The first draft of my new story Alone with Mr. Darcy is now over 55,000 words long (yay!). It’s been a slow process since Darcy and Elizabeth have been particularly rebellious about following the plot line, so I’ve had to cut long stretches of what I’ve written. It’s frustrating to edit out several weeks worth of writing, so rather than consigning it all to the recycling bin, I’m hoping to whet your appetite by posting a few scenes from plot lines that didn’t make it into the final story. Let me know if you enjoy reading these, since I definitely have more where these came from! This is an unedited first draft, so it’s far from perfect.
Background: Elizabeth realizes she had feelings for Darcy when they are stranded together in a snowstorm. Afterwards, the townsfolk discover she was alone with a man, and she is sent to stay with the Gardiners because of the gossip. When Darcy learns Elizabeth’s reputation has been ruined, he plans to offer her marriage, but her father will not tell him where she is. At Rosings, he discovers Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte has married Mr. Collins, and realizes she may have the information he seeks.
“Is this Mrs. Collins such a friend you cannot stay away?” asked Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I have never seen you so eager to pay a call.”
Darcy deliberately slowed his brisk stride. “I am eager to be free of our aunt’s company; that is all.”
But his cousin gave him an odd glance, clearly unsatisfied.
Mrs. Collins greeted them with all courtesy, but he thought he could detect a slight narrowing of her eyes when she looked his way. He hoped it was so; that might indicate she was aware of what had happened to Elizabeth.
His chance came when Mr. Collins bumbled into the room, managing to trip over the fringe of the rug as he did so. Unfortunately, his mishap did nothing to prevent him from waxing eloquent about Lady Catherine’s condescension and generosity to him. But while the rector engaged Colonel Fitzwilliam on the subject of his noble parents, of whom Lady Catherine had so often spoken, Darcy moved closer to Mrs. Collins, earning a sharp glance from her.
He spoke as quietly as he could. “Mrs. Collins, I must speak to you privately regarding a matter of importance to both of us.”
Now her eyes did narrow, but she recovered quickly. “That would hardly be proper.”
“There is nothing dishonorable about my motives. I give you my word.”
Mr. Collins cleared his throat loudly. “My dear Mrs. Collins, what are you saying to Mr. Darcy?”
She hesitated only a moment. “I was telling him of Lady Catherine’s great condescension toward me in advising me of the importance of regular exercise in the fresh air, and how I make a point of walking in the grove every morning.”
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief. At least she was willing to talk to him.
Darcy found his way to the grove early the following morning to avoid any possibility of missing Mrs. Collins. He had a book in his pocket to read while waiting, but he could not focus on it. His mind was too busy rehearsing how to explain himself to her. Clearly her opinion of him was now unfavorable.
Nearly an hour later a woman’s figure appeared at the end of the grove. Shoving the neglected volume into his pocket, he hurried to meet her. “Thank you for coming, Mrs. Collins. I am greatly in your debt.”
She gave him a sharp look. “I hope I shall not regret it. Now, what is this matter of grave importance? I cannot be gone long.”
He threw his prepared speech to the wind. “It concerns your friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I trust from your reaction yesterday you are aware she was sent from home in disgrace.”
“I am well aware of her condition, but what puzzles me exceedingly is that you, of all people, would wish to speak to me about her. She is a dear friend. No matter how much my husband owes to your aunt, I will not be party to assisting you in further compromising her honor.”
Darcy swore under his breath. “You mistake my intentions, Mrs. Collins. Having heard of her situation, I travelled to Longbourn to make matters right, but her father refused to disclose her whereabouts to me. I do not understand why he would oppose the match, especially under the circumstances, but he was insistent. In the meantime, I cannot restore her honor when I do not know where she is. When I heard you were nearby, I hoped you might be able to tell me where to find her, so I might bring an end to this blight on both our honors.”
“Hmm. I cannot tell you where she is, but I expect I could discover it easily enough with a letter. The question is whether I should do so. I hope you will pardon my impertinence in asking this question; it is out of loyalty to my friend I do so. Do I have your word that honorable matrimony is your intention?”
“Good God, yes! I would not consider anything less. I have already asked her to marry me once; you may ask her yourself if you doubt me.”
Her brows furrowed. “I do not understand. Even Elizabeth would not be so foolish as to refuse you. She is impractical, but not mad.”
“She felt it was unnecessary and that I was only making the offer out of a sense of obligation to her.”
“And was that not why you wished to marry her?”
It was the question Elizabeth had never asked him. In a low voice, he finally admitted what he had been unwilling to accept all these months. “No. The circumstances merely made it easier to justify doing what I already wished to do.”
She gave a slow nod. “I see. May I ask if you told Lizzy as much?”
He had to look away from her perceptive eyes. “No, but I told her I found her too attractive for my peace of mind.”
This time she smiled. “Very well, Mr. Darcy. I will see what I can discover for you.”
Mrs. Gardiner looked up from her sewing when Elizabeth entered the sitting room. “Is something the matter, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth frowned at the paper in her hand. “I just received a letter from my friend Charlotte, the one who recently married and moved to Kent. She says she needs my help, and begs me to come to her at my earliest convenience. Charlotte is not the sort to ask for assistance, so I fear something serious is amiss.”
“She does not say what her trouble is?”
“No, but I think it must be something about her marriage. She says I should not come directly to their house, but send her word of which stage I will be on, and she will meet me at the coaching inn. Why would she want me to do that, if not to have a chance to speak to me before I see her husband?”
Mrs. Gardiner’s brows drew together. “Oh, dear. That does sound worrisome. Do you know her husband?”
Elizabeth curled her lip. “Well enough to know I would not want to marry him! He is a fool and a flatterer, but I have nothing worse to accuse him of.” She could not help remembering telling Mr. Darcy of her concerns for Charlotte. No, she would not think of him! She would not!
“Sometimes men can hide a cruel streak. Oh, I do hope he is not a wife-beater.”
“I would not have thought him violent, but one never knows. How horrible for poor Charlotte!”
Mrs. Gardiner carefully folded her sewing and set it aside. “You do realize, Lizzy, that even if he does beat her, there is nothing you can do about it. She is his wife, and it is his legal right to do as he likes. I do not like it any more than you do, but that is the law.”
Elizabeth shivered. “Yes, I know. It is why I will not marry but for affection. Otherwise one never knows what might happen.”
“That is your best protection, but do not allow yourself to become bitter, my dear. There are many good men who treat their wives with respect.” She frowned, no doubt at the recollection that Elizabeth’s disgrace likely precluded any chance of a decent marriage for her.
“In any case, I must go to her. Do you think my uncle would loan me the fare? Charlotte says she will repay me for the cost.”
“Would it not be wiser to write her first and ask for more details?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “If Charlotte felt she could put it in writing, she would have done so. She is not timid by nature.”
“Very well; you must do what you can for your friend. And it may do you good to get out of London.” She did not need to add that Lizzy had been out of spirits. That much was apparent to all.
“I will write to her tonight, then, and tell her I am coming.” She could not tell her aunt the truth. If Mr. Collins had been cruel to Charlotte, there might after all be a way in which Elizabeth could assist her – if she had the courage to do it. Mr. Collins would listen if Mr. Darcy told him to stop beating his wife. He had helped Charlotte’s sister; surely he would assist her as well.
Despite her fears for Charlotte’s well-being, Elizabeth’s heart gave a little leap at the possibility of having an excuse to contact him again.
Darcy stared at the note in his hand. How odd it was! Although it was unsigned, it could be from no one but Mrs. Collins.
I anticipate receiving the information you seek tomorrow, but I will be unable to get away from home before Friday. However, I will be picking up the post myself tomorrow. If you were to be at the King’s Head when I collect it, I could give you your answer immediately.
As if he could possibly wait until Friday!
He had been waiting at the Kings Head for an hour, feeling more conspicuous every minute. It was hardly the sort of place he frequented, and the sidelong glances from the patrons confirmed they knew it as well as he did.
Confound that woman! What could have delayed her? The post had arrived almost an hour ago, and he could hardly bear knowing his fate might be in it. For the third time, he debated and then discarded the idea of asking for the parsonage’s post himself. That would only draw even more attention to him.
“Mr. Darcy.” Mrs. Collins’s voice came from behind him, causing him to start. “I must apologize for my tardiness.”
“It is of no matter. The post is here.”
The corner of her mouth turned up. So his impatience amused her, did it? “Of course. If you will excuse me, I will collect it now.”
Mrs. Collins made her way slowly to the counter, pausing to chat with a toothless old man who seemed happy to monopolize her attention. Would she never get that confounded post? Darcy’s patience was almost exhausted when she finally asked for the post, but this seemed to require yet another protracted conversation.
He tapped his feet as if that would prod her into motion. Good lord, at this rate it would have been faster for him to walk to London and collect her post there!
At last she turned back toward him, several letters in her hand. Why did she not open them? After all that time, had the letter she expected not arrived?
She said quietly, “Mr. Darcy, would you be so kind as to step outside with me?”
Naturally. She was the rector’s wife and could not afford any suspicion of impropriety to fall on her. “Of course.”
