Fantasy Friday–Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Five

Road in dark forest

I’ve decided that posting in small chunks wasn’t working for me. From now on, I will be posting an entire chapter once a month.

Previous posts: 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2 / 4.1 / 4.2 / 4.3

Chapter Five

Two hours later, Jane and Elizabeth sat with Mr. Bennet in his library. Elizabeth did not need powers of empathy to know Jane felt confusion that the gentlemen of Netherfield did not call at Longbourn. Indeed, Elizabeth agreed with it. They ought to have called! When she heard the front door opening and voices in the hall, her heart skipped a beat—but no it was only Kate and Mr. and Mrs. Allen returning. Elizabeth’s conscience pricked, and she chose not to examine why she should be so emotionally invested in whether Mr. Bingley called on Jane. Surely that was the only reason she cared if the gentlemen called.
“How was your trip to Meryton?” Elizabeth asked when Kate came into the library. “Did you have any premonitions there?”
“No.” She hung her head and twisted her hands.
“Ah, I see your dislike of reading serious materials has played with your mind. You felt “urged to go” rather than sit home and read!” Mr. Bennet teased.
Elizabeth bit back a smile at her father’s words. He had been the one to tell Kate to leave.
“Papa!” Jane cried. “You upset her by calling her stupid!”
Mr. Bennet came to Kate’s side. “I am sorry. I did not mean it that way. I only like to tease.”
Kate sniffed. “I know.”
Elizabeth mutely watched the scene. She had not considered that Kate would feel that way. Did she not know the difference between a tease and true criticism? Did she not understand after all these years that Papa teased to show affection? Silence reigned in the room, and Mr. Bennet stood reflecting for a moment.
“He will do better in the future, Kate,” Jane said.
Kate nodded, and Mr. Bennet squeezed her shoulder. “Jane speaks the truth for she discerned my feelings.”
Elizabeth cocked her head to one side. “Is that why Jane has always seen the world so cheerfully?”
The others could feel insecure or morose if they wished. Elizabeth desired to learn all she could about their new powers and abilities.
“Although her powers were bound, some residual bits remained,” Mr. Bennet answered. “Empathy is a powerful and burdensome power to have. It should not be confused with telepathy for one may project feelings of good if they believe strongly in their actions, but have destructive thoughts and motives.”
“How is it burdensome?” Elizabeth asked and shot a worried look at Jane.
“She will be susceptible to the feelings of others even when they do not actively call on their magic. It can often make one nervous.” He paused a moment. “Your mother was an empath. At the time of the binding, Jane’s power promised to be even stronger.”
Elizabeth and Kate exchanged a look. Elizabeth supposed it explained much about her mother. Fanny Bennet often laid in bed afflicted with nervous flutters, and yet when one of her children needed her, she was like a lioness. Elizabeth guessed that had her mother heard Mr. Darcy’s insult and perceived how it wounded her daughter, she would flay him with her tongue at every meeting. A half amused, half sad smile had formed on her lips.
Elizabeth’s woolgathering was broken by a question from Kate. “With all the new changes, I never thought to ask if you and my mother have powers. It was simply enough that we were protected and accepted.”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “I am also a Pyrotechnist.”
“Is Lizzy’s power stronger than yours like Jane’s is stronger than her mother’s?” Kate asked with wide eyes.
Mr. Bennet’s face became unreadable for a moment. “When combined the three of your powers will be strong enough to defeat nearly any foe.”
Elizabeth noted that he did not say her power was particularly strong. It seemed Jane was first not only in beauty but also in powers. Elizabeth would not begrudge Jane a thing but had hoped learning about her magical heritage would bring her the fulfillment she had always lacked.
“Kate, instead of seeing the future, your mother can see moments of the past. It gives her great wisdom. She excels in sound advice and guidance.”
“And my father?” Kate’s eyes lit up. “Do any of her siblings have powers? Do they know about magic? Must we keep this a secret from them?
“Ah, slow down, and I shall attempt to answer all your questions.” Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Your brothers and sisters do not have powers. However, your mother and I have talked about it, and we will explain it to your brothers when we see them next. The others will wait until they are of greater age. For now, we are explaining to them that we have decided to redouble your feminine accomplishments.”
“Feminine accomplishments, Father?” Elizabeth asked and raised a brow in skepticism. “No one will mistake a blast of fire for embroidery and how shall we convince others that is what we have spent our time on when we have no proof of our new talents?”
“One may study and never become proficient,” he laughed.
Elizabeth glared at her father.
“Very well.” He held up his hands. “There are spells which can enhance your abilities. Nearly all the world’s best opera performers are witches.”
“Are they really?” Kate gasped.
“Indeed! Such talent is not of natural ability. Now, about your father. He had the power to sense dark magic, we call it Kleros.”
“Is that why he was a clergyman?” Elizabeth asked.
“Indeed! Most of the world does not know about magic. We have to make our way in life as though it does not exist. Some are landowners, some ministers, some soldiers, we call them Exercitos, lawyers called Advocates, shopkeepers, or other laborers.”
“Powers are not hereditary?” Elizabeth, more than her sisters, desired to know as much as possible about their powers. She had a thirst for knowledge combined with good sense and wit that they did not. “If these occupations have different words does that mean there is a magical government? Magical towns?”
“One question at a time!” Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Sometimes powers are hereditary. Obviously, in a family with more than two, there is a greater diversity of powers, but active powers are becoming rare. Magical families like ours increasingly choose not to practice.”
“Like Mrs. Allen?” Kate asked. “It had surprised me when she said she had never desired to learn magic. I feel apprehensive about all the changes, but I am eager to learn.”
“Quite right,” Mr. Bennet smiled at her. “And we have a Council that confers with the British Prime Minister. There are magical courts, as certain things must be illegal for the safety of all of us. The only all-magical town that remains is in Derbyshire.”
“Is it a large town?” Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to see more witches and wizards.
“It is a small market town, nothing like the cities in the North let alone London.”
“What about good and evil? Is that hereditary?” Elizabeth’s brows were knit together.
Mr. Bennet paused to look each of them in the eye. “That is always a choice.”
The sisters shared a look, and Elizabeth knew Jane instantly perceived her feelings. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “What of our deceased sisters? Did they have powers?”
*****

Elizabeth watched as Jane turned pale and fought to breathe. Reaching out, she clutched her sister’s hand. Mr. Bennet saw her reaction and quickly poured a glass of wine. Kate finally noted Jane’s bizarre response and wrapped her arms around her sister.
“Papa, what is happening?” Elizabeth asked as tears filled her eyes.
“She will be well.” Mr. Bennet pushed the glass of wine in Jane’s free hand. Stooping beside her chair, he placed a hand on her shoulder.
He looked into her eyes, and he spoke in a calm voice. “Now, Jane, you must calm yourself. Think of happy memories instead. I will do the same, but there will come a time when you must use your own strength to overcome.”
Tears streamed down Jane’s cheeks, but her color returned. “Do not fear, Lizzy,” she said at last. “I was overcome by Papa’s grief compounded with my own. The binding removed much of my feelings of mourning but Papa—” She looked at her father, “You carry it with you always!”

“You see now how taxing your gift can be. Focus on closing your feelings to others. Dwell only your own. You are alive, safe, and loved.”
Jane nodded her head, and her sisters hugged her close. Mr. Bennet waited a moment as Jane calmed. When she was ready, he answered the question which prompted such a reaction.
“Kitty had a very unique gift called glamouring. She could impersonate the qualities of others. She was still very young and had only gone so far as to learn how to be pleasing enough to get her way. Typically, she followed the strongest personality around her — that of Lydia’s — but a true master can change even their outward appearance.”
“That sounds very dangerous!” Jane cried.
“It can be. It is usually associated with dark magic, but light magic can use it as well. Lydia had the power of enchantment. Her passionate nature enraptured others. It was very unusual that each of our children had powers. Due to the need for secrecy, each new generation of witches has had fewer magical offspring.”
Mr. Bennet’s words reminded Elizabeth of a question she had. “Father…” she began, uncertain of how to continue.
“Yes?”
Jane squeezed Elizabeth’s hand, and she took a deep breath. “You told us we must keep our powers a secret from the town but not from others in our family. Should we not worry about what our young brothers and sisters might hear and pass along? How can we hide my fire ability completely?”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “Your powers have been unbound, but other charms remain. You should not have to fear hiding every conversation or sign of your powers. There is a bond between families. First of all, children under their majority cannot break the bond and reveal secrets. Secondly, to betray your family takes a very precise form of dark magic few can master.”
“Then how was there a spy?”
Mr. Bennet sighed and looked at the clock on the wall. “I will attempt to explain more later. Do not forget that you will learn more in the coming weeks. Enough questions for now. We must begin lessons.”
First, Mr. Bennet lectured on the general history of magic in England, lightly glossing over the dark years of witch persecution. “The Crown tried to be understanding of our powers, but light and dark magic were so unbalanced that mortals attempted to meddle. When William and Mary seized the throne, an agreement was reached. The magical community would see to its own affairs and contact the Crown only if things were beyond our control.”
“Was there ever a time when it was?” Lizzy asked.
“Nearly so. When the madness in France began, it was clearly of magical influence.”
“Democracy is evil?” Elizabeth asked, her disbelief obvious.
“Nothing is more English than representative government, Lizzy. The dark intent was clear due to the violence and intensity. A spell was cast upon the people, they unknowingly hurt themselves more with their radical passions than they were when abused by their royalty — also of dark magical influence.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Dark magic is tyrannical. It seduces with the promise of power and then makes you a slave to its own will.”
“Excellent! I knew you would be clever enough to see it.”
Mr. Bennet leaned back in his chair and lit a pipe Elizabeth had never seen before. Its smoke came in clouds of every shade of the rainbow instead of the usual gray.
Elizabeth pulled her eyes away from the unusual artifact in her father’s hand that he had not yet explained. She would ask about it later. “We are still at war with France. They are now ruled by Napoleon, but the Council did not see the need to take matters to the Crown?”
“We pooled all of our resources. We have many in important military and political positions — such as General Tilney. The evidence of the existence of the Bewitching Sisters was what truly turned the tide, however.”
“But there is a new danger now,” Kate said slowly.
“Indeed. Our fight against Napoleon is as necessary as ever. We have not had a large victory since Trafalgar seven years ago. The Darkness grows stronger than ever, now is the time to return your powers and fulfill the prophecy.”
Elizabeth gulped to consider the importance of their powers. Rather than allowing them to wallow in concerns for the future, Mr. Bennet moved on to practice sessions. Elizabeth was given time in the garden to conjure her fire and learn to throw it. Jane was assigned poetry reading to learn to block the moods and feelings of others. Kate played chess with her father in an attempt to perceive his moves.
Before leaving Elizabeth alone in the garden, Mr. Bennet showed Elizabeth how to unleash her power. “Focus your energy. Think of something which ignites your passion.”
“Something which makes me angry?”
“For now, that will do but be careful to not depend upon that. Defending yourself and others cannot come only from anger. Resentment and hatred are unstable and evil forces.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. Just for now, she would allow herself to feel wrath. Mr.-too-tall-Darcy with his piercing blue eyes. He had literally looked down his nose at Elizabeth. He looked down at them all. He thought she was nothing, a nobody. She would show him. She would be the best pyrotechnic the world had ever seen.
As her thoughts swirled in her, the burning sensation she had felt before returned, rushing through her limbs. It simmered just beneath her skin.
“That is it!” Mr. Bennet cheered. “Now, stretch forward your hands and face your palms out. Direct the flames to the target.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flew open as she felt glorious release leave her body. The fire did not hurt her skin at all—there was no pain. Seeing flames shoot out of her hands, however, was a tad alarming and they soon flickered out. They had never reached the target.
“What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing,” Mr. Bennet reassured her. “You only need more practice. It may be easier to not watch at first. Let your body become accustomed to the feelings.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes once more. Again, she focused on her anger at Mr. Darcy. Instead of visualizing a target, she envisioned his face at the other end of the garden.
“Very good!” Mr. Bennet cried.
Elizabeth opened her eyes to see that she had missed the target, but she had directed the flames to the correct end.
“Give it one more try before I leave to get Jane and Kate started.”
Elizabeth carefully considered her thoughts this time. Yes, it was Mr. Darcy that angered her, but it was more. It was the sense of injustice of being judged so quickly. It was the idea of a rich and powerful man finding her wanting. It was a world that said her value as a woman only existed if she could catch a wealthy husband and bear him sons. This new ability—this was the answer to that. This was power. It was freedom.
“It is what I am meant for,” she whispered to herself as she felt the flames leave her body.
“Amazing!” her father said from behind her shoulder.
Elizabeth opened her eyes and grinned when she saw she had met the target.
“I’ll have ___ bring out some more. Experiment with different motions. You should be able to hold the fire, form a ball and make a short blast. When you master that we will move on to varying distances. Eventually, you will have moving targets, but we will train elsewhere for that.”
Elizabeth sighed happily as her father returned to the house. Here, she was finally at peace with herself. No sisters, no demands of Society, no worries for the future of Longbourn. No, she had more important concerns.
Finally, it was time to change for dinner. Upstairs, Elizabeth talked with Kate and Jane. After several hours worth of lessons on the benefit of knowing when to alter the future and when to allow it to come to pass, Kate had, at last, defeated Mr. Bennet. Jane’s eyes looked puffy and sore from crying, and she had run through half the supply of clean handkerchiefs in the house.
“I can understand the feelings of the authors since poetry is one of the most honest mediums. I worked hard to focus on my feelings like Papa said. It felt strange; I am not in the habit of putting myself. Tomorrow, Papa said we will work on less honest works, Greek histories, and mythologies for example.”
Dinner was a quiet affair. Mrs. Bennet talked about what new successes one child or other had during the day or some new chore that needed doing, but her daughters were too fatigued to say much. In the evening, they circled together as their stiff fingers moved slowly at their stitches. They excused themselves to bed early and climbed the stairs feeling as though their legs were made of lead.
“I am sorry Mr. Bingley did not come today,” Jane confessed outside of the chamber she shared with Elizabeth.
“I am glad Mr. Darcy was absent!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“I daresay one of you shall be happy, and the other dismayed at the dinner we will have with them on Thursday,” Kate said with a sly smile.
Elizabeth scowled. “Mama mentioned no dinner!”
“I have foreseen Miss Bingley in our home in a green turban with seven peacock feathers, and Mrs. Hurst festooned with bracelets and rings. I also saw Mr. Hurst’s face reddened with port then Papa and General Tilney in deep discussion while Mrs. Tilney attempts to converse with Mama.”
“And the other gentlemen?” Jane asked, her voice rising in hope.
Kate gave an apologetic smile. “That is less clear. I see all three unmarried gentlemen. I only know one smiles, one scowls, and one laughs.”
Mr. Darcy will do more than scowl after I am through with him. He is one target I will not miss!
“Elizabeth!” Jane said. “You should cease such ungenerous feelings immediately!”
She gave a sheepish smile. “I promise to keep any fire I throw at Mr. Darcy limited to glares from my eyes and darts with my tongue in verbal rebukes.”
Jane nodded entered the room and went to the dressing table to brush out her hair.
“That is just as well for your aim needs practice!” Kate called before ducking into her room.
Elizabeth wore a smile when she entered her room and slammed the door shut. The faint smell of smoke filled the hall.

Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club–Chapter One

Georgian Crescent

You guys have been so patient with me! I had wanted this book to come out last spring but I moved and just couldn’t get back into this world again. Then, I moved again! The kids are back in school and it seems to be going well. Perhaps it’s the start of school that had my brain turning back to the bluestocking world.

I plan on working on this story every day and giving it most of my attention once Treasured is finished. Hopefully, that means a release late Fall 2018. I hope you enjoy!

Do you remember where we left off? Darcy and Elizabeth were married. He inherited the barony and the Baroness had suggested they open a school for bluestockings. The Duke of Dorset announced his intention to marry Jane. Lydia is pregnant by Wickham but he married Kitty. And the most shocking revelation of all: Lady Catherine is actually Darcy’s SISTER. His mother had an unfortunate affair at fifteen and the child was raised by her parents. Many years later, she married George Darcy and had Fitzwilliam and Georgiana.

I can try to promise as many twists and turns in the sequel!

 

Chapter One

Elizabeth Darcy gulped as she saw the sign marker list the ever-more-rapidly-approaching town of Meryton. “We do not have to visit. There is still time to turn back,” she said to her husband.

“Lady Darcy, are you afraid to visit your mother?”

“Afraid? No, never,” she affected a grin. The bravado could not last long, however. Shoulders slumping, she sighed. “If fear is based mostly on anxiety over the unknown then, no, I am not afraid at all. I know all too well how she will react. I can hear her shrill voice and feel her flutterings already. Please? May we go home?” Elizabeth buried her face in her husband’s arm as the carriage swayed.

“If we do not visit her then we risk her calling on us in Town…”

“Oh, no. We cannot risk her wanting to accompany us to every ball. She would introduce herself to everyone.”

“Besides, I know you wish to lend your support to Jane.”

Elizabeth sucked in a deep inhale. Letting it out, she muttered under breath. “It is not as though she loves him.”

“What was that?”

“You heard me,” Elizabeth said. Yanking her arm from around her husband’s she crossed them across her chest and frowned. “I cannot believe you are letting her marry him.”

“I am hardly in control of your sister’s choices. Nor am I her guardian.”

“You cannot tell me you believe them well-suited.”

“Why not?”

“She is so innocent, so pure and he—he—he is so worldly! He could have anything and anyone.”

“Does it not mean his affection for her must be all the more genuine?”

Elizabeth’s frown deepened as she did not want to admit to Darcy being correct.

“Nor would I say the Duke is very worldly.”

“His father—”

“Yes, his father! Who are either of us to point fingers at someone’s family as proof of their own character?”

“I will concede to that,” Elizabeth said disgruntledly.

She could understand why Jane accepted the Duke of Dorset’s proposal after a mere week of acquaintance. Bingley had proven disloyal and too weak. However, Elizabeth knew Jane still loved him. Her affection for Dorset extended only to gratitude for loving her and saving her sisters from disaster. Dorset had used his family’s position to send Wickham to Spain so Kitty would not need to live with the pain he must bring any wife. Dorset’s mother, the dowager duchess, had invited Lydia to live with her until after her confinement. It was agreed that Lydia would stay at Knole Park in Kent with Dorset’s sister so no one in Meryton might guess the truth—that she was with child.

Additionally, Kitty had refused to come to Jane’s wedding if Lydia were there. It made more sense to continue with the lie that Lydia was away for her health and could not return than to invent a new excuse for Kitty’s distance from the family. Of most of this, Mrs. Bennet had no understanding. Even if she did, Elizabeth noted, she would focus only on the fact that Kitty had married an officer, Elizabeth was married to a baron, and Jane would marry a duke. The fragile condition of their family’s reputation and honour would be lost on her.

“Have you given any thought to my Aunt’s suggestion of starting a school?” Darcy asked.

“I certainly agree that a school with Blue Stocking ideals is needed in the world, but I wonder at my ability to be its benefactress as well as a hostess to the Club.”

“You forget one of the greatest resources for doing good is at your disposal now?”

“What is that? I could certainly gain more education by hiring masters—”

“No, my dear,” Darcy interrupted. “Money. The Blue Stocking Society was so successful all those years ago because they found wealthy women to finance it. As Lady Darcy you have quite a bit of funds of your own and the estate could always endow more. You would already be in the top circles of Society, but with Jane as a Duchess, you will be able to reach even more people. People who would only listen to you if you had the right name, title, and money.”

“You are correct,” Elizabeth straightened her shoulders. “I have been thinking about this as though I am still Lizzy Bennet of Longbourn, but I am not.”

“Not that I ever found you deficient,” Darcy said and placed a kiss on Elizabeth’s cheek, “but you are so much more now. Do not give in to old insecurities simply because we will be facing your mother and your home.”

“I will not,” Elizabeth vowed. “I have been two minds about Dorset choosing to buy Ashworth as a wedding gift to Jane, but now I am determined to be thankful for it. Could you imagine if we were all housed at Longbourn?”

“Yes. It is a shame Bingley did not give up Netherfield as it is the most convenient, but it is understandable that Dorset could not approach Jane’s old suitor.”

“I do not know that Mr. Bingley would have turned him down if he had,” Elizabeth observed and could not keep her disapproval out of her voice. “He seems to have taken quite an interest in finances.”

“I am hopeful it is a regrettable phase of his life which he will soon outgrow.”

“And your friendship?” Elizabeth watched as Darcy’s brow furrowed and his jaw clenched.

“I do not know that it could ever be what it once was. However, I do not wish to cut him entirely.”

“What happened to the young man who declared his good opinion once lost was lost forever?”

“He learned the value of forgiveness from a bright, beautiful lady whom he loved very much and is still amazed she ever loved him in return.”

“Ben.” Elizabeth only called him such at very special and tender moments as he once confessed he preferred it to his family names. He wrapped his arm around her, and she settled her head over her heart. “I can hardly believe you ever took notice of what I was then—so proud, so angry.”

“We were both fools.”

“We were, but I do not think I could have loved you as dearly as I do now if I were not the fool I was then.”

Darcy’s answer was to lift her chin and express his words with kisses full of unsaid devotion.

 

*****

 

A part of Elizabeth had expected to step foot into Longbourn, and it be as loud and chaotic as ever. Her mother had not changed and was only more anxious than usual. Kitty also seemed as ever her normal self. Elizabeth had heard Kitty call from the window that it was not the Duke and Dowager Duchess who had arrived but only Lizzy and “her grumpy Mr. Darcy.” Even so, Mrs. Bennet welcomed him profusely—a lord is a lord, after all.

“I hope you do not mind,” Mrs. Bennet said before Darcy had even sat all the way down, “that we do not have any of your favourites tonight. I wanted to give precedence to the Duke. Perhaps we may on another night.”

“Thank you for the concern, madam, but I shall enjoy anything you serve. In fact—”

“La! A Duke! Who would have thought such a thing possible but then I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing.”

“Mama,” Elizabeth pleaded. “Perhaps you had better visit my father, William.”

Immediately Mrs. Bennet turned red in outrage. “Miss Lizzy! I believe you mean to call him ‘my lord.’ Pray, forgive her, your lordship. I did raise her better. I do not know why she has got so cheeky.”

Elizabeth and Darcy exchanged looks. It would be more difficult to explain to Mrs. Bennet that they preferred the informality. Elizabeth arched a brow, knowing that Darcy preferred her saucy ways.

“For those we love, forgiveness comes easy,” he said then bowed.

“He is still so enamoured with you!” Mrs. Bennet attempted to whisper as Darcy walked to the door.

Elizabeth easily saw that he had heard every word. Indeed, they were both very much in love with each other. Although, they had only been married a handful of weeks. It would be odd to expect anything different. Within seconds, however, Mrs. Bennet’s mind was called back to Jane’s upcoming nuptials. The lace handkerchief was brought out and sent fluttering until Elizabeth suggested that her mother talk with Mrs. Hill once more—and take Kitty with her.

Mary came to Elizabeth’s side. Sighing, she sat next to her where Darcy had left.

“You look very well, Lizzy. Very happy.”

“I am! Oh! I wish I could find such loves for each of my sisters.”

“I do not condone so much emotion,” Mary said with a frown. “It may have led you to Mr. Darcy, but you were attracted to Wickham before that. We see where seeking such love brought Kitty and Lydia disgrace and Jane’s heart is broken.”

“What do you know of Jane?” Elizabeth asked, anxious that others could not perceive the indifference Jane felt toward her betrothed.

“I know that she could not forget Mr. Bingley so easily and give her heart over to another so quickly.”

“It is nothing in her conduct or expression that has made you think this?”

“No.” Mary shook her head. “She is as inscrutable as ever. She never did allow the world to know her feelings.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed.

Such presence of mind had caused Mr. Bingley to believe her indifferent. It had caused Darcy to think it as well. Not that Elizabeth championed Bingley after his treatment of Jane and Georgiana. Nor did she dislike the Duke. It was the rapidity of the attachment that concerned Elizabeth. They did not know one another very well, and Jane had always been so reserved. Elizabeth could not hope that they had learned much of one another in their brief courtship. It is evident to Elizabeth that the Duke was drawn to Jane’s beauty from the first moment he saw her. However, that did not create love, and without love, Elizabeth worried about the stability of their union.

“Kitty and Lydia mistook attraction for love. They may have said they wanted love but real love is sacrifice. It is compromise, and it does not always end happily. Our sisters were not seeking love, they sought courtship. They desired romance. Both on silly, uneducated minds were the evil.”

Mary seemed to consider Elizabeth’s words. “And Jane?”

“Self-respect must trump love. Never have I condoned losing your integrity for the sake of loving a person. She may still love Mr. Bingley but accepting his proposal when he offered no apology, no amends, no courtship violated Jane’s notion of self-respect. She deserves more, and she knows it. It is no surprise to me that even someone as lofty as a Duke would recognize her worth.”

“But do you think this wedding is a good thing?” Mary folded her arms across her chest. “Should she marry if she does not love him?”

“You just said you do not believe love to be necessary for marriage.” Elizabeth wanted to put Mary off the topic as fast as she could.

“If she loves another and makes a vow before God to love the Duke is that not a sin?”

“Oh, Mary,” Elizabeth cried, “I do not know! You will have to ask the vicar. Your accusation is grave, though. Do you think Jane would be capable of that? Believe the best of her as she always has of us. Believe that she intends to love him; that she means it as much as any other woman can mean it after only a month’s acquaintance. Is that too much to ask for?”

“No,” Mary said and hung her head.

“That is the testament of true love. We only wish to see her happy and safe. We must sacrifice our thoughts and opinions in deferment to her wishes.” Elizabeth turned at the sound of a carriage on the drive. “I want to see radiant smiles and hear happy words of congratulation.”

Mary nodded and at the sound of the doorbell, Elizabeth heard a great commotion downstairs. The Duke and his mother were shown into the drawing room, and before Elizabeth could utter a greeting, Mrs. Bennet arrived puffing out of breath behind them.

“Do forgive me, your graces,” she said. “There is so much to do for your visit, you see, and I am sure you know how difficult staff can be.” As soon as the words left her lips, her brows drew together and her mouth puckered into an O. “That is, I am sure your staff is trained to the very best, but we must make do with what we can get. Please, do be seated.” She motioned to the empty chairs.

The Duke sat but his mother remained standing, looking as unruffled as ever. “Lady Darcy, it is a pleasure to see you again and for such a happy cause. Please do me the honour of introducing me to your family.”

“Certainly,” Elizabeth said biting back a smile at her mother’s blush.

After performing the appropriate introductions, the Dowager Duchess sat. Tea arrived, and for a moment a dreadful silence fell over the room.

“Pardon me, your grace,” Mrs. Bennet began, “but I had expected you to bring my daughter.”

“Jane?” the duchess said while swirling her spoon in her cup. She laid it down. “No, I had thought your sister was to bring her.”

“No, ma’am. That is—yes, ma’am. Jane is coming with my brother and sister, the Gardiners. They are vastly agreeable and quite fashionable. I think you will be very pleased when you meet them.”

“I have met Mrs. Gardiner, madam. I find her agreeable and fashionable, as you say.”

“Oh did you, indeed? Well, how do you like that, Kitty?” Mrs. Bennet slid a glance at Elizabeth. “Not one ounce of the insufferable pride some people of far lesser ranks have shown in our company about our relations in trade.”

Elizabeth fought to roll her eyes. Darcy was not forgiven, merely tolerated. He did not fawn enough for her mother’s taste.

“I see four of your daughters present,” the dowager duchess redirected the conversation. “I suppose you mean Miss Lydia. I had thought she wrote to you, but perhaps we travel before it.” She glanced at her son.

“It is quite possible, Mama. We made good time.”

“My elder daughter expects to be confined soon and has preferred to stay at Knole rather than her husband’s estate in Worcestershire. This way she is near enough to London. He is in Parliament, you know. Miss Lydia elected to stay with Selina. They quite dote upon one another, and your daughter has been the best comfort to my own.”

“Oh! That is just her way!” Mrs. Bennet cried.

“I never saw anything so pleasing in Lydia. Your daughter ought to be careful of her husband around her. Lydia is always—”

“Mama,” Elizabeth stood and interrupted. She did not know why. The Duke and his mother knew the truth of their situation. However, her entire life was built around interrupting embarrassing comments from her family and keeping her mother from having a nervous attack. “We have not shown their graces the garden. I expect by the time we finish that my aunt and uncle will have arrived with Jane. The Duchess’ younger daughter travels with them.”

“Oh, of course!” Mrs. Bennet agreed. “You do us a great compliment by entrusting your younger daughter to my brother’s care. He is the most conscientious chaperone that ever lived—”

“Is that Dane’s Blood?” the Duke asked.

He winked at Elizabeth when Mrs. Bennet’s attention was diverted to a botany lesson of the estate. It was one of the few things she had ever had a head for.

“Let us go now, and you may see it in all its glory,” Elizabeth said. “Mama, I know you must continue to speak with the housekeeper. Did you wish to attend us, Kitty and Mary?”

“Mary may go but I will not.” Kitty slouched in her chair a bit. “I am in a delicate state and tire very easily these days.”

“Oh, my love!” Mrs. Bennet beamed. “Why did you say nothing? Oh, and I had you doing all sorts of tasks for me and being in the kitchen. Come with me, and we will have you set up properly. Do excuse us,” she said as she bustled off down the hall.

The others let out a collective sigh. “Mama is rather enthusiastic about…well, nearly everything.”

“Indeed,” the dowager duchess smiled. “I like it. She is not so awed by my status that she is rendered mute and I would much rather be around a person who is so artless they are ridiculous than be around those who are constantly hiding their true selves.”

“Indeed, my mother is incapable of being circumspect,” Mary said as she followed the others out the door.

After several minutes in the garden, they had exasperated the topic of local shrubbery. The conversation had dissolved to the weather. Mary cast Elizabeth strange looks, and she did not wonder why. Elizabeth had described the Duke and his mother as gifted conversationalists and yet it seemed almost painful to find a topic worth broaching. Elizabeth could only assume they did not feel free enough to say what they really wished at Longbourn.

They were saved from further awkwardness by the sound of a hack. “That must be Jane,” Elizabeth observed, and they walked to the front of the house.

Mr. Gardiner descended first, then let down his wife, Dorset’s sister, and finally Jane. Dorset came to her side, kissed her soundly, crushed her in an embrace and then spun her in a circle, eliciting laughter from all. When he set Jane back on the ground, she looked elated. It appeared romantic. It even seemed Jane was blissfully happy. She did far more than tolerate the duke’s attention. She thrived in it. She had never looked so beautiful.

“I hope you have not waited long,” Jane said.

“Only a few moments. Your sister gave us a tour of the garden, and I have met your mother and other sisters.”

Elizabeth did not miss the flash of anxiety and shame cross Jane’s face.

“I found them delightful. Mother has already said how much she likes your mother. Shall we go in?”

Dorset escorted Jane into the house, leading the others as though he were the master. This time, they met with Darcy and William. Mrs. Bennet was rung for and promptly arrived, but Kitty felt too ill to leave her bed. Elizabeth was not entirely sure she believed her sister’s words or if they were only for attention.

The reunion between Mrs. Bennet and her eldest daughter was something for the ages. No other mother could have felt more excitement or pride. Elizabeth would find it disgusting if she did not believe there was truth to it. Mrs. Bennet’s greatest wish in life had always been that her daughters would marry well. Even a prince would not be too high for her children. Everything softened in light of Jane marrying a Duke. No utterances against Mary fell from her lips. Lydia was nearly entirely forgotten. The smallest sign of affection from the Duke to his betrothed had Mrs. Bennet almost swooning.

Thus life at Longbourn had not changed entirely. Matters continued through dinner. Every intelligent word from Mr. Bennet’s lips to his soon to be son-in-law was overshadowed by his wife asking the dowager duchess’ opinion on every matter. Elizabeth sighed to herself that her mother ought to have persuaded Mr. Collins to marry Mary and then she could visit a lady in Kent who delighted in giving minute opinions on every subject. Although, there was hope for Lady Catherine yet.

Finally, Mrs. Bennet stood for the separation of the sexes. Elizabeth sent her father a pleading look, and he glanced around the table before standing as well.

“I know this is unorthodox, but I perceive our guests are tired from their travels. Let us not separate this evening and allow them more rest.”

“But surely a game of cards or some songs?” Mrs. Bennet asked, anxiety and confusion heightening her features.

“Madam, might we have an abbreviated visit tonight? Tomorrow, we may come at breakfast to make up for it,” Dorset asked.

Mrs. Bennet glanced uneasily between her husband and the Duke. “The next two days are full of visits to the neighbouring families. Then there is the wedding and my Jane…” she trailed off and brought a handkerchief to her eyes.

“Which is all the more reason why we ought to part now,” her grace came to Mrs. Bennet’s side. “I have a married daughter. I know how difficult it is to part with them. Think no more about entertaining us and seeing to our comforts. You have been a delightful hostess. Tonight, enjoy the return of your daughter.”

Elizabeth believed it was very skillfully arranged and well-said of the Duchess to get her way. She would wonder at leaving Jane to Mrs. Bennet’s nerves, but with any luck, she would tire herself out early and then Jane could go to sleep at a decent hour for the requisite gushing would happen no matter the time.

“Well, with your permission,” Mrs. Bennet smiled, “a family evening would be delightful. Lizzy, you and Mary will play for us.”

Darcy stepped forward. “I regret that we must leave as well given the distance to Ashworth.”

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten.”

For the first time in many years, Elizabeth thought she saw longing in her mother’s features.

“We will return in the morning, Mama.”

Elizabeth embraced her mother and said goodbye. As much as she knew that she would return in the morning, she had learned at this first visit at Longbourn since her marriage that she had grown too big for the role of Lizzy Bennet. It was time to embrace her destiny as Lady Darcy.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion

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

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


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Chapter One

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

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

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

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

“What would you like?” she asked.

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

Elizabeth gasped. “Mr. Darcy!”

“Eliza—Miss Bennet!”

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

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

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

“Lizzy? Pretty with big, brown eyes?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye,” Darcy moaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My replacement!”

“Well, I paid him for your wages.”

“You bought me?”

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

“I will never go back there. Never.”

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

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

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

“Yes, take this tonic twice a day.”

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

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

“Allow me,” Elizabeth stepped forward.

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indecision warred in her eyes.

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

“Yes. Do you recall where you are?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you think so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that?” he sat next to her.

“Why do I not wish to speak of it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Treasured–Chapter One

treasured finalChapter One

November 1, 1811

Three weeks after Reunited ends

Will arrived at Netherfield’s stables and tossed the reins of Apollo at the ready hands of a boy. Charles arrived just after him—he had lost another race. Both gentlemen had smiles on their faces from their visit at Longbourn, but Will had an extra bounce in his step that made him feel lighter than air as he walked to the house.

The last few weeks of his engagement to Elizabeth had never ceased to amaze him. He could not be bitter about the past and their separation if it created the sweetness they shared since their reunion. Elizabeth meant more to him now than she could have meant to him if he had never believed he lost her love and found her again. Now, after years of waiting, they were just over three weeks from their wedding day. Will’s heart could scarcely contain its joy.

“Ah, Mr. Darcy,” the butler said upon Will’s entry. “The mail has just arrived. These are for you.” He extended a handful of letters.

Will took them and thanked him and sequestered himself in the library. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley would be arriving any day, escorted by Richard. Several of his Fitzwilliam relations hoped to come for the wedding as well. Lady Catherine had not been invited after Will learned she had schemed with her parson to end their engagement. Apparently, Will’s father had written to Lady Catherine about Will’s attachment to Elizabeth years ago. When Lady Catherine learned of her parson’s relationship to the Bennets of Longbourn and also learned of Will travelling to the area, she put two and two together. Mr. Collins needed a wife, all the better if it were one who would inherit Longbourn. However, once she perceived Elizabeth Bennet as a threat once more, she commanded Collins to marry her—compromise her if he must.

Will’s letter contained the usual news from his steward and housekeepers. Mrs. Annesley reported that Georgiana continued to be alternately withdrawn and angry. Richard confirmed he would escort the ladies. Lady Catherine spewed vitriol on the page. Her daughter wrote begging not to be painted with the same brush as her mother.

Weeks ago, when Elizabeth had first suggested that Will seek out proof from the post offices which might have been the source of the interference of his letters to her, he wrote to them all. He had heard from most of them by now, which all confirmed what the very first post office had indicated. Wickham paid an employee to hand over Will’s letters to Elizabeth. Why Wickham had wanted to disrupt those letters, Will had not yet determined.

He had also suspected Wickham of sabotaging his carriage. To find him, Will hired Bow Street Runners and had Richard ask around Wickham’s favourite haunts in London. Wickham had been in Lincolnshire during the time in question. It appeared the incident with the carriage was a genuine accident.

Now, Will held in his hand a letter from the last post office in Scotland. They had never journeyed further north than this office, as planned, for the fire put an end to all those plans. Even now, Will could smell the stench of burning fabric and flesh, the thick smoke which clogged his lungs and caused his eyes to burn. Merely reading the name of the town was enough to bring him back to that awful night.

Someone knocked on the door and, to distract himself, Will called for the person to enter. Charles invited himself in—after all, it was his library—and settled in a chair near Will.

“Another letter from a post office?”

“How did you know?”

“You have a certain look about you when they arrive. Is this the one, then?”

“And how did you know that?” Will was unused to Charles being so observant.

“For starters, I believe all the others are accounted for. Secondly, it’s the only one that you would avoid and put off, and I see that the seal is unopened. Lastly, your expression was the same as it always is when the fire is mentioned.” He paused and watched his friend. “Yes, that is the look exactly!”

Although Will did not have a looking glass to see what Charles referenced, he could feel the tightness of his muscles and the way his jaw clenched. It felt like turning to stone. “Very well,” Will admitted. “It is the last dreaded reply. I do not know why I bother reading them. They all say the same thing, and there is nothing I can much do about it.”

“You have always believed there was strength in knowledge. One day, you will meet Wickham again and will have your means to prove his deeds.” Charles hesitated. While looking out a window, rather than meeting Will’s eyes, he suggested, “Would you prefer me to read it?”

For a moment, Will was offended at the suggestion. Did Charles believe Will not strong enough to live with the reminder of the worst night of his life? Then, he considered how Elizabeth would react to the news. She was showing him what It meant to have unfailing support in his life. Charles had always attempted to be there, but Will would often push him out. He was working hard to overcome his flaw. It had caused enough heartache.

“I appreciate the offer,” Will answered, at last, “but I believe I can read it. Knowledge of its likely contents makes it easier.”

Swelling his courage, Will turned the paper over and tore open the seal.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I could hardly contain my surprise at seeing a letter from you after all these years. You, undoubtedly, do not recall me, but I remember you and your traveling companions most vividly. However, I had expected a message from you many years ago.

You may ask how I can remember you so well. It is not often that our town loses its inn and its post office in one night.

Will furrowed his brows. He had forgotten in this particular town, the post office was a mere corner of the inn.

Even more so when it is a victim of arson.

Will’s grip on the paper tightened, and Charles glanced at him in concern at the crinkling noise. He could not answer his friend’s unspoken question. He had to read on.

As such, all letters would have been lost. During the investigation into the fire, we discovered an employee had been bribed into taking several letters of yours and giving them to a gentleman who he believed to be traveling with you. The employee has been cleared of starting the fire, and unfortunately, the culprit is still at large. Oil and tar were used in the fire and buckets of each were found in one of the stables. No other clues had been discovered. No motive was ever established.

The incident is still much talked about as the owner and a few others outside of your party perished. Eyewitness accounts have become a local legend and will soon fade into complete myth. It seems many believe the Greek god of fire is a lanky fellow with sandy blonde hair.

Years ago, I had expected you to be more curious about the nature of the fire or the fate of your letters, but I suppose the losses you sustained that evening and the subsequent burdens you faced were of primary concern.

I regret that I did not have pleasanter news.

All my respect,

C. Whitaker

Will’s mouth went dry as he read and reread the words. His father and Sam died in arson? Who would have cause to start the blaze? Although Will had not known any of the other guests, he supposed only one would have such a strong motive. George Darcy had just settled his will, and Wickham knew he would be amply rewarded in it. Although he had ultimately rejected the living at Kympton, he asked for a handsome sum in addition to the one thousand pound legacy left to him in Mr. Darcy’s will.

Wickham—a murderer? He had killed his own godfather, a man he counted as friend and mentor. He had murdered Sam, who once had been like a brother to him. He had been the means of separating Will from Elizabeth first by the letters and then from the effects of the fire. Dear God! Elizabeth!

The incident with the carriage—which so easily could have harmed or killed her—must have been his doing even if he were out of town.

“Will!” Charles said as he attempted to pull the paper from Will’s vice grip. “Let me see, man!”

Will let go of the paper and barely registered Charles’ tones of shock and violent anger. He too had considered it must have been Wickham.

“I never thought to ask about the source of the fire,” Charles said. “It was too painful to think about. I wanted only to leave it in the past and forget about it as best I could.”

Will silently nodded. “No investigators ever contacted me. No questions were ever asked.”

“Do you see this? A lanky fellow with sandy hair. Could it have been Wickham?”

Again, Will nodded. This time, he was walking to the door when it happened. He was just about to call for his horse when Charles pulled him back into the room.

“What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“To find him!”

“You cannot do that on your own! Think!” Charles pushed Will into a seat and thrust a drink into his hand. “If he really did this—if he was behind the carriage in some way—he is too dangerous to approach. It may even be what he wants. You have always had what he wants, and he has proved he will stop at nothing to try and attain it.”

Georgiana. Wickham’s intended elopement now meant something entirely different. He not only wanted her fortune but her claim on Pemberley.

“Contact your cousin and the Runners again. Tell them to shadow Wickham closely. Report his every movement. Tell them everything!”

“Yes,” Will said, his brain beginning to work properly again. “I shall hire guards as well. Until we have him in custody and are sure he does not have a proxy. A few here and some at Longbourn as well.”

“I had not even considered Longbourn!” Colour drained from Charles’ face.

Will noted with shock. Was his friend thinking of Miss Bennet the way Will thought of Elizabeth? Now was not the time to worry about that but it would bear further consideration later.

“Can I have my sister come? It may not be safe for her.”

“She would be safer with you than away. He could more easily have access to her then.”

“Indeed,” Will said before swallowing the rest of his drink. Charles’ words were far too true.

*****

Will attempted to distract himself with other matters for the remainder of the day. All the while, he longed to return to Longbourn and sweep Elizabeth into his arms. He knew it was not true, but when he held her, he felt as though he could protect her from anything and battle any foe. As it was, his enemy was nigh on invisible.

Even if the Runners could be retained again and locate Wickham once more, it may not help. They had no real proof he had caused the fire all those years ago, and they had nothing but Will’s gut pointing the destruction of his carriage axle to the man. Wickham had an alibi, and there was little use in trying to question him. He had someone else do his bidding, and while wondering how Wickham would have been able to afford to bribe someone, it was pointless to question how he came into the funds. He always did. He was worse than a cat with nine lives.

The possibility that everyone connected with Will would be a target ran through his mind without relent. If they could not find Wickham and make him confess, Elizabeth would never be safe. For that matter, if his end goal was Pemberley, neither was Georgiana. If the fiend had been willing to kill his godfather and friend, then there was nothing he would not do. Charles, Richard, the Bennets—none of them were safe and all because they knew Will.

He pushed his chair from the desk and began pacing around the room. If he put everyone in danger, then he should leave. He should call for his horse now and return to London. His valet could bring the trunks tomorrow. Only…

He had promised Elizabeth he would not leave again. Which was the greater risk? If he left, even with promises to return once all was resolved, it would break her heart. He had vowed to never be the source of her tears again. No catastrophe would draw him away otherwise. Should the worst happen at Pemberley he would direct his steward and demand a hasty marriage from Mr. Bennet or that she accompany him. He would not leave her behind again. However, if being near him put her at risk then it would be selfish to remain.

Mentally exhausted and worried he would wear a hole in Charles’ carpet, Will threw himself in a chair. Elizabeth’s visage came to his mind as he considered how he would tell her of the development. She would cry, and each tear would sting like a dagger to his heart. Would she rant and rave? No, he thought not. She would not demand he stay when she believed his honour and affection for her should do the work for her. No, she would accept his words and a piece of her love for him would die.

He had already known what it was to lose her trust and how difficult it was to earn back. Could he do that again? Could he intentionally put them through that pain once more to apprehend Wickham?

Could he risk losing her affection and love forever, any hope of a future—to keep her alive? It would be a hollow victory indeed for Elizabeth to live but never marry him.

Will had sent an express to Richard as soon as he finished speaking with Charles earlier in the day. Before he went to bed that night, Will received a reply from his cousin. Richard was leaving that very instant—as soon his missive finished—to journey to come early and escort Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana to London. He agreed that having Georgiana near Will presented a problem. However, so did leaving her unattended and Richard could not forsake his duties for long. Richard contacted the Runners once more and set about inquiries for footmen. He also asked if they should tell the Earl.

Will was of two minds on the matter. The Earl had been a very great friend to his father and had never been too intrusive in Will’s own affairs once he became master. Lord Fitzwilliam was aging, and most of his duties were now executed by his eldest son, the Viscount. Will had no quarrel with his older cousin. However, he desired to limit something so personal as his ongoing dispute with Wickham to as few people as possible. The rest of the Fitzwilliam family did not know about Georgiana’s attempted elopement with Wickham. Even Richard did not know about her continued affection for the scoundrel.

When uncertain on who to trust, Will had always kept to his own counsel. He had thought in the future Elizabeth would support him through such times. Now, there was every possibility that there was no future for them. He could not ask her to wait on him once more.

Style Saturday- Caroline Bingley’s Gowns

style saturday

Be honest. Either you or someone you have known has criticized Caroline Bingley’s gowns in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. They look shocking to our modern sensibilities–even more so when paired with gowns which fit the aesthetic of the period better. But are they really so inaccurate? I’ll be going over the Meryton Assembly and Netherfield ball gowns, both featured below.

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Caroline-Bingley-period-drama-villains-31633233-186-288

First of all, it’s hard to establish a specific timeline for the 2005 production. I’ve read that the director wanted it placed nearly ten years earlier than the book’s published date of 1813. Critics usually place the events of the book from 1811-1812. However, that is not perfect as there are a few dates which do not match up perfectly in any year. We know Jane Austen began writing the first draft (titled then as First Impressions) in 1796. Personally, the difficulty with dating the work doesn’t bother me. It’s fiction and it must have been nearly impossible to keep track of dates.

The dating only matters for this post in the fact that after 1795, the fashion world adopted a very different silhouette. France had a brutal revolution to change its political regime and this was reflected in clothing as well.

Caroline’s gowns seem shocking compared to what we think of for the era and compared to other ladies her age in the film. Below is the first hit I got when I googled “regency era gown,” as well as Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Jane at the Meryton Assembly.

By comparison, Caroline’s gowns practically look like something a stripper would wear. However, did the production team really leave history so far behind?

First, let’s consider how thin Caroline’s gown is at the Assembly. You can see the outline of her corset (which is not period correct but we can worry about that another time) and her shoulders and arms.

The 1798 portrait attributed to Louis-Leopold Boilly on the right shows how thin a single layer of muslin is. No wonder Mr. Woodhouse worried for Harriet Smith’s health in the portrait Emma painted of her friend. It was common in the era to see the chemise and/or petticoat underneath the gown. It’s worth mentioning that I don’t see anyone slut-shaming Elizabeth Bennet of the 1995 production for her thin fabric.

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Where is her petticoat? That’s the end of her chemise I see and then *gasp* leg!

Nor is Caroline the only one to wear such thin fabric in the production:

Ok, so thin, flimsy fabric was acceptable. What about the fact that the sleeves are barely there? If the portraits I’ve included aren’t convincing enough, here are fashion plates of the era.

fashion plates sleeves

But her shoulders are so visible!

fashion plates_shoulders

Fine, but what about the Netherfield ball dress? She’s practically wearing spaghetti straps and those just weren’t invented yet!

fashion plates_straps.jpg

But so much exposed at once? Bosom, arms, and shoulders! No, no, no!

fashion plates bosom

I see your bosom, arms, and shoulders and raise you backs and legs!

fashion plates backs.jpg

Have I found evidence of a thin strapped ball gown from the Regency era. No, I haven’t. However, now that I’ve looked at the portraits and fashion plates of the era and I see the wide variety of acceptable sihlouettes and also just how much skin was exposed, I don’t think they took an extreme liberty. It shows very clearly how different Caroline Bingley’s sense of fashion and style–owning to her London life–is from the Bennets of Longbourn. The first gown seems to fit the era perfectly and yet is still just as astonishingly different from her peers. At the Netherfield ball, the Bennet girls seem to fit the Regency “norm” better: white on white, high waist, puffy sleeves. Yet, Caroline has to look even more extremely different. If she had shown up wearing something just like she wore to the Meryton Assembly not only would it have not enunciated the differences in her status, education, and experiences but it could easily be mistaken for the same gown. I’m SURE Caroline Bingley would NEVER do that, especially in a place like Meryton where she must always look and feel superior.

Other productions do this with MORE. More trimmings, more fabric, lavish fabrics, more jewelry, more headpieces etc., etc. That is accurate to the era. However, so is the idea of sensual simplicity. In fact, that was the entire point of the neo-classical revival.

If Caroline Bingley is the foil to Elizabeth Bennet, then consider what values Mr. Darcy must possess to turn her down and fall for Elizabeth instead. Was it all just turning down Caroline’s wealth and accomplishments? Or was it turning down pretend passions wrapped in pretension while Elizabeth’s earthy and natural charm pulled on his heart? By giving Caroline the more alluring and thin fabrics thereby making her the more overtly sexual being, the production exposes that Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth run much deeper than physical desire. If half an inch less on a shoulder strap exposes that, then I am all for it.

What do you think? Are you willing to give Caroline’s gowns a pass now or do you remain unconvinced?

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Three

Road in dark forest

The following morning, after the food had been cleared from the breakfast table and Mrs. Bennet ordered the school things brought out for the little ones, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kate made their way to Mr. Bennet’s library. He had been asked by the steward to pay a call on a tenant, and so the girls occupied themselves in his absence.

“Did any of you suspect we were witches or that they even existed?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth vehemently shook her head. “No, never! I am not known for a sweet temper, but I had never guessed that I was secretly a pyrotechnic!”

Kate chewed her lip. “I had forgotten entirely about the dreams I used to have until yesterday. In fact, I haven’t dreamt at all in years until last night. I suppose that is why it seemed so unusual to me.”

Elizabeth surveyed her sisters. Like her, Jane seemed to feel no apprehension about their new powers, but Kate appeared less content. Elizabeth wondered if Jane could use her empath powers on Kate. Jane had always been very conscientious of the feelings of others. Perhaps she had retained a bit of her powers all these years. Elizabeth gasped at a sudden memory. “Jane, do you remember that time when Lydia took my ribbon and would not give it back? I singed her hair when I ripped it out of her braid and Mother scolded me like never before.”

Jane laughed. “Now that you mention it, I do. What about when my favorite barn cat disappeared for days, and I was inconsolable? I cried so much I made myself sick!”

Elizabeth smiled. “Then the dratted thing turned up a few days later with six kittens?”

“I named them “happy” in different languages.”

Kate’s eyes grew wide. “How old were you?”

“Seven or eight?” Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded, for confirmation. “Tell us a story, Kate.”

Elizabeth smiled at Jane’s thoughtfulness and hoped it might make Kate feel more at ease. Elizabeth and Jane had immediately accepted Kate, and all the others, into their family but in the last few months, their relationship with Kate had changed. She always wished to tag after them, but being nearly four years younger than Elizabeth, was not in company until only a few weeks ago. Now, it was difficult for Elizabeth to see Kate as a young woman and not as a child. No matter the differences in their ages, it seemed like now there were constant reminders that Kate was a step-sister and not blood. She was now formally “Miss Morland” rather than “Miss Catherine” when in public.

Kate screwed up her face as though she was trying very hard to remember something…anything. “Besides the dreams I told you about last night, I always knew when my brother James would prank us on April Fool Day.”

Elizabeth exchanged glances with Jane. For as long as she had known James he could never keep a secret. He would drop hints about his plans, and in the end, only a true fool would be left unaware.

“Lizzy!” Jane scolded although Elizabeth had said nothing.

Elizabeth tried to look apologetic as she realized Jane must have sensed her thoughts. However, she would not apologize for the truth. Besides, she felt proud of her sister’s abilities and could not hide an expression of pride.

“What?” Kate looked between the two.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said too quickly, and Kate raised her eyebrows expectantly. “I had a sarcastic thought — but did not say it — and Jane must have sensed it. Well done, Jane!” Lizzy beamed.

“I hardly see why you need to be so excited over being sarcastic at my expense,” Kate frowned.

“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy to see how quickly Jane is learning to use her powers. At least you two can practice and learn without potentially harming someone. I hope Father returns soon so he might begin teaching me.”

Jane nodded. “Let us forget about magic for a few minutes. What did you think of the ball?”

Inwardly, Elizabeth smiled as Jane was once again the peacemaker. Kate immediately filled with nervous fluttering like a butterfly. The blush on her cheeks confirmed what Elizabeth guessed. Catherine was infatuated with her dance partner from the night before. Elizabeth wished the blush she felt rise in her was from such pleasant thoughts.  As thunderous thoughts filled her mind, her skin grew hot.

“Lizzy!” Jane quickly grabbed wine from her father’s cabinet and thrust a glass into her sister’s hand. “Lizzy, calm yourself.”

Steam rose from the glass as Elizabeth brought the drink to her lips.

“That’s it,” Jane encouraged another sip. “Now take a deep breath.”

Elizabeth complied.

“There. Better?”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking. “I did not expect… I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said quietly.

“Kate,” Jane said in a voice that was higher than normal. “Tell us about Mr. Henry Tilney. I did not speak with him last night, but I saw you two dancing.”

“I do not quite know what to think of him.”

“He’s very handsome,” Elizabeth said still more subdued than usual.

“He is,” Kate beamed.

“And I thought I saw you laughing?” Jane asked.

Kate giggled and then pressed her hand to her lips in an attempt to muffle the unladylike reaction. “We were having a genuine conversation, and he interrupted it for silly nonsense about if I like music and the theater. Things like that.”

Skepticism flared in Elizabeth, and hot tingles returned. “Does he think that such things are nonsense—”

“It was the way he said things,” Kate spoke over her sister. “The tone and expression… He was making a joke of things.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth calmed and smiled.

“I believe I am indebted to him for bringing up more usual topics of conversation for new acquaintances,” Kate said with a frown. “I quite forgot them and am afraid I was nearly impertinent.”

On the subject of impertinence, Elizabeth had to tell her younger sister what Mr. Darcy had said. Surprisingly, Jane’s expression turned dazed, and soon she closed her eyes as though concentrating. It reminded Elizabeth of attempting to make out a noise in the distance.

“Jane?” Lizzy called sharply.

Jane opened her eyes as Kate waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you ill? Did you hear us?”

“I’m perfectly well,” she smiled at them. “I was only lost in thought. What did you say?”

Elizabeth’s dark feelings returned, but not as unchecked as before. “I told Kate what I heard Mr. Darcy say.”

“Do attempt to forget it,” Jane said. She took Elizabeth’s’s hand in hers. “Do not judge him by one evening.”

Elizabeth’s nostrils flared. “Is not one evening more than fair when he judged me with a mere glance?”

“It was very wrong of him to say such things, and if you were merely finding his looks at fault, I would not reproach you. But you attack his character when you do not truly know it.”

“He attacked mine too. It is not only beauty that attracts dance partners. He supposed I did not make good conversation or was not a good dancer — ”

“You are leaping to conclusions!” Jane interrupted.

“Besides,” said Kate, “how does poor dancing mean bad character?”

“Perhaps — perhaps it would mean I was unintelligent or too arrogant to pay attention during my lessons or lazy or —” Elizabeth broke out in laughter and defeat as she recognized the ridiculousness of her claims.

