Greetings, everybody! Jack Caldwell here.
One of the first novels I wrote was the ground-breaking THE THREE COLONELS, a sequel to both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. It was also the first book in my Jane Austen’s Fighting Men Series. I’ve have released the second book in that series, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (available now in print and Kindle). But I have been promising a sequel to THE THREE COLONELS for some time.
To prove I’m working on it, below is Chapter Three of that long-awaited novel, ROSINGS PARK.
(I posted Chapter One back in November. It may be found HERE.)
To set the scene, this takes place about one year after the end of THE THREE COLONELS. Elizabeth has been married to Mr. Darcy for about four years, Georgiana had recently married, and Darcy hasn’t really changed…
October, 1816 – Llwellyn Estate, Derbyshire
MR. DARCY WAS HAVING a terrible time, as his wife was well aware, but there was nothing for it.
Lady Georgiana Llwellyn was hosting her first official dinner party as mistress of her husband’s estate, and the newly-married viscountess had been all-atwitter over the undertaking. But in true Darcy spirit, Lady Llwellyn resolutely refused any assistance from either her sister-in-law or her Fitzwilliam relations. She would plan this event herself.
As it was a merely a dinner party, Georgiana invited those in the immediate area who could return to their homes directly afterwards. Her husband’s family, the Cartwrights, was visiting Bath at the moment, so those excellent people could not attend. Lord and Lady Matlock, whose estate was but an hour’s carriage ride, announced they would come, to their niece’s delight.
The Viscount and Viscountess Fitzwilliam sent their regrets; here the Llwellyns’s feelings were mixed. Lord Andrew could be charming, when he bothered to put forth the effort. But Lady Eugenie would not be missed. Her practice was to sit silently, participate in the conversation only to the barest extent, while all the time watch and listen to the other ladies. It was quite annoying, distracting, and intimidating. Elizabeth often wondered if that was not Lady Eugenie’s intention.
Georgiana could have no party without her dearest brother and sister in attendance. As Pemberley was a greater removal than Matlock, Darcy and Elizabeth came the day before and would stay two nights, the babe Fanny with them, as Elizabeth was still nursing. The other children remained at Pemberley.
This was the first time the Darcys traveled overnight without all their children, and their leave-taking was an experience dreadful to Elizabeth’s tender maternal feelings. Chloe Wickham cried and cried, clinging to her uncle’s leg, begging not to be left behind. Bennet was his father’s son, standing stoically on the front steps, holding Mrs. Nivens’ hand, trying to be brave while his bottom lip trembled. Elizabeth had tears in her eyes as she snatched up her darling boy and spread kisses over his face.
Georgiana was relieved and happy upon the Darcys’ arrival. The Darcys were pleased to see that marriage had done nothing to retard the former Miss Darcy’s progress from a shy young heiress to a confident young woman. While she would not allow Elizabeth do anything, she did seek out her opinion. After perusing the menu and viewing the glittering table setting and decorations, Elizabeth declared everything absolutely prefect.
In this, Elizabeth was to be proven incorrect.
It started well. Elizabeth, mindful that tonight was to honor Lord and Lady Llwellyn, chose her gown carefully. It was blue silk, with embroidery of the same color about the bodice. She was elegant and understated. Georgie’s gown was gold, the better to set off her blonde hair, adorned with diamond pins, a wedding gift from her husband. The gentlemen wore black, and both looked dashing, although the two could not be more different. Darcy was a half-head taller than his brother-in-law, and Algernon’s slight and intellectual stature contrasted with Fitzwilliam’s unfashionable athletic build, earned by his love of outdoor pursuits.
The main purpose of the meal was to introduce the Viscountess Llwellyn to the local neighborhood. The surrounding gentry were of a kind found in all small English country towns; equal parts ridiculous and impressive, insipid and stimulating, wearisome and charming. All were strangers to Darcy, and that was his abhorrence.
A dozen couples sat in the Llwellyns’ main dining room, Lord Llwellyn at the head with Lady Matlock at his right. Georgiana had her dear uncle at her right at the foot. The Darcys found themselves at the middle of the table, seated across from each other. The elaborate flower arrangement, however, prevented much direct conversation between husband and wife.
Not that Elizabeth would have been able to get a word in edgewise. For at Darcy’s elbow was Mrs. Ophelia Bartelmount, widow of a prosperous mine owner. Unfortunately, not only did Mrs. Bartelmount enjoy the sound of her own voice, she had no conversation that did not revolve around her married daughter, her grandchildren, her late parents, or the cost of everything.
“This is a lovely dinner,” the good lady cried. “When Penelope gave her first dinner, she wanted to serve roast beef. But the butcher wanted to sell her a joint with yellow fat! I was with Penelope, which was a good thing, for I told the man, ‘No, no. We must have a joint with white fat. Yellow is quite unsatisfactory.’ Otherwise, Penelope would have certainly purchased that joint, for she does not know about such things.
“Oh, the butcher went on and on about how yellow fat was a sign of aging and that was the best beef, but I am not so silly! No, sir! I told him, ‘White fat, sir. You will not sell us that old cow.’ Do you know the butcher started shouting at me, saying I insulted him? How is pointing out yellow fat is a sign of an old cow an insult? Was that not the truth?”
Darcy sat straight in his chair, hardly moving a muscle, except to drink his wine. “I leave such things to my cook, madam.”
“And I am certain she does a very good job, sir, but one must always watch out for old cow.” She waggled her finger, the feathers in her hair moving in concert. “As I told my dear Penelope, ‘Young beef is always best! You must hold out for the youngest cut available.’ A young bride must have her mother look out for such things.”
“I am certain you are right.” With that, Darcy held out his glass for a refill—his third.
“There will be no joints with yellow fat at my Penelope’s table, I can assure you of that!”
Darcy caught Elizabeth’s attention, giving her a long-suffering look.
Elizabeth’s pity for her husband’s circumstances was slight, for she was having her own difficulties. Knowing Darcy detested these gatherings, she chose to please him by wearing the blue dress with the square neckline he particularly admired. Unfortunately, she did not account for the changes a recent birth bestowed on her person. Her bodice was filled to overflowing, and no amount of lace could conceal her newly-abundant charms. Sir Horace Snodgrass, a neighbor of the Llwellyns, sat on her right and spent so much time blatantly eyeing her bosom it was a wonder he did not drool soup down her décolletage.
The result was Mr. Darcy was either ignoring the vulgar Mrs. Bartelmount or glaring at the loutish Baron Snodgrass. Elizabeth was not the only one to note it; Georgiana was aware of the tension and was mortified nearly to tears. Elizabeth tried to reassure her sister with shrugs and small smiles, but it was left up to Lord Matlock to save the day. The earl loudly commandeered the lecherous baron’s attention towards a discussion of hunting, and the dinner was able to continue in a somewhat tolerable manner until the separation of the sexes.
The ladies retreated to the parlor, where Lady Matlock began the proceedings by properly reminiscing over their hostess’s recent nuptials. But in no time at all, Mrs. Bartelmount commandeered the discussion with a recounting of her daughter’s wedding.
“Lace everywhere, I assure you, but at an excellent price! Those London shops wanted twenty pounds—twenty pounds, mind you. Nonsense, said I. The shops in Scarborough were far more reasonable, and Penelope’s lace was just as fine, if not better! Fifteen and six, that is what we paid, and not a penny more.” She turned to Elizabeth. “It was of a kind like yours, Mrs. Darcy. Pray, what did it cost?”
Elizabeth held a hand to her breast, unconsciously covering up her lace. She had promised herself to keep her wit in check, as not to embarrass her shy sister; therefore, she could reply to the rude question with only, “I have no idea, Mrs. Bartelmount. This was Lady Anne’s lace.”
“And very fine it is,” she declared. “I would say she paid more than fifteen and six for it. I know my lace. And the food we served! My cook makes an excellent White Soup, and she is no French chef. How many French chefs does Mr. Darcy employ, pray?”
“Music!” cried Lady Matlock. “It has been so long since I have heard you perform, Mrs. Darcy. Might I trouble you for a demonstration?”
“But…the gentlemen…” protested Mrs. Bartelmount. “Should they not be in attendance?”
