The winner of the giveaway is Cassandra Samuels; congratulations to Cassandra and thanks to everyone who entered!
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“Brother! Thank goodness, you are here at last.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Our aunt is here. And she is not best pleased.”
“Oh, no. Worse. Lady Langthorne.”
Foreboding spread through him like lightning.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“She arrived unannounced half an hour ago– ”
“Where was everybody?”
“Mrs. Annesley, Elizabeth and I were sitting with our needlework when Lady Langthorne stormed in, lost no time with civilities and demanded to see Richard. She was most put out when Elizabeth warned me that he might be asleep and offered to go up to check. And–… Oh, Brother! I wish you had been here. No sooner had Elizabeth said as much than our aunt drew herself up to her full height and asked me in her most forbidding manner who was the young woman who was making so free with her comings and goings to her son’s bedchamber. But I am sure she knew. She looked very grim when I made the introductions and said she would wait for a footman to go and check instead. Thomas went and confirmed that Richard was asleep, so our aunt installed herself in state in the drawing room, refused refreshment and demanded to see you– ”
“Where is Miss Bennet?” Darcy interjected.
“In her chambers, I think.”
“And her father? Is he with her?”
“No. He is not in. Mr. Bennet left right after breakfast to call on Mrs. Bingley.”
“Blast!” Darcy muttered. Her father’s support might have been welcome, both during and after the uncivil encounter. Why the blazes had he seen fit to tear across the turf in Hampstead Heath this morning? But he knew why, and pointless questions would not make the current situation any better. Just now, he needed to reassure himself that Elizabeth was well and not distressed unduly – but he could not very well seek her in her bedchamber.
Perhaps Georgiana might be sent to ask her if she would see him in the upstairs sitting room? It was a sensible solution, and it might have been a workable one as well. Sadly, an imperious voice rendered it utterly useless.
“Darcy! I see you have returned. Good. I would speak with you.”
His jaw set, he turned to acknowledge his relation with a bow and a terse “Lady Langthorne”.
“Pray join me,” her ladyship intoned, making him arch an eyebrow at having been peremptorily summoned into his own drawing room. Besides, he had his own opinions on the matter.
“Might I suggest my study? You would be more comfortable and you might prefer a private setting.”
“I am not concerned for my own comfort, Nephew, nor am I seeking to keep my opinions private. But you can have your wish. Let me to your study.”
Darcy squared his shoulders and showed her the way.
“Pray, be seated,” he said, once they were within and he had closed the door for further safety. “May I offer you refreshment?” he stalled with a civil offer, which was so brusquely rejected that it was beyond uncivil.
“Not now. Tell me about Richard.”
“He is alive and well.”
“Is this all you can tell me?”
“What would you wish to know?”
“A vast deal. But I should begin by thanking you. My housekeeper has written to inform me that you took the trouble of fetching him from Portsmouth.”
“I could have done no less.”
“I beg to differ,” the lady loftily retorted. “But firstly, is he safe?”
“Dr. Graham thinks so.”
“Good. Then he is fit to travel.”
“Might I ask where?”
“To be with his family.”
The lady’s crisp retort and her non-existent effort at civility could not fail to provoke him into replying, just as crisply:
“Forgive me, I was under the impression that he was with family already.”
“Then perhaps I should say, with those members of his family who are prepared to see to his best interest.”
“Pray tell me, how do I fail to qualify?” Darcy spoke up firmly, having determined it was time to bring matters into the open. He was not surprised when the lady instantly obliged.
“Frankly, Darcy, I am bitterly disappointed that you would contrive to force his hand by allowing the country chit at his bedside. I had every hope that he would conquer his preposterous infatuation, but how can he do so when you allow that person to ingratiate herself with him? Worse still, force him to keep his word, if it becomes known that she enjoys free access into his bedchamber.”
Violent anger choked him and goaded him into a sharp retort:
“No man of sense and feeling would need to have his hand forced into marrying Miss Bennet. She is the very best that anyone could hope for.”
“Is that so! Do you imagine me ignorant of her connections?”
“Richard does not object.”
“Seemingly not. But I do. And it is time I made my feelings known without equivocation. I would never consent to this disgraceful union.”
“That would make your ladyship’s situation more pitiable, but I doubt it would sway him.”
“Even if he finds himself deprived of every material comfort he is accustomed to?”
“Even so. I have it from him that a genteel sufficiency would suit him just as well, or even better.”
“I doubt that a colonel’s pay can guarantee it. And the war cannot last forever.”
“Then those of us who care for him might find a way to secure him advancement.”
“You would go this far? Wilfully act to disoblige your own relations?”
“Richard is my relation too. It would be an honour to oblige him.”
“And see him shunned, censured and despised in almost every circle that had once welcomed him?”
“Those are heavy misfortunes indeed. But his wife would provide such extraordinary sources of happiness that, upon the whole, he would have no cause to repine.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Surely it does not surprise you that affection would outweigh the loss of any number of fashionable circles. Rest assured, he will be happy. I would have hoped that, as his mother, you would value this above all else.”
“Do not presume to lecture me on my feelings and duties as a mother. Affection indeed! Arts, allurements, my son’s wilful blindness and a young upstart’s wishes for self-aggrandisement do not make for a happy union.”
“You have said quite enough, Madam! I perfectly comprehend your feelings. But it would serve you well to comprehend another’s. Miss Bennet’s devoted care has brought my cousin from death’s door. I should have thought that this alone entitles her to your deepest gratitude– ”
“She would have my deepest gratitude if she removed herself from his path. But there is no hope now, is there? Tittle-tattle would oblige him– ”
“His sentiments would oblige him! And as for tittle-tattle, I can assure you that no one in my household would spread rumours that might endanger Miss Bennet’s good name. If rumour spreads, it could only come from Langthorne House!”
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- From This Day Forward ~ The Darcys of Pemberley ~ A Pride & Prejudice sequel
- The Subsequent Proposal ~ A Tale of Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion
- The Second Chance ~ A Pride & Prejudice – Sense & Sensibility Variation
- The Falmouth Connection ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation set in Poldark territory
- The Unthinkable Triangle ~ A Pride & Prejudice Variation, where loyalty comes at loggerheads with love
You can connect with Joana Starnes on http://www.joanastarnes.co.uk ; http://www.facebook.com/joana.a.starnes ; http://www.twitter.com/Joana_Starnes or visit ‘The Unthinkable Triangle Facebook page’ for details of giveaways and lots of images that have inspired this story.
Written content of this post copyright © Joana Starnes, 2015.