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The Other MR. DARCY
By Monica Fairview
Sourcebooks, Inc. Copyright © 2009 Monica Fairview
All right reserved.
Chapter One A dark form glided out of the fog, growing steadily larger, then resolving itself into the shape of a carriage. It drew up to the house, claiming every right to stop there.
"We are not expecting visitors, are we, Charles?" said Caroline Bingley, turning to her brother Charles, and his wife, Jane, formerly Jane Bennet of Longbourn.
"Certainly not," said Charles, tossing aside the book he was reading and rising eagerly. "Did you recognize the carriage?"
"I cannot see clearly through the fog," replied Caroline.
"It is hard to imagine anyone wanting to drive in such weather," said Jane. "But I would welcome the company."
After being cooped up in the house for two days with only her brother, his wife, and her widowed sister Mrs Louisa Hurst, Caroline was badly in need of diversion. Briefly, curiosity propelled her towards the window. Then dignity won and she came to sit on the sofa, picking up the book her brother had put down.
By and by the sound of footsteps outside the room rewarded her patience. The door of the parlour opened and the footman announced their visitor.
Caroline jumped and dropped the book. To cover her confusion, she busied herself fumbling with the book on the ground. When she looked up, however, it was not Darcy's familiarface that she saw.
The eyes that regarded her were not brown like Mr Darcy's. They were deep blue, and framed with long black eyelashes. Their gaze pierced hers with inappropriate directness. They suggested an intimacy that brought the blood racing to her face. Another jolt went through her and she almost dropped the book again. "I believe we have not been introduced," said the stranger.
"This is my sister, Miss Caroline Bingley," said her brother. "Mr Robert Darcy, Fitzwilliam Darcy's cousin. Mr Darcy made a brief appearance at his cousin's wedding, but was called back home suddenly. He has recently returned to England from the Colonies."
"From the United States of America," Mr Darcy corrected. "That is the current term, I believe. From Boston."
He put out his hand to take hers. Caroline shifted the book from her right to her left hand and in a kind of waking nightmare placed it in his. He bowed over it.
"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Bingley," said the voice she remembered only too well.
He was waiting. What was he waiting for? She realized everyone was looking at her expectantly. "A pleasure," she said stiffly, because she did not trust herself to say more. Fortunately, nobody seemed to expect more of her because Mr Darcy greeted Louisa and took a seat close to Jane.
"What a pleasant surprise you have given us," said Jane, in that calm voice of hers. "I have not seen you since we were last in Derbyshire in May. I hope you mean to stay with us for some time."
"Yes, yes," said Charles, beaming. "You must stay as long as you wish."
But Mr Darcy-the other Mr Darcy-looked grim.
"I would be very pleased, under any other circumstances," he said. "Unfortunately, I have come to convey unwelcome news." He looked gravely at Jane. "I am here to take you to your sister's side. Darcy sent me with the carriage to convey you to Pemberley."
Jane's face drained of colour. She leaned quickly forward and clutched Mr Darcy's hand. "Oh-pray tell me! What has happened?"
Mr Darcy shook his head. "I will tell you everything, but first you must make arrangements to leave."
Jane looked around her in agitation. "I must send a message to my family."
"Mrs Darcy expressly said not to mention anything to your family," said Mr Darcy, "She does not wish to alarm her parents unnecessarily."
"Then it cannot be so very alarming," said Charles, looking relieved. He walked to the back of the sofa where Jane was sitting and placed his hands on his wife's shoulder.
"Yes, you are probably right," said Jane, but she continued to stare at Mr Darcy in distress.
"Shall I inform the maids to start packing?" asked Caroline, standing up. Jane was not one to make quick decisions at the best of times, and she was clearly distraught now.
"Yes, thank you, Caroline," said Jane, giving her sister-in-law a weak smile. "You are so good at taking care of things."
When Caroline returned, Jane was still sitting on the sofa, engaged in a hushed conversation with Charles. Mr Darcy was standing by the fire, warming his hands.
"Mr Darcy," said Caroline, "I am sure you must be very cold and tired after your journey. I have had a fire lit in one of the guest chambers, and I will have a bath drawn up for you. The housekeeper will show you to your chamber."
"Thank you. You are very kind," he said. With a slight bow, he left the parlour.
Having assured herself that he had gone, Caroline walked across the room to Louisa and drew her chair next to her sister's. "Have you discovered the nature of Elizabeth Darcy's illness?" she asked Louisa in a half-whisper.
Louisa nodded. "I believe she is ill as a result of her confinement. She lost the child, and she is very weak after losing blood. It seems she is quite dejected, and will only be cheered by her sister's presence."
