A World Without Darcy
The fire blazed in the hearth, bringing a cheery light and warding off the winter chill. Georgiana was playing a light-hearted piece on the pianoforte. It would appear to be a perfect evening, but as had been the case more often than not for the last several months, Fitzwilliam Darcy could not find any joy in his heart this night. It was not long ago that he had imagined himself married to Elizabeth Bennet and spending evenings like this together with her. He could not resign himself to the knowledge that the vision he had so treasured would never come to pass. No, Elizabeth would never marry him. How could she accept him when he had not warned the neighbourhood about Wickham’s perfidy, thus allowing her youngest sister to become his victim? It was an act for which he could not forgive himself, so how could he ask for Elizabeth’s forgiveness? No, he had to face the painful knowledge that his dearest hope was forever beyond his reach.
Compounding his sense of guilt and shame was the recognition that he had also wronged Miss Bennet and Charles by failing to confess his actions in separating them. He should have convinced Charles to return to Hertfordshire, and once he was certain he would not be giving his friend false hope, he should have confessed that he was mistaken in declaring Miss Bennet indifferent. Only doing so would have required facing Elizabeth, and Darcy did not think he could withstand being rebuffed by her again. It was unconscionable, and he was heartily ashamed of himself, but with every day that passed, it became more difficult to consider making amends. How could he explain the delay in his actions? So he had continued to hold his peace in the face of his friend’s still subdued spirits. It was in every way the act of a coward.
Without realizing what he was doing, Darcy’s agitated fingers had extracted a bit of dried lavender from the bowl of potpourri next to his chair. In so doing he crushed some of the blooms, releasing their fragrance and recalling him to his surroundings. The scent reminded him of Elizabeth, and he felt a sudden pang of sadness that he could not dismiss. Abruptly, Darcy found he could not bear maintaining a pleasant façade in company, and he excused himself from the room, discarding the partially crushed flower back into the bowl as he passed. His Fitzwilliam relations would be arriving shortly for dinner, and needed to recover his equanimity before they did. What he required right now was solitude, the sort that could best be sought out of doors where family and servants would not be nearby ready to intrude upon his privacy at any moment. Pausing only to don his greatcoat, hat and gloves, he headed out into the night. It had snowed earlier that day, he noticed, but the snow was not deep and did not present a hindrance as he crossed the street and walked toward Hyde Park.
In the past two years, he had managed to fail a startling number of those closest to him, he reflected upon reaching the dark, almost oppressive silence of the park. He had not been diligent enough in checking Mrs. Younge’s references before he hired her. That lapse in performing his duty made it ultimately his fault that Wickham had enough access to Georgiana to convince her to agree to an elopement. Then, he had allowed his desire to flee the bewitching presence of Elizabeth Bennet to bias his judgment about the state of Miss Bennet’s feelings. Yes, the eldest Miss Bennet was very reserved, but had he not been so desperate to flee the county he might have been inclined to merely urge Bingley to proceed with caution rather than declaring outright that Miss Bennet did not return his affections.
Finally, there was Elizabeth herself. She was the woman he had wanted to share his life with, and yet he had grievously failed her twice. The first time was with his offensive proposal. He could not have truly loved her then, or he should never have been able to insult her so thoroughly while at the same time assuming she would accept him. Then, even after he knew that Wickham had been spreading his usual lies and was believed by the neighbourhood, he had not taken action to protect the people of Meryton. Some might say that it was not his duty and that Wickham was responsible for his own misdeeds, but he knew that had he spoken out, Elizabeth’s younger sister would have been saved from her fate as Wickham’s wife.
Brooding over his failings had darkened Darcy’s mood even further, and he expressed himself by aiming a kick at a small stone lying in the path. Instead of hearing the thud of its landing, however, he heard a soft grunt followed by a muffled groan.
Hitting unknown people with stones, one more crime to add to my name, Darcy thought as he stared into the impenetrable darkness where the stone had disappeared. For a moment, he considered calling out, but Hyde Park was not entirely safe at this time of night and announcing his presence any more than he had already done would be unwise.
A rustling in the bush drew nearer, and Darcy gave up any hope that he had struck an animal rather than a human. The man who stepped out onto the path was dressed in serviceable work clothes that were nonetheless entirely inadequate for prolonged exposure to the freezing night air.
It was wise to be cautious, Darcy knew, but he could at least offer an apology for his unintentionally callous action. Offering a polite nod, Darcy said, “Forgive me. I hope you have not been injured by my carelessness.”
“Nah. No harm done. Like as not, it won’t even leave a mark. ‘Twasn’t a big stone.” The man patted his thigh, presumably where the rock had struck, and smiled amiably. “Besides, I’d have caught worse if I’d stayed home. The missus is right angry with me, she is. Figured I’d take a walk and maybe when I get home we’ll have forgotten what we were arguing over,” this was said with a shrug and a chuckle.
“Would that my problems could be solved with a brief walk as well,” Darcy said, more to himself than to his companion, but the man heard and answered anyway.
“Mayhap they can. A man can think out in the open like this.” These words were accompanied by a broad gesture encompassing both the open spaces of Hyde Park and the night sky.
Darcy’s maudlin thoughts had overwhelmed him, making him momentarily forget the need for caution. That could be the only reason he spoke his mind so openly in the company of a stranger. “All of my efforts to do the right thing have only made matters worse. At times I think it would be better for those I love if they were free of any connection to me.”
He remembered the need to remain vigilant abruptly when the man took a step forward and favoured Darcy with a hideous grin. “Well now, rich man, you came to the right place. Ol’ Charlie will see to solving all yer troubles.”
Before Darcy could answer, before he could even register fear at the words being spoken, there was a painful flash of bright light and the world went dark. When he next opened his eyes, the light had faded, and the man was still giving Darcy a horrible grin.
“There. I told you I’d help. Just like you asked.” The man radiated smugness.
Whatever that light had been, Darcy was not interested in experiencing its like again. He took a step back and prepared to defend himself if it were necessary. “I have not the pleasure of understanding you. How exactly do you claim to have helped me?”
“Didn’t you say yer family’d be better off if they weren’t connected to you?” This was asked in a maddeningly reasonable tone, and Darcy could only nod. “Well, yer wish has been granted. Welcome, rich man, to a world where you were never born.”
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