Lizzy, It’s Cold Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eliza–Miss Bennet!” Darcy said.

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

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

“I thought you did not approve of surprises.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The butler and housekeeper are gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your eyes glitter in the firelight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will regret it forever–“

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

“–If you got pneumonia and died.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth nodded. “I love you.”

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are restless again,” he said.

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

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

“If you wish,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To Bingley!”

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is not my husband.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eight

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth shook in his arms as sobs racked her.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she attempt to take her life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth stroked the hand that rested on her waist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth had never hated the idea of awakening more.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

compassion_ig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is she now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

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

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

“You should be,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it so upsetting then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Darcy Saved Christmas– Chapter Two

how darcy saved christmas 1Previous Chapters: One

Chapter Two

Fitzwilliam Darcy stomped through his woods toward the great house on the hill. It sat empty now; more like a tomb than a home. He should not have allowed the beautiful termagant to get under his skin, but he was in a foul mood this day. He could not forget that on this day three years ago, his sister died bringing a Wickham child into the world. However, the man that defiled her and brought about her death likely even now did not mourn her. He was probably too busy slaking his lust with the tavern maids to remember his departed wife.

Darcy clenched and unclenched his fists. He had been invited to Mr. Fisher’s for the evening, and he needed to calm himself. The year of Georgiana’s death, most of the area mourned with him. The following year, most people continued to remember her and did not invite him to festivities out of deference. Last year, invitations began again. This year, it was clear the rest of the world had moved on.

He knew the area depended upon him to lead in the Christmas spirit. His parents had hosted lavish balls for the gentry and gatherings for the townspeople, even the tenants. His sister had inherited their mother’s compassionate and lively character. For years she would plan each activity, insisted upon finding the yule log themselves, and showed the housemaids the best way to tie bows.

Perhaps if Darcy did not blame himself, he could more readily join the others. However, it was all his fault. He had failed her at some point, or she would not have eloped with the steward’s son. She returned to Pemberley a few weeks later, her new husband said he did not have the means to support her. Would she not allow them to live there?

Darcy had doubted the legality of the marriage. He journeyed to Gretna Green to find proof that they had actually reached the town and wed. It was a stupid custom, in his opinion, to allow anyone to marry over an anvil. However, his most significant concern was that they had never reached Scotland and George only used her for his pleasure.

He should have known better. Why would George miss an opportunity to attach himself to Darcy money, and thirty thousand pounds at that? The fact that George never asked for her money confused Darcy even more. Before anything was decided legally, she perished from pregnancy complications.

Pushing aside the memories, Darcy approached his dressing room. His valet awaited him with a bath and shaving supplies. These simple things had kept him going during the darkest days of his grief. Wearing the luxurious fabrics his wealth afforded him, the deferential murmurs and gazes of servants, having everything designed precisely to his liking all soothed him and reminded him that Pemberley, at least, he could control.

As it was, he both hated any mention of Georgiana and resented it when she was not brought up. What made him accept Mr. Fisher’s invitation, he was not sure. He had rejected offers from all the local gentry. Perhaps it was because Mr. Fisher knew his grief. His oldest daughter died at Georgiana’s age and the other married about ten years ago. As such, Mr. Fisher always knew exactly what to say—never too much and never too little.

At the appropriate time, Darcy arrived at Mr. Fisher’s house. He was shown into the drawing room and was surprised to see several faces he did not know. Mr. Fisher soon performed introductions and Darcy met his younger daughter, who had married a gentleman named Gardiner. With them was Mr. Gardiner’s niece, Elizabeth Bennet. The young lady was facing away from Darcy when he entered, but something about the way she held herself seemed familiar to him. When she finished her conversation with another guest, and Mr. Fisher went to introduce Elizabeth to Darcy, she turned to look at him.

They each visibly started, and Darcy was aware of the curious gazes of others. Why Miss Bennet was confused to see was him, Darcy did not know. Did she not believe him when he had introduced himself in the woods? For that matter, why should he be surprised to see her? She did say she was a relation to Mr. Fisher. Elizabeth’s lips turned up into an enchanting smile, and Darcy felt his pulse quicken. He had thought her exceedingly pretty in the forest with her rosy cheeks and eyes brightened by exercise and their conversation. However, he was even more annoyed by her trespassing, especially to collect holly berries.

“It is a pleasure to meet to, you Mr. Darcy,” she said and curtsied. “I have heard much about you.”

“Indeed?” What had been said about him? By now, he should know that all visitors to the area had heard of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Pemberley. Due to the situation of his birth, Darcy would never have the privacy other gentlemen experienced. This was nothing new, and yet he felt jealous that anyone else had spoken of him to Miss Bennet. Then again, he probably did not leave her with a very good impression of himself given their encounter in the woods.

“My Aunt and Mrs. Fisher have told me many stories of Pemberley and its Christmas celebrations. I confess I am sorry to miss them.”

