J. Dawn King

Bestselling author of Jane Austen variations

Category: Free Stories

The Letter of the Law – Chapter Three

(If you need to start at the beginning, here’s the link: Chapter One)

Chapter 3

 

Darcy managed to put the events of the Meryton assembly behind him during the following two days of riding from one corner of the estate to the other, spending countless hours reviewing the accounting ledgers, and visiting Netherfield Park’s tenants, inspecting their cottages. Charles Bingley had been a willing, if not easily distracted, accomplice.

On the evening of the third day, they were back in the carriage headed towards Meryton, this time for a gathering at Lucas Lodge, the home of Sir William and his family.

“Do we have to?” Miss Bingley whined.

“Yes, Caroline,” her brother, to Darcy’s surprise, staunchly replied. “We need to establish ourselves in the neighborhood. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to attend every social occasion offered by the citizens we will interact with for years to come. Our presence at Lucas Lodge will advance our position in Meryton society. Surely, you cannot find even a minimum of fault with this plan.”

In all honesty, Darcy understood her plea. There had been little in the way of stimulating company at the assembly. His sense of fairness had absolved the second Bennet daughter—he could not recall if he had been told her name—of her lack of decorum in making him the object of a jest. After all, even though his insult had been delivered solely to his friend, had she heard, his own manners could have been found to be at fault.

Thus, it was to his chagrin when he was later partnered with the Bennet girl in a game of treasure hunt. Usually, he enjoyed the challenge of the game. Nonetheless, being in her company for possibly hours, depending on the clues offered, left him feeling unsettled. His earlier conversation with Bingley had already proven that the night held the potential for harm.

“Can you not relax your stiff upper lip long enough to find, at the least, a minimum of enjoyment?” Charles Bingley pulled at the cuffs of his jacket as he surveyed his appearance prior to departing his home for Lucas Lodge. “You will never attract a worthy woman standing against a wall with your arms crossed and a glare in your eye. Darcy! How could they possibly see your charming personality at its finest with you hidden away? Are you listening to my sage advice?”

“Sage advice? From you?”

Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of one of the largest estates in the Kingdom, had met his friend a year after leaving Cambridge. He had returned for information on a subject of interest and happened upon bullies pounding young Bingley for daring to pollute the halls of the university with his roots in trade. Using his full height and strong muscles, he had set the fools on their ears and made a good friend in the process.

Charles Bingley, at three and twenty, adored women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. From toddlers to dowagers, females freely approached him. Darcy had been in awe the first time a small child of about four years picked a flower and gave it to his friend, batting her eyelashes in youthful innocence. Other than his sole sibling, Georgiana, no child had done the same for him.

Darcy knew his reputation of holding himself aloof at social gatherings was his own fault. He despised fortune-hunters, yet his fortune attracted them like flies to a honeycomb. He felt decades older than the younger man, rather than the five that separated them.

“You are a flirt, Bingley.” Darcy adjusted his own cuffs although his valet had turned him out impeccably. “One day, you will turn your many charms on the wrong woman and her father will have you at the front of a chapel so fast your head will spin. This dangerous game you play can cause hurt of the most grievous sort and I shall have none of it, my friend.”

“A flirt, you say?” Bingley lifted his chin to examine the knot and placement of his cravat. “Not at all.” Apparently, finding out of alignment, he stepped away from the mirror strategically placed over the mantle to approach the drinks table where crystal decanters and their contents gleamed in the candlelight. “I am merely being friendly—neighborly, if you will.”

“Harrumph!”

“No, Darcy, do not balk. For, most of the ladies we met at the assembly are uncommonly pretty. Some of them I can charge with being outright beautiful.” Bingley poured two glasses and took a sip from the one he retained in his possession. “This is not a game I am playing, at all. For you see, by standing close I can easily determine if she is hiding wrinkles or freckles or a bad odour. I can see if her teeth are rotted by engaging her in conversation. If I tilt my head towards her, I can determine if the colour of her hair has been altered to cover grey strands she is attempting to hide. When I casually touch her arm, I instantly know if I am attracted enough to pursue a friendship and, possibly, even a courtship.” He shook his head slowly. “No, this is certainly not a game.”

“Yet, the potential for harm hovers over you each time you approach a lady who is actively searching for a mate.” Darcy sat in what he had already determined was the most comfortable chair in Bingley’s study. “The rules of propriety are in place for a reason, my friend. They enforce what it means to act the gentleman. We do not touch. We do not stand too close. We do not engage a lady in extended conversation and we do not stand up to dance more than once in an evening unless we desire our name to be tied permanently with her. These are for our protection, and hers. In fact, within moments of standing up with Miss Bennet, her mother was loudly sharing her opinion of your intentions to marry her eldest.”

Setting his glass on a side table, Bingley dropped into the opposite chair. “Then how are we to get to know them? How are we to learn if they would be our perfect match?” He smoothed the fabric over his thigh. “While I comprehend the need to not increase expectations, especially within the first few moments after an introduction, I cannot understand how in the world a man is to determine whether she is his wife-to-be unless he does the things I have observed others doing.” Bingley paused in thought. “I am aware that I push the boundaries of what is socially proper, but I cannot believe this is wrong, Darcy. Since I inherited, I have been in fear of becoming attached to someone I later find out is entirely wrong for me. My friendly nature allows me to know, usually within a dance or two, whether to pursue or to refrain. I save time and effort as well as my emotions by acting in this manner.”

“This is not the first time we have had this conversation, Bingley. I have yet to carry my point and you are yet to convince me to a different opinion.” Darcy cleared his throat as he stood to check his own cravat in the mirror. “No, I cannot believe you are just in your thinking. Nonetheless, if you are content to suffer the consequences of your actions, who am I to judge?”

Darcy took a final drink as the butler announced the ladies and the carriage were ready to depart for Lucas Lodge. As he gathered his coat, hat, and gloves, he could not help but reflect on the impact a flirtation had on his almost sixteen-year-old sister. She had been left crushed and broken early that summer when she overheard George Wickham declare he was solely pursuing her for an elopement to gain her sizable dowry and enact revenge upon the heir to Pemberley. Despite the passage of a few months, her pain was as vivid now as it was when Darcy had held her as she sobbed her initial heartbreak.

No, Bingley’s conduct at the assembly had not been proper. Nor, had his.

***

The names of the attendees willing to participate had been placed on small scraps of paper and placed in a bowl where Lady Lucas could easily choose pairs of two. Miss Jane Bennet was partnered with Mrs. Hurst. The next pair drawn was Miss Elizabeth Bennet, yes, that was her name, Elizabeth, and Darcy. They were followed by Miss Charlotte Lucas and Bingley and a younger Bennet named Kitty and Mr. Hurst. The Lucas’s only son, John, was to play in company with Miss Mary Bennet. To her apparent displeasure, Miss Bingley was drawn as the final pair with Miss Lydia Bennet. The only hard and fast rule was that you needed to stay with your partner at all times.

He looked to Miss Elizabeth as the first clue was read. Would she run in the opposite direction from the solution to the riddle or would she follow him as soon as he figured it out?

I look at you and see me.

He tilted his head and whispered. “The mirror,” as he then tipped his head towards the large piece of glass hanging over the mantel.

“I know, Mr. Darcy.” She stood her ground, not moving to search for the clue which was undoubtedly hidden behind the lower corner of the frame.

“You have no intention of playing this game?” He should have known. Frustrated, his tone was snippy.

Finally, she turned her face to look directly at him. “I have every intention of playing the game.” At his lifted brow, she added, “Let us allow the others to find the first three clues so they can all participate. These were created by Sir William, who has used the same style of riddles since we were young. The last three are composed by my own father. You will find they are much more of a challenge.”

“Has your father shared these riddles before?” Her attitude was passive when compared to his innate desire to be the first to find the answer. How childish of him!

“Why, that would be cheating, would it not?”

He could not tell if she was teasing or if her tone was accusatory. Darcy thought his best defence was to watch her and say nothing.

“Sir, you should know that Charlotte Lucas is exceedingly cleaver and highly competitive. Right now, she holds back to determine Mr. Bingley’s performance.”

“Whether or not he has the intelligence to figure out the simplest of clues?” Darcy nodded his head at the brilliance of the plan. Then, it hit him. “Are you doing the same to me?”

Surely not! He graduated at the top of his class at university. Men like Bingley routinely came to him for advice on all matter of subjects. He would not be the dunce when it came to a silly parlor game. Would he not?

She smiled and said not a word. Finally, when he could stand it no more, she bade him to watch.

Lydia snatched the clue from the back of the mirror while Caroline Bingley looked on with pride at being first to discover the scrap of paper. With a flourish, Lydia handed the next riddle to Miss Bingley to read.

I can stop the sun’s rays from shining and the raindrops from falling.

While Miss Elizabeth’s youngest two sisters squealed possible solutions, Mr. Hurst moved to the umbrella stand in the entrance hall and plucked the next riddle from inside the fabric-coated frame.

Elizabeth whispered, “Would you consider Mr. Hurst to be a wit?”

“Not at all.” Darcy admitted. “I am quite surprised the solution came to him quickly. His wife is of the same inclination.” He tilted his head towards where Mrs. Hurst and Jane were standing. “Your sister?”

“Do not be fooled by her innocent appearance, Mr. Darcy. She, too, is a quick thinker. What keeps her from winning is a complete lack of any desire to achieve what someone else wants. As the epitome of genuine kindness, she would want everyone to win. Should Mrs. Hurst choose not to participate or fail to follow the meanings of the riddles, Jane will be content to stand aside.”

Darcy looked to where the others stood. “So, our competition will be Miss Lucas, and Miss Mary?”

Miss Elizabeth scoffed. “You are giving no credit to their male partners. Are you so severe upon your sex?”

Before he could reply, Hurst read the third riddle.

On land I am useless. At sea I am Relentless. What am I?

At first, none in the party moved. When Darcy leaned towards Miss Elizabeth to ask her a question, she shook her head as she watched the others and uttered softly, “A moment, please.”

When none of the others offered a clue, Darcy’s partner pondered aloud. “Let us see. I believe the information we need to focus on the most are the words ‘sea’ and ‘Relentless’. Does this spark any ideas from any of you?”

Darcy could no longer refrain. Again, leaning towards her, instead of saying what was on his mind, that the Relentless was a sailing ship many craftsmen formed models of and sold in the shops near the docks in London, he was caught off guard by the smell of honeysuckle. Images from his childhood summers spent under the alcoves covered with the fragrant plant with his mother wafted through his brain. It was her. Miss Elizabeth was wearing the scent. It was light and pleasing, not cloying like the rose oil many ladies apparently bathed in.

His face started to heat, and Darcy knew he should not have been thinking about ladies bathing, especially Miss Elizabeth. She was his partner, for heavens sake!

John Lucas and Miss Mary led the participants to Sir William’s study where, sure enough, there was a large wooden model of the vessel perched upon the mantel above the fireplace. Young Mr. Lucas reached inside the hold for the next clue.

Darcy eagerly anticipated the words on the scrap of paper. According to Miss Elizabeth, they would now be actively engaged in determining the answer. He wanted to rub his hands together and could not seem to keep from smiling.

John Lucas cleared his throat.

Mr. Smyth was found dead of a Sunday Morning. His valet immediately sent for the constable, who questioned the wife and the servants. The constable asked for each of their alibi’s during the period immediately preceding the crime. The valet had gone below stairs to get a breakfast tray from the cook. The maid was filling a basket with produce from the garden, and the butler was getting the post. The constable immediately arrested the murderer. Who was it?

Miss Lucas took off at the same time as Miss Elizabeth. Darcy stood there thinking about the clue. Mr. Lucas reread it aloud, then dropped the paper and left the room. Darcy followed. There were the two friends standing in the entrance hall next to a wooden table with a silver salver on top. Miss Lucas lifted it while Miss Elizabeth retrieved the paper.

He was saved the humiliation of admitting he had not yet figured out the solution when one of the younger Bennet’s asked, “how did you know, Lizzy?”

Her smile was not one of a braggart and neither was Miss Lucas’s. “There is no post on Sunday, Kitty, so it was the butler who killed Mr. Smyth.”

Bingley moved to stand close to his partner. Bending his head, he bumped his shoulder into Miss Lucas’s and congratulated her from her brilliance. Miss Lucas’s smile was radiant.

Miss Elizabeth had been correct. Her two youngest sisters walked back to the drawing room as did Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. With their partners no longer willing to play, Mr. Hurst and Miss Jane Bennet soon followed. The three couples left looked each other over, sizing up the competition.

“Charlotte,” Miss Elizabeth curtsied to her friend, a teasing grin on her face. “Pray do the honors of reading the next clue. I am all anticipation.” She turned to Darcy, her hands clasped together under her chin as she almost bounced in place. She was delightful.

Darcy caught the twinkle in her eyes which caused a reaction in him he had rarely felt before. She is beautiful. How could that be? At the assembly, he had easily overlooked her, only noting her laugh. Yet, in the brief second of time he saw in her something wonderful. Miss Elizabeth was a happy person. She kindly allowed others to go ahead of her, and she had solved the last riddle with a speed he did not have.

From the corner of his eye he spied Bingley reaching for Miss Lucas’s hand. The pair looked at each other briefly and then at Miss Elizabeth, eager anticipation shining from their faces.

He wanted to clasp Miss Elizabeth’s hand in his own. What? How could this be? Fitzwilliam Darcy intrigued by a simple country miss?

At the reading of the next clue (I am a little house full of meat, with no door to go in so I may eat. What am I?), she grabbed him by the sleeve. How humiliating. She had, again, discerned the answer before he did.

Her and Miss Lucas rushed towards a small tray containing cracked nuts. Sure enough, the next clue awaited the victors underneath.

Darcy wanted to stomp. Bingley, on the other hand, enthusiastically and inappropriately wrapped his arm around his partner and pulled her to his side. He was grinning from ear to ear, proud of her accomplishment.

This time, it was Miss Lucas who read the final riddle. Darcy was determined to defeat them all. Setting aside the honeysuckle scent, and the finest eyes he had ever found in a woman, he paid close attention.

First in honour comes Charles Greville. Next is Philip Stanhope. Third is Henry Somerset. Last, but not least, comes Henry Murray. Where are they?

Miss Elizabeth hesitated and so did Miss Lucas. The middle Bennet girl, nodded towards her partner and leaned in to whisper, what Darcy assumed was the answer.

He had this. Turning his back to the others, he stood in front of Miss Elizabeth. Bending down so none of the others could hear, he opened his mouth to reveal his conclusion. All four men were Pages of Honour. A book is made up of ‘pages’ and the one with honorific titles was…

“Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage.” Elizabeth supplied as she spun to leave the room.

Darcy was stunned. How had…? He had not…

“Are you coming along, Mr. Darcy?” Her chipper tone irked his masculinity. Where he typically stood tall, he felt…small. He did not like the feeling at all.

Bingley chuckled as he walked in front of him with Miss Lucas. “Perhaps you will have more success if they have dancing. It takes little knowledge to count the steps from one to four.”

In a daze, he followed them. Miss Mary and Mr. Lucas held the prize, the directions to the treasure It turned out to be a small plate with exquisitely designed chocolates hidden in the top right drawer of Sir William’s desk. Darcy was unsurprised that the man who mentioned St. James as often as Sir William did would have a copy of Debrett’s in his study. Darcy, whose family lineage was well founded in the book could not immediately recall where in his extensive library his own copy was.

His confidence on that night had taken a beating so it would do him well to remember the Darcy position and reputation. Or…he looked at the young lady standing next to him…would it?

The Letter of the Law – Chapter 2

Dear Reader,

Please do not think I will be posting daily as I will not. However, thanks to Nicole Clarkston’s persistent encouragement, I stayed in my chair far longer than I should have. However, I could not seem to stop. Again, please overlook the flaws and errors. This has not been proofread by anyone except me (and I’m too close to this right now). I hope you enjoy! If you missed chapter one, here is the link: Letter of the Law, Chapter One. 

Chapter 2

 

Darcy was livid. Not only had Miss Bingley and her married sister, Mrs. Hurst, been late in readying themselves for the assembly, they had complained of the evening plans the whole of the way from their estate to Meryton, where the dance would be held. Every turn of the wheel brought a new complaint. Their neighbors would be unfashionable. It would be a degradation for their London friends to know they faced company that would be considered a degradation. The building would be rustic. The musicians would play rustic instruments. The dances called would be rustic. The food and drink would be, at best, rustic.

Did Bingley’s sisters even know what the word meant?

His friend had done nothing to restrain them. By the time the party had traveled the three miles, Darcy’s ears were ringing from the whining tones. His head throbbed. Would that he had brought his own carriage so he could sit in silence, contemplating his plan to find a woman worthy of his attentions. Hah! As if that would happen in this small community.

Since it would not do to present himself in any way attached to Miss Bingley, he hesitated as she made her grand entrance. She was the same as every single society female he had met over the past six years since leaving university. Her chin lifted elevating her nose into the atmosphere, her shoulders pressed back, her spine stiffened, while her eyes shot superiority over the other ladies in the room. He abhorred pretention and the Bingley sisters were undoubtedly the finest examples in the building, which was, indeed, rustic.

Charles Bingley’s inheritance came from his father’s background in trade. Any gentlemen’s wives and daughters would be a step up from Miss Bingley’s sphere, yet she would not see herself in her proper place. Instead, she had visions of grandeur she could make a reality by attaching herself to the Darcy family. He had been born and bred into the ton. He was the grandson of an earl whose family name and property had been established centuries earlier. She was nothing more than an upstart who he would not ever have given the time of day had it not been for her brother.

They had not taken three steps into the room when he heard it.

“Ten-thousand a year.”

“Handsome features.”

“Noble mien.”

“Ten-thousand a year.”

“Ten-thousand a year.”

“Ten-thousand a year.”

He smirked. If only these matrons knew his true monetary value, they would swoon to the floor. Ten-thousand a year? More like twenty, if the truth was known. Scoffing, he surveyed the press of people who had stopped dancing to stare at the Netherfield group. He was as likely to find a young lady to be his wife here as he would a diamond in a pig’s trough. He wanted to turn around and leave. Before he could follow through, they were approached by a man who introduced himself as Sir William Lucas. Apparently, he was the host of the evening. Tagging along behind was his wife and his two daughters.

The man was as friendly as Bingley, although he must have had a hearing deficit as he spoke loudly over the women’s whispers. Neither of his daughters would have caught Darcy’s interest, particularly the eldest. She was a plain sort with little fashion. Her manners were good. No preening. No sly smiles or thrusting her assets at him. No silently begging for his attention.  Instead, she politely welcomed their party to the assembly and the county. He looked closer at the woman who appeared to be near his own age.

Perhaps he should marry her and be done with it? What was her name?

It both shamed him that he had not paid enough attention to catch it when her father made the introduction which decided him that she would not be the wife for him.

Following the Lucas family was the Bennets with their five daughters, the Longs with their two nieces, the Gouldings with no daughters, thank the Lord, and an assortment of individuals typical to a country setting.

As was proper, Bingley requested the next set with Miss Lucas. Before the query had left her brother’s mouth, Miss Bingley had stepped close enough to Darcy that he could hear her heavy breathing. He moved to the right, realizing he was performing a dance of his own. However, he was following her lead, which he refused to continue.

“Pardon me,” he said to no one in particular before walking to the drinks table. She followed, bringing her shadow, Mrs. Hurst, along with her.

“What a gentleman you are, Mr. Darcy. A cup of punch would ease the irritation from the dust from the road.” Miss Bingley simpered. “These country lanes are intolerable. And, I do believe the dirt from the floor is no better.” With that insult, she no doubt established herself to those within hearing as a snob of the highest order.

Darcy stepped away, taking up his expected perch against the wall in the far back corner of the room, directly across from the seated matrons and wallflowers. Bingley would know where to find him and his sisters would avoid him as his position would not allow the other ladies to observe them as the pinnacle of fashion they assumed they were.

It was all so ridiculous and brought to mind the first time he had accompanied his father to Tattersalls to look for breeding stock for their horse farm. He had spied a handsome stallion that stood tall and carried himself with dignity. His father had allowed himself to be pulled closer as the son praised the regal steed. Nonetheless, upon closer inspection, the evidence of the owner’s attempts to pass off an inferior horse was blatantly clear to the older man, not the son. Bad breath, long teeth, a hollow socket above the eye, a thin dip behind and before the wither, and cracked feet all covered by a carefully arranged mane, forelock, and tail brushed with water, a strategically positioned oversized rug, and wax melted into the split hooves. George Darcy had used his son’s fascination with the horse as an object lesson, that people can make themselves out to be much more than what they really are—that a wise man would use discernment in determining the quality of a man or a woman just as they should take the time and effort to look at the small details before paying good money for a horse. It was a lesson Darcy never forgot.

Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst would be horrified to know his thoughts. From experience, he had no doubt that the local mothers of Hertfordshire taught their own daughters to make the best of their looks to catch the eye of an unsuspecting gentleman. Well, he was not unsuspecting.

Darcy sighed as he observed the movement of the dancers. He abhorred dishonesty, and, to him, the tricks and wiles used by unattached females were deceitful. His sister would never act the part.

Suddenly, he wanted to pound the back of his head into the wall behind him. Of course, she had acted the part. Georgiana Darcy had attempted to hide her intentions of running off with Wickham. Despite it being at his instigation, she, as Richard had repeated to him over and over and over again, had known better.

Had his own mother acted the same? Was that how she had “caught” George Darcy? No! Surely not! Perhaps?

Darcy rubbed his chin. Was there not an honest woman in England? Were they born to flirt and pander to a man’s ego or was there some common training manual the mothers used to instill what they assumed was attractive behavior in their daughters? It was a mean art requiring a man to be able to look behind the artifice to find the true character of a female. Ridiculously impossible!

He heard her before he caught sight of her. The shrill tones heard easily over the din of the music.

“Oh, look! Mr. Bingley may have danced first with your Charlotte, but his eyes are on my Jane.” The garish headpiece of the matron bobbed in time to the tune. “With her beauty, I am confident they will be attached before the festal season.” She flicked her handkerchief. “If only Mr. Bennet was here, the young man could approach him before the night is over. Oh, my nerves! I am all aflutter. One daughter soon to be married.” The harpy scooted closer to the woman she was currently addressing. “She will be able to throw her sisters in front of other rich men. Lady Lucas, I declare that Jane was not born so beautiful for nothing.”

The nerve! Darcy felt his trimmed nails pressing into his palms so forced relaxation to each of his fingers. He wanted out of there. He wanted to ride north as fast as the wind to Pemberley to huddle in front of the warm fire in his study, listening to Georgiana practice her scales, while he shirked the necessity of finding a mate. Although he was loathe to admit it, Caroline Bingley had been correct. In spite of the eldest Miss Bennet’s classically lovely appearance, there was little fashion, beauty, or intellect to be had at the Meryton assembly.

Before he could move from his corner, Bingley approached.

“Come, Darcy,” said he. “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”

His anger and disappointment to be suddenly without hope fueled his bitter words. “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me for me to stand up with them.”

“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” cried Bingley. “Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, who are uncommonly pretty.”

You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”

Very pretty? Not likely. As lovely as the eldest sister was, Darcy had not changed his mind about the possibility of discovering a gemstone in the mire. And, with such a mother? Impossible! But, he had to appease his friend.

“Which do you mean?” Turning around, he looked for a moment at one of the other Bennet daughters, until catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

“Darcy!” The look of horror on Bingley’s face pricked his conscience, however, the feeling was temporary.

Decision made, he would perform the duties of a guest by dancing once with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst then request the carriage to return to Netherfield Park. He required silence. He needed solitude to lick his frayed hopes in private.

He watched as the young lady he had scorned stood and moved next to Miss Lucas. Her step was light and her countenance lively. Foolish girl! Who was she, a farmer’s daughter, to be joyous when he was miserable at failing spectacularly in his quest? She was a nobody, a daughter of that boastful shrew who had undoubtedly sat close to him hoping to gain his notice. Well, she failed just as spectacularly as he had.

It was not until he had danced with Mrs. Hurst and then partnered with Caroline Bingley that a lightning bolt struck from the top of his head to his toes. He felt wretched. He wanted to curl into a ball after pounding some sense into himself.

“There is no fashion, no beauty, no intelligence to be found.” Caroline had complained. “We must convince Charles to abandon this rustic community and relocate to an estate in Derbyshire, closer to your home.”

Her words, so reminiscent of his own recent thoughts had caught him unawares. How could he have disdained the woman in front of him for her poor conduct when his own had been the same? His parents would have been heartily ashamed of him. He had been raised with good principles. Nevertheless, he had applied them to others more than he had himself.

Heat rose from his chest to his cheeks. He deserved the embarrassed countenanced but hoped it would be overlooked by others.

Miss Bingley mistook his emotion for ire. “I see you are in agreement, sir. Should we work together, we could be gone on the morrow, shaking the Hertfordshire dust off of our feet for the smooth streets of London before tea.”

He needed to regroup, to regain his footing on solid ground.

“You mistake me, Miss Bingley.” Taking a deep breath, he set his course. “In fact, I have not yet been able to ascertain if Netherfield Park is a viable estate for your brother’s needs. Upon first glance, the grounds look to be productive and the buildings appeared satisfactory. As far as the people of this shire, they are no different than any other country community of any distance from town. I believe you will find that rural life requires more of a female than keeping up with the styles of the day. I know Georgiana uses much of her time tending to the needs of our tenants as well as improving her education. Because she is not yet out in society, she does not act as my hostess. With that said, she does oversee the running of my households to the extent she is able. Rarely do I see her looking at fashion plates or the magazines London ladies seem to have stacked in their drawing rooms. She is more apt to have a book in her hands than a picture of a dress or a bonnet.”

“Mr. Darcy!” Miss Bingley simpered. “I believe it is you who now is mistaken.” The dance parted them. When the movement of the steps brought them back together, she plunged ahead, a picture of anxiety. “I would never insult your sister and I beg your forgiveness if you thought this was my intent. While I would be perfectly contented should my brother marry the type of woman Miss Darcy will grow to be, you have to admit that the current society offers not one person of elevated rank who would smoothly transition into the role of either the Mistress of Netherfield Park or Pemberley.” Her hand swept from one side to the other. “You could examine in detail each female in attendance and never find a hint of what constitutes an accomplished woman, sir. None could possibly surpass what is usually met with in company, at least not here in Hertfordshire. I, personally, have noted a decided lack of a certain something in their air, their manner of walking, the tones of their voices, their address, their expressions for the word to be half deserved—not even in Miss Bennet.”

Darcy smirked to himself. Had Miss Bingley been more cautious with her words, she would have exempted herself from the description of “each female in attendance”. However, she had not, and he could not agree more. Where he looked for intelligence, kindness, and loyalty, her observations displayed a smallness in her thinking. Again, it shamed him that his immediately conclusions had been the same.

“No, Miss Bingley, I am resolved to remain in the vicinity for enough days to help your brother along with the management of the estate. Any other purpose for my staying at Netherfield Park is my own.”

Gratefully, the music ended and his obligation to dance was over. Rather than leave the gathering, he would step back, not judging harshly based on appearances as Bingley’s sisters had done (and he had also done, he admitted).

Richard had been correct. With Miss Bingley being an imitation copy of all the façade London represented, he needed to look to the country for a wife. With this in mind, he had yet to be presented to a local lady who was the daughter of a peer of the realm, a child of a man of position and wealth who it would not be a travesty with which to attach himself. Possibly other portions of the shire had the requisite connected populace, but Meryton seemed without any families of merit. Perhaps he should hurry Bingley along, so he could accept the invitation extended by his former Cambridge roommate, Percy Hamilton. As Viscount Bennington, his country estate would draw the elite of rural culture to his house party which would begin in a fortnight. A brilliant idea, indeed.

With that decision made, Fitzwilliam Darcy chose to make the best of a bad situation. He would remain at the assembly, finding enjoyment where possible. These people…he stopped the thought. These were Bingley’s neighbors and Darcy needed to remember that fact.

A woman’s laugh distracted him from his musings. It was light and pleasing—musically joyous. Glad he was taller than most, his eyes roamed from one end of the room to the other, searching for the source of the sound.

Her. The sister of the Miss Bennet his friend was following like a puppy. The one Bingley had made an effort to prompt him to offer a dance to who had cheerfully walked away. The air rushed from his lungs. She had not heard his harsh words. She could not have and remained unaffected. Though he did not regret stating the unadorned truth, a gentleman would not have said them aloud. No, a gentleman would not have thought them in the first place.

Would anyone notice him attempting to dent the wood paneling with his forehead? Argh! Would he not learn?

He looked at the young woman again and found her eyes upon his person. They sparkled with glee. To his amazement and ire, he realized she was laughing at him.

Chapter Three

 

New Story: The Letter of the Law

Hello! I hope you have been healthy and happy during my absence. My newly replaced hip is doing remarkably well so I am FINALLY able to sit in a chair long enough to get some words down on paper. I’ve been so anxious to get back to writing something new. I will be entirely honest, there are multiple stories begging to be written. I chose “The Letter of the Law” to write first. Here’s a basic description:

Upon his father’s death, Fitzwilliam Darcy had been overwhelmed with the responsibility of becoming Master of Pemberley and guardian to his young sister. Thinking he had plenty of time before his ten-year-old sister turned sixteen, he pushed to the background the codicil in his father’s will that either he or his co-guardian, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, be wed by the time Miss Georgiana Darcy started preparations for her debut into society. Now, the date loomed in front of the two gentlemen like an ax ready to fall. Rather than lose her care to his cantankerous aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy decides to accept an invitation to help his friend manage his new estate close to the farm community of Meryton in Hertfordshire in hopes of finding a country-bred lady to become the Mistress of his heart.

Elizabeth Bennet was not impressed with the gentleman. His stoic demeanor and harsh criticisms of herself and her loved ones set him as the most despised man of her acquaintance. When he continues to seek her out, she wonders at his purpose. Will they ever be able to move past their rocky start? Can love grow from such horrible beginnings? Will they both end up desiring to follow the letter of the law?

I’m attaching the cover and the first chapter and will post succeeding chapters here. Although I’m planning to give my full attention to this story, it may take a bit to get back into the swing of things. I will not be posting on any of the fan fiction sites. Nor will there be a password you need to access the chapters. As always, I’d love your opinion on what you read here. Please do keep in mind that this is unedited and has not seen the eyes of a proofreader. This is my writing in its most natural state. I sure do hope you enjoy this tale of Darcy and Lizzy. Like all my stories, they will find their happily-ever-after. Guaranteed!

CHAPTER 1

 

“How in the world could either of us forget something so important to Georgiana’s future?” Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam paced from one end of Darcy’s study to the other. His hands were fisted, and his stride was almost a stomp. “She will be sixteen years old on the fourth of January which gives us about four months for one of us to find a bride, court her, and marry her.”

“Ninety-seven days.” Fitzwilliam Darcy watched his cousin from his perch behind his desk. He was equally as livid, although, as was his usual want, he kept negative emotions tucked away behind his stoic exterior. “Barely over three months, Rich.”

His visit that morning with Mr. Samuel Haggerston, the Darcy family’s long-time solicitor, had been exceedingly unpleasant. The reminder of the codicil in his father’s Last Will and Testament had jarred him from head to toe. If neither of his sister’s guardians were wed by the sixteenth anniversary of her birth, her guardianship would automatically be transferred to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh—an entirely horrifying thought.

“Why would your father do something like this, William?” The colonel ran his hands through his hair. “His confidence in our abilities to care for his youngest child was unquestionable. He knew the sort of men we would become. My commission had been purchased and you had received a lifetime of training to become the Master of Pemberley who already had a reputation for protecting the Darcy name and assets. What could have possibly motivated him to add this to his Will?”

Darcy had wondered the same. Nonetheless, the older man’s reasoning had been made clear by Mr. Haggerston. Miss Georgiana Darcy would require female guidance through her presentation to the Queen and her debut season. On paper, it was a sensible requirement. Both of her current guardians loathed the petty details required by female society, discussions of silks and lace, and the thought of endless hours of practicing the moves necessary to be successful at court. He cringed at the thought and inherently knew his cousin would do the same. Richard could navigate a battlefield and the tenuous position of being caught in the middle between two opposing superior officers with ease. Darcy could do the same in matters of negotiating difficult legal contracts and all aspects of estate management. Yet, to ready his sister for her debut? Neither man felt qualified.

“But, Aunt Catherine?”

Both men shuddered at Richard’s question. Lady Catherine de Bourgh intimidated sweet Georgiana Darcy. She was a hurricane force bent on gaining her way, leaving behind those who would not bend to her will, uncaring whether they were left broken or damaged. As the older sister of the long-deceased Lady Anne Darcy, her claim to be the closest living relative to Fitzwilliam and Georgiana had given her permission to poke her fingers into the Darcy’s lives. Her quest to unite her estate, Rosings, with the much more substantial property at Pemberley was legendary in the family.

“Remember, cousin, that Aunt Catherine was much more restrained in her conduct while Father was still alive. It was only after his death that she became demanding and domineering. Father never saw her as she is today.” When the colonel started to speak, Darcy held up his hand. He continued, “Before my mother had been gone one week, our widowed aunt left me in no doubt that she saw herself as the next Mistress of Pemberley, replacing the sister she claimed to love, as wife to George Darcy. Her ambitions were made clear to me then. I have no doubt that she hid this from father. Instead, she would have done everything within her means to garner his sympathy and his affections.”

“Which she failed to do.” Richard stopped his pacing and dropped into one of the leather chairs facing his cousin.

A cold chill raced up Darcy’s spine, making the hairs on his arms stand on end. He had been twelve years of age when his mother had died giving birth to Georgiana. Lady Catherine and her sickly daughter, Anne, had arrived in Derbyshire to attend Lady Anne during the last month of her confinement. She had taken charge of her sister, banishing both Darcy males from the mistress’s chambers as if the rooms were her own domain. Darcy had been forced to sneak into her private chambers to see his mother late at night. He would sit by her bedside, reading to her or simply gazing at the most important female of his acquaintance with love in his heart, grateful she was his mother and not his Aunt Catherine.

Richard’s father, Hugh Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock, used to tell the boys scary stories when they camped outside in the woods surrounding Briarwood, the Matlock family estate. Typically, his eldest sister, Catherine de Bourgh, nee’ Fitzwilliam, was most often the evil villain, inspiring sheer terror in the pre-adolescent males. It appeared everyone other than George Darcy knew what she had always been, selfish and mean.

“Which explains why Aunt Catherine started pushing you and Anne together soon after your father died. What she failed in with one Darcy, she attempted to do with the other.” Each word from the colonel’s mouth dripped with disgust.

“Which will never happen. Anne is a younger version of her mother and I will not be manipulated into offering for her to retain guardianship of my sister.” Darcy stated matter-of-factly. “I would sooner marry the milkmaid than bring either viper into my home.”

“Then I suggest you chose the comeliest of the dairy workers because time is short.”

“Me?” Darcy slapped his large hands on the surface of the desk. “Why not you?”

“Ha!” Richard’s laugh was bitter. “Not only do I not have the inclination to marry, I do not have the circumstances.”

“If you are speaking of money, I could…” Darcy could not complete his offer before he was interrupted.

“Enough!” The colonel stood to resume his pacing, his countenance completely unsettled. When he stopped at the window overlooking the garden, his chin dropped to his chest as his shoulders drooped, a loud sigh coming from the depths of his soul. Without looking at Darcy, he spoke. “I received my orders this morning. I leave on the tides in fourteen days.”

“Where?” Darcy forgot to breathe.

“I will meet General Wellesley in Spain.” His voice was barely above a whisper.

Darcy wanted to both sob and crush the life of the military decision-makers in the palms of his hands. His cousin, Colonel Richard Malcolm Fitzwilliam, was the best man he knew. Working himself up through the ranks, rather than relying on his father to purchase his current position, he fought loyally alongside the lowest ranks, caring for the men under his command as if they were his own kin. He gave the same level of care to Georgiana, although it was much more tender than he showed anyone else.

The battles on the continent were fierce and the risk of losing his closest friend was real.

“Oh, Lord, no.” His chest hurt.

After a moment, Richard stood erect and turned back towards him.

“Yes, these are my orders. So, you see, I cannot bear the responsibility of finding a wife. Not even a milkmaid would have me with only a fortnight before I leave.” His chuckle reeked of bitterness.

“I am sorry, Richard.” Darcy could think of nothing else to say. This assignment was a heavy blow. He relied on his cousin for far more than sharing guardianship. After his father’s death, the colonel had been the only man who had sought Darcy’s advantage, not his own. He had offered sage advice and a listening ear, rather than grasping hands and manipulative schemes.

“Do not be. This is why I chose military life.” Richard smirked. “I mean, honestly, Darce. Could you see me preaching sermons or arguing law?”

“I have no difficulty at all seeing you arguing anything, cousin.” Darcy smiled. Just as Lady Catherine was a force to be reckoned with, so was Richard Fitzwilliam—although his approach to family was much gentler.

He would do nothing to discourage his cousin, so kept his desire to rage against these orders to himself.

“Thus, you will need to wed, and you will need to do it soon. The thought of having Georgie in Aunt Catherine’s hands is untenable. You will need to find someone who will care for you and my young cousin who is trustworthy and who will not judge your sister adversely for her actions this summer with Wickham.”

“Wickham!” Darcy hissed. The miscreant, who had grown up at Pemberley as the son of George Darcy’s steward, was a gambler and a rake. His attempts to convince innocent Georgiana Darcy to elope in order to gain her dowry of thirty-thousand-pounds to stave off loan collectors and live the life he aspired to, had been stopped cold when Darcy had arrived in Ramsgate a day earlier than expected. When Georgiana realized the rogue had played on the tender affections she held for her bother’s former playmate, it had almost broken her spirit to comprehend the destruction that could have been wrought had she acted on her desires.

When Richard grabbed for the sword he usually wore at his side, Darcy clearly understood they were in complete agreement as to what George Wickham’s fate would be had he been in the room. Neither would mourn as he drew his final breath.

The colonel growled, then looked directly at his cousin. “I could always ask Mother for a list of young females who she felt would qualify as your wife. Or, you could check with Bingley for those he deemed worthy of his love. Surely, he has a pile of rejected ‘angels’, one of whom might please you enough to take as a wife.”

Darcy scoffed. Charles Bingley’s ability to quickly fall in and out of love was legendary. In the two years since he left Cambridge, there had been nine young ladies who had been deemed worthy of his hand, only to find someone else more beautiful to capture his heart.

“He has a discerning eye, you have to admit,” Richard smirked.

“Where his eyes land, his heart soon follows.” Darcy found Bingley’s amiability appealing. However, his propensity to engage the attention of one lady after another was a character weakness he endeavored to caution his friend against. Increasing expectations without an offer of a courtship were unkind. Nevertheless, it was not maliciously done. Bingley’s intentions were noble.

Rubbing his hands over his face, Darcy harrumphed into the silence of the room. In the three hours since he had returned form the solicitor’s office, his mind had considered one option after another to resolve the current catastrophe.

“Cecily Hargrove.” The colonel blurted.

“Recently engaged to Lord Winston.”

“Millicent Blackmoore.”

“Suddenly removed from society almost four months ago whereupon no one has heard from the family since.” Darcy rolled his eyes. “If rumours are to be believed, it would seem we will not see her or her family in society again until after the babe is born and placed in some farmer’s household.”

“Mary Smythe?”

“Apparently, she has knowledge of only one topic of conversation—lace.”

Both men shuddered.

“Gillian Northcutt?”

“Her father approached me for a loan to provide her dowry, which he had gambled away, so I could marry her and be repaid my own money. Never! I easily refused him both the loan and his offer of his daughter.”

Richard threw his hands into the air. “Then, who?”

“I do not know, cousin.” Darcy ran his hands through his hair. “I have mentally reviewed every family of the first circles with an unattached daughter currently seeking a husband.”

“Were none agreeable?”

“None.”

Richard shifted in his chair at the same time Darcy did in his.

“Then, you will need to look outside of London, which might be just the ticket.” Sliding up, he sat erect, grabbing the arms of the chair with his beefy hands. “Since you prefer the country, you would do well to find a country born and bred gentleman’s daughter who would love Pemberley as much as you do.”

“But, will she love me?” Darcy had not meant to speak his concerns aloud.

“Ah, now that is a sticky subject for consideration, Darce.” The colonel pondered before he spoke. “You know it to be a truth that there are few love matches in our society. Not even my own parents have deep affection in their marriage, although they appear to respect each other’s place in the home.” He shook his head. “No, I would not even begin to call it love.”

Darcy sighed, admitting defeat. “There is nothing for me in town, so I will leave in the morning for Hertfordshire. Bingley is leasing an estate and has asked for my help in making the adjustment to management.” Dropping his chin into the hand he had propped on his desk, he stared at a point behind his cousin’s shoulder, focusing on nothing but his future. “Despite loathing a country dance, he shared that there would be an assembly in the small town of Meryton. I should attend in hopes of meeting someone I could have beside me for the rest of my life.” Rolling his eyes at his own ridiculousness, he again looked at his cousin to find him doing l the same.

“There is always Caroline Bingley.” His cousin suggested.

“Bite your tongue!”

***

By the time the Darcy carriage pulled in front of Netherfield Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s frustration had reached its limit. His cousin, who had agreed to accompany him had, instead, been called to army headquarters and given a list of tasks that would eat away at his final weeks in England. Business matters had consumed his own hours to the point that he had to bring much of it with him as he would never leave matters undone. And, a heartbreaking missive had arrived from Georgiana that morning where her self-loathing for her actions that summer came through in every written word.

Wickham! How he hated that man. Why he had restrained Richard from running him through and ending his sorry life, he would never know. Had he only allowed his cousin free reign, they would never need to mention the name again, nor think upon the harm he had caused.

Determined to put such negative thoughts behind him, his eyes roamed across the landscape surrounding the large stone edifice sitting at the top of a rise. The soil looked rich and the crops soon to be harvested appeared healthy. A stand of trees behind the house had to have been planted within the past five and twenty years as their height did not yet tower over the back of the building. The prospect was good, and he was pleased his younger friend appeared to have made a wise decision despite taking but a few moments to do so.

The heavy wooden door opened at the front of the house before his carriage came to a complete stop. Bouncing out of the doorway was his host, the grin on his face welcoming him more than words. Immediately behind him was his unmarried sister, Caroline, a white handkerchief waving in the breeze. The predatory gleam in her eyes warned Darcy that she was still on the hunt for his fortune. He would need to be extraordinarily cautious to avoid whatever traps she hoped to use to ensnare him. She would never do for a wife. She scared Georgiana nearly as much as Aunt Catherine.

“We are happy to welcome you to Netherfield Park, my friend.” Charles Bingley pumped Darcy’s hand with his typical joyous enthusiasm.

Miss Bingley shouldered her way in front of her brother, her hand extended, her intentions clear.

Grateful his leather gloves were thickly padded with fleece as hers were covered with scant pieces of lace, he barely touched the tips of his fingers to hers as he bowed over her talons. “Miss Bingley.” He stopped far short of his lips touching her skin. He would save that privilege for the woman he would wed.

Cold crept up the nerves of his spine at the thought. A wife. Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley. He wanted to run his hands through his hair. Where on earth could he find a woman he could stand having beside him in so short a period of time.”

Bingley’s chattering interrupted his intentions. “…an angel…this evening’s assembly…the woman of my dreams.”

Again? Bingley had been in residence less than a se’nnight. How does the man fall in love so quickly?

“Mr. Darcy,” Miss Bingley purred like the feral cat she was. “My brother has a responsibility to the neighborhood. However, as hostess, my responsibility is to my guests. Therefore, I will gladly remain at Netherfield with you this evening, so you can avoid a gathering of provincials lacking the social mores you are used to in town society.”

“No!”  Darcy interjected. “I would never slight my friend’s hospitality by not attending.”

In truth, he despised large gatherings where he knew few in the room. He had not the gift for engaging in trite speech and rarely could catch the hidden meanings of someone he did not know well. Nevertheless, he would rather eat Hertfordshire soil for his next meal than spend an evening alone with Netherfield’s hostess. Much better for his own comfort would be soaking in a hot tub to wash the dust of the road off his person followed by an hour or two in private conversation with Bingley while sipping French brandy before a well-tended fireplace.

He harrumphed to himself. Instead, Parker, his valet, would scramble to have his dress clothes ready for tonight’s entertainment.

Darcy detested dancing with young ladies he did not know.

He despised how quickly rumors of his income would circle the gathering.

He loathed being the subject of attention.

But, he needed a wife and he needed her quickly. He must not lose sight of his reason for being in Hertfordshire.

NOTE: Chapter two is now up. Here’s the link: Letter of the Law – Chapter Two 

© 2017 J. Dawn King, Christie Capps & Quiet Mountain Press LLC. All rights reserved.

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