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I’m on a roll! I love it when I’m able to squeeze Monday’s work into my Friday schedule and have things done three days in advance. LOL
Today I present to you chapter 6.
If you missed chapter 1, you can find it here.
Chapter 2 is here. Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 is here.
Chapter 5 is here.
Did you know that Patreon patrons who pledge $2 per month or more get to read these posts an entire week early? Also, patrons at all levels get to read my current work-in-progress as I write it. Enjoy!
The couple was due to leave in two days, so rather than his betrothed traveling post for even part of the journey to London, he arranged with Mr. and Mrs. Collins to take Elizabeth and Miss Lucas in his carriage, along with his cousin and a maid to ensure propriety was observed. Charlotte at first thought it was odd her friend did not protest his offer, but the longer she contemplated it, the more certain she became that Elizabeth and the gentleman had come to an understanding. She would have thought Lizzy would be eager to share such news, but as she had said nothing, and it would not do to pry, she let it go. She would be told when she needed to know. She was confident of that fact.
When Lady Catherine was told of the new travel arrangements, she was unsure what to think – or what to say. After some quick mental calculations, she decided that Darcy was simply being gentlemanly. He was engaged to Anne, after all. Therefore, she was quick to praise him at dinner the night before their trip.
Having thus convinced herself, she was greatly shocked late the next morning when he told her of his engagement to the lowly Miss Bennet.
“Good morning, Nephew,” she said as he joined her in the drawing room.
“Aunt,” he replied, bowing his head briefly to her. “I am surprised to see you earlier than I intended to depart, but I am happy you are here, for it makes it much easier for me to relay an important piece of information to you.”
Lady Catherine’s brows rose. If he was intending to formalize his understanding with her daughter, this was an odd time to discuss it. She waited to see what he would say.
“I am happy to announce to you my engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I spoke to her father recently, and received his permission. Given your belief that I would marry my cousin, we thought it prudent to wait until we were ready to depart before giving you the news.” It was now Darcy’s turn to await a reaction from his aunt. He looked expectantly at her.
For a full minute, she was speechless, but then her brain engaged and her mouth exploded with anger and resentment.
“And what of Anne? You would shame her with a broken engagement? No! You will break off this farce of an understanding with that upstart now, and we will send notice to your solicitor to begin writing the contract for your marriage to my daughter,” the lady loudly exclaimed.
Darcy attempted to remain calm but firm. This was, after all, his mother’s sister, and of all members of his family, the most insistent upon having her own way. “No, Aunt. There has never been an engagement between my cousin and myself. My father specifically told me not to marry her if it was against my will. I do not love her, and she does not love me.”
He held up his hand as she started to speak. “I have spoken with Anne already. Indeed, we spoke of it years ago; she does not desire to marry me any more than I want to marry her. We talked again last week and her thoughts and feelings have not changed. I will not marry where I do not wish to. I am my own man, head of the Darcy family. You are my mother’s sister, but you do not rule me. I will marry Miss Bennet. All that is left for you is to decide if you will accept her or not. Your approbation guarantees your future invitations to our homes. Your disapprobation immediately bars you from them. The choice is entirely yours.”
“Acceptance will never come from me,” Lady Catherine spat. “You will come to rue your ‘choice’, as will she. I will personally see to it.”
“You do not hold as much power as you think you do. I have already received permission from Mr. Bennet to court and to propose to Miss Bennet. He has been warned of your proclivities towards interference. He will not be moved from his consent. Neither will Lord and Lady Matlock resist my choice. You are well aware that as a family, we must stand together to avoid gossip and scandal. Be aware that it will not be myself or my betrothed who would suffer in such a situation. Nor will it be her family. It will be you who is derided. You are a stubborn woman, Aunt, but I am more so. You will lose. Desist now while your reputation is intact, for it will not be for long if you cause trouble for my betrothed or me. Good day.”
With that, Darcy turned and left the room, Lady Catherine’s invectives ringing in his ears. He had known it would not go well, this interview, so he had made arrangements ahead of time to have the carriage, and its passengers from the parsonage, ready to go at a moment’s notice. This enabled him to make a quick getaway, entering the equipage almost before the groom got the door all the way open. Banging on the roof with his walking stick, he tried to calm himself in the few minutes he had before seeing Elizabeth. It would not do to upset her.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had been awaiting him inside the carriage. “Was it bad?” he asked.
