(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know (One-shot)

This is “officially” a one-shot but I do have a habit of coming back to old stories. So no promises that I won’t continue it one day. This is all due to Leenie Brown and Zoe Burton demanding I write a fluffy piece. The novella I’m working on does not count as fluff, so I thought I’d try a one-shot to appease them. 🙂


(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know

 

Elizabeth Bennet sighed in frustration and told herself for the thousandth time to quit recalling the events of the day and simply go to sleep. Staying in an unfamiliar room did not help matters. Her chamber at Netherfield was very comfortable, but it was not home. Now that she had seen Jane was in no real danger with her cold, Elizabeth regretted visiting and the civility which prompted her to stay. No one besides Jane and Mr. Bingley enjoyed her presence. The Bingley sisters would never be rude to Jane, and so Elizabeth felt reasonably sure her sister would have been well tended to whether she had arrived or not.

As for Mr. Darcy… All he chose to do was stare or argue with her.

Or ask you to dance.

Annoyed, Elizabeth sat up and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. After sliding her feet into slippers, she donned a dressing gown and tied it firmly around her waist. Lighting a candle, she left her room and returned to the drawing room. She had left some embroidery behind. Not that she typically enjoyed the activity, but it might be sleep inducing.

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After rummaging through the different work tables, Elizabeth looked through the drawers of the desk that Mr. Darcy had been seated at earlier in the evening. Finally, finding her needlework and wondering what maid would have put it away there and how aghast Miss Bingley would be at the idea of an inferior servant, Elizabeth picked it up only to see her name on a piece of paper.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is quite the wit. She has somehow construed my words praising Bingley’s amiability into an insult which resulted in an argument about the persuasion of friends.

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned as she read Mr. Darcy’s words. She had no idea that he would include her in his letter and she blushed to consider that his sister, of whom she had heard a great deal, would know her character without ever having the benefit of meeting her. Glancing around to assure she was indeed alone, Elizabeth snatched up the letter to read more. She held it close to the dim light from her candle and although Darcy’s handwriting was quite clear the darkness made her go slowly.

The beginning of the letter contained only information about his stay at Netherfield since he last wrote and then recorded Jane and Elizabeth’s arrival. What a kind brother to include details which must be of little interest to him, but apparently interested his sister. He even described Jane and Elizabeth so Miss Darcy might have a clear image of them. Here, Elizabeth blushed again, for she did not expect Darcy calling her lovely with very fine eyes. Additionally, he praised her cleverness and abilities on the pianoforte.

Shaking her head to dispel the thoughts and strange feeling diffusing through her body, Elizabeth returned her attention to the letter. Darcy also added snippets of other conversations and gave commentary on them directed to his sister. Heat slapped her face again as mortification swept through her at the recounting of her mother and sisters’ visit. However, Darcy was kinder than she had expected and only counselled his sister to be more discreet than demanding a ball. He seemed to dwell quite some time on the need to curb one’s impulses. Elizabeth rolled her eyes considering he needed to learn the lesson as well.

At last, she reached the recounting of the evening. After the section regarding Bingley and his humility came an unexpected passage of deep reflection.

You have asked me how you should know next time when you are truly in love. Beware, my sweet sister, for you have the Darcy spirit of stubbornness. You swear now that you will never trust again and never marry. One day, however, you will find the gentleman you never thought you would.

Real, genuine love is an entirely new sensation. It steals your breath and leaves you feeling like you just ran down Thompson Hill at breakneck speed. All the while you feel a thrill and yet, in the distance lingers disaster. You will fight to keep control. In short, nothing like your feelings with W.

Soon, you will spend all your time wondering how he ever worked his way into your heart. Your pride will demand walls of defense. For example, you might think him too low. You may scrutinize his family and find them lacking all the while dismissing the prick of your conscience that others like our Aunt Catherine are no better. The harder you cling to our noble lineage the more you will know you have fallen hard.

Then, after you have pushed him away due to all your own fears and insecurities, he will hate you, and you will see how lonely your life is.

Do not ask me how I know.

I will tell you what I wish I were brave enough to do myself. Embrace this sort of love, do not fight it.

Elizabeth heard a step in the hall dropped the letter, retreated to a corner and blew out her candle. A moment later, Mr. Darcy entered with a candelabra and began rifling through the desk. Dropping to one knee, he discovered the letter on the floor. Belatedly, Elizabeth realized her snuffed candle would surely tell him someone had recently been in the room. If she could just keep quiet, she might fool him into thinking he was alone.

Darcy bent his head over the letter, rereading his lines. Elizabeth’s mind wandered. Was his gruff nature due to his tormented feelings? It was all a pretense while he fought his attraction to some lady? Could he be in love with Miss Bingley? And yet, he was never less than civil to her. The only one he had truly seemed unkind to was herself.

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said with so much anguish it tore her heart. “What am I to do without you?”

A gasp escaped her and immediately, he swung his head in her direction.

“Who is there?”

Elizabeth tried to hold her breath, but it did no good when he picked up the lamp and came nearer. She blushed and stared at her feet, unable to meet his eyes.

“Here,” he said and reached for her candle.

When his fingers brushed hers, sparks of fire shot up her arm. Her heart began to pound suddenly she felt as though she had just run down a hill. It brought her head up.

Darcy stared at her imperiously. “You should leave. It would not do to be found here with me.”

Elizabeth mutely nodded. Her throat too dry to speak.

“Be careful on the stairs,” he murmured.

“I will,” she stammered.

As she left the room, she felt his intense blue eyes watching her. When she reached her chamber, Elizabeth conceded that perhaps all the time he had seemed too unkind, he was expressing his love. The times he seemed too cold, he was attempting to restrain his feelings.

valentine invitation with hearts and red roses

All night, she thought over his words. She well understood pride and walls of defense. She understood being hyper critical. She perceived how she felt out of control the minute she had first seen Mr. Darcy’s face and tried and failed countless times to reassert dominance over her feelings.

But did danger truly lurk in the distance? What could be so very terrible about Mr. Darcy loving her or Elizabeth loving him? After reading his letter, she was persuaded she was well on her way. It had not been a sweet, gentle emotion as natural as the lapping of the tide at a beach like Jane felt for Bingley–but then she and Darcy had very different temperaments from Jane and Bingley.

If Elizabeth and Darcy acted on their attraction, would anyone be harmed? She could bring him little fortune — but he had enough for both of them. By his own pen, they both had ridiculous relatives. He had admitted to needing only more courage. Well, Elizabeth had never been accused of lacking that.

Tossing aside the counterpane for the second time that night, Elizabeth approached the small writing desk in her room.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

As you know, I stumbled across your letter to your sister. Feeling certain that although I do not know the lady, I might know more about ladies than you, I have impertinently determined to lend some assistance.

Some women know they are in love when the world stands still and they look in their beloved’s eyes. For others, it is during their first dance or unexpected touch. Still, for some, like me, it is only after they have told themselves a thousand times that they hate the man do they recognize the signs.

Yes, some women are headstrong and as bullheaded as any man. They may judge a man’s character due to prejudice and irrational beliefs. Their vanity and pride might be wounded all the while masking a heart that is afraid to trust and love.

Then, something will change. She will see the man beneath the exterior that is hidden from so many others. His every word, look, and action becomes clear in the new framework. In the face of such overwhelming love and devotion, only a cold-hearted woman could remain unmoved. Feeling assured of the secret object of her affections’ admiration, she will no longer insist on hiding them from herself.

Do not ask me how I know.

The only question remaining will be if she dares have enough courage for them both?

The sun was just beginning to rise when Elizabeth snuck out of her chamber and slid the note under Darcy’s door. As she managed to be the first to breakfast, she stayed just long enough to inform Bingley and the others that she intended to walk this morning.

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Pacing the garden, Elizabeth wondered if she made the correct choice. At last, she heard a crunching noise and turned to see Darcy walking toward her in bold strides. He reached her in a matter of seconds.

“Elizabeth,” he said breathing as heavily as if he had run to her. “Tell me how you know.” He pulled her letter from his pocket. “You said not to ask, but I must know.”

A slow smile crept across Elizabeth’s face, but she shook her head. “Is it not obvious?”

Darcy gathered her hands in his. “I will be brave enough for both of us,” he kissed each knuckle. “I love you. Will you take my hand in marriage?”

Rather enjoying his large hands wrapped around hers and thinking of the night before, her mouth went dry. Finally, she managed a nod and a weak, “I will.”

Instantly, Darcy grinned, restoring her to playfulness.

“I believe your letter said something about embracing now,” she teased.

“That it did. That it did.” Darcy pulled her into his arms and expressed himself even better with his kisses than he did in letter form.

The End

 

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 Five

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Previous chapters:

Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four

Dear C—

As you have wallowed in self-pity for months, I have none left to offer you. I have not said you shamed the family name with your folly, but your inability to rise above matters does. You are not to be indulged any longer. A new companion shall be hired forthwith, and I recall you to London.

Your weary aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Five

 

“Good day, Darcy!” Bingley ambled into Darcy House with his usual fixed smile. “Ah, Miss Darcy,” he said and bowed over her hand. “You look lovelier every time I have the honour of seeing you.”

“Thank you,” she murmured and blushed bright red. “If you will excuse me.” After a hasty curtsy, she fled the room.

Although thankful for his arrival, Darcy cocked his head as he attempted to make sense of the scene he had just witnessed. Bingley had never been so direct with Georgiana before. Was she simply embarrassed or did she dislike his attention?

“This is the first time in a fortnight I have caught you at home,” Bingley said as he sat in the chair opposite.

Darcy poured Bingley a drink then retook his seat. “You have no idea,” he groaned. “I am hounded everywhere. I heard one debutante say I have been determined the catch of the Season. I cannot think why as I have not yet inherited the title and a barony is hardly worth such fervour.”

Bingley guffawed. “The Darcys are richer than many peers, and you’re far more handsome and younger than many of the doddering dukes who have been sowing wild oats for forty or more years. You can hardly blame a lady for rather snatching you than an arthritic duke intent on finally getting around to having legal heirs.” Bingley shuddered. “You would not wish it for your sister.”

“No,” Darcy agreed. “What brings you ‘round. You might have dropped a note even if I had not the time to return your calls.”

“An invitation,” he said, “to dine with us tonight.”

“Unfortunately, I am engaged this evening. I plan to attend the Duchess of Portland’s ball.”

“Yes, we are invited as well. You may dine with us, and then we can attend together.”

