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Another Month Complete

June 16, 2020 04:21PM
Regency : A what if story rearranging the sequence of events at Rosings. Blurb at chapter’s end.


Another Month Complete
Chapter 1

As his lids fluttered open, he thought he saw a deep red blotch just inches from his face. Blood? Blood on his pillow? His eyes, only now beginning to focus, gradually made out his family crest deeply embossed in the rich, red wax. He then realized where he was. “Elizabeth,” he murmured.

Lifting his head from the desk, he eyed the seal thoughtfully, then tore it open and read, as if for the first time, the letter that had kept him up for most of the night. He grimaced at the bitterness of his words, then slowly and deliberately, crumpled the meticulously written missive and tossed it into the fire. How could he send Elizabeth such a letter? Too many unforgivable things had already been said. He cringed as he recollected them.

Yes, in time, Elizabeth would have to be told the truth about George Wickham’s character— as much for her own protection as for the sake of his own honour. And pride also demanded that she know his genuine conviction concerning her sister. But as for the rest—the rest was unnecessary—even cruel, perhaps. It would serve no purpose other than to confirm her appallingly poor opinion of him.


At least she would soon be gone, and he would be spared the pain of seeing her discomforted by his presence. Thankfully, she had neither been flattered nor intimidated into accepting his aunt’s invitation to extend her stay. No, Elizabeth had not been at all tempted. She had long wished to be away, he now realized, even before the previous night’s disaster.

If he could escape this very morning and save them both the embarrassment of this evening’s meeting, he would. But his aunt’s selfish neglect of her tenants had created a dangerously volatile situation at Rosings, and his immediate and diplomatic intervention was vital. G-d only knew how long it would take to set things right again.

*****

Elizabeth lay among the twisted bedclothes gazing at the window but seeing only the images inside her head. The sky was just beginning to brighten and some birds were greeting the day with their song. A new day… her last full day in Kent. How would she find the strength make it out of bed? How would she keep that wretched proposal secret from Charlotte? Charlotte, who had noted Mr. Darcy’s admiration from the very beginning!

Elizabeth had always taken pride in her ability to accurately sketch a person’s character. Yet when Mr. Darcy had declared his love for her the night before, it had come as a complete shock! Not that knowing would have made any difference! She hated him, loathed him—now, even more than ever. But how could she have been so blind to his admiration given all of Charlotte’s teasing! Was she, perhaps, the last to know of his interest in her? Could everyone around her read Mr. Darcy’s countenance better than she?

Tonight she would have to endure yet another of Lady Catherine’s wretched dinners with Darcy seated opposite her at the table. And perhaps, she would again be obliged to play and sing while he sat and glared.

“Insufferable man! Arrogant, haughty, selfish man!” she thought. How could he have spoken to her of love, one moment, and so thoroughly humiliated her the next? How could he have done so if his feelings were as ardent and as passionate as he claimed? Well, if those were the words of a man in love, she truly pitied his future wife—whoever she might be. And to have disguised his feelings behind such disdain! She had never seen any hint of tenderness behind those piercing eyes. Was he indeed such an extraordinary actor…or was she such a fool?

Her mind drifted, yet again, as it had all night, to another of their confrontational encounters.

“Yours is a propensity to hate everyone.”

“And yours is deliberately to misunderstand.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. For an instant, she felt herself sinking into self recrimination. But no, she would not shoulder a jot of responsibility for this ridiculous situation. If Fitzwilliam Darcy was now suffering, then his pain was richly deserved. “Deceitful man! Pompous, arrogant…”

“And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

For a moment, her breath caught in her throat, and she shook her head in astonishment as she recalled the scene.

“He had come to my defense even then!” she murmured. “At the time, I thought him arrogant to add yet another requirement to his list. But his remark was clearly made in justification of my reading! I see that now…Why on earth, did I not see it then?” Elizabeth threw back the counterpane and leapt from the bed, pacing back and forth in great agitation.

“Well, I am obviously not as good a judge of character as I would have myself believe,” she said aloud, placing her hands firmly on her hips, “But then, you, Mr. Darcy, are as blind as I! Did I not make my dislike of you clear enough?”

As her mind raced from one recollection to another, the knot in her stomach tightened. She thought of the manner in which she had always regarded him, the archness of her looks, the teasing tone of her voice, the challenging, playful attitude that could easily have been mistaken for… “Heaven forbid!” Elizabeth put her hands to her burning face. “Did he think…Did he think I was flirting with him?” The color of her cheeks deepened further before washing away completely and leaving her ghostly pale. Until that moment, she had not really known herself.

*****

In the late afternoon he returned from a long day of difficult negotiations with a number of tenants, in a vile temper, thoroughly overheated and in need of a bath. For a time he toyed with the idea of avoiding the evening’s mortification altogether by claiming a sick headache. Why could he not beg such an excuse as easily as she? But of course, he could not forgo the opportunity of seeing her.

His anger at Elizabeth had been short lived. For although he still firmly believed that his feelings concerning her family’s suitability were perfectly justified, he had quickly come to understand that making her aware of them was insensitive, if not truly unkind. He had wounded the woman he loved while petitioning for her hand, for G-d’s sake!!! Was there ever a greater imbecile in all of England?

And this evening would, perhaps, be his last opportunity to look upon her precious face. Surely, their paths would never cross again. Besides, allowing Richard the pleasure of having her all to himself for the evening was unthinkable…even now.

He entered the sitting room almost a half hour after the parsonage guests had arrived, using his estate duties as his excuse. He knew the evening would be dreadfully long and awkward for them both; dinner would be difficult enough.

Bowing to the group as a whole, he nodding to the Collinses, then took his seat beside his cousin Anne. To his dismay, his tardiness only gave his aunt good reason to expound, at length, on the subject of her wretchedly indolent and ungrateful tenants…who brought in so little income, yet took an excessive amount of time and energy to manage. Darcy seethed inwardly and kept his eyes fixed on the carpet as she spoke. How he longed to see Elizabeth’s reaction to his aunt’s mortifying speech! Surely she thought such arrogance ran in the family. He could not, however, muster the courage to face her directly.

When dinner was announced, her Ladyship insisted on the Colonel’s arm, while Darcy naturally escorted his cousin into the dining room. The Parsonage guests followed, and all were seated at their now established places. The first course was served with an especially fine wine—one that her Ladyship usually reserved for very special occasions. But given Darcy’s foul mood of late, her Ladyship had hoped that the quality of the grape would improve his humor.

She raised her glass to him and smiled. “A toast to your valiant labors on my behalf, Darcy. Rosings would not flourish half so well without you.”

“Rosings would fall into complete and utter ruin without me, Aunt,” he thought bitterly. Instead, he acknowledged her toast with a nod, then added. “And here’s wishing Miss Bennet a safe journey home.” He glanced quickly in Elizabeth’s direction and was disappointed to see her gaze directed at her lap.

At Darcy’s words, Mr. Collins suddenly jumped up excitedly, nearly spilling his wine in his exuberance.

“Well, this is indeed the perfect time for me to reveal my excellent news— for I am most eager to share it,” he said, chortling to himself. “I received a reply from my father-in-law just this afternoon…and… Oh dear, but I am getting ahead of myself,” he said, clearing his throat and pulling himself up to his full height.

“I owe it all to you, your Ladyship,” he said, bowing in her direction, “for it was you who made me aware of my duty to my dear, young relation. And, being a clergyman, it would have been discreditable for me to allow my cousin to travel alone by post. Though, I would have sent a servant with her, to be sure, she will be safer and happier still, traveling to London with you next month. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to get word that my family was equally keen on the idea and that it is now all settled.”

Elizabeth went pale and rose instinctively from her chair.

“Settled? No, it cannot be; it is not settled,” she said, struggling to keep the panic from her voice. “You know it is impossible for me to stay! I am to meet up with Jane in London and we are to travel home together. We are needed at home! Our father depends upon it. I must leave as planned.”

By the end of her little speech, Elizabeth’s voice had risen in volume as well as pitch and all the company could not help but stare at her.

Charlotte, as surprised as anyone by the news, felt Elizabeth’s anguish acutely. For although she had not been made privy to the details of the previous night’s tête-à-tête in her downstairs parlor…she had been made aware of the gentleman’s visit…and had her suspicions as to its purpose. It was now clear that Elizabeth was most desperate to get away.

Equally distressing was the fact that her husband had made these elaborate arrangements without consulting her. After all, the plans involved her household—not to mention, her best friend. Humiliated, and powerless to help, she lowered her eyes to her plate.

All the while, Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine regarded Elizabeth with righteous indignation. “Good heavens, Miss Bennet. Where are your manners?” chided her Ladyship. “To be so ungrateful when both Mr. Collins and I have gone out of our way to do what is best for you! Shameless girl!”

This cutting remark was felt by everyone, but it was Darcy who rose in defense of its target.

“I do not believe Miss Bennet wishes to be ungracious, Aunt,” said he, leaning forward and clearing his throat. “She clearly has reasons—vitally important to herself and her family for wishing to be at Longbourne. Reasons that, to be sure, have nothing to do with her appreciation or gratitude for your offer.”

Elizabeth was dumbfounded at both his interference and reply. At another time she surely would have called him on it, but at the moment, she was oddly relieved. She had neither the emotional strength nor the clarity of mind to respond with any form of civility.

Lady Catherine, still greatly irritated, was determined to resume her reprimand, while Mr. Collins was equally determined to interrupt her.

“Indeed, that is the beauty of it, my dear cousin. You need not worry about former arrangements at all. Sir William spoke to your father and told him of the great condescension with which you have been honored, and, of course, of the great advantage it would be for you to stay and travel with her Ladyship. He immediately gave his consent for you to extend your stay and sent an express to your sister in London, I am told. Indeed, how could he do otherwise? How could a father refuse such a generous and advantageous offer for a beloved daughter?”

“How indeed?” said Elizabeth softly as she sank back down in her chair. She cast a pleading look to Charlotte, who had not yet lifted her chin from her chest, and knew that nothing more could be done. It had all been decided without her. She would have no say in the matter.

The room fell awkwardly silent, as some at the table returned to their meal and others sat in uneasy contemplation. It was not long, however, before Lady Catherine settled on a new topic, directed expressly at the Colonel.

“Fitzwilliam, you must persuade Anne to walk out with you a little each day. I rely on you to encourage her to increase her exercise. In the past, Darcy has taken it upon himself to walk with Anne after breakfast and then again in the late afternoon—when the sun is not so strong. But as he is now so much engaged with this irritating business, it falls to you to do so.”

“It would be my pleasure, Aunt, if only my cousin would allow me the honour. She has refused me twice already. And as you know…”

The murmur of voices continued on around her as Elizabeth struggled to suppress both her seething anger and growing despair. Her mind dwelt, not only on her own situation, but on that of her sister’s. The strained quality of Jane’s letters had been worrisome for some time. Knowing Jane as she did, Elizabeth understood how difficult it had become for her sister to remain in London with Mr. Bingley “engaged elsewhere”.

“The gall, the arrogance of this meddlesome fool!” fumed Elizabeth. “And to think I am forced to call him cousin!”

Her thoughts were suddenly diverted by a servant at her elbow clearing the first course. Looking up, she leaned a bit to the left to give him room and watched, as he placed her untouched plate next to another, equally in tact. It was Darcy’s plate; of that she was certain. Apparently, he had lost his appetite as well.

“No need for such distress, Mr. Darcy. I shall do my best to keep out of your way!”

She looked in his direction for a moment, prepared to visually cross swords, but found that he had cocooned himself in his own thoughts. There he sat—in deep contemplation, his shoulders hunched forward, his fisted hand pressed tightly against his lips.

“How droll,” thought Elizabeth, turning quickly away, “Even the illustrious and powerful Mr. Darcy cannot prevent that stupid, pompous fool from reeking havoc on his life. For once, you have my compassion, Sir. Indeed, for once, we have something in common.”


*****

Blurb: This story takes place entirely at Rosings with Elizabeth and Darcy forced to be in each other's company for yet another month after the infamous proposal.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Another Month Complete

Gaby A.June 16, 2020 04:21PM

Re: Another Month Complete

MichelleElleJune 18, 2020 03:42AM

Re: Another Month Complete

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Re: Another Month Complete

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Re: Another Month Complete

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Re: Another Month Complete

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Re: Another Month Complete

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