I have another Agony and Hope scene for you! Yay! I believe I mentioned on social media that I had rewritten the end of the story because it was too long between the engagement to the wedding then the end. When I did so, we lost a bit on the back end. I tried to move a bit around, so a few lines may be familiar from the argument later in the book between Darcy and the earl. In the earlier version, Darcy and Elizabeth were wed at Pemberley before returning to London to tell the Gardiners of their good health. My daughter revolted and insisted that wouldn’t work. I agreed with her so that bit was rewritten during edits. Other than knowing of a secondary pairing, I’m not sure there’s a spoiler involved. I’ve told everyone there’s an HEA and you know Elizabeth is alive, so I’m not offering a spoiler warning 🙂
In the original draft, this scene occurs after their return to London. Darcy and Elizabeth are wed and Richard and Jane are courting. I have not altered anything to fit the final edit of the book. I have left it as is, so this is completely unedited. Sorry for any errors!
Darcy descended the last step then tugged at the bottom of his topcoat as he glanced about the hall. He had not attended the theatre since Georgiana begged him to take her last Season, but when he mentioned the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane was putting on a production of the Taming of the Shrew, the light in Elizabeth’s eyes convinced him to put aside his desire to keep her to himself and whisk her away to the theatre.
In the month since they returned, they dined with Jane and Richard most evenings, but for the most part, they spent a prodigious amount of time together. Elizabeth and Jane had met with Madame Villers to be fitted for what little spring weather remained as well as for the summer months. They both also purchased fabrics for winter gowns and embroidery supplies to pass the time. Elizabeth selected materials for her rooms at Pemberley as well as Darcy House, though Mrs. Northcott would not begin redecorating until they departed for Pemberley in a fortnight, after they attended Miss Mary’s wedding.
As he made to enter the library to wait upon the ladies, a knock at the door made him pause. Butler was swift to admit Richard, who shook his great coat and removed it, allowing Butler to hurry away with the damp garment. “The fog is thick and has made the chill of the evening a penetrating one. I daresay a certain amount of the cold will remain into May. The weather simply has not warmed as I had hoped it would by now.
“Yes, I was surprised by the chill in the air when I visited my solicitors yesterday.”
Richard chuckled as he followed Darcy into the library. “Perhaps you and your wife should venture from the house more. Her maid accompanies Jane and me on our walks in the park since the two of you remain sequestered more often than not.
“Elizabeth spends time with her sister every day.”
His cousin held up his hands, palms forward. “Do not become offended, Darce. I am merely teasing. Jane has spoken of their time together as well as how she has urged her sister not to feel obliged to her.”
Darcy’s shoulders relaxed, and he lifted his eyebrows. “Jane? Do you have a request to make, Cousin?”
With a smile, Richard’s crooked grin was enough to answer Darcy’s question. “Jane is of age, but I journeyed to Gracechurch street this morning and spoke to Gardiner.”
“Did you?” Darcy sat in a chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. “What did he say?” He was genuinely curious. Mrs. Gardiner regularly visited both Jane and Elizabeth and shopped with them for fabrics, but Gardiner seemed content with Jane remaining Darcy’s responsibility. Not that Darcy minded. They simply had not discussed the matter.
“He indicated you should be applied to for the honour, though he did give his blessing.” Richard sat across from him and mirrored his position with the exception of his foot bobbing in a constant motion—his only outward sign of his agitation. Darcy could not help but smile at the sight of a former colonel in the Regulars nervous at the prospect of applying for a lady’s hand. His cousin had never been one to show his unease, even when he left for the peninsula to fight Napoleon’s army, but to be felled by a simple question was too amusing to overlook.
A low, easy laugh escaped before Darcy could stop it. “Do you love her?”
His cousin let out a growl and shifted as if he still wore a sabre at his hip. “I should have known you would be an arse about this.”
“I hope you do not speak so before your betrothed.” Darcy’s shoulders shook while he held in his amusement. He so seldom had this sort of opportunity. “You did not answer my question.”
Richard picked an imaginary piece of lint from his trousers, refusing to meet Darcy’s eye. “What question?”
“Do you love her?”
“Yes,” said Richard forcefully. “Are you pleased?”
“Yes, thank you, though you surrendered much sooner than I would have thought.”
“With Jane or with this conversation?”
“Both.” He cleared his throat in an attempt to stop laughing. “Have you told her you are in love with her?”
“Yes, not that it is any of your business.” He tugged at his cuffs.
Darcy pressed his lips together and reined in his amusement. “Forgive me for finding humour at your expense.” He blinked a couple of times. How best to say this? “You are a good man, a good cousin, an esteemed friend. You are more loyal than most I know and will put yourself in harm’s way to ensure those you care for are unharmed. You are not reticent, by any means, but you do not share your feelings with ease. When I asked if you told Jane, I wanted to know if you could speak to her of matters close to your heart. I am glad to know you trust her enough to share your concerns. You have my blessing and consent.”
