This short story appeared previously somewhere. As we are so close to New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be a fun post. Enjoy!
Darcy waited patiently while Avery, Elizabeth’s lady’s maid, finished dressing his wife’s hair. Because tonight was the night of the New Year’s Eve ball, and Elizabeth’s first ball since becoming the mistress of the manor, extra care must be taken. Her gown, the color of claret, had been made months earlier by Madame Delaine, London’s finest modiste, and woven into her dark tresses were pearls and tiny rosettes. After being properly thanked for her efforts by her mistress and receiving a nod of approval from her master, Avery was dismissed, but even before the door had closed, Darcy was beside his bride.
“Elizabeth, I do not think it possible for you to look more beautiful than you do right now.”
“William, you are exaggerating,” Lizzy chided her husband as she looked down at her chemise and stays. “You should reserve such comments for when I am dressed in my ball gown,” she teased while glancing at the ball gown lying sprawled across their bed.
“I like you better when you are not dressed,” he said, tracing the outline of her neck with his lips. “And why must you wear those stays? You have a superb figure, and you know how it frustrates me to struggle with your laces.”
“My stays serve to slow you down, which are the only things that do,” she answered with a laugh.
“They only delay the inevitable.” Fearing his ardor would get the best of him, Elizabeth was relieved when she heard a knock on the door. Avery had returned.
“Ma’am, Mr. Jackson asked me to tell you that Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam are here.”
That can’t be right, Elizabeth thought, looking at her husband. The two combatants had not been in the same room since the birth of their second daughter ten years earlier.
“Do you mean Lord Fitzwilliam and Colonel Fitzwilliam are here?” Darcy asked, a nervousness creeping into his voice.
“No, sir. It is Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam.” Avery was again dismissed.
“If this is Antony’s idea of a joke, bringing one of his paramours and passing her off as his wife, I shall have his hide,” an angry Darcy said through gritted teeth.
“Darling, if it were Antony’s intention to pass off his mistress as Lady Eleanor, Jackson would have sent word of the charade. However, you do need to find out what is going on.”
With a disregard for decorum, Darcy rushed down the staircase, taking them two at a time. At the bottom, he was met by his butler. Jackson’s dour expression did nothing to reassure his master.
“Lord Fitzwilliam and Colonel Fitzwilliam are in the library, sir, and Lady Fitzwilliam is conversing with your sister in the drawing room.”
As soon as the door to the library closed behind him, Darcy lit into His Lordship. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I come by invitation, old boy—apparently from your wife.” Antony said with his most devilish half smile. “Does Elizabeth not tell you who is on your guest list?”
“After being absent from Pemberley for five years, you decide to put in an appearance now—on the very night when Elizabeth is to give her first ball?” Darcy said in a blast. “And don’t pretend that you and Eleanor have reconciled. The last time you were together, she set the dogs on you.”
“No harm done. They were my dogs,” Antony chuckled, “Besides, animals like me.”
“Knowing how much you detest each other, pray tell me why you and Eleanor are here—in my house—on this particular night?” In Darcy’s mind, there could only be one reason: Eleanor had agreed to pay off Antony’s debts. But why would she do that?
“I was being pressed by my tailor,” Lord Fitzwilliam said, eliciting a chuckle from his brother at the pun. “May I have a glass of port?”
Antony pursed his lips at his cousin’s stinginess, but Darcy would not yield. “Does the name Edward Denby ring a bell? Probably not, as you are not known to associate with importers of fabric. For the past year, Denby was Eleanor’s love interest. Unfortunately, he has given her the boot. He must not have grown tired of being with someone who drowns kittens for sport. As a result of their conscious uncoupling, she has been rather depressed and came running to me.”
Darcy looked to the colonel for confirmation. When Richard nodded, Darcy asked, “You are man and wife again?”
“Don’t be revolting! I merely take her wherever she wishes to go in her carriage, and once there, I go right out the back door where my own carriage awaits. Does that satisfy?”
