Reunited- Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

 

Will chuckled as he considered how to explain Mr. Bennet’s plot to Elizabeth. “He is resting in the room next to you and is quite content. I do not think you will find him in much pain,” he grinned, “and as he has requested all the best books in the house brought to his room, he declares he may never leave.”

Elizabeth laughed. “He is usually such a terrible patient. He must be feeling much better already.”

Will said nothing, only smiled at her response. Bennet had admitted he had not truly injured himself on his ride. He believed bringing Elizabeth to Netherfield would allow them time to court but believed she needed a chaperone. Recalling their past breaks in propriety, Will even entering Elizabeth’s room when she had stayed at Darcy House, he had to see the wisdom in Mr. Bennet’s plan. Of course, if Elizabeth became ill over the scheme, he would never forgive himself.

“Why are you frowning?” Elizabeth hissed in his ear.

“Nothing but my own insecurities,” he answered.

Elizabeth searched his face. “I wish you would tell me one day.”

“When you are my wife, I intend to share everything with you.”

“But not before?”

“Miss Eliza, you must be positively freezing,” Caroline said and pulled Elizabeth’s arm into her chamber.

Will watched her go with regret as Caroline closed the door nearly on his face.

“Come, man,” Charles said at his side. “She is under this roof. You will see her soon enough.”

Will nodded and followed his friend to the billiards room. He would not have sent for Elizabeth under such guise. She had wanted an open courtship, and that meant calling at Longbourn—even if Mrs. Bennet did not approve. Making love to Elizabeth before her entire family would be no easy task but surely it would not be any easier under Caroline Bingley’s watchful eye.

The afternoon passed, and Charles enjoyed many good-natured laughs at his friend’s expense for Will’s focus and attention was fixated on Elizabeth. At last, dinner was served and the relief he felt at seeing Elizabeth, dressed in a borrowed gown and looking fresh, was more than he could describe. He had never before cared for Caroline Bingley’s gowns or noticed them except for when she begged for his compliments, but the more fashionable and expensive attire suited Elizabeth very well. She no longer looked like Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn but rather his Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley.

Although not seated near one another, Will observed Elizabeth during the meal. She carried herself with more grace and confidence than she had five years before. Her cleverness and coyness had not diminished as Miss Bingley, and Mrs. Hurst hoped to find ways in which to mock her, but some of the more biting edge to her commentary had been softened. She was no longer a carefree youth, experiencing her first bit of Society.

“Mr. Phillips, the solicitor, is your uncle? And your other one a merchant in London?” Mrs. Hurst had asked with a sly look at Caroline.

“Do not you remember,” Charles answered. “Mrs. Bennet is Miss Elizabeth’s step-mother. Those would not be her direct relations.”

“They would count as connections, at the very least,” Caroline snapped. “Well, you do put on such a good face for a girl with no money and such low connections. Bravo for you!”

Charles blinked in a stupefied manner, and an angry defense was on the tip of Will’s tongue when Elizabeth answered in a cheerful tone.

“I am not ashamed of my connections and, indeed, I call them relations. The Gardiners are among my favorite people in all the world, and you will not meet a more gentlemanly man than Mrs. Bennet’s brother in London.”

“Upon my word!” Caroline cried. “The most gentlemanly man in all the world is surely Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth gave Will an apologetic smile. “I only speak as I find but perhaps we must make allowances for the affection of a favorite niece.”

“What sort of business does he do?” Charles asked with a panicked look between Will and Elizabeth. “We have an uncle, lately of London, who had been a clothier.”

“Charles!” Louisa exclaimed. “Uncle Bertrand has not lived in London in nearly three decades.”

“Ah, not so very different from Sir William Lucas then,” Elizabeth nodded. “Once he was knighted, he quit London and his shop, and bought Lucas Lodge and about the same time your uncle left Town. What is the name of your uncle’s estate?”

“He…he…resides in Scarborough,” Caroline admitted.

“Oh, how lovely,” Elizabeth said with a smile and then sipped her wine.

“But what of your other relations, Miss Elizabeth?” Mrs. Hurst asked. “Surely your mother had a family.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth nodded. “I believe you met Mrs. Long at the assembly. My mother was her sister. Their father’s estate was entailed, and their other sister married the heir. Unfortunately, they soon died with only two daughters surviving them. For many years, Mrs. Long—who never had any children of her own—raised her nieces in Sussex and they have only recently settled back in Meryton.”

“So your mother was the daughter of a gentleman?” Caroline asked in an accusatory tone while sawing at her meat.

The conversation carried on with Caroline and Louisa interrogating Elizabeth, finally hitting upon the topic of the inheritance of Longbourn now that the heir had died. Will frowned and glared at them when they both noticeably began to treat Elizabeth better upon hearing that it would go to the second eldest grandson of Mr. Bennet. Charles, however, seemed only to notice that they suddenly began asking after Miss Bennet.

At last, the meal ended, and the ladies left the gentlemen. When the men returned to the drawing room, they found the ladies at a discussion on poetry.

“I like many a verse,” Elizabeth declared, “but I do think the notion of writing a sonnet for your beloved quite silly indeed. What are words to do with love?”

“I believe many consider poetry to be the food of love,” Will observed as he sat near her.

Elizabeth turned her face to him and their eyes locked. “Everything nourishes what is already strong. I am convinced that a lover would do much better by proving their faithfulness with actions rather than words. It is worth, too, understanding the desires and temperament of the receiver. Surely, there are some, where even a good sonnet might drive them away when they had preferred or expected a bouquet instead.”

“I say,” said Charles, “all this talk of poetry can hardly satisfy me. I had much rather talk of a ball or a play.”

“That is because you value doing much more than thinking, dear Charles,” Caroline sniffed. “How would you expect to pass an ideal evening, Mr. Darcy?”

“If you mean what is ideal than surely being at a ball or play instead of merely talking about one would be mine,” Charles laughed.

Elizabeth smiled encouragingly at Will. She wanted to know this of him, he realised.

“An ideal evening, for me, depends much more on the company than the activity,” he answered. “Any event with the proper partner heightens the enjoyment and if one’s companion is disagreeable then what is pleasurable at any other moment becomes loathsome.”

“And what would make the most agreeable partner?” Caroline fluttered her lashes in his direction.

Meeting Elizabeth’s eyes once more, Will answered, “I enjoy surrounding myself with companions who have an open temperament and friendly nature. They do not meet others simply to puff themselves up. There is no false compliments and sneaky mockery. They have more class and grace. Neither do they become flustered when they meet with unpleasant individuals. They understand their worth and know the low opinion of such sour people could never denigrate it.”

“Hear! Hear!” Charles cried, bringing Mr. Hurst from his rest and he awoke with a loud snort. “I think you have described our friend Sam Bennet and I confess I miss him greatly.” He smiled sadly at Elizabeth. “You were blessed to have such a brother.”

“Indeed I was,” she answered. “This discussion has been most fascinating, but if you will excuse me, regardless of what I find ideal, this evening, I desire to visit with my father before retiring.”

“Will you not share your opinion?” Will asked hastily as he stood to bow at her exit.

Elizabeth paused for a moment as her hand rested on the doorknob. She looked over her shoulder. “I believe evenings with old friends to be the very best sorts.” She bobbed a curtsy and left.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth spent much of the following morning in her father’s chamber. Will and Mr. Bingley were kind enough to visit. While there, the mail was delivered. Elizabeth watched as Will read his letters. The lines between his eyes deepening with each successive piece of paper.

She took the momentary silence to study him. Who had cared for him all these years? They had not had an opportunity to speak about it, but years ago, she had sensed that his father was not of like temperament or really understood his son. He seemed to request—even demand—things from the reserved young man that were intensely difficult and nigh on impossible for him to accomplish. Elizabeth knew that Lady Anne had died while Will was a boy and he met Sam soon after. She had supposed that Sam was a support to Will during those years, but since his death who did Will have? He had said Mr. Bingley and his cousin were of help but how much assistance could they be when they had their own affairs? Even if Sam had lived, he would have needed far more than the support of a friend upon inheriting Pemberley.

Emotion clogged her throat and tears welled in her eyes as Elizabeth considered for the first time how much he must have needed a wife—needed her. He had ample opportunity to find another woman to court and wed. She had told herself, as she obsessively read the Society papers looking for the day an announcement would appear and dash all her dearest wishes, he must have been too busy. However, they often reported attachments that all came to nothing. They hinted at secretive meetings with less than reputable ladies and while that injured Elizabeth, she supposed he did not marry anyone out of continued care for her.

Yes, it was not just any sort of woman he needed—he needed her. She could see how the years had weighed on him. He smiled less, he laughed infrequently. He was far more commanding than the young man she had known, but he had lost much of his joy. While Elizabeth had often felt inadequate for the role of his wife, she considered now that she was precisely what he needed. He was not unhappy by nature—he wished so very much to be lighthearted. She could sense that part of her responding to a kindred spirit within him when they talked.

“Lizzy, you have not turned your page in many minutes,” Mr. Bennet said, biting back a smile.

Elizabeth blushed and closed the book she held. “I suppose it does not captivate my attention. Pardon my woolgathering. Do you need anything?” Her eyes went to the clock in the room. “Heavens! Is that the time?”

Elizabeth stood and busied herself at a table mixing potions to give her father a dose of the tonic as the apothecary had shown her years ago. Mr. Bingley also noted the time and excused himself, but Will remained.

“Lizzy, now that Mr. Bingley has left, I must speak with you and Will.”

Elizabeth handed him the glass and looked at him expectantly as he downed the mixture.

“I suppose Will did not tell you the truth. I am uninjured—” he spoke over Elizabeth’s gasp. “I considered this scheme the best way to allow you two some time to reacquaint yourselves and far more conducive than our drawing room.”

Elizabeth frowned. “Mama feared for your health when you left without speaking to us and just before the rain came.” She took the glass from his hand and returned it to the table with the ingredients. She whirled back around to face him and place a hand on her hip. “I ought not to have given you this.”

“Be at ease. The weather has pained me—I did not lie on that count—and the jostling of riding did not help anything. I just allowed imaginations to do the rest. I did not fall from my horse or step the wrong way or anything like that. No acute injury occurred.”

“I still cannot praise you for being so thoughtless about her concerns.”

“The woman’s anxieties do not last long. She knows one does not die from sore joints.”

“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “It is not only that. You know she did not wish for me to come. She does not approve—” she winced as she had forgotten that Will was in the room.

“It is well, Elizabeth,” Will said. “It does not offend me. She cares for you, and I have injured you.”

“And this was the scheme you two agreed upon at Lucas Lodge?” She loved her father but had seen from an early age that he could be more courteous to her step-mother’s feelings. She would not wish for Will—who already had already thoughtlessly wounded her—to copy her father’s ways.

“Do not blame him,” Mr. Bennet interjected. “I did not tell him of my plans.”

“Are you very angry?” Will came to her side and lifted a hand to his lips.

“I am not angry,” she sighed. His lips on her skin pulled her focus from the topic at hand. “I only think your plan was ill-thought out, Papa.”

“I will allow your prerogative to disagree with my methods, but I doubt you dislike the effect.”

He chuckled, and Elizabeth blushed as she realised she had been staring into Will’s eyes.

“I give you leave to talk amongst yourselves over by the window,” Mr. Bennet said and picked up his book once more.

Will led Elizabeth to a chair by the window. They were at such a distance from Mr. Bennet that they could converse in privacy but he would see it all. Heat spread up her face as she thought, she would have preferred more solitude and a greater chance for an embrace and kisses.

“Did I understand you rightly last night?” Will asked. “You asked how I wanted to spend our evenings together once we wed?”

Nodding, Elizabeth smiled. “Yes, you see we are capable of more than misunderstanding one another.”

“I could not answer as fully as I would have wished. My days and evenings are often lonely and I would be happy to do anything so long as it is in your company.”

“Even dance?” Elizabeth teased. “I recall you did not enjoy it so very much.”

“I might dislike dancing more than ever,” he said and reached for her hand, “as I have found who I want as a partner for all of my sets. The thought of talking with other ladies is intolerable now.”

“Surely they are not all like Miss Bingley,” Elizabeth shook her head. She continued to wonder about how he occupied himself during their years apart but she could not ask—not with her father in the room and perhaps never.

“No,” Will sighed, “but neither are they you.”

“So you despise dancing still but are willing to do it with me,” Elizabeth observed. “I would never wish to make you go through motions you hate for all of our life. I am afraid you must tell me some of the ways you enjoy spending your time. Or perhaps I will confess the things I loathe, and you may join me. Tell me, sir, do you hate needlework as I do? We could be miserable together, or if you enjoy it, then you may rest easy knowing I will sit by your side although I hate every stitch I make.”

Will laughed heartily, and his smile reached his eyes. Elizabeth’s breath caught. Each time she made him smile or laugh, she felt as though she had unlocked a hidden piece of him. She had dueled a mighty foe and came out triumphant. She had given him some joy when most of the world caused him only pain and worry.

“How I have missed you,” he encased Elizabeth’s hand in both of his.

