I hope you’ve all been enjoying my very short supernatural novella, which I’ve been writing in order to get myself into the spirit of Halloween. It’s been loads of fun for me to get back to my roots and post a story in serial form, especially since this story’s so different from what I usually write. There’s nothing gory here, folks, just a simple romance, so there’s no need to hide underneath any blankets or behind any couches…even though there are a few vampires afoot. The question remains: Who are they? I think some of you have already figured it out.
Just in case you’ve missed the previous installments, I’ve included links for easy reference. Parts Five and Six will be posted next weekend. Until then, happy reading, AuAus!
In his absence, Jane Bennet had been invited to dine with Bingley’s sisters, and Darcy now found himself wishing he’d heeded Bingley’s counsel and supped with the officers instead of galloping across the country in the midst of a thunderstorm. Evening had fallen over Hertfordshire, and yet the rain continued unabated, pelting the windows and pounding against the roof with a vengeance. As Darcy was safely ensconced in Netherfield’s drawing room with a cup of hot tea in his hand, he ought to have been comfortable; but rather than enjoying the warmth of the roaring fire, he was beginning to suffer the effects of a cold and was in no mood to put on pleasant airs for anyone, including those within his immediate party.
Not that Miss Bennet was fit for company herself at the moment. Her father, ever-vigilant and intent upon going to great lengths to protect his second daughter from Darcy’s attentions, had foolishly allowed his first to ride to Netherfield unaccompanied on horseback. To everyone’s horror she’d arrived nearly an hour later than expected—soaking wet and chilled to the bone—and had promptly fallen ill during the second course. She was currently lodged in a guest room above stairs with a headache, a sore throat, and a slight fever. While her condition was hardly favourable, at the moment Darcy felt his was little better. Though he was hardly as ill as Jane Bennet, Bingley and Hurst had yet to return from Meryton, leaving him to pass the evening alone with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst.
“Tell me, Mr. Darcy,” Miss Bingley inquired as she rose from her chair and proceeded to take a turn about the room, “why is it that you and my brother feel the need to bother with the Bennets? In my opinion, they possess nothing out of the ordinary; no superior qualities or talents to set them apart from the rest of their sex; unless, of course, you count the two youngest girls’ appetite for officers and Eliza’s penchant for scampering about the countryside. Jane Bennet, I grant you, is a sweet girl. It’s a shame her connexions are so low, otherwise, I wouldn’t mind knowing her better.”
Mrs. Hurst hummed her agreement.
Darcy closed his eyes and slowly exhaled. He was in no frame of mind to tolerate Caroline Bingley’s jealousy, yet, out of respect for Bingley, knew he must remain civil. He took a sip of tea, wincing as he swallowed, and cleared his throat.
“I cannot deny that the youngest girls lack decorum as well as restraint,” he said, “but whether they ought to be held accountable for their poor comportment when their father takes little interest in their education and upbringing, I cannot say.
“As for Miss Elizabeth, perhaps there are some amongst our acquaintance who would consider it unconventional for a lady to spend so much time out-of-doors, but I fail to see the harm in it; quite the opposite. I daresay her eyes are brightened by the exercise.”
An insincere smile graced Miss Bingley’s countenance. “You will be interested to hear then, that Mr. Bennet has seen fit to exert his authority at last; though, sadly, it doesn’t appear to extend so far as his youngest daughters. He has forbidden Miss Eliza to leave the house unless she conducts herself in a manner befitting that of a proper lady. Apparently,” she sniffed, “her continued absence from society speaks for itself.”
The beginning of a headache was making his temples throb, and Darcy took another sip of tea. Would that he was above stairs in the comfort of his own apartment and free from such pettiness and vitriol!
When he failed to comment, Miss Bingley continued. “What say you, Mr. Darcy? Surely, you must have an opinion on the subject. I daresay you wouldn’t approve of your sister behaving in such a manner as would require her to be confined to Pemberley House.”
Darcy’s annoyance flared as he thought of Georgiana who was, at that very moment, alone in their ancestral home with no one but Colonel Fitzwilliam and the servants for company. “Certainly, not,” he replied curtly.
“Poor Eliza Bennet,” Miss Bingley lamented. “But with such a mother, not to mention Cheapside relations who no doubt live within sight of their warehouses, I can hardly say I’m surprised she turned out so headstrong and wild. I wonder if we shall ever see her again? Do you think, Louisa, she will be let out before Christmas? I daresay it will hardly matter at that point, as we will more than likely be safely removed to Grosvenor Street by then.”
While both sisters cackled delightedly, Darcy stewed in silence until their unconscionable tittering became too much and he found he could no longer hold his temper in check.
“I wouldn’t put much stock in second-hand gossip, madam, if I were you, for there is rarely much truth to be found in blind assumptions. Should you assume wrongly, your misfortunes would be heavy, indeed.”
A frown appeared on the lady’s face. “How so, sir?”
With pursed lips, Darcy placed his cup and saucer on a nearby table and rose from his chair, crossing the room in several long strides to stand before her. “To assume wrongly, Miss Bingley,” he said lowly, “you would succeed only in making an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’”
Miss Bingley’s eyes widened in shock, and for once she appeared to have nothing to say.
Darcy’s satisfaction at having rendered her speechless was short-lived, however, as he recalled he was supposed to be a gentleman and not some indecorous churl. His audacity horrified him, and made him want to recoil in mortification.
Clearly, the time had come for him to take his leave and retreat above stairs for the rest of the night. “Pray excuse me,” he muttered, his complexion heated by more than chagrin as he offered both ladies a conciliatory bow. “It appears I am unwell, and therefore no longer fit to be in your company.”