Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapters 11 & 12

It’s release day!! Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is now available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo.

I’m still waiting on iBooks and the paperback will be a few more days. I’ll post a few more chapters here but am also working on creating a page where you can read the chapters in a more streamlined way.

One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten 

MDBB4Dear C—

Thank you ever so much for your miniature of my beloved B. I do miss him terribly at times. Have you recently heard from your friend, Lord Cathcart’s daughter? I have read of plague in Moscow and worry for the Hamiltons as well as the Queen. It would be devastating for Russia to lose their enlightened monarch. She should serve as an example to our own King and Queen of German blood.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Monday after Easter, Elizabeth awoke determined to walk. Fresh air would clear her mind of the excruciating evening spent at Rosings the night before. It was their first invitation to the house since the arrival of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and Mr. Collins was beside himself in both pleasure and anxiety. Elizabeth shook her head. It seemed more likely that her cousin was related to her mother rather than her father given they both thrived on feelings of anxiousness.

The night was only tolerably better than previous visits to Rosings. Lady Catherine invited Elizabeth to play the pianoforte and seemed to take pleasure whenever she erred. In the course of one sonata, she referenced Anne’s imaginary but undoubtedly superior abilities at least a dozen times. Occasionally, Darcy would glance in Elizabeth’s direction. His blue eyes burned with intensity, likely with his disapproval of her. She was saved conversation with him, however, for Lady Catherine frequently called his attention back to herself. Elizabeth was not sorry for it. She had often heard of Miss Darcy’s superior abilities, and while the girl was everything sweet, the brother must be in the habit of hearing only the best performers — his aunt said as much.

Just before leaving, the post arrived. It was too early for a reply from her aunt, but there was a letter from Jane. Mr. Collins was away on parsonage matters, and Mrs. Collins and Maria had gone shopping in the village, allowing Elizabeth the freedom to take the letter on her walk and read in privacy.

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

I do not know what he planned to say, if anything, for his actions in the shop or the reason for his never returning to Netherfield or calling earlier. I refused to see him.

I have waited and hoped every day since November 27th for him to arrive on my doorstep again. I will no longer wait for his explanations. The time for that is long past.

Do not imagine me angry or sad, my dear sister. I am alarmingly at peace with the matter. Some blessing will come of this.

I hope all is well in Kent. Give Charlotte and Maria my love and greet our cousin for me.

Yours,

Jane

 

Elizabeth was incensed as she left the Parsonage for a fitful walk, heedless of the rain clouds quickly gathering. She walked along the path to Rosings. As soon as she was out of open view from the main road, she intended to run.

As she walked, she muttered to herself. “I am sick of them all! Charming men who prey on the silly and vain! Other charming and amiable men who prey on the sweet and innocent! Senseless goats that rattle on about nothing! Indolent fathers who sit in their libraries! Confusing, arrogant and wealthy young men who think they can order everything to their own choosing!

As she had weeks before, Elizabeth exclaimed, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” She certainly wished she could kick a young man or two the way she kicked the rock the day she heard Wickham’s insane boast. And a mountain might be climbed and therefore vanquished. But young men would apparently always persist in deceiving and confusing her.

“Miss Bennet!” the last voice in the world she wanted to hear called out, much, much too cheerfully.

She turned as though she did not hear him, but it was for nought. His long legs had him meet with her in a moment.

“Miss Bennet, I am surprised to see you out walking. I was just about to call on the Parsonage.”

“The Collinses and Maria are out,” she replied testily. She thought she saw a hint of a smile and it angered her again. Whether he felt himself better than them or just did not want to practice his conversational abilities on them, it was nearly the same thing.

“Perhaps, I could join you on your walk before it rains?” He held out an arm.

She looked up at the sky thick with swollen clouds. She had not realised until that moment how soon it was likely to begin raining. Then why should he call now? “No, I had not realised the weather had turned so severely. It is why I turned back.” She took a step closer to the Parsonage, but he spoke again.

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

What a ridiculous thing to ask! No day was truly agreeable here. She enjoyed Charlotte’s companionship, but the presence of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine detracted from all enjoyment she could find indoors. And then her letter!

“Not especially, Mr. Darcy. I have just had the most distressing letter from Jane. Weeks ago, she saw your friend Mr. Bingley and his sister outside a shop. They did not see her, but she easily saw Mr. Bingley lavishing attention on a young lady she believes was your sister. It is evident Jane was considered not good enough, and Bingley was just toying with her feelings the entire time.”

Darcy paled at her words, but she pressed on. “This is not the first time she has been treated as such from your friends. In January, Jane called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They claimed they never received her letters announcing her presence in town, and did not seem very pleased to see her. They waited over a month to return the call!”

“That is horrible…”

“But exactly what you wished, is it not? You need not fear; your friend is now entirely free from my sister. Not only were you able to separate them in Hertfordshire, but you were able to conceal her presence in town. Jane has the gentlest soul! She does not deserve such ungentlemanly treatment! Do not worry, sir, she refused to see Bingley and will never consider him a suitor again.”

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth clenched her fists as he seemed to latch on to the least important piece of information she relayed. “Yes, nearly as soon as she arrived in town. Hardly the actions of an indifferent lady. Or do you think her forward and mercenary now?”

“It is not what I think that matters.” He took a step backwards, and she advanced toward him.

“Is it not? And then I think of another one of your good friends. George Wickham is a scoundrel, and you knew it! You grew up with him and saw his ways, yet never warned the people of Hertfordshire when he arrived.”

“Did you not explain only yesterday how little faith anyone in the area has in me? Gentlemen do not go about slandering other people without the most extreme cause of provocation.”

“You left us defenceless!” Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. How did he not see it? As a man, and a wealthy one, he simply could not understand how little freedom ladies had.

Darcy scoffed. “Hardly! You said you would judge a man by his words and actions. What truly gentlemanly behaviour has Wickham displayed? He has entered the militia, and anyone who believes all men in a red coat are upstanding is the worst kind of ignorant and silly!”

Enraged as he dismissed her concerns, Elizabeth stepped forward again. “Since nearly the first moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with an immoveable dislike. I was frequently a victim of your constant arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It is not lost on me that the common element between the ungentlemanly men I mentioned is you.”

Darcy’s jaw tightened. “What do you mean?” He spoke with extreme coldness.

Elizabeth deflated. She had done it again. She aimed to cruelly wound him to mask her own pain. He had explained, and it made a certain amount of sense, that he found it difficult to converse with strangers. She had seen enough truth in Darcy’s looks the other day to know that he would never be complicit in any of Wickham’s actions. And did he not mention his concern over Bingley’s steadfastness? No quality could be further from Darcy’s character.

Elizabeth had always thought she behaved correctly, in light of the poor example from her mother and youngest sisters, but now she saw how her own actions may have made Bingley and Darcy feel her family too improper. She should have recommended herself more to Bingley’s friend, for her sister’s sake, rather than attempt to cleverly mock him and provoke him. Her manners were at fault as well, and her spirits lead her wrong.

In her silence, he assumed a meaning of his own. “I understand your meaning entirely.” He turned to leave her.

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth pleaded and walked after him. “I am sorry I spoke in anger. I cannot claim to know you well, but I know you are nothing like Wickham and, whatever your faults are, they are certainly not the fickleness of Mr. Bingley.

“Pray, forgive me. I have only recently recognised my own behaviour, and my poor treatment of you must have contributed to your feelings of the inadequacy of my family. I am uncertain now if I would desire Mr. Bingley to return my sister’s affections if his heart is not to be trusted, but it grieves me to suspect that I cost my dearest sister, such great love.”

Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “What mean you now?”

“That your justified dislike of me motivated you to separate my sister from your friend.” She hung her head low in shame.

“I will not be accused of such again! Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to marry you!”

Immediately, Darcy paled as though he realised what he said and wished he could collect his words back. Crickets hummed, and birds chirped, proving the world went on existing, and yet Elizabeth could not fathom a sphere in which Mr. Darcy wished to marry her.

“What?” She asked, shaking her head to dispel the insanity which made her mishear him to such an extreme degree.

A look of warmth and gentleness took over Darcy’s face. “I realise you dislike me, and perhaps rightly so. I did endeavour to separate your most beloved sister from my friend, though not as you suppose. And for this, you may never forgive me.” He paused as though drawing strength. “I am acutely aware my sentiments are unwelcome to you, but I would be pleased if you accepted my hand in marriage.”

Elizabeth stared at him, quite disbelieving. “You cannot be serious.”

“I am quite convinced you are the perfect woman to be my companion in life.”

“How can you possibly think that?” She blurted out. All they did was argue! Elizabeth shook her head. It was still entirely unfathomable. “Why?”

“Why?” He started as though he never expected to be asked such a question. He raised his hands up and helplessly motioned at her. “Because of you. Because of the thousand and one unique things that make up who you are! You are kind, intelligent, witty, clever, playful, lively. I admire your stubbornness and loyalty —  even when it’s directed away from me. You are the perfect companion for me in every way.”

Elizabeth shook her head once more and held up her hands. “You are mistaken, sir. I tease, and you hate it. I am silly and outspoken, and you are silent and taciturn.”

“It does not follow that I enjoy those qualities about myself or must dislike that you are quite the opposite.”

“I have no fortune, my relatives are in trade and my family is improper.” Darcy’s initial silence spoke volumes to her.

“I will not lie and say these things did not hinder my regard. I did think marriage to you imprudent, at first, but I have conquered those objections.”

“Then why are you only now speaking of it?”

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Because of every reason I had against Bingley’s match with your sister. I needed to be sure of my regard. Six weeks is not a very long acquaintance. I could not trust my judgment in my affections.

“I knew I enjoyed your company more than any other lady’s, but what if it were mere infatuation? You deserved more than that from a spouse. And as I acknowledged with Bingley’s situation, there would be some — even in my own family — that would dislike the union. I would not put you through being slighted by spiteful members of the ton, and my aunt, if we did not have a strong foundation.

He began to pace and ran his hands through his hair. “In the last week, I attempted to ascertain your feelings. As I explained with regard to your sister, it was difficult to make out how you felt in Hertfordshire. Here I thought, I had hoped…but it must have only been my vain pretensions.”

Elizabeth trembled slightly as she considered the compliment of being his object of affection. “What is it you want from me, Mr. Darcy?” They had reached the Parsonage gate.

“I ask nothing of you. What I want most you cannot give. I hope it was not selfish of me to declare my sentiments, but I could not be accused of disliking you again. I could not allow you to think ill of yourself, or that I found you unworthy in any way.”

Thunder cracked, and the clouds unleashed their bowels at last. Darcy closed his eyes, Elizabeth believed against the pain even her face must cause him now. “Good day, Miss Bennet.” After a slight bow, he departed.

Elizabeth would have stood still in her bewilderment longer, as she stared at Darcy’s back, if not for the rain. Instead, she dashed into the house and grabbed two umbrellas stored at the entry.

“Mr. Darcy!” She yelled loudly over the rain.

He momentarily ceased walking before shaking his head, as though chiding himself, and continuing onward. She called again as she ran to him and this time he stopped. He had not walked far; he was walking rather slowly, Elizabeth thought. He turned around just as she reached him.

“Mr. Darcy, please will you wait in the Parsonage until the rain passes?”

“Your cousins are not home, it would not be appropriate. I believe the last thing you would want is gossip about a compromising situation.”

Elizabeth blanched but pressed to her secondary plan and produced the other umbrella. “I knew you would decline out of stubbornness, if nothing else. Here, take the umbrella.”

Darcy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, that part of my character you would have made out very well, of course!”

He took the umbrella and made a small bow, but they both turned as they heard a carriage followed by Mr. Collins calling. “Make haste, Mrs. Collins, Maria! Make haste!” Darcy began to walk again, but it was too late. “Mr. Darcy! You must come inside.”

“I thank you, Mr. Collins but I would not like to get your furniture damp. It is better I continue on to Rosings. Miss Bennet was kind enough to loan me an umbrella when she saw me outside.”

“Walk back to Rosings in your wet clothes? Certainly not! Why Lady Catherine would never forgive me!” Her cousin was truly panicked, but Darcy looked towards Elizabeth.

“My cousin is correct. We would not wish you to catch your death. Please come in, Mr. Darcy.” He gave her a sad smile, but acquiesced.

Darcy was quickly ushered upstairs to dry off, and a servant sent to retrieve fresh clothing for him from Rosings. By the time he returned, dinner was being served, and Mr. Collins insisted Darcy remain. He spoke little during the dinner, which Elizabeth fully understood, between the rain and their conversation, he must be desperate to leave her presence.

She was surprised when he cleared his throat and addressed the table. “My aunt sent a note with the servant. She invites the whole party to dine at Rosings the day after tomorrow.”

Mr. and Mrs. Collins and even Maria exclaimed in delight, for they had not been invited to Rosings with the same regularity now that Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived.

“Eliza, is this not grand news?” Charlotte asked her. Elizabeth readily saw Darcy slyly observing her.

“Oh, yes. It is always a pleasure to dine at Rosings.” She hardly knew what else to say.

It was a simple dinner of a single course and before the hour was through Darcy was returned to Rosings in Lady Catherine’s coach that was sent for him. Elizabeth wisely pleaded a headache and excused herself upstairs before her friend could question her.

 

*****

 

Darcy returned to Rosings and pleaded illness rather than join the ladies. He was surely the weak link in the Darcy line. Not only could he not even propose to a lady correctly but she had no idea that he had long admired her. His pride thanked the Lord he never confessed love to her.

He and Anne had developed a plan. Darcy would take the time at Rosings to court Elizabeth, and prove that he could treat her as an equal and listen to her concerns. He would persuade his aunt to secure an invitation for her to Knole Park. He would support her interest in architecture. All the while, Richard would work to separate Wickham from the Regiment in Meryton, thereby keeping the Bennet sisters safe from his dastardly schemes.

Darcy would confess his story to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. His pride did not like exposing himself and acknowledging he was not without fault, but he would further prove to Elizabeth he was not ashamed of her relations. While in Meryton, he could make amends to the shopkeepers of the area. Additionally, he would encourage Bingley to return to Netherfield and, if Miss Bennet wished it, resume their courtship. Once in Hertfordshire, Darcy could properly court Elizabeth. She could see his merits after he had secured the happiness and safety of so many in her life. Not that she would marry him out of gratitude: he did not think she would do such a thing. But that it might enliven her feelings toward him.

If all went as planned, he would be married by Michaelmas. They would honeymoon at Pemberley and go to London for the Season. She would be an instant success and fit in the Bluestocking Club perfectly. They would be the envy of the ton, disgustingly happy. Georgiana would become so fastidious in desiring a love match, and confident in the friendship of Elizabeth, she would not wed for many years.

Yes, Darcy had verily planned the next five years of his life. Of course, that was without even speaking to Elizabeth and discussing her desires, let alone understanding just how deep her dislike for him went.

She had been quick to apologise today but had firmly believed he disapproved of her. Overcoming her prejudice and the wound he served her pride would not be easily won. Matters were progressing nowhere with Wickham as Richard had yet to hear from his comrade about reassigning the rogue. Nor had Elizabeth received a reply from Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Gardiner yet.

And Bingley!

To hear that Bingley had cut Jane in a shop had been more than Darcy could believe. He had thought his friend too embarrassed to speak and pulled away by his sister. Darcy ought to have anticipated that Bingley might call on the Gardiners to make amends. He ought to have warned his friend or been with him. He should confess to Jane Bennet that it was he who suggested Bingley not return to Netherfield. That he alone was the cause of her heartbreak, not Bingley. From the sound of how she turned Bingley out on his ear, Darcy rather thought he also would not be welcome at the Gardiner house. How would he speak with Mr. Gardiner about Wickham?

Elizabeth could never love him now. Not when he had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her most beloved sister. At the very least, he could not expect Elizabeth to choose him, when she did not love him, over her sister whom she loved more than any other person on this earth.

A light tapping on his door broke his thoughts. “Leave it,” he cried to the maid who brought his supper tray.

The maid continued to knock. “I said leave it!” he called louder.

The rapping did not cease. Shooting from his chair, he began yelling before he pulled the door open. “Leave it before I tell your mistress you’re incapable of following simple commands!”

He wrenched the door open, and his cousin’s small frame stood before him. She held her chin high.

“Anne!”

“Am I supposed to be frightened of your bellowing?” she asked and bent her head, edging her way under his arm and into his chamber.

“Anne, what are you doing?” he hissed, scanned the hall and then quickly shut the door.

“And you should know our servants hear enough screaming from my mother that your antics will not scare them. They are far more terrified of her.”

“Anne,” Darcy pressed fingers to his temples. They had avoided each other for the better part of a decade. Since he cleared the air with her, they had slipped into the easy friendship of their youth. However, he now desired solitude.

“No, I won’t leave you alone with your mercurial thoughts,” she said and sauntered to a chair.

Darcy stared at her. He had not spoken his thoughts aloud.

“You did not have to say anything. Anyone would know you wish me gone.” She scrutinised his face. Her thin brows joining together. “What have you done?”

Darcy walked to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He considered not answering her. “Do you care for anything?” He motioned to the contents.

Anne licked her lips. “I take a glass of sherry in the evening.”

Darcy filled a tumbler and brought it to her. “You, no doubt, know that I was caught in the rain and had to stay at the Collinses. I dare anyone to be in good spirits after that.”

Anne looked dubiously at him. “Rain never hurt anyone. And the lovely Elizabeth was there, was she not?”

“She was,” he answered neutrally and took a sip of wine.

“Usually, after a morning with her you can bear anything even my mother dishes out, and tonight you are out of spirits because of Mr. Collins? No,” Anne shook her head. “Do not forget that I am Mistress of Hearts. You quarrelled with Miss Bennet.”

“When have I not quarrelled with her?” Darcy bit out in disgust. It was as Bingley had tried to say. All the times Darcy thought they were merely debating and learning about each other’s character, she was arguing with his false pride. He had been too arrogant to see it. “I have ruined everything.”

“If you frequently argue then how can this one ruin everything?”

Darcy’s heart lurched at the hope Anne offered. “You do not understand. She has so many faults against me.”

“Are they true?”

“They are…complicated,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw.

“Are they true,” Anne repeated slower and raised her brows.

“Very well,” Darcy said and put his glass down on the nearby table. He blew out a deep breath and leant forward, earnestly meeting his cousin’s eyes. “A significant number of them are. There —  I am an arrogant ass!”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Better she knows it now.”

Darcy sagged against the chair. “Where’s your sense of familial pride. Should you not be outraged?”

“Think of who I live with,” Anne said and took a sip of her sherry. “We have arrogance in abundance.”

“Perhaps, but I am attempting to reform,” Darcy said.

“Bah,” Anne cried. “Do not reform. If she cannot bear your faults, she should not marry you.”

“I unjustly accused her sister of being a fortune hunter,” Darcy levelled. “I encouraged a friend who I knew depended upon my advice to leave the house he leased without a word to the neighbourhood and not return.”

“Ah, I see. And if he had decided to marry the lady instead, would he have needed you to tell him what to say?”

Darcy stared at his drink. “If he did then I would have ruined that too, no doubt.”

“Darcy! Do you mean to say…that is… no, it’s impossible!” Anne exclaimed.

Looking up from his glass, Darcy met her gaze. “That I proposed to Elizabeth Bennet today and she refused me? Naturally. I have the grace and tact of an elephant tiptoeing on ice.” He swallowed his remaining port in a large gulp.

Anne guffawed. “An elephant tiptoeing on ice! And people find you droll!” Darcy scowled further. “Come. The lady rejected her cousin and now stays under the man’s roof.”

“For the sake of visiting her friend,” Darcy said.

“Yes, and you are assisting her with Wickham. Once you return to London, you might ease the way between her sister and your friend.”

“I do not know that she can ever forgive me,” Darcy said.

“What has changed in the last day?” Darcy related the contents of Jane’s letter. “Excellent,” Anne nodded. “She should turn him out. He should work for her admiration! As should you!”

Anne stood and paced the room. “You men think everything is owed you on a silver platter! I read it time and time again in my article.” She paused upon seeing his raised brows. “Yes, gentlemen write to me. You accepted my help.”

Darcy did not bother telling her that it was hardly the same thing as accepting the advice of a stranger. “What would you tell another?”

“Time will prove that her sister will either recover from her heartbreak or that the gentleman was never worthy. You will not be the fair-weather sort of suitor. Between previously meeting her London relatives, and then your plan to speak with them and her father regarding Wickham, you will be in her sphere of acquaintance. Stay the course.”

“What if she wishes to never see me again,” Darcy said while shaking his head.

“See how she behaves for the rest of her time here. Do not force her but you must remain constant. She has had too many men prove they are unreliable. You can be the rudder in her ship. Help steer her safe even in troubled waters.”

Darcy did not immediately reply. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as he had first considered. She had seemed to forgive him before, and in general, forgiveness was not an overnight act. It often took quite some time. And time had persuaded her to visit Kent even when she detested her cousin. A slow smile spread across his face.

“You see I am correct,” Anne said and began walking toward the door.

“Really, Anne,” Darcy gave her a false frown and shook his head. “Navy references?”

“Nautical,” Anne corrected and winked. She inched open the door and upon determining the hall clear, promptly left.


Dear C—

You have asked for my advice regarding a proposal you found repugnant. You were right to seek my counsel. Despite your mother’s worries, do not wed where your heart is not attached. You have overcome too much to be the victim of alliances and convenience. I will write her directly and speak with her when I am next in town. I have enclosed volumes by the late George Edwards. With six hundred drawings to duplicate I believe it shall keep you busy for some time.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth sat on the chair in her bedchamber at the Parsonage. Charlotte had taken care to be an excellent hostess, despite the tension in their friendship, and her favourite flowers were frequently in a vase on the table. Also on it were a small stack of books borrowed from her friend. They must be from the Rosings library because Mr. Collins did not keep such works. Elizabeth nearly snarled recalling the conduct books he thrust at her. She picked up the novel she had been reading, it held no interest to her tonight.

What would Darcy’s opinion on such a book be? Her memory flashed to their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he had asked her opinion of books then, but she was so determined to be displeased. Even during her stay at Netherfield, there was once a discussion on female accomplishments, and after Miss Bingley’s ridiculous list, Darcy added a woman should have an improved mind through extensive reading. Elizabeth had held a book in her hand at the time, although she was too preoccupied with the discussion of the room to pay any heed to the volume. She had thought then he was mocking her, but it now seemed he was genuinely interested in her opinions.

After Darcy’s insult to her, she was determined to never dance with him. At each refusal, she was quite aware she was likely the only woman in the world to do so. She thought the revenge rather complete when she was able to refuse him twice to his once.

When she could not refuse him at the Netherfield Ball, she made it quite an unpleasant dance for him. She knew the mention of Wickham would provoke him. She blindly trusted Wickham because his tales supported what she most wanted to believe about Darcy.

She had spitefully blamed him for her sister’s pain because she did not want to see anyone else’s responsibility in the matter. Bingley was fickle. Jane was too reserved and too naive to see his sisters’ machinations. Her family behaved improperly, and yet it was quite accepted among her community while they all blasted Darcy as the most disagreeable man in the world off his behaviour in less than one evening. To those outside their circle, however, her family behaved so badly it may have put off an agreeable suitor for her most deserving sister.

What a humiliation! Was nothing in the world as she thought it?

Mr. Darcy wished to marry her. He, who she had thought was proud and arrogant, who must have seen the greatest beauties of London for years, who could have fortune and rank, wanted her. It was humbling.

She knew Wickham was not to be trusted for several weeks now, but still, she did not discount all of his words against Darcy. Even in the last few days, she persisted in believing he would separate Bingley from Jane only due to desiring fortune and circumstance for his friend. Her opinion of Darcy was so wrong that the entire time she had been convinced he wished to keep Bingley from her sister, he was examining her character.

The times she had been certain he had looked at her in contempt, he admired her from afar. It seemed every time she took offence to something, he had only attempted to compliment her. Now, she could even see the times he had tried to court her good opinion. All the while she had courted prejudice and willful ignorance! How blind she had been!

Elizabeth’s eyes had been opened, however, and it was a new world to her. She could not repent her words on his behaviour in Meryton, but neither could she ignore the unjust accusations she made. To compare him to Wickham, to blame him for Bingley’s defection was terribly wrong of her. She also could not forget the look of pain when he acknowledged she must refuse him or the resigned air in which he tendered his aunt’s invitation.

She must prove that no matter her silly ignorance she could behave correctly. She could hardly determine if she wished to welcome his attentions, but she would prove she was worthy of the respect and esteem he held for her. She was through acting like a spoiled child over insults, imagined or real.

Elizabeth’s pride did shirk, momentarily, at having to apologise and confess to her vanity, but her honour demanded it. Darcy deserved it, and her duty required it to ensure his help to her family. For them, she would bear any degradation. Her only hesitance was should he not wish to converse on the subject, or worse, seek to blame himself. Additionally, she admitted to a minuscule amount of concern that he had only offered his help out of thinking he helped his future family. She told herself that was merely old prejudice and he could only act out of honour. Darcy would not revoke his assistance at disgust with her incivility or hurt pride at her rejection. However, he was a mortal and who could have the strength to frequently meet with the woman who so callously spurned him?

Choosing to not ask herself why it mattered if he had already overcome his preference for her, she decided to write a brief note of apology to give him in case conversation proved impossible. She could only hope he would overlook the impropriety. She had the greatest trust he would not betray her.

Sitting at the little table in her room she drew out a sheet of paper from her writing box and began to swallow her pride.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I pray you will forgive me for the terrible breach in propriety I am making by writing this letter but, like a great many things, men do not hold a monopoly on honour and mine demands I apologise for my unforgivable words yesterday. I hope we can put our differences behind us as we work on our project.

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

Despite Anne’s words of encouragement, Darcy believed he could not treat his last argument with Elizabeth as no different than the ones before. He had not understood at the earlier times that she had specific accusations against him. He rather thought she was testing to see if he felt similarly about the world. Now, every conversation they ever had seemed to take on a new light.

At Lucas Lodge, when she declined dancing with him it was revenge for his first insult. Indeed, even at Netherfield, it was. Had she doubted ladies could have good sense and accomplishment or merely that he would deign to know them? On that score, she had been nearly correct. Not for lack of trying, he had to wade through hoards of empty-headed ladies to find the diamonds he sought. Apparently, when they argued over pride and vanity, she meant to expose him as having both.

Darcy stretched his legs out. She was not faultless, but she had apologised. Some would wonder how he would think her worthy if she disliked him and desired to only debase him, but she was not flighty or conceited. She did have pride and for her to apologise must have cost her quite a bit.

He pushed aside any residual anger he felt at Elizabeth’s complaints and assumptions and instead focused on her feelings. When Georgiana had been hurt by Wickham, it was as though Darcy’s own heart bled with her. Elizabeth now felt that for Jane and it was through his methods. Having noble intentions did not excuse the misery he caused. An apology was in order.

The maid arrived with the supper tray, and as Darcy ate, he ordered his thoughts. He had always expressed himself better in writing than with words. Once finished with his light meal, he walked to his escritoire and pushed aside letters of business. His sister and aunt had written, but he would read those letters on the morrow. Tonight, Elizabeth deserved his entire attention.

Withdrawing the writing items and arranging himself as neatly as he could, Darcy paused before he began. It was surely a silly thing to entreat the Almighty for, but he wished to infuse his regret and love into this letter so he might start again with Elizabeth.

Dearest Elizabeth

Darcy crossed it out and blew out a sigh. That was far too informal. Balling up the paper, he tossed it aside.

Dear Madam.

No, too cold and formal. How did one begin a letter to a lady he wished to wed? To one he loved but did not offer his heart? A woman with whom he had a long acquaintance, and yet, she would say they were not friends. Annoyed, he settled for the same name all the world called her.

Dear Miss Bennet,

Words can scarcely convey the regret I feel at learning for the many months of our acquaintance you have been under the misapprehension that I disapproved of you. I understand there may have been mitigating factors, and I know in your generosity you would excuse some of my behaviour, but allow me to take the blame I must. My honour demands it. Had I behaved as I ought to have, none of this would now be an issue. As such, I apologise to you, and when I meet with your relations, I shall entreat their forgiveness as well. I understand, too, that I have harmed the citizens of Meryton and when an apology is in my power, I will make amends.

On the matter of making my sentiments known to you, I ask your pardon as well. A gentleman does not force his attentions on a person and had I not been so careless and presuming, I would have known better. I hope I have given no lasting distress.

I remain your humble servant and wish to aid you should you ever need it,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s eyes scanned over the words. He hoped to give it to her on the morrow, although letters between unwed ladies and gentlemen were not entirely proper. Nor was the letter exactly genuine. Amongst the things he apologised for there were many things, he was not the least sorry for. His mortified pride hated that he had proposed to a woman who had never seen his admiration or desired his notice, but he felt freer having spoken some of his heart. All the days he had met under the guise of discussing Wickham — and he did worry about the cad — Darcy had had nervously courted Elizabeth. Now, when he met her next, there would be no deceit between them. When he was attentive to her, she would know his honourable intentions.

Of course, it might be that she never wished to speak with him again.

Tossing his pen aside, Darcy peered at the clock in his room through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. If he arose at his regular time, he would have less than six hours of sleep. Before trudging to his bed, he reached for his mail, duty calling to him. As he undressed for the evening, he paused now and then to make out words.

Georgiana was in good health and enjoyed her newest pianoforte master. Mrs. Annesley was a balm to her wounded soul. Richard visited often, and Bingley and his sister called nearly daily. Darcy wished he knew if Georgiana was forming an attachment. He did not believe for a moment that Bingley had any interest in his sister if he was so in love with Jane Bennet as to call on her at the Gardiners’ and without an introduction. Nor did he think Bingley would encourage a lady while his affection lay elsewhere. However, Georgiana was quite young still. Darcy chuckled imagining her face upon such a claim.

Boots and stockings removed, Darcy moved on to the Baroness’ letter. He told himself he would alert her and Mrs. Annesley to the possible complication of Georgiana’s attachment to Bingley, who was rather spoken for. Lady Darcy reported that she had found a new candidate for the Bluestocking Club and asked after his progress. He had come under the guise of asking the Duchess of Dorset’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Jenkinson, to join. Her father was a noted astronomer and had raised his child to appreciate the stars. Mrs. Jenkinson, in turn, relished in her father’s profession. As the wife to a very wealthy and influential politician, Mrs. Jenkinson could be a very powerful patron of science. Lady Darcy also bade him to hurry his “adventure at the Dragon’s” and choose his bride. Darcy frowned. She was not usually the aunt to wish him to the altar in a trice.

Pulling his shirt over his head, he accidentally knocked his still full glass of port and cursed. Dashing to the wash stand, he grabbed the towel to clean his mess. His aunt’s letter had fluttered to the floor, but by the time he had everything settled again, he decided to wait and finish reading his correspondence later. Sleepiness pulled all strength from his body, and he stumbled toward the bed as though he were drunk. Collapsing in it, he slept soundly until awoken with a start as his valet entered at the usual time.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Seven

mdbbDear C,

I am pleased you benefitted from staying with us. You have experienced a rogue and have now met some intellectual gentlemen old enough to be your father. You are young yet, though, do not give up. The right man will come at last.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Seven

 

Elizabeth walked along a path at Rosings. She thought this was the one Colonel Fitzwilliam mentioned Mr. Darcy favoured. She could hardly account for her reasons. She knew Wickham was not to be trusted and resolved to consider Darcy’s character to be as she knew it before ever meeting Wickham. She could not say she liked him at all, but she did not hate him.

Aside from desiring to settle the matter of sketching his character, she realised it was wise to strike a friendship with him. She was inclined to think Wickham a madman or stupid but felt it prudent to confirm this in some way, and Wickham claimed to know Darcy well; knowledge should go both ways. Darcy had called on the Parsonage yesterday and, while apparently finding the place wanting, was entirely civil and went out of his way to express concern over their conversation weeks ago.

A movement down the lane caught her eye, but still, she was surprised to hear, “Miss Bennet!  What a beautiful morning for a walk. Do you often favour this grove?

“Good morning, Mr. Darcy. I do indeed enjoy this path the most.”

Now that she was not blinded by prejudice, she found it difficult to read Mr. Darcy’s face. She thought she saw a glimmer of happiness or pleasure, but it was likely just at being away from Rosings. In another instant, he wore the haughty expression she recalled so well from Hertfordshire.