“I am warning you,” an irate Darcy answered, “I will not tolerate any shouting or thrown glassware. One misstep and you will find yourself being escorted from the house by way of the servants’ entrance. Another thing. I know your reputation for seducing married women. Pemberley will not serve as a place of recruitment for your affairs.”
“Agreed. May I have a glass of port now?”
* * *
Although Darcy trusted Lord Fitzwilliam only as far as he could throw him, the guests were beginning to arrive. His presence was required in the foyer where he found Elizabeth welcoming the earliest arrivals and motioned to Colonel Fitzwilliam to join him in the receiving line.
“Richard, I am asking you to keep an eye on your brother,” Darcy said under his breath as he took the hand of the nearly deaf Countess of Roxbury.
“I shall do my best, but I have come with a purpose as well,” the colonel whispered.
“And what would that be?” Darcy said, bowing to the equally hard of hearing Lord Roxbury.
“I have resigned my commission, and it is my intention to find a wife.”
“Here? Tonight? Are you mad?”
“Speak up, Darcy,” Lord Roxbury said. “I do not have my horn with me. I thought you asked if I were mad. Inappropriate, sir, unless, of course, you were referring to my wife,” he said, chuckling.
Elizabeth quickly covered up for her husband’s comment. “Your Lordship, Mr. Darcy was saying how glad he is that you were able to come tonight.” She then whispered to her husband. “Perhaps, you should wait for a more propitious time to continue your conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
After welcoming their guests, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy went into the yellow drawing room where they found Lord Fitzwilliam sitting on a sofa between Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Kenner, the vicar’s wife. Lizzy quickly crossed the room for fear that the His Lordship would say something shocking and give offense.
“Ah, Elizabeth, I was just telling these beautiful ladies of my preference in fruit. Like Adam, I am unable to resist a perfectly ripened apple. Personally, I do not care for the fruit when it has just been plucked from the tree. It is more delicious when it has sat in the sun for a while and been handled a time or two. Do you agree?”
Lizzy blanched, but when her Aunt Gardiner gave her a knowing smile, and Mrs. Kenner actually giggled, she decided that she had best leave His Lordship where he was, lest he say something to someone who did not appreciate his charm.
As Mr. and Mrs. Darcy walked arm in arm into the ballroom, Lizzy took a deep breath. She could hardly believe that she was the mistress of Pemberley. Yet, here she was in this glorious ballroom, decorated with pine boughs and holly and with a hundred burning candles in the chandeliers, casting its lights on the guests below.
As soon as the couple took their place, the musicians played the first chord, indicating that the dancing was to begin. Elizabeth, who felt as if she were living the life of a princess, joined her consort. Darcy looked at Elizabeth, his dark eyes reflecting the love he had for his bride, and she returned the look, knowing that it was impossible for her to be happier than she was at that moment.
The second dance with Elizabeth was claimed by the colonel who explained why he had resigned his commission. “With the wars in the Peninsula, I thought I would be in the thick of it. Instead, I sit in Kent and keep my powder dry. I know you are asking yourself, ‘but what will Richard live on?’ A good question, and one I intend to answer tonight. It is my intention to make an offer of marriage to the first woman I see who is single or a widow and who has a fortune of at least £20,000.”
“I do believe you are serious,” a stunned Elizabeth answered. “But there are few who will meet your criteria. This is Derbyshire, not London.”
“I have already taken into consideration the latest crop of ladies who came out into society this year. Rather poor harvest, if you ask me. I was hoping Lady Morton would be here,” the colonel said, scanning the throng. “I hear she has £25,000 and a charming estate in Cheshire.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Lady Morton is still in mourning.”
“Perhaps, her sister, Miss Nelson?”
Elizabeth looked at him with a jaundiced eye. “A somewhat tamer version of your sister-in-law? I should think not.”
While Richard searched the room for a marriage partner, Lizzy was wondering where Jane and Charles could be. “Of all nights to be late,” Lizzy mumbled.
