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 29-31

December 08, 2016 05:05AM
Chapter 29

The walls shook with the slamming door. Elizabeth clenched her fists and stomped into the room. He was so stubborn! If he thought she would let him get away with this childish, arrogant behaviour, he had another think coming. She would insist the mess stay on the floor until he cleaned it up—even if it had to sit for three days!

Three days.... In three days she would be on her way to Egypt. And Fitzwilliam would be in London. Alone.

With no one.

Her shoulders slumped. ...I intend to help you want to. Her words to him suggested she'd committed to stay by his side and use her training to give him a future and hope.

Could she really leave him in this condition? Her feet padded back to the door. She turned the knob and peered in at him. Her eyes riveted on his fingers gripping a sliver of glass poised above his outstretched neck. Panic seized her, and she flew across the room and snatched the glass from his hand. Her breaths came in great gulping gasps. He was going to kill himself. Fitzwilliam was going to KILL himself!

She squeezed his hand and caressed his face, then took his hand in hers again. His despondency was far more grave than they realised.

Her decision was made. She would stay. And if her identity was revealed, so be it. She was willing to risk the gamble—even if it cost her life and his future. But what should she do—or say—right now? Dr Scott! She sprang from the bedside and rang for a footman.

Crossing back to his bed, her foot skidded. She looked down. Smeared carrots trailed behind her. Tears filled her eyes and a bubble of laughter rose in her throat. The mess now seemed insignificant. A sob burst forth on a wave of sympathy. He'd thrown the food not as an expression of obstinate anger but of frustration and pain. Deep pain.

She returned to Fitzwilliam lying limp in the bed, defeat etched on his face. She brushed her hand across his cheek then tapped, Your life has value. I won't leave you. I will care for you.

“You rang, ma'am?”

She turned to the liveried footman at the door. “Summon Dr. Scott—immediately!”

“This just arrived for the captain.” He thrust a letter into her hand, then dashed away.

It was from Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Her shaking fingers slit the envelope open. If it contained anything dispiriting, she wouldn't read it to Fitzwilliam. His condition was too fragile to endure discouraging news.

Her eyes darted across the colonel's words, and her tears fell again.

Darcy,

Cousin Anne told me of your despair. Hang on, my friend, and be patient.

Just recently I was recalling how your trials in Belgium seemed insurmountable for a time, but through them, you found Elizabeth. Don't lose heart. Providence saw you through it, and He will again, even if I have to work by your side to help run that estate of yours.

You're a strong man and many depend on you—including me. You know I couldn't endure Easter at Aunt Catherine's without you.

Give yourself a chance, Darcy. Better days are yet to come. As soon as I'm granted leave, I assure you Donwell will be my first stop.

My prayers are with you,

~Richard

Bless Colonel Fitzwilliam!

Elizabeth took her beloved's hand. Letter from Col F. Read it?

His chin dipped in a barely-perceptible nod.

She tapped the words on his arm, glancing now and again at his face. By the time she finished, his pinched lips and misty eyes told her he was deeply moved by his cousin's words.

She refolded the letter and placed it in his hand. Your cousin's a true friend. He and many others care deeply for you. She squeezed his arm.

“Miss Thomas! What is it?” Dr. Scott strode to the bedside and gripped Darcy's shoulder, his eyes surveying his patient.

“He—!”

“Might I be alone for a bit?” Fitzwilliam sniffed and tightened his fingers around the letter, crinkling it in his hand.

The doctor's head snapped to Elizabeth, his brows slashing downward in confusion.

Elizabeth expelled a heavy breath. “Perhaps we should give him a few minutes.”

“All right.” His tone betrayed his bewilderment.

We'll be in next room. Squeezing Fitzwilliam's hand, she rose.

As they crossed to the adjacent room, Dr. Scott warily glanced at the food strewn across the floor.

With an eye on Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth relayed the details of the food incident, their argument, and then the scare with the glass. “But the footman brought an encouraging letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam. It seemed to help. I'd just finished reading it when you arrived.”

