Title: The Grecian Temple
Written: August 7-8, 2018
Fandom(s): Belle / Pride and Prejudice / Mansfield Park
Pairings: Dido/Colonel Fitzwilliam, (past) Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet, Bette Murray/Darcy, Bette Murray/Tom Bertram
Warnings: racism, infidelity
A Note on Actors: Dido and Bette are portrayed by the actresses in Belle. Colonel Fitzwilliam is taken from Death Comes to Pemberley. The characters of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are from the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Sir Tom Bertram is from the Frances O’Connor film version of Mansfield Park.
Summary: Dido ran toward the Grecian temple in the rain. Little did she know she would find true love there.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was a Lady Mulatto. She was, however, the daughter of Captain Sir John Lindsay, a decorated naval officer, who had recognized her and given her his name. She was also the great-niece and adopted daughter of Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice. Usually she was in residence at Kenwood House near London, but she and her sister-cousin, Elizabeth Murray were visitors in Kent, and Dido had been touring the village of Hunsford when she had come across the beautiful sprawling grounds of Rosings Park and had decided to sample the walks there if only for a few short hours.
She had hoped that her presence would go unnoticed, she was after all singular in English society, but soon rain began to fall and she ran toward a Grecian temple to better get out of the rain. The pearls around her neck felt tight and she lay against the side of the temple, looking out at the rain when she heard someone else come up behind her. Wishing to not make her presence known, Dido shrank against the temple and shied away—which, perhaps, was a mistake. As she moved toward the forest, she came upon a gentleman in regimentals, his form tall and broad, a haughty expression on his face, his dark hair plastered to his face, his dark blue eyes looking out at the storm.
Taking him in as a subject of interest, she meant to perhaps go toward the original intruder to find a happy medium between them both, when the officer turned toward her. Caught out, her negro curls plastered to her face and her pink silks undoubtedly pressed against her heaving bosom, she lowered her eyes and curtseyed to him. “Forgive me, sir,” she breathed, “I did not mean to interrupt your solitude. There is merely another person who has taken refuge here and I did not equally wish to disturb him.”
“Not at all,” he began after a moment, his eyes taking her in. “You are not a guest, I think, of my aunt.”
“No,” she answered after a moment. “I am staying at Northmoor with my sister-cousin and my uncle, Lord Mansfield. I was traveling through Hunsford to better take in the country when I happened across this beautiful park—”
There was a sudden movement on the other end of the temple along with footsteps. A deep voice greeted, “Miss Elizabeth—” She paused, her head turned, and then, in shock, they both listened as a declaration of marriage was given.
Dido turned to the officer, her eyes wide as an argument broke out between the lady and gentleman, and she felt decidedly uncomfortable. When he had gone, she murmured, “I do not believe we should have been present.”
“No,” he answered. “I had no idea my Cousin Darcy was so impassioned.”
He looked as uncomfortable as she felt and she turned slightly away from him, looking out at the rain. “Perhaps,” she whispered, “we should remain where we are and not make our presence known until the lady leaves to keep her self-respect intact.”
The officer looked at her a long moment and then nodded. “I believe you are correct, Madam. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock.”
She gave him a small smile. “I find myself in esteemed company.” She curtseyed. “I am Miss Dido Belle Lindsay. My father was Captain Sir John Lindsay, my uncle the Earl of Mansfield.”
“I have only been as far as Spain,” he confessed, his voice still low. “You must have a great deal of pride in your father.”
“Indeed,” she agreed. “I have often wished to see the West Indies. I was born there, but brought back to England as is my birthright, though some would say I should have been left there.” Glancing up at him, she tried to gage his reaction.
They could suddenly hear movement on the other side of the temple and Colonel Fitzwilliam quickly took hold of her waist, pulling her against him and moving them backward toward the marble wall. She breathed in his scent, heavy with rain water, as they crouched in the shadows.
When the danger had passed, however, he did not release her. She thought she felt his face being pressed against her hair, and she wondered at it. At twenty years of age, she was unused to the ways of men. She only had experience with Mr. Oliver Ashford that one evening at Kenwood. Elizabeth was set to come out in a few weeks, this brief respite given to the sister-cousins before they were to go to London, and then onto their future lives.
Dido often felt a bleak sense of humbling reality when she thought of what awaited her after London, of how she was to take up running the household now that Lady Mary was too old, how Papa thought she could never make a match that would uphold her position. However, in this brief moment while she was being held by a man, she thought for the briefest of moments what it would be like to be held by a man such as this more than just when hiding from a young lady of consequence in the rain.
As if in reluctance, the hand around her waist let her go, but she did not move. Dido stood there, pressed against Colonel Fitzwilliam as the rain continued to fall, and when it finally let up they heard the lady move away in the direction of the village.
The Colonel breathing out against her ear, Dido similarly realized that she had been holding her breath. At length she stepped away. Turning, she curtseyed to Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I thank you,” she told him, her voice no longer hushed, “for the care you took in concealing me.”
“It was of no trouble as I sought also to conceal myself,” he murmured. “You are wet. Come up to Rosings to dry yourself. Perhaps my cousin Anne de Bourg can loan you a gown, a towel perhaps can dry your hair.”
“I would not wish to be an inconvenience,” she murmured.
“No inconvenience,” he promised as he took a step toward her and boldly took her hand. “You are a lady of consequence.”
“I am a lady who is barely acceptable in society,” she argued. “I am not permitted even to dine with my family—” Her eyes searched the pavement beneath her feet at such an admission. “Certainly not with our hosts.”
“None of that here,” he promised kindly.
“I must beg to return,” she murmured, letting her fingers slip from his and then she moved toward the village, following unconsciously in Elizabeth Bennet’s footsteps.
When she found the carriage again, she allowed the coach driver to open the door for her. She paused and glanced at him before picking up her wet silks and entering the carriage.
She thought she would never see Colonel Fitzwilliam again.
Bette made a pet of her as soon as she entered Northmoor. She was hurried to a warm bath and was made to recount exactly what happened. “I found myself at a Grecian temple,” she related, “and listened to the most peculiar proposal of marriage while hiding. I would not have accepted it.”
“Really?” Bette asked. “Whyever not?”
“Apparently this ‘Mr. Darcy’ had some very strong objections to ‘Miss Bennet’, had insulted a friend of hers grossly and had separated her sister from a suitor. It was not the most edifying of conversations.”
“Mr. Darcy,” she murmured. “I believe he is an eligible bachelor. Not as eligible as Mr. James, of course,” now she colored, “or as handsome as Mr. Oliver, but eligible nonetheless.”
“You would not marry without a title, I think,” she breathed. “No, I know you, Bette. You are one day to be Lady Elizabeth Murray and you do not forget it for a moment.”
“No,” Elizabeth agreed. “Perhaps not.”
Three days passed of polite civility and the anticipation of soon going to Town. Dido did not venture to go to Rosings again and was surprised when she was in the Drawing Room and Colonel Fitzwilliam was announced. She paused and then stood with her Aunt Mary who was attending her, and the gentleman immediately entered.
He gallantly came and kissed her hand, much to her astonishment and pleasure, before she introduced her aunt.
The three of them sat down and he looked at the two ladies with the same austere expression he usually carried.
“I am glad you are still in the country,” he admitted. “I was afraid when I did not find you wandering the trails of Rosings again that you had left.”
“No,” she answered with a blush. “I was afraid of meeting our friends and recognizing them by their voices and then not knowing what to say.”
“Darcy, my cousin,” he responded conversationally, “has quit the country for London. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is staying in Hunsford with her friend, Mrs. Collins, the new vicar’s wife. I don’t know of her plans.”
“And you remain?” she questioned.
“Yes. I had planned to leave with Darcy, but there were other inducements to keep me here.” He paused, looking directly at her, and Dido couldn’t help but blush at his words.
“We—” she swallowed. “We go to London in a few days. Bette, Miss Elizabeth Murray, my cousin, is coming out this season.” She looked away. “She is looking forward to it with much anticipation.”
“And you, Miss Lindsay? You are not to enter society with your cousin?”
Startled by the question, Dido looked at him in confusion. “No,” she answered cautiously. “I am to keep house for my uncle.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at her probingly. “I hope, Miss Lindsay, your uncle will allow me to call on you in London.”
Dido couldn’t help but remember the feel of being pressed against him in the Grecian temple and color flooded her cheeks as she looked down at her hands. “I’m certain you would have to apply to Lord Mansfield,” she murmured. Then she thought a moment, “Or Lady Mansfield.” Turning to her aunt, she asked, “Aunt Mary?”
Taking the hint, Lady Mary got up and rang a bell. A servant entered and was dispatched to fetch Mama, all the while Colonel Fitzwilliam looked openly at Dido while she was catching glances at him. He began a conversation on Shakespeare, which she soon fell into, surprising him when she stated she preferred Richard III of all his plays and not one of the romances.
When Lady Mansfield appeared, Colonel Fitzwilliam turned and bowed to her and Dido made the introductions. “Mama,” she greeted, “may I present Colonel Fitzwilliam, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock. Colonel, my aunt, the Countess of Mansfield.”
“Colonel,” she greeted. “I hope my niece has been entertaining you sufficiently. I did not know we had a visitor.”
“I encountered her at Rosings a few days ago,” he admitted, “and came to call on her. I was hoping, Countess, that you would allow me to call on Miss Lindsay when she was in London. I will be there with many other commanding officers and while not actively partaking in the season, I should like to see more of your niece.”
Mama, a little startled, looked at Dido for a long moment. “You, of course, have my permission,” she said after a long moment. From the folds of her skirt, she took out a calling card and presented it to him. “We are at home Tuesdays.”
“Thank you, Madam,” he said with a bow of his head.
“Perhaps I shall hear you play, by and by, Miss Lindsay,” he suggested.
She blushed again.
“If I may say so,” Mama said, “she had a most devoted governess.”
It was then that Elizabeth came in. “Mama?” she called, opening the door and stopping when she saw the Colonel. Curtseying, she blushed. “Forgive me. I did not realize we had a guest. Mama, a letter from Lady Ashford.”
“Thank you, darling,” she said, reaching for it. “I shall read it presently. Colonel Fitzwilliam, the second of my two nieces, Miss Elizabeth Murray.”
“Madam,” he greeted, nodding his head as she came to sit by Dido.
Politely, she asked, “Are you a resident of the neighborhood, Colonel? It is only we have not made many acquaintances, which I know has been sorely felt by Dido. She’s taken to long walks and traveling through the neighboring towns. Kenwood always seemed large enough for her but she has wished for more society now that we have left its confines.”
His eyes sparkled as they alighted on Dido once again.
“No,” he told her pleasantly. “I am visiting my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg, as I do every year. It was on one of these walks that I met Miss Lindsay.”
Bette looked at her, a question in her eyes, and Dido quickly told her, “We met that day in the rain I told you about when you hurried me into the bath.”
“I see,” she answered carefully, “you did not say. However, that day seemed quite exciting in many respects and I did barely let you get a word in when I started talking about the Ashfords.” She smiled sweetly at Colonel Fitzwilliam. “You must forgive my ways. We are as close as sisters, and Dido does rather humor me on occasion.”
“Not at all,” he agreed, a small smile on his face. “I imagine my cousin was the subject of the day.”
“Is—” Bette began, but Dido placed her hand on Bette’s.
Dido immediately took this opportunity to speak. “Have you seen much action, Colonel?”
“A fair bit,” he answered. “I have had enough good fortune not to be injured, however. I also had the privilege of spending Christmas with my family.”
“Do tell us about them,” she pressed. “You have an elder brother, I understand.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “The Viscount.” (This caused Elizabeth’s eyes to light up) “Unfortunately, he is terribly unwell and is unmarried, much to my mother’s displeasure. I have a sister, Anne, named for my aunt.”
Dido glanced at Elizabeth who was clearly eager to ask questions but was refraining from doing so.
“Is she out?” Dido asked.
“This will be her third season. Perhaps your cousin, Miss Murray, will become acquainted with her.”
“I shall do everything in my power to do so,” she agreed with a smile. “My father is the Viscount Stormont although he is abroad with his second wife and son. Perhaps we’ll have something in common.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed noncommittally. He turned back to Dido, “You are aware of my cousin, Darcy. I share guardianship with him of his younger sister, Georgiana. She is too young to be out.”
