Welcome back! I am flabbergasted over the fact we are past the halfway mark of this year. My husband and I were having coffee the other morning on our front porch and commented how time truly does whiz past when you reach a certain age. I had to chuckle. I remember, as a young girl when asked my age, I said I was eight… and a half. It was so very important to point out that I was almost nine. Now? I have to think about it and I’m always kind of surprised at how old I’m getting.
My advancing age – cough, cough – is the reason I thought my day to contribute on this blog was next week and I was caught wholly unprepared. In case you are wondering, I am writing this post the day prior to its posting. I am a bad Austen Author. Lately, because we have no social activities (we are still in lockdown where I live) I lose track of my days and often forget what day of the week it is. This made me think of Lady Grantham, Violet Crowley when she said, ‘What is a week end?’
Because of my lack of planning, I am providing yet another excerpt from my current work in progress. Fingers crossed, it will be published before the end of August. To set the scene. Lizzy and Darcy were compromised at Bingley’s ball. He believes she is in collusion with Wickham. In his anger, Darcy prepared a marriage settlement that is absolutely atrocious. Elizabeth will receive only fifty pounds per annum, and that is but the tip of the iceberg. He demands she marry him in the torn gown from the ball and can bring only one trunk when they depart immediately following the ceremony. I know. I know. He will have to walk a long road to retribution.
They trundled through Meryton and within the half hour were on London Road, heading toward town.
“I thought I was to Pemberley?”
“My plans have changed. We are to Darcy House in London.”
The sun was sinking to its rest when they reached the outskirts of London and the streets were dark when they entered Belgrave Square. Mr. Darcy exited the carriage and waited for her to disembark with the help of a footman. Without a word, they mounted the stairs and the door opened before they had reached the top.
“Good evening, Mr. Darcy,” his butler said in greeting. “Mrs. Whittaker has set up the family dining room for you to enjoy a light repast after you have refreshed yourself.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Darcy took her elbow and brought her forward. “Mrs. Darcy, this is my butler, Mr. Burke.”
The butler did not so much as raise an eyebrow over the insult of Mr. Darcy introducing a servant to his wife and not the other way around. Elizabeth notched it up to her husband’s profound arrogance and lack of regard for her as a gentleman’s daughter.
“I am well pleased to meet you, Mr. Burke.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Burke closed the door and the jangle of keys let Lizzy know the housekeeper had joined them.
“This is my housekeeper, Mrs. Whittaker.”
“Welcome to Darcy House, Mrs. Darcy. Would you care to refresh yourself before you dine?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“The footmen should have already unloaded your trunks. Can I have a maid press a fresh dress while you wash up?” It was apparent the housekeeper had noticed the dirty hem of her gown peeking out from beneath the cardinal redingote.
“No thank you, Mrs. Whittaker. My husband was quite firm in his desire that I wear this particular dress on my wedding day.”
Mrs. Whittaker’s eyes rounded in tandem with her mouth and she felt Mr. Darcy stiffen by her side. These were his orders, not hers; he would learn to live with the consequences of his temper.
“I see,” the housekeeper said. “Very well, follow me.”
“I will see my wife to her chambers, Mrs. Whittaker. I am going that way myself and would like a private word with her.”
Without saying anything more, he once again took hold of her elbow and steered her up the main staircase and down the hall. All too soon she was being directed into a large bedchamber, filled with heavy ornate furniture that crowded out anything that might be good, or pleasant to look at. She hoped the rest of the house did not contain such vulgar furnishings. She’d go mad if it were. Her lone trunk sat in the middle of the room, a sad testament to how her life would be going forward. Darcy turned on her.
“Just what do you think you were doing, embarrassing me in front of my staff?”
“Did you not tell my father I was not allowed to bring anything that would not fit inside a trunk? I am not the one who insisted I wear a ruined dress to my wedding. Those were your orders. Not mine!”
“Enough!” He paced away and then back. “This is untenable. You will have to visit a modiste tomorrow and have some things made up.”
“With fifty pounds, exactly what do you think I can purchase? You have a sister who is still growing. You know the cost of a lady’s wardrobe.”
“Your clothes are not fit for a scullery maid. It will not do for Mrs. Darcy to be seen in cotton dresses and made over bonnets.”
She bristled at his derogatory language. Cotton dresses, indeed!
“Mayhap you should have thought about that before you demanded I take nothing more than one trunk. As it was, you were going to send me on to Pemberley without so much of a thought as to warm winter clothing, boots, muffs, and heavy coats. This dress and redingote would not have kept me warm for long. Unless that was your plan. That I freeze to death and you would become the much-pitied widower.”
“I will admit I acted in a rash manner and will have to make amends. Before we dine, please attend me in my study.” He gave her a curt bow and left her room via the connecting door, reminding her in a tangible manner that he slept only a few steps away and the door could never be locked from her side – a wife could not refuse her husband’s entry – it could only be locked from his.
