Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- The First Noel

Previous Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two /Chapter Four Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine Chapter TenChapter ElevenChapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen / Chapter Fifteen / Chapter Sixteen

christmas 2016 5The First Noel

Longbourn,

December 23, 1811

 

Elizabeth and Darcy blushed as Mrs. Bennet’s shrieks sent Mr. Bennet to the library. After he had requested a private word with Darcy, Elizabeth whispered to Darcy, “What will you tell him?”

“The truth,” he answered.

“You will tell my father we inexplicably have been repeating the same day?”

“I am not certain he would believe that. No, I intend to tell him that I love you.”

Elizabeth blushed but shyly smiled. “Very well. I will tell him the same.”

Before Darcy could tell Elizabeth to not be untruthful, her mother pulled her away, and Darcy was left with Mr. Bennet.

“Have a seat, Mr. Darcy,” the older gentleman said with deceptive calmness before taking his own on the opposite side of the desk.

“Allow me to apologise for taking liberties with your daughter,” Darcy said, hoping the smile he could not erase did not exasperate matters.

“She seemed far from offended,” Bennet observed.

For once, Darcy thought to himself. Of course, if kissing was what it took to
earn Elizabeth’s favour, he would gladly make himself a slave to the task.

“Ahem.”

Mr. Bennet cleared his throat, and Darcy realized he had been wool-gathering.

“Well, you have done it now,” Bennet said. “Her mother witnessed it, and there will be no mercy from her wailings. I am surprised a man of your worth managed to forget himself enough to be entangled so much.”

Mr. Bennet seemed to have found humour
in the situation.

“I love her,” Darcy blurted.

“Indeed?”

“I have asked her to marry me.” Darcy could hardly tell her father when he had done so. Nor would telling him that Elizabeth had refused help his cause.

“You are not asking for my blessing, so I assume she did not accept?”

Darcy remained mute.

“However, she seemed to welcome your…ahem…attentions
so not all hope is lost.”

“Sir?” Did Bennet want his daughter to marry him?

“I think my wife must have interrupted the settling of things.”

“Well…”

“If I am not mistaken, it has been several days in the making.”

Did Mr. Bennet also regain memory of the last fortnight?

“Now, I will call for Elizabeth. Then, we must hope your cousin does something for Mary. He is fortunate my wife will never recall a thing.”

“I do not understand…” Darcy fumbled. “How?”

“I have, at last, learned caution from your story about Wickham. I believe there must be some Christmas magic at work. Upon realizing how derelict I was in protecting my daughters, I had the most bizarre set of memories fall upon me. I can think of no way to explain your sudden arrival and Jane’s betrothal but to believe they were real, ending with an epiphany of great importance.”

Darcy blinked at the man who, he had found, acted most illogically most of his life. Mr. Bennet had married a silly wife with little fortune. He did not save for his daughters’ inheritance. He allowed them far too much liberty. However, the man had logically explained the alternate realities and time loop they inhabited for two weeks and more, believed it far easier than anyone else had. Perhaps the key lay in being both logical and ridiculous? Bennet began to laugh, interrupting Darcy’s reverie.

“Do not mind me,” the gentleman waved off Darcy’s concerned look.
“I only recalled when Collins had died. Mrs. Bennet has often wished there was no entail and I have often hoped it would not go to him. However, she did not take kindly to him keeling up before marrying one of her daughters and just after proposing to Charlotte Lucas.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled another moment. “Then you and Bingley came bounding in and immediately she turned about, elated with your return and convinced Bingley meant to offer for Jane and save us all. I daresay you will be gaining two or three very silly sisters, but your mother-in-law will always entertain.”

Darcy managed to smile at the image. At present, if he could acquire Elizabeth’s hand and if she could return his love, he would bear all things and count himself blessed. How differently he felt about any number of things in so few days!

Mr. Bennet rang for the servant and in short order, Elizabeth entered the library.

“Now, Elizabeth,” Mr. Bennet began as she sat beside Darcy. “This gentleman tells me that he loves you and has asked for your hand in marriage.”

“Yes.”

She answered nervously. Undoubtedly, she had not meant to speak to her father with Darcy in the room.

“And do you consent?”

Elizabeth glanced at Darcy. “I do.”

If he had not insulted her so soundly in his actual proposal, he would think this arrangement the height of unromantic. Still, Darcy’s heart rate increased. She was accepting him? She had not returned her eyes to her father.

“And you are not out of your senses? Currently, I mean. It would be understandable if you are after the events of the last fortnight.”

Elizabeth gasped. “You know?” She swung her head from him to gape at Mr. Bennet.

“Yes, I do, but you have not answered my question.”

“No,” Elizabeth shook her head and returned her gaze to Darcy. “No, I am in my right mind.”

“Have you not always hated him?” Mr. Bennet said with a humorous note in his voice.

Elizabeth blushed. “No. No, I have never hated him. I love him.”

Darcy’s heart skidded to a stop and then burst. The elation overspread on his face as muscles he had long forgotten he had stretched into a grin of unfettered joy.

“You love me?” He could not keep the wonder from his voice.

“I do,” she replied in a similar voice of disbelief.

He reached for her hands and raised them to his lips. “Words
cannot contain the love I have for you.”

“I do not know,” Elizabeth smiled. “Calling it ‘ardent’ certainly seemed like a good beginning to me.”

It was not the beginning he had trouble with! No, his problem was no matter how his words of love began, in his mind, the scene ended with his capturing her mouth and not relinquishing it until she was his in every way. Still, he would do this right, for her.

Keeping her hand in his, Darcy knelt on one knee. “Elizabeth Bennet, I passionately adore you. I would lay down my life for you. I will go to the ends of the earth to make you happy. I love you as no man has ever loved a woman. Will you be my wife?”

Elizabeth smiled even as a tear trickled down her cheek. “Yes, I will! I have been stupid and blind. I have been unkind and unjust. You have seen me at my worst, and I have seen you at your best. I love you, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

Darcy could not contain his ardour any longer and met Elizabeth’s lips. When he did not hear a reproach from Mr. Bennet, he pulled back long enough to confirm the gentleman had left the room at some point during their exchange. He met Elizabeth’s lips again.

