Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Five

Spring Blooming - White Blossoms And Sunlight In The Sky

I know people are anxious for them to leave the inn and begin traveling but this might end up being a pretty long novel and the author made them both injured so they could get to know one another a little better. But it can’t all be sunshine can it?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

Chapter Five

On Cuthbert’s recommendation, Darcy obtained a maid named Molly, who Elizabeth knew well, to assist her a few times during the day. She could not devote all of her time to it—for there was no future position he could offer her in the household. A tavern maid did not have the skills to be a lady’s maid or an upstairs maid. If she had a known history of occasional prostitution, he did not wish to offer her a place in the kitchen. That was the cook’s domain, and she had firm opinions about her help. Not only could she potentially earn more at the tavern, but it also would not do for Mrs. Darcy to be friendly with a scullery maid.

Returning with Molly in tow, he saw to his own ablutions in his valet’s room. “I apologise for intruding on your privacy, Stevens,” he said to the man.

“It is no intrusion, sir. Few men in my position would have their own room in any case.”

“True, but I feel as though you count on that time and space to yourself.”

“Truthfully, sir, I spend much of my free time below stairs.”

“Do you, indeed?”

“I do. I do not crave solitude the way in which you do.”

“Would you prefer to room with strangers?”

“Room with them, no,” Stevens made a face. “However, speaking with them, observing them, that is an enjoyable way to pass the time.”

“I believe you have that in common with the future Mrs. Darcy.”

“Indeed! My congratulations, sir.”

“You do not look surprised,” Darcy observed as the man continued to shave his face.

“You have never invited another woman to your room.”

“True but you could hardly expect me to propose to a tavern maid, I hope. I would rely on you to bring me back to my senses.”

Stevens laughed. “I could hardly imagine that ever being the case. As it happens, I recall Miss Elizabeth Bennet from our time in Hertfordshire. I had thought then you might have a tendre for her.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, you alternately wore a grin or a deep frown after interactions with her when she visited her ill sister.”

“I did not know I was so transparent.”

“Perhaps only to the man who has made a study of your every expression lest I give you a scar for distinction.” He smirked.

Darcy laughed in response as Stevens’ hands hovered above his face. Returning to a neutral expression, Darcy said, “You said nothing.”

“You said you relied on me to talk you into your senses. You did not seem on the verge of any rash decision. At the time, I would have thought she inappropriate to be your bride, but that was before this winter.” His hands paused again, anticipating Darcy’s next expression.

A frown came forward without thought, and his brows contracted, bringing deep lines between them. “It was a rough winter, sir. I had thought you were heartsick when we left Hertfordshire—but then things seemed even worse until a few weeks ago until we arrived here. Now, I would not think to counsel you against marrying a lady who can restore your smile no matter what her current circumstances are or why she is a maid here instead of at the estate to which she was born.”

For the last few days, Darcy had managed to mostly put out of his mind the deep sorrow and rage he felt at Georgiana’s latest confession. Deciding it best to return the conversation to the subject he had intended to introduce, he said, “Very wise. I trust you will not explain our reunion to the others at Pemberley or Darcy House.”

“Never, sir.”

“I must discuss matters with Elizabeth, but we will be altering our plans. We must still go to London—but will not stop at the house or spend the night, if we can help it. Then, our route must alter toward Scotland.”

“I will arrange it,” Stevens nodded.

“Perhaps some inns we do not stay at—smaller towns.”

He hoped to not meet with any acquaintances. If he were unknown at the inn, they could feign a marriage already existed between them. If he did meet with anyone he knew, he could claim she was a distant relation. The trick would be to conceal Elizabeth so she would not be recognizable later as his wife. Additionally, he would need to be sure the staff at the inn did not call him by the wrong name if a friend was in earshot and, of course, people kept their own hours and might show up at any time.

They could not avoid news of their elopement spreading. Oh, he could use his money and clout and fabricate a wedding. He could pay some clergyman to lie and say he performed a marriage and they married by special license. However, Darcy had better scruples than that and would not ask a rector to lie. The more significant problem was concealing Elizabeth working as a tavern maid. He did not care if they thought the marriage inappropriate and presumed he married too low, whether it be the daughter of a country squire or a lady in reduced circumstances. The problem was that many would assume her working in a tavern meant she also prostituted herself.

Satisfied with his looks, Darcy left and approached the room he shared with Elizabeth. Before knocking, he could hear the friendly tones of Elizabeth and Molly chatting. Yes, the faster they were separated, the better.

“Lud! Look at yourself. Fit as a princess!” Molly laughed.

“It is not like that,” Elizabeth insisted. “Mr. Darcy wants to marry me.”

“Oh, that is what they all say, dearest.”

Darcy frowned at the maid’s insinuation.

“He is an honourable gentleman. I know he means it.”

Elizabeth always could stand up for herself. What a pleasure it was to hear her stand up for him.

“How can you know that? The minute he saw ya, he bought ya.”

“No,” Elizabeth said firmly. “We knew each other before–”

“Before what?”

“Before I came here.”

“So you were a fancy work then? Came on hard times?”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I was never in that line of work?”

“Perhaps if you would tell me more about what you did do before I wouldn’t have to fill in the blanks myself.”

Darcy did not like the direction of the conversation. The maid was too impertinent by half. Elizabeth might not recognise it, but there were all the signs that the maid was more interested in information she could use to blackmail them than she was in friendship. Darcy knocked on the door, interrupting their conversation.

Elizabeth called for him to enter. A sense of relief washed over him. He had not realised it before, but he had been anxious while separated from her. She was still here, in his room, safe and well.

“Thank you for your help, Molly,” Elizabeth said with a friendly wave.

“Thank you for your services,” Darcy said and dropped a coin into her waiting hand. “We will consider you again in the future.”

“But I thought–”

“That will be all.” Darcy opened the door, and after a glance at displeased looking Elizabeth, the maid left.

“What did you do that for?” Elizabeth twisted in her seat to glare at him.

“Be careful what you say to her and others.”

“I am careful.” Elizabeth harrumphed and folded her arms across her chest. “She does not know my real name. I have never told anyone about my past.”

“She seemed most curious about it.”

“She was just being friendly.”

“It seemed like more than that to me,” Darcy said as he settled into the chair next to the settee where Elizabeth rested with her leg propped up. “I do not know her as you do so it is natural for me to be more cautious.”

Elizabeth raised her brows. “But you have the right to overrule me and be rude whenever you choose? Some marriage this will be.”

“I am looking out for your interests,” Darcy insisted.

“What harm could come from her knowing about my past? If she blackmails us, refuse her. The most she can do is whisper rumours to whoever passes through this place–which, you may have noticed, does not typically include anyone from the Ton. What about all your talk about not caring about what Society had to say about me?”

“Forgive me,” Darcy dropped his head. “You are correct. I have said that and I mean it. I have learned to be on edge and worry about blackmail more than the usual person, and it has prejudiced me against others.”

“And?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

“And…and I will hope to do better in the future. Nor do I mean to overrule you. There are times, however, when we must discuss matters, and I might disagree with you.”

“There’s a shock,” Elizabeth said with a grin.

“That we might disagree?”

“Oh, that is a given.” She laughed. “No, that you apologised and spoke to the heart of the matter.”

“I am incapable of doing anything else,” Darcy said while relaxing in the chair. “I cannot make small talk or talk around things. I prefer a direct approach.”

“And what of your ability to apologise?”

His lips twitched. “Of that, the ladies in my life are seeing to my education.”

“Ladies?” Elizabeth’s brow furrowed. “Oh, your sister. Well, I have never had a brother, but I know there are many things which might annoy any sister and would expect a brother to be not very different from another sister about that.”

It went far more than a mere annoyance, but he did not wish to shatter Elizabeth’s quaint image of the Darcy siblings just yet. “What would you like to do today?”

“Well, with your sore arm and my twisted ankle, I think we ought to attempt flying to the moon. Once there, I will hike all over it.”

Darcy could not contain his laughter. Elizabeth joined in for a moment and then sobered.

“Will you tell me why you think so meanly of London Society now?”

Pain seared Darcy’s heart. He knew he must speak with her about it, but not yet. “Would you mind if we wait until this evening? Perhaps I may read aloud until then.”

“You do not have to entertain me,” Elizabeth smiled. “Surely you have other things to do. I recall a lady once observing that you must have a great many letters of business to write.”

Darcy’s lips lifted in a slight smile. “I had thought you were paying more attention to that conversation than to your book.”

“I suppose that must mean Mr. Bingley’s library needs improvement. Your library at Pemberley, according to Miss Bingley, is vastly superior. But then you tell me she is often incorrect.”

“Our library at Pemberley is astounding.” The hint of a smile turned into a full grin. “I cannot wait to show it to you. Yes, Miss Bingley often exaggerates or invents matters, but I do not think it is possible to overstate how many books it contains, lest you compare it to some academic place like the Bodleian.”

“I should like to see that someday as well!”

“Your wish is my command. I will take you there and anywhere else your heart desires–except the moon. I fear I do not have the capacity to take you there unless it is in your dreams.” How he wished she would dream of him the way he imagined of her. Waking to her in his arms had been exquisite torture.

Elizabeth blushed and fell silent until a smirk came to her lips. “I must correct you, sir. The evening of your letter writing at Netherfield I did not read a book. I was sewing and ignoring that for any conversation, I will own to proudly.”

“Ah, but you were with a book one night.”

“I believe that was the evening Miss Bingley chose to list what skills an accomplished lady needed to acquire. Fortunately for me, it did not include too much about needlework.” A strange look passed Elizabeth’s face. “I did not think then that any of this would be possible. I was as certain of Bingley’s regard for my sister as I was of my feelings of superiority of mind to his two sisters and even to you. I had thought you the most arrogant man in the world with your long list of ridiculous requirements for a lady. Now, I am to be your wife.”

Darcy reached for Elizabeth’s hand and raised it to his lips. “If you examine those memories again, you will see that I only said a lady must be an extensive reader and that was because you were holding a book.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment before shaking her head and laughing. “You said that for me?”

“How could I not? I did not want to embarrass Miss Bingley or offend her brother by announcing that I would prefer you ten thousand times over her.”

“I had thought you were mocking me. I had closed the book!” Mischievousness lit her eyes. “Ah, but you also once sat with a book.”

“I did,” Darcy agreed. “My sole intention was to ignore you. My eyes were often drawn to you, and I knew you had noticed. I did not want you to think you had power over me.”

“Indeed, I did not.”

“I understand that now but at the time my arrogance and prejudice only allowed me to see the danger I was in.”

“And did you succeed?”

“You know I did not!” Darcy laughed. “You must recall how I closed the book the moment Miss Bingley began conversing with you and bringing you to my notice. I could not resist.”

“I do remember,” Elizabeth said. “I remember so much from my time at Netherfield,” she whispered in a voice of astonishment.

Darcy’s heart rate accelerated. If she could remember so well then maybe she was not unaffected by it. “I hope you think of it with as much pleasure as I do.” He squeezed the hand he still held.

Elizabeth shook her head and sighed sadly. “I do not think that I do. I was confused… Your behaviour, even then, seemed inconsistent. One moment you were speaking with everyone, then focused on me. The longer we conversed, the more it seemed you only criticised or argued–yet why should you exasperate yourself so much? My mind was exhausted from forming half explanations. A request to dance was not a sign of admiration–it was a desire to mock me. Your singling me out for conversation annoyed but then so did your ignoring me on our final day.”

“I wish I would have behaved differently,” Darcy acknowledged. “I was confused myself. I was drawn to you more than I had ever experienced before. It frightened me which is not something I think I had felt since a small lad. I told myself at the time that I did not wish to raise your expectations. In truth, I was a coward. Pray, forgive me.”

“Two apologies in one day! I do feel like quite the special lady!” Elizabeth grinned. “It has long been my policy to think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure. I had not thought upon those days very often for it brought little pleasure–especially since the changes in my life. However, now that I know they were your attempts at concealing admiration–and how very like you I might add–I may consider them happily. No, I will not forgive you. I rather like my memories.”

Darcy’s throat tightened with emotion. The acceptance of all his quirks and facets was something he had longed for all his life. Leaving his char, he knelt at her side. He raised both her hands to his lips and then caressed her cheek. “I wish I could explain to you how much I love you.”

Elizabeth’s lashes fluttered, but she spoke, “Can you not?”

“Words would fail me. Even if I were blessed with oratory skills, they would not be enough. The greatest poets of all time cannot describe the feelings that beat in my breast or dictate my every thought.” He had long been attracted to Elizabeth, but this was far more than infatuation or mental distraction. His soul felt a communion with hers.

“Then show me, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth gave a breathy command.

As his lips met hers over and over again, he did just that.

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.

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.

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.”

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion

I don’t have a blurb for this story yet. I’ll be working on it in between other projects and hope to publish it in January 2019. I think it will be novel length but I never really know until the story is done. I’ll try to post once a week.

Mr. Darcy meets Elizabeth on his way to Pemberley. This takes place just before Easter.


compassion blog image.jpg

Chapter One

Darcy peered out his carriage window as the conveyance rolled to a stop before the usual coaching inn. To the east about twenty miles lay the town of Meryton, Hertfordshire. As often as he had traversed the roads between London and Pemberley he had never before considered what lay beyond them. His mind had only considered the path before him and the duties attached to the destination. Whether at his estate or his London home, his responsibilities to family and legacy did not cease. And so, despite knowing Meryton lay only a few hours away, and with it the woman he loved, he would cling to his usual route.

Inside the tavern portion of the inn, Darcy grimaced when told that the private dining areas were full and his usual suites unavailable. His decision to leave London for Pemberley was formed suddenly only hours ago. Easter in his ancestral home was a convenient excuse. He would journey first, and his sister, Georgiana, and her companion would follow on the next day. Waving off the proprietor’s concern for his offense, Darcy sat in the loud common room.

He glanced around the area, unsurprised to see he had no acquaintances in the crowded chamber. A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his notice. The maid moved with too much grace, her gown seemed too fine to be the usual sort. Some fancy piece trying to sell her wares? It was unlike Cuthbert to allow such but who was Darcy to interfere with a man’s business?  As the lady’s movements and figure continued to interest him—and invariably remind him of a lady mere miles away—he cursed under his breath for the fact that he now compared every woman born high or low to Elizabeth Bennet.

What would his family and friends say if they knew of his obsession? The Earl would glare, Lady Catherine would lecture and throw her daughter at him. Bingley would laugh and Richard, his cousin, would suggest he enjoy the bar maid’s enticements and be free of his physical longing and possibly mental torment as well. Darcy had too much honour for such, however, and so when he waved her over it was only with the intent to order refreshment. Never mind the fact that her laugh at the table next to him reminded him too much of Elizabeth’s and he had relished the warm sound when it washed over him.

“What would you like?” she asked.

Her voice was very like Elizabeth’s. Darcy kicked himself again for allowing her to make such a slave of him that his imagination could go so far as to hear her voice. Looking up from his hands, their eyes met, and Darcy’s breath caught.

Elizabeth gasped. “Mr. Darcy!”

“Eliza—Miss Bennet!”

“Par-pardon me!” Elizabeth laid her tray of ale down in a clatter and ran from the room.

Darcy stared after her. Why on earth was she serving in a tavern twenty miles from her home? The Bennets had not been as wealthy as he or Bingley, but their estate was prosperous enough. Only financial hardship or extreme love could drive her to such a situation. Darcy knew the owner and knew the Bennets had no relationship to him which left only the financial motive. Before he could think better of it, he was in front of Cuthbert and tossing several pounds at him.

“That maid—the one that just ran out of the room—”

“Lizzy? Pretty with big, brown eyes?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” Darcy nodded. “I’m paying her wages for the week. Find another maid.”

Several men around him broke into laughter and raised an obscene toast in his honour, but he cared not one whit. As he dodged puddles of ale and urine, he followed the door where Elizabeth exited. Hearing sobbing down the hall, he turned and then crept up the stairs. His heart beat in his throat with every step. There was another reason she could be here, one which lay heavily on his mind. Wickham might have ruined her. He ought to have openly declared to the world that man’s character. He ought to have told her the truth and warned her. Instead, his pride demanded he keep his failings private. If Wickham had not ruined Elizabeth, she might have been raped by any man down below. He did not think she would willingly sell herself, but many men took no heed of a negative answer.

Elizabeth sat on the top of the stairs, with her head buried in her hands as she was bent almost in half. The sounds of despair and agony split through him. Darcy bent at the knee and placed a hand on her shoulder, intent on offering her a handkerchief and escort her to the safety of a room.

Before he could speak, he was struck on the side of his head. The unexpected movement set him tumbling down several stairs, landing hard on one arm. Along the way, he reached for the railing and only managed to twist his arm in a painful contortion.

“How dare you!” Elizabeth cried out followed a moment later by, “Oh good Lord! What have I done? Mr. Darcy?”

“Aye,” Darcy moaned.

“I am so sorry,” she stammered. “I thought you were a stranger set on accosting me…”

The pain in Darcy’s heart upon hearing such words could be surpassed only by the pain he felt in his arm. He heard Elizabeth’s quick steps and sniffling as she wiped her tears away.

“Can you move?” she asked gently once at his side.

“I think so.” He made to roll over, and she assisted him. No longer laying on his injured arm, it throbbed even worse as blood rushed around it.

“We should get you to your room and call the surgeon,” Elizabeth held her hand out to assist him with his uninjured arm.

As his hand gripped around hers, he noted the rough nature of her palm and digits. Mere weeks ago they would have been as soft as any gentlewoman’s. What kind of life had she endured since he left Hertfordshire? She appeared to be blushing under the contact.

“We can get to the guest chambers through this way,” Elizabeth opened a door near the second-floor landing he had fallen near. “Your room must be this way.”

“I am on the third floor, actually.” Darcy winced as each step sent a jolt to his arm.

“Very well,” Elizabeth said in a confused sounding voice.

That she seemed unfamiliar with the layout brought him some comfort. “Here, room six, I believe they said.”

They knocked, and his valet opened the door. “Mr. Darcy,” Stevens eyes glanced from Darcy to Elizabeth’s rapidly before he, at last, seemed to realize that Darcy oddly held his arm. “Is all well?’

“It is not,” Darcy said as the servant stepped aside so he could enter. “I have badly sprained my arm. Please, see if the surgeon is available.”

“Of course, sir. The lady’s bag arrived a moment ago.” Stevens dashed away.

Darcy shuffled to the table and chair in the room, believing he could be treated there and staying away from his bed would likely help Elizabeth’s sensibilities.

“I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said while blushing. “I will leave you and your…guest,” she glanced around, and her eyes fell on her bag. Immediately, she stiffened. “Just why are my things in your chamber?”

“Cuthbert must have needed the room. I suppose he has already found your replacement.”

“My replacement!”

“Well, I paid him for your wages.”

“You bought me?”

Darcy could hear in Elizabeth’s tone her anger and surprise, emotions he thought would soon fade. However, he had not expected the look of utter anguish to haunt her eyes. “No, I paid the man the trouble of hiring a new maid and secured you safe lodgings until I deliver you to Longbourn.”

“I will never go back there. Never.”

Besides the anguish, determination lit her eyes. He did not doubt her. He only wished to know how best to help her and convince her he meant to be an ally. Before he could say anything, however, Stevens arrived with the surgeon in tow.

“It is a nasty sprain,” he pronounced upon the examination. “Your wife will have to be quite the minder to make certain you do not overdo. You should not attempt the carriage for at least three or four days.” He smiled and looked at Elizabeth who had folded her arms at her chest and glared at Darcy. “It seems she is up to the challenge, sir.”

“Thank you,” Darcy said in a cold voice to mask his fatigue and pain from the experience. “Will there be anything else?”

“Yes, take this tonic twice a day.”

He handed it to Darcy, and the stench made him wrench his face away. “Is there nothing else I can take?”

“This is the best for allowing you to maintain functionality while alleviating the pain. “Shall I show your valet or your wife how to mix it?”

“Allow me,” Elizabeth stepped forward.

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth blushed and sent Darcy an angry look, but he could only think how very well the title suited her and the feeling of rightness in his heart upon hearing it. Tavern maid…potentially ravaged…or not, he would not deny his heart or this serving of fate.

Elizabeth observed the surgeon and then escorted him from the room. Darcy noticed his valet had gone missing.

“Explain yourself,” Elizabeth said in an angry tone once alone.

However, instead of launching into an argument as he had expected, she nearly collapsed in the chair on the other side of the table. She looked bone weary, and all her capacity for anger had fled faster than a dashed light.

“I was breaking my journey to Pemberley when I saw a friend—” Elizabeth arched a brow at the word. “We are friends, are we not?”

“I hardly know who are my friends or who to trust anymore,” she murmured. “I had thought I had no one left.”

“Elizabeth, what has happened? How did you come to be in this place?” With his good hand, he reached forward to envelop one of hers. He sought to lend support and comfort. Instead, she burst into tears. “Come, you are overwrought. Come, rest, and we will speak later.”

Elizabeth mutely nodded when he pushed his handkerchief into her hands and allowed him to lead her to the bed without protest.

“I will sit and read while you take as long as you like.”

Indecision warred in her eyes.

“Please, Elizabeth,” Darcy said with the sort of gentleness he often used with Georgiana. “I hate to see you so distraught.”

Although more tears flowed at his words, she kicked off her worn slippers and slid beneath the counterpane. She rolled away from where he sat and while he heard the occasional sniffle she soon slept.

While Elizabeth rested, Darcy made inquiries with Cuthbert. Elizabeth had arrived here in early January with naught but a few coins to her name. She begged for lodging and was willing to work for it, although with her genteel rearing she was no natural barmaid.

 

*****

 

After a few hours’ rest, Elizabeth awoke with a start. She sat up straight in the bed, breathing hard. She was shaking, Darcy realized. He left his chair to come to her side and jumped at his movement then reached for a pillow to fling at him.

“Elizabeth, you are safe,” Darcy cried out while blocking the projectile with his good arm.

“Mr.D-Darcy?” she asked in a quiet voice. Her tone was fear and relief mingled while her face expressed bewilderment.

“Yes. Do you recall where you are?”

“I…I…” she trailed off for a moment. “I do.” She spoke in a stronger voice. “Oh, thank heavens. When I awoke and did not recognise the room, I thought the worst had happened.”

Suddenly she stilled and her brows arched. “I do recall everything now. You–you bought me, and you intend to take me back to Longbourn!” She scrambled off the bed, this time reaching for a candlestick.

“Good God, woman! If you will pummel me, may I ask you wait until my arm heals and we are both fully able-bodied.”

“You arm?” Elizabeth’s brows drew together in confusion as she lowered her weapon. “Oh! I had forgotten—but then the doctor thought…”

“My valet has set him straight and maintained your honour.”

“How is that possible?” Her shoulders slumped. “Not that it makes any difference. Elizabeth Bennet has ceased to exist for several months now. If anyone knew the truth, my reputation would be entirely shredded. As it is Lizzy Smith, the barmaid draws no attraction or notice and hardly needs a good reputation.”

Darcy gaped at her. For one, she would always draw attraction and notice. She was too beautiful to blend into any crowd. As barmaids went, she would be the only one he ever met who bore signs of genteel life and the only one who had not offered her body for sale. “Lizzy Smith?” He raised a brow and approached her side.

“My Aunt Gardiner’s maiden name. I thought Gardiner would be too memorable, especially so near Longbourn…”

Taking the candlestick from her hand, their fingers brushed. He returned it to the position next to the bed and then led her to the sofa. “I understand you must have been through very much for me to find you in such a position. Come, I will order refreshment, and you may tell me how I might assist you.”

Elizabeth stared at him for a long moment. “It seems you must have gone through many changes in the time since our last meeting as well.”

“Why do you think so?”

“The Mr. Darcy I met in Meryton would never be so solicitous to me, and he would never take orders from me.”

“And the Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn I knew seemed to love her home and family very much. Perhaps looks were deceiving on both of our ends?”

Elizabeth dipped her head in acknowledgment and took his offered seat. He rang for tea, and they sat in silence until it arrived. Simultaneously reaching to pour, their fingers brushed again. Elizabeth blushed while Darcy realised his body craved those fleeting touches.

“Pardon me,” Elizabeth laughed. “I am used to taking on the office of the hostess. Since this is your domain, perhaps you ought to serve.”

“All that I have is yours, Elizabeth.” The words tumbled from his lips before he could recall them. How he wished he could leave them as they were or fully explain his desires but the shocked look on Elizabeth’s face combined with her earlier words meant she was not ready to hear his proposition. “As you are my guest, of course.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth smiled and resumed the process of making tea. “Thank you, and to show that I am not as ungrateful as I am sure Miss Bingley has me marked down as, I believe I have recalled how you like your cup.”

She gave Darcy a cup with a pert smile. He was surprised to consider that she could recall how he took it. Although, he would have preferred to do it himself. He had yet to meet a lady who could get it quite right except for his housekeepers and sister. Still, he would drink it without complaint, for her, and there would be time later to reveal the truth. Pressing the cup to his lips, he sipped.

Elizabeth sat back with a satisfied smirk. As Darcy set the teacup down, he chuckled. “How did you know how I like it?”

“At Longbourn, you would drink it without sugar and wince. At Netherfield, Miss Bingley would give you three scoops but you never finished a cup. At Lucas Lodge, it was two, but again you had a hint of displeasure about your lips as you drank.”

Darcy listened in fascination. If she had recalled such details, she could not be as indifferent as she had seemed. “And will you enlighten me to your process?”

“I put the sugar in first,” Elizabeth smiled.

“Very good,” Darcy acknowledged. “How did you guess that would work?”

“A lady never tells,” she grinned and then took a sip of tea.

“Then I will take it for the compliment it must be to have Elizabeth Bennet know such an intimate detail about me that I have hidden from most others. I am afraid you have learned I am horribly picky about my tea.”

“Only about your tea?” she popped a treat into her mouth, her eyes closing with enjoyment.

“I do not think I am so scrupulous about other things. I never complained about Miss Bingley’s table, for example.” He raised a brow in silent charge at her.

“Oh! You remember that do you?” She laughed. “Well, I would not say I complained either. Mr. Hurst merely asked which dish I preferred, and it would hardly be right to lie.”

Darcy only smiled in response. He had missed this so much. Conversations with Elizabeth were like a breath of fresh air, a calming breeze on a hot day. One could live without it but only just barely survive. In London, he had almost suffocated from all the insipid debutantes thrust upon him.

When they had finished with their refreshments, Darcy cleared them away. “I believe we must have some conversation.”

“Must we? I would allow you to choose the topic but I can hazard a guess as to what you desire to know, and I am unsure if I want to discuss it.”

“Why is that?” he sat next to her.

“Why do I not wish to speak of it?”

“If you will not tell me how you came to be here and why you refuse to return to Longbourn, then it seems the next most reasonable thing to discuss.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “How like you! You want to be reasonable, and I wish only to laugh and avoid serious matters. Well, having acknowledged that there could be few other ways to induce me to willingly address it. Was it your design?”

“Certainly not. I can barely keep my wits around you. I could think of no design to make you speak when you are determined to be silent.”

Elizabeth looked sad for a moment. “You once accused me of only wishing to laugh my way through life. How I hated you for that charge! In my mind, I was perfectly rational. I could laugh at the follies of others–your pride, for example. But I was blind to the real evils of the world. To the evils even in my family. I was determined to ignore them and applaud myself for the effort.”

Darcy remained silent during Elizabeth’s words. He had not meant that Elizabeth was too flighty. He did dislike the conversation, but he had not intended to demean her. He would have to address that–especially as she said it made her hate him. He had not thought–he had never considered–that someone as rational and sensible as her could feel so very different about his words than he had meant them. At the moment, however, there were more pressing matters. Wordlessly, he squeezed her hand in a show of support. He did not relinquish it, and Elizabeth stared at their joined hands for a moment before continuing in a hushed voice.

“I have paid sorely for my arrogant stupidity. You will hate me forever when you hear it.”