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I hope you enjoy this re-edited Chapter 4.
Fitzwilliam slammed his fist into the wall of his father’s study. He was as angry as he had ever been.
“Please, Son, calm yourself. I am as upset about this as you are. We will address it, but we must do so with clear heads.”
“I am sorry for losing my temper in front of you, sir.” He took a huge breath in before releasing it slowly. “I am amazed that daughters of society members are raised to think it acceptable to strike someone. Surely their parents do not know of this. They cannot condone it!”
“I doubt it. Think about when you went away to school. What kinds of things happened behind the teachers’ backs? Did you never witness or experience abuse aimed at younger students by older ones? Girls go to school, as well. Do you think they do not perform the same types of acts against each other? If anything, I would think girls would be harsher on each other than boys; at least, if we take gentlewomen of high society as an example. They are a vicious bunch.”
Fitzwilliam turned to stare at his father. “And you wish to send Georgiana to school?” he asked incredulously. “For what reason? To turn her into another violent female?”
Shaking his head, Mr. Darcy responded, “No; I would never want my dear daughter to become one of those kinds of women. However, she does need to learn how to navigate in society. I believe that I have taught her to be considerate of others, and I know that when you have been home, you have, as well. Not to mention the example she has in her sister. I have no fear of her abusing anyone.” His voice turned wistful. “She has so much of her dear mother in her.”
Fitzwilliam went silent, commiserating with his father without words. “Yes, she does. I miss Mother so much, still.” He paused. “I apologize, Father. As always, you are correct. Please forgive me for questioning you. Georgiana could never behave as those young women did last night.”
“I accept your apology. I appreciate that you are as protective of your sister as you are of your wife. One day, you will be the same with your own children. Hopefully that day will be soon.”
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes at his father’s oft-repeated hint that he wanted grandchildren. Really, he could be such a woman at times, he thought. “Yes, well, when that happy day finally comes, you will be the first we share it with. Now, to get back to the business at hand; what are we to do about this insult to my wife? It must be stopped now. I will not let disrespect toward her go. If I do, it will continue and the violence will escalate. If it had been a man putting his hands on Elizabeth, I would have already called him out.”
“Yes, and you would have been well within your rights to do so. However, these are young ladies, not gentlemen. You cannot call them out. What we can do, however, is speak to their fathers. We can make it clear that we will not tolerate such behavior in the future. Come, let us go to Matlock House and speak to your aunt. I am sure she will be able to tell us exactly who those young ladies were.”
Within a short period of time, the pair were knocking on the door of the Fitzwilliams’ house, having spoken to Elizabeth before leaving their own, assuring her of the shortness of their time away. She remained in her rooms for a long time with cold cloths on her face, only leaving it to spend a few minutes with Georgiana and only after rehearsing her response to the girl’s anticipated questions about the handprint on her cheek. Georgiana was appalled that a lady would do such a thing. Elizabeth did her best to reassure her sister of her good health and that the bruise would surely fade in a day or so, and referred her to her brother or father for further information. At Georgiana’s urging, Elizabeth returned to her room to rest and await Fitzwilliam’s return.
Upon arriving at Matlock House, the Darcy men were shown into the drawing room, where the earl and countess were spending the afternoon together in quiet pursuits. Surprised to see his brother and nephew, Lord Matlock rose to greet them.
“Darcy, Fitzwilliam, what brings you out after such an exhausting night? I thought you would be engaged as Audra and I are, in restful activities at home.” He shook their hands and waited for them to greet his wife before continuing, “It is always good to see you, of course, but I can see by the look on my nephew’s face that something has occurred. Tell me, then. What has happened?”
Fitzwilliam looked to his father to explain. They had decided between them to do so, the younger man not being sure of his ability to hold on to his temper due to his strong feelings on the subject.
Darcy cleared his throat before beginning. “We are here to ask about two of last night’s guests. They were young ladies, one blonde and one brunette.” Turning to his son, he asked, “Correct?”
Nodding and looking back to the earl and countess, he continued, “These two ladies were the last to leave, prior to ourselves.” Here he paused, ordering his thoughts. “Elizabeth was assaulted … slapped … by these two young women.”
