We cannot wait to share the gorgeous cover of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion with you, and it’s coming this Monday (11th January 2021) over at Meredith’s excellent Austenesque Reviews. Do join us there and let us know your thoughts!
In the meantime, Happy New Year, and without any further delay, here is the next chapter of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion!
Georgiana stared at Darcy in disbelief. ‘Did you agree to this?’
‘Not entirely.’ He released his hold upon her.
‘But you must not! Better I am sent away than you have to marry her. Tell me you did not agree to their terms?’
Darcy turned to stare out of the window into the blackness that had now fully enveloped the house.
‘I said I needed some time. I implied my possible acceptance of the terms merely to keep Sir Walter quiet, but I have no intention of being trapped into a sham of a betrothal.’ He turned around to face Georgiana. ‘My way is not clear, but I intend to overcome this without further pain for either of us.’
Georgiana seemed on the verge of tears again. ‘I cannot see how this might be resolved. It is all my fault. Can he not be reported?’
Darcy took her hands and held them gently. ‘Not without risk of exposing that which we seek to conceal. Take heart, my dear. It is my duty to keep you safe. I almost failed you in the summer. I will not do so again. No, do not cry, Georgie.’ He wiped away a solitary tear as it rolled down one cheek. ‘We have no need of tears. What we need is a plan.’
‘Have you ever been threatened in such a way before?’
‘I have not.’
Georgiana walked slowly back towards her chair, then turned around, her expression hopeful. ‘Richard will know what to do.’
‘Are you insinuating our cousin has experience in such matters?’
‘He cannot have been born so mischievous for no reason.’
‘I will write to see if he can expedite his arrival.’ In truth, though Darcy would be thankful for his cousin’s presence and ear, he could not see how it would help free him from this trap.
‘What is it? What has happened?’
Elizabeth hurried to Anne as she came into the room.
‘You are ashen. Come, sit by the fire.’
Elizabeth coaxed Anne into a chair and hurried to fetch a small glass of wine from the tray on the sideboard.
‘Here, take this. What is it? Is there news from Meadowbrook House?’ Her throat was taut with anxiety.
‘No, that I have been spared. My father says I am not to visit Frederick again.’
Elizabeth stared at her friend. ‘You will not conform?’
Anne sipped the wine as Elizabeth resumed her seat. ‘I shall not. I chose not to tell him so, for argument with him is futile.’ She took another sip from the glass.
Elizabeth sank back against the cushions. ‘Why is your father like this—so unfeeling towards you?’
‘He has little time for me. Even as a child, Elizabeth commanded all his attention and love.’
‘What love he can spare from himself,’ muttered Elizabeth, but Anne let out a small laugh. ‘Forgive me. I speak out of turn.’
Anne’s expression was resigned. ‘I was to be the son who would cut off the entail and, to add insult to the offence of my being born a girl, my mother was next brought to bed of a stillborn son.’ She raised her hands in a helpless gesture. ‘I am a nonentity to him. Mary was much the same, though she gained a little importance with him by marrying the heir to a neighbouring estate. I have not distinguished myself sufficiently, thus he is dismissive of my interests and cares.’
Elizabeth frowned. ‘I had not thought upon it, but my own father can be that way towards my younger sisters at times.’ Dissatisfied with this notion, she leaned forward in her seat. ‘How are you feeling? I worry you will not gain any rest again this night.’
‘I shall endeavour to sleep.’
Elizabeth hesitated, then said tentatively, ‘Have you considered—should Captain Wentworth awaken—what you will say to him after all this time?’
Anne drained her glass and placed it on a side table. ‘I think of little else, whenever I dare to dream of his surviving. It is a vain hope, is it not?’
‘But it is a hope, and as long as he breathes, it will remain. He has roused before.’
‘I fear Frederick will still be the angry man I last saw and will not wish to see or speak to me.’ Anne’s eyes were troubled. ‘It is, after all, our final memory of each other.’
‘But he spoke your name, Anne.’
‘In his delirium.’
‘True.’ Elizabeth could not help but smile, and Anne returned it as she got to her feet.
‘I have said as much before, but I do not know what I would have done without you these past few days, Lizzy.’
They left the room and walked along the hallway towards the great hall.
‘I will continue to do all I can to comfort you, Anne.’
‘You have proven it. Such proximity to Mr Darcy in the light of all that went between you the other day.’
‘The circumstances of those Mr Darcy’s has injured may be unchanged, but I have to afford him full credit for his recent actions.’ Elizabeth frowned as they crossed the room. ‘I cannot account for his kindness.’
They had reached the staircase, and Anne turned to her friend.
‘I do not know that I can suffer a dinner with my father and sister, Lizzy. I shall ask for a tray to be sent up.’
‘Would you like me to keep you company, to be an ear when you wish to talk?’
Anne shook her head. ‘I will do better left alone.’
