Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Twelve

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven  / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven

Chapter Twelve

A heavy weight draped across Elizabeth’s midsection when she awoke the morning of their departure from the inn. Darcy’s palm gently cupped a breast. Although her ankle was still weak, she looked forward to the journey. The quicker they got to Scotland the better, in her opinion.

Beside her, Darcy stirred. He pulled her closer and kissed the exposed skin of her neck. “I love waking up to you in my arms.”

Elizabeth grinned and burrowed closer against him. “You always shall, until death do us part.”

Before her upset about Bingley and Jane, Elizabeth had thought she was more than halfway to being in love with Darcy. Now, she had lost some of her restraint. Why should she not love him? He was deserving of it, and she was willing. He declared she also was worthy of love… That she found more difficult to believe.

Such thoughts evaporated from her mind, however, as Darcy’s hand proceeded to wander. His fingers grazed the skin of her collarbone and the tops of her shoulders. Elizabeth sighed at the sensation.

“Do you enjoy it when I touch you like this?”

“Yes.” Elizabeth’s answer sounded more like a breathy moan, and she arched herself, wordlessly begging him to continue.

“Roll over and face me,” Darcy said.

Elizabeth immediately obeyed. For several minutes, Darcy worshipped her lips. Slowly, one hand began to wander over her curves. His hand made lazy circles until reaching the center of one breast, he pulled at the tight bud. His hand continued its work as his mouth ceased his ministrations, uttering instead:

“While walking down yonder path one Spring day,

I espied a Summer bud wild and free.

It grew among the weeds and hay

Wind and frost rose up, I could not leave it be.

Pruning, sheltering, and nurturing

It survived and grew full height, you see,

Loudly now the church bells ring,

My wild Summer bloom ne’er fails to delight me,

As it drinks up the sunlight’s ray.”

As he recited the words, Darcy pulled open the ribbon in front of Elizabeth’s gown, gently pushing it aside. His eyes never left hers, as his hand stroked her skin. The warmth from his palm was welcome on the cool early Spring day, yet, her body shivered with each graze of his flesh against hers.

Darcy alternated pressure during his exploration, sometimes eliciting a gentle sigh, other times a long moan from her lips. Her mind could barely form a coherent thought. “Did you write that?”

“Yes.”

“It is beautiful,” Elizabeth sighed as his hand continued to work over her body. Perhaps it was not the most laudable piece of poetry compared with the works of the greats, but it sounded infinitely superior to her ears.

“You are beautiful.” He nudged more of the fabric over, and his eyes finally left hers. “So very beautiful.”

“When did you write it?”

“I considered a few lines of it last autumn. More pieces came to me during the winter. However, the final line occurred to me just now.”

He pulled back, and Elizabeth smiled as a ray of sunshine bathed her flesh in a yellow glow. “You wrote it about me?”

“Yes.”

Darcy answered as his eyes followed the circles of his fingers, doubling the sensations Elizabeth enjoyed.

“You are my wild summer bloom, Elizabeth. And I will care for you through the storms which would destroy you. You think you are the problem, but you have only grown too early and in a difficult position.”

Elizabeth sighed as tears pricked her eyes. This was what it felt like to be loved, to be genuinely and unconditionally loved. She pulled Darcy’s head to hers and told him all the whispers of her heart in the only way she knew.

Later, they separated to prepare for their journey. Elizabeth decided to return to her old chamber and visit with Molly and any of the other ladies who might be there as it was still early in the day.

“La! She is to leave today,” Molly’s voice rang out through the open door to the maids’ quarters.

Elizabeth stopped outside to hear more. 

“You ought to have seen her preening in his room,” Molly continued, “as though she were a duchess or married to a prince.”

“But how can they be married?” One of the other barmaids asked. “Do you think she left him? I knew a girl once who did. She said she would go back as soon as he could learn to be grateful for what he had.”

“They ain’t married. She kept saying he would marry her and give her his name, but I don’t believe it for one minute. She will be Lizzy Smith forever—if that is even her real name! We know Cordelia uses a false one.”

“The men like thinking they are with a fancy piece,” the named maid sniffed. “They would much rather have Cordelia in their arms for a tryst than Nellie.”

“I thought you were going with them,” one of the maids said to Molly.

“Well, isn’t that just like her? You remember when she first came? I said she was too uppity to make friends with the likes of us.”

“But she did,” someone offered timidly.

“Like she had any choice! But you see how she really treats her friends. Said I couldn’t come with them, but I would bet she doesn’t want anyone knowing about her past.”

Elizabeth pushed open the door. “I thought you just said you doubted he would marry me at all,”

The other girls immediately gasped and blushed. A few stammered an apology.

“What do you want, Lizzy? Thought you were leaving to be with your fancy mister,” Molly said with a raised chin.

“I wanted to say goodbye to people who I thought were my friends. I can see now I was mistaken. You know I never said you would leave with us. Did you ever count yourself as my friend or was it only when I had a greater opportunity than you that you became jealous and spiteful, Molly?”

“Don’t act like you wouldn’t say the same thing to any of us.”

“No, I would not.”

“Then you are stupider than I thought. Good luck with your man. He will grow tired of you just like whoever you came from before.”

Elizabeth stared at the young woman she had called a friend for months. Had Molly always been so mean and she just had not seen it before? Casting her mind back, Elizabeth did see the signs. She had done the same with her family as well. She always made excuses for people.

Elizabeth left the room and found Darcy waiting for her in their chamber. He was ready to depart. The bill was settled with Cuthbert, and the carriage waited for them. Elizabeth hated the uneasiness that was in his eyes. Had she thought she was not returning? Did he think she would argue about hiring Molly?

The start of their journey was quiet, and it took some time for Elizabeth’s mood to lighten. Just as quickly as it improved, her good humour evaporated. They were nearing London, and she could not forget her aunt and uncle and the wrong they had done her.

“Will we stay in London for the night?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, I did not think you would prefer it. My valet arranged for us to stay a few hours from here, once we are on Watling Street. We stop in Town only long enough for me to sign the final drafts with my solicitor. Did you post your letter to Jane? If not, we surely can while we are here.”

Elizabeth admitted she had not put it in the post. She had intended to do so after speaking with her friends but entirely forgot after hearing their gossip.

While Darcy spoke with his solicitor, Elizabeth waited in the coach. She watched people from the carriage window and even thought she saw Miss Bingley. She was on the arm of a wealthy looking man and looked as carefree as when Elizabeth last saw her. Had it only been five months? It felt as though it had been years to Elizabeth—lifetimes. She thought about how insufficient she had felt compared to Miss Bingley’s list of accomplished ladies in November and how much worse she would be considered now after labouring for her bread. She considered how even girls she had known closely and unguardedly for months thought she had prostituted herself. Molly’s last statement stung the most—Darcy would tire of her, just like whoever she came from did.

Leaning back against the squabs, Elizabeth closed her eyes to keep the tears at bay. She focused on breathing in and out while counting to ten in English and French. By the time Darcy returned to the carriage, she had begun to hum an Italian aria she had always liked. Not only did it remind her of the positive things about who she was as Elizabeth Bennet, but it also helped preoccupy her mind. In that vein, she found things to chatter about until they reached their first inn.

Darcy grasped Elizabeth’s hand as the carriage came to a stop. “I hate to present it in such a way, but as we will be feigning a marriage, I thought you should wear this.” He pulled a simple band from his breast pocket and held it for her inspection.

Elizabeth nodded and removed a hand from her gloves. She knew as much as he did that she had to play a role. Still…something seemed lacking. “Do you think…do you think you could say the words? We could just say our vows now, and although it is not legal, it would mean something when I wore this? It would not be as much of a lie?” She had grown ever so tired of lying.

“When we really wed, you will wear a Darcy heirloom ring. Until we reach Scotland, we shall present ourselves as Mr. and Mrs. Smith to be less conspicuous. However, no matter our name or the jewellery on your hand, I will eagerly say our vows and faithfully keep them.”

They rushed through their makeshift wedding ceremony with Elizabeth promising to love and obey Darcy. It was the first time she had said the words, and she hoped more than ever she could make them true.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” Darcy said as he slid the band over her finger then raised her hand for a kiss. Smiling, he added, “I love you.”

Elizabeth wordlessly returned the gesture although he wore no ring. She knew he loved her. He had orchestrated all of this for her. For now, that would be enough.

That night, as he held her in bed, Elizabeth confessed to her altercation with Molly. She aired the feelings which had nagged her all day.

“What upsets me the most,” she said, “was, do I not deserve genuine friends? Perhaps if I had been more open—”

“There was nothing about you that could change her. You are very worthy of friendship, and I think once you are in a larger circle of acquaintance you will find some. She provided you with companionship when you most needed it, but she is really just another weed that needs pruning.”

“I am sorry if I was in a sour mood. The day started off so well…” Elizabeth sighed with the memories of Darcy’s touch.

“I shall happily repeat my actions from this morning,” he murmured before capturing her lips.

Friday Feature– No Cause to Repine

No Cause to Repine was my first book baby. Was it the first story I wrote? No. Was it the first story I published? Also, no. How was it my first book baby then?

Well, it was the first time, I had considered that I might actually be sort of decent at writing. It was the first time I wrote a story that took more than a few hours to pen and required thinking and structuring. It was my first story with chapters. It was my first story with beta readers and editors. (Obviously, the published forms of earlier stories have had both, but they did not when I had posted them online.)

The story that is published as The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter, began as a short story challenge. It originally had a different title and was about a quarter of its current size. Letters from the Heart, began the same way. I had already finished writing and posting No Cause to Repine before I ever considered publishing my works. I couldn’t bear to put my baby up for critique yet, so I started with my shorter works. I revised and edited until they were novella length. 

The current cover (November 2018)

While I had no intention of publishing the entire time I was working on No Cause to Repine, it will always be dear to my heart. I feel as though I came into my own while working on it. My last post mentioned how Undone Business did that for me even more and the truth is, I wasn’t quite finished with NCTR when I started working on Undone Business. My beta reader even scolded me more than once for moonlighting on other stories instead of giving my attention to NCTR. Hey, even moms need a break!

NCTR opened up such a new world to me. I had been reading JAFF for about a year when I began working on that story. Now, that may not seem like long, but it had been an eventful year! I read a new story, sometimes more than one, every day. I began reading JAFF in January of 213 and ran out of available published works by March. I still refuse to tally up how much I spent during that time. I soon found the forums and spent a lot of time reading and commenting on them. I would check for story updates multiple times a day. By the time my daughter was born at the end of May, I stopped reading a story only long enough for the emergency c-section. I was reading JAFF even in my hospital bed with a sleeping newborn! I’m sure you’re going to shake your head and say that I should have been sleeping too, but the truth is that I had awful anxiety and insomnia and just couldn’t sleep. JAFF provided a much needed balm and escape during those months!

