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

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

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

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

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

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

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

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

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

Yours,

Jane

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

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

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

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

“That is horrible…”

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

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Bingley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anne!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they true?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Darcy,

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

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Elizabeth

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

Dear Madam.

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

Dear Miss Bennet,

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

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

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

Fitzwilliam Darcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Nine

MDBB4Dear C—

I am delighted to hear of you have seen our cousin’s new baby girl. A pity she would rather wish for a son. I would suggest she spend more time with her aunt as I know my mother has always wished to be closer to her brother-in-law’s children. When you marry I hope you will not think sons are the only children worth having. Your uncle loves our girls.

Your Aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Nine

As much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, Elizabeth could not mistake the look of pain and hurt in Darcy’s eyes as he left. She had done so much more than wound his vanity. Is that what she wanted all along?

Elizabeth thought over the history of her acquaintance with Darcy. She barely spoke to him without wishing to cause him pain. When had she become such a spiteful creature?

Elizabeth knew not how long she stood in place, alone and crying until she felt someone leading her off the path again.

“Miss Bennet, are you well?” Mr. Darcy had returned!

She could not answer. What must he think of her? Never before in her life had she been so cruel to a person! Always, always he provoked her past the point of civility! She allowed herself to be tugged into a sitting position.

“Please, do not cry for my sake.”

When she still did not speak, she felt something entirely unexpected. Mr. Darcy pulled her into his arms and held her! Near a public path on his aunt’s estate! All men from Derbyshire must be mad!

She pulled back from his arms and looked up at his face. “Mr. Darcy…”

“Shhh…”

This was madness! Why did he still hold her? Why did she let him?

This time she pushed against him, intent on rebuking him but something in the way he watched her stilled her tongue. She had said enough for one day. How long would she hold a grudge for one statement eight months ago?

“I cannot bear to be the cause for your tears and distress,” he said with an unfathomable gentleness.

Who was this man? Not the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, or even thus far in Kent. He let go of her and Elizabeth was nearly positive she saw regret etched on his face. Yes, he must regret speaking to her if she could not even keep a civil tongue and then resort to tears!

She said nothing as he sat beside her looking straight ahead. She was certain she had the most dumbstruck look on her face.

“Do you truly believe I dislike you and think so little of everyone around me?” His voice was quiet and uncertain.

Still not trusting herself to look at him, she fixed her gaze on the distance. “I confess it has been my firmest opinion these many months.”

Darcy was silent for many moments and Elizabeth hazarded a glance in his direction. Now his eyes remained forward, but she saw his jaw clenched tight and a muscle twitching near his eye.

Darcy plucked a blade of grass and focused on shredding it into small pieces while he spoke. “I do not mean to offend. I become nervous meeting new people. They all look at me, are judging me, estimating my income, presenting their daughters to me, approaching me with a business proposition, wanting to meet my uncle.

“More than that, with all the unwanted attention I am under constant scrutiny. I have been careful to not besmirch my family name. It is one reason I do not attempt to slander Wickham and why I have given into his financial demands before. The one time I did not, it nearly cost me dearly.”

Elizabeth thought over his words before replying. “I never thought you may be feeling that way, but did you ever think what other people might be feeling when the most powerful and richest person they have ever met enters the room, and will not even make eye contact with them? Will not speak with them? And who are you? Only a gentleman. You are not a peer or prince! We have our pride in Meryton, as anywhere.” Belatedly, Elizabeth recalled that he would one day inherit a barony.

“And I wounded yours.” Elizabeth blushed. “I never should have said it. I was in a foul mood but should have danced anyway. Truthfully, I would have danced after Bingley pointed you out but you know how I feel about Bingley’s ability to be easily persuaded. I only grasped at something to say.”

Before she could speak in reply, such as noting that it was the poorest apology she had heard in some time and she grew up with three younger sisters, he pressed on to the more important topic of discussion. “We still must decide how to warn your father. It seems he would not listen to your testimony and he will not listen to mine. Is there someone he may respect?”

Excessively grateful for the turn in conversation, she took a moment to think. She considered suggesting Bingley return, but it did not seem like her father would be willing to take Bingley’s word for it either. “My father greatly esteems my aunt and uncle in London. You have met them and know they have good sense.”

However much Darcy accepted his eccentric and titled aunt inviting the Gardiners to her home, Elizabeth knew it would be a stretch for a man of such pride to visit a tradesman, and was astonished when he did not hesitate to answer.

“If I explain matters do you think he will keep the confidence?”

“Yes, he certainly would. He met Wickham at Christmas. My aunt, especially, enjoyed his tales of Derbyshire and Lambton as she is from there, but they would be very interested in knowing the truth of his character. As you saw, they had no prejudice against you.” Unlike me.

Darcy smiled a little, and she was pleased that he noted her non-stated apology. Then another thought struck her. “Well, they did hear of you,” she could not bear to explain it was from her own mouth, “but they are fair people and enjoyed meeting you in London. My aunt had wondered about Wickham’s sensibilities when he began to pay attentions to a young lady who recently inherited ten thousand pounds when, previously, his affections seemed to lie…elsewhere.” Realising she rambled, she suddenly ceased speaking. She attempted not to blush but could feel the heat on her face.

“I see.” He sounded angrier than she expected. He clenched his jaw again.

“My aunt is predisposed to think well of you as she knew how good your father was.” Unexpectedly, Darcy smiled a sincere smile at that. His expression changed, and Elizabeth recognised that was when he was feeling proud. It was rather becoming.

“When do you leave for London?”

“I am to stay nearly another month.”

“I cannot call on your aunt and uncle without cause.”

A sly smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. “Mr. Bingley could call on my sister, and you could accompany him. I could send a letter with you.”

He began shaking his head before she had even finished her suggestion. “I would prefer you to be present.”

Elizabeth was annoyed he did not respond to her suggestion about Bingley. Of course, Darcy knew Jane as well and could call on her without his friend’s presence, but he seemed to have rejected that idea.

“Might you leave early?” he pressed.

Elizabeth huffed. “I do not have the freedom to order my own life. Mrs. Collins expects me here for another month, and my aunt and uncle are not prepared for me.”

