Robert Darcy, the 4th Earl of Holderness, had quite a bit of royal blood. Indeed a good argument could be made that he had a more direct right to the throne than did the Hanoverians who were sitting on it!
A list of English & British monarchs will show us that upon the death of Queen Anne, George I ascended to the throne. In came the Hanoverians.
Now here is the interesting part. When Queen Anne died with no surviving children, England had to go to the offspring of Princess Elizabeth of England (19 August 1596 – 13 February 1662) to get the next heir. That woman had 13 children.
If the succession had gone through her oldest child (who made it to adulthood,) guess what? The throne could have ended up being Robert Darcy's.
This is hardly fair of me, since if the succession had followed along normal lines the heir to the British throne would not have been allowed to marry someone as common as an earl. So there would not have been any King Darcys anyway.
Still, England did overrule the normal order of succession. Instead of going to Princess Elizabeth's oldest child for the next heir, they skipped all the way to her twelfth child!
They skipped loads and loads of people when they put the Hanoverians on the throne.
Parliament did that. It saw a crisis coming just plain intervened, thank you very much. They passed The Act of Settlement of 1701. Who cares if they left a bunch of people out? They certainly did not. This was serious business here. There were too many Catholics floating around in Princess Elizabeth's line. By golly, England had had enough of religious bloodshed. They were going to make sure that the next King was as Protestant as possible. And they did. So much for primogeniture.
Now, here is the Holderness family tree as it is known at the start of this chapter. There will be additions to it:
Robert Darcy, 4th Earl of Holderness
b. May 17, 1718
d. May 16, 1778
Married on October 29, 1743 to
b. circa 1721
d. October 13, 1801
The children of Robert Darcy and Mary Doublet:
1. George Darcy, Lord Darcy and Conyers; b. Sep 1745, d. 27 Sep 1747
2. Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy and Conyers; b. 1750, d. 1750
3. Lady Amelia Darcy; b. October 1754, fictitiously dies as a child
4. Conyers Darcy, 5th Earl of Holderness, a fictitious character; b. 1759, d. April 9, 1788.
Hornby Castle, North Yorkshire
April 17, 1788
Mary Darcy sat finishing her morning coffee. She was in a snug little room that she had long ago claimed as her own. It was small enough to actually get warm, one of few such places in this drafty, old castle. Robert had spent a good deal of time and money modernizing, but the place was still cold.
Thank goodness the entombment was over and most of her guests would leave today. Then she and Robert Darcy could get to the business of finding out who killed Conyers and why.
She smiled as she thought about the name Robert. Poor Bryant had been aghast when she had asked him to find Robert Darcy for her.
Syon Hill, London
April 9, 1788
"Bryant, I need Robert Darcy. Find out where he is for me."
The elderly Holderness retainer turned positively white before he managed to talk. "Lady Holderness, do you not remember? The old Earl has been gone these last ten years."
If Bryant had not appeared so stricken, Mary would have laughed. "Not that Robert Darcy. I am not daft, not yet anyway. Find me Robert Darcy of Pemberley."
Well, it was ti me to get on with being a good hostess. Then there would be the will. Then it would be time to seek justice for Conyers. She had a number of private fears about who was involved and whether or not justice would be possible, but she needed to find out the facts – whatever they turned out to be.
As she left the room, she idly wondered who was next in line for the Holderness properties and who would inherit the English Baronies and the Portuguese Countship now. There was so little left of the Darcy family. With Conyers alive and strong, she had never given it much thought.
Mary shook her head. She did not care even now. There was no danger of her not being taken care of for the balance of her life. For the rest of it, what did it matter? All of her babies were dead. Whatever now happened to the Holderness things and titles was entirely meaningless.
It was close to evening before the two Darcys were settled in the Earl's study with Higginbotham. What that attorney had to say shocked them both.
"Lady Holderness, Mr. Darcy. I am afraid that the will cannot be settled yet. We must first wait to see if there is a child."
Both Darcys looked at him sharply. Higginbotham resisted the urges to clear his throat and loosen his collar. It was as he feared. They knew nothing of the Earl's marriage.
"Forgive me for being blunt now, but there is no other way. Conyers Darcy was married back in January of this year."
"Are you jesting?"
"It is no joke. He was married in Scotland. He came to me afterward to make some changes in his will, but he did not reveal to me the name of his wife. However, Lady Holderness, he left this envelope for you. He said that it contains proof of his marriage."
Higginbotham handed the envelope to Mary. She stared at it for a moment before handing it over to Robert. He did not hesitate to open it.
He read it. Then he read it again. Then he whispered, "Good Lord." For another few moments, he just stared at the document in front of him. Then he looked at the attorney. "Higginbotham, would you be good enough to leave us for a while?"
Although he was deeply curious, the attorney knew better than to show it. "Of course, sir." Higginbotham stood, bowed to Mary Darcy, and left the room.
"Robert, there may be a child." The awe and thrill in Mary's voice were clear.
Robert came to sit next to her and took her hand. "Mary… Mary he married… Mary, your son married the Princess Elizabeth."
Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire
October 17, 1808
Darcy sighed with relief as he mounted his horse. He really needed a good, hard ride to clear his head. Yesterday had been necessary, but it was a trial. As much as Darcy had wanted to devote himself solely to learning about Elizabeth, it had not been possible.
After all, Darcy was completely responsible for Bingley leasing this particular estate. So he contented himself with nodding to her during church services and then spending the rest of the day dedicated to helping Bingley learn about estate management. It had been the only thing to do. More days like yesterday would be needed, too.
Then Bingley had hinted that his sisters were concerned. They wondered if they had somehow offended Darcy because he had not danced with them at the assembly. It was a gentle rebuke and Darcy knew it. It did not fall on deaf ears. Darcy spent the evening with his hostesses and his host.
Just because he had his own agenda to accomplish in Hertfordshire, he must not again forget to be a good guest and a good friend.
But now he had a bit of freedom. A hard ride followed by nosing around the edges of Longbourn. Darcy could give himself both things this morning and still have a clear conscience.
Nearly two hours later, Darcy was by a stream. He was washing some grime off his face as he let his horse drink. When he stood up and looked around, an odd little pier downstream caught his eye. As he walked towards it, he was noticed that another little stream flowed into the larger one right at the site of the pier.
No. It is not another stream. That was made by the hands of a man. It looks like a small canal!
Indeed it was. Darcy could see two little locks from where he stood. Then the canal disappeared through a cut in a small ridge. Fascinated, he headed up. At the crest of the ridge, he stopped and looked out over a shallow valley. The canal ran through some fields and he could see a more natural stream beyond it, coming down from the rocky side of a higher hill. There must be a spring there! That is the source of water for the canal!
But his attention was not caught by that for long. There, by one of the fields and at the edge of the canal, a woman and a boy were struggling with something. It is an irrigation lock! He quickly saw that it must be stuck in the open position for the field beyond it was flooded.
He was about to whistle for his horse so that he could ride down and help them when he was suddenly arrested by laughter. That is her laugh! Disbelieving, he looked more carefully at the woman. It was no peasant. It was the Countess. For a moment, Darcy was frozen in shock.
Then something happened. Elizabeth fell backwards and landed in water and mud. Immediately Darcy turned to whistle for his horse so that he could ride down and help her. But his steed had followed him and he was able to mount and take off. As he rode, from the corner of his eye he saw another person moving towards the scene. Even from this distance he could see that it was a dirty and disheveled man. Darcy spurred his horse. He felt the danger to Elizabeth from this vagabond.
But what unfolded in front of him was a complete surprise. The Countess was laughing, even more so than earlier. Before Darcy could reach her, she was waving to that vagabond and calling out to him. She is assuring him that she is fine!
Even as he still raced to her, Darcy felt his body relax. She was in no danger. Indeed she was still laughing hard at her circumstance. He had to withhold a smile of his own. But that urge passed in the blink of an eye. Darcy the Guardian was aghast. What did she think she was doing? Heaven and Earth! How am I ever to make this into a lady?
But when he pulled up in front of her, Darcy the Man took control. The boy had helped Elizabeth to her feet. Her wet dress clung to her everywhere. It was clear that she was not wearing a corset. She had ripe, full breasts and her pointed nipples showed through. Her hips curved out tantalizingly and he could even see the hint of her mound. She is magnificent.
She turned away and began to walk. His eyes followed the movements of her hips. She was bending down to pick something up… Finally, his good sense intruded. Darcy, man! What are you doing?
He blinked and the scene before him took on some clarity. Elizabeth had walked over to where her pelisse and bonnet were laying on dry ground. With her back to him, she was now putting them on. Finally, she turned around.
Although she was blushing furiously, her bearing was upright and dignified. When she spoke, her voice was clear and calm.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy. Welcome to the Bennet-Bridgewater Canal."
Chancery Lane, London
October 17, 1808
Higginbotham sat with his sons and their clerks, not really listening as they went over the calendar for the coming week and their various cases. Many times he did not even bother to attend these weekly meetings anymore. His sons had most of their business well in hand. Higginbotham was usually only required to deal with the aged clients who still insisted on his personal attention.
He should really pay more heed to the fact that he was getting older, too. His bones certainly reminded him of that daily. But, handling the personal affairs of some of these old families was very lucrative and Higginbotham could not stand the idea of losing any of them.
As he sat there, he was flipping through his own personal calendar. His eyes stopped at December second. The Darcys. Higginbotham would certainly like to bring the young Countess' business firmly back into the fold. That Fitzwilliam Darcy had been using his own people for most things since he took over control of all the assets. As a matter of fact, Higginbotham would not mind having that Darcy's business, too.
Well, it was time to give that a try again. After all, Higginbotham had to go and see Darcy before that boy took over the care of the Countess herself. He had intended to do that a few months ago but then he found out the boy was at Pemberley. That was a long journey that Higginbotham would just as soon avoid. But he did have a letter that was to be delivered to the boy just before he took over guardianship.
Time was flying by. He really should have delivered that letter already. He might as well take care of it and see if he could gain some more good business in the process. Hopefully Fitzwilliam Darcy was now in Town. If not, Higginbotham would just have to make the journey to Pemberley. Well, there was no time like the present. He would find out where young Darcy was, just as soon as this interminable meeting was over.
October 17, 1808
Hill and Akers made an enormous fuss when Elizabeth arrived home wet and covered in mud. In no time at all, she was submerged in a warm bath, thoroughly scrubbed and then dressed in warm clothing.
Finally she had been left alone in front of a roaring fire and with hot tea at hand.
She leaned back in her chair. She ought to be completely mortified. Well, she was completely mortified. However she was also, somehow, thrilled. A shiver went down her spine as she thought again about the way Mr. Darcy's eyes had devoured her.
Elizabeth was a very well-read young lady. Most would say much too well-read. She had certainly known about lust. At least she thought she had known about lust. But reading about it was nothing like seeing it. And she was sure she had seen it. It had burned in Mr. Darcy's eyes.
She felt her own body tingling, everywhere that man's gaze had fallen. She shivered again.
Then she groaned and covered her face with both hands. How was she ever to face him again? He must think her a complete hoyden.
Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire
October 17, 1808
After his encounter with Elizabeth, Darcy was in no condition to face the shrewd eyes of Miss Bingley. He really should take this opportunity to go into Meryton and see Clark, but his mind was too unsettled. That could wait. There was no real hurry for any of this.
So he continued to investigate the Longbourn estate. Even though his thoughts kept returning to his drenched ward, he did manage to make a few observations about the Bennet land. He could tell that it had once been a proud estate but that it was being allowed to fall into ruin. His already low opinion of Henry Bennet fell even more.
Darcy rode for a while without paying any particular attention to where he was. Thus he was surprised when Bingley's stables came into view. His horse had taken him home. How his horse had come to identify Netherfield as home in such a short time, Darcy could not imagine. Clever creature.
As he dismounted, his mind turned back to the Bennet-Bridgewater Canal. Elizabeth being out there and actually working on it was still a shock. Here he had been hoping that Bridgewater had introduced Elizabeth to part of her future life with the Ton. Instead the old man had set her to building. Darcy laughed out loud.
His ward was something out of the ordinary, to be sure. A swell of pride filled him. Then he frowned. It was going to be a Herculean labor to turn her into a proper lady. Perhaps his Aunt Fitzwilliam would help. He doubted that he had a prayer of succeeding on his own.
Thompson was ready for Darcy when he reached his rooms. The valet not only had warm water waiting, but he also had information for his master.
"I managed to get a note to Miss Akers." Thompson frowned.
"It did not go well?"
"No. No. Everything went fine. She met me near Longbourn village. She will have time to walk toward Meryton early tomorrow. She is free while Miss Elizabeth goes for her daily walk. You can meet her along the way. An hour after sunrise should be perfect."
That was both exciting and disappointing. It was exciting because he now knew that Elizabeth took a walk every morning. It was disappointing because tomorrow he would be unable to accidently meet her. Stop it, Fitzwilliam Darcy. She is your ward. Pleasure in seeing her has no business in all this.
Darcy's own frown reminded him that Thompson had seemed unhappy about something.
"Then what went wrong? Why were you frowning?"
"It was nothing, sir."
"Very well. It is just that the little urchin who took her the note smirked. He smirked at me. He probably thought I wanted an assignation."
The poor valet was now blushing and looking down at this shoes. Darcy was sorry that he had brought it up. His man always stayed as far from women as possible. Having someone imply that he was having an affair would have mortifying to him in the extreme.
"Well, good work anyway. Never mind what a little urchin thought. I'll see Akers tomorrow and then we will manage to set something up with Hill and Clark."
"Oh I did with Mr. Hill, sir. Ran right into him, I did. Looks just like that bunch of Hills in Derbyshire, he does. He is happy with his life here. Married the housekeeper and got himself the job as steward. Oh, but Mr. Jones would have told you all that. Pardon me, sir. He says he will stay at his home tomorrow morning and work on his books. You can come by at your convenience." Thompson went on to explain how to find the steward's house.
Darcy was well pleased. Tomorrow he might actually learn something.
Road from Longbourn to Meryton, Hertfordshire
October 18, 1808
Miss Akers had been waiting for Darcy, just as arranged. However, the conversation was completely different than he had anticipated. He was expecting information on Elizabeth's upbringing. What he received was fear.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy. Thank goodness. I have been wondering how to see you since I heard you were nearby. I have not heard anything of the new guards that you brought. Are they with you at Netherfield? Do you think that you were followed to here?"
Darcy was completely taken aback. His initial irritation at her lack of proper greeting and absence of civility was instantly erased by the real anxiety in her voice. "Miss Akers, please calm yourself. I do not understand of what you are speaking."
She stared at him and blinked. "The danger to the Countess, sir. Oh, sir. I was warned and warned how much greater it would be when the Darcys came back into her life. Mr. Hill and Jimmy and Mr. Clark and I have kept watch as best we could. Oh, but we have been so worried."
Things were quickly falling into place in Darcy's mind. First there were the charges that his father had left to him. Guard her. Keep her safe. Help her take her proper place, but above all keep her safe. Akers words 'when the Darcys came back into her life' also instantly hit home. Having Darcys in her life was somehow dangerous to her. In spite of the new alarm that he was feeling, Fitzwilliam nearly sighed in relief. It had made no sense at all to him how his father had seemed to have little to nothing to do with this ward. With Darcy senior being such a diligent and responsible man, there had been no way to understand that. Now a glimmer of the truth was starting to come. Being around us is dangerous to Elizabeth. Father was being responsible by keeping away from her. That was why she had spent her time with Bridgewater and not with them.
Part of Darcy was furious that he had known nothing of this until now. Had he endangered Elizabeth simply by coming here? But he pushed those thoughts away for the moment. He needed to know everything that Akers did and then he would go and learn all he could from Hill and Clark. And who was this Jimmy? Was he the vagabond that Darcy had seen?
He looked carefully at Akers. In spite of her obvious anxiety, she did not seem at all hysterical. There was an intelligence in her eyes and an air of capability around her. Darcy relaxed a bit.
"Miss Akers, please pretend that I know nothing. Tell me all you can about what you know."
As it turned out, Akers did not really know nearly enough. She had come to Longbourn when Elizabeth was just fourteen years. She came in the guise of an abigail, but her real purpose was to watch for dangers to the Countess. Apparently there had been threats to Elizabeth's life even before she was born. Indeed Akers had been told that someone had repeatedly tried to murder the infant Elizabeth, both when she was in the care of the Dowager Countess of Holderness and when she had been under Pemberley's own roof.
No wonder she was hidden and hidden so well.
Akers knew nothing of who was such a danger to Elizabeth, except that she was to watch out for any strange young men who appeared in the neighborhood.
"Your father said the dangerous man would be twenty and some years then. Of course your father could not be sure that the man would not hire someone to come in his stead, but Mr. Darcy thought it not likely. Said the man would probably be poor and rough."
Darcy immediately thought of the vagabond in the fields. "I saw a very poor and rough man watching the Countess yesterday, but he was an older man I think. I only saw him at a distance."
Akers smiled. "I should not think you need to worry about him, sir. That must have been Old Mr. No One." She said the name as if it were his title.
"Old Mr. No One?"
"Aye, sir. He was called that when I came here. He been around as long as even Mr. Hill knows. Although he has no idea who the man is, Mr. Hill says he just knows that the old man also watches out for Miss Elizabeth. I am sorry, I mean for the Countess. I have had to refer to her as Miss Elizabeth for so long that it is hard for me to do otherwise now."
Darcy waved his hand to dismiss Aker's worry. "It is probably best that we just continue to do so for the time being. Miss Elizabeth is not afraid of this Mr. No One, is she?"
"Oh, no sir. I think she is fond of him. He is always around somewhere when she is on her rambles. A knight without the shining armor, she once called him. I think that was just after she fell out of tree and broke her arm. Apparently he took care of that break, splint and all, by himself. Then he went for help."
Akers paused for a moment. "You know, sir, I think we all count on Old Mr. No One. Somehow we all know Miss Elizabeth is safe out on her walks because of him."
"And who is Jimmy?"
"Oh! I thought for sure you knew about him. He came the same time as I did, more or less. He is the stable master now. Well, I should say he is the coachman, the stable master and the groom. There is not much keeping to just one position at Longbourn, sir."
Darcy smiled. "Except, I expect, for you Miss Akers. I doubt anyone has convinced you to do something other than take care of Miss Elizabeth."
His companion giggled. For a moment Darcy could almost see her the young girl she must have been.
"How right you are sir. Poor Mr. Bennet had to hire another maid just for Jane after I showed up and later one for the three younger girls." She frowned for a moment. "But I expect that the Countess has really paid for all that."
Darcy nodded. He might have been kept in the dark about some things, but he had handled the finances for a number of years now. He knew how many bills he routinely paid for Longbourn, even if he simply routed the money into an account in Hill's name.
Darcy soon bid Akers farewell. They would meet again at the same time and in the same place on Friday. Akers would send word earlier if she worried about the least little thing.
For now, Darcy had to be away. He was anxious to get onto Hill and then back to Netherfield. There were a number of expresses to write. He needed more of his own men around him. He ached for a moment for the help and counsel of his cousin, Richard. If only war was not raging.
Hornby Castle, North Yorkshire
April 17, 1788
Robert Darcy watched in silence. He could almost hear Mary's thoughts as they flitted through her mind. Finally she whispered aloud, "The Royal Marriages Act."
Robert had been waiting for this thought to come to her. He knew it would not take long. "Yes, Mary. Despite Conyers' royal blood, the King will be furious. If he does not sign his approval for this marriage, it will not be legitimate. He made very sure that his offspring could not run off and marry against his will."
"But the child…"
It was heartbreaking. Mary was already certain of a grandchild. "Mary, we do not know if there is a child. Even if there is a pregnancy, we do not know that Her Royal Highness will carry it to term."
"She is still here."
For both Mary and Robert, the overwhelming sadness of the Princess Elizabeth now made sense. And she was still in the castle. No wonder her party had lingered. Was it too soon for her to know if there was a child? Did she suspect one?
"I must go and see her."
"Mary, wait. No one else can know. No one else can hear."
She nodded and made for the door.
Robert watched as Mary left the room and then he leaned back in his chair. If there was a child, there was no doubt in Robert's mind that Conyers would have willed it everything that he could. If the child could be sure to be legitimate, if the marriage was approved by the King, then there would be no problem with any inheritance. But the King would not approve. Never.
Darker thoughts intruded. Robert was sure that someone very high up in the palace was involved with Conyers' death. He shuddered to think about how high up it had to be. The excuse of a hunting accident with the King had been used to cover it up. And is this what lies at the heart of the murder?
Robert Darcy shuddered again.