With the Colonel’s Help: A Pride and Prejudice Variation: Chapter 6

Early Monday morning, shortly after Elizabeth and Maria had finished breakfast, Darcy’s carriage arrived at the parsonage. A sense of anticipation had settled in Elizabeth’s stomach as soon as she had risen this morning, and now, seeing Mr. Darcy climbing out of such an elegant vehicle and knowing that she would spend the next several hours riding in it with him, her anticipation grew to a flutter of excitement.

She stopped at the mirror in the hall before she exited the parsonage and pretended to fix her hat. However, in reality, she wished to see for herself that she was indeed herself, for she had not felt herself since Friday evening at Rosings. It was an odd feeling of unease that had gripped her heart. The feeling was not unpleasant or something that one might wish away. No, this was a flutter of nerves that brought a smile to a lady’s lips and caused one’s feet to pace the length of one’s bedroom as if waiting for some important and pleasurable event to take place. However, there were no soirees or fetes to be attended.

It must be the anticipation of seeing Jane, Elizabeth had reasoned, until this moment when that flutter of nerves had risen in her chest as it often did before stepping into a ballroom. But Jane was not here. Mr. Darcy was. She shook her head. Quite logically, these strange sensations were caused by the thought of soon being with Jane. The arrival of the carriage signalled the beginning of her journey and, therefore, was also the impetus of her eager anticipation. Satisfied that she had deciphered the cause of her delight, she picked up Mr. Darcy’s book from the table in front of the mirror and proceeded outside where everyone else had gathered to wait as trunks were made secure.

Darcy stood in such a way that he could both watch the carriage as it was made ready and the door to the parsonage as his cousin ushered Mr. Collins around the carriage, speaking of the horses and the fittings as well as the length of time the driver had been employed by the Darcy family.

Mrs. Collins whispered final instructions to her younger sister and glanced nervously toward the door of the house. “I am certain Elizabeth will be along shortly, Mr. Darcy,” she assured him twice before the very person for which each had been eagerly waiting appeared.

Darcy turned from the carriage. His men would see that all was well.

“That shade of blue is becoming on her, is it not?” Charlotte asked Mr. Darcy with a knowing smile.

The comment caught Darcy somewhat by surprise, but today, having determined over the last two days that Elizabeth was indeed the lady he would marry, no matter how long it took for him to convince her of his worth, he was not willing to be cowed by a bit of teasing. “It is,” he agreed, “as was the green she wore on Saturday and the yellow she wore to church yesterday.”

Charlotte’s smile grew.

He nodded to her and gave her a wink. “Not a word to your husband, if you would be so kind. My aunt…”

“Not a word,” whispered Charlotte as Elizabeth approached. “I thought you had decided to stay,” Charlotte teased her friend as she gave her a warm hug. “I would not be sorry if you did, but I dare say Jane would not be pleased.” She whispered a few lovely words of gratitude for Elizabeth’s having visited and how she would be missed. This was followed by the promise from each lady to write faithfully, and then, Charlotte relinquished her hold on Elizabeth.

“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy held out a hand to her in offer of helping her into the carriage. “I see you have come prepared to entertain yourself with poetry if my cousin and I do not provide a proper diversion.”

“I have not yet finished reading it,” she explained, “and I thought there might be a moment or two for reading.”

“There is no need to rush. You may keep it as long as you would like.” Her hand felt good in his, and he wished he did not have to release it once she was in the carriage. However, release it he did, so that she might make herself comfortable.

“We do not move in the same circles; our paths may not cross often,” she cautioned.

Darcy stopped and held her gaze before climbing into the carriage and taking his seat next to Colonel Fitzwilliam. “That will not be a problem,” he assured her. “Netherfield is still next to Longbourn, is it not?” he asked as he entered and took his place.

“Is Mr. Bingley going to return?” Maria asked excitedly.

“I cannot say for certain, but he may,” Darcy replied.

“Oh, it would be so nice to have him return,” said Maria. “The area seems so much less entertaining with Netherfield standing there lonely in its park. It is so much nicer to see activity at a fine house than to see it vacant. Even if he must bring his sisters.” She added the last part softly.

“Yes, that is a drawback, is it not?” Darcy muttered.

Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing. Thankfully, Maria had turned to look out the window as she was speaking and likely did not hear the comment.

Darcy shrugged in response to Elizabeth’s look. “She is a friend’s sister and naught else.”

The colonel leaned toward Elizabeth and whispered, “No matter how much she might wish for the else.”

Elizabeth laughed softly as she tipped her head toward Maria and shook her head.

“Right,” said the colonel. “No more of that.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered.

The discussion shifted to the weather and the scenery and various other mundane topics before drifting into a natural lull. Elizabeth settled back and took out her book of poems.

“May I?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth nodded and handed him his book.

“You have surpassed me,” he said with a smile when he saw where she was in the book. Smoothing the page, he began to read.

 

Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!

Alone she cuts and binds the grain,

And sings a melancholy strain;

O listen! for the Vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.

 

The rich tones and the natural rise and fall of Darcy’s voice made the poem come alive as Elizabeth listened. She leaned her head against the back side of the carriage but did not close her eyes as Maria was doing. There was little chance she would be able to fall asleep listening to Mr. Darcy read. His brows furrowed at parts, and his lips curved upwards in other places. It was evident that he did not just read the words but surrounded himself with their emotion and meaning.

 

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang

As if her song could have no ending;

I saw her singing at her work,

And o’er the sickle bending;–

I listened, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.[1]

 

He paused for a long moment after he completed the last line. “I wonder what she sang?”

“Likely something by Burns,” replied Richard.

“My Heart is in the Highlands?” Elizabeth suggested.

“A very good choice.” Richard straightened himself and began to sing.

 

“My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;

Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe –

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go!”[2]

 

He paused, a playful smile on his lips, and a twinkle in his eye. “Come now, Miss Bennet, Darcy says you sing.”

“Oh, she does!” cried Maria.

“Please?” Darcy prodded.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I will sing if you all promise to join me on the chorus.”

There were no dissenters, and so she sang. And as she did, Darcy knew that though he sang the words “my heart is not here” when he joined in on the chorus, it was not true. His heart was most certainly here, perched on the bench across from him and singing of the forests and wild-hanging woods of the Highlands.

“Have you ever been to the highlands?” Maria asked when the song had drawn to a close.

“Indeed, I have,” said Richard. “Beautiful, rugged country.”

Maria sighed. “I should like to travel to the north one day.”

“My aunt and uncle are going to the peak district this summer,” said Elizabeth.

Maria sighed again. “And taking you with them. I never get to travel anywhere exciting.”

“You will pass through Derbyshire?” Darcy asked.

“I do not know the route we intend to take, but since my aunt is from Derbyshire, I would expect we will,” replied Elizabeth.

“Your aunt is from Derbyshire?” Darcy asked in surprise.

Elizabeth nodded. “Lambton.”

“Lambton?” Darcy’s eyes grew wide, and he smiled. “Then you will have to visit Pemberley, for it is not far from Lambton.”

“Truly?” It was Elizabeth’s turn to be surprised. She had not considered how close her travels might take her to Mr. Darcy’s home. But then, she had not cared to know where his home was before this.

Maria sighed a third time. “I wish I could visit Pemberley.”

Richard chuckled at the girl’s wistful tone. “Perhaps one day you may.”

“No,” she said in a most forlorn voice. “I shall never travel farther than Kent or London.”

“Oh, come now,” Richard cajoled, “you may meet a handsome Scottish laird and be whisked away on his noble steed.”

Maria propped her head on her hand and leaned against the window. “If only it were possible.” She then was lost to the conversation. The others continued their discussion of Derbyshire, Pemberley, and Matlock until Maria popped up from her woeful watching of the road.

“Lizzy!” She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and pulled her toward the window. “Is that Lydia?”

“Lydia?” Surely it must be someone who looked like Lydia. Lydia was at home in Meryton, not wandering along the London Road, thought Elizabeth as she leaned toward the window and looked where Maria had pointed. She gasped. “It is! But what is she doing here?”

She sat back and shook her head, looking in bewilderment from one gentleman across from her to the other.

Darcy rapped on the roof of the coach, and the carriage slowed and then stopped. “I am certain we have room for one more,” he offered with a smile.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied before leaning forward to look out the window again.

“Her sleeve is torn,” said Maria, who was still watching through the window. “It looks as if she has injured herself. See. Is that not blood?”

Indeed, Elizabeth could see that Lydia’s arm bore a bright patch of red below a tear in the material. Lydia’s hair was also disheveled, and she seemed to stumble as she moved.

Darcy jumped down from the carriage and lifted Elizabeth to the ground so that neither would have to wait for the steps to be put in place. If his sister were injured, he knew that he would not wish to wait for such a thing, and he assumed from the distraught look on Elizabeth’s face that she felt the same.

Elizabeth thanked him once again and then hurried toward Lydia, calling to her. Lydia jumped at her name, and Elizabeth thought for a moment she would run away. “Lydia,” she called again.

“Lizzy,” Lydia called back as she turned to meet Elizabeth.

The sisters met in an embrace with Lydia clinging tightly to Elizabeth and weeping. Darcy stood a short distance away. He neither wished to intrude on their privacy nor did he wish to be too far away if assistance was needed.

