Treasured– Chapter Five

treasured finalIs Wickham really in Meryton? What is Will going to do about that?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

Chapter Five

Will tugged on his gloves in Netherfield’s front hall. Charles ought to have arrived by now. After Richard decided to go for a ride through Meryton in hopes of finding Georgiana, Will determined his cousin and sister should not be the only one seeing Elizabeth on this day. Speaking with Charles, they decided to ride to Longbourn. Finally, his friend arrived in the hall.

“You are looking more well-groomed than usual,” Will said as he looked Charles over.

“It is an important day,” Charles said and fiddled with his cufflinks.

“Is it?”

“You will pull it out of me, will you?”

Will playfully bumped into his friend’s shoulder. “If it is important for the reason I think it is then I should say if you find it so difficult to utter the words for me then you will never survive your lady.”

“My Bennet lady is far sweeter than yours,” Charles said.

Will laughed as he recalled his several proposals to Elizabeth. She had been a bit demanding when he could barely string a coherent thought. Jane surely would not put Charles through all that. “And her father?”

Charles ceased his movements. “He would not refuse would he?”

Will did not think Mr. Bennet would, but he would probably enjoy teasing his potential son-in-law. “I expect he will give no leniency if you beat around the matter. You are asking for his daughter’s hand. He needs to see that you can be the man of the house.”

Charles nodded and finally began walking toward the stables again. “I can be the man of the house. I am the man of the house!”

“Are you?” Will asked.

“As it happens,” Charles said after mounting his horse, “Caroline and the Hursts will be returning to London shortly.”

“This was your idea?”

“Yes,” Charles nodded. “Not that I have explained it to them but if Wickham has intentions for you, they are safer in Town. Secondly, I will not put up with Caroline and Louisa’s mocking of Elizabeth or Jane. I have made my mind up and do not care for childish tantrums. If they do not like it here, they can go to London.”

“And?”

Charles thought for a moment. “And I will inform Caroline she cannot go over the allotted budget of what she might have spent while here. Allowing her extra time in Town is not to be a reward for bad behavior.”

“Excellent,” Will said. Charles ought to have taken Caroline in hand years ago. However, as Will was discovering with Georgiana, it was not easy to restrain one’s sister. He could only guess that their closeness in age created even more problems.

Will slapped the reins against his mount and raced off. “Catch up!” He grinned over his shoulder. “Or you will never beat me!”

“I did not know we were racing!” Charles called after him as he directed his horse to a gallop.

Arriving at Longbourn, Will immediately sensed something was wrong. The servant who answered the door looked at them warily and brought them to the drawing room where a pale Elizabeth sat drinking wine as Jane rubbed her back.

“Perhaps you were mistaken,” Jane said.

“No. I know it was him,” Elizabeth replied.

Will cleared his throat, garnering Elizabeth’s notice. Before he had made more than two steps into the room, Elizabeth had raced to his arms and squeezed him tightly. “What is this? Are you well?”

“I am; are you?” Elizabeth pulled back and glanced over him.

Not understanding her behaviour, Will searched the room for Georgiana and Richard. They were not present. “Come, let us sit. You feel as cold as ice.”

Will led Elizabeth to a settee and rubbed her hands between his. “Miss Bennet, could you articulate for me what has scared Elizabeth nearly out of her wits?”

Jane looked at Mary before replying. “Elizabeth thinks she saw Mr. Wickham in Meryton.”

Instantly, Will’s body tensed. How could he be here? Did not Richard have Runners watching the scoundrel’s movements? Where was Richard?

“Will!” Elizabeth cried.

Looking down, Will realised he was vigorously rubbing Elizabeth’s hands. He released them. “Forgive me.”

Taking a deep breath, he blew it out. She was safe, that much was clear. Additionally, Richard, wherever he was, had surely ensured Georgiana was safe. He had no reason for urgent action. Bingley had been correct earlier. The safer route was to form a plan.

Fortunately, before Will had to ask about their whereabouts, Richard and Georgiana entered the drawing room. Richard’s face was set in a stern and grim expression, while Georgiana visibly stiffened. Upon seeing Will. “I have been apprised of the situation. Did either of you see him? Georgiana, did he speak with you?”

“Of course, I did not speak with him,” Georgiana said with flashing eyes that indicated annoyance. “I was never alone.”

“Georgiana did separate from Miss Elizabeth and Miss Bennet,” Richard supplied.

“I was getting better acquainted with Miss Mary,” Georgiana interjected. She gave the lady a soft smile. “She did not leave my side, and I believe we shall become very good friends.”

“Miss Mary, is this true?” Richard asked.

Will hated that he had to doubt his sister. He loathed that it was displayed for the Bennet ladies to see and that his cousin had to take on the role as Will had already failed to protect Georgiana once.

“Yes,” Mary nodded enthusiastically. “Mrs. Darcy and I went to the bookshop together. Jane and Lizzy had gone to the milliner.”

“I did give them leave to go to look at books without me,” Elizabeth said. “I hope you are not angry with me.”

Will shook his head and affectionately touched Elizabeth’s hand. “I am not angry, my dear.” He knew Georgiana well enough to suppose she had insisted on going. He would deal with that later. Now, the greater concern was Wickham. “Are you certain that it was he? You have not seen him and several years.”

“I could not forget what he looks like. If I had greater sketching ability, I would draw his picture for you.”

“Lizzy, might you be overwrought?” Jane asked. “You have been greatly concerned lately, and Mr. Wickham has featured prominently in those worries.”

“I know what I saw!” Elizabeth turned to Will. “Do you believe me?”

“Yes, love. Richard and I shall discuss how we will discover why he is in this place and what his potential motives are.”

“Are we in danger?” Jane asked.

“Certainly not,” Charles said.

Will nearly jumped at the voice. He had forgotten his friend was here as Charles had been uncharacteristically silent. “Charles is correct. We will do the best in our ability to protect you all, and he has nothing to gain from harming any of you. There is nothing to worry about.”

As Will said it, he forced himself to not cringe at the lie. The other girls probably had no reason to be concerned. Elizabeth, however, could be a target. Wickham would know that harming her would crush Will.

“Elizabeth, do you remember anything about where he was or what he wore? Were there any distinguishing features?” Will asked.”

Elizabeth thought in silence for a moment or two. “Now that I think about it, his jacket looked like a militia uniform. I could not see most of his body only his face.”

“And the location?”

“It was where our carriage was. Near the water pump.”

“There is a tavern nearby, and I suspect that is where we could find many other the militiamen if not the Colonel of the Regiment himself,” Richard said.

“We will journey there ourselves as soon as we bring Georgiana back to Netherfield.”

“Must I go?” Georgiana turned to her brother and gave him a pleading look.

It had worked when she was a small child and wished for some trifling thing from him. Years ago, it had ceased to work, and she had used the tactic with less frequency. He distrusted her motives for attempting it now.

“You have visited long enough for one day.”

“I thought I was invited to spend time with your betrothed?”

“And yet you did not,” Will raised his brows. He would not publicly expose that she had arrived before the “invitation” was ever issued. However, he was not in a mood to indulge any of her requests. She had disobeyed him again.

“Allow me to rectify that now. Miss Elizabeth also enjoys music. We could play together.” Georgiana sent Mary an apologetic look.

“That is a fine idea for your next meeting. It is useless to argue, though.”

“Oh, I would not dream of arguing with you dear brother.”

Georgiana stood and curtsied to her new friends, but it was done with an attitude Will did not like. If Elizabeth had less strength of character, he would wonder about bringing his sister around her lest the poor behaviour rub off.

“Goodbye for now,” Georgiana said to the room while wearing a false smile. “I trust we shall meet again soon.”

Richard escorted her to the carriage while Will and Charles said farewell to their ladies. When Will grasped Elizabeth’s hand to bring to his lips, he felt her tremble.

“Fear not, my love. We shall apprehend Wickham. You are in no danger. I will inform your father on my way out. This will soon be but yet another unpleasant memory.”

“It is not myself who I worry for you. I have told you this,” Elizabeth whispered and glanced around anxiously. “Take care,” she squeezed his hands tightly, “for you carry my heart with you and it could not survive another blow.”

Will had never ached to hold her more, but he could not gather her into his arms before her sisters. They had already broken propriety once while she was in the throes of distress. Soon, they would not have to separate, and she could always be with him. He placed a stray tendril behind her ear. “Everything shall be well,” he promised.

While he had not felt the words when he said them earlier, he meant them now. Whatever it took to make Elizabeth happy again, to ease her worries and erase the concerned look in her eye and lines between her brow, he would do. A quick kiss to her hands, a short conversation with Mr. Bennet, and Will was climbing in the carriage within minutes.

Looking at his sister, he vowed, “It will not work.”

“What will not work?” Georgiana asked and glanced nervously at Charles.

“I do not mind if he hears this,” Will said. “I will explain all to him later. I reference your dear Wickham’s scheme to have you ingratiate yourself with the Bennets.”

“That is not what I was attempting to do!” Georgiana folded her arms over her chest.

“I could care less if you liked them or they liked you. Elizabeth will be your sister, and you will have plenty of time to get to know her better once our marriage begins. I will not be bringing you with me on any subsequent calls at Longbourn until you earn my trust.”

Georgiana said nothing. She glared angrily at Will for a moment before defiantly turning her head and staring out the window. Will nodded his head at her actions. She knew it was useless to argue. He would not budge on this.

They arrived at Netherfield after a silent and tense ride. Charles had wisely chosen not to speak. Miss Bingley met them in the drawing room.

“I would ask where you all wandered off to but with those scowls, I believe I can guess,” she teased at the serious looks the men wore. “Mrs. Bennet’s effusions always makes me feel the same way. Colonel Fitzwilliam, do you not think it is absolutely intolerable that Mr. Darcy has aligned himself with such a woman?”

“We did not speak with Mrs. Bennet,” Charles said before Richard could answer.

“You did not?” Caroline’s brow furrowed. “Well, surely you did not speak to Mr. Bennet! I have never heard the man utter a word!”

“I did go to Longbourn with the intent of speaking to Mr. Bennet about a courtship with his eldest daughter, who you call a friend,” Charles hissed between grit teeth. “I have had enough of this, Caroline. Tell your maid to ready your trunks for tomorrow. I will inform Mr. Hurst as well.”

“Surely you are not banishing me to London because of a ill-timed tease!”

“I am sending you to London so I may court the woman I love in peace. She deserves no less from me.” He motioned to the door. “Now, go on your way. When I return, we will have a very candid conversation about your spending habits in town.”

Caroline scurried off calling out a mixture of disbelief at her treatment and vows to behave better if only he did not cut her allowance. Charles murmured that he would speak with Hurst and then return.

Georgiana sulked to the door. “I suppose you will do the same to me,” she said as she neared her brother.

“No. Go to your chamber, and we will speak to you when we return.”

Georgiana nodded but hesitated for a moment. She looked back at Will with tears shimmering in her eyes. “I know it to be impossible for Wickham to behave as you have described. He would never hurt anyone and could never have hurt Father.”

“Go now,” Will said and shook his head. It was useless to try and convince her of anything just then.

While Richard and Will waited for Charles to return they came up with a general plan on how to approach Colonel Forester. When their friend returned, they apprised him of it before setting off for Meryton.