They parted, with Anne taking the stairs under Elizabeth’s watchful eye, before she left to retrieve her book from the small sitting room.
She was forestalled before she had gone far, however, by Sir Walter, who peered out of his study as she passed.
‘Miss Bennet. If you would be so kind as to join me?’
He held the door wide and, much against her inclination, Elizabeth walked into the room.
It was over-ornamented, fussily decorated and contained a strategically placed looking glass by the desk.
‘There has been a change in circumstances here at Kellynch. I am afraid it is no longer convenient for you to remain for the length of your proposed stay. You will depart for home on the morrow.’
Elizabeth stared at him across the desk. Whence had this come?
‘Anne is in great need of me at present, Sir Walter. Could I stay but another four and twenty hours?’
Sir Walter seemed disinterested as he checked his neckcloth in the mirror, but a suspicion came to Elizabeth. Was this Mr Darcy’s influence? It was likely Sir Walter would accede to such a request, for he had no time for Elizabeth either, but that would be of no aid to Anne.
‘Sir, your daughter is likely to be in distress when she returns from Meadowbrook House tomorrow. I would prefer to remain with her until the day after.’
‘It is too late. An express has already been sent to inform your family of your imminent return. I will provide a carriage.’ Sir Walter seemed proud of this generosity. ‘As for my daughter, she will not be going to Meadowbrook House again until I permit it.’
So you may believe.
Elizabeth was confident in Anne’s commitment, but she had to at least try to sway the gentleman.
‘But Sir Walter. The captain—’
He slammed a hand on the desk. ‘The captain be damned. I would not have Miss Anne Elliot throwing herself away on him in the year six, and I will not have her hanging around a dying man now. The sooner he is gone, the better for us all.’
If Elizabeth had thought her anger for Mr Darcy to be severe, her feelings towards the gentleman opposite knew no bounds. Vexing though it was to be sent packing like some recalcitrant child, her fury was all for Anne’s treatment at the hands of her uncaring parent. It was, perhaps, fortunate her rage rendered her speechless, or she would likely say something regrettable.
‘The carriage will be prepared for ten o’clock. A maid is already seeing to your packing.’
Sir Walter opened the door, and with one last glare, Elizabeth walked with dignity from the room before breaking into a run. If it were not for Anne, she would happily leave and never return to this damnable place.
Darcy had encouraged Georgiana to join him in the drawing room before dinner, cognisant the last thing either of them needed was to be alone with their incessant thoughts. Mrs Annesley had successfully occupied Georgiana by encouraging her to place her embroidery hoop on its stand and do some stitching, but Darcy had found it harder to settle and had taken up his usual stance at one of the windows.
Determined to keep his anger towards Sir Walter at bay as best he could, Darcy tried to clear his mind as he stared into the darkness, but Elizabeth remained entrenched in his thoughts.
This realisation brought little comfort, and impatient with himself, he turned around. He must make more effort at distraction.
Darcy’s gaze fell upon his sister. Despite their upsetting conversation, she appeared brighter than she had in a while, her cheeks bearing a little more colour as she wielded her embroidery hook with finesse.
‘You seem in better health, Georgie.’
‘I believe I am. My cough troubles me less, and I am sleeping more soundly. Mrs Annesley has suggested we take a longer walk tomorrow.’
‘If it remains dry, I see no problem with you doing so, but only for a short duration. Your cough plagued you after your walk with Miss Bennet the other day.’
Georgiana smiled reminiscently. ‘It is because I talked too much, Fitz.’
Disquiet filled Darcy, but before he could speculate on what had been said, Mrs Annesley stood up.
‘We will remain within the grounds, sir. If you will excuse me. I have a letter I must finish before dinner.’
As soon as the door closed behind the lady, Georgiana put the hook aside and joined her brother by the window.
‘How are you feeling, truly, Georgie?’
‘I am concerned about you and ashamed of myself, but I passed the captain’s door on my way down and it made me realise there are worse situations to endure.’
‘Wise words, my dear.’
Georgiana took his hands in hers. ‘But what of you, Brother? You are quite ashen.’
‘I am perfectly well, Georgie. Perhaps I am need of fresh air myself. Shall I accompany you on your tour of the grounds in the morning?’
‘Yes please! Mrs Annesley is pleasant enough, but I have so little in common with her.’ Her expression brightened. ‘May I ask Miss Bennet if she will walk with us?’
‘Miss Bennet is not at liberty, my dear. She will be here to chaperone her friend.’
‘But they are likely to be here for hours, are they not? I cannot imagine Miss Bennet would not wish for a moment’s exercise, should the opportunity arise.’
Darcy’s eyes drifted to the window again as thoughts of Elizabeth filled his mind. Would this foolish longing ever leave him?
His attention snapped back to Georgiana. ‘Pay me no mind. I am wool-gathering.’
