Coming Eventually: Wickham’s Hertfordshire Duel

Coming Eventually: Wickham’s Hertfordshire Duel

There are many ways that two authors can work together. For Summer and me, I think of it as having four unequal phases. First, I write a complete story, often around 20,000 words. That makes it a novella, not a novel. For the second phase, Summer rewrites it, sometimes adding whole scenes that were originally covered in a short paragraph. She sends it back to me, and by then, it is novel length. For the third phase, we send it back-and-forth, often for a couple of weeks. I might add a line or two, but I basically edit, although I may add an interesting bit or even rewrite sections. The fourth phase is to send it to our two editors.

Usually, when have a blog post about a new release, we have the book ready. As it is, we aren’t remotely ready to publish. However, we do have a draft of the beginning. We may make significant changes in these two chapters. It happens. I called this novel “The Duel.” However, our new title, suggested by Summer and accepted by me when I saw her suggestion, is:

 

Wickham’s Hertfordshire Duel

Part One

Chapter One

Every year around Easter, Darcy rounded up his favorite cousin, Major Richard Fitzwilliam, and they went to visit their widowed aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and their cousin, Anne, at Rosings. Their visits had become routine and, as such, moderately boring. That would never excuse them, however. Darcy did not consider boredom a valid reason not to dispense his duties, and familial visits were a solemn duty. Especially since their uncle, Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s, death.

That his cousin felt the same was one of the reasons Darcy got on better with Richard than with either of Richard’s brothers, even his twin. Though born some twenty minutes sooner, and therefore older than Richard, Walter had never matured to Richard’s level of decorum. He remained more like their eldest brother, Arthur, the most headstrong of the three. By Darcy’s private estimate, the earldom would be better served had the three brothers been born in the exact opposite order.

“Lady Catherine will expect you to admire Anne’s new gown and compliment her Easter Bonnet,” Richard observed as the carriage in which they rode, Darcy’s, turned up Rosings’ tree-lined drive. Richard’s voice was perfectly bland, even though it was always pitched slightly loud from growing up with boisterous brothers and his years in the military. His eyes, however, held amusement, mostly at Darcy’s expense.

“Have a care,” Darcy warned with mock severity. “Someday I will marry. Aunt Catherine will be forced to put aside her hopes for me and Anne. She will turn her sights on you for our cousin, and you shall be required to notice new bonnets and Easter gowns.”

Richard snorted. “You wed, indeed.” He shook his head as the carriage rumbled toward Rosings’ impressive façade. “For one, you’ve never shown any such inclination. For another, if you keep gadding about with that new acquaintance of yours, you shall never manage to marry. That one makes calf-eyes at the loveliest woman at each assembly, dances with her, and steals her heart. With him about, none of them shall ever notice you, and you aren’t the sort to settle for the second most attractive woman in the room.”

Darcy frowned. “You mean Charles Bingley? The merchant’s son?”

“Aye, that’s the fellow.”

“He hasn’t attached himself to me. He’s simply seeking moral and social compass.”

“And you are enjoying providing both,” Richard observed. “Don’t bother to deny it. It pleases you to sculpt him.”

Darcy shrugged. “Someone must. He’s a decent enough young man, but it takes only a moment or two in his company to realize he could easily be led astray, especially given his background. He, and others, would quickly use his family’s roots in trade to excuse vulgarity.”

Richard’s gaze narrowed as he studied Darcy. His expression grew more serious. “Darcy, this proclivity of yours to think you know better than others is going to get you into trouble someday.”

Darcy shrugged and tugged the curtain wider open. He didn’t think he knew better than others. He was certain he did. There was no use trying to convince his older cousin of that, though, for Richard possessed the same trait.

“While we’re on the subject of your failings,” Richard said. “I will add that, since inheriting Pemberley, you’ve developed a tendency to judge too quickly, and harshly. Walter and Arthur have noted this as well. They nominated me to tell you.”