“Very well,” Darcy said, but inwardly groaned. Dinner at the Hurst townhouse meant three hours of courses and insipid conversation before going to the ball with even more conversation and dancing.”

“Come, it is not as bad as that,” Bingley smiled at Darcy’s pained look.

“She had a list today. Asking me to select from various descendants of the original Bluestocking Society.”

Bingley’s brows shot up. “Indeed! Did she have a favourite?”

Darcy shrugged. “With my Aunt it is hard to tell when she truly favours something and when she only argues for enjoyment.”

“Ah,” Bingley said.

The pair of dark, dancing eyes passed before Darcy’s mind again, and he shoved them aside. “She advocated for Lady Elizabeth Thynne, the daughter of the Marquess of Bath. She’s the great-granddaughter of Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, a notorious Bluestocking.  Aunt also favours Lady Charlotte Leveson-Gower, eldest daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. She is the great-granddaughter of Frances Boscawen.”

“Who was she?”

Darcy sighed. “One of the original Bluestockings. Lady Charlotte is a cousin. Frances was my great aunt Anne’s mother.”

“Right,” Bingley nodded. “The one who married the first Earl.”

Darcy gaped at his friend. Had Bingley been looking up his family line? “No, she married the second Earl.”

“Whichever,” Bingley waved his hand as though family lineages meant nothing to him. “What do you think?” He stared at his wine. “They have rank but what are they worth?”

“I actually care nothing for ranks and dowries,” Darcy shrugged. “I do agree with my aunt about finding a lady of sense with real accomplishments and ability to think, not just ornamental pursuits such as rug making. That, however, is not to be found on her lists and so I must meet with them myself.”

“And it must be a descendant from the first set of Bluestockings?”

“No, of course not,” Darcy said, and the beautiful eyes intruded once more.

“And there’s no one else you have in mind that would already suit you if, as you say, you care nothing for rank and money?” Bingley looked at Darcy expectantly.

“Of course not,” Darcy said. He did not often keep confidences from Bingley, but this was paramount. Just a few months ago Darcy had to expound on all the reasons why a match between Bingley and Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s elder sister was imprudent. He could hardly admit to mooning over Elizabeth for…egads, had it been six months? Six months of infatuation?

“Darcy, did you hear me?” Bingley’s voice sounded as though it came from far away and there was a dull roaring sound in Darcy’s ears. “Darcy! Are you ill?”

Suddenly alert again, Darcy shook his head. “Forgive me. I just recalled a matter I must attend to before leaving this evening.”

“You are certain you are well?” Bingley could not contain his concern.

“The picture of health,” Darcy said. “Dinner will be served six o’clock?”

“As always,” Bingley said and stood.

“Perfect,” Darcy said and stood as well. He hastily walked Bingley toward the door. “I look forward to it. Give my regards to your family,” he said with a nod of his head to serve as a bow.

Hoping to avoid sisters and all visitors who might speak of marriage or remind him of Elizabeth, Darcy retired to his chambers before dressing for dinner. Georgiana would remain at home with her recently hired companion, Mrs. Annesley. She had come highly recommended from Lady Darcy. A widow of only a few years, she had served as a companion to several other ladies before their marriage and could contribute to the sort of education Georgiana lacked: sense and self-knowledge.

At six o’clock, Darcy arrived at Hurst’s townhouse. He joined them as they were discussing the most recent account of battles from the Peninsula Campaign. It was not often that they spoke of current affairs. At least not in his presence and he rather doubted at all. The discussion continued throughout dinner.

“You have a cousin who has served, do you not, Mr. Darcy?” Caroline Bingley said from a chair to his right.

“Yes, but I doubt when he joined he imagined we would be at war for so long,” Darcy said. “He is now a colonel. He is very proud to have earned the rank rather than have bought it.”

Caroline blinked rapidly for a moment, and there was silence at the table. It was as though they did not know the basics of how ranks were attained in the army.

“Well, I suppose it is good that not too many of the lower classes are considered his equals, then,” Caroline said at last. “Like it is in the Militia.”

“The Navy,” Bingley muttered, and Caroline blushed.

“Yes, the Navy, I mean.” She sipped her wine. “I hope you can remain for supper, Mr. Darcy. We have found a book in Hurst’s library which we think you would take a keen interest in.”

In the past, the only time Caroline had seemed interested in a book was when he was already reading one. In fact, she eagerly dismissed Elizabeth Bennet’s interest in them while at Netherfield. This sudden interest further heightened his suspicions at the motives for their unusual behaviour. “I am sorry I cannot. I have promised to go to the Duchess of Portland’s ball.” His head began to pound at the mere thought.

“What Caroline meant was, if you had rather not go we would gladly host you here,” Bingley said.

“You had said you were invited as well,” Darcy said knitting his brows. Why was everyone acting so peculiarly?

Caroline cleared her throat. “I have often said that a ball is an absolutely irrational way to spend one’s evening. Conversation can be more easily had at home.”

Darcy could think of only one time she had ever said such a thing and that was in hopes of convincing her brother to not host a ball at Netherfield. And Bingley had never missed a chance to dance.

“I have promised the Baroness. I would be pleased to view it another time,” he said leaving no room for argument, and conversation soon turned to other topics.

Although they all arrived at the Portlands’ ball, Darcy was soon ferried away by his aunt. After the fifth dance, he sought refreshments. Bingley and his sisters were nearby.

“Darcy! There you are,” Bingley called out. “I have never seen you dance so much in your life.” He grinned.

Grinned! “I believe I always pay the proper civility to every establishment,” he answered neutrally.

“I confess I have been surprised by your partners,” Caroline said.

Darcy braced for her to either gush over his abilities or demean his partners, as was her usual wont.

“I had believed you disliked conversation with strangers,” she finished with a knowing smile.

“I do find it tedious,” he said. Hearing the orchestra strike up again, he held out his hand. “If you are free for this set, Miss Bingley, might I have the pleasure?”

“Indeed, it would be my pleasure,” she smiled at him.

It occurred to Darcy that when she did not try so hard to please, she would make some gentleman — not him — a suitable wife.

“There, now. We may remain silent if you choose,” she said in a gentle but slightly teasing voice.

“I do not mind speaking with you,” he said. “We have no shortage of topics we can discuss.”

Caroline laughed lightly. “Oh, yes. But do you not ever tire of speaking of what Society says we ought? I will remark on the room or the dance. Later, I will observe the couples, and if it is ungenerous, then that is all the better.”

She had rendered Darcy mute. He did not know how to approach a Caroline Bingley who did not belittle her peers. “What would you rather have us say?”

“Do you recall when Elizabeth Bennet suggested my intimacy with you could tell me how to tease you?”

Did Darcy imagine it or did she attempt to add huskiness to her voice with that word? “My memory is never so exact as a woman’s.”

Caroline laughed again. “There is your wicked sense of humour. I have thought of it,” she said and waited until the dance drew them closer again before continuing. “I cannot think of how to tease you that will not pain you.”

“That hints at believing you know of ways that would hurt me,” he said. The inflection in his voice made his statement into a question.

She waved a hand around, gesturing at the room. “We are here. Surely, some find enjoyment in teasing you for discomfort.”

“But you do not?” He waited for the dance to bring them together.

“No,” she said breathily.

He had never before believed Caroline had any genuine affection for him. Then again, never before had he really looked for a wife. Could it be she now felt threatened? Strangely, he felt a shred of compassion for her.

“I would rather speak of your sister,” said she. “Georgiana always brings you happiness.”

Darcy readily agreed, and their conversation turned toward her. At the close of the dance, for the first time in a very long while, Darcy believed he had almost enjoyed his set with Caroline Bingley.

As the night wore on, his patience frayed. It was more than mere exhaustion of insipid conversations with strangers. He disliked going through the motions of what his heart had already decided.

Returning to his office, Darcy snatched up the blasted lists of ladies and crumpled them into a tight ball. Throwing them into the fire, he watched as they burned and turned to ash. He needed no more lists, and he needed no more balls. No lady contained on those pages or in the rooms of London would fit his requirements for a wife. He already knew what he wanted, and it couldn’t be less convenient. He could not determine when he had lost all sight of reason and done the most foolish thing in his life, but it could not alter the fact that Darcy had suddenly recognized he was in love with Elizabeth Bennet.

 

*****

 

Sir William stayed only a week at Hunsford and left suitably impressed with his daughter’s situation. Elizabeth summoned a smidgen of pity for her mother who would hear all the virtues of Hunsford extolled from the family she now viewed as her mortal enemy. Elizabeth smirked as she considered that the rude questions of Lady Catherine and the annoying exultations of Mr. Collins were preferable to the wailings of her mother.

Despite the change in scenery, Elizabeth found the listlessness that had settled over her in December continued. Sir William’s departure did little to alter the routine of the Parsonage. The ladies sat in the smaller drawing-room, away from the lane, which afforded Mr. Collins the dining-parlour where he could keep count of how many carriages passed and when Miss de Bourgh drove by in her phaeton, which was nearly every day. He spent the chief of his time between breakfast and dinner in the garden or in his book room. Additionally, he walked to Rosings almost daily, and Charlotte often went with him.

Lady Catherine called several times and examined every nook and cranny to see if there was anything critical she could say she had overlooked at the previous visit. The maid was deficient, the furniture ought to be rearranged, and even their needlework required improvement. Lady Catherine was the sole authority on any subject a person could think of, and whether she spoke of music or literature, she acted as though she were a great patron. Nor were visiting the cottages of the neighbourhood beneath her. Her ladyship was an ever-present balm to anyone with complaints ranging from disputes to poverty. She would soon remind one of every blessing they had been afforded if not from the Lord, then from her hand. Mr. Collins was her faithful servant and brought to her the minutest concerns.

Twice more they had dined at Rosings, and it was no different than the first time, except there being one less card table. There were few other engagements, but this did not concern Elizabeth. She contented herself with half hour conversations with Charlotte and enjoyed much free time to walk around the grounds, often returning to a worn looking bench off a path some distance from the manicured gardens. The view from the hill allowed her to sketch the buildings she had desired and no one bothered her. Seldom had Elizabeth observed a gardener.