Fortunately, a stagecoach had just pulled into the yard. The activity of the stable boys hurrying to change the horses would cover their discussion. It was all Darcy could do to remember basic manners. “Well?” He looked pointedly at the letters she held. “Do you not intend to open them?”
That amused smile returned. “There is no need.”
“No need? But you said the answer would be in the post. Did the letter you expected fail to arrive?”
“I did not say the answer would be in the post, only that I anticipated receiving the information here.” She paused to give a cheerful wave to someone behind him. “And if you turn around, I believe you will find your answer.”
What sort of game was she playing now? He had thought her trustworthy. Impatiently he looked back over his shoulder, anticipating another delay. “I see nothing.”
“The stage, Mr. Darcy. Look at the stage.”
The stage? Then a light and pleasing form by the stagecoach door caught his eye, pausing to thank the ostler who had handed her down.
Darcy was by her side in an instant, gripping her arms as if she might disappear again at any moment. Her eyes were wide and her tempting lips formed a circle of surprise as she looked up at him. It was too much. Only a lifetime of training kept him from crushing her into his arms.
Mrs. Collins coughed softly. “Mr. Darcy, I am certain you would not wish to harm Lizzy’s reputation in any way.”
What a ridiculous thing to say! Of course he did not wish to…Feeling a fool twice over, he peeled his fingers away from Elizabeth’s arms. Nothing anyone said would make him take his eyes off her for a second, though. He would not allow her to disappear again.
But Elizabeth seemed less interested in his presence. She was already turning towards Mrs. Collins. “Charlotte, I came as quickly as I could. I have been so worried! What is the matter? Is it Mr. Collins?” Then she glanced back at Darcy, and to his great relief and utter delight, she wrapped her hand around his wrist.
Mrs. Collins showed unexpected dimples when she smiled. “Nothing is the matter; I am quite well.”
“But you said…Oh, I see. You may trust Mr. Darcy, I assure you.”
Her friend’s eyebrows shot up. “Indeed, I am glad to hear you are now of that opinion.”
With a charmingly furrowed brow, Elizabeth looked from one of them to the other, then made another attempt. “You said you needed my assistance in an urgent matter,” she said uncertainly.
Mrs. Collins laughed and gave Elizabeth a quick embrace. “I did, but it was not my urgent matter.” She cast a significant glance at Darcy.
“I do not understand.”
“As my dear husband is fond of telling me, we must not overlook any opportunity to be of service to Lady Catherine, so naturally, when I discovered her dearest nephew was in distress, I felt honor bound to assist him. As that distress rose from a lack of knowledge of your whereabouts, I took the necessary steps to assure you would be in a place where he could find you.”
“But my whereabouts were hardly a secret,” protested Elizabeth. “Any of my family could have told you where I was.”
Darcy cleared his throat. “Perhaps so, but your father refused to tell me. Did he not inform you of my visit to Longbourn?”
“You were at Longbourn?”
A great weight lifted from his chest. Elizabeth had not been hiding from him. “Yes, over a fortnight ago.” And someday he would have some very choice words to say to Mr. Bennet on that subject, but he would not think about that now.
“But why? I do not understand.”
Darcy had already opened his mouth to respond when Mrs. Collins interrupted. “You have both been taken by surprise, and I believe this discussion would do well to wait until that surprise is no longer forefront in your minds. I suggest leaving it until tomorrow. For now, Lizzy and I must return to the parsonage. As it is less than two miles hence and the day is fine, I assume you would prefer to walk. I have already taken the liberty of arranging for your trunk to be delivered to us.”
Darcy said, “I would be happy to arrange for a carriage if you would prefer that.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I thank you, but I have had enough of carriages for the day. I am eager to walk.”
“As I anticipated,” said Mrs. Collins with a smile. “Lizzy is a great walker.”
“In that case, might I have the honor of walking with you?” If he could not speak to Elizabeth alone, he would take whatever was available. He could fetch his horse from the inn later.
Mrs. Collins examined him from head to foot. “I suppose it would do no harm if you accompanied us as far as the road to Rosings Park.”
What was her game? First she arranged to bring Elizabeth to him; now she seemed only concerned with separating them.
“Before we depart, Lizzy, pray permit me to bring you within. There is a small ladies’ parlor where you might refresh yourself before our walk.”
“That would be most welcome. Pray excuse us, Mr. Darcy.”
Of course Elizabeth’s comfort was of paramount importance. It was just he had so many questions he wished to ask her.
