Welcome to our board! Log In Create A New Profile
Use mobile view

Advanced

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

November 16, 2016 04:00AM
**Be sure you didn't miss the chapters posted a few days ago**

Chapter 11

Six days later

Darcy blew out a cloud of smoke and looked up from his desk as Richard's footfalls sounded outside his office.

The door swung open. “Darcy—.” His cousin stopped short. “Crikey, you look like hell.”

Darcy flicked his ashes, ignoring the comment. “Glad you enjoyed your leave. How's Georgiana?”

Richard dropped into the opposite chair. “Fine. Fine. Georgiana is fine.” Richard tossed his officer's cap onto the desk then locked his eyes on Darcy's. “Wickham's dead.”

“Dead?” Darcy sat up. “But the trial—? What happened?”

“Killed in a prison fight. Some sort of gambling chicanery gone wrong.”

Darcy released a heavy breath, sagging back in his chair. “That's it.” He threw up his hands. “That trial was my best hope for information about Elizabeth. That bastard!” Darcy smacked the desk and rose to his feet.

“You can't lose heart, Darcy. She may turn up yet.”

Darcy spun around, his words riding on a cloud of smoke. “I want a full report in the newspaper. Complete disclosure of Wickham, his ploy, and acknowledgement of Elizabeth's innocence. If by chance she's alive, maybe she'll see it and—.”

Richard shook his head. “Top Brass put the gag on all reporting of the conspiracy and the trials—”

“What? They didn't object when a Canadian reporter published unsubstantiated claims that helped drive Elizabeth away in the first place.”

Richard sighed. “Things have changed. War Department fears it will create a public relations nightmare. If word got out that a bugger like Wickham set up a whole operation right under our noses.... Well, let's just say it would hardly boost morale.”

Darcy turned away and released a heavy breath. “So Elizabeth will be made to pay for morale and keeping up appearances.”

“I'm afraid so. The army's often forced to make decisions for the greater good at the sacrifice of a few.”

Darcy braced a hand on the window frame, then took a deep drag on the cigarette and exhaled. “Any leads on the men Wickham said he sent?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

Darcy whirled around.

“In the three days between the time Elizabeth left France and Sapper took shots at her, we discovered that a handful of the nearly three thousand men transported across the Channel were recorded as dead. Unfortunately it is unclear as of yet if they died en route, or if they could have been Wickham's cohorts travelling under the name of a deceased. Two more names were particularly suspicious. But if indeed Sapper had accomplices, we can't assume they crossed the Channel. They could have come from Yorkshire, for all we know.”

“I hardly call that a lead.”

“It tells us there are no other obvious suspects.”

“And it leaves the door open to the possibility that someone succeeded where Sapper failed. She could be dead, Richard, dead!”

“I'm sorry, Darcy. We just don't know.” Richard clanked Darcy's empty enamel coffee mug against the brimming ashtray. “Have you considered that perhaps Wickham himself was unaware of Miss Bennet's whereabouts and was only bluffing to get your goat?”

Darcy blasted a puff of air out of the side of his mouth. “I've considered that and a thousand other things. I need a lead that will get me somewhere.”

“Well, I have other news that will take you somewhere. Two places to be exact.”

Darcy looked up. “Where's the first?”

“Home. I've arranged for you to be home for Christmas.”

“The other?”

“When you return, Private Thornton will resume as your batman.” Richard pressed his lips. “At the Front.”

Chapter 12

Christmas 1917

Darcy absently watched the familiar Derbyshire fields and cottages passing by outside the train's window. His heel bounced in time with the clackity-clack of the train. Lambton was the next stop.

He reached for his breast pocket but returned his hand to his lap. He'd never liked smoking and vowed he wouldn't bring it home for Christmas. But its calming vapour would be welcome just now. Within the hour he would know the answer to the question that had nagged him for two months: had Elizabeth left anything for him in his chamber?

He sighed. As anxious as he was to unearth the burl wood box in his dressing room, he owed Georgiana his full attention and affection first. She was probably waiting on the platform now. Certainly he was eager to see her, but Elizabeth's disappearance was like a missing limb, constantly reminding him of his loss.