“How do you find it?” Dido asked, “being guardian to a young charge?”
“Difficult,” he told her plainly. “She is kind and sweet-natured, but has proved willful in the worst situations. I am afraid she lacks judgment.”
“I am sorry for it,” Mama murmured, finally contributing to the conversation. “As aunt to two young ladies, I know how difficult it is to set an example for them. One wishes for them to be self-reliant, but it could so easily tip into self-indulgence and caprice.”
“How well you understand, Countess,” he agreed, bowing to her. “Still, Miss Lindsay, I think I should like you to meet Miss Darcy. You seem to be a young woman of discretion. You perhaps would be a good influence on her.”
“I look forward to it,” she agreed with solemnity, aware that everyone’s eyes were on her and what a great compliment had been paid to her. “I hope I am worthy of this great honor.”
The Colonel did not stay for tea, citing a previous engagement and as soon as Elizabeth spied his carriage leaving through the window, she threw herself into Dido’s arms and squealed. “He is such a marvelous suitor for you!” she declared. “Handsome, a gentleman, an officer, and surely he might one day be a viscount and an earl! To think, Dido! Is he even aware of your fortune?”
“No,” Mama answered as she stood, looking out the window at the retreating carriage. “He is not. Tell me, Dido, how exactly did you meet him?”
“I would not lie to you, Mama,” she answered quietly. “I was wandering Rosings Park when it began to rain and I came across a Grecian temple. I ran to it and sensed another person was there and I did not wish to give offence for coming onto the grounds so I moved to the other side and encountered him. I was going to try and hide from both of them when the young lady on the other side received an offer of marriage and the Colonel and I had to hide from the disastrous proposal and the argument that ensued.”
“Well, ‘tis your good fortune. Let us hope that his family raises no objections.” She kissed Dido’s head and exited the room.
It was with no sorrow that they departed Kent. The London house was beautiful but Dido was distressed that one of the servants—Mabel—was black. She had not forgotten the Zong case and when she was at Vauxhall with Mr. Oliver, she saw John Davinier again. When he pulled her close to him, she felt nothing like when the Colonel had pulled her against him. She had quickly pushed him away and walked away from him, not bothering to find Mr. Oliver after he had spoken such words of reproach against her mother.
She wondered how Colonel Fitzwilliam felt about the subject.
Looking forward to their first Tuesday at home, she picked at her sampler, wearing her purple silk, her chain of pearls around her neck, and looked out into the street every other moment.
Then they were announced.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy.”
She put her sampler to the side and immediately stood with a smile on her face. Elizabeth, too, stood along with Lady Mansfield.
“Lady Mansfield,” Colonel Fitzwilliam greeted first, before he went to Dido and kissed her hand, nodding to Elizabeth who took it in stride. “May I present my cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy?”
He looked about him coolly, clearly handsome but with a sense of superiority about him. His eyes lingered on Dido and the Colonel, who were sitting beside one another, before he took a seat himself off to the side. He was clearly the brooding type as he never said a word to anyone except as a quick and rude response.
“He’s usually like this,” the Colonel apologized to Dido quietly, “however, it’s gotten worse since he left Hunsford.”
She looked over in sympathy before turning to the Colonel. “How is your brother?” she asked in a conversational voice so as to include everyone.
“Still no better,” he responded. “He spends his time in Derbyshire, of course.”
“Of course,” she responded.
“Tell me, Miss Lindsay, what occupies you now?”
She blushed, but then met his eyes fearlessly. “The Zong case. I do not discuss it with Papa, of course, but my own mother was a slave, so I feel it keenly.”
“Of course,” he offered. “It seems to be shaking England at this particular moment.”
Darcy was looking at her with disdain. “Of course that’s all she thinks about. She’s a mulatto.”
The Colonel looked up. “If you can’t be civil, you shouldn’t have come.”
“You did not tell me that we were visiting a former slave.” His words were harsh, but perhaps they were meant to be.
Dido looked up in shock and then glanced at her Mama, who was equally as displeased. “You are, of course, welcome in my house, Mr. Darcy. I ask, however, that you be civil to my niece. She has not nor will ever be a slave.”
He looked at her for a long moment and bowed his head before remaining silent again.
Upset, Dido turned back to the Colonel, trying to hide the tears in her eyes. “I—forgive me—what were you saying?”
“Music,” he decided on. “I understand you are quite proficient. Will you not play for us?”
“If you like,” she decided, getting up along with her Mama and leading him to the music room. Dido noticed that Darcy followed, probably to find fault with her, and sat down at the instrument. After taking a fortifying breath, she played a difficult piece by Hadyn to the astonishment of even Mr. Darcy and was greeted with several applause when she was finished.
She was lifted out of her seat by Colonel Fitzwilliam whose eyes were smiling at her, and she breathed out in relief that she had not fumbled due to her emotional distress.
On Thursday, Elizabeth had gone with Mama to pay a call on the Ashfords. Dido hadn’t wanted to go, not liking the attentions of Mr. Oliver, when Mr. Darcy was announced—without his cousin. She took a deep breath and stood, uncertain quite what to do.
“Mr. Darcy,” she breathed. “If you were looking for Miss Murray she is not at home today.”
“I was not,” he disagreed, taking the seat she offered him. “I was looking for you.” He stared at her a long moment. “What do you want with Fitzwilliam?”
“The Colonel?” she asked after a moment. “I do not believe that is any of your concern, Mr. Darcy. I do not ask your concern with young ladies in general.”
“He wishes to introduce you to my sister. It is every bit my concern.”
Dido paused for a moment and looked at him. “I wish no ill to your sister,” she placated. “Your cousin did express that desire to me and I was honored by such an attention. I understand that along with yourself, she is his ward. He thought I might be a steadying influence on her, though I confess I do not know her past. I am certain that she is a credit to both of you.”
Darcy looked down at his hat, which he was holding above his knees. “I want you nowhere near her.”
“Is it because of the color of my skin?” she asked him plainly. “How liberal of you.”
“Your father clearly made rash decisions, which could easily be inherited by his daughter. I do not want such influences on her.”
She took a deep breath and for a moment contemplated what to say. “My father, Captain Sir John Lindsay, genuinely loved my mother. He also loved me enough to bring me from the West Indies to England, to be brought up as a gentlelady. I don’t think that many Englishmen can say that about their wives or their children. None can claim or prove that kind of devotion. That love runs through my veins. I often counsel my cousin, Miss Murray, never to marry for love because she will end the fool or end up broken hearted, but I have the advantage over her: I have a fortune. I need not marry at all if I choose not to. If and when I marry, it will be for the love my father had for my mother, for the love he had for me. I don’t think that sort of decision is rash. I think it is laudable, Mr. Darcy.”
“Fortune?” he asked carefully.
Dido thought it typical that he narrowed in on that one aspect of her entire speech. “I will not repeat myself,” she told him plainly.
“My cousin is a younger son, though with an ill elder brother. What sort of fortune?”
“Apply to my uncle. Perhaps he will tell you,” she suggested. “I think it is vulgar to speak specifics about wealth.—I am currently being chased for my fortune by a man other than Colonel Fitzwilliam. I appreciate not being chased for it for once.”
This certainly turned his head. “You have other suitors?”
“Do not look surprised. Wealth makes people forget the origins of my birth, Mr. Darcy. You clearly seem to be forgetting it at this very moment.”
She stood to go but he grabbed her by the wrist, halting her. “I know you were at the temple that day.”
Looking over at him, she queried, “How can you possibly know that?”
“Because I saw you as I was approaching. You were with Richard. I chose to ignore you because I was so determined to make Elizabeth Bennet my wife. I have appreciated that you have been gracious enough not to mention it.”
She nodded to him once before sweeping from the room.
Darcy was kinder to her the next time they met. Colonel Fitzwilliam had invited Lady Mansfield and Dido to tea at Darcy House where they were to meet Miss Georgiana Darcy. At the last moment, a separate invitation was sent out to Elizabeth Murray, who had been gratified.
Darcy had immediately removed with Elizabeth and Mama, making Dido wonder a little, while the Colonel introduced Dido to Georgiana. “Good day,” Georgiana greeted, a little shyly. She was a sweet girl, in simple cottons, her hair up in curls. “I understand my Cousin Richard thinks very highly of you.”
“As I do him,” she agreed, taking the cup of tea that was offered to her.
Georgiana leaned slightly toward them and asked, “Is that the Elizabeth he writes so much about?”
Dido honestly had no idea how to answer.
Colonel Fitzwilliam just laughed. “I’m afraid not, Georgie. Though, I think he finds her company congenial, at least at the present.”
“Does he?” Dido asked, looking over. “How perfectly marvelous.” James Ashford had somehow become distant over the past few days for reasons unknown to Dido and she was glad that someone had taken an interest in Elizabeth. Darcy may be taciturn and generally unlikable, but he did have ten thousand a year and was cousin to the Colonel. That surely was something to recommend him as Dido’s fortune now made her respectable in his eyes.
“He was the one,” the Colonel offered, “who sent the last minute invitation.” Then he looked at Dido. “I thought you could talk to Miss Darcy about love.”
“Love?” she asked. “I only know of the love between my mother and father.”
“Then speak on that.”
“Mama was a slave. She never had a choice, I suppose, but Papa loved her. He loved her so much that he bought her freedom and set her up in a cottage where they lived together for a year. I was born there and my father took me from the West Indies to England, where I was brought up to be a gentlewoman because he loved me so much.”
“She was raised in society because of love,” the Colonel explained. “Not denigrated by it.”
“True,” she admitted. “I am now the beloved grandniece of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. He is my Papa in every way.”
Tears formed in Georgiana’s eyes and Dido quickly set aside her cup and embraced the young girl. “There is nothing to cry over,” she promised. “Nothing at all.”
“But I almost threw it all away—the thirty thousand pounds!”
Dido looked at the Colonel askance, but said nothing. Her fortune was in the five percents, making her total worth forty thousand pounds. She was richer than this girl in her arms, she realized.
When Georgiana finally pulled away, it was with a sniffle. “I almost married him.”
“Who?” Dido asked in confusion.
Still, this meant nothing to her and she looked up at the Colonel. He laid a hand on Georgiana’s arm in support, but she instantly quieted. “Forgive me, Miss Lindsay.”
A little confused, she looked between the two cousins. “There is nothing to forgive.”
Georgiana quieted after that for several long minutes until she asked Dido to play the piano forte with her. Dido smiled and naturally agreed. The two young women sat at the piano, picking out duets, before Georgiana realized, “You must want to dance!—Cousin Richard, do ask Miss Lindsay to dance!”
“That is not necessary,” Dido demurred, afraid of looking into the Colonel’s eyes.
“Nonsense,” he disagreed, coming toward her and offering his hand. “When will I ever get the chance as you are not out in society?—Darcy, Miss Murray, say you will complete our set.”
Dido saw Elizabeth blush, but she looked toward Mr. Darcy with anticipation and he offered his hand readily.
Georgiana looked pleased with herself as she chose a dance and the partners lined up across from one another. Dido immediately recognized it as Purcell as she moved around her partner, never touching, their eyes locked, and she could not help but think how handsome the Colonel was. When their bare hands touched as she was not wearing the long gloves that a lady would to a ball, she felt a frisson run through her skin, and she glanced over at him to see that he was appraising her silently.
“Do you often dance, Colonel?” she murmured so as not to disturb Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s conversation on the merits of London.
“No,” he told her solemnly. “I don’t believe I’ve danced for many a year.”
“I am honored then,” she said with a small smile. “However, I may have your ward to thank.”
He leaned in when they were dancing around each other again, changing places in the dance. “I asked her to play a dance.”
Dido blushed at the implications. Their hands finally met as they turned around each other and she finally whispered, “What are your cousin’s intentions?”
“I know not,” he answered honestly. “He frankly astounds me.”
The dancing, however, did not end with the Purcell. Soon there was much revelry and even the dour Mr. Darcy was smiling ever so little. When Mama stood after one particular dance and declared that the young ladies must prepare for dinner, giving them a knowing look, the gentlemen said their goodbyes with Georgiana coming up to them with a small smile of her own.
“Next time you shall dance,” Dido promised her, but she demurred.
“No, I do not care for dancing. I enjoy seeing you and Cousin Richard, however.”