“Did you not have Georgiana to keep you company?” Elizabeth said after clearing her throat. The warmth from his hand was spreading through her body. It was a tender, innocent, touch but affected her nearly as much as his most ardent kisses. More so, it made her heart swell in a way their passionate embraces had not. To be cared for by Will was something she craved even more than his amorous pursuits.

Instantly, Will’s happiness disappeared. He began to pull his hands away, but Elizabeth brought her other one atop of his to keep them in place. “Will you tell me what upsets you?”

He searched her eyes. “It is difficult to speak about.”

The grief in his eyes almost overwhelmed her. “If you cannot speak now, we might at another time. I do not wish to pain you but I am to be your help-meet. I insist you tell me all.”

Gripping her hands tightly, Will nodded. “Might we meet for a walk later?”

“Certainly,” Elizabeth glanced out the window. “I suspect the road will be dry by the morrow, however. What else did your letters contain? They seemed to concern you greatly.”

“My cousin, Richard, replied to my inquiry if he would discreetly ask the Earl if he knew anything about my letters. He found out nothing. I hope you do not mind my mentioning it to him.”

“Of course not,” she smiled. “I am pleased we have assistance in this matter. I spoke with Mama. She had discerned that I held you in high regard and mourned your absence, but knew nothing else. She is quite angry with you.”

“I deserve it,” Will said. “I have been chastised by your father and will bear your mother’s displeasure as well. I only wonder why you have not made me grovel or sent me away. You would have every right—”

Elizabeth silenced him by placing a finger on his lips. “Pray, cease. We both made mistakes.”

“No,” he shook his head. “You are blameless. What could you do?”

“I knew your itinerary from Sam’s report. I might have written to him. Or sent a letter to your house. If we were engaged then it would not be breaking propriety. I did not because—well, it all seemed too good to be true. I loved you, but I resisted letting go. I held back. Why would a man like you love Lizzy Bennet with only fifty pounds a year and no connections? Mr. Bingley’s sisters were quite right last night.”

“Elizabeth!” Will exclaimed and raised her hands to his lips. Lowering them just so she could meet his eyes, he explained, “You are worth millions more than any of them! Not one woman of my acquaintance compares to you. I hate to hear you devalue yourself. It is my fault—”

“No,” Elizabeth blinked away tears. “No, you are not to blame for my insecurities any more than I ought to blame myself for yours. Let us think of the past only as it gives us pleasure.”

“Then I only regret that there are so few memories,” Will said and pressed his forehead to Elizabeth’s hands.

“Now, about the letters,” Elizabeth licked her lips, and Will released her hands. “If you must find the answer and you have exhausted the list of suspects, then have you considered the locations? You said you wrote daily but did you post them each day?”

“No,” Will admitted. “I would wait until we were at a large enough town or inn so Matthews might slip away to the post office. He assures me that he had nothing to do with it and that my father had never suggested he interfere.”

“Do you recall how many locations and their names?”

“I am afraid that I cannot recall them all. Why would it matter?”

“I will read Sam’s letters again. I used to have the course and most of his words memorised,” she blushed. “It seems we must entertain the idea that they were disrupted once they reached the post office. It smacks of corruption but from every location? How could that be unless one of your party was involved.”

“They are either dead or have argued their innocence. I even interrogated Charles years ago.”

“Did you ever consider Mr. Wickham?”

Reunited- Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

 

“Very well,” Elizabeth said when they returned to one another. “I can agree to a compromise. There is no reason we cannot set a wedding date while we court. That is generally the way, is it not?”

She said it with a smile, but it did not reach her eyes. In them, Will saw she continued to guard herself. He did not expect immediate clemency and would probably think less of her if she did offer it, but nervousness rolled in his belly. There was an additional layer of reserve he had not seen in Elizabeth before.

“I would remind you, however, that you had said you would come yesterday and yet you did not.”

Will furrowed his brow. “I called at the usual hour and was informed none of you were at home.”

Elizabeth’s eyes flashed, turning green, and she sought out her mother. “I thought I heard a knock but why would Mama lie?”

“Do you mean you were home yesterday?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded. “My sisters had wanted me to walk into town with them, but I refused.” She glanced away and chewed her bottom lip before continuing. “I waited for you.”

Will clenched his jaw. “I will speak with your Father about this. He made it perfectly plain that he desired me to openly show our attachment. It is not the first time I had thought your mother showed a dislike for me—why would she hate me?”

“I do not know,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You never met her before—she is much altered. When Sam was young, she fretted over him constantly. She would hint at marrying Jane and me young. Once the entail was broken, she no longer worried about suitors for us. However, she truly loved Sam as her own son. She mourned his death deeply. Her period of happiness was so short—I was only home to witness it for a fortnight, but I received many letters from her while at my Aunt and Uncle Gardiners and she seemed more carefree than I had ever seen her before.”

Turning the pieces of information Elizabeth had told him over in his mind, Will escorted her to Mr. Bennet.

“I am pleased to see you tonight,” Mr. Bennet smiled as Will bowed over Elizabeth’s hand.

“Thank you, sir. It seems I was not admitted when I attempted to call yesterday.”

“Pardon me?” Mr. Bennet’s smile slipped.

A young man approached Elizabeth and requested a dance. With an indulgent smile to Will, she returned to the dance floor.

“Let us find a quiet corner,” Mr. Bennet suggested.

Nodding his agreement, Will followed the older gentleman. Assured of some privacy, he spoke in hushed tones. “I called yesterday morning and was told the entire family was out of the house. Elizabeth says otherwise.”

Mr. Bennet exhaled, his shoulder slumping as he hung his head and slowly shook it back and forth. “Fanny. She means well. She truly does.”

“Do you know why she hates me, Sir?”

“A mother’s broken heart is to blame, I fear.”

“She faults me with Sam’s death. You know how I tried to save him—”

“Yes, I know, and I have informed her of it as well,” Mr. Bennet interjected with outstretched palms. “I think you might also know things about my son which do him no credit.”

“Harcourt,” Will frowned.

“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet nodded. “And I believe there was a matter with a young lady other than Miss Lucas.”

Will gulped. He had not known Sam’s parents knew a thing about either matter.

“She does not see it plainly because she would never wish to blame the young man she loved as her own blood.”

Meeting Mr. Bennet’s eyes, Will started. “She blames me for Sam’s choices? For falling in with Harcourt and his liaison with Lucy?”

“She has a bit of prejudice about the upper classes, but I am sure she will come to a right way of thinking when you have proven yourself as a doting suitor to her daughter.”

“That is why you wished for a courtship,” Will nodded in understanding.

“In part,” Mr. Bennet agreed.

“How does she even know?”

“Sam wrote to Miss Lucas and broke off the engagement. He had planned to marry Lucy after he returned from the holiday. Charlotte told Fanny.”

“I am sorry indeed that this has been a burden either you or your wife have faced. If knowing me—if any connection to me is to blame—”

“Calm yourself,” Mr. Bennet said. “I do not blame you. I was once a young man entranced by all the glittering things London had to offer as well. I regret that I had not done enough to raise him better. My own father had been so stern that when I came of age—well, I tried the opposite way as a parent. It seems I had no better luck.”

“Does Elizabeth know?” Will looked across the room. She smiled when she noticed him watching.

“No,” Bennet shook his head. “I could never bear to disappoint her regarding her brother. She would take it even worse than Mrs. Bennet. Miss Lucas has also kept it secret all these years.”

Will nodded. “I do not like keeping things from Elizabeth, but it is not my business to tell. I do not imagine the discussion will come up, at any rate.”

“Thank you.” Mr. Bennet paused while looking over the crowd, his eyes lingering upon his wife. “If my wife will take measures to bar you from my house, then I suppose I must come to you. I will visit tomorrow to discuss how a courtship might proceed with these…difficulties.”

Will nodded, thinking it odd the gentleman could not simply control his house and order his servants to admit him, but Elizabeth approached. Giving her all of his attention for the remainder of the evening, he chose to put aside the strangeness of the Bennet household.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet arrived at Netherfield before the usual calling hours.

“I see the father is as impertinent as the daughter,” Caroline remarked before his entry as they sat at the breakfast table.

“You will behave yourself around Mr. Bennet,” Charles glared at his sister.

Will mentally applauded his friend but turned his attention to Mr. Bennet. He limped in.

“Forgive me for arriving so early and unannounced,” he said between pants as he leaned against the door frame.

“You are unwell!” Charles said and jumped from his seat.

“I am very well,” Mr. Bennet answered. “It is my old injury acting up. The weather sets it off.”

Everyone’s eyes went to the windows. Clouds were present, but Will had not thought there was an impending storm. His injuries did not throb as they usually did. However, Mr. Bennet was much older than him.

“Caroline,” Charles said as he shifted one of Bennet’s arms around his shoulders, “call for a room to be set up. Will, your assistance, please.”

Before Charles had finished uttering the words, Will had begun his approach. Although Mr. Bennet verbally resisted, the two young men assisted him up the stairs.

“I do not wish to be a burden.”

“Nonsense,” Charles said. “You are most welcome to go lame at my house any time you choose.”

Bennet tipped his head back and roared with laughter. “I was out riding, and your house was nearer mine. Truly, a carriage would suffice.”

“To the father of Miss Bennet—I mean, Sam—I would never think of it. Besides, you said yourself, it will soon rain.” Charles frowned. “I wonder if we can send a note now if the apothecary can arrive before it begins.”

Mr. Bennet waved off the suggestion. “Mr. Jones is unnecessary. I have all the required potions and wraps at home, and Lizzy knows how to apply them. Meryton is closer, but we do not know if he will be in his office. If you must send for someone, send for Lizzy.”

“Of course, sir,” Charles said.

Will watched it all with growing curiosity. Now and then, when Charles’ head was turned away, Will thought he saw a smirk playing on Mr. Bennet’s lips. He had seen that expression a thousand times whenever Elizabeth attempted to hide her amusement at a situation. Did Mr. Bennet find Charles’ care entertaining or was there more at work? The gentleman had told Will he would call today and they would discuss how he might court Elizabeth with Mrs. Bennet’s disapproval.

“I will assist Mr. Bennet if you wish to send for Miss Elizabeth,” Will said to Charles once they reached the landing. “Use my carriage,” Will offered. “I had asked for it to be readied, so I might call at Longbourn.”

“An excellent thought,” Charles agreed and released the gentleman as Will braced for the increased weight.

Lumbering along, they, at last, arrived the chamber which had been hastily prepared. Dismissing the maid, who had just finished building a fire, Will settled Mr. Bennet into the bed.

“A handsome valet you make,” Mr. Bennet laughed as Will tugged on his boots.

“Forgive my stupidity in the profession,” Will chuckled. “Do you have a confession for me, sir?”

“What do you suspect me of doing?”

“My father once told me of the crafty young man he knew at school named Thomas Bennet. Is this part of a scheme or are you truly injured?”

 

*****

 

“Where is Papa?” Elizabeth asked her mother and sisters in the drawing room.

“He is in his book room, of course,” Mrs. Bennet answered.

“I have just been in it was empty.” Elizabeth eyed her stepmother with suspicion. After discovering from Will last night that Mrs. Bennet had been keeping him from calling on her, Elizabeth had intended to speak with her father. The two gentlemen had talked last night, and she supposed they had come up with a solution. Nervousness gnawed at the pit of her stomach. She wanted Will to court her. She only wished for him to prove his worthiness. Despite her mother’s actions, Elizabeth did not think her mother had been the means that separated them years ago. For that matter, could she really separate them now? Her father ought to be the one to rule the house.

“Hill,” Mrs. Bennet cried the housekeeper entered. “Have you seen Mr. Bennet today?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mrs. Hill nodded. “He left very early this morning and had called for his horse.”

“His horse!” Mrs. Bennet leaped from her chair and stared out the window, clutching at her throat. “Oh! That man! He will be caught in the rain and catch his death of a cold. And then what will become of us?”

“Mama,” Jane came to Mrs. Bennet’s side and embraced her. Leading her back to her chair, Jane spoke in soothing tones. “There is nothing to fear. Papa is healthy, and a bit of rain will do him no harm.”

“Oh, Hill!” Mrs. Bennet withdrew a handkerchief and sobbed into. “My salts! I need my salts!”

Elizabeth sighed as she watched her stepmother’s nerves and anxieties overtake her once more. The entail on the estate was long broken, and she may no longer need fear the hedgerows. However, Elizabeth supposed it only did a wife justice to fear the death of her husband. If anything happened Will…

Elizabeth shook her head to keep from pondering further calamity. Whatever was said between Will and her father would keep until they could discuss the matter. They had waited five years. What was a few more days? The next several hours were spent in soothing Mrs. Bennet and reassuring her that Longbourn would be in good hands if anything happened to Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet did not understand everything in the will or what would happen to an estate with no heir.

Just before nuncheon and a servant from Netherfield arrived with a missive addressed Elizabeth. She did not recognize the writing. Indeed, it had blots and was nothing like Will’s neat script.

“Oh! Father has hurt himself, but it is nothing serious,” Elizabeth said while placing a hand on her stepmother’s arm. “They worry there is not enough time to send for Mr. Jones before it begins to rain. In any case, Papa refuses to allow for him to be sent for anyway. He has asked for me, and Mr. Bingley has sent a carriage.”

Immediately, Mrs. Bennet tensed and ceased her moaning. She sat up in her bed. “No, Miss Lizzy. I will not let you go to that—that place! Why your father would go there for help, I do not know.”

“Do you mean you have a problem with Netherfield or its residents?” Elizabeth asked.

She met Jane’s eyes and wordlessly asked her elder sister to shoo the other girls from the room. Fifteen-year-old Kitty and thirteen-year-old Lydia did not want to leave, but Elizabeth would not have them gossiping about Mr. Bingley or Will. Once they were alone, she pressed her step-mother again.

“Mr. Bingley seems nice enough. I never heard any harm from him. That Mr. Darcy though…”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth’s eyes flashed in anger. Fanny Bennet had never met Will and had only heard of him through Sam, who could never say anything against his friend.

“He thinks he is so high and mighty. My sister Gardiner told me about the Darcys of Pemberley. She grew up near the estate and was so pleased to hear that Sam had befriended the young heir.” She shook her head. “You do not understand their world and the trappings of high society. All you could ever mean to him was a tryst.”

Elizabeth gasped.

“You did not think I knew?” Mrs. Bennet peered at Elizabeth. “A mother knows when her daughter is heartbroken. Did he promise he would come for you? Did he promise to write to you?”

Elizabeth’s mouth went dry. She had thought she suffered alone and invisibly all these years.

“I will not allow him to hurt you again.” Mrs. Bennet raised a hand and lovingly cupped Elizabeth’s cheek. “I made a promise when I married your father that his children would be my own. I know I am not the sort of mother you wanted. I am not clever enough for you—I fret too much, but a mother does what she must.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked as tears streamed from her eyes. “What have you done?” Had she been the one to take Will’s letters?

“Only what I must. I will not permit him to even cast a shadow in my drawing room. I have told Hill to stop him at the door.”

Elizabeth exhaled a long breath and relief swept through her. “Is that all?”

Mrs. Bennet nodded. “It is all I can do. I cannot keep you in the house—I know I cannot even keep you from your father, but I beg you to not go. Do not trust him again.”

After several false starts, Elizabeth managed to speak in halting tones. “Mr. Darcy has apologised—that is you are correct, I did care—we are—he is not what you suppose.”

Ceasing and inhaling deeply, she forced herself to collect her thoughts. Briefly, she explained that she had admired Will when they first met and she had expected him to call after his holiday. Additionally, she explained there had been a misunderstanding, that Will, naturally, had many requirements of him after inheriting at such a young age. Elizabeth attempted to stress—and found she really felt it herself—that she forgave him and understood his reasons for not visiting. When she had finished, Mrs. Bennet patted her hand.

“My dear, I understand that you want, very much, to believe in this man but how can you? Must you be like Charlotte Lucas? I had thought you cleverer than that.”

“Charlotte?” Elizabeth raised her brows. “How would my attachment to Mr. Darcy be like Charlotte mourning Sam?”

Mrs. Bennet sighed and looked out the window once more. “Nothing I say will keep you here, will it?”

Elizabeth shook her head.

“Then be off with you before it rains. Tend to your father and your heart.”

Elizabeth pressed a kiss to her mother’s forehead before leaving her chamber. Conferring with Mrs. Hill, and saying goodbye to Jane, Elizabeth was in a carriage bound for Netherfield within a quarter of an hour.

She arrived an hour later, sopping wet from head to foot and oozing mud from her half-boots and petticoat. Caroline and Louisa gasped at her appearance while Mr. Bingley immediately called for a blanket.

“Good God!” cried Will. “What has happened?”

“The rain began, but we were so close to Netherfield that we pushed on. The carriage slipped in the mud.”

“Surely our coachman would have offered to ride ahead for assistance, and you could have stayed in the coach,” Caroline said before pulling her lips back in disgust.

“Come, this way,” Mr. Bingley said and motioned to the stairs. “We have your father settled, and you may have the room next to his. I do not think there is any chance you may return to Longbourn today.”

Will stepped forward and offered his arm.

Caroline gasped. “Surely you do not want her to touch you when she is so…so filthy!”

Elizabeth shivered, and Will placed her hand on his arm. “Step aside, Miss Bingley. Can you not see your guest is in need of a warm room and dry clothes?”

Leaving the woman and her gaping mouth behind, Will led through the halls. Dropping his voice, he asked her, “Are you well, Elizabeth?”

“I will be. Do not fear for me. How is my father?”

Music Monday- Ring of Fire

Beautiful black and white rose with note on the petals

The Ring of Fire is a well-loved classic. My final line from Thursday’s Jealous Desire short story made me think of the song. I’ve included a video of Johnny Cash’s original rendition as well as one done by an acapella group, Home Free. My husband is one of their biggest fans so I couldn’t miss giving them a shout out. They performed their arrangement on The Sing Off in 2013. Winning the show served as their breakout moment. During the competition, their version was called “acapella country reggae” by renowned artist, Jewel. Home Free mostly does cover songs. In that way, I think they remind me of a JAFF writer.

It’s easy to see that the song is about love. Allegedly, Cash’s second wife, June Carter Cash, wrote the song after they had first met but while she was still married to another. Knowing that, consider the lyrics in a different light. Being engulfed in this uncontrollable love is not pleasant. It is not exhilarating. It is dangerous–it is deadly–it should be feared–but it can’t be helped. Now, how do you think I will connect that to Jane Austen?

 

 

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child,
Oh, but the fire went wild.

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

Written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore. Performed by Johnny Cash and Home Free.

 

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Ten

mdbbChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four / Chapter FiveChapter Six Chapter Seven / Chapter EightChapter Nine

Dearest C—

Do not fall prey to melancholy again. Let education be your comfort. I will quote Mr. Akenside, who we so lately lost.

Man loves knowledge, and the beams of truth
More welcome touch his understanding’s eye
Than all the blandishments of sound his ear,
Than all of taste his tongue.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Ten

 

The following morning, Elizabeth left the Parsonage earlier than before. Mr. Collins had said no more insulting words, but it would take far more than a day for her to forget his unjust reproofs. Instead, he glared at her as much as possible. Now and then he asked after her reading selections. Charlotte suggested Elizabeth peruse Lady Catherine’s library. It called to mind Miss de Bourgh’s words on the subject as well.