Lady Matlock gasped in horror. “What? When … how …?” She looked to her husband, who sat looking as shocked as she felt. “I am appalled! After all the measures taken to ensure her safety from that man, she is confronted by two girls! And in my house! Describe them to me!” She was quickly moving from shock to anger.
Fitzwilliam answered her, and his anger was clearly heard in his voice. “Both were young; they appeared not much older than Elizabeth. I have no doubt they are debutantes in their first season. The taller one was blonde, the other brunette. I saw them come into the foyer while I was waiting on her so we could leave. They were giggling and leaning into each other, carrying on in a very unseemly way.”
“And you say they left just prior to the three of you?”
“Yes. I recall there were several people in the foyer awaiting their carriages. I do not know with whom these young ladies belong, however.” Fitzwilliam spoke with great distaste for these unknown women who did not behave well.
Lord Matlock looked to his wife, “I believe we were speaking to Lord and Lady Blackmoore prior to George, Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth leaving. Lord Blackmoore mentioned that they were waiting for their daughter and niece to join them, did they not?”
“Indeed, they did,” exclaimed his wife. Turning to George, she said, “Lord Frederick Smith, the Viscount Blackmoore, and his viscountess, Lady Blackmoore. Their daughter, Cecilia, is out now. She performed her curtsey yesterday morning, along with Elizabeth, though she was presented early in the day. Their niece, Miss Diana Smith, was along, as well. She is the viscount’s younger brother’s child, and is staying with them this season, hoping to make a good match. Her father is rector in a parish in Sussex, I believe.”
George nodded. “I know the viscount well. He is an honorable man, if a little too arrogant for my tastes. He is light-haired, as is his spouse; I assume, then, that Lady Cecilia is the one who struck Elizabeth.”
“I wonder at the daughter of a rector being party to such goings-on,” Fitzwilliam began. “What would her father say?”
“I do not know, Son. We were not there, though. Perhaps she was coerced by her cousin. I am certain there were times Richard and Trevor compelled you to do things, were there not?”
“Indeed,” Fitzwilliam responded stiffly, “but never did it involve harming another person.”
Lady Matlock responded, “Yes, but you must understand, girls are different than boys. Young men are more independent by nature, and society nurtures that. Girls, however, are more social creatures, and the approbation of others is important to us. Society limits what we, as females, can do and where we can go. Friendships and connections form the basis of our achievements, beyond our marriages. We are dependent on our friends and acquaintances for defining our place in society. It is not surprising that young girls often become followers more than leaders, and go along with schemes they might not otherwise, so as not to be ostracized.”
“What of independent thought? One of the qualities I adore in my wife is her ability to think and analyze situations and come to logical conclusions. Surely all young ladies are encouraged to do what is right, what their consciences and the teachings of the Church indicate to them to do?”
“One would think so.” Darcy shook his head. “Sadly, it seems that is not the case at times.” Looking to his hosts, he said, “I thank you, Audra and Henry, for the information. I know where Lord and Lady Blackmoore reside; I believe my son and I have time to call there yet this afternoon.” He rose, and the rest followed suit. “We will leave you now. Thank you again for your assistance.”
“Happy to help,” exclaimed Lord Matlock. “Let us know what the result of your visit is.”
After taking their leave of their relatives, the Darcy men made their way to the Viscount Blackmoore’s townhouse. Giving his card to the footman who opened the door, George Darcy asked to speak to the master of the house. He and Fitzwilliam waited in the foyer for just a few moments, before the footman reappeared and gestured for them to follow.
“This way, please, sirs.” A few steps down a hallway, he opened a door, stepped inside, and announced, “Mr. Darcy and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.” Once the men were inside he went back out, closing the door quietly behind him.
Lord Frederick Smith rose from behind a desk situated near a window in what appeared to be a library. Both Darcys took a quick glance around, but their focus was not on an appreciation for the room, but an explanation and satisfaction from the man who approached them.
“Darcy, Fitzwilliam, welcome to my home.” Bowing to his guests, who bowed in return, the viscount gestured to a grouping of chairs near the fireplace. “Please, be seated, and tell me what brings you here today.”
