A rerun of the trials and tribulations of Antony, Lord Stepton, Mr. Darcy’s cousin, were so well received that I am doing another: the marriage of Antony to Lady Eleanor Henley. Again, this post appeared somewhere else, but I’m not sure where. Enjoy!
In Pride and Prejudice, we learn that Colonel Fitzwilliam is the younger son of an earl. But what about his brother, the heir? I have decided that the colonel’s brother has already succeeded to the title, and like so many titled gentlemen, he is a rake, a gambler, and a seducer. In my stories, Antony is married to the Evil Eleanor and is thoroughly unhappy in his marriage, but he also has a heart of gold.
The Marriage of Antony, Lord Fitzwilliam, to Lady Eleanor Henley
As Lord Fitzwilliam climbed the stairs to the nursery of his London townhouse, he thought about the two little girls who were waiting for their dear Papa to tuck them in. He was always at his best when his children were on parole from their mother, the Evil Eleanor, Queen of Darkness, now residing at Briarwood in Kent. But as long as Lady Eleanor haunted the halls of the ancestral seat of the Earls of Stepton, he would call London home.
After dismissing his daughters’ nurse with a wave of his hand and a finger to his lips, he tiptoed to their shared bed. Looking at the lovely Sophia and Amelia, with their long, golden tresses cascading over their pillows, he noted how kind Nature had been to his children. They had inherited their father’s blond hair, cornflower blue eyes, and adorable dimples, and from their mother, they had inherited… Surely, they have something from Eleanor, Antony thought as he studied his children. But when nothing came to mind, he decided that after they had fallen asleep, he would look at their feet to see if they had any extra toes.
Looking at his darlings, Antony’s mind drifted back to the birth of his older daughter, Sophia. When the doctor had sent word that Eleanor had been safely delivered of a baby girl, he was thrilled, and when he saw the child was fully human, he was delighted beyond measure.
“Well done, Eleanor,” he said, congratulating his wife who, despite having been in labor for several hours, looked very much in the pink. But then the midwife had told him that Lady Fitzwilliam “had dropped the child as easily as a heifer in a meadow.”
“She’s a girl!” Eleanor shouted. “That does not help us. We must start again.”
“No, no, no!” Antony responded, vigorously shaking his head. “I’m not a bit old fashion in that regard. In my book, daughters are equal with sons.”
“Don’t be stupid. Daughters cannot inherit. We must have an heir.”
“But I do have an heir—two in fact. I am perfectly content to have my brother inherit the title, and if anything should happen to Richard, there is always Darcy. My goodness! Is there anyone more capable of being the Earl of Stepton than Fitzwilliam Darcy? He practically wrote the book on being the ideal gentleman.”
“You always think about yourself.”
“How so, my dear! When I am dead, you will be the dowager countess. No one can take that away from you.”
“But they can take away my home. Your brother will throw me out of the house.”
“I am sure Richard will allow you to stay at Briarwood,” Antony lied. “He doesn’t dislike you as much as you think, and Darcy doesn’t know you well enough to know better.”
“I can give you a dozen examples of widows who were put out of the house before their husbands’ bodies had begun to rot in their graves.”
“Must you be quite so descriptive, Eleanor? After all, you are speaking of my body.”
“You won’t know the difference, but I shall,” she answered, her voice escalating. “No, you must come to me as soon as I am able. I must have a son.”
“Well, if we must, we must,” Antony said resolved to his plight. “But do take your time. No rush. Shall we say, same time next year?”
* * *
“Papa, will you tell us a story?” Amelia, who was missing her two-front teeth, lisped, thus rescuing her father from his unhappy thoughts.
“Of course, my darling girl. What shall it be? The tale of a princess who is waiting for her prince charming to rescue her from the evil queen who had imprisoned her in a haunted castle?”
“What does the castle look like?” Amelia eagerly asked.
“Oh, it is even bigger than Dover Castle and has crenellated towers, arrow slits, and cannon ports. It would also have a drawbridge and a moat filled with vicious sea monsters the evil queen has personally captured. And we must have a knight in shining armor to storm the castle in order to save the aforementioned princess.”
“Oh, yes, Papa. A story about a princess,” Amelia chirped. But her older sister, by two years, had another idea.
“Please tell us about how you and Mama met,” nine-year-old Sophia pleaded.
“So you like scary stories, do you?”
The two girls laughed and informed their father that a scary story had monsters or dragons or werewolves in it.
“You left out witches and succubi,” their father added.
“But Mama is not a witch,” Amelia said, giggling. “And she isn’t a suckbye either,” Sophia chimed in.”
“Your naiveté is adorable,” he answered, pinching their chins.
“Papa, I am serious,” Sophia pressed. “Although we have asked many, many times, you have never told us of your courtship.”
Although his children did not consider the courtship of Eleanor Henley and Antony Fitzwilliam to be a fright tale, he knew better, and he had the scars from a decade of marriage to the long-nailed Eleanor to prove it. And to think the tortuous journey that was their marriage had began with an Atlantic storm.
The title of Earl of Stepton had been bestowed on the Fitzwilliams by Elizabeth, Regina Gloriana, in 1598 after the Anglo-Irish Fitzwilliams had distinguished themselves in service to the crown in Ireland. In addition to properties in the Irish province of Munster, they had been awarded Briarwood, a vast estate in Kent formerly occupied by a nobleman who had annoyed Elizabeth’s father, and when someone irked Henry VIII, it usually ended up with that person parting with his properties and his head.
The current manor house had replaced a Tudor mansion that had been burnt to the ground by marauding Cromwell Roundheads bent on destroying anything belonging to the Fitzwilliams, staunch monarchists, and, hopefully, some of the Fitzwilliams as well. However, fleet of foot, the family had fled to France where they waited and waited and waited for the restoration of the monarchy. When they were finally able to return to England during the glory years of Charles II, a Jacobean monstrosity had risen from the ashes of the burnt Briarwood.
Fortunately, the house was as interesting as it was ugly, making it the perfect place for two boys with vivid imaginations to grow up. There was nothing that Antony and his younger brother Richard enjoyed more than exploring the dark recesses of the 100-year-old mansion. There was even a dungeon. Granted, it was not very big and had never actually been used; nonetheless, it was terribly inviting to the two young lads. And the boys loved the house as much as an owner loved an ugly, but loyal, dog.
The youth of the Fitzwilliam sons was very nearly ideal. But as the elder son and heir neared his majority, clouds appeared in the Kentish sky. It was in Antony’s 20th year that a ferocious storm barreled in from the Channel creating a swath of destruction in the shire, including extensive damage to an addition to the manor house that had been erected by the late and unlamented Roger, Lord Fitzwilliam, a mere twenty years earlier. Because it was the nicest, newest, and most modern part of the manor house, the apartments of Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam were to be found there. And the storm did find it. Tearing tiles off the roof, breaking windows, and for good measure, uprooting an oak tree that had been planted when the first of the Stuarts were on the throne and depositing it in the east wing.
At the time, Antony considered it to be merely a bad piece of luck—for his parents—his suite of rooms having been spared. He had no idea it would prove to be his undoing as well.
* * *
“Antony, do stop crying,” his mother said, handing him yet another handkerchief. “You are the future Earl of Stepton. Please act like it.”
“But I don’t want to marry Eleanor,” Antony said, sniveling. “She doesn’t love me.”
“Oh, pish posh! What does love have to do with marriage?” his mother tsked. “I find that you have very strange ideas concerning this subject. When people of rank discuss marriage, they are speaking of dynastic concerns.”
“No, they are not speaking of dynastic concerns; they are speaking of money. Specifically, in my case, Lord Henley’s money that you will use to repair the east wing. Your eye is on Eleanor’s dowry—not my happiness.”