The Colonel bowed over her hand and Dido blushed as she was led out of the room by a servant, her cloak and bonnet then fetched for her before she left for the afternoon.
“Could you love such a man?” Elizabeth asked as they entered their carriage. “It is clear that Miss Darcy arranged the dancing for you and Colonel Fitzwilliam. I would not be surprised if he paid his addresses.”
Dido looked at Mama for a moment before turning back to Elizabeth. “Would the Earl of Matlock allow it? The Colonel is quite independent but with his brother so ill—he may be forced to consider his family.”
“I think,” Mama stated, “that I shall inquire of Colonel Fitzwilliam if either of his excellent parents will soon be in London and, if so, I shall invite them to tea. We shall see this remedied, Dido. Your Papa will be made to see reason if a match is to be made and I will see you as Mrs. Richard Fitzwilliam if not the next Countess of Matlock. Nothing would make me happier.”
“And me, Mama,” Elizabeth stated, looking over. “I am so terribly worried about Mr. James. He has not made his addresses—and Mr. Darcy is being attentive although sometimes so aloof.”
“I have made inquiries,” Mama stated, looking at her other niece. “Mr. Darcy is the richest man in Derbyshire and his mother was the Earl of Matlock’s sister, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam. It would not go awry if his wife were the Lady Elizabeth Murray. It would be a great match. You would be of the first circles.”
“Would I, Mama?” she asked a little breathlessly. “It’s only—Mr. James—”
“Wait for no man,” Mama counseled. “It will do you no credit. Mr. Darcy may be taciturn but that may be his character. You would bring vivacity to his family and his estate. You would enjoy a place in society that not even James Ashford could better. Think on that, Bette.”
She turned silent and Dido took her hand and held it in sisterly affection.
When they were alone, Dido looked at herself in the mirror several long moments and took down her hair before removing the pearls from around her neck. “Could a man such as him find me beautiful?” she wondered to herself.
“Yes,” Elizabeth whispered in her ear as she came up to Dido.
Dido hadn’t even realized she was in the room.
“I saw the way he was looking at you. It was as if he had found something wondrous, an angel perhaps. It was the way I have always dreamt a man would look at me, how I wish Mr. James would look at me, but never has.” She sighed and sat down in the chair next to Dido. “Tell me of the lady Mr. Darcy asked to marry him.”
“I—” Dido began, turning to her sister-cousin. “I never saw her. She was certainly strong-willed and disliked him a great deal. I don’t believe he was aware of her disregard.”
“Then I will have to show him of my regard,” Elizabeth decided. “The more I consider the match, the more I find it favorable, despite his lack of title.” She nodded her head as if making a decision.
“His heart is wounded, Bette,” Dido warned. “You do not wish to take advantage.”
“No,” she agreed. “But I shall be cheerful and I shall be kind.” She stood behind Dido and their eyes locked in the mirror. “Now, let me help you out of this dress.”
The sister-cousins were out when Mr. Oliver Ashford called to pay his addresses to Dido. Colonel Fitzwilliam had arrived a half hour earlier and asked Dido if she would care to take the air with him in Hyde Park with Lady Mary as chaperone and Mama saw this as the perfect opportunity for Elizabeth to call on Georgiana Darcy, with the hope that her brother would be at home (which, according to the Colonel’s information, he believed was the case).
Dido walked on the Colonel’s arm, Aunt Mary several steps behind them with her parasol, and she looked about at the other couples and groups, along with the equestrians and those riding in carriages. “Forgive me, Colonel,” she began as she looked about from beneath her pink parasol. “Is it my imagination or are many people regarding us?”
“It is not your imagination,” he answered in his cool voice which held little emotion, but his eyes looked down at her adoringly. “There is much speculation that I will soon become the Viscount of Blakewell. I also have never escorted a lady in Hyde Park.”
“It is not because–?” she asked, letting the question hang.
He gazed down again, never stopping their slow trek. “I will not pretend ignorance. You have a certain reputation as the Lord Chief Justice’s niece. This is your first appearance, I understand, in greater society. People are bound to be curious.”
She pulled herself closer to him and he pressed his hand over hers.
“Do not be frightened. I will not let anything happen to you,” he promised her as they walked toward a clump of trees.
After several minutes of silence, she finally opened: “Tell me of your aunt, the one who resides at Rosings. It is such a beautiful estate. You must enjoy visiting.”
“Aunt Catherine is my father’s eldest sister,” he told her after a long moment. “She is a very opinionated woman. Darcy and I go and visit her as is due to her and to see how our Cousin Anne is. Anne, unfortunately, has a sickly constitution.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Dido murmured. “She must take great comfort in your annual visit, however.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed. “She says little, reads little, she does not play. She sits and sniffs into her handkerchief and nods when Aunt Catherine speaks. Unfortunately, my aunt wishes her to marry Darcy to unite both of the estates. Darcy ignores her, of course, and Anne, well, she has never seemed inclined—”
“No, it seems your cousin acts of his own accord when it comes to his future happiness,” she agreed. She hesitated for a moment, but said no more.
The Colonel looked down for her, waiting for her to continue, but she looked steadily forward, her hand still pressed against his arm as she took in those around her.
“You wish to ask about Miss Bennet.” His voice was low, never hinting at an emotion.
“I would never presume—” she countered as her dark eyes turned to his.
He sighed and his thumb briefly stroked her hand. “I hope you know, Miss Lindsay, that my intentions are serious.” (her breath hitched) “I wish for you to ask.”
“It is a matter of your cousin’s privacy.”
“It is a matter of the first moments we met. It is a matter of your cousin and her potential interest in my cousin and his in her.”
This certainly caused her to be silent for a moment and she paused, thinking for a long moment.
“I do not regret how we met,” she told him. “I do not think we ever would have met in a drawing room. The only other gentlemen I am acquainted with were guests of my uncle, Lord Mansfield, and I was permitted to join the guests after dinner. It was only acceptable then because there was less formality to the proceedings and, I daresay, because I am an heiress.”
This, clearly, surprised the Colonel. “I did not know,” he murmured. “I was prepared to take you with nothing to your name.”
“You did not—?” she murmured. “Your cousin did not tell you? I—I am flattered. I assumed you would have somehow been informed.”
He shook his head, and then continued. “I also would not relegate you to the drawing room. As my wife, if such a happy event comes to pass, you would grace my table.”
Feeling a little light headed, she grasped his arm more firmly before nodding distractedly. Turning back to the original topic of conversation, she murmured, “There is something almost romantic about being caught in a storm together. Call it a flight of fancy—”
“No,” he agreed. “You were quite beautiful with your hair dripping wet and your silks drenched. You made quite the heroine in a Mrs. Radcliff novel.”
Surprised, she asked, “Have you read?”
“I have a ward, do I not? Either Darcy or I must read the books she wishes to in order to make certain they are appropriate.”
Dido laughed a little. “Tell me of Miss Bennet, then, if you desire.”
“She is the cousin of the parson and the dear friend of his wife,” he began. “She is not a particularly beautiful woman, I must confess. Your cousin Miss Murray is much more striking. If my cousin is not a simpleton, she will make a far better Mrs. Darcy.”
“I think you will find,” Dido murmured, “that upon our uncle’s death, she will be Lady Elizabeth.”
The Colonel looked pleasantly surprised before they continued on their walk.
“Miss Bennet is witty and likes to tease. Her jests can be a little pointed at times,” he concluded. “I always enjoy a good laugh at Darcy’s expense, I will allow, though I never imagined he would.”
“Indeed. I’m afraid Bette is too good natured for that. She’ll find the good in almost any situation. Perhaps that is a fault, but I cannot help but love her for it.”
He smiled down at her. “I was surprised Darcy made his addresses. No, I think your cousin far more suited. She will be a better match for Georgiana. I am doing my best to help the couple.”
“As am I,” she agreed. “If he is more inclined to dancing, it may help his cause. Elizabeth loves to dance.”
“You will not find him with the young bucks paying court in ballrooms,” the Colonel apologized. “Then again, you shan’t find me there either.”
“Nor I,” she agreed. “I am alone in the drawing room or walking with you at your invitation.” She smiled up at him. “Or perhaps arguing with Papa’s pupil—” She stopped dead in her tracks. “Mr. Davinier.”
He was standing quite near them, taking in the couple, and Aunt Mary was now coming to stand beside Dido.
“Mr. Davinier,” she greeted. “We did not know you were in London.”
He bowed. “Lady Mary. I am here for the Zong case.”
“Indeed,” she agreed, tilting her parasol back. “I did not know the law still occupied your time.” Ignoring him, she then turned to the Colonel. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, might I trouble you to cut short your walk and perhaps we might go for some refreshment at a coffee house? I’m afraid my legs are not what they used to be and I do not wish for Miss Lindsay to catch too much sun.”
The Colonel looked at Dido for a moment, her eyes sparkling at him, and he bowed toward Lady Mary. “Of course. Perhaps you would care to walk on my arm as we cut over to the east?”
Dido had released his arm and was looking at Mr. Davinier in confusion who was staring directly back at her.
Seeing this, the Colonel offered his arm to her once again, Aunt Mary having already claimed the one that had been free. “Miss Lindsay?”
This shook her from her thoughts and she smiled up at him. “Colonel,” she agreed, taking his arm. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Davinier.” Then, the three of them walked off toward a coffee shop, Mr. Davinier staring at them from his place in the park.
“Miss Lindsay!” he called out and she paused, looking behind her. “Those of us who are of a like mind commune in Kentish town most afternoons.”
Dido stood there, a little confused, for a moment and then nodded, before turning back to the Colonel and continuing onward.
When they were sitting at coffee, the Colonel looked at Dido perceptively. “You’re thinking of the Zong case. Tell me how I may be of assistance.”
Uncertain how much she should say, Dido finally admitted, “I am afraid.” Shaking herself, she admitted, “I know I should not be. However, I just hear them crying out in fright as they were plunged into the ocean.”
“That will never be your fate,” he promised her. “I would never let that happen.”
She turned her dark eyes to him. “Men are cruel. To do that to others—all my life I have known I was less despite what Papa has done for me,” she whispered so Aunt Mary could not hear.
Carefully, he took her hand under the table. “You are not less in my eyes,” he promised. Then, taking a deep breath, he asked, “Miss Lindsay, will you be at home tomorrow, at approximately ten in the morning?”
Her breath hitched and she nodded. “I will be certain to inform Mama.”
Dido was in a daze all the way home. She was barely aware of walking on the Colonel’s arm or of him kissing her hand as he left her in her drawing room. As soon as he was gone, she was running through the house to find her beloved mama and threw herself in her arms. “He’s coming tomorrow at ten,” she said in a rush. “He wanted to make certain I would be home.” Pulling away, she looked into Lady Mansfield’s eyes. “Is it? Is he? Will he? Mama!”
“Oh my darling!” she enthused, running a hand down her cheek. “Let us not get ahead of ourselves, but I shall order a tea for just after ten.”
Elizabeth then took her hands and kissed both of her cheeks. “To think,” she murmured. “You, to be the wife of a Colonel! ‘Tis even better than being the wife of a Navy Captain!”
“To be fair,” she breathed, “the Colonel is at least fifteen years older than Mr. Oliver.”
“Still, a man of such distinction.”
Dido could hardly sleep that night, and it was barely dawn when there was a knock on the door. She was startled when Mama came in and bundled her up in a robe and told her that the Colonel was there to see her. She rushed down the stairs to find him in the drawing room with Papa, and he was dressed all in black, his face somber.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking between the two men. “Has something happened?”
“I received an express not an hour ago,” the Colonel stated solemnly, “that my brother is dead. I leave within the hour for Derbyshire.”
She looked at him in shock and then felt her heart stop for a moment. Swallowing, she took a step forward before halting. “Colonel, I grieve with you. I would be lost without Bette. I cannot imagine how you must be feeling.”
“Lord Mansfield,” he asked, turning toward Papa, who nodded to him once before leaving the two of them alone.
As soon as the door was shut, the Colonel took two quick strides and embraced her, burying his face in her hair. “Oh my darling,” he whispered desperately. “I am not a man of speeches. I am a military man and all I know is giving orders and the smell of death. However, say you will be my wife, that you will help me in this strange new life I never thought would be mine.”
