As I write this, my husband is driving us to drop my daughter at a summer college camp. Some of you know I live in Virginia, south of Washington, DC, one of the worst traffic areas in the states. Because of this, we have learned how to travel appropriately. To get through DC in a decent time, leave early. And I mean early. We turned onto the interstate, ‘motorway’ for our British readers at 4:55 am. On a normal day/time, we might have passed DC in an hour or two. At 5:35 am we crossed into Maryland just as the sun was brightening the sky. We marveled that a simple time difference could affect our travel time so much.
This got me thinking. We are traveling 423 miles. In our minivan, laden down with everything a 16-year-old requires for 3 weeks away from home. It will take 7 hours plus pit stops. Check in starts at 1:00 pm and we should get there about then or just before. This would be the equivalent of Brighton to somewhere around Dumfries, Scotland, via London.
Some time ago, probably when I wrote my first book, The Ball at Meryton, I researched travel times by carriage, horse, and post coach. I learned the biggest factor was the number of horses and how often they would be changed. At that time, I decided a safe number to use was about 50 miles per day, 4 horses with at least one change. If that were the case, we should have left 9 days ago. By the time we left her and got home, it would be time to go get her again, which explains why people in the Regency traveled for a month or more at a time.
There are a few calculations which most JAFF writers seem to have adopted: Meryton to London is half a days travel, Pemberley is 3 days from London, and Rosings is one day from London. In my latest book, Mrs. Collins’ Lover, Darcy and his cousin arrive at Rosings for their annual Easter visit.
The carriage left the high road for the lane to Hunsford as a new tension filled Darcy’s shoulders. He glanced across at his cousin; propped in the corner; head back, mouth open, snores rending the air. He had been thankful when Colonel Fitzwilliam fell asleep so quickly and then remained so the majority of the trip. He welcomed the droning snores over his cousin’s incessant questions regarding Darcy’s recent melancholy to vitriol mood swings. However, their destination would soon be in sight so it was best to wake the man now so he could remove the drool from his chin and straighten his clothing before being harangued by their aunt.
Fitzwilliam startled awake when Darcy kicked the foot propped against the opposite corner of the coach, nearly sending the man sprawling upon the floor.
“Bad form, Cousin.” The Colonel wiped his chin with his sleeve before remembering himself and searching for his handkerchief. “Were I fresh from battle, I might have killed you.”
“Do you not mean attempted?” Darcy looked out the window and pointed at the palings of Rosings Park. “We will be there in a few minutes. I thought you would prefer to enter the dragon’s lair fully aware.”
Fitzwilliam sat up, straightened his jacket, and ran his fingers through his hair. “Quite right, quite right.” His gaze turned out the other window and he leaned a bit closer. “What know you of our aunt’s new rector? Is he a young man, fresh from school like the last poor soul? Or older, with a pretty daughter?”
“The prior.” Darcy frowned. “More sycophantic, if you can believe it possible. I doubt the man has a thought in his head that Lady Catherine did not place there.”
A piercing whistle escaped Fitzwilliam as he shook his head. “Pity then. That must have been his wife.”
Darcy’s frown deepened. “Wife? I was unaware he was wed.”
He turned toward the window, but the carriage was already taking the turn into Rosings Park. Pushing thoughts of the obsequious man from his mind, he concentrated on setting his features in their normal mask; distant and unreadable. He could not allow his aunt to find a speck of weakness in his demeanour, lest she attempt to use it to her advantage.
The carriage rolled to a stop as Fitzwilliam tucked the edges of his cravat out of sight and turned toward Darcy for approval. After straightening his cousin’s collar, Darcy gave a nod of satisfaction. The door was opened, and he stepped out of the coach, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. When the Colonel joined him, they walked together up the broad front stairs to where Mr. Kite, the ancient butler, waited by the door.
“Mr. Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliam.” The wizened servant bent surprisingly nimbly as he greeted them. “Your aunt has been awaiting your arrival in the parlour.”
The cousins had always been awed by this man. His very demeanour brooked no tomfoolery, but he was equally able to display hints of amusement. The quick spark in his eye now showed his mirth in what they anticipated to be a most aggravating encounter.
“Has Lady Catherine been waiting long?” Darcy asked as he removed his gloves. “Surely her ladyship has not forgotten the amount of time which is required to travel from London to Kent?” He glanced at the long clock. “I say, Fitzwilliam, I believe we may have broken our previous time. I had not anticipated our arrival for at least another half hour complete.”
“It must be your forethought in sending your own horses to await us at the last inn.” The Colonel added his outerwear to the growing pile and looked expectantly at Mr. Kite.
“This way, gentlemen.”
The butler led the way down the hall, extravagant beyond reason with priceless vases and gold leaf frames littering the area. How Darcy longed for the simple welcoming entry at Pemberley, but he was duty-bound to visit Rosings. It was one of his father’s last instructions before he passed, and Darcy would not fail him in this area as he had in others.
The double doors were opened as though a visiting monarch were being received and not the expected nephews on their annual visit. Mr. Kite announced the gentlemen in a similar manner, the flash returning to his eye for a brief moment before he bowed his way out of the room.