“If you would only use your head, you will see that in selecting Eleanor your father has chosen well. Lord Henley’s daughter will bring a huge dowry to the marriage, and you will never have to worry about money ever again. I am convinced your chance of happiness with Eleanor is as fair as most people can boast upon entering the marriage state.”
“Never have to worry about money? How stupid do you think I am, Mama? I know it is your intention to rebuild the east wing of Briarwood with Eleanor’s dowry. By the time the repairs are completed, you will have spent it all, and I shall never see so much as a brass farthing.”
“You exaggerate the cost of the repairs, and don’t forget Lord Henley is providing his daughter with a considerable allowance.”
“Yes, yes. I do know that, and I know why. Lord Henley will pay any amount of money to get Eleanor out of the house. I heard him tell Lord Corman that if the Henleys were still Catholics, he would have packed his daughter off to a cloistered convent in France years ago. She is that unpleasant. Besides, Eleanor does not love me. She doesn’t even like me.”
“Like, love, what does it matter?”
“To my mind, quite a lot. You seem intent on denying me something you and Papa have.” Silence. “I know you do not love Papa, but you do like him. Don’t you?”
Lady Marianne went quiet. “Hmmm. It has been awhile since I have thought on the subject.” After further consideration, she concluded: “Your father is in no way disagreeable. But that is beside the point. We are speaking of you.”
“Actually, we were addressing the repairs at Briarwood.”
“Antony, in these matters, Eleanor is as good as any other heiress.”
“I disagree. What about the cats and the other missing pets?”
“Those are merely malicious rumors started by ignorant, superstitious people.”
“It was Eleanor’s brother who told me! And you and I both know there is always an element of truth in every rumor. Besides, I don’t find her attractive in any way. I can’t think how I would…”
“Are you implying you don’t know about the birds and the bees?” Lady Marianne asked aghast. “Hasn’t your father had ‘the talk’ with you?” Antony, who was staring at his hands, did not answer. “Well, if you don’t know about the birds and bees, surely you know about the stallion and the mares. The rooster and the hens. And that awful terrier your father loved that was forever mounting the hunting dogs. You know, Antony, it is not terribly complicated. The man…”
“I know what is required!” Antony shouted. The thought of his mother discussing the mechanics of sex was almost as terrifying as the thought of marrying the awful Eleanor. “But all parts must be functioning in order to complete the exercise. When I think of Eleanor, absolutely nothing happens. I have tried. Believe me, I have tried.”
“Oh, is that all? Your problem is easily solved. Think of someone else. I always do.”
“You and Papa still…? I hadn’t thought.”
“As rare as a hen’s tooth, but occasionally…”
“Please no details,” Antony said, covering his ears.
Despite tears and protests, it was soon apparent that his mother would not intervene with his father on his behalf; therefore, nothing could prevent the unholy union of Antony Fitzwilliam and Eleanor Henley.
* * *
His fate now sealed, Antony waited at the altar with his brother, Colonel Fitzwilliam of His Majesty’s army, who was there for the purpose of keeping his brother upright since he had been drinking since before dawn.
When the minister appeared, Antony approached him with the full intention of telling him that he could not possibly promise to “love and honor” Eleanor because he would be telling lies in a sacred place. Therefore, it was the reverend’s duty, as a man of God, to call a halt to the ceremony. But Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam had anticipated their son and had employed the services of a vicar who was as deaf as a post—a defect Antony failed to detect until his brother pointed to the ear trumpet hanging from the man’s sash.
Fearing a scene in which Antony would seek sanctuary in the church, Lady Marianne cued the church organist to begin playing and waved wildly at Lord Henley to get his daughter to the altar post haste, and with that, the service began:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, and therefore is not by any to be taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
“Reverend, excuse me, if I may interrupt,” Antony said, stepping forward and reaching for the ear trumpet. “I would appreciate if you would define ‘just cause’ for me.” But that was all Antony was able to say before his father was by his side whispering words like “ashamed, cowardly, desperate,” none of which had any impact on his son. It was only “disinherited” and “loss of title” that hit their mark.
