Thank you all. The responses here, on Facebook, via email, and private message was amazing. In the end, there were two names that had the most requests. Jonathan was a close third.
To reveal my selection, I’m going to post my work-in-progress. In reading it you will see why I rejected William, Bennet, and any other name relating to Mr. Bennet or the Fitzwilliams. Without further ado, here’s the story so far (the reveal is at the end if you want to skip ahead):
“I am sorry to hear about Anne.” Hugh Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock, watched as his elder sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh shrugged. They were a cold family, regularly accused by jealous friends and spiteful enemies of being devoid of natural human feeling. He had no regrets that his reputation was one of power and prestige. In his opinion, kindness and consideration were for the lower orders inhabiting England. “You show little regret for the loss of the child you raised.”
“Had Anne been mine, not the by-blow of my husband’s infatuation with Lady Smythe, I may have done.” Lady Catherine lifted a porcelain dog imported from the Orient and studied the garish surface, as if it held her captive. Finally, she placed it back on the table.
“Yet, you raised her as your own.”
“That sounds deceptively like commendation, Hugh.” She inelegantly dropped into the chair across from him, then harrumphed. “Fitzwilliams are lacking in progeny. I never conceived, despite the filthy attempts by my long-dead husband. Your eldest has been wed six years with no offspring. You have no grandchildren to call your own. Anne was always weak. Her outcome was not unexpected. The real loss was the babe. It was a boy.”
“I wanted that baby!” Lord Matlock pounded his fist. “I need an heir.”
“You have an heir and a spare,” his sister taunted, knowing the truth of the matter. In their male dominated society Lady Catherine was not above using any means to point out any flaws.
“Rupert is childless. Richard will mourn his wife and your daughter by running off to fight Napoleon and I will be left with no one I can nurture and mold to be a force in Parliament and a strengthening aid to the Fitzwilliam name. If Rupert does not have a son, we are doomed to having a Darcy becoming the next Lord Matlock once the next generation is gone. With his family’s politics and character, the Fitzwilliams would lose all control.”
Lady Catherine nodded. There had not been one occasion when the brother and sister had been together since adulthood that they had not thoroughly considered the ramifications of not having just the right male inherit the title. Where Lord Matlock wanted power, Lady Catherine would have used a child for leverage to gain her way.
“Are you certain your firstborn is the problem? Possibly, it is that viper he married.”
“Neither his mistresses nor his wife have shown any sign of a babe.” Hugh Fitzwilliam smirked. “Not through lack of trying, he reassures me.”
“You disgust me.” Lady Catherine said the words, but her countenance had shifted forward in her chair, the better not to miss a syllable of the lascivious comment.
“Be that as it may, this leaves us with our hands open, holding nothing.”
“Anne is dead. Richard is now unattached,” his sister offered.
Disgust churned in Lord Matlock’s gut. “His wife, your daughter, has been dead less than a day. Can you not allow him to mourn?”
“We do not have the privilege of being able to wait. He needs to marry again as soon as you and I select him a wife. As you said, we need an heir.”
“He informed me only an hour ago when he gave us the news of his loss that he would be leaving for Spain as soon as Anne is buried.”
“Blast your stubborn sons!” She bounced from the chair and paced. “Then we have only one course. He shall have to bed his brother’s wife before he goes.”
“Do not turn
Puritan on me, Hugh. We do what we need, we make any sacrifice necessary to
keep the earldom with the Fitzwilliams. Richard should have wed someone strong,”
she spit out each word. “I will never forgive him for marrying Anne. Darcy should
have had her. As it stands, his progeny will be the future Lord Matlock over my
She had been sold; bought and paid for by an arrogant almost-stranger who now had the right to treat her according to his desire with no regard for her opinions or her person. Bartered by a man filled with selfishness to a man filled with disdain.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet, now Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, curled her fingers tightly into her palms. The smooth surface of the gold band was cold to the touch. Her teeth clamped together until they hurt. A tear born of fierce anger trailed a lonely path down her cheek.
Until that day, Longbourn chapel had been a peaceful refuge where she had found solace in times of distress. From that moment on, she would shun the aged stone building as the origin of the grandest lie that had ever passed her lips and forced her onto a journey of deceit, misery, and isolation.
The carriage shook violently as the horses started their pull.
She refused to look at the man seated across from her. She would not speak to him either. Elegantly dressed, the stiffness of his backbone defined his character more than any of his actions from the time he had arrived in Hertfordshire after Michaelmas until he unexpectedly departed during the Netherfield ball the prior evening.
The day before, she and her sisters had spent hours readying themselves for their first private ball. Elizabeth knew Mr. Darcy would be there as he was the guest of Mr. Bingley, who was the current lessee of the estate. Mr. Bingley’s two sisters, whom Elizabeth referred to silently as the “supercilious” sisters, had the propensity to impress. Thus, the prospect for Netherfield Park being elegantly decorated with quality musicians in a ballroom unlike no other any of the Bennet girls had seen before created an eagerness beyond anything they had experienced before.
