Did you miss the other posts about the Mr. Darcy’s Impertinent Daughters universe? Check them out here:
Are you ready to meet the hero? Here’s the inspiration pic for him!
John Ward loosened his cravat just outside Pemberley’s grand drawing room. He had rushed through changing his attire after he had been besieged by the Darcy gang. There was no other way to think of them. George Darcy had never said that his siblings were so wild, but then John might have guessed from how Malachi conducted himself. He did nothing to bring reproach to the family, but he certainly was not as straightlaced as George.
Hovering just inside the doorway, John stayed back. The derelict and elderly governess had entered from a different entrance with her charges in tow. The children had cleaned up quite well and displayed excellent manners as they bowed and curtsied to each visitor, but John knew it was all an act. Of course, he had grown accustomed to the landed gentry putting on a good show. How many of them owed thousands to his family’s bank? Most of them. Fitzwilliam Darcy did not. Although, John suspected having so many children and a wife from a family of no distinction or wealth might be straining even Pemberley’s coffers.
John’s father was eager for him to convince Mr. Darcy to invest in the newest speculation of banks in America. However, John cared too much about his friendship with George to broach the topic. He also cared too little about his father’s aspirations and the drudgery of banking life to which he was destined.
Movement caught John’s eye, pulling him from his thoughts. Raphaela Darcy broke ranks and marched up to John’s brother Daniel before kicking him in the shin.
“Raphaela!” Mrs. Darcy cried as the governess pulled the child back. “What has come over you? Apologise to Mr. Ward at once!”
Raphaela responded with a stomp of her foot.
“I am incredibly sorry,” Mrs. Darcy said to Daniel. “She is not usually this way, and it will not go unpunished.” She glared at her daughter.
“I apologise, Mr. Ward,” Raphaela said petulantly.
“Like you mean it,” Mrs. Darcy commanded.
Just then, Miss Darcy entered the room. In a floral day gown which had less useless trimmings than the other young ladies present and braids looping by her ears, she looked nothing like the hoyden in the woods. She looked simply and refreshingly beautiful.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Rafie kicked the nasty Mr. Ward,” Tommy said proudly.
“Rafie, why would you do that?” Miss Darcy asked.
Then she approached her sister and whispered in her ear. Instantly, Raphaela’s demeanour changed. Her eyes scanned the room, locking with John’s. Colour drained from Raphaela’s face, and she dropped her eyes. Miss Darcy whispered to her sister again. Slowly, Raphaela brought her eyes back up, this time looking at Daniel.
“I truly apologise, Mr. Ward.”
Her face had turned pink, and tears streamed down her cheeks. Then, she bolted from the room, the governess following suit, the other children silently following.
“I am quite at a loss for Raphaela’s behaviour,” Mrs. Darcy said again. “Pray, forgive her. I do hope you will not hold it against our sons or us.”
“Fear not, madam,” Daniel said. “I have had experience with a young female of her age. They are not entirely rational creatures.”
Malachi Darcy laughed. “I am afraid, Daniel, that they never grow out of it. Or at least Angie has not.”
John watched with interest, expecting a fiery retort from Miss Darcy. Instead, she blushed prettily. “I hope I have improved since the age of twelve. Mama, may I be excused for a few minutes? I should like to speak with my sister.”
Mrs. Darcy cocked her head to one side and then met her husband’s gaze. He barely nodded. “Of course, my dear. Only, do not tarry. This house party is in your honour, after all.”
Miss Darcy gave her mother a slight smile. “I shall not take long.” She exited the room via the same door she had entered.
John would have followed her if he had not been noticed by Mr. Darcy just then.
“Ah, here is Mr. John Ward. I hope you did not witness our little family upset, sir.”
John stepped forward and joined the others. “I did, but it is no matter. As my brother said, we are accustomed to young ladies of that age.”
“Indeed?” One of the female guests asked. “I had thought the Ward family was famous for having only sons.”
“My cousins are all boys. However, Daniel and I had a sister,” John answered quietly. “She passed away when she was not much older than Miss Raphaela.”
The lady blanched.
Mrs. Darcy’s face softened. “I am terribly sorry that we have brought up such a painful memory.” Her voice contained genuine remorse.
“On the contrary,” Daniel said. “It was a pleasure to think of her as lively and spirited as she once was.” He looked around the room. “Do not let us bring a sad tone to this gathering. Let us worry no more about it. John and I are not the least bit offended by Miss Raphaela.”
Mrs. Darcy looked relieved. “In that case, and as Angelica has promised to return quickly, let us adjourn to the dining room.”
The meal was a relaxed affair. Dishes were arranged in the dining-parlour but eaten in the adjacent drawing room. George Darcy had told John that the Darcys did not stand much on ceremony. However, John knew that the evening dinner would be a more formal event.
As Miss Darcy promised, she arrived a few minutes later. While she talked animatedly enough with others, John thought she looked pensive. Perhaps it was just his imagination. After all, he did not know Miss Darcy.
More than likely, it was a reflection of his own thoughts. He had been too harsh on Miss Raphaela and the other Darcys he had encountered this morning. He would box the man’s ears who had talked to his beloved sister the way he had spoken to the Darcy children. He was mistaken, too, about Miss Darcy. Sitting at her parents’ table, she was everything ladylike and pretty. He had misjudged how loyal she could be to her siblings but did not her actions attest to her feelings? She had run through the woods at the slightest yelp from her brother. John owed them all an apology. In fact, he would have to confess his actions to Mr. Darcy as well, lest little Raphaela get a paddling she did not deserve. He resolved to do so as soon as possible.
