An Unpopular Notion
By Amy A
Beginning, Section II
Jump to new as of January 28, 2013
Jump to new as of Sunday February 12, 2017
Posted on: 2011-06-23
She could feel her palms sweat and breath quicken as he came impossibly closer. Lizzy tried to recall the tricks she had been taught by her male friends as a child to get away, but it was of no use. Morecroft's rancid breath washed over her and she thought she would be sick. Looking into his glazed expression she failed to recognise any sign of humanity, he closed his eyes and inhaled the air around her. His tongue wetted his lips as a lazy smile stretched across his face. This momentary lapse of concentration was all Lizzy needed, she saw her chance of escape and gathering all her strength she pushed into him causing him to stumble backwards. She quickly darted around him, caring not for any passersby and started to run back to her Aunt and Uncle's.
She had only managed a few steps when she was unceremoniously wrenched back. She cried out at the painful grip but used the momentum to swing her left arm round and slap Morecroft with as much force as she could muster. He reeled back from the impact but he did not let go of her arm. Lizzy had never used violence in her life but she could not help but feel a swell of satisfaction at the red mark appearing on Lord Morecroft's face. This feeling was short lived however as she was tugged closer to his body, his hand tightening once more round her wrist. From a distance the scene would look like nothing was amiss, just any other young couple, whispering confidences to each other in the morning light. On closer inspection it would become clear that although both were passionate, it was not of the romantic kind. With ragged breath and a manic look from trying to keep Lizzy still, Morecroft took her other hand and secured them both in his own.
"Elizabeth" Lizzy shivered in repulsion as her name was caressed by her captor. "You have so much passion, so much life! We shall be magnificent you and I. I can not wait until you finally submit to me. I shall claim you, tame you, as my own, it shall be a great achievement."
"Sir! I demand you let me go. I will never be yours! I do not want you. I loathe you. You are the last man on this earth who I would want to spend the rest of my life with!" Lizzy's face was flushed as she hissed her retort at the man in front of her. She had gone past the pain and could now only feel anger; anger at this man who persisted in inserting himself into her life, the man who made her leave her home to seek refuge with her relatives and now he accosted her in public!
Still valiantly trying to break free she felt herself falling backwards as Morecroft suddenly let go of her arm. Closing her eyes, bracing for the impact Lizzy was surprised when she did not meet the ground. Instead she was encased in a strong pair of arms. She breathed in and instead of encountering the stale smell of smoke, alcohol and who knew not what; she was met with the comforting aroma of soap, grass, and something else that she could not put a name to.
Elizabeth, still in a daze did not notice she was being addressed. She could vaguely hear raised voices in the background but they did not register properly into her consciousness, the whole world around her was getting harder and harder to focus on and she felt the energy that had flowed around her body during her confrontation with Lord Morecroft start to wane. She did not know if she would be able to keep standing without assistance. Reminding herself that she was in fact encased in somebody's arms Lizzy tried to work out what was happening. The voices in the background were getting louder but now she could make out another soothing voice nearer her ear. Lizzy turned around searching for the owner whilst trying to grasp what was being said to her.
"Miss Bennet? Miss Bennet!" A gentle shake accompanied the question and Lizzy was finally able to break through the haze. Turning fully around she came face to face with her rescuer.
"Mr Darcy!" was all Lizzy was able to gasp. What on earth is he doing here?!
Darcy was managing to be only slightly more coherent than Miss Elizabeth. He glanced up from his position cradling Elizabeth in his arms to assess the situation with Morecroft. Seeing that Blake had managed to contain Morecroft he relaxed a little. Blake and Morecroft were now in a heated discussion, but it was now low enough that he could not hear what was being said; it looked as though Blake had the upper hand so he did not process it too much until Blake abruptly marched towards Darcy.
"Darce, I better take this blaggard away, he is out of his mind on something. Unfortunately our fathers knew each other so I feel it lies with me to get him home, sober him up, and then I will give him a piece of my mind. You take care of Miss Bennet. Give Gardiner my apologies and I will meet up with him as soon as I have this under control."
Without waiting for an answer, Blake swiftly returned to Morecroft who was slouched against a nearby tree, hauled him up and near enough dragged him out of view. Darcy immediately focused on Miss Elizabeth who had not said a word apart from uttering his name.
"Yes, Miss Elizabeth, it is Mr Darcy. Are you well enough to stand?" warily he watched as Elizabeth nodded and stood up. He breathed a sigh of relief until she wavered and stumbled. She managed to catch his arm just in time and she gave a mirthless chuckle that did not seem to suit her at all.
"I am afraid I am a little worse for wear this morning Mr Darcy. If I could borrow your arm for the short walk to my Aunt and Uncle's I would be much obliged."
Not knowing how to respond to her statement apart from a "Certainly madam" they remained silent as they made their way to Grace Church Street. Darcy looked around and was thankful that there was still no-one in the vicinity. At least Miss Elizabeth's reputation was not damaged on top of everything else. Desperately wanting to comfort her somehow, but not knowing how to approach the subject Darcy was relieved to arrive at the Gardiner's front door. He rapped on the door twice and was soon ushered into the front door when the maid saw a pale Elizabeth, heavily supported by Mr Darcy.
Mrs Gardiner hearing the commotion at the front door came to investigate and was immediately concerned as she took in her niece's ashen colour and expressionless face.
"Elizabeth!" She rushed towards her niece and gathered her into a warm embrace. Elizabeth weakly returned it and pulled back addressing her Aunt.
"Aunt, I think I need to lie down, it has been a very trying morning; I do not think I would be able to make it though all your questions right now. I am sure Mr Darcy can answer any preliminary thoughts you may have." Here Lizzy cast a glance over at Mr Darcy, wondering if she had overstepped on his politeness but seeing him nod in agreement she wearily smiled and turned back to her Aunt.
"Alright Lizzy, I will help you upstairs," laying a comforting hand on Elizabeth's cheek she asked Mr Darcy if he would like to wait in the parlour and ordered some tea to be served. "I shall only be a few minutes Mr Darcy, please make yourself comfortable."
Once Maddie had settled Elizabeth into bed and made sure she did not need a doctor she made her way downstairs, her mind frantically speculating what could have happened to her usually strong niece. Entering the parlour Mr Darcy stood up and bowed.
"Mr Darcy, please, do not spare me any detail. I want to know exactly how my niece came to be in her current state."
Taking a deep breath Darcy waited until Mrs Gardiner had taken a seat before he started pacing the room. He had spent the past few minutes deciding how he would tell Mrs Gardiner what had happened when he did not know everything himself. He brought himself to a stop in the middle of the room after realising he was probably making her more nervous. He took a seat and turned towards her uttering one word.
Madeline gasped and her face drained of colour. Her face held a myriad of emotions until it hardened with a determined expression.
"Tell me everything you know sir."
Posted on: 2011-07-04
Darcy exhaled deeply, collecting his thoughts.
"Mrs Gardiner, I shall tell you all that I know, but unfortunately it is not an awful lot."
"I just want an idea Sir. I can get the details from Lizzy when she is more recovered, but first I need to know the basics of what happened so I can start to help my niece."
"Yes, sorry, of course. Well, Mr Blake and myself were on our way to see your husband. We decided to walk through the park where we saw a young woman being accosted by a man. As we neared the couple we recognised them to be Miss Bennet and Lord Morecroft. I managed to extract Miss Elizabeth whilst Blake led Morecroft away. He is to return to speak to Mr Gardiner when he has finished dealing with the Lord."
At Mrs Gardiner's puzzled look he expanded,
"Blake and Morecroft's fathers had known each other, so I believe Blake felt it was his responsibility to escort him home. Morecroft appeared to be intoxicated and it looked like he had yet to return home from last night. After Morecroft was taken away, I tried to get Miss Elizabeth's attention, I believe she was in shock and so it took a little while to gain a response. I then escorted her home where you met us."
Darcy sat patiently observing Mrs Gardiner as she digested the information she had heard.
"Mr Darcy, thank you, I have a few questions if you would not mind staying a little longer?"
"Certainly Madam, I would like to help any way I can."
"Very well, first of all you said you saw Lizzy being accosted, what exactly did you see?"
Darcy's hands clenched, apart from this tiny gesture there were no other outward signs of Darcy's distress. He vividly recalled Morecroft pulling Elizabeth closer; he saw the almost feral expression on his face. He could not start to explain the well of emotions that coursed through him when he realised who the couple were; shock, indignation, anger and finally fear.
He vaguely remembers rushing forward towards the couple; no other thoughts entered his mind except to get Elizabeth out of that mans grasp. It was then that Morecroft happened to look up and see Darcy and Blake closing the distance between them. He abruptly let go of Elizabeth who had been struggling and seeing that she was about to fall to the ground, Darcy sprinted the final few yards and enclosed her safely in his arms. Despite the situation that led to Elizabeth being cradled in his embrace he could not help but relish in the feeling; her warm, body pressed into his, her delicate lavender perfume swirling around his senses and her soft, mahogany curls brushing against his cheek as he protectively and instinctively shied her away from Morecroft. He was concerned when she did not seem responsive. He angrily wondered how far Morecroft had importuned her. Relief flooded through him as Elizabeth seemed to regain her senses and he escorted her back to her Aunt's.
His inner anguish regarding her niece was not something Darcy felt Mrs Gardiner needed to be made aware of, so he briefly went into the specifics of what he saw in a detached manner but underneath his calm façade Darcy was seething; he had half a mind to go over to Morecroft's and help Blake with whatever he was doing with him.
Darcy and Mrs Gardiner were just discussing when Mr Gardiner would be home when a note was delivered to the mistress of the house. Hurriedly taking the missive she read it quickly, dismissed the footman and turned back to Darcy who had busied himself drinking his tea whilst she was otherwise occupied.
"It appears that Mr Blake will not be able to get any worthwhile message across to Morecroft this morning, he is to stay at Morecroft's residence until he can talk to him properly. He says he shall call on my husband tomorrow morning."
Darcy deciphered the message quickly, clearly Morecroft was still not in a fully cognizant state of mind and it would take some hours for whatever substances he had consumed to be no longer affecting his person.
Seeing that he was of no help at the moment to either Mrs Gardiner or Miss Bennet he made his farewells and offered his sincere wishes that Miss Elizabeth would soon fully recover. He further added that should he or his sister be able to help in anyway that they should not hesitate to contact them. He then ventured that he would likely be accompanying Blake on the morrow to discuss Morecroft and that if Miss Elizabeth was amiable to the idea, that he would bring his sister round in a few days. After graciously thanking Mr Darcy for all he had done and assuring him that she would take note of his offer Mrs Gardiner showed Darcy out of the house.
Once outside Darcy felt at a loss what to do, he was still anxious over Miss Elizabeth's state but he could not have imposed himself at the Gardiner's any longer. He also did not trust himself with Morecroft at the present and as Blake was there he could not see him either. Dejectedly he decided to go to his club; perhaps a bout of fencing would relieve him of his frustration for the time being. He would just imagine that it was Morecroft he was aiming for, Richard should be about round about now, he knew he was an extremely proficient swordsman and would be able to handle Darcy's anger.
Crossing the Cheapside Park once again he was thankful that Blake suggested the walk through the green, he was also resolved to speak to him when he got back from Morecroft's, to think of some way to make sure that he never even saw Miss Elizabeth again. Making a mental note to send a message to him he made his way over to his club, the sunny morning contradicting the dark thoughts that were plaguing his mind.
Blake was also trying to sort through his emotions as he slumped in an armchair by the fire of Morecroft's bedchamber. He was weary and anxious, the toll of the past few months were gaining on him and he wondered how he came to have strayed so far off of the right path. Rubbing his hands over his face he poured himself another brandy then placed the decanter on the table next to him. He sat staring into the flames, ignoring the snores emanating from Morecroft, who was currently passed out and would be for a few hours yet. Despite the warm temperature outside, the house was cold, the curtains were closed and even though the logs were burning, Blake still felt a chill. He hated this house; everywhere he looked there were reminders of her.
She had made him happy for a while, so happy; she had made him forget everything else and made him realise that he was finally his own man, back from his adventures abroad, ready to take on the world.
He and his father had drifted apart the last few years of his life; he watched as his former idol had plundered into a downward spiral, he chuckled mirthlessly to himself realising he was becoming more and more like his father everyday. Both men used to be of great morals and principles, ideal citizens, they were friends with the Darcys of the worlds not the Morecrofts. Oh how times had changed. Blake took another sip of his drink and delved further into his memories, specifically the ones that permanently intertwined his life with the man lying down opposite him.
One year ago
Edmund Blake had returned to England after receiving news that his father was gravely ill and would soon pass on. He loved his father, there was no doubt of that, but their relationship was strained to say the least, it was partly why he stayed so long abroad.
Shortly before he had left on his travels, father and son had argued constantly. Edmund could not understand why his father had started to drink and gamble. He knew that his mother's passing was hard on him so soon after the elder Mr Darcy's death but he was there to help him, as well as many other acquaintances. Jonathan Blake however would not seek aid from those that loved him and were close to him. He shunned the help his son tried to offer and wanted nothing to do with him. The resemblance between son and mother was too close in both looks and temperament for his daily presence to be bearable, so, Jonathan took to going to clubs that were not his usual want and his relationship with his son crumbled from that what it once was.
As he ascended the stairs at his estate in Staffordshire he wondered what to expect. How much would his father have changed? Warily approaching the master bedchamber he heard a soft, sweet humming coming from inside. Curious, he peered in and was taken aback. A beautiful young woman with dark hair was fussing about his father, wiping his brow and plumping his cushions. Her dress was well made and she was obviously a gentle-bred lady, this of course led to the question, who is this exquisite creature and why on earth is she alone in my father's bedchamber?!
Glancing up, the young woman spotted the unfamiliar man lurking by the door and gasped. Edmund took this as his cue to find out some answers. Walking confidently into the room he all but ignored the lady and went straight to his father's side. Looking down he had to stifle his surprise. As long as he could remember Jonathan Blake was an indomitable force, he was of a large stature and even larger personality, even in his darkest days. The man that lay asleep in front of Edmund now was just a shell of his father.
He appeared to have aged far more than what he should have done, lines were visible all across his face, he was ghostly white and he seemed so small, so weak, so unlike the great man he once was. The animosity that had built over the years was temporarily forgotten and he was once again a young boy, looking upon his father, but whereas before he was the one needing help, now it was the son's turn to look after him.
Edmund looked up from the figure on the bed and met a sympathetic gaze. Neither looked away nor spoke, they just stared into each other's eyes; it was the lady who finally broke the silence.
"Mr Blake, I am Cassandra Morecroft."
Noticing Edmunds questioning glance she carried on,
"I have been shown a likeness of you by your father."
"Miss Morecroft" here Blake bowed, his manners, instilled in him from birth, instinctive but he carried on in a biting manner, he knew of the reputation of the male Morecroft's and they were not pleasing at all. "I do not mean to sound rude, but how has it come to pass that a young, single, gentle-bred lady is alone by my father's sickbed?"
Blushing Miss Morecroft looked down briefly only to straighten her back and look Edmund straight in the eye as she replied.
"It may be unorthodox by society's standards Mr Blake, but your father has been very kind to me. I have known him these past five years when you have not. He is almost like a second father to me, and as you were not here to look after him as he deteriorates from this world I took up the position. He has had no-one in the world during his illness except paid servants and me. I would not let him suffer alone." She defiantly stared at Edmund, her unwavering gaze daring him to rebuke her or cast her out.
Edmund was surprised to say the least, the fire in Miss Morecroft's eyes was overwhelming, her deference towards his father was unexpected, but the observation that she was there when he was not hit home. He sighed, the annoyance that had built up during her speech had waned and he was sorry for his earlier tone.
"I apologise for my tone before Miss Morecroft. I am weary from a long voyage home, and finding a young woman in my father's bedchamber, no matter how innocent the situation may be was a bit of a shock. Thank you for looking after my father so diligently."
After hearing the genuine contriteness in his voice Cassandra softened to the son of the man she looked up to.
"Apology accepted sir. And in return please accept my apologies for losing my temper. Of course you could not have anticipated the situation here. I could leave here if that would be preferable to you? I would still like to visit your father though."
Edmund studied the woman in front of him; she was unlike any woman he had ever met before. He saw the obvious affection she had for his father, and her spirit was refreshing. No he would let her stay. After all she had seen more of his father than he had these past five years, he would want to spend time with her before he moves on to his next life. He knew his parents had always wanted a little girl, perhaps this Miss Morecroft had in a way been the daughter his father never got to have. It would be cruel to separate them now.
A groan from the bed brought Blake out of his memories. He swiftly got out of the chair and walked over to Morecroft who had brought a hand up to his forehead; his eyes squeezed shut in pain.
"James!" Edmund threw the covers off the bed and continued to shout, "What the hell were you thinking?! Did I not tell you to leave Miss Elizabeth Bennet alone?! How stupid can you get? "
Morecroft by now had opened his eyes and wearily looked upon the irate Blake.
"Edmund, what the devil are you shouting and screaming about? I have not seen Elizabeth for a while." though under his breath he grumbled almost inaudibly "though not through a lack of trying."
"James I just had to haul you away from Miss Elizabeth in broad daylight, you had accosted her in the middle of the park for Christ's sake! You should be glad that Darcy did not beat you to a pulp, he was livid."
Morecroft sat up in bed and leaned against the headboard, scrunching his face trying to remember.
"Blake, I swear I have no idea what you are going on about, the last thing I remember was going to a den, and then onto Madame Bell's where the woman I was with, was definitely not the delectable and innocent Elizabeth. After that, nothing I am afraid." The nonchalance in his tone angered Blake to no end.
"Do you have no sense of preservation Blake? It is a good job I have had someone look out after you and alerted me straight away what was happening. Miss Elizabeth now has some powerful people in her aid, Darcy is a formidable opponent, do not get on the wrong side of him. Though it appears you are too late."
Morecroft snorted, unaffected. "Darcy? That arrogant bore and stickler to propriety? I hardly think he knows enough people on our side of life that could ruin our plans." Here he sneered, "do not forget you are as despicable as I am now, do not disillusion yourself with all your self-righteous ideals, remember you lost the right to do so several months ago." He coldly stared at Edmund until he averted his eyes.
"James do not underestimate him, or me. Do not forget who has the upper hand here. It is certainly not you. You are ten times worse than I could ever be. I suggest you lay low for now. You are not needed for a while. I suggest you visit one of your lowly friends in another part of the country. I shall write when enough time has passed."
With a glare Edmund made his way to the door and only faltered slightly at Morecroft's parting words.
"Edmund, you are not as innocent in this situation as you believe. Remember, ultimately, if it were not for you, Cassie would be alive and well."
Shutting his eyes in remorse Blake carried on out the chamber and to the front door. Praying that he would not have to visit this building for a while he quietly made his way across town to his own home, trying to construct answers to the inevitable questions that would be asked by Gardiner and Darcy.
Posted on: 2011-07-13
Luck was with Darcy as he entered his club, he easily found Richard sitting with his brother at one of the tables.
"Ah, look who has decided to grace us with his presence! It has been a while has it not brother?"
Darcy grimaced, not in the mood for Richard's teasing.
Noticing the grim expression on William's face Richard turned inquisitive.
"Why are you so dour Darcy, well, more so than usual?"
"I just had a particularly unpleasant encounter with someone, would one of you like to oblige me with a bout of fencing?"
Andrew looked at Darcy sympathetically, being more of his cousin's temperament than his brother's he realised that William must be quite aggravated and needed to let out his frustrations. He knew he was not up to the same standard as Richard, and he was meeting his fiancé that afternoon, so he decided to let Darcy vent and rose from his chair clasping his cousin's shoulder.
"Sorry William, I am afraid I must leave you to the mercy of my brother this afternoon, I have prior engagements. I hope you feel better soon cousin." With a parting smile he turned to his brother. "Richard, I shall see you at dinner."
Once Andrew had departed, Darcy turned around only to be met by Richard's raised eyebrow and a slight grin.
"Well Darce, ready for a good beating?"
Richard was not so blind to not realise that Darcy truly had something bothering him, but if his cousin wanted to let his anger out through a fencing match rather than discussing it, he would be willing to comply. Well, to begin with at least; also teasing his stoic cousin was an added bonus that he never chose to resist.
"Really Richard, you should know by now that I have not taken a good beating in many years. Come; let me show you that a mere civilian has better swordsmanship than a Colonel in his Majesty's army." This is what he needed. Richard always knew when he needed distracting. Forcing the thoughts of his morning temporarily away the two men made their way to the fencing salle.
Meanwhile, Madeline Gardiner was deeply worried about her niece. She was having an internal debate as to whether she should wake Elizabeth up and question her on exactly what happened. Mr Darcy's account had not really assured her and she was fretting about what may have happened before the gentlemen arrived. Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece she noted that nearly three hours had already passed since Elizabeth went upstairs. Deciding that enough time had passed, she quickly checked in on the children, who were otherwise occupied and climbed the stairs to Lizzy's bedroom.
Knocking lightly on the door she heard a soft "enter." Pushing the door open and slipping inside she noticed her niece appeared to have recovered somewhat from the morning. She did not look as pale as she had when she first arrived back at the house. Sitting on the edge of her bed she engulfed Lizzy, who was now sat up, in a hug. She rocked her back and forth like she used to when Elizabeth was a child, when her mother had unknowingly upset her with her thoughtless words, just like then she stroked her hair and asked her what happened.
Wrapped up in her Aunt's embrace Lizzy felt much better. She had not spent the last hours sleeping like everyone had thought, instead she had been reflecting on the morning's events. She was angry, angry at Morecroft for attacking her, angry at her mother for telling him where she was, but most of all she was angry with herself. How could she have been so stupid to let herself end up in such a situation? She had always thought herself fearless and strong, able to handle any situation. Her move to London was her decision. She thought her quick wit and strong behaviour would ultimately protect her from that man. She never realised how base he really was, she could still recollect the odour reeking from his clothes and breath, the manic glint in his eyes. Squeezing her eyes shut, she extracted herself from her Aunt's hold and took a steady breath out. Opening them again she saw the worried expression looking back at her and guilt was added to the array of feelings that were swarming around her body.
"Aunt, I am sorry for all the worry that I have caused. It was an unexpected event. I will take better care in the future."
"Lizzy, no apology is needed; I am here for you no matter what the problem is. Please can you tell me what happened? Mr Darcy said Lord Morecroft accosted you in the park."
"Yes" here she paused for a moment to consider what to say and then the words tumbled out. "Yes, I was taking my morning walk, as I always do, I was going to feed the ducks in the pond, I noticed we had some bread for them
I thought that I would not need a companion for such a short journey, and as it was still fairly early I did not think that the park would be busy. I thought it would be safe, after all I have never had any problems there before, he has never encountered me there
Maddie squeezed Lizzy hand in encouragement as she tailed off.
"I was just looking out onto the pond when I heard something, I turned around and he was there. Just standing there
and then he was talking, I do not think he was himself, he can not have been. He was saying such vulgar things Aunt; I tried to make him go away. I told him I did not want him there but he would not listen. He came closer, so close. I managed to move around him when he was distracted but then he caught my wrist."
Here Lizzy absentmindedly cradled her wrist. Maddie quietly gasped as she saw bruises appearing in the shape of fingerprints. Noticing where her Aunt's line of sight ended she covered up her wrist.
"Oh Lizzy, he must have grasped you hard, I have a bracelet that will cover the marks for now if you like, they will fade in a few days. "
"Thank you Aunt, I would appreciate them." She sat in silence for a few moments until Maddie gently urged Lizzy to carry on telling her what happened. At this point she sat up straight with a defiant look in her eye.
"I slapped him Aunt. When he caught my wrist he tugged me back but I swung around and hit him! I knew mother was wrong when she said that I should not play with the Lucas boys when I was younger!" this brought a smile to both women's faces; Maddie was glad that Lizzy's humour was coming back.
"I continued to struggle, as I am afraid my fighting skills appear to be lacking, he still had a hold on my wrist. It was then that Mr Darcy and Mr Blake arrived. I believe Mr Darcy informed you of the rest."
They both sat in silence as they both thought about what was exchanged. Eventually it was Maddie that broke the silence.
"You have told me what happened Lizzy, but what do you feel? What do you want to do now?"
"I have spent these last few hours contemplating those very things Aunt. I will not lie to you. I am disturbed and frightened by what happened today. I think I thought myself invincible, or at least that the probability of something happening to me to be remote. I relied on the fact that he was a Lord, brought up a gentleman, and so no matter what suggestions he had, or actions he insinuated, he would not act on them. I thought I was just being silly, over-reacting to the physical danger I would be in from him. This morning's events changed this. I now realise that that man is dangerous, whereas before I thought him compromising me would be near impossible and it was only my imagination that thought it possible, I now realise I was wrong. He is fully capable of such actions. If it were not for Mr Darcy and Mr Blake I do not know what would have happened, how far he would have gone. I owe them a great debt that I feel I will not ever be able to repay."
"Lizzy it is in no way your fault. You should be able to walk around this area free from trouble, but I must insist that from now on you have someone accompany you on your walks. I could not stand it if something happened to you again. You were extremely lucky that Mr Darcy and Mr Blake arrived in time. Your Uncle will be talking to both men tomorrow where they are thinking of ways to make it safe for you. Until then we must remain vigilant. I know you have an independent spirit Lizzy, but I am sure after today, you will not object to the extra precautions."
"No Aunt, not at all, I fully agree. Until he is far away I shall go with whatever plans you and Uncle may have for me."
Maddie studied her niece intently, an idea had formed in her mind and although she was reluctant to voice it she thought it should be said.
"You know you are always welcome here my dear, but would you like to go back home? Morecroft would not know that you have travelled back and you may be safe. If we were to tell your mother and father
Here she was cut off by Lizzy's vehement protests.
"No, please no Aunt, no. I do not want to go home just yet. Even though he is in town I feel safer here than I do at Longbourn. I know you and Uncle will protect me. I did not feel such assurances in Hertfordshire. I know that Mama would do anything for me to be married to him."
An understanding look flashed across Maddie's face as she replied.
"Of course Lizzy, like I said, you are welcome here at anytime. I just wanted you to take note of all your options. Now," here she rose off the bed pulling back the covers. "Shall we go downstairs, have some tea and see what the little rascals I call my children are up to?"
Feeling better by the minute, Lizzy ever determined to think of the past only as it gives her pleasure, told her Aunt that she would meet her downstairs after she had changed back into a day dress. Giving her niece a quick hug she left the room and went to prepare the tea. Maddie, whilst giving Lizzy all the reassurance she could, privately still felt apprehensive about the whole ordeal. She was anxious for Edward to return home and for his meeting with Mr Darcy and Mr Blake the following morning.
"Darce, I am not saying that I do not enjoy being attacked by you, but would you like to talk about whatever is on your mind?"
Darcy just grunted and continued his assault. Deftly deflecting Darcy's onslaught Richard once again tried to coax his cousin into opening up.
"I only ask, as you seem to have an unnaturally high level of anger today."
Darcy's response was to thrust his sword so that Richard had to move several steps back to avoid being hit.
"I shall take that as a no for now then Darce." He commented, as both men brought the level of their game up a notch. Parrying another of his cousin's attacks, Richard thought he would try to break his cousin's façade and get him to open up.
"There are not many subjects that would rile you up as you are now; you leave me no choice but to guess." Richard now took the opportunity to attack and forced Darcy onto the defensive. As the blades crossed Richard brought their faces close to each other, whilst his cousin struggled to get his blade free Richard pressed on.
"Now what could it be? It has to be either Georgiana, Pemberley, Aunt Catherine
no you would have said something if it were along those lines
Finding it more difficult to keep Darcy in place he made one final guess, this time with a gleeful look on his face.
"Women! It must be!" Adopting a faux serious mien he taunted "Now, now Cousin, are you having women troubles?"
Darcy's annoyance was on full display as he finally disentangled himself and attacked Richard with as much vigour as possible.
"Ah I see I might be close. Now which woman would it be?"
Darcy, letting his frustration over the morning's events and his cousin's teasing was losing his concentration and he bit out.
"Richard, I did not ask you to fence for you to analyse me and my personal affairs."
"Ah so you are admitting that you are having women troubles then?"
"I am saying nothing of the kind, as you well know."
"Is it Caroline Bingley? Has she compromised you in some way and now you are facing the terrifying prospect of forever being shackled to that shameless shrew?"
"Do not be ridiculous, I have avoided her for nearly ten years, and I shall continue to do so for the foreseeable future."
"Anne then? Has Aunt Catherine finally sunk her claws into you?"
"No, Richard, I do not know where you are getting these ideas from!"
Ignoring his increasingly irate cousin, Richard continued as an idea sparked in his mind.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Here Darcy momentarily lost concentration and Richard managed to hit his arm, giving him the point and the match.
"Ah ha! Miss Bennet! I knew it was women's troubles Darcy, you cannot hide anything from me!" taking off his mask he walked over to Darcy who was wiping his brow and glaring at his cousin.
"Richard you have completely misinterpreted the situation."
The colonel snorted and slung his arm across Darcy's shoulders after they gave their swords to the nearby footmen.
"Do not fret Darce, I knew the day would come that you would come asking me for advice regarding the ladies."
Darcy rolled his eyes and shrugged Richard's arm off of his shoulders.
"I repeat, you have jumped to the wrong conclusion, something I believe you berated me of doing only last week."
"Well then, set me straight and tell me what Miss Elizabeth has done, or rather has not done, that has got you in such a state."
Grimacing he realised he had no choice but to agree. He trusted his cousin implicitly and knew that he would not betray a confidence once given, especially if it was of a delicate nature, such as Miss Bennet's situation was.
"Fine, come back to Darcy house for some lunch and I can relate to you the origins of my 'state' as you so eloquently put it."
Hiding his grin at accomplishing his goal of getting Darcy to open up, Richard nodded his head and arranged to meet with Darcy once they had changed from their exercise.
Posted on: 2011-07-31
Pushing his empty plate aside Richard settled back in his chair and appraised his cousin with a contemplative gaze.
"So, let me see if I have this correct. Miss Elizabeth came to London to escape the attentions of Morecroft but he followed her and then was accosting her in the park until you and Blake came upon her?"
"That is essentially the situation yes."
"I see. Now Darce, I do not want you to take this the wrong way
" here Darcy's gaze sharpened towards his cousin at this pronouncement, sure that he would probably take offence to what would be said next. Richard noticed the look, but being a war-wearied Colonel in his Majesty's army he was above being intimidated by such a glare and continued, " I see from that look you are determined to take this the wrong way, but, why are you so angry? Although certainly, this is a horrid situation for Miss Bennet, she is not the only one of your acquaintance who has been on the receiving end of a particularly persistent and often questionable suitor."
"Richard, you are right. I do take offence. How can I not be angry when an innocent woman is pursued ruthlessly by such a man? How can you not be affected?!"
"I am not saying I am not disgusted by Morecroft, I am. What I am saying is, why are you so angry? If I was not such a good swordsman I am sure I could have been seriously injured with all that pent up emotion you were letting out."
Darcy let out a sigh, his anger at his cousin abating, how could he call out his cousin on asking the same questions he himself had been? Why did he care so much? It was a sad but true fact that many women were in Miss Elizabeth's position, the unenviable situation of being pursued by a vicious suitor. He glanced at his cousin's expectant face and realised he had yet to answer.
"I am not sure
I think after Ramsgate, and the pain Georgiana went through
to see another acquaintance of mine, and Georgiana's particular friend go through such an experience welled up all the emotions I had for Wickham and manifested them onto Morecroft."
Richard hummed in a non-committal way and continued to analyse his cousin. The answer he gave was plausible but somehow he did not believe it rang quite true. He knew his cousin very well and something new was happening to him, he would have to tread carefully if he wanted to find out answers so he changed the topic to something more practical.
"Well, if you like I could do some digging on Morecroft if you like Darce? See what comes up that may help?"
Relieved that his cousin had let the subject go he eagerly agreed.
"Thank you Richard that would be a great help. Any information you can find would be useful. I do not want something like this morning happening again if I can help it."
With the lunch finished and Richard needing to run some errands the gentlemen soon parted ways. Richard had a lot of food for thought after that conversation. His cousin's concern for Miss Bennet went above and beyond what an indifferent acquaintance would be
his mind drifted off to possible explanations and as one potential idea came to the front of his mind he rode through the London streets with a glint in his eye thinking that perhaps he should have a little chat with his mother. After all, the lovely Miss Bennet and her Aunt were due to take tea with her soon
Darcy moved into his study and tried to focus on his business but his mind kept wandering back to the morning's events. Finally giving up after an hour of achieving nothing he went in search for his sister. He found her in the music room practicing the new music he had purchased for her. After she had finished her piece he asked her for a few minutes of her time. He had leave from Mrs Gardiner to tell Georgiana the basics of what happened to Miss Elizabeth. Understandably she was upset by what she was told but this was soon turned to determination when her brother at first refused to let her accompany him to Gracechurch Street the next morning. After ten minutes of heated discussion Georgiana turned back to Schubert victorious.
The morning soon arrived and the Darcy's and Blake made their way to the Gardiners. Georgiana was shown directly to the parlour where Elizabeth and Maddie awaited her. Elizabeth was soon embraced by her new friend and once more putting on a brave face Lizzy set about trying to ease her young companion belittling the situation despite what she felt inside. Lizzy hated being vulnerable and was determined to try and keep the events of yesterday firmly in the past.
Meanwhile the gentlemen swiftly made their way to Mr Gardiner's study and closed the doors firmly behind them. Walking over to his drinks cabinet he picked up the decanter and raised an eyebrow to his companions silently asking if they wanted any brandy. After nodding their acquiescence they settled into the chairs where the attention of the room was now focused on Blake.
Clearing his throat he put his glass down looked Mr Gardiner in the eyes as he spoke.
"I shall not drag out my explanation gentlemen, but suffice to say Lord Morecroft shall not be importuning your niece in the foreseeable future."
A look of relief suffused over Edward Gardiner's face before it changed to an inquisitive one, thinking that Blake did not realise he needed more details he gently asked for more information.
"That is excellent news Edmund. Really excellent, but, I have to ask
how can you be sure? I am sure you understand I need some form of explanation so I can put my niece, wife and frankly myself at ease."
Blake internally sighed; he knew that he would not have been able to let his explanation stay so brief.
"Of course Edward, I understand. I shall give you a little background to our relationship. It shall help you understand why he yielded to my suggestion. Our fathers in their later years of life came to have a friendship of sorts; my father was a different man when my mother died. Her death, coupled with the death of his best friend and the fact that I am similar in disposition and looks to my mother made it difficult for my father to remain as he once was. In the end I went travelling, as you know, and I was away from England for over five years. When I came back I discovered this new friendship and so was frequently thrown into company with the Morecrofts. My father looked upon the younger Morecroft fondly, for reasons that quite elude me, but there we have it."
Taking a swift swig of his drink he carried on now looking at the drink instead of Edward Gardiner.
"In the short time before my father died, I had, being compelled by my father's wishes, come to the aid of Morecroft; he is in my debt so to speak. I simply reclaimed that debt and suggested that a very long sojourn in a distant county where he can forget about Miss Elizabeth Bennet is what I require for him to acquit himself."
Blake had inserted just enough truth into the explanation for it to sound plausible and hoped that Darcy and Gardiner would not examine further. He hated deception, but lately he found himself lost into its claws, unable to escape. It was Darcy who spoke next, he had remained silent since he had arrived in the study, but as always he analysed and pondered before making any comments.
"How do you know that he will keep to his word? I do not know Morecroft very well, but from what I do know of him; trustworthy is not a trait I would associate with that man."
"I anticipated such worries already Darcy, I have installed one of my men as a look-out for Morecroft. He has already informed me that Morecroft is preparing his house to leave and should be gone by tomorrow. My man shall discreetly ascertain that he has left with the intentions of staying gone, if there are any indications that he has gone back on his word I will know how to act. Forgive me for being so bare in the details but I am not at liberty to divulge all information." Turning once more to Edward he clasped the man's shoulder. "Do not worry, I will not allow him to harm your niece again."
"Thank you Edmund, Darcy for coming to Lizzy's aid and for finding a way to get rid of that scoundrel. I am indebted to you both."
The younger men both assured Mr Gardiner that they felt he owed them nothing and the trio stood to rejoin the ladies briefly.
"Ah Edward, Will, I am afraid I have to take my leave. I have an appointment with an investor that I can not miss. I shall say farewell to the ladies but then I must leave. I will be in touch with both you soon."
"Of course Edmund, I do not want you to be late, thank you again for all you have done."
Smiling and taking the proffered hand in a strong grasp he swiftly left the study. Darcy and Edward remained for a few moments.
"Mr Gardiner. May I take this opportunity to invite you, Mrs Gardiner and Miss Bennet to my home for dinner sometime next week?"
"That is very kind Mr Darcy, we have no fixed plans, I am sure my wife and niece would be very happy to attend. However, I believe it is yours and Miss Darcy's turn to dine here. If you are not busy tomorrow night, perhaps you would like to join us? Nothing fancy, just a family meal, but I find that in good company the extravagance of the meal is mostly overlooked by conversation."
"Georgiana and I would be delighted Sir, thank you. And I agree with your sentiments exactly Mr Gardiner regarding family meals, Georgiana and I much prefer a simple cooked meal than these complicated French dishes that are à la mode."
"My thoughts exactly good Sir! And please, after all you have done for this family, please, call me Edward, or Gardiner, I insist!"
"Very well Gardiner, in return please, William or Darcy."
"Darcy it is then! Shall we rejoin the ladies in the parlour? I am afraid I must abandon you to the females in a short while as I need to get to one of my offices."
Darcy chuckled and responded dryly.
"I am sure I can survive talk about the latest fashions tolerably well, after all I have been living with only Georgiana for many years."
The two remaining gentlemen entered the parlour where they found the three women chatting amiably amongst themselves. They turned their attention to the men when they made their presence known. Edward, deciding that he would tell his wife before he left for work, the outcome of the morning's visit mentioned nothing of it now but indicated to his wife that he would have a private word when he was getting ready to depart. Staying for a further ten minutes Mr Gardiner made pleasantries with their guests and smiled encouragingly at Elizabeth to try and ease her mind and hint that everything will be alright.
When the Master and Mistress of the house removed themselves from the parlour to get Mr Gardiner ready for work Darcy observed his sister and Miss Bennet interact, the ease that she drew his normally shy sister out still amazed him. Seeing that her brother was standing aloofly by the mantelpiece Georgiana beckoned him to a seat next to her, opposite Elizabeth which he gladly accepted. The three talked pleasantly about some new music that Darcy had acquired for Georgiana until Mrs Gardiner returned and joined in the conversation.
Knowing that her niece wanted to personally thank Mr Darcy like she had done with Mr Blake earlier, Mrs Gardiner indicated that she had recently bought some music that Georgiana would like and could show her them if she liked. Georgiana, always keen on finding new music to play was eager in accepting the offer and so Maddie led her to the other side of the room where the collection was kept.
Seeing that his sister was happily chattering away to Mrs Gardiner, Darcy turned his attention to Elizabeth once more, his gaze soft and earnest as he looked upon her.
"How are you feeling Miss Elizabeth?" he could not resist calling her by her Christian name, there was something right about the way that name rolled off his tongue. He catalogued her appearance and demeanour, from his observations of her so far he knew she was usually lively and spirited, but today she was neither of these things. Underneath the forced smile that was fixed on her face he saw weariness and sadness. Elizabeth tried to put everyone else at ease by pretending to be well even though she was not; and he admired her all the more for it. He knew what it was like to have burdens that were not to be shared with the outside world and he could empathise.
"I am well, I thank you Mr Darcy, but that is not the only thing I need to be thanking you for
words cannot express how relieved I was when you came upon me in the park
Here Darcy gently cut her off, he could see how she struggled to articulate the words and he did not want her thanks.
"Miss Elizabeth, please, there is no need to thank me. I assure you. Knowing that you are safe and unharmed is more than enough."
Lizzy blushed at his kind words and unconsciously rubbed her wrist where the bruises were now a dark purple in colour.
"You are too kind sir, but I shall thank you all the same..."
She fell short, as following his gaze, Lizzy quickly realised that he had seen the bruises on her wrist. She hastily pulled her sleeve down further and studiously looked at the floor, her face loosing colour. She did not want anyone except her Aunt seeing her injuries; she did not want anyone to see that she was damaged by that man. Lost in her musings, she nearly jumped when, to her astonishment, Mr Darcy slowly reached out and took her injured hand in his.
She followed his movements as he tenderly turned her wrist over and lightly traced the markings that marred her skin. She marvelled at the gentle way his large hands held hers. Her breathing sped up almost imperceptibly and she felt her heart quicken as she finally tore her gaze away from her wrist to the gentleman's eyes. She found that his attention was already focused on hers and his eyes burned with an intensity that was wholly unfamiliar. She watched completely transfixed as he raised her hand towards him. She could feel his warm breath on her hand where it hovered just underneath his mouth, his gaze never leaving hers. Lizzy, almost breathless from the waves of emotions that were now coursing through her, did nothing but stare back. So wrapped up in their intimate air of tension, everything else was forgotten until there was a sudden shift in the atmosphere as Darcy released her hand. His eyes, once burning with an array of emotions were now closed off and distant. He looked as he had the first time she met him, stoic and cold, the only thing betraying his new demeanour was his red tinged cheeks.
Confused and hurt at the almost blank expression that now adorned the gentleman's face she finally recollected that they were not alone. She glanced over to the far corner where her Aunt and Georgiana were in earnest conversation, and luckily, appeared to have been for quite some time. Lizzy's gaze wandered involuntarily back to the enigma of the man before her, her mind wondering who exactly was the real Fitzwilliam Darcy?
Posted on: 2011-09-03
Darcy saw the hurt and confusion flicker across Elizabeth's eyes and inwardly cursed. He prided himself on being able to keep a tight hold on his outward emotions but for some reason, being in the presence of the woman in front of him threw his self-restraint out of the window. He did not think about what he was doing when he saw the bruises on her arm, almost without conscious thought he reached for her hand and caressed it. He wanted to erase the reminders of what Morecroft had done to her. It came almost naturally to him, comforting Elizabeth, and it was with a degree of shock that he realised he was about to kiss her hand. A woman who he barely knew, a woman who had just been through a dreadful ordeal, a woman who had the most enchanting eyes he had ever encountered. It was this last thought that shook him out of his thoughts. He had no right to lead this woman on. He was a Darcy, his sense of propriety was impeccable, he had to marry a woman of his own circle and here he was about to make a bold and unwarranted move. He would not give this innocent woman hopes that could never be realised.
He put his façade of indifference firmly into place and glanced around the room hoping that his sister and Mrs Gardiner had not seen his earlier slip in composure. Luckily he spied them both engrossed in music sheets and lost to anything else in the room. He dared not look back at Elizabeth, no Miss Bennet, for both of their sakes. He could not deny the attraction that he felt for her, he had never met her equal having intelligence, beauty and kindness combined in any of the ladies he had met in the ton, but nothing could come of it. He only prayed that she had not succumbed to the attraction he was feeling. Friendship was all that he could offer Miss Bennet, and although he knew that it would probably be better for his heart if she declined him even that he dearly hoped that she would not.
He cleared his throat and valiantly searched for a safe topic to broach with Miss Bennet. He was saved from the task by Georgiana and Mrs Gardiner who had rejoined them on the sofas.
"Elizabeth, I have been asked to confirm your attendance at my Aunts' for tea tomorrow. Please know that if you do not feel well enough I will make excuses to my Aunt." Georgiana looked at Lizzy as if assessing her state of health on the spot. Noticing that she was under close scrutiny Lizzy let it be known that she was perfectly at ease with the arrangements as they were and she would gladly keep the appointment.
The visit soon ended and the participants were in a variety of states when the Darcy's left. Georgiana was happy that her friend seemed to be nearly recovered from her ordeal. Mrs Gardiner was not fooled by her niece's demeanour and was still worried about her; she hoped that once it was known that Lord Morecroft was no longer in the same part of the country Lizzy would regain some of her spirit back, however she had a feeling that perhaps Lord Morecroft was not the only factor in her quiet behaviour, both Mr Darcy and Elizabeth were subdued after their tête-à-tête and she wondered what had occurred to cause them to be so. Elizabeth on her part was confused. She could not understand the many sides to Mr Darcy, his moods were so changeable she did not know what to expect of him the next time they met, would he be the charming rescuer or the cold gentleman of the ton? She knew which one she wanted to see.
Darcy was also seized in an inner turmoil as he left the Gardiner residence; he was determined to repress his feelings for Miss Bennet and continue the acquaintance with perfect civility, offering friendship and companionship. He convinced himself that he could strive to imagine Miss Bennet as another sister, he could look after her as he would Georgiana, he would also make it abundantly clear to the lady in question of his thoughts on the matter. It would be the fair thing to do after all, so that she not be made suspicious or form any serious attachment by his continued presence.
Once the sound of the carriage could no longer be heard Madeline ushered Lizzy back into the parlour. Grasping her niece's hands she beamed.
"Lizzy, I have the most wonderful news. Lord Morecroft shall not be able to harass you again! In fact he is not even I the same county anymore."
Lizzy released her Aunt's hands and sat heavily down on the nearest chair. Looking up with a cautiously hopeful expression Lizzy could hardly be heard as she whispered in disbelief.
"How? How can it be possible? He was most determined in his suit to posses me."
"I do not know the specifics, but apparently he is indebted to Mr Blake and the debt is of such a nature that he could not refuse Mr Blake's demands of leaving you alone. There has been confirmation that Lord Morecroft's house is being closed up and he is to take residence in one of his estates no doubt."
Seeing the look of panic that flickered across Elizabeth's face her Aunt continued, " no, Lizzy, he is not to go to Hertfordshire, it was confirmed that the lease on Burwell Manor has been let up and so you will be safe from him there whenever you decide to go back."
A look of pure relief suffused through Elizabeth as she processed this information. She was free from Morecroft's clutches, finally. She could walk through the streets unafraid of him finding her. She could return home if she wanted to, though perhaps she would wait until her mother had recovered from the disappointment that her refusal has caused her. What she owed to Mr Edmund Blake! How could she ever repay him? He and Mr Darcy had done so much for her, more than she could ever repay.
With the anticipation of the gentleman's meeting with Edward, the post was forgotten, now that the commotion of the morning was over Madeline collected the envelopes and shuffled through them.
"Ah Lizzy my dear, it seems as though Jane has replied to your last letter, I have a few errands to run in town, I will not be long, shall you be well until I return?"
"Yes Aunt, I shall be perfectly content! Today is a day to be happy, and I love hearing from my dear, sweet sister Jane."
"Very well, I shall leave you to your letter. I shall see you in a little while."
When she heard the door close a quarter of an hour later Lizzy eagerly tore open the seal, waiting to hear news from home.
I am most disturbed to hear that Lord Morecroft had found you before you were warned. I hope he was not too unpleasant, though I am sure that a man who so desperately wants to marry you as he does would never do you any harm. I hope you would tell me if something is wrong Lizzy, even though I am not there in person I am always available through letters whenever you are in need.
Your Miss Darcy sounds a very sweet girl, I am glad that you have found a new friend and perhaps she will help lift you out of your low spirits. Yes Lizzy, even though you did not specifically write that you are unhappy I could tell. You are my little sister; it could not escape my notice.
In Hertfordshire news Mr Collins has arrived. He seems a very loyal man, and is always offering advice. He has only been with us one day but from what I have seen he does not seem a terrible person, I highly doubt he would cast our family out of Longbourn should the worst happen.
Netherfield is alive with servants preparing for its new master's imminent arrival. It seems the whole of Meryton is all anticipation for the new tenants. I for one am curious, though do not let mama know, she is determined that I shall marry the gentleman, who I have never seen or even know the name of!
I hope your time in London is beneficial for you, I do miss you Lizzy. When you feel ready please come back home. I am sure mama has forgotten all about Lord Morecroft now that Mr Collins is here and the new tenants of Netherfield are about to arrive.
Papa sends his love and furthers my plea to hurry home, Mary, Kitty and Lydia all send their love, mother is currently at Aunt Philips as I write this but I know she would send her love if she was here!
After reading the letter Lizzy sat back in her chair thinking over what she had written. She dearly missed her sister, her father and even starting to miss her younger sisters and mother. The threat of Lord Morecroft was no more and it sounded as if Jane was bearing the brunt of her mother's matchmaking schemes. It would be selfish of her to stay in London whilst her poor sister was suffering her mother's machinations. Her resolve was set. She would stay one more week in London, fulfil all her arrangements and then Hertfordshire she would go!
Posted on: 2011-09-30
Eleanor Fitzwilliam sat in her parlour quietly drinking her tea whilst thinking over the conversation she had just had with her youngest son. Being of the mind to actually spend time with her offspring instead of leaving them with a governess as they grew up, Eleanor had learnt to easily recognise when her sons were happy, upset, or more commonly, mischievous. The look that Richard sported had most definitely been the latter as he strolled into her parlour that morning.
"Mother" he ambled forward to embrace and kiss her cheek.
"Richard! I did not know you were coming to see me?" as she pulled back from the embrace she noticed his excited eyes and a twitch of the left side of his mouth, a mannerism that she was exceedingly familiar with. She narrowed her eyes and stepped back. "What are you after this time dear son of mine?"
"For shame madam! You think that the only reason I would come and visit you would be to ask for something? Please allow me a little credit oh lovely mother of mine!"
Not to be swayed by her charming son, after all, he had learnt it all from her, she answered in kind.
"Richard I have known you these past one and thirty years, and in that time I have learnt to read you like a book. You may be able to fool the French, but you will not be able to fool me!"
Letting out a dramatic sigh before grinning he waved his hand in defeat.
"Very well, I am found out!"
"Now Richard, I hope you shall not surrender so easily to Napoleon, I am beginning to wonder how you became a colonel considering you gave up almost at once!"
Noticing his mother's teasing Richard quipped in a serious tone;
"Ah, but mother, I would never surrender to them for I know I can beat them, you on the other hand, I know it is a hopeless battle so there is little point wasting my time pretending otherwise!"
Eleanor laughed as she fondly patted her son's arm.
"Appealing to one's vanity shall get you far my dear."
Richard winked as they both sat down on the sofas.
Switching into her inquisitive mode Eleanor began to question her son.
"Now, tell me why you are here."
"Never one to mince words are you mother?"
you came here to ask for my advice or to tell me something of importance, so, speak."
"Yes General." He muttered under his breath but his mother must have heard as she playfully swatted him on the arm.
"I thought you were supposed to be one of the most revered hostesses of the ton. I am failing to see why, I have not even been offered a drink!" after seeing the glare that was thrown at him he mock-scowled. "Fine, fine."
As the words left his mouth the door opened and a servant carrying tea and light refreshments entered. Eleanor thanked the maid before turning to her son with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
"You were saying Richard?" "That you were an excellent hostess and an even more brilliant mother?"
"I thought so. Now, drink some tea, eat a sandwich and can you please finally get to the point."
Obliging his mother he did as he was bid.
After he gave an account of his lunch at Darcy House Richard left his mother to contemplate the information he had just parted. He shared his suspicions about the effect a certain brunette may have on his cousin and wanted to hear her opinions on it. Mentioning nothing explicit, just hints, he knew that he had carried enough suggestion off in his account to make his mother extra inquisitive on the morrow.
Little did he know that Eleanor had already begun to question William's attachment to the young miss after observing him at the opera a few nights previous. With her son's suspicions so aligned with her own she looked forward to her tea with Miss Bennet even more. From her brief talk with her she seemed an intelligent girl and the Gardiner's were good people. She had never heard of the Bennet's so they must not move in the same circle's as she, but that was of little importance, so long as she was a gentleman's daughter and her reputation and that of her immediate family was intact she could see little objection to the match. Of course she was getting ahead of herself, she knew nothing solid on the feelings of either of the individuals involved and without observing them both separately and together she would not know. Finishing the rest of her tea she rose from the sofa and made her way to her bureau to respond to some of her correspondence.
The next morning soon arrived and it saw Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth entering the grand Matlock House. Both women were unused to such grandeur but both being of a character not to be intimidated they easily bore the change of surroundings admirably as they were introduced into the parlour where Georgiana and Lady Matlock were waiting for them. The ladies rose in welcome.
"Good Morning Mrs Gardiner, Miss Bennet, I hope I find you both well this morning."
"Good morning your ladyship, Georgiana, we are both well I thank you."
"Please, take a seat."
As the ladies sat Eleanor rang the bell for tea. Being most experienced in holding tea mornings, the conversation flowed freely between the occupants comprising of trivial nothings, normal during the formation of new friendships. As they all became more familiar with each other Lady Matlock began her inquisition whilst there was a lull in the conversation.
"Miss Bennet, how are you enjoying your stay in London?"
"Very well maam, I always enjoy visiting my Aunt and Uncle," throwing a quick smile at Georgiana she continued, "and of course during this visit I have had the pleasure of making new friends."
"Ah yes Georgiana and my nephew have only had good things to say about you Miss Bennet." This was a slight stretch of truth, Darcy had never really said anything direct about Elizabeth to her but from what Eleanor had heard he was not unaffected. She was satisfied to observe a slight blush adorn the young woman's cheeks as she made this pronouncement.
"They give me too much credit your ladyship, but I have exceedingly enjoyed my time with Georgiana."
Eleanor noticed she did not mention anything regarding William but let it pass unmentioned for the time being.
"How long are you to stay in London for, the rest of the season?"
"I am to return to Hertfordshire in a fortnight."
Here Georgiana looked alarmed as the usually docile girl exclaimed,
"A fortnight Lizzy?! That is so soon! Can you not stay until the end of the season?"
"I am afraid I cannot. My sister Jane has written to me asking for me to return home when I am able. She is never one to ask for anything unless she has to and coupled with my father's plea for my return home I am afraid I can not be so selfish as to not go. I miss them, it has been a great while since Jane and I have been separated for so long."
Georgiana looked forlorn as she nodded her acceptance; she dearly missed William when he went away and so she could not begrudge her new friend wanting to be reunited with her own sibling. It was not as if they were related so she could force her to stay.
Lady Matlock observed the turn of countenance on her young niece and attempted to soothe her.
"Dear Georgie, Miss Bennet has not departed yet, she still has two weeks before she leaves, I am sure you shall see her before she returns home."
She sighed and Elizabeth leant over to pat her hand in an affectionate gesture.
"Do not worry Georgie we have two dinners planned and I am sure we shall go for many walks in the interim."
"And can I write to you when you do leave?"
"Of course! You cannot escape my acquaintance now Georgie even if you wanted to!"
Georgiana beamed at her friend, safe in the knowledge that she would not loose contact. The older women shared a fond smile at the budding friendship, both glad that their young charges had formed a genuine bond.
The rest of the morning passed quickly and amiably amongst the small party and it was with regret that they parted ways. Maddie and Eleanor had talked over ideas for a charity they both supported and would be in contact on ways to set them in motion whilst Lizzy and Georgie made plans for the following morning to walk around Hyde Park.
"Thank you Mrs Gardiner, Miss Bennet for providing Georgie and I with a most invigorating morning, it has been quite some time since we have been blessed with two intelligent companions in one meeting! I am sure we shall see each other again."
"Your Ladyship, I am sure I can say for Elizabeth as well that we thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, Georgiana we shall see you and your brother tonight."
"Goodbye Maddie, Lizzy. My brother and I shall see you this evening."
"Goodbye Lady Matlock, until tonight Georgie."
As the clattering of the carriage faded into the distance Georgiana turned towards her Aunt with an expectant look upon her face.
"Well Aunt, how do you like Madeline and Elizabeth? They are wonderful are they not?"
"I approve of them Georgie, they both seem to be intelligent, kind women and I am sure that you shall benefit greatly from the acquaintance."
"I am so glad you like them, I think it would be hard not to, although William did not like Lizzy at the start of their acquaintance but luckily that misunderstanding was sorted out."
Eleanor's interested was peaked at this slip of information.
"What misunderstanding dear?"
"You said that William did not like Miss Bennet when they first met, I am just curious as to why that is?"
Here Georgiana paused; she did not feel comfortable divulging secrets that were not her own, she had already told William of Lizzy's past, she did not want to tell another person as well, even if it was her Aunt. Sensing Georgiana's hesitation Eleanor quickly amended her previous question.
"It is of no matter dear if it is of a sensitive topic. You need not worry about breaking anyone's trust; I shall not press you for the answer."
"Thank you Aunt, Lizzy did nothing wrong, it was just William over-reacting. You know how protective he can get, I cannot give you more information without betraying Lizzy's trust and that is something I do not want to do.
"Of course, I would expect nothing less of you Georgie. Now we had best get you back to Darcy House, I am sure William is wondering where you are as it is mid afternoon already and you have an engagement this evening as I recall."
Once again Eleanor found herself sitting alone in the parlour thinking about the morning events. Her curiosity was lit regarding William and Miss Bennet's introduction, perhaps she would write her youngest and invite him for lunch again. She knew that he was William's confidant in most matters and as Richard approached her first with his suspicions he should not mind explaining what he knew of the history between the young woman and her nephew. She had a feeling that Miss Elizabeth Bennet would become an important part to more than just one Darcy in the future and she heartily approved. She seemed the sort of girl that would compliment William, where he was quiet and brooding she was spirited and open, both were intelligent and the obvious affection that she had for Georgiana recommended her even further. She just needed to learn a little bit more about her and her family and of course see William and Elizabeth together to see how they interacted, but Eleanor always had a good sense of these things and she was certain that Elizabeth was meant to be a permanent fixture one way or another in the Darcy's life.
Posted on: 2011-10-22
"Cassandra.." the name whispered in the most tender of voice's brought yet more tears to her mahogany eyes. She could feel his uneven breaths fan across her skin as he moved closer. Eyes gently closing, she waited for the soft touch of his lips to finally meet her own, but it never came. Instead she felt a quick in take of air as he moved away from her.
I am sorry I do not-" a red blush suffused across her cheeks as the rejection swept through her.
"No Cassandra, please, do not apologise, you have done nothing wrong. It was me, it was completely and utterly inappropriate."
Trying to keep hold of the tears that threatened to escape, she tried to reassure the dear, dear man in front of her.
"Edmund we are both to blame, our emotions are not to be trusted at this time. Please, let us forget what never even happened."
He let out a tired sigh and dragged his hand through his thoroughly tousled hair, the stress of the past day was taking its toll on him causing his normal barriers to crumble before the exquisite creature in front of him.
"You are right, of course. Today has been
difficult. We both knew his time was coming to an end, but I never
I do not think I actually thought it would happen. I..."
He broke up frustrated that he could not articulate the feelings that were coursing through his body. His father had died that morning. His health had taken a rapid decline the past few days and he knew that his end was near. The last few hours had been an emotional haze, but the constant presence of Cassandra was something he grasped onto.
He stared off into space not even realising that tears had started to leak from his eyes until he felt delicate fingers wipe them away. Focusing his gaze on the woman he had gotten to know over the past months Edmund managed, just for a few moments, to forget everything around him. This time neither of them thought about the consequences of their actions, their lips met and nothing else mattered. All the pain, anger, sorrow and passion that the couple had tried to suppress was poured into their kiss. Propriety was ignored and sense was powerless to stop them.
A jolt in the carriage brought Edmund Blake out of his memories. Watching the countryside fly by he gave up trying to find some rest. For many months sleep had been hard to come by, and whenever he had finally managed to succumb to it, it was only to be plagued by memories of her. Not all were unhappy memories, but the end result would be the same. He would wake up and realise that she was with him no more and the pain would be nearly unbearable.
He had left town early that morning to visit Morecroft in Sussex. He did not particularly want to endure his presence but he needed to be sure that he had kept to his promise and was safely away from London and Miss Bennet. He would not let another innocent woman suffer when he could have prevented it. Turning his thoughts over to Miss Bennet, he could not but notice the similarities she had with Cassandra; both fiery, independent, clever women he always ached with longing in the presence of Miss Elizabeth, sharing so many attributes, physically as well as intellectually but not being quite who he wanted it to be.
The guilt ripped through him at his hypocrisy, why was he going through the trouble of protecting her? After all, his friendship with Gardiner could not, would not last. Not after he found out what had happened. How had his life turned into such a nightmare? He should have stayed on the continent. He was content there, absorbing the different cultures, seeing the wondrous sights, no responsibility, no pain, no complications. At that moment he could have been in Florence, strolling along by the river Arno, not a care in the world, free to indulge in whatever floated into his mind. Scowling at the non-descript scenery before him he chided himself for wishing what could not be and settled back into the cushioned seat for the remainder of his journey.
Meanwhile thirty miles away, Morecroft was in a foul mood. He had sent directives to open the house that he had purchased in the area when his father was admitted into Ticehurst. He hated this place, but it also served him as a reminder as to why he allowed himself to be bossed around by a man such as Blake.
Soon this will be over and I can cut him out of my life.
His thoughts drifted to Elizabeth, and his anger welled up even more.
How dare she keep refusing me?! The ungrateful chit. When all the tempers have cooled I shall go back to London and claim my prize. I am sure once Gardiner has fallen she will be begging me to take her. Though once their family's reputation is sullied I do not think marriage would be the most prudent option. Perhaps I shall just take her as my mistress; it is not as though she would be able to get another offer after we have finished with them. I am sure her struggles against me would just make it more exciting
As his thoughts took a darker turn his mood lightened significantly, he even deigned to not scowl at any members of staff who he passed on his way through the recently aired rooms. He stopped when he entered the green parlour, his eyes fixed on the portrait hanging above the fireplace and his heart dropped.
The portrait had been taken only a year before her death. She looked so happy, radiant and regal. She was magnificent. Cassandra was the one person who he could always rely on. She might not have liked him all the time, but he never did any wrong by her, and she loved him. This he knew. She was there when no one else was and if it was not for that blasted Edmund Blake she would still be with him. He knew he had a share of the blame for her death, but, if she had not entered into a relationship with that man he would not have done what he did.
He would have been critical of any man that his sister had decided to give her heart to, she deserved so much, but for Blake to just come into her life and take her, was unacceptable. She was a Morecroft and that demanded respect, a respect that he failed to deliver and she was the one who paid the price. Flashes of that night sprang to the front of his mind. The dull, dead eyes of his angelic sister was a sight he frequently remembered, he wished he could erase the past year but he could not. Instead he poured himself a more than generous glass of whisky and sat heavily in the chair under the portrait. He could no longer look at it without being consumed by something he was close to identifying as guilt and that was unacceptable. Emptying the glass he quickly filled it to the top once more waiting for the drunken daze to overtake him.
It was just turning dark as the carriage pulled up at the Morecroft residence. Blake was in an ill-humour and hoped that Morecroft was not in one of his drunken or drugged phases. Waiting to be let into the house he glanced around at the surroundings, it had hardly changed since he had last visited it, though the company that awaited him then was much preferable to the one he could hear shouting from somewhere in the depths of the house.
Entering the building he nodded to the housekeeper and proceeded to follow the sounds of the master into the parlour. Seeing that James was indeed intoxicated beyond reason he decided not to anger him further by making his presence known. Instead he climbed upstairs to the guest bedroom and shut the door. It would be a long week indeed.
Posted on: 2011-11-12
The last two weeks of Lizzy's stay appeared to pass in no time at all. The two dinners that had taken place between the Darcy's, Gardiners and Miss Bennet were pleasant affairs. The food was excellent, conversation stimulating and a good time was had by all. At least on the surface it appeared so. Elizabeth was yet again confused by the brooding gentleman from Derbyshire. He had turned into the withdrawn and stoic man that she first encountered. She compared him to other gentlemen of her acquaintance. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a jovial fellow always at ease and was guaranteed to lighten the atmosphere, Mr Hughes, the Fitzwilliam's house guest, was another amiable man. She greatly enjoyed his company when he had sometimes joined her and Georgiana on their regular morning walks around Hyde Park where he spent their time enlightening them further on the sights he had seen on his Grand Tour.
It was such a contrast to the quiet intensity that emanated from Mr Darcy, he was always polite and spoke in general to the party but he no longer had any one to one conversations with her. Ever since that morning in her Aunt's parlour when he had enquired after her health he had been withdrawn, and she was disturbed by how much this unsettled her. She barely even knew him, after all she had only had a few conversations and meetings so she could not justify why her heart pulled when he would talk to her Aunt and Uncle with ease and yet would never venture to continue a conversation with her.
Perhaps it was Georgiana's constant glowing accounts of him that made her long to know more about the complex man. She knew herself to be of a curious nature and the puzzle that was Mr Darcy was a tempting character for study, his apparent avoidance of letting her decipher him was surely what was bothering her
The last two weeks of Miss Elizabeth's stay was sweet torture for Darcy. It was hard to be in her presence and not want to devote his entire attention to her. She was simply fascinating, whether he heard it first hand or a recitation from Georgiana after one of their many walks, her views and intelligence drew him in, as the days went by Darcy was having trouble reconciling his heart with his mind. There were so many ways in which Elizabeth, how he savoured the name, would be a perfect wife for him. She was caring, beautiful and genuine, not to mention the flourishing friendship with his sister, the one person he cherished above all else, to have her love was a must for when he eventually married. Yet he could not forget that he did not really know her, what of her family? What were they like? She was not of the highest circles, that was a given, but she was a gentleman's daughter; however she did have relations in trade, which was unfortunate even if they were very amiable.
Years of family honour and pride, drilled into him from a young age was hard to ignore. He was taught to marry for love, but he was also told to give great consideration to wealth and connections, Elizabeth Bennet was testing his adherence to his parents' wishes and he did not know what to do. What was best for him, for Georgiana, for the family? It was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the wishes of his heart; he could no longer deny it. He was attracted, infatuated, longing to spend hours with her, but he could not let her know that she had captured his heart. So he set his expression firmly in polite interest whenever she was near, he would not give her hope if he was not yet sure whether he was willing to act upon his desires.
He was torn when he found out that she was to leave Town, he did not have enough time to come to a decision. Darcy would deliberate on any matter of importance until he had fully exhausted all possible consequences and outcomes, but when he had come to a decision he would act swiftly and directly. He was still in the analytical stage of deciphering his intentions towards Elizabeth and this was the last time he was guaranteed to see her. A ball was being hosted by the Fitzwilliams' as was their custom at this time of year, and then she would leave the next morning. Georgiana, who was too young to attend the ball had visited the Gardiners that afternoon to say her farewell, Darcy was at a loss when she returned subdued and close to tears at losing the closest friend she had ever had.
"I know that she must go William, she has not seen her family in weeks and she is very close with her eldest sister, but
" she sniffed and wiped the treacherous tears that were threatening to spill, Darcy gently pulled her close, his heart aching that his sister was upset and there was nothing he could do to help. He stroked her hair as she nestled against him, quiet sobs emitting from her fragile body.
"But you will miss her all the same, I know dearest. She has promised to write though has she not? Surely her letters will bring some comfort to you?"
A slight nod of the head was the only response he got. At a loss on what to do he pulled away slightly and bent down so he was eye level with her, a playful smirk dancing across his features.
"I know as your older, serious and boring brother I cannot begin to compare my company alone with that of Miss Bennet, but, I am sure coupled with a fresh batch of Mrs Lowes delicious pastries, a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and tales of mine and Richard's escapades as children your unhappiness might be lifted somewhat?" he teased with a raised eyebrow. He knew that Georgie would be upset so he had asked for a batch of his sister's favourite delicacies to be made and ensured that there were ingredients for hot chocolate within the house. She also always enjoyed hearing of the trouble that he and Richard had got themselves into as youths. Seeing that his sister's eyes had lit up with the mention of her favourite foods and promises of his childhood tales he chuckled and straightened up, bringing her close to his side as they made their way to the kitchens. They were nearly at the entrance when Georgie stopped and looked up at him with a soft and loving expression.
"Thank you William" he smiled in response and kissed the top of her head as he led her towards the delicious smells within.
Darcy descended from his carriage and made his way into his Aunt and Uncle's house. Usually he did not feel much excitement when attending these balls but tonight he was even more anxious. Tonight would be the last time he would see Elizabeth for an undefined amount of time. He was still at a loss at what he should do and was tempted to not turn up at all, but he knew he could not avoid it. His Aunt and Uncle would not permit his absence and his own longing to see Elizabeth one last time before she left was too strong to ignore. He subtly glanced around the room, not bothering to deny to himself that he was in search of her. He thought he heard her bell like laughter over to his right and was about to venture that way when his arm was caught in a vice like grip. He instantly stiffened and mentally groaned. There was only one woman who had the audacity to do such a thing. With a resigned attitude he turned to face his best friend's sister. Before he could even bow or try to disentangle himself she tightened her grip and began her usual false and unwanted attentions.
"Oh Mr Darcy! How are you? Georgiana? It has been such a long time since we have seen each other has it not?"
Darcy gathering as much patience as possible merely bowed his head.
"Miss Bingley, Georgiana and I are well thank you." Hoping that that would be enough to placate her for now he tried unsuccessfully to disengage from her grip. Luckily for him Richard had spotted his current situation and was making his way over.
"Darce! Glad you could make it! I believe Mother and Father are looking for you. Miss Bingley, I am sure you do not mind losing my cousin's stimulating company for now?" he asked with a cheeky grin that did nothing to sweeten the sour expression on her face. The colonel always ran interference whenever she tried to deepen her acquaintance with Mr Darcy. With a forced smile she almost graciously unfurled her fingers from Darcy's grip and went to find her sister in the crowd. With a sigh of relief Darcy turned to his cousin and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Thank you Richard, once again you have succeeded in rescuing me from the clutches of Caroline."
Richard laughed and patted him on the back as they moved through the crowd to the hosts.
"Not a problem Darce, as much as it is entertaining for the rest of us to watch, I would not inflict her ministrations on you for any longer than necessary."
Grumbling Darcy almost petulantly huffed.
"It constantly annoys me how she manages to gain invitations to events where she would not normally be invited. If she was not Charles's sister she would not have been admitted! He is not even in attendance tonight! He has gone to his new home in Herefordshire I think it was."
Richard chuckled at his cousin's ire and sneaked a mischievous glance at him.
"Well dear cousin, I am sure that there is one lady here that you would not mind if she were to attach herself to you."
Feigning ignorance Darcy shrugged nonchalantly.
"I do not know who you could mean Richard, Georgiana is too young for such a ball as you well know."
"I was not speaking of Georgiana Darce."
"Your mother, as delightful as she is, is not someone I would like to spend the entire evening with, she has a tendency to match-make and you know how much I abhor the activity, I am at a loss as to who you would be speaking of."
Grinning at his cousin's avoidance of the subject he lowered his voice so only Darcy could hear.
"I was speaking of one Miss Elizabeth Bennet, she looks simply ravishing this evening." Richard was delighted with the results of his remark. Darcy's eyes widened, his cheeks reddened and he swerved his head as though Elizabeth would magically appear near him. Laughing Richard once again clapped his cousin's back sporting a triumphant grin.
"I knew it Darce! Simply knew it! Nothing can escape these eyes cousin, nothing. Look at your face! Oh you have it bad do you not Darce?"
Seeing the pained expression that now adorned his face the Colonel turned serious.
"What is the matter Darce?"
"Do not speak of what you know nothing about Richard, please."
"I do not understand? Miss Bennet is a delightful creature, why should you not be taken with her?"
Darcy sighed, this was neither the time nor place to go into such intimate details, one could never know who could hear their conversation.
"Richard, please, we can talk of this later. Now is not the time." The colonel nodded in understanding, worried about the grim countenance that fell over his cousin's face before he rearranged it as they neared his parents.
"Mother, Father, look who I found lost in the masses?"
The Earl and Lady Matlock looked fondly at their son and nephew and the four entered into easy conversation. Lady Matlock and her son were both quietly diverted by Darcy's not so subtle glances around the room, they both had a more than fair idea of who he was searching for. Unfortunately Lady Eleanor did not know that Miss Bennet was of such a sore point for Darcy and the conversation soon turned to their new acquaintance as she spotted her dancing with Mr Avery, a pleasant young gentleman and quite eligible. Using the opportunity to see what her nephew's feelings were regarding the young woman she casually drew the conversation around Miss Bennet.
Keeping a close eye on Darcy's expression she casually observed her pleasure in making the acquaintance of Miss Bennet, and that the wonders she had done to Georgiana were simply wonderful. Something like hope was kindled in Darcy, his Aunt approved of Miss Bennet? Was her appreciation of Elizabeth strong enough for her to embrace her within the family? He mentally shook his head, he was reading far too much into the innocent comment. He still knew nothing of her immediate family or the situation she was in. He would not allow himself to indulge in such fancies when everything about her was still so unknown. Eleanor saw the glimmer of happiness spread across Darcy's features before they closed off once more. She could hazard a guess why William was so reticent in following his affection, after all she had at one point believed in the importance of wealth and connections above all else as well. Perhaps a little talk with him was needed at some point in the near future.
Meanwhile Darcy bowed to his relations and went in search for Miss Bennet, he had to speak to her, now that that tiny spark of hope had been ignited he wanted to be near her, talk to her before she left London, left him. He was near the dancing when he finally spotted her. She was
breathtaking. Her gown was a sensuous emerald that perfectly fitted her, her smile was radiant and her eyes, how they shone with laughter! He was flooded with equal parts admiration and jealousy, how he wanted to be the one to be so near.
Almost as though she knew she was being thought about Elizabeth's eyes glanced to her right and she caught herself staring at him. He looked so handsome, perfectly attired and his gaze, so unwavering so full of something, she felt her breath speed up. What was he doing to her? Never in her life had she been so affected and by a gaze alone! As the dance required her to break eye contact with Mr Darcy she felt bereft of his stare. Shaking her head she chided herself for being so foolish, he had made it perfectly clear he wanted nothing more than a casual acquaintance with her, she was his sister's friend and that was all. She would enjoy her dance with Mr Avery and the other gentlemen who had asked for a set and clear her mind of all thoughts regarding Mr Darcy.
As the night wore on Darcy was growing more and more irritated, every time that he would venture near Miss Bennet, she would be claimed for the next set and another chance at conversing with her was lost. It was now nearing the final set when he noticed that for once she was by herself. He deftly made his way over to her, determined to not make a fool out of himself.
"Miss Bennet." He formally bowed and watched as a blush suffused her cheeks as she curtsied in response. Perhaps he was not the only one affected?
"Mr Darcy." They both stood, unsure of how to proceed. She eventually broke the tense silence. "I hope you are enjoying the ball? It is beautiful is it not?"
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief that she had initiated some conversation.
"Indeed Miss Bennet, although as you know I am not fond of crowded spaces I find that I am not at all displeased with being here tonight" At least not anymore.
"I am glad to hear it Mr Darcy, it would be a terrible shame if you did not derive at least some pleasure from being here. "
"I assure you it is always a pleasure speaking with you Miss Bennet" this sudden complement after avoiding doing such an activity for the past two weeks confused Elizabeth greatly, but she found that she was happy that he decided to open up once more. Remembering his love of Byron from their encounter in the bookstore they launched into a discussion of the book. They both thoroughly enjoyed the intelligent remarks of the other and when Darcy noticed that the last dance was about to be played he prayed that Miss Elizabeth was not already promised for the set.
"Miss Elizabeth" here Darcy paused as he took note of the brilliance of her brown eyes gaze back at him. He cleared his throat. "Miss Elizabeth, you are leaving us tomorrow and I hope that before you go I could claim a dance with you?"
An array of emotions that he could not fully make out crossed her features.
"Mr Darcy, thank you for asking but I am afraid that I am already engaged for the last set." She looked down at her feet before bringing her determined gaze up to his face; this gave him time to adjust the disappointed and pained expression that her answer caused him into a neutral one. " Sir, before we part ways, I just want you to know that
that I am thankful for making Georgiana's acquaintance, and that you and your sister have been so kind to my Aunt, Uncle and I just wanted to express my pleasure in making new friends."
Both Lizzy and Darcy were shocked at her bold statement, Darcy's intense gaze was almost too much for Lizzy to handle as she blushed in mortification at what she had said. Seeing her discomfort he wished to alleviate it. He knew now that he was too far gone and in a gentle tone he coaxed her to look up at him once more.
"Ah! Miss Bennet! There you are, I was looking for you to claim our dance!"
Darcy and Elizabeth both stepped back from one another not realizing that they had moved closer to each other during their conversation. Darcy made sure to clear his annoyance from his face as he turned to the intruder. It was Mr Hughes, his Aunt and Uncle's houseguest. He boldly walked up to Elizabeth took her hand in greeting and placed a quick kiss on it before he bowed to Darcy. Darcy felt a sharp pain where his heart lay, he had never considered this. Never considered that her heart was touched by another, he had acted too slow, he saw the blush that adorned her face as Hughes kissed her hand. Was he too late? Still recoiling from this new revelation Darcy tried to appear neutral as he nodded to Hughes before addressing Elizabeth once more.
"Miss Bennet, I shall keep you no longer from your dance, I hope that you have a safe journey home." With one more gaze and a nod of his head he retreated from the couple before she had a chance to reply. In no mood to see Hughes and Elizabeth dance together he made his way over to his Aunt and Uncle to say his farewells before departing for home.
Lizzy on the other hand was in a very solid state of confusion, but she was not allowed to dwell on her strange interactions with Mr Darcy as Mr Hughes led her to the dance floor and engaged her in conversation straight away. She began to grow worried at the attentions that Mr Hughes paid to her; she did not want him to gather the wrong impression, that she wanted anything more than friendship with him. What bothered her more was that Mr Darcy obviously thought there was a deeper understanding between her and Mr Hughes then actually existed and why she cared if he thought that there was?
Posted on: 2011-12-01
Darcy alighted from his carriage, and thanked the footman who took his outdoor wear. Even though he was still polite, his staff could sense that Darcy was in a terrible mood and they hoped that nothing dreadful had befallen their young master. Checking his watch and realising that Georgiana would be asleep he sighed in relief and stalked to his study; he was in no mood to recount the events of the evening to his eager sister.
Pouring a glass of whisky he made his way over to the far side of the room, stared at the fire that had been lit prior to his arrival and took a sip savouring the burn of the alcohol as it slipped down his throat. After a few moments he brought his fist down on the mantelpiece.
Why had he been such a fool? For his actions tonight had shown him as exactly that. He had let his pride and uncertainty ruin his chances at speaking to Elizabeth for most of the evening and then his jealousy had stolen any final moments with her. It was too late to venture back, not that his pride would allow him to, and he was pained at not knowing when he would see her again.
Another glass was poured as he settled in his favourite armchair and set the decanter on the side contemplating the misery of his own making. It seemed too late he had come to a decision regarding Elizabeth and his chance at happiness had slipped through his grasp. He did not even know where in Hertfordshire her father's estate lay, and he knew no one from that county upon which he could discover a reason to venture there. Finishing his second glass he swiftly poured a third before a thought flittered through his mind.
Georgiana! His sister would be keeping in contact with Miss Bennet, he smiled, at least he was guaranteed to not lose all connection to her.
He grimaced at his inner thoughts, how pathetic; I am reliant on my sixteen year old sister for information regarding the only woman who has ever touched my heart. Darcy threw back another glass wallowing in the fact that it was through no-ones fault but his own that he had ended up in such a predicament. He cast his mind back to the evening and the disaster it had been. Jealousy flared once more within him as he recounted the interactions and obvious familiarity between Elizabeth and Mr Hughes.
Was he being irrational? What rights did he have regarding her? None. She was free to bestow her attentions on whomever she chose. He had no claim on Elizabeth, he had made sure of that from nearly the beginning of their acquaintance, but
but still he almost desperately hoped that her opinion of him was something favourable, that she saw him as not just her friend's brother.
At times when in her presence he felt such a connection that he refused to believe it was just one sided. He sighed as he thought about his previous interactions with her. He could not say that he did anything overtly leading in the past few weeks. Why would she think of him as anything more?
Taking yet another measure of drink he attempted to rally himself. Why would she not think of him as a potential suitor? He was rich, connected and not an unfortunate looking man, what basis could she reject him? He sighed and visibly deflated as he realised that these attributes would not hold much sway with Elizabeth. It was one of the things that affected him most, her genuineness and lack of artifice. She would, he thought, value a good man with intelligence and an open countenance, and though he knew he was well read, for he came top of his class at University, and that he was essentially a good man he did not let many see this side of him. He would never be free and easy like his cousin Richard or the amiable Mr Hughes and this gave him no little pain. In his drunken mind Darcy allowed himself to feel more and more self-deprecation until he fell into a deep slumber in his armchair by the fire.
As the morning light filtered through into the study, the master of Darcy House was fast asleep, well, he was until the door was unceremoniously opened, banging into the wall causing him to abruptly awaken.
Richard surveyed his surroundings, taking note of the evening wear Darcy still wore and the near empty decanter next to him - it was just as he feared. He had seen the stormy expression that adorned his cousin's face as he left the ball early the previous night. He also saw Mr Hughes interrupt the tête-à-tête between Darcy and Miss Bennet and could easily surmise the cause for such distress from his usually unflappable cousin. It was a wonder to see his usually austere cousin affected so by a country Miss, but it could not longer be denied. He talked with his mother that morning regarding his suspicions that would account for Darcy's dour humour the previous evening, she agreed with her youngest son and sent him to fetch her nephew to her at once. It was time they had a little chat about what their family expectations actually were. Seeing that his cousin had deigned to open his bleary eyes he jovially sauntered up to the slumped figure and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Ah Darce, I had a feeling I would find you thus. Get up, get washed, get shaved and dress into something resembling respectability. You have an appointment with my mother in one hour."
Meanwhile, in Gracechurch Street, Lizzy lay in bed also contemplating the night's events after a less than peaceful sleep. Whilst enjoying her first proper London ball and the many dances and conversations she pursued she could not get the disappointed then bland expression that was presented by Mr Darcy's face out of her mind. What did it mean? More importantly why did she care? Shaking her head she put these thoughts aside as she heard the stirrings of the house beginning to start the day.
Making her way downstairs for the final time with her bonnet in hand she swooped down to her little cousins and engulfed them in a hug.
"Oh I will miss you little ones!"
The two children clung to their favourite cousin not wanting her to leave but they eventually disentangled themselves when their mother and father both entreated them to.
Edward was next to say farewell to his niece gently pulling her into an embrace and giving her a fatherly peck on the forehead.
"I wish you a safe trip my dear, it has been wonderful having you stay with us. Know you are welcome any time."
Tears began to well in Lizzy's eyes as she looked into the kind face of her Uncle.
"Thank you, your home has been a haven when I most needed it. And you must know how much I enjoy spending time with you and your family."
Edward smiled sadly, obviously remembering Lizzy's encounter with Lord Morecroft where he had not protected her. Sensing her husband's thoughts Maddie came to Elizabeth next and wrapped her in a tight hug.
"Oh Lizzy, we have enjoyed having you here just as much. Now do not forget to write when you arrive home, I want to be kept up to date with your happenings. We shall see you in two months over the Christmas season when we visit you at Longbourn. I hope you manage to have a quieter time than you have had recently."
Lizzy laughed and wiped the stray tears that had escaped.
"I doubt Longbourn could ever be described as quiet Aunt, as you well know! Lydia and Mama make sure of that! But I understand your meaning. Knowing that he is out our lives I hope to regain the tranquillity I used to have- well what tranquillity I could get from my ramblings to Oakham Mount or in my father's book room."
The final piece of luggage had been packed and the Gardiner family were now stood outside as Edward helped Lizzy into the carriage that her father had managed to free for Lizzy to get back home. With a final wave goodbye the carriage rolled from the front of their house and round a corner.
The journey from London to Hertfordshire was one she had taken several times and she usually enjoyed looking at her surroundings however Lizzy soon found herself drifting into sleep for the majority of the trip as she had hardly any rest the night before. After a particularly deep rut in the road Lizzy awakened to find the familiar landscapes emerging causing her countenance to grow more cheerful. She had missed her home, and now that Lord Morecroft was ensconced far away she was free once more to ramble about to her heart's content.
As the carriage rumbled to a stop outside Longbourn she saw her family assembling out in front of the house. It had just about stopped when she flew out of the confines and straight into the arms of Jane.
"Oh Jane how I have missed you!"
Jane's usual demure and serene countenance was unusually bright as she was reunited with her best friend and sister.
"Lizzy! I am so glad that you are home."
Not much more was able to pass between the two as the rest of the Bennet sisters decided to encroach on their hug. Kitty was merrily chatting away asking about what Lizzy had been doing for the past few weeks, Lydia was excited to see what presents she had brought back and even Mary had a smile on her face as she greeted her sister back into their lives.
Next was Mrs Bennet's turn to greet her daughter, the excitement of her return seemed to have temporarily made her forget that she was upset at her second eldest daughter and she began prattling away about the latest gossip of Meryton, eager to share her news with a new listener. Smiling sweetly at her Mama she then backed away and turned to find her father. He was standing slightly to the side observing with a slight smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. Lizzy rushed over to him and in a rare display of affection he gently hugged his favourite and kissed her on the cheek.
"Welcome home my Lizzy."
"Papa, it is good to see you."
She beamed as she once more embraced her father but their reunion was cut short by a nasally voice that as she turned around she saw was connected to a man she had not noticed due to the flurry of sisters and parents that she had been encased in.
"Welcome home cousin Elizabeth, I have heard much about you."
Fully turning to face the man Lizzy set about measuring him at once. He was a smaller than average man, dressed in black and seemed to be sweating profusely. It was impossible to describe him as attractive, or even just plain. Noticing her perusal of his person he must have taken it as some kind of encouragement for him to continue his greeting as he launched into a monologue describing and expounding on the virtues of travel, and the need for a comfortable carriage, and something about his patroness making sure the springs on her carriage were always in top working order. Lizzy meanwhile did not know whether to be amused or horrified at the man she assumed was Mr Collins, as he had not taken a breath to introduce himself yet. Finally, he too seemed to have realised this and stopped his rambling and bowed very low.
"My dear cousin Elizabeth, I am Mr Collins. No doubt you have heard of me? I am most gratified to make your acquaintance. You are just as lovely as your other sisters; you almost resemble my noble patroness's daughter Miss Anne De Bourgh. She is a most spectacular creature indeed. She is most accomplished, the brightest jewel in all of Kent, nay the kingdom!"
Lizzy stood amazed at the man before her, she chanced a glance towards her father who was trying to keep his laughter in, but she recognised the mirth bouncing in his eyes as he looked back at her in expectation of her reaction. Gathering her wits she grinned and curtsied.
"Mr Collins. Pleasure to make you acquaintance, you have exceeded my expectations already Sir."
Lizzy felt that she could say little else without bursting into a fit of giggles and wisely stayed silent as she was ushered into the house. The ridiculous Mr Collins would be a most amusing distraction for her mind to observe whilst trying to keep her thoughts at bay regarding a particular gentleman whose expression had been playing in her mind for the majority of her journey home.
Posted on: 2012-01-02
Darcy sincerely regretted drinking most of the decanter the previous evening. Not only was his head hurting and even the slightest movement made him want to expel his insides, but he had to face his Aunt. An Aunt who he loved like a parent and would not usually hesitate to come to her summons but today he was under no misapprehension that Lady Eleanor would want to have a discussion that he was in no way prepared to have, especially in such a state.
"Is that really necessary Richard?" Darcy winced as his cousin rapped the teaspoon against the china cup. The clanging sounds reverberated around his fragile head.
"I am afraid so cousin. Your actions of late have given us no other choice! Come, come it will not be so bad, just hear what mother has to say. You never know it may do you some good."
Darcy just grumbled in response and poured another cup of coffee when another thought struck him.
"Where is my sister Richard? She would usually be down by now trying to pull every little last detail about the ball from me?"
"Oh, not to worry, I have seen little Georgie already. I gave her a brief run-down of the evening, but for some reason she was not satisfied with my account for I mentioned nothing of the dresses of the ladies and the various dancing partners and such. She tired of my company quickly and swept dramatically from the room to write to Miss Bennet for a more detailed account."
"Hmm I am not quite convinced that Georgiana was so abrupt with you cousin, but I shall take my leave of her before we go."
Richard did not know whether to feel pity or amusement at Darcy's hopeful expression when he mentioned that his sister was writing to Miss Elizabeth and wisely chose to say nothing as his cousin drained the rest of his coffee and left the table in search for Georgiana.
Entering the mistress's study Darcy found his sister scribbling away oblivious to the world around her.
"Good Morning Georgie."
With a gasp she abruptly looked up in surprise.
"Brother I did not hear you enter."
"Evidently, I do not think you would have realised if the Prince himself walked through the door, you were so engrossed in your correspondence." Darcy wanted to at least appear to be uninterested in the recipient of his sister's letter and refused to ask out right.
"You are quite right William. I am writing to Elizabeth as Richard gave such a poor account of the ball last evening and I know that you are even worse at describing such events! I thought I would ask Lizzy for her descriptions as she was also in attendance and is a much wittier story teller than either of you, despite your best efforts!"
Darcy was extraordinarily pleased at this lively retort and was glad that his sister's spirits were raising more and more everyday, and it was no doubt the influence of their new acquaintance.
"You wound your cousin and I Georgie! Sixteen years Richard and I have sought to entertain you and now you replace us within a few weeks of a new friend."
Georgie also delighted in her brother's playfulness, grinned and asked innocently.
"Are you feeling better? Richard said that you were feeling a little unwell this morning? I went into your study this earlier thinking you were up sorting your affairs already but I saw that was not the case."
Darcy grimaced at the observations of his sister. She was getting too quick for his liking, he blushed, slightly ashamed that she knew that he had been in his cups the previous evening but he was heartened to see that he saw no disapproval only amusement in his sister's face. At least she did not know why he was drinking keeping his feelings regarding her new friend safe from her for now.
"I am well thank you for your concern. I am just going over to our Aunt's for a short while; I shall be back by dinner" he paused slightly with indecision before he carried on, "please send Miss Elizabeth my regards, I shall see you this evening."
Georgiana, who was much more observant than her brother realised wisely said nothing about his last request and wished him a pleasant morning.
Entering the Matlock town house Darcy imagined he felt much like someone walking voluntarily into a French encampment and he questioned once again why he was allowing himself to walk into such dangerous territory. He had no more time to muse upon his imminent demise as Lady Eleanor descended upon them.
"Ah Richard, I see you have managed to pry Darcy away from his morning activities."
"Indeed, though with such an authoritative aura as my own I shall soon be promoted to general in no time, I am sure."
"Of course dear. Now, can you please go and bond with your father. I would like to speak to William alone for a little while."
"Dismissing your own son in favour of the nephew? For shame madam! I know when I am not wanted, I shall go to my other parent who will undoubtedly not flaunt his favouritism towards William in my face!"
Lady Eleanor smirked at her son and laughed merrily as he swept from the room, in much the same way he accused Georgiana of doing earlier that morning.
Now that they were alone Eleanor perched on her seat and delicately started to pour some tea whilst Darcy stood awkwardly to the side playing with his gloves nervously.
"Come, come now William, no need to be so afraid, I do not bite. Take a seat, there appears to be some things we need to discuss."
Such an opening did nothing to reassure Darcy, but reaffirming his pride he brought his shoulders back and stiffly sat down, accepting the offered tea with a slight inclination of the head and a quiet but strong murmur of appreciation.
As the seconds ticked by with nothing being said Darcy became more and more unsettled. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat whilst Lady Eleanor sat quietly watching him until she felt she could see him squirm no more and decided that he was discomforted enough to begin her purpose in calling him to Matlock House.
"So nephew, why do you think I have summoned you here today?"
Darcy, who had a very good idea why he had been brought to his Aunt, was refusing to be so easily led into confessing what was on his mind.
"I have not the faintest idea why you have brought me here today. I hope it is nothing too serious, though the matter must be of some importance for me to call the morning after your annual ball."
Eleanor hid her smile at her nephew's evasive attitude. His answer did not dissuade her; he was a Darcy after all. So she just raised her right eyebrow and smoothed her features into a stern demeanour, taking inspiration from Lady Catherine whose expression constantly looked as though someone had insulted her. Knowing her sister-in-law as she did Eleanor did not doubt that this was probably the actual case. Summoning her inner Catherine she carried on.
"Nephew, you must not think me so blind and unused to the world to not recognise when one of my dearest relations seems to have become infatuated."
Darcy imperceptibly gulped and tried to hide the panic that welled up. Even though disguise of every sort was abhorrent to him, the idea of letting out his innermost feelings to his Aunt was more so.
"I have not the pleasure in understanding you Madam."
"William. Please I have known you since you were born and you never lie. Do not start now. I shall get to the bottom of this do not think that I will not."
Seeing the determined glint in Eleanor's eyes Darcy wondered whether it would actually be beneficial having another opinion on his pitiful state regarding Miss Elizabeth. He knew his aunt well enough that she would not let the issue go despite his silent pleas not to dwell further. Before he had the opportunity to reply she carried on.
"I see that you are not going to oblige me William. Very well, I shall tell you my thoughts on your dour attitude of late. Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I believe that you have developed a tendre for her, and, as I know you so well I know that you would not enter such a situation lightly. Your obvious attentions are so marked that the issue can no longer stand unaddressed. Are you seriously thinking of aligning this country nobody to the Darcy family?"
Darcy bristled at the tone being used and wondered whether he was speaking to the wrong aunt.
"Aunt, I am not accustomed to being spoken to in such a way. Do I not even deserve the dignity to tell you of my own feelings rather than you guess what they are? Last time I checked I was head of the Darcy family, therefore I can act as I choose."
"Head of Darcy house you may be nephew, but you are part of the Fitzwilliam family and as such you have responsibilities and expectations that you must adhere to."
"Do not think I take the issue of the future Mrs Darcy as anything less than a most serious matter. I know my duty."
"Really nephew? I am not so sure. From my observations and what I have been told of the relationship between you and Miss Bennet I suspect you do not."
"Observations? Relationship between Miss Bennet and myself? You do not know what you are talking about Aunt there is no relationship, she is the friend of Georgiana. Country nobody she may be, but you must remember that you have also invited her into your house along with her relatives, just look at the improvement in Georgiana in such a short time. Miss Elizabeth does not deserve such censure. "
Seeing that she had struck the correct nerve Eleanor inwardly smiled.
" Do not take me for a fool William. I have seen the way you look at her. Last night at the ball you hardly averted your eyes the entire time you were here. When she went to dance with Stephen I thought I might have to send Richard over to calm you down. No nephew, I know the looks that were exchanged and I know you have feelings for her. What I want to know is whether you are going to do something about it and whether you are ready to face the consequences."
Knowing it was no longer necessary to hide the truth from his Aunt, Darcy sighed.
"Consequences? Do you think that I have thought of little else regarding Miss Bennet except for the repercussions of my actions if I were to pursue her?"
"Ah, so you mean what would happen if you were to align yourself to an unknown young woman, whose family we know next to nothing about apart from an Aunt and Uncle in trade and that she is not of our circle? She cannot draw, ride and does not seem to have a high dowry to compensate for her lack of connections, just what exactly would she bring to a union between the two of you?"
Darcy bristled at the slur against Elizabeth's character, but hearing that his own original reasoning for not taking action upon his feelings was being spoken back to him made him curtail the cutting response that was ready to escape.
"Madam. Though what you say is all truth, I believe Miss Bennet has qualities much more important than any of those seemed necessary by the ton. What do I need connections and money for? I have plenty of both. Edward Gardiner has a brilliant mind and is gentleman-like in all his actions. I am not ashamed to associate with him. Compassion, intelligence, liveliness as well as the chance of being married to a woman I respect is what I would want and get out of a marriage if I were to marry Miss Elizabeth. I am disappointed that you of all people, when I know how you feel towards the ton would say such things about an innocent woman."
"So you are determined now to pursue her?"
Darcy's tirade halted at this question. Was he? Was he willing to let another marry her instead without even trying? No. he would not let that happen.
"Yes. I am."
Eleanor finally let a smile escape as she rose from the sofa to join Darcy who had also risen when he was defending Miss Elizabeth.
"There now William. That was not so difficult was it? I knew you would get there eventually."
Darcy just looked on, perplexed. Eleanor hugged him and squeezed him a little tighter as he warily returned the gesture.
"Honestly William. I thought you would have figured out my motives a little earlier especially when I started to impersonate Catherine."
The cogs were turning in Darcy's mind until he realised what his Aunt was about and he released her slightly with a cautious smile.
"So you approve of Miss Bennet then? You do not think it is unwise to pursue her?"
"Have you deduced nothing from the conversation we just had?" seeing the vulnerable look that she had hardly even seen adorned on her nephew's face she softened her own expression.
"William. I think Miss Elizabeth a fine woman, very capable of being the future Mistress of Pemberley. For sure, she is not the typical choice for one of our circle but she has qualities that are far superior to what many women of our status do have. I would quite like her as my niece I think. I have no objections to the Gardiners, they are decent folk as you have already pointed out. I think a little more information of her immediate family might be needed however. From what we know of her already she will be subjected to many unhappy women for deigning to catch the Fitzwilliam Darcy so we best make sure that nothing unpleasant will arise to cast further derision on her entrance into society."
"Yes we William. I will help you in your quest for Miss Bennet. From what little I have seen already you will need all the help you can get!"
"I cannot pretend that I am not surprised at this outcome, thank you Aunt."
Smiling fondly at the man in front of her she looked into the distance recalling a conversation she had many years ago with his mother.
"Your father and mother married for love William, and they wanted no less for you and Georgiana. I know that they would approve of your choice, as do your Uncle and I."
Their conversation was interrupted by Richard striding through the doors quickly taking in the sight and grinning.
"So where and when does the hunt for Miss Bennet begin Darce?"
"NO! I will not go along with this James. That is one step too far!" Blake glared at Morecroft who stood defiantly across from him.
"Why not? It is not as though you do not have blood on your hands already." He snapped back.
"That was an accident. If you are trying to play the blame game James you are equally at fault for her death. I loved Cassie, I would never have done anything to harm her."
"Do not speak her name! Do not dare speak to me about my sister! You knew her all of a few months before you seduced her, ruined her and killed her! She was a Morecroft! She had so much potential and through your selfless actions she is now buried not one mile from where we are. "
Edmund just stared at Morecroft, he did not have the heart to carry on this conversation once again. He knew James was partially correct and the guilt and grief was still overwhelming at times, even months after she was gone. He had loved Cassie, so, so much, they were going to get married, they were already secretly engaged and they were just waiting for the mourning period for his father to be over to announce their intentions. If he had acted more responsibly, not let his lust overtake his good sense he would not be in this hell of an existence and he would be happy, in love and would not be obligated to bring down the fortune of an innocent family.
"James, I know times are hard on you right now, but this is not the answer to your troubles. If you carry on down this path you will not be able to get back out. I was severely apprehensive about our previous plans but you gave me no other choice. However to comply to this...I do not think I can do it."
Morecroft sneered in contempt. "Edmund. You do not have a choice. Do you want to be ruined? Jailed? Despised by everyone you know?" seeing the wince on Blake's face he smirked. "I thought not. This is the new plan. You do not have to stay here and look over me as if I were a child. I will not go back to London for a while yet."
"I do not think I could stomach looking at you any longer Morecroft. I shall ride out as soon as I have packed my belongings. Do not bother to see me out. I shall contact you in a month or so."
An hour later Morecroft heard the trunks being transported out to the front and he sighed in relief. If Blake's co-operation was not needed he would be happy to never see his face again. Strolling through his home he found himself quite at ease being alone, as the stay was unexpected, there was hardly any staff and no-one would disturb him. London life was all well and good but women could be found anywhere and he had made sure to bring his opium so he was not without. After such a tense two days he could think of no better way to relax. Dismissing the remaining servants for the night to their quarters on the other side of the house he ascended up the stairs.
Settling into a chair in his bedchamber he set a candle on the side table and brought out the necessary equipment and lit up. The familiar haze soon started to take over and, relishing the feeling of being so relaxed he thought he would move to his bed. He groggily made his way over and collapsed onto the soft mattress not bothering to move the bed covers. In his intoxicated state he failed to notice that the candle was placed most precariously and that his awkward stumble across the room had knocked the table and tipped the candle over. The flames that had caught onto the bottom of the curtains were now rapidly spreading, edging closer to the prone figure sprawled across the bed, oblivious to the danger that surrounded him.
Posted on: 2012-03-29
"Lady Catherine has always condescended to advise me in all matters large or small whenever she has the time. I am very much blessed in having such a prestigious and generous patroness. I for one do not think I would be half the man I was if it were not for her willingness in helping a humble parson such as myself. In fact just one week before I left for my travels
" and so Mr Collins continued.
It had been three days since Lizzy had arrived back home and the constant drone of the parson never ceased. It became a predictable pattern of monotony within a few hours of her being back. Lizzy and Jane would try not to catch the others eye when their guest said something spectacularly simple in fear of offending him by laughing. Kitty's cough appeared to have worsened in Lizzy's absence and she regularly left the room in search for some water and fresh air (how much this had to do with Mr Collins presence Lizzy did not want to hazard a guess) and Lydia did not even attempt to hide her disinterest and boredom by huffing every time his latest sentence was not his last. Mr Bennet divided his time either mocking his guest without him realising and locking himself in his library. It appeared that the only inhabitants of Longbourn that looked upon Mr William Collins with any degree of pleasure were the mistress of the house and her third daughter.
Mrs Bennet was as to be as expected when she found out, within a few days of Mr Collins's arrival, his intentions in staying at Longbourn. She quickly ran through her list of daughters before settling on her third daughter as being the most likely candidate for the future mistress of Longbourn. Jane, her most beautiful offspring, she knew was destined for great things and with the arrival of the eligible new tenant of Netherfield she thought it would be best that her eldest was off limits. Lydia her youngest, and in so many ways like herself, she knew would not be happy in a husband unless he was wearing a red coat. Kitty as well was not in the running for the future Mrs Collins for she was coughing far too much recently and Mr Collins would not want to take on a sick wife. This left Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth, she knew was more beautiful and being older than Mary should be first choice for Mr Collins but, she could not but begrudge her second eldest for her refusal of Lord Morecroft and knowing that headstrong girl she would probably not accept Mr Collins just to vex her mother. This left Mary. Mary, who was quiet, plain and loved to read that dull Fordyce's sermons all day long. Yes, Mrs Bennet thought that her middle child would do very well indeed.
Mary Bennet was not ignorant of the fact that her cousin was neither the most attractive nor the cleverest of men. She did however acknowledge that he had a respectable occupation that coincided nicely with her beliefs, and that although he was constantly reminding them that he was indeed the heir to Longbourn he was harmless. She knew that she was not gifted in looks as her other sisters were, but this was of little importance to the middle Bennet. Being situated as Mrs Collins would enable her to have a safe and quiet life where she would be able to contemplate her religion and help those parishioners around her. Yes. She had mused when her mother had cornered her the evening of his arrival, she would quite like to be the one to occupy the role of wife to Mr William Collins.
Lizzy, seeing that her mother had ushered Mary into a conversation with the parson, sought an escape from the confines of the house. She asked if Jane would like to accompany her, however the elder sister declined knowing that Lizzy would want a long walk to clear her head after being subjected to their cousin for so long.
Fastening her bonnet securely on to her head Lizzy relished in the fresh air and freedom offered in the Hertfordshire countryside. She ambled along the road, re-familiarising herself with the area. She decided to take the path along the edge of her father's estate that would come close to the Netherfield boundary; they always had the best spots for just sitting and enjoying the atmosphere. She had stopped by her father's study before she left to secure a book as it was such a nice day, she felt the need to read something that rid the memories of Mr Collin's ramblings of Fordyce. After Lizzy had expelled her excess energy she went to find a suitable place to read for an hour or two.
She spotted an old stone bench underneath an oak tree that looked ideal for her purpose and she began to make her way towards it. She was no more than a few feet from her destination when she heard a rustling sound to her left. Slowing her pace she looked in the direction of the noise but she could not see a thing for the thick bushes were obscuring her view. Deciding to pass it off as a stray squirrel she continued towards the bench.
Lizzy had removed her bonnet and was sitting comfortably when her quiet reverie was interrupted quite unceremoniously by a figure emerging from the shrubbery. A young man stumbled into the enclosure she was occupying and seemed to be quite lost. He had not yet spotted Lizzy as she silently observed him, trying hard not to laugh at his bewildered expression. Finally he realised that he was not alone and let out a small 'oh' and turned a shade of red that rivalled the apples growing on the tree beside him.
Lizzy, feeling sorry for the gentleman, grinned and stood up.
"Good Morning Sir."
The gentleman seemed to gather some of his wits and smiled sheepishly.
"Good Morning Miss. So sorry to intrude on you like this, it is a bit embarrassing really. The thing is I am new to the area and seemed to have
It did not take a great leap in logic to assume that this was the new tenant of Netherfield.
"I see, well it seems you are in luck, I have lived here all my life so I can direct you to where you need to be."
A look of relief flittered over his face and he straightened his posture and strode over to Elizabeth.
"I know this is a bit untoward, but as no-one else is here to make the introduction, we shall have to make do with just the two of us. I am Mr Bingley, the new tenant of Netherfield. Pleasure to make your acquaintance"
Lizzy took an instant liking to the affable young man; he seemed open and eager to please so she dipped into a quick curtsey.
"Likewise Mr Bingley, I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Once the introductions were out of the way Lizzy decided to show her new neighbour the way back to his estate. They had approached the main path that would lead Mr Bingley straight back to his land so she stopped and smiled.
"This path shall lead you directly back to the Netherfield grounds sir. It is only perhaps a five minute walk before you will be able to see the house."
Bingley who had enjoyed his morning chat with his new neighbour beamed in response.
"Thank you ever so much Miss Bennet. I am quite in your debt; I could have been walking around the grounds for hours if I had not stumbled across you!"
"There is no debt sir, I am glad to have been of some service."
"I shall repay the favour somehow Miss Bennet! I look forward to seeing you and the rest of your family at the ball in three weeks time. Perhaps I could persuade you to accept the first dance?"
Lizzy laughed at his eagerness, she felt no attraction for him, and she was sure he none for her, instead there was a camaraderie more like siblings than anything else.
"Very well Mr Bingley, so long as you do not step on my toes and ruin my opportunity for dancing for the rest of the evening! "
"Do not fret Miss Bennet; I am perfectly proficient in the art of dancing. And on that note I shall bid you farewell, I hope you enjoy your reading and apologies for the intrusion."
"It does not follow that the intrusion was unwelcome! Goodbye Mr Bingley."
With a final bow and curtsey the two parted ways, he to his estate and she to her former seat to continue her reading. She was mightily pleased with the newest addition to their community, and felt that her dearest Jane would like the charming Mr Bingley very much. She spent an enjoyable few hours relaxing and musing on her new acquaintance, though there was a niggling feeling in the back of her mind that she could not quite shake. The name Bingley sounded very familiar but she could not think where she heard it, she would have remembered making his acquaintance when she was in town surely
Netherfield is absolutely splendid! I have not met with happier and friendlier people in a long while. The house is in great shape and the local gentlemen who have called have been ever so helpful in getting me settled! It is just myself here at the moment Caroline is still in town with the Hursts, you may have seen her, I know how she likes to attend all the fashionable events, and by that I mean whatever occasion you deign to attend. I hope she has not been too bothersome in my absence, but you know what she is like, Caro will be Caro no matter what!
Speaking of soirees I have been invited to the local assembly that is to be held in a few weeks time. I am looking forward to knowing the community more, in fact I have already secured the opening set with a most charming young lady.
Darcy paused and rolled his eyes, he had wondered how long it would be until Charles had met another 'most charming young lady.' Preparing himself for romantic overtures on the angelic qualities of his new acquaintance Darcy read on, only to feel his heart drop into his stomach as he read the next line.
Her name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I met her when I lost my way on my tour of the grounds. She helped me find my way back to civilization! I am quite indebted to her, I should dread to have thought how many hours I would have been wandering had it not been for her! She was a most delightful companion and I am looking forward to continue the acquaintance and meet the rest of her family, I met Mr Bennet just this morning. He seemed quite an odd fellow, very dry, and he seemed a bit disheartened by my abysmal book collection but I think we got on regardless of these points!
Anyway, my second purpose in writing, apart from generally informing you of my doings, is to issue an invitation! I shall not take no for an answer Darce! You must come to Hertfordshire, and bring Georgiana. I hear Richard is back also, he is welcome to join if he fancies some country air. The sooner you come the more time you can be here before my sister's presence encroaches on your enjoyment as well
just another incentive for you to come sooner rather than later!
I expect to hear word from you by the end of the week!
Darcy folded the letter once he had finished and sat back in his chair running a hand through his unruly hair. Scrubbing his face he unfolded the letter once more and re-read the passage concerning Elizabeth. He had no doubt that it was his Elizabeth that Charles was referring to. Darcy was partly relieved to discover that he had not expounded on her many attributes, so he was fairly certain that he had yet to develop a tendre for her. Though if exposed to her lively charms he had no doubt that he would succumb.
He quickly penned a note to Richard asking him if he would like to take a trip to Hertfordshire to visit Bingley, where a Miss Elizabeth Bennet just happened to live near by.
Next he left his study in search for Georgiana. He found her practising her piano and stood at the doorway observing her for a moment as she finished a particularly difficult piece.
"That was wonderful Georgie."
Georgie looked up in surprise. She was so absorbed in her music that she did not notice her brother watching.
"William! I did not hear you come in; I thought you were to stay in your study this morning?"
Moving further into the room he stood by the piano and grinned.
"I was little one, but I received a letter that required me to ask you a question?"
Georgie wrinkled her nose at the nickname but she was curious as to who would ask her a question via her brother. Seeing the inquisitive expression in her eyes Darcy continued.
"Charles has written to inform me that he is settling in well at Netherfield, and that he desires our company to join him in Hertfordshire."
Georgie's face lit up at the mention of the county and his near solid conclusions were confirmed, that Elizabeth did indeed live there.
"Hertfordshire?! But that is where Lizzy lives! Can we go brother? Please!"
Darcy chuckled at the exuberance of his little sister and smiled indulgently.
"If that is what you really want dear, yes we can go."
She squealed in a most unladylike way and threw her arms around her brother's neck.
"Thank you William! I shall write to Lizzy right away and see if she is anyway near the area where Mr Bingley lives!"
"I do not think that will be necessary Georgie." Seeing her confused look he explained. "Charles mentioned in his letter that he had made the acquaintance of a Miss Elizabeth Bennet when he got lost whilst he was touring the grounds. Do you not think it might be a nice surprise that she does not know of your presence?"
Georgie mused over this information. She could hardly contain her excitement at seeing her new friend again and meeting all of her family that she had heard so much about. She also saw that not telling Lizzy of her visit would be quite fun and so agreed to her brother's idea.
The siblings were in discussions for the upcoming travel plans when a footman entered the music room carrying a letter for Darcy. Recognising the scrawl of Richard he plucked the letter from the tray and read:
I would not miss this for the world. When do we leave?
Darcy grinned and wrote a reply inviting Richard over for dinner so they could discuss travel plans. To Hertfordshire they would go!
Posted on: 2012-08-27
Darcy sighed in relief as Georgiana fell asleep, the excitement and rocking motion of the carriage leaving him with only having to deal with Richard. It had been a long and exasperating journey for the older Darcy. Georgiana was in a constant bubble of anticipation, her usual quiet demeanour replaced by that of an energetic and effusive young woman. She expounded on her expectations of their impromptu holiday and would constantly reference the coming meeting with her new friend. Darcy would not have minded this half so much if Richard had not taken to wiggling his eyebrows every time Elizabeth was mentioned and took every opportunity to insert an innuendo into conversation. It took years of Darcy self control not to lean across the carriage and throttle his cousin. He contented himself with sending the Colonel his most frightening glare, unfortunately all this did was intensify the smirk that seemed to be permanently fixed on Richard's face.
He looked out at the surrounding countryside and let his mind wander. The stirrings of excitement were growing stronger the nearer they came to their destination. He had thrown caution to the wind and decided to follow his heart. His mind now made up, Darcy was determined to win the affection and hand of Elizabeth and he would let nothing stand in his way. He thought back to his conversation with his Aunt and inwardly smiled. He had the approval of Matlock House and that was all he desired. He mentally corrected himself; he almost had the acceptance of his favourite Aunt and Uncle. Providing the Bennet's were not hiding some great and irreparable scandal he could see no permanent obstacle to his dearest wish. Darcy's were known for their perseverance and he would not make such an important decision an exception to this notion.
He was excited, nervous and terrified of his coming task. He had never had to woo a lady as Richard had so often pointed out and he was not quite sure how he would go about it. He was glad in a way that his wayward cousin had joined him in this venture and that he would be staying with Bingley. Charles had fallen in love so many times he was sure that he could glean some advice from his friend without it being a completely mortifying experience.
He was just about to turn his head when his eye caught sight of a sign for Meryton. His heart rate sped up and a gnawing feeling began in his stomach. Darcy chanced a glance at his cousin who was already looking at him curiously; Richard then peered out the window and gleefully chuckled as he too noticed their location.
"Oh Darce, you look positively green. I cannot tell you the excitement I anticipate for these coming weeks!"
Darcy grimaced and shook his head.
"Thank you Richard, as always your ability to put me at ease never ceases to amaze me."
"Not at all cousin. Not at all."
Darcy took stock of his surroundings as the carriage tumbled through the village. Apart from the momentous task of gaining Elizabeth's hand he also had to ingratiate himself into the community. His apprehension of being the centre of attention was extreme and he was not looking forward to meeting so many strangers. Hopefully the colonel with his jovial manners and Bingley, who could talk to anyone, could deflect the stares away and allow him to court Elizabeth without any unnecessary distractions.
He gently nudged his sister awake who blearily looked up at him as they entered his friend's estate. As they crossed a small bridge and rounded a corner he took in Netherfield. It was a handsome house, not as much as Pemberley, but of course, in Darcy's mind nothing was. The Palladian architecture enhanced rather than detracted from the now autumn beauty of its surroundings. He could see why Elizabeth had mentioned her love for walks; he could imagine her rambling along this countryside, her curls bouncing as she navigated the woodlands.
They were met by an exuberant Bingley who had seen their carriage make its way towards his new home and he was now waiting by the stone steps. He grinned as one by one they climbed out of the coach, his very nature made him amenable to company and the past week of solitude had not sat well with him at all.
Well, it was not all solitude he reminded himself as his mind was cast back to his recent dinner with the Bennet's and in particular his meeting with his Angel. He must have let out an involuntary sigh as he was interrupted from his memories by his friend clearing his throat.
Darcy, used to his friends' occasional departure from the here and now was amused at his lack of attention, but could not help a niggling of worry. He recognised the expression adorned on Charles's face. It was one he had seen many times over the years. His friend was infatuated. He could only hope that by some miracle his interest did not lie with his Elizabeth.
Pulled back into the present Bingley smiled sheepishly and pulled Darcy into a hug, firmly grasped the Colonel's hand and kissed Georgiana's hand in greeting before ushering them into the house
Once freshened up from their journey, everyone reconvened in the dining room for dinner. It was to be a relaxed affair, especially as Caroline was not there to give airs that were unnecessary and inappropriate for the setting. They had soon settled into the usual enquiries of health when Georgiana, who viewed Charles as almost another brother-like figure could contain her curiosity no longer and set her cutlery down and turned to face her host.
"Mr Bingley, Charles. I cannot keep my enquiries to myself any longer. Have you seen anything of Miss Elizabeth Bennet lately? My brother told me you had made her acquaintance when you first moved into the area."
Bingley, who had no knowledge of a prior acquaintance between Georgiana and Elizabeth looked quizzically at Darcy and wondered why he had never mentioned anything in the return letter. It was then that he noticed his usually stoic friend had a slight red tinge to his ears and a knowing look from the colonel resulted in a whole host of reasons for this lack of disclosure from his friend. It appeared that Darcy had some explaining to do. Not one to miss an opportunity to tease the usually unaffected man, Bingley thought he would have a bit of fun with the poor chap.
"As a matter of fact I dined at the Bennet's only two nights ago and I cannot tell you what a joy it was! Miss Bennet especially is a most wonderful creature."
Not allowing Georgiana to ask more specific questions Bingley launched into a monologue on the virtues of one Miss Bennet, he just neglected to inform the party that he was in fact talking about the eldest, Miss Jane and not the younger sister. He did not fail to notice his friend becoming more and more uneasy as his speech continued.
"Oh she really is the most kind and beautiful lady of my acquaintance, excluding you of course Georgie; I just cannot find a fault. The dinner I had at Longbourn was superb and the rest of the family were all that is welcoming and friendly. I think you shall enjoy their company immensely! I really do feel that I would like to develop my acquaintance with the family further, especially with Miss Bennet."
During Bingley's speech the colonel had caught the host's eye and a silent communication was passed between them. Richard knew what Bingley was about and was vastly amused. Georgiana had also cottoned onto their game, she was not so unobservant as her current companions believed her to be and subtly nudged her cousin and sent him a pointed glare before turning to face her brother. The Colonel sighed, disappointed that his fun was over and decided to break the torment that William appeared to be trapped in.
"So Bingley, enough about Miss Bennet, I believe that Georgie was referring to Miss Elizabeth, what news of her? Or were you too distracted by the apparent paragon of perfection, the eldest Miss Bennet?"
Mr Bingley looked fleetingly disappointed that his teasing was at an end but figured he had plenty of opportunities during Darcy's visit to make him uncomfortable. He laughed off the Colonel's comment and gave a brief account of his meeting with Miss Elizabeth but owned that he had not spent much time with her as his attention had indeed been occupied elsewhere.
This statement had the desired effect and Darcy's head, which had been bent slightly downward, lifted, and his jaw that had been tightly clenched, was now relaxed. So caught up in his own misery from the conclusions he had jumped to, he had failed to notice he was being played. His relief at finding out that his best friend was not, in fact, half in love with his future wife was immeasurable. He was also thankful that no-one at the table had seemed to notice his momentary lapse in composure and made more of an effort to partake in the conversation once more.
It was late when the party had finally decided that they should retire. They had enjoyed reminiscing over memories and thinking of various excursions they could enjoy whilst staying in the county. First on the agenda, to the pleasure of all the party, was to call on the Bennets the following day. Georgiana rose first to leave the room and after he was sure that she was out of hearing range he turned to Darcy and the Colonel with a grin.
"So Darcy. Miss Elizabeth Bennet ehy? And here I was thinking it was me you were coming to visit!"
With a snort at Darcy's stunned expression and a clap on the Colonel's back Bingley sauntered out of the room. Darcy turned to Richard, disbelief written across his face to which the Colonel just laughed.
"Please Darce, do not tell me you thought you were being discreet? You were not fooling anyone!"
Darcy groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face in embarrassment.
"I am tired Richard, I shall see you in the morning."
"Very well cousin, run along for your beauty sleep, you shall need it as you will not only be facing your intended tomorrow, but your in-laws as well!"
The Colonel took one glance at Darcy's even paler face and quickly exited the room. He had not had this much fun in years!
Darcy rose with the sun the next morning, thoughts of the impending visit to the Bennet household keeping him awake for the majority of the night. He made his way to the breakfast room and was not surprised to find it empty of his sister, Richard and Bingley as it was still particularly early. He set about collecting a drink and some pastries when he the morning paper was delivered. Offering a quick thank you to the footman he settled in a chair and perused the sheets.
He sat up straighter in his chair as his eyes scanned one of the stories. It appeared that news was rife about town that one of Lord Morecroft's country homes was burnt down. There was not a large amount of information available but it appeared that the staff had managed to escape but there were no signs of Morecroft. Darcy read on in concern as the article continued to say that a body had been found, but not identified and that there was a possibility that Mr E. Blake was also in residence when the fire erupted. He was reported as being at the house the night of the fire but no-one had heard from him since.
Darcy shakily put down the paper and ordered a footman to gather him some writing implements. He would write to Edmund, hoping that he had been travelling and that is why he has not been heard from.
Chapter Twenty Six
Posted on: 2012-09-07
Once the letter to Edmund was written and sent express to Blake's London home address, Darcy could no longer sit still. He collected another pastry from the trays and placed it in his pocket. A trait he had developed since he was a child when he would ride out early with his father and munch on whatever delicacies the Pemberley cooks had prepared, for they were fond of their young ward and would relish in treating him when they could.
He donned his overcoat and asked a footman to have Zelus ready for him to ride. He looked forward to exploring the countryside that he had had a glimpse of the previous day and also to try and clear his head. He was worried about Edmund but realised there was no reason to fret until he had more facts than the pieces of information from the gossip rags. He also felt that the ride might help quell the nervous anticipation he was feeling at the days meeting with the Bennet family. He had no idea what he would expect. He hoped that they were similar to Elizabeth and that he would be put at ease, somehow after the performance at dinner the night before he did not think that Bingley and Richard would be particularly helpful in his endeavour to remain composed that afternoon. Striding into the stables and seeing that Zelus was ready, Darcy hoisted himself into the seat and set off at a steady pace to the hill he could see in the distance.
Elizabeth, as was her want was already up and ready before the rest of her family had stirred from their slumber. She quietly dressed and made her way down to the kitchen where a muffin was wrapped in a cloth ready for her customary morning excursion to Oakham Mount.
Whilst ambling along the familiar path she mused at the new addition to the neighbourhood. It was just as she expected, Jane and Mr Bingley had instantly been drawn to each other and to her, it was plain to see by any common observer that they were very much on their way to falling in love with each other. She sighed wistfully. She was undeniably pleased for her most beloved sister, from a young age they had always vowed to only marry for the deepest of love, and Elizabeth was glad that Jane had the potential to do so with such an amiable and well positioned man. It was at this point that the unbidden image of Mr Darcy came into her mind. She rapidly shook her head-that was enough of such nonsense. There was no reason for her thoughts to betray her like that, especially after the way he had treated her the last weeks of her stay in London, aloof and wary instead of the warm and gentle man she had caught glimpses of in the middle of their acquaintance. And in your tete-a-tete during the Matlock's ball, well at least for a while. Lizzy had managed to almost push all thought of the ball and Mr Darcy's strange behaviour from her memory, she had busied herself since being back home, with her family and chores and would command her thoughts to turn elsewhere should they start to wander into dangerous territory. There was no hope in that department, they were barely friends, just the brother of her dear, new friend, there was no plausible reason why she should be (not) thinking of him so often.
Annoyed at her thoughts almost turning into the familiar direction again Lizzy set about amusing herself with speculation as to what the new arrivals to the village would be like. When Mr Bingley had dined with them he had stated that he was excited for his best friend, his sister and their cousin to be joining him in a matter of days.
Hopefully they would be a diversion. Her patience with Mr Collins was wearing dangerously thin. She could not understand how Mary could stand his presence for more than half an hour at a time. She checked herself for her unkind remarks. True enough he was harmless and Mary seemed quite happy in his company. Lizzy put this down to their different dreams and expectations when it came to matrimony. She also imagined if they were wed Mary would be able to use some of her sensibilities to lesson his more
She had just arrived at Oakham mount when she noticed that a horse was already stationed there. A very fine specimen from her amateur opinion but it nevertheless put her on guard. Horses were not a favourite of hers- especially such a substantial beast as that!
As she edged closer to the animal she saw the back if its rider sat on the ground, his greatcoat underneath him looking out at the distance. Something seemed familiar about the profile but she dismissed the thought.
Not wanting to disturb the stranger who was obviously deep in contemplation, she started to back away planning to take her break slightly down the road in another secluded area.
It seemed as though the world had other ideas though, as she stepped back the sound of a twig breaking reverberated throughout the small enclosure, instantly showing her the familiar yet shocked face of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
They both started then stilled, staring at each other in complete surprise. Elizabeth was beyond confused, what on earth was he doing in Hertfordshire and Oakham Mount of all places? Gathering her wits she stepped forward and smiled brightly, dismissing the slight dizziness that had started as soon as she realised who was near.
"Why Mr Darcy, what an unexpected turn of events?!"
Darcy who was still in a state of surprise could not believe his luck. He and Zelus and come across this little grove quite by accident and he could not but stop when he saw the view. He was just mediating on a certain pair of fine eyes when he heard the sound that brought the object of his thoughts before him.
Realising he was, in fact, still sitting on the floor when she addressed him he hurriedly scrambled up and donned his coat once more. He would later fervently deny that he in any way resembled a lovesick school boy in his haste to be before the lady of his affections.
Once he had righted himself and moved towards Elizabeth he was hit with the full force of her attractiveness. Her smile almost blinded him into a stupor and he nearly forgot that she was expecting a reply. Luckily her arched eyebrow and amused smile quickly righted his thoughts back on task, once he had finished admiring the glow of her countenance from her walk, of course.
"Miss Elizabeth, I must confess that although I am pleasantly surprised to come across you this morning, I am not altogether unprepared for such an eventuality."
This cryptic answer did nothing to assuage Elizabeth's curiosity and Darcy saw her face scrunch into an adorable state of confusion before it cleared with a satisfied expression.
"Ah, I now know why the name Bingley sounded so familiar. You must be the guests that he was telling my family about the other day."
Darcy bowed his head in acquiescence as Elizabeth followed through with her thoughts.
"Oh! That also means that Georgiana is also here? And I presume it is Colonel Fitzwilliam that is accompanying you?"
Seeing her heartfelt pleasure at the knowledge of his sister's presence could only endear her more to him- he gallantly tried to quell the petulant jealousy that he felt as Elizabeth was evidently more excited to see his sister than himself, so he instead gave her a boyish grin.
"Indeed Miss Elizabeth, I have had an exuberant sister for the past few days, barely able to contain her excitement at seeing you again." He said this whilst looking at her in such a way that she could not help but blush.
"Georgiana is such a sweet girl; I am glad that we are friends."
"As am I. You can not imagine the difference I have seen in her since your acquaintance began. She is practically back to the lively young girl that she was in her youth."
Elizabeth's curiosity was aroused by such a statement and she wondered what had happened to Georgie for there to be such a dramatic difference in her. Darcy, who had seen and heard the closeness between the two, assumed that his sister had already told Elizabeth of the Wickham affair and thought nothing of his slip.
There was a not quite comfortable silence as the pair stood awkwardly looking anywhere but each other now that they had exhausted their mutual talk regarding Georgiana. Both were too self-conscious of the other not knowing quite how to tackle the silence.
Fortunately Zelus took this opportunity to remind Darcy and Elizabeth of his presence and he gently whinnied to garner his master's attention.
"It seems my horse does not want to be ignored Miss Elizabeth. Please allow me to introduce Zelus, a most faithful companion of mine"
Elizabeth smiled at the relaxed Darcy before her and dropped into her most elegant curtsey but made no move to come closer.
"A pleasure Sir. I am glad to see you are so dedicated to your master."
Darcy could not hide the beam that erupted on his face as Lizzy said the words and drew Zelus closer.
"I should have known that you would be knowledgeable on the subject of Greek mythology Miss Elizabeth. He is indeed a most dedicated steed and also lives up to his namesake by getting quite put out if he has to share my attention with someone else, even someone as pretty as you."
The words easily slipped through his mouth before he registered saying them and the air was once more filled with tension. Darcy turned a shade of red that was only rivalled by the blush that now adorned Elizabeth's cheeks.
This is just ridiculous Darcy thought as silence once more descended upon them. How are you ever to get her to marry you if you turn mute whenever you unintentionally show her your preference for her?
Zelus once more decided to interrupt the awkward pair my moving forward and attempting to nuzzle Darcy's face. Lizzy was startled by the sudden
movement of the animal and backed away a little. Darcy, who had seen her slightly nervous glance tried to put her at ease using her usual tactics. He smirked and a playful light entered his eyes.
"Why Miss Elizabeth, I do believe I have finally found a weakness of yours. Surely you are not afraid of little Zelus here?"
Lizzy mock harrumphed and tartly replied,
"That Sir, is anything but little. I can admire him from a distance thank you very much."
Adopting a more gentle expression, Darcy smiled and slowly led his horse towards Elizabeth.
"You have nothing to fear. He may be a giant but he would not harm a fly. Come, he just wants to say hello." And observe the competition Darcy thought wryly. He fondly patted his neck and hoped that he would be able to coax Elizabeth towards him. He was soon triumphant as Lizzy squared her shoulders and moved her hand slowly towards the patient steed. Carefully stroking Zelus's mane she turned to Darcy with an impish grin.
"You see Mr Darcy, every attempt to intimidate me, makes me stronger. I will not be cowered by you or your horse."
"I expected no less Miss Elizabeth."
Lizzy let out an unladylike "Hmphh" she could not explain it but she was irrationally annoyed at the smug look that adorned Mr Darcy's face when she caved to his beseeching. She decided it was best to leave before her emotions became more unstable. She refused to fathom why the man in front of her had the ability to throw her whole countenance off within a span of ten minutes! Insufferable man! She had to make a hasty exist otherwise she might say something she would regret. She had many retorts about his changing attitudes towards her and she did not want to upset her friend's brother the morning after their arrival in the county. Collecting her thoughts she made a curtsey to the gentleman, a wary look at his mount and a flimsy excuse about her family waiting to break fast with her and was gone.
Darcy stood in the same spot for a minute after her departure wondering what on earth had gone wrong. He hung is head and kicked a nearby pebble that was before him. He thought they were getting on well until Elizabeth's expression plummeted. He had no idea what he had said wrong. It seemed as though his quest to secure the second Bennet's hand was going to be even tougher than what he had imagined.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Posted on: 2012-09-19
Elizabeth entered Longbourn her mind a disarray of thoughts. What on earth was that meeting about? Still discomposed from the sudden appearance of the Darcys in the area, she absentmindedly handed her bonnet and pelisse to Hill. She made her way to the breakfast table where the rest of the family were already seated, tucking heartily into their food.
Her father noticed her unusually subdued entrance and even took to lowering his paper half-way to address his favourite daughter.
"Ah Lizzy, back from your traipsing I see? You seem somewhat discomfited child, has anything of any interest happened on your venture out?"
Lizzy, who was unprepared to answer such a question, was saved from replying by Mr Collins, who decided to take the opportunity to give his thoughts on the subject at hand.
"My dear Mr Bennet, no doubt Cousin Elizabeth is just tired from her strenuous morning out. Although Lady Catherine often extols the virtues of going outside once in a while I do not think that she would approve of such an independent hobby. After all, one cannot be too sure what is lurking in the woods in the early hours of the morning. Surely it is not proper for Cousin Elizabeth to be walking out alone every morning?"
Most people at the table had learnt to drone out the speeches of Mr Collins. Most of course, except Mrs Bennet, who took great delight in Mr Collins company; for not only was he showing a preference for her Mary, as the future mistress of Longbourn, but he also shared a disapproving view of her wayward daughter's walks out in the morning.
The current mistress of the house was just about to agree with the future master when Lizzy abruptly and uncharacteristically stood up form the table, and surprising everyone bar Mr Collins proclaimed in complete sincerity,
"I believe Mr Collins has the right of it. It seems I have over-exerted myself this morning and have the beginnings of a headache. I shall be in my room should anyone want anything from me."
With that unusual announcement Lizzy swiftly exited the room, leaving a curious Mr Bennet and a worried Jane behind.
Lizzy was not surprised that no more than ten minutes after she had left the table her elder sister came quietly knocking on the door.
"Lizzy, may I come in?"
As she did not really have a headache Lizzy went and opened the door. She moved to the side to let Jane enter, who had taken one look at her younger sister and said in as an alarmed a voice as possible for her quiet temperament,
"Oh Lizzy! What ever is the matter, you look awful?!"
Lizzy faintly smiled.
"Why Jane, coming from you, I now know I must look terrible."
"Not at all Lizzy it is just that I know you and something is definitely the matter. You have seemed a bit subdued ever since you arrived from London."
Jane saw that Lizzy was about to counteract whatever she was saying and pressed on.
"No Lizzy, I shall not be dissuaded. I have not been so distracted by our new acquaintance that I have not noticed this change in you. I have not said anything until now as I thought you would come to me, so please, let me help you."
Lizzy shrewdly looked at her sister, did she really want to divulge what was in her heart? She did not even think she knew herself what was wrong. Sighing in defeat she grasped Jane's hand.
One and a half hours later the sisters were interrupted from Lizzy's recounting of her time in London, unedited this time, by the arrival of the Netherfield party.
Lizzy and Jane shared a glance as Hill closed the door behind her. Taking a deep breath Lizzy plastered a confident and serene look upon her face while Jane anxiously flittered about as they were readying themselves to go downstairs.
"Jane. It shall be fine. In any case I am looking forward to seeing Georgiana. I am positive that you shall like her just as much as I do, she reminds me of you a little."
"Very well then Lizzy, but rest assured our conversation is not over. You have only told me what happened and not very much of what you are feeling. I shall keep an eye on your Mr Darcy and see what he is about. From what you have told me it sounds as though he might have feelings for you."
"Do not be ridiculous Jane, we are worlds apart from each other as you shall witness in a moment."
As much as Lizzy tried to display a calm exterior, inside she could not deny the slight fluttering feeling she felt at Jane's words.
The two sisters made their way to the parlour once they had deemed the other fit for company where Lizzy soon lost her inhibitions when she saw Georgiana nervously looking around, practically attached to her brother.
I see the family has already scared poor Georgie into silence. The two sisters curtsied to the newcomers before Lizzy spoke to Georgie.
The young girl's face lit up as she spied her friend and she stepped towards her, forgetting the nervousness she was feeling not even two minutes before.
The two girls briefly embraced and Lizzy quickly escorted Georgiana to a nearby couch ignoring the curious and almost gleeful expression gracing Mrs Bennet's face at her daughters' obvious closeness with the very elegant Miss Darcy.
"Why Lizzy I did not know of your friendship with Miss Darcy here?"
"Yes Mama, I met Miss Darcy on my recent trip to London."
Realising that she would not be getting any more information at that moment in time, Mrs Bennet diverted her attention to the Colonel and Mr Bingley who were their normal affable selves.
Apart from a brief curtsey to Mr Darcy and the Colonel, Lizzy hardly had any interaction with the gentlemen during their visit. She spent the majority of the time talking with Georgiana, trying to block everything else out, and by that she meant Fitzwilliam Darcy. This was not as hard as she anticipated though as the gentleman in question had reverted back to the quiet man she had encountered in London.
Matters were not helped by the obvious fawning her mother was accomplishing over her prestigious guests. Not to be outdone however, Mr Collins, when he arrived in the room after a brief consultation with his beloved Fordyce could not contain the honour he felt at meeting not one, but three of his most esteemed patroness's relatives.
Elizabeth was mortified at her cousin's effusions and tried to steer the conversation and attention away from his ramblings, but she was pulled up short at Mr Collin's next statement.
"Mr Darcy, it is my great pleasure to assure you that Miss De Bourgh was in excellent health when I left Hunsford. I am sure that if they knew of your presence in the area Lady Catherine and your betrothed would have bid me to pass on their greetings."
This announcement was met with an array of reactions.
Mrs Bennet looked crestfallen as she realised that an eligible bachelor was no longer in their midst. Lydia and Kitty could not care less whether the older gentleman already had a fiancée; after all, they were much more interested in the uniformed Colonel than his serious cousin. Mary, was looking admirably at Mr Collins, pleased that he was able to bring happy tidings from her (hopefully) future patroness whilst Mr Bennet, who's observational skills were as sharp as ever glanced at his favourite daughter along with Jane and saw Elizabeth swallow hard before steadfastly looking anywhere except Mr Darcy.
The visitors' reactions were no less varied. Mr Bingley looked confused and sent a questioning look at his friend whilst the Colonel tried to hide his guffaw as a cough. Georgiana looked panicked, hoping that her brother had not finally succumbed to their Aunt's demands all the while the man in question just stood there, an incredulous expression diffused across his face.
What on earth is that odious man talking about? Darcy was beyond mortified. Had his Aunt been spreading the rumours further than just the immediate family, who knew that such a union would never happen? It seemed as though she had. As his eyes had been on Elizabeth during his visit he did not fail to notice the hurt that flashed across her usually dancing eyes and even though it might have been wrong of him, he could not help the hope that was ignited. If she is affected by this news surely that means she has some regard for me?
This thought was soon dislodged when he realised the whole company was looking expectantly at him for a response.
"Ah, Mr Collins, it seems-"
He was interrupted by a crashing sound and a child's yelp originating from somewhere outside. Lizzy, looked outside and saw that one of the tenant's sons who worked on the estate, had fallen and could not get up. Thinking that she could escape the suddenly too small room she jumped up hastily from her spot on the settee.
"Oh! Poor Rupert! It looks as though he cannot get up. I shall call Hill and see if I can be of any use."
Without waiting to hear the objections from Mrs Bennet at such an action Lizzy swiftly exited the room and went to aid the now crying boy.
Darcy, who also had a desire to leave the situation decided to follow suit.
"I shall help Miss Elizabeth. The boy might need lifting and I would not want her to injure herself." He ignored the fact that the Longbourn estate had several able bodied servants to help lift Rupert if need be and made his way out into the courtyard where he spotted Elizabeth soothing the young boy. As he neared the two he could not but admire the caring way she was looking after the injured child.
"It shall be well Rupert; Mr Hill has gone to fetch your father. Can you tell me where it hurts?"
The boy sniffed and pointed at his ankle. Elizabeth tried to have a look but the way he clung onto her made it near impossible for her to properly examine it. It was then that she noticed a looming figure above her.
"Miss Elizabeth, I thought that you may need some assistance. May I take a look at Master
Darcy kindly squatted down to Rupert and Elizabeth's level and looked askance at the boy, who took a look at the fine gentleman and managed to choke out his name."
"Hale, Sir, m'name is Rupert Hale."
"Well then Master Hale, would it be alright if I took a little look at where it hurts?"
Casting a wary look at the newcomer he slowly nodded before burying his face into Lizzy. Darcy gently examined the ankle and saw that it was swelling.
"It looks as though you have sprained your ankle young man. Do not worry though, from experience I can tell you that you shall be running around within a few weeks."
Rupert had stopped crying at this point and poked his head out to look Darcy in the eye.
"You promise Sir?"
A quick nod was all Darcy was able to communicate as at that point the boy's father has come rushing from round the back and towards his son. Another quick analysis of the boy's injury showed that he did indeed have a sprained ankle and Darcy and Elizabeth were soon left alone in the courtyard; the others going back to the Hale's to let Rupert rest his injured leg.
Now that they were no longer occupied Darcy wanted to clear the air between them and explain that her cousin was wrong about himself and Anne but before he even opened his mouth Elizabeth turned to him.
"Thank you sir for your help. Shall we move back inside? I am sure the rest of the party shall be wondering what has happened."
Without waiting for an answer she turned on her heel and strode quickly into the house. Darcy looked forlornly after her, oblivious to the observations of Jane and Mr Bennet from the parlour window.
"Blast." He muttered as he followed her back inside.
The visit did not last much longer as Mrs Bennet's nerves were increasingly getting strained leading her to be more boisterous than her usual wont. Darcy never found the opportune moment to inform the company that he was not, in fact, engaged to anyone and was also not insensible to the cooler demeanour the matron of the family showed him now that she believed he was 'off the market'. So it was that the Netherfield party left with varying emotions. The next time they would encounter the Bennets would be at the assembly and for at least one member of their group the visit had not gone according to plan at all.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Posted on: 2012-10-29
The assembly room was brimming with the local families all dressed in their finery, excitedly talking to their neighbours as if they had not seen each other in weeks. The Meryton assembly balls were a much anticipated event by most of the prominent families in the area as it was an opportunity to air their latest fashion purchases and display their talents, and of course an ideal setting for matchmaking mamas and papas to cast their eyes on the men and women to see who were worthy enough for their progeny. Mrs Bennet was one such matron and she was greedily eyeing the Netherfield party with Lady Lucas from across the room.
"Why yes my dear Lady Lucas, I anticipate Mr Bingley shall be calling on us very often in the coming weeks, he just dotes on Jane. It is simply wonderful! And Mr Collins is all that is amiable for my Mary. As you know I despaired of finding a spouse for my middle child but I am so pleased that she has caught the attention of her cousin. It will be such a peace of mind knowing that my Mary shall be future mistress of Longbourn, and if Mr Bingley offers for Jane she too will be mistress of Netherfield and I shall be quite content I assure you."
Lady Lucas could do nothing but smile politely at her neighbour, not allowing her jealousy at the Bennet's evident good luck to sour the friendship of many years.
Lizzy usually enjoyed her time immensely at these gatherings but for reasons that she refused to acknowledge she just felt that something was off as she finished her dance with the younger Lucas son. The past few days she had been constantly contemplating her relationship with the Darcys. Georgiana she adored, there was no doubt about that, she felt somewhat protective of the younger girl and found genuine pleasure in her interactions with her.
The brother on the other hand was another mystery all together. As a rational creature she could not understand at first why she was so discomfited at the revelation of Mr Darcy having a betrothed. She believed that she was indifferent to him, but after many solitary hours turning over her feelings again and again she came to realise that she had been fooling herself all along. Somehow in between the tumultuous and confusing relationship that she had had with the brother of her newest friend she had developed strong feelings for him, and despite the aloof mask she had seen for the majority of their acquaintance she could not forget the glimpses of the man behind the faade, and that is the man she had inadvertently fallen for.
Not one to dwell on her misfortunes she tried to push her newly discovered feelings aside. It would not do to pine over a gentleman who was promised to another and who showed no indication that he preferred her in the slightest. Even if he did say I was pretty. She shook her head annoyed at her inner monologue dredging up the memories where her assumptions were negated. It mattered not whether there was a mutual attraction. He was bound to another, another who was undoubtedly much more suited to be the mistress of Pemberley than Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.
Unknowingly casting an inquisitive gaze around the room she tried to locate the gentlemen who frequently invaded her thoughts. His sister was unfortunately not out yet and so she kept to her room in Netherfield. Lizzy was sorry for it; she would have loved the opportunity the assembly brought to slowly bring Georgiana out of the public shell that she hid behind. It was not meant to be however and Lizzy was interrupted from her musings by an amused clearing of a throat. She turned around and was confronted with the cheery face of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"My dear Miss Elizabeth, I shall not see a lovely lady such as yourself without a dance partner this evening, would you do me the honour of accompanying me for the next dance?"
Lizzy, who enjoyed the Colonel's company immensely immediately agreed.
"I would be delighted Sir."
"Excellent Miss Elizabeth, shall we get to it then? It appears as though the next set is about to start."
Taking the proffered hand Elizabeth was led to the line of dancers and missed the mischievous smirk that Richard threw at his cousin who was glaring daggers at the man who was leading his intended away.
The dance started and Richard and Elizabeth were engaged in superficial niceties when Richard lowered his voice and inclined his head closer to Lizzy's.
"I have a confession to make Miss Elizabeth."
Elizabeth confused at the sudden change in topic and manner of the Colonel's address cocked her head to the side in askance.
"I hope it is nothing too dire Colonel. I would hate to think that such an honoured member of His Majesty's army would embroil himself in any serious trouble."
The colonel adopted a serious expression; the only deviance from this was his twinkling eyes.
"It depends on who is asking I suppose Miss Elizabeth. I myself do not think it too scandalous, however I believe my cousin may disagree."
"Georgiana? I believe she worships the ground you walk on I do not think she would think you capable of doing anything untoward."
The Colonel chuckled at this retort, amused at her avoidance of speaking of his other cousin.
"Not that cousin Miss Elizabeth, I was actually talking about the other. The one who is currently glaring so intently in our direction that I am starting to worry he shall come over here at any moment."
Lizzy instantly turned a deep hue of red and instinctively followed the Colonel's eye line to Mr Darcy who was indeed looking at them, however seeing that the objects of his observation were now both looking at him he straightened his posture even more and placed an even haughtier scowl than that that had previously adorned his face.
"What on earth have you done to your poor cousin to make him so angry at you?"
"Can you not guess Miss Elizabeth?"
He fixed his partner with a sly gaze trying to see if he could get to the bottom of her feelings. He saw the way she reacted when it was made known of Darcy's 'betrothal' to Anne and he hoped that perhaps there was hope for his clueless cousin after all.
Genuinely mystified Elizabeth replied in the negative.
"I have not the faintest idea Sir."
Seeing that she was not just being coy Richard tried to not let an exasperated sigh escape him. They are both as bad as each other!
"I believe I knowingly annoyed my cousin by asking you to dance when he was on his way to ask you for the next set."
This being the last explanation Lizzy anticipated, she was taken aback by the information just relayed to her and was in a stage of complete disbelief.
"I am sure you are mistaken Colonel, there are plenty of women in the room for Mr Darcy to dance with if he felt so inclined, even though it is strange he would be so upset as I know that he detests the activity so."
"I do not think it was the stolen dance that Darcy is aggravated at Miss Elizabeth."
Accompanied with such a piercing look, Lizzy could not ignore the implications of such a statement and was uncomfortable to the extreme for the way the conversation has turned.
"Again Colonel you must be mistaken. Mr Darcy and I are merely acquaintances through Georgiana. You are surely forgetting about his betrothed, Miss De Bourgh?"
"Ah yes, Anne. I must inform you Miss Elizabeth that Darcy and Anne-"
"Richard, Miss Elizabeth"
They were interrupted by the very subject of their conversation. The set had finished and the Colonel had been leading Lizzy back to the sidelines when Mr Darcy had swiftly made his way over there. He had been watching the couple most closely and saw that Elizabeth had started at something Richard had said and looked most startled. An alarming array of possible things Richard might have said were whirring through his mind as he directly walked towards them.
"Ah speak of the Devil Darce. I was just having a lovely chat with our Miss Elizabeth here."
Darcy's eyes narrowed in warning at his cousin before he turned to Elizabeth. Finally my chance.
"Miss Elizabeth, if you are not already engaged would you do me the honour of being my partner for the next set?"
Seeing the slight hesitation on the lady's part he quickly continued.
"After all, I was unfortunate enough in our last ball together to be too late in claiming you for a dance. I do not make the same mistakes twice."
Seeing the earnest look in his eyes and the betrayal of her heart quickening at his application Lizzy acquiesced and was led away by the gentlemen, leaving Richard with an almost satisfied expression on his face.
The couple stood opposite each other waiting for the dance to begin. Each full of nervous anticipation, Elizabeth with her newly realised affection and Darcy with his longstanding admiration were scarcely aware of their surroundings as they moved towards each other as the dance dictated. Both were trapped in a painful bubble of apprehension where the objects of their desires were within grasping reach, yet it was unknown whether their hopes would ever be realised. Unable to take the quietness it was Lizzy who broke the tension filled silence first. Nervously clearing her throat she ventured to glance at her partner.
"Come now Mr Darcy, we must have some conversation."
Darcy, who was distracted by a wisp of her hair that had come loose nearly missed her statement but recovered in a timely manner as to not make their intercourse more awkward than it already was.
"Certainly Miss Elizabeth, what would you have me say?"
"Oh, I do not know, shall we discuss the size of the room, or the number of couples gracing the floor?"
Darcy was still worried about what Richard had revealed to Miss Bennet and did not fully comprehend what he had said before it was too late.
"We could, but I think that I am more curious as to what my cousin said to you that made you appear so discomfited?"
Lizzy, taken aback by his bold question, one that she had no intention of answering, was at a loss as to how to proceed.
"Mr Darcy, I believe that that is a matter between Colonel Fitzwilliam and myself and is no concern of yours."
Forgetting himself for a moment Darcy again answered without thinking. When the dance next joined them together he stopped their movements and answered in a low voice, ensuring no-one else heard.
"You are mistaken in your assumption Miss Elizabeth, in fact I find myself very concerned in what makes you so troubled."
They stared at each other as the other couples continued to dance around them. Elizabeth was flushed and agitated her heart beating wildly as she was entrapped in the earnest gaze of the man before her. Darcy was likewise affected, being so close to the woman he had unexpectedly grown to love without acting upon his more base instincts was nearly more than he could handle. He thought he saw a flicker of joy in Elizabeth's eyes but that was soon distinguished and the emotion morphed into anguish as she backed away, breaking the fragile tension that had fleetingly held them.
"Sir I think you may have had one too many glasses of the Meryton punch. You forget yourself, and Miss De Bourgh, your betrothed. Please excuse me, I find myself suddenly fatigued."
With a parting curtsey Elizabeth quickly made her way to the balcony desperately in need for some fresh air and a place to rest her racing heart.
Back in the assembly room the dance had finished with almost everyone none the wiser to the plight of the two young people whose minds were now in complete disarray. Richard approached his cousin who had ventured to a window and was staring out berating himself for his stupidity. Knowing his cousin's stormy temperament well, he just stood next to him offering him his companionship and support.
"It is not as bad as you may think Darce. She does not know of the falsity of your supposed engagement to Anne. Once the truth has been revealed I am sure she will come round."
Not asking how Richard knew what was bothering him Darcy just nodded once, trying to abate the anger that had risen aimed at himself. He looked out at the balcony and saw Elizabeth standing outside in much the same fashion as he, looking out into the distance until her sister Jane who had left Bingley's company had joined her. A quick conversation ensued before the two sisters made there way back inside. The elder sister then took it upon herself to keep her sister company for the remaining set of the evening before the carriages were called leaving no opportunity for Darcy and Elizabeth to converse for the rest of the night.
Meanwhile nearly one hundred miles away a gentleman sat at his desk attempting to write a letter. His once fine hands were shaking as the burns made his writing nearly illegible. After spending nearly an hour composing the missive he sat back in his chair a grim smile gracing his face as he poured yet another whisky. Careful to avoid the marred skin on the left hand side of his face he nursed the glass to his cheek, the cool surface a small reprieve from the constant pain of his injuries as he read through the letter before sealing it and placing it on the pile of correspondence to be sent out.
Apologies for the delayed reply, your concern for my wellbeing is appreciated. I was unfortunate enough to be caught in the fire at the Morecroft estate and to be blunt my injuries are extensive. I have ordered away most of my staff and at this moment in time what I desire most is to be left alone in peace to recover from the ordeal. I am not fit to be seen in public and as it is painful for me to even write this missive I must ask you not to write to me.
I shall be in contact when I feel myself able to venture out into the world once more.
As to Morecroft I believe he did not make it out alive. It is reported that they only found one body in the general area of his bedroom and it is generally assumed that it is he that perished in the fire.
Chapter Twenty Nine
Posted on: 2013-01-20
The morning after the ball saw Darcy pacing in his room as soon as it was light before saddling up Zelus to expel his excess angst and energy. He fiercely rode across Netherfield's grounds whilst hoping to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth. It was not to be though and after a couple of hours he made it back to his friend's house in much the same mood that he left it. He had been contemplating the state of affairs between himself and Elizabeth and he was determined somehow to inform her of her mistaken assumptions regarding Anne. A stray thought of banging on Longbourn's front door demanding to speak to the second daughter briefly entered his mind but he dismissed it. A more delicate approach was needed. Darcy believed that is what Elizabeth deserved. If only I could have met her this morning on one of her morning rambles!
He dared not entertain the possibility that she was going to carry on with her mission of avoidance concerning him. He would not stand for it if that was the case. He would make sure that she knew that it was she that he wanted and no other. He was just not too sure on how to go about it. He sighed in resignation and slight trepidation. Perhaps it was time to bring Bingley and Richard completely into his confidence so that they could discuss how on earth he was going to get Elizabeth to marry him.
It is difficult to know whether Darcy's anxious state would have been lessened or heightened if he knew that his little sister had decided it was time for a little intervention of her own.
Georgiana despite her young years had become astute. Her quiet and shy demeanour belied her observing nature and with the evidence of the last few weeks she was fairly certain that her brother was in fact in love with her closest new friend. This was a suspicion that she dearly wanted to be realised and whilst plaiting her hair the previous evening she decided she would do everything that was acceptable to help her brother marry the woman who she already saw as a sister. It was in this frame of mind that Georgiana had quickly gotten dressed and called for their carriage as soon as it was an acceptable time to make a morning call. She left a note with the gentlemen telling them of her whereabouts, she wanted as much uninterrupted time as possible before they descended on their neighbours.
Georgiana's reception was all that was amiable upon the announcement of her arrival at Longbourn's parlour. Mrs Bennet wasted no time in recounting the events of the previous evening to a new listener. Georgiana was genuinely interested in what the matron of the home had to say but she was disappointed that little of her brother and Elizabeth were mentioned.
During a pause for breath Elizabeth took pity on Georgiana and asked if she fancied a turn about the gardens, after all it was a crisp, fresh morning and she had not had the chance to take her customary walk.
Georgiana readily agreed and the two were soon bundled in their outerwear heading to the back of the estate.
"Georgie, it seems so long since we have spoken, I fear I have neglected you since your stay here!"
"Elizabeth you have done no such thing! Now I want to hear all about the ball last night, William is terrible at describing them as you well know!"
Not knowing whether Lizzy was intentionally ignoring her mention of her brother she was disappointed with her the answer she received.
"Why have you not heard enough from my Mama, I'm sure you do not want another account of the ball?!"
Throwing her companion a look that clearly stated she did indeed want more details Georgiana was gratified when Lizzy relented.
"Very well it appears that my impertinence has rubbed off on you and you shall not rest until I impart all!"
"Not all Elizabeth, I just want to know how the ball was for you and for my brother."
Lizzy looked at Georgiana carefully her suspicions were becoming aroused.
"Well I can tell you that I for one thoroughly enjoyed the ball however I cannot speak for your brother, I am afraid you are going to have to ask him yourself."
Not wanting to delve into her interactions with Georgie's brother Lizzy deftly moved the conversation on.
"There is one happening that I am very pleased at."
"Oh and what is that Lizzy?" Thinking that she was finally going to get an insight into her friend's heart Georgiana eagerly pressed on.
"That my sister Mary seems to be getting along well with Mr Collins; it makes me happy that she seems to finally be at ease with herself."
Not knowing the middle Bennet, the youngest Darcy gave an encouraging smile.
"Indeed, when I have visited you Mr Collins seems very attentive to Miss Mary."
"That he is. I hope that I am not being too presumptuous when I say that I think Mary shall be a very good parson's wife."
"Well Mary is not like me and Jane, nothing but the deepest of love shall persuade us into matrimony, Mary's calling is her religion. She is happiest when consulting that dreaded Fordyce and I hope that with the responsibilities of visiting parishioners her demeanour shall soften and she will find comfort in others company whilst putting into practise that which she has read so much about."
"Then it sounds as if Mr Collins is an ideal match for her on that basis."
"Indeed, I cannot truthfully say that Mr Collins is the sort of husband I am looking for, but Mary seems content and happy with her choice, and I am not one to lecture her otherwise. She will be comfortable and respectable. And hopefully with time she will be able to curb some of Mr Collins's moreÉenthusiasticÉ. tendencies!"
Georgiana let out a giggle before turning pensive.
"Oh I cannot wait until William finally marries."
Lizzy feels the sinking feeling in her stomach more prominently than usual but she forces a smile onto her face.
"When are they due to wed? I imagine your brother and his fiance are impatient to become married."
Georgiana could not hide her surprise as her eyebrows rose to her hairline.
"Whoever do you mean? My brother is not engaged!"
Lizzy had but a falter in her step before she carried on walking.
"Not engaged? But what about your cousin Miss De Bourgh?"
"Anne?! Why on earth would you think that William would marry Anne?!"
Georgiana cast her mind back to a few days previous in the Longbourn parlour where Mr Collins had mentioned her brother's betrothal and everything fell into place.
"Lizzy. Are you referring to Mr Collin's assumption of William's upcoming marriage to Anne?"
Elizabeth could only nod, the flicker of hope at Georgie's incredulous reaction could not be ignored- was she really mistaken in Mr Darcy's attached status?
"Lizzy it is not true in the slightest! I confess that Aunt Catherine has been forwarding a match since their infancy but neither Anne nor William are willing to enter into such an arrangement. I know that William at least wants to marry for love; even if he has not admitted it out loud." Here she slyly looked at her companion and added. "He has ideas much like you regarding marriage Lizzy I think."
Said companion, whose head was spinning with the onslaught of new found intelligence, was nearly overwhelmed and in a voice not quite her own murmured her reply. Georgiana, not being able to decipher what she was saying asked her to repeat.
"I was just commending your brother; it is an admirable sentiment he has in regards to marriage."
"Indeed, that is why I was so distraught when I found out that George wanted me for my £30,000 dowry and not for a love of my actual self."
"Oh, but I should not have told you that. You must promise to keep what I tell you a secret, and please, please do not judge me so harshly."
Lizzy who could see the unshed tears and obvious vulnerability in her friend's eyes instantly enfolded her in a hug. All thoughts of Darcy's non-engagement went out of Lizzy's mind as she comforted the young girl.
"Georgiana, whatever is the matter? Please do not be distressed my dear girl. I could never think badly of you."
Shielding her young charge from any onlookers who happened to be by the window, they found a bench out of the way so Georgiana could share the whole melancholy truth.
After she had told Lizzy the extent of Wickham's treachery and her heartbreak the duo sat in companionable ease with Lizzy murmuring reassuring words of comfort and strength.
Inside Lizzy was full of indignant anger on behalf of Georgiana. How could someone do such a thing to someone as dear and sweet as her?! An almost maternal feeling rose and she was disappointed that George Wickham was not there that very instant so that she might give him a piece of her mind.
No wonder Mr Darcy was so shielding of Georgie, Lizzy's mind flickered back to Morecroft's attack in the park and Mr Darcy's protective and caring way with her, he had obviously been reminded of his sister's pain and Lizzy felt an ever greater swell of affection for the complex man.
Once all signs of earlier distress were hidden the two women made their way back to the parlour. The emotional talk with Lizzy had drained her and so after one more cup of tea Georgiana made her way back to Netherfield. She had hoped that she would be able to walk straight to her room without being disturbed but she was not so fortunate. Just as she reached the landing Georgie ran into William, who, after seeing her constantly after 'the event' knew instantly that something was amiss. Ever the concerned brother he ushered her into her sitting room where he paced and rattled off questions without waiting for an answer.
"William! Stop pacing, please. You are making me feel dizzy"
"Sorry Dearest. Will you please tell me what has you so upset?"
"It is nothing; I just had a talk with Elizabeth."
"Elizabeth?!" Darcy panicked; surely Elizabeth had not reduced his sister to tears?
"No William it was nothing that Lizzy said, I was just telling her of the events from last summer."
He gave her a disbelieving look.
"Brother, I can read your expressions almost as well as you can read mine."
Georgiana went over and hugged the older man.
"No I am fine, better in fact than I have been for a while."
Here Darcy smiled and squeezed his sister a little before letting go.
"That is good to hear little one."
Now that she had brightened up a little she adopted a mischievous expression.
"Wickham was not all we spoke of today though."
Picking at an imagery stain on his cuff Darcy causally nodded.
"Indeed? What else were you occupied with? The ball? Lace? The latest piece of music you are practising?"
"Well in part yes, but there is something we spoke of that I think will be of particular interest to you, oh dearest of brothers."
Rolling his eyes in mock-impatience Darcy made his way over to the window.
"Would you like to tell me or are you just going to keep hinting at your great news Georgiana?"
"Well if you are going to be like thatÉ"
"Fine Georgiana, what great and vital news do you have to share?"
Georgiana placed herself on the chaise in such a way that she would be able to see her brother's reaction to her news reflected in the window pane.
"Nothing of great import to the world in general, but I thought it might be of interest to you that I corrected Lizzy's understanding of something, that is all."
Darcy huffed in annoyance but did not yet turn around.
Slightly petulant that her fun had come to an end she finally gave in to her brother's curiosity.
"You will be glad to know I am sure that Lizzy is no longer misinformed as to your engagement with Anne."
Here Darcy swivelled around so fast that Georgiana had a hard time covering her smirk at his obvious attachment to her dearest friend.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Miss Elizabeth was under the impression that Anne was soon to be my sister after Mr Collin's little slip up the other day. I merely corrected her information."
The expressions that flickered over Darcy's face were quite comical but Georgiana managed to find some sympathy for her brother's plight who looked rather flushed at this revelation.
"Does this news not please you brother? I would have thought that now this misunderstanding is no more you can pursue Lizzy properly?"
"Whatever do you mean Georgie?"
"Do not play coy with me brother. I am not blind. You may take Richard and Mr Bingley into your confidence willingly but I can see clearly without a word from you that you want Lizzy to be the next mistress of Pemberley."
"And for what it is worth, I completely agree with your choice. There is no-one I can imagine as a better sister than Elizabeth."
Darcy had by this time closed his mouth and replied dryly.
"Well as long as she passes the criteria to become your sister I see there is nothing else to consider."
"Of course not brother, what could possibly be found wanting in Lizzy?"
Here Darcy paused. He had no desire to discuss his love, for that is what it was, for Elizabeth Bennet with his little sister. His earlier decision to bring in Richard and Charles was also dismissed; there was only one person who needed to hear what he had to say and she was currently three miles away at Longbourn.
"Georgie, as much as I have valued our little tte--tte I must away. I have some important business to get to."
"I am sure you do. Please say hello to Elizabeth for me will you?"
Darcy did not deign to answer such a reply, instead he leant over and kissed his sister's forehead and swiftly left the room leaving a very satisfied Georgiana Darcy to mull over her success.
It was a few minutes after Georgiana left before the house was in uproar, Elizabeth and her mother at the centre. News had just reached Longbourn by way of the newspaper of Lord Morecroft's untimely (in the opinion of Mrs Bennet) departure from the world. Longbourn was now full of the wailings of despair and lost opportunities that were causing Lizzy to wish she was back in London.
"Oh you stupid, selfish girl! Think! Just think of the inheritance you would have! You would have been a rich widow, free to do as you please with Lord Morecroft's money and properties! We would have been secure and safe!"
Lizzy was at a loss for words, she did not know how to process such information. Morecroft had met his demise in a house fire. No. A body was found, it has yet to be identifiedÉ Genuinely feeling nauseous Lizzy could do little more than send a pleading look at Jane who shuffled their mother to her bedroom before making her way to her own room.
It was too much! Too much for her to get her head around Morecroft, Georgiana's summer, Mr DarcyÉ all she wanted was to close her eyes and figure out her emotions at a later date. Her mother's shrill tones were growing quieter as Jane worked her soothing ways. It was not long until Lizzy herself had shut her eyes and fallen into an uneasy sleep.
An hour after the matriarch and the second eldest Bennet daughter had gone to their rooms Darcy had arrived at Longbourn with Bingley and Richard. He had thought to go alone but before he could make it out the door he was cornered by the two men who decided that they wanted to join him on his call.
The three men were shown into the parlour and apologies were given for the absence of two of the women. Darcy tried not to look too dejected. It seemed as though fate had decided that now was not the time to profess his intentions to Elizabeth. As he listened to Bingley fawn over Miss Bennet Darcy decided that he would take fate into his own hands from now on. The next time he saw Miss Elizabeth he would not waste time any longer. He would just come out with it. After all, people got married all the time, how hard could it possibly be?
Posted on: 2013-01-28
A heavy downpour of rain prevented Netherfield and Longbourn from being in each others company once more. The inhabitants of both residences were not happy with such an outcome but nothing could be done. The only reprieve from the monotony of being trapped at Netherfield was the post from elsewhere in the country. Or to be exact, one letter that arrived at the house shortly before the roads became too waterlogged for any more access.
Darcy had been taking his breakfast early, intent on a morning ride to try and find Elizabeth once more but he was thwarted in the plan by a letter arriving with an untidy and unfamiliar scrawl. The only correspondence he was waiting for was that of Edmund so he quickly finished his tea and made his way to the study that Bingley had given him leave to use whenever needed.
After opening the letter and quickly scanning the contents he was in equal parts relieved and worried.
Apologies for the delayed reply, your concern for my wellbeing is appreciated. I was unfortunate enough to be caught in the fire at the Morecroft estate and to be blunt my injuries are extensive. I have ordered away most of my staff and at this moment in time what I desire most is to be left alone in peace to recover from the ordeal. I am not fit to be seen in public and as it is painful for me to even write this missive I must ask you not to write to me.
I shall be in contact when I feel myself able to venture out into the world once more.
As to Morecroft I believe he did not make it out alive. It is reported that they only found one body in the general area of his bedroom and it is generally assumed that it is he that perished in the fire.
Darcy set the letter down and contemplated its tidings. He was greatly saddened that Blake had been caught in the fire and that he would suffer the consequences for the rest of his life. He was relieved however that he had confirmation that Edmund had survived and could not but help the flicker of gratefulness that it was Morecroft and not Blake that had perished in the flames.
He next pondered what he could do for his friend. He read the explicit request not to contact him and let him recover in solitude. Usually one to adhere to a friend's request if it was a sound judgement, Darcy was determined not to ignore his friend in his greatest time of need. He imagined Blake sequestering himself away from the world in his recovery and falling into a deeper well of despair with only one servant to look after his well being. He would not physically encroach on him by showing up at his door, but Darcy insisted on writing letters of news and updates, not expecting or wanting a reply, just to show that he has not abandoned him to mellow thoughts. It was with this in mind that he withdrew the writing equipment from a drawer and began his missive.
I cannot tell you how relieved I was to receive your letter this morning. After reading about the news in the paper I was not easy until I knew that you had escaped. I know that you have told me to stay away and that writing is painful for you but I cannot. I write to you in friendship and support. I do not expect a reply until you are ready. Or if you are so disgruntled by my impertinence in corresponding to you and never wish to speak to me again then that is fine also. Just know that I will not give up until you are well once more.
It is my aim to give you a bit of normalcy when everything has turned so drastic. I know you always love to mock my seriousness and my social ineptness and so as a mark of our friendship I am going to sacrifice my dignity as I have decided that you shall be the recipient of the trials and tribulations that is courting Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
It may not be such a surprise to you, as I know how astute you can be sometimes, you could not fail to miss my admiration of her I am sure, especially after the Morecroft incident.
You will be amused to find that so far my attempts have gone dreadfully ending up in the object of my affections believing I am engaged to another. Georgie has thankfully rectified that situation and if it was not for this insufferable rain I would be on my way to Longbourn (Miss Elizabeth's home) after I have sent this missive to carry on in my quest.
I hope that your recovery is of a short duration and know that should you be in need of anything at all, do not hesitate to ask.
Darcy blotted his letter and quickly sealed it before giving it to a footman for the note to be sent to Blake with the rider that delivered it after he had eaten some food.
Making his way into the library he looked out of the window, he could barely see past the balcony. Sighing in frustration Darcy sat on one of the sofas hoping that rain would not be of a long duration.
It was the forth day of being trapped in the house and Lizzy was so very close to committing matricide. If she had to listen to her mother bemoan all their fate because of her refusal to marry Lord Morecroft one more time she could not be responsible for her actions. Not particularly wanting to be known as the woman who murdered her own mother Lizzy swiftly entered her Father's study and locked the door behind her.
"Ah Lizzy, I see you have finally succumbed to your mother's nerves and joined me in my escape."
Rolling her eyes and placing a kiss on her father's forehead Lizzy sat in one of the armchairs and made herself comfortable.
"Not at all Papa, I just thought for the safety of all in the house it would be best for me to extradite myself from within Mama's eye line."
"Wise choice child, I have been following such reasoning for the past twenty years or so."
Smiling in their camaraderie Lizzy was finally able to find some peace. They soon each took up a book, Mr Bennet went back to 'The Iliad' whilst Lizzy picked up a copy of Byron's 'The Giaour.' She answered her Father's derisive snort at her choice by narrowing her eyes before sniffing and turning her head in a mock-offended manner.
"I do not know why you insist on familiarising yourself with that man's work Lizzy."
"And I do not know why you insist on reading that dense thing at least twice a year."
"It is one of the most respected and oldest works of literature to exist Lizzy; it also enables me to keep up with my Homeric Greek. I read it once in English and once in Greek. It keeps the mind sharp dear. And what is your excuse for that volume there? It is a new acquisition is it not?"
Lizzy flushed and hoped her father would not notice. It was indeed new, she had been perusing the local book store in a recent trip to Meryton and found it on one of the shelves. It was the book that Mr Darcy had recommended to her many weeks ago when they bumped, quite literally, into each other in London.
"It was recommended to me by a friend."
Mr Bennet, never one to ignore a chance at teasing did indeed see her flush and decided to inquire more.
"A friend? Who likes Byron? I did not realise Charlotte was into such works Lizzy."
"It was an acquaintance I met in London Papa."
"Ah they have now been relegated to a mere acquaintance. Will you not tell me who it is?"
Lizzy, now searching for a way to deflect was saved by an uncharacteristic show of compassion by her father.
"Fear not Lizzy, I shall not pry into your secret book recommender, I suppose every young woman must have some secrets."
Lizzy gave him a relieved smile and went back to her book.
The two sat in companionable silence each seemingly absorbed in their pastimes. A closer inspection would show that this was not exactly the case. Lizzy had managed to get through about five pages before her mind started to wander. She recounted that day in the bookstore, when her impression of Mr Darcy was not favourable to say the least. How times had changed. The natural progression of her thoughts led her to renew their whole acquaintance especially his efforts in keeping Lord Morecroft at bay. She had never told anyone at Longbourn about the incident in the park. She had sworn her Aunt and Uncle to secrecy on the matter to not even tell her father. Lizzy let out a sigh. She felt guilty for being almost pleased at the news that had nearly sent her mother into an apoplectic fit.
Hearing the wistful noise Mr Bennet stopped pretending to read. He had noticed a change with his favourite since she had come back from London but he had refrained from saying anything. He had a good inclination however that her current despondency was in part due to a certain gentleman. He also thought that his wife's nerves must be unsettling for Lizzy as they were a constant reminder of that man. He had received a letter from Edward during Lizzy's stay in London, it told him of an incident involving Morecroft that had occurred, but that two gentlemen of their acquaintance had intervened. It went on to say that Lizzy did not want anyone to know, but he was to be assured that she is protected and Morecroft would bother her no more.
Mr Bennet could hardly fail to notice that it was around this time that Edward's letters to him had increased in their reference to a Mr Darcy and his sister who were of a fine family, and had become intimates of his daughter. He had not thought much of it at the time but with the arrival of said gentleman and lady in the neighbourhood it caused Mr Bennet to reread his letters to se if there were any indication of an attachment between his favourite daughter and this Mr Darcy.
From his own account Mr Bennet was of the belief that the two young people were fair on their way to falling in love with each other. He had nothing incriminating to report of Mr Darcy, he seemed a reserved sort of man but not spiteful, Mr Bennet's only concern at the present was Mr Collins's assertion that Mr Darcy was already engaged to his cousin Anne. However he did not put much stock into his cousin's report as he was fairly ridiculous and did not seem to be the most reliable when it came to passing along accurate information.
During the past few weeks of Lizzy's return Mr Bennet had been quite content to not ask any questions. He was naturally disposed to not interfere in others lives and was not one to rouse himself to any great action, but with Elizabeth looking so forlorn staring at a page she had not turned for going on five and twenty minutes he thought it was finally time to press for information.
"Lizzy dear, you have been staring at that book for quite some time. I have every faith in your intellect so I doubt that it is something Lord Byron has written that has you looking so troubled."
Lizzy, startled from her inner reflection looked sheepishly at her father. She was just about to answer when they were interrupted by a knock on the door.
Hill entered the room in her hand a letter addressed to Elizabeth who looked at it in surprise. Seeing the curious look on her face Mr Bennet sighed.
"It looks as though your secrets are secured once more Lizzy, though I warn you I expect I shall question you again soon. Perhaps in a few weeks." And with such a dismissal Lizzy was free to browse her letter without interference from her father.
Recognising the writing as Georgiana's Lizzy eagerly tore it open and was delighted to read its contents.
Four days is far too long to be stuck inside Netherfield with only my brother, cousin and Mr Bingley for company. I took the liberty to sneak out of the house to test the grounds and in my opinion the roads seem perfectly useable, it has not rained all morning and I am in dire need for some female companionship!
I propose that you, and if she is willing, Jane, to come to Netherfield for tea. I may have been a bit presumptuous but I have already asked for a carriage to be readied. If you are inclined to join me (please say you will!) send word back with Mr Marshall and I shall send the carriage for you at around noon?
Eagerly awaiting your presence
Smiling at the playful note she briefly told her father of its contents, who in return lamented her avenue of escape from his wife. She then went to find Jane who easily acquiesced and a reply was dispatched. Not an hour later both girls were relishing their release from the confines of their house as they trundled over to Netherfield.
Jane and Elizabeth were met by an exuberant Georgiana who quickly ushered them to the parlour. She had of course obtained permission from Charles before she invited the Bennet girls but she was not quite ready to share her companions quite just yet with the rest of her party.
"Oh Lizzy, Jane I am so glad that you were able to make it."
"We are glad for the invitation, thank you Georgiana."
"Indeed Georgie, Jane here was almost becoming agitated with the prolonged stay indoors; if it were not for your note I daresay she might even have voiced her displeasure."
"Lizzy please, at least I was not pouting in front of the window most days willing the rain to stop with sheer determination."
Georgiana happily followed the sisters teasing, wishing all the while that some day soon she too would be able to tease them as her own sisters. Tea was soon brought in and the trio caught up with each others news. Their lively conversation served to raise the spirits of each in the room and they soon drifted over to the pianoforte to play some music.
It was the merry sounds that were emitting from the music room that brought the gentlemen into their presence. All were eagerly anticipating the Bennet sisters' arrival. Darcy and Bingley to be in their lady's presence and Richard to add to his collection of embarrassing Darcy stories that would no doubt occur in his attempts at courtship.
Entering the room they were met by the delightful scene of Georgiana and Elizabeth performing a duet with Jane turning pages, giggling at the many mistakes that were made.
A round of applause met them when they eventually finished the piece and all of the ladies stood up from piano.
"Brother, Richard, Mr Bingley, we were justÉpractising our duets."
"Yes I can see that Georgie, a fine job you were doing." Darcy dryly retorted.
Each of the gentlemen bowed as the ladies replied with a courtesy before the group naturally made their way to the seating area.
Once the pleasantries were out of the way the group split off into factions. Mr Bingley had commandeered Jane away from the rest of the party and they were deep in conversation, oblivious to their surroundings. The remaining four were left to entertain themselves with reminiscing about their time in London. More tea and cake was brought in and a good time was had by all. That is not to say that at least two of the party were feeling acutely uncomfortable during the gathering. Both Darcy and Lizzy were painfully aware of the others presence and whenever one would catch the eye of the other they would look away, a slight red tinge on their faces. Richard and Georgiana did the polite thing and pretended not to notice but both were encouraged and amused at the interaction of the pair who managed to not say a single direct thing to the one they most wanted to talk to.
As the group were so entertained they failed to notice that the rain had started once more. The road was not looking fit enough for the carriage and so when they did finally notice the current weather it was at Mr Bingley's gallant (and definitely not his desire to have Jane in his company for an extended amount of time) encouragement that Jane and Lizzy would stay the night until it became safe enough for them to travel back to Longbourn.
Despite their assurances that they would be perfectly able to make their way back to Longbourn the sisters were persuaded to accept Mr Bingley's offer and a letter was sent on horseback to inform their parents of the situation and to bring some spare clothes back with him.
Safe in the knowledge that he had secured Elizabeth's company for at least a day more Darcy decided that he would venture to the library to come up with a plan of attack, or rather of courtship. He had not been successful at his endeavour thus far and had managed to say not a single word to Elizabeth. If only they had been alone then he could have talked to her properly! Citing he had business to attend to he made his way to the library.
Darcy's departure from the room spurred on the rest of the party, Mr Bingley left to find his housekeeper to make sure two rooms were ready for the extra guests, Richard really did have business to attend to and the ladies, once the rooms were confirmed decided to freshen up and have a little rest before dinner.
Lizzy's mind was so preoccupied with being under the same roof as the man who had invaded her thoughts that she was unable to rest. Not wanting to disturb Georgie or Jane she made her way down to the library, hoping that Mr Bingley's collection was not as dire as she was led to believe.
Opening the door she was both elated and mortified to discover that the room was already occupied by Mr Darcy! Was he now to encroach on her presence physically as well as mentally?!
Taking a step into the room she curtsied and made him aware of her presence. Darcy immediately stood up from where he was sitting and performed a hasty bow.
The pair stood in a now familiar awkward silence both not knowing where to begin.
"Mr Darcy, I am sorry for intruding, I did not realise this room was occupied."
"Not at all Miss Elizabeth, I am glad for the company." Here Darcy gestured for her to take the seat angled next to him.
Heart beating wildly she made her way over to the chair. After sitting down she glanced at the pile of books that were on the small table separating them. Seeing her preoccupation Darcy grasped at the opportunity of a conversation.
"I always tend to bring a small collection with me whenever I visit Bingley; he is not known for his stellar library."
Lizzy smiled at the affectionate tone he had adopted and took a closer inspection at the titles. Spotting a familiar title she nodded at it.
"I have taken your advice and have started to read 'The Giaour'."
"I am glad that you value my suggestions, and what do you think so far?"
Seeing as she had only read the first five pages before her mind was distracted by the man in front of her she grimaced.
"I am afraid I have not formed much of an opinion yet, I have only just started today and had gotten no more than five pages in before I received the letter from Georgie."
"Ah I see, well I hope to have a discussion with you about it at a later date, for now please feel free to take my copy until you are back at Longbourn"
"I thank you sir."
"Think nothing of it, please."
They lapsed once more into silence but this time it was much more comfortable than before even though neither one could concentrate on their book. Finally Lizzy looked up from her volume and despite her discomfort at any mention of Lord Morecroft was curious as to Mr Blake, she had heard rumours that he may have been still in the house when the fire broke out.
"Mr Darcy, I hope I do not sound too impertinent but I have heard rumours regarding Mr Blake. It is believed he may have been near Lord Morecroft's estate when it happened."
Darcy had put down his reading as soon as he heard Elizabeth's voice and looked momentarily pained.
"I am afraid to be the bearer of bad news Miss Elizabeth."
At her gasp he subconsciously took hold of her hand that was on the table and hastened to reassure her.
"No, no forgive me I should not have started so. Mr Blake is alive."
Lizzy let out the breath she was holding.
"Then what is the bad news?"
"He is alive but he did not escape unscathed." Darcy was hesitant to discuss such things with Elizabeth but he was powerless against her earnest gaze.
"He was badly burned as he made his way out. He is currently re-cooperating at one of his more remote homes."
Lizzy took a moment to digest the news. She was grieved for Mr Blake; he had rescued her along with Mr Darcy in the attack by Lord Morecroft in the park, he did not deserve such a fate. Lost in her thoughts she did not even realise that Mr Darcy still had a hold of her hand until he gently squeezed it. It was then that her full attention was directed back at the man himself who had a worried look upon his face.
She gave him a wan smile.
"It is just a lot to take in." She paused before a slight crinkle appeared on her forehead and she murmured almost to herself. "Why was he there in the first place?"
Darcy stiffened at her question. He did not want to tell her in case she blamed herself for his injuries. It was too late though. Lizzy's one glance at Darcy's posture and expression gave it away. She pulled her hand out of his and grew pale.
"Oh! Please do not say he was there because of that day?!"
"Miss Elizabeth, please."
"He was?! He was only at Lord Morecroft's because of me! And now his future his irrevocably changed because of it." Here she trailed off. "It is my fault."
Darcy could not stand seeing her in so much anguish. He was out of his chair and kneeling before her in an instant. Now at eye level he took a hold of her shoulders and looked directly into her eyes, his baritone voice at once a balm to her frantic state.
"Elizabeth" They both ignored the impropriety of him addressing her by her Christian name. "Do not blame yourself. This is in no way your fault. It was tragic, yes. But it was Morecroft's fault and no-one else's. Please do not be distressed."
Elizabeth's gaze implored him to carry on talking.
"You are all goodness; I will not have you take the blame for the actions of that vile man. I have never met a woman such as you. Just look at what you have done for my family?! Georgiana is growing into a vibrant young woman, she has faced her past and the difficulties she has faced, and she has done it with your help. I am in your debt and I have no way to repay you."
Elizabeth could not believe what was happening. She had never seen the dear man look so vulnerable. She could not tear her eyes away. The moment stretched on both caught in each other's presence, moving ever so slightly closer to the other.
"Elizabeth", Darcy breathed, barely a whisper, Elizabeth felt her breath catch as she was entranced by his unwavering gaze, the burning desire in his eyes was unmistakeable. She had hoped that one day she would be the recipient of such a gaze; her entire body was aware at how close he had become. Forgetting all society rules she tentatively brought a hand up to caress his face, her fingers travelling along the contours of his chiselled jaw, revelling in being able to do so.
"William" Darcy leaned into her touch, closing his eyes in relief and contentment; he almost thought he was dreaming. How many nights had he been unable to sleep for visions of Her drifting in and out of his consciousness? How long had he waited to see the love he felt for her for months finally reciprocated, for her voice to whisper his name reverently, full of passion? Opening his eyes he stared into Elizabeth's gaze those sparkling orbs that had captivated him almost from the start of their acquaintance. He gently took the hand that was held against his cheek and enclosed both her hands in his own; he inclined his head forward ever so slightly to lean against hers. He could smell the wisps of lavender that was distinctive of his Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth, you must know, surely you must know how much I-" he was interrupted by the door that had closed over at some point in their conversation turning and creaking open. Elizabeth and Darcy both sprang apart trying to steady their breathing and rid the red hues off of their faces, trying to appear nonchalant- their efforts were futile, though the newest member to their party did not seem to notice.
"Ah Darce, Miss Elizabeth! I should have known I would find you in the library."
Posted on: 2013-02-24
An awkward silence descended on the trio after Richard had interrupted Darcy and Elizabeth. Now noticing the red hues adorning their faces Richard bit back a smirk at the pair, easily dismissing his guilt; he was having much more fun watching Darcy squirm.
Said man was not so amused. So close! Glaring at his cousin he hoped he had a life-threatening reason why his, no the moment with Elizabeth had been disturbed. He finally cleared his throat and sent an apologetic glance at the lady in question.
"Richard. Is there a reason you have been trundling up and down Netherfield looking for us?"
"Actually cousin there is. We, by that I mean Bingley and myself, were discussingÉanÉestateÉmatter and were wanting your input. After all you are the great master of Pemberley. I did not mean to intrude on your tte--tte with Miss Elizabeth here. I know I would rather spend time with such a charming creature rather than with two bachelors."
Here, Elizabeth, who was in turns amused at the cousins' rapport and disliking being talked about when she was standing directly in front of them, intervened.
"You flatter me Colonel Fitzwilliam. It was a mere coincidence that Mr Darcy and I met here, I am afraid you must resolve yourself to the fact that Mr Darcy seems to prefer Mr Bingley's sparse book collection to the men's conversation."
She accompanied this quip with such a sweet smile that Richard could not take offence and he felt a twinge of jealousy. Darcy was a lucky man indeed if he managed to capture the lady. And that he had little doubt of, for although Darcy was awkward, he was a thoroughly good man and knew that whatever his cousin put his mind to he would succeed...eventually.
Darcy heaved an exaggerated sigh and turned once more to Elizabeth.
"Miss Bennet, it seems as though I am required elsewhere-" He paused a moment "- I hope we can continue our conversation soon."
With a short bow he and the colonel swiftly left the room. As soon as they were out of earshot from the lady Darcy rounded on his cousin.
"What was the real reason you called me out? We went through all pressing and complicated estate matters only this morning!"
Here Richard at last had the grace to look a bit bashful.
"Well, truth is, there is not actually any estate matters to be dealt with."
"Well Darce we were just looking out for you. We thought that Miss Elizabeth would be in her room like Georgiana and Miss Bennet, we thought you were just skulking about the house!"
"No. Clearly I was not." Darcy failed to mention that that was in fact what he was doing prior to Elizabeth joining him.
"Clearly. We were actually going to see if you needed any advice or help with the whole Miss Elizabeth situation. Seems as though that was a bit unnecessary eh Darce?"
He playfully nudged his companion who looked less than impressed.
"I thank you for your kind consideration cousin but I believe I am progressing just fine without yours and Bingley's input!"
Never a loquacious being Darcy had enough of his cousin's smirk and moved a few paces faster. Entering into the study he found Bingley reclined in a chair.
"Ah excellent you have found our soon-to-be Casanova."
"Hardly Charles, I only want one woman to love me."
"I'm sure you understand the sentiment Darce, no need to be such a stickler for accuracy."
"Yes, well Richard has told me of your intentions, but I shall have to decline."
Bingley adopted a faux-crestfallen look.
"Contrary to the apparent popular belief, I am not wholly incapable of talking to the opposite sex. If Elizabeth is to fall in love with me, it must be for me, not for whatever you men want to mould me into."
Looking put out the two gentlemen agreed reluctantly.
"Now that that is sorted what say you to a game of billiards?"
The remainder of the time before dinner passed quickly. The men enjoyed their pursuits whilst Elizabeth rushed upstairs to disturb her sister.
Once let in to the room Lizzy fell onto the bed.
"Jane! I am soÉ"
"So what dearest?"
"I do not know! One moment we were talking, the next he was leaning in and then the door went-"
"Lizzy! Lizzy! Slow down! I cannot make out a word you are saying! Please start at the beginning."
Lizzy took a calming breath and assembled her thoughts. She spent the next few minutes going through those precious moments that she had just shared with Mr Darcy relieved at letting it all out. After ensuring that she had all the details in the correct order Jane studied her sister a moment before offering her thoughts.
"Oh Lizzy, he must love you! I suspected a little when you recounted your time in London, but surely he is not the type of man to toy with a woman's heart for no reason."
Lizzy's demeanour softened as she thought of the man in question.
"No he is not. I believe he is the most honourable man of my acquaintance."
Smiling fondly at her sister, Jane enclosed her in a hug.
"There is nothing for you to do but wait. You can stay here with me or go to your own rooms to rest. You shall see him at dinner and all will be well."
Seeing that Jane looked a little tired Lizzy opted to go back to her own room but was too full of nervous energy to rest her eyes. Instead she paced the room replaying the scene in the library, wondering what would have happened had the Colonel not interrupted them. All too soon a maid entered and helped her dress for dinner before she made her way downstairs with Jane and Georgie.
Dinner was a lively affair. Everyone was in high spirits at having the varied company and it was no less pleasant than their afternoon conversation. Richard was regaling the table with fantastical tales of his time overseas creating vivid accounts of cultures that most had only read about. Darcy and Elizabeth were seated on opposite sides of the table yet they managed to catch their eyes on more than one occasion. Both were relived that their earlier non-transgression had not created a perfectly awkward situation. That was not to be really tested however until after the food had been eaten.
Once finished all but Georgiana, who stated that she was behind in her studying and had promised Mrs Annesley that she would correspond with her with her progress, moved to the parlour. The youngest Darcy's motivation was not wholly studious, she caught the looks that were passed over dinner and wanted to remove herself from the room so that her brother and her friend could talk some more.
The party soon settled into the room finding various pursuits to occupy their time. Bingley had naturally led Jane to a sofa where they were soon in conversation with Richard chipping in when he was not reading one of the strategy books that he had brought with him. Elizabeth meanwhile had spotted a chess set and seeing the direction of her gaze Darcy was soon offering her a game.
"Do you play Miss Elizabeth?"
"My father is a great lover of Chess and as he has no sons it fell to me to be able to play with him."
"In that case I challenge you Miss Elizabeth."
"I see you are certain that you will win Mr Darcy. I accept, if only to see that confidence reduced to ashes Sir."
"I always look forward to a challenge Miss Elizabeth. Black or White?"
"Check." Darcy grimaced and tried not to show his annoyance at his mistake. Instead of acknowledging his fair companions move he stared at the board playing out the moves to get him out of such a bothersome situation before finally taking his turn.
Elizabeth moved her Knight from behind the row of pawns and sat back waiting for her competitor to make his next move. She traced the slight crease of his forehead as he contemplated the game. Her eyes followed the movement of his hands as he traced a finger from the top of his head, to his cheek and then to settle by his mouth, seemingly wholly engrossed in their match. He really was a very attractive man. She was disturbed from her musings by his distracted timbre.
"You know it is quite unnerving being stared at in such a fashion Miss Elizabeth"
Refusing to be embarrassed at being caught in her perusal she looked down at the game as she replied.
"Is it? Perhaps you ought to bear that in mind the next time you focus your gaze Mr Darcy."
Here he looked up to catch a slight twist of her mouth as she coyly lifted her eyes to meet his. Realising that he had not been as stealthy as he had hoped on his admiration of her person he blushed before turning his expression into something more mischievous.
"I cannot be blamed for wishing to study something of such beauty. I was taught by my parents to appreciate the finer things in life. When I am deep in contemplation I know not where my gaze may land. What is your excuse Miss Elizabeth?"
This vague answer hinting at so much left Elizabeth silent for but a moment before smiling.
"Your sideburns are ridiculously even. I was contemplating whether your valet had a measuring ruler to ensure that they were so aligned."
Not missing a beat Darcy laughed as he replied.
"Touch Miss Elizabeth. A mirror is sufficient for the task. He has a very good eye for these things."
"Apparently so. Now it is your move Mr Darcy, or would you like to forfeit?"
"Certainly not madam."
The couple lapsed into a friendly silence as they each concentrated on their next moves. After a further quarter of an hour Elizabeth, who did not know whether it was the glasses of wine she had consumed during dinner, the hazy warmth of the fire near her or the intense bubble they were immersed in spoke quite freely as she manoeuvred the rook further up the board.
"I am often reminded of Mama when I play chess."
At this announcement Darcy's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He did not think the Bennet matriarch was one for the strategy board game and attempted to withhold his incredulous tone when he replied.
"Indeed? Do you play often with her?"
Here Elizabeth softly laughed and shook her head.
"No, not at all. Mama believes that there are better ways to occupy one's time."
Seeing the questioning gaze Elizabeth continued.
"I sometimes feel a bit like a chess piece and Mama is the player. My sisters and I are her pawns supposed to bend to her whim, navigating through the board trying to reach the other side to 'upgrade' as it were. I believe it is my mother's goal in life to see us all well settled. I understand her fears but I wish she would let us have a choice in the matter."
Darcy unused to such frankness outside of his intimate family paused for a moment in consideration for the young woman in front of him.
"I think you do yourself a disservice Miss Elizabeth. A pawn is much too simple a character for you. The queen is more fitting I should think. Powerful protective, independent, so many opportunities opened to you."
"And yet ultimately still constrained by the rules of the game; on the surface she may seem so much more, but she is fallible just like the rest. One simple mistake and she can be captured. As to independence, like most females she is not at all. Her purpose is to serve her King before all else. She is reliant on him staying in the game for her survival. Once he is out, the game is over."
Shaking her head she ruefully grinned at the man who had captured her attention.
"Pay me no mind; I believe I may have run away with myself."
"Not at all. Naturally I know not of all the perils a woman must face. But surely a worthy King would honour and nurture such a Queen. She is his strongest asset."
At Elizabeth's raised eyebrow he hastily amended.
"Partner then, I believe that there must be a mutual respect and admiration for them to reach their full potential."
"I am glad you think so Mr Darcy. I would hate to have to correct Georgiana on her assumptions of your feelings in the matter ofÉpartnerships."
"Indeed, you are after all her only and favourite brother, and I am afraid until she is married you will be the most important man in her life and will have to have all your attributes aired to the world."
"I see. Well I suppose it is no different than walking into any ballroom in London then."
"Perhaps. What a hard life you lead Mr Darcy, being subjected to such adoration. How do you do it?"
"Well I bear it as I must. It also helps that most of what is circulated is mere speculation."
"Really? So you did not gallantly rescue a young lady from certain death last year? From the stories I heard around the ton and your cousin over there it is a truth almost universally acknowledged that you took on a lion that had escaped the circus and won."
A look of comprehension flittered across Darcy's features.
"Ah yes, the distressed Miss Bleakley. That story has been greatly embellished, no doubt primarily by my nefarious cousin who loves to watch me squirm in public settings."
"Indeed? I am gravely disappointed that it is not true."
"Alas, it is my solemn duty to inform you that it was a cat, not a lion that I removed from the room, where it had escaped from the servants' quarters, not a circus. I am afraid that the only threatening thing about it all was the fact that Miss Bleakley was allergic to the poor creature."
"Allergies can be life threatening you know Mr Darcy."
"Indeed they can. However as the cat was on the other side of the room, evidently passing through the parlour on its way to greener pastures it was entirely unnecessary for Miss Bleakley to scream and fuss quite as much as she did."
Here Richard, who had heard the tail end of the conversation, joined the story.
"Oh Darce you should not correct such assumptions. Especially when they make you seem more heroic than you actually are."
"Am I to believe then by your own admission Colonel, that half the stories of your bravery are falsified as well? I am shocked!"
"Miss Elizabeth, although my cousin likes to bolster my own reputation amongst the ton his own achievements are true enough."
"Indeed Miss Elizabeth, I need only exaggerate Darcy's good deeds for my own standing, a man of my renowned capabilities cannot be related to such an unadventurous and harmless man!"
"I shall remember such words when I next defeat you in the fencing room Richard. It should not be too long in coming, I beat you often enough."
"Pah, what nonsense!" Here the Colonel slyly catches Darcy's eye. "Do you not recall the last time we fenced? I believe I beat you then, remember I know your weakness, your distraction."
"And what is that Colonel? I would love to know what would distract the great Mr Darcy from something he takes as seriously as fencing."
"Perhaps you should come along next time and I can demonstrate?"
"I believe Miss Elizabeth is talking of possibilities Richard. I rather doubt Mr Bennet would like Miss Elizabeth to be spotted at the club."
"Fine, fine. Miss Elizabeth, when the time comes I shall tell you the great secret. You may even find it useful one day. It rendered him quite useless for a vital few seconds for me to get the win."
Darcy, wishing the conversation to move in a different direction turned to Elizabeth.
"Are we to continue this game tonight or finish it tomorrow?"
Lizzy, who was quite tired and knew that she was not at her best for such an opponent decided that perhaps it was time she ought to go to bed. The previous conversation with Mr Darcy was still in her mind and a good half hour contemplating his meanings would do her a world of good. With that in mind she smiled at the gentlemen.
"I believe I shall retire for the night gentlemen. Mr Darcy, when you are free perhaps we can resume the game tomorrow?"
"It would be my pleasure Miss Elizabeth."
She bid the room goodnight, Jane also expressing her wishes to go upstairs and left the gentlemen to their own devices. As they made their way up the staircase it was Jane who spoke first.
"You and Mr Darcy seemed to talk a great deal tonight Lizzy."
"I am surprised at you noticing dear sister, I could have sworn that your face never averted from Mr Bingley."
Despite the blush that spread across the older sister's cheek she was not to be dissuaded.
"That may be Lizzy, but my eyes were not so steadfast. You and Mr Darcy were quite close. Did he mention anything of your time in the library?"
"In a room full of people Jane? No he did not, but we are to resume our game tomorrow so who knows what that will bring."
Jane shook her head at the nonchalant tone of her favourite sister. She could see through the false bravado that masked her real feelings. She just hoped that Mr Darcy would bring an end to Lizzy's turmoil soon. She deserved her happiness and she was confident that Fitzwilliam Darcy would be the one to give it to her.
Chapter Thirty Two
Posted on: 2013-03-27
Dawn broke and the servants could be heard stirring Netherfield into a habitable state once again. The rain had finally stopped and a few birds could be heard twittering from the trees lining the formal gardens.
Elizabeth was wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Her mind was bursting with thoughts of Mr Darcy. She replayed the chess match and their impromptu meeting in the library. She knew she was potentially on the verge of something terrifyingly wonderful. It seemed an age ago since the Morecroft debacle, she ruefully smiled; if it were not for him she may never have met the man who meant so much to her now. She highly doubted that Darcy could have been quite so hospitable to herself had he met Mrs Bennet first.
Her thoughts slid to their burgeoning relationship. It was hard to deny even to herself that he felt an attraction to her, the way he looked at her, the way every sense seemed that little bit heightened when he was near was intoxicating. Never before had she felt something as potent as being the centre of attention, if only for a little while of one Fitzwilliam Darcy.
She went over once more their interlude in the library. Was he going to declare himself? Did she want him to? After a mere second of doubt she knew her answer. She would not, could not deny herself the pleasure of being Mr Darcy's wife if the opportunity was given to her. He was everything that she had ever wanted in a husband; kind, intelligent, handsome and seemed to hold her in regard. She knew herself that their acquaintance was limited. Yes in essentials they were well matched but she wanted more. She wanted to know the little inconsequential things, the things that only those of an intimate acquaintance would be familiar with.
It was with this in mind that Elizabeth rose from bed and dressed in time for a morning walk. Such fanciful thoughts could not be processed whilst she was so stationary and confined; a brisk walk whilst the weather held up was just what she needed.
Rambling through the familiar woods, Lizzy was glad to be outside once again. She found that nothing was so relaxing and able to clear the mind than a long stroll through some quiet greenery. After an hour or so had passed Lizzy made her way back to the main paths only to spot a figure up ahead.
She peered closely at the figure, he did not seem familiar and seemed entirely too focused on staring up at the house to be up to any good. Walking through the shrubbery, out of sight to the strange man, she entered the foyer only to run into the man who had occupied her thoughts of late.
"Miss Elizabeth, I see you have already taken your morning walk now that the weather has cleared up."
"Indeed, I could not resist." She paused deliberating whether to share her observations. Darcy, who had become quite accustomed to her various expressions interrupted.
"Is there anything wrong Miss Elizabeth?"
"It is nothing probably, but on my way to the house I spotted an unfamiliar man lurking in the woods staring quite intently at Netherfield."
Instantly alert she could sense Darcy shifting into his Master of Pemberley persona.
"Are you sure it was not one of the gardeners or tenants?"
"I have never seen him before, I am not sure. It is just that he was acting quite peculiar."
"I will go out to investigate. If you would just point me in the right direction but remain indoors please Miss Bennet."
Reluctant to not go with him but seeing the firm look in his eyes she acquiesced with his request and watched him make his way over to where she last saw the stranger.
Deciding that she could not stand in the hall waiting for his arrival, Lizzy made her way to the library to anticipate his return there instead. It also afforded her a view that would enable her to see the garden from the house.
She was able to see Mr Darcy for all of five minutes before he went behind the bushes obscuring himself from sight as he tried to look for the interloper. He was not gone long and was soon making his way back to the house. Having spotted Miss Elizabeth by the window in the library he made his way to her at once. Upon entering the room he caught her concerned stare.
"I am afraid that the man was long gone by the time I arrived Miss Elizabeth. I am sure he was not up to any nefarious doings in any case."
Seeing the still wary look he hastened to assure her.
"Fear not, if you feel like taking another ramble, rest assured I would feel it no great chore to accompany you. But be warned there is a price to such an effort on my part?"
Catching the playful tone of voice Lizzy joined in.
"And what is that Sir? Would I have to turn into one of your many simpering admirers of the ton, thinking your every opinion is the gospel truth?"
"I am disappointed that you do not already Miss Elizabeth, but no, I would like to learn more about you."
Seeing her surprised look he continued.
"After all, I would like to know as much as possible about the woman who has become such intimate friends with my sister. It is my duty one could say."
Said in such an affectionate way Lizzy laughed at his impertinence, delighted that this Darcy had come out to play.
"If you insist Sir, I shall regale you with my many exciting tales of childhood until the present day."
"I look forward to it."
"If this is to happen, I therefore think it is important that you share all your deepest, darkest escapades too."
Seeing his raised eyebrow she grinned and imitated his deep voice.
"After all, I would like to know as much as possible about the brother of my newest confidante. I would not like to find out that her picture of him is incorrect."
"I suppose, by that reasoning, I cannot in all good conscience decline such a request."
"It is settled then."
On instinct Lizzy held out her hand. She had intended for him to shake it, as she was want to do when she made agreements with her sisters, but she was surprised that instead he gently took the proffered hand and kissed it.
Turning a deep shade of red, which seemed to be happening far too often for her liking, and not often enough for his, she smiled and nodded her head.
Casting her gaze about Elizabeth spotted a chessboard in the corner of the room. Inclining her head towards it she challenged Mr Darcy to continue their game.
"I would be honoured Miss Elizabeth. I believe it should still be set up in the drawing room. Shall we make our way there?"
Offering her his arm, Darcy and Elizabeth meandered through the hall to where their previous game was set up.
They had just resumed their game when the rest of the Netherfield's occupants joined them. Gone was Elizabeth and Darcy's easy repartee, instead, both fiercely competitive by nature were concentrating on the game at hand. The others amused themselves with easy conversation and talk of Charles's relatives finally coming to see him in his new home. Being the generally happy person that he was, he failed to notice the slight tightening of faces this news brought to those who knew Caroline and the Hursts' first hand.
The morning wore on and a victor was unclaimed.
"I do believe we have reached stalemate Mr Darcy."
Staring hard at the bored Darcy was inclined to agree.
"I agree Miss Elizabeth. We must be evenly matched."
"This bodes well I imagine."
"Certainly; I would hate for any walking partner to be unable to match up to my chess abilities."
Both hoped that the other knew they were talking of a different type of partner and were content with a conspiratorial smile as they moved to the rest of the group.
The weather had now cleared up and there was no feasible reason for the Bennet sisters to remain at Netherfield, despite the wishes of all to stay. It was with a slight reluctance that Bingley offered his carriage for the ladies use back home and they departed upstairs to ready their belongings.
The carriage was ready, their luggage packed and everyone was set to say their goodbyes. Georgiana was sad at the loss of female companionship once more. The arrival of Charles's sisters was not something to look forward to but she was assured that the Bennet sisters would be frequent visitors and that Georgie was welcome as often as her brother could spare her to share in silly duets and feminine pursuits. Richard bowed to each of the ladies who returned the gesture warmly before Georgie and Richard made their way inside leaving the two couples, quite on purpose, alone. Elizabeth and Mr Bingley exchanged goodbyes first and moved onto their respective partners accordingly.
Darcy manoeuvred them away from Bingley and the eldest Bennet before turning so that his back was to the house, shielding Elizabeth. Here he stopped. How could he say goodbye? Taking a deep breath he gently took hold of her hands.
"Elizabeth, these past few weeksÉ" What could he say? He was never one for flowery words. He looked directly into Elizabeth's eyes and everything fell into place. He knew what he had to do. Done were his missed opportunities and bumbling efforts. Conviction was what was needed now; dropping his voice so intimately, his rumbling timbre caused Elizabeth to blush without quite knowing why.
He saw her eyes widen, her mouth part slightly in surprise. He squeezed her hands tighter, awaiting her response, tension filling every part of his body.
He could faintly here the sound of footsteps against gravel as Bingley and Jane were making their way towards them. His eyes continued to bore into Elizabeth's and he was rewarded with the most glorious sight imaginable. It started with a slight tug of her mouth, which slowly stretched into a smile so radiant he could do nought but stare.
Both aware of their impending company, it was Elizabeth's turn to squeeze their joined hands and whisper a heartfelt reply.
Darcy never knew one word could have such a colossal impact. He grinned and was sorely tempted to take her into his arms right there, audience be damned, but he restrained. Just. Leaning ever closer in the pretence of handing his fiance into the carriage he whispered in her ear.
"Meet me at the boundary gate between Longbourn and Netherfield tomorrow morning. It seems as though we have much to talk about."
"It would appear so Sir." A slight pause. "William."
With an earnestness that made Elizabeth's heart pound against her ribcage he placed a kiss on her hand and reluctantly parted from her. He was only slightly comforted by the fact that so very soon, he would never have to part from her again.
To Be Continued ...
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