Thanks to all of you who have been following this story! And now the moment you’ve been waiting for – Darcy arrives in Scotland! If you’ve missed them, here are Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. The book will be released Sept 5, and you can pre-order the ebook at Amazon.
One of the fun things about researching Regency Edinburgh is the abundance of period engravings. I hope you enjoy the ones I picked out to embellish the story.
“And they call this the Athens of the north,” Darcy muttered to himself as he gazed out the post-chaise window at the streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town. After nearly a week of travel, most of it spent either reading a guide to Edinburgh or in happy daydreams of seeing Elizabeth again, it was a shock to see the narrow, gloomy roads lined with dubious-looking tenements pushed one up against another, some of them six stories tall. Did the sun ever reach the street below?
One winding, dirty street after another. Why was the postilion taking him this way? Darcy had told him he wished to see Hanover Street where Ramsay lived before stopping at the White Horse Inn, but that could hardly explain it. He was certain Ramsay would live in a respectable part of town.
Just as he was about to call out to the postilion to go straight to the inn, they drove onto a bridge and the sky abruptly became visible. Even though the day was cloudy, it was surprisingly bright after the dark streets. At least the bridge was wide and seemed to be of recent construction. And on the other side they entered a completely different city, as light as the older part of the city had been dark, with wide avenues and sweeping vistas.
The terraced buildings on the broad streets were attractive and modern, interspersed with large classically designed buildings. There were columns everywhere. A picturesque castle loomed over the landscape. This town could indeed be called the Athens of the North. Edinburgh apparently expected its visitors to descend into the bowels of hell before reaching the promised land.
Fashionably dressed gentlemen and ladies strolled along the pavement, just as they would in the best parts of London, if the streets of London happened to be wider and cleaner than he had ever seen them, and the air less full smoke and soot. Already his eyes sought out every female form and compared it to Elizabeth. She was here somewhere. He was certain of it.
“New Town, sir. Turning onto Hanover Street,” called the postilion over his shoulder.
Ramsay’s house was as modern as the rest. Then the coach took him back across the bridge into the dirt and squalor of Old Town. Fortunately, the White Horse Inn turned out to be in a better neighborhood near the castle, but still it was nothing compared to New Town.
The postilion jumped down and lowered the steps. “Your inn, sir.”
“Darcy!” Ramsay pumped his hand heartily. “I could not believe it when I read your letter. I had given up hope of ever tempting you here!”
His friend’s enthusiasm was infectious, especially after an uncomfortable night at the inn. “Ramsay, it is a pleasure.”
His old university friend was still unquestionably the same young man with whom Darcy had fenced during the day and argued philosophy at night over too much wine. Now his face showed more laugh lines and his ginger hair had darkened to auburn. “What is all this nonsense about an inn? You must stay with us, of course.”
“I would be pleased to do so, but I do not wish to impose. I gave you so little warning of my arrival. I did not even know if you would be in town.”
“You are always welcome at my house, even without notice. What brings you here at such an unpleasant season, though? Not the charm of my character, I warrant you.”
“Business of a sort. I am looking for a girl.”
Ramsay’s eyebrows rose. “Well, we have plenty of those here.”
“A particular girl, one who is missing. She was sent here a few months ago to live with her aunt, whose name I do not know.”
Ramsay’s forehead creased. “An English girl who arrived a few months ago? I cannot think of any, but I rarely notice these things. My wife is more likely to be helpful.”
“An English girl arriving last spring or summer?” Mrs. Ramsay screwed up her pretty face in concentration. “Perhaps… No, she was here last winter. I do not believe I have heard the name Bennet. If you like, I can inquire among my friends – discreetly, of course.”
“I would be most grateful,” Darcy said. This was what he needed; assistance from his friends who knew Edinburgh and its inhabitants.
“We should also think of places young ladies are apt to go. We must attend dances at the assembly rooms, of course, and such soirées as are happening. Milliners, of course – I will inquire among the better milliners and modistes. Does she enjoy reading?”
“The circulating library as well, then. Concerts, the theatre, the market. You must tell me what things she likes. It should not be impossible to find one young lady in Edinburgh, even if she is using a different name. Society is small enough that we notice newcomers.” Her lilting Scottish accent became stronger as she grew more animated. “We will find your Miss Bennet.”
Ramsay added, “My valet attends me when I call on patients. He can ask the servants if they are aware of any new arrivals. I also have a man of business who could make inquiries in the parts of town where we have no connections.”
Five-year-old Matilda tugged at her father’s trousers. “If I ran away, I would become an actress.”
“Oh, you would, would you?” Ramsay scooped up the girl in his arms. “Now we will know where to look for you, poppet.”
Mrs. Ramsay’s lips trembled with suppressed laughter. “I thought you were with Nurse, Miss Mischief! You need not worry, though; I will be certain to check the actresses as well.”
Something about the little girl reminded Darcy of Elizabeth. “I thank you for your advice, Miss Ramsay,” he said with a bow.
The girl giggled. “He called me Miss Ramsay!” she told her father. “I like him. May I marry him when I grow up?”
“Darcy will be old and gray by then,” said her indulgent father. “And you would break the hearts of the handsome young men who will be violently in love with you.”
“I do not care about them,” announced Matilda. “I like Mr. Darcy better.”
It was a pity Elizabeth had not shared the girl’s sentiments, but that did not matter now. He had a second chance, and he would tell her everything that had been in his letter of explanation, and she would at last see him as he truly was.
“There is a play tonight.” Mrs. Ramsay looked up from the broadsheet she held. “Bluebeard, or Female Curiosity. It sounds dreadful, but I think we should go. Even disreputable people go to the theatre, so she and her aunt might be in the audience.”
“A good idea, but you need not accompany me if you prefer a quiet evening at home,” said Darcy. “I have kept you out almost every evening since I arrived.” Soirées, assemblies, musicales – Edinburgh had far too many social events, and Elizabeth did not seem to be at any of them. The burst of elation he had felt on arriving in Edinburgh had faded with each failure.
Mrs. Ramsay said, “We had best accompany you. Three pairs of eyes are better than one. Mrs. MacLean is performing, and she is always worth watching.”
Ramsay shook his head. “Darcy has no need of us to make introductions at the theatre. A night at home will do us good.”
Darcy paid extra for a private box with a good view of the audience. The Theatre Royal was larger than he had expected and nearly as ornate as its better-known cousin in Covent Garden, but Darcy cared only about the theatregoers. Raising Ramsay’s opera glasses to his face, he began to scan the audience row by row, pausing to study each young woman. One possibility faced away from him. Dark hair, light figure, and a certain vibrancy. Could it be her? He silently pleaded with her to turn her head, but it was no use. He would have to return to her later. Who would have thought there were so many dark-haired young ladies in Edinburgh?
He barely attended to the play, a horrid melodrama, instead studying the boxes opposite him. Nothing. He could not see the boxes above or below him. Elizabeth could be in one of them and he would never know.
He pointed the opera glasses at the dark-haired girl again. Disappointment surged at the sight of her sharp nose and pointed chin. Not Elizabeth. He should not have let himself hope.
Perhaps he had missed someone or a latecomer had arrived. The back of the theatre was full of shadows, so he started again at the front. No, not that one. No, not her. No, no, no.
A familiar shout of male laughter made Darcy’s head snap towards the stage. He squinted at the young actor playing the… Well, he had not paid enough attention to know what role he was playing. His skin was too pale, but that could be greasepaint. But that voice…Good God, it really was Jasper! Darcy was going to wring his neck. He pulled the playbill out of his pocket and examined the cast list. No Fitzwilliam, of course, but there was a Mr. Fitzpatrick. That would be him.
Now the play had Darcy’s full attention, or at least one actor in it did. The play itself could not hold his interest, especially since now he was seething with anger.
But even his fury could not make him forget about Elizabeth. When the interval came, Darcy strode through the crowd of playgoers, his gaze flickering over each young woman he passed. People edged away from him. His fury must be showing in his face. This was not the sort of attention he wanted to draw. He made an effort to walk more slowly and pretend he was calm.
No Elizabeth. An unexpected surge of longing for her so strong he could almost taste it ripped through him. God, why had she not contacted him in London? He needed her, and she was not here.
He was cravenly glad to return to the privacy of his box. Elizabeth was so strongly in his mind he could practically feel her beside him. He closed his eyes and let himself imagine her as he waited for the damnable play to end.
A short rotund man opened the stage door to Darcy’s knock. “Here for Miss Belanger?” he asked knowingly.
“I wish to see Mr. Fitzpatrick.”
“Fitzpatrick? He don’t usually get visitors.”
“I am a relation of his,” said Darcy repressively.
“Hoy! He says he got no family.”
“By the time I am done with him, he may wish that were true,” said Darcy through gritted teeth. How dare this fellow keep him standing at the door?
The man laughed and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Back there.”
Darcy wove his way through a confusing maze of bits of scenery and props to an open space, if one could call it that when a dozen people were moving purposefully through it. Jasper sat in his shirtsleeves at a small table where he was engaged in scrubbing greasepaint from his face. The dark wig he had worn sat on the table, but as Darcy watched, a young girl came by, took it up, and walked off with a saucy sway of the hips.
Darcy came up unseen behind Jasper and said in a voice dripping with irony, “Mr. Fitzpatrick, I presume.”
Jasper jumped. “Darcy!” He lowered his voice. “Dammit, I told you not to look for me.”
“I didn’t look for you. I came to the theatre to see a play, and you traipsed across the stage. I could hardly miss you.”
His cousin scowled. “Edinburgh is a long way from Pemberley, and this is not even the sort of play you like. And you expect me to believe it was a coincidence?”
“Believe what you like, but I am here on business having nothing to do with you.”
Jasper grabbed Darcy’s sleeve and tugged him to one side just as two workmen carried through a large piece of scenery, one side painted with the details of a Moorish palace, the other side plain canvas. “Are you going to tell my parents?” he said in a low voice.
“Why should I? You are of age, and I have no burning desire to break your mother’s heart.”
“Darcy, you do not understand,” Jasper said urgently. “I need to do this. I came here because it was far away and no one here knows me. The precious family name is safe.” He sounded bitter.
“Acting? This is what you need to do?” Darcy dodged as more scenery was carried past him.
“I have always loved to act, even in those silly little plays my sister made us perform. Cambridge was the best time of my life because I could do amateur theatricals. It is in my blood. Sooner or later I will have to go home and bury myself in the church, but I want some time to live first, something I can remember the rest of my life as I am smothering in some rural living.”
“Spare me the melodrama, I pray you. I am not going to tell your parents. At least you had the sense to use a different name.” Darcy could not keep a note of censure out of his voice.
“Shh! No one here knows!” hissed Jasper. “I do not expect you to understand what it is like to desire one thing so much that nothing else matters. You have never set a foot wrong.”
“You might be surprised,” said Darcy slowly. “If this is what you wish to do, it is no business of mine.”
“Good night, my loves!” called a woman of mature years from the stage door. “Until tomorrow!”
Jasper raised a hand in salute without looking towards her. Darcy glanced over to see a woman in an extravagantly feathered hat blowing kisses to the other actors.
He stared at her in shock. Her eyes widened at the sight of him and she dashed out the door. His cousin forgotten, Darcy set out after her. Or he would have, had his way not been blocked by another enormous piece of scenery. He attempted to squeeze around the end of it.
“Hoy there!” The workman stuck his elbow in Darcy’s rib.
The older woman was disappearing out the door.
Darcy turned back to Jasper. “Is there a way around this?” he demanded.
“In a few minutes.” Jasper returned to cleaning his face.
“I must speak to Miss Bennet before she leaves!”
“Who is Miss Bennet?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The young lady who just went out the door with that actress.”
Jasper’s face emerged from behind a towel. “I have never heard of a Miss Bennet. That was Miss Merton.”
“I must speak to her, whatever her name is.” It had been Elizabeth. Darcy was certain of it. She had been shocked to see him. She was using a false name, and now she was getting away.
Jasper said, “Have a care, Darcy. This is not like a London theatre where the actresses have protectors. The church is powerful here, and they barely tolerate the theatre, so our ladies must be respectable.”
“I mean no disrespect. I merely wish to speak to her.”
At last the workmen moved the scenery past him, and Darcy strode to the door. Outside it was dark and cool. A few playgoers lingered outside the main entrance to the theatre, but otherwise the street was empty. Darcy swore creatively and at some length.
What now? Jasper seemed to know something of her, but he was impulsive and his tongue loosened when he drank. Darcy did not dare to tell him the truth, but perhaps he could discover something. Slowly he walked back inside.
“What was that all about?” asked Jasper.
“I thought she was someone I knew. Who is she?”
“Mrs. MacLean’s niece. A pleasant girl.”
So the mysterious aunt was an actress! Well-to-do, but not entirely respectable. Of course. “Her niece did not look Scottish.”
“No, she is English. She has not lived here long.”
It was Elizabeth, without a doubt. At last! Now he needed a way to find her again. How could he lead up to that? “Is she an actress as well?” He hoped not. That much scandal would be difficult to overcome.
Jasper shook his head. “Not really. She often comes here with Mrs. MacLean to keep her company, and will occasionally step in for a small part if someone is ill, but she has no interest in acting.”
Perhaps Darcy could discover where Mrs. MacLean lived. If not, he could return to the theatre each night and watch the stage door. Sooner or later Elizabeth would appear.
Welcome to Edinburgh! If you weren’t expecting see the Honorable Jasper Fitzwilliam show up on the stage, imagine how surprised I was, since I’d set this book in Scotland specifically to keep the Fitzwilliam family out of it. Imagine me staring at the paper in horror as Darcy heard Jasper’s trademark shout of laughter. But Jasper is a charming scene-stealer, and he utterly refused to leave, so there he is. 😉
I hope you enjoyed it, and that you’ll come back next week to hear Elizabeth’s side of the story!