(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know (One-shot)

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


(Don’t) Ask Me How I Know

 

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

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

Or ask you to dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not ask me how I know.

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is there?”

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth mutely nodded. Her throat too dry to speak.

“Be careful on the stairs,” he murmured.

“I will,” she stammered.

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

valentine invitation with hearts and red roses

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Darcy,

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

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

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

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

Do not ask me how I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instantly, Darcy grinned, restoring her to playfulness.

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

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

The End

 

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

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

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

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

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

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

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

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

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

Yours,

Jane

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

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

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

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

“That is horrible…”

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

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Bingley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anne!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they true?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Darcy,

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

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Elizabeth

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

Dear Madam.

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

Dear Miss Bennet,

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

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

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

Fitzwilliam Darcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Nine

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Your Aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

“Please, do not cry for my sake.”

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

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

“Shhh…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When do you leave for London?”

“I am to stay nearly another month.”

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

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

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

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

“Might you leave early?” he pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

“Yes?” she called out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne squeezed her hands tightly and stared at her feet.

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

Slowly, she lifted her eyes, tears misted them.

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

Anne timidly nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What makes you think I need your assistance?”

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

“And you are an expert on matchmaking now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She sketches?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And where the devil did you send Richard?”

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

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

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

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Eight

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth saw the wisdom in the plan and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have,” Darcy gave a slight nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Eight

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

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth saw the wisdom in the plan and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have,” Darcy gave a slight nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice in July- The Independence of Jane Bennet

William_Blake_Mrs_Q_1820_engraving_after_Francois_Huet_Villiers_The_British_Museum
In an 1813 letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen says she recently saw a portrait that was a good likeness of how she envisioned Jane Bennet. It has been suggested this portrait (Mrs. Q by François Huet-Villiers) was the one she had in mind.

In January, I examined Jane Fairfax and Jane Bennet. In the series, I argued that both Janes had inconstant lovers, a reputation as Miss Perfect, and secondary heroines. This week, I want to specifically consider Jane Bennet.

I have two anticipated releases for this month. Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride contains Jane, of course. The inciting moment of conflict happens when Elizabeth reads a letter from Jane about Bingley giving her a cut direct in a shop. More on that story later (currently posting!). My other book is called Kissed by a Lord and is a rewriting of Jane and Bingley from A Sense of Obligation–in which Bingley and Jane quickly fall in love and anticipate their vows.

One of the primary conflicts in Pride and Prejudice revolves around the question of Jane’s desire for a love match or willingness for a marriage of convenience. Of course, Elizabeth as a sister knows Jane is in love with Bingley. Darcy, somewhat understandably, believed Jane too cold-hearted to fall in love so fast. The irony is that Darcy, in turn, is cold and aloof and falls just as fast for Elizabeth.

In Kissed by a Lord, I hone in on the question of Jane’s desires and run with it. The ultimate end point is the same as A Sense of Obligation. Jack and Eulalie anticipate their vows. The path for getting there is entirely different.

 

Jane-and-Mr-Bingley-pride-and-prejudice-couples-6970676-600-389
See the immediate smitten kitten. If only he treated her better!

 

Eulalie is not Jane. The Ashworths have twenty thousand pounds a piece and are orphans. She is a little older, does not believe in romantic love, and considers a marriage of convenience. She even approaches Jack about marriage first. However, her core beliefs are the same as Jane Bennet.

Eulalie feels deeply for her family. As the eldest sister, she worries about the younger ones. She has never had a selfish thought before approaching Jack about a mutually compatible marriage. Throughout the book, she displays her kind heart. Although sensitive and easily attuned to the emotions of others, she puts on a brave face for others. Despite internal and external conflict, she appears unflappable. These are all elements present when I write a Jane Bennet. To me, they’re crucial for staying in character–although, I will add that I don’t dislike out of character Janes or ones that have more depth and struggle with vanity and selflessness (everyone has a backstory).

 

I try to write my Jane Austen Fan Fiction with Austen’s original intent in mind. There’s romance and love. I use my obsession with research to sprinkle details throughout the story so that we would call it Historical Fiction. But, I also try to talk about the themes Jane Austen addressed. It’s what has made her a Classic and not just the mother of romance novels. My spin-off series does not have the Classic aspect. It is purely Historical Romance/Historical Fiction. Who, then, should a Jane Bennet–or her non-Classic cousin– wed?

I admit I have problems with Charles Bingley at times. Mr. Darcy gets all the blame for Bingley’s decisions. What if Bingley decided to stay at the house he rented? What if he did what he wanted to do, and believed right and/or harmless, rather than listening to Darcy and Caroline? What if he thought his friend and sister had suspicious motives for their advice? He would have to be an imbecile to not consider what Caroline’s motive was. What if he had a backbone? How does the story change for everyone? At the very least, Jane and Bingley probably marry earlier. More than likely, so do Darcy and Elizabeth.

However, does Jane deserve this? Does she deserve a man that can be talked out of loving her and then talked back into it? I suppose his feelings may never have wavered but his intentions sure did. I might feel more forgiving if he seemed to have learned anything in the process.

 

Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.
Say what you will about zombies with Jane Austen, but I love that it made Jane kick a**. 

 

In the grand scheme of things, Bingley’s actions propel Jane into an independence she seems to have not displayed before. She is not as outgoing or buoyant as Elizabeth, but it is there. She won’t be controlled by her mother or the people of the area and all their gossip or pitying looks. She won’t let Caroline Bingley trying to block her access to Bingley affect her. She won’t even let Elizabeth meddle and tries to write to her sister in the best of spirits. None of these things will gain her Bingley, but she makes a life without him. When he returns to Hertfordshire, she is in control of her feelings and actions. Instead, he looks to her for encouragement. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has turned into the less independent sister and places her happiness in Darcy’s hands and then waits for him to do something. Just as Marianne and Elinor had to adopt a bit of the other’s disposition, so do Jane and Elizabeth.

So, how can we vary the story with Jane still gaining her independence? Does she have to marry Bingley? In Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride, I write him what many would say is out of character. He leans on Darcy’s guidance and then Darcy is gone and he’s left to stumble through decisions on his own. I don’t want to give any spoilers but it looks pretty bleak for Jane and Bingley and she is soon courted by a duke.

 

lizzie-bennet-diaries-bing-and-jane-x-500
Finally, an adaptation that has Bingley grovel and admit to not knowing what on earth he’s doing with his life. 

 

In Kissed by a Lord, Eulalie establishes her independence early in the book. Her love interest must be compatible with that. Jack Crewe has a lot in common with Mr. Bingley. He’s been a dutiful son, brother, and friend. He’s been insecure and anxious to be liked. He’s never been expected to do much besides exist. As the younger son of a marquess, he has no responsibilities. However, unlike Bingley, he recognizes a tipping point in his life where he can let others dictate for him or he can seize his own destiny. And he fights so, so, so hard for it. Time and again, things arise to threaten his marriage to Eulalie but he’s not having it.

While I think Austen’s version of Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley work within the author’s greater themes, I think it leaves something to be desired as a twenty-first-century romance reader. Jane deserves justice. Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride and Kissed by a Lord are my attempts of giving it to her.

Kissed by a Lord pre-order link: Amazon

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Seven

mdbbDear C,

I am pleased you benefitted from staying with us. You have experienced a rogue and have now met some intellectual gentlemen old enough to be your father. You are young yet, though, do not give up. The right man will come at last.

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Seven

 

Elizabeth walked along a path at Rosings. She thought this was the one Colonel Fitzwilliam mentioned Mr. Darcy favoured. She could hardly account for her reasons. She knew Wickham was not to be trusted and resolved to consider Darcy’s character to be as she knew it before ever meeting Wickham. She could not say she liked him at all, but she did not hate him.

Aside from desiring to settle the matter of sketching his character, she realised it was wise to strike a friendship with him. She was inclined to think Wickham a madman or stupid but felt it prudent to confirm this in some way, and Wickham claimed to know Darcy well; knowledge should go both ways. Darcy had called on the Parsonage yesterday and, while apparently finding the place wanting, was entirely civil and went out of his way to express concern over their conversation weeks ago.

A movement down the lane caught her eye, but still, she was surprised to hear, “Miss Bennet!  What a beautiful morning for a walk. Do you often favour this grove?

“Good morning, Mr. Darcy. I do indeed enjoy this path the most.”

Now that she was not blinded by prejudice, she found it difficult to read Mr. Darcy’s face. She thought she saw a glimmer of happiness or pleasure, but it was likely just at being away from Rosings. In another instant, he wore the haughty expression she recalled so well from Hertfordshire.

Well, he is not so bad as Wickham would say, but that does not excuse his behaviour to the rest of Hertfordshire, nor does it change the fact that he dislikes me. But since there is no proof that he is dishonourable as Wickham has claimed, I have every hope that he shall help.

They had lapsed into silence, though Mr. Darcy seemed on the verge of speaking many times. Deciding that her family was worth this discomfort, Elizabeth decided to push forward with her request.

She could not meet his eyes and instead watched her feet. “Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature and have confessed to unjustly listening to tales defaming your character. I would very much like to hear what you have to say against Mr. Wickham so I might learn the truth.”

Darcy was silent for several minutes before he spoke in a gruff voice. “I do not know particularly what he has said of me, or under what manner of falsehood he has imposed upon you.”

His words immediately brought Elizabeth’s head up. It was as though he had thought she was in love with Wickham!  She wet her lips and replied with hesitation. “I do not know why Mr. Wickham chose to confide in me. I suppose I seemed willing to hear his lies.” She blushed and swallowed back the bitter taste that invaded her mouth. “I assure you, however, I did not seek such information, which was accepted only in the excitement of new friendship, nor was I vowed to secrecy; indeed he soon related his tale of woe to the whole of the area.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy’s face as it seemed he relaxed as she spoke before turning white in anger with her final words. She could see how tightly he clenched his jaw, and she despised herself for so tactlessly telling him an entire county hated him based on the lies of a cad. She winced at the impropriety of it all. As a Bennet, she seemed cursed to always say and do the wrong thing.

“Do not reproach yourself for my sake,” Darcy said gently. “Detection was not in your power and suspicion is not in your inclination. Allow me a moment to gather my thoughts.”

Elizabeth remained silent as they slowly walked through the grove. New life had begun to bud on the trees in the weeks since her arrival. Every day brought subtle changes. She envied how quickly nature could change. And yet, it remained constant as well. She knew that by now the maple near Longbourn would be putting forth leaves, and the roses would soon bloom.

“If you will allow us to sit here,” Darcy’s words interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts, and he motioned to a fallen log near the path, “I will tell you everything of my dealings with that man.”

Darcy patted the trunk. “It is clean and dry here, Miss Bennet. Nor did I see any insects.” He stepped aside to allow her to sit.

Elizabeth smirked at his consideration. “I have sat in wet grass many times and am not afraid of the crawling inhabitants of the forest. It is much more their home than mine.”

Darcy slightly smiled, and Elizabeth released a breath she did not realise she had been holding. He must be used to well-bred ladies who seldom stirred out of doors. Next, he sat on the log and exhaled. He stared into the distance and related his tale.

In many respects, it was the mirror image of what Wickham had told her. When old Mr. Darcy died, it was recommended that his son help establish Wickham in the church. However, Darcy explained that Wickham soon gave up any such claim, and instead stated he chose the law. He had been bequeathed one thousand pounds already and then requested an additional three thousand pounds for his studies and living expenses in lieu of the living. Darcy had long before lost his good opinion of Wickham and considered him ill-suited for the church, so agreed and such seemed the end of their acquaintance. Darcy could not speak to the particulars of Wickham’s existence but believed the man lived a very dissipated life with no sincere intention of becoming a barrister.

Darcy had indeed given the living Wickham hoped for to another man when it fell vacant. However, Wickham had neglected to include in his tale the fact that he had been compensated at his own request. Some while later, when he had exhausted his funds, Wickham approached Darcy asking for the living to be reinstated and, when Darcy refused, abused Darcy in foul language which he did not hesitate to spread near and far.

“You asked me weeks ago if I believed Wickham capable of plotting and, unfortunately, I do. Although I had thought all acquaintance between us severed, he intruded most painfully in my life last summer. His motive was financial, but I do not doubt he intended some kind of revenge on me as well, regardless of any harm to others.”

Elizabeth watched Darcy clench his hands at his side, his frame taut. At the time Elizabeth could scarcely guess what Wickham had done and was troubled to have Wickham’s sanity defended. While Wickham had appeared at ease with his retelling of events, Darcy’s visceral reactions held far more weight than all of Wickham’s pleasant smiles ever could. She fell silent and was surprised when Darcy finally spoke again.

“I am pleased you broached this topic, Miss Bennet,” he turned his attention from the distance to her face. “Often times, in the last several months I had considered returning to the neighbourhood as I know what Wickham is.”

The earnestness in his features pressed Elizabeth to confess more of what she heard. It was far too embarrassing to admit it all. “I fear he has plans to elope with my sister, Lydia.”

Darcy stiffened, and his face took a grim look. “How do you come to such a conclusion?”

“I overheard him speaking with other men.” Elizabeth could not meet Darcy’s eyes as she blushed, recalling what else Wickham had said. Surely the part about Darcy admiring her was false. Nor would she ever plot to ensnare him.

“What has been done to stop the plans? I assume your father has taken measures.”

“I never told him,” she said and twisted her hands. “I heard it the day before leaving for Kent. I had not thought there much truth in his words or that Lydia would agree to such a scheme.”

Darcy jerkily nodded. “I regret to tell you, last summer he made plans to elope with a young lady far more sedate than your sister. It was interrupted by the merest chance.”

Elizabeth knew he had been kind in his description of Lydia but blushed all the same.

Darcy stood and began pacing, “I need to speak with my cousin, the Colonel. Do I have your leave to explain what you heard?  You may be assured of his secrecy.”

“Yes, of course. I am sorry to have to involve you, and now your cousin, especially considering Wickham’s history of abuse towards your family.”

“I am honoured to be of service. Now, I must quickly depart to speak with my cousin. Is it possible to meet with you again tomorrow, to acquaint you with any plans or news?”

“Yes, sir, I thank you. I am usually walking by eight. I will write my father as well.”

They walked back to the Parsonage gate in silence. Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and said, “Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Darcy. Until tomorrow.”  Then with one long parting glance, he was gone.

When Elizabeth returned to the Parsonage, she was besieged by Charlotte. She twisted her hands as she met Elizabeth in the entry.

“My dear Charlotte, whatever is the matter?”

“Colonel Fitzwilliam called. He seemed to wish to see you and waited nearly an hour before leaving.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brows. “I cannot understand why he would wait so long. We have only just met.”

“Hence my disconcertion.” Charlotte looked over her shoulder. When she spoke again, she whispered. “Mr. Collins is very upset that the Colonel would ask after you so minutely after just making your acquaintance. He has determined something untoward on your part must be happening.”

“Untoward!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Hush!” Charlotte said in a harsh whisper.

“You cannot seriously believe I have done something improper,” Elizabeth spoke through clenched teeth. “Additionally, why does your husband not blame the Colonel? He witnessed our single encounter.”

“Beware, Eliza. Ladies always catch the blame for such entanglements.” Charlotte wet her lips and lowered her eyes. “Normally, I would not hesitate to promote a match with either of her ladyship’s nephews, but everything must be done properly.”

Elizabeth huffed. “There is nothing to this imagined impropriety! I was not even present. If I had designs on him, would I not take care to stay at home for his possible visit?”

Charlotte nodded. “Very good. That may make some sense to my husband.”

“I am certain the Colonel is only bored at Rosings. Would it not be worse if he appeared overly friendly with a married lady or Maria?”

“True.”

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “Is what angers Mr. Collins that Colonel Fitzwilliam preferred waiting for my presence rather than enjoying his company?”

“Please,” Charlotte said and held her hands up to stave off Elizabeth’s verbal assault. “You do not understand how his duties weigh on him.”

“Such an abominable mixture of insecurity and conceit!” Elizabeth muttered. Were there any gentlemen who did not contain a combination of the two?

The door to Mr. Collins’ library swung open, and he spoke without looking up from the book he held. “Mrs. Collins!”

“Yes, dear?” Charlotte’s voice was sweeter than Elizabeth had ever heard, and she tried not to gag at the facade of this marriage.

Mr. Collins looked up, startled to hear his wife so near. His eyes narrowed on Elizabeth’s and, if she had ever been afraid of looks before, she might fear he meant her harm. “Ah, Miss Bennet.”

It seemed all the friendly “Cousin Elizabeths” were over. She did not mourn their loss. “Good morrow, Sir,” she said with a false smile.

The look of displeasure on his face heightened. “In my home, you will take care to quell your Jezebel arts.”

Elizabeth gasped at the insult. Heat slapped her face and her heart hammered in her chest. Anger surged through her veins. She opened her mouth to verbally slay him when Charlotte placed a hand on her arm. Elizabeth clamped her jaw so tightly she winced at the pain.

“Please, sir. You have witnessed her good manners and know her Christian heart.” Charlotte left Elizabeth’s side and came to her husband. She turned a smile on Elizabeth as though it would alleviate the torture of this scene. “Do you not believe education and prayer can reform? It was most inspiring in your latest sermon.”

Mr. Collins sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Very true, my dear. As always you are a balm to my soul.” He looked at her with adoration and Elizabeth thought she would cast up her accounts on the polished wood floor.

He bowed his head in Elizabeth’s direction. “You will permit me the liberty of my ill-temper, I am sure.”

Was that his attempt at an apology?

“Mrs. Collins has reminded me that there are several works I would have you read while you are here.” Charlotte dutifully entered the study to retrieve the pile of books. Mr. Collins continued speaking. “You will find these most informative, I am sure. As you read them, I would charge you with reflecting on how you can mould your character as Mrs. Collins has done. You have every advantage before you with education, acquaintance, and age. I am determined you will do nothing to sully the Collins name.”

Elizabeth remained standing still with her jaw locked tight. Charlotte approached with an apologetic look but held several tomes out for Elizabeth to take. If they expected her to thank them or appear contrite, they could not be more mistaken. They stood before her, Mr. Collins seeming to think that a stern look would propel her to say something and Charlotte twisted her hands in non-verbal apology.

A sound on the road drew their notice. “Oh! It is Miss de Bourgh!” Mr. Collins exclaimed. As he walked to the door, he said, “I would charge you Miss Bennet with following Miss de Bourgh’s example in all things. You cannot meet with a more virtuous lady.”

Mr. Collins opened the door and immediately began his awkward bowing while quickly shuffling down the walk. Charlotte followed sedately behind. Maria entered the hallway. “Eliza, I did not hear you return. Are you well?”

Elizabeth made no response and Maria’s eyes were drawn to the road, and she also left to pay homage to the heiress of Rosings. Elizabeth’s fingers curled tightly around the conduct books. Finally releasing her locked jaw, she walked up the stairs to her room on wooden legs.

*****

Darcy smiled as he took the steps to Rosings two at a time. Despite the discussion about Wickham, he was pleased to see Elizabeth and that she had trusted him with the truth. He sensed that such disclosures did not come easily to her. He only regretted that she did not allow him to see to matters entirely. As a guardian, however, he recognised that it was only natural for a lady to defer to her father. Until such a time that she would place all her trust in her husband. Darcy’s smile grew.

“What has you grinning?” Richard asked. He stood leaning against the wall in the entry as though he awaited Darcy’s arrival. “The charming Miss Bennet?”

“I do not know what you mean,” Darcy said.

“Well, she was not at the Parsonage when I called.”

Darcy shrugged his shoulders. “The lady enjoys walking. Can you blame her?”

“No,” Richard shook his head. “But that Collins barely gave me a minute’s peace to talk with the ladies the hour I was there.”

“An hour!” Darcy’s eyebrows rose.

“You should thank me,” Richard shrugged.

Darcy tilted his head toward the stairs and began climbing them. Richard followed suit. Once safely in his chamber, he turned and scrutinised his cousin. “Why should I thank you for torturing yourself with Collins’ endless praise?”

“If you did not think there was merit to my claim, and would very much like your actions to remain private, why did you assure our privacy?” Richard stared back.