Well, he is not so bad as Wickham would say, but that does not excuse his behaviour to the rest of Hertfordshire, nor does it change the fact that he dislikes me. But since there is no proof that he is dishonourable as Wickham has claimed, I have every hope that he shall help.

They had lapsed into silence, though Mr. Darcy seemed on the verge of speaking many times. Deciding that her family was worth this discomfort, Elizabeth decided to push forward with her request.

She could not meet his eyes and instead watched her feet. “Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature and have confessed to unjustly listening to tales defaming your character. I would very much like to hear what you have to say against Mr. Wickham so I might learn the truth.”

Darcy was silent for several minutes before he spoke in a gruff voice. “I do not know particularly what he has said of me, or under what manner of falsehood he has imposed upon you.”

His words immediately brought Elizabeth’s head up. It was as though he had thought she was in love with Wickham!  She wet her lips and replied with hesitation. “I do not know why Mr. Wickham chose to confide in me. I suppose I seemed willing to hear his lies.” She blushed and swallowed back the bitter taste that invaded her mouth. “I assure you, however, I did not seek such information, which was accepted only in the excitement of new friendship, nor was I vowed to secrecy; indeed he soon related his tale of woe to the whole of the area.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy’s face as it seemed he relaxed as she spoke before turning white in anger with her final words. She could see how tightly he clenched his jaw, and she despised herself for so tactlessly telling him an entire county hated him based on the lies of a cad. She winced at the impropriety of it all. As a Bennet, she seemed cursed to always say and do the wrong thing.

“Do not reproach yourself for my sake,” Darcy said gently. “Detection was not in your power and suspicion is not in your inclination. Allow me a moment to gather my thoughts.”

Elizabeth remained silent as they slowly walked through the grove. New life had begun to bud on the trees in the weeks since her arrival. Every day brought subtle changes. She envied how quickly nature could change. And yet, it remained constant as well. She knew that by now the maple near Longbourn would be putting forth leaves, and the roses would soon bloom.

“If you will allow us to sit here,” Darcy’s words interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts, and he motioned to a fallen log near the path, “I will tell you everything of my dealings with that man.”

Darcy patted the trunk. “It is clean and dry here, Miss Bennet. Nor did I see any insects.” He stepped aside to allow her to sit.

Elizabeth smirked at his consideration. “I have sat in wet grass many times and am not afraid of the crawling inhabitants of the forest. It is much more their home than mine.”

Darcy slightly smiled, and Elizabeth released a breath she did not realise she had been holding. He must be used to well-bred ladies who seldom stirred out of doors. Next, he sat on the log and exhaled. He stared into the distance and related his tale.

In many respects, it was the mirror image of what Wickham had told her. When old Mr. Darcy died, it was recommended that his son help establish Wickham in the church. However, Darcy explained that Wickham soon gave up any such claim, and instead stated he chose the law. He had been bequeathed one thousand pounds already and then requested an additional three thousand pounds for his studies and living expenses in lieu of the living. Darcy had long before lost his good opinion of Wickham and considered him ill-suited for the church, so agreed and such seemed the end of their acquaintance. Darcy could not speak to the particulars of Wickham’s existence but believed the man lived a very dissipated life with no sincere intention of becoming a barrister.

Darcy had indeed given the living Wickham hoped for to another man when it fell vacant. However, Wickham had neglected to include in his tale the fact that he had been compensated at his own request. Some while later, when he had exhausted his funds, Wickham approached Darcy asking for the living to be reinstated and, when Darcy refused, abused Darcy in foul language which he did not hesitate to spread near and far.

“You asked me weeks ago if I believed Wickham capable of plotting and, unfortunately, I do. Although I had thought all acquaintance between us severed, he intruded most painfully in my life last summer. His motive was financial, but I do not doubt he intended some kind of revenge on me as well, regardless of any harm to others.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy clench his hands at his side, his frame taut. At the time Elizabeth could scarcely guess what Wickham had done and was troubled to have Wickham’s sanity defended. While Wickham had appeared at ease with his retelling of events, Darcy’s visceral reactions held far more weight than all of Wickham’s pleasant smiles ever could. She fell silent and was surprised when Darcy finally spoke again.

“I am pleased you broached this topic, Miss Bennet,” he turned his attention from the distance to her face. “Often times, in the last several months I had considered returning to the neighbourhood as I know what Wickham is.”

The earnestness in his features pressed Elizabeth to confess more of what she heard. It was far too embarrassing to admit it all. “I fear he has plans to elope with my sister, Lydia.”

Darcy stiffened, and his face took a grim look. “How do you come to such a conclusion?”

“I overheard him speaking with other men.” Elizabeth could not meet Darcy’s eyes as she blushed, recalling what else Wickham had said. Surely the part about Darcy admiring her was false. Nor would she ever plot to ensnare him.

“What has been done to stop the plans? I assume your father has taken measures.”

“I never told him,” she said and twisted her hands. “I heard it the day before leaving for Kent. I had not thought there much truth in his words or that Lydia would agree to such a scheme.”

Darcy jerkily nodded. “I regret to tell you, last summer he made plans to elope with a young lady far more sedate than your sister. It was interrupted by the merest chance.”

Elizabeth knew he had been kind in his description of Lydia but blushed all the same.

Darcy stood and began pacing, “I need to speak with my cousin, the Colonel. Do I have your leave to explain what you heard?  You may be assured of his secrecy.”

“Yes, of course. I am sorry to have to involve you, and now your cousin, especially considering Wickham’s history of abuse towards your family.”

“I am honoured to be of service. Now, I must quickly depart to speak with my cousin. Is it possible to meet with you again tomorrow, to acquaint you with any plans or news?”

“Yes, sir, I thank you. I am usually walking by eight. I will write my father as well.”

They walked back to the Parsonage gate in silence. Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and said, “Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Darcy. Until tomorrow.”  Then with one long parting glance, he was gone.

When Elizabeth returned to the Parsonage, she was besieged by Charlotte. She twisted her hands as she met Elizabeth in the entry.

“My dear Charlotte, whatever is the matter?”

“Colonel Fitzwilliam called. He seemed to wish to see you and waited nearly an hour before leaving.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brows. “I cannot understand why he would wait so long. We have only just met.”

“Hence my disconcertion.” Charlotte looked over her shoulder. When she spoke again, she whispered. “Mr. Collins is very upset that the Colonel would ask after you so minutely after just making your acquaintance. He has determined something untoward on your part must be happening.”

“Untoward!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Hush!” Charlotte said in a harsh whisper.

“You cannot seriously believe I have done something improper,” Elizabeth spoke through clenched teeth. “Additionally, why does your husband not blame the Colonel? He witnessed our single encounter.”

“Beware, Eliza. Ladies always catch the blame for such entanglements.” Charlotte wet her lips and lowered her eyes. “Normally, I would not hesitate to promote a match with either of her ladyship’s nephews, but everything must be done properly.”

Elizabeth huffed. “There is nothing to this imagined impropriety! I was not even present. If I had designs on him, would I not take care to stay at home for his possible visit?”

Charlotte nodded. “Very good. That may make some sense to my husband.”

“I am certain the Colonel is only bored at Rosings. Would it not be worse if he appeared overly friendly with a married lady or Maria?”

“True.”

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “Is what angers Mr. Collins that Colonel Fitzwilliam preferred waiting for my presence rather than enjoying his company?”

“Please,” Charlotte said and held her hands up to stave off Elizabeth’s verbal assault. “You do not understand how his duties weigh on him.”

“Such an abominable mixture of insecurity and conceit!” Elizabeth muttered. Were there any gentlemen who did not contain a combination of the two?

The door to Mr. Collins’ library swung open, and he spoke without looking up from the book he held. “Mrs. Collins!”

“Yes, dear?” Charlotte’s voice was sweeter than Elizabeth had ever heard, and she tried not to gag at the facade of this marriage.

Mr. Collins looked up, startled to hear his wife so near. His eyes narrowed on Elizabeth’s and, if she had ever been afraid of looks before, she might fear he meant her harm. “Ah, Miss Bennet.”

It seemed all the friendly “Cousin Elizabeths” were over. She did not mourn their loss. “Good morrow, Sir,” she said with a false smile.

The look of displeasure on his face heightened. “In my home, you will take care to quell your Jezebel arts.”

Elizabeth gasped at the insult. Heat slapped her face and her heart hammered in her chest. Anger surged through her veins. She opened her mouth to verbally slay him when Charlotte placed a hand on her arm. Elizabeth clamped her jaw so tightly she winced at the pain.

“Please, sir. You have witnessed her good manners and know her Christian heart.” Charlotte left Elizabeth’s side and came to her husband. She turned a smile on Elizabeth as though it would alleviate the torture of this scene. “Do you not believe education and prayer can reform? It was most inspiring in your latest sermon.”

Mr. Collins sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Very true, my dear. As always you are a balm to my soul.” He looked at her with adoration and Elizabeth thought she would cast up her accounts on the polished wood floor.

He bowed his head in Elizabeth’s direction. “You will permit me the liberty of my ill-temper, I am sure.”

Was that his attempt at an apology?

“Mrs. Collins has reminded me that there are several works I would have you read while you are here.” Charlotte dutifully entered the study to retrieve the pile of books. Mr. Collins continued speaking. “You will find these most informative, I am sure. As you read them, I would charge you with reflecting on how you can mould your character as Mrs. Collins has done. You have every advantage before you with education, acquaintance, and age. I am determined you will do nothing to sully the Collins name.”

Elizabeth remained standing still with her jaw locked tight. Charlotte approached with an apologetic look but held several tomes out for Elizabeth to take. If they expected her to thank them or appear contrite, they could not be more mistaken. They stood before her, Mr. Collins seeming to think that a stern look would propel her to say something and Charlotte twisted her hands in non-verbal apology.

A sound on the road drew their notice. “Oh! It is Miss de Bourgh!” Mr. Collins exclaimed. As he walked to the door, he said, “I would charge you Miss Bennet with following Miss de Bourgh’s example in all things. You cannot meet with a more virtuous lady.”

Mr. Collins opened the door and immediately began his awkward bowing while quickly shuffling down the walk. Charlotte followed sedately behind. Maria entered the hallway. “Eliza, I did not hear you return. Are you well?”

Elizabeth made no response and Maria’s eyes were drawn to the road, and she also left to pay homage to the heiress of Rosings. Elizabeth’s fingers curled tightly around the conduct books. Finally releasing her locked jaw, she walked up the stairs to her room on wooden legs.

*****

Darcy smiled as he took the steps to Rosings two at a time. Despite the discussion about Wickham, he was pleased to see Elizabeth and that she had trusted him with the truth. He sensed that such disclosures did not come easily to her. He only regretted that she did not allow him to see to matters entirely. As a guardian, however, he recognised that it was only natural for a lady to defer to her father. Until such a time that she would place all her trust in her husband. Darcy’s smile grew.

“What has you grinning?” Richard asked. He stood leaning against the wall in the entry as though he awaited Darcy’s arrival. “The charming Miss Bennet?”

“I do not know what you mean,” Darcy said.

“Well, she was not at the Parsonage when I called.”

Darcy shrugged his shoulders. “The lady enjoys walking. Can you blame her?”

“No,” Richard shook his head. “But that Collins barely gave me a minute’s peace to talk with the ladies the hour I was there.”

“An hour!” Darcy’s eyebrows rose.

“You should thank me,” Richard shrugged.

Darcy tilted his head toward the stairs and began climbing them. Richard followed suit. Once safely in his chamber, he turned and scrutinised his cousin. “Why should I thank you for torturing yourself with Collins’ endless praise?”

“If you did not think there was merit to my claim, and would very much like your actions to remain private, why did you assure our privacy?” Richard stared back.

Darcy shook his head. It was useless attempting to ferret information out of his cousin, nor conceal it. The man had been trained in interrogation. “I thank you for staying at the Collinses for an hour because…” He waved his hand for Richard to continue.

“Because now no one will suspect your interest in Miss Bennet.”

Darcy’s spine stiffened, and his senses heightened. “What did you do?”

“Cool your porridge. I only asked after her whereabouts and a few other questions although she was not present. Enough to make it seem I was the one interested in her.”

“Richard!” Darcy clenched his hands but kept them at his sides.

“What?” His cousin said and walked to a chair. He settled himself in it and crossed his legs. “What have I done to offend the high and mighty Master of Pemberley, now?”

Darcy stalked over to the other chair. “It creates quite a conflict for her to appear to have engaged your affections while here.”

Richard blinked confusedly. “Engaged my affections?” He knit his brows. “Creates a conflict of interest how? Like the other mistresses of Richmond — I do recommend Richmond by the way — will have a care. My actions assured Lady Catherine would no reason to assume you meant to bed the chit.”

Darcy shot out of his chair, and it took all of his control to not pummel his cousin. His face burned as blood churned through his body and Richard’s shocked expression told Darcy he must have looked a terror.

“You are my cousin and one of my closest friends, but if you ever dare to insult the woman I intend to marry again, I will tear you apart from limb to limb,” Darcy growled.

“Marry!” Richard stood as well. “Marry! When you could have any lady. Daughters of dukes vie for you, vast fortunes. You could be master of this very estate!” He stretched an arm around as though Darcy had never before seen the expensive tapestries and furnishings.

“It means nothing,” Darcy said allowing some of his previous anger to dissipate.

“Nothing!” Richard echoed as though he did not understand the word. “Only a man who lived in luxury his whole life could think of giving it up so easily.”

“I won’t be giving anything up. I’ll not lose Pemberley simply because I wed a lady with no connections.”

“And her dowry?”

“She likely brings nothing to the marriage, but I have no worries,” Darcy said firmly.

“I am glad to hear you do so well,” Richard said. “You have thought of Georgiana?”

“Elizabeth will be a sterling model of behaviour for Georgie. She needs more confidence and liveliness, and an understanding sister.” A soft smile pulled at Darcy’s lips as he considered the two ladies together. “She has younger sisters and is very close to them.”

“Yes, about her family,” Richard resumed his seat and toyed with a cuff link, but Darcy was not put off by his cousin’s nonchalance. He was probing. Whether it was for their aunt or the Earl or merely his own prejudices, Darcy was unsure, but Richard had set himself up as a defender of Darcy’s name.

“I am not duped by her charms,” Darcy said, at last, frowning.

“Multiple as they may be,” Richard winked. “You hedge on her family which means they must be objectionable. Society will not be kind to her. At least she is not born on the wrong side of the blanket or had a history of employment.”

Darcy scowled again at the hint of Elizabeth and prostitution, as Richard’s reference to employment was a euphemism for. “The Bennet family want sense and connections. Her mother came from trade, but her father is a gentleman. Remember you speak of a lady!”

“I promise,” Richard held up his hands, and Darcy felt his pulse rate lower. “You may not like it, but my interrogation is far kinder than you will receive from any of our relatives and Society as a whole.”

“Who would reproach her? The biddies at Almacks. It’s well-known the Countess of Jersey’s mother was in trade. Indeed, the Countess owns the majority of Child’s Bank! Elizabeth will have Darcy wealth behind her, no one will dare breathe a word against us.” Unlike Richard, Darcy remained standing. He fought the urge to pace.

“They will not take kindly to a fortune hunter,” Richard said after several minutes of silence.

Darcy guffawed. “A fortune hunter! Everyone in the ton is fortune hunting! Have I not had every silly nitwit debutante flung upon me for nigh on a decade now, simply because I am wealthy? They could care less about my character or expect me to care about theirs.”

Now, Darcy did pace. “I am told that such and such lady can dance or speak French with ease. I am forced to feign admiration at lame attempts at art. And not for the family gallery mind you, or for general appreciation. Oh, no. They are merely for firescreens or embroidered samplers that, if lucky, will hang on a wall instead of being soiled by a December nose!”

Darcy flung himself in his chair, his pique over. His chest heaved, and he loosened his cravat to take deep breaths. His display was hardly gentlemanly, and nothing like the calm and collected man he was known to be, but Elizabeth had always stirred passions in him.

“Fortune hunter!” Darcy exclaimed again. “Let them see us. They will know we married for affection.”

Richard stared at Darcy in silence for several minutes. “Affection? Disdain for Society’s values? To hear you speak now, I would hardly know you.”

Darcy shook his head and leant forward, placing his elbows on his knees. Cradling his jaw in his palms, he stared unseeing at the ostentatious wallpaper across the room framing a portrait of some long ago distant relative. “I love her.”

The firmness of the words shocked even Darcy. For the first time he ever spoke them aloud, he had not expected to sound so assured or proud. He had expected to feel humiliated with being ruled by his emotions, but not everything about Elizabeth utterly defied logic. She was not a servant or courtesan. Their marriage would be unlikely, but not unheard of.

“You. Love. Her.” Richard enunciated each word. “You love her? And you think, what? That love will erase all of Society’s arguments against you? That love is all you need?”

No, it was not the only tool they needed. Darcy was no fool. He would require support from Lady Darcy, and Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam if they would extend it. Beyond his family, Darcy was not without friends with money and influence. He could not be accused of having been the most friendly man in his eight and twenty years, but most overlooked his gruffness to stay in his good graces. “What would you have me do?”

“Bed her, do not wed her.”

“How poetic,” Darcy glared. “Something one of your opera light-skirts taught you?”

Richard laughed. “You asked what I would do, not what should be done. Well, despite my raking you over the coals just now, I will support you – whatever little help the second son of an earl will be.”

Darcy leant back, feeling as though a weight left his shoulders. He rested his head on the back of the chair. “Only tell me you will not insinuate anymore that you wish to debauch her.”

“Well, if you think she should have a proper education before coming to your bed…”

“Richard,” Darcy growled. Although he knew his cousin jested, he did not care for associating Elizabeth with such imagery.

“I do enjoy riling you,” Richard said. “If Pemberley does ever go under you have the gumption of many a serjeant I know.”

They shared a smile for a moment before Darcy’s fell. “I do need your assistance.”

Richard nodded, and Darcy told him of his conversation with Elizabeth.

“She is fortunate he did not know she was there!” Richard exclaimed when Darcy had finished. “Do you think Mr. Bennet will be of any use?”

Darcy stroke his jaw in thought. “I should think better of the man I hope to make my father-in-law, but I do not believe he will take Elizabeth’s letter seriously — if he reads it all, which even she admitted was a possibility. My own father had refused to see the truth of Wickham’s character.”

“Uncle Darcy also had known Wickham from an infant and had no daughters’ virtue to protect.”

“No, but I did,” Darcy said. The familiar self-hatred whipped at his heart lashing open old and new wounds. No more, he told himself. I met Elizabeth after the pain. The experience has a purpose now.

Richard did not offer absolution and Darcy did not seek it. They had argued years before about Darcy keeping Wickham’s behaviour a secret from Georgiana, and now both knew which man had been right. It was not a mistake Darcy would allow to happen again.

“Last autumn, you offered to use your connections to transfer Wickham. I would ask that you now do so,” Darcy said.

Richard nodded in agreement. “It will take a few weeks. Do you believe you have the time?”

“Elizabeth writing to her father is not the only idea I have, but we must tread carefully. You can hardly expect a family to thank you for interfering in their affairs.”

“Will they not soon be your family as well?” Richard asked.

“Elizabeth and I have no understanding, at present, and I think it unlikely that we can reach one while at Rosings. Our aunt…”

“Yes,” Richard frowned. “And with me away, she will desire you at the house even more than usual.”

“Indeed.” Darcy tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair, wishing the days would speed by. A few stolen moments with Elizabeth each morning was not nearly enough while other lovers were able to enjoy entire days with their beloveds. However, Richard had spoken the truth earlier, and this would not be their last trial. He wisely kept complaints to himself, allowing that one word to represent all that surged in the sea of emotion residing in his heart.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Six

 

mr. darcy's bluestocking brideDearest C,

Do not give up on finding love but know that there is a season to all things. Your sad misadventure was caused by allowing your emotions to rule you. If you do not wish to wed yet and cannot abide the society of London, then come to Bath with us.

Your aunt,

A.F.

Chapter Six

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy tapped his fingers on his legs as the carriage rolled slowly closer to his aunt’s estate in Kent. Usually, he dreaded the yearly visit. His mother had been devoted to her younger sister, and so Darcy always did his duty and attended, but it was increasingly annoying. Lady Catherine’s hints of an expectation that he marry her daughter grew bolder with each visit. Anne seemed indifferent to the idea, but Darcy knew he would never offer for her. His parents married late in life, and he had never felt much rush to enter into such a permanent union. At seven and twenty, he was just beginning to think of the usefulness of matrimony before Lady Darcy started pushing for him to find a bride.

It began last summer as he sent his sister to Ramsgate with her newly hired companion. Georgiana was more a daughter to him than a sister and, if he had had a wife, perhaps everything would have been different. He had gone to enjoy a friend’s summer house party, whilst Georgiana longed for the seacoast. His instinct was to go with her, but his friends assured him a young lady of Georgiana’s age did not want a much older brother coddling her or playing nursemaid. Against his better judgment, he went to the country but was among the first to leave. In addition to wishing to visit Georgiana, he could no longer tolerate the none too subtle attempts at matchmaking at the party.

Upon arriving at Ramsgate, his sister soon confessed she hoped to soon wed. Her love had convinced her of an elopement, but she hoped Darcy would give his blessing and not make the secrecy necessary. To his horror, Darcy learned his sister had fallen in love with an accomplished rogue: his former childhood friend, George Wickham. Refusing his consent, he was unsurprised to then learn that Wickham had known of Darcy’s arrival and immediately fled the area. He did not fight for his hopes of marrying Georgiana, proving his attachment was purely for her vast fortune and as a means for revenge on Darcy by ruining the family name.

In the weeks that followed, Georgiana grew despondent. When Darcy’s closest friend, Charles Bingley, rented an estate in Hertfordshire, Georgiana insisted that Darcy go with him. Seeing Darcy every day heightened her feelings of guilt. Part of Darcy’s eager return to London at the end of November was to see to his sister’s welfare. At Christmas, Lady Darcy made a rare trip to London. Shocked by Georgiana’s obvious feelings of self-loathing, she took both Darcy siblings under her wing. Due to her attention and instruction, Georgiana vastly improved.

What brought unease to Darcy’s mind now, however, was knowing he would meet with Elizabeth Bennet again. He had last seen her, very unexpectedly, three weeks ago. She had asked him about Wickham, and he had been unable, again, to tell her the whole truth. More than that, he realised his error in leaving her and Meryton in ignorance of Wickham’s true character. It was a fault he was prone to make, to assume he knew the best. Yet, he saw the worry in her eyes when she asked for information on the scoundrel. He sensed her reluctance to trust him, and he knew the price that his silence and encouraging his sister’s innocence, nay ignorance, nearly cost them.

Pulling him from his thoughts, his travelling companion spoke. “Darcy, will you stop that infernal tapping?”

Darcy smiled at his cousin, Richard. “You certainly are grumpy this morning!”

“Have I not a right to be so when I know our destination?”

“You have faced worst foes on the battlefield, I am sure.”

“Spoken like a politician! You would have me go back and fight over the same piece of land again and again! Or would you order me to infiltrate and begin a coup from within?”

“The idea does have merit,” Darcy replied, thinking that if only their cousin Anne were encouraged to take a stand for herself, Rosings would be more bearable.

“That did not work well for me at Corunna,” Richard patted his knee. He had first been wounded in ‘09 and again mere weeks ago in the Battle of Ciudad Rodrigo. He was sent home to heal after a bayonet wound but otherwise was considered capable of following the flag still.

“I apologise. I did not mean to bring up painful memories. Is there talk of sending you back?”

“The Regiment is ever at the ready. Are you? Lady Catherine will be more desperate than ever for you to marry Anne.”

“She is not the only one I must worry about,” Darcy drawled. “Lady Darcy is also intent on my finding a wife.”

“Yes, if the papers are to be believed, you have danced every set at every one of the ton’s crushes for the last fortnight!” Richard leant forward and cast a worried gaze over his cousin. “Are you ill? Inheriting the barony has addled your mind?”

“I am as well as ever,” Darcy said in as even a tone as he could manage. The truth was, he did feel as though he might become a bit unhinged due to the stress.

“And what is with all your dancing with bluestockings? It gives you an aura of unattainability which drives the debutantes and their mama’s wild with jealousy.”

Darcy quirked a brow. “And you ask out of concern… or envy?”

“Well,” Richard said as he leant back and crossed an ankle over his knee, “you must leave some ladies for the rest of us.”

“The sorts of ladies you enjoy are not the kind I have ever associated with, and certainly could never be accused of being bluestockings.”

“True,” Richard said, then waggled his eyebrows, “but they do not need to know that. A harmless flirtation in a ballroom never harmed anyone.”

“You should be more sympathetic. After I marry, you will have an aunt and a mother honing all their scheming on you.”

“On second thoughts, a new deployment sounds far more bearable.” A shudder racked his body, and Darcy laughed at the theatrics. “They do say, however, that besides the bluestockings, one lady has captured your attention.”

“I could hardly care less what the papers report,” Darcy said and flicked his gaze through the window. Did the journey seem to take longer than usual this year?

“You should. She’s a schemer, and you could find yourself leg-shackled if you’re not careful.”

Darcy racked his mind to think of who Richard referenced. “I have never danced with any lady more than once.”

“True, but you have danced with Miss Caroline Bingley nearly every night.”

“She is Bingley’s sister,” Darcy said defensively.

“And so it is all the more natural for others to assume a match will be made.”

“Never,” Darcy said.

“It is also stated that you do not shun her company as you once did.”

“Jealous hellcats, the lot of them,” Darcy waved off Richard’s concern.

However, his accusations did ring true. Caroline did not irk as she usually did. She no longer was eager to demean others or boast of her accomplishments. She spoke of current affairs. When she called on Georgiana, she encouraged the younger girl to compose her own masterpieces. She could never be more to him than his friend’s sister, but the primary drawback to Georgiana marrying Bingley had been his sister. Now, it appeared Georgiana would gain an affectionate one. A smile crept across his face as he also considered Elizabeth. Yes, Georgiana would soon gain a loving sister.

“Egads, what is that ridiculous face for? You look like a green boy lusting after his first milkmaid!” Richard contorted his face, in what Darcy hoped was an utter exaggeration, and laughed.

“Keep your foul words to yourself,” Darcy warned, “or Lady Catherine will rack you with her cane.”

Richard sobered immediately. “You never answered my question about how to get out of marrying Anne this time.”

Darcy grinned. “I would never reveal my tactics.”

“And that moony look just now was not for Caroline Bingley?”

“Certainly not!” Darcy said and blew out a breath as they passed the parsonage.

“Look at that little man!” Richard exclaimed. “I did not think a man as round as he could bow so low!”

Darcy chuckled. “Mr. Collins, our aunt’s new rector. I met him in Hertfordshire when I stayed with Bingley.”

“Oh, that is right. I forgot you remained in the same house as the harpy. And yet there is nothing to the rumours?”

“Nothing at all. If you must know, I remain friendly with his sister because I am worried about the man. I had to separate him from a most imprudent match last year.” An imprudent match he now intended to enter into. Well, not entirely the same. Elizabeth could never conceal her affections or be as cold as Jane Bennet had been.

“Indeed!” Richard said as they pulled to a stop before Rosings.

The door swung open, and the gentlemen descended. “Sirs, Lady Catherine awaits you in the blue drawing room,” the butler said upon their entry.

“Certainly, as soon as we have changed,” Darcy said and stepped toward the massive staircase.

“She desires to see you as soon as you arrive. A matter of urgency, she said.”

The butler’s face remained impassive, and so Darcy could not determine if there was any truth to her claims. Ordinarily, she loathed their coming fresh from the carriage into her receiving rooms. Darcy glanced at Richard, who shrugged.

“Very well,” he said, and the butler led the way although Darcy could find the location blindfolded.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine commanded and pounded her cane on the floor. Beside him, Richard audibly gulped. “I understand that you already know the residents of my parsonage.”

“Yes, my lady. I met Mr. Collins last autumn.”

“And so you have also met his wife.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His eyes flitted to Anne to see if she held any clues to the unexpected summons and questioning. She quickly averted her eyes.

“And in a cruel twist of fate, you even know the guests. This Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas.”

“I have had the honour,” Darcy said, feeling his mouth go dry. Did she perceive any hint of his regard? Had word somehow reached him of his behaviour in Hertfordshire? He had not considered how to court Elizabeth with his aunt knowing and, undoubtedly, disapproving.

“Well!” She said and stomped her cane again. “I am seriously displeased!”

“I do apologise, Aunt. If I had known they would now be here, I certainly would have taken care in making their acquaintance months ago.”

Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed at Darcy. “And you do not think they follow you here by design? The impertinent one mentioned something about seeing you in London a few weeks ago.”

Darcy fought a smile at his aunt’s description of Elizabeth. “We did meet, by chance, in Town some weeks ago. There, Sir William Lucas explained he was soon to visit his daughter and brought Miss Elizabeth Bennet and his younger daughter with him. Miss Bennet is close friends with Mrs. Collins, I understand.”

“And they could not know you visited every Easter? You must be mindful of your position in life! Ladies will seek to trap you. If you only did your duty—”

“Mama,” Anne interrupted. “If Miss Bennet had known Darcy always visited here and hoped to ensnare him then surely she could have visited Mr. Collins when he asked. Or she could have supported him marrying a sister. Then she would be welcomed far more than by only a friend. Do not forget she sacrificed the security of her family in refusing her father’s heir.”

“Yes! Exactly! She might have thought she should wait and hope for a better offer.”

“Is it not more reasonable to consider that she does not care about such material advantages?” Anne said and sent an apologetic glance at Darcy.

Richard laughed from behind him. “I prefer Anne’s way of thinking, Aunt. Darcy might offer a grand estate and money, but he’s a sour, unpleasant fellow. Is he really such a catch?”

Lady Catherine began to sputter, but Darcy interrupted. “Besides all this, you insult my honour by saying I would fall prey to a woman’s arts. Nor can I condemn enough the accusations you lay at Miss Bennet’s door. A lady who, I believe, you have invited into your home. If you had thought she was of ill-repute, you never should have brought her near Anne.”

Lady Catherine’s eyes widened, and her mouth snapped shut. Yes, bringing up her affection for Anne was always sure to bring her to reason. “I cannot believe you are standing on my new carpet covered head to toe in dust! Both of you are dismissed!”

Darcy and Richard departed as quickly as possible without earning another admonishment from their aunt. Richard clapped a hand on Darcy’s shoulder as they took the stairs side by side. “This Miss Bennet sounds like just the sort of lady I enjoy, and for far more than a harmless flirtation.”

Red clouded Darcy’s vision and the next thing he knew, Richard was laying on the bottom of the floor cursing at having tripped over three or four steps. Darcy carried on to his room. He had never before wished Richard absent on these visits. Far too many times his cousin was abroad in battle at this time of year. Today, he suddenly hated Richard’s presence. Not that he had expected any different, but between Lady Catherine’s suspicions and Richard’s teasing, Darcy knew he would have to keep his courtship with Elizabeth secret.

 

*****

 

The day of Mr. Darcy’s arrival, Mr. Collins watched for their carriage from his room. At the earliest hour for calling the following morning, he walked to Rosings to pay tribute. Charlotte had gone to the dining-parlour under the guise of returning something of Mr. Collins, but rather an ill-disguised attempt of watching for his return. Maria blushed assuming her sister missed her husband, but Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Charlotte had adjusted to life here far too easily. She now lived for news on neighbours, and their visitors and plans on how to impress them were of utmost importance.

A few minutes later, Charlotte rushed into the drawing room white as a ghost. “Oh, make haste! Maria help me clear this work.” She scrambled from the door to the table where pieces of fabric and thread were strewn about.

“What has happened?” Elizabeth asked as she put aside her needlework.

“Mr. Darcy has followed Mr. Collins down here!”

“Mr. Darcy to call on the Parsonage?” Elizabeth dropped the sampler she held.

“Yes,” Charlotte said as she tucked a wisp of hair under her cap. “And I may thank you for this civility, Eliza. Mr. Darcy never would have called on us.”

Tossing a pile of loose thread to Maria, who shoved it in a basket and slid it under a table, Elizabeth huffed. “Of course, he would call eventually. A gentleman always does his duty.”

