The year is 1832 and regrets beleaguer Fitzwilliam Darcy. All he ever cared for has been taken from him: his pride, his sister, and his true love, Elizabeth Bennet. Now, having nearly murdered a man in a fit of rage, he might lose Pemberley, too. More than just his home, his very identity is at stake. In desperation, he seeks the help of Dr. Frederick Wilson, owner and proprietor of Ramsey House, a madhouse for fine ladies and gentlemen. Is Darcy’s confinement the inevitable end to his tortured descent, or will he rediscover what he lost in the most unlikely of places?
About the author: Alexa Adams
A devoted reader of Jane Austen since her childhood, Alexa Adams is the author of Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice (First Impressions, Second Glances, and Holidays at Pemberley), the novellas Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid and Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling, and the short story collection And Who Can be in Doubt of What Followed?: The Novels of Jane Austen Continued. Her next novella, Becoming Mrs. Norris, will be published on November 1st. Alexa resides in Delaware with her husband, daughter, and cat. When not daydreaming of life a few hundred years ago, she enjoys mythology, theater, yoga, and crafts.
Excerpt from Chapter Five
“There you are, Darcy. I thought I would never find you!” The Earl of Matlock called out with labored breath, capturing the attention of his cousin, who turned from his post at the crest of the tallest hill on the Pemberley property. He watched dispassionately as the earl climbed the last few yards to where he stood, and then took a few minutes to compose himself before speaking.
“Blast, Darcy! I have been all over the place trying to find you. No one knew where you might be, only that there was no predicting when you would return.”
“I did not expect you, cousin.” His voice cracked from lack of use. “What brings you to Pemberley?”
“You, as you well know. Why have you not responded to my letters?”
Darcy turned away and gazed out to the horizon. “I am sorry, Richard. It slipped my mind.”
“As so many things seem to these days. I walked by the cottages at Kympton on my hunt for you, as an example of my extensive wander. Those roofs are in need of replacement. You have never repaired all the fire damage, and the cottages you did rebuild are not what they ought to be. Further, I know you have neglected more than what I happened upon today. Though you have not been an active correspondent, others have been in your place. You cannot go on like this, Fitz. Something must be done.”
Darcy turned a glazed eye on the last person, other than servants, whom he called a friend. The earl had come to dread that look, so familiar and yet unrecognizable. Seeing it now steeled his mind to the task before him. He dreaded the course of action he was determined upon more than anything he had ever done – and as a young man he had faced Napoleon himself on the battlefield – but he was determined to help his cousin.
“Did you read the pamphlet I sent?” his lordship pressed.
Darcy’s blank stare did not alter. “Ask my secretary.”
The earl sighed. “You do not have a secretary anymore. Thacker quit two months ago.”
Darcy only blinked in response.
“Anne and I have discussed your predicament, Darcy. You are not yourself. Your estate is falling into neglect, a thing almost inconceivable to those who know you, for you are not attending to your affairs. I have asked an old acquaintance of mine to speak with you. He has a place he calls Ramsey House and has agreed to talk to you about going there.”
“And what sort of a place is Ramsey House, Richard?” Darcy asked readily enough, proving he was attending.
“An asylum for members of society in need of unusual … help,” he replied with hesitation, continuing quickly. “Sir Frederick thinks he might be able to help you, at least. Do you remember Lieutenant Wilson? He was my aide at Waterloo.”
The faintest twitch of his lips displayed Darcy’s recognition of the name, though he again said nothing in confirmation.
“He is now Sir Frederick Wilson, having received a baronetcy for favors rendered the crown. I do not know exactly what he did to deserve such an honor, but rumor amongst my former colleagues suggests he may have been involved in the treatment of George III towards the end of his life. He now owns and operates a very respectable house. I have described your situation to him, and he has accompanied me to Pemberley. I left him in Reynolds’ care.”
The most emotion Richard had yet seen registered on Darcy’s face, which contorted and twisted in unfamiliar and strange ways. He could not tell if it was anger or distress causing his cousin’s spasms and was totally surprised to hear the long forgotten sound of Darcy’s laughter. He laughed long and hard, though the noise was far from jovial, and the longer it continued, the more uncomfortable the former colonel became. Perhaps he should not have confronted Darcy alone, and he instinctively reached for the cutlass that he had not worn in years.
“So you and Anne have decided I am fit for the madhouse. Do I understand the situation correctly?”
“We just think you might need a kind of assistance that your friends cannot supply. Sir Frederick is said to work wonders. A short stay at Ramsey House, and you might even be back to your old self.”
“My old self, Richard? I am afraid he is unrecoverable.”
“At least you might regain some semblance of a functioning life! It was one thing to watch you withdraw from the world, Fitz, but this state you have been in since last winter is unsustainable. You don’t eat, you drink far too much, and your servants cannot account for when you last slept through the night.”
“I live in a house of spies,” growled Darcy, disconcertingly.
“Do not go getting angry with your staff, man! All they have done is fulfilled their duty, which is to care for this legacy and land. Just because you have lost your sense of responsibility, do not think we all have, and as the head of the family, I cannot stand by and watch Pemberley go to ruin!”
“You just care for the inheritance of your son!” he shouted back.
“Of all the stupidity!” his lordship looked at Darcy agape. “Who would think that I, of all people, should be the recipient of such an insult from you, cousin? Get a hold of yourself, Darcy, lest we find you a proper lunatic asylum!”
There was no response. Darcy just glared at him, his eyes menacing and challenging.
“All I ask is that you listen to what Sir Frederick has to say, Fitz,” the earl said after a long silence.
Darcy hung his head for a moment, as if repentant, but when he again met the earl’s gaze, his was defiant. “And if I refuse to speak with Sir Frederick? I suppose you will have me committed.”
“Damn it, Darcy! Damn me, if I should ever have to!”
“Ever have to? I would like to see you try it!” But Darcy knew his threat was empty. The image of himself thrashing futilely while being carted off by a couple of brutes rose irresistibly into his mind.
“I do not have the authority to do so right now, but if I deem it necessary, I don’t think I would have much difficulty making my case, not after the fire last year. Just talk to him, Darcy. What harm can it do?”
“My life has turned about as bad as it possibly could, but I had not yet envisioned myself so unfortunate as to be banished to Bedlam.” This was a lie. He had imagined it many times – and long before the incident with Wickham. Part of him felt some small sensation of relief in someone else finally suggesting what had been so obvious for so long.
“Ramsey House is nothing like Bedlam. Sir Frederick only accepts genteel patients, and even amongst those, he is very selective. That is why he wishes to speak with you: to determine your eligibility for treatment.”
“Oh. I see. So despite my membership in London’s most exclusive clubs, even after having offended all of society, I still need to be evaluated for admission to this most elite institution? A very superior confinement you have chosen for me, Richard, though I am sure Anne would not abide anything but the best!”
Richard smiled half-heartedly. “Yes. I am afraid that is the case.”
“Well then, cousin, lead the way, and I will speak to your baronet. I seem to have little choice. With any luck, he will find me totally beyond bother.”
The gentlemen walked side by side, mostly in silence. Though their pace was not brisk, neither was it slow, and the earl noticed that the exertion told on him far more than his cousin. Perhaps if he had time to spend his days and nights wandering endlessly through the grounds of his own estates, he would not be possessed of such a bulging waistline. Darcy, for all his faults, bore much the same physique he had since reaching adulthood, only broader and even more imposing than ever. Though he was both older and of higher consequence, Richard still felt somewhat inferior when in his cousin’s presence. Even now. He struggled to match Darcy’s unrelenting strides.
When the house came into view, Darcy suddenly asked, “I am surprised Anne agreed to this scheme of yours at all, Richard. Surely she invoked my late aunt’s shock at the notion?”
Richard smiled with genuine good humor. “Anne is always careful to ensure Lady Catherine receives her share of the conversation, but she also interviewed Sir Frederick herself, and he has satisfied all her concerns for both your comfort and propriety. He runs an exceedingly private institution. His clients and their families demand it.”
“I assume he is of the new school of thought regarding the use of restraints? One hears of such horrors in madhouses.” His voice betrayed the first tinge of nervousness.
“Stop a moment, Fitz.” The earl put a hand on Darcy’s shoulder and looked directly into his impenetrable eyes. “You must know I would never even suggest a course of action that I did not think was in your best interest. Anne and I are not plotting relations, determined to dispose of you in order to seize your property.”
“Of course not, but I …”
“Sir Frederick discourages the use of restraints of most kinds. However, he does believe there are times when they remain necessary, but not at Ramsey House. He says such patients do better in a different sort of institution, leaving the more controlled greater freedoms than would necessarily be imposed were violent episodes at all to be expected.”
“Then how am I acceptable?” Darcy challenged.
“Your violence was an isolated incident under great provocation.”
Darcy harrumphed and was silent. He gazed down at the house, now before them, and contemplated it as a symbol of his failings for a few minutes before continuing. “I am accustomed to my freedom, Richard. I have always been the master.”
“I know. Just let Sir Frederick speak for himself. You are under no obligation to make any decisions today. All I ask is you give the man a room for at least one night and listen to what he has to say. I really do think, that is I hope, he can help you.”
“God willing,” Darcy replied.