Here’s a little outtake from the first version of this story. This is the original reaction I had planned for Lord and Lady Matlock. It’s unedited, so keep your expectations low.
The situation: ODC is at Pemberley with Georgiana. Jane and Bingley have arrived and Clara Darcy Preston (Darcy’s father’s sister) is due to arrive with the Matlocks tomorrow. They did not write to the Matlocks to announce their engagement. Instead, they planned on telling them when they arrived for a visit. Lord and Lady Matlock arrive a day early with Darcy’s aunt. This is what happens…
“What do you mean engaged?” bellowed Lord Matlock. “To whom?”
“To Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” Darcy replied calmly.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” Lord and Lady Matlock called in unison.
“Fitzwilliam, you cannot be serious! What are you thinking?” exclaimed Lord Matlock, his face becoming red.
“I am thinking that I love her and that I cannot imagine my life without her. I have been lucky enough to earn her love in return, so the next logical step is to be wed. We will marry here at Pemberley in three weeks.”
“Three weeks!” cried her ladyship. “How can a wedding be prepared in three weeks? What of her family? They are not even here! How can you possibly be doing this?”
“I had hoped, Aunt, that you would be happy for me. You have shown a marked preference for Elizabeth and exclaimed her to be an ideal friend for Georgiana. Well, now she shall be an ideal sister.”
“A friend is one thing, a sister is an entirely different matter,” huffed Lord Matlock.
“Fitzwilliam, are you sure you haven’t been taken in? Is it not possible that after staying at Darcy House and then at Pemberley, and being exposed to all that makes up your life, that she might want to secure said life for herself?”
“I offered for her, not the other way around, Aunt. And I might remind you that you yourself told me that she was a lady of principle, not one to be easily swayed and not impressed by possessions or fortunes. Are you changing your opinion of her now that she is engaged to me?”
“I hardly know. I only know that I never heard a word of praise for you from her; she never asked about you. In fact, she seemed completely and utterly uninterested in you. I find it difficult to believe that she is in love with you all of a sudden, and must question her motives.”
“Madam, you are tired from your journey and therefore I will excuse your rude comments. Miss Bennet is to be my wife and that is all there is to it. It is not up for discussion,” Darcy said sternly.
“Now, now Darcy. Let’s not lose our heads here,” said Lord Matlock with a pat to his shoulder. “We are a family, let’s discuss this as such.” He gestured for Darcy to sit and did the same himself, sitting in a smaller chair across from Darcy’s desk.
“Do you really love her Fitzwilliam?” asked Lady Matlock.
“Yes Aunt, I do. I love none but her, and I will marry none but her.”
Lady Matlock knew Darcy’s temperament and that if he said he was in love, he was likely violently in love to the degree that no one would be able to sway him. She would simply have to appeal to Miss Bennet to see reason, since her nephew clearly could not be worked on. Her husband, though, had other ideas.
“Darcy, did you not think to consult anyone before you made such a monumental decision? Surely you know that as a family, we are all affected by each others’ choices and actions.”
“Richard knows everything, and he is quite fond of Miss Bennet.” He knew that wasn’t what they meant, but he wanted to show that he hadn’t been completely secretive.
“I meant someone in authority, Darcy. I understand why you like her, she is very pretty and of a lively disposition; I see how she appeals to you. But think of what you are doing man! What of Georgiana? What of her future? A wife from the right sphere could bring increased connections and fortune. You will have to make up Georgiana’s dowry somehow. How do you plan to move forward in society with a wife who brings nothing but herself to the table?”
“Uncle, I understand your concerns. Indeed, they are some of the very ones I struggled against when I first knew Miss Bennet. But the more I thought of it, the more I realized my worries were unfounded. I am already well-connected, as are you. There is no one with whom I wish to be acquainted that I am not already. I have enough money to cover Georgiana’s dowry, it will not be a hardship. Besides, she has flourished in her friendship with Elizabeth. Think how much more beneficial it will be to her to live with her constantly. And now Georgiana will be able to live with us instead of in her own establishment, something I have been dreading returning her to. Elizabeth may only bring herself to this marriage, but that is enough for me. I understand your concern and I appreciate that you care for me and Georgiana, but in this I must make my own decision.” He spoke levelly and looked at them coolly, but there was a fire in his eyes belying his calm demeanor.
Lord Matlock was not done, however. “I hate to do this, Darcy, but I must pull rank. I simply cannot allow you to throw yourself away on such an imprudent match. As the head of this family, I must insist you call off the engagement.”
At this, Darcy rose and placed his hands on the desk in front of him, leaning toward his uncle menacingly. “You may be the head of the Fitzwilliam family, but do not forget Uncle, that I am a Darcy. As such I am the head of my own family and I will choose my own bride. I have nothing further to say on the matter.” He walked to the door and opened it swiftly. “Even though you are a day early, I’m sure Mrs. Reynolds has your rooms prepared. She’ll show you the way. Excuse me.” Darcy briskly walked up the hall, gesturing to Mrs. Reynolds as he passed to attend his family members.
“I’m so sorry Elizabeth. Are you alright?” asked Georgiana nervously. They were perched in a tree outside Darcy’s study, where every word from within could be heard through the open windows.
“Yes, Georgiana, I’m perfectly fine.” She smiled though her eyes were troubled.
Georgiana had practically begged her to teach her how to climb a tree since they arrived at Pemberley, and since Bingley had taken Jane out for the day, it seemed like an ideal time. The party from Matlock was not expected until the following day, so they had selected a tree on the south side of the house that was perfect for climbing and were now perched in the highest branch together.
Georgiana reached over and squeezed Elizabeth’s hand where it rested on the branch. “Excuse me, Georgiana. I think I’ll just take a walk by myself for a little while. I need some air. Shall I help you down first?”
“I’ll just follow you, I think I can manage on my own. I have a few things to attend to before I greet my family.”
Elizabeth nodded and led the way down the tree, branch by branch, desperately trying to hold herself together in Georgiana’s presence. Once they reached the bottom, Georgiana gave her a tentative smile and went toward the house, while Elizabeth immediately made for the woods.
She knew there would be opposition from Darcy’s family, especially from Lady Catherine. She was expecting it and knew it would be difficult to deal with. But to hear Lord and Lady Matlock, two people who had been nothing but kind to her and had opened their home to both her and her sister, openly criticizing her and questioning her character was something she had not been prepared for.
She didn’t realize until this moment that she had come to value and respect Lady Matlock more than she had anticipated she would. She saw in her the mother she never had, one who was level-headed and intelligent and understood her for who she was without constantly trying to change her into someone else or condemning her nature because it was different than her own. She had always felt that way about her Aunt Gardiner, but that relationship was clearly defined; aunt and niece. With Lady Matlock, it had been almost mentor and protégé, and to Elizabeth, who had never had a proper teacher other than the occasional music master, it had filled a gap she hadn’t even know was there.
To have a trusted friend turn on her in such a way was unbearable. Much like when Charlotte married Mr. Collins. They would always be friends, but it would never be the same, which she had known the moment Charlotte announced her engagement. She now wondered if things would ever be amicable between her and Lady Matlock again. This was worse than with Charlotte, for now they were to be family, and the Fitzwilliams were like second parents to Darcy and Georgiana.
Elizabeth looked up to see she had arrived at a stream some distance into the woods. She had been walking for what she could only guess was less than an hour, but she hadn’t been paying attention and was not entirely sure where she was. Oddly, she did not care. Feeling hot and fatigued, she sat down next to the stream in a most unladylike manner and stripped off her walking boots and stockings. She threw into a haphazard pile with her bonnet and lifted her skirts to gently dip her feet into the cool water. The water was refreshing on her overheated skin, and before she thought too much about it, she was on the very edge of the bank, water halfway up her calves and her skirts around her knees.
She fought the tears that threatened her peace, until she finally let the solitude of the woods soothe her and hot tears rushed onto her face. After a good cry and a splash of water on her face, she lay back on the soft green grass and closed her eyes against the sun glaring through the trees, her feet still dangling in the stream. Within minutes, she was fast asleep.
Darcy could not remember the last time he had been so angry. He had gone straight to his chambers to change into his riding clothes. What he needed was a long hard ride to shake off the anger. Then he needed Elizabeth. Her presence was a soothing balm to his soul and he wanted nothing more than to find peace in her embrace. But he did not want to frighten her with his anger or be forced to share his conversation with his family with her. He could at least protect her from that. Just before he turned into the master wing, a familiar voice startled him.
“Fitzwilliam, are you alright?”
He looked up to see his aunt, Clara Preston, coming toward him, a comforting smile on her face. “I’m fine Aunt, really. I just need a good ride.”
She followed him into his sitting room, clearly not believing what he said. “You certainly look fine. You know, George always liked to ride when he was upset, too. He said it calmed him. Something about releasing all that energy.” She settled herself in a chair by the window as if she did it every day.
Used to her breeches of propriety, Darcy went into his dressing room and began to change while his aunt chattered at him loudly from the sitting room.
“What were you arguing about in the study? I could hear Henry half way across the house. And who is this Miss Bennet everyone is talking about?”
“Miss Bennet is a close friend of Georgiana’s and my betrothed. That is what Uncle Henry was expostulating about.” Stepping around the corner in his riding clothes, he smiled at his aunt’s surprised expression. “Don’t worry Aunt, you’ll love Elizabeth. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m needed in the stables. Tell Harold I’ll see him at dinner.” He kissed her cheek and headed out the door, leaving her in his sitting room with her mouth wide open.
Clara Preston, or Clara Darcy as she thought of herself, knew what she should do. If she had heard the commotion from the study, there was a good chance Georgiana and Elizabeth had as well. She quickly set off in search of her niece.
When she found Georgiana in the music room, she informed her that she and Elizabeth had indeed heard the entire argument and that Elizabeth had gone for a walk, begging for a little time to herself. After asking for the direction and hearing she’d been gone a little over an hour, she went to the stable and ordered a horse be saddled immediately. Setting off into the woods after Elizabeth, Clara followed the path that she knew would lead her to the brook, instinctively feeling that water was healing and if she were distraught, that was the first place she would go.
At the brook, she looked around until she found what she was looking for. She had never seen Miss Bennet, but she was sure the young woman lying on the bank with her feet in the water was her nephew’s betrothed. She dismounted, tied her horse to a tree and carefully sat down beside Elizabeth. Seeing she was asleep, she quietly removed her own shoes and stockings and placed her feet in the cool, running water. She threw off her bonnet and leaned back on her elbows, lifting her face to the sun.
Some time later Elizabeth awoke to the disquieting feeling that she was not alone. She looked to the side and to her astonishment, saw a woman with jet-black hair streaming down her back, her feet unshod and sitting in the water next to her own.
“You must be Elizabeth. I’m Clara Darcy.” She smiled disarmingly and Elizabeth could only stare at her. Darcy had said she would like his aunt and that in some ways she reminded him of her, but this was not how she envisioned their first meeting.
“Yes, I am Elizabeth Bennet. You must be Mr. Darcy’s aunt.”
“Yes, I am. Surely you don’t still call him Mr. Darcy? That always makes me think of my grandfather. It doesn’t suit William at all.”
Elizabeth looked at her incredulously, thinking that a part of her would always think of him as Mr. Darcy.
“When we are alone I call him William, or sometimes Will.” Why was she telling this to a perfect stranger?
“Ah, I see. I like Will. It definitely suits better than Mr. Darcy, and a great deal more than Fitzwilliam. I don’t know what Anne was thinking when she named him that.”
Elizabeth could hardly believe what she was hearing. She was not used to such informal and frank conversations with people she had never met before.
“I thought it was a Darcy tradition to name the first son after the mother’s family.”
“No, not at all. How do you think my father came to be called George? It’s a Fitzwilliam tradition. The daughter calls her first son after the family. It’s their way of branding them as Fitzwilliams even though they don’t actually carry the family name. A bit conceited, I always thought.” She said the last under her breath. Elizabeth’s eyes widened at her insult.
“Don’t get me wrong, Elizabeth. I love the Fitzwilliam family. Anne was my dearest friend in childhood and until her death, as our mothers were friends before us. Henry and I grew up almost as cousins, and Helen has been in my heart since we were in school together. But she’s not a Fitzwilliam, not really. Her family is much more tolerable,” she said with a mischievous glint in her eye.
“You are very quiet, Elizabeth. Are you unwell?”
“Not at all, Mrs. Preston. I am merely tired from the exercise.”
Clara’s eyes flashed and she retorted sharply, “Don’t call me that. No one calls me that. I’m sure they refer to me as that when I am not present, but everyone calls me Clara, or Aunt Clara. You may call me either. DO NOT call me Mrs. Preston.”
“Forgive me Clara, I meant no offense.” Elizabeth was taken aback by her sudden mood shift and unconsciously scooted a little further away.
“Now, I understand you heard my overbearing brother in law and Helen saying some unsavory things about you.” Her voice was back to normal and she was speaking simply, as if they were speaking about the tea service or the weather.
Elizabeth looked away and twirled a piece of grass between her fingers. “Yes, I did. Georgiana and I were just outside the study windows and heard the entire conversation.”
“That was very wrong of Helen. Everyone knows how she adored you in town and made a pet of you. She should have expected something like this to happen.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed and she was about to make a saucy retort when Clara looked at her with a bright smile. “I’m so happy we have this chance to talk in private, Lizzy. May I call you Lizzy? Elizabeth is incredibly long to say and you don’t seem like an Eliza to me.” Elizabeth nodded and Clara continued, “If Helen is going to be your friend or even your mentor, that should not change just because you happened to choose her nephew over Sir Malcolm. Tough decision, by the way. I met Sir Malcolm at a party once, and may I say, I was very impressed.” She looked meaningfully at Elizabeth, and for some reason, she felt a blush rising to her cheeks.
“But I am not here to talk about Sir Malcolm. The point is that you are the same person now as you were five months ago when this all began. Helen cannot expect you to behave as a puppet and if she did, it was her own silly mistake. I know William very well, much better than most aunts know their nephews. He does not make choices unwisely or without careful consideration, and he would never inform his family of a decision he was not completely committed to. William keeps things to himself until he is sure of his final decision. Then it is as good as done. Surely Helen and Henry know there is no sense arguing with him.” She laughed a little and smiled at Elizabeth as she flicked her toes in the water. “Of course Henry’s pride can make him a little slow at times.”
Elizabeth could not believe what she was hearing. With every sentence, her opinion of Clara changed, and she was finding it difficult to get a reading on her.
“You have my support. William trusts you, so I will trust you. I know he cannot have chosen badly, so you must be wonderful, even if you are strangely quiet.” Elizabeth could not help but smile at the complete inaccuracy of this statement. “I will speak to Helen and try to knock some sense back into her, but Henry is another matter. He’ll come around in time, so don’t let it get you down. After he realizes he can’t change it, he’ll accept it.”
Elizabeth nodded and considered confiding her hurt feelings when Clara began speaking again.
“Do you know much about me?”
“Other than that you are William and Georgiana’s aunt, you have a son called Harold, who I’ve heard is rather funny and favors dark colors, and you live in Somerset, I don’t know anything.” She wisely left out that she was a widow, not wanting to raise her ire again.
“I will tell you a little more. I grew up here at Pemberley, obviously, and when I was seventeen I came out. Anne was immediately snatched up by my brother George and Helen by Anne’s brother Henry, but I had yet to find anyone who made my heart beat faster. I was a bit of a romantic and had high standards, and I did not want to settle for a marriage without affection.”
Elizabeth nodded understandingly.
“I went to a party with my mother in London, while my friends were on their honeymoon tours,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “There I met a man named Albert Preston. He spoke beautiful French, his mother was French, and he had the prettiest grey eyes. He smiled and flirted and danced attendance admirably. In short order we were engaged and after settling things with my father, we married. I was eighteen.” She looked out to the forest, as if seeing something that wasn’t there, and took a deep breath before continuing.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out that Mr. Preston had danced attendance very well indeed. He did not love me. I’m not sure that he even liked me. My wedding night was completely humiliating and one of the worst experiences of my life.
“A month after we were married, I realized he’d never really cared about me, though I was in love with him. I tried to make him love me, and when that didn’t work, I tried to make myself stop loving him. I reminded myself of all his bad habits and would recite them over and over each day. Like that he was fond of cigars; it was the French in him. Everyone knows a proper Englishman smokes a pipe. He had a horrid temper. I have more than one scar to prove it.
“Eventually it worked, but it took years for me to finally put my affection for Albert Preston away.”
“How terrible! But why…?”
“That is a very good question, Lizzy. One I found the answer to rather quickly. Mr. Preston was the heir to an estate in Somerset. It was large and attractive and financially stable and would provide him with the income he needed to continue his debased existence. Old Mr. Preston was a bit of a stickler for propriety and rather moral, even though he married a French woman. When he found out about his son’s habits and that he had fathered a child with a scullery maid, who had been dismissed because of her condition and died in childbirth, he was outraged.
“He demanded Albert straighten up or be disinherited. Part of that reformation was to find a nice girl to marry and produce an heir. His father mistakenly believed that a wife would help keep him on the straight and narrow. I daresay it has worked in the past for others, but it certainly did not work for Albert. He resented my very existence and made no secret of it. When he was in the country, I stayed in town. When he was drinking and carousing in London, I stayed in Somerset or came home to Pemberley.
“So you see, William knows first hand what a bad marriage looks like. He knows what happens when you love someone who doesn’t love you back.”
Elizabeth remembered what he had said about Bingley. That he would give and give until he had nothing left and was a shadow of the man he once had been. Was that why he had fought so hard for Bingley to marry someone who returned his affections? Is that what he saw happen to Clara?
“I am sorry for what you have been through, Clara.”
“I’m sorry, too. But Albert has finally died and I am free to do as I choose. Harold is a sweet boy and will make a wonderful husband someday. I have much to look forward to.” She smiled and shook her hair back over her shoulders. “Now let’s talk of more pleasant things. Tell me about your wedding.”
She was so distracted with Clara and Jane, it wasn’t until she saw Lord Matlock’s grim visage at the dinner table that Elizabeth remembered their comments about her. She ate silently next to Georgiana. When the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, Lady Matlock quietly asked Elizabeth if she could have a word with her in private.
Elizabeth led her to the sitting room and sat, ready for whatever might come.
“Miss Bennet, I’m sure you know why I’ve asked to speak with you.”
“I have not the slightest idea, Lady Matlock.”
“Darcy has informed me of your engagement.” She watched Elizabeth’s reaction closely. “Are you aware of what marriage to him will mean?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“Pemberley is a great estate and requires a diligent mistress. House parties and balls must be hosted, there are tenants to see to, and local gentry to befriend. It is a tremendous amount of work. And of course there is the production of an heir, and preferably additional children. Are you sure you are up to all of this?”
Despite her attempts not to, Elizabeth blushed at the mention of producing an heir. “I believe that I will rise to the occasion, yes. Mr. Darcy has faith in my ability and believes I will be a good mistress and mother to our future children. As I know his judgment to be sound, I am not inclined to argue with him.” She sat on the edge of the chair, her back ramrod straight, her held head high, hands folded demurely in her lap. Her voice was eerily calm.
“Of course he would say that, he is besotted with you!” She waved her hand as if trying to swipe Darcy’s opinions out of thin air. “Men will say anything when they are wooing you. What about after the bloom fades? Do you think he will not regret his choice? Do you think that is not fertile ground for resentment to grow?”
“I believe that if I truly were a bad mistress and his love only a passing fancy, then yes, there might be some merit to what you say. But Mr. Darcy loves me fully and completely and has for some time. It is not the work of a moment. And I myself am completely confident in my abilities to be a good mistress. What I do not know I will learn, and William will be there to encourage me and inspire me to perform at my best.”
Lady Matlock looked at her shrewdly, realizing she was not going to be able to scare her out of this. She changed tactics to one she knew Elizabeth could not resist. “What of love? What of finding a man to cherish you and share your deepest thoughts? What of marrying a man you can love with all your soul and all your heart? A true marriage of affection. What of all your ideals for matrimony? Are you so quick to throw them away for a large estate and a house in town?”
“I was wondering when you would get to that line of argument. I will only say this once, your ladyship. I am in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy. He has won me fair and square and I have accepted his hand. I will gladly receive his love and give mine in return. I will be the best mistress I possibly can be and bear him all the children he could possibly want, without complaint. Because I love him. You have insulted me in every possible way and can have nothing further to say. Good evening, Lady Matlock.” Elizabeth curtseyed and walked out of the room, a stunned Lady Matlock still sitting on the chair in amazement.
Elizabeth entered the drawing room and quickly informed Georgiana that she had a splitting headache and would be retiring early. Jane promised to check on her soon and she retired upstairs to her chambers, finally letting the hot tears of humiliation and betrayal burn down her cheeks, as the warm water of the bath soothed her tattered nerves.
That’s all there is of that. I went another direction because I felt the new way fit the overall story-line better, and this way would have added several chapters and a whole subplot that I felt disrupted the flow and feel of the story. But I liked Clara enough that I wanted to share her with you.
Thanks for reading! ~ EA