“Your parents will not mind?” she asked softly as she reached her hand into his hair, pulling him closer to her. “They will not be offended that your Viscountess is a Lady Mulatto?”
“What do I care for them?” he asked. “I purchased my commission on loans that I myself made, I never received aid from them. I haven’t been to Matlock in nearly twelve years, Dido. I will marry whom I like—and I chose you that afternoon in the rain when I pulled you close to me and realized I didn’t want to let you go.”
She smiled against his neck, tears in her eyes, and she whispered, “Yes, Richard. I will marry you.”
He pulled away, his dark blue eyes searching hers, and she smiled at him, tears still in her eyes. He let her go for all of a moment as he fumbled in his waistcoat for a small jewelry box where he produced a ring with a small blue stone that he slipped on her finger. “It was all I could afford—before—” he apologized, but she reached up and kissed him.
“I don’t care. Why should I care for such things? It is honest and true—we are honest and true—and we won’t let anything change that.”
“No,” he promised, wiping a tear as it fell from the corner of her eye. “I won’t let them change us.” He took both of her hands in his and kissed them. “I will write. You can find me at Matlock Estate in Derbyshire. I must go before the sun rises. Forgive me, Dido, darling.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” she murmured.
“I will place an announcement in The Times,” he promised as she walked him to the door and he opened it. “And then a quiet wedding when I’m in half-mourning in a year. Can you wait that long?”
Papa was waiting with Mama, each holding a candle, but Dido was looking only at the Colonel.
“I can wait,” she promised. “Just say you will be our guest at Kenwood with Papa’s permission.”
Lord Mansfield looked between the two of them. “Of course the Viscount has my permission. He is to be a member of the family.”
“I will have Darcy invite you to Pemberley, which is only a day’s ride from Matlock,” he promised as Dido walked him toward the front door, her guardians giving them their space. “I could not do without you. Goodbye, my love.”
Her eyes softened. “Goodbye, my darling.”
And then he was gone into the half-light.
Mama was instantly upon her, congratulating her and admiring the simplicity of the ring. Elizabeth had awakened and was apprised of the proceedings. The two cousins hugged each other before going back up to bed where they talked until it was finally time to get up.
Although it wasn’t their day to stay at home, the Darcys arrived shortly after breakfast to wish the bride well. Darcy stared at her a good deal from his place beside Elizabeth who smiled at him but let him be his taciturn self while she entered conversation with Dido and Georgiana.
“I went with him yesterday,” Darcy interrupted, looking at Dido, “to pick out the ring. I hope you like the stone. It was of much debate.”
“I do like it, yes,” she agreed, looking down at it. “I don’t often wear blue because of my complexion, but I enjoy how it catches the light.”
He seemed satisfied with this answer. Surprisingly, he then turned to Elizabeth. “You favor the color.”
“Indeed, Mr. Darcy,” she agreed. “I believe I wore blue when we danced at Darcy House.”
“I remember it quite clearly,” he remarked to himself. “I thought it flattered your eyes.”
During the rest of the season, however, he did not make his addresses to Bette, although he was a not infrequent visitor to Murray House. Georgiana whispered to Dido that he had promised “Cousin Richard” that he would look after her, but it was clear that he had more than a begrudging fondness for Elizabeth.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth did not accept either of the two offers of marriage that she received that season. One she declared was ridiculous and the other, well, she never gave a reason. Dido thought that she was perhaps waiting for Darcy who had not exactly raised expectations, but had certainly caused for speculation to arise in the Murray household.
When an invitation was dispatched to the cousins to visit Pemberley that summer as the particular guests of Georgiana, they gladly accepted. Aunt Mary was to accompany them and they were to arrive a few days before Miss Darcy and were on the lawn when Darcy himself arrived on a horse from London.
“Doesn’t he look decidedly masculine?” Elizabeth asked Dido quietly as they sat under a tree and, to their astonishment, watched him dive into a lake.
Aunt Mary clapped her hands. “Ladies,” she stated. “Perhaps it is best if we went inside.”
“No,” Dido begged, which was unlike her. “It seems like Mrs. Reynolds is giving a tour. I do not wish to be made an item of interest.”
“You think too little of yourself,” Aunt Mary stated. “Come, let us give Mr. Darcy his privacy. He obviously has forgotten that we arrived yesterday or believes himself to be alone on the grounds.”
Elizabeth, however, was having none of it. She stood up and decidedly walked over to Mr. Darcy’s horse and seemed to be picking up his jacket from the ground.
Dido watched with interest as Mr. Darcy emerged from the lake, not noticing her at first, only to pause when his eyes landed on her as she held out his coat. Elizabeth curtseyed to him and seemed to be saying something to him and a brief conversation ensued.
That’s when Dido noticed them—the people who were taking the tour had now come out onto the lawn. Getting up quickly, she rushed toward Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and without so much as a greeting interrupted them. “Forgive me. The people who are touring the house are now on the lawn. I thought you might wish to hide, Mr. Darcy.”
In alarm, he looked over his shoulder and clearly made out the figures on the other side of the lake.
“Perhaps if you put on your coat,” Elizabeth suggested, “however uncomfortable that is, and your boots, and sit at our picnic, they’ll give us a wide berth. Never mind about Aunt Mary’s sensibilities.” Without any nonsense, Elizabeth held open the coat again and Darcy, after a moment, placed his arms into it. It was the work of a few moments to make him look presentable to an undiscerning eye and to lead his horse over to the picnic the three ladies were enjoying. “We are hiding Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth explained as she took her seat. “I must confess, I dislike it when people come to tour Kenwood House. One must always be careful what rooms one goes into.”
“True,” Aunt Mary agreed. “Of course, there are the private rooms the housekeeper knows not to go into. Good day, Mr. Darcy. You have a beautiful estate.”
“I daresay Dido finds Rosings Park more beautiful, but then again that is where she met Lord Blakewell,” Elizabeth lightly teased. “What a story you shall have to tell your children, Dido.”
Looking down and blushing, Dido then met her cousin’s eye. “Indeed. I’m certain you will have your own story, Bette.” Her eyes went to the figures on the lawn and she noticed that one was coming dangerously close to them. A figure, farther off, called out, “Lizzy Bennet! Do not go out of sight no matter how beautiful the grounds!” She felt Mr. Darcy stiffen beside her and she looked over at him. “I shall put this to rights,” she murmured.
She stood and smoothed out her gown before she indicated that Bette should come with her. When they were far enough away, she murmured, “She is the lady he proposed marriage to.”
Elizabeth looked at her in shock, but merely nodded her head.
Approaching Miss Bennet casually, as if they were going for a walk, Dido greeted, “Good day. Are you enjoying the grounds?”
The girl, who was tall with ash brown hair and an unfortunate fringe, looked over at them and startled.
“Forgive us,” Elizabeth stated kindly. “We are guests of Mr. Darcy. My cousin, Miss Lindsay, is to be married to his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the Viscount of Blakewell. Mr. Darcy and his family have been so welcoming. Are you taking a tour of the house?”
Nodding hesitantly, Miss Bennet said nothing.
“I see,” Dido murmured. “The family just arrived home. The Colonel arrives tomorrow, of course, but could we perhaps see you to your carriage? There will be a great deal of unpacking, you understand.”
“Mr. Darcy is here?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed. Then, daringly, she added, “We expect an announcement any day.” She didn’t even blush. She just looked at Miss Bennet directly and, well, caused Miss Bennet to blush instead.
“I’m certain I can find my way back. Please assure Mr. Darcy that I wish him every happiness.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth demurred.
The two cousins stayed and watched until the party met up and reentered their carriage before turning back to their picnic.
“The only way to get her to go,” Elizabeth apologized, “was to imply that you were soon to make a happy announcement, Mr. Darcy.”
He looked at her for a moment, but did not comment. He took a bite of his sandwich before kissing her hand and then Dido’s before standing and taking the reins of his horse. “I trust I will see you ladies for dinner.”
“Undoubtedly, Mr. Darcy,” Aunt Mary agreed.
They watched him go, and then Dido smirked and looked at Elizabeth. “We both know you didn’t have to tell her about an announcement that was soon to be made.”
“I didn’t want her to think she had a chance,” she answered airily. “I have put a great deal of time into Mr. Darcy, I am the particular friend of his sister, and my sister-cousin is marrying his cousin. What could be more perfect?”
“What indeed?” Aunt Mary agreed. “I promised to send an express to your papa if Mr. Darcy makes his intentions known. To be honest, I cannot imagine what is holding him back.”
“I think,” Dido ventured, “he’s had his heart broken before, and he doesn’t trust his own judgment. I just need to show him how happy the Colonel and I are and we need to highlight Bette to the best of our abilities. More dancing, for instance.” She and Elizabeth giggled.
Of course, Dido was pleased to see that after dinner Darcy asked Elizabeth to play for him and that he turned the pages for her. When it was Dido’s turn, Elizabeth had turned for her instead. It was clear he was more gallant when it came to Elizabeth, which pleased all the women in the room.
The next day, Elizabeth and Darcy were taking a stroll around the garden and Dido was waiting at the window for Colonel Fitzwilliam. She waited for nearly two hours until she saw his large black horse charge up toward the manor house and she rushed out the door immediately and as soon as he was on the ground, she threw herself in his arms.
“It’s been too long, my darling,” he whispered as he leaned back and kissed her deeply. “Oh, if only I could make you my wife now.”
“Richard,” she whispered. “Richard, Richard—”
He picked her up as if she weighed little more than a feather and spun her around and she screeched in delight. When he finally set her down, they looked at each other adoringly before he took her hand in his and led her into the house.
“Where’s Darcy?” he asked.
“With Bette,” she answered. “In the garden.”
He looked at her with his somber blue eyes. “I think perhaps we should leave them there.”
“Elizabeth Bennet is nearby,” she told him solemnly. “She was touring the house yesterday and Bette and I had to get rid of her so that Mr. Darcy wouldn’t have to see her. She must be at Lambton if she hasn’t moved on. Perhaps we should be cautious about going into town.”
“Perhaps you might be right,” he agreed, leaning in for another kiss, which she gladly gave. “I don’t think Darcy wants her near Georgiana.”
“I imagine not,” she whispered, leading him into the drawing room. “There are other Elizabeths to occupy his time.”
He smiled at her, which was rare for him. Then he sobered. “I told my parents about you. At first they were thrilled—an heiress, the niece of the Lord Chief Justice, but then—”
“Of course,” she breathed unhappily. “How could they not be disappointed?”
“I thought—perhaps—if you and your family is willing, we could marry before I am out of mourning in a small ceremony. Let us forget about the Matlock name. It should just be us. I only need Darcy and Georgiana. Who do you need beside Lord and Lady Mansfield, Lady Mary, and Miss Murray?”
“I don’t know what Papa would say,” she murmured. “However, I do not wish to wait the year.”
He took her hands in his and kissed them. “I am wealthy now, Dido. We could rent our own house in London, stay at Pemberley—the possibilities are endless—”
“But it’s your home—”
“It really hasn’t been home since I left for Eton,” he told her honestly. He cupped her face. “This is home, Dido. You are my home.”
She gave him a small smile. “Write Papa,” she suggested. “Tell him I agree with your plan and ask his permission. We could marry at Kenwood this autumn, perhaps.”
“Indeed,” he agreed. “I shall write the letter tonight so it may go out in the morning post.”
It was then that they heard a commotion by the door and Elizabeth came in laughing with a flushed looking Darcy. “Colonel!” she greeted. “I must confess, it is so peculiar seeing you out of regimentals. I did not know you had arrived. I trust you find Dido well?”
“Indeed, Miss Murray.”
“Bette, please,” she insisted. “You are to be my brother, for Dido and I were raised as sisters.”
Darcy looked momentarily astonished and then pleased. “You are called ‘Bette’?”
She looked up at him, clearly perplexed. “I am. Few people call me ‘Elizabeth’ except when they are cross with me or we are in company. You should hear Aunt Mary when she wishes to gain my attention. It is quite fearsome!” She laughed a little to herself. “Dido does not quite have that problem. She’s ‘Dido Belle’ to Papa whenever he wishes to add gravitas to her name.”
“Dido Belle?” the Colonel asked in obvious interest.
“I was named Dido Elizabeth Belle,” she answered with a blush. “Elizabeth is often forgotten, perhaps because of Bette.”
“I had not thought of that,” Elizabeth realized. “You may very well be correct. What do you think, Mr. Darcy? Then again, you do not have an ‘Elizabeth’ in your family, to my knowledge.”
She shared a look with Dido, which it seemed both gentlemen caught.
Clearing her throat, Dido asked, “Who exactly are we to expect tomorrow?”
“My sister,” Darcy told them as he came to sit next to Elizabeth. “My friend Charles Bingley and his sisters, Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, and then Mr. Hurst.”
“Whatever would possess you to invite them?” the Colonel asked with a shake of his head. “I thought Caroline Bingley fancied herself the next Mrs. Darcy.”
“She does,” he answered. “She’s sadly misinformed.”
Elizabeth looked a little uncomfortable, so Dido took up the conversation, “As your future cousin, may I ask how long she has been trying?”
“Goodness!” Dido laughed. “I would have thought the lady would have given up by now.”
“Miss Bingley is nothing if not tenacious,” Darcy told her, his eyes cutting to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was sorting through piano music later on while the Colonel was writing a letter to Lord Mansfield, so Dido approached Mr. Darcy. “Forgive me if I’ve overstepped, but I cannot help but remember what I overheard the day I met the Colonel. Is this Mr. Bingley the same Mr. Bingley who—”
“Yes,” he agreed a little tightly. “I still believe I was correct in separating Miss Bennet’s sister from him. She showed no signs of affection. It is clear, for instance, that you are quite in love with my cousin as he is with you. One need only spy you across a garden when you think you are alone. I would wish that for Bingley. I would wish that for myself.”
“I am sorry, then, that you did not find that with Miss Bennet, though you may in future find it elsewhere.”
“You think I have found it then?”
“I think that there are those who are very honest with their emotions and do not know deceit in the slightest.”
The two turned to look at Elizabeth who had finally chosen a piece of music and was setting it down on the piano and, with a nod, he quickly went to her in order to turn the pages. When he had finished his letter, the Colonel turned to look at her, showing that he knew exactly what they had spoken about, and she merely raised her eyebrow at him. She had nothing to hide. They both knew that they would each promote the match to the best of their abilities.
Dido also knew she had this Caroline Bingley to contend with, even if Miss Bingley was delusional.
Mr. Bingley was everything that was amiable with a shock of ginger hair and stuttering good manners. Caroline Bingley was tall, graceful, with similar hair and shocking blue eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, it seemed, stayed in Scarborough at the last possible moment.
Georgiana was just as sweet as Dido remembered her. It was clear that Miss Bingley meant to make a pet of her, but she was far more often in Elizabeth’s company, often playing with her on the piano forte or amusing herself.
It was on one such occasion when Dido was trying to give Darcy and Elizabeth privacy that they suggested that they all go into Lambton for a few hours. “But of course,” she added, “you have a headache, Bette.”
Elizabeth looked at her in surprise for a moment before she readily agreed. “Yes, it is a middling thing, but I should like to take rest. Do, everyone go on without me.”
Looking at the Colonel for a long moment, Dido tried to get her point across. “Surely,” he finally said, “you cannot stay alone. Darcy, as host, you should see to her every comfort.”
A smile passed over Dido’s lips, although no one was looking over at her anymore.
Darcy clearly looked surprised. “If it would make Miss Murray more comfortable,” he began quietly, turning his gaze to her.
Caroline Bingley looked quite put out.
Fortunately, it was Bingley who decided matters. “Perfect. Georgiana can serve as guide as it is also the village of her upbringing, and Lord Blakewell knows it undoubtedly. Surely he spent many hours there in his youth.”
“Indeed,” he offered, taking Dido’s hand and threading it through his arm. “I have spent many happy hours in Lambton.”
It was while he was showing Dido the horse chestnut tree on the lawn by the smithy to which he and Darcy used to run as boys that Dido saw the approaching figure of Elizabeth Bennet. Hoping that she would pass them by, she looked up at the tree and smiled. “And how much older are you than your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam? I am trying to get a clear picture of you as boys.”
“Seven years older,” he admitted after a long pause. “Blake—forgive me, my brother Francis, was four years older than I was. I would often play with Darcy and his boyhood friend Wickham—”
“The one Georgiana mentioned. The one out to catch her fortune,” she supplied, once again turning to the tree.
“Yes,” he agreed solemnly. “He was the son of my uncle’s steward.”
“How unfortunate,” she decided upon. “Now I shall just have to puzzle out your brother’s age or Mr. Darcy’s to know the age of the man I am to marry.” She smiled at him impishly and he took her hand and kissed it.
“You need only ask.”
“You’ve never asked me,” she wondered, “though you know Bette is in the flush of youth.”
“I imagine her to be a girl of seventeen or eighteen, near Georgiana’s age. You must be close in age, one would guess.”
Swallowing under the intensity of his gaze, she admitted, “I am twenty, Colonel. You forget, I was never to have a season.”
“And I am sorry for it as I know how you love dancing and you deserve to be admired.”
“Few would admire the turn of my face,” she stated sadly as she looked into his, which she had come to love so well. “You are peculiar in that regard.”
“You forget, Madam, I have fought on the fields on Spain where I have seen dark Moorish beauties whom beautiful English roses like Miss Murray cannot compare. I have seen a standard of beauty which far outstrips the paltry offerings of this nation and while I might have seemed indifferent when we met, I was soon enchanted by the turn of your face.”
She looked down, blushing, and taking in the simple stone he had given her when asking for her hand in marriage. Carefully, his hand covered hers on his arm and his fingers entwined with hers, causing her to look up at him with a small smile on her face.
“I am five and thirty.”
“There have been more unequal matches,” she murmured, looking over his shoulder at Miss Elizabeth Bennet and frowning. “Forgive me, but is she acquainted with Mr. Bingley?”
That particular man was smiling and coming up to her and her party, Georgiana on his arm.
“Georgiana,” the Colonel breathed, hurrying them over to the party. His walk was stately, strong, purposeful, and he quickly intercepted Bingley and claimed his ward with his other arm.
Bingley looked uncertain and Dido smiled at him, taking his now free arm, and suggesting, “Perhaps we should take some respite at the inn or go back to Pemberley?”
“I have just seen an acquaintance,” he argued, leading her forward. “Have you met Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourne, Miss Lindsay?” Bingley was all cheerfulness as the two women came together again, neither happy about the situation.
“Miss Bennet and I met when she was touring Pemberley,” she answered noncommittally. “The family was present and wanted privacy.”
“Who?” Bingley demanded. “I was unaware!”
“There are more family members than just Miss Darcy who was a member of your party,” she answered before turning to Miss Bennet again. “Do, introduce us to your friends.”
Unfortunately, a invitation to luncheon the next day was issued despite Dido’s best efforts and talk had fallen on someone named Jane.
“Who is Jane?” Dido finally asked after a few minutes. “Forgive me, but I do not believe we’ve been introduced.”
“Oh, forgive me, Miss Lindsay,” Bingley stated quickly. “She is Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s oldest sister.”
“Ah,” she answered. “Indeed. How marvelous to meet with friends and to discuss acquaintances.” She took in a deep breath. “She is not traveling the Peak district with you, I think.”
“No,” Mrs. Gardiner answered quickly. “We just brought Elizabeth. Jane spent the whole of the Winter with us.”
“You are a kind uncle and aunt,” she determined.
“Miss Lindsay lives with her uncle and aunt,” Bingley supplied, “the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, along with her cousin Miss Elizabeth Murray. I never knew—why—Miss Lindsay.”
Dido looked at him for a long second before answering, “My father, Captain Sir John Lindsay, died at sea and Elizabeth’s father, Viscount Stormont, lives abroad with his second wife and heir.”
Clearly no one quite knew what to say to that initially.
“A sailing man,” Mr. Gardiner then mentioned. “You must have the sea in your blood.”
She didn’t like to think about how one of her earliest years was spent at sea, traveling from the West Indies to England. The Navy took away her father and it never gave him back again.
“I am only thankful that my fiancé has given up his commission in the regiment so that he will be home with me once we are married,” she answered. “I barely knew my father. I would not like such an arrangement with the man I am to marry.”
“I did not think you would have such good fortune—” Elizabeth Bennet stated before her aunt could poke her quickly enough to stop her tongue. “Tell me, Miss Lindsay, whom are you to marry?”
Unbeknownst to her, the Colonel had left Georgiana in the carriage with Miss Bingley and had come up behind her. “The Viscount of Blakewell,” she supplied, much to Miss Bennet’s astonishment. “I expect you are acquainted. You knew each other at Rosings Park before he inherited the title and was known simply as—”
“Colonel,” Elizabeth interrupted, curtseying. “I did not know that you were at Pemberley.”
“I came to visit my fiancée, Miss Lindsay,” he told her as he came up beside Dido. He then turned away from her. “The carriage is ready, my love. Bingley?”
Dido took his arm, while Bingley extracted promises that they would come on the morrow, much to Dido’s displeasure. When the Colonel handed her in, they shared a look before he mounted his own horse and the carriage took the ladies back to Pemberley.
At first Dido could not find Elizabeth and the servants were unaware or unhelpful as to her whereabouts. However, after half an hour, she heard voices near the conservatory and entered quietly. She found Aunt Mary sitting under a palm tree and she held up her hand to show that Dido should make no noise. Then she realized it. The stern, stiff voice of Mr. Darcy was reading poetry aloud, most likely to Elizabeth.
A smile spread over her face before she turned and left the conservatory again.
Darcy was displeased at dinner. “Why would you invite Miss Bennet to luncheon with her relatives?” he asked as he cut his ham. “We were barely acquainted in Hertfordshire. We are having a house party. Surely you should have thought, if not of your own sister, but of Georgiana and Miss Murray and Miss Lindsay.”
“Seeing her was like a balm to my soul,” Bingley offered. “If I cannot be near my Jane—”
“She is not your Jane. She has a fortune hunter for a mother and no connections. I am sorry, ladies, to speak so frankly in front of you.”
Elizabeth, who was sitting to Darcy’s left, looked a bit pale, perhaps due to her own prospects as a woman of no fortune, but only good name and a future title. Dido wished she were sitting beside her so that she might squeeze her hand, but unfortunately, she was on the other side of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“I think,” Dido offered, glancing at Bette and catching her eye, “the real objection is that she has no breeding along with her lack of connections. Orphans, however, can have breeding.” She looked at the Colonel for affirmation and saw it in his dark blue eyes before turning to Mr. Darcy. “Am I correct?”
“Indeed, Miss Lindsay.”
“I would not wish that for your, Mr. Bingley,” she told him plainly. “Although we are not as acquainted as we might, not even my entire fortune could buy breeding where none exists.”
Before Caroline could say anything, Elizabeth laughed. “You’re always reminding me at the strangest times that you’re an heiress, Dido.”
“But you so enjoy telling everyone, Bette,” she teased and the two laughed into their food in sisterly companionship. “I seem to remember a certain dinner party.”
Her face fell. “I do apologize for that, Dido. I do. I thought to catch you a husband, but you obviously chose better for yourself.” She lifted her glass to Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I gladly welcome you into the family as my brother when the time comes.”
“Thank you, Madam.”
She nodded to him and took a sip of her wine.
It was after dinner that the two sister-cousins were sitting together, Georgiana coming up to them with tea, and Elizabeth smiled at her. “Forgive me for asking, Dido, but do you ever know whatever happened to Mr. Davinier?”
She swallowed nervously, which did not go unnoticed by Georgiana. She smiled at her apologetically before admitting, “He sent me a few letters on the Zong appeal. Mr. Davinier kept on inviting me to meetings he and his associates had in Kentish town, but you know as a lady I could never attend. Also, I started to get a feeling that his only interest in me was because I was black. Usually it is the other way around.”
“How distressing,” Elizabeth breathed, looking over at Georgiana. “He was a pupil of Papa’s. He should not have taken such an interest in you, Dido. I shall write to Papa and make certain that Mr. Davinier is chastised.”
“Papa will still be in London for the Zong case,” she murmured to herself. “I made Mama promise to write as soon as he rendered his verdict.”
The sister-cousins shared a glance before Elizabeth turned to Georgiana. “When do Mr. Darcy and the Viscount intend to let you out for your first season?” she questioned. “I know you do not care to dance, but you might like the teas.”
