Cause to Repine by EM Storm-Smith
I am SOOOOO excited to announce that the electronic Advanced Reader Copies of my newest book – Cause to Repine – are ready for download! Follow the link below:
Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy come from two different worlds. She loves her country estate existence. He was born for London’s high society. If his aunts have anything to say about it, and they always have plenty to say about it, Darcy’s happiness depends on finding a bride with connections to the nobility. While Elizabeth deems a romantic connection obviously impossible, they develop an easy friendship based on mutual admiration and intelligent discourse. As Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship deepens, exposure to the larger world beyond Meryton provides a painful glimpse at how difficult a union between them might be. Can Darcy and Elizbeth overcome their fears and the constant berating of London’s gossipmongers to follow their hearts?
Want more of a taste? Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1.
“Come, Sir William, you must have something more to say about our new neighbours than they are amiable and genteel! You find everyone amiable and genteel,” Elizabeth Bennet laughed. “It rather more speaks to your character than theirs.” She was having a marvellous evening. As a young woman with little in the world to cause her distress and a disposition not formed for melancholy, Elizabeth was a much sought-after companion at the Michaelmas public assembly in the town of Meryton, Hertfordshire, England.
“Now, Miss Elizabeth, that is nothing but the truth, as you can see yourself that our new neighbour is of a happy set.” Sir William Lucas promoted his remarks with a pointed look in the direction of said new neighbour, Mr. Charles Bingley, a wealthy, young, and most importantly unmarried, man, who was at that moment dancing with Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane.
“I will own to Mr. Bingley being happy and amiable, but what of the rest of his party? My father would say not one word about his call to them the other day, so I must beg your indulgence.” Like many of the landed gentry throughout England, Elizabeth’s father was a well-positioned estate owner with a moderate annual income that supported his family and kept his properties and tenants in good repair. Though certainly not of London Society, the Bennet family was among the wealthiest in the area. No one who lived in Meryton and the surrounding county could claim to be of high fashion or overly fine, but the country gentlemen of Hertfordshire were all well-educated, and their wives kept generous tables.
However, it was clear to the long-time residents that, though Bingley himself was outwardly enjoying his evening, the rest of the Netherfield party was feeling all the lack of high society.
Sir William shook his head and gave Elizabeth a slightly scolding look just as his daughter, Charlotte, joined their conversation. “Lizzy, are you attempting to goad Father into saying something ungenerous?”
Elizabeth bumped Charlotte’s hip with her own and adopted an offended mien. “How you wound me, Charlotte. I am merely looking to gain a better understanding of our new friends.”
“Of course, how could I ever believe such slander of my closest friend?” Charlotte took Elizabeth’s arm and not so subtly steered her away from the circle of matrons and their husbands. “Come, dear, I am sure you are parched from dancing. Let us retrieve some lemonade and sit for a while, before my brother demands his turn around the room with you.”
Elizabeth let out another full laugh at her friend’s teasing. At one time, everyone in Meryton had thought that Elizabeth would make a match with the eldest Lucas boy, John, based mostly on their shared propensity to laugh and talk with animation during dances. As neither were inclined to marry the other, they had mutually decided, some years ago, to avoid each other during balls and assemblies to stop the gossip. Tonight was the first public dance since John married a kindly young lady from Weymouth, and he had been quite happy to be able to once again engage in diverting conversation with his childhood friend.
“We certainly cannot leave your brother dissatisfied, can we?” As Elizabeth promenaded around the room with Charlotte, she passed very close to the tall, dark haired gentleman introduced as Bingley’s friend from Derbyshire. For a moment, while she was still chuckling about John’s antics, their eyes met.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was miserable. He was only in Meryton to visit his friend, Bingley, who had taken a lease on an estate two days prior. The mayor of Meryton, a Sir William Lucas, had called on the new master of Netherfield estate the very morning before Darcy had arrived and provided tickets to the Michaelmas assembly for the entire Bingley party as a gesture of welcome. Darcy could not very well snub the local gentry by refusing to attend.
But he wished he had.
The Darcy family was squarely in le bon ton and had close connections to several peers of the realm. Even more importantly, the Darcys had money. While not holding a title himself, Darcy’s father, the current Master of Pemberley, had an annual income which exceeded many of the lesser Earls and Barons with seats in the House of Lords.
