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

Road in dark forest

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

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

Chapter Five

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

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

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

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Three

Road in dark forest

The following morning, after the food had been cleared from the breakfast table and Mrs. Bennet ordered the school things brought out for the little ones, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kate made their way to Mr. Bennet’s library. He had been asked by the steward to pay a call on a tenant, and so the girls occupied themselves in his absence.

“Did any of you suspect we were witches or that they even existed?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth vehemently shook her head. “No, never! I am not known for a sweet temper, but I had never guessed that I was secretly a pyrotechnic!”

Kate chewed her lip. “I had forgotten entirely about the dreams I used to have until yesterday. In fact, I haven’t dreamt at all in years until last night. I suppose that is why it seemed so unusual to me.”

Elizabeth surveyed her sisters. Like her, Jane seemed to feel no apprehension about their new powers, but Kate appeared less content. Elizabeth wondered if Jane could use her empath powers on Kate. Jane had always been very conscientious of the feelings of others. Perhaps she had retained a bit of her powers all these years. Elizabeth gasped at a sudden memory. “Jane, do you remember that time when Lydia took my ribbon and would not give it back? I singed her hair when I ripped it out of her braid and Mother scolded me like never before.”

Jane laughed. “Now that you mention it, I do. What about when my favorite barn cat disappeared for days, and I was inconsolable? I cried so much I made myself sick!”

Elizabeth smiled. “Then the dratted thing turned up a few days later with six kittens?”

“I named them “happy” in different languages.”

Kate’s eyes grew wide. “How old were you?”

“Seven or eight?” Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded, for confirmation. “Tell us a story, Kate.”

Elizabeth smiled at Jane’s thoughtfulness and hoped it might make Kate feel more at ease. Elizabeth and Jane had immediately accepted Kate, and all the others, into their family but in the last few months, their relationship with Kate had changed. She always wished to tag after them, but being nearly four years younger than Elizabeth, was not in company until only a few weeks ago. Now, it was difficult for Elizabeth to see Kate as a young woman and not as a child. No matter the differences in their ages, it seemed like now there were constant reminders that Kate was a step-sister and not blood. She was now formally “Miss Morland” rather than “Miss Catherine” when in public.

Kate screwed up her face as though she was trying very hard to remember something…anything. “Besides the dreams I told you about last night, I always knew when my brother James would prank us on April Fool Day.”

Elizabeth exchanged glances with Jane. For as long as she had known James he could never keep a secret. He would drop hints about his plans, and in the end, only a true fool would be left unaware.

“Lizzy!” Jane scolded although Elizabeth had said nothing.

Elizabeth tried to look apologetic as she realized Jane must have sensed her thoughts. However, she would not apologize for the truth. Besides, she felt proud of her sister’s abilities and could not hide an expression of pride.

“What?” Kate looked between the two.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said too quickly, and Kate raised her eyebrows expectantly. “I had a sarcastic thought — but did not say it — and Jane must have sensed it. Well done, Jane!” Lizzy beamed.

“I hardly see why you need to be so excited over being sarcastic at my expense,” Kate frowned.

“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy to see how quickly Jane is learning to use her powers. At least you two can practice and learn without potentially harming someone. I hope Father returns soon so he might begin teaching me.”

Jane nodded. “Let us forget about magic for a few minutes. What did you think of the ball?”

Inwardly, Elizabeth smiled as Jane was once again the peacemaker. Kate immediately filled with nervous fluttering like a butterfly. The blush on her cheeks confirmed what Elizabeth guessed. Catherine was infatuated with her dance partner from the night before. Elizabeth wished the blush she felt rise in her was from such pleasant thoughts.  As thunderous thoughts filled her mind, her skin grew hot.

“Lizzy!” Jane quickly grabbed wine from her father’s cabinet and thrust a glass into her sister’s hand. “Lizzy, calm yourself.”

Steam rose from the glass as Elizabeth brought the drink to her lips.

“That’s it,” Jane encouraged another sip. “Now take a deep breath.”

Elizabeth complied.

“There. Better?”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking. “I did not expect… I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said quietly.

“Kate,” Jane said in a voice that was higher than normal. “Tell us about Mr. Henry Tilney. I did not speak with him last night, but I saw you two dancing.”

“I do not quite know what to think of him.”

“He’s very handsome,” Elizabeth said still more subdued than usual.

“He is,” Kate beamed.

“And I thought I saw you laughing?” Jane asked.

Kate giggled and then pressed her hand to her lips in an attempt to muffle the unladylike reaction. “We were having a genuine conversation, and he interrupted it for silly nonsense about if I like music and the theater. Things like that.”

Skepticism flared in Elizabeth, and hot tingles returned. “Does he think that such things are nonsense—”

“It was the way he said things,” Kate spoke over her sister. “The tone and expression… He was making a joke of things.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth calmed and smiled.

“I believe I am indebted to him for bringing up more usual topics of conversation for new acquaintances,” Kate said with a frown. “I quite forgot them and am afraid I was nearly impertinent.”

On the subject of impertinence, Elizabeth had to tell her younger sister what Mr. Darcy had said. Surprisingly, Jane’s expression turned dazed, and soon she closed her eyes as though concentrating. It reminded Elizabeth of attempting to make out a noise in the distance.

“Jane?” Lizzy called sharply.

Jane opened her eyes as Kate waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you ill? Did you hear us?”

“I’m perfectly well,” she smiled at them. “I was only lost in thought. What did you say?”

Elizabeth’s dark feelings returned, but not as unchecked as before. “I told Kate what I heard Mr. Darcy say.”

“Do attempt to forget it,” Jane said. She took Elizabeth’s’s hand in hers. “Do not judge him by one evening.”

Elizabeth’s nostrils flared. “Is not one evening more than fair when he judged me with a mere glance?”

“It was very wrong of him to say such things, and if you were merely finding his looks at fault, I would not reproach you. But you attack his character when you do not truly know it.”

“He attacked mine too. It is not only beauty that attracts dance partners. He supposed I did not make good conversation or was not a good dancer — ”

“You are leaping to conclusions!” Jane interrupted.

“Besides,” said Kate, “how does poor dancing mean bad character?”

“Perhaps — perhaps it would mean I was unintelligent or too arrogant to pay attention during my lessons or lazy or —” Elizabeth broke out in laughter and defeat as she recognized the ridiculousness of her claims.

“What has my girls in such a good mood?” Mr. Bennet said as he came into the room.

The sisters said nothing but grinned at him, and he sat behind his desk.

“I suppose you have many questions,” the ladies nodded their heads in unison. “I have worked up a schedule for each of you. You will have time to learn magical theory as well as practical application. I must warn you,” he gave them each a stern look, “most of Meryton does not know about our magical heritage or of the wizarding world at all. It is imperative they do not learn of it. As of now, everyone in our community is cleared with the High Council and the Quorum as trustworthy, but jobbards are not screened. You must guard your secret.”

The smiles slipped from the girls’ faces, and Elizabeth did not need empathic or telepathic abilities to know the thoughts and feelings of her sisters. Someone had killed their parents. They understood the high cost.

Elizabeth was the first to break the silence. “Only say we will not need to go shopping for funny hats and brooms.”

Mr. Bennet shook his head and chuckled. “You have much to learn,” he said and handed out their schedules.

Later that day, Lady Lucas and Charlotte visited. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her best friend’s family were magical. They did not have demonstrative powers. Instead, they were proficient in medicines and cookery. Elizabeth smiled at the pride Lady Lucas had as she talked about Charlotte’s abilities with tonics.

Charlotte grinned and then turned to Elizabeth. “Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza. However, now that you know the truth would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!”

Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along last night when you suggested one for his eyesight! I confess many things in the past now make sense. Mrs. Long was once an oracle was she not?”

“Yes, but now you know her predictions are usually wrong.”

“Why would that be?”

“The Council told us by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters,” Mrs. Bennet explained, “it might affect the strength of magic for the entire area.”

“Like a cloaking,” Elizabeth suggested, and the elder ladies agreed. “Now there ought to be an increase of magical abilities for everyone,” she concluded.

“In that case, I shall turn Mr. Darcy into a hawk. His eyesight does need improving,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth laughed again. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”

The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. It was revealed that although she was not magical at all, her mother had been. She had the opportunity to learn spells and potions but chose not to. Elizabeth sighed in relief that they did not need to hide their abilities from so many of their close friends.

Mrs. Allen had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Kate quickly agreed. Elizabeth had no desire to stay in the house lest Mr. Bingley and his friend call on them.

“I should like to stay home, Mama,” Jane said.

“You do not wish to stay home as well, Kate?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.

“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.

“Have you had a premonition?” her mother asked.

“I do not think so. Not like before, that is. I did not see a scene unfold. Perhaps before I regain the ability to see I have the talent to sense?”

The other ladies looked at each other, hoping one may have the answer. Lady Lucas, at last, suggested, “It may be impossible to know since powers come to most as children, and they likely could not express it so well if it began in such a way.”

“I know before the ceremony last night I awoke to a burning feeling in my limbs, but I have yet to create fire,” Elizabeth said then sipped her tea. “Not that I have tried or would know how if I wished it.”

Mr. Bennet spoke from the doorway. “Go on with Mrs. Allen, Kate. When you return, if we do not have visitors, we will begin your lessons. You are all bright enough girls and had your powers for many years before the binding, so I have no doubts you shall catch on fast. Elizabeth, I request that you stay here.”

The ladies all agreed, and Kate set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. Elizabeth wondered why her father had asked her to remain at home, but her father did not stay in the room. Determined to enjoy herself while she could, she returned her attention to their guests.

Reunited- Chapter Nine

reunited 2Chapter Nine

 

Rage coursed through Will’s body as the name fell from Elizabeth’s lips. He had been so careful to not mention him to her.

“Will?”

Elizabeth’s words drew him back to the present. Concern clouded her features. “Might we walk now?”

“Is there something you do not wish for my father to know?”

Will shook his head. “No, I will speak with him later. I know myself only too well on this subject. I can relay the facts coldly which I believe would wound you, or I might become overly-emotional. I do not know if it makes any sense to you.”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment before nodding her head. “Sam and I once found a pup who had lost his mother. When we found him he was hurt but when we attempted to help him he gnashed his teeth. Sam bundled him up in his coat and carried him home. We thought to keep him in a pen so he would be safe but he only became more belligerent, attempting to bite anyone who came near him, even with food in hand. Finally, we believed he might do better on his own—his wound had healed. We opened the pen but he never left sight of us. That night, we left the door open and he willingly slept in there. The next morning, we visited again and instead of growls and angry barks, we were met with a wagging tail. He would follow Sam everywhere after that. We were both heartbroken when he went away to school.”

“I recall Sam talking of his pet. He does not still live does he?”

“No,” Elizabeth sighed sadly. “Jasper passed the autumn after Sam did.”

“I am sorry,” Will touched her hand. “It sounds as though he was a great comfort to you in the absence of your brother and then…”

“All is well,” Elizabeth answered. “I told the story to explain that I understand your feelings. Jasper was not a bad-natured animal. He only needed his freedom and space. Feeling caged heightened his anxieties.”

“That is it exactly,” he closed his eyes in relief at her perception and understanding. How had he ever been so fortunate as to meet her? “Shall we?”

Standing, Will asked for Mr. Bennet’s permission for the walk. Having received it, they set off.

“I have always regretted that you ever met Mr. Wickham,” Will began once they were some distance from the house. “He should never have been in a house full of ladies.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded and squeezed his arm.

“You know!” he repeated in amazement. “But how? Did he importune you? I ought to have killed him!”

“No, not me—” Elizabeth hastened to say and tugged on his arm to cease his movement. “Miss Graves told me she had explained it to you. I thought you knew.”

“She did indeed,” Will nodded, “but I did not know she had informed you as well.”

“It was…” Elizabeth sighed. “She found me distraught on the stairs and had assumed the worse.”

“Why were you upset?” Will cast his mind back to the week he had known Elizabeth. His memory was clouded by distance and through layers of regret, pain, and anger. He could barely recall any particulars but only knew that his heart could not deceive him. He had really loved Elizabeth.

“It was after we hid in the cupboard,” Elizabeth answered as she blushed.

Instantly, Will remembered the moment. She had sent him away after he kissed her senseless. He had believed at the time that she had believed he was ungentlemanly. She spent some time avoiding him, but when he came to her to apologise, she had nothing but sweet words and tempting looks for him. “Is she why you had calmed by the time I spoke with you next? What did she say?”

Elizabeth began walking again, nervous energy filling her. “I had built all sorts of ideas in my head. I had thought you only meant to use me—you said nothing about love or courtship, and at the theatre, you had said nothing could exist between us. She allowed me to see the differences between you and a vile abuser like Wickham.”

“I have always liked Miss Graves,” Will grinned for a moment. “She is Mrs. Annesley now—widowed to a footman we had at Darcy House. She has returned to her post as Georgiana’s governess.”

“Governess?” Elizabeth wondered. “Is she not getting quite old for that?”

“It was necessary,” Will bit out. “Come, let us sit here,” he motioned to a bench under a currently bare tree.

“Unbeknownst to me until only a few days ago, Wickham would often visit with Georgiana as a child. Even after my father died—no, I must explain matters first.”

Elizabeth listened patiently as Will paced before her and explained the situation of his father’s will. He had left a valuable living for Wickham but the young man refused all claim to it. He requested instead funds to study law—claiming that Will had given him the idea from one of their arguments—and Will had supposed that would be the end of his acquaintance with the man. Instead, like a bad cold, he came back again and again, abusing Will’s name far and wide whenever he denied him money.

“It seems while I was away from Pemberley, he would visit Georgiana. After Mrs. Annesley married, I decided to send her to a school in London. She has perceived this as me tearing her from her only friend—as she told me in today’s letter. Last summer, my cousin and I removed her from school and allowed her to travel to Ramsgate with a companion. It turns out this woman had a connection to Wickham, who arrived at Mrs. Younge’s invitation. There, he convinced Georgiana to an elopement, and it is only my unexpected arrival that put an end to the scheme.”

“An elopement!” Elizabeth cried. “And to such a man! Thank goodness you arrived in time to prevent it.”

“I saw the packed bags and confronted both her and Mrs. Younge, but the confession was most unwilling. I wrote to Wickham—he renounced all interest and intention in Georgiana, and so she blames me now for separating her from her lover.”

“How could she be so deceived in his character? How could she not believe you given your history?”

“I am afraid it is my fault,” Will said as anguish seized his heart. “I concealed the truth from her as I did not wish to wound her impression of our father. He was much to blame in permitting Wickham’s behavior. By now, you must suppose Mrs. Annesley was not the only Darcy servant to be importuned by him.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he continued, “I failed her.”

Shame gripped him. It ought to have been him to die in the fire. How many lives had he destroyed? Elizabeth’s, Georgiana’s, if he had been in his room, he might have saved Sam or his father. Mr. Bennet never would have been hurt. Instead, he selfishly drank himself near to oblivion at the tavern below.

“You did not.”

Elizabeth placed her hands on his cheeks, wiping away tears he did not realise had spilled from his eyes.

An anguished sob tore from his throat as he buried his face in her hair. “She was but fifteen—what did she know of the world? I was her only family—”

“I was only sixteen when we met and I never would have consented to an elopement. Do you remember? We discussed it.”

“I remember,” he gripped her tightly.

“And you never would have suggested it. Georgiana must face some responsibility for her choice, but most of it resides in the schemes of one man. How long have you blamed yourself for his every evil deed?”

Elizabeth’s words struck him. He had never realised before that was exactly what he had always done. “What would I do without you?”

“What did you do without me? You wrote in your letter—the one I was fortunate enough to receive—that you continued to write to me even after Sam died and all hope died. If you have kept them, I would like to read them.”

“It would do me no good in your view, I fear. I poured my anger out on the page.”

“Might I help heal those wounds? If I can understand the pain, I may better nurse them.”

“I burnt them all before coming to Hertfordshire. I had wanted to let go of the past. I never expected that you still loved me—I had convinced myself you never did. I wished only to prove that I no longer would be your fool.”

“I do not fully understand why you would believe that of me. If you recall, we did not talk very much a few days ago.”

“Oh, I remember,” he chuckled. “I would tell you of the sweetness of your lips,” he whispered in her ear, “but I do believe you said you would rather be shown love than told of it.”

Elizabeth whimpered and arched her neck as his lips inched down the column of her throat. “Yes, but I spoke of fidelity too.”

Will met her lips for one delicious moment, then pulled back. “And I will show you that as well.” He placed her hand on his arm, laughing as she returned from her daze. “I am capable of some restraint, although I do not think you can blame a man after desiring a woman for so many years and so sure he would never have her again to act as I did.”

Elizabeth agreed, and they meandered through the Netherfield gardens.

“I was a fool,” Will admitted. “Sam hinted a bit too strongly one evening about my being in love with you and Wickham heard. He taunted me for the entire trip. How would I know how to court a lady? I was too stupid to please one. She must only desire my money. I could only interest one as young and poor as you.” He shook his head. “I have little doubt that I appeared the epitome of an arrogant heir to you, but the truth was that I felt intensely insecure in my own value. I had often experienced friends who desired only to use me. Wickham is the primary example. He knew more than any other how a person could appear interested in me only to desire the Darcy name and wealth. He always knew how to make me feel most vulnerable. I do not know why I persisted in listening to him and believing him—I suppose I could not believe myself so worthy of deserving you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”

Elizabeth leaned her head against Will’s arm, and they walked in silence for a few moments. He dared not look at her face. The fact that she had not pushed him away was more than he had dared to hope for.

“I do not like that you were so easily deceived, but I do forgive you, and I can understand it. I had only my inner voice saying the same sorts of things about you.”

“Have you put those feelings to rest?” he asked as they arrived near the stable.

“I hope so,” Elizabeth answered honestly and sighed. “I suppose I will be going home soon.”

Just then, the coachman emerged. Wearing a stern face, he stomped in anger toward the house. Will called out to him.

“What is the matter?”

“Yesterday, we had supposed the carriage was stuck in the mud. I apologise, miss,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “for the dirty walk you faced in the rain.”

“As you see, I am no worse for the excursion.”

“You sound as though the problem was not the mud?” Will asked.

“The axle is broken. A nearly clean break.”

Dread knotted in Will’s stomach. “Do you suspect someone tampered with it?”

“One of our saws is missing,” he said. “I believe it must have been cut down so it might appear intact but very weak once in motion. If we had not been going so slow due to the rain, it would have been dangerous—perhaps deadly—when it broke.”

Will turned to Elizabeth, her face appearing as snow and her hands feeling like ice even through the thickness of his coat and her gloves.

“Who would do such a thing?” she asked in a trembling voice.

 

*****

 

A terrified shudder wracked Elizabeth’s body while Will and his coachman stared at one another. An unspoken conversation occurred, and although Elizabeth could not say she shared in it, in the pit of her stomach, she knew the logical culprit.

“Come, dearest,” Will led her to a stool in the stable and withdrew a flask, pressing it into her hands.

Elizabeth murmured her thanks and took a few small sips until she felt warmth and vitality rush through her. No one could have known ahead of time that it would be Elizabeth who rode in Will’s carriage next. No, he was the target. She had little difficulty believing Wickham hated Will and was capable of evil—but to attempt murder? Even worse—did this mean he was here? Near Netherfield? Near Meryton? Her eyes scanned the trees as though she would see his menacing visage. How had she ever found him handsome? In her memory, now, he was akin to a monster.

“Let us walk back, we have much to discuss with your father,” Will said and assisted her in standing.

“What will you do?” Elizabeth asked Will as they approached the house.

“I will speak with your father and also Charles. I do not believe he or any of his family is a target, but they should be careful at any rate.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Fear not. You will be returned home safely.”

“It is not me that I worry for!” Elizabeth cried, bringing them to a stop. She threw herself into Will’s arms, clutching him tightly. “Why when we have just found one another again must this happen?”

Will whispered soothing words of love in her ear and rubbed her back until the spell of emotion passed. “We do not know that anything intentional happened. I know your intelligent mind. I know you can perceive what Davis and I did not say—but if he is to blame, then you can be sure he will not be showing his face again any time soon. He thrives on lulling me into a sense of security and is too clever to push his luck and be caught. I would hazard a guess even if we found proof that he had been here he is now far away.”

Elizabeth wiped her tears with the handkerchief Will offered and nodded. London was a very convenient distance, and he easily could hide there.

“I will write to my cousin and inquire about Wickham’s whereabouts, but if I know Wickham, he would much rather have me alive than dead. You cannot blackmail a dead man.”

Elizabeth was not at all proud of the fact that for a fleeting moment, amidst the gut-wrenching pain of imagining Will dead, she considered that his heir must be his sister. Would Georgiana want him dead so she might marry Wickham? Or would he put a plan into action without her knowledge to remove her guardian? Biting her tongue, Elizabeth chose not to voice her concerns. Will knew both far better than she did and if he did not entertain the possibility of them then more than likely she would only pain him with such wild possibilities.

Had she learned nothing in recent days? She should put her most fevered ideas behind her and not give into her imagination. There were no clues to lead to her recent thoughts. Good heavens! Was she turning into her step-mother?

Upon reaching the house, Mr. Bennet greeted them. “I am feeling much recovered, and your mother has sent a missive begging our return on the morrow. My cousin arrives the following day and she says the master of the house is required to be in residence.”

“Your cousin?” Will asked.

“He is the son of the man who was heir before Sam was born. We have never met Mr. Collins before, but he seems quite ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” her father laughed. “His letter contained more compliments to his patroness—a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he mentioned as though I should know her name—than it did to my wife or daughters—of which there were many although he has never seen them.”

Will started at Mr. Bennet’s words. “Pardon me, did you say Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Upon confirmation, Will looked between father and daughter, and said in an amazed one, “She is my mother’s sister. How came he to know her?”

“He did not say,” Mr. Bennet answered. “I had thought you might return with certain news you wished to share?” He glanced between Will and Elizabeth. “Will told me you would soon be selecting a wedding date?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth answered and looked at her feet. Yes, she had told Will she would compromise and settle a date but must she decide just now? Her stepmother must have opinions about such things and still as far as the rest of the world knew they had never spent much time together. They could not announce it right away.

“Unfortunately, we did not have a moment to discuss the date,” Will hastily intervened. “On that subject, I do request an audience with you but not on the topic of the wedding.”

“Certainly,” Mr. Bennet agreed and followed Will to the library.

Sighing, Elizabeth determined to join the others in the drawing room. Her mind could not focus on any of the conversations at hand. Caroline must have delighted in seeing what looked like evidence of her stupidity. Elizabeth’s mind worked again and again. Why would Wickham wish to kill Will? Was Wickham as harmless as Will believed?

Elizabeth and Will had no more opportunity to talk and the afternoon and evening were filled with Caroline’s insistence upon music and cards, gently scolding Will for writing letters when he had requested the music. Elizabeth stole glances at him during her time at the pianoforte. He rarely looked up from his page, but often his pen did not move as though he were lost in the music. A few times their eyes locked and Elizabeth almost believed then that love was a tangible thing. She could feel his caress with his eyes. His arms were around her once more and the safe, secure feeling she always felt in his presence filled her.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. After describing the house to her sisters and her mother, Elizabeth retreated to her room for solitude. A half hour later, she was not surprised when there was a knock at her door, and Jane entered.

