Derbyshire 1815 Beaconwood Park Estate
Large leather-bound ledgers, littered with randomly scribbled notes and figures, laid scattered about the rich mahogany desk. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam drummed a disinterested beat on his wing chair’s arm. The makings of a long, tedious day loomed large when his best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose expression riddled with worry, leaned forward and placed both hands on the only uncluttered spot he could find.
“Tell me more about the tempest brewing amongst the tenants on the lower east side of the estate. I understand you have spent a prodigious amount of time attending them this past week.”
Disquieted, Richard nodded. “Indeed, but to no avail.” In truth, the endeavour had been a complete waste of his time. Now retired to the life of the landed gentry, he considered being a landowner and the master of a large estate as having its advantages. Huddling over ledgers on such a fine day as this did not figure amongst them.
“I would much rather have spent my time otherwise engaged. If only the steward had not abruptly taken off, I might enjoy more leisure.”
Lightly tapping his fingers in rhythm on the desk, Darcy said, “I confess there is no substitute for a good steward. However, some things are best attended personally. From what you have confided in me, this is one of them. Beaconwood now belongs to you. Who better than you to understand its inner workings? Besides, I suspect your former steward was part of the problem. It is a good thing he is gone.”
“A good thing it may be; however, the situation leaves me with the tiresome task of hiring a new one.” Richard puffed his cigar. “The sooner I find someone to take over the everyday management of the estate, the better. My dear wife is eager to spend much of the Season in town. With a bride as young and lively as Harriette, I hardly relish the prospect of not joining her. In fact, I am particularly keen on accompanying her.”
Averting his gaze to a painting on the wall, Darcy settled back in his chair. He said nothing.
Richard arched his brow. “I take it from your silence you second my opinion.”
“Far be it from me to interfere in a husband’s relationship with his wife. I leave such unsolicited manner of officiousness to you, my friend.”
Richard cleared his throat. “You are determined to make me suffer for everything I have ever said about you and your tortuous devotion to Elizabeth during the earlier months of your—courtship.” Richard laughed. “I only did what I did and said what I said out of genuine concern for you and your reputation as a man’s man. It does not do to give the fellows cause to pity you a love-sick puppy.”
“I must keep your gallant generosity in mind the next time I observe you behaving thus.”
“Oh, you shall never witness such a pathetic spectacle from me.” Richard stood and stretched his long legs. “At any rate, I truly appreciate that you and Elizabeth are here. Whilst Beaconwood does not offer the finer conveniences of Pemberley, at least not on as grand a scale, I say it is well on its way in getting there.” Richard was proud of the many changes since his cousin’s last visit.
Darcy gazed about the room. “I agree. Her ladyship’s hand is evident in many of the improvements to the house and the rooms.”
“I shall tell her ladyship you approve.”
“Perhaps we might pore over the ledgers. I agree. The sooner a new steward is engaged, the better. However, a healthy knowledge of the entirety of estate affairs will serve you well before turning such matters over to another.”
“Must we examine the ledgers at this moment, old fellow? I would much rather we ride out and talk with the tenants than spend our time poring over accounts.”
“I am well aware of your preferences. Nevertheless, as master, you must attend all matters, not simply the ones that suit your temperament.”
“I declare, Darcy, you remind me more of my father each time we meet.”
“Your father is a fine upstanding gentleman amongst his peers. I shall consider your assertion a compliment, Richard. Speaking of your father, I believe you said he had lined up a few candidates for steward. Has he provided their names and credentials?”
“Yes, the information is around here—somewhere. I barely went over it.”
Darcy examined the untidy desks with piled-high stacks of papers. “Let us start with the list. Afterwards, we shall enjoy a ride out.”
“If you insist, I suppose I am obliged to do as you recommend.”
“I do. This matter warrants far more attention than you allow. You would not want a tenant uprising on your hands. Then you might well forget about the joys of the London season with your lovely wife.”
“I daresay things would never come to that. Goodness, old man, I would not be as fastidious as you for a kingdom.”
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