Caroline was glad Mr Darcy had left the room. She wondered that such a delicate topic had been discussed openly by a gentleman. But after all, Caroline had been the only unmarried lady in the room, and he did not speak in front of her.
Still, revealing Eliza's condition to everybody showed a certain lack of restraint, and perhaps a tendency to gossip. Caroline fervently hoped that he had not gossiped about her.
"I think it is only an excuse to have a member of her family by her side in Pemberley," murmured Louisa. "I am certain Mr Darcy has forbidden them from visiting, which is quite the right thing to do. Such common persons should not be tolerated at a grand estate like Pemberley."
Caroline squirmed. Her sister could be quite extreme when she did not like somebody. "Hush," she said. "That is absurd, and you know it. She would not send for her sister so urgently, if that were the case. Besides, the Bennets have visited Pemberley at least twice since the wedding. You must not say such things. You do not wish to offend Charles, do you? They are his connections too."
"I would not offend my dear brother for anything. He has been so kind to me after my dear Mr Hurst's sudden death. And Jane is all a sister-in-law should be. But it would be too much for me to pretend I like the rest of the Bennets."
The whispered conversation of Charles and Jane had stopped. Afraid they had overheard Louisa's comment, Caroline held her breath and prepared herself to say something to repair the damage. Instead, Charles came to his feet and pulled Jane up, giving no indication of noticing anything wrong. Caroline breathed a sigh of relief.
"I think it would be best if Jane and I set out in Darcy's carriage. If we leave tonight, we will need to spend an extra night on the road," said Charles, "but we will reach Derbyshire sooner. I do not wish to delay a moment longer than I must. Jane is really most anxious to reach Elizabeth." He turned to his sisters. "Caroline, neither you nor Louisa are required in Pemberley."
"Oh!" cried Jane. "But Caroline must accompany us. I have never dealt with a household as large as Pemberley. She will know what to do." She looked appealingly at Caroline. "You will come with us, will you not?"
"The housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds, is very capable," said Caroline, smiling faintly, "you do not need me."
"But what will you do here, then, with us away?" said Jane. "Charles, you must convince her to come."
"Yes," said Charles, impatient to set out. "You may as well come to Pemberley, if we are to remove there. You, too, Louisa. There is little to amuse you here when we're gone. You need not hurry. I am sure Robert Darcy is tired after such a long journey, and would prefer to rest a day or two. Upon his return, however, he can escort you there. Meanwhile, you could oversee the packing."
He went to the window and peered out. "You will probably be more fortunate with the weather, too. I admit I do not like travelling in the fog." Lines of worry etched his face.
"Pooh! It will not be foggy all the way to Pemberley!" said Louisa. "But what are we to tell the Bennets if they call? They will descend upon us as soon as the weather clears, you may depend upon it, and we will have to explain your absence."
"I will send a note informing them that Eliza is taken slightly ill, and that I am going to attend her," said Jane. "If they call and shower you with questions, you must say we disclosed nothing more than that."
"Knowing Mrs Bennet, that will surely arouse her determination to discover all the details," said Caroline.
"I am sure you are more than capable of keeping my mother at bay," said Jane, with an affectionate smile.
"I am, indeed," said Caroline, and embraced her quickly. "Now go, get yourself ready. Your sister is expecting you."
"You'll take charge of the arrangements, then?" asked Charles. "I would be most grateful."
"Of course," she said.
But when they left the room, Louisa remarked, "What would they do without your management, I wonder, Sister? They rely far too much on you." She sighed, drawing her black dress about her. She was growing restless of wearing widow's weeds, and had already had several dresses in grey, black and white, and lavender made, anticipating the end of her one-year mourning period. "You are always so busy you scarcely have any time for amusement. I do wish my dear Mr Hurst were here. Then we could at least play cards together."
Caroline said nothing. Her memory of Mr Hurst differed too strongly from her sister's. Louisa had lost him quite suddenly after Christmas almost nine months ago, when he did not awake after a long night of cards and drinking. With the passage of time, his character had gradually improved in her eyes, until he was in danger of becoming a saint.
"I like taking care of the household," said Caroline. "It gives me something to think about."
She rose as she heard the sound of a door opening. She had to make the travel arrangements, but she also had something else to deal with. She had to contrive to rid herself of Mr Robert Darcy. For she remembered him all too well. More than ten months had passed since that brief encounter at the wedding, but she had not forgotten a moment of it. It had been the biggest humiliation of her life.
It was with that in mind that she waylaid her brother as he emerged from his chamber, pulling on the first of his gloves.
"I know, Charles, that you are eager to leave, but I would like a minute of your time," she said.
Charles, always willing to please, paused in the doorway. "Yes, of course, Caroline. Is there something wrong?"
"I cannot help but feel the situation rather awkward. We are to travel with a single gentleman who is a stranger to us. You and Jane are well acquainted with him, since he was there when you stayed in Pemberley. And, of course, he is Mr Darcy's cousin. But he is a bachelor alone with two unmarried ladies, and we will have to put up at more than one inn on the way. There are issues of propriety to consider. Mama would not have approved, I am certain."
Charles looked rather surprised by her assessment of the situation. "By God, I think you're right. I had not thought about it quite that way. I have heard nothing unfavourable about him, and I found him a capital fellow."
"I cannot rely on you to recommend him, Charles," said Caroline. "You are generally inclined to like everyone."
"True enough," said Charles. "I suppose it is rather awkward. But what's to be done, in the circumstances?"
"This is far from an ideal situation, but as Louisa is a married lady and could be considered a chaperon, perhaps you could pen a quick note to Darcy's cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam? I believe he is currently in London. If you could invite him to join us, I am sure that would make the situation more acceptable. Two gentlemen must be preferable to one, particularly since Colonel Fitzwilliam is a friend of the family, and is known to be perfectly respectable. And it has an added advantage. If we are to make a house party in Pemberley, it would even out the numbers with the ladies."
"Well, yes, I believe you are correct," said Charles, relieved that a solution had been found. "Except our trip to Pemberley is not exactly a house party. We must not forget that Mrs Darcy is unwell."
"I am sure that once she sees you and Jane, she will recover quickly from the doldrums. There could not be two sweeter people than you in the world. And besides, what could be more pleasant than a party of house guests? It will cheer her up considerably. Pemberley is so far from everybody. Surely she would be happy to have company?"
"You are probably right, Caroline. In any case, since it is the best answer at such short notice, I will send post-haste for Colonel Fitzwilliam, and request his assistance, if he can spare the time."
"Thank you, Charles," said Caroline, planting a quick peck on her brother's cheek. "You are the best kind of brother one could hope for." * * *
Caroline did not waste her breath trying to convince Charles and Jane to wait until the next day to set out. Charles often gave in to impulse, and was ready to move at the drop of a hat, as he always said. So she saw them off with a sense of relief that she, at least, did not have to leave right away. She knew her brother too well. He would order the horses driven too hard, or try to put off changing them until the last possible minute, then discover it had become too dark for them to continue further, or that the horses were too tired, so they would be forced to put up at some shabby inn.
"I cannot help but wonder at Mr Darcy," said Louisa. "What could have impelled him to send us that foreign cousin of his? I do not see why we should be forced to endure his company."
"I imagine he meant him to travel back with Charles and Jane, but since Charles is in such a rush to leave, that cannot be expected." Caroline sighed. "Well, I for one do not desire to be thought discourteous to Mr Darcy's cousin, but I wish he had not come. In any case, my brother has written to Colonel Fitzwilliam requesting him to join us, so we will have congenial company," said Caroline.
Louisa, startled, cast her a knowing look, which Caroline ignored. "And you have no choice but to endure his company, unless you would really prefer to stay behind in Meryton. Then you would spend all your time with the Bennets instead of the Darcys."
Louisa shuddered. "I would journey through ice and snow rather than stay in Meryton if none of you is here."
Caroline smiled. "That was what I would have guessed. Though some of the Bennets do improve upon acquaintance, I must admit I am looking forward to going to Pemberley. I have not been there for some time. I am curious to see what changes Eliza Bennet has made to the house."
"Whatever they are, they cannot be good," said Louisa. "We must be prepared to find Pemberley ruined beyond repair, unless Mr Darcy has been firm with her, and forbidden her to change anything. That is what I would have done."
"Ah, but then you would not have married Eliza Bennet."
Louisa snickered. "Very true! But you must remember to call her Eliza Darcy. She has been married several months now. And you have no excuse for forgetting, since we saw them in London in April. Mr Darcy will take offence."
"You need not fear," replied Caroline. "I will not call her Eliza Bennet in Mr Darcy's presence. When have you known me to be discourteous to Mr Darcy?"
"That was because you planned to marry him," remarked Louisa, pointedly. "And he would have done it, if it were not for meeting the Bennets. I still scarcely believe that both Mr Darcy and our brother succumbed to the charms of the Bennet girls."
"I cannot regret our brother marrying Jane," said Caroline, "for a sweeter girl you could never find." She rose. "We have to hope that the Bennets do not call on us before we set out. I will not know how to explain to Mrs Bennet the reason for our departure."
"You may depend upon it, she will find out. People like Mrs Bennet always seem to know everything," replied Louisa.
Excerpted from The Other MR. DARCY by Monica Fairview Copyright © 2009 by Monica Fairview. Excerpted by permission.
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