Richard shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “Thank you.” He picked at one of his fingernails before meeting Darcy’s eye. “And, yes, I can speak to her. I told her of Carlisle.”
“What did she say?”
“She understood why I was uncomfortable with the title and my position, yet she convinced me to be more accepting of it all since Carlisle will never return.”
If Jane had been successful at his cousin finally accepting what his aunts and Darcy had been saying since the announcement of Carlisle’s supposed death, then she would be good for him. “Did she tell you about Bingley?”
Richard rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Bingley never deserved her, yet I disagree with your actions at the time. If I had known her when you told me of separating Bingley from an unsuitable lady, I would have hit you without holding back for hurting her. You were wrong, even though I believe you did her a tremendous favour.”
“I did tell Bingley of my interference at Pemberley. He claimed he would return to Hertfordshire for her, but never did. I am certain Miss Bingley heard of the family’s predicament, which was why she insisted upon him giving up the lease to Netherfield.” Bingley had been weak willed. He did not deserve someone as good and kind as Jane Bennet.
Musical laughter sliced through the heaviness of the conversation and beckoned to him. At her appearance in the doorway, he stood and welcomed Elizabeth with an outstretched hand to draw her close. A lingering kiss was bestowed to her knuckles as he drank in her beauty. Her eyes sparkled and her complexion glowed. The gauzy crimson fabric of her gown brought a bit of colour to her cheeks, and his mother’s rubies stood in stark contrast to the fairness of her neck.
When he forced his attention from his wife, he turned in time to witness the slight tilt of Jane’s head and her soft smile. The expression was similar to one she had worn for Bingley, yet her eyes held a depth that was not present years ago when she had looked upon his friend. Richard’s gentle gaze held his betrothed’s eyes while he brushed a light kiss to the back of her hand. Tenderness was not a word he would have ever associated with his cousin, yet watching him with Jane, he witnessed a side of his cousin he had never known.
In that moment, his regrets about his part in Jane’s separation from Bingley disappeared entirely—that niggling in his gut that would not let him forget what he had cost her. Jane had found a love more fulfilling than what she could have ever had with the man who was once his close friend.
He turned to Elizabeth’s eyebrows drawn down a bit in the middle. “Forgive me. I am happy for them. She seems much happier with Richard than she was with Bingley.”
“She is,” said Elizabeth. “She has told me as much. The circumstances of the past few years have changed her, and she has wondered if Mr. Bingley would have resented her for Lydia’s downfall. Richard knows of everything—of Lydia and St. Giles—and still wants her. I do not know what they have spoken of, but she has indicated he has confided a great deal to her. She is honoured by his trust.” She studied his face for a moment. “You did give your consent, did you not?”
“Of course, I did. Richard is a good man and like a brother to me. I could not deny him love, particularly when I believe Jane is precisely what he needs.” He brushed his lips against her hand one more time before Butler interrupted to inform them the carriage had been brought around.
After donning their coats and hats, the gentlemen handed in their ladies before joining them, though sitting together since propriety dictated Jane and Elizabeth share a seat. The trip to the Theatre Royal was not a long one, so they soon alighted in front and helped the ladies dodge the remnants of the horses to enter the building.
Darcy removed his great coat, handing it to his waiting footman, before helping Elizabeth with her cape. Once his servant was in possession of their belongings, he hurried up to the boxes to await their party.
Under the light of the candles, Elizabeth glowed as those fine eyes that enchanted him looked up and down at the grandeur of the new theatre that had replaced the former, which burned in 1809. His eyes traced over her now full head of auburn curls, which allowed Taylor to use jewelled pins, combs, and ribbons to give her a more stylish coiffure. Tonight, Taylor used a crimson ribbon to match the hue of Elizabeth’s gown.
“Shall we make our way to the boxes?” asked Richard with Jane on his arm.
Darcy looked around at a sea of people, some of whom were noting his entrance and examining Elizabeth in great detail as she had her hand upon his arm. “I believe so.”
One or two acquaintances stopped them along the way. Darcy politely introduced Elizabeth, and since most knew Richard, he introduced Jane as his cousin’s betrothed, raising more than a few eyebrows in the process. They had barely reached the staircase when a hand grasped Darcy’s arm and whipped him around.
“Have you so little respect, boy?”
He ensured Elizabeth was well, then stiffened, drawing himself as tall as he could. “I beg your pardon, Lord Fitzwilliam. Is there a problem?”