In addition, the charming officers of the visiting militia had been invited. One, Mr. Wickham, had sought Elizabeth’s company during every gathering they had attended since his arrival in Meryton. Mr. Wickham’s ready smile and easy camaraderie made him a favorite in the community and a favorite with Elizabeth. She yearned to dance with him. In advance he had requested the supper dance.
Within minutes of stepping into the ballroom, Elizabeth’s dreams of an evening of a lifetime were shattered. While the decor was as expected, the attendees were not. Reports were that Mr. Wickham had gone to London to avoid his enemy, Mr. Darcy. There would be no pleasant supper dance. Her father’s cousin, Mr. Collins, had asked Elizabeth for the first set then proceeded to stomp on her toes through the whole of the dance. Her sister’s Kitty and Lydia romped through the guests as they chased down their favorite officers, braying laughter spewing from them as they carelessly bumped into others with no apology. Her mother’s loud bragging of a possible engagement between her eldest daughter, Jane, and Mr. Bingley was offensive as no offer had yet been made. Elizabeth’s middle sister, Mary, had brought a book. A book. At a ball. She had seated herself in the far corner and would only look up to scowl at anyone who dared to approach.
Disappointed hopes weighed Elizabeth’s heart until it felt like it was beating from the pit of her stomach. The rhythm of the music and the heels of the gentlemen’s boots as they went down the line pounded between her ears.
Shaking off her low spirits, Elizabeth located her good friend, Charlotte Lucas, standing by the drinks table.
“I was sorry to hear Mr. Wickham would not be in attendance,” Charlotte whispered above the music. “You were not the only one looking forward to dancing with the lieutenant.”
Her companion was the perfect medicine. Not one to hold onto disappointment, Elizabeth grinned, “Why, Charlotte! I am pleased he saw your sweet smile. Or, was it your quick wit that impressed him?”
Charlotte blushed as she chuckled. “I am sad he is not here, Lizzy. However, I will hold the memory of him requesting the final dance of the evening for my lifetime.” She sighed dramatically.
“Oh, my dear, Miss Lucas. You had best guard your heart or you will end up as romantically inclined as the rest of the unattached females in Hertfordshire.”
Charlotte snorted as Elizabeth had known she would. With a much lighter heart, Elizabeth turned at the clearing of a male throat behind her. To her intense displeasure, Mr. Darcy had approached.
The man was a menace, an egotistical, pompous snob who had insulted Elizabeth’s looks with cruel comments on the night they met. Over the course of his two-month visit in Hertfordshire, his attitude and opinions had not improved. When he asked her to join him for the next set, she had to accept or sit out the dances for the rest of the evening. It was highly unfair.
The dance had been a disaster. Their arguments during the course of the dance had been that of two strong-minded individuals who both were confident they were in the right. She loathed his every word, every expression on his face, and every breath he dared to take. When a footman interrupted due to an emergency and Mr. Darcy walked away, the gratitude surging through her rendered her knees weak. Had she never had him in her eyesight again during her lifetime, she would have been pleased.
Later, Mr. Bingley told Jane that Mr. Darcy had left immediately for town. What a tremendous relief!
Yet, he had returned.
The next morning, instead of continuing to Netherfield Park, he stopped at the Bennet’s estate of Longbourn. Arriving early in the morning well before visiting hours after a late-night party was the height of rudeness. Elizabeth was unsurprised at the rudeness of the man.
What she had not expected was the result of his conversation with her father. No matter how thoroughly she pleaded her case once Mr. Darcy had stepped outside the room, Mr. Bennet refused to budge from his position. She would wed Mr. Darcy. Immediately.
Ignoring her tears and her pent-up anger, her father marched her down the aisle of Longbourn chapel without once glancing at his daughter. Her mother applauded, squealed like a wiener piglet, and gloated throughout the abbreviated ceremony.
Within moments it was done. As soon as the register was signed, Elizabeth was herded outside into the carriage by her parents and the man now her husband. The newly wedded couple departed Longbourn without looking back.
Elizabeth glanced at Mr. Darcy from the corner of her eye. She wanted to strike the smug look from his face. How dare the man!
“We must have some conversation,” he insisted.
“Must we?” Petulance was generally outside of her normal character. Although she strove to display calmness, her insides roiled against the circumstances. For a wedding, the most important occasion of a young woman’s life, it had not been much. No flowers, no new gown, no wedding breakfast, no guests. Only Mr. Darcy, her self-satisfied father, and triumphant mother had attended. Her parents and groom had not even allowed time for Elizabeth’s four sisters to rise from their beds to witness the nuptials.