The doctor released a heavy breath. “His situation is grave indeed. If only I could do something to restore his sight....”

“I've decided to stay—just until other arrangements can be made or his hearing returns.”

The physician's eyes flicked to her. “Are you sure?”

“I just can't leave him like this. The thought of him in London, all alone....”

“Well,” he chuckled, “I'm delighted, to say the least.”

“Ma'am?” A voice drifted in from the other room.

Elizabeth peeked around the corner. The footman standing at Fitzwilliam's door extended a silver tray in her direction. “A telegram—for the captain.”

Elizabeth held the servant's gaze a moment before crossing the room and reaching for the envelope. Please, not bad news. “Thank you.” She nodded in dismissal, then braced herself and unfolded the missive.

Body in Liverpool identified. Not your Elizabeth.

Chapter 30

That night

Body in Liverpool identified. Not your Elizabeth. The words of the telegram echoed through Darcy's mind for the hundredth time. Elizabeth wasn't dead.

Darcy rolled onto his side and reached for the lavender sachet on the bedside table. Bringing it to his nose he inhaled, then slumped back on the pillows. It had been the most exhausting day of his life. His heart was still bleeding from the hole left by Elizabeth, but the telegram, the letter from Richard, and the words of Scott had injected him with a spark of hope.

If Miss Thomas hadn't intervened with the glass, he wouldn't have been alive to hear the news. And neither would he be walking with Elizabeth in eternity. She wasn't dead! His chest constricted with joyous regret. She would always be a part of him, but Scott was right, he had to find a way to let her go. Georgiana needed a brother, and Pemberley needed a master—even if he was blind.

Darcy chuckled. How ironic that the stable boy whom he'd educated was now giving him words of life, hope, and wisdom. He replayed Scott's encouraging words: Headaches seem to coincide with stress and nightmares...common for head injuries...not fatal.... You're a brooder. Left with your own thoughts, you'll think negatively.... Learn to ward off the demons of negative thinking. Your sister needs you, your tenants need you, Pemberley needs you, England needs you.... It's what Miss Bennet would want for you.

Darcy sighed. If the situation were reversed, would he want Elizabeth to persevere through hardship and grief to fight for her life? Of course! Even if she were reduced to a blind spinster.

In spite of his grief, he would battle the demons in his mind and press on.

For her.

~~~*~~~

….A shell ruptured on his right and another on his left, sending two bodies and chalky mud catapulting into the air. “Steady on!” he called through a haze of smoke.

He ducked as a shot whizzed past his ear but forced himself to continue across the Somme into the firestorm. Dum spiro spero. Dum spiro spero—while I breathe, I hope.

Machine gun fire swept over them again. He glanced over his shoulder; Tipper dropped. Turning back, Boom! He was falling. Down, down, down inside an endless dark chimney. With chunks of bricks and mortar pummelling him, he flailed his arms to slow his decent. “Tipper!” No sound emerged. “TIPPER!”

A gentle force caught him up, sweeping him onto ethereal clouds. Elizabeth! With one arm she held him, the other stroked his hair. He relaxed, but she began fading away. “Don't go! Stay with me!” He reached out and clung to her.

Darcy jolted awake, breathing hard. “Miss Thomas.” He released his grip on her. “Forgive me. I thought you were....” He swallowed hard as she lowered him down.

Just a dream. But I will stay with you.

He relaxed into the sheets and closed his eyes. The vision of Elizabeth lingered in the fringes of his mind. Was it a sign? Could he let go of her and metaphorically embrace Miss Thomas, the symbol of his present and future?

All he could do was try.

For Elizabeth.

- - -

Oh, it was glorious to be held by Fitzwilliam—if only for a moment. Elizabeth gazed down at him, then brushed her thumb over his brow and whispered, “I won't go. I will stay with you, tonight and many more nights, until your hearing returns or you are settled. Don't lose hope, my love.”

The hard lines on his face soon relaxed, and his breathing slowed. Lying there he looked so peaceful—and handsome and perfect. It was hard to believe his eyes saw no light and his ears heard no sound. Dr. Scott still believed his hearing would return. But what of his vision? His world was just as dark as the day he'd arrived. And what was going on inside of that beautiful head of his that caused such terrorising nightmares? She pushed a dark lock from Fitzwilliam's forehead. Maybe in the coming days she could help him find out.

With a sigh, Elizabeth rose to her feet and pulled an upholstered chair closer to the bed. Nestling into it, her gaze settled on her beloved. She'd now committed to stay with him at Donwell. How long would it take for him to regain his hearing or a more stable frame of mind? A few weeks? A month? Two months? What if someone discovered her identity? If Colonel Fitzwilliam or Lady Catherine visited, her ruse would be up.

At least she was safe from a surprise visit from Robert. He'd been on leave just before Elizabeth arrived. But Charles or Jane could come again. Was she willing to risk being revealed? Yes. She'd almost lost Fitzwilliam to despondency. Nothing was worth that. If he remained inconsolable now that he knew Elizabeth was alive, she would reveal herself. The consequences would be ruinous for them both, but it was a worthy exchange for his life. Dum spiro spero.

She was breathing.

She had hope.

