The continuing story of Georgiana Darcy and her love, Lieutenant Beverly Ashcroft
Lady Catherine Takes Command
“Lizzy, will these be suitable as a stand-in for my train?” Georgiana hesitated in the doorway as Elizabeth, holding baby George in her arms, marched back and forth like a general with his troops, surveying the various drapery materials held up by footmen.
“Pardon? Oh wonderful, you’re ready. Why yes, tablecloths will be perfectly agreeable for rehearsing. Oh, dear. Aunt Catherine is expected any moment and I am a bit anxious that she will be disappointed, limited as we are to only this room. And, please remember to make a plausible excuse for your brother’s absence. I am afraid refurbishing the house along with preparations for your presentation are beginning to wear a bit thin on him.”
Lizzy showered her baby with kisses before handing him over to his nurse, then motioned Georgiana forward to the middle of the room, the furniture having long since been pushed back to the far walls. “Adding his aunt to the mixture appears to have driven him into hiding.”
With ostrich feather and lappets pinned in her hair, Georgiana began her promenade, stumbling only once when she reached the center of the room and turned too quickly, her train having wrapped itself around her ankles. Lizzy hurried forward.
“When, oh when, will they deliver the gowns?’’ Lizzy untangled the material then spread out the elaborate counterpane forming Georgiana’s dress. That was when Lizzy spied the pink slippers. “I don’t believe you. Why aren’t you wearing proper shoes? Georgiana, if Aunt Catherine…”
“Here I am! Very pleased to see you are both eager for my rehearsal.” Lizzy and Georgiana, as always, jumped at the very sound of Lady Catherine’s voice. “You will never guess whom I found napping outside in his carriage – the Earl of Claremont’s very handsome son, Lieutenant Beverly Ashcroft. You both remember him, surely.”
Georgiana spun around, her delicate face coloring immediately with embarrassment at her once again entangled feet. Still she beamed at the vision before her, the love of her life, majestic in his British Naval Uniform.
He was bloody gorgeous.
For his part, when Ashcroft saw what his beloved wore, her bedroom slippers peeking out from beneath, a feather drooping sideways from her head, her cheeks flushed – well, it was only his love for her that allowed him to see past that outrageous outfit.
To him she was bloody gorgeous.
“You know, Ashcroft, your mother was one of my dearest acquaintances, although she was much older. I was so saddened to hear of her passing.” Catherine suddenly stopped short and grabbed his arm. “She did pass, didn’t she? Oh, thank heavens! That would have been a dreadful faux pas if she hadn’t.” She then continued into the room. “Yes, I have always said the late Christina Margaret Beverly was the great beauty of her first season. I say this to everyone. Of course, there was so little competition that year. She would be proud of you, you know; and, of course, your great success in the army.”
“The Royal Navy, Lady Catherine.” Ashcroft smiled.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I am in the Royal Navy, your ladyship. I am a first Lieutenant on His Royal Majesty’s ship Vanguard.”
Catherine blinked her eyes rapidly then waved the distinction away with her fan. “Six of one…”
“Elizabeth!” She’d been immediately distracted. “Where are Darcy and Fitzwilliam?” Catherine’s head swiveled as she searched the empty ballroom. “How can we begin my rehearsal if they are not present? Must I do everything in this family! Does no one have a care for my nerves?”
Elizabeth hesitated a moment, lying did not come easily to her. “Ahem. I am afraid that William has been only recently apprised of some problems with drainage at Pemberley which needed his immediate attention.”
“Yes! Of course.” Possessing an unnatural fear of all things drainage, Catherine nodded her agreement that her nephew would need to investigate the problem immediately.
“Well, what of Richard then? What excuse can he possibly have?”
Not wishing to speak of female matters before a gentleman, Elizabeth leaned forward, her voice low. “As you know, Aunt Catherine, his wife has been experiencing some difficulties with her condition and he is quite concerned, as is her doctor. Richard remains at her side almost continuously (poor woman). She is, after all, expecting twins.” The last sentence was whispered into her aunt’s ear.
“Yes, yes, and very conveniently so, it would appear.” Catherine’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Twins! So bold. Why do Americans always have to do things up so much bigger than anyone else? Such an ostentatious country.”
Ashcroft politely approached. “May I be of any assistance?”
Catherine sighed. “I suppose you will have to do Ashcroft – there is no one else. We must practice her entrance, her bow, her demeanor, the maneuvering of her train, her retreat from the room, the deportment of her feather. These are all gravely important. I fear that two gentlemen whom I shall not name – Fitzwilliam Darcy and Richard Fitzwilliam – are not giving this matter serious consideration.”
Then she smiled brightly at the handsome young man to her side, patting his arm. “You are a saint to volunteer, you really are; and, tremendously pleasant to look at. Thank heavens your appearance is nothing like your father’s. I feel I must warn you however, we may need you here for several hours today.”
“I am willing to sacrifice at least that much for my Queen.” Ashcroft’s sly glance and wink at Georgiana left her breathless.