They rounded the curved at the top of the drive. Relief filled Darcy that the journey would soon end. Normally pleased to travel with his favorite cousin, Darcy didn’t like the path of their conversation, though he appreciated that Richard, as Georgiana’s co-guardian, felt the right to offer his opinions.

“I know you won’t heed me, Darcy,” Richard said, as they slowed before Rosings. “But at least I’ve had my say. This way, when your pride brings you trouble someday, I shall win the delight of being able to say I told you as much.”

The carriage drew to a halt, saving Darcy from giving an answer, but not keeping his mind from Richard’s comment. As they alighted, then mounted the wide front steps, worry weighed on Darcy’s broad shoulders. Richard didn’t understand. Darcy now had the care of an estate. He had tenants, servants and property to manage. More importantly, he had the rearing of Georgiana. Yes, Richard was her guardian as well, but he had his military duties. Darcy had to make decisions, and those decisions must be stood by.

If he couldn’t take a fellow as affable and eager as Charles Bingley and save him from social and financial pitfalls, guide him into being a gentleman rather than some sort of vulgar nouveau riche, he was unworthy of filling his father’s shoes.

Lady Catherine’s butler, Dutton, met them at the door. They were shown into her usual parlor, a ghastly red and gold affair, but found the room fuller than normal. Their aunt was there, of course, and their cousin Anne and her companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, but the chair on Anne’s other side was occupied as well. In it sat a jauntily dressed young man, who stood when they entered.

“Darcy, Richard.” Lady Catherine held out her hands for them to clasp. “Perfectly punctual, as expected.”

“Aunt Catherine,” Richard greeted. He placed a kiss on her weathered cheek.

Darcy mimicked the greeting, trying not to stare at the stranger. The young man’s visage was comely, his embroidered green coat fashionable but much too ostentatious for Darcy’s tastes. He wore dark hair slicked back. What piqued a feeling of mistrust, however, was his placement at Anne’s side. Much as Darcy loved his cousin, Anne was no beauty, nor an entertaining conversationalist. She was, however, Rosings’ sole heir.

Lady Catherine gestured to the unknown gentleman. “Meet your cousin, Mr. Blackmore.”

Mr. Blackmore bowed, his expression one shade shy of embarrassed. “My mother was merely a second cousin of Sir Lewis de Bourgh,” he said. “I visited here once as a child.  Your late uncle and this wonderful place made quite the impression, I must admit. I’ve reminisced over the details nearly daily, longing to return.” He made a sweeping gesture and offered their aunt a smile. “I must say, Rosings, and her mistress, do not disappoint. If anything, my childhood memories did not do manor or grounds justice.”

Darcy watched their aunt. Predictably, she bestowed a pleased look on this Mr. Blackmore. Lady Catherine was woefully accepting of flattery.

“Yes, Rosings is rather all that, is it not?” Richard said. He turned and bowed to Anne, then Mrs. Jenkinson. “Anne, lovely as ever. Mrs. Jenkinson, it’s a pleasure to see you.”

“Darcy, greet your new cousin,” Lady Catherine ordered. “And Anne. She’s been in a tither all day, awaiting your arrival. Haven’t you, Anne?”

Anne offered Darcy a grimace, also predictable.

“Anne, Mrs. Jenkinson,” Darcy greeted with a bow. He turned to Mr. Blackmore. “Blackmore.”

“Cousin Blackmore,” Lady Catherine corrected.

Mr. Blackmore offered another apologetic, overly effacing look. “My family wasn’t close to Sir Lewis before he married Lady Catherine, and we only kept up a sporadic correspondence after he married. Calling us cousins would be too generous.”

“Be generous, Darcy,” Lady Catherine snapped. “And do sit down, both of you. Darcy, go sit by Anne. Your cousin won’t mind moving. Richard, Mr. Blackmore, come sit by me.”