“Perhaps you could write and ask if you may arrive in advance? You could argue the society here is discomforting, and I think that would be rather truthful. If they reply in the positive, you could find some excuse to Mrs. Collins.”

“I suppose you will tell me it is only fifty miles of good road and I might see my friend again frequently,” she said with something nearing sorrow. With all that Charlotte and Mr. Collins had put her through, leaving them would be no hardship but she had the distinct feeling her friendship with Charlotte would suffer forever.

Darcy cast a nervous look at her. “Might we worry about this trouble with Wickham before we borrow more from the future?”

“Very well. I can see, sir that your suggestions are prudent. I will sacrifice my leisure for the benefit of my family and the community. Oh, what I do for my beloved sisters!” She said dramatically, for greater effect.

He smiled at her theatrics. “Again, you cannot be certain what the future holds.”

Darcy pulled out his watch and noticed the time. “Allow me to escort you to the parsonage.” Once they began walking again, Darcy inquired, “When will you write your aunt?”

“I will write today. Things should be arranged in less than a week.”

Darcy frowned. “We had not considered how to convey you. Surely Miss Lucas would desire to stay with her sister longer. Additionally, your relatives might wish for you to remain in Town for a time rather than send you immediately to Hertfordshire, as Miss Lucas would likely prefer.”

Elizabeth chewed her lip. Was there a hint of anxiety in Darcy’s eyes? “I had not thought of that. We were to travel by stage, but my uncle was to send a manservant for us.” Darcy looked away, but Elizabeth saw him wince at her news. Undoubtedly, he would never dream of travelling by stage.

“If I could arrange for a maid to travel with us, might you ride in Lady Catherine’s carriage while I ride on my horse?”

Elizabeth disliked having to accept so much from Darcy, but it was the only feasible way. She could not travel with only a manservant and hated to have to beg for a maid from either the Collinses or the Gardiners. “Thank you.”

They arrived at the Parsonage gate, and Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand. As he left, she sighed. Once again, she could not make him out at all. Fortunately, there were two such people just within who would rectify that feeling immediately.

*****

Darcy knocked on Anne’s sitting room door and looked up and down the hall, hoping no servant would see him.

“Yes?” she called out.

“It’s Darcy,” he said. A memory of them as young children flashed in his mind. They would play “hide from the dragon.” Richard and their other cousin would never let Darcy hide with them. Anne, as a resident of Rosings, always knew the best places to hide. How often had he knocked on a wardrobe or cover and said, “It is me,” and she knew his voice immediately? Now, because of her mother’s scheming, they had grown into mere strangers.

Anne opened the door and also scanned the hallway. “Well?” she asked.

“I need to speak with you privately. Might I come in?” Darcy watched as Anne’s nervousness increased tenfold.

“If you must,” she said and walked toward the seating area. She lowered herself slowly into a chair and motioned for Darcy to do the same. Sitting on the edge of her chair, as though prepared for flight at a moment’s notice, she stared at her hands rather than look at Darcy.

“I must ask for your assistance,” he began nervously.

Anne’s head shot up. She looked a mixture of relieved and sceptical. “You need my help? Whatever for?”

“Miss Bennet finds she must journey to London earlier than previously planned. Neither the Collinses nor her relatives in Town have a suitable conveyance. I have offered to escort her, but she will need a chaperone and use of one of your mother’s carriages.”

Anne’s eyes widened, and she placed a hand protectively over her neck. “I cannot journey so far! London? No, never!” She looked ghost white, and she clenched the arms of her chair in terror.

Darcy gently touched her arm, causing her to jump. “Forgive me,” he said and drew it back. “I did not mean to alarm you,” he said. While some might fear confined places, Anne never did. No, she feared large groups of people. The result of being nearly trampled as a child when taken to see Macbeth with her father and a riot broke out due to an increase in ticket prices.

“Wha — what did you want then?” she asked, her chest still heaving but the fear easing.

“I wondered if you could arrange for a maid to accompany us. Miss Lucas will not wish to leave so early.”

“Oh, is that all?” Anne sagged against the chair in relief and looked younger than he had seen her in ages.

“That shall be hard enough without arousing the suspicion of your mother.” Darcy stood to leave.

“And what of my suspicions?” She said, and if it were not for the fact that Anne seldom left the vicinity of Rosings, Darcy would despise the way she sounded like her mother. As it was, she could hardly help it.

Darcy raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “You will not dally with Mrs. Collins’ friend, will you?”

“I hardly need to explain myself to you,” Darcy turned to go but at the last moment thought better of it. He was striving to be a better man because of Elizabeth’s rebuke. “Forgive me,” he said and retook his seat.

Anne furrowed her brow, unaccustomed to him caring about her opinion.

“I assure you, I have nothing but honourable intentions toward Miss Bennet, but that is all there is worth saying at this moment.” He took a deep breath and pushed forward. “Anne, surely you know… That is, it can be no surprise…” Blast it. There was a reason he had never discussed the situation of her mother’s hopes before.

Anne squeezed her hands tightly and stared at her feet.

Respect. “No, I will not dictate to you as you have had done your whole life. I will not tell you how you must think or feel and will not presume to know better than you.”

Slowly, she lifted her eyes, tears misted them.

“It was wrong of me to avoid this conversation for so many years. Your mother has made her preferences quite known, and I suspect has even raised you to expect our union.”

Anne timidly nodded.

“I ask your forgiveness. I ought to have discussed my feelings long ago.”

“You love Miss Bennet,” she said with understanding.

“I do,” Darcy confirmed. “However, I had felt since my youth that I could not marry you.” She opened her mouth, but Darcy waved it off. “Please, do not disparage yourself. I do not find you wanting. Another man will be quite blessed to have you as a wife. You deserve a man who passionately adores you. I have always known I am not that man and believed I was doing you a service by not bowing to your mother’s wishes.”

Anne exhaled a long breath and tears streamed down her eyes. “Thank you,” she clapped her hands together. “Thank you! Thank you! I have lived in fear, in dread of your proposal for most of my life.”

Despite his relief that she did not resent his rejection, it stung to hear yet another lady wanted no part of his courtship. “Again, I apologise for not stating my feelings earlier.” He stood to depart.