They returned two hours later with even more haggard expressions than they wore at their outset. George Wickham was a member of the Militia and thus far an exemplary soldier. Will could hardly fathom the young man he knew happily doing such menial tasks. Other than a lifetime of taunting, spending his inheritance too quickly, and his attempted seduction of Will’s sister there was nothing to lay against the man. In the end, they had no examples of Wickham’s perfidy aside from his spending too freely. Colonel Forester sent them on their way with a promise to keep an eye on the man but would not have others picking on one of his officers either.

As the evening wore on, Will wrote a message to Mr. Bennet informing him of the meeting and ordered a tray to his room. He could not abide the theatrics of Charles’ sisters or his own. One good thing came from Wickham’s presence in the area, Caroline Bingley and her sister would be gone, and Will would have one less headache. As it was, he would need most of his concentration to affect confidence and security when calling at Longbourn when in reality he felt nothing but sheer terror at the thought of Wickham hurting Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion–Chapter Four

Spring Blooming - White Blossoms And Sunlight In The Sky

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

 

Darcy allowed Elizabeth a half an hour to go through her nightly ablutions. He had requested the valet purchase some feminine soaps and lotions as he believed Elizabeth must have gone without such luxuries since leaving Longbourn. Not that she looked unclean or unkempt. Only that the sorts of products she would be accustomed to she could no longer afford.

Never again, he vowed. Never again would she go without. On the morrow, he would write to his solicitor to begin settlement matters. They would stop in London on their way to Scotland. There he would sign the documents and have all of that arranged before their marriage.

A part of him hated the idea of an elopement. Georgiana might feel it hypocritical, but they had no other choice. Her family did not deserve consideration even if the law afforded Mr. Bennet with rights until Elizabeth’s first and twentieth birthday which, regrettably, was many months away. He could put Elizabeth up in some hidden location in London where her family could not reach her but calling the banns would merely invite trouble. It would also promote questions in Hertfordshire. He could hardly imagine what story the Bennets had devised to make up Elizabeth’s sudden departure but an unexpected romance and an elopement they could more easily cover than weeks of courtship in London.

That the Bennets must have made up some story about Elizabeth to explain her absence, Darcy heartily believed. If her disappearance would only ruin her reputation, they likely would not trouble themselves. However, what Elizabeth did could reflect on the remaining sisters and whatever bits of good reputation they had. If they would not consider treatment for Jane’s illness out of fear of judgment, then Darcy doubted they would want more attention to the fact of yet another missing daughter.

After they were safely married, Darcy would consider how best to remove Jane and Mary from their wayward parents. Finding Wickham, and he hoped Lydia would be with him, would be the first goal.

On that subject, Darcy knew he would soon have to tell Elizabeth about his change in understanding of the ton and the shocking, appalling truth he had learned from Georgiana.

Knocking on the door to the room, Elizabeth called out that he might enter. Darcy knew from the volume of her voice that she must already be in bed as it was in the far corner but he could not keep his eyes from ascertaining the truth. She looked adorable bundled up in the bed with the coverlet up to her chin. Soon he would call her wife and have the right to lay beside her. Redirecting his thoughts, Darcy walked to the settee. A week’s “rest” on it would probably cause more injury to his back than traveling would do to his arm. A week in cramped quarters with the woman he loved and would marry—that most assuredly was more dangerous than anything that could happen traveling with a tender arm.

“Focus on something else,” Darcy mumbled under his breath.

“Pardon?” Elizabeth called from the bed.

Darcy squeezed his eyes shut and began to remove his coat. This was folly. He ought to have hired a maid for her and sent her on to another inn. What was he thinking tempting faith?

“Fitz…Fitzwilliam?”

“I had asked if you require anything else.”

“No…”

She sounded uncertain. “Are you sure?”

“No, I think I need rest more than anything else.” She stifled a yawn.

Darcy nodded and proceeded to remove his waistcoat. Shirtsleeves and breeches it would be. He could get no tolerable rest in his coats. His eyes scanned the room. He would need a quilt… Of course, the extra one would be on the bed. He slowly approached. Elizabeth had her eyes closed.

“Pardon me,” he said, and her eyes flew open then widened at his attire. “Might I have the extra coverlet?”

“Oh, certainly,” Elizabeth sat up a little, the blanket dropping from her chin but still entirely covering her body. “I ought to have considered that and put it over there. I am unused to sharing a bed—” Elizabeth silenced and turned red.

“Think nothing of it. I am a grown man and can see to my needs. I would not expect you to anticipate my desires.” At the moment, he most certainly did not want her to know the direction of his wants and wishes. “Sleep well, Elizabeth.”

“Sleep well.” Elizabeth gave him a nervous smile and returned her head to the pillow.

Uncomfortable on the settee and simultaneously worried about Elizabeth and overjoyed at her acceptance of his proposal, Darcy found it difficult to fall asleep. She, on the other hand, had quickly fallen asleep but talked and muttered to herself throughout it. Darcy was equal parts enchanted and annoyed by it.

Eventually, he nodded off. A floorboard creaked, awakening him. Who was in his room? Were they there to hurt Elizabeth? Another creak, the fiend was near the door. They must have just entered. Springing to life, Darcy rolled and lunged at the intruder, grabbed at their legs and yanked until they fell. Darcy scrambled atop the slender-framed man and pinned the arms down.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“Fi-Fi-Fitzwilliam?”

Elizabeth’s voice was breathy and full of fear but not from the far corner of the room. Belatedly, Darcy realized the would-be attacker wore a skirt and was a woman.

“Elizabeth!” Darcy pulled back. His eyes adjusting to the dark, allowed him to make out her countenance. “Forgive me, I believed you were an intruder.”

“Someone intent on stealing from the great Mr. Darcy of Pemberley?” Elizabeth jested, but her voice still sounded fearful to Darcy.

“Yes, my most precious thing.” Darcy knelt at her side and assisted her in sitting.

“Oh? What would that be?”

He evaded answering. “Are you injured?”

“Just a bump.”

Darcy frowned. He had thought he had defended his domain better than that. He stood and offered a hand help Elizabeth. As she began to put weight on her foot, she yelped in pain.

“You are hurt!” Darcy sunk back on his haunches. “It is my fault!”

“No,” Elizabeth hastened to say. “It was mine.” She shivered.

“Let us get you back to the bed. Should I send for the apothecary?”

“No, it is not my first twisted ankle. Elevation and rest will sort it out. However, I do not think I can stand.”

“I shall carry you–”

“Your arm!”

“It is a short distance.” Darcy began to slide one arm under Elizabeth’s legs. “Wrap your arms around my neck.” Elizabeth’s nearness was making it hard for him to concentrate and distracted him from any pain he should feel from the effort. Elizabeth clung to him, most likely to spare more weight on his arm. “Relax, my love.”

Darcy slowly made his way across the room, barely able to see the next step before him. He ought to have found a candle before he played the hero. The excitement wore off, and his arm began to throb. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he prayed the bed would appear.

Suddenly his arm gave out and Elizabeth, who had loosened her grip too much, slipped from his hold. She landed with a flop on the bed and let out a moan as her ankle jostled. Darcy, who had been in mid-motion bumped against the bed and fell atop her, landing on his arm. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he began to pull back.

“We are a pair, are we not?” Elizabeth laughed.

“Indeed,” Darcy chuckled. After lighting a few candles, he found several cushions from the settee. As he had expected, she blushed as he placed them under her leg. Then, he sat next to her on the edge of the bed. “Why were you at the door? From where did you return?”

“I had not gone anywhere,” Elizabeth stared at her hands. “I was leaving.”

“Leaving?” Darcy’s tone implied his incredulous thoughts but could not convey his deeper feelings. “You would leave me?”

“I…I…” Elizabeth sobbed into her hands for a moment. As suddenly as the outburst began, she ended it. “No, no more of that. I will not resort to tears every time I am unhappy or uncomfortable.”

“I applaud the notion.” He waited for her to answer as honestly as she always had.

“I awoke and was startled by my surroundings again. However, I recalled where I was before I left the bed. I panicked for an entirely different reason. Marriage to me would bring you and your family name ruin. I could not bear to cause you such unhappiness.”

“And leaving me without a word or a note, having me fear for your safety and wonder where you were with no money and not even your meager belongings would have helped? After telling you of my love? After agreeing to be my wife?” Darcy frowned. He did love Elizabeth, but he would not encourage this sort of behaviour and mindset. “No. That is not why you left. It had nothing to do with me. You know why you tried to leave.”

Elizabeth swallowed and nodded. “I do.”

“I do not approve of your momentary lapse in judgment. However, my fear and anger do not diminish the love I have for you even in if you make foolhardy decisions.”

Seemingly emboldened by his words, Elizabeth raised her chin. “I intended to leave because I think I deserve nothing. I should live in squalor and be friendless. Your generosity and love are so foreign to me that I would rather go back to the struggle I know than accept what you offer. I do not know what I was thinking—it sounds so ridiculous now.”

“It is ridiculous but not without justness. You have been terribly wronged and betrayed by those dearest to you. Rather than blame them, you have turned on yourself, and I am too new to have earned your trust.” He glanced at her foot. “It seems we have an additional reason to stay now and become better acquainted.” Darcy stood. “I suppose I do not have to worry about any repeat attempts.”

“No, indeed,” Elizabeth said with a smirk.

“Good night again.” He bowed, wincing at the effort, and took one step away before Elizabeth said his name. “Yes?”

“I will not banish you to the settee after your efforts this evening. Would you…that is…you should…” Elizabeth threw her hands over her face but could not hide the redness from peeking through.

“What is it you are suggesting?”

“I can only say this if I do not look at you as well,” she said as her voice was muffled by her hands. “You should sleep in the bed.”

“No,” Darcy said and began to take another step.

“Would you? That is, would you for me? Twice now, I have awoken afraid of my surroundings.”

“Will not a man in your bed alarm you more?”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said as she continued to cover her face which turned even redder. “But if I wake you then you might speak and calm me before I do anything rash. Eventually, I will have to remember you and everything that has passed this day.”

Indecision warred in Darcy. Lying next to Elizabeth would be a dangerous decision. Not that he could not control his actions. He would never force himself on her or seduce her. His thoughts, however… Darcy had yet to learn to master them. Yet, she looked so fragile and in need of his care. He would put himself through hell for her.

Wordlessly, Darcy walked to the other side of the bed and climbed in. Mere inches from him, he felt Elizabeth’s body relax and heard her sigh.

“Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Fitzwilliam,” she replied.

 

*****

Elizabeth nestled against the warmth at her side. She had never been warmer in a bed. Nor had it ever smelled so inviting—different than Jane’s rose water. The scent was earthy and manly. The thought awakened her other senses.

Someone held her close to them. Strong arms—a man’s arms. And yet, Elizabeth felt none of the fear that she had the night before upon awakening in a strange room. Slowly waking, her memory returned. Mr. Darcy—Fitzwilliam as he asked to be called—was the man holding her.

All her life, she had thought such intimacy with a man before marriage was unpardonable. Indeed, she could hardly imagine being this close to a man after marriage and merely had to take it on good authority that loving her husband would create the desire. She had guarded her virginity in the last weeks when giving it up would have been far easier and given her some luxury. Now, within a matter of days, she would be offering it to Mr. Darcy, and she did not tremble in fear at the thought.

When Elizabeth considered all the other gentlemen of her acquaintance who might have found her and offered their hand in marriage to rescue her, she had to concede Mr. Darcy was the only one with whom she would feel this—whatever this was.

“Are you awake?” he whispered against her forehead.

“Mmmm,” she said and took a deep inhale from where her head rested above his heart. A steady beat resounded in her ear. Slowly she lifted her head to meet Darcy’s eyes. The affection in them astounded her.

“You are so beautiful,” he said and tenderly caressed one cheek.

“I must be a mess,” Elizabeth said and self-consciously touched her hair.

Darcy caught her hand and kissed it. “You are stunning. I have envisioned this so often…I never thought it would be possible…and yet you are lovelier than any of my visions.”

“You have thought of me—of this?” Elizabeth blushed.

Darcy chuckled. “Very often…countless times a day.” He squeezed her gently. “The dream pales in comparison to reality. I really have you here in my arms!”

Elizabeth returned his smile, as uncomfortable as she was with such unabashed enthusiasm.

One of Darcy’s hands slid up to her cheek. Cupping it, he met her eyes and earnestly asked, “May I kiss you?”

Elizabeth’s breath hitched, and her lashes fluttered, but she awkwardly nodded her consent. Slowly, Darcy leaned his head forward until their lips just brushed. His were soft and smooth. It was more exquisite than Elizabeth had ever dared imagine. She sighed against his mouth before pulling back.

Darcy groaned, in what Elizabeth believed was appreciation, and pulled her closer, fusing their lips to one another. For a moment, she felt his body tense, his grip around her tighten. Elizabeth raised her free arm and returned the gentle pressure she felt around her waist. Suddenly, Darcy rolled away, breathing hard and flinging an arm over his eyes.

“Did I–did I do something wrong?” Elizabeth asked. “Are you displeased?”

Darcy rolled to face her. “The only thing which displeases me about our kiss is that my desires are at odds with my honour.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. So new as she was to the ways of carnal temptations, she did not fully comprehend what he meant.

Smoothing the deep lines on her forehead, Darcy chuckled. “Do you know what usually happens when a man and woman share a bed?”

Blushing profusely, Elizabeth nodded. “The girls I roomed with sometimes brought men back with them. I would leave the room, but one time I came in unannounced…”

Oh…he wanted to do that? Elizabeth admitted the man seemed well-pleased, if pained, her friend appeared less so, but she certainly brought men back too often to hate the experience.

“Ah…” He glanced away uncomfortably. “What you saw and were exposed to was something no gentlewoman should ever see and most never know.”

“I know giving your virtue to a man other than your husband is wrong—but would they not experience the act itself? I confess I never thought Molly and Susie so wicked and yet…”

“I sometimes forget how sheltered ladies are.” Something like regret emitted from his eyes. “A married lady enjoys her husbands…ah…affections from marital duty, a desire for children, and I hope genuine care and devotion. As such the physical experience would be different than someone who does it as an exchange of money.”

“You mean…”

“Yes, my dear.” He nodded. “It is not so unusual for women of little means to offer such services, especially at an inn. Nor is it out of the ordinary for men to take advantage of releasing their desires with any comely and willing woman.”

Elizabeth frowned. Did she have the courage to ask the question that burned on her tongue? The thought of which brought an ache to her heart and made her eyes sting with unshed tears. Yet, why should it? She did not love him and had no right to feel possessive.

“What concerns you?” He asked patiently.

Elizabeth sucked in a deep breath. She could not explain all of it to him. Would she ever meet his past lovers? Were they indeed in the past or would he continue such things? The chance for embarrassment would be very high. She had heard whisperings of kept women before. Did he have a favourite—one who would compete with her to be first in his affections? Or were they meetings with strangers? Out of the hundreds of questions she had, she focused on the one that mattered the most. “Have you?”

“No.” He grinned when she sighed in relief. “I never liked the hypocrisy that a man might do what he will while women would be condemned to act the same way. Besides, there are diseases from such acts.”

“And you will never?”

“No, I will never take to another woman’s bed—even if you never welcome me.”

Elizabeth had not thought such a conversation—awkward as it had been—would make her admiration for Darcy grow but his frank and honest way of talking, his vow of fidelity even without relief for his feelings, affected her deeply.

“Elizabeth?”

She focused her eyes on the man she would marry.

“You should know, however, if we do ever join it will be very different than what you had seen. Pleasure is not one-sided and is a hundred-fold when both are in love.”

Before Elizabeth could fully understand what he meant, he sat up.

“Let us begin our day. How is your ankle? I have been thinking, and perhaps one of the maids here might assist you in your toilette.”

Elizabeth gave her consent, and he left to speak with Cuthbert, leaving her alone with muddled thoughts and an aching coldness as his heat dissipated from the bed.

Treasured–Chapter Four

treasured finalI’m sorry this is a bit tardy this week. My husband has been home sick today with flu like symptoms, I had a migraine most of the day, and I was ill all last weekend so I didn’t get things scheduled ahead of time. The plot thickens with this chapter!

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

 

The following morning, Elizabeth, Jane, and Mary awaited Georgiana’s arrival at Longhorn. When, at last, the carriage arrived no one got out.

After waiting several minutes, Jane broke the silence. “Perhaps she does not wish to leave the coach.”

“This most unusual,” Elizabeth said. “For I know Will desired her to come in and meet the family.”

“I can hardly blame her for not wanting to meet any of us,” Mary interjected. “What are we to the Darcy’s? We should go to her.”

“I suppose so,” said Elizabeth. “Although, Will had wanted her to come and greet the family.”

“I daresay if your Will truly wanted that to happen, he would have ridden with her,” Mary observed.

Elizabeth forced herself not to reply to her sister’s rather annoying opinion. “She was very shy as a young girl. Perhaps once we have shopped and chatted and gotten to know one other again, she shall be more willing to come inside.”

“Yes, I think you are right, Lizzy,” said Jane.

The girls collected their outerwear and walked to the coach. Once inside, conversation was nearly nonexistent. Thankfully, the journey to Meryton was a quick one. It was so short the girls often choose to walk. Elizabeth sighed to herself. This must be part of becoming Mrs. Darcy. She could not expect to have the freedom to walk to so many places any longer. As she observed Miss Darcy, it appeared to Elizabeth that an additional reason for the carriage was likely due to the younger girl’s shopping habits. They would need the space for all of her purchases.

“Here we are,” Elizabeth chirped.

“How quaint,” Georgiana said in a disapproving tone.

“I am sure it is not as sophisticated as London,” Mary said. “But it does have its charms.”

“Indeed, Elizabeth said with a smile. “I recall from Sam’s letters that the area around Pemberley was not as large and did not have as new styles. For a country town, I imagine Meryton might have more to offer in the way of shopping and people to meet than many others.”

“I hope you will not miss it too much, Miss Elizabeth. You should know that my brother does not favor town, so on your marriage, you will be spending much time in the country with far fewer shops and people to meet. I know many people are aghast when they learn my brother does not host lavish parties or run up bills at all the local shops.”

Elizabeth glanced at Jane, confused Georgiana’s annoyed tone. “I assure you, Georgiana, I quite love the country and look forward to seeing my new home.”

“I do wish for you to call me Miss Darcy. Additionally, you should know there is much more to running an estate as large as Pemberley than merely seeing all of its grand rooms and expensive furnishings.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth said. “I did not mean to make it sound like anything else. I know Pemberley is larger than Longbourn, but I believe I am up to the task of managing it. Of course, with the help of you and the housekeeper.”

Georgiana laughed. “I am afraid I will of be no help. I shall spend most of my time in London. I take my lessons very seriously. Perhaps, I might teach you various accomplishments.” Georgiana’s eyes lingered on Mary and Jane. “If you ever invite your sisters, that his if  Will ever believes they are worthy of my company, I should be happy to assist them as well.”

Elizabeth was saved from having to reply further to Georgianna by the footmen opening the door. One by one, he handed the ladies down. Once outside, Georgiana surveyed the square with a critical eye. If Elizabeth had thought Will was proud when they first met all those years ago, it was nothing compared to the expression of his sister.

“Where would you like to start, Miss Darcy?” asked Jane. “We have a milliner, a dressmaker, even a bookseller who sometimes gets music.”

“Lizzy must go to the dressmaker and milliner, and Jane prefers those as well. However,” said Mary, “if you would prefer the bookshop, I always came to visit it. I would welcome your opinion of our offerings compared to London’s shops.”

“What? Have you never been to town?

“No,” Mary answered looking at her shoes. “I have just come out, and my relations have only ever invited Jane and Lizzy.”

“You must not feel left out, Mary.” Jane put her arm around her sister. “You are out, and now that Lizzy is getting married there will be additional space in their home for you. Nor must you make it sound as though we were always visiting. There many years we could not as Aunt was too busy with the children.”

“I know,” Mary sighed.

“In that case,” Georgiana said with a smile, “I do like your suggestion, Miss Mary.”

“Really?” Mary asked in surprise.

“Indeed! Music is my greatest joy in life, and the instrument at Netherfield is quite nice. It does not compare to the one at Pemberley or even Darcy house, but it will do. However,” Georgiana rolled her eyes, “I cannot abide by Miss Bingley’s taste. I do not know that we shall find anything suitable here, but it is worth a look.”

“I also greatly enjoy playing.” Mary gave Georgiana a timid smile. “I am sure my talent is nothing to yours after training with Masters in town. If you desire to teach me, I very much would like to learn.”

“Excellent!” Georgiana linked her arm through Mary’s. “We should go to the bookshop and then meet your sisters at the dressmaker’s.” They began to step away.

Mary looked over her shoulder. “You do not mind, Lizzy, do you?

“Of course not,” Elizabeth shook her head. “It is very appropriate for you to spend time together especially as you have such similar interests. I also enjoy playing but lack the passion Mary has for it. I would love to hear you play again, Miss Darcy. I have very fond memories of it from years ago. You must be even more improved since then.”

As Elizabeth and Jane made their way to the dressmaker and the milliner, Elizabeth could not help but wonder at Georgiana changing from the girl she had known five years ago. This Elizabeth could explain to herself. Georgiana was now at the most trying years of a young lady’s life, and some alteration in mood and temperament would be expected. Her kindness to Mary would be proof that her ill-nature was not a permanent change, except that Elizabeth did not trust Georgiana was genuinely interested in Mary.

Mary was a year older, but Georgiana appeared the elder in many ways. Although she was the younger lady, Georgiana had gone to London and been in the world. She had already made the mistake of trusting George Wickham and now believed brother tore her apart from a constant lover. Mary, by contrast, was quiet. The only common interests or experiences they could have would be the pianoforte. While Mary counted it as an accomplishment, she played mostly for enjoyment and did not have the skills at seventeen that Georgiana had at twelve. Georgiana had many years worth of music masters. Mary did not usually separate from Jane and Elizabeth on their trips to Meryton, and it concerned Elizabeth how quickly Georgiana manipulated everyone around her.

Elizabeth concerns seemed for not, however, when Mary and Georgiana arrived at the dressmaker’s in due time, none the worse for the wear. “How did you find the bookshop, Miss Darcy?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mary was quite correct. It is nothing compared to the sophisticated shops of London. However, it will do, and I did find this,” she held up a package, “It is not as new as the pieces I find in Town but far better than what Miss Bingley has at Netherfield.”

“She bought me some pieces as well,” Mary said with a blush.

“That was not necessary, Miss Darcy,” Jane said. “We would have lent Mary the money if she did not have enough.”

“Think nothing of it. There is nothing I would not do for my friend.”

The expression Miss Darcy wore almost fooled Elizabeth. It likely would have convinced anyone else of her good intentions. Elizabeth wondered if Will knew how Georgiana spent her money. He was no spendthrift, and he would not approve of his sister becoming one. However, she did do something kind, and it was only music, so there is little reason to criticize.

“We wished to show you around the square, now,” Jane said.

Elizabeth had expected Georgiana to refuse, but so few could ever decline anything Jane offered. Georgiana’s lips turned up in a fake smile, and she linked her arm through Mary’s. “I see no harm. Perhaps we will meet with some new acquaintances as you seem so fond of doing Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth thought she saw a look pass between Georgiana and Mary but then decided it was merely due to her annoyance at Georgiana’s behavior. They ambled along the square for some time for seeing Charlotte. Charlotte acknowledged them with a curtsy and a light blush. She looked as though she were on the verge of hastening away, but Jane called out her.

“Charlotte, how are you?” Jane asked.

“Tolerably well. I hope you and your family are you good health.” She glanced at Elizabeth. “How do the wedding plans come?”

“We are all very well. Thank you for asking. Mama is making such a fuss about the wedding, but after having to wait for so long, I fear I quite like it.”

Charlotte looked at Miss Darcy, and her eyes asked the unspoken question. Good manners dictated that Elizabeth must wait for Georgiana to request an introduction, but she doubted the girl would ask for one. The Bennet ladies continue to speak with Charlotte in stilted conversation as Elizabeth and Charlotte had not entirely repaired their friendship. At length, Charlotte turned to go and resume her activity when her eyes widened, and a new blush came to cheeks. The others could not help glancing at whatever she had seen. The only thing Elizabeth could see a note was a young man in an officer’s uniform, but he was not of the militia. He rode his mount quite well. He was no Fitzwilliam Darcy, and yet something about him reminded Elizabeth of her betrothed.

“Richard,” Georgiana said surprised.

Elizabeth looked at the man with more interest as she now understood him to be Will’s cousin. He directed his horse to their position.

“How do you do, Georgiana? Have you enjoyed your shop?”

“I have found some music that meets my standards and the ladies are showing me around the square.”

“Indeed, if I were a lady that sounds like an enjoyable morning. Would you introduce me to your new friends?”

Georgiana introduced Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary, but stumbled for a moment when she got Charlotte.

“I will introduce who I can,” Georgiana said.

One by one she introduced the Bennet sisters. After the usual civil replies, Georgiana looked expectantly at Elizabeth. The older girl sighed. She ought to have expected such behaviour from Will’s sister given her age and circumstances in life. She had built fairy tales in her head about her future with Will, and they might never become a reality. Well, difficult sisters were not the worst of her worries. Elizabeth drew her shoulders back.

“And this is our good friend Miss Charlotte Lucas.” Elizabeth felt a twinge of remorse as the statement no longer felt true. “Her father is our local knight. You are certain to meet Sir William soon and see for yourself how very friendly he is.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Lucas,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said with a twinkle in his eye men usually held only for Jane. His words seemed to have stirred Charlotte from a blushing stupor.

“For me as well,” she said while directing her eyes past him.

“A friend to Miss Elizabeth is a friend to my cousin Will and therefore a friend to me.”

Charlotte frowned at the further mention of Will. “Likewise. Pardon me, I have forgotten that Mama needed me home by now.”

Elizabeth watched as the woman who used to be her friend scurried away but peeked over her shoulder for one more look at them. How very curious.

“If you ladies are finished shopping, I would escort you to the carriage. I could follow Georgiana back from Longbourn and then she will not have to ride unchaperoned.”

Georgiana looked displeased with the notion but took her cousin’s arm when he offered it. Between Elizabeth and Jane, they managed to chat with the Colonel until they reached the carriage. Georgiana remained resentfully silent while Mary appeared more pensive.

Gallantly, the Colonel handed each lady in. When Elizabeth placed her hand in his, she felt an object slide into her fingers. Sneaking a peek at it once in the carriage, she saw a tightly folded piece of paper with a snippet of Will’s handwriting. Her heart fluttered in her chest. How she loved notes from her betrothed. However, why did he not bring it to Longbourn? Or if he could not call, then he might have sought her out in Meryton rather than sending his cousin.

The thoughts swirled in Elizabeth’s head as the carriage began to pull away and its occupants were in discussion describing Longbourn to the Colonel. Elizabeth turned her head to view the passing scenery, and her heart nearly stuttered to a stop at what she saw. There, on the streets of Meryton, was George Wickham.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion–Chapter Three

Spring Blooming - White Blossoms And Sunlight In The SkyThere were a few remarks about the shock in leaving Jane behind. We don’t have the entire story yet but I would also say that Jane is not Elizabeth’s responsibility. In such an abusive and traumatic situation, one must ensure their own safety. When the house is on fire, you get yourself out. If you’re not a fireman it’s not very feasible to think that you can rescue anyone else. That’s not to say there won’t be guilt attached. Nor does it mean she has ceased to care.

Are you ready for more??

Previous Chapters: One / Two

Chapter Three

For a moment, Darcy could say nothing. He saw the proud lift of Elizabeth’s chin—a gesture he witnessed several times in Hertfordshire and reconciled it with her earlier self-reproach. She believed he would reprimand her or scold her. Gently bred ladies did not leave their home and all their protection behind. They did not travel without an escort. They did not shun their family, talk ill of them, or find work. Elizabeth was a survivor but how many others might be in her position and remain silent and the dutiful daughter? How many might it drive to Jane’s choice? He knew from his own sister the repercussions of concealing pain.
There was much still to say and understand. Instinctively, Darcy knew Elizabeth’s story had more to it. How could Elizabeth be so friendless as to live as a barmaid in a tavern in a small market town so far away from London and Meryton? Additionally, he knew she must have had some reason to leave Jane behind. “How came you to be here?” he asked her. “Meryton lies on a different road.”
Elizabeth blinked in confusion. “You do not condemn me?”
“Not in the least. I applaud your strength!”
“I would say you did not always find it so appealing, but I suppose you would rather me answer your questions.”
Darcy did not know what she referenced. It seemed her belief that he would censure her did not rely entirely on her recent experiences. He nodded in reply.
“I made it as far as Ware and then sent an express to my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London. Usually, when Jane or I visit them, they will send a hack to Cheshunt, and then Papa only has to send the carriage halfway. I was already nearly there but almost entirely out of funds. I wrote to them from a carriage inn a few miles from there. I begged them to take me in and told them about Jane. My faith in them was so strong—I believe I loved them more than I did my parents. What was left of my heart broke when they refused. They had sent an express ahead and scolded my foolishness in leaving Longbourn. They were packing that very minute to take me back. They called me ungrateful and unloving. They declared I would put my mother in an early grave. They did not even acknowledge Jane’s illness.”
“Such things make some people very uncomfortable,” Darcy said. “It ought to be talked about more.” From his sister’s situation, he knew no good came from silence.
“Unwilling to return to Longbourn, I spent the last of my money on a hack and then walked the rest of the way to this village. Here, Mr. Cuthbert had pity on me and allowed me to work for room and board.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About two months,” Elizabeth said, and her chin quivered.
“You have been through more than anyone should—betrayed by all you knew and trusted. My heart truly breaks for you.”
Elizabeth looked at him warily. “Why should it? Why should you feel so much for me? Why take me in? Why ask all these questions?”
Suddenly she bolted from her seat. “Oh, I have been such a fool. Has this made you feel mighty? How the Bennets have fallen—how Elizabeth Bennet, headstrong, impertinent girl that she is–has her just desserts.”
She darted to the door, but Darcy reached it first. “Madam, I will not allow you to leave my company and face God knows what out there.”
“I have been here months and have managed to keep my virtue intact if that is your concern.” She glared at him, tilting her head back to meet his eyes. “I have no reputation left to lose at any rate.”
“I have no care for your virtue or reputation! I care for you! It is not safe, and you require rest. Your mental fortitude is at stake which I cherish far more—”
“Cherish?” Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered, and the tension in her frame eased. She now appeared slightly more confused than affronted.
Darcy led her back to the sofa. “It is natural after so many hurts to be wary of others. You do not know who you can trust, and I did not display much in our previous acquaintance to earn it.”
“No,” she agreed. “You did not.”
“Allow me to rectify that now,” he knelt at her side. “I will not return you to Longbourn. I do not condemn you, and I am not mocking you. Indeed, the story of your family concerns me, and I will speak more on that later. Allow me to assist you.”
“Are you to be my benefactor now? I did not forget your high handedness in ending my employment.”
“I ought to have considered differently, and if you still wish employment after you hear my offer, then I will help you procure some honorable position.”
“What is your offer?”
Darcy saw Elizabeth’s hands grip the armrests of her chair and felt her body shift to plant her feet more firmly on the ground. She was ready to run from him in an instant. It made his next words all the more foolish than if she were only a penniless runaway. Indeed, Elizabeth did not trust him and probably did not even like him very much. It mattered not. Once more, Darcy gathered her hands in his and attempted to put all the sincerity and emotion he could into his eyes. “I offer you my hand in marriage.”
Elizabeth leaned forward and peered into his eyes before ripping a hand from his and placing it on his brow. “Are you unwell, Mr. Darcy?”
“I am not ill and of a perfectly sound mind, if that is what you are asking.”
Pulling her hand back, Elizabeth leaned back in her seat. “Why would you offer me marriage? A man in your position must think he could have me for far less. An honourable man might suggest the governess trade or a lady’s companion. I had thought perhaps you meant to give me a recommendation to some poor relative.”
“I apologise if my offer offends,” he awkwardly rose from his kneeling position and took a seat on the sofa. Clearly his voice and attempting to conceal his mortification, he added, “I do not have any relations that would require your services, but I can make inquiries.”
“Pray, forgive me. I did not mean to seem affronted,” Elizabeth said quickly. “Only, think of what you have heard. It would be madness for any reputable gentleman to marry me.”
“Your present circumstances say nothing about your abilities. I am not taking a risk on an untried servant girl who can barely write her name. You are a gentleman’s daughter.”
Elizabeth gave him an astonished look. “And I suppose if having relations in trade were offensive that I have worked in a tavern means nothing at all?”
“As it stands, it does not sound as though you are very close to those relations.”
“So having no connections at all is sufficient? The conduct books should include that as a method to ensnare a wealthy suitor.”
“Be reasonable, Elizabeth,” Darcy said and leaned forward. “Do not make me into a monster. I would have you even with London or Longbourn connections. Even Mrs. Phillips—even Mr. Collins.”
Elizabeth gulped. “Why is that? You did not appear some great admirer or me in Hertfordshire. I am convinced you disapproved of my family and—”
“But never you,” he interrupted. “I never disapproved of you, Elizabeth. If I did not appear to admire you, it was only through the utmost effort on my part. I, too, have had revelations in our weeks apart. As much as you have faced hurt and betrayal—allowing you to see the truth of character of friends and family, I have also come to realise the depth of regard I have for a woman who I could not shake from my mind.”
“Forgive me,” Elizabeth shook her head. “Months ago, I came to understand that I must have misinterpreted you. I understood that Wickham played on your poor presentation in public and on my obvious dislike. I perceived if he was the very opposite of what he would show Society then you must be as well. I should not have brought up past hurts.”
“You are avoiding the topic at hand.” Darcy had noticed Elizabeth’s breath hitch when he said he could not forget her. Even now, her chest rose and fell rapidly. She would not meet his eyes, but she was not adamantly refusing him. She was not fleeing for the door. She did not push him aside—indeed, now she claimed to think well of him. He leaned closer.
“You will regret your choice. If anyone ever knew of my misfortune,” she shuddered. “You would be laughed at, and your sister would be shunned in Society.”
“I am not so simple-minded that I have not considered such an argument, weighed it, and found it unlikely. Even if it were to happen—I do not care.”
“You are too kind.” Elizabeth twisted her hands in her lap. “If Wickham is the foulest man on the Earth and he hates you, then you must be the kindest, and he hates all that you stand for. You cannot marry me simply because you feel sorry for my situation. Compassion is no way to start a marriage.”
Leaning forward more, Darcy whispered in Elizabeth’s ear, “What of love, then?”
Elizabeth stilled and gasped. “L-l-l-love?”
“I love you, Elizabeth.” He caught the tear that escaped one eye with his thumb and brushed it away. “I love you as the headstrong woman who argued with me in Hertfordshire, the devoted sister who walked miles in the mud and did not care if anyone censured her. I love the misguided miss who attempted to put me in my place in a ballroom, and I even love you like this—wretched and poor, alone in the world, and feeling unworthy of love. I did not know it when I first saw it—I did not know what that kind of love was—but I know it now.”
Darcy’s heart hammered in his chest, and he held his breath as he awaited her reply.

