In this final scene on the day following Darcy’s initial proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, the Colonel fills in a few gaps for Darcy. If you hadn’t read these before, I hope you have enjoyed them! If you had, my apologies for a week of nothing new from me. Posting of Quest will resume next week, I am pleased to say!
A Conversation between Cousins
10th April, 1812
Darcy had filled the remainder of his final day at Rosings with activity, determined to exhaust both his mind and body and leave no room for thought or feeling. After a long ride, during which he tried not to think of Elizabeth or how his cousin’s presence had been received, he returned physically fatigued but still fighting his memories and his despair.
The ensuing hours were spent sequestered in his chamber, burying his head in matters of business; matters he had ignored during his repeatedly extended stay in Kent, with correspondence from his steward at Pemberley, his legal advisors in London, and even his sister, abandoned as his fascination with Elizabeth had taken full hold and left him powerless to think of aught but her.
It was evening, therefore, before Darcy encountered any other person, where he endured, much as he had anticipated, a long lecture from his aunt over his absences in the past eight and forty hours. Dinner passed with Darcy contributing little to the conversation, but there was no escaping his cousin as he all but marched him from the room when the time came to separate, ignoring Lady Catherine’s annoyance over the men withdrawing before the ladies.
‘And so,’ said the Colonel, glancing over at Darcy as the two men approached the library, ‘here ends another visit to Kent and yet no proposal of marriage!’
Trepidation shot through Darcy, and he threw his cousin a frantic look. ‘I beg your pardon?’
They had reached the door, and the Colonel turned to face him. ‘Cousin Anne, old man. Aunt Catherine will now have to spend a further year attempting to draw you down to Kent at every turn.’
Preceding his cousin into the room, Darcy berated himself for his foolish thoughts. Of course, Richard was referring to Anne; he had no reason to think otherwise. Elizabeth would never have mentioned… she would not even have hinted at what had befallen her the previous evening… He gave an involuntary shudder as he came to a halt in the centre of the room.
‘Are you well? You look…’
Darcy turned about and raised a hand. ‘Be done with it, Richard.’ He had no desire to know how he looked.
With a shrug, Colonel Fitzwilliam closed the door and came to stand before him. ‘I regret to inform you I failed in my mission, Cousin.’
Mission? Of course! ‘She would not believe you.’
The Colonel shook his head and walked over to the sideboard where a tray of spirits glistened in their crystal decanters. ‘I had no chance to try her, Fitz. I waited beyond an hour, suffering all manner of inanities from the hapless parson, but she did not return. I contemplated walking out to try and come across her, but the park is so vast and the lady, as we both know, a keen walker. It would have been akin to seeking a tack in a hay bale.’
Taking the proffered glass from his cousin, Darcy walked over to the fireplace where he stood and stared into the flames. Why had Elizabeth stayed away so long? Was it an indication she had read his letter and needed time to consider it? Did she comprehend at last how faulty her judgment had been?
With a start, Darcy glanced over at his cousin who was now seated in a fireside chair, watching him keenly.
‘Sit down, man; it makes my neck ache to look up at you standing there so stiffly!’
Darcy did as he was told, sinking into the opposite chair and placing his glass on a nearby side table. ‘I appreciate your efforts. It was a foolish hope, that she might wish for clarification, might wish to at least consider the truth of all I had shared with her.’
Silence descended upon them, disturbed only by the crackling of the fire in the hearth. Darcy stared into the flames again; what might Elizabeth be doing at this moment? Had his letter made any difference at all, or had she destroyed it unread? Was her disgust at his attempt to address her in such a manner so powerful, she had not permitted him the liberty of doing so?
Her face rose before him, dark eyes flashing and her lips speaking those cutting words, words that were in danger of haunting him forever:
‘Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner…’
‘It is a shame I did not know of your intentions beforehand, Fitz.’
Darcy’s gaze flew to meet his cousin’s. ‘How- how so?’
‘I met Miss Bennet during my farewell tour of the park yesterday, and we continued in company.’ The Colonel frowned. ‘We spoke of you; it would have been the perfect opportunity to provide the authentication you sought from me over Wickham.’
Leaning forward slowly in his seat, torn between curiosity and trepidation, Darcy stared at his cousin. ‘You – you spoke of me?’
‘Indeed,’ the Colonel picked up his empty glass and got to his feet, gesturing to his cousin to drink up. ‘Though she would likely have been in no humour to hear me out. My last memory of Miss Bennet is not of the pleasing good nature I had long associated with the lady. Her air and countenance were sufficient to guide me in her dissatisfaction with your actions.’
‘What in heaven’s name were you speaking of?’ Darcy fixed his cousin with a fierce stare. ‘What did you say to cause her such… such discontent with me?’
The Colonel shrugged. ‘I merely advised her of your care for others, most particularly in saving a friend recently from an imprudent marriage. I mentioned no names, though I assumed it was Bingley. He is the most likely to get himself into a scrape of that sort, and you have spent an inordinate amount of time with him these past months.’
Releasing a slow breath, Darcy sank back against the cushions of his seat. Elizabeth’s understanding of his part in separating his friend from her sister was finally clear. Whatever her own suspicions may have been, this intelligence from his own cousin would have been sufficient to confirm her worst opinion of him. Though he saw now his suit would never have succeeded, he began to appreciate the significance of the timing of his cousin’s revelation so close to his own call upon the lady.
Grabbing his glass, Darcy took a hefty swig, letting the liquid burn a trail down his throat. Then, he handed it to his cousin, who turned towards the drinks tray.
‘Would you like to know what I think?’
‘A rhetorical question, Cousin. You will tell me, regardless.’
Colonel Fitzwilliam grunted. ‘You are inordinately troubled over the opinion of a young woman whose path will likely never cross with yours again.’
Knowing he had looked his last upon Elizabeth was sufficient trial without his cousin reinforcing it. The tight band around Darcy’s chest flexed itself, and he swallowed hard on a sudden constriction to his throat.
Taking his refreshed glass from his cousin, he tried to breathe evenly to ease the tautness.
‘I can well observe the matter is best left alone for the present.’ The Colonel raised his glass to Darcy. ‘Here is to the end of our captivity in Kent, be it to duty or otherwise.’
Clearing his throat, Darcy nodded, thankful for the reprieve and raised his glass in return. ‘Indeed.’
‘Besides,’ the Colonel settled more comfortably into his chair. ‘There will be ample time for further discourse on the way to Town on the morrow.’
With that, he turned the conversation to Georgiana and the upcoming summer, and Darcy reluctantly followed his lead, unsure what unsettled him most: the notion of another endless night with no sleep and nothing but his disappointment and despair to console him or what his all too observant cousin may choose to challenge him with as they finally left Kent, and Elizabeth Bennet, behind.
And this day was the last time Darcy saw Elizabeth until she mistook him for a fox some eighteen months later! 😉
As you probably know, the Prologue to A Quest for Mr Darcy picks up about two months after the above scene, when Darcy makes his decision to go abroad in August rather than return to Pemberley.
Thank you for bearing with me whilst I get myself back to full health. I am beginning to feel better and have started work on knocking next week’s chapters into shape! 😀
Copyright: Cassandra Grafton 2017