She brought out the few belongings her trunk held, placing the brush and comb set aunt and uncle had given her by way of a wedding present on the small table in her dressing room, which housed at least five wardrobes, all empty. Lizzy Izzy was lovingly situated on the small chair in the corner, while her mother’s jasmine perfume and the box which held the pearl necklace were tucked away in the top drawer.
She had refused to wear either when she said her vows, as she did not love Mr. Darcy and he most assuredly did not love her. Not even five minutes after Mr. Darcy had left, a servant knocked on the door. When she entered the room, her eyes widened in surprise as she scanned the furnishings, making Elizabeth think the room had been decorated in a different manner than it was now. She quickly recovered and said, “I am to help you dress for dinner.”
“Your name is…?”
“Thank you, Betty. I must continue to wear this gown for the evening, but shall require your help before bed and also tomorrow morning.”
“You have no other dresses to wear?” Betty looked around and spotted the solitary trunk and nothing more.
“I have but three. Mr. Darcy was very strict with what I could or could not bring with me.” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, but she refused to back down when she had done nothing wrong.
“He must intend for you to purchase new dresses for your trousseau. He is very kind in that way. Miss Darcy is never in want of anything and I am sure, as his wife, you will be treated just as well as his sister.”
“One can hope.”
After she had washed her face and fixed her hair, she asked a footman to direct her to Mr. Darcy’s study. When she entered the room, she found him seated at his desk a small leather bag on top of it. He pushed it towards her, saying in a gruff voice, “Here. Take this.”
She approached the desk with the inherent knowledge the pouch was filled with money. Daring to entice his fury, she opened the bag and dumped out coins and a wad of banknotes, quickly extracting five ten-pound notes from the pile. She turned to leave and find the dining room when he stopped her.
“Madam, I insist you take all the money I have provided.”
Slowly she turned and faced him.
“The amount you have will not buy near enough what you require.”
“You knew that when you drafted the settlement, Mr. Darcy. There was no error in what was faithfully transcribed by your own solicitor. This is what I am entitled according to the contract. I will not receive another penny from you until” – she glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room – “seven forty p.m., December 3, 1812.”
She pivoted on her heel and made for her bedchamber, asking a footman to have Mrs. Whittaker send a tray to her room. She could not bear to sit across from her husband and try to eat. There was a very good chance her food would make a reappearance before she quit the table.
Darcy stared at the back of his wife as she left in a flurry of torn, dirty skirts, then down at the remaining pile of money. It may as well have been thirty pieces of silver, his soul felt so dark. How had he let things get so far undone? He stuffed the coins and banknotes back into the bag and locked it in his strongbox before making his way to the private family parlor to have a solitary meal. All too soon he was wrapped in his favorite robe, standing at the door between his bedroom and Elizabeth’s. He was dangerously attracted to her and compromise or no, he would love nothing better than to sink into her warm softness… but, he still did not know if she was in league with Wickham and would remain in the dark until Richard returned.
He turned from the door and threw himself into the chair by the fireplace, staring into the dying flames. Had he misread his wife’s intentions during his time in Hertfordshire? He had automatically assumed she set out to capture him with her wit and vivacity, but given the abrupt coldness he experienced when she took his measly fifty pounds, declaring she would not accept another penny from him until exactly one year from the date and time… it gave him pause. He was unused to her fine eyes flashing fire at him and deeply regretted how their life venture had begun with such discord – mostly by his hand.
His self-loathing grew when his wife appeared at the breakfast table the next morning wearing the same dress. He knew full well she was driving her point home. Did she know this very gown haunted his dreams? The first time he’d seen the ivory creation with an opaque overlay which rippled and shimmered with every movement of her body, was in the receiving line at Bingley’s ball. Keeping to the shadows, he’d been struck dumb by her innate grace and beauty. It was why he sought her out for a dance when he’d sworn not to show any preference and planned to escape to London the next morning before he did something stupid like proposing a courtship.
The second occasion was at their wedding, by his command. Even though the gown had visible wrinkles and permanent stains on the hem she remained beautiful, which at the time had infuriated him. He wanted her to be humbled, yet she held her head high and stared him in the eye. And now today. After a full day of wear, nothing would ever get the creases out. Yet, his wife wore that damnable dress as though she were a queen and it was made from spun silk, not something which should be relegated to the rag bin. By following his orders, his pettiness was out there for all to see. Because of his pride, Mrs. Darcy wore a torn, wrinkled, dirty ball gown and would again tomorrow because he had not allowed her to bring trunks filled with her own clothing. It would not do, she had to be made to see reason.
He filled his plate and took his seat. Normally, the breakfast room cheered him with its décor of cream and hints of soft yellow – his mother’s color scheme – however, his mind was weighed down with all that had happened in one short week. Elizabeth moved past him and he smelled something distinctively malodorous. Of his wife, he knew her body was clean. He was achingly aware she had requested a bath before retiring the night previous. The offense came from the very dress she wore. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the footman wrinkle his nose before smoothing his features back into a picture of stoic calm.
“Good morning, Mr. Darcy,” his wife said cheerfully before taking up a plate. It appeared she was not affected by the smell in any way.