“Are you comfortable, Colonel?” asked Mrs. Collins.
“Perfectly, madam,” he replied.
“Of course Colonel Fitzwilliam is comfortable, Mrs. Collins!” cried Mr. Collins. “Did not Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself pick out these very chairs? I assure you, my dear colonel, that your most excellent aunt arranged this room just in this manner, and we have taken pains so see that nothing is out of place, even by an inch! Surely, Lady Catherine’s condescension knows no bounds!”
“Certainly you are right, Mr. Collins.”
“Such a fine, fine lady. Always thoughtful and punctual. Unlike others— but I should hold my tongue…”
“Yes. Mr. Collins,” said his wife. “Do you see Eliza yet?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam relaxed in his chair in the parlor of the Hunsford parsonage. He was seated next to a window, and the morning sun felt good on his shoulders as he visited Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas, all the time wondering where Miss Bennet could be. Mr. Collins apparently felt the same—he was staring out the window for the misplaced young lady, muttering apologies.
The colonel’s calm demeanor and pleasant conversation gave the lie to the excitement at Rosings over the last eighteen hours. When Fitzwilliam walked out the day before and met Miss Bennet in the park, he had just come to terms of spending another week as a guest at Rosings. But a little while later at tea, an agitated Darcy stormed in late and announced that he was to quit Kent the next morning.
What an uproar that announcement caused! Lady Catherine raged and cajoled, and even Anne begged Darcy to stay, but it was to no avail. The man would not be moved. He was very sorry, but he was determined to return to Town.
“I hope you have enjoyed your stay, Colonel,” said Mrs. Collins. “I am sorry that Mr. Darcy is unwell.”
“I thank you for your concern, but do not distress yourself. A trifling headache will not lay my cousin low for long,” Fitzwilliam assured her.
Later in Darcy’s rooms, Fitzwilliam tried to learn the reason for Darcy’s extraordinary demand. There were times his friend and cousin could be high-handed, but this behavior was well beyond anything Darcy had ever done before. By then his cousin had calmed down, but he refused to speak of it. Darcy apologized for the inconvenience, which took a bit of the sting out of Fitzwilliam’s ill-treatment, but would say no more. He requested, politely but firmly, that he have some privacy for the rest of the evening.
Fitzwilliam had no recourse but to agree. He knew Darcy could be as stubborn as a mule when he put his mind to it.
“Colonel,” said Miss Lucas timidly, “I have been meaning to ask you… but—oh, it is silly.”
Fitzwilliam smiled kindly. “What do you wish to know, Miss Lucas?”
“But I am off duty,” Fitz explained. “It is not right to wear one’s uniform when one is off duty.”
“But they are so handsome!” The girl blushed as she clamped her hands over her mouth. “Oh, I should not have said that!”
Fitzwilliam bit back a laugh. “I thank you for the compliment, Miss Lucas.”
Darcy did something unusual again the next morning. Fitzwilliam was at table, eating his early breakfast, when Darcy came in—not from the passageway that led to the stairs, but from the front hall. The man had been outside, and at such an early hour! Fitzwilliam demanded to know the reason for it, but Darcy remained mute. He took coffee and very little else and requested that they take their leave of the parsonage ere they departed from Kent.
Once there, they learned that Miss Bennet had yet to return from her morning walk. Fitzwilliam was disappointed; he had grown to like the pretty, rather impertinent young lady. But Darcy, who had already shown signs of tension, became downright distracted. He walked up and down the parlor for a moment, then to Fitzwilliam’s bewilderment, paid the meanest of farewells to the Collinses and Miss Lucas before making for the door.
Fitzwilliam, of course, had to say something. “Darcy” he hissed in a low voice, “what are you about? This looks very bad.”
“Forgive me … please,” said his cousin, who to a person that knew him well, appeared distressed. “I must leave.”
“Are you well? Have you a headache?”
He would not look at the colonel. “Make my apologies. I must return to Rosings. Do not hurry. We will leave when you are ready.”
Fitzwilliam was so astonished at this civility he said nothing as Darcy went away.
“More coffee, Colonel?”
Fitzwilliam waved her off. “No, thank you, Mrs. Collins. I should be off, as I am sure my cousin is waiting for me. Allow me to take me leave of you.”
Mr. Collins turned from the window, uncharacteristically with a scowl on his face. “Please accept my humble apologies for detaining you, my dear colonel! That you would grace my humble abode for such a length of time is condescension beyond even my noble—”
“Indeed you are correct, Mr. Collins,” cut in his good wife, as she extended her hand to the colonel. “We have enjoyed meeting you, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“It was an honor, ma’am.”
“Oh, my dear, dear sir! It is we who are honored by your august presence!”
“Mr. Collins, this is too much—”
“But I do not know where my cousin has gotten to. I should speak to her upon her return.”
“Pray do not, my good sir. The woods of Rosings are so delightful that one can hardly tear one’s self from them. I do speak from experience.”
“True, true—very true! Your most excellent aunt spends a prodigious amount on the care of them, does she not?”
“I cannot say. Good bye, Miss Lucas.”
“Colonel,” said she, blushing furiously. “I hope we should meet again.”
Fitzwilliam felt regret about this. Apparently he had failed to guard his tongue around Mrs. Collins’ young and impressionable sister. The lovesick look she bestowed on him made him guilty. He smiled and made his way out of the parsonage as quickly as possible.
“Darcy, will you stop sitting there like a lump of coal? What the devil is the matter with you?”
“There is nothing the matter with me.”
Fitzwilliam shook his head. There was nothing for it—Darcy would either tell him or not. The man was as stubborn as a mule when he wished to be. The colonel settled back and thought of what he could do during his visit to raise the spirits of his dear Georgiana.
He certainly could do naught for Darcy!