JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

Thanks for dropping by! Titles are below and to the right, under the following headings:
The Trouble of Practising | Longer fiction
The Result of Previous Study | Challenge entries and stories based on others' prompts (or simply others' prompting)
Impulse of the Moment | Short stories written on a whim
Drabbles | Snapshots, usually 100 words but occasionally more, and usually based on a prompt
The Alcove | Writings other than Jane Austen fanfictionNewest Post: All Six Senses (and All F
Note: Some stories include direct quotes from Austen's works, and there is the occasional nod to one or other of the adaptations.

Most Recent Posts:
A Great Coxcomb, Parts 1 - 5 (May-July 2017)
A Little Alteration: Mrs. Forster's Friend (October 2016)

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek, Part 4


The Thirtieth of November


The Hursts' residence in Grosvenor Street, late morning
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Before you ask, no. I will not go with you to Mr. Darcy's house today. Do not raise the subject with me again. I am weary of it."

"It is not Mr. Darcy, but Miss Darcy to whom I think we owe a visit, dear sister."

"And how is that any better? I will not countenance your descending upon that young girl and frightening her with questions about the whereabouts of her brother. You know how timid she is! Besides, we do not know if Mr. Darcy has even informed her that he is in town."

"Of course he has! He is a better brother than Charles, who has yet to contact us."

"Why would Charles send a note or come here expecting to see us? He believes us to be in Hertfordshire!" Louisa was exasperated beyond bearing. Was Caroline's desperation making her daft?

"Oh, well...I suppose you are right about Miss Darcy. It is a herculean task to elicit more than a few words from the girl. Perhaps it is not worth the trouble."

Caroline's voice sounded a little too bright and her agreement rang a little too false in Louisa's opinion. If her sister made a fool of herself during her first week back in town, she would ruin her chances of becoming Mrs. Darcy, not that Louisa believed her chances were very great in any case. Had Mr. Darcy not removed himself as quickly as possible from their company and stayed away, she might have had hope. Caroline, on the other hand, was not likely to allow Mr. Darcy's recent behaviour to influence her own, but Caroline was always the more reluctant of the two of them to become resigned to reality.

"Admit it, Caroline: our plans have failed. It is Saturday. Charles is now either preparing to travel or already on his way back to Hertfordshire. He will return to Netherfield, and to Miss Bennet, and there is nothing we can do about it."

"I will never admit defeat!" Caroline insisted.

With that, Louisa shook her head and left the room.

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence, in the afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Still not here! What can you mean?"

"I mean, Madam, that Mr. Darcy is not at home."

"He has to be! This is the third time I have attempted to call on him today! First I cannot find Charles, and now Mr. Darcy is missing! They must be somewhere! London cannot have swallowed them up!"

The butler was tempted to point out that expressing her frustration in a loud voice on the steps of his employer's home was not perhaps the best choice, but he said nothing.

After some minutes of silence on his part, complaints and imprecations (rather shocking, actually) of varying volume on the part of the lady before him, a few apologetic glances from the maid that had accompanied her, and more than a few stares from passers-by, he offered what vague nothings he felt were particularly suited to the occasion—an offering that was barely heard, much less acknowledged or accepted—and very slowly and very quietly closed the door.

A little wilderness on Longbourn's lawn, in the afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Darcy looked about him as he took one of the paths through the charming grounds. Every thing appeared so calm here. Life inside Longbourn House, however, was any thing but calm!

After having revealed his feelings to Elizabeth, he had become the subject of her unrelenting scrutiny. Had he stared at her even half as much in the past weeks as she stared at him now? He could rarely look up and not find her observing him. Such a circumstance, while not unwelcome, was not exactly soothing.

He had also endured Mr. Collins's long-winded leave-taking, which he was sorry to think he might have extended by his own presence, if the excessive mention of his "noble aunt" and his "esteemed cousin" and repeated offers to convey messages to either were any indication. Whatever regret Darcy felt for his part in prolonging their suffering was lessened, however, by his conviction that his presence also kept Mrs. Bennet's complaints against her second-eldest child to a minimum. She had not yet forgiven her daughter for allowing Longbourn's heir to take his leave without having secured her hand and all the Bennet ladies' futures.

The youngest two girls, who were generally noisy, never seemed to run out of subjects to talk of, and this morning's events provided them an additional one. Sir William arrived after breakfast and announced his eldest daughter's engagement to Mr. Collins. Darcy had little time to triumph in having divined Mr. Collins's secret before he found himself endeavouring to assist Elizabeth and Miss Bennet in smoothing over the others' unfortunate responses to this intelligence. The house was still buzzing with the news.

In fact, things had been so busy that no one had had leisure to wonder why Darcy was still at Longbourn. That was convenient, for he wished very much to delay his departure. He would have been inclined to do so simply to enjoy Elizabeth's company, but it had occurred to him that his missing friend might pass him on the road if he were to leave for London just then. Bingley had only meant to stay in town a few days, and he was quick, if not as thorough as he ought to be, in dispatching business matters.

These few moments out of doors would have to suffice for the day's dose of peace and quiet, Darcy decided as he turned towards the house. Bingley, if not waylaid by his sisters, would soon be back. Considering the strength of Miss Bingley's deductive powers, her brother had every chance of remaining undetected by his relations and returning to Netherfield as planned.

Some elegant apartments near St. James's Square
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"How I wish..." began the young lady, putting away her letters. Her speech drifted off as she stared through the window, though there was nothing occurring outside to draw her attention.

"What is it that you wish?" her companion asked.

"Oh, I did not realise you heard me." Georgiana Darcy turned and smiled at Mrs. Annesley. "I was wishing we might live at my brother's house, or at Pemberley, rather than here."

"Are you displeased with the accommodations? I had thought you liked them."

"I do like them! It is just that I like spending time with Fitzwilliam more." Georgiana blushed. "I know I cannot expect to reside with him in town, and I know we are but a short distance away, but I miss his company."

"He is a very good brother."

"An excellent brother. But we have spent so much time apart." And not always to our benefit, she thought.

"You shall have Christmas together."

"Yes." Georgiana moved away from the window and sat near her companion. Mrs. Annesley was one of the very few people with whom she spoke freely. "Whenever he marries, we will be together more, like a family. I wonder if that will happen soon. I think...that is, I hope...he is considering marriage."

"To a lady you know? If you have merely heard rumours, my dear, I hope you will disregard them and allow your brother to inform you himself of such important news."

"No, I have heard nothing, and I have never met her. It is only a feeling I have." She had been so wrong about such things in her own life that she felt she had no right to speculate about her brother's interests, but she could not suppress her delight at the possibility. "He has written of her more than once," she explained, "and each time he has complimented something..."

"New?" guessed Mrs. Annesley, smiling.

"Yes, but...meaningful, for lack of a better word. He praises her kindness, her wit, her sensible nature. He not only admires her, but he respects her, I think. I have never heard him speak of an eligible young lady in that way before. She sounds like someone he could truly love." She thought it all very romantic but reasonable, just the combination that suited her brother. "If he will allow himself to do it," she mumbled.