Darcy shook his head. It was useless attempting to ferret information out of his cousin, nor conceal it. The man had been trained in interrogation. “I thank you for staying at the Collinses for an hour because…” He waved his hand for Richard to continue.

“Because now no one will suspect your interest in Miss Bennet.”

Darcy’s spine stiffened, and his senses heightened. “What did you do?”

“Cool your porridge. I only asked after her whereabouts and a few other questions although she was not present. Enough to make it seem I was the one interested in her.”

“Richard!” Darcy clenched his hands but kept them at his sides.

“What?” His cousin said and walked to a chair. He settled himself in it and crossed his legs. “What have I done to offend the high and mighty Master of Pemberley, now?”

Darcy stalked over to the other chair. “It creates quite a conflict for her to appear to have engaged your affections while here.”

Richard blinked confusedly. “Engaged my affections?” He knit his brows. “Creates a conflict of interest how? Like the other mistresses of Richmond — I do recommend Richmond by the way — will have a care. My actions assured Lady Catherine would no reason to assume you meant to bed the chit.”

Darcy shot out of his chair, and it took all of his control to not pummel his cousin. His face burned as blood churned through his body and Richard’s shocked expression told Darcy he must have looked a terror.

“You are my cousin and one of my closest friends, but if you ever dare to insult the woman I intend to marry again, I will tear you apart from limb to limb,” Darcy growled.

“Marry!” Richard stood as well. “Marry! When you could have any lady. Daughters of dukes vie for you, vast fortunes. You could be master of this very estate!” He stretched an arm around as though Darcy had never before seen the expensive tapestries and furnishings.

“It means nothing,” Darcy said allowing some of his previous anger to dissipate.

“Nothing!” Richard echoed as though he did not understand the word. “Only a man who lived in luxury his whole life could think of giving it up so easily.”

“I won’t be giving anything up. I’ll not lose Pemberley simply because I wed a lady with no connections.”

“And her dowry?”

“She likely brings nothing to the marriage, but I have no worries,” Darcy said firmly.

“I am glad to hear you do so well,” Richard said. “You have thought of Georgiana?”

“Elizabeth will be a sterling model of behaviour for Georgie. She needs more confidence and liveliness, and an understanding sister.” A soft smile pulled at Darcy’s lips as he considered the two ladies together. “She has younger sisters and is very close to them.”

“Yes, about her family,” Richard resumed his seat and toyed with a cuff link, but Darcy was not put off by his cousin’s nonchalance. He was probing. Whether it was for their aunt or the Earl or merely his own prejudices, Darcy was unsure, but Richard had set himself up as a defender of Darcy’s name.

“I am not duped by her charms,” Darcy said, at last, frowning.

“Multiple as they may be,” Richard winked. “You hedge on her family which means they must be objectionable. Society will not be kind to her. At least she is not born on the wrong side of the blanket or had a history of employment.”

Darcy scowled again at the hint of Elizabeth and prostitution, as Richard’s reference to employment was a euphemism for. “The Bennet family want sense and connections. Her mother came from trade, but her father is a gentleman. Remember you speak of a lady!”

“I promise,” Richard held up his hands, and Darcy felt his pulse rate lower. “You may not like it, but my interrogation is far kinder than you will receive from any of our relatives and Society as a whole.”

“Who would reproach her? The biddies at Almacks. It’s well-known the Countess of Jersey’s mother was in trade. Indeed, the Countess owns the majority of Child’s Bank! Elizabeth will have Darcy wealth behind her, no one will dare breathe a word against us.” Unlike Richard, Darcy remained standing. He fought the urge to pace.

“They will not take kindly to a fortune hunter,” Richard said after several minutes of silence.

Darcy guffawed. “A fortune hunter! Everyone in the ton is fortune hunting! Have I not had every silly nitwit debutante flung upon me for nigh on a decade now, simply because I am wealthy? They could care less about my character or expect me to care about theirs.”

Now, Darcy did pace. “I am told that such and such lady can dance or speak French with ease. I am forced to feign admiration at lame attempts at art. And not for the family gallery mind you, or for general appreciation. Oh, no. They are merely for firescreens or embroidered samplers that, if lucky, will hang on a wall instead of being soiled by a December nose!”

