Welcome back to my blog!
This post is brought to you by Promises Kept.
Now that I’ve re-edited my first book, I’m working on its sequel. This is actually my third published book and my first novel. It’s also one of my longest books, at just over 62,000 words. And, it contains a scene that’s not only one of the best I’ve ever written, it’s my favorite. <3
There won’t be any huge changes, just as there weren’t with I Promise To …; my goal is to simply improve the flow of the words and remove the British spellings.
As Elizabeth sat in the slow-moving carriage, looking out the window at the hustle and bustle of London, her mind was elsewhere. She was thinking back to the ride she shared with her husband yesterday.
He had ordered their horses saddled before leaving his dressing room. After rousing her from sleep, he persuaded her to go with him. They broke their fasts, then rode to the outskirts of the city, to a large empty field. To her surprise, there was a track worn into the grass all around the edge. She was further surprised to be challenged by her husband to a race. Never one to let such a provocation go unanswered, she agreed. Around and around the field they raced, for seven laps. The groom who had accompanied them was pressed into service to count the laps and to wave a handkerchief to signal the end of the contest.
Elizabeth was thrilled with the feeling of the horse moving under her, the thudding of his hooves hitting the ground vibrating up through her bottom, and the air whizzing past her face. Clucking her tongue and tapping him with her riding crop, she urged the horse to go faster and faster, first to catch up to Fitzwilliam, and then to pass him. They ran neck and neck for a while, and at the end, she beat him by just a nose. Exhilarated, she cheered, shrieking her joy in a most unladylike fashion, raising her arms high in the air, then bringing them down to clap loudly. Her husband laughed out loud. Her joy was infectious and he enjoyed seeing it. This was his goal in bringing his beloved wife to this place. He knew that she loved racing her friends and family. She had not had opportunity in a long while to do so.
Bringing her horse around, she trotted him up close beside her husband’s. Giving Fitzwilliam a cheeky smile, she leaned over for a kiss. “Very good, sweetheart. I did not know you were capable of such a feat,” he said to her with a laugh.
“Did you not?” she asked, teasing him in return. “I certainly did. Both my horse and I are so much younger than you; ‘twas not a difficult task.” She tossed her head as she spoke, raising her nose in the air as she had seen so many high society women do in recent days during her visits. Her words and manner drew another laugh from Fitzwilliam. Drawing his horse to a stop and dismounting, he reached for her, pulling her out of the saddle and into his arms. As the groom, with eyes averted, led the horses away for a further cool-down, Elizabeth’s joyous laugh was suddenly stopped by her husband’s ardent kiss.
Elizabeth’s companions in the carriage, her Aunt Gardiner and Lady Matlock, looked at her smile then at each other. It was obvious that their niece was present only physically. Mentally she was somewhere else entirely.
Cocking her eyebrow and nodding to Elizabeth, the lady silently asked a question. With a shrug, Madelyn Gardiner tipped her head in acquiescence. Clearing her throat, she directed a question to Elizabeth.
No response. She tried again, this time a little louder.
“Lizzy?” Nothing. Seeing Lady Matlock covering a smile with her hand, Mrs. Gardiner rolled her eyes before trying another time a little more loudly, this time adding in a quick nudge with her elbow.
Elizabeth jumped, startled out of her daydream. Her hand to her chest, she cried, “What?” After having jumped a bit themselves, her aunts sputtered before dissolving into laughter. Soon they had laughed so hard, tears were running down their faces.
The object of their amusement was rather offended at first. They were laughing at her, and she did not know why. However, her natural tendency toward humor and the infectiousness of their merriment soon overtook her, and she joined in.
As they began to calm, Mrs. Gardiner inquired, “What were you thinking about, Lizzy? I called and called to you, and you never heard me.”
Elizabeth smiled as a blush stole over her cheeks. “I was thinking about the race Fitzwilliam and I had yesterday.”
“Race? What kind of race?”
“After we broke our fast, he invited me for a ride out to the edge of town. There is a nice large field there, about an acre and a half in size, I believe he said. There is a track worn around the outside of it, and he dared me to race him. You know, Aunt Maddie, how I respond to challenges.”
Mrs. Gardiner laughed, “Oh, yes, I do! Please, I am all curiosity now; continue.”