Darcy had slipped out the back door only moments before his Aunt Catherine barged through the front, feeling not one twinge of guilt over his abandonment of his wife and sister. He needed a few moments of tranquility in his life and there was one place in London he knew with a certainty could make him feel comfortable so he turned west and strolled the five blocks to the old wreck of a house just purchased by Fitzwilliam. Gingerly threading his way among gardeners and landscapers, he jogged down to the lower servant’s door and entered, all the while sidestepping boxes and rolled carpeting, masons and plumbers. He quickly came upon Fitzwilliam facing off in the kitchen with a furious cook concerning his wife’s dinner.
At the top of his lungs.
“What! Oh, it’s you Darcy. You’re here again today? I truly need to change these locks…”
“My home remains in chaos so I thought I might request sanctuary.” Darcy ducked just before a ladder carried by two men swung around behind him.
“It always saddens me that you are desperate enough to consider this is an improvement.”
“Catherine just arrived.”
“Say no more.”
“Good God, you are pathetic.” Turning to the cook he requested an early tea be brought up to the family room. He then turned to his cousin. “Quickly. I don’t like the look in this one’s eyes, she’s standing too near the knives.” Hammer blows from the above floor had Fitzwilliam jump each and every time as they made their way up the servants’ staircase. “I will never understand women. We purchased this house because Amanda deemed it absolutely perfect, and then she set upon changing it completely.”
“This must be costing you a fortune, Fitz.”
“Not me. Amanda. She finally obtained her inheritance from her father’s estate. And then, instead of putting it aside as I recommended, she begged me to let her waste it on this ramshackle house, all because my father has finally condescended to meet making her anxious to give a good impression. She believes he will more readily accept her if the reception rooms have new windows. Poor dear, she’s bound to be disappointed.”
“When does he arrive?”
“He promises to be here in August for her confinement, but I have my doubts. He’s been coming into town regularly for months and has never before bothered to contact us.”
“I thought your father hated town.”
“So did I. Evidently, he’s discovered an attraction to young opera dancers.”
They walked through the side door of a huge dusty library then up to the second floor of the house. There was activity here also, but this family area was nearly finished, providing, among other areas, a large sitting room, warm and inviting with fireplace, overstuffed furniture in textured pastels, thick carpets and vases of flowers. A wall length windowed balcony filled the room with sunlight providing a view of the emerging front garden and the street beyond. Fitzwilliam’s wife Amanda was settled on the couch before the fire, her feet elevated and covered with a throw. Bolsters were situated behind her and beneath her knees to help relieve the strain from her back. She appeared very large and very uncomfortable.
And yet surprisingly, very happy.
Amanda smiled immediately at the sight of Darcy. “Have ye come to spring me from my prison, good sir?”
Fitzwilliam walked over to a nearby table. “That was perhaps the worst accent yet that you’ve attempted. Port or claret, Darcy?” he called over his shoulder.
“Both, Fitz, if you please.” Smiling, he approached the sofa and clasped Amanda’s hands within his own. “How are you feeling today my dearest?” He kissed both her cheeks then plopped down onto the chair beside her, casting an openly admiring gaze at the new Amanda Fitzwilliam. Even engorged with what were clearly quintuplets she looked lovely. A knot of glossy blonde hair was tied loosely at the nape of her neck while delicate tendrils curled softly about her face. The clothes she now wore were in soft shades of butter yellow and pale green, all trimmed becomingly in lace – a conspicuous change from the drab and ill-fitting mourning gown in which he had first seen her. Most striking of all was the joy he saw in her huge brown eyes. Her face glowed with health and happiness. She looked younger and more beautiful than ever.
Richard, on the other hand, looked like hell.
“…like a whaling ship beached on the rocks.” For a confused moment, Darcy forgot what he had asked. “You asked me how I was feeling?” He nodded quickly and she cheerfully continued. “…like yoked oxen being dragged backward to their muddy deaths; like Cromwell midway through his execution. By the way, I thought I was doing a reasonable West Yorkshire accent; are you certain I had it wrong?” She grabbed Darcy’s hand, “I have been practicing various accents to aid in my escape.”
“You’d do better to strap pontoons to your sides and let me push you off the London docks.” Fitzwilliam chuckled at Amanda’s yelp of outrage. His next sentence sent her howling. “I am immensely proud that, as an American, you don’t just point at things and grunt, Amanda. Give up on the British dialects before you sprain your tongue.” He handed Darcy a drink and then settled himself onto the end of the couch. He lifted her feet up and settled them onto his lap, his hands resting protectively over the throw. “This morning she attempted a Lancashire accent.”
“How did she do?”
“Sounded just like a Cumbrian.”
“They sound very alike, dear. William, where is Elizabeth? I was hoping she would come over and entertain me. Ye Olde Iron Brainbox is driving me insane with his worrying. He would carry me everywhere if he thought it would not cause him severe bodily harm.”
