Well, it’s the new year, folks, and time for a brand new Pride and Prejudice variation. This one is a bit of a departure for me because it features a Darcy who is a bit more angsty. Usually, like Lizzy, I like to laugh just a little bit at dear Mr. Darcy, but this time he’s in too much of a pickle for me to find his situation in any way amusing.
I won’t say any more than this. You can discover this new Mr. Darcy yourselves. So, without much ado, here he is — the hero of When Pride Prevails (working title).
You can read the next episode, Chapter 1, here.
~ PROLOGUE ~
“Confound it, Darcy! It’s time you stopped brooding and joined society again. It’s been six months since you returned to England, more than enough time to recover from your wound.” Bingley settled his feet on the medieval tapestry foot stool and stared glumly at his boots. “Besides, I need you. I don’t know anything about running an estate.”
“You know very well it’s out of the question, Bingley.”
Darcy tossed back his glass, rose, and walked to the window. The rain had stopped, and the remaining clouds were being ushered away by the wind. With the sun preparing to set, the outline of the iron age fort on top of the hill to his left stood rugged against the orange sky. The ivy covering the stone façade to his right was bathed in the golden light that he had come to associate with Cornwall. The old Cornish cross in the sunken gardens in front of him cast a long shadow across the grass. He liked the view, despite the circumstances, but he would never be able to call this home.
It was cold for this time of the year, too, with a bitter wind blowing down from the moors. The cold bled into Darcy’s bones and leeched all the warmth out of them. It was impossible to keep the draught out in an old castle like this. The fire in the giant fireplace was doing very little to dispel the cold, and the wound on his right shoulder was aching. He hoped this was because he had only recently recovered and not a sign of things to come. He was far too young to be noticing aches and pains. It was this wretched seclusion. It made him dwell on every little thing.
It was good to have company, even if Bingley’s visit was unsettling. Darcy had started to resign himself to being alone in this remote place, and it felt strange to see his old friend for the first time after Darcy’s three-year absence on the Continent. Still, Bingley’s presence had cheered him no end, and the brandy bottle they had consumed had helped him over the initial awkwardness. They had even laughed as they reminisced about some long-forgotten episodes at school. It had dispelled some of the grey mood that was haunting him, but only a little.
What Bingley was asking of him, however, was impossible.
“I would love to help you, Bingley, especially since I know how long you’ve been planning for this moment. I would really have liked to be by your side, but with the circumstances being what they are—.”
“Damn the circumstances.” It was Bingley’s turn to tip back the snifter. “You surely don’t intend to exile yourself in your uncle’s Cornish estate forever.”
Darcy sighed. “No, not forever, but for as long as it takes.”
There was a long silence – a silence unusual for Bingley. Curious, Darcy turned to look at his friend. He found him staring into his empty snifter with an uncharacteristically solemn expression. What had happened to Bingley during his exile? He had never thought of Bingley as one of the people who would suffer because of his mistake, but he could see it had taken its toll on his friend’s sunny disposition.
“The devil of it is, now that I have it, I don’t really care about my new estate. I took it because Caroline insists that, if I’m to be viewed as a gentleman, I must have one. She’s got a bee in her bonnet about it. It’s become almost an obsession, especially since she hasn’t married yet. I know it’s important to have an estate, but Mr. Hurst married Louisa, and I didn’t have an estate at the time.”
Darcy refrained from answering that Mr Hurst was hardly what you would call a good match. True, he was a gentleman, and he resided in the fashionable area of town, but that was as much as could be said for him. At least he was too indolent to treat his wife badly. Still, he spent most of his time sleeping, which hardly made for good company, or any company at all. At times Darcy couldn’t help feeling sorry for Louisa. Still, she seemed happy enough, or had seemed happy the last time he’d met her. There were still no children though. Perhaps Mr Hurst was too lethargic to produce any heirs.
Tickled in spite of himself, Darcy couldn’t help chuckling.
“I don’t know why you think that’s funny, Darcy.”
“I don’t think Hurst has enough energy to be bothered about anything. I’m surprised he made enough effort to be married. He must really care for Louisa.”
