Back in 2017, when I wrote Pride and Prejudice and a Shakespearean Scholar, an idea occurred to me, but I kept pushing it to the side, thinking I could not manage it. You see, in P&P&SS, Mr. Bennet is a scholar on Shakespeare and means to refute claims that Frances Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s play. Do you recall this scene:
“I would be perfectly content to remain at Netherfield. You do not need to alter your plans simply because I have appeared upon your doorstep,” Darcy assured his friend. “I do not expect you to cry off at such short notice nor should you inconvenience Mr. Bennet’s cook by adding another to her preparations.”
“Nonsense,” Bingley declared good-naturedly. “If worse comes to worse, we will split the portions between us. You know I could never abandon you to a house with which you are unfamiliar. The library here is sadly lacking. Moreover, Mr. Bennet of Longbourn is Mr. Thomas Bennet.”
“Thomas Bennet?” Darcy asked. “The Thomas Bennet? The man who is both a Shakespeare and a Bacon expert and who means to refute claims Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets? The one our professors at Cambridge so often quoted?”
“The very man,” Bingley said with a wide smile. “Bacon made this part of Hertfordshire his home, thus Mr. Bennet’s interest in the man. Bennet and a group of scholars have been trying to refute Wilmot’s research claiming Bacon is the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.”
Anyway, in Pride and Prejudice and a Shakespearean Scholar, Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and Elizabeth visit Old Gorhambury House. The remains of the house are situated just outside St Albans in Hertfordshire. It was once an immense mansion constructed in 1563-8 by the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon. A prolific builder, Sir Nicholas spent many years expanding and adapting the residence. In the tale, Elizabeth rattles off some impressive observations about the structure of the house and the newer Gorhambury House, built in the late 1700s. Now there is the rub! What if instead of Shakespeare, Mr. Bennet had taught her something of architecture? Do you see where this story is heading?
Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter One of Mr. Darcy and the Designing Woman. [Note: This excerpt is a rough draft and has not yet seen an editor. Ignore any typos.] The book will release in November 2023.
Fitzwilliam Darcy bolted upright in his bed. His heart pounded hard, and he rubbed his chest to soothe a familiar ache. It was a pain which had haunted him for more than five years. His nostrils flared as a scent of smoke lingered in the air, and, for the briefest of moments, he feared another fire had occurred at Pemberley, but there was little left of the manor house to burn and, most assuredly, no one around to rescue.
“Not that I managed to rescue anyone,” he chastised himself for likely the hundredth time. “Not even Georgiana,” he said in an angry hiss of dissatisfaction. Anger at himself for being away in London, enjoying the attentions of several young ladies, all vying to be his wife, filled his head and chest. “Not that any of them would welcome living at Pemberley now, and especially not in the conditions that surround this part, which still stands.”
He threw the blankets to the side and rose to close his window. “Likely one of the tenants smoking some sort of meat.” Even after shutting out the night, the scent of smoke remained, though not as prominent. That scent had followed him about Pemberley this last five years. It would sneak up on him when Darcy least expected it. “One would think after numerous rains and snows, there would no longer be even a hint of the scent of fire. Visual proof, but not the scent of ruin.” A deep sigh of resignation arrived. “Poor, Georgiana,” he murmured. “She was here alone for more than a week before the word of what had occurred could reach me, and I could rush home to the disaster looming over all who call Pemberley ‘home.’”
Not only had his father, George Darcy, lost his life in the fire, but, when Darcy took over the reins of the estate, he discovered how far his father had fallen. George Darcy had been using the same farming techniques as had his own father, Darcy’s grandfather, Mr. Winslow Darcy. Moreover, George Darcy had doubled down on poor investments and had never asked for anyone’s input—all of the pure chaos surrounding him had taken Darcy by surprise, for he had always admired his father’s aplomb and the man’s general good sense.
After the funeral and making arrangements for Georgiana to live with their Uncle and Aunt Matlock until things could be set aright, Darcy had closeted himself and the estate’s men of business in his father’s study. He came out of the meeting reeling from the knowledge of the magnitude of the debt he had inherited.
“I regret having left Georgiana so long with the Matlocks,” he told the fog clinging to the ground sloping down the hill towards the lake, on display outside his window, “yet, I could not have asked my sweet sister to tolerate what I have in the years since the fire. The inheritance everyone thought I would earn as George Darcy’s son was barely enough to keep body and soul alive. It was necessary to turn any profits over to repairing the tenants’ farms and teaching my cottagers how to treat the land better. I know many men would have walked away from the land, the house, and their cottagers; yet, I could not. Thankfully, though badly damaged, the shell of the house itself was free of attachments, and I managed to borrow against its potential. Naturally, the lenders thought Pemberley House would be the first of my repairs, for they had no sense of my ‘stubbornness,’ for there is no other word for my determination to bring the house and the estate back to life, but, on Friday, all those loans were repaid.”