“Amanda, I enjoy you much more when you’re sleeping. Your lips take on rather an unbecoming blur when they move this rapidly.”
“You are too controlling!”
“You are too careless!”
Darcy quickly interrupted the looming fight. “I abandoned Elizabeth to the decorators and the imminent arrival of Lady Catherine’s entourage. There are some days I am just not up to the challenge. By the way, where is my boon companion, Sir Harry?”
“Granny Penrod’s for the entire afternoon, along with his governess, Miss Lilly, and his nurse.” Fitzwilliam spoke to Darcy, but his eyes remained affixed to the cover over his wife’s swollen feet. “Damn it to hell, your ankles are worse, aren’t they? You were not supposed to be on your feet so much this morning and see what has happened! You never listen to me…”
Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose at the tension rising again between the couple. He tried to stem the coming firestorm. “Well! I think it is wonderful how civilized this whole custody problem is being handled between yourselves and the boy’s grandmother. Very enlightened.”
“What? Oh, yes. It is amazing what a threat of social ostracizing can achieve. Well, that plus my knighthood has made me an acceptable member of the ton again.”
“What do you mean, again?” Darcy tossed back his drink.
At that moment Dr. Anthony Milagros suddenly exploded into the room slapping his gloves up and down his arms and across his legs. “Dios mio, mi vida!! When will this barbaric upheaval be completed?” He glared at Amanda, his dearest friend in the whole world, his countenance the very picture of aggravation. “I cannot tolerate the dust and debris downstairs a moment longer! No! One cannot breathe I tell you! See how pale I look! Whenever I visit I assume the mask of death instead of my usually striking dark Latin looks! And my new Hessians are ruined! Look! Do you see? Ruined! And this! My green superfine, mi vida, see how gray? Santa Maria! Look at me!” He stomped his boot. “I find no cause for laughter.” Grinning broadly, he abruptly strolled over to the cabinet and poured himself a drink, then turned to survey the room.
“Aha, Senor Darcy.” Milagros greeted him with genuine warmth. “How wonderful to see you once again.” Next, he turned to face Fitzwilliam, formally snapped his heels, and bowed. “Generalissimo.” And lastly, he cast an affectionate gaze upon Amanda. “All right, it is our time now; come my little mountain. You must take your powders and let me listen to those tiny heartbeats.”
As he spoke, he passed a doctor’s swift and assessing glance over her. “Richard, some assistance, if you please; possibly a hoist of some sort…”
In the end the task required everyone pitch in to lift her – Anthony, Darcy, Fitzwilliam and a footman – then Anthony alone assisted Amanda with her waddle from the room. After he closed the door behind them Darcy turned a worried eye to his cousin. “Is she worse?”
It was a moment before Fitzwilliam shook his head. “Not really. However, Anthony thinks it necessary to see us daily now to evaluate… things. We have been experiencing some new problems.” With Amanda out of the room Fitzwilliam no longer attempted to hide his concern. “Heart flutters distress us most.” Running a hand through his already disheveled hair he began to pace. “We also suddenly have numbness in one of our legs.” He stopped at the closed door and stared intently at it for a moment. “In a way I am glad for twins since it will be her last pregnancy as far as I am concerned. Three children should be more than sufficient for her, don’t you think? Lord knows I couldn’t handle any more, my nerves are stretched to the limit.”
Darcy looked unimpressed. “Well, Richard, you did survive Waterloo. I’m certain you will come through this relatively unscathed as well.”
“Feel free to mock me, but I am deadly serious. This had better be the heir and the spare because I have told her that there will be no more babies.”
“I believe that Amanda’s Catholic religion is rather vocal on this subject. She won’t let you off the hook that easily.”
“Darcy, you and I both know that there are ways to be careful; ways to prevent this.” He arched a confident brow at his cousin. “Father Riley was here yesterday to bring her the Eucharist and say the rosary with her. Do you know that mad little dwarf had the audacity to laugh right in my face when I told him?”
Fitz glared at the closed door and drummed his fingers on the table beside him. “She’ll see – and he’ll see – that I am completely serious! She can live like a bloody nun if that’s what it takes!” This last sentence was bellowed loudly enough to be heard in the next county, let alone the next room. He suddenly shot his hands once again through his hair. “She never tells me when she’s feeling ill, nothing,” he muttered. “I have to get my information from Anthony. She claims I am overwrought.” His hair now stood in hilarious peaks. “No more of this, no more children.”
“Richard, be realistic. You drag the poor woman upstairs if she even arches her foot. There shall be more children, I guarantee it. I don’t know, must be the viking heritage on your mother’s side of the family. Admit it, you have no control over yourself when it comes to Amanda and never did – sorry to have to be the one to point that out.”
Fitzwilliam grumbled, looking defeated at last, and continued to drum his fingers on the table. “Well, shit.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thanks for reading… see you next month for Part Trois…
Georgiana Elopes Again?
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And read Chapter One there….