Bingley’s brow cleared, and he grinned. “Do you know, Darcy, I think you’re right, though you’d never guess it by looking at him. I just hope Caroline finds someone who can love her for who she is, too.”
Darcy could not imagine anyone falling in love with Caroline. She was too arrogant, for one, and was entirely too critical of everyone around her. There was a time, in his youth, when his friendship with Bingley had brought them together often, and Darcy had briefly considered an alliance. Caroline was pretty, and she had gone out of her way to engage his attention. He had been awkward and envied her the social graces she had learned at that expensive finishing school she had attended.
However, that had been some time ago. He now wondered what his younger self had seen in her, and from what Bingley had told him through letters and in person, she was becoming more interfering, and seemed to be managing Bingley’s life more than she ought to. Bingley had always been disinclined to oppose her, even if she was his younger sister. His even-tempered character made him open to persuasion. Caroline tended to be single-minded in pursuit of her goals, and at times Darcy wished Bingley would stand up to her more often.
In this particular case, however, Darcy agreed with her about the importance of the estate. Bingley’s money came from trade – there was no escaping that. But for the next generation, having an estate was essential if they wanted to hold their position on the higher echelons of society.
“We all deserve to be loved, Bingley, but society defines who we are. It judges harshly.” He was no longer certain if he was talking about Caroline or about himself.
Bingley made an impatient gesture. “That’s neither here nor there. The fact is, I’m in a deuce of a spot. I have no experience at all of running a large estate. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“You are a quick learner. Hire a good steward and he will teach you everything you need to know.”
“Or he could pretend to teach me, then fleece me of all my income. At least help me choose him. You will know what to look for.”
Considering how casual Bingley was about most things, he seemed very insistent about this one. “I am beginning to think you came all the way here, not to see me, but to ask me to be your steward.”
Bingley looked horrified. “Heaven forbid, Darcy! I would never think of you that way. You can’t think—”
Darcy laughed at his confusion.
“Of course not. You would never hire me for a position. However, it is very likely that you pity me, and want to give me something useful to do, to distract me from my troubles.”
The flush that stained Bingley’s face showed that his words had hit the mark.
Bingley spluttered and began to stammer out some explanation.
“Don’t insult me further by pretending otherwise, Bingley. I know you too well.”
Bingley smiled broadly. “You are forcing my hand, Darcy. Very well, I will admit it. I’m not ashamed of it. But you’re wrong about it being simply an excuse. I genuinely need help. Caroline can run a household – even if we have never had one quite so big – but she knows nothing about harvests and crops and modern agricultural methods. I bought some books and tried to read them, but I couldn’t make head or tail of them, and every time I tried to read them, I fell asleep. So, you see, I do need an expert opinion. I have discovered that, unfortunately, you need to be raised a gentleman to be able to understand such matters.”
Darcy thought about this, then nodded slowly. “Not all gentleman are raised to manage estates. Only the heirs. But you have a point.” He fell silent, considering various possibilities, then shook his head. “I’d ask my uncle to lend you his steward, but we are approaching the harvest season, and he will very soon be too busy.”
“Exactly. So you see, it’s a matter of some urgency for me. I have never dealt with a harvest before.”
The image of Pemberley, with the patchwork of gold and green on its rolling hills, rose up vividly in his mind. He had always loved this time of the year. A sharp pang of nostalgia stabbed at him, bringing with it the scent of freshly cut hay mixed in with scent of roses his mother had tended so carefully. He could taste the sweet-sour bite of apple on his tongue, picked from one of the trees in the orchard. He missed Pemberley with a profound sadness. He wondered how they were doing without him. What he would give to be there now!
It was the liquor speaking. He wasn’t used to it any more. He’d lost the head for it. He didn’t like to drink when he was alone, and he rarely had company these days. He put down his snifter. He’d had enough. He’d worked hard to put his regrets and memories behind him. He didn’t want them resurfacing like this.
He needed to eat something. Drinking on an empty stomach was never a good idea.
“When on earth are they planning to serve dinner?” He walked over to the bell pull.
“It’s not even five o’clock, Darcy.” Bingley gave him a quizzical look. “Since when have you kept such early hours?”
“This is the country, Bingley. We do not keep London hours. Or have you forgotten?”
“Since I cannot visit you at Pemberley, I have few opportunities to spend time in the country.”
There it was again. Pemberley. The ghost that seemed to be occupying the room with them.
“I wish you wouldn’t compare the two. The wilds of Cornwall are nothing like Derbyshire.”
“I disagree. Both are remote, and both have a wild beauty to them.”
“I did not know you were fond of wild landscapes. Be careful, or you will sound like a romantic poet, Bingley.”
Bingley grinned. “Not very likely, Darcy. But you know me. When I’m in the country, I like the country more than anything. Then when I’m in Town, I believe it to be superior to anything else. Still, you can’t deny that Cornwell is beautiful.”
“It has its appeal.”
“But it’s not Pemberley.”
“No, it is not.”
The grin had faded, and Bingley was watching him with sympathy in his eyes.
“You must miss it.”
The conversation was turning maudlin. It was time to put an end to it. “I hope you don’t intend to keep badgering me with questions about the past, Bingley. I may not be inclined to answer them.”
“No need to go into a high dudgeon. But you must know you can’t stay here forever, Darcy. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face the world and return from this self-imposed exile.”
They were back to where they had left off. At least, thought Darcy, this was a less wrought subject. “Just because you now have an estate, it doesn’t mean I need to join you.”
“But I had you in mind when I leased it. It is far enough from anywhere so that you can feel at ease, and with the nearby village being so small, there is little chance that anyone there will know anything about you.”
It was tempting. Heavens knew he would do anything to end his isolation. But, no. It was too risky.
“I am sorry to refuse you, but I simply cannot.”
“If you won’t come out of your isolation to help me with my estate, then at least think of Pemberley.”
“I thought I told you not to mention Pemberley.”
“Someone has to mention it. Look, if you ask me, Darcy, I think you’re making too much of the whole affair. Don’t you think you have neglected Pemberley long enough?”
“Pemberley is not neglected. It is being taken care of, possibly better than I could care for it myself.”
“How can you be certain, when you haven’t even been to see it?”
“I trust my cousin Richard. He will take care of it even better than I could.”
“So, what of the future? Do you intend to give up your right to Pemberley entirely? Who will the property go to? Like it or not, you are the last of the Darcys. If you don’t marry, the Darcy name will die out. Are you willing to allow that to happen?”
“I have made my peace with the concept. It could very well have happened at Waterloo.”
Bingley shuddered. “Well, it didn’t, so it’s no use thinking that way anymore. You need to have an heir.”
There was a silence in which Bingley’s words twirled about in Darcy’s head. When he had gone into exile, he hadn’t cared, but was he still willing to let that happen now that he was back in England?
Bingley watched him, scenting victory. Darcy remained silent, ignoring his friend’s scrutiny.
“So you see, Darcy, you have a reason to come to Netherfield.”
Darcy shook his head and smiled. “So you think I’m to find a wife in – what was the name of the village? Merton?”
“Meryton, Darcy. And no, I don’t suppose you will, but it would be a good way to re-enter society.”
It was tempting – too tempting – but he could not allow himself to be lured. He had to stay steadfast.
“Enough, Bingley. If you will persist in this conversation when I have expressly forbidden you from doing so, I will have to ask you to leave.”
Bingley flushed. “You wouldn’t, Darcy.”
“I would. I will not be questioned at every turn. My life is my own. I have made peace with my decision, and I have no intention of changing my mind. So I suggest we change the subject and make the best of your visit by occupying ourselves with something else. How about a game of pool? I have improved dramatically over the last three years. You will find it very difficult to defeat me.”
Bingley was still predictable, Darcy was happy to see. He jumped to his feet at once.
“You may have improved, but so have I. I bet you twenty pounds that I will win.”
“Are you certain you wish to part with your money?”
“Ah, but I will not.”
Bingley laughed, and, to Darcy’s relief, nothing more was said again that day about Bingley’s new estate.
~ ** ~
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. When Pride Prevails will be out in February. It’s a standalone novel, so you won’t have to wait to find out the ending! I’ll have more preview chapters available for you before then, so keep an eye on this spot.
Meanwhile, here’s to wishing you all a successful, healthy and joyful New Year!!