Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

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

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

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will regret it forever–“

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

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are restless again,” he said.

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

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

“If you wish,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To Bingley!”

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is not my husband.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eight

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth shook in his arms as sobs racked her.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she attempt to take her life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth stroked the hand that rested on her waist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth had never hated the idea of awakening more.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

compassion_ig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is she now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

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

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

“You should be,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it so upsetting then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Six

compassion_igI’m sorry it’s taken so long to post again! Treasured required all of my attention! Then, I had wanted to do a Christmas story and told myself I had one week to do it in. It took 10 days, but close enough. 🙂

We left Darcy and Elizabeth with tender apologies and sweet kisses. This chapter sees them get to know one another a little better–both the positive and negative sides of it. Will Darcy tell her about Georgiana?

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


The following morning, Elizabeth awoke in Darcy’s arms again. They had passed the day taking turns reading to one another. Molly came after supper to assist her in getting ready for bed. By the time they went to sleep, Elizabeth had forgotten about Darcy promising to tell her why he now hated London.

Elizabeth thought about what Darcy had said. Molly did not seem like she was trying to find more information about Elizabeth. She did not ask any intrusive questions and did not mention any more vulgar things about their awkward situation. However, Elizabeth saw the sense in being circumspect and not trusting Molly too far. A part of her mourned the decision. She had a few thoughts that Molly could come to Pemberley with her. After all, she was friendless in the world.

She sighed, and Darcy stirred in his sleep. She had learned he snored. She had not noticed the first night because she was so anxious. Last night, she barely slept. When she did, the noises he made were so loud she could not forget that she was in his chamber and to be his wife. Not that she could have escaped if she had wanted thanks to her ankle. She gently flexed the joint. It grew stronger but would pain her to put any weight on it.

Of course, last night was not entirely unpleasant. When it was time to retire for the night, they lay in bed and faced each other. Her hair fanned over her pillow and Darcy reverently stroked it before giving her a good night kiss. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, his breathing turned silent, and she finally entered a deep slumber. Now, she awoke in his arms.

Looking up at him, a soft smile played on Elizabeth’s lips. She had thought he was handsome when they first met, but then he opened his mouth, and she let her prejudice continue from there. When asleep, he looked positively angelic. The great artists should use him as a model. Elizabeth had never seen anything so special about Michelangelo’s David, but Fitzwilliam Darcy was a worthy specimen to be cultured from marble.

Redirecting her thoughts, Elizabeth wondered why she had been so quick to consider the worst about Darcy. Months ago, she had realized it was due to her vanity. That is why she believed Wickham so easily. However, that is not why she doubted she was worthy of Darcy’s love.

She had not told Darcy all of her tale. How could she? How could anyone explain the insecurities which festered in her? She was so new to considering how her mother manipulated everyone around her—most of all her—that she could hardly say it to another. One day, he would see the true her—all her flaws—and he would regret his choice. Would it be as unbearable as when her father realized the truth about his wife? Was she destined to turn into her mother; taking offense at everything and shrieking for attention?

“How long have you been awake?” Darcy’s sleepy voice said.

“Not long,” she answered meekly. “Did I wake you?”

“No.” He stretched, seeming impossibly relaxed in her presence and then clutched her to him with his good arm. “I cannot think of a better way to awaken. How did you sleep?”

Elizabeth did not wish to lie, but she could not bear to tell him the truth. Soon, she was sure, she would adjust to sharing a bed with him. “Do you know that I have not been able to sleep as late as I would like in years? Mother had strict expectations, and then I was working here…” Elizabeth shrugged. “How did you sleep?”

“Very well,” he said and squeezed her tightly again. “How shall we spend the day? I think we may only have one or two more nights before we can set off.”

Elizabeth drew back. “The physician said you should not travel for a week.”

“I usually recover faster than physicians give credit for. Come, let us prepare for the day and then we can talk about our route.”

Elizabeth agreed, but Darcy did not move. “Do you not wish to rise for the day?”

“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not wish it. I would stay in bed with you all day if I could.” He let out a long sigh. “I would kiss you, but I do not think it is wise.”

“Is there a reward for being always wise?”

Darcy furrowed his brow. “I would hope to never be foolish.”

“And is it foolish to assure your betrothed of your continuing love?”

Darcy stared at Elizabeth for a long moment, and she held her breath. Had she gone too far? Been too bold? Why did she desire his kiss so much?

“If a kiss would assure you of that, then I would give it.” He stroked her cheek. “I worry about being too selfish, but then you show me that to love is to give unceasingly.”

Elizabeth pondered his words, but before she could allow them to solidify in her mind, he pressed a light kiss to one cheek and then the other. Next, he kissed the tip of her nose and eyelids. His lips lingered on her forehead, and Elizabeth sighed at the sensation. Finally, he brushed his lips against hers in the gentlest of kisses.

“I love you, Elizabeth.”

Darcy said nothing else nor did their kiss turn passionate as it had before. Instead, he held her to his chest for several minutes. It was a new sensation for Elizabeth. She felt safe and cherished. If love were a tangible thing, it must be Darcy’s arms wrapped around her at this moment. In his arms, she felt protected from all the outside world and even from the sea of torment in her mind and heart. She held back for a few minutes before allowing the emotional release she needed. Darcy seemed to understand what to do. As she sobbed into his chest, he simply held her and stroked her back. Now and then he murmured to her about his love.

