Welcome to anyone joining me as I share my new JAFF story, A Quest for Mr Darcy!
The blurb for this can be found on the story page here. There are two other things I thought worth mentioning in the hope readers won’t think too badly of me from the start!
1. I had dropped the ‘prologue’ element of this tale, but in the end I decided to reinstate it. I’ve been told it’s not the approved way to start a story, but I happen to like this one. 😉
2. The use of Portugal in the back story as the destination for Darcy’s travels will change. I am aware there was a war on at the time the story is set! Ultimately, where they went isn’t relevant to the overall plot, it’s the fact they went away and the timing of it. 😀
June 1812 – Mayfair, London
Fitzwilliam Darcy dropped his pen onto the blotter and pushed himself away from the desk, leaning back in the worn leather chair that had borne his father and his grandfather’s weight before him.
The seasons had altered. Spring had tumbled full-blown into summer with a rapacious enthusiasm, and London was stifled by its unexpected intensity. The open French windows, which gave upon a charming walled garden, encouraged nothing but warm air into the room; not a breath of breeze stirred Darcy’s hair nor brushed against his cheek, and he stirred restlessly, tugging at the restraint of his neck cloth. Then, with a frustrated sigh, he sat up, his gaze drifting about his study in a futile quest for distraction.
Even now, with the time lengthening between his visit to Kent and the change of scene to one with no possible association with…her, he could not rid his mind of Elizabeth Bennet. No matter where he was or what he was doing, she would intrude.
These past weeks had proved little other than removing to Town solved naught. Knowing the Bennets had family in a distant part of London was sufficient to persuade him he might catch sight of her at any given moment. A head of chestnut curls, a glimpse of a light and pleasing figure, a lady’s laugh of genuine pleasure – all these things conspired against him, tugged at his senses, intensified the heavy weight he now bore in his chest. He seemed unable, despite her blatant aversion to him, to quench the desire to lay eyes upon her once more.
But no longer! Getting to his feet, Darcy walked over to the hearth and stared at the landscape gracing the wall above the mantel. Pemberley had called to him, but he knew heading northwards would not answer for his purpose.
Thus, he had awoken but three days ago, after yet another night of fitful sleep, with a renewed determination to shed all memory of Elizabeth Bennet and her summary rejection of his hand. He would venture abroad – leave behind the verdure of an early summer in full bloom, a season all too reminiscent of Elizabeth’s vivacity, and seek distraction elsewhere, in places where he could not possibly expect their paths to cross and there would be no reminder of her at every turn.
He had duly spent the ensuing four and twenty hours securing passage for himself, his sister, Georgiana, and her companion, on a sailing for Portugal departing in six weeks’ time.
A smile graced Darcy’s countenance for a moment. His sister had made no secret of her delight over accompanying him, a fine balm for his lowness of spirit. They had been much apart of late, with his spending part of the previous winter in Hertfordshire – he caught himself quickly as his thoughts rushed with no consideration for his heart back to that time – and then he had travelled to Kent in the spring…
Darcy shook his head, exasperated with himself, his weakness, his folly, and then he looked up at the painting again, desperate to focus upon something, anything other than Elizabeth, but then a welcome knock came upon the door, and he turned about.
Pagett, butler to the Darcy family since the present incumbent had been a young child, made his stately entrance.
“This has just arrived for you, sir,” intoned Pagett gravely with a formal bow and an equally solemn offering of the slim packet resting upon the silver salver in his gloved hands.
“Thank you, Pagett.” Picking it up and noting the mark of the shipping line with which he had secured their berths, Darcy dropped it onto his desk; he would study the documentation later.
With a further inclination of his head, Pagett began his deferential removal from the room and Darcy sighed. Despite endless requests, the man would not relax his formal tendencies and persisted in backing out of the room as if Darcy were royalty and not allowed to observe the man’s back.
The door closed, and he threw himself back into the chair, retrieving his abandoned pen and selecting a piece of parchment. He felt a renewed sense of purpose invade his being. It was good to be doing something, making plans, taking positive steps towards putting the past behind him. As he anticipated an absence of several months’ duration, he needed to put some of his affairs in order and, with a quick glance at the clock, he dipped his pen into the nearby ink well and began to write.
The Darcys set sail from Southampton one fine morning in early August, a day bathed in warm sunshine and blessed with a steady breeze. As the vessel moved away from the docks, Georgiana Darcy and her companion elected to return to their cabins, but Darcy lingered on deck as they slowly made their way out into open seas.
As the expanse of water between the ship and land widened and the dockside faded, disappearing into a blur of coastline until indistinguishable from anything else, Darcy released a long, slow breath, firmly closing his mind to any thought of Elizabeth Bennet.
Had he but known it, the lady herself was travelling, but not to foreign climes. She was part way through a tour of the Peak District with her aunt and uncle and staying but five miles from Pemberley.
As Darcy threw one last glance at England’s diminishing shores before turning away, Elizabeth seated herself by a window in the inn at Lambton and hurriedly broke the seal on the first of two letters from her sister in Hertfordshire, settling back against the cushions in happy anticipation of what news her correspondence might bring.