As the evening progressed, a concerned Darcy, his brow scarred with worry lines, found a few minutes to speak to his wife. “Do you know if Antony has offended anyone?”
“There is no need to worry. Your cousin’s reputation has preceded him, and those who enjoy his particular type of wit, flock to him, and those who do not, avoid him. You should be more concerned about Lady Eleanor as she gives offense wherever she goes.”
“But I am not related to Eleanor. I wish I could say the same for Lord Fitzwilliam. But you are right. Despite the presence of His Lordship, I think everyone is having a good time.”
“I love when you start your sentences with, ‘You are right,” Lizzy purred. “But there is one thing you should know…” She acquainted her husband with Richard’s purpose in attending the ball.
Darcy actually started to laugh. “Richard will find the pickings slim. Possibly Lady Ashtonbury will serve?” Elizabeth joined her husband in laughing at the idea of the handsome Richard Fitzwilliam married to a lady who was older than his mother and who looked very much like her horse.
“No worries there, but I am concerned about the Bingleys.”
Although Jane and Charles were nearly always tardy, Elizabeth had never known her sister and brother-in-law to be this late. In her mind, she pictured their carriage broken down somewhere on the fifteen-mile stretch of road between their two houses. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were reassuring Elizabeth when Jackson informed them that Mrs. Bingley had arrived. The three immediately went to the foyer to find Jane standing all alone.
“Jane, where is Charles?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, he is coming,” a clearly irritated Jane answered, “and here is the reason why we are so late.”
With that introduction, Caroline Bingley swept into the foyer on the arm of her brother. Richard’s eyes quickly assessed the scene: an attractive lady with golden hair and blue eyes, a comely figure, and one known to step lively. But the most attractive thing about Miss Bingley was all the beautiful money she kept in a bank in London.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth at the colonel, and both looked at Richard. “No! Please no! Not Caroline!”
* * *
At the earliest possible moment, Elizabeth pulled her sister into a corner, her face demanding an explanation as to why Caroline Bingley was at Pemberley.
“I am so very sorry about all of this, Lizzy, but I had no choice,” Jane said, her voice a mixture of anger and repentance. “Louisa’s mother and father-in-law are visiting at the Bingley town home in London and plan to stay until Twelfth Night. Because the elder Mr. Hurst is in trade, Caroline cannot abide them. She considers them to be of the ‘middling sort.’”
“It seems Caroline wishes to forget her own family history.”
Jane nodded in agreement. “She is the vainest creature I know. Can you guess how many times she changed her dress? Four,” she answered, holding up her fingers. “I am convinced her purpose is to show William that he chose unwisely.”
“Do not concern yourself on that account…” Lizzy suddenly stopped talking and watched with amazement as her husband deliberately put his foot out so that he might trip Richard Fitzwilliam. As the colonel slid across the foyer, landing at the feet of Miss Bingley, many of the guests thought the scene had been staged for their amusement. Lord Fitzwilliam’s presence seemed to confirm it.
After detouring around the supine colonel, Elizabeth approached her guest and commented on the snowflakes clinging to Caroline’s cloak. “I see that it has started to snow.”
“It appears that a storm is approaching,” Charles answered for his sister, looking at Elizabeth with doe-like eyes, pleading to be forgiven for bringing Caroline to Elizabeth’s first ball. Lizzy smiled to assure him that all was well.
After dusting off his breeches and the sleeves of his coat, Richard approached Caroline. Before he could utter a word, Darcy requested an interview with him.
“In a minute, Darcy, I wanted to ask Miss Bingley—”
“It is a matter of military importance,” Darcy said, preventing Richard from continuing.
“Have I not already told you that I have resigned my commission? You must seek military advice elsewhere.”
“As of this moment, you are an officer in His Majesty’s army,” Darcy said, his voice growing louder, “the proof of which is that you continue to wear your regimentals.”
