As I mentioned yesterday, I am currently working on a new novel which I hope to release later next year. I had intended to post an excerpt from a chapter wherein a visit is made to a property inspired by Swinton Park in North Yorkshire. Upon review, I have decided to postpone that segment until after my brief trip next week so that I can add some photographs to it by way of illustration.
Instead, I post below an excerpt from Chapter Two of this work in progress.
Some background: having been away from Hertfordshire since the Netherfield Ball, which took place more than a year ago, Bingley has made an impulsive decision to ride out to Netherfield to determine whether or not he wishes to relinquish the property. Much against his inclination, Darcy has been persuaded to accompany his friend.
Some hours later, having partaken of a frugal meal at Netherfield, their arrival being quite unanticipated by those retainers who remained in situ, Darcy and Bingley turned their mounts away from the final farmstead on their route and began the long ride back to the house. Their tour of the estate had been somewhat circuitous, and though neither of them acknowledged it openly, the clear avoidance of any foray in the direction of the Bennets’ home had been neatly achieved.
Yet, as they made their way along the lane and neared Netherfield once more, Darcy realized they were perilously close to Longbourn.
“I say, Darcy,” Bingley hailed his friend as they neared the junction in the road that would determine their course.
Darcy turned in the saddle, unsurprised to see the colour in his friend’s cheeks or his rather anxious air and countenance.
“You wish to make a call.” Darcy failed to conceal the reluctance in his voice, yet he knew Bingley would attribute it to an entirely inaccurate cause. This suited his purpose, however; he had no wish for his friend to know that his desperation to avoid paying a call on the Bennets stemmed from a dread of seeing Elizabeth.
Despite time and distance, his abiding memory remained that of their angry confrontation and her rejection of him, not only as a suitor but as a man of sound character, and he had no desire to put himself in her way again. How she had received his letter he could not fathom, but he doubted it had done much to improve her ill opinion. Even he, with hindsight, could detect the bitterness of tone in which it had been written.
Bingley drew his mount to a halt next to Darcy. “You will not accompany me. I understand. Yet I intend to leave the neighbourhood on the morrow and…”
“You have come to a decision?”
Bingley nodded. “I shall give the place up. I wish to call and pay my respects, offer a proper farewell. When I left that November, I had intended to return. I took no leave of any of the family, and I have felt bad about it ever since. I do not intend to make Miss Bennet more uncomfortable than I possibly can, but I do feel duty – and honour – bound to do what I was unable to do more than a year ago.”
Shifting uncomfortably in his saddle, fully conscious of his part in preventing his friend’s return to Hertfordshire, Darcy blew out a breath. “As you wish. You have my support if you so desire, but if you would prefer to attend alone…” he hesitated. “I was never particularly well received by any of the family.”
Bingley threw him an unreadable glance. “I think it was fairly reciprocal, old man.”
With a rueful smile, Darcy acknowledged the hit. “Then if you will permit me, I shall continue on to Netherfield and await your return.”
With a touch of his hat, Bingley kicked his horse into touch, branching left at the junction and setting off at a canter towards the gates to Longbourn, just visible on the corner as the road bore left towards Meryton.
For a moment, Darcy watched his friend, the desire to follow him a sore trial. Then, he shook his head at his own folly and turned his mount to the right. This was no time for self-indulgence. He must consider the feelings of others rather than his own, and staying away would clearly answer for Elizabeth – and indeed her family – having an easier time of it during Bingley’s visit. His friend had the truth of it – Darcy had displayed no inclination for the company of the Bennet family in the past, and they none for his. It would be unlikely to have undergone any alteration in his absence.
Darcy had barely set foot in the entrance hall, having entered the house through the boot room, when he came face to face with a middle-aged woman who shrieked when she saw him.
“Oh, my dear Sir! Such a fright did you give me!”
“Forgive me, Madam.” Recognising the woman as Bingley’s former housekeeper, Darcy racked his memory for a name, but nothing was forthcoming. He could not recall exchanging a single word with her during his earlier stay – he had left that pleasure to his friend and his sisters, remaining aloof and silent. “Mr Bingley wished to visit the house for a brief period. We will be returning to Town on the morrow, and thus he felt no need to alert the servants.”
The woman before him all but bristled at this, and he released a frustrated breath. What else was he to say? She was a servant, when all was said and done.
“All the same, Sir, I would have appreciated the opportunity to ensure the provision of adequate meals and a warm fireplace by which to sit. The house is cold from lack of use this past year, without the chill of winter to enhance it.”
Darcy sighed. “Mr Bingley will be here directly; perhaps you could address your concerns to him on his return from Longbourn.”
On hearing this, the woman paled visibly and a hand shot to her throat. “Oh dear!”
Feeling some interest at last, Darcy frowned. “What is it? What ails you – here, perhaps you should be seated.”
He waved the housekeeper onto a nearby bench but he could sense her reluctance as she all but fell onto it.
“Oh, Mr Darcy, Sir!” Clearly, she had a better recall of names than he. “This is no way for the Master to find out.”
An icy hand sneaked its way around Darcy’s insides and he swallowed hard on a sudden restriction to his throat. “Find out what, Madam?”
I hope you enjoyed it. More to come next week, along with the promised “other writings” that I will be posting over the coming months.