Our journey to Pemberley was tedious. I shan't bother listing all the details involved in such a move, suffice to say our days prior to leaving were some of the busiest I've ever encountered, as many of the necessary preparations fell to me. I was deeply glad to have occupation which necessitated my mind being directed anywhere beyond the reason for our journey. Through it all Jennifer remained a rock of support and help for Elizabeth and myself. Since we married I have often counted myself among the luckiest of men, Darcy would say luckiest of fools, in the kingdom to have secured her good opinion; the past few days have strengthened that belief and I find I admire Jennifer more than ever.
It seemed important for me to travel with Elizabeth and Georgiana to Pemberley; they needed someone to guard them now........ Jennifer came with and between the three ladies and the children, the nurses, staff and those from the town house who would come with us to pay their respects, we made quite a large party. I rode, to give the ladies a bit more space and privacy. And I was quite content to avoid comforting duty. I don't like tears and generally try to avoid situations requiring me to comfort someone; it's more suited to a woman's lot. Thus I rode, and spent much of my time thinking about the roads. By the time we arrived Mrs. Reynolds had Pemberley decked out in appropriate mourning. The house looked as forlorn as the staff who turned out to greet us.
I suddenly felt very tired. It must have been that long and miserable journey from London.
I excused myself from company and went to our room. Jennifer joined me some time later and we spent the rest of the afternoon trying to feel anything other than this tired, dull ache. By dinner my disposition had improved considerably, and I was able to engage in a number of topics which were pleasing banal.
Nightfall brought a carriage to Pemberley. Elizabeth's family had arrived. I had silently hoped they would spend the night at an inn, providing us all with a quiet night; but they were of their own mind and arrived just after the hall clock struck 9:00. I think we were fortunate that the children were already in bed, thus sparing them from their grandmother's initial effusions of sympathy; it was hard enough for the rest of us to bear.
"Oh Lizzy! My poor, poor Lizzy. What a terrible tragedy! How horrible for you! Oh my poor dear girl." Elizabeth was enveloped in her mother's tearful embrace until I feared she would choke.
"Perhaps my dear, it would be good for you to rest your nerves." Mr. Bennet finally spoke up.
"Oh yes. My poor nerves. Such a horrid ride, the carriage is badly sprung you know. But your father refuses to let us have a more comfortable ride. Though I suppose under the circumstances an uncomfortable ride is befitting the situation. Now then are we to have the same rooms as before? You there, get my trunks and put them in my room. And then I shall have need a of a restorative. Oh this is SUCH a terrible tragedy." Mrs. Bennet fluttered off, issuing commands and complaining of her tremors.
"Lizzy." Mr. Bennet spoke softly, but held out his arms for Elizabeth.
"Papa." I turned away to give them some privacy. I was vaguely aware of whispered comfort, and tried my best to remain unobtrusive.
"Richard? Do you remember my father?" Elizabeth had drawn my attention to them.
"Yes, I do. Good evening Mr. Bennet." I count myself fortunate that I was able to refrain from reminding everyone that I had met and last seen Mr. Bennet at Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding.
"I regret that we must meet again under such circumstances. Nevertheless it is a pleasure to see you again." I told him with all sincerity.
"Er, yes. Thank you Colonel." Mr. Bennet responded. We heard approaching trill of Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth suggested that we might seek refuge in the library.
We spent a good hour in silence, interrupted only by an occasional yawn and shuffle. Mr. Bennet seemed content to pour through a book while I sat idly sketching out a crop plan for Stanyon Hmmm, I should get Darcy's opinion on this..... Oh, damn. I sighed and went in search of the brandy Darcy used to keep in the sideboard. I poured one for myself and Mr. Bennet.
"Thank you Colonel Fitzwilliam." Mr. Bennet stared at the glass for a moment. "It will get easier you know."
"Will it?" I hoped he was talking about my habit of thinking Darcy was alive... Otherwise, somewhere I missed the introduction of a new topic.
"It will. When my brother passed away I believe it took a full six- month until I stopped thinking of him daily. It's a habit you know.... you think of some brilliant thought, or laugh at a good joke and you think, 'I must tell this to....' After a time you start to remember he's not there to tell. It's not a particularly pleasing situation, but less painful than right now."
"I should hope so sir."
"Now, I worry about Elizabeth and those boys. One day she'll realise they barely remember their father, and that will bring even more grief than she feels now."
"Then perhaps we should keep his memory alive." A lame suggestion, but honestly I am not a philosopher and at this late hour it was the best I could think of.
"A good suggestion Colonel. And a word of advise: try to remember that Elizabeth has lost her husband, but I sincerely doubt she has grieved yet."
I did my best to look confused; it was easy.
Mr. Bennet smiled, "There are too many others to take care of. She'll tend to everyone until she collapses."
"What do you expect me to do with this information sir?" I am not stupid. I knew he was trying to suggest a course of action... I just wished he would lay it out so I could see what I was dealing with.
Mr. Bennet smiled again, "I forget you are a military man. Directives and actions, no need for subtleties and hints. Very well Colonel. It is our job to keep the invading hoards at bay and give Elizabeth time to realise her loss. Give her room to cry."
"Then why are we hiding in here?"
"We are not hiding... We are fortifying ourselves for the onslaught." He took a large swallow of his drink and returned to his book. I went to find my wife. I needed someone who spoke sanely.
