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Missed the previous chapters? Click the links below to go back and read.
There are only two more chapters and an epilogue left to edit. Once those are complete, I will create a new cover and update the files. Then, I’ll start on Promises Kept, which is the “sequel” to this book.
Darcy House, London
Four days after the wedding
Darcy House was quiet this morning. Mrs. Gardiner and her children were upstairs in the nursery spending time together. Mr. Gardiner had left early in the morning for a business meeting in his office, and George Darcy had an appointment on Bond Street with his tailor. Georgiana was in her rooms with her governess, hard at her lessons. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth were, of course, still honeymooning in their rooms. They had not come down for breakfast this day.
The maids were taking this opportunity to give the public rooms a thorough cleaning, under the supervision of Mrs. Baxter, the Darcy’s devoted housekeeper and wife to the butler. That couple was taking a well-deserved break for a cup of tea together in the office they shared. Suddenly, the peace of the house was shattered when a maid came rushing in to explain that, in answer to a knock on the door, one of the footmen opened it to a shrieking lady. Mr. Baxter quickly made his way to the entryway.
“Where is my brother?” the lady demanded. “I must speak with him immediately on a matter of great urgency!”
The lady causing the fuss was Lady Catherine de Bourgh, George Darcy’s sister-in-law. It was obvious to everyone in the vicinity that Lady Catherine was most seriously displeased.
Mr. Baxter bowed with all due solemnity. “I apologize, ma’am. Mr. Darcy is out this morning.”
“Out? OUT? Where can he be? Why did he not await my arrival?” Lady Catherine did not really expect the butler to know the answers to her questions. “Since my brother is not available, I will speak with my nephew, immediately!”
Mr. Baxter was not about to interrupt Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. Even without the master’s edict that the couple was to be left completely alone and unavailable to visitors, the butler had too much affection and respect for the young couple to bother them during this time.
“I am sorry, ma’am, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is also unavailable.”
“What do you mean, unavailable? I am his aunt, nearly his closest relation. When I desire to speak to him, he is available to me,” the great lady replied.
Mr. Baxter sighed to himself. He could see she was not going to make this easy for either of them.
“I am sorry, Your Ladyship. Neither the master nor his son are available to receive visitors this morning.”
At this, Lady Catherine began a tirade, abusing Mr. Baxter for what she called his insubordination, and threatening his employment. The butler listened stoically, not giving Lady Catherine any hint of his emotions, and not at all worried at what she said. The lady was famous—or infamous, rather—for giving her opinion whether it was wanted or not, and for not letting facts get in the way.
As he knew she eventually would, Lady Catherine’s volume and verbosity began to dwindle. Finally, she spat at him, “I will await one of them in the Blue Parlor. Whichever one arrives home first, I would speak to immediately. You will send refreshments to the room, as well.”
With that, she turned, nose in the air, and marched to the aforementioned parlor. Once there, Lady Catherine chose the most imposing chair in the room and settled herself in to wait.
And wait she did. Two hours later, Darcy had not arrived home, and the butler insisted Fitzwilliam was unavailable.
“This is not to be borne!” Lady Catherine, in her frustration and anger, had begun to berate Mr. Baxter again when the master walked into the room.
“Catherine! You will cease this shrieking immediately! I could hear you from the front door; why are you standing in the parlor of my house, threatening my butler like the worst kind of fishwife?” Darcy knew very well why his sister-in-law was here, but he was not going to accept her typical behavior. Thankfully, his wife had been nothing like her sister. Their marriage would not have been the happy one it was if she had been.
At this, Lady Catherine closed her mouth with a snap. She was unused to being spoken to in this manner, but she had a great deal of respect for George Darcy. He was one of the few people to whom she would listen and obey. She sat back down, affronted that he had called her a fishwife, but unwilling to argue. She needed his cooperation in order to get her way. She looked at Darcy and began.
“You can be at no loss, Brother, to understand the reason I am here.” Lady Catherine paused, as if waiting for Darcy to say something, but he would not oblige her.
“A most alarming report reached me yesterday, and I immediately set out to make my sentiments known to you.” She hesitated, waiting to see if he would now respond. When he did not, she continued.