Elizabeth blew a wayward tendril from her face as she laboured up the hill behind Rosings at an unladylike speed. If life had been different and treated women as equal as men, Jane would inherit Longbourn. Elizabeth and her younger sisters would find professions to make their way in the world. Instead, as females, they were little better than property and expected to marry. As such, their mother viewed every male as a prize. With Elizabeth’s combination of vivaciousness and good sense, she made friends of both sexes the most easily out of the Bennet daughters. However, even she had to admit she viewed male specimens primarily from the consideration of marital partners. Mr. Darcy, who had dismissed her for the enjoyment of a mere dance let alone as a suitable spouse, earned her immediate loathing. While she had fumed at the injustice of his words, she had done the same to him.

Immediately, Bingley seemed a probable match for Jane. Collins’ unsuitability had been clear since his first letter. Wickham had seemed promising and worth her interest, but his income too insufficient. She had seen as much early enough in their acquaintance that it required no exertion to prevent her heart from falling in love with him. By the time her Aunt Gardiner had suggested the same at Christmas, Elizabeth was in no danger. Instead, he had become a gentleman Elizabeth believed she could call a friend when she had been disappointed by so many others in so few weeks.

Yet, now Elizabeth knew Wickham was a cad while Darcy had layers of complexity she had never considered. He had not been innocent in forming Bingley’s defection, but neither had he forced his friend’s hand. Elizabeth acknowledged, that if she saw the imprudence in greater affection for Mr. Wickham after a month’s acquaintance, surely Bingley had as much right to reconsider his attentions toward Jane after the same passage of time. She did not like that Jane had been found unworthy. It was not fair, but perhaps it was just.

Perhaps Bingley — and even Darcy — had disliked admitting the truth of the Bennets’ situation in life just as much as she had  Wickham’s. Of course, for Wickham, Elizabeth had fixated on Darcy as the cause for Wickham’s distress. The Bennet ladies had no conveniently-placed person to blame for their situation. Some nameless ancestor many generations ago first put an entail on Longbourn and each generation had continued the provision. Elizabeth had never wasted her anger on what was such a common practice. But now, she detested the men who could decide so entirely the fate of her family. She hated the master from those centuries ago who now wounded his own kin, and she hated the men walking among them who never passed laws considering the care of their mothers and daughters, their sisters and wives.

At this moment, she hated so many. She hated nameless creatures near and far. She hated Charlotte and her husband. She hated Bingley for hurting Jane. She detested Lady Catherine and her insipid daughter. She loathed that her father never reined in her younger sisters and mother. As such, not only were they now prey for Wickham, but had likely cost Jane the affection of Mr. Bingley. She abhorred Darcy — mostly for not being the arrogant man she had assumed. However, she reserved her greatest repugnance for herself.

Although raised in a large family, Elizabeth often needed solitude to gather her thoughts. Jane was the closest thing she had to a confidant among her sisters, and there was much they did not see eye to eye on — such as Charlotte’s marriage and, until recently, Miss Bingley’s friendship. Jane saw goodness everywhere. In contrast, Elizabeth harboured far less charitable thoughts about the world although, unlike her mother, she also had the good sense to not air them. Nor did she think like Mr. Darcy. He saw little good but equally disapproved. Elizabeth enjoyed the follies of others. Sir William could never be called intelligent, but he had always been jolly and friendly. Despite her affront, Elizabeth knew he meant no harm with his words the other week regarding her marriage prospects.

Elizabeth settled herself on the grass and laid out her drawing materials. Thankfully, no wind blew. She looked at the view and saw Westerham. In the distance, she could see the tallest spire of Knole House. She had read that it was considered a Calendar House. Very rare, they were built with references to the calendar. Some homes had three hundred and sixty-five windows and fifty-two rooms. As one of the largest homes in England, Knole House reported three hundred and sixty-five rooms, fifty-two staircases, twelve exterior doors, and seven courtyards.

Elizabeth was not impressed by the wealth of the structure and its furnishings or artwork. Nor did she care about the noble family who resided there. Once the property of an Archbishop of Canterbury, it had long been in possession of the Dukes of Dorset. Instead, she was intrigued by the architecture. How much engineering would it take to build such a massive home? What unique secrets did it hold?

Elizabeth loved the architecture of centuries past. She tired of the symmetrical lines of the current fashion. Recreating Greek and Roman spaces never seemed to fit in England. It seemed far too artificial to place those buildings here as though one would mistake Kent for Italy. Additionally, she enjoyed the unexpected and incongruities in life. She lamented that society stood rigidly, and their expectations of behaviour were no different than their tastes in buildings. Everyone must fit into certain moulds. Like a mason pouring clay into his cast, any undesirable excess can be scraped off and cast aside.

The Bennets were hopelessly a family of excesses. They nearly exceeded their income with their impulsive purchases. They exceeded acceptable manners by unreserved feelings and high spirits. Even Mary, although quiet, gave in to her feelings too much by choosing to ignore others and read or desired to sermonise at inappropriate times.

While Elizabeth reined in her emotions better, she felt them intensely. She had disliked Darcy immensely, and imprudently welcomed Wickham’s lies. The only one who acted with any sense was Jane, and yet, it seemed to only break her heart. Darcy had said that both he and Bingley could not determine if Jane had any feelings for Bingley beyond friendship. It appeared Charlotte had been correct and Jane should have been less reserved. Now, after so many months of separation, it seemed Bingley felt nothing for Jane.

An alarming though built in Elizabeth’s mind. In comparison to all other Bennets, Jane was very reserved. It would not take much to consider her reserve, in light of such a family propensity for liveliness, to be emotionless. Elizabeth had not acted as foolishly as Lydia, but she did mock Darcy and Miss Bingley often, and frequently to their faces. Indeed, she could not hoist the blame of her family’s behaviour on others. If Elizabeth had acted more carefully, then perhaps Darcy and Bingley would have taken more care to investigate Jane’s feelings. They would see that of the five daughters, two were different. Instead, Elizabeth’s poor behaviour could have directly affected her sister’s chance at happiness with Mr. Bingley.

Elizabeth ceased her sketching and pulled her knees to her chest, resting her head atop them. She had, at last, restored some of her opinion of Mr. Bingley. Darcy was now excused from nearly all complaints she had against him. If she could forgive Bingley and find him innocent, then Darcy was by extension as well. Her only complaint that had any merit was his behaviour the night of the first ball, and that he had not only explained but apologised for.

Now, Mr. Darcy attempted to help her regarding Wickham and his possible schemes against her family. She ought to forgive him for his first slight. He had more than made up for it with his attention to her since then. It was not as though he paid every lady in Hertfordshire or Kent the same attention.

The thought which should have soothed, gnawed at her. Was his kindness to her due to the guilt he felt? His absence today in the grove was a testament of such. He would have nothing to report yet and had no need to speak with her. In such a situation, she ought to be grateful, but she could not be. She would rather have merited his good opinion and respect. Instead, she was nothing more than a call on his honour. If she were less selfish, she would release him but not until after she learned the truth of Wickham and heard of Lydia being safe.

