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’re enjoying the story. I’ve not made major edits … it’s mostly been rewording here and there and changing from British spellings to American.
The next day, as the family broke their fast, they discussed the events of the previous night. This was something they always did, whether at Pemberley or in town. It gave the family, including Georgiana, an opportunity to express their emotions and concerns and to reassure and comfort each other. In the course of this day’s conversation, it was suggested by Mr. Darcy that his daughter plan a dinner, an idea enthusiastically endorsed by Fitzwilliam. While reluctant, Elizabeth saw the sense in the plan, and knowing as she did Lady Matlock’s willingness to assist her in any endeavor, she agreed to it. Immediately after the meal, a note was duly sent off to the lady, requesting her assistance and that of Lady Tansley.
An hour later, the two women arrived at Darcy House, prepared to assist Elizabeth in any way they could. The rest of the day was spent planning the menu and entertainments and compiling a guest list. The date was set for a se’ennight out, and a servant sent to the stationery shop for extra paper and ink. The ladies agreed to meet again early the next day to begin writing out the invitations, and Elizabeth would check this evening with her husband and father to finalize the list of names.
“I am proud of you, Elizabeth, for so willingly putting yourself forth in this manner,” Vanessa said, squeezing her cousin’s hand tightly. “Most of the ladies I know would hide away after receiving such treatment. I know Fitzwilliam must be so proud of you.”
“Darcy is, as well, I daresay,” Lady Matlock added. “He truly looks at you as a daughter, my dear. I think there is nothing you could do that he and Fitzwilliam would not overlook and excuse away.” She smiled at her niece, who smiled back.
“Thank you, Aunt Audra. And you, Vanessa. My desire is to please my husband in all things, and by extension Papa George. Your words are a great encouragement to me.” She rose from her seat, and her guests stood with her. She hugged each one tightly before reaching for their hands. “I love you both, very much.”
Moved to tears by her quiet declaration and unused to such sentiments being spoken aloud in their society, all the ladies knew to do was squeeze her hands tighter before letting go and quietly leaving for home.
Once her guests had gone, Elizabeth took her list and went to find her Fitzwilliam and Papa George, who, as expected, were working in the study. After knocking and being bid entrance, she paused in the doorway, watching them for a moment. Their heads were bent over a set of papers, pens in their hands, twirling between their fingers in identical motions. Combined with their similar coloring and features, it was as though she were looking at twins instead of father and son.
Her moment of admiration was fleeting, however, when one glanced up and saw her leaning against the doorframe. He quickly stood, and the other, seeing what was happening, followed suit.
Advancing toward his spouse, Fitzwilliam rounded the desk while reaching for her hands. “Sweetheart, what can we do for you?”
He led her to a settee beside the desk and sat her down, sitting as close beside her as he could get. He would have liked to set her on his lap in the chair he had been in when she entered the room, but with his father there, he thought better of the idea.
In danger of being lost in his eyes, Elizabeth forced hers away, though she held tightly to his hand and leaned on his shoulder, so he knew she felt as he did.
“I have a tentative guest list for the dinner party. Aunt Audra encouraged me to ask you and Papa George to look at it. You are free to make any additions or subtractions you wish; this is just to get us started.”
Glancing at her father-in-law, Elizabeth’s gaze was irresistibly drawn back to that of her husband. Her heart raced, as it always did when in close proximity to him.
Mr. Darcy cleared his throat, startling his children. He was quite aware that if he did not nip this staring thing in the bud, they would be insensible to anyone or anything else … and were likely to begin behaving inappropriately. While he was delighted with them both and with their felicity, he had no desire to witness it.
“If you hand your list over to me, my dear, I will peruse it first.” He chuckled when her face became bright red, and she once again forced her gaze from his son’s.
For his part, Fitzwilliam snaked his arm around his wife’s waist, holding her tightly, as his face also crimsoned. This was not the first time his father had been forced to separate them, and while one would think he would be used to it, he was embarrassed to lack control in front of his father. It was just that he found Elizabeth so beautiful, and so sweet, and curvy, and she smelled so good … and her eyes and the love he could see there drew him in. He was powerless to resist her.
Darcy cleared his throat again before looking up from the page. “This is a very comprehensive list. Audra knows exactly who needs to attend any given event and who can be excluded. I do wish to add a couple names,” he said as he picked his pen up once again and began scratching words out on the list. “There,” he declared as he finished writing with a flourish. “Now, Son, it is your turn.”
Taking the list from his father, Fitzwilliam examined it carefully. “I’d like to add some names, as well.” He counted the number of people and then asked if one more couple would be too many. When Elizabeth said two more people would be fine, he let her go, picking his own pen up and adding the names of one of his university friends and the man’s wife. When he finished, he set his pen down upon the list, rose from his seat, and, holding his hand out to his spouse, excused them to his smirking father before leading her up to their chambers for a period of refreshment.