*****

Elizabeth could hardly make sense of Mr. Darcy’s words. His words on love should bring a feeling of pleasure—surely it was complimentary, but she sought to diminish his reasons for them. The logic ran false in her head. She would think to herself that his senses were addled and yet he had wits enough about him to converse this long and offer her aid. She would consider that he had always been peculiar and then another part of her mind would scold her for reverting to her past belief of him. Time slipped by, and she became acutely aware of her long silence.
“In such a moment as this, I do not know what the customary response is. I thank you for your compliment. I surely owe you gratitude for your assistance—”
“Gratitude!” he cried. “I do not want your gratitude!”
“I meant no offense,” Elizabeth soothed. “Surely you know me well enough that you understand I would not accept a marriage proposal only out of obligation.”
Darcy said nothing but dipped his head in reply.
“There are logical reasons to consider your offer. However, I still find there are more reasons, out of consideration for your welfare and even more since your recent declaration, to refuse. What happiness could there be if I am so selfish? For much of my life I have been accused of bringing misery to all around me and in such a situation, I truly could.”
“I have stated I do not care for the opinion of the ton, and I will explain my reasons to you later, but I do not want them to influence your decision at the moment. Your heart is far tenderer than mine has ever been. I can offer you security and a sufficient reputation. I do not promise glittering balls or being the envy of Society. I believe you would not care for such things at any rate. Fear not, the name Darcy is well-respected and garners respect. No scandal has occurred since our last meeting. However, my eyes have been opened to the disgusting practices and hypocrisy of many of the ton’s favorites. If they think less of me for marrying you, then I will not have one moment’s concern. Surely the world, in general, is too sensible.”
Elizabeth stared at her hands as she could not meet Darcy’s eyes. “Such unequal affections cannot be the recipe for marital happiness. You will forever be hoping or watching—”
“Are they so unequal? You have confessed to thinking well of me. Allow me to show you my true nature—such that I did not do in Hertfordshire. I would propose a time for courtship before pressing for a decision but there are no available rooms for you this evening, and I fear for your safety. My honour and affection can offer you nothing less than marriage if you stay here.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “I could return to my old room.”
“Do you really wish to do that?”
Elizabeth shook her head. The other girls she roomed with were friendly, but they often shocked her with bringing gentlemen back to the room. Her virtue was intact but her innocence long gone. She had never been assaulted but was propositioned daily, and there was always the possibility the next man might not accept her refusal. “No.”
“I will not hope for more than you can promise to give, Elizabeth.”
The urgency in Darcy’s voice pulled on Elizabeth’s heart. He so desperately wished for her to accept him and she perceived a good measure of that was for her sake—not his. She had once prided herself on being sensible. For too long she had reacted on emotion alone. Mr. Darcy was a good, honourable man. His name would provide her with security and protection. She would never want for food or comforts again.
“I accept on condition,” her voice faltered, but the joy in Mr. Darcy’s eyes at her words encouraged her to continue. “On the condition that we begin with mutual respect and esteem. I cannot promise to ever fall in love with you. You surely deserve my love, as insufficient a return as it would be, but I do not know that I am capable of loving anyone else again.”
“You honour me,” Darcy raised her hands to his lips. “Thank you, Elizabeth. You will not regret it.” Squeezing her hands, he allowed her to return them to her lap. “Respect and esteem are the foundation of friendship and I will not press for more than that or demand any husbandly rights.”
“Sir, I will be your wife! Will you not—?” Elizabeth blushed. It was indiscreet for her to know of the actions of married couples let alone speak of them.
“I know that you do not reciprocate my feelings. I will not take or ask for what you do not wish to give.”
“I…” Elizabeth blushed as she considered what her next words would mean. “I do not wish to not have the full…ahem…experiences…of a married lady. I would not wish for a life without children. Surely if I am to bear the burdens of marriage, I should enjoy the liberties as well.”
Darcy’s lips twitched, and a smug look appeared in his eye, causing Elizabeth’s cheeks to heat even more.
“What do you expect are the burdens of marriage?” he asked.
“My parents never seemed to agree on anything. If my mother were serious in a concern, my father mocked it. If my father were serious, my mother could not comprehend why.” Elizabeth twisted the handkerchief in her hands. Speaking or thinking of her family now made her nervous. “It seems they only married out of attraction, although I suppose my father believed it to be love.”
“Is that what has worried you about my offer? That I cannot discern the difference between love and attraction?” Seeing Elizabeth nod, he continued. “And does this mean that you are also attracted to me and distrust it?”
Elizabeth’s face had finally returned to her usual colouring but flamed red again at his words. “You are not without charms.”
“Oh, I am very much without charm.”
Was there amusement in his voice? He looked as though he immensely enjoyed this. “You know you are handsome.”
“There is quite the difference between thinking well of yourself and hearing of one’s manly beauty from the lady one admires.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I did not say ‘manly beauty.’ I can see that my role will be to tease you lest you become too arrogant.”
“I hope you will,” he answered with real joy lighting his eyes.
“I thought you did not like teasing. Miss Bingley said—”
“Miss Bingley is often incorrect. I very much enjoy your lighthearted way of teasing. I have not seen you be uncivil but neither do you feign approval or interest. When you dislike something, you are direct about it. There is no sting in your teasing.” Darcy shrugged. “Your teasing is a part of who you are. I would not wish for that to change or cease. It is a part of what made me fall in love with you.”
Elizabeth sighed. He really could be so eloquent when he tried. It would not be an awful thing to be courted or loved by this man for her entire life. She believed he would always respect her. “Thank you.”
“Now,” Darcy said while leaning forward, “should I put your mind at ease about the liberties in marriage which you mentioned?”
“Sir!” Elizabeth cried. “You really must stop that.”
“Stop what?” he chuckled and moved a little closer.
“Shocking me so I will blush.”
“But it is such a delightful blush,” he cupped a rosy cheek. “May I request something of you?”
Elizabeth’s breath caught as she guessed what he would ask. Meeting his eyes, she subtly and slowly nodded.
“Except in very formal situations, would you call me Fitzwilliam and may I call you Elizabeth rather than Mrs. Darcy?”
Inwardly laughing at her folly, she agreed. Hearing Mrs. Darcy falling from his lips and directed at her made tingles spread over her body. It felt foreign and yet it settled in the pit of her stomach as right.
“Now, it is growing quite late, and we should get some rest. I will allow you the bed, and I shall sleep on the settee. No, no,” he argued above her words, “I insist. I shall wait in the hall to allow you some privacy.”
Elizabeth smiled her thanks, and he made his way to the door. Just before leaving, he looked over his shoulder at her. “And Elizabeth?”
“Yes?”
“I will claim that kiss later.”
Immediately turning scarlet, Elizabeth noted the grin he wore as he left.

Treasured–Chapter Three

treasured finalIs Will going to break the engagement?

Previous Chapters: One / Two

 

Chapter Three

 

Will kissed Elizabeth once more. After facing the truth of their loved one’s demise and all the emotion it brought on, their lips frantically met, drawing a different sort of comfort from one another. They were here, they were alive, they had this moment together.

Will tore his lips from hers and dropped his forehead to her shoulder. “How can I ask it of you? How can I bear it again?”

Suddenly, Elizabeth understood what Will had meant earlier. He was speaking of giving her up! Or at the very least, of postponing their marriage. Did she mean so little to him? Registering dampness on her gown, she realized Will cried at the thought of their separation. No, it was not that he desired this.

As though she had asked her question aloud, he spoke. “I would do anything to keep you safe, Elizabeth. Perhaps we are not meant to…”

Elizabeth pressed a finger to Will’s lips to silence him. “Do not say it! We are meant to be together. I have no intention of giving you up now or ever. You are mine Will Darcy!”

She threw her arms around his neck. The unexpected movement tackled him to the ground. She leaned over Will and did not let go. In this position, they shared breath, and she could feel his heartbeat. Meeting his eyes, she considered her next words carefully. “I am not afraid at all for me. It is you that I worry about. It is you Wickham has targeted. If by some extreme misfortune, I am injured because I am with you or loved by you, it is something I will gladly bear. I would rather have one moment on this earth as your wife than live for one hundred years without you.”

Will leaned up slightly and met her lips then managed to reposition them so he had more dominance. After several minutes, Elizabeth pulled back, panting. “Love me, Will. Love me. Make me yours! No one can separate us once I am yours.”

Will groaned and rolled away from Elizabeth. The distance returned Elizabeth’s senses to her. What had she done? She had just thrown herself at Will and begged for him to defile her in the woods. She was worse than some common harlot!

Shame slapped her cheeks, but curiosity made her glace at her betrothed. He did not appear angry or displeased.

“Forgive me,” Elizabeth reached forward and touched Will’s arm.

His body jumped in response. “Leave me be, Elizabeth. Do not touch me just now.”

The last time he had spoken so coldly to her was after Apollo had nearly trampled them and she asked after the scarred flesh on his arm. She had demurred then but would not this time. She made her choice not the least because if Will deserved her anger, she had no room for feeling ashamed of her behaviour.

