Welcome back to my blog!
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So, I missed a post last week, and I apologize for that. I was going through a perfect storm of issues … I released a book, it was pay week, I had company that weekend, then had to do my taxes and fill out some Very Important Papers that took like four days to complete. I’m done with all that, though, and getting back into the swing of things.
I Promise To …, which, you will recall, I finished re-editing a couple weeks ago, has new ebook and print files uploaded. I’m still working on a large-print version for that. I had hoped to do it today, but ran out of time.
So, anyway, we’re up to the third chapter of this book, which is IPT’s sequel. I hope you enjoy it!
After leaving Lady Penelope standing alone, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth strode across the room. Feeling the tension still in her husband’s arm, Elizabeth leaned against his shoulder and spoke, “Please stop; I cannot keep up with your long strides.”
Immediately coming to a halt, he looked to her and apologized, “I am sorry, Sweetheart. Her attitude made me very angry. I should not have taken it out on you.” He lifted her hand to bestow a kiss then set it back on his arm, covering it with his own.
“There is nothing to forgive, my darling. I own to being relieved to be so quickly removed from her presence.” Elizabeth smiled a little, covering her mouth to muffle a laugh in response to his slight chuckle.
“I knew already that not everyone would like me, Fitzwilliam. Her slight was not entirely unexpected. I think I remember meeting her brother once at Pemberley, oh, a couple years ago?” She turned to her aunt Gardiner, asking, “Do you remember, Aunt?” At the lady’s nod, she turned back to Fitzwilliam and continued, “Her brother is Lord Westerville, is he not?” When her husband murmured his reply, she continued, “I would imagine that Lady Penelope is one of those disappointed ladies described by Aunt Audra and Vanessa?”
Fitzwilliam sighed. “Yes, I believe she is. I remember spending six weeks or so at their estate that summer, before we came to Pemberley and you met him. I recall that she seemed to be everywhere I was, always asking me questions about my preferences and my father’s estate. I could not move without tripping over her. It was frustrating; I was never so glad to leave a place in my life!”
Elizabeth’s grin was wide. “Poor Fitzwilliam, to be so admired at such a young age.”
Shaking his head and chuckling softly, he replied, “Hush, Wife. Do you not know I am your master and not to be teased?”
Rolling her eyes, she laughed at him again, squeezing his arm tightly. Before she could respond, Viscount Tansley approached.
“Elizabeth, I believe the next set belongs to me.” He held his arm out to her, then looked at his cousin. “Do not worry, Darcy, she will be safe with me.”
“I know; I simply do not enjoy seeing her dance with anyone else. I suppose I must accustom myself to it, as the night is still young, and I am certain she will be asked by many more gentlemen.”
Tansley laughed quietly before replying, “Indeed. We will keep an eye on her, all of us. And she is so besotted with you that she will not notice anyone else in the room; is that not so, Elizabeth?”
“Yes, it is,” she responded quietly, gazing at her husband with that soft look he so loved. “I may be dancing with other men, but I am going home with you, my darling.” She took hold of the hand that hung limply at his side and squeezed it tightly, rejoicing inside when he squeezed back. “I will return as soon as I am able. Perhaps Vanessa would like a dance?”
Smiling at her, he said, “I will ask her. It would not be a punishment to stand up with her if I cannot have you. I love you.”
“I love you.”
With that, the viscount led her away to the line of dancers.
Fitzwilliam decided to stay back, visiting with the Gardiners while keeping a close eye on his wife, rather than dance with his cousin. Soon they were joined by his friend, Charles Bingley.
“Bingley! So good to see you! I was not sure you would make it this evening. Let me introduce you to my wife’s aunt and uncle. Elizabeth is dancing with Tansley; you can meet her later.” He gestured out to the dance floor. “Charles Bingley, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner of Gracechurch Street? Mr. Gardiner is a friend of my father’s and a very successful warehouse owner. My father and I have enjoyed the fruits of some very lucrative investments in his business.”
Bingley and Gardiner bowed to each other. “I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner. My roots are in trade, as well. My father was a watch maker in Yorkshire.”
“That is where I have heard the name before! I believe I met your father once or twice. I have done business with him in the past! I was sorry to hear of his passing.”
“Thank you; it was a difficult time for the whole family. My mother died not six months later. Father was an excellent man, in all respects.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” Mrs. Gardiner replied. “How terrible to lose both so closely together! Were they recent losses?”
