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

Road in dark forest

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

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

Chapter Five

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

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

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

Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club–Chapter One

Georgian Crescent

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?”

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

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

“His father—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were both fools.”

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Elizabeth agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Mary said and hung her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten.”

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

“We will return in the morning, Mama.”

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion

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

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


compassion blog image.jpg

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

“What would you like?” she asked.

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

Elizabeth gasped. “Mr. Darcy!”

“Eliza—Miss Bennet!”

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

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

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

“Lizzy? Pretty with big, brown eyes?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye,” Darcy moaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My replacement!”

“Well, I paid him for your wages.”

“You bought me?”

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

“I will never go back there. Never.”

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

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

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

“Yes, take this tonic twice a day.”

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

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

“Allow me,” Elizabeth stepped forward.

“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indecision warred in her eyes.

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

“Yes. Do you recall where you are?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you think so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why is that?” he sat next to her.

“Why do I not wish to speak of it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Treasured–Chapter One

treasured finalChapter One

November 1, 1811

Three weeks after Reunited ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another letter from a post office?”

“How did you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Darcy,

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

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

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

Even more so when it is a victim of arson.

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

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

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

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

I regret that I did not have pleasanter news.

All my respect,

C. Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To find him!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunited- Chapter Six

reunited 2Reunited is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks,  Kobo, and paperback!

 

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

Chapter Six

 

Elizabeth’s heart pounded as she read Will’s letter. He had written with such tenderness and feeling. She had waited five years to see such words. She read and reread, lingering over every line until tears welled in her eyes. Reverently, she touched her fingers over the page noticing where it appeared his pen stopped as he paused over his words.

Will understood Elizabeth’s concerns. When she had tried to express them before he talked with her father, she had thought Will angry at her request. She did not wish to break their engagement, but so much had changed. They had changed. Who was the Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley now? When she had fallen in love with him, he was only the heir and very young at that. Now, he was master.

Five years ago, Elizabeth had believed herself inadequate to become the eventual Mrs. Darcy and Mistress of Pemberley. She can hardly fathom Will’s notice of her. Upon meeting him again and his declarations, she had determined that he must have felt honour bound to her. It was obvious she had not accepted any other suitor in the years they were apart. That he still had passion for her was obvious, but that did not mean he loved or respected her still. It did not mean he had not given his heart to others.

Elizabeth reread the words one more time. Just like when the man spoke, she had to understand the hidden meaning of his words. Will was reassuring her. He validated her concerns. He had also perceived her unsaid questions regarding his fidelity and loyalty. Well, they did not answer everything she wondered about. However, the most important part regarding his fidelity was answered. Now that they had found each other again, he intended to stay true.

Many moons had passed since Elizabeth was the naïve girl at sixteen confused about her brother’s attentions to the young woman at the theatre. Elizabeth had grown in the ways of the world and had overheard enough conversations to understand the matter better now. Whatever Sam’s business with that woman had been, it had not been marriage on his mind when he gazed at her. He had even tried to confess such a thing to Elizabeth when she had encountered him drunk later that evening. Of course, such a thing he would hardly want to tell his sister if sober. Still, Elizabeth understood that, for men, hearts were sometimes at odds with their carnal desires. Perhaps Sam had always loved Charlotte, and would have married her if he had lived, but enjoyed his time with the courtesan just as much. Elizabeth would be foolish if she thought that Will had not had similar liaisons while they were separated. She refused to ever be that foolish girl again. However, it now seemed he vowed to have only her in his affection. It was a bittersweet consolation, but she would take it. She would rather be Will’s last lover then never have him at all.

Next, her mind turned to focus on the words he wrote about his torment and imagining her with another man. It seemed they equally tortured themselves as the years passed. Each time a new gossip article turned up in the papers of Will’s attachment with other women, the hole in Elizabeth’s heart grew. However, he claimed to have written letters, even after he’d given her up. Did he still have them still? Would he let her read them? Perhaps she had no right to know his thoughts. Although unconsciously done, she had severely wounded him. Perhaps if she read the letters, she could help heal his wounds.

Finally, she opened the package and pulled out a small miniature of Will. It looked to be painted when he was about two and twenty. In fact, Elizabeth realised, it was probably done on his holiday after they had met. Elizabeth lovingly ran her fingers over the face of the young man she once knew. She could still see pieces of the young man in the visage of who he now was. Now, Will bore great burdens. It had aged him with fine lines forming around his eyes. When he smiled, they crinkled, and Elizabeth had found them more attractive and endearing than all his youthful grins.