Darcy took a deep breath and began, “I am unsure how to go about this, so I ask that you allow me to say what I need to before you respond. Is that agreeable to you?” Upon receiving a nod from his host, he related his tale.
“When my family and I left the ball last night, my daughter was unusually subdued. At that time, she refused to tell my son what the matter was; however, this morning he insisted she do so.” He took another breath, looking at his clasped hands before raising his eyes to look at Lord Blackmoore again before explaining the events. Finally, he said, “As she was preparing to leave the withdrawing room, two young ladies entered and began speaking to her. At the end of this conversation, one of the ladies slapped my daughter. Twice. The two who assaulted her in this infamous manner were about her age, perhaps a little older. One was light-haired, the other dark. My son and I,” he nodded to Fitzwilliam, “just came from Matlock House, where we inquired of Lady Matlock the identities of the young ladies.”
Looking the viscount in the eyes, he clearly stated, “Your daughter, Cecilia, was one, and her cousin was the other.”
Lord Blackmoore opened his mouth to speak, but Darcy cut him off. “Fitzwilliam observed their return to the foyer just a few moments before Elizabeth’s, and we were the last to leave, following shortly after your party. There is a bruise on her cheek, incontrovertible evidence that it occurred. It is I speaking to you and not my son, because his anger is so great. I am able to explain the events with a clearer mind, though you may be assured that I am just as angry.”
“I am sorry, Darcy. As incredible as your story is, I do believe you. You are known to be an honorable, trustworthy gentleman, as is your son. You would not make such accusations without prior investigation.” He rose, reaching for the pull to summon a servant. “Allow me to call my daughter down. I will get to the bottom of this, and you may be certain there will be amends made.”
Mr. Darcy and his son both nodded. Their host spoke quietly to the footman who answered his ring, then offered his guests a tumbler of port. Before they were finished with their refreshments, a knock was heard, and Lord Blackmoore bid the person to enter.
“You wanted to see me, Papa?” Miss Smith was curious, but not uneasy about being called to speak to her father. She was startled to see that he had guests, though.
“Yes, Cecilia, I have some questions for you. Come.” He gestured her closer, and when she arrived at his side, introduced the gentlemen to her. The look on her face in that unguarded moment when she realized who the visitors were and likely why they were there gave away her guilt.
“I can see from your reaction to the gentlemen that their tale to me is true,” he informed her sadly. “Why would you do such a thing? And do not give me a pretty tale. You will not get out of this with dissembling stories or blaming others. You left Mrs. Darcy with an injury. More than one, in fact. Where did you learn to behave so?”
His anger was rising with every moment that his daughter remained silent and expressionless. He continued to question her, his voice displaying more and more displeasure. It was not until he threatened to disallow further amusements and confine her to the house that she began to break. Her response was vehement.
“I did it because she does not belong in our circle! She is a fortune hunter! She has no dowry, no education. She is a laughingstock! Penelope said …”
Here her father cut her off, “Penelope? What has she to do with this? Do not dare to blame your behavior on your cousin. Regardless what she said or did not say, you acted on your own. You had a thought to attack Mrs. Darcy, and you did it. And then there is Diana! How did you convince her to go along with you? She is too sweet a girl, and too well-brought-up to do such a thing on her own. No, do not answer. I will call her down separately, after I am finished with you.”
The viscount paced the room, while his visitors and his daughter watched. Fitzwilliam was struggling with a strong desire to turn Miss Smith over his knee and paddle her backside. It was apparent to him that the child, who in his opinion was behaving very badly, had never been corrected before. Only his training as a gentleman kept him in his seat and his hands to himself.
His father kept a keen eye on all the principals in the room, especially Fitzwilliam. While he trusted his son to behave properly, the young man was very angry, and angry people often did stupid things.
Finally getting control of himself, Lord Blackmoore addressed his daughter, who stood in the middle of the grouping of chairs, having not been invited to sit by her father. Her head was defiantly held high.
“Cecilia, I am ashamed of you. Your mother and I taught you better than this. Where is your compassion? Instead of disparaging Mrs. Darcy, you should be embracing her, making friends with her. Regardless of her roots, she is Mrs. Darcy. No, she is not as high as Lady Penelope, but her husband and his father are powerful men in our society, and you know this. They sit here now, just beyond you, and demand justice for their wife and daughter. Think of this … what if it were a royal who behaved in such a manner with you? How would you feel? You are far below such a person. Does that make you less than they? Would you not be upset and angry and expect me to demand recompense?”
A glance at his daughter showed that she did not believe such a thing could ever happen to her, and that she felt no remorse. Shaking his head, he continued, “You will, of course, apologize to Mrs. Darcy. And you will publicly welcome her into your circle. You will need to earn her trust, of course, and she may reject your apology. In any case, you will do as I say. In addition, you will remain at home for the next two weeks. No shopping, no balls, no dinners, no outings of any kind. Further, you will write an essay … five thousand words … on the benefits of kindness and the drawbacks of meanness. Your reading material will be restricted to certain sermons, of my choosing.”
Miss Smith burst out, “No balls! But Papa …”
“Enough, Cecilia! Obviously you remain unmoved from your position, and unrepentant. Need I add more to your punishment so that you see your errors? Indeed, I feel I must. Therefore, you are restricted from the pianoforte and from receiving visitors for the duration of your period of punishment. You will spend this time in quiet reflection and study. I expect at the end of this fortnight that you will understand the effects of your actions on yourself and on your victim, and that your attitude will have changed. Do I make myself clear?”
Miss Smith swallowed. It was apparent to her that her father was deadly serious; she had never seen him so angry, not at her. “Yes, sir.”
“Furthermore, when you have proven that you are repentant and understanding and are finally allowed back in society, there will be no repercussions to Mrs. Darcy for telling her husband what you did. It is his place to ask questions when he suspects something is wrong with her, and her place to answer his queries. She is not a schoolmate, and this is not an academy for young ladies. This is the adult world, and you will act like an adult, or those restrictions will be in force permanently.”
By this time, the young lady was looking at her hands, which she had clasped before her. “Yes, Papa, I understand.”
“Before I dismiss you, you will apologize to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and to Mr. Darcy.”
She turned to Fitzwilliam. “I am sorry for disparaging your wife, sir.”
“That is all you are sorry for?” His deep, disapproving voice and stern countenance made her nervous.
“No, sir, I am also sorry for confronting her and for slapping her.”
Fitzwilliam looked at her for a long moment. He felt in his heart that her words did not match her feelings; however, he chose to be gracious and accept her apology. He followed with, “My wife is the person who needs to hear these words. Be assured, Miss Smith, that any further insult will be met with greater consequences than those you are currently receiving. I cannot punish you as your father is, but I can ruin you in society, and I will not hesitate. My wife is my main concern. Her well-being is uppermost in my mind, and I do not care who I hurt to protect that.”
Cecilia lowered her eyes to the floor. This man was beginning to truly frighten her. “Yes, sir,” she responded, as respectfully as she could manage. Turning to Darcy, she apologized to him, as well. He responded, in her opinion, far more graciously than his son had. Thanking the two, she turned to her father once more.
“I have rung for a footman. I will ask him to send Diana to me in the drawing room. You will wait here until she has come down, then you will go to your rooms. Your maid will be instructed to remove all reading material and music, and place it in my keeping. You will wait in your chambers, contemplating our discussion here, until you are called to dine. I expect unquestioned obedience. Am I clear?” At her nod, he dismissed her.
“Darcy, Fitzwilliam, I apologize for my daughter’s actions. I will apologize to Mrs. Darcy, and bring Cecilia around to do so, as well.”
Mr. Darcy nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate your prompt and decided response. I am certain my son does, as well.” He turned to Fitzwilliam.
“Yes, Father, I do. Lord Blackmoore, let me add my thanks. I must stress, though, that I was serious when I told your daughter that further attacks of any kind on my wife would be met by me with swift and decided consequences.”
“And you would be well within your rights to do so. If she were a man, you could have called her out. I will impress that upon her even further. Thank you for your graciousness.”
Soon, the gentlemen took leave of each other, and the Darcys departed for home.
Upon their arrival at Darcy house, Fitzwilliam asked the footman for his wife’s whereabouts. Hearing that she was in their rooms, he quickly ascended the stairs, as his father watched with a smile and a shake of his head. I remember being so eager to see my Anne, he thought. I am glad he shares a similar marriage with Elizabeth.
Arriving at the chambers he shared with his spouse, Fitzwilliam quietly turned the handle and entered the room, closing the door behind him with a soft click. Seeing that she was not in the sitting room, he strode across the apartment to the bedchamber, peeking in and smiling widely to see Elizabeth lying on the bed, covered with a quilt, soundly asleep. Creeping into the room, he removed his topcoat and waistcoat, draping them over a chair, before sitting and removing his boots. When he was done, he gently lay on the bed, lifting her blanket and curling up behind and around her. Holding her close, he nuzzled her hair, breathing in the lavender scent she favored, before bestowing a kiss and laying his head behind hers.
The pair slept for a short while, Fitzwilliam awakening when his wife began to stir. Kissing her cheek and squeezing her tightly, he watched in fascination as she began to awake. This was a view he never tired of. She appeared so peaceful in sleep, younger than her sixteen years. With her poise and grace, she always seemed so much older when awake. As she became more aware, her nose twitched and her mouth opened and closed as though she were tasting something. Her eyelids began to flutter, and soon she began slowly blinking. Finally, she opened her eyes fully, saw him watching, and smiled as she stretched.
“Good afternoon, my love.” Fitzwilliam leaned in to kiss her.
“Good afternoon,” she replied. “Have you been home long?”
“Long enough to enjoy a short nap with my beautiful bride.” Another, longer, kiss accompanied his statement, along with a nuzzle of her nose with his. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did. I did not realize how exhausted I was. How was your business?” Elizabeth was a little wary of his response. She knew he was furious about last night’s incident, and she was nervous about what he might have done or said in response. She knew Papa George would do his best to keep him calm, but an angry Fitzwilliam was a frightening one, and there was no telling what he could have said or done.
“It went well. We decided before we left that Papa would do the speaking, as I was, and remain, far too angry to do it myself. However, my disapprobation was clear, I believe. Miss Smith certainly appeared frightened enough when I finally did speak to her.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Did you turn the Darcy glare on her, my darling? It is a wonder she did not turn into a pillar of salt!”
Fitzwilliam chuckled. “If only I had such power! Alas, she remains flesh and blood. However, her father has set severe strictures on her activities for the foreseeable future. Her opportunities to assault innocent ladies are non-existent, as she is restricted to Blackmoore House. She is allowed no visitors, no pianoforte, and no reading other than sermons her father selects for her. There is more, but the salient point is that she is being punished, and that you may expect her to call on you to apologize at some point, and to publicly accept you into her company, when she is allowed out again.”
Elizabeth was silent.
“My love?” He peeked around to look at her expression. “What thoughts are tumbling around in that gorgeous head of yours?”
“Will she mean it? If she is forced to apologize, how do I know it will not happen again? She implied, if it can be called that, severe consequences if I told you what happened, and I did just that.”
“Sweetheart, look at me.” He rolled her to her back, still held in his embrace, and looked her in the eye. “It was made clear to her by her father that, as my wife, it was your duty to tell me, especially when I noted something was wrong and inquired of you what it was. He further stressed that to threaten you again was to risk more sanctions. I also made it clear to her that I would ruin her socially if such a thing occurred, and believe me, I will. The Darcy name is a powerful one. I don’t know if you understand just yet how powerful it is. I certainly do not. Every meeting I attend with my father drives the point home to me that people listen to him, to us. We do not go pushing our will on others, but when the situation calls for it, we make sure we are heard. She will be sincere in her apology, I promise you.”
Elizabeth smiled tremulously. “What would I do without you, my Fitzwilliam? You take such good care of me. Thank you for being my defender and my protector. I love you.”
Her husband leaned down and tenderly kissed her lips. “I love you, Sweetheart. I will defend you to the death. You are my life.” He kissed her again, and the couple soon gave in to the passion that always seemed to flow when they were together.
To be continued …