Duke of Dorset, I believe.”
“Yes, ma’am, and the fourth also married just before I did.”
“Three daughters married. That must ease your mother’s mind.”
“I believe it has.”
“Will you be able to see them frequently?”
“My next sister is staying with us in Town. Jane and Dorset will be here in the autumn and Longbourn is but half a day’s ride from here. I am sure it will be as you said—different than before, but we shall see each other a few times a year, which is more than many married women can say. Besides all this, my aunt and uncle live in town and we see them as often as our schedules permit.” Elizabeth returned her teacup to the table. Her visit would soon be over. “In fact, they are to join us at the opera in a few nights. If you and Lord Calverton should like to join us, I would be pleased to introduce you.”
Lady Calverton grinned. “I shall have to speak with James. He does not much admire the opera. However, we should like to make more sensible and amiable acquaintances, and any friends of the Darcys must be worthy.”
“You flatter us,” Elizabeth said.
“I assure you, I do not mean to give false flattery. Perhaps between the four of us and your aunt and uncle, we may find a few others and form a little set.”
“I should like that very much,” Elizabeth smiled. “William assures me that it shall be easier to make friends in the autumn as so many people are now gone from Town. However, I confess our past weeks have passed rather dully.”
“I wish we had met earlier, Lady Darcy. I do not know if you are artistic at all, but I often talk a daily walk in Hyde Park and then sit to sketch in the mornings. I should welcome your company and that of your sisters.”
“I greatly enjoy walking and do a little sketching. What time shall we join you?”
“I hope I do not scandalize you, but I go in the mornings before breakfast.”
Elizabeth’s eyes danced. “I do not find that scandalizing in the least! Before coming to London, I would often walk early in the morning in the lanes near my home. William and I have enjoyed several walks in the park before breakfast. I think it is the best time to take in the surrounding beauty.”
“Precisely!” Lady Calverton beamed. “Shall I look for you around eight o’clock?”
“Splendid,” Elizabeth said while rising.
Lady Calverton rose as well and accompanied her to the front door. Once there, she took Elizabeth’s hand in hers. “My dear Lady Darcy, I have truly enjoyed this visit and hope we shall become close friends.”
Elizabeth reciprocated the sentiment and returned home with a lighter heart. Not only did she think she had made a great friend with Lady Calverton, but she had a revelation during the visit. Thus far, Elizabeth had meekly waited on the ton to seek her out. She had hoped she could find a few among the most established set that would be interested in the Bluestocking Club. Now, Elizabeth saw what she should do. She ought to seek out the misfits and those on the edges of Society. Mrs. Gardiner would have many sensible recommendations for women from the merchant class, but Bluestockings would never be found in the likes of Almack’s.
She ought to have seen it long before now, Elizabeth laughed to herself. After all, if there had been any to choose from there, her husband would never have fallen in love with her. He had looked among the ballrooms of London for years and never found a woman that had interested or stirred him. Of course, he had not been able to articulate what he sought. However, Elizabeth now understood it. Women with compassion and intelligence were unlikely to be hiding among the pillars of the haute ton. She determined to put forth a plan to meet ladies the ton had rejected. She began by searching the scandal sheets.
The following morning, Elizabeth walked with quick paces down the central promenade of Hyde Park. She tugged on her husband’s arm. He merely chuckled at her.
“I am pleased that you found Lady Calverton so delightful. However, spraining your ankle in a mad dash shall surely ruin the day.”
“We ought to have set out earlier,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.
Elizabeth and Darcy had enjoyed a few walks in the park before breakfast. However, more often, they chose to enjoy themselves in their private chamber before breaking their fast. Trying to alter their routine today proved difficult. And while Mary and Georgiana expressed an interest in joining them, neither lady arose before they needed to leave. All in all, Elizabeth feared to insult her new friend due to unintended tardiness.
“I think I see them.”
Lady Calverton wore a green walking gown, and Elizabeth was pleased to see the lady in another tasteful garment. Elizabeth was no fashion plate, but she did not think she would prefer to be friends with a lady who dressed garishly or strangely. One’s mode of dress spoke of their character, after all. Lady Calverton walked arm in arm with her husband.
The two couples greeted one another and spoke for a few moments before resuming their walk. Elizabeth went on with Lady Calverton while the men brought up the rear.
“Does your husband always accompany you on your walks?” Elizabeth asked.
Lady Calverton sighed. “Yes, although sometimes I do convince him to allow me solitude, and he follows at a slower pace.” She peered at Elizabeth. “I see now I have surprised you.”
