Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eleven

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

Chapter Eleven

 

Darcy pulled his wife closer. His wife! How often he had dreamt of calling Elizabeth that. Here she was, finally in his arms. His lips found the curve of her neck, delighting in the shiver he felt wrack her petite frame. As he kissed her smooth skin, he felt goose pimples emerge. He found her earlobe and sucked on it until she let out a breathy exhale. The hand around her waist wandered north. She was so soft, so comforting, so everything he had ever needed but never knew. The tightening bud under his palm and the sharp inhale he heard brought his mind to the present.

The glorious dream evaporated and Darcy wrenched his hand away as he realised he was not embracing Elizabeth, his loving wife, but instead Elizabeth, his skittish betrothed.

She was still beside him, making neither a sound nor a move. Darcy rolled to his back and raised to his elbows. They were no longer touching, but he could feel the heat from her body still. The taste of her skin was on her mouth and the feel of her imprinted on his hand.

Fighting through the temptation and embarrassment, his honour demanded he speak. “Touch…you…apologise…pardon…”

He squeezed his eyes shut and let out a growl as his tongue could not form coherent words. Elizabeth sat up as well. She placed a hand on his arm, causing him to jump. The last thing he needed at the moment was her touching him. Need still coursed through his veins and thrummed in every muscle of his body.

“Fitzwilliam?” Elizabeth coaxed and finally, he turned his face to hers. “There is no need to apologise. Your touch was heavenly.” She picked up his hand and held it in hers.

“I had no right. This is precisely why I suggested you should journey ahead.”

“Are you ashamed of what you feel?” Elizabeth’s voice was just above a whisper.

“Only of the timing. We are not wed, and even then, I vowed I would not demand any husbandly rights. I wish for you to desire me as much as I long for you.”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth acknowledged as she blushed. “Perhaps not as much and certainly not with as much knowledge or for as long but your touch is not unwelcome.”

The noble part of Darcy’s mind stuttered to understand her confession. She was not saying she loved him. She esteemed him enough to feel attraction. She trusted him enough to voice it and know that it would not mark her as wanton. They were engaged to be married and had shared a bed for several nights. Most couples in their position would have gone far past an accidental touch. These were all good signs. However, he was unsure if they were enough to satisfy him.

“What do you feel for me, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked. “We only met again a few days ago, and yet sometimes it feels as if years have passed. I do not wish to rush you. However, I confess to confusion. Sometimes you seem nearly enamoured with me. You have said you esteem and respect me, but you have also been quick to doubt me. You have attempted to flee more than once.”

“Those are my failings, not yours. Trusting you makes me uncomfortable.”

Darcy sucked in a breath. He had known it to be true, had he not?

“It is not because of anything you have done or said. My fears and doubts are not a reflection of your or even reality. I am attempting to improve. I trust you. It still makes me uncomfortable after spending my entire life having only myself to trust, but I do trust you. In time, my unease will pass away. I know you shall not give me any reason to doubt or regret giving you my trust.”

It was hardly the stuff of romance. However, Elizabeth had been so wounded perhaps she did not wish for poetry, flowers, and flattery as most ladies did during courtship.

Interrupting his thoughts, she tugged on him to lay back down. She nestled against him, with her head resting over his heart in what had become a favourite position for him. She let out a happy sigh.

“I feel safe here with you, like this.”

Darcy tightened his arm around her. His injured arm was nearly healed and could stretch out to add to the embrace. “Does my holding you give you comfort?”

Elizabeth nodded against his chest.

“It brings me comfort, as well,” he said. “It settles something in my soul—something only you can satisfy. I love you so very much.” He pressed a kiss to her hair.

He held her in silence for so long he had thought she fell back asleep. It was just as well with him if she preferred to rest in bed all day. Holding her was far preferable to going through the motions of a regular day. They had both tired of reading and sitting in silence in this room. He was just beginning to wonder if they could leave on the morrow when Elizabeth spoke.

“What is love, Fitzwilliam? I do not think I know anymore.”

“There are many types of love, of course. I think at its root is a selfless desire for the other’s well-being and a feeling of belonging. You accept and acknowledge the other’s faults without it lessening their value.”

“I do not know that I have ever felt that,” Elizabeth whispered. “So much of my life was merely a duty to others.”

“I can perfectly understand that. However, did you walk through three miles of mud to take care of Jane at Netherfield only out of duty? She was not gravely ill.”

“Who could do less for Jane? No, caring for her was never a duty.”

“Then that is one person you have loved. Elizabeth,” Darcy said as he pulled her up to meet his eyes, “you have a very great capacity to love. Are you concerned that you do not?”