~~~*~~~

The next morning Elizabeth shifted in the bedside chair as she rose to the surface from slumber. Massaging her neck, she sat up, her gaze falling on Fitzwilliam sleeping peacefully.

A tranquil assurance flooded her and she smiled. Yes, staying with him was the right decision.

She pushed up from the chair, then retied the sash on her dressing gown and padded into the adjoining room to dress before he awoke.

A quarter of an hour later she stood before her room's mirror and clasped her garnet cross around her neck as she did every morning. As she dropped it beneath the neckline of her blue uniform, the bed creaked in the next room.

Darting to the door, she peeked in. Fitzwilliam raked a hand through his tousled hair, then made his way to the bathroom with his hand stretched before him. She bit her bottom lip. Should she make herself known? He hadn't called for her, and he looked well enough. Perhaps she would give him a few minutes to himself. Besides, she had yet to arrange her hair.

With an ear towards his room, she worked her wavy tresses into a chignon and covered it with her white kerchief cap. Crossing into Fitzwilliam's room, she stopped short just inside the threshold. Fitzwilliam stood at the window, wrapped in his dressing gown, with his brows contracted in thought and his fingers tracing the peppery stubble on his chin. His other hand held the garnet bracelet, his thumb chafing its stones.

Suddenly the clouds shifted, and sunlight flooded the room. Dropping his hand, he raised his chin and closed his eyes. Brilliant light illumined his dark lashes splayed beneath his eyes.

Love and compassion welled in her. Something had changed in him. He radiated a resolute peace instead of bitter melancholy. Her heart stretched towards him, longing to join him in the warmth of the sunlight. To slip her hand into his and assure him she would walk beside him through whatever lay ahead.

She released a resigned breath, creaking the floorboards beneath her feet.

“Miss Thomas?” His eyes popped open, breaking the ethereal moment.

She crossed to him and brushed his arm to confirm her presence.

He sighed. “Please forgive me for my despicable behaviour yesterday. Your sacrifice to remain here and lend your expertise deserves my appreciation, not my temper.”

Her heart melted. It wasn't what she'd expected him to say. Men of his rank rarely humbled themselves in such a manner.

She squeezed his arm in affirmation. I understand now it was more out of pain than anger.

A moment of silence passed.

He massaged his forehead with steepled fingers.

Headache?

“A slight one.”

Then he chuckled. “But the room's aroma of stale roast beef, glazed carrots, and gingerbread lends no consolation.”

A spark of light-heartedness! Her heart sang. I'll have it cleaned up.

“No, please.” He turned serious. “I've been reconsidering my situation. My arrogance and self-pity yesterday deserved your firm hand. I lost someone to the war, but thousands of others have as well. My grief is not a licence to burden others. I will clean it up.” His brows contracted in regret. “I may never regain my senses, but I've resolved not to be consumed by it. You and Scott have assured me I can be productive in spite of my condition. Though I don't see how, I'll trust you. Your offer to teach me is generous, and I will work hard to be a worthy pupil—for the sake of my family. And Pemberley.”