“I have just come out of mourning, actually. This is the first event I have attended. I spent the last few months in my hometown, dealing with the disposition of my father’s business and seeing to my sisters.”
“They did not come with you this evening?” Fitzwilliam asked. He had been surprised to not see them. Elizabeth had never met any of the Bingleys, and he was not looking forward to her meeting the unmarried sister, another lady who made a nuisance of herself by hanging all over him at every turn.
“No, they did not. Hurst and Louisa were called to his parents’ estate to attend some business. Caroline is visiting a friend from school for a few weeks. She wanted to come to town with me, but I felt it was best for her to stay away for a while longer.” Bingley was well aware that his sister had set her cap at Darcy; she had not taken the news of his marriage well, and he worried about what she might do were she to meet the new Mrs. Darcy so soon. Hopefully, she would meet someone at the house party she was attending and emerge engaged herself. At the least, he hoped the time away would lessen her irritation.
After a few more minutes of chatting, the set ended, and Elizabeth was returned to her spouse’s side. At the same time, Jane, who also had been dancing, arrived on the arm of her partner.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Jane? You have yet to be without a partner,” Elizabeth teased.
“I am! Oh, Lizzy, this home is so beautiful, the musicians perform perfectly, and the gentlemen are so … gentlemanly! How could I not have a good time?”
While the two were talking, Bingley was staring, open-mouthed, at the most beautiful creature he had ever beheld. She was speaking to another gorgeous lady, one whose hand had been quickly seized by his friend. He could only assume the dark-haired one was the new Mrs. Darcy. That meant … delight of all delights … the beautiful blonde must be with the Gardiners, which meant she was here alone. Oh, he thought, I must have an introduction!
Fitzwilliam, who had noticed his friend’s rapt attention to his newest sister, was laughing to himself. Finally allowing a chuckle to be released, he said, “Bingley, may I introduce you to my wife, Elizabeth, and her sister, Miss Jane Bennet?”
Snapped out of his thoughts by his friend’s words, Bingley bowed. “Mrs. Darcy, it is such a delight to meet you! I have heard much of you. Your husband has been singing your praises for a long time, but most especially since your marriage. I have received several letters telling me of his happiness. Thank you for accepting him!”
Elizabeth smiled, delight suffusing her face, as she thanked him. “It was my very great honor, I assure you.”
Fitzwilliam cleared his throat, bestowing an adoring look on his wife as Bingley turned to greet Jane. “Miss Bennet, I am honored to meet you.”
Curtseying, Jane returned his greeting.
“If you are not otherwise engaged, might I have your next set?”
“I am not engaged, sir, and I would be happy to dance with you.”
“Excellent!” Bingley beamed, thrilled to be able to dance with this delightful young woman.
A few more minutes of conversation, and the next dance was about to begin. Mr. Bingley escorted Jane to the floor, and Lieutenant Richard Fitzwilliam, Lord Tansley’s younger brother and Elizabeth’s husband’s other cousin, invited her to dance with him, leading her out, as well.
Jane and Bingley seemed to take to each other instantly. By the end of their first set together, they were chatting as though they had known each other all their lives. They went on to dance with other partners, but came together again for the supper set. During the meal, they sat as close as they dared, talking only between themselves, unless forced to do otherwise by their amused friends and, in Jane’s case, family.
“Tell me about your family, Miss Bennet. Darcy introduced me to your sister, and you have told me there are others. Are they older or younger?”
“They are all younger, sir. Mrs. Darcy is next to me, followed by Mary, then Kitty, and finally Lydia. My youngest sister is eleven. Mrs. Darcy is sixteen, and the other two girls are a year or two apart.”
“How delightful! I have only two sisters. Louisa, who is married to a Mr. Hurst, and my twin sister Caroline, who is unmarried and visiting one of her friends. Your younger sisters, are they as delightful as you and Mrs. Darcy?”
Jane laughed quietly, “My younger sisters are very different than me and Elizabeth. Mary is quiet, though she does like to give advice to those around her. Kitty and Lydia are rather high-spirited. Kitty follows where Lydia leads, though Lydia is younger. I am sure that with a few more years, their high spirits will give way to a more mature manner of behaving, though they are already delightful girls.”
Elizabeth leaned over to inject, “What she means, Mr. Bingley, is that our two youngest sisters are spoiled. You will find that Jane sees only the good and none of the bad in those around her.”