Did she just defend Mr. Darcy? Fortunately, the sound of the front door made all other conversation impossible. Colonel Fitzwilliam led the way. He was about thirty, not handsome, but tall and well-built. The smile on his face showed his gentlemanly breeding, and his open manners lent more force to the term. Darcy entered looking as uncomfortable as Elizabeth was used to him looking in Hertfordshire. He sat when asked and glanced around the room. At first, she supposed he would not say anything, but he gave Charlotte a compliment on her marriage and home. Elizabeth scrutinised all without speaking. Observing was a much better use of her time.

Colonel Fitzwilliam entered conversation easily. Against Elizabeth’s hopes that Mr. Collins would be rendered silent by the extreme compliment that both of her ladyship’s nephews paid his humble abode, the parson spoke at length. Contrary to Darcy’s general affronted demeanour, Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed to view the scene with amusement.

“How do you like Kent, Miss Bennet?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.

“I like it very much. Rosings has some of the most beautiful grounds I have ever seen.”

“Allow me to correct you, Cousin Elizabeth,” Mr. Collins interjected. “I flatter myself that I have seen far more country houses and estates than you have. Rosings is the picture of beauty. I would not change one blade of grass.”

“My aunt’s gardeners would send their thanks for your praise,” the Colonel said. “Do I take it that you have walked beyond the gardens, then?” He addressed Elizabeth again.

“Indeed. I much prefer a wooded grove for daily exercise.”

The colonel nodded. “My cousin entirely agrees with you. He takes a morning walk every time we are here, even if it threatens to rain.” The colonel gave Elizabeth a knowing look, and she quelled the urge to laugh. Yes, she could well understand the need to be away from Rosings. He went on to describe Darcy’s preferred path, one Elizabeth had enjoyed as well. “As an officer in His Majesty’s Army, I much prefer riding.”

“I think riding far nobler,” Mr. Collins said. “I had always wished to learn. There is something undignified about walking. Not that I would ever mean you are undignified, Mr. Darcy.” Collins bowed to the man who made no remark.

Insensible to Darcy’s insult, Collins again turned his attention to the Colonel.

“My aunt has said you can always judge a clergyman by how he cares for his land,” the Colonel said.

“Indeed?” Mr. Collins nearly panted in excitement. “I would be pleased to show you the garden and orchard. Her ladyship often compliments it. Although, I owe her suggestions have always proved the most useful. What a green thumb she has! So accomplished in gardening and not above knowing the botany of several species.”

Elizabeth little believed her ladyship did know botany. After all, in Elizabeth’s experience thus far, her ladyship claimed expertise on everything and yet did nothing. Her musings were interrupted by Mr. Darcy, and she was unable to hear the Colonel’s reply.

“I hope your family is in good health, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said to her.

“They are, thank you. And the Bingleys?”

“They were very well the last I saw them,” he answered with less surety than Elizabeth was accustomed to.

“Darcy has become the belle of the ball!” Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed.

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “I do not think I understand the Colonel’s joke.”

Mr. Collins nearly trembled with excitement. He pressed a hand to his mouth as though he needed it to keep words from flying out.

Darcy stiffened. “My cousin delights in tormenting me. I had supposed everyone had heard. Recently, the courts have determined I will inherit my aunt’s barony.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth said. Why was she disappointed?

Mr. Collins bounded to Darcy’s side. “Her ladyship told me some time ago and swore me to secrecy. I must admit I am surprised they allow your aunt, however honourable I am sure she is, to hold the title when there is a gentleman who is the heir.”

Elizabeth steeled her jaw from correcting her cousin’s misogynistic opinions, and even Charlotte blushed.

“As it is,” Darcy answered coldly, “I do not inherit until my aunt’s passing from this world and, as such, I am in no hurry.”

“Oh, I quite understand,” Collins continued without understanding the rebuff he was given. “As I will inherit Mr. Bennet’s estate upon his death, and I have assured my dear cousin Elizabeth several times, I am in no hurry for such an unlikeable event.”

Mr. Collins then turned to Colonel Fitzwilliam, as he did not know the Bennets or Longbourn, to explain to him his relation to Elizabeth’s father and details of the estate. Mr. Darcy approached the table near Elizabeth and looked through the newspapers. Was he going to read rather than talk?

“I am sorry I could not answer your question better,” he said quietly enough that only she could hear. “I have not seen Bingley in nearly a week despite us going to the same functions. I have no reason to think he is unwell. Miss Bingley assuredly would have told me.”

“Miss Bingley? You have seen her but not her brother?” Elizabeth did not mean to ask so candidly. Rather than this offending the man who would one day be a peer, he smiled.

“When frequenting Society’s events, it is helpful to have a friend to ease the way. London has been full of gossip about my future, and plans I might have.”

As in marriage. So, they imagined he was hunting about the ballrooms for a wife. And Caroline Bingley just happened to be at each event to soothe poor Mr. Darcy’s ruffled feathers from having to mix with so many people eager to flatter and know him? Elizabeth would give Caroline credit for persistence and intelligence. Few would undertake such a task, especially when he would know combining his fortune and estate with Rosings would give him more power and influence in the world of politics.

“You sound as though you have been very busy. I am sure you have not seen my sister or other relatives then,” she said and was pleased when he looked a little ashamed.

“I do regret that I have not had the pleasure of their company since our time at my aunt’s. I have often thought of our conversation there.” He paused and scrutinised her face. Did she imagine the look of anxiety? “I assume since no one contacted my aunt there has been no need to worry?”

Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. “I have heard no new developments, but I do find myself curious about the information you offered to share with my uncle. If you do not mind the impertinence of my asking.” She added a saucy smile.

Darcy stared at her a long time, his blue eyes seemingly transfixed. Her smile began to slip. He owed her no explanations.

“Darcy!” Colonel Fitzwilliam said, drawing the attention of both. “We have importuned on the Collinses, and their beautiful guests,” he winked, “long enough. Lady Catherine will desire us back.”

“Certainly,” Darcy said in his usual aloofness.

“It is no imposition at all,” Collins gushed. “To entertain my patroness’ nephews, and one to become a baron!”

Elizabeth sighed. Had she thought the addition of Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would somehow make her stay more enjoyable?

“Good day,” Darcy said and bowed to Elizabeth before offering his compliments again to Charlotte. In a few moments, despite Collins’ protestations, the gentlemen departed.

Mr. Collins was in such a state afterwards that Charlotte suggested he see to the garden to expel energy. “Quite right, my dearest. The colonel may wish to view it on his next visit.” He then scurried away to be about his task.

Charlotte sat with Maria and Elizabeth with a satisfied smile on her face. “You say the compliment was not for you, Eliza,” Charlotte said as she pulled a needle through her sampler, “and yet do no think I did not see how Mr. Darcy spoke nearly exclusively to you.”

“We merely spoke of acquaintances,” Elizabeth shrugged. “Recall that I had met his aunt and sister.”

“The Baroness!” Maria exclaimed. “But she is nothing to Lady Catherine. I wonder at a woman of superior rank, like Lady Darcy, being so friendly with the lower classes.”

Elizabeth looked out the window, longing for solitude with her thoughts and sketch book. The Lucases had strange opinions on the matter of rank. Well, truthfully, most would say the Bennets had an irreverent attitude toward them while the Lucases merely upheld traditional values.

The day wore on as it usually did. Elizabeth supposed she would need to speak with Charlotte soon about visiting Rosings. Miss de Bourgh was correct. She had read all the books she cared to at the Parsonage. She could not be out of doors the entire day. And if facing Lady Catherine and her daughter’s scrutiny would afford her a break from the tedium of life and worry of her sisters, she would welcome it.

As day slipped to evening, Elizabeth considered her continued concern over Wickham’s words. It was unlike Elizabeth to not laugh matters away. Additionally, it was unlike her to not long for more information. As a general rule, she enjoyed learning, and she had already listened to Wickham on the matter. Why did she continually deter Darcy from sharing his version of events? Gathering her courage, she determined to face her fears and doubts head on. She would find a way to speak to Darcy privately as he walked in the morning.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Two

mdbb.jpgTo clear up a few questions: Darcy’s relationship to his aunt is explained in this chapter and I also wanted to go over peerage rules.

Many titles could pass through the female line to the next male relative. Some could even be *held* by a female in her own right. Occasionally, titles were even created for women. When a woman holds a title in her own right, meaning without it being from her husband and was therefore created or inherited, it is called suo jure.

Magdalena, Lady Darcy is the Baroness by de jure because the title is technically abeyant (meaning held waiting for one heir to emerge). After her father (Lord Henry Darcy) died, the title fell abeyant between her and her sister (Isabella, Darcy’s grandmother). Although Darcy’s grandmother married and had a child who also had heirs, by law the title remains in abeyance until Magdalena dies. Although we know by science she would not conceive a child at eighty, the law does not take into account this sex-specific technicality. If a man can sire an heir until death and pass on a title, so may a female. Thus, Lady Darcy holds the title in name only (de jure) and only her death or a court ruling honoring her claim will end the abeyance. As of this point in the story, she owns one-third of the claim (although Darcy and Georgiana have not submitted claims) and must await a court ruling, which often dragged its feet in hopes of a male heir. Her being called Baroness is a courtesy title. Fitzwilliam Darcy is her heir presumptive in the way that Mr. Collins is Mr. Bennet’s heir presumptive.

Additionally, Darcy’s grandfather took the Darcy surname so that his heirs would have it when it came time for them to inherit. As such, although Magdalena Darcy is sister to Darcy’s grandmother, they share the same last name.

Other matters: In the first chapter 3 sources of conflict emerge: E/D relationship, B/J relationship & Wickham. They can’t all be dealt with simultaneously. 🙂 So, for the curious minds about Bingley, bear with me. It is NOT forgotten although other conflicts become more pressing for many chapters.

 


My Dearest Niece,

I send you my love as does your uncle and cousins. The girls greatly miss you, and you are welcome back at any time. I know my words are poor comfort after all the turmoil you have been through, but recall a great life can come from the loss you have faced.

Your loving Aunt,

Anne

 

Chapter Two
“Did you enjoy the performance, Lizzy?” Mr. Edward Gardiner asked the niece sitting to his right.

“Very much. I can hardly recall a time I enjoyed the theatre more,” Elizabeth replied. In truth, however, her mind had wandered.

She had arrived in London yesterday with Sir William Lucas and his daughter. Tomorrow they were to leave and continue their journey on to Hunsford, Kent where Sir William’s eldest daughter, and Elizabeth’s former best friend, now lived with her husband. Ordinarily, she would have much to look forward to with such a journey, and she always enjoyed spending time with her aunt and uncle, yet she felt unsettled. Whilst they did not often go to the theatre, and she always enjoyed the outing, tonight, her mind was full of other things. Now that she could no longer speak to her father, she began to wonder if she should have.

Elizabeth had been following her uncle blindly through the crowd, too anxious to appear normal, when she accidentally stumbled into a solid form.

“Pardon me! I am so sorry!” she exclaimed while reeling backwards.

Strong hands captured her elbows and steadied her. “Are you certain you are well — Miss Bennet!”

Elizabeth heard the astonished tone of Mr. Darcy’s familiar voice and finally looked up. Of all the people she had to crash into in London, it had to be him?

“Forgive me, Mr. Darcy. I should have taken better care of where I was going,” she said.

“Think nothing of it,” he said with a kinder tone than she could recall from their meetings in Hertfordshire. “You are uninjured?” he anxiously looked her up and down.

Elizabeth allowed a soft chuckle to escape before her reply. “I am sturdier than that.”

“Indeed. I recall you walking several miles to visit your ill sister. Surely one misstep in a crowded hall did you no damage.”

Elizabeth knit her brows. She was confused by his continued and odd conversation. He suddenly seemed to recollect himself.

“It is a surprise seeing you in London. Have you been here long?” He seemed to anxiously scan the room. He likely wanted to find an acquaintance to escape to or hoped to leave before her other relatives came upon him.

“No, I am only here for one night at my aunt and uncle’s before going with Sir William Lucas to visit his daughter who is now settled in Kent.” There was no mistaking his look of anxiety eased as she confirmed her family was not nearby.  “My eldest sister has been here many weeks, though,” Elizabeth said in a sharp tone. She was confident he knew of it. “Have you never seen her?”

Elizabeth had expected to shock him. Instead, he looked confused. “No, I have not had the pleasure.”

After an awkward silence between them, she heard Jane’s anxious voice. “There she is!”

As the rest of her party approached, Elizabeth curtsied and made to leave, but Mr. Darcy suddenly spoke. “How is the rest of your family? I hope they are in good health.”

“Yes, they all are well. We have heard nothing of Mr. Bingley and his sisters. I trust they are well, only busy with London,” she said just as Jane and her aunt and uncle approached. She did not miss the heightened anxiety across Jane’s face when she detected whom Elizabeth had been speaking with and heard the name of Bingley.

“Elizabeth, what happened?” Mr. Gardiner asked her but glared at Mr. Darcy. Belatedly, Elizabeth realised they really should not have continued their conversation so long.

“I was so enraptured still with the performance, that I was not watching where I stepped. I was unknowingly separated from you and stumbled, literally, into this acquaintance of mine, Mr. Darcy. We met last Autumn. He stayed with his friend, Mr. Bingley, who leased Netherfield Park.”

A look of recognition flickered across Mrs. Gardiner’s face, and her uncle’s features cooled as well. From the corner of her eye, she saw Sir William and Maria Lucas say goodbye to a friend and draw near to their assembled party. As Elizabeth made the necessary introductions to her aunt and uncle, she consciously watched Darcy’s reaction. He looked anxious, but there was not the expression of hauteur she had known him to have in Hertfordshire.

“It is absolutely capital to see you again, Mr. Darcy!” Sir William said and nearly bounced on his toes. “Did Miss Eliza tell you we are soon to be visiting Hunsford? You will recall my eldest daughter, Charlotte, of course. She was fortunate enough to marry the rector to your very aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

“You are to be at Rosings?” he asked in a tone that Elizabeth felt accusatory, but no one else seemed put off by.

“We shall stay in the Parsonage, of course,” Elizabeth replied. “I doubt we will see the estate at all,” she said. At first, she could not understand why he would be so possessive of the place, but then she recalled that he would marry his cousin, the heiress of Rosings.

Darcy smiled, confusing Elizabeth greatly, before replying. “You are mistaken then, Miss Elizabeth. My aunt takes a very minute interest in her parish. I know she often has her rector and his wife dine with her and know she would extend the courtesy to their guests.”

“Indeed! I had not expected such condescension,” said Sir William. “However, now that I think about it, I am not surprised. I have often noted such elegant breeding among those at court.”

Elizabeth tried to hide a smile. Before Mr. Darcy was required to reply, two tall and elegantly dressed ladies approached. One was about the correct age to be Mr. Darcy’s grandmother or other older relative. The other lady had a womanly figure and shape, but her youthful face and nervous demeanour were that of a girl just entering society.

“Fitzwilliam, would you introduce us to your friends?” the older lady asked.

Mr. Darcy complied. Elizabeth then learned that the ladies were his aunt, Lady Magdalena Darcy, and his sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy of whom Elizabeth and Jane had heard much from Mr. Bingley’s sisters. Elizabeth expected a haughty attitude, but there was only graciousness from Lady Darcy and shyness from Miss Darcy.

“It is a pleasure to meet any acquaintances of Fitzwilliam’s,” Lady Darcy said. “Will you be in London for long?” she asked.

Sir William hedged. “We are breaking our journey to Hunsford, Kent from Hertfordshire to visit my eldest daughter. She lately married the rector to Rosings estate.”

“Oh! My cousin, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is the mistress of Rosings!” Lady Darcy exclaimed. “How fascinating! Fitzwilliam shall soon be visiting there.”

The two talked of Rosings for a few minutes while Mr. Darcy, to the exclusion of nearly everyone else, spoke to Elizabeth and his sister. “Georgiana, Miss Elizabeth is a delightful performer. I am sure you share some common interests in musical selections,” he said gently.

“I recall from your letters,” Miss Darcy murmured. “Do you not think, Miss Elizabeth, that the new music we have recently had in London to be of the most expressive kind?”

Elizabeth hid her surprise that Darcy had written of her and smiled at the young girl. “We certainly live in exciting times. Among the terrible things about this war is that it takes so much the longer for us to get the newer works from Vienna, where so many of the other best composers reside.” She stepped closer to Miss Darcy to say in a conspiratory tone, “Perhaps you will just have to write your own works.”

