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Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

November 28, 2016 05:12PM
Chapter 20

Five days later

Elizabeth refilled Fitzwilliam's water pitcher and returned it to his bedside table. Her gaze fell on her beloved sitting up and fingering his braille pocket watch. Her heart cinched at the poignant scene.

The past several days had been a rocky succession of ups and downs. Each day brought new frustrations as he was awake for longer stretches. His cracked ribs made movement painful, and simple things like balance proved to be a challenge without sight. But in spite of his struggle to accept his condition, he'd overcome some small obstacles. The blind founder of St. Dunstan's had visited with encouraging words and had given him the braille watch, sparking him with a tiny ray of hope. He'd exerted the effort to allow the orderlies to escort him to the bathroom, he'd dictated a letter to Georgiana, and yesterday he'd asked to be taught how to eat.

Fitzwilliam's nose twitched. “Is that breakfast I smell?”

Elizabeth angled her head towards the door, listening as she sniffed. It is, she tapped.

A VAD delivered the breakfast tray, and Elizabeth set it across his lap. Eat by yourself?

“I'll give it a go, but I make no promises.” He felt for the corner of the tray, then crawled his fingers to the edge of the plate. Locating his napkin, he spread it across his chest.

Well done! she tapped while perching on the chair beside him. Boiled egg 12:00, bacon 2:00-6:00, toast 9:00, orange sections on right. Feel for heat.

He hovered a tentative hand over the food, then located the plate and touched each item. “You won't laugh if I make a muck of it?”

Of course not. Proud you're trying. Elizabeth squeezed his arm in affirmation as he lifted the egg.

An unfamiliar deep voice approached the room alongside Dr. Scott. “...and you've done a fine job with the hospital's conversion, Scott.”

Elizabeth rose to her feet just as a dignified colonel a few years older than Fitzwilliam appeared in the doorway with Dr. Scott.

“Thank you, Colonel. And this is the Red—.” Dr. Scott stopped short. “Ah, Miss Thomas, I see our patient is feeding himself. Excellent. Colonel Brandon, this is Miss Thomas, the VAD I was telling you about. Miss Thomas, meet Colonel Brandon, our new commanding officer.”

“It's a pleasure, sir.” She nodded as the two men approached her.

“Your reputation precedes you.” The stately colonel's smooth voice flowed like deep water. “Thank you for your service. This must be Captain Darcy.” He stopped at the bedside, his calm, methodical manner portending he would prove to be an excellent surgeon and administrator.

“Is that you, Scott?” Darcy picked up an orange section.

Dr. Scott grasped Fitzwilliam's shoulder in affirmation.

“If you've come for the show, you must promise not to laugh.” Darcy popped the fruit into his mouth.

The doctor cuffed his shoulder and turned to Elizabeth. “Tell him I've brought the hospital's new commanding officer.”

Elizabeth made the introduction.

Darcy choked and swallowed. “Forgive my disrespect, sir.”

The colonel patted his shoulder. “At ease. And finish your breakfast.”

Elizabeth relayed the message while the colonel addressed Scott. “His deaf-blind condition poses quite a challenge in communicating.”

“Indeed. It would be nearly impossible without Miss Thomas interpreting.”

Dr. Scott turned back to her. “How is he today? No headache?”

She straightened her glasses. “He's well. And no headache. He slept seven hours at a stretch last night.”

“Excellent. And he seems to be in good spirits.” Dr. Scott peered closer, eyeing his patient. “He's still sporting a nasty black eye, but there's a significant reduction in facial swelling and his cuts have healed. Still no detection of sound?” He eyed her over his shoulder.

“No, sir.”

The doctor straightened with a sigh. “His deafness concerns me, Colonel. If it's solely attributable to ruptured eardrums, he should be able to hear something by now. I can find no other medical cause for hearing loss. I'm beginning to suspect it could be war strain.”

“Shell shock? It's possible, considering all he's been through. In France I saw scores of men with all sorts of unexplainable symptoms. Deafness, tremors, paralysis, and a host of other neuroses. Often rest and time were all they needed. How long has Captain Darcy been here?”

“He arrived just after Easter.”

“Hmm. Not long. His condition is quite remarkable given he sustained such grievous injuries less than a fortnight ago. I expect his worst enemy now will be despondency.”

“I agree. I had in mind to push him a bit both physically and mentally. Perhaps a few minutes walking and some activities to engage his mind.”

“Did you have some particular activities in mind? The majority of pastimes used with the blind rely on hearing.”