“Yes, Elizabeth, we must,” Fitzwilliam Darcy ran his hand over his mouth, a nervous gesture quite unexpected from a man who gave the impression of constantly being in control. Sighing, he continued, “Although my attentions were likely anticipated, you must wonder at the speed of our union. Pray, feel free to quiz me at your leisure. We will not arrive at my estate…our estate, rather, for four days, weather permitting.”
Intense anger shot from the bottoms of her traveling boots to the tip of her bonnet. “Anticipated? You believe I expected your proposal, Mr. Darcy? How can that be? For the last I heard from you was that I was barely tolerable, certainly not handsome enough to tempt you.” Even she heard the sneer in her tone. “No! You have a motive other than love or lust to demand my hand in marriage, for there has been no inclination on either of our parts for the other.”
“No inclination…” he whispered, as if to himself, a deep frown settling on his admittedly handsome face. “You are saying you harbored no expectations? None?” He leaned forward, drawing uncomfortably close. “None at all?”
His incredulity flustered her. Was he completely dense? “Sir, in the eight weeks you remained in Hertfordshire you have done nothing to gain favor from any neighbors other than Miss Bingley, your host’s unattached sister. You freely showed your disdain for my friends and family, each and every one of them. In fact, Mr. Darcy, I rejoiced to have you return to London last evening where you would have undoubtedly been in company with like-minded individuals who were full of self-praise at how wonderful they are. No, I had anticipated nothing from you except silence.”
Each word appeared to strike him in the chest until his back was pressed against the squabs. His eyes looked everywhere but at her.
“I see,” he mumbled as he began to slowly shake his head from side to side. “You do not love me?”
“I do not even like you.” Because of his prior disapprobation, she had no reason to hesitate in telling the truth.
“You were not seeking to attach yourself to me, not even for my wealth?”
“Mr. Darcy, let us be clear,” Elizabeth clamped her jaws tightly together and pressed her eyelids together before exhaling so she could continue. “At a ridiculously early hour this morning, my father’s cousin, Mr. Collins, the heir to Longbourn, proposed marriage. Had I sought the security of a home and a husband I would have accepted him as my mother desired. However, I refused. He could not have made me happy and I know I would have made him miserable. Unlike Mr. Collins, had you asked me before approaching my parents, I would have gladly refused you as well. Since my youth, when I realized how miserable a bad choice of a mate could make a life, I determined to marry only where there was love and mutual respect. I feel neither of these sterling qualities for you and sincerely doubt you feel this for me. Therefore, I ask what is your purpose, Mr. Darcy? Why have you, who could have the choice of the ton’s debutantes, tied yourself to a simple country gentleman’s daughter who lacks a proper dowry, education, connections, or looks? Why me?”
Elizabeth was proud of herself. Despite her inclination, her voice had not risen. In the silence inside the carriage, she quickly rethought her words. Yes, they were harsh, something she would never have uttered under normal circumstances. But this man had yoked himself to her for her lifetime. She needed to know why.
After a lengthy pause, he met her eyes with his own. Where she had expected them to be as dark and cold as flint, they were stormy, as if the turmoil in his mind overflowed his self-imposed barriers. “I cannot speak of this now.”
And, that was it—all he offered to ease the agitation in her own head.
Crossing her arms, she harrumphed. She could play this game.
Glancing outside the window she noted they were approaching Meryton. Had they only traveled one mile since Longbourn? It felt like they had already been enclosed in the carriage at least an hour or two.
As the seconds passed, Elizabeth’s mind began to focus.
Why had her father refused Mr. Collins and then, almost immediately, accepted Mr. Darcy as a son? What did one have that the other did not? Why the rush? And, what gave a man of the world the impression that she was in love with him? Had she acted the flirt when in Mr. Darcy’s company? Certainly not!
Jane, her eldest sister and closest confidant, would be devastated at the news of Elizabeth’s hasty marriage. Mary would worry there had been some indiscretion. Undoubtedly, she would seek comfort in the moral platitudes from Fordyce’s Sermons which ruled her thoughts and actions. The youngest two Bennet girls, Kitty and Lydia would find some reason to joke and laugh about Elizabeth’s attachment to a man they concluded was an arrogant boar, or rather, bore.
As they drew close to the White Swan Inn, the driver pulled the team to a stop. Elizabeth was puzzled. They carriage horses had appeared fresh so they would not need rested. Mr. Darcy was immaculately groomed as usual. Possibly, his valet and luggage needed loading before they could proceed with their journey.
Whatever the reason, she was not one to waste an opportunity. Gathering her reticule, she moved to exit the coach behind Mr. Darcy. When she began to lower her foot to the step, he turned back towards her.
“Remain within,” he commanded, his tone chilling her from the inside out. “I shall return shortly.”
