Here is the third scene from the day after the failed proposal – Darcy waits in the grove at Rosings Park in the hope of seeing Elizabeth and being able to hand her his letter:
Walking in the Grove
10th April, 1812
Darcy strode firmly down the path, away from Rosings and towards Hunsford, half expecting a shout from behind him and for his cousin to come after him. Not finding Richard lying in wait for him outside his chamber on cautiously opening his door had been a relief – he had not relished the notion of using the servant’s staircase instead.
Despite his desire to leave the house undetected, however, Darcy knew he must speak to the Colonel regarding one portion of his letter – that pertaining to Wickham. His pace eased a little once out of the immediate grounds, and he pushed aside any difficulty which may arise with his cousin. It was not his focus; for now, he must just keep walking, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Why was it his head knew his purpose, the only option for private delivery of his letter being to meet Elizabeth out on one of her walks, yet his body showed such reluctance to retrace his steps from the previous day?
As he reached the area spanning the southern edge of the park, his gaze scanned the trees and paths. Where might Elizabeth be on this fine morning? What if she had chosen not to walk, for fear of encountering him?
What if he came across her, but she would not take the letter? Perhaps she might take it but never read it, consigning it to the grate in the way his first attempts were! How would he ever know if she permitted him the liberty of an explanation?
A sense of panic gripped Darcy, and he stopped abruptly. Had he seen his last of her already? Anguish almost overwhelmed him at the thought of never seeing her again, never hearing her voice.
‘You fool,’ he muttered bitterly. ‘What possible good could come from seeing her again? She despises you; you heard it from her own lips.’
After their heated exchange the previous day, the accusations levelled at him, her words still cut through Darcy like knives. He felt wounded – hurt and humiliated by her. With the stirring of his anger again, Darcy harnessed it. He needed to feel his outrage once more, to enable him to stay strong, to do this. Straightening his shoulders, he stared ahead, scanning the park for any sight of the lady; then, he set off towards the grove where he had most often encountered her.
Soon he passed beneath the outer trees of the grove, and for some time Darcy paced to and fro under their canopy, his courage wavering one moment, his irritation drawing him back a moment later. Where was she? He flicked open his watch; he had been here nigh on twenty minutes – how much longer should he stay?
Perhaps this was how it was meant to be. Writing the letter could never be considered a sensible action; perhaps he was being saved from making an even bigger fool of himself. Darcy pulled the letter out and stared at it. Should he leave, do as he had already considered and consign this letter to the same fate as his other attempts?
The neatly written name, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, wavered before him, and he traced the lettering reverently with his finger. This would be the last time he would ever see those precious words upon the page.
With a rush of sensation, Darcy was consumed by the feelings he had repressed throughout his sleepless night. How was he to make his way forward in life and never lay eyes upon her again? Would he ever hear word of her, learn what life had lain before her?
What if… what if Elizabeth had been likewise afflicted? Perhaps with a night of contemplation she may have allowed him a hearing, may have thought carefully about all he had said and recognised she had made a mistake? Had she reflected upon their conversation, acknowledged she had erred in her judgment? Had she, even, reflected upon the offer of marriage she had spurned, of all that she was turning down? Perhaps…
Hope floated swiftly through him; for a moment, he truly believed it might be so. The heavy weight in his breast seemed lighter, the future – one he had imagined lately with so much pleasure – made a tentative gesture to return. Lost in such futile speculation, it was a moment before Darcy discerned a figure beyond the palings of the park, moving along the lane: Elizabeth! Swallowing hard upon his trepidation, he walked forward in the hope of meeting with her by the gate, but on glimpsing him, she turned away as though she would avoid him. A sense of despair gripped him, and he called her name, anxious to stall her escape lest this was his only chance.
All was dashed in an instant as the lady stopped and turned to face him, her air and countenance proving her to be wishing herself anywhere but in his presence. With hindsight, he was thankful for it. It restored some measure of pride in him, encouraged him to say as little as could be whilst doing what must be done.
Darcy stepped forward quickly as Elizabeth, with palpable reluctance, walked to meet him by the gate. This reminder of how things truly stood, coupled with the wariness upon her pale countenance, struck him forcibly. There would be no second chance, no hope of her having repented her fierce condemnation of his character or her refusal of his hand.
Ignoring the pain gripping his chest anew, Darcy pulled his tattered dignity about him like a cloak, straightening his shoulders and raising his chin.
Presenting the letter to her, which Elizabeth instinctively took, he said in what he hoped was a measured tone, ‘I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?’
Then, he bowed and turned away, walking as quickly as his pride would permit, even as his heart protested against leaving her. Why oh why had he not brought his mount, that he might be away from here more quickly? Increasing his stride, Darcy refused to give in to the urge of a backward glance; he strode on, trying in vain to banish the image of Elizabeth, pale and strained and reluctant – oh, so reluctant – to meet him. On and on he walked, his heart pounding almost as much as on the previous day, and before he knew it, the monstrosity of Rosings had risen before him.
‘Darcy! There you are!’
Looking up, Darcy saw his cousin walking briskly down the steps from the entrance to the house, bent upon joining him. The timing was opportune. He must make haste and enlighten his cousin – enlighten with much concealment – that he might be on his guard should an application be made to him during their final hours at Rosings.
‘You are out early for a walk! I am off to the stables, such a fine morning warrants a gallop across the fields. Will you join me?’ The Colonel peered more intently at him. ‘You look like you need one, you are pale as can be!’
‘Cousin, I need you to do something for me.’
The Colonel frowned. ‘I am well versed in taking orders, Darce, but not from such a source. What would you have me do?’
They turned to walk in step together towards the stable block, a silence falling as Darcy struggled to phrase what he wished to express as vaguely as possible. Silence, however, was not in the Colonel’s nature.
‘Well come on, out with it!’ He threw his cousin a quizzing look. ‘Does this have anything to do with your rather odd behaviour yesterday evening? Our aunt took some pacifying, I can tell you, when you did not show your face at all.’
Darcy’s pace slowed and perforce so did the Colonel’s, and they came to a halt beside the mounting-block outside the stable. Drawing in a steadying breath, Darcy met his cousin’s curious gaze.
‘Something arose yesterday – a situation… I mean, a conversation,’ he halted as a vivid memory of his meeting with Elizabeth seared through his mind. That is what you call a ‘conversation’, whispered the ever-present voice in his head, but he pushed it aside. ‘I have found it necessary to inform Miss Elizabeth Bennet,’ again, he stopped and swallowed hard on rising emotion as her name passed his lips. ‘I had to share with her the past history of our dealings with Wickham.’
‘What! Are you taken with madness?’ The Colonel met Darcy’s defiant gaze with incredulity. ‘No, Fitz,’ he shook his head, ‘surely not everything?’
‘Yes. I am sorry, Richard; there was no alternative but to lay before her the connection between him and the Darcy estate in each and every aspect, both pecuniary and… personal.’
The Colonel grunted. ‘And am I to be told why you found it necessary? I assume you feel you can trust to her confidence? You have been in her acquaintance far longer than I.’
Did he trust her? It was a question that had beleaguered Darcy throughout the penning of those parts of his letter. Before yesterday, he would have given an affirmative without hesitation, but after her damning condemnation of his character, did he retain any faith in her?
‘Darce? Come on, man! This is important!’
‘Yes – yes, forgive me, Cousin. I do trust her.’
‘Hmph. And pray, how did the lady receive such intelligence? I assume you are not going to enlighten me as to why you felt it necessary?’
‘It was necessary, Cousin. Please just accept my word and that I would not have gone to such lengths had there been any other alternative.’ Darcy passed a weary hand across his forehead. ‘I do not know how she received it. I put it in a letter which I have just handed to her.’
The Colonel for once seemed lost for words. He stared at Darcy wide eyed in surprise, his mouth slightly open, but then he seemed to rouse himself. ‘A letter? You addressed her by letter? You truly are losing it, Darcy! ‘
Darcy merely shook his head, but his cousin fixed him with a fierce stare. ‘I had no choice, Richard. Please just trust me in that. All I would ask of you is that vouch for the truth of matters with regard to Wickham, should she seek clarification. I told her you were aware of each and every circumstance.’ He could not handle an interrogation from his cousin at that moment, and he turned away. ‘You must excuse me; I will leave you to enjoy your ride.’
Darcy turned back warily, but his cousin’s countenance was less forbidding now and more expressive of concern.
‘We must take our leave of the company at Hunsford, Darcy. Shall we go at once? I can defer my ride if you would rather get it over with.’
Darcy paled. ‘Must we?’
The Colonel shook his head. ‘Really, Darcy. You know we must.’
Why had he not thought of that? Darcy could feel trepidation rising at the thought of such a fraught occasion. Would Elizabeth have returned directly from her walk, or would she still be enjoying the beauty of the morning? He looked about frantically. What could he do, how could he deal with this?
Then, the Colonel grunted. ‘With hindsight, perhaps not; I suggest we make our calls separately.’
Darcy blinked and then stared at his cousin. Separately?
‘Why do you not run along now and do your duty, and I will call in an hour or so. Should Miss Bennet wish to approach me regarding any of the content of your letter, she is unlikely to do so in your presence, do you not think? I can easily suggest a turn in the gardens to give her ample chance to air any concern she may have.’
A wave of relief rolled through Darcy and he nodded quickly, thankful for his cousin’s level head. ‘Yes – yes, of course. I will go directly.’
The Colonel hailed the stable boy to ready his mount, then turned back to Darcy and stayed him with his hand as he turned to leave.
‘I will do as you ask, and I will do it willingly, but I am no fool, Darcy. I can see that there is something far beyond what you are revealing in all of this. Do not think you will get off this lightly when we are both returned. You owe me some answers.’
With that he turned and strode into the stable, and Darcy walked back down the path towards the lane to Hunsford. If this call must be paid, the sooner the better, and then let it be over. He hoped desperately, for both his and Elizabeth’s sake, the lady had yet to return to the parsonage, but regardless, he would spare them five minutes of his time and no more.
Beyond that, he did not care to think, for he was unlikely to fair any better on his return to Rosings. His cousin was a keen interrogator; he would not let him off lightly.
The final scene from this ‘prequel’ covering the aftermath of Darcy’s failed proposal, A Conversation between Cousins’, will be posted tomorrow!
Copyright: Cassandra Grafton 2017