What a clever minx she was! She did not tell him she had heard anything bad of him. She only acknowledged that she heard of Pemberley’s festivities and now they were gone. That she disapproved of the change was left unsaid. Darcy hardly cared whether she condoned his choices or not. What could she know of his trials?

Before he could reply, dinner was called. Mrs. Fisher had ordered a delicious meal and Darcy noted there were not too many decorations. There was one, however, the that struck him. Mrs. Fisher saw him looking at it.

“Miss Darcy embroidered that screen,” she pointed to where he was staring. “She gave it to me mere days before we heard the sad news of her demise. She had said she knew I would appreciate always having dear Harriet with us.” Mrs. Fisher wiped a tear from her eye. “She was such a sweet, loving child. I greatly miss her.”

“I am sure you do, ma’am,” was all Darcy could say lest he be given to tears as well.

“I do not cry for Harriet,” she said. “I do still miss her and always will, but a distance of twenty years eases the pain. No, I meant Miss Darcy. It seems as though she had just come back to us after her years at school only for them to be cut short. I like to think that Harriet is watching over Georgiana and teaching her the ways of Heaven.”

When she had done every eye at the table was misty and looked at Darcy with pity. Every eye, except for Elizabeth Bennet’s. Oh, he saw sympathy in them. However, he also saw curiosity. Darcy internally groaned. He had thought when they first met she would be too uncivil to mind her own business. She said she had heard of him, which he took to mean she had asked after him. Yet she did not seem to know about Georgiana’s existence let alone of her death. What was it the others had said about him? To him, Georgiana’s death made his entire world. It was his duty to protect his baby sister, and he had failed. There could be no going back from that.

Mr. Fisher quickly turned the conversation to other things and Darcy mentally think him. After the meal, the ladies went to the drawing room, but Darcy excused himself from remaining with the men under the guise of needing to check on his horse. He needed a moment to collect himself. As he slowly approached the stable, he heard the voices of young children and laughter. He was in no mood for such mirth, and thought to leave, but stepped on a twig which made a loud snapping sound. There was sudden silence then a flurry of whispering from inside the stable.

“Who goes there?” A young boy called out.

“I am Mr. Darcy,” Darcy said.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth’s voice said.

“You may enter,” the voice of the first child said. “But keep your hands where I can see them. Or else we will make you walk the plank.”

Intrigued and enjoying the idea of the distraction the children would give, Darcy chuckled and entered the stable with his hands high in the air. “I come unarmed. I mean you no harm.”

“That is for us to decide,” another boy said. “Lizzy you pat him down and see if he has weapons.”

Immediately, Darcy and Elizabeth both blushed red. She would not dare obey, would she? If she did, it would only prove what he had expected of her. She was mercenary and hoping to entrap him. Darcy had met many greedy ladies in his life. However, for some reason his heart sank at the idea of the young lady who would argue with him and had sat across from him at dinner all night without simpering and seeking his good opinion would be as shallow as nearly every other woman he had ever met.

“That will be quite unnecessary, Joshua,” Elizabeth said as she blushed and averted her eyes.

“That’s Captain!” the boy cried.

“Yes, of course.”

“Ye can stay if ye swab the deck,” Captain Joshua said and pointed to a shovel and a stable needing cleaning.

Elizabeth watched Darcy as he obediently took the shovel in hand and expertly began scooping out the stable. He could nearly feel Elizabeth’s eyes grow wide in wonder. The boys voiced their amazement.

“Who knew a stuffed shirt could shovel so well!”

“Caleb!” Elizabeth scolded.

“What?” the boy asked in a confused voice.

“It is disrespectful to call Mr. Darcy—or anyone—a stuffed shirt.”

“But he is.”

Elizabeth sighed. “If you want a position in the house when you get older like your father, then you will have to mind your manners.”

Darcy set aside the shovel for a moment and turned to watch the scene. Elizabeth stood before the boys with hands on her hips and a severe expression. The younger boy had his arms folded on his chest, and his face displayed an impressive stubbornness.

“Now, you should apologise to Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said.

“I ain’t,” Caleb said and raised his chin in defiance.

“Then, I shall tell your father.”

“Come on,” Joshua said and placed a hand on his brother. “Let’s just finish our work. Get on with it, so Papa isn’t told.”

“Fine,” Caleb stomped his foot and turned to Darcy. “I’m sorry for calling you a stuffed shirt since it looks like you’re not.”

Darcy would have chuckled, but Elizabeth continued to look displeased.

“Caleb.”

“I’m sorry for calling you a stuffed shirt.” Caleb bowed.

“You are forgiven,” Darcy said. “A lot of gentlemen do stuff their shirts after all.”

Elizabeth gasped and covered her mouth to muffle a giggle while the boys outright laughed.

“No wonder Papa likes you,” Joshua said.