Additionally, Elizabeth poured over letters from Jane, half-dreading any sign of continued melancholy. In her usual manner, Jane attempted cheerfulness, but Elizabeth could only hope Mr. Bingley would never return to Netherfield. To ease her own mind, Elizabeth had also taken care to write her father and Mary. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Bennet did not reply, and Mary had nothing but sermonizing words to share. Elizabeth did not dare give Mary any hint of her concerns about Lydia or Wickham, but Mary did not report anything out of the ordinary in anyone’s behaviour.

As Easter approached, Lady Catherine could not contain her excitement for the arrival of her nephew. Elizabeth then learned that Mr. Darcy brought his cousin, the younger son of the Earl Fitzwilliam, with him. While her ladyship praised them both beyond what Elizabeth could believe possible for any human let alone the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, her daughter seemed, if possible, more withdrawn and disinterested than usual. Elizabeth had looked forward to seeing how fruitless Caroline Bingley’s designs on Mr. Darcy were as he was intended for his cousin. However, it seemed the cousin was less inclined for the match. Not that Elizabeth could blame the lady. Still, if Miss de Bourgh were unwillingly courted, it did remove some of the amusement. She would never be so unkind as to hope to see Darcy, or any man, rebuffed or a lady forced into marriage against her inclination.

The night before the hoped for arrival, they dined at Rosings. To Elizabeth’s astonishment, Miss de Bourgh asked to sit next to her after dinner when the card table had been brought out. Shortly after the game had begun, the lady whispered to Elizabeth, “It did not escape my notice, Miss Bennet, that you did not have any praise to offer about my cousin.”

“I do not believe we are acquainted,” she replied. If Miss de Bourgh was intent on having this conversation, Elizabeth would not make it easy for her.

“You know very well I mean Darcy. Although, I am sure as soon as you meet Richard you will find him vastly preferable.”

“Perhaps you, as well, have no kind words for Mr. Darcy?”

Miss de Bourgh let out one of her giggle-laughs, and Mrs. Jenkinson raised worried eyes to her. Her concern was waved aside. “Darcy can be difficult to get to know. His reserve is often mistaken for displeasure.”

“Reserve only happens when occasions lack intimacy, and I believe it is the burden of the seeker to establish intimacy.” In much the way that Bingley and his sister had led Jane to believe that they wanted to know her better.

“This is true, but do you not agree it might take some longer to feel comfortable in new surroundings than others?”

Elizabeth glanced at Maria who bit her bottom lip, and now and then glanced around the room wide-eyed with wonder. “I agree the timid may take longer to adjust.”

“Ah, but it is not only timidity. Sometimes it might be rigidity.”

Elizabeth remained silent as it seemed Miss de Bourgh wished her to do. “If one is used to things going a certain way then they might feel uncomfortable in a new environment. Especially, if they are unused to things going well.”

Elizabeth played a card. “I cannot think what you mean by these references.”

“Oh, just some observations I had believed you would find interesting and only a few days from Easter.”

Elizabeth had no ready answer, and Miss de Bourgh offered no more great insights.

After several minutes of silence, Miss de Bourgh leaned toward her once more. “I understand you are an avid drawer, despite what you have told my mother.”

“A lady does enjoy having some secrets,” Elizabeth countered.

“And you may keep yours,” Anne nodded. “However, I suggest you do not neglect your practice at the pianoforte. Additionally, I would be delighted to offer you a tour of the library.”

“The library?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. She had the distinct feeling the only place Anne de Bourgh would help her would be out of the highest window.

“Mrs. Collins has said you are an avid reader. I believe you will soon find her husband’s library deficient if you do not already. You are welcome to anything in ours. It is, of course, the primary reason why your friend visits Rosings so frequently.”

Mrs. Jenkinson and Maria played their final cards and the carriage was ordered. Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief when safely ensconced in it’s confines. Were Miss de Bourgh’s words about Darcy? Were they about herself? Were they for Elizabeth? Elizabeth enjoyed her walks, but she could never feel comfortable at Hunsford or Rosings. It was simply too different to what she was used to. Nor had she ever guessed Charlotte walked to Rosings so often to take refuge in its library.

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Four

 

Ooops! I posted the wrong chapter earlier today! Four comes before five, lol!

mdbbDearest Niece,

Do not let melancholy besiege you. You are made of sterner stuff! He is not the only gentleman in the world, and certainly, there are dozens who have better character. Return to London, and we shall find you a match.

Anne

Chapter Four

At breakfast the following day, the planned visit to Rosings Park was all anyone could speak of. Mr. Collins waxed eloquent, and Charlotte smiled wistfully. It appeared, however much the acquaintance of the ladies of Rosings held no interest for Elizabeth, it held considerable sway in Charlotte’s mind. Her younger sister fairly trembled at considering herself in so grand a house, and Sir William boasted about the fine match his eldest daughter made.

“Not that you need fear Charlotte snatched up the only worthy gentleman, Eliza,” he told her. “I am sure some other gentleman will come to the area sometime. You see how good things come to those who wait. And, of course,” he dropped his voice, but still loud enough for most of the room to still hear, “it does not hurt to have more attainable goals than being the mistress of Netherfield.”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose to her hairline, and the only thing that quelled her angry retort was that she had known Sir William all her life. Never before had she thought there was any truth in her mother’s complaints about the artfulness of the Lucases, but the pointed jab at Jane brought all her protective feelings to the front.

“Papa, did my husband show you the orchard?” Charlotte asked and gave Elizabeth an apologetic smile.

Elizabeth turned her face as she felt heat slap it. She did not want Charlotte’s pity!

Sir William furrowed his brow. “No, however, he did mention it. He said it could only be accessed by the gig. What expansive grounds your glebe is!” He walked toward his son-in-law. “Collins, care to show me your gig?”

“Eliza, enjoy your walk. Just be careful to return in enough time, so my husband does not feel the need to worry about tardiness,” Charlotte said before Elizabeth could speak.

“Thank you,” she replied and exited before anyone else noticed her.

While Elizabeth strolled the grounds, Sir William’s words weighed on her mind. It was he who had suggested that Bingley would marry Jane. And now, after Bingley’s departure, he insinuated that Jane tried to grasp too high. Jane never sought Bingley’s attention! Elizabeth’s heart squeezed when she recalled her dearest sister’s shy smiles and blushes at Bingley’s attention the night of their first meeting. Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut as Jane’s visage flitted through her mind. For those few weeks, Elizabeth had never seen Jane happier. She had always been lovely, but the effects of new love made her radiant. Hopefulness had shone in her eyes, and Elizabeth now wondered if Jane would ever love again.

Restlessness passed through her. She had always known that her parents had never had a happy marriage, nor were they ideal mentors, but it suddenly occurred to Elizabeth that she felt alone in the world. Who was there to protect Jane’s broken heart? Her mother had meant well by forwarding her eldest daughter so much but was useless afterwards as she aired her own feelings without regard for Jane’s. And their father had cruelly laughed at Jane’s pain.

Mr. Wickham’s debauched words resounded in Elizabeth’s ears again. Was it not shocking for a lady, even of her age, to not immediately consider alerting her father to what she had heard? She had always been her father’s favourite, but it was because they had the same sense of humour, not true affection. It was not the sort of relationship Charlotte had with Sir William. He had never called his daughters silly or laughed at Charlotte’s unwed state.

Turning back to the parsonage, Elizabeth shook her head to dispel her thoughts. She was putting too much stock in Mr. Darcy’s words. Before speaking with him, she had thought Wickham merely boasted to his fellow cads. Why should she trust Darcy’s version of Wickham’s character? Because it matched what you witnessed when he was not attempting to charm.

Darcy’s words from Bingley’s ball reverberated in Elizabeth’s mind. “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making — whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain.”

Elizabeth had to allow, that Darcy wisely had not argued with her own understanding of Wickham. He did not doubt she had seen enough to find him a friend worth making, but he had also pointed out that she did not know him well enough yet to know if he was a friend worth keeping. Well, now she did.

Such thoughts only lead her to consider that, in a few weeks, Darcy would be at Rosings. He had not displayed manners which made her desire his friendship. Might she have been wrong? Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip, hating the thought. At the very least, with no one but Charlotte to really speak with, he might prove a useful acquaintance. That was if Lady Catherine and Darcy’s intended did not take up all of his time.

Passing through the gate, Elizabeth trudged up the walk, through the Parsonage and to her room to change. Although she had arrived promptly, Mr. Collins promenaded up and down the upstairs hallway giving directives for the ladies to rush their toilettes. He had taken a moment to assure her that whatever gown she had brought would be satisfactory for meeting the great lady as his patroness preferred to have the distinction of rank preserved.

As they walked the half mile to Rosings, Elizabeth found much to enjoy. Most impressive were the grounds around the house, as it was situated on a hill. However, Elizabeth did not admire them for the reasons Mr. Collins would have liked. Elizabeth perceived she would have a view of some miles and thought she might sketch the spire of one of the churches, or the towers to some of the old homes in the area. Of course, if Lady Catherine knew Elizabeth sketched she might be insulted if Elizabeth did not copy Rosings. She looked up at the dull stucco and shuddered at the gaucheness, whilst Mr. Collins blithely enumerated the cost of the chimneys and the windows. The Palladian style home was, indeed, grand and intimidating-looking when seen from a distance. Having studied architecture, Elizabeth realised the style relied on looking colossal and expansive, but really the homes were rather shallow in width.

As they entered the entrance hall Maria, and even Sir William, appeared alarmed at the ostentatious finery around them. Elizabeth, however, bore it all with calm observance. Rosings was not as large as most visitors would presume. Nor had Elizabeth heard anything about Lady Catherine that made her sound frightening. Elizabeth was not in the habit of fearing the wealthy. While the lady’s manners sounded repulsive, they did not seem intimidating.

At last, they followed the liveried servants to the large drawing room where Lady Catherine, Miss de Bourgh, and her companion sat. The ladies went so far as to rise at the entrance of guests. Thankfully, Charlotte provided introductions, and therefore they were saved the many mortifying apologies Mr. Collins would have found necessary to utter. Sir William bowed low but remained mute, and Maria sat near her sister nearly clutching her side. Elizabeth did have some sympathy for the young girl who had only just entered society after Charlotte’s marriage. While she was almost three years older than Lydia, she had less experience in company.

As Elizabeth observed Lady Catherine, she felt a prick of unease. Her Ladyship seemed very much like the picture Mr. Wickham depicted only days ago. How foolishly Elizabeth had believed every word, he had said and had imagined him as the most upstanding gentleman she had ever met! From Wickham to Darcy, Elizabeth’s thoughts turned. Brought all the more to the fore as she soon saw enough in the aunt to be reminded of the nephew.