“I can help you!” She called out as his hand reached for the doorknob. He turned back toward her. “I can assist you with Miss Bennet.”

“What makes you think I need your assistance?”

Anne laughed. “She has not the faintest clue you admire her. She would sooner expect Richard’s stallion to grow wings.”

“And you are an expert on matchmaking now?”

“Those who cannot wed, plan!” Anne exclaimed. “I will tell you a secret.”

Dutifully, Darcy returned to his seat and leaned forward as Anne motioned. “I write for a ladies’ magazine. I am Mrs. Mabel Fairweather, mistress of hearts.” She scurried off to her desk and brought correspondence for him to inspect.

Darcy turned them over, recognising her penmanship. “I do not know what to say. You are accomplished beyond my wildest thoughts.”

“Now, you have begun your courtship on the wrong foot,” Anne grinned and retrieved her letters. “However, Elizabeth is a reasonable woman. She can be convinced to let the past remain there. She is prejudiced against your rank and wealth, and it does not help that she knows my mother,” Anne groaned at the thought.

Darcy silently added that Elizabeth’s other accusations involved Wickham and Bingley. “I have already determined I must show her and her relations greater respect.”

Anne nodded. “An excellent start. And how will you demonstrate this? Just wait for them to appear? Or to be brought up in conversation?”

Indeed, that was exactly his plan. Conversation was not his strong suit. Now, if only Society allowed him to demonstrate his passion for the lady…

“Do not fret,” Anne said. “We can practice some conversation and” she waggled her eyebrows, “we can discuss the appropriate behaviour of suitors. You must not leave her in doubt of your regard.”

Darcy loosened his cravat. The ways in which he desired to show Elizabeth his affection were not suitable for a lady’s ears, or anyone really. He had long struggled with accepting that he could feel very carnal desire for Elizabeth and love her intellect and personality as well. He stood to leave.

“When do you see her again? I imagine in the morning. I have not seen her sketching as early as she used to.”

“She sketches?”

“Oh yes,” Anne nodded. “She favours the hill overlooking the village. In the distance, you can see the spires of Knole Park. It does not surprise me that she has an interest in architecture.”

Darcy grinned. A true bluestocking. Neglecting fashionable pursuits for “gentlemen’s art.” She could not be more perfect for him than if he had intended to find a wife upon his entering Hertfordshire. He might have searched for many years before finding her.

“We do often meet in the grove,” Darcy answered neutrally.

“Do not go tomorrow,” Anne said. “Leave her wishing she had seen you. Visit me, and we will discuss how to proceed.”

“Thank you,” Darcy said, uncertain he should encourage her meddling in his life.

“And where the devil did you send Richard?”

“He had business in London and is detained by an ill commander. He hopes to return soon.”

“Yes, well, Mother pesters me more about you when he is absent.” Anne waved a hand. “You may go.”

Darcy, at last, left her sitting room, marvelling how much she was like her mother, and yet, that was not an entirely bad thing.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Eight

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth saw the wisdom in the plan and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have,” Darcy gave a slight nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming

Forgive me for such a long delay in this story! As I believe I have mentioned before, my son has Autism. Lately he’s been having some behavior issues at school. Dealing with them took most of my writing time but I believe we have finally turned a corner and worked out a new schedule.

There’s still a few more chapters to wrap everything up but things will begin to make more sense.

Chapter OneChapter Two and ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter Six /

Chapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter Ten Chapter Eleven

christmas-2016-5Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming

Georgiana sat in Darcy House’s drawing room. Beside her, Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst rambled on with false compliments about how accomplished and lovely she was. She was not yet sixteen years old and yet, according to them, far superior most ladies with years more education and experience in the world. If only they knew the truth.

Georgiana’s eyes flitted to the clock on the mantle again. She hoped her brother and his guests would return earlier, but she knew the wish was for naught. It had been the same for six days now. She would hear their voices in the hall of Mr. Bingley and her cousin talking about plans to visit Hertfordshire and see the Miss Bennets on the morrow. Then the clock would strike seven just before they reached the drawing-room. Next, without any clear memory of the day, she would be at Mr. Bingley’s house in Hertfordshire about to call on the Bennets. However, they always arrived at nearly seven o’clock and then after a few minutes’ conversation, time would shift again.

Around her, no one else seemed to act like they knew the day was repeating continuously until two nights ago. On that night, Miss Mary Bennet had tried to show her journal to her eldest sister. Last night, the usual plans were made to leave for Hertfordshire and Georgiana did not realize at first that a grave error had been made. On the way to the Bennet estate, she learned that for everyone else, two years had passed. Arriving at Longbourn, they found the youngest Bennet daughter married and mother to George Wickham’s child. Georgiana had not learned the truth of what happened surrounding matters, but she could guess the scoundrel seduced the girl and refused to marry her.

In what looked like a desperate act, Miss Mary showed her diary to Richard, who then kissed her! Georgiana assumed it was some sort of test to see if those around them would remember the next day. It certainly did not break whatever spell or curse was upon them. In normal proceedings, Richard would have had to propose to Mary or face pistols at dawn. However, Georgiana suspected Richard’s idea was on the correct path.

She had no idea how many days her world had been repeating but knew she became aware of it after standing up to George Wickham and explaining to Elizabeth Bennet how awful the man was. It was as if she had fallen out of step with destiny and was now trying to forge a new path. Could it be the same was true with the others? If so, Georgiana dearly hoped her brother’s destiny would intertwine with Elizabeth’s.

“Pardon me,” Georgiana interrupted Caroline and bolted from her seat.

She walked at an unladylike speed back to the dining room where the men were still gathered. Glancing at the clock in the hall, it seemed she had arrived just in time. Hovering outside the door, she heard the following conversation.

Mr. Bingley chuckled. “If you only want character and do not care about money or standing, then Darcy and I know a whole host of women.”

“Indeed?” Richard asked.

“Yes, in Hertfordshire. Near the estate, I am leasing.”

“Forgive me since I am a military man, but I would think it would be best to learn more about the estate by residing in it longer than a few weeks. Should you not go back?”