Darcy turned back to the bed and crawled into the warmth of the bedclothes, though he did not seek sleep. A methodical man by nature, he organized in his mind what he hoped to accomplish on the morrow. “I mean to call on Georgiana and hear more of her time at school and the plans for her presentation in the autumn. Then, I wish to speak to my uncle to ask if he has a recommendation for an architect. Naturally, there are plenty such learned men in London; yet, I have not returned to the Capital since I rode away all those years removed.”
One of Darcy’s first lessons on true friendship and respect had been a hard one: Many who once considered him a “jolly good fellow,” as well as a potential mate for their daughters or sisters, no longer extended their hands to him.
“A difficult lesson on the true nature of mankind,” he murmured. “Though, it was one worth learning.” Darcy chuckled softly. “If those same men could see me now . . . barely any staff . . . still parts of the house in ruin.” He shook his head in disbelief of how it would be.
“Yet,” he reminded himself, “The Darcy fortune has been restored.” He possessed something of which to be proud. “Nothing of which to any longer be ashamed,” he told himself. “I will rebuild Pemberley and claim an appropriate wife and bolster the Darcy legacy. A wife with a fortune of her own would be preferable. Blonde. Tall and slender,” he said as a smile crossed his lips. He knew he had a type. Just as did all men. Women who would catch his eye quicker than others. “Though a dark-headed lass would do as equally well as long as she understands our roles in the marriage. I desire a son, one to inherit all I have earned. A woman with several brothers would be best so I know the possibility of a male child exists.” He punched his pillow into a roll to support his head and to return to sleep. “Perhaps Aunt Matlock knows of such a woman. I do not wish to travel to London, unless necessary. Surely there are several such ladies residing in Derbyshire or the surrounding shires. I can do the ‘pretty’ just as well in Derbyshire, as in London.”
* * *
“Fitzwilliam!” his sister called as she scampered into his welcoming arms. He inhaled the scent of lilacs as he closed his eyes and claimed another memory. Though he knew it would not be long before Georgiana would accept another man’s protection, Darcy would know great sadness at no longer experiencing such contentment as he was at this moment.
“Good day, my girl,” he said as he eased her from his embrace to caress her cheek and look upon her sweet countenance. “You are more lovely by the day, Georgie. You favor our mother in that manner.”
“Uncle Matlock periodically says something similar,” she confessed. “I am glad of it.”
Darcy knew Georgiana blamed herself for their mother’s passing, but, on her death bed, Lady Anne Darcy had “ordered” Darcy never to hold such opinions, and he had attempted not to cling to such thoughts or to speak aloud any accusations. Unfortunately, his Aunt Catherine had not been so kind to Georgiana. Despite his father taking Lady Catherine to task for her off-handed remarks, the damage had been done. “Such is because Uncle Matlock recognizes quality when it stands before him.”
“I did not expect you today,” his sister said, ignoring his compliment. “Hopefully, you have come with good tidings.” She took his hand and tugged him towards a nearby sitting room. “Bring tea and cakes, please, Mr. Scott.”
“Yes, miss.” The servant darted away to do her bidding.
Darcy waited until they were in the privacy of the sitting room before he responded. “I paid off all the encumbrances held against estate on Friday. I am in hopes Lord Matlock can recommend a competent architect to begin the repairs to Pemberley House.”
She reached for his hands to grasp his fingers. “Can it be?” she pleaded. “I know we have both prayed for this day; yet, I must admit, I feared it all might be too daunting for you. After all, our dear father gave sway to his troubles and created more. More for you to shoulder.”
Darcy smiled upon her. “I should know umbrage with your comment, but I suspect you inherited Lady Anne’s goodness and I her dogged determination when obstacles arose.”
“Aunt Matlock may disagree with you,” she admitted, “for she sometimes bemoans my adamancy. But tell me what you plan. Will you knock what is left of Pemberley House to the ground and rebuild it or will you use the parts of the house still standing as a foundation for the new structure?”
“In truth, I do not know what is best,” he confessed. “I suppose I will be required to consult several architects or perhaps one man will offer up several perspectives. Do you have a preference?” he asked in sincere tones. “Pemberley House is your home also.”
“But it will not always be so,” she protested. “Some day, I will have a husband and live elsewhere. Pemberley will be your prime residence for the remainder of your days.”
“Yet, just the same, I would know your preferences,” he contended.
