Beginning, Next Section
"... as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case.
"That is not an unnatural surmise," said Fitzwilliam, "but it is lessening the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
This was spoken jestingly, but it appeared to her so just a picture of Mr. Darcy, that she would not trust herself with an answer, and, therefore, abruptly changing the conversation, talked on indifferent matters till they reached the parsonage.
[Pride & Prejudice, volume II chapter 10]
Posted on Wednesday, 22 February 2006
As soon as Colonel Fitzwilliam had left her, Elizabeth ran inside and hurried up the stairs to her room, where she threw herself back onto the bed and stared intently at the cracks in the ceiling. She tried to think over all she had spoken of during her walk with the Colonel, but found after only ten minutes her growing agitation brought on a headache.
Her bedroom felt confined and stuffy, and she longed for a deep breath of cool spring air. Discontented, she looked out of her chamber window and sighed. Perhaps what she most needed was another walk --- alone this time --- while the weather still held fair. Absentmindedly, she picked up the letters Jane had written to her since she arrived at Hunsford, and deposited them in her reticule so she could study them again later. Elizabeth needed the quiet time to reflect on everything she had heard of Mr. Darcy's unjust actions against his friend and her most dear sister. Although the Colonel had not actually mentioned any names during their earlier conversation, could any other two people fit the description so readily?
As she was leaving the Parsonage, she met Charlotte coming in from the garden with a basket of fresh-cut flowers on her arm. "Did I see you walking with Colonel Fitzwilliam earlier?"
"Yes, we met as he was making a tour of the park and he walked with me back to the house."
"I do find him a most pleasant gentleman, Eliza, do not you?" She paused to study Elizabeth. "You sound subdued, dear. Are you feeling well?"
"'Tis simply a headache, Charlotte. I need only peace and fresh air to clear my head. I thought I might walk out into the park again for a time."
Charlotte turned to her with surprise. "Again? I know not how you have the energy for so many walks! Please do not forget we are engaged to drink tea with Lady Catherine later this afternoon; you know how Mr. Collins frets if we are late!" She smiled to soften her words before continuing, "You should limit your walk to the lane, or the grove; I fear the grey clouds on the horizon may curtail your enjoyment of the park soon enough." Elizabeth looked in the indicated direction; the darkening sky was still quite a distance on the far side of the Parsonage, and she assured her friend that she intended to return well before the rain arrived, and certainly in plenty of time to dress for their visit to Rosings.
"Perhaps you may meet Mr. Darcy in the grove again?" Charlotte added, with a knowing look, as she left.
"I would hope not!" Elizabeth muttered under her breath as she passed the gatepost.
She walked confidently into Rosings Park, her spirits lifting and her headache fading as she strolled under the boughs, where the bright green hues of new growth dappled the trees. A patch of bluebells in the grove drew her attention --- their delicate heads nodding in the breeze --- and she plucked one of the stems, rolling it lazily between her fingers as she walked, making the fragile blue bell dance. Since hearing the Colonel's tale of his interference, she was determined that she particularly did not want to meet Mr. Darcy today, and, consequently, she left the grove quickly and set out in a different direction across to the far side of Rosings Park.
She reflected on the mischance that brought Mr. Darcy into this part of Kent at this particular time; he who was the cause of all that Jane had suffered, and continued to suffer. The man who could not look at her without seeing some fault. Elizabeth removed Jane's letters from her purse and read through them all, one by one, searching for any sign of her sufferings. Although they bore no actual complaints, there was a general air of uneasiness, and a want of cheerfulness that used to characterize her style. As she wandered through the park, her mind was wandering through a different landscape, filled with concern for her beloved sister.
Her thoughts returned to her conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam ... "strong objections against the lady" ... Elizabeth was indignant; how could there be any objections to Jane? All loveliness and goodness as she is! Her understanding is excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating.
Elizabeth paused for a moment to attend to her location, as her way forwards was blocked. She had to make a decision whether to walk towards Rosings house or away from it. She chose to follow the path away from the house and, once her decision was made, she sank back into her musings, unusually ignorant of the bursting buds and blossom surrounding her.
The main objections must surely be to Jane's family --- my family --- perhaps because one Uncle was a country attorney and another was in trade in London. When her thoughts trailed to her mother and younger sisters --- and even her beloved father --- her mind could not help but return to the night of the Netherfield Ball, where their behaviour certainly could not be said to be 'beyond reproach'. In fact, Elizabeth reflected ironically that her family could not have conspired to be more embarrassing had they planned it between themselves for a whole se'night beforehand.
She reasoned that Mr. Darcy was probably thinking of Mr. Bingley as a potential brother-in-law, a suitable match for his own sister. That consideration would have certainly coloured any decisions he made to 'help' his friend avoid an unfortunate association. She did wonder briefly how much Mr. Darcy's particular dislike of her had added to his action. Could he have discouraged an attachment between Bingley and Jane because of something she had said --- or done --- while they were in Hertfordshire? Had she contributed to Jane's unhappiness by her unguarded comments to Mr. Bingley's friend?
Her thoughts continued in this agitated manner for some time, and her mind was so preoccupied that the first drops of rain falling onto Jane's letters were quite unexpected. Elizabeth glanced at the sky and was dismayed to realize the dark clouds which earlier seemed so far away had caught her completely unawares. She looked about in alarm, trying to get her bearings, searching for any familiar landmark, but could see nothing in the scenery that showed where she might be in relation to the house or the Parsonage. Rebuking herself for her inattention, she ran through a break in the hedge as the heavens opened, and, searching quickly, noted what looked like a shelter of some kind surrounded by a circle of apple trees a short distance away. She ran towards it immediately.
In this rain, Elizabeth would have been happy with a woodshed, but her salvation revealed itself as a folly, built in the style of an ancient temple, and sheathed in smooth white marble. The finely carved columns around the outside gave their support to a domed roof, whose shelter Elizabeth was more than grateful to reach, and she soon stood under its protection while watching the April shower fall around her. "I hope this rain does not last too long; poor Charlotte will suffer the agonies of her dear husband if I am late!" She was temporarily amused at the vision before her of an angry and flustered Mr Collins fussing over her delinquent behaviour like an old mother hen.
Looking around the structure, she counted ten evenly spaced columns supporting a covered walkway, which surrounded a central room. She entered the room through an ornately carved opening, and glanced around the interior. Daylight filtered through holes high up in the walls, and a small statue of a female figure on a plinth stood proudly opposite the doorway. It certainly was no warmer inside, but it was quite dry.
As she turned to step back through the entrance, Elizabeth's eyes followed a tree-lined avenue leading down from the temple, which looked across the park towards Rosings; she could just make out the grand house through the rain. She sighed deeply and looked down at her clothes. Luckily, she had reached cover before getting too wet; her dress and spencer were only a little damp, and her gloves were hardly wet at all. Jane's letters had fared slightly worse --- although they were not ruined beyond hope --- and she returned them to the bag to avoid further damage.
Elizabeth walked around the temple and considered that it was a true folly, being rarely used --- if ever. She imagined it to be a delightful spot for a picnic, sheltered as it was within the ring of white blossomed apple trees, and spent a happy time picturing the grove filled with her friends and family, and imagining them to be having a wonderful time. Kitty and Lydia would enjoy running between the trees, Jane sitting with her on the grass, enjoying the sunshine, while Mary would probably be reading her book in the shade of the temple chamber. She certainly could not imagine Lady Catherine and her family doing the same.
How typical, thought Elizabeth, to spend all this money on the fashionable trappings of wealth without gaining any actual benefit from it. She even spared a brief thought for Miss de Bourgh, and considered how much improved her health might be by the fresh air and exercise, until it occurred to Elizabeth how she was unlikely to reach it unless Lady Catherine was prepared to allow her equipage to drive over the carefully tended grounds.
These agreeable thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a horse coming from somewhere behind her, and she moved to the edge of the shelter wondering who would be out on horseback in this terrible weather.
The rider slowed the horse and turned it around towards her before she recognized him. The sleek black gelding snorted as his rider quickly dismounted and allowed the reins to drop carelessly before walking towards her. Once under shelter he removed his hat and sketched a quick bow, which she acknowledged.
"Miss Bennet! I did not expect to encounter anyone else in this weather."
"Mr. Darcy! I am afraid the rain caught me somewhat by surprise. I was immersed in reading my correspondence and was not aware of the approaching storm." She was certainly not going to admit to him that she had been warned of the storm by Mrs. Collins and she had chosen to disregard those warnings. She smiled insincerely, her brow arched, "I might ask why you would choose to ride in the rain this afternoon Mr. Darcy?"
"The journey was not of my choosing, Miss Bennet. I was visiting one of Lady Catherine's tenants on the other side of the park, at her request ..." he pointed in the direction he had come from "... and I was not aware of the worsening weather until I was already on my way back." He removed his sodden riding gloves, tugging one finger at a time until they came free. With one hand he squeezed the leather to remove the worst of the water before dropping them in his hat, which had fared no better. She noted the rainwater dripping from the hem of his great coat onto the floor, and thought that it could not have happened to a more deserving person.
Elizabeth turned away from him to hide the smile growing on her face and stared towards Rosings and the rain. There did not seem to be any signs of it stopping, and now what had been her sanctuary from the weather had become purgatory in the company of Mr. Darcy. The wind had increased and the trees were swaying with its force, while the rain was, if anything, getting worse. Her companion interrupted her thoughts.
"I understood that you normally walked in the grove by the lane, Miss Bennet. Do you plan on taking your walks here in future?"
Her response to his question was polite and non-committal. She sighed as she realized that there was no getting away from him any time soon. She just had to hope that being in her company for any length of time would be too much for him to bear, and he would choose to continue his journey.
