I admit I am being a bit lazy with this post. This is the week I have all my medical updates (Eye exam, wellness check, dentist, mammogram, dermatologist, etc.) Getting old is truly a pain in the B****. Therefore, I thought to share another excerpt from my upcoming book, Mr. Darcy and the Designing Woman. The book was “finished,” but I decided to add another twist at the end. It will soon be in various stages of rewrites and edits. I have two other books I wish to work on, but time seems to slip by easily.
Anyway, when we last left Fitzwilliam Darcy, he was seeking the advice of his Aunt and Uncle Matlock about choosing a wife and seeking out an architect to rebuild Pemberley House after a suspicious fire. Today, he meets Elizabeth Bennet for the first time. If you missed the first part of Chapter One, you may read it HERE.
NOTE! I again beg your indulgence if you come across any typos. This is not yet ready for publication.
Darcy had spent three days with the Matlocks, Georgiana, and the colonel and had enjoyed himself—well, generally so. Unfortunately, in his estimation, he had spent so much time alone over the past five years and had been unable to match wits with others, he actually had become a bit overwhelmed with so much chatter swarming about him. Most assuredly, he did not say so, but he had had moments when he wished simply to be one-on-one with any of his four housemates. Darcy had so much he wanted to say—so much he wanted to know and to share his opinions upon, but there was always someone to interrupt each conversation he began.
“Other than conversing with my tenants. and the land steward, I have become a hermit of sorts,” he told his image in the mirror of the quarters arranged for him at Matlock Manor. “When was the last time I held a conversation regarding literature or history?” He shrugged in dissatisfaction. “I never discussed those topics with any of the ladies I knew in London. Likely would have scared them off.” He sighed in resignation. “They would have listened, for they knew of my family’s fortune and its connections, but none of them would truly hold an interest in such matters. I fear, Darcy, you must spend the remainder of your days in a house with a woman with whom you hold little in common. No wonder so many men of the gentry and the aristocracy keep mistresses or spend their spare time in their clubs. At home, they can find nothing to interest them.”
Crawling into bed, he attempted to fall asleep, but his mind revisited the conversation he had earlier in the day with his aunt.
“As I said previously, I would prefer not to travel to London and partake of the Season. I am not looking for deep affection, though a strong ‘loyalty’ on both our parts would be welcomed. I do not intend to take a mistress, and I would never tolerate my wife straying from our marriage bed. I want a child of my loins to inherit Pemberley.”
“I suppose you still would prefer a blonde,” his aunt teased.
Darcy shrugged uncomfortably. “Like my father, I tend to notice a comely countenance faster if the lady is fair of head, but I would like to think I have matured enough to realize an attractive face can equally disguise disagreeable traits, as well as welcomed ones. Thankfully, much of Pemberley’s library survived the fire, and, I would hope the future Mrs. Darcy would make fair use of it and assist in developing a love of reading in our children. You well know I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
“And other accomplishments?” her ladyship asked with a lift of her brows in an apparent challenge. “A thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, perhaps? Should the new Mrs. Darcy be ‘accomplished’ in all? Should there be something in her air and manner of walking? The tone of her voice? Her address and expressions?”
“I suppose, at a minimum, the appearance of such is necessary, though I would expect most young ladies of the aristocracy and the gentry would aspire to many such qualities,” he admitted.
His aunt chuckled. “I doubt we will discover even one such woman. Personally, I have never viewed a woman so accomplished? I fear, Darcy, you must settle for something a bit less. Few women know such capacity and taste and application or elegance as you suggest. Even I would be found wanting.” She smiled on him. “And age, my boy? What age would you prefer?”
Darcy knew his brows had drawn together as a frown claimed his forehead. “When I was in London at age four and twenty, I never thought much on the youthfulness of many of the young ladies making their Come Outs. Some though were as young as fifteen or sixteen. Foolish girls with nothing but dancing at balls and a new gown in their heads. Now, I am nearing thirty in a few months. Combine that along with my experiences since the Pemberley fire, I can honestly say I do not believe I could tolerate a mere girl of sixteen or seventeen even. I know such is hypocritical, especially as Georgiana, who is only eighteen, will make her official appearance in society this autumn. In truth, I would not mind if she did not settle on a husband this first Season. I must be reasonable about my expectations. Some girls of say eighteen may be more mature than one of four and twenty. I must be practical, where age is not as important as her ability to adapt to what is to come. Even after Pemberley is rebuilt, life at the estate will not be easy. Its new mistress will be required to oversee a staff, many of whom have never served in a great house.
“You well know all the little details required of the mistress of a large staff. My future wife must be prepared not to be hoodwinked by a lazy footman or a maid seeking a husband of her own, rather than her duties to the estate. Taking on both me and Pemberley will not be for the faint of heart.”
Darcy swallowed hard. “As the colonel has reminded me, I cannot think of wooing a lady before I can employ a competent architect and someone actually to build the house. Obviously, a man cannot properly court a lady when his chief residence lies in shambles. Therefore, there is time for me to begin a courtship, while wishing my future wife’s approval of the work to be done.”
Elizabeth Bennet attempted to keep her eagerness in check: She would be glad finally to reach Yorkshire. She was grateful to Mr. Bingley for actually escorting her to Sheffield so she might spend time with her Aunt Gardiner’s brother, Mr. Jacob Ericks and with his wife Beatrice. When the Ericks pair resided in St Albans, her father had visited often with the man, for Mr. Thomas Bennet held a love for learning and a strong interest in architecture, both of which he had passed down to her.
Mr. Ericks had made his move north and had earned his well-appreciated reputation in Birmingham, but had chosen some two years back to move his family from the ever-growing city of Birmingham in Warwickshire to Sheffield on the border of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. True, Birmingham held more growth, but it also held dozens upon dozens of architects to compete for the construction projects. A forward-thinking man, Jacob Ericks chose to come to Yorkshire instead, where, if required, he could do work in York itself or Nottingham or Derby. The opportunities were more plentiful. Naturally, Sheffield was no Birmingham, which rivaled London’s populations, but it was still a town of some thirty thousand people.
Elizabeth had never visited in this part of England, though she had heard much of it from her Aunt Gardiner and Madeline née Ericks Gardiner’s many brothers and sisters.
Elizabeth studied the view out the carriage’s window. It was all quite spectacular, and she wished to share it with her travel mates; yet, Mr. Bingley and Jane had both dozed off to sleep. Jane did not travel well, or so her sister had said, though Elizabeth thought perhaps something else had caused the nausea of which Jane complained.
Mr. Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet had married nearly a year and a half prior. The reason for this excursion was their claim they had never taken a wedding journey, but Elizabeth not only suspected Jane was with child, but also that the pair had finally tired of Mrs. Bennet’s rarely providing them a day when she did not call upon them or offer her opinions on how they should run their household.
On this journey, Elizabeth and the Bingleys had “coincidentally” visited several estates, all of which were “available” to let or purchase. Elizabeth had purposely avoided commenting on the possibility of the Bingleys leaving Hertfordshire. She would miss them if they did so, but she completely understood how having Mrs. Bennet constantly underfoot could be annoying for a recently married couple. She had no doubt Jane and Bingley would be happy to be rid of her, too, for a few weeks, and Elizabeth had made a point of providing them as much privacy as she could. The Bingleys were to deposit her in Sheffield and then travel on to Newcastle to visit with Mr. Wickham and her and Jane’s youngest sister, Lydia, and report back to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet on how the couple fared. The last few letters from Lydia had held a different tone, and there was word that the pair had again switched quarters. They all feared things with Mr. Wickham, who had proven himself a cad of the first order, had deteriorated as the war had escalated.
Elizabeth leaned forward to have a glance at the finger marker as the road divided and the carriage veered to the right, but rather than a simple curve onto the new road, everything suddenly tilted, and Elizabeth found herself being slammed against the carriage door, while Jane and Mr. Bingley were thrown into each other.
Darcy had kissed his sister and had held her for a few extra minutes. “You will see more of me, my girl,” he said softly in her ear. “Once I employ an architect to set upon the repairs of Pemberley, I must leave our home. I should be in the way there and thought to take a room at the inn in Lambton, but our aunt and uncle have offered me refuge here at Matlock. You will find me constantly underfoot.”
“Oh, William.” She clung to his lapels. “There is nothing I desire more.”
“Then we will make it so. While I am about the business of interviewing an architect, you should choose a suite for me here.” He kissed her forehead and made to step away, but she clung to his hand.
“You did not enjoy your most recent quarters?” she asked.
“The mattress was a challenge,” he said with a smile. “A man of my stature requires a bit more ‘stability,’ shall we say?”
“I shall see to it, Brother. I promise,” Georgiana said in honest tones.
“I hold no doubt, my fair sister.” He kept hold of her hand so they might walk together towards the waiting carriage. “I am off to Yorkshire first. His lordship has provided me the names of several creditable architects. I imagine it will take a week or so to interview these gentlemen and set them to drafting the necessary plans for my eventual approval. I will write to you of my progress.”
“You shall be safe, shall you not, William? I would know devastation if something ill occurred.”
“I will take every precaution. Life has returned to Pemberley, and I mean to have my share of it.”
As the miles clicked by, Darcy was considering all Georgiana had said of how their lives had turned, as well as all he had learned from his aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, just as he was drifting off to sleep, his thoughts were interrupted when shouting had Mr. Farrin suddenly pulling up on the reins of the carriage. Darcy was thrown forward, but he managed to stay upright.
“Thank the Lord,” a man voice announced.
Before he stepped down, Darcy looked about him to learn something of what he was to expect. “A carriage with some sort of wheel issue,” he told himself and eased his hand from the Queen Anne pistol he had not realized he had retrieved from an inside pocket of his coat. In the years since Pemberley’s fire, he had become accustomed to carrying some sort of fire arm with him at all times. Despite the staff he had once employed at Pemberley moving everything of value into rooms not used at what remained of Pemberley, as well as warehouses he had let for that specific purpose, upon more than one occasion we and Mr. Nathan had to run some stranger from the premises. People were always looking for something of value to steal and sell.
Palming the gun, he unlatched the carriage door and stepped down. He noted how Mr. Farrin had also retrieved his gun. It was a shame the roads had become so dangerous, but the war had taken its toll on England, and many had turned to robbery and other more nefarious crimes to survive.
“May I be of assistance?” he asked cautiously, uncertain whether the scene before him had been staged in order to practice some deceit.
“Yes,” a young woman said as she stepped from behind the coach to approach him. Although a bit disheveled, she was fair of face, and, whether he liked it or not, something stirred in his chest. “There is trouble with the wheel. We are attempting to unload the coach to make the necessary repair.”
He nodded his acceptance of her explanation but made no move to assist the two men, one of whom looked up from his tasks.
“Darcy? Is that you?” The ginger-haired man set a trunk on the ground and started forward with an outstretched hand. Darcy eased the gun into a ready state before the man’s countenance registered in his memory.
“Bingley?” he asked, still a bit uncertain, for the man had lost some of boyish looks, that is, until he smiled. The fellow had been several years behind Darcy at Cambridge. “Green,” he thought. If he and Fitzwilliam had not befriended the young man, barely more than a boy, in reality, Charles Bingley would have been the target of constant harassment by the older boys, sons of aristocrats and the gentry. Not only was Bingley a baby-faced youth, but he was also an outsider—part of the nouveau riche.
Green, indeed, and unprepared for the torment he was to endure at the hands of offsprings of bored aristocrats, who were equally as bored with life as were their “paters.” Young men who had never been made to shake the hand of a man whose wealth, not only often exceeded their “old money,” but which had been earned from the sweat of his brow.
Darcy accepted the man’s hand. “Good to see you, though the circumstances could obviously be better.”
Bingley looked back to the coach. My man thinks he might be able to repair the coach once it is unloaded,” he explained.
“Could you provide the man a hand, Mr. Farrin?” Darcy asked his driver. “I will join you in a moment.”
Darcy looked to where the petite woman was separating trunks. “You travel with a lady? Your sister? I recall you had a sister.”
“Two sisters,” Bingley reminded him. “One older and one younger. Yet, today, I travel with my wife.”
Though Darcy did not know the woman, for some unexplainable reason, he frowned. “Married?”
“Yes,” Bingley declared with a smile of satisfaction. “Permit me to introduce you.” He turned to the woman and called, “Jane.”
For the briefest of seconds the woman Darcy had viewed previously looked up, but, at Bingley’s call, she immediately went back to her task. Instead, a tall blonde stepped from behind the coach: She rushed to reach Bingley’s outstretched hand. Ironically, though the woman was everything Darcy preferred in a female partner, his eyes returned to the other lady.
“Darcy, with your permission, may I present my wife, Mrs. Bingley.” The woman curtsied, and Darcy bobbed his head in recognition. “My dear, this is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. If you recall, I told you of Mr. Darcy and his cousin when we spoke of my years at Cambridge.”
Instantly, the woman smiled. “Of course. How could I forget? According to my husband, you are one of the reasons Charles passed his orals.”
“And saved my hair from a daily dipping in ink,” Bingley added with a chuckle.
“I am thankful for both,” Mrs. Bingley declared.
Darcy felt suddenly very alone in the world. Everyone, but him, appeared to have carved out a life that would sustain him for the remainder of his days. Even so, he managed to say, “What was your destination?”
“Sheffield,” Mr. Bingley explained. “My wife’s sister is to spend several weeks with their aunt’s brother and his family. Mrs. Bingley and I are to travel to Northumberland. We are enjoying our journey and are exploring a few estates along the way.”
Darcy moved in the direction of the disabled carriage, where the other woman wrestled with a trunk, attempting to turn it over. “Permit me, miss, or is it, ma’am?”
“Miss,” the woman said with a nod of approval of his actions. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sir,” she said with a quick curtsey. “I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”
“My wife’s sister,” Bingley said, as he joined them. “Elizabeth, may I present Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire.”
“We are in your home shire, sir,” she was quick to note. “It is a most breathtakingly beautiful part of the country. I hope to visit it and enjoy the sites some day. Our Aunt Gardiner has spoken often of her home in a place called Lambton. I can now well believe her tales.”
“Lambton?” Darcy asked. “It is not but five miles from my estate.”
Before she could respond, his coachman informed him, “There is no means, sir, of repairing the wheel. What would you have me do?”
“Your destination was Sheffield?” Darcy asked Bingley.
“Yes. As I said previously, my wife’s relations reside there.”
“It is from the way of your destination, sir,” Mr. Farrin cautioned softly.
“I understand, Mr. Farrin.” He turned to Bingley. “All I have is my small coach. I cannot transport all your trappings, but we could surely take some of it with us. I can carry you and the ladies with me in the coach and send someone back to assist your man.”
Bingley appeared relieved. “I would not wish to abandon Mr. Mackey, but if you would escort my wife and her sister to safety, I would be in your debt, Darcy.”
“Additional debt, hey, Bingley,” Darcy teased.
“Additional debt, indeed, sir.”
Darcy instructed Mr. Farrin. “Assist Mr. Bingley’s driver in separating the trunks. You know how much weight we can sustain without injuring the horses. Ladies, if you would be so kind to point out what trunks are essential to your comfort this evening, it would ease the task. Mr. Bingley and I will clarify how we will meet up again and how best to attain assistance.”
Therefore, within a half hour, with a tearful farewell on the part of Mrs. Bingley, Darcy and the two ladies set out for Sheffield.
“Have you been to Sheffield previously?” he asked to make conversation.
Miss Bennet responded for the pair, while Mrs. Bingley looked back to where her husband remained. “This is our first foray to this part of England. My father’s estate is in Hertfordshire, as is Netherfield Park, the estate Mr. Bingley let some two years back. At one time, Mr. and Mrs. Ericks, my Aunt Gardiner’s brother and his wife, resided in St Albans. My father and I regularly called upon Mr. Ericks there. You see,” she explained, “Mr. Bennet has a great interest in many subjects, including architecture. Mr. Ericks is an architect.”
“Elizabeth has always been Mr. Bennet’s favorite,” Mrs. Bingley remarked as she turned to sit forward.
“And you and Lydia are our mother’s darlings,” Miss Bennet countered.
“How many sisters do you have?” Darcy asked.
“A total of five daughters,” Mrs. Bingley announced. “No brothers.”
Darcy’s initial interest in Miss Bennet took another step to the rear. First, she was not tall and blonde and now she came from a family of all girls. He supposed his qualms truly did not matter, in the greater scheme of things, for the Matlocks would discover someone more appropriate to his station in life; yet . . .
“It is excessively kind of you to assist us, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Bingley declared.
“Any true gentleman would have done the same,” he assured. He again studied Miss Bennet’s features: Fine eyes. Well-developed figure. Hair with sparks of red and gold in it. Full mouth. At length, he realized both women stared at him, so he cleared his voice to ask, “Mr. Ericks. Does he possess a brother by the name of Samuel?”
“Yes, he is a curate, some ten miles from Lambton,” Miss Bennet provided with a smile.
“Recently made a vicar in Lambton,” Darcy said with a smile.
“Truly?” the lady asked. “How divine! We had not heard, had we, Jane? Samuel is a favorite of our family. Very sensible man and quite intelligent.”
“Are you assured of his new position, sir?” Mrs. Bingley asked.
“I provided the presentation,” Darcy explained. “He, as you say, was the curate at Kympton since ’07.”
“The curacy promised to Mr. Wickham?” Miss Bennet asked for no reason Darcy could imagine, and a feeling of dread skittered down his spine. “You are ‘that’ Mr. Darcy?”
Another strike against her, his mind announced. “You are familiar with Mr. Wickham?” he asked in cold tones.
Mrs. Bingley covered her sister’s hand with one of her own, as if warning Miss Bennet not to speak. “Our youngest sister is married to Mr. Wickham. Mr. Bingley and I are to call upon them in Newcastle, where Mr. Wickham is part of the Regulars. Although Mr. Wickham’s desire to join our family was not welcomed by the majority of our relations, he remains our ‘brother.’ Our dealings with the lieutenant is none of your concern, and as your dealings with others are none of ours.”
“I agree, Mrs. Bingley.” He studied the local scenery for the passing of several heartbeats before he added, “We might also concur Mr. Ericks was a better choice as curate and now as vicar.”
The lady nodded her head in affirmation before asking, “What was your intended destination, Mr. Darcy?”
“I was considering Leeds or Leicester or perhaps York,” he explained. “My uncle, Lord Matlock, provided me the names of several architects with whom he was familiar. I fear my manor house suffered fire damage and requires repairs.”
“I fire can be so devastating,” Mrs. Bingley said in sympathy.
“I was not at home at the time. My beloved father lost his life in the tragedy. I will forever regret my absence when both he and my sister required me,” he admitted.
Miss Bennet said, “I know you think you could have prevented what occurred, but I have sadly learned God often has alternate plans for us.”
“I appreciate your kind words, Miss Bennet.”
Would you mind calling me ‘Miss Elizabeth.’ I know Miss Bennet is the proper form of address, but every time someone says those words, I look around for Jane.”
“As you wish,” he said.
“I hear real pain in the tone of your words,” she said softly. “I shall add you to my prayers this evening.”
Darcy felt his heart warm to the woman. Few had spoken of the sacrifices he had known to bring Pemberley back. “My family will tell you I am singular in my desire to secure my family’s legacy.”
“Such is admirable,” Mrs. Bingley assured him.
Meanwhile, Miss Elizabeth asked, “Must you level the remains of the manor house or is it possible some of it can be salvaged?”
“I cannot speak to what is best,” Darcy confided. “Obviously, I wish to save as much of the beauty of Pemberley House as possible; yet, I also realize it would be foolish not to invest in some much needed improvements so the house can survive for future generations. I owe as such to my family name. Because of a lack of foresight on the part of many of my ancestors and even my father, the fire spread quickly. All that being said, I hope to soon take a wife. The house must be repaired before we marry. My cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, assures me I cannot think to bring my new wife into such conditions.”
“If she really loved you, she would adapt to the chaos about her,” Mrs. Bingley said, and Darcy imagined the lady would have done so for Mr. Bingley’s sake. “Surely some of the house is livable, for you have been residing there, have you not?”
“Do not allow an architect to thrust upon you and your future lady too much pomp,” Miss Elizabeth declared in authoritative tones. “You must remember just because Vitruvius was the grandfather of architecture, all the venerable gentleman purported—all his ancient trumpery—they are not required in the design of every house.”
Darcy smiled upon her, but he had a desire to dismiss her enthusiasm. “All I have considered is I wish for a house with a certain dignity in its design—one easily recognizable with a simple glance.”
“A Roman basilica possesses dignity,” Miss Elizabeth argued, “but I cannot imagine a sensible woman wishing to be mistress of a basilica.”
“Should not a woman be happy with the dwelling her husband provides?” he countered.
“Certainly, if the house has stood for several centuries, such is true, but, in my most humble opinion, a wife would wish to be consulted regarding the style of architecture of her future home, especially one to be rebuilt. As well as the arrangement of the rooms.”
“Would the lady not wish a home similar to her father’s?” Darcy knew something of homes in the Midlands and thought his future bride would approve of such a style.
“What does her father’s house have to do with a woman’s preferences?” Miss Elizabeth asked in testiness. Her question made Darcy wonder if he had committed some great sin in thinking any woman would be satisfied with whatever he presented her. “Our father’s house has been standing since the 1500s. Though parts have been redesigned and repaired, overall, it can be most disjointed—parts never conforming to a modern house.”
“Elizabeth,” Mrs. Bingley warned. “Mr. Darcy should be permitted his taste in architectural style.”
Miss Elizabeth frowned, but she nodded her agreement. “I apologize, sir. Mr. Bennet has shared many of his opinions of architectural design with me. I often forget others do not see the world as I do. I have repaid your kindness with criticism. I beg your pardon, sir.”
Mrs. Bingley suggested, “Perhaps you might speak briefly with Mr. Ericks regarding your needs at your estate. If he can be of assistance, he will treat you fairly. If not, he can likely refer you to a man better prepared than he to serve you. Like his brother, a man to whom you have recently presented a vicarage, Mr. Jacob Ericks conducts himself with the same standards of honesty and character as does his brother.”