Elizabeth Darcy stirred in her sleep and felt the soft breeze on the back of her neck. She was awake in an instant. The curtains were wafting backwards and forwards in an elegant moonlit dance. How long had the window been open? She sat up in bed, her heart beating a furious tattoo, and her eyes scanned the gloomy room to see if there was anything out of place. Once she had established that there appeared to be no intruder compromising the security of her chamber, her breathing began to settle down to a more regular pace.
Mrs Darcy swung her legs out of bed and stood up. She lit a candle, and it was at that point that she noticed the letter.
It was on the floor underneath the window. Putting down the candle, she rushed over and picked the letter up, tearing at the seal.
Mrs D, it said. Come at once to Macfadyen’s quarry. This time I have irrefutable evidence. Yours ever, W.
Her hand shot to her mouth to prevent herself from crying out. She ran to the window and peered out into the night. For a moment, she was convinced she could hear hoofbeats, but if there were any, they were soon swallowed up in the wind.
Mrs Darcy threw on a coat over her nightclothes, grabbed her riding boots and eased open her bedroom door. She paused outside the door to Mr Darcy’s bedroom, and her hand moved towards the handle. Then she shook her head. This was something she had to do by herself.
She crept down the grand staircase, and headed out into the night through the kitchen, pausing only to don her riding boots.
Glancing around to be sure she wasn’t being observed, she made her way to the stables and found her favourite mount, Keira.
Speaking softly to Keira to calm her down, she led the dappled grey out and away from Pemberley, until she was far enough from the house to mount in safety. Then she leapt up into the saddle, kicked away with the stirrups and urging Keira on towards Macfadyen’s quarry at as fast a pace as she dared in the half-light.
Mrs Darcy reached the quarry within half an hour and dismounted a little way before she reached it, next to a small clump of trees. There, she tied the horse up and continued on towards the quarry on foot. She was a hundred yards from its rim when she caught sight of a man lurking beside a tree in the middle distance, his face darkened by a cloud passing over the moon.
She immediately crouched down behind a bush, but it was too late. He had seen her.
The man motioned to her to stay still and be quiet. Then she saw something begin to emerge over the lip of the quarry. In the dim light, she couldn’t make out what it was, but it was heading towards the stranger.
She saw him draw his sword. A gust of wind caught her off guard, and whilst Mrs Darcy was struggling to keep hold of her bonnet, she missed the start of the confrontation. An unearthly roar merged with the sound of the gale as the mysterious swordsman hacked away at whatever was attacking him.
Something flew up in the air and landed at her feet. It seemed part of some kind of tentacle. It hissed as it landed, spurting out a bubbling yellow liquid. Up ahead, the man continued to hack away with his sword, and another revolting body part spun off and caught Mrs Darcy full in the face. It smelt foul. She wiped it away and spat on the ground in an unladylike manner. It was probably a good thing that Mr Darcy had not accompanied her, since he tended to disapprove of that kind of behaviour.
The fight ended as abruptly as it had begun
The victor sheathed his sword and came over towards her. She struggled to her feet, attempting to brush the dirt and slime off her clothing.
‘Good evening, Mrs Darcy,’ said the man. ‘I take it you received my note?’
‘Good evening, Mr Wickham.’ she replied, looking down at the tentacle still wriggling at her feet. ‘Once again, sir, I find myself showered with the debris of your encounters.’
Mr Wickham gave a slight bow. ‘I most humbly apologise, ma’am. I had not expected to be attacked on this occasion. Thankfully, I did at least succeed in dispatching the fiend.’
‘Would that the aim of your affection were as clean and as true as that of your sword, Mr Wickham.’
‘Mrs Darcy, as I have tried to explain on several occasions, my intentions towards your family have always been entirely honourable.’
‘Indeed, sir? Then you have certainly kept your honour well hidden.’ She softened slightly. ‘So, to what do I owe the pleasure of our encounter on this windy night? I trust you are not leading me on yet another merry dance.’
‘No indeed, Mrs Darcy,’ said Mr Wickham, ‘I hope you know me well enough by now to trust that I shall do no such thing. No, come this way towards the quarry. I have something to show you. This time I really do believe I know what has happened to poor Lydia.’
For a moment, Elizabeth was lost for words. ‘Pray do not trifle with me, Mr Wickham,’ she managed at last.
‘Believe me, Mrs Darcy,’ replied Wickham, ‘I would never trifle with you on the subject of your sister. Remember she was – is – also my wife.’
He paused, then looked her full in the eye.
‘The truth is out there,’ he added significantly. ‘Though it is not yet universally acknowledged.’