By the time I ran out of things to read and had scenarios in my own head shouting for escape, it was September and I had made it through the first few weeks of newborn madness. My first short stories were inspired by prompts but I think I kept with a certain framework of how JAFFs usually go. Usually, Caroline is super mean. Usually, Wickham comes between Darcy and Lizzy. Usually, Lydia does something stupid. Usually, Georgiana is a sweetheart. I could go on and on. I’ve been fighting against “usually” in my stories ever since. 

It’s not that I take all those JAFF tropes and throw them out the window. I certainly didn’t do that intentionally in NCTR. It’s there in abundance. Like my first two stories, it began with a writing prompt. The monthly theme on A Happy Assembly’s playground was “compromises.” However, this time, I knew right away that the idea would be too long for a short story. 

The first cover from it’s release in May 2015

I had already loved forced marriage scenarios and found an opportunity to create one within events Jane Austen had already described. An innocuous description opened the possibility to me. When Darcy visits the Hunsford Parsonage and unexpectedly finds Elizabeth alone, he scoots his chair forward at one point. Then he pushes it back. Having a rug in my house that tormented me, I could envision all too easily how it might bunch up during those movements and later trip an unsuspecting person. Of course, timing is everything. Darcy fell into Elizabeth’s lap just when Mr. Collins enters the room and allowing him to be the typical caricature that he is in JAFF, I let him spew evil vindictiveness and threaten to spread it near and far. Lady Catherine soon got in a huff and things escalated from there. 

It’s not a very unique set up for a compromising scenario. Obviously, there needs to be an over-reacting witness or it’s too easy to say it was an accident. Unless, of course, someone actually is doing something ruinous but I was far too timid to write such a thing then. I wanted to write a different sort of forced marriage scenario. I wanted Elizabeth to be more rational. I didn’t want her to despair as much as I often read happening. I didn’t want there to be countless opportunities for them to talk and clear their misunderstandings, as married couples are afforded hours of privacy together. 

However, it’s not even that situation that I think had the most impact on my writing. After all, I write emotional Elizabeths all the time now. I can’t even remember exactly why I was looking things up, but I was doing some math and trying to figure out when Darcy was born, when his father died, and when Georgiana was born. I just wanted a dollop of historical context. I was curious about what else happened in the world during those years. I noticed each had some serious market catastrophes. 

My undergraduate degree is in history, oh, and I was attempting to finish my master’s degree in European History while working on No Cause to Repine (which I didn’t finish but maybe one day I will). Pride and Prejudice is romantic, to me, but it’s also so much more. I jumped at the chance to use history in a way that made sense to me. I care far less about descriptions of gowns, food, and china patterns. Those would have been as boring as our own china patterns to the characters. I find those descriptions feel out of place because it pulls me from the story. I’m no longer the character just walking amongst the world. I’m the reader and the author is trying to tell me about this world that I’m not actually a part of. It’s seldom well-done and often is just a case of trying to show off research that doesn’t advance the story or the conflict. My intention with using the historical context of devastating economic turn of events was to weave it into the conflict. Why was Lady Catherine doing this? Why did she want Darcy to marry Anne so desperately? Why was this never brought up and dealt with before? 

This is the first cover I ever made by myself! I think it fits the story well!

Below, is an excerpt from No Cause to Repine, which leads Darcy to ask more questions about Lady Catherine’s motives.

Fitzwilliam poured himself another glass and topped off Darcy’s. “Finish it. I mean it.” With a questioning glance, Darcy downed the brandy.

His cousin explained, “The day you left Kent, I overheard Lady Catherine mumbling to herself in her study. Anne and I knew of the accidental compromise and how upset my aunt was. We expected her to try to prevent the marriage in some way, so when we noticed her return, I managed silently to observe her.” He paused a moment. “William, I never knew she could scheme so brilliantly. It is a blessing she constantly rattles off her supposedly superior opinions, otherwise I never would have known what she was capable of.”

“What do you mean?”

“She hatched multiple schemes and chose to implement them all at once. Aside from attempting her verbal insults, she has issued an edict of silence on the matter and made Mr. Collins a messenger to Mr. Bennet, attempting to bribe the man into not recognizing the engagement.”

“Yes, we were at Longbourn in time to receive the letters. I do not trust she can enforce silence, and I do not believe she could truly honour the payment to Mr. Bennet…and he agrees with me.”

“There is more. She also sent a letter to Wickham.” Darcy’s eyes grew wide. “She believes if the Bennet reputation could be destroyed, you would not marry Miss Elizabeth and, therefore, would marry Anne instead. She still desires to keep the engagement a secret, but she charged him with seducing one of Miss Elizabeth’s sisters.”

“It is news to me that she would consult Wickham, but I already anticipated his desire to either seduce or elope with one of the girls,” Darcy calmly replied.

“She also intends to manipulate you with Georgiana’s reputation.”

Darcy jumped from his chair, and his cousin took a step backwards. “How does she even know?”

Fitzwilliam took another step back to give his cousin a wide berth before replying, “Remember she recommended Mrs. Younge? She must have contacted them both.”

Darcy stumbled back into his chair in disbelief. “How did she find him?  And why target Georgiana?”

“Is it not obvious?  She thought if Georgiana eloped, she could control you by hushing up the matter. If you recall, just after the incident, she began to claim Georgiana needed proper guidance for Society and attempted to show Anne as ideal to help the poor girl.”

Darcy seethed with rage but knew he needed to regulate himself to comprehend all of the information. “And she knew of Wickham’s whereabouts?”

“I do not know the answer to that question but I spent the last several days doing some research.”

“And what did you find?”

“Do you recall the year when she began declaring you were to marry Anne?”

“It was just after Mother passed. I was twelve, so it was 1796. Why?”

“Patience. And after your father passed?”

“She was almost frantic with pressing the issue, but I managed to show how overwhelming it was being such a young master. What does this have to do with Georgiana or her present business with Wickham?”

“Do you recall anything of the bank crisis in 1796?”

“I was obviously very young, but I do remember it some. If I recall correctly, it was caused by land speculation in America.”

You can purchase No Cause to Repine at this link: 
books2read.com/u/38rKBL

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eleven

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven  / Eight / Nine / Ten

Chapter Eleven


Darcy pulled his wife closer. His wife! How often he had dreamt of calling Elizabeth that. Here she was, finally in his arms. His lips found the curve of her neck, delighting in the shiver he felt wrack her petite frame. As he kissed her smooth skin, he felt goose pimples emerge. He found her earlobe and sucked on it until she let out a breathy exhale. The hand around her waist wandered north. She was so soft, so comforting, so everything he had ever needed but never knew. The tightening bud under his palm and the sharp inhale he heard brought his mind to the present.

The glorious dream evaporated and Darcy wrenched his hand away as he realised he was not embracing Elizabeth, his loving wife, but instead Elizabeth, his skittish betrothed.

She was still beside him, making neither a sound nor a move. Darcy rolled to his back and raised to his elbows. They were no longer touching, but he could feel the heat from her body still. The taste of her skin was on her mouth and the feel of her imprinted on his hand.

Fighting through the temptation and embarrassment, his honour demanded he speak. “Touch…you…apologise…pardon…”

He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a growl as his tongue could not form coherent words. Elizabeth sat up as well. She placed a hand on his arm, causing him to jump. The last thing he needed at the moment was her touching him. Need still coursed through his veins and thrummed in every muscle of his body.

“Fitzwilliam?” Elizabeth coaxed and finally, he turned his face to hers. “There is no need to apologise. Your touch was heavenly.” She picked up his hand and held it in hers.

“I had no right. This is precisely why I suggested you should journey ahead.”

“Are you ashamed of what you feel?” Elizabeth’s voice was just above a whisper.

“Only of the timing. We are not wed, and even then, I vowed I would not demand any husbandly rights. I wish for you to desire me as much as I long for you.”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth acknowledged as she blushed. “Perhaps not as much and certainly not with as much knowledge or for as long but your touch is not unwelcome.”

The noble part of Darcy’s mind stuttered to understand her confession. She was not saying she loved him. She esteemed him enough to feel attraction. She trusted him enough to voice it and know that it would not mark her as wanton. They were engaged to be married and had shared a bed for several nights. Most couples in their position would have gone far past an accidental touch. These were all good signs. However, he was unsure if they were enough to satisfy him.

“What do you feel for me, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked. “We only met again a few days ago, and yet sometimes it feels as if years have passed. I do not wish to rush you. However, I confess to confusion. Sometimes you seem nearly enamoured with me. You have said you esteem and respect me, but you have also been quick to doubt me. You have attempted to flee more than once.”

“Those are my failings, not yours. Trusting you makes me uncomfortable.”

Darcy sucked in a breath. He had known it to be true, had he not?

“It is not because of anything you have done or said. My fears and doubts are not a reflection of your or even reality. I am attempting to improve. I trust you. It still makes me uncomfortable after spending my entire life having only myself to trust, but I do trust you. In time, my unease will pass away. I know you shall not give me any reason to doubt or regret giving you my trust.”

It was hardly the stuff of romance. However, Elizabeth had been so wounded perhaps she did not wish for poetry, flowers, and flattery as most ladies did during courtship.

Interrupting his thoughts, she tugged on him to lay back down. She nestled against him, with her head resting over his heart in what had become a favourite position for him. She let out a happy sigh.

“I feel safe here with you, like this.”

Darcy tightened his arm around her. His injured arm was nearly healed and could stretch out to add to the embrace. “Does my holding you give you comfort?”

Elizabeth nodded against his chest.

“It brings me comfort, as well,” he said. “It settles something in my soul—something only you can satisfy. I love you so very much.” He pressed a kiss to her hair.

He held her in silence for so long he had thought she fell back asleep. It was just as well with him if she preferred to rest in bed all day. Holding her was far preferable to going through the motions of a regular day. They had both tired of reading and sitting in silence in this room. He was just beginning to wonder if they could leave on the morrow when Elizabeth spoke.

“What is love, Fitzwilliam? I do not think I know anymore.”

“There are many types of love, of course. I think at its root is a selfless desire for the other’s well-being and a feeling of belonging. You accept and acknowledge the other’s faults without it lessening their value.”

