The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Nine

secrets of pemberley maskPrevious Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight

Chapter Nine

 

Darcy’s hopes for productive engagement period collapsed once he reached Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet behaved as he had guessed she would. First, she could not contain her confusion at their arrival and questioned the absence of Bingley. Darcy sought an audience with Mr. Bennet, who refused to believe anything of the scenario Darcy laid out without consulting Elizabeth. Darcy did not know what father and daughter discussed for above half an hour, but both clearly saw the marriage as a last resort.

Despite Mrs. Bennet’s shrieking effusions and the rude comments from the younger daughters upon the announcement, Darcy sighed in relief. Could the ends justify the means? He and Elizabeth would wed. They would share a lifetime to come closer.

Mrs. Bennet demanded a special license and began squiring Elizabeth around the area, not caring a whit for any of the gossip which followed. Thankfully, Mr. Collins soon returned to his parish when Lady Catherine discovered the source of the rumours in Hunsford to be none other than Lady Montague-Churchill. Lady Catherine arranged for Collins to be present at her friend’s next visit and for the topic to be hellfire and brimstone for gossipmongers. Still, the damage was done. Perhaps it might have been concealed if Darcy had not acted so promptly and arrived at Longbourn. Once again, his attempts at managing Society and acting honourably ruined things.

Mr. Bennet refused to even speak to Darcy. Distinctly unwelcome at Longbourn, he spent most of the engagement in London arranging Elizabeth’s settlement. Regardless of the source of their union, he would begrudge her nothing. Mrs. Darcy deserved the very best.

On one of his brief visits to the area, Elizabeth broached a topic he had not expected from her.

“Several officers dined here last night,” Elizabeth began. “The Militia leaves today, and it was the final opportunity to speak with our friends.”

Darcy tensed as they walked in Longbourn’s garden, fearing a particular name would be mentioned. He did not know if she ever read his letter.

“Mr. Wickham approached me, and we had a strange conversation.”

Darcy said nothing.

“He confessed he was shocked to hear of our engagement. He had believed you would wed your cousin.”

“I was never engaged to Anne,” Darcy rushed to say.

Elizabeth nodded. “I had wondered but guessed if you were then you would not have proposed to me.”

The fact that she allowed a possibility of it being the opposite spoke volumes as to her estimation of his honour.

“He was surprised to hear that I had often been in your company and asked if you had come alone.”

Wickham must have been fishing for information regarding Georgiana. Darcy remained silent.

“When I mentioned the Colonel, Wickham observed the differences in your manners and disposition. He…he hinted at there being some reason for that. I do not know why he found it so fascinating,” Elizabeth said while glancing at Darcy. “The son of an earl and an officer in the army would surely have different education and experiences than a gentleman’s son.”

A gentleman’s son, Darcy thought. Except he was not. Additionally, he noted she did not call him a gentleman. Belatedly, he realized Elizabeth stared at him expectantly. “What do you wish to say?”

“Will you do nothing for him?” She asked and walked ahead to put distance between them. “You once used to be close friends.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy commanded, and she turned to face him. “You will never ask about this again. You will never speak his name again.”

“But—”

She ceased speaking and fear flooded her eyes as he stepped forward and met her in two long strides. His heart pounded, and he could feel the heat on his face. His voice sounded rough and savage. “I mean it. I will not tolerate discussion in this quarter. He leaves today, and I pray we will never hear of him again. He is no friend to you.”

Elizabeth said nothing and tears gathered in her eyes.

“Do you understand?” he asked. He did not yell but recognised his tone as one spoken by a displeased George Darcy. The tone that always struck terror in his heart. He cared not. The matter was too important. If she had not read his letter, she never would. He was too angry to explain it all to her, all he wanted was her promise. “Do I have your agreement?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

Darcy nodded and stormed off, not trusting himself to say or do anything else. He longed to take Elizabeth in his arms and erase the stricken look on her face. Words failed him. She had not read his letter and deserved to know, but he could not speak more. An embrace or tenderness from him would be the last thing she desired.

He left that afternoon for London and did not return until the day of the wedding. Bingley arrived with him and offered use of Netherfield. Darcy knew Elizabeth had wondered if he would confess all to his friend. He had put it off, expecting Bingley’s anger. Instead, the man could not believe his good fortune.

“Miss Bennet may not still care for you,” Darcy cautioned.

“If she loved me once, I can earn it back,” Bingley said with a grin.

Despite Darcy’s tale, his friend seemed euphoric.

“I can never repay you for your loyalty and kindness,” Bingley had said.

Darcy shook his head. He could not say if Jane still loved Bingley, but he saw the signs of heartbreak. At times, the distant look in her eyes was reminiscent of his own. He had been far too officious in imagining he saved Bingley from anything. He would have done much better by paying closer attention to Elizabeth’s reaction around him rather than assuming she felt as he did. What a tangled mess of it he made.

Still, when Elizabeth approached him at the altar in Longbourn’s church on May Day, Darcy could not prevent the feeling of utter rightness settling into his heart. She vowed to love him, and whether or not she meant it at the time, he promised himself to never give up and to cherish her always.

As the carriage rolled away, Darcy caught the worried looks from Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth’s London relatives—a couple Darcy had enjoyed meeting and believed an acquaintance he would keep—and the tears trickling down Elizabeth’s face. This would be an uphill battle but a lifetime would be enough. No one would ever love another the way he loved Elizabeth and when he had, at last, earned the position he coveted in her heart, he would speak it all. Until then, he would wait and watch and love her without words every day.

 

*****

 

Towards the end of July, Elizabeth readied Pemberley for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to visit. The newlyweds had spent several weeks in London after the wedding and remained until the end of June when Bingley and Jane married. Elizabeth spent most mornings with her aunt, while Darcy spent time at his club. They joined in the afternoon for dinner, sometimes with his small circle of friends and avoided the general circuit of London as the Season waned. Additionally, Darcy had sensed Elizabeth unready to travel all the way to Derbyshire, and he invited her aunt and uncle to dine with them as often as possible to make her feel at ease. He genuinely liked them and asked them to visit over the summer.

Arriving at Pemberley during the height of summer, Elizabeth immediately loved the grounds. She spent as much time as she could out of doors, walking and examining the gardens. It had seemed a lifetime ago that they discussed the manicured gardens of Rosings, but Elizabeth praised him for leaving Pemberley in its more natural state.

While their first few months of marriage had remained strained, with most of their time spent apart, Pemberley breathed fresh air into them. They fell into a routine of separate mornings, then an afternoon walk and tea together before dinner when Georgiana would join them for the evening.

Slowly but surely, Elizabeth’s anger had faded. She talked with Darcy more and asked to sit with him in the library sometimes. Darcy dare not ask her about the change in her feelings lest he scare them away.

The night before Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s arrival, Darcy thought they turned a corner. Perhaps it was the extra glass of wine he drank at dinner, but he believed he saw Elizabeth look at him fondly during the meal. When Georgiana declared herself tired and asked for a supper tray to be sent to her room, instead of doting on the girl she had taken underwing as a sister, Elizabeth requested Darcy to sit and turn pages for her.

Her sweet voice always pulled on his heart and more than once their hands grazed when he reached to turn a page for her. They had other times of this gradual touching, but he had always erred on the side of caution since his compromising kiss. This night, however, he felt intoxicated by the feeling of her at his side, in their home, and desiring his company. At the end of the song, Darcy raised her hand to his lips.

“Pemberley has never looked more beautiful, my darling,” he said as she blushed. “Do you enjoy your refreshed rooms?”

“Yes, very much,” she murmured as she stared at her hand still in his.

That she did not seek to remove it made Darcy want to shout in victory. “Then I am pleased. Your happiness is paramount to me.” He rubbed his thumb over her soft skin and heard a soft gasp.

“You are so good to me,” Elizabeth said and ducked her head away.

Darcy could see her cheeks burning crimson and the vice grip he had felt around his heart for months eased. She saw something good in him. The clock chimed the time, and Darcy did not want to relinquish the closeness they had found this night.

“Would you care for a short stroll in the garden? I do not think you have seen it at night time.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Elizabeth said in a breathy tone.

Darcy escorted her through the garden as she leaned on his arm. He covered her hand with his free one, stroking the smooth skin and feeling shivers run through Elizabeth’s frame from time to time. Coming under an arbour with roses climbing over it, their heavy fragrance filling the air, he pulled her to his chest, and she lowered her head against his heart. His arms tightened around her, and they sighed at the same time, drawing a slow smile from his lips.

“I think of you out here often, Lizzy,” he whispered into her hair. “More beautiful than the stars, with your eyes shining like diamonds. You are as fresh and unspoilt as these roses.” He nuzzled against the softness atop her head. “I do not deserve you.”

Darcy waited for Elizabeth to tense or push him away. He waited for her to remind him of his sins and what brought them together was not mutual love but his penchant for destruction. Instead, she tilted her head up and smiled at him as she caressed his face with a hand. He leaned into it and shut his eyes. The gentle touch did more to heal the wounds of his heart than any words ever could. Hearing a rustle of fabric, he opened his eyes just as Elizabeth brushed her lips against his.

He staggered back as every part of him felt aflame.

“Did…did I do something wrong?” Elizabeth asked and chewed her bottom lip. “Did you not like it?” She turned her face from him.

In one long step, Darcy was in front of her, so close their chests touched giving him the most exquisite torture. “I have wanted your kiss from almost the first moment I met you. Nothing could feel better—”

His words were extinguished when Elizabeth placed both hands on his face and pulled his mouth to hers. Asking no more questions, Darcy wrapped his arms around her waist and worshipped his goddess with unwavering devotion.

The next morning, as he opened his eyes fearing it had all been a dream, he was greeted by the sight of Elizabeth’s head resting on his heart and her arm draped across his chest.

 

*****

 

Darcy knew he should have asked after Elizabeth’s change of heart, but first, he was too afraid and then he had no time. Disaster struck, and it threatened to undo everything he had worked for. Once during their engagement, Elizabeth asked after his relationship with Wickham, and he had pushed her feelings aside. When her sister Lydia went to Brighton with the Regiment, no one thought to ask him or mention it to him. Indeed, while he had thought it unwise, he would not have considered her a target for Wickham.

A few days after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner arrived at Pemberley, Elizabeth received two letters from Jane. Lydia had eloped with Wickham, but it was not believed they had continued to Scotland. They hid somewhere in London. The Gardiners immediately left to help. Elizabeth withdrew to her chamber. He whispered words of comfort to her, but she refused to speak. Determined to see her smile again, Darcy decided to leave for Town two days later. Georgiana would watch over Elizabeth.

Once in London, Darcy left no stone unturned until he located Georgiana’s former governess who had schemed with Wickham to cash in her dowry. For a few guineas, the woman ratted out her one-time lover and directed Darcy to his location. After finding the couple and unable to convince Lydia to leave the man, he persuaded her to return to Gracechurch street until the wedding. The following day, Darcy arrived at Wickham’s rooms with a magistrate and a stack of Wickham’s debts he now owned.

“What is this?” Wickham scowled. “You would not send me to debtor’s prison! What would your father say?”

Darcy said nothing and let Wickham continue with his usual line of defense.

“You have not forgotten, have you, how he favoured me?”

“I have not,” Darcy said through grit teeth. “You will sign these papers,” Darcy put down a second stack, “which commit you to marrying Miss Lydia and purchasing an ensigncy in the Regulars or you will pay the consequences of your misdeeds.”

After staring at Wickham without flinching for several long seconds, the other man picked up the pen and signed the papers. He paused at the last one. “What is this?”

“Read it for yourself,” Darcy said.

Wickham looked at the magistrate. “Is this legal? If I speak the truth—the truth mind you, not a lie—of Darcy or Miss Darcy’s birth, I will be deported to Australia without trial?”

The man shrugged. “A private agreement between two people can contain any number of things. You give up the right to speak openly by not going to Newgate now. At any rate, such talk would lean toward blackmail, and you certainly are not asking me if you should retain such a right. My, that could be construed as an admission of guilt or an intention of crime.”

Wickham held up his hand. “Very well.” He angrily signed the final missive.

Darcy remained in London until Wickham and Lydia married. They then visited at Longbourn. Darcy sent for Elizabeth so she could visit her family. He stayed in town, unable to be in company with Wickham.

After the unfortunate couple left, Darcy took up residence at Netherfield and Elizabeth joined him. Words could not describe the stirring in his heart as he had his wife to hold again. After their sweet reunion as she laid her head against his chest and drifted to sleep, he thought she whispered the three words he had waited his whole life to hear. The next day, however, she acted no different than before. Darcy observed her over the next few days and concluded she merely missed sharing her bed with him given how often she invited—even begged—for him to join her there.

They returned to Pemberley for Michaelmas, and as a year had lapsed since they first met, Darcy could hardly believe how much had happened in that time. He had once said she could not tempt him to dance. He had once claimed she had no beauty. Now, she could drive him mad with a glance. Now, she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Still, he increasingly wondered if he would ever gain her love.

 

*****

 

As their first Christmas together approached, Darcy wondered what to give Elizabeth. She had something up he sleeve if her blushing every time she looked at him was any indication. When he presented her with a new writing set, she beamed at him.

“I regret that we cannot see your family more,” he said.

“Yes, they are much further than fifty miles away,” she said saucily and winked.

Darcy grinned to see her tease him over a remark from months ago; before they had married and felt the peace they now did. Her eyes soon took on an affectionate quality, and he thought he might drown in them. Elizabeth blushed and reached for a package to her side then extended her arm to him.

Darcy reverently touched the paper. He had received so few gifts in his life. “Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you for thinking of me.”

“Of course, I think of you! Open it, silly,” she laughed, and Georgiana joined in.

Flushing at his awkwardness, Darcy opened the paper and found a collection of handkerchiefs with roses and stars embroidered.

“My first efforts were not very proficient,” Elizabeth murmured shyly. “I am happy to say that I improved with practice.”

“I love them,” Darcy said and kissed her cheek, causing her and Georgiana to blush.

How many hours had she spent on these? And she thought of him the whole time. He feared his heart my burst from the joy of it all. That night, in her chambers, something even more significant occurred.

“I love you,” Elizabeth said as she cuddled to him before falling asleep.

Wrapping his arms around her, Darcy smiled so widely he felt facial muscles stretching he had never used before. He held Elizabeth tightly to his chest the rest of the night.

In the morning, she found him in his study. They were to hand out the Boxing Day gifts to the tenants, and the butler had just departed from collecting the bonuses for the household staff. Darcy welcomed her in, and she settled on his lap, placing her arms around his neck.

“Darling,” she said as he rested his head on hers. “I wanted to tell you now so you might decide when we should inform the rest of the estate.”

Darcy lifted his head as a feeling of anticipation filled him. “Yes?”

“There will be a Darcy heir in the Spring.” She grinned and kissed him.

“You are certain?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I have had suspicions for months and began feeling it move last week.”

“When will she come?” Darcy grinned thinking of a bright-eyed girl just like Elizabeth.

“It may be a he,” Elizabeth laughed. “Around our wedding anniversary.”

Unable to contain his joy he shot out of his chair and twirled his wife in his arms while laughing. When Darcy set her down, he kissed her deeply while feeling the clouds of his past disappear. They had love. They had happiness.

He had never before enjoyed visiting the tenants so much. Seeing their happy families only reminded him of his broken one, but today, he felt whole. At the last house, however, Elizabeth’s cheerfulness visibly dimmed. Although she insisted she only felt tired and needed a nap, Darcy could not resist worrying about her. His mother had never been well during her confinements. Thoughts of his mother only reminded him of the secrets he still kept from Elizabeth. He shoved the guilt aside. The information was of such little consequence, he would tell her at the right time. Why ruin their happiness?

As the weeks wore on, Darcy’s fears proved correct. Elizabeth suffered from bouts of insomnia and minor illnesses. Her typical energy disappeared. He also thought better of the timing of her declaration of love. She did not love him. She liked that he had given her a baby. Elizabeth never held back her feelings or words for anything else. If she truly loved him, she would say it often. Instead, she never uttered it again.

When her time for confinement came, Darcy paced about a downstairs room in dread of losing her forever. Mrs. Bennet arrived to assist with the birth, and Darcy found he, at last, had a use for the woman. She crowed in happiness at Elizabeth bearing a son. That night, as Darcy held the woman and son he loved beyond all reason, he vowed to himself he would say nothing to mar their paradise. He had no reason to open the wounds of his past.

More than twenty years later, he learned to repent that vow and all the things he left unsaid.

 

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Eight

secrets of pemberley maskPrevious Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven

 

Chapter Eight

 

“Fitzwilliam Darcy!” Lady Catherine exclaimed as she crushed the note in one hand. “Have you so little respect for my daughter that you would subject her to rumours at her own home?”

“I do not understand you,” he said coldly.

“This,” she waved the offending paper around, “is a note from Mr. Collins! He has heard gossip all over the village this morning that you were seen kissing a young woman yesterday on park grounds. And not just any young woman, one clearly not of servant stature! The townspeople have had no trouble concluding it must be one of Mrs. Collins’ guests. Any idiot can see Miss Lucas is without guise and could never entrap you. It’s that Elizabeth Bennet. I insist you end this dalliance at once!”

“That is quite enough, madam!” Darcy stood and threw his napkin at the table. “I have no connection with Miss Bennet, and she has never behaved in any manner other than as a lady toward me. She has not entrapped me or used any mean art, unlike some,” he said with a pointed glare at his aunt. “Nor can I understand what my private affairs would mean to Anne.”

“It was designed for you to marry her!” Lady Catherine’s face turned red.

“It was nothing more than the wishes of two sisters. Nothing was arranged by contract or by the desire of the young people in question. Nor would that be common knowledge. Even you would not bandy about such an expectation to the neighbourhood.”

“Anne has waited for you for all these years! Heaven knows what has delayed you but what pleasures men always seek, but how dare you do it right in front of her?”

“Mother,” Anne said forcefully. “I do not desire to wed Fitzwilliam. We have both discussed that long ago.”

Lady Catherine turned a deeper shade of red and stood. Her mouth dropped open, and for a moment Darcy thought she would screech or command her daughter into the obedience of her wishes. Then, unexpectedly, after not finding the sufficient words, she clamped her jaw together and left the room.

“My dear cousin,” Anne said in a sad voice, “you are missing the salient point here. Miss Bennet’s reputation is being impugned and attached to your name. She is likely even now being upbraided by her cousin. Even if it is not true, you must do something.”

Darcy collapsed back in his chair as all residual anger left him in place of concern for Elizabeth’s feelings. What was there to do? He had already offered for her, and she refused him. She had even declared if he were the last man in the world, she would not have him. Once rumours began, things could turn nasty quickly. Already the gossip centred on his kiss. It would easily be construed as Elizabeth attempting to seduce a wealthy man. If she did not marry, others would question not only her intents but her virtue. It would make her undesirable as a wife and yet subject her to dishonourable intentions. He knew the outcome well. It was all the things he worried about should Georgiana’s near elopement ever become known.

Richard pulled him up by the arm and led him to the library. “Here,” Richard said while pushing a brandy into his hand.

Not caring it was still an early hour, he took a large gulp.

“I don’t suppose you could deny the rumour?” Richard asked.

Darcy shook his head. “You know how I abhor deceit.” He tossed his head back and squeezed his eyes shut. “She is going to hate me forever.”

“You could find another for her to marry,” Richard said.

The words propelled Darcy forward, and he met his cousin’s eyes. “Are you suggesting yourself?”

“Lord, no,” he said quickly—possibly too quickly—and took a swig.

Darcy clenched the arms of his chair, and his knuckles turned white. “You did seem to favour her.”

“Of course, I favoured her! She is pretty and agreeable.” Richard gulped and held up his hands. “However, we both know I need a lady with some fortune, and so I do have a care when I am about them to not fall in love with just anyone who is pretty and agreeable.”

Darcy narrowed his eyes. “You sound as though you believe she bewitched me and come rather close to insulting her.”

“Calm yourself and put away your murderous glare! I am certain there are any number of qualities which you admired and earned your love. Simply because I do not see them does not mean I am insulting your lady.”

Somewhat appeased, Darcy leaned back in the chair again and loosened his grip.

“You could supplement her dowry,” Richard suggested.

Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose. “That will look as though I am paying her off for an affair.”

“Oh, right. Well, I am more used to how my brother has to deal with his ladies.”

“Do not remind me,” Darcy groaned.

“Maybe she does not wish to wed at all.”

“She has four sisters whose reputations could be affected as well. Although, I suppose Bingley would marry her eldest sister without argument. He still seems rather attached to her.”

“Bingley!” Richard cried. “Bingley was attached to Miss Bennet’s sister?

“Yes.” Darcy took a gulp of the wine in his hand. “I was apparently quite mistaken in the level of Miss Jane Bennet’s regard for my friend.”

“Did Miss Bennet enlighten you last night?”

“Yes, quite soundly.”

Richard cursed. “I apologize, Darcy. I am to blame. Just yesterday, I told Miss Bennet that you had congratulated yourself on separating Bingley from an impudent marriage!”

Darcy finished his drink before replying. Devil take it, he was developing quite the headache this morning. “She must have suspected it in any case and had many other reasons against me. I should not have mentioned it to you, although I did not know she would be here, but she has never been far from my thoughts and admitting something close to her — in relation of her sister and Bingley — was as near as I could come to unburdening myself. If you agreed on the situation with my friend was imprudent, then I could tell myself I had chosen correctly by leaving Hertfordshire and not pursuing her.”

“How was I to counsel you on that if you did not provide the information that it was even Bingley you were talking about let alone the situation of the lady. Miss Bennet is genteel and everything proper. You made it sound as though he desired a scullery maid.”

“I can hardly be to blame if you were not more curious to ask impertinent questions and challenge my prejudice.”

Richard finished his drink and then stood. “Come,” he said and extended his hand.

Darcy looked at it sceptically. “Where are we going now?”

“I am going to distract Mr. and Mrs. Collins while you grovel to your future bride.”

“No, there must be another choice.”

“There is no other way to secure her reputation, and as you just pointed out, you need someone to challenge you. You will have to work out your personal differences, but a lifetime must surely be enough for that. She simply needs to marry you, not like you.”

Darcy pushed his hand out of the way and stood. “Thank you for the sweet words of inspiration and hope. You make it sound so easy.” Inside, Darcy knew a loveless marriage to Elizabeth would be a personal hell on Earth. And one he deserved entirely.

“She is too honourable to destroy the happiness of her entire family,” Richard said gently. “Nor is she unjust.”

Months ago, at Netherfield, Darcy and Elizabeth had debated their failings. He had admitted to implacable resentment, and she had rightfully said it was a dreadful fault. He prayed she could be so forgiving in such an instance. With a small kernel of hope building in his chest, Darcy continued to the Parsonage.

 

*****

 

“Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam” Mrs. Collins greeted them in with a tight smile.

Darcy had immediately noticed her husband’s absence. “Where is Mr. Collins?” Darcy asked.

Mrs. Collins frowned. “He has gone up to console Lady Catherine. Let us not misunderstand what this visit is about. Eliza is in the garden.”

Darcy began walking to the door, but Mrs. Collins called out, “She needs time.”

Darcy mutely nodded his head. Richard’s words about a lifetime being long enough to sort out how to live together resonated in his mind. It had not occurred to him before her rejection how little he really understood Elizabeth or knew her. Was she as stubborn as he? Did she loathe admitting when she was wrong? Would they ever move on from the opinions she had first formed of him?

He found her at the edge of the garden, facing the woods as far away from Rosings as one could manage. She heard his approach and startled. What an extraordinary mixture Elizabeth was! She had been as brave as a lioness last night and now seemed as timid as a frightened deer.

“Miss Bennet,” he said with all the gentleness he could put into the formal address.

She did not turn to face him or acknowledge his presence in any way. Uncertain how to proceed, he stood silently just behind her shoulder. With any luck, she would ease the conversation as she often did when he was awkward and brooding. He lightly drummed his fingers on his thigh to calm his nerves.

Just when he was about to give in and find something to say, Elizabeth turned and faced him. “Do you have anything to say, Mr. Darcy?”

“Would that I could say anything that would erase my actions or bring peace to your mind,” he twisted his hat in his hands. “I promise you will be well cared for—”

Elizabeth’s face crumpled. “My — my — sisters,” she whispered.

“As my wife,” Darcy continued.

Her immediate look of relief as he finished his declaration proved that she found it entirely possible to believe he would not offer his hand again. Did she think he was so dishonourable? Or had she imagined him too proud to humble himself twice in two days?

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she said as she attempted to keep tears from falling.

Her red and swollen eyes had already proved he caused her to shed many others. He could never forgive himself for causing her such distress. What a selfish beast he had been! And she had the graciousness to thank him. As much as he hated himself, he fell even more in love with her at this moment. What other lady could meet this situation with such composure? He had no doubt she was furious at him from the way she held herself, but she seemed to know there was no use in dramatics.

“If it pleases you, I will drive to Longbourn tomorrow and meet with your father.” He offered it up as a peace offering.

Now, you ask what will please me?” She had turned away again but now spun to face him. “And you voluntarily wish to see my family? Oh, but it’s not voluntary, is it?” She cocked her head to one side and shot daggers at him from her eyes.

His nerves were too raw to let the intended insult pass. “I did offer to connect myself with them just last night. You have made no secret of your hatred of me. I did not think you could forget it already as you seemed to have delighted in recalling every other word and action you perceived as my faults.”

“I will not question how destroying my reputation is on equal terms with the faults I laid at your door last night.” Her chin quivered, but she maintained her sure-footed stance and boldly met his eyes.

If she had said it in anger, it would have been easier to bear. Instead, Darcy perceived she meant more than she said. “Are you under the impression that I intentionally orchestrated all of this?”

“I can think of no other explanation,” Elizabeth shook her head. “I refused your offer of marriage, and you have freely admitted to your resentment.”

“You think I would compromise you to destroy you or force your hand? I suppose you think I arranged for there to be witnesses as well?”

Elizabeth turned white and then red. “Someone saw?

“Why else would there be rumours?”

“Rumours seldom begin in truth,” she murmured and lowered her head.

“In this fantasy you have conjured, I commanded others to spread gossip? If it did not rely on someone viewing it, then why would I bother to kiss you?”

Elizabeth blushed and stammered. “I..I…I have been unable to make any sense of that at all.”

Darcy took a step closer to Elizabeth and did not miss the sudden and rapid rise and fall of her chest. He terrified her. He took a step back, and she calmed. “I cannot make you think better of me, but as you have agreed to marry me, I would say it may be best to put your suspicions and prejudices aside. Believe me when I say that kissing you was as unplanned as falling in love with you had been and has served to be just as destructive. Neither can be forgotten soon enough for our mutual happiness. When we say our vows we will each promise things we cannot keep, but I do mean this vow. I will never touch you again without your request nor will I mistreat you in public or private.”

Elizabeth met his eyes and seemed to scrutinise him to assess his sincerity. Hearing the door close and looking over his shoulder he saw Richard and Mrs. Collins walking towards them.

Darcy gave Elizabeth a formal bow. “I will take my leave now.”

“No, I am certain Darcy will insist that you all take his coach! It will very comfortably seat you ladies, and Mr. Collins can ride with Brooks,” Richard said as they drew near. “It will be no inconvenience for Darcy and me to rent horses.”

Darcy was not entirely sure what he overheard, but it seemed designed to vex him.

“Is everything well?” Mrs. Collins asked.

“I…I am well,” Elizabeth dissembled. “Did I hear correctly? You intend to return to Hertfordshire tomorrow?”

Mrs. Collins looked away from Elizabeth’s face. “Mr. Collins and I have discussed the matter, and we thought it best to return you and Maria ourselves. I am certain Lady Catherine will approve of the visit.”

Darcy instantly understood the pretence. Mrs. Collins wished to escape from Lady Catherine’s displeasure because Elizabeth agreed to marry him. “I would be pleased for you to take the coach,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she quickly said. After a pointed glare from Mrs. Collins, Elizabeth echoed it.

“Well, we must begin packing then, Eliza.” She returned to the house.

“Of course, do excuse us,” Richard said and bowed before leaving.

“I look forward to announcing our betrothal to your family,” Darcy said wishing Elizabeth offered her hand for him to bow over. As he met her eyes before leaving, his heart sank to see no hint of forgiveness in her eyes.

He tried to not be discouraged by the lack of improvement with Elizabeth. He would attempt to court her during their engagement and after their marriage. For now, he managed to avoid his aunt, who had not left her rooms since Anne’s declaration over breakfast. The journey to Longbourn on a rented horse and with Mr. Collins in tow would test his nerves, but Darcy knew he would need to retain his composure to meet with Mr. Bennet and the vulgarness of his wife and youngest daughters.

 

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Seven

secrets of pemberley maskPrevious Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six 

Chapter Seven

 

A little after half past eight the following morning, Darcy walked the grove at Rosings, lashing himself with memories of the last week. He had thought he was courting Elizabeth well. He had believed she perceived his regard and returned it.

Instead of gratitude and embraces last night, he was met with a harsh refusal and unjust accusations. The pain of her rejection would come later. Instead, he used his anger to defend his character. Elizabeth assaulted his honour, and while he had no hopes of earning her love or hand, he would not allow her to think ill of him due to false understanding. She might hate him forever, but it should not be under pretences of Wickham’s lies!

Now, he waited for her to appear as she always had before.

An hour of wandering later, his anger cooled. He noticed the verdure of the park around him and touched a bloom.

Does Elizabeth’s skin feel as soft as this petal? Would he cheeks blush like the pink of this rose when I kissed her the first time?

He had often imagined it. At Netherfield, his attraction to her beauty, unexpected as it was, kept him awake many nights. It was one reason he resisted his feelings. He had believed he was losing his good sense over nothing more than a charming smile and fine eyes. In London, however, the memory of her looks faded and instead her words and expressions were his constant companion.

Dark thoughts flooded his mind, and the sound of crunching leaves filled his ears as a sharp pain stabbed at his hand. Releasing his clenched fist, the now demolished rose fell to the ground, and he lifted his hand to inspect a wound from a thorn. Blood trickled out. Would that his heart would heal as fast as his hand. Cleaning it with a handkerchief, he slid on his leather gloves and rearranged his hat. He looked the part of a perfect gentleman. He well knew his countenance gave little indication of the turmoil warring in his chest. He would never be the man to taste Elizabeth’s cherished lips, that honour would be bestowed on another. By God, though, it would not be George Wickham. She could not possibly favour him still after she read his letter.

Consulting his pocket watch, he realized another hour had passed. Elizabeth intentionally avoided this walk, he was sure of it. Considering he knew not where else to find her, he chose a path which led to the Parsonage. He had no idea how to pass his letter to her, but perhaps Mrs. Collins could be of assistance, or at the very least have an idea of where her friend walked this morning.

As Darcy’s feet carried him, however, he thought less and less of his letter and more of the piercing pain in his heart. The only time he had experienced unconditional love in his life, it had been ripped from him at a tender age. Elizabeth’s refusal struck at the very core of him. Had his actions with Bingley and Wickham’s lies meant anything at all? Or did she merely find him unworthy through and through? Could she sense he was a bastard and his claim to a high standing was mere pretension?

As he exited the grove and rounded a curve, his eyes made out an outline he knew by heart. No other lady walked with such energy and freedom of expression. Elizabeth walked for enjoyment, not for health. She paused at the gate and lingered. Had she seen him? Did she mean to atone for her outburst the night before? Darcy increased his pace, and his long strides carried him closer, closer to her.

His heart nearly fell from his chest when he saw Elizabeth tilt her head and then her body go stiff before she turned from the gate. It was nothing more than his vain wishes that Elizabeth desired to speak with him again, but he could not allow her to leave. His last memory of her could not be the angry looks of last night. He knew her enough that she would be civil to him this morning.

“Eliza—Miss Elizabeth!” he called out.

She turned to face him, and he called again. When she slowly walked back to the gate, his heart returned to beating.

“I have been walking in the grove for some time in the hope of meeting you,” he said and extended his letter. “Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?”

Elizabeth took it, seemingly by instinct, but then her eyes flashed in reproach. Fearing she would return the letter unread, Darcy panicked. He had no patience or calmness of mind left to resist his impulses. Grabbing Elizabeth’s hand over the gate, he pulled her forward and kissed her lips before she had time to reprimand him.

He wanted to stay and worship them forever, but he pulled back. Anger shined in her eyes. Instead of satiating his longing or fulfilling this devil-craze in him, the kiss tasted like ashes; the very death of him. With a formal bow, he turned his back and left her.

He was halfway back to the Manor house when he saw Richard.

“Did you return from the Parsonage?” Richard asked.

“No,” was Darcy’s only reply.

“I suppose you mean to call later then, but why not come with me now?”

Darcy cared not if it were the polite thing to do. Although uncertain if Elizabeth would return to the house to read, he had no desire to be in the same building as her again. Had he not humbled himself enough? Now he must perform to society’s niceties while the woman he loved looked upon him with disdain? And for what? His aunt’s ridiculous parson and merchant’s daughter of a wife?

“No. I don’t think I will.” He began to push past his cousin when a thought occurred to him. “I cannot explain the particulars of why but I have written to Miss Bennet the truth of George Wickham’s character. He is known to her, and she believes him a friend. Should she not believe me, I gave her leave to corroborate the information with you.”

Richard’s eyes widened during Darcy’s speech. “What on Earth are you thinking?”

“I believe she will not spread the information. You have sung her praises,” Darcy scowled at Richard’s questioning look, “Do you disagree?”

“No,” Richard shook his head. “I believe her trustworthy.”

“Then oblige me in this. I cannot—” Darcy slammed his jaw together. He would not, could not tell of his rejection to Richard. Or anyone else. Ever. He had coveted Elizabeth’s good opinion and acceptance like he had never craved anything in his life. Feeling too vulnerable with Richard’s penetrating stare, Darcy moved forward.

“Come, Darcy,” Richard said, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Nothing but our aunt pressuring you to marry Anne awaits you there, and I do not think you need to spend more time there. At least make yourself agreeable to her friends one last time.”

Richard’s words made Darcy turn around to meet his eyes. “What do you know?”

“I know that the only person who could not tell you were smitten with Miss Bennet was the lady herself. I also know you do not pay that sort of attention to a lady for no reason. Nor would you tell me that should Miss Bennet question me about Wickham or Georgiana to answer truthfully if she was inclined to believe you. And I know you would never tell that to a woman you did not esteem greatly and would trust with your sister’s reputation and life. The only lady who could meet all that criteria would be a woman you loved deeply. You were missing for some time last night and are morose today. So, it all rather stacks up.”

Darcy hung his head and exhaled before turning to follow his cousin down the lane. Others in the world saw him as untouchable and charmed. He was the only son of one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom, related to a powerful and prosperous lord, inherited his estate at a young age, blessed with health, good sense, and good looks. He was in no danger of losing his wealth and could have nearly any wife of London stock that he wished. Men wanted to be him. Nay, even more, most men deferred to him. If they knew he had proposed to a country lady with no family or fortune to her name and not only had been soundly refused but felt like a whimpering small boy on the inside from her tongue lashing, they would have more than a hearty laugh at his expense.

Thankfully, Richard did not offer pity but instead provided a battle plan. Yes, he would go to the Parsonage and say goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas. He would show Elizabeth her reproofs there were entirely unjust.

“You do not need to stay long. I will make myself available should Miss Bennet have any questions,” Richard said as they neared the house.

Darcy mutely nodded his head. Elizabeth was not present, and he could scarcely sit still for wondering if her delayed appearance was because she was reading his letter and reproaching herself. He said just enough to be considered civil in Mrs. Collins drawing room and excused himself early, citing the need to write his steward. Richard stayed behind, good man that he was.

As Darcy finally returned to Rosings, he saw Lady Montague-Churchill’s carriage outside. She was Lady Catherine’s closest friend and nearest neighbour that was a peer. Today was not her usual day for calling, but hopefully, that meant his aunt would be too distracted to drop such large hints that he was expected to marry Anne. Upon entering the house, he was informed by the butler that his aunt requested he see her in the drawing room upon his return. With resignation, he complied.

“Ah, here is Darcy,” she said at his entrance. “I do not think you have seen him in the last few years. He always seems to be out when you visit. You recall he is the same age as your son Matthew.”

“No, I have not seen him since his father died, I believe. Well, he was always a handsome young man,” she said while retrieving spectacles from her reticule. After putting them on her face, she gasped.

“Matilda, what is it? You look as though you have seen a ghost!”

“Oh, nothing is the matter at all,” she said. “If you will beg my pardon, I really cannot stay any longer. You know it is not my usual day for calling anyway,” the lady said and hastily stood.

“Of course, dear. I will give your regards to Anne.”

Lady Montague-Churchill thanked her friend. As she left the room, she peered up at Darcy with reproach in her eyes. Unfortunately, he was too distracted by the strange encounter to think of a reason to return to his chambers and instead had to listen to his aunt extoll for an hour about the expectations of his name. This ranged from being friendlier with her acquaintances to demands of duty in marriage. At last, Richard was heard entering the house and gave Darcy a reprieve.

In the privacy of Darcy’s rooms, Richard declared he waited as long as he could and still Elizabeth had not returned to the Parsonage. Darcy tried to content himself with the fact that he would never see or hear of her again. That night when sleep did not come, he was left with memories of his stolen kiss. He had instantly regretted it, and the memory merged with the strange reaction of Lady Montague-Churchill upon seeing him. For the first, he could only say it was yet another thing Elizabeth could hold against his character and for the second he had no ready explanation other than the strangeness of his aunt’s friends.

A note his aunt received at the breakfast table the next morning changed all of his expectations of never seeing Elizabeth again.

 

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Five

secrets of pemberley maskPrevious Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

Chapter Five

 

Darcy arrived at the Hunsford Parsonage at the earliest hour for town calls. Well, a few minutes past as he had headed down the lane and then turned his horse around twice before firming his resolve. His heart pounded loudly, and he worried the maid answering the door could hear it.

In his fantasies the night before, he had met with Elizabeth alone during this premeditated visit. She welcomed him to sit on the settee while she served tea and they took turns inching closer to one another. Somehow, she would start them on one of their deep conversations. This led quickly to him confessing how she put him at ease and understood him more than any person in the world. Then, when her cheeks were rosy from his compliments and while sufficiently awed at his admiration but with a witty retort on her lips, he would consume that brightness. Pulling Elizabeth into his arms, he would kiss her breathless, pouring his heart into every meeting of their mouths. With as few words as possible, he would ask for her hand in marriage, and she would accept, preferably showing just how much she loved and desired him as well.

Calm down, he told himself. Whatever his fantasies were, they would not occur. Elizabeth would not be alone. Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas would be present. Thankful for the small mercy that Mr. Collins would be out, Darcy did not hope for anything more. The air left his lungs in a whoosh, and all thought fled his mind when the maid opened the parlour door and revealed Elizabeth alone sitting by the window with the sun beaming down on her.

“Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed in surprise before hastily curtseying.

His mind, so lately very agreeably engaged in improper thoughts, temporarily rendered him mute. His mouth had run dry as he craved the touch of her skin and even more, of her acceptance of him in a way no one had ever accepted him before.

“I apologise,” Darcy made a hasty bow. “I had thought all the ladies at home today.”

Elizabeth gracefully assured him all was well and bade him sit. “I trust that your aunt and cousins are well.”

“Indeed, thank you,” he said.

She peered over his shoulder. “I am glad to hear the Colonel is well. As we have seen him every morning all week and yet he is not with you, I had worried he took ill.”

Darcy frowned. Blasted Richard. “He was perfectly healthy when I left Rosings. He simply had other matters to attend to, I assure you.”

Elizabeth shrugged and nodded her head. “Of course.”

Silence ensued, and each tick-tock of the clock reverberated in his head. If he had been truly George Darcy’s son, he would know perfect drawing room talk and could rattle off charming platitudes. Instead, he was likely the son of a footman or stable hand. He did not know. He did not care to know. The decision he made upon learning of his mother’s affair was mostly out of deference for Mr. Darcy. However, a part of it was certainly out of cowardice. Such a trait became evident again as he sat in silence, too fearful to confess his feelings.

After several moments of awkwardness, Elizabeth cocked her head to one side. “How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy!”

Did she recall their dance? Was she angry for his hasty retreat from Hertfordshire? If she was, her indifferent questioning about Bingley and his sisters gave no indication. Having no desire to discuss them, Darcy only assured Elizabeth that they also were well. She must be as nervous as he about their private tete-e-tete.

Again, she asked after Bingley and if he would return to Netherfield. Did she ask for her own sake? No, Bingley could not return to Netherfield and see Jane Bennet again. Therefore, Darcy had no other chance to woo Elizabeth than here, under his aunt’s nose. He certainly could not call on her in Cheapside. At any rate, other than a few days in London, she had plans to return to Longbourn. Unsure how to put her mind at ease without declaring his sentiments, Darcy could offer little in the way of information regarding his friend. Although looking displeased, Elizabeth dropped the topic.

Finally, his mind began to thaw, and he considered a subject of conversation. “This seems a very comfortable house.”

Lady Catherine had done quite a bit of work to fix the place up when Mr. Collins accepted the position. However, anything that seemed explicitly of his aunt’s taste was considerably subdued. Undoubtedly, the handiwork of Mrs. Collins.

“Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of wife.” Of course, his wife had married an utter fool. Most would say it was a good match for her, but Darcy often wondered how the woman respected herself.

Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “…I am not sure I consider her marrying Mr. Collins to be the wisest thing she ever did.”

Something about her tone of voice when calling it a good match displayed, distinctly, to Darcy that she did not agree. Since they were speaking on marriages…

“It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

Darcy’s heart stopped when Elizabeth seemed aghast at his words. Did she consider fifty miles of good road too far from her family? Would she ever agree to leave them? He released a breath when she clarified a woman could live too near her family. Unable to stop himself, he scooted his chair closer to her.

“You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn,” he said his voice rasping in passion.

Something he had done or said or maybe the warbled, throaty tone of his voice had shocked her. Elizabeth’s eyes widened, and she blinked. For a moment, he imagined she wore an expression which said she had never thoroughly looked at him before. The thought startled him. He pulled his chair back and grabbed a newspaper, needing the moment to affix his armour and mask in place.

Elizabeth was not yet ready to tell him about her feelings on leaving Longbourn. Darcy had come sure of instant success. Now, he saw he would have to woo Elizabeth. She had far too much integrity to jump into his waiting arms after months of abandonment. She certainly could not know about his months of torment and anguish. For all she could know, he was as flighty as Richard—merely looking for an amusing and pretty distraction.

Plan in place, Darcy finally put the newspaper away. Awkwardness filled the air, but for once he did not mind. He would trouble himself for this. To allow Elizabeth to see his admiration. He brought up her travels, and they compared Kent and Hertfordshire for several minutes. Just when he had judged it the appropriate time to ask if she would like a tour of the gardens, Mrs. Collins and her sister walked in.

Darcy had tried to explain the misunderstanding which involved his calling on Elizabeth while the others were out, but he could not escape Mrs. Collins’ keen attention.

“I am surprised you did not go for a walk while we were gone, Eliza,” Charlotte said.

“I have,” Elizabeth laughed. “I had letters to reply to, and so I could not indulge myself as much as I would like.” She looked out the window and gave a wistful sigh. “I hope the grove blooms before I leave. It must be beautiful in its height!”

Elizabeth favoured the grove? Quickly, Darcy’s mind considered that he could meet with her there. There, in the privacy they could not have in Mrs. Collins drawing room or at Rosings, he could woo her. He could find her on the path one morning. His imagination rapidly creating scenarios, he abruptly stood and made his excuses to leave, aware of the confused stares at his back as he exited.

 

*****

 

The following morning, Darcy awoke early and walked down the whole of the grove, expecting to see Elizabeth. Once at the end, he tore off his hat and beat it in his hand. Had he come too early? Or too late? Perhaps he walked too fast? It seemed so simple in his head yesterday! Turning back, he lingered where the path forked with the one returning to Rosings. This kind of courtship was for the dogs.

“Know when to quit and when to seek assistance, boy,” George Darcy’s voice echoed in Darcy’s head.

He had been a nervous child and prone to wishing to quit. His guardian, although seemingly disappointed at his natural reticence, took the time to teach him the appearance of confidence. He taught Darcy wisdom and when a task or object of his desire was worth the investment. Elizabeth was worth this. He only needed help.

Arriving at Rosings, he was surprised to find Richard in the drawing room.

“You are not calling on the Parsonage?” he asked.

“No, they are at breakfast still,” Richard shook out a newspaper.

“How do you know?”

Richard half-lowered the paper and looked at his cousin strangely. “At the first visit, I asked when it would be convenient to call. I did not want to assume what sort of hours they kept.”

Darcy felt a slight heat creeping up his collar. How simple that would have been! Elizabeth must walk after their meal. Unfortunately, that fell during the time Lady Catherine ordered breakfast. Intent on avoiding thoughts of Elizabeth last week, Darcy had eaten his meal as quickly as possible then removed to the library. He did not know when Richard left for the morning.

“I suppose you will go today, then,” Darcy said.

Richard shrugged. “I do not know. I have been thinking about what you said about raising expectations. Aunt thought I had paid too much attention to Miss Bennet the other night and I would not want the lady to have any hopes.” Richard let out a sigh. “Alex gets to stay in London with all its entertainment, and he’s supposed to be the country gentleman! Here I am every Easter rusticating with our aunt.”

“I could go with you,” Darcy said while fiddling with a cufflink and attempting to sound nonchalant.

“Very well,” Richard said with indifference. “No one can construe it as a sign of courtship if I arrive with another, especially one as dour as you.” He stood and laughed at his own joke.

Darcy’s heart sank as he followed Richard to the breakfast room. No, accompanying his cousin would not signal courtship but perhaps he could learn more about Elizabeth’s habits. Bearing with Richard’s teasing and Mr. Collins’ company—for if he were home, he would be certain to visit with Lady Catherine’s nephews—would be worth it to know how to meet Elizabeth alone.

Upon finishing their quick meal, Richard and Darcy walked to the Parsonage. Darcy said little but observed much. Although continually reminding himself to not stare at Elizabeth and actually listen to the conversation around him—there being time to strategize later—he left feeling confident. She had often looked his away, despite Richard directing much of his discussion to her.

The following morning, Darcy left after breakfast. He thought about gathering some of the early blooms in a bouquet for her—that is what suitors did, was it not?—but he resisted. He had not said he desired to meet her and she had not hinted at it. An “accidental” encounter would be best.

Besides, he should begin as he meant to go on. He would not be like his “father” and court Elizabeth so she expected poetry and flowers and then discover she had married a reserved and taciturn man. George Darcy had been everything charming and amiable, but he had led his wife to believe he was a city man when in truth he desired a country life. Darcy shook his head as he continued on the path.

Such thoughts of the man always made Darcy consider Bingley. They were very much alike. Despite believing Jane Bennet had not been in love with his friend and that her situation in life would harm him, Darcy conceded that she was everything else that Bingley needed and desired in a wife. Although Bingley’s sisters relished London Society, their brother did not. He did not spend most of his time in London. Instead, he went from house party to house party as he had an abundance of friends and invitations. Even now he was at one in Cheshire. If he married a wife he loved, he might find the means to put down real roots and purchase an estate as he often talked about doing.

Darcy felt a little needle in his conscience that he could not advocate that he found Jane Bennet insufficient for Bingley but Elizabeth met all his requirements. He pushed it aside. Elizabeth does not meet all the requirements I had for a wife. Those are the facts. I am overlooking the deficiencies because I cannot live without her. Bingley is not broken-hearted about Jane. His head and heart had been through this too many times. Now, even his head conceded he never saw happiness come from a marriage built on meeting requirements while denying the heart.

Hearing a noise, Darcy turned and saw Elizabeth approach. The sun shone on her face and she tilted her head up to it with arms stretched wide. In a gown of daffodil yellow trimmed with green and green ribbon on her bonnets, Darcy could imagine her a flower. Wordsworth had written of coming across a field of daffodils, and it moved him to pen verses. He was among a set of poets who created a new movement in poetry, stirring up many intellectual debates. What Darcy witnessed went beyond a mental stimulation. It warmed his heart and touched his soul. Elizabeth lowered her face, but the smile remained. She shined brighter than any sun, and Darcy found himself pulled to her as if by magnetism.

Opening her eyes, the smile altered but she waved and greeted him.

“Good day, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said as he came nearer. “Do you often favour this grove?” He turned to walk next to her.

“Indeed,” she glanced around and smiled. “It is my favourite path.”

“Have you not seen the gardens?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “I have seen them from afar—when we walk to Rosings— but I confess the neat and orderly hold no interest to me. They all copy one another, do they not?”

Darcy agreed and marvelled at hearing her true opinions. All other ladies he had talked with assumed Pemberley was like those other estates with manicured lawns and sculptures. If they had dared utter such a view, it would be immediately taken back to prevent offense.

“Perhaps you think me too unused to fine society to appreciate their ways,” she said in a wry voice.

“I would not do you the dishonour,” Darcy said. “Everyone is entitled to their own taste. I would not desire anyone to impose their opinion on me.”

“No, you are far too independent for that,” Elizabeth chuckled.

The way she understood him tugged on his heart. “As are you,” he smiled down at her.

She made no reply for several minutes while Darcy attempted to find the courage to discuss courtship.

Courtship? You desire marriage. Do not be a coward! Darcy hardly knew if it was his internal voice or his father’s in his head.

“I suppose Kent is vastly different than Derbyshire?” Elizabeth asked.

Darcy nodded. That she asked about his home county must be a good sign. She must be attempting to help him along. Perhaps by the time he had finished, he would have regained his nerve. They approached the fork to Rosings.

“I planned on continuing to the village,” Elizabeth said at the first opening she had.

Darcy tensed but spoke civilly, “Please, allow me to escort you there.”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth shook her head. “I would not wish to deprive Lady Catherine of her favourite nephew for the whole of the morning. Imagine the inquisition I would have and how shocked she would hear about the liberties you took.” She winked at him and laughed.

“Pardon?” Darcy’s mind froze. Did she want him to take liberties?

Elizabeth sighed. “I see you are no better at taking a tease than you were in Hertfordshire. Our conversation does not merit her investigation or is worth the repeating. She knows all about her gardens and undoubtedly Pemberley’s as well.” She shrugged. “Explaining our conversation would simply require her to scold for no reason while extolling herself.”

Darcy smiled at how correct she was. “Ah, and that might be more than you could bear?”

Elizabeth raised her brows and smiled. “I did not say that, sir,” she said in a sweet tone before pursing her lips to keep from laughing.

“I will leave you to your wandering then,” Darcy said. “I would not ask you to bear my aunt’s scrutiny for my sake.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth curtsied and turned.

“Miss Bennet,” Darcy called, and she glanced back. “Take care walking alone.”

“I am perfectly safe,” she laughed. “I walked these parts for weeks before stumbling upon you.”

Darcy longed to tell her she was too precious to be taken from his sight and how even if all was well he wanted to march her up and down every village and town in the Kingdom to show the world the treasure he had found.

Fitzwilliam, some people need their space. There’s no need to coddle everyone, George Darcy’s voice echoed in Darcy’s mind. Until he could kiss Elizabeth senseless and make her not want to leave him, he settled for a weak smile and a wave before turning up the path to Rosings. Next time, he would be prepared. He would have a clear plan for conversation. Affections and wishes would be stated.

A peace filled Darcy as he returned to his aunt’s house. Soon, he would have his greatest heart’s desire. No more loneliness, no more being unloved. And what a sweet love it would be. Well worth his years of pain. While getting to the point caused him no little trouble, he supposed it was a sight better than some face. Bingley was blocked from his desires by fortune and the lady’s indifference. Darcy saw far more in one look from Elizabeth than her sister ever gave his friend. And while he did not like to boast of his wealth, his income made her comparative poverty no evil. Indeed, he was blessed that the only trouble on his path to happiness was his cursed tied tongue.

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Four

secrets of pemberley maskPrevious Chapters: One / Two / Three

*Apologies for a typo in the last post. Darcy does not know Jane is STILL in London. As such, he did not know about Jane’s visit to Miss Bingley.

Chapter Four

For the next week, time stood frozen at Rosings. Each morning, Darcy would awake after a night of dreams filled with restless longing for Elizabeth. Dark shadows filled under his eyes. His valet greeted him with concern, and even Lady Catherine remarked on his state. After four nights of little to no sleep, he resorted to requesting a sleeping draught, but it had no effect.

During the day, Darcy would linger over Lady Catherine’s accounts. They did not require the scrutiny, but he could claim his exhaustion as a source for the slowness of his task. When his body cried for movement, he resorted to vigorous target practice and fencing. Richard saw no reason to stay away from the entertainment of the Parsonage. After each visit, Darcy questioned him, eventually earning strange looks from his cousin.

Darcy had planned to visit Rosings for a fortnight. He would not change his plans because of Elizabeth’s presence. He had run from her once when he left Hertfordshire, he would not do it again and leave early.

Unfortunately, all the arguments he had made against the match were proven false. Her insupportable family was of no consequence when they were miles away. Lady Catherine liked her. Undoubtedly, she would not like Darcy marrying Elizabeth, but she had no complaints about the acquaintance or her situation in life. Richard was delighted with her wit and grace. Astonishingly, Elizabeth functioned well in the circle of Darcy’s peers and family. She would make the leap to his station without fault. Her comparative poverty meant nothing to him with all the Darcy wealth.

The only remaining doubt in his mind relied on memories of his mother and the man who raised him. They had married unequally, but Mother had a very different sort of disposition than Elizabeth. Darcy suspected she would prefer the country life, which he also enjoyed. However, she had been to London. And more than a few times for a brief visit, he was sure. Cheapside was not Mayfair, but the crowd and noise of London were the same everywhere.

Darcy had tossed aside his pen and stood by a window in the library. Half a mile down the lane, he could make out the church steeple. Next to it, was the parsonage and Elizabeth. So close…

He put a hand against the glass and braced himself as he rested his forehead on a pane. His solitude was broken by the entry of Richard. Darcy whirled to face his cousin. It would not do for the other man to believe Darcy having a fit of the doldrums. “Another visit to the Parsonage?”

Richard nodded and relaxed in a chair.

“Why do you go so often?”

“You mean aside from the exciting company here?” Richard’s wry tone belied his sarcasm. “Not everyone is like you, Darcy. Not everyone is content to sit in silence the whole day.”

“I apologise,” Darcy said. “I had not meant to neglect you.”

Richard shook his head. “Not me. I welcome some peace and quiet after cannon blasts and drilling young scapegraces. Miss Lucas and Miss Bennet are not on holiday at some resort. There is no shopping. There is little to occupy a young lady here, especially with Lady Catherine now ignoring them.” Richard sighed and hooked a boot over his knee. “Even so, Miss Lucas must be used to living with Mrs. Collins, who probably has her home set up very much like her mother’s.”

Darcy stared at his cousin. “Do I understand you mean that you visit to cheer Miss Bennet?” A festering bit of jealousy rose in his throat. “I thought you said you would not flirt.”

“I am not!” Richard insisted. “I am being a friend.”

Darcy’s brows furrowed as he considered his cousin’s words. Elizabeth felt unhappy here? Well, who could blame her with the company of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine? “What does she say to you, friend?”

“Oh, we talk of nothing serious,” Richard waved his hand. “As well-practiced as she is in conversation, it would take more than a week old’s acquaintance for there to be things of substance.”

It did not sound like Elizabeth to be vapid. “Substance?”

“We talk about music and books. General drawing room talk,” Richard shrugged. “I gather we feel similarly on many things, but they are the sorts of things that anyone with more sense than Collins or our Aunt would feel.”

Elizabeth had talked about soul-baring things with him at Netherfield. Did she miss that stimulus as much as he did? Perhaps, if he considered that his motive was to ease her discomfort and not to indulge his attraction, he could give her the opportunity to experience something beyond Mrs. Collins’ parlour.

Richard and Darcy fell into conversation regarding other subjects until it was time for dinner.

“Aunt,” said Darcy as the soup was served, “did you intend to invite Mr. Collins and his guests to tea tomorrow evening?”

“Why should I do that?” Her ladyship’s soup spoon hovered above her bowl as though her nephew had sprouted another head. “Tomorrow is Easter.”

“You often invited Dr. Montague,” Darcy explained. “You would not wish to seem exclusive or unkind.”

“That was many years ago!” She put down the spoon. “He was in poor health the last four years, and I could not invite the curate he hired.”

“And now?”

“Now, I see no need to entertain my parson when my nephews are present.”

“Because he is not a doctor of divinity?” Richard asked.

“Dr. Montague was a cousin to Lady Montague-Churchill. They are of two very different sorts of backgrounds,” Lady Catherine explained.

“Lady Montagu-Churchill came from no great distinction,” Darcy said. “Her father had been a tradesman as much as Mrs. Collins’ father was.” The lady had married into an impoverished title. When she inherited Mr. Montagu’s funds, her husband added the surname to his own.

“And Miss Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman,” Richard pressed.

Darcy would have appreciated the help if he did not worry his cousin had ulterior reasons.

“Mother,” Anne rasped, her frailty more evident than ever, “I do miss the ladies.”

“Why should you need the ladies when Dar—your cousins are here?”

Richard covered a laugh at Lady Catherine’s slip of the tongue with a cough.

“Very well,” Lady Catherine conceded. “We shall invite them to tea in the evening. However, I will not have them for dinner.”

“An excellent and proper compromise,” Darcy smiled.

Somehow, the remainder of the meal, in which his aunt continued to suggest an attachment between him and Anne, seemed bearable. He would see Elizabeth’s face light up in amusement again. Her eyes would dance not just from the effect of candlelight but in joy. Her need for excellent company would be satisfied—surely he and Richard qualified as such. Something about picturing her in the drawing room at Rosings set his heart to racing. In his mind’s eye, she seemed to belong perfectly in the place. She belonged at his side.

 

*****

 

The following morning, Darcy waited impatiently for the others to gather in the entry. They would take Lady Catherine’s barouche box and arrive together. He had nearly made up his mind to walk to the church alone when the others arrived. How did they always arrive together? There was some sort of grace to knowing when others were leaving their chambers and Darcy had never known the secret. As much as George Darcy had grilled pedigree and estate management into his heir’s head, things like that seemed to occur naturally to the set born into them. No education could teach Fitzwilliam Darcy the social niceties he did not experience in his formative years.

The church service itself seemed to take forever. Mr. Collins’ text varied little from any other Easter sermon, but he delivered it poorly. If he had to earn his keep, the man would be a pauper. As it was, most of the congregants had fallen asleep as the rector’s voice droned on and on. From his position in Lady Catherine’s pew, Darcy could not see Elizabeth. His eyes felt starved for her. Merely knowing she was in the same building as he made his skin tingle.

When the sermon was over, Mr. Collins did his duty. That is to say, he preened over Lady Catherine and ignored the members of the parish. Darcy noted that Mrs. Collins, and by extension her sister and friend, did the office instead. At least they knew what was truly due.

Without hearing the words, Darcy knew when Lady Catherine had rendered her invitation. Mr. Collins’ jaw dropped in awe and then snapped up with such a force it reverberated through his head. Colour rising and eyes widening, he bowed to her ladyship and belatedly called out his thanks as she walked away. Then, Collins raced over to the women of his party. He talked such rapidity Darcy wondered how he could breathe. Mrs. Collins, although Darcy had always thought she was a sensible woman, displayed far more glee at the news than it deserved. Her sister followed her suit. Elizabeth, lovely Elizabeth with green trimming her gown and bonnet, merely smiled and nodded. Darcy knew the expression well. She was restraining herself; holding herself back from laughing outright and making a spectacle. Seeing her hover between laughter and demurral, she beamed like a lighthouse on a coast and he, Darcy, a frigate in danger of being lost. Her cheerful disposition warmed Darcy’s soul.

“Darcy, we are leaving!” Lady Catherine commanded as she walked past, ripping his gaze away from the vision of loveliness.