“You know, I was just thinking the same.” Georgian could hear the smile in his voice. “How am I to learn how estates run in the winter if I am not there for it. I think I must return for Christmas. You’re welcome to come along, Richard. I doubt Darcy will desire to return.”

“Forgive him, he’s very busy, our Darcy.”

“I think you might hit it off with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, actually,” Bingley offered.

“I will come!” Fitzwilliam practically shouted.

“Thank you, Bingley. I will check with Command, but I believe I can leave the area for the holidays.”

Georgiana could contain herself no longer. She opened the door with so much force it slammed against the wall.

“Georgiana!” Darcy cried and put out his cigar. “Is something wrong?”

She met his eye and spoke with steely determination. “No, but I heard your conversation just now. No, do not stop to scold me. I think we ought to leave tonight and not on the morrow.”

Fitzwilliam sputtered something about her not coming, but Georgiana’s attention was focused on Mr. Bingley.

“Leave tonight?” he said.

“Yes, you could have all day tomorrow with Miss Bennet, then.”

“How quickly can you be ready, Georgiana?” Richard asked, startling her. Did he remember?

“Molly can pack my things in less than an hour. We…well, we’re well practiced at hasty packing.” For once the reminder of her near elopement with Wickham had become a positive thing.

“Excellent,” Bingley and Richard said in unison.

Richard then left to send a message to his command and Bingley to inform his sisters of the plan, leaving Georgiana alone with her brother.

“Georgie,” Fitzwilliam said quietly but forcefully, “you are not coming. I forbid it.”

At first, Georgiana stared at her feet. It had always been so difficult to stand up to her brother or pain him. Their father had been ill most of her childhood, and her mother died after her birth. Fitzwilliam was more often her parent than her brother. However, she knew she could not back down from this. The happiness of so many was held in the balance. Poor Miss Lydia might be a silly, thoughtless girl but no one deserved to be cast aside by Wickham.

Georgiana raised her head and met her brother’s eyes. “If you want to test stubbornness, I am ready for a siege. I am too old for you to carry me away to the nursery. Punish me however you like, take away my pin money if it pleases you, but you will not stop me from boarding that carriage.”

Chest heaving and face red, she turned on her heel and left the room. Richard stood just outside.

“Bravo, Georgie! Our tender rose has thorns!”

Georgiana smiled but felt her face blush harder. “I am a Darcy and a Fitzwilliam. Is it any surprise I can be obstinate?”

The clock beside her rang seven times, and she tensed, expecting the world to fade away as it had before, but it did not.

“Can it be?” she whispered to herself.

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Richard said.

“What do you mean?” Georgiana asked nervously. She did not feel prepared to attempt to explain things to another.

Richard looked incredulous. “Do you really think I go around kissing bloody maidens and not remembering it the next day?”

Georgie attempted to stammer an answer when Fitzwilliam finally exited the dining room behind them. “If you wish to leave in an hour, you had best inform your maid,” he said while walking past them.

“Do you think he knows?” she hissed to Richard.

“Not a chance,” he shook his head. “We can not talk more now, but I have a theory.”

“Perhaps we can speak when we change horses?”

“Excellent notion,” he agreed before she scampered off.

Georgiana held her breath as she boarded the coach but Fitzwilliam said nothing. For the next two hours, she twisted her hands as she attempted to recall details of the previous days. Without a doubt, something revolutionary needed to happen before seven o’clock on December Twenty-third. What precisely was needed, she was less sure. Mary changed events by showing her diary to Jane, and the repercussions were that Bingley and Fitzwilliam did not return to Longbourn for two years and Lydia bore Wickham’s child.

At last, they reached the coaching inn to change horses. Richard offered to allow her to stretch her legs.

“It is fortunate we have so much moonlight,” Georgiana observed as they walked near the inn.

“That was fast thinking to get Bingley to leave tonight. If matters went on for another few days, we’d be in New Moon territory and traveling at night would be impossible.”

“Richard, I’ve been thinking. Time did not reset at seven o’clock as usual, so I think making drastically different choices creates a divergence in time.”

Richard nodded. “Yes, I had surmised as much. Mary trying to show her sister her diary made a monumental change, however.”

“Maybe…” Georgiana trailed off. This entire situation seemed impossible how could she think she understood it.

“Do not think you are too young to share your ideas,” he said gently.

“If not young, then stupid.”

“Fitzwilliams are never stupid!”

“Just Darcys, then?” she said with a half smile.

“Your brother, maybe,” Richard nodded to where Fitzwilliam paced near the coach.

“It has to do with him, don’t you think? And Miss Elizabeth?”

“I believe you are correct,” Richard said. “Did you have something to say about Miss Mary?”

“Only that I think for her sharing her private thoughts in her diary was a monumental change. When did you become aware of our predicament?”

“Well, after she told me but I had an epiphany last night. I have lived too much by duty or frivolity. I have not lived by my own desires.”

“Ah, see. You did something so very unlike you!”

Richard chuckled. “Indeed. And for you?”

“Do you recall our other meetings with the Bennets?”

“I do,” he nodded. “It is strange having memories others do not have. For example, last night we appeared to be two years in the future, but it is not as though I lived for two years. I can only tell you events that may have happened in relation to the Bennets.”

“Precisely. Do you recall the evening we arrived while Wickham was there? Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth, and I played cards with him? I confronted Wickham in a way. I mentioned my maid who he had dallied with and hinted strongly of our relationship. It made quite an impression on Elizabeth.”

“I was at a different table. What else happened?”

“Before anything else could happen the clock struck seven and time reset again. However, my memories were restored.”

“Ah, so you think standing up to Wickham was a profound change in your character?”

“You heard how I spoke to Fitzwilliam, did you not?”

“Yes, quite true.” Richard smiled down at her. “Well, I think we have some ideas. It is time to return to the coach. With any luck, we might break this spell we are under on the morrow. We can speak more in the morning.”

Georgiana followed him to the carriage where all occupants remained silent. After a fitful night of sleep, she awoke early the next morning and was pleased to see Richard alone in the breakfast room.

“Do you have a plan?” she asked eagerly after he finished his coffee.

“I think you were correct. Miss Elizabeth needs to know about Wickham, but Darcy must be the one to tell her.”