“What has my girls in such a good mood?” Mr. Bennet said as he came into the room.

The sisters said nothing but grinned at him, and he sat behind his desk.

“I suppose you have many questions,” the ladies nodded their heads in unison. “I have worked up a schedule for each of you. You will have time to learn magical theory as well as practical application. I must warn you,” he gave them each a stern look, “most of Meryton does not know about our magical heritage or of the wizarding world at all. It is imperative they do not learn of it. As of now, everyone in our community is cleared with the High Council and the Quorum as trustworthy, but jobbards are not screened. You must guard your secret.”

The smiles slipped from the girls’ faces, and Elizabeth did not need empathic or telepathic abilities to know the thoughts and feelings of her sisters. Someone had killed their parents. They understood the high cost.

Elizabeth was the first to break the silence. “Only say we will not need to go shopping for funny hats and brooms.”

Mr. Bennet shook his head and chuckled. “You have much to learn,” he said and handed out their schedules.

Later that day, Lady Lucas and Charlotte visited. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her best friend’s family were magical. They did not have demonstrative powers. Instead, they were proficient in medicines and cookery. Elizabeth smiled at the pride Lady Lucas had as she talked about Charlotte’s abilities with tonics.

Charlotte grinned and then turned to Elizabeth. “Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza. However, now that you know the truth would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!”

Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along last night when you suggested one for his eyesight! I confess many things in the past now make sense. Mrs. Long was once an oracle was she not?”

“Yes, but now you know her predictions are usually wrong.”

“Why would that be?”

“The Council told us by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters,” Mrs. Bennet explained, “it might affect the strength of magic for the entire area.”

“Like a cloaking,” Elizabeth suggested, and the elder ladies agreed. “Now there ought to be an increase of magical abilities for everyone,” she concluded.

“In that case, I shall turn Mr. Darcy into a hawk. His eyesight does need improving,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth laughed again. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”

The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. It was revealed that although she was not magical at all, her mother had been. She had the opportunity to learn spells and potions but chose not to. Elizabeth sighed in relief that they did not need to hide their abilities from so many of their close friends.

Mrs. Allen had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Kate quickly agreed. Elizabeth had no desire to stay in the house lest Mr. Bingley and his friend call on them.

“I should like to stay home, Mama,” Jane said.

“You do not wish to stay home as well, Kate?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.

“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.

“Have you had a premonition?” her mother asked.

“I do not think so. Not like before, that is. I did not see a scene unfold. Perhaps before I regain the ability to see I have the talent to sense?”

The other ladies looked at each other, hoping one may have the answer. Lady Lucas, at last, suggested, “It may be impossible to know since powers come to most as children, and they likely could not express it so well if it began in such a way.”

“I know before the ceremony last night I awoke to a burning feeling in my limbs, but I have yet to create fire,” Elizabeth said then sipped her tea. “Not that I have tried or would know how if I wished it.”

Mr. Bennet spoke from the doorway. “Go on with Mrs. Allen, Kate. When you return, if we do not have visitors, we will begin your lessons. You are all bright enough girls and had your powers for many years before the binding, so I have no doubts you shall catch on fast. Elizabeth, I request that you stay here.”

The ladies all agreed, and Kate set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. Elizabeth wondered why her father had asked her to remain at home, but her father did not stay in the room. Determined to enjoy herself while she could, she returned her attention to their guests.

Reunited- Chapter Nine

reunited 2Chapter Nine

 

Rage coursed through Will’s body as the name fell from Elizabeth’s lips. He had been so careful to not mention him to her.

“Will?”

Elizabeth’s words drew him back to the present. Concern clouded her features. “Might we walk now?”

“Is there something you do not wish for my father to know?”

Will shook his head. “No, I will speak with him later. I know myself only too well on this subject. I can relay the facts coldly which I believe would wound you, or I might become overly-emotional. I do not know if it makes any sense to you.”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment before nodding her head. “Sam and I once found a pup who had lost his mother. When we found him he was hurt but when we attempted to help him he gnashed his teeth. Sam bundled him up in his coat and carried him home. We thought to keep him in a pen so he would be safe but he only became more belligerent, attempting to bite anyone who came near him, even with food in hand. Finally, we believed he might do better on his own—his wound had healed. We opened the pen but he never left sight of us. That night, we left the door open and he willingly slept in there. The next morning, we visited again and instead of growls and angry barks, we were met with a wagging tail. He would follow Sam everywhere after that. We were both heartbroken when he went away to school.”

“I recall Sam talking of his pet. He does not still live does he?”

“No,” Elizabeth sighed sadly. “Jasper passed the autumn after Sam did.”

“I am sorry,” Will touched her hand. “It sounds as though he was a great comfort to you in the absence of your brother and then…”

“All is well,” Elizabeth answered. “I told the story to explain that I understand your feelings. Jasper was not a bad-natured animal. He only needed his freedom and space. Feeling caged heightened his anxieties.”

“That is it exactly,” he closed his eyes in relief at her perception and understanding. How had he ever been so fortunate as to meet her? “Shall we?”

Standing, Will asked for Mr. Bennet’s permission for the walk. Having received it, they set off.

“I have always regretted that you ever met Mr. Wickham,” Will began once they were some distance from the house. “He should never have been in a house full of ladies.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded and squeezed his arm.

“You know!” he repeated in amazement. “But how? Did he importune you? I ought to have killed him!”

“No, not me—” Elizabeth hastened to say and tugged on his arm to cease his movement. “Miss Graves told me she had explained it to you. I thought you knew.”

“She did indeed,” Will nodded, “but I did not know she had informed you as well.”

“It was…” Elizabeth sighed. “She found me distraught on the stairs and had assumed the worse.”

“Why were you upset?” Will cast his mind back to the week he had known Elizabeth. His memory was clouded by distance and through layers of regret, pain, and anger. He could barely recall any particulars but only knew that his heart could not deceive him. He had really loved Elizabeth.

“It was after we hid in the cupboard,” Elizabeth answered as she blushed.

Instantly, Will remembered the moment. She had sent him away after he kissed her senseless. He had believed at the time that she had believed he was ungentlemanly. She spent some time avoiding him, but when he came to her to apologise, she had nothing but sweet words and tempting looks for him. “Is she why you had calmed by the time I spoke with you next? What did she say?”

Elizabeth began walking again, nervous energy filling her. “I had built all sorts of ideas in my head. I had thought you only meant to use me—you said nothing about love or courtship, and at the theatre, you had said nothing could exist between us. She allowed me to see the differences between you and a vile abuser like Wickham.”

“I have always liked Miss Graves,” Will grinned for a moment. “She is Mrs. Annesley now—widowed to a footman we had at Darcy House. She has returned to her post as Georgiana’s governess.”

“Governess?” Elizabeth wondered. “Is she not getting quite old for that?”

“It was necessary,” Will bit out. “Come, let us sit here,” he motioned to a bench under a currently bare tree.

“Unbeknownst to me until only a few days ago, Wickham would often visit with Georgiana as a child. Even after my father died—no, I must explain matters first.”

Elizabeth listened patiently as Will paced before her and explained the situation of his father’s will. He had left a valuable living for Wickham but the young man refused all claim to it. He requested instead funds to study law—claiming that Will had given him the idea from one of their arguments—and Will had supposed that would be the end of his acquaintance with the man. Instead, like a bad cold, he came back again and again, abusing Will’s name far and wide whenever he denied him money.

“It seems while I was away from Pemberley, he would visit Georgiana. After Mrs. Annesley married, I decided to send her to a school in London. She has perceived this as me tearing her from her only friend—as she told me in today’s letter. Last summer, my cousin and I removed her from school and allowed her to travel to Ramsgate with a companion. It turns out this woman had a connection to Wickham, who arrived at Mrs. Younge’s invitation. There, he convinced Georgiana to an elopement, and it is only my unexpected arrival that put an end to the scheme.”

“An elopement!” Elizabeth cried. “And to such a man! Thank goodness you arrived in time to prevent it.”

“I saw the packed bags and confronted both her and Mrs. Younge, but the confession was most unwilling. I wrote to Wickham—he renounced all interest and intention in Georgiana, and so she blames me now for separating her from her lover.”

“How could she be so deceived in his character? How could she not believe you given your history?”

“I am afraid it is my fault,” Will said as anguish seized his heart. “I concealed the truth from her as I did not wish to wound her impression of our father. He was much to blame in permitting Wickham’s behavior. By now, you must suppose Mrs. Annesley was not the only Darcy servant to be importuned by him.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he continued, “I failed her.”

Shame gripped him. It ought to have been him to die in the fire. How many lives had he destroyed? Elizabeth’s, Georgiana’s, if he had been in his room, he might have saved Sam or his father. Mr. Bennet never would have been hurt. Instead, he selfishly drank himself near to oblivion at the tavern below.

“You did not.”

Elizabeth placed her hands on his cheeks, wiping away tears he did not realise had spilled from his eyes.

An anguished sob tore from his throat as he buried his face in her hair. “She was but fifteen—what did she know of the world? I was her only family—”

“I was only sixteen when we met and I never would have consented to an elopement. Do you remember? We discussed it.”

“I remember,” he gripped her tightly.

“And you never would have suggested it. Georgiana must face some responsibility for her choice, but most of it resides in the schemes of one man. How long have you blamed yourself for his every evil deed?”

Elizabeth’s words struck him. He had never realised before that was exactly what he had always done. “What would I do without you?”

“What did you do without me? You wrote in your letter—the one I was fortunate enough to receive—that you continued to write to me even after Sam died and all hope died. If you have kept them, I would like to read them.”

“It would do me no good in your view, I fear. I poured my anger out on the page.”

“Might I help heal those wounds? If I can understand the pain, I may better nurse them.”

“I burnt them all before coming to Hertfordshire. I had wanted to let go of the past. I never expected that you still loved me—I had convinced myself you never did. I wished only to prove that I no longer would be your fool.”

“I do not fully understand why you would believe that of me. If you recall, we did not talk very much a few days ago.”

“Oh, I remember,” he chuckled. “I would tell you of the sweetness of your lips,” he whispered in her ear, “but I do believe you said you would rather be shown love than told of it.”

Elizabeth whimpered and arched her neck as his lips inched down the column of her throat. “Yes, but I spoke of fidelity too.”

Will met her lips for one delicious moment, then pulled back. “And I will show you that as well.” He placed her hand on his arm, laughing as she returned from her daze. “I am capable of some restraint, although I do not think you can blame a man after desiring a woman for so many years and so sure he would never have her again to act as I did.”

Elizabeth agreed, and they meandered through the Netherfield gardens.

“I was a fool,” Will admitted. “Sam hinted a bit too strongly one evening about my being in love with you and Wickham heard. He taunted me for the entire trip. How would I know how to court a lady? I was too stupid to please one. She must only desire my money. I could only interest one as young and poor as you.” He shook his head. “I have little doubt that I appeared the epitome of an arrogant heir to you, but the truth was that I felt intensely insecure in my own value. I had often experienced friends who desired only to use me. Wickham is the primary example. He knew more than any other how a person could appear interested in me only to desire the Darcy name and wealth. He always knew how to make me feel most vulnerable. I do not know why I persisted in listening to him and believing him—I suppose I could not believe myself so worthy of deserving you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”

Elizabeth leaned her head against Will’s arm, and they walked in silence for a few moments. He dared not look at her face. The fact that she had not pushed him away was more than he had dared to hope for.

“I do not like that you were so easily deceived, but I do forgive you, and I can understand it. I had only my inner voice saying the same sorts of things about you.”

“Have you put those feelings to rest?” he asked as they arrived near the stable.

“I hope so,” Elizabeth answered honestly and sighed. “I suppose I will be going home soon.”

Just then, the coachman emerged. Wearing a stern face, he stomped in anger toward the house. Will called out to him.

“What is the matter?”

“Yesterday, we had supposed the carriage was stuck in the mud. I apologise, miss,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “for the dirty walk you faced in the rain.”

“As you see, I am no worse for the excursion.”

“You sound as though the problem was not the mud?” Will asked.

“The axle is broken. A nearly clean break.”

Dread knotted in Will’s stomach. “Do you suspect someone tampered with it?”

“One of our saws is missing,” he said. “I believe it must have been cut down so it might appear intact but very weak once in motion. If we had not been going so slow due to the rain, it would have been dangerous—perhaps deadly—when it broke.”

Will turned to Elizabeth, her face appearing as snow and her hands feeling like ice even through the thickness of his coat and her gloves.

“Who would do such a thing?” she asked in a trembling voice.

 

*****

 

A terrified shudder wracked Elizabeth’s body while Will and his coachman stared at one another. An unspoken conversation occurred, and although Elizabeth could not say she shared in it, in the pit of her stomach, she knew the logical culprit.

“Come, dearest,” Will led her to a stool in the stable and withdrew a flask, pressing it into her hands.

Elizabeth murmured her thanks and took a few small sips until she felt warmth and vitality rush through her. No one could have known ahead of time that it would be Elizabeth who rode in Will’s carriage next. No, he was the target. She had little difficulty believing Wickham hated Will and was capable of evil—but to attempt murder? Even worse—did this mean he was here? Near Netherfield? Near Meryton? Her eyes scanned the trees as though she would see his menacing visage. How had she ever found him handsome? In her memory, now, he was akin to a monster.

“Let us walk back, we have much to discuss with your father,” Will said and assisted her in standing.

“What will you do?” Elizabeth asked Will as they approached the house.

“I will speak with your father and also Charles. I do not believe he or any of his family is a target, but they should be careful at any rate.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Fear not. You will be returned home safely.”

“It is not me that I worry for!” Elizabeth cried, bringing them to a stop. She threw herself into Will’s arms, clutching him tightly. “Why when we have just found one another again must this happen?”

Will whispered soothing words of love in her ear and rubbed her back until the spell of emotion passed. “We do not know that anything intentional happened. I know your intelligent mind. I know you can perceive what Davis and I did not say—but if he is to blame, then you can be sure he will not be showing his face again any time soon. He thrives on lulling me into a sense of security and is too clever to push his luck and be caught. I would hazard a guess even if we found proof that he had been here he is now far away.”

Elizabeth wiped her tears with the handkerchief Will offered and nodded. London was a very convenient distance, and he easily could hide there.

“I will write to my cousin and inquire about Wickham’s whereabouts, but if I know Wickham, he would much rather have me alive than dead. You cannot blackmail a dead man.”

Elizabeth was not at all proud of the fact that for a fleeting moment, amidst the gut-wrenching pain of imagining Will dead, she considered that his heir must be his sister. Would Georgiana want him dead so she might marry Wickham? Or would he put a plan into action without her knowledge to remove her guardian? Biting her tongue, Elizabeth chose not to voice her concerns. Will knew both far better than she did and if he did not entertain the possibility of them then more than likely she would only pain him with such wild possibilities.

Had she learned nothing in recent days? She should put her most fevered ideas behind her and not give into her imagination. There were no clues to lead to her recent thoughts. Good heavens! Was she turning into her step-mother?

Upon reaching the house, Mr. Bennet greeted them. “I am feeling much recovered, and your mother has sent a missive begging our return on the morrow. My cousin arrives the following day and she says the master of the house is required to be in residence.”

“Your cousin?” Will asked.

“He is the son of the man who was heir before Sam was born. We have never met Mr. Collins before, but he seems quite ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” her father laughed. “His letter contained more compliments to his patroness—a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he mentioned as though I should know her name—than it did to my wife or daughters—of which there were many although he has never seen them.”

Will started at Mr. Bennet’s words. “Pardon me, did you say Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Upon confirmation, Will looked between father and daughter, and said in an amazed one, “She is my mother’s sister. How came he to know her?”

“He did not say,” Mr. Bennet answered. “I had thought you might return with certain news you wished to share?” He glanced between Will and Elizabeth. “Will told me you would soon be selecting a wedding date?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth answered and looked at her feet. Yes, she had told Will she would compromise and settle a date but must she decide just now? Her stepmother must have opinions about such things and still as far as the rest of the world knew they had never spent much time together. They could not announce it right away.

“Unfortunately, we did not have a moment to discuss the date,” Will hastily intervened. “On that subject, I do request an audience with you but not on the topic of the wedding.”

“Certainly,” Mr. Bennet agreed and followed Will to the library.

Sighing, Elizabeth determined to join the others in the drawing room. Her mind could not focus on any of the conversations at hand. Caroline must have delighted in seeing what looked like evidence of her stupidity. Elizabeth’s mind worked again and again. Why would Wickham wish to kill Will? Was Wickham as harmless as Will believed?

Elizabeth and Will had no more opportunity to talk and the afternoon and evening were filled with Caroline’s insistence upon music and cards, gently scolding Will for writing letters when he had requested the music. Elizabeth stole glances at him during her time at the pianoforte. He rarely looked up from his page, but often his pen did not move as though he were lost in the music. A few times their eyes locked and Elizabeth almost believed then that love was a tangible thing. She could feel his caress with his eyes. His arms were around her once more and the safe, secure feeling she always felt in his presence filled her.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. After describing the house to her sisters and her mother, Elizabeth retreated to her room for solitude. A half hour later, she was not surprised when there was a knock at her door, and Jane entered.

“Are you very jealous of me for getting to spend time at Netherfield?” Elizabeth teased.

“I am very thankful that Papa recovered so quickly and you were there to help. Was it an agreeable visit?”

Very agreeable,” Elizabeth beamed. “Will and I managed to have many conversations, and I think we understand one another much more now.”

“Do you trust him now? Do you have peace about the past?”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, I will tell you that Mr. Bingley asked about you several times a day and always seemed to work you into the conversation.”

“He did not,” Jane blushed. “Do not tease me so.”

“I am telling the utter truth!” Elizabeth grinned and hugged her sister. “Perhaps when I next visit the house you will be its mistress.” She could not contain a set of giggles as she used her best Fanny Bennet impression.

“Lizzy!” Jane pretended to scold but smiled at Elizabeth’s words.

Suddenly, Elizabeth sobered and squeezed her sister again. “Thank you for always being so selfless. I am sure you listened to me cry over Will far more than you ever wished.”

“I would say so! I would never wish for your heart to be broken.”

“I did not mean it in that way. I am certain if the positions were reversed, I would have lost patience with you in a matter of weeks.”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “You are my dearest friend and can be excessively protective. If the situations were reversed, you would have girded your loins and marched to London to demand explanation and retribution. I am weak compared to you.”

“Never say such a thing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Your strength is, perhaps, different than mine. It is quieter, but I see it and so must all who call you friend.”

Jane smiled, and the sisters sat in companionable solitude for a few moments until there was shouting from the hallway. “Lizzy! Jane!” Lydia yelled. “Mama says to come downstairs!”

Sharing a smile, they left their chamber and rejoined the family below.