(Note: In my versions of Pride and Prejudice, Colonel Fitzwilliam is called “Edward,” my father’s name.)
“Your note said it was important,” he said with a bemused smirk. The colonel could not remember a time that his cousin had ever thought to consult with him on matters concerning her brother’s state of mind. His Georgiana had known her own tribulations. George Wickham, a man Edward Fitzwilliam had never liked, had attempted to seduce the innocent Georgiana and to arrange an elopement. Thankfully, Darcy had arrived in time to thwart the scoundrel’s plans. However, for many months following that incident, Georgiana had suffered from a lack of confidence, but her demand that he call upon her perhaps signaled a turn for the better.
“I pray I did not interfere with your duties or your personal life,” she said contritely, but her countenance spoke of an emotion he could not identify.
Edward sipped the tea. “I am at your disposal, Cousin. Mayhap you should explain your concerns and then allow me to draw my own conclusions.”
Georgiana squared her shoulders. She bit her bottom lip in hesitation, but she said, “I likely am making a mistake, but I must know whether the foul mood that has consumed Fitzwilliam of late has something to do with my earlier indiscretion. I could not bear it if my brother had not forgiven me.”
Edward’s frown crinkled his forehead. “I am certain that Darcy would never believe what happened between you and Mr. Wickham to be of your doing.” Even saying the miscreant’s name left a foul taste in Edward’s mouth. “Would you explain what changes you have noted in my cousin’s demeanor that brings on your alarm?”
Georgiana sighed heavily. Her voice broke ever so slightly, a poignant, telling little break. “I pray you estimation of Fitzwilliam’s melancholy proves true. My brother often locks himself into his study, even sleeping on the chaise in the room. During those long hours, he only opens the door to Mr. Norton, who serves Fitzwilliam a decanter of brandy. He ignores estate business, and I cannot remember the last time we spent time together.” Warmth burned a path across her cheekbones.
A protective urge swept through him: He caught the pain underscoring her words. “What you describe is most unusual. Darcy is normally most conscientious. I cannot imagine my cousin acting thusly.” Edward had his own suspicions. “Has Darcy spoken of problems at Pemberley?”
“No, nothing,” she assured. “I have hinted to my brother’s steward and to his man of business, and they both assure me that Pemberley thrives under Fitzwilliam’s hand.”
It was Edward’s turn to hesitate. “Perhaps I should stay to supper. It would provide me the opportunity to observe my cousin.”
Her hold on the teacup relaxed. “Thank you, Edward.”
Darcy’s haggard looks shocked Edward, and Darcy’s reserve, even with his relatives, spoke chapters. “Fitz,” Edward began tentatively. “I thought you might want to know that Miss Elizabeth is in town.” Edward had noted Darcy’s animation whenever they encountered the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford. He suspected that his cousin had formed a tender for the woman.
Edward watched as Darcy’s whole being reflected his discomposure. “Miss Elizabeth, you say? Pray tell where you encountered the lady in London.”
He did not need to read his cousin’s expression. He could hear the feigned nonchalance in Darcy’s voice. “I did not speak to her directly. She, Miss Lucas, another young lady fair of countenance, and an older couple were in a drapers shop in Pall Mall, near Harding and Howell, Tuesday last. I had just completed another round of training for some new recruits and was not presentable to greet her party properly. I assumed, Cousin, that you would know of Miss Bennet’s itinerary.”
“I am not one of Miss Elizabeth’s intimates,” Darcy snapped. They sat in silence for several minutes. Darcy downed a large glass of brandy. “The mercantile district, you say?” His cousin’s voice had softened.
“From the window, I observed that the lady had chosen a fine lace, even returning to it several times, but Miss Elizabeth did not purchase the item.” Edward shared conspiratorially. “I thought you might be interested.”
“Miss Elizabeth is of no consequence to me,” Darcy announced as he stood. “Edward, I have some estate matters to address. If you will excuse me, I will retire to my study. Please enjoy Georgiana’s company. She deserves someone more cordial than I have been of late.” With that, his cousin strode from the room.
Pausing long enough for Darcy’s footsteps to announce his retreat, Georgiana whispered, “Miss Elizabeth Bennet? The one from Hertfordshire?”
