Did you miss the other posts about the Mr. Darcy’s Impertinent Daughters universe? Check them out here:
John climbed into the Darcy carriage after Malachi. Miss Darcy and George were already seated within, and Miss Darcy’s grin silently spoke of her enthusiasm. As John understood it, there was a bit of a debate between the Darcy parents upon learning that John would accompany the sons. However, in the end, it was agreed that the nightly chaperonage of her maid would be sufficient. Mr. Darcy had taken him aside and explained that they did not worry for Miss Darcy’s safety with him present. It was merely concern over gossip that gave them pause.
John had never considered before just how difficult it must be for a young lady, especially a spirited one, to worry so much about what others thought of her. It sounded exhausting. In the end, a lady could do everything right, and gossip could ruin her forever. He shuddered, thankful that his sister never had to face that.
Miss Darcy’s smile dipped, probably due to his silence. John hastened to find something to say that might make it return. “We shall reach Manchester by nightfall,” he informed her.
“I can hardly wait. I know you had planned on lengthier stops to accommodate me. Still, I assure you that I would much rather endure the discomforts of the carriage to enjoy more time in the town.” She dipped her eyes for a moment before returning them to his gaze. “I look forward to seeing everything you described.”
The innocent and sincere expression in her blue eyes struck John. He struggled to affect indifference to her beauty in front of her brothers. A week ago, when she had told him in the library that she would be joining them on the trip, panic gripped his heart. He was too attracted to her. First, she was the sister of his good friend. Secondly, she was from the sort of family that his father would love for him to marry into. He would hate to give his father the pleasure of appearing obedient. Then, there was his secret desire to leave his family business, train as a railway engineer, and travel the world. He was hardly in the position to settle down and have a marriage. Lastly, there was his present situation…
Miss Darcy withdrew a small notebook and began writing in it.
“Surely you have left the shades of Pemberley before,” John observed.
“Of course,” Miss Darcy answered. “I have been to Hertfordshire several times. I have been near Manchester as well. Aunt and Uncle Bingley’s estate is within ten miles of the town. However, I have never left my home with the specific intention of an adventure. In all the travel journals I have read, they always begin with their thoughts before embarking. However, all the writing is done in retrospect, and I sometimes doubt if they are truthful. Mine will be.”
“So, this is to be an honest diary of your every thought and feeling on this excursion?”
Miss Darcy nodded and then scribbled in her book.
“Are you recording our conversation?”
“Such as it is,” she chuckled. “Would you care to make it more interesting?”
George laughed. “I do not think John can help you there. Unless you want to hear more about trains, that is.”
John felt his ears burn at his friend’s well-meant tease. He ought to be able to speak with a pretty young lady about something other than railways. However, his brother had always been the charmer.
“I do not mind,” Miss Darcy said. “I enjoy learning and confess locomotives have always fascinated me. I may not understand the technology, but I enjoy the outcome. That we can travel great distances in a much shorter period now than we could even ten years ago is an awesome thought.”
John felt his smile grow during Miss Darcy’s words. Her eyes sparkled with liveliness and interest, rendering her completely luminous and, suddenly, inspiration fell to put more effort into the conversation. He had never before talked with a woman so sincerely interested in the topic. Most ladies talked only superficially and redirected the subject to his father’s bank more often than not. However, if there was one thing John had learned in his time at Pemberley, it was that Angelica Darcy was entirely without artifice.
George and Malachi groaned before pulling books out of their satchels. They had stayed up late with the other young men the night before. It would not be long before they fell asleep and caught up on their slumber. John launched into explaining the nuances between railways and trains in general to steam locomotives.
“You are most knowledgeable,” Miss Darcy said after John had finished explaining how steam locomotives could revolutionise trade. “I am surprised you understand so much. I had thought your interests would lie more in accounting.”
John shook his head. “I am attempting to convince my father to invest more heavily in railways. However, I confess that my primary passion is engineering locomotives.”
“Indeed? Have you made designs?”
“I have sketched a few. However, there is no way to determine if they could function without learning more about the process. As of right now, that is impossible for me to do. My father keeps me busy, and engineers like Mr. George Stephenson do not apprentice men who do not mean to have a career in engineering.”
“Why do you not join him? It seems your brother is more than happy to be about the family business. I always thought younger sons were free to find their own pursuits.”
John glanced at George and Malachi, who had recently fallen asleep, their heads lolled back and one of them gently snoring. He was surprised to hear Miss Darcy’s assessments of younger sons. Was not Malachi following his father’s directives and learning about estate management?
“I believe it depends on the family,” he answered. “My father is less certain about leaving all of the running of the bank to one set of hands. He often tells us that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses, and together we can be stronger than if we were divided. I think he has seen too many others fail by leaving everything merely to the eldest son regardless of ability or desire.”
“But you have no desire to join the family business!” Miss Darcy’s eyes widened. “Forgive me,” she blew out in a rush. “That was impertinent and presumptuous.”
“And correct,” John quietly chuckled. “I have no desire to become a banker. However, I feel a duty to my family — especially my brother, as much as anyone.”
She cocked her head to one side. “You feel more duty to your brother than to your father?”
“My father is a hard man,” John answered. “He issues edicts and expects obedience. I know I ought to feel loyalty to him, but I confess I do not. I find it difficult to suppress my own wants merely for his sake. However, Daniel may need me, and I will not abandon him.”
“How curious,” she said while glancing at her sleeping brothers. “You must know that George and Malachi are quite close. Although George will one day have Pemberley, he hopes to assist our brother in any possible way. Our father says that Malachi shall have the Irish or Scottish estate if he desires one. To that extent, he is to learn under George this summer, but he is also encouraged to find his own path in life. No one, especially George, wishes for Malachi to be unhappy for the sake of duty. Your father may be immoveable, but have you spoken with your brother about your ambitions?”
John shook his head. “Not all families are as close as your own, Miss Darcy.”
“I am sorry,” she said with such an earnest expression that John knew she meant it.
He cleared his throat. Why was he opening up to her about the riffs in his family? “Do not put that in your diary.”
She gave him a saucy grin, making his heart beat faster. “I promise to keep all names anonymous and to leave personal details out. However, I did jot down notes about our earlier discussion.”
“What do you think your future self will think when she rereads the volume?”
“Oh, I will laugh at how silly and ignorant I was.”
“I would not describe you as silly or ignorant. You are just as a young lady ought to be.”
She scoffed and shook her head, a piece of her coiffure coming undone. “I merely hope I am not entirely improper. I dread London and all of its rules and scrutiny.”
“You prefer the country?”
“I went to school in London for a year and have visited with my family at other times. I enjoy the busyness of the city and all the amusements. I look forward to Manchester and Liverpool for the same reasons. However, I am nervous about being Miss Darcy of Pemberley and living up to everyone’s expectations.”
“I would suggest, then, that you should always be only yourself. You cannot live a life beholden to pleasing others.”
She arched her brow. “And I would suggest that you take some of your own advice.”
“Touché, Miss Darcy. Touché.”
She gave him a coy smile, and their conversation lapsed. Miss Darcy watched out the window in avid fascination for several minutes before scribbling in her notebook. John took it all in, curious about how her mind worked and what she had observed. However, there would be time to ask her later.
True to her word, she was quick to return to the carriage when they changed horses. George and Malachi had continued to sleep, so John served as her escort into the crowded inns. He had noted her beauty at each encounter except for their first. However, at the inn, John saw the interest less gentlemanly men took in her, evoking a surprisingly primal and territorial response in him. Leading her back to the carriage at their last stop, he held her arm closer to his body. He felt none of the usual awkwardness or irritation he felt with other young ladies. Fortunately, the picturesque sights of a pretty wood distracted her so she did not notice a slovenly dressed man eye her up and down with a lascivious grin before winking at John.
Seeing that their carriage had moved, John directed her to the new location. They were greeted by the driver.
“I beg your pardon, sir. They had me move the coach, and there are large puddles on either side. I argued against it for Miss Darcy’s sake, but they put up such a fuss.”
John frowned at the size of the puddle next to the carriage. It was too wide for Miss Darcy to step over. The only option was for someone to assist her. “You did well. Go and get the team ready. I will help Miss Darcy.”
She turned to look at him.
“Well?” He said and held out his arms.
“I will carry you to the carriage.”
“Absolutely not! My own legs are good enough.” She tiptoed to the puddle and contemplated it before casting a look at him over her shoulder. “It does not seem quite proper. Perhaps you ought to wake up one of my brothers.”
“I would rather wake a bear than attempt that!” He chuckled. “I will have to step in the puddle and get my boots wet either way.” He looked around. “I do not think anyone here is of your acquaintance. Surely a gentleman has helped you from a horse. It is not so different.”
“I suppose,” she said, still looking uncertain. “You are certain this is not improper?”
John smiled at her concern. “If my sister were still alive, I would allow George to do the same for her.”
“But not Malachi?” Miss Darcy laughed.
“He would drop her just to make her fume.” He placed one arm around her shoulder and bent a little to wrap the other under her knee. He had not noticed before how petite she was. Since their first meeting, she had stood toe to toe with him and had never acted as though she were small. Yet, she was as light as a feather in his arms. She placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself. It was all done in innocence, but John was quite aware they both held their breath and did not look at one another.
Once he reached the carriage door, she slid into the seat next to George. Her cheeks blazed red, and she murmured a thank you. John returned the civility after climbing inside. The carriage lurched forward, and awkwardness settled between them. He mourned the feeling. The variety of emotions that had surged in him in the last few moments had rendered him mute, making it impossible to alleviate the problem.
After a few minutes, Miss Darcy began to laugh. John looked at her, silently questioning her outburst.
“We are behaving silly, Mr. Ward. You cannot deny it.”
He joined her. “Perhaps so. I would have done that for any lady, of course.”
“And any gentleman should have offered.”
Despite Miss Darcy’s attempt at smoothing over the strangeness between them, her cheeks remained pink. John also noted that she did not say she would allow any gentleman to carry her. The observation pleased him.
“There,” she pointed out the window to a road. “That is the road to my Aunt and Uncle Bingley’s, and now I am officially closer to Manchester than I have ever been.”
John checked his watch. “We should be there within the hour. Soon, you will see the factories.”
“I thought we would not see factories until we reached Manchester.”
“In recent years, many have opened just outside the town and in nearby villages. Production is moving out of the town, and commerce is taking its place.”
“Such as your father’s bank,” Miss Darcy nodded and smiled.
It was a sobering reminder to John that he was not merely on a holiday of pleasure with his friends and a beautiful young lady. Perhaps if he did enough of his father’s bidding over the summer and eased the path for Daniel, he would be able to delay the inevitable for a few months. Did not his father owe him that?
Any guesses on what adventures Manchester holds for our couple?