Darcy flung himself in his chair, his pique over. His chest heaved, and he loosened his cravat to take deep breaths. His display was hardly gentlemanly, and nothing like the calm and collected man he was known to be, but Elizabeth had always stirred passions in him.

“Fortune hunter!” Darcy exclaimed again. “Let them see us. They will know we married for affection.”

Richard stared at Darcy in silence for several minutes. “Affection? Disdain for Society’s values? To hear you speak now, I would hardly know you.”

Darcy shook his head and leant forward, placing his elbows on his knees. Cradling his jaw in his palms, he stared unseeing at the ostentatious wallpaper across the room framing a portrait of some long ago distant relative. “I love her.”

The firmness of the words shocked even Darcy. For the first time he ever spoke them aloud, he had not expected to sound so assured or proud. He had expected to feel humiliated with being ruled by his emotions, but not everything about Elizabeth utterly defied logic. She was not a servant or courtesan. Their marriage would be unlikely, but not unheard of.

“You. Love. Her.” Richard enunciated each word. “You love her? And you think, what? That love will erase all of Society’s arguments against you? That love is all you need?”

No, it was not the only tool they needed. Darcy was no fool. He would require support from Lady Darcy, and Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam if they would extend it. Beyond his family, Darcy was not without friends with money and influence. He could not be accused of having been the most friendly man in his eight and twenty years, but most overlooked his gruffness to stay in his good graces. “What would you have me do?”

“Bed her, do not wed her.”

“How poetic,” Darcy glared. “Something one of your opera light-skirts taught you?”

Richard laughed. “You asked what I would do, not what should be done. Well, despite my raking you over the coals just now, I will support you – whatever little help the second son of an earl will be.”

Darcy leant back, feeling as though a weight left his shoulders. He rested his head on the back of the chair. “Only tell me you will not insinuate anymore that you wish to debauch her.”

“Well, if you think she should have a proper education before coming to your bed…”

“Richard,” Darcy growled. Although he knew his cousin jested, he did not care for associating Elizabeth with such imagery.

“I do enjoy riling you,” Richard said. “If Pemberley does ever go under you have the gumption of many a serjeant I know.”

They shared a smile for a moment before Darcy’s fell. “I do need your assistance.”

Richard nodded, and Darcy told him of his conversation with Elizabeth.

“She is fortunate he did not know she was there!” Richard exclaimed when Darcy had finished. “Do you think Mr. Bennet will be of any use?”

Darcy stroke his jaw in thought. “I should think better of the man I hope to make my father-in-law, but I do not believe he will take Elizabeth’s letter seriously — if he reads it all, which even she admitted was a possibility. My own father had refused to see the truth of Wickham’s character.”

“Uncle Darcy also had known Wickham from an infant and had no daughters’ virtue to protect.”

“No, but I did,” Darcy said. The familiar self-hatred whipped at his heart lashing open old and new wounds. No more, he told himself. I met Elizabeth after the pain. The experience has a purpose now.

Richard did not offer absolution and Darcy did not seek it. They had argued years before about Darcy keeping Wickham’s behaviour a secret from Georgiana, and now both knew which man had been right. It was not a mistake Darcy would allow to happen again.

“Last autumn, you offered to use your connections to transfer Wickham. I would ask that you now do so,” Darcy said.

Richard nodded in agreement. “It will take a few weeks. Do you believe you have the time?”

“Elizabeth writing to her father is not the only idea I have, but we must tread carefully. You can hardly expect a family to thank you for interfering in their affairs.”

“Will they not soon be your family as well?” Richard asked.

“Elizabeth and I have no understanding, at present, and I think it unlikely that we can reach one while at Rosings. Our aunt…”

“Yes,” Richard frowned. “And with me away, she will desire you at the house even more than usual.”

“Indeed.” Darcy tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair, wishing the days would speed by. A few stolen moments with Elizabeth each morning was not nearly enough while other lovers were able to enjoy entire days with their beloveds. However, Richard had spoken the truth earlier, and this would not be their last trial. He wisely kept complaints to himself, allowing that one word to represent all that surged in the sea of emotion residing in his heart.