Strangely, Darcy wondered if he had ever heard higher praise. He knew his own servants respected him, but to be liked by another’s staff was more remarkable. After all, he did not pay them. “Tell your father that I appreciate his good opinion. Jessop is one of the best butlers I have encountered.”

Again, Elizabeth gasped, and Darcy wondered why she seemed so astonished to hear him praise a servant.

“How did you get so good at shoveling manure?” Caleb asked and came closer. All his earlier defiance and anger was long gone.

“My father gave me such tasks when I was about your age,” he answered. “He thought I needed to know every facet of running an estate.”

Caleb scooted even closer. “Didn’t you hate it? It smells something awful.”

Darcy chuckled. “One becomes accustomed to it, as they do with everything.” Well, nearly everything. He had not entirely become accustomed to losing Georgiana. “Come, show me. I would wager a pence you cannot clean all this area in five minutes.”

“I sure can!” Caleb said.

In his haste to take the shovel from Darcy, the boy knocked over a pail. The noise startled a litter of puppies.

“Oh, the pups! They are why I came to the stables in the first place,” Elizabeth said. “Will you show me them now, boys?”

Joshua looked between Darcy and Elizabeth. “If I scoop out the other stall will I also get a pence?”

“Let me see,” Darcy said. “It is only fair if yours is fuller.” Darcy looked at the stall in question and nodded to the boy. “Very well.”

Joshua turned to Elizabeth. “Maybe Mr. Darcy can show you the pups. We’ve got work to do!”

Darcy had not considered staying any longer but was not averse to the suggestion. He glanced at Elizabeth whose eyes danced in joy as she watched the boys. She turned her gaze to him, and wariness flickered across her face.

“I should return to the house. It will be dark soon, and I would not wish to trouble you.” She turned to leave.

Panic welled in Darcy. She should not leave so soon. He had been wrong in his first impression and now desired to know more of the contradictory lady before him with her smart retorts but cautious looks. “It is no trouble,” he said. “I know the way quite well, and I think I might need to clean off my boots.”

Elizabeth angled her head to glance at his boots. “Very well, sir.”

Darcy gave her a small smile, and the lines between her brows returned. He grabbed a bucket and brush before they walked out and to the other edge of the stable. The dog pen opened to the outside and the furry lumps fell over each other to reach Elizabeth. Darcy sat on a stool and got to work on his boots, watching Elizabeth snuggle each pup as though they were meant for lap dogs and not hunting. Georgiana had been the same. She had such a tender heart for any living creature.

“Would you care to hold one?” Elizabeth asked.

He should not. He was scraping manure off his boots like some common man, and now he would get puppy fur on his fine blue coat. A refusal was on the tip of his tongue but one look into Elizabeth’s eyes and his resolve melted. He wordlessly held out his hands, mourning the fact that their fingers would have touched if not for the leather of their gloves.

The small bundle had no care for Darcy’s masculine dignity and proceeded to lick his face while yapping happily. Despite himself, Darcy felt his lips turn up in a smile. Soon, he was laughing at the tickling sensation.

“I knew it,” Elizabeth smiled.

“What?”

“It is impossible to be unhappy near a puppy.”

Her words made Darcy lower his handful, the puppy whined in protest. “You believed I was unhappy?”

Elizabeth gave him a shaky smile and tears shimmered in her eyes. “Anyone who has lost a sister would be.”

“Your aunt does not seem unhappy.”

“No, but as Mrs. Fisher said, it was many years ago. We lost Lydia just last year and…”

She trailed off and could not continue. Her shoulders shook. Darcy deposited his dog back in the pen and took Elizabeth’s from her hands. Leading her to the stool, she sat, and he crouched to wipe the tears from her face.

“Lydia was your sister?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth somberly nodded. “The last time I ever saw her I called her silly and stupid. How the words haunt me!”

Darcy’s heart squeezed for the young lady before him. His last words to Georgiana were not unkind, but they had spent months arguing about George. “What happened?”

He had expected to hear of some awful accident. Instead, Elizabeth told him her sister eloped with an officer from the Militia that was encamped near her estate.

“She was too young,” Elizabeth sighed. “She had just turned sixteen, and the baby was too big, we were told.”

Elizabeth’s tears turned to sobs, and at the similarities in their pain, he was helpless against drawing her to his chest and wrapping his arms around her. She soon settled and pulled back, the perplexed look upon her face again. Darcy watched as a lone tear glittered in an eye filled with remorse and pain. She blinked, and the tear escaped, streaking down her cheek. Darcy caught it with his thumb as it brushed her lips. Lips which now captivated him. He angled his head down, not thinking or caring for anything but this moment with a beautiful woman in his arms who could share his pain. Elizabeth did not protest or move a muscle. Just before their mouths met, Darcy heard the pounding sound of running feet.

He jerked back, desire making it hard to breathe or focus. Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide with terror.

“Mr. Darcy, it’s been longer than five minutes, but we finished, sir!” Joshua called.