I had found Jennifer as she was settling Georgiana down for the night. My cousin looked more like a small child than a grown woman. At least Elizabeth did not have to worry about Georgiana for the next few days; Jennifer would take care of her. Jenny promised to meet me in our chambers; we would be assured of a few minutes of privacy there. I waited, and waited, and finally stepped outside onto the terrace for some fresh air, hoping that it would relax me and might make sleep come more readily, or at least take my mind off all this. It wasn't working. Thus far, after a half hour, I was irritable that I had yet to see my wife, and felt no more inclined to sleep than when I first stepped out. The door opened as I was contemplating returning to the house, and Jennifer came out.
"Over here Jennifer." I know I spoke quietly but to my ears it was as loud as musket fire. Jennifer gave no indication that I spoke unusually loud while she wrapped her arms around my waist, resting her head on my chest.
"It's not right." Jenny finally broke our silent comfort.
"It's not right that tonight should be so beautiful. It should be storming and thundering...... and miserable. Like us."
She was right; it was beautiful. It was one of those rare, warm evenings when everything smells... nice.
"Lilacs." Jenny told me as I sniffed. It's odd how she can read my mind. She was right; it should not be so very nice. Not tonight.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Richard." Jennifer said quietly. "If it had been you...."
"Shush. Don't think of such things. It's bad luck." I reminded her.
She giggled a little, "I thought you didn't believe in luck."
"I don't, but I'm also not about to tempt fate and ask for trouble. Lord knows we have enough trouble as it is."
She squeezed me and then released me, asking, "Are you coming in?"
"Only if you are." We went directly to our chambers and slept 'til dawn.
The rest of Elizabeth's family arrived the next day: the Bingley's and the Gardiners; Aunt Catherine, Mr. Collins, my parents and brother (Julia was at home recovering from a disappointment) also arrived that afternoon. I can only admire the strength and courage I saw her expend in dealing with her mother's histrionics, Aunt Catherine's diatribes, and her own children and Georgiana's deep grief. A lesser woman would have collapsed in vapours, and any man would have struck down someone or gotten properly and completely drunk, but Mrs. Darcy showed everyone that she was made of sterner stuff.
Aunt Catherine and Mr. Collins spent their first night advising Elizabeth on proper funeral and mourning customs. After a half hour Elizabeth cracked:
"I thank you both, but I have already spoken with Rev. Henry Bedwell."
"And who is that?" Aunt Catherine demanded.
"He is the rector of our parish."
"I have brought you my own rector in Mr. Collins, so that everything might be done correctly."
"Lady Catherine you are very generous. How very kind of you to go to all this trouble or our little Lizzy." Mrs. Bennet spoke up. That woman's folly was making me ill.
"Indeed it was kind of you to consider such things. However I am allowing Rev Bedwell to conduct the services. Mr. Darcy thought very well of Rev Bedwell and he would be pleased that someone whom he knew and considered a friend would conduct the service. I thank you for the honour, but, in the interests of my husband, I must decline."
Aunt Catherine backed down. I do not know who was more shocked: myself or my father. Probably me since my father had always had a way of making his younger sister bend to his will so this came as only a small surprise to him. My father told me later that he was actually quite shocked that Catherine deigned to come and attend the services for Darcy, her dislike of Darcy's wife being what it was. That Elizabeth was not yet laid up with the vapours earned her a grudging admiration from Aunt Catherine. Before she left Aunt Catherine admitted, grudgingly and only to me, that Darcy would have been proud of the comportment his widow displayed.
The day of Darcy's funeral was warm and bright, and I did manage not to curse God for such a day, though it really should have been dreary and rainy.
Aunt Catherine and my mother were suitably impressed that the mourning clothes of Elizabeth and Georgiana were true black; I failed to see the significance and earned a lecture from Mr. Collins on the appropriate methods of displaying ones mourning status. Thomas smirked at me while Collins lectured, and I regretted being to old to push him into the mud.
The funeral was very well attended, so well attended that I wondered if there was anyone left in London. Mrs. Bennet crowed endlessly that there was no need for hired mourners; fortunately Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bingley kept her to the side where she could be only slightly annoying. Throughout it all I held Jennifer's hand tightly and begged God to make this all a mistake.
The Darcy's have a family cemetery at Pemberley, and there amidst the other generations, Darcy was laid next to his parents as Reverend Henry Bedwell conducted the service. Reverend Bedwell was a quiet gentle looking man and as repeated words that sounded familiar, I wondered how he had ever caught Darcy's attention to gain the living.
"Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.
I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labours." **
I caught a glimpse of Aunt Catherine looking extremely pleased and nodding her approval. My own thoughts were not so pure.
"Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen."
I mumbled the Lord's prayer along with everyone, but felt no comfort from it.
"Almighty God, with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity: We give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee, that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." Reverend Bedwell finished his part and paused.
"I realise that I am speaking out of turn here, but I cannot let go without a word of comfort. I.... I was shocked when I received Mrs. Darcy's letter, for here was a man at the peak of his life. To be so cruelly cut down and leave behind such a dear family, is more than we can understand. I certainly cannot. Just as I cannot fathom how different life will be for all of us without him. I can only trust that God has promised good from this, and pray that you will all seek His good will and perfect comfort."
I was too angry at Bedwell to follow in the closing prayer. That man had no idea how much we had lost, and he had no business inferring that he does know. I was startled out of my musings when Jennifer pulled on my arm gently and I realised that most of the people had left. Only Elizabeth, holding her sons' hands, remained, staring blankly at the grave.
"Jenny why is she shaking?" In fact Elizabeth was trembling violently.
Jennifer rushed over and took the boys hands. She brought them to me saying, "Take them to the house. Now, please." She returned to Elizabeth's side and embraced her. I gathered the boys to me and we turned to go to the house.