Jane blushed. “Lizzy!”
“I see nothing wanting in your sister, Mrs. Darcy. I’m sure she is aware of their faults, just as I am aware of those in my own siblings.” He smiled warmly at Jane. “Her outlook matches my own, I believe,” he added softly.
Elizabeth smothered a laugh at their besotted expressions before returning to her husband’s conversation with his cousin. Jane and Bingley returned to their discourse, as well.
“Tell me more of your family, Mr. Bingley. You said your parents have passed. What were they like?”
“I was not terribly close with either of my parents, unfortunately. My father was a very busy man, always working, expanding his business with the goal of being successful enough that I would be able to become a landed gentleman. He did very well; I hope in the near future to find an estate to lease, with an eye to purchase. I would purchase right away, but your new brother tells me I might do better to lease first.”
“He is very wise, is he not? Lizzy tells me he shares his thoughts on everything with her; she has been greatly impressed with the depth of consideration he applies to every decision. She says he has learned that from his father.”
“Indeed, Mr. Darcy and his son are very much alike, and in more than looks! I am proud to be able to call Fitzwilliam my friend and to be accepted by his father. They are unlike many others of their station, but their acceptance has gone a long way to gaining mine with the same people.”
“That is wonderful, Mr. Bingley!”
“Indeed.” He smiled at her, wishing he could hold her hand. “Well, now that I have told you about my father, let me tell you about my mother. She was very different than he. My mother had lofty goals. She wanted to be the mistress of the manor, and for my father to be the master. I fear that her desire to rise further than was possible led to strife between them on occasion. It certainly gave my twin high goals.”
Here he laughed. “My twin. Mother made sure every year as our birthday approached that we understood just how hard she toiled to bring us into the world, and just how much we owed her in adulation. But we were also her rising stars, and she had great expectations of us. We were not close to her, really. We spent the majority of our time, all three of us, with the governess and tutors or at school. I do remember hearing her boast of our accomplishments, though.
“My parents both died in the last year and six months. Both became ill when a sickness swept through Scarborough, where they lived. My father sickened first; it took him quickly. My mother caught it not long after, but she lingered much longer before death carried her away.” He paused, then continued, “As I said before, I was not terribly close to either of them, and they did have moments when I wondered why they had married, but I miss them, and I believe that they loved each other in their own way. I think that if my father had not died, my mother may have survived, as well. But, there is no way of knowing that. We must all move on.”
Jane gave him an understanding smile. “That would be very hard. I cannot imagine losing my parents, either of them. I think perhaps my mother and father have a marriage similar to that of yours. My father keeps to his bookroom, and joins the family but rarely. My mother’s joy in life is gossip. Her goal is, I believe, to see each of us married well.”
“An admirable goal. Mine desired that for my sisters, as well, I believe. I am glad she was able to see Louisa married before she took ill.”
Fitzwilliam intruded in their conversation with a statement to the table, “I hear the musicians tuning up again. Let us join the rest in returning to the ballroom.”
Reluctantly, Bingley and Jane parted to dance with still more people. As much as both longed for a third dance, it simply was not done. Neither was willing to upset and embarrass those closest to them in such a manner. They did, however, spend the time between sets together as much as possible, and before the night was over, Mr. Bingley asked and received permission to call on Miss Bennet the next day. The Gardiners were pleased with this. They liked the young man, and hoped that the two would come to an understanding, as Jane’s future would then be secured. It did not hurt that she would be spared her mother’s anger and despair should she arrive back at Longbourn without a suitor.
Elizabeth danced with several other gentlemen that evening, all vetted by her husband and father-in-law. While she was nervous to the point of quivering, nothing untoward happened, and by the last dance, set aside for Fitzwilliam, she was beginning to calm. Of course, being held so closely by the man she adored did much to put her at peace. She never felt as safe as she did when he held her. As the guests began to leave, Mr. Darcy approached to inform them that he had called for the carriage. Elizabeth farewelled her sister, aunt and uncle and then excused herself to visit the ladies’ parlor that had been set aside for their use, knowing the wait for the carriage might be long.
Entering the room alone, as Lady Matlock and the Viscountess were both occupied with other matters and could not accompany her, she saw that it was crowded with ladies doing as she was in preparation for leaving. Finally, as the room began to empty, she was able to take care of her needs before taking time to assess her appearance in the mirror provided for that. As she stood in front of the glass, thinking she must be the last to use it for the night, she was surprised to see two other young women entered, one blonde, one brunette. Seeing her, they approached.