“Do not shut me out,” she said as she sat up. “You were willing to break our engagement—again! Are you still and that is why you do not desire my affections?”

Will rolled to face her and propped his head up with a bent arm. “I desire your touch and affection far too much. What you asked for a moment ago has been in my mind nearly unceasing since shortly after I met you. I will not take your virtue until our wedding night. I am not the rake you thought I was.”

Elizabeth huffed out a sigh and folded her arms tightly against her chest. “So we will have a wedding after all? Pray, sir, will it be before I am fifty? How shall I ever bear you a son at that age?”

“If it were legal at all, I would marry you this very minute. I would declare us wed with nothing but these trees as our witnesses. I did not want to break the engagement.”

“May I know the stupid reason you had rationalized in your head that was worth giving me up? You were very incoherent just now.”

Mischief lighted in Will’s eyes. “I think you are proof at how eloquent I was.”

His eyes raked over her and Elizabeth realised the damage to her gown and hair. She blushed and glanced around for hairpins but would not let him avoid the point. Rolling her hair up, she glared at him. “You know of what I speak!”

“You know already what thoughts were in my mind for you already argued against them. You were in the carriage! I cannot be so selfish!”

Elizabeth reached for Will’s hand, and this time he did not shake her off. “There are times when I can perceive your thoughts or emotions and times when I cannot. Either way, I think it is best for us to talk about them openly and to each other. We should not presume to know the other’s mind on such matters. It has only brought heartache too many times.”

Will stood and reached for Elizabeth’s hands, assisting her to her feet. “You are correct, Elizabeth. I will try to remember in the future. Can you forgive me?”

Elizabeth smirked as she tied the ribbons to her bonnet and dusted off her gown. “Only if you continue to kiss me like that and call me Lizzy.”

Desire flashed in Will’s eyes, and Elizabeth fought back a giggle. She had asked for him to be more open and he seemed quite willing to comply.

“Careful, minx,” he said. “Too much temptation might send me to an early grave, and you seem to want me to survive for many years.”

“For that, your penance will be—”

Will interrupted her saucy reply with more delicious kisses before tucking her hand on his arm. “We must return now, Lizzy,” he whispered in her ear before directing her to the path.

They found Mary on a stump with her book. Jane and Charles were returning from further ahead on the path, and both wore enormous smiles. Mary raised her brows at each of them but held her chastisement. In the world of sisters, secrets were closely guarded, and Elizabeth felt she would have some recompense to pay for Mary’s silence.

 

*****

 

Will and Charles sat with the Bennets for another quarter of an hour after returning to the house. However, Will was hoping to hear from Richard and needed to be at Netherfield. Soon after they had arrived, he heard a noise on the gravel. It was not the sound of a lone express rider as he had expected. Instead, Will heard the unmistakable sound of a chaise and four. Although curious, he had determined it could not be for him and continued to focus on the work at hand. The butler disturbing his solitude in the library with the announcement of his cousin, sister, and her companion exceedingly shocked him.

“Richard! Georgiana!” Will said as he glanced between the two. “I did not expect you for several days.”

“Indeed,” Richard said as he helped himself to Charles’ port. “Soon after I wrote to you, I also sent a note to your housekeeper in Town and informed her of when we would arrive. Imagine my surprise when she replied stating Georgiana had just arrived from Pemberley.”

“I see,” Will said as he considered Richard’s information. Mrs. Annesley would have requested to change the plans. Only Georgiana’s stubborn insistence would lead to the older woman disregarding his orders. However, it was unusual that she did not send a message as the journey from Pemberley to London took three days.

“You did not receive my express?” Mrs. Annesley asked.

“No. I am afraid not.”

“How curious!” Georgiana said and pulled Will’s eyes to her.

Indeed. How curious that yet another letter to him did not arrive. “And why were you in London?”

“Miss Bingley wrote that she was bored at Netherfield and expected to soon be in Town. I had messages from many friends that they were already there.”

“Did you?” Will met Mrs. Annesley’s eyes. In his correspondence with her, she had expressed concern that her charge was receiving more letters than she considered regular and Georgiana was very evasive in answering questions about them. She guarded her privacy about the letters. “I fail to see how simply because others were in one area it meant you also needed to be present.”

“Come, you cannot refuse me entrance to my own home.”

Will raised his brows. “I suppose that means if they were all in Bath or elsewhere you would not choose to go there?”

“The countryside is so dull,” Georgiana played with lint on her gown. “Although, I did come here as bidden like a good little girl.” She made a face at her final words as though she had sucked on a lemon.

“Regardless of your feelings about where you are set to reside, you should remember that you are not of age to make such decisions nor do you have access to your funds. You broke my trust at Ramsgate and again by leaving Pemberley—”

“No one has said that I left. You blame me for everything!”

“No, my dear,” Will said sternly. “It is that I know Mrs. Annesley would not leave so recklessly.”

“You trust a servant more than your sister!”

“Yes, I do!” Will stood and walked to his sister. “She has shown herself to have more honour than you at this moment.”

“Will,” Charles’ red hair emerged in the doorway. “Wilson said that—” He entered and caught sight of the ladies. “Miss Darcy! You are here!”

“Charles,” Richard raised his glass to his host.

“And Richard too! Well, now I truly feel like a host! Good day to you all,” he bowed to the room. “Welcome! If you are comfortable here for now, then I will alert the housekeeper, and we shall have rooms readied for you. Miss Darcy, I know my sisters will enjoy your visit and—”

“Thank you, Charles,” Will interrupted. “Georgiana was just saying how tired she is and so I know she will appreciate a room as quickly as possible.”

“Indeed!” Charles glanced between Will and the others and seemed to suddenly perceive the tension that had gone unnoticed before. “I will see to it immediately.”

After he left the room and the door was shut, assuring some privacy, Will turned to his sister again.

Georgiana met Will’s eyes with a mocking expression. Where was the sweet girl he once knew? Where had he gone wrong with her? What choice in his past did he make which led to this? Sighing, he decided to tell her the truth. “Georgiana, I have not asked you here to ruin any plans of yours. If you had desired to come to London, then I could have responsibly arranged such things. As it happens, I believe you must have insisted you would go without an escort, but we will address that later. First, I desired you here so you might become reacquainted with your future sister-in-law.”

Georgiana gasped, “Sister-In-Law! I had thought you never meant to marry.”

“It is true, for years I thought I never would. But I have become reacquainted with the lady that I have admired since our first meeting five years ago.”

“Who do you mean? Not Miss Bingley!”

“I should say not! Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn has accepted my proposal, and we are to wed in a fortnight.”

Will watched in consternation as Georgiana’s expression changed from repugnance to shock to something entirely unreadable. It was not the reaction had expected from sister. “I believe you quite enjoyed your time with her while she stayed at Darcy house.”

“Enjoy would be a stretch. I was a child confined to the nursery. Papa only brought me down to impress his friends. Nor could I control who came and went in my room. Yes, the Miss Bennets frequented the nursery, but do not imagine we became friends.” Georgiana raised her chin in defiance.

Will furrowed his brows and looked at Mrs. Annesley then Richard for clues as to why Georgiana would react this way. Their expressions seemed as clueless as his. “I am sorry to hear that, but I know you will not allow experiences from so long ago to cloud your vision.”

“Like you did yours? Once a fortune hunter always a fortune hunter.”

Georgiana sniffed, and her expression was far too much like Caroline Bingley for Will’s taste. “That is enough,” he said but did not raise his voice. Then, glaring at his sister, he continued, “Elizabeth Bennet was never a fortune hunter, and I have never mentioned that fear to you. I can think of only one who could have, and I wonder why he would. Georgiana, ask yourself why your friend Wickham would need to slander the name of a guest in your father’s house and a lady of whom your brother thought well.”

Georgiana looked at her nails distractedly. “I am sure he told me so I could see how your judgment is not always perfect. The blinders are off now, dear brother. You may order me about as you legally can. However, you will longer influence my mind.”

Anger clouded Will’s vision. “Mrs. Annesley, Richard, I trust you will see my sister to her room when it is provided. I have said all that is necessary and now must return to my business. Georgiana,” he looked at her. “If you can show yourself to be civil at dinner, you may accompany the Miss Bennets and Miss Bingley to the shops in Meryton tomorrow.” Will stiffly bowed and had just reached the door when Richard called after him.

“Have you not forgotten to tell her of a rather critical development?”

“Ah, yes.” Will glanced over his shoulder at his sister. “You should perhaps be forewarned that we have every reason to believe that the man who was willing to seduce you has also murdered our father, as well as Mr. Bingley’s father, and Miss Elizabeth’s brother. The fire was arson and witnesses describe a man like Wickham. There have been strange and dangerous incidents since I have been at Netherfield targeting myself and Miss Elizabeth. Besides my desire for you to reacquaint yourself my betrothed, there is a genuine fear that Wickham might try to harm you, or contact you in some way.”

Will examined his sister for a long moment. “Has he?”

“No,” she answered.

Will found he could not believe her words.

“Surely what you say is impossible. Wickham would never be—”

“He would. He would indeed” Will turned and left for his chamber.

Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club–Chapter Two

Georgian Crescent

Previous chapters: One

Chapter Two

 

Over the next two days, Darcy often wondered at his brother-in-law’s ability to bear Mrs. Bennet’s effusions and the silliness of her second youngest daughter. Dorset took to the notion of marrying into the Bennets far easier than Darcy had. The morning of Jane’s wedding, Darcy made some mention of it to Dorset.

“I suppose they do not bother me because I am less insecure about my position I the world.”

“What do you mean?” Darcy had never thought of himself as insecure.

“I am a duke,” Dorset shrugged. “It is hard to get any higher in the world short of being the legitimate offspring of a royal. Everyone is beneath me. It is silly to be so concerned about just how far the differences are.”

Darcy mutely nodded. He knew growing up he would one day inherit Pemberley and also the barony. It was hard enough to find balance amongst his peers as the heir to such an estate and relative to a powerful earl. He had fought hard to hide his connection to the barony. For Darcy, rubbing shoulders with one too low could be as precarious as reaching too high. It was a complicated world to navigate and something he had never done with much success. He supposed if he were already at the top rung of the ladder he would not worry about it as much.

“Besides,” Dorset added, “do not you Bluestocking sorts believe there is nothing education cannot change?”

Could education change even Mrs. Bennet? Lydia seemed sincere in her desire of wanting to change. In fact, knowing the truth of his mother and the mistakes she made at the same age, he should not be so quick to judge. From reading her letters, it was clear she had no interest in marrying his father at first. She likely understood the consequences of her mistakes long before she consented to the marriage. It was only after being with the Bluestockings that she had found whatever she was searching for.

“Speaking of that,” the Duke continued, “Jane has expressed interest in joining your club. We had thought after a brief holiday, we could join you at Bath.”

“You will not be returning to Knole?”

“Should the worst happen and Lydia’s condition become known then it would be best for us to be as far away from the scandal as possible. The Duke and his new Duchess would be expected to entertain more. It is better to have as few visitors as possible now.”

“Indeed. You are more than welcome to visit us in Bath. I know Elizabeth shall enjoy her sister’s company. Will yours be joining us?”

Dorset laughed. “Selina does not care for those pursuits and will be too busy with the baby. Cordelia may wish to accompany us. Although, I confess to desiring to have my bride’s attention to myself.” He winked at Darcy.

Darcy chuckled and shook his head. He would not take Dorset’s bait but wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. He longed for the peace and solitude of Darcy House. Georgiana had stayed with relatives and those first days of his marriage to Elizabeth in absolute privacy would be memories Darcy would always cherish.

“Will Miss Darcy go with you to Bath?”

“Yes,” Darcy tugged on his waistcoat. He did not like leaving her alone for long. Additionally, Elizabeth had shared her concerns about Georgiana’s music master. If a romance were budding between the two, he would snip it now. At the rate she was going, he would send her to a nunnery to rid her mind of beaus and husbands for a few years. In the coming years, he knew he would rely heavily on Elizabeth to take his sister in hand. “We will collect her in London. Today, Miss Mary travels with us.”

A footman appeared, explaining the carriages were ready. The gentlemen gathered in the hall to await the dowager. Elizabeth had stayed at Longbourn to assist with the preparations for the day. It was their first separation since their wedding and Darcy hated the feeling of the cold bed beside him all night. Glancing at Dorset, the duke looked as calm and unflappable* as ever. Darcy mentally chided himself. He paced around the chamber, anxious to see Elizabeth again while awaiting the dowager. Finally, she descended the stairs, and they set off.

Jane’s wedding to the Duke of Dorset went as all church weddings do. If pressed, Darcy might have observed that the wedding breakfast at Longbourn seemed to have many guests of distinction and more flowers than he often saw but upon the whole, such things were lost on him. It was just as well. He knew it pleased Mrs. Bennet and she decorated as much out of triumph as pride. He knew enough from having a sister that ladies were far more aware of what one another wore or how a household was run than men were. There was also the practical situation that by showcasing Longbourn to its best, no one would say that Jane was so far out of Dorset’s sphere.

Darcy stood in a corner watching Elizabeth with her sisters and wondered when they could leave. They would be departing for London at the conclusion. In addition to Mary, they would convey the dowager to Town. Darcy now regretted the decision, for he would much rather have Elizabeth in his arms the entire time as he had on the way journey there.

Reminding himself that he would bear this and more for Elizabeth and his discomfort would be short-lived, Mr. Bennet approached him.

“I am unsurprised to find you in a quiet corner,” the older man observed with a raised brow.

“I am merely doing my part to hold the wall up,” Darcy held back a smirk.

“My daughter has already rubbed off on you, I see,” Bennet chuckled. “We have not had much time for conversation. Would you follow me to the library?”

Darcy nodded but inwardly groaned. What could Mr. Bennet desire to speak about now and just when it appeared to Darcy he was so close to being on his way? Darcy sat across from Bennet in the library and refused the offered wine.

“Your courtship with Elizabeth was a whirlwind,” Bennet observed.

“I suppose it may look that way to an outsider. However, I would have it no other way. I look upon those memories—even as they were fraught with tension and turmoil—with a fondness for they made me worthy of Elizabeth’s hand.”

Bennet stared at him silently for a long moment. Setting his wine glass down, he finally spoke. “I suppose she was very angry with me for not reading her warning about Lydia.”

“Sir, perhaps you ought to speak to her about that. I can say, however, that our feelings matter very little in light of the situation.”

“That you are attempting to save both my daughters—and by that my family—from ruin? You must find me the most careless of fathers.”

Darcy sighed and closed his eyes. This was not the time for this conversation. “Sir, my very first concern has been Elizabeth’s happiness and well-being. She feels deeply for her sisters and parents. Finding Wickham and Kitty was necessary. Kitty would not leave him, assuring their marriage and her safety became tantamount. However, you owe your thanks to Lydia’s situation to your newest son-in-law.”

“He never would have met Jane if not for you.”

Darcy regarded his father-in-law carefully. It was said in more remorse than thanks.

“He will be very blessed to have her for a wife and Society will gain much from her as a duchess.”

Bennet nodded. “It is hard not to wonder if I have failed them all since I have so clearly failed the younger ones.”

Darcy raised his brows. “I hope you do not regret your blessing upon Elizabeth’s marriage to me.”

“No,” Bennet shook his head. “I was hesitant about the quick reversal of her opinion about you, but I have come to see you are an upstanding gentleman and deserving of her. The efforts you have made toward our family prove to me that you esteem her far more than I had supposed any man capable of feeling.”

“I suppose I was raised with more intention to be respectful toward the female sex than most.” Darcy paused then added, “I say intention because I did fail to recognize the feelings of Elizabeth and many others, but I hope not due to prejudice about her abilities or feelings as a woman.”

“I like you,” Bennet said abruptly. “I did not expect to like someone in your position. I probably encouraged Elizabeth’s prejudice and any misunderstandings you had. I certainly never thought I would like the man who took her away from me. Instead, I think you are exactly what my family needs. Will you promise to look after them for me? Jane and Kitty may have husbands, but it is you who can protect them.”

The solemn look in Mr. Bennet’s blue-gray eyes made Darcy match his expression. “I had said that my first consideration was Elizabeth’s happiness, but you should know that I do consider your other daughters as my sisters. We are family. I vow to do everything in my ability to see them safe and happy.”

Mr. Bennet before sighing in resignation as the shrill voice of Mrs. Bennet rang through the house. “You and Dorset are better than me. I would not have willingly tied myself to a family with a mother like that.”

“Mrs. Bennet can be overly exuberant,” Darcy acknowledged. “However, in her heart, she only wants what is best for her daughters. That is not so different than you. What will you do with an empty house?”

“Do not remind me,” Mr. Bennet stood and motioned for Darcy to move to the door. “I gave serious consideration to refusing Mary to leave with you or inviting Kitty to stay.”

The master opened the door just as Mrs. Bennet rounded a corner. “Make haste, Mr. Bennet! They are set to leave!”

With a yearning look toward his library, a shrug of the shoulders, and a boyish shake of his head, Mr. Bennet followed his wife to the drawing room. Darcy held back a moment. Still new to the family, he did not know what to make of Mr. Bennet. Had he loved his wife when they married? Darcy fervently hoped he would never feel the way about his marriage that his father-in-law did.

“My lord, we require you as well,” Mr. Bennet called from down the hall and interrupted his thoughts, “lest you want me to send my wife to Bath.”

Darcy’s feet were in motion before his father-in-law had finished the tease.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth squeezed Jane tightly before she boarded the carriage with her new husband. The Duke and his new duchess would be staying at Ashworth for the night before going on their holiday.

For all of Elizabeth’s fears that Jane did not love her husband, she perceived affection and determination when she said her vows. Throughout the wedding breakfast, Jane snuck glances at him. Elizabeth had never faulted the young duke’s looks, and on that front, Jane must find much to like. He had always doted on Jane and been accepting of her family. It was only a lingering worry that he might be too like his father that made Elizabeth uneasy about the match.

“La! Jane a duchess! Who would have thought,” Kitty said from beside Elizabeth. “And you are a baroness.”

“Actually, a baron’s wife does not have the right to be called Baroness. The previous Lady Darcy held the title in her own right, not through a husband.”

Kitty furrowed her brow. “I can never keep it all straight. I suppose if Wicky becomes famous in the war then they might give him a title as well. Lord Wickham does sound most agreeable.” Kitty sighed.

Elizabeth looked at her sister. She seemed more a child than ever with her whimsical dreams. “How are you today? You must be overtired from all the excitement of the day.”

For a moment, Kitty looked just as she did whenever Lydia got something she wanted. “Today has not overtired me. Why would it?”

“Forgive me. I had thought ladies in your condition—”

“I was mistaken,” Kitty snapped. “Lydia is the first in everything.”

She stormed off. After sending a pleading look to her husband, Elizabeth followed. She found her sister crying in her old bedchamber. “Why are you jealous of Lydia? Do you not understand her misfortune?”

“I was the first to be married, but Lydia will be the first to bear a child. His child!”

“I thought you did not believe her claim.”

“I do not believe he loved her,” Kitty sniffed, “but of them being together, I do believe.”

“That is quite the change in thought.” Elizabeth rubbed her sister’s back. “What caused it?”

Kitty sat up and wiped at her tears. “He told me. He—he—he said I was nothing compared to Lydia in our bed.”

Elizabeth gasped. She had understood Wickham was one of the vilest men in existence but had not thought he would stoop to such things.

“It was just before he left for Spain—thanks to your and Jane’s husbands!”

“I am very sorry,” Elizabeth gathered her sister to her chest. “I wish you could have been free of him.”

“Well, I can’t,” Kitty huffed. “I hate him now. I hate them both.”

“Do not hate Lydia. She has enough regrets. You, at least, have the respectability of marriage.”

“If he dies in Spain then I will never have born him a child. Lydia will always have a greater claim on him and his affections. It is what a woman is meant for—”

“Indeed, it is not!” Elizabeth scolded. “If a woman bears children then it is a blessing in her life to be sure. However, there is far more to us than marriage and babies.”

Kitty looked at her sister uncertainly. “Mama always said—”

“I want to be happier than Mama was, do not you? She made having babies—a son—her entire mission in life, and it has brought her only disappointment and anxiety. You are too young to despair. There is much about the world to learn.”

“It is too late,” Kitty shook her head. “Some mistakes you cannot come back from. Besides, Papa always says that Lydia and I are the silliest girls in England. I am too stupid.”

When Mr. Bennet had not read Elizabeth’s letter warning him about a possible plot against Lydia, she had felt little more than momentary frustration. He did not read letters frequently and she ought to have spoken openly to him. This is what angered Elizabeth about her rearing. Her sisters had no confidence in themselves. What he meant as playful jests nurtured something very different in his daughters. She had scolded herself many a night for partaking of the teasing as well—but then she was a child.

“No one is born silly, Kitty.” Elizabeth sighed. “It is our choices that mark us, and we may alter them at any time.”

Inviting Kitty to Bath was on the tip of her tongue when Mrs. Bennet barged in. “Lizzy! Your husband wishes to depart. Come along!” She bustled to the bed with an outstretched hand and then paused for a moment when she saw how her daughters were posed. Rather than asking what upset them, she stroked reverently stroked a cheek to each girl before shaking her head and pulling on Elizabeth’s arm.

“Write to me, Kitty, and I will do the same,” she called over her shoulder despite her mother’s criticisms. “Never forget who you are—a Bennet.”

Sighing, Elizabeth steadied herself for the carriage ride to London. Her husband was not fond of traveling. However, Mary had a quiet nature, and the dowager understood when those around her desired silence. With any luck, they would nap or read most of the way. After embraces to her mother and father, Kitty had remained upstairs, Elizabeth entered the coach. Although seated next to her husband, she could not help but feel that with each hoofbeat she was being dragged further and further away from the world she knew for one she might never understand.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion–Chapter Two

Spring Blooming - White Blossoms And Sunlight In The Sky

I know everyone is dying to know what what happened to Elizabeth. Hold onto your seats!

Previous chapters: One

Chapter Two

 

Elizabeth could hardly think for the distraction of Mr. Darcy being so kind and solicitous to her. The old Elizabeth Bennet would think of some arch or witty reason. She would have mocked his kindness. Even now, she was not sure if she could trust it—she had been hurt by so many—but she would not devalue it.