Next, Elizabeth noted Miss de Bourgh. The lady was far smaller than Elizabeth had observed the day before. Elizabeth had always imagined such delicacy was a mere figment of a novelist’s imagination but Anne de Bourgh indeed looked like one strong wind could lift her away. Nor did she make up for her size and plain looks by a striking personality. She seldom spoke, and when she did it was only to Mrs. Jenkinson.

Shortly after Lady Catherine had detailed how the view, at which she had commanded them all to look, was better in the summer, they were called to the dining parlour. Dinner was as exemplary as Mr. Collins had promised and he took his position at the bottom of the table and carved and flattered in equal skill—that is to say leaving much to be desired. Sir William had recovered enough to echo all of his son-in-law’s words while his youngest daughter remained too frightened to speak.

Separating from the gentlemen served only to allow her ladyship to pontificate at length. Elizabeth soon recognised that there was nothing in her parish the Lady did not care to know or render an opinion on. Must she give advice on Charlotte’s shopping? It was not as though she had ever been a parson’s wife. Despite provocation, Charlotte spoke to Lady Catherine with an ease which surprised Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet,” her ladyship said in a tone Elizabeth imagined would suit a general on a field of battle, “I have told Mrs. Collins that you are pretty, genteel kind of girl.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth mentally added she was not entirely sure it was a compliment and therefore deserving of gratitude.

“Tell me about your family, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth gave the woman a false smile. “I am the second of five daughters.”

“You are cousins to Mr. Collins, I believe.”

“That is correct, ma’am.”

“A pity your mother had no son.” She turned toward Charlotte for a moment. “For your sake I am glad, but otherwise I see no need to entail estates away from females. It had not been thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family.”

How fortunate for you! Elizabeth thought to herself, and used all her self-control to not roll her eyes. Sir Lewis’ station, wealth and family had been so new that it could make such progressive decisions.

“Do you play or sing?”

Elizabeth bit back a sigh. The inquisition was not over, it seemed. “A little.”

“Oh! Then you shall have to play for us sometime. Our instrument is capital. Probably far superior to what you’re—Do your sisters play?”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened at her ladyship’s lapse she just barely kept herself from insulting Elizabeth directly. Beside her, Miss de Bourgh made a noise that suspiciously sounded like a cough disguising a giggle. “One of them does,” Elizabeth answered.

If Elizabeth had told Lady Catherine that she had a pet unicorn and pigs were flying outside, the lady could not look more shocked. “Why did you not all learn? I know of a family of girls who learned and your father’s income is better than theirs.”

Elizabeth chose not to reply but shot a glance at Mr. Collins. How nice of him to share their family’s income with his patroness!

“Do you draw?”

“No, not at all.” Elizabeth avoided Charlotte’s eyes. The matter of her refusing to call architectural sketching, “drawing”, had been a source of contention between them.

“What, none of you!” Lady Catherine blinked rapidly as if again she had never heard something so strange in all her years.

“Not a one.” By now, Elizabeth took perverse pleasure in rendering her ladyship shocked.

The conversation continued as Lady Catherine canvassed more of Elizabeth’s accomplishments and upbringing. After each turn, it had not seemed like her ladyship could be more aghast, but the next question always trumped the last. Elizabeth inwardly laughed. It seemed the woman had never been in contact with people who had a life that had been different than her own. Mr. Darcy had once said country towns had a constrained and unvarying society, but surely this woman had moved in fine circles of life and yet Elizabeth, who was no oddity in Meryton, was rendered peculiar.

When Elizabeth confirmed that all of her sisters were out in Society at once, she really thought Lady Catherine might have an apoplexy. She had turned red, and her eyes bulged. Elizabeth made a point that excluding sisters could not encourage sisterly affection, hoping to soothe the lady but seemed to make her only angrier.

Lady Catherine sucked in a deep breath. “Upon my word, you give your opinion very decidedly for one so young. What is your age.”

Elizabeth could not keep the mischievous smile from inching across her face. “With so many younger sisters who are grown up, you can hardly expect me to admit it.” She made her eyes wide and blinked innocently. Another giggle-cough escaped from Miss de Bourgh.

Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed. Whether at her daughter or her guest, Elizabeth was less sure. Elizabeth bit back a smile at the idea of being the first person to dare trifle with such a lady and her ridiculous questioning.

“You cannot be more than one and twenty. Therefore, you have no reason to avoid telling the truth.”

“I am not one and twenty.”

Thankfully, before Lady Catherine could say more, the gentlemen returned and the card tables were brought out. The evening passed with little diversion or animation. Mr. Collins sat with her ladyship and apologised when he felt he won too much. Maria and Elizabeth joined Miss de Bourgh and Mrs. Jenkinson at cassino, but no real conversation was attempted.

Later than Elizabeth would have liked, the carriage was offered and brought round. As it conveyed Elizabeth and the others back to the Parsonage, Elizabeth considered that Mr. Darcy’s presence might be more welcome than she had first thought. She had never thought well of him, and they had often disagreed. However, her time at Netherfield had taught her he had no shortage of things to say when he felt comfortable. That must be vastly preferable to impertinent questions from such a domineering fishwife or the restless sighs from a mouse of a woman.

 

*****

 

“Fitzwilliam, be reasonable!” Darcy’s aunt called after him after he stormed off from the drawing room where she and Georgiana had descended upon him with charts and plans for marriage.

Stalking down the hall, he entered his study and locked the door. Pouring a glass of Madeira, he pulled a shaking hand through his curls and glared at the Darcy crest and motto that hung above the mantle. Hide the sins of his father’s godson? Yes, he could do that. Sacrifice years of carefree life for Pemberley and his sister? Of course. Accept the barony from his aunt? He had little choice. Indulge her with finding a group of bluestocking women? Why not. Allow her to arrange a cold, formal marriage for him? Absolutely not. Duty and honour be damned.

“I want…” he trailed off as his eyes dropped to the fire. He daredw not complete his thought. Loosening his cravat, he threw himself into the chair behind his desk.

To take what he truly wanted would be turning his back on all duty and honour. While he did not want Lady Darcy and Georgiana selecting a spouse for him based on charts of ancestry and the size of their dowry, neither could he imagine forsaking everything that had been ingrained in him for so many years. He would not choose a wife from a flat list of attractions on paper. Unfortunately, it meant he would actually have to converse with the ladies.

Darcy sighed and shook his head. That was likely his aunt’s plan all along. It was unlike her to believe a woman’s worth could be ascertained in a list of accomplishments or monetary value. Nor could he see any reason to rush finding a wife. His aunt was hale and hearty for eighty. On the other hand, both his parents had been gone these many years. Death was no respecter of age. Likewise, his uncle, the Earl Fitzwilliam, had long ago handed the overseeing of the estates to his eldest son. Indeed, Winchester had married ages ago and now had two boys. Richard, the Earl’s younger son, had little chance of inheriting the earldom now — to his own relief. In many ways, Darcy’s continued bachelorhood was selfish. No wonder every female relation worried over his marital state.

A knock interrupted his solitude. “Lady Darcy to depart,” the butler said through the wood-paneled door.

With another sigh, Darcy gulped the last of his drink and hoped the beverage could deaden his memories of dark, dancing eyes. He strode across the room and unlocked the door. His aunt looked up from where she was pulling on her gloves.

“Well?” she gave him an expectant look.

“I will attend the ball, however,” he folded his arms across his chest, “I will not choose to court a lady from a list of qualities you provide. If she is to be my wife, I must talk with her and see if we are compatible.”

“Excellent. Just the decision I knew you’d make!” Lady Darcy smiled in glee and Darcy contained the urge to roll his eyes. She stepped towards him and then on tiptoe, kissed his cheek. “Anyone but that Bingley woman or your cousin Anne,” she whispered in his ear.

A shudder racked through Darcy. “I can assure you, madam, that I will absolutely never, under any circumstances, make either an offer.”

“Good,” she nodded.

Darcy escorted her to her waiting carriage. When he returned inside, Georgiana awaited him in the office.

“Well?” she asked and settled in a chair, tapping her fingers on the paper containing lists of names of possible marriage partners.

“You have been spending too much time with our aunt.” He ordered tea and sat next to her.

“I could spend more time with you,” she offered.

“I believe even our aunt would say for a girl of your tender years that is hardly appropriate.”

“I am no longer a child,” she whispered. “Nor are you up to rakish activities you must shelter me from.”

“What do you know of rakes?” he asked. God help him if he ever had daughters. He could sympathise with the fathers in fairy tales that always locked them up.

“I believe I understand the danger they pose to young maidens far more than you do,” she said. “After Wickham—”

“I never should have allowed you to remain deluded about his character.”

“I do not know that I would have listened to you had I not experienced the pain for myself,” she said and shrugged her shoulders.

It was the first time they had spoken of him. “Why is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Georgiana said and ran a finger around the rim of her teacup. “I know I agreed to an elopement because it was exciting and empowering.”

“Empowering?” How little he understood ladies!

“Certainly! To believe yourself able to command the admiration of a handsome man who has the ability to make any woman in love with him. Believing that he saw me, not Fitzwilliam Darcy’s sister, not thirty thousand pounds, was very seductive.”

Yes, he well understood the irresistible pull of believing another knew your real character.

“And while I never thought badly of you or felt you had been unfair, I think I would have been too happy to remain in denial. The truth hurts, and I would have probably lashed out at you rather than accept your words about Wickham.”

“But I could have told you years ago, long before Mrs. Younge took you to Ramsgate.”

“But I had known him then myself. I had been smitten with him from a young age. No doubt he saw that as well and used it to his gain. Mrs. Younge quickly perceived it from the way I spoke of him.”

“You carried a tendre for him for years, and I did not know!” Darcy paled at realising how little he had understood of his sister.

“Do not be so aghast. I daresay girls that confide with their much older brothers about youthful fancies are far more the exception than the rule.”

“Perhaps so, but I would not have us be that way,” he murmured. “I do value your understanding. When I was twelve and you just born, the years between us seemed extreme, but surely that is less so now. At sixteen, you are considered full grown and marriageable. Our differences in understanding now are related more to our sexes and experiences than our ability to learn and reason.”

“Thank you,” she said and stared at her hands. Suddenly she looked up and smiled. “I do not have anything to report now. No one interests me.”

“Oh?” Darcy asked. He had rather hoped someday — eventually — she might take a fancy to Bingley. “What sort of man do you think you would like when you are older?”

She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit with amusement. “I am unsure, and so I think the best way would simply be by meeting as many as possible!”

“Georgiana,” Darcy warned. “You will make me go grey.”

“Well, then,” she said and grinned, “we had best marry you off before you look in your dotage!”

“Not you too!” he feigned annoyance but really was impressed with her ability to bring the conversation around so fully.

“And since I confided in you,” Georgiana leant forward and batted her eyes, “you should reciprocate. Is there anyone you fancy?”

“I have work to do,” he said, standing.

“So there is!” she stood as well. “Oh, please tell me who she is! I can help you!”

“Georgiana, please” Darcy pressed two fingers to his temple. “This morning was excruciating enough.”

“Because your heart has already decided?”

A knock at the door interrupted them. “Mr. Bingley, sir.”

 

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- Ding Dong Merrily on High and We Three Kings

christmas-2016-5I’m sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I thought I was going to have a chance after my kids went to bed but that didn’t work out because my daughter was keeping my son up. I had to separate them but that meant her sleeping in my bed and me staying in there. By the time she actually fell asleep, it was too late for me to get back up and I also worried about waking her. So here we have two chapters today!

In case you missed it: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Ding Dong Merrily on High

“Cousin Jane, will you read me a story?” Cassandra Gardiner, eldest child of Edward and Margaret Gardiner asked. She had been selected among her siblings to journey to Longbourn to visit her relations for Christmas.

“Cassie, Jane needs rest. Sit by me, and I will tell you a story while I braid your hair for bed,” Elizabeth Bennet said to save her sister.

Jane had never been so depressed before, and Elizabeth was positively alarmed at her beloved sister’s low spirits. Cassie was a good girl but so pleased to be with her older cousins that she overwhelmed them with questions and attention. Jane was the only one nice enough to be stuck with Cassie most of the day and Elizabeth now sought to give her reprieve.

“I’m waiting,” Cassie said as she wiggled closer to Elizabeth who tugged on the child’s unruly curls with a brush. “Ouch!”

“I am sorry, dearest. Now, let’s see. Christmas is only two days away.  Do you know the story of the Bells of Christmas?”

“No,” Cassie said, turning her head to grin at Elizabeth.

“Keep your head straight,” Elizabeth said as she gently moved the child’s head.

“Considering you made up the story for your sisters it would be difficult for Cassie to have heard it before,” Jane chuckled from the nearby bed.

“True. Gracious. Do you recall how angry mother was with me for making up some story that Kitty requested nightly and yet it was not in any of the books in the nursery? Mama could never get all the parts just right and hated it when Kitty went around “shrieking at the top of her lungs,” as Mama said.”

Jane laughed in earnest, and the sound warmed Elizabeth’s heart. “No one could do it like you.”

Elizabeth smiled and sighed fondly. “Fortunately, you, Cassie, are older than Kitty was when I made up the story, so I do not think you will act so silly over it.”

Cassie straightened and said in a prissy voice, “Of course not! I am the sensible daughter. For silliness you must consult Eleanor. And I wish you would call me Cassandra.”

Elizabeth and Jane shared an amused look. Lord help their Aunt Gardiner, Cassie was beginning the trying years early. With any lucky, their youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were coming out of them.

“Pass me the ribbon please, Jane,” Elizabeth said and racked her brain to remember how the story began. “It’s about a boy who was the bell ringer at his church. He could hear the bells ring in Heaven on Christmas Day. Ding dong! Ding dong!” She exclaimed in a very theatrical voice which caused Cassie to laugh.

“Angels filled the sky. They sang,” Elizabeth took a deep breath and boomed in a false operatic voice, “Gloooooria, Hosanna in Excelsis!”

When she had finished, Elizabeth turned pink from the exertion and needed to catch her breath. Cassie was stunned in silence for a minute. “Why do they always think the angels speak in Latin?”

“Well…I’m not sure,” Elizabeth confessed, put out that Cassie seemed unimpressed with her theatrics.

“And I don’t think there are bells in Heaven.”

Elizabeth sighed. She had never worried about the logic of her story, and Kitty had been much easier to please, it seemed. “The boy was strange, he only spoke in rhymes.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Cassie said.

By now, Elizabeth was certain little Edward, who could not yet speak in full sentences, was her favorite cousin by far. Exasperated, she continued on. “Pray you dutifully chime, your matin chime ye ringers. May you beautifully rhyme your evetime song, ye singers.”

Elizabeth stood to sing the final line and Jane joined her, grinning. “Gloria, Hosana in Excelsis!”

“Come, Cassie. Join us,” Jane said and held out a hand.

With a sigh that reminded Elizabeth too much of Mary, Cassie slid off the bed and took Jane’s hand. “Gloria, Hosana in Excelsis!”

“There, now it’s time for you to go to bed,” Elizabeth said.

“But I want to stay up!”

“Your mother said you could stay up late tomorrow,” Jane said in a soothing voice.

Cassie frowned. “I will have to go to bed early on the other nights while everyone else goes downstairs to enjoy supper. Lydia is only a few years older than me!”

“And until Lydia was fifteen she had to stay in her room at nights too. If you cannot abide by the rules you will not be allowed to come without your siblings again,” Elizabeth said sternly.

“But I wanted to spend time with you and Jane and all you did at dinner was sit with the others. Lizzy spent all her time avoiding Aunt Bennet and won’t stop talking to Wixam or whatever his name is.”

“Wickham,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.

Earlier that day, her Aunt Gardiner had counseled her against paying him so much attention.

“He is a very charming man, but I must caution you about any growing attachment to him,” Aunt Gardiner had said. “If he had the living he was promised, I could see no evil in the match.”

Elizabeth sighed. It was true Mr. Wickham needed a wife with a larger dowry than she had and encouraging an attachment between the two of them was more than flirting with danger. He was just the sort of man that appealed to Elizabeth, their powers of conversation and wit equally matched and their opinions on most things nearly uniform.

“Cassie, what if I told you that I will be returning to London with you?”

“Really?” Cassie and Elizabeth squealed at the same time.

“Yes, Aunt Gardiner thinks it will be good for me, and Mama liked the idea as well,” Jane blushed as she spoke.

Elizabeth and Cassie grinned but for very different reasons. Elizabeth had hoped Jane would journey to London with the Gardiners. It was her hope that Jane might meet Mr. Bingley and renew their attachment which was unexpectedly severed about a month ago.

“Now, get to bed,” Jane said, and Cassie scurried away.

After saying their good nights, Jane and Elizabeth shut the door and began to walk down the stairs. There had been guests for dinner, and some had remained for supper.

“Do not look at me that way, Lizzy. I do not have any thoughts seeing Bingley again,” Jane said, but her heightened color belied her true feelings.

“I will say nothing about it,” Elizabeth vowed.

The clock chimed the hour just as they reached the bottom stair. Before Elizabeth could voice her opinion that the chime sounded strange, she suddenly felt dizzy.

*~*~*~*~*

We Three Kings

“There,” Bingley pointed out the carriage window and Richard pushed aside a curtain. “Longbourn is to the west about where that star is.” Hope burned in his heart.

“When Mrs. Bennet invited us to dinner, I do not think she meant to arrive unexpectedly and a month after the invitation was issued. Christmas is in two days; they likely have family visiting! Additionally, they have likely dined by now,” Darcy said to his side while tugging on his cravat.

“As if she will mind,” Richard said. “You and Bingley are as good as lords, kings even, to her, I bet!”

Bingley grimaced. He would rather there be as few reminders as possible to Darcy about the Bennet family’s standing in Society.

“You’re the son of an earl,” Darcy cautioned. “Do not think you are exempt!”

“Please, I bring only the experience of death as a soldier. No one wants their daughter married to an old soldier with little fortune or good looks. Everyone knows you’re rich Darcy, that’s why you are allowed to scowl so much.”

“Bingley is far more popular than I,” Darcy said.

“Yes, because he flatters everyone. They feel important and puffed up around him,” Richard laughed.

“Most of the people we meet are more important than me,” Bingley said. Richard was a good man and as fond of a laugh as anyone Bingley had ever met but sometimes he missed things. “You are a Colonel in His Majesty’s army. Darcy runs a large estate. Sir William Lucas had a prosperous business and was knighted by the King. Mr. Bennet is a magistrate. What am I? I’ve done nothing to deserve my wealth, I have no estate and no responsibilities.”

Richard was silenced. For a moment. “So, tell me about your girl, Bingley,” Richard said with a waggling of eyebrows again. For some reason, Bingley felt as though he had this conversation with Richard before.

Bingley chuckled as Darcy let out a groan. “Miss Bennet is the most beautiful creature I have ever beheld! I thought so upon first sight, and she has only grown in beauty every time I have seen her.”

“How can that possibly be?” Richard asked. “Oh, she must be dressing to impress,” he said in a knowing voice.

“Hardly,” Bingley said. “She fell ill while calling on my sisters one time and had to stay a week abed. When she finally joined us after dinner, one night her skin was pale and dark circles were under her eyes. Her nose was red. Still, she was lovely to me. The first night I met her she was simply a pretty face. Now, I know her kind heart. I have heard her speak lovingly of everyone. She is truly beautiful inside and out.”

A hard jab to his rib alerted Bingley to the fact that he had stared off with a grin on his face. “Yes?”

“Richard asked you a question I find most pertinent,” Darcy said, his voice slightly smug. Well, more smug than usual.

“I asked if Miss Bennet returns your affections. Not that it matters. Good matches are seldom made with affection in mind.”

“It can hardly be a good match when she has no dowry or connections. And the relatives. You will regret coming along,” Darcy said.

“They cannot all be bad,” Richard said. “Besides, did you not hear me before. I think a good match has more to do with the lady’s character and disposition. My parents married for advantage and could hardly be unhappier.”

“Richard is correct,” Bingley said. “Just leave Miss Elizabeth alone. The younger girls are ridiculous but are easily ignored. Mr. Bennet is sensible.”

Darcy scoffed but the carriage approached the house, and he said no more.

The gentleman climbed down from the carriage and wordlessly approached the house. The housekeeper seemed surprised to see them. Instead of taking them to the main drawing room, as Bingley had expected, they were brought to a smaller parlor and announced.

“Mr. Bingley?” Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice asked and snapped to his face. “Oh! You have come to save us!” She collapsed into a chair and rent the air with loud sobs.