“I,” she blushed. “Fitzwilliam—my brother, not my cousin—says when he is married.”
Dido looked slyly at Elizabeth. “Then we shall hope we shall hear wedding bells before long, for your sake, Georgiana. You deserve to be admired, adored, appreciated.”
She leaned forward. “But what about fortune hunters?”
Leaning toward both of them, Dido admitted, “There are fortune hunters everywhere. Bette and I have both been at the whims of them. The point is to have a brother and a cousin who love you enough to tell you when the man who is pursuing you is not worth it and a sister whose shoulder you can cry on.”
“Have you cried on Miss Murray’s shoulder, Miss Lindsay?” Georgiana asked with wide eyes.
“No,” Elizabeth admitted. “I’ve cried on hers.”
Georgiana looked between the two of them and then decreed that it was time for dancing, and Mr. Darcy soon claimed Elizabeth as a partner so that Miss Bingley had to dance with her brother as, naturally, the Colonel was to dance with his fiancée. Dido breathed in the scent of the Colonel as she moved about him before letting him lead her out into the gardens to steal a kiss.
“I did not ever know I would love,” he admitted solemnly as he sat with her in his arms, the two of them looking up at the sky. “I thought I would go about my life alone as a simple soldier.”
“I did not think Papa would let me marry,” she agreed. “I thought I would be locked away in Kenwood House, forever an old maid like Aunt Mary, unwanted, with keys hanging by my side. I would have been very unhappy to see the house grow and change around me while I remained forever unchanging.”
“We shall have children,” he promised. “Matlock is not as grand as Pemberley, but it is a beautiful house with wild gardens where we might lose ourselves when we are alone without house guests.”
“House guests,” she murmured to herself, letting her hand trail up his arm.
“You are worried.”
“We both promote this match between Darcy and Bette. I don’t want this Bennet girl anywhere near him.”
“You think him so inconstant.” He leaned forward. “Before we left London, he commissioned a ring.”
Dido looked over her shoulder and smiled. “He did?”
“Indeed,” he agreed, “he wrote to me about it. You sister-cousin will never be Countess, but she will be one of the first ladies in the county and accepted in every drawing room in London.”
Before he could finish, however, the door opened and the two fell quiet.
“You are quite correct, Mr. Darcy,” the firm voice of Elizabeth stated. “The garden is even more beautiful at night than by day. How fortunate you are to be master of it all!”
This, it appeared, might be another proposal, or at least a private moment. Dido made to quietly get up, but the Colonel held her to him fast, his face buried in her hair. “Remember last time?” he whispered, and she had to choke back a laugh.
“Miss Murray,” Darcy breathed and Dido curled further into the Colonel. “You have shown me what true refinement, gentleness in spirit, and absolute joy are. I can no longer imagine living without these qualities in my life. You have become a true friend to my sister, and I think you can help guide her in the ways of becoming a woman as kind-hearted as you. Say that you will make me the happiest of men and become my wife.”
There was a long silence and Dido paused, knowing that this was indeed a much better speech than the last. It certainly wasn’t impassioned, but it was truthful, which was a start.
“Indeed, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth agreed. “Nothing could be as wonderful.”
Dido insisted on slipping out after that and was the first to greet Bette when she returned from out of doors, hugging her desperately and laughing with joy.
“Not two brothers,” Bette whispered in her ear, “but two cousins!”
This only made Dido laugh more before the four entered the drawing room, Darcy calling for champagne and announcing the happy news, much to Georgiana’s happiness and Miss Bingley’s displeasure. There was much dancing late into the night and eventually Georgiana and Dido climbed into Bette’s bed and the three girls talked until late into the night.
“She’s not in her bed,” a worried voice said from outside the door the next morning, rushing past, and Dido shifted when she recognized it. “Where is Georgiana?”
Falling to the floor, she looked at Elizabeth and Georgiana who were still asleep. The sun was shining through the window, causing Dido to squint. Grabbing a shawl, she opened the door and looked out to see Darcy and the Colonel in conference.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered in their direction.
Darcy looked over at her grimly. “Georgiana is missing.”
“She’s here,” she told them, coming out of the room. “We ladies like to discuss romance and weddings and children. We didn’t quite want the night to end so we all climbed into Bette’s room.”
“Are you certain?” Darcy asked, clearly worried.
“Quite,” Dido answered. “Georgiana is safe and sound in Bette’s room. It’s not like she’s going to run away in the middle of the night.”
The two cousins looked at one another.
“Oh,” she realized. “I apologize. I did not realize… She seems so sweet and unassuming.” Pausing, she looked between the two of them. “Perhaps you could have breakfast for the three of us sent up? Tell Aunt Mary not to worry.”
“Lady Mary believes that you were reading poetry to each other all night,” the Colonel confessed.
“She’s not completely wrong,” Dido admitted. “She knows Bette and I well.” She blushed a little, “I must look a fright.”
“Not at all,” the Colonel told her, coming up to her and kissing her hand. “Thank you for telling us about Georgiana.”
“We shall have trays sent up immediately,” Darcy promised and soon the two cousins were gone.
There was much chatter between the ladies as they ate their eggs and drank their tea, all trying to fit on a bed only meant for two. When their maids finally came to collect them, saying that their guests would be there within the hour and it would take that long to secure Dido’s hair, they all went their separate ways before meeting again in the Drawing Room.
Dido and Elizabeth walked down together, slowly looking at each painting and glancing down at each hall. “Of all this I am to be mistress,” Bette wondered aloud. “I cannot scarce believe it, Dido.”
“Believe it,” she told her happily.
They arrived only a few moments before the Bennet carriage did, and Elizabeth dragged Dido to a corner as they looked out the window. “It was her, was it not? The one my Darcy wanted to marry?”
Dido looked at her mournfully. “I wish I had never told you that.”
“No,” Elizabeth stated, taking her hand. “You were right to. I did not know the gentleman, and I would rather be warned.” She looked out the window at the tall girl and a look of ill humor passed over her face. “That color does nothing for her complexion.”
“No,” Dido agreed, laughing, “it certainly does not. Now, we should not hide ourselves away.” With a squeeze of the hand, she approached Colonel Fitzwilliam after a pause Elizabeth went to stand near Georgiana.
Bingley was all generosity toward their guests and while Mr. Darcy was polite, he soon gave Bette his arm and introduced her as his fiancée. The look on Miss Bennet’s face was one of shock, as if she could scarce believe it although Dido and Elizabeth had warned her of the possibility mere days beforehand, but she rallied with a smile and then played the piano forte for them very ill.
They were not invited back again. Dido thought she heard, as a rumor, that the party had left early the next day after an express had come, but thought nothing of it.
The summer passed languidly until two weeks into August, an express came from Lord Mansfield saying that the bans had been read at Kenwood and that couple could be married at any time that they chose. The little party disbanded at Pemberley, and the Darcys, Murrays, and Colonel Fitzwilliam traveled down to Kenwood for the wedding.
“I remember when I was married,” Mama said the night before the wedding as she sat in Dido and Bette’s bedchamber. “I was so terribly anxious. I wasn’t quite certain what to expect.”
“What happened?” Elizabeth asked, coming over and sitting on Dido’s bed. “I mean, you share a house together and you have children—”
“A man comes to your private rooms,” Mama began carefully, “and he will disrobe.”
Dido’s eyes widened.
“He will push your nightdress up or perhaps take it off completely, and he will lie on top of you and he will go inside you.” Her face was tinged slightly and Dido and Elizabeth looked at one another in confusion.
“Pardon?” Dido asked.
“You should not be afraid,” Mama quickly said. “It will hurt the first time, but this is the way to conceive children. It is something we women must bear. Just because it is strange and you may not like it does not mean your husband holds you in any less regard.” She was looking between them now. “I have heard of cases where it is even pleasurable.”
“Pleasurable?” Bette asked. “Something so strange as that?”
“Something so strange as that,” Mama agreed. “Dido,” she said, turning to her other niece. “You are spending your first week here at Kenwood House. You may come to me any time, night or day. I am here for you, my love.”
“Quite,” she answered after a long pause, utterly startled. “This will give us children?”
“This will give you children,” she promised. “You and Lord Blakewell, I am certain, will be blessed. He is a very handsome man and he clearly cares about you a great deal, Dido. And your Mr. Darcy cannot keep his eyes off of you, Bette, and you are to be married later this autumn.”
Dido fell asleep to strange wonderings in her head and pulled herself closer in on herself until she was awakened by the maid the next morning.
Per tradition, she could not see the groom, so she was kept in close quarters while she was prepared for the day. When her wedding bonnet was secured on her head, she looked at her reflection and smiled, glancing over at Bette who was, naturally, wearing blue, and the two exited their room having seen the groomsparty leave half an hour earlier.
Lord Mansfield was waiting for Dido as she came down the stairs. “You are beautiful, my dear,” he complimented. “I’m certain Lord Blakewell will know his good fortune as soon as he sets eyes upon you.”
“Thank you, sir,” she answered as he lifted her into the carriage, followed closely by Elizabeth. “We shall only hope that Mr. Darcy is able to take his eyes off Bette and pay attention to the ceremony for a moment if nothing else!”
The two sister-cousins laughed with each other as the horses took off toward the church.
Dido had not expected to see Mr. Davinier waiting for them outside the church. Her face fell as she took him in and she looked to her papa who signaled that she should remain where she was. Papa went and spoke to him for a moment, and then Mr. Davinier entered the church.
“All is well,” he said as he lifted the two young ladies out of the carriage. “He was waiting for us so as to tell the gentlemen when to take up their positions.”
The church was dark with only candles to light it and when Dido came to stand beside her future husband, she was pleased to see he was wearing regimentals and not in full mourning. The kiss was humble and sweet and she didn’t even realize it until she was walking out, but the church was filled with military officers who had come to wish them well.
That night Bette brushed out Dido’s hair in the way that Mabel had taught them, and dressed her in a fine silk nightgown before putting her to bed. She was almost asleep when her husband finally came to her. His hand lighted on her face and she turned toward the warmth and into a long kiss that stole all the air out of her lungs.
“I am sorry to have kept you waiting,” he murmured against her lips when he pulled away. “Military men. When we get together, we cannot help but relive our past campaigns.”
She looked up at him and smiled, her hand resting at the top of his head. “I would never begrudge you the trappings of a military brotherhood,” she murmured. “I am the daughter of a Navy Captain myself.”
“True,” he agreed, kissing her again lightly. “Born half a world away to be brought home for me to find in my aunt’s own gardens, like the rarest of flowers.”
She looked down, blushing, but he merely kissed her again. The kisses became more hurried, sloppier, and his hand left her cheek to push off his coat onto the floor. A little afraid, she just held him to her as he undressed himself, pulling down his suspenders, she thought she heard him kick off his boots, and then she was aware of the sound of sliding and something hit the ground. When he pulled away, she looked up into his eyes to see that he was throwing his shirtsleeves over his head to reveal a thinly muscled chest, which startled her.
Dido paused and let her gaze trace down it, her fingers hovering just above his skin. He grabbed her hands gently and placed them squarely over his ribcage and she shivered, her eyes going up to meet his. But then he was leaning down and kissing her again. Her hands slid around his chest to his back, to the muscles that were working there, pushing forward and back as he kissed her, and she pulled him closer to her, uncertain what else to do.
His lips moved from her mouth, down the side of her jaw, to the juncture of her neck, and she gasped in pleasure at the strange tingling sensation there.
“Darling,” he moaned as his lips traveled lower, nipping at her clavicle, and down between her breasts. Her breath sped up at the strange sensations, unaware that anyone would ever touch her there, but delighting in the feel of her husband. She threw her head back and bit her lip.
The Colonel was holding himself up by one hand now, the other coming to her shoulder and pushing down her nightshift to further expose her breast.
When she suddenly stilled, he moved his head up and looked at her. She was staring at the ceiling, her hands lightly running up his back, her fingernails teasing the skin there absently as if she weren’t thinking of it.
“Darling,” he murmured before he claimed her lips in a hungry kiss again, to which she instantly responded, being at least familiar with this. He held himself above her again and pulled the covers down between them until he was able to climb in beside her and he broke off the kiss, resting his head on the pillow beside her, looking at her intently.