“Well, what have we here?” sneered the blonde.
“Why, don’t you know, Cecilia, this is Mrs. Darcy. She is the mouse from the country that forced Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy into marriage,” replied the brunette.
“Indeed, I had heard that.” Speaking to Elizabeth, Cecilia said, “What makes you think you will ever fit into our society?” Her voice began to carry a spiteful tone. “You are nothing, and you will never be anything, regardless of who you married. He will come to regret you, and it will not take long.”
Suddenly, the woman reached out and yanked the curl dangling over Elizabeth’s shoulder hard enough to make her cry out. “You do not belong, do you hear me?” She yanked again, eliciting another yelp of pain from her victim. “I plan to make your life miserable at every chance I get.”
The brunette laughed. Seeing Elizabeth’s mouth opening to retort, she slapped her. “There is no point in telling anyone about this, Mrs. Darcy. No one will believe you. If anyone notices redness on your face, you will tell them you ran into the door. Do I make myself clear?” When her victim did not respond immediately, she slapped her again. Finally, after seeing Elizabeth nod, the pair laughed and exited the room.
Knowing that her family would soon come looking for her, Elizabeth did her best to soothe the redness left by the slaps. It was not possible to completely eradicate them, but she did hope no one noticed, least of all Fitzwilliam.
She was quiet as she joined her husband and his father in the foyer, accepting her coat and bonnet from the maid. Fitzwilliam looked at her closely, suspicion in his eyes. The remaining guests had already gone home, so she had no reason to be reticent. Perhaps she is tired, he thought. She did not turn to face him at all, and took his left arm instead of the one on the right that he had offered her. The Darcys each wished their hosts a good night, then left the house to enter their carriage for the short ride home.
Sitting beside her in the conveyance, Fitzwilliam was again struck by her silence. He put his arm around her, asking if she was well.
“Yes, I am well,” was her quiet response.
“I am not certain of that, Sweetheart. You are far too quiet.” He looked across the carriage to his father, but in the darkness could not see him. “We will speak more after we retire to our rooms.”
“Very well, Husband.” Elizabeth knew that he now had suspicions that something happened while she was away from his side. She would do her best to put him off so she had time to think about what occurred, but knew it would not be long before he became insistent.
Arriving at Darcy House, they gave their coats to the maids that waited and climbed the stairs. Elizabeth entered the dressing room first to prepare for bed while her spouse waited, his valet helping him remove his topcoat. He then took off his waistcoat and shoes, handing them to the servant to clean and put away. He put his watch on the bedside table before pulling his shirt tail out of his trousers. He then grabbed a book from the stand and sat in the chair by the fire, waiting for his opportunity to use the dressing room.
He read for what felt like a long time before suddenly realizing that his wife was taking longer to get ready for bed than she usually did. Already alert to the fact that she was behaving totally out of character, he was more convinced than ever that something had happened in the ladies’ parlor.
He tried to recall the women he had seen leaving that room while he waited for her to emerge. As he listed them all in his mind, he remembered two very young ladies walking out of it not long before Elizabeth. They were not remarkable young women. They were obviously in their first season, probably only a few months older than his wife. Their looks did not catch his eye, but then, only his beloved seemed to have that ability. What struck him was their laughter. They had giggled and carried on as though they knew some great secret no one else was privy to. Whatever was going on in his spouse’s mind had something to do with them, he was certain.
Finally, Elizabeth entered the bedchamber, apologizing for taking so long. She climbed into the bed, extinguishing the candle on her side as he left the room. A few minutes later, he joined her, reaching out to draw her to his side.
Kissing her softly in the dim light, he asked, “How did you enjoy your first ball, Sweetheart?”
“Very well,” she answered quietly. “It was very tiring, though. I am exhausted.” Her words were punctuated by a great yawn that felt like it was splitting her face.
“Yes, I am very tired, as well.” He paused. “Elizabeth, I know that something happened in the ladies’ parlor. I can read the clues in your demeanor and behavior. I will not press you tonight, but tomorrow, we will discuss it. Do you agree?”
“Yes, Fitzwilliam. I love you.” “I love you, as well, my heart.”
With a final kiss, the pair fell into a deep sleep, not to awaken until early afternoon the next day.
To be continued …