“Save you! What can you mean?” Bingley cried alarmed at the lady’s response.

Darcy elbowed his side and Bingley finally gazed around the room. No one was dressed for dinner, despite it growing late and the elder members of the Lucas family was present. In one corner, Miss Lucas sat with her eyes unblinking. Her mother cried quietly into a handkerchief in a nearby chair.  Miss Elizabeth Bennet sat to the right of Miss Lucas and Jane sat to the left. She too was crying. Elizabeth and the other daughters looked as though they were feigning concern.

“Perhaps we should see Mr. Bennet,” Darcy said after a minute of listening to Mrs. Bennet’s loud wailing.

Jane stood to her feet and approached them. She would not meet his eyes. “Forgive us for any rudeness. You see, you must not have heard yet. My cousin, Mr. Collins, was meant to leave a few days ago but his departure was delayed due to illness. This morning, he was found dead. Mother is beside herself in fear. My father and Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are in the library. A new heir must be found…” Jane trailed off.

“And the Lucas family?” Darcy asked coldly.

Jane’s eyes revealed her hurt at his words and Bingley inwardly groaned. He understood that Darcy had strong opinions about grief and death, but it was not his place to tell visitors to leave.

“Miss Lucas was his betrothed.”

The three gentlemen looked between themselves, seemingly at a loss. Finally, Richard stepped forward. “Pardon me, I know we are not introduced but is there anything we might do for your family at this time?”

Jane sent a pleading look to Elizabeth, who left her friend’s side. “Mr. Bingley,” Elizabeth 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. As you see, however,” she cast an arm about the room, “we are not in a position to entertain guests at such a time.”

“What! No! Do not send them away!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed from the nearby settee, immediately recovered. “Well, certainly Mr. Darcy could leave but no, Mr. Bingley you must stay! See how well Jane looks!”

“Mother, please!” Elizabeth said as a deep blush overspread her cheeks.

Bingley was surprised to hear Darcy speak. “If you will permit us, madam, I think a walk about the garden might be refreshing for the young ladies.”

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

“No,” Elizabeth said firmly. “No, thank you. We will remain where we belong,” she cast a scolding look at her sisters who slumped back into their seats and pouted. “I do hope we will see you again when our grief is over.”  

“Eliza, I would welcome a respite,” Miss Lucas approached their congregation at the parlor door.

“Yes, surely there is nothing inappropriate about a walk in the garden with such good family friends,” Bingley said while searching over Jane’s face. Why would she not look at him?

The young people sedately entered the hall, and the ladies gathered their outerwear. Night was falling fast and only a few minutes of setting sun remained. Bingley introduced Richard to the ladies. He offered his arm to Miss Lucas, who took it after a minute’s hesitation. Bingley extended his arm to Jane, who blushed, but took his arm. A feeling of rightness permeated his heart. Darcy did not offer to escort anyone but seemed to trail closely behind Elizabeth. Richard spoke quietly to Miss Lucas and Bingley could not help but notice Jane remained mute.

“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. I’m famished,” called the other one.

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

Jane shuddered again and nodded but remained silent as Bingley escorted her back inside. Behind him, he heard Richard and Miss Lucas whispering and what sounded like Darcy and Elizabeth having another dispute. As he helped Jane out of her pelisse, the clock chimed seven. Suddenly, he felt unaccountably dizzy.

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Four

flower and sky 7

Chapter Four

Although Elizabeth teased Catherine for being so eager to meet with the Miss Thorpe, by Tuesday morning, she could think of no better idea. With any luck, Miss Thorpe would somehow distract Mr. Collins from her side. It would be worth it to spare Jane the displeasure of Mr. Collins’ attention. However, Elizabeth need not have been worried about Jane for as soon as he came to the breakfast room, Elizabeth found herself the object of his admiration. She knew not how she would tolerate the remainder of his stay at Longbourn.

By the time Catherine proposed they all walk to Meryton with her, Elizabeth was so anxious to leave she was the first with her bonnet and cloak on. Alas, Mr. Collins seemed intent on keeping pace with her. Elizabeth kept from using her powers by noticing the surrounding flora and recalling in which potions they could be employed. Her musings were interrupted by an unexpected but familiar voice just as they reached town.

“Kate! Jane! Lizzy!” Her eldest step-brother, James, called to them from across the street. The girls eagerly ran to his side with Mr. Collins trailing along.

“We had not expected you for another fortnight,” Kate said.

He nodded to a gentleman at his side, “We changed our plans. My estate is doing well and needs no attention from me. As Thorpe hosted me for Christmas, what could be more natural than me to introduce him to my family?”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and Jane passed her a stern look. Sometimes it was rather trying to not have your thoughts and emotions to yourself. There was nothing so terrible in thinking that Mama might have liked noticed before James came with a guest. Jane need not have looked so harshly at her.

“John! Here you are!” Elizabeth turned to the new voice of a pretty young lady about Jane’s age. “Miss Morland, what a pleasure! I will depend on you to tell me all the best places to shop and walk here.”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure!” Kate said before turning to her sisters and introducing them to a Miss Isabella Thorpe.

“Blast! You see I am not used to manners anymore. I forgot to introduce you as well,” James said before announcing his friend as Mr. John Thorpe. That accounted for James not alerting his mother to a guest. Surely Mr. Thorpe would stay with his own relations. Perhaps Elizabeth had deserved Jane’s silent censure after all. Disliking the thought, she noticed how Mr. Thorpe seemed struck by Kate and James could not keep his eyes off his friend’s sister. Elizabeth stole a look at Mr. Collins. The same could not be said of him. He took a step closer to Elizabeth.

The door of the shop behind them opened, and a tall, well-dressed officer emerged. His dark hair and eyes framed his sharp features as he took in the scene before him. Elizabeth felt her breath leave on an exhale. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen.

“Morland! Thorpe! I had not expected to meet you here!” he cried while walking to the gentlemen.

“Wickham!” They echoed in astonishment.

“Well, and why should you be surprised to see me in the town I was raised? Surely if you heard me speak of Meryton once, I spoke of it a hundred times.”

“This is true,” said the as yet unintroduced gentleman. “I do not know how I let it slip my mind when Denny met me in London and told me where the militia was quartered. Only, even if I had remembered it I wouldn’t have expected you to be here, as fond of travel as I know you to be.”

The gentlemen laughed, and the officer cast his eyes over the assembled group. “I should have known Meryton anywhere from your description. As I can recognize your sisters as well. I must appear abominably rude to have spoken before an introduction. Do pardon me, ladies.”

He smiled so sincerely, Elizabeth easily forgave his impertinence. “We do not stand on much ceremony here,” she said.

“Is that so?” he asked as his smile grew.

“Well, girls, allow me to introduce you to Mr. George Wickham. We met at some table or other in London, and here it looks like he’s entered the King’s service! Wickham, to your left, is Miss Isabella Thorpe.”

“A pleasure, Miss Thorpe,” he said after the requisite bow and curtsy. “I should not have guessed her to be one of your sisters, Morland, although, I do not think you gave her justice Thorpe.”

Curious as to how she had been described by her brother, Elizabeth grew bold. “Should we put your powers to the test then?”

A look of interest flicked in his eyes, but Mr. Wickham demurred. “I wouldn’t dare leave off the usual civilities.”

Elizabeth tried to not look disappointed. After all, there was nothing wrong with good manners. James opened his mouth, but Miss Thorpe touched his arm, forestalling him. “Surely as a lady requested the game there can be no harm in playing.”

Elizabeth smiled. She quite liked this young lady.

Mr. Wickham nodded his head. “Very well.” He silently scrutinized each woman for a moment before beginning. “The angel to my right must be Miss Bennet.”

“That was a rather easy guess. She is the only blonde,” Miss Thorpe interjected. “But can you guess which is Miss Morland and which is Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”

“Without a second glance,” he said and winked. “Here, I shall turn around even so nothing in their countenance shall give them away.”

Elizabeth had to contain a laugh at his ease and charm.

After turning, Mr. Wickham began without hesitation. “Miss Morland is the lady in the green spencer, and Miss Elizabeth is the lady in the blue cloak.

“Very good, sir!” Kate exclaimed, and the gentleman turned around. “Well, go on and tell us how you did it. I doubt my brother told you anything about our fashion choices.”

James laughed. “Indeed, no.”

“It was some slight of hand or trickery, I think,” Mr. Collins said with a frown. “You had a prearranged signal with Mr. Morland. My patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, frowns on deceit– even as a joke.”

“There was no trickery, my good sir,” said Mr. Wickham. “Miss Morland looks much more like her brother than Miss Elizabeth does.”

“Well, that is hardly fair!” Kate frowned. “I was prepared for some outstanding show.”
“I am sorry to disappoint you,” he replied. “Perhaps another time.”

“We are walking around the shops with Miss Thorpe this morning, but my aunt is hosting a dinner for several officers on the morrow, and we are invited as well. As you are such good friends with James, I am sure it will be no trouble to add you and Mr. Thorpe as well.”

The sound of horses interrupted their conversation, and Elizabeth turned to see Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy on the street. Mr. Bingley beamed at seeing Jane and the two directed their horses towards the group. As Elizabeth looked toward Jane to see her reaction to Mr. Bingley she could not help but catch sight of Mr. Wickham’s face as he turned white. What a strange reaction! She looked toward Bingley and Darcy and indeed, the latter was red.

During her days at Netherfield, she had gathered that Mr. Darcy must have ice magic, but she had not supposed he was as strongly gifted as he apparently believed himself to be. Now, though, she felt as though a gust of arctic air was directed right at Mr. Wickham. The others seemed to not notice, perhaps it was her sensitivity to the cold due to her power, but she gave little thought to how the others did not notice. The arrogant man was going to freeze Mr. Wickham on the streets of Meryton!

Determining that two could play in such a way, she set her mind to creating heat but not fire directed toward Mr. Darcy. After a few moments, Mr. Wickham seemed thawed enough to be able to touch his hat in salute, but Darcy barely returned the greeting. Angered by his incivility, she enhanced the force of her heat directed at the pompous man. After another minute, Elizabeth was pleased to see Bingley and Darcy take their leave.