As the sun climbed high in the sky, Elizabeth gave up her intentions to draw. It now cast shadows over her view, and she rather thought it did over her life as well. Her family was whole and healthy. No calamity had struck them, and yet it did not mean they were happy or content. Nothing short of a crisis would jerk any of them out of their behaviour and, for that, shadows loomed over their sunlight. When Elizabeth had gathered the mental fortitude to return to the Parsonage, she stood and vowed she would be an exception to her family. Unlike her drawings of old buildings, which a rare contemporary man might find value in replicating, Society would level people off and force them into their rectangular moulds then paint them all with the same shade of stucco. She had better amend her ways now before she was too old to do so.

 

*****

 

Darcy paced in the grove awaiting Elizabeth. The day before he and Anne had gone over some possibilities of his conversation today. In the past, he had felt too nervous and had allowed Elizabeth to steer their conversations. He did not miss that such behaviour did little to recommend him to her. She frequently seemed annoyed at bearing the load of discussion. Beside her sparkling wit and lively teasing, he must have seemed dull and cold. If it were not for her request of assistance regarding Wickham, Darcy had little delusions that she would desire to spend any time in his presence. He had been inclined to think it ungentlemanly to press his advantage there, but Anne had insisted all was fair in love and war.

At last, he recognised her figure as it approached in the distance. He felt his lips turn up in a grin and, as she was too far away to see the effect she had on him, for one delicious moment he allowed himself to feel without rebuke. The moment passed too quickly, and as she came ever closer, he chided himself to calm his racing heart and arousal. Scaring the dickens out of a maiden with lust in his eyes and body would not help his suit. Memories of their one embrace, which she had been kind enough not to slap him for, were reserved for once he retired to his chambers for the evening.

Belatedly, he recalled Anne’s direction that he not stop and stare at her. He turned and began walking, quelling the urge to hail her.

“Good day, Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth called, and he heard the sound of her steps quicken.

Turning, he bowed. “Miss Bennet.” He began to turn and out of the corner of his eye saw her smile fall. “Would you care to walk with me?”

In the past, he had offered to escort her. The phrasing of his words was entirely proper and yet were such that she had little choice in the matter. Anne had recommended that he allow Elizabeth more power.

Elizabeth appeared surprised but smiled shyly as he extended his arm. “I would. I wish Charlotte or Maria walked more,” she said as her small hand wrapped around his arm.

Although their skin did not touch, he felt a spark just the same. Glancing to his right, he wondered if she did as well. She appeared more flushed than usual.

“I had thought you preferred solitary walks,” he said.

“I do,” she nodded. “However, that was in Hertfordshire with Longbourn being so full and noisy. Here…” she trailed off and bit her lip.

“What is it?” He asked gently, hoping she would confide in him again.

“My friend and her husband have a very strange marriage.” She shook her head. “No, that is not right. I suppose it is rather average, but it is not what I would wish to have, and I know not how she bears it!”

“Ah,” Darcy said. “And this makes you seek to be out of doors more often than usual?”

She cast her eyes to the trees. “I have found that I greatly prefer the Kent countryside. After all, I do not know when I shall view it again so I should take it in as often as I can.”

“And the effects of early spring are more…shall we say, interesting than a country Parsonage.”

“Precisely,” she nodded and grinned. “You must feel similarly. All of this,” she motioned to the woods beside the lane, still partially barren, “must appeal more than the splendour of Rosings.”

“Aye,” he said. “So few understand.”

Elizabeth’s step slowed, and he glanced down to her. She shook her head as though clearing thoughts but a look of wonder remained. Had she been surprised to hear they felt similarly about such things?

“I believe you have an added inducement which I do not,” he said and with his free hand motioned to the sketchbook she held. “Is there a particular view you prefer?”

“What makes you believe I sketch something other than manicured gardens and landscapes?”

“We are not walking in the direction of manicured gardens, and there is little view to draw yet.”

“And you do not find it unladylike?” Elizabeth asked with a challenging tone and arched eyebrow.

“Why should a lady have different interests than a gentleman? Or that there be less variety in the things that interest them. I ought not to have presumed it was a view at all. You may prefer some grand historical moment.”

“You have put much thought into this,” she said and eyed him suspiciously. “What would you draw?”

Darcy stroked his jaw before replying. “Methought I saw my late espoused saint Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave, Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave, Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom wash’d from spot of child-bed taint Purification in the old Law did save, And such as yet once more I trust to have Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind; Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin’d So clear as in no face with more delight. But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin’d, I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.”

“How sad and yet beautiful,” Elizabeth said.

“Milton,” Darcy shrugged. “It was my father’s favourite after my mother died. They had seen Herr Gluck’s opera Alcestis the night I was born. Do you know the story?”

Elizabeth nodded. “Alcestis loved her husband so much she volunteered to die in his place.”

“Yes,” Darcy agreed solemnly. He had never thought of how backwards such a story was until he considered the woman beside him. He would lay down his life for her. It should never be the other way around. Of course, now was not the time to discuss such matters. “If I had the talent to draw, I think I would portray the scene of her reunion with her husband. Of course, the difficulty is not merely in creating figures and scenery. It is capturing the emotion. I had often seen my father mourn my mother and wish her to life. It is an image that is ingrained in my mind.”

“He must have loved her very much,” Elizabeth said. She sounded regretful, perhaps because her parents did not have the same relationship.

“Yes, he did. I believe it was losing her which made him enjoy Wickham’s company.”

They had reached the top of a hill. Darcy led Elizabeth to a bench. He had long ago left the safety of Anne’s suggestions of conversation. How ruinous to court a lady while regaling her with maudlin stories of your mother’s death and father’s bereavement!

“Speaking of Wickham,” Elizabeth said and smoothed her skirt before gripping her hands. “I do not know that my father will read my letter immediately. Have you heard from your cousin?”

“Yes, forgive me for not mentioning it earlier.” Elizabeth’s brow was furrowed, and Darcy wished he could kiss away the lines of worry from her forehead. “He has been detained. There has been an outbreak of illness, and he is taking duties for another colonel. Instead of being able to visit his contacts, he must write them and await replies.”

“Your suggestion to visit my uncle now has greater merit than I had first credited.”

“Do not worry over the carriage. I have spoken with Anne, and she will secure a maid to chaperone you in the carriage when we depart.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, but Darcy thought he sensed a grudging acknowledgement. She did not like to be indebted to him.

“Over there,” he pointed to a tall spire in the distance, “is Knole Park. My aunt is friends with the Dowager Duchess’ mother, the Dowager Countess of Liverpool, who frequently stays at Knole. The Duke is still at Oxford, and his mother maintains control. The Dowager Liverpool often enjoys battling with my aunt on the matter of her sons vs. Lady Catherine’s nephews.”

