Summer is here! Time for days at the beach with lots of sun, sand, and romance. Grab your sunblock and join your favourite Austen characters in their adventures at the sea. In this excerpt from the second of The Darcy Novels series, Mr. Darcy’s Challenge, Mr. Darcy and the Bennets have gone to Brighton to find Lydia, who has disappeared after sending her alarming letter. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have quarreled and now Mr. Darcy feels he has ruined any possibility of developing his relationship with her.
Darcy was unable to sleep. The pulsing rumble of the sea in the darkness intruded on his sleep and the unfamiliar bed felt hard and uncomfortable. The knowledge that Elizabeth was breathing softly on her bed just two walls away from him filled him with restless turmoil. The tangle of desire, yearning and self-reproach made him toss and turn like the waves outside. Finally, he could stand it no longer. Striking the flint, he lit a candle, dressed and, making his way out of the inn, he began to walk along the Marine Parade.
The Parade at this time of the night was very different from the daytime. The oil lamps that lined the terraced houses on his left were still lit, but to his right, total darkness stretched out as far as the eye could see, with only the lantern of a boat or a ship bobbing on the expanse of inky black. Periodically, the lights of a passing carriage would flitter over the water, skimming the surface of the waves and turning them into little flames. Above the laughter and the voices, the sea could be heard, battering at the coast. It flung itself onto the shingle beach then seethed as it withdrew to renew its onslaught. The scent of salt and spray filled Darcy’s nostrils and the wind whipped up his hair and clothes. He shivered as he grew cold, the damp seeping in under his clothes.
Who would have thought that love could make him so wretched? He knew there could be no forgiveness for the harsh words he had uttered to Elizabeth, yet every instinct urged him to go to Elizabeth and beg her to reconsider. It would be useless, however. He had closed that door the moment the fatal words had left his mouth. He stood there for a long time, staring into the inky sea, the plaintive shrieks of the herring gulls overhead surrounding him. Eventually, he turned and began to stroll back towards the inn. He felt
Eventually, he turned and began to stroll back towards the inn. He felt drained, as if the sea had sapped away his feelings. It was a peace of some sort, he supposed. At least the pain had diminished into a dull ache. Along the way, the oil lamps on the front of the houses began to go out, one by one. The clouds that had covered the moon were dispersing, separating into small dappled patches traveling across the sky. Slowly, a line of silver spread across the horizon, gradually changing color, flushing scarlet and reaching out across the waves. Fishermen’s boats were gliding back towards the shore. Against the rising sun, their ship masts silhouetted the sky like a leafless forest.
By the time he had passed the Old Baths and was approaching The Steine, the fish market was almost open. The men were hauling wooden boxes silver with fish over the sides of their boats and the fishermen’s wives were talking, arguing and laughing coarsely as they set up their wares. The sharp tang of fish filled the air. It was an elemental world and he suddenly wished he belonged to it. His life had become so circumscribed by conventions that he had lost touch with himself.
As he approached the Old Ship Inn, he spied a familiar figure coming towards him accompanied by Jenny, Georgiana’s maid. His heart lurched and his breath quickened. He feasted his eyes on her greedily as he approached, knowing she was not aware of his presence. The pink morning light made her face glow. The sea breeze lifted up the curls around her face and swirled them around. She raised her hand to prevent her hat from being carried off, exhibiting the graceful curve of her arm. She walked with the subtle step of a dancer. Through the thin white muslin dress, he could see the shapely outline of her legs, the wind making her skirt billow, lifting it like a sail to reveal elegant ankles.
He knew the exact moment she saw him. Her arm came down and she pulled at her clothes as if to straighten them, her step becoming more hesitant. He laughed to himself in irony. Surely he was the one who was disheveled? He had dressed hastily last night and the wind had done its worst. He must look wild and unkempt, which was exactly how he felt.
Fearing that she would turn away and leave, he advanced quickly towards her.
“I should have known I would meet you here,” he said. “You like to rise and walk out early.” Somehow he sounded calm and surprisingly normal. He even managed a smile.
She smiled back, not quite meeting his eye.
“There is nothing like the freshness of the early morning,” she replied. “It brings with it the hope of a new beginning.”
His heart beat faster. Did she mean anything by those words? Was she offering him a chance to start again? For the first time in many days, a ray of light crept into the dark corner of his heart.
“A new dawn and a new day,” he murmured, as hope bloomed.
She smiled. “Yes,” she said. “We have not been good friends lately, but perhaps we can lay the past to rest, with such a beautiful scene before us.”
His heart leaped up with joy. “It is certainly beautiful,” he said, fixing his eyes on her face.
She laughed. “I do not have any claims to beauty,” she said, “and you know very well I was referring to the sea.” She leaned on the iron railing and stared out to the open horizon. “I am completely enchanted by the waves. How can they keep moving like that without ever stopping? Do they never tire and decide they would prefer to turn into a quiet lake instead of endlessly laboring?”
“I do not think they have any choice. They are drawn irresistibly to the shore, but are forced backward by powers beyond their control.”
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Book Two. Book Three of The Darcy Novels is coming out in June 2016, so keep checking Austen Variations for news of the release date.
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