“I have felt empty and broken for so long.” Tears glittered in her eyes.

“You have felt unloved, but I do not believe for one moment that love did not drive all your actions and thoughts.”

“Perhaps I was only as selfish as my parents.”

“We have already established there was no selfishness in visiting Jane. Indeed, I can think of few places you would have preferred less than to be at Netherfield.”

“I did not do enough for my other sisters. I preferred Jane’s company because she was the easiest and could soothe me. I shunned Kitty and Lydia and look at what they did.”

“You did not reward their ill-behaviour. Did you view their actions with concern?”

“Certainly.”

“And did you think about yourself then?”

“No, I feared for them—for their reputations if not for their strength of mind.”

“Now, let us compare matters. Let us recall the evening of Bingley’s ball, as I have already explained it was important in my understanding of your family. One of your sisters played the pianoforte.”

“You do not need to remind me,” Elizabeth groaned. “I was embarrassed by her putting herself forward so much as to perform a second song when her skills could not support it. I pleaded with my father to intervene.”

“Indeed? Did you? If you recall, I sat very near you and could hear everything else said at your area of the table. I heard no application.”

“I gave him looks which meant I wished him to stop her.”

“Ah, so then you are certainly not accountable for the manner in which he did so.”

Elizabeth agreed. “However, I was selfish at the time. I feared what Mary’s actions would mean for us. My mother was loudly extolling how Jane would marry Bingley. Kitty and Lydia were outrageously flirtatious. How could I not be embarrassed?”

“Momentary embarrassment does not mean you do not love them. Did you fear it meant others whose opinion you valued would cease to admire you?”

“Of course not. Everyone in Meryton was used to our behaviour, and if Mr. Bingley really loved Jane, then he would never blame her for the actions of her family.”

“So you worried, then, for their own account. They ought to have known better and have more pride in their own reputations to behave better.”

“I suppose that would be the best way to say it.”

“That does not sound very selfish to me.”

Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “It does not. However, how is that different from my mother?”

“Do you feel like a lesser person because Lydia eloped?” Elizabeth shook her head. “Has Jane’s situation affected your perception of yourself?”

“No. However, I blame myself for the things we spoke of yesterday.”

“I do not mean to say that you should blame yourself for those reasons, however, it’s certainly not due to selfishness. You have not thought of yourself in all of this.”

“When I left Longbourn, I did.”

“You left to seek help because you could no longer bear the problems at home. You intended to make matters better for others no matter the cost to yourself. Even now, you speak of Jane and Mary often.”

“I was exhausted from it all,” Elizabeth whispered. “I felt as fragile as glass and knew I would be the next to break.”

“It is not selfish to care for yourself, especially when no one else is capable of doing such.” Darcy kissed her forehead. “However, you are no longer alone. I care for you. You need only ask.”

Elizabeth let out a deep exhale. “It will take some time to get used to the idea of not blaming myself. I have spent my life being measured to my mother and have always prided myself in not being like her. My greatest fear was that I became her by rashly choosing to leave Longbourn and indulge in what was best for me alone.”

“Do not be so harsh on yourself. I think you can agree you have deeply loved your family. You have accepted all of their flaws. However, you despise yourself. You demand unreasonable perfection.”

Elizabeth blinked rapidly at his words. “I had not considered that before.”

He wished he could tell her that he would love her enough for both of them, but he believed that would be insufficient. Even if he could convince her of that, one day she would be angry that she relied entirely on him for feelings of worth. She needed to learn to be satisfied with herself, and he could not do that work for her.

“Speaking of love, I have been wondering if you think I ought to inform Bingley of my error. Would Jane welcome his suit if he returned to Netherfield?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I do not know. I do not know that she is well enough to be courted by anyone. She would hate that I broke her confidence and told you of her feelings at all. I wish there were some way for me to know how she fared.”

“Why not write to her?”

“I cannot. I do not wish for my family to discover my location.”

“You felt that way when you first arrived because you feared they would take you back to Longbourn. It was one of the first things you said to me. However, no one can forcibly remove you, and I will not allow them. We are betrothed, and I will not give you up.” He smiled before raising her hand to his lips.

“I suppose I could try. By the time the letter arrived, we might have already left. I would have to indicate where to send the reply and when we expected to be there. However, there would be no way they could journey there faster than us.”

“I doubt they would even try or confront us at all. They would probably only be relieved that you were safe, even if they refused to acknowledge their part in your situation.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said before kissing him. “I can hardly tell you how pleased I am to write to Jane.”

“Your kiss spoke for you very well,” he said before claiming one for himself.

“Then I shall communicate more in such a wa—”

Darcy ceased her words with a kiss. The sun was high in the sky before they ordered breakfast and Darcy sent for a maid to assist Elizabeth in dressing. They had agreed to leave on the morrow and spend the day in bed with each other. Amidst more light-hearted conversation than they had previously indulged in, they each grew bolder in their caresses. As they learned their bodies and the preferences of both, they discovered a shared affinity for history, poetry, and certain novels. Elizabeth had never been beyond London and delighted in hearing Darcy’s descriptions of Pemberley and the adjacent area as well as his memories of Scotland and Ireland. He fell asleep with a pleased smile on his face. Some things were even better than dreams.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Nine

compassion_ig

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are restless again,” he said.

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

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

“If you wish,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To Bingley!”

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is not my husband.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Eight

compassion_ig

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth shook in his arms as sobs racked her.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she attempt to take her life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth stroked the hand that rested on her waist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth had never hated the idea of awakening more.

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Seven

compassion_ig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How sweet,” Elizabeth sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is she now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I told you not to carry me!”

He crouched to help her up.

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

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

“You should be,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it so upsetting then?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Two and twenty,” he supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Six

compassion_igI’m sorry it’s taken so long to post again! Treasured required all of my attention! Then, I had wanted to do a Christmas story and told myself I had one week to do it in. It took 10 days, but close enough. 🙂

We left Darcy and Elizabeth with tender apologies and sweet kisses. This chapter sees them get to know one another a little better–both the positive and negative sides of it. Will Darcy tell her about Georgiana?

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


The following morning, Elizabeth awoke in Darcy’s arms again. They had passed the day taking turns reading to one another. Molly came after supper to assist her in getting ready for bed. By the time they went to sleep, Elizabeth had forgotten about Darcy promising to tell her why he now hated London.

Elizabeth thought about what Darcy had said. Molly did not seem like she was trying to find more information about Elizabeth. She did not ask any intrusive questions and did not mention any more vulgar things about their awkward situation. However, Elizabeth saw the sense in being circumspect and not trusting Molly too far. A part of her mourned the decision. She had a few thoughts that Molly could come to Pemberley with her. After all, she was friendless in the world.

She sighed, and Darcy stirred in his sleep. She had learned he snored. She had not noticed the first night because she was so anxious. Last night, she barely slept. When she did, the noises he made were so loud she could not forget that she was in his chamber and to be his wife. Not that she could have escaped if she had wanted thanks to her ankle. She gently flexed the joint. It grew stronger but would pain her to put any weight on it.

Of course, last night was not entirely unpleasant. When it was time to retire for the night, they lay in bed and faced each other. Her hair fanned over her pillow and Darcy reverently stroked it before giving her a good night kiss. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, his breathing turned silent, and she finally entered a deep slumber. Now, she awoke in his arms.

Looking up at him, a soft smile played on Elizabeth’s lips. She had thought he was handsome when they first met, but then he opened his mouth, and she let her prejudice continue from there. When asleep, he looked positively angelic. The great artists should use him as a model. Elizabeth had never seen anything so special about Michelangelo’s David, but Fitzwilliam Darcy was a worthy specimen to be cultured from marble.

Redirecting her thoughts, Elizabeth wondered why she had been so quick to consider the worst about Darcy. Months ago, she had realized it was due to her vanity. That is why she believed Wickham so easily. However, that is not why she doubted she was worthy of Darcy’s love.

She had not told Darcy all of her tale. How could she? How could anyone explain the insecurities which festered in her? She was so new to considering how her mother manipulated everyone around her—most of all her—that she could hardly say it to another. One day, he would see the true her—all her flaws—and he would regret his choice. Would it be as unbearable as when her father realized the truth about his wife? Was she destined to turn into her mother; taking offense at everything and shrieking for attention?

“How long have you been awake?” Darcy’s sleepy voice said.

“Not long,” she answered meekly. “Did I wake you?”

“No.” He stretched, seeming impossibly relaxed in her presence and then clutched her to him with his good arm. “I cannot think of a better way to awaken. How did you sleep?”

Elizabeth did not wish to lie, but she could not bear to tell him the truth. Soon, she was sure, she would adjust to sharing a bed with him. “Do you know that I have not been able to sleep as late as I would like in years? Mother had strict expectations, and then I was working here…” Elizabeth shrugged. “How did you sleep?”

“Very well,” he said and squeezed her tightly again. “How shall we spend the day? I think we may only have one or two more nights before we can set off.”

Elizabeth drew back. “The physician said you should not travel for a week.”

“I usually recover faster than physicians give credit for. Come, let us prepare for the day and then we can talk about our route.”

Elizabeth agreed, but Darcy did not move. “Do you not wish to rise for the day?”

“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not wish it. I would stay in bed with you all day if I could.” He let out a long sigh. “I would kiss you, but I do not think it is wise.”

“Is there a reward for being always wise?”

Darcy furrowed his brow. “I would hope to never be foolish.”

“And is it foolish to assure your betrothed of your continuing love?”

Darcy stared at Elizabeth for a long moment, and she held her breath. Had she gone too far? Been too bold? Why did she desire his kiss so much?

“If a kiss would assure you of that, then I would give it.” He stroked her cheek. “I worry about being too selfish, but then you show me that to love is to give unceasingly.”

Elizabeth pondered his words, but before she could allow them to solidify in her mind, he pressed a light kiss to one cheek and then the other. Next, he kissed the tip of her nose and eyelids. His lips lingered on her forehead, and Elizabeth sighed at the sensation. Finally, he brushed his lips against hers in the gentlest of kisses.

“I love you, Elizabeth.”

Darcy said nothing else nor did their kiss turn passionate as it had before. Instead, he held her to his chest for several minutes. It was a new sensation for Elizabeth. She felt safe and cherished. If love were a tangible thing, it must be Darcy’s arms wrapped around her at this moment. In his arms, she felt protected from all the outside world and even from the sea of torment in her mind and heart. She held back for a few minutes before allowing the emotional release she needed. Darcy seemed to understand what to do. As she sobbed into his chest, he simply held her and stroked her back. Now and then he murmured to her about his love.

Unused to allowing herself to feel vulnerable, the spell did not last long. “I am well now,” she assured Darcy.

She was not entirely well and might never be. He offered his heart while hers had been smashed to smithereens. However, she was nothing if not falsely courageous and so she pretended confidence as per usual. She would feel well, and whole some day, she told herself and yet doubted every word.

Darcy left to tend to his ablutions and called in Molly to assist Elizabeth. This time, Elizabeth did not need to remember Darcy’s words to be circumspect. She was too deep in thought to chat comfortably. What she needed was activity. She had always been an awful patient and was unused to sitting idly, especially since working here. Darcy returned just as breakfast arrived, and Elizabeth asked after his usual morning activities.

“After breakfast, I tend to the morning’s correspondence.”

“I recall the number of letters you received at Netherfield. That must take considerable time.”

“It did at first,” Darcy admitted. “However, I soon came up with a system of prioritization to manage it.”

“I wonder you do not have a secretary to assist you.”

“My father did, but I prefer to see to the task myself.”

“That is just what I expected,” Elizabeth smiled.

“I see you begin to understand me,” Darcy returned her smile.

It reminded Elizabeth of Mr. Bingley’s long-ago words when she had said the same thing to him. However, she was not prepared to discuss Mr. Bingley and wisely refrained from mentioning him. Soon, they would have to address the situation of Jane’s aborted courtship, but Elizabeth was in no hurry to do so when she did not have two good legs to walk on.

“And you?” Darcy asked. “I have often wondered how you would spend your mornings.”

Momentarily, panic welled in Elizabeth. Memories of Longbourn flooded her. The constant noise of her sisters, the agitation of her mother, the nagging feeling of just never being good enough. She clamped it down. No one needed to hear those thoughts. “I spent a great deal of time walking.”

“You are too modest,” Darcy said. “You had told Miss Bingley that you had an interest in many things. Or was that only a ruse to put her off?” He sat back and crossed a leg over his knee as he sipped his tea.

Elizabeth chuckled. “The subject at hand was books, if I recall, not walking.”

“Have no fear, she has insulted you by calling you a ‘great walker’ although you did not hear it.”

“Happy am I to know that Miss Bingley’s insults continue even when I am not in earshot. What a faithful acquaintance.” She laughed at the other woman’s folly. “I do enjoy reading, although I often found Longbourn too noisy in the mornings to read.”

“What sort of books do you prefer?”

He had tried asking her that once before, during their dance at Mr. Bingley’s ball. She had refused to answer then, her mind consumed with Wickham. The man who she had championed and then seduced and abandoned her sister. She had been so blind and stupid!

“I enjoy history,” Darcy prodded.

Elizabeth sighed. He was trying so hard for her sake, she knew. He had done it at the ball, and various times while she had stayed at Netherfield as well. She felt the compliment of his efforts. “I have read nearly everything in my father’s library but what I most enjoy are travel journals. It seems impossible to comprehend that other places can look so very different, people act so differently than us. I read their descriptions of the land or sky and wonder how we exist under the same sun.”

“You have left Longbourn.”

“Yes, but only to London. Before everything happened with Lydia and Jane, there was talk of my aunt and uncle taking a long tour of the Lake District. I was to go with them.” Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. It was just the death of another dream. She hardly dared to believe in them anymore. She felt no pain when they unfailingly did not work out.

“Ah, I see,” Darcy nodded. “You think of these other places while you walk?”

“I have always had a vivid imagination,” Elizabeth grinned. “We might call it Oakham Mount and its elevation nothing high, but I have seen the hills of Rome from there. In the green shoots of March in Hertfordshire, I have viewed the greenest fields of Ireland. A river might as well be the channel.”

“Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss our route to Scotland, then.”

Elizabeth gulped at Darcy’s words. Leaving this inn would set her on a path she could not stop. How she had prayed for such an opportunity for months. She had always dreamed of a band of gypsies taking her in or a child begging for her to be its governess. She had never dared to think that Mr. Darcy would appear at this inn and offer her marriage. Marriage was not a possibility for her now. She had been conditioned to believe that it was always unlikely. She had sunk so low, and her best qualities stripped from her. Who would notice her? Who could love her? She could not even like herself.

“Does it distress you to speak about it?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth quickly shook her head and smiled. She would need to watch herself if she did not want Darcy asking more questions and learning all the ugly truth. The contradiction made her head swirl. She could not return his love, and yet she hated the idea of losing it. She felt guilty for fraudulently earning it. He was under the impression she was good and worthy and could not be more wrong. However, she could not bring herself to tell him.

“Please, tell me,” Elizabeth beseeched.

“I had thought we would go to Holy Head.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth cried. “I had not expected that. We will not take the North Road?”

“I think it too well-travelled and we do not want to risk anyone recognizing us.”

Recognizing him, Elizabeth amended in her head. They would need to travel under false names. It would be no extreme thing for them to have eloped. The problem would be if anyone would determine their route. The world must never know that she had been Lizzy Smith the Bar Maid. Still, Holy Head proved to be intriguing. “Will we sail to Scotland then?”

“Have you sailed before?” Darcy asked.

“No,” Elizabeth replied as excitement built in her. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to either.”

Suddenly, she thought better of her reaction. She should not be so pleased that she was in this situation and forced to elope. They could not even go the standard route. She was selfish. Darcy watched her, a look of growing confusion on his face. To avert questions about her change in demeanour, she redirected his attention. “I did not think we could reach Gretna Green by boat.”

“True, but an anvil marriage is the same anywhere in Scotland. We shall be going to Portpatrick. Have you heard of it?”

Elizabeth thought before answering. “My father’s books were mostly about the locations he visited on his Grand Tour.”

“I would love to hear about them someday. I had to make do with a trip to Scotland and Ireland. Napoleon made travel too unsafe.” He sighed. “One day, when the war is over, we will make a grand tour of the Continent. Where would you like most to visit?”

“I will be pleased to go anywhere,” she said before quickly adding, “with you.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said as he enveloped one of her hands in his. “It is perfectly allowable to be selfish. I do not wish you to defer to me over everything.”

“Surely I have not. Do you not recall our arguments merely since being in this room together?”

“Indeed, I do. However, I mean about decisions regarding our life together.”

“When I have a great opinion, I will share it, I assure you.”

“Very well,” Darcy said and released her hand.

He seemed annoyed to Elizabeth. She could hardly imagine what frustrated him when she was trying so hard to be agreeable.

“Portpatrick is popular among the Irish for hasty marriages the way Gretna Green is in England. We can be lost in a city with many strangers, and most of them do not stay longer than an hour or two. There is no reason to pretend to be anyone but ourselves or fear we will be recognized en route.”

“Splendid,” Elizabeth grinned. “Did you say it was near Ireland?”

“I believe it is only a few hours by boat,” Darcy said. “You may even be able to see the coast.”

“May we visit?”

“Certainly,” Darcy grinned.

There, Elizabeth thought. And he had acted as though she were a shrinking violet. It was true she guarded her personal feelings and how they often felt like a ship tossed about on the waves during a fearsome storm, but she was unafraid to state her opinion about things of little consequence.

“Now, I believe we have promised to read to one another.” Darcy produced a few books. “Shall I read first?”

Elizabeth agreed but hardly knew how to occupy herself during his task. As much as she hated it, at home, she would have at least had a work bag and embroidery. She needed something to keep her hands busy lest she allow her mind to wander and go mad. He read for about a half an hour before handing the book to her. She closed it and put it aside.

“I would rather talk than read. Will you tell me about your sister?”

Sunday Digest– Nov. 5-11

ThinkstockPhotos-484224183

Here’s another weekly roundup of posts from November 5-11. You didn’t miss as much because all I did was post Treasured! I am working on a Christmas novelette, How Darcy Stole Christmas. I am undecided about posting it on the blog simply because I hope to publish it by the end of the month. Do you want to read it? As soon as I finish with that, it’s back to the other stories. The last time I asked, Mr. Darcy’s Compassion got the most votes on which story to focus more of my time on. Which do you prefer? Mr. Darcy’s Compassion or Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club (Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride sequel)?

 

Mansfield Monday: Frozen Fanny

Treasured 8

Treasured 9

Treasured 10

Treasured 11

Treasured 12

Treasured 13

Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Five

Spring Blooming - White Blossoms And Sunlight In The Sky

I know people are anxious for them to leave the inn and begin traveling but this might end up being a pretty long novel and the author made them both injured so they could get to know one another a little better. But it can’t all be sunshine can it?

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four

Chapter Five

On Cuthbert’s recommendation, Darcy obtained a maid named Molly, who Elizabeth knew well, to assist her a few times during the day. She could not devote all of her time to it—for there was no future position he could offer her in the household. A tavern maid did not have the skills to be a lady’s maid or an upstairs maid. If she had a known history of occasional prostitution, he did not wish to offer her a place in the kitchen. That was the cook’s domain, and she had firm opinions about her help. Not only could she potentially earn more at the tavern, but it also would not do for Mrs. Darcy to be friendly with a scullery maid.

Returning with Molly in tow, he saw to his own ablutions in his valet’s room. “I apologise for intruding on your privacy, Stevens,” he said to the man.

“It is no intrusion, sir. Few men in my position would have their own room in any case.”

“True, but I feel as though you count on that time and space to yourself.”

“Truthfully, sir, I spend much of my free time below stairs.”

“Do you, indeed?”

“I do. I do not crave solitude the way in which you do.”

“Would you prefer to room with strangers?”

“Room with them, no,” Stevens made a face. “However, speaking with them, observing them, that is an enjoyable way to pass the time.”

“I believe you have that in common with the future Mrs. Darcy.”

“Indeed! My congratulations, sir.”

“You do not look surprised,” Darcy observed as the man continued to shave his face.

“You have never invited another woman to your room.”

“True but you could hardly expect me to propose to a tavern maid, I hope. I would rely on you to bring me back to my senses.”

Stevens laughed. “I could hardly imagine that ever being the case. As it happens, I recall Miss Elizabeth Bennet from our time in Hertfordshire. I had thought then you might have a tendre for her.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, you alternately wore a grin or a deep frown after interactions with her when she visited her ill sister.”

“I did not know I was so transparent.”

“Perhaps only to the man who has made a study of your every expression lest I give you a scar for distinction.” He smirked.

Darcy laughed in response as Stevens’ hands hovered above his face. Returning to a neutral expression, Darcy said, “You said nothing.”

“You said you relied on me to talk you into your senses. You did not seem on the verge of any rash decision. At the time, I would have thought she inappropriate to be your bride, but that was before this winter.” His hands paused again, anticipating Darcy’s next expression.

A frown came forward without thought, and his brows contracted, bringing deep lines between them. “It was a rough winter, sir. I had thought you were heartsick when we left Hertfordshire—but then things seemed even worse until a few weeks ago until we arrived here. Now, I would not think to counsel you against marrying a lady who can restore your smile no matter what her current circumstances are or why she is a maid here instead of at the estate to which she was born.”

For the last few days, Darcy had managed to mostly put out of his mind the deep sorrow and rage he felt at Georgiana’s latest confession. Deciding it best to return the conversation to the subject he had intended to introduce, he said, “Very wise. I trust you will not explain our reunion to the others at Pemberley or Darcy House.”

“Never, sir.”

“I must discuss matters with Elizabeth, but we will be altering our plans. We must still go to London—but will not stop at the house or spend the night, if we can help it. Then, our route must alter toward Scotland.”

“I will arrange it,” Stevens nodded.

“Perhaps some inns we do not stay at—smaller towns.”

He hoped to not meet with any acquaintances. If he were unknown at the inn, they could feign a marriage already existed between them. If he did meet with anyone he knew, he could claim she was a distant relation. The trick would be to conceal Elizabeth so she would not be recognizable later as his wife. Additionally, he would need to be sure the staff at the inn did not call him by the wrong name if a friend was in earshot and, of course, people kept their own hours and might show up at any time.

They could not avoid news of their elopement spreading. Oh, he could use his money and clout and fabricate a wedding. He could pay some clergyman to lie and say he performed a marriage and they married by special license. However, Darcy had better scruples than that and would not ask a rector to lie. The more significant problem was concealing Elizabeth working as a tavern maid. He did not care if they thought the marriage inappropriate and presumed he married too low, whether it be the daughter of a country squire or a lady in reduced circumstances. The problem was that many would assume her working in a tavern meant she also prostituted herself.

Satisfied with his looks, Darcy left and approached the room he shared with Elizabeth. Before knocking, he could hear the friendly tones of Elizabeth and Molly chatting. Yes, the faster they were separated, the better.

“Lud! Look at yourself. Fit as a princess!” Molly laughed.

“It is not like that,” Elizabeth insisted. “Mr. Darcy wants to marry me.”

“Oh, that is what they all say, dearest.”

Darcy frowned at the maid’s insinuation.

“He is an honourable gentleman. I know he means it.”

Elizabeth always could stand up for herself. What a pleasure it was to hear her stand up for him.

“How can you know that? The minute he saw ya, he bought ya.”

“No,” Elizabeth said firmly. “We knew each other before–”

“Before what?”

“Before I came here.”

“So you were a fancy work then? Came on hard times?”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I was never in that line of work?”

“Perhaps if you would tell me more about what you did do before I wouldn’t have to fill in the blanks myself.”

Darcy did not like the direction of the conversation. The maid was too impertinent by half. Elizabeth might not recognise it, but there were all the signs that the maid was more interested in information she could use to blackmail them than she was in friendship. Darcy knocked on the door, interrupting their conversation.

Elizabeth called for him to enter. A sense of relief washed over him. He had not realised it before, but he had been anxious while separated from her. She was still here, in his room, safe and well.

“Thank you for your help, Molly,” Elizabeth said with a friendly wave.

“Thank you for your services,” Darcy said and dropped a coin into her waiting hand. “We will consider you again in the future.”

“But I thought–”

“That will be all.” Darcy opened the door, and after a glance at displeased looking Elizabeth, the maid left.

“What did you do that for?” Elizabeth twisted in her seat to glare at him.

“Be careful what you say to her and others.”

“I am careful.” Elizabeth harrumphed and folded her arms across her chest. “She does not know my real name. I have never told anyone about my past.”

“She seemed most curious about it.”

“She was just being friendly.”

“It seemed like more than that to me,” Darcy said as he settled into the chair next to the settee where Elizabeth rested with her leg propped up. “I do not know her as you do so it is natural for me to be more cautious.”

Elizabeth raised her brows. “But you have the right to overrule me and be rude whenever you choose? Some marriage this will be.”

“I am looking out for your interests,” Darcy insisted.

“What harm could come from her knowing about my past? If she blackmails us, refuse her. The most she can do is whisper rumours to whoever passes through this place–which, you may have noticed, does not typically include anyone from the Ton. What about all your talk about not caring about what Society had to say about me?”

“Forgive me,” Darcy dropped his head. “You are correct. I have said that and I mean it. I have learned to be on edge and worry about blackmail more than the usual person, and it has prejudiced me against others.”

“And?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

“And…and I will hope to do better in the future. Nor do I mean to overrule you. There are times, however, when we must discuss matters, and I might disagree with you.”

“There’s a shock,” Elizabeth said with a grin.

“That we might disagree?”

“Oh, that is a given.” She laughed. “No, that you apologised and spoke to the heart of the matter.”

“I am incapable of doing anything else,” Darcy said while relaxing in the chair. “I cannot make small talk or talk around things. I prefer a direct approach.”

“And what of your ability to apologise?”

His lips twitched. “Of that, the ladies in my life are seeing to my education.”

“Ladies?” Elizabeth’s brow furrowed. “Oh, your sister. Well, I have never had a brother, but I know there are many things which might annoy any sister and would expect a brother to be not very different from another sister about that.”

It went far more than a mere annoyance, but he did not wish to shatter Elizabeth’s quaint image of the Darcy siblings just yet. “What would you like to do today?”

“Well, with your sore arm and my twisted ankle, I think we ought to attempt flying to the moon. Once there, I will hike all over it.”

Darcy could not contain his laughter. Elizabeth joined in for a moment and then sobered.

“Will you tell me why you think so meanly of London Society now?”

Pain seared Darcy’s heart. He knew he must speak with her about it, but not yet. “Would you mind if we wait until this evening? Perhaps I may read aloud until then.”

“You do not have to entertain me,” Elizabeth smiled. “Surely you have other things to do. I recall a lady once observing that you must have a great many letters of business to write.”

Darcy’s lips lifted in a slight smile. “I had thought you were paying more attention to that conversation than to your book.”

“I suppose that must mean Mr. Bingley’s library needs improvement. Your library at Pemberley, according to Miss Bingley, is vastly superior. But then you tell me she is often incorrect.”

“Our library at Pemberley is astounding.” The hint of a smile turned into a full grin. “I cannot wait to show it to you. Yes, Miss Bingley often exaggerates or invents matters, but I do not think it is possible to overstate how many books it contains, lest you compare it to some academic place like the Bodleian.”

“I should like to see that someday as well!”

“Your wish is my command. I will take you there and anywhere else your heart desires–except the moon. I fear I do not have the capacity to take you there unless it is in your dreams.” How he wished she would dream of him the way he imagined of her. Waking to her in his arms had been exquisite torture.

Elizabeth blushed and fell silent until a smirk came to her lips. “I must correct you, sir. The evening of your letter writing at Netherfield I did not read a book. I was sewing and ignoring that for any conversation, I will own to proudly.”

“Ah, but you were with a book one night.”

“I believe that was the evening Miss Bingley chose to list what skills an accomplished lady needed to acquire. Fortunately for me, it did not include too much about needlework.” A strange look passed Elizabeth’s face. “I did not think then that any of this would be possible. I was as certain of Bingley’s regard for my sister as I was of my feelings of superiority of mind to his two sisters and even to you. I had thought you the most arrogant man in the world with your long list of ridiculous requirements for a lady. Now, I am to be your wife.”

Darcy reached for Elizabeth’s hand and raised it to his lips. “If you examine those memories again, you will see that I only said a lady must be an extensive reader and that was because you were holding a book.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment before shaking her head and laughing. “You said that for me?”

“How could I not? I did not want to embarrass Miss Bingley or offend her brother by announcing that I would prefer you ten thousand times over her.”

“I had thought you were mocking me. I had closed the book!” Mischievousness lit her eyes. “Ah, but you also once sat with a book.”

“I did,” Darcy agreed. “My sole intention was to ignore you. My eyes were often drawn to you, and I knew you had noticed. I did not want you to think you had power over me.”

“Indeed, I did not.”

“I understand that now but at the time my arrogance and prejudice only allowed me to see the danger I was in.”

“And did you succeed?”

“You know I did not!” Darcy laughed. “You must recall how I closed the book the moment Miss Bingley began conversing with you and bringing you to my notice. I could not resist.”

“I do remember,” Elizabeth said. “I remember so much from my time at Netherfield,” she whispered in a voice of astonishment.

Darcy’s heart rate accelerated. If she could remember so well then maybe she was not unaffected by it. “I hope you think of it with as much pleasure as I do.” He squeezed the hand he still held.

Elizabeth shook her head and sighed sadly. “I do not think that I do. I was confused… Your behaviour, even then, seemed inconsistent. One moment you were speaking with everyone, then focused on me. The longer we conversed, the more it seemed you only criticised or argued–yet why should you exasperate yourself so much? My mind was exhausted from forming half explanations. A request to dance was not a sign of admiration–it was a desire to mock me. Your singling me out for conversation annoyed but then so did your ignoring me on our final day.”

“I wish I would have behaved differently,” Darcy acknowledged. “I was confused myself. I was drawn to you more than I had ever experienced before. It frightened me which is not something I think I had felt since a small lad. I told myself at the time that I did not wish to raise your expectations. In truth, I was a coward. Pray, forgive me.”

“Two apologies in one day! I do feel like quite the special lady!” Elizabeth grinned. “It has long been my policy to think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure. I had not thought upon those days very often for it brought little pleasure–especially since the changes in my life. However, now that I know they were your attempts at concealing admiration–and how very like you I might add–I may consider them happily. No, I will not forgive you. I rather like my memories.”

Darcy’s throat tightened with emotion. The acceptance of all his quirks and facets was something he had longed for all his life. Leaving his char, he knelt at her side. He raised both her hands to his lips and then caressed her cheek. “I wish I could explain to you how much I love you.”

Elizabeth’s lashes fluttered, but she spoke, “Can you not?”

“Words would fail me. Even if I were blessed with oratory skills, they would not be enough. The greatest poets of all time cannot describe the feelings that beat in my breast or dictate my every thought.” He had long been attracted to Elizabeth, but this was far more than infatuation or mental distraction. His soul felt a communion with hers.

“Then show me, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth gave a breathy command.

As his lips met hers over and over again, he did just that.