London, England – April 1812
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s pensive gaze lingered all about the richly appointed study. He often imagined his late father, as well as his father’s father, doing the same.
Indeed, he was the product of a long line of Darcy men. Proud men whose solemnity of character was evidenced in every aspect of their lives.
His great grandfather’s likeness hanging on the wall, in fact, all that he observed throughout the room, served as a stark reminder of the gentleman whom he was always meant to be: the best landlord and the best master, a devoted brother and the most steadfast of friends, and one day, a faithful husband and caring father. One day.
Even while in London during the height of the Season, Darcy could not escape the gravity of his situation in life: that being the preservation and most importantly augmentation of his family’s legacy for the next generation upon generations to come.
Having sat in the same attitude for some time, Darcy arose from his rich, burgundy leather armchair to stretch his legs. Moments later, he wandered across the room to command a closer look at the imposing portrait of his ancestor. At length, he rubbed his hand against his chin. Each ensuing generation saw a further tapering of the branches of the Darcy family tree.
While the death of his beloved mother, Lady Anne Darcy, had been the catalyst in Darcy’s growing up much too soon, it was the loss of his excellent father that had proved to be the most heart-wrenchingly painful.
The senior Mr. Darcy had died nearly four years prior, leaving Darcy with not only all the responsibility that being the master of Pemberley, one of the grandest estates in Derbyshire, entailed, but also the guardianship of a sister nearly a decade his junior: Miss Georgiana Darcy, a favorite niece of the Earl of Matlock, Lord Edward Fitzwilliam.
No doubt as a means of keeping the elder members of the aristocratic Fitzwilliam family at bay, the senior Mr. Darcy also thought to appoint someone as young Miss Darcy’s co-guardian: Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the earl’s second son.
Not that young Darcy had objected. Even with the colonel’s help, Darcy felt he had failed his sister miserably: a mistake he would no doubt remember for the rest of his life and one he surely would never make again. At present, his sister was residing at Matlock House under the supervision of his aunt, Lady Ellen Fitzwilliam. Indeed, one of the daunting tasks which occupied his busy mind was hiring a suitable companion for Georgiana in preparation for their eventual returned to Pemberley.
What a comfort it was knowing that in the interim, his sister was safe and surrounded by family who cared for her, thus allowing Darcy the much-needed time to vet his next hire more thoroughly.
The sound of the clock striking four aroused Darcy from his wool-gathering.
“I was supposed to meet Richard at White’s hours ago.”
As this was not the first time he had uttered those particular words out loud, Darcy returned to his desk and resumed reading where he had left off before he allowed his mind to drift off.
No doubt, Richard will understand the call of duty must not go unanswered—at least not so far as I am concerned.
Being one of the wealthiest gentlemen in Derbyshire is something indeed, but there is always room for more.
A quarter hour later, Darcy’s cousin and closest friend strolled into the room. “I thought I might find you tucked away in your study poring over tedious ledgers.”
“It is a pleasure to see you too, Richard,” said Darcy without tearing his eyes away from the task at hand.
“Except that you have not bothered to look up even once since I entered the room.”
A tall, amiable gentleman who fell readily into conversation with everyone whom he met, the colonel was as different than his cousin as night and day in that regard. Whereas Darcy would willingly confess that he found it awkward, at best, trying to catch the thread of conversation with people with whom he had nothing in common, Richard would surely counter saying his cousin would simply never give himself the trouble of even trying. Whatever the reason, the end result suited Darcy perfectly fine.
Time spent not pursuing his ambitions of increased wealth and power was time wasted so far as Darcy was concerned. Not that he did not occasionally enjoy the company of close family and friends, but thoughts of more consequential matters that needed attending were never far from his mind.
Richard threw himself down into the large leather chair in front of Darcy’s desk. Leaning forward, he reached for an opened ledger, casually perused a line or two, and just as quickly slammed the book closed.
Tossing the ledger aside, he said, “I do not know how you do it. I, for one, would find such endeavors exceedingly tiresome. This is certainly no way for a fellow to be spending such a fine day as this.”
Here, Darcy looked up and seeing the ledger out of place, he retrieved it and placed it where it ought to be. “It is fortunate, then, that such matters fall to my lot instead of yours.”
As his cousin was the second son of the Earl of Matlock, Darcy knew he would get no argument from the other man on that score. He knew his cousin to be a good man, indeed one of the best men of his acquaintance, but in matters of finance and business, Richard could scarcely be bothered.
Richard shrugged. “I should only imagine what a dreary old fellow you shall be once the favorite wish of all our Fitzwilliam relations unfolds.”
“Why do you suppose?” Darcy asked.
“When I consider the amount of time you spend managing your current business affairs, I cannot help but think it will double once Rosings Park and all the vast holdings that estate entails,” here Richard cleared his throat, “fall to your lot.”
The colonel had spoken nothing but the truth. Rosings Park was renowned as the finest estate in Kent, which was really saying something. And Darcy stood to own it all, if and when he chose to embark upon the path to which Richard had alluded.
The favorite wish of all our Fitzwilliam relations.
Darcy had heard the story of how his late mother and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had planned the union between his cousin Anne and him for so long as he could remember. From their cradles, it had been decided that the two of them were meant for each other. As her daughter, Anne, was Lady Catherine’s only child and thus the heiress of extensive properties including Rosings Park, it was considered vitally important that Darcy never forgot what was expected of him. To add to the gravity of this proclamation was not only Darcy’s late mother’s reaffirmation but his dear father’s dying wish as well.
My son, you were meant for greatness. Marry your cousin Anne and assume your rightful place among society’s elite—the hallowed echelon of Lords and Dukes.
“A man would have to be a fool to forgo such an advantageous prospect as the combining of the two great estates entails,” Darcy declared.
The colonel leaned back in his seat. Crossing one long leg over the other, he said, “It sounds as though you have finally made up your mind. Shall I be the first to wish you joy?”
“Not so hastily, if you please. I have not said I will marry Anne.”
“And yet, you have not exactly said you will not.”
Darcy scoffed. “I say only this: I like to suppose I am nobody’s fool.”
Chapter 2 Preview: Miss Elizabeth Bennet is in London. You won’t want to miss what happens next.