“Oh my,” Elizabeth said and covered her mouth to muffle her laughter.

“Of course, Liverpool inherited the earldom nearly a decade ago and has served as Home Secretary. Richard and I can hardly compare.”

“And the other son?”

“Jenkinson is also in politics. He also volunteered for the Austrian Army in ‘05. Richard quite reveres him. He married about two years ago, has one babe and another on the way.” Darcy smiled at the vision of marital harmony Charles Jenkinson and his wife made. “His father-in-law is an accomplished astronomer. Mrs. Jenkinson has interests there as well.”

“How fascinating,” Elizabeth said. “And is the other Mrs. Jenkinson, that is Miss de Bourgh’s companion, a relation?”

“Yes…she is the first earl’s natural daughter.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth blushed.

“Jenkinson and his wife are visiting. We have an invitation to dine there in a few days’ time. I believe my aunt could be convinced to invite the Collinses and their guests.”

Elizabeth’s eyes went round at his words. “Truly?”

“Lady Catherine delights in exposing her favourites to better society.”

“But a duchess?”

“She bows to her mother, who was born the daughter of a squire. The Dowager’s brother-in-law is George Dance, the architect. She invites her family to the estate every Easter.”

“George Dance is there?” Elizabeth said in a voice full of wonder and hopped off the bench. She slowly approached the edge of the hill and stretched forward a hand as though she could touch the spire.

Darcy followed her. This was why he loved her. Meeting a humble architect meant more to her than duchesses and countesses. Investigating an old house meant more to her than trinkets and baubles. And while the coveted Society in London taught their daughters to conceal their feelings and emotions, to suppress everything they enjoyed for the sake of conforming to a mould, Elizabeth Bennet now gazed at a distant hill with wonder and joy. Darcy had never wished more than that he could pull her into his arms and kiss her with abandon. For then, he might have that lightness touch his soul. He suppressed a groan with a cough, and Elizabeth turned her head.

“I must seem very ridiculous to you,” she said with mirth in her eyes.

“Indeed, you do not. Ridiculous is how I describe Lady Catherine. Or do you think you are of the same disposition?”

Elizabeth’s eyes rounded and then she laughed. “I did not believe you ever teased!” Her normally brown eyes turned green with her amusement, and a sparkle in them remained even after she ceased laughing.

“Perhaps, I am learning,” he said. “What a tutor you are!” Darcy watched in horror as her smile fell slightly.

She clasped her hands behind her back and walked toward the bench. “You should take your aunt’s advice and practice more.”

Rather than dwelling on her rebuke, he caught hold of Elizabeth’s hint that Lady Catherine had disapproved of her in some manner. “I apologise for my aunt. I cannot conceive she found you wanting in any way.”

Elizabeth took up her sketch book and ambled toward the path. “Oh, I am not offended. I daresay she controlled herself mightily. For I gave her much ammunition and she only found one thing, thus far, to suggest I improve.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “As you have had the displeasure of hearing me perform you could attest that I do indeed need to practice the pianoforte more.”

Darcy lengthened his stride so he might walk beside her. “Your performance was lovely. I scarcely recall a more enjoyable evening from my time in Hertfordshire.”

Elizabeth first raised her brows and then knit them together in confusion. “It is certainly nothing compared to your sister’s abilities,” she said.

“You have not heard Georgiana play and know it only by reputation.”

“This is true,” Elizabeth said. “Do not think that I have not learned from my experiences and mean to judge her without merit. However, I did meet her, and I have heard her speak of her love for music. It is my belief that no lady will spend such time on something if she has no talent.”

Darcy searched for the correct reply. For, she was mistaken. He could not name a dozen ladies who indulged their interests and yet everyone he ever met was cried up as accomplished. It was not that the term was wrongly applied and their endeavours inferior. Surely they could all paint china far better than he ever could. Elizabeth simply had no understanding of how rare she was in the world.

He watched as she hummed a tune and trailed a finger along a bush just beginning to bloom. She looked wholly unspoilt and pure. What did she know of the darkness of high society? He had found her family inferior, but it was really the men and women of the ton who forced their children to cast aside their preferences. Parents used their children as chess pieces, plotting the next familial alliance and ways to improve their standing or financial gain.

While Darcy had taken offence at Mrs. Bennet’s designs on his friend, she had not forced her daughter, as beautiful as any London lady, into a match at a younger age. Nor was Bingley mean or deficient in abilities. Elizabeth had explained Darcy was disliked in Meryton. The Bennets had not suggested Jane attempt to entice Darcy; they apparently cared something about their daughter’s happiness. Neither had they forced Elizabeth to wed Mr. Collins, if what Anne had said was true.

“You have grown reticent, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth interrupted his thoughts. “And have quite the fearsome scowl on your face.”

“I am sorry,” he said. “You have the benefit of having met my sister and no longer cling to the prejudices you first had. Might you tell me something of your sister?”

Anne had suggested Darcy take an interest in Elizabeth’s family to display his respect for them. Elizabeth stumbled, and Darcy grasped her elbow to keep her from falling.

“My thanks,” she said hastily. “You wish to speak of my—my sisters?”

Darcy looked at the path before them. “I do not know that we will have time to discuss them all,” he said and winked.

Elizabeth grinned. Lord, he felt like he could move mountains when she looked at him like that.

“Very well,” she nodded. For the next few minutes, Darcy listened as his beloved explained the gentleness of her eldest sister. As Elizabeth talked, he could feel her love for Jane. He had known, since Elizabeth walked to Netherfield, that she worried over Jane but could now appreciate how Elizabeth depended on her sister. He conceded, from Elizabeth’s explanations, Jane deserved the devotion. His regret for interfering with Bingley doubled.

They reached the Parsonage gate. Elizabeth turned to him. “Will you come in, Mr. Darcy?”

Darcy pulled out his watch fob. “I regret I cannot at the moment, but I will call on the morrow.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth said. “Thank you for the pleasant walk,” she genuinely smiled, and Darcy felt his heart race.

Impulsively, he grabbed her hand and bowed over it. “The pleasure was mine, Miss Bennet.” As he lifted her dainty gloved hand nearly to his lips, he thought he heard her gasp. Feeling just bold enough to meet her eyes when he rose, he saw a flicker of confusion before he turned and left.

Tickled Tuesday- Winning at life

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I work from home but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a schedule or deadlines. However, the last few weeks I have not been making them. I feel so scattered and if I manage to shower, eat at a decent time and get work done I call it a victory! What makes you feel like you’ve just won at life?