“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked as she rubbed her sister’s back in an attempt to calm her. Lydia was not one to become overwrought, so having her dissolve into great shaking sobs was unsettling to Elizabeth.

“I…wanted…to…see…Jane.” Lydia managed to get the words out between shuddering breaths. “He…said…he …would…help…me.”

Elizabeth sucked in a quick breath and turned her head slightly toward Darcy.

He could see the fear in her eyes and stepped closer.

“Who said he would help you?” Although she already suspected who might have been willing to help Lydia with her scheme, Elizabeth asked anyway, needing to have her suspicions confirmed.

“Wi…Wickham.” This admission brought on a fresh wave of sobs, and Elizabeth, feeling the seriousness of what might have happened, wavered and then sank to the ground, guided by the strong hands of Darcy.

As Elizabeth sat on the ground for some minutes cradling Lydia and cooing soothingly to her, Darcy waved for Richard to join him.

“Did he hurt you?” Elizabeth asked. She pulled back to look at Lydia. In addition to the gash on her harm, there was also a bruise on her right temple and a few scrapes on her cheek.

Lydia shook her head. “I left before … he could.” Her sobbing had calmed, but her breathing was still shuttering.

It took some time, but the story was finally all told. Lydia, knowing that Jane’s letters spoke of her sister’s sadness, had determined to assist her sister by going to London and calling on Mr. Bingley. Surely, if Mr. Bingley knew of Jane’s despondency, he would set things to right. She was utterly convinced that Mr. Bingley loved Jane, and being given to romantic fancies as many a young lady of her age and sensibilities might be, she knew that it would only take a word to Mr. Bingley, and he would fly to his love.

The trouble was that she did not know where to look for Mr. Bingley in London. However, Wickham had assured her that he knew where to find Mr. Bingley. And so, a scheme was proposed where Wickham would accompany Lydia first to Mr. Bingley’s house and then on to the house of her aunt and uncle. Wickham was on his way to play cards with friends as was his custom, and it would only mean a brief stop along Lydia’s journey for a bit of fun.

Thinking Wickham to be a trustworthy friend, — a fact that she kept repeating throughout her tale — Lydia had agreed readily to the plan, and the pair had set out for London.

The fun, as Wickham had called it, had involved small bets at first, but as time progressed, the amounts became larger, and Lydia had bowed out of the game. Wickham, though his pockets were nearly empty, did not.

Tiring of sitting about and watching the gentlemen play, Lydia had gone to refresh herself and for a short turn around the courtyard of the inn. As she was returning, she heard raised voices. Wickham had lost yet another hand and was completely without funds, a fact that seemed to anger his companions from the sound of their shouting.

Lydia had wavered in her decision to actually enter the room. She did not wish to be in the middle of a fight, and it did sound as if a scuffle was about to break out until Wickham suggested a deal of sorts. He had offered them her — a likely maiden as he had not yet lifted her skirts — as payment for the hand he had just lost. Frightened and unwilling to be misused, Lydia had sneaked down the hall and out the window of an empty room. She had not wanted to exit by the front of the inn. It would be better, she had thought if no one could point to where she had gone.

However, climbing out a window was not so easy as it had seemed it would be, and that was where she had fallen. It was a bush that had torn her sleeve and arm and a rock that had bruised her head.

She had run as long as she could before slowing to a walk, but always moving forward and constantly watching behind.

Elizabeth sat silently, just rubbing Lydia’s back for several minutes. The results of Lydia’s adventure were not good, but they could have been so much worse. As it was, Lydia would likely be ruined. How could she not be? She had left her home in the company of a man who was not her father, brother, or husband. But those consequences could be dealt with later. Right now, Lydia needed to be gotten into the safety of the carriage.

“We need to get you into the carriage,” she finally said to Lydia, who was fighting to keep her weary eyes open. “Can you walk?”

Lydia smiled and attempted to nod her head as her eyes fluttered shut.

“Lydia?” Elizabeth waited for a response. “Lydia,” she called again. Still, there was no reply. She looked to where Darcy stood nearby with Richard at his side. She would need one of them to help her move Lydia. The colonel, she decided, was likely more familiar with carrying injured people.

“Lydia,” she said a third time as she looked at Richard with a silent plea for assistance in her eyes and spoke loudly enough for him to hear, “I am going to ask Colonel Fitzwilliam to carry you. He is a friend and can be trusted. Lydia, do you hear me? Do not be frightened. I will join you again in the carriage, but I cannot carry you myself.” She rubbed Lydia’s back. Receiving no reply, she whispered, “Do not be frightened,” once more before relinquishing her sister to Richard’s strong arms.


The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth ↵

My Heart is in the Highlands by Robert Burns ↵

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