To begin with, the cover for 'The Second Chance' was supposed to be very different.
It was meant to show a lovely little cove, where some very sad and very happy scenes are played.
I was sorry to let go of the pretty little cove, so I’ll share it with you now, along with one of the scenes that played out there.
Unfortunately, the impression was confirmed as they drew nearer. When his carriage pulled up to the doors at last, there was still no movement, no servant to greet them – and it was only after his footman proceeded to knock quite vigorously for some length of time that a very young and flustered maid appeared, whom Darcy could not possibly have recognised.
“Beggin’ yor pardon, Sorr, but the family’s away,” she stammered, and Darcy’s heart sank. “There’s not a soul here but meself and Cook. Mrs. Hill, our housekeeper, has gone to see her sister in Hatfield, and is due back Friday week. As for Mr. Wilkins and the other girls– ”
“Will Mrs. Bennet and her daughters be away for long?” Darcy interrupted the excitable effusion, with as much patience as he could muster – but his efforts did not receive their just reward.
“Oh, for two months at least! Mrs. Hill told Cook so, the other day.”
“And they have gone to…?”
“To town, Sorr. That’s to say, to Lon’un.”
“I see. And can you tell me where they are staying?”
“Nay, Sorr!” the maid shook her head in sudden panic. “But Mrs. Hill might know! If it pleases you to leave yor name, Sorr, I’ll be sure to tell Mrs. Hill as soon as I see her–…”
But Darcy was no longer listening. He saw no purpose in leaving his name, but thanked the girl with an absent-minded nod and returned to his carriage. The coachman was instructed to head back and, as the conveyance took to the road again, Darcy removed his hat and let his head fall back against the cushions with a heavy sigh.
In town! She was in town, not here – and if he had extended his visit with the Bingleys, he might have known where she was, by now.
Last Monday, he decided that his stay at Netherfield had lasted long enough.
He had been with the Bingleys for an age it seemed, yet it had served no purpose, despite his careful attempts to extract some intelligence of Elizabeth from them.
He had endeavoured to steer drawing-room conversation towards the Devonshire acquaintance that Mrs. Bennet and her daughters might have formed; had peppered Bingley with carefully worded questions about his new relations’ concerns; once, he had even gone as far as asking Mrs. Bingley if any of her sisters were about to marry – and presumably shocked her in the process, for he had never asked anything of the sort before.
His efforts were rewarded with all manner of detail about a Mrs. Jennings and her kind attentions; about the baronet, Sir John Middleton, who lived nearby and about some new additions to the area, the Miss Dashwoods.
Yet he could learn nothing about what really mattered – about Elizabeth’s wishes and her plans.
Darcy drew a long breath and closed his eyes.
Truth be told, the visit with his closest friend had taxed him beyond anything imaginable. The happiness, the laughter in his life had only served to remind Darcy what it was that he had lost.
Nay, not lost. Never even given himself the trouble to gain in the first place.
Even a blind man could sense the devotion Bingley and his young wife shared – and Darcy was very far from blind. Quite the contrary, with his perception heightened by his own wretchedness, he was aware of every look, every smile, every whisper showing that Charles Bingley Esq. was happily married to the woman of his dreams, and her devotion to him was absolute.
And Darcy could not bear it.
The only gain from this visit was Georgiana’s obvious enjoyment of it. She positively blossomed under Mrs. Bingley’s affectionate attentions, and it was a balm to her wounded spirits to have constant proof that not all attachments were feigned, and that true marital bliss was not merely an imagination.
Darcy could hardly recognise the dejected girl he had brought into Hertfordshire at the end of May in the luminous young woman who had left him less than a week ago to travel to Pemberley, in Mrs. Annesley’s company.
As for himself, he decided he could not impose upon the Bingleys’ hospitality indefinitely, for their sake as well as his own. He also decided that there were no answers to be had at Netherfield. Which brought him there – and yet there he sat, as much in the dark as he had ever been!
He did not know what he might say to her, when they met again. Nor did he know how he could justify his sudden appearance on her doorstep, other than with a false claim of business or acquaintance in the area – a dangerous game, which might increase the risk of having his true connection to Devonshire exposed.
And yet he had to know. He had to see her with this man and learn once and for all if her affections were engaged or not.
Would he have had the strength to leave in silence if he had discovered that they were?
He huffed in sudden anger. He knew not.
He knew not what he was doing there, even. Another bout of folly, another show of arrogance! What made him think he could have read her mind, her heart, had she been there?
“Thompson, stop the coach!” he suddenly called out.
The carriage duly slowed, then came to a halt at the side of the road and Darcy opened the door and let himself out before any of his attendants could lower the step for him.
The road had brought them all the way up to the top of the hill. A thick carpet of low-lying heather stretched before him, then abruptly disappeared where the sheer face of the cliff dropped almost vertically to the shores below.
He walked across towards the edge. A small secluded cove lay more than a hundred feet beneath him and Darcy could see, at the very bottom, a path snaking its way through the stunted, windswept bushes and leading to his right, back towards the Lodge.
Had she walked down it – had she strolled barefoot along the beach? Had she sheltered on a warm sunny day under the lone birch that now swayed dangerously in the high winds, part of its branches torn and scattered all around? Had she sat on that large, flat rock and watched the waves relentlessly rolling in?
There was no calm at sea now, no gentle breeze, no lazy waves lapping at the shores. The waves came crashing in, the tide at its highest, their angry tumult sending vast sprays over the outcrop that protruded from the troubled waters. The wind whistled, tearing savagely at his coat, blowing his hair back – and yet there he stood, his eyes on the rolling clouds, the stormy sea.
Had she ever stopped here? Had she stood by, watching the unleashed fury – or had the heavens been calm and kind to her?
There was no path leading down from where he stood – and even if it were, what purpose would that serve? She was not there, and the aching need to see her suddenly rose sharply in him, as violent and forceful as the seas below. Where was she? And how long must he still pay for his abysmal error? How long, until he knew what Fate had in store for them all?
“Sir…?” he heard Thompson call tentatively from behind him. “I say, Mr. Darcy? Sir?”
He turned, pushing his hair back, for it was blown violently over his face now, and looked up to his coachman.
“We should not tarry long, Sir, not on this spot here!” the man cautioned. “The horses are mightily unsettled by this wind! Any moment now they could be terrified out of control!”
With a comprehending nod that was part apology, Darcy returned to the carriage and closed the door behind him.
His horses were not the only ones terrified by the mighty storms that stood to be unleashed in Devonshire!
~ ** ~
The journey back to town was long and dreary, devoid of hope and expectation, devoid even of the nervous excitement that had spurred him on the journey down. He still did not have his answer, and had no clear notion how to proceed now, other than write Bingley in the hope of ascertaining Elizabeth’s whereabouts in town – that, and peruse the society pages of the London papers, looking in dread for an announcement he prayed he would not find.
And here you can find a longer excerpt, from the opening chapters:
Thanks for visiting!