Eleanor did not so much recite her vows as spit them out, and her promise “to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part” was followed by a cackle and a clap of thunder. When Richard, as ring bearer, removed the wedding ring from his pocket and tried to place it in his brother’s hand, Antony shoved his hands deep into his pockets and held tight to its lining. But Lady Susan, Eleanor’s mother, was a quick thinker. After removing her own band, she placed it on the third finger of her daughter’s left hand and motioned for the parson to speed it up.
“For as much as Antony and Eleanor have consented together in holy Wedlock…”
“Sir, I have not…”
“…and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to the other…”
“But I haven’t said anything. My father cannot answer for me,” Antony pleaded.
…and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands…
“I haven’t touched her!”
“…I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
After emerging from the old stone church, the newlyweds were met by the dreary, rain-streaked faces of Briarwood’s bedraggled tenants. They had only come for fear that Lord Fitzwilliam would raise their rent if they did not put in an appearance. Besides, they loved their pets.
While on the road to Briarwood, a driving rain played tattoos on the bonnet of the carriage, and as Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam pulled up to the manor house, a bolt of lightning struck near to the stone mansion, striking a walnut tree and rending it in two.
“Too bad it missed the house,” Antony thought as they stepped out of the carriage. “I might have been spared the marriage bed.”
* * *
“Please tell us all about your wedding day,” Antony’s elder daughter pleaded while tugging on her distracted father’s sleeve. “Did Mama wear a white dress and a veil?” Although years from her own debut, Sophia delighted in viewing magazines showing the current styles then being worn in London, and it seemed as if every ball gown was in either ivory or white.
Antony had to think. Although he was pretty sure Eleanor had worn black, in order to put smiles on his cherubs’ faces, he told them that their mother had, indeed, worn white.
“How many people came to the wedding breakfast?” Sophia prodded.
Did we have a wedding breakfast? We must have. Of yes, Eleanor’s mother was there delighting in my discomfort while her father was making arrangements for the removal of Eleanor’s cauldron and book of spells from her bedchamber.
“Too many guests to count,” Antony lied. “It was so crowded that when I tried to leave, I couldn’t get out the door. Of course, that was because of Eleanor’s beefy brothers blocking my way.
“But why would you want to leave your wedding breakfast?” Sophia asked.
“For a bit of fresh air, my sweets,” and to look for a noble steed to carry me far, far away.
“I thought you said it was raining very hard that day, Papa,” Amelia asked with a puzzled look.
“Buckets, dear. It was raining buckets. Even the heavens wept. Now, it is getting very late, so I shall read you a story and then we must blow out the candles.”
* * *
As he made his way to his study and a bottle of excellent French brandy, Antony’s mind turned to memories of his wedding night—the worst night of his life.
After seeing the bride to her bedchamber, the groom had entered his own and immediately went to the window to make his escape, but with gale-force winds blowing, the window would not open, even when both he and his valet pushed against it. He then eyed the furniture. If he placed the desk in front of the connecting door to Eleanor’s chamber, she would not be able to get in, and “in” she must get because he would not go to her. But the damn thing was too heavy and would not budge.
“Of course, Eleanor gets the easily portable French furniture while I’m stuck with oak!” Antony protested to his manservant, and then he looked at his valet. The man was only a few inches shorter than he was, and in the dark, who would know?
“Jacobs, have you ever been with a woman—I mean, in the Biblical sense?”
“I would hope so, sir. I was married for twelve years and have two sons.”
“Of course, I forgot you were a widower.”
“My sons, Tom and Ben, work in the stables, Milord.”
“Yes, yes, yes, I know, Jacobs. No need to get testy about a momentary lapse.”
“Sir, if you’re worried about doing the deed…”
“Yes? In my place, you might…”
“Never mind. What were you going to say?”
“If my memory holds, the first time it was quickly done.”
“But how does one prepare when one does not like one’s wife—theoretically speaking?”
“I would advise that person to think of someone they did like. Perhaps, an actress from the theater might serve.”
“Oh, that’s an excellent suggestion, Jacobs,” Antony said, thinking of the lovely siren in the crowd scene of Let Them Eat Cake. What was the name of that saucy sans culotte who had sent him her embroidered handkerchief and a barely literate note? Claudette. Yes, her name was Claudette. And the delightful dimple in the gorgeous face of that devilish dish appeared before him and just ahead of Eleanor banging on his door.
“What is taking you so long, Antony? I’m tired, and I want to go to sleep.”
“Please do, my dear,” Antony said, addressing the closed door. “You have had a busy day. Don’t stay up on my account.”
“Antony, get in here. Now!”
* * *
“Antony, are you a man or a boy?” Eleanor asked her husband who sat on the bed clinging to the bedpost.
“What if I answered I was a boy? Would it make any difference?”
“A difference in what?”
“In our staying married,” he said, a full day of drinking evident in his slurred speech. “Eleanor, you really don’t like me. Why ever did you agree to this?”
“Because I want to be a countess.”
“But you are the daughter of a count, and as such, are addressed as Lady Eleanor. That will not change.”
“It is not the same. I have no power as the daughter of an earl. But as a countess, I shall have a great deal of power—especially over you,” she said, eyeing the slight form of her husband. “Now are we going to do this or not?”
“Not!” Antony said through gritted teeth. “I shall never make you happy. I promise you that.”
“Happiness is an illusion.”
“No, it is not!” Antony protested. “My brother and sisters make me happy. My dogs make me happy. I truly experience happiness when I am on Paris, my noble steed. I know it is a foreign concept to you, Eleanor, but it does exist.”
“Are you going to get undressed or are we going to debate intangibles?”
“Debate. We should most definitely debate the merits of this marriage. As long as it is not consummated, we can still have the marriage annulled. Before you say anything,” Antony said, holding up his hand to hush Eleanor, he reminded her that with her own words, she had condemned him for being forever trapped in his youth. “You want a man for a husband, don’t you?”
Eleanor approached, and with her one blue eye and one brown eye, she stared at Antony in disbelief. “You don’t seriously think I would entertain the idea of an annulment! I would be the laughingstock of England.”
“Better a laughingstock than to be forever miserable. Don’t you see that if our marriage is annulled, you might be happy, too?”
“I have had enough of your nonsense. Get in bed, Antony,” Eleanor said, prying her husband’s fingers from the post. “I am losing my patience.”
“You are a perfect idiot? You do know that, don’t you?” Antony nodded. “Your job is to have carnal knowledge of my body. My job is to provide you with an heir and a spare. Once that is done, you can go to hell for all I care.”
“I can’t do it. I really can’t. I can’t just stuff it in you know.”
“You are even stupider than I thought,” Eleanor hissed. “Think of someone else.” With that she started to disrobe.
“Eleanor, for purposes of modesty, please allow me to blow out the candles.”
“I am not shy about such things.”
“I was talking about me.”
Finally, Antony succumbed, if not to his wife’s charms, then to her strength. After the marriage was consummated, he lay in the dark and said a prayer in gratitude—for Claudette.
* * *
After the deed was done, Antony returned to his bedchamber. Because he could not sleep, he stepped out onto the balcony. As he waited for the dawn of, hopefully, a better day, he thought of the misery he would experience as the husband of a woman who despised him. But out in the distance, beyond the grey skies, he saw two bursts of light, and in that moment, the rain stopped and the sun appeared, revealing a path to a beautiful garden.
Antony immediately made his way to the sun-lit path and his own little slice of Eden. While looking on the scene, he understood that he was being presented with a gift, and he was filled with the knowledge that he would father two children, both daughters, who would bring him much happiness.
“Thank you,” Antony said, addressing the heavens. “In this happy place, two flowers of extraordinary beauty will bloom and grow, and I shall know love—the very best kind of love—the unconditional love of my children.”
I would love to hear your comments.
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