"You think he may not?"

"She is a gentleman's daughter, but I doubt she is rich or well connected. I think if she were, he might already have offered for her."

"Ah. Those are things beyond our control."

Georgiana sighed. They were indeed. Mrs. Annesley, for instance, was a lovely, talented lady, and though widowed for some years, certainly young enough to think of marrying again and having her own family; however, she had no fortune with which to tempt a second gentleman to join her in matrimony.

Prudence had its place, but the sort of person one married was of greatest import. Had Mr. Wickham been a different man, a reliable and trustworthy man, Fitzwilliam may not have objected so strongly. That did not bear thinking of, except that she knew now what sort of gentleman to look for at some far-off, future time: one with virtues others could vouch for, with a character at least as handsome as his face.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet appeared, from her brother's report, to have a handsome character, and she hoped Fitzwilliam was fully aware of it.

"Beyond our control," Georgiana repeated, walking back to the window. "Still, I shall hope."

Longbourn, in the afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Mama, look! Mr. Bingley is come!"

The girls joined Miss Catherine at the window—all but Miss Bennet, who was detained by her mother. Mrs. Bennet suggested a few impractical and ill-advised alterations to her eldest daughter's dress, which said daughter bore with good grace.

Even Miss Mary seemed determined to get a glimpse of the approaching visitor. Darcy, perhaps due to the rush of relief he felt at Bingley's appearance, decided to indulge a playful impulse he was suppressing with some effort. He caught Miss Mary's eye and mouthed, "Wingley?" She looked confused. He was on the point of flapping his arms—discreetly, of course—but she suddenly looked abashed, and then she smothered a grin.

"It is indeed the elusive Mr. Bingley," Elizabeth remarked, having stepped back from the glass. Had she witnessed his odd moment of light-hearted...well, silliness was what it was, and he would not be surprised if she had. She was looking directly at him.

Darcy went to Elizabeth's side and was happy when she did not move away. She seemed to be warming to the idea that he admired her. He had taken her unawares the evening before, and he carried some blame for the fact that one of her favourite gowns had been splattered with tea, so he was trying to temper his eagerness with caution. He was finding it a challenge.

"Perhaps he will give another ball!" said Miss Catherine.

"Oh, he must!" said Miss Lydia. "I shall ask him again!"

"Do, Lydia!" Miss Catherine pressed her sister as if the child required any encouragement.

"Another ball would be just the thing!" Mrs. Bennet agreed. "Oh!" she suddenly cried, and she rushed from the room, voicing her need to speak to the cook about dinner.

"Lydia," Miss Bennet said as she joined the others at the window, "we must not presume upon Mr. Bingley's hospitality in that way."

"You know he will not refuse, Jane!"

"And you would not want him to!" added Miss Catherine.

Miss Bennet blushed a rosy pink and said not a word.

Miss Elizabeth seemed pleased at the sight. "I fear Lydia will follow through with her intention," she told Darcy. "Poor Mr. Bingley will have his home overrun by his neighbours once more."

Darcy took a step closer to his companion and leant down to speak so that the others would not hear. "And if he does," he said, pretending nonchalance when his lips brushed her ear the tiniest bit. He felt reckless and calculating and exhilarated all at once. "If he does, will you grant me the honour of the first two dances?"

Miss Elizabeth's face began to show a rosy pink blush that threatened to rival that of her elder sister. She nodded, and Darcy smiled with heartfelt delight.

Netherfield, not an hour earlier
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Caroline?"

Bingley's voice and footsteps echoed round the chilly halls.

The servants were scarce. It had taken an age for someone to greet him, and that someone had not even been the butler. It was as if he had not been expected back any day! In fact, the footman who finally appeared had been surprised to see him and said something about the party's having gone to town. He did not understand it. His sisters despised Meryton. As for their having gone to London, a conclusion supported by the empty corridors, that made even less sense.

"Louisa?"

Bingley peered into one of the parlours. Seeing no one, he quickly moved on.

He took a few steps and was tempted to go back and look into the room again. Had he just seen holland cloth covering two of the chairs? Perhaps in the dim light it had appeared so.

"Hurst?" he called out, climbing the stairs to the family rooms and coming back down again when he heard no movement or other sound.

And where was Darcy? Probably hiding in the library. He tried there without success.

"Darcy?"

That should have been loud enough, Bingley thought. They all should have come running by now.

But they had not.

Bemused, Bingley left the house and went to the stables. Surely Longbourn was not deserted. He could not wait to see Jane Bennet again.

Before riding off, he looked back at Netherfield and shook his head.

Where on earth was everyone?

The End

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek, Part 3


The Twenty-Ninth of November


On the path to Longbourn House, (so) late (in the) afternoon (as to be practically evening)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Darcy looked up at the sky. "It is growing late. It would be foolish to return home tonight. I suppose I had better get a room at the inn."

"You will not go to Netherfield?" inquired Miss Bennet.

"Without Bingley there?"

"I am sure Mr. Bingley would want you to be comfortable," Miss Bennet said. "Not that I would presume to speak for him, but I cannot imagine he would object."

"Why, indeed, would he?" asked Miss Elizabeth. "If I understand the situation correctly, sir, Mr. Bingley is unaware that you ever left."

Darcy smiled at the arch reply. "You have a point, Miss Elizabeth. Both you and Miss Bennet put forth valid arguments."

"You are also welcome to return to the house with us," offered Miss Bennet. "We have room enough. And there is the matter of dinner."

The other girls looked up. "Yes," Miss Lydia said cheerily. "He can talk to Mr. Collins!"

"Mr. Collins pays more attention to the rest of us now he is angry with Lizzy," Miss Catherine explained without looking at him, as if she were a little afraid to meet his eye.

"Was that necessary, Kitty, Lydia?" Miss Elizabeth asked them, looking mortified.

"Angry?" Darcy wondered. "When I last saw Mr. Collins, he seemed quite pleased."

"La, he does not know!" Lydia twirled round to face him. "Mr. Collins proposed two days ago, and Lizzy refused him!"

Miss Elizabeth groaned.

Darcy began to consider this interesting information, but the girls' talk did not allow him to do so for more than a moment.

"Mama thinks that Mary might be persuaded to accept him," Miss Lydia added, "but even she finds him disagreeable, and she likes him better than any of us!"

"A propensity towards resentment cannot bode well for the marriage state," Miss Mary proclaimed in a sour tone.

"Yes, Mary," Elizabeth said, "I dare say you are right. And Mr. Darcy, who has lived in the world longer than we have, must be well acquainted with the drawbacks of having a resentful temper. So we need not elaborate on them for his sake." She turned to him then with traces of mortification still on her face. "You have probably heard more than you wanted of the adventures of the Bennet ladies, Mr. Darcy," she said by way of apology. "Perhaps sharing a dinner table with us would overtax you."