They all shuffled about, rearranging themselves to Lady Catherine’s wishes. Darcy didn’t miss Mr. Blackmore’s slightly disgruntled look, which he smoothed away before talking his place beside Lady Catherine. Once they were all seated, she looked them over, nodded, and rang for tea.

“Mr. Blackmore saved one of Sir Lewis’ letters,” Lady Catherine said, aiming the remark at Darcy. “He brought it to me. You cousin has allowed me to keep another memento of my late husband.”

Lady Catherine paused, but Darcy, unimpressed, made no comment. Sir Lewis had corresponded with many people. There must be hundreds of letters out there.

“Here, see?” Lady Catherine took out a worn page. She proffered it to Darcy.

Dutifully, he rose to collect the sheet, which looked to have been crumpled at some point, then an effort made to smooth it. Something had been spilled on the address, obscuring it and much of the name, but the letter was largely legible. It was addressed familiarly to George and gave advice about his spending his time at a university. Darcy had received a similar letter. The date put Mr. Blackmore at university at much the same time as Darcy.

Darcy handed the letter back to Lady Catherine and leveled a hard look on Blackmore. “I don’t recall seeing you at Cambridge.”

“I was at Oxford.”

Did Darcy detect a hint of smugness? He retook his seat, realizing he shouldn’t have declared what university he’d attended. Not when his uncle’s letter hadn’t specifically mentioned Cambridge and his words were too general to pinpoint a specific university.

“It’s nearly time for dinner,” Anne said, speaking for the first time.

Everyone turned to look at her. Anne never spoke. Not unless addressed, or at her mother’s command.

“True enough,” Richard said.

“Yes, well, off with you all,” Lady Catherine said. “Go wash up. Richard, you’re in your usual room. Darcy, I had to give Mr. Blackmore the room beside Anne’s. The others we tried all ended up having something wrong with them. We fixed the squeak in the floor of the green bedroom, so you shall take that. The rest, we’re still looking into. Mr. Blackmore has overly keen hearing, you see. It interferes with his rest.”

Darcy leveled a hard look on the man. “Does it now?”

Mr. Blackmore grimaced. “It’s a curse, I’m afraid.”

“Suspect that kept you out of regimentals,” Richard said.

“That was a consideration, yes,” Mr. Blackmore agreed. “Though I should have liked to prove myself and serve my country, as you have, sir.”

Richard nodded amiably and stood. “Come, Darcy, I’ll help you find the green room. I know you’ve no notion which it is.” He nodded to the assemblage. “Aunt, cousins, Mrs. Jenkinson.”

Darcy stood and offered a bow. As he straightened, he aimed another glare at Blackmore, but the other man had turned to bid the ladies adieu. Darcy kept his glower and followed Richard out.

When they reached the upper hall, still with no sound of anyone following, Richard cast Darcy a look askance. “I don’t like this Blackmore fellow.”

“Nor do I,” Darcy agreed. He offered Richard a nod, then went to the green bedroom, fully aware of its location far down the hall from Anne’s room.

At dinner that night, Mr. Blackmore, seated on the other side of Anne from Darcy, spent the first several courses ignoring him and Richard. Instead, Blackmore focused his conversational efforts on Anne. Darcy couldn’t help but note that his cousin proved even more unresponsive than usual. She also leaned away from Mr. Blackmore and thus toward him, whether seeking his presence or simply attempting to put distance between her and Blackmore, Darcy didn’t know.

For his part, he endeavored to think of topics on which to engage Anne, to help edge Blackmore out of conversation with her. Unfortunately, idle chatter wasn’t one of Darcy’s strong suits. He’d never regretted his lack of ability more.

Eventually, a disgruntled look settled over Mr. Blackmore’s features. He favored Darcy with an annoyed glance and turned to his other side, to Lady Catherine, who’d so far been content to be entertained by Richard.

“Do you know,” Blackmore said into a lull in their conversation, “I have such fond memories of Rosings. You’d never guess, but one of them is of the carriage house roof. My brother and I climbed out onto it. Wonderful view from up there.”

“Climbed out of where?” Richard asked, frowning. “There’s no window leading to the roof.”

“The, ah, from the higher bit, onto the lower roof,” Mr. Blackmore qualified.

“I don’t believe there’s a window there,” Richard reiterated. He turned to Lady Catherine. “Is there?”

She frowned as well. “Once, I think. Long ago? It broke and we had it sealed up.”

“Oh, well, a shame, that,” Mr. Blackmore said.

Lady Catherine turned her frown on him.

“Er, not that I’m sure you didn’t have good reason,” Mr. Blackmore stammered. “Actually, it’s certainly better this way. Safer. I daresay it looks better, as well.”

“Yes, I daresay it does,” Lady Catherine agreed. “What else do you remember?”

Mr. Blackmore went on to describe several more aspects of the home. Lady Catherine seemed to relax, pleased with the steady flow of compliments Mr. Blackmore heaped on Rosings. Darcy only grew more suspicious.

By the time the evening ended, Darcy had reached two conclusions. Mr. Blackmore couldn’t be trusted, and Darcy didn’t care for the man. All that remained was to convince Lady Catherine to expel Blackmore from Rosings. Darcy didn’t care if she did so out of dislike or mistrust.

Chapter Two

Nearly a week later, Darcy still hadn’t found a way to break Mr. Blackmore’s hold on his aunt, although the man ceased his attempts to engage Anne. Darcy suspected Blackmore’s initial interest in his cousin had been an attempt to ingratiate himself to Lady Catherine. Once he realized she wouldn’t approve of such attentions, Blackmore had immediately left off trying to draw Anne out. Even with that respite, however, Anne flagged, overtaken by one of her bouts of ill health. She kept to her rooms more and more, with only brief forays to the library to select books.

Darcy was relieved when Easter morning finally arrived, for Mr. Blackmore was slated to depart the next day. Lady Catherine expressed regrets, but Darcy would be happy to see Blackmore go. He was curious to see how quickly Anne would recover following the man’s departure.

After dressing with extra care out of consideration for Easter service, Darcy descended to the breakfast parlor. Richard joined him almost immediately, followed by Lady Catherine. Dutifully, they both complimented her new gown.

A moment later, Mrs. Jenkinson appeared. “I am afraid Miss de Bourgh isn’t feeling well enough for church,” she said. “If I may, I should like to remain behind with her.”

“Yes, you must,” Lady Catherine said, expression worried. “Anne’s been unwell for longer than usual. Perhaps I should call in the doctor.”

“Call the doctor, for me?” Mr. Blackmore said, entering the room. He placed the back of a hand against his forehead. “How thoughtful. How did you know I’m under the weather today?”

Lady Catherine turned to him expression surprised. “You aren’t well, Mr. Blackmore?”

Darcy took in the other man’s appearance. He looked like a man about to attend Easter services. “Undoubtedly, we’ll meet the doctor at church. You can present your symptoms to him there, Mr. Blackmore.”

Mr. Blackmore offered an ingratiating smile, but his eyes held a sly glint. “Please, Mr. Darcy, call me cousin. Or George.”

“Darcy, your cousin has asked you numerous times to address him with familiarity, yet you resist and never return the compliment,” Lady Catherine observed. “Stop being churlish.”

Darcy settled for another glare at Blackmore, unable to make an acceptable reply to his aunt’s demand.

Blackmore entered the room to sink into the chair nearest the doorway. “I truly don’t believe I can make it to services.” He let out a long sigh. “I am trying my best, but I’m in the throes of such terrible malaise.” He shot Darcy a look, askance. “In truth, though it reveals how weak I am to admit as much, I believe the source of my malady is my impending departure from Rosings. I can’t sleep at night, thinking on it. I might be able to rally for church, if I could know I might remain a few more days. A week, at most.”

“Absolutely not,” Darcy snapped.