Edward nodded his affirmation. “I believe your brother has a broken heart,” he shared privately.
“Oh, my!” Georgiana gasped. “I would never have suspected as such. Fitzwilliam has shunned the advances of so many women among the ton. I never thought he might prefer a country miss.”
Edward smiled knowingly, “I doubt that Fitz had any knowledge of his own vulnerability.” He assisted Georgiana to her feet. They turned their steps toward the drawing room. “The problem lies in the fact that Miss Elizabeth does not welcome your brother’s attentions.”
Georgiana shook her head. “How is that possible? Cannot Miss Elizabeth see that Fitzwilliam is the most honorable of men?”
He considered the problem for a moment. Edward explained, “Darcy’s stubborn nature and his heightened need for privacy can often be misinterpreted. Miss Elizabeth’s exuberance is a sharp contrast to Darcy’s silence. I doubt if the lady realizes that your brother could be a counterweight to her impulsivity.”
“Are matters of the heart always so convoluted?” she asked innocently. “If so, I may consider a nunnery.”
Edward caught her hand and brought it to his lips. “That would be a crime against nature. Some day, you will find the perfect match, and I will toast the match.”
Several hours later, Edward knocked lightly at Darcy’s study door, but no response came from within. He rapped louder the second time before he opened the door to peer in. His eyes fell to the papers resting on the floor; then he spied Darcy slumped over his desk, the remnants of a glass of brandy clutched tightly in his cousin’s hand. Edward eased the door closed behind him. “Just as I suspected,” he said under his breath. The smell of stale cigar smoke and spilled alcohol filled the space. The colonel had assisted more than one of his military acquaintances in similar situations, but to discover Darcy as such was disconcerting. He could not recall a time when Fitzwilliam Darcy allowed himself to lose control. “Come Cousin.” He slid an arm under Darcy’s to lift his cousin to his feet. “Allow me to assist you to your chambers.”
“Ah, Edward.” Darcy swayed as he stood. “My good cousin. Have I ever told you how jealous I am of you?” Darcy slurred his words.
“Why, Darcy?” Edward positioned his cousin’s arm around his shoulder. “You have so much more than I.”
“You could have had Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy declared. Slouching, Darcy’s whole composure crumbled. “The lady enjoyed your company so much more than mine.”
Edward assisted Darcy to a nearby chair. At Rosings Park, the colonel had witnessed Darcy’s vying for Elizabeth Bennet’s attentions, but even he remained uncertain as to the extent of Darcy’s feelings. Earlier, he had told Georgiana that Darcy’s heart was engaged; yet, he had said so for Georgiana’s sake. In truth, he had wondered if his cousin had simply wished a seduction rather than a commitment. Despite her affability, one part of the colonel thought Darcy deserved better than Miss Elizabeth, a woman with little to offer a man of Darcy’s stature. Therefore, he tested Darcy’s purpose. “Miss Elizabeth has her charms, but, as you kindly noted, her connections are low. I cannot imagine anyone of our acquaintance aligning himself with the likes of Miss Bennet. The lady possesses no qualities to deem her a suitable match.”
Although he was deeply intoxicated, Darcy still had taken the bait. Edward’s words incensed his cousin. Darcy pulled himself up straight and spoke with indignation. “Sir, I will beg you not to speak so of Miss Elizabeth. Your censure is most unwelcome.”
Edward’s smile went unnoticed by Darcy as the man collapsed into the colonel’s arms. “I apologize, Cousin,” he began. “Allow me to call for some coffee. Then perhaps you can tell me of Miss Elizabeth’s many allurements.”
Clinging to Edward, Darcy lurched forward. Reaching for the chair’s arm, he fell heavily into the seat. “Elizabeth Bennet is an incomparable woman, and I am the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry.” Thus said, Darcy passed out from the effort. Interest piqued, Edward set himself the task of discovering the depth of Darcy’s interest in the woman.
It had taken more coffee and more time than he had anticipated, but Edward managed to bring Darcy around to some semblance of his former self. Darcy sat with his head in his hands and elbows propped upon his knees. It was very late, but Edward pressed on. “Cousin, we should speak earnestly. You have become a shadow of the person you once were; you withdraw from Georgiana and from your acquaintances; your work remains untouched on your desk; and you made a reference to Miss Elizabeth that we should address.”
Darcy sat up and looked vaguely about him. “I suppose I owe you some sort of an explanation, but I am certain I can speak the words.”
“It is Georgiana to whom you owe an explanation. Have you not noticed that your sister blames herself for your current misery? She believes she disappoints you.”
“How is that so?” his cousin began, but the realization crossed Darcy’s countenance.
“You have given Elizabeth Bennet your heart?” Edward accused.
Darcy said reluctantly, “Am I that obvious?”
“Fitz, we have been more cousins. You are more of a brother to me than is Roland.” Darcy chuckled as he acknowledged Edward’s words. “I realized before we journeyed to Rosings that you held an interest in Elizabeth Bennet. When the great Fitzwilliam Darcy mentions a woman twice, I notice. When he mentions her repeatedly, I know something is amiss.”
“Miss Elizabeth holds me in contempt; she said as much when I offered her everything I had,” Darcy confessed.
“Elizabeth Bennet refused you? This cannot be.” He thought to give Darcy hope for a resolution. “You are perfect for each other. The woman makes you laugh, Fitz; no one has ever made you laugh.” Darcy smiled easily. His cousin, obviously, enjoyed the image. “Darcy, you must tell me what happened.”
“Mr. Wickham poisoned the lady’s mind to me. I am lost to Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy moaned. “Plus, in my pomposity, I injured Miss Elizabeth by hurting her sister.”
“How could you have offered the elder Miss Bennet an offense?”
“Do you recall my bragging about separating Bingley from an inappropriate connection?”
“Not Miss Elizabeth’s sister!”
“Unfortunately,” Darcy confessed.
The muscles along his jaw twitched. “Darcy, I fear Miss Elizabeth heard of your perfidy from my lips. No wonder the lady suddenly took ill that day in the park.”
“Do not concern yourself, Cousin. I realized from whom Miss Elizabeth heard the news before we took our leave of her at Rosings. Miss Elizabeth would have discovered my deceit sooner or later; she is a clever woman. Miss Elizabeth settled against me before I convinced Bingley to leave Netherfield; I treated her poorly, and then professed my love for her; my duplicity only encouraged her scorn.”
“Then I am to assume that you actually offered Miss Elizabeth you hand in marriage?”
Darcy hesitated. “I did request Miss Elizabeth’s assent, but I fear I did not articulate my intentions well. I planned what I wished to say, but in the lady’s presence, my mind could not recall the words I wished her to know.”
Edward chuckled, “What, may I ask, did you say?”
“I explained the torment of my decision, my qualms about her lack of connections, and the impropriety shown by her family…”
Edward laughed loudly as he refilled his cousin’s cup. “Only you, Cousin, would tell a woman that you loved her by telling her how repugnant you found her family to be. Is it not surprising that Miss Elizabeth did not find this endearing?”
A sough escaped Darcy’s throat, and he buried his face in his hands. “It appears,” he said at last, “I have been a simpleton when it come to Elizabeth Bennet; my folly does not speak well of my intentions, does it?”
“Men, in love, are often foolhardy,” Edward added quietly. “Let us finish this tomorrow. Do you think you can make it to your chambers?”
Darcy nodded his compliance. The colonel rand for Henry’s assistance, and together they managed to maneuver Darcy safely to his bed. Henry departed to prepare a room for Edward. Thinking that Darcy’s labored breathing indicated that his cousin had found sleep, Edward moved quietly to the door. However, a muffled call from Darcy stayed Edward’s retreat. “Cousin, which shop in the mercantile district did Miss Elizabeth frequent?”
“Concern not yourself,” Edward assured as he took several steps forward. “I will send a servant around tomorrow for the lace. Some day you will present it to Miss Elizabeth as a symbol of your regard for her.” Darcy’s arm waved his acceptance of Edward’s suggestion, and the colonel slipped from the room.
(This excerpt is an adaptation of a similar incident from chapter 10 of Darcy’s Passions, which was my first Austen-inspired novel. I am pleased to say that Ulysses Press has recently sent Darcy’s Passions for a second print run.)
Return tomorrow for Part II of Darcy’s attempts to forget Elizabeth Bennet.