Darcy sighed. “No worse than I expected, I suppose. She is determined to have her way; I expect trouble in the near future. Have you written to your father?”
“Yes, I sent an express immediately upon hearing your news. I told him that Miss Bennet is a well-bred gentlewoman and would make a fine mistress of Pemberley. I am sure I did not allay all his fears, but I also told him you were set in your decision and reminded him that you are deliberate in everything you do. You would not choose someone who would do you no credit.”
“Thank you, Fitzwilliam. Your support is very much appreciated.” Darcy leaned his now aching head back against the cushions for the short ride to the parsonage.
In a very few minutes, he was entering the Collinses’ house. What he found there was an uproar every bit as upsetting as what he had just experienced with his aunt.
Elizabeth and Darcy had agreed to tell their relatives their joyous news immediately before leaving today. Elizabeth, knowing Mr. Collins as she did, had decided to tell Charlotte and ask her to tell her husband after she was gone. However, Mr. Collins, coming home unexpectedly early, had entered the room in the middle of her tale, unknown to both his wife and her friend. Overhearing her news, he had immediately taken her to task on behalf of his patroness, who had frequently indicated to them all that Mr. Darcy was already engaged to Miss De Bourgh. When his cousin had repeatedly refuted his words, insisting that she was engaged to the gentleman, and that they had her father’s permission, he had become increasingly enraged. Was it not bad enough that she had spurned his own offer? How could she possibly think she was good enough for the illustrious nephew of his most esteemed patroness? She was a mercenary, thieving trollop!
It was at this point that Mr. Darcy entered the room. Already angry, when he heard the browbeating his beloved Elizabeth was receiving from the rector, he became even more enraged. Before he knew it, he was towering over the shorter man, his most intimidating scowl on his face.
“Mr. Collins,” he barked, taking note of the surprise and fear in his adversary’s eyes. “Who do you think you are to insult my betrothed in such a manner? I should call you out for that!”
Mr. Collins quivered in fear. He knew that dueling, though illegal, was still done. He further knew that the weapons used were either pistols or swords, neither of which he had been trained to use. He had tried shooting once as a youth, when a neighbor had offered to teach him. His training lasted one lesson, and was forever cancelled when he had accidentally shot his teacher in the leg. After that, it was decided that he was too awkward and clumsy to attempt to use a weapon, and no further lessons were offered or accepted.
His fear, however, did not preclude him from trying to convince the obviously errant nephew of the gracious and esteemed Lady Catherine to give up Elizabeth Bennet, and marry the lady he was formed for – his cousin Miss De Bourgh. But it seemed Mr. Darcy was bent on having his own way, for every time Mr. Collins tried to speak to him to sway him in the proper direction, the man seemed to grow not only taller, but angrier.
“But, Mr. Darcy, sir! Your esteemed aunt, Lady Catherine, has plainly stated you are to marry your illustrious cousin, Miss De Bourgh! She cannot be wrong about this. She and your mother planned this union in your cradles! My cousin Elizabeth is not worthy of the Darcy name! She comes from such lowly stock; she has no connections of value, well, other than myself, to bring to you, and she is impoverished! She has thrown herself at you in a most unseemly way! She is a scheming, impertinent thing! She will do you no credit, sir! I must insist you honor …”
During his tirade, Collins either failed to notice, or simply ignored, the growing anger on Darcy’s face. It was not until he suddenly found himself pressed against the back of a tall chair that he realized just what effect his words had on his patroness’s nephew.
“My supposed engagement to my cousin is none of your concern, Mr. Collins,” Darcy said, with a deadly hardness in his voice. “In addition, your cousin, my betrothed, Miss Elizabeth, is one of the finest ladies I have ever known. Do not speak of things you do not understand, sir! I would be well within my rights to call you out for insulting her! Is that what you desire?”
Mr. Collins swallowed and squeaked out a, “No, sir.” He knew that someone with as much social standing as Mr. Darcy would likely get away with anything, and heaven knew he himself was not proficient enough with weapons of any sort to come out the winner of such a contest.
After two or three additional attempts to convince Darcy, the rector began to fear for his person, if not his life, and ceased further endeavors. He instead began to flatter the man, hoping to appease him.
Darcy was not fooled by the rector’s apparent change of heart. Angrily, he said, “Go to Rosings and commiserate with my aunt, if you have a mind to as her parson, but do not say another word to, or about, Elizabeth. And if I hear you have given your wife, or even the Bennets, difficulty about this, I will be back and you will face me on the field of honor. Do you understand me, Mr. Collins?”
Gulping loudly, the man nodded repeatedly, backing away from Mr. Darcy and out the drawing room door. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had followed Darcy into the house, stepped quickly aside so as not to be trampled upon by the almost-running clergyman.
Turning to Elizabeth, Darcy took a deep breath and claimed her hands. “Are you well, my dear? I apologize for losing my temper. I should not have done so.” In truth, he was still enraged and it clearly showed in his mien.
“I am well, darling.” Elizabeth said, pulling one of her hands out of his grasp and reaching up to touch his face. “Thank you for defending me so ably, my knight in shining armor.”
Darcy smiled at that. Leave it to this wonderful woman, his woman, to calm him and make him forget his anger. Oh, how he loved her!
“Darcy, perhaps we should hurry this along. We have no idea what Lady Catherine may be doing; we should go as far as we can, as fast as we can.” The colonel, seeing that his cousin was losing himself in Miss Bennet’s sparkling eyes, reminded Darcy of their current circumstances. He chuckled to himself at the sight of his staid cousin showing so much emotion. Never had he thought he would see such a thing.
“You are right, Richard.” Darcy looked from his cousin to his betrothed. “Why do we not farewell Mrs. Collins and get on our way, my love? I am eager to leave this place as I never have been before.”
Not too long after, Elizabeth, Miss Lucas and one of the Collinses’ maids was in the carriage along with Darcy and the colonel, and they were on their way. Thankfully, everyone’s trunks had already been packed and waiting by the door when the carriage pulled up. While Darcy and Collins had been arguing, the coachman and footmen had been loading them up. The horses were changed in Bromley, where the party took some refreshment, and they were in Gracechurch Street before tea, the fine weather assisting them in making it an easy trip.
The entire group was greeted enthusiastically by the elder Gardiners, the children being already ensconced in the nursery for the night. Once introductions to the colonel had been made, for he had not been in attendance at the theatre the night they met Darcy, the group retired to the dining room. Darcy and the colonel were invited to stay for the meal, and gratefully accepted.
Following an excellent dinner in excellent company, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam took their leave, heading to Darcy House for some well-deserved rest. Worn out from emotion and travel, they agreed to retire to their respective chambers for the night. The colonel, being one of Darcy’s closest relations as well as one of Georgiana’s guardians, was permanently assigned a room, so that he did not have to travel back to his barracks, or even as far as his parents’ house late at night.
Knowing that it would be late when he and his cousin arrived home, Darcy had sent an express to his housekeeper before leaving Gracechurch Street, requesting baths for himself and the colonel. As he soaked in the warm water after more thoroughly scrubbing the road dust from his hair and body than he had been able to prior to his meal at the Gardiners’, Darcy reflected on his day. He was still angry with his aunt and her pastor, but the urge to do violence had passed. However, he vowed again to make miserable the life of anyone, regardless of who they were, who gave his Elizabeth and her family grief, or who made any attempt to separate her from him.
His thoughts next turned to his beautiful betrothed. She was everything he could wish for. He wanted to do something special for her, to show her his love. He recalled that when he had researched the symbolism of flowers, he had learned that lavender stood for love and devotion. He was certainly devoted to her, and was very much in love with her. He thought for a while, finally coming to a decision. He knew that lavender was now in bloom, as he had seen some in the gardens at Rosings just recently. He would take her a bouquet made up of the flowers tomorrow. Surely shops here in town would have them.
Getting out of his bath and putting on his robe, Darcy went into his dressing room to put on his nightshirt before climbing into his bed. Lying back, hands behind his head with fingers locked, he went over his plan for the next morning, mentally reviewing flower shops he knew. Finally, he gave in to the exhaustion and fell asleep, a smile on his lips.
To be continued …