We'd only gone a few steps when I heard a low moan, like someone in great pain. I kept the boys walking, but turned my head to see Elizabeth crumpled on the ground sobbing.
"Cofiz? Mamma crwy."
"Yes, Ben. Mamma's crying. Aunt Jennifer will take care of her. Let's go to the house." We walked quietly back to Pemberley and it was sometime before either of the boys would release my hands.
Nearly a week has past since Darcy's funeral, and it's been a week I'd lief forget. I spent one morning riding with Ben, ignoring everyone else in the household. I told myself that I had spent very little time with Bennet and he needed me. As we rode out Ben was naturally chattering on about his papa, and the fort Darcy had been planning to build. I made a note to attend to that next year. Bennet then proceeded to explain how he did not like grandmamma's nerves and that grandfather Bennet was boring cause he only read all day, and not even good books like momma read. Apparently momma reads him books with pictures of flowers. During all of this he never stopped holding on to me. I failed to see this at first, since we were on the horse and by necessity he sat against me.
We dismounted to walk a bit near the northern edge. The peaks were magnificent, though hard on a horse. At first I thought Ben was having trouble keeping himself upright, the hillside was a touch slippery. But then I realised he walked more closely than normal, so close in fact, that he tripped over my feet twice. I hoisted him onto my shoulders and carried him back to our horse.
"Ben tired. Want Poppa."
Well how in hell can I answer that?
"Cofiz.... Poppa go bye. Heaben." Bennet pointed to the clouds. "Poppa. Heaben."
My eyes stung. "Let's go home Bennet."
"Home. Find Mamma."
I wiped Bennet's tears with my handkerchief before we mounted and headed home.
**Funeral service taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England http://www.eskimo.com/~lhowell/bcp1662/index.html
That night I dreamed of Darcy. We were racing, which in itself was odd since Darce never raced me except in swimming and that stopped when we were twelve after one race where I had a cramp and swallowed half the pond. Still, Darcy and I were racing our horses. And he won. And we laughed.
I awoke at that point with a great feeling of loss and went to find Jennifer.
"It is fifty miles" I insisted.
"Richard, it is no such thing. It's rather closer to one hundred and fifty miles if you ask me."
Jennifer and I had been discussing our travel plans. Having finally determined that we would return to Stanyon, rather than accompanying Aunt Catherine to Rosings, and with Jennifer deciding that we did not wish to visit my parents, we were now engaged, again, in discussing the best place to put up for a night. She was insisting that Stanyon was further away than it actually was.
"I didn't." I told her honestly.
"Ask you." She looked confused. Honestly the woman wishes me to trust her judgment in travelling but cannot follow a simple conversation. "I didn't ask you."
Jennifer huffed and glared at me.
"I can ask Poston if it'll make you happier." I offered. She didn't respond, but when we stopped to change horses I asked the coachman if he knew the distance from Pemberley to Stanyon.
"I'd say it's roughly a hunnert miles sir."
Well, that was not helpful.
We finally did reach Stanyon after somewhere between fifty and one hundred fifty miles of passable, if not pleasant roads. Jennifer and I were clearly tired by the time we let down the second day.
Since the day Darcy died I have been in a cloud. And while it lifts for a moment, I am quickly brought right back to the middle, like a child's game I cannot win, because I have no answers. I cannot begin to fathom the years that lay ahead of me. Had I known I certainly would have done something to stop this..... this insanity, this anguish that regularly assaults my sensibilities.
"Richard?" Jennifer's soft voice shook me from my contemplative study of the carriage roof. "It's been a long journey. Would you like me to see if Mrs. Stewart has something ready for dinner?"
"No. No food. Just bed."
She nodded and took me by the arm until she could safely turn me over to the ministrations of Hamilton.
The next morning I woke earlier than the rest of the household and decided on a stroll outdoors before breakfast.
There was nothing special about that morning. The weather was pleasant, a trifle warm; all of nature seemed content in it's role, no unearthly cries of danger, no exceptionally happy birds; I thought perhaps we might see a storm later since my shoulder ached, but now in the early morning hours the sky was clear. It was good to be home.
At home I feel less oppressed...... lighter. My burdens here are Jennifer and Prudence; and I do not bear the weight of fatherless boys, widows, and baby sisters. I will go there soon, to Pemberley, in the spring and build a tree house for Ben and Giles. I would rather ride across Belgium in a downpour, on a lame horse. I want nothing more than to forget the past year, to change it back to the way it should be.
Stanyon needed a drainage system; I decided this during the previous night just before I drank enough to make Kel proud. Stanyon actually did have a drainage system, just not a working one. In the spring the fields were soggy, making planting unpleasant if not impossible, and in fall they were damp enough too delay harvest, resulting in poor yield. Jennifer's plea for me to find occupation, coupled with a headache and other after effects of too much brandy, convinced me that I should set to work on the drains.
It took me the rest of the summer and past the first frost to complete. It would have taken me less time had I known anything about drainage systems. As it was I began half-cocked only to realise half way into the project that I was going about it wrong. I started over. By winter I had a working system.
Now that the bleak days of winter were upon us, my mind turned towards Darcy. It was inevitable I suppose. After I had returned from the continent, wounded and tired, I found that occupation kept me from daily torments and reminders. Though my aching shoulder prevented me from really forgetting, I found that keeping my mind active was vital to my good health, and other's good opinion of me. Wallowing in misery did little for my standing with the ton.
Now with December swirling around, all labour put aside, my temper became rather.... short. Jennifer politely informed me, following one altercation over the breakfast menu, that I had the manners of a constipated troll. I was deeply affronted, until it struck me that Jennifer should have no knowledge of trolls or... that other thing..... it was clearly not
a topic ladies should concern themselves with.
