Here we go, BOOK 2 in the Moralities of Marriage series! Thank you so much for reading!
XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West
Chapter 1 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Charlotte Collins plucked more lavender sprigs from the partially shaded corner of her garden, placing long stems of the herb into her white apron. The quick pace formed perspiration under her many layers of clothing, but she would not remove her bonnet lest Mr. Collins return early from his constitutional walk. Her loose hair proved an easy distraction to her toad of a husband.
A dust cloud followed a hastily driven carriage down the lane. The man inside took little notice of the small woman gathering herbs in her garden. Charlotte squinted her eyes at the coach and recognized the equipage. Catching her breath, she hurried to complete her work.
Married to Mr. Collins for three months, she needed to collect and dry as many stems as she could. If she made enough soap for the household, perhaps she could sell some in town for a minor profit. Her husband was always most cross over the lack of funds for their family. At twenty-seven, Charlotte had been long considered “on the shelf,” and her father, a lowly baronet in Hertfordshire, had redirected most of her dowry. The day her marriage settlement was signed ended most of the goodwill she had experienced previously from her intended.
“My wife, was that not Mr. Darcy’s carriage just now in the lane?”
Charlotte cringed. She was caught. The last thing she wished to do was talk about Mr. Darcy. Not to Mr. Collins; not to anyone. Since he had arrived with Lady Catherine two months ago, there had been nothing but strife. Lady Catherine’s moods shifted as frequently as a windmill turns, with her husband bearing the brunt of her moments of displeasure. In turn, Charlotte bore the brunt of Mr. Collins’ displeasure.
“I believe so, Mr. Collins.”
“Did you not rise and curtsy as I have instructed you?”
Charlotte stood hastily with her apron corners in hand, unfortunately pulling the corner of her work gown slightly askew, revealing a well-formed, stockinged right calf. She witnessed Mr. Collins’ stare of desire before quickly reaching down and settling her skirts to fall properly. Marching to the back door of the cottage, Mr. Collins blocked her way.
“Mrs. Collins, perhaps you are fatigued from your morning’s endeavors and care to join me in a rest? For your health of course.” The man licked his lips and inhaled a deep breath.
The stench of his body odor, pungent from his hasty rush to greet a carriage he had no hope of meeting, made her revile at his invitation. “I feel quite well, thank you,” she managed.
“Yet, you did not stand to greet Mr. Darcy as I have implored you to honor all of the illustrious persons of Rosings. The worthy name of our patroness, and her relations, deserve the reverence of nobility. I presumed you too fatigued to stand, or you would obey your husband.” Mr. Collins piety began to bring an irritated tone to his voice. But he was no match for Charlotte.
She bowed her head and slowly raised her eyes to look through her long lashes. “You are correct, sir, that I am unwell with the plague women must bear. I was gathering herbs so that I might brew a tea to lessen these symptoms. I have failed to fulfill my duty to Mr. Darcy’s carriage, but I only did so in hopes of fulfilling my duty to you.”
Mr. Collin’s tongue made an unflattering flapping sound. Charlotte knew well when she had appealed to her husband’s baser nature in order to, once again, absolve her of that particular wifely duty. In this case, she even succeeded in alleviating her guilt for purposely ignoring her husband’s command to curtsy for a rushing coach.
Realizing Mr. Collins needed prompting, she used her best tone of deference. “Sir, might I make myself a cup of tea? I shall sit and plan this week’s meals with Cook.”
Snapping to attention, Mr. Collins nearly jumped out of his wife’s way so she could enter the kitchen. Leaving him in the doorway, she joined Mrs. Plummer, the cook, and deposited her pullings carefully into a bin. With a knowing look, Mrs. Plummer handed Charlotte the twine and wiped her hands from the stew she was stirring. The two women spied through the small window that Mr. Collins continued to walk through the garden to the other side of the property in a direction to check on his beehives.
“Have the eggs been collected from the coop?” Charlotte grabbed a bunch of the pale purple thistle-like blooms and wrapped a cord of twine around the base before tying the bunch to a nail in the windowsill.
“Yes, ma’am. Eileen found three eggs this morn.”
“Three? Mrs. Plummer do we not keep ten chickens? “
Mrs. Plummer looked down at her own bundle and quickly tied it off. “Rightly, you do. But for the life of me, this past week the eggs have been scarce, ma’am. It might be from that last spring storm.”
Charlotte pursed her lips. She highly doubted spring storms were spooking the chickens, at least she’d never seen such a thing at Lucas Lodge, her father’s estate. No, Charlotte suspected a much more sensible reason her eggs were missing, and as Mistress of Hunsford Lodge, she intended to discover the cause.
“See that the stew does not scorch. Mr. Collins is unbearable in the evenings when his dinner does not settle well.” Charlotte left the kitchen to hurry upstairs and freshen up. She was to walk to Rosings and perform her daily visit with Anne de Bourgh as she had done every day since a week after her arrival.
The cook nodded, knowing Mrs. Collins meant no disrespect. The three weeks she had been employed at the parsonage she had watched her new mistress dodge the master’s advances enough to value Charlotte as one smart woman. The entire household pitied the woman forever tied to Mr. Collins, both here and the thereafter, in holy matrimony.
Chapter 2 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Fitzwilliam Darcy entered Rosings covered in dust and walked straight to the gaudy sitting room knowing he’d find his aunt there, never next to her daughter’s sickbed. The walls held so many ornamentations and ancient tapestries, it was a dark and dank room—Fitzwilliam’s least favorite.
“Fitzwilliam, thank goodness you have come. Anne has taken to her bed once more, and Dr. Sneads is certain her time is near.” Lady Catherine lacked any maternal concern in her voice and did not rise from the overly ornate wingback chair she employed as an impromptu throne.
“I shall see to my betrothed, presently, once I am changed. Madam.” Darcy bowed and tried to exit the parlor.
“Don't open that door!” Lady Catherine instructed the poor footman. “Whatever did you need to rush to Pemberley for? You never satisfied my question before you abruptly departed two weeks ago. What if Anne had died? You must marry right away, this very afternoon!” Lady Catherine barked her orders from her pretender’s throne.
Darcy clenched his teeth. For two months, he had stalled and stymied his family’s attempts to make him wed his sickly cousin, Anne. First, he delayed their arrival as long as he could with matters in London. Then, he spent weeks pouring over the accounts of Rosings, justifying the action as necessary to reconcile the marriage settlement papers. Then he made certain to find a mistake and return to London under the charade of seeing his solicitor. Finally, he used Pemberley as an excuse. But time marched on. He was running out of excuses to delay the wedding.
Richard was to have procured leave a month ago and arrive for the switch in groom, but his military duties continued to thwart their plans. The only sustenance that allowed Darcy to endure night after night of his aunt’s rude, brash manner was the handful of love letters from his true love, Elizabeth Bennet. The two brief times he managed to go to London, he saw his secretly betrothed, but her uncle, Edward Gardiner, refused to allow them any privacy. Darcy couldn’t blame the man; his situation remained precarious and should something happen, Elizabeth would be alone.
“I explained that I saw to the preparations of the mistress suite at Pemberley. If a man is to take a wife, there are certain preparations that must be met. I had planned to stop off in London to see that home, but your missive said Anne was dying.” He didn’t add that he instructed the decorations based on the Elizabeth’s tastes, not Anne’s.
“She is! Her doctor assures me there is precious little time and one more illness will take her away! Marry and be done with it, you can have your bits of muslin on the side.” Lady Catherine waved her hands to emphasize the trifling nature of such concerns.
Love of his cousins and Elizabeth had prevented Darcy from taking just such action. To him Anne was unwell, but never appeared to be upon death’s door as her mother called it. A more mercenary man would marry one, wait for her to die, and then marry again, just to procure another estate. Taking another bow, Darcy’s patience ended.
“Again I tell you, I shall see to my betrothed and her comfort after I have changed.”
Darcy returned to the Master’s chambers of Rosings and met with his man Simmons. Allowing his valet to undress him, he awaited the water for a bath. He was not unfeeling towards Anne; she was his dear cousin. But he had only ever briefly intended to marry her once when the scheme was first pressed by all of his older relations. That fleeting reconciliation to a loveless marriage occurred while he mistakenly believed Elizabeth Bennet promised to another and before his other cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, acquainted them to his secret love affair with Anne. His future companion had once described his life as a Shakespearean comedy, yet if matters did not change soon, Darcy would likely find him the hero of a tragedy.
“Sir, would you care to wear your charcoal coat or full black?” Simmons asked as another servant motioned Darcy’s bath was prepared.
“Black.” Darcy climbed into the tub and slunk into the hot water with his long legs bending up at the knee. If Anne’s deterioration in fact existed, the perilous future of his family and personal happiness hung in the balance. Certainly, if Lady Catherine lost Rosings to a late, madness-induced will by her late husband, Sir Lewis de Bourgh, he was not prepared to take on the old baggage at Pemberley. This whole trouble began and ended with one man, Wickham. Had he simply disappeared, gone to America or elsewhere after Darcy paid him the value of the living willed to him by Darcy's own father, none of this would be happening. But Wickham ran off with Darcy’s only sister, before her sixteenth birthday. The two now married, it would be nary impossible to avoid probate should Anne pass away unmarried. A bastard child, a will of a madman, and too much wealth for unscrupulous souls to manage, Darcy thought sourly.
After soaking for a full quarter hour, Darcy called Simmons for his clothes. His black suit of the finest cloth London could offer cut his tall frame into a handsome figure, but Darcy didn’t need confidence in his appearance. The women of the Ton and even lower circles had ever chased after him as a fair prize to be caught. Yet it was one country miss who nearly died by his horse in a horrific accident last autumn that had captured his heart. Darcy wished he had managed to stop in London if only to see his Elizabeth again.
“Shall I unpack your trunk, sir, or do you plan to travel again soon?” Simmons asked as he brushed small bits of lint off his master’s coat.
Darcy tugged on this coat sleeve, glancing in the mirror, horrified at how gaunt his face appeared. One year shy of his thirtieth birthday and yet the ghost of his father stared back at him in the lines and fatigue under his eyes.
“Please wait for my audience with Miss de Bourgh. At the very least we shall spend a week here so I may again go over the estate accounts.” Despite wishing he could return to his love, and drag Richard out to Kent if necessary, Fitzwilliam Darcy couldn’t keep avoiding his responsibilities forever.
The Trappings of Marriage
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are off to Gretna Green!
In Book 4 of the Moralities of Marriage series our dear couple have survived accidents, forced marriages, and meddling relatives. After a short stay at Pemberley where the future Mrs. Darcy comes to terms with the kind of wife Fitzwilliam Darcy will need on his arm, they take off for the border to marry over the anvil. When Mr. Darcy plans an idyllic wedding trip to his family estate just outside of Dumfries, the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy discover the trappings of marriage have yet to relinquish their hold.
Chapter 3 - A Virtue of Marriage, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Sunlight poured through a dusty window at the top of the landing allowing Charlotte Collins a moment to check her disposition in the looking glass at the top of the servant’s staircase before entering Anne de Bourgh’s sick room. Her normally invigorating afternoon walk to Rosings was ruined by her husband’s insistence on attending her, claiming concern over her earlier fatigue. She would have to remember to curtail her fibs when it came to her stamina in the middle of the day, though sidestepping Mr. Collins’ regular attentions couldn’t last.
With a cheery smile and her fake reading material in hand, Charlotte inhaled through her nose and stepped inside.
“Charlotte, you are early.” The excitement in Anne’s voice couldn’t be mistaken, though it barely rose above a hoarse whisper.
“Shhh…no need to wear yourself out, Anne. My husband insisted upon walking with me, completely removing the time where I usually stroll your lovely gardens and park before attending to you . . .” Charlotte gave her friend an impertinent laugh, knowing Anne loved to hear about Charlotte’s walks. In some ways, walking the gardens of Rosings reminded Charlotte of her life when it was more carefree in Hertfordshire, tromping after her friend, Elizabeth Bennet, in woods, streams, and fields.
Darcy appeared outside of his cousin’s room moments later, shocked at the familiarity he heard between Anne and one that was unfamiliar, yet still comforting in an odd way. This shock kept him eavesdropping, as he stood rooted to the very floor and couldn’t have performed a different action if he had tried.
“Did you harvest . . .” A fit of coughing prevented Anne’s thought from completion. Charlotte quickly poured a glass of water for the lady to drink. As Anne lay back to rest from her coughing fit, Charlotte absently raked her fingers through the woman’s thinning hair, sitting on the edge of her bed.
“Yes, the new crop finally came in and I expect to have more than enough for my plans.”
“I’m so sorry you are unhappy. I cannot imagine my father forcing me to marry such a man.”
Charlotte frowned for a moment, remembering the lack of aid her father gave in avoiding Mr. Collins’ particular attention. Of course, Mr. Collins, due to inherit the Bennet home in Hertfordshire called Longbourn, was originally set to marry one of his cousins, and Charlotte’s best friend. But Elizabeth Bennet had scorned Collins’ proposal, and she had even warned Charlotte he was not a nice man. The chance of leaving her family home as a successful married woman, with a future of returning to her neighborhood on one distant day, had caused Charlotte to throw caution to the wind. She always thought happiness in marriage was a matter of chance, she just never thought herself to be so unlucky.
“It was not so much a forced marriage as the only offer ever made.” Charlotte winced at the embarrassment of such a confession. “Perhaps marriages of convenience are less a savings and more a waste than we thought! Now, shall we get back to Lady Helena and her dastardly Uncle seeking to steal her inheritance?” Both ladies laughed at the irony of their situations as Charlotte pulled the contraband novel from the hiding space below Anne’s bed.
The novelty of Anne’s laugh startled Darcy back to the present. He entered the room and the young woman playing companion to his sickly wife halted him in his tracks. He remembered now; it was that odious parson’s wife, the one who had taken the place of his dear Elizabeth at the altar. He pretended not to see Charlotte drop the book and slide it under the bed with a nudge of her slipper.
“Fitzwilliam!” Anne’s gasp brought on another fit of coughs, and Charlotte and Darcy reached for the glass of water at the same time, spilling the clear liquid down the lace runner over the nightstand and into a wet puddle on the pale green rug.
Anne’s coughing continued.
“Pardon me, Mr. Darcy.” Charlotte scrambled to right the glass, pour more water and hand it to Anne who was now gulping her breaths between coughs.
“Ssh. Slowly, Anne. Don’t fret, you will only feel worse.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy stood at a complete loss. Anne’s hair hung limply around her shoulders, her complexion the normal pale white he’d always seen. But the rattle in her cough and bluish tinge of her fingertips convinced him. The young girl he had chased and teased as a boy was slipping away from this world.
“Forgive me, I must write a letter. It is a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Collins.” Darcy bowed to the two women and strode confidently out of the suite, into the hall, and back towards his bedchamber, nearly knocking a squattish man, in possession of far too much forehead, to the ground.
Immediately, the man bowed in a deep bend, taking full responsibility for the offense.
“Mr. Darcy, may I say how pleased we are to hear of your return. It is a most celebrated event.”
The gall of this man struck Darcy dumb. “I should hope my summons to Rosings is not an event to celebrate. My cousin is on her death bed.”
“No, I mean to say, that is, it is most celebrated that you should return to Rosings, to wed, and as your presence brings an air of prestige that no other…”
Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose. He wanted nothing more than to return to his chamber and pen the missive he must to his other cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, hoping he could finally get away. Finally, the portly man’s stuttering ended and Darcy realized he was waiting for his response. On what, he could not say as he had quit listening at “prestige.”
“Certainly. Is there business I can help you with, Mr. . . .” Darcy purposely trailed off, not wishing to utter even the man’s name. How this bumbling fool could have ever thought himself elevated enough for the likes of his Elizabeth, he did not know. But it was arrogance, and Darcy despised arrogance where no true superiority of the mind existed.
“Collins sir. Reverend Collins, at your most humble service, Mr. Darcy.”
If this weren’t indeed a grave situation, Darcy would think himself trapped in a play of comedy not of his own making. His cousin was dying, her mother couldn’t be bothered, he might have no choice but to marry her to save the estate and risk losing his Elizabeth forever, and this pompous weasel was bowing to him. Again.
“Thank you, Mr. Collins.” Darcy gave a pert nod of dismissal and tried to sidestep the man, to no avail.
“Mr. Darcy, might I offer my pastoral services in this extreme time of grief? I have served her Ladyship for a number of years now and in her great wisdom, she has encouraged my counseling efforts to be at the ready for any such situation as my flock may require. As parson, I pray most earnestly that you look to our Heavenly Father at this time of loss and rely on Scripture for your answers before hardening your heart.”
“Mr. Collins, my cousin still breathes!” Darcy took back his thought of being caught in a comedy. This was a nightmare. “Good day, sir.”
This time, he physically brushed the sycophant aside. He was not two steps when the man dared to call after him.
“Pardon my intrusion, but perchance you’ve seen my wife, Charlotte, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy wheeled around on the spot and narrowed his eyes at the man. “Your wife?”
Mr. Collins finally felt the disapproval he earned earlier and physically shrank an inch or two in stature under Darcy’s glare. “Yes. Mrs. Collins. She reads sermons to Mrs. Darcy daily.”
Realization struck Darcy immediately, and he did not wish for the kind Charlotte to be caught hiding a novel under a bed. He surmised the reality of Mrs. Collins’ visits to his ailing cousin were unknown and as Darcy held not one ounce of respect for Mr. Collins, he would certainly preserve his cousin’s privacy to her secrets and by proxy, her friend.
“Sermons. Of course. Yes, I did hear your wife reading to my cousin just moments ago. Wait here and I shall inquire.” Darcy once more walked past the man, his nostrils twitching at the overpowering smell of cheap cologne masking a failure to bathe.
“I shall accompany you and be of pastoral assistance.” Mr. Collins took a few steps after Darcy but froze when Mr. Darcy’s much taller stature immediately turned back around to address him.
“You forget yourself, sir; perhaps my cousin is not decent for another man’s visit. Do you make a habit of barging in on the sick rooms of every lady in your district?”
Mr. Collins face flushed to a deep shade of beet red. As he stammered more apologies, Darcy swiftly opened the bedroom door to Anne’s sitting room to gain entrance to her bedchamber. He interrupted a rather rousing reading from Mrs. Collins on the topic of Lady Helena’s near escape from her Uncle’s estate by clearing his throat. Charlotte crimsoned and immediately hid the book behind her back.
“Forgive me, Anne. Mr. Collins is waiting in the hall for his wife.”
Darcy didn’t miss the fleeting look of disgust on Mrs. Collins face before she hastened to the bed to gently clasp Anne’s hand in farewell.
Gently, Darcy pulled the novel from Mrs. Collins hands as it waggled behind her back in front of him. He bowed to Anne and saw Mrs. Collins to the sitting room.
“Mr. Darcy, about the reading material–”
“There’s no need to explain, but after my earlier run-ins with Mr. Collins, perhaps it should remain with me? If it brings Anne a small amount of comfort, I shall offer to continue the story of Lady Helena and her dangerous adventures.”
Charlotte nodded and flashed a brilliant smile. Suddenly, the bloom was gone from her face and she appeared stricken.
“Good day, Mr. Darcy. I’m sorry we met again under such sad circumstances and please tell Miss de Bourgh I shall see her tomorrow.”
“Thank you, I believe my cousin would enjoy your presence.”
Mrs. Collins opened the sitting room door to the hallway to find her husband pacing. She sighed and took his arm as he led her back down the grand staircase.
Darcy shook his head and returned to Anne’s bedchamber, seizing the same chair previously occupied by Charlotte. He opened the book and began to read, watching with contentment as Anne smiled and relaxed against her pillows. In a few minutes, her breathing regulated, though it was very shallow for his tastes. He gently kissed her hand to take his leave and resolved not to let anything or anyone get in the way of the letter he must write. He could not handle this alone.
You've been reading A Virtue of Marriage
Book 2 of The Moralities of Marriage, continuation of the saga from By Consequence of Marriage.
With Fitzwilliam Darcy hopelessly tangled in his family's lies and deceit in Kent, reinforcements are on the way in the form of his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and his secret fiancee, Elizabeth Bennet. Two generations of the Fitzwilliam family clash at Rosings and the matrimonial futures of both Darcy and Richard hang in the balance. When Lady Catherine goes on a rampage, and the Bennets become swayed by the vicious gossip swirling the Darcy family, both Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam learn you inherit each other's family drama by virtue of marriage.
A full-length novel, A Virtue of Marriage continues the three-part Moralities of Marriage series.
A Virtue of Marriage, Book 2 of the Moralities of Marriage
a Pride and Prejudice novel variation series
Release Date: March 31, 2015
308 pages in print.
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