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Chapter 17


The morning after the ball found Darcy at his aunt’s doorstep at his usual time, after breakfast and before the hour when callers were expected.  With such a lovely spring day, it was easy to persuade Miss Bennet to take a turn about the park across the street. 

hyde1As they ambled down the pathway, Darcy asked, “Did you enjoy the ball last night?”

“Yes, Mr. Darcy, I did, though I did not expect my dance card to be filled so early in the evening,” she responded.

“Miss Bennet, you are a lovely young woman who was greatly admired.  You should not be surprised by such an occurrence,” he stated.  Though he had spoken the truth, he had not been happy by the throng of gentlemen that had been vying for his Elizabeth’s attention.  But as an engaged man, with a fiancée in tow, there was not much he could do about the situation.  He knew he could not watch someone gain her affection and possibly her hand.  He also knew that he needed to discern just exactly what she thought about the multitude of gentlemen who appeared to be paying her court.

Elizabeth laughed. “Lady Emily, and for that matter, Lady Suzan, know my thoughts on the matter but I believe they were in concert in this scheme of theirs of having me spend a season in Town just to torture me.”

“And how is that, Miss Bennet?” he asked, encouraged that maybe she was not necessarily looking for husband, at least one that was not him.

“Mr. Darcy, as you know, I am beyond the age that is fashionable to be looking for a husband.  I am, as they say, on the shelf.  I do not expect nor wish to receive such attention, so I am at a loss as to why they are making me endure this.  And even if I were inclined to seek a marriage partner, I have no connections to induce someone to seek me out.  I have refused to let the legacy from Lady Emily to be common knowledge.  The thought of someone courting me for my money is reprehensible as I do not want a partner whose only interest in me is to bolster his sagging pocket.”

“So you wish to marry for love?” he asked, hoping for an affirmative response.

“No, Mr. Darcy, I do not wish to marry at all,” she stated.

“But what about children, Miss Bennet; do you not want to have children?” he asked.

After their recent interactions she considered his question.  Maybe if you were to father them. Knowing that would never be the case, she answered, “No, not particularly, and as I chose not to marry, having a child would be unseemly, do you not think?” she smiled.

He returned her smile and nodded.

“I will be the doting aunt to my future nieces and nephews and will have to be satisfied with that.  With Lady Emily’s bequest, I will be able to make certain they will have a better future than their circumstances might allow them.  That will make me happy,” she said.

Looking at her, he queried, “What do you plan to do with the rest of your life after your tenure in Town has come to an end?”

He was curious as to her plans if he was not able to extricate himself from this engagement and make her his wife.  He knew that whether or not he was able to win her hand, he would always want to know what she was doing and if she was happy.  He would always watch over her whether she liked it or not.

Looking around the park as she thought of her future, she returned her gaze to him and said, “I will find a quiet village in a quiet part of the country and settle into a comfortable cottage with a nice garden.  I do enjoy gardening and having fresh flowers around me.”

“And how will you occupy your time when you are not gardening?” he asked.

“I have imagined that I might travel a bit. See the places that I have only read about in books,” she said wistfully.

“And where might you go, Miss Bennet?” he smiled as he imagined being at her side as she indulged in new and unfamiliar sights and sounds, met new people, and immersed herself in different cultures.  When, I mean if, I am fortunate to secure her, then I will take her to all the places she wishes to see.

“If we can oust Napoleon from France, I would like to see that country or maybe Spain or the Mediterranean areas.  A cruise down the Nile sounds exotic.  If I am brave enough, I would like to cross the ocean to America or maybe India,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes.

He gazed at her as he imagined being with her in all those locales and there began a stirring in his loins that was not proper.  So he sought to bring them back to a safer topic, “That sounds adventurous and courageous, but how do you propose spending your time once you are back in your comfortable cottage in your quiet village?”

Smiling, she asked, “Other than tending my garden?”

He grinned, “Yes, other than tending your garden.  How do you plan to pass your days?”

“Well, I will have my future nieces and nephews to dote on and regale them with my travels,” she responded.

“Yes, Miss Bennet, but I am only aware that your eldest sister is married and not expecting a child for a few months.”

Shyly lowered her head, she said, “I will tell you of my aspirations if you promise not to reveal them to a soul.”

Pleased that she would reveal something personal to him, he quietly replied, “You have my secrecy, pray, reveal your secret ambitions to me.”

Giving him an impertinent grin, she admitted, “I will tell you of my wishes, but if I ever hear mention of them, I will know from whence the leak began.”  She gave him a pointed look with an arched eyebrow.

Laughing, he said, “You have nothing to fear from me.  I am the soul of discretion.”

Blushing, she explained, “I have long harbored a secret obsession with novels, and feel I can tell a story as well as the next person.  So I will try my hand at writing.  Why with just these few months in Town, I will have much fodder for my imagination and many characters to depict.”

Looking at her and realizing what an amazing woman she is, he responded, “That is a noble ambition.  I wish you success and will request a signed copy of your first effort.”

Laughing, she cried, “Oh, no, Mr. Darcy.  You are a rich man.  I will expect you to purchase my book.  Then I will sign it for you.”

Smiling at her jest, “It will be my pleasure.  But you realize that I will have to purchase several copies so that I will always have one at hand.”

“As long as it is not so many as to cramp my fingers in the signing.”

They laughed as they had turned back toward Crandall House. 

As they silently continued back down the path that lead to Crandall House, Elizabeth marveled at how easy it was to tell him of her plans; plans that she had not related to anyone. These were plans that she only dreamed of and hoped to one day see realized now that she would soon have the means to afford them.  With all the talk about her future, she began to think on his future.

She was curious about why he had chosen Mrs. Wagstaff.  From what she had been told and what she had observed, this was not a love match nor could she see any affection on either side.  Mrs. Wagstaff seemed affectionate, but Elizabeth sensed that it was feigned.  It appeared that Mrs. Wagstaff’s affection stemmed from the prestige and wealth she would gain by becoming his wife.  Even though she and Mr. Darcy had come to know each other quite well in the past weeks, she could not fathom his reason for engaging himself to Mrs. Wagstaff, who seemed exactly the type of woman he tended to avoid.  Her curiosity had gotten the better of her and she began a fact finding mission of her own.

“Mr. Darcy,” she said.  He turned to her with his full attention, “Have you and Mrs. Wagstaff set a wedding date?”

Turning his sight back in front of him with a slight scowl on his face, “No, we have not.  Though I believe it will not be until the autumn…” if at all!

He did not want Virginia spoiling his time with Elizabeth and was not going to encourage a discussion that involved his foolish mistake of proposing to that woman.

“That long.  I thought I had heard from Lady Julia that it was to be a June wedding.”

“No, we have not made any plans though I believe June will not give me…er…us enough time to plan for the wedding that Mrs. Wagstaff would wish to have,”  he said.  It definitely will not be enough time to extricate myself from this mess.

“Ah!” Elizabeth sighed.  Wanting to get more information, she asked, “She seems a lovely woman, have you known her very long?”

Wishing she would change the topic of conversation, he begrudgingly admitted, “Yes, about ten years.  I had courted her during her debut season along with Lemuel Wagstaff, her late husband.  Wagstaff and I had been friends at university and continued that friendship until his death almost two years ago.” 

At Elizabeth’s “Ah!” he hoped that would be the end of this discussion.

Elizabeth contemplated this last bit of news and decided that Mr. Darcy was marrying out of duty to his friend’s memory as well as having earlier feelings for her.  Based on Mrs. Wagstaff’s appearance and manner on the few times that Elizabeth had seen her, she had naturally assumed that Mr. Darcy had been drawn to her by his baser instincts.  She was relieved to know that he might have more altruistic motives.  Although she could tell that this was a marriage of convenience, it saddened her that he was not marrying for love as she had come to like Mr. Darcy very much and felt he deserved more than an indifferent partner in life.  Poor, Mr. Darcy! Would he be happy married to me?  NO!  I will only bring him shame and disgrace.  But…Stop it!  You know it could never be…will never be.  Stop being so foolish, all you will have with this man is his friendship and probably not even that once he is married.  

When they reached the house, they noticed a carriage out front.

Elizabeth observed, “It seems Lady Suzan has callers.  Do you recognize the carriage?”

Darcy studied the carriage, “No, it does not look familiar.  In fact, it looks to be a hired carriage.”

“Oh, NO!” Elizabeth cried as she clasped her hand to her mouth and her face went ashen.

“What is the matter?” Darcy exclaimed, concerned for her well-being.

“No, it cannot be,” she tried to calmed herself.

“What can it not be?” Darcy asked at a loss as to what was going on.

“Mr. Collins and Sir William Lucas.  They called here yesterday but were told that we were not accepting callers as we were readying for the ball,” she explained.

“The nerve of that man!” Darcy spat.

“Oh, poor Lady Suzan, I hope they have not been here long.  I dread to think of her having to put up with that awful cousin of mine.” Elizabeth said.

“Let us go inside and release her from her misery.” Darcy took her elbow.

Elizabeth refused to move, “I cannot face that man again.  After how he treated my family, how can he show his face to me after he so unceremoniously evicted us from our home?”

Elizabeth…er… Miss Bennet, what exactly did he do?  I knew that he was to inherit Longbourn, but how much time did he give you to leave your lifelong home.”

Tears welled up in her eyes.  Taking a deep breath, she said, “Two weeks after we buried my dear father, the sheriff came to Longbourn with eviction papers stating that we had two days to vacate the premises as the new owner wished to move in as soon as possible.”

Darcy stood helpless.  He wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, remove the pain of that time so clearly written on her face.  But he was also angry.  How dare that man treat my Elizabeth and her family in such an infamous manner and sanctioned, of all people, by my Aunt Catherine.

Taking her arm, he demanded, “Come!  You will not have to face your cousin.  I will deal with him and make sure you never have to see him again.”

Elizabeth looked up at him and said, “Mr. Darcy, I cannot let you involve yourself in my family’s problems.”

“Miss Bennet, have you not stopped to consider that possibly my family had something to do with this dastardly deed of your cousin’s.”

She gave him a questioning look.

“Do you not think that my aunt, Lady Catherine, did not counsel him on that course of action?”

Elizabeth would have laughed had she not thought that to be true.  Nodding her consent, she walked toward the door. 

Hornsby admitted the couple and informed Miss Bennet that she had visitors, a Mr. Collins and Sir William Lucas and they were in the Blue Parlour with Lady Matlock. 

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth walked in the direction of the Blue Parlour.  Darcy stopped her and told her to go to the library; he would handle everything from here.  While Elizabeth felt bad about leaving him to deal with her cousin, she was relieved that it was him, not her, having to face Mr. Collins.

After watching Elizabeth walk down the hallway, Darcy turned and opened the parlour door.  Stepping into the room, he saw his aunt struggling to maintain a neutral expression.  She appeared as if she was trying to hide the fact that she had bitten into a sour lemon. 

Hoping to relieve his aunt’s uncomfortable position of hosting the ridiculous Mr. Collins, he spoke, “Excuse me…”

“Darcy, you have returned!”  Lady Suzan relief at seeing her nephew was great.

Mr. Collins and Sir William Lucas both stood when they realized that Mr. Darcy had joined them.

“Where is Miss Bennet?” Lady Suzan asked hoping to let Elizabeth deal with her relations.  That girl will owe me as ten minutes of Mr. Collins and his adulation of Catherine is equivalent to a lifetime in Bedlam.

“Miss Bennet sends her regrets as she is not feeling well,” Darcy explained.

Nodding to the gentlemen, “Mr. Collins, Sir William, would you excuse my aunt for a moment?  I have an urgent matter to discuss with her.”

Mr. Collins piped in, “Nothing is wrong with Cousin Elizabeth, is there?”

“No, Mr. Collins, Miss Bennet is fine, just a bit fatigued,” he said.  Then he gave his aunt a knowing look.

Lady Suzan rose and addressed her guests, “Gentlemen, pray excuse me.”

“Of course, Lady Matlock,” the gentleman said in unison.

Darcy escorted his aunt into the hallway.

“Darcy, Elizabeth is fine, is she not?” Lady Suzan worriedly asked.

“Yes, Aunt, she is in the library waiting for you.  I am afraid that when she realized that Mr. Collins was here, she could not face him.”

Disgustedly, she replied, “Yes, I can understand why.  And just what are you going to do?  You are not going to be uncivil to guests in my house, are you?”

“Yes, aunt, I believe I will be,” he answered.

Putting her hand on his check with a gentle pat, she smiled, “You were always such an impertinent boy.  That is why you are my favorite nephew.”

“I am your only nephew!” he laughed.

Lady Susan patted his arm and wished him good luck before going to the library in search of Elizabeth so she could give her a piece of her mind for inflicting Mr. Collins on her frail sensibilities.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy re-entered the parlour and walked over to where the two gentlemen were seated.  He stood tall and erect in front of them so that they had to crane their necks to look at him.  He had done that on purpose for he wanted to make them as uncomfortable as he in having to deliver his proclamation.

“Gentlemen, Lady Suzan sends her regrets that she will not be able to re-join you due to a matter that requires her immediate attention.  Miss Bennet, also, will not be able to join us as she has not been able to forgive you, Mr. Collins...” Darcy directed his sternest look toward that gentleman. “…for the villainous treatment that her family has received at your hands.

“I have taken it upon myself to intercede on her behalf as I know that my relation, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had a hand in the reprehensible way that Mrs. Bennet and her daughters were evicted from Longbourn and left to starve in the hedgerows.”

“But…” Mr. Collins began.  Darcy held up his hand to prevent him from going further.

“Mr. Collins, as a clergyman, I would think you would have treated your own family in a more Christian and merciful manner.  I am appalled by your actions and that my aunt had a hand in them.  Therefore, I am requesting that you attempt no further efforts in contacting Miss Bennet or her sisters or her mother in the future.  For if I hear such an attempt was made, I will personally see to it that you will regret such actions.”

Darcy paused to ascertain the reaction to his speech.  Sir William sat bobbing his head up and down.  Mr. Collins was gaped-mouthed and wide-eyed at being address in such a way.

Seeing that he had their undivided attention, Darcy reiterated, “Do I make myself clear?”

Both guests nodded their heads.

“Then I see no further reason to detain you, gentlemen.  I am sure you have other appointments, and I will not keep you from them,” Darcy smiled.

Mr. Collins and Sir William gathered their belongings and made the way to the door with Darcy on their heels to escort them out.

Making sure the front door of Crandall House was securely closed after the guests had departed, Darcy turned to Hornsby and said, “Mr. Hornsby, under no circumstances are those two gentlemen ever to have admittance to this house.”

“Yes, Mr. Darcy,” Hornsby stated soberly.

Walking away brushing his hands together as if he had just removed some foul substance from them, Darcy walked down the corridor to the library to attend the ladies of the house.





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