"How exactly are you aware of this?" I stopped in the middle of the argument and demanded to know.
Jennifer looked quizzically at me.... "Richard I was not raised in a convent. I was told the same bedtime stories other children were. In fact I believe my brother took great pains to embellish them to scare me."
"No, no. Not that..... the other thing."
"Other thing?............... Oh! Honestly Richard you have the quaintest ideas of what a lady should know and not know. We know infinitely more than you think we do."
"Dash it all woman! You can't make comments like that and expect people not to be shocked. It just isn't done."
"Well of course it isn't done, but then you married me because I was different."
She had a point there. Life with Jenny would have been dreadfully dull if she were like other ladies of my acquaintance. I tried briefly to picture living with Julia or Missy, and felt the need for a restorative immediately. Jennifer settled my dilemma by kissing me, senseless.
Kel showed up in mid-winter. From the amount of luggage occupying two carriages I thought perhaps he was moving in. Jennifer assured me that he normally travels with everything and he would only stay a few weeks.
It wasn't unpleasant having him around. Kel slept late, had a light nuncheon in his room (something Mrs. Stewart is not likely to forgive him for) and joined us only in the evening. Evenings were spent quietly since neither of us had much to discuss.
One evening, after Kel had been in residence for two weeks, I was staring idly into the fire while Jennifer stitched and Kel read.
Jennifer caught my eye and nodded at Kel, her way of telling me to start a conversation.
"Good Book?" I asked.
"Hmm hmmm." He nodded.
I gave my approbation and returned to the fire. A few minutes late Kel spoke:
"Planting cotton next year?"
"I expect so." I told him.
He made a small noise and went back to his book.
Jennifer's signals indicated it was my turn: "I'm considering a new pair of boots this year."
Kel looked mine over. "Good idea."
Jennifer stood quickly and strode to the sideboard. She brought back the decanter of brandy and slammed it down on the table nearest Kel.
"There! That should loosen your tongues enough that you should be able to manage more than two words and a grunt."
She swept out of the room.
Kel looked at the brandy and then at me. "Something wrong?"
His eyes narrowed. "Is she um..... well.............?" He made a gesture towards his stomach. Either he was asking if Jennifer was expecting or if she had an internal complaint.
"Not to my knowledge." For either one.
Kel stared at the door before pouring himself a large brandy and muttering about "Demmed females."
It was decided that we would return to London in April.
London. Bloody, bleak, boring London. Our first trip back here since that awful spring last year. I'd rather be home. Of course I'd almost always rather be home. Since getting sent home for the unwise act of having my shoulder shot out instead of my head, I've had little use for London, but especially now, where every corner reminds me of Darcy. I was in the park, early morning yesterday, and swear I heard his voice; which was truly odd since Darcy never ventured into the park before noon. I hope I stop expecting ghosts at every turn; that or I hope we leave London. For now, I'm here for Jennifer. She needs society: more than I can give her locked away at Stanyon.
Not that Essex is always quiet. The free traders made quite a nuisance of themselves for a bit last winter. Why does anyone think sailing in January is a good course of action? Particularly when running cognac from France during an ice storm. Darce would have loved to see the ruckus that developed when the ship ran afoul of the weather and crashed right into the harbour.
I rubbed my head and thought about lace.
Jennifer needed other women to talk to. Especially now. She'd had a disappointment just after Kel's visit, and still cried frequently. I'd hoped that coming to town would cheer her. It seemed to. I was quite a bit poorer in my pocketbook, the proceeds going towards many needy shopkeepers with ample displays of silks and ribbons. Jennifer was smiling more at least, and she'd stopped twitching each time Prudence took a tumble. Perhaps spending the season in town would not be so bad after all.
We'd yet to see Elizabeth or Georgiana. They remained in seclusion at Pemberley. Elizabeth had written that they thought they might journey to Stanyon in late summer, perhaps August. I cannot imagine it will be a pleasant journey for them, but I am pleased at the prospect of seeing them again.
I wish I'd realized that when Jennifer and I left Pemberley last summer that it would be so long before we would see them Elizabeth or Georgiana again. We did keep a regular correspondence with Elizabeth and Georgiana, even Bennet included messages for me in Elizabeth's letters. As I shared guardianship of Ben and Giles with Elizabeth, I received a monthly letter reassuring me that they were well. I was more worried about Georgiana. Her letters were dismal and spoke of little beyond her misery and her memories of happier times. She was dreadfully afraid for the boys and many of her letters included a plea for me to remind Elizabeth how delicate Ben was. Nonsense! Bennet was as study and healthy as any parent could hope for. And if Elizabeth was any real judge of character Georgiana had no need to worry about Ben's health..... Elizabeth's sanity yes, but not Ben's health.
Bennet's latest scrape involved Cook and the daughter of a young scullery maid. Meghan, the little girl was quite proud that Bennet's collection of spiders and other insects, which he kept in jars near the pots, did not frighten her. I'm told by Elizabeth that Meghan, being two years older, can also run faster than Bennet; a fact which Bennet finds morally reprehensible. Ben thus convinced cook that Meghan needed to be scared, as girls are supposed to be scared, and with help hid in one of the larger pots, only to jump out and scare Meghan, who promptly chased Bennet until she tackled him and tossed the slop bucket on his head.
Prudence was walking, or rather running. The child went from scooting across the carpet to running, none of this toddling and falling thing. Now she either ran or slept; there was no in- between. We were on our second nurse already, the first one declaring that she could not remain in a house with a demon. Oddly that was when Kel was with us. I demanded an explanation from him why he was tormenting the nurse. He smirked but maintained his innocence. I still think he had something to do with the situation. I would not put it beyond his scope to use Pru's fanciful adoration of him for his own mischievous purposes.
In my opinion the season was uneventful, save for some of the gossiping old Harpies who paraded around the ton like societal watchmen. They called on us quite early to learn more about Elizabeth, under the thin disguise of being concerned for the 'poor dear'. My mother did not appreciate my suggestion that we should place a notice in the paper: The widow Darcy and her sons are alive and doing well. They remain in seclusion at the family estate, sparing no thought to their gossipy annoying neighbours in town. The rest of the family requests that you now stop calling looking for gossip.
This would allow us to spare ourselves the trouble of answering the door.
Mother scolded me for almost an hour about my ungentlemanly behaviour, pointing out that Darcy would be aghast that a relative of his did not behave with the utmost propriety and consideration.
Two thoughts came to mind. One: Mother clearly did not remember Darcy as well as I did. Two: Mother was beginning to sound a great deal like Aunt Catherine.
I really should have held my tongue and not told her these thoughts.
As I did not have the wisdom to hold my tongue, I was subjected to another lecture regarding my manners, or perhaps it was a continuation of the previous one, sometimes I find it hard to tell.
Finally we were heading home. Jennifer had her fill of society and was content to return to Stanyon with me. We paid a call on my parents shortly before leaving:
My father was deeply engrossed in his paper when I found him in the dining room the next morning. My mother was not yet up and I was a little surprised.
"Mother is not up yet?"
"A little odd."
"Hmmm? No. She's been sleeping later. Some woman thing."
"Oh. She's not sick is she?" My heart clenched a little until my father nodded absently that she was fine and would probably outlast us all.
"What are you reading?"
"The Manchester Observer." He glared at me, no doubt hoping to silence me with a glare. It never worked before, I fail to see why he thought it would work now.
"Never heard of it."
"I picked it up when we were at Pemberley."
"Pemberley's not near Manchester."
"Obviously." I think I saw my father smirk with his last response. I do swear he likes this game.
"Can to explain how you have a copy of the Manchester Observer?"
"Gah!" I was saved from a trip to Newgate by the entrance of my wife and daughter. Pru's laughter took my mind off my infantile parent.
"Oh, the Manchester Observer." Jennifer remarked. "May I have it when you are finished?"
"Certainly my dear. And how are you feeling this morning?" My father was pointedly ignoring me. It suited me fine as it spared me the pains of pointedly ignoring him.
"I am quite well, thank you."
I scooped Prudence into a chair and began to tease her to eat bits of muffin, which she did with great aplomb, if one ignored the large handful on the floor.
"Elizabeth wrote that she was sending it to you and that I could probably have it when you were finished." Jennifer told my father.
"What do you need with it?" My father scoffed.
I hoped that perhaps if Pru and I play loudly enough we could distract them from the disagreement they seemed intent on having.
Jennifer scowled, "I can read."
My father looked her over and I fervently hoped Jennifer saw the twinkle in his eye, "I should think so. My son would never marry a birdbrained twit."
Good lord they're bringing me into this!
Jennifer smiled evilly, "Good. Then give me the paper."
"Would one of you PLEASE tell me what is so important about the Manchester Observer?!" I was forced to raise my voice.
"Papa no yell. Bad." Pru announced solemnly.
It's a conspiracy
The untimely entrance of Thomas forestalled further inquiry into the Manchester Observer and it's importance to my father and wife, not to mention their possible demise at the hands of a frustrated and insane old soldier. Well, I'm not so very old, though there are days I feel older than my father...... physically. And while I'm not generally considered to be a candidate for Bedlam, there is something to the notion that my wife and father were joining forces against me over a stupid newspaper which drove rational thought out of my head.
I never did discover why Thomas was there either; he merely helped himself to some tea and then left.
As it was, I was forced to wait three days before I could find a copy. That day I had forgotten most of the previous incident, save some lingering irritation at having been the brunt of their amusement.
I was sorely disappointed, yet intrigued. The Manchester Observer is for all purposes a piece of trash masquerading as an honourable paper and all the while promoting the glory of the working class. I cared vary little about the wages of the spinners in Manchester. And yet, I was intrigued that both my wife and father were interested in their plight.
Jennifer I could easily accept being interested in helping the less fortunate. She indulges in lots of charity work around Stanyon; I think half the reason the people around there as kind to me is because of her. But my father... His Grace the Earl of Matlock has never, and I do mean never taken an interest in anything. I doubt he's ever even set foot in Parliament unless directly commanded. My father's notion of good works meant giving the dogs a bone before it was picked clean by cook.... and the dogs were his favourite people.
Kel's roar startled me out of my paper, and made me drop my Burgundy on my coat.
"Lord Kel I've still got my hearing. Or I did until you bellowed at me."
"Bah. I called you twice and you barely even blinked. Your hearing's not what you think it is."
"My hearing is admirable, I was merely lost in thought... Clearly a foreign concept to you."
Kel clutched his chest theatrically, "You wound me!" His eyes gleamed and I felt a moment of concern that he would make himself comfortable. He did. Kel sat down, uninvited, propped his boots on the arm of my chair and proceeded to admire his reflection.
"That was one of your better hits," he admitted. "What's got you so squirreled up this day?"
I knocked into his boot, "If you don't mind.... Nice shine. Your valet manage to get them that shiny? What's he use?"
Kel turned his foot to admire the shine further, "I have no idea. He refuses to tell me. Says if I know the secret then I've got no reason to keep him around."
"You?! Without a valet?! Next you'll try telling me Prinny's taken orders."
Kel's boot fell of the arm of my chair as he tried to compose himself. I felt meanly victorious that I had my chair to myself again.
Kel finally regained the power of speech, to my dismay. "Fitzwilliam I never knew you had such a streak in you."
"Speak plainly Kelverston. I'm in no mood for you games." I hadn't used such a tone since my army days. It used to make certain members of my staff freeze and break into a sweat simultaneously; I hoped it still worked.
It had no effect on Kel, but the waiter nearby snapped to attention. Kel and I looked askance at him as a flush covered the man's face and he relaxed.
"Seems you can still take command Fitzwilliam. Could be useful if we ever need a battalion of waiters."
"Shut up Kel. And explain your cryptic remark."
"Shut up... explain. You're confused." Before I could growl again Kel held up his hands in surrender.... I considered shooting him on the spot.
"Look Fitzwilliam, I meant no harm. I never knew you had such a vicious streak in you before."
"Me?! Vicious?! I am a gentleman Kel."
"So am I."
We stared at each other for sometime before returning to our respective papers and passed the next half-hour without further comment. At which point Kel rose to go.
"Richard, on any other man of my acquaintance a dark sense of humour would be an asset. On you it's............ ugly."
With that he left.
I was certainly in an ugly mood now.
I confess that I did feel rather out of sorts that Season. And it was most frustrating. Previously when in such a mood, a few hours with Darcy put things into perspective. Now I here I was in a foul, though hardly what I would consider ugly, mood and left to wander out of it on my own. Bloody unfair if you ask me.
Jennifer and I began to spend a great deal more time together, not that we'd spent any time apart, but I found that very often we would choose to spend an evening at home rather than in company. Being with Jenny was comfortable. I liked.... needed comfortable.
The end of the Season was nearing, only one more lavish to do before Parliament adjourned. The Right Honourable Viscountess Woodstone, having shown last season that she was a hostess without equal, was determined again to establish her reputation, by giving not just a ball, but a full three day event: a Venetian breakfast, al fresco, shooting, and even a masquerade. While I was looking forward to returning home, Jennifer wanted to attend. And since it was the last event of the season, I agreed to go.
Lady Drusilla Woodstone was without a doubt the most garish female of my acquaintance. She made Mrs. Bennet seem demure.
Lady Woodstone was one generation removed from a cit, Mr. Drake, whose fortune had bought himself the fourth daughter of the impoverished Duke of -----. They had one child, Drusilla, before Mr. Drake succumbed to influenza, leaving his wife and daughter in possession of his fortune and at the mercy of the old Duke. Drusilla Drake's beauty and noble grandfather worked in her favour to catch the crabby, and mostly deaf old viscount; whether she wanted him or not.
A screeching voice and misplaced imperial attitude were not the only flaws Lady Woodstone possessed; she had what had to be the most fluffy decorator in the history of the French empire.
My one previous journey to Woodstone was at a young age, a few years before I join the Army. I went with my father, who being friends with old Woodstone felt it necessary to occasionally visit and immerse himself in stories of randier days and way too much alcohol. I was left to my own devices, which being that the Woodstones had no children at that time, meant that I was at the mercy of Lady Woodstone.
It was at least fortunate that I was too awkward and she too vain to consider me anything more than an attentive audience as she droned on and on about her plans for creating a Greek temple in the south saloon. Ugh.
And now I was to be a captive guest again. I hoped Jennifer would take pity on me and not leave me alone.
We arrived early with enough time to rest and refresh ourselves before the planned Venetian Breakfast. Lady Woodstone was every bit as I remembered her, only fat, her former astonishing beauty now obscured by too much powder and too many rich dishes. Woodstone still lived. He was blissfully as deaf as ever and seemed content to remain in his chair while his wife chattered and flitted around him. Their son, an only child, sat sullenly as his mother alternately scolded and petted him. Horace Woodstone would have been a fop, his typical Byronic attire, his brooding sighs, and his mother's petting and pampering, certainly led to that impression, had it not been for the fact that the lad had a severe stubborn streak and a habit of extemporising on the plight of the worker. In my opinion he was simply a vain brat.
Gone was the Greek Temple and in it's place was something which I think was supposed to resemble India, though it was not any part of India which I remembered. But manners forbade me from mentioning any discrepancies. Besides as I was having enough trouble reconciling a Venetian breakfast in India, it was easier to find the two things that were close to being correct and compliment her on those.
The next day had promised to be extremely warm, and as that was the picnic I was not anticipating having a pleasant time... until Jennifer quietly emerged from her dressing room.
"Richard? Will you escort me downstairs?"
I always thought I was rather well spoken, not as intelligent as Darce nor smooth spoken like Thomas was with the ladies, but I was able to attend to conversation. But what came out of my mouth when I looked at Jennifer sounded somewhat suspiciously like an aboriginal grunt.
"Richard? Is there something wrong with my gown?" She was checking her skirts as if there were a rent in them.
"N..noooo." It was just that.. Well... She dressed for the weather, in a very light fabric, with a very low décolletage, and I .......... liked it. I tried feverishly to recover my composure and reassure her that her dress looked very nice.
"Your skirt is fine Jennifer. I like it."
"Oh?" She looked confused until she glanced down. "You don't think it's too.... much?"
"No. Not too much"
She smiled. "Enough to make this afternoon interesting for you?"
This visit to Woodstone was looking much more promising.
And it was.
We were rained out. Not a gentle mist settling on the hills and dampening the ladies skirts, but a full gale rained down such that at one point as we were rushing towards the house, I looked back to see the carefully constructed red silk tent fly up and away. It was found two days later some miles north, having landed on three stray sheep, and smothering them.
Instead there were parlour games. I found charades quite amusing. Later, Horace Woodstone surprised use all with a moving recitation from, Keats. Jennifer explained to me that Keats was a new poet who's recently published work was setting the town afire.
"I do know who he is." I muttered.
"Really? I didn't realise you were interested in such things Richard." Her smile, which I readily, but privately admit makes me forget my next sentence, failed to move me. I was affronted that she thought so little of my interest in current affairs.
"Really darling I wasn't trying to offend you. But can you honestly tell you know many married men without mistresses who are familiar with the current poets?"
She had me there. At least she attributes my knowledge of Keats to her good fortune and not to some nefarious dangling on my side.
The Masquerade day dawned much to hot. I sincerely regretted the thought of spending an evening dressed as a buffoon. The fashion now was for guests to be costumed. I had allowed Jennifer to choose costumes for us after a spirited argument wherein she insisted I should be Henry VIII and she could be on of the wives. I did not think spending the evening with pillows stuffed here and there so that I could barely stand comfortably much less sit was something I wanted to do, no matter how well Jennifer would look dressed as Anne Boleyn (The whole beheading thing set my back up as well. Jennifer with no head would be a very unpleasant thing.)
Having rejected her first idea, she refused then to tell me what costumes she has selected for us. Thus I was shocked to find myself dressed as some sort of Turkish soldier. I was no longer bothered by the heat as my legs were now barely covered by this kilt-type thing and furred boots. Aggravated at what I thought was my wife's attempt to humiliate me, I slammed the stupid pointed, feathered hat on my head and marched into her dressing room.
Jennifer was seated at the writing desk and my view of her was obscured by the back of the chair.
"Jennifer what in the name of all that's pure and holy............"
I completely lost whatever it was I wanted to say as she turned and stood. To compliment my costume Jennifer had dressed as... I don't know, but she was a vision. Swathed in light gauzy material that absolutely clung to every and any curve. "What are you wearing?" I demanded.
She took a moment to glance at her costume and smooth it, which did nothing for my composure. "I'm a sultana."
I said nothing.
"Richard please stop gaping like day old fish. What is it you wished to say to me?"
"Wha.... Why am I not going as the sultan?" It's not what I wanted to say initially; but I find more and more with Jennifer that my original argument never does come out the way I intend.
She laughed at me, "I thought a soldier was more befitting your personality." She moved closer to me and got that look on her face, the private one that I really enjoy seeing, and spoke very softly; "Besides I don't know if I quite like the idea of you as a sultan. After all Sultans had harems and I'd much rather you not have one."
We were only a little late joining the other guests.
To my great amusement the first people we encountered after greeting our hostess were Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bingley; though Bing was at first unrecognisable in his guise as Henry VIII. Mrs. Bingley was of course lovely as one of Henry's wives, however Bingley's naturally scrawny form required the need for much padding to complete the transformation to the much more stout Henry. The pillows stuffed into the front of his tunic had slipped awkwardly to the side giving Bingley's Henry a rather lumpy stomach and closer inspection would reveal a lone feather clinging to the rear of his costume.
"Richard stop. Please!"
"You're snickering." Jennifer hissed at me.
"But.......... Just LOOK at him! Bingley as a lumpy, amorous despot?! He'd cosset someone before he'd kill them. 'Off - Off with her head! Oh no, dash it all! I couldn't do that...., perhaps I should............ oh dear she has gotten cold. Let's her move towards the fire so I can protect her from draughts!"
I was pleased that Jenny choked back a laugh. But before I could respond Mrs. Bingley interrupted:
"Colonel Fitzwilliam it's a pleasure to see you again." Mrs. Bingley greeted the smirks on our faces with an amused look of her own.
"Mrs. Bingley, Bing. Nice costume." I tried being polite.
Bingley laughed. "I thought it'd be more fun to go as something I've always wanted to be."
"You've always wanted to be a pudgy tyrant?" I asked. Jennifer glared at me.
Bing shrugged, "Well, not when you put it like that. But I did always think it would be nice to be king." He leaned in and muttered, "Not the current King of course."
My chuckle brought a glare of censure from the ladies. I bit back a sigh as Mrs. Bingley gently turned the conversation towards the ball and some of the other costumes we could see. She and Jennifer spent several minutes deciding that Mrs. Harrington and Mrs. Fullman were wearing costumes similar enough that even to me it looked as if they were wearing the same thing. It provided me with some amusement to watch Mrs. Harrington and Fullman as they manoeuvred about the room, trying to stay away from each other. I wickedly wondered if I could get Bing to help me manouevre them together. But, since Bingley was heavily engrossed in staring at his wife I rejected that scheme and looked for other amusement, at least until Jennifer caught my attention.
I was counting the number of olives in a table decoration. Oddly, it resembled a hat, a hat with a dead pheasant, some sticky substance, and thirty-seven olives, but a hat none the less, when Jennifer drew up next to me and whispered:
"Hmm?" I said, really only half attending since I was on olive number twenty-eight and didn't wish to lose count and start over.
"Would you mind asking Mrs. Harrington to dance?"
"Yes, dance. There's a set forming and....."
35.... 36.... 37. "Thirty-seven!" I interrupted whatever she was saying.
"Yes. Thirty-seven olives on that hat thing."
"What hat thing?" Jennifer looked confused and annoyed. Not a pleasant combination even on my adorable wife.
