The Second Mrs. Darcyby Elizabeth Aston
The next adventure of the Darcy family from the author of Mr. Darcy's Daughters the story of a reluctant heiress who has been left a widow by Darcy's cousin Christopher.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband. So say the friends and family of impoverished widow Octavia/i>… See more details below
The next adventure of the Darcy family from the author of Mr. Darcy's Daughters the story of a reluctant heiress who has been left a widow by Darcy's cousin Christopher.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband. So say the friends and family of impoverished widow Octavia Darcy when she unexpectedly inherits a fortune, but she has a different view and looks forward to a new life of independence.
Escaping from the efforts of her half brothers and sisters to marry her off, Octavia goes to Yorkshire to find out more about the family she never knew, and while she is there she meets and crosses swords with landowner and politician Sholto Rutherford.
When she returns to London to share a house with the dashing Lady Susan, Octavia, now secure in her new life, becomes caught up in the romantic problems of her niece. Then, the shadow of George Warren, the old nemesis of the Darcy family, falls over her, and she is threatened with the loss of both inheritance and reputation.
When widowed Octavia Darcy returns to England from India, her half brothers and sisters—worried about her inheritance and fearing she will become a burden—scheme to marry her off as quickly as possible. However, before leaving India, Octavia learned she had been left a fortune by a relative of her mother. As she savors the growing realization of the independence that vast wealth can purchase, she encounters Lord Sholto Rutherford, an unmarried man with immense political and financial power. He dislikes her candor and assertiveness; she detests his arrogance and haughtiness. Though the outcome is never in doubt, there are many complications along the way, including an attempt to cheat Octavia out of her inheritance. This standalone is Aston's fourth foray into Jane Austen territory (after The True Darcy Spirit), and she includes some characters from Austen's and her own previous novels—numerous subplots involve Octavia's and Sholto's friends and relations, several of whom also plan weddings in the final pages. Aston writes smoothly, with wit and humor. Readers of historical romances, especially those who enjoyed Aston's previous novels, will appreciate her latest.
Kathy Piehl Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband."
Lady Brierley made this pronouncement in booming tones that brooked no disagreement. "Of course you will marry again."
Octavia smiled at Lady Brierley, a woman all nose, but despite her Roman appearance, very good-hearted.
They were sitting on the verandah of the Thurloes' house in Alipore, a suburb of Calcutta, making the most of a pleasant breeze which ruffled the huge leaves of the banana tree near the house. The hovering bearer came forward on silent bare feet to fill their cups with more fragrant Darjeeling tea.
"I am sure you are right," said Octavia, "but, however, I am not in possession of a good fortune. I am in possession of virtually no fortune at all."
"No fortune? Of course you have a fortune. Your late husband was certainly well-to-do; he had a good income, a good estate, a first wife brought him a handsome portion and then he won a considerable amount in prize money; it was known throughout the service that Captain Darcy was a lucky captain in the matter of prizes."
"That is true, but he put a lot of that money into his house and estate, and both are entailed."
Lady Brierley narrowed her eyes. "I had heard that was the case, but I did not believe it. He had no brothers, no close relations at all; pray, who will inherit?"
"A man called George Warren, a distant cousin."
"George Warren! I have heard of him, he is the son of Lord Warren, who Well, it is all most irregular, and I am sorry for you, my dear, if you are not left in as comfortable circumstances as you might have expected."
"I shall have a small income, on which, with care and good management, I shall be able to live."
"That is hardly " began Lady Brierley.
Octavia smiled. "It is not as though I was brought up in affluence, I am used to making do on little."
"Before your marriage, you were a Melbury. Your brothers and sisters may not rank among the very rich, but they hardly have to watch every penny."
Which was true enough, but they certainly grudged every penny that had to be spent on Octavia. Octavia disliked her brothers and sisters half brothers and sisters in fact, quite as much as they disliked her. There were five of them, three sisters and two brothers. One sister married and thankfully living in Yorkshire, two others married and living in London married well, by the standards of the world, although Octavia didn't care at all for Lord Adderley, and knew Mr. Cartland to be quite under her sister's forceful thumb.
Her eldest brother, Sir James, the Squire of Melbury, lived in the country, at Melbury Hall, rarely left his land and stables and hounds to visit London, and took no interest in his young half sister; a person of no fortune, no consequence, no account, he would have said, if asked. Her next brother, shrewd, ambitious Arthur, always ready to point out Octavia's failings and defects, spent most of the year in London. He was a rising politician, who sat for the family parliamentary seat of Melbury.