“Very well, Darcy, but first may I ask Miss Bingley to join me at supper and for at least two sets after we finishing dining?”
Caroline went wide-eyed. She had no idea Darcy’s cousin was so enamored of her. Although merely the younger son of an earl, he did have rank and excellent connections and looked so handsome in his brilliant red uniform. Despite her criticism of Lydia and Kitty Bennet for chasing after officers, the sight of a well-built man in a tailored uniform was not lost on her. Yes, he might do very well for me, Caroline thought. Although not as handsome as Mr. Darcy, but then there are few who are, he certainly fills out his breeches.
“I would be honored,” Caroline responded with a slight curtsey. While Elizabeth directed her to the ballroom, Darcy gestured for the Fitzwilliam brothers to join him in his study.
As soon as he was comfortably settled in a chair closest to the fire, Antony began. “Oh dear! Darcy has that parson’s look on his face. Richard, I fear we are to be subjected to a sermon.”
“Before we get to the homily, Darcy,” the colonel said, “I want confirmation that it was an accident that I went arse over tea kettle in your foyer and that you did not deliberately trip me.”
“It was no accident,” Darcy answered, his face reddening. “And I can assure you that I am not here to preach a sermon because, at the moment, I am too angry with both of you to engage in such a tame pursuit. This is my wife’s first ball, and you,” he said, pointing to the earl, “show up with the Evil Eleanor, and you,” he said, gesturing toward the earl’s brother, “come to my house for the purpose of looking for a rich wife. Have you both gone mad?”
In an attempt to justify the reason for their presence, the two brothers talked over one another, but Darcy cared not a whit about what either had to say. This was Elizabeth’s night, and they were ruining it.
“Darcy, I do apologize,” Richard began. “With the possibility of a war with the Americans, I had to do something. I have been to America. I have friends there. It would be impossible for me to train my artillery on them, so I sold my commission to Lord Corman’s son who has no such qualms.”
“As for me, Darcy,” Antony said, refusing to appear contrite, “if you send someone an invitation, you should prepare yourself for the possibility that the party so invited might actually come.”
At that moment, the men were joined by Georgiana, whose face wore a look of thunder. This, too, was Georgiana’s first formal ball at Pemberley.
“This is so unfair,” she began, and Darcy could see tears welling up in her eyes. “Antony, I have been stuck with your wife for the past hour, and it is only because Mrs. Bingley has taken my place on the sofa that I was free to seek you out.”
“Just walk away from her,” Antony said, feeling a twinge of guilt that his dear cousin had been ensnared in Eleanor’s talons. “That is what I do. That is what everyone does.”
“That is no longer possible because she is inebriated… intoxicated—”
“You need not step lightly on my account. Eleanor is sloshed, stewed, potted!” Antony exclaimed. “She really does have a low tolerance for spirits, especially after having a nip or two or three from my flask in the carriage.”
“You should know that your wife just told Mrs. Kitchen that her grandchildren look like the monkeys at the Exeter Exchange,” Georgiana said, biting her lip.
“Oh dear! I apologize for that, but Eleanor always was one to speak the truth, no matter how unpleasant for others to hear it.”
“I see you find humor in all this. Well, do you find it funny that Eleanor told Lady Washburn that Mrs. Davenport, and we all know what a dear, personal friend she is to you, is cock-eyed, cock-sure, and goes off half-cocked, emphasizing that particular word every time.”
“Again, I must apologize, but really, Susan is not cock-eyed. It is just that she has two different colored eyes, giving her the appearance of—”
“I do not care anything about Mrs. Davenport or her eye color,” Georgiana said, turning on her heel and leaving. As she went out, Elizabeth came in.
“Antony, really, I must insist on you seeing to your wife,” Lizzy said in a calm but stern voice. In addition to Georgiana’s growing frustration with Lady Eleanor, there was also the small matter of Mr. Darcy, who, despite being the host of the ball, was largely absent. “William and I have obligations to our guests. We cannot stand guard over your wife like a nursery maid.”
Antony rose from his chair. “If I promise not to leave Eleanor’s side for the rest of the night, may I stay and hear what Darcy has to say to my brother?”
“No!” Darcy and Elizabeth said in unison.
“Well, promise me that you will not talk about Eleanor while I am gone,” Antony asked. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
After Darcy gave the earl a look that could have melted iron, His Lordship reluctantly departed. But when the colonel tried to do likewise, Darcy grabbed him by the arm. “You. Stay. Sit.” All Richard could do was look longingly towards the door—and freedom.
* * *
“Have you gone barking mad?” Darcy asked his squirming cousin.
“Darcy, please understand my position. Because I am the younger son of an earl, I was presented with four choices: I could become a clergyman, which was out of the question as I like to have fun. I could take up the law, which I should have done, but Mama found it unfashionable. The third choice was to marry well. However, unlike my brother, it is my intention to be faithful to my vows. I knew if I were to sow wild oats, I had to do it before I took a wife. That left me with my final option: the military. Until recently, I was not unhappy with my choice. But that was before I received orders to go to Nova Scotia. As I mentioned, I have no wish to wage war against the Americans. Besides, there is no society to speak of in Halifax.”
“I am sympathetic to your plight,” Darcy said, a good deal calmer now that Antony was absent. “However, by marrying Caroline Bingley, you would find yourself with a wife with many of the same unpleasant traits as Eleanor.”
“Does Miss Bingley pull the wings off butterflies?”
“I see that you will not take the matter seriously,” an exasperated Darcy concluded. “Very well. I have guests to see to. If you will excuse me.”
Richard was hard on Darcy’s heels. He did understand the perils of marrying for money, but he also understood that husbands and wives actually spent little time together, his cousin being the anomaly. Because Darcy was blissfully wed, his view of marriage was skewed. The colonel, on the other hand, was a realist and went in search of Caroline Bingley.
* * *
Although not as charming or witty as his brother, Richard could hold his own. And tonight, with business to be done and a wife to be found, he would use everything in his arsenal in order to secure Miss Bingley’s affections.
Throughout the evening, Caroline talked incessantly, only permitting Richard the occasional compliment. Despite a litany of complaints about the lack of fashion, remoteness of the estate, etc., etc., there was one particular thing Caroline did like: Colonel Fitzwilliam’s regimentals. But the more she talked, the more confused Richard became. Had he not already told her that he had resigned his commission in His Majesty’s Army and that his uniforms would either be sold or relegated to a clothes cupboard? Despite his efforts to bring up other subjects, Caroline’s ship sailed true north and would not be redirected.
“I hope I am more than a uniform,” Richard said.
“Of course, Colonel, but I would be less than truthful if I did not acknowledge that your excellent appearance in uniform is a part of your attraction.”
“Yes, but as I mentioned earlier, I have resigned my commission. As a result—”
“What?” Caroline said, snapping her fan shut. “I thought you were in jest.”
“No, I was not in jest. Effective the first of next month, I shall be a former officer in His Majesty’s army. I may possibly take up the law—”
“The law? Do you mean to be a solicitor?” Caroline asked, clearly aghast at the suggestion. “You may as well become a shopkeeper, hawking goods from an emporium.”
“I take issue with your statement,” Richard said, shocked at her assertion. “I consider the law to be a noble pursuit as it is necessary for the protection of the rights of the individual.”
“The rights of the individual? What individuals? Who are these people of whom you speak?”
“Miss Bingley, I can see that you and I have very different ideas of service. In my opinion, it does not require that I wear a well-tailored uniform. I believe the profession of learned counsel is equally worthy of my attention. After all, we are a nation governed by laws, and as such—”
“Oh, there you are, Fitzwilliam,” Darcy called out as he entered the drawing room. Although unhappy to see the colonel with the unpleasant Caroline Bingley, if the man was determined, there was nothing he could do about it. “I need your talents—actually your muscle—as Mrs. Kitchen’s carriage has gone into a swale. It will take every available man to free it.”