‘Are you thinking of the poor captain?’ Georgiana shook her head. ‘It is so tragic for Miss Anne Elliot.’
‘It is decidedly tragic for Captain Wentworth.’
‘Yes, I know. But he does not, if you see what I mean? The lady is having to live through the pain of their parting a second time.’
Lord knows how one does such a thing. Darcy was struggling to accept his own loss, and Elizabeth had never even been his to lose…
‘I should like to further my acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Fitz.’
So would I.
Georgiana turned away, soon resuming her stitching, and Darcy stared at his feet. His sister’s eagerness to befriend Elizabeth was a complication he could well do without.
Anne pushed the food around her plate. Her appetite remained poor, and despite her hope of indulging in happy memories of Frederick, she was failing miserably.
With Elizabeth at her side, Anne felt stronger, better able to face what was surely to come.
Laying aside the tray, she took a sip of wine, but then the servant’s door opened.
‘Oh, Miss Anne!’ Elise wrung her hands as she hurried over, and panic gripped Anne.
‘What is it? Is there news from Meadowbrook House?’
The maid shook her head.
‘It is Lottie, miss. Or rather, it is Miss Bennet. Lottie says she was ordered to pack the lady’s trunk, that your friend is to depart on the morrow.’
‘What?’ Elise grabbed the wine glass as Anne shot to her feet, confusion flooding her mind. ‘I must go to Lizzy.’
She snatched up a shawl from the bed and in no time was tapping on Elizabeth’s door and entering.
‘You have heard. I was going to come and see you directly.’ Elizabeth was clearly uneasy. ‘I am so sorry.’
Shaking her head, Anne surveyed the open wardrobes and the half-filled trunk beside them. ‘I do not understand.’
Elizabeth led Anne over to the bed, upon which they perched as she revealed Sir Walter’s edict.
Anne stared at Elizabeth in disbelief. ‘But why?’
‘I know not. Sir Walter gave no reason, merely saying it was no longer convenient.’ Elizabeth hesitated. ‘It crossed my mind, perhaps Mr Darcy had made the suggestion, my having angered him so, but then I could not account for his word being so influential.’
‘Nor can I. It is nonsensical. Let me speak to Father.’
Elizabeth stayed Anne as she made to get up. ‘You will not change his mind. My trunk is to be taken down as soon as it is ready, and he has written to my father to expect me.’
‘But you cannot leave! I shall need you more than ever once…’ Anne drew in a short breath. ‘Let me try, Lizzy.’
She hurried from the room, filled with trepidation. How would she cope if Elizabeth were taken away too?
As anticipated, Anne’s request of her father, that her friend be allowed to see out the duration of her planned visit, fell on deaf ears, and the two friends talked long into the night, both attempting to provide comfort for each other until exhaustion obliged them to part.
Having barely slept, Elizabeth arose early, her mind full of how Anne would fare throughout the coming day. Though the pain of them parting as friends could not compare to the emotions Anne would experience if the captain finally passed, she was angered by the unnecessary distress brought upon her friend.
Resigned to her fate, Elizabeth picked up the book from her bedside table, adding it to her small travelling bag. With the trunk taken away the previous evening, the room would soon be free of any reminder of her sojourn.
Walking to the window, Elizabeth surveyed the scene. Dawn had broken, and a dusting of snow had fallen, but the skies were clearing, a weak winter sun peeping through the bare branches of the trees bordering the garden. Much as she disliked Sir Walter and his eldest, she would miss the view from her room.
The clock on the mantel chimed the half hour, and Elizabeth, longing for a cup of tea and knowing none of the family would be breaking their fast at this early hour, left the room and headed down the stairs.
Anne was pacing to and fro in her chamber. Unable to sleep after leaving Elizabeth, she had risen before dawn, emotion heavy in her breast at what the coming day would bring. How could her father do this? Did he not know the comfort Elizabeth had been to his daughter?
She turned on her heel. Of course he did not. If only her mother were still alive. No one had ever loved Anne as she had. Was there anyone she could turn to for assistance?
For a moment, Anne thought of Charles Musgrove. He was a sensible, pleasant man, and he was kin. He had always been kind to her, but would the gentleman stand up to his father in law? She doubted it.
Fetching up in front of the hearth, a thought struck Anne.
‘Nonsensical!’ She shook her head, resuming her pacing, but once the thought had taken hold, it would not leave her, and she dropped onto the edge of the bed.
Might there be one person who could help her? Help them? Had the offer not already been made, should she have need of it?
Loath though Anne was to make the request for herself, could she not do it for her friend? Elizabeth’s distress at having to leave at such a crucial time had been touchingly obvious. Besides, might that not be an added inducement?
Anne noted the lightening skies and crossed to the dressing room. ‘Elise, make haste. Bring my riding habit.’
Chapter Twenty-One can be found HERE!!
Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton