I’m sorry this is a day late!
Darcy had just come in from a long ride over the grounds when the mail was delivered. Everything had been forwarded from London and Pemberley and took about an extra week to reach him in Ireland. Setting aside the letters of business to deal with later, a letter from Bingley grabbed Darcy’s attention. Unfortunately, it was filled with as many blots and crossed out words as Darcy had come to expect from his friend. Still, Darcy read what he could decipher with a hunger. He hoped Bingley would include some information about Elizabeth. Darcy’s eyes alighted on her name. Squinting hard, he was able to make out that Jane believed Elizabeth to be suffering from low spirits. Then, he read in horror that she had collapsed, but the doctor insisted all was well.
Darcy immediately leapt from his seat. With his heart in this throat, he called for his valet. Emotion glued his mouth closed, and words could not come out. Elizabeth needed him!
The thought brought reality crashing down on him. Elizabeth did not need or want him. She was tended to by her family and those she loved. In time, he hoped to be one of them, but that had not yet occurred.
“Mr. Darcy?” the valet asked, bringing Darcy’s mind back to the present. “Did you require something? The bathwater will be brought up at any moment now.”
“No— never mind, Atkins. I thought something needed my immediate attention, but I have had a moment to reconsider.”
Atkins furrowed his brow and hovered nervously at the door. “If you are certain, sir?” The sound of footmen bringing the bathing water into the dressing room drew Atkins’ eyes away from his master.
“All is well,” Darcy said while entering the dressing room. “I will call you when I am finished. Thank you,” he said to the servants, dismissing all of them. He did not want anyone fussing over him.
As he climbed into the steaming hot water, Darcy thought over his reaction to Bingley’s news. Mr. Gardiner had written not too long ago saying that their travel plans had altered, but they would be stopping at Pemberley. Darcy had itched to inquire about the exact days and arrange to be there. However, he had determined that Elizabeth needed time and space from him for her past prejudices and the awkwardness of their intimacy to die. He had never before altered his plans for life…until he met Elizabeth.
Discovering his initial attraction to her had mortified him. She was not the sort he ever intended to marry. Once he had left Hertfordshire, he never planned to see her again. He certainly did not mean to fall in love with her. Even when he realised that was how he felt and she was there before him, he never thought he would propose. Within weeks in her company again, he had done the very thing. It was almost entirely impulsive. He was to leave Rosings and wanted to seize the moment. Looking back, Darcy laughed at his arrogant and foolish thoughts. He ought to have returned to Hertfordshire and openly courted her there for as long as she required until he could have been confident of her acceptance. But, then, he had been convinced she would accept his hand. Pride surely went before the fall. And all of that was before he spoke to her in insulting words and then stole her virtue.
Indeed, Darcy had learned the steep price of listening to his baser impulses. Elizabeth often made him lose his head, and nothing ever seemed to go according to his plans. However, he could not cast aside his logical intentions. He had decided to go to Netherfield in early September. That would allow him several weeks in the country before Bingley’s wedding. Darcy would spend as much time as possible mingling with the Bennets and other residents near Meryton to show Elizabeth through action and word that he did not disdain her family and friends. Some of them would be silly and try his patience, it was true. However, a gentleman would be able to put such feelings aside.
Darcy had finally determined the qualities that Elizabeth most desired in a husband. He could not change himself in essentials, but he could put more effort into addressing his weaknesses and failures, which she had so insightfully seen. A true gentleman would be more conscientious of other people’s feelings. Darcy had been raised to be civil and considerate, but in practice had been given free rein with few to reprove him.
Nearly three months ago, he quickly dismissed Elizabeth’s complaints about his meddling with Bingley’s courtship. Darcy had believed the more significant concern lay in setting her straight regarding her misapprehensions about Wickham. Darcy had been quick to justify his actions regarding Bingley and had no regrets. Now, Darcy saw that while he was not as heartless or as cruel as Elizabeth had believed, he had lost sight of himself, and his own arrogance led him astray. Bingley had been most forgiving, but Darcy was still learning to forgive himself. Even if he never earned Elizabeth’s love, he would be thankful to her for the rest of his life.
Having bathed and sorted through his thoughts, Darcy called for his valet. In short order, they had him dressed to perfection for the day. The luxurious fabrics and fashionable knots concealed Darcy’s inner turmoil and anxiety. He looked every inch the perfect gentleman, and it was a disguise which had fooled many. Only Elizabeth had seen through it all. Many men would despise the woman who could see them so clearly. Darcy craved it. In return, he hoped that he could offer the same support for Elizabeth. The next stage of his upcoming courtship would be to consider how to show her that was his greatest desire.
Three more days passed while Darcy continued to wrestle with the urge to race to Elizabeth’s side. However, he was determined to be obstinate and stubborn in his intentions. Seeing an unknown feminine hand on an envelope in the mail one morning, sent his heart to his throat. With a shaking hand, he ripped open the letter and read with greedy eyes.
Dear Mr. Darcy,
It appears I was mistaken. All is not well. I am sorry to trouble you and interrupt your holiday. However, it is imperative that I speak with you as soon as possible.
Elizabeth would only write for one reason. While he could not comprehend how she had been wrong about her state when she had seemed so confident when they last met, Darcy determined that was the least of his concerns. In an instant, he was in the hallway and shouting down the house.
“The carriage! I must leave at once!” He told the footman posted in the hall. “And tell Atkins to pack the essentials as fast as possible. Everything else can travel after me.”
The servant raced off as Georgiana, and Mrs. Annesley emerged from the drawing room.
“Good heavens, Fitzwilliam, whatever is the matter?”
Darcy held up his letter. “Elizabeth needs me. I must go immediately.”
Georgiana gasped. “We should leave with you.”
“I will have to travel by mail carriage—there is not a minute to waste.” Indeed, Elizabeth would be about four months pregnant. Nothing could conceal that they had anticipated their vows, but the sooner they married, the better.
“We can be ready within an hour, can we not, Mrs. Annesley?” The companion agreed. “It is easier for us to go with you and continue on to Pemberley while you go to Hertfordshire. That way you will not have to worry about us here or bother with arranging our travel later.”
“It will be quite uncomfortable. Are you certain you are willing?”
“I am,” Georgiana answered, “if Mrs. Annesley does not mind.”
“Of course not, my dear. It sounds like an exciting adventure.”
“It is settled then,” Georgiana said with the usual familial determination.
Darcy merely nodded, and they all began to ascend the stairs. Mrs. Annesley’s chamber was first, leaving Darcy and Georgiana to walk a few more paces together. Just before Georgiana entered her room, she looked at her brother.
“What is wrong with Elizabeth? I hope it is nothing serious.”
Darcy scrubbed a hand over his face. “I shall have to explain it to you later. There will be no time before we board the stage, and then there will be no privacy until we reach the ship.” It would also give Darcy the necessary time to consider just how much to tell his little sister about his sins. “All will be well.”
Georgiana gave him a confused smile but did not press for any information. She entered her chamber, leaving Darcy free to return to his. Atkins was already at work. True to Georgiana’s word, they left within an hour. Atkins and Georgiana’s maid remained behind to see to their belongings. Mrs. Annesley’s maid and a footman travelled with them so they the ladies would have sufficient escort once they reached Liverpool and separated.
The next week passed in a blur for Darcy. They reached Belfast by nightfall and secured passage to Liverpool the following morning, anchoring four days later. True to Darcy’s word, he had confessed the truth to Georgiana. In turn, he discovered that she was not as innocent and sheltered as he had believed. She had not lost her virtue to Wickham but could understand the stirrings of desire and ability to lose control. Still, Darcy was sure he saw disappointment in his sister’s eyes. Thus far, she had nearly idolized him. The ability to see him as a human prone to error might be the real divide between childhood and adulthood for her. A part of Darcy mourned the loss of Georgiana’s image of him. Still, he reminded himself that he was attempting to be humble.
The siblings parted in Liverpool. Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana continued on to Pemberley in a hired private coach while Darcy journeyed to Longbourn. Darcy arrived at the estate bone-weary and dusty, having not even taken the time to stop at Netherfield. It was still early; the mail carriage arrived well before the usual visiting hours. The butler was surprised to see him. Instead of taking Darcy to Elizabeth as he had asked, he was brought to Mr. Bennet in the library.
“Mr. Darcy has requested to see Miss Elizabeth, sir,” the butler said in a tone of suspicion. “I had thought he better speak with you.”
Bennet lowered his newspaper and peered up at Darcy in confusion. “Thank you, Hill. Please, be seated, Mr. Darcy.”
Darcy sat, willing his body not to fidget even as he longed to tear the house upside down until he could gather Elizabeth in his arms or drag her to the nearest church. Mr. Bennet seemed to be gathering his bearings. A cup of coffee still steaming sat next to him, and he wore his nightshirt and banyan.
“Would you like something to eat? I take it you have not had breakfast yet.”
“Thank you, no. Sir, I must speak with Miss Elizabeth.”
“Well, that will be difficult as she is not here.”
“When do you expect her return?” Did she stay at a friend’s? Or perhaps she was in London with her aunt and uncle? He did not think they were to leave for their summer tour for another week.
Bennet stared at Darcy for a long time. “You seem to have come here in quite a hurry. Will you tell me why you would like to speak with my daughter?”
“Where is Elizabeth?” Darcy asked, impatience lacing his voice. He would not be toyed with.
Raising a brow, Bennet cocked his head. “If you are here for the reason that I think you are here, then you should know as she has sent you letters.”
Darcy paled. “I received one letter and set off straight away. If she has sent another, then I travelled before it arrived. Are you saying that you have sent her away?”
Bennet’s jaw tightened. “I had little choice given her situation. She refused to name the father, and I had little hope that the worthless young man would show his face. If I was at a loss to understand how she found herself in such a position, I am even more confused to see you before me, Mr. Darcy.”
Drat, the man, and his confusion. It hardly mattered to Darcy what his potential father-in-law thought. All Darcy wanted was to know where to find Elizabeth.
“Where is she?”
“Perhaps this missing letter is a matter of fate,” Bennet answered. “I would demand that you explain yourself before I divulge her location. I have half a mind to call you out. The other half of me is certain you are not worthy of her, no matter what has been done.”
“You would sentence her to a life of infamy because you hate me so much? You hardly know me, sir.”
“I was under the impression that neither did my daughter. I assume you came to make her some offer.”
“I came to make an honourable offer!”
Bennet held up a hand. “My second thoughts regarding your worth must be nothing compared to hers. She did not name you, but she did tell me she had refused her seducer. When she persisted in not naming you, I took it to mean she was not entirely certain that you would offer for her or, even if you did, that she meant to accept.”
Darcy stiffened. Mr. Bennet’s words stung, and Darcy would have loved nothing more than to refute them. However, he spoke the truth. Elizabeth’s letter had said nothing about desiring to marry him. Perhaps she had wanted a different arrangement. If a suitor came to him about Georgiana the way Darcy was approaching Mr. Bennet, he would have likely yelled at the man to get out of his home. Indeed, he had been prepared to house Georgiana forever, even if the worst had happened rather than her marry Wickham.
Swallowing his pride, Darcy met Bennet’s eyes and said, “I love her. I have been arrogant and misguided. I botched my attempt at courtship. My passions carried me away, and I dishonoured her, but I vow that I will do everything in my power to make her happy if she will have me.”
“Even if that means never accepting your suit?”
“Even if it means that,” Darcy answered without hesitation.
“Then, you had better discuss this with her.” Bennet scribbled an address on a piece of paper and handed it over. “I suggest you take the weekend to rest. You can hardly propose to her if you are dead from exhaustion.”
Darcy recognised the name of the town in Scotland. It was less than thirty miles from his Scottish estate; however, it was at least three days away from Longbourn by mail coach. “I will take my chances, sir. She has waited on me long enough.”
“Then, be gone with you.” Darcy stood to leave, but Bennet called after him. “And you had best bring my daughter back to me, Darcy. Convince her.”
“I will,” Darcy vowed before leaving.