An officer across the aisle rose, joking with his seatmate as he poked his arms into his coat sleeves. Slinging his kitbag over his shoulder, he turned around and addressed Darcy. “I say, Captain, cheer up. It's Christmas. Leave the gloom of Flanders behind.”

Darcy smiled and nodded, then rose and reached for his coat.

The train whistle sounded, announcing the stop. Darcy shrugged on his coat and ducked for a view out the station-side window. As the train slowed, the small gathering waiting on the platform waved with eager anticipation. The knot in his chest tightened. Elizabeth wasn't among them—but Georgiana was. He glimpsed her at the back of the crowd, craning her neck. He pressed a smile. Although he hardly felt festive, it was good to be home, and he did want to see his sweet sister. He would do his best to be in good spirits for Georgiana.

A moment later the compartment door opened and his local comrades funnelled out. He stepped off the train just behind them and paused. Spotting his sister among the pressing crowd, his face broke into a smile and he raised his hand in signal. Her face lit up, and she ran to him, throwing herself into his arms. “You're home at last!”

With a hearty laugh, he swung her around. “Indeed I am.” He caressed her cheek and smiled into her eyes. “I've missed you.”

“And I you.” She hugged him. “I've so much to tell you! Did you hear that Dr. Scott will be joining us for Christmas? He's able to walk with a cane now and has been allowed a few days of leave. After the holiday he'll be moving to a convalescent hospital.”

As the car trundled through the narrow streets of Lambton and then turned onto the road to Pemberley, Georgiana chattered on. Darcy tried to pay attention, but his anxious mind whirred. Had Elizabeth been chased through these woods all the way to Lambton? Did anyone know where she'd gone? Was she safe now?

“...Oh, Fitzwilliam, I wish you could meet her.”

“I'm sorry.” He turned back to his sister. “Who was it you wanted me to meet?”

“Margaret Hale, the family friend of the Knightleys who's volunteering as a VAD at Hartfield.” She tilted her head. “Are you all right?”

“I'm sorry.” He took her hand. “I'm a bit tired and distracted.”

“You are glad to be home, aren't you?”

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand. “I've been counting the days.”

Rounding an ascending curve revealed his beloved home in the valley below. The late afternoon sun reflected off the lake like gleaming gems. Home. Pemberley was in his blood—a part of him. The place he'd hoped to raise his sons and daughters—with Elizabeth. Tears pricked his eyes.

Minutes later he stepped onto the crunching gravel and exchanged greetings with the staff, then escorted his sister into the marble entry.

Georgiana turned to him. “Would you like some refreshments?”

“A bath, if you don't mind. A long, hot one. And then a glass of port and some Christmas music.”

She smiled up at him. “I'll be at the piano.”

Darcy ascended the long flight of stairs, but as soon as he rounded the landing, he took the remaining steps two at a time. If Elizabeth had left a note for him, he would know its contents in a matter of minutes.

His long legs hastened him through the portrait gallery and down the hallway to his chamber. Once across the threshold, he swung the door closed and rounded the foot of his bed without breaking his stride. He jerked open the bedside table drawer and froze. Had he folded the sketchbook cover over its pages? He usually kept it open to his favourite picture of Elizabeth. His heart pounded. Maybe she had been here. He snatched the key from the drawer, then crossed into his dressing room and whipped open the wardrobe doors. His heart pounding, he reached for the burl wood box. It felt light. Would the money be gone? Had she left him a message?

He set the box on the table, then turned the key in the lock and lifted the lid. His breath whooshed out. Her garnet bracelet lay atop an envelope inscribed Dearest Fitzwilliam. He closed his eyes at the endearment. Maybe, just maybe, the contents revealed her whereabouts. Forcing even breaths, he returned to his room, then sank into his wing chair and slid the letter from the envelope. A torn newspaper article and a note slipped to his lap, but his eyes were already darting across her feminine script:

My dearest Fitzwilliam,

As I write this, my love for you rises up inside me until I think I should burst, but it is this very love that compels me to leave and disassociate myself from you.

When I first read the enclosed note, I thought it only a catty ploy by a jealous woman. But the newspaper article brought me to realise that I was tangled in something far beyond my awareness. Though innocent of any intentional wrongdoing, the evidence appears to be stacked against me. If I am caught, I will likely be hanged for treason. When questioned, I would be forced to reveal my close association with you and the places we'd been together, which would only draw suspicion on you as well. At a time when the faintest hint of collusion is equated with guilt, even were I to prove my innocence, my attachment with you would be made public and your reputation ruined. It's a no-win situation, and I care too much for you to be the cause of you and your sister losing your standing in society.

I so wanted to write you a letter upon my departure but feared you would have been forced to produce it if questioned regarding me. I didn't want to leave any further evidence that would strengthen our association and unnecessarily involve you in whatever this is I've become entangled in. I assume that by the time you find this you'll have already been questioned, giving you the option of keeping it in your confidence. But I couldn't depart without assuring you of the depth and sincerity of my love, and letting you know I am forever grateful for your love. I will never forget our happy times together.

I regret that I was unable to meet your dear sister, but am honoured to have spent several wonderful days at the home you so dearly love. I leave now with an even deeper respect for the landowner, employer, and man that you are.

May the Lord bless you with a wonderful future, a family, and all the happiness you so richly deserve.

~Elizabeth

Darcy sat back. The newspaper article proved nothing—it didn't even mention her real name! Why was she so sure she would be implicated? He snatched up the note.

Dear Eliza,

After seeing you with Captain Darcy in Boulogne, I felt it my duty to warn you of some damning allegations against you.

Several months ago Dr. Ernest Cowart was hospitalised here, and because he had known my father, I visited him. Naturally we spoke of his time at The Ritz, and when he realised that you and I were acquainted, he asked my opinion of your character. He then proceeded to recount numerous incidents and behaviours that cast suspicion on your allegiance to the Crown. I surmised he either already had (or was intending to) bring the evidence before the authorities. Whether or not he did before he was killed, I do not know.

His suspicions were all relayed in confidence, of course, but as you know, a good reputation is priceless in these perilous times. You can rest assured that I would never betray you as my own brother has chosen to marry your sister, and he could suffer ruin should this information be brought to light.

Captain Darcy, however, is another matter. He has no permanent connection with your family, unless you insist on maintaining one. If you truly care for him, I suggest you carefully consider the precarious position you are putting him in, and ask yourself if you might best demonstrate your regard by severing all ties with him. After all, he is not only an important landowner with much to lose, but also the guardian of his beloved and innocent sister. It would be a shame should he lose his standing due to his association with you.

I trust you will do what is right and not unnecessarily jeopardise the captain's future.

With kind regards,

~Caroline

He crumpled the letter in his hand with a grunt. Blast Caroline! A friendly letter where she might have mentioned some details about a conversation with Cowart. That scab. No wonder Elizabeth fled without a word to anyone! She must have felt like the bullseye of two targets! And then being accosted by Sapper. Wait.... Both Wickham and Caroline lived in Boulogne—and knew each other. Was it possible? A chill fanned through him. I may have lost the battle, but I won the war. I sent the men. And you can credit me for the letter, too.