“A problem?” His uncle hissed spraying spittle in the process. “I bring you suitable candidates to be your wife, and you choose this chit?” Lord Fitzwilliam’s eyes raked over Elizabeth as though she were covered in filth. “Have you forgotten what you owe your family? What you owe me?” People around them halted their conversations to watch the spectacle with eager eyes, and no doubt, storing away what was said to gossip about during their calls on the morrow.
“I told you years ago I would not agree to your marriage schemes. I wed my wife with nothing but my own happiness and that of hers in mind. I owe you nothing.” He needed to rid himself of his uncle, even though the earl was only making himself appear the fool.
“No more,” said Darcy with a firmness that made his uncle clamp his mouth shut. “I have told no one of the breach between our houses, but your display of ill-temper tonight should have tongues wagging for weeks. Do you wish all and sundry to know why I have broken with you?”
His uncle peered over one shoulder then the other. “This is not over, Darcy.”
Darcy chuckled and leaned closer to the earl. “This is indeed over. You tend to your house, and I shall tend to mine. While you are doing so, you might spend less time at the club playing cards. I believe you have enough of Carlisle’s and his wife’s gambling debts to pay.”
Lord Fitzwilliam turned a brilliant shade of red that nearly matched the colour of Elizabeth’s gown before Darcy turned his back and started to lead his party up the stairs.
“You,” said the earl in a sneer.
Richard gave no indication of disquiet nor did he bow. “My Lord, I am here with my cousin and betrothed.” He rested a hand atop Jane’s on his arm. “Miss Bennet, this man is my father the Earl Fitzwilliam. He will never be admitted into our homes.”
“You will not marry that trollop!” All talk within the room silenced as the few who had not already been taking in the spectacle turned to watch. “I forbid it.”
Jane’s hand slid into Richard’s as he stepped down so he was face to face with his father. “Forbid my marriage all you wish. You will not stop me, and I shall never wed someone of your choosing. In that, Darcy and I are of precisely the same mind. You have attempted to twist and bend the will of your family until we act as you desire. By joining the Regulars, I removed myself from your machinations long ago, and while I am now your heir, I refuse to be controlled by you.”
Richard turned his back on his father and drew Jane beside him as they ascended the stairs. The crowd began to murmur, surely shocked at what had just occurred. They may have attended for “The Taming of the Shrew,” but they had an earlier offering that would be spoken of in the drawing rooms around London for weeks if not months, particularly in light of the common knowledge of Lady Fitzwilliam’s solitary living arrangement.
They were quiet until they reached the box, but the moment the curtain fell behind them, Richard dragged Jane back into the dim recesses and took her in his arms. When Darcy glanced about the theatre, a few people sat in their boxes or in their seats below, but the vast majority were still in the entrance hall. He looked back to see Richard’s head on Jane’s shoulder while she whispered into his ear.
He steered Elizabeth so they stood in front of his cousin and her sister, blocking them from the general view of the theatre. “I apologise for my uncle’s spectacle.” His uncle had never been one to enjoy the theatre, and he had never expected his uncle to confront them in such a public manner. The earl’s concern over appearances typically overrode his affront, so tonight’s exhibition was not something he ever imagined would take place in the theatre or anywhere else.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” said Elizabeth in hushed tones. “Will Richard be well?”
“I am certain he will. He abhors what his father is and avoids him as does Lady Fitzwilliam.” At her crinkled forehead, he moved so his mouth was near her ear. “It is common knowledge among the Ton that my uncle lives with his mistress. My aunt insisted he go years ago, and he has never returned—not that she is amenable.”
Elizabeth blinked rapidly for a few seconds and shook her head. “What a shame. He will one day have no one but himself for comfort.”
“He has no one to blame but himself,” said Richard as he and Jane joined them. “Forgive me. I fear my father and I shall never see eye to eye. Darcy’s father took me in when I left home and Pemberley was where I returned from Cambridge as well as where I returned when I had leave from the military. Darcy, Georgiana, and my mother are my family. Before Jane, I was unsure if I would ever trust someone enough to have a marriage like my Uncle and Aunt Darcy or even you and Darcy. When he threatened that, I—”
Elizabeth squeezed his cousin’s hand and shook her head. “You need not explain yourself to me. Jane seems to know all and that is what is most important. We shall make the announcement of your betrothal in the paper, and the two of you will wed by special license like Fitzwilliam and I did.” She tipped her head down to ensure Richard met her eye. “Do not let him ruin our evening.”
“Thank you, Lizzy,” said Jane, who hugged Richard’s arm to her.
Darcy drew his wife back to his side and kissed her temple. He cared not if all of the Ton called him besotted. He was, after all. “I do not believe my uncle will carry through on his threats, but we should send the betrothal announcement tomorrow. We will also obtain the license. Georgiana and Witney return to town in two days.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I can plan a simple wedding breakfast in two days.”
He nodded. “Good, I say the sooner we have them wed, the better.”