School is over for my kids! Well, mostly. I also sent a story that I was contracted to do off to the publisher yesterday. If you’ve read The Maid of Inverness, my Scottish Regency story, then you’ll recognize Malcolm the tavern keeper/historian who is the hero in this upcoming release. I’m not allowed to share excerpts yet, but once I’m allowed, I will!
This should mean more time for Bluestocking Club and Secret Baby!
This chapter is the last we see of London for awhile. The Darcys will be leaving for Pemberley soon. I hope you don’t mind some mushy time for ODC. 🙂 However, it will be the calm before the storm.
The night of the opera outing, Darcy could sense his wife’s excitement. For her sake, he wished he had thought of taking her to more places. He always detested crowds and knew they would be heavily scrutinised this evening, but it would be worth it to see the smile on her face. They would meet the Calvertons and Gardiners there, and then all would return to Darcy House for supper.
Darcy awaited his wife in the foyer, his breath leaving him when she descended the stairs. He blatantly perused her from head to toe. Her figure was shown to advantage in the white gown with lace trim around the collar, which dipped into a v-shape. It showcased his favourite necklace that he had given her perfectly. The sapphires sparkled in the candlelight. The gown had very short sleeves again shaped like a v and exposing most of her arms not covered by gloves. Delicate embroidery and beadwork edged the sleeves and her trim waistline. She made a lovely sight that stole Darcy’s breath and had him longing to stay home instead of going out. However, Elizabeth deserved some entertainment, and he could not be so rude to their guests. Her thanks and smile of enjoyment at his compliments almost made up for any discomfort he had at quelling his desires.
They arrived early, before the fashionable hour, and awaited their friends. While they chatted with one another, Darcy noticed that many cast looks in their direction. Very few ladies had called on Elizabeth, and it seemed now that those who had not come to gawk at her were now attempting to take her measure.
He saw Cranmoore, Jessop, and Peters watch them now and then from where they had gathered with a group of fashionable demi-reps. Darcy’s lip curled in disgust. They would cast aspersions about his virtuous wife. At the same time, they kept company with the very sort of women they had accused her of being. Nay, those women were even worse, for even if Elizabeth had used her feminine wiles to lead him to the altar, she would have had at least had the respectability of marriage. Once, Cranmoore’s eyes connected with Darcy’s, and the other man visibly flinched. The group retreated to their box once Guilford arrived. Darcy smirked at the cowards.
“You seem in fine spirits tonight, Darcy,” Guilford observed. Darcy looked at his wife, who was smiling and laughing at something Lady Calverton had said. “I am in my best humour when my wife is happy.”
Guilford laughed. “Ah, you have learned that quickly, my friend.”
The Gardiners arrived a few moments later, and Elizabeth eagerly performed the introductions. Gardiner, who had been to Manchester many times on business, was able to speak intelligently about the city and its surrounding area. As a long-time resident of London, Mrs. Gardiner asked Lady Calverton insightful questions about Manchester to compare the two cities.
Soon, it was time to take their seats in the box. Elizabeth was enthralled with the production; Darcy was captivated by his wife. Toward the end of the piece, as the actors declared their love for one another, Elizabeth slipped her hand into Darcy’s. Uncaring who could see, and several eyes had wandered to their box throughout the evening, he raised Elizabeth’s hand to his lips. She turned her head to his, their gazes locking. The soft expression in her eyes pierced his heart.
How had he ever thought he could live without her? It really was too bad that they would have guests this evening. Indeed, the Gardiners would ride with them to Darcy House, so it was many hours before he could kiss his wife. Elizabeth’s lips lifted in a small smile, her eyes twinkling as though she could read his thoughts. She slightly shook her head before giving his hand a squeeze and returning her attention to the stage. Darcy followed suit, but, in truth, his whole focus was on their joined hands.
In due time, the opera had ended, and they successfully navigated their way through the pressing crowd to their waiting carriages. Darcy handed in Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner before following Mr. Gardiner into the conveyance. The ladies chatted about the opera in raptures. Although Darcy could admire superior singing, he preferred intimate home gatherings to the inconvenience of attending the opera.
“Did you enjoy the performance, Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Gardiner asked him. “I know Edward is not very fond of opera. He much prefers a good comedy. However, in truth, he does not like going out at all.”
Elizabeth turned to look at him, her brows raised, and her lips pursed as though holding back a tease.
“I have always thought Mr. Gardiner a very wise man.” They all chuckled at Darcy’s response.
Once at Darcy House, Mary and Georgiana were introduced to the Calvertons. Darcy and Elizabeth showed them around the house. He was unsurprised when both Calvertons praised the library. They ended the tour in the large drawing room on the first floor. At the late hour, and due to dinner being served so late in the afternoon in London, the supper was a light repast of cold meats, cheeses, fruits, wine, coffee, and tea.
As the merry party ate and chatted, Darcy was pleased to see how well Georgiana got on even though the Calvertons were strangers to her. He could see that spending her mornings in Elizabeth’s company had improved his sister’s confidence. She would be coming out in a year or two. Between her natural shyness and feelings of deep mortification over her near elopement with Mr. Wickham, Georgiana was exceedingly reserved in company.
Darcy saw, too, the natural affection between Georgiana and Elizabeth’s sister, Mary. One eased the way of the other. Mary, he had observed, tended toward sermonizing. Indeed, there had been much for a serious girl to disapprove of in the Bennet household. While Elizabeth had a similar lack of reverence for the opinions of others, she did not expose herself to ridicule as easily as Mary did. Whatever Elizabeth’s private thoughts were, she affected a relaxed and friendly manner whilst in public. Mary had cultivated an image of a lady uninterested in anything Society could offer her.
Now, and in the right sort of company, Darcy could see that Mary exerted herself to put Georgiana at ease. This not only allowed Georgiana to put herself forward more, but it put Mary in a better light. She was not as withdrawn or grave. Darcy smiled to himself. Apparently, all she needed was a companion, something she had lacked in the Bennet household. Elizabeth and Jane were the best of friends, and Kitty, Elizabeth told him, had always followed Lydia’s lead. That had often left Mary out. He could well understand how his new sister must have felt. He had often lashed out at the expectations of others because he had felt so alone and misjudged. However, now he had Elizabeth and hoped to never feel that way again.
As was previously arranged, Mary and Georgiana performed a few duets. Unsurprisingly, no one dared to sing tonight as they had just heard London’s very finest singer, Madam ___. Elizabeth had once told Darcy she did not like performing to those who were used to hearing the very best. He supposed that it was a natural feeling.
While his sisters played on the pianoforte, Darcy talked with Mr. Gardiner. Calverton was talking with the ladies about his employment in Manchester, a story Darcy had already heard. Darcy had learned to appreciate Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle months before. Mr. Gardiner’s schedule did not allow them to see each other as often as Darcy would have wished. He truly enjoyed spending time with the couple, and they put Elizabeth in good spirits.
“When do you leave for Pemberley?” Gardiner asked.
“Next week.” Darcy smiled. Pemberley never ceased to provoke such a reaction from him. “Will we still see you in August? Is Mrs. Gardiner feeling well enough to travel?”
“Meg has been looking forward to seeing Lambton again for months. I think she would insist on traveling even if the babe would be in danger of being born on the road. Fortunately for us, that is not a concern.”
Darcy attempted to smile. He knew little of the ins and outs of parenthood. “We look forward to your visit. I know Elizabeth has determined to show her aunt the whole of the park and has dreamed up a scheme involving a little phaeton, or a carriage should Georgie and Mary wish to go with them. Of course, while the ladies enjoy the sights, I think you and I shall be busy fishing.”
Gardiner grinned and puffed on his cigar. “Now, you know how to please a man!”
Darcy chuckled. “I try.”
He grew solemn for a moment. Initially, he had thought he would have Bingley and his family at Pemberley as well. He had never much enjoyed entertaining large crowds, but Bingley had been nearly as close as family. Every now and then, Darcy felt the sting of his loss of friendship anew.
“Do you have any other plans for the summer?” Gardiner asked.
“There are some places we may tour nearby in Derbyshire. Calverton’s estate is not very far away. Elizabeth said there was an invitation this morning she wished to discuss with me, but we have not had a chance to do so yet.”
“That sounds like a wonderful first summer together. Enough time at home that newlyweds need and enough travel while you have the energy. Oh, to be young again!”
Darcy laughed. Mr. Gardiner was less than ten years his senior, and Mrs. Gardiner was very close to his age. However, he supposed having children aged a person.
“Has Lizzy heard from her sisters?”
“Lydia has written. I do not believe she has heard anything from Jane or Kitty. I am unsure she expects anything from the latter, and I think she is beginning to worry—again—about Jane.” Darcy frowned. They were quite alike in their concern for their family, but he did not like that it caused his wife so much distress.
“We have had a letter from Lydia as well. She was quite apologetic. I never thought we’d see the day.”
“Indeed,” Darcy said while nodding. “Elizabeth believes it is the excellent example of the Duchess of Dorset and her daughter. I suppose it shows that Lydia was not entirely ungovernable. Although, I am sure her mistake with Wickham has had a very sobering effect on her.” Left unsaid was that Darcy had seen Georgiana go through a similar revolution in her character after the scoundrel made his way into her heart. He would be surprised if anyone could go through such a thing without changes to their personality.
The men soon returned to the ladies who entertained with music before they broke into teams for charades. Darcy paired with Mary, as Elizabeth determined you must be with someone you did not know very well.
He took the time to talk with Mary more than he usually did. She had always appeared to him as the Bennet sister with the most sensible head on her shoulders after Elizabeth. Jane had seemed more correct according to propriety’s standards, but that said little about her sense. Some things Society dictated were absolutely ridiculous and deserved flouting. If Mary would rather read a book than make small talk with others, then Darcy could entirely comprehend her way of thinking. Despite their mutual reserve, they were the unlikely winners of the evening. They had caused everyone to laugh until their bellies ached when Mary pantomimed first a dance and then pointed at Darcy, and he rightly exclaimed, “Column! No! Statue!”
Their guests left around midnight with promises to see each other again when they returned in the fall. The Calvertons promised to invite the Darcys to their estate during the summer. They extended it to the Gardiners as well as they would be spending several weeks at Pemberley. Mary and Georgiana retired as soon as the others left, finally leaving Darcy alone with Elizabeth.
As he watched her ready for bed, he thought to himself that she was even more beautiful in the privacy of their chambers. The jewelry and beautiful gown were discarded, a simple night rail on in their place, and her hair was undone. She was purely his Lizzy here, and he was welcome to see her like no one else, without all the artifice that fashionable society demanded. She caught him staring at her and laughed at him when he explained himself.
“The only time you look more beautiful than you do now is in the morning as I wake to you in my arms,” he said.
“I know I look a fright first thing in the morning.”
“You never look a fright, but if you believe you look unkempt, then I am most pleased, for I am the reason you are so often in such a state,” he murmured in her ear.
Later, as Elizabeth laid her head on Darcy’s shoulder in their bed, he pressed a kiss to her forehead, thankful for all the joy she had brought to his life. He prayed that he could bring her one-tenth of such happiness.
He thought too of their future. He had not mentioned Liverpool’s visit to Elizabeth yet as he had not wanted to burden her. He desired to outright refuse the Prime Minister’s “offer.” He had no political ambitions and would take his seat in the autumn with great reluctance. He certainly did not want to be tied to Liverpool’s policies.
On the other hand, the alliances he could make would benefit the Bluestocking Club, which Elizabeth now seemed to have a renewed interest in. Additionally, should Lydia’s situation become known, having a greater connection to someone as powerful as Liverpool would hopefully keep them from being painted with the same brush. Finally, there was the fact that Darcy’s honour might be called into question. Liverpool had done him and his family a great favour. Could he stand to be in the man’s debt indefinitely?