Wickham had indeed won.

~~~*~~~

Although his heart was heavy, Darcy managed to maintain his equanimity for the Christmas celebration at Richard's family's home. It was good to see Matthew Scott, the Knightleys from Donwell Abbey, and his Aunt Catherine and Cousin Anne from Kent, but the season's gaiety only magnified the void inside him.

Two days later he sat back in his office chair at Pemberley and exhaled a dejected breath, his hand still grasping the Christmas card from Elizabeth's sister. Charles and Jane were expecting a child but, like him, their joy was dampened by Elizabeth's disappearance. He closed his eyes. Elizabeth would have been thrilled. But because of his silence, she would never hear the news.

Daggers of guilt pushed him to his feet and across his study. He poured a drink. Elizabeth had disappeared to protect him. She never voiced fear for herself. She was innocent. He'd give anything to have her back. Dash his reputation! He would trade it for her in a second. He tipped up the glass and allowed the alcohol to burn down his throat.

Staring at the garden below, his thumb chafed over the stones of the garnet bracelet in his pocket. He imagined strolling the pathways among the summer roses with Elizabeth, her brown curls bobbing on her shoulders with each step, warmth and laughter in her voice. Smiling, she turned to him with a teasing question, then arched her brow. He returned a quick-witted quip, then drew his wife into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. Loving her with ardent kisses, the burdens of his responsibilities melted away. She was his partner and lover. The mother of his children, the joy of his life.

A gust of wind swept through the trees, whisking away his dream with it. He sighed and lifted the flap of his breast pocket but paused. Looking at her picture just now or listening to the music box would only rub salt into his wound. He dropped his hand and took another drink. It would be easy to retreat inside himself again, to insulate his heart by shunning all emotional attachments as he had done last year after the Battle at the Somme. But its weight had only crushed him.

He turned back to his desk, a pile of papers and folders still awaiting his attention. At least he'd made financial provision for Elizabeth should anything happen to him, assuming she could be found. That led to another order of business—hire a private investigator to find her.

Darcy glanced at the mantle clock. His steward was due in an hour. Right now he needed to make decisions about spring planting, accommodations for the estate's new widows, and finding labour now that every able-bodied man was serving the war effort. In three days he'd be back in France. Back to the rat-infested trenches where the stench and spectre of death hovered like a taunting ghost.

A knock at his door preceded Mrs. Reynolds. “Colonel Fitzwilliam's on the telephone, sir.”

Darcy brushed past the housekeeper and strode to the entrance hall. There was only one reason Richard would be telephoning him.

“Richard?” He lifted the neck of the phone and raised the receiver to his ear.

“Darcy,” his cousin's voice crackled on the line, “I have news.”

“What is it?” His heart pounded at the foreboding timbre of his cousin's voice.

“A body washed up just north of Liverpool that matches...”

Darcy wilted against the entrance hall table as if punched in the stomach.

“Darcy?”

“I-I'm here.”

“I know this is a blow, but did you hear me? They can't confirm it's her.”

“I can be there in a matter of hours to identify—”

“Darcy. Listen to me. The body is too far gone for that. All they can go on is the woman's build and dark wavy hair.”

God, please! It can't be her. “But you think....”

“I don't know. We don't know anything for sure. It's a possibility. But I promised I'd keep you abreast of anything the investigation turned up—good or bad.”

“Yes. Thank you,” his voice trailed off. He swayed on his feet as grief, anger, and fear slammed into him like a tidal wave smashing the shore.

“Are you all right?”

“I-I'm fine.”

“Darcy,” Richard paused, “I know what it's like not to know. Trust me. Mary is—.” He cut off his sober words with a sigh. “As I said, nothing's been confirmed. I'm sure there are hundreds of women in England who fit her description. It's just as likely that Elizabeth is living a good life somewhere.”

Darcy exploded. “But if I could have warned her about the conspiracy, she would be here!”

“I know, my friend. I know. And I'm sorry. But at the time....”

“Yes, yes, at the time you didn't know.”

“Get some rest. I'll see you next week.”

Darcy hung up the receiver, then strode out the front door, slamming it behind him.

Chapter 13

Elizabeth sat in the dining room at Darcy House nursing a cup of tea. It had been a lonely Christmas. Had things gone according to plan, she'd have been with Fitzwilliam at Pemberley this very minute instead of sitting here alone now.

The mantle clock ticked over the silence. She sighed and folded the newspaper before her. At least there'd been no further mention of the conspiracy.

She sipped her tea, reflecting on the past two months in London. Her days had generally been pleasant—as pleasant as they could be without Fitzwilliam. Dr. Scott had a brilliant mind, and Elizabeth enjoyed working with him. In their mornings together, they had amassed a mound of dictated pages on everything from eye infections to brain injuries. And good as his word, the doctor had expedited her through VAD training.

Working at St. Dunstan's in the afternoons, she'd seen firsthand the innovative methods used to teach blind men. It was immensely gratifying to watch a soldier's hope return as he acquired skills that would enable him to live a productive life even without his sight.

Setting her cup on the saucer, her eyes circled the elegant dining room. The room felt like Fitzwilliam—fine, yet tasteful and comfortable.

Her gaze landed on the empty chair at the head of the table. As she pictured Fitzwilliam sitting there, yearning overwhelmed her and tears pooled in her eyes. Without a second thought, she pushed to her feet and hastened towards the stairs. Once in her room, she snatched her carpetbag from the bottom of the wardrobe and retrieved the dog-eared envelope and photograph from their hiding place behind a tear in the bag's lining. Blinking through her tears, she stared at the picture of him standing beside her with his beaming smile. How she missed him! She dabbed her tears, then unfolded the letter for the hundredth time and read the tight, even script of the letter Fitzwilliam had given her at the dock in Boulogne.

My dearest Elizabeth,

From the earliest moments of our acquaintance, I found myself enchanted by you—your fine eyes, wit, and sensitivity. Never had I met a woman who not only had an astute mind for business, but was also charming and well read. Your gentle care for Monsieur Dubois and the patients at The Ritz was further testament to your character.

These past few days have been the fondest of my life, and I shall never forget our afternoon in the peach orchard, sitting on the veranda of the Ritz watching the fireworks, and our stroll along the seaside in Boulogne. I can only now treasure those memories and try to wait patiently until I may join you at Pemberley for ten glorious days together.

Counting the hours, I am forever yours,

Fitzwilliam

Looking at the photograph again, heaving sobs overtook her. He was at Pemberley while she was at his home in London. The situation could hardly be any more ironic. Was it a sign? In her haste to depart, could she have overlooked something? If there were any way they could be together....

Drying her tears and then pushing her arms into her coat sleeves, her mind whirred, re-examining the case against her. Before she even stepped out the door onto Grosvenor Square, her mind was ticking off incriminating evidence that could be held against her and the ways Fitzwilliam might also be implicated.

Blankets and boots had gone missing at The Ritz while she had been responsible for inventorying them. They would think she had supplied the enemy.

She had taken long walks every morning. No one really knew where she went—except Fitzwilliam and Sapper. Certainly that could be construed as suspicious.

She'd ridden to the home of Meneer Bongaerts twice a week for months, and he was now a known German sympathiser.

She'd remained at The Ritz after it had been evacuated, and then spent two nights alone with Fitzwilliam. That would not bode well for her reputation.

And then the man at the passport office in Boulogne—he seemed to think she was going to Liverpool. But why? Was there more to his comment than a simple mistake?

Lydia.... If word got out that her sister had married a German officer, that in itself would be enough to seal her fate.

And the Belgian officers who had questioned her about a suspicious gift of hairpins from Lieutenant Wickham. What was that all about? Clearly during her time at The Ritz things had been happening around her of which she was unaware. Were there other incidents as well? If caught, she would be tried and accused of—well, who knows what else could be held against her! And if any newspaper even hinted that Elizabeth Bennet had been colluding with the enemy, both she and Fitzwilliam would be blacklisted.

Her mind wrestled, searching for ways to avert a scandal. Passing Selfridge's Department Store, her head snapped back to a familiar face on a poster being hung in the window by a young man:

Cowart was no Coward.
Don't you be either.
Serve your country now!


Underneath the headline was a sketch of the cad—in a British uniform! She forced her dumfounded mouth closed.

“It has a ring to it, don't you think, miss? A brave chap too.” The boy stood back to admire his work, shifting from one foot to the other in the December chill. “When I'm old enough to join, I won't be no coward either.”

“What did he do?” Elizabeth could hardly keep from chuckling. Dr. Cowart was a native Frenchman and he certainly wasn't brave!

“You didn't see the story?” He pulled a folded newsprint from his back pocket and pointed to the article.

Clearing Station Surgeon Touted A Hero

The British War Department has chosen to feature celebrated surgeon Dr. Ernest Cowart in their latest campaign to encourage valour among Britain's troops. Educated in Edinburgh, Dr. Cowart served at a clearing hospital in Belgium where he was stabbed apprehending a spy and was later shot foiling a plot to steal Allies' horses. But his final heroic deed came when he refused the evacuation order of a front line dressing station, maintaining that he would not shirk his medical duties even in the face of heavy fire. When he finally fled, a sniper's bullet ended the life of the fearless hero. “Cowart was no coward.” The War Office is distributing posters hoping the catchy phrase and valiant deeds of the surgeon will encourage the same patriotic pluck among Tommies.


Elizabeth's heart sank. Any inkling of hope she'd had of reuniting with Fitzwilliam had just been snuffed out. With Dr. Cowart now proclaimed a hero, if he'd breathed a word of his suspicions to the authorities about her, it was as good as tightening the noose around her neck. And judging by the newspaper article she'd read at Pemberley, he wasn't the only one convinced of her guilt.

It was an impossible situation. She was being accused of a crime for which she could never be absolved.

~~~*~~~

Four days later Dr. Scott returned from holiday all smiles. He'd had a lovely Christmas in spite of an argument between Fitzwilliam's Aunt Catherine and Great Aunt Eliza that had marred the Christmas dinner.

The first dreary weeks of the new year passed quickly for Elizabeth. Dr. Scott had been transferred to a convalescent hospital in London, but Elizabeth continued her mornings with him and her afternoons at St. Dunstan's. Many of the doctor's afternoons were spent consulting at local hospitals, advising on patients with complex head wounds.

Elizabeth tried not to think about Fitzwilliam, in spite of the fact that she was living in his house. In a few months she would hopefully be crossing the Channel as Juliet Thomas and could put her past behind her.

One morning Elizabeth arrived for her session with the doctor and found him brimming with excitement. “I have news,” he announced. “Now that my leg has healed and I'm able to walk without a cane, the medical corps is transferring me to a convalescent hospital some twenty miles from here.”

“If your leg is healed, why are they sending you to another convalescent hospital?”

He chuckled. “I'm being sent as a doctor, not as a patient. The corps wants to convert it from a convalescent hospital to a military one specialising in complex head cases. They want me to oversee the conversion.”

“What of publishing your research?”

“They still want me to publish my work, but that doesn't require tying up a hospital bed. I'll have a proper office there, and I can become acquainted with the facility while finishing the manuscript. But you know how I've come to rely on you, Miss Thomas. Could I persuade you to join me there? Your accommodations would again be provided, and we should be finished about the time you're eligible for foreign service.”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I hate to leave the patients at St. Dunstan's, although I did promise to see you through in publishing your research.”

“Excellent! It's an outstanding facility in the fresh air of the countryside.”

Elizabeth chuckled. “I suppose it's settled then. What's the name of the hospital?”

“Hartfield. In Highbury. It was founded by Captain Darcy's cousins, the Knightleys. They live not a half-mile away at Donwell Abbey.”

Elizabeth swallowed hard and pasted on a smile. She'd just jumped from one fire into another.
##

Thank you for reading! Comment welcome, encouragement appreciated ; )
SubjectAuthorPosted

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

GingerNovember 16, 2016 04:00AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

meldaNovember 17, 2016 01:58AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

LynetteNovember 16, 2016 06:51PM

Speaking of small world....

GingerNovember 16, 2016 07:39PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

Lucy J.November 16, 2016 06:14AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

CleobNovember 16, 2016 04:31PM

Thank you so much! (nfm)

GingerNovember 16, 2016 04:50PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 11-13

EvelynJeanNovember 16, 2016 05:02AM



Author:

Your Email:


Subject:


Spam prevention:
Please, solve the mathematical question and enter the answer in the input field below. This is for blocking bots that try to post this form automatically.
Question: how much is 13 plus 12?
Message: