The Colonel’s Spinster – Audrey Harrison

With his ready smile on his face, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam entered the bedchamber of his cousin. Darcy frowned at him, at which Fitzwilliam’s smile broadened. “The nerves getting to you?” he asked, as Darcy’s valet fussed around his cousin. “Why am I so nervous? I want this wedding to take place, but my stomach is behaving like I’m some sort of callow youth on his first adventure,” Darcy said, with a nod dismissing his valet. He looked resplendent in a blue frock coat and cream breeches; his boots had been polished until they shone in the sunlight. “It is good to be nervous,” Fitzwilliam reassured his relation. “But I’m convinced they are unnecessary doubts.” Darcy finished fiddling with his neckcloth. He normally spent an age perfecting the gentle folds, but today he was even more inclined than usual for it to look impeccable. “I know you speak the truth. But it does not help that I’d rather not be the centre of attention for the morning.” “I have some bad news to break to you, Darcy. No one is interested in you. They all want to see your bride in her wedding dress. All the women will be wondering if there will be lace or if she will wear flowers in her hair or a bonnet, or even a feather! You, my friend, are so low down in everyone’s interest, you are virtually not needed to attend,” Fitzwilliam said.

Darcy laughed. Those who did not know him well, would wonder at the uncommon occurrence, but to the few people who were dear to him, it was a regular, natural sound. “Good! Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I needed to be brought to the reality of the day. I too often allow myself to overthink a simple situation.” “You? My dear cousin, I don’t know what you could possibly mean!” Darcy shook his head at his cousin but then became serious. “Fitzwilliam, can I ask you a question in which I need your reply to be very honest?” “Sounds ominous.” “It is something I should have raised before now. I know I’m a blockhead for needing to ask, but the niggle will not go away. You and Elizabeth — at Rosings, you were…” Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin with sympathy.

He was a man with ten thousand pounds a year, a capable landlord of one of the largest estates in Derbyshire, and yet he could be so unsure of himself. It endeared him further with the cousin who, in many ways, was more like a brother. “Darcy, I promise you this. I was never in love with Elizabeth, nor she, me. I admit, I think her handsome, funny, and one of the best people I will soon have the pleasure to call cousin, but there are no other feelings towards her. And never have been,” Fitzwilliam said honestly. “I can see why she would be drawn to you,” Darcy said, still looking uncomfortable. Moving over to put his hands on his cousin’s shoulders, Fitzwilliam shook him gently. “She turned your first proposal down because she did not truly know you at that time. Plus the fact that the blackguard, Wickham, had been whispering poison into her ear and the general locality of her town.

” It had been a hard time for Darcy, blundering in and causing what had appeared to be a permanent breach with the woman he’d asked to marry him. He had only confessed the whole situation afterwards to his cousin, after he’d actually secured Elizabeth’s affection. “I could understand if there had been an attraction…” “No! There was mild flirtation. You know my character and hers. Neither of us can resist being playful, but she is yours Darcy. I am certain she always was. Your good opinion mattered too much to her to be disinterested. Look how she was with the buffoon, Collins — civil but cool. She was never that with you. From the start, there was something between you.

Call it a spark if you like. But you were drawn to each other and teased and tormented one another from the beginning. That evening in Rosings in which she played the pianoforte was a prime example. She was far more playful towards you than at any other time with anyone else. We had been speaking. When you arrived, she started to tease you. Trust me on this. You have always been the only man for her.” Darcy sighed. “Thank you.

Again. It’s just the emotions of today. I am doubting everything that is poor in my character and all that I have known. I feel very unsure, and it is causing me some strange thoughts. I will relax. I will.” “Good. This uncertainty does you no credit, especially towards Elizabeth. You should be convinced of her regard. We can all see it.

She is besotted with you and rightly so. It is time, for once, that you relax and enjoy yourself, Darcy. You deserve happiness,” Fitzwilliam pointed out. “And, you know me. I won’t look at any young woman with serious consideration unless she has at least five thousand a year and three properties, one in London, a hunting lodge in Leicester, and a grand mansion in the country, preferably somewhere near Derbyshire.” “You tell a good Banbury tale, cousin. You would never be so shallow.” “I’m the second son. I cannot afford to be anything but particular about what a wife brings to the marriage. Otherwise, we will starve.

” Smiling, Darcy picked up his stove top and placed it on his head. “Come. Let’s go and get this over with. The sooner I make Elizabeth Mrs. Darcy, the better.” “That’s the spirit,” Fitzwilliam laughed, but inside he felt a little jealous of his cousin. Oh, he had spoken the truth when he confessed that he’d never had feelings for Elizabeth. He had enjoyed her company but hadn’t been anywhere near falling in love with her. He was envious of a couple so perfectly suited setting out on their future life together. They would have hurdles to overcome, mainly because of the family on both sides, but they were a strong couple who would support and love each other.

Fitzwilliam was sure and was glad of it. Darcy had lost his father and mother when he was young and yet had to be brother and parent to his younger sister. He had taken on the role without complaint, but it was now time for him to have his own family. Fitzwilliam longed to have that connection with someone, but his pocket and birth dictated that he was forced to look for a wife who brought a comfortable dowry to the marriage. His income as a colonel barely covered the costs of his uniform and the horseflesh he needed. His allowance from his father made sure his officer’s mess bill was paid each quarter with a little left over, but without the occasional monetary gifts from his Aunt Catherine and Darcy, he would struggle to keep out of dun territory. That was not conducive when hoping to set-up home or start a family. Yet those were the two things he longed for. Chapter 1 London – three years later, late summer 1816 Fitzwilliam walked into the Darcy house on Berkeley Square, striding through the familiar property where he had stayed so often over the years. The last few years had aged him.

War did that to a person. Oh, he was still a gentleman whose personality was all ease and pleasing, but there were a few frown lines permanently set in his features and a more serious set to his expression when he thought he was unobserved. He had not seen his cousin and his cousin’s wife for months and was looking forward to an evening full of good company and family chat, something he had missed over the last few years. He walked unannounced into the drawing room, and Elizabeth immediately stood to greet him. “Colonel Fitzwilliam! You have arrived at last! How lovely it is to see you. It has been too long,” Elizabeth said, holding out her hands in welcome. “It has indeed,” Fitzwilliam responded. “You are looking extremely well, Cousin.” Elizabeth blushed slightly. “Thank you.

There are only three months to wait, and then there will be yet another Darcy polluting the grounds of Pemberley.” She smiled at the reference her connection to the family had stirred from Lady Catherine De Bourgh when she had first become aware of her nephew’s affection for Elizabeth. Lady Catherine was the formidable aunt to Darcy and Fitzwilliam on their mothers’ side of the family and never restrained herself from making her observations known to those around her. “That will make us a family of four, and I want there to be at least a dozen, so the grounds of Pemberley are doomed,” Darcy said with a grin at his wife whilst approaching his cousin. “Fitzwilliam, I have missed you. Little Richard has barely seen his namesake,” Darcy said of his firstborn. “And I’ve missed you,” Fitzwilliam admitted. He’d spent the last year in France, fighting against Napoleon’s troops until their defeat at Waterloo and then had remained abroad overseeing some of the rebuilding of relationships between the two formerly warring countries. He’d already fought in the Peninsular Wars in Spain and was battle weary and had been homesick for some time. “Hopefully with Napoleon’s abdication, there will be peace in Europe once more, but this time, of the long-lasting kind.

” “It is time for you to enjoy some entertainments,” Elizabeth said. “And to have some sustaining food. You have lost weight since we saw you last.” “There wasn’t enough food to feed two warring armies. Then there was a poor harvest, so they are still struggling,” Fitzwilliam said of the hardships they’d suffered. He didn’t want to dwell on his time abroad, so he quickly changed the subject. “Unfortunately, there will be no joviality around town for me. Our aunt’s letter and Darcy’s need to get you to Pemberley in good time for the arrival of the baby means I shall be heading to Rosings for the foreseeable future,” Fitzwilliam said. “I do think it’s unkind of you to abandon me to a trip to Rosings alone.” Darcy smiled.

They’d always gone together on trips to their aunt. Lady Catherine De Bourgh was a force indeed, and her instructions, opinions, and directions were always given expecting no argument. That Darcy very often did meant Fitzwilliam was needed to smooth the waters between the pair. Lady Catherine had been determined that Darcy would marry her only daughter, a sickly creature who always looked terrified in Darcy’s presence, but that had been of no concern to her mother. Darcy’s falling in love with Elizabeth had brought the wrath of Lady Catherine on both Darcy and Elizabeth as never before, and as a result, there was a breach between them that had not been completely healed. “As you are her favourite nephew, it is your task to try to glean what has been happening at Rosings. She would have a spasm if she saw Elizabeth increasing for a second time,” Darcy said. “Spasm indeed! That woman has never had a day’s illness in her life! Although, I admit she wouldn’t be a doting great aunt,” Fitzwilliam said. “I must confess, I had to sit down when I read her letter. Had you any idea of our secret relatives?” Darcy shook his head.

“No. Absolutely nothing. Another aunt. I was always told that there were three sisters: your mother, mine, and Aunt Catherine. How could we have not known that there was a fourth?” “It did make me chuckle to read her words, ‘I thought while we had to accept the Bennet family into our midst, it was time to invite our youngest sister’s child into the family. She has been motherless these last ten years and has the misfortune to have a cotton worker as a father. My own dear father, quite rightly, forbad the match, but there was a dash to the border, and the deed was done. She was cast off from that day to the grime of Manchester and wasn’t allowed into the family crypt when she died.’ The poor woman had a lucky escape. Could you imagine being forced to lie beside Aunt Catherine for eternity when she eventually passes? Please do not inflict that fate on me, Darcy,” Fitzwilliam appealed.

“You are a cad,” Darcy said in answer to the request. “I am being perfectly serious.” “What else does she write about your cousin? Is it not an odd thing to do, to invite her to Rosings? She clearly has no affection for the girl,” Elizabeth said, not wishing the strained atmosphere of that house on anyone, least of all a girl who must be completely out of her social circle. “She goes on to mention that Mrs. Jenkinson, Cousin Anne’s companion, has hurt her back and has been shipped off to her sister’s home for the foreseeable future. I think a free substitute for Mrs. Jenkinson was our aunt’s motivation rather than any benevolent feelings towards this unknown cousin of ours,” Fitzwilliam explained. “Ah, I now understand completely,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “The poor girl. I do not envy her position or the welcome she will receive.

I wonder if she realises she is to be companion to Anne,” Elizabeth said of Lady Catherine’s only daughter. “Exactly my sentiments. Which is why I have to fall on my sword and attend Rosings without the support of Darcy,” Fitzwilliam said. “She is five and twenty, apparently an only child, and her father still works in Manchester.” “Strange that he should agree to allow her to come for a visit after all this time. He must know what Aunt Catherine is like, to some extent at least,” Darcy said. “Although if she isn’t wed, perhaps he is looking for her to become a companion and feels she could benefit with learning what the role entails. Better than working in a mill for the rest of her life.” “It’s all very intriguing,” Elizabeth said. “I almost wish I could accompany you.

But not quite.” Fitzwilliam laughed. “I’d appreciate the help from either of you. Aunt Catherine is going to be in top form. It would probably take the three of us to protect the poor girl. I wonder: Does she know what she has let herself in for?”

.

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