“Are you very jealous of me for getting to spend time at Netherfield?” Elizabeth teased.

“I am very thankful that Papa recovered so quickly and you were there to help. Was it an agreeable visit?”

Very agreeable,” Elizabeth beamed. “Will and I managed to have many conversations, and I think we understand one another much more now.”

“Do you trust him now? Do you have peace about the past?”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, I will tell you that Mr. Bingley asked about you several times a day and always seemed to work you into the conversation.”

“He did not,” Jane blushed. “Do not tease me so.”

“I am telling the utter truth!” Elizabeth grinned and hugged her sister. “Perhaps when I next visit the house you will be its mistress.” She could not contain a set of giggles as she used her best Fanny Bennet impression.

“Lizzy!” Jane pretended to scold but smiled at Elizabeth’s words.

Suddenly, Elizabeth sobered and squeezed her sister again. “Thank you for always being so selfless. I am sure you listened to me cry over Will far more than you ever wished.”

“I would say so! I would never wish for your heart to be broken.”

“I did not mean it in that way. I am certain if the positions were reversed, I would have lost patience with you in a matter of weeks.”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “You are my dearest friend and can be excessively protective. If the situations were reversed, you would have girded your loins and marched to London to demand explanation and retribution. I am weak compared to you.”

“Never say such a thing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Your strength is, perhaps, different than mine. It is quieter, but I see it and so must all who call you friend.”

Jane smiled, and the sisters sat in companionable solitude for a few moments until there was shouting from the hallway. “Lizzy! Jane!” Lydia yelled. “Mama says to come downstairs!”

Sharing a smile, they left their chamber and rejoined the family below.

Reunited- Chapter Four

reunited 2Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three

Chapter Four

Salt from Elizabeth’s tears mingled with the taste of Will’s mouth. How she had craved this for five years and feared she would never experience it again. They had much they still needed to say, but Elizabeth gave herself up to their passions. Years ago, they had been young, and while passionate, timid. Now, time had heightened their feelings. Will groaned when their lips first met and then deepened the kiss. His tongue dueled with hers. With each stroke, Elizabeth believed she could never quench her desire for more. Muscular arms held her against him, first wrapped around her back, then settling on her hips. Of their own accord, Elizabeth’s arms settled around his neck and her body sagged against him. A whimper of relief bordering on pain escaped her mouth. Her hands knocked his hat off and her fingers tangled in his hair.

Suddenly, Will tore at her bonnet ribbons and wrenched his lips from hers so he could draw back and see his work. Wordlessly, Elizabeth pushed his hands aside and deftly untied the bow. Will chuckled as he all but tore it from her head and sent it sailing to the ground. Although her favorite bonnet, at the moment she could not care less. Will was here, kissing her. He might disappear again just as suddenly as he came. If she had only this moment with him, she would enjoy it without regret.

Will cupped her face before kissing every inch. His mouth trailed lower as he laved his hot tongue over her skin. Goose pimples erupted on her flesh and moans and gasps fell from her throat. Elizabeth arched her neck to allow him greater access. He bent her backward and supported her with one hand even as the other explored the space above her neckline and her arms. She squirmed against him and clutched his back, wishing they could be closer still. If only she could remove his cravat and return the exquisite sensation he now evoked in her. Will’s kisses returned up to her throat and he nibbled at her earlobe. Elizabeth’s legs buckled, and he pulled her in even closer.

“Mine,” he whispered.

A shiver ran up Elizabeth’s spine. “I am yours,” Elizabeth heard tumbling from her lips without conscious thought.

“Mine now and always,” he said fervently and brought her head to his chest.

Hearing his heart pound in her ear, Elizabeth felt Will rest his chin atop her head and rub her back.

“Perfect,” he pressed a kiss to her hair. “Just as I always knew it would be.”

Elizabeth pulled back, needing to see his eyes and judge his earnestness by their expression. No longer drunk on passion, she feared for her heart as much as ever. Instead of seeing an affectionate gaze, his blue eyes were wide in horror. Her heart pounded in her ears, but no—no, that was hoofbeats.

Will pushed Elizabeth on the ground and threw himself atop her as a horse trampled around them. She thought she heard Will shouting at it, but it was so hard to hear as its feet pounded around them and it screamed  in alarm. For a moment longer than eternity, Elizabeth lay still as Will protected her with his own body. She had no fear for herself but prayed as she never had before that the man she loved would be spared any pain or injury. Pulse racing and heart pounding, she did not recognise at first when the white terror had left them.

“Elizabeth!” Will called loudly from her side. “Speak, love. Tell me you are unharmed. If Apollo injured you, I will never—”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Blinking, she rose to a sitting position.

“Slowly, now,” Will soothed and rubbed her back. “Do you feel any pain?”

Words still stuck in her throat, she shook her head.

“Thank God!” He crushed her in a tight embrace, his head resting on her shoulder.

“That was your horse?” Elizabeth asked in a breathy voice.

“Yes—I cannot imagine what may have spooked him. He is usually quite docile.” He pulled back and held her by the shoulders. “You are certain you are uninjured?”

“I am,” she said in a stronger tone. Emotion, she perceived, had strangled her voice. Now safe, she recovered quickly. Her eyes scanned over Will. “But you are not!”

“No, I am well,” he said then perceiving where her eyes rested, pulled his arms away from her.

Will had a few bruises and a scrape on his cheek that might lend distinction to his face upon healing but otherwise appeared unscathed—except where his sleeve had torn and revealed to Elizabeth scarred, angry flesh on his forearms. She had not known he was injured in the fire as her father had been. Why was she never informed?

“Will,” she reached out a hand.

“If you are recovered,” he said coldly, “I will escort you home. I would like to speak with Mr. Bennet.”

“What of your horse?”

“I will send a servant to fetch him later. Apollo is a good horse and will not wander far. What I need to discuss with your father is far more important.”

Elizabeth blushed, believing he referenced their old engagement. After the events of this morning, she could little doubt his affection and wishes remained unchanged. Will stretched out a hand and assisted Elizabeth to her feet. Collecting her bonnet, she then restored her appearance as best she could for there was no hiding the dirt. Wrapping her hand around his “good” arm, she squeezed it a little as they set off on the path to Longbourn.

“Perhaps he knows—or maybe he is the guilty party—who intercepted my letters and how they never reached you.”

In all that had followed, Elizabeth nearly forgot to wonder what happened. “No, I do not think Papa knew anything about it. When he mentioned your coming here—he did not reveal your name but neither did he seem anxious to conceal it. I hate to think it, but might it have been Sam—or even your father?”

Will frowned. “Either might be true, but I cannot question dead men. In our last conversation on the topic, Father said he would yield to my wishes. Sam—” His brow furrowed.

“What is it?”

“I do not wish to speak ill of your brother or make his memory less sacred to you.”

“I always wish to know the truth,” Elizabeth encouraged.

“He was in debt to Lord Harcourt.”

Elizabeth could not repress her shudder at the memory of the young earl who made her skin crawl.

“There were other matters too. He did not approve of our affection, and feared for your future especially.” Will shook his head. “He had set off on a doomed path, but I believe if he had lived he would have seen to the correction of his failings. I mourn the loss of his potential even more than I mourn the loss of his friendship. I do not know that he would be so deceitful as to steal my letters.”

“Forgive me,” Elizabeth whispered. “I have not considered your feelings enough. Losing your father and your friend in one evening…”

“Yes,” he squeezed her hand. “However, it is in the past, and I have made it through. Charles became an invaluable support to me. If you recall my cousin, Richard, he was as well.”

They had just entered the Longbourn gate. “I do recall him. I trust he has been well. And your sister? I have thought of my little friend many times over the years.”

Elizabeth watched as Will’s expression changed. He appeared more mournful as she asked after his sister than he had even when speaking of his deceased father and friend.

“I would be most pleased if you corresponded with her. Perhaps soon she may visit Netherfield and renew your acquaintance in person.”

“I would like that,” Elizabeth said as a strange nervousness filled her. “Will.” She tugged on his arm to stay his movements.

“What is it?”

“I…I…there is no need to tell my father everything.”

He nodded. “Of course, I guard your reputation with my life—even from your father.”

“No…of…of…anything recent.”

“I do not understand what you mean.”

Elizabeth waved her hand between them. “Us—anything about us. We barely knew each other then and have only seen each other twice. There is much left unsaid.”

“I had thought we found the heart of the matter. I believed you did not love me because you never replied to my letters. A correspondence which you never received. Therefore, I would like to know how that came to be.”

“Yes, I agree that was the situation and if solving the mystery is important to you, then, by all means, question him. But we might say it was only intent at an imprudent correspondence. Or, at least, not hint at any continued feelings or expectations.”

Will’s jaw tightened, and his shoulder straightened. “You do not wish for me to inform him of our long-standing betrothal? Or you do not wish to continue it? Speak plainly, madam.”

Elizabeth blinked at his transformation. No longer her Will, suddenly, the master of Pemberley stood before her. “Do not order me about!” She said with more offense than she felt. “I do not know what I wish. You return after years away, dripping charm, and smothering me with kisses before death-defying acts of saving my life. I was never courted properly. I will not be whisked away as your bride before I even know who you now are.”

“Elizabeth Bennet, you may be the only woman in creation to make me feel so many contradictory emotions in such a short span! I am certain no one else has ever called me charming. Then you somehow insinuate making love to you and potentially sacrificing my life as a terrible thing all before demanding courtship. If it is courtship and understanding me that you desire, then come, at once. I will promise you both, and we will begin with speaking to your father.”

Will returned her hand to his arm and led them to Longbourn. There, he asked for an audience with Mr. Bennet, and they separated in the hall.

 

*****

 

Will entered Mr. Bennet’s study with determination. Elizabeth was his, and whoever had caused them the pain they had experienced for five years—and the source of her current timidity—would pay dearly for their meddling.

“Will, I did not expect to see you this morning,” Mr. Bennet greeted him and motioned for him to sit. “I trust you do not mind my calling you such. It is difficult to think of you as Mr. Darcy although I see how much you have grown to look like your father.”

Tensing, Will nodded in acceptance. In the past five years, he had felt the weight of his father’s burdens. While he once had believed he would easily slip into the old master’s shoes, he had far too soon learned the truth. George Darcy managed far more than Will had ever known. His father died before his instruction on how to run Pemberley had really begun. He had hoped to rely on his steward, but Mr. Wickham did not long outlive the master. At least his illness had allowed Will the appropriate time to find a replacement and Will’s uncle, the earl, had loaned his steward to assist the young man. For the residents of Pemberley and the nearby town of Lambton, George Darcy was a saint who could do no wrong and Will felt he had much to measure up to. What he had needed for all those years was the indefatigable support of his beloved.

“You did not tell Elizabeth very much about the fire, did you?” Will began.

Mr. Bennet coloured and shuffled some papers on his desk. “It was a subject which naturally upset her nor was it any more comfortable for me to explain.”

“I do not mean to reprimand, but I have only just now discovered that she had never been informed of the injuries I sustained during the event.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyes scanned Will, and he raised his brows when he noticed the torn sleeve.

“I came upon Elizabeth while out walking. I had tied my horse off while we talked but something spooked Apollo. We were nearly trampled.”

Mr. Bennet stiffened and clutched the arms of his chair. His body thrummed with energy as though he would shoot out of it at any moment. “Lizzy is well?”

“She is unharmed. I would never allow anything to hurt her.” Will spoke with sincere conviction, and his voice cracked as he considered what might have been. If Mr. Bennet had been the one to conceal their correspondence, he would have some reckoning.

The older gentleman relaxed and then cocked his head. “You speak of her both passionately and familiarly. Additionally, you seem to think your well-being would have been of interest to my Lizzy.”

Straightening his shoulders, Will met the man’s gaze. “We were betrothed—are betrothed.” Pride bloomed in his heart. It was the first time he had admitted such a thing to another. How had he concealed it so long? “I believe she would have desired to know. Did she ask after me?”

Will watched as Mr. Bennet paled, coloured, and blinked in confusion. “What did you just say?”

“Before our last parting,” Will answered, “I proposed marriage to Elizabeth, and she accepted.”

Now, Bennet shot out of his chair, pushing it aside. Slamming his hands on his desk, he leaned over it with a wild look in his eye.

Will gulped. “Elizabeth and I are in love and have been for the past five summers. We have been betrothed for years.”

“Young man!” Mr. Bennet boomed. “Take care of what you say next for I have a strong mind to request pistols at dawn since you are too old for me to paddle and too large for me to thrash. Take yourself to a corner and be silent.”

Hesitating, Will slowly stood and bowed. “I will abide by your wishes and agree some space is sensible.” Taking a post by the window with his back turned to the older man, he waited several minutes until he was summoned once more to sit.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Bennet said in something closer to his usual tone. “I am not often given to such displays of emotion, but you must admit your information was shocking.”

“I did not mean for it to be so,” Will answered. He had thought his forthright manner would be an asset. It seemed that was not appreciated on Elizabeth’s father. “Allow me to apologise for the upset. I suppose you probably have many questions for me.”

Bennet pinched the bridge of his nose. “As a father and close friend of yours, I have many conflicting feelings. What I know of you, or what you were half a decade ago, would have been everything I desired in a husband for Lizzy. However, I do not appreciate that it was not done openly or when she was so young. The more I consider it, she did ask about you when I returned after the fire. I did not think much of it as our thoughts were full of Sam and our loss. She slipped into a deep melancholy which has not entirely left her. Yesterday, I found her weeping at his grave. If even a shred of that emotion is related to your prolonged absence, I have half a mind to banish you from my house. I pray that you never live to see the day that your offspring are treated so horribly.”

“I, too, regret the pain Elizabeth experienced, and I intend to make up for lost time. Allow me to add, that the separation devastated me as well.”

“I suppose you might have an explanation?”

“Nothing that does me much credit,” Will frowned. “I had already heard arguments against the attachment. When she did not reply to my letters, I believed the worst. She had changed her mind—or perhaps never cared for me at all, as George Wickham had argued at the time.”

“I would not have thought you would have listened to him.” Bennet folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “I recall you attempting to tell your father many times that the young man was no good.”

Will shook his head. “I can only claim the insecurity of youth. After my father died…” He trailed off. Lacking the proper words to explain his sentiments, Will waved his hands. “I was lost. My mind was too consumed with grief and the weight of my burdens to consider matters. I will never forgive myself, even still, I do not think it is most logical to conclude that someone must have tampered with our mail. I ought to have asked Elizabeth directly, but I could not bear to see her.”

“Do I understand you correctly? You believe she gave you up?”

“Yes,” Will answered and for a terrible moment relived the days of uncertainty and yearning as well as the nights of constant self-reproach.

“Did you believe her so mercenary?” Bennet asked sharply. “Your best friend’s sister!”

Will pushed a hand through his curls. “Again, I can only point to the foolishness of youth and the reckless pace of our romance. I allowed my insecurities and the prejudices of my father to plague me. However, Sam had recently gotten into considerable debt and was hiding from a creditor. I had known him for years. At the same time, my father refused to hear my concerns regarding Wickham. I felt there was no one I could trust and all the world mercenary.”

“As you claim you are still betrothed to her, and she loves you, I presume you have spoken with her on the subject.”

“Yes,” Will nodded. Well, actually…no. They had not discussed how to regard their betrothal. If he understood her words, Elizabeth wished for a courtship. Neither one had intended to form a breach and there had been no subsequent attachments—of that Will was sure. Elizabeth would not kiss him and confess to love him if she had ever hoped to marry another. “Ah, we could clarify matters more. After the incident with the horse, I desired to see her safely returned home.”