The following week passed quickly. The ladies of Matlock assisted Elizabeth with every aspect of the dinner preparation, encouraging her along the way. Georgiana, desiring to be as helpful as possible, participated as much as her schedule of lessons allowed.
The staff was just as eager to assist their mistress, and worked very hard to scrub, dust, and polish every fixture and corner of the house to a shine. The cook was unused to preparing for such large numbers of people, but she rose to the challenge admirably, consulting her cooking books and planning recipe execution and delivery like an army general in charge of a battle. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Bishop were as excited as schoolchildren to show off the house where they served in a way that had not been done since before Master Fitzwilliam’s mother had passed away.
Finally, the night of the party arrived. As the family, minus Georgiana, who ate in the nursery that night, stood in the foyer ready to greet their guests, Elizabeth nervously smoothed out her skirt. Noticing the sign of anxiety, Darcy and Fitzwilliam both gave her words of encouragement. When words did not seem to help, Fitzwilliam decided she needed to relax a bit. Excusing them, he drew her into a nearby room, shutting and locking the door behind them before kissing her senseless. When he finally felt her lean bonelessly into him, he slowed the caress of his lips before drawing away. The sight of her half-lidded eyes and slightly swollen lips made him smile, and he asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Wonderful,” Elizabeth breathed.
Chuckling, he replied, “Then let us get you out there before the effect wears off.” And so, he led her back out to the receiving line in time to greet the Matlock party.
Lady Matlock examined the pair with narrowed eyes. “What have the two of you been doing?”
“I took my wife into the other room for a few minutes. She was anxious and needed to relax. Her hair is not mussed, and neither is her gown. She is happy and at ease.”
“Hmph,” his aunt replied. “Anyone with eyes will guess how you relaxed her. You really should be more careful about these things, but since your father was aware of what was happening, I suppose nothing I can say will make a difference.”
Her nephew only smiled and bowed, his hand settled against the small of the blushing Elizabeth’s back, where his thumb rubbed up and down.
As Lord and Lady Matlock joined the receiving line, the first of the guests began to enter the house. Smiling graciously and glad that her husband had distracted her from her concerns, Elizabeth was able to greet each visitor with confidence. She curtseyed and smiled, asked after family members, and received comments and the inevitable subtle criticisms with grace.
The dinner itself went well. The staff did the family, especially the young mistress, proud. Every course was timed perfectly and served at the correct temperature. Sharp-eyed footmen made sure wine glasses remained full at all times, and the hosts kept the conversation flowing. It was only after the ladies retired to the drawing room that cracks began to show in the harmony of the gathering.
Not long after Elizabeth led the ladies into the room, a young woman approached her with a pinched look and her nose in the air.
The two curtseyed to each other.
“Miss Pennywhistle, how good of you and your family to attend our little soiree.” Elizabeth smiled at her guest, though every warning gong in her head was sounding. She was sure this young lady was going to try to discompose her.
“I spoke recently with my close friend, Lady Penelope Mays … perhaps you remember her?” At Elizabeth’s nod, she continued, “I must say I agree with her estimation of you. You do not belong. I believe I will join her in her quest to remove you from our society.”
More than a little surprised at the lady’s bluntness, Elizabeth had nonetheless had enough. This was her home, and she would be dead in her grave before she was insulted here. She could feel her courage rise along with her anger.
Speaking in a low but vehement voice, she stated, “Indeed, madam. Are you aware of the consequences Lady Penelope and her family have experienced as a result of her foolish actions? The house of Sheffield is no longer recognized by the Darcys. How would your parents feel if your actions caused them to join that family in their exile from my family’s circle, hmm? You realize, of course, that society as a whole will follow the Darcys. We may not be titled, but we are powerful. Beware, Miss Pennywhistle, beware.”
With a fiery glare at her guest, Elizabeth turned her back and walked away. Ladies Matlock and Tansley, who had joined the pair upon seeing the look on Elizabeth’s face as she spoke, remained in place.
“Madam, be assured that my mother and I,” Lady Tansley gestured to Lady Matlock, “will report this incident to Mr. Darcy.”
Nodding in agreement, Lady Matlock added, “The house of Matlock stands behind the Darcys in their decision to cut the Mays family from their acquaintance. Lord and Lady Sheffield are aware of this. I am surprised your parents are not. However, they will be before this night is over. My suggestion to you is to begin thinking of ways to grovel before Mrs. Darcy, and perhaps win back her approval.” She looked at her nails as she continued. “Not that I think it will help. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy are very protective of her.” Now she looked straight at the startled young woman before her.