Elizabeth stepped forward. “Flowers are blooming outside. Their smell and texture would be pleasant. And playing cards and dominoes for the blind don't require hearing. They would engage his mind while providing an enjoyable pastime and introduce him to braille.”

The colonel smiled and turned to the doctor. “The captain is indeed in good hands. I see why you value Miss Thomas so highly. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you to your patient.”

The colonel exited while Fitzwilliam wiped his mouth, taking extra care with the bristles on his chin. “I assume you are evaluating my situation. Might I be privy to your thoughts?”

Dr. Scott chuckled. “We were discussing your future. It's time to shave off that beard and take a walk.”

Elizabeth tapped the words.

“So you have my future planned for me?”

“Of course. That's the doctor's job—to stay a half step ahead.”

The message conveyed, Darcy huffed a chuckle, then winced at the stabbing in his chest.

While Elizabeth adjusted Fitzwilliam's pillows, Dr. Scott patted his shoulder in farewell. “Tell him I'll be back this afternoon.” He turned to leave but turned back. “Ah, Miss Thomas, I nearly forgot this.” The doctor pulled an envelope from his tunic pocket and held it out. “My letter of recommendation for your foreign service interview. You've done an outstanding job here. Are you sure I can't tempt you to stay on with Captain Darcy?”

I am tempted to stay—forever! Elizabeth took the envelope. “Thank you, but I have my heart set on working abroad.”

“You can't fault me for trying.” He cast her a warm smile.

“Have arrangements been made for the captain's care when I'm gone?”

“Mrs. Knightley has been after me to allow more family involvement. I see no reason why Miss Knightley and Miss Hale can't become more involved now that he's out of the woods.”

“How will Miss Hale communicate with him?”

“I'll pair her with Darcy's former batman who's a telegraphist. Dr. Knightley's sending him here to recover from a shoulder wound.”

“Is there no facility for the blind in London to look after him?”

The doctor shook his head. “Not that accommodates patients who are deaf and blind. I want the captain here, where I can look after him.” He placed a hand on the iron footboard. “Speaking of accommodation, with the captain's improvement, I think you can afford to sleep in the room there.” He pointed through the open door of the adjacent office. “You'll be close enough should he need you, and I'm sure it will be more comfortable than the chair. If you're agreeable, I'll have a bed delivered.”

“Thank you. It'll be nice to have a full night's rest.”

“You can move your things when I return this afternoon.” The doctor smiled, then made for the door and called over his shoulder. “If you change your mind about staying on, we'd be more than happy to have you.”

~~~*~~~

Just before dinner, Elizabeth stepped off the lift and shifted the vase in her hands.

“Miss Thomas, come see!” Sarah backed out of Fitzwilliam's doorway and motioned to her.

Elizabeth crossed the threshold and stopped short, tears springing to her eyes. Fitzwilliam had one hand on the doctor's shoulder and the other stretched in front of him while taking tentative steps towards his bed. The bandages circling his head were gone, his hair trimmed, and beard shaved. Although he still had a purply-green ring around his eye and a strip of plaster across his nose, he looked more like the man she fell in love with in Belgium.

“Easy does it. That's it.” Dr. Scott eased his patient back onto the bed and looked up. “Ah, Miss Thomas, come congratulate our patient on his latest success.”

Elizabeth stepped into the room.

“Is someone here? I smell something.” Fitzwilliam angled his head in her direction.

Elizabeth approached him and touched his fingers to one of the blossoms in the vase.

He fingered the white petals and inhaled, his nostrils flaring. “Gardenias?”

Elizabeth placed the vase on the bedside table, then tapped on his forearm. Yes. Chosen for lovely, lingering scent. Good to see you up!

“Yes, but I'm exhausted.” With wincing moans he repositioned himself and leaned back against the pillows, releasing his breath with a grunt.

The doctor turned to Elizabeth. “As you can see he's had quite an afternoon. Aside from the shave and haircut, he circled the room three times. Tell him the fatigue is to be expected. His body is taxed by the exertion, his wounds, and the adjustment to reliance on touch.”

Elizabeth reached for Fitzwilliam's arm but froze her hand mid-air. His eyes were closed, his breathing steady. He was already asleep.

~~~*~~~

Elizabeth tied her braid, then crossed to the light switch in her new sleeping quarters adjacent to Fitzwilliam's room. Flipping the switch off, she turned towards her bed but paused. Should she open the door between her room and Fitzwilliam's?

She glanced back at the barrier between them. It already felt somewhat scandalous to be sleeping in the room next to him, but if she left it closed, would she hear if he had another nightmare?

She walked back to the door, then cracked it and peered in at Fitzwilliam. Warm moonlight spilled over the foot of his bed casting a glow over his sleeping body. Drawn to the man she loved, she padded to his bedside, then placed a hand on the iron bedstead and gazed down at him. She would teach and encourage him all she could in her short time remaining here, but after that he would be in the care of his batman and Sarah—both untrained in working with the blind. Would they be able to encourage him without coddling? Could they reassure him that he could live a productive life without sight when they themselves had no knowledge of the blind?

Her heart swelled with ache at the thought of leaving him. Should she stay? A few taps on Fitzwilliam's arm is all it would take to reveal herself—to renew his hope and help him cope.

No. No! She squeezed her eyes shut. Revealing herself to him might bring comfort for a day or two, but as soon as she was revealed, she would be Elizabeth Bennet, the suspected spy. The ensuing drama would ruin his future—if he wasn't convicted and shot first. With the help of his family, he would get through this current trial. In the end, he was better off without her. But for now, she'd do what she could for him and love him fiercely.

Leaning down, she brushed a shock of dark hair from his brow, then kissed his forehead. Sleep well, my love.


Chapter 21

Seized with panic, Darcy swallowed his tea with a gulp. “Thornton begins tomorrow? I didn't realise he was coming so soon.”

Arrived early.

After an awkward silence she added, I'm sure he'll serve you well.

“Y-yes. He's a fine man.” Thornton was an excellent batman, but he was no nurse. He wasn't Miss Thomas.

The comfortable ease they normally shared seemed strained today. He felt as if she was staring at him.

Darcy forced himself to relax back onto his bed pillows and searched for a new topic. “Are you anxious about leaving England?”

Her hand twitched. No. Been eager for the call.

“I'll be sorry to see you go. The boys overseas will be fortunate to be under your care. Thank you—for everything.”

You're welcome.

The silence that stretched between them was loud enough even for a deaf man to hear. Darcy shifted. “Will you be buying the required overseas camp furniture while you're in London?”

Yes.

“May I suggest Crosbys? And please, put it on my account. You're welcome to store it at Darcy House as well. After all you've done for me, it's the least I can do.”

You've been more than generous in offering accommodation at your town—.

“Please, I insist.”

She made no reply. It reminded him of his strained visits to Elizabeth at the Hunsford parsonage in Kent some three years before when he had been the one ill at ease.

To fill the void, Darcy tipped his cup and swallowed the last of his tea. “How did you know I like two sugars?” He held up the teacup.

Her hand hesitated. Your sister told me.

He replaced the cup on the saucer and extended it to her, their fingers colliding when she simultaneously reached for it.

In an awkward moment of mutual awareness, she repositioned her hand and removed the offending porcelain.

Darcy cleared his throat. “You will instruct Thornton to brush my knuckles twice to signal everyone has gone?”

Yes.

“Good.”

He cast about for something else to say. “Yesterday you mentioned a way for me to identify my visitors. Will you show me?”

She squeezed his arm in affirmation then tapped, Press your palm to floor.

Reaching his hand over the side of the bed, he splayed his fingers on the plank flooring.

Now, feel the vibration.

Her fingers left his arm, and a moment later he detected light, evenly-spaced tremors.

Her fingers returned. Those are my footsteps. Each person's gait feels different in cadence and intensity of vibration.

He smiled and arched his brows. “This could be an amusing game until I have everyone sorted out.”

Indeed. Little project to occupy your time and provide a mental challenge.

“Thank—.”

Her hand snatched his, pressing it back on the floor.

The floorboards flexed in a clipped pattern, increasing in intensity. Then the rhythm stopped. Dr. Scott's familiar hand gripped his shoulder.

“Ah, Scott's gait.”

Miss Thomas squeezed his forearm. The awkward spell between them was broken.

In the ensuing moments, Darcy assumed Miss Thomas was informing the doctor of their little game. He returned his palm to the floor, concentrating. There was a barely-perceptible shift in the floorboards. Had Scott or Miss Thomas shifted? A moment later tiny vibrations quivered his hand —someone moving closer— then the familiar feminine fingers touched his arm. He was catching on.

It was unfortunate Miss Thomas would be leaving. She was an exceptional nurse. And he liked her.


Chapter 22

Elizabeth dropped her pen on the office desk and sighed. Would tomorrow ever come? In the morning she would finally be travelling to London for her VAD interview—her first step away from Fitzwilliam.

She set her wire-rimmed glasses aside and pinched the bridge of her nose. But here, now, knowing that the man she loved was in the room below made it impossible to keep her mind on the editing in front of her.

Yesterday Private Thornton had arrived to take her place as the primary communicator to Fitzwilliam. Standing as tall as Fitzwilliam with the same dark hair and same reserved manner, Mr. Thornton could have been Fitzwilliam's brother.

Although Thornton's telegraphy skills were outstanding, his left arm was suspended in a sling. But Elizabeth's doubts about the new arrangement that paired flawless lady Margaret with a lowly private were easily dispelled. While Elizabeth was working with Mr. Thornton yesterday, Margaret seemed to find numerous excuses to visit the room. Although both remained professional, the attraction between them was palpable. And when he grazed her fingers reaching for a plate of scones, their eyes met for an extended moment, and the smile that spread across his face communicated more than gratitude for tea. Margaret tried to appear unaffected, but Elizabeth was all too familiar with that giddy sense of elation sparked by a simple touch—the same thing had happened to her with Fitzwilliam a few days before. Could Mr. Thornton be Margaret's lost love?

A door slamming in the distance returned Elizabeth to the present. Perhaps she should check on them—just for a moment—to see how Fitzwilliam was getting on. She pushed to her feet, but then sank back into the chair. No, he was now officially in the care of Margaret and Thornton, a capable team.

Elizabeth returned her attention to the manuscript but was unable to concentrate. Perhaps she needed a break. A cup of tea would be nice. And she'd left a book in Fitzwilliam's room. It wouldn't hurt if she stopped by to retrieve it on her way downstairs, would it?

Without a second thought, she pushed to her feet and skipped down the steps. A moment later groans from the Red Room drifted down the hallway. She hastened her steps and peeked in. Fitzwilliam's legs shifted restlessly under the rumpled bedclothes. He swallowed hard. Then swallowed again. “Going to be sick!” he called out.

Thornton's eyes grew wide, and he scrambled, looking side to side. Elizabeth darted into the room, grabbed a towel, and held it to Fitzwilliam's mouth just as he rolled onto his side and gagged.

Elizabeth riveted her eyes on the private. “Quick! Grab the basin from the desk!”

Thornton clambered for the bowl and handed it to her just in time for the captain to empty the contents of his stomach into it.

She pressed the towel into his hand, and he wiped his mouth. Clutching his ribs with a moan, he relaxed back into the pillows. “Thank you.”

Placing the basin on the bedside table, Elizabeth squeezed his shoulder then smoothed a damp lock from his forehead.

Thornton sighed. “My thanks as well. Miss Hale's gone for the doctor. I'm afraid I'm not much use as a nurse.”

Elizabeth turned to the private. “Has he been like this all day?”

“I'm afraid so. He had a difficult night and woke this morning with a blistering headache. Dr. Scott said he's had one before but not like this.”

Minutes later Margaret returned with the doctor, and Elizabeth reluctantly took her leave. But the cup of tea did little to aid her concentration on the edits. Her mind kept drifting to images of Fitzwilliam writhing in the bed. Why was she worrying? His family would look after him. He would be all right.

Wouldn't he?


Chapter 23

Four days later

Darcy turned his head and sniffed the lavender sachet pinned to his pillow. Closing his eyes, the scent transported him back to the veranda of The Ritz. There, in the summer twilight with the booms and thuds of war rumbling in the distance, he'd held Elizabeth in his arms and swayed to the tune of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Yearning squeezed his heart. If only he could speak to her! Tell her she could be safe with him. Then he could hold her like that again.

He inhaled the lavender once more. Sarah had brought the sachet two days before to provide olfactory stimulation and alleviate the nausea accompanying his relentless headache, but he'd kept it pinned to his pillow because it reminded him of Elizabeth.

As did Miss Thomas.

His eyes popped open and he recoiled, taken aback at the thought. But it was true. Each time Miss Thomas tapped on his arm or put the hospital straw to his lips—and especially when she'd drawn him to herself after that first nightmare—he'd pictured her as Elizabeth. But what if the VAD was a homely, middle-aged spinster? Would he be wishing she was here now?

He shook off the thought. It would be wise to affix a realistic image of her in his mind. Would it be untoward to ask Thornton to describe her? Margaret had just gone for his luncheon tray. If he wanted to know about Miss Thomas, now would be an ideal time to ask. He cleared his throat. “Thornton, would you, ah, describe Miss Thomas to me?”

The heel of his batman's large hand touched down on his forearm, but a long moment passed before tapping began. Somewhat favours Miss Knightley. Dark hair....

In the ensuing pause Darcy pictured his cousin's petite frame, smiling face, and wavy brown hair. Just like Elizabeth. He swallowed hard. “Anything else?”

Attractive. Green eyes...

Darcy's heart pounded.

Gold-rimmed glasses....

The image of Elizabeth disappeared as fast as his heart plummeted. He expelled the air in his lungs and conjured a likeness of Sarah, overlaid it with spectacles, and affixed it to Miss Thomas.

But what did it matter what Miss Thomas looked like? She was no longer his aide.

And she wasn't Elizabeth.

~~~*~~~

That afternoon Darcy bumped over the garden flagstones in his wheelchair. He raised his chin to the May sunshine that warmed his face, but it only reminded him that he was trapped in a dark and silent world.

He should have refused the outing and stayed in bed this afternoon. Trying to learn to shave himself this morning had only resulted in a foul mood, an exhausted body, and numerous nicks on his chin. But Sarah had insisted he don his uniform for their outdoor venture of fresh air while she read him his letters.

A whisper of breeze skimmed his nicked jaw. Wind. Would he ever hear it again? Light. Would he ever see it again?

The wheelchair slowed, then veered to the left and backed up. His hand grazed the cool iron of a bench arm just before his chair came to a stop. A moment later Sarah's dress brushed his leg as she settled beside him.

I have two letters, she tapped. The first from Ch _r _es Bingley.

Darcy sighed. Though he welcomed news from Bingley, communication via telegraphy was tedious—even when relayed by his batman's flawless Morse hand. But Sarah had been appointed his secretary, and he had to agree, having her privy to his private correspondence was preferable to Thornton. Unfortunately, Sarah's inexperienced fingers frequently resulted in muddled messages.

Darcy worked to concentrate on the dots and dashes tapping on the back of his hand. After what must have been half an hour or more, he deduced that Charles was travelling from one end of the country to the other demonstrating medical equipment, Jane was well, their baby was expected in June, and they hoped to visit at the end of the week.

The chap could have communicated the same message in half the words. Georgiana's letters were verbose as well. He'd have to write them and request they condense the conte—. He rolled his eyes. He couldn't write a letter, he couldn't see! Even if he dictated to Sarah, what would he say? “Sarah is a poor telegraphist. Please make your letters more concise?” He huffed under his breath. Miss Thomas would understand his predicament. She would know how to pen tactful requests.

A mild headache was forming, and he was tired from having to decipher the combinations of dots and dashes.

The other le_ter is from a Mr. Holloway.

A surge of adrenaline snapped him to attention. Finally, a letter from the private investigator he'd hired to search for Elizabeth. Had he found her?

Stockport Stationmaster said agitated wom_n of her description asked about ticket to Liverpool and seemed anxious to get there. Next morning left on 11:00 trai_. No trace of her in Liverpool or evidence she boarded steamer.

No! An avalanche of grief ploughed into him. It was her. It was Elizabeth's body that had washed ashore in Liverpool. She was gone. The love of his life was gone. It was over. Forever.

The finality forced a lump into his throat and tears into his eyes. “Please take me to my room. I'm not feeling well. I'd like some morphine and to rest—alone.”

The next several days passed in a blur. Each time he awoke, Elizabeth came to mind, pounding him with a fresh wave of regret and grief. His tortured mind circled, wondering what had happened to her. Had she suffered, been brutally murdered? Drowned?

The balm and solace of morphine became his only escape from the dual torture of sorrow and a relentless headache—a sure sign there was something wrong in his brain. Killing him. Let it finish its work and give him peace. Nothing mattered anymore.

Elizabeth was gone.
##

Ah! Any guesses what will happen next?
SubjectAuthorPosted

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

GingerNovember 28, 2016 05:12PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

EvelynJeanNovember 29, 2016 05:13AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

GingerNovember 29, 2016 05:49AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

Sabine C.November 29, 2016 04:49PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

GwenNovember 29, 2016 04:51AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

Lucy J.November 29, 2016 04:16AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

GSinghNovember 29, 2016 03:24AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

CleobNovember 28, 2016 09:09PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 20-23

RoxeyNovember 28, 2016 08:53PM



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