Unused to allowing herself to feel vulnerable, the spell did not last long. “I am well now,” she assured Darcy.

She was not entirely well and might never be. He offered his heart while hers had been smashed to smithereens. However, she was nothing if not falsely courageous and so she pretended confidence as per usual. She would feel well, and whole some day, she told herself and yet doubted every word.

Darcy left to tend to his ablutions and called in Molly to assist Elizabeth. This time, Elizabeth did not need to remember Darcy’s words to be circumspect. She was too deep in thought to chat comfortably. What she needed was activity. She had always been an awful patient and was unused to sitting idly, especially since working here. Darcy returned just as breakfast arrived, and Elizabeth asked after his usual morning activities.

“After breakfast, I tend to the morning’s correspondence.”

“I recall the number of letters you received at Netherfield. That must take considerable time.”

“It did at first,” Darcy admitted. “However, I soon came up with a system of prioritization to manage it.”

“I wonder you do not have a secretary to assist you.”

“My father did, but I prefer to see to the task myself.”

“That is just what I expected,” Elizabeth smiled.

“I see you begin to understand me,” Darcy returned her smile.

It reminded Elizabeth of Mr. Bingley’s long-ago words when she had said the same thing to him. However, she was not prepared to discuss Mr. Bingley and wisely refrained from mentioning him. Soon, they would have to address the situation of Jane’s aborted courtship, but Elizabeth was in no hurry to do so when she did not have two good legs to walk on.

“And you?” Darcy asked. “I have often wondered how you would spend your mornings.”

Momentarily, panic welled in Elizabeth. Memories of Longbourn flooded her. The constant noise of her sisters, the agitation of her mother, the nagging feeling of just never being good enough. She clamped it down. No one needed to hear those thoughts. “I spent a great deal of time walking.”

“You are too modest,” Darcy said. “You had told Miss Bingley that you had an interest in many things. Or was that only a ruse to put her off?” He sat back and crossed a leg over his knee as he sipped his tea.

Elizabeth chuckled. “The subject at hand was books, if I recall, not walking.”

“Have no fear, she has insulted you by calling you a ‘great walker’ although you did not hear it.”

“Happy am I to know that Miss Bingley’s insults continue even when I am not in earshot. What a faithful acquaintance.” She laughed at the other woman’s folly. “I do enjoy reading, although I often found Longbourn too noisy in the mornings to read.”

“What sort of books do you prefer?”

He had tried asking her that once before, during their dance at Mr. Bingley’s ball. She had refused to answer then, her mind consumed with Wickham. The man who she had championed and then seduced and abandoned her sister. She had been so blind and stupid!

“I enjoy history,” Darcy prodded.

Elizabeth sighed. He was trying so hard for her sake, she knew. He had done it at the ball, and various times while she had stayed at Netherfield as well. She felt the compliment of his efforts. “I have read nearly everything in my father’s library but what I most enjoy are travel journals. It seems impossible to comprehend that other places can look so very different, people act so differently than us. I read their descriptions of the land or sky and wonder how we exist under the same sun.”

“You have left Longbourn.”

“Yes, but only to London. Before everything happened with Lydia and Jane, there was talk of my aunt and uncle taking a long tour of the Lake District. I was to go with them.” Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. It was just the death of another dream. She hardly dared to believe in them anymore. She felt no pain when they unfailingly did not work out.

“Ah, I see,” Darcy nodded. “You think of these other places while you walk?”

“I have always had a vivid imagination,” Elizabeth grinned. “We might call it Oakham Mount and its elevation nothing high, but I have seen the hills of Rome from there. In the green shoots of March in Hertfordshire, I have viewed the greenest fields of Ireland. A river might as well be the channel.”

“Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss our route to Scotland, then.”

Elizabeth gulped at Darcy’s words. Leaving this inn would set her on a path she could not stop. How she had prayed for such an opportunity for months. She had always dreamed of a band of gypsies taking her in or a child begging for her to be its governess. She had never dared to think that Mr. Darcy would appear at this inn and offer her marriage. Marriage was not a possibility for her now. She had been conditioned to believe that it was always unlikely. She had sunk so low, and her best qualities stripped from her. Who would notice her? Who could love her? She could not even like herself.

“Does it distress you to speak about it?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth quickly shook her head and smiled. She would need to watch herself if she did not want Darcy asking more questions and learning all the ugly truth. The contradiction made her head swirl. She could not return his love, and yet she hated the idea of losing it. She felt guilty for fraudulently earning it. He was under the impression she was good and worthy and could not be more wrong. However, she could not bring herself to tell him.

“Please, tell me,” Elizabeth beseeched.

“I had thought we would go to Holy Head.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth cried. “I had not expected that. We will not take the North Road?”

“I think it too well-travelled and we do not want to risk anyone recognizing us.”

Recognizing him, Elizabeth amended in her head. They would need to travel under false names. It would be no extreme thing for them to have eloped. The problem would be if anyone would determine their route. The world must never know that she had been Lizzy Smith the Bar Maid. Still, Holy Head proved to be intriguing. “Will we sail to Scotland then?”

“Have you sailed before?” Darcy asked.

“No,” Elizabeth replied as excitement built in her. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to either.”

Suddenly, she thought better of her reaction. She should not be so pleased that she was in this situation and forced to elope. They could not even go the standard route. She was selfish. Darcy watched her, a look of growing confusion on his face. To avert questions about her change in demeanour, she redirected his attention. “I did not think we could reach Gretna Green by boat.”

“True, but an anvil marriage is the same anywhere in Scotland. We shall be going to Portpatrick. Have you heard of it?”

Elizabeth thought before answering. “My father’s books were mostly about the locations he visited on his Grand Tour.”

“I would love to hear about them someday. I had to make do with a trip to Scotland and Ireland. Napoleon made travel too unsafe.” He sighed. “One day, when the war is over, we will make a grand tour of the Continent. Where would you like most to visit?”

“I will be pleased to go anywhere,” she said before quickly adding, “with you.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said as he enveloped one of her hands in his. “It is perfectly allowable to be selfish. I do not wish you to defer to me over everything.”

“Surely I have not. Do you not recall our arguments merely since being in this room together?”

“Indeed, I do. However, I mean about decisions regarding our life together.”

“When I have a great opinion, I will share it, I assure you.”

“Very well,” Darcy said and released her hand.

He seemed annoyed to Elizabeth. She could hardly imagine what frustrated him when she was trying so hard to be agreeable.

“Portpatrick is popular among the Irish for hasty marriages the way Gretna Green is in England. We can be lost in a city with many strangers, and most of them do not stay longer than an hour or two. There is no reason to pretend to be anyone but ourselves or fear we will be recognized en route.”

“Splendid,” Elizabeth grinned. “Did you say it was near Ireland?”

“I believe it is only a few hours by boat,” Darcy said. “You may even be able to see the coast.”

“May we visit?”

“Certainly,” Darcy grinned.

There, Elizabeth thought. And he had acted as though she were a shrinking violet. It was true she guarded her personal feelings and how they often felt like a ship tossed about on the waves during a fearsome storm, but she was unafraid to state her opinion about things of little consequence.

“Now, I believe we have promised to read to one another.” Darcy produced a few books. “Shall I read first?”

Elizabeth agreed but hardly knew how to occupy herself during his task. As much as she hated it, at home, she would have at least had a work bag and embroidery. She needed something to keep her hands busy lest she allow her mind to wander and go mad. He read for about a half an hour before handing the book to her. She closed it and put it aside.

“I would rather talk than read. Will you tell me about your sister?”

Treasured– Chapter Thirteen

treasured finalHere’s our last chapter! Poor Will and Elizabeth have gone through so much but finally get their happily ever after! I will add that this story is still being edited, so please give me your final thoughts. I can’t promise that I will take everything into consideration. For example, I will not write five new chapters of post married life. 🙂 However…I might be willing to do ONE.

Also, Will and Lizzy’s story is over but there are others I could tell. What do you think of Charlotte and Richard (who were almost a thing in this chapter but it didn’t seem to fit right and got cut)? Or I have this really BIG idea but I don’t want to give it away. Will and Lizzy would show up but it would be mostly about others. Should I continue the series/give it a spin-off? If I do, do you want Will and Lizzy to remain center stage or can other people be the main hero and heroine?

 

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

 

Chapter Thirteen

Over the next few days, Will determined he had not been followed to the inn. Likewise, Elizabeth was able to pass along information via Charles. In the long days of loneliness and isolation at the Ware inn, Will wondered about Harcourt’s intelligence. Then again, perhaps he knew that Jane and Charles were headed to the altar and Will and Elizabeth would always be in each other’s orbit. It would add to Will’s pain all the more if he would easily hear of Elizabeth but not have her for himself. Still, he did not appear to have other accomplices. Wickham must have only been designed as a distraction.

When Will read his name in a gossip column, he knew they had succeeded. Harcourt must have crowed to someone that Elizabeth jilted Will. If he had said that much, he might have said more. Will waited a few more days before returning to Netherfield. Harcourt needed to feel secure in his victory. Correspondence from Mr. Walker of the Rose and Crown in Ware to Mr. Bennet of Longbourn increased. A new wedding date was planned. The rector graciously agreed to their plans.

All in all, less than a week since becoming husband and wife, Will and Elizabeth were reunited. The night before the nuptials, the Bennet ladies dined at Netherfield. Will’s London relations had arrived, but Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle were to come in the evening. Mr. Bennet had gone to London to retrieve them. Will remained on unfriendly terms with Lady Catherine, and she was not invited to the wedding.

When the ladies separated after the meal, Richard laughingly queried Will about how it felt to be a married man. Although it was meant to be a secret, Will explained the situation to his uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, and another cousin, a viscount named Francis.

“Harcourt has an awful reputation,” Francis observed.

“People fear his ruthlessness,” the Earl countered. “Unfortunately, it gets him what he most wants: respect—or something very close to it.” He shook his head. “I never would have guessed the son of a butcher could have such authority.”

“He is the son of a butcher?” Will asked. “I thought his father was the last earl.”

“He was,” the Earl nodded. “However, it was one of those unexpected and distant relative inheritances. The blasted war took all the closer relations.”

“But a butcher?” Richard asked.

“Oh, the family had not fallen that much. His father had been a respectable clergyman, although he did marry a bit low. His wife was the niece of a rich butcher. Harcourt’s father could have entered the church as well, but chose to take over his uncle’s business. The war had inflated prices, and he could not resist the money.”

Will furrowed his brow. There had been a certain roughness about Harcourt at Eton. He must have terrorized the other boys lest they do the same to him given his background.

“When his father unexpectedly inherited, it thrust the boy, Peter, into a new world,” the Earl continued. “I once thought he might have been a friend for you, Will.”

“How so?”

“He inherited not long before you did. He was connected with the family—although, perhaps not as much as he would have liked.”

“Pardon?” Will knew of nothing connecting him to Harcourt.

“The father knew the de Bourghs.” Lord Fitzwilliam sipped his wine. “Sir Lewis’ father had been a merchant in the same town as the Harcourt family. He was rewarded with a baronetcy at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Blasted French.” The men raised their glasses in agreement.

Will and Richard exchanged a look. “Father,” Richard said, “tell us more about how the Harcourts knew the de Bourghs.”

“Jacob Harcourt, your Lord Harcourt’s father, and Sir Lewis were born in the same year. They grew up together in Ramsgate.”

At the name of the seaside town, Will took more interest in the story.

“And you know Sir Lewis did not inherit until Anne was nearly ten.” The Earl shrugged. “Anne and Peter were playmates until she moved to Rosings and his father inherited the earldom.”

“Was not there talk of a marriage between them?” Francis asked.

Lord Fitzwilliam nodded. “Yes, but by the time Peter inherited and was of age, Lady Catherine had fixated on Anne marrying Will. She did not approve of Peter’s background.”

“Fine talk, that,” Francis grumbled. “Anne is only one generation more removed from trade, and surely an earl trumps a baronet.”

“Not to mention the Harcourts must have been rich enough from the money they made on selling during the war,” Richard added.

The Earl furrowed his brow as though he searched his memory for something on the topic. Before he could say anything more, the clock chimed the top of the hour.

Will had heard enough. Harcourt might hate him because the man had not won Anne’s hand but why target Will’s father? If killing Will was the real aim all those years before, then why wait so long to make a second attempt. It mattered not. Elizabeth was already Will’s wife by law and the church, and on the morrow, all the world would know it. He was tired of waiting and at that moment, tired of conversation with anyone other than his wife.

“We should join the ladies,” Will said while standing.

The other gentlemen followed suit after some good-natured teasing on the subject of Will’s lovestruck ways. In the drawing room, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Mary took turns performing on the pianoforte. Will allowed their joined voices to wash over him. Soon, he hoped, Harcourt would make his move. He had once questioned his father about why he was on such friendly terms with Harcourt. Will now supposed it was not so strange if Harcourt was close friends to the de Bourgh family.

As the Gardiners were expected at Longbourn by seven, the Bennets soon left Netherfield. Will pulled Elizabeth away for a private farewell. They would be recognised by all as man and wife after tomorrow. Charles had offered for them to stay at Netherfield, but Will had enough of sharing Elizabeth with others. They would travel to London after the wedding breakfast. Georgiana would stay with the Earl and Countess for a week or two. She had made many amends for her behaviour but sometimes glanced anxiously at Will. He assumed she worried for his welfare or wished for his approval. He had made it clear to her upon his return to Netherfield that she was not permanently banished to their relations, providing she continue to behave well she could join them in a few weeks. He even offered the possibility of inviting Mary to town—an idea which all the ladies favoured and Bennet laughed at him for suggesting.

As he headed for his chamber for the evening, the Earl pulled him aside. “I could not remember earlier, but Lady Catherine says that Harcourt recently tried to pay court to Anne again. She was too angry to admit defeat at losing you. She also objected to Harcourt’s finances.”

“Harcourt is known for winning at the tables and even acting as a moneylender. What happened to all the money?”

“I could not say,” Lord Fitzwilliam answered. “Catherine was insulted by Harcourt’s application.”

Will thanked his uncle for the information and said goodnight. The pieces of information rolled in his brain as he attempted to sleep. His dreams bounced from Harcourt to Anne to Wickham to a smoke-filled Scottish inn. He awoke to a throbbing head, aching heart, and empty arms.

*****

“Are you worried, Lizzy?” Jane asked as the sisters prepared for the ceremony.

“No,” Elizabeth said more to herself than Jane. “He has already begun to behave as we predicted.”

“What can be his motive? What about Wickham?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. However, Will and I refuse to continue hiding. It is time to begin our life together. If it is cut short, then I trust it was meant to be. We have already lost so much time…” Elizabeth trailed off as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. She refused to give into painful memories or anxious fears. This was to be the happiest day of her life!

“I know one thing for certain,” Jane said as she put the finishing touches on her sister’s hair.

“What is that?”

“Will would never let any harm come to you.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement. It was a risk she was too selfish to take. She could not relinquish her right to Will and be done with the whole thing. If anything ever happened to him, she might spend the rest of her life wondering if only she had given into Harcourt’s demands how life might have been different. She pushed the worries aside. If she did as he wanted, who knew if he would keep his agreement.

There was a knock on the door and Mary entered. “Lizzy, it’s time,” she said. “Oh! You look lovely!”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.

“Will sent the carriage,” Mary said. “It only seats six, so I will walk.”

“Surely, that is not necessary,” Jane said. “Papa can walk or take the horse. Or Lydia may sit on my lap.”

Mary shook her head. “I would not want to wrinkle your gown and Papa should be there for Lizzy. It is no matter. I will leave directly.”

“Very well,” Elizabeth said before leaving her seat to embrace her sister. “We shall see you soon at Darcy House.”

“I look forward to it!” Mary grinned. After a moment’s hesitance, she left.

“Now, let us get you married—again,” Jane teased as she and Elizabeth walked downstairs arm in arm.

It was just as well that Mary walked to the church for Mrs. Bennet made them load and unload the carriage several times before they at last left Longbourn. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the entire thing. Many brides walked to the church—indeed, she had on the day they legally wed! Longbourn’s church was less than a quarter of a mile away. Taking the carriage only made things take longer.

Entering the church, the family began to take their places. However, Elizabeth soon noted a disturbance at the front. Mrs. Bennet shrilly cried for her husband and swooned into the arms of her sisters. After a moment of conversation, Mr. Gardiner and Will approached Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet at the back of the church.

“What is wrong?” Bennet asked.

“It is Mary,” Mr. Gardiner shook his head. “She has not arrived. We have already searched the path.”

“Georgiana,” Will’s voice cracked, “is also missing.”

“Could they be together?” Elizabeth asked, beginning to tremble.

Will nodded. “That is a possibility. She had wanted to walk this morning, but I wanted to arrive early. Mrs. Annesley was to go with her, but when the others arrived, they informed me Mrs. Annesley awoke ill and was unable to accompany Georgiana.”

“Mary never mentioned wishing to meet Georgiana, nor did she leave early enough which would suggest her intention.”

“She was very adamant about walking though,” Mr. Bennet reminded her.

“I have sent the guards, my valet, and Richard to search for them,” Will said as he took Elizabeth’s hands in his. “They probably merely lost track of time.”

Elizabeth nodded even as uneasiness simmered in her. Behind them, they heard a slamming sound at the door. With widened eyes, Elizabeth watched as the three gentlemen rushed to the entrance. They could not get the door the budge. Outside of the church, Elizabeth heard shouts and women crying.

“Peter?” Elizabeth heard Mary’s horrified voice. “Why are you doing this?”

Elizabeth ran to a window hoping she could see the scene outside. Mary flung herself at Lord Harcourt. He pushed her aside, and she landed on the ground with a thud.

“No!” Georgiana rushed to her friend’s side. While there, she did not see Wickham approach from the forest. He quickly subdued her and had her bound by rope.

Will had come to Elizabeth’s side and watched with her. “I must save her!”

“You do not know what they mean to do,” Elizabeth said as the stench of kerosene filled her nostrils.

Will’s eyes turned dark. He ran back to the door and shouted through it. “It is me you have a quarrel with, Harcourt. Let the others out!”

Elizabeth heard Harcourt’s sickening laugh. “Oh, this is so much better than anything I could have planned. You will die with your love but know that your sister is now in my control. Tell me, how does Mrs. Wickham sound to you? I think your father might have enjoyed the idea of Wickham blood running Pemberley.”

“I will never marry him! Never!” Georgiana screamed.

“Silence her!” Harcourt commanded. A smacking sound reverberated through the church.

In a cry of rage, Will charged at the door. By now, everyone was gathered at the front. Charles and the other gentlemen assisted Will, but it was useless. Elizabeth looked toward the window. They were small, and it would take far too long to break through the lead cames—if someone could even slip through.

Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet took equal turns wailing at their predicament. Elizabeth could no longer see anyone. Wickham had carried Mary and Georgiana away. Soon, smoke filled the air. Elizabeth tried to not despair as Will and the men continued to fatigue themselves as they beat upon the door.

Suddenly, a shot rang out. Then four more. Silence reigned—even Elizabeth’s sisters and mother were too terrified to continue their tears. Soon, there were voices and shouting again. Elizabeth heard the splashing of water as the villagers who were nearby ran to put out the flames. At the door, there was a scratching sound accompanied by masculine groans. Finally, the door flung open, flooding the church with light and much needed fresh air. On the other side was a heaving Richard.

Will pushed past the crowd to come to Elizabeth’s side. Will lead her outside then released her arm to go back in and help the others.

Outside, Elizabeth saw the bodies of Wickham and Harcourt. Mary and Georgiana hugged each other under a tree. Mr. Bennet had gathered his wife and other daughters under another. Charles held a sobbing Jane. Elizabeth wondered if this was what battlefields felt like the fighting ended. Casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw Will and his cousin assisting his aunt out of the church. His uncle helped the elderly rector.

Approaching Georgiana and Mary, Elizabeth wondered how they would ever know the reasons behind Harcourt’s actions. She was only happy it was over.

“Mary,” Elizabeth choked out. “I am so happy you are well! You too, Georgiana.”

The girls held their arms open to her, and she fell into them. They were bruised but would survive. It could have been much worse.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked her sisters through tears.

“I was to meet Georgiana and Peter for the wedding.”

“Peter?”

“I believe Will called him Harcourt, but I only knew him as an errand boy named Peter who I had met in the bookshop. He charmed me when I first met him.”

“You told him about the wedding?” Elizabeth asked.

Mary nodded as tears streaked down her face. “Yes. I had not seen him in days and was excited to introduce him to my family.”

Elizabeth sighed. What had Mary been thinking? An errand boy? “Mary, surely you knew…”

“I liked his attention,” Mary sighed. “You and Jane had your serious suitors. I only wanted a flirtation.”

The sound of hoofbeats drew Elizabeth’s notice. The magistrate, Colonel Forster, and the apothecary had arrived. Wickham and Harcourt were brought into a cottage. Elizabeth clutched her heart as she saw Harcourt begin to raise his head. He lived!

As if sensing her fear, Will approached. He lead Elizabeth away from their sisters. “It is over now,” he murmured as he held her close.

“He lives,” Elizabeth forced out as sobs began to rack her body. She was no longer afraid, but her body released the tension in the only way it knew how.

“He will stand trial for attempted murder of many people—including an earl. He will hang if he survives. We are free.”

Elizabeth nodded against his chest. They were finally free.

Eventually, the fright of the morning wore off, and as the sun continued to rise, Mrs. Bennet’s nerves fluttered forward. It was nearly noon, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had not yet wed! When her husband explained that they were already legally married, she actually clapped in delight and called everyone to the wedding breakfast—even the villagers.

The breakfast was a subdued affair and not as light-hearted as Elizabeth had expected, but filled with even more joy than anticipated. In due time, Will and Elizabeth hugged their loved ones goodbye and departed for London.

During the ride, Will explained what he had learned about the events of the morning. The magistrate had managed to procure a confession from Harcourt before he died. He did not hate Will based on Lady Catherine’s rejection alone. Anne had refused him as well. She did not like his character as a gambler and a rake. She preferred an upstanding man like Will.

Harcourt had hoped to kill Will in the fire in Scotland. Wickham had only been his means of information about their location and useful in stealing Will’s letters. He had not known of Harcourt’s intentions, believing he just meant to extract his debt from Sam and harass Will. However, Harcourt soon blackmailed Wickham afterward, threatening to provide proof of his guilt in the arson. Believing Will suffered at the loss of Elizabeth, even if he had not died, provided a balm for Harcourt.

Before the Darcys left for Scotland, Harcourt approached George Darcy. He hoped to bribe the man to ensure his son would never marry Anne. Disgusted, Mr. Darcy had begun to expose Harcourt for the man he truly was, resulting in loss of status and income for Harcourt who continued to live above his means, desperate to appear the wealthy nobleman and not the lowly butcher’s son. As his income diminished, his contempt for Will increased.

While attempting to court Anne a second time, Harcourt learned that Will had arrived at Longbourn. His hatred rekindled, he posed as a hired hand in Meryton and had bought Wickham his commission in the Militia. Wickham had continued courting Georgiana, but she proved unable to provide any information. Meeting Mary was merely chance and yet allowed Harcourt the possibility of learning about Elizabeth. He had returned to Meryton to continue the flirtation.

“No more,” Elizabeth silenced Will’s lips. “I do not care to hear any more about Lord Harcourt or Mr. Wickham. In fact, I do not wish to think about them ever again.”

“Shall we think only of the past as its remembrance brings us pleasure?” Will asked.

“Yes,” Elizabeth smiled as Will kissed her lips. “And we will dream of the future while never taking a moment for granted.”

“I like the sound of that Mrs. Darcy,” Will said.

“And I am happy to officially be Mrs. Darcy instead of Mrs. Walker! Whatever made you choose that name?”

“Do you remember, love? Miss Bingley described you as an excellent walker just before I saw you for the first time. I think I lost my heart to you at just that moment.”

Elizabeth laughed. “It must have been for the first thing I ever said to you was to reprimand. Oh, the conceit I had then!”

“As if I was any better,” Will laughed.

“We are best together,” Elizabeth observed.

“I am nothing without you, Elizabeth,” Will said before drawing her into a kiss.

As it deepened, and more vows of love were murmured mixed with gentle teases and laughter, Elizabeth felt more treasured than ever before in her life. As she had promised, she thought of the future and, at last free of the past, she only grinned to consider what it held for them. Together, they would conquer anything.

Treasured– Chapter Twelve

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

Chapter Twelve

 

Elizabeth had always believed that Will would read her letter and agree to her plan. She supposed he would find a way to communicate with her. When she was called to her father’s library a few days after she had refused to see Will, her heart skipped a beat. Sitting in her usual chair in the book-filled room, Elizabeth watched her father with anxious curiosity.

“Would you like to know what that Will of yours has suggested now?”

Elizabeth nodded. She had told only her father of her plans.

“He suggests you marry before Harcourt leaves the area.”

“What?” Elizabeth had not thought he would reject her ideas entirely.

“In secret, of course,” Mr. Bennet smirked as Elizabeth’s affront eased.

“Would that be possible?”

“If it is first thing in the morning, and you arrive at separate times then it might work. There are not generally people in the church or the surrounding area then.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Mama will be unhappy. She had wanted a big wedding and was just warming to the idea of my marrying Will at all.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet said and thought for a moment. “Why not marry in secret now and continue to seem separated? Then, after Harcourt leaves, you might announce an intention to marry again. At this large wedding, he will come storming in to collect his price, and we will have guards in attendance.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They would need witnesses. “Who can we trust to know?”

“Will suggests Charles and Jane.”

Elizabeth frowned.

“You do not think they are trustworthy?”

“I worry that they will say something too transparent. We may be called upon to lie.”

“You could keep it a secret and merely have Jane walk with you and surprise her once there.”

“And after? She would not be able to contain her joy.”

“I will go,” Mr. Bennet said. “It would not appear unusual for me to have to speak with the rector. Surely, Will could trust his manservant.”

“Very well. Does he suggest a day?”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow!” Elizabeth could hardly breathe.

“You had best go,” Mr. Bennet said as he pulled out writing supplies.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said as she bent to kiss his cheek.

In her room, Elizabeth blushed to consider that at this time tomorrow she would be a married lady. She cast her eyes around the room. She had felt so grown up to join Jane in this room when she left the nursery behind. Now, it was fairly bursting having to contain the accruements of two grown ladies. Soon, very soon, she hoped, she would be leaving it forever. She would not get to live as a typical bride and yet just knowing she would be joined with Will in Holy Matrimony filled her with contentment.

After a night of little sleep, Elizabeth awoke at dawn and treated herself to a slow ramble in the morning mist. A few minutes before the appointed time, she approached Longbourn’s church. None of the villagers seemed to be around. Most would be working in the house or at the estate. Mothers would be busy with their children. There was only old Mrs. Shaw that might be peeking out her window to see any comings and goings. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the small house the woman kept. She could see no one at the window. Even still, she affected a mournful countenance and posture. Any witnesses would think she approached the church for spiritual assistance. After all, she had broken an engagement and when the rumors of such circulated many would consider her a fallen woman. They might as well carry her to the church themselves!

Inside, the pastor looked up from where he sat near the door to his office. He beckoned Elizabeth to approach.

“The others are in here,” he whispered. “My curate will wait here to lend assistance or diversion should we need it. Are you certain you wish for it this way, my child?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth nodded and smiled shyly.

“Then let us continue.”

Elizabeth followed him into the little room, and instantly her eyes focused on Will. They would be crowded anyway, but his presence seemed to take up most of the space. He smiled at her entrance and did not take his eyes off of her the entire time, even when introducing his valet.

Throughout the ceremony, Elizabeth’s hands trembled. After all the wait, all the fear, she was marrying Will! She could scarcely believe it! In a matter of minutes, the legal ceremony was over.

“We will keep the register in here. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will have any other marriage applications for quite some time. Now, let us allow the Bride and Groom some privacy.”

Mr. Bennet kissed Elizabeth on the cheek and joked that he would see her at home. Mr. Matthews said he would return to Netherfield.

Once alone, Will turned to Elizabeth. “I would kiss you, but I fear it too irreverent in such a place.”

Elizabeth smiled and could agree with the sentiment entirely.

“I regret that this is not the ceremony you deserve.”

“Think nothing of it. I surely regret more that I cannot live with you as a wife ought.”

Will smiled so brightly it reached his eyes, fine lines formed around them. “How did you spend your morning?” He stroked her cheeks.

“I left early for a walk.”

Will nodded. “I thought so. Your eyes are always brighter when you have been walking.”

Elizabeth blushed and shook her head. “Where is the arrogant young man I knew? You do not think my eyes are brighter simply because you are around?”

Will suddenly started and frowned. He looked her up and down. “How long did you walk?”

“For several hours but the distance was not too far. I was too anxious to be far from the church. Why?”

“I thought to invite you to an establishment in Ware.”

“In Ware!”

“It is not too far—scarcely more than the three miles you walked to Netherfield.”

“What kind of establishment?” Elizabeth raised a brow. Her heart fluttered to consider what he would mean.

“Elizabeth,” Will said in a low growl. “Can we not have some part of being husband and wife?”

Will’s blue eyes stared intently at Elizabeth. The need in his eyes called on Elizabeth’s heart. She shyly nodded her assent.

“The Rose and Crown. Do you know it?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “W—when?”

“I will go very soon. My valet and carriage will soon leave for London.”

“You are leaving?”

“No,” Will hastened to interrupt her. “No, I will only look as though I am leaving. I will actually be in Ware. Harcourt should feel as though he won.”

Elizabeth nodded. She should have considered that. What man would remain so near the woman who had rejected him?

“You will come?”

“I will. I suppose if I walk then I shall arrive around the same time you do.”

“We should part,” Will sighed and consulted his watch. “Soon, my love. Soon we will not have to separate.”

Elizabeth nodded and watched as he left, her heart hammering in her chest as she considered the changes this day would bring. A few minutes later, the rector brought her to a less commonly used exit.

She walked first in the opposite direction of Ware, in case anyone had seen her at the church or was following her movements. Avoiding the main road, Elizabeth knew which paths would lead her to her destination. About an hour later, she stood outside of the Rose and Crown.

This was madness! What was she to do? Just go inside and…ask for a room? Ask for Mr. Darcy? Did he even register under his name? She had brought no things—but she was not staying the night, was she? So she was to go upstairs with a man and then return later and just walk out—without the proprietor thinking anything amiss? She was thankful Will chose a place so near Meryton. She did not have to worry about any friends or acquaintances needing an inn mere miles from their home.

Elizabeth turned and walked away. She would send a note later. Will would have to understand. She could not act in such a way. As she rounded the milliner, a figure emerged from the shop.

“Ah, there you are,” a familiar voice said.

Elizabeth looked up in surprise.

“Should you be so surprised to see me, my love?” Will winked as a couple walked past them.

“I did not expect to find you in the milliner,” Elizabeth said with false sweetness.

“I must apologise. I realised after we parted that I had not considered how we might meet again and the difficulties you would have in finding me.”

“Well?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

Will was silent for a long moment before he began chuckling. “Ah, I see my error. Let me amend my words. I do apologise. It was thoughtless of me. Can you forgive me?”

“I suppose I must. It must be part of my vows.”

Cocking his head, Will smiled down on her. “I heard you promise to love, honour, and obey but not to forgive.”

“Well, then you must command me to forgive you,” Elizabeth said and flashed a saucy grin.

Will sucked in a quick breath before looking around. “Do you know, Mrs. Walker, I believe you now require rest.”

“Oh, indeed, I must, Mr. Walker.”

Will smirked but tucked Elizabeth’s hand into his arm and nearly dragged her into the inn. Elizabeth contained a giggle at his eagerness. When he lead her up the stairs, her legs began to tremble. Looking down at her, Will touched his forehead to hers just before opening the door.

Inside, Will drew her into his arms. Kissing her, he pulled on Elizabeth’s bonnet ribbons. Elizabeth reached to assist him, but he swatted her hands away. He pulled back to whisper in her ear. “Tonight, I shall be your maid.”

“I will stay?” Elizabeth looked around nervously. The room was furnished as most inns. She gulped at the large bed, then noticed some of her things. “What will be said of my absence from Longbourn?”

“Miss Lucas was prevailed upon to say you are staying with her.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That story could not be held for long. If anyone asked her family…”

Will settled his hands around Elizabeth’s waist. His thumbs rubbed in slow circles just above her hips. “Your father has convinced Sir William to keep his family quiet. He also knows of Lord Harcourt. The Lucases hate him almost as much as we do.” Will paused and searched Elizabeth’s eyes. “You are free to leave at any time—you are not my captive.”

Elizabeth could not speak. Will had touched her more intimately before and yet she now felt drugged and incapable of resisting anything he would ask.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” he urged. “It was a foolish plan; you resent my high handedness. Say something!”

“I think…” Elizabeth began, “you should kiss me again.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled his head to hers.

 

*****

 

Will awoke the following day to find his arms delightfully full of feminine softness. He nuzzled into the curve of Elizabeth’s neck. “Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth sighed happily and rolled over to kiss him. After many minutes in pleasurable distraction, she pulled back. “I suppose I should return now. When will I see you again?”

“Soon,” Will said. “Perhaps three or four days. Whenever Richard can confirm that Harcourt is definitely in London.”

“And then we shall have a ceremony before our family?” Elizabeth smiled.

“Yes, love. Richard’s parents are eager to meet you again.”

“Again?” Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled. “Oh! At the theatre. I confess I had entirely forgotten they were there that evening.”

Will chuckled. “How embarrassed my poor aunt would be to hear her illustrious rank made no impression upon you.”

“Forgive me for being too besotted and distracted to care for such lofty titles of personages that could mean nothing to me.”

Will rewarded her words with a kiss. “Well, they have not forgotten you. The Earl had originally planned to journey with us. They are very cognizant of what might have been and of what we lost that day.”

“Did they know that you and I had an attachment?”

Will paused a moment. “I think they suspected it.”

“Why?”

“I could not bear to hear Sam mentioned. Nor would I countenance any talk of a marriage for me—they thought I should consider marrying my cousin Anne more.”

“Will they not approve of me?”

“No, that was never their complaint,” Will shook his head. “They never wished me to marry without affection or would say you are too low. They were friends with your father, after all.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“It is Lady Catherine who will rail at our marriage.” Elizabeth tensed in Will’s arms, and he held her tighter. “I do not care what she has to say. I never have.”

“Did Anne wish to marry you?”

The question brought Will up short. He had never really considered it before. “I do not know.”

“She is still unwed?”

“Yes,” Will slowly said the word.

He searched his memory for interactions with Anne. Had she expected his addresses? Maybe. Had there been genuine hope or affection on her side? He doubted it. She neither sought him out nor acted embarrassed or flustered when he was near. Then again, he had never been particularly good at reading females.

“Never mind,” Elizabeth snuggled closer. “It hardly matters. You did not raise her expectations and cannot be held accountable for every lady who hoped to gain your notice. I have won you, and I do not much enjoy thinking about other ladies and you marrying them in our marriage bed.”

“Say it again,” Will whispered in her ear as his hands ran over her body. A shiver racked her frame.

“That I have won you?”

He kissed just below her ear, drawing a moan from her lips. “Indeed, you have. Will you torture me, woman?”

“Hmm…perhaps, but I believe I have a new title now.”

“Will you torture me, wife?” His lips wandered down her neck.

“I shall plague you every day, I am sure.”

“Do you know, Mrs. Darcy, I think you sometimes talk too much.” Will pulled Elizabeth’s lips to his where they were occupied until the sun reached high in the sky.

When they awoke again, Will whispered endearments in his wife’s ear. She caressed his old scars and asked to hear how he had braved the fire attempting to rescue his loved ones. He held her close as he explained how she had healed his wounds. Although he did not fixate on hating inns the way Georgiana had, he carried the burdens of the fire with him for years. Now, he was beginning a new path and forging new memories.

At last, the time came that he must rescind the comfort of his bride. In a hired hack, they rode first in the opposite direction of Meryton and changed routes several times before bringing Elizabeth back to the outskirts of Meryton. There, Miss Lucas would walk her back to Longbourn. It took some faith for Will to trust Miss Lucas, but Elizabeth had told him of her renewed friendship with Sam’s former betrothed. Jane had sent the things Elizabeth would want, determined to provide something for her sister if she could not witness the ceremony.

Will returned to his rented chamber at the inn, feeling more than ever that his heart resided outside of his chest. The only thing which eased the dull ache he felt at Elizabeth’s absence was an express from Richard explaining he had already seen Harcourt at his usual gaming tables. More than ever, he prayed Elizabeth’s suggestion would prove right. He needed his wife in his arms once more.