July 1813 – Port of Southampton, England
‘Where is she? Where is my niece?’
Darcy all but rolled his eyes as a familiar voice reached him above the tumult and confusion on the dockside. Barely had he stepped ashore from the small boat ferrying passengers from the ship moored in Southampton Water when his aunt, Lady Matlock, bore down upon him.
‘Darcy! What could you be thinking? Taking Georgiana on a perilous journey without so much as the civility of a by your leave!’
‘It was hardly perilous, Mother!’ Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s favourite cousin and great friend, stepped forward and shook Darcy’s hand heartily. ‘Welcome home, Darce!’
Lady Matlock glared at her youngest son, then turned to her nephew. ‘A whole twelvemonth, Fitzwilliam Darcy! What have you by way of explanation?’
‘I wrote to both my uncle and Aunt Catherine before-‘
‘From the port, mere moments before you sailed! You knew full well your uncle would forbid it!’
Darcy smiled slightly. ‘You know he could not, madam. I had only to seek Georgiana’s other guardian’s permission.’
The lady’s glare returned to the Colonel as Darcy continued. ‘And did not Georgiana herself send word of our safe arrival in Portugal at the soonest opportunity?’ Darcy leaned forward and placed a kiss upon his aunt’s cheek. ‘And here we are, safely returned.’
The lady’s fierce expression softened slightly as her niece, Georgiana, was carefully handed from the boat onto the dockside, and she hurried to her side as Darcy and the Colonel exchanged an amused glance, the latter quickly concealing a yawn.
‘Forgive me; I rose at break of day.’ He gestured back towards one of two fine carriages some distance away. ‘Town is as stifling as ever this summer, and Mother has been sampling the delights of Southampton a full se’ennight. I am not so at leisure but set to as soon as word came of your ship being sighted. Georgie!’
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana exchanged warm greetings whilst he teased her over the elegant dressing of her curls and how tall she had become.
‘Yes, yes; sufficient of your tomfoolery for now, Richard!’ His mother interrupted him swiftly and drew her niece to her side. ‘Come; let us make haste before the day begins to fade. Georgiana, you will come with me. We overnight at the George in Basingstoke. Mrs Annesley,’ Lady Matlock turned to Georgiana’s companion as she joined them. ‘You have family in Hampshire, do you not?’
‘Yes, Lady Matlock. In Alton.’
‘Then come, we shall drop you there on our way. It is only just you pass a night under their roof after having been away so long.’ She threw a reprimanding look at Darcy, but Mrs Annesley looked anxious.
‘They do not expect me, ma’am; I rarely visit.’
‘Then let the surprise of your arrival be adequate recompense for your prolonged absence.’
‘Fitz?’ Georgiana Darcy looked up at her brother. ‘I am happy to travel with Aunt, and it would be pleasant for Mrs Annesley to have some time with family, would it not?’
‘Most indubitably, but such a diversion will mean longer in the carriage. I would not have you fatigued.’
Georgiana smiled widely. ‘I am well rested, Brother, and I shall have such pleasant company.’
‘Then so be it. We will await you at the inn.’
Georgiana hurried to her companion’s side as a servant bearing the Matlock livery went past bearing their trunks on a handcart.
‘Come then, Georgiana.’ Lady Matlock turned towards the waiting carriages and the other ladies fell into step behind her, followed by Darcy and the Colonel.
‘It is well Aunt Catherine knows not of your making use of two carriages, Mother. She would not approve of such extravagance.’
‘There are many things it is wise my sister knows little or nothing of.’ Lady Matlock smiled as they reached the first carriage. ‘Besides, the horses need exercise far oftener than they get it whilst in Town. I sent orders for the second for their benefit, no one else’s.’ Lady Matlock’s affinity for her steeds was well known. Indeed, it was often said below stairs she would keep to the stables over her husband’s bed given the opportunity.
The gentlemen helped the ladies settle into their carriage, then stepped back as it began to turn about, Lady Matlock continuing to address them through the open window.
‘I shall take Georgiana home with me on the morrow, Darcy, and shall restore her to you only if I am convinced of her having come to no harm!’
With that, she closed the window with a snap, and the carriage rolled away from them across the cobbles.
Darcy pulled out his watch and stared at it. They had been but ten minutes on English soil! ‘Precisely what just happened?’
The Colonel shrugged. ‘She insisted on taking charge, old man! Little I could do about it other than join her.’
They turned towards the second, smaller carriage. ‘She is as forceful as her sister,’ Darcy grinned at his cousin. ‘But pleasanter in her execution.’
Within but a short while, both gentlemen were suitably installed in their conveyance and on their way likewise, and Darcy eyed his cousin with amusement as he released the catch on the window and raised his head to catch the breeze.
‘Are you quite well?’
Colonel Fitzwilliam grimaced as they left the dock behind and wrinkled his nose before letting out a bark of laughter. How Darcy had missed that laugh!
‘The blasted smells of the shoreline, Darce! They turn one’s stomach, hence my somewhat ambivalent acquaintance with the sea! It is fortunate I was not obliged to pursue the life of a naval man!’
Refastening his window, the Colonel settled back into the corner of his seat. ‘Your steward is in Town.’
Darcy frowned. ‘Rivers? Is aught amiss at Pemberley?’
‘My understanding from Father is it pertains to a boundary matter. Rivers has handled it in pertinent fashion, but legal papers were required – hence consulting Father in your absence.’ The Colonel stifled a yawn. ‘He has been given word of your imminent return and shall doubtless report to you directly.’
‘It will be gratifying to hear more of Pemberley. I long to return.’
For a time, they discussed the estate and family, but after an hour’s passing, the Colonel professed the need to close his eyes and promptly did so. He slept sporadically, and Darcy tried to do likewise, but instead found himself watching the scenery pass, too alert to the newness of being returned to England. Relishing the lush greenness of the hedgerows, the fields of crops, the thickets and woodland, he began to appreciate how much he had missed his homeland.
Slowly, the light began to fade, but Darcy continued to stare out, his thoughts under tight regulation, his mind not venturing towards the reasons behind his exile but fixedly on the plans he had made during his absence.
‘Do we arrive?’
Darcy blinked, then glanced at his cousin, now awake and peering out of his own window into the falling dusk.
‘We have but three miles go to.’
‘Forgive me for succumbing.’ The Colonel concealed a wide yawn behind his hand. ‘I have leave of but eight and forty hours, and my early rising followed a late night of duty.’
Affection rose in Darcy’s breast. ‘I am flattered you chose to spend it in such a way, Cousin!’
The Colonel assumed an uncharacteristically solemn air and countenance. ‘You have been missed, sorely so; your infrequent correspondence was insufficient to satisfy the loss of your presence.’ He sat forward, his elbows on his knees and fixed Darcy with a firm stare. ‘Nor did it convince me you had shed your melancholy from when last we were in company.’
Prepared for some mention of his low spirits between leaving Kent in the spring of the year 12 and when he and Georgiana’s ship had sailed in early August of that year, Darcy shrugged lightly.
‘My time was well occupied with Georgiana. When I decided upon taking such action, I had high expectations of the alteration in location, and the pleasure of being with my sister, bringing the necessary relief.’ He met his cousin’s eye, then smiled ruefully. ‘And our charge is growing up and was as well taken with the delicate Portuguese lace as the fine works of art!’
The Colonel grinned. ‘Her air has more confidence; of that I was certain the moment I saw her.’ Then, he stared keenly at Darcy. ‘And did you benefit similarly? What of you?’
Darcy resumed his study out of the window, though he saw little other than the faint outline of his reflection now. ‘What of me? I am perfectly content.’
The Colonel let out a short laugh. ‘Yes, I can see you have yourself under good regulation. Yet that was not my meaning. Do you recall Perdita?’
Darcy turned to stare at his cousin. ‘Of course.’
‘A damn fine filly, was she not – and when your father first brought her from the stables, you were instantly taken with her wilful, spirited nature; quite smitten in fact.’
‘She was the best-looking mare I ever saw – and the most ungovernable. What is your point?’
‘Do you recall the outcome?’ Darcy refused to be drawn; he knew full well where his cousin was headed. ‘You failed to tame her; she out-willed you, rejected your overtures on every level, and you were quite broken over it all.’
Darcy blew out a breath, rueing – and not for the first time – his confiding in first his sister and then his cousin the reason behind his desire to travel abroad. ‘You liken Miss Elizabeth Bennet to a horse?’ He was surprised at the ease with which her name fell from his lips after so long, but the Colonel chuckled.
‘Your quick mind made such a connection, did it not? Now – how long did it take you to fully out-wit your sorrow and move forward?’
‘I did not wallow for long. I was-’
‘You were quickly distracted by a young stallion.’
Darcy choked on a laugh. ‘You are suggesting I alter my proclivities?’
‘Heaven forbid! Pemberley is in need of an heir. I am merely reminding you of the tried and tested cure for a broken heart: finding something – or someone – else to draw your passion.’
‘My heart is not broken; I was – unhappy for a while, but I am perfectly well.’
‘Truly? Well this is good, for Miss Bennet’s position in society was decidedly beneath you and the rest of our family would have become quite irrational about it all!’
Well did Darcy know it; but he had no desire to reflect on what was done and in the past. He had wallowed too long, wasted precious months in bitterness and despair before coming to his senses and taking positive steps to effect a recovery. This past year had been a more than adequate cure; never again would he allow a woman to touch his heart, and…
‘Whoa!’ The coach lurched as it slowed and passed under the arch into the courtyard at the rear of the George Inn in Basingstoke, and the Colonel grabbed his hat as a servant hurried to lower the step and open the door.
‘Come, let us arrange accommodations before our aunt arrives.’
‘And ascertain the quality of the provisions before we commit to them!’
The Colonel laughed as Darcy joined him on the cobbles. ‘You need have no anxiety for the quality of the ale or wine, that is for certain! We are on the London turnpike, and I defy even your refined stomach to complain after the savagery of supplies you must have endured on board ship!’
Read Chapter Two here!
Copyright © Cassandra Grafton 2016