“Lift up your arms,” he murmured and, after a moment’s pause, she did. He reached down to the hem of her gown and pulled it up and over her head before throwing it on the floor behind them. “You are too beautiful,” he murmured as he took her in his arms and kissed her again.
She woke to find herself tangled in the arms of her husband. Dido was sore between her legs, which made her blush when she thought of it. Turning to look at her new husband, she brushed his dark hair away from his face and traced the worry lines lovingly. This was a man who had had to make it on his own in the world, who had not known a single day’s worth of leisure. She had married a man who had had to prove his worth, and she was glad of it. He had proven it to himself, the world, and now to her. Now they might have a life of comfort, but she could be sure that if the worst ever happened, he would take care of them.
“What are you thinking?” he murmured as he pulled her closer, burying his face in the juncture between her neck and shoulder.
“What a handsome husband I seem to have,” she whispered back. “Surely you cannot deny me that.”
“Perhaps not,” he agreed, kissing her shoulder. “I seem to remember I have a beautiful wife.”
“Do you?” she questioned with a laugh. “It seems that perhaps they should meet and congratulate each other.”
“You minx,” he teased as he opened his eyes and regarded her before pulling her down for a kiss. “You are perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, Dido Belle.”
Her face froze in shock before she blushed again. “Only you would say so,” she murmured, tracing a line across one of his battle scars on his chest. “You are the epitome of a handsome English gentleman, Lord Blakewell.”
“I must confess I do not like to hear that coming from your lips. Lord Blakewell was my brother.”
“Colonel, then. It’s how I’ve always thought of you. Richard.”
“Richard,” he agreed, pulling her closer. “I hope you will always allow me to be ‘Richard’ to you and that time and disagreements will not come between us.”
“I hope not,” she agreed. “I would wish true felicity in marriage.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Then that is what we shall have,” he promised. “True felicity in marriage.”
When the couple finally came down for dinner, Elizabeth was the first to greet them. “Mr. Darcy had an express just after the wedding and left early this morning,” she explained, handing the Colonel a note. “I believe the three of us are invited to Darcy House once the two of you can bear to pull away from each other long enough to leave Kenwood.”
“You like the diversions of London a little too well, Bette,” Dido teased.
“Perhaps I do not like a long engagement,” she suggested. “I felt as if there were something—peculiar—about this express. I cannot quite place it. Forgive me,” she shook her head. “You are in wedded bliss and I can only think about myself. It is selfish of me. Dido, you must tell me everything.” She took her cousin by the hand and pulled her toward a tea set.
“We have an invitation,” Mama stated casually over dinner, “from Lady Ashford to dine next week. It seems that she doesn’t read the Times as the invitation is for ‘Miss Lindsay’ and ‘Miss Murray’.”
Dido and Elizabeth looked up at each other.
“I would hope we would be at Darcy House,” Elizabeth began, clearly thinking of James Ashford. “I do not care to see either of her sons.”
“Is he married yet?” Dido asked her before glancing to Aunt Mary.
“He is, indeed,” Aunt Mary agreed, glancing at the Colonel. “Mr. and Mrs. James Ashford have taken up residence at Ashford House in London. You cannot avoid them, Bette, if you are to go to Darcy House.”
“No,” she agreed carefully, “but I shall have Mr. Darcy and I daresay Lord and Lady Blakewell with me. All will be well.” She paused. “What of Mr. Oliver?”
“Bette!” Dido admonished. “Let us not ask after all the Ashford sons!”
“There are only two,” she reminded her.
“Mr. Oliver Ashford,” Mama stated, “is currently captaining his ship, brideless. He unfortunately did not have your good fortune, Colonel, in either inheriting his elder brother’s property or in marrying Dido.”
“While I don’t consider the former good fortune as I never wanted it, I certainly am glad of the latter.” He toasted his wife who smiled at him. “I believe I may be the luckiest man in England.”
“Quite certainly,” Lord Mansfield agreed. “Anyway, Bette, I am to London in a few days for the Zong case. If you cannot have Dido to chaperone you at Darcy House quite yet, then you may stay with me and visit with Miss Darcy as much as you choose.”
“Thank you, Papa,” she murmured. “It is strange to think that Dido is married and I am engaged.”
Apart from that one afternoon, the Colonel and Dido rarely quit their rooms. Dido lived in absolute decadence, only emerging from the bedchamber to eat in a small antechamber or to take a bath, where her husband often joined her only to make love to her again, and she was always so pleasantly sore that she wondered how she could not be with child. On the morning of the fourth day, she woke to feel blood coating her legs and paused when her husband’s hand found her breast and his knee made to open her legs.
“No,” she murmured. “It isn’t right.”
He paused, confused. “What lies between a man and his wife can never be wrong,” he told her as he stroked her breast with his thumb. “What ails you, Dido?”
“I,” she whispered, feeling utterly humiliated. “I’m bleeding. It’s not—I’m not supposed to—not yet—” Dido paused, taking stock of her body. “I don’t feel particularly sore other than our usual activities would suppose—I—” She went to grab his shirt to pull it over her head, but he quickly grabbed her.
“You say it is not time? I’m a soldier, Dido. Not to insult your sensibilities, but soldiers are not strangers to whorehouses or to mistresses. Let me see what ails you.” He ran his hand up her inner thigh and, when encountering the stickiness there, pulled his hand away and regarded it. “Darling, we made love too vigorously. It is my seed.”
““What?” she asked in confusion. “That can happen?”
“Well, I recount at least four times—” He chuckled. “Let me get you into a bath.” He swept her naked, into his arms, and into the next room where a conscientious servant had already prepared a bath. He laid her in it and then lifted himself behind her, kissing the side of her head. “And it wouldn’t matter if you were thick with blood,” he told her quietly. “I would not mind.”
She blushed at the very thought, but said no more about it.
They departed for London before the intended dinner at the Ashfords and arrived at Darcy House before tea.
“I do not know where Fitzwilliam is,” Georgiana recounted as she served Dido. “Ever since he arrived, he’s been gone most of the time, coming back only to sleep for a few hours and change. It is like he is a man possessed.”
“I shall see to it,” the Colonel promised his ward, laying his hand on hers. “There is absolutely nothing you need worry about.”
Elizabeth was moving in the next day under their protection, much to Dido’s pleasure, but she wanted this business with Darcy sorted out. She waited up for the Colonel, unused to being alone in a bed, when she finally heard Darcy come in well past midnight. When after half an hour nothing seemed to be resolved, she snuck down the stairs to where she could hear raised voices.
“You have a fiancée,” the Colonel was now proclaiming, “a lovely girl who, although she has no fortune, will bring you rank and prestige. She is loveliness itself and will be a credit to you and a loving sister to Georgiana. And then you pull this!”
“I love her,” Darcy whispered.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet does not love you and probably does not wish you to meddle in her family affairs,” the Colonel seethed.
“How can I not meddle? That good-for-nothing Wickham, who almost absconded with Georgiana and her thirty thousand pounds, took off with Miss Lydia Bennet and has failed to marry her. He is ruining the entire Bennet family! If I cannot have Elizabeth, at least let me rectify the situation so that she might have some happiness in her life when she finds a man who will—”
“Stop!” the Colonel demanded. “The only Elizabeth you should be concerning yourself with is Elizabeth Murray. Don’t make me call you out. I am a military man and you know that I will have the advantage.”
“You would do this for your mulatto wife who is only respectable because she has a fortune of some unnamed sum. It is probably less than five thousand pounds!”
“She has a greater fortune than Georgiana,” the Colonel stated patiently, “not that I cared when I first met her. And this is not about Dido. Bette Murray is coming to stay under the protection of her cousin tomorrow! You knew this was the plan. Do you plan to neglect her? The girl is most likely in love with you and if she is not she is very well on her way to falling in love with you. Elizabeth Bennet despises you and everything you stand for. I was there when you made your disastrous proposal. Why risk everything you have gained for a chit of a girl who would rather see you dead than not?”
“I love her,” Darcy whispered again, his only protest.
“You don’t know what love is,” the Colonel shot back. “Love is mutual respect and harmony. Love is looking into the eyes of woman and realizing that she would do anything for you, even outside of the bounds of propriety, because you matter that much to her. Can you say that of Elizabeth Bennet? I am almost certain you can say that of Elizabeth Murray.”
“What are you saying?” Darcy demanded.
“I am saying that you have everything within your grasp and you are squandering it.” He sighed. “Before I met my Dido, I admired Miss Bennet. I made no secret of it. I goaded her into telling me your secrets. Then I found something quite wondrous. I found something beyond simple teasing and taunting. I found someone who was kind and who cared about others. You know how rare that is. I have always admired the dark beauties of Spain and I found an even darker one from the West Indies, which caused my heart to skip a beat. Perhaps you cannot understand my attraction to Dido Belle, I don’t ask you to, only to accept her as family—but because she is family, Elizabeth Murray is family, and I will not see you do wrong by her.”
“Perhaps I have already done wrong by her by showing her any attention. I was wounded and I saw a lovely young girl who seemed to only want to draw a smile from me and had no other object.”
There was a shuffle as if someone were moving in the room. “Think of this. Who do you want to influence Georgiana? Miss Bennet who teases and flits about life as if it is not serious. Do you want her to teach Georgiana that her choice of marriage partners has no real consequence? Or Bette with her simple cheerfulness but her solemn approach to marriage where she values rank and breeding and, I hate to say it, wealth? These are qualities you want to instill in Georgiana, I know you do. And Elizabeth Murray cares for you. She will see that Georgiana is not in an unequal match when it comes to affection. Georgiana already loves her and Dido as sisters. Do not take that away from her.” He paused. “This is all a nightmare, a lapse in judgment. You are keeping me from my wife.”
“You love her, I can tell,” Darcy murmured, barely loud enough for Dido to hear. “I never thought it possible when I first laid eyes on her in the rain that day or again in that drawing room.”
“You can have that,” the Colonel swore. “I know you can. You just have to give yourself the opportunity. Cease and desist with Wickham. If you really must find him, hire someone. Do not put conscious thought into it, and by God do not neglect Miss Murray! Whatever your feelings, she does not deserve to know the caprice of men!”
“She already knows it,” Darcy confided. “One day when you were all out, she wept and told me the story of Mr. James Ashford. She apologized profusely for being such a ‘silly girl’ and being misguided by gentlemanly words. It quite reminded me of myself in a way.”
“You are each other’s salvation then,” the Colonel decided. “Promise me, Darcy. It ends now.”
There was a long pause. “It ends now.—Go to your wife if she is not already asleep.”
Dido quickly turned on her heel and tiptoed up the stairs, finding her room and sitting on the bed, facing the door she knew her husband would come through in a matter of minutes.
When he came through in his black mourning coat, she instantly stood to help him. “Is all well, my love?” she asked solicitously. “Is Darcy well?”
“He will be as soon as he sees your cousin, I think,” the Colonel promised as he threw his coat over a chair and then sat down to take off his boots. “You look tired, my love.”
She looked at the clock. “It is half past two, Richard. I waited for you. It is—forgive me—it is strange sleeping without you now.”
“If I may be so bold: it is not that your beauty does not call out to me, but may I just hold you tonight? I wish to smell the perfume of your hair and skin and know that you are safe and loved in my arms.”
Dido smiled at him and gently kissed him. “I will never begrudge you that,” she promised as he was finally in his shirt sleeves and breaches. They crawled into the bed together and he curled around her. His hand ran up and down her arm soothingly and before she realized it, her eyes were opening to the sunlight.
By some sort of agreement, the Colonel and Dido had not hired any personal servants. Although as a Viscount and Viscountess they would normally have their own valet and ladies’ maid, they nonetheless depended on the good will of their host or on one another to get dressed in the morning. Dido knew as soon as Bette arrived, they would share the ladies’ maid with whom they had grown up. She assumed Bridget would go with Elizabeth upon her marriage unless Darcy were to gift Elizabeth with a new ladies’ maid.
That morning, the Colonel helped Dido into her corset and she slipped her black mourning dress over her head for, as the wife of Francis Fitzwilliam’s younger brother, she was now in full mourning for him as well. She thought the color did little for her, but she still wore her strand of pearls around her neck as her one ornamentation. Before her marriage, she’d had three mourning gowns made along with one in silk. To her distress, she had two marriage caps also commissioned, one in white lace and another in black lace. She rather disliked them, but as a married lady, they were expected. She pinned the white one in place, despairing at her reflection, only to have the Colonel come up behind her and kiss her cheek.
“I do not quite feel myself pretty,” she told him in despair. “I was meant for bright colors. I had this wonderful fuschia dress, perhaps you remember it, that offset my skin so beautifully.”
“You shall wear it again,” he promised. “Just not now.”
“Not now,” she agreed, taking his hand and letting him lead her to the breakfast table. The house was under a pall of mourning, Georgiana and Darcy under half-mourning for their cousin. Full mourning would last another half a year for the Blakewells before they would go into the dark purples and grays. Elizabeth would be the only beacon of light in her blues and yellows when she arrived later that day, though upon her marriage to Darcy she would go into half-mourning as well.
Elizabeth arrived an hour before tea with her trunks, a breath of fresh air, and was greeted with joy by everyone. Georgiana showed her personally to her room and the three ladies gossiped about mutual acquaintances while the maids unpacked Elizabeth’s gowns and personal effects before they were all called downstairs.
“I must admit I’m glad to be away from Papa,” Elizabeth admitted. “He spends most of his time locked away in his study or at his chambers. Without Mama there as a proper chaperone, I could visit no one, go nowhere, and was virtually a prisoner in the house.” Her voice was with a flourish and she stated this with the full cheeriness of one who fully expected a situation to change. “I could not even receive guests as Aunt Mary was not there to chaperone.”
“Well,” Dido said, “although I am in mourning, I can change that. How strange it is, a week or so ago I could not help you, but now that I am a married woman I can fully chaperone you and squire you to events. I thought, tomorrow, you might like a drive in Hyde Park. Perhaps just us ladies. What do you think, Georgiana? Shall we leave the gentlemen to the gentlemen? I thought they might appreciate a day without us and could go to their club.”
The Colonel picked up her hand and kissed it. “We were married so quickly we did not discuss our wedding tour.”
“True,” she thought. “However, with Europe as it is, I’m afraid we must either wait or confine ourselves to England.”
He grimaced. “Which would you prefer?”
“May I be completely candid?” She waited for his assent. “In France, it has never been uncommon for negroes to marry into the greater culture. I would like to be able to walk along the streets of Paris and not draw attention to myself.”
The Colonel looked at her sadly. “Then we shall wait until Paris is safe again.”
She noticed that Darcy was also regarding her.
If she had any fears after the conversation the night before, Dido needn’t have worried. Darcy was all attentiveness to Bette. It was as if the unpleasantness concerning Elizabeth Bennet had never occurred. Instead, the sweet nature of Elizabeth shone out like a beacon of hope in the Darcy household. She was clearly the stabling influence on Georgiana and supported Darcy in his more reclusive moods, approaching him with a glass of lemonade or a cup of tea, or just a hand on the arm, giving him a smile before retreating again. He would look after her with either wonderment or confusion and sometimes would follow behind her to whatever activity she next chose, even if it were to take up her sampler.
Dido was writing to her Mama when Bingley had the misfortune of calling. Georgiana was on the pianoforte, Darcy had relented his melancholic mood and was reading Troilus and Cressida to Bette while the Colonel had a map of Europe laid out on one of the tables. He would forever be a military man, Dido thought, not that she minded. She would come up to him later and ask him to explain certain military tactics.
“I love you,” Dido whispered into the Colonel’s ear as she came up behind him to fully greet their guest.
Bingley bowed to them before announcing his sister Caroline’s engagement to a Mr. Roland.
“Is he of good family?” Elizabeth asked innocently. “I do not believe we are acquainted.”
Mr. Bingley hesitated. “He is in trade,” he admitted. “He has made a small fortune of about thirty thousand pounds, most of it is invested, but he is a man of eight and fifty without heirs, and Caroline believes she can be happy.”
No one believed that for an instant.
“How long have they been acquainted?” Darcy asked in confusion.
“A fortnight,” Bingley replied, blushing.
“Well, we wish the bride joy,” Dido stated. “I cannot think of one more deserving.” Of course, that was a complete lie, but one that was necessary.
It was Darcy’s turn to speak again. “She will not be going down to Netherfield with us then.”
“No,” Bingley answered. “I thought I’d make it a shooting party, but—of course—you will be married by then and not like to leave your bride!” He looked pensive. “I should like to see the Bennets again.”
Dido looked at the Colonel in alarm. She did not want Darcy anywhere near the Bennets. Such an idea was insupportable. She did not pretend that Bette would not make a good wife to Darcy, but Darcy seemed to forget himself even when there was an engagement.
The Colonel, seeming to understand, suggested, “Perhaps Bette will be lonely in the country. I myself like to shoot, and Lady Blakewell can keep her sister-cousin company. And, Georgiana, perhaps can accompany us to make a full party.”
Bingley seemed slightly taken aback. “If it is not too much of an inconvenience.”
“Not at all,” the Colonel put in. “Do you not agree, Darcy?”
Darcy seemed lost in thought.
“Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked, touching his arm. “How do you like the Colonel’s plan?”
After a moment, he decided, “I find it exceedingly clever. Bingley, thank you for extending the invitation to my family at large. We shall make quite a happy party.”
His friend still seemed unsure but he left them with a bow.
The wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth Murray was a grand affair at Kenwood House. Where Dido and the Colonel’s had been quiet except for the presence of military officers, this one was filled with the height of society. Colonel Fitzwilliam stood up for his cousin and Dido even briefly made the acquaintance of her mother and father-in-law although they were unaware of whom they met.
“The doctor came yesterday in all the fuss,” Dido told her husband, lying naked on the bed with sweat beading on her skin.
“Are you unwell, my dear?” he asked, turning toward her and tracing the lines of her face.
“It is only we have been married for three months and I have not bled. I asked Mama about it in a letter, and she suggested a doctor, and he told me the most marvelous news.” She turned toward him and smiled. “We’re going to have a child, Richard. A little Fitzwilliam and Lindsay, born of you and me.”
For a moment he was quiet before he reached for her and kissed her lingeringly, his hand sliding under the covers to press against her stomach. “We must be careful with you, my love.”
“Indeed,” she agreed. “I fear I may not go hunting with you gentlemen in a month.”
“No,” he agreed. “We must keep the next Lord Blakewell safe.”
“She could be a lady,” Dido suggested. “One cannot be certain.”
“No,” he agreed. “One can never be certain,” before he rolled her on top of him so she was looking down on him through her hair. “Make love to me, wife,” he begged and with careful movements she pushed herself on top of him and did as he asked.
Breathing heavily, she finally came down into his arms and pushed herself against him, still feeling him inside her. “No time for rest yet,” he told her as he rolled her onto her back and began to move within her again.
Dido was beginning to show when they arrived at Netherfield Hall. Bette was beyond pleased to be an aunt and flitted about her to do everything for her comfort. One evening, though, she came to Dido well after the Colonel was asleep and sat down in their small sitting room, each of them in their nightgowns as if they were still girls at Kenwood House.
“I do not think we are man and wife,” Bette confided. “He sleeps beside me much as you used to when we would climb into a bed together. He does not lift up my shift or take it off. I don’t know what Mama meant, but he does not go inside me. He does not even kiss me when we are alone, only when we are among others and then on the forehead. Not how Lord Blakewell kisses you. What have I done wrong?”
Looking at her in horror, Dido kissed her hands. “You have done nothing wrong,” she assured her sister-cousin. “It is he who has done wrong. I will—I will speak to him. I give you my word.”
“Will you?” Elizabeth asked in hope. “I wish to be a good wife to him. I wish to give him children as you are giving Lord Blakewell a child. I look at you and I want to cry because part of me thinks I will never have that.”
“You will have that, Bette,” Dido swore. “I promise you this.” She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her head. “You are beautiful and you are sweet and you are kind. I don’t know how he can resist you.” However, Dido knew the answer: Elizabeth Bennet.
When Bette left, the Colonel took her place in nothing more than his breaches. “I heard.”
“It’s a mess,” Dido whispered quietly. “How am I to broach the subject?”
“We will do it together,” the Colonel promised. “You are not in this alone. We will help Elizabeth.”
“But in this place? Where Elizabeth Bennet is? I know her family is disgraced because one of her sisters eloped and hasn’t been heard of since … but I see him looking off into the distance sometimes.”
He kissed her hands lingeringly. “All will be well.”
The next morning, the Colonel asked to speak to Darcy after breakfast. The three of them went to a private sitting room and Darcy looked at Dido in confusion. After they sat down, Dido put her hand on the Colonel’s arm and spoke first. “Bette came to see me last night,” she confided. “She spoke of what our Mama told us of marriage, except she still didn’t know what it meant.”
The Colonel then took over. “I was pretending to sleep during the conversation. Bette says you sleep beside each other like she and Dido did before they were married, as if you were brother and sister. What are you on about, man? You have a beautiful and kind wife. Don’t you want children?”
“I want to have children with Elizabeth Bennet. Her family is disgraced. I can make her my mistress.”
Dido was frankly surprised. “If you do that to my sister, I will run you through the heart no matter the consequences,” she seethed.
“Many men take mistresses,” he stated coldly.
“Many men are not the upstanding Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley,” the Colonel protested. “You pursued Bette to begin with. You danced with her. You raised expectations. You proposed. She is your salvation.”
“If you will do this to her, just annul the marriage,” Dido proclaimed boldly. “I will not see you do this to her.”
“Very well,” he agreed as he stood. “If you give me permission, not that I need it from a common negro.”
The Colonel was enraged, “That’s my wife—”
“I give you permission to do nothing,” Dido declared. “However, release Bette from this hell. Perhaps she can find happiness elsewhere.—Richard, I think we should take Bette and go.”
She stood and went to go find her sister-cousin.
They did not return to Darcy House. Instead they went to Matlock House, which had remained empty for several years and was in much need of redecorating. After the Colonel secured the funds from his father, Elizabeth and Dido were given carte blanche. In January, the annulment finally went through, and Elizabeth cried for weeks, though she finally got to put on colors again, much to her relief.
It was then that the unthinkable happened. The Colonel insisted that he visit Lady Catherine alone that spring and that Darcy come nowhere near his family, which now included Lady Elizabeth Murray. Darcy, having no love for his aunt and having taken Elizabeth Bennet as his mistress, agreed. It was one rainy night when everyone but Elizabeth and Dido were in bed, having stayed up to read the latest Mrs. Radcliffe, when there was a knock on the door. Elizabeth went to go see who it was and found a distinguished looking gentleman in the hall. Dido hung back, her hand on her belly, deciding to let Bette play hostess.
“Good lord,” Bette greeted the gentleman. “I think you are in need of a bath. May I offer you the full hospitality of Rosings Park before you continue on your journey?”
“Is that where I am?” he asked. “I had quite lost track of myself.”
“Indeed,” she told him. “Forgive me,” she curtsied. “I am Lady Elizabeth Murray. This is the home of my sister’s aunt by marriage, Lady Catherine de Bourg. I’m sure she would give you a kind welcome if not for the lateness of the hour. May I ask who I am addressing?”
“Sir Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park.” He seemed to be a young man, come recently perhaps into his title and, from what Dido could see, certainly handsome.
Startled, Elizabeth composed herself. “You are welcome, Sir Tom. Partridge, prepare a room and a warm bath. The gentleman is in much need of it. Then send up a hot meal.”
After a moment, the Baronet stated, “You are the infamous Mrs. Darcy. I understand your husband was a reprobate.”
“Aren’t most husbands?” she asked. “I am quite happy with my sister-cousin, the Viscountess of Blakewell.”
Little did anyone know that in a year’s time, Elizabeth would become the Lady Elizabeth Bertram of Mansfield Park.
Dido and the Colonel stood in the pews of Kenwood as they looked at the couple, a smile on Dido’s face. “I hope he will make her a good husband,” she murmured. “She certainly deserves it.”
“Indeed,” he agreed. “I will admit I will miss your sister. I rarely see Georgiana even though she is out and see Darcy not at all.”
“Do you think he will ever marry?”
“Perhaps for necessity,” the Colonel admitted. “But he will never be as happy as we are.” He leaned over and gently touched her stomach. “A girl this time,” he suggested. “We already have our son Edward.”
“A girl,” she agreed, placing her hand over his before turning back to the ceremony.