“I commend you for, finally, doing the proper thing and speaking to her father.”

Will coloured. He had never asked for Mr. Bennet’s blessing, and even now he told more than asked. Elizabeth was not of age. Surely her father would not make them wait longer than they already had. Pride for his station and security of Elizabeth’s feelings mingled with the knowledge that Mr. Bennet deserved his respect. Swallowing his conceit, Will met his potential father-in-law’s eyes. “I humbly submit a request for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

 

Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Three, Part Two

Road in dark forest

Previous Parts: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1

“Powers? Gifts? Magic?” Elizabeth spoke. It appeared her sisters could not utter a word through their terror. “Good witches? What of the stories of evil?” She shook her head and rushed on before her father could answer. “No, this is nonsense. It defies logic. Science proves magic does not exist.”

Mr. Bennet smirked. “Does this seem real?”

He held out his hand, and a flame appeared. Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. Her sisters gasped.

“You may touch it.” He motioned for his wife to hold her hand over it for a moment. She then displayed her unblemished hand. “Try it,” he suggested to his daughters.

Tentatively, Elizabeth reached out a hand. She felt no heat or discomfort. Giving her father a skeptical look, she pulled away from her sisters and walked a few steps until she had gathered some sticks and leaves. Placing them over the flame in her father’s hand, Elizabeth marveled that the fire consumed them but had not harmed flesh.

“You can do it too, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said. “Hold out your hand and focus. Think about unleashing the burning you feel under your skin.”

Surprised to hear her father had known the sensations she had been feeling, Elizabeth met his eyes. Unclenching a palm, she extended her hand out and thought about forcing the fiery prickles coursing through her body outward. A flame jumped from her hand, reaching over a foot high. Startled, Elizabeth and her sisters shrieked. The flame sputtered out.

“And that is somehow used for good?” Elizabeth asked.

Mr. Bennet nodded. “You have always had a fiery temper, Lizzy. Our powers are harder to control when our emotions are overwrought. Likewise, Kate often feels she has experienced things before, and Jane can sympathize with nearly anyone.

“There is good and evil in this world, tended to by witches fighting for either side. It was a curse from the dark side which brought illness here five years ago. A family of great female witches had been prophesied about. Three sisters would have the powers of empathy, fire, and premonition.”

Mr. Morland, who Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about, floated around to stand beside his earthly wife, confirmed what Elizabeth knew instinctively. “That family was the Bennets of Longbourn.”

Mr. Bennet paused at his daughters’ gasp. Seeing none had fainted, he continued the tale. “We did not know how the prophecy would be fulfilled. No family name was included in the prophecy.”

Elizabeth’s dead mother joined them. “I grew nervous as each successive daughter exhibited more traits to fulfill the prophecy. When Mary began having premonitions, we advocated the High Council of Witches for protection. A traitor was amongst them. Instead of having protection, your youngest sisters and I met our demise.”

The two Mrs. Bennets stood next to each other now, hand in hand. The former Mrs. Morland spoke. “Kate was so upset over her powers that her father and I bound them just before we visited Hertfordshire. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters succumbed to their sickness, we were visited by the High Minister. She said Kate’s powers were not well known in the community and were sufficiently cloaked from Caligo  — that is the name of the evil warlock who wishes to kill the Bewitched Sisters. The power of the gift lies in the three women forming bonds of sisterly love and unity, not in a bloodline. It was suggested Kate could take Mary Bennet’s place.”

Kate gasped. “Father, you were never ill? You sacrificed yourself so Mama could marry Mr. Bennet?” Kate exclaimed. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“It was for the greater good. I have never been too far from our family. I did not die from what took Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, but I did suffer from a lingering illness with no known cure. We merely sped up my demise.”

Kate continued to blubber. The young ladies stood still, shocked in wonder.

Elizabeth seemed to be the first to gain her equilibrium. Her mind was racing, and she was the first to speak. “Why are we being told this now?”

“Because now,” her mother said, “it is necessary for you three to use your powers to defeat the darkness returning to Hertfordshire. General Tilney’s return to Netherfield was the signal that Caligo  has returned to complete his mission.”

“What is that?” Elizabeth asked. She was eager to know everything she could about this new world.

Mr. Bennet was the most knowledgeable and therefore answered. “We do not know entirely. The Bewitching Sisters were prophesied as guardians of the Kingdom of Magic and of Great Britain. He must mean harm to one or both of them.”

“And he dwells in General Tilney?” Kate asked in a trembling voice and huddled closer to Jane as her eyes searched the woods.

Elizabeth guessed she was wondering how far they were from Netherfield and if he might be overhearing all of this.

Mr. Bennet answered again, “No, the General is a trusted council member. It is he who put the enchantment on Netherfield, as Longbourn’s closest neighbors. Should the spirit of darkness return, the house will be readied for occupancy again.”

“What has changed? What would trigger such a thing?” Elizabeth questioned.

“We do not know,” said Mr. Morland. “We have limited time for visitation this night. We could only appear long enough to explain the history to you and join your living parents in unbinding your powers.” The parents soon surrounded the girls and said a chant returning their powers and memories of magic.

“We must go, but I would caution you girls that enemies often enjoy hiding behind a friendly face. Now, we trust the love which has brought you this far will last as you work together to vanquish this evil,” the deceased Mrs. Bennet said. “Know you have our love.”

After tender embraces, the ghostly parents vanished, and Mr. Bennet led his family back to the house.

Thursday Three Hundred–Greater than Friends

 

Rose Letter

On Monday, I posted the song Friends Don’t by Maddie and Tae. I wrote that it reminded me of Emma and Knightley. I could have written from a few other locations in the book, but chose the scene where Harriet Smith acknowledges that she loves Mr. Knightley–and believes he loves her in return. I generously use some lines straight from Miss Austen. I don’t think she would mind. 🙂

cd4fab69d19e6c58bb41e5fe62b0bcaeGreater than Friends

“Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of—Mr. Knightley?”

“To Be sure I am.”

Harriet continued speaking, and Emma vaguely registered the girl’s words, managing somehow to talk while all her mind worked on Harriet’s strange series of utterances. Harriet Smith in love with her good friend Mr. Knightley? But no, that was not the correct word for Mr. Knightley.

Did friends mean to one another what Mr. Knightley and Emma meant to one another? How often had they made plans around the feeling of the other? How many silent conversations had they had with nothing but their eyes? If Mr. Knightley were only a friend, should she not be able to hear Mrs. Elton speak of him with familiarity without possessive irritation?

For months, years, even he had often visited Hartfield. His visits began shortly, but now they seemed to linger. He found any excuse to come and the purpose seemed just as much to visit Emma as to sit with her father. A hundred tender memories of conversations and Knightley’s nearness flashed like lightning in Emma’s mind and swelled her heart.

However, unfortunate recollections also recollected. She had pushed him aside. He probably believed—just as everyone else did, it seemed—that she loved Frank Churchill. His low opinion of her was very plain and Harriet—sweet, simple, pretty Harriet—he had confessed to think well of.

No, no, no! It would not do! “Good God!” cried Emma, “this has been a most unfortunate—most deplorable mistake!—What is to be done?”

Again, Harriet chattered on. Emma could not speak. Mr. Knightley would never linger at Hartfield again. No, he would have his dear Harriet to think about. They would visit together, and Emma would have to find a way to send them off. No more chats after supper while the stars shone. No more daily walks from Donwell Abbey.

No, no. Mr. Knightley was not merely her friend. “Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley’s returning your affection?”

“Yes,” replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully—”I must say that I have.”

Emma sat in silence while a thunderclap sounded in her mind—nay, her heart. With the speed of an arrow, she acknowledged Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

On and on, Harriet continued explaining and rationalizing—with merit, Emma detested to admit—that Knightley did care for her.

Feeling her heart die and her soul weep, Emma acknowledged, “I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does.”