“If you insist,” his sister reasoned, “I would wish to see the essence of Pemberley House remain in whatever you choose. Surely there are parts of the original house which should be brought into this century, for they are really quite obsolete and no longer relevant.”
Darcy laughed, “When did you become so wise?”
His sister preened prettily, and Darcy knew great pride in how Georgiana had matured. Unfortunately, he could not take take credit for the young woman she had become, for he had been sacrificing his days—his life—to secure success for their family. Neither of them had deserved the fate handed to them, but with family and God’s hand on Darcy’s shoulder, a future was possible for both of them.
“When you and Lady Matlock hired Mrs. Annesley,” she said with a sweet smile.
“Then the lady was well worth her pay.” However, before he could say more, the door opened and their cousin swaggered in.
“Fitzwilliam Darcy, if I am not mistaken!” Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam declared with a large smile. “What brings Pemberley’s troll to Matlock Manor?”
As he stood, Darcy accepted his cousin’s hand in welcome. “I came to claim time with the fairest maiden in the land,” he replied with a large smile.
Edward looked upon Georgiana as if he had never seen her before. “This maiden?” he asked jokingly. “You must be mistaken, Darcy,” he teased. “She is a terror of the first tier, better known as a female with a comely countenance and of marriageable age. All men quake in their boots when they see her coming.”
“I have no fear in that manner,” Darcy jokingly retorted. “She is the troll’s fair-faced sister.”
Georgiana instructed, “Sit yourself down, Colonel, and behave, or I shall ask the troll to banish you from the room.”
The colonel laughed and claimed a nearby chair. Meanwhile, Darcy permitted himself a sigh of contentment as he eased back into the settee’s cushions, just as Mr. Scott rolled in a tea cart. He looked on as Georgiana expertly poured both him and the colonel a perfectly-prepared cup of tea and then set a plate of cakes before each of them. The delicacy of her movements reminded him of his mother. Quite unexpectedly, he realized how much he had missed polite society.
“Other than to visit with our lovely ‘trolless,’” his cousin remarked, “I renew my question: What brings you to Matlock early? We did not expect you until Saturday.”
However, before Darcy could respond, Georgiana declared, “My brilliant brother has delivered most excellent news! The loans are paid, and Darcy is prepared to rebuild Pemberley House.”
“I say,” the colonel responded with a grin, “such is superb news, Darcy. I never doubted you, though I admit neither Roland nor I will relish father’s lectures on our lack of accomplishments. The earl finds both his sons deficient. If you should also choose to marry, I imagine his lordship will drive us from his sight with a cane to our backsides.”
Georgiana explained, “Darcy has not only paid off father’s debts, but he has also greatly improved the home farms.”
“I rest my case,” the colonel said as he held a cake aloft, as if in salute, before popping it into his mouth. “If we were asked to make soldiers out of your cottagers, then I would excel. Yet, what do I know of farming techniques? Such is Darcy’s expertise.”
“You could perform equally as well as I,” Darcy countered. “All I did was to research alternative methods and place the most reasonable ones into practice.” He smiled easily. “They have improved the Pemberley home farms and my purse. The changes have essentially restored the Darcy fortune.”
“You are speaking the truth, Darcy?” the colonel implored.
“As I live and breathe, it is true,” Darcy said with a smile of satisfaction, the first one he had permitted himself since before the world had crashed down upon him. “From not a feather with which to fly to a fine feather indeed. Pemberley and all it contains is my family seat, and I mean to see it in its splendor once more.”
“It is a bit of a pile,” the colonel remarked in sadness. “How may you intend to restore it?”
“Such is the reason I came to Matlock earlier than expected. I thought the earl might be aware of an architect who might assist me. I know I can discover several bakers’ dozen of them in London, but surely there must be a few competent such individuals in Derbyshire or the surrounding shires. There is much building going on across England, especially in Warwickshire and Manchester and Nottinghamshire. Would you not also think someone outside of London holds knowledge of weight-bearing columns and cornices.”
“I must assume if you are considering rebuilding Pemberley House, you are also considering taking a wife,” the colonel said with a lift of his brows indicating his remark was really a question.
“Perhaps,” Darcy shared. “I do not wish the Darcy line to end with me,” he admitted. “It would appear foolish of me to rebuild Pemberley House without considering, even in its grandeur, it was always meant to be the home of the Darcys.”
“I thank you, Darcy,” the colonel announced with great gusto.
“Why so?” Darcy asked.
“The countess will focus her matchmaking efforts on you instead of Roland and me. Yet, you will first require a house. Mark my words: No woman will accept your hand if all you have to offer is a hillside covered in burned-out ruins.”
The good colonel hit the nail on the head, did he not? Hopefully, I have enticed you just a bit.