Even for those who were not familiar with the name Darcy, it was apparent by the cut of his clothes that the newest addition to Meryton’s society was a vastly wealthy man. Inside of five minutes after Darcy followed Bingley and his sisters into the hall, he had heard at least one of the local matrons whisper behind her fan that his inheritance was worth ten thousand pounds per year.
Add to the gossip a healthy dose of unceasing noise, and Darcy’s misery was complete. Contrary to the easy manner of the country gentry, the highest ranks of society were conditioned to keep their emotions and their mouths under good regulation.
Women of the ton certainly never laughed in public.
As he was trying to avoid a massive headache, Darcy had taken up a place at the edge of the room where he could avoid much of the unfettered merriment.
“Come now Darcy, I must have you dance! It is too lovely an assembly with too many pretty faces for you to sulk in the shadows.” Darcy jumped at the sudden declaration of his friend Bingley. His eyes had still been following the two young women headed towards the refreshments table and not noticed the other man walk up.
Coming back to himself, Darcy hung his head a little lower at Bingley’s words. He was a tall man, over six foot, and had always towered over much of the other people in any room. If he ever hoped to be ignored in a crowd, Darcy learned he had to retreat to darkened segments of walls where the sconces did not quite reach. Bingley had found his friend standing in these shadows many nights in the five years of their friendship and was not fooled by the poor illumination.
“Charles, you know how I detest the activity unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner, and since both of your sisters are engaged for the next set, I believe I shall not. It would be insupportable to dance at an event such as this.” Darcy sniffed as he finished his excuses and folded his arms protectively against his chest.
Bingley laughed at Darcy’s attempt at intimidation. “I would not be as fastidious as you for all of the King’s gold. Really, I am sure we can find someone appropriate for you to partner. My last dance partner has a sister who I believe is available. I can have her introduce you. I believe she is the one with that enchanting laugh.”
This piqued Darcy’s interest. He had indeed noticed the young woman who seemed to find humour in everything. She was fairly short, with a light and pleasing figure. Darcy also overheard one of her conversations with a young gentleman regarding the great threat that another war with the Americas posed to England’s ability to defeat Napoleon in Spain. He had been very impressed with her analysis of the strength of the Royal Navy and its inability to sustain two shipping blockades. Darcy’s eyes involuntarily swept the room looking for the lady in question and when he looked back, Bingley’s expression told him his friend had already discerned Darcy was intrigued.
“Charles!” Darcy whispered harshly. “I cannot do such a thing. The local gossips are already loudly discussing my inheritance, as they are yours by the way, and I would not want to add any fuel to their fire. Dancing with a lady to whom I have only just been introduced will give rise to rumours. Those rumours will give rise to expectations, and then I shall be forced to hurt the lady when I quit the region for the season. You know my family’s expectations of me!”
Bingley placed one hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “William, calm down. No one is demanding you marry the lady. I know that the London Times gossip columnist has a special obsession with you, but we are not in London. One dance will not see you engaged. And I do believe you exaggerate your family’s expectations. Surely, your father has made no demands on your marriage.”
“No, he has not,” Darcy sighed. “But the Earl and Countess have been exceedingly vocal in recent months about my marrying this year. I believe my aunt even has a particular lady specially selected. My cousin, Richard, wrote to me the last time he was in London saying the Countess was planning several early season dinner parties with limited guests in order to facilitate some level of discourse between myself and her chosen favourite.”
After another heavy sigh and a moment to collect his thoughts, Darcy continued. “Perhaps it is for the best. I am so very awkward in social settings. I cannot catch the tone of conversation, or appear interested in the concerns of others, as I often see done. If I let the Countess choose me a wife, I shall at least be free to never spend another evening at Almack’s. I have always hoped for at least some affection to be present in my marriage, but with my abominable temper for society, and general lack of ability to intelligently string two words together when in the presence of persons I do not know well, I am likely to leave Pemberley without an heir unless I allow the Countess to handle matters as she sees fit.”
Bingley merely dropped his hands as Darcy walked away towards the refreshment table. He knew that the responsibility of living up to the Darcy name, with its noble connections and countless families looking to Pemberley for their prosperity, weighed heavily on his friend. In many ways, the trappings of wealth were indeed a trap.
“Well, girls, I do say that tonight was such a lovely success. So many gentlemen to dance with, and of course, our newest resident was obviously taken with my dear Jane!” Mrs. Bennet fanned herself and waved out of the window of their family carriage while pulling away from the Meryton assembly rooms. “Though, I cannot understand why you ever let John Lucas get away from you, Lizzy! He could have been married to you now instead of that plump, homely girl, if only you had done more to secure him.”
Elizabeth and Jane shared a look. It was fruitless to argue with their mother about her favourite topic, the acquisition of husbands for her five daughters.
“La! Who cares if Lizzy dances with only the married men? Did you see how many of our eligible neighbours asked me for a dance, Mamma? I will surely be married first out of all my sisters.” Lydia, the youngest of the Bennet sisters at only fifteen years of age, though already the tallest with a well-developed figure, gave each of her older sisters a smug smile.
Elizabeth bit the inside of her cheek to keep from starting an argument in the cramped carriage. Jane patted Elizabeth’s hand and redirected the conversation. “I also enjoyed the conversation of Mr. Bingley’s sisters and friend during the breaks from dancing, Mother. Lydia, Kitty, what did you think of Miss Bingley’s dress?”
Mrs. Bennet broke in before a discussion about dresses could start. “Oh, those sisters were finely dressed indeed, but their manners could not have been more formal. I thought the red-haired one had some foul smell under her nose all night. And don’t even mention the friend. That Mr. Darcy may have some extensive inheritance and all the land of the Peaks, but he is so above his company that I will not be sorry to see him go back to London. Humph.”
“I heard that he has his own estate in Wales somewhere, left to him by a distant relative, and that his father’s estate in the north has more than one hundred tenant farms!” Kitty, the fourth Bennet sister leaned forward to produce her gossip before anyone else could speak.
“One hundred tenants! That cannot be true. How could one man manage one hundred tenants?” Lydia crossed her arms and challenged her closest sister in age and affection.
Kitty fiddled with her gloves and reticule. “Maria Lucas told me so. You know how Sir William likes to keep up with the holdings of the ton, and apparently, he wrote to his London solicitor for information on our new neighbours last week.”
“Well, it was clear enough that he was uncomfortable with all the gossip this evening being so blatantly discussed, and with our neighbours’ interest in his bank accounts. Who would not be uncomfortable?” Elizabeth pointed her finger at her youngest sisters. “I do not want to hear you two being so inconsiderate with your words and gossip. It is extremely impolite to discuss such things in a ballroom.”
“Oh fie! Lizzy, let the girls alone.” Mrs. Bennet waved off her least favourite daughter’s scolding. “He was as unpleasant as any man I have ever seen, and what is impolite about the truth?”
“Mamma, please.” Jane spoke softly in the voice which often placated their mother’s nerves. “I am sure Mr. Darcy is a perfectly lovely person, though perhaps feeling out of place in this new society. He has been invited here as Mr. Bingley’s particular friend and I am inclined to like him for no other reason than the connection to that amiable gentleman.”
“Well,” Mrs. Bennet squirmed in her seat. “As you say Jane, dear, he is a guest of Mr. Bingley, and I am sure when you are mistress of Netherfield Park you will be induced to invite him to stay for your husband’s sake.”
“Mamma!” Elizabeth warned. “One dance does not make them engaged, and we should not start spreading the expectation around our friends or else Jane might be harmed if he goes away.”
Mrs. Bennet waved her fan around. “Nonsense! He was absolutely smitten with Jane. And it was two dances, not one. Mark my words, Miss Lizzy, Jane will not fail with Mr. Bingley as you did with John Lucas. I will have a daughter married before much longer, I am sure.”
Elizabeth and Jane shared a look, then held their tongues. Fruitless indeed.
Just before taking to her bed that evening, Elizabeth heard a faint knock on the door that joined her room to Jane’s.
“Come in dear, you know you need not knock.”
Jane entered, went straight to the left side of Elizabeth’s bed, climbed in, then covered her head with the blankets. Elizabeth laughed and proceeded under the covers herself.
“Janey, what has prompted this? You have not hidden in my bed for an age.”
With downcast eyes, Jane spoke barely above a whisper. “I believe I liked him very much.”
“Of course you liked him! Mr. Bingley was amicable and very attentive to you this evening. He was all that a young man should be. I am sure you can make up your own mind, but I certainly give you leave to like him as much as you will.” Elizabeth booped Jane on the nose and smiled encouragingly.
“Do you really think he was especially attentive to me, or do you suppose it was just his kindly personality that made it seem so?”
Reaching for her sister, Elizabeth enveloped Jane in a tight hug. “I am certain that he was singularly attentive to you. Even Charlotte commented that he danced twice only with you and seemed to seek out your company between sets. Did he not introduce you to his sisters? That must also show his sincerity.” Elizabeth could not fault Bingley for his preference shown to the eldest Bennet sister. Jane was by far the most beautiful of them all, and, in Elizabeth’s biased opinion, the most beautiful gentlewoman in the whole county. Even Bingley’s two sisters, who were dressed in fine silks of the very latest fashions, could not hold a candle to Jane’s natural grace and beauty. Elizabeth was also aware that her older sister was quite shy and genuinely modest. She did not see herself as the most beautiful and was often unsure about the attentions bestowed on her, mostly by men. It was impossible to be jealous of Jane, for she was simply too good.
“I will bend to your opinion here Lizzy, though I will continue to guard my heart for a while longer.”
Elizabeth squeezed Jane then released her. “That is entirely too sensible, but a good plan regardless. I was sincere with Mamma that one evening and only two dances does not see a couple engaged, but we shall give him time to enter our acquaintance. From what we have seen tonight, I believe you may get on exceedingly well.”
“What about his friend, Mr. Darcy? I did have some conversation with him, though I must say it was but little. You seemed very much in his defence with Kitty’s gossip and Mamma’s dislike.”
“Well, I was not actually introduced to him, but I did hear some of his conversation with Mr. Bingley.” Elizabeth looked sheepish at Jane’s scolding finger for her eavesdropping. “I did not mean to overhear, I promise. He was not aware how his voice carried around the room. I am surprised that more of our friends did not overhear.”
Jane sighed. “Go on then, what do you want to tell me?”
“Some of it is that I am a bit ashamed of myself. You know that Father and I often take a sort of bizarre pleasure in reading the London gossip column and looking for the ever-changing reports of person A being in a torrid love affair with person B one day, then person C the very next, based on nothing more than a dinner invitation or passing conversation at the theatre?”
Jane nodded, knowing their father had passed on his enjoyment of laughing at their neighbours to her younger sister.
“Well, it seems that Mr. Darcy might be a person of particular interest for that column. Mr. Bingley said something about how the writer takes pleasure in following Mr. Darcy around in London. It seems that Mr. Darcy did not dance in part because he has been subjected to unfair expectations in the past based on a single dance.” Elizabeth shook her head and sighed. “Also, he mentioned that he was uncomfortable hearing our neighbours, and probably Mamma, comment on his inheritance. The poor man probably felt very uncomfortable in a room full of people with whom he was not acquainted, but who were also speaking so impolitely of him.”
“I am very sorry to hear that indeed.” Jane’s eyes had become very round with some small tears in the corners. “I am sure no one tonight was trying to make him uncomfortable. If only they could have known, I am sure they would have stopped speculating.”
Elizabeth shook her head once more. “You are too kind to everyone. You know full well that our friends and family like to gossip.” Tucking her hands under her head, Elizabeth turned on her back and staired at the underside of her bed’s canopy. “Though I always suspected that no more than a quarter of what was printed in the gossip paper could be true, as an unconnected observer it has always amused me. I believe my feelings on the matter would be much different if I were personally acquainted with the unfortunate subjects or, heaven forbid, if I myself should be the object of such vicious lies and rumours. I feel very deeply for Mr. Darcy.”
Jane smiled and closed her eyes. “It is good of you to think so well of our new neighbour.”
“Yes, I am certainly very generous and all that is goodness!” Both sisters laughed, then yawned. It was nearly one in the morning already. “I believe that I shall make an effort to make the gentleman feel welcome here in Meryton. I am determined to do what I can to improve his comfort in our society. It is the Christian thing to do.” And has absolutely nothing to do with his clear blue eyes and strong shoulders, Elizabeth added silently. The only response was a small snore from her sister on the opposite pillow.Cause to Repine by EM Storm-Smith (c) 2023
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