“Is it true, George Darcy, that you allowed your son, my daughter’s betrothed, to marry another? And whom did he marry? Elizabeth Bennet? I have never heard of any Elizabeth Bennet! Who is she? What are her connections? Are you out of your head, allowing such nonsense?”
Lady Catherine was becoming more and more enraged. She began spewing vitriol at him. Darcy, in a similar manner to his butler, simply let the lady vent her spleen, knowing she would sooner or later wind down like a clock.
Once she had finished, Darcy began to speak. “Catherine, Elizabeth is the niece of my friend Gardiner. Before we continue this conversation, I will thank you for remembering that I will brook no disrespect towards him or his family.” He paused to let his words sink into Catherine’s head before he continued.
“I have never supported your notion of marrying Fitzwilliam to your Anne. She is too frail to stand up to the rigors of a Derbyshire winter, much less childbirth, and you know that is an important consideration. My wife may or may not have conspired with you to betroth the two, but she never made mention of it to me.
“I have watched Elizabeth for many years and have long known that she and my son were a perfect match. Her father is a gentleman, and her uncle, tradesman or no, is one of my greatest friends.
“The deed is done, Catherine, and the marriage consummated. There is no point continuing this conversation. She is my daughter now, and under my protection and that of Fitzwilliam. You will accept her and the marriage or you will leave and not darken our door again until you do.”
Lady Catherine looked as though she wanted to say something, to argue further, but knew it would be pointless. She gathered her dignity and tried to think of a way to remove herself from the house without severing an important connection. Lifting her chin, she replied, “I understand perfectly, Brother. You will hear no more from me. I must be on my way; I have a need to speak with the earl.”
“By all means, go ahead and visit him, but be aware that he has been told the same things you have. He may give you a sympathetic ear, but he will not assist you.
“If you wish to meet your new niece, she and Fitzwilliam will be accepting callers in a few days. You may return then.” He watched his sister-in-law march out the parlor door, calling for her carriage. He was not sure exactly where she stood or what thoughts were floating around in her head, but he was not concerned. Elizabeth had the backing of the family, not that she needed it, and none of Catherine’s plans would injure him or his household. Not in society or anywhere else.
Darcy House, London
Eight days after the wedding
Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth came down to breakfast holding hands, as had become their custom. They were on time today, as their “honeymoon” was now over. Fitzwilliam was to attend a business meeting with his father, and Elizabeth was to begin learning from the housekeeper how Darcy House operated. Both had enjoyed their time together, and came away from the week feeling a closeness they both found they craved.
While the new couple had been spending time together, the Gardiners and George Darcy had been making decisions. Elizabeth’s family knew they could not continue to impose on Darcy’s hospitality. They were anxious about their safety and that of their children, but with Lizzy now safely married, they felt that they could and should go home. Darcy disagreed, and persuaded the couple to keep their family with his until Lizzy’s honeymoon was over. They had reluctantly agreed to extend their stay a few days longer, and would be going home after breakfast today.
Darcy had received a report three days ago from the investigator following Lord Regis. The news was not encouraging. The peer had been visiting gambling halls and brothels, fighting at the least encouragement and abusing prostitutes. In addition, he had been heard by the investigators muttering imprecations about “penniless country chits” and “ungrateful little baggage,” though thankfully not mentioning any names. Nothing had been reported by the investigator in regards to threats against the Gardiners or Johnson, who with his colleagues had been guarding their house all week. The report shared that the home had remained unmolested, as well. Gardiner and Darcy had concluded that it was likely safe for them to return.
The Darcy and Gardiner families enjoyed one last meal together before the Gardiners headed home. Conversation flowed easily amongst the group. The Gardiner children and Georgiana had joined the adults that morning, and the atmosphere was a cheerful one, despite the lingering sadness that resulted from the knowledge that the party was breaking up.
Maddie, Gardiner, and Darcy took this opportunity to observe Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. It was clear to all three of them that affection had grown between them. They frequently shared touches and smiles, seeming at times to almost communicate with only their eyes. Maddie resolved to speak to her niece before she left today; if what she suspected was true, Lizzy’s concerns about her future happiness had been resolved.
Darcy, who knew his son better than the Gardiners did, could see that he was entirely besotted with his new wife. Gardiner was rapidly coming to the same conclusion, but unlike his wife was unable to see in Lizzy’s behavior any indication of her feelings. That she held affection for him was obvious, given the touches she had given and received from her husband, though how deeply she held those emotions was not as obvious. Gardiner looked to his wife. Her expression communicated her awareness of his concerns, and he understood that she would be speaking to their niece in the course of the morning.
When the meal was complete, Elizabeth accompanied her aunt to the Gardiners’ rooms to chat while Maddie supervised the packing of their belongings. The two spoke of inconsequential things for a while, until the trunks were packed and the servants dismissed. Then Aunt Maddie broached the topic uppermost in her mind.
“So how do you like married life, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth blushed, then laughed. “I like it very well. Your advice to relax and trust my husband was excellent. He was considerate, and it was a wonderful experience.”
“And your feelings towards him? Have they undergone a change? Do you still have reservations? The two of you seem to be getting on very well.”
“They have. I cannot say that all of my concerns have been allayed, but I am more hopeful now that we will be happy. Certainly, he is attentive to me to a degree I had never imagined possible. There is no need I have that he does not move heaven and earth to meet. His tenderness with me is heart-warming. I cannot say I am in love with him, at least not yet, but I can say that I might soon love him. My only desire is that he should share my feelings. I am not certain what would be worse, a total lack of love on both parts, or unrequited love on mine.”
Maddie pulled her niece into a hug. “My dear, I think you have no worries on that score. Anyone can see the adoration in Fitzwilliam’s eyes when he looks at you. I am sure he will soon declare it to you, but even if he does not, you must tell him when you are sure of your feelings. You do neither of you a service to hide yourself from him. Let him be your friend—your best friend. Share your heart and all your concerns with him. Communication will be the key to continued happiness in your marriage, regardless of your feelings or his. Promise me, Lizzy, that you will share your feelings with Fitzwilliam once you are sure of them.” Maddie’s voice was urgent.
Elizabeth felt all the importance of what her aunt was asking. “As soon as I am sure of my feelings, I will share them with Fitzwilliam. I promise.”
“Thank you, Lizzy. You will not regret it.”
Aunt and niece hugged each other tightly, before heading down the stairs to meet Gardiner and the children in the foyer. There, more hugs were given and received, and a slightly teary Elizabeth waved some of her dearest family members off. Fitzwilliam stood at her side, his hand at the small of her back, giving his support. When the Gardiners had gone, Fitzwilliam walked with Elizabeth to the housekeeper’s office, where she was to meet with Mrs. Baxter to begin her lessons regarding everything about running the house.
“Are you well, darling?” he asked.
Elizabeth smiled at him. “I am well,” she answered. “It is time for us to begin our life together, and therefore time for my family to go back to theirs. I will miss them, but I have you and your family now, and I will be very busy learning to run this house. And, we will soon be attending balls and dinners and all that such events entail. I am quite sure I will be far too occupied to repine for my family. Too, they are not all that far away, and I can visit of a morning if I choose.”
Fitzwilliam was relieved to hear this. He felt far less guilt about leaving her, knowing she was well. At six and ten, she was so young, and this would be her first day completely away from the family with whom she had grown up. True, she was intimately acquainted with him and his father and sister and had spent countless hours over the years in their company, but that was different than living here with them and away from those with whom she was even more familiar. With all the danger and anxiety his Elizabeth had suffered under in the last months, he did not want to add to it. His wish was for her to be always happy and safe.
“Well, then, my dearest wife, I will leave you for now. Father and I should be home before dinner. If you need anything at all, do not hesitate to let Mr. or Mrs. Baxter know. They will know how to reach us. Do not leave the house without Hooper and Duncan. I know you are an independent lady, but until Lord Regis has been dealt with, you are still in danger. Promise me, Elizabeth.”
His wife looked aggrieved for a moment or two as he made his final statements, but agreed to his strictures. It was far better to be inconvenienced for a while longer than to be subject to that gentleman’s attentions.
To be continued …