“I do not know that I have ever felt that,” Elizabeth whispered. “So much of my life was merely a duty to others.”

“I can perfectly understand that. However, did you walk through three miles of mud to take care of Jane at Netherfield only out of duty? She was not gravely ill.”

“Who could do less for Jane? No, caring for her was never a duty.”

“Then that is one person you have loved. Elizabeth,” Darcy said as he pulled her up to meet his eyes, “you have a very great capacity to love. Are you concerned that you do not?”

“I have felt empty and broken for so long.” Tears glittered in her eyes.

“You have felt unloved, but I do not believe for one moment that love did not drive all your actions and thoughts.”

“Perhaps I was only as selfish as my parents.”

“We have already established there was no selfishness in visiting Jane. Indeed, I can think of few places you would have preferred less than to be at Netherfield.”

“I did not do enough for my other sisters. I preferred Jane’s company because she was the easiest and could soothe me. I shunned Kitty and Lydia and look at what they did.”

“You did not reward their ill-behaviour. Did you view their actions with concern?”

“Certainly.”

“And did you think about yourself then?”

“No, I feared for them—for their reputations if not for their strength of mind.”

“Now, let us compare matters. Let us recall the evening of Bingley’s ball, as I have already explained it was important in my understanding of your family. One of your sisters played the pianoforte.”

“You do not need to remind me,” Elizabeth groaned. “I was embarrassed by her putting herself forward so much as to perform a second song when her skills could not support it. I pleaded with my father to intervene.”

“Indeed? Did you? If you recall, I sat very near you and could hear everything else said at your area of the table. I heard no application.”

“I gave him looks which meant I wished him to stop her.”

“Ah, so then you are certainly not accountable for the manner in which he did so.”

Elizabeth agreed. “However, I was selfish at the time. I feared what Mary’s actions would mean for us. My mother was loudly extolling how Jane would marry Bingley. Kitty and Lydia were outrageously flirtatious. How could I not be embarrassed?”

“Momentary embarrassment does not mean you do not love them. Did you fear it meant others whose opinion you valued would cease to admire you?”

“Of course not. Everyone in Meryton was used to our behaviour, and if Mr. Bingley really loved Jane, then he would never blame her for the actions of her family.”

“So you worried, then, for their own account. They ought to have known better and have more pride in their own reputations to behave better.”

“I suppose that would be the best way to say it.”

“That does not sound very selfish to me.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “It does not. However, how is that different from my mother?”

“Do you feel like a lesser person because Lydia eloped?” Elizabeth shook her head. “Has Jane’s situation affected your perception of yourself?”

“No. However, I blame myself for the things we spoke of yesterday.”

“I do not mean to say that you should blame yourself for those reasons, however, it’s certainly not due to selfishness. You have not thought of yourself in all of this.”

“When I left Longbourn, I did.”

“You left to seek help because you could no longer bear the problems at home. You intended to make matters better for others no matter the cost to yourself. Even now, you speak of Jane and Mary often.”

“I was exhausted from it all,” Elizabeth whispered. “I felt as fragile as glass and knew I would be the next to break.”

“It is not selfish to care for yourself, especially when no one else is capable of doing such.” Darcy kissed her forehead. “However, you are no longer alone. I care for you. You need only ask.”

Elizabeth let out a deep exhale. “It will take some time to get used to the idea of not blaming myself. I have spent my life being measured to my mother and have always prided myself in not being like her. My greatest fear was that I became her by rashly choosing to leave Longbourn and indulge in what was best for me alone.”

“Do not be so harsh on yourself. I think you can agree you have deeply loved your family. You have accepted all of their flaws. However, you despise yourself. You demand unreasonable perfection.”

Elizabeth blinked rapidly at his words. “I had not considered that before.”

He wished he could tell her that he would love her enough for both of them, but he believed that would be insufficient. Even if he could convince her of that, one day she would be angry that she relied entirely on him for feelings of worth. She needed to learn to be satisfied with herself, and he could not do that work for her.

“Speaking of love, I have been wondering if you think I ought to inform Bingley of my error. Would Jane welcome his suit if he returned to Netherfield?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. I do not know that she is well enough to be courted by anyone. She would hate that I broke her confidence and told you of her feelings at all. I wish there were some way for me to know how she fared.”

“Why not write to her?”

“I cannot. I do not wish for my family to discover my location.”

“You felt that way when you first arrived because you feared they would take you back to Longbourn. It was one of the first things you said to me. However, no one can forcibly remove you, and I will not allow them. We are betrothed, and I will not give you up.” He smiled before raising her hand to his lips.

“I suppose I could try. By the time the letter arrived, we might have already left. I would have to indicate where to send the reply and when we expected to be there. However, there would be no way they could journey there faster than us.”

“I doubt they would even try or confront us at all. They would probably only be relieved that you were safe, even if they refused to acknowledge their part in your situation.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said before kissing him. “I can hardly tell you how pleased I am to write to Jane.”

“Your kiss spoke for you very well,” he said before claiming one for himself.

“Then I shall communicate more in such a wa—”

Darcy ceased her words with a kiss. The sun was high in the sky before they ordered breakfast and Darcy sent for a maid to assist Elizabeth in dressing. They had agreed to leave on the morrow and spend the day in bed with each other. Amidst more light-hearted conversation than they had previously indulged in, they each grew bolder in their caresses. As they learned their bodies and the preferences of both, they discovered a shared affinity for history, poetry, and certain novels. Elizabeth had never been beyond London and delighted in hearing Darcy’s descriptions of Pemberley and the adjacent area as well as his memories of Scotland and Ireland. He fell asleep with a pleased smile on his face. Some things were even better than dreams.

Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

Due to the controversy regarding Baby, It’s Cold Outside (which I think is harmless so here’s the link to my favorite version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rpg7-ab_F7s), I can’t get the song out of my head. Mr. Darcy told me that he had a story to tell, but then Elizabeth wanted it all through her point of view. From your favorite hero who can’t make words happen, here’s what might happen if Darcy and Lizzy were singing the song. 

Elizabeth Bennet rubbed her gloved hands together in her fur muff. It was no use, however. It was simply too cold. She glanced up at the sky. And too snowy. The winter storm rolled in quickly since she left had Longbourn.

She had only intended to enjoy a walk. She needed time to herself after all the noise of Christmas the day before. Mrs. Bennet had crowed non-stop about how grand it was to have her eldest daughter established as the mistress of Netherfield Park. Elizabeth lost count after hearing it for the one hundredth time. God bless Mr. Bingley, but he did not seem to care. Indeed, his joy of having Jane as his wife was so much that nothing Mrs. Bennet could do would offend him. There was a time when Elizabeth would have applauded his amiability and think of it as the sort of behaviour which would most appeal to her in a suitor. However, that was before she met Mr. Darcy.

The Mr. Darcy who had separated Jane from her Mr. Bingley. The same Mr. Darcy who proposed to Elizabeth last Spring. A proposal she spitefully refused. Next, he wrote her a letter, illuminating all of the reasons for his insufficient manners. Over time, Elizabeth had learned to accept his words. However, she had never done any looking into her heart over the matter. She had thought him the worst man in the world when he proposed and while his character improved after she read his letter, she never expected to meet him again. 

Alas, Elizabeth visited Mr. Darcy’s estate over the summer. Confronted with all things Darcy, she soon realized hearts are treacherous things. If ever there was a man she could have loved and rejoiced in marrying, it would have been him. Her only complaint about him was that he was not friendly enough to her relations. No sooner had she made such an observation than did the master of the estate appear before her. 

Even more shocking, Mr. Darcy not only asked for an introduction to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle who were in trade, but he called on them the next day with his sister–and Mr. Bingley. He invited them all to Pemberley to dine. However, before such a thing could occur, Elizabeth received a letter that her youngest sister had eloped with Darcy’s sworn enemy. 

How Elizabeth had grieved her chance with Darcy then! If not for Lydia’s stupidity, their second chance might have grown to more. When Elizabeth later learned that Darcy had arranged for the reckless couple to marry, she finally admitted the truth to herself. She was madly in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

It could never be, however. He could never become brother-in-law to Mr. Wickham. A few weeks after Lydia’s marriage, Darcy returned to Hertfordshire with his friend Bingley. Of course, Darcy disappeared just as suddenly. Bingley made quick work of his courtship this time and proposed to Jane within days of his return. 

Elizabeth counted the days to the wedding, hoping to see Darcy once more. She knew it was likely vain to hope for his continued affections or wishes. She only wished to see him, to hear his voice. Most of all, she wished she could thank him for his service to her family. Only her aunt and uncle knew the truth of Darcy’s character and what he did for the Bennets.

He came, of course. He had amended his view of Bingley’s marriage and appeared the delighted friend. However, he avoided Elizabeth’s eyes and conversation. He never approached her. He always seemed surrounded by others.

He left the next day and Elizabeth had not seen him since. Jane said he had been invited to Netherfield for Christmas but declined. Instead, the new Mr. and Mrs. Bingley spent the day at Longbourn with the Bennets, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their four noisy children, Elizabeth’s other aunt and uncle who were vulgar, and Mary’s suitor.

Mrs. Bennet’s victory was complete with Mary having a beau. It also made Elizabeth a target for her displeasure more than ever. Was it any wonder that Elizabeth needed a few moments to herself? Deciding that a visit with Jane was precisely what she needed, she determined to continue on to Netherfield. A broken heart cannot heal amidst the laughter and gaeity of others, but Jane and Bingley’s gentle company could restore her mood.

During Elizabeth’s walk, it had begun to flurry. Undeterred, Elizabeth pressed on to Netherfield. She needed quiet and sweet Jane to soothe her mind. A mile later, and the snow fell in earnest. As she was closer to Netherfield than Longbourn, she continued to her destination. By the time she reached it, however, her teeth chattered and the snow was above her ankles. There would be no returning to Longbourn today. She would be lucky if even a servant could be sent to inform her family where she was. 

Elizabeth rang the bell and waited several minutes but no butler opened the door. Confused, Elizabeth pushed it open herself and was stomping off the snow on her boots in the dark entry when an unexpected voice startled her. 

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth quickly ducked her head to hide her blush. “I did not know you were visiting.”

“It was supposed to be a surprise,” he said as he hastened to her side and assisted with unwrapping her scarf.

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

Darcy furrowed his brow. “When did I say that?”

“Here above a year ago. You decried Bingley’s penchant for changing his plan on a whim.”

“That is hardly the same thing. Surprising others is not the same as it being a sudden change of plans on my part.” He took her elbow and began directing her to the drawing room. “However, I am the fool after all for Bingley seems to have given the entire staff the day off and I presume has left to spend it at Longbourn.”

Elizabeth chuckled and shook her head. That was just the sort of thing he would do. He rewarded his own house while unintentionally straining another’s. Still, Elizabeth could not fault him too much–or perhaps she could not focus on it too much as Darcy’s nearness made her heart race.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. “If we are alone, I really cannot stay.” 

“Nonsense,” Darcy frowned. “The snow is coming far too rapidly for you to return now. I have not checked all the servant’s quarters but surely someone has remained.”

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

“They are not in their rooms. However, I have a fire lit in here,” Darcy said as they entered the drawing room. “You must warm yourself, at the very least.” He motioned to a chair and then took her hand to assist her in sitting. “Your hands are like ice!”

Darcy rubbed his hands over hers while staring intently into her eyes. Elizabeth felt she could say nothing. His tender care of her was everything she had ever wanted and yet it could never mean what she most desired. She both hated and loved his attention.

After a minute or two, he placed her hands on his chest. “I was hoping I would see you, Elizabeth.”

She sucked in a deep breath. He could not mean what she hoped. “I really should leave,” she murmured.

“You are still nearly frozen,” he said as he let go of her hands and led her nearer the fire. Next, he dragged the nearby settee closer. 

Unable to resist the heat’s temptation, Elizabeth sat. It felt inexplicably nice to warm herself after the freezing walk. Darcy busied himself with a decanter of wine and returned with two glasses. 

“This will help warm you,” he said when he offered one to her.

Elizabeth drank it rapidly, enjoying the flush that came to her body. Darcy reached for her glass and their fingers grazed. “I really should not have more.”

“I have seen you drink more during a dinner.” Sitting beside her, he sipped on his own glass. 

He must have seen her drinking wine while dining at Lady Catherine’s. Heaven knew one needed it there. And when alone with the man they hopelessly loved, apparently. Nervous with the silence and his nearness, Elizabeth lightly smiled. “Well, maybe just a bit more.” 

The only sound was the crackling of logs and while Elizabeth avoided looking at him, she could feel Darcy’s eyes upon her. A thousand memories washed over her. He had always watched her. At first, she had thought it was with criticism. Too late, she had realized it was in love. Now, she did not know what she would find in his eyes if she were brave enough to look upon them. After a few minutes of silence, Darcy began humming a tune. She finally turned her head to him, still averting her eyes.

“Do you recognize it?” he asked. “I believe you played it when you stayed here while your sister was ill.”

She had. Did his remembering that signify anything? Did it mean he still loved her? Or was it a reminder of the odds they were at during that time? She had thought she hated him and he had thought she was unworthy of his hand. Or maybe it all meant nothing. He never was very good at small talk.

“Thank you for the fire and the wine,” she nodded at each, “however, I must leave.” She hated the thought of leaving. Who knew when she would see him again?

“It is far too cold to be walking in all that.”

Despite her desire to stay, she felt compelled to search for every alternative. “I do not suppose you know how to prepare a carriage or drive it?”

Darcy peered at the window behind them. “Even if I did, it would not be safe.”

“Then I must walk or the neighbors might think…” 

Darcy wrapped his hand around Elizabeth’s as he took her empty wine glass. A shiver went up her spine. When had she drunk the whole glass? Her nerves must have needed the sweet wine more than she had thought.

He returned with another glass. “This wine is very good, do you not think? I was enjoying a glass when you arrived.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement as she took another sip. Had Darcy sat closer to her this time? He felt closer. His thigh nearly touched hers. Looking up from peering at her glass, she found his eyes upon her and his head leaning down toward hers. 

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

Elizabeth tried to breathe normally. She attempted to hide the shudder that coursed through her body at his words. They were unchaperoned and the worst would be thought of them. As it was, he might not have meant that he still loved her. Surely her looks had not changed very much even if everything else between them had. It would be no great thing to still admire her beauty but not wish for her hand in marriage. 

Why did she still sit here while the snow grew another inch every five minutes? Had he bewitched her somehow? Never before had she felt so incapable of doing what she had determined to do. She had determined to leave, had she not? She was almost certain she had thought it was the best decision only a few moments ago, but now…

Darcy reached forward and rubbed a curl between his thumb and forefinger. The lock grazed her cheek and his hand was so near her face that she grew dizzy. 

“I always thought you had beautiful hair. I wondered if it would feel like silk to touch.”

Was this truly happening? Perhaps she was hallucinating. A snow-induced dream. Did one dream before freezing to death? Of course, she did not feel cold. She felt warm, very warm. Had Darcy come even closer? His leg now pressed against hers.

The wind howled, causing Elizabeth to look at the window. It was useless to leave now. She should have turned back in Meryton. The most she could explain to others now was that she had gone to Netherfield in good faith and at least discussed returning to Longbourn once she realized only Darcy was in residence. 

“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said and gulped as his eyes met hers. “Surely—surely you see that I cannot stay here.”

“It would be far worse for you to go.”

Was there a note of pleading in his voice? Did she wish for her to stay? He did not appear to be shunning her company and her heart rejoiced at that but to stay would tie his hands. She would be considered ruined and he would be forced to marry her or be worse than even Mr. Wickham. 

“No,” her voice faltered. “No, I cannot stay.” She would hate to be married to Darcy if he only regretted her and hated the connections she brought. “Thank you, again, for allowing me to warm myself. However, I must go.”

“I am not in control of the weather,” he said. “You can see for yourself. It is too dangerous for you to go.”

“Jane will worry and Bingley might even attempt to look for me himself.”

“They will know you had enough sense to seek shelter.”

“You may recall my aunt, Mrs. Phillips, and her unguarded tongue. It can be quite vicious…” Elizabeth took another sip of wine, willing it to give her strength and courage. 

Darcy released her tendril then took Elizabeth’s glass and took a sip from where she had placed her lips. “I believe this is the most delicious wine I have tasted.”

The action was unbearably intimate. However, he must have consumed too much for he was not thinking clearly. If she stayed much longer or indulged in what appeared to be their mutual desire, he would be attached to Wickham for the rest of his life. Deciding this might be as close to kissing Darcy as she would ever get, she retrieved her glass and copied his actions. “Just after we finish this glass, I will go.”

Darcy’s eyes never left hers as they continued to sip and exchange the glass. His free hand crept over the one which lay in her lap. He drew lazy circles before turning her hand over and repeating the action on her palm. Every touch of his skin made more her shudder. 

“I have never seen such a blizzard,” he muttered before taking the last sip of their shared glass of wine. 

“Yes, but all the same I must go,” she whispered. Her resolve had all but evaporated. She hesitated now only in deference to his feelings.

“I know what you once believed me ungentlemanly but I flatter myself that I am too much of a gentleman to allow you out in that. You would freeze before you reached Meryton.”

“If you do not need it, then I can wear your coat as well.” 

Darcy chuckled. “It would be far too large. Besides, look,” he pointed at the window. “It is likely to your knees by now.”

Elizabeth dropped her eyes to their hands. He had linked them. If he had really wanted to marry her still, he could have said so at any point. He had no reason to fear her acceptance. Why else would she have stayed unchaperoned with a bachelor for so long? Elizabeth took the interlude for all it could be. He still loved her, perhaps more than ever, but he could not marry her.

She must tell him something of what she felt. “I have enjoyed seeing you again, Mr. Darcy.” She squeezed his hand as she searched for her next words. Darcy shaprly inhaled and returned the pressure. 

“Do you know what you do to me, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked as he touched his forehead to hers.

She did know, or at least she thought she did. It was the same effect he had on hers. And it was a miserable prison of her own making. “But do you not see? There would be a world of gossip…”

Words were becoming even harder for her. She attempted to slip her hand from his. 

“I will regret it forever–“

She spoke over him. “So much would be implied.” Her heart leapt when she realized the beginning of his statement. She held her breath for him to continue.

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

Deflated, Elizabeth shrugged. She had hoped he would say something more. She would willingly stay if only he asked. “I am too healthy to catch such a thing. I must go…”

“You will have to think of something better to say,” Darcy laughed. “You are usually so witty.”

“I fear I have no humor about this. I cannot force your hand in such a way.”

“Is that what you are worried about?” Darcy asked with raised brows. 

“No one can know I was here with you. The expectations would be–“

“Everything I wish for,” he rushed to say. “I think you can guess that my affections are unchanged from last April but my attempts at wooing you might be as inept as my conversation. I thought the wine would ease your reserve and allow me to find the right words. Alas, it has not and I am left stumbling as best I can.” He sighed. “My wishes have not changed.”

“You cannot mean you still wish to marry me. You could never be related to Wickham, and if you still loved me you might have spoken with me at the wedding. You were so silent and grave–” Elizabeth could not continue and choked back a sob. 

Darcy placed both hands on Elizabeth’s cheeks. “I thought you did not care for me. Only a man who felt less could have risked another refusal. I will never–can never–stop loving you.”

“I would not refuse you,” Elizabeth blinked back tears. 

“I have never been so thankful for a bloody snowstorm in my life,” Darcy chuckled. “You will marry me?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

Darcy responded with a kiss. Despite the dropping temperature and piling snow, he and Elizabeth were able to keep very warm until discovered by Netherfield’s returning servants two days later. Naturally, they used only one chamber to conserve resources. Many things were implied and Mrs. Phillips’ tongue did wag, but the couple had no mind for it at all. A couple as violently in love as they will always find a way to stay warm on a winter’s day. 

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Nine

compassion_ig

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven  / Eight

Thanks for all the support and comments on Georgiana’s experiences. There were a few questions in the last two chapters and I just want to clarify in case anyone missed something but doesn’t want to go back to double check. The abuser began grooming Georgiana when she was five or six. The assault didn’t start happening until she was ten, a few years before her father died. It continued for a few years until she entered puberty, which was a bit delayed due to the trauma. I was thinking fourteen but I never explicitly state it. Her father never knew. He never would have guessed such a thing was possible for probably anyone let alone his dear friend. We usually have certain impressions of the evil people who do these things. Unfortunately, they look as normal as anyone else. I do think that if she had come forward and told him, he would have believed her. My intention is not to portray Mr. Darcy as a bad man or parent. Most survivors (not victims!) who do come forward, until many years afterward. Instead, they develop other coping mechanisms. In Georgiana’s case, it was eventually self-harm. I used this situation as a catalyst for her relationship with George Wickham.

We might see Georgiana a little later and hear how she is doing, but it’s not the only issue our dear couple has to face. Indeed, the central conflict for the story is Elizabeth and her wounded psyche. Even the best and brightest among us can have periods of depression. Mental illness, whether it’s short-term or long-term, is no respecter of persons. I do consider what Elizabeth is going through as a mental illness. It’s not a long-lasting syndrome. However, it requires treatment all the same.

Elizabeth has experienced things which are not as outwardly abusive as Georgiana. However, people respond differently to situations. The situations are similar in the fact that they both required conditioning. I don’t think it’s fair to compare traumas and tell one person to suck it up while another’s damaged mind and fragility is considered acceptable. You do *not* have to meet a threshold of harm according to someone else’s perspective to be entitled to feel pain, ask for help, or be in need of care.

I don’t believe I can do justice to the scenario of healing from sexual abuse as I have never gone through that. However, Elizabeth’s situation? I have been there. Her thought process might not make sense to a mentally well person. Just like with any illness, the first step is she must acknowledge her signs and symptoms.

Hold onto the seat of your pants for the next two chapters. You might not always like this Elizabeth, and you’ll see she doesn’t always like herself. However, as Darcy shows us, she is always deserving of our compassion. When you are reading, do not think of this in terms of smart or stupid. Elizabeth is smart. She is also sick. This story is her recovery.

 

Chapter Nine

Throughout the day, Elizabeth would pause now and then in reading or listening to Darcy to observe him. More than once, he caught her staring, causing her to blush—something he seemed to enjoy profusely. She did not know that she could truly love him—certainly not as he deserved. However, she admired him more than ever. As a young lady of twenty, she had been infatuated with several men before. Indeed, she had even been infatuated with Wickham. It quickly faded to indifference and friendship before souring entirely. In the months apart from Darcy, she had come to see him as the best of men just because he was the opposite of Wickham in every way. Now, she knew the real strength of his character. He bore what no other man ever could!

What had she done when life grew too unbearable and hard? She had run away and left her sisters behind. Even now, the guilt tore at her. She tortured herself late at night when Darcy was asleep with thoughts of how she might have made her parents see reason. She might have found help for Jane just as Darcy had for his sister. Some rational part of her would argue back the impossibilities of it all. Darcy was a man and wealthy. He was his sister’s guardian. He had many freedoms that Elizabeth and her sisters did not have.

The thoughts did not expunge her feelings of guilt, however, for she could not forgive herself for all the years of ignoring and absolving her parents’ grievous errors. How often had Mrs. Bennet cooed about the outstanding match beautiful Jane would eventually make? Each year a deeper note of disappointment had entered Mrs. Bennet’s voice as Jane remained unwed. However, she always remained adamant that soon Jane would marry well and they would have no reason to fear Mr. Bennet’s demise. As her father never seemed to take the possibility of his death seriously, Elizabeth merely rolled her eyes at her mother’s lamenting. They had kind and loving relatives. Mr. Bennet had some money set aside for his wife and daughters per the marriage articles.

It was apparent to Elizabeth what Mrs. Bennet would most miss was the ability to be mistress of Longbourn. She feared any loss of position. The mother of a well-established daughter was not as pitiable as a widow with five spinster daughters. However, the fears were real to Mrs. Bennet and infected every aspect of her life. Family meals at Longbourn were always satisfactory but nothing special. If a single gentleman were invited, it had to be a lavish affair.

Elizabeth wondered how much of her father’s income was spent on entertaining possible suitors. They needed new clothing every year regardless of whether it was necessary. There were constant trips to the milliner for the latest accessories. Seeing it now through distant eyes, Elizabeth realised there was some aspect of Mrs. Bennet that did not want to appear the wretched and pitiable woman even before her husband’s demise. The more sensible it might have been to economise—as more and more daughters reached a marriageable age and yet the eldest remained unwed and therefore it likely that one or more of them might never marry—the more frenzied Mrs. Bennet became in her shopping. She grew calculating and devious in her desires to ensnare husbands for her daughters. She never once considered that the daughters she sought to protect felt perfectly content at home.

Elizabeth considered what it must have looked like to Kitty and Lydia. To them, it must have seemed that they might never marry. They would never have a moment to shine with Elizabeth and Jane still at home and Mrs. Bennet doggedly pursuing husbands for them. The incident with Mr. Collins was a prime example. He could not have Jane, for in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes she was as good as engaged to Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth was offered as a substitute without any thought about her own desires or if she would suit as a parson’s wife. It would have been much better to suggest Mary, but no, Mrs. Bennet could not give her attention and her youngest daughters were meant for greater things. Even as Kitty and Lydia were spared the attention of Mr. Collins, they must have seen that they would have had little choice in selecting their own suitor when their time came. Instead, they took matters into their own hands.

She had spent years telling herself that her family’s errors were harmless or even lovable. She was overly critical of them, but no one else seemed to notice. They were not shunned in Meryton or the surrounding area. Elizabeth now admitted to herself there were always flaws in that way of thinking. Why was Jane still unmarried? No gentleman had even proposed to her!

Meanwhile, Elizabeth attracted the attention of men she could never consider. She did not doubt that if it were not for the chance encounter with Darcy at the inn, she never would have seen him again. He loved her, but he would have been willing to live without her all his life. That did not mean she doubted his love, she merely acknowledged that life was not fair. She had liked Wickham very much, but his insufficient income was too great an obstacle for a sensible woman like herself. She could never marry a man she did not respect, such as Mr. Collins. Elizabeth had none of Jane’s reserve and while not as beautiful was very pretty. Surely men sometimes married vivacious and pretty girls with silly families and little money.

If Elizabeth’s pitiful dowry was such a hindrance, then surely her parents would have added to it. Perhaps it would not have appealed to most of the gentlemen of their acquaintance, but it might supplement a merchant’s income well enough. Why were they not brought more into that circle? Their Uncle Gardiner would have been an excellent source of acquaintances from that sphere. While Jane and Elizabeth often visited the Gardiners, they seldom entered Society, and the Gardiners entertained even less frequently. It was as if no one seriously thought about how to launch the girls into Society. Or, when she was feeling particularly uncharitable, it was as though they simply did not care or even wished them ill.

The sadder but more realistic explanation was that they were too self-absorbed to consider it. Elizabeth winced as she heard her mother’s voice echo in her ears. Everything her daughters did were an extension of herself. She boasted of Jane’s beauty and in the next breath explained that she had been considered the most handsome girl in the county in her youth. Lydia’s good-naturedness was only surpassed by her own. Even Mary’s dogged persistence at the pianoforte and obliviousness to the pleasure of her audience matched Mrs. Bennet’s drive to marry a gentleman and her lack of self-knowledge when others tired of her antics.

Elizabeth was always viewed as suspicious by Mrs. Bennet. In her second daughter, she could see nothing like herself. Elizabeth was too quick-witted, too sharp-mouthed, and too irreverent. She had beauty and liveliness but did not put them to use in the way Mrs. Bennet would have or in a way that she could put herself to the best advantage. As such, Mrs. Bennet was forever scolding Elizabeth. In the same way that her other daughters’ triumphs were her own, Elizabeth’s failures were a reflection of her.

As much as Elizabeth could acknowledge all of this and know the falsehood it presented, she could not turn off the voice in her head she had heard since birth. Although she never valued her mother or respected her opinions, she had somehow mentally adopted her words, and they were now how she talked about herself. As wrong as she knew it was, Elizabeth was helpless against the criticisms in her head. They intruded in moments of quiet, such as now, and she felt a prisoner in her own mind.

If she truly had been better than her mother and not as self-absorbed, then she would have noticed Jane’s growing melancholy. She would have noticed Mary’s increasing dependency on alcohol. She would have seen the frenzied desire Lydia had to leave Longbourn. If she were as clever as she had always considered herself to be, then she would have foreseen Miss Bingley’s treatment of Jane. She could have cautioned her sister to not depend so much upon the possibility in that quarter. Instead, at every moment, she assured her sister of Mr. Bingley’s love—long after Jane doubted it herself. What damage she had wreaked!

Fidgeting in her seat, Elizabeth felt Darcy’s eyes upon her. She looked up.

“You are restless again,” he said.

Elizabeth merely shrugged her shoulders. There was nothing either one of them could do about it at the moment. She was attempting to stay in good humour while she desperately wished to escape the walls of the room. Now, filled with thoughts of her family and her own errors, it felt stifling—suffocating even.

“I have a deck of cards. We could play something.”

“If you wish,” she said.

Inwardly, she cringed. She had done it again. Was she subconsciously becoming her mother? Surely Mrs. Bennet had concealed much about herself to ensnare Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth was aware of her circumstances. She truly admired Mr. Darcy, and he was a human saviour to her. She should be wise to not ruin his perceptions.

As Darcy located his cards, she scolded herself. Was she too much like Mrs. Bennet or was she concealing because she always did the wrong thing? Either way, her response to him was wrong.

“What are you thinking about?” Darcy asked when he returned to his seat.

Reaching for something to say, lest he know her frenzied and confused thoughts, she answered with a deceitfully calm smile. “I just realised that I never inquired after our mutual acquaintances. How are Mr. Bingley and his sisters? I suppose you might see them often.”

“No, I do not see them very often,” Darcy said as he dealt. “I was not in London for very long before going on to Pemberley. During that visit is when I learned the truth of Georgiana’s abuse. I returned to town only for business reasons and once she had seemed to improve.”

“Miss Bingley was correct then when she had written to Jane and told her that you were anxious to see your sister?”

“Indeed. Although, she could hardly know why. It certainly added to my reasons for wishing to be away from Hertfordshire in such a hurry. Mrs. Annesley’s letters indicated Georgiana might relapse.”

Elizabeth tilted her head to one side just as Darcy’s hand slowed as though he realised he had said something he did not intend. “Your anxieties over her added to your reasons? Why else did you desire to leave?”

Darcy continued to lay out cards and avoided meeting Elizabeth’s eyes. She narrowed hers before touching one of his hands to cease his movements. “Fitzwilliam?”

Finally, he lifted his head and took in her expression. Elizabeth hoped to disarm him with an inviting smile. He frowned, apparently unimpressed. The man truly had spent too much time observing her in Hertfordshire if he knew when she was faking calm.

“I owe you the truth. It should come as no surprise given the other matters we have discussed. I felt too attracted to you and believed separation would be the best way to sever the bonds. I had argued as much to Bingley.”

“To Bingley!”

“He was determined to return to Netherfield, and I admit that I persuaded him to remain in London.”