Tears welled in her eyes. She was proud that a man of such character had loved her. Proud that he was willing to persevere. And proud to be his teacher.

Resting her hand on his arm she tapped, Dr. Scott expects hearing restored. Be patient. Don't lose hope. If you lose that, you lose everything. She hesitated then added, I lost someone to war as well. I understand grief.

He laid his hand over hers. “I'm sorry for your loss.”

Their spirits fused like two notes blending in perfect harmony.

He dropped his hand, breaking the connection.

Closing her eyes, she released a tattered breath, then cast about for something to fill the void. Outing this afternoon? Looks to be lovely day.

He chuckled and expelled a relieved breath. “By all means let us open the windows and then avail ourselves of the outdoors and fresh air. The room smells more like trench filth than manor fare.”

~~~*~~~

Darcy settled back in the wheelchair as Miss Thomas ploughed him over the lawn. With the warm May sun and a whisper of stirring air, it was indeed a lovely day for a surprise outing. Where could she be taking him?

Miss Thomas. He smiled. She was certainly a god-send. She seemed to understand him in a way that neither Sarah nor Thornton did. With her, cleaning up the food this morning had been more like a game of blind man's bluff than an unpleasant chore. He'd even managed to shave and don his uniform without incident. But in spite of a nap after luncheon, he was still exhausted. Nonetheless, he would push himself, even if the demons in his mind taunted him over his blindness, and thoughts of Elizabeth stabbed at his heart.

He pushed his hand into his tunic pocket and rubbed his thumb over the rough stones of the garnet bracelet. Elizabeth was a beautiful part of his past, and the time they'd spent together at The Ritz had been some of the most memorable days of his life. But he needed to focus on the here and now. To make the best of his situation for the sake of those who depended on him. It's what Elizabeth would want for him.

The wheelchair bumped, then rumbled over a new terrain. Cobblestones. A breeze licked his cheeks, and he smiled. “You've brought me to the stables.”

The chair stopped. Her small hand landed on his shoulder. Aroma gives it away. You'll have to walk rest of way.

He pushed up from the chair and inhaled. Manure had never smelled so sweet.

She threaded his arm through hers, then proceeded four steps and stopped. Met Lawson? He's chauffeur. Looks after horses.

“How d'ya do.” Darcy nodded.

He'll show you inside.

With his hand on the groom's shoulder, he followed the man's lead, though he preferred the familiarity of Miss Thomas' arm. Would he always be forced to depend on others to escort him about?

The scent of hay and manure grew stronger. They turned, and the warmth on his face disappeared. Had they entered the stables? They moved forward eight steps, then stopped. A moment later Lawson pressed reins into his hand. An expectant thrill coursed through him. It was the first time since his injury that he felt at home, capable, and marginally in control.

He traced the leather lines upward and palmed the horse's warm velvety nose. When the animal relaxed beneath his hand, he stroked its forehead for some time, then glided his hand along its long neck. Could a deaf-blind man ride?

He trailed his hand along the horse's sleek back, its flesh firm and powerful beneath his palm. “What's his name?”

Samson, Miss Thomas' fingers spelled out on the back of his arm.

“Sam—” Darcy startled at a nudge on his leg. Turning towards the source, he bumped into Miss Thomas fluttering about at his knee.

It's a dog, came her taps from below. He's determined for your attention.

With his fingers splayed, Darcy reached down. Miss Thomas took his hand and guided it, laying it atop a furry head. His scratching was rewarded by a lick on his palm. He smiled. This was certainly preferable to a dull afternoon indoors.

He smoothed his hand over the dog's head and across its back. The dog stepped forward, its hind quarter dipping beneath his hand. “Is he limping?”

Injured leg.

A nudge by Samson recalled his attention. Straightening, he scratched the horse's neck, but the dog remained by his side, its tail thwacking his leg.

He's enamoured with you.

“Might I sit down?”

Miss Thomas led him a short distance away, then guided his hand to a crate. As Darcy lowered himself, the dog nuzzled his palm. Darcy smiled. The animal was certainly persistent. “Is he a Labrador?”

Yes. Black. Appeared two weeks ago.

“What happened to him?” Darcy rubbed the dog's ears.

Don't know. Vet says he's useless. Lawson hasn't heart to put him down.

“Put him down?”

Repairing leg would require expensive surgery and massage.

“That's unfortunate.”

Miss Thomas pressed a stick into his palm. Throw it.

Hurling it, the dog bolted from his side. A moment later the stick dropped on his feet. He threw it again, and again the dog retrieved it. After four more throws, Darcy was exhausted and left the stick on the ground. Stroking the dog, his thoughts turned to Lili, Monsieur Dubois' Yorkie. For months he'd shunned the affectionate terrier in an attempt to shield his heart from the pain of love and loss. Now, having lost Elizabeth, he would have to fight the temptation to shut himself off again.

You all right?

Darcy sighed and smiled. “Yes. Fine. I was just recalling some memories.”

Nearly teatime. We should go.

Darcy pushed to his feet and allowed Miss Thomas to lead him back to his wheelchair. As they rumbled over the cobblestones, Darcy poised his hand over the edge of the wheelchair's armrest. The dog nuzzled his hand, then trotted by his side, only abandoning him when they started across the lawn.

Darcy returned his hand to his lap and breathed in the fresh spring air. It had been a surprisingly pleasant day. Certainly a stark contrast to the despondency he'd felt yesterday. He'd come so close to ending his life!

The poor dog was oblivious that his days were numbered. So unfortunate that a smart dog with so much to give would be discarded simply because of an injury. Just like you. He startled with the realisation. He saw potential in the injured dog. Could he not see it in himself? Miss Thomas saw his potential. ...use that brilliant mind of yours and carry on as master of your estate....

“Wait.” He held up his hand. “Please...turn around. I'll help the dog. He deserves to live.”

Chapter 31

Four days later

Elizabeth spread a white cloth over the small writing desk and stood back. It wouldn't qualify as a fine dining table, but it was a decided improvement over a bed tray.

It had been four days since Fitzwilliam committed to the Labrador, and the surgery yesterday had gone well. Believing in “Dog” seemed to help him believe in himself. He'd worked hard each morning at mastering the stairs and learning to navigate outdoors with a cane. Every afternoon he was rewarded with a visit to the stables. Samson welcomed his presence, and he'd even taught the dog to sit. And although Fitzwilliam often fingered the garnet bracelet, Elizabeth could tell he was working to press through his grief and accept his condition.

“Is that breakfast I smell?”

Elizabeth turned to Fitzwilliam emerging from the bathroom. Desire sparked inside her. Goodness, he was handsome standing there with his dark hair smoothed back, angular chin cleanly shaven, and impeccable captain's uniform.

She closed the space between them, then tapped on his arm, It is breakfast. To be served at table. She led him to the desk she'd pulled out from the wall and directed his hand to its accompanying chair. He crawled his fingers along the chair's back, then pulled it out and lowered himself. After his palm probed the clothed surface, he slid the chair forward.

Well done!

“Is this the writing desk?”

She squeezed his arm, then turned to retrieve his breakfast tray.

“Well, good morning.” Dr. Scott paused at the threshold to take in the scene. “Our patient is looking smart this morning.” He crossed the room and greeted Fitzwilliam with a friendly pat, then set his medical bag on the floor.

“Scott.” Darcy acknowledged him with a nod and reached for his fork.

Elizabeth set the last of the tray's dishes on the table. “He is indeed looking smart. Good-humoured as well.”

“Excellent. I see you have him eating at a table. And I hear he's adopted a dog. I commend your initiative, Thomas. Both should aid in his recovery. I'd like to discuss some additional plans, but first, might I have a look in his ears? He can resume his meal as soon as I'm finished.”

Elizabeth conveyed the message.

Fitzwilliam turned towards the doctor. “Certainly. Especially if it will expedite my hearing.”

The doctor squeezed his patient's shoulder. “I don't know about expediting, but I suspect those eardrums are close to being healed. Let's have a look.” He retrieved his otoscope from his bag, then looked into Fitzwilliam's left ear.

“Scott, I've been meaning to ask. Is there any harm in my riding? The Knightley's gelding seems gentle enough.”

The doctor sat back. “Riding creates a lot of jostling. I don't think we want to invite headaches. It would be best to wait a few more weeks until your brain is fully healed.”

Elizabeth tapped the answer while Dr. Scott probed his other ear.

Fitzwilliam's shoulders slumped. Clearly he was disappointed with the answer.

The doctor patted Fitzwilliam's arm to signal the exam was completed. “Well, perhaps he'll be more encouraged with news of his ears. The tears in the tympanic membrane have healed. When his brain decides it's willing to listen again, his hearing should return to normal. The only exceptions being a possible slight loss of hearing, and familiar noises and voices may sound different.”

Elizabeth relayed the news.

Fitzwilliam wiped his mouth. “So when will my brain decide to listen?”

Scott sighed. “There's no way to know. Most patients with shell shock of this nature regain their faculties within a relatively short space of time. Oftentimes the catalyst that affects a cure is an obscure event such as standing in the rain or an outburst of laughter. Others find the symptoms disappear after adequate rest or they come to terms with a disturbing image or experience. We'll hope that occurrence will be sooner than later.”

Elizabeth tapped the message on Fitzwilliam's arm.

The doctor turned to Elizabeth. “Now that the captain's headaches are less frequent and he's in a more open frame of mind, I think it is time to consider a visit to St. Dunstan's. Meeting other blind soldiers while getting a taste for the skills they're mastering and the activities that entertain them will help prepare him for a life—”

“But I thought there was a chance he'd regain his sight?”

The doctor's expression turned grim. “I'm waiting to hear back from an American neurologist who specialises in this type of injury. But in my experience, if a patient hasn't had any signs of sight returning within a month of the injury, chances are he won't.”

Elizabeth felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. She was teaching Fitzwilliam braille and preparing him for life as a blind man, but until this moment, she hadn't fully accepted the reality that he would be blind for life.

“...this is why I'm especially pleased he's taken on the dog.”

Elizabeth blinked back to the present. “Yes. It gives him something outside of himself to care for that occupies both his mind and hands.”

“Don't mention any of this to him just yet. Hopefully I'll have heard back from the neurologist and the captain's hearing will return before I have to break the news to him about his sight.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“I'd also like to encourage him to resume some management of his estate. That would be in line with our goal of having him see that, even deaf and blind, he can still be productive. It will help him feel useful and take his mind off what he's lost.”

“He still has some work to do in navigating stairs and moving about. And learning braille, of course.”

“But if it can be interspersed with meaningful activities like caring for the dog and managing the estate, it will make the tedium of learning braille more tolerable.”

Elizabeth was still swimming in a daze, trying to grasp the reality of Fitzwilliam's blindness.

Dr. Scott tilted his head. “You're fond of him, aren't you?”

Elizabeth swallowed hard. “Y-yes. I am fond of him.” And growing fonder every day.

~~~*~~~

The next morning at breakfast Darcy nearly choked on his coffee as Miss Thomas tapped on his arm. “You think I'm ready to navigate the route on my own?”

Miss Thomas squeezed his arm. Like we practiced. With no extended arm or shuffling.

Her expectations were ambitious. Negotiating the hall, staircase, and garden with his arm threaded through hers was one thing. Navigating solo was another. But he would push himself—for Elizabeth. “I'll give it a go. But I make no promises.”

She squeezed his arm in affirmation.

“Are you ready now?” Darcy laid his napkin on the table.

Few minutes. Aunt E arriving.

Darcy groaned inwardly. He appreciated Aunt Eliza's accommodation and care, but her repeated recommendation of Sarah was most annoying.

The floor shimmied ever so slightly with his aunt's distinctive footsteps. “Good morning, Aunt Eliza.”

Her bony fingers patted his hand in greeting. A few minutes later, Miss Thomas' hand translated a monologue about Margaret's journey to an orphanage in France and Robert's work near the Front.

Darcy sighed. These three-way conversations were tedious. Aunt Eliza spoke her thoughts to Elizabeth while Darcy waited in silence. Then Miss Thomas relayed the message, no doubt compacted into a tactful summary.

Waiting for the next instalment of news, his mind wandered to the dog. The vet'nary was due to return the dog to the stables this afternoon. Darcy smiled. Elizabeth would have liked—.

Sarah over worst. Will return few days.

His heart dipped. It wasn't that he didn't like Sarah, he just preferred Miss Thomas. Sarah was a little like an enthusiastic puppy, full of energy and ambition, but somewhat untempered by maturity. Like Elizabeth. His lips curled to a wistful smile, recalling his first encounters with her in Meryton. She'd certainly had no reservations about speaking her mind and passing judgement on everyone and everything. But her time on the Front had matured her. He'd grown as well.

A longing for her wrenched his heart.

…Duke of Norwich coming to dinner on George's birthday. Hospital benefit concert to follow.

Darcy sensed Miss Thomas' mirth as she obediently relayed details of the upcoming elegant affair, complete with distinguished guest list, roasted pheasant, spinach soufflé, and strawberry mousse.

Playing along, he made the appropriate affirming vocalisations while pressing his lips to suppress a snigger. Miss Thomas was a good sport. Why was it that, of the hundreds of women he'd met in the past ten years, the only two who resonated with him were Miss Thomas and Elizabeth—one a commoner and the other one missing?

At last Aunt Eliza took her leave. Miss Thomas brushed his knuckles to confirm his aunt's exit, then squeezed his hand in sympathy. Without thinking he squeezed back. Blanching, he swallowed hard and retracted his hand. “Ah, shall we begin our morning lessons?” He rose to his feet, nearly knocking the chair backwards.

A mutual awareness of his intimate gesture hung between them before her fingers tentatively tapped on a safer part of his arm, I'll get cane and hat.

Darcy blew out a breath. They'd had a few other instances of unintended intimacy, but he couldn't ask for a better nurse. She seemed to have an intuitive understanding of him and his brooding nature—which more than made up for any awkwardness.

A moment later she handed him his officer's cap, and he turned his attention to his solo expedition. He took a step, and then another.... Plank floor... carpet... threshold—turn right.

With Miss Thomas just behind him, he made his way down the hall, guided by each landmark. Table... fireplace... doorway.... Nearing the stairs he paused and extended his right hand. When it met the polished railing, he inched his foot forward to the top step. Sliding his hand over the bannister, he descended the stairs with Miss Thomas hovering at his elbow.

Once outside, he lifted his chin to the warm May sunlight. So far, so good. But could he navigate the garden alone?

She pressed the cane into his hand then patted his arm.

Sweeping the cane across the uneven flagstones, he made his way down the path. His steps and taps settled into a comfortable rhythm, and he picked up his pace. Perhaps this cane-walking wasn't so difficult after all. If he could master getting about, it would provide one more reason to dismiss Aunt Eliza's marital meddling. He huffed. Did dear Auntie think her granddaughter would be content living in the Derbyshire countryside strapped to a blind man? Ridiculous. Sarah had no aspirations of becoming mistress of Pemberley or any other estate. She was likely to fall in love with a mover and shaker regardless of the chap's social position. Darcy was far too traditional for her. Besides, he loved—.

A wave of regret for all that should have been washed over him. Pressing his lips together he smacked the ground with his cane. Of all the women in England, why did the one he love—

His toe caught on an uneven stone and plunged him headlong to the ground. Gasping from the shock, he pushed up on his hands, his palms burning with abrasion. Blast it! Would he ever be proficient enough to move about without humiliating himself?

He dusted off his hands, then palmed the ground, searching for the cane. “Miss Thomas?” He paused, waiting for her touch. Nothing. “Miss Thomas!” he called louder. Had she not been beside him?

Darcy growled. He shouldn't have allowed his thoughts to become so distracted by Elizabeth.

