Acck! This four-days week threw me off. I thought today was Thursday. My apologies for being a few hours late.
Lately, for a Regency suspense story I’m writing, I have been deep in research into the bowels of Georgian & Regency time—into crime and punishment, into abandoned babies left to perish on rubbish piles, into murders and Bow Street Runners…and I desperately need a break from the gloom and doom.
Here’s a piece of escapism writing I did to combat the gloom—combining my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer Regency romance into a short piece of pure Austen-Heyer Regency romance fantasy. Suppose Darcy’s mother is alive and Elizabeth’s mother is…well…. You’ll have to read on.
It is a truth universally acknowledged the more sensible a young man is in his judgment in all other matters, the more foolish he is when it comes to the fair sex.
With no little irritation, Lady Anne Darcy observed her son tapping his foot on the carriage’s floor, a sure sign he was excited. That, and the distracted way he kept twisting his head every minute to glance at the road ahead.
She coughed to get his attention. “Did I not tell you how shocked Lady Hunt was when the reclusive Duke of Skeffington gave her a little bow at Hatchard’s? She hardly recognized him at first. It’s been years since he last came to town. They said he had turned mad when his only daughter ran off years ago with some insignificant young man, but Lady Hunt thought His Grace appeared perfectly sane. He had a little young miss on his arm for whom he was buying a book of verse.”
“What was the title?”
“I told you, it was the Duke—”
“No,” her son interrupted impatiently. “I meant the title of the book he bought?”
“Honestly, Fitzwilliam, sometimes your bookishness vexes me,” she said. “Is that all you could ask? How should I know what the title was?”
He shrugged and stilled his tapping foot. “We ought to have taken the Town Coach. I was not paying attention when you ordered the carriage.”
Using the Town Coach, with their family’s crest painted on the door, when making this call would lend too much consequence to their visit. “There is no need to tire out four horses with the Coach when two would do the job adequately with the Landau.”
“I would not wish for the Bennet family to feel slighted,” he said with a hint of unease.
“Nonsense,” she stated firmly. Surely a provincial country family from Hertfordshire of no consequence cannot have any notion of the subtle difference between their guests calling in a Landau rather than in a Town Coach, much less feel affronted. “Trust me. Too marked of attention from those of superior birth and rank and would discompose people undistinguished by suitable connections.”
“I can assure you, mother,” his neck straightened into a stiff position before he decidedly turned away, “the Bennet are quite happy with their connections, such as they are.”
Her eyes narrowed. A subtle, defensive edge had laced his voice, which disconcerted her more than she’d like. Young men tended to be imprudent when they believed themselves violently in love. She must tread carefully. “I meant no offense, my dear.”
Her apology served its purpose. His posture slackened. “I do appreciate your accompanying me on such short notice, Mother.”
“My pleasure,” she murmured. When he’d requested her company to make a call on a young lady and her family this morning, she had been excited. She had hoped it would be to Lady Caroline Southey, or Miss Sarah Milbanke, both favored with personal compliments by the Prince Regent when they made their bows at court. Both young ladies, each in possession of a large dowry, had made it known to her how they had greatly enjoyed their dance with the handsome Mr. Darcy at Almack’s and looked forward to him calling on them. Though it was rather bad form of Lady Anne to show her obvious disappointment at learning they were to call on a Miss Bennet and her family instead—she had never heretofore heard of them—she knew her son understood her dismay. It was her maternal duty to promote a most advantageous match for him, he knew that.
“Is it not incredible to you how a few miles out of town improves the quality of the air?”
She inhaled a long breath and reluctantly nodded. He was right. Instead of the usual perfumed staleness of town air they had left behind, a soothing draft of crisp, clear air, with a faint aroma of lavender, wafted through the carriage, calming her a little. Bennet. Bennet. Tried as she might, she could not recall any fashionable family connected to the name. Still, perhaps Mr. Bennet was the younger son of a distinguished family with an adequate seat somewhere? “Has Miss Bennet’s father an older brother?”
“No. He’s the only son of his family.” The corners of Fitzwilliam’s mouth lifted. “No rich, childless Uncle-Lord in existence to bestow any hope of a fortune or a title to Mr. Bennet.”
His merriment and his frank reply perturbed her. The girl’s arts and allurements must have robbed him of his reasoning. “A woman’s children benefit greatly when she marries above her station, but a man’s children suffer disproportionately when he marries below himself.”
“For her children’s sake then, I hope Lady Caroline Southey marry a marquise or a duke. As the daughter of an earl, she should do her duty, I agree,” he said in bland voice. “As for Miss Milbanke, she is more fortunate. As a mere granddaughter of a viscount, she has the advantage of expanding her list with the addition of an earl or two.”
She glared at him.“That is not what I meant and you know it.”
“When you next see Countess Southey and Mrs. Milbanke, pray ask their forgiveness for my presumption to have danced with their daughters, my being only a mere Mister.”
“Must you persist in your obstinacy?” She wanted to hit his head with her reticule for his sardonic tone. “An alliance with this nobo…this Miss Bennet,” she briefly paused when his eyebrows rose in warning manner before forging on. “My every feeling revolts against such imprudence of a connection for our family. I beg you to think twice if you’re considering courting her. I must tell you I can never accept Miss Bennet as a daughter.”
She had his full attention now, she saw with some satisfaction when his expression became grave and he turned his body fully in her direction. “You will not meet her and get to know her, Mother?”
She avoided his eyes. “It is not too late to turn the carriage around and send words you have forgotten a prior appointment.”
With his usual, characteristic gentleness, he took one gloved hand of hers into both of his. “Forgive me, Mother. I did not mean to distress you—”
“That’s all right, my dear.” Relieved, she put her free hand atop his. It was good for her to tell him her true feelings. “I would not wish for you to later regret having made such an unequal match.”
“You did not let me finish,” he chided. “I was apologizing for not being more frank with you about the purpose of my visit to the Bennet. I had hoped you would first meet her and see for yourself why I love her. Besides being a woman of beauty, wit, and intelligence, she possesses something I most treasure in a partner—something I find lacking in many young ladies of the ton—kindness. She is kind to everyone, no matter their rank.”
“Society will devour her, son, if as your wife, she does not learn the distinction of rank and act accordingly.”
The carriage stopped then. He straightened and glanced through the window. “We’re here already. It is too late to turn back to town, mother. Miss Bennet’s family—her whole family—expects us. I hope for my sake, Mrs. Bennet will not mind us arriving in a Landau when she knew fully well we have a Town Coach. Mr. Bennet will not likely care or be aware of the slight, but as the daughter of the Duke of Skeffington, Miss Bennet’s mother would know.”
“Wh—” Lady Anne was interrupted by a footman opening the carriage door.
Lady Anne’s son squeezed her hands before releasing them. “Close your mouth, mother.” Stepping from the carriage, he added over his shoulder, “I asked for the title of the book his grace bought for his granddaughter at Hatchard’s because I had also just purchased a volume of verse for her just yesterday, as an engagement present. She accepted my marriage proposal last week, before she told me who her grandfather was.”
Yes, pure fluff Regency fantasy…but that’s why we love reading those Regency novels, eh?