“You!” Elizabeth could say nothing more as the room began to spin. She had fixed in her mind it was all the work of his sister. What could Mr. Darcy object to if his own family was as flawed as hers?

The thought of betrayal from yet another source she had come to rely upon filled her with a need to bolt. However, never before, had she felt so dizzy, so incapable of moving, and so close to sickness. Her throat clenched, blocking all sound and nearly choking her. She attempted to breathe but could not get enough air. Her last conscious thought was that she would rather rant and scream than faint.

*****

When Elizabeth awoke, she was in bed and the physician from a few days before waved something foul-smelling beneath her nose. “Please, no,” she said.

“You see,” the doctor turned to Darcy. “There was no reason to fear. I think I know what would cause her to faint.” He looked back at Elizabeth. “Would you like him to leave? It is not customary that men are present for the examination.”

“Pardon me? I do not need an examination.”

“You could wait for the midwife once you reach your destination but the earlier you begin care, the better.”

“Midwife!” Elizabeth screeched. “Excuse me, doctor, but there is absolutely no need for a midwife. I guarantee it.”

The man turned to look at Darcy who vigorously nodded. “If you and your husband are certain—”

“He is not my husband.”

“Pardon me. I had thought given the arrangement, but it is none of my business.”

“Miss Bennet is my betrothed. We are on our way to be wed,” Darcy explained.

“Oh,” the doctor said in understanding. “And you are certain there would be no need…”

“Absolutely not,” Elizabeth said to the doctor but glared at Darcy. She thought his valet had clarified matters. “I had a shock, that is all. Thank you for your time and care.”

Effectively dismissed, and apparently understanding that an angry female was not trouble he wished to borrow, the doctor packed up quickly. After he left, Darcy hastened to Elizabeth’s side.

“Are you truly well? I have seldom been more terrified. You turned as white as snow!”

“I am confident you were more concerned when your sister, the great Miss Darcy with lofty connections and large fortune, lay bleeding in her chamber from a self-inflicted wound.”

Darcy sucked in a deep breath. “I have angered you—wounded you somehow. I know you would never say such a thing if you were not so upset.”

Immediately, remorse seared Elizabeth’s heart. She was hurting, desperately so. She had thought she was entirely incorrect in her first understanding of Darcy. However, now it seemed only too correct. He was too proud to like the Bennets or Meryton. He had poisoned Bingley against Jane. Jane, the dearest, sweetest girl who ever lived and her closest friend and confidant. The same Jane who became so depressed at Bingley’s abandonment that she wanted to take her own life. The Jane she had abandoned. All the guilt and despair that had tormented Elizabeth for weeks now laid on Darcy’s shoulders. Yes, she would cling to that anger! Miss Darcy might not have deserved Elizabeth’s censure, but her brother surely did.

She looked at him anew. Had she thought she loved him a few moments ago? She could never love a man who had been so careless in his actions that led to such awful misery. He was just like them. He proved to be just like every other selfish person she had valued. Her mother, father, aunt, uncle—they all turned their back on her and held onto vain pretensions. If they only erected a false image to the world on the outside, then all would be well on the inside. Meanwhile, even now, Jane might lay dead beneath the ground.

“Let go of me,” Elizabeth hissed as she attempted to pull her hand out from under his.

He obeyed with apparent regret and settled his hands on his knees as he sat in the chair next to her bed.

“And go over there!” she pointed at the settee.

“Can we not talk about it? I do not know why my information upset you so.”

Fire exploded in Elizabeth’s eyes. “You should know what you did upset me. If you cannot think of that, then I want nothing to do with you.”

“Surely you do not mean that. I am not a mind-reader.”

Elizabeth raised her brows and glared. After a moment, she lifted her chin and turned her face. She would not even look at him. Eventually, she heard him shuffle away.

As soon as she could walk, Elizabeth mentally vowed, she would leave the inn and Darcy. She would start over. She had done it once before, and she could do it again. This time, she would know not to rely on anyone but herself. There were no knights in shining armour. Fairy tales were only things told to children. Mr. Darcy was the cruellest man to ever exist.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eight

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Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven

Chapter Eight

A gasp tore from Elizabeth’s mouth, and she raised up on an elbow. “Do you mean he—but she was a child! Why would he?”

“Some men have such vile hearts. I have learned we are not alone in this. It took years for him to develop a deep enough bond with Georgiana for him to…to consummate their relationship.”

The first time he spoke the words aloud, Darcy thought he might pass out. This was only the second time, and it was hardly better. Bile rose in his throat, and he bit his tongue to replace the taste in his mouth with blood.

“And your father never knew? No one knew? How could no one have knowledge of this?”

“Georgiana says it began when she was ten and ended when she started her courses. She started them late—for a time the physician was greatly worried for her. Apparently, that is not unusual in these cases.”

“I suppose by that age she would not be under a very watchful eye of a governess or bound to the nursery as much.”

“No, and he was always welcome to walk about with her. Do you understand? Most of the time she endured this hell was after my father died. When I ought to have protected her! I was too busy with everything else in life to notice. In the year after her courses began, he visited less and less. I had thought it was due to his aging. Georgiana’s moods varied wildly, and I believed sending her to school would be for the best. She needed the company of other girls her age.”

Darcy could feel the dampness from Elizabeth’s tears, his own fell on her hair. For several minutes, they said nothing to one another. Darcy allowed Elizabeth time to wrap her mind around what he had shared and consider any questions if she had them. He could not imagine revealing the truth to any other lady he knew. Something he had learned in the last several weeks was very few people could accept such scenarios as he had just described. He was told that people often did not mean to be cruel, but they simply could not accept a reality in which children were harmed in this way.

“Is your sister well? I can only imagine…” Elizabeth choked back a sob. “I can only imagine such things would wound deeply.”

“She is healing, at last,” Darcy said. “I cling to the proof of her improvement. Experiences with her abuser confused her greatly. She hated him but loved him. She loathed herself. She said nothing of this to me until recently. It was all too easy on a visit to Pemberley to transfer her feelings to memories of another man who gave her attention but had more promise of returning. I had not seen Wickham in nearly three years when he came asking for the living which was intended for him. He had voluntarily given it up after the deaths of our fathers as he intended to study the law. I gave him three thousand pounds in exchange for his agreement to give up any claim to the church. He spent two or three days in the area before seeking his request, as though two days of good behaviour would make up for my ill opinion of him for the better part of a decade.”

Disgust filled Darcy anew. “I did not know about the abuse. It was inconceivable to me that our friend would be so evil or that such atrocity even existed. Wickham, however, I knew and distrusted. Still, I did not enlighten my sister about him. About a year later, she completed her schooling, and I hired a companion for her. They asked to holiday in Ramsgate. I did not know the companion had previously known Wickham, who arrived soon after them. I unexpectedly arrived a day or two before their intended elopement.”

Elizabeth shook in his arms as sobs racked her.

“I am very sorry, my love. If I had exposed Wickham’s actions against my family, I could have prevented his wounding yours.”

“No,” Elizabeth cried. “No, you could not. Kitty eloped with another man. Lydia would have been just as eager to marry anyone—or especially any soldier. She was desperate to take precedence and get away.”

“Perhaps,” Darcy said as he stroked Elizabeth’s back. “However, she probably would have chosen a man who would actually marry her. I mean no insult, but Wickham would not be tempted to the altar by a woman with less than twenty thousand pounds, I would wager. If I had any way of supposing she had a tendre for him—”

“Exactly,” Elizabeth said. “You never would have suspected it. You cannot be held responsible for the thoughts of a silly girl.” She searched his eyes. “How did you know about this?”

“Georgiana grew sick in the same way your sister Jane did after the situation at Ramsgate. She had told me in happiness and had not supposed I would be so vehemently against their union. It seems nearly impossible for me to consider what she could have been thinking. I can only believe that her rationale was damaged so severely that she was incapable of proper thought.”

“Did she attempt to take her life?”

“No.” Sadness filled Darcy’s heart as he considered the painful loneliness Georgiana must have experienced. “I wrote to Wickham, and he immediately left the area. She was heartbroken that he did not even try to persuade me. After we returned to London, she grew morose, as I said. One day, I came to her chamber unexpectedly and found her cutting herself. I could scarcely believe it, but she had scars up and down her legs where she had been self-abusing for years.”

“But you got her help,” Elizabeth said in a sad voice which made Darcy realise she was comparing his actions with her parents.

“I hardly knew where to begin. I sought our rector, and he suggested religious training. I found physicians and more clergymen. One of them recommended a woman named Mrs. Annesley who had once worked in a hospital for the mad. Her husband had been a vicar. She combined her understanding of treating the ill with her faith.

All the others had told Georgiana she was lazy or faithless. They prescribed medications and stern treatment. I was not to coddle her. I must be harsh and blame her, let her know her errors, the potential shame she could bring to the family. She rarely spoke, but unless it was apologetic, I should not indulge it. Mrs. Annesley suggested allowing Georgiana time and space. We should be supportive and let her come to us in time. After a few weeks, she seemed to improve, but Mrs. Annesley told me it would not last. After a period of forced cheerfulness and what looked like a return to her usual self, we found her bleeding and curled up in a ball in her closet.”

Darcy took a deep breath, aware of Elizabeth now stroking his back as he had done for her. “When she recovered from that episode, she finally broke down and talked about the abuse. She did not see what was wrong with eloping with Wickham when they loved each other. She was certain he loved her because of the intimacies he took. Intimacies which she thought were perfectly natural since she had been taught them so young. She had been taught correct principles from others, but they came too late and had only confused her.”

A shudder racked through Darcy’s frame as he considered the next part. They were coming to the betrayal which stung the most. “My hatred for high society comes from this situation. I approached my uncle, an earl, who knew the gentleman very well. I asked what we could do. The man is also a peer, and I knew suits against them do not fare well and was uncertain if there had ever been such an allegation. I also did not wish for Georgiana to have to testify or for her name to be brought up at all. My uncle, at first, refused to believe Georgiana’s claim. After speaking with her, he accepted her story but said we should do nothing. He said these things happened, and they were unfortunate, but it would be much worse to discuss them. He went so far as to say that if I sought justice or spoke of it to anyone else, he would deny it all and cast aspersions upon her and me.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I would say I cannot believe family would treat you in such a way but I, too, know that pain. I am proud of you, though. When denied the opportunity to seek legal redress, others would find the man and give their own justice by the sword or a gun. However, I do not think that sort of revenge gives the peace one desires. It would create a scandal, and you could even be hanged for it. You have been exceedingly strong, sensible, and honourable when others would not be.” She pressed a kiss where her head lay over his heart.

Darcy could not hardly see the merit of her words. He did not feel as though he had done anything heroic. He simply loved his sister and would not give up on her, just as he would not give up on Elizabeth. That is what one did when they loved. Exhausted, they spoke no more, and Darcy fell into a restful sleep for the first time in months.

*****

Elizabeth awoke with her back pressed against Darcy’s check. He wrapped his sore arm around her waist, and his breath tickled the back of her neck. She had lain awake for a considerable time the night before as she thought about all Darcy had said. She had been so sheltered before leaving Longbourn. She knew leaving was the right decision and yet she had supposed it was the harshest life a gentlewoman could have ever had. She knew there were whisperings of very young prostitutes.

One time while visiting the Gardiners when she was fourteen, she saw an excessively pretty girl who could not be much older than she was standing outside a tavern. A man approached her and put a coin in her hand before they walked around the alley and out of view. Elizabeth had seen such things in passing many times. It was a fact of living in London and not in the Mayfair district. Gracechurch Street was not a dangerous area, but you could buy all manner of things in Cheapside and the flesh was one of the best selling commodities. Ladies such as her were often run off. Shopkeepers in the district did not want them offending families or well-to-do ladies, but Mrs. Gardiner had explained it would be worth the risk if they had even one client who paid more. Elizabeth recalled the scene only because of the girl’s youth. She had very few of the womanly looks about her. For years, Elizabeth held it in her mind as an acknowledgment that at least her life was better than that girl’s. She had never considered that such things could have happened to her sisters or neighbours, under the noses of their parents and guardians.

Elizabeth also had not thought such deviants wore gentleman clothes. Even after her disillusionment with Wickham, she acknowledged he had always been merely pretending to be a gentleman. His father had been a solicitor and then a steward. Despite Wickham’s words that his father had been devoted to Darcy’s, she supposed the elder Wickham would not have become his steward if he were not offered more money. What existence did he have before if becoming a servant—albeit a high and independent servant—made more money than being a solicitor? She supposed it must have been like all the poor country curates. It was far easier to be educated at University and seek employment than it was to find a position.

Having the highest opinion, previously, of her Uncle Gardiner and many of his merchant friends, Elizabeth did not presume that good values were only found among the gentry. However, her other uncle was often given to over-indulgence of port and was as crude and vulgar as his wife. By contrast, she had never seen such displays from her Bennet relations. She had to admit to herself that the gentry were more polished. She had fooled herself into believing it meant there could be no ugliness in that world.

Poor Miss Darcy! Elizabeth could not conceive going through the trials the wealthy young miss did. To be used by George Wickham as part of his dispute with her brother and for her inheritance did not surprise Elizabeth. She had never considered it before, but the wealthy had their trials. A few weeks ago, she might have meanly even thought that it was fair compensation for all they could enjoy with their riches. However, to be attacked by a family friend…

Elizabeth knew she had never been assaulted but what of her sisters? Jane was always uncommonly beautiful. Did she hide a secret such as Miss Darcy which caused Mr. Bingley’s defection spiral her into grief? She could think of no one who visited as often as it sounded like Mr. Darcy’s friend did. Mr. Bennet did not have many friends. He was a private man and disliked Society. She did visit the Gardiners in London. Elizabeth hesitated to consider if her uncle were capable of such things but then she acknowledged the point must be that it was well-hidden. However, in Miss Darcy’s situation, the man had befriended her to the exclusion of others. Elizabeth could not recall that ever being the case with Mr. Gardiner or anyone else Jane had ever known.

Mentally shaking her head, Elizabeth resolved that Jane’s melancholy must have derived entirely from Bingley. From Bingley to his sisters, Elizabeth’s mind jumped. Did the false friends understand the cost of their actions? They made her their plaything. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had promoted a friendship with Jane and then abandoned her when they returned to London. Everyone had taken their willingness to befriend Jane as proof of Mr. Bingley’s growing attachment to her. Mrs. Bennet had declared Jane would soon be the mistress of Netherfield and only stopped short of ordering wedding clothes by Jane’s pleading and her husband’s adamant declaration that he would not pay the bill. Elizabeth had laughed at the folly of it all at the time.

She had laughed at so much. She had always chosen to laugh rather than cry. There was no shortage of heartache or grief in the world. Instead, she latched on to the fleeting moments of joy she could find. Her desire to find mirth made her excuse the behaviour of her family. She had told herself, sometimes a thousand times a day, that they meant no harm—indeed they were harmless. Mr. Bennet’s teasing criticism of his wife held no evil. When it descended to his daughters, well it was just his way of showing affection. Her mother’s anxious wailings about their future were nothing but a conscious bid for attention and distinction. With five daughters about, there was always one who could soothe her. Sharp words from her mother to Elizabeth were always well-deserved or due to the matron’s silly and ill-formed mind. Elizabeth only saw the rough edges of her family due to her proximity. Surely all others saw them only in a good light. However, if they did not, it did not bear worrying about. Elizabeth did not care for the opinion of strangers.

Then, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arrived in Hertfordshire and turned everything on its head. How she had hated Mr. Darcy! Even more, Elizabeth hated how she cared for his opinion. His rejection at the ball stung. His continual disapproval of the Bennets and Meryton bothered her far more than she wanted to admit at the time. After Lydia and Kitty eloped, Elizabeth could see that it was because she knew it was all well-deserved censure. Now, she considered that during all this time the wonderful man holding her had been through hellish trials she could barely conceive.

Even now, she felt the proof of his ardent desire against her. She suspected he was awake, but he made no move to seduce her or take advantage of his state. Elizabeth had suggested they share the bed and while they slept, their bodies had found each other. In the days since, she grew to understand the strength and comfort one could draw from the embrace of another.

Darcy loved her so much! Her heart fluttered at the thought. If she could turn back time and be the Elizabeth Bennet he had known in Hertfordshire, she was sure she would be in love with him by now. Darcy was the most honourable man she had ever met. It was not a façade he wore only when times were easy. He did not placate or charm but instead was honest and frank. He was reserved, it was true, but that was no crime. There was a time when being of good character and loving her was all she had ever wanted in a spouse. It was all it would have taken to win her heart. Maybe someday, it would be again.

Elizabeth stroked the hand that rested on her waist.

“Good morning, my love,” he whispered into her neck.

A shiver ran down Elizabeth’s spine, and goose pimples erupted over her flesh. She was beginning to love how he could affect her. “Did you sleep well?” she asked.

“I have not rested so well in months. Thank you for listening and your understanding last night.” He nuzzled his face into the space between her neck and shoulder. “Your skin is so soft,” he murmured as he kissed her exposed flesh.

Darcy’s hand around Elizabeth’s waist tightened. His palm stretched almost entirely from under breast to her hip. The single motion of reflexively clenching his fist, resulting in a moderate increase in pressure has his digits ran over her covered skin combined with his growing ardour was the headiest sensation she had ever felt. He ran a finger in lazy circles over her side, making her dizzy as she arched her neck to give him further access to explore.

She felt him take a deep inhale against her and hold it before releasing his breath. She imagined he ached in longing as she did.

“We should rise for the day,” he declared before releasing her and sitting up.

Elizabeth had never hated the idea of awakening more.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

compassion_ig

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six

Welcome to the new readers who have joined us from Fan Fiction dot net! I really appreciate your continued support!

In the last chapter, Darcy decided he needed to quit beating around the bush about Georgiana so Elizabeth would open up to him more. We finally get to it! I know there have been some guesses. There are worse things in the world than George Wickham.

In the first post, I warned that there was non-graphic background of sexual abuse against a child. If you have triggers, it might be possible to continue to read in a few chapters. This is not the primary conflict, it is an additional obstacle Darcy and Lizzy have to overcome. It didn’t happen to either one of them, so the healing of it is not something I attempt to handle in this story in detail.

I know some people will dislike that I bring up this subject. The fact is, 1 in 5 children under the age of 18 are sexually abused. That’s 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. We don’t know the stats from the early 1800s, but I doubt it would be much better than today. It is something that is only now being reported and recorded. Additionally, it’s not usually a stranger. It’s typically someone who is trusted by the family and has access to the child. They spend considerable time creating a relationship with the child. This is called grooming. Those sorts of behaviors are easily hidden and probably have been part of society for time in memoriam.

To learn more about the facts about childhood sexual abuse and how you can defend the young people in your life, I suggest looking at this site: https://defendinnocence.org/get-the-facts/

Chapter Seven

 

Darcy tensed at Elizabeth’s words. He knew he must tell her the sordid truth about Georgiana but felt incapable. The only thing Elizabeth knew of his sister was Miss Bingley’s praises for her accomplishments. He could not tell her about the very worst of humanity before she knew anything else about Georgiana. After all, the trauma did not define her.

During Darcy’s panicked thoughts, Elizabeth seemed to scrutinise his expression. He supposed it was only fair after he had done the same to her. She was also hiding something, although he was at a loss on what it could be. She had already revealed far more shocking things than probably any other lady of his acquaintance ever would.

“I did not think it would be so difficult,” Elizabeth chuckled. “Perhaps that is because I have four sisters to talk about, so there is always something to say.”

Darcy smiled. “Georgiana is in nearly all of my fondest memories. She was born when I was nearly twelve. Of course, I can recall moments before. However, they are far hazier. She was the true apple of my parents’ eyes. They had long desired a sibling for me.” He paused to laugh at the ridiculousness of his youth. “I had seldom seen a baby and was certain I would not like the imposter they were bringing into our home. I only knew they cried and smelled. What use did I have for an infant? We were too far apart in age to ever be friends.”

Elizabeth nodded. “There are only seven years between the eldest and youngest of us. I confess that it is often difficult to understand the minds of my youngest sisters and there is less than half the distance you share with Miss Darcy.”

“In hindsight, I believe I was afraid she would steal all of my parents’ attention. The morning of her birth, my father called me into the nursery for a proper introduction. I peered into her cot, my hands resting over the edge. She was sleeping but suddenly awoke. Stretching and yawning, she looked positively cherubic. Then, one of her tiny fists wrapped around one of my fingers and I was utterly lost. I laughed to myself that I had feared her entry into the world.”

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

“Oh, she was still loud and stinky.” They shared a laugh. “I would visit the nursery as often as I could, impatiently expecting her to walk or talk. The nurse had to explain a dozen times that it would take a very long time before she could do more than lay let alone catch up with me.

“Georgiana was born in July, and I began attending Eton that autumn. For many years, I only saw her on holiday. Obviously traveling the distance from Pemberley to Windsor with a young child was nearly impossible. There was another motive, too. My mother’s health was ailing. I do not know if she never recovered from Georgiana’s birth or there were attempts at another child. I know it was a slow and steady decline but not an illness. When I did return to Pemberley to visit, I was instructed to be quiet and not bother my mother. I devoted hours to entertaining my sister. This was especially beneficial to me as George Wickham grew more malicious each year at school. My father discerned none of it and instead found great joy in the boy’s charming façade to ease his troubled mind and mourning heart. I am convinced it is this closeness which resulted in Georgiana telling me about her intended elopement.”

Elizabeth’s brows rose in surprise. “You mean he attempted to elope with your sister?”

“You should not be so shocked. You have witnessed his charisma and Darcys are mortal, after all.” His tease earned a slight smile from Elizabeth.

“What is her temperament like? You observed my sister Lydia. She did elope with Wickham. Are there any similarities between the two?”

“Other than their age and susceptibility to Wickham’s charm, I would not say so.” He hoped it would not grieve Elizabeth to hear it. He did not wish to talk about her sister’s failings. “Georgiana is shy. While she is not studious, as her preferences fixate on the pianoforte, she is well-educated in a variety of subjects and is adequate at them all. Is there anything else you wish to know about her?”

“Where is she now?”

“She is at Pemberley with her companion. I intended to visit her for Easter.”

“Now, I have ruined those plans!” Elizabeth cried.

“Nonsense,” Darcy waved away her concerns. “I have written to her and explained that I have been detained. Some of our relations may visit in my absence.”

Elizabeth nodded and fell into a momentary lapse of silence. He turned his attention to another book, as she still had the one he had read from earlier. She sighed and fidgeted in her seat.

“Are you unwell? Should I call in Molly?” Darcy asked after several minutes of the unusual behaviour.

“I am merely out of sorts with being laid up for so long. I cannot even look out the window.”

Without another word, Darcy stood, dwarfing the distance between them. Scooping her into his arms, he carried her to a window.

“Put me down!” she cried. “You will hurt your arm and have a relapse, and then we will never be able to leave.”

“Pardon me,” Darcy said as he held her close “I had expected your thanks. You did just say you wished to look outside.

“But I do not wish to be dropped!” She gripped tighter around his neck. “Yes, I see, it is a square just like any other town.”

Although she said she was through looking, she cast a wistful glance at the window.

“A chair,” Darcy said. “I can place a chair here for you to use.”

“It is not necessary,” Elizabeth said. “It is only a strange habit of mine that I would indulge if I could.”

“What is that?”

“I enjoy watching others. I consider what is going on in their lives, what are their reasons for buying a certain thing or moving a certain way. It is as entertaining as we can get in Meryton with no theatre.”

Darcy was unwilling to relinquish his hold on her and lingered at the window. “That man in yellow breeches. What story would you invent for him?”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment. “Why he is courting, of course! See how he hovers at the window display? He is thinking of giving his lady love something but does not know if it will meet with her approval.”

“Maybe he does not think he can afford it.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That is far less romantic, Fitzwilliam. Common sense such as income never figure into these scenes.”

“Do they not?” he asked. “Would you marry a man with an insufficient income?”

“No,” Elizabeth agreed. “But then I would never allow myself to be courted by a gentleman who dressed as garish as he. Perhaps he would do better with Miss Bingley!”

Darcy laughed so hard at her joke that he did not notice the fatigue of his arm, at first. When he did, he realised he had mere seconds to deposit his bundle. Striding back to the settee, Darcy almost reached it, when his arm gave out. Before he knew it, Elizabeth was in a heap on the floor.

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

“I can do it!” she hissed as she gripped the nearby table for support. Her knuckles turned white. “Now, if you could assist me to the bed, I will remain there. No,” she said leaving no room for argument when he attempted to lift her once more. “Wrap your arm around my waist and help me hop.”

Darcy did so and then arranged the pillows under her injured ankle. “I am sorry, Elizabeth.”

“You should be,” she said.

He could not wonder at the change in her mood. She had confessed to feeling short-tempered and irritated. “Is there anything else I might fetch you?”

“Perhaps you could speak with your valet or with Cuthbert about something. Do you like ale? There is always plenty downstairs.”

Darcy understood her meaning. All she wanted was for him to leave. He withdrew his watch. “I will return in a few hours. You are welcome to my books. I will arrange for Molly to check on you at two.”

He brought his stack of books and left them on the table near her side of the bed. He hesitated to leave Elizabeth’s side, but it was clear that she desired some privacy and space. He wondered if it would be different if she had loved him or if she would always need some distance between them.

Darcy spent a few hours in the tavern below, watching other men grow rowdier as they consumed Cuthbert’s beverages. Men pawed at their women or a barmaid. How had Elizabeth survived in this for months? Before that, she lived at Longbourn and with all of its noise. He tried to not take it so personally that she needed some space from him. After they married, even if she deeply loved him, there would be a period of separation. During the day they would each have their tasks. There might be a time when he had to travel without her. Indeed, that she could be so independent was an asset. He would not like a wife that senselessly clung to him.

No, what gnawed at him was the way she avoided discussing what she felt about things. She had informed him of events, and while she cried, it seemed as no more emotional than a journalist reporting the news. He could guess what everything she had gone through did to her, but Elizabeth seemed entirely reluctant to voice any of it. How he wished he could knock down the walls of her heart!

Someday, he told himself. Eventually, he would her trust. One day, she would know to draw comfort from him. All he had to do was prove his loyalty and fidelity. When put that way, he was assured of success, and it would not even be difficult for him for nothing could end his love.

The sun was slipping low in the sky and dinner was being served when Darcy returned to his chamber. He found Elizabeth waiting for him at the settee, their trays already brought in. She looked refreshed and gave him a smile. He took that as a good sign.

“I hope you enjoyed your afternoon,” he said as he sat beside her and kissed her cheek.

“Indeed. I apologise for being short with you earlier. I cannot put it into words, but I have restless. I cannot abide being cooped up in a room for so long.”

“Once we leave, we could arrange a time on each day to give you a satisfactory walk.”

“You would do that?” Elizabeth asked as she prepared Darcy’s tea.

“I would do anything for you,” he said seriously. His were not the empty words of so many suitors. “You need only ask.”

Darcy watched Elizabeth’s reaction. Did she believe him? Would she ever? Suddenly, it occurred to him that if he wanted her to be more open, he ought to show the same willingness. They talked about light things while they ate. Afterward, Elizabeth read to them from the book she had discarded earlier in the day. Supper arrived around nine, and after eating, they prepared for bed. It was there, as Darcy drew Elizabeth to his side that he would tell her of Georgiana.

“You asked earlier about my sister, but I did not tell you everything.”

“Do you fear my reaction? You should not after all I have explained to you.”

“No, I do not think you will be harsh on her. First, I did not want to tell you because I did not want to sway your opinion. Then, I did not want to tell you because we seemed to have enough battles and I did not want to add to your distress.”

“Is it so upsetting then?”

Darcy’s arms reflexively tightened. “I can scarcely imagine a grimmer subject.”

For a moment, Darcy’s thoughts were pulled back to the day when he finally heard the terrible truth from his sister. It had come after he had returned from Hertfordshire. He had left her in London after weeks of her being so crippled with depression she could not leave her chamber or eat. She had refused to speak or accept visits from her friends. She shunned any mention of the pianoforte or music. It was not the tears Darcy had expected when he told her of Wickham’s abandonment. It was as though Georgiana was empty on the inside.

“You care for her very much,” Elizabeth said as she pushed a lock away from his brow. Her hand rested at his temple, and she applied gentle pressure in a circular motion.

“Before you, she was the only person I had left in my life to love. I idolized my parents. It took no sacrifice on my part to love them. Georgiana had never known our mother, and I think that is essential to understand about this story. When our father died, I became more than a brother to her.”

“Was there no one else she could look to for a father figure? That is quite a lot of responsibility for such a young man. What did you know about raising a girl her age—or any at all—while you were not more than…?”

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

“You were not more than two and twenty. I suppose you had full guardianship over her?”

“No,” Darcy answered. “A cousin on my mother’s side was also awarded guardianship in my father’s will. However, he is currently a colonel in the Regulars and has had little time to devote to his charge. Of course, by then the damage was done. Although we did not know it. I am certain even my father did not know.”

Darcy’s throat dried as palms grew sweaty. His heart raced and his belly twisted in pain alternating between butterflies for Elizabeth’s response and the disgust such memories always provoked.

“You may tell me anything,” Elizabeth encouraged. “I have…” She trailed off as she wiped a tear, drawing Darcy’s eyes to focus on her. “Nothing can disturb me very much. I am no longer the sheltered miss you knew in Hertfordshire. I cannot explain the peace sharing my troubles with you has begun to give me. Will you not allow me to hear of your trials in exchange?”

Staring into Elizabeth’s glittering eyes, filled with remorse and pain at least partly for his sake although she did not know what it was, Darcy was more lost than ever. He could never deserve her love. He might never have it. However, she offered him this moment. A moment of reprieve and understanding. A precious, sacred moment he had prayed for in ardent longing for months. He sealed her offering with a kiss, then pulled her head to rest over his heart. For one more minute, he remained silent, drawing strength and comfort from her touch.

“Father had a friend who would visit. After Mother died, it seemed he came more often. However, he was busy with his own family in those years. When Georgiana was about five or six years old, this man became quite taken with her. I was just entering University, so I do not know how frequently he came to Pemberley. We were told his own wife had taken a lover and kept his daughter from him. He could exercise his right legally but claimed he loved her and could not dishonour her even if she did so to him. He knew, too, that it would grieve his little girl to pull her from her mother. Whatever faults the wife had, her love for their child seemed genuine. As such, he was always welcome to visit Georgiana in the nursery. He was allowed to take her on walks around the grounds. He lavished her with attention on these visits and brought gifts. I remember thinking she loved him more than us.”

If Elizabeth could sense what he was about to say, she did not react at all. Perhaps she had more innocence about her than she claimed. Perhaps her loving heart could not imagine all the horrors of the world. For a moment, Darcy hesitated. He hated having to tell her of such ugliness. However, she asked for him to be open and he now believed it a necessary part of creating trust between them.

“That man—that monster I should say—was not treating Georgiana as a daughter as we had so long believed. He treated her as a mistress.”