Turning the miniature over, she read the inscription on the back. It read, “To Elizabeth with all my love.” As she had expected, the date included his holiday to Scotland. What astonished her was seeing a second inscription. “Yours, past, present and future, Will.” The date was from last week.

Lost in her thoughts, Elizabeth and did not hear Jane approach.

“Lizzy,” Jane’s gentle voice called out. “Mama asking about you.” Jane came closer, and her eyes widened when they fell upon the items in Elizabeth’s lap and the tears on her sister’s cheeks. “Whatever is the matter?”

Elizabeth let out a heavy sigh. “Will wrote me a letter.”

“After all this time, he finally wrote? My dear Lizzy, I had wondered how you felt after seeing him last night, but we’ve not had a moment to discuss it.

Elizabeth let out a laugh. “It feels as if my life turned upside down again. It was this way five years ago when we met. If I were wiser, perhaps I would be afraid.”

“Afraid? Why should you be afraid?”

“Any sane person would go running in the opposite direction of a man who turned everything on its head every time she saw him. Last night, I was so angry with him. This morning – –”

“This morning!” Jane took Elizabeth’s hands. “Did you see him before he called on Papa?”

“I had walked to Oakham Mount, and he came on horseback. Oh!” Elizabeth touched her head. “Speaking of his horse, while we were…” Elizabeth hesitated for she did not wish to share about Will’s embraces and kisses. “While we were attempting to discuss our separation and the matter of our betrothal, his horse nearly killed us.”

“Goodness,” Jane threw a hand to her heart after Elizabeth told her tale. “But do not put me off. I am sure whatever happened with the horse must have been distressing. However, both of you appeared to be in one piece at Longhorn. Tell me what you spoke of. What did he have to say for himself?”

A small smile played out Elizabeth’s lips. Jane so rarely expressed disapproval and anybody. Through the years she had often had a more charitable opinion of Will than Elizabeth had. However, Elizabeth had to admit it was amusing to see Jane so protective. “He says he considers us engaged.”

“Engaged! If he had honored the betrothal years ago, then he would have come and called on you. There would have been a courtship. Our Father’s permission would have been applied to. Instead, he left you alone!”

Elizabeth threw her hand her arms around Jane. “Please, my dear sister. I am well his, and his return does not distress me. He had much to say about his about our separation. I will tell you all only calm yourself.”

Jane gave Elizabeth a tight squeeze before pulling back and wiping her eyes. Finally, she said, “I will listen to what you have to say. I will reserve my judgment until I hear his defense.”

Jane listened in silence as Elizabeth explained her encounters with Will and their belief that someone intercepted his letters. Then, she read the one Elizabeth had just received. When Jane had finished, she folded it up and handed it back to Elizabeth. “He does seem to love you very much,” she said gently. “And I daresay he appropriately grieves the pain he has inflicted. Do you really believe someone would go to such lengths to have stopped his letters to you?”

“It is an astonishing thought, but I find that more likely than Will never having written and lying entirely. You know how I rationalized it. I tried to say that he must have found me unworthy or that he is simply toying with me.”

“Yes,” Jane said. “You would repeat that argument over and over again as though trying to convince yourself.”

“That is it entirely!” Elizabeth vigorously nodded. “We were so in love. He withstood the arguments from his father and from Sam. I may have been very young in the ways of the world, but I could not be confused about something as natural and intuitive as love. I do not mean the passion we shared. It would not be unusual for a young man to give in to such ardent displays. No. I reference the conversations we had which bared our souls. When I felt as though he and I were alone in the whole world and he was the only one who truly understood me.”

Jane straightened and looked offended.

“Jane!” Elizabeth hastened to say. “I do not mean that you did not understand me, but you do not have the same feelings yourself. Will and I differ on many things, but there are others that we are of very similar mind. You are so apt to see the good in everyone. I appreciate your friendship and your wise soul, but I do not know you can perceive how it feels to me. It is impossible for me to see the world from your sunny outlook.” Elizabeth shrugged. “I could be myself and was accepted for what I was with Will. I did not always have to try and be better than I am.”

“I do not mean to make you feel inadequate,” Jane said. After a pause, she added, “I believe the best loves are ones which make both partners stronger. Is that what you felt with Will?”

“Yes! Somehow, even as I would call it a flaw myself, Will turned every attribute into a strength.”

Jane stood, then gathered Elizabeth’s hands in hers. “We should return to the house. Mama sent me out here ages ago.”