He would never have enough of her, but when he kept her in his arms as long as he dared, they separated and returned to the drawing room. Upon Mr. Bennet announcing their betrothal, they learned Richard had also sought Mr. Bennet’s blessing to wed Mary.

Darcy gave Richard a hearty handshake and Elizabeth approached her sister.

“Are you certain of this, Mary?” Elizabeth dropped her voice. “Mama does not remember the kiss. No one will be upset if you refuse him.”

Richard cleared his throat. “I will be upset.”

“Perhaps it is a bit sudden,” Darcy cautioned.

“No,” Richard said. “In all this insanity, I admit I felt attraction for another lady. I even believed I might love her.”

Mary began to hang her head in shame.

“Richard, I do not think…”

“I was wrong,” Richard said and lifted Mary’s head by hooking his finger under her chin. “She intrigued me because she was unavailable and I was a glutton for punishment. When I considered never having her, only my pride was wounded. Then you boldly walked into my life and I instantly fell.”

“Did you really?” Mary breathed, her eyes focused on Richard.

“I did,” he nodded. “And such a sweet fall it was.”

Darcy cleared his throat. “I suppose we have established your feelings.”

Elizabeth smirked. “He is only jealous because you are out-romancing him.”

Darcy flushed and looked at his feet.

Elizabeth whispered in his ear, “I still love you.”

He would never tire of her saying it. However, at the moment, they needed to address her sister’s feelings. “What do you say, Miss Mary? I recall Richard once telling me he would settle for marrying a woman who did not love him, so long as he loved her.”

Mary gasped and a surprising fierceness flooded her eyes. Darcy laughed to himself at the familial expression she shared with Elizabeth.

“Don’t you dare let me hear such a thing said of you again.” Mary poked Richard in the chest. “Do not dare think you are not worthy of love. You deserve it more than any other man and I…” Tears flooded her eyes and she wiped at them below her glasses. “I love you. I may be small and plain but I have loved you since I first saw you and—”

Richard silenced her with a kiss which drew the attention of the room again.

“Mr. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” Mrs. Bennet cried.

“Colonel, I was going to give you my blessing anyway. Can you not speak with a father like a civilised man?” Mr. Bennet laughed. “If any young men come for Kitty or Lydia, show them in. I am quite at my leisure,” he said and withdrew a newspaper to read by the fire.

The three betrothed couples and Georgiana could not contain their amusement while Mr. Bennet’s two youngest daughters had not spared the others more than a moment’s concern as they had instead noticed a bright star in the sky.

When she had caught her breath, Georgiana declared, “Joyeux Noel!”

“Mr. Bennet,” his wife exclaimed. “You take delight in vexing me!” She then clutched her head. “Oh, that clock! My salts! My salts!”

The others had just enough time to reach their seats before fainting.


 

This ends Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy, Part I of MR. DARCY’S MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN. I’ll be posting Parts II and III next week!

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- Auld Lang Syne

Previous Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two /Chapter Four Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine Chapter TenChapter ElevenChapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen / Chapter Fifteen

christmas 2016 5Auld Lang Syne

Longbourn

December 23, 1811

 

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” Elizabeth asked and arched a brow.

“I’ll take a cup of kindness,” Darcy replied smiling.

“As I recall, it was your kindness that saved me.”

Darcy shook his head. “Nay, you saved me. Wickham would not have hurt you…he always meant to injure me.”

Elizabeth thought over Darcy’s words for a moment. He seemed to complacently claim Wickham would have never wounded her. However, at the time, he had desperately clung to her. More than that, he had made sure she was safe and unharmed. Even when it came to promising Wickham tens of thousands of pounds and an estate, he agreed to it without hesitation for her sake. And he would attempt to say he had done nothing heroic? That he was to blame?

Instantly, Elizabeth felt she understood more about Mr. Darcy than she would have if she had known him for a year. Perhaps it was the strangeness of the repeating days — for she recalled that as well — or the stress of being attacked by Wickham. The fact that the man before her had been abominably abused and cast aside in favour of Wickham by nearly everyone — herself included — and yet apologised for perceived weakness and inaction proved he had no improper pride. He lacked social graces. He did not know the pretty words Wickham used or all the right places to smile. Unlike Collins, he did not attempt to practice it either. He could not act differently than he was, whether the world love or despise him.

Or perhaps it was despise and love him? Were the two entirely separate? Did she not often hate her family but always love them?

“I did not mean to make you uncomfortable again,” Darcy said, beginning to approach the door. “Please forgive me.”

“Why should I?” she blurted.

He paused at the door way. “Pardon?”

“Have you said or done something to me that you regret? That you did not mean?”

Darcy paled, incredible pain filling his eyes. He approached and whispered. “Do you mean besides my ungentlemanly behaviour for weeks?
Besides my secrecy leading to Wickham attacking you? Yes, I do have other regrets. Do you not recall?” His eyes searched hers.

Elizabeth had meant his tender attention after subduing Wickham.
She had also meant his proposal — which lacked any loving words but then it seemed actions were his strong suit. “I recall, sir, but I do not have regrets.”

“How can that be? Or are you teasing me?” He shook his head. “No, you would not be so cruel. My wishes and affections are unchanged — and never will — but I grieve ever hurting you with my arrogant presumption.”

He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “When I think of the liberties I took… I am fortunate you did not slap me.”

Elizabeth’s eyes misted to hear his self-rebuke. How could he think she felt remorse for his kiss? Such tenderness and ardent desire, she had never known. At that moment, she very much needed it, and even now her lips tingled at the memory.

“Can you not imagine how grateful I am?” she asked with her voice
rising in pitch. “Can you not understand how it comforted me?”

Some of the pain in Darcy’s expression eased. “I should not have done it. I am pleased it brought you some relief, but I cannot accept your thanks.”

He was leaving again, and something in Elizabeth’s heart told her if she did not speak now she might never have another opportunity. “Pray forgive my selfishness, even as it may wound you. As we have referenced the New Year and our new beginning, should we not seal it with a kiss?”

Elizabeth repressed an urge to laugh as she could see that Darcy had never expected such words. He opened and closed his mouth without words coming several times. At last, he found his voice.

Anxiety and indecision marred his countenance. Restrained energy thrummed from his body. “By your sister’s count, it is well past New Year. It is now the fifth.”

Elizabeth gave him a saucy grin. “Then we are long overdue, do you not agree?”

All hesitation vanished, and Darcy strode to her with determined steps. He pulled her into strong arms and Elizabeth threw hers around his neck. They held each other so tightly she could feel the rapid beat of his heart through his garments.

Just before Darcy’s lips met Elizabeth’s, he rested his forehead on hers. Through laboured breaths, he said, “Will you allow me to tell you how I ardently love you?”

“Yes, but you had much better tell me more later and kiss me now,” Elizabeth demanded.

Her words were immediately heeded and none too soon for far earlier than either would have liked their bliss was interrupted by the screeching of Mrs. Bennet.

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- Angels We Have Heard on High

Previous Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two /Chapter Four Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine Chapter TenChapter ElevenChapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen

christmas 2016 5Angels We Have Heard on High

Darcy House, London

December 23, 1811

 

Feeling as though he had awoken from a deep slumber, Darcy resisted the urge to stretch and yawn as he looked around his dining room. Had he gone mad? A moment ago, he had Elizabeth in his arms, and now he had returned to London.

Down the table, Mr. Hurst snorted in his sleep, causing him to jump. “Pardon me! Bingley, you were…uh…saying?” He looked from one confused face to the next then shrugged and gulped the remaining port in his glass.

“I…” Bingley trailed off and blinked rapidly.

“I believe you were just saying you needed to return to Netherfield immediately,” Richard supplied.

“Yes,” Bingley’s eye’s widened, and he nodded emphatically. “Yes, I was. Thank you.”

“You want to go back to that desolation?” Hurst asked as he sloshed more port into his glass.

Richard and Bingley both swung their heads to Darcy, willing him to play along. A part of him thought he had lost his mind or dreamed. He recalled everything. Mary Bennet’s revelation of repeating December twenty-third. Wickham attacking Elizabeth. Lydia bearing his child. Collins dying. Time and time again, Darcy had found the Bennets in distress, and due to matters he could alleviate or prevent. More than this, he could still taste Elizabeth on his lips, and her perfume clung to him. As often as he had vividly imagined such an encounter, he never considered that she tasted like mulled cider or would imagine the woodsy scent of trees and dirt mixing with her usual lavender.

“What kind of master would he be if he did not attend to his house and estate?” Darcy replied to Hurst and out of the corner of his eye saw Richard and Bingley relax.

“Hurst,” Bingley said while standing, “Please see to Caroline and Louisa. You will need a hack as I’ll be leaving from Darcy House within the hour.”

“Surely it is not as urgent as that!” Mr. Hurst exclaimed and looked longingly at Darcy’s fine wine.

“Take the bottle as my thanks,” Darcy said.

Bingley’s brother-in-law instantly agreed. Bottle in hand, he left to corral his charges.

“Do you remember?” Richard asked Bingley and Darcy.

“Was it real?” Bingley asked in wonder.

“It was real,” Darcy answered. As he stood the chair scraped against the floor, echoing in the vast room. “Let us be about it, then.” He turned to leave, ever fibre in his body thrumming with the need for activity, with the need to see Elizabeth.

“What are your intentions, Darcy?” Richard called after him.

“What are yours? I am sure Miss Mary would like to know.” Darcy tempered his reply with a grin, sending Richard to laughter.

“I am going to marry Jane,” Bingley declared and walked to Darcy’s side. “With or without your blessing.”

Darcy stared his closest friend in the eye. The man he had protected like the brother he always wished he had, finally stood up to him and Darcy could not have been prouder. Extending his arm and placing a hand on one of Bingley’s shoulders, Darcy nodded. “You have it, not that you ever needed it. Can you forgive my officiousness?”

“It was kindly meant,” Bingley said with a smile. “Now, we had best be off, or I will have to interfere with your prospects.”

Darcy laughed and shook his head, his hand dropping to his side. Elizabeth may never return his affections, but he could not have Bingley play matchmaker for him. He would earn her devotion or spend his entire life striving for it. Richard approached. “What will you tell Georgie?”

“She probably has more of it figured out than we do,” Darcy said ruefully and led his friend and cousin to the drawing room.

“There you are!” Georgiana flew to his side, twisting her hands.

“Caroline and Louisa did put up some fight, but I sent them on their way. Mr. Hurst can be quite firm when motivated well enough,” she slid her brother a disapproving glare. “I have already sent for my trunk.”

This time, Darcy did not even try to argue with her. They all separated and agreed to meet in one hour. At the appointed time, they were boarding Darcy’s carriage. Bingley’s, as smaller, would follow with the luggage. The ride passed in silence, no one knowing what to feel or expect.

Arriving at Netherfield, each returned to their chambers. The sleepy looks and dark circles under each pair of eyes at the breakfast table confirmed to Darcy his supposition. No one had slept well. Before dressing this morning, Darcy had sent a message to Mr. Bennet requesting to speak with him on an urgent matter. To his surprise, and relief, the older gentleman agreed immediately and hinted that Elizabeth was behind his decision and speedy reply.

Boarding the carriage once more, they hurtled forth swaying on a bumpy road and with equally turbulent thoughts clouding their minds. At last, they arrived at Longbourn and entered, surprised when they met with a trio of blushing Bennet sisters. It seemed that the ability to remember the events of the past week transferred to the eldest three daughters as well.

“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet greeted him, “I hope you do not mind that Elizabeth will join our discussion.”

“Of course not,” Darcy said as nervousness gnawed at his belly. He ought to have explained about Wickham long ago. It was the only thing he could think of which featured at each day they had experienced. And yet, he had never told a soul all of Wickham’s evil at once. Never had he believed the good opinion of one he loved more than life depended upon accepting his presentation of the facts.

Mr. Bennet and his second daughter left the room, and Richard nudged Darcy to follow before taking a seat beside Miss Mary, who blushed and caused her mother to stammer even more than when she had seen Bingley. He was greeted favourably by Jane while Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty fawned over Georgiana. She gave him a brave smile and a shooing motion.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy quelled his courage and left for his battle. Declining, Mr. Bennet’s offer to sit, Darcy chose to pace. While he told his tale of Wickham’s years of deceit and betrayal, he fixated his eyes on various objects in the room. Now and then, something struck him as more Elizabeth-like than what he would guess her father to enjoy. How had he dared to think less of this family? They made Elizabeth who she was, kept her healthy and happy her whole life while others were so miserable they sought to compromise him. He could not always like the behaviour of the Bennets, but what flaws they had were innocent and when looked at through the eyes of love, not so unbearable.

When Darcy relayed the news of Wickham’s desired elopement with Georgiana, he heard Elizabeth gasp. Turning to look at him, he saw tears prick her eyes.

“I had hoped it was a nightmare,” she murmured.

“What was that Elizabeth?” her father asked.

She cleared her voice and spoke more distinctly. “I said, what a nightmare.”

“Indeed,” her father said.

Darcy’s eyes never left Elizabeth’s as he carefully chose his words. “Unfortunately, all of this is true. You may corroborate with my cousin if you wish. Imagine if Georgiana had eloped with him. Once he received her money, he likely would have cast her off and seen to his own pleasures regardless of any familial duties he may have incurred.”

By the widening of her eyes, Darcy presumed she understood he referenced the period of time when Wickham had fathered Lydia’s child.

“I do not think consulting your cousin will be necessary,” Mr. Bennet said. “I suppose there is a reason you have explained all this.”

“Yes,” Darcy said finally allowing his eyes to leave Elizabeth. “The area merchants and gentlemen should be warned. Richard and I will speak with his colonel.”

Before Darcy could say more, there were happy shrieks from the drawing room followed by Mrs. Bennet’s frenzied voice.

“Mr. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” Her rapid steps were heard down the hall. She flung open the door, chest heaving as she worked for breath. “Mr. Bennet, it is the best news imaginable! Mr. Bingley has proposed to Jane! Make haste!”

Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes, but Darcy saw the pleased smile on the older man’s face as he returned to his family. Taking a moment to consider what it would be like if he had five daughters, Darcy concluded he likely would not be half as sensible as the Bennet patriarch.

Darcy could feel Elizabeth’s eyes upon him. One side of his body tingled, and he knew she approached. Did she remember everything? Did she remember their kiss? And had she felt the passion he had?

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You did not need to come.”

Heart pounding in his chest, Darcy looked down at her. He could see she had also not slept and yet she was still the most beautiful woman in the world to him. “Yes, I did. A gentleman must right his wrongs.”

Elizabeth nervously fingered her neck. “I can still feel it…” She took a deep breath. “Do all of you recall the events?”

“Yes,” Darcy nodded. “And your sisters?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“I cannot apologise enough for allowing Wickham to harm you. If I had behaved better, you might not have trusted him. If I had done my duty and exposed him, it would have been impossible. If I had not angered you—”

Elizabeth placed a hand on his arm, silencing him. “There is nothing to forgive. If it were me, I would have protected my sister as well. You are not to blame for Wickham. I, however, must beg your forgiveness. I had been so prejudiced and blind—”

Darcy now felt it necessary to interrupt her. “We have misjudged each other. Might we begin again?”

Mr. Darcys Christmas Joy- O Holy Night

Previous Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two /Chapter Four Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine Chapter TenChapter ElevenChapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen

christmas 2016 5O Holy Night

Longbourn

December 23, 1811

 

As Elizabeth left Mr. Darcy’s side and joined Wickham, something like an unpleasant memory flashed in her mind. However, it was more impression than memory, so she pushed it aside. Expecting for Darcy to leave after her refusal, she could barely contain her astonishment when he stayed for dinner. While they gathered in the drawing room before the meal, Darcy glared at her and Wickham.

The officer unabashedly enjoyed goading the arrogant gentleman. However, Wickham’s delight did not serve him well. Elizabeth’s primary interest in Wickham had been because he flattered her vanity. She was not too proud to admit that. What lady would not enjoy the attentions of a handsome man? It soon became apparent, though, that Wickham paying Elizabeth such notice flattered his ego. Out of some rivalry with Darcy — of which a valuable church living did not seem to be the motive — Wickham preyed upon her dislike of Darcy.

During the meal, Darcy sat near Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth observed him to see how he would react to her mother’s constant raving about the good fortune of Mr. Bingley’s return and how kind he was to want to marry her eldest daughter. Soon, Mrs. Bennet hinted at Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam marrying from among her other girls. Beside her, Mary blushed scarlet. How curious. As Mrs. Bennet had not been expecting so much company, the meal had fewer courses than she would have had ordered otherwise and Elizabeth gloried in the chance to be away from the gentlemen. In fact, she felt tempted to claim illness and return to her chamber, but she did not wish to ruin the evening of Jane’s betrothal. She would not let Mr. Darcy have such a victory over her.

Surprisingly, Mary, Georgiana, and Jane had their heads together when they returned to the drawing room. Now and then they nervously glanced at the clock. Half past six.

“Lizzy,” Jane said. “Will you walk with me?”

“Jane, you cannot leave,” Mrs. Bennet screeched. “When the gentlemen return Mr. Bingley will want to sit with you!”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow as she watched alarm enter Jane’s eyes and she glanced at Mary and Georgiana.

“Mama,” Mary said suddenly, “Miss Darcy had asked to see the fountain. Jane and Lizzy know it best. We would not want to put her out, would we?”

Mrs. Bennet paused for a moment, as she had always disliked Darcy. However, seeing as he brought Bingley back as well as another single gentleman, and friendship with his sister could do wonder for her daughters, she relented. “Very well, but hurry along!”

The last rays of the sun were slipping from the horizon and dusk came closer with every passing second. Reaching the fountain, they stared at it appreciatively for a moment.

“Forgive me, but I would hate to miss Mr. Bingley’s return to the drawing room,” Jane blushed. “You cannot fault me, my dear sister, for wishing to be by his side so much after so long a separation.”

Elizabeth gave her most beloved sister an indulgent smile. “No, indeed. If Miss Darcy has no objection to staying out here with me alone, that is. Although I wonder that her brother should like it.”

“Oh, there is no worry there,” Miss Darcy said with laughter. “He often wrote of your superior intelligence and abilities.”

Before Elizabeth could do more than gape at the sister to the most complicated man in the universe, Jane excused herself.

“And what is that?” Georgiana pointed to some flowers by a copse of trees.

Elizabeth explained the species as she walked closer to gain a better view. She had assumed Georgiana followed but noticed she did not hear footsteps. Turning to see where the girl had gone, a shadow moved from a tree, catching her eye and causing her to yelp.

Immediately, Elizabeth threw an arm out to protect Georgiana from the darkened intruder. “Miss Darcy, run!”

“She has returned to the house,” Wickham said. “She never saw me. We are quite alone.”

“Mr. Wickham? Why would you scare me?” Elizabeth felt her body relax and held a hand to her chest.

“Oh, there is really nothing to fear.”

Suddenly, he grabbed her arm, holding it so tight she was certain it bruised. He pulled her hard against his chest. One arm snaked around her waist while the one that abused her limb now raked up her shoulder and neck. Taking her jaw in hand, he forcefully bent her head back to look at him. Madness shone in his eyes.

“I will finally have my revenge.”

Revenge? What revenge? What did he speak of? “Sir, if you will please come back to the house. You are unwell. We can call a physician.”

“No, no. Your words or looks will not beguile me. Tell me,” he said and thrust her chin this way and then that, “do you think you are worth thirty thousand pounds to him?”

To who? Elizabeth took a shuddering breath. She had no idea what had caused this madness or who he spoke of, but she had no time to worry about such things. She needed to be free of him. She did not think she could overpower him. Gruffly, he let go of her face and then thrust a hand into his pocket. What he withdrew flashed in the moonlight.

“I think on your knees, will be best,” he simultaneously released his hand and shoved her forward. Elizabeth stumbled to her knees. Instantly, he was beside her and gripping her around the waist again. Then, Elizabeth felt the cold, hard steel against her neck and whimpered.

“You will have to be louder than that,” he said and pressed harder against the tender skin. Elizabeth felt a trickle of blood and prayed someone might come outside.

“Look!” Wickham exclaimed, and his breath became ragged in excitement and delight. Every exhale scorched her ear. “Play nice,” he whispered harshly.

“Miss Bennet?” Elizabeth heard Darcy’s anxious tone come from the direction of the house.

He held no lantern, and it took a moment for her to make out his frame in the increasing darkness.

“Over here, Darcy,” Wickham’s foul breath flew past her ear again. “I believe we can finally talk about the matter of what you owe me.”

“Wickham,” Darcy growled out. “I owe you nothing!”

Leaves crunched signalling Darcy’s approach. Wickham tightened his hold on Elizabeth, earning a whimper from her. The shuffling of feet ceased.

“Elizabeth?” Darcy asked, fear evident in his tone.

“Go ahead, sweetheart,” Wickham commanded. “Reassure him you live.” Wickham laughed. “So long as both of you do as I say the blade will not slice her throat.”

Elizabeth remained mute. She would not let him gain anything through her. The blade cut deeper, and Elizabeth bit back on the bile rising in her throat.

“You may have anything you desire so long as you do not harm her,” Darcy said. The previous tone was gone, and he was the Master of Pemberley in command once more.

“And you?” Wickham’s hand around her waist tightened. “Do you agree as well?”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said calmly. “Cooperate with him, and I promise you will return safely to your parents.”

How had it come to this? Wickham was crazed and threatening her life? She had been blind, so blind! No injustice he had faced in life would justify this cruelty.

“Yes,” she said firmly. “I will obey you.”

“Ah, good to see she can be biddable,” Wickham said. “Now, you may approach, Darcy.”

Darcy’s feet moved at a steady rhythm, and soon he emerged from the shadows and trees.

“Our hero,” Wickham laughed. “Or should I say our bait! You see, it was he the others intended for you to meet out here. A lover’s tryst?”

“Wickham,” Darcy said, but his eyes never left hers. His blue eyes pleaded with her to trust him. “What do you want?”

“What should have been mine! Taken from my father and raised alongside you. I should have been treated as a son!” He spat at Darcy’s boots.

“And so, you were,” Darcy said calmly. “Many younger sons enter the Church.”

Wickham shook his head. “Not a Darcy. Tell me, was your uncle expected to live off a few hundred pounds per annum.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. Wickham was not a Darcy, and she highly doubted he would have concealed that heritage or that Darcy would not acknowledge him. She remained mute, allowing the scene to play out.

“Would you like a house? A thousand a year?” Darcy asked and attempted to step forward.

“Get back!” Wickham barked, and Darcy complied. “Thirty thousand pounds — what I should have had from if you had not interrupted my plans with your sister and the estate in Wiltshire.”

Elizabeth bit back a gasp. That would nearly ruin Mr. Darcy. It would take all of Miss Darcy’s fortune. Suddenly, Elizabeth realized that was what Wickham meant. He had hoped to marry her? No, he could never have wanted to act so honourably nor would Darcy have allowed it. Had he planned on eloping with the young girl?

A tear trickled down Elizabeth’s face. She had been so stupid to believe in anything the man said. And based on what? Her pleased vanity?

“You are running out of time, Darcy,” Wickham said. “Others will look for her soon, and if you do not agree to my demands, they will find you…with her dead body.”

“And I have your word that you will leave me alone after this?” Darcy asked.

“What would be the fun in that?” Wickham asked.

“Very well, anything,” Darcy said. “Let her go.”

“I knew you would defend her honour. Your stupid duty guides you in everything!” Wickham released Elizabeth and kicked her forward. She landed with a groan as her head hit the ground hard. She could barely make out sounds but heard Darcy lunge for her before Wickham screamed at him to get back.

They were fighting! She could hear punches being thrown and rolling on leaves. Elizabeth struggled to stay conscious.

“This may be even more satisfying than your money,” Wickham said in laboured breaths.

Elizabeth forced her eyes open, and she saw Darcy pinned on the ground underneath Wickham who held the knife to his throat.

“No!” she screamed and threw the rock that her head had landed on.

Wickham fell over with a thud and Darcy lunged for the knife. Securing it in the waist of his breeches he ran to Elizabeth. She needed help reaching a sitting position and tears flooded her eyes. Had she killed him?

“Elizabeth, it’s going to be well,” he said. “You are safe and unharmed,” he said it even as he ran hands over her limbs to check for breaks.

“But, he could wake,” she winced when he placed a handkerchief to her throat. “Or is he — is he—?” She could not bear to say the words and sobs consumed her.

“Only unconscious, I believe.” Darcy left her side to examine Wickham. “He breathes. He will have a devil of a headache when he wakes.”

Elizabeth scarcely heard but managed to nod. Her entire body shook and tears still streaked down her face.

Darcy returned to her side and settled Elizabeth into his arms, holding her tight. “I am sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I am so sorry. I ought to have told you about Wickham and Georgiana. I never would have thought…”

Shuddering, she looked up to see tears escaping his own eyes. “It is not your fault.” She reached up and tenderly stroked one away.

“How can you say that?” he asked. “You are too generous, much too generous!” he clutched her tightly to him again. “What would I have done without you?”

Before she could think otherwise or stop him — although she found she did not really wish it after all — his lips came crashing down on hers. The church bells rang, reminding Elizabeth of a call to celebration.

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy- O Come, O Come Emmanuel

It’s been FOREVER since I posted on this story! I did finish it and then briefly had it on sale in July. I always wanted to re-release it for Christmas this year but since July and now I’ve been inspired to write two “sequels” to the original piece. It will publish as ONE book with a new title: MR. DARCY’S MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN. I’m going to post several “chapters” a day to catch up.

Previous Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two /Chapter Four Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter Nine Chapter TenChapter ElevenChapter Twelve


O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Netherfield

December 23, 1811

 

Darcy stared at first his cousin’s face and then his sister’s. What they had just told him defied all belief and logic. “I believe our travel yesterday over exerted your mind, Georgiana.”

“And mine as well?” Richard asked. “Think carefully. Besides Bingley deciding to return to this house, do you recall the events of yesterday with clarity?”

Darcy took a sip of coffee to allow himself time to think over matters. “Well, nothing of significance happened. It is not so unusual to be unable to remember exact moments of nothingness. I’ve had much on my mind of late.”

“And are those things Miss Elizabeth Bennet?” Richard asked with a raised eyebrow and knowing smirk.

Levelling his cousin a glare, Darcy put his coffee cup down in a clatter. “My personal concerns are just that.”

“Dare I ask what has Darcy acting like a bear this morning?” Bingley popped his head in the breakfast room door.

“Georgiana has come up with the most fanciful tale, and Richard is indulging her. Think nothing of it, Bingley. I suspect it is all a plot to mock me.”

Bingley entered the room and shut the door behind him. “Who could resist such a temptation?” He busied himself gathering breakfast items and said over his shoulder, “I remember Miss Elizabeth never could.”

“Bingley,” Richard said when the other had sat, “what do you recall about yesterday?”

Immediately Darcy’s friend smiled. “Well, we decided to come here, of course. And Miss Darcy I cannot thank you enough for being so persuasive as to suggest we leave immediately.”

“Yes, but what else do you recall?” Richard pressed.

“Well…I…we dined at Darcy House.”

“And what did we eat?” Georgiana asked.

Bingley paused while cutting up his food. “Well, every meal there is always so good.”

Georgiana leaned forward in interest. “You do not recall a specific dish? Did I order Fitzwilliam’s favourite or your favourite for pudding?”

“I fear I do not recall,” Bingley said with an uncharacteristic furrow forming between his brow. “Quite the memory exercise. I give up. Tell me then, which was it?”

“I do not remember either,” Georgiana said gently.

“I do not understand.” Bingley looked from one person to the next. “What is the point of this questioning?”

Darcy pushed his plate aside. His appetite had vanished. “What Richard and Georgiana have proposed is that due to some strange and inexplicable reason, we have been repeating the same day for over a week now. Creating…what did you call it?” He looked at Richard.

“Alternate realities. It seems the choices we make can alter the events of the day, but we never progress to a new calendar date.”

“Except on one occasion,” Georgiana added gravely.

“What was that?” Darcy asked.

Richard frowned and looked as though he tasted something foul in his mouth. “Miss Lydia had born Wickham’s child out of wedlock.”

“Impossible,” Bingley said. “You believe you have seen the future?”

Richard held up his hands to stave off Bingley’s inquisition. “I wish I had a rational explanation, but Mary Bennet has proof in her diary. Georgiana and I have shared memories. There can be no other explanation.”

Bingley stared at his coffee for a long moment, and Darcy wondered why he was still sitting at the table and had not called a physician to examine his relatives. However, something niggled at the back of his mind. Attempts at conversations with Elizabeth that ended in an argument. He had thought it was a recurring dream.

“I think I remember,” Bingley said, at last. “I keep walking with Jane in the garden at Longbourn. I try to explain my absence and my continued affections, but we’re always interrupted. By the— ”

“Clock chiming seven,” Georgiana and Richard said in unison with Bingley.

“If…if this were somehow true,” Darcy said slowly, “how does it work? What can stop it?”

“I think we regain our memories when we have some revelation in our character,” Richard said. “I learned to take a risk on probability rather than dwell on the impossible and frivolous.”

“He means he kissed Miss Mary in front of everyone!” Georgiana declared.

“What?” Darcy cried.

“Georgie,” Richard growled.

“And I stood up to Wickham,” Georgiana said with a smile.

“What is the story there?” Bingley asked.

“Never mind,” Richard pressed on. “Thanks to Georgiana insisting we left earlier than usual yesterday. We had hoped to call on Longbourn last night but you all refused to go. Time reset. At least we now have many hours to visit before the seven o’clock deadline.”

Bingley seemed convinced, but Darcy remained sceptical.

“Come, Darcy. Go with us to Longbourn. See Miss Mary’s diary. If we are right, then you have the power to prevent a terrible travesty. If we are wrong, then you have harmed no one.”

“If I reveal the truth about Wickham to the Bennets then I could harm Georgiana’s reputation beyond repair.”

His sister raised her chin. “I do not care. What care I for the society of false friends or a gentleman that would only marry me for my acceptance in such circles?”

Darcy studied his sister. Indeed, her words and actions today and last night revealed a side to her unknown to him. Could that be the work of a mere moment or had days passed, as they said?

“Darcy,” Bingley said slowly. “I think everyone here understands how you feel about Miss Elizabeth.”

Darcy attempted to argue, but Bingley spoke over him. “Surely you could trust her with the truth. Perhaps if she did not encourage him so much, her sisters would not be endangered by him.”

It was a logical argument, even if the circumstances for the proposition made no sense. Staring at his cup, he confronted the truth of what worried him most. “What makes you think she will listen to anything I have to say?”

“It is worth the try,” Georgiana said.

Darcy gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. Bingley called for the carriage, and on the way to Longbourn, discussion flowed around Darcy which did feel eerily familiar.

After hearing Richard and Georgiana’s stories, Darcy was relieved to see Longbourn had not changed in the least. Mrs. Bennet was loud and obnoxious. The younger daughters were rude, and Mr. Bennet was absent. Darcy allowed himself to tune out the rest of the room and rest his eyes on his sole purpose for coming. Elizabeth looked as lovely as ever. Darcy took a step toward her, but Richard pushed him toward Miss Mary.

“How do you do, Miss Mary?” Richard asked and sat next to her.

“I am well,” she said although she blushed and would not look at Richard.

Richard smiled. “Do you have your diary with you, today?”

Immediately Mary’s eyes moved to Richard’s. “You remember?” she whispered so quietly Darcy nearly missed it.

“I do.” Richard and Mary stared at each other for a long moment.

Georgiana cleared her throat. “So do I!”

“You do?” Mary asked in apparent disbelief. “And do you, Mr. Darcy?”

Richard saved him from having to answer. “Darcy would like to view your diary.”

Mary blushed again but handed over the book. Darcy leafed through it and saw pages she had to add. He also noted the repeating of December Twenty-Third, 1811. He quickly read her last entry which detailed a swift passage of time and Lydia eloping with Wickham. When he had finished, Richard looked at him expectantly.

“Very well, I will speak with Miss Elizabeth about Wickham. Although I do not see why you fear when it has apparently not come to pass.”

“Please, sir,” Miss Mary said and held out her hand for the diary. “If I may, chance or decision seems to alter our course significantly. One night all seemed normal and the next you all arrived, however, we could not receive you for our cousin Mr. Collins had just died.”

“Indeed!” Richard exclaimed.

“Yes. I presume what altered events was your choice in coming here. The next many nights did not change the timing of things, although I noted Miss Darcy one night was speaking badly and openly of Mr. Wickham. Two evenings ago, I attempted to tell Jane of matters and the next morning I awoke to Lydia having been married and becoming a mother.”

“And that is when you showed me the diary,” Richard added, causing Mary to blush.

“Yes. Both actions were quite uncharacteristic for me.”

“Me as well,” Richard said. “I hope you know I do not go around kissing ladies all the time.”

Mary turned scarlet, and her voice trembled but still she spoke. “I had meant attempting to explain my findings to Jane and to you. I hope you know not only were your actions unusual for me, but I would never go around speaking of them so openly!”

Darcy rolled his eyes as her rebuke caused Richard to blush slightly. “We have meandered from the topic. We must decipher how these loops work so we might end them.”

“Well, when I confronted Wickham I no longer lost my memories,” Georgiana said.

Richard nodded. “It seems to have worked for me just by listening to Miss Mary.”

“Yes, but life altered when Mr. Bingley chose to return to Netherfield and when I attempted to direct Jane. What do you remember about the two years that passed? Anything connected to my family?” Mary asked Richard and Georgiana.

Richard did not meet her eyes. “Little of significance.”

By the way Richard evaded Mary’s eyes, Darcy knew his cousin lied. What was more, he seemed to wish to protect Mary.

“I visited my aunt at Rosings like I do every Easter,” Richard said. “Darcy did not come, we had heard that Miss Elizabeth was residing with Mrs. Collins. To be safe, he did not return the next year either.”

“Fitzwilliam grew colder and more distant it seemed with each passing week,” Georgiana said with a remote and sad quality to her voice. “By the time we had, at last, returned here Mr. Bingley was about to give up on their friendship.”

“And neither of you had heard anything of Wickham or the Bennets in that time?” Miss Mary did not attempt to conceal her fear.

“We hardly make it a practice to follow the life of George Wickham,” Darcy said coldly.

“Perhaps you should, sir!” Mary said. “You knew his real character and never revealed it while living in the area. You tacitly agree to care for Elizabeth and still did not feel your honour called upon.”

She paused for a moment and managed to regain her composure as Richard whispered in her ear and placed a hand on hers. “For us, it was a very, very dark time. Lydia went with the Regiment to Brighton as the guest of Colonel Forster and his wife. There, she eloped with Wickham, but they never went to Scotland.

Instead, they disappeared outside of London, and we could not trace her. After several weeks, she emerged at my Uncle Gardiner’s house in little more than her petticoat and a shawl. She had traded everything else for food and lodging. She accepted Wickham did not mean to marry her and left him, at first unwilling to return to the family. A marriage was hastily arranged and with it, some respectability returned to my family, but the damage was done. There was talk of my sisters never marrying, even one as beautiful and amiable as Jane.”

By the time she had finished, Miss Mary was breathless and took a sip of water which Richard brought her. She seemed as though she had never spoken so much at one time and Darcy could well believe it. For a moment, he wished to argue back about his innocence in a hypothetical case that whether or not it seemed real, yesterday was not today. Before having a moment to reply, they were directed outside by Mrs. Bennet.

“And do not hog the Colonel, Mary. Your sisters admire a man in uniform much more than you do,” Mrs. Bennet called as they left the room. Richard immediately offered Mary his arm, and the younger sisters walked closely behind them. Jane and Bingley wandered off together, leaving Darcy, Georgiana, and Elizabeth. He walked in silence as Elizabeth and Georgiana conversed for several minutes. Passing a small bench, Georgiana seized upon the moment to sit, pressing Darcy and Elizabeth to continue without her.

After walking some yards away, Darcy turned to Elizabeth. “I apologize for my sister. Perhaps you think I should scold her, but I am only too happy to see such youthful stubbornness in her. As a child, she was just that way, but as she aged, she put it aside, and I believe that had rather disastrous consequences.”

Darcy perceived immediately, he had surprised Elizabeth with his words.

“I confess, that is not at all what I expected to hear from you,” she said in a small voice filled with wonder.

“Why should you not? She is not yet sixteen and has many years left to become wise and dull.”

“Like her brother then?” Elizabeth said, but the teasing sparkle in her eye kept it from sounding impertinent or cruel.

“I shall not claim you do not know me well enough, for you, undoubtedly have some witty retort.” Not caring about the requests of his friends, Darcy acted on the selfish desire of his heart. “In fact, I would very much wish for you to know me better. Indeed, such limited knowledge between a husband and wife would not do very well at all.”

He heard Elizabeth gasped and turned to at her.

“Pardon me?” Her eyes were now wide and her colour pale.

“You will forgive me for not knowing the usual pretty words of suitors.”

Elizabeth remained fixed in her spot and speechless. A cold sweat trickled down his spine. He had never seen her at a loss for words. “I had not thought it would come as such a surprise,” he ventured, “but surely your clever mouth can think of something to say.” He took a step forward and reached for her hand. “No witticism from you, my darling?”

Like a flame leaping from a match, Darcy witnessed Elizabeth transform. She snatched her hand away, and her eyes turned dark and fiery. She spoke through clenched teeth. “Allow me to thank you for the honour you have bestowed on me. If I rightly understood and some request was intended although unsaid. However, it is impossible for me to do otherwise than refuse it.”

Instantly, it felt as though Darcy was punched in the gut. He waited for further explanation, but it seemed none was coming. “Is that all the civility I may expect?”

“How dare you expect more! While you were talking with my sister for so long, you might have taken an interest in what your friend was saying to mine.” She shook a finger at him. “I heard it from Mr. Bingley’s own lips that you had meant to keep him away from Longbourn and my sister forever! Do you think anything could prevail upon me to marry the man who wished to separate my most beloved sister from the man she loved? Do you deny it?”

Darcy could scarcely believe his ears. First, Elizabeth refused him. Secondly, Bingley put him forward in an unfavourable light. Lastly, that Jane Bennet had felt real affection for his friend. “I do not deny it. Towards him, I have been kinder than to myself.”

He must try and explain his side of matters. He wet his lips to speak, but it was too late. The harridan had more to say.

“It is not merely this matter which formed my dislike of you. Weeks ago, your character was explained to me by Mr. Wickham. Please, tell me how you mean to acquit yourself there. Another act of imagined kindness?”

“You take an eager interest in that man’s concerns!” Darcy could barely contain the rage he felt boiling beneath his skin.

“Who that knows his afflictions can help feeling concern?”

“His afflictions? Oh, yes. They are great indeed.”

“And by your making!” she cried. “How dare you treat him so sarcastically and with derision in your voice when it is he that was slighted and misused.”

“You have said more than enough, madam!” Darcy’s chest heaved. “Perhaps if I had flattered you more, you would have accepted my suit.” Darcy knew it was untrue, but he had often noted vanity seemed her weakness.

“Do not think I reject your proposal due to your pathetic attempts! I had not known you a month before I felt you were the last man in the world I could be prevailed upon to marry! As it is, your mode of declaration only spared me concern in wounding you, but I assure you I could not be tempted to accept your suit in any circumstance.”

“Darcy?” the voice of Bingley interrupted them, and he did not know whether he hated or rejoiced in the sight of Bingley and Miss Bennet.

“Darcy, we are returning to the house now. I must speak with Mr. Bennet, but I hope you will offer me your congratulations.”

Darcy could feel Elizabeth’s eyes upon him. “Indeed, many congratulations to you and best wishes to Miss Bennet. As I do not think you want for more company while you court. I will take my leave. Shall I send back the carriage at eight o’clock?”

“Leaving? No! You cannot — must not!” Bingley’s eyes darted to Elizabeth, now at Jane’s side, whose anger for Darcy could be overcome only by her happiness for her sister.

Jane turned her pale blue eyes upon him. “Please stay, Mr. Darcy. It is no matter to have an extra guest, your presence makes our joy complete.”

Elizabeth mumbled something at her side, and Jane elbowed her. “I believe we owe our engagement all to you,” she said then coughed in an attempt to cover up Elizabeth’s audible gasp.

“Very well,” Darcy said tightly.

“Splendid!” Bingley exclaimed and extended his arm for Jane. “Darcy, you had better help Miss Elizabeth, the path is uneven here.”

The two walked off as though they had no concern in the world, and perhaps they did not. Elizabeth refused to look at Darcy and fixed her eyes toward the gate. “Expecting someone?” he asked in irritation.

“Yes! And look! He has come,” Elizabeth waved gaily and smiled before walking off to meet a uniformed man. Darcy could recognize the silhouette anywhere. Wickham.

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.

 

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Three

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

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

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

“Step-mother, you mean.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You understand matters there,” said Henry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darcy scowled. “Indeed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And having only sisters certainly does not help.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

Catherine walked with Mrs. Allen into Meryton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed!” said her mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Sir,

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

William Collins

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

“You do not trust him?” Catherine asked.

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

“He sounds a bit ridiculous,” Elizabeth observed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is certainly a relief,” Catherine said.

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her words immediately caused Jane to blush and look away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know when Papa was?”

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

She kissed Jane on the forehead and then left.

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