Miss Darcy gasped, Mr. Darcy chuckled and most surprising of all, Lady Darcy said, “That is precisely what I have been attempting to tell the girl for months!”

Elizabeth blushed at her forwardness, but the titled lady met Mr. Darcy’s eyes and then nodded her head as though they decided something in silent communication. She spoke with authoritative gentleness. “This is not the fashion at all, but I am an old woman entitled to my eccentricities. I invite you all tomorrow to my home in Park Lane at two.”

With the invitation to the illustrious address in the Mayfair district, any expectation Elizabeth had of Sir William declining the offer died. He agreed with alacrity, and her relatives were no less agreeable. As they boarded the carriage to return to the Gardiner residence, Elizabeth’s worries about Wickham’s vulgar boasting evaporated. In their place, Elizabeth could only wonder about the strange set of circumstances that now meant she would be visiting both sets of Mr. Darcy’s titled aunts in as few days.

*****

The party arrived at Lady Darcy’s residence with anxious punctuality. Elizabeth noted the simple elegance of the home. Never having heard previously of Mr. Darcy’s connection to another titled relative, she researched the matter the night before.

Her ladyship was the eldest daughter of Barbara Fitzwilliam and Lord Henry Darcy, the last Baron. Her title was one of the few remaining that could pass through the female line. As she had no children herself, for years her heir presumptive was her nephew. George Darcy’s father had taken the Darcy surname when he married the Baroness’ sister. When George died, his son Fitzwilliam Darcy became the new heir.

Elizabeth considered Charlotte’s words to her about the rich having reason to be proud. She supposed Charlotte would say the same about the titled. Yet, why was Elizabeth only now hearing of it? Should not Darcy wish to tell everyone? Perhaps he merely assumed all the world knew of it. When a Bennet journeyed to London, they stayed with the Gardiners, where gossip of nobility and their heirs had no significance. They were not like Sir William, who regularly attended St. James’, nor were they like Mr. Collins and salivated over peers. In truth, whilst Mr. Bennet was one of the foremost gentlemen in their corner of Hertfordshire, Elizabeth suddenly realised how insignificant they were compared to the peers of the world.

Elizabeth spoke very little as she was seated near Miss Darcy and Maria. She had hoped the two girls, of such a close age, would encourage each other to talk more but they were both too terrified. Elizabeth soon realised Mr. and Miss Darcy must be frequent guests to Lady Darcy’s house as Mr. Darcy seemed to play the host quite well. Although, his aunt was by no means infirm. After the tea-things had been taken away, a tour was offered. Miss Darcy had gone to speak to Lady Darcy, leaving Maria alone with Elizabeth when Mr. Darcy approached. Before he reached her side, however, Maria fled for the safety of Jane and Mrs. Gardiner. The behaviour humoured Elizabeth and its contrast to how she imagined her youngest sister, Lydia, might behave, made Elizabeth give out a resigned sigh.

She no longer trusted Mr. Wickham, but it did not mean she had to like Mr. Darcy. In truth, her reasoning for believing Wickham’s story about Darcy was out of a desire to find a fault real enough for others, like her father, to dislike Darcy. To Mr. Bennet, it was not sufficient that Darcy had insulted his favourite daughter upon first sight or was too haughty to mix with their neighbourhood functions. Nor was the fact that he obviously used his influence over his friend, Mr. Bingley, a concern for her father. Her father made light of the fact that his eldest daughter, Jane, now suffered from a broken heart. Elizabeth knew it was simply her father’s way of expressing concern by interjecting humour. However, Elizabeth had mixed feelings about approaching him with her concerns about Wickham.

Still, for Lydia’s sake, Elizabeth would speak to Mr. Darcy and hope to understand Wickham better. Her sense of justice revolted at approaching the man she suspected responsible for causing her dearest sister’s heartbreak, but Jane was too kind-hearted to listen to Elizabeth’s beliefs on the matter anyway. It was not truly choosing loyalty to one sister over the other.

“Miss Elizabeth,” said Mr. Darcy. “My aunt has given me the task of guiding the tour. I know you would wish to see the library but am uncertain about the rest of the guests. Do you think we ought to start or end the tour there?”

Elizabeth looked at him carefully. She had been accused of being a “great reader,” said in an insulting tone by Miss Bingley, while she stayed at Netherfield. Elizabeth had tried to demur, knowing Society’s opinion on well-educated women, but then Mr. Darcy had turned the matter around on her and claimed he believed an accomplished lady improved her mind by extensive reading. Elizabeth had assumed he said it only so she might be found insufficient whether she enjoyed reading or not. Now, knowing that she was wrong to trust Mr. Wickham and hearing the conversation of a relation Darcy apparently admired, she thought better of it. He intended no insult, it was only her own insecurities which made her read tones into his voice he did not inflect.

Yet still, a part of her wondered if Mr. Darcy meant because her uncle was in trade he would not enjoy the library. She raised her chin. “If I consulted only my own feelings we would never leave. My aunt and uncle enjoy reading, and Jane does as well. I believe ending the tour there would be pleasurable to all.”

Darcy looked immediately relieved, and Elizabeth castigated herself that she had assumed the worse about him, again. “I have enjoyed getting to know your aunt and uncle,” he said.

It looked as though he wished to say more, but the others were ready for the tour to begin. He spoke well on the curiosities in each room and knew the history of the house. His aunt sometimes supplied entertaining anecdotes. Having been through the principal drawing rooms of the first floor, the group made their way downstairs. Here they stopped at a small conservatory, a recent addition as smaller gardens were becoming the fashion.

Lady Darcy treated her assembled guests to a horticulture lesson on a breed of orchid. “It is a funny looking flower,” Maria finally felt bold enough to say. “So different than the usual roses you see often displayed.”

“This is true,” her ladyship replied. “However, I think they are increasing in popularity. I would not be surprised if some of the other great houses of England specialise in growing them.”

“We may see them on our Summer tour then,” Mr. Gardiner said.

“I do not think they could ever become the favourites of Society the way tulips were,” Sir William added.

So began a discourse on the fascinating history of tulips in the Low Countries. Lady Darcy included information she had read in the original Dutch and promised to show them a copy of a portrait she had. Maria and Miss Darcy were attentive listeners but, having read such before, Elizabeth moved about the room. Mr. Darcy silently came to her side.

“Some would think the history lesson holds no interest to you,” he said.

“Do you come all this way to scold me or to tease me?” she asked.

“I do not dare do either. I daresay you are the proficient at teasing,” he offered a small smile.

Elizabeth laughed. “How impolitic of you! Leaving me to say you must be the proficient at scolding!”

“I am the guardian of a much younger sister,” he said.

“She does not seem the sort to need much scolding. My sisters on the other hand…” she trailed off. Should she take the opportunity to ask about Wickham? She chewed her bottom lip before deciding. “I am glad to have a moment of privacy with you, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and then lowered with a mixture of pleasure and satisfaction settling upon his face.  “Is that so Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, I would speak with you on a matter of some delicacy.”

Darcy’s breathing grew harsher, which confused her as they did not move. He remained silent, so she pressed on, “Actually, I owe you an apology, sir.  At the Netherfield Ball, I all but accused you of harming Mr. Wickham.”

She blushed and looked down before adding, “I am sorry to say I believed many tales he spun about you and has been telling the neighbourhood for many weeks now.”

Taking a cleansing, steadying breath, Elizabeth paused again for a moment. “But I have recently learned he is not a gentleman and not to be trusted.”

She glanced up to see a look of extreme displeasure upon Darcy’s face.  At long last, he managed to inquire, “Has he harmed you in some way, Miss Bennet?”

“No!” A heavy silence remained between them, and she felt Darcy’s unspoken interrogation. “I take it by your response, though, you believe him capable of doing harm? Such as blackmail and extortion?”

“Along with gambling, cheating and lying, those are among his favourite activities. Have you heard him plan to blackmail someone?”

Elizabeth hardly knew how to reply but was certain Darcy would know if she completely disassembled. “I only overheard him planning to extort money from someone he knew well.”

He furrowed his brow. “You are certain that is all you heard?”

She chose not to answer. “Is he truly capable of following through in his schemes? He seems to lack a sense of industry and if he has invented this false tale of your dealings then might his imagination run a bit too fanciful?”

“Oh, I assure you he is perfectly capable of plotting.”

A chill ran up Elizabeth’s spine at Darcy’s words.

“Fitzwilliam, while I can well understand being distracted by the enchanting Miss Elizabeth, you are doing a very poor job of your duties,” Lady Darcy called from the doorway before leading the other guests from the room.

Elizabeth blushed, and Mr. Darcy also looked embarrassed. After clearing his throat, he spoke. “I am unable to explain my knowledge in more detail at this moment. I could call on your uncle tomorrow, before you leave, and explain matters to you both.”

“That will not be necessary. I will pass along the information to the appropriate party,” she quickly said. She could not fathom how he intended to have a private conversation with her and her uncle without rousing the interest of Sir William Lucas.

He looked at her intently. “You are certain he has not threatened you in any way? Should you ever need to speak about him, I hope you know to trust me. Her ladyship was correct last night. I will be journeying to Rosings in just over a fortnight. I leave for Pemberley on the morrow, but we will meet again soon, should you then feel the need to tell me more. If you or your family ever need my assistance, Lady Darcy always knows the best means to contact me.”

Elizabeth mutely nodded and followed Darcy to her ladyship’s library. She could not fathom why Mr. Darcy was so attentive to her.

Despite his kind words, Elizabeth found very little sleep that night. She wondered again and again if she ought to say something to her uncle or if she should have told her father. Writing to him would be nearly useless, as not only was he a terrible correspondent, he could not be relied upon to even read her letters. Elizabeth could not forget, however, that Darcy had a feud with Wickham and had just as much reason to lie as the other man had. Dark circles shadowed her eyes when she left with Sir William and Maria the next morning, but she had determined Wickham’s words were merely idle boasting. If nothing else, how would they ever pay for the cost of an elopement? Elizabeth was hugged affectionately by her sister and aunt. Sadly, her little cousins had not come downstairs as they were suffering from a cold.

 

Renewed Hope Launch & Giveaway

For the launch of Renewed Hope, I thought I’d do things a little differently. There are six main characters in Renewed Hope, so I thought I’d do six different posts and chances to win! (5 ebooks and 1 print copy) Each centering on a specific character.

We meet Viscount Arlington first. He’s irreverent, but charming and gets away with a lot.

arlington_earldom

Well, I care plenty–about your opinions! To enter this giveaway, what is your favorite scene from Sufficient Encouragement? After you have commented, follow the link below and choose “I commented” to be entered.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All chances to win will be posted on my blog (with additional instructions). Look for more posts on:

7/21, 7/22, 7/23, 7/25, & 7/26

Renewed Hope- Chapter One

I am so excited to bring the companion story of Sufficient Encouragement! It is part retelling and part sequel as the story coincides with the timeline of Darcy and Elizabeth’s courtship and also extends past the epilogue of their story.

renewed hope 4Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes love needs a second chance.

Told against the backdrop of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s timeless love story, Renewed Hope continues the story of Sufficient Encouragement through the eyes of three couples experiencing love for the second time.

James Fitzwilliam may be the Viscount Arlington, but ten years ago he walked away from money and prestige to marry a servant girl against his family’s wishes. Unexpectedly, she died, and he has spent the time since trying to forget his loss. At last determining to marry with no hope of love, he settles on his cousin Anne de Bourgh – the very lady he cast aside years earlier.

Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam is a celebrated war hero and has loved only one woman. Her plot to use him to entrap his brother, the heir of a wealthy and powerful earl, crushed him in ways even battle could not. Years have passed, but the wounds remain. He knows better than to trust a lady again but is defenseless against the captivating Lady Belinda Crenshaw. Instead of proving faithless, she proves constant to the naval captain she loved who died at sea mere months ago. As Richard attempts to convince Lady Belinda to love again, his plans for retirement disappear.

Caroline Bingley has not always been mercenary and title grasping. Once upon a time, she was a naïve girl who fancied herself in love with a shopkeeper’s son with poor prospects due to the colour of his skin. When war broke out with France, he chose to prove his patriotism just as Caroline recognized her family would grieve over the match. Breaking the engagement nearly destroyed them both. Meeting Jacob Truman again could be the answer to all their dreams or their worst nightmares.


Volume One: Before Darcy and Elizabeth Wed

Chapter One: Awakening

James Fitzwilliam, Viscount Arlington and eldest son of the fourth Earl of Matlock, almost leaped out of his seat when the crowd at the King’s Theatre applauded. His eyes flew open, and the undeniable truth descended. He had fallen asleep!

“Are you ill, Arlie?” The blonde beauty next to him asked. “You fell asleep again.”

“Perfectly well,” he said. Only his companion was no longer listening as a tall, handsome man entered his box. Arlington recognized the gentleman, Lucas Hopewell, an acquaintance of his who had recently inherited a vast fortune. Sophia had eyes only for the younger—and seemingly more virile—man. Blast it if he was going to lose another mistress.

“Come, Miss Smith, you had claimed to not feel well,” Arlington said as Hopewell approached.

“If you are feeling unwell, then I will not delay you. It would be a crime to deny the stage your talent and beauty.” Arlington waited for the normal rage to emerge, but it did not come. He simply was not that interested in Sophia…or the last several mistresses he had.

“Oh, you are too kind,” she said with fluttering eyes. “I am in perfect health. It was his lordship,” she attempted to whisper, “that is fighting a cold, I believe.”

Not a cold, utter exhaustion at life. Boredom. And fatigue…it was as though his four and thirty years finally caught up with him after a decade of raucous living.

“Then I will bid you good night. Unless that is…Arlington would allow me the honour of escorting Miss Smith home.”

Arlington considered the situation for a moment. He had no exclusivity rights with Sophia. If Hopewell wanted a bite of the unimaginative, ignorant aspiring actress he discovered in a milliner’s shop, then he was welcome to her. On Sophia’s side, he could little blame her.

Hopewell had no title but was an independent man of means. Arlington had learned ten years ago there seemed to be only one lady who could be interested in him despite wealth and titles. He had thought himself unable to give up his allowance and marry her as he wished. How did he repay her love and devotion? By having Claire banished to a damp cottage on the coast of Kent and dying of a fever. Now, he lived off investments of his own—refusing Matlock money—and it certainly was insufficient to buy women like Sophia the jewels they craved.

“As you please,” Arlington replied at last and said his goodbyes.

As he left the opera house, he noted the expression of interest of many of the ladies of Quality looking for lovers. They might condemn Sophia, but they traded their virtue for pleasure and money just as much as Sophia and her kind did. Then, there was the sort his brother had briefly been engaged to. They threw themselves at him for his name. Faithless creatures, the lot of them! No amount of begging from his mother to meet Lady Belinda Crenshaw—much accomplished, divinely beautiful and with twenty thousand pounds—could convince him to make a marry any more than he would consent to marry his cousin Anne. Their arranged marriage was the beginnings of all his problems.

 

*****

 

The next day, Arlington met with his solicitor.

“How attached are you to these investments in the North?” the graying man said as he patted a stack of papers.

Arlington’s lips twitched. “I didn’t know one could be sentimentally attached to factories. Are they in trouble?”

“There’s quite a bit of unrest in Nottinghamshire. Out of work farmers upset over the technology in the factories.”

“My investments are in Lancashire. Surely they are safe.” Truthfully, Arlington would rather do anything but give up those factories. The one near Bolton, Lancashire was the first investment he made, shortly before Claire died. It marked the beginning of his independence from his family. “What are a few unhappy farmers?”

“You would do well to recall your history lessons. Small rabbles always find a king, and it’s said this one has one. You’re too young to recall the problems after ‘45.”

“So are you,” Arlington smirked. His father hadn’t even been alive when the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden. “A group of poor farmers is not the same as having the support of Scottish lords and chieftains.”

“We were lax with the Americans but France changed everything, even your father agreed there. You know how fast we put down the rebellion in Ireland.”

“Still, they’re Englishmen through and through.”

“Aye, but there are Jacobins among them. They were all Englishmen in the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the slaughter.”

Arlington stood. He had no time for history lessons. “I think we’re done today, Bridges. I’ll be ‘round near Christmas to go over the quarterly statements again.” He was halfway out the door when he recalled an important change he needed to make. “Oh, and send no more gifts to Miss Smith.”