“I can speak for myself, Darcy,” Lady Catherine snapped. She looked between him, Mr. Blackmore and Mrs. Jenkinson. Lady Catherine’s expression softened. “I believe I see what is transpiring, Mr. Blackmore. Anne and Darcy do so look forward to his visit every spring. They rarely get to see one another. You and me, with our chatter and reminiscence, are interrupting their annual reunion, as it were. It’s a very important time for them. Darcy is settled in with managing Pemberley now. The moment to take a wife is upon him.”

Darcy grimaced. He didn’t care one bit for his aunt’s interpretation of his dislike of Blackmore. It undermined years of trying to make Lady Catherine see that Anne was not meant to be mistress of Pemberley. He cared for his meek, sickly cousin, but not at all in the way Lady Catherine wished. Nor did Anne harbor any amorous feelings for him. If anyone, she fancied Richard. He was the only person whose company she ever sought outside her mother’s orders.

Still, though he disliked deception even in the form of inaction, Darcy held his tongue. He manfully ignored Richard’s amused expression. If not refuting Lady Catherine’s dreams for him and Anne, yet again, proved the price of ridding Rosings of Blackmore, Darcy would pay. Silence filled the room, and Lady Catherine always took silence for agreement, not realizing that the only thing people agreed upon was they did not want to hear anything more about the issue.

“No, sad as it is for me, you must depart as scheduled, Mr. Blackmore,” Lady Catherine finally said. “You would think Darcy and Anne would be kinder to me, but they are not. We all must bow to the needs of family.”

Richard coughed, hiding his face behind his napkin.

Blackmore slid even lower in his chair, looking like unbaked bread. “Then I truly cannot muster the means by which to attend services. I am too weighed down by sorrow.”

Lady Catherine stood from the table. “That is your choice, certainly. I wouldn’t wish you to come along, moping the whole way. To have someone who has entertained me so well foist misery on me is unacceptable. Come Darcy, Richard. We shall go enjoy Mr. Grigg’s sermon. While we can. I daresay he hasn’t many left in him.”

Lady Catherine swept from the room. Darcy hastily downed the remainder of his coffee and stood to follow, Richard on his heels. Darcy nodded to Mrs. Jenkinson as he passed, ignoring Blackmore.

Lady Catherine filled the carriage ride with a tirade about Mr. Blackmore’s ingratitude. She railed against him becoming disagreeable after not getting his way this one time. Darcy tried to ignore Richard’s amusement, aware his cousin felt Lady Catherine mimicked the behavior she decried. For Darcy, the ride passed more amicably than it ought, pleased as he was that Blackmore had finally squandered Lady Catherine’s good favor.

When they reached the church and disembarked, Richard held Darcy back as he made to enter the line of people filing in. Darcy turned to his cousin, adopting a quizzical expression.

“I’m not certain I trust Blackmore alone at Rosings with Anne,” Richard said, voice low.

“She’s hardly alone,” Darcy countered. Much as he disliked the man, after the first few days of their visit, Blackmore had taken to ignoring Anne. Darcy suspected Blackmore’s main goal was to ensure future invitations to Rosings, to soak up Lady Catherine’s hospitality. He’d obviously concluded that showing an interest in Anne wouldn’t flatter Lady Catherine. It would displease her. “The servants are there, and Mrs. Jenkinson. Besides which, Anne has hardly left her rooms. Surely, she’s locked away there even now.”

“I’m not certain she is,” Richard disagreed. “She was going to the library, but she began encountering Blackmore there. Two nights ago, he cornered her and started talking about love. She tried to discourage him, but he persisted. She ended up running from the room. She told me, now, she’s only safe in her father’s office, because no one ever goes there. She asked me to leave books there for her, so she needn’t enter the library any longer. I’m worried she may venture out. Mrs. Jenkinson might not even think to tell Anne that Blackmore remained behind.”

Darcy stared at Richard. He’d no idea Blackmore had accosted Anne, or that she and Richard had arranged for books to be left in Sir Lewis’ unused office. “I thought Blackmore had decided to leave Anne alone.”

“Perhaps in public, or when you’re nearby, but no, he doesn’t seem to have given up.” Richard looked past Darcy, in the direction of Rosings. “I’ve felt a growing unease the entire ride here. All my instincts tell me something is wrong.”

Darcy looked over his shoulder, toward Rosings. “Your instincts are rarely wrong.” He turned back, taking in the dwindling line of people entering the church. “You’d best take the carriage and go. God will forgive you for missing the Easter service.”

Richard nodded. “I’ll send the carriage back.” He headed toward Lady Catherine’s conveyance.

Darcy watched for a moment, then strode toward the church. Within, he found his aunt in her pew and sat down beside her. Mr. Grigg took his position before the assemblage.

“Where is Richard?” Lady Catherine asked.

“He’s gone back to Rosings to check on Anne.”

“What?” She turned full to Darcy, not bothering to lower her voice. “If anyone should check on Anne, you should, Darcy, but there’s no need. She’s simply taken with one of her maladies. There’s nothing Richard can do for her.”

“I believe he’s more concerned about the sanctity of her person than her health,” Darcy said in a low voice.

“Her person? That’s nonsense,” Lady Catherine declared. “Call him back.”

Darcy looked about. Everyone stared, even Mr. Grigg. They were already making a scene. “It probably is nonsense, but I trust Richard’s instincts. I think I’m going to help him.”

Darcy stood. Several people gasped. More murmured.

“Fitzwilliam Darcy,” Aunt Catherine ordered, “sit back down this moment.”

Ignoring his aunt, Darcy offered Mr. Grigg an apologetic nod and headed back up the aisle. Wryly, Darcy reflected that at least following Richard would save him from a repeat of the same sermon that Mr. Grigg gave every Easter. Despite Lady Catherine’s enthusiasm for the old curate, Darcy longed for the day he was replaced. It would be impossible for his aunt to find anyone more boring than Grigg.

Richard and the carriage were already well away as Darcy exited the church. Darcy looked about but saw no ready means of transport. Abandoning decorum in his growing unease, he set off across the lawn toward Rosings at a jog.

He reached Rosings just as Lady Catherine’s carriage rumbled back down the drive. Ignoring the confused look case his way by footman and driver, Darcy jogged up the front steps. As his foot crossed the threshold, a scream rent the air.

Darcy pelted for the staircase and Anne’s room. Another scream sounded. This time, his ears pinpointed it as coming from below. Darcy careened about, nearly falling, and raced back down the steps. A third scream drew him to the north wing of the house, and his uncle’s office.

Anne was pressed into one corner, hands covering her mouth. Richard stood before her, a chair raised in both hands, feet outward. Blackmore, his back to Darcy, dove toward them.

It took Darcy only a moment to see the sword in Blackmore’s hand. Blackmore lunged again. Richard thrust the chair between him, Anne and their assailant. He twisted, trying to wrench the blade from Blackmore.

Darcy spotted the sword’s mate on the wall beside Blackmore, where the two normally hung, crossed. He’d never reach it unnoticed, especially with a table and more chairs between him and that side of the room. His gaze darted about and settled on a forearm-sized vase on a shelf near the door.

Blackmore made another jab, this time low, for Richard’s legs. Richard brought the chair down. Blackmore wrenched the blade up, snaked it toward Richard’s head. With a curse, Richard jumped back, almost colliding with Anne.

Anne let out another cry. Darcy grabbed the vase, a blue and white from the orient. Taking aim, he launched it at Blackmore’s head.

Porcelain flew everywhere as the vase collided with Blackmore’s shoulder. He whirled, sword raised. Richard threw the chair at him and dove toward the far wall. Blackmore winced as wood clattered about him. He jumped away, putting his back to Sir Lewis’ bookcase.

Richard whirled from the wall, second sword in hand. Darcy looked about for another weapon. Richard lunged across the room, kicking the chair out of his way. Blackmore swung. Richard parried. Darcy grabbed up another chair. He rushed around the table.

Blackmore let out an enraged cry and threw himself at Richard. Richard swiveled to avoid he onslaught, sword extended. Darcy hoisted his chair, intent on knocking Blackmore to the ground.

Before he could, Blackmore crumpled. Darcy went still, chair held above his head in both hands. Blood seeped out from under Blackmore where he lay on the floor. Darcy looked up to see Richard step back, red-coated sword in hand.

Another cry sounded from Anne’s direction, this one weak. Darcy whirled, lowering the chair. Anne crumpled, slowly, the motion an alarming parody of Blackmore’s decent. Richard’s sword clattered to the floor as he raced around the desk. He caught her just before her head collided with the wood planks. Darcy reached them a moment later.

“Is she injured?” he asked.

Richard carefully worked his arms under Anne and lifted her. He carried her around the desk, past Blackmore’s still form, and to one of the couches near the table. Gently, he set her down. He and Darcy both bent low to peer at Anne.

“I don’t see any injuries,” Richard said after a moment.

Darcy didn’t, either, but he could see that Anne’s sleeve was torn nearly off. Richard pushed the fabric aside to reveal a red welt, likely the beginning of a bruise, on Anne’s arm. He and Darcy exchanged a grim look. As one, they turned and stalked over to Blackmore.

Richard poked him with a foot. Blackmore’s form moved with the motion, then sank back into place when Richard pulled his foot back. Darcy knelt and checked to see if Blackmore was breathing. He wasn’t.

“We’ll have to call the magistrate,” Richard said.

“You won’t be charged,” Darcy noted.

“No, but we should still send for him.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Lady Catherine’s voice rang through the manor. “Darcy, Richard, where are you? How dare you walk out on Mr. Grigg’s sermon?”

Darcy grimaced. Wry humor sprang up in Richard’s eyes. Darcy realized their aunt had left the sermon early as well.

“We’re in Sir Lewis’ office, Aunt Catherine,” Richard called, voice booming.

Anne groaned. Darcy and Richard hurried back to her side. Richard knelt to face level.

Lady Catherine burst into the room and stilled. “Anne,” she gasped.

Anne’s eyes flickered open. Her gaze settled on Richard. Her lips pulled up into a rare smile. “You saved me.”

“Saved her?” Lady Catherine asked. She turned, slowly, to take in the room. “What happened here? Is that Mr. Blackmore?” Each question came out an active higher. “Is that blood?”

Anne sat up, Richard supporting her with one arm. “Mr. Blackmore tried to force his attentions on me, mother. He said I would be made to marry him, and he would have Rosings. Richard saved me.”

Lady Catherine swiveled to face Richard. “Is this true?”

“I can’t speak to what he said before I found them,” Richard said, looking up at her from where he crouched, supporting Anne. “I can say that I returned to find Anne screaming, pinned in the corner by Blackmore.”

Anne tried to look around. Darcy realized she couldn’t see around Richard. She didn’t know there was a body.

“What happened to him?” Anne asked. “Did mother say there’s blood?”

Darcy moved to stand beside Richard, further blocking Anne’s view. “Blackmore is dead.”

“You slew him for Anne?” Lady Catherine asked, eyes alight.

Darcy shook his head. “I would have been too late. Richard saved Anne. He wielded the blade.”

“Thank you,” Anne whispered, looking up at Richard.

Lady Catherine sniffed. “Well, you should have been the one to kill him, Darcy. I can’t imagine what kept you. Next time, try to be more like Richard.”

Darcy kept his expression bland. “Certainly.”

“He’s really dead?” Anne asked.

“He really is,” Richard assured her after noting Darcy’s nod.

She hugged him. “Thank you.” She looked over his shoulder at her mother. “I would like to go to my room, please.”

“I’ll take you.” Richard scooped her up. He carried her from the room, angling her in such a way as to conceal the body from her sight.

“Well,” Lady Catherine said, looking about. She wrinkled her nose at the body. “I knew I didn’t like that man.”

Darcy had nothing to say to that.

“You should have been more useful, Darcy,” she continued. “You should be the one carrying Anne to her chamber.” She let out a sigh and looked about again. “Where is everyone? Where are the servants? Not all of them attended the service.”

“A good question. I will find out.” He turned to leave the room.

“And send someone to clean this up, Darcy,” Aunt Catherine called after him.

Darcy found Rosings oddly silent. Every corridor he walked down proved empty. Finally, he made his way to the kitchen.

Servants, mostly members of the kitchen staff who couldn’t be spared to attend church, sprawled in chairs, or even lay on the floor. Several snored loudly. Cups were set out, some with dark liquid still inside. He picked one up and sniffed.

Brandy, and another, cloying smell. Most likely drugged. Darcy set the cup back down with a grimace.

He heard a whimper, then another. He followed the sounds to a large cupboard. A wooden spoon was stuck through the handles. Darcy yanked it free and swung open the door.

A kitchen maid sat inside, squeezed in with several pots, legs pulled tight against her. She saw Darcy and burst into tears. He proffered a hand. She clasped it and he pulled her out.

“What happened?” he asked, gentling his tone.

“That man came in and said they should all drink and I said no, but they all did,” she babbled, words spilling out. “And they started falling over and I screamed, and he shut me in the cupboard.” Her last word trailed off into another sob, then a hiccup.

“You’re safe now,” Darcy said. “I need you to go to the church and get the other members of the staff, and the doctor, and the magistrate.”

“R-right now?” she asked.

Darcy nodded. “It’s important.”

“Interrupt the sermon, sir?”

“Yes. Tell them Mr. Darcy told you to.”

“Y-yes, sir.” She twisted her hands.

“Go now, out the kitchen door.” He didn’t want the girl to somehow stumble on Sir Lewis’ office. Blackmore’s body would further traumatize her.

She nodded and crossed the kitchen to let herself out. Darcy looked about, and grimaced. Blackmore had made quite the mess, and he wasn’t even alive to explain himself.

Part Two

Chapter Three

Three and a half years later

 


There is no giveaway this time. We hope to have a giveaway in June, but it may be in July. We will give a different excerpt then.

As you can see, most of the novel will take place three and a half years after the events shown in the first two chapters. One clue that this took place earlier than Pride and Prejudice is that Colonel Fitzwilliam was still a major. Did you notice that clue? Are there others?


15 Responses to Coming Eventually: Wickham’s Hertfordshire Duel

  1. And the fact that Mr. Grigg is the rector instead of Mr. Collins shows us that this took place previously. I had missed the “major” in place of “colonel” with Richard, however.

    This prologue is definitely intriguing! And showing so many of Lady Catherine’s inconsistencies is rather amusing! She had objected so strenuously to Darcy leaving the church, then she berates him for not getting there sooner–that’s only one of many. No wonder Elizabeth found her to be so amusing when she stayed with the Collinses. 😉

    Thanks for this lovely excerpt/prologue!!

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

  2. Really enjoyed this beginning and I can’t wait for the rest to come! I love all your books and this one is a slightly different angle, I believe. Different parson at Hunsford, so before Mr. Collins arrival as well. Please write faster!

    • Thank you. I agree with you about Lady Catherine.

      Your post made me wonder if the word you used, “derailing,” could be used in Jane Austen’s time. There were horse drawn trains traveling over wooden rails in England around !600 according to Wikipedia.

  3. Lady Catherine just won’t give up. Stupid woman! Great excerpt, Renata. Look forward to getting my copy when published. Keep up the good writing, you two. 🙂

    • I’m sure if you asked Mr. Collins he would not call Lady Catherine stubborn and stupid. However, anyone asking him and trying to get a useful answer would be stupid.

      Thank you.

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