Elizabeth waited until she was absolutely certain Mr. Darcy was out of earshot before she hissed, “Charlotte, I cannot believe you did this to me! Could you not have told me he was seeking me, and allowed me to make my own decision?”
“I could have, but then you might not have come. And completely apart from your wishes, not to mention those of your father, he does deserve the opportunity to state his case.”
“Or is it because he is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s nephew?”
“Of course not, silly! If you knew Lady Catherine in the slightest you would be aware the last thing she would desire would be to give Darcy the opportunity to marry anyone beside her daughter.”
“If not for her, then why? And pray do not tell me how fortunate I am to have earned the attentions of such an eligible man.”
“Very well, although it is true.” Charlotte paused, her steps slowing. “If you truly wish to know, the reason I sent for you is because he is quite violently in love with you, and his inability to find you was causing him a great deal of pain. If you do not wish to marry him, all you need do is to say so. There is no reason to make him suffer for lack of an answer.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “He is attracted to me, perhaps even a little infatuated with me. But he is not in love with me. He admitted he would never made me an offer but for our circumstances. While his devotion to duty may be admirable, it should not be confused with love.” She only wished it did not hurt to say those words.
“Lizzy, he stayed nearly two hours today at the inn out of hope I might have word for him on your whereabouts. He might just have waited until our paths crossed next, but he did not. That is not the behavior of a man who is merely attending to a duty. But I see you will not be moved, so I will press you no further on this. There is another matter which I need to discuss with you before we reach the parsonage.”
It was no surprise Elizabeth’s head ached. In fact, after listening to Mr. Collins’s babbling for two long hours, with Charlotte’s sharp eyes on her throughout, it was a miracle her head was the only thing that ached. But now, when she was finally alone and had a moment to reflect on the day’s surprises, the throbbing behind her eyes precluded the clear thinking she desperately needed.
In its place was a jumble of images and feelings – the stunned look on Darcy’s face when he had spotted her, the heat and strength of his hands clutching her arms, and the warmth within her which had brought her close to losing her composure at the mere sight of him and the realization she was still dear to him. Even now tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, leaving a salty trail ending in her pillow and blurring her vision.
Pressing her temples with both palms provided little relief. Perhaps if she opened the window, the cool evening air might lessen the pounding. The latch fought her efforts at first, then suddenly gave way, causing her to overbalance as the window shot open. She caught herself with both hands on the windowsill, then leaned her head against the frame, closing her eyes and allowing the breeze to wash over her face.
When she finally opened her eyes again, her vision had cleared enough to make out the shape of a stately house perched on a rise, windows gleaming with dancing candlelight. It must be Rosings, and behind those walls was Mr. Darcy. What was he thinking? Would he be engaged in a conversation with his aunt while his mind was a mile away at the parsonage? Perhaps he felt the same annoyance she did at Charlotte for her machinations, well meant as they might have been. She had been surprised at how readily Mr. Darcy accepted Charlotte’s dictates, even when he was clearly unhappy with them. That the proud Mr. Darcy would take orders from lowly Charlotte Lucas! Though she should say Charlotte Collins, but that name still seemed odd and unreal. But whatever her name, no one in Meryton would have believed it for a moment. They all knew Mr. Darcy simply ignored his inferiors. But then again, she had been wrong in so many regards about him.
If only he were beside her now! The pain in her head would lessen if he were holding her hand; she was sure of it. Or maybe she simply would not care as much about the pain if she could look into his eyes.
What would happen on the morrow? He had said he would call. What would he say to her? Because of her disgrace, she had little choice if he still did want to marry her. She would have to hope that by some miracle history would not repeat itself. Perhaps if she could somehow prove her worth to him, it would not be so bad. She could study the behavior of the ton and others of his circle, and learn to mimic it well enough to avoid embarrassing him. If her mother had ever made such an effort, she must have abandoned it by the time Elizabeth was a child.
But it did not matter. She owed it to her family to marry him, and in any case, her own feelings for him would make it difficult for her to resist if he proved insistent. And if nothing else, Mr. Darcy was uniquely skilled at being insistent.
Except with her father, it seemed. What had he been thinking, not only to refuse to tell Darcy her whereabouts, but also to fail to inform her of it? He hated to write letters, it was true, but he must have realized this was a matter of importance. Perhaps he had his own reasons to be implacably opposed to a match between them. Given time, she could likely wear down his resistance, but it seemed uncharacteristic of him. She could make no sense of it, and all it was accomplishing was to make her headache even worse.
Slowly she padded back to bed. After tugging the counterpane to cover her fully from the chilly night air, she buried her head in the feather pillow and waited for sleep to take her.
Well, what do you think? Did you enjoy your visit to Kent?