Swiftly, for no reason other than his presence, the anger she had banked against him during the earlier perusal of the letters raged into life with full force. Her mind no longer saw the rain or the distant view of Rosings, but instead replayed images of Mr. Darcy's disdain and indifference in her mind, followed by the memory of their first acquaintance at the Meryton assembly, and his comment to Mr. Bingley that she was not handsome enough to tempt me. Although she had later joked about the comment with Charlotte, her pride had been deeply hurt by his words, and she had never been able to completely dismiss them.
She fuelled the fire of her anger with memories of Mr. Wickham and the suffering he had spoken of and then of the pain her sister had felt on the departure of Mr. Bingley. She stole a glance at the cause of these miseries and realized he was staring at her; his contempt and disdain evident to her in his gaze.
She could not stay here --- despite the rain; Elizabeth decided that she somehow had to leave the shelter of the temple and return to the Parsonage. Remaining here, in Mr. Darcy's company, would be intolerable.
During this time, Mr. Darcy's thoughts had been more agreeably engaged. He had been surprised to find Miss Bennet in this part of the garden, as he knew her favourite walks were in the grove out on the other side of the park; he endeavoured to join her there whenever he was able. In truth, he could hardly stay away.
As he straightened from his bow he noted absently how her eyes were again brightened by the fresh air and exercise --- just as he remembered from her visit to Netherfield --- and how the cold weather had brought a most becoming pink tinge to her cheeks. In her hand she held a single bluebell, now slightly bedraggled by the rain, which she twirled nervously between her fingertips.
Elizabeth turned away from him, and he heard a sigh escape from her lips. Was she as pleased to see him as he was to see her? He did not know what he had done to deserve this fortuitous event, but he thanked God for it, and was certainly prepared to make the most of the opportunity.
After all the sleepless nights he had endured since leaving Netherfield with Bingley, and the uncountable arguments with himself over the inferiority of her family and position --- not to mention what his family would say of his choice of wife --- he decided at that moment he could not imagine his life without her. Her wit and charm he found engaging; her concern for her sister at Netherfield had been admirable; her love and appreciation of the countryside was heart-warming. Elizabeth Bennet was in every way perfect to be the new Mistress of Pemberley.
By some miracle she was here with him, and they were alone. He fully expected that by the time the rain stopped, they would have reached an understanding, and he would be the happiest man in the world. She had to know how much he admired and loved her. He could not waste another moment in telling her of his feelings...
Darcy barely remembered his short ride through the driving rain to the stables. After he had taken leave of Miss Bennet -- in the bitterest of spirits -- he could not trust himself to look back at her. His anger at her scornful rejection had flared before he even reached his horse, and his building resentment had warmed him as the weather deteriorated. The Master of Pemberley was little used to refusal, and the manner of her refusal in particular sat very ill with him.
He left his horse in the care of a stable boy and strode purposefully into the house. To all outward appearances Fitzwilliam Darcy's stern countenance and composure was the same as always; inwardly, he was twisted with humiliation.
In one of the hallways he interrupted the flight to his chamber as he came across Mrs Maltby, the imposing housekeeper at Rosings. Mrs Maltby was a large and friendly woman with a cheerful disposition, who had known Mr. Darcy for most of his life, and she always fussed over him during the visits to his Aunt. Darcy had often wondered how someone so different in temperament from Aunt Catherine could fit so well into the household, but she did.
"Mr. Darcy, you are soaked to the skin, sir! Where have you been to get so wet?"
Darcy inhaled deeply to compose his mind and his features before he acknowledged Mrs Maltby's question. "I have been visiting Banks' farm, on business for my Aunt." She nodded briskly in acknowledgement and he quickly changed the subject to forestall any further questions, "Mrs Maltby, could you arrange for a bath to be sent up?"
"Certainly, sir," she replied with an indulgent smile. "I saw Mr. Marriott down near the kitchens only a few minutes ago. I'll send him straight up to you and get the boys to bring up the water as soon as it's ready." He gave his grateful thanks and continued, almost unconsciously, through the house and up the stairs to his chambers.
Once inside his own suite he relaxed the grip he held on himself as he dropped his wet coat and hat onto a chair in the corner. He sat down in another and pulled off his boots; not wanting to wait for his man to arrive. He tugged at his neck-cloth to remove the constriction around his neck and dropped it unceremoniously on the table before he stood and walked across the room to the window, where his reflection stared solemnly back at him.
The turmoil and discord created in his mind by her refusal of his hand caused a litany of her rejections to flow through him. "I have never desired your good opinion" ... his image in the glass winced at her remembered words ... "I have every reason in the world to think ill of you" ... How could he have read the signs all wrong? Ever since her stay at Bingley's house he had assumed she was hoping for his attentions; did not every woman he met want his approbation? What of their lively debates at Netherfield? Why would she try so hard to gain his notice in that manner if she truly thought him so dreadful? He was certainly attracted to her witty repartee, which had shown off her intelligence to good advantage and left him totally beguiled. Why would she bait him so if she did not want to land her catch? "Enough man!" he chided himself, violently. "Do not torment yourself further!"
The rain outside had finally stopped, and for a moment Darcy imagined Elizabeth making her way back across the park to the Parsonage now that she could do so without getting wet. He wondered if he would see her tonight when the parson and his party came to visit his Aunt. Would he be able to face her, or should he make some excuse and stay away? Whatever happened tonight, he would definitely travel back to town with his cousin in the morning, and try to forget. He laughed derisively at his own inanity. Forget Miss Bennet? Well ... perhaps not.
Noises in the dressing room roused him from his anguished study, and his valet quietly padded through the door, collecting the discarded clothes and confirming that his bath was ready. He realized he was still soaked from the ride, and there would be no benefit in catching a chill. His busy life and heavy responsibilities made no allowances for illness.
While warming himself in the water, the inner criticisms from Miss Bennet continued unabated ... "do you think that any consideration would tempt me?" He tried to stop himself reliving it, but it was like an itching scab --- something he was unconsciously drawn to ... "ruining the happiness of a most beloved sister" ... "no motive can excuse" ... he thought back and remembered how he had tried to make excuses for his behaviour; he had believed himself to be helping Bingley, and considered that Charles might thank him for it one day. At the time he was confident he had read the situation correctly, but something she had said this afternoon made him doubt his convictions. "Involving them both in misery of the acutest kind" ... "Oh dear God!" whispered Darcy with some anguish, finally realizing the import of her words, "What have I done?"
Sometime later Marriott returned to the room with towels and robe, and assisted his master to dress. Once Darcy was alone again, with no occupation to distract him, his features, carefully composed in the company of his valet, crumbled under the onslaught as he struggled to drag his thoughts away from his disastrous proposal. "Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided." Darcy wondered how he could have been so blind; how could he not see the way she truly felt about him, to think she was expecting his offer ... "Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham ... you have withheld the advantages, which you must know to have been designed for him."
"Damn you, Wickham" Darcy snarled through gritted teeth. That man had been a thorn in his side for far too long. How could he have been so naïve to think that Wickham would not relish the opportunity to tell all and sundry his pathetic story --- however fanciful the rendition may be. If Wickham only realized just what his lies had achieved, he would be heartily pleased with himself.
He found himself by the window again; a favourite spot for contemplation and a habit unconsciously inherited from his father. "I have to explain," he thought aloud to the empty room, "but how ...?" A letter ... of course! Darcy knew that he would never be in a position to send a personal letter to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, as much as he would like to exercise that prerogative, but certainly a written explanation of the reasons behind his decision to protect Bingley was required. He needed to make it clear that only the thought of indifference on the part of her sister truly was the driving force in his decision. He realized it would also allow him to refute her allegations regarding Wickham ... but why would she believe him? He made a decision; he must tell her everything. Regardless of her feelings for him, he knew he could still trust her implicitly, even with the terrible truth of the events at Ramsgate.
"Would she read any letter I gave her?" Although he could think of many reasons why she would not, he believed in his soul that her goodness and strong sense of justice would allow him to at least plead his case ─ whether she would believe him or not would be something he had no control over. He could not make her believe him --- as he arranged everything else in his life --- and he certainly could not arrange for her to love him; that was painfully obvious.
He moved to his desk and laid out paper, pen, and ink. Although he did not believe that anything could change the lady's mind regarding his proposal ... "you could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way" ... he could acquit himself of her criticisms regarding that scoundrel Wickham, and perhaps, someday, she may come to think less ill of him.
He paused with his pen hovering over the blank sheet, trying some lines out in his head. He wrote a few sentences and stared at them; reading them over before crumpling the sheet in frustration and throwing it to one side. He would have to start by making it clear that he would not repeat the offer she had found so offensive, or she might not continue reading. He hesitated once more before setting his pen to paper.
Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of it containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers which were this afternoon so disgusting to you.
He read his first sentence and was satisfied with the start. He now had to write a convincing defense of her allegations. He sighed deeply and settled himself into his chair, happy to spend the whole evening if necessary getting it right.
Darcy was still at his desk an hour later when there was a knock on his door and in walked his cousin.
"Come on man, get your coat!"
He stole a glance through the window at the fast approaching dusk. "Where are we going at this time of day?"
"To join the search!" replied his cousin with surprise. "Aunt Catherine seems not to care where Miss Bennet might be, but poor Mrs Collins is beside herself with worry."
"Miss Bennet is missing?" Darcy was not sure he had understood. "Is she not at the Parsonage?"
"No. Do not you know? No one has seen her since she left earlier today to go out for a walk. Mrs Collins mentioned that she complained of a head-ache and went out to walk it off."
Darcy placed the still unfinished letter in his desk drawer and locked it, before he rang the bell. By the time he turned to face his cousin, his face was once more an inscrutable mask; his distress at the news locked deep within. "I saw Miss Bennet earlier, in the park. She was sheltering from the rain in the temple." He tried to speak evenly to disguise his turmoil over the results of that unfortunate meeting.
"Ha!" the Colonel responded with amusement, "at least somebody found a use for that monstrosity. I cannot understand why Sir Lewis bothered with it."
"If you were married to Aunt Catherine, would not you give her anything she desired ... to live a quiet life?"
Marriott was obviously well aware of his master's needs, as he carried a dry coat for his master, and was already dressed warmly for the search himself. "Mr. Darcy, sir, the men are gathered in the stable-yard. Mrs Maltby is readying the torches."
"Let's get on with it then."
As they reached the ground floor, Darcy could hear his Aunt loudly voicing her opinions through the partially open doors of the drawing room, and Mr. Collins' obsequious apologies for the tardy behaviour of Miss Bennet, and the trouble she had caused to Lady Catherine's household. However much he would have liked to take issue with Collins over his fawning comments, this was not the right time.
The yard was already swarming with men and boys: footmen, coachmen, stable boys and the whole garden staff. Even Lady Catherine's Butler, Mr. Goodwin, was quietly making arrangements in the centre of the assembly. He looked up when Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy arrived, and conferred with them both about the search. The Colonel made a few suggestions, explaining where Miss Bennet had last been seen, and the most likely route she could have taken back to the Collins' house, and the groups were ordered out into the park. Darcy and Fitzwilliam mounted their horses and rode directly towards the small temple, to take up the search from there.
After establishing that she was not in or around the area of their earlier conversation, Darcy directed his horse in the general direction of the Parsonage, hoping to find Miss Bennet quickly. However, they arrived at Mr. and Mrs Collins' residence having seen no one, and, upon receiving confirmation from the maid that she was still not yet returned, they turned back into the park to continue searching.
The two men on horseback moved steadily over the park, coming across the pairs of men and boys as they continued their search. Darcy felt a growing discomfort in the pit of his stomach. It was the same feeling of dread he had suffered as a child while he sat in the cold grey hallway, waiting for his father to utter those final words, telling him his mother had passed.
It was a large park, with many trees and large evergreen bushes, whose dense foliage was obstructive in the search. He began to wonder whether she had run away so she could avoid seeing him at Rosings again. The search continued.
About an hour after the search had begun, a series of long whistles was heard; a pre-arranged sign that they had found their objective. Both Darcy and his cousin made straight for the sound without discussion, and came across Mr. Goodwin with one of the young boys from the house. Darcy jumped from his horse as soon as he reached them, dropping the reins and letting his animal wander. Mr. Goodwin bent to walk under the dense low lying branches of an elderly hawthorn tree and motioned Darcy to follow.
"Miss Elizabeth!" He hardly realized he had spoken aloud; such was his shock at seeing her lying under the tree. Darcy fell on his knees by her side and gently lifted her head into his arms, noting how her clothes were soaked through and her chestnut curls were plastered to her face. Using his free hand he pulled at the ribbons to remove her bonnet and moved her wet hair away from her face to uncover a large abrasion over her left eye. He bent his head over her mouth to check whether she was breathing, but he could not tell. With some trepidation he removed his gloves and gently touched his fingers to her neck, just below her ear, and was rewarded with a fluttering pulse; barely perceptible, but there all the same.
Fitzwilliam crouched beside him. "Darcy, is she ....?" he faltered and looked to his cousin.
"She lives" Darcy sighed with evident relief. He looked up at the butler, standing nearby, "Mr. Goodwin, please send a message to Mrs Maltby to have a room prepared."
"I've already sent young Tom off with instructions, Sir. Would you like me to call the cart?"
"No. I will carry Miss Bennet back to the house." He looked up at his cousin, who was studying him carefully. "Can you grab Caesar and take him back to the stables for me?"
"Yes, of course. But I'll walk with you until you reach the house; in case you become tired and need a hand."
Darcy gently manoeuvred his other arm under Elizabeth's legs, and stood carefully. Once out from under the overhanging branches he straightened his back and settled his charge more comfortably in his arms, with her head resting on his shoulder. All the remnants of his anger at her rejection melted at the sight of her. His relief that she was found safe warmed his heart, and he had to concentrate hard on watching his steps rather than gazing down into her beautiful face, serene in its sleep.
Posted on Wednesday, 1 March 2006
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam could not suppress his astonishment at everything that had happened in only one day. Thursday had started fair, with a walk around the park; something he tried to do every year when he visited his Aunt. He had been pleasantly surprised to meet Miss Bennet during his walk, and had been more than happy to escort her back to the Parsonage. He considered Mrs Collins' friend to be a pleasant young lady, with lively conversation, who had made his visit to Rosings this year much more bearable.
The Colonel thought back to earlier in the evening; the moment when he and his cousin had reached Mr. Goodwin, and the dismayed expression he had seen stamped on Darcy's face when he saw Miss Bennet lying on the ground. He had rushed towards her, calling her name in such an agitated manner that Richard was stunned by his uncommon behaviour.
He had watched Darcy closely as he carried Miss Bennet to safety, concerned by the range of emotions that had clearly played across his face. Richard was not known for being observant of other peoples feelings - at least so his mother often told him - but seeing any emotion on his cousin's face was unusual. The look that particularly had him worried was guilt.
What reason would Darcy have for feeling guilty over Miss Bennet's condition?
When the patient had been carried into the house, she had briefly come to, but seemed confused and listless. Richard watched as Mrs Maltby had examined the pale girl herself, and her worried expression had concerned him more than he wanted to admit. A warm bath had been ordered, and Mr Ruskin was sent for with some haste.
He then considered the conversation in Darcy's room earlier that afternoon. His cousin had readily admitted seeing her in the park. Had Darcy done more than just notice her as he passed by on this way home? Did he stop and speak to her? Richard had seen the bump on her head and had seen similar wounds before. Could Darcy have done that? Richard pushed away the thought quickly. He knew his cousin better than he knew his own brother, and he was almost positive that Darcy did not have it in him to hurt a woman. But if that were the case, why would he feel guilty?
After leaving Miss Bennet in the care of the Housekeeper, Darcy mentioned having some letters to write; including one to Dr. Hall, his good friend and personal Physician, who he wanted to invite to Rosings. Richard had not pressed him on his reasons for writing to the doctor, as he had his own errand to run. He needed to retrieve the Rector's wife from his Aunt in the drawing room so she could visit her friend.
Mrs Collins was relieved and pleased to receive the Colonel's summons, and he took her through the house and down a wide corridor mainly used by the servants. Richard explained that Mrs Maltby had decided to put Elizabeth in Mrs Jenkinson's set of rooms - being easily accessible to visitors without intruding on Lady Catherine's privacy. Anne's companion had been moved to a guest room upstairs. As they walked towards the door the housekeeper was just leaving the room, and she smiled at the pair in welcome.
"Mrs Maltby. How is Miss Bennet?"
"She's warmer and dryer than she was, sir, but that's about as much as I can do until the Apothecary arrives." She turned to Mrs Collins with concern. "She looks a strong girl and is a good walker - or so I've been told. She was so cold and wet when she arrived, but she seems a little better now. I think she'll survive the weather well enough; it's the knock on the head that has me worried. I expect once Mr Ruskin arrives we'll know more."
"Mr. Darcy is writing to his own physician in London. I assume he will ask him to come down and examine Miss Bennet," added the Colonel. Both Mrs Collins and Mrs Maltby looked surprised at this pronouncement, but all he could do was shrug his shoulders in answer to their unspoken questions.
"I would like to sit with her, if I can?"
"Yes, of course, Mrs Collins, come through." Mrs Maltby showed her into the suite, dismissing Richard with a perfunctory curtsey.
Richard wandered through the house looking for Darcy. The direction his thoughts were taking had made him very uncomfortable, and he decided he needed to question his cousin more closely about his meeting with Miss Bennet. He looked in the library, where his cousin often composed his letters of business, but it was empty. He ran up the stairs and along the corridor until he found himself outside Darcy's chambers, and knocked smartly on the door before letting himself in.
The occupant turned from his desk at the end of the room and stood quickly, facing his cousin.
"Richard! Is there anything wrong? Is Miss Bennet...?"
He interrupted the question curtly. "No. She is sleeping. We need to talk." Richard noticed that Darcy was still standing awkwardly in front of his desk, and he moved towards him.
"Are you still writing to that Doctor friend of yours? I assume you will ask him to look at Miss Bennet while he is here?"
"An express to Dr. Hall has already been dispatched. I'm hoping he will arrive sometime tomorrow morning if he is able."
Richard observed that Darcy was avoiding his gaze; his eyes roamed to the floor; at the wall; over his shoulder; anywhere but directly at him. It was rare to see him so disturbed, and that only concerned Richard further after his earlier speculations. He felt angry with his cousin for acting so suspiciously, and even angrier with himself for suspecting him. He lost his temper.
"Good God, Darcy! What on earth is the matter with you!" the Colonel's parade-ground anger came out with a bark, startling Darcy into looking straight at him with surprise, and even a little fear. Moving closer to the desk, Richard soon saw what was making his cousin uncomfortable. Darcy's body was hiding a lady's purse, lying on the desk, with a number of letters spread over the green leather. Richard was livid. He was shocked to think that Darcy could be so unprincipled, and that his mistrust of his cousin appeared proved. He took a deep breath to calm himself before speaking in a cold voice.
"Is that Miss Bennet's purse?"
His cousin sighed, dropping heavily into the chair and pushing the fingers of both hands through his dark hair. "This is not how it looks, Richard"
"I know exactly how it looks. A gentleman would never read a lady's private correspondence. I would not have expected this from you, of all people." Darcy remained silent. His head was bowed, his fingers now laced at the back of his head, but he did not respond. "What reason would you have for stealing her purse and reading her letters?"
"I did not steal her purse." Darcy responded forcefully. "It was handed to me by Mr. Goodwin when he brought it in from the park. He found it on the ground."
"Then surely you should have given it to Mrs Collins?"
"I really need to know what's bedeviled you, cousin; your actions are so out of character! Why are you reading Miss Bennet's letters? Is there something between you two that I should know about?"
Darcy's wry snort was heavy with bitterness at his cousin's comment. He unlaced his fingers with a deep sigh before picking up the closest letter and studying it in silence for a few moments. "An address, Richard; I am looking for an address. I need to know where in London her sister is staying."
"And do you not think it is the Collins's responsibility to write to her family, if they feel it is necessary?" Richard looked down at Darcy - he could see the pain in his eyes clearly now and wished he would let down his defenses. He desperately needed to know what was going through his cousin's mind, but Richard knew better than anyone did; this young Master of Pemberley rarely allowed anyone in.
Darcy exhaled slowly, dropping the letter back to the desk and rubbing at his face with his hands, before he grabbed the arms of the chair and pushed himself out of his seat. He walked over to a side-table set with drinks and reached for a decanter. Darcy threw Richard a questioning look and he nodded his head in acceptance. Only once the two drinks had been poured and one glass passed to his guest, did Darcy respond to the question.
"I was not intending to write to Miss Bennet's family." He drank from his glass, and paused as he allowed the spirit to warm his throat. "I intended to write to Bingley."
"And why would you do that?"
Darcy appeared to be debating with himself before he replied cautiously. "Can you remember our journey to Kent when I mentioned a friend and his attraction to a certain lady?" Richard nodded but remained silent.
"Well, the friend I spoke of was Bingley..."
Richard interrupted him saying, "I thought it probably was."
"... and the lady." Darcy paused and took a deep breath, "well...the lady was Miss Elizabeth Bennet's elder sister; Miss Jane Bennet."
"But you said the family was objectionable!" Richard blurted with surprise. Although he did not consider himself a quick-thinker, he was worried where his immediate thoughts were taking him, especially remembering his conversation with Miss Bennet earlier in the day. What had he said to her? Oh yes. I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady. He groaned inwardly - hoping Darcy was not aware of his faux pas - before focusing once more on his cousin. "How could you consider anything objectionable in Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"No, Richard, you misunderstand me. There is nothing for the two eldest sisters to reproach themselves with; Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth have always behaved in an exemplary fashion. But the parents... and the younger sisters!" Darcy closed his eyes briefly and shuddered, remembering the Netherfield ball. "Truly, the family is a nightmare." He paused again to fortify himself with another drink before continuing. "But I would not have involved myself in Bingley's affairs if I had thought for a moment that the object of his desire genuinely returned his feelings. While she was all that is pleasant, I watched her very closely and honestly believed she was indifferent to him. But her mother! She constantly pushes her daughters towards any man passing within five miles of the place! I reasoned that if Bingley made an offer to Miss Jane Bennet she would accept his suit regardless of how she felt towards him; just to appease her mother! Believe me, Richard; I thought I was doing him a great favour."
"Then why do you write to him now?" There was a long pause. Richard was about to repeat his question before his cousin found his voice.
"Because I was wrong."
"Wrong? You mean the family is not so very bad?"
"Oh no; the family is disagreeable. I was wrong because Miss Bennet did love him, and still does. Bingley has not forgotten her, as I thought he would, and he has been miserable in town since leaving Hertfordshire. Two people have been left miserable and it is my fault." Darcy stood and walked to the window - a sure sign that he was either very uncomfortable, or deep in thought. Richard considered that tonight, he was probably both.
"Why do you believe now that she really did love him?"
"Why? Because I was informed of that fact earlier this afternoon when I spoke with Miss Bennet in the park."
"Did you...?" Richard bit back his immediate response quickly, but Darcy guessed what he was going to say and turned sharply on his cousin.
"Did I injure Miss Bennet? Is that what you think of me, Richard? Do you honestly believe I would do that to any woman?" His eyes flashed with outrage, and Richard shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. The silence that passed between them felt like an eternity. Eventually, Darcy sighed again and continued coldly, "I will admit I was angry enough. The words she spoke to me; I will never forget. She accused me of ruining her sister's happiness; of being unjust and ungenerous and of involving both Bingley and Jane in misery of the acutest kind."
Richard smiled at the image of the feisty Miss Bennet tearing strips from his cousin.
"I am pleased that you can see the humour in it, cousin, because I fear that I cannot."
"Sorry, Darcy. I was just picturing Miss Bennet giving you a dressing down. It must have been a sight to behold!" He tried to hold in his smirk, which threatened to burst onto his face with a vengeance, but his cousin was not fooled.
"Well, perhaps I could have appreciated the amusing side if I had not been standing there soaked to the skin and feeling utterly miserable." Darcy appeared not yet ready to laugh at himself or his situation, but Richard relaxed as he realized that his cousin could at least be cleared of the worst offences he had imagined during the evening.
"I have noticed during our visits that Miss Bennet does seem to enjoy arguing with you, Darcy. So, after she finished telling you what a hurtful thing you had done to her sister, what happened next?"
"I let my anger get the better of me. I said some things I now regret and I left her sheltering from the rain, while I rode back to the house. She wanted nothing more than to be rid of me, and I was pleased to go." Richard doubted the sincerity of the last statement. His cousin may have said he was pleased to go, he might have even believed it, but his eyes suggested otherwise. Darcy's actions this afternoon - particularly when they found Miss Bennet in the park - implied feelings quite the opposite from his stated opinions. He felt sincere sympathy for his favourite cousin.
"Did the purloined letters contain the information you were searching for?"
"Unfortunately no; not enough. I know Miss Bennet is staying with her Aunt and Uncle in Town, and the address on her letters is Gracechurch Street, but I have no name. They are referred to as Aunt and Uncle only. As you know, Gracechurch Street extends for some distance."
"Gracechurch Street. Yes, does it not run between Eastcheap and Cornhill, near the Exchange?"
"That is correct," Darcy replied with surprise, "One more reason why the daughters are unlikely to marry anyone of consequence. One Uncle who resides in Cheapside and another who practices as an Attorney in Hertfordshire are not normally considered immediate assets to induce matrimony." He added bitterly.
"You can always ask Mrs Collins if she knows the name of their relatives, or I can ask her for you. I know how much you normally dislike deception and pretense." He replied, with a pointed glance and the desktop.
"That is a good idea, Richard. Why did I not think of it?"
"Sometimes it takes a military mind to be truly devious, cousin. I have the benefit of special training!" They both laughed at Richard's comments, and he realized that the tension that had built up during the evening had been forgotten, at least temporarily. "I am off to my bed, Darcy. It has been a long day. Try to get some sleep and we will see how Miss Bennet fares in the morning. As soon as we have some information for your friend Bingley, you can send it on to him. Then you will have done your best to bring them back together, and they will have to work out the rest for themselves. I am sure Miss Elizabeth will not hold a grudge against you forever."
"I hope you are right about that, Richard."
Later that night, while Richard Fitzwilliam was trying hard to get to sleep, he could not help but replay the conversation with his cousin in his head. He sat up sharply as he remembered something which he had been too busy to notice at the time. Darcy had been speaking of the Bennet family's poor connections when he mentioned they were "...not normally considered immediate assets to induce matrimony".
"Ahh... poor old Darcy! Now, that could explain a lot of things ¡" he whispered sympathetically. Richard lay back on his pillow, and fell quickly into a deep sleep; content in the knowledge that he could easily explain his cousin's odd behaviour since arriving in Kent.
Posted on Friday, 10 March 2006
Lying in bed with her eyes closed, the first sound she heard was the low murmur of voices. Listening hard, she could identify Charlotte's voice, no doubt speaking with Mr. Collins regarding some household business beyond her chamber door.
Elizabeth stretched her arms wide across the bed and slowly forced her eyes to open. The bright glare from the windows caused her to wince with pain and in response, she squeezed her eyes shut and threw her arm across her face to block out the light. Hearing the door open, she slowly brought her arm back down onto the soft counterpane. She opened her eyes again --- more cautiously this time --- and saw Charlotte moving to sit in the chair next to her.
"How do you feel?"
"Charlotte, 'tis too bright in here," she replied in a petulant tone, reminding herself of Lydia in earlier years.
"It is not bright, the drapes are still closed; your eyes must be sensitive to the light just now."
Elizabeth realized that not only were her eyes unusually sensitive, but her vision was also a little blurred, as though the room was enveloped in a glutinous fog. She carefully adjusted her focus past Charlotte, and was concerned to see that she was not in her own room. The creamy yellow wall-coverings and fine white plasterwork were unfamiliar to her. The drapes covering the windows were superior to any she had seen in the parsonage, and the bedposts surrounding her were finely carved. "Where am I?"
"You are at Rosings." Charlotte reached over and held her hand reassuringly. "The Apothecary is in the next room. He has been waiting for you to wake, as he needs to speak with you; I will go and fetch him."
Elizabeth watched her friend walk through the door, and continued her curious gaze slowly around the chamber. On the second viewing, what she could see of the room appeared quite plain and cheerless, but a simple bunch of bluebells in a plain glass vase made her smile. A knock on the door turned her attention quickly away from the flowers towards the door; she closed her eyes against the nausea, as her body protested over the unexpected movement.
An old gentleman with a heavily wrinkled face and grey beard came to her bedside and was introduced to his patient. "Good morning, Miss Bennet! So pleased to see you awake at last." He smiled warmly at her as he stood by the bed. "Now, how do you feel this morning?"
She looked up at Charlotte, who had returned with Mr. Ruskin, then back to the gentleman. "I feel ..." She paused, taking in a deep breath while trying to identify exactly how she did feel. "My head is very painful ... and my shoulder hurts ... just here," she laid her hand cautiously on her left shoulder, "My sight is a little blurred, and I find the light too bright. I also feel rather nauseous." She smiled at the Apothecary as she quipped, "Other than those few minor ailments, I believe I am feeling quite well."
She started to sit up in bed, pushing her elbows back to raise her head and shoulders, but it immediately made her feel much worse as her head began to spin and the feeling of sickness increased. "Ah! ... perhaps I am not as well as I thought." She smiled ruefully at her two visitors as she slowly sank back onto the pillows, and closed her eyes to subdue the dizziness which engulfed her.
Mr. Ruskin chuckled and Charlotte added, "it is good to hear your sense of humour has survived intact at least."
"I have made up some draughts for the pain and left them with Mrs Maltby. I have also provided an oil of privet flowers, which should improve the injury to your head and help with the headache. I will prepare a decoction of Lady's Mantle to deal with the nausea, and send it along later. I am sure to receive further instructions from the physician when he arrives, so I will take my leave for now." The apothecary made a short bow to his patient and left the room.
"I do not need a physician, Charlotte!" hissed Elizabeth with surprise once the man had left. "I am amazed that Lady Catherine would put herself to the trouble of sending for him."
"She did not, but I am pleased he comes all the same." Mrs Collins sank into the chair with a sigh, and stared at her with a serious expression. "I do not think you appreciate quite how ill you look, Eliza." She smiled at her friends grimace and asked her gravely, "What happened to you yesterday? Where did you go on your walk? How were you hurt?"
"I remember walking in the grove and meeting Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"Yes, yes. But where did you go later?"
"Later?" Elizabeth gave her a blank look and tried to remember what had happened after meeting the Colonel, but she could not bring anything to mind. It was like waking in the morning and trying to remember your dreams; there was nothing there to recall. She could picture herself walking in the grove with the Colonel; she even remembered his comments about Mr. Darcy's efforts to separate Mr. Bingley and Jane, which had upset her greatly. However, when she tried to think past those events, she found nothing. If she tried hard, she thought that she could sense a feeling of cold and then of warmth, but she could recall no words or images before waking up this morning.
Looking at Charlotte, she could sense an eagerness in her as she waited patiently for her reply; her friend desperately wanted her to answer the question. "I am sorry, Charlotte, I ... I cannot remember."
"Think, Eliza!" her friend encouraged her gently; it seemed very important. Even from their earliest acquaintance Elizabeth had always been able to tell when Charlotte was not being completely forthright; and this was one of those occasions.
"Well you obviously think I should be remembering something," she snapped. Immediately, she regretted her tone, as the surprise in her friend's face showed clearly. Elizabeth sighed as she paused to calm herself. Her temples had begun to throb, and she felt drained of energy, but she sorely needed to understand what Charlotte was trying to do. "What am I supposed to be remembering? The Colonel? ...?" Her voice trailed off as she began to wonder exactly why she could not remember anything else after meeting him during her walk.
"I was in the garden when you returned to the Parsonage with the Colonel. He left you at the gate," Charlotte confirmed. Elizabeth --- who could not remember returning to the house --- felt a great relief in the words, although she could not have said why. "I then met you going out again soon after. You had a headache; remember?" Elizabeth absentmindedly touched her forehead, unconsciously connecting the throbbing she felt now with the headache she apparently had yesterday.
"It started raining and you did not return home; I was very worried. When it came time to visit Lady Catherine, you still were not returned to the house, and the shower was heavy by that time. Lady Catherine even condescended to send a carriage for us." She looked down at her hands in her lap, not meeting Elizabeth's eyes. "I imagine you can guess Mr. Collins' reaction when you didn't come home; and Lady Catherine's response."
"Was she very angry with me?"
"Angry? No, I do not think so, but she was displeased with the disruption to her household. I believe almost all the men in the house were sent out to help the Colonel and Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth blushed with embarrassment that she had caused so much trouble. "The Colonel ... and Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes. I believe Lady Catherine was most put out by them leaving the house to look for you. When she was not complaining about your lack of propriety and unladylike behaviour, she was bemoaning the fact that her nephews were not sat keeping her company! She disregarded poor Miss de Bourgh all evening, although that in itself is not unusual. It was almost full dark before you were found."
"I am so sorry you had to suffer her dissatisfaction, Charlotte!"
"To be truthful, I hardly heard a word she spoke. I believe I was only thinking of you, dear, and what I might say to your Father and Mother if anything had happened to you." At this, Charlotte stifled a sob and withdrew a handkerchief to dab at her eyes.
"Oh no, Charlotte! Please do not upset yourself! I am well now, as you see; I am sure I will suffer no lasting harm from my misadventure."
Both turned to the door as Mrs Maltby knocked before entering the room, followed by a young girl with a breakfast tray for the patient. Charlotte quickly introduced Mrs Maltby properly to her friend and explained the care taken by the housekeeper over her welfare the previous evening.
"I am very grateful for all your assistance last night, Mrs Maltby. Please pass on my thanks to the rest of the staff; I understand I put them to some trouble." Elizabeth felt herself colour as she wondered what the housekeeper had thought of her when she was brought into the house yesterday.
"Twas no trouble, Miss. Oh! But you were so cold; I was very worried for you." She fussed over the tray, setting out a steaming bowl and a selection of preserves. "The last time I saw someone affected by the wet and cold like that was more than five years ago, when little Harry Parker fell in the stream, but once we had you warmed up I knew you would be well. You might have developed a fever, being all cold and wet like that, but it don't always follow," she added cryptically. "Here dear; let's see if you can take some porridge." Elizabeth tried again to sit up, but the spinning returned as soon as she lifted her head, which made her feel queasy again.
"Allow me, Miss." Mrs Maltby signaled to the girl in the corner, who removed a bolster from the closet and brought it to the bed. With crisp efficiency the housekeeper reached behind Elizabeth's head and gently lifted both patient and pillow; supporting her head and neck as she swiftly slipped the bolster underneath, before gently lowering them back down. Although the movement had again caused the dizziness, it passed soon enough and left her sufficiently elevated to take some food without risk of choking.
"Thank you, Mrs Maltby. And thank you for these bluebells; they are lovely." The housekeeper's expression was unreadable as she nodded a brief acknowledgement of her thanks and placed the tray on the bed.
Once she had eaten enough to satisfy Mrs Maltby's motherly instincts, Elizabeth returned to her conversation with Charlotte. "How was I discovered? How did I get to Rosings? Why was I not returned to the parsonage?"
"Eliza! So many questions! Do you not wish to rest? You still look rather ill."
"I do not believe I can rest until I know all!"
"Well, let me see; you were discovered somewhere in the park by Mr. Goodwin and young Tom, who works in the garden."
"Was I in the grove?"
"Oh no dear, quite a distance from the grove, so I understand from the Colonel. You were found lying on the ground under a tree. Mr. Goodwin mentioned that Mr. Darcy noticed you had injured your head and he carried you across the park to Rosings, which was the nearer of the two. As much as I would have liked you to be home with us, I have to admit Mrs Maltby has many more staff to care for you. I did suggest you should be transported to the parsonage, as we are your closest family, but Mr. Darcy was adamant on the subject; he would not hear of you being moved from this room."
"Did you say Mr. Darcy carried me? Charlotte, say it was not so!" cried Elizabeth, mortified by the thought of being unconscious in the arms of any man, but especially Mr. Darcy, who already thought so poorly of her.
"I am sorry to pain you, but it was so. The Colonel was with him. Apparently, he would hear no argument on the subject, and tended you most carefully. I understand he ordered the room prepared, and later he sent for his own physician from Town."
"Mr. Darcy sent for the physician?"
"He did; Colonel Fitzwilliam told me. Both gentlemen seemed most concerned for your welfare."
Although Elizabeth could see Charlotte watching her carefully as she passed on this piece of information, she could not hide her confusion at her friend's statement. Such care and consideration from a man she thought considered her beneath his notice; she could not imagine why he had chosen to be so solicitous on this occasion.
She recalled the visits he had made to the Parsonage during her time in Kent, and how quietly he sat, often staring silently out of the window, not troubling himself to talk with anyone. During her walks in the grove, when they met by chance, he had rarely attempted to make much conversation, and seemed almost uncomfortable in her presence.
Perhaps his actions were a sacrifice to propriety? After all, her injury happened within the grounds of his Aunt's property, and it was understandable that he would feel a responsibility for her care for that reason alone. He may have treated her the same had she been a servant or tenant injured within the park. Or perhaps Lady Catherine had ordered it so. Elizabeth already knew there was little that happened in the area that Lady Catherine did not have a hand in. Perhaps his care of her was not so out of character after all; he was most likely following his Aunt's instructions.
"Do you feel ill again? Is there aught I can get for your relief?" The questions from Charlotte brought her out of her reverie.
"No, I am well. My thoughts wandered for a moment. Has Mr. Collins written to my family about the accident?"
Charlotte explained that Mr. Collins had intended to write the previous evening, as soon as she was found, "but I counseled him to wait until we knew your condition. Mr. Ruskin visited while you slept, and was happy with your condition, but he wanted to speak to you once you woke. Until we knew you were not in danger, I thought it would be unfair of us to write to your father before we knew that you would be well."
"You are right, Charlotte. I would not wish to worry my family unduly. I would happily write to Jane in Town, but I do not currently feel able to write a letter. Papa will laugh when he hears I have lost some memories of yesterday. When I used to climb trees in the gardens at Longbourn he would tease me that if I fell, and banged my head, it would knock the sense out of me; it seems he may have been telling the truth!"
"Tis no laughing matter, Eliza; your inability to recall the events of yesterday afternoon is most distressing. We must mention it to the physician when he arrives."
"There is no need to worry," Elizabeth stated cheerfully, brushing away all of her friend's concerns with an airy wave of her hand. "I am sure there is nothing of import to recall; just a walk in the park and an accident in the rain! My memories of the afternoon will no doubt return eventually, and will probably end up being rather dull and boring." Charlotte looked at Elizabeth with concern etched on her face.
"I hope so, dear," she murmured quietly, "for your sake, I do hope so."
Posted on Sunday, 19 March 2006
The breakfast room was empty when Darcy entered. He relaxed with a cup of black coffee as he scanned the pages of the Times.
He normally enjoyed the quiet of the morning, wherever he happened to be. His aunt tended to be a late riser, and frequently had breakfast sent to her room, so Darcy had no fear of meeting her at this time of day. However, he did have a momentary feeling of unease when the door opened unexpectedly - followed by relief when Anne de Bourgh walked into the room.
Darcy stood and received her with a friendly smile. "Good morning, Cousin."
"Good morning to you," she replied in her small, quiet voice, before taking a place next to him.
"How do you do this morning, Anne?"
"Do you ask the question to be sociable, Fitzwilliam, or do you truly wish to know?"
"I wish to know how you fare today," he asked with sincere concern. "You still look pale."
"I feel much improved from yesterday. I was a little put out with both you and Richard for abandoning me to Mother during the afternoon, but I realize it could not be helped. Tell me, how does Miss Bennet this morning?"
"I do not know." Darcy had actually been downstairs early making enquiries about the patient, asking Mrs Maltby if there was anything Miss Bennet needed to make her stay more comfortable. The housekeeper made it clearly understood that the young lady was still sleeping, and she would not look kindly on him loitering in her corridor; getting in the way of the staff.
"Mama will not let me visit her; at least until she is sure I would not be in any danger of catching something. She is in Mrs Jenkinson's room, is she not?" Anne shot an inquisitive glance at Darcy, who nodded mutely. "I understand from Alice that you carried her back to the house?"
"That is correct." Darcy hoped his face suggested more calm than he felt at the repeated mention of Miss Bennet. He knew his cousin possessed an observant eye - her health permitted her to do little else but watch others - and she was on friendly terms with the servants, who were all protective of her. Attempting to change the subject, he asked her about a book they had spoken of the previous morning.
"I was enquiring after Miss Bennet, Fitzwilliam; do not try and change the subject."
"Do you realize how much like your Mother you sound, Anne?"
She laughed delicately at his pained expression, before lowering her voice as she leaned towards him. "I have also been informed that you sent an express to your physician." She looked briefly to the door before continuing. "Will he be coming to Rosings?"
"I hope Dr. Hall will be able to attend. Why? He looked into her pale blue eyes and saw something. Hope? "Did you want me to arrange a consultation with him for yourself?"
"I would like that very much," she replied in earnest, before pushing her half-finished breakfast away from her. It was a common worry to Darcy how little food his cousin was able to eat at each meal. "I do not know if he will be able to help me, but Dr. Chester has had no new thoughts on my health in the past five years at least. He seems so accepting of my condition, and has almost convinced Mama that we should simply yield to my fate, whatever it might be."
"I would not have you give up, Anne," he responded strongly to her resignation, putting his large hand over her own petite one as it rested on the table and giving it a reassuring squeeze. "I will explain your situation to him and make sure he does not return to London until he has seen you." Anne smiled gratefully at her cousin and, with some effort, slipped her tiny hand out from under his, clasping both hands demurely in her lap.
"It is good that Mama does not take an early breakfast," she hissed at him. "Your scandalous behaviour would have us both at the church and married before either of us realized!" They both laughed at the thought. "Oh, Fitzwilliam, why did I not have a brother whom the estate could pass to? Why do I have to suffer because my parents had only one child?" She sighed deeply before looking up at him intently. "Had I a brother ... I could not have wished for better than one like you."
"Beware of your wishes, Anne, you might have had a brother like Richard!" he smiled as she scowled at his tease. "You are as dear to me as Georgiana. Which reminds me of something; I know not what you wrote in your last letter to my sister, but she was giggling about it for hours after reading it."
"Dearest Georgiana! Her letters are the highlight of my week. Sometimes they are the only thing which keeps me from weeping."
Darcy was stunned by her comment and was at a loss how to respond. He knew she was unhappy, and had attempted to relieve her loneliness and isolation by suggesting regular correspondence with his sister. His Aunt's unfortunate insistence on an alliance between the cousins had put a strain on their relationship, particularly once Darcy had come of age. Both of them had spoken of the situation many times when alone, and they made a sincere effort to show no special marks of friendship while in her mother's presence.
"Your sister's last letter mentioned the dinner you both attended at your friend's house ... Mr. Bingley?" Darcy nodded in response. "She expressed some regret at having to spend time with Mr. Bingley's sisters; particularly Miss Bingley. Is his sister quite as bad as Georgiana says, or does she exaggerate?"
"No, Anne," he replied with a sigh. "Unfortunately my sister rarely exaggerates where Miss Bingley is concerned."
"I understand she follows you around like a lost pup?"
"Who, Miss Bingley or Georgiana?"
"Oh, Fitzwilliam! You are the devil. You know I mean Miss Bingley! Do not tease me so."
He was pleased to see the delicate smile again, which lit up her small pale face. Anne had little opportunity to smile in her life, and even less to keep her mind occupied, and it pleased him to see that Georgiana's letters were having the desired effect of drawing Anne's thoughts away from the austere surroundings of Rosings to more lively matters, even if she could only live them through correspondence with his sister.
They sat quietly at the table for some time, both deep in their own thoughts. Darcy then asked his cousin what her own impressions were of her mother's Parson and his wife.
"Mrs Collins is a very kind and gentle lady - far too good for the odious Mr. Collins! Given time, I believe I could converse with Mrs Collins on many subjects ..." - she looked up at her cousin slyly - "... but I do not believe I could have similar conversations with Miss Bennet."
"Why ever not, Anne?" Darcy was genuinely surprised. He struggled to imagine how anyone could meet Elizabeth Bennet and not be captivated. She was so lively and friendly with everyone - well almost everyone, he corrected himself. He had imagined her becoming great friends with both Anne and Georgiana once they ... well; there was little point in dwelling on what was not to be. He looked up at Anne, only to find her staring at him with the barest hint of a smile on her lips.
"What were you thinking of?"
"Nothing. I was ... no, nothing." He sighed and attempted to regain lost ground. "Why would you not wish to speak to Miss Bennet?"
Anne de Bourgh sat quietly for a minute, her head turned away, embarrassed. Darcy was about to prompt her again when, taking a deep breath, the answer came out all at once, like a nervous avalanche of words tumbling over each other. "She is so ... so lively, and confident; she makes me feel so very inadequate. I am sure she is not at all afraid of Mother. I find it so hard to speak with her." She added, in a quiet voice, "I would not wish her to dislike me."
Darcy knew his cousin was shy with others - he had only seen her truly lively in his company, and Richard's - but this was the first time she had really spoken of her shyness with him. Although she was almost four and twenty, he was shocked that she had even less confidence than his own sister, who was not yet sixteen.
"Do not worry, Anne. Miss Bennet has four sisters, as you know, and is used to speaking with other young ladies. I am sure you would become great friends if you could find it within yourself to visit with her. She knows no one in Kent except Mr. & Mrs Collins and their guest, and must be very much in want of company. Being a lady who is used to excellent health, it will be especially difficult for her to be ill without her family in attendance."
In fact, Darcy had spent most of the previous night dreaming of what it would be like to visit Elizabeth in her room at Rosings. In his mind, he imagined the lively conversations they would have and the books he could read to her from the library. His head was full of subjects to discuss and things he would do to entertain her during her convalescence. In his dreams, she was pleased to see him, grateful for his company and happy to listen to him as he read to her. However, during the night his dream changed and darkened, and he found himself once more at the temple in the park, enduring her glacial stares, as he was struck by the accusations she had charged him with, and the cruel rejection of his suit. You were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry ... He woke with a start - his heart beating rapidly - and, after he calmed his mind and body, much of the remaining night was spent staring into the darkness. His last thought, before drifting back into dreamless sleep, had been a plaintive wish: If only she did not dislike me so completely.
A few hours after breakfast, the physician arrived. He was shown into the library where Mr. Darcy was writing to his steward at Pemberley. Dr. Spencer Hall, with whom he had been acquainted since University, was a tall, thin gentleman, his light auburn hair cut in a fashionable style. He was a plain speaking man who wasted no time with pleasantries, but went straight to the point.
"I came as soon as I could, Darcy. Your note sounded urgent; how can I help?"
Darcy began to recite the story of Miss Bennet's disappearance in the park, and her subsequent discovery lying cold and wet under a tree, with an obvious head injury. He had thought of his friend at that time, not only because he was the Darcy's family physician and a good friend, but also because he knew Spencer Hall was particularly interested in head injuries, and likely knew as much about them as anyone at the Royal College. Dr. Hall was a rarity amongst the physicians in London, having spent time in earlier years learning new skills with a surgeon in Edinburgh.
Darcy led the way as the two men went directly to the room where Miss Bennet was staying. Unexpectedly, Mrs Maltby was not hovering nearby, and he had to send a passing maid to advise her of Dr. Hall's arrival. The Doctor entered the sitting room of the suite to wait for the housekeeper, with his friend following closely. Darcy felt terrible for intruding within Miss Bennet's rooms, but could not bring himself to leave without first hearing how the patient fared. When Mrs. Maltby entered the room, he could immediately sense her disapproval of his presence, and realized that only his defense of bringing his friend to the patient was stopping him being sent away immediately by the housekeeper.
Mrs Maltby crossed the room and knocked on the bedroom door before letting herself in. The two men waited in silence for a few minutes before Mrs Collins came out to talk to Dr. Hall. If she was surprised to see Darcy with him, she made no comment of it, and she welcomed the doctor gratefully.
Mrs Collins began to relate her earlier conversation with Miss Bennet, and described her memory loss in detail. Darcy hovered, almost transfixed, as he listened intently to her description of everything Elizabeth could remember, and he was immediately struck by the one event it appeared she could not recall. While Mrs Collins could have omitted mentioning Darcy meeting her friend in the park, nothing in her behaviour towards him gave any hint that she was hiding the knowledge. Her description of her conversation made it clear that Miss Bennet could remember nothing of her walk in the grounds at all. Dr. Hall eagerly asked to be taken to the patient, and soon Darcy was left alone with only his thoughts for company.
He walked slowly back to the library to continue his correspondence, his mind in turmoil once again. He was distressed by Elizabeth's predicament, as he felt that he was at least partly to blame. What gentleman would leave a lady alone in the park and not offer to walk her back to her lodgings? His mind told him he was being ridiculous - she would have spurned any offer of the kind - but he could not stop himself from feeling responsible.
Looking out the library window, Darcy soon turned his thoughts to what effect this news might have on him. If she was unable to remember his unpropitious proposal, was there a real chance for him to mend his faults and perhaps court her properly? He paced the room, unable to settle until he had discussed this memory loss, and its consequences, with his friend. He picked up his pen to work, but within minutes he threw it down on the desk without writing a word. How could he concentrate on estate business while his own future happiness was so uncertain?
Almost an hour passed with Fitzwilliam Darcy prowling the library like a caged animal. Neither Sterne, Defoe nor Bunyan could hold his attention, and all were read and cast away with disgust. When Dr. Hall was finally shown into the room, he pounced on him, wanting answers to his many questions. His first was, naturally, about her missing memories. "Spencer, what would cause Miss Bennet to lose her memory?"
"There is no easy answer to that, Darcy. I have noticed this loss of memory before; it is common where someone falls from their horse or a gig for example."
"Miss Bennet did not fall from a horse, did she?"
"No, of course not, but the injury she suffered was very similar in many ways. The dizziness and nausea, the memory loss and listlessness, these are all similar symptoms to those found when someone falls from a horse or a carriage. The brain was shaken, and this concussion causes parts of the brain to work slowly for some time after the accident. These are common symptoms; I have seen them often. In fact, her loss of memory could have been more extensive. I have seen people lose days, months, or even years of their lives from similar injuries. Miss Bennet was comparatively lucky to lose just a few hours."
"But will she recover? Will she be as she was before her accident?"
Spencer Hall smiled at the anxiety in his friend's voice, and he replied reassuringly. "If she follows my instructions, her symptoms should improve within fourteen days. She will need to stay in bed for at least a week; her head needs time to rest with as little movement as possible. After that, she will still need to take care, and resume her normal activities slowly. Her memory will probably take longer to recover, if it comes back at all. The loss could be permanent; only time will tell." The Physician looked at Darcy carefully as he asked, "Is Miss Bennet related to you in some way?"
"No ... no she is not. I was introduced to her family while in Hertfordshire."
His friend looked thoughtful for a moment, before returning to the matter in hand. During the following hour their discussions ranged from the care Miss Bennet needed, to Anne's request for a consultation, which Dr. Hall readily agreed to. When they separated to dress for dinner, Darcy went up to his rooms where he succumbed to his valet's ministrations.
Once dressed, he found that he had twenty minutes before he was required to attend his aunt downstairs. Dropping heavily into the chair by his desk, he intended to write a short letter to Georgiana, but the preparation for that task soon brought back memories of Thursday, when he had sat in the same chair composing another letter; a letter to Miss Bennet. He bent slightly to unlock the draw where he had hidden the illicit note he wrote to her on the day of her accident. His eyes glanced over the smooth paper, seeing the words he had written with a fresh eye. At the time, he believed that he was writing with a cool, calm demeanour, but on closer inspection, he could see that the phrases he had used were full of bitterness and disappointment.
His written explanation of the decision to separate his friend from her sister would no longer serve. He hoped that the letter he planned to send to Bingley would go some way to solving that particular problem. However, he knew he still had a long way to go, and more information to impart - particularly about Wickham - before he could fully answer the charges she lay at his door that day. Tearing the letter into small pieces, he walked across to the fireplace and threw them into the flames, where they were consumed within seconds.
Darcy still needed to answer the main questions that were playing on his mind. Was he going to let Miss Bennet return to Hertfordshire with her prejudice of him intact, or could he attempt to improve himself in her estimation; and did he want to make that attempt?
Authors Note: The character of Dr. Hall was named in honour of Dr. Spencer T. Hall, a real person who was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England in December 1812. From very humble beginnings - the son of a poor shoemaker and a shepherdess - he became a published poet, a printer and bookseller, and eventually a practicing Doctor of Homeopathic Medicine, before dying a pauper in 1885.
Posted on Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Darcy watched pensively from his position at Lady Catherine's whist table, while Colonel Fitzwilliam made up a fourth with Mrs Jenkinson, Mrs Collins, and Miss Lucas. The apprehension he felt about the outcome of their conversation caused him to play poorly, and he brought down his Aunt's displeasure at his inattention a number of times during the evening. However, his cousin had found the game to be the perfect opportunity to quiz Mrs Collins regarding Miss Bennet's family in Town, and he was later able to give Darcy the information he needed.
After Darcy retired from his Aunt's company, he wrote a brief note to Bingley, which was passed to Marriott for immediate dispatch by courier. He did consider confessing how Miss Bingley had asked for his help at Netherfield to separate her brother from what they both considered to be an incautious alliance. In the end, he decided to keep the letter short, and only said that Miss Elizabeth had mentioned during her stay at Rosings that her sister was staying with family, and their address on Gracechurch Street. Just enough so that, if his friend was no longer pining for Miss Bennet, then no harm was done.
Darcy had briefly thought about going to see his friend in Town to give him the directions personally, but realized that any discussion they had on the subject would only encourage questions from Bingley; questions which he was not ready to answer at this time. Moreover, even though he was unable to visit Miss Elizabeth while she recovered, he realized that he had no desire to leave her alone at Rosings.
Saturday morning saw Darcy pacing the corridor outside Miss Bennet's room with a bunch of freshly picked pale yellow daffodils in his hand. Mrs Maltby, coming from her own room, viewed his presence with a curious glance, and promptly relieved him of the flowers before politely suggesting he should leave.
"Now then, Mr. Darcy, sir, there's no reason for you to be down here. Doctor Hall has already called on Miss Bennet this morning, and he is speaking with Miss de Bough in her rooms at the moment. You should be out, getting some fresh air," she remarked pointedly, as though talking to the ten-year-old boy she remembered, rather than the man he now was. He knew better than to argue with Mrs Maltby; she reminded him very much of Mrs. Reynolds --- his housekeeper at Pemberley --- and he knew how stubborn she could be when she set her mind to something. He took her advice and spent the next couple of hours exercising Caesar in the park and through the fields and lanes around Hunsford.
Returning to the house, Darcy heard raised voices coming from the sitting room and went to investigate. When he entered the room, he found Lady Catherine holding court. Quickly scanning the room, he immediately noticed Anne cowering in the corner of the settee, being comforted by Richard. Spencer Hall stood in the middle of the room; his familiar lecturing stance reminiscent of their student days.
"With all due respect, Lady Catherine, the course of treatment I am suggesting is in your daughter's best interest. You have been woefully advised regarding her dystrophy, and it will take many months to reverse the damage already done during her lifetime."
"And you expect me to take the word of a young man ... almost a boy ... over the respected decision of my own physician of long standing?" Lady Catherine replied in an angry tone. "Doctor Chester was my husband's own physician! Do you attempt to infer that Sir Lewis would engage a doctor who was without merit?"
Dr. Hall threw his hands up into the air in exasperation. "I am sure that Dr. Chester is a fine man, but medicine is an evolving subject which needs constant study."
"Ah! So you admit, you are still learning," responded Lady Catherine with a triumphant smile.
"Madam. In our current enlightened times, no one calling himself a doctor deserves the epithet without regular attendance to new methods or treatments. I have given my diagnosis, and suggested to you a course of treatment. If you choose not to follow my advice, that is, of course, your decision, but you may condemn your daughter to an early and unnecessary death." Dr. Hall punctuated his sentence with a curt bow to Lady Catherine before storming out of the room.
After a quick glance to Fitzwilliam, who nodded his head in acknowledgement, Darcy followed his friend out into the hall. "Spencer, I am sorry for my Aunt. She is not an easy person to speak to, even at the best of times."
His friend took in a deep breath as he rubbed at his temples; trying to relieve the strain brought on by the conversation. "Darcy. I need to get back to Town. I realize that I am asking a great deal from you, but please attempt to make your Aunt see sense. If she genuinely wants Miss Anne's health to improve, the method of her care has to change."
"Please, tell me what is needed. I will do whatever is in my power to help my cousin."
The two men retired into the library, where Spencer Hall spent some time discussing Miss de Bourgh's health. Her life had begun inauspiciously, being born much earlier than she should have been, and decidedly smaller than average. Darcy remembered overhearing a conversation between his mother and Lady Catherine when he was younger, which suggested that the violent behaviour of Sir Lewis de Bourgh was partly responsible for Anne's early birth; although he would never admit to anyone that he was aware of the fact.
Rather than feeding the child to build her up, Anne had been classified as 'sickly' and 'fragile' by Dr. Chester, who had recommended that she should not overstrain herself and conserve her energy. A conversation between Dr. Hall and Mrs Maltby, who had held the position as Lady Catherine's ladies maid at the time of Anne's birth, had confirmed that the wet nurse employed by Sir Lewis was not in particularly good health herself, which would have had a detrimental effect on the early nutrition of the child. As she had grown older, her lack of regular fresh air and exercise had only served to weaken her further. Her health and constitution were spiraling downwards, with serious consequences.
"Darcy, I am convinced that it is Miss Anne's environment that is the main cause of her suffering, rather than any sickness or defect in herself. I will admit, though, that your cousin surprised me."
"Surprised you? How?"
"You told me that she had asked to speak to me, but when I entered her room I could hardly get a word out of her. I began to think I would be no help whatsoever. It occurred to me that she was suffering from the famous 'Darcy reserve'."
"I am sorry to say your theory is false, my friend. She does not have a drop of Darcy blood in her. It is Fitzwilliam blood we both share and you can hardly call the Fitzwilliam's reserved."
"Wrong again? Damn! I am glad we placed no wager on it this time." Both men smiled at an old joke, before Spencer Hall continued, "But after I had been in her company for almost half an hour, she gradually became accustomed to me and began to speak more. She certainly knows what she wants. Plainly put, she does not wish to spend her remaining years in illness."
"And you are sure you can help her?"
"Yes, I am positive. She needs her mother to stop treating her like an invalid, and more like the young girl she is. Exercise, such as walking, combined with the fresh air and she would get on those walks, will soon improve her appetite, and lead to a better general health and wellbeing."
"I believe I should pass your diagnosis and comments to my Uncle. Lady Catherine will listen to her brother, even when she will heed no other."
"That might be for the best. With the changes I have suggested, there is no good reason why Miss Anne's condition will not improve. She will never be as hearty as Miss Bennet ..." Spencer paused and flashed a quick grin at his friend's response to the mention of her name. "But she will be happier, and have an increased lifespan. If Miss Anne is ever in London, I will be happy to visit her again."
"Thank you, my friend. I am grateful for your help. When I return home, I believe I owe you dinner. Have a good journey back to Town!"
"I will certainly not pass up the offer of dinner at your house, Darcy, I look forward to it. Take care of Miss Bennet for me, will you?" He shouted jovially over his shoulder as he left.
"Take care of her? If I tried to she would no doubt refuse it ... as she refused me," Darcy thought to himself sadly.
Propped up with pillows, Elizabeth was gazing longingly out of the window; a sight she had not been able to view until her eyes had become less sensitive to the daylight. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The fluffy white clouds were sculling lazily across the azure sky; it was the start of a perfect spring day. She had spent some of the morning listening to the changes of the church bells as the wind carried the peal across the park to her room. During her stay at Hunsford, she had found Mr. Collins' style of declamation from the pulpit to be tedious and unnecessarily officious, and she was ashamed to admit that she had been secretly pleased to have a good reason for missing the service this morning.
A knock on the door brought her back to attention, as Mrs Maltby appeared around the door. "Would you feel up to receiving a visitor, dear?"
Elizabeth felt a moment of panic. She knew it was not Charlotte, as she visited her regularly, without any ceremony. Could it be Lady Catherine? No, surely she would have heard her voice in the other room already. Might it be Mr. Darcy? Mrs Maltby had eventually admitted to her last night that the daffodils, which now sat in the vase by her bed, were actually sent in by him, along with his best wishes for her recovery, but she certainly did not feel in a position to receive him while she was in bed. Would he expect to be allowed to call on her in such a familiar manner just because she was a guest at Rosings?
She was about to say no, when she heard Mrs Maltby speaking encouragingly to the person on the other side of the door. "Come through dear, Miss Bennet don't bite. No need to be shy." Elizabeth's curiosity now raised, she was amazed to see Miss de Bourgh enter the room.
"I hope you do not mind my being here, Miss Bennet," she said in a quiet, timid voice, standing just inside the door.
"No, not at all!" Elizabeth responded enthusiastically, and motioned for her to sit.
The visitor hesitated before moving towards the offered chair. They sat for a few minutes in silence, before Elizabeth began to feel uncomfortable and decided she had to start some sort of conversation. She quickly cast around for ideas before a subject suggested itself. "Did you enjoy church this morning, Miss de Bourgh?"
"Quite well, thank you." She paused, as if wondering whether to continue. Eventually she added, "Mr. Collins' sermon was on a subject I have heard before ... the duty of the young to respect their elders."
Elizabeth laughed delightedly, both at Miss de Bourgh's expression of disgust at her mother's parson and at the heartfelt words. She was astonished that her visitor was surprisingly eloquent when not under her mother's influence; if still a little shy. "Yes, I believe Mr. Collins is always most attentive to Lady Catherine's interests," Elizabeth replied, "and nothing makes him happier than to be able to offer her any modest service within his power." She was gratified to see a weak smile appearing on Miss de Bourgh's tiny face.
"I believe you are correct." Miss de Bourgh whispered.
Another silent pause followed, which Elizabeth finally broke by asking after her visitor's health.
"I am as well as I ever was, although, thanks to you, I now have hopes that my heath will improve over the long term."
"Whatever have I done to deserve your thanks?"
"I was able to have a consultation with Dr. Hall yesterday morning before he left. Had you not had your ... er ... accident, I may not have had the opportunity for a second opinion. It appears my situation is not as hopeless as I had been led to believe."
"I am very pleased to hear that," Elizabeth said politely.
This time, her visitor interrupted the silence that followed. "Would you mind very much if I came to see you again while you are here, Miss Bennet?"
"I would be most grateful if you wish to call on me again, Miss de Bourgh. You will find me at home at any time," Elizabeth added with a wry smile. "Dr. Hall instructed me to remain in bed, at least until Thursday, although I find it most tedious to remain bedridden, even in a room as fine as this one." Both ladies shared a sympathetic glance before she continued. "Once Thursday comes, however, I must return to the parsonage. I have trespassed on Lady Catherine's patience for long enough."
"Oh, Miss Bennet, please do not leave on my Mother's account," Miss de Bourgh begged, "I know Fitzwilliam would not wish for you to leave until you are completely recovered."
"I am sure that Colonel Fitzwilliam is just being kind."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam? Oh, no, I was referring to my other cousin, Mr. Darcy. His name is Fitzwilliam too ..." Miss de Bourgh's explanation trailed off with an embarrassed cough, as Elizabeth felt her face grow hot when she realized her mistake. There was little that she could think of in reply to Miss de Bourgh. Fortunately, her visitor did not seem to expect a response, as she spoke further about her favourite cousins.
"Richard --- I mean, Colonel Fitzwilliam --- does make me laugh, and has been very protective of me since I was a small child. Cousin Darcy, on the other hand, has always been a little more serious, but he has been especially so since his father's death. Taking over the estate, at such a young age; it was a big responsibility for him."
Elizabeth noted a great deal of esteem for her cousin, but it was more akin to the affection for an older brother, rather than the affection of a girl speaking of her betrothed. The conversation then passed onto more general subjects --- in which Elizabeth felt more comfortable taking part --- until it was time for her visitor to leave.
When Miss de Bourgh vacated the room, Elizabeth was left with the uncomfortable feeling that her initial impressions of the girl were rather unfair. She had described Lady Catherine's daughter as sickly and cross, but having spoken to her properly, for the first time, she sensed a liveliness fighting to get out from under the weight of both her mother's oppressive behaviour and the illness, which had probably afflicted her through her life. She felt a great sympathy for Miss de Bourgh, and resolved to make more of an effort to get to know her better.
Later that same afternoon Elizabeth became aware of a disruption in the next room. She stifled a groan as she heard the voice that she had been dreading since waking up at Rosings.
"I still do not comprehend why my nephew brought her here. The rooms at the Parsonage are perfectly adequate." She heard Lady Catherine complain as she opened the bedroom door without knocking, and walked straight in, with Mrs Maltby following closely behind. "Miss Bennet. I see you are awake."
"Yes, Lady Catherine." Elizabeth replied demurely, with her eyes purposely downcast. Her head had begun to ache again, and she was not in the mood for a lecture this afternoon.
Lady Catherine peered at her intently, before stating, "You look the same to me, except for that bruise on your head there. Are you recovered sufficiently to leave your bed?" Mrs Maltby quickly interrupted her mistress to explain that Dr. Hall had forbidden Miss Bennet from getting out of bed until Thursday. "Seven days in bed? What does that young man know? Nothing! If Dr. Chester had attended you, I am convinced he would not have seen the need for such an extended bed-rest. My husband's physician has an excellent knowledge of all aspects of medicine, collected through many years of experience, and I doubt very much that he would have suggested such unnecessary treatment."
Elizabeth kept silent as Lady Catherine observed the room disdainfully. However, she had to bite her tongue when her visitor offered a further helpful suggestion.
"As you have such easy access to the pianoforte now, you can have no excuse for not practicing. You are fortunate to be recovering in these superior accommodations so you should make the most of it while you are here. As I said last week, Miss Bennet, no one can expect to excel at anything without constant practice."
Elizabeth began to murmur a response to Lady Catherine but it was interrupted by the arrival of one of the maids, who was carrying the message that Mr. Darcy wished to speak to her Ladyship on an urgent estate matter.
Lady Catherine beamed at the news. "My nephew is so attentive. His attachment to Rosings certainly increases; he has already put off his leaving more than once. I am sure he feels more at home here now than ever before. I must attend to him, immediately." She nodded briefly to Elizabeth before leaving the room abruptly to find Mr. Darcy.
Mrs Maltby returned to the room a few minutes later, with an apologetic smile. "Miss Bennet? Are you well?"
Elizabeth returned her smile as she sighed with relief. "Yes, Mrs Maltby, there is no need to worry about me. I have a slight headache so I believe I will just rest my eyes for a while. I will admit that I am rather grateful Mr. Darcy needed Lady Catherine's presence at just that moment."
"Yes, it was a coincidence, wasn't it, Miss?" replied Mrs Maltby, with an expression which, had Elizabeth been observing her carefully, would have suggested that she did not really believe in coincidence; especially not where Mr. Darcy was concerned.