“Gladly, Darcy.” Richard propelled himself out of his chair and away from Miss Caroline Bingley.
“So am I to wish you joy?” Darcy asked as he waited for the colonel to put on his greatcoat.
“Yes, you may wish me joy as I remain a free man. Someone should break the news to Miss Caroline Bingley that taking up the law does not put me in the same class as a dustman.”
After the men and servants had freed Mrs. Kitchen’s carriage from the ditch, Darcy rejoined his wife who was standing out in the snow catching snowflakes with her fingertips. Darcy glanced at his bride of a year, and with his looks, implored her forgiveness for what was surely the disaster of her first Pemberley Ball.
Elizabeth entwined her arms in those of her husband and whispered, “Please do remind me of what your objections were to my family. After all, there is no one in the Bennet family to compare to Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam, and I can’t remember anyone lying prone in the foyer at Longbourn.”
“If the snow keeps up, we shall be able to build a snowman in the morning,” Darcy said, looking up at the sky and away from his wife. “Georgiana loves building snowmen.”
“I am not a child, William. I cannot be so easily diverted.”
Hoping to change the subject, Darcy was happy to see his cousin walking towards them just as a carriage turned into the drive.
“Elizabeth, it seems that we are to have more guests staying overnight at Pemberley. I suspect the people in that carriage are seeking shelter from the snow.”
The handsome conveyance held only two people, one of whom, Lord Pentwith, was known to the Darcys.
“Darcy,” the viscount said, descending from the carriage, “it has been too long. But with this storm, we shall have ample opportunity to catch you up, and it will allow me to become better acquainted with your beautiful bride.” Turning their attention to the carriage, the Darcys and Richard watched as the viscount’s ward, Alexandra Hamilton, appeared. The twenty-year old Miss Hamilton had recently been taken under the wing of Lord Pentwith. As her guardian, he would oversee her considerable inheritance rumored to be somewhere in the range of £20,000.
Noting that the young lady was wearing only thin boots, Colonel Fitzwilliam offered to carry her inside. Richard gently maneuvered Lord Pentwith’s charge so that her footwear did not touch the snow and quickly carried the lady into Pemberley’s foyer. In gratitude, Alexandra removed her glove and extended her hand, and when Richard took it, all thoughts of finding a rich wife disappeared. As far as he was concerned, it would not matter if Miss Hamilton was a penniless waif—not with eyes the color of a summer sky.
After witnessing the exchange, Darcy and Elizabeth let out a joint sigh of relief.
* * *
In the wee hours of the morning, as they prepared for bed, Darcy insisted that he had not wasted a moment’s time in worrying about the colonel. “I knew my cousin had more sense than to become entangled in Caroline Bingley’s web.”
“Is that right, William? So, tripping the colonel in the foyer was for the benefit of your guests?”
“I saw an opening, and I took it. Spiced things up a bit, didn’t it?”
“I am happy to hear that you appreciate dramatic scenes. Whilst you were rescuing Lord Kitchen, Lady Eleanor attempted to skewer Lord Fitzwilliam with a fireplace poker.” Darcy’s mouth dropped open, but Elizabeth put her finger under Darcy’s chin and closed it. “Fortunately, two alert servants were able to prevent Antony’s impalement and escorted Her Ladyship to her bedchamber where she passed out.”
“Elizabeth, I am so sorry.”
“It is not necessary for you to apologize.”
“Why not?” Darcy asked confused.
After climbing under the bed covers, Elizabeth patted the bed indicating that her husband should join her. Although a night of lovemaking would be a perfect antidote to the antics of the Fitzwilliams, he remained suspicious.
“Why should I not apologize? My relations made a circus out of the ball.”
“My mother is coming to Pemberley—and will be staying for a month. Any objections?”
Darcy started to say something, but in the end, all he could manage was “not a one.”
Your comments are always appreciated. Happy New Year!