Elizabeth, seeing her escape, let loose her good humor. “It is of little matter, Mrs. Bartelmount. My aunt knows my talents are more suited for the ladies! I hope my excellent sister, Lady Llwellyn, will deign to entertain the gentlemen when they join us. It will be a much improved concert!”
“Lizzy!” cried a blushing Georgiana.
A smiling Elizabeth held out her hand. “Pray, turn the pages for me.”
In-between settling themselves and selecting the music, Elizabeth was able to express to Georgiana her appreciation of their aunt’s request. “Mrs. Bartelmount is a singular creature,” she whispered. “I believe she puts my mother to shame.”
“Oh Lizzy, I am so sorry, but the late Mr. Bartelmount was a good friend to my husband.”
“Take no notice, Georgiana. It is well to remember lonely widows. Now, how like you this piece?”
In the years since Elizabeth gave up the name Bennet in favor of Darcy, she had labored to improve her musical accomplishments, usually practicing with Georgiana until her sister’s marriage. She managed the short Mozart piece without error and earned an enthusiastic response; in fact, larger than she could have anticipated. The gentlemen had joined them during her performance, and Darcy’s eyes glowed with pride and love. The other ladies demurred, and it was left to Lady Llwellyn to entertain the assembled.
Elizabeth joined her husband on the couch. “You are before your time, sir,” she observed sotto voce. “Is my new brother’s port unpalatable?”
“Not at all,” he responded in the same fashion. “My uncle wishes to return to Matlock before darkness falls, so we enjoyed a quick toast to Llwellyn and Georgiana and hastened to join you.” They then turned their attention to Georgiana’s concerto.
Elizabeth smiled as she watched Lady Llwellyn. Only in London had she seen a performer become one with the music as her sister, and they were all professionals.
Sister. Yes, Elizabeth realized, Georgiana had truly become her sister in her heart. Like Fitzwilliam, she was kind and thoughtful, her reserved bearing hiding deep emotions. She had not her brother’s cleverness or dominating presence, but she was just as stubborn when she thought she was in the right. Through Elizabeth’s efforts, and Kitty’s too, Georgiana grew more lively and jolly.
Mrs. Kitty Southerland deserved much credit. Within a few months of Elizabeth’s wedding, Kitty Bennet was established at Pemberley. It was Fitzwilliam’s idea; he thought they could do what Mr. and Mrs. Bennet failed to do—make a young lady out of the sullen and insipid fourth Bennet daughter. They expected that Georgiana’s example would have a good influence on Kitty.
Thanks to the gentle but firm and insistent efforts of Elizabeth and Mrs. Annesley, Georgiana’s former companion, they succeeded in improving Kitty. What was not anticipated was Kitty’s improvement of Georgiana.
Living with a girl near her own age for the first time in her life, Miss Darcy bloomed. She learned lessons not taught at school. Life was more than preparing to enter Society; there was no reason to grow up so fast. She could simply enjoy her girlhood. In quick order, she and Kitty became thick as thieves, Georgiana becoming more open, while the born-follower Kitty parroted her new sister and developed better manners.
Kitty’s improvement was vast. When the young Franklin Southerland became the new rector for Kympton Parish—a great achievement for one his age—he became almost instantly captivated by Miss Bennet. As for Kitty, to her surprise she learned that handsome and dashing admirers could wear black coats as well as red. In Mr. Southerland, she found all her requirements in a lover, with the added benefit that he resided near Pemberley, a place that had become dear to her heart, for she had grown very close to both Elizabeth and Darcy.
Indeed, Elizabeth had grown to love Kitty as much as her elder sister, Jane Bingley. But Jane was at her husband’s estate in Nottinghamshire, while Kitty resided in the nearby village that was under Elizabeth’s patronage. A common sight in Kympton was Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Southerland agreeably strolling the streets, arm in arm, calling on the poor and infirm.
That Elizabeth’s love for Georgiana and Kitty had grown did not mean her affection for Jane lessened. Mrs. Bingley remained her particular friend and confidante. But the same could not be said for her sister Mary Tucker. Not that there was any lessening of affection between them; they loved each other as well as they should. It was just that while Elizabeth was very close with Jane and Kitty, another filled that place in Mary’s life—Lady Caroline Buford, of all people.
The less said about Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Mrs. Lydia Denny, the better.
The Matlocks announced their departure immediately upon the end of Georgiana’s concert. All the assembled took this as the clue that the evening was over. Elizabeth suspected this was Lord Matlock’s purpose, for she espied her uncle giving Lady Llwellyn a wink as well as a kiss when he took his leave. Her perception was confirmed later when Darcy joined her in their bedroom as she fed Fanny.
“My uncle, for all his bluster, is very attentive to his girls,” said Darcy, tightening his robe’s sash before sitting upon the bed. “My aunt and Cousin Henrietta taught him that. He knew Georgiana was exhausted, so he effectively ran the rabble out the door.”
“Fitzwilliam, really! Rabble?”
Darcy’s face darkened. “What else would you call them? Mrs. Bartelmount is a rude and boastful chatterbox, and as for Baron Snodgrass—” Darcy rose to his feet. “Fortunately for him, Uncle Matlock spoke to the baron before I could.”
Elizabeth grew worried, knowing the tempers of both her husband and the earl. “I thought Sir Horace was very subdued when he left. I hope Lord Llwellyn was not upset. They are his neighbors.”
Darcy paced about the room, hands behind his back, his anger simmering. “Be not concerned about that. As I said, it was fortunate for him it was Lord Matlock who put him in his place. My uncle’s time in politics has given him the ability to upbraid a man while smiling in his face. Lord Matlock simply handed a glass of port to Sir Horace and told him a short story about his younger days when a duke paid too much attention to my aunt. My uncle was very jovial as he explained how he cut the peer’s political legs from out beneath him, destroying his influence, recounting the campaign in such a manner that we all laughed about it, Snodgrass as much as the rest of us. But the point was driven home.”
“And the point was?”
“Do not trouble a Fitzwilliam lady,” he growled.
Elizabeth reddened, her own anger engaged. “While I am happy to be considered a member of that august assembly, I do not require the earl’s protection!”
“Would you prefer mine? I would have chosen to call the baron out.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Fitzwilliam, you promised! You promised most strenuously you would never fight!”
Darcy glanced at Elizabeth. “Yes, I did. I would not have called him out in actuality—but I still wish to.”
“Men!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “This is all pride and bluster! While you play your games of dominance and conceit, it is the ladies who suffer! I assure you, sir, I can manage a boorish dinner companion!” Fanny, disturbed by the loud voices, began squirming. “Now see what you have done! Hush, my darling…all is well…”
Darcy held out his hands. “Give her to me.”
Elizabeth hesitated, and then handed Fanny over. Darcy’s whole manner changed: his face soft, he held his daughter close, cooling soothing words and sounds, rocking her gently. Within moments, the babe was quieted.
“There’s a good girl,” Darcy murmured before he kissed her forehead. “Are you still hungry? Here is your sweet mama.” He returned Fanny to Elizabeth without a trace of triumph. At times like these, Elizabeth was gratified for her husband’s peculiar aversion to praise or thanks—otherwise, he could grow quite insufferable.
Instead, he said, “Pray forgive my beastly temper, my dear. I cannot bear any disrespect towards you.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Of course, I forgive you. But Fitzwilliam, surely you know you cannot reprimand the entire world? We must bear the slings and arrows of society as best we can.”
“Far easier said than done, dearest. But you are correct; I shall do better.”
Elizabeth refrained from raising an eyebrow. Her husband’s jealousy over her was part and parcel of his personality. And, to be honest, she found it comforting—until it went too far. There was that dance with Mr. Henry Crawford. I knew what he was about, but Fitzwilliam wanted to murder him….
Fanny burped, bringing Elizabeth’s attention back to the present. “All done, sweet girl? Time for bed.”
“I shall take her to Sarah,” Darcy offered. Moments later, father and daughter disappeared into the dressing room while Elizabeth readjusted her gown, slipped between the sheets, and closed her eyes. But sleep would not come to her until she felt her husband climb into bed beside her.
“All safely tucked in,” he said after kissing her cheek. “Rest, love. Hopefully, she will sleep all night tonight.”
“From your lips to God’s ears.” Elizabeth snuggled into his embrace. “Good night, my love.”
ROSINGS PARK will be awhile before it comes out. I’ve written almost half of it.
Until next time, this has been the Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.
It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…