“I am not as shocked at the sentiment as I am at the admittance. I am used to solitary walks in the country. Obviously, that is unwise here. However, soon we shall be at Pemberley, and I confess that I do not think I want to resume those rambles on my own.”
“You are newlyweds still,” Lady Calverton said. “James and I have been married over ten years and courted for nearly a year before. I do love him dearly. However, we have learned we sometimes need time apart from one another. We may have many similar interests, but it does not mean we must share all our time together.”
She gestured to a spot under a tree. “Here we are. I like to sit here to sketch and then complete the circuit when I am finished.”
Guilford and Darcy spread out blankets for the ladies to sit on as they sketched before wandering down the path a little. Elizabeth watched with interest as her new friend made the scenery before them come alive on a page. Now and then, they spoke, just enough to be companionable, but not so much that it interfered with their production.
Elizabeth began to lose herself in her own drawing. She had no image set before her, but she could freshly see in her mind’s eye the ancient church she and Darcy had stumbled upon in the forest around Rosings. Her fingers flew as her mind worked, recalling the way light shone through the bare windows and when Darcy gathered her in his arms for a waltz.
“Oh, that is magnificent,” Lady Calverton said sometime later as she looked at Elizabeth’s work.
“Thank you. I wish I had your skill,” Elizabeth said as she nodded at the other lady’s sketching of the park.
“But you have done a masterful job! I cannot draw buildings or people at all. Your master must have been well-pleased with you.”
“Alas we never had any masters. I am self-taught, and my interests lie solely in the architecture. One would never frame my works. I do not bother to add scenery anymore. My trees look like the silliest things that have ever existed. I cannot apply color at all, and any attempts at portraying how the sun shines through the clouds is impossible.”
“Perhaps your standards are too high,” Lady Calverton said with a smile. “I see much to admire in your piece. There is nothing noteworthy about my rendition of this park. It might be a more fashionable thing to portray, but it is no more worth hanging than your piece.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Together it seems we make one barely passable attempt at art.”
Her friend joined her in laughter. “Your honesty is refreshing, Lady Darcy.”
“Please, do call me Elizabeth.”
“Then, you must call me Sarah. I hate all this lord and lady nonsense.” Immediately, she blushed. “I mean that for my husband and myself. I meant no offense to you. It is a strange thing to go from Mrs. Guillford to Lady Calverton, but I suppose it happens to many women who marry heirs.”
“I am not offended at all. I was more prepared to be called Lady Darcy, as I knew while we were courting that my husband would become Lord Darcy. However, I greatly admired his aunt, and we were saddened for her to pass so soon after our wedding. I was not prepared to become Lady Darcy that soon! As it happens, I often fear that I am ill-equipped for my title. I should much rather be Mrs. Darcy—or Elizabeth, as we have agreed you must call me.”
“We seem alike in many ways. However, I am older than you by a few years and have been married longer. Would you permit the freedom of observance?”
“I should welcome it, Sarah.”
They shared a smile. “Perhaps you wonder if you can perform the office of Lady Darcy as well as your predecessor did. However, you are not asked to be her. You can only be yourself. I do hope you have not tormented yourself with thoughts that another would have been a better choice of a wife for your husband.” At Elizabeth’s slight blush, Sarah looked over at the gentlemen before returning her eyes to Elizabeth. With a smile and a soft voice, she said, “I have only just met him, but I can see that he is completely besotted with you. I do not know the story of your courtship. Still, Lord Darcy’s reputation of being a sensible and intelligent young man proceeds him. He would never have chosen you out of reckless passion. You must harden yourself to the idea that so great a man found you worthy.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered.
It had been a long time since she had felt so free and accepted with a friend. The minute Charlotte had accepted Mr. Collins’ proposal, Elizabeth had felt betrayed. However, looking back, there had been signs for years that Charlotte and never thought very similarly to Elizabeth on the topic of matrimony. However, Charlotte’s attitude toward Elizabeth in Kent had shocked and confused her. Then, overhearing Charlotte’s words to Maria about Elizabeth felt like a knife to the heart. Charlotte had said that Elizabeth purposefully attracted the attention of everyone and called her behaviour a performance. How could a friend she had all her life think so meanly of her? Is that how everyone saw her? The truth was Elizabeth did not wish for extra attention. She had simply learned how to wear a façade of confidence and cheerfulness when faced with it, unlike others such as Darcy.
The gentlemen soon re-joined the ladies, and they resumed their walk around the park, talking of museums, the theatre, art, music, and the various gardens of London. If time had allowed, they would have had engagements for the next several months. As each couple was soon to leave London, however, most activities had to be postponed until the autumn. A visit to the opera, followed by supper at Darcy House, was agreed upon before they separated to return to their homes.