Darcy was tempted to take the way out she offered—particularly when he considered that he would be sharing that same table with Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins—but he was also hungry and tired, and he was curious to know why Miss Elizabeth was ready to dismiss him so easily. There was more than embarrassment behind her words.

"'Tis too bad Mr. Wickham will not be coming," said Miss Lydia. Miss Catherine joined in her lamentations, and they separated a little from the others as they discussed the merits of various redcoats.

Ah, Darcy thought. Being so preoccupied with finding Bingley had had the happy effect of putting Wickham's existence out of his head. He recalled that horrid conversation he and Miss Elizabeth had shared at the Netherfield ball. It had almost ruined their dance! "Has Mr. Wickham been a recipient of Longbourn's hospitality?" he asked.

"Just yesterday," said Miss Catherine.

"Lizzy introduced him to Mama and Papa," said Miss Lydia. "He is the finest man in regimentals I ever saw!"

Darcy was disgusted by the idea of more females falling prey to Wickham's charm while that man masqueraded as a protector of the populace. "I never would have supposed him to desire a military life," he said.

Miss Lydia pouted. "Lizzy did say he ought to have been a clergyman," she confirmed, "but I don't think there would have been any fun in it."

"Had he received the living he was promised," Miss Elizabeth said, "when it became vacant two years ago—"

"Lizzy!" admonished Miss Bennet.

Darcy was grateful for Miss Bennet's interruption. The edge in Miss Elizabeth's voice had threatened to incite his temper, and that would have done him no good. He took a calming breath, and when he felt himself to have achieved at least a semblance of tranquility, he spoke. "Do you refer to the living at Kympton, Miss Elizabeth, which Mr. Wickham told me some four years ago he did not want? He even signed papers to that effect and requested a substantial sum in lieu of it."

With the pause in his conversation, he had lost the attention of the younger girls, but he had that of the elder two. He certainly had Miss Elizabeth's, if her open-mouthed stare was anything to go by.

"He did not tell you of that transaction? I should not be surprised. Mr. Wickham appears to have an unreliable memory where money is concerned. It has ever been thus."

"Four years ago, did you say?" Miss Elizabeth asked.

"Yes. When he came of age, he delayed taking up a profession, which I thought due to the prospect of the Kympton living; once vacant, it likely would have been his had he taken orders. In addition, the frequent presents of money my father bestowed upon him, as well as his propensity to avoid settling debts, allowed him to live as he chose. It was after the elder Mr. Darcy and then the elder Mr. Wickham died that he asked for, and I gave him, three thousand pounds. He said he would not take orders but would study the law instead, and he was convinced the interest from the one thousand pounds my father had bequeathed him would not have been sufficient support."

"Four years," Miss Elizabeth repeated. "Three thousand pounds. No, four thousand pounds!"

"Yes."

"Yet two years ago..."

"He tried to claim the living despite all that, yes."

"And you denied him. Of course you would have. Any person of sense would have." Miss Elizabeth's expression changed again and again as she thought about what he had revealed. "He never even mentioned going into the law. What game is he playing, Mr. Darcy?"

Darcy opened his mouth to answer and closed it again. Miss Elizabeth was astute, and he could tell by the look on her face that she had begun to form her own conclusions regarding Mr. Wickham's character and intentions.

"I am afraid" he said, deliberately changing the subject as they drew near the door of the house, "I have interrupted your excursion. Did I prevent a walk to Meryton?"

"No," Miss Elizabeth said. "We had no particular destination in mind. We only meant to escape the house for a while. The day has been...somewhat trying."

As Darcy entered the foyer and heard Mrs. Bennet voice three separate and equally unreasonable complaints before he even set eyes on her, he began to see what Miss Elizabeth had meant.

The Hursts' residence in Grosvenor Street, early evening
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Caroline, I will not go out again today in search of Charles! I am tired! My feet are tired!"

"You must go with me!"

"No."

"If you do not, I will take Billings and go without you."

"Go where when you do not even know where Charles is? You will go nowhere tonight, with or without a maid."

"Night, do you call it? It is barely dark!"

Louisa peered at Caroline for a moment and then frowned, looking furious. "You will NOT call on Mr. Darcy in the evening BY YOURSELF."

"Louisa...!"

Louisa got up and left the room in a huff, and Hurst heard her admonish the butler not to allow the carriage to be ordered by anyone other than her husband, should he have need of it, for the remainder of the evening.

Hurst fully agreed with his wife. He had been tempted to mention that he might have heard Bingley at the club the previous evening, but that would hardly help matters. Even if Bingley had been there, he had no more idea than his wife and sister where the fellow was staying at present.

Besides, to all appearances, Caroline had become more concerned about Darcy than her brother. Almost every conversation he had heard about locating Charles had involved Caroline's suggestion of yet another visit to Darcy's house, even though the gentleman had not been at home to her when last she called there. The poor man had been hounded enough by the girl while at Netherfield. Hurst was not inclined to help along any scheme of Caroline's to disturb Darcy's peace. As he was certain any mention of the club as a point of interest would result in his sister's determination to run straight to Darcy for his opinion and aid even at this late hour and despite Louisa's edict, he decided against such a course.

"Caroline," he said, suddenly thinking of something.

"Brother, please do not bother. What have you to say that I want to hear?"

Hurst disregarded her prickly mood, for his own mood was lightened considerably by what had just occurred to him. "It seems you would have done better to have remained in Hertfordshire."

"I knew you would have nothing good to say right now! How can you claim such a thing?"

"Had you stayed quietly at home, Charles would have returned soon enough from his business. And, furthermore," he added with a smile, "you would have enjoyed the uninterrupted company of Mr. Darcy and not had to resort to seeking him out at all hours with no consideration for propriety like a common.... Well."

Caroline let loose an angry shriek, which caused Hurst's restraint to falter, and his chuckle followed her out of the room as she fled from his sight.

A parlour (with windows that were not full west) in Longbourn House, early evening
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Miss Bennet informed her mother that she and her sisters had encountered Mr. Darcy on their walk, and she had invited him to join them for dinner.

The mistress of Longbourn barely mumbled his name and nodded her head before blurting, "But where is Mr. Bingley?"

It appeared Mrs. Bennet was not going to wish him a good evening. She rather looked as if she were wishing him to the devil. After the way the rest of the day had gone, Darcy should have expected that.

The errant hostess really seemed to be waiting for an answer, however, so he gave one. "How do you do, Mrs. Bennet? I believe Mr. Bingley is still in London."

The way she glared at him, he half-expected her to ask why he had presumed to appear in Bingley's place.

"Mr. Bingey either provided his family with inaccurate information regarding his choice of hotel, or he changed his plans once he arrived. I took it upon myself to try to locate him," Darcy said in order to explain his presence in the neighbourhood, "and in so doing, I retraced his steps. There is every indication he is in town, and Miss Bennet was kind enough to give me a few ideas of where to seek him out once I return."

Several minutes of explanations and exclamations later, Mrs. Bennet's satisfaction in having her own Jane recognised as an authority on Mr. Bingley's habits proved almost as unpleasant as her previous discontent.

There was still dinner to be endured. Darcy wondered how he would fare when Mr. Bennet's mocking smiles and derisive comments were served up alongside the courses, as he doubted not they would be.

Thinking of it that way, aside from the sheer volume and number of voices, and the startling possibility that he could be the subject of ridicule or censure, he decided the evening should not differ much from one at the Hursts' residence.

Mr. Collins, at least, was still out. Darcy thanked heaven for small favours.

In a house in Harley Street, evening
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"You cannot be ready to retire for the evening! Why, we have not yet had dinner!"

"I have no appetite."

"My dear brother, whatever is the matter with you?"

"Charles Bingley is back in town. I saw him with my own eyes! I shall be cast into the shade once again. My cravat will be declared less fashionably arranged than his, I shall lose to him at hazard, and once Miss Carmichael discovers he has returned, she will no longer favour me with her smiles. My life is ruined."

"You are being silly! Mr. Bingley is the most amiable of gentlemen. He would never—"

"Not you, too!"

With that, the young man stomped up the stairs and went straight to bed.

In the dining-room at Longbourn
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mr. Collins was back. Oh, yes. Darcy's growing headache was testament to that. The man had arrived just as the rest of the party went in to dinner. He had made ample conversation during the meal, and he had occasionally elicited a polite response from his listeners. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth in particular were too well bred to ignore him altogether. Now that the ladies had left the gentlemen to themselves, Darcy was the parson's only audience, for Mr. Bennet did not attend to one word in two hundred that proceeded from his cousin's mouth.

Not only was Mr. Collins back, but he was full to bursting with news of some kind. Of that, Darcy was sure. Exactly what news, and why Mr. Collins imagined him at all interested in it, remained a mystery.

If Darcy had to guess, the man had got himself engaged. He made many not-so-veiled references to happy meetings in Hunsford and at Rosings, how man should not be alone, the great effort required in preparing one's house for a wife and family, and many more things than Darcy cared to recall at present. The man had no subtlety. Neither could Darcy detect much in the way of imagination. Therefore, he concluded Mr. Collins had deceived himself into believing Miss Elizabeth would relent and have him at last, or he had somehow found another prospective bride and secured her hand some forty-eight hours after his failed attempt. If the latter were true, Darcy did not know whether to be impressed or horrified.

Mr. Collins nattered on and on and on.

Horrified, he decided. Every feeling revolted.

At a soirée in Hill Street
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Say, Bingley!” called out Mr. Westmore.

“That is not Mr. Bingley! 'Tis Mr. Carlisle,” said Mr. Jones.

“I know it is Bingley!” countered Mr. Westmore.

“Well, I know,” said Mr. Carlisle, who did not sound like Mr. Bingley at all as he turned and addressed a suddenly red-faced Westmore, “Mr. Jones has the right of it!”

Longbourn's parlour, after dinner
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Miss Bennet must have noticed Darcy's harassed look upon entering the parlour with Mr. Collins at his heels, for after pouring him a cup of coffee, she took pity on him and engaged Mr. Collins's conversation toward herself. Bless that angel, Darcy thought, and he chose a seat to his liking, which by definition meant it was near Elizabeth's.

Darcy had done some thinking in the last several minutes before entering the parlour, whenever his brain could shield itself from Mr. Collins's drivel, and he had come to a few conclusions.

One: A young lady could not reasonably be blamed for being connected to silliness and vulgarity; she had no control over such a circumstance, and it simply would not be fair to hold it against her. No man with a shred of compassion could hold the presence of Mr. Collins's branch in the family tree against anyone.

Two: As enthusiastic a matchmaker as Mrs. Bennet was, she had not once, in all his time in Hertfordshire, thrown her girls in his way or so much as hinted that she wanted him for a son-in-law, even though it was well known that his fortune was much larger than Bingley's. Mrs. Bennet still seemed keen on gaining Bingley as a relation, but her eldest daughter had shown her attachment to Bingley to be genuine. Furthermore, Miss Elizabeth had been allowed to turn down an advantageous proposal, one that would have kept Longbourn in the family—not the most prudent move, but not a mercenary one, either. Therefore, Darcy concluded her relations were not as scheming as he had made them out to be.

Three: It had been ridiculous for him to believe he would forget Elizabeth Bennet simply by leaving Hertfordshire. At the first opportunity, he had come right back to her. He admitted to himself that while the idea of finding his friend had appealed to him, what drove him to trace Bingley's path all the way to Longbourn had been less a penchant for thoroughness and more the promise of seeing those fine eyes sparkle in his direction once more.

Meanwhile, beside him, Elizabeth sipped her tea in silence, a quizzical expression on her face.

"Are you well, Miss Elizabeth? You appear perfectly well, but you seem deep in thought."

"If I seem deep in thought, it is because you seem different somehow, Mr. Darcy."

"In what way?"

"I suppose there are two ways to answer that question."

"Only two?"

"At least two, but only two that I will consider for the present. If I were to reply as a demure maiden ought, I would murmur something apologetic, sufficiently complimentary of you and disparaging of myself, and likely unintelligible in the bargain, rather than telling you what I really think." Elizabeth took another sip of her tea.

"Then I would be none the wiser. What is the other option, if I may ask?"

"You may. Well, if I were to be impertinent..."

"And are you not often impertinent?" he interrupted, hearing the smile in his own voice. He hoped she heard it, too.

"I cannot deny it, sir. I would say, then, that your pride is surely under good regulation, for you do not appear to be wishing yourself away after having spent hours in the company of the humble Bennets. I cannot imagine what appeal we hold for you." She took a longer drink this time and peered at him over the rim of her cup.

"You are certain you cannot?" Darcy said in a warm, deep tone. For extra measure, he gave Elizabeth a serious—and, he hoped, unmistakable—look.

The effect was immediate: Elizabeth's eyes widened in surprise, and she choked on her tea.

Part 4

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek, Part 2


The Twenty-Ninth of November


The ___ Inn on the road between London and Meryton
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Darcy was beginning to question more than his judgement. He was beginning to question his sanity.

Over-exposure to the late-autumn sunlight could not be the culprit.

Perhaps it was that persistent, unwelcome notion that if he did not follow this path or examine that copse for signs of his friend, he would miss the very clue he sought. No matter how many times such searches yielded nothing, he could not suppress the urge to leave no trail unexplored—if only for a moment or two—before continuing on his way.

But the unfruitful detours, tedious as they had been, were nothing to what he was presently enduring. He looked about him and groaned. Why had he decided to track Bingley to the end of the world, or at least to the far reaches of Hertfordshire?

He was not right in the head. That strain of unreasonableness that he often saw in Lady Catherine must be making its way into his...

No. It could not be that bad.

His idea had merit. Of course he ought to have inquired at each reasonable place where a traveller might stop! It was the nature of the task that was to blame: having to mix with persons whose station in life was decidedly below his own; having to describe Bingley to those with no useful intelligence to offer for his pains; and the other thing, the thing that threatened to drive him mad.

