Through a Different Lens– Character Interview & Giveaway

I’m so pleased to have another guest for the blog this month! I was interested in Through a Different Lens when I saw Riana posting on social media about writing Mr. Darcy with Autism. As both of my kids are on the Spectrum, I was eager to see how the story would change with Darcy having such a different way of viewing the world. The book is one of a kind and I loved this chance to interview Mr. Darcy! Riana is also offering a giveaway for my readers!

Considered the father of American Psychiatry, Benjamin Rush was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence, physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, and founder of the Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He was internationally known in the academic and medical worlds for progressive ideas for the mentally ill and handicapped. In Through a Different Lens, we learn that Mr. Darcy knows of Dr. Rush. How fortuitous that his assistant happens to be at the same London ball as Darcy and is eager to speak with our favorite Regency gentleman!

Interview with Mr. Darcy

Dr. Logan: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Mr. Darcy. I understand you are an admirer of my mentor, Dr. Rush.

Mr. Darcy: Indeed, I have studied his writings, and respect him greatly. Miss Elizabeth Bennet knows something of your mentor as well. She has mentioned his name in our discussions, and has used many of his ideas in dealing with her young cousin, Samuel, to great effect!


Dr. Logan: I was hoping you could answer a few questions for research he is conducting. Let us step away from the noise of this crush. Ah, that is much better. Are you like me and grow weary from the atmosphere of a ball?

Mr. Darcy: Thank you… please allow me a moment to collect myself now that the noise is more distant. Yes, this is much better. You seem to understand me well. I find the atmosphere of a ball most oppressive indeed. The lights, the smells, the noise, the physical sensation of people brushing up against me, all work in concert to vex me most grievously and drive me to the edge of distraction. It is as if I am at the seaside. At first the water is pleasant, but soon the tide comes in and the waves grow greater and stronger, until I am completely at their mercy and fear being drowned.

This is a metaphor, which I find I rather enjoy when given the time to think about the associations and imagery. Through my work with Miss Bennet, I have come to appreciate such word play, and have been attempting to employ such in my own speech and writing.

But back to your question, taking a respite from the overwhelming sensations of the ballroom, as Miss Bennet has recommended, allows me to bring my senses under better regulation, to find my footing in the sand, if I may continue that metaphor. And thus, I can attend to your questions with the consideration which is their due.

Dr. Logan: I also often need a moment to myself amidst crowded events. Now, I  have heard from mutual friends that you are quite the collector. Is there a certain item which holds your fascination?

Mr. Darcy: I cannot imagine who… Have you been speaking with Charles Bingley? I must have a word with him, for he has no respect for my privacy! But it is true. I have a great interest in optical devices, specifically lenses. I have amassed a reasonable collection both of modern pieces of diverse properties, and of some ancient specimens as well, including a piece of shaped and polished crystal from ancient Egypt and some Mediaeval reading stones that magnified the images on the page.

However, the item to which I am drawn more than others, for no reason I can discern, is not a lens at all, but a crystal—or, rather, an ornament made of crystal. The Irish artisan I employed created a beautiful butterfly from the same crystal used to make drinking vessels and chandelier teardrops. I had not given much thought to the piece, other than it being a rather lovely prototype for a gift for my sister, until Miss Bennet held it in her hand some weeks ago. Since that day, the butterfly has become quite dear to me. I cannot account for this, since the piece has no practical value at all, nor any real academic interest. And yet I find myself gazing upon it in recollection of the day she first saw it and covered the walls of my workshop in brilliant shards of coloured light.

Dr. Logan: How intriguing! How did your interest begin?

Mr. Darcy: I believe my interest came about by accidental means. I was an unusual child, quite unlike my peers. My father—such a fine man and the model by which I live my life—once commented in my hearing that I saw the world so very differently than did my peers. At the time, I was unable to catch the meaning of this expression, and believed it literally. I began to think that I did not see properly, that there was something amiss with my eyes. I knew from reading and from those of my acquaintance that spectacles were used to help correct faulty vision, and so I engaged upon a study of lenses. I found the science to be fascinating, and thus began my interest.


Dr. Logan: Have you met others who amass similar compilations?

Mr. Darcy: I have never met another person with a similar interest in optical implements; however I have heard talk of a baronet from the vicinity of Salisbury, who collects oddly shaped pieces of wood. Why this is drawn to my attention, I cannot say, but my associates seem to think our interests similar. I have not made Sir Benedict’s acquaintance. It seems he is never in London, preferring the solitude of his estate.

Miss Bennet’s cousin, Samuel Gardiner, does have something of a similar collection of unusual items, although his is of no monetary value at all. He has an abiding interest in the odds attached to the races, and has, for several years, collected notices about the horses as reported by The Times. He has a sizable portfolio, and can locate any particular race’s information within seconds. Is this what you meant?

Dr. Logan: Yes. That is exactly what I meant. I am curious, was it difficult for you to make friends as a child?

Mr. Darcy: As I have mentioned before, you understand me well. My childhood was solitary, lonely even. I was an only child for many years, and I was already at school when my sister was born. The only other lad on the estate who was deemed a suitable companion for me was George Wickham. At the time I thought him a friend. I did not then understand how he tried to belittle me, or embroil me in some sort of trouble. He feigned friendship, but really sought my humiliation.

The local boys from the village sometimes tried to befriend me, at the instigation of their parents, no doubt, but we never found common ground. Where they wished to play at cricket or football, I would correct their version of the rules of the game, and this was usually the end of the association.

How I looked forward to those days when my cousin Richard—that’s Colonel Fitzwilliam now—would come to visit. Then, as now, he was the best friend I had, and often, the only one. Father sent me away to school a year early so I might be with Richard, and I am mightily glad for it. He saved me from more than one beating at the hands of our classmates. I certainly learned to treasure those few friends I did have, for there was not a large circle of them.

Dr. Logan: How fortunate you are to have such a friend. What brings you the greatest comfort or ease?

Mr. Darcy: I am not a solitary man by choice, although I often seek solitude when the assault on my senses threatens to overwhelm me. Given my choice, I would prefer to be in quiet company with one or two people who understand me and who do not strive to make me other than I am. Richard is one of these people. He draws me out, but allows me my silence when I need it. Cabal, though not a person but a dog, is such a creature as well. And Miss Bennet… how I have come to rely upon her patient and assuring presence! She challenges me and encourages me and will not allow me to sink into self-pity, but for all that, she accepts me and seems to like me not for who she wishes I might be, but for who I am today. Knowing that such an admirable lady enjoys my company brings me the greatest comfort of mind I can imagine.

Dr. Logan: Finally, I have a few questions of lesser importance. Do you prefer coffee or tea?

Mr. Darcy: I enjoy tea, but my preference is for coffee.

Dr. Logan: Sweet or savory food?

Mr. Darcy: I cannot resist my cook’s scones, and the berry tarts she makes when my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, comes for tea. However, I do enjoy curry as well, which is most assuredly savoury.

Dr. Logan: Bach or Beethoven?

Mr. Darcy: You have heard of Mr. Bach? How wonderful! We must find another time to meet, and I shall show you the early edition I have of his Well Tempered Clavier! He is so little known outside of the halls of musical study, almost completely forgotten. But his music is a technical tour-de-force, and is well worth studying, for all that it is now very old-fashioned. Perhaps, one day, he will come back into favour.

Mr. Beethoven is known to have studied that same set of pieces that I possess, and I can see evidence of it in his masterful command of tonality and modulations, as well as his motivic development…

Oh, please forgive me. Miss Bennet has alerted me to certain gestures and facial expressions that people might exhibit when I begin to lecture too long, as she calls it, on a subject. I see those very things in you now.

Beethoven. I prefer Beethoven.

Dr. Logan: Dogs or cats?

Mr. Darcy: I find great comfort in the nonjudgmental loyalty of my dog, Cabal. Therefore, I must profess a preference for dogs.

Dr. Logan: Ah, I do see Mrs. Adams signalling to me now. I believe she is requesting my presence as she is motioning to me and has raised eye brows. Thank you very much for answering my questions, Mr. Darcy, and I wish you an enjoyable evening.

Through a Different Lens Blurb

A tale of second glances and second chances.

Elizabeth Bennet has disliked the aloof and arrogant Mr. Darcy since he insulted her at a village dance several months before. But an unexpected conversation with a startling turn of phrase suddenly causes her to reassess everything she thought she knew about the infuriating and humourless gentleman. 

Elizabeth knows something of people who think differently. Her young cousin in London has always been different from his siblings and peers, and Lizzy sees something of this boy’s unusual traits in the stern gentleman from Derbyshire whose presence has plagued her for so long. She approaches him in friendship and the two begin a tentative association. But is Lizzy’s new understanding of Mr. Darcy accurate? Or was she right the first time? And will the unwelcome appearance of a nemesis from the past destroy any hopes they might have of happiness?

Warning: This variation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice depicts our hero as having a neurological difference. If you need your hero to be perfect, this might not be the book for you. But if you like adorable children, annoying birds, and wonderful dogs, and are open to a character who struggles to make his way in a world he does not quite comprehend, with a heroine who can see the man behind his challenges, and who celebrates his strengths while supporting his weaknesses, then read on! You, too, can learn what wonders can be found when we see the familiar through a different lens.

This is a full-length novel of about 100,000 words.

Universal buy link for Through a Different Lens

Giveaway

I’m giving away five copies of Through a Different Lens to readers world-wide! Just sign up through the Rafflecopter widget to enter.
If you prefer not to use Rafflecopter, send me an email message (riana.everly@gmail.com) or leave a note on my Facebook page, and I’ll add you to the list for the draw.
Entries close at midnight Eastern time (GMT-5) on February 10, 2019, so the winners have something to read on Valentine’s Day.

Giveaway link

Blog Tour

Here are the blog tour stops for Through a Different Lens!

Jan 21 ~ Diary of an Eccentric
Jan 22 ~ Author takeover at Historical Reads and Research with Leila Snow
Jan 23 ~ Rose Fairbanks
Jan 24 ~ Interests of a Jane Austen Girl
Jan 25 ~ Babblings of a Bookworm
Jan 28 ~ So Little Time…So Much to Read
Jan 29 ~ My Love for Jane Austen
Jan 31 ~ Half Agony, Half Hope
Feb 5  ~ From Pemberley to Milton
Feb 6  ~ More Agreeably Engaged
Feb 8  ~ Austenesque Reviews

Author Bio

Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back. 

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading!

Riana’s second novel, The Assistant, was awarded the Jane Austen Award by Jane Austen Readers’ Awards, and her debut novel, Teaching Eliza, was listed on a list of 2017 Favourite Books on the blog Savvy Verse & Wit. For both of these honours, she is delighted and very proud!

You can follow Riana’s blog at https://rianaeverly.com/blog/, and join her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RianaEverly/) and Twitter (@RianaEverly). She loves meeting readers!

Follow Riana Everly

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Mr. Darcy’s Compassion– Chapter Fourteen

The babysitter asked to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese today so I am getting some work done! I’ve been able to resume writing some and you get rewarded with a post!

I’ve said a few times the conflict here is Elizabeth and her head. She’s going to face another test. What do you think she’ll do? Panic or stay?

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

Chapter Fourteen

Over the next few days, Elizabeth thought much about Jane’s letter. She had replied the following day. Uncertain how to approach Jane’s presentation of her illness, Elizabeth avoided addressing the past at Longbourn. Instead, she congratulated Jane on her marriage and reiterated her blossoming feelings for Darcy.

Soon, she would need to explain to Jane the change in her understanding not about Darcy, but about herself and her family. That would be best suited to do in person, however, so Elizabeth decided to bide her time. She wished for Jane to know that Elizabeth had no doubts regarding Darcy’s character, but more importantly that Elizabeth knew she would have a healthy future for she chose to heal. Jane’s insistence in pushing away her mental strain and redefining her feelings and actions worried Elizabeth. She knew it was impossible for Jane to merely wake up entirely new and healed the next morning and skip down the sunny lanes of Meryton and into the arms of a Prince Charming. Happily ever after was possible, of course, but the dragons must be defeated first. Judging from her letter, Jane acted as though there was nothing to vanquish.

The days and nights with Darcy furthered their intimacy. Elizabeth still wished for moments of greater privacy and a greater variety of activities. She was ever so tired of carriages and inns. Darcy had kept his promise, however, of arranging for her to have time to walk in the middle of the day. They would have a light repast and then walk about whatever village or town they in before returning to the carriage.

Her time with Darcy did bring to mind her own deficiencies. It was allowable that she not have any other pursuit while travelling, but Elizabeth noticed she had no activity to occupy her when they stopped in the evenings. She had always thought she used her time wisely and her parents were sensible in not pushing their daughters to learn things which did not appeal to them. However, now she saw how ill-prepared she was for anything beyond being the daughter of a gentleman of middle means. She believed she could speak with the housekeeper and handle her tasks for the estate fine enough. If the rest of her life was merely attempting witty conversation at dinner parties, she could perform those duties well. What she sorely lacked, though, was knowledge in how to exist in quiet moments with a reserved man.

She did not mind the silence, of course. She was curious enough to read about current affairs and intelligent enough to converse with her betrothed about them. It was the other times that she did not know what to do. At Longbourn, there had always been a sister to talk or argue with. There was always some conflict to ignore, watch, or attempt to stop. The lack of distress and crisis made Elizabeth decidedly restless and nervous. Perhaps if she embroidered or painted fireplace screens, she would have some activity to take her mind off such things.

Darcy did not seem to mind. In fact, he appeared inordinately pleased merely to be in the same room as her even if they were silent for much of it and occupied in separate pursuits. Elizabeth supposed much of her life at Pemberley would be this way. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. At Longbourn, she acted as she did out of a need for survival. She did not enjoy those mindless accomplishments thrust upon most ladies, but even if she did, she would not have been able to study them to mastery. There was too much conflict in her home. Indeed, much of her character relied on who she had to be for her family. She must direct her sisters. She must share in her father’s jokes. She must not cringe at her mother’s vulgarness. She must not partake of her sisters’ frivolity too much but not be as severe as Mary. She should not be as kind as Jane, who was easily taken advantage of.

Who was Elizabeth Bennet without her family? The thought which used to anger or terrify her suddenly felt like great freedom. She could be absolutely anyone she wanted. And what was more, she knew that Darcy would love her unconditionally.

He looked up from his book just as the realization of that struck her. She was saved from having to explain the queer expression in her eyes by the carriage jostling over a rock.

“We should make it to Holyhead before nightfall,” he said.

Excitement brimmed in Elizabeth. At Holyhead, they would board a ship to ferry them to Scotland. They would marry at Portpatrick and, Darcy had promised, a quick journey to Ireland after before they returned to Pemberley.

Despite Elizabeth’s desire to arrive in time to tour the coastal town, they reached the inn as darkness blanketed the sky. The road the last several miles was rough and required a slower pace. Even then, the carriage was stuck in a rut twice and required the men to push it out. Elizabeth let out a sigh that her first view of the seaside was not during daylight or even the romance of the sunset. Clouds covered much of the sky meaning there were very few visible stars to reflect on the water and it was not safe to walk on the promenade. Darcy had promised, however, that they could rise early the next day. Elizabeth supposed seeing the sunrise was fair enough compensation.

When they entered the coaching inn, he needed to speak with the inn’s proprietor about a few matters. Elizabeth was shown to their room by a maid. Unexpectedly, she returned a few moments later with a letter in hand. Elizabeth thought she made out Jane’s new address, but the writing was not as neat as usual. Tearing it open, Elizabeth stumbled into a chair as she read the words.

Dearest Lizzy,

I have directed this letter to Holyhead in hopes that it will reach you before you board your ship for Scotland. I have just come from Longbourn and have been urged to send for you.

About a week ago, Papa was injured riding over the fields. He had fallen from his horse, and it was many hours before anyone found him. He sustained a head injury and a severe break to the leg. His pain was acute but more troubling was the amount of blood he lost. It was evident too, to the men who found him, that his leg would most likely be lost. The apothecary and surgeon were sent for. They agreed an amputation was necessary.

They had hoped for a quick recovery, but Papa was too weak from the blood loss. After several days of fever, a physician has been sent for. He arrived earlier today and has observed Papa all day. He has given us no reason to hope.

I know your differences with our parents. I can even understand you blaming them for Kitty and Lydia’s elopements. However, no matter their faults, they are our parents. If you hasten, you might have some time with Papa before he passes. Either way, your presence will be a balm to our mother. They have lost two daughters already. Will you make them lose another?

–Jane

Elizabeth’s mind raced with thought. She could be ready in an instant. They could be on the road again in less than an hour. Surely Darcy could arrange for them to travel overnight and they might arrive at Longbourn in less time than it took for them on the first journey. He would support her.

As soon as the thought crept in, she dismissed it. Darcy had every reason to think ill of the Bennets. He would never condone Elizabeth cancelling their plans to see to her wayward parents. Indeed, he never would conscience to see them again. He had admitted only to a willingness to write to Mr. Bennet about how to help find Lydia. He had made no promises to visit Longbourn or to personally search for Lydia. Mr. Bennet would soon die, and she doubted he would be willing to communicate with Mrs. Bennet. Even more, he would not get a sensible reply. Darcy surely esteemed Mr. Gardiner even less between his lower rank and the greater pain the Gardiners had given to Elizabeth.

There was the continued issue of propriety. It was one matter to elope. It was another to spend weeks together unchaperoned and in inns without marriage. She would be no better than Lydia at that point. Gossip could hardly be avoided if she arrived at Longbourn unmarried. If he accompanied her, it would taint him and possibly even his sister who had been through enough.

Besides all this, he would feel any request to alter their plans to be an abandonment of him. He would feel jilted. He had sacrificed so much for her, and she would be just as well leaving him behind. Oh, he would be too honourable and selfless to say anything. He might even accompany her all the way to Longbourn. However, it would burn in their relationship. Once there, she would be at the mercy of her mother’s grief. All the expectations would weigh on her.

Jane and Mary had become ill once before and might again under stress. What would happen if they succumbed again and Elizabeth was not there to assist them? She could hardly hope they—or even herself—would be able to behave perfectly. Something would invariably happen that would separate her from Darcy. He would see why she was so unsuitable and come to his senses at last.

Elizabeth understood if she desired to return to Longbourn, she would be as good as ending her relationship with Darcy. As such, she should finish it rather than prolong the pain. She would need to rescind her agreement to marry him and flee. The heartbreak was impossible to avoid, and it was better to face it on her own terms.

Two choices were before her. Return to her family or marry Darcy.

****

“Here we are, my love,” Darcy said as he opened the door.

Elizabeth hastily shoved the letter under the folds of her gown. Two servants walked in behind him carrying trays of refreshments and tea. He motioned for them to set them down on the table near Elizabeth. He sat in the chair opposite her. After the servants left, he inquired which items she would prefer and served her.

Elizabeth found she had little appetite. Her mind considered how she might do what needed to be done. Could she bear to see the heartbreak in his eyes as she chose her family over him? Could she bear knowing that she was forever separating herself from perhaps the only person in the world that could love and respect her so unconditionally?

“You are quiet this evening,” Darcy observed after Elizabeth had either not heard or delayed in answering three or four of his questions.

A knock sounded at the door, and Darcy bade them enter. A maid appeared with wine and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. Yes, if Darcy would imbibe enough, she could leave while he slept. She would leave a note for him to find in the morning.

Elizabeth jumped when he placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him in surprise. When had he left his chair?

“Are you well, Elizabeth?”

“I suppose it was the journey today. I am more tired than usual.”

“I am not surprised,” he said. “I ordered the wine in case you required it.”

He handed her a glass, and she took it with a tense smile.

“You have barely touched your food,” he frowned at her plate. “Perhaps you need rest more than anything else.”

Elizabeth leaned forward to take a biscuit so he might fret over her less. She had never deserved his goodness. The movement caused the letter to crinkle underneath her gown.

Darcy eyed her curiously and then his eyes fell on a scrap that she had torn in her hasty opening. It had dropped on the floor.

“Did you get a letter?”

Elizabeth nodded and held her breath, searching to find something to say.

“From Jane again? What did she have to say so soon? I would be surprised if she even got your reply yet.”

“I would prefer not to speak about it at present,” Elizabeth said with an exhale.

Darcy’s hand left her shoulder. He caressed up her neck before lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “No wonder you seem downcast this evening.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.

Elizabeth nearly whimpered at the gesture. “My stomach is unsettled. I do not think I should have the wine,” she said and glanced at the carafe. “You must be exhausted from helping with the carriage. Please, drink as you please.”

“I would not wish for you to think I am a drunkard.”

“I will worry about you otherwise,” she said, and it was not the lie she had intended.

Darcy’s affectionate and grateful look pulled on her heart more than anything else. He looked so pleased to see a sign of her regard. What was she doing? Why was she willing to leave the man she loved?

The realization of her thoughts made her still as Darcy refilled his glass. She loved him as she had never loved another. She loved him without reserve and without fear. She was not entirely sure what he would say or do regarding her sister’s request, but Elizabeth realized her thoughts had been flawed. He would not condemn her for wishing to be with her family. He would not reject her or even make her choose between them. She thought even if all the worse would be said about them and it taint his good name, he would still stand by her. The man practically lived to make her happy and had sacrificed so much for her.

