Thanks for all the support and comments on Georgiana’s experiences. There were a few questions in the last two chapters and I just want to clarify in case anyone missed something but doesn’t want to go back to double check. The abuser began grooming Georgiana when she was five or six. The assault didn’t start happening until she was ten, a few years before her father died. It continued for a few years until she entered puberty, which was a bit delayed due to the trauma. I was thinking fourteen but I never explicitly state it. Her father never knew. He never would have guessed such a thing was possible for probably anyone let alone his dear friend. We usually have certain impressions of the evil people who do these things. Unfortunately, they look as normal as anyone else. I do think that if she had come forward and told him, he would have believed her. My intention is not to portray Mr. Darcy as a bad man or parent. Most survivors (not victims!) who do come forward, until many years afterward. Instead, they develop other coping mechanisms. In Georgiana’s case, it was eventually self-harm. I used this situation as a catalyst for her relationship with George Wickham.
We might see Georgiana a little later and hear how she is doing, but it’s not the only issue our dear couple has to face. Indeed, the central conflict for the story is Elizabeth and her wounded psyche. Even the best and brightest among us can have periods of depression. Mental illness, whether it’s short-term or long-term, is no respecter of persons. I do consider what Elizabeth is going through as a mental illness. It’s not a long-lasting syndrome. However, it requires treatment all the same.
Elizabeth has experienced things which are not as outwardly abusive as Georgiana. However, people respond differently to situations. The situations are similar in the fact that they both required conditioning. I don’t think it’s fair to compare traumas and tell one person to suck it up while another’s damaged mind and fragility is considered acceptable. You do *not* have to meet a threshold of harm according to someone else’s perspective to be entitled to feel pain, ask for help, or be in need of care.
I don’t believe I can do justice to the scenario of healing from sexual abuse as I have never gone through that. However, Elizabeth’s situation? I have been there. Her thought process might not make sense to a mentally well person. Just like with any illness, the first step is she must acknowledge her signs and symptoms.
Hold onto the seat of your pants for the next two chapters. You might not always like this Elizabeth, and you’ll see she doesn’t always like herself. However, as Darcy shows us, she is always deserving of our compassion. When you are reading, do not think of this in terms of smart or stupid. Elizabeth is smart. She is also sick. This story is her recovery.
Throughout the day, Elizabeth would pause now and then in reading or listening to Darcy to observe him. More than once, he caught her staring, causing her to blush—something he seemed to enjoy profusely. She did not know that she could truly love him—certainly not as he deserved. However, she admired him more than ever. As a young lady of twenty, she had been infatuated with several men before. Indeed, she had even been infatuated with Wickham. It quickly faded to indifference and friendship before souring entirely. In the months apart from Darcy, she had come to see him as the best of men just because he was the opposite of Wickham in every way. Now, she knew the real strength of his character. He bore what no other man ever could!
What had she done when life grew too unbearable and hard? She had run away and left her sisters behind. Even now, the guilt tore at her. She tortured herself late at night when Darcy was asleep with thoughts of how she might have made her parents see reason. She might have found help for Jane just as Darcy had for his sister. Some rational part of her would argue back the impossibilities of it all. Darcy was a man and wealthy. He was his sister’s guardian. He had many freedoms that Elizabeth and her sisters did not have.
The thoughts did not expunge her feelings of guilt, however, for she could not forgive herself for all the years of ignoring and absolving her parents’ grievous errors. How often had Mrs. Bennet cooed about the outstanding match beautiful Jane would eventually make? Each year a deeper note of disappointment had entered Mrs. Bennet’s voice as Jane remained unwed. However, she always remained adamant that soon Jane would marry well and they would have no reason to fear Mr. Bennet’s demise. As her father never seemed to take the possibility of his death seriously, Elizabeth merely rolled her eyes at her mother’s lamenting. They had kind and loving relatives. Mr. Bennet had some money set aside for his wife and daughters per the marriage articles.
It was apparent to Elizabeth what Mrs. Bennet would most miss was the ability to be mistress of Longbourn. She feared any loss of position. The mother of a well-established daughter was not as pitiable as a widow with five spinster daughters. However, the fears were real to Mrs. Bennet and infected every aspect of her life. Family meals at Longbourn were always satisfactory but nothing special. If a single gentleman were invited, it had to be a lavish affair.
Elizabeth wondered how much of her father’s income was spent on entertaining possible suitors. They needed new clothing every year regardless of whether it was necessary. There were constant trips to the milliner for the latest accessories. Seeing it now through distant eyes, Elizabeth realised there was some aspect of Mrs. Bennet that did not want to appear the wretched and pitiable woman even before her husband’s demise. The more sensible it might have been to economise—as more and more daughters reached a marriageable age and yet the eldest remained unwed and therefore it likely that one or more of them might never marry—the more frenzied Mrs. Bennet became in her shopping. She grew calculating and devious in her desires to ensnare husbands for her daughters. She never once considered that the daughters she sought to protect felt perfectly content at home.
Elizabeth considered what it must have looked like to Kitty and Lydia. To them, it must have seemed that they might never marry. They would never have a moment to shine with Elizabeth and Jane still at home and Mrs. Bennet doggedly pursuing husbands for them. The incident with Mr. Collins was a prime example. He could not have Jane, for in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes she was as good as engaged to Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth was offered as a substitute without any thought about her own desires or if she would suit as a parson’s wife. It would have been much better to suggest Mary, but no, Mrs. Bennet could not give her attention and her youngest daughters were meant for greater things. Even as Kitty and Lydia were spared the attention of Mr. Collins, they must have seen that they would have had little choice in selecting their own suitor when their time came. Instead, they took matters into their own hands.
She had spent years telling herself that her family’s errors were harmless or even lovable. She was overly critical of them, but no one else seemed to notice. They were not shunned in Meryton or the surrounding area. Elizabeth now admitted to herself there were always flaws in that way of thinking. Why was Jane still unmarried? No gentleman had even proposed to her!
Meanwhile, Elizabeth attracted the attention of men she could never consider. She did not doubt that if it were not for the chance encounter with Darcy at the inn, she never would have seen him again. He loved her, but he would have been willing to live without her all his life. That did not mean she doubted his love, she merely acknowledged that life was not fair. She had liked Wickham very much, but his insufficient income was too great an obstacle for a sensible woman like herself. She could never marry a man she did not respect, such as Mr. Collins. Elizabeth had none of Jane’s reserve and while not as beautiful was very pretty. Surely men sometimes married vivacious and pretty girls with silly families and little money.
If Elizabeth’s pitiful dowry was such a hindrance, then surely her parents would have added to it. Perhaps it would not have appealed to most of the gentlemen of their acquaintance, but it might supplement a merchant’s income well enough. Why were they not brought more into that circle? Their Uncle Gardiner would have been an excellent source of acquaintances from that sphere. While Jane and Elizabeth often visited the Gardiners, they seldom entered Society, and the Gardiners entertained even less frequently. It was as if no one seriously thought about how to launch the girls into Society. Or, when she was feeling particularly uncharitable, it was as though they simply did not care or even wished them ill.
The sadder but more realistic explanation was that they were too self-absorbed to consider it. Elizabeth winced as she heard her mother’s voice echo in her ears. Everything her daughters did were an extension of herself. She boasted of Jane’s beauty and in the next breath explained that she had been considered the most handsome girl in the county in her youth. Lydia’s good-naturedness was only surpassed by her own. Even Mary’s dogged persistence at the pianoforte and obliviousness to the pleasure of her audience matched Mrs. Bennet’s drive to marry a gentleman and her lack of self-knowledge when others tired of her antics.
Elizabeth was always viewed as suspicious by Mrs. Bennet. In her second daughter, she could see nothing like herself. Elizabeth was too quick-witted, too sharp-mouthed, and too irreverent. She had beauty and liveliness but did not put them to use in the way Mrs. Bennet would have or in a way that she could put herself to the best advantage. As such, Mrs. Bennet was forever scolding Elizabeth. In the same way that her other daughters’ triumphs were her own, Elizabeth’s failures were a reflection of her.
As much as Elizabeth could acknowledge all of this and know the falsehood it presented, she could not turn off the voice in her head she had heard since birth. Although she never valued her mother or respected her opinions, she had somehow mentally adopted her words, and they were now how she talked about herself. As wrong as she knew it was, Elizabeth was helpless against the criticisms in her head. They intruded in moments of quiet, such as now, and she felt a prisoner in her own mind.
If she truly had been better than her mother and not as self-absorbed, then she would have noticed Jane’s growing melancholy. She would have noticed Mary’s increasing dependency on alcohol. She would have seen the frenzied desire Lydia had to leave Longbourn. If she were as clever as she had always considered herself to be, then she would have foreseen Miss Bingley’s treatment of Jane. She could have cautioned her sister to not depend so much upon the possibility in that quarter. Instead, at every moment, she assured her sister of Mr. Bingley’s love—long after Jane doubted it herself. What damage she had wreaked!
Fidgeting in her seat, Elizabeth felt Darcy’s eyes upon her. She looked up.
“You are restless again,” he said.
Elizabeth merely shrugged her shoulders. There was nothing either one of them could do about it at the moment. She was attempting to stay in good humour while she desperately wished to escape the walls of the room. Now, filled with thoughts of her family and her own errors, it felt stifling—suffocating even.
“I have a deck of cards. We could play something.”
“If you wish,” she said.
Inwardly, she cringed. She had done it again. Was she subconsciously becoming her mother? Surely Mrs. Bennet had concealed much about herself to ensnare Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth was aware of her circumstances. She truly admired Mr. Darcy, and he was a human saviour to her. She should be wise to not ruin his perceptions.
As Darcy located his cards, she scolded herself. Was she too much like Mrs. Bennet or was she concealing because she always did the wrong thing? Either way, her response to him was wrong.
“What are you thinking about?” Darcy asked when he returned to his seat.
Reaching for something to say, lest he know her frenzied and confused thoughts, she answered with a deceitfully calm smile. “I just realised that I never inquired after our mutual acquaintances. How are Mr. Bingley and his sisters? I suppose you might see them often.”
“No, I do not see them very often,” Darcy said as he dealt. “I was not in London for very long before going on to Pemberley. During that visit is when I learned the truth of Georgiana’s abuse. I returned to town only for business reasons and once she had seemed to improve.”
“Miss Bingley was correct then when she had written to Jane and told her that you were anxious to see your sister?”
“Indeed. Although, she could hardly know why. It certainly added to my reasons for wishing to be away from Hertfordshire in such a hurry. Mrs. Annesley’s letters indicated Georgiana might relapse.”
Elizabeth tilted her head to one side just as Darcy’s hand slowed as though he realised he had said something he did not intend. “Your anxieties over her added to your reasons? Why else did you desire to leave?”
Darcy continued to lay out cards and avoided meeting Elizabeth’s eyes. She narrowed hers before touching one of his hands to cease his movements. “Fitzwilliam?”
Finally, he lifted his head and took in her expression. Elizabeth hoped to disarm him with an inviting smile. He frowned, apparently unimpressed. The man truly had spent too much time observing her in Hertfordshire if he knew when she was faking calm.
“I owe you the truth. It should come as no surprise given the other matters we have discussed. I felt too attracted to you and believed separation would be the best way to sever the bonds. I had argued as much to Bingley.”
“He was determined to return to Netherfield, and I admit that I persuaded him to remain in London.”
“You!” Elizabeth could say nothing more as the room began to spin. She had fixed in her mind it was all the work of his sister. What could Mr. Darcy object to if his own family was as flawed as hers?
The thought of betrayal from yet another source she had come to rely upon filled her with a need to bolt. However, never before, had she felt so dizzy, so incapable of moving, and so close to sickness. Her throat clenched, blocking all sound and nearly choking her. She attempted to breathe but could not get enough air. Her last conscious thought was that she would rather rant and scream than faint.
When Elizabeth awoke, she was in bed and the physician from a few days before waved something foul-smelling beneath her nose. “Please, no,” she said.
“You see,” the doctor turned to Darcy. “There was no reason to fear. I think I know what would cause her to faint.” He looked back at Elizabeth. “Would you like him to leave? It is not customary that men are present for the examination.”
“Pardon me? I do not need an examination.”
“You could wait for the midwife once you reach your destination but the earlier you begin care, the better.”
“Midwife!” Elizabeth screeched. “Excuse me, doctor, but there is absolutely no need for a midwife. I guarantee it.”
The man turned to look at Darcy who vigorously nodded. “If you and your husband are certain—”
“He is not my husband.”
“Pardon me. I had thought given the arrangement, but it is none of my business.”
“Miss Bennet is my betrothed. We are on our way to be wed,” Darcy explained.
“Oh,” the doctor said in understanding. “And you are certain there would be no need…”
“Absolutely not,” Elizabeth said to the doctor but glared at Darcy. She thought his valet had clarified matters. “I had a shock, that is all. Thank you for your time and care.”
Effectively dismissed, and apparently understanding that an angry female was not trouble he wished to borrow, the doctor packed up quickly. After he left, Darcy hastened to Elizabeth’s side.
“Are you truly well? I have seldom been more terrified. You turned as white as snow!”
“I am confident you were more concerned when your sister, the great Miss Darcy with lofty connections and large fortune, lay bleeding in her chamber from a self-inflicted wound.”
Darcy sucked in a deep breath. “I have angered you—wounded you somehow. I know you would never say such a thing if you were not so upset.”
Immediately, remorse seared Elizabeth’s heart. She was hurting, desperately so. She had thought she was entirely incorrect in her first understanding of Darcy. However, now it seemed only too correct. He was too proud to like the Bennets or Meryton. He had poisoned Bingley against Jane. Jane, the dearest, sweetest girl who ever lived and her closest friend and confidant. The same Jane who became so depressed at Bingley’s abandonment that she wanted to take her own life. The Jane she had abandoned. All the guilt and despair that had tormented Elizabeth for weeks now laid on Darcy’s shoulders. Yes, she would cling to that anger! Miss Darcy might not have deserved Elizabeth’s censure, but her brother surely did.
She looked at him anew. Had she thought she loved him a few moments ago? She could never love a man who had been so careless in his actions that led to such awful misery. He was just like them. He proved to be just like every other selfish person she had valued. Her mother, father, aunt, uncle—they all turned their back on her and held onto vain pretensions. If they only erected a false image to the world on the outside, then all would be well on the inside. Meanwhile, even now, Jane might lay dead beneath the ground.
“Let go of me,” Elizabeth hissed as she attempted to pull her hand out from under his.
He obeyed with apparent regret and settled his hands on his knees as he sat in the chair next to her bed.
“And go over there!” she pointed at the settee.
“Can we not talk about it? I do not know why my information upset you so.”
Fire exploded in Elizabeth’s eyes. “You should know what you did upset me. If you cannot think of that, then I want nothing to do with you.”
“Surely you do not mean that. I am not a mind-reader.”
Elizabeth raised her brows and glared. After a moment, she lifted her chin and turned her face. She would not even look at him. Eventually, she heard him shuffle away.
As soon as she could walk, Elizabeth mentally vowed, she would leave the inn and Darcy. She would start over. She had done it once before, and she could do it again. This time, she would know not to rely on anyone but herself. There were no knights in shining armour. Fairy tales were only things told to children. Mr. Darcy was the cruellest man to ever exist.