Having to hear about Bingley without knowing where he was was bad enough.

Having to hear about Bingley in contrast to himself five times in as many minutes was intolerable.

Yes, he had finally come to a place where his friend had been seen, but he took little pleasure in this discovery, for he heard nothing he did not already know: Bingley had been on his way to London on Wednesday. The more serious he tried to appear when closely questioning workers at the inn, the more one spoke of Bingley's smiling countenance; the more imperious Darcy's manner, the more another remarked on the way Bingley's friendly nature put a body at ease.

This unhelpful barmaid now standing before him was as abysmal as the rest. "Such an amiable gentleman your friend was, sir," she said. "And so generous." She looked in the approximate direction of his purse and all but held out her hands together with palms upwards.

Darcy raised his eyes in silent petition and, against habit and inclination, ordered a second drink.

Longbourn House
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Jane," Elizabeth said, "I have kept count this past hour. She has mentioned Mr. Bingley seven times, and—"

"Eight!" corrected Mary.

"Eight, then. And she has mentioned Mr. Collins no less than thirteen times."

"I counted nineteen."

"Enough, Mary. Just for that, you are coming with us."

"Where?" Kitty asked.

Mary frowned. "I went with you yesterday."

"So you did," Elizabeth answered. "We are going out, Kitty," she added.

"Out where?" said Lydia, eager to go.

"Where we will not hear Mama no matter how many times she mentions the names of certain gentlemen."

Lizzy barely managed to shepherd all her sisters through the door before the count increased to nine and twenty, respectively.

In Conduit Street, late afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Can you believe Darcy, of all people, interrogated me regarding the whereabouts of that young pup, Bingley? What, he dropped his leash and now must scamper about town trying to find him?"

"Sour grapes again, Ross? Scared him off, did you, with talk of your Amelia? You know that Darcy has never shown interest in her, nor is he likely to."

"I don't see why not! She is a fine girl, and her twenty thousand pounds ought to be good enough for him."

Greyson shook his head. "Find someone else for Miss Ross. You are wasting your time with him."

On the path to Longbourn House, late afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Mr. Darcy!"

"Jane, why spoil such a lovely outing? The mere mention of his name may bring storm clouds upon us and ruin our walk. I am sure you can find a more palatable topic for conversation."

"No, Lizzy," Miss Bennet almost hissed, turning her head to the side for a moment. "Mr. Darcy is here."

"I hope you are joking," Miss Elizabeth said, and then she bumped into the back of Miss Bennet, who had stopped all at once and stood rigid, staring at him.

"You are not joking," said Miss Elizabeth as she moved to stand next to her elder sister. She, too, was now staring at him. The other three girls came round them both to gawk at him as well.

Darcy looked at their faces in turn. He could not recall the last time he had confronted a gaggle of young, eligible women without a single one of them appearing interested in him. Not even Miss Elizabeth seemed so; in fact, she looked positively hostile.

He could not imagine why.

"Mr. Darcy!" Miss Bennet called out and curtsied, remembering her manners and recalling the others to like exertion. "I had thought," she began with the notable absence of her usual serenity. "Oh, Miss Bingley wrote that you were all gone to town for the winter. But where is Mr. Bingley?" Her voice pitched higher. "Is he not with you?" Miss Bennet's eyes strayed to the road behind him, as if she were expecting an addition to their party at any moment.

Darcy's concern began to mount. Miss Bennet's obvious agitation was unexpected. Why would she be agitated about Mr. Bingley's whereabouts?

He stated the obvious: "He is not with me, Miss Bennet."

Miss Bennet's face arranged itself into the most adorable display of disappointment he had seen in some time.

"Actually," he explained, "He was not at the hotel where I expected to find him. I returned to Netherfield attempting to locate him."

"Oh, my." The disappointment rearranged itself into worry. If Darcy had not been convinced before, he would have been swayed by this latest proof of a heart that had certainly been touched. So much for his Miss-Jane-Bennet-as-fortune-hunter theory.

"Perhaps we should call him Mr. Wingley," Miss Mary said. "It appears he took wing and flew away."

Mr. Darcy raised an eyebrow.

"Mary!" Miss Bennet cried, wringing her hands.

Miss Lydia snorted.

Miss Catherine giggled.

Miss Elizabeth pressed her face into her palm. When she looked up, she said, "You must pardon us, Mr. Darcy. I had believed we Bennets were fated to show to greatest disadvantage only when the moon is out—I drew this conclusion directly after the ball, you understand—but it appears afternoon sunlight will serve just as well to illuminate our peculiar inanities." She took a deep breath and released it slowly. "At least my elder sister may always be relied upon to preserve us from universal censure."

Miss Mary took immediate offence. "Just because you cannot appreciate a pun is no reason to be insulting, Lizzy." This comment and the expression on Miss Mary's face resulted in more giggles from Miss Catherine and an outright guffaw from Miss Lydia.

Miss Elizabeth mumbled, "I wish Mr. 'Wingley' would swoop down and rescue us from this humiliation." She turned aside and said in a low voice, "Forgive me, Jane," and reached out to squeeze Miss Bennet's hand.

Darcy heard it all, accustomed as he was to listening to Elizabeth's conversations and gravitating to her side whenever they were in company together.

Not that any of it helped. Miss Elizabeth seemed to take no pleasure in his company, Miss Bennet was sincerely attached to his friend, and the rest of the girls were certifiably insane, or, at the very least, patently ridiculous.

And where was Bingley?

Amidst all the questions swirling in his head, of one thing Darcy was certain: If Miss Bingley were to call at his London residence today, it was satisfying that he would not be there, wherever in the world Bingley might be.

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence, late afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"What can Mr. Darcy mean by still having his knocker down?" Miss Bingley was not amused.

Louisa was not either, but she was resigned to the situation. "It is just as well, Caroline," she said. "We should not be calling here in any case."

"Why ever not?"

Because we just called yesterday, she thought. Because Mr. Darcy would have sent word if there had been any news, she thought. Because Mr. Darcy had worn that pinched look on his face when last they spoke, she thought. It was the very look he sometimes wore when Caroline had paid him just this side of too much attention. Louisa was not fond of that look.

"What else are we to do?" Caroline asked her.

"I do not know what you mean to do, but I am going home. Chasing Charles is a wearying business."

On the path to Longbourn House, late(r in the) afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Miss Lydia and Miss Catherine began to talk amongst themselves. Miss Mary was silent, her wit seemingly exhausted on the pun. Miss Elizabeth, however, addressed Darcy thus: "I suppose you have no reason to fear Mr. Bingley has met misfortune on the road?" Miss Bennet seemed eager to hear his answer as well.

"None, Miss Elizabeth. I discovered rumours this morning of his having lately been seen, but nothing substantial, so I inquired at the principal hotels before starting on the route to Meryton. I did come upon an inn where Bingley is known to have stopped two days ago on his way to town. By the time I conceded I had more than likely left him behind me in London, I was near enough to Netherfield that I approached the house. It had every appearance of being closed for the winter. And when I saw no sign of him there..." He glanced at Miss Bennet, letting the words hang in the air.

Miss Elizabeth eyed him speculatively. "You are thorough, I will grant you that."

Miss Bennet's blush was discernible even in the fading light. "It is possible," she said with the air of one trying to divert attention from oneself, "he met with friends in town. Mr. and Mrs. Newland, who are recently returned to London after their wedding tour, or Colonel Parker, or Captain Smith, or..."

Darcy's eye twitched.

"...Mr. Barton, who I believe also has a sister named Louisa, or Mr. Kell from university, or..." Miss Bennet seemed to realise she was running on in an uncharacteristic manner and did not finish her list.

Darcy was impressed, despite himself, with Miss Bennet's information. Not only did she recall the names of Bingley's friends, people she only knew of through conversation, but she was sensible in suggesting that Bingley might have met one of them and altered his plans as a result. How very like him that would be. "Bingley and I hardly have every acquaintance in common," he told her, "but I am familiar with one or two of the names you mentioned." He smiled. "It never occurred to me to call on any of them. Perhaps I am not so thorough after all."

In Berkeley Street, late afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Sofia," said Mrs. Beaufort to her daughter as she spied a trio of gentlemen conversing with spirit on the opposite pavement. "I thought you told me Mr. Bingley had removed to the country."

"He did, Mama."

"But is that not Mr. Bingley I see there?"

Sofia looked where her mother indicated and blanched. That was enough confirmation for Mrs. Beaufort. How fortunate it was that the man in question stood with his back to them as they passed by.

"I am surprised he is so near Portman Square and has not called on you, my dear!" Mrs. Beaufort whispered, hurrying her daughter onward.

"It matters not, Mama," said Sofia in a tone that assured her mother it mattered a great deal.

Mrs. Beaufort began to regret having pointed the fellow out. After all, Mr. Bingley had not paid Sofia any more attention than he had paid to half a dozen other young ladies she could name. "Young men can be so capricious," she said once the gentleman was out of sight. "Better you know it now, my love."

Part 3

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek


(2015)
Pride and Prejudice
Where is Mr. Bingley? That is the question baffling friends and family alike in the days following the Netherfield Ball.


"He has many friends, and he is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing."
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 32


The Twenty-Seventh of November


On a London street, in the middle of the afternoon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Bingley! I had no idea you were in Town!"

At the sound of the familiar voice, Charles Bingley turned to greet his friend. "Barton! Well met! As to my being in town, you could not have had any idea of it, for I have only just arrived."

"Did you find the country lacking?"

"Not at all. Rather, I found it delightful! I shall return in a few days."

"Ah!" said Mr. Barton with a knowing grin. "Delightful, you say? What is the name of this er...Hertfordshire beauty? You are come from Hertfordshire, are you not?"

Bingley's answering smile was lightning-quick. "Your memory is commendable, as is your conjecture. I admit there is a beauty involved, but she far surpasses all others upon whom I have bestowed the compliment."

Mr. Barton laughed. "Bingley, I do not know when I have ever seen you out of love! However, your praise of this estimable lady does exceed what I generally hear from you."

"She deserves every word! I could talk of her all day long and not do her justice."

"Will you lodge with Hurst?"

"No. He and my sisters remain at Netherfield, along with Darcy."

"You are not going to stay at a hotel?" At Bingley's nod, Mr. Barton offered, "You must come to my house instead, and you can tell me all about your young lady. If she is all you say, I expect I shall be meeting her soon."

"Thank you! I believe I will."

Netherfield, at tea
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Mr. Darcy," Miss Bingley said, putting her cup aside, "you must agree with Louisa and me that Miss Bennet is entirely unsuitable for Charles."

Mr. Darcy said nothing, which Miss Bingley took as assent. There really was nothing one could say.

"We thought," stated Mrs. Hurst, "we might follow Charles to town and open the house for him. It ought not to be too difficult to convince him he need never return here. At least, we hope he will listen to his own sisters on such an important matter. However, if you, as his most trusted friend..."

Miss Bingley nodded approvingly at her sister and looked to Mr. Darcy with expectation.

He did not disappoint. "I certainly shall give him my opinion, should he ask for it," he said.

Miss Bingley tittered in relief. "I knew we could rely on you, sir!"


The Twenty-Eighth of November


Outside a perfectly adequate (and not at all comfortless) hotel in London
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"How pressing can his business be?" Caroline lamented in a low voice, frowning at the memory of Mr. Darcy's having deserted them upon reaching London.

She had promised to send his trunks to his home the minute she and the others were settled in Grosvenor Street—a needless gesture, she admitted to herself, for of course she would send them! What use had she for men's things? And Hurst or Bingley could hardly use them, with Mr. Darcy's height so superior to theirs! But he had taken her quite by surprise by going away like that, and the words tumbled out before she had time to give them an elegant turn.... Yes, she had promised, and she had barely the opportunity to tell him that much before she was waving with feigned enthusiasm and trying not to frown at his back as he left.

With the object of her matrimonial hopes no longer immediately before her, Caroline had the grand idea to seek out Charles directly and bring him along to the Hursts'. The sooner the efforts to keep Charles in London were begun, the better.

So here she sat in front of the hotel, waiting for her brother.

When the servant she had sent to fetch Mr. Bingley returned to the carriage without him, she was seriously displeased. "How like Charles to inconvenience us when we have gone out of our way to meet him! When is he expected back? Did any one say?"

"No, Ma'am. They never said when he is coming back because he is not there at all."

"What do you mean?"

"The gentleman said no one of that name has taken a room at his establishment."

Louisa asked, "Do you think Charles has met with an accident?"

"Our brother?" Caroline smirked. "He is the luckiest person I know. He never has accidents."

"Too true," Louisa conceded. "Did he give us the name of the wrong hotel, then?"

"He cannot have. I made him repeat it several times. Besides, where else would he stay? This is the obvious choice."

Louisa sagged.

Hurst snored.

Caroline sat upright as an idea occurred to her. It was so clear! "He must have anticipated us and gone to your house instead!"

The Hursts' residence in Grosvenor Street
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Where is my brother?" the mistress inquired of her butler.

"I have not seen Mr. Bingley since your departure from town, Madam," he answered.

"What?!" exclaimed Miss Bingley. "Has he not come here in the last day or two?"

"No, Madam."

"He is not at the hotel, and he is not here. Where in the world can he be?" Miss Bingley asked the mistress.

The sisters stared at each other. The butler stared at nothing in particular.

"Perhaps he has gone to Mr. Darcy's house," the mistress wondered aloud.

Miss Bingley smiled brightly and said, "Oh, why did I not think of that? He must have done so. Let us call there immediately!"

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mr. Darcy started when his visitor was announced. He had believed himself rid of her company for the day at least. He disliked being wrong. He should have known better; unnecessary as it was for her to personally oversee the delivery of his luggage, it was not unfathomable that she would contrive to do so.

Miss Bingley walked in, almost dragging her sister behind her.

Her inquiry surprised him as much as her presence had, for she said not a word about his trunks. "No," he told her in reply, "Bingley is not here. Why did you think he would be?"

"Well, he must be! He is not at the hotel, and he is not at Hurst's!"

What sort of reasoning is that, Darcy wondered. "There are myriad places my friend could be, and he must be in one of them, for he is most definitely not here."

A crowded club in London, in the evening
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"An angel, I tell you!"

"You have told me many, many times." Laughter punctuated this statement.

"That is because it is true. As I was saying, when she enters a room, it is as if..."

Mr. Hurst heard nothing more of the two gentlemen's discussion that could be distinguished over bites of ragout, sips of wine, the general sounds of a room full of people, and the multitude of conversations occurring nearer than the one that caught his attention. For a fleeting moment, he had thought the voice of the man describing the angel was Bingley's. He could not be certain, however, and he was not going to twist his body around in his chair or, worse, stand up and stare at everyone in turn. He was not that curious, and he was hungry. He took another bite of ragout and another sip of wine.

The Twenty-Ninth of November


Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence, at dawn
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Darcy awoke with a singular notion. The more he considered it, the more it intrigued him.

He would track Bingley down.

He might rest a little longer, have an unhurried breakfast, and be well on his way before noon. Why not? The effort would cost him no more than a few hours.

It amused him to think that when an idea struck and he had leisure to explore it, he could be as impulsive as his friend.

The pressing business offered as an excuse the previous day had been to remove himself from Miss Bingley's company as expeditiously as possible, and that scheme had only been partially effective. Feeling guilty for this disguise of sorts, he had set to work in his study, but having dealt diligently with his correspondence in the last weeks, he had found little with which to occupy himself.

In fact, Darcy had no engagements, no urgent responsibilities, and no matters that could not be seen to from the countryside as easily as from London. He could come and go as he pleased. He had not yet told Georgiana of his change of plans, so no one would miss him were he to leave.

The thought was liberating.

Somewhere on Park Street
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mr. Felder was confused by the sudden slowing of his companions' walk until he realised two of them were leering—leering!—at a man on horseback.

"What a handsome man!" observed one of the girls with no consideration for how well her voice carried in the open air.

"Mmmmm, yes!" replied another, equally careless in regard to the properties of sound. "I am tempted to go after him!"

"Well, I am not," announced the third just as boldly. "He is nothing to Captain Smith."

Up ahead, the man on horseback, with his noble mien and forbidding countenance, removed all doubt that he had heard the incautious remarks when he turned and glared at the three ladies. To their father's mortification, they giggled.

"Girls!" Mr. Felder said, using a quiet but forceful tone to put a stop to a conversation he found more objectionable with every sentence. "You are not outside for a quarter of an hour before I am tempted to take you back home and never allow you out again! Stop ogling the poor gentleman, and lower your voices if you cannot find a more suitable topic for discussion. Please, have some sense of decorum!" I must have three of the silliest girls in the kingdom for daughters, he thought despairingly.

Along a field on the road between London and Meryton
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Why, Darcy asked himself as he rode away from the metropolis, had he agreed to return to town?

Darcy had inquired at a few places but heard nothing definite. Yes, Bingley had been there, but was it days ago or weeks ago? Yes, Bingley had been seen mere hours before, or had that been Carlisle? After all, the two had similar hair colour and were easily mistaken for one another at a distance. No, no one had seen Bingley in an age, but rumour had it he was in town. Should not Darcy know this already, since he was his close friend?

Darcy tried to keep these unhelpful conversations brief, for if he did not, the men were likely to introduce the topic of their unmarried daughters, nieces, sisters, or cousins. He had not been wholly successful.

That giggling trio of vulgar girls had decided him: he would leave London behind and seek news of Bingley along the route to Hertfordshire. Perhaps there he would find a clue—some mention of a different hotel as his destination, for example. For all he knew, Bingley could have been detained by a lame horse or broken carriage wheel.

Should the search last longer than expected, he could stop at one of the inns. He had a small supply of clothes with him; the impulse that had prompted this little adventure had by no means cured him of his habit of preparing for contingencies.

Yes, this was a far better idea than tolerating the stench and the crowds of town.

It was also preferable to being stared at by impertinent misses and compared unfavorably to men of dubious consequence. After all, who was Captain Smith?

Part 2

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Excursion to Whitwell, Part 5

Dear Mrs. Dashwood,

I deeply regret that I must leave the neighbourhood just now, and for an undetermined period. Be assured that your family have my support as far as I can give it. To that purpose, I have endeavoured to persuade my friends that Miss Marianne will recover more quickly if left to do so in her family party. I hope I have succeeded.

I shall take the liberty of calling once the business that compels me to town has been completed. Should you have need of me before that time, however, should Miss Marianne need anything within my power to provide, please send me word express at

The name of a hotel followed, but Marianne had no attention to spare for it. She had not expected the sudden flutter in her breathing and hammering of her pulse, but seeing her name written in the colonel's hand.... Should she need anything within his power...

She looked away and then down again to the final lines, where her gaze lingered:

Your servant,
Colonel James Brandon

“James.”

“What did you say?” asked Elinor.

Marianne squeezed her hands tightly, and a sound startled her. She looked at the paper crumpling in her fist. “Oh!” she said, smoothing it out on her lap. Elinor was still looking at her. “His name,” Marianne answered. “I was reading his name.” She looked away as Elinor smiled.

“It was kind of the colonel to take the time to write.”

Marianne nodded. Her thoughts were drifting far from the cottage and Devonshire, off to the east, in the general direction of London, on whichever path an express rider might take while carrying with him word of that thing she might require. ‘I need...’ she thought, ‘...to be spared the meddlesome inquiries of our neighbours.’ To be sure, the colonel had already done his part in that quarter; whether it would last was another matter, as one could hardly guarantee one man’s good breeding would completely subdue the vulgarity of both Sir John and his mother-in-law.

‘I need a delicacy to tempt the most reluctant appetite.’ She left aside practicalities and allowed her musings to take a fanciful turn. ‘I need a holiday by the sea.’ To her surprise, she felt intrigued by the idea of the colonel’s arranging such a diversion for her. Then just as quickly, her spirits sank as she recalled how easily and thoroughly the previous day’s sailing had been ruined.

She tried to focus on those whose present cares must exceed her own.

‘I need Eliza Williams’s fate not to be so dire,’ she decided, a desire no less sincerely felt for its futility.

Self, however, would intrude. How could it not?

‘I need the world to go back to what it was before, for Willoughby not to be….No, I don’t need Mr. Willoughby at all. I can have no use for a man without honour or fortitude. It is better to have been undeceived than to have gone on blindly with Mr. Willoughby only to have my eyes opened too late. Colonel Brandon very well may have spared me a lifetime of misery and regret.’

She sighed aloud, feeling her weariness as a weight. There was such a burden in knowing. Yet there was something else in it as well—something not exactly onerous, but neither was it comfortable.

“I need to know,” she whispered, closing her eyes, “though why I should feel so compelled…. I need to know who you are, Colonel James Brandon.”

“I am relieved,” Elinor said after they had both been quiet for a minute or two, “that the colonel has resolved not to meet Mr. Willoughby. ‘Field of honour’ – is that not what they say? I must admit I cannot see any honour in it. I think it a barbarous practice.”

Elinor’s words brought Marianne swiftly out of her reverie. “What do you mean? Did he say more of the duel? He said nothing of it when he was here in the house with us. I had merely hoped—”

“It is there,” Elinor said, pointing and appearing confused. “He wrote of it. Did you not see it?”

Marianne realised she had not yet read all and returned her attention to the letter, quickly finding what she had missed:

I beg you to assure your daughter that in accordance with her wishes, though it more than chafes against my sense of honour and duty, I shall avoid a certain meeting that otherwise would have been inevitable. I do not wish to add to her sorrow by injuring one she may still hold in esteem. Much as I want to hope recent events have lessened that esteem, I find I cannot force myself to desire a hardening of so generous a heart.

I have said too much and must be gone at first light.

Your servant,
Colonel James Brandon

Agitated, Marianne read the words again, not quite believing them. “He—he cannot think I asked him to forbear because of that man!”

“It seems to be exactly what he thinks.”

“It is exactly wrong! When I begged him not to go through with it, I was not thinking of Mr. Willoughby at all!”

“No?”

“I thought of Miss Williams! I did not want Colonel Brandon to place himself in danger just when her dependence upon him would be greatest. It was for her sake.” Marianne recalled the brief argument the day before, her concern that such an unworthy man might injure the colonel when the colonel was already the injured party. If Mr. Willoughby had even the smallest chance of winning, the duel should not be attempted. “And for his own sake, too,” she admitted quietly. “He had done nothing wrong. Why should he suffer further? I tried to tell him that. That he should believe, after everything—!”

She rose abruptly from her seat, sat immediately back down, got up again, and paced. She stopped just as abruptly and said, “He cannot remain deceived on that point. I will not have him thinking I sought to protect that man. I am not so weak as that.”

“When he returns, perhaps you will be able to correct the misunderstanding.”

“That is too long to wait.” She knew what she must do. She walked to the door.

“Where are you going?” Elinor’s voice trailed her out of the room. “Surely you are not—”

“Do not try to dissuade me, Elinor. I am going to answer this letter.”

“Marianne!”

“Do not worry. I shall allow Mama to read it.”

“Of course,” Elinor murmured, following her up the stairs with that familiar look, the look that came over her face whenever she was on the verge of asking why her sister must flout propriety yet again.

After all Marianne had experienced in the last twenty-four hours, after realising how much pain she would have been spared had she heeded her elder sister’s similar admonishments, that look truly should have given her pause.

It should have. But the colonel’s pull was stronger.

Marianne stopped walking and turned to face her sister. “He said anything, Elinor. And I need this.”

Elinor’s expression remained as serious as ever, but all hint of censure faded from her countenance. “I shall come with you.”

“You do not have to.”

“You almost fainted on the stairs this morning! I will see you settled in your room, and then I will leave you to your letter.”


* * *


Alone in her room, Marianne recalled what the colonel had written. There was a time she would have considered his repeated mention of her name an unforgivable impertinence, along with his promise to call upon his return. Only yesterday morning she would have been repulsed by the very notion that he would distinguish her or her family in any way.

Now she clung to his words, to every memory of his kindness and consideration, to his firmness of purpose, to his ability and willingness to act—or to refrain from acting where he thought restraint would better promote her welfare or earn her good opinion.

He loved her.

He would not be so bold as to say it in his farewell or to write of it in a letter addressed to her mother. Yet he had said it, in his eyes, in his touch, in his turn of phrase—it was in every way implied.

The idea felt odd, foreign, as if she would never quite grow accustomed to it, or it would always retain the power to surprise her.

If only she could comprehend it! Must not his heart still belong to the elder Eliza? He had been so very devoted to his cousin, had nearly run off with her! When she had given in to familial pressure to marry the colonel's elder brother, and afterwards had managed to sink her character to irredeemable depths, he had stood her friend, even to the point of caring for her illegitimate child.

Had she been mistaken in thinking second attachments unreasonable, just as she had been mistaken in the characters of two particular men of her acquaintance? The colonel provided compelling evidence, for he clearly loved, and he was certainly a reasonable man.

“Perhaps,” she allowed, “I have been too inflexible in my position. I have not made allowances for what Elinor would call a penchant for exertion, I suppose. An active sort of character might love passionately and yet force himself to move beyond a situation when there is nothing more than can be done, when he has exhausted every means of recovery. Should the heart of such a one forever be denied the benefits of love?

“So many years have passed since Colonel Brandon, then just Mr. James Brandon, suffered the blow of disastrous love. Another lifetime,” she said in wonder, thinking of the difference in their ages. Such an interval would not have caused the change, but it may have aided it.

Although the possibility of the colonel’s having engaged his heart again in vain held no pleasure, she did not draw any conclusions regarding whether his more recent affections might ever be requited. However, she could not forget that he believed her heart to be generous. Nor could she stop the spread of warmth through her at the remembrance of the compliment.

She sat at last, paper before her, pen and ink within easy reach, and pondered how she ought to begin. She thrust her hands into her hair. A moment later she felt something, and her fingers stilled as she remembered. “Willoughby,” she grumbled, overwhelmed of a sudden by anger and disgust. She hoped he would discard the lock of hair he had begged of her, for she did not want the trouble of asking him to return it to her, or ever seeing him again if she could help it. “I want none of him, not his apologies, not his explanations, not his Queen Mab—”

She sobbed at this, for he had been so very tender, so sweet in offering her the horse. Sweet and thoughtless, and as heedless of the realities as she had been. Heedlessness had been at the root of the entire business, in her case not excepting that tumble down the hill that had first brought her to his attention, and in his case—no, she would not dwell on that. “Well, he may have the lock, but beyond that, he shall not have so much as my sympathy. Nor will I delay another minute and allow a far better man to think that he has it!”

With fresh determination, she applied herself to her task.

Dear Colonel Brandon,

I thank you for your kind note, which you were so good as to leave for us despite your need for haste. We are well. I have no wish to alarm you. In fact, I hope it will ease your mind to know that while I am glad you will not meet Mr. W

Marianne paused, determined to remove what traces she could of a name that had brought such misery to them both, and continued:

know that while I am glad you will not meet Mr. W that man, my concern has been for your welfare, not his. You should not risk injury. You have done nothing to deserve it. Others rely upon your assistance and would suffer with you, and your friends would not wish you to come to harm.

We look forward to your call as soon as duty is satisfied and you are at leisure. I hope for the most fortunate of outcomes for your cousin. I do not doubt that through your diligent care, she is receiving the best that can be provided for her.

M. D.




Next