Finally, Harriet left, and Emma sat in dejected spirits wishing she had never met the girl. This much she knew, no one would love Mr. Knightley as she did. How she wished she had the opportunity to tell him before he made a choice that would forever separate them.

 

Reunited- Chapter Three

reunited 2

Chapter Three

 A shiver ran up Elizabeth arm as well bent over her gloved hand and raised it to his lips. A moment later, anger wracked her body and she snatched her hand away. Did he think he could show up five years after not a word and just resume where they had last met? She would not be his plaything again. However, it would not do to draw the notice of the whole assembly. Composing self, Elizabeth allowed will to place her hand on his arm as he escorted her back father.

“How wonderful you two look together,” Mr. Bennet observed with a sly glance with.

“Thank you, sir,” Will said.

Elizabeth clenched her teeth before she could say anything rude. She had seen Will and her father talking together earlier. Then she carefully watched as Will barely uttered more than a monosyllable to anybody else. His eyes peered across the room, and he frowned at everyone. Five years as the master of Pemberley had certainly inflated his ego. Why did he come at all? If the Bennets and Meryton society were no longer good enough for Fitzwilliam Will, then why would he come?

“Lizzy!” Mrs. Bennet called from across the room.

In any other scenario, Elizabeth would be mortified at her mother’s behavior. Now, she could never thank her enough for saving her from such an awkward situation.

“Come here my child,” Mrs. Bennet said at a more moderate tone and motioned at Elizabeth.

“Pardon me,” Elizabeth dropped a curtsy. She could feel Will’s eyes follow her.

“Mr. Graham has asked your hand for a set,” Mrs. Bennet said as Elizabeth approached. “Have you not, Mr. Graham?”

Mrs. Bennet’s eyes bounced between Elizabeth, and Mr. Graham with a smile fixed on her face. “Well, go.” She pushed the two on the dance floor.

Belatedly, Mr. Graham reached for Elizabeth’s hand and clumsily led her through the motions of the dance. The conversation was as dull as it had ever been. He was a few years older than Sam, so they had never been close, but Elizabeth had known him all of her life. Tonight’s conversation, just like all of her life, the man had bored her to tears. One of Meryton’s so-called finest gentlemen was not enough for Elizabeth’s mother. For three more dances, Mrs. Bennet continued to thrust gentlemen that Elizabeth had long refused to consider as suitors upon her.

The real insult of the evening, however, happened when her last partner stomped on her foot. After the dance ended, Elizabeth excused herself and went out to the balcony. Sliding off her dancing slipper, she massaged her poor toes as she leaned on the railing.

Elizabeth’s sighed as weariness slammed into her. She had thought she put all of her feelings for Will behind her. For five years, she had mourned this day as the death of her brother. Through the years, it had come to symbolize the end of her youth and naïveté as well. She could not say precisely when, but somewhere in the hopeless weeks and months after Sam’s death as she waited for Will to arrive at Longbourn or write to console her, her heart froze over.

The time has long passed, however, to be sad over her heartbreak. Instead, she embraced her anger at Will’s dismissal of her and his actions of the night. His imitation that he had written letters she had never answered was just another way he tried to manipulate her. Furthermore, her father knew who would be arriving nothing to warn her. While Will had not approached Mr. Bennet about Elizabeth’s hand before the fire, she found it hard to believe her father who had always been a shrewd observer did not notice their growing attachment. Nor could it have escaped him, due to Mrs. Bennet’s constant nagging on the subject, that Elizabeth never encouraged a suitor. Several gentlemen had made no secret of their desire to wed her. Whenever Elizabeth heard such a rumor, she found a way to signal to the man that she was not to be had. In the course of such, she had come close to entirely ruining her reputation in Meryton.

Elizabeth did feel sorry for her sisters though. Jane also was still unwed. Elizabeth’s next sister, Mary, had just turned seventeen. Mrs. Bennet desired to have Mary out in Society, but she would rather stay home and read. Tonight was one of the few occasions she could be forced out of the house. It was just as well in Elizabeth’s mind for her younger sisters were too young to want to marry. Would that she had not had it on her mind at the same age.

She heard the door to her side open and close and turned to look at whoever interactive her solitude. She held back a gasp at the presence of Will towering over her.

“I thought I could find you out here. You always would steal away for a few quiet moments.”

Elizabeth gulped at his nearness. So had he. Well, he had always wanted more than only a few moments of solitude. Still, it had been one of the things that united them. Elizabeth shook her head to dispel thoughts of the past and hated her traitorous heart for recalling it. Elizabeth turned back to face the visage of Meryton. Will came up beside her.

“I was surprised to hear you had not married since we last met.”

He spoke quietly, but Elizabeth nervously glanced around.

“Fear not, we are alone.”

Oh, she should fear that very, very much.

“As we often were,” he added as a whisper.

Enough of this foolishness, Elizabeth thought to herself. “From what I understand, you have no shortage of ladies you encounter unchaperoned.”

Will said nothing for a moment and then turned to face her. He leaned one arm on the balcony railing.

“Jealous?”

“Of what?” Elizabeth asked in an accusatory tone, giving away, she feared far too much emotion.

“Well, you have been without suitors since our…interlude. I suppose that would make any handsome young lady jealous.”

How dare he call her handsome? How dare he presume she had no suitors or that she was jealous of his lovers. The Elizabeth he had known five years ago would have slapped him for that, just as she had tried on the dance floor. Now, that she had gotten over the shock of seeing him, she could control her emotions better. She had learned to entirely conceal them after Sam’s death and Will’s abandonment, and she would not appear weak to him now.

Elizabeth turned to face him with raised brows. “I had forgotten you understood a lady’s mind so well.” She pointedly rolled her eyes to wordlessly illustrate her sarcasm. “However, I will tell you a few secrets you may not have gleaned. A woman does not need to be handsome to be jealous of the good fortune of another. In fact, most are only jealous of other women. So, you see I would have no cause for jealousy. For not only do I know I am pleasing to look at, but you are a man, and I cannot hate you for having a superior ribbon.”

Will stared at her. It was too dark for her to see the nuances of his expression. His eyes had always told her everything.

Abandoning his leaning position, he stood up straight. “Ah, then it must be the supposed other ladies I know that make you jealous.”

Elizabeth let out a hollow, mocking laugh. “I think not. What would I have to be jealous of? That they have tried to entrap the great Master of Pemberley? That they were used and discarded?”

Will took a step closer, and Elizabeth fought to keep her breath calm. His nearness had always wrecked havoc on her before. He still smelled of soap and sandalwood. His shoulders were broader, and he appeared more muscular than when she had last seen him. True, he was of age when they had met, but now he was a fully grown man. Every inch of him exuded confidence he had lacked at two and twenty. A part of Elizabeth that would never die screamed she belonged in his arms.

“Perhaps you are jealous of all the stories that claim I am in love with another.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught, and panic welled in her. Heart hammering, she fought to remain in control. She turned away from him once more. She could not be jealous of what he could not give. Elizabeth had no doubt that he loved any of those ladies any more than he had ever loved him. If the women were foolish enough to believe that after every rumour and year after year of his behaviour then she also had no pity for their broken hearts.

“I still have not heard anything that would give me a reason for jealousy. However, allow me to correct you on a few false presumptions. I have had many suitors.”

“You have not loved any of them?”

Did he sound closer to her? She refused to turn and look once more. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing how he still affected her.

“Love is not necessary for matrimony. None of them have appealed to me on the most basic level. I must respect and esteem my partner. I must trust him and have faith in his good character. Men doing nothing more than waving their income in front of me and expecting me to swoon into their arms will be quite disappointed.”

“Oh, I know what it is to be disappointed by Elizabeth Bennet. I pity the foolish swains.”

“I have been out here long enough and feel quite refreshed now. Good evening, Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth turned to walk away. Will caught her wrist.

“Do not believe everything you read in the papers, Elizabeth. They did not know when I loved you.”

Before Elizabeth could do something stupid such as throw herself at him, he let her go and walked off. Elizabeth stood frozen in place, gaping after him. Did he mean to throw her whole world in tumult once more? Was this more of the game he played with country misses? Or was there truth and he really had loved her?

One thing she knew for sure, however. Whatever feelings he had for her five years ago were gone. He had said so himself and used the past tense regarding his alleged affection for her. Elizabeth could only hate herself that her love for him had not waned one iota in the nearly two thousand days since she had last seen him.

 

*****

Will awoke after a night of fitful sleep. After leaving Elizabeth, seemingly stunned at his words, on the balcony, he danced every remaining set. Even as he distracted himself with other ladies, he was acutely aware of Elizabeth’s return to the ballroom. Despite the exhaustion of dancing too much, he found little rest that night. Once more, Elizabeth Bennet stole his peace and slipped into his dreams.

Sighing, Will sat up in the bed and swung his legs over the edge. His feet touched the plush carpet and memories washed over him. Years ago, he had heard about Netherfield. He had suggested that he might rent a house when he proposed to Elizabeth, although she invited him to stay at Longbourn. In the weeks of their time apart during his summer holiday, Netherfield came to Will’s notice. Even if he could stay at Longbourn while he was courting Elizabeth, they would need their own house once they married. She had a far larger family than he did and Meryton was convenient to London so Will might still visit with his sister and his father. He had envisioned residing in Netherfield as the master with Elizabeth as his wife.

Disturbed by the direction of his thoughts, Will rang for his valet and readied for a morning ride. Sam had told Will all about the Hertfordshire countryside, and he was eager to see it. Pushing aside disappointed hopes and frustrating encounters, Will let the calm of being in nature and breezing over the ground envelop him.

After galloping over meadows and meandering along trails, Will chose to climb the only hill in the area. Sam had always marvelled at the mountainous peaks of Derbyshire when he visited. All Meryton could claim was Oakham Mount, and as a man raised in the peak district, it was nothing special. Still, Will could understand for the locals, it would be a pleasing enough vista.

His horse tired and needing more exertion, Will tied Apollo off and went up on foot. As he crested the hill, he discovered another already there. From behind, most would not readily identify her. Still petite, Elizabeth’s frame could be mistaken for many ladies. A part of Will wondered if he had taken to seeing her everywhere but mere miles from her house, it only made too much sense. Just as he had discovered five years ago, there was not another lady like her. She alone would be the Meryton miss who chose to watch the sunrise from a hill, heedless of the way the wet grass stained her petticoats.

She had not changed…and yet she had. She was such a vulnerable mix of confidence and regret last night. Will turned their conversations in his head over and over as he attempted to sleep. She appeared shocked when he mentioned having sent letters. Had she never received them? Instead of jealous other ladies had tried to court him, she seemed hurt that he would bring it up.

Had he been wrong all those years ago? Had Elizabeth not rejected him? He could stand the uncertainty no longer. He had vowed to himself he would make her love him during this visit. With confidence that only the Master of Pemberley could hold, he strode to her side.

“Good morning, Elizabeth.”

She started, and he chuckled.

“Good day, Mr. Darcy,” she said after recovering, then turned her head forward once more.

“You look lovely. I always liked you in green. I am pleased to see you have not given up your love of nature.”

Elizabeth whirled to face him, red-faced. “Stop this! I insist you cease all familiarities. You have no right to call me by my Christian name. Nor do you need to incessantly bring up the foolishness of my youth.”

Mesmerized by the fire in Elizabeth’s eyes, Will remained mute. He had experience dealing with an angry Elizabeth. Additionally, her ire gave him hope. It could be her behavior indicated a false assumption. Did she believe he had abandoned her?

“I believe I have every right,” he said and stepped forward. “Do you forget the promises we made to each other?”

“Did I forget them?” Elizabeth nearly screeched.

Will welcomed her vehemence, but she took a deep breath and swallowed her emotions. In the blink of an eye, she was the proper miss again and had her mask fixed in place.

“I waited to hear from you. I had expected letters or perhaps some clue via Sam. Then, after he…” she trailed off. “You never came. You never wrote, not even to my father.”

“I gave my condolences in person.”

“And was that all we should have expected from Sam’s best friend?”

“Is that all you wanted from me? Acknowledgment of my friend?”

“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You must know what I wanted. What I longed for.” A tear escaped one eye, and she brushed it away. “Are you so cruel, after all these years, to make me say it?”

A part of Will needed to hear her profess that she had loved him and had desired his comfort. “I imagine realizing you lost a wealthy suitor so soon after the death of your brother must have been a hard blow.”

Elizabeth paled, and for a moment, Will thought she might be sick. He opened his mouth to apologise and offer assistance. She held up a hand, silencing him.

Hurt flashed in her eyes. “I never sought your attention. I set no trap. No matter what poison your relatives and friends may have told you, I was guileless.”

Will could bear the facade no longer. He did not wish to wound her. “I should have believed that.”

“Yes, you should have.” She raised her chin in defiance. Then, she shook her head, and her shoulders slumped. “It is no matter. We were reckless youths who had not even known one another a week. I will not hold you to what we pledged then.”

Elizabeth turned to look at the vista once more. “We were so young and naive. We did not know how our whole world could change in an instant. We did not understand the expectations we faced.”

This was the Elizabeth he had fallen in love with. The one who shocked him with empathy and wisdom, even if as she said, their romance had been reckless. “I was not so young or naive as you,” he said. “I knew my promises, and I meant every word.”

Beside him, Elizabeth’s breath hitched. Will turned to look at her, although her bonnet hid most of her profile. A gentle breeze played at the locks of curls which framed her face. Stretching forward a hand, he caught one shiny lock between his fingers. As he stroked the silky fibers between his gloved digits, he inched closer to her, drawn by a magnetic force he had never fully understood. “I did write to you, Elizabeth. I wrote every day for weeks. I received no replies. I could hardly ask Sam directly as he still did not approve of our attachment. I knew from his reports you were well.”

Letting go of her hair, Will sighed and looked to his feet. “By the time of the fire, I confess, I had thought you did not care for me at all.”

Elizabeth gasped, drawing his head up. She wrenched her neck in his direction. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “How could you think that of me? Did you have so little faith in my constancy?”

Shaking his head, Will withdrew a handkerchief and offered it to Elizabeth. “No. I had begun to believe you never loved me at all.”

“You supposed I set out to entrap you!” Elizabeth burst into tears.

“Pray, forgive me,” Will said and attempted to soothe her.

Elizabeth violently shook her head and wiped her eyes. Turning his handkerchief over in her hand, a look of disgust and derision crossed her face before she threw it at him. “You had so little respect for me that you believed I would act like all those other debutantes. Nay! You believed me worse. Did you think I acted as a strumpet for you?”

Guilt spread through him, causing nausea to rise in his belly. He had thought that. He had supposed she had found someone better as well. “Whatever disservice I gave you in my thoughts were nothing to how I abused myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I were a better man, you would not have forsaken me. You would have really loved me and not ran off to find richer pastures.”

“Will you are as stupid as ever!” Elizabeth cried, and her chest heaved. “Find a richer man? How? When did I ever care for such things?”

She stepped forward wagging a finger at him with her other hand propped on her hip. “I did love you!” She poked him in the chest. Dropping her chin, she whispered, “I still do.”

The breeze quit blowing, and birds stopped singing. The whole world stood still, Will was sure of it. “What did you say?” The distance between them now was thinner than paper. He had heard her words but needed her to consciously speak them.

Elizabeth remained silent. Will tilted her chin up, hoping to read her gaze. A blush had spread over Elizabeth’s cheeks, and she squeezed her eyes shut.

“I thought your courage always rose,” he said to bait her.

Her eyes flew open, meeting his. “I never stopped loving you.”

Will thought he heard a cracking sound deep in the forest, but it must have only been the walls around his heart collapsing before he pulled Elizabeth into his arms and covered her mouth with his.