“I finished first!” Caleb yelled.

“Just a moment.” Darcy looked over his shoulder at the boys. “Go on back, I will be right there.”

From the angle Darcy sat at, Elizabeth was shielded from their view unless they came any closer. They obeyed, and Elizabeth let out a sigh. Darcy released Elizabeth from his hold, and she practically jumped from him.

“I—I—” she stammered then shook her head. “You are not what I first thought,” she said with wrinkled brow but growing more comfortable. “Thank you.” She approached and moved to place a hand on his arm.

“Return to the house, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said coldly.

What had just happened—nay, almost happened—could never be. He knew nothing about her but that her uncle was a merchant, her aunt the daughter of a shopkeeper and the magistrate, and she had a sister who eloped. Once, he would have scoffed at the sister’s morals and maybe questioned the entire Bennet family, but he could not cast the first stone. Whether of a good family or not, Darcy was not the sort of man who would steal a kiss from an innocent maiden. He would not be inconsiderate to her expectations and feelings. He would not be like his brother-in-law! Angry at himself and the bewitching spell she had cast over him, he infused all his frustration into his tone. Even still, Elizabeth hesitated.

“Now!” He said furiously as he turned to find the boys.

Treasured– Chapter Seven

treasured finalI’m FINALLY within a few chapters of ending the story (not here…but where I am in writing) so I am hoping to post Treasured more frequently this week!

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


Chapter Seven

 

“Young man,” Mr. Bennet stood in the open doorway, bringing Will’s attention to it. “Follow me, if you please.”

Will followed the patriarch to his library, knowing the rebuke his betrothed’s father would be giving him. Will sat opposite Mr. Bennet and patiently waited for the older man to begin.

“Will, I tire of seeing my daughter with tears in her eyes because of you.” Mr. Bennet sighed.

“It tears at my heart as well,” Will agreed. “Are you rescinding your blessing?” The papers had been signed but had not been mailed to his solicitor yet.

“And have her angry with me as well?” Bennet laughed. “No, but we must resolve this latest complication as fast as possible. What is your plan? I can assume it must be foolish and reckless to upset Lizzy so.”

Will blew out the breath he had been holding. “If Wickham wants to kill me then we have the surest chance of capturing him if he feels assured of his success. He does not know that his plan with the carriage almost worked. It is likely he will attempt such a scheme again.”

“So, you will endanger your life?”

“I see no other way.”

Suddenly, the door to the library banged open. Turning to see the intruder, Will’s heart seized to see Elizabeth standing in the doorframe with puffy eyes and tear streaks on her cheeks. She held a crumpled paper in her hand. A determined glint was in her eyes, but she gently shut the door before saying her piece. Once the door was closed, she sailed forward and demurely sat in a chair near her father’s desk before addressing them both.

“It is not the only way. This may be indelicate for me to suggest, but how does Wickham hold his liquor?”

“It was many years ago when we were last in company,” Will began to answer. “However, even when in his cups he seemed more in control of his faculties than others such as—”

“Such as Sam,” Elizabeth answered and nodded. “One night while we stayed at Darcy House, I found him in a drunken state and unable to open his chamber door. The drink had loosened his lips*. I did not understand all that he was saying then, but now I know he was explaining his regret over the engagement with Charlotte Lucas.”

“What are you suggesting?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“Ply him with drink and see if he will spill his secrets,” Elizabeth said with furrowed brows and pleading eyes.

“Do you think that will work?” Bennet asked Will.

“I doubt it,” Will shook his head. “Forgive me, love. It is very innovative, and I dare say on many another man it would work. However, I have never seen Wickham talk when he preferred to be silent.”

“Is it not worth trying?” Elizabeth approached and laid a hand on Will’s arm. Anguish filled her eyes and tears threatened to overspill once more. “At least attempt this before you risk your life.”

Will gulped and slowly nodded. “We will try it,” he murmured.

Truthfully, he had little hope of success but how could he not offer her this balm? Will had spent years wishing he had done something differently the night of the fire in Scotland. He might have saved his father and friends’ lives. If Elizabeth had an alternative, no matter how confident he was of its failure, he would allow her the opportunity to see it in motion. If anything happened to him, he did not wish for her to feel as though they had not done everything else possible.

“You will?” Elizabeth’s voice contained a mixture of disbelief and relief. Her shoulders sagged and let out a long exhale.

“How shall you manage that?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“We will have to have someone else approached him. He would be far too guarded if it were me or anyone associated with us. We can probably find somebody willing to get drunk for a few pounds.”

“Keep me apprised of your plans, please,” Mr. Bennet said, nodding at Will.

“Papa, may speak with Will privately?”

“Very well,” Bennet stood. “However, the door stays open.”

Will did not even pay attention to Elizabeth’s father as he left the room. His eyes were focused entirely on his betrothed. The minute he said they would try her plan, he became entranced. Would she always have this hold over him? He was utterly fascinating captivated by the many sides of her. At the moment, she held his gaze with softened eyes. What had he ever done to deserve the look of love he saw there? He had thrown away her love when she first offered it. Since his return into her life, they had quarreled and feared for their lives. They desperately needed a routine courtship. A part of Will knew, however, they would not get it. He would simply court her after they married.

“What changed your mind?”

Will shrugged. “I love you. This concerns you just as much as it does me. You have a stake in the matter, and your idea should be listened to.”

“Is that all?”

“I could sense how desperately you wanted to try this method. I do not wish to lie, Elizabeth. I think it unlikely that it will succeed. However, not only does it make sense to try it, I knew it would assuage some of your anxiety.” Will dropped his head for a moment and took a deep breath before bringing his eyes and back up to meet her gaze. “I know what it is to be haunted by remorse and regret, constantly feeling as though you might have done something different to prevent catastrophe.  I would not put you through that. If you have any other suggestions, I will hear them out, and we will attempt them. If this were should happen–”

“Hush, my love.” Elizabeth placed a finger on Will’s lips to silence them. “Do not speak about that. Do not even think it. We shall be victorious. I believe that with every beat of my heart. Thank you for agreeing to my suggestion.”

Elizabeth lowered her hand and turned the crumpled paper over in them for a moment. Her eyes lingered over the note before returning to Will’s. “I am very sorry to hear that you have regret and feel as though you could have prevented something happening. Do I understand that you reference the fire?”

Will could not speak, the emotions threatened to well up once more. He nodded and knew that would be enough for Elizabeth.

“Has it helped at all to know that it was arson? If you had been with your father or Sam, you could not have prevented the fire. A madman was determined to set fire to the inn that night. If you had been with them, you probably would have perished as well.”

Will blinked at what Elizabeth said. Suddenly awe and understanding flitted through him, and a weight the size of a house lifted from his shoulders. “I had not thought of that. I have been so consumed with blaming myself that I did not even consider it in that light.” Will enveloped Elizabeth’s hands in his. “Thank you, my dearest. You always know what to say.”

Elizabeth lately chuckled. “I would not go that far.” Her soft smile began to fade, and she grew serious once more. “No matter the cause of the fire, it would not have been your fault they died. Accidents happen, and there is no one to blame. However, I am pleased if what I said brought some comfort to you. I hate that you have blamed yourself and felt wretched for so long. Why do you do it? Why do you think everything is your responsibility and that if the smallest thing goes wrong, you have failed? You are only human.”

Will’s eyes shuttered close at Elizabeth’s words. “You did not see much of my father. He was a very good man, but he had high expectations for the Darcy family. The ways of charm and grace did not come naturally to me, so I often felt inexplicably flawed and doomed to failure, unable to live up to the Darcy legacy.”

“I see,” Elizabeth nodded. “So continuing to accept only perfection from yourself has eased those feelings?”

“No. I suppose not.” Will furrowed his brow. “The Darcy legacy demands the best. With me at the helm, it feels as though one blunder after another.”

“One blunder after another? I suppose your tenants are starving and their roofs caving in? Your servants are owed money or leave en masse? You have no friends and no admittance to any events wherever you go. You have debts at every shop in every town you ever visited, and no creditor would weight your entrance to his establishment.”

A small slowly crept over Will’s face. “Fair enough, clever minx. None of those things are true. I know I do very fine by the Darcy accounts. The Darcy name is as strong as ever it was my father’s lifetime and continues to command respect. However, I failed to save my father’s life, I failed you, I failed Georgiana.”

Once more, Elizabeth silenced him with a finger to his lips. “Do you not see? All those things revolve around other people’s choices. You cannot control everything, Will Darcy. I am pleased to hear that the accounts do well, you are wise with investments, and others continue to respect you. However, even those things do not rely entirely on your actions. Do not judge yourself by the success of this or that. Those things do not determine your worth.”

“Are not most people given to arrogance and conceit? Would not most people fail to inspect themselves and admit when they have done wrong?”

Elizabeth nodded. “I suppose you could say that. However, thinking you have done wrong where there is no responsibility is just as terrible.”

“How so?”

“For some, that would only be false modesty and really would be an indirect boast. I have done so terribly, and then their final say own know you have not, and inwardly the person will congratulate themselves. I know that is not your feelings. No, yours speaks to hurt and insecurity. When you continue to feed that feeling, it will infect more and more facets of your life. Right now, it is mostly centered on Wickham, but it has affected your relationship with me in the past. You admit that you never told Georgiana about the scoundrel. I know your relationship with her at the moment is not what you would like it to be and perhaps you cannot fully expose what Wickham is to her for she will not listen. Again, that relies on her as well as you. However, if you interpret everything as a failure in those situations, you will tell yourself that is all you are. You will lack the confidence you need to make wise decisions on other matters.”

“I do not think I have ever heard such things before. I certainly have never considered them. How wise and right you are, my love. Thank you. I shall try to do better.” Will looked down Elizabeth’s hands, she continued to finger the note she held. “Is that my message to you from yesterday?”

Elizabeth looked down as well.” Yes. With all the excitement of yesterday. I did not have a chance to read it. When I left you in the drawing room and ran up to my chamber, I noticed it on the table. However I garnered your attention, I do not know. I am forever grateful for it, though. Reading your words of love, your devotion to me and to the future we will build, allowed me to see the reason behind your choice. You did not suggest to bait Wickham because you have no desire to be with me or just shorten your life. You have only wanted to end this so we might have our future at last. Once my mind was clear, I recalled the situation with Sam and knew that I could suggest the idea to you. I did not know if you would agree to it. Nor do I want you to do so merely out of deference. However, I was unable to think of it in the drawing room. All was doom and gloom in my head until I read your loving words.”

Will squeezed Elizabeth’s hands again before raising them to his lips. He would have liked for much more but was conscious of the fact that they had been alone for quite a while, even if the door was open. “I meant every word. I will love you until my dying breath. Now, I believe we should join your family. There ought to be congratulations in order.”

“Do you mean he has–?” Elizabeth’s hands flew to her mouth to contain a squeal of delight. “Oh, Jane will be delighted!”

“Yes, Charles has asked your father for courtship with Jane.”

“Well, it is about time. Although,” Elizabeth slid Will a sly glance. “I suppose not everyone is as rapid to the altar as we.”

“Considering that when I proposed five years ago, I expected a marriage within months, I would say we have taken quite the adventurous route to get to it.”

“It will make us enjoy the moment all the more.”

“I know I shall.” Will raise Elizabeth hands to her his lips once more. Before allowing himself to be escorted to the drawing room.

Treasured– Chapter Six

treasured finalWhat does Will plan to do about Wickham? It should be as simple as gathering his debts, right?

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

Chapter Six

The following morning, Elizabeth waited impatiently for Will to arrive she did not know if he would bring Georgiana or not, but she rather doubted he would. Elizabeth did not know why Georgiana disliked her, but she also did not think was worth much of her concern. While she waited, she spoke with Jane.

“Mr. Bingley was to ask Papa the for permission to court me yesterday,” Jane said.

“And I ruined it!” Elizabeth shook her head. “Pray, forgive me. I did not intend to steal your happiness.”

“I know you did not mean to create a disturbance in our plans. Please, do not worry my behalf. I am only happy, no, happier that he will ask today. Now, the memory does not need to be marred with Wickham and your troubles.”

“Troubles, indeed.”

“Do you really think he is so evil? We did not know him for long. I do not think even spoke to him. He seemed very gentlemanly, and Will’s father enjoyed his company.”

“You know what he tried to do to Miss Graves. Will tells me there were other ladies too. If Wickham were willing to resort to such tactics with women, why would he stop there?”

“I suppose you are correct but I hate thinking.”

“I know, dearest,” Elizabeth embraced her sister. “You would rather go through all of life without realizing such evil existed. But it does. And unfortunately, it has seen fit to attach itself to Will.”

“Lizzy,” Jane began hesitantly. “Do you think… That is…” Jane sighed. “Well, is there not some sense in delaying the wedding? Why make yourself a potential target?”

“I have waited long enough to marry Will Darcy! I will not delay anything simply because of the tactics of George Wickham. I  shall tell you what I told Will the other day on our walk. I would rather live one moment in this life as his wife than love hundred years without him.”

“No one is saying you ought to give him up for good. I only wonder if it should be postponed.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No. Two much as happened in our past. Too much has already been in the way. Could you imagine giving up Mr. Bingley?”

Jane sucked in a deep breath. “That would be very difficult.”

“Now imagine being asked to do it not once but twice, and all due to your own fear. I will stand by him.”  Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “He needs someone beside him.”

Jane sighed and looked out the window. “Then there is nothing left for me to say about the matter.”

“You are not any less stubborn than I am when you are convinced you are correct. You merely do it with more grace.

Jane smiled a little. “I do have more tact than you. However, I would not change you one bit.”

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mary. She hummed a tune they had not heard before.

“What is that you are humming?” Elizabeth asked.

“Oh, you would not know it.” Mary shook her head and gave an exasperated sigh. “It is from Faniska and came out in Vienna a few years ago. Miss Darcy tells me both Herr Beethoven and Herr Haydn applauded it.” Mary sat down and pulled out some embroidery with a fond smile. “She bought the piece for me. It is the newest work I have ever had. You know how difficult it is to get the new pieces from the Continent and they are so expensive.”

“You seem to get along very well with her.” Elizabeth watched her sister closely for signs that anything was you irregular about her meeting with Miss Darcy. Additionally, it was peculiar that Mary was sitting with them at all, and desired to do something as mundane as needlework.

“I felt more akin to her than I do with nearly anyone else I have ever met in my life. I do hope we can become very great friends.”

Elizabeth heart sunk a little for her sister. Jane and Elizabeth had never meant to exclude Mary and yet they nearly always did. She was a few years younger than Elizabeth and the eldest of Fanny Bennet’s daughters. Jane and Elizabeth had gone through things before Mary’s birth which may then close. During those dark years, the sisters became inexplicably close. The youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were very close in age. They had the similar temperaments, while Mary was more severe and yet was not included with the older girls. However, she was now out in society, and that should change the dynamics. Elizabeth and most likely Jane would soon marry, but that did not mean they could not speak with their sister in a more adult way. Marriage would not be too many years off for her either. Before long they would all be married ladies. Elizabeth mentally applauded herself for her rational thoughts. Yes, it did not matter if so far for the last 17 years, they had not given Mary enough attention. They had far more than 17 years ahead of their lives to make the difference.

“I hope Miss Darcy can visit today,” Mary said as she pulled the needle through the fabric. “I do not like to say it, but I thought Mr. Darcy was a little harsh with his sister yesterday.”

Jane touched Mary’s arm. “He only appeared harsh to you because you have never had any critical words spoken to you. Miss Darcy needed correction, and her brother is her guardian. We have no business having any sort of opinion on the subject.”

“You cannot tell me that you think everything he was saying and how he treated her was right.”

There was an edge to Mary’s voice Elizabeth had not heard before. Jane glanced at Elizabeth, silently pleading for assistance. Elizabeth had not told Jane about Georgiana’s near elopement. That had been a Darcy secret she was not free to share. However, Jane simply saw the best in everyone. She would not be able to doubt Will solely by virtue of who she was. Mary, on the other hand, had no such prejudices.

“I am not at liberty to speak about it,” Elizabeth said. “However, Miss Darcy does deserve her brother’s censure. I knew when she suggested the idea to we separate that Will would not approve. However, I am not her mother or her guardian, and I cannot insist or make her obey. Indeed, she is at an age where nobody can. All Will can do is offer consequences for disobedience in hopes she learns to make the correct decisions.”

“But you only know what he has told you.”

“This is true, but I trust him. Believe me, he would have no reason to lie. If it appears he is harsh with his sister it is nothing compared to how he blames himself. I assure you, he only wants what is best for her. As none of us have ever had to raise a 16-year-old sister, I would say we do not have the right to have an opinion.”

“But Papa is never so strict, and we have all turned out fine.”

“Papa trusts us, and we have earned that trust. Miss Darcy has broken Will’s and that is all there is to say about it.”

Mary said nothing more but stabbed the fabric and angry manner as though she were biting her tongue and willing herself not to speak further. Her loyalty to Miss Darcy shocked Elizabeth. Jane and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. They would discuss it later. For now, they looked forward to the arrival of their suitors.

A few minutes later, Will and Charles arrived. It thrilled Elizabeth’s heart to see the unabashed joy enter Jane’s eyes at Charles’ arrival. His grin matched her intense feelings exactly and after a quick greeting, excused himself to Mr. Bennet’s study. Mary glared at Will for a few minutes before giving some reason to leave.

“Your cousin did not come?” Elizabeth asked once Mary was gone.

“No, he was needed with his Regiment. You may guess why Georgiana was not invited.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth nodded. “I am sorry she is behaving so poorly. If we did not have enough worries with Wickham, I would find more compassion for her. I know it will soon be my place.”

Will sighed. “If she continues to treat you with such disrespect, I will not have her in our homes. She is welcome to stay with Richard’s mother. The countess asks after her often. Perhaps I ought to have allowed her to be raised by one of my aunts. However, Father left her in my care, and I did not wish to send her away. She had disliked going to school so much that I did not think making her live with relations would be any better.”

“The poor dear has gone through very much,” Jane said.

Elizabeth agreed. “I do not like her behaviour, but it could have very easily have been Jane or me acting that way. I know Sam thought I was full headstrong when I declared my love for you.”

“You think I have been wrong about Wickham?” Will eyed her with bewilderment.

“No! Of course not,” Elizabeth shook her head. “However, I understand the sentiments of a lady her age believing herself to be in love. If Father had not remarried and if Sam were much older than me and I did not have dear Jane, then I might have very well turned into something resembling her.”

“You do not blame me?” Will asked looking at his eyes and Elizabeth perceived he was too afraid to meet her eyes. “I have thought over it and cannot think of a time when she was spoiled or not held to consequences. Perhaps I was too harsh on her—”

Elizabeth placed a hand on Will’s knee which bounced during his speech. “Dearest, you are not to blame. You have done the best you can. Was she always so difficult? I do not remember her being this way a few years ago?”

“No,” Will shook his head. “She returned from Ramsgate spewing venom, but I never would have allowed her to go if she had behaved like this. I am surprised that a few weeks around Wickham could have her reacting this way so much later, but then I learned he had frequently visited her without my knowledge.”

“I do not understand it any better than you,” Elizabeth said with an encouraging smile. “However, none of us are frozen in time and cease to develop and change. Somehow, she will move on from this, and in a year or two’s time we can look back and sigh in relief.”

“I suppose you are correct. I have learned the value of patience.” Will sighed. “Now, I should tell you about my meeting with Colonel Forster.”

“I assume it was not successful or you would have led with that.”

“It was not as successful as I had wished,” Will acknowledged. “Wickham is in the Militia but has behaved above reproach. There is nothing I could say that would persuade the colonel to treat Wickham differently than the other officers. I could not explain about Georgiana and stories about how he spent his inheritance too freely made little impression.”

“I recall him being friends with Lord Harcourt,” Elizabeth said slowly. Still, the thought of the detestable lord made her skin crawl. “I thought Wickham gambled heavily. Does he not have debts?”

Will shook his head. “None that I am aware of. I could have Richard investigate about London, but I know he was not in debt in Lambton.”

“How did he live after spending the three thousand pounds from you?”

“I know not. When he made his application for the living in Kympton, he did not mention bad living situations, and I had supposed he lived off the interest of his income. Wickham always had expensive tastes, but I assumed he had learned to moderate them lest he exceed his income. Just because he realised he did not prefer to study the law does not mean he had spent all of the money.”

“I see,” Elizabeth said and bit her bottom lip. “What is your next plan?”

Will tensed and did not immediately reply.

“Will?”

“Before leaving, Richard came up with a possible method of ascertaining Wickham’s plans. He is a very accomplished military strategist, and his suggestion was a very common practice.”

Elizabeth turned to her sister. “Jane, would you excuse us a moment?”

“I am not supposed to leave.” Jane looked conflicted.

“Fear not, I will not be sacrificing my honour.”

“Your honour?” Jane and Will asked in unison.

“Will’s reputation shall be perfectly safe with me,” Elizabeth grinned.

“Very well,” Jane sighed and stood up. She hesitated at the door but left Will and Elizabeth alone.

The second the door closed, Elizabeth turned to her betrothed. “Tell me.”

“Did you really send your sister away so you might question me? Did you think I had qualms stating my plans before her?”

“Oh, no,” Elizabeth gave Will a sly look. “I merely assured our privacy for later.”

“Later?”

“After you tell me your plan, of course.” Elizabeth raised her brows.

Will let out an exhale, and his eyes drifted to her mouth. “That was quite a wager. I did not think you were the gambling sort.”

“Indeed, I am not,” Elizabeth leaned closer and Will’s breath quickened. “I have long admired your logical mind and how you make use of our time,” she murmured near his ear. She glanced at the clock then pulled back. Sitting demurely in her seat, she allowed a finger to trace a circle on Will’s knee. “However, if you prefer, we could spend the few minutes of privacy we have speaking about the weather, your sister, or—”

“Enough, woman!” Will clutched her to him, and Elizabeth let out a surprised yelp. With his mouth hovering over hers, he confessed, “Wickham has waited years to make his move. He will only do so under certain conditions. However, he showed his desires, and now we can pretend to give him what he wants.”

Will met Elizabeth’s lips, and for a moment, she gave into the kiss. However, her brain had not stopped operating despite his best efforts. She pushed him back. “Will, are you saying that you plan on baiting Wickham?”

“Yes.” He trailed kisses down her throat as his hands wandered across her back.

Focusing all of her attention on his words, and not his heavenly ministrations, Elizabeth attempted again. “You would never endanger someone else. Who will you use?”

Will nuzzled into the where her neck met her shoulder. The effect was dizzying. Elizabeth began to consider he would beat her at her own game. “Will?”

He kissed across her collarbone and up the other side of her throat before finding the sensitive spot near her ear. Thinking he had not heard her, she shook his shoulder a little. “Are you putting yourself in danger with this plan?”

Will then met Elizabeth’s lips in a crushing kiss, stealing all thought for a moment. It was not more than they had shared before but certainly more openly—in her family’s drawing room! The thought brought her mind back to the present. He was avoiding this conversation. She could not blame him, she had provided the tools for it. This time she pushed him away and dodged his lips when he attempted to kiss her again.

“Will, do not tell me that you are to be the lure.” When he did not answer, she cried, “Answer me!”

“Which do you prefer? That I answer you or that I do not tell you that I will be the bait?”

Elizabeth gasped and felt as though she had been slapped. The headiness of their previous kisses was now gone. “You would put yourself in harm’s way? Why? Do I mean nothing to you?”

“You mean everything to me!” Will said and raised her hands to his lips. “We could think of no other way to make him take his mark.”

Elizabeth could hear no more and ran from the room sobbing.