After luncheon, Mr. Darcy invited the gentlemen to billiards and cards. John did not mind the activities but shuddered to think it must be part of the average country gentleman’s routine. His father would have his sons join the landed gentry and shun anything appearing like work. John craved industry and hard work — even if it was not entirely manual or menial.
Daniel and their father were embarrassed by the Ward history of trade. John thought about his forefathers’ legacies with pride. About a century before, they had been immigrants and wholesale drapers. By George II’s time, they had begun lending money to other tradesmen. Toward the end of the century, when many began to borrow money to buy new technology, the Wards invested their profits in land speculation. After Napoleon was defeated and relations with America returned to normal, the Ward & Sons Banking enterprise expanded to territory in the former colonies. America was growing, and the Ward family was reaping the profit. According to John’s father, if he married well, his descendants would be set for life.
Frustration at his father and his edicts distracted John from his hand. Losing his round, he made room for another at the table. After speaking briefly with George and Malachi, he made his way to the nursery. The Darcy brothers had not pressed for any details when John asked how to get there. It was one of the many things he liked about them.
Taking a deep breath, John raised his hand on the door and knocked. The governess greeted him and invited him in despite her evident surprise at seeing him. John hesitated only for a moment. He had not been in a nursery since Phoebe had died ten years before. However, nothing about the Darcy nursery reminded him of the one from his home. This room was bright and cheery, with toys and drawings throughout. The Ward nursery did not encourage such creativity or freedoms.
“Children, see who has come to visit us,” the governess said. They ceased their activities, and she began introductions.
“Actually, I am acquainted with all of them except the eldest Miss Darcy that is present.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Annesley wrinkled her brow. “Oh! I believe I understand now, sir. Well, this is Miss Ariel. Miss Seraphina is not out but has left the schoolroom. You may meet her at some of the family gatherings during your stay.”
“Thank you. I am sure Miss Seraphina will be as pretty as her sisters. I am pleased to meet you, Miss Ariel.” John bowed to her, earning a curtsy in return. “I wonder if you could indulge me, Mrs. Annesley. You see, the children met me under very unusual circumstances, and I believe I owe them an apology.”
The older lady smiled and consented, drawing Miss Ariel aside. Still, the three youngest Darcy progeny looked at John with surprise mingled with suspicion.
“Before you begin,” said Miss Christiane, “I wish to apologise. I ought to have done more when Rafie was attacking you.”
“And I should not have kicked your brother’s shin,” Miss Raphaela said. “I thought it was you.”
There was more than a hint of strong-willed petulance in her voice, but it made John smile this time.
“Well, you said you needed to apologise to us!” Raphaela stomped her foot.
“Indeed, I do. I apologise for the terrible things I said about all of you. Master Tommy, I am sorry that apple fell on your head. It was not my intention to strike you with it. I should have explained myself before rather than add to the misunderstanding. I had acted as though I were insulted by adults rather than dealing with children who might misunderstand the situation.”
Raphaela tapped a finger on her lip. “I do not accept your apology, Mr. Ward. You seem to think that because we are children, we are imbeciles.”
“Rafie,” Christiane whispered. “We were in the wrong. It is as Angie said. He never wanted to hurt Tommy.”
“I forgive you,” young Tommy said brightly.
“But—but—our tree!” Rafie cried. “He trespassed on our tree. Am I the only one that cares?”
Sudden understanding struck John. “Ah, I think I see the issue now. In addition to accidentally hurting your brother, I violated a special place to you?”
“Yes,” Christiane answered. “Papa built seats on that tree for us. It has the best view in the woods. And,” she lowered her voice and came closer to John, who dropped to his knees, “Rafie has been told this summer is the last she will be allowed to play in it. She must become a proper young lady.”
John could see Raphaela growing impatient with their conversation. “Thank you for telling me,” he whispered to Christiane. Then, louder, he addressed the other two. “Please accept my most profuse apologies for trespassing on your great tree. It was ungentlemanly of me. Perhaps I might make it up to you.”
“How?” Raphaela asked, her eyebrow arching in a way that John was beginning to see all the Darcy females did.
“Have you ever had a tree swing?”
“No,” Raphaela answered. “There was one on a tree near the house, but lightning struck it before I was born. The tree died, and no swing was replaced. We only get to swing when we visit our cousins.”
“Lucky for you, that I excel at building tree swings. Perhaps tomorrow we may take a tour to find the perfect place. With your parents’ permission, of course.”
“Really?” Tommy’s eyes lit up with delight.
“Do you promise?” Christiane asked. “Papa says that a gentleman’s promise is binding. He cannot break it.”
John grew very serious and met each pair of eyes staring at him. “Yes, I promise to build you a tree swing.” He stuck out his hand.
Raphaela shook it. “Then, we accept your apology, Mr. Ward.”
Christiane rolled her eyes. “Tommy and I already had.”
“Now, it is your turn to apologise to Angie,” Tommy said.
“Yes, I will make amends with your sister as soon as I can.”
Tommy grinned. “She is here right now.”
John looked over his shoulder, surprised to see Miss Darcy watching them with a soft expression. He had expected her to still be angry with him.
“Then, I suppose there is no time like the present. Excuse me.”
John had spent time in the billiards room formulating what to say to Miss Darcy. However, as he approached her wearing a shoulder-baring evening gown of white silk and delicate lace over the decolletage, all thought left his head.
What do you think of John now? He’s a little quicker to apologise than Darcy! Or maybe not, he hasn’t actually said anything to Angie yet!