The nerve of him! How dare he keep her hidden away while he did who knew what in the small farming town she had grown up in! Dropping the window glass, she stretched her neck to search the street behind them. A smaller carriage containing a pile of trunks had pulled up behind them. Elizabeth had never laid eyes on Mr. Darcy’s valet. Yet, she honestly could not deny the man was talented at his craft for Mr. Darcy never appeared to have a wrinkle in his garments and was always well-turned out. It must have been him who was overseeing the transfer of her hastily packed luggage as it went from the more luxuriant coach to the one behind.
Glancing the other direction towards the haberdashery, she scanned the walkway for a hint of someone who might possibly come to her aid. Nothing or no one.
Unwanted tears filled her eyes, blinding her to her surroundings, and distorting her vision. How had her life come to this? What had she ever done to earn such a dreadful future?
Clutching the handle of her purse, Elizabeth wiped her eyes on her sleeve and moved back to the door. Grasping the handle, she pushed down, freeing the latch. If only she could slip away while he was engaged with his business inside the inn, Elizabeth could run as far as she could to hide from her misery.
She stopped. Where in the world could she go? Her closest relatives were in London, too far for her to walk. Elizabeth had only a few coins in her reticule, surely not enough to purchase passage on the mail or post coach. Considering each acquaintance who lived far from Hertfordshire, she realized her only option was ridiculous. For the only person she had been introduced to who had offered to host her for a lengthy visit, a close friend of her Aunt Madeline Gardiner, lived in the village of Lambton, which was but five miles from Mr. Darcy’s estate of Pemberley. That would simply not do!
If she attempted to return to Longbourn, her mother would refuse her entry, demanding she return to her wealthy husband who, she had proclaimed following the ceremony, would throw her remaining daughters into the path of other rich men. And, her father? If she could somehow get passed her mother and slip into his personal library, how would he react?
Sadly, Elizabeth could not know. For the man who had always been her refuge from the storm of a household teeming with feminine emotions, had turned into the worst traitor. Instead of supporting his favorite daughter as he had done when Mr. Collins had sought Elizabeth’s hand, he had quickly and easily accepted Mr. Darcy as his son-in-law not thirty minutes later.
Why? What could have possibly motivated her sole sensible parent to turn her over with no more care than he had for which pair of breeches to don in the morning or which field horse to hitch to the plow?
In retrospect, where her father should have indicated some sign of sorrow at the loss of Elizabeth from his household, there was firm acceptance, even relief. Certainly, she would not have been surprised at his feeling those emotions once his youngest two daughters were safely wed, for they were, by his own proclamation, silly girls.
At a noise behind her, she glanced behind their carriage in time to see Mr. Darcy escort a young woman from the inn. A maid accompanied them, stepping quickly into the smaller carriage, being welcomed by the valet within. Footmen were attaching a traveling case to the top of the coach, while Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s own husband, gently handed the young lady into the interior.
What froze Elizabeth in place was not the lovely countenance of the young woman, the fine fabric of her garments, nor the fashion of her bonnet and lovely auburn hair. Rather, it was the baby she carried in her arms.
Oh, my heavens! Disgust churned in her belly until the breakfast she had eaten an hour before threatened to make its presence rudely known.
Elizabeth’s mind spun. The female was not Miss Darcy, the only sister of Mr. Darcy. For Miss Bingley had gushingly described her as not yet sixteen, with flaxen hair and blue eyes, almost the same height as Elizabeth. This woman was very petite with a thickness around her middle that spoke of a recent birth.
Anger boiled as the situation unfolded before her.
Mr. Darcy, the man
who had arrived at Longbourn not two hours past, who had sequestered himself in
her father’s study with a common license and a purse full of coin, had a
mistress and child.
From his infancy, Darcy understood what it meant to be honorable. A good name, opinions that merited respect, and a keen sense of ethical conduct were as fundamental to him as the need to breathe to sustain life. Nonetheless, from the moment he had arrived at Darcy House in London and entered his private sanctuary the night before, he would live a lie.
His cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was his closest and dearest friend. He, too, was an honorable man who understood Darcy like no other. Thus, when confronted with the most untenable of circumstances, the colonel had known whom he could trust.
The journey from Hertfordshire to town had been made as quickly as possible. Richard’s summons had demanded speed and silence.
At each turn of the carriage wheels, Darcy’s mind considered potential threats. Richard was co-guardian to Georgiana Darcy. Had he learned the location of the evil rake who had attempted an elopement with Darcy’s innocent young sister? Had Richard done as he had threatened, running George Wickham through with his blade the next time he laid eyes upon the rogue? Was it another threat to his sister prompting this writ?
Or, was Richard’s wife in danger? Anne de Bourgh had grown up with ill health, finding the simplest tasks unachievable. She had been eager to wed, to escape the domination of a mother with no understanding of frailty. Upon her marriage to his cousin and hers, her joy at having the affections of a good man had put roses in her cheeks for the first time in Darcy’s memory. Both Anne and Richard knew the risks of bearing a child. Nevertheless, Anne desired the chance to become a mother in the worst way. When she had announced the quickening, confirming the pregnancy, Richard had been both horrified at her failure to practice the measures to prevent a child and joy at the idea of becoming a father. However, the baby was not due to be born for several weeks. Had the child come early?
Had Richard received word from his command that an invasion of England by Napoleon was imminent? Was the Frenchman looming with a command of ships in the Channel waiting to attack?
Whatever the reason, Darcy knew his cousin well. Richard would not request his immediate presence unless the need was of serious concern.
The miles moved slowly by. Even in the late evening the traffic entering London was congested. With each jangle of the harness or brisk contact of a hoof on the hard ground, Darcy’s worry increased.
Checking his timepiece in the light of the carriage lantern, he was unsurprised it had reached the midnight hour.
Upon arrival at Darcy House, instead of finding his cousin, a young woman—a stranger—rocked a tiny babe back and forth while quietly muttering tender words of solace. On the table next to where she was seated was a sealed missive with Darcy’s name scrawled on the front in a familiar hand. When he started to speak, to demand an explanation, the woman put her finger to her lips, stopping him. Gathering the folded parchment, she held it out to him. As soon as he took it, she returned her attention to the infant.
Quick strides took him to the heavy leather chair behind his desk. On his way, he spied a maid seated behind the door, a fresh tray with a pot of tea and a plate of meat, cheese, and cakes, and warmth from a roaring fire. His staff had seen to his uninvited guest’s comfort.
Anxiously breaking the seal, he read, his jaw dropping with each paragraph.
As I write these words, my heart is leaden. Anne is upstairs struggling to bring our child into the world. Her expectations for this babe have lightened her heart. She would laugh at my worry in light of all she hopes to gain by the possibility of holding a baby of her own in her arms. But I cannot share her joy. I fear for the lives of both of them. My Annie for not having a strong enough constitution, and the child for being too early and a Fitzwilliam.
In my deepest heart, I yearn for a daughter. For then, and only then, will my father and Lady Catherine leave the child alone. Should she deliver a son? I shudder at what my family will do. Darcy, you know them. With the exception of your dearly departed mother, the Fitzwilliams are a hard lot. Brother and sister would battle for supreme control as they seek every legal means to strip my child from me to be used as a pawn in their political games and power struggles.
I will not have it, I tell you! The months since Anne shared the news of her increasing have been plagued with my father’s or her mother’s unending barrage of plans for this child if it is a boy. The last time her mother visited, she taunted Anne with reminders of how poor her health had been. In the midst of her bitter words, Lady Catherine’s purpose was revealed—that she would, out of service to her weakling daughter, remove our son from our home and raise him at Rosings. Bah! That woman is a menace. My father is no better. If only my own mother were still alive. She was the only restraint to father’s insatiable quest for power and his burning ambition.
How could my sweet Annie have lived all of those years at Rosings under the thumb of our aunt? I cannot imagine her misery. Darcy, if you ever have the hope for the love of a good woman, grasp it with both hands and hold on tightly. The joy is unexplainable. There are no words.
The sounds from upstairs have stopped. So has my heart. I cannot…
NO! NO! NO!
Dear Lord in Heaven! I have lost her, my dearest sweet bride. I cannot…Darcy, my worst fears have come to fruition. Anne is gone and I have a son.
For the past five months, since the quickening, I have pondered what needs done should this come to pass. Cousin, you must take this child, hide him. Keep him from my father and Aunt Catherine. He is the next in line for the earldom after my brother and me. If they learn he is alive, any prospects for a good life will be forfeit.
With the loss of Anne’s life and the birth of my son, my path has been chosen. Should I remain in England, I would have no peace. Therefore, I go to the War Office as soon as I deliver my son and the wet nurse Anne chose to your house. I cannot risk being seen with a babe.
Oh, Lord! This is far more difficult a task than I had imagined. I need to hurry but the thought of never holding my son, not watching him grow, and seeing you raise him as your own once I return from the continent is ripping my heart to pieces. But, needs must, Darcy.
Hold him. Love him. Find a compassionate woman who will be a good mother. Rear him as your own.
My God! I pray you never feel the pain of having your flesh torn from you out of necessity. The emptiness…the depth of my sorrow. I will not have my son threatened by my staying here, Darce.
Write me should my brother have an heir. But do not write other than as normal, I pray you. Both father and Lady Catherine have spies. I want nothing to give them a hint that the boy is mine.
Pray forgive me for presuming on the bonds that have long held you and I together as friends. In truth, there is no other I trust like you, Darcy.
I have made arrangements for Anne. She did not want returned to Rosings for…burial. Blast! I hate this! The woman currently holding my son acted as an assistant during the birth, covering my son in rags so the midwife and physician believed him gone. I have sent a note to father and Lady Catherine that they both are deceased. “Their” funeral will be on the morrow.