“I do not know what they are teaching these days in girls’ schools, but surely abusing your peers was not a subject your teachers taught you. Perhaps you should be paying more attention in church. You are a disgrace to society and to your family.” With those words, Lady Matlock and her daughter mimicked their relative by turning around and walking away, joining Elizabeth on the other side of the room.
For her part, Elizabeth was outraged at the effrontery of Miss Mary Pennywhistle. She maintained her countenance and her speech in such a way that none of her guests knew her feelings, but angry she was. Her Aunt Audra and Vanessa took the first opportunity to inquire of her.
“Are you well, my dear?” Lady Matlock asked. “We heard that young woman, what she said to you. After you walked away, Vanessa and I added our two pence to the conversation.”
Lady Tansley, nodding in agreement, added, “I am sure she will at least think twice before speaking to you again. I believe she was struck dumb to be taken to task by a countess and a viscountess all at once.” The three laughed at this.
“Thank you so very much for your support! I am angry that she would make this attempt in my own home. What was she thinking? Or was she at all? Honestly, I do not understand people like that.” Taking a deep breath, she continued. “I apologize. I should not express my anger in such a way and in such a place. Forgive me.”
“No, no, all is well,” Lady Matlock soothed, laying her hand on her niece’s arm. “I admire your grace in this matter. I would, I am afraid, be allowing everyone within hearing distance know of my displeasure, were I you.”
Elizabeth and Vanessa smiled at the image of the always poised and proper countess loudly declaring her unhappiness.
“Thank you, both of you. I could not do this without you. Let us be seated. I just saw a servant gesture to me; the men should be returning momentarily.”
Before much more time had passed, the gentlemen did indeed join the ladies. Always vigilant where his wife was concerned, Fitzwilliam immediately noticed that she was unhappy. Heading directly to her side, he sat beside her, holding her hand and leaning over to whisper urgently, “What happened?”
“I found that I had to censure one of the young ladies, darling. I believe that I handled myself very well,” her chin came up, indicating to him her pride in her actions, “and our aunt and cousin supported me. I hope all will be well from here.”
Fitzwilliam, from the moment she spoke the word “censure,” had begun scanning the faces of the ladies, eyes narrowed, to see if he could determine the identity of the offender. It was apparent from the way she would not meet his eyes which lady’s father would be visited on the morrow.
Elizabeth gasped, “How did you know?”
“She will not look at me.” He turned to his wife, “You spoke to her?” At her nod, he asked, “What did you say?”
“That this is my home, and I would not accept abuse here, from anyone. I then informed Miss Pennywhistle of the consequences Lady Penelope and her family faced for speaking to me similarly.”
“I am proud of you, and if we were not here, in the midst of our guests, I would demonstrate for you just how proud I am.” He squeezed her hand even tighter, which, combined with the smouldering look in his eye, caused her heart to leap in her chest.
Leaning toward him, she whispered, “Perhaps later, after they have all gone home, you can do just that?”
“You may be assured of it, madam.”
True to his word, the moment the last visitor left the house that night, Fitzwilliam whisked his wife up the stairs to their chambers. Dismissing his valet and her maid, they locked the doors to the bedroom before undressing each other and falling into bed. Hours later, they finally slept, sated and happy.
The next morning, Fitzwilliam and his father visited a very unhappy Mr. Pennywhistle, making clear the expectations for receiving future invitations from the Darcys. The next time the mortified Miss Mary Pennywhistle saw Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, a heartfelt apology was extended by the one and forgiveness by the other, with the caveat that the incident was not forgotten.
Word soon spread through the ton that the new Mrs. Darcy was not to be trifled with. The remainder of the season, while not completely painless for Elizabeth, passed rather easily.
In another townhouse in Mayfair, while the Darcy men were calling on the Pennywhistles, the Watson household was quiet, except for the master’s study. Harold Watson, otherwise known as Lord Regis, listened unhappily as one of his cronies from the House of Lords regaled him with recent gossip, central of which was news of the new Mrs. Darcy.
How he hated her, and everyone associated with her! At the same time, he hated himself for still wanting to possess her. Even now, he did not love her. He simply wanted to own her, and never before had he been prevented from obtaining what he wanted. A voice inside told him to go take her, to make her pay for his humiliation, but a stronger voice recalled to him the threats made by George Darcy. No, he said to himself, she is not worth the scandal. My position in society and seat in Parliament is too valuable to me, and Darcy is too powerful an enemy to cross.
He was grudgingly grateful to the man, however. Not a word of gossip had escaped about him, the incident at the bookshop, or any other action he had taken in connection with her, a fact that went a long way toward proving just how much influence Darcy wielded.
He sighed to himself before turning his attention back to his guest. He must maintain appearances, not letting anyone know his feelings and mood. It was a game he had played every day of his life, for as long as he could remember. It would not be difficult to continue.
To be continued …