“The morning after the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins proposed to me.” Elizabeth snuck a glance to see how Mr. Darcy took the news.

“And after you soundly refused him?”

“What makes you think I would be so hasty to spurn his proposal?”

“You are far too sensible to marry such a ridiculous man. All his talk about his parsonage and Lady Catherine would never turn your head—you are not mercenary.”

“I sometimes think it would have been better for everyone I know if I had.”

“How can you say that?”

“Let us speak plainly, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said and determinedly met his eyes. “I do not have the luxury of being as rich as you. Longbourn is entailed, and I am no heiress. Many women accept offers of marriage for convenience and security. As wife to the heir of Longbourn, I would have been able to keep my family in the house. Now, that office belongs to Charlotte Lucas, and she will have it far sooner rather than later, I fear.”

“Can you mean—but is it certain? Your father will soon pass?”

Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut as hot, tears spilled down her cheeks. They burned angry paths of humiliation as they landed in her lap.

“I fear I have no other handkerchief at the ready,” Mr. Darcy muttered.

No, she had already used his, and she had not had such finery or luxury in months. Suddenly, Elizabeth felt Darcy’s skin upon hers. She held her breath. Was he taking liberties? Should she rebuff him? Should she injure him?

No, she realised. No, he was tenderly wiping away each tear with the pad of his thumb the way a mother would console her child. He was caring for her. He was the last man in the world she would have expected it from and yet, as she had learned she had been so wrong about everything else, it seemed very fitting that he should be kind and compassionate after all. She leaned into the touch, craving the contact and comfort. Soon, he would withdraw it, just as the others had.

“I hate to see you distraught, Elizabeth.” His voice rumbled in her ear. “I cannot bear your tears. If I could take your pain, I would. I know only too much the pain upon losing a parent.”

She had never considered that before. He was such a young man to shoulder so much responsibility, and it must have only come at the hand of his father’s early demise. She had imagined him entirely unfeeling. However, her tears were not formed from tender sentiment at the thought of her father’s passing.

“You are too good,” she said. “I confess I would feel nothing but relief upon his demise now.” When Darcy said nothing, Elizabeth prepared for his rejection.

“Do you fear my reaction?” he asked, meeting her eyes.

Elizabeth’s mouth dried and she fiddled with her tea things. Darcy stilled her movements.

“My father died believing to the last that a young man who was everything vile and evil was charming and proper,” he explained. “I cannnot explain the hurt I felt as I witnessed my father prefer that young man’s company over mine. To see him so deceived and injurious in the process.” Darcy shook his head. “I do not know what calamity has befallen you to bring you here. I do not know why you no longer want your father’s favour. However, I do know what it is to feel betrayed by a parent. I understand the feelings of relief that come when freed from that burden.”

Elizabeth wondered if Darcy had ever said so many words at once before. He appeared more open to her than he had been even in the company of his friends at Netherfield. She had thought she had seen him in an intimate setting while staying in the house where he lived. However, now she realised that the man before her had far more depth and compassion than she could have ever dreamed—in truth than she had ever witnessed before. If this was what laid beneath the surface of Mr. Darcy, it might have been difficult for him to converse with others who could not understand such feelings or even mocked him for it.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she noted her silence had made him anxious. “Your compassion is refreshing and, I admit, of necessity to me right now. I had not thought others could feel as I do.” Elizabeth smoothed her gown before continuing. “I did refuse Mr. Collins. My mother was enraged and spent all day attempting to work on my mind. Papa supported me. Charlotte Lucas had invited Mr. Collins to dinner at her home as it seemed best he should spend less time at Longbourn. A few days later, I was informed they were engaged.”

Elizabeth sunk her head. “I confess I did not like her choice. I even attempted to persuade her otherwise, but she was adamant. While I was engrossed in my own little drama, Jane received word from Miss Bingley that she had gone to London to stay with her brother.”

Here, she peeked up at him. Elizabeth had long supposed Miss Bingley fabricated an attachment between her brother and Miss Darcy due to her own wishes in that quarter. Elizabeth had also perceived that Mr. Darcy did not approve of his friend’s attachment to Jane. He did look a little guilty.

“I do not know if you can imagine the scene, but the Bennet home was at sixes and sevens. My mother loudly bemoaned the loss of Mr. Bingley. She was certain—we were all certain—he was about to propose to Jane. Her grief was more than I can describe. She tried to rally, but her heart was too deeply touched by him.”

“I had not thought—I did not know—” Darcy stammered as he flushed. “Was she very hurt?”

“She changed,” Elizabeth answered and choked back a sob. “She withdrew and became distant. She spent more and more time alone and lost all interest in her usual employments.”

“I am sorry—”

Elizabeth held up her hand to cut him off. She wanted to finish her story and have done. He could examine his actions and say his apologies when she finished. She no longer cared, she no longer blamed anyone him or any of the Bingleys. They could not have foreseen what came from their actions. “Mama was often indisposed as her two eldest daughters had lost suitors. She was angry with me—I had thrown Mr. Collins away. But she was disappointed with Jane, and she never had been before. I think that is what weighed on my sister the most.

Mama complained more than usual, annoying my father more than usual in the process. He seldom stirred from his library, and she rarely left her bed.” Elizabeth shook her head as remorse swept through her. “I should have done better. I was so blind and selfish! Kitty and Lydia relished the new freedom as our parents became less watchful. They would walk to Meryton and spend the whole day talking with anyone they would meet. Mostly officers.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath and then delved into the topic in truth, knowing once she began it would bubble forth like a rushing brook. “She never seemed to grow close to a specific man. She appeared happy to have the attention of them all. She became the favourite of Mrs. Forster and was invited to stay in their home where officers came and went at all hours. Mama insisted that she go since Jane and I had ruined our chances. Kitty demanded to come as well. Mrs. Forster was more than happy to have her, and in the end, Mama wailed enough for my father to relent. Mama and the girls had images of balls every night and being introduced to other colonels. Mary never enjoys walks to Meryton and Jane seemed so poorly, I spent much of my time with her. I should have visited my sisters more often or asked after them. Perhaps then I could have—but no, I do not know that I could have ever made them see reason, no matter what my mother says.”

Elizabeth looked at Darcy for the first time in many moments and knew she had made little sense. He did not seem annoyed by her poor storytelling abilities. He would be more than annoyed when he understood just how far the Bennet family had fallen and how much she bore responsibility for it. “About a fortnight after they had gone to Mrs. Forster’s house, the Colonel arrived in the middle of the night in great distress. Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Forster were missing.”

A quiet gasp came from Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth nodded in confirmation of his unsaid fears. “It was after a dinner party with only a handful of others. A few were invited to stay for cards, but the Colonel was called away. When he returned, the others were gone. A note was found. The ladies had eloped with the dashing, young officers.”

“Who—may I ask the names of the men?”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth said and squeezed her hands together. “I believe you know one quite well. The men were Lieutenants Denny, Saunderson, and Wickham.”

“What was done to recover them?”

Elizabeth could sit no longer. Tears streamed down her face, and her eyes were swollen, but she needed movement. “What can be done in such a moment? The disgrace of the colonel losing his wife to one of his own officers became much known in the area and with her infamy so was my sisters’. One of their friends suggested that marriage might not have been on the minds of all of the gentlemen, however. We soon heard word from Kitty. She had made it to Scotland with Denny. Maria Forster and Saunderson accompanied her but Lydia and Wickham…we had heard nothing of when I left.”

Elizabeth threw herself into a chair and sobbed into her hands. “It’s all my fault, as my mother never ceased to tell me. I do not blame myself for everything—that I will not take on—but I did distinguish Wickham. I thought him very gentlemanly. Lydia knew it. She was desperate to be above me in the esteem of everyone, and I also knew it was her sore spot. I nearly taunted her with it. My mother and father, while good and loving, do not always make the clearest choices for their children. I could see the evil that could happen in going to Mrs. Forster’s, but I said nothing—I should have—I ought to have—”

“You are not to blame for anyone’s choices but your own,” Darcy interrupted her self-reproach with a firm voice. “You could not foresee an elopement, and even if you had, you are not her mother or father. You had no responsibility to consider such things, and neither of them would have listened to you. I know this as a man who has the care of a much younger sister. I am her guardian and she does esteem me but I am not her father, and she recognizes that.”

“You do not excuse me of believing Mr. Wickham,” Elizabeth sniffled. “You may not remember our last conversation, Mr. Darcy, but I do. It echoes in my mind constantly. I championed him and all but accused you of abusing him. I know now he must have lied. How could you have ever borne my gross impertinence, I do not know. Even now,” she met his eyes with a cautious look, “you are far kinder than I deserve.”

“Nonsense. Do not distract me with flattery.”

The corners of his lips lifted up slightly causing Elizabeth to mirror the action. “I would not dream of flattering you, sir. That would be a dangerous habit, indeed.”

“You must continue. That cannot be all that happened.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth’s smile slipped. “You can imagine we have been shunned by most of the area families. Mr. Collins had even refused to allow Charlotte to visit us. I have had no letters from her since she married. I assume she is well-settled in Kent by now. Mary no longer found solace in scriptures or music. Instead, she found it in her wine glass. One day, Mama had been berating me as usual. I could stand it no more. I gathered my pelisse and bonnet and set out for a long walk. When I returned, I was met with silence. I thought it a blessing. Mary had fallen asleep in the drawing room, and I was informed my mother had taken to her room. I was sure to find Jane upstairs—we still shared a room although Kitty and Lydia’s was now available. There I found—”

Elizabeth choked on her words but pushed past the lump in her throat. “I found Jane looking lifeless. She was turning blue and her breath so shallow. I screamed for help. I cried as I pulled her to me. I tried shaking her. Mama came at the sound of my distress. Finally, her smelling salts were truly necessary. They revived Jane a little, and she muttered something about wanting to sleep forever. She asked for “more.” More of what I could not understand until I saw the laudanum bottle on the table near the bed.”

Surprisingly, the tears slowed at this moment. She had cried enough over Jane’s distress. “I wanted to call for the apothecary. I wanted a physician. I wanted our rector. I wanted anyone who might help Jane. I blamed myself that she had felt so hopeless and depressed and I did not know. I should not have left her alone. My mother refused them all. No one could know the truth. Jane was too beautiful to be mad and she would never wed if anyone knew. Everyone would blame Mama, and she would not have anyone say such things about her. It had been my fault. I was closest to Jane. Mama was always too ill to look into their life. If I had married Mr. Collins or if I had not been so saucy to you then Mr. Bingley might not have left.”

Darcy visibly winced at Elizabeth’s final statement. “I assure you, I quite enjoy your ‘sauciness.’ Did your sister recover?”

“Papa would not stand up to Mama. He would not call anyone to assist Jane. She was well when the others finally went to sleep. After a few hours of sleep, she awoke and confessed to her attempt at taking her life. She was so ashamed but also thankful she survived. The next morning, I asked my father to find help for Jane or send her to London to reside with my aunt and uncle. He refused. Later, I walked to a nearby town and spent nearly everything I had on a hack. I left Longbourn without a backward glance.”