Should you remove yourself to Pemberley immediately, they think you still in the north and will not expect you to return to London for the services. You can safely mourn my wife and child from a distance. Do not take it upon yourself out of a sense of duty to attend the funeral. Anne would have insisted you do all within your power to protect her babe. Do not attempt to contact me, Cousin, until you are settled in Derbyshire and you hear the news of my wife and son from father. Allow them to believe they both died, I pray you.
Now, go! Leave at once! Mrs. Milford, the wet nurse, is the wife of a good man who serves in my regiment and who recently lost a girl child. She is ready to travel. I have known the Milfords for almost a decade. She can be counted on to do everything within her power to protect my child.
Do not delay, I beg you.
I will never forget your kindness and sacrifice in doing as I ask. Just, love him, please. He is the best parts of me and Annie. He is my son.
Dampness covered his cheeks. Darcy wanted to rest his forehead on his arms and weep for the pain his cousin was feeling. But, he could not.
As he stood, so did the woman. Within an hour, he was back in the carriage heading north. When they left the cul-de-sac where he resided to make a sharp right to head out of town, a solitary man standing in the light of a lantern lifted his head, silently watching the carriage depart.
So badly did Darcy want to stop the coach to invite the man inside. He did not. Under the circumstances, his cousin’s request was reasonable. Both his uncle, Lord Matlock, and his aunt, Lady Catherine had not one ounce of compassion between them. They were avaricious adults’ intent on their own desires. In as much as Richard’s son would forever change Darcy’s life’s path, Darcy knew the course his cousin had outlined was the only one to take. Never would he sacrifice an innocent baby on the alter of the Fitzwilliam family’s greedy ambitions. Never!
It was not until he entered the north road that the finer details of this arrangement came to him. He needed a wife, a woman who would raise the child as her own. A trusted female who would not mind her own son not being the heir to all of the assets held under the Darcy name.
He had not looked upon the babe. Both Richard and Anne had fair skin, light brown hair, and blue eyes. Darcy had dark hair with brown eyes. How in the world could he pass this child off as his own? It mattered not. It was too late now. Not only was the darkness of the night filling his carriage, the woman, babe, and maidservant rode with his valet, Parker, in the carriage behind him.
Both Darcy and Georgiana were children of the same parents. Other than the squareness of their jaws, they were as dissimilar as white to black. Therefore, it mattered not the coloring of his potential bride. No, what mattered more was that she was a woman of character, one who would bring life and joy to his home, his sister, his new child, and to himself.
Elizabeth Bennet, the only woman he had stood up with at the Netherfield ball came to mind. She was an outstanding lady despite her circumstances. Her intelligence, her kindness in caring for others, and her lovely features, which he had overlooked at first, had drawn Darcy to her in a way no other female had done.
For a certainty, their whole dance at the ball had not gone well. Elizabeth’s insistence in finding good in George Wickham had stabbed Darcy in the gut. How could an intelligent woman not see that Wickham’s charm was false and any promises of a good life attached to him was in vain?
Yet, despite her attention to the cur, her lack of dowry, connections, and the vulgar conduct of her mother, sisters, and even her father, she was the only lady who had captured his interest and held it. He was convinced Miss Elizabeth was not seeking Wickham for herself. She was much too wise. No, likely she was attempting to discover the man’s character to see if he would be an appropriate mate for one of her silly sisters.
Without arrogance, unlike Wickham, Darcy knew he himself was a desired candidate for a husband. His wealth and the Darcy name guaranteed him attention from fawning mothers and flirting daughters who wanted nothing more than to attach themselves to his wealth. He wanted none of them.
Even before the ball, Darcy had felt the danger of Miss Elizabeth. As the ball had progressed, he saw more than enough evidence that she was embarrassed by the unseemly conduct of her family members. With the exception of her eldest sister, Miss Jane Bennet, all the rest had drawn unfavorable attention to themselves.
In marrying Darcy, Miss Elizabeth would be able to distance herself from her family. He would be doing her a favor should he offer for her. Also, snippets of gossip had circled the ballroom about the condition of Longbourn’s coffers being empty. Without an immediate influx of funds, the Bennets would end up either being farmed out to willing relatives or would need to live in reduced circumstances.
All of this made the desperate attempts of Mrs. Bennet to throw her eldest at Darcy’s friend and host Mr. Charles Bingley clearer. Her motives were self-serving. That she would use her children to gain personal security was offensive. However, it placed her in the same position as all those in the ton who pushed their daughters into marriages of convenience. It was a shady business.
By the time the two carriages reached Meryton and enough rooms had been engaged to house him and his staff, Darcy had reached a decision. He would seek a common license from the parson and offer Mr. Bennet what was needed to relieve his circumstances in exchange for the hand of the man’s second daughter.
Once he had
explained to Miss Elizabeth about Richard’s request, all would be well. Darcy
would have a good wife and mother for Richard’s son. She would have the respect
of a good name, a husband who attended to his duties, unlike her father, and
distance from the tasteless behavior of her mother and younger sisters. She
would be so pleased.
The vulnerability of a modern female was for a lifetime. Until her marriage, her father had authority over her. Once she was wed, she belonged in every way to her husband. The only means of some sort of independence available to a lady was to remain unwed and live away from her childhood home. But even that had its dangers as merchants and others sought to take advantage of an unprotected woman.
In this, Elizabeth found a kinship with the person her husband was helping into the carriage. A mistress lived at the whims of the man who supported her. With his displeasure, she could find herself without a place to live or funds to live on. The gossip pages of the circulating papers were quick to report on the conduct of supposed gentlemen who discarded these women with no thought to them or their children’s future. What a disgusting business!
Yet, what about her own future? Even thought she had held no desire to wed Mr. Darcy, the simple fact was that she was his wife. That he would bring his mistress and child to live with them in Derbyshire was a slap in the face to her. Pray it would not be in the same house.
A chill started at the base of Elizabeth’s spine, traveling up until she sat frozen in place. She had no power, no voice in their marriage. She would be the official Mistress of Pemberley. She would wear the Darcy jewels. She would choose the menus and plan for guests. She would be required to welcome Mr. Darcy to her bed…
She shuddered; her misery complete.
After Mrs. Milford was seated as comfortably as possible for a woman who had recently given birth, Darcy moved to return to his wife.
His wife. His chin dropped as he huffed into the coolness of the late morning. Her expressed opinions had been a revelation. An unwelcomed one.
How could he have been so wrong about her? He had watched her closely to the exclusion of all others each time they had been in company. As he thought back on the occasions where they had been together, he continued in his confusion. Until, her memory of their introduction at the Meryton assembly came to mind. Not handsome enough. Had he really said that? Aloud? He had.
Good Lord! How could he have been so offensive? Easily recalled was the day of the assembly. He had left his heart-broken sister at Pemberley to visit Bingley in hopes her spirits would be restored without the presence of an over-bearing brother. The letter from her that had arrived not an hour before the dance had been painful to read. In it, she wrote of her worthlessness and hopelessness. Darcy was sad for her and mad at himself for being a male with no knowledge how to help the sweetest female on the planet.
When Bingley insisted that he ask one of the local ladies of Meryton to stand up with him, Darcy responded unkindly to get his friend to stop insisting. He had looked at Elizabeth when Bingley had pointed her out but had not actually seen her.
Blast his traitorous tongue! Darcy had no one to blame for his present predicament other than himself. Apparently, he still did not see her accurately or he would not have been shocked at her declarations.
What was he to do now? In truth, he had no choice. It was imperative they travel to Derbyshire. The babe was fragile. While he trusted Mrs. Milford because Richard did, she was an army wife, not a physician.
Breathing in the crisp early winter air, Darcy walked to his carriage and stepped inside. While Elizabeth’s tears had been wiped away, her red-rimmed eyes told him more than words of her suffering. He had to do something to make this right. They were tied together until death did them part.
He sighed, the weight of ignorance settling upon his shoulders. If he could not manage a girl who he had shared a house with for the past five years since their father died, how could he know how to manage a wife who hated him?
Weary to his bones, he closed his eyes without acknowledging her. Knowing in his heart the attempt to make peace should originate with him, he was beyond the ability to do anything at that moment in time. Frustrated, confused, worried, and tense, he gave his driver the signal to proceed, closed his eyes again and went to sleep.
The nerve of the man!
She was alone in close quarters with a man for the first time in her life and he had his head tipped back with his mouth open. Appalled, Elizabeth prayed he not begin snoring. Her father could wake the dead with the noise coming from his study when he claimed he was “reading”.
Watching him like a hawk studied its prey, she was pleased when his lips pressed together and stayed.
He was a handsome man. He had a full head of hair with waves of the darkest brown. His thick lashes rested on his cheek bones while his nostrils flared slightly each time he inhaled. Furrows crossed his forehead as unpleasant dreams invaded his sleep. His lips pressed together as he ground his teeth, a habit she shared with him when she was anxious.
Over the next hour, she examined each of his visible features from his large gloved hands to the polished boots on his feet. In all, he was most satisfactory to a lady, perfect to be attached to in public. Until he spoke.
Elizabeth knew he was connected to the peerage and was a man of great wealth. With that in mind, she understood him thinking well of his position in society. Did status justify unkindness? Was there not someone he was subject to who would help him cultivate humility?
There was so much unknown about Mr. Darcy. Disinterest had kept her from asking of him from Mr. Bingley or his sisters. Now that she was attached to him, Elizabeth regretted not taking advantage of their acquaintance.
What Elizabeth did know was that Mr. Bingley was truly a good man. Would a good man have a close friend who was completely objectionable? Surely not!
Mr. Darcy stirred as the carriage slowed to a stop in front of a traveling inn. His eyes settled on her as soon as they opened. Again, where she expected cool disgust, Elizabeth was surprised at their warmth—and their sorrow.
What was he about?
At the coaching inn, he saw Elizabeth inside to a private dining room before returning for his mistress. Surely, he would not…no gentleman would thrust a woman of ill reputation on his wife, would he? Mr. Darcy would.
Elizabeth was flummoxed. Any good she had ever thought of the man, which she admitted was minimal, was gone.
When Mr. Darcy started to introduce that woman to her, Elizabeth turned her back, giving her the cut direct. What else could she do? She wanted to vomit.
She heard his displeasure with a hearty measure of confusion.
“Are you well? Has the travel unsettled you?”
Surprised that he automatically judged her actions as her being ill rather than offended, she replied, “I am well. Are you, Sir?”
Refusing to be intimidated, she lifted her chin and looked back at him. He stood alone in the middle of the room. The woman and her maid tended the babe. Elizabeth’s eyes could not help themselves. They strayed to where the two females were unswaddling the child.
“Boy or girl?”
“My nephew?” he asked, as if there was more than a single little one in the room.
Instantly, his reply caught her attention. “Your nephew?”
“Yes,” Mr. Darcy replied in frustration. “Who did you think he was?”
Embarrassed, she chose not to reply although she could not keep the color from heating her cheeks.
“Good heavens! You assumed he was mine? That Mrs. Milford was my…?”
Dropping her chin, Elizabeth took in a deep breath. She had judged him unfairly; accused him and sentenced him with no evidence other than the baby’s existence.
“I… I do not know you, Sir. Nor do I know if you have the same habits other men do.”
The woman handed the baby to the maid. Approaching, she gave a mannerly curtsey to Elizabeth.
“Mrs. Darcy, I am Mrs. Abigail Milford. My husband is Major Samuel Milford. He has served under Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam for years. Three days ago my daughter did not survive birth, although, to my regret, I did.”
Elizabeth’s heart plunged to her toes. Other than the initial surprise at the way the woman had addressed her, Elizabeth wanted to grovel at Mrs. Milford’s feet. Could Elizabeth feel any worse?
Mrs. Milford continued, “The colonel’s wife and I grew close since her marriage. She doubted her ability to adequately feed her newborn so had asked if I would nurse both babes. Anne did not want a stranger performing such an intimate task. I adored Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Any woman would have done as I volunteered to do. Anne was a gentle soul.”
Chagrined, Elizabeth bent her knee in recognition of the woman of worth standing before her. Mrs. Milford’s quiet dignity, her clear explanation of a situation fraught with confusion, and her willingness to help a friend in dire need was sincerely appreciated.
Her eyes darted to Mr. Darcy, expecting him to bear an expression of justification and satisfaction. Instead, that weary sorrow continued to haunt him.
One question after another burned for relief. Finally, Elizabeth settled on one. “Why are you taking him away from his parents?” What might have been taken as a challenge was not.
Nodding, Mr. Darcy pulled a crumpled letter from his pocket and offered it to her. Sitting at the table next to the fireplace, Elizabeth read.
As I write these words, my heart is leaden. Anne is upstairs struggling to bring our child into the world. Her expectations for this babe have lightened her heart. She would laugh at my worry in light of all she hopes to gain by the possibility of holding a baby of her own in her arms. But I cannot share her joy. I fear for the lives of both of them. My Annie for not having a strong enough constitution, and the child for being too early and a Fitzwilliam…
Covering her mouth to contain her sobs, Elizabeth knew in her heart the outcome. Reading quickly, she witnessed the heartbreak of a good man who loved his wife dearly; a man who would put the care of his infant son ahead of his own wishes and needs. Looking up, the intensity of Mr. Darcy’s agony grew as he stood in front of her. This man, her husband, was no stranger to a shattered heart.
“I…I am very sorry this has happened,” Elizabeth whispered directly to him. “I understand the quickness of our marriage and the reason we hurry to Pemberley.”
One nod was the only reaction she received.
“The babe, young master Fitzwilliam, what is he called?” Elizabeth inquired of Mrs. Milford.
“Anne and the colonel wanted him named Richard Sebastian Fitzwilliam II after his father. But the danger of him being found out is real. Thus, the colonel asked that he be named James Alexander Darcy, or Jem, until he returns from the Continent and can claim his son without interference from those who would take him from you.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed to Mr. Darcy. She had been wrong about him. Very, very wrong. Yet, she was correct about some things. Who was this man? Was he the arrogant oaf she had thought him? Or, was he…she could not begin to read his character.
However, some facts had been revealed over the last few minutes. First, his motive for marrying was pure. Second, he was not in an immoral relationship he would flaunt in front of his wife and sister. Third, the baby was not his son. Last, they had much to discuss.