The segment I am posting here is from Chapter 5, after Darcy has learned that Elizabeth is at Hunsford. Mr. Rickland has suggested that he and Colonel Fitzwilliam join him to go pay a call. Mr. Rickland had earlier informed the ladies at Hunsford of the two men’s arrival.
At Hunsford parsonage the three ladies spoke of nothing but their increased opportunity for diversion with the two additional men arriving at Rosings. Elizabeth, while not convinced that Mr. Darcy would add a delightful diversion, owned that he might provide an amusing one. She looked forward to watching him interact with Miss de Bourgh. Would she devote time to writing, being inspired by his presence, or would she listen intently to his every word?
She was also curious about his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Would he be as proud and haughty as Mr. Darcy, or would he be as kind and polite as Mr. Rickland?
The ladies did not have long to wait. They were quite surprised when Mr. Collins rushed in – completely spent of breath – to inform them that the three illustrious gentlemen were even now on their way, having entered the lane from Rosings.
He straightened a picture on the wall. “Hurry and tidy things. We must offer them refreshment! Call the maid!”
“There is no need to panic,” Mrs. Collins strongly advised with a directed look at her husband. “Everything is in good order, and we have tea and cake to offer them.”
“Good!” He patted his heart in either fatigue or reassurance, yet he seemed agitated still. He hurried over to the window to look out.
Mrs. Collins leaned over to Elizabeth, shaking her head. “I try to keep something on hand at all times in case we have guests or for the times Mr. Collins is called upon to pay a visit. I like to send something along.”
Elizabeth smiled at her friend. She had pursed her lips to conceal her smile as she watched Mr. Collins fret about the three gentlemen on their way. It had certainly surprised him that they were coming to call so soon after arriving, but in truth, it surprised Elizabeth even more.
She tilted her head as she looked at Charlotte. “I wonder if Mr. Rickland suggested they visit. I cannot imagine Mr. Darcy coming here on his own accord so soon after arriving at Rosings. The two gentlemen could barely have had time to sufficiently greet their aunt! Could Mr. Collins be mistaken?”
The sound of the door-bell proved that Mr. Collins was not in error. They all stood and waited for the gentlemen to be shown into the drawing room. Mr. Rickland stepped in first, followed by Mr. Darcy and then his cousin. The three men stood abreast of each other, and introductions were made.
Elizabeth could not help but notice the genial smiles on the faces of Mr. Rickland and Colonel Fitzwilliam, while Mr. Darcy’s expression was sombre and seemed to reflect a wish that he were anywhere but here. He acknowledged them with a greeting and glanced at her when she was introduced to Colonel Fitzwilliam. He then quickly turned his eyes to Charlotte and complimented her home.
Charlotte invited them to sit down and asked for the refreshments to be brought in.
Elizabeth watched the men and thought to herself she was going to very much enjoy comparing their differences. Mr. Rickland was obviously the most comfortable and sat leaning slightly forward with his arms resting on his legs, his hands clasped lightly. His engaging smile and the twinkle in his eyes suggested a familiarity and pleasure in his surroundings. And as had been the rule, he was most inclined to enter into conversation with the residents of the parsonage.
In the middle sat Mr. Darcy, upright and stiff, and not at all inclined to smile. Elizabeth caught his eyes fixed upon her when she occasionally glanced at him, but he seemed distracted. He did not seem engaged by any of the conversation. He rested his hands upon his legs, tapping his fingers lightly; likely a habit he exhibited when ill at ease. He remained, for the most part, silent.
On his other side sat Colonel Fitzwilliam, an odd mixture of the other two. He sat as upright as his cousin, but it was likely due more to his military training. He entered into conversation directly, and Elizabeth noticed that a smile appeared readily and frequently. While he would not be described as particularly handsome, he had a rugged friendliness and gentlemanly politeness that was quite attractive.
They spoke of the pleasant weather, the upcoming Easter holiday, and a musical soiree that the Collinses and their guests had been invited to attend the Saturday following Easter. Elizabeth smiled as she began to consider the men seated on either side of Mr. Darcy. In her mind’s eye, they served as bookends, propping him up. The thought that they were quite stylish bookends, with the unfortunate task of holding up a very large, dull book, brought a smile to her lips.
The only person in the room who was more silent that Mr. Darcy was Maria, who seemed as much in awe of these gentlemen as she was of Lady Catherine.
When the subject turned to London, Elizabeth decided she would inquire if Mr. Darcy had seen her sister, Jane.
He turned to her, and his brows pinched together. “No,” he answered in a somewhat disconcerted manner. “I have… not been so fortunate as to see her.”
He seemed unwilling to speak further on the subject; he almost appeared discomfited, as if the question disturbed him. She wondered how much he knew about what had prompted Mr. Bingley to leave Netherfield so abruptly and not return. She was almost certain he was completely aware of the motives behind his friend’s actions.
“Are you much in town, Miss Bennet?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked as he leaned forward, an affable smile lighting his face.
“Not as much as I would like. My aunt and uncle reside there, so I do have the opportunity on occasion.” She tilted her head and smiled. “I so enjoy the bustle of the people on the streets and all the fine shops, of course, but there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than attending the theatre or a concert.” She pressed her lips together and then added, “But then I am always delighted to return home to the country.”
“There is nothing finer,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said. “It is what I miss most when I am away.”
Mr. Rickland took the opportunity to tell the ladies that Colonel Fitzwilliam had just returned from overseas, where he had fought the French.
“Oh!” Charlotte said, delicately covering her mouth with her hand. “Were you on the battlefield? I hope you were spared from witnessing or experiencing anything too terrible.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. “I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Collins. But I make it a practice not to speak of my war experiences in front of ladies. I hope you do not mind my not answering your question, for I do not wish for any speculation one way or another.”
“That is very considerate of you, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Charlotte replied.
Elizabeth enjoyed the addition of Colonel Fitzwilliam. He had a demeanour that was much more appealing and engaging than his cousin. He and Mr. Rickland, sitting comfortably on either side of Mr. Darcy, seemed to accentuate the latter’s stiff and aloof manner.
“Do the three of you make a regular habit of visiting your aunt together?” Elizabeth asked, wondering if they often saw each other. She looked at each, but then turned back to Mr. Darcy, wondering if he might chance a response.
“Darcy and I have visited our aunt at Easter together for the past several years,” the colonel replied. “We were pleasantly surprised to see that Rickland was here.”
“It has been at least four years since we have been in each other’s company,” Rickland added. He turned to Darcy. “I am actually surprised we do not encounter each other more often when we are in town.”
“I am not surprised. It is quite large,” Darcy said.
“True,” Rickland said. “But if I recollect correctly, you prefer the quiet and solitude of Pemberley over the excitement and busyness of London society.”
“No, not entirely.” Darcy replied tersely. “I enjoy London and all it has to offer, but then I am always pleased to return home to the country.” He cast a quick glance at Elizabeth with something that almost resembled a smile.
Conversation slowed as everyone enjoyed the tea and cakes. Elizabeth caught Mr. Darcy’s eyes on her on several occasions, and she was convinced he was still finding fault with her, although… There was a difference in his looks, but she could not quite pinpoint what it was. She inwardly smiled. Perhaps his aunt had already expressed her displeasure in that outspoken friend of Mrs. Collins’s.
But in her defence, she could readily proclaim that she and Mr. Darcy’s intended had enjoyed some good conversation, and she felt honoured that Miss de Bourgh considered her a friend. Oh, she could not wait to see how the two behaved around each other.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. The book is coming along, but due to real life interruptions, I cannot even guess when it shall be ready to publish. I hope some time this spring!