“Who am I supposed to talk to and what am I supposed to say?”

Georgiana gasped at the sound of her brother’s voice.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- What Child is This?

Sorry I’m late posting again! I’ve been so exhausted and my son is having trouble adjusting to school. I’ve been on the phone with school several times this week and had to pick him up early twice. That means less writing time! There are 3-5 chapters left after this one (depends on if I need to round anything out or decided to do an epilogue). What Child is This is one of my favorite Christmas Songs so I’ve had the idea of this from the very beginning.

Chapter OneChapter Two and ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter Six /

Chapter SevenChapter Eight Chapter NineChapter Ten 


christmas-2016-5What Child is This?

“I swear to you, I keep dreaming of Miss Bennet. It is a sign. It must be,” Bingley said as they boarded his coach again.

Out of nowhere the night before, Bingley had insisted on returning to his leased estate near Meryton, Hertfordshire. Darcy had insisted on going with him. Georgiana insisted on going with her brother. Richard insisted on going with her.

Last Darcy had heard, George Wickham was in Meryton and friendly with the Bennets. Of course, that had been two years ago. The Regiment likely was now stationed elsewhere, but with no notice, Richard had no means of finding out. However, he would never let the scoundrel near his young cousin again

“I will never understand why you renewed the lease even though you had not returned in over two years,” Darcy said coldly.

“Yes, I know all about your displeasure at my not taking your advice on the matter,” Bingley said.

Richard looked at his cousin, Georgiana. It was unlike Darcy and Bingley to have a disagreement. Darcy could be overbearing at times, but Bingley hated arguments. Wordlessly, she told him not to push the matter.

“What do you think they’re like now?” Georgiana asked.

“Ja — Miss Bennet would be as beautiful as ever,” Bingley replied instantly.

“You call it love when you only care about her looks?” Darcy asked. “What if seven years had passed instead of just two?”

Richard studied him. He expected to hear derision but instead, Darcy looked nearly as anxious as Bingley did.

“Why did you even want to come?” Bingley said in clipped tones.

“It was this or visit Aunt Catherine,” Richard said hoping humor would diffuse the tension. “You know he skipped out of going at Easter again.”

“Yes, tell us about your visit again,” Darcy said.

Richard tugged at his cravat. He did not like to speak of that time. Without Darcy’s company, Rosings was even more tedious than usual. Last year, Richard had taken to spending as much time as he could at the parsonage. Foolishly, he fell in love with a married woman. Even more foolishly, he returned to see her the following year.

Richard could guess Darcy’s reason for avoiding Rosings at Easter. Two Easters ago, Charlotte Collins had invited her dearest friend, Elizabeth Bennet to visit. As Richard’s friendship with Charlotte deepened, she confided that she was disappointed Darcy had not come as planned because she believed he was in love with her friend.

At first, Richard rejected the idea as incredulous. After observing his cousin, however, he believed it to be true. Now, Darcy sat across from him, knowing he would soon be seeing Miss Elizabeth again. He still held a torch for her. Richard could sympathize with his cousin’s pain. Darcy had been wise to avoid meeting with Miss Elizabeth, but it seemed he could no longer avoid the pull of his heart.

Richard took a sip of the flask he carried with him. Would that he and Charlotte were as free as Darcy and Elizabeth were. Darcy had ideas about rank and circumstances for marriage, but those weren’t real obstacles the way Charlotte’s marriage was. Of course, that and the fact that she had no idea of his feelings.

“Rosings was as boring as ever,” Richard said. “As you know, Darcy, there was a lively houseguest at the parsonage last year, but she was not there this year.”

“Who was the houseguest?” Bingley asked absentmindedly while looking out the window and drumming his fingers on his thigh. “At this rate, we will not get there until nearly seven!”

“The horses are tired,” Richard reasoned, “and the roads are damp.”

“Yes, well,” the usually good-natured man harrumphed. “You were saying?”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet was a guest of my aunt’s clergyman, Mr. Collins. They are cousins, and she is his wife’s friend. I believe you met the man? His wife was the former Charlotte Lucas,” Richard addressed Bingley but directed his eyes at Darcy.

No one had asked if Richard desired to go to Netherfield. It was just assumed. Indeed, he never thought otherwise himself. His duty was to Georgiana. However, each turn of the wheel brought a piercing pain to his heart. The day before they left London, Lady Catherine had written and explained that Mrs. Collins would be visiting her parents over the Christmas holiday. Richard knew the Lucas family was good friends with the Bennets. Even now, she might be in Longbourn, and Richard would have to see her again.

Bingley suddenly leaned forward, interest burning in his eyes. “Did Mrs. Collins say anything about the Bennets? Why did Miss Elizabeth not return?”

“Mrs. Collins said something about it being an inconvenient time for her family but believing they were all well. She had no idea of when Miss Elizabeth might be able to visit again.” Richard shrugged his shoulders. He had spent little time speaking of Miss Elizabeth when Mrs. Collins was his true interest.

Bingley sat back, evidently disappointed.  At last, they reached the house and were shown in. The room went silent at their announcement. A quick scan produced the lovely Mrs. Collins. She was sitting next to a lady in glasses, who had a baby on her lap. It felt like a punch to his gut.

Was this her baby? It should come as no surprise after two years of marriage, and yet, she had shown no signs of pregnancy at Easter, and the child was no newborn. In fact, it could sit on its own. What little Richard understood of infants from his brother’s children, they could not do so until they were many months old.

Faintly, he registered the sound of voices. A stiff introduction and not the shrill voice he expected of Mrs. Bennet. His feet shuffled toward the baby, who fussed. The spectacled woman spoke to it in gentle tones. “Here, do you want to see the people?”

When she turned to face the child out on her lap, Richard felt all air leave him. The baby was the spitting image of George Wickham as a child. Behind him, he heard the gasps of Darcy and Georgiana.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Mrs. Collins said, drawing his notice. “How nice to see you again.”

“Indeed. Nice…pleasant…” he trailed off as his brain could not master speech let alone polite conversation at the moment. He cleared his voice. “Excuses me, but I did not hear. Congratulations. He’s a fine lad,” Richard nodded at the baby.

Mrs. Collins shook her head. “You are mistaken, dear Colonel. My husband and I are not expecting our child until the Spring. This is Mrs. Spurlock’s baby.”

“Mrs. Spurlock?” Richard said as Darcy and Georgiana joined his side.

“My sister Lydia married Mr. Spurlock last year,” the woman in spectacles said. “She and her husband are visiting after being stationed in Newcastle. It is the first we have seen them since before the wedding.”

“You might have seen the announcement,” Mrs. Bennet said, “although it was not put in the way I had hoped.”

“No, I had not,” Darcy said.

“Oh, well. It had been August before last. No doubt so long ago it would have slipped your mind even if you had seen it,” she said.

Was it Richard’s imagination or did she look relieved they had not known of the announcement?

“Stationed in Newcastle? He must be an army man like myself!” Richard said, hoping he could learn more information from the man. There could be no coincidence in the baby looking so much like Wickham as a child.

“Indeed!” Mrs. Bennet beamed. “He’s over here. Let me introduce you,” she said, and Richard followed over.

Several minutes of stupid conversation later, and Richard guessed as much information as he thought he could glean from the man. Spurlock and Lydia met in London; the gentleman was an acquaintance of her uncle through his father who shared a business connection with Mr. Gardiner. After their marriage, he joined the Army and was stationed in Newcastle. He was just stupid enough to be the sort that was chosen to marry a ruined girl and think it lucky for him. A younger son of a tradesman suddenly an ensign in the army with more pay and where he might distinguish himself and with a pretty wife was enough to make many men satisfied. Richard wondered if he were stupid enough to believe the child was his.

“Colonel,” the spectacled miss appeared sans baby, “I am to make your tea,” she said and nodded at the table.

Richard instructed her and watched as she moved with grace. “Thank you, Miss ?”

She blushed. “Miss Mary. I know there are several of us. It must get confusing,” she said. “Although, you met Lizzy before, didn’t you?”

“Indeed,” Richard said as he took a sip of his tea and watched Mrs. Collins across the room dote on Mrs. Spurlock’s child. Motherhood suited her.

“I do not know why you are always so fascinated by her when she has always been taken,” Miss Mary huffed under her breath.

“Excuse me?”

“I uh–”

“And what do you mean by always?” he asked.

Miss Mary turned white, and her eyes darted to a bound journal on the other side of the table with writing materials nearby. It looked as though she had been adding pages to it. Richard reached for it, but she snatched it and held it close to her chest.

“May I speak with you?” she asked in a timid voice.

“You are speaking with me. Not making much sense, but speaking,” he said with a sigh.

“No, I know that,” she let out a nervous chuckle. “In a few minutes when everyone is distracted? I have to show you something.”

“Miss Mary, I think you are fatigued–”

“Listen! It concerns my family and yours too!” She dropped her voice, “And–and Mr. Wickham.”

Richard said nothing but grit his teeth and nodded. In a few minutes, the others were sufficiently distracted, and he made his way to Miss Mary.

“I am glad you trusted me, sir,” she whispered.

Richard said nothing and the lady pushed her glasses back on her nose. “This journal contains three hundred and sixty-five pages. It is meant to have one page per day of the year.” She quickly fanned through several entries. “As you can see, I always complete my entry in the allotted space.”

Richard’s quick eyes had scanned a few entries while she spoke. Most of the entries were short and seemed to contain no news. After Michaelmas, the entries grew longer.

“Do you see the date,” Mary pointed to one. “Look at the year.”

Richard furrowed his brows in confusion. This journal was two years old. Before he could formulate a question, she turned the page, and the same date was repeated. She leafed through eight pages, each with the same date, December 23, 1811.

“Now, read today’s entry.” She held it up for his inspection.

December 23, 1811

Today I learned two years have passed since last night. This is beyond anything I had guessed. Lydia is married, but there was some scandal about it. I heard Mama and Aunt Gardiner discussing it in hushed tones. Apparently our friends abandoned us during the time. They just started visiting again but now that Lydia is at Longbourn, Mama thinks she the others will avoid us. Strangely, Charlotte Collins has lent her support, although Mama insists it is so she can look around the house as her future domain. Mama has given up on any of us marrying. Her schemes are at an end, and it is so strange to see her quiet.

My heavens! Since writing the above, I have learned the most shocking news. Lydia eloped with Mr. Wickham last year! After several weeks it became clear to her, he had no intention of marrying, and she left him. Uncle Gardiner then patched up a marriage for her. They say her baby came early, but I would not be surprised at all to learn it is Wickham’s child. There is something familiar about his eyes.

I do not know how to heal this rift in time. Will I awake tomorrow in the past, or in the future. Is this reality inescapable? I do not know what to do. Was my meddling to blame for this turn of events?

“Read the other entries, if you like, but be quick!” Mary said when Richard looked at her in doubt.

Quickly, he read the other entries. They were different situations of him arriving with Darcy, Bingley, and Georgiana. Mary never had anything to record before dinner time. It was always vague explanations of how the day was spent. Then, Richard and the others would arrive and Mary’s memory became very detailed. Certain words were repeated in each circumstance, and everything seemed to shift at seven o’clock.

“Do you believe it?” She twisted her hands and nibbled a bottom lip, hoping for his approval.

“There is only one way to know,” he said and then impulsively kissed her.

“Mr. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” he heard Mrs. Bennet shrieked. “Come, you must make him stop! You must make him marry her!”

The rest of the room was silent.

Richard pulled away and looked in Mary’s astonished eyes. “There. Now, if it is true as you say, then no one shall recall this tomorrow.”

Before he could say more, the clock struck seven. He held Mary’s eyes as the others around him clutched their heads.

“I will remember,” Mary said as her bottom lip trembled and tears filled her eyes.

“As will I,” he promised.

As the chimes continued, he felt like a cloud was lifting and he saw clearly for the first time in weeks. He could never forget. Why had he been so interested in a married lady who barely seemed to notice his existence? How had he missed the woman before him? Even as he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. It was safer to chase something that could never be a reality than be rejected as insufficient. He would fight tooth and nail for this reality to be the one worth keeping. As his own epiphany dawned, he considered Darcy and Bingley’s predicaments.  White light swirled around him as understanding became clearer.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- Joy to the World

Christmas is long over and now even New Year’s has passed. I hope to finish by Twelfth Night (January 6). We’ve got a few chapters left!

In case you missed them:

Chapter OneChapter Two and ThreeChapter FourChapter Five Chapter Six /

Chapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine

christmas-2016-5Joy to the World

“Oh good gracious!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed from a window. “Oh my goodness! I shall faint! It’s a Christmas miracle!”

Jane hastened to her mother’s side. “Mama, what is wrong?”

Mrs. Bennet brought a fluttering hand to her chest. “Mr. Bingley has returned!”

“Mr. Bingley?” Most of the room echoed at once then looked at Jane, causing her to blush. Then there was a bit of a mad dash to the window as her sisters and several guests endeavored to peek outside.

“Mr. Darcy is with him,” groaned Elizabeth. “Who is that other gentleman? He looks familiar.”

“Allow me,” Mr. Wickham peered out the window.

“Well?” Mrs. Bennet asked.

Jane had cast her eyes down and gripped her hands but could hear her mother panting in excitement.

“That is Mr. Darcy’s cousin, a Colonel in His Majesty’s Army and the younger son of Earl Fitzwilliam.”

“The son of an earl!” Mrs. Bennet erupted so loudly that Jane jumped. “What joy!”

“Perhaps we had better leave,” Wickham said to his fellow officers.

“You are not leaving?” Elizabeth said.

“I think it would be better.”

Elizabeth became uncharacteristically quiet, and Jane would have worried more about it if the officers didn’t follow Wickham to her father’s study. Were they going to hide in there until Bingley and the others were in the drawing room and then sneak out of the house? What ridiculousness!

Mrs. Reynolds appeared, holding back a smile, and announced Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Miss Darcy. No one had mentioned her arrival. Jane’s heart hammered in her chest. Bingley’s sister said he would marry this young lady.

Jane ought to hate her, but a small glimmer of hope welled inside her. Why would Mr. Bingley return to Netherfield just to show off his betrothed? Why did his sisters not visit with him? Could it be that Elizabeth was correct and Bingley did love her? Jane’s eye’s followed Miss Darcy as she dragged her brother to Elizabeth’s side.

“My sisters elected to stay in London,” Mr. Bingley said.

Jane blinked. Had someone asked him a question? Was he speaking to her or the entire room? While busy watching Miss Darcy, he had sat next to her.

“Oh! I love London! It must have been very difficult to tear you away from it,” Mrs. Bennet said. “But I see Hertfordshire has its draw,” she gave a significant nod to Jane.

Heat slapped her cheeks but still her mother talked on without allowing anyone else to speak. “My brother and sister are from London. You will not meet with a finer merchant or a finer gentleman. Although they are not as lofty as some,” here she sent a scathing look to Mr. Darcy who sat next to Elizabeth and the very couple in question, “would like.”

“Mama, can we go for a walk in the garden?” Lydia interrupted her mother.

“Well, certainly but Mr. Bingley will want to stay…”

“I would love nothing more, madam.”

“But I do not think it appropriate for an earl’s son…”

“There can be nothing inappropriate by walking with such a good friend of the family,” Mr. Bingley’s eyes locked on Jane’s and felt like a caress.

Jane’s heart soared as Miss Darcy was absolutely forgotten. As they gathered in the hall to put on their outerwear, Jane noticed Mary hugging a book to her chest.

“Mary, dear, I think it might be too dark to read outside,” she said gently.

“That’s not a book. It’s her diary,” Lydia giggled. “She has been taking it with her everywhere and scribbling in it. She must have a secret beau!”

“Jane, I must speak with you,” Mary said while ignoring their youngest sister but Bingley approached. Mary thrust the diary open to its last page. “What do you see?”

“Just the date. December twenty-third.”

“Yes, but look! It is the final page! There are enough sheets for one page per day of the year in this diary.”

Jane furrowed her brow. “You must be mistaken.”

“No! See!”

Mary fumbled with the pages through her gloves and then it was knocked from her hand by Colonel Fitzwilliam accidentally knocking into her as he helped Charlotte Lucas. Bingley reached Jane’s side, and she could think of nothing else.

“Show me later tonight,” she said to Mary before taking Bingley’s arm to walk in the garden.

Walking at Bingley’s side filled Jane with peace and joy. She had never known she could miss a person’s company so acutely before. She had never traveled much, but she had often stayed in London with her aunt and uncle. During such visits, while she missed her family, Elizabeth especially, she always found pursuits to distract and cheer her. The separation from Bingley was a deep ache in her heart that nothing but his presence could fill.

Terrified that none of this was real, it was far too good to be true, Jane remained silent. She had dreams of this very thing. Bingley would show up unannounced, as was his way, and be her Christmas miracle. He would confess his love and apologize for his leaving then propose under the mistletoe. Jane blushed at the thought. Her heart longed for this very scene but was it just another dream? It felt so surreal, as though she had been through it all before, although Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy had ever appeared in her dreams before. She still felt as though she knew this scene.

At last, Bingley broke the silence. He whispered near her ear, “I am exceedingly sorry if my sister’s mistaken impression that I would not return to Netherfield caused you any distress, Miss Bennet.”

Jane gave him a small smile and attempted to conceal a tremble in her voice. “Certainly not. A gentleman may come and go as he pleases.”

“A gentleman keeps his word.” Jane shuddered next to him, and he pulled her in closer. “Are you getting cold?”

Jane stared at her feet and whispered, “Please do not be a dream.”

“Pardon, I could not hear you. Perhaps we ought to return inside.”

Jane slowly raised her head and met his eyes. She attempted to hold her tears back. “No, I am not cold and do not wish to go inside.” The dream always ended when they went inside.

“Jane! Lizzy! We’re cold!” Lydia called from the door where three of her sisters were huddled.

“Mary says it is nearly seven o’clock. Hurry! I’m famished,” Kitty whined.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Miss Darcy speaking with Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy said something and Lizzy immediately turned red in anger and began arguing with him.

Bingley put his other hand over Jane’s and gave it a squeeze, drawing her attention back. “It seems our walk is over.” He dropped his voice and leaned closer to her her. “I will call again in a few days. Do you believe me? Will you trust me again?”

Jane shuddered and nodded but remained silent as Bingley escorted her back inside. She knew the dream would end once inside. Instead, Bingley helped her out of her pelisse. Jane breathed a sigh of relief. This was real, she did not wake up. There were no clocks and bells chiming in her dreams. She could smell the coffee and tea. Yes, her senses were never so aware in her dreams.

As the sixth bell chimed a sense of warning hummed in her body. Yet, she had lived this before. She was to beware the seventh bell, something would happen. Something terrible. Someone cried out just as her vision blurred. All around her, she was aware of others moaning in pain. Then, she saw and heard nothing, consumed in the darkness of night before dawn.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- O Come All Ye Faithful

I’m sorry it’s been a few days. My son is out of school this week and it’s been difficult finding time to write, edit, and post!

In case you missed the earlier chapters:

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

Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight

christmas-2016-5O Come All Ye Faithful

Bingley smiled as he headed toward his stables. He had just arrived at Netherfield but overheard a maid whisper to the housekeeper that the eldest Miss Bennet would be overjoyed to learn of his return. It was all the proof he needed to feel alive with hope that Jane Bennet returned his affections.

Anticipating the arguments of Darcy and not wishing for the competition of Richard, or having to rescue him from over-attention, Bingley chose to visit Longbourn independently. He puffed out his chest in pride. Yes, it felt good to make decisions independently. He had relied far too heavily on Caroline and Darcy’s advice for years now. He desired to marry Jane Bennet and what was to stop him but the arguments of his friends? The greatest of which had been her indifference to him, but rumor had it, she was quite in love with him.

For the first two miles of the journey from Netherfield to Longbourn, hope and satisfaction filled Bingley’s heart. Belatedly, his mind began to wonder how Jane felt about his sudden disappearance and unexpected return. Would she believe he was inconstant? How could he convince her of his faithfulness?

A dozen folk tunes about love and fidelity flitted through his mind. Bingley pulled out his pocket watch. He would arrive at Longbourn shortly before seven. If they had music after dinner, then he would insist on singing. Jane would not be left in doubt of his adoration any longer!

Finally, he reached Longbourn and called upon all his courage as he was shown to the drawing room. A glance around the place showed there were several officers, the Lucas family, and a fashionable man and woman he did not know.

“Mr. Bingley!” Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice reached his ears just as his eyes found Jane. She had blushed upon seeing him and now stared at her hands. Why would she not look at him?

Mrs. Bennet bounced off her seat and came to his side so fast she had to catch her breath. “Well, Mr. Bingley, you are too late for dinner, but please join us for coffee and tea. Stay for supper if you can.”

“I–”

“I have not forgotten your promise to come for a family dinner. My brother and sister-in-law from London are with us now but leave after Christmas. You must come then.” Dragging him by the arm to a seat, she rambled on. “Of course, please come before then as well. You are as welcome here as at your home.”

She paused and looked around the room. “And you arrived alone? Your sisters are not with you? Then I insist you come as often as you can. A house is nothing without a woman to keep it, as my Jane knows.”

Mrs. Bennet gently pushed him on the shoulder and Bingley landed on a cushion next to Jane.

“Mama, please,” she said in an urgent whisper.

“Perhaps a walk in the garden would be refreshing,” Miss Elizabeth said from the other side of Jane.

Bingley immediately stood up again. What had he been thinking coming directly here with no plan?

“Oh, yes!” Jane’s youngest two sisters that Bingley could never differentiate between shot out of their seats.

“No, you should remain here,” Mrs. Bennet shook her finger at her second daughter. “I will not have Jane catching a cold by walking about in December! She complained of a headache only earlier today!”

“The room feels too warm to me,” Miss Lucas said as she approached them. “I would welcome a respite, and we would be well looked after.”

“Yes, surely there is nothing inappropriate about a walk in the garden with such good family friend,” Bingley said while searching over Jane’s face.

“Let them go,” Mr. Bennet said from a corner where he played a game with several gentlemen.

Mrs. Bennet capitulated, and the young people left the room to gather their outerwear. Bingley extended his arm to Jane, who blushed, but took his arm. A feeling of rightness permeated his heart. To Bingley’s surprise, it did not feel like a new sensation. It was as though he had experienced this very scenario before, and yet he had never walked with Jane in Longbourn’s garden in the evening before.

From Jane’s other side, Miss Elizabeth leaned forward. “Mr. Bingley,” she said with a smile that did not meet her eyes. “We are pleased to see you again. We had heard from your sister you never meant to return to Hertfordshire.” She then wandered off, seemingly very curious about a hedge.

Shame filled Bingley. “I am exceedingly sorry if my sister’s mistaken impression that I would not return to Netherfield caused you any distress, Miss Bennet.”

Jane gave him a small smile. “Certainly not. A gentleman may come and go as he pleases.”

Did he imagine it or did her voice tremble? “A gentleman keeps his word.” Jane shuddered next to him, and he pulled her in closer. “Are you getting cold?”

Jane whispered something while looking at her feet.

“Pardon, I could not hear you. Perhaps we ought to return inside.”

Jane slowly raised her head and met his eyes. Tears glimmered there. “No, I am not cold and do not wish to go inside.”

Bingley took in a deep breath of air, filling his lungs to capacity and feeling as though at last he could breathe again. Jane’s subtle rose water scent filled his breath, an innocent but heady aphrodisiac.

“Jane! Lizzy! We’re cold!” The taller of the young ladies called from the door where three of them were huddled.

“Mary says it is nearly seven o’clock and to hurry. I’m famished,” called the other one.

Something about the statement made Bingley’s heart race. Nearly seven o’clock. Hurry. Why? He shook his head to dispel the disjointed thoughts. The feeling as though he had lived this before still filled him, making his tongue feel thick and unnatural. He led Jane to the door.

“I will call again in a few days,” he managed to say as he helped Jane out of her pelisse.

The clock struck seven, and as he heard the bells chime, a strange sensation passed over him. He felt as though he had just been knocked over with a feather. Nearly seven o’clock. Hurry, echoed in his mind.