“What has put her in a tizzy now?” Elizabeth laughed as she stood. “Or is she still angry at Will’s visit. It is as though she blames him for Sam’s death. Nothing could be more senseless. Not only were they the greatest of friends, but he lost his father that fire.”

“I cannot say how mama feels about your Will. However, Papa has received a letter from Mr. Collins. He asked to visit.”

“Our cousin? The one Papa has not talked to in years?”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “No, he has died. It is his son who wrote. Apparently, he is now the rector of a substantial living and Kent.”

“Why does he wish to visit? What could his intention be?” Elizabeth wondered.

“I am uncertain. Perhaps if you read the letter, you will be able to deduce it. Papa found it most amusing.”

Elizabeth did find Mr. Collins’ letter amusing. Unlike her father, however, she also thought it unusual. The older man broke ties with Mr. Bennet soon after Sam’s birth. With the birth of a Bennet heir, his residual claim disappeared. After Sam’s death, the old Mr. Collins wrote to Bennet offering his son as the new heir. Sam had lived long enough to sign the papers which broke the entail. Mr. Bennet could now we leave Longbourn to whoever he wished. To that effect, he chose to leave it to his eldest grandson who would not otherwise inherit an estate.

As the eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Jane had become the target of many suitors in the area. However, despite Mrs. Bennet’s matchmaking tendencies, she counseled her daughters to only accept gentlemen of means. There was no urgency or fear for the girls to marry. Although she put Jane and Elizabeth out into society at the age of 16, that was while the entail remained unbroken. The moment the ink dried on the papers, many of Mrs. Bennet’s anxieties gave away. The next youngest sister, Mary, now age seventeen, still waited for her turn to enter Society. As she seemed in no hurry, it created no distress between the sisters.

Elizabeth had half-vowed to never marry after losing Will. She had always assumed it would be Jane’s second son who would inherit Longbourn. Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip as she continued to think about the ramifications of their cousin’s visit. Eventually, if Will could prove himself faithful—or even if he could not as news of their engagement and their passionate embraces would certainly ruin her reputation and require marriage—Elizabeth would marry Will. However, Jane’s head had not been turned by any suitors. Years ago, Elizabeth believed Jane had a tender regard for Mr. Bingley. Now that he was in the area again, Elizabeth hoped the two could resume where they left off. Would Jane feel the pull to marry a relation? Whatever living Mr. Collins had contracted it could be nothing compared to Mr. Bingley’s fortune. However, that did not allow for other concerns which might influence a daughter as obedient and docile as Jane.

 

*****

 

It was two days before Will saw Elizabeth. Then it was at Lucas large. While there, Darcy had the pleasure of seeing Charles dance with the elder Miss Bennet. While they had never discussed the unselect Bennet girls after the fire, Will was not surprised to see signs that Charles had continued to admire Jane Bennet just as he had continue to admire Elizabeth. One of Elizabeth’s younger sisters was there as well. She was invited to the pianoforte by Miss Lucas. Mrs. Bennet bustled over to Mary’s side.

“Pray, Mary,” she said.” “You must play the new sonata you have been practicing.”

“I had planned to play a few jigs,” Mary said.

“Nonsense!”

Mary rifled through the music books and selected one. With chagrin, Will noted it was indeed a Mozart sonata rather than something the young people could dance to. Elizabeth approached Charles and Miss Bennet. Will perceived his opportunity to speak with her. Just before reaching her side, Sir William appeared.

“Mr. Darcy,” he said. “You honor us with your presence. Mrs. Bennet told me, just now, how long you had been friends with their family.”

“Samuel Bennet was one of my dearest friends.”

“Indeed? But I should not be so surprised. I have often heard of the liberality of the Darcy family and know from my experiences at St. James’s how kind people of great rank can be.”

“I assure you, sir, the kindness was all on Sam’s end. Many mistake my disposition and I am certain I if not for Sam, I might have offended the whole of Eton and Cambridge.”

“Ah, you do your friend great justice, but I will not allow it to be so far I have seen your good nature. You danced at our assembly.”

“It is a civility one can hardly avoid.”

“I saw a great deal more than civility, Mr. Darcy. Did you not dance with Miss Eliza? And her sister, Miss Mary, as well?”

“As an old friend of the family, it was the least I could do.”

“Yes, we miss Sam acutely. My Charlotte, well she learned to get on well enough. Do you know that when we got news of Sam’s passing, she did not shed a tear? She bore it all with such strength that if my own dear wife could be as brave as she in the face of my demise, I would not be unhappy.”

Will glanced at Charlotte as he thought over her father’s words while he babbled on about his visits to St. James. Will had never supposed that what Sam and Charlotte shared was anything like his passionate feelings for Elizabeth. In that regard, he could understand Sam’s dilemma in choosing between Lucy and Charlotte. He could not excuse his friend’s decision to entangle himself. However, Will could comprehend the difficulty of his choice. Charlotte, on the other hand, he previously believed, truly loved his friend. How could she have borne the news of Sam’s passing with such sanguine? True, Will’s impression of Charlotte was that she was not of a sensational nature. Surely some tears at the death of her betrothed would be human nature. Will himself cried much over the death of his friend and his father. The belief that he lost Elizabeth forever wounded him more than he would ever care to admit. And he had dampened more handkerchiefs at the thought of never seeing her again than any man could countenance. Now, Will observed Miss Lucas and started at the hardness he saw emanating from her eyes. Why, she despised Will and Charles! Jane smiled at something Charles said, and Charlotte stepped forward. Mary’s sonata ended and, thinking quickly, Will return Sir William to the discussion of dancing.

“I am surprised a man as jolly as you has not arranged for dancing this evening.”

“Quite right. You are quite right Mr. Darcy.” Sir William Lucas ran off to invite his daughter to entertain his guests.

Now, Will made his way without interference. Elizabeth saw him approach and blushed.

“I hope, you came all this way with that smile on your face to dance with me?”

“I believe I made my sentiments on that quite known to you, Elizabeth,” Will bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and brought it to his lips.

She blushed again and glanced around nervously. “Sir,” she scolded

“I am courting you, as you deserve. Your neighbors and friends should acknowledge my interest, and I shall make it quite worth remarking upon, I assure you.” He smirked. At two-and-twenty, he gave little thought about how to court a woman. After five years of blaming himself for her supposed abandonment, Will had imagined all the ways to court Elizabeth in and out of drawing rooms. Will nodded to the dance floor where several of the young Lucases had rolled up the carpet. “May I have the honor of a dance, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I believe the honor is mine,” she said.

Will have been used to thinking that he would rather have his head on display in the Tower of London then engage in inane pleasantries. However, he would suffer all that and more to spend even one second in Elizabeth’s company. He beamed with pride when she placed her hand on his arm. Not to be outdone, Charles requested Jane’s hand for a set. Soon other couples also joined the dance as well.

“I believe we must have some conversation,” Elizabeth acknowledged.

“I will speak on anything you desire, my love.” The endearments fell from Will’s mouth without second thought. “Might I suggest a date for our marriage to begin?”

Elizabeth frowned. “I thought you understood,” she said. “I need more time.”

The dance separated them for a moment. When they returned, Will took a deep breath before speaking. “I understand your request, my dearest. Do you understand mine? After all the years of separation and pain, I believe we have been engaged long enough. Yes, there is much we need to learn about each other, but I have no intention to give you up. Nothing I could learn would shake my determination to marry you.” He dropped his voice. “Please, I cannot bear to lose you again. Have we not learned how quickly everything we think we have imagined for our lives may change?”

Elizabeth met his eyes, and they glittered with tears. The dance separated them for several minutes, and Will watched Elizabeth as closely as he could. He did not mean to pressure her into anything she was uncomfortable with, but the courtship was a mere formality, was it not?

Reunited- Chapter Five

reunited 2We left with Will, finally, asking Mr. Bennet for his blessing on marrying Elizabeth. What will Mr. Bennet say?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

“I accept.”

As Mr. Bennet spoke, relief and peace washed over Will. He could breathe easier than he had a moment before and his racing pulse calmed.

“However, I have conditions.”

The flash of hope that swelled Will’s heart evaporated. Would he ever have Elizabeth as his wife? Perhaps stealing away to Scotland would be necessary after all these years. “What are they?” Will asked through grit teeth, his patience wearing thin.

“You must court her openly for several weeks. No one else knew of this secret betrothal from so many years ago. I will not have you swooping in and acting the ever-constant lover who deserves liberties with his betrothed. She deserves far more than that, and her reputation requires it.”

“Must we conceal our attachment and act as new acquaintances, then?”

Mr. Bennet paused before answering. “I will allow you two to consider the best method. Everyone knows you were friends with Sam and that you had met previously. That you had both held a torch for one another will be hard enough for most to credit.”

Will blew out a breath, and his muscles relaxed. “Very well. I will accept those terms. For what it is worth, I do know what Elizabeth is worth, and I know she deserves more from me than I have given her in the past.”

“See that you do not forget it again,” Mr. Bennet added with raised brows. “Did your father know of the betrothal?”

“No,” Will sighed. “He knew of my attachment and the direction of my thoughts. He had attempted to dissuade me but ultimately said he trusted me. Of course, he probably believed my interest would wane during our holiday. Why do you ask?”

“I am considering the fact that you claim someone stole your letters. Do you think he would go so far as that to discourage matters?”

“I do not think so…” Will trailed off. “I had come today with the purpose of if you had.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “I assure you, son, I was oblivious to any romance between you and my daughter. While I would have been of your father’s mind, if Sam ever told you anything about me then you should know that I am far too lackadaisical to go to such measures.”

Will blinked. “You would not have approved of our attachment?”

“For all the reasons I am sure your father put forth. It was formed too quickly, you were both too young. You were raised to other expectations and Elizabeth could offer you nothing in the way of fortune or connection. She could hardly be a credit to you as Mrs. Darcy.”

“I strongly disagree, sir.” Will straightened and his jaw set tightly. “Elizabeth is exactly what I need as a Mrs. Darcy. Whatever she has experienced in our years apart will only continue to be an asset.”

“Well,” Mr. Bennet smirked. “You may go and visit with your future sisters and mother-in-law. Send Elizabeth to me. Your courtship may begin tomorrow in Mrs. Bennet’s drawing-room.”

Understanding his dismissal, Will stood and bowed. He had not discovered who had separated him from Elizabeth but had made something of an ally of her father regarding his courtship. It was as much of a good start as he had a right to expect.

Will left Longbourn disappointed he had not had more time with Elizabeth. All he had heard about Mrs. Bennet had prepared him to find a matchmaking mama. Instead, she seemed protective of Elizabeth and wanted to keep her away from Will. She filled any silence with her voice and, if the confused looks on her daughters’ faces were any sign, acted more ridiculous than usual. It seemed designed to put him off, but Will had no intention of leaving Hertfordshire without Elizabeth as his wife. He may have been delayed five years, but he would see his goal met. All those years ago, step one of his plan had been to rent Netherfield and court Elizabeth from there. The situation had changed, but the ends could still be claimed.

“Will,” Charles said with surprise when they passed one another on the stairs. “You have already been out? I am calling on Longbourn as soon as I finish breakfast. Go and change. I will wait for you.”

Will shook his head. “I have already been to Longbourn and in any case, have a servant looking for Apollo.”

Charles’ eyes widened. “There is a story there.”

“Indeed.” Will looked at their surroundings first. “Follow me, and I will tell you all.”

The men walked in silence to Will’s chamber. Upon shutting the door, he relaxed. One never knew which Bingley sister might be listening to a conversation in the hall. “Something spooked Apollo, and he nearly trampled us.”

“Us?”

Will explained the happy surprise of finding Elizabeth at Oakham Mount.

“So you talked and have it all settled now, do you?” Charles grinned.

“What would there be to settle?” Will peered at his friend. He had never told Charles of his proposal. He had barely hinted at the time of his admiration for Elizabeth. Since the fire, he took all pains to never mention her name.

“I know what love and courtship look like far more than you do,” Charles laughed. “Do not look so surprised. You could not act before because of Sam. I never saw you behave around another lady the way you did around Miss Elizabeth. Now that we are here, I assume you have wasted no time in staking your claim, at last. Was she very relieved to finally hear the words?”

Will’s head spun in circles at Charles’ speech. He presumed that Will had proposed already to Elizabeth and would have no way of knowing they had, in fact, been engaged for half a decade. Will had not uttered anything that came close to a second proposal. In fact, his first proposal was rather terrible. A small smile came to his lips as he recalled Elizabeth’s teasing until he actually asked rather than demand her hand. More than anything though, Elizabeth must have longed to hear the words he had waited so long to hear. When Elizabeth confessed she still loved him and always had, a dam broke in Will’s heart. He was as defenseless against his net actions of taking her into his arms as a ___. He acted on instinct. Words were too inadequate to explain his depth of feeling and had failed him years ago. It had been a time of action. Only…did Elizabeth not understand his continued love?

Years ago, she had briefly thought he used and discarded women. Last night on the balcony, she mentioned the gossip rags and their false tales of his exploits with ladies. She must very well understand his continued passion for her, but she had never been courted. She did not understand how he loved and needed her.

“Will!” Charles exclaimed.

“Pardon me. I was wool-gathering.”

“I could see that. You may keep your thoughts to yourself about Miss Elizabeth, but I asked if you would accompany my family and me to Longbourn.”

“Ah. As I said, I have already visited today. I will go tomorrow as Mr. Bennet invited me to begin my courtship with Elizabeth then.”

“A courtship already! I only teased before, but I knew you would not wait long to come to your point.”

Will chuckled. No, he had not waited long at all. Bingley excused himself, and after withdrawing writing utensils, Will settled in. While his friend was away, Will intended to woo his lady from afar. When he had finished, he reread each line, praying they would convey a shred of his regard to Elizabeth. Pleased with the final product, he sanded and sealed it before ringing for his valet.

“Please send this to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, along with the blue box,” Will instructed. “Choose a servant you trust to discharge the duty discreetly and ___. I want no one but Miss Elizabeth to handle them. Should that be impossible, he is to return here, and I will see to it myself.”

“Yes, sir,” Matthews answered.

“Oh, and Matthews, I must inquire about your time with my father.”

Will watched his valet tense. He and his father had shared a man since Will had not required one while at University. His father died before Will hired a manservant of his own—a task intended for after the summer holiday. Not wishing to sack Matthews and feeling comfort in a familiar face, Will kept on the older gentleman. Through the years, they had built a rapport and he hoped he could trust the man.

“Before Mr. Darcy passed, did he ever ask you to intercept letters of mine?”

“No, sir.” Matthews shook his head. “May I speak freely?”

“Of course,” Will waved him on.

“If the old master would have asked that of me, I would have resigned. It was on my minds much during his final days. Many of us were displeased with his favouring young Wickham. However, I do not wish to speak ill of your father.”

“Nothing you can say will disturb me. I am aware of all he was, both good and bad.”

“Indeed, sir. And do not think me ungrateful. To all the staff and me, Mr. Darcy was the greatest master—except you, sir—that ever lived. You are very like him in that regard. Only…it did not seem right the way he favoured George Wickham so much.”

“What makes you think so?”

“I do not mean from a servant’s perspective. Many a steward’s son is groomed in such a way. I do not know how aware you were with dealings below stairs, sir. There was considerable trouble between Wickham and the maids—even Miss Darcy’s governesses. I feared for Miss Graves until Annesley, God rest him, was appointed to accompany her whenever she left the house. Of course, he took it a step further and became her shadow even in the home and well, I suppose, that is how they decided to marry.”

“It does you credit that you worried so much. I did know of Wickham’s wicked ways and approached my father many times on the matter. However, you make it sound as though you continued to worry for Mrs. Annesley even after we went on holiday that summer.”

“I did not believe Wickham would be above sending someone to exact his revenge upon her. Additionally, he often visited Pemberley while you were away.”

“Pardon me?” Will’s every muscle tensed. “What reason did he have and why was I never informed.”

“I did not know you had not been informed. I apologise for the lapse—I can only plead there must have been some misunderstanding. It is not like Mrs. Reynolds to not inform you of these matters and you know she was no supporter of him. As for a reason…”

Matthews looked away for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Out with it, man,” Will commanded.

“He always claimed to want to visit Miss Darcy and indeed he spent hours with her.”

Will swore and his valet blanched. “No wonder she believed the fiend so easily! Her father died and her brother seemingly abandoned her, but Wickham had been her friend for years.”

“You must not blame yourself,” Matthews said consolingly.

“Who is to blame then? It was my duty!” A vice gripped Will’s heart. Who had he not disappointed? He had falsely abandoned Elizabeth, allowed a rake to importune his sister and break her heart.

“You are responsible for no one’s decisions but your own,” Matthews placed a bracing hand on his master’s shoulder. “Besides, you do not think Wickham is so wicked to have intentionally created a friendship with Miss Darcy all to enact later?”

Colour drained from Will’s face. He had not considered such a thing but could he rule it out? Matthews shifted on his feet and cleared his throat. “I will send these to Longbourn. It is good to see such an address on your correspondence again.” He briefly smiled.

“Yes, very good,” Will dismissed his valet.

He had been prepared, even expected, to learn of interference from either his father or Elizabeth’s. He had thought he put the pain of Georgiana’s seduction behind him. Now, he wondered if she deserved any of his scolding and ire. A few minutes later, Matthews returned informing Will who he had selected for the task and with a bundle of mail.

Leafing through the envelopes, Will sighed. Georgiana’s felt incredibly light—probably only a few lines with nothing more than a nod to civility and written under duress and threats of no privileges per his plan with Mrs. Annesley. Richard’s felt the usual weight and Mrs. Reynolds’ heavier than ever before. Arranging his supplies once more, Will bent over the desk. He had much to read and even more to write.

 

*****

 

After Will left Longbourn, Elizabeth went for a walk just within the garden. Upon his leaving, her stepmother had begun telling her how unworthy Will was for their attention. Fanny Bennet had never seemed to understand Elizabeth, but she also never seem to desire to purposely wound the girl. Elizabeth knew none, but Jane could understand the pain that her mother’s words against Will brought to Elizabeth’s heart.

After an hour or so in the garden picking the remains of the autumn flowers, Elizabeth returned to the house. She arrived at the door just as a footman from Netherfield, dismounted on the drive.

“Tommy,” Elizabeth said in surprise at seeing the son of one of Longbourn’s tenants who was recently hired as a footman by Mr. Bingley at her door. “Is all well with your parents?”

“Yes, they are very well. I come on business from Netherfield.”

“Netherfield?” Elizabeth scrunched her nose up in confusion.

Tommy turned and withdrew a small package and envelope from a saddlebag. Facing her again, he grinned. “Mr. Darcy’s valet selected me for the task of bringing this to you. I was instructed if I could not give it to you directly to return to the house and Mr. Darcy would come.”

Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat at Tommy’s knowing smirk. “Thank you, Tommy. I am sure that Mr. Darcy’s valet also selected you for your loyalty and ability for discretion.”

“Indeed,” he nodded with a grin. “That is exactly what Matthews said.” He hitched his leg over the horse.

“Thank you for discharging your duty. You may please tell Mr. Matthews to pass along my greetings to Mr. Darcy and my thanks.”

Tommy waved and set back toward Netherfield. Elizabeth glanced nervously around to be sure no one saw the delivery before hastening back to the garden. Choosing the bench in the furthest corner, and therefore away from prying eyes of sisters and parents, Elizabeth settled to read the note.

My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,

 

My heart is full, and my mind overwhelmed as I attempt to comprehend the depth of my love for you. The only words I can summon barely do it justice. Forgive my poor attempts at courtship. My ineptness does not reflect the esteem in which I hold you.

When we first met, I was an arrogant youth who thought only of his own worth. I loved you, but I could not set aside my fears and insecurities. If we had spent more than a week together or if I had not left on holiday, I would have learned to see past them. I was a selfish lover who did not consider your feelings although you and others attempted to explain to me the difficulties you would face as my bride. In my hurt and conceit, I abandoned you when you most needed me. I can never forget or forgive myself for failing you in such a way. I vow now, to never make you feel alone again.

Your father has invited me to begin my courtship on the morrow, but I could not wait to share my sentiments—thoughts and words which could not be said in your mother’s drawing-room.

Five years ago, I was dumb-struck at your loveliness and vivacity. Your wit fascinated me and your courage impressed me. Now, I have witnessed your strength, your determination, your capacity for love and loyalty. Each of these facets and I am sure many more, make up the wondrous woman you have become. Once more, I am rendered mute at your beauty and the incredible fortune which has turned your attention to me. I did not deserve you then and assuredly do not now.

Although we have been separated by time and distance, you have been the wind in my sails, Elizabeth. I never could meet a lady without wondering what you would say or do instead. None of them could intrigue or captivate me like you. Having a taste of incredible passion and a sliver of happiness, I could not accept anything less—even as I presumed to never have such with you. My heart was yours alone even as I had believed you moved forward with your life. Can you imagine the torturous hours I have spent imagining you with another? That any other man might know the taste of your lips, feel the heat of your blush, or hear the whispered words I so desperately longed for plagued me. I spent hours consumed in letter writing just to resign myself that you no longer cared and did not send them. Countless times, I determined to ride to Longbourn and stake my claim—announce my improprieties to your father and force yourself wed to me—only to determine I would rather never have you at all than have you hate me for life.

My dearest darling, I will not plead that you do not make me wait long to alleviate my suffering. Instead, I will assure you that I will court you until you are satisfied. Nothing will tear me from your side now. I came to Hertfordshire to see you—I had to see you—and here I will remain until I leave with you as Mrs. Darcy. I have held you in my arms for mere moments and in my dreams nightly for years. I will not rest until I have the right to embrace you for a lifetime.

Yours forevermore,

Will


What a letter! That’s two suspects knocked off the list. We still have Mrs. Bennet and Sam. Any other guesses? Reunited is finished and being edited! I think I will keep to posting on Saturdays just for my own sanity. Therefore, the story will continue to post after the book is released. I also will probably not do a pre-order this time around. However, if you subscribe to my mailing list (there’s a pop up for this blog but here is the link as well: http://eepurl.com/cXCKVT) then you have the opportunity of getting a downloadable advance reader copy. There is a limited amount and first come, first serve so I can’t promise everyone will get one. I send out the email as soon as I have a link to share. Look for an email in early August.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy & the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Four Part One

Road in dark forest

Previous sections: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2

Chapter Four

 

The occupants of Netherfield also did not rest well the evening after the ball in Meryton but for different reasons entirely.

“I want to know,” Mrs. Tilney said when everyone was seated with coffee and refreshments, “what you all thought of that…that…I believe I heard the residents refer to it as a ball but with the number of country dances it surely would never qualify!” She shuddered.

“We are not here to worry about friendships or fashion, Agatha,” General Tilney said. “We have been assigned to determine if these are the Bewitched Sisters.”

Mrs. Tilney smiled at the scold. “We might be magical but we are still ladies, and as we frequent London more than Pember Wigan, you must allow that we care about good Society and gowns.”

The General grunted and reached for a newspaper.

“Still, I am curious what the gentlemen of our party thought,” she continued, “because I am sure I can guess the ladies’ opinions. Mr. Darcy, what did you think of Meryton?”

“I saw little beauty and no fashion,” he said disinterestedly.

“You did not think the Bennet ladies worthy of your notice? I thought they seemed quite interested in you,” Miss Caroline Bingley, the General’s younger step-daughter, said.

Darcy, used to Caroline’s prying manners from his long friendship with her brother, knew how to answer her. “I saw no attention or pleasure shown to me.”

Caroline gasped in shock. “You mean to say they ignored you? How could they not know who you are?”

Darcy approached Mrs. Tilney to refill his coffee to keep from rolling his eyes, although it was difficult as she simpered while pouring from the ornate coffee service. He returned to his seat and wondered when he might go to bed, hoping the chamber was more comfortable than the drawing room. Every cushion was stiffly stuffed and upholstered in garish colors the Bingley ladies favored so much. At last, he replied as Caroline did not take her eyes off him. “It is no consequence when they were of equally no interest to me.”

“Of no interest?” the General threw the paper down. “You know, of course, that in this back-country village is a family that claims to harbor the most powerful witches of the era!”

He was beginning to turn red and when worked up could be in a rage for quite some time. Usually, Darcy avoided doing so but collaborating with the General meant Darcy finally had a chance to observe him carefully. Alas, Bingley could never stand for there to be unhappiness or strife.

“Now, I must disagree with something you had said earlier, Darcy,” Bingley shook his head. “The Bennet ladies were exceedingly lovely. The eldest was an angel! Nor did I dislike the manners at the dance. I am not one for formality and stiffness.”

“I believe we generally call it elegance, Charles,” Caroline said with a sly smile. She looked at Darcy for confirmation.

“The eldest Miss Bennet was pretty, I will grant you, but she smiled too much for my taste.” Charles only grinned at Darcy’s words, and he had to hide his own smile. The lady indeed smiled far too much to interest him, but it was all he could say against her as of now. It was a code they used for Darcy to give in approval of Charles’ dance partners. From experience, they both knew far too many ladies would prefer to catch Darcy and only used Charles as a means to an end. Darcy did not pretend to read emotion or minds, but he could at least allow Charles to know that he had no interest in a lady.

“That may be true, but I still found her very agreeable,” Mrs. Louisa Hurst, Charles’ elder sister, interjected.

“Yes, if we are to be trapped here, she is one I would not dislike getting to know better,” Caroline said.

Darcy glanced at Bingley’s step-siblings, Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who had remained silent. “What did you think, Henry? I believe I saw you dancing with one of them.”

The General, who still seemed put out by not venting his spleen earlier, looked at his son with more interest than usual.

“I danced with the youngest one,” Henry said. “I was the only one to dance with her. I don’t know why I go to balls with you two! Charles always heads right for the prettiest girl and plays court to her all night, and Darcy refuses to stand up with anyone he doesn’t already know.”

Caroline grinned at the mention that she had been the only single lady Darcy danced with all evening.

“I danced with the middle daughter!” Charles said. “I tried to get Darcy to dance with her too!”

“I daresay you cannot blame Charles for not dancing with Miss Catherine Morland,” Louisa said in her brother’s defense. “She stood at the back and was hardly noticeable at all.”

“And when you did notice her!” Caroline made an unpleasant face. “Those teeth!”

“Nevermind her looks,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw. “Did you sense anything from her or the others?” Henry was a Kleros, his magical gift was to sense evil.