Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapters 11 & 12

It’s release day!! Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is now available at: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo.

I’m still waiting on iBooks and the paperback will be a few more days. I’ll post a few more chapters here but am also working on creating a page where you can read the chapters in a more streamlined way.

One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten 

MDBB4Dear C—

Thank you ever so much for your miniature of my beloved B. I do miss him terribly at times. Have you recently heard from your friend, Lord Cathcart’s daughter? I have read of plague in Moscow and worry for the Hamiltons as well as the Queen. It would be devastating for Russia to lose their enlightened monarch. She should serve as an example to our own King and Queen of German blood.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Monday after Easter, Elizabeth awoke determined to walk. Fresh air would clear her mind of the excruciating evening spent at Rosings the night before. It was their first invitation to the house since the arrival of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and Mr. Collins was beside himself in both pleasure and anxiety. Elizabeth shook her head. It seemed more likely that her cousin was related to her mother rather than her father given they both thrived on feelings of anxiousness.

The night was only tolerably better than previous visits to Rosings. Lady Catherine invited Elizabeth to play the pianoforte and seemed to take pleasure whenever she erred. In the course of one sonata, she referenced Anne’s imaginary but undoubtedly superior abilities at least a dozen times. Occasionally, Darcy would glance in Elizabeth’s direction. His blue eyes burned with intensity, likely with his disapproval of her. She was saved conversation with him, however, for Lady Catherine frequently called his attention back to herself. Elizabeth was not sorry for it. She had often heard of Miss Darcy’s superior abilities, and while the girl was everything sweet, the brother must be in the habit of hearing only the best performers — his aunt said as much.

Just before leaving, the post arrived. It was too early for a reply from her aunt, but there was a letter from Jane. Mr. Collins was away on parsonage matters, and Mrs. Collins and Maria had gone shopping in the village, allowing Elizabeth the freedom to take the letter on her walk and read in privacy.

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

I do not know what he planned to say, if anything, for his actions in the shop or the reason for his never returning to Netherfield or calling earlier. I refused to see him.

I have waited and hoped every day since November 27th for him to arrive on my doorstep again. I will no longer wait for his explanations. The time for that is long past.

Do not imagine me angry or sad, my dear sister. I am alarmingly at peace with the matter. Some blessing will come of this.

I hope all is well in Kent. Give Charlotte and Maria my love and greet our cousin for me.

Yours,

Jane

 

Elizabeth was incensed as she left the Parsonage for a fitful walk, heedless of the rain clouds quickly gathering. She walked along the path to Rosings. As soon as she was out of open view from the main road, she intended to run.

As she walked, she muttered to herself. “I am sick of them all! Charming men who prey on the silly and vain! Other charming and amiable men who prey on the sweet and innocent! Senseless goats that rattle on about nothing! Indolent fathers who sit in their libraries! Confusing, arrogant and wealthy young men who think they can order everything to their own choosing!

As she had weeks before, Elizabeth exclaimed, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” She certainly wished she could kick a young man or two the way she kicked the rock the day she heard Wickham’s insane boast. And a mountain might be climbed and therefore vanquished. But young men would apparently always persist in deceiving and confusing her.

“Miss Bennet!” the last voice in the world she wanted to hear called out, much, much too cheerfully.

She turned as though she did not hear him, but it was for nought. His long legs had him meet with her in a moment.

“Miss Bennet, I am surprised to see you out walking. I was just about to call on the Parsonage.”

“The Collinses and Maria are out,” she replied testily. She thought she saw a hint of a smile and it angered her again. Whether he felt himself better than them or just did not want to practice his conversational abilities on them, it was nearly the same thing.

“Perhaps, I could join you on your walk before it rains?” He held out an arm.

She looked up at the sky thick with swollen clouds. She had not realised until that moment how soon it was likely to begin raining. Then why should he call now? “No, I had not realised the weather had turned so severely. It is why I turned back.” She took a step closer to the Parsonage, but he spoke again.

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

What a ridiculous thing to ask! No day was truly agreeable here. She enjoyed Charlotte’s companionship, but the presence of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine detracted from all enjoyment she could find indoors. And then her letter!

“Not especially, Mr. Darcy. I have just had the most distressing letter from Jane. Weeks ago, she saw your friend Mr. Bingley and his sister outside a shop. They did not see her, but she easily saw Mr. Bingley lavishing attention on a young lady she believes was your sister. It is evident Jane was considered not good enough, and Bingley was just toying with her feelings the entire time.”

Darcy paled at her words, but she pressed on. “This is not the first time she has been treated as such from your friends. In January, Jane called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They claimed they never received her letters announcing her presence in town, and did not seem very pleased to see her. They waited over a month to return the call!”

“That is horrible…”

“But exactly what you wished, is it not? You need not fear; your friend is now entirely free from my sister. Not only were you able to separate them in Hertfordshire, but you were able to conceal her presence in town. Jane has the gentlest soul! She does not deserve such ungentlemanly treatment! Do not worry, sir, she refused to see Bingley and will never consider him a suitor again.”

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

Elizabeth clenched her fists as he seemed to latch on to the least important piece of information she relayed. “Yes, nearly as soon as she arrived in town. Hardly the actions of an indifferent lady. Or do you think her forward and mercenary now?”

“It is not what I think that matters.” He took a step backwards, and she advanced toward him.

“Is it not? And then I think of another one of your good friends. George Wickham is a scoundrel, and you knew it! You grew up with him and saw his ways, yet never warned the people of Hertfordshire when he arrived.”

“Did you not explain only yesterday how little faith anyone in the area has in me? Gentlemen do not go about slandering other people without the most extreme cause of provocation.”

“You left us defenceless!” Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. How did he not see it? As a man, and a wealthy one, he simply could not understand how little freedom ladies had.

Darcy scoffed. “Hardly! You said you would judge a man by his words and actions. What truly gentlemanly behaviour has Wickham displayed? He has entered the militia, and anyone who believes all men in a red coat are upstanding is the worst kind of ignorant and silly!”

Enraged as he dismissed her concerns, Elizabeth stepped forward again. “Since nearly the first moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with an immoveable dislike. I was frequently a victim of your constant arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It is not lost on me that the common element between the ungentlemanly men I mentioned is you.”

Darcy’s jaw tightened. “What do you mean?” He spoke with extreme coldness.

Elizabeth deflated. She had done it again. She aimed to cruelly wound him to mask her own pain. He had explained, and it made a certain amount of sense, that he found it difficult to converse with strangers. She had seen enough truth in Darcy’s looks the other day to know that he would never be complicit in any of Wickham’s actions. And did he not mention his concern over Bingley’s steadfastness? No quality could be further from Darcy’s character.

Elizabeth had always thought she behaved correctly, in light of the poor example from her mother and youngest sisters, but now she saw how her own actions may have made Bingley and Darcy feel her family too improper. She should have recommended herself more to Bingley’s friend, for her sister’s sake, rather than attempt to cleverly mock him and provoke him. Her manners were at fault as well, and her spirits lead her wrong.

In her silence, he assumed a meaning of his own. “I understand your meaning entirely.” He turned to leave her.

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth pleaded and walked after him. “I am sorry I spoke in anger. I cannot claim to know you well, but I know you are nothing like Wickham and, whatever your faults are, they are certainly not the fickleness of Mr. Bingley.

“Pray, forgive me. I have only recently recognised my own behaviour, and my poor treatment of you must have contributed to your feelings of the inadequacy of my family. I am uncertain now if I would desire Mr. Bingley to return my sister’s affections if his heart is not to be trusted, but it grieves me to suspect that I cost my dearest sister, such great love.”

Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “What mean you now?”

“That your justified dislike of me motivated you to separate my sister from your friend.” She hung her head low in shame.

“I will not be accused of such again! Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to marry you!”

Immediately, Darcy paled as though he realised what he said and wished he could collect his words back. Crickets hummed, and birds chirped, proving the world went on existing, and yet Elizabeth could not fathom a sphere in which Mr. Darcy wished to marry her.

“What?” She asked, shaking her head to dispel the insanity which made her mishear him to such an extreme degree.

A look of warmth and gentleness took over Darcy’s face. “I realise you dislike me, and perhaps rightly so. I did endeavour to separate your most beloved sister from my friend, though not as you suppose. And for this, you may never forgive me.” He paused as though drawing strength. “I am acutely aware my sentiments are unwelcome to you, but I would be pleased if you accepted my hand in marriage.”

Elizabeth stared at him, quite disbelieving. “You cannot be serious.”

“I am quite convinced you are the perfect woman to be my companion in life.”

“How can you possibly think that?” She blurted out. All they did was argue! Elizabeth shook her head. It was still entirely unfathomable. “Why?”

“Why?” He started as though he never expected to be asked such a question. He raised his hands up and helplessly motioned at her. “Because of you. Because of the thousand and one unique things that make up who you are! You are kind, intelligent, witty, clever, playful, lively. I admire your stubbornness and loyalty —  even when it’s directed away from me. You are the perfect companion for me in every way.”

Elizabeth shook her head once more and held up her hands. “You are mistaken, sir. I tease, and you hate it. I am silly and outspoken, and you are silent and taciturn.”

“It does not follow that I enjoy those qualities about myself or must dislike that you are quite the opposite.”

“I have no fortune, my relatives are in trade and my family is improper.” Darcy’s initial silence spoke volumes to her.

“I will not lie and say these things did not hinder my regard. I did think marriage to you imprudent, at first, but I have conquered those objections.”

“Then why are you only now speaking of it?”

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Because of every reason I had against Bingley’s match with your sister. I needed to be sure of my regard. Six weeks is not a very long acquaintance. I could not trust my judgment in my affections.

“I knew I enjoyed your company more than any other lady’s, but what if it were mere infatuation? You deserved more than that from a spouse. And as I acknowledged with Bingley’s situation, there would be some — even in my own family — that would dislike the union. I would not put you through being slighted by spiteful members of the ton, and my aunt, if we did not have a strong foundation.

He began to pace and ran his hands through his hair. “In the last week, I attempted to ascertain your feelings. As I explained with regard to your sister, it was difficult to make out how you felt in Hertfordshire. Here I thought, I had hoped…but it must have only been my vain pretensions.”

Elizabeth trembled slightly as she considered the compliment of being his object of affection. “What is it you want from me, Mr. Darcy?” They had reached the Parsonage gate.

“I ask nothing of you. What I want most you cannot give. I hope it was not selfish of me to declare my sentiments, but I could not be accused of disliking you again. I could not allow you to think ill of yourself, or that I found you unworthy in any way.”

Thunder cracked, and the clouds unleashed their bowels at last. Darcy closed his eyes, Elizabeth believed against the pain even her face must cause him now. “Good day, Miss Bennet.” After a slight bow, he departed.

Elizabeth would have stood still in her bewilderment longer, as she stared at Darcy’s back, if not for the rain. Instead, she dashed into the house and grabbed two umbrellas stored at the entry.

“Mr. Darcy!” She yelled loudly over the rain.

He momentarily ceased walking before shaking his head, as though chiding himself, and continuing onward. She called again as she ran to him and this time he stopped. He had not walked far; he was walking rather slowly, Elizabeth thought. He turned around just as she reached him.

“Mr. Darcy, please will you wait in the Parsonage until the rain passes?”

“Your cousins are not home, it would not be appropriate. I believe the last thing you would want is gossip about a compromising situation.”

Elizabeth blanched but pressed to her secondary plan and produced the other umbrella. “I knew you would decline out of stubbornness, if nothing else. Here, take the umbrella.”

Darcy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, that part of my character you would have made out very well, of course!”

He took the umbrella and made a small bow, but they both turned as they heard a carriage followed by Mr. Collins calling. “Make haste, Mrs. Collins, Maria! Make haste!” Darcy began to walk again, but it was too late. “Mr. Darcy! You must come inside.”

“I thank you, Mr. Collins but I would not like to get your furniture damp. It is better I continue on to Rosings. Miss Bennet was kind enough to loan me an umbrella when she saw me outside.”

“Walk back to Rosings in your wet clothes? Certainly not! Why Lady Catherine would never forgive me!” Her cousin was truly panicked, but Darcy looked towards Elizabeth.

“My cousin is correct. We would not wish you to catch your death. Please come in, Mr. Darcy.” He gave her a sad smile, but acquiesced.

Darcy was quickly ushered upstairs to dry off, and a servant sent to retrieve fresh clothing for him from Rosings. By the time he returned, dinner was being served, and Mr. Collins insisted Darcy remain. He spoke little during the dinner, which Elizabeth fully understood, between the rain and their conversation, he must be desperate to leave her presence.

She was surprised when he cleared his throat and addressed the table. “My aunt sent a note with the servant. She invites the whole party to dine at Rosings the day after tomorrow.”

Mr. and Mrs. Collins and even Maria exclaimed in delight, for they had not been invited to Rosings with the same regularity now that Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived.

“Eliza, is this not grand news?” Charlotte asked her. Elizabeth readily saw Darcy slyly observing her.

“Oh, yes. It is always a pleasure to dine at Rosings.” She hardly knew what else to say.

It was a simple dinner of a single course and before the hour was through Darcy was returned to Rosings in Lady Catherine’s coach that was sent for him. Elizabeth wisely pleaded a headache and excused herself upstairs before her friend could question her.

 

*****

 

Darcy returned to Rosings and pleaded illness rather than join the ladies. He was surely the weak link in the Darcy line. Not only could he not even propose to a lady correctly but she had no idea that he had long admired her. His pride thanked the Lord he never confessed love to her.

He and Anne had developed a plan. Darcy would take the time at Rosings to court Elizabeth, and prove that he could treat her as an equal and listen to her concerns. He would persuade his aunt to secure an invitation for her to Knole Park. He would support her interest in architecture. All the while, Richard would work to separate Wickham from the Regiment in Meryton, thereby keeping the Bennet sisters safe from his dastardly schemes.

Darcy would confess his story to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. His pride did not like exposing himself and acknowledging he was not without fault, but he would further prove to Elizabeth he was not ashamed of her relations. While in Meryton, he could make amends to the shopkeepers of the area. Additionally, he would encourage Bingley to return to Netherfield and, if Miss Bennet wished it, resume their courtship. Once in Hertfordshire, Darcy could properly court Elizabeth. She could see his merits after he had secured the happiness and safety of so many in her life. Not that she would marry him out of gratitude: he did not think she would do such a thing. But that it might enliven her feelings toward him.

If all went as planned, he would be married by Michaelmas. They would honeymoon at Pemberley and go to London for the Season. She would be an instant success and fit in the Bluestocking Club perfectly. They would be the envy of the ton, disgustingly happy. Georgiana would become so fastidious in desiring a love match, and confident in the friendship of Elizabeth, she would not wed for many years.

Yes, Darcy had verily planned the next five years of his life. Of course, that was without even speaking to Elizabeth and discussing her desires, let alone understanding just how deep her dislike for him went.

She had been quick to apologise today but had firmly believed he disapproved of her. Overcoming her prejudice and the wound he served her pride would not be easily won. Matters were progressing nowhere with Wickham as Richard had yet to hear from his comrade about reassigning the rogue. Nor had Elizabeth received a reply from Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Gardiner yet.

And Bingley!

To hear that Bingley had cut Jane in a shop had been more than Darcy could believe. He had thought his friend too embarrassed to speak and pulled away by his sister. Darcy ought to have anticipated that Bingley might call on the Gardiners to make amends. He ought to have warned his friend or been with him. He should confess to Jane Bennet that it was he who suggested Bingley not return to Netherfield. That he alone was the cause of her heartbreak, not Bingley. From the sound of how she turned Bingley out on his ear, Darcy rather thought he also would not be welcome at the Gardiner house. How would he speak with Mr. Gardiner about Wickham?

Elizabeth could never love him now. Not when he had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her most beloved sister. At the very least, he could not expect Elizabeth to choose him, when she did not love him, over her sister whom she loved more than any other person on this earth.

A light tapping on his door broke his thoughts. “Leave it,” he cried to the maid who brought his supper tray.

The maid continued to knock. “I said leave it!” he called louder.

The rapping did not cease. Shooting from his chair, he began yelling before he pulled the door open. “Leave it before I tell your mistress you’re incapable of following simple commands!”

He wrenched the door open, and his cousin’s small frame stood before him. She held her chin high.

“Anne!”

“Am I supposed to be frightened of your bellowing?” she asked and bent her head, edging her way under his arm and into his chamber.

“Anne, what are you doing?” he hissed, scanned the hall and then quickly shut the door.

“And you should know our servants hear enough screaming from my mother that your antics will not scare them. They are far more terrified of her.”

“Anne,” Darcy pressed fingers to his temples. They had avoided each other for the better part of a decade. Since he cleared the air with her, they had slipped into the easy friendship of their youth. However, he now desired solitude.

“No, I won’t leave you alone with your mercurial thoughts,” she said and sauntered to a chair.

Darcy stared at her. He had not spoken his thoughts aloud.

“You did not have to say anything. Anyone would know you wish me gone.” She scrutinised his face. Her thin brows joining together. “What have you done?”

Darcy walked to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He considered not answering her. “Do you care for anything?” He motioned to the contents.

Anne licked her lips. “I take a glass of sherry in the evening.”

Darcy filled a tumbler and brought it to her. “You, no doubt, know that I was caught in the rain and had to stay at the Collinses. I dare anyone to be in good spirits after that.”

Anne looked dubiously at him. “Rain never hurt anyone. And the lovely Elizabeth was there, was she not?”

“She was,” he answered neutrally and took a sip of wine.

“Usually, after a morning with her you can bear anything even my mother dishes out, and tonight you are out of spirits because of Mr. Collins? No,” Anne shook her head. “Do not forget that I am Mistress of Hearts. You quarrelled with Miss Bennet.”

“When have I not quarrelled with her?” Darcy bit out in disgust. It was as Bingley had tried to say. All the times Darcy thought they were merely debating and learning about each other’s character, she was arguing with his false pride. He had been too arrogant to see it. “I have ruined everything.”

“If you frequently argue then how can this one ruin everything?”

Darcy’s heart lurched at the hope Anne offered. “You do not understand. She has so many faults against me.”

“Are they true?”

“They are…complicated,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw.

“Are they true,” Anne repeated slower and raised her brows.

“Very well,” Darcy said and put his glass down on the nearby table. He blew out a deep breath and leant forward, earnestly meeting his cousin’s eyes. “A significant number of them are. There —  I am an arrogant ass!”

Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Better she knows it now.”

Darcy sagged against the chair. “Where’s your sense of familial pride. Should you not be outraged?”

“Think of who I live with,” Anne said and took a sip of her sherry. “We have arrogance in abundance.”

“Perhaps, but I am attempting to reform,” Darcy said.

“Bah,” Anne cried. “Do not reform. If she cannot bear your faults, she should not marry you.”

“I unjustly accused her sister of being a fortune hunter,” Darcy levelled. “I encouraged a friend who I knew depended upon my advice to leave the house he leased without a word to the neighbourhood and not return.”

“Ah, I see. And if he had decided to marry the lady instead, would he have needed you to tell him what to say?”

Darcy stared at his drink. “If he did then I would have ruined that too, no doubt.”

“Darcy! Do you mean to say…that is… no, it’s impossible!” Anne exclaimed.

Looking up from his glass, Darcy met her gaze. “That I proposed to Elizabeth Bennet today and she refused me? Naturally. I have the grace and tact of an elephant tiptoeing on ice.” He swallowed his remaining port in a large gulp.

Anne guffawed. “An elephant tiptoeing on ice! And people find you droll!” Darcy scowled further. “Come. The lady rejected her cousin and now stays under the man’s roof.”

“For the sake of visiting her friend,” Darcy said.

“Yes, and you are assisting her with Wickham. Once you return to London, you might ease the way between her sister and your friend.”

“I do not know that she can ever forgive me,” Darcy said.

“What has changed in the last day?” Darcy related the contents of Jane’s letter. “Excellent,” Anne nodded. “She should turn him out. He should work for her admiration! As should you!”

Anne stood and paced the room. “You men think everything is owed you on a silver platter! I read it time and time again in my article.” She paused upon seeing his raised brows. “Yes, gentlemen write to me. You accepted my help.”

Darcy did not bother telling her that it was hardly the same thing as accepting the advice of a stranger. “What would you tell another?”

“Time will prove that her sister will either recover from her heartbreak or that the gentleman was never worthy. You will not be the fair-weather sort of suitor. Between previously meeting her London relatives, and then your plan to speak with them and her father regarding Wickham, you will be in her sphere of acquaintance. Stay the course.”

“What if she wishes to never see me again,” Darcy said while shaking his head.

“See how she behaves for the rest of her time here. Do not force her but you must remain constant. She has had too many men prove they are unreliable. You can be the rudder in her ship. Help steer her safe even in troubled waters.”

Darcy did not immediately reply. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as he had first considered. She had seemed to forgive him before, and in general, forgiveness was not an overnight act. It often took quite some time. And time had persuaded her to visit Kent even when she detested her cousin. A slow smile spread across his face.

“You see I am correct,” Anne said and began walking toward the door.

“Really, Anne,” Darcy gave her a false frown and shook his head. “Navy references?”

“Nautical,” Anne corrected and winked. She inched open the door and upon determining the hall clear, promptly left.


Dear C—

You have asked for my advice regarding a proposal you found repugnant. You were right to seek my counsel. Despite your mother’s worries, do not wed where your heart is not attached. You have overcome too much to be the victim of alliances and convenience. I will write her directly and speak with her when I am next in town. I have enclosed volumes by the late George Edwards. With six hundred drawings to duplicate I believe it shall keep you busy for some time.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth sat on the chair in her bedchamber at the Parsonage. Charlotte had taken care to be an excellent hostess, despite the tension in their friendship, and her favourite flowers were frequently in a vase on the table. Also on it were a small stack of books borrowed from her friend. They must be from the Rosings library because Mr. Collins did not keep such works. Elizabeth nearly snarled recalling the conduct books he thrust at her. She picked up the novel she had been reading, it held no interest to her tonight.

What would Darcy’s opinion on such a book be? Her memory flashed to their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he had asked her opinion of books then, but she was so determined to be displeased. Even during her stay at Netherfield, there was once a discussion on female accomplishments, and after Miss Bingley’s ridiculous list, Darcy added a woman should have an improved mind through extensive reading. Elizabeth had held a book in her hand at the time, although she was too preoccupied with the discussion of the room to pay any heed to the volume. She had thought then he was mocking her, but it now seemed he was genuinely interested in her opinions.

After Darcy’s insult to her, she was determined to never dance with him. At each refusal, she was quite aware she was likely the only woman in the world to do so. She thought the revenge rather complete when she was able to refuse him twice to his once.

When she could not refuse him at the Netherfield Ball, she made it quite an unpleasant dance for him. She knew the mention of Wickham would provoke him. She blindly trusted Wickham because his tales supported what she most wanted to believe about Darcy.

She had spitefully blamed him for her sister’s pain because she did not want to see anyone else’s responsibility in the matter. Bingley was fickle. Jane was too reserved and too naive to see his sisters’ machinations. Her family behaved improperly, and yet it was quite accepted among her community while they all blasted Darcy as the most disagreeable man in the world off his behaviour in less than one evening. To those outside their circle, however, her family behaved so badly it may have put off an agreeable suitor for her most deserving sister.

What a humiliation! Was nothing in the world as she thought it?

Mr. Darcy wished to marry her. He, who she had thought was proud and arrogant, who must have seen the greatest beauties of London for years, who could have fortune and rank, wanted her. It was humbling.

She knew Wickham was not to be trusted for several weeks now, but still, she did not discount all of his words against Darcy. Even in the last few days, she persisted in believing he would separate Bingley from Jane only due to desiring fortune and circumstance for his friend. Her opinion of Darcy was so wrong that the entire time she had been convinced he wished to keep Bingley from her sister, he was examining her character.

The times she had been certain he had looked at her in contempt, he admired her from afar. It seemed every time she took offence to something, he had only attempted to compliment her. Now, she could even see the times he had tried to court her good opinion. All the while she had courted prejudice and willful ignorance! How blind she had been!

Elizabeth’s eyes had been opened, however, and it was a new world to her. She could not repent her words on his behaviour in Meryton, but neither could she ignore the unjust accusations she made. To compare him to Wickham, to blame him for Bingley’s defection was terribly wrong of her. She also could not forget the look of pain when he acknowledged she must refuse him or the resigned air in which he tendered his aunt’s invitation.

She must prove that no matter her silly ignorance she could behave correctly. She could hardly determine if she wished to welcome his attentions, but she would prove she was worthy of the respect and esteem he held for her. She was through acting like a spoiled child over insults, imagined or real.

Elizabeth’s pride did shirk, momentarily, at having to apologise and confess to her vanity, but her honour demanded it. Darcy deserved it, and her duty required it to ensure his help to her family. For them, she would bear any degradation. Her only hesitance was should he not wish to converse on the subject, or worse, seek to blame himself. Additionally, she admitted to a minuscule amount of concern that he had only offered his help out of thinking he helped his future family. She told herself that was merely old prejudice and he could only act out of honour. Darcy would not revoke his assistance at disgust with her incivility or hurt pride at her rejection. However, he was a mortal and who could have the strength to frequently meet with the woman who so callously spurned him?

Choosing to not ask herself why it mattered if he had already overcome his preference for her, she decided to write a brief note of apology to give him in case conversation proved impossible. She could only hope he would overlook the impropriety. She had the greatest trust he would not betray her.

Sitting at the little table in her room she drew out a sheet of paper from her writing box and began to swallow her pride.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I pray you will forgive me for the terrible breach in propriety I am making by writing this letter but, like a great many things, men do not hold a monopoly on honour and mine demands I apologise for my unforgivable words yesterday. I hope we can put our differences behind us as we work on our project.

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

Despite Anne’s words of encouragement, Darcy believed he could not treat his last argument with Elizabeth as no different than the ones before. He had not understood at the earlier times that she had specific accusations against him. He rather thought she was testing to see if he felt similarly about the world. Now, every conversation they ever had seemed to take on a new light.

At Lucas Lodge, when she declined dancing with him it was revenge for his first insult. Indeed, even at Netherfield, it was. Had she doubted ladies could have good sense and accomplishment or merely that he would deign to know them? On that score, she had been nearly correct. Not for lack of trying, he had to wade through hoards of empty-headed ladies to find the diamonds he sought. Apparently, when they argued over pride and vanity, she meant to expose him as having both.

Darcy stretched his legs out. She was not faultless, but she had apologised. Some would wonder how he would think her worthy if she disliked him and desired to only debase him, but she was not flighty or conceited. She did have pride and for her to apologise must have cost her quite a bit.

He pushed aside any residual anger he felt at Elizabeth’s complaints and assumptions and instead focused on her feelings. When Georgiana had been hurt by Wickham, it was as though Darcy’s own heart bled with her. Elizabeth now felt that for Jane and it was through his methods. Having noble intentions did not excuse the misery he caused. An apology was in order.

The maid arrived with the supper tray, and as Darcy ate, he ordered his thoughts. He had always expressed himself better in writing than with words. Once finished with his light meal, he walked to his escritoire and pushed aside letters of business. His sister and aunt had written, but he would read those letters on the morrow. Tonight, Elizabeth deserved his entire attention.

Withdrawing the writing items and arranging himself as neatly as he could, Darcy paused before he began. It was surely a silly thing to entreat the Almighty for, but he wished to infuse his regret and love into this letter so he might start again with Elizabeth.

Dearest Elizabeth

Darcy crossed it out and blew out a sigh. That was far too informal. Balling up the paper, he tossed it aside.

Dear Madam.

No, too cold and formal. How did one begin a letter to a lady he wished to wed? To one he loved but did not offer his heart? A woman with whom he had a long acquaintance, and yet, she would say they were not friends. Annoyed, he settled for the same name all the world called her.

Dear Miss Bennet,

Words can scarcely convey the regret I feel at learning for the many months of our acquaintance you have been under the misapprehension that I disapproved of you. I understand there may have been mitigating factors, and I know in your generosity you would excuse some of my behaviour, but allow me to take the blame I must. My honour demands it. Had I behaved as I ought to have, none of this would now be an issue. As such, I apologise to you, and when I meet with your relations, I shall entreat their forgiveness as well. I understand, too, that I have harmed the citizens of Meryton and when an apology is in my power, I will make amends.

On the matter of making my sentiments known to you, I ask your pardon as well. A gentleman does not force his attentions on a person and had I not been so careless and presuming, I would have known better. I hope I have given no lasting distress.

I remain your humble servant and wish to aid you should you ever need it,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Darcy’s eyes scanned over the words. He hoped to give it to her on the morrow, although letters between unwed ladies and gentlemen were not entirely proper. Nor was the letter exactly genuine. Amongst the things he apologised for there were many things, he was not the least sorry for. His mortified pride hated that he had proposed to a woman who had never seen his admiration or desired his notice, but he felt freer having spoken some of his heart. All the days he had met under the guise of discussing Wickham — and he did worry about the cad — Darcy had had nervously courted Elizabeth. Now, when he met her next, there would be no deceit between them. When he was attentive to her, she would know his honourable intentions.

Of course, it might be that she never wished to speak with him again.

Tossing his pen aside, Darcy peered at the clock in his room through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. If he arose at his regular time, he would have less than six hours of sleep. Before trudging to his bed, he reached for his mail, duty calling to him. As he undressed for the evening, he paused now and then to make out words.

Georgiana was in good health and enjoyed her newest pianoforte master. Mrs. Annesley was a balm to her wounded soul. Richard visited often, and Bingley and his sister called nearly daily. Darcy wished he knew if Georgiana was forming an attachment. He did not believe for a moment that Bingley had any interest in his sister if he was so in love with Jane Bennet as to call on her at the Gardiners’ and without an introduction. Nor did he think Bingley would encourage a lady while his affection lay elsewhere. However, Georgiana was quite young still. Darcy chuckled imagining her face upon such a claim.

Boots and stockings removed, Darcy moved on to the Baroness’ letter. He told himself he would alert her and Mrs. Annesley to the possible complication of Georgiana’s attachment to Bingley, who was rather spoken for. Lady Darcy reported that she had found a new candidate for the Bluestocking Club and asked after his progress. He had come under the guise of asking the Duchess of Dorset’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Jenkinson, to join. Her father was a noted astronomer and had raised his child to appreciate the stars. Mrs. Jenkinson, in turn, relished in her father’s profession. As the wife to a very wealthy and influential politician, Mrs. Jenkinson could be a very powerful patron of science. Lady Darcy also bade him to hurry his “adventure at the Dragon’s” and choose his bride. Darcy frowned. She was not usually the aunt to wish him to the altar in a trice.

Pulling his shirt over his head, he accidentally knocked his still full glass of port and cursed. Dashing to the wash stand, he grabbed the towel to clean his mess. His aunt’s letter had fluttered to the floor, but by the time he had everything settled again, he decided to wait and finish reading his correspondence later. Sleepiness pulled all strength from his body, and he stumbled toward the bed as though he were drunk. Collapsing in it, he slept soundly until awoken with a start as his valet entered at the usual time.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Eight

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven

MDBB4Dear C—

When did you last indulge your love of art? Come with me to Bath again. There is a new drawing master I wish you to meet. There is talk that the King will finally agree to an establishment of Britain’s finest artists.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eight

After a night of little sleep, Elizabeth arose even earlier than usual for the day. She walked to the grove and had brought a book with her expecting to wait nearly an hour before Darcy, and hopefully not his cousin, appeared. Elizabeth believed she needed the solitude to steady her thoughts. Charlotte had come to Elizabeth’s chamber yesterday evening and attempted to apologise for the scene with her husband. Elizabeth tried to view things from her friend’s perspective. She had little control over her husband’s opinion or mouth. Even still, Elizabeth did not think she could ever remain silent while her spouse scolded her friend for imaginary sins.

She should not have been surprised to hear her name called out immediately, and yet she was. “Good day, Miss Bennet!”

Elizabeth plastered a false smile on her face. It turned genuine when she discovered Colonel Fitzwilliam did not join his cousin. The man had seemed gentlemanly at their first encounter, but she rather thought it rude of him to ask after her so minutely. Of course, he had no way of anticipating her cousin’s eccentricities. Elizabeth greeted Mr. Darcy and inquired after the Colonel.

“Was the Colonel was still abed when you left? It must be nearly nine now, surely he will happen our way soon then.”

Belatedly she realised Darcy had ceased walking. She turned to look at him with an eager face, and he finally moved forward again. “No, he left at dawn.” He paused for a moment. “I am sorry to have delayed in relaying the plans to you. You must be anxious to hear them.”

They resumed walking. “Actually, it was a welcome respite from my worries.”

Darcy gave her a slight smile. “I am glad to be of service. Richard seeks to have Wickham transferred to another regiment. We worry he would become vengeful if he were suddenly treated differently with his current regiment. As he is certain I am out to ruin his life, knows I frequently visit my aunt this time of year, and knows you are here, it would take little for him to assume I was behind his change in acceptance, and it was by your information I chose to act.”

Elizabeth saw the wisdom in the plan and nodded.

Darcy continued, “I also intend to journey to Longbourn to speak with your father. Wickham likely has debts he will not pay, so I will collect those. Does this meet with your approval?”

Elizabeth disliked his presumption. Her letter to her father had just gone out in the morning post, and they had not discussed this possibility yesterday. “When will you go to Longbourn?”

“I had thought to wait until Wickham was gone. It should only be a matter of days. It is not improbable he will find some other means of harming your family, so I thought it best to explain his history to your father.”

Chewing her bottom lip, Elizabeth considered the best way to voice her concerns. “Mr. Darcy, you will recall yesterday I apologised for believing Wickham’s lies against you. I explained he was telling the whole community of it. Perhaps you think I am silly enough to be charmed by a handsome face—”

“I would never believe that of you,” he said with surprising vehemence.

“It is near enough the truth,” she shook her head, unwilling to accept his kindness. “I am so ashamed, all due to my wounded vanity. Perhaps you think the rest of the neighbourhood silly and thriving on gossip. However, I hope you have seen my father has more intelligence about him.”

“I have,” Darcy gave a slight nod.

Elizabeth took perverse enjoyment in getting him to agree to her father’s intelligence for what followed was his just desserts. “He also believed Wickham’s accounts of you.”

Darcy whipped his head in her direction and flushed. “Your father had no difficulty believing this of me?”

His words ceased her movement. His rebuke toward her father was more than Elizabeth could stand. Anger simmered in her veins, and she grit her teeth until she could reply with tolerable civility. “How can we know a man but by his actions and words? You disapproved of all of Hertfordshire. You would not speak to nearly a soul! You showed yourself to be proud and disagreeable. It would be no hardship to believe you denied a servant’s son — whether out of pride or jealousy — a valuable living and dishonoured your father’s will. Had I not noticed Wickham’s lies and inconsistencies I could easily believe it of you still; even if I allowed Wickham to not be everything he wishes others to believe.”

Darcy was silent for several minutes, and Elizabeth perceived he was searching for composure. Taking a few deep breaths, he finally replied tersely. “Very well. I have offended the entire county, and your father will not listen to me. Should I send someone in my stead?”

Elizabeth noted he did not apologise or seem overly concerned by the opinions of those so far below him. “How many people know of your history with Wickham?” she asked.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam was one of the executor’s of my father’s will. He knows the details of it and of when Wickham gave up the claim to the living and was fairly compensated for it. Bingley knows as well.”

Elizabeth was surprised, for Bingley did not divulge information on Wickham when asked by Jane at the Netherfield ball. “That might be enough to discredit Wickham’s dislike of you but will it be enough to make my father see that Wickham is a threat to the community?”

“Your father cannot be so naive as to think most soldiers behave like true gentlemen.”

“Did not your own father know Wickham and fall for his lies for years?” How dare he rebuke her father when his own was guilty of so much more.

Darcy took a step toward Elizabeth. Passion and fire snapped in his blue eyes. His voice came out as a ragged and harsh whisper. “My father was very grateful to his steward. Father inherited an estate in need of repairs and revitalization. Mr. Wickham proved very capable. He guided my father and taught him to be the best landlord and master. People of the area still speak his name with devotion and reverence. He believed he owed his steward very much. You should not criticise what you do not know!”

Elizabeth took a step forward. She arched her head to meet his eyes. “That is very fine coming from you!” Suddenly, she could feel heat radiating off Mr. Darcy

“What can you mean?”

Anger emanated from his frame, but Elizabeth would not back down. She approached even closer. “Your dislike for anyone not of your rank and wealth!” Her neck tilted back more and she straightened her spine. She would not be made to feel small even if he were so tall. “You feel superior in every possible way without knowing the person at all.”

“We are not all blessed with making friends quickly. Did you not learn recently to not judge a character by that?”

Elizabeth persevered, unfazed by his intent to wound her pride. Lacing her words with as much hatred as possible, she continued. “And for those you do know there is not a friend you have that you do not interfere with, is there? You always know the best way for everyone!”

“What is this of my friends? Speak plainly, madam. I would understand your accusations.” His voice had a mocking quality.

Elizabeth held onto her anger so tightly she feared she might actually snap in half. Looking now at his smug face, so sure she had no weight behind her words, she held nothing back. “I have no doubt Mr. Bingley’s sister played a role as well, but I am confident you played the greater part in separating my most beloved sister from the man she loved! You decided my sister’s love would not be enough to make him happy.” Her chest heaved, but she rejoiced in seeing her verbal punch landed full force. Colour drained from Darcy’s face. “That fortune and rank — that your sister would be a better match!”

“Good God woman! What has happened to your intelligence? I had taken you to be the cleverest woman of my acquaintance!”

She gasped. “My intelligence is not in question—”

He interrupted and spoke over her. “Bingley violently in love with your sister! Would a man violently in love be able to give up so easily? Would he give up love for a greater match as you suggest?”

“And you did nothing to help him? You journeyed to London to keep him away!” Elizabeth clenched her hands. Growing up with four sisters with high spirits she was no stranger to fisticuffs and, at the moment, desired to scratch out Mr. Darcy’s brilliant blue eyes.

Darcy laughed hollowly. “He liked your sister very much, and I am sorry if he raised her expectations, but I did not perceive any particular regard from her. When I questioned Bingley about it, he was uncertain as well. In a match with no fortune or connection, which is sure to be spurned by society, there should at least be mutual regard to ensure marital tranquillity.”

Darcy’s words jolted Elizabeth. She had not thought he considered matters with such sound logic. “Do you deny your assistance in the matter?”

“I have no wish to deny it,” he said and shook his head. “However, you would lay it all at my door. You will not entertain the idea that it was impossible to know if your sister even liked Bingley with the way your mother declared a match between them? It never crossed your mind that to attach himself to a family with such disadvantages — such improper behaviour — Bingley needed to be assured of his attachment.”

“It matters not if you are innocent in such a charge!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “From the first moment of our acquaintance, your arrogance and conceit built a dislike that was firmly in place before a month was over.”

Pain flooded Darcy’s eyes. Moderating his voice, he said slowly, “You believed Wickham’s lies of me. You think I interfered with my dear friend’s happiness for my own desire — perhaps even my own good as you seem to believe I prefer him for Georgiana. You think that I am proud and disdainful to all around me. Can you truly say I have behaved as such? Why do you persist in disliking me so?”

“Because you dislike me! Without even a proper introduction you believed me unworthy of even a dance!” Her face had turned red long ago, but she felt a fresh wave of heat slap her cheeks. She turned her face from him.

Darcy dipped his head, and his breath tickled her ear. She could not see his face but was now so close she could feel his chest move with each exhalation. She felt the raw emotion in his voice. “Dislike! Unworthy? I seem to recall asking you to dance thrice before receiving a favourable answer. Certainly, you noticed I did not pay such attentions and persistence to any other lady.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “You asked to mock me.” She suppressed a sob. This was all far too much. She had been dreadfully wrong first about Wickham and now Darcy? She refused to believe his words. “I know I am not handsome enough to tempt you! You declared it so yourself!”

Darcy stepped back as though she struck him. He remained silent for several minutes, and Elizabeth felt his eyes compelling her to turn and face him. She would not.

“You are determined to judge me from the words of one evening,” he sounded weary and defeated. “Your feelings are perfectly clear to me. I can only apologise for taking up so much of your time.”

Darcy turned and left Elizabeth trembling in the grove. She immediately burst into tears.

******

Darcy walked away from Elizabeth, on legs that followed their own course. How the limbs moved when his heart had been meleèd by Elizabeth’s lashing, he knew not. Blood somehow still circulated through his body but all the while, he felt as though life had left him. How did one live if their heart did not beat? How did one exist when they could not breathe? He loosened his cravat.

How had he not seen it before? Recalling their previous conversations, it now appeared clear to him. Elizabeth Bennet believed he disliked her. She thought he had found her inferior and not worthy of his notice. And it had hurt her.

Darcy had long noted the lady’s bravery. However, the sharpness of tongue she just displayed only came out when she was hurt and embarrassed. What had it cost her pride to declare she had known of his supposed dislike? Darcy shook his head. He did not believe he could debase himself before anyone in such a way.

He could scarcely remember the words he had uttered to Bingley the night he had first seen Elizabeth. Had he found her less than beautiful? But that was only when he first knew her. He had yet to understand the teasing glint in her eye, the way they shined in amusement. He had not become fascinated with the arch of her brow or the graceful line of her neck. He had not clasped her hand in his as he led her to the dance floor and felt his blood surge in response as an animal instinct declared “She is mine!”

It was also before he had been separated from her for months before a chance meeting brought her back to him. It was before he knew the thrill of excitement as he counted the days until their next meeting — here, at a place that he had hated his whole life. Each night he spent in the company of titled and wealthy debutantes, he instead longed for Elizabeth’s conversation. Each outing with a bluestocking thrust at his side made him appreciate Elizabeth’s liveliness all the more.

She was not the most beautiful lady — at least not by the standards of the world. Nor was she the most intelligent, although he had no doubt she could learn anything she desired. She could add nothing to his material comforts.

For all the reasons he should not love her, nothing could cease his passion. Not just to know her intimately as only a husband should, but to savour each moment when she smiled, to hear each teasing retort. He wanted to consume her heart and soul the way she did his.

Darcy ceased his walking. The way she consumed him. A chill swept over his body. How arrogant he had been! Now, removed from her side he allowed himself to feel the full weight of her disapproval. She abhorred him!

This time, his heart shuddered to a stop, and he rubbed a hand over the ache in his chest. His presumptuous words even yesterday to Richard about her affection driving away the belief she was a fortune hunter echoed hollowly in his ears.

But why did she hate him so? Because of the first comment to Bingley? Had he not given her attention at every turn? Could she not understand how he cared for her? Perhaps she hated him because she perceived his regard but twice before he did not play the suitor.

Finally, the pain in his heart eased, and he stalked off the path to sit under a tree. His friends had always teased him for his fastidiousness. He was meticulous in his planning and methodological in his business. For this reason, many, like Richard, had assumed he did not hold emotions in high regard. They could not be more incorrect. To overcome his sentiment, Darcy relied on sense and logic. And despite all his planning, he had never thought he would fall in love and certainly not unintentionally. In recent days, he had been so surprised by the truth he had not spared thought to question if Elizabeth reciprocated his regard or how to court her and win her favour.

Darcy scrutinised several possibilities. He could be forthright. He could even avoid mention of love entirely. She could not be senseless to his situation in life. However, Anne had said that Elizabeth refused Mr. Collins. While Darcy flattered himself that she must prefer him — or anyone — to her cousin, it did not follow that she would marry for monetary gain.

What did she require in a spouse? Darcy considered all he knew of her. In his catalogue of memories of her, there were as many instances of her playfulness as there were occasions of her embarrassed by her family. Heat crept up Darcy’s face. Had that agony been because of him? She had presumed he found fault with them — and he did; never even caring to disguise the truth. He had thought they were of like minds about her family, but, in reality, his dislike had only served to hurt her and make her hate him in return.

What she deserved was respect. Someone should accept her with any flaws she might have, including her family. He had always treated her as an equal and allowed for her opinion even when they debated but was that the same as respect? Many men were his equals in rank, but he did not respect them. He did not care for their opinions or allow their words to hold any weight with him. Instead, Bingley, a man of lesser rank, meant far more to him. He respected Bingley, and as such he bore with his friend’s sister. Likewise, he respected Lady Catherine for her position in his family.

Darcy rested his elbows on his bent knees and dragged his hands over his face. He had respected aspects of Elizabeth, but as long as he could not accept her family and situation in life, he could not say he respected the whole of her. What a lesson! He now saw his treatment of her the first night, which must have built her dislike, stemmed from his disrespect for society as a whole. However, he would not dare voice it in a crowded London ballroom. How insulting that he did so in Meryton!

He was not a man used to seeking others’ good opinion in life. At some point, that transformed into treating everyone with disdain. As such, he did not have the first clue how to articulate his revelation to Elizabeth.

If he had thought before declaring his sentiments of love and devotion were nigh on impossible, Darcy was now hopelessly lost. Still, no one had ever accused him of cowardice. Uncertain how to dispel Elizabeth’s opinion of him or if she could ever alter it, he determined he must, at least, apologise. Validating her feelings when only moments ago he criticised them was surely the first step in demonstrating his new found respect.

Gathering his courage, he stood and dusted himself off. Glancing down the path, he saw Elizabeth still standing on the road. His heart constricted as he considered the pain he must have caused her. Why had she not moved? It was unlike her to not be moving. As he grew closer, he saw her hands on her face, and her shoulders shake.

Darcy’s heart shattered as he realised his arrogance and selfish disdain for the feelings of others caused the beautiful and strong woman before him to resort to tears. Quelling the urge to pull her into his embrace and kiss away each tear, he instead spoke her name.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Seven

mdbbDear C,

I am pleased you benefitted from staying with us. You have experienced a rogue and have now met some intellectual gentlemen old enough to be your father. You are young yet, though, do not give up. The right man will come at last.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Seven

 

Elizabeth walked along a path at Rosings. She thought this was the one Colonel Fitzwilliam mentioned Mr. Darcy favoured. She could hardly account for her reasons. She knew Wickham was not to be trusted and resolved to consider Darcy’s character to be as she knew it before ever meeting Wickham. She could not say she liked him at all, but she did not hate him.

Aside from desiring to settle the matter of sketching his character, she realised it was wise to strike a friendship with him. She was inclined to think Wickham a madman or stupid but felt it prudent to confirm this in some way, and Wickham claimed to know Darcy well; knowledge should go both ways. Darcy had called on the Parsonage yesterday and, while apparently finding the place wanting, was entirely civil and went out of his way to express concern over their conversation weeks ago.

A movement down the lane caught her eye, but still, she was surprised to hear, “Miss Bennet!  What a beautiful morning for a walk. Do you often favour this grove?

“Good morning, Mr. Darcy. I do indeed enjoy this path the most.”

Now that she was not blinded by prejudice, she found it difficult to read Mr. Darcy’s face. She thought she saw a glimmer of happiness or pleasure, but it was likely just at being away from Rosings. In another instant, he wore the haughty expression she recalled so well from Hertfordshire.

Well, he is not so bad as Wickham would say, but that does not excuse his behaviour to the rest of Hertfordshire, nor does it change the fact that he dislikes me. But since there is no proof that he is dishonourable as Wickham has claimed, I have every hope that he shall help.

They had lapsed into silence, though Mr. Darcy seemed on the verge of speaking many times. Deciding that her family was worth this discomfort, Elizabeth decided to push forward with her request.

She could not meet his eyes and instead watched her feet. “Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature and have confessed to unjustly listening to tales defaming your character. I would very much like to hear what you have to say against Mr. Wickham so I might learn the truth.”

Darcy was silent for several minutes before he spoke in a gruff voice. “I do not know particularly what he has said of me, or under what manner of falsehood he has imposed upon you.”

His words immediately brought Elizabeth’s head up. It was as though he had thought she was in love with Wickham!  She wet her lips and replied with hesitation. “I do not know why Mr. Wickham chose to confide in me. I suppose I seemed willing to hear his lies.” She blushed and swallowed back the bitter taste that invaded her mouth. “I assure you, however, I did not seek such information, which was accepted only in the excitement of new friendship, nor was I vowed to secrecy; indeed he soon related his tale of woe to the whole of the area.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy’s face as it seemed he relaxed as she spoke before turning white in anger with her final words. She could see how tightly he clenched his jaw, and she despised herself for so tactlessly telling him an entire county hated him based on the lies of a cad. She winced at the impropriety of it all. As a Bennet, she seemed cursed to always say and do the wrong thing.

“Do not reproach yourself for my sake,” Darcy said gently. “Detection was not in your power and suspicion is not in your inclination. Allow me a moment to gather my thoughts.”

Elizabeth remained silent as they slowly walked through the grove. New life had begun to bud on the trees in the weeks since her arrival. Every day brought subtle changes. She envied how quickly nature could change. And yet, it remained constant as well. She knew that by now the maple near Longbourn would be putting forth leaves, and the roses would soon bloom.

“If you will allow us to sit here,” Darcy’s words interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts, and he motioned to a fallen log near the path, “I will tell you everything of my dealings with that man.”

Darcy patted the trunk. “It is clean and dry here, Miss Bennet. Nor did I see any insects.” He stepped aside to allow her to sit.

Elizabeth smirked at his consideration. “I have sat in wet grass many times and am not afraid of the crawling inhabitants of the forest. It is much more their home than mine.”

Darcy slightly smiled, and Elizabeth released a breath she did not realise she had been holding. He must be used to well-bred ladies who seldom stirred out of doors. Next, he sat on the log and exhaled. He stared into the distance and related his tale.

In many respects, it was the mirror image of what Wickham had told her. When old Mr. Darcy died, it was recommended that his son help establish Wickham in the church. However, Darcy explained that Wickham soon gave up any such claim, and instead stated he chose the law. He had been bequeathed one thousand pounds already and then requested an additional three thousand pounds for his studies and living expenses in lieu of the living. Darcy had long before lost his good opinion of Wickham and considered him ill-suited for the church, so agreed and such seemed the end of their acquaintance. Darcy could not speak to the particulars of Wickham’s existence but believed the man lived a very dissipated life with no sincere intention of becoming a barrister.

Darcy had indeed given the living Wickham hoped for to another man when it fell vacant. However, Wickham had neglected to include in his tale the fact that he had been compensated at his own request. Some while later, when he had exhausted his funds, Wickham approached Darcy asking for the living to be reinstated and, when Darcy refused, abused Darcy in foul language which he did not hesitate to spread near and far.

“You asked me weeks ago if I believed Wickham capable of plotting and, unfortunately, I do. Although I had thought all acquaintance between us severed, he intruded most painfully in my life last summer. His motive was financial, but I do not doubt he intended some kind of revenge on me as well, regardless of any harm to others.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy clench his hands at his side, his frame taut. At the time Elizabeth could scarcely guess what Wickham had done and was troubled to have Wickham’s sanity defended. While Wickham had appeared at ease with his retelling of events, Darcy’s visceral reactions held far more weight than all of Wickham’s pleasant smiles ever could. She fell silent and was surprised when Darcy finally spoke again.

“I am pleased you broached this topic, Miss Bennet,” he turned his attention from the distance to her face. “Often times, in the last several months I had considered returning to the neighbourhood as I know what Wickham is.”

The earnestness in his features pressed Elizabeth to confess more of what she heard. It was far too embarrassing to admit it all. “I fear he has plans to elope with my sister, Lydia.”

Darcy stiffened, and his face took a grim look. “How do you come to such a conclusion?”

“I overheard him speaking with other men.” Elizabeth could not meet Darcy’s eyes as she blushed, recalling what else Wickham had said. Surely the part about Darcy admiring her was false. Nor would she ever plot to ensnare him.

“What has been done to stop the plans? I assume your father has taken measures.”

“I never told him,” she said and twisted her hands. “I heard it the day before leaving for Kent. I had not thought there much truth in his words or that Lydia would agree to such a scheme.”

Darcy jerkily nodded. “I regret to tell you, last summer he made plans to elope with a young lady far more sedate than your sister. It was interrupted by the merest chance.”

Elizabeth knew he had been kind in his description of Lydia but blushed all the same.

Darcy stood and began pacing, “I need to speak with my cousin, the Colonel. Do I have your leave to explain what you heard?  You may be assured of his secrecy.”

“Yes, of course. I am sorry to have to involve you, and now your cousin, especially considering Wickham’s history of abuse towards your family.”

“I am honoured to be of service. Now, I must quickly depart to speak with my cousin. Is it possible to meet with you again tomorrow, to acquaint you with any plans or news?”

“Yes, sir, I thank you. I am usually walking by eight. I will write my father as well.”

They walked back to the Parsonage gate in silence. Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and said, “Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Darcy. Until tomorrow.”  Then with one long parting glance, he was gone.

When Elizabeth returned to the Parsonage, she was besieged by Charlotte. She twisted her hands as she met Elizabeth in the entry.

“My dear Charlotte, whatever is the matter?”

“Colonel Fitzwilliam called. He seemed to wish to see you and waited nearly an hour before leaving.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brows. “I cannot understand why he would wait so long. We have only just met.”

“Hence my disconcertion.” Charlotte looked over her shoulder. When she spoke again, she whispered. “Mr. Collins is very upset that the Colonel would ask after you so minutely after just making your acquaintance. He has determined something untoward on your part must be happening.”

“Untoward!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Hush!” Charlotte said in a harsh whisper.

“You cannot seriously believe I have done something improper,” Elizabeth spoke through clenched teeth. “Additionally, why does your husband not blame the Colonel? He witnessed our single encounter.”

“Beware, Eliza. Ladies always catch the blame for such entanglements.” Charlotte wet her lips and lowered her eyes. “Normally, I would not hesitate to promote a match with either of her ladyship’s nephews, but everything must be done properly.”

Elizabeth huffed. “There is nothing to this imagined impropriety! I was not even present. If I had designs on him, would I not take care to stay at home for his possible visit?”

Charlotte nodded. “Very good. That may make some sense to my husband.”

“I am certain the Colonel is only bored at Rosings. Would it not be worse if he appeared overly friendly with a married lady or Maria?”

“True.”

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “Is what angers Mr. Collins that Colonel Fitzwilliam preferred waiting for my presence rather than enjoying his company?”

“Please,” Charlotte said and held her hands up to stave off Elizabeth’s verbal assault. “You do not understand how his duties weigh on him.”

“Such an abominable mixture of insecurity and conceit!” Elizabeth muttered. Were there any gentlemen who did not contain a combination of the two?

The door to Mr. Collins’ library swung open, and he spoke without looking up from the book he held. “Mrs. Collins!”

“Yes, dear?” Charlotte’s voice was sweeter than Elizabeth had ever heard, and she tried not to gag at the facade of this marriage.

Mr. Collins looked up, startled to hear his wife so near. His eyes narrowed on Elizabeth’s and, if she had ever been afraid of looks before, she might fear he meant her harm. “Ah, Miss Bennet.”

It seemed all the friendly “Cousin Elizabeths” were over. She did not mourn their loss. “Good morrow, Sir,” she said with a false smile.

The look of displeasure on his face heightened. “In my home, you will take care to quell your Jezebel arts.”

Elizabeth gasped at the insult. Heat slapped her face and her heart hammered in her chest. Anger surged through her veins. She opened her mouth to verbally slay him when Charlotte placed a hand on her arm. Elizabeth clamped her jaw so tightly she winced at the pain.

“Please, sir. You have witnessed her good manners and know her Christian heart.” Charlotte left Elizabeth’s side and came to her husband. She turned a smile on Elizabeth as though it would alleviate the torture of this scene. “Do you not believe education and prayer can reform? It was most inspiring in your latest sermon.”

Mr. Collins sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Very true, my dear. As always you are a balm to my soul.” He looked at her with adoration and Elizabeth thought she would cast up her accounts on the polished wood floor.

He bowed his head in Elizabeth’s direction. “You will permit me the liberty of my ill-temper, I am sure.”

Was that his attempt at an apology?

“Mrs. Collins has reminded me that there are several works I would have you read while you are here.” Charlotte dutifully entered the study to retrieve the pile of books. Mr. Collins continued speaking. “You will find these most informative, I am sure. As you read them, I would charge you with reflecting on how you can mould your character as Mrs. Collins has done. You have every advantage before you with education, acquaintance, and age. I am determined you will do nothing to sully the Collins name.”

Elizabeth remained standing still with her jaw locked tight. Charlotte approached with an apologetic look but held several tomes out for Elizabeth to take. If they expected her to thank them or appear contrite, they could not be more mistaken. They stood before her, Mr. Collins seeming to think that a stern look would propel her to say something and Charlotte twisted her hands in non-verbal apology.

A sound on the road drew their notice. “Oh! It is Miss de Bourgh!” Mr. Collins exclaimed. As he walked to the door, he said, “I would charge you Miss Bennet with following Miss de Bourgh’s example in all things. You cannot meet with a more virtuous lady.”

Mr. Collins opened the door and immediately began his awkward bowing while quickly shuffling down the walk. Charlotte followed sedately behind. Maria entered the hallway. “Eliza, I did not hear you return. Are you well?”

Elizabeth made no response and Maria’s eyes were drawn to the road, and she also left to pay homage to the heiress of Rosings. Elizabeth’s fingers curled tightly around the conduct books. Finally releasing her locked jaw, she walked up the stairs to her room on wooden legs.

*****

Darcy smiled as he took the steps to Rosings two at a time. Despite the discussion about Wickham, he was pleased to see Elizabeth and that she had trusted him with the truth. He sensed that such disclosures did not come easily to her. He only regretted that she did not allow him to see to matters entirely. As a guardian, however, he recognised that it was only natural for a lady to defer to her father. Until such a time that she would place all her trust in her husband. Darcy’s smile grew.

“What has you grinning?” Richard asked. He stood leaning against the wall in the entry as though he awaited Darcy’s arrival. “The charming Miss Bennet?”

“I do not know what you mean,” Darcy said.

“Well, she was not at the Parsonage when I called.”

Darcy shrugged his shoulders. “The lady enjoys walking. Can you blame her?”

“No,” Richard shook his head. “But that Collins barely gave me a minute’s peace to talk with the ladies the hour I was there.”

“An hour!” Darcy’s eyebrows rose.

“You should thank me,” Richard shrugged.

Darcy tilted his head toward the stairs and began climbing them. Richard followed suit. Once safely in his chamber, he turned and scrutinised his cousin. “Why should I thank you for torturing yourself with Collins’ endless praise?”

“If you did not think there was merit to my claim, and would very much like your actions to remain private, why did you assure our privacy?” Richard stared back.

Darcy shook his head. It was useless attempting to ferret information out of his cousin, nor conceal it. The man had been trained in interrogation. “I thank you for staying at the Collinses for an hour because…” He waved his hand for Richard to continue.

“Because now no one will suspect your interest in Miss Bennet.”

Darcy’s spine stiffened, and his senses heightened. “What did you do?”

“Cool your porridge. I only asked after her whereabouts and a few other questions although she was not present. Enough to make it seem I was the one interested in her.”

“Richard!” Darcy clenched his hands but kept them at his sides.

“What?” His cousin said and walked to a chair. He settled himself in it and crossed his legs. “What have I done to offend the high and mighty Master of Pemberley, now?”

Darcy stalked over to the other chair. “It creates quite a conflict for her to appear to have engaged your affections while here.”

Richard blinked confusedly. “Engaged my affections?” He knit his brows. “Creates a conflict of interest how? Like the other mistresses of Richmond — I do recommend Richmond by the way — will have a care. My actions assured Lady Catherine would no reason to assume you meant to bed the chit.”

Darcy shot out of his chair, and it took all of his control to not pummel his cousin. His face burned as blood churned through his body and Richard’s shocked expression told Darcy he must have looked a terror.

“You are my cousin and one of my closest friends, but if you ever dare to insult the woman I intend to marry again, I will tear you apart from limb to limb,” Darcy growled.

“Marry!” Richard stood as well. “Marry! When you could have any lady. Daughters of dukes vie for you, vast fortunes. You could be master of this very estate!” He stretched an arm around as though Darcy had never before seen the expensive tapestries and furnishings.

“It means nothing,” Darcy said allowing some of his previous anger to dissipate.

“Nothing!” Richard echoed as though he did not understand the word. “Only a man who lived in luxury his whole life could think of giving it up so easily.”

“I won’t be giving anything up. I’ll not lose Pemberley simply because I wed a lady with no connections.”

“And her dowry?”

“She likely brings nothing to the marriage, but I have no worries,” Darcy said firmly.

“I am glad to hear you do so well,” Richard said. “You have thought of Georgiana?”

“Elizabeth will be a sterling model of behaviour for Georgie. She needs more confidence and liveliness, and an understanding sister.” A soft smile pulled at Darcy’s lips as he considered the two ladies together. “She has younger sisters and is very close to them.”

“Yes, about her family,” Richard resumed his seat and toyed with a cuff link, but Darcy was not put off by his cousin’s nonchalance. He was probing. Whether it was for their aunt or the Earl or merely his own prejudices, Darcy was unsure, but Richard had set himself up as a defender of Darcy’s name.

“I am not duped by her charms,” Darcy said, at last, frowning.

“Multiple as they may be,” Richard winked. “You hedge on her family which means they must be objectionable. Society will not be kind to her. At least she is not born on the wrong side of the blanket or had a history of employment.”

Darcy scowled again at the hint of Elizabeth and prostitution, as Richard’s reference to employment was a euphemism for. “The Bennet family want sense and connections. Her mother came from trade, but her father is a gentleman. Remember you speak of a lady!”

“I promise,” Richard held up his hands, and Darcy felt his pulse rate lower. “You may not like it, but my interrogation is far kinder than you will receive from any of our relatives and Society as a whole.”

“Who would reproach her? The biddies at Almacks. It’s well-known the Countess of Jersey’s mother was in trade. Indeed, the Countess owns the majority of Child’s Bank! Elizabeth will have Darcy wealth behind her, no one will dare breathe a word against us.” Unlike Richard, Darcy remained standing. He fought the urge to pace.

“They will not take kindly to a fortune hunter,” Richard said after several minutes of silence.

Darcy guffawed. “A fortune hunter! Everyone in the ton is fortune hunting! Have I not had every silly nitwit debutante flung upon me for nigh on a decade now, simply because I am wealthy? They could care less about my character or expect me to care about theirs.”

Now, Darcy did pace. “I am told that such and such lady can dance or speak French with ease. I am forced to feign admiration at lame attempts at art. And not for the family gallery mind you, or for general appreciation. Oh, no. They are merely for firescreens or embroidered samplers that, if lucky, will hang on a wall instead of being soiled by a December nose!”

Darcy flung himself in his chair, his pique over. His chest heaved, and he loosened his cravat to take deep breaths. His display was hardly gentlemanly, and nothing like the calm and collected man he was known to be, but Elizabeth had always stirred passions in him.

“Fortune hunter!” Darcy exclaimed again. “Let them see us. They will know we married for affection.”

Richard stared at Darcy in silence for several minutes. “Affection? Disdain for Society’s values? To hear you speak now, I would hardly know you.”

Darcy shook his head and leant forward, placing his elbows on his knees. Cradling his jaw in his palms, he stared unseeing at the ostentatious wallpaper across the room framing a portrait of some long ago distant relative. “I love her.”

The firmness of the words shocked even Darcy. For the first time he ever spoke them aloud, he had not expected to sound so assured or proud. He had expected to feel humiliated with being ruled by his emotions, but not everything about Elizabeth utterly defied logic. She was not a servant or courtesan. Their marriage would be unlikely, but not unheard of.

“You. Love. Her.” Richard enunciated each word. “You love her? And you think, what? That love will erase all of Society’s arguments against you? That love is all you need?”

No, it was not the only tool they needed. Darcy was no fool. He would require support from Lady Darcy, and Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam if they would extend it. Beyond his family, Darcy was not without friends with money and influence. He could not be accused of having been the most friendly man in his eight and twenty years, but most overlooked his gruffness to stay in his good graces. “What would you have me do?”

“Bed her, do not wed her.”

“How poetic,” Darcy glared. “Something one of your opera light-skirts taught you?”

Richard laughed. “You asked what I would do, not what should be done. Well, despite my raking you over the coals just now, I will support you – whatever little help the second son of an earl will be.”

Darcy leant back, feeling as though a weight left his shoulders. He rested his head on the back of the chair. “Only tell me you will not insinuate anymore that you wish to debauch her.”

“Well, if you think she should have a proper education before coming to your bed…”

“Richard,” Darcy growled. Although he knew his cousin jested, he did not care for associating Elizabeth with such imagery.

“I do enjoy riling you,” Richard said. “If Pemberley does ever go under you have the gumption of many a serjeant I know.”

They shared a smile for a moment before Darcy’s fell. “I do need your assistance.”

Richard nodded, and Darcy told him of his conversation with Elizabeth.

“She is fortunate he did not know she was there!” Richard exclaimed when Darcy had finished. “Do you think Mr. Bennet will be of any use?”

Darcy stroke his jaw in thought. “I should think better of the man I hope to make my father-in-law, but I do not believe he will take Elizabeth’s letter seriously — if he reads it all, which even she admitted was a possibility. My own father had refused to see the truth of Wickham’s character.”

“Uncle Darcy also had known Wickham from an infant and had no daughters’ virtue to protect.”

“No, but I did,” Darcy said. The familiar self-hatred whipped at his heart lashing open old and new wounds. No more, he told himself. I met Elizabeth after the pain. The experience has a purpose now.

Richard did not offer absolution and Darcy did not seek it. They had argued years before about Darcy keeping Wickham’s behaviour a secret from Georgiana, and now both knew which man had been right. It was not a mistake Darcy would allow to happen again.

“Last autumn, you offered to use your connections to transfer Wickham. I would ask that you now do so,” Darcy said.

Richard nodded in agreement. “It will take a few weeks. Do you believe you have the time?”

“Elizabeth writing to her father is not the only idea I have, but we must tread carefully. You can hardly expect a family to thank you for interfering in their affairs.”

“Will they not soon be your family as well?” Richard asked.

“Elizabeth and I have no understanding, at present, and I think it unlikely that we can reach one while at Rosings. Our aunt…”

“Yes,” Richard frowned. “And with me away, she will desire you at the house even more than usual.”

“Indeed.” Darcy tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair, wishing the days would speed by. A few stolen moments with Elizabeth each morning was not nearly enough while other lovers were able to enjoy entire days with their beloveds. However, Richard had spoken the truth earlier, and this would not be their last trial. He wisely kept complaints to himself, allowing that one word to represent all that surged in the sea of emotion residing in his heart.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Six

 

mr. darcy's bluestocking brideDearest C,

Do not give up on finding love but know that there is a season to all things. Your sad misadventure was caused by allowing your emotions to rule you. If you do not wish to wed yet and cannot abide the society of London, then come to Bath with us.

Your aunt,

A.F.

Chapter Six

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy tapped his fingers on his legs as the carriage rolled slowly closer to his aunt’s estate in Kent. Usually, he dreaded the yearly visit. His mother had been devoted to her younger sister, and so Darcy always did his duty and attended, but it was increasingly annoying. Lady Catherine’s hints of an expectation that he marry her daughter grew bolder with each visit. Anne seemed indifferent to the idea, but Darcy knew he would never offer for her. His parents married late in life, and he had never felt much rush to enter into such a permanent union. At seven and twenty, he was just beginning to think of the usefulness of matrimony before Lady Darcy started pushing for him to find a bride.

It began last summer as he sent his sister to Ramsgate with her newly hired companion. Georgiana was more a daughter to him than a sister and, if he had had a wife, perhaps everything would have been different. He had gone to enjoy a friend’s summer house party, whilst Georgiana longed for the seacoast. His instinct was to go with her, but his friends assured him a young lady of Georgiana’s age did not want a much older brother coddling her or playing nursemaid. Against his better judgment, he went to the country but was among the first to leave. In addition to wishing to visit Georgiana, he could no longer tolerate the none too subtle attempts at matchmaking at the party.

Upon arriving at Ramsgate, his sister soon confessed she hoped to soon wed. Her love had convinced her of an elopement, but she hoped Darcy would give his blessing and not make the secrecy necessary. To his horror, Darcy learned his sister had fallen in love with an accomplished rogue: his former childhood friend, George Wickham. Refusing his consent, he was unsurprised to then learn that Wickham had known of Darcy’s arrival and immediately fled the area. He did not fight for his hopes of marrying Georgiana, proving his attachment was purely for her vast fortune and as a means for revenge on Darcy by ruining the family name.

In the weeks that followed, Georgiana grew despondent. When Darcy’s closest friend, Charles Bingley, rented an estate in Hertfordshire, Georgiana insisted that Darcy go with him. Seeing Darcy every day heightened her feelings of guilt. Part of Darcy’s eager return to London at the end of November was to see to his sister’s welfare. At Christmas, Lady Darcy made a rare trip to London. Shocked by Georgiana’s obvious feelings of self-loathing, she took both Darcy siblings under her wing. Due to her attention and instruction, Georgiana vastly improved.

What brought unease to Darcy’s mind now, however, was knowing he would meet with Elizabeth Bennet again. He had last seen her, very unexpectedly, three weeks ago. She had asked him about Wickham, and he had been unable, again, to tell her the whole truth. More than that, he realised his error in leaving her and Meryton in ignorance of Wickham’s true character. It was a fault he was prone to make, to assume he knew the best. Yet, he saw the worry in her eyes when she asked for information on the scoundrel. He sensed her reluctance to trust him, and he knew the price that his silence and encouraging his sister’s innocence, nay ignorance, nearly cost them.

Pulling him from his thoughts, his travelling companion spoke. “Darcy, will you stop that infernal tapping?”

Darcy smiled at his cousin, Richard. “You certainly are grumpy this morning!”

“Have I not a right to be so when I know our destination?”

“You have faced worst foes on the battlefield, I am sure.”

“Spoken like a politician! You would have me go back and fight over the same piece of land again and again! Or would you order me to infiltrate and begin a coup from within?”

“The idea does have merit,” Darcy replied, thinking that if only their cousin Anne were encouraged to take a stand for herself, Rosings would be more bearable.

“That did not work well for me at Corunna,” Richard patted his knee. He had first been wounded in ‘09 and again mere weeks ago in the Battle of Ciudad Rodrigo. He was sent home to heal after a bayonet wound but otherwise was considered capable of following the flag still.

“I apologise. I did not mean to bring up painful memories. Is there talk of sending you back?”

“The Regiment is ever at the ready. Are you? Lady Catherine will be more desperate than ever for you to marry Anne.”

“She is not the only one I must worry about,” Darcy drawled. “Lady Darcy is also intent on my finding a wife.”

“Yes, if the papers are to be believed, you have danced every set at every one of the ton’s crushes for the last fortnight!” Richard leant forward and cast a worried gaze over his cousin. “Are you ill? Inheriting the barony has addled your mind?”

“I am as well as ever,” Darcy said in as even a tone as he could manage. The truth was, he did feel as though he might become a bit unhinged due to the stress.

“And what is with all your dancing with bluestockings? It gives you an aura of unattainability which drives the debutantes and their mama’s wild with jealousy.”

Darcy quirked a brow. “And you ask out of concern… or envy?”

“Well,” Richard said as he leant back and crossed an ankle over his knee, “you must leave some ladies for the rest of us.”

“The sorts of ladies you enjoy are not the kind I have ever associated with, and certainly could never be accused of being bluestockings.”

“True,” Richard said, then waggled his eyebrows, “but they do not need to know that. A harmless flirtation in a ballroom never harmed anyone.”

“You should be more sympathetic. After I marry, you will have an aunt and a mother honing all their scheming on you.”

“On second thoughts, a new deployment sounds far more bearable.” A shudder racked his body, and Darcy laughed at the theatrics. “They do say, however, that besides the bluestockings, one lady has captured your attention.”

“I could hardly care less what the papers report,” Darcy said and flicked his gaze through the window. Did the journey seem to take longer than usual this year?

“You should. She’s a schemer, and you could find yourself leg-shackled if you’re not careful.”

Darcy racked his mind to think of who Richard referenced. “I have never danced with any lady more than once.”

“True, but you have danced with Miss Caroline Bingley nearly every night.”

“She is Bingley’s sister,” Darcy said defensively.

“And so it is all the more natural for others to assume a match will be made.”

“Never,” Darcy said.

“It is also stated that you do not shun her company as you once did.”

“Jealous hellcats, the lot of them,” Darcy waved off Richard’s concern.

However, his accusations did ring true. Caroline did not irk as she usually did. She no longer was eager to demean others or boast of her accomplishments. She spoke of current affairs. When she called on Georgiana, she encouraged the younger girl to compose her own masterpieces. She could never be more to him than his friend’s sister, but the primary drawback to Georgiana marrying Bingley had been his sister. Now, it appeared Georgiana would gain an affectionate one. A smile crept across his face as he also considered Elizabeth. Yes, Georgiana would soon gain a loving sister.

“Egads, what is that ridiculous face for? You look like a green boy lusting after his first milkmaid!” Richard contorted his face, in what Darcy hoped was an utter exaggeration, and laughed.

“Keep your foul words to yourself,” Darcy warned, “or Lady Catherine will rack you with her cane.”

Richard sobered immediately. “You never answered my question about how to get out of marrying Anne this time.”

Darcy grinned. “I would never reveal my tactics.”

“And that moony look just now was not for Caroline Bingley?”

“Certainly not!” Darcy said and blew out a breath as they passed the parsonage.

“Look at that little man!” Richard exclaimed. “I did not think a man as round as he could bow so low!”

Darcy chuckled. “Mr. Collins, our aunt’s new rector. I met him in Hertfordshire when I stayed with Bingley.”

“Oh, that is right. I forgot you remained in the same house as the harpy. And yet there is nothing to the rumours?”

“Nothing at all. If you must know, I remain friendly with his sister because I am worried about the man. I had to separate him from a most imprudent match last year.” An imprudent match he now intended to enter into. Well, not entirely the same. Elizabeth could never conceal her affections or be as cold as Jane Bennet had been.

“Indeed!” Richard said as they pulled to a stop before Rosings.

The door swung open, and the gentlemen descended. “Sirs, Lady Catherine awaits you in the blue drawing room,” the butler said upon their entry.

“Certainly, as soon as we have changed,” Darcy said and stepped toward the massive staircase.

“She desires to see you as soon as you arrive. A matter of urgency, she said.”

The butler’s face remained impassive, and so Darcy could not determine if there was any truth to her claims. Ordinarily, she loathed their coming fresh from the carriage into her receiving rooms. Darcy glanced at Richard, who shrugged.

“Very well,” he said, and the butler led the way although Darcy could find the location blindfolded.

“Darcy!” Lady Catherine commanded and pounded her cane on the floor. Beside him, Richard audibly gulped. “I understand that you already know the residents of my parsonage.”

“Yes, my lady. I met Mr. Collins last autumn.”

“And so you have also met his wife.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His eyes flitted to Anne to see if she held any clues to the unexpected summons and questioning. She quickly averted her eyes.

“And in a cruel twist of fate, you even know the guests. This Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas.”

“I have had the honour,” Darcy said, feeling his mouth go dry. Did she perceive any hint of his regard? Had word somehow reached him of his behaviour in Hertfordshire? He had not considered how to court Elizabeth with his aunt knowing and, undoubtedly, disapproving.

“Well!” She said and stomped her cane again. “I am seriously displeased!”

“I do apologise, Aunt. If I had known they would now be here, I certainly would have taken care in making their acquaintance months ago.”

Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed at Darcy. “And you do not think they follow you here by design? The impertinent one mentioned something about seeing you in London a few weeks ago.”

Darcy fought a smile at his aunt’s description of Elizabeth. “We did meet, by chance, in Town some weeks ago. There, Sir William Lucas explained he was soon to visit his daughter and brought Miss Elizabeth Bennet and his younger daughter with him. Miss Bennet is close friends with Mrs. Collins, I understand.”

“And they could not know you visited every Easter? You must be mindful of your position in life! Ladies will seek to trap you. If you only did your duty—”

“Mama,” Anne interrupted. “If Miss Bennet had known Darcy always visited here and hoped to ensnare him then surely she could have visited Mr. Collins when he asked. Or she could have supported him marrying a sister. Then she would be welcomed far more than by only a friend. Do not forget she sacrificed the security of her family in refusing her father’s heir.”

“Yes! Exactly! She might have thought she should wait and hope for a better offer.”

“Is it not more reasonable to consider that she does not care about such material advantages?” Anne said and sent an apologetic glance at Darcy.

Richard laughed from behind him. “I prefer Anne’s way of thinking, Aunt. Darcy might offer a grand estate and money, but he’s a sour, unpleasant fellow. Is he really such a catch?”

Lady Catherine began to sputter, but Darcy interrupted. “Besides all this, you insult my honour by saying I would fall prey to a woman’s arts. Nor can I condemn enough the accusations you lay at Miss Bennet’s door. A lady who, I believe, you have invited into your home. If you had thought she was of ill-repute, you never should have brought her near Anne.”

Lady Catherine’s eyes widened, and her mouth snapped shut. Yes, bringing up her affection for Anne was always sure to bring her to reason. “I cannot believe you are standing on my new carpet covered head to toe in dust! Both of you are dismissed!”

Darcy and Richard departed as quickly as possible without earning another admonishment from their aunt. Richard clapped a hand on Darcy’s shoulder as they took the stairs side by side. “This Miss Bennet sounds like just the sort of lady I enjoy, and for far more than a harmless flirtation.”

Red clouded Darcy’s vision and the next thing he knew, Richard was laying on the bottom of the floor cursing at having tripped over three or four steps. Darcy carried on to his room. He had never before wished Richard absent on these visits. Far too many times his cousin was abroad in battle at this time of year. Today, he suddenly hated Richard’s presence. Not that he had expected any different, but between Lady Catherine’s suspicions and Richard’s teasing, Darcy knew he would have to keep his courtship with Elizabeth secret.

 

*****

 

The day of Mr. Darcy’s arrival, Mr. Collins watched for their carriage from his room. At the earliest hour for calling the following morning, he walked to Rosings to pay tribute. Charlotte had gone to the dining-parlour under the guise of returning something of Mr. Collins, but rather an ill-disguised attempt of watching for his return. Maria blushed assuming her sister missed her husband, but Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Charlotte had adjusted to life here far too easily. She now lived for news on neighbours, and their visitors and plans on how to impress them were of utmost importance.

A few minutes later, Charlotte rushed into the drawing room white as a ghost. “Oh, make haste! Maria help me clear this work.” She scrambled from the door to the table where pieces of fabric and thread were strewn about.

“What has happened?” Elizabeth asked as she put aside her needlework.

“Mr. Darcy has followed Mr. Collins down here!”

“Mr. Darcy to call on the Parsonage?” Elizabeth dropped the sampler she held.

“Yes,” Charlotte said as she tucked a wisp of hair under her cap. “And I may thank you for this civility, Eliza. Mr. Darcy never would have called on us.”

Tossing a pile of loose thread to Maria, who shoved it in a basket and slid it under a table, Elizabeth huffed. “Of course, he would call eventually. A gentleman always does his duty.”

Did she just defend Mr. Darcy? Fortunately, the sound of the front door made all other conversation impossible. Colonel Fitzwilliam led the way. He was about thirty, not handsome, but tall and well-built. The smile on his face showed his gentlemanly breeding, and his open manners lent more force to the term. Darcy entered looking as uncomfortable as Elizabeth was used to him looking in Hertfordshire. He sat when asked and glanced around the room. At first, she supposed he would not say anything, but he gave Charlotte a compliment on her marriage and home. Elizabeth scrutinised all without speaking. Observing was a much better use of her time.

Colonel Fitzwilliam entered conversation easily. Against Elizabeth’s hopes that Mr. Collins would be rendered silent by the extreme compliment that both of her ladyship’s nephews paid his humble abode, the parson spoke at length. Contrary to Darcy’s general affronted demeanour, Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed to view the scene with amusement.

“How do you like Kent, Miss Bennet?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.

“I like it very much. Rosings has some of the most beautiful grounds I have ever seen.”

“Allow me to correct you, Cousin Elizabeth,” Mr. Collins interjected. “I flatter myself that I have seen far more country houses and estates than you have. Rosings is the picture of beauty. I would not change one blade of grass.”

“My aunt’s gardeners would send their thanks for your praise,” the Colonel said. “Do I take it that you have walked beyond the gardens, then?” He addressed Elizabeth again.

“Indeed. I much prefer a wooded grove for daily exercise.”

The colonel nodded. “My cousin entirely agrees with you. He takes a morning walk every time we are here, even if it threatens to rain.” The colonel gave Elizabeth a knowing look, and she quelled the urge to laugh. Yes, she could well understand the need to be away from Rosings. He went on to describe Darcy’s preferred path, one Elizabeth had enjoyed as well. “As an officer in His Majesty’s Army, I much prefer riding.”

“I think riding far nobler,” Mr. Collins said. “I had always wished to learn. There is something undignified about walking. Not that I would ever mean you are undignified, Mr. Darcy.” Collins bowed to the man who made no remark.

Insensible to Darcy’s insult, Collins again turned his attention to the Colonel.

“My aunt has said you can always judge a clergyman by how he cares for his land,” the Colonel said.

“Indeed?” Mr. Collins nearly panted in excitement. “I would be pleased to show you the garden and orchard. Her ladyship often compliments it. Although, I owe her suggestions have always proved the most useful. What a green thumb she has! So accomplished in gardening and not above knowing the botany of several species.”

Elizabeth little believed her ladyship did know botany. After all, in Elizabeth’s experience thus far, her ladyship claimed expertise on everything and yet did nothing. Her musings were interrupted by Mr. Darcy, and she was unable to hear the Colonel’s reply.

“I hope your family is in good health, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said to her.

“They are, thank you. And the Bingleys?”

“They were very well the last I saw them,” he answered with less surety than Elizabeth was accustomed to.

“Darcy has become the belle of the ball!” Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed.

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “I do not think I understand the Colonel’s joke.”

Mr. Collins nearly trembled with excitement. He pressed a hand to his mouth as though he needed it to keep words from flying out.

Darcy stiffened. “My cousin delights in tormenting me. I had supposed everyone had heard. Recently, the courts have determined I will inherit my aunt’s barony.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth said. Why was she disappointed?

Mr. Collins bounded to Darcy’s side. “Her ladyship told me some time ago and swore me to secrecy. I must admit I am surprised they allow your aunt, however honourable I am sure she is, to hold the title when there is a gentleman who is the heir.”

Elizabeth steeled her jaw from correcting her cousin’s misogynistic opinions, and even Charlotte blushed.

“As it is,” Darcy answered coldly, “I do not inherit until my aunt’s passing from this world and, as such, I am in no hurry.”

“Oh, I quite understand,” Collins continued without understanding the rebuff he was given. “As I will inherit Mr. Bennet’s estate upon his death, and I have assured my dear cousin Elizabeth several times, I am in no hurry for such an unlikeable event.”

Mr. Collins then turned to Colonel Fitzwilliam, as he did not know the Bennets or Longbourn, to explain to him his relation to Elizabeth’s father and details of the estate. Mr. Darcy approached the table near Elizabeth and looked through the newspapers. Was he going to read rather than talk?

“I am sorry I could not answer your question better,” he said quietly enough that only she could hear. “I have not seen Bingley in nearly a week despite us going to the same functions. I have no reason to think he is unwell. Miss Bingley assuredly would have told me.”

“Miss Bingley? You have seen her but not her brother?” Elizabeth did not mean to ask so candidly. Rather than this offending the man who would one day be a peer, he smiled.

“When frequenting Society’s events, it is helpful to have a friend to ease the way. London has been full of gossip about my future, and plans I might have.”

As in marriage. So, they imagined he was hunting about the ballrooms for a wife. And Caroline Bingley just happened to be at each event to soothe poor Mr. Darcy’s ruffled feathers from having to mix with so many people eager to flatter and know him? Elizabeth would give Caroline credit for persistence and intelligence. Few would undertake such a task, especially when he would know combining his fortune and estate with Rosings would give him more power and influence in the world of politics.

“You sound as though you have been very busy. I am sure you have not seen my sister or other relatives then,” she said and was pleased when he looked a little ashamed.

“I do regret that I have not had the pleasure of their company since our time at my aunt’s. I have often thought of our conversation there.” He paused and scrutinised her face. Did she imagine the look of anxiety? “I assume since no one contacted my aunt there has been no need to worry?”

Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. “I have heard no new developments, but I do find myself curious about the information you offered to share with my uncle. If you do not mind the impertinence of my asking.” She added a saucy smile.

Darcy stared at her a long time, his blue eyes seemingly transfixed. Her smile began to slip. He owed her no explanations.

“Darcy!” Colonel Fitzwilliam said, drawing the attention of both. “We have importuned on the Collinses, and their beautiful guests,” he winked, “long enough. Lady Catherine will desire us back.”

“Certainly,” Darcy said in his usual aloofness.

“It is no imposition at all,” Collins gushed. “To entertain my patroness’ nephews, and one to become a baron!”

Elizabeth sighed. Had she thought the addition of Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would somehow make her stay more enjoyable?

“Good day,” Darcy said and bowed to Elizabeth before offering his compliments again to Charlotte. In a few moments, despite Collins’ protestations, the gentlemen departed.

Mr. Collins was in such a state afterwards that Charlotte suggested he see to the garden to expel energy. “Quite right, my dearest. The colonel may wish to view it on his next visit.” He then scurried away to be about his task.

Charlotte sat with Maria and Elizabeth with a satisfied smile on her face. “You say the compliment was not for you, Eliza,” Charlotte said as she pulled a needle through her sampler, “and yet do no think I did not see how Mr. Darcy spoke nearly exclusively to you.”

“We merely spoke of acquaintances,” Elizabeth shrugged. “Recall that I had met his aunt and sister.”

“The Baroness!” Maria exclaimed. “But she is nothing to Lady Catherine. I wonder at a woman of superior rank, like Lady Darcy, being so friendly with the lower classes.”

Elizabeth looked out the window, longing for solitude with her thoughts and sketch book. The Lucases had strange opinions on the matter of rank. Well, truthfully, most would say the Bennets had an irreverent attitude toward them while the Lucases merely upheld traditional values.

The day wore on as it usually did. Elizabeth supposed she would need to speak with Charlotte soon about visiting Rosings. Miss de Bourgh was correct. She had read all the books she cared to at the Parsonage. She could not be out of doors the entire day. And if facing Lady Catherine and her daughter’s scrutiny would afford her a break from the tedium of life and worry of her sisters, she would welcome it.

As day slipped to evening, Elizabeth considered her continued concern over Wickham’s words. It was unlike Elizabeth to not laugh matters away. Additionally, it was unlike her to not long for more information. As a general rule, she enjoyed learning, and she had already listened to Wickham on the matter. Why did she continually deter Darcy from sharing his version of events? Gathering her courage, she determined to face her fears and doubts head on. She would find a way to speak to Darcy privately as he walked in the morning.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Five

mdbb

Previous chapters:

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four

Dear C—

As you have wallowed in self-pity for months, I have none left to offer you. I have not said you shamed the family name with your folly, but your inability to rise above matters does. You are not to be indulged any longer. A new companion shall be hired forthwith, and I recall you to London.

Your weary aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Five

 

“Good day, Darcy!” Bingley ambled into Darcy House with his usual fixed smile. “Ah, Miss Darcy,” he said and bowed over her hand. “You look lovelier every time I have the honour of seeing you.”

“Thank you,” she murmured and blushed bright red. “If you will excuse me.” After a hasty curtsy, she fled the room.

Although thankful for his arrival, Darcy cocked his head as he attempted to make sense of the scene he had just witnessed. Bingley had never been so direct with Georgiana before. Was she simply embarrassed or did she dislike his attention?

“This is the first time in a fortnight I have caught you at home,” Bingley said as he sat in the chair opposite.

Darcy poured Bingley a drink then retook his seat. “You have no idea,” he groaned. “I am hounded everywhere. I heard one debutante say I have been determined the catch of the Season. I cannot think why as I have not yet inherited the title and a barony is hardly worth such fervour.”

Bingley guffawed. “The Darcys are richer than many peers, and you’re far more handsome and younger than many of the doddering dukes who have been sowing wild oats for forty or more years. You can hardly blame a lady for rather snatching you than an arthritic duke intent on finally getting around to having legal heirs.” Bingley shuddered. “You would not wish it for your sister.”

“No,” Darcy agreed. “What brings you ‘round. You might have dropped a note even if I had not the time to return your calls.”

“An invitation,” he said, “to dine with us tonight.”

“Unfortunately, I am engaged this evening. I plan to attend the Duchess of Portland’s ball.”

“Yes, we are invited as well. You may dine with us, and then we can attend together.”

“Very well,” Darcy said, but inwardly groaned. Dinner at the Hurst townhouse meant three hours of courses and insipid conversation before going to the ball with even more conversation and dancing.”

“Come, it is not as bad as that,” Bingley smiled at Darcy’s pained look.

“She had a list today. Asking me to select from various descendants of the original Bluestocking Society.”

Bingley’s brows shot up. “Indeed! Did she have a favourite?”

Darcy shrugged. “With my Aunt it is hard to tell when she truly favours something and when she only argues for enjoyment.”

“Ah,” Bingley said.

The pair of dark, dancing eyes passed before Darcy’s mind again, and he shoved them aside. “She advocated for Lady Elizabeth Thynne, the daughter of the Marquess of Bath. She’s the great-granddaughter of Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, a notorious Bluestocking.  Aunt also favours Lady Charlotte Leveson-Gower, eldest daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. She is the great-granddaughter of Frances Boscawen.”

“Who was she?”

Darcy sighed. “One of the original Bluestockings. Lady Charlotte is a cousin. Frances was my great aunt Anne’s mother.”

“Right,” Bingley nodded. “The one who married the first Earl.”

Darcy gaped at his friend. Had Bingley been looking up his family line? “No, she married the second Earl.”

“Whichever,” Bingley waved his hand as though family lineages meant nothing to him. “What do you think?” He stared at his wine. “They have rank but what are they worth?”

“I actually care nothing for ranks and dowries,” Darcy shrugged. “I do agree with my aunt about finding a lady of sense with real accomplishments and ability to think, not just ornamental pursuits such as rug making. That, however, is not to be found on her lists and so I must meet with them myself.”

“And it must be a descendant from the first set of Bluestockings?”

“No, of course not,” Darcy said, and the beautiful eyes intruded once more.

“And there’s no one else you have in mind that would already suit you if, as you say, you care nothing for rank and money?” Bingley looked at Darcy expectantly.

“Of course not,” Darcy said. He did not often keep confidences from Bingley, but this was paramount. Just a few months ago Darcy had to expound on all the reasons why a match between Bingley and Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s elder sister was imprudent. He could hardly admit to mooning over Elizabeth for…egads, had it been six months? Six months of infatuation?

“Darcy, did you hear me?” Bingley’s voice sounded as though it came from far away and there was a dull roaring sound in Darcy’s ears. “Darcy! Are you ill?”

Suddenly alert again, Darcy shook his head. “Forgive me. I just recalled a matter I must attend to before leaving this evening.”

“You are certain you are well?” Bingley could not contain his concern.

“The picture of health,” Darcy said. “Dinner will be served six o’clock?”

“As always,” Bingley said and stood.

“Perfect,” Darcy said and stood as well. He hastily walked Bingley toward the door. “I look forward to it. Give my regards to your family,” he said with a nod of his head to serve as a bow.

Hoping to avoid sisters and all visitors who might speak of marriage or remind him of Elizabeth, Darcy retired to his chambers before dressing for dinner. Georgiana would remain at home with her recently hired companion, Mrs. Annesley. She had come highly recommended from Lady Darcy. A widow of only a few years, she had served as a companion to several other ladies before their marriage and could contribute to the sort of education Georgiana lacked: sense and self-knowledge.

At six o’clock, Darcy arrived at Hurst’s townhouse. He joined them as they were discussing the most recent account of battles from the Peninsula Campaign. It was not often that they spoke of current affairs. At least not in his presence and he rather doubted at all. The discussion continued throughout dinner.

“You have a cousin who has served, do you not, Mr. Darcy?” Caroline Bingley said from a chair to his right.

“Yes, but I doubt when he joined he imagined we would be at war for so long,” Darcy said. “He is now a colonel. He is very proud to have earned the rank rather than have bought it.”

Caroline blinked rapidly for a moment, and there was silence at the table. It was as though they did not know the basics of how ranks were attained in the army.

“Well, I suppose it is good that not too many of the lower classes are considered his equals, then,” Caroline said at last. “Like it is in the Militia.”

“The Navy,” Bingley muttered, and Caroline blushed.

“Yes, the Navy, I mean.” She sipped her wine. “I hope you can remain for supper, Mr. Darcy. We have found a book in Hurst’s library which we think you would take a keen interest in.”

In the past, the only time Caroline had seemed interested in a book was when he was already reading one. In fact, she eagerly dismissed Elizabeth Bennet’s interest in them while at Netherfield. This sudden interest further heightened his suspicions at the motives for their unusual behaviour. “I am sorry I cannot. I have promised to go to the Duchess of Portland’s ball.” His head began to pound at the mere thought.

“What Caroline meant was, if you had rather not go we would gladly host you here,” Bingley said.

“You had said you were invited as well,” Darcy said knitting his brows. Why was everyone acting so peculiarly?

Caroline cleared her throat. “I have often said that a ball is an absolutely irrational way to spend one’s evening. Conversation can be more easily had at home.”

Darcy could think of only one time she had ever said such a thing and that was in hopes of convincing her brother to not host a ball at Netherfield. And Bingley had never missed a chance to dance.

“I have promised the Baroness. I would be pleased to view it another time,” he said leaving no room for argument, and conversation soon turned to other topics.

Although they all arrived at the Portlands’ ball, Darcy was soon ferried away by his aunt. After the fifth dance, he sought refreshments. Bingley and his sisters were nearby.

“Darcy! There you are,” Bingley called out. “I have never seen you dance so much in your life.” He grinned.

Grinned! “I believe I always pay the proper civility to every establishment,” he answered neutrally.

“I confess I have been surprised by your partners,” Caroline said.

Darcy braced for her to either gush over his abilities or demean his partners, as was her usual wont.

“I had believed you disliked conversation with strangers,” she finished with a knowing smile.

“I do find it tedious,” he said. Hearing the orchestra strike up again, he held out his hand. “If you are free for this set, Miss Bingley, might I have the pleasure?”

“Indeed, it would be my pleasure,” she smiled at him.

It occurred to Darcy that when she did not try so hard to please, she would make some gentleman — not him — a suitable wife.

“There, now. We may remain silent if you choose,” she said in a gentle but slightly teasing voice.

“I do not mind speaking with you,” he said. “We have no shortage of topics we can discuss.”

Caroline laughed lightly. “Oh, yes. But do you not ever tire of speaking of what Society says we ought? I will remark on the room or the dance. Later, I will observe the couples, and if it is ungenerous, then that is all the better.”

She had rendered Darcy mute. He did not know how to approach a Caroline Bingley who did not belittle her peers. “What would you rather have us say?”

“Do you recall when Elizabeth Bennet suggested my intimacy with you could tell me how to tease you?”

Did Darcy imagine it or did she attempt to add huskiness to her voice with that word? “My memory is never so exact as a woman’s.”

Caroline laughed again. “There is your wicked sense of humour. I have thought of it,” she said and waited until the dance drew them closer again before continuing. “I cannot think of how to tease you that will not pain you.”

“That hints at believing you know of ways that would hurt me,” he said. The inflection in his voice made his statement into a question.

She waved a hand around, gesturing at the room. “We are here. Surely, some find enjoyment in teasing you for discomfort.”

“But you do not?” He waited for the dance to bring them together.

“No,” she said breathily.

He had never before believed Caroline had any genuine affection for him. Then again, never before had he really looked for a wife. Could it be she now felt threatened? Strangely, he felt a shred of compassion for her.

“I would rather speak of your sister,” said she. “Georgiana always brings you happiness.”

Darcy readily agreed, and their conversation turned toward her. At the close of the dance, for the first time in a very long while, Darcy believed he had almost enjoyed his set with Caroline Bingley.

As the night wore on, his patience frayed. It was more than mere exhaustion of insipid conversations with strangers. He disliked going through the motions of what his heart had already decided.

Returning to his office, Darcy snatched up the blasted lists of ladies and crumpled them into a tight ball. Throwing them into the fire, he watched as they burned and turned to ash. He needed no more lists, and he needed no more balls. No lady contained on those pages or in the rooms of London would fit his requirements for a wife. He already knew what he wanted, and it couldn’t be less convenient. He could not determine when he had lost all sight of reason and done the most foolish thing in his life, but it could not alter the fact that Darcy had suddenly recognized he was in love with Elizabeth Bennet.

 

*****

 

Sir William stayed only a week at Hunsford and left suitably impressed with his daughter’s situation. Elizabeth summoned a smidgen of pity for her mother who would hear all the virtues of Hunsford extolled from the family she now viewed as her mortal enemy. Elizabeth smirked as she considered that the rude questions of Lady Catherine and the annoying exultations of Mr. Collins were preferable to the wailings of her mother.

Despite the change in scenery, Elizabeth found the listlessness that had settled over her in December continued. Sir William’s departure did little to alter the routine of the Parsonage. The ladies sat in the smaller drawing-room, away from the lane, which afforded Mr. Collins the dining-parlour where he could keep count of how many carriages passed and when Miss de Bourgh drove by in her phaeton, which was nearly every day. He spent the chief of his time between breakfast and dinner in the garden or in his book room. Additionally, he walked to Rosings almost daily, and Charlotte often went with him.

Lady Catherine called several times and examined every nook and cranny to see if there was anything critical she could say she had overlooked at the previous visit. The maid was deficient, the furniture ought to be rearranged, and even their needlework required improvement. Lady Catherine was the sole authority on any subject a person could think of, and whether she spoke of music or literature, she acted as though she were a great patron. Nor were visiting the cottages of the neighbourhood beneath her. Her ladyship was an ever-present balm to anyone with complaints ranging from disputes to poverty. She would soon remind one of every blessing they had been afforded if not from the Lord, then from her hand. Mr. Collins was her faithful servant and brought to her the minutest concerns.

Twice more they had dined at Rosings, and it was no different than the first time, except there being one less card table. There were few other engagements, but this did not concern Elizabeth. She contented herself with half hour conversations with Charlotte and enjoyed much free time to walk around the grounds, often returning to a worn looking bench off a path some distance from the manicured gardens. The view from the hill allowed her to sketch the buildings she had desired and no one bothered her. Seldom had Elizabeth observed a gardener.

Additionally, Elizabeth poured over letters from Jane, half-dreading any sign of continued melancholy. In her usual manner, Jane attempted cheerfulness, but Elizabeth could only hope Mr. Bingley would never return to Netherfield. To ease her own mind, Elizabeth had also taken care to write her father and Mary. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Bennet did not reply, and Mary had nothing but sermonizing words to share. Elizabeth did not dare give Mary any hint of her concerns about Lydia or Wickham, but Mary did not report anything out of the ordinary in anyone’s behaviour.

As Easter approached, Lady Catherine could not contain her excitement for the arrival of her nephew. Elizabeth then learned that Mr. Darcy brought his cousin, the younger son of the Earl Fitzwilliam, with him. While her ladyship praised them both beyond what Elizabeth could believe possible for any human let alone the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, her daughter seemed, if possible, more withdrawn and disinterested than usual. Elizabeth had looked forward to seeing how fruitless Caroline Bingley’s designs on Mr. Darcy were as he was intended for his cousin. However, it seemed the cousin was less inclined for the match. Not that Elizabeth could blame the lady. Still, if Miss de Bourgh were unwillingly courted, it did remove some of the amusement. She would never be so unkind as to hope to see Darcy, or any man, rebuffed or a lady forced into marriage against her inclination.

The night before the hoped for arrival, they dined at Rosings. To Elizabeth’s astonishment, Miss de Bourgh asked to sit next to her after dinner when the card table had been brought out. Shortly after the game had begun, the lady whispered to Elizabeth, “It did not escape my notice, Miss Bennet, that you did not have any praise to offer about my cousin.”

“I do not believe we are acquainted,” she replied. If Miss de Bourgh was intent on having this conversation, Elizabeth would not make it easy for her.

“You know very well I mean Darcy. Although, I am sure as soon as you meet Richard you will find him vastly preferable.”

“Perhaps you, as well, have no kind words for Mr. Darcy?”

Miss de Bourgh let out one of her giggle-laughs, and Mrs. Jenkinson raised worried eyes to her. Her concern was waved aside. “Darcy can be difficult to get to know. His reserve is often mistaken for displeasure.”

“Reserve only happens when occasions lack intimacy, and I believe it is the burden of the seeker to establish intimacy.” In much the way that Bingley and his sister had led Jane to believe that they wanted to know her better.

“This is true, but do you not agree it might take some longer to feel comfortable in new surroundings than others?”

Elizabeth glanced at Maria who bit her bottom lip, and now and then glanced around the room wide-eyed with wonder. “I agree the timid may take longer to adjust.”

“Ah, but it is not only timidity. Sometimes it might be rigidity.”

Elizabeth remained silent as it seemed Miss de Bourgh wished her to do. “If one is used to things going a certain way then they might feel uncomfortable in a new environment. Especially, if they are unused to things going well.”

Elizabeth played a card. “I cannot think what you mean by these references.”

“Oh, just some observations I had believed you would find interesting and only a few days from Easter.”

Elizabeth had no ready answer, and Miss de Bourgh offered no more great insights.

After several minutes of silence, Miss de Bourgh leaned toward her once more. “I understand you are an avid drawer, despite what you have told my mother.”

“A lady does enjoy having some secrets,” Elizabeth countered.

“And you may keep yours,” Anne nodded. “However, I suggest you do not neglect your practice at the pianoforte. Additionally, I would be delighted to offer you a tour of the library.”

“The library?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. She had the distinct feeling the only place Anne de Bourgh would help her would be out of the highest window.

“Mrs. Collins has said you are an avid reader. I believe you will soon find her husband’s library deficient if you do not already. You are welcome to anything in ours. It is, of course, the primary reason why your friend visits Rosings so frequently.”

Mrs. Jenkinson and Maria played their final cards and the carriage was ordered. Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief when safely ensconced in it’s confines. Were Miss de Bourgh’s words about Darcy? Were they about herself? Were they for Elizabeth? Elizabeth enjoyed her walks, but she could never feel comfortable at Hunsford or Rosings. It was simply too different to what she was used to. Nor had she ever guessed Charlotte walked to Rosings so often to take refuge in its library.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Four

 

Ooops! I posted the wrong chapter earlier today! Four comes before five, lol!

mdbbDearest Niece,

Do not let melancholy besiege you. You are made of sterner stuff! He is not the only gentleman in the world, and certainly, there are dozens who have better character. Return to London, and we shall find you a match.

Anne

Chapter Four

At breakfast the following day, the planned visit to Rosings Park was all anyone could speak of. Mr. Collins waxed eloquent, and Charlotte smiled wistfully. It appeared, however much the acquaintance of the ladies of Rosings held no interest for Elizabeth, it held considerable sway in Charlotte’s mind. Her younger sister fairly trembled at considering herself in so grand a house, and Sir William boasted about the fine match his eldest daughter made.

“Not that you need fear Charlotte snatched up the only worthy gentleman, Eliza,” he told her. “I am sure some other gentleman will come to the area sometime. You see how good things come to those who wait. And, of course,” he dropped his voice, but still loud enough for most of the room to still hear, “it does not hurt to have more attainable goals than being the mistress of Netherfield.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose to her hairline, and the only thing that quelled her angry retort was that she had known Sir William all her life. Never before had she thought there was any truth in her mother’s complaints about the artfulness of the Lucases, but the pointed jab at Jane brought all her protective feelings to the front.

“Papa, did my husband show you the orchard?” Charlotte asked and gave Elizabeth an apologetic smile.

Elizabeth turned her face as she felt heat slap it. She did not want Charlotte’s pity!

Sir William furrowed his brow. “No, however, he did mention it. He said it could only be accessed by the gig. What expansive grounds your glebe is!” He walked toward his son-in-law. “Collins, care to show me your gig?”

“Eliza, enjoy your walk. Just be careful to return in enough time, so my husband does not feel the need to worry about tardiness,” Charlotte said before Elizabeth could speak.

“Thank you,” she replied and exited before anyone else noticed her.

While Elizabeth strolled the grounds, Sir William’s words weighed on her mind. It was he who had suggested that Bingley would marry Jane. And now, after Bingley’s departure, he insinuated that Jane tried to grasp too high. Jane never sought Bingley’s attention! Elizabeth’s heart squeezed when she recalled her dearest sister’s shy smiles and blushes at Bingley’s attention the night of their first meeting. Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut as Jane’s visage flitted through her mind. For those few weeks, Elizabeth had never seen Jane happier. She had always been lovely, but the effects of new love made her radiant. Hopefulness had shone in her eyes, and Elizabeth now wondered if Jane would ever love again.

Restlessness passed through her. She had always known that her parents had never had a happy marriage, nor were they ideal mentors, but it suddenly occurred to Elizabeth that she felt alone in the world. Who was there to protect Jane’s broken heart? Her mother had meant well by forwarding her eldest daughter so much but was useless afterwards as she aired her own feelings without regard for Jane’s. And their father had cruelly laughed at Jane’s pain.

Mr. Wickham’s debauched words resounded in Elizabeth’s ears again. Was it not shocking for a lady, even of her age, to not immediately consider alerting her father to what she had heard? She had always been her father’s favourite, but it was because they had the same sense of humour, not true affection. It was not the sort of relationship Charlotte had with Sir William. He had never called his daughters silly or laughed at Charlotte’s unwed state.

Turning back to the parsonage, Elizabeth shook her head to dispel her thoughts. She was putting too much stock in Mr. Darcy’s words. Before speaking with him, she had thought Wickham merely boasted to his fellow cads. Why should she trust Darcy’s version of Wickham’s character? Because it matched what you witnessed when he was not attempting to charm.

Darcy’s words from Bingley’s ball reverberated in Elizabeth’s mind. “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making — whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain.”

Elizabeth had to allow, that Darcy wisely had not argued with her own understanding of Wickham. He did not doubt she had seen enough to find him a friend worth making, but he had also pointed out that she did not know him well enough yet to know if he was a friend worth keeping. Well, now she did.

Such thoughts only lead her to consider that, in a few weeks, Darcy would be at Rosings. He had not displayed manners which made her desire his friendship. Might she have been wrong? Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip, hating the thought. At the very least, with no one but Charlotte to really speak with, he might prove a useful acquaintance. That was if Lady Catherine and Darcy’s intended did not take up all of his time.

Passing through the gate, Elizabeth trudged up the walk, through the Parsonage and to her room to change. Although she had arrived promptly, Mr. Collins promenaded up and down the upstairs hallway giving directives for the ladies to rush their toilettes. He had taken a moment to assure her that whatever gown she had brought would be satisfactory for meeting the great lady as his patroness preferred to have the distinction of rank preserved.

As they walked the half mile to Rosings, Elizabeth found much to enjoy. Most impressive were the grounds around the house, as it was situated on a hill. However, Elizabeth did not admire them for the reasons Mr. Collins would have liked. Elizabeth perceived she would have a view of some miles and thought she might sketch the spire of one of the churches, or the towers to some of the old homes in the area. Of course, if Lady Catherine knew Elizabeth sketched she might be insulted if Elizabeth did not copy Rosings. She looked up at the dull stucco and shuddered at the gaucheness, whilst Mr. Collins blithely enumerated the cost of the chimneys and the windows. The Palladian style home was, indeed, grand and intimidating-looking when seen from a distance. Having studied architecture, Elizabeth realised the style relied on looking colossal and expansive, but really the homes were rather shallow in width.

As they entered the entrance hall Maria, and even Sir William, appeared alarmed at the ostentatious finery around them. Elizabeth, however, bore it all with calm observance. Rosings was not as large as most visitors would presume. Nor had Elizabeth heard anything about Lady Catherine that made her sound frightening. Elizabeth was not in the habit of fearing the wealthy. While the lady’s manners sounded repulsive, they did not seem intimidating.

At last, they followed the liveried servants to the large drawing room where Lady Catherine, Miss de Bourgh, and her companion sat. The ladies went so far as to rise at the entrance of guests. Thankfully, Charlotte provided introductions, and therefore they were saved the many mortifying apologies Mr. Collins would have found necessary to utter. Sir William bowed low but remained mute, and Maria sat near her sister nearly clutching her side. Elizabeth did have some sympathy for the young girl who had only just entered society after Charlotte’s marriage. While she was almost three years older than Lydia, she had less experience in company.

As Elizabeth observed Lady Catherine, she felt a prick of unease. Her Ladyship seemed very much like the picture Mr. Wickham depicted only days ago. How foolishly Elizabeth had believed every word, he had said and had imagined him as the most upstanding gentleman she had ever met! From Wickham to Darcy, Elizabeth’s thoughts turned. Brought all the more to the fore as she soon saw enough in the aunt to be reminded of the nephew.

Next, Elizabeth noted Miss de Bourgh. The lady was far smaller than Elizabeth had observed the day before. Elizabeth had always imagined such delicacy was a mere figment of a novelist’s imagination but Anne de Bourgh indeed looked like one strong wind could lift her away. Nor did she make up for her size and plain looks by a striking personality. She seldom spoke, and when she did it was only to Mrs. Jenkinson.

Shortly after Lady Catherine had detailed how the view, at which she had commanded them all to look, was better in the summer, they were called to the dining parlour. Dinner was as exemplary as Mr. Collins had promised and he took his position at the bottom of the table and carved and flattered in equal skill—that is to say leaving much to be desired. Sir William had recovered enough to echo all of his son-in-law’s words while his youngest daughter remained too frightened to speak.

Separating from the gentlemen served only to allow her ladyship to pontificate at length. Elizabeth soon recognised that there was nothing in her parish the Lady did not care to know or render an opinion on. Must she give advice on Charlotte’s shopping? It was not as though she had ever been a parson’s wife. Despite provocation, Charlotte spoke to Lady Catherine with an ease which surprised Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet,” her ladyship said in a tone Elizabeth imagined would suit a general on a field of battle, “I have told Mrs. Collins that you are pretty, genteel kind of girl.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth mentally added she was not entirely sure it was a compliment and therefore deserving of gratitude.

“Tell me about your family, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth gave the woman a false smile. “I am the second of five daughters.”

“You are cousins to Mr. Collins, I believe.”

“That is correct, ma’am.”

“A pity your mother had no son.” She turned toward Charlotte for a moment. “For your sake I am glad, but otherwise I see no need to entail estates away from females. It had not been thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family.”

How fortunate for you! Elizabeth thought to herself, and used all her self-control to not roll her eyes. Sir Lewis’ station, wealth and family had been so new that it could make such progressive decisions.

“Do you play or sing?”

Elizabeth bit back a sigh. The inquisition was not over, it seemed. “A little.”

“Oh! Then you shall have to play for us sometime. Our instrument is capital. Probably far superior to what you’re—Do your sisters play?”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened at her ladyship’s lapse she just barely kept herself from insulting Elizabeth directly. Beside her, Miss de Bourgh made a noise that suspiciously sounded like a cough disguising a giggle. “One of them does,” Elizabeth answered.

If Elizabeth had told Lady Catherine that she had a pet unicorn and pigs were flying outside, the lady could not look more shocked. “Why did you not all learn? I know of a family of girls who learned and your father’s income is better than theirs.”

Elizabeth chose not to reply but shot a glance at Mr. Collins. How nice of him to share their family’s income with his patroness!

“Do you draw?”

“No, not at all.” Elizabeth avoided Charlotte’s eyes. The matter of her refusing to call architectural sketching, “drawing”, had been a source of contention between them.

“What, none of you!” Lady Catherine blinked rapidly as if again she had never heard something so strange in all her years.

“Not a one.” By now, Elizabeth took perverse pleasure in rendering her ladyship shocked.

The conversation continued as Lady Catherine canvassed more of Elizabeth’s accomplishments and upbringing. After each turn, it had not seemed like her ladyship could be more aghast, but the next question always trumped the last. Elizabeth inwardly laughed. It seemed the woman had never been in contact with people who had a life that had been different than her own. Mr. Darcy had once said country towns had a constrained and unvarying society, but surely this woman had moved in fine circles of life and yet Elizabeth, who was no oddity in Meryton, was rendered peculiar.

When Elizabeth confirmed that all of her sisters were out in Society at once, she really thought Lady Catherine might have an apoplexy. She had turned red, and her eyes bulged. Elizabeth made a point that excluding sisters could not encourage sisterly affection, hoping to soothe the lady but seemed to make her only angrier.

Lady Catherine sucked in a deep breath. “Upon my word, you give your opinion very decidedly for one so young. What is your age.”

Elizabeth could not keep the mischievous smile from inching across her face. “With so many younger sisters who are grown up, you can hardly expect me to admit it.” She made her eyes wide and blinked innocently. Another giggle-cough escaped from Miss de Bourgh.

Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed. Whether at her daughter or her guest, Elizabeth was less sure. Elizabeth bit back a smile at the idea of being the first person to dare trifle with such a lady and her ridiculous questioning.

“You cannot be more than one and twenty. Therefore, you have no reason to avoid telling the truth.”

“I am not one and twenty.”

Thankfully, before Lady Catherine could say more, the gentlemen returned and the card tables were brought out. The evening passed with little diversion or animation. Mr. Collins sat with her ladyship and apologised when he felt he won too much. Maria and Elizabeth joined Miss de Bourgh and Mrs. Jenkinson at cassino, but no real conversation was attempted.

Later than Elizabeth would have liked, the carriage was offered and brought round. As it conveyed Elizabeth and the others back to the Parsonage, Elizabeth considered that Mr. Darcy’s presence might be more welcome than she had first thought. She had never thought well of him, and they had often disagreed. However, her time at Netherfield had taught her he had no shortage of things to say when he felt comfortable. That must be vastly preferable to impertinent questions from such a domineering fishwife or the restless sighs from a mouse of a woman.

 

*****

 

“Fitzwilliam, be reasonable!” Darcy’s aunt called after him after he stormed off from the drawing room where she and Georgiana had descended upon him with charts and plans for marriage.

Stalking down the hall, he entered his study and locked the door. Pouring a glass of Madeira, he pulled a shaking hand through his curls and glared at the Darcy crest and motto that hung above the mantle. Hide the sins of his father’s godson? Yes, he could do that. Sacrifice years of carefree life for Pemberley and his sister? Of course. Accept the barony from his aunt? He had little choice. Indulge her with finding a group of bluestocking women? Why not. Allow her to arrange a cold, formal marriage for him? Absolutely not. Duty and honour be damned.

“I want…” he trailed off as his eyes dropped to the fire. He daredw not complete his thought. Loosening his cravat, he threw himself into the chair behind his desk.

To take what he truly wanted would be turning his back on all duty and honour. While he did not want Lady Darcy and Georgiana selecting a spouse for him based on charts of ancestry and the size of their dowry, neither could he imagine forsaking everything that had been ingrained in him for so many years. He would not choose a wife from a flat list of attractions on paper. Unfortunately, it meant he would actually have to converse with the ladies.

Darcy sighed and shook his head. That was likely his aunt’s plan all along. It was unlike her to believe a woman’s worth could be ascertained in a list of accomplishments or monetary value. Nor could he see any reason to rush finding a wife. His aunt was hale and hearty for eighty. On the other hand, both his parents had been gone these many years. Death was no respecter of age. Likewise, his uncle, the Earl Fitzwilliam, had long ago handed the overseeing of the estates to his eldest son. Indeed, Winchester had married ages ago and now had two boys. Richard, the Earl’s younger son, had little chance of inheriting the earldom now — to his own relief. In many ways, Darcy’s continued bachelorhood was selfish. No wonder every female relation worried over his marital state.

A knock interrupted his solitude. “Lady Darcy to depart,” the butler said through the wood-paneled door.

With another sigh, Darcy gulped the last of his drink and hoped the beverage could deaden his memories of dark, dancing eyes. He strode across the room and unlocked the door. His aunt looked up from where she was pulling on her gloves.

“Well?” she gave him an expectant look.

“I will attend the ball, however,” he folded his arms across his chest, “I will not choose to court a lady from a list of qualities you provide. If she is to be my wife, I must talk with her and see if we are compatible.”

“Excellent. Just the decision I knew you’d make!” Lady Darcy smiled in glee and Darcy contained the urge to roll his eyes. She stepped towards him and then on tiptoe, kissed his cheek. “Anyone but that Bingley woman or your cousin Anne,” she whispered in his ear.

A shudder racked through Darcy. “I can assure you, madam, that I will absolutely never, under any circumstances, make either an offer.”

“Good,” she nodded.

Darcy escorted her to her waiting carriage. When he returned inside, Georgiana awaited him in the office.

“Well?” she asked and settled in a chair, tapping her fingers on the paper containing lists of names of possible marriage partners.

“You have been spending too much time with our aunt.” He ordered tea and sat next to her.

“I could spend more time with you,” she offered.

“I believe even our aunt would say for a girl of your tender years that is hardly appropriate.”

“I am no longer a child,” she whispered. “Nor are you up to rakish activities you must shelter me from.”

“What do you know of rakes?” he asked. God help him if he ever had daughters. He could sympathise with the fathers in fairy tales that always locked them up.

“I believe I understand the danger they pose to young maidens far more than you do,” she said. “After Wickham—”

“I never should have allowed you to remain deluded about his character.”

“I do not know that I would have listened to you had I not experienced the pain for myself,” she said and shrugged her shoulders.

It was the first time they had spoken of him. “Why is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Georgiana said and ran a finger around the rim of her teacup. “I know I agreed to an elopement because it was exciting and empowering.”

“Empowering?” How little he understood ladies!

“Certainly! To believe yourself able to command the admiration of a handsome man who has the ability to make any woman in love with him. Believing that he saw me, not Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sister, not thirty thousand pounds, was very seductive.”

Yes, he well understood the irresistible pull of believing another knew your real character.

“And while I never thought badly of you or felt you had been unfair, I think I would have been too happy to remain in denial. The truth hurts, and I would have probably lashed out at you rather than accept your words about Wickham.”

“But I could have told you years ago, long before Mrs. Younge took you to Ramsgate.”

“But I had known him then myself. I had been smitten with him from a young age. No doubt he saw that as well and used it to his gain. Mrs. Younge quickly perceived it from the way I spoke of him.”

“You carried a tendre for him for years, and I did not know!” Darcy paled at realising how little he had understood of his sister.

“Do not be so aghast. I daresay girls that confide with their much older brothers about youthful fancies are far more the exception than the rule.”

“Perhaps so, but I would not have us be that way,” he murmured. “I do value your understanding. When I was twelve and you just born, the years between us seemed extreme, but surely that is less so now. At sixteen, you are considered full grown and marriageable. Our differences in understanding now are related more to our sexes and experiences than our ability to learn and reason.”

“Thank you,” she said and stared at her hands. Suddenly she looked up and smiled. “I do not have anything to report now. No one interests me.”

“Oh?” Darcy asked. He had rather hoped someday — eventually — she might take a fancy to Bingley. “What sort of man do you think you would like when you are older?”

She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit with amusement. “I am unsure, and so I think the best way would simply be by meeting as many as possible!”

“Georgiana,” Darcy warned. “You will make me go grey.”

“Well, then,” she said and grinned, “we had best marry you off before you look in your dotage!”

“Not you too!” he feigned annoyance but really was impressed with her ability to bring the conversation around so fully.

“And since I confided in you,” Georgiana leant forward and batted her eyes, “you should reciprocate. Is there anyone you fancy?”

“I have work to do,” he said, standing.

“So there is!” she stood as well. “Oh, please tell me who she is! I can help you!”

“Georgiana, please” Darcy pressed two fingers to his temple. “This morning was excruciating enough.”

“Because your heart has already decided?”

A knock at the door interrupted them. “Mr. Bingley, sir.”

 

Renewed Hope Launch & Giveaway

For the launch of Renewed Hope, I thought I’d do things a little differently. There are six main characters in Renewed Hope, so I thought I’d do six different posts and chances to win! (5 ebooks and 1 print copy) Each centering on a specific character.

We meet Viscount Arlington first. He’s irreverent, but charming and gets away with a lot.

arlington_earldom

Well, I care plenty–about your opinions! To enter this giveaway, what is your favorite scene from Sufficient Encouragement? After you have commented, follow the link below and choose “I commented” to be entered.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All chances to win will be posted on my blog (with additional instructions). Look for more posts on:

7/21, 7/22, 7/23, 7/25, & 7/26