It was impossible to not wonder what occurred between the two gentlemen and Elizabeth resolved to ask if Jane had discerned anything on their walk home. James, Mr. Thorpe, and Mr. Wickham joined them on the sisters’ guiding of Miss Thorpe around Meryton. Elizabeth hoped Mr. Collins would join the other gentlemen in more conversation, but unfortunately, he remained steadfast at her side. After showing Miss Thorpe the principal shops, the young people parted. The Morland-Bennet siblings and Mr. Collins then visited Mrs. Phillips, who had been the sister of the first Mrs. Bennet. She eagerly invited Mr. Collins to her dinner the next day and agreed to her nieces’ entreaties to invite Mr. Wickham as well.

After such a busy day, it was at last time to return to Longbourn. Only then did James and Kate manage to induce Mr. Collins in conversation, leaving Elizabeth free to speak with Jane.

“Did you not see the strange interaction between Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy?”

“No, it entirely escaped my notice. Mr. Bingley was speaking with me,” Jane said while blushing.

Elizabeth sighed. “Perhaps Kate noticed, but I had particularly wanted to know if you felt anything pass between them? I am certain Mr. Darcy intended to ice Mr. Wickham there on the street!”

“Lizzy,” Jane said in her scolding elder sister tone. “That is preposterous. Mr. Darcy would never be so reckless, and I believe our father has told the inhabitants of Netherfield, indeed the entire town, about Mr. Collins’ lack of knowledge about the magical world. Mr. Darcy is among those assigned to protect us, he would never expose our powers in such a way.”
“You did not feel the icy blast nor see how pale Mr. Wickham grew. I had to send quite an intense heat surge to counter it.”

“Your prejudice is too strong. What would Papa say?” Jane asked as they entered the house.

“What would I say about what?”

“Aunt Phillips has invited all of us to her house tomorrow,” Elizabeth rushed to say.

Her father raised an eyebrow. “Jane seemed concerned I would not agree with whatever you were scheming or had done. Why would I not approve of you going?”

Jane glanced sideways at Elizabeth silently pleaded for her assistance. “We did not think you would like to go yourself and worry about us without a chaperone,” Jane said.

“I was so surprised at the condescension and favor shown me by Mrs. Phillips!” Mr. Collins exclaimed as he saw Mr. Bennet upon entering the house. “To be sure, I am your relation, but I am nothing to her, and she had not met me above five minutes before she invited me to sup in her home tomorrow! I have never had such attention paid to me in my whole life! What a sweet town Meryton is!”

“There you see,” Mr. Bennet said to his daughters. “There is no cause for alarm. Mr. Collins shall accompany you to your aunt’s tomorrow, and I shall not be troubled to leave the library.” So saying he returned to the very room while the ladies piled into the drawing room. For a moment, Mr. Collins stood awkwardly in the hall, apparently confused on who to follow. Elizabeth stifled a groan when he chose to sit with the ladies and selected the chair closest to her. All his empty praise of her needlework made it difficult to keep her feelings in check.

“How graceful your fingers fly, Cousin Elizabeth!” He exclaimed, and a little while later, “Such delicate work united with a lady of such cleverness. It is a rare sight to behold!”

Elizabeth could not help what happened next. Mr. Collins soon felt the need to mop his brow of perspiration and after another moment or two excused himself to his room.

“Elizabeth,” Mrs. Bennet chided.

“What? Weather is so testy this time of year. He might be overheated from the exertion of our walk earlier.”

The ladies stifled smiles and returned to their work and Elizabeth found that her fingers were far less clumsy without squashing the desire to light her cousin on fire.

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Three

While Jane and Bingley were outside talking, the rest of the party gathered in the library. Henry grabbed Darcy even just before entering.

“Darcy, I do not like this. I shall not read this.” Henry looked at him for a moment. “I do not think you do either. I do not trust the girls not to enchant the text as we read it. If either of us is destined for a Bewitched Sister—” He stopped at Darcy’s hard glare. “I only said if! If either of us is destined for one and we are enchanted to love another instead, it could have disastrous consequences.”

“They would hardly put a spell on you since you are their brother.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What would you have me do, Henry? It is your mother.”

“Step-mother, you mean.”

“Darcy, Henry, come in from the hall you will have to keep us waiting will you?” The very lady called out.

“Leave the matter to me, Henry.” They entered the room at last. “My dear Mrs. Tilney,” Darcy said. “My tastes do not lean towards dramatic readings. Shall we not debate the synopsis and merits of the play instead?”

The woman troubled her bottom lip. She looked at her daughters and then Miss Elizabeth before replying. “Of course, Mr. Darcy. Are we all familiar with the text?”

The others in the room look for Elizabeth. “Indeed, ma’am. I have seen it in London,” was Elizabeth’s reply.

Mrs. Tilney motioned for the others too sit, and Henry sees the topic you must.

“I have strong opinions about Anhalt,” said Henry. “As a clergyman, I find his position most of unquarrelsome.”

Darcy laughed. “What is there to quarrel over the clergyman?

“Surely, his poverty quarrels with himself,” said Elizabeth. “As well as inhibiting his chances with the fair Amelia.”

“You understand matters there,” said Henry.

“The General was simply scandalized at how little you get paid dear,” said Mrs. Tilney.

“Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth. “What do you think of the Baron? If he is a representation of the aristocratic class?”

“You asked me a question I cannot answer. For I am not and a noble,” said Mr. Darcy.

“Oh!” cried Caroline. “But you do have noble blood. The Matlock house is of old blood.”

Mrs. Tilney eagerly nodded her head. “And do not forget your magical legacy.”

“I fear we have wandered from the topic,” replied Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth asked if I agreed with the Baron’s depiction. I believe my answer is that people of every class leave lives of dissipation.”

“Even the clergy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile on her lips.

Henry laughed. “Unfortunately, I can agree with that sentiment.”

Darcy scowled. “Indeed.”

“And what do you think of these old vows between the lovers?” Caroline asked.

“I cannot think that there was any true love on the Baron’s side for Agatha,” said Elizabeth. “If he had truly loved her all those years before, then her lower status would have meant nothing. He loved money and himself.”

“Is that is not a rather simplified understanding of the world?” Caroline asked. “Shirley,” she said turning toward Darcy, “you would say the world is more complex, Mr. Darcy?”

“The world does have high expectations for the marriage mart. However, a man must answer to his integrity above society’s madates.”

Caroline smiled at his reply, leading Elizabeth to believe the other lady thought it possible to ensnare the gentleman.

“What do you believe Agatha ought to have done, Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.

“I believe that marriage to the Baron, after his terrible treatment of her for all those years, should have been her only answer. If his honor was roused enough to wish to marry her, he might have been prevailed upon to provide her a home and and income.”

Caroline, Mrs. Tilney, and Mrs. Hust gasped.

“What what lady would wish to live in such a way?” exclaimed Caroline. “There is no establishment is respectable as marriage for a woman.”

“I would rather be destitute than marry in that situation.”

“Such unwise words from someone so young!” Mrs. Tilney reprimanded. “I would hope my daughters would have better sense. A man is allowed his…indescretions.”

“I do not mean to say that a man must be perfect and flawless, anymore than I would say a woman should be without fault. There are certain fallings more prone to the male sex. I only believe that the right kind of temperament is necessary to be happy in marriage. A man who had discarded her for decades and has only just had a sudden change of heart. She would be foolish, after so many other disappointments in life and at his hands, to trust in that again. Once married she has little choice to secure her future in an independent manner. I have great respect for the marital state, but women need the right sort of man.”

Darcy leaned forward while the others mulled over her words. “You believe there is something specific about the nature of women that requires the right sort of husband, but you did not say men might have need of the right sort of woman. Did I understand you correctly, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Yes, that is what I meant. Women are at such a disadvantage; they had rather be sure they are gaining a husband that will treat them with respect and affection lest they are better off to stay as a spinster or poor relation, or even a street beggar as was Agatha’s case.”

Darcy stroke his jaw. “This belief is born out of personal experience?”

Elizabeth blushed a little. “Naturally, I can speak towards a woman’s position in life more than I could a gentleman’s.”

“And having only sisters certainly does not help.”

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I have heard you have a sister, Mr. Darcy. Does that make you an expert on all things female?”

“Mr. Darcy is the kindest brother in the Kingdom!” Caroline attemtped to interject herself into the conversation without success.

“No, I would not think that I know everything about the female mind. I do understand how rapid a lady’s imagination is. She will leap from admiration to love and matrimony in a span of seconds.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Perhaps your experience, too, is limited. Your sister is very young, I understand.”

“But she is so accomplished for her age!” cried Caroline.

“Age brings maturity then? If that be the case, then I would say a gentleman of age and wisdom understands that he needs the right sort of woman as well. Not every lady with a pretty face and passable manners can captivate him.”

Elizabeth felt the fire crackle in her again. He alluded, again, to the night of the assembly in Meryton. “I did not reference captivation. You have proved my point exactly. A woman must consider a man’s income, his family and standing in the world. His treatment of her and others in his care. She must have faith and trust in his good character and that it will not bend or change through the course of life. A man is not beholden to anyone. Therefore, while he may like a little bit of money out of his wife, considers if her beauty  can last and whether her accomplishments are superior to her peers and can tempt him into matrimony. He wants a hostess and a portrait; a caricature of a woman, not a flesh and blood wife.”

“A man is not beholden to anyone?” Darcy cried. “Do you not consider he may have a family duty to fulfil? Others to care for and being prudent on money is only sound.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but Darcy pressed on. “Nor did I mean such superficial and changeable things such as beauty or ability. Her mind, madam, will be his constant companion. She must be suited to compliment his temperament and powers.”

“Then I rather wonder at some men needing a wife at all,” she said with derision. “Some gentlemen have money aplenty and are the heads of their family and their own temperament are so comprehensive that they would not have need of anyone else. While their powers,” here she looked at the windows which had begun a frost from the inside before returning her gaze to Darcy, “gain so much acclaim, he would have no need of another to strengthen his own. And you forget, sir, that I have several step-brothers.”

“I fear I must disagree with you one count, Miss Elizabeth,” Henry at last spoke. “No person, be it gentleman or lady, can live a solitary life. We all have need of each other.”

“Well said, Henry,” Mrs. Tilney said and then rose, causing the others to as well. “I rather think some music would do us all good before we must separate to dress for dinner.”

They heard the voices of Jane and Bingley in the hall. “Excuse me,” said Elizabeth. “I should see to Jane.”

She fled the room as fast as her limbs could carry her. They burned with fire…or was it from the cold?

 

*****

 

Catherine walked with Mrs. Allen into Meryton.

“What a shame to hear about that maid,” Mrs. Allen said.