On hands and knees, he crawled about, scrabbling for the stick. Where was that blasted cane?

At last his palm happened upon it, and he clambered to his feet. With the cane crooked over his arm, he brushed himself off and straightened his tunic.

He startled when her fingers landed on his arm.

Well done.

He took a half-step back. “Why didn't you help me?”

You needed to prove to yourself that you're fully capable on own.

Her words struck a chord of truth within him, and a comforting assurance settled over him. Maybe she was right. Maybe he could be productive and adjust to being blind—even if he didn't fully understand how.

~~~*~~~

That afternoon while Fitzwilliam lay napping in his room, Elizabeth flipped to the next page of the newspaper. Glancing over the familiar Cowart was no Coward feature, she sighed. Hadn't the country tired of the silly man? The papers had made no new mention of spies, but perhaps silence was worse than having her name emblazoned on a headline. At least then she might know the particulars of the investigation. But as it was now, she knew nothing.

The bed creaked in the adjoining room. Was Fitzwilliam awake? Abandoning the paper, she crossed to his room and peered in just in time to see him disappear into the bathroom.

She leaned against the doorframe and stared at the space he'd just vacated. Fitzwilliam now navigated his room almost as well as a sighted person. But his progress came at a price—for both of them. For him it meant hard work that taxed his stamina and resolve. For her it meant standing back and allowing him to struggle no matter how badly she was tempted to step in and help him. But his recent progress made it all worthwhile.

Being his teacher had shown her a whole different side of him. In Belgium she'd witnessed the capable captain. Now she knew him as the blind patient and student—and it only deepened her regard and affection for him. But when Sarah returned, Elizabeth would no longer have afternoons with him. A tinge of jealousy snaked down her spine. Elizabeth genuinely liked Sarah, a headstrong woman so willing to take on the world, but a certain familiarity formed between nurse and patient spending so many hours together. Didn't that explain why Fitzwilliam had squeezed her hand this morning? What if that happened with Sarah? And what if Aunt Eliza succeeded in securing Fitzwilliam for Sarah? They were a logical match.

Fitzwilliam's footsteps interrupted her thoughts.

“Miss Thomas?” he called out, fresh-faced and tidy. He crossed the room and retrieved his tunic from the back of a chair.

She reached his side as he shrugged the coat over his shoulders. Feel better?

“Indeed. And I've been thinking.” He started on the tunic's buttons. “I think I'm ready to see my sister. I'd like to invite her to join us in London while we tour St. Dunstan's.”

Excellent!

“And if I'm to get stronger, I must push myself. This afternoon I think I'd like to try walking to the stables to see the dog.”

Elizabeth smiled and squeezed his arm. Can't keep calling him Dog.

“I've been considering that as well. What about Spero, meaning I hope? Given that he and I have similar circumstances, it seems rather fitting.”

Cuffing his arm in affirmation, tears pooled in her eyes. Could she love this man any more?

##
Well, our hero appears to be through the worst of it and has come out on the other side a stronger man. Kudos to those of you who caught the foreshadowing of the dog!

As I was re-reading this, I was reminded of a book I read in my research that was all about training the blind. St. Dunstan's was a real place, and the founder really did visit every new blinded soldier and present him a braille watch. This video was a source of inspiration for several of my scenes--some still yet to come!

Thanks to those who volunteered to be on my launch team! If you would be willing to leave an honest review on Amazon when the last chapter is posted here, please email me at SperoBooks@gmail.com and include your name and country.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting! (Do you think E will stay? Will someone recognize her?)
SubjectAuthorPosted

Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

GingerDecember 08, 2016 05:05AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

Lucy J.December 09, 2016 06:22AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

ShannaGDecember 08, 2016 08:42PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

casey5k5December 08, 2016 06:34PM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

EvelynJeanDecember 08, 2016 07:33AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

AlidaDecember 08, 2016 05:49AM

Re: Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, A WW1 P&P Companion Ch 29-31

CleobDecember 08, 2016 03:09PM



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 20 plus 9?
Message: