My Dearest Mr. Darcy is the third volume of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Pride and Prejudice.
Continuing the story where Loving Mr. Darcy ended, this novel takes the reader through the first year of the Darcys’ marriage.
I am sharing most of Chapter 7, “Up, Up, and Away!” but not all of it because the final portion is a tad spicy!
For more information on My Dearest Mr. Darcy, click over to this page: http://sharonlathanauthor.com/…..t-mr-darcy
Chapter 7 ~ Up, Up, and Away!
Under the circumstances Darcy was thankful to find his wife in her bath. By the time they reunited for breakfast his anger was dimmed to a simmering irritation and well buried. His joy at seeing and touching his beautiful Elizabeth was genuine and purifying to his soul. Lady Underwood was not about as they descended, fortunately; the Darcys breaking their fast and leaving shortly thereafter for a day trip into Great Yarmouth.
Once tucked comfortably into the coach with windows open, Darcy inhaled deeply of the tangy air, twined fingers with Lizzy as she turned a brilliant smile his direction, and felt the final vestiges of his chagrin dissolve. Aside from the sheer elation found in the presence of his beloved wife, there was also the anticipated delight in today’s outing.
Great Yarmouth, or Yarmouth as the locals referred, was one of the few North Sea-located towns famous as a seaside resort. It held this distinction since 1760, when one of England’s first seaside bath houses utilizing the chill water of the ocean was constructed here. The narrow strip of flat, sandy dunes situated between the medieval walled Rows east of the River Yare and the pebbly beach bore the unusual name Denes. Unique in all of England, the Denes had for centuries served as a haven for cattle grazing, fishermen to dry their nets, and for the community to relegate other unpleasant tasks, such as criminal hangings, from the citizens safe inside the thick walls. This remained the status quo until wise and greedy city entrepreneurs recognized the financial advantage to cashing in on the seabathing phenomena by expanding on the existing wells and building a bath house. The mile-long expanse of finely churned sandy beach coupled with the wide barrenness of the Denes created the ideal environment. Great Yarmouth’s economy subsequently exploded. Herring and mackerel fishing would endure as a primary industry, but tourism boomed. The ancient jetty near the bath house was rebuilt and reinforced until eventually extending 456 feet out to sea, providing both a stupendous view and exhilarating sense of the open ocean.
It was to this pier that the Darcys headed first. Despite their early rising and vigorous exertions, several days of lying about inspired each of them to wish for a brisk walk and full day of entertainment. Mr. Anders deposited them by the pier with instructions to park near the north gate of Nicholas Church. The streets were busy with the combined traffic of Yarmouth’s twenty thousand natives attending to their daily activities and the massive number of visitors. The popularity of Great Yarmouth as a resort had rather surprised Darcy upon his investigation. He had heard of the city, naturally, but was only vaguely aware of the particulars. Quite obviously, as they crept snail-like through the streets, hundreds of English tourists were abundantly conscious of Yarmouth’s charms.
The harbor and pier was clogged with fishing boats of all sizes replete with clamoring fishermen and straining nets of fish. The smell would have been overpowering if not for the constant easterly breeze capturing the wafting odors and transporting them far to sea. Nonetheless, it was unpleasant at times. Lizzy, as well as most of the women meandering about and a good number of the men, kept a perfumed handkerchief close in hand. Happily, the stench waned the farther one walked down the jetty. Darcy kept a firm grip to Lizzy’s elbow as they walked the damp, uneven wooden dock. It was wide and very well constructed, intended to cater to the tourist desiring the excitement of invigorating ocean winds and pounding surf under one’s feet; however, it was also a working dock with hardy men toiling and the risk of impeding ropes and fish innards blocking the path.
They made their way to the extreme end without mishap. It was a beautiful day, cloud-free and warm, the incessant air currents gentle but cooling. The majority of the boats preferred to anchor closer to shore for the ease in offloading their catch, which meant the far ends of the wharf were empty. Other brave folk were standing at the rail, Darcy and Lizzy finding a clear space with a stunning view of the endless waters north and east. They stood nestled close, Lizzy absorbing Darcy’s radiating heat, with backs to the shore. The surf roiled and gulls screeched, the sounds just loud enough to drown any noise from the shore and moored ships, rendering a disconnected sensation.
“If the boards beneath our feet undulated it would be exactly how it feels on a ship,” Darcy said. “I remember the first time I took a sea voyage, when we went to France, I could not quite decide if I enjoyed it or not.”
“Did you get seasick?”
“No, fortunately. Jonathan did, poor thing, as did my uncle, although he would likely deny it if you asked him.” Lizzy laughed. “They both retched horribly and kept to their bunks. Thankfully it was only a channel crossing. No, I always suffer a headache while aboard ship. My stomach has no upheaval, but my head splits.” He shrugged. “I do not know why. Lying down makes it worse, which seems odd. I do best if I stay near the bow, feel the spray, and breathe deeply. Anyway, aside from that discomfort, I do love watching the waves, and there is nothing as stupendous as glimpsing the occasional whale spout or jumping porpoise. Yet at the same time the sense of helplessness, of knowing there are fathomless depths of water under and all about is disconcerting. Maybe that is why I get such a headache. I despise being out of control and having my entire fate at the mercy of other people and natural forces.”
He shuddered and Lizzy chuckled, squeezing his arm. “Yes, I can see why this would frustrate you. I daresay I would feel much the same so am thankful for the firm foundation. Richard suffers no ill effects?”
Darcy laughed. “Richard is a born seaman. Honestly. I told him he was a fool to not join the navy, and he did consider the option, but decided the draw of the cavalry outweighed a ship. In the end it makes the most sense since, like me, he was practically born in a saddle. Still, I was a bit surprised as he perpetually extolled the exploits and virtues of Admiral Nelson with stars in his eyes, forcing me to play navy whenever possible. He was always Nelson and I some underling being ordered about to swab the deck or load the cannons.”
Darcy smiled in remembrance. “Even then he possessed the air of command. I wish you could see Richard in this light, Elizabeth. He is so different. You would be amazed.”
“Why did he not join the navy then?”
“By the time he finished at Cambridge, Nelson was dead. Napoleon was raging across Europe and soldiers were needed. It truly did make the most sense for him to be in the cavalry, and Uncle encouraged it. Richard rose quickly. He earned the rank of Second Lieutenant before he left for Russia in 1812. By the end of that campaign he was elevated to Captain. By 1815, at Waterloo, he was a Junior Major commanding two companies and distinguished himself brilliantly. He earned his Colonel’s stars at battle’s end.”
“I confess I have not given much consideration to Richard’s career. How remiss of me! I had no idea he was such a hero. You all must be so very proud of him.”
“Assuredly. Although it was horrible during the long months with no communication. Aunt Madeline worried so. She had not embraced Richard joining the military, even though it is a typical career choice for second sons, and Richard would not be deterred. Still, I suppose all mothers are torn between pride in their sons for serving their country and tremendous fear. Each letter would be met with great rejoicing. We did not see Richard for nearly four years, but he returned with injuries minimal and medals abounding. We were blessed, so many families losing loved ones during those long years.”
“Was he much changed when he returned? One hears terrible stories of what battle does to some men.”
“Oddly, no. At least not too much. Richard has ever been gay hearted and humorous. Jolly, I suppose, is an apt word. Yet he is amazingly intelligent and focused. The casual acquaintance does not see that aspect of his personality. We spoke at length and seriously about his experiences at war, and he shared with Uncle, but few others will ever hear him talk of it without a ready joke or clearly embellished tale. Georgiana loves to hear him regale his exploits, wholly unaware that none of them bear more than a passing resemblance to the truth.”
They wandered slowly up the pier, past the cluster of inns and boarding houses that surrounded the bath house, turning north onto the broad esplanade separating the beach from the Denes. The once restricted area outside the medieval town walls was gradually evolving from a wild wasteland to a developed part of the city, but the progress was sporadic and frowned on by many town officials, creating a pattern of intermittent buildings and empty spaces. The walkways leading to the beach underwent similar haphazard planning with proper development recently unfolding. Still, the rough avenues were not a deterrent to the mass of visitors. The beach was packed with blankets and umbrellas as people enjoyed the sun and sand, children by the dozens frolicked in the tide, and long lines of tourists rambled under the tree-lined boardwalk.
Lizzy and Darcy joined the strollers, arm in arm and slowly wending their way to the main avenue that would take them into town proper. North on King Street to the town marketplace wall to wall with chiefly locals buying and selling, they bypassed the crowds by veering to the left-hand sidewalk. The Church of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of fishermen, with towering gothic spires, was visible from a great distance. The enormous gated grounds were blanketed with thick lawn and shaded by innumerable ancient trees. Built in 1119 with the typical cruciform structure, the original edifice had been altered and added onto so many times in so many styles that one could no longer rightfully say the actual architecture. The building was gigantic, providing services for over a thousand parishioners and at one time boasting eighteen separate chapels catering to individual families and guilds. Currently the church was partitioned by three brick walls to allot individual places of worship for the Independents, the Presbyterians, and the Churchmen. This strange configuration was an oddity worth seeing, Lizzy and Darcy spending a pleasant hour investigating before meeting up with Mr. Anders and the carriage.
Lizzy requested walking to the southern end of the promenade, but Darcy insisted on the carriage, refusing to weary her overly. There were those moments when his over-protectiveness irritated Lizzy, this being one of them, but she bit her lip and did not argue. Of course, it would have been a fruitless endeavor anyway, Darcy being a man intensely stubborn in spite of a general desire to grant his wife whatever she wished. The press of the crowd meant that it undoubtedly took twice as long for the carriage to weave its way to the south Denes; however, the manifest affluence of the Darcy coach with emblazoned crest meant the crowds parted and Mr. Anders easily drove to the front entrance of the temporarily renovated training field at the Militia Barracks.
Today was a special day at Yarmouth. Precisely one month previous, on August 15 of 1817, the foundation stones were laid in the exact center of the military racetrack for what would two years hence be the first columnar monument in all of England raised to honor Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson. To celebrate, and to partake in the fever and publicity, a balloonist from Norwich was lifting off for a proposed flight to London.
As far as the monument was concerned, Darcy had a vague recollection of reading a couple short articles about the proposal, but the facts had escaped his memory until a week or so prior to their trip. Even then, it had been an offhand comment by Mr. Keith regarding the laying of the foundation that restored the memory. He had promptly added an inspection of the site to his list.
The balloonist, however, was a total surprise.
“William, did you hear about the balloonist?” They were in their room on the third night of their sojourn in Caister-on-Sea, having retired to the bedchamber after a pleasant evening of conversation and cards with the other guests. Darcy sat on the edge of the bed where he had rather impatiently awaited his wife’s emergence from her dressing room, and was currently stroking and kissing the thinly satin veiled bulge of their child. Lizzy stood tolerantly, running fingers through his hair, smiling with pleasure at this necessary part of his day.
He glanced up at her. “A balloonist? Where?”
“Seven days from now near the site of Nelson’s monument. A hydrogen balloon, so the leaflet says, to launch and fly to London. Can we attend?”
“It would be delightful, beloved. I have never witnessed a balloon takeoff, have you?” He resumed his attention to an active offspring, pressing his cheek against the insistent kicks readily felt.
“Five years ago we spent the Christmas season at Cheapside with Uncle and Aunt Gardiner when James Sadler took flight from Vauxhall Gardens. It was stupendous. I am surprised that you have not seen the spectacle, William, especially considering how captivated you are with strange inventions.” She lowered onto his lap, leaning for a kiss.
He chuckled lowly, nestling her close and continuing the steady caresses to her belly. “Merely not in the proper place at the proper time. I remember the event you speak of, but was snowed in at Pemberley. Pity. Perhaps we would have encountered each other in the crowd.”
“Sweet thought, my love, but I was sixteen and would have dismissed you as an old lecherous man even if you had cast a second glance my way, which is highly unlikely.”
“I should be offended, but instead I believe I shall show you old and lecherous!” And with that pronouncement he clasped and carefully tossed his squealing wife onto the bed, proceeding to lavishly prove that lechery was an apt description, but assuredly not old.
The reality is that Lizzy was accurate in her assessed surprise at him having not seen a hot-air or hydrogen gas balloon. It was a tremendous delight to be treated to this rare occurrence, balloon flying still an extraordinary and dangerous undertaking despite being avidly pursued since the Montgolfier brothers first flew in 1783.
The rough ground of the Denes surrounding and including the Militia Barracks and Naval Hospital was gradually transforming into a developed region catering to the tourist. The construction of the track for horse racing built in 1810 aided the city planners significantly in their essay. Now, with the essential funds finally attained to erect the monument and the initial steps in building begun, public awareness beyond Nelson’s birth land of Norfolk was spreading and the prospect of increased revenue was high. If the volume of people presently paying the modest fee and filing in to take seats was any indication, Great Yarmouth was in for a rapid explosion of progress.
Darcy gladly paid the steeper price for premium seats under the canvas awning, shade being an asset worth any cost. The gargantuan balloon could easily be seen from anywhere inside the makeshift stadium, and from a great distance without, but naturally part of the draw was watching the balloonist in action. This could only be observed from inside.
The fabric of the mammoth gas-filled balloon was woven with concentric circles of maroon, yellow, forest green, pink, black, white, and violet—all colors dazzling in the bright sun. Held securely to the ground by dozens of sturdy tethers, individually manned by burly fellows, the willow branch woven basket sat sedately on the dirt. There were so many people milling about the arena that until the exhibition commenced, no one could determine who the balloonist was.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Barking in a powerful voice, a tall man dressed in a stunning suit of purple commanded silence and attention. In the hush that fell, he continued dramatically, raising the audience’s expectation to a fever pitch, “Welcome one and all to Great Yarmouth and this extravaganza! Today all shall be witness to an aerial feat of magnificent proportions! Trusting to a liberal dose of mastery in the science of gases and atmospheric pressures, the balloonist is nonetheless an adventurer of astounding bravery! Ever at the merciful whims of nature and the Almighty, the courageous balloonist risks life and limb with each ascent! Who among you can claim such fortitude? Do you have the nerve? The sheer audacity to tempt fate? Nay, you confess? Well, allow me to introduce one who possesses all these traits and more! Ladies and gentlemen, please, a hardy round of applause for Miss Alita van Lingen!”
With wild applause following a brief caesura of stunned awe, the crowd greeted the impressive woman who materialized from the sidelines. Even from their seats high above the floor, Darcy and Lizzy could discern Miss van Lingen was easily six feet in height and probably as brawny as Darcy. As incongruous as it seemed, she wore a scarlet gown garishly adorned with lace and frills, a wide brimmed hat with ribbons and foot-long feathers, and a hem-length boa in white ermine. She waved her gloved hands grandly with florid bows in all directions, blowing kisses enthusiastically before entering the balloon’s small basket. The announcer shut the door with a flourish, gallantly grasping Miss van Lingen’s hand for a courtly kiss.
In point of fact, the actual ascension of the balloon was rather undramatic. One by one the tethers were released, the balloonist calculatingly emptyied the hanging sand-filled ballasts as the balloon rose until well above the earth. So gradually as to be nearly indiscernible, the balloon began to glide horizontally as air currents were encountered. Necks arched and eyes strained with the effort to catch the infinitesimal alterations of the colossal device; time dragged as the ponderous contrivance gracefully and majestically soared until finally a mere dot lost among the wispy clouds.
All the while the people watched, collectively held their breaths and waved incessantly at the disappearing pilot. For long moments no one moved, as if under a spell difficult to break. Hypnotized, the audience began to stand and drift toward the exit. Talking was initially minimal, but progressively erupted in tiny bursts as total strangers shared in the awe.
Darcy avidly observed the spectacle with the singular twinkle in his eyes so familiar to Lizzy. She too was captivated by the demonstration, but having seen it once before she did manage to tear her eyes away and note her husband’s expression. Lost in his reverie, apparently unaware that the balloon was far beyond even his keen eyesight, Lizzy squeezed his arm and leaned to his ear.
“I fear your busy schedule allots no time for you to take up ballooning as a hobby, love.”
He turned to her with a sheepish smile, eyes still sparkling nonetheless. “That was truly marvelous, Elizabeth!”
“Let me guess. We must hasten to the nearest library to purchase books on the science of balloons and flight?”
He laughed. “No. We must hasten to the nearest pub as I am parched and famished. Later I shall acquire a book on the subject. Only for enlightenment, you understand?”
They did not need to travel far. The entire southern end of the sandy peninsula formed by the River Yare and North Sea was rapidly evolving from a primarily military habitation and ship docking quay into a tourist destination. All along the boardwalk small shops and eateries were practically daily opening. The previously rustic track had been widened and smoothed, with trees actively being planted to shade pedestrians. Large fields were leveled for carriage parking; naturally arenaceous beaches were meticulously combed and inspected for bathers and players; hotels were being built; grassy plains and cultured gardens were landscaped; and a modern wharf was being constructed.
In the middle of it all sat the racetrack. Some ten years ago the military men decided they needed a track to race their horses. Over time, what was essentially designated as a cavalry training field and arena for mild amusement among the militia grew into a full-fledged betting racecourse. Spectator seating, areas of concessions, and the all important booths for gambling had been built. Twice a week the track was taken over by breeders, owners, jockeys, and thoroughbreds from around the country for a sport that had been synonymous with England since the days of Queen Anne. Although this track and the racers exhibited could not compare to the Royal Ascot or Newmarket, nor were the purses as substantial, wherever there were horses traveling at fast speeds and money to potentially be made, folks would flock.
Since this latter description perfectly encapsulated Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy; attending the races while at Yarmouth was an item high on his list. The truth is that of all the entertainments Darcy enjoyed partaking in, billiards being premier, watching the races ran a close second. He was not a gambling man by nature, so any betting was cautious and reserved for those animals he felt extremely confident in. As a longstanding member of the Jockey Club, as was his grandfather, as well as being a breeder who understood the animal as if one himself, Darcy was extremely knowledgeable regarding the sport. He could name every horse and jockey of merit throughout the country, was personal friends with the chief owners, and had patronized every racecourse of substance numerous times. Although the revenue Darcy had won through intelligent betting over the years was not copious, it far outmeasured the amount lost.
As for Lizzy, the world of horseracing was completely foreign. While in London Darcy had taken her to two events held at the Royal Ascot in Berkshire and once at Epsom Downs in Surrey. Naturally this was an essential for Darcy, not only due to his intense love of the sport but for business reasons as well. Lizzy had approached the adventure with a fair amount of trepidation, frankly imagining being bored senseless and overwhelmed with choking dust and noise, but smiled and expressed delight with the prospect for her husband’s sake. Darcy, of course, was not fooled in the least.
To her surprise, she found the sport extremely exciting. First off, both racecourses subverted her vague imaginings by being extraordinary in construction, opulence, comfort, and provisions. The seats afforded the Darcys were plush, shaded, segregated, and offered a fantastic view of the impeccable track. Secondly, and most amazing of all, the racing itself was exhilarating. Lizzy’s six months as a Darcy, surrounded by some of the finest horses in the country and married to a man who nearly lived and breathed all things equestrian, had birthed in her an unrecognized appreciation of the majestic animal. Her enthusiasm and knowledge would likely never come near to Darcy’s, but she discovered the entertainment fabulous fun.
Darcy, naturally, was thrilled at her embracing the diversion; so much so that he was only mildly perturbed when she insisted on betting for a particular horse because, “he has a nice name.” Lizzy, unbeknownst to her spouse, had done so to tease him, confessing only after Sweet Whistler placed second!
“Look, Elizabeth,” he now said, holding the program open and pointing. “Race one has a mare named Lovely Peacock. Sounds like a winner to me!” Lizzy harrumphed and swatted him away, Darcy chuckling.
Ignoring him for the time being, she studied the program carefully. Darcy had taught her the rudiments of calculating odds and the profile aspects of import. Of course he had the advantage by intimately knowing the pedigrees and racing histories of many of the horses. She pursed her lips, glancing at her handsome spouse who was currently avidly observing the prancing animals down below.
“Fitzwilliam,” she began, Darcy raising a brow at the formal address, “I suggest a friendly competition. A challenge, if you will. Are you brave enough to match wits with your wife?”
“I believe I require further illumination, Elizabeth, as your wits frequently supersede mine. What did you have in mind?”
“I have fifty pounds in my reticule. If you will agree to limit your wagering to the same, we shall see who chooses the wisest by who wins the most.”
Lips twitching, Darcy nodded sagely. “High stakes, Mrs. Darcy, especially considering I had no intention of being so extravagant.”
“Is the idea too daunting, Mr. Darcy? Are you afraid?” Her eyes were twinkling, pert nose and chin lifted boldly in challenge. Darcy gazed at her, cursing inwardly at the restrictive rules of propriety that made it impossible for him to kiss her as he yearned to do with an agonizing stab through his gut. Lizzy knew him far too well, aptly reading the message in his eyes despite the controlled mien. Her smile widened as she waited.
“You know I never back away from a dare. Therefore, I accept your challenge, but shall grant no quarter, my dear.”
“None shall be asked for, William.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice, “I love you, you know. If I do win, I will expect you to reward me as I see fit.”
Darcy took her hand and kissed her fingers lightly, eyes locked with hers, naturally resonant voice husky. “It seems that I shall win in either case then.”
“Mr. Darcy, what a pleasant surprise!”
Both Darcy and Lizzy jolted. Lizzy flushed brightly, but Darcy recovered smoothly, standing with elegant grace to greet the older man smiling pleasantly from the aisle. “Lord Ellis. What brings you from Suffolk?”
“Sea air and horses, naturally. Likely the same as yourself. Mrs. Darcy, I trust you are well?”
Lizzy smiled. “Quite well, my Lord. It is a delight to see you again. Is Lady Ellis accompanying you?”
“Alas, she despises horse racing and has opted to shop.” More random chatter ensued, Lord Ellis eventually leaving the Darcys to “continue their amusements” with a wink, Lizzy reddening again.
The afternoon hours elapsed. Darcy and Lizzy kept to their contest with playful seriousness, neither willing to tolerate defeat although it was equally obvious that neither would really suffer if the loser. Surprisingly, Lord Ellis was not the only acquaintance encountered. Probably a fifth of the attendees seated in the stadium section relegated to those of wealth and station were known to Darcy. Several were military officers introduced through Col. Fitzwilliam, but most were social peers familiar to varying degrees. Between casual conversations, thrilling races, a personally escorted tour of the Nelson monument site, delicious refreshments, the stimulating competition in wagering, and the incomparable joy produced by the presence of the other, Darcy and Lizzy were glowing by the time they settled into the carriage.
Lizzy promptly turned to her husband. “Now! Time to count the profits and see who the victor is.”
Darcy laughed, but retrieved his money clip as Lizzy opened her reticule. Lizzy had been impishly secretive in her selections, insisting that Darcy stand away as she placed her bets so he “would not cheat.” Darcy, in turn, had feigned confusion and dismay with much frowning and chin scratching. In between the blatantly smug articulations and theatrical heavy sighs, they mutually reveled in taunting each other.
Nonetheless, to Darcy’s extreme pride, Lizzy calculated earnestly and won far more often than she lost. In the end, Darcy prevailed in their cordial competition, but by a mere four pounds.
“Game well played, Elizabeth. I am very proud of you. You chose horses wisely and it paid off.”
“Thank you, William, but you have triumphed fairly. Name your desired reward, sir, and it shall be granted.”
“Hmm… What a difficult decision this is! What can I possibly desire from you? Let me think a bit.” He kept up the false musing all the way back to the resort, Lizzy sitting serenely beside him staring out the window as if wholly uninterested.
* ~ * ~ *
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