“Ah, you have finally arrived,” Lady Catherine declared as she held out a hand to be bowed over and kissed.
Both men did their duty before turning to address their cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh. She was wrapped in several shawls as normal and sat in a shadow, as though the touch of light might burn her.
“Does Anne not look lovely today? She has been much improved of late, have you not, Child?” Lady Catherine’s voice filled the room while her daughter’s was barely a whisper.
“I have had the pleasure of superior company.”
Her mother tsked. “Superior? Are you saying you prefer the rector’s wife to your own mother?”
“No, Mother.” Anne lowered her head. “I have simply enjoyed conversing with another young lady nearer my age.”
Though Darcy was fascinated by their cousin taking part in conversation, the Colonel was too impatient to wait to be added to the interaction.
“So, you have replaced Mr. Minnick?” he asked.
Lady Catherine pursed her lips as her eyes stole from her daughter to access him. “You know I must, the man died last spring most inconveniently just before Easter. Mr. Collins was recommended by a friend. Lady Metcalf, to whom I had recommended a governess, told me of him. He had just taken orders and was looking for a situation. I have been satisfied with him thus far.”
Her eyes scanned the Colonel’s person, a frown settling about her lips, before she turned her gaze upon Darcy.
“I am quite displeased to learn that I have not the opportunity of introducing you, Darcy, to Mr. and Mrs. Collins for I understand you met them both in Hertfordshire.”
“I did have the opportunity to meet the gentleman while visiting my friend, Bingley, but he was not yet wed.”
All eyes seemed to turn in his direction and Darcy fought the urge to tug at his cravat which had suddenly decided to strangle him. The memory of the huffing man following him down a hall as he assisted … No! He could not believe that she would ever lower herself to marry such a …
“You met her, nonetheless. Mr. Collins married one of his cousins.” Her expression turned to one of annoyance. “When first she arrived, I found Mrs. Collins quite unsuited to her role; but she is acquitting herself nicely since I gave her husband certain instructions on how to curb his wife’s impertinence.”
Darcy felt as though his aunt had physically struck him and he clenched a fist to his stomach as he fought the need to stagger from the blow. “One of the Miss Bennets, you say?” His voice sounded odd to his ears, but he had to know for certain. “Pray tell, which one? There are five as you well know.”
“The second.” Lady Catherine stared at him suspiciously as Anne replied also. “Elizabeth.”
The air seemed to escape the room and Darcy was unable to respond. It took all his power to remain upright and maintain a calm façade. He could do nothing regarding the silence which filled the room and was grateful when Fitzwilliam took up the conversation.
“When shall we have the opportunity to meet the new residents of the parsonage?”
“Mr. Collins will come tomorrow morning. I suspect you will not meet Mrs. Collins until Sunday.” Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed, and Darcy realized he must reply in some manner.
“Do you not invite her to join … Mr. Collins when he comes to Rosings?” he managed to ask.
“Not on Tuesdays,” she replied without any sign of saying more on the matter.
“Well, then we must wait for the honour.” Fitzwilliam placed a hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “If you will forgive us, Aunt,” he bowed and then turned toward Anne and did the same, “Cousin, we should like to remove the dust of the road so we might better enjoy your company.”
“Of course.” Lady Catherine waved them away, but she continued to watch Darcy closely as he bowed and excused himself.
The door had barely closed behind them when Darcy’s arm was seized, and his cousin propelled him up the steps to his room. When that door was closed and locked, he watched as Fitzwilliam crossed to a table by the window and poured two glasses of brandy, one half full and the other only a finger. The fuller glass was thrust into Darcy’s hand as he was urged to drink. Darcy obliged and allowed the Colonel to press him into a seat.
“So, she is the reason you have been in such a state these last months?”
Darcy shook his head, still unwilling to believe that Elizabeth had … he could not bring himself to complete the thought let alone speak it aloud. His eyes fell closed. “This must be a nightmare,” he murmured.
“I am certain I am awake.” Fitzwilliam took the seat opposite him and sipped his brandy as he waited for Darcy to speak.
“She would never … Elizabeth is not like any other woman I have ever known.” Darcy downed the remainder of the brandy and held his glass out to his cousin.
Fitzwilliam took it dutifully and returned with it filled halfway once more. “Elizabeth?”
“I should have stayed.” Darcy shook his head. “But it was impossible. Her family …” Unable to continue, he drank deeply from the glass, feeling the burn of the liquor for the first time.
Nothing more was said as both men finished their drinks. Finally, Fitzwilliam stood and took the glass from Darcy’s hand.
“Are we to stay?”
The question broke through Darcy’s thoughts. “I am obliged to oversee the ledgers. Perhaps, should I work diligently, we can be gone before Sunday.”
His cousin stood before him, an unreadable expression upon his countenance. Finally, he nodded and turned to leave the room.
The Colonel stopped but did not turn.
“Thank you,” Darcy managed.
Fitzwilliam gave a brief nod and left.
No longer able to keep his grief at bay, Darcy leaned forward and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes as the first sobs seized him. “You fool,” he muttered over and over.
Darcy is not enjoying his journey, but I wish anyone on the road this summer safe travels. ?