Elizabeth’s emotions were high as she raced through the house, hurrying as quickly as decorum permitted along the corridor to the great hall, where she stopped and drew in a shuddering breath.
How could she have done that? Colour rushed into her face and she put a hand to her cheek.
Because Mr Darcy deserved it.
All the same, he was Lady Catherine de Burgh’s nephew. Did he not have the power to make Jane’s life even more intolerable? Elizabeth shook her head. How could it possibly become more so? Would it be wise to remain at Kellynch? Her being there had always felt somewhat tenuous, but now she had insulted Mr Darcy in every possible way, perhaps his influence would be brought to bear upon her?
A door slammed somewhere in the distance, and Elizabeth hastened her steps, desperate for the sanctuary of her room.
By the time Darcy reached Meadowbrook House, his head was pounding, and he took refuge in his study, closing the door behind him with a resounding thud.
Then, he stood stock-still, the rigidity of his frame belying the incessant thoughts spinning around in his head. What, in the name of the devil, had just happened?
Be calm, Darcy cautioned himself, but the rapid pounding of his heart and the raw anger filling his being fought against him. How could the world present itself the same as when he had left earlier, determined, fired up by his decision, and excited almost in his anticipation of claiming Elizabeth as his own? Elizabeth…
Darcy almost shied away from the name. Miss Bennet, possessor of his mind, his senses and finally his heart. For weeks now, the woman had filled his thoughts…but he must think of her no more.
The clock on the mantel chimed, and a momentary anguish gripped Darcy, sweeping aside the anger and disbelief that had carried him back to the house. Had all this taken place in so little time? Far from realising his dreams, the past hour had unfolded into a nightmare of wretched proportions.
He had no desire to see Elizabeth again, wished he had never come to Somersetshire. Why had they not gone further south?
Then, a flare of frustration shot through him as Darcy recalled her championship of Wickham and her defence of her sister’s feelings. The lady was quite liberal with her affections where she chose to bestow them. Her fondness for Miss Anne Elliot was also obvious, even under such short acquaintance. Darcy seethed in silence. The lady had no feelings for him other than hatred and disgust.
He did not wish to dwell upon what his own feelings had been; they must be forgotten. Elizabeth Bennet did not deserve such honourable sentiments, and certainly not from a gentleman of his consequence…
Yes, he was a gentleman, of excellent character, family, and social standing, and acknowledged by all for his integrity and honesty. How could the lady question his character? How dare she?
Darcy’s throat felt tight, and he tugged at his neckcloth, unable to shut out Elizabeth’s voice.
‘Your arrogance, your conceit and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others…’
Ridiculous! Unfounded, totally erroneous accusations and, what is more, a slur on his honour! His conduct was never questioned—–never! What did she comprehend of his worth?
Darcy leaned back against the door; his heart clenched so tightly in his chest he could scarce draw breath. The unspoken proposal and her harsh words smouldered in his gut.
What a damnable day this was!
Elizabeth cooled her face with a damp cloth as she took herself to task. Her anger had all but dispersed but she felt out of sorts from a combination of embarrassment at having spoken so candidly and frustration that the gentleman seemed to have no interest in the consequences of his past transgressions.. Her head felt almost too full for coherent thought, but as she noted the chimes of the nearby church bell, she left her chamber, intent on seeking out Anne before she wondered what had become of her.
Notes from the pianoforte drifted towards Elizabeth as she approached the music room, and slipping inside, she allowed them to wash over her, desperate to soothe her frayed spirits.
‘You are out of countenance. What has happened?’
Elizabeth walked slowly across the room as Anne lifted her hands from the keys. What could she say?
‘My taking the air did not deliver the hoped for remedy.’
‘You seem flustered. Whatever is the matter?’ Anne rose from the stool with a concerned air.
‘It is nothing.’ Elizabeth tried to push aside a tumult of feelings. Had she not vowed to support her friend? ‘I am perfectly well. Shall we find somewhere to sit and talk? You can tell me more of your captain if you wish.’
‘I think it best you tell me more of what has happened to you. Sit with me.’
They settled into the window seat, and Elizabeth strove to push away her anxieties , but Anne’s need of her only emphasised her sense of culpability.
‘Tell me what it is.’ Anne shifted in her seat to face her friend, and Elizabeth pulled a face.
‘I had an…argument with him.’
Anne blinked. ‘With whom?’
‘Mr Darcy. I—I told him what I think of him.’ The words tumbled out in a rush.
‘He was here at Kellynch? I wonder what his purpose might have been?’
Elizabeth could not care less. ‘He materialised on the terrace, just as I was going over in my head all Jane had written in her letter. It was not the most fortuitous timing.’
‘Oh dear.’ Anne bit back on a smile. ‘Forgive me, dear Lizzy. I can sense you are uncomfortable enough.’
‘I am, though the man does not deserve it. Mr Darcy’s scorn for the feelings of others has long raised my ire.’ Elizabeth waved a hand. ‘He has done a cruel disservice to a…friend, and coupled with Jane’s latest news, my indignation overruled my sense, and out it all came.’ It sounded so childish when said aloud.
Anne patted Elizabeth’s arm soothingly. ‘All, as in your sister’s situation and your belief his influence upon his friend was a factor?’
Elizabeth nodded. ‘He owned his actions with pride and conceit, but he is angry with me, and I cannot say it is completely unwarranted.’
There was silence for a moment; then, Anne sent Elizabeth a searching look.
‘What set you off in the first place, Lizzy?’
With a huff of breath, Elizabeth got to her feet. ‘I felt goaded. He had the gall to claim I must allow him to—’
‘To what?’ Anne was frowning, and agitated, Elizabeth walked over to the hearth, then spun around.
‘I have no idea. I interrupted him. I tried to walk away, to leave.’ She threw Anne a pleading look as she paced back across the room. ‘I promise, I did, but…’ Stopping abruptly, Elizabeth stared at Anne. A vivid recollection of Mr Darcy’s expression, of the unfathomable look in his eyes—one she had no familiarity with—assailed her, as did the words: “My feelings will not be repressed.”
What feelings? What on earth had he been about to say?
‘Lizzy?’ Anne rose to stand before her. ‘What is it?’
Unhappy with indulging her curiosity, Elizabeth summoned a smile. She would not spare Mr Darcy any further notice.
‘Nothing. Shall we indulge in some music? I believe I was charged with the duty of teaching you a duet!’
The remainder of the day passed in a blur, and Darcy kept to his study for much of it, knowing his sister was occupied with Mrs Annesley, but before long the evening had descended. Staring out of the drawing room window into the blackness, Darcy strove to keep Elizabeth from his thoughts. His earlier burst of anger towards her had abated, replaced with a despair he feared would never leave him.
‘Brother?’ Georgiana appeared in the doorway and crossed to stand before him. ‘Is anything wrong? You are quite strained.’
Darcy shook his head. ‘Pay me no mind, my dear. It has been a rather trying day, that is all.
‘Judgemental, supercilious, and filled with arrogance…’
Darcy winced as Elizabeth’s angry face appeared before him again. Was there some truth in her accusations?
He almost jumped as Georgiana took his hand and kissed it.
‘Your face is dark as night. What is the good news you were to share on your return?’
The irony was galling.
‘I am afraid I was mistaken. I have no good news to impart. Come. It is time we went in for dinner.’
The food would taste like ashes, but he had to maintain a pretence of normalcy for Georgiana, even as his world was in tatters.
It was not until his sister retired for the night that Darcy could finally release the tight rein he held upon his thoughts.
Dismissing his valet, Darcy roamed his chamber like a caged beast, then dropped into an armchair near the hearth. For a while, he stared into the flames, but then his frame sagged, and his head dropped into his hands.
Elizabeth’s dislike and her damning of his character were galling enough, but nothing to the devastation coursing through him at the loss of all his recent hopes and dreams.
Darcy leaned back in his seat, then pressed a palm against his pounding forehead. How foolish of him to assume Wickham’s tales would antagonise her more than his influence over Bingley.
Sitting up, Darcy narrowed his eyes. Elizabeth had been fierce in her claim of his being mistaken. Could he have erred? Had the lady’s affections truly been engaged?
No! He had made certain to observe Miss Bennet closely and had thus done both the lady and his friend a great service. How could Elizabeth doubt his good intentions?
Darcy’s brow furrowed. And what had been her meaning regarding Georgiana and Bingley?
Getting wearily to his feet, Darcy loosened his neckcloth and unbuttoned his waistcoat. How he was to seek repose, he knew not. And how was he to behave when next he saw her? Elizabeth’s departure for Hertfordshire could not come soon enough.
You deceive yourself.
It was a truth Darcy owned as he removed his shirt and tossed it onto a chair. The thought of never laying eyes upon Elizabeth Bennet again brought little consolation to his bruised heart.
More snow fell overnight, and Darcy—who had escaped to his study as soon as breakfast was over, Georgiana having gone on a short walk with Mrs Annesley—viewed the day stretching before him with dissatisfaction. How interminable did time seem now? With little effort at resistance, his thoughts swept along the lane to Kellynch.
What might Elizabeth be doing? Did she spare a thought for him at all?
You are ridiculous, Darcy. Why would the lady think of you? Has she not made her view of your person, your character, plain?
Darcy dropped his pen onto the blotter and got impatiently to his feet. Though his anger had indeed been of short duration, he had no doubt the pain and disappointment would linger. The only saving grace—one he had been haunted by through the long night—was the certainty Elizabeth would have refused him, had he been permitted to speak. How thankful was he that the words had never fallen from his lips.
Rejection! A notion so alien to all Darcy had been raised to expect, he simply could not comprehend it.
A tap on the door heralded Mrs Reynolds, who placed the salver of post on his desk.
‘A note has come from the Hall, sir. The boy did not wait for a reply.’ She pointed to the folded paper on top of the pile. ‘Shall I send in more tea?’
Darcy examined the note, before raising his eyes to his housekeeper.
‘No, thank you. I shall be going out directly.’
Anne and Elizabeth had taken to the long gallery again after breaking their fast, the cold wind convincing them to remain indoors.
Although Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Mr Darcy had not abated in its entirety, Anne’s soothing voice and calm demeanour worked upon her vexation much as Jane’s was wont to do.
‘You are good for me, Anne.’ Elizabeth smiled warmly at her friend. ‘I will do as you suggest and ask my aunt if Jane can visit them for a few days before they travel to Longbourn for the Christmas season. Thankfully, Mr Collins can ill be spared from his parish at this time of year, so his stay is of short duration. Distance and Aunt Gardiner’s good sense may prevail upon Jane yet, though I fear it is all too late.’ Elizabeth sighed. ‘I have been selfish, indulging my own low spirits with little regard for yours. You said you still had trouble sleeping.’
‘I am a little weary. It is not a new sensation, to have Frederick in mind. Only now, it is intensified, as though our parting has happened all over again.’
‘Do you’—Elizabeth hesitated, welcoming the change of subject from her own obsessive thoughts—‘Were you fortunate enough to have a likeness of him?’
Anne shook her head as they turned their steps back along the gallery. ‘It was promised, but we were parted before he could have one done.’ She was staring ahead, and Elizabeth suspected her mind was years away. ‘After he left, I was glad I had no permanent reminder. I did not feel I warranted the consolation, so badly did I feel my guilt for being persuaded away from him. I thought perhaps I might forget him, or at least his features, over time. With no miniature to savour, and few letters…’ She sighed. ‘We were only parted once, for but a few days, during the short months of our acquaintance, so any correspondence was of a trifling nature.’
‘You cherish it, all the same?’
‘Our course. Yet’—there was a tremor in Anne’s voice—‘I can see him as clearly in my mind’s eye today as I could then. I am comforted by it, that he has not become some faceless memory, but it pains me also.’
Elizabeth put an arm around Anne. ‘Let us go to the small sitting room. Perhaps your cook, Mrs Howard, will prepare us a hot toddy, and you shall talk to your heart’s content about your captain.’
Darcy had no idea what the matter of business was that had persuaded Sir Walter Elliot to request he call on him at his earliest convenience, but it at least provided him with a purpose. The fact it meant walking up to the Hall was hardly conducive to peace of mind, however, for each step reminded him of the walk there on the previous day and how high Darcy’s expectations had been, not only of bringing his plans to fruition, but also the happiness it would have brought, both to him and Elizabeth.
Disgusted with himself for indulging in such false hopes, Darcy swiped at the snow-capped verges with his cane, lost in his thoughts until he registered the sound of a conveyance making its sedentary way along the lane, the clip clop of the horses’ hooves, and the rumbling of the carriage wheels muffled by the cushion of snow. He stepped up onto the verge, lifting his hat at the gentleman peering out of the window, but the carriage slowed to a halt as the driver turned in his seat.
‘Begging your pardon, sir. Be this the direction for Kellynch Hall? The road markers are all but unreadable.’
Darcy replaced his hat and pointed ahead. ‘Around this corner, then a little further on. You will see the gates on your left.’
The driver urged the horses onward, and Darcy continued his preoccupied march along the lane. If Sir Walter had an unexpected caller, then perhaps he could escape his own meeting?
His desire to avoid seeing Elizabeth wavered as the tight band across his breast tightened. How could he not wish to lay eyes upon her? Harsh though her words had been, they could not extinguish his ardent love for her so easily.
Fetching up at the gates to the long driveway, Darcy noted the carriage pulling up in front of the house. Whatever this business of Sir Walter’s was, it could be of little importance. He would allow the stranger to enter, then Darcy would present his card and indicate his return the following day.
‘I am merely using you as a distraction, you understand.’ Elizabeth smirked as she and Anne made their way down the stairs. ‘I wish to spare no further thought for Mr Darcy today. Instead, I shall learn all about Captain Wentworth from one who knew him best.’
‘And loved him best.’
Elizabeth took Anne’s arm fondly as they walked along the corridor. ‘And that too.’
They were but a few steps from the great hall when raised voices drifted towards them.
Anne and Elizabeth exchanged a look.
‘That is Mr Darcy’s voice.’ Elizabeth’s irritation returned. What was his obsession with being at Kellynch Hall?
‘I will not have it. He cannot come here.’ Sir Walter sounded angry.
‘Sir, where would you have me take him?’ A stranger’s voice this time. ‘He has spoken but two words and one of them was Kellynch.’
There was silence for a second, and Elizabeth frowned at Anne. ‘Should we find another way?’
Anne shook her head. ‘My father is in a temper. He will likely not register us passing.’
They rounded the corner into the great hall, and Elizabeth followed Anne as she skirted past the three men in the centre of the room: Sir Walter, red-faced and indignant, a stranger who was equally red-faced, and Mr Darcy, whom Elizabeth pointedly ignored.
‘Let it be understood! No sailor will cross my threshold, least of all one called Wentworth.’
Chapter Eighteen can be found HERE!!
Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton