Happy Monday! I promised once Agony and Hope had been released for a bit, I’d post an outtake for you! I have always said it is a HEA story, but just in case SPOILER WARNING, if you haven’t read it. Just to set up the scene–this takes place during the trip back to London to reveal all to the Gardiners and the other HEA bits. This is from the first draft, so it has not gone through editing and a bit rough. The story was also a bit different at the time so I’ve had to adapt it to fit the newer timeline. I hope you enjoy!
A Call to Mrs. Bennet
Elizabeth’s temple rested against the squabs while the scenery passed through the carriage window. They had not tarried at Drayton for long after the betrothal. The following day, Fitzwilliam had sent out letters arranging their travel and requesting the Gardiner’s company at Darcy House for dinner within the next se’nnight after their return. They had departed as soon as the horses had their rest and were, at last, on their final day of travel. As much as Elizabeth had wished to either remain at Drayton or start their lives at Pemberley, she had no choice but to go to town, though she had not relished the prospect of their return journey. She was weary of travel.
Her stomach rolled at the idea of revealing herself to her aunt and uncle, and she pressed a hand to her belly to quell the unrest. The disquiet within, however, was not caused by the nervousness of telling them, but rather, their possible reaction to the shocking news. They would be upset, to be sure, but would they forgive her? She and Jane had worried them and cost them some much needed funds investigating their disappearance. Her uncle’s children were more entitled to that money than the Bennet daughters, which was why Elizabeth and Jane had hidden themselves away in the first place. The Gardiners should not have been forced to bear the cost of their impoverished family. Elizabeth loved her father dearly, but his failings as head of the family had not gone unnoticed.
Elizabeth faced forward where her betrothed of four days sat across from her, reading Milton. The night before they departed, he had mentioned how she proved a most effective distraction from his reading, and how, when in her company, he had attempted to read passages more than once without a pittance of success. At the moment, he appeared engrossed in the prose upon the page instead of her. Was she still a distraction or had their engagement been the antidote to his affliction?
She bit her lip and smiled as she slid her foot forward to tap Fitzwilliam’s boot. At the contact, he glanced to Jane and Richard who both slept against the side of the carriage, closed his book, and lifted his eyebrows. The stiff edge of his boot grazed her ankle. “What are you about, Miss Elizabeth?” He spoke in soft tones.
“How do you get on reading today, sir?”
One side of his lips quirked and he shook his head. “Not at all. I must discover how to free myself of this interference. Do you have any ideas for my relief?”
“I can think of several, sir.” How she would adore kissing him again! The mere thought was enough to give her gooseflesh.
“Can you?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “And what do you suggest?”
“Perhaps using second carriage for your cousin and future sister,” said Richard dryly. He had not opened his eyes or moved his head. “Then, we would not be forced to endure listening your flirtatious drivel.” Elizabeth started, pulled back her walking boot, and directed her attention back to the passing scenery. How mortifying! She would not have engaged Fitzwilliam in such a way if she had known Richard could hear.
“You could have mentioned you were awake instead of eavesdropping,” said Fitzwilliam.
Richard straightened and rolled his eyes. “You know I cannot read in a moving carriage, which leaves me little to do for pleasure. I sometimes prefer to keep my eyes closed and rest when I cannot find sleep. I have made this journey often and no longer obtain enjoyment from watching the woods and farmland pass by the window.”
As they passed an inn, Elizabeth frowned and followed the building until it disappeared from her line of sight. “Fitzwilliam? Are we in Hatfield?”
He peered through the window and shrugged. “I am not sure, but we should be in Hertfordshire.”
“I know where we are. I rode with Papa once to fetch a book he wanted from a bookseller in Hatfield. This is not the road one usually travels to journey to London.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are we going to Longbourn?”
He sighed and his shoulders dropped a bit. “No, but I did plan our final stop for Meryton. I meant to surprise you. The horses could rest, and you and Jane could see your mother and sister before we continue our journey.”
“Mama?” Jane sat up. “We are to visit Mama?”
“Yes, unless you would rather not.” His eyes darted back and forth between them. “We can bypass Meryton and stop at the next village.”
Elizabeth reached forward and took his hand. “This was incredibly thoughtful of you. Thank you. We should tell Mama in person. I am ashamed for not considering her.” He squeezed her hand in return.
“I thought of Mama.” They all looked at Jane who sighed. “I do care for my mother’s feelings, yet I feel guiltier about deceiving Uncle Gardiner than Mama. We were his responsibility, and he was left to tell Mama of our disappearance, pay for the investigators, then inform her of our death. He and our aunt have always loved us like their own children and were likely beside themselves with worry and grief. I do not mean to belittle my mother’s feelings, but my concern lay more with speaking to our aunt and uncle than Mama. I thought after speaking to them, I would request we travel to Meryton if no one else made mention of it.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath as she sat back in the seat. Their first day of reckoning would come sooner than she had initially planned, but her mother would not be as difficult. Mama would moan and complain of her nerves, but would, no doubt, forgive them—particularly when Elizabeth introduced Fitzwilliam as her betrothed. She only hoped Francis Bennet would not faint dead away upon hearing the happy news. She chewed on her lip. What if her mother began raving about Fitzwilliam’s wealth? She stiffened at the thought.
Something tapped her walking boot, making her jump. “Stop fretting,” said Fitzwilliam. “I remember your mother well.”
Jane nudged Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Perhaps we should purchase salts prior to our call.” After laughing at Jane’s comment, the carriage became eerily quiet as though they were to attend a funeral rather than resurrecting a loved one from the ashes.
The miles dragged by until they alighted in front of the Cross Keys inn. Fitzwilliam offered Elizabeth his arm, and they walked in the direction of Longbourn, though they stopped well before at a small but well-tended cottage at the edge of the village.
Her eyes roved over the façade, which boasted a newly thatched roof evident by the fresh straw colour of the reeds and sedge. “How do you know where they live?
“Your uncle told me of it the evening I learnt of your death.” She gripped Fitzwilliam’s elbow and shook her free arm in an attempt to dispel some of her nerves.
Richard unlatched the gate and held it open. “So, shall we go in or shall we stand here for the next hour or two and speak of the weather?” When they approached the door, Jane knocked then grasped Elizabeth’s free hand.
The door opened a crack and a familiar face peeked through before it swung the remainder of the way. “Miss Bennet! Miss Elizabeth! Oh! Bless my soul!”
“Hello, Mrs. Hill,” said Elizabeth. “I was not aware you stayed with Mama. Are you and Mr. Hill well?”
The housekeeper hurried them inside. “Yes, Mr. Hill and I are very well, thank you. I am relieved to see you young ladies hale and standing before me.” Her eyes flickered to Fitzwilliam and Richard before the latter requested they be introduced.
Jane moved to stand beside Mrs. Hill. “Mr. Darcy, you may remember Mrs. Hill? She was our housekeeper at Longbourn.” She held her hand in the direction of Fitzwilliam. “Mr. Darcy and my sister were lately engaged.”
The woman’s eyes widened to the size of horse chestnuts. “Thank the Lord I bought more salts this week.” She bent closer to Elizabeth. “You had best ensure your mother is sitting when you tell her the news. That way, you need not catch her when she faints.”
“Mrs. Hill,” said Jane who gestured towards Richard. “This gentleman is Viscount Carlisle, Mr. Darcy’s cousin.”
“My Lord,” said Mrs. Hill with a bobbed curtsey. “Let me show you to the parlour. I shall not introduce you since I am certain you will want to tell your mother yourself.” She opened the first door in the entry and held out an arm, gesturing for them to enter. Elizabeth and Jane shared a glance before her sister stepped inside with Elizabeth bracing herself before following.
“Hill, when will you bring tea? We always have tea at one.” Her mother never looked up from her needlework until she let her hand holding the frame drop into her lap. “Hill—” As soon as her eyes set upon her two eldest, she gasped then gaped for at least a minute before she swayed in her seat.
“Mama!” They rushed to their mother’s side and knelt at her feet. “’Tis truly us,” said Elizabeth. “We hid from Uncle Gardiner so he would not need to support us.”
When she still did not speak, Jane took the embroidery from her and clutched her hands. “Mama, will you not say something?”
“Your uncle said you were dead. When I first saw you, I thought you had come to take me.”
Elizabeth’s hands joined Jane’s. “No, we are not dead. Unfortunately, we did lead Uncle to believe us to be. We are terribly sorry for causing you pain, but Uncle could not afford to support us all, regardless of how he wished he could.” Elizabeth waved Fitzwilliam and his cousin inside the room. “Mama, do you remember Mr. Darcy?” No matter what she and Jane said, with the exception of the one sentence, her mother sat in stunned silence. Her sister shrugged at the uncharacteristic behaviour. Was this to be the extent of their visit? Surely there had to be some way of snapping her from this stupor.
She stood, wrapped her fingers around Fitzwilliam’s arm, and held out her hand to show off a ring Fitzwilliam had given her to mark their betrothal. “Mr. Darcy asked me to marry him. Is that not wonderful.”
At the mention of his name, Richard stepped beside Fitzwilliam and bowed. “Mrs. Bennet, ’tis a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Her mother blinked, looked to Fitzwilliam, then to Richard. She extended an arm and pointed at Elizabeth’s hand. Elizabeth held it out as her mother peered down at the ring. When she lifted her head, she still appeared dazed until without warning, she clasped her hands together. “Thank heavens! We are saved! Hill! Where is that tea?” She began waving a handkerchief that appeared out of nowhere. “Oh! What a good girl you are? And so clever!” Her mother stopped flapping the bit of muslin long enough to wink in an overdramatic fashion.
Elizabeth’s eyes bulged. What? Oh Lord! Her mother could not possibly be implying—
“I suppose he is marrying you because you are with child. Of course, every gentleman wants an heir.” Richard began coughing as though he were choking. “At the assembly, they said his income was ten-thousand pounds!” She enunciated Fitzwilliam’s income. In that moment, Elizabeth wished to shrink to the size of an ant, if such a thing were possible. “Ten-thousand pounds! And so handsome! Oh! I shall go distracted. Where are my salts? Hill! Hillllll!”
Elizabeth turned her head into Fitzwilliam’s arm and closed her eyes. Her mother thought she hid to become Fitzwilliam’s mistress. She would die of shame.
“Mrs. Bennet,” said Fitzwilliam, “I was as shocked as you when I discovered your daughters were alive. I loved your daughter when I stayed at Netherfield three years ago, but I never declared myself. I meant to when I happened upon Elizabeth visiting my estate with her aunt and uncle a year later, but they departed Derbyshire before I could propose. The Gardiners told me of her disappearance when all was for naught. When I found her last month, I decided I could not rest until she was my bride. I would never make her an improper offer. I beg you not to insult either of us by implying otherwise.”
How Elizabeth wanted to take his face in her hands and kiss him most improperly! Her mother’s mouth opened and closed before her jaw snapped shut.
Fitzwilliam’s body shifted slightly and a kiss was bestowed to her temple. “I love you,” he whispered near her ear. “We shall be gone for London soon.”
Elizabeth lifted her head to meet his eye. “Thank you.”
Mrs. Bennet began to fan her handkerchief once more. “Then I suppose you have come for Jane,” she said looking to the viscount. “Oh! I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing. A viscount! Hillllll!”
Mrs. Hill bustled in with the tea service, set it on the table, then wafted a small jar of salts before Mrs. Bennet’s nose. Their mother flinched and began shaking that ridiculous scrap of cloth.
“Mama,” said Jane, “where is Kitty?”
“She went to visit my sister. She was supposed to return before tea.” She turned wide eyes on her callers. “You will stay for tea, will you not?” She began spooning the crushed leaves into the pot until with a swift movement, she looked at Jane then Elizabeth. “Why do you stand there so? And why are you still wearing bonnets? Sit!” She giggled as she continued her preparations. “Lady Lucas will be so jealous. I will have Mr. Darcy and very likely a viscount for sons when she has only Mr. Collins.”
Jane sat upon the small settee. “Has Maria never married?”
“She is betrothed to the youngest Goulding boy.” She gave a sniff. “He is a cleric.”
“A cleric is quite respectable,” said Elizabeth.
“He is no viscount nor is he worth ten-thousand a year.” Their mother pressed her palms together as if she were praying. “Lady Carlisle.” The words were said in almost a reverent whisper. “How well that sounds!”
“La! The two of you have been alive all this time? What a joke!” The entire room pivoted to Kitty who stood in the doorway. “And Mr. Darcy? What is he doing here?”
Mrs. Bennet nodded her head in Elizabeth’s direction. “He and Lizzy are to be married, and Jane marry Lord Carlisle.” The last was said reverently and with dreamy eyes aimed at Richard, who stepped back and stood half-way between her mother and the door, as one might do when considering a swift escape.
“We are not even courting, Mama.”
“Oh!” She gave a dismissive flick of her wrist. “You are as good as married. I am certain of it.”
Kitty skipped to the window and plunked into the closest chair. “If Jane has returned, then I need not live with Uncle Gardiner as she can live with them and help with the children.” Elizabeth had hoped Kitty had matured without Lydia’s influence, but her hopes seemed to have been in vain.
Mama exhaled dramatically. “No, you will go. Your uncle can afford you much better than me, and with your sister’s betrothals, you will be thrown into the paths of rich men. ’Tis a shame you aren’t as agreeable as Lydia or beautiful as Jane, but look at Mary. If she can capture a man of reasonable wealth, so can you.”
Elizabeth gripped Fitzwilliam’s arm, her fingernails digging into the wool of his topcoat. “We should be returning to the inn. The horses will have been changed by now.”
“I am sure they have.” Fitzwilliam took her mother’s hand and bowed. “Pray, forgive the brevity of our call, but we did want to inform you of the good health of your daughters in person.”
“Mama, we are to dine with our aunt and uncle this week. We plan to tell them then,” said Jane as Richard helped her stand. “We would appreciate you not write to Aunt of our visit for the time being.”
Their mother huffed and flattened her lips. “But I may tell the local families?”
Elizabeth suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Yes, you may.”Her mother allowed a smug smile and clasped her hands, her shoulders lifting with the motion. “Lady Carlisle! How well that sounds!” Was that Jane who had groaned?