Anne and Elizabeth reached Kellynch by noon the next day, and Elizabeth stared around with avid interest as they entered the great hall. A tall, middle-aged gentleman had emerged from a room at the top of a small flight of steps, accompanied by an elegantly dressed young woman.
‘I begin to wish I had brought Mama,’ Elizabeth whispered to Anne as she was urged forward.
‘But I thought you were not close to your mother?’
‘Indeed I am not,’ Elizabeth said in a quiet aside. ‘She was quite in awe of the splendours of Netherfield, but I believe Kellynch would render her speechless—a rare enough phenomenon but always worth witnessing.’
Anne smothered a laugh as her family joined them. The introductions were swiftly made, and Elizabeth and Anne followed Sir Walter and Miss Elliot to the drawing room, where the former was invited to praise the furnishings, the prominence of the marble fireplace and several portraits of former Elliots before she was permitted to partake of any refreshment.
Anne’s sympathy was obvious, but Elizabeth was unperturbed. She had sought distraction, and it seemed Kellynch and its inhabitants would deliver ten-fold.
Later, having been shown to her chamber and allocated a maid from the household staff, Elizabeth stood by the window, feeling redundant as the servant emptied her trunk and travelling case. She was not used to being inactive and longed to explore the parkland. Two days in the carriage, albeit a conveyance of great comfort, was two too many.
Restless, Elizabeth left her room and peered up and down the landing. Anne had said she would meet her downstairs. Had she returned to the drawing room?
Once in the imposing great hall again, Elizabeth approached the room she had been in earlier. Voices were drifting out through the partially open door.
‘Who is this Miss Bennet, Anne? And why, pray, are we to take her into our home as a guest? Surely she is but a companion and should be treated accordingly.’
Sir Walter sounded out of countenance, and Elizabeth paused, highly entertained.
‘When Lady Lucas became ill, I was welcomed as a guest at Longbourn, Miss Bennet’s home. Miss Elizabeth Bennet has become my particular friend, Father, and I ask you to be as welcoming to her as you would towards any of Elizabeth’s acquaintance.’
Anne spoke firmly, and Elizabeth was grateful for her support but less pleased with the dismissive tone of her father towards her friend.
‘Really, Anne,’ Miss Elliot’s voice interjected. ‘How can you compare Miss Bennet with those who count themselves as friends to the eldest daughter of a baronet? We know nothing of these Bennets. What is their status in the world? Who are their connections?’
Elizabeth eased away from the door.
‘Mr Bennet is a gentleman and the estate has been in the family for many generations, and—’
Anne’s voice faded as Elizabeth made her way back down the shallow steps into the great hall. She felt for her friend, having to defend her to such people, and Elizabeth walked over to stare out of the leaded glass windows. The absurdity of her own family paled in comparison to Sir Walter, and she anticipated observing more of him during her stay. Perhaps if her letters were full of such folly and nonsense, they would raise Jane’s spirits.
After tea, Anne had taken Elizabeth on a tour of the principal rooms, but when she left her guest at her room to prepare for the evening ahead, Anne turned back and hurried down the staircase. Dusk was already falling; if she did not make haste, she would be unable to fulfil her ritual walk.
She slipped out of a side door, stepping onto the gravelled walk bordering the lawns before making her way along the path.
Turning around, Anne stared at the house where it loomed before her: tall, immensely handsome despite its age, the malfunctioning roof tiles and draughty casements invisible to the eye.
So much of the inside of the house evoked gloomy memories, despite the time lengthening since Lady Elliot’s passing. Her mother’s chamber had lain empty for eleven summers, the small sitting room where she had taught Anne her first letters and later instilled a love of poetry remained a melancholy place. As for the year six…a spasm shook Anne’s breast as recollections poured in unbidden.
Commander Frederick Wentworth, as he was then, had never been welcomed over the threshold of Kellynch Hall except by Anne herself.
The drawing room, where she had waited on the outcome of his interview with her father, evoked bittersweet sensations, for she could still recall being held close by Frederick when he finally came to her. Such happiness as they had had, despite its brief duration, was not easily forsaken. Sadly, the room also contained the chair into which Anne had collapsed, distraught and broken after ending the engagement.
Frederick’s anger, his cold expression and his boots striking the flagstones as he walked away from her remained Anne’s last abiding memory of him.
With a shudder, she turned and continued along the path beside a stretch of ancient hedging, seeking the roughly made arch carved in the hedge’s sturdy branches. Beyond lay Anne’s favourite place, a grove where she often lost herself in thoughts of a happier time.
Oft had she strolled there with Frederick. It was where he had offered Anne his hand, his ardent love, and the promise of a wonderful life. Here she had once walked with such joy, her arm tucked securely within his, awash with the excitement of love, of romance, of their plans for a cottage in the country where they would raise a family.
It had thus become Anne’s habit, upon a return from any travels, to go there and retrieve these more comforting memories.
It was not long, however, before the fading light persuaded Anne to leave, and she hurriedly retraced her steps, pausing to cast one lingering look backwards. No matter whose feet walked there in the centuries to come, the grove would remain forever hers and Frederick’s.
Anne sped back to the house. Her father’s ire was easily roused if she was ever late, but she could not have forsaken the visit.
The grove never failed to remind her she had once been loved. Perhaps, if she was blessed with good fortune, the day might come when someone else might feel the same. Until then, Anne would keep safe her memories; that was something her father could never take away from her.
Elizabeth was unsure how she felt about her arrival at Kellynch thus far. That Sir Walter viewed her as merely a companion for his second eldest daughter bothered her little. Miss Elliot’s dismissal of her as unworthy of any notice was a satisfaction, if anything. Anne remained a charming and intelligent friend, and—
A tap on the door roused Elizabeth from her introspection.
‘It is time to go down, Lizzy.’
Anne came into the room, then smiled as she took in Elizabeth’s appearance.
‘Lottie has done your hair with such elegance!’
With a laugh, Elizabeth turned to inspect her coiffure in the mirror, moving her head from side to side and enjoying the effect of the carefully curled tendrils brushing against her neck.
‘Indeed. I shall be able to admire it in every looking glass I pass.’ She grinned at Anne. ‘Though I am unused to such attentions unless I am attending a ball…’ Elizabeth stopped as a memory flashed through her mind, of standing opposite Mr Darcy at the Netherfield Ball. ‘And I suspect there will be little dancing this evening.’
‘Do you enjoy the activity?’
Anne led the way along the landing towards the stone staircase leading to the main floor.
‘Vastly.’ Elizabeth laughed as they started down the stairs. ‘Though the assemblies at home leave much to be desired. The same people, the same musicians playing the same airs, the same gowns and conversation. There is little to be had of alteration to our local gatherings…’
Her voice trailed away. It was not true of late, though. Had not the arrival of the Netherfield party disrupted the neighbourhood, the Bennet household and—if she were honest with herself—Elizabeth too? Again, an image of Mr Darcy, his mien filled with disdain as he watched Lydia and Kitty’s cavorting at the ball, rushed into her mind, but Elizabeth forced it aside. No tall, proud man was going to interest her, and certainly not one that had done his childhood friend such a dreadful disservice.
‘There you are, Anne.’ Miss Elliot’s cold voice reached them as they reached the great hall. ‘How tiresome it is when you are tardy.’
Anne said nothing as they walked past her eldest sister and up the shallow steps to the drawing room where Sir Walter was waiting with a couple Elizabeth had never met.
‘Miss Anne Elliot,’ Sir Walter began. ‘Must you persist in trying my patience?’
Anne appeared remarkably calm, but Elizabeth had a suspicion this was a frequent lament.
Raising her chin, she addressed the gentleman. ‘Forgive me, Sir Walter, for delaying your daughter. She was perfectly on time until I forestalled her with my many questions about Kellynch.’
Sir Walter blinked rapidly and smoothed his fingers over the fine lines below his eyes, and Elizabeth tried—and almost succeeded—in concealing her smile. Ludicrous man!
‘I doubt you have ever seen the like of the interiors here.’
‘I could not have put it better myself, sir.’
‘Quite right. Now, permit me to introduce my youngest to you, Miss Bennet. Mrs Mary Musgrove of Uppercross, and her husband, Charles. Mary will be mistress of that estate, you understand, when the time comes.’
The man at Mary Musgrove’s side seemed a little discomfited at this reference to his father’s future demise.
‘This is Anne’s companion, Miss Elizabeth Bennet from…’ He frowned, and Anne stepped forward to address her sister and brother-in-law.
‘Miss Bennet lives at Longbourn, her family’s estate in Hertfordshire.’ Anne turned to her father. ‘And Lizzy is my friend, Father, as well you know.’
Sir Walter waved a dismissive hand. ‘Friends, companions. What are they, if not interchangeable?’
Miss Elliot had come to join them. ‘Indeed, though there is at least some benefit in a companion. They have their uses, whereas friends do little but make demands upon one.’ She looked around at the gathered company with an air easily as arrogant as any Elizabeth had seen in Mr Darcy. ‘I have no use for such acquaintance.’
Ostensibly taking Anne’s arm, Elizabeth smiled at Mary and Charles Musgrove. ‘It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.’
‘Capital!’ Charles Musgrove beamed, and he stepped forward to engage Elizabeth and Anne in conversation, the former only half listening, because Mary Musgrove’s plaintive voice had caught her attention.
‘And who are these people, Father?’
‘An old family from the North. Excellent titled connections, a grand estate and of good fortune. Ah, here they are. Welcome, Darcy!’
Darcy? Elizabeth shook her head. There had to be more than one family of such name. Calmly, she turned to observe the two tall gentlemen looming in the doorway, her face becoming suddenly warm.
There he was. The very same Mr Darcy, and the last man in the world she had ever wished to become re-acquainted with.
Chapter Six can be found HERE!
Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton