Darcy finishes his business with the Prince Regent in the finale of this excerpt from And This Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family…
When Darcy returned home he did not have a moment alone with Elizabeth until bedtime. He had decided to tell her the whole…he thought that she should know the background of his relationship with the prince regent and she had already proven her discretion.
When they were finally alone in the salon, he told her of his first meeting with the prince regent and of his trip to France, excluding only the details of the letters’ contents. When he finished describing the capture of the letters, Elizabeth asked, “How did you then get home, my love? The Coalition armies must have been very close.”
“They were. We walked west through the outlying suburbs of the city during the night, ducking into doorways when we heard patrols, and headed for the Bois de Boulogne, thinking that it would be easier to conceal ourselves there then in the city proper. By dawn we had left the villages just to the west of the Bois behind. We rested for a short while behind a convenient haystack until it was late enough in the morning to hail a farmer who was driving into the next village, and who was willing to give us a ride. From there we were able to catch the post chaise to Calais.”
“I am quite certain that you have left out many difficulties, my dear.” She gave an involuntary shiver. “It gives me a chill just to think about it. I’m so glad that you’re home safely.”
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. “So am I, my love, so am I. Are you ready to retire, mon ange?”
The morning after his return home, Colonel Fitzwilliam came to take Darcy to the palace. When Darcy descended the stairs his cousin was awaiting him in the entry hall and they left in Darcy’s carriage.
During their ride to the palace the colonel said uneasily, “Darcy, you are thin as a rake. Did you eat at all while you were gone?”
“Fear not cousin, I am well enough; and I will be more so when I finish my report today.”
“So, you were successful?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“What does that mean, Darcy?” the colonel said irritably.
“Wait just a few minutes, Cousin, and you will hear all.”
“All right, all right, I will be patient.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence, Darcy with his eyes closed and the colonel watching him in concern. A few minutes from their destination, Darcy roused himself to say, “Oh… I will tell you one thing, Fitzwilliam, which might amuse you. His Majesty’s nubile young French woman is at least thirty-five years old and of rather—shall we say?—ample proportions.”
The colonel laughed heartily, and commented, “I am not at all surprised!”
When they reached the palace they were ushered into the prince regent’s presence immediately. when the door had closed behind the majordomo, the prince eyed Darcy with some apprehension and said, “Well?”
“Well, Your Majesty, I can report some success with my errand, although I was not able to finish it precisely as you requested.”
“What the devil does that mean, Darcy?” The prince was already irritable.
“I will tell you the entire tale, Your Majesty, if you will give me leave.” He paused briefly for the prince’s nod of assent. “I went to Dover, and managed to find a ship that was willing to sail to Calais in the morning…”
He briefly summarized the two weeks that he had been in France. When he had completed his tale of Frau Klein’s perfidious scheme, and of his final success in obtaining the letters, he finished with:
“I looked at the salutations on the letters to confirm that they were truly the ones for which we had been sent, and then burned them in the grate at my lodgings before we crept out of Paris as the Sixth Coalition army was moving into Paris. I felt that it would not be safe to carry them through a war zone back to London. So, Your Majesty, I am unable to return the letters to you; however, they have been destroyed and so should no longer worry you.”
“How do I know that they have all been destroyed if I do not see them first?” the prince said peevishly.
Both Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam stared at their prince. Finally, Darcy said very quietly, “The reason you chose me, Your Majesty, for your ‘errand’ was because you trusted me to do it and to keep quiet about it, and the circumstances of the recovery suggest that all of the letters were together.”
“Of course, of course,” the prince said hastily, looking from one to the other nervously, and then walking to the window and staring out. “I do, of course, trust you. I just meant that I hoped the lady had not separated any of the letters from the packet earlier.”
“Please accept my best wishes, Your Majesty,” Darcy said, “for your continued health. Do we have your permission to withdraw?”
“Yes, of course. You may go.” the prince said as he stood at the window, his voice tinged with relief.
They withdrew to the anteroom and left the palace.
“Darcy,” the colonel said quickly as soon as the carriage door was shut, “thank you for not losing your temper. You have been sorely tried, but I should like to keep my position for a while longer.” He looked at his cousin in mute appeal.
Darcy stared at him for a moment, his brows still lowered, and then his face relaxed and he laughed at his cousin’s worried look.
“The last time I saw you with an expression like that, you were about then years old. You had stolen a whole sack full of apples from the Pemberley orchard and our fathers were demanding to know who had done it. You were afraid that I would give you away, and even more afraid that one of the servants would be blamed. Well, Cousin, I knew enough to hold my tongue then, and I know enough now. If your position depends only upon me holding my temper and my tongue, it is safe enough.”
The colonel grinned at him and said, “I am glad to hear it, Cousin, because I have not yet found a rich and beautiful wife who is willing to marry a penniless younger son so I may retire to the country.”
They both laughed, but after a moment Darcy turned serious again.
“Fitzwilliam, I did not tell His Majesty the entire truth in there.”
“What do you mean?” the colonel asked in surprise.
“I did not just look at the salutations of the letters. I felt that I needed to truly make sure that they were the letters we needed, so I read them.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam merely looked at him inquiringly, one brow raised.
“They were from Mrs. Fitzherbert and addressed His Majesty as ‘my dearest husband,'”
“Good Lord,” the colonel exclaimed under his breath, “so he really did marry her. Were the letters dated before his marriage to the Princess of Wales?”
“Then it was no exaggeration to say that they could affect the succession, was it?”
“No. Although the marriage was not legitimate in the eyes of the government since it was not legally sanctioned by the king, it could be legitimate in the eyes of the Church, which would make the prince regent a bigamist. It is unlikely that he would face criminal charges because of his rank, but he could lose his place in the succession for this. With the prince now regent for his father, who, as far as I know is not recovering from his illness, it could mean chaos and years of legal battles over the throne.”
“I think you were very wise to destroy them, Darcy.”
“Once I saw them I knew that, even without the threat of exposure by the Coalition armies, they must be destroyed. He was a fool to keep them. I hope that his dislike of me and his embarrassment over this does not cause him to damage Georgiana’s reputation and her coming out.”
“I don’t believe that he would overtly injure her, but it would be very easy for him to ignore her and leave the ton thinking that she is not quite the thing.”
After a few more minutes of silence, the colonel said in a resigned tone. “I am appalled. I cannot believe that His Majesty would be so blind as to think that it was safe to keep them. As we have already seen, it is an open invitation to blackmail. Imagine if she had succeeded in delivering them to Napoleon!” He shivered slightly as the carriage pulled up to the Darcy townhouse.
“Well, it is over now,” Darcy said. “They are ashes and cannot come back to haunt the royal family. Pray God he has no other incriminating items that he is keeping secreted in his rooms.”
“Amen, Cousin, Amen.”
Summer and fair weather is time for travels, near and far. Jane Austen’s characters see their fair share of travels. Elizabeth travels to Hunsford to see Charlotte. Catherine Morland treks to Bath. Frank Churchill journeys to Highbury. Captain Wentworth sails the seas with His Majesty’s navy. The Dashwoods sojourn to Barton Cottage after the loss of their home, thence to London, while Sir Thomas Bertram voyages all the way to Antigua. What new expeditions have we in store for our favorite characters? Check in often through August to find out!