"This centerpiece hat thing has thirty-seven olives."
She ate one.
"Now it has thirty-six. And it is clearly not a hat. Now would you mind asking Mrs. Harrington to dance?"
"Well, yes, she's a cow." I actually think she was dressed as.... I don't know, but it was very brown and she was rather fat, so she could have been a cow.
"Richard!" Jennifer scolded me. "You should not say such things."
"I shouldn't say such things, but you can plot some nefarious scheme at my expense?"
"'Tis not nefarious... Now, just ask her. One dance will not ruin your feet."
I was sceptical. One dance with Mrs. Harrington could ruin both my feet and my evening.
"Pleeeeease." Jennifer pouted. I gave in.
"Oh good. And when you're done bring her by me to say hello. I will be over by the lemon tree."
Half-way through my dance with Mrs. Harrington, who managed to step on my feet only seven times while seriously injuring my left shin, ask about Jennifer's dressmaker and spending habits four times, and hint that she wouldn't mind a closer look at my costume, I realised what my darling wife was up to..... she had engaged Mrs. Fullman in conversation.... right next to the tree.
The rest of my evening was spent divided between dancing; cards, which I disliked as they were playing deep; and avoiding Messrs. Harrington and Fullman, who wished to thank me for the amusing fight between their wives by presenting me with more liquor than is good for one man to consume in a lifetime let alone in an evening. I dislike dancing but with a shortage of eligible young men and an abundance of ladies, those of us who could walk and keep a respectable time were pressed into service. I did manage to claim two dances with Jennifer, which made up for the four times my foot was trod upon by Miss Weatherly, an antidote if ever I have seen one, (and I've known several).
I would swear before any number of holy relics of anyone's choosing that by comparison Miss Weatherly would make Miss Bingley seem light-hearted. I could, after one dance, tell you the exact degree to which Woodstone erred in his choice of wife, wall coverings, horses, olives, education, number of servants, and roses. She did, however, approve of the naked cupid fountain over in the next room.
After Miss Weatherly I pleaded indisposition, declined to dance any more, and found a quiet corner. Well, it was quiet until Bingley found the same corner. Damn the man.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am surprised to find you here."
"It's the only unoccupied corner." I replied, wishing I could have convinced Jennifer to let me wear my boots instead of these silly pinching sandals.
"No, no. I meant I would have thought you'd be at your place by now."
"We'll be there soon enough I think."
I really was trying to depress any intention he had of conversation. It worked. For two minutes.
"I do love a good dance." Bing remarked finally. A brief look crossed his countenance, rendering it mournful, but he quickly blinked away whatever unhappy thought was there without sharing it with me. I was profoundly grateful. A moment later Bingley was as cheerful as ever and chatted happily about his children, Miss Bingley's betrothal, his other sisters' children. This led to a polite but genuinely uninterested inquiry on my part about Mrs. Bingley's sisters. They were all well he said. Even Lydia seemed content. As content as one could be with Wickham as a husband I added silently.
The entrance of Horace Woodstone prevented any further comment and distracted me from any further speculation about the Wickhams.
Horace Woodstone shocked everyone by coming not as a brooding poet, but as Admiral Hornblower. On Horace the uniform sagged dreadfully, an effect created by his incessant slouching poet pose. You can put the lad in a uniform, but he's still a brat.
Horace Woodstone then endeavoured to entertain us all with a recitation of Byron. I'd met Byron once in my younger days at some party my mother had given. He was a fascinating man; even more fascinating was watching the women fawn and flirt with him. Young Woodstone did not create the same visceral reaction, though he did a credible job of endowing Byron's words with feeling.
For some reason young Woodstone, following his recitation, choose to grace our little group with his presence. My confusion at this lasted only a moment, as I realised that Mrs. Bingley was with us. Though having already borne Bingley four children, Mrs.. Bingley was still beautiful. Indeed, except for looking slightly tired, I doubt she had changed much from the first time Bingley laid eyes on her. He certainly seemed to think she was perfection. And apparently so did young Woodstone.
Mrs. Bingley often drew a crowd of admirers, yet Bingley never seemed troubled by it. It had amused me on occasions past to see Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy with a court of admirers while Bingley chatted happily with everyone of them and Darcy glowered, clearly resenting both the intrusion and the absence of his wife's attention on him. This time Bingley engaged Woodstone in some inane conversation about silversmiths as Woodstone stared agog at Mrs. Bingley. Finally even I'd had enough of Woodstone's amateurish attempt at courtliness and led Mrs. Bingley to the dance floor. Fortunately she was much lighter on her feet (and mine) than Miss Weatherly.
Half an hour later I returned Mrs. Bingley to her husband's side. Bingley was still chattering happily to Woodstone. And Woodstone looked decidedly green.
After he'd left I asked Bingley why Woodstone looked so green.
"Oh, I was telling him about my new foal."
"Why would he look so ill over your purchase of a horse?"
"Oh no. You mistake me. I was telling him about my favourite mare foaling. Quite fascinating really, how they are rather slimy at first, and how they get clean."
"Ohhhh." I grimaced, taking only a small delight in picturing Woodstone's delicate constitution turning over, and over. Bingley was grinning stupidly over his cup of punch.
"You devil!" My exclamation made Bingley grin more. "You did that on purpose."
"Of course I did."
My laughter attracted the attention of Miss Weatherly, who glared at me and whispered to her mother. I gathered from the glare she sent me that I need never fear being invited to their home and this increased my merriment even further, to such a degree that Jennifer accused me of being in my cups and insisted that we retire for the night.