No, it was not Darcy that would make her choose between him and her family. How had it not occurred to Jane that requesting she return unmarried would likely forever ruin the possibilities of it? Perhaps Jane supposed that mattered little to Elizabeth after the months she spent away from Longbourn, but a woman with a botched elopement could not be Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth thought too highly of the Darcy name and loved him too much to make him live with a tarnished legacy. Once rumours started, who knew what they would contain. Before too long they would hit upon something so close to the truth it would remind someone of a memory. Some passing traveller would have seen her at the inn. From there it would be easy to assume she had prostituted herself and then all their efforts to conceal her identity would be ruined. Marrying Darcy only worked if she could do so honourably and without destroying his name.

“Come,” Darcy said as he put his glass down. He walked to Elizabeth and took her hands in his, raising them up to assist her in standing. “I will leave so you may get ready for bed. We want an early start tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said with a tremulous smile. “For the ship.”

“Yes, I would not want to miss that. It is not every day I plan to sail to Scotland to marry my love. However, I meant so you may view the sunrise over the sea.” He kissed her forehead again before departing.

The kiss sealed it. She could not forsake him. She loved him too much. Lord forgive her, but she could not choose her family over Darcy; over them; over her. She had genuine love and happiness before her, and she would take hold of it with both hands.

Friday Feature– A Sense of Obligation

Last time, I featured No Cause to Repine. You can also catch up on all my other features here: Friday Features

Today’s feature is A Sense of Obligation. I wrote this story after reading a solitary chapter of a work in progress on a fan forum site. The story was later taken down for violating board rules and I never heard about it again but maybe it exists out there somewhere. I can’t even remember it’s name or the author’s name. The story started with Darcy proposing to Elizabeth in Mrs. Collins’ drawing room. However, he’s even less coherent than in Canon. He tries to explain the burning desire he has for Elizabeth. He says some things like she would understand if he showed her. So he does.

Against her will.

Yep. Elizabeth is raped.

Oh, but she enjoys it!

And, of course, so did Darcy.

In the post #me-too age, I can hear everyone gasp. This was a few years before #metoo but I was repulsed just the same. It’s never okay for Darcy or any hero to force himself on a woman. While we’re talking about it, there’s no accident to rape. A man raping a woman doesn’t get confused. Even if she’s incapable of saying no for some reason, there is a host of other forms of communication which a fully functioning adult male or woman should understand. Good men don’t just accidentally rape women and then have to be sorry for it later. Rape isn’t about sex. It’s not about healthy sexual desire. It’s about power. It’s about wanting to have dominance over something. And yes, that pleases them sexually, but it has nothing to do with even the mechanics and hormones of lust. A woman might be dressed in revealing clothing and it turn on lots of men. They’re not all going to rape her because they have healthy boundaries. She’s not asking to be raped. She might very well be asking for consensual sex, of course. But don’t you dare victim shame.

End rant.

How can I condemn a story that also gave me some inspiration? I was intrigued by the psychological spot the author left the characters at. Darcy did something shameful but he enjoyed it and is going to get his way out of it: Elizabeth is going to marry him. Elizabeth is disgusted that she had an intimate encounter with a man she hates and yet she enjoyed it. Removing the rape scenario, it’s interesting psychology. I had to fix what I thought the author did wrong, which was the lack of consent. #sorrynotsorry, some of my first works were because I thought I could do it better than someone else. Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of humble pie since.

While I wrote A Sense of Obligation, I was convinced I could never publish it. I didn’t think anyone would tolerate a story where Darcy seduced Elizabeth. I use the word seduction in the 21st century vernacular. Again, the author of the inspiration story used it as a 19th century term. Darcy “seduced” Elizabeth. In that era, a woman might have consented to have sex and the man was simply charming. Or she might have been forced. Either way, they said she was seduced.

Fortunately, during the posting process, I learned that many people loved the story and I also decided no story was unworthy of publication. Since it’s publication, A Sense of Obligation is my third highest grossing book and fourth highest selling. It was my fifth book published. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one that liked it and it was publishable after all!

In my scenario, Darcy thinks he charmed Elizabeth out of her virginity. The irony of that statement is intentional. We all know him to be about the least charming man alive. We also know at this moment in the story (it begins at Netherfield), Elizabeth is uninterested in Darcy and doesn’t think well of him.

Throughout the story, there are humorous situations. However, it’s continually dealing with darker subjects. I turn a few tropes on their heads. Rather than Elizabeth losing her inhibitions due to drinking too much, it’s Darcy that has lowered his guard. Instead of Elizabeth losing her memory of their encounter, it’s Darcy. No real compromise occurred nor were there any witnesses to their encounter. It’s a forced marriage only in their own minds.

Darcy and Elizabeth also discuss the nature of monogamy and the hypocrisy Society had in its demand that women remain virginal and virtuous while men were encouraged to take lovers. However, unwilling to entirely leave behind Society’s dictates, the two talk in circles about their encounter throughout the book, leaving them both with very flawed understandings of what passed between them.

I’m not quite sure if readers ever got the deeper issues. I don’t recall there being any comments or reviews about it. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that the majority of JAFF readers read stories purely for the Romance and don’t want to think too much about things. However, I loved writing A Sense of Obligation.

True to Darcy and Elizabeth’s miscommunication and unspoken subtext throughout the novel, the following scene is one of my favorites. They are talking about Greek gods and goddesses which would be common knowledge for the educated gentry of the era. However, they’re really trying to say so much more.

Elizabeth arched her brow. “You mean not even the master of Pemberley can control the weather or get his demands of the Lord?”