Interminable hours passed before the Hunsford party arrived at Rosings. Fortunately, Lady Catherine and Anne had spent the hours until dinner in their chambers. Then, Darcy only needed to survive the many-coursed event allowing his aunt’s words to flow in one ear and out the other, as usual. After the meal, he fidgeted in his seat, pulled on his waistcoat, and fiddled his cufflinks.

“Would you cease all that?” Richard exclaimed as he tapped ash from his cigar. Taking a long draw, he puffed the smoke out in circles.

My behaviour annoys you?” Darcy chuckled at the irony.

“And there is no reason to stare at the clock so often.” Another puff of smoke exhaled from his mouth. “They will be here soon enough.”

“They?” Darcy swirled his port and pretended to not know of whom Richard spoke.

“Do not worry,” Richard drawled. “I will not tattle on you and let them know your better nature.”

“I cannot conceive what you mean.” Why was it taking so long for an hour to pass?

“Darcy, only you would refuse to visit people and sit stiffly and silent when you are there but go out of your way to ease their feelings in a way that will likely cause far more discomfort to all.”

“What does that mean?” A conversation from Netherfield flitted through Darcy’s memory. What must his friends think of him if they can call him an arrogant ass to his face and think he will feel nothing?

“I mean you choose an extraordinarily inconvenient time and way to show general courtesy.” Richard drew several more puffs on his cigar before continuing. “When we visited the Parsonage, you barely spoke. You have not visited since although you question me frequently. I mention Miss Bennet’s apparent discomfort, and you manage to invite her to Rosings. You would have done better to visit her yourself than get her to come here when Lady Catherine had not wanted it.”

Darcy turned away, refusing to allow his cousin’s words their justice.

An hour or so later when the guests had arrived, Lady Catherine’s behaviour proved Richard correct. She barely greeted them and then spent as much time talking to Darcy as she could manage. Even worse, Richard did flirt with Elizabeth—who seemed to enjoy the attention. Lady Catherine began to insist on knowing their choices of conversation, which suited Darcy perfectly as it was on the tip of his tongue as well.

However, when the answer came of only speaking of music, it did not seem very likely to Darcy that they were forming an attachment. He released the breath he did not realize he had been holding. Richard was merely a friend, and Elizabeth had simply been lonely and welcomed the distraction. Had he not seen her in livelier spirits in Hertfordshire? There he did not suppose it meant she flirted with every man. Indeed, the only man whom she treated differently than the women of her company was himself.

“How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?” Lady Catherine asked regarding his sister’s skill on the pianoforte.

Being brought from the haze of his thoughts, his voice sounded abrupt to even his own ears. “Her masters praise her considerably. They are always talking about giving her more advanced work and wishing for peace on the Continent so she might study abroad.” A soft smile spread across Darcy’s face. “Her one delight is music and, as such, it cannot be far from my heart.”

Lady Catherine then began telling Darcy how much Georgiana should practice, how much she and Anne would have practiced had they ever learned, and scolding Elizabeth for not practicing enough. If his aunt could read minds, she would be angry to know all how he mentally asked her to shut her mouth. When she suggested Elizabeth practice in the room belonging to Anne’s companion, Darcy barely restrained himself from speaking them aloud.

Finally, coffee was over, and Richard asked Elizabeth to play on the instrument. Ignoring his aunt as much as possible, Darcy watched Elizabeth as she played with Richard by her side. How did she feel in this room? She had been critiqued by Lady Catherine but bore it well. She had made a friend of Richard. An image of her playing at Pemberley with Georgiana emerged before he could warn his mind away.

Drunk on the feeling the picture gave, Darcy approached. Like a cleansing rain, Elizabeth’s wit washed over him. She teased and scolded and begged him to bare some of the deepest recesses of his soul. Before he could think of doing differently, he had made his confession which he had never told another soul. The only secret he guarded more closely was that of his birth.

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

He could not understand people so different from him. The ones who were born in their mansions with a loving family. The people who had no cause to suspect everyone and keep them all at arm’s length. Every statement said to him was scrutinised again and again. Had they been trying to use him? Did they think he was weak or vulnerable? Did they suspect he was not a Darcy?

Elizabeth had offered understanding and validation but not pity. As no governess or tutor had managed to explain before, she recommended practicing. Elizabeth boldly stated that her fingers were just as capable of playing anything on the pianoforte if only she applied herself to it. Had he not worked hard to learn about Pemberley and how to be the best master? It did not matter if he was not born to it.

“We neither of us perform to strangers,” he told her.

Then, he knew. Conviction pierced his heart even as his aunt tried to turn his attention to Anne. Suddenly, Darcy understood why he could not forget Elizabeth Bennet in all the months since he left Hertfordshire. He comprehended the reason for his concern for her welfare and happiness. At last, he perceived why he desired her like no other lady he had known. Why none of the arguments he made regarding her sister could apply to her.

He loved her, and he would have her for his own.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter One

mr. darcy's bluestocking bride.jpgHi Readers!

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve had a story to post! First of all, I DO plan on completing Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy. I had some health and family complications earlier this year and then we moved (again) and somewhere along the way I lost my notes. However, I have recently found them and can finish the story as I intended! I plan to post again in July and we’ll do a bit of a Christmas in July posting. 🙂

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is a WIP with 17 chapters written and most of them through a beta. I can’t say for sure how many chapters there will be but I’m thinking 22-25 so I’m closing in on THE END. I’ve rated it MA just to be safe but so far there have been no kisses and I plan on fading to black for the wedding night. However, they’re both rather sexually aware. There is a moderate amount of couple angst.

Blurb: He’s on the hunt for a bluestocking, and she is no man’s fool.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, heir to a barony, must put aside his hatred for attention and Society and find a wife. Deemed the most eligible bachelor of the Season, he seeks high and low for a well-bred, intelligent woman to replace the one he determined unsuitable.

Elizabeth Bennet used to be certain of her judgement. In one day, everything changed. Her family might be in danger, and she needs a confidant. When she meets Darcy again and again in the groves of Rosings, her head says to tell Darcy everything, but her heart wonders if she can trust him.

As the clock works against them, can they find what they need in one another? Or will the duties of family and lingering secrets separate them?


My Dearest Niece,

Fear not, although Society may say you are ruined. Those who know you will always love you. When you return from France, it will all be forgotten. These sorts of scandals always are for girls with money and prestige. Do not think you are the first or last to face such concerns. Think of your future, my dear girl. You may be, perhaps, a little sadder but also wiser for the misadventure.

Your loving aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter One

Elizabeth Bennet snatched the letter addressed to her from the mail tray in the hall and left Longbourn and all its noise behind. Reading letters from her dearest sister, Jane, now required solitude. Jane’s heart had been broken when their new neighbour, Mr. Bingley, left the area over three months before. After a month of sorrow, Jane had gone to London to visit with their aunt and uncle but her letters did not seem to indicate she was improving.

Mr. Bingley’s sister, who had seemed a dear friend to Jane, did not help matters. Before leaving Hertfordshire, Miss Bingley had written Jane a letter hinting that her brother had plans to marry his best friend’s sister. She reiterated the point when Jane called on Miss Bingley shortly after arriving in London.

Elizabeth’s lips curled up in memories of Mr. Bingley’s friend. That Mr. Darcy was friends with Mr. Bingley — himself everything amiable — ought to be a mark in Darcy’s favour. And yet, Mr. Bingley’s hasty retreat from Hertfordshire, followed directly by Darcy and Bingley’s relations whom he had left behind, just proved Bingley was too amiable for his own good. He would never see how Darcy treated all those around him. Elizabeth had been told that Darcy dare not surround himself with anyone but those that would stroke his ego.

Jane’s letter was uncharacteristically light and Elizabeth would likely finish reading it before she reached the nearby town of Meryton. She allowed herself a few minutes of reflection before opening it. She hoped Jane would be showing signs of forgetting Mr. Bingley’s impression on her heart. It was now March and surely three months in London could erase six weeks of flirtation in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth drew consolation from the fact that tomorrow she would leave for her journey to Kent to visit a newly married friend. She travelled with Charlotte’s father and sister but they intended to break in London and then Elizabeth would see for herself how Jane fared.

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth broke the seal as she passed the lodge of Longbourn. Its tear-stained contents shocked and repulsed her.

Dearest Lizzy,

I write to you in the most melancholy of spirits. Yesterday, while shopping with my aunt, I espied Mr. and Miss Bingley outside a shop window. They were speaking with a lovely young lady, very elegantly dressed and I could see the evidence of her good breeding and proper manners. She stood with an older lady, who I must think is a companion or some relation. I cannot say for certain, but I wonder if this was not Miss Darcy.

I could perfectly see their expressions. Miss Bingley was very pleased to meet the lady, her brother scarcely less so. I saw in his countenance every expression of happiness and amiability he ever showed me. The young lady and her friend soon left.

Mr. and Miss Bingley came in the store with smiles still on their faces. They did not see me at first as I was mostly concealed by a display. I stepped out into the aisle to greet them. Instantly they ceased their movements and their smiles vanished. Mr. Bingley coloured but did not acknowledge me in any way although I had curtsied to them. Caroline tugged on her brother’s arm and they turned and quit the shop. It was so dreadful! My only consolation is that no one of our acquaintance saw it.

I now must say he had no true regard for me. I am quite distressed. I can only think myself a fool for believing otherwise. And to have my wishes so openly known by all my friends and family! He undoubtedly desired to leave the neighbourhood to avoid such rumours. I cannot blame him in the least for having a care about the credit of his name.

I know you will sit and think that it was all designedly done, but for what purpose? What could either the brother or the sister gain by making me believe in their affections? No, let me blame myself. I hope I was not so vain as to imagine this preference, perhaps though I only saw what I wished to see.

I hope this reaches you before you depart for London. I long to have my dearest sister with me.

Yours,

  1. Bennet

Elizabeth had never felt so much rage before in her life. Miss Bingley and her brother gave Jane the cut direct in a shop! Fortunately, it seemed there had been no witnesses but the very thought! Jane would excuse it though.

In the weeks since Mr. Bingley’s departure, Elizabeth had tried hard to reconcile the Mr. Bingley, whom she knew to be kind-hearted, with his treatment of Jane and friendship with Mr. Darcy. Jane would never listen to her arguments. Every time Elizabeth attempted to say perhaps Bingley was less than reliable, she was shushed. To Jane, anyone she loved or esteemed must be without fault.

Elizabeth rather saw faults in everyone. If not of character, then of circumstance. The charming Militia officer, Mr. Wickham, and his poor prospects served as an example. Of course, that resided squarely at Mr. Darcy’s feet. As repining the impossible benefitted nothing, Elizabeth had never let Wickham into her heart. She would always wish him the best and count him as a friend. Elizabeth even championed his courtship of the newly wealthy Miss Mary King in Meryton. After all, handsome young men must have something to live on as well as the plain.

All this thought of gentlemen irked Elizabeth. “What are men to rocks and mountains?” she said as she entered the edges of Meryton.

Reaching the outskirts of town, Elizabeth kicked a rock for good measure and instantly regretted it. Pain pierced her foot. Limping to an alley where she could slip off her boot and rub her sore toes, she was surprised to hear familiar voices of several of the officers carry from around the bend. What were they doing gathering in an alley?

“She wasn’t much to look at, but she was enthusiastic enough,” Captain Carter said.

“Most bar maids turned whores are for a few quid,” Mr. Wickham said and joined in with the laughter his words caused.

Elizabeth did not quite know what they were talking about, but it sounded coarse.

“And here I thought my equipment made her randy,” Mr. Denny said and another round of laughter ensued.

Instinctively, Elizabeth did not care for it. She was turning to limp away when she heard reason to stay.

“No, I don’t partake in that sort of sport,” Wickham said. “Now, Longbourn, there’s some apples ready for the picking.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. Increasingly, she began to believe they spoke of carnal things and that connected with five gentlewomen in the same manner they spoke of a bar maid could never be a good thing.

“Too marriage-minded over there,” Denny warned.

“So much the easier then. A true seducer can turn a phrase just so a lady expects a marriage proposal but all she’s gotten is a tumble instead,” Wickham said.

“The Bennet chits are let on a loose leash. Their mother practically throws them at young men,” Carter said.

“Must be why that Bingley fellow ran off just after his ball,” Denny said. “A shame too. Chap certainly knew how to throw a good party.”

“And best of all, their father is too loose in the pockets to demand satisfaction!”

Elizabeth’s temper began to grow but she knew better than to confront such talk. There was nothing to do but listen to such humiliating talk of her family. She had to wonder at being cursed with such good hearing, however.

“It’s a shame they’re not the heiresses Mary King is,” said Wickham. “Wouldn’t mind keeping Eliza to warm my bed every night, even if she is a bit of a bluestocking.”

Tears sprang to Elizabeth’s eyes to be talked about in such a debased way in addition to the usual insult of bluestocking coming from a gentleman, nay, cad, she had thought friend.

“You’re not the only one who was tempted by her. Mr. Pompous Darcy and that parson danced with her at the ball.”

“That’s old news Carter.”

“Yes, but one of the Netherfield maids is sweet on me,” said Denny, “and she said that Miss Bingley was in fits of jealousy the entire time Miss Elizabeth was at Netherfield. Lucy said Miss Bingley often writes the housekeeper asking for information about the area and the Bennets in particular.”

“Well, there you go, Wickham,” said Captain Carter. “Darcy left because he knew you would win the challenge for Miss Elizabeth’s affections. You ought to claim your prize!” A round of raucous laughter rang out.

“Oh, I have far better idea,” Wickham said but dropped his voice. Elizabeth inched forward to hear better, hoping her boots didn’t scrape against the stone pavement. “Eliza is too intelligent for such a plot, she would know enough to want a real wedding…but Lydia. Lydia I could convince to elope.”

“What do you get out of that?” Carter asked.

“Eliza will be going to Hunsford soon. Darcy’s aunt is her cousin’s patroness and I know he visits every Easter. Eliza is no fool and neither is that sharp eyed friend of hers. She snatched up Collins right away. Between the two of them, they can help Darcy along. Once they’re engaged, I can make off with Lydia and Darcy will pay to patch the whole thing up.”

Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open while the men sniggered.

“And once she’s tired of her dour husband, I will play on her affections as well. Mark my words, boys, I will not be wearing red for much longer.”

“You are debauched, my friend!” Carter said as the men finally walked away.

Elizabeth stood in the alley with her back pressed against the wall for a long while. She could not credit what she heard. Was this what men talked of? Was it as harmless as the gossip she heard from ladies like her Aunt Phillips?

However, Elizabeth knew even in that case there were always shades of truth. Her sisters were given too much freedom, her mother too eager to put them out, and her father too willing to laugh at their follies. They had no fortune and no brothers to demand satisfaction from a rake. If not Wickham and these officers, then surely it made them open to be preyed upon by others. Bingley’s treatment of Jane was proof enough that men cruelly use women.

In time, her heartrate returned to a normal beat and her breathing calmed. Lydia would know better than to elope and to a man without fortune. Besides, how would they ever be alone enough for such a thing to transpire? Behaving silly at a ball was not the same sort of thing as an elopement. And Lydia could never keep a secret to save her life! Elizabeth considered telling her father but decided to act as though she had never heard such ridiculous things. She could not take Wickham’s words seriously and had no proof. Certainly, her father knew more about men and had seen no reason to distrust the officers. Still, Elizabeth hoped to avoid Wickham at the dinner her mother had invited him to that evening. She never wanted to speak with him again.

 

*****

 

“Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, sit with your old aunt,” Baroness Darcy said to her sister’s grandchildren when she saw them enter her evening soiree. They were her only family left.  The “children” obeyed. “I know you leave for Kent soon, Fitzwilliam. Do you go as well, Georgiana?”

“Not this year, Aunt,” the young lady said with downcast eyes.

“Chin up. Darcys are never to feel inferior,” Lady Darcy said. “At the rate Fitzwilliam is going, you shall be the next Baroness.”

“Spare me your matchmaking, Aunt. Lady Catherine will give me ear full enough when I arrive in Kent,” Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “Besides, mother and father were both thirty when they married and I have some two years until then. And you have never married.”

“That is because there were no young men like you, my boy,” the aging lady said with an affectionate pat on her favourite nephew’s cheek. The action, and his expression at the endearment, made Georgiana giggle.

“Much more like it, young lady. Will you play this evening?”

“Oh no! I could never perform before all these people. They are only in the habit of hearing the very best.”

Darcy could see Georgiana’s fear but her words were reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet’s words at a dinner in Hertfordshire. He had thought she teased, but had she been afraid of his opinion? During his time in the area, Darcy had feared he had been too obvious in his admiration for her. Darcy believed that his friend’s sister, who long had designs on him, had not been the only one to notice how much he liked Elizabeth.

His aunt’s words broke his reverie. “Then play your own composition and no one can claim to have heard a better rendition of it!” Lady Darcy exclaimed.

“Aunt,” Darcy chided. “Georgiana, our aunt only intends to tease.”

“Do I? And I suppose you believe you can speak for me? I had thought you were raised better.”

“Please do not be cross with Fitzwilliam,” Georgiana said. “He would never presume to know better than a social superior.”

“Social superior! Is that the rubbish you learn at schools now? Fitzwilliam, you must give her proper companionship. Georgiana, I mean he ought to know better than to speak for a woman, not just a peeress.”

Darcy smiled at his aunt’s gentle scolding and held up a hand. “Of course, I now you are a rational creature with your own mind. I have no doubt you speak from your heart.”

Years ago, Darcy’s aunt had been part of a circle of intellectual women who hosted a salon. Instead of the usual political wrangling and gambling, they promoted the arts. Several of the hostesses became renowned artists and writers. In the Darcy family, the term bluestocking was no insult. The same could not be said for his Fitzwilliam family. However, they had always liked the Darcy purse.

“I knew there was good Darcy blood in you,” the Baroness said.

“Now, you know it is a commandment to obey your elders and so you must indulge an old lady. My one regret in not having children of my own is that there is no one to take up my torch when I’m gone.”

Georgiana screwed up her face in confusion. “I thought Fitzwilliam was your heir?”

“Of the title and the money, of course. I mean of my passion!” Lady Darcy paused and nodded at another titled lady who walked past them and toward the card tables.

“Music?” Georgiana asked.

“Music, writing, art. Female artists funded by females.”

Darcy tugged on his cravat. These days, talk of women pursuing such things for intellectual stimulation, income, or world renown was akin to espousing favour for France’s Revolution. The ones who could most support such a project happened to fear for their necks.

“Fitzwilliam, I’m putting you to work. Bring me the brightest young women you can find of good stock and decent income and I will fashion them into patronesses.”

“If I could find such a young woman, I would marry her,” Darcy said even as a pair of fine, dancing eyes came to mind. However, Elizabeth Bennet did not come from good family or decent income.

“What’s the matter with him, Georgie?”

Darcy blinked to find his aunt studying him closely.

Georgiana rolled her eyes. “That’s the look on his face whenever he thinks of her.

“Her? Are you courting a lady and did not tell me?”

“Of course not, Aunt. You know you would be the first to know anything I do.” He tried to remain serious but his subtle smirk gave away his sarcastic words and immediately Georgiana and his aunt were grinning.

“La! You make me sound a pest! I will not be like your other aunt then and meddle in your business. You do not have to tell me who, but if Georgie’s female intuition tells her you are sweet on a girl, you cannot hide it for long.”

Darcy tugged on his cravat again. With any luck, he would not remain sweet on her for much longer. Surely there was someone who met his qualifications for a wife. The problem was, now that his aunt had stated who she looked for in intellectual companions, Darcy could not help but notice they were the same as what he always said he wanted in a wife. And while he would always desire an intelligent wife, a spouse was something far different than a philosophical colleague. No lady had peaked his interest in eight and twenty years the way Elizabeth Bennet had. Perhaps choosing a wife involved some undefinable quality, an attraction as well as intellectual compatability.

“I think we have him thinking on her again, Georgie,” his aunt teased and Darcy scowled.

“Tell me more about this project of yours, Aunt. We are to go to the theatre tomorrow, perhaps we might find a lady who suits your demands.”

“That’s the problem with you,” she said after an exasperated sigh.

“What is?”

Georgiana laughed at him. “Everyone knows most who frequent the theatre care little about the plays. They go just to be seen.”

“And where would you expect a true appreciator of theatre to go?”

“They might go,” Lady Darcy said, “but they would not be so bold as to confess the reason.”

“How preposterous! Do you think so meanly of your sex?”

The Baroness laughed at him. “I have years more experience than you do, my boy. I know such a lady is a diamond of the first water. There is a disadvantage to this generation. In my day, ladies fought hard to receive any education. The ones who persevered beyond basic letters and math were often taught by their fathers or their brothers’ tutors. Now, ladies’ heads are filled with false accomplishments and vain pursuits. I fear it is impossible to find a learned lady who is not muddled with such mush.”

“Could not the same be said of gentlemen? Now, everyone attends school and University but few come out with any true greater understanding and mastery of the subjects.”

“The essential point, Fitzwilliam, is that when they are taught it is to be of use to their estate, profession or the country. Ladies so called “refined” education is to be of use in only this,” she waved her hand around at the drawing room.

Various clusters of people congregated together. One group played Commerce, another Whist. A third group sat near the fire and discussed politics. One lord’s wife winked at a member of parliament of the opposite party and then leaned in close. The scene suggested exchanging favours for votes.

One day, Darcy would inherit the barony first created for John Darcy in 1317, and God help him if Pemberley or any home he resided in took on such a scene. His aunt was very much correct. Ladies were not encouraged to think beyond empty, or sometimes immoral — whether seducing an opponent or a man to the altar — pursuits.

Aware he had been silent too long, Darcy addressed his aunt with his purpose in coming this evening. “I have been wondering, Aunt, do you have any suggestions for a companion for Georgiana? As you know, I resisted finding a replacement for Mrs. Younge, but you have convinced me that her education might be lacking.”

“Of course. I will have a list with references drawn up when you return from Kent.” Do not worry,” she said when Georgiana furrowed her brow, “you shall help decide. Now, I have ignored my guests for long enough. Do try to enjoy yourselves before you leave,” she said as she stood.

With all the grace and poise an eighty-year-old baroness could muster, she walked through the room. When the group at the fire seemed to grow too contentious, she redirected the more outspoken ones to the supper room. Those prone to gambling too high were arranged near the fire, away from the card tables. Indeed, no school could teach such instincts. Magdalena Darcy, tenth Baroness Darcy de jure, might be the last of her kind and her heir apparent could only hope the next Baroness Darcy might be just as capable.


I’d love to read your comments!

Renewed Hope- Chapter Three

renewed hope 4Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

 

Caroline Bingley sat alone in her chambers. Any moment now, her maid would appear to help her dress for dinner. For the time being, however, Caroline reveled in a rare moment of solitude. Three days ago, she had left London and followed her brother to Hertfordshire. Again. He seemed more determined than before, and Mr. Darcy seemed eager to return as well. Although Caroline had suspected for weeks now that he harbored a tendre for Miss Elizabeth Bennet of a neighboring estate, she continued to hold out hope.

Mr. Darcy was just the sort of man she had envisioned marrying ever since her aborted elopement ten years prior. Of course, if he ever knew she had planned an elopement at sixteen, he would certainly never find her respectable. Let alone if he had known it was to a shop keeper’s son. A coloured shopkeeper’s son. Not that he had even planned on taking over the shop. He had designs to enter the army when she had met him. Last Caroline heard he had done so well as to distinguish himself in battle.

When she was very honest with herself, which was as infrequent as possible, she admitted that she favoured Mr. Darcy because for the last four years his cousin served in the same regiment as her long ago lover. The name Jacob Truman never passed between them, and if he was mentioned in letters, Caroline was not privy to them, but it was enough to know that if Colonel Fitzwilliam was well, Jacob might also be.

Perhaps, that is why Lord Arlington, despite his participation in the set down just given her by Mr. Darcy and her brother, appealed to her on some level. Logically, she ought to try and ensnare the viscount. Eliza Bennet hated her. If Mr. Darcy succumbed to his infatuation and married Eliza, Caroline’s invitations to Pemberley would become far less frequent. Additionally, Arlington was of an age to wed and his father entering his dotage. Whomever he married would become Countess before too long. His reputation supported he did not care for the ton’s leading ladies. While Caroline prided herself on being accomplished and cosmopolitan, she knew the truth. It would take many more generations before trade was washed out of the memory of the name Bingley. Nor was she an ignorant, insipid miss. She had lost her naiveté when she had to face the truth that love could not conquer everything. She was not as young as the debutantes or even Miss Eliza, but she was still handsome and wealthy. To a renegade earl’s son, that must account for something.

Additionally, there would be no hope for the rake to reform. He would carry on with his liaisons, and she would be free to keep her heart to herself. He would never expect love or real intimacy from her. Once, she had believed the same about Mr. Darcy but, at last, his cold heart seemed to thaw. He all but declared himself in love with Elizabeth Bennet and intent upon marrying her.

Well, she would not cry over the loss. Indeed, she was utterly exhausted from the chase. Her heart had never been in it, and she did not know if she had enough energy to pursue another young man. Lord Arlington was convenient but likely immune to her charms. Just the same, she believed she owed it to her family to test the waters. Marrying a viscount would do wonders for their standing. If she did not marry well, then not only would she have failed the dying wish of her mother but she would have given up the love of her life for no reason. She must make the last ten years of pain mean something.

Determined, she looked in the mirror and nodded. She had no hope of success, but she would give her best chase anyway. Her maid entered, and Caroline ordered her most daring dinner gown prepared. It would emphasize her superior figure. The accompanying necklace landed just above her décolletage, drawing the eye. She declined the matching bracelets, earbobs, and her most lavish turban. Instead, Caroline ordered a simple hairstyle. The overall effect said that she could play the part of Viscountess but did not drip with London society adornments. Even more startling, she felt more like herself than she had in years. A touch of the refined and a touch of the country lass she used to be.

*****

Arlington looked across the dinner table at Netherfield and smiled at Caroline Bingley. The self-satisfied smirk that appeared for half a second told him exactly what he thought. She was making a play for him. He would let her try, like all the ladies before her. A harmless flirtation never hurt a soul.

“My compliments, Miss Bingley. You have ordered an excellent meal.”

The half-smirk appeared again, even as Darcy stomped on his foot. Arlington contained his yelp to himself. He knew what he was doing. And it was not solely for selfish reasons. Earlier, he had made a pact with Georgiana to plan a walk that would allow Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet time together with Caroline out of the way.

“As a bachelor, I seldom enjoy such a spread for a meal at home with family.”

“Thank you, my lord,” was her impeccably civil reply.

“You concede there are downsides to being a bachelor, after all, Arlington?” Bingley said from several spaces down.

“It has been said that the way to man’s heart is through his stomach. Who am I to disagree with the platitudes of matchmaking women?” He smiled at Caroline and then turned to Georgiana. “Take heed, Georgie. Setting a good table is one of the most important accomplishments for a lady.”

Of course, he generally did not think so but knew that his cousin would not take anything he said too seriously. Instead, his remark apparently pleased Caroline. He studied her smile. There was a guardedness he did not see in other women. It was as though she was playing a part. She wanted the world to think she was the sort of lady who desired to ensnare a viscount, but she often forgot her role. There were no secret glances. She did not stare longingly at him or flatter him too profusely. She relied entirely on outside influences to attract him: a gown, jewelry, a meal. There was nothing particularly in her demeanor that was artful.

She was grasping, that was evident. She had been angry and resentful to notice Darcy’s unabashed admiration of Miss Elizabeth earlier, but it merely wounded her pride. She now spoke to Darcy with tolerable civility. She had never cared much for the man. She had only wanted his money and name. And yet, why would she need more money? Her income was reported to be twenty thousand pounds. She had been educated at an excellent seminary in London and had many friends of the peerage. She must be nearing five and twenty, as she was older than her brother. In London, there were enough baronets and knights that would be eager for twenty thousand pounds. It would not be the position of Viscountess, but Darcy could not offer that either. Nor could the income of his ten thousand pounds been the only attraction. For a truly mercenary woman, an assured five thousand a year is better than the unlikely possibility of ten thousand a year.

Arlington had spent much time with actresses and could easily spot a fake. Caroline Bingley was an imposter of a fake. What was the part of her that she kept hidden like? Why would she desire to be so much like the ton and yet after all the years of acting, not truly absorb its values?

*****

Richard had kept his word about leaving the dinner early, but for entirely different reasons than he had thought they would be. He discomposed a lady! What an ungentlemanly scoundrel he was!

And the truth was, he had no reason for his pointed barbs on her character. She had not seemed artful at any point in the evening. She asked about Georgiana, not Darcy. She seemed entirely uninterested in information on how to gain his good opinion. Whatever conversation she had had with Darcy seemed to direct him back to a lady, that Richard knew would be unlikely for her to know. Had not Darcy reported the Bennets had no connections? And the Crenshaws were the dearest friends of the Matlocks.

Lady Belinda had not deserved his harsh words. He had been discombobulated wince their accidental meeting earlier in the evening. So much so, that when her father attempted to introduce him, Richard did not want her to think less of him for knowing he was the second son instead of the heir. He expected, for just one night, to enjoy the pleasures that can be afforded from the flattery and charms of a beautiful lady.

Lord and sunder she was beautiful! Soaking wet, she had taken his breath away. Her hair made darker, her features paler. So striking in contrast! When she returned for dinner, there was no trace of their first meeting left. For some reason, he needed to know that it was not an illusion on his part. He searched for any sign she had been as deeply affected as he but found none. Annoyed that he sought her good opinion, when he knew more than most the dangers of a woman, he attacked ruthlessly. Her words about uncivil soldiers were too on the point but in the next moment she softened and seemed genuinely interested in Georgiana and his opinions of music. His head was swimming with conflicting information, and he had waged into battle half-cocked.

After she had fled the table, Lord Crenshaw explained the reasons for his daughter’s low spirits. She had formed an attachment to a young naval officer who could not offer marriage without needing her entire dowry. Even if Crenshaw had wished to assist, and he understandably had his reservations about the match, it was placed in a trust that could not be touched until Lady Belinda came of age. Determined to make his own fortune, the officer took a posting last summer. The ship was soon lost at sea and Belinda was still grieving.

Richard tugged off his cravat and threw it on a chair. Having done little to ease his frustration, he then poured himself a drink. He had unjustly wounded a lady, and his honour was the only thing he had left. The drink was to drown out the portion of his mind that screamed at the folly of going into enemy territory. But his better nature demanded that he make amends. A familiar feeling that he had experienced many times before formed in the pit of his stomach. He was equal parts excited by and terrified of another interaction with Lady Belinda. He needed a plan of action for the latest battle he faced.

The following morning, Truman entered while Richard was finishing dressing. “Toss me the cravat. Yes, the old one will do.”

Truman laughed at the finished product. “Have you no compassion for my dignity?”

“What? Like you wish to be my nurse and dress me. I am not a baby.”

Truman looked away and did not laugh as Richard had expected. “That was insensitive of me. Of course, you are proud of the station valet.”

“It may not be much to an earl’s son, but earning wages for work that half a world away my kin folk are forced to do in chattel makes me proud.”

Truman’s grandfather had been a slave and brought back to England after a war in the colonies. He became valet and butler to the officer who bought and freed him. Truman’s father earned enough money to open a shop. Such was the usual career path for a household servant and his descendants, but it meant more to a man who might be denied his freedom due to the colour of his skin.

“Forgive me. Last night’s dinner and my errand this morning made for a poor night’s rest.” Of course, dreams of Belinda in his arms did not help matters.

“What happened last night?”

Rather than attempting to put into words the strange effect Belinda had on him, Richard waved off the concern. “I have a daunting errand today. Hopefully, all goes well.”

“Good luck with the Major-General,” Truman said as Richard left.

The words rattled in his ears. Richard had meant apologising to Lady Belinda.

*****

Richard did have a meeting with Major-General Vyse planned, however, and they met at one of London’s finest clubs. The fact that the superior officer clearly felt at home in his surroundings did not bode well for Richard.

“I have looked over your reports, Fitzwilliam. It seems nothing could have been done differently. My apologies if you were close to Craufurd.” Richard inclined his head at the civility. “Now, it seems the regiment needs a new brigadier.”

This was the moment Richard had been dreading. He prayed he was not offered the command as refusing would be near impossible and dishonourable.

“Do you know William Gordon? I think he will be the perfect fit for this regiment. He shows promise. I have already cleared it with headquarters. You will report to his office when he arrives in London later this week.”

Their meeting soon ended and Richard’s frustration grew as he rode to the Crenshaw residence. The only promise William Gordon showed was a sizeable pocketbook, an unwed daughter, and a lackluster parliamentary record. He worried about himself first and had no loyalty to the crown. Or to the mere men that fought under his command and at his whims. The problem with the British chain of command is that it mattered more who one knew than how one fought. With any luck, Richard could suggest a few advisors for soon to be Brigadier-General Gordon to take on. Perhaps if he had competent people surrounding him, he might listen to their opinions.

Arriving at Belinda’s home, the knot in his stomach returned. Strange that he would feel it before asking for an audience with her but not while speaking with the General. Richard usually associated the feeling with battle. Although, in this case, she was certainly the more dangerous enemy.

Lady Crenshaw certainly made her instructions clear to the butler as Belinda entered the drawing room without a chaperone. What mother would not give a lady a few minutes alone with a suitor? Richard’s black heart laughed at the idea of trusting a man who killed for a living with an innocent’s reputation. Mere minutes could end a life…or bring thrilling pleasure. The thought pricked Richard’s mind as Belinda exuded vitality in a pale pink gown. Richard blessed the fashion designers who dictated gowns follow a lady’s curves more naturally than the generation before had. Living in the age of Napoleon might be well worth something after all.

She resolutely refused to look at him and sat down on a settee. Apparently, he was not even due the usual civilities. After several minutes in silence, Belinda glanced at the door and huffed. Richard gathered his gumption. He needed to make his apology and depart, not stare at the graceful line of her neck or where the fabric skimmed over her hips. He stood and walked closer to her. Despite herself, she looked up, craning her neck as he towered over her. The ridiculousness of it caused him to smile.

“Did you suppose, Lord Arlington, that because I did not speak to you, I could not see you? Perhaps you believe I need spectacles or that no woman would be able to resist your charm? Or more likely, you suppose all ladies desire the title you could offer them. Well, I do not covet a title, nor do I need glasses. And as you see, I am perfectly capable of—”

She abruptly stopped and stood. “You were saying?” He followed her to the window.

“I cannot think straight when you are standing near me like that!”

Richard smiled and leaned against the wall. “How is this, then?”

“Why do you unsettle me so?”

“All part of my irresistible charm,” he drawled. He should at least inform her that he was no viscount, but then viscounts could be forgiven for rudeness.

“I certainly find it resistible,” she said but stepped closer and arched her neck again.

His attention was divided between wondering about the taste of her plump lips and desiring to query the smoothness of her neck.

“Are you even paying attention to me?” She snapped.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. As I was saying, there is nothing charming about you! You accuse innocent ladies that you do not even know of being mercenary and conniving—”

“I am sorry about that.”

“And you— What was that?”

Richard’s smile grew as he looked at her large eyes go round in surprise and confusion.

“I apologise for my accusations last night. Please forgive me. I would not mean to hurt you.”

“You think you hurt me? Your words were nothing. Nothing…compared to losing…” Tears began to fall, but she still attempted to speak. “And then to be forced to go on like nothing happened. Like I am not empty. Paraded around for suitor after suitor.”

He withdrew his handkerchief and pressed it into her hand. “I am sorry.”

“What for?” she blubbered.

“For thinking it was all about me?” He gave her a half-smile, and she returned it. Mentally, he was apologising for wanting nothing more than to kiss away her tears. She was mourning another man’s death. The last thing in the world she desired was his kiss!

Belinda shook her head. “I do not think I like you apologetic. You’re far safer when gruff and demeaning. When you are like this, it’s so—so—so confusing!”

“What is confusing?” His mind was too busy changing “honour, honour, honour” and ignoring the craven beast-like feeling to kiss her jumping up and down begging for attention. When had she come so much closer to him?

“This,” she said before touching her lips to his.