Catherine mutely nodded her head. The beauty of spending time with Mrs. Allen was that so little thought was required. She would carry the conversation entirely.

“Come, dear. Some shopping will pick you right up. Rumor has it that the Tilneys are going to give a ball! We will have a nice, new gown made up.”

Catherine followed her sponsor into the small shop but could not look at the fabric with any ease. She did not wish to go to Netherfield ever again. What must Henry think of her?

Having failed to gain even a smile from her charge, Mrs. Allen declared they would next go to the milliner. As they left the shop, they nearly collided with a woman followed by several young ladies. After the requisite pardons, it was revealed Mrs. Allen had an old acquaintance with the other lady, named Mrs. Thorpe. They had been school friends but had only seen each other once since their marriages, and that was upwards of fifteen years before. The Thorpes were now visiting a relation in Hertfordshire. In due time, the women recalled the presence of the young ladies around them.

“This is Isabella, my eldest daughter,” Mrs. Thorpe explained.

Upon Catherine’s introduction, she was surprised at the reactions of the others.

“How very much like her brother Miss Morland looks!” Miss Thorpe exclaimed.

“Indeed!” said her mother.

As they began to explain their history with Catherine’s eldest brother, she recalled that James had spent a portion of last Christmas with a family by the name of Thorpe. Immediately the Thorpe ladies declared a wish to know Catherine better, and she could not dislike the idea. A new friendship would be just the thing to forget the pangs of what might have been a hopeful romance.

The two young women felt immediate bonds of friendship and walked the shops of Meryton together, with Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe following behind. When the time came for the groups to part, the young ladies arranged to walk together in two days’ time. Isabella would get to meet Catherine’s older sisters. As Catherine walked home, she acknowledged the only thing she could look forward to more than walking with Isabella again was the return of her sisters from Netherfield.

The next morning, Catherine bounced on her toes in excitement as Jane and Lizzy arrived.

“You will never guess what has happened!” Catherine said. Jane seemed to immediately perceive everything, but Lizzy made several silly conjectures.

“No, Mr. Allen has not joined the circus,” Catherine frowned. “In fact, Mrs. Allen was worried about his foot. Mr. Jones cannot help his gout.”

Catherine looked at her older sisters for a minute before the news gushed from her lips. “I have made a new acquaintance! The family already knows James and they are visiting nearby relatives. Mrs. Allen knew Mrs. Thorpe when they were at school.”

“And does Mrs. Thorpe have a handsome son? For what else would put such a smile on your face?”

Catherine frowned again. She had done her best to not think about the humiliating incident at Netherfield. Her heart was certainly not ready to move on from Henry Tilney.

“No, Elizabeth,” she said in a patronizing way which earned an eye roll. “I met a sophisticated lady and already feel as though she is a dear friend. She is to join me on a walk to Meryton tomorrow. Say you will come.”

“Anything and anyone is preferable to spending any more time at Netherfield with the intolerable Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth declared.

“Girls, come to the drawing room,” Mr. Bennet said, and the ladies followed. He informed the housekeeper they were not to be bothered and shut the doors. The girls looked at him with anxiety.

“Shortly before the attack on Kate and Lizzy,” he said, “I received a letter from my cousin, Mr. William Collins. He is my heir that is to inherit this estate. Although we are magical, England’s laws still exist. It is my greatest regret that I cannot secure the estate for my children. At least, your elder brothers are set through Mr. Morland’s legacy.”

Catherine had three elder brothers. Their father had left a small estate which held the incumbency of two livings. Her eldest brother, James, was now the master of a small estate worth four hundred pounds a year in Wiltshire. He would become a clergyman as well, to add to his income. He could, indeed, obtain both livings but had promised the lesser one to his next brother, Richard, who was still at Oxford. Catherine’s third brother was meant to become a barrister, and the little ones would join the navy, but they were not yet old enough. Her sisters, Sally, and Becky, were at a local seminary.

The Morland girls each would have three thousand pounds, and Mrs. Bennet had left five thousand pounds to her surviving daughters who could not be made over to his next wife. Had Mr. Bennet, fewer children, he might have managed to save more, for the second Mrs. Bennet was everything economical. However, his wife had ten children of her own upon their marriage. Jane and Lizzy would have two hundred pounds a year to divide among themselves until they married, but Mr. Bennet’s widow would have only four hundred pounds a year to divide among all the children at home and the older sons until they entered their professions.

“It is no secret that I detested my cousin Bart Collins. We quarrelled over our magical blood, and he insisted that his family would never know it. Now, he has died, and his son wishes to extend an olive branch to our family.”

“How does he wish to do so?” Mrs. Bennet asked. She was as sensible as anyone that the family would need his support should Mr. Bennet not live for many more years.

Mr. Bennet chose to read Mr. Collins’ letter.

Dear Sir,

I know that my father had a long disagreement with you for many years. However, I do not think I do him a dishonor by attempting this communication with you as I was ordained this past Easter, and surely reconciliation is very Christian-like, and I have waited two years out of deference to his memory. I have been so fortunate as to gain the patronage of the one of the most esteemed peeresses in the kingdom, the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh. I am quite sensible to the injury the entail would give to your daughters and Mrs. Bennet’s children, and so I come quite ready to offer every possible method of amends. If this is acceptable to you, I am at liberty to arrive on Monday the 18th and can stay until following Saturday. I send respectful compliments to your wife and family.

William Collins

“I have replied, and he is arriving tomorrow as proposed. Remember, he does not know of the magical world, and we cannot risk him learning of it and exposing us at such a vulnerable time.”

“You do not trust him?” Catherine asked.

“I do not know him,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“He sounds a bit ridiculous,” Elizabeth observed.

“Yes, and adults seldom take the news of learning about the magical world well,” Mr. Bennet replied.

“What can he mean by his willing to make amends to us?’ Catherine asked.

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “The Collins family had no independent income. Bart was a yeoman farmer but upon his death, his widow gave up the farm to take rooms at Bath. William gaining the patronage of a noble is quite amazing. I fear the only thing he can offer as amends is a permanent place to you all at Longbourn.”

“That would be rather a hard promise to keep should he marry,” Elizabeth said.

“Precisely,” Mr. Bennet said. “He means to offer marriage to one of you.”

“But we don’t even know him!” Elizabeth cried aghast. “He can’t just assume he would fall in love with one of us, and it would be reciprocated.”

“My dear,” Mrs. Bennet said calmly, “marriages are often forged on nothing more than familial alliances. It does not mean they must always be cold and unloving.” She smiled at her husband, who returned it with one of his own.

“Fear not, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said as he redirected his gaze to his daughters. “I would not approve a marriage to him. It is wisest, as I mentioned before, to keep the presence of magic in Meryton a secret from him, and obviously, that would be impossible if he married a magical lady, let alone a Bewitching Sister.”

“That is certainly a relief,” Catherine said.

Elizabeth was staunch in her opinions that marriages required love, but Jane and Catherine believed every person had a perfect mate, and love was relatively easily formed. Elizabeth vehemently disagreed. At times, she insisted she would be a spinster and never marry.

“Let us not worry ahead of time,” Mrs. Bennet chided. “For now, we must await for the gentleman to arrive.”

With nothing of more significance to report of the day, the hours passed until at last the family went abed, each anxious in their own way for tomorrow’s meeting with Mr. Collins.

 

*****

 

Jane kicked Elizabeth under the table at dinner the following night. Mr. Collins had arrived at his appointed hour and was as ridiculous as Elizabeth and their father had expected.  They alternated sharpening their wit on the unsuspecting man and could hardly quell their urges to laugh. Jane had to admit she would feel worse if she detected any hint that Mr. Collins perceived the slight his hosts were giving him. Instead, he was entirely oblivious to the crafty insults slung at him as he rambled on about the magnificence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s person, wealth, estate, character, and judgement, with the situation of his parsonage as the added relish of his recipe of perfect delight. Whoever married him would have to be a very long suffering lady, indeed!

Alas, it seemed her close attention to perceive his feelings was noticed by the man in question. He began to speak almost exclusively to her. Sending her parents a desperate look, Mrs. Bennet pulled Mr. Collins aside after dinner. Jane was not told the contents of their conversation until much later that night.

“I noticed Mr. Collins paying you a great deal of attention, Jane,” Mrs. Bennet said to her as Jane readied for bed that evening.

“Yes, I tried to discourage him,” she replied.

“I know, dearest. He simply is blind to anything he does not wish to believe. I do think, however, that I have managed to bring you ease for the remainder of his stay.”

“Really?” Jane’s voice raised in pitch, mixing disbelief with excitement. “You have my most extreme gratefulness if that is the case.”

“I hinted that I expected you would soon be engaged.”

Her words immediately caused Jane to blush and look away.

Mrs. Bennet took Jane’s hand and led her to the bed. “You know I do not have premonitions of the future, dear. I am speaking only as a mother and a woman in love who can recognize the signs. Did you get to spend much time with Mr. Bingley at Netherfield before your return?”

“No, I did not get to spend much time with him, but the time I did have was time well spent,” she replied with a soft smile on her face.

“I am very happy for you,” her step-mother replied.

Mrs. Bennet squeezed Jane’s hand and then stood to depart. She was at the door when Jane broke the silence.

“Mama? Oh never mind,” Jane said quickly.

Mrs. Bennet turned to face Jane. “What is it?”

“How did you know you truly loved your husband? How did you know he was the soul matched to yours?”

Mrs. Bennet smiled. “I didn’t. I loved him, and he loved me, and we simply had faith that love could take care of the rest of it.”

Jane’s smile vanished. She had hoped for more definite knowledge.

“But you know,” Mrs. Bennet said with a far away look in her eyes, “Lizzy is not wrong to think that most people have only one true love in their life. Many people remarry and I expected nothing more than safety for Kate and security for my children when I remarried to your father. I found so much more. I assumed Morland was my lasting love of a lifetime, but I was wrong.”

“How did you know when Papa was?”

“If you have to ask, then that is your answer. One day, I realized I didn’t have to ask any longer. I loved him from eternity and back. It took time. I suspect that is all you need as well, my dear.”

She kissed Jane on the forehead and then left.

As Jane laid in her bed, that night she meditated on her step-mother’s words. She loved Bingley, but was she truly certain she loved him enough? That he was her one true love for a lifetime? If the prophecy he disclosed to her was correct, her union with a false heart would prove disastrous. Yes, she would not be in a hurry.