Darcy grinned. Elizabeth was clearly feeling better. “Nay, my dear. For I have it on good authority that an angel in Longbourn prayed for the sun as well, and if the Lord did not listen to her, then why should He listen to me, a mere mortal?”

She blushed again but replied, “I did not say I prayed for sunshine.”

“And I did not say I meant you! All Bingley can ever speak of is his angel!”

Elizabeth scoffed in disbelief at his tease. She playfully shoved him. “William!”

Darcy captured her hand and pulled her closer. Stroking her cheek, he said, “I cannot call you an angel, my alluring temptress, my lovely wood nymph. You are very much a flesh and blood woman, to my immense pleasure.”

He smirked, and Elizabeth could not help but notice his strange fascination with the word.

“No, I would not have you be an angel. You are a goddess…with all the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Aphrodite, and the love of nature of Artemis. You will be my Demeter and help Pemberley’s harvest, my Hestia and make Pemberley a home, and my Hera, the goddess of goddesses, woman above all other women.”

Elizabeth could scarcely breathe. But soon enough she gathered her wits to reply, “Very well, sir. Now we cannot have you be Zeus, for you have admitted to not being able to control the weather. Nor could you be Poseidon, as floods and droughts are not conducive to farming. Might you be Dionysus as you have asked to give more parties? Certainly you are Apollo…god of knowledge.”

Darcy had to control the urge to cease her teasing lips. Dionysus was also the god of ecstasy and Apollo, the god of manly beauty. Was she saying what he hoped? Oh, that he could be her Eros, her god of love. And she would be his Psyche, his very Breath of Life.

Elizabeth was pleased with herself. She knew Darcy was not given to drunkenness, but there was no denying he had been half in his cups the night she walked into the library, and calling him Dionysus was quite fitting. And although he was intelligent, she poked fun at his singing with her, too. Apollo was also the god of music. If she were truthful, however, she would call him Adonis, the god of beauty…and desire.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy smiled at Elizabeth and placed her hand on his arm again. “Come, Elizabeth. I believe some of your relatives are to arrive this afternoon. On that note, I must beg you excuse me from calling as I must send an express to my own relatives about our wedding.”

The first cover for A Sense of Obligation. It’s not era-appropriate but I fell in love with that dress and the black backdrop. A forced marriage story is not all sunshine after all.

And here is the scene which definitely sold the book. I put it in the back of No Cause to Repine and had it on pre-order when NCTR released. A Sense of Obligation had 645 pre-orders in a little more than 60 days. I don’t know how that would compare these days in Amazon, but in 2015 that was pretty impressive–at least compared to my experiences at the time.

The first rays of sunlight filtered through the flimsy, but fashionable, curtains of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s bedchamber at Netherfield Park. Darcy groaned a little at the light and tried to ignore the signs of dawn in hopes of returning to his dream. It had been the most erotic and satisfying dream of his life; it nearly felt real.

“The best feeling ever,” he muttered to himself, only to have his sleep-addled mind reply, nothing could feel better than last night with Elizabeth Bennet.

The thought made him suddenly sit up in alarm, which made his head swell in pain. With a sinking feeling, he noticed his tangled bedclothes and felt a familiar sticky substance between his…bare…legs.

No, no, no. This is impossible, he thought. He was a gentleman; he did not importune innocent ladies, daughters of gentlemen, and Elizabeth Bennet had too much sense to succumb to any man’s seduction, let alone his. She did not seem to court his good opinion like most other ladies he knew. Darcy did not think she would attempt a scheme to entrap him, but neither did he think her in love with him or wanton.

He felt certain his earlier thought was the mark of a befuddled mind, caused by too much brandy from the night before if his headache was any sign. However, as he slowly disentangled himself from his bedclothes, he spied a red stain on the white bed linens.

Impossible! He told himself again. Surely, it was from an injury he unknowingly acquired. And then he saw it. A lady’s handkerchief embroidered with wildflowers, monogrammed ERB, with another blood stain.

He quickly checked himself for any sign of injury and found none. His senses became more alert as he recognised the lingering scent of lavender on his person.

“Dear Lord, forgive me!” he cried out in despair.

In the years since publication, I’ve had ideas of a sequel. Domestic Felicity should debut this summer. We will visit Darcy and Elizabeth, and their family and friends, several years into their marriage. The tagline for the book is: Love under fire. I’m so excited! Are you?

Blurb

One night changes everything.

After weeks of fighting his attraction, Fitzwilliam Darcy makes an irreparable move leaving no choice but to wed Elizabeth Bennet. Charmed by a gentler side of the haughty man, Elizabeth nurtures her growing affection for him. Unfortunately, Darcy’s faulty memory may destroy their marriage just as swiftly as it begins.

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Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Two part two

Road in dark forest

What does Elizabeth think of the Assembly and Darcy? Can they get along better in this magical world?


While Jane and Bingley danced, Elizabeth sat out due to the absence of partners. She had not minded and was busy watching the new neighbors. Mr. Darcy had caught her eye early in the evening, and she now amused herself imagining his inner thoughts as he circled about the room with an expression of disdain. His strong jaw was firmly set. Now and then someone bumped into him and his face contorted. She was busy wondering if the spasm was an expression of revulsion or pain when Mr. Bingley left his second dance with Jane to approach his friend.

“Darcy! I must have you dance!” Mr. Bingley’s face was flushed from the heat of the ballroom and the exertion of dancing.

Mr. Darcy looked amongst the crowd. The baker and his wife promenaded past, and Elizabeth thought she saw his lip curl.

“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”

Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.

“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley and he turned his whole body to look at Jane.

Darcy loosened his cravat and then stared at his gloved hand while responding. “You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”

Bingley grinned but shook his head. “No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught. The last thing she desired was to be inspected by Mr. Darcy. She reminded herself she had no reason to want his good opinion, all the same, she wished she had worn a different gown or spent more time on her hair.

“Which do you mean?”

Darcy looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away.

“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. The minute Darcy walked on to find fault with another dancer, she promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.

Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth’s description of the haughty interchange. Once calmed, she whispered into Elizabeth’s ear, “His eyesight must be weak for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”

Elizabeth sincerely doubted such a specimen of a man could have any fault so mundane as weak eyesight but laughed at the image provoked. She imagined Darcy with a quizzing glass which magnified objects tenfold and yet he still needed to bring items close. Perhaps he might mistake a dirty stocking for a posy and sniff it.

“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”

Charlotte’s sharp eyes met her friend’s. “Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”

Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”

“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”

Elizabeth shook her head. Her dark curls dancing at the movement. “You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”

Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.

“I cannot believe he meant it in that way!” Jane’s blue eyes went wide in shock and disbelief. “Mr. Bingley is the friendliest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.

Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted. As the evening wore on, however, it seemed Mr. Darcy was always watching her. Finding more fault with her, she assumed. She did not care about his close inspection.

At one point, Mr. Bingley’s younger sister was led to the dance floor by Darcy. Her orange silk gown floated around her in an almost magical quality. At first, Elizabeth admired the dress but believed it did not flatter Miss Bingley’s complexion. Additionally, her nose quite literally stuck in the air lest she suffer from the aroma of her fellow dancers. Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley cringe before touching every other partner. If Mr. Darcy’s eyes wandered, Miss Bingley would say some joke, judging by the way she laughed at her words, and Mr. Darcy’s lips tilted up in a small smile. Elizabeth suspected snide comments being made and hoped someone in Miss Bingley’s set would trample on her train. Elizabeth grinned at the possibility then immediately felt guilty about what Jane’s reaction would be.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she turned her attention to her sisters. Kate danced with Henry Tilney, and Elizabeth smiled to herself as the gentleman made her younger sister laugh. Kate had just come out a few weeks earlier, and Elizabeth applauded her parents for allowing their other daughters of close age out even while the eldest remained unmarried. Elizabeth happily saw her sister’s first ball must be everything a lady needed. For once, Elizabeth did not even regret Kate’s fanciful imagination. Growing too warm, she stationed herself near an open window until Mr. Bingley collected her for their set.

 

Fantasy Friday- Pride and Prejudice and Prophecies, Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter One, post one

I’m going to do a cover reveal when I get closer to publication so for now we just have the Fantasy Fridays graphic. Here’s the prologue in case you missed it.

Road in dark forest

Chapter One

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

September 21, 1811

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that love is the greatest magic of all and to most of the old families in Britain, just as inconceivable.

As the Bennets of Longbourn in Hertfordshire were neither an ancient family nor had they the distinction of rank or wealth, they must be forgiven for Mr. Bennet learning to dearly love his second wife. Despite this vulgarness, they had not openly spoken of the magical world in sixteen years, at least. When news arrived of returning neighbors after a long absence, the conversation between husband and wife were so discreet as to puzzle their three adult daughters. They gathered in the drawing room to enjoy the last hours of sun through the southern windows.

“Have you heard, Mr. Bennet, that General Tilney is to return to Netherfield Abbey, at last?” Martha Bennet asked her husband.

After several moments of silence, Mr. Bennet replied from behind a newspaper. “Is he? I suppose he has his reasons.”

“Indeed. He has married a Mrs. Bingley.” Mrs. Bennet pulled a lamp closer as she pulled out a pile of stockings to darn for the little children.

“And does the new Mrs. Tilney have any grown children? The General’s should all be past their majority by now.”

“Yes, all of their children and a large party of friends are coming to Netherfield.”

Mr. Bennet put down his paper and raised his eyebrows in silent question.

His wife complied. “They are to be here in time for the ball after Michaelmas.”

Mr. Bennet stroked his jaw line. “I suppose that will turn the neighborhood on its heel.”

“Will you call on him?” Mrs. Bennet gave her darning more attention than it usually warranted and did not meet her husband’s eyes.

Mr. Bennet put aside the newspaper and walked across the room to the bookshelves on a far wall. He scanned it for several minutes, muttering under his breath. “I believe I’ll read Leonora to you all tonight. You like that one, don’t you, Lizzy?”

Their second eldest daughter looked up from where she sat with her sisters. “You know I like all those sorts of novels — ”

She was interrupted by the youngest, Catherine. “Oh, no. Why not The Italian?”

“No, Kate! Not that one again!” Lizzy argued. “I am sick of melodrama.” She tossed a ribbon at her younger sister’s head, who shrieked in undignified shock. “I was aiming for the basket to your side. It’s not my fault your head is so big,” she said with a shrug and a smirk while Kate glowered.

“Elizabeth,” the eldest said in a firm but gentle voice. Her wide, clear blue eyes made it difficult to displease her.

“No need to defend me, Jane,” Kate said. “I know how to get even.”

Elizabeth’s jaw dropped open for a scathing retort, but Mrs. Bennet cleared her throat. “Girls,” she said in a sharp tone and with raised eyebrows. Her dark eyes transformed from gentle to piercing and each daughter ducked their heads and returned to their work.

“Ah, here we are. The Vision of Don Roderick by Scott shall be an agreeable compromise,” Mr. Bennet said as though he had not paid any heed to the squabbling of a moment before.

“Mr. Bennet,” Mrs. Bennet said in a milder tone than she used on her daughters but one that demanded an answer all the same.

Mr. Bennet sighed before speaking. “I think it better should I see him at the ball and allow him to settle in first.”

The answer displeased his wife, who sucked in a breath and pursed her lips in a thin line. However, she said nothing.

The three eldest daughters exchanged curious looks with each other. Ordinarily, their parents had far too much sense to care this much about a neighbor returning to his estate.

Elizabeth mused to herself that her birth mother would have had many flutterings over a wealthy gentleman with available sons coming to the area. The first Mrs. Bennet had passed five winters before in an illness that swept the area and took her three youngest daughters and their nearest neighbor, Mrs. Tilney. The current Mrs. Bennet’s first husband, the Reverend Morland, also passed as they were visiting a relation in Hertfordshire.

Mr. Bennet found himself with two grief-stricken daughters of marriageable age, and Mrs. Morland with several children and no pension, the two married for necessity when their half mourning was complete. General Tilney had quickly left the area and took his children: two sons and a daughter, with him. They had not heard a thing from him or about him in all these years.

“Jane, Lizzy,” said Kate, “do you remember General Tilney or his children?”

“It was years ago,” answered Jane, “but they were all kind.”

“But did you know them well?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Eleanor is Jane’s age but the boys, Frederick and Henry, are four and two years older than her. They were too old to join in our games.”

Kate frowned, and Elizabeth passed a newly mended handkerchief to her. Kate had the most patience for embroidery out of all the girls. Elizabeth looked out the window longingly. It was now too dark for a stroll in the garden. Her father took a break from his reading to place lamps around the room. The slightly worn but pale wallpaper and several well-placed mirrors magnified the light. Elizabeth shuddered at how much they would spend monthly in candlesticks otherwise.

Jane stretched out a gown her youngest sister had outgrown and neatly cut a rectangle. She cut a long strip from a contrasting fabric to make an apron string. “Eleanor was at school when her mother died, as was Henry. The eldest was at university. We had seldom been in their company for many years before Mrs. Tilney’s death. I know not being at home bore heavily on them all.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, as much as I wish Mother would have agreed to send us to school, I am glad we were at home for her final hours.”

Her mother had insisted she would have missed her daughters too much to send them to school, but Elizabeth believed the real reason was that her mother was a spendthrift. Of course, her step-mother’s brood of children cost nearly as much, and so the Bennets continued to spend most of their annual income of two thousand pounds a year.

Kate let out a happy sigh. “General Tilney must have loved his wife very much if he could not stand to be home or remarried until now.”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said while shrugging. She had been fifteen and in little company of either elder Tilneys.

At the same moment, Jane said, “Of course!”

“Such romantic sensibilities must be passed on to his sons then,” Catherine continued.

“Kate!” Elizabeth chided quietly. Her sister read too many romantic and gothic novels. “Life is not like your books. Do you suppose that your mother felt the loss of your father any less than General Tilney would have felt of his wife? And she remarried quickly.”

“My mother did love Father dearly,” she replied, evidently reconsidering.

“Life is not fair to women, Lizzy,” Jane said. “Mama may love Papa now, but you know that was not the arrangement when they married.”

Elizabeth frowned as she pulled out another handkerchief from the mending basket. At least this one was for a brother and therefore required less fancy needlework. “Mama, is it James that needs more handkerchiefs?”

“Allow me to consult the list,” Mrs. Bennet said and held a ledger toward the lamp at her side. As a mother of nine children of various ages, she managed the household through extreme organizational means. “Yes, James and John both,” she informed Elizabeth. “What they do with them, I don’t know,” she muttered to herself and stabbed a child’s stocking with her needle.

Elizabeth bent her head over her work and blew a wisp of dark hair out of her eyes. She kept her thoughts to herself about the potential personalities of their neighbors. Jane was too apt to trust and like people. No intimacy had existed between the Netherfield and Longbourn families. Jane would only know what she had seen on the civil calls and large dinners. Additionally, she had only been in company for a year before the Tilneys left the area. She had always been predisposed to view everyone in a favorable light.

Elizabeth wondered if the situation of their parents’ demise and remarriage colored the outlooks that Jane and Kate had of romance and marriage. For herself, she was not easily pleased or impressed. A man would have to love her quite ardently to marry her with only fifty pounds to her name and yet that could hardly be sensible. She could never marry a man out of his wits.

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

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

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

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

MDBB4Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 1812,

Gracechurch Street, London

Dearest Lizzy,

Mr. Bingley called today.

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

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

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

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

Yours,

Jane

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you had an agreeable day?”

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

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

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

“That is horrible…”

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

“She visited with Miss Bingley?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Bingley!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anne!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they true?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear C—

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Twelve

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Darcy,

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

Sincerely,

EB

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dearest Elizabeth

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

Dear Madam.

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

Dear Miss Bennet,

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

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

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

Fitzwilliam Darcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter Seven

mdbbDear C,

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

Yours,

A.F.

 

Chapter Seven

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My dear Charlotte, whatever is the matter?”

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

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

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

“Untoward!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Hush!” Charlotte said in a harsh whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

“True.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that his attempt at an apology?

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An hour!” Darcy’s eyebrows rose.

“You should thank me,” Richard shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And her dowry?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bed her, do not wed her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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