Her brothers and sisters had never forgiven their father, the late Sir Clement Melbury, for remarrying, several years after his first wife had died, when he was well advanced in years. He had seven children, of whom her five half brothers and sisters were the survivors; two more children had died in infancy. What need had he to disgrace them, caught by a pretty face and a well-turned ankle, choosing to marry the daughter of a man who was hardly more than a tradesman, not even a successful London merchant, not in any great line of business, and his mousy, ill-bred wife? The daughter had been attractive, in an insipid, ordinary way, but their father had made a fool of himself, of course he had; what folly to marry a girl less than half his age, a nobody.
They had felt nothing but relief when the second Lady Melbury died in childbirth, leaving a baby daughter, whom he had named Octavia. The name annoyed them, as suggesting that this child was one of them, which, of course, in their opinion, she wasn't.
Lady Brierley was busily arranging Octavia's future for her. "Well, my dear, we must think of what is to be done. You will return to England, I dare say, there will be legal matters to be dealt with, and this cousin of yours must be persuaded to give you an annuity, he will not wish to appear mean in the eyes of the world, and Captain Darcy was a man with many friends and of standing. He was liked by everyone, so amiable as he was. No, that is the best course for you, the voyage to England will take you several months, so your period of mourning will be almost over by the time you arrive, and then, you know "
Octavia could finish the sentence for her. And then, you know, you might be so lucky as to find yourself another husband.
Lady Brierley's mind was indeed still running on husbands. "On the other hand, such matters can be dealt with by lawyers, and with the Ninth Foot due to be posted here, although of course soldiers are careful whom they marry but still, even with a very modest portion, you are a Melbury by birth, and that does count for something. You were fortunate before; where so many girls return to England still unmarried, you quickly found a husband, and I don't see why that should not be the case again."
What a lottery marriage was, Octavia reflected. Her father had married again, within ten months of being made a widower for the second time, and this time he chose better, in the eyes of his older children; the third Lady Melbury, herself a widow, was the placid daughter of a respectable squire, and her first husband had been a man of position and wealth. She had brought Octavia up without enthusiasm or much kindness, but she had a strong sense of duty, so that when Sir Clement was carried away by an inflammation of the chest, and his heir and his siblings made it quite clear they had no wish to take responsibility for their half sister, Lady Melbury had taken the eight-year-old Octavia to live with her in a pleasant house near Weymouth, in Dorset.
Octavia's half brothers and sisters had paid their younger sister little attention for the succeeding seven years, hoping merely that a fever or some childish complaint such as a virulent attack of measles would carry her off. But Octavia survived the dangerous early years of infancy and had grown into a tall girl, taking after her despised mother, with very few graces about her and a distressing tendency to speak her mind.
Then, at the age of thirty-nine, Octavia's stepmother had announced her intention to marry a Dublin physician, which was all very well for her, the Melburys said, quite good enough, and would mean that there was no longer any danger that a dowdy Lady Melbury might turn up unexpectedly in town and want to be introduced to their circle. But not even a mere half sister was going to be allowed to go and live in Dublin in such a household, not while she bore the name of Melbury.
Since her brothers were Octavia's legal guardians, they could impose their will on their despised half sister. Lady Melbury would have taken Octavia with her to Ireland, but she accepted the family's ruling without argument and set off to her new life in Dublin as wife to Dr. Gregory without Octavia. After all, she told her stepdaughter, she was a great girl now, fifteen was nearly grown up. She would do better to keep up her connections with her father's family than languish in Dublin.
Octavia fought the decision, but Arthur was absolute, and so she stayed on in Dorset, in the company of a woman who wasn't well educated enough to be called a governess, a woman of indeterminate age who drifted around the house in a cloud of melancholy and with a perpetual sniff that drove Octavia to leave the house and saddle her horse and gallop the fidgets out of herself on long solitary rides.
When her brother Arthur found out about the rides, he put a stop to them by the simple expedient of selling her horse and leaving her with one old pony who could be used in the trap to take them to and from the nearby village when required.
"One is expected to marry, of course," said Octavia, watching a mynah bird with its comical yellow eye hopping about on the sparse grass in search of insects. "It's considered the natural state for any young woman. And yet, do I want to marry again? I am not so sure that I do."
Lady Brierley pursed her lips. "You are still grieving for your husband, of course it is too soon to be making any plans of that sort, any definite plans, that is. However, one must look ahead, you will come out of your blacks, and you know, once a woman has been married, she is accustomed to the state. Even women with husbands a great deal less amiable than poor Captain Darcy find themselves wishing to marry again."
"Only I am tall, you know, and that does limit the possibilities."
Lady Brierley looked sharply at Octavia; was there a hint of laughter in her voice?
"Nonsense, height has nothing to do with it. You are graceful, you carry your inches with style, and there are shorter men who prefer "
"Oh, I think I could only like a man I could look up to," said Octavia gravely.
At eighteen, Octavia had been summoned to London from Dorset, whisked away from one day to the next by an impatient Arthur, to be inspected and made ready for marriage by her sisters.
One look at her, and they despaired. "She's taller than most men, which is a grave handicap," complained Augusta.
"Built like a cart horse," said Theodosia.
"You'll have to do your best to make something of her," said Arthur with a shrug. "She is as ill bred as her mother, and you must break her of this habit she has of speaking her mind; that will never do."
And they tried, in their ruthless way. Muslined and crimped and scolded and directed as to just how to behave, Octavia must be meek, men didn't like any forwardness in a woman, particularly not in one who resembled a bean pole. She must laugh, but softly, nothing merry or uproarious, at whatever jokes or pleasantries her partner might make; she must listen; she must hold her tongue and keep her thoughts to herself, no one was interested in her except as a wife of more or less suitable breeding and the possible mother of future sons.
"At least she looks healthy enough," said her brother disparagingly. "Perhaps some country fellow in town for the season might take a fancy to her, some man who is not averse to an Amazon for a wife."
Privately, her half sisters laughed at her prospects. "If she had a fortune...but even then, she is so very rustic."
Neither of them had had any great fortune, but they had been so beautiful as girls that each of them had swept more than one eligible man off his feet the moment she had come out, and had married, in turn, the richest and most influential of her suitors.
At first, Octavia felt sorry for their husbands, at least for Theodosia's husband. Augusta's spouse, Lord Adderley, was a dark, brooding, unpleasant man, who looked at Octavia as though she were an insect; he and Augusta deserved each other, she soon decided. But Henry Cartland, Theodosia's husband, was a kinder man, who seemed to have a gleam of sympathy in his eye when he heard her being harangued by one or other of her family. However, he made no attempt to intervene or stand up for her; he had been married to Theodosia for long enough to know that it would be a wasted effort.
The season had passed in a whirl of dances and parties, with Octavia hating every moment of it, making no friends, and certainly attracting no parti, eligible or otherwise.
"Perhaps we should have sent her to Dublin after all," said Theodosia, in irritated tones. "Perhaps she would be better off in Ireland."
"In that company, in the house of a mere physician? She is our half sister, and is known to be so. No, no," said Augusta. "I shall get Adderley to see about a passage to India, where let us hope she may snare a Company man or an army officer."
"Augusta is right, it's the only thing to do with her," Arthur had said. "The girl's a liability. She'll never get herself a husband here in England, unless some curate can be persuaded to take her on, to help in the parish. She may have an honourable name, but everyone knows her mother was a nobody; she can't expect a good match, no looks, no fortune, nothing to recommend her to any man. And she makes no effort to attract, she is a hopeless case."
"And there is one great advantage to this plan," Octavia overheard Theodosia say, "at the very least she will be gone two years, for the voyage takes many months, and we shall oblige her to spend at least a year there, to give herself a chance of finding a husband."
"The voyage may be dangerous, severe weather, you know, many ships are lost at sea in bad weather."
"And there are pirates, I believe, in some parts of foreign oceans."
"Yes, although it is not so hazardous a journey as it was during the war."
The sisters thought with regret of the years when enemy frigates bearing down on the East Indiaman, guns firing, passengers taken away and never seen again, were a common occurrence.
It had indeed been a long and often stormy crossing, the voyage out, but the ship had suffered neither shipwreck nor attacks by pirates, and the time at sea had brought Octavia a kind of happiness. The routine of the ship suited her; it allowed her to grow back into her own skin after her disastrous season in London. She made one or two friends among some of the girls in the fishing fleet, as they were uncharitably known, although her frank ways earned disapproval from others, and from most of the mamas who were accompanying their daughters.
One of the girls had become engaged on board, to a ship's officer, and had indeed been married by a disapproving captain. As they had anticipated the wedded state, it was uncertain whether the fruit of their love would arrive before the vessel sailed into harbour in Bombay, a topic that kept all the female passengers agog with interest, and among the men, led to a book being opened as to the chances of the baby being born on board or ashore despite the often expressed disapprobation of a clerical gentleman on his way to convert the heathen of Bengal.
Octavia had gone overland to Calcutta, where a distant cousin had agreed to look after her and launch her into such society as existed in that crowded, noisy, lively city. He and his wife had turned out to be pleasant enough people, and, to Octavia's joy, Harriet Thurloe was a keen horsewoman, with whom she could go out riding every morning on the Maidan, before the scorching heat made any outdoor activity impossible.
And then a Royal Navy frigate had called at Calcutta, on an unscheduled visit for urgent repairs: spars broken, a mast sprung in a gale. A dance had swiftly been arranged for the naval officers, and Octavia had found herself partnered in the quadrille by a handsome man in his early forties, a Captain Darcy, who wasn't in command of the Wentworth moored at Howrah, but on his way out to his own commission.
They were eye to eye in height, and he was a grave man, but with a sense of humour that Octavia appreciated. A week after they had met, and a week before he was due to sail, he had proposed, and Octavia, liking him, if not swept off her feet, had accepted.
It had been the talk of the town: all the young ladies and their mothers or aunts or cousins had had their eye on Captain Darcy.
"He is very well connected," Harriet had said. "Of an excellent family. The Darcys are very rich; his cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, is Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, you know."
"Christopher Darcy has a neat estate in Wiltshire," Mr. Thurloe added.
"He is a widower," Harriet told Octavia. "His first wife was a great beauty, and the granddaughter of an earl. He was heartbroken when she died. It was an accident of some kind, I seem to remember, her horse bolted, and she was thrown. Or did her carriage overturn? I can't exactly remember. That was five years or so ago, and people said he was so grief-stricken he would never marry again. However, once a man has had a wife, I find he likes to have another, so I'm not surprised that he wishes to marry again. Although..."
She didn't finish the sentence, but Octavia knew what she was thinking. Why should a well-bred, well-off man, formerly married to the descendant of earls, pick Octavia for his second wife?
Captain Darcy told her why. "You laugh a lot," he said, after giving her an affectionate kiss. "You have a smile on your lips, and your eyes dance. We naval men have a hard time of it at sea, and it will be a joy to come home to a warm smile and laughter."
In the brief time they had together, it had been a happy marriage. He wanted a son, he made no bones about that, but he was kind and considerate when she lost a child early on, more concerned for her than for the loss of his hopes. "It's difficult in this climate," he said, having decided to leave her in Calcutta with Harriet while he was on his commission. "Plenty of time yet."
Only he hadn't had time. A keen botanist, he had taken the opportunity on his next visit to Calcutta to go up country with a naval friend. There, he had been bitten by an insect, a poisonous insect, and had, so the stricken lieutenant reported on his return to Calcutta, died soon afterwards.
Lady Brierley rose to take her leave. "You must take care of yourself, my dear, and if there is anything we can do the Admiral was an old friend of Captain Darcy, as you know; they served together in the war on several occasions, and we in the service do not forget the families of our fellow officers."
Octavia was touched by her kindness, and indeed by the kindness of her cousins, the Thurloes, who had taken her back into their household and were concerned for her future.
"It is all round Calcutta," Harriet exclaimed, when she came in from a drive out to Tollygunge.
"What is?" said Octavia, helping her cousin with the ribbons of her straw hat. "You have just missed Lady Brierley."
"No doubt calling to find out if it is true that you are penniless, thanks to that dreadful entail! To think of George Warren inheriting!"
"Not quite penniless."
"As good as."
The Thurloes returned to the subject of Octavia's fortune that evening at dinner. Octavia, feeling hot in her black dress, although it was made of muslin, fanned herself vigorously. She wished that the punkah wallah, sitting peacefully in his corner and working the overhead fan by means of a string attached at one end to his big toe and at the other, via some pulleys, to the centre of the revolving wings, were more energetic in his task.
Although why should he be? It was one of the unexpected pleasures of India, she had found: the contrast between the cool mornings, the time for brisk exercise, for riding and for clear thinking, and the languorous heat of the day, giving way to the ease of the evening.
The weather was cooler now, in September, with the hot season and the rains over; the monsoon had come late that year, meaning that the baking sultry days of the early summer months had seemed to go on for ever, finally breaking in a stupendous thunderstorm which sent sheets of water on to the dusty streets, transformed in a flash into foaming streams and even rivers, causing many of the inhabitants to be virtual prisoners in their houses until the floods subsided, leaving a muddy, stinking detritus beneath still-brooding skies.
Octavia loved the drama of the weather, she loved the energy and vitality of a city thronged with people, mostly desperately impoverished, but still loud with talk and colour and life. How dull distant England seemed, although she knew that the Thurloes were endlessly homesick for green fields and hedges, for villages with church spires, for the mists of autumn mornings when the huntsman's horn rang out over the fields.
"Or London, how much I envy you returning to London!" said Harriet. "And you will be pleased to see your brothers and sisters again," she added, without conviction, having a very good notion of just how pleased they would be to have Octavia turning up on their doorstep again.
"It is such a pity that Darcy's heir should turn out to be George Warren," Robert Thurloe said, not for the first time, as he ate a mango and then dipped his fingers into the water bowl. "No one, except his mother and the Prince Regent, with whom he is on very good terms, one understands, has a good word to say for the fellow. My advice, Octavia, if you decide to return to England, is to write to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, in Derbyshire. He is not a close connection of your late husband's, but he is a man of considerable wealth and influence. He has a fine estate, and has done very well out of mineral rights, I understand. He may be able to advise you as to the best course with regard to approaching George Warren."
Octavia had no intention of contacting any of her Darcy connections, however rich and influential. She suspected that their reaction to the arrival of an impecunious widow, even one bearing their name, would be much the same as that of her own family. They would compare her unfavourably with that paragon of breeding and beauty, the rich, aristocratic first Mrs. Darcy, whose memory had haunted her marriage. And from all she had heard of George Warren, the chances of his providing for her in any way seemed remote; he was not that kind of a man.
The lawyer in Calcutta who had laid out for her just how Captain Darcy's affairs were arranged had expressed his own doubts about Mr. Warren in no uncertain terms. Mr. Dyer was a small man with round, red cheeks, which he blew out in a disparaging way when the subject of George Warren came up. "Mr. Warren has a reputation for doing nothing which is not of immediate benefit to himself. You must make the attempt, of course, I would not advise otherwise, but you should not hang any great hopes on a favourable outcome."
Well, she, Octavia, wasn't going to go cap in hand to any George Warren. She would ask Christopher's lawyers in London to write to him, and if, as she expected, the answer was a flat refusal, then she would take it no further.
"Have you made up your mind when you will return to London?" Harriet enquired, as she and Octavia left the table and went to sit on the verandah.
Octavia listened to the sounds of an Indian night, the yelps and yowls of the pi dogs, the unearthly howls of the hyenas, a baby in a neighbouring house crying, then being hushed, the hoot of an owl, that harbinger of doom, according to the Indian servants, although Octavia liked those big birds of the night, with their huge, unblinking eyes and feathered wings. She didn't care so much for the bats, visible against the last trails of yellow left from the abrupt tropical sunset, squeaking and flitting to and fro. And the frogs had started up in their steady nighttime chorus.
How she would miss it all; how would she cope with life in Cheltenham or Bath, or whatever genteel town her tiny income would take her to?
"The Sir John Rokesby sails on the twenty-fifth, and I dare say you could get a cabin. Oh, how I envy you, how I wish we were going back to England."
Harriet's plump face looked quite distressed, and Octavia leant over to pat her hand. "Well, you will be returning in two years, will you not?"
"Two years! Two more years of this, I do not know how I will bear it."
"You could return sooner."
"And leave Robert on his own? That would be unkind, unchristian, unwifely. And besides," she added wisely, "it is never a good idea to leave one's husband on his own in such a place, there are temptations, and I have seen it all too often, the handkerchief waved at a departing wife, and within hours the desolate husband has found comfort in a pair of willing arms. For the women here are uncommonly beautiful, and Robert is no different from any other man in that. No, I must serve my time out, but you I cannot imagine why you hesitate. Time has passed, you know, I dare say you will find yourself on better terms with your family than you imagine; it is different, being a married woman that is to say, a widow, but it is not the same as when you were a girl."
Better terms? Well, she could hope so, but she had a strong suspicion that none of her family would be pleased to see her. Had she been a rich widow, the case might be different, but she knew they would be annoyed by her circumstances.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Aston is a passionate Jane Austen fan who studied with Austen biographer Lord David Cecil at Oxford. The author of several novels, including Mr. Darcy's Daughters, she lives in England and Italy.
Visit www.elizabeth-aston.com for more information.
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