With a smile, Elizabeth did so. “There is not much left to tell. We completed several laps, and our groom started us and kept track of the circuits we made, then waved a handkerchief to indicate the end. It was so very enjoyable! I loved the feel of the wind and the pounding of the hooves of my horse vibrating up through the saddle. I have not felt so free, or so … self-assured in a long time!” She leaned forward, an eager smile on her face, her eyes brighter than they had been in weeks, and it was clear to her listeners how enthralled she was with the experience.
Lady Matlock was worried. “But, Elizabeth, it is so dangerous! A lady’s stirrup has no hold for your foot! You could have fallen and been injured or killed!”
“Oh, no, Aunt Audra; Fitzwilliam had my stirrups switched to the regular iron ones like his. He said that sidesaddles are dangerous enough, and he does not want to be constantly worrying about me when I’m riding. I know it’s not terribly fashionable yet, but I have seen other ladies using them. Please do not worry.”
“Very well, then. I know that Fitzwilliam is deliberate in everything he does. I will trust his judgement in this.” Lady Matlock turned teasing, asking, “Just who won this contest?”
“Why, I did, my lady,” Elizabeth replied with a saucy smile and a wink, causing the three to once more collapse into gales of laughter.
A short while later the carriage stopped in front of their destination — the modiste, who was making Elizabeth some gowns to outfit her for not only the events she would be attending in town, but also some to wear while at Pemberley for the summer. Disembarking the carriage with assistance from the footman, the three ladies quickly entered the shop as the remaining grooms and footmen who had attended them took up places outside the door. Ever since Lord Regis had attacked her at the bookshop, Elizabeth went nowhere without a guard.
Lord Regis was a peer and a member of the House of Lords who had met and tried to court Elizabeth near her father’s estate of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. When she refused him, he attempted to force the issue, with her mother’s sanction. To keep her safe after the man struck her, she was sent by her father to London to stay with the Gardiners. Regis followed her there, and as a result, her uncle and his friend George Darcy betrothed Elizabeth to Darcy’s son, Fitzwilliam. The two married a few days later, following an incident where Regis broke into the Gardiners’ house in an attempt to kidnap her.
A couple weeks after the marriage, the newly-wedded Darcys went shopping with George Darcy and the Matlocks. The ladies were waiting in a bookstore for their gentlemen when Elizabeth was once again accosted by the peer. This time, he was stopped by her husband and warned off by her father-in-law. Elizabeth’s confidence had been greatly shaken by the initial attack upon her; the second one diminished it further. Fitzwilliam now insisted that she have a guard wherever she went, especially if she was out with other ladies. It was a testament to her low spirits that she did not balk at this at all.
Inside the modiste’s establishment, the ladies greeted the proprietress, Madam Claire, who quickly led them to a private room. Once there, Elizabeth sat in a chair with a resigned sigh. She did not enjoy shopping, unless it was for books, and this day looked to be a long one. She despised the endless in and out of gowns in various stages of construction, as well as the poking from the pins and the standing in one spot for hours. She did not understand why she had to be fit for every dress. “They have my measurements, why not just use them and save me the torture?” was a sentiment often heard by her relatives when it was suggested she might want a new outfit or two.
Despite her dislike of the activity, Elizabeth made it through the experience with a minimum of impatience. It helped that Mrs. Gardiner kept everyone in the room entertained with stories of the pranks and problems her niece had fallen into as a child. The abundance of laughter had made the time pass more quickly than it usually did.
“Oh, Mrs. Gardiner,” gasped Lady Matlock after a long bout of hilarity, “I can just see it happening! Her poor mother!”
“Yes,” Elizabeth laughed, “it is no wonder her nerves are so strained, as she will tell you herself.”
At long last, the appointment over and Elizabeth dressed again in the clothes she had been wearing upon entering the shop, the three decided to go to a nearby tea shop. The bookshop had been suggested as their next destination, but was decided against due to Elizabeth’s unease. Following tea, the ladies went to their respective homes for a rest.
After changing her clothes, lying down for a while, and partaking of some tea and biscuits, Elizabeth was ready to continue her day. It was not difficult for her to relax at Darcy House. She felt the safest there of any other place she knew. She had spent months being anxious, and hated the person she had become as a result of her fear of another attack. She remembered with fondness the feeling of confidence she had a year ago, the feeling that she could conquer the world, or at least her little part of it. She had never before experienced violence. Her parents never hit her. She and her sisters had pulled each other’s hair a few times as small children but had been swiftly disciplined and did not continue the practice. She despised the fearfulness that gripped her. She longed for her previous confidence to return. When she had spoken of it to Fitzwilliam, he had assured her that it would come back in time. She could only trust that he was correct.
Taking a few minutes to walk up to the nursery and greet Georgiana helped to redirect Elizabeth’s thoughts in a more pleasant direction. After questioning her sister about her lessons and chatting with the governess for a few minutes, she was ready to continue her day.
She headed down the stairs to the drawing room to await her new relatives, Lady Matlock and Viscountess Tansley, who were coming to help her practice her curtsey before the queen. She had already spent many hours each day in the last several weeks rehearsing her entrance to and exit from the royal drawing room. With a tablecloth pinned to her gown to imitate the long train that was part of her court attire, she repeatedly entered the room, curtseyed low before Lady Matlock, who was representing the monarch, and then swept her “train” up with her arm before backing out. Even with all of the walking Elizabeth had done over the course of her life, her legs were tired and sore from all the dipping down and standing back up. However, her performance must be flawless, and the only way to achieve that was to practice constantly, so practice she would.
Rising from the deep curtsey for what seemed the thousandth time that afternoon, she groaned. Her legs felt like they were on fire. Just at that moment, her husband walked in the room.
Fitzwilliam and his father had just arrived home from a meeting with their solicitor, and he immediately went searching for his wife. He was in desperate need of a kiss after several hours discussing investments. Hearing her groan, he strode to her side, anxious to discover what was wrong.
“Elizabeth! Are you well?”
“Darling, you are home!” She was overjoyed to see him. “I am well; it is just that my legs ache from all the curtseys I have been doing.” She tipped her face up for a kiss as he drew near, wrapping her arms around his waist as he wrapped his around her. “I have no need to walk for exercise as long as I continue to practice this way,” she added.
With a frown on his face and a deep crease between his brows, Fitzwilliam searched her eyes for the truth. “You are certain you are well?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Is that a question or a command?”
His brow clearing a bit and his lips curving into a small smile, he replied, “Perhaps it is a little of both. I cannot bear the thought of you being unwell in any form.”
Addressing Lady Matlock, he inquired of her, “Aunt, has she not had enough for today? She has practiced daily for weeks now, and it is obvious to me that she is in pain from it. Can she not stop now and rest her legs? She can continue to practice on the morrow or even the day after.”
“Fitzwilliam, you well know that her curtsey must be perfect, and the only way to achieve that perfection is to constantly practice, over and over again. Surely you have heard your Aunt Catherine say the very same thing?”
It was now Fitzwilliam’s turn to groan. “Yes, Aunt Audra, I have. Every time I have seen her, I have heard it repeated ad nauseam.”
Laughing, Lady Matlock replied with a wink, “Well, then, surely you know your wife must also practice.”
Eventually, though, the countess was convinced that her newest niece had endured enough for the day. The ladies unpinned Elizabeth’s tablecloth and took places on the sofas as they waited for the housekeeper to bring tea things and for Fitzwilliam to fetch his father.
“You are doing very well, Elizabeth, with your curtsey,” the viscountess stated. “I am certain you will be well prepared to be presented. How goes the progress on your gown?”
“It goes very well. Madame Claire was here yesterday for a final fitting, as I had not expected to go out again. Then my aunts invited me shopping today, and when I saw her this morning, she promised to have it here on the morrow. If I am performing as well as you say I am with the curtsey, I should be well-prepared for the event.”
Elizabeth and her guests paused in their conversation as, simultaneously, Fitzwilliam and his father entered the room and the tea was brought in and laid out for her to pour. Observing the housekeeper pulling the door shut behind her, Lady Matlock began to speak.
“Yes, you will do well, I am convinced.” The lady paused, and then coming to a decision, acted upon it by continuing quietly, “Are you nervous? I have seen how quiet you become in unfamiliar company. Fitzwilliam and his father have told you, have they not, of the steps they have taken to protect you?”
At Elizabeth’s nod, the countess sniffed, adding, “Not that they will be necessary. He is a coward, Regis is; he has been frightened away, never to return. Why, the earl himself told me the man has not been seen in any of the most popular places since …” She glanced at her niece. “That day. Do not waste your time on fear of him, my dear. You have your guards and all the Darcy and Fitzwilliam men to protect you.”
Mr. Darcy and Fitzwilliam nodded at her words, Fitzwilliam taking his wife’s hand.
Looking to her daughter-in-law, Lady Matlock added, “And the Fitzwilliam ladies will never leave you unattended. Is that not correct, Vanessa?”
“Indeed it is. I cannot imagine the horror you faced, to be assaulted in such a way. No woman, especially not a gentlewoman, should be treated in such an infamous manner! We will remain by your side at any time your husband or father-in-law leaves you alone.” She reached over with a gentle smile and grasped Elizabeth’s free hand, squeezing it lightly. “You are family, and we take care of our own.”
Letting go at her cousin’s answering smile, Vanessa leaned back and then said, “Let us speak of something more pleasant, shall we? Mother, will you tell Elizabeth what happened when your besotted groom asked that young scullery maid to walk the park with him? I am sure my cousin would love a laugh right about now; that poor maid was frightened to the bone, I am positive!”
Lady Matlock laughed. “Oh, yes! Oh Elizabeth, it was so amusing …”
And so the remaining time the group was together was spent in delighted laughter.
A week later, Elizabeth was presented. She performed her curtsey flawlessly, and she made a good impression on the monarch, who was impressed with the determination and trepidation that appeared at the same time in her eyes.
Backing from the room, she breathed a sigh of relief that it was over, and turned to seek out her husband and his father. Searching the room, she found them striding toward her from the direction of the door.
When he reached her side, Fitzwilliam took hold of her hand to kiss her fingers. “Well, Sweetheart, how was it? Did you trip as you feared you might?”
“No, I did not. You may stop teasing me now,” she retorted, eyebrow rising as she glared at him and his twinkling eyes. “If the smile I received is any indication, I did very well. Aunt Audra drilled me incessantly. I was unable to do anything but perform flawlessly.”
Her husband chuckled. “I was never in any doubt. You have been quite determined these past weeks, continuing on when another woman would have given up. I am proud of you, Wife.” He tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow before turning his attention to his parent.
“Father, what say you to returning home? Elizabeth’s work is done, and if she feels anything akin to me, she would enjoy changing her attire into something more comfortable than court dress.”
Laughing, Mr. Darcy replied in the affirmative, and the group slowly made their way out of the palace and on to their home. They would have a few hours to eat, rest, and relax before leaving for Matlock House and the ball that Lady Matlock had planned to celebrate this momentous occasion in her niece’s life.
Georgiana was waiting in the foyer for them when they arrived. She was eager to see Elizabeth in her presentation gown, but had been at her lessons when her brother and sister left for court. Her excitement upon seeing them led her to squeal, which then caused her father to remind her that ladies are quiet and children unseen and unheard. The twinkle in his eye gave lie to his words, and caused the governess to sigh to herself and look away so she could roll her eyes.
“Elizabeth! You are so beautiful! Look at that gown!” Georgiana’s enthusiasm for the dress put smiles on the faces of those witnessing it. She reached for her sister’s hands, holding them out and then urging her to turn around. “Oh, Sister! How lovely!” she sighed. “I hope when I am presented that I can wear a gown like that!”
Laughing, Elizabeth pulled her in for a hug before dryly stating, “You may change your mind once you are actually wearing the thing. It is not altogether easy to maneuver in these hoops.”
“Oh, but look at you! Who cares about ease of movement when one can look so grand?” More laughter, this time from all her family, pulled her eyes away from the gown. “What? Am I wrong? Do you not agree that Lizzy in that dress is perfect?”
“Yes, Sister, she is, but then …” Fitzwilliam looked tenderly at his wife. “To me she always looks perfect.”
“Of course,” Georgiana replied, rolling her eyes in such an obvious manner that her father had to turn away to hide his guffaw and Elizabeth had to smother a laugh with her hand. “If you were to think otherwise, I would fear you were ill. Really, Fitzwilliam, sometimes I wonder how such an intelligent man can wander about without a single clue about the women around him.”
At that, no one could hold in their laughter and hilarity reigned for several minutes. Even her brother had to laugh at the manner in which Georgiana had presented her statement. Eventually, though, she was sent up to the nursery with a mild reprimand for being disrespectful, and the rest went up to their rooms to change clothes and spend some time in quiet pursuits before their evening outing.
To be continued …