In December I posted an excerpt from my current WIP, “Mr. Darcy’s Rival” for you, and today I’m posting a portion of Chapter 3, when Darcy and his cousin come to Rosings. As ‘real life’ continues to get in the way of me finishing it (in the form of a precious granddaughter, who is now 8 months old), I can’t tell you when it will be ready to publish, but I hope some time in late spring. You can read the first chapter here. (I have not posted Chapter 2.)
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam reclined comfortably in the carriage. He stretched out his legs at an angle as far as he could without tangling with his cousin’s feet. His head had fallen back, and he made loud gurgling noises as he breathed in and out.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was annoyed. The drive to Rosings had taken longer than expected because the roads were in such disrepair. If he had wished to sleep, as his cousin did, it would have been impossible due to the man’s incessant snoring.
But probably more than that, he was not looking forward to this visit. For four years, he and his cousin had made the trip to Rosings every Easter, but he found it to be more and more disconcerting with each passing year. Most likely it was because Lady Catherine was declaring more adamantly that he must marry Anne; a wish that his aunt – and unfortunately his mother – had hoped for from the time he and his cousin were infants. And he was feeling more and more disinclined to do that very thing.
As he stared out the window at the small village that signalled they were about an hour away from Rosings, he blew out a puff of air. He wished he had settled this ridiculous notion his aunt had about joining their two estates through a marriage of the two cousins years ago. Whether or not his mother would yet have wished it were she still alive, he would never know, but he could not and would not ever marry Anne. He had never reconciled this frail, quiet, young lady to the woman he had always envisioned as Mistress of Pemberley. It was not that he disliked Anne. When they were younger, they had gotten along quite well. She was sweet and kind. He just did not care for her in the way he wanted to care for the woman he married. He wished to love his wife, much as he had come to love…
He shuddered and shook his head. He could not allow such thoughts. They only tormented him. Despite making every attempt to put Miss Elizabeth Bennet out of his mind these past few months, he still could not imagine anyone else as the woman he would love and marry.
He took in a deep breath and let it out in a soft moan.
“There you go again. Darcy, I have never heard you sigh so much in your life!
“I thought you were asleep. And it was not a sigh.” Darcy had not mentioned one word about Elizabeth to his cousin and did not wish to speak of her now. “I was merely hoping to waken you. Your snoring is appalling!”
Fitzwilliam chuckled. “So I have been told, but I have yet to hear it myself.”
“Trust me, you do snore.”
Fitzwilliam shrugged his shoulders lightly and glanced out the window. “We shall be there shortly.”
“Is your heart beating thunderously in anticipation of seeing your promised one again after so long a time?” Fitzwilliam asked with a teasing glance.
Darcy flashed him a threatening look. “The last thing I need is for you to join forces with our aunt in this absurd notion.”
“But you must remember your mother wished a marriage between you and Anne, as well. You would not want to disappoint her, would you?”
Darcy’s face darkened. “If my mother did indeed wish it, it was because she did not know how… how unsuitable our cousin would be as Mistress.” Darcy shook his head. “I need you to be an ally for me, not my aunt.
“Then you really must make an attempt to set things straight with her,” Colonel Fitzwilliam grumbled. “How can I be an ally when you do nothing?”
“I intend to make it very clear to her whilst we are here that I will not be marrying Anne.”
Fitzwilliam crossed his arms in front of him and huffed. “As you declare you will do every year.”
“This time I mean to do it. My patience is wearing thin. With her and with you!”
The colonel stretched out his arms and legs, emitting a loud groan. “You had best get it done so that Anne can get over her broken heart and set her sights on someone else.”
“I doubt it will break her heart.”
“Has she ever told you she does not want to marry you?”
“She would never defy her mother, but I can assure you she has never expressed any partiality towards me, in either words or in expression.”
“Perhaps she writes down all her feelings of love in her journals as she cannot bring herself to say them aloud.”
Darcy shook his head. “If that were even near to the truth, it would still not make her suitable to me. I have seen nothing that indicates to me she has anything close to love or affection for me.”
“I beg to differ. I believe I saw something when she was… about sixteen years old.”
“That was a long time ago. We have a mutual respect for each other, but certainly not love.” Darcy grit his teeth. This was not altogether true, as it was just last year that he attempted to discuss it with Anne, but she stopped him before he could even utter the words. He hoped she was not longing for him to declare himself to her.
Fitzwilliam leaned forward. “Love is important to you, is it not?”
“What do you mean?”
“If I recollect, this was the issue with the friend you were telling me about. You discouraged him from declaring his love to a young lady because you felt she did not exhibit much affection towards him.”
“Yes, but there was more to it than that.”
“Ah, yes. Her family was unsuitable.” Fitzwilliam clicked his tongue. “And you felt it incumbent upon yourself to advise him of this. Was he so besotted with her that he was not able to judge for himself?”
“He merely needed a little prod in the right direction through some wise counsel from those whom he looks up to and who could view the situation more objectively.”
‘If you ask me,” the colonel began, “I do not have much respect for this friend of yours if he can be swayed so readily. Remind me never to confide in you when I find myself captivated by a young lady.”
“You, I believe, already know the type of woman you can and cannot marry. Bingley’s family has new money, and he has not yet fully realized the danger in which he might find himself when a pretty young woman sets her eyes on his fortune.” Darcy cleared his throat and wrung his hands together. “Or a young lady’s mother seeks him out for that reason.”
“You are too persuasive for your own good, Darcy.” The colonel leaned forward and clasped his hands. “But I now know why you are not yet married. It is either because you are waiting for the right time to ask for Anne’s hand or you dissuade yourself out of every eligible woman who comes your way! I am certain you talked yourself out of Miss Grace Strathern, but I cannot conceive of what argument you used.”
Fitzwilliam tilted his head towards his cousin, giving him a pointed look. “I heard rumours about you and Miss Strathern. While you were in London these past few months. She would certainly qualify as a suitable Mistress of Pemberley.”
Darcy stiffened and turned his head away from his cousin and towards the window. “It is true she is tolerable…” Darcy paused and tightened his jaw as he recollected referring to Elizabeth in the same way. “I did visit her family on two occasions, and our paths crossed several other times while I was in London. But…” his voice trailed off.
“But what? I am most curious what faults you find with her.”
Darcy shook his head. “She may be most suitable in connections and breeding, but there were things about her…” Darcy knew he would never be able to put into words how he felt. It was mainly due to the comparisons he now made to Elizabeth.
“Heavens, Darcy! She is beautiful, gracious, and would step easily into the role of Mistress of Pemberley. What could you possibly not like about her? She is perfectly agreeable.
Darcy turned back towards Fitzwilliam. “She is too agreeable.”
“How can a woman be too agreeable?”
“She agrees with everything I say. I feel as though I do not really know who she is, what her true opinions are. She either has no opinions or seeks to please me by wholly agreeing with mine.” Darcy paused and took in a deep breath. “She was not able to engage my affections.”
“Ha!” Fitzwilliam laughed. “Engage your affections! This is preposterous! If Miss Strathern cannot engage your affections, I am at a loss to know who can.”
Darcy was silent. He knew it was useless to discuss this further.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked out the window. “We are passing the parsonage; we shall be at Rosings soon.” He began gathering up his belongings.
Darcy glanced out the window as well, wondering if his cousin knew how close to the truth he was when he accused him of talking himself out of an affection. But it was not just Miss Strathern. As he had persuaded Bingley against Miss Jane Bennet, he had been persuading himself against her sister, as well. He let out a huff.
“There you go again!”
“No,” Darcy laughed, trying to shrug it off. “You said we were passing the parsonage. I was merely thinking of our aunt’s new clergyman, Mr. Collins. I actually met him in Hertfordshire last autumn. He was visiting his family; he even attended the Netherfield Ball that Bingley and his sister hosted.” Darcy shook his head. “Odd character. I cannot wait for you to meet him!”
“Truly? I look forward to it.”
As the two cousins were looking out, they saw a gentleman walking towards Hunsford.
“Is that him, there?” asked the colonel.
Darcy narrowed his eyes. “No, he is too thin. I cannot… wait, is that not Rickland? Did you know he was going to be visiting Aunt Catherine over Easter?”
Fitzwilliam leaned towards the window to get a better look as they passed. “You may be correct. I had not heard he was going to be here, but then we are not always apprised of every detail when we come.”
“It has been several years since I have seen the man. At least he will provide us with a little more diversion than what we are accustomed to here.”
“I certainly hope so.” Fitzwilliam clapped his hands. “Perhaps our stay will prove to be more interesting than usual.”