Continuing with this ‘prequel’ of sorts to A Quest for Mr Darcy, here is the second scene from the aftermath of the failed proposal:
Darcy Writes a Letter
9th April, 1812
Having dismissed his valet with the strict instruction he was not to be disturbed, Darcy had fallen wearily into a damask-covered armchair near one of the windows of his chamber. For some time, he simply stared ahead, but then his shoulders drooped, and his head dropped into his hands as he rested his elbows upon his knees. Thus he continued for some time, the passing of the hours making no impact upon him, nor the alteration in the light; he remarked neither the chimes from his mantel clock nor the falling dusk finally being consumed by the night.
The only disturbance to his introspection had been Colonel Fitzwilliam rapping on his door some time ago, but he had ignored him, closed his ears to the sound.
Gradually, Darcy had begun to acknowledge some of the content of Elizabeth’s words. Her refusal had been a profound shock, but to learn of her dislike of him, her poor opinion of his character… the pain occasioned by such knowledge, accompanied by the devastation of all his hopes for the future, was almost more than Darcy could bear, and for a time he had become lost in the depths of his own despair.
Struggling with a combination of disbelief and a dreadful sensation of sadness, of loss, Darcy found himself unable to remain calm, coolly assessing his situation, to assume an outward appearance of control, all things which had been ingrained in him since childhood – an edict from his father: one must always keep oneself under good and strict regulation.
But how to put this debacle behind him, how he was even to make a beginning was beyond him. His hands tightened on his aching head as he stared at the floor, conscious of a dull heaviness settling close to his heart. Despite his efforts to the contrary, he could focus on nothing but Elizabeth; over and over spun the facets of their meeting through his mind, the echo of her words, the memory of her countenance and her steadfast dismissal of him – his character and his hand – and her passionate defence of George Wickham.
Darcy stirred in his chair. Elizabeth’s defence of that worthless bounder had cut him badly. His anger towards her had slowly been diminishing, but this recollection roused it quickly, his mind tormented by questions for which there were no answers.
What level of intimacy existed between them? Elizabeth had shown a surprising understanding of Wickham’s present circumstances – or at least, whatever he had portrayed them to be. Clearly, he had informed her of the living, though no doubt he left out the pertinent fact of his taking a pecuniary benefit in its place. Raising his head slowly, Darcy leaned back in his seat, then pressed a palm against his pounding forehead.
Was the lady’s outrage on Wickham’s behalf born of tender feelings for the scoundrel? If he had imposed himself upon her… the ache within his breast intensified, and Darcy caught his breath. He knew not how he would bear it if it were so. He rose quickly from his chair and then peered into the grey light within his chamber, finally becoming conscious of the darkness. Then, he walked to the dresser against the far wall and lit a couple of lamps from which he also lit two candles. He stood for a moment, both candleholders in hand, staring at them as if unsure of their purpose, before walking over to place them on an ornate writing desk near one of the other windows. Then, he began to pace to and fro across the room.
Wickham was evil; he was degenerate and unworthy. That he had maligned Darcy’s character to Elizabeth surprised him not; she would hardly be the first person to whom he had appealed, but to what extent had he imposed upon her open and generous nature? How was it that, in their brief acquaintance, Elizabeth had such a picture of him from Wickham? With a groan of frustration, Darcy turned on his heel and paced back across the room. Such thoughts were counter-productive; none of it signified, for even had Wickham not vilified his name, he had to accede that, in Elizabeth’s eyes, his faults lay in more than one quarter.
“Do you think any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?”
How had she come to such a conclusion? Was it merely a supposition, an attempt to draw him out on the matter, to confess? Well, he had done as she wished; he had owned it openly, including his satisfaction over the outcome.
Darcy paused in his pacing as an uncomfortable notion filtered into his head. Could he have erred? Had the lady’s affections been truly engaged, as Elizabeth had implied?
No! He had the right of it! He had made sure to observe the lady closely and had thus done his friend a great service. How could Elizabeth doubt his good intentions? For heaven’s sake, Jane Bennet and Bingley’s acquaintance had last but two months from start to finish! ‘As did yours with Elizabeth,’ whispered a voice in his ear.
Darcy sighed heavily. If only he had been strong enough to do the same for himself. He had tried, oh how he had tried, but all his efforts were proved worthless when the true test came. Had he not fallen at the first hurdle? From the moment he had learned of Elizabeth’s presence in Hunsford, he was a doomed man.
Wearily, Darcy dropped into a chair adjacent to the desk and stared unseeingly at the window, oblivious to the darkness without and his pale and gaunt reflection flickering in the shadow of the candles.
Elizabeth’s accusations haunted him, the discovery of her ill opinion consumed his every thought, and he could perceive no respite from it. Why had he not defended himself, spoken up to refute her allegations? Why did he not speak, challenge her words with the truth as he knew it to be?
He needed resolution, to defend himself and his character – but how? Her opinion of him was a matter of no little import, and if there was aught he could do so she despised him less then do it he must.
Darcy’s troubled gaze fell upon the writing instruments on the desk, and he studied them thoughtfully. A letter went quite against the form; moreover, in all likelihood she would refuse to accept it and, even should she do so, he had no guarantee she would read it with any intention of believing his word. It was hardly a fool-proof plan, yet he had no other.
Yet it was the only answer. Opening the drawer of the desk, Darcy retrieved a piece of parchment, selected a pen and flipped open the ink well. The letter must be written and without delay.
Dawn had risen over Rosings Park, the day beginning with the beauty of a sunrise quite lost upon the occupant of one dimly lit room where the fire had long smouldered in the grate, and the candles had burned low in their holders.
Discarded sheets of parchment littered the desk and floor, testament to the struggle Darcy had faced in trying to put his case to Elizabeth. Forcing himself to recollect every memory of their discussion had stirred his anger once more, but as the night passed, his exhaustion dampened some of the fire in his belly. In its place, an ache had settled beneath his breast, at times gripping him with such intensity as words poured from his pen that he had struggled to continue.
Then, as the clock on the mantel chimed eight in the morning, he began his final draft; within a half hour, it was done – all but the close.
Darcy dipped his quill into the ink-well one more time, and then paused before placing the tip of the pen on the page. How did one close the most difficult letter one had ever had occasion to write?
He hesitated, then wrote, I will only add, God bless you, followed by his name. Blotting the words firmly, he then folded it precisely and reached for a roll of wax and one of the candles. It was done, and all he wanted was to rid himself of it, that he might shed once and for all his past hopes and dreams.
This thought propelled Darcy from his chair, and he strode over to the window. Having failed to close the shutters on the previous evening, the morning light poured into the room, and he narrowed his eyes against the glare. The day was fine; his only hope of passing his letter to Elizabeth was if he could encounter her in the park; a call upon her at the parsonage was unfathomable on such a purpose.
With that in mind, he headed to the washstand, splashed some water over his face, and turned to survey the room where he had been closeted. It was time; he must dress without delay and find a way out of the building without being perceived.
The third scene, Walking in the Grove, will be posted tomorrow.
Copyright: Cassandra Grafton 2017