Welcome back to my blog!
This post is brought to you by Promises Kept. (affiliate link; free to click on but may result in me earning a few pennies)
I hope you enjoy this re-edited Chapter 5.
The Darcys remained at home for several days while the bruise on Elizabeth’s face healed. The only visitors they saw were family: the Fitzwilliams, and the Gardiners and Jane.
During this time, Elizabeth, when she was not supervising Georgiana’s education, entertaining family members, or spending time alone with Fitzwilliam, took time to reflect quietly on the events of the ball. Her feelings on the night were murky. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that the biggest part of the evening was a success. She was introduced to many of her new family’s peers, and managed to charm most of them. In the process, she discovered she had retained her ability to draw people out with a quip and a warm smile. She also realized that she was still able to use that same warm smile and witty remark to put someone in their place without them even realizing it. For the first time in what seemed like a long time, she felt a measure of confidence. Combined with the trust in her husband and Papa George and their ability to ensure her physical safety, at least from Lord Regis and his ilk, she was sure she could survive what remained of this social season.
Despite this, she retained some fear, and that feeling made her angry. Contemplating further, she realized what angered her was Lord Blackmoore’s daughter and her actions. That a young lady she had barely been introduced to would accost her in such a violent manner was a shock in itself. That said young lady was the daughter of a viscount – a peer – was more so. Did she not go to school and learn proper comportment? Before going to school, did she not have a governess to teach her how to behave when still a child? Where did she learn that striking someone was acceptable behavior? Elizabeth was the self-taught daughter of a minor gentleman, and even she knew to keep her hands to herself. Did Miss Cecilia Smith not pay attention in church? Surely she attended! The teachings of the church were clear that violence toward one’s fellow man was not acceptable. So who did she think she was?
And why? Why did this young woman target her that way? What had Elizabeth ever done to Cecilia to give her cause to confront her? Elizabeth looked in the mirror. Fitzwilliam told her constantly that she was beautiful, but she knew from listening to her mother for sixteen years that not everyone believed she was. Cecilia was the classic English beauty: tall, thin, and blonde. Elizabeth was short, dark-haired, and curvy. There was nothing striking about her; no reason for anyone to be jealous of her looks. It could not be that she did not like Elizabeth’s personality or something she had said; the pair had not spoken to each other beyond a greeting. It could not be her clothing, for Elizabeth knew from Lady Matlock that they shared the same modiste. The only conclusion she could come to is that Cecilia was mean, plain and simple. And that added to Elizabeth’s agony and anger. There was no reason for the attack. Elizabeth was simply there at an opportune time.
The more Elizabeth thought about it, the angrier she got. She paced the room, beat her fists on her thighs, and began eyeing the china figurines on the mantelpiece. Surely the sound of them breaking on the hearth would make her feel better! But no, that would create more work for the maids, and she did not want to do that. They should not suffer for her amusement. Finally realizing that physical activity would relieve her emotions, she sought out her husband.
Finding him in the library, she approached with a soft smile and perched herself in his lap, her arm around his shoulders.
Fitzwilliam chuckled as she settled in, laying his book on the table beside him before kissing her softly.
“Good afternoon, Sweetheart. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
“Can a girl not cuddle with her beloved husband without cause?” Elizabeth asked with a twinkle in her eye and an arch to her brow.
“Hmmm. Perhaps.” Another kiss, slower this time, and more thorough. “”Mmmmm. How did you know I was thinking of you?”
“You were thinking of me? I am flattered, Fitzwilliam. I thought you were contemplating …” She reached over and snatched his book off the table. “Pope?”
“No,” he denied, drawing the word out. “Pope is just a cover for what I am really thinking about.” He kissed her again. “Lavender.” Kiss. “Soft lips.” Kiss. “Warm hugs.” Kiss.
She giggled. “Really, my darling?”
“Really.” A final kiss and then he sat back, giving her the look she knew meant that she needed to be forthcoming about whatever was on her mind. She sighed and he smiled, recognizing the sign of surrender for what it was.
“I have been thinking about … things. I am angry, and need to release it somehow. If I were at Longbourn, I would walk, perhaps to Oakham Mount. However, I am in London, and I have a handprint on my cheek. That would not be a problem, except there is no place to walk where there are no other people. It is a conundrum. I came to you hoping you would find a solution. Perhaps we could go race the horses again?” She looked hopefully at him.
Fitzwilliam hugged her tightly. He understood her desire to release her feelings through physical activity. He utilized that method frequently, going to his fencing and boxing clubs, as well as riding and occasionally walking. He also knew she chafed at being restricted in her movements. In the months she had been in London – weeks before their marriage with her aunt and uncle Gardiner, then weeks since their marriage here at Darcy House – she had rarely set foot outside except to shop or attend church. She had her presentation and her ball and had made some calls with his aunt, but that was it. She had had no opportunity in weeks for exercise, other than that one day they had raced the horses on the outskirts of the city.
Releasing her enough that he could see her face, he finally responded. With his hand rubbing up and down her back, he said, “You do need some activity, this I know. You have been housebound too long.” He sighed, pausing to order his thoughts before continuing. “I believe I know a place we can go and walk, away from prying eyes. I will ask Cook to prepare a picnic basket, and we can spend the entire afternoon there. What do you think? Is this acceptable?”
Elizabeth smiled widely, delight overtaking her features. She threw her arms around his shoulders once again, exclaiming, “Oh, Fitzwilliam, it sounds delightful! Thank you, my darling! I knew you would find a solution!”
Her husband laughed, pleased he had made her happy. “Go on with you now. You must change your clothes, and I must arrange things with the coachman and cook. I will meet you in the foyer in an hour.”
She hopped up from his lap, blew him a kiss, then rushed from the room to go to their chambers and change.
Hours later, the couple sat cuddled together under a tree in a field far outside London. The remains of their picnic lunch lay at their feet at the end of the blanket they sat on, and their shoes and stockings, as well as Fitzwilliam’s topcoat and waistcoat, were piled in a corner.
“Thank you, my darling, for bringing me here. Who knew such an empty place existed so close to town? The walk in from the road was so invigorating! It was just what I needed to restore my good humor!”
“You are welcome, Sweetheart. Did you enjoy running through the meadow, as well?”
“Now, you know that I always enjoy being chased by the handsomest man in England,” she responded with a laugh, leaning in for a kiss.
Her husband joined in her laughter. They continued to sit there, talking about the ball and Elizabeth’s muddled feelings, kissing now and again. Their passions rose, and they enjoyed the pleasures of one another, finally falling into sleep, arms wrapped around each other. After a short period of rest, they noticed the sun falling far down in the sky. The pair redressed themselves, packed up their picnic things, and began the long walk back to the carriage, refreshed, renewed, and ready to handle anything that came their way.
Finally, the day came that the evidence of Miss Smith’s assault was no longer visible on Elizabeth’s face. She and Fitzwilliam, along with Papa George, had been invited to a dinner party at the home of one of Mr. Darcy’s friends.
As they waited in the foyer, Fitzwilliam’s father asked him how Elizabeth felt about their attendance at the event.
“She says she is not afraid, but judging by the look in her eye, she is at least apprehensive.” He sighed before continuing, “We talked a long time the other day when we were on our picnic. She is pleased with the impression she made at the ball; she feels it and she were a success. However, she is hurt and angry about Miss Smith’s words and actions. She cannot understand the girl’s motives. We discussed every possible reason, those we could think of, and have come to the conclusion that the girl is simply unkind. This makes Elizabeth angry, of course, for there was no reason for it to happen. But I believe her anger goes beyond Cecilia Smith. She has not said explicitly, but I believe she is still angry with Regis, and with herself for being fearful.”
“She must watch that she does not become bitter. Unforgiveness is a terrible thing. She must forgive Regis and this young lady, but she must also forgive herself for being afraid.”
“Yes, I have suggested as much to her. It is in her hands now. I can and will protect her from any form of future attack, as I know you will, Father, but I cannot protect her from herself.”
Looking toward the staircase and seeing Elizabeth descending, he smiled and stepped towards her with his hand outstretched. She took his hand as she stopped on the last step. Raising hers to his lips, he kissed it, then leaned in and kissed her lips. “You are stunning, my love. Every guest in attendance will fall at your feet. The women will all want the name of your modiste and the men will all be envious of me.”
Blushing and looking at her feet, Elizabeth rebuked him. “Fitzwilliam, stop. You know that is not true.”
He tilted his head to look at her face, then used his free hand to lift her chin so he could see her expression clearly. “In my eyes, you are the most stunning creature I have ever beheld. And, since my opinion is the only one that matters, it follows that it must be true. It cannot be otherwise. Am I not correct, Father?”
Mr. Darcy smiled at the pair. “Yes, Son, you are correct. Daughter, you are indeed beautiful, and every person in the room will be envious. I am so proud of you for carrying on when you could be hiding in your room. No one would blame you if you did, you know. Yet, you face each new day with determination. If Georgiana shows half your pluck at your age, I shall be well-pleased.
“You are aware, are you not, that tonight’s dinner is hosted by an old friend of mine?” Seeing Elizabeth’s nod, he added, “I have known Jackson forever. He is predisposed to like you, and if you charm him as you have every other man in this family, he will sing your praises to everyone he sees. You are very like his late wife, Horatia. She was very witty, with just a hint of impertinence about her. So, please, do not be uneasy. All will be well.”
Elizabeth hugged him tightly, teary-eyed. “Thank you, Papa George,” she whispered. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, my dear.” Letting go of her, he handed her back to her husband, joking, “There you go, my boy. Thank you for letting me borrow her for a minute.”
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes before replying, “You are welcome, Father. But perhaps you might ask next time, before you ‘borrow’ her?”
The trio laughed and Mr. Darcy slapped his son on the back, then they stepped out the door and into the carriage to travel to their event.
“Darcy, welcome to our home!” Mr. Adam Jackson exclaimed as he gripped his guest’s hand, shaking it vigorously.
Grinning widely, Darcy returned the grip. Though he and Jackson had known each other since they were boys, it had been months since they had seen one another. It was good to be in each other’s company again. Both looked forward to an enjoyable evening.
Letting go of the elder Darcy’s hand, Mr. Jackson greeted Fitzwilliam just as enthusiastically. He was gentler with Elizabeth, but the warmth of his welcome could not be denied. She was able to relax a little, knowing her host was so accepting of her. When the gentleman introduced her to his hostess, his eldest daughter, Mrs. Evander Standford, Elizabeth was able to relax even further, for Mrs. Standford was every bit as warm and welcoming as her father.
“Please, call me Laura,” she urged. “I just know we shall be great friends! Fitz and I grew up together, you know. Well, he was more the friend of my brothers, but as the eldest, I made sure I was invited along on their adventures.” Winking at Elizabeth, she laughed gaily.
With a giggle of her own, Elizabeth glanced at her husband before leaning toward her new friend and demanding, “Oh, you must share some of those adventures with me! Fitzwilliam has told me much, but I would love to hear of them from a different perspective! And please, you must call me Elizabeth.”
The two chatted a few moments longer, until other guests arrived and the Darcys moved into the drawing room. There, they mingled with the newcomers until their hosts joined them.
Elizabeth was feeling rather relaxed. She had met almost everyone in the room previously; all were people she felt looked upon her with kindness, if not friendliness. She was beginning to truly enjoy herself when she was suddenly confronted with one of the people she wished never to see again – Lady Penelope Mays.
“Mrs. Darcy,” she sneered in greeting. “Imagine finding you here.” She lowered her voice. “Did my cousin not teach you enough of a lesson? You needed to come back for more?”
Stiffly, Elizabeth replied, “Your cousin? I am sorry Lady Penelope, I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”
Fitzwilliam, who stood beside her with his arm wrapped in hers, had felt her stiffen and quickly brought his conversation to an end. Turning his attention to his wife, his eyes narrowed when he saw the person speaking to her. When Penelope lowered her tone, he leaned his head down to better hear her conversation. The lady appeared not to even notice he was there, so intent was she on threatening Elizabeth. Such was her arrogance that she was convinced he would despise his wife and begin leaving her at home rather than face the derision of society. She was about to find out just how wrong she was.
Lady Penelope had continued in the low voice she had taken, almost whispering, “Do you not? Did Cecilia not demonstrate to you how low you are? I know she did, for she is my young cousin and always does as I ask. Shall I remind you of her actions and words? I daresay if she did not leave enough of an impression, I certainly can.”
Before his dearest spouse could respond, Fitzwilliam spoke in clear, cold, carrying tones. “Lady Penelope, what is this you are telling my wife?” The lady froze. “You instigated an assault upon her?” He paused, waiting for her response, and when she remained still and did not open her lips, he demanded, “Answer me!”
Lady Penelope glanced around, swallowing when she realized a large portion of the room’s occupants had heard him. Raising her chin in a gesture of defiance, she replied. “I do not know what you are speaking of. I? Instigate an assault on someone? Surely you are joking!” She laughed in an attempt to appear unafraid, but it sounded weak to even her own ears. However, she was not ready to give in yet. She was a Mays, after all, and the daughter of an earl. She was a member of the peerage. He was only a landowner. In her attempt to save face, she forgot that, though only a landowner, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and his father were very powerful men.
“I warned your cousin what would happen should there be any more assaults, of any kind, upon my good wife. Lord Blackmoore must have followed through with the punishment he laid out for Lady Cecilia if you are unaware of the consequences.”
Lady Penelope swallowed again but maintained a stoic expression. The coldness of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s voice, combined with the hardness in his eyes, made him a very intimidating gentleman. She saw him shift and realized that his father had joined them, on the other side of Mrs. Darcy and with a demeanor similar to that of his son. The stances of both men made it clear to one such as she, who was well-versed in the nuances of high society, that their support was firmly with their wife and daughter. Lady Penelope was beginning to feel some apprehension. It was not supposed to have worked this way. Mr. Darcy spoke.
“Lady Penelope, what are you about?”
Suddenly she snapped. “What am I about? What are you about, sir? You have been taken in by a ragamuffin fortune hunter from a family of little consequence and miserable connections! You have connected your only son to a woman with relatives in trade. Have you no shame?” She paused to take a breath, but before anyone else could get a word in, she continued, “She does not belong among good society! She should be cast off, and I intend to make sure she is not received by the best families. If you will not see reason, I will ensure she does. You have an estate in Scotland, I believe … that is where she should go, a place far away where she can be hidden. She is shameful! Look at her! She has not a fine feature in her face, her figure leans to fat, and her voice grates. She is common, and I am doing all in my power to make certain she never loses awareness of it.”
Red-faced and breathless, Lady Penelope finally stopped speaking. The room was deathly silent, every breath held to see what the response of the Darcys would be to such a terrible accusation toward one of their own. They were known to be fiercely protective, and many in the crowd were silently sure that if she were a man, the lady would have been called out by now. They did not have long to wait.
In a voice so cold that everyone in the room shuddered, Mr. Darcy began to defend Elizabeth. “Madam, my daughter is a gentlewoman. She is the niece of one of my closest friends, a tradesman whose wife is twice the lady you are. Your title holds no weight with me, nor does that of your father. I could buy your family twice over. Mrs. Darcy’s dowry or lack thereof is no concern of yours.
“My daughter is the epitome of a lady in manner, dress, and comportment. She is one of the most beautiful women I have seen, second only to my late, beloved wife. She is proving herself to be a capable mistress of Darcy House, and I am convinced will excel even more when she begins her duties at Pemberley.”
Fitzwilliam cut in, determined to have his say and to punish this woman who hated Elizabeth. In a voice and with a countenance every bit as cold, hard, and demeaning as his father’s, he intoned, “You and your family, Lady Penelope, are no longer welcome in company with the Darcys. I personally will make certain the tale of your actions is known far and wide, and you will be the laughingstock. Not I, not Mrs. Darcy or our father, but you. If one of us sees you in the street, we will cross to the other side. Never again will you be acknowledged by any of us. If word of any further attacks reaches me or my father, rest assured, madam, that we will sue you for slander. Should they be physical assaults, I will have you arrested and sent to Newgate, you and everyone who assists you in any way. Is this clear?”
After receiving tongue-lashings from two such frightening men, all Lady Penelope wanted was to leave their presence and gather herself and her composure. It was not to be, however, for at her side appeared her host and her father, both with severe expressions.
“Penelope!” Lord Sheffield exclaimed. “What have you done?”
“Father, I …”
“She insulted my wife, sir, and not for the first time. In addition, she instigated an assault by your nieces upon Mrs. Darcy’s person at her presentation ball several days ago. Miss Smith injured and attempted to intimidate my wife into silence. It is not to be borne, and it will not be.”
Darcy stepped in, seeing that his son was becoming increasingly angry. “Lord Sheffield, the Darcy family hereby cuts all ties with your own. An apology from your daughter is expected, but will not change our plans. Perhaps, sir, she could be sent to an estate in Scotland, as she suggested we do with Mrs. Darcy. As my son said earlier, if she were a man, he would have called her out and none would blame him, regardless of the outcome.”
He stepped closer to Lady Penelope’s father and lowered his voice. “Unless you want your daughter to remain unmarried and cast off from society, you will control her. Obviously, you have not to date. The promises my son and I have issued today are not idle, and you will soon reap the consequences.”
Jackson spoke quietly to Lord Sheffield and Lady Penelope. “I think, sir, it is time for you and your family to leave.”
The gentleman and his daughter looked at him in shock, speechless. Finally, to avoid any further confrontation and future gossip, he grasped Penelope’s arm and pulled her from the room.
Jackson turned to Darcy. “George, I apologize. It is inexcusable that such a thing would happen to one of my dearest friends, and in my own house! I would not fault you if you desired to take Mrs. Darcy home, but I hope you will consent to stay and let me make amends.”
Darcy, upon seeing the Mays family leave, let down his stance, relaxing the tense set to his shoulders and spine, as well as the severe expression on his face. He looked to his son, who turned to Elizabeth. She hesitated before giving an infinitesimal nod. She was greatly upset. Angry, even. However, she was a lady and was not about to stoop to the level of Lady Penelope. She would not contribute to the gossip if she could help it. Fitzwilliam, seeing her nod, gave one to his father, who turned to his host and replied, “Thank you, Adam; we would be delighted to stay.” Looking at the other guests, who had yet to stop staring, he stated, loudly and clearly, “I have said this before and I say it again: Mrs. Darcy is my daughter, and any insult or injury to her is an insult or injury to me. I will not ignore either. Any man, or woman, who does not wish to be in our company, will be cut from our acquaintance just as Lord Sheffield and his family have been, and we will not repine. Your status means nothing to us. We do not need connections who would disparage us.”
No one moved, other than to lower their eyes and nod. Most were friends of George Darcy and valued that relationship. The few that were not, were not about to put themselves into a position for him and his family to cut them.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly, as all the guests made an effort to put behind them the scene they had witnessed in the drawing room.
To be continued …