Mr. Bridges took up a pen and made the note. “And who shall they be sent to instead?”

“No one,” Arlington said and left the room.

He had chosen to not take a new mistress after Sophia left him for Hopewell. There were plenty of willing ladies, but none of them attracted him. Mere beauty bored him and even reputations of inventiveness in the bed chamber no longer thrilled him. He never meant to marry and the ladies his mother thrust in front of him still held no appeal. He would take his time and discover some gem, unnoticed by other men. He did not expect constancy from a female, but some companionship of shared interests and enjoyable conversation would not be remiss for a change.

Inside a hackney coach, Arlington ran his fingers through his graying curls. There was no denying he was getting older. The responsibilities he always ran from, were now unavoidable. His father was approaching seventy, and far too soon, Arlington would become Lord Fitzwilliam. Already the Earl was less active in Parliament, when he once stood as a true statesman, like a beacon before other men. Arlington had disagreements with his father and mother over their personal understanding of classes in society but had always admired his father’s politics. He might not have the stuff in him to be an earl, a steward to the estate and title and beget heirs, but he did revel in his political prowess. His father had groomed him well in all aspects, but the cunningness and shrewdness required for politics appealed to him in a way the straightforward and plain talk of a master to a tenant never did.

Put simply, Arlington had always enjoyed the game. As a youth, he was a talented athlete and skilled in chess and debate. After drifting for three years after Claire’s death, his lordship suggested that Arlington run as MP for West Riding and with his father’s staunch support gained an easy victory. Immediately, he showed great skill in matters of diplomacy and thought. He loved nothing more than to intellectually best an opponent and out argue him. With women, he had always enjoyed the chase and the conquest more than the fruits of his labor. So, why now that he was free of Sophia could he not consider a new lady to seduce? And why did he feel entirely dead inside at the notion of taking as mistress one of the ladies he already passed over several times before?

 

*****

 

While sitting at his table eating a late breakfast, Lord Arlington read Darcy’s letter. He had met Darcy’s friend, Mr. Bingley, a time or two but the man seemed too astonished to speak in his presence. Darcy’s distaste for Arlington was well-known to him. If Darcy came alone, Arlington was sure the errand would be to complain about being left to go to the Crenshaws’ in his place. Arriving with a friend was unusual and left Arlington intrigued. Bingley had factories in Yorkshire, perhaps a business venture was the purpose of their visit.

Darcy and Bingley arrived promptly at the requested time. Accustomed to Darcy’s look of displeasure, he had not expected to see his cousin’s anxious looks or haggard appearance. Bingley looked even more nervous than usual in his presence.

“Gentlemen, be seated,” Arlington said. “How have you been?”

“Tolerably well,” Darcy said succinctly and obviously lying. His right eye always twitched when he lied. Bingley remained silent. If Arlington was less affable, he would be offended at this odd pair that did not extend the usual civility back to him. Silence consumed them, making Arlington want to leap on his chair and shout.

“I have no complaints, other than the aria last night seemed slightly off.” Baiting his cousin’s displeasure would be better than this infernal silence.

Darcy raised an eyebrow. “You have been enjoying much of the opera, I hear.”

It seemed his bait would go untaken if that’s all Darcy had to say. Sighing, Arlington crossed his legs. Darcy would have it his way and get on with the straight talk. “Darcy, you requested this meeting, and I can see you have no interest in empty chat. Say your piece.”

“As you may know, I have been in Hertfordshire with Bingley for several weeks. We have left for only a few days and when I return I mean to take Georgiana with me.”

Arlington mutely nodded his head, his mind wandering. What on earth could attract Darcy in Hertfordshire enough to return? Just as Arlington was envisioning a buxom farm girl that would certainly draw his notice if not Darcy’s his reverie was interrupted.

“I want you to come with me.”

Just like Darcy! He did not ask, he simply stated his preference. “And I would like to visit Spain but we cannot always have our desires, Cousin,” Arlington said and winked at Bingley’s smile.

“There is the matter of Georgiana’s safety. Wickham is quartered in the neighborhood of Bingley’s house, and I would appreciate an additional chaperone for her.”

“Why take her there at all? What can draw you to a country town that London does not have?” When Darcy did not answer, Arlington looked at Bingley for a clue, but the young man remained silent. “Did you not hire a new companion?”

“She cannot leave with us.”

“With your dislike of company and her fear of you, I hardly understand why you would need additional company for her. Bingley has a sister doesn’t he?”

The man in question only nodded his head.

“Miss Bingley cannot offer the supervision and companionship that a girl of Georgiana’s disposition needs.”

“Then ask her other guardian,” Arlington said. Why should he be inconvenienced?

“He has only just returned and will be busy with matters for some time. In any case, she has always been fond of you. As little as I can understand it.”

Curse Darcy for bringing up Georgiana’s affection. He had disappointed so many people in his life, it touched his heart that she still revered him with awe-like fascination. If he could, he would keep her an innocent young girl forever. But again, that would all be for a selfish motivation.

“I will think about it, but you said Bingley had a request of me?”

Bingley turned red but finally met Arlington’s eyes. “Forgive the impertinence, but I believe you have expertise in these matters.”

“I would not think that I could have more experience than yourself.”

Bingley blushed again. “I—I cannot say I am an innocent, but your reputation exceeds my own…” he trailed off as at last he noticed the surprise on Arlington’s face. His eyes darted to Darcy’s who wore a small smile at his friend’s embarrassment.

“I had thought you were speaking of a business venture, but it seems you come on a personal request?”

“Bingley needs assistance in ascertaining the desires of a lady,” Darcy translated.

Arlington looked his guest over. “You are handsome and rich enough. She desires you.” He stood to refill his port.

“Her mother certainly desires him for a husband, but the lady is very discreet in her opinions.”

“A husband! Why would you talk to me about courtship? I had thought you meant advice on arranging a mistress or liaison.”

Bingley stood to his feet. “I would never disrespect Miss Bennet so!”

Arlington returned to his seat and shook his head. “Ah, so you think you love her?”

“I—I care for her.”

The look on his face belied his true feelings. He loved her but either was too anxious to admit the feeling to a man nearly a stranger and a peer or did not wish to declare his feelings before knowing hers. The latter was likely the reason he was in Arlington’s room. “You wish to save yourself the embarrassment of requesting her hand before knowing her sentiments?”

Bingley nodded his head, and Darcy’s attention was also focused on Arlington. “Each lady is different, but if her mother is such a promoter of the match, then it is more difficult to decipher. Has she taken notice of Darcy?”

Darcy quickly answered, “Certainly not.”

“Well, I can hardly comment without meeting her.” He took a sip of his port. “It seems you get your wish, after all, cousin. I will come to Hertfordshire with you although I do not believe that what draws you back is the concern for your friend attaching himself to a fortune hunter.” Seeing Bingley’s look of anger, he added, “I mean no offense. I am sure she is as good as any of them.” His words did little to change the expression on Bingley’s face, but then Arlington had not cared to be charming. “How was dinner with my parents, Darcy? And latest debutante being thrown at you?”

“It was a dinner. We ate. There was conversation.” Clearly annoyed, Darcy stood. “Thank you, for your assistance. I should return to Georgiana and begin preparations for our travels.”

“Yes, thank you,” Bingley followed suit.

After the men had left, Arlington studied his wine glass. He had no reason to stay in London and no real reason to leave either. Again, he felt adrift in life. What use was there in the endless seas of balls, dinners, engagements, and ladies? Once, he had planned on really living life and being of use. He wondered when it was that after turning his back on the Matlock fortune, he had become the typical dissipated heir in waiting. Had Claire lived, he would have had purpose and meaning. He would have been a husband and father. There would have been a reason to wake each morning and go about his business. A legacy to leave, children to instruct. As it was, no one relied on him or expected better of him, save one. Having committed to leaving with his cousin out of little more than curiosity, he would do his duty by Georgiana. Especially if Darcy was foolish enough to bring her within one hundred miles of Wickham.

 

*****

 

Plans were made for Arlington to accompany the Bingleys and Darcys. As such, he was surprised to receive a message from Darcy two days before the intended departure date.

Arlington,

Bingley has determined he must go to Hertfordshire early as there will now be additional guests. He has requested I join him when he leaves on the morrow. You know I am going for his sake. I entrust Georgiana to your care.

Arlington chuckled as he read the missive. Everyone knew a housekeeper that oversaw the arrangement of things before Bingley resided in the house could certainly handle two additional guests. Bingley was eager to see his Miss Bennet, and it was plain to see Darcy had an equally fervent desire to return. He hoped his cousin was not lusting over a woman that seemed spoken for. He knew Darcy to be too loyal to act on his desires and harm a friend, but the heart wanted what it wanted.

At the appointed hour, he arrived at Darcy House to ride with Georgiana to Hertfordshire. He kept no coach, but Darcy kept one. He had gone in Bingley’s chaise. Miss Bingley and the Hursts would go in their own. Or so Arlington had thought. He was surprised, however, when he was taken to the drawing room and found a young lady seated with Georgiana.

“James,” Georgie said nervously and introduced the other lady as Miss Bingley.

“Dear Georgiana was so gracious as to invite me to ride with her. She desired female companionship and Mr. Hurst’s carriage makes three crowded.”

“I see,” he replied. He did see. She had heard that a viscount would be accompanying Georgiana and hoped to insinuate herself in the situation.

“I am sure your carriage would be even larger, but there is no need for us to have that much space.”

She stood and selected a few grapes from the refreshments laid out on a table across the room. Arlington recognized the activity for what it undoubtedly was. Her figure was displayed to its best advantage when walking, and she meant for him to notice. Attempting to not roll his eyes, he instead noticed Georgiana’s pale face. “I actually have no carriage. Did you eat, Georgie?”

“No. I never eat before a journey.”

“Then we had better leave as soon as possible so you may refresh yourself when we arrive.”

“Have no fear of that,” Miss Bingley said returning to her friend. “The housekeeper has specific instructions about the meal and rooms. Your brother was so good to go ahead and make sure everything was to your liking.”

The butler then arrived telling them the carriage was ready. Arlington took a deep breath, quelling the strength to bear with such a grasping lady for the next several hours. As they gathered in the hall, Georgiana spoke with the butler about something and Miss Bingley whispered to him.

“I understand you have not traveled much with her before. She often feels ill when not facing the road. If you will forgive the impertinence of not allowing your lordship to choose the better seat, I think Georgiana should take it.”

Her words startled him. He had planned on giving the ladies the better seat in any case, but her obvious concern for Georgiana was unexpected. Her eyes continued to watch her younger friend.

“And perhaps we ought to stop more often than usual.”

Arlington nodded his head but inwardly he was assessing the lady at his elbow. She came from trade but must be worth nearly as much as Georgiana. She was past the first bloom of youth but still handsome. Her dress suggested she hoped to look of the first circles of Society. A gentleman of Darcy’s family legacy or a title such as his own would be a tempting catch for her.

Still, she might have married earlier in life. Darcy seemed to believe she always hung on his arm, but this lady was too intelligent to hang every hope on marrying her brother’s friend when he had maintained indifference for so many years. He, however, was fresh meat and yet she did not seem to be circling too much to prey. In fact, she seemed resigned. He had no doubt she would offer the usual compliments to a peer and attempt to gain his notice, but she did not seem to have real feeling behind it. She only played a part, as much as he did.

Before he could allow the startling duel revelations too much time in his head, he called Georgiana away from the servant and escorted the ladies to the carriage. In a matter of minutes, they were on their way. Georgiana soon squeezed her eyes shut to stave off a headache. At first, Miss Bingley was silent, but at last, she spoke quietly.

“I will not pretend to you, Lord Arlington, that I am happy to be going back to Hertfordshire.”

“Will you return to London after Christmas?” He only intended to stay for a few weeks and imagined few things worse than being trapped in a country house for the winter.

Miss Bingley sighed. “I suppose that is up to Charles. Usually, he takes my feelings into consideration so much but…” she trailed off and motioned at the window, “here we are.”

“Here we are,” he vacantly replied. And then, simply because he was bored, he smiled his most charming smile. “How shall you spend your time, Miss Bingley? Do you need recommendations for activity?”

Her eyes grew large as she understood his deeper meaning. Of course, he would not actually proposition her, she was a lady and his host’s sister. It was merely fun to tease. He waited for the shock to give way to pleasure as was usually the case but any feeling soon left her eyes. She returned to her falsely blank exterior and cleared her throat.

“Will you stay until Parliament returns or will you spend the Holidays with the earl and countess?”

Arlington shuddered. He would rather fall off a cliff than spend holidays at the family estate. “I have no fixed plans. I will see what my business determines.”

“Men are fortunate. They can travel as they wish.”

“Indeed,” he said but considered his brother who now resided with their parents and would be spending Christmas in Yorkshire. Richard had been a soldier for most of his life. The only travel he had done was to the Spanish Peninsula.

They said little else and their journey was without incident. At the first stop, they encountered Mr. And Mrs. Hurst. The other lady seemed to bring out more liveliness in Miss Bingley. Georgiana continued to feel unwell, but he could see she did not appreciate too much attention. He chose to take her at her word when she declared she was well. Displaying his trust, he was rewarded later when she admitted she was fatigued and thought returning to the road would be best rather than prolong the journey. After that, the other stops had a better air of efficiency about them.

At last, they arrived at Netherfield. It was a large, handsome building. Darcy and Bingley greeted them on the steps.

“Georgiana, are you well?” Darcy asked when he took in her pale face. He cast an accusing eye on Arlington.

“I only need refreshment and rest. James took excellent care of me,” she said, and Darcy visibly relaxed.

“Of course,” he said succinctly and led her inside.

Miss Bingley came to life in a flurry of activity as the hostess and Arlington never would have imagined she had no desire to be there. He saw too as the act she put forward included flattery to Darcy and coddling of Georgiana.

“When will we meet the Miss Bennets?” Georgiana asked as they all sat in the drawing room eating a cold luncheon.

“I can hardly imagine why you would be in such a rush to meet them. Whatever your brother must have told you of them must hardly be complimentary,” Miss Bingley said leaving Arlington to conclude she did not approve of her brother’s attachment.

“Indeed! The whole family is noisy and loud! Such uncivilized manners!” Mrs. Hurst chimed in.

“Do you think two days’ time ought to be sufficient, Darcy?” Bingley ignored his sisters’ remarks like the affable chap he was.

“You can hardly call on them on Sunday,” he said.

“Why not have the ladies here?” Arlington suggested. If he was meant to determine a lady’s feelings, seeing her reaction to the possibility of her future home would be beneficial.

“A splendid idea, Arlington!” Bingley seemed to find his voice around him now that it involved an intention to see Miss Bennet and tell her the longings of his heart…eventually. “Caroline, will you write them at once? I recall they may need advance notice to arrange matters with their carriage.”

“Yes, with the horses on the farm,” Caroline sneered.

Arlington crossed his legs. Who was this woman with so many faces? Which was the true her and why was she so fascinating? Disliking the train of his thoughts, he stood and quickly excused himself. In the safety of his room, he wondered if madness over Claire’s death was finally consuming him. Why should the harpy interest him? He knew little of her but that she dogged Darcy’s steps for half a decade.

 

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Three

While Jane and Bingley were outside talking, the rest of the party gathered in the library. Henry grabbed Darcy even just before entering.

“Darcy, I do not like this. I shall not read this.” Henry looked at him for a moment. “I do not think you do either. I do not trust the girls not to enchant the text as we read it. If either of us is destined for a Bewitched Sister—” He stopped at Darcy’s hard glare. “I only said if! If either of us is destined for one and we are enchanted to love another instead, it could have disastrous consequences.”

“They would hardly put a spell on you since you are their brother.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What would you have me do, Henry? It is your mother.”

“Step-mother, you mean.”

“Darcy, Henry, come in from the hall you will have to keep us waiting will you?” The very lady called out.

“Leave the matter to me, Henry.” They entered the room at last. “My dear Mrs. Tilney,” Darcy said. “My tastes do not lean towards dramatic readings. Shall we not debate the synopsis and merits of the play instead?”

The woman troubled her bottom lip. She looked at her daughters and then Miss Elizabeth before replying. “Of course, Mr. Darcy. Are we all familiar with the text?”

The others in the room look for Elizabeth. “Indeed, ma’am. I have seen it in London,” was Elizabeth’s reply.

Mrs. Tilney motioned for the others too sit, and Henry sees the topic you must.

“I have strong opinions about Anhalt,” said Henry. “As a clergyman, I find his position most of unquarrelsome.”

Darcy laughed. “What is there to quarrel over the clergyman?

“Surely, his poverty quarrels with himself,” said Elizabeth. “As well as inhibiting his chances with the fair Amelia.”

“You understand matters there,” said Henry.

“The General was simply scandalized at how little you get paid dear,” said Mrs. Tilney.

“Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth. “What do you think of the Baron? If he is a representation of the aristocratic class?”

“You asked me a question I cannot answer. For I am not and a noble,” said Mr. Darcy.

“Oh!” cried Caroline. “But you do have noble blood. The Matlock house is of old blood.”

Mrs. Tilney eagerly nodded her head. “And do not forget your magical legacy.”

“I fear we have wandered from the topic,” replied Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth asked if I agreed with the Baron’s depiction. I believe my answer is that people of every class leave lives of dissipation.”

“Even the clergy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile on her lips.

Henry laughed. “Unfortunately, I can agree with that sentiment.”

Darcy scowled. “Indeed.”

“And what do you think of these old vows between the lovers?” Caroline asked.

“I cannot think that there was any true love on the Baron’s side for Agatha,” said Elizabeth. “If he had truly loved her all those years before, then her lower status would have meant nothing. He loved money and himself.”

“Is that is not a rather simplified understanding of the world?” Caroline asked. “Shirley,” she said turning toward Darcy, “you would say the world is more complex, Mr. Darcy?”

“The world does have high expectations for the marriage mart. However, a man must answer to his integrity above society’s madates.”

Caroline smiled at his reply, leading Elizabeth to believe the other lady thought it possible to ensnare the gentleman.

“What do you believe Agatha ought to have done, Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.

“I believe that marriage to the Baron, after his terrible treatment of her for all those years, should have been her only answer. If his honor was roused enough to wish to marry her, he might have been prevailed upon to provide her a home and and income.”

Caroline, Mrs. Tilney, and Mrs. Hust gasped.

“What what lady would wish to live in such a way?” exclaimed Caroline. “There is no establishment is respectable as marriage for a woman.”

“I would rather be destitute than marry in that situation.”

“Such unwise words from someone so young!” Mrs. Tilney reprimanded. “I would hope my daughters would have better sense. A man is allowed his…indescretions.”

“I do not mean to say that a man must be perfect and flawless, anymore than I would say a woman should be without fault. There are certain fallings more prone to the male sex. I only believe that the right kind of temperament is necessary to be happy in marriage. A man who had discarded her for decades and has only just had a sudden change of heart. She would be foolish, after so many other disappointments in life and at his hands, to trust in that again. Once married she has little choice to secure her future in an independent manner. I have great respect for the marital state, but women need the right sort of man.”

Darcy leaned forward while the others mulled over her words. “You believe there is something specific about the nature of women that requires the right sort of husband, but you did not say men might have need of the right sort of woman. Did I understand you correctly, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Yes, that is what I meant. Women are at such a disadvantage; they had rather be sure they are gaining a husband that will treat them with respect and affection lest they are better off to stay as a spinster or poor relation, or even a street beggar as was Agatha’s case.”

Darcy stroke his jaw. “This belief is born out of personal experience?”

Elizabeth blushed a little. “Naturally, I can speak towards a woman’s position in life more than I could a gentleman’s.”

“And having only sisters certainly does not help.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I have heard you have a sister, Mr. Darcy. Does that make you an expert on all things female?”

“Mr. Darcy is the kindest brother in the Kingdom!” Caroline attemtped to interject herself into the conversation without success.

“No, I would not think that I know everything about the female mind. I do understand how rapid a lady’s imagination is. She will leap from admiration to love and matrimony in a span of seconds.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Perhaps your experience, too, is limited. Your sister is very young, I understand.”

“But she is so accomplished for her age!” cried Caroline.

“Age brings maturity then? If that be the case, then I would say a gentleman of age and wisdom understands that he needs the right sort of woman as well. Not every lady with a pretty face and passable manners can captivate him.”

Elizabeth felt the fire crackle in her again. He alluded, again, to the night of the assembly in Meryton. “I did not reference captivation. You have proved my point exactly. A woman must consider a man’s income, his family and standing in the world. His treatment of her and others in his care. She must have faith and trust in his good character and that it will not bend or change through the course of life. A man is not beholden to anyone. Therefore, while he may like a little bit of money out of his wife, considers if her beauty  can last and whether her accomplishments are superior to her peers and can tempt him into matrimony. He wants a hostess and a portrait; a caricature of a woman, not a flesh and blood wife.”

“A man is not beholden to anyone?” Darcy cried. “Do you not consider he may have a family duty to fulfil? Others to care for and being prudent on money is only sound.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but Darcy pressed on. “Nor did I mean such superficial and changeable things such as beauty or ability. Her mind, madam, will be his constant companion. She must be suited to compliment his temperament and powers.”

“Then I rather wonder at some men needing a wife at all,” she said with derision. “Some gentlemen have money aplenty and are the heads of their family and their own temperament are so comprehensive that they would not have need of anyone else. While their powers,” here she looked at the windows which had begun a frost from the inside before returning her gaze to Darcy, “gain so much acclaim, he would have no need of another to strengthen his own. And you forget, sir, that I have several step-brothers.”

“I fear I must disagree with you one count, Miss Elizabeth,” Henry at last spoke. “No person, be it gentleman or lady, can live a solitary life. We all have need of each other.”

“Well said, Henry,” Mrs. Tilney said and then rose, causing the others to as well. “I rather think some music would do us all good before we must separate to dress for dinner.”

They heard the voices of Jane and Bingley in the hall. “Excuse me,” said Elizabeth. “I should see to Jane.”

She fled the room as fast as her limbs could carry her. They burned with fire…or was it from the cold?

 

*****

 

Catherine walked with Mrs. Allen into Meryton.

“What a shame to hear about that maid,” Mrs. Allen said.

Catherine mutely nodded her head. The beauty of spending time with Mrs. Allen was that so little thought was required. She would carry the conversation entirely.

“Come, dear. Some shopping will pick you right up. Rumor has it that the Tilneys are going to give a ball! We will have a nice, new gown made up.”

Catherine followed her sponsor into the small shop but could not look at the fabric with any ease. She did not wish to go to Netherfield ever again. What must Henry think of her?

Having failed to gain even a smile from her charge, Mrs. Allen declared they would next go to the milliner. As they left the shop, they nearly collided with a woman followed by several young ladies. After the requisite pardons, it was revealed Mrs. Allen had an old acquaintance with the other lady, named Mrs. Thorpe. They had been school friends but had only seen each other once since their marriages, and that was upwards of fifteen years before. The Thorpes were now visiting a relation in Hertfordshire. In due time, the women recalled the presence of the young ladies around them.

“This is Isabella, my eldest daughter,” Mrs. Thorpe explained.

Upon Catherine’s introduction, she was surprised at the reactions of the others.

“How very much like her brother Miss Morland looks!” Miss Thorpe exclaimed.

“Indeed!” said her mother.

As they began to explain their history with Catherine’s eldest brother, she recalled that James had spent a portion of last Christmas with a family by the name of Thorpe. Immediately the Thorpe ladies declared a wish to know Catherine better, and she could not dislike the idea. A new friendship would be just the thing to forget the pangs of what might have been a hopeful romance.

The two young women felt immediate bonds of friendship and walked the shops of Meryton together, with Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe following behind. When the time came for the groups to part, the young ladies arranged to walk together in two days’ time. Isabella would get to meet Catherine’s older sisters. As Catherine walked home, she acknowledged the only thing she could look forward to more than walking with Isabella again was the return of her sisters from Netherfield.

The next morning, Catherine bounced on her toes in excitement as Jane and Lizzy arrived.

“You will never guess what has happened!” Catherine said. Jane seemed to immediately perceive everything, but Lizzy made several silly conjectures.

“No, Mr. Allen has not joined the circus,” Catherine frowned. “In fact, Mrs. Allen was worried about his foot. Mr. Jones cannot help his gout.”

Catherine looked at her older sisters for a minute before the news gushed from her lips. “I have made a new acquaintance! The family already knows James and they are visiting nearby relatives. Mrs. Allen knew Mrs. Thorpe when they were at school.”

“And does Mrs. Thorpe have a handsome son? For what else would put such a smile on your face?”

Catherine frowned again. She had done her best to not think about the humiliating incident at Netherfield. Her heart was certainly not ready to move on from Henry Tilney.

“No, Elizabeth,” she said in a patronizing way which earned an eye roll. “I met a sophisticated lady and already feel as though she is a dear friend. She is to join me on a walk to Meryton tomorrow. Say you will come.”

“Anything and anyone is preferable to spending any more time at Netherfield with the intolerable Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth declared.

“Girls, come to the drawing room,” Mr. Bennet said, and the ladies followed. He informed the housekeeper they were not to be bothered and shut the doors. The girls looked at him with anxiety.

“Shortly before the attack on Kate and Lizzy,” he said, “I received a letter from my cousin, Mr. William Collins. He is my heir that is to inherit this estate. Although we are magical, England’s laws still exist. It is my greatest regret that I cannot secure the estate for my children. At least, your elder brothers are set through Mr. Morland’s legacy.”

Catherine had three elder brothers. Their father had left a small estate which held the incumbency of two livings. Her eldest brother, James, was now the master of a small estate worth four hundred pounds a year in Wiltshire. He would become a clergyman as well, to add to his income. He could, indeed, obtain both livings but had promised the lesser one to his next brother, Richard, who was still at Oxford. Catherine’s third brother was meant to become a barrister, and the little ones would join the navy, but they were not yet old enough. Her sisters, Sally, and Becky, were at a local seminary.

The Morland girls each would have three thousand pounds, and Mrs. Bennet had left five thousand pounds to her surviving daughters who could not be made over to his next wife. Had Mr. Bennet, fewer children, he might have managed to save more, for the second Mrs. Bennet was everything economical. However, his wife had ten children of her own upon their marriage. Jane and Lizzy would have two hundred pounds a year to divide among themselves until they married, but Mr. Bennet’s widow would have only four hundred pounds a year to divide among all the children at home and the older sons until they entered their professions.

“It is no secret that I detested my cousin Bart Collins. We quarrelled over our magical blood, and he insisted that his family would never know it. Now, he has died, and his son wishes to extend an olive branch to our family.”

“How does he wish to do so?” Mrs. Bennet asked. She was as sensible as anyone that the family would need his support should Mr. Bennet not live for many more years.

Mr. Bennet chose to read Mr. Collins’ letter.

Dear Sir,

I know that my father had a long disagreement with you for many years. However, I do not think I do him a dishonor by attempting this communication with you as I was ordained this past Easter, and surely reconciliation is very Christian-like, and I have waited two years out of deference to his memory. I have been so fortunate as to gain the patronage of the one of the most esteemed peeresses in the kingdom, the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh. I am quite sensible to the injury the entail would give to your daughters and Mrs. Bennet’s children, and so I come quite ready to offer every possible method of amends. If this is acceptable to you, I am at liberty to arrive on Monday the 18th and can stay until following Saturday. I send respectful compliments to your wife and family.

William Collins

“I have replied, and he is arriving tomorrow as proposed. Remember, he does not know of the magical world, and we cannot risk him learning of it and exposing us at such a vulnerable time.”

“You do not trust him?” Catherine asked.

“I do not know him,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“He sounds a bit ridiculous,” Elizabeth observed.

“Yes, and adults seldom take the news of learning about the magical world well,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“What can he mean by his willing to make amends to us?’ Catherine asked.

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “The Collins family had no independent income. Bart was a yeoman farmer but upon his death, his widow gave up the farm to take rooms at Bath. William gaining the patronage of a noble is quite amazing. I fear the only thing he can offer as amends is a permanent place to you all at Longbourn.”

“That would be rather a hard promise to keep should he marry,” Elizabeth said.

“Precisely,” Mr. Bennet said. “He means to offer marriage to one of you.”

“But we don’t even know him!” Elizabeth cried aghast. “He can’t just assume he would fall in love with one of us, and it would be reciprocated.”

“My dear,” Mrs. Bennet said calmly, “marriages are often forged on nothing more than familial alliances. It does not mean they must always be cold and unloving.” She smiled at her husband, who returned it with one of his own.

“Fear not, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said as he redirected his gaze to his daughters. “I would not approve a marriage to him. It is wisest, as I mentioned before, to keep the presence of magic in Meryton a secret from him, and obviously, that would be impossible if he married a magical lady, let alone a Bewitching Sister.”

“That is certainly a relief,” Catherine said.

Elizabeth was staunch in her opinions that marriages required love, but Jane and Catherine believed every person had a perfect mate, and love was relatively easily formed. Elizabeth vehemently disagreed. At times, she insisted she would be a spinster and never marry.

“Let us not worry ahead of time,” Mrs. Bennet chided. “For now, we must await for the gentleman to arrive.”

With nothing of more significance to report of the day, the hours passed until at last the family went abed, each anxious in their own way for tomorrow’s meeting with Mr. Collins.

 

*****

 

Jane kicked Elizabeth under the table at dinner the following night. Mr. Collins had arrived at his appointed hour and was as ridiculous as Elizabeth and their father had expected.  They alternated sharpening their wit on the unsuspecting man and could hardly quell their urges to laugh. Jane had to admit she would feel worse if she detected any hint that Mr. Collins perceived the slight his hosts were giving him. Instead, he was entirely oblivious to the crafty insults slung at him as he rambled on about the magnificence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s person, wealth, estate, character, and judgement, with the situation of his parsonage as the added relish of his recipe of perfect delight. Whoever married him would have to be a very long suffering lady, indeed!

Alas, it seemed her close attention to perceive his feelings was noticed by the man in question. He began to speak almost exclusively to her. Sending her parents a desperate look, Mrs. Bennet pulled Mr. Collins aside after dinner. Jane was not told the contents of their conversation until much later that night.

“I noticed Mr. Collins paying you a great deal of attention, Jane,” Mrs. Bennet said to her as Jane readied for bed that evening.

“Yes, I tried to discourage him,” she replied.

“I know, dearest. He simply is blind to anything he does not wish to believe. I do think, however, that I have managed to bring you ease for the remainder of his stay.”

“Really?” Jane’s voice raised in pitch, mixing disbelief with excitement. “You have my most extreme gratefulness if that is the case.”

“I hinted that I expected you would soon be engaged.”

Her words immediately caused Jane to blush and look away.

Mrs. Bennet took Jane’s hand and led her to the bed. “You know I do not have premonitions of the future, dear. I am speaking only as a mother and a woman in love who can recognize the signs. Did you get to spend much time with Mr. Bingley at Netherfield before your return?”

“No, I did not get to spend much time with him, but the time I did have was time well spent,” she replied with a soft smile on her face.

“I am very happy for you,” her step-mother replied.

Mrs. Bennet squeezed Jane’s hand and then stood to depart. She was at the door when Jane broke the silence.

“Mama? Oh never mind,” Jane said quickly.

Mrs. Bennet turned to face Jane. “What is it?”

“How did you know you truly loved your husband? How did you know he was the soul matched to yours?”

Mrs. Bennet smiled. “I didn’t. I loved him, and he loved me, and we simply had faith that love could take care of the rest of it.”

Jane’s smile vanished. She had hoped for more definite knowledge.

“But you know,” Mrs. Bennet said with a far away look in her eyes, “Lizzy is not wrong to think that most people have only one true love in their life. Many people remarry and I expected nothing more than safety for Kate and security for my children when I remarried to your father. I found so much more. I assumed Morland was my lasting love of a lifetime, but I was wrong.”

“How did you know when Papa was?”

“If you have to ask, then that is your answer. One day, I realized I didn’t have to ask any longer. I loved him from eternity and back. It took time. I suspect that is all you need as well, my dear.”

She kissed Jane on the forehead and then left.

As Jane laid in her bed, that night she meditated on her step-mother’s words. She loved Bingley, but was she truly certain she loved him enough? That he was her one true love for a lifetime? If the prophecy he disclosed to her was correct, her union with a false heart would prove disastrous. Yes, she would not be in a hurry.