February 23, 2023 10:47AM
Chapter 12

Elizabeth tried to go back to sleep, however as she had slept the entire afternoon, she was no longer sleepy. Her body ached, she felt weary, and her head hurt too much to fall into any fitful sleep.

The maid had left, and though Lizzy had closed her eyes, she only lightly dozed.

Darcy, who had the guest room next to Lizzy’s, was reading a book in his room. He heard a thud come from the room that was next to his, so he took his candle and went into the hall to investigate.

He knocked on Lizzy’s door. “Miss Elizabeth, are you alright?”

There was some kind of muffled moan. “Miss Elizabeth? This is Mr Darcy. I’m concerned after I heard a thud, can you confirm if you don't want me to enter to check?”

No response.

“Miss Elizabeth, I’m coming in,” he said before entering. He raised the candle to see in the dark room. Miss Elizabeth was not in her bed. He walked around to find her lying next to the bed in a heap on the floor. He put the candle on a table then rushed with alarm to her side. “Elizabeth!”

He gently lifted her head and her eyes flickered. “Mr Darcy?” she said with some confusion.

He picked her up and gently laid her back in her bed. “How did you end up on the floor?”

Elizabeth had fully come to. With a sheepish smile that Darcy could just make out in the candle light she spoke. “I could not sleep due to my headache and my afternoon nap. I had thought I could take a few steps to look out the window. Apparently not. I think my head spun as soon as I tried to stand and I must have fainted. Who would think that this morning I walked a couple of miles and I now can’t take a single step?”

“How did you actually fare this morning?”

“I think I stumbled more than I walked. I must have fallen half a dozen times.”

“You nearly made it all the way to the road. I believe you were hardly half a mile away from it when we found you.” Darcy looked towards the door. “I trust you won't try wandering around the room anymore tonight, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I can see how that turned out for me. No, I won't try it again.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with before I go? I don't want to compromise you more than what I have already done.”

“You would only compromise me if someone came in or you told someone. The maid will only come if I ring the bell,” said Lizzy.
“I am too awake to sleep, not for a while.”

“Would you like me to keep you company?” asked Darcy. He knew he should leave for the sake of propriety, however, he was unable to pull himself away. What she had said about the chances of anyone knowing made sense, and if the rumour did spread, he had no problem marrying her, especially as he intended to make her his wife anyhow. Temptation won.

“Only if you want to. I do not want to keep you from doing whatever it is you need to do. But I’d appreciate the distraction so I don't keep focusing on the pain in my head. ”

“I was only reading a book. It will still be there tomorrow. I'm happy to stay as long as you would like.”

A small smile from Lizzy. “Thank you.”

“Did the doctor offer you anything for your pain?”

“A tea, but not laudanum. Apparently, he does not think it would be safe for me to take because of the blood loss I suffered.”

They were silent for a few moments, both trying to think of what to say next, especially after all that had occurred. Darcy tried to think of a topic that would not sound trite. “I'm sorry to hear about your aunt. Having spent so much time with her in the last few weeks, it must be very difficult for you.” He realised that having not seen any of her family and being separated from her uncle, she hadn’t had the chance to grieve.

“To think that yesterday morning she was alive.” A tear fell down her face. "We sat there laughing together. And then, five minutes later, she was dead. It seems so unfair. She was the best aunt possible.” Emotions she’d held in check for the last two days came tumbling out. She sniffed. “I'm sorry Mr Darcy.”

“No, Miss Elizabeth.” He handed her a handkerchief. “These feelings are natural and you need to speak of them. I lost both my parents. I know my father didn't want to speak of losing my mother because it hurt him so much. When I lost my father, my Aunt Eleanor and Richard were there for me. I'd be more worried if you had no feelings about it at all. Tell me about her.”

So Elizabeth spilt out everything that was wonderful about her aunt, how unfair it was that she had been taken away from them, what a wonderful mother she was, until there were no more tears left and nothing else left to say.

Darcy patiently sat there and listened and realised what a wonderful influence this woman had been in her and the elder Miss Bennet’s lives, explaining the calm sense and poise of the eldest two Bennet daughters. “She must have been very important to you. I wish I could have met her.”

Lizzy smiled. “You would have liked her. Thank you for listening. I feel better for that, though my head does not.”

“Do you think you can sleep?”

Lizzy thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Unfortunately I am still too awake.”

“I'm happy to continue keeping you company,” said Darcy.

“I'm surprised you didn't hate me for the unjust accusations I levelled at you, especially those relating to Mr Wickham.”

“Hate you, no. I felt angry, but the longer I thought of it, the more just the accusations were. My behaviour had given you no reason to think or believe otherwise, so I could not blame you for it.” Darcy paused. “I wish to apologise to you over my behaviour to you both in Meryton and then at Rosings and it merited the severest reproof. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. The recollection of what I said then, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now and had been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied I will never forget ‘had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;- though it was some time, I can confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.”

“I was certainly very far from expecting them to make such a strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way.”

“I can easily believe it. You thought me devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way; that would induce you to accept me.“

“We will not quarrel for the greater the share of the blame annexed to that evening, “ said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility. I, for one, am most heartily ashamed of my opinions and of what I said. I, who prided myself on examining character, was blinded by prejudice to so wholly mistake your character and charmed by one not deserving of any notice.”

“What did you say of me that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill- founded, formed in mistaken premises, my behaviour could hardly induce you to think well of me. The letter I wrote, did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, in reading it, give any credit to its contents?”

“With the charges I had laid to you on Lieutenant Wickham, I immediately realised how foolish I had been. Your treatment of him was nothing less than honourable and his behaviour, to you and others, abominable. I realised how easily I had been preyed upon and used, all because he found an easy target for his story to advance himself in our society.”

She paused to collect herself when addressing the sections regarding Jane. “It was harder to read the section on Jane and it took longer to give it the justice it deserved, however, on reflection, I recalled what my friend Charlotte had said about Jane’s serene countenance. I would have provided the same advice were I in your situation. Slowly, every one of my prejudices against you were removed.“

“I knew,” said he, “that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading it again. I can remember some of the expressions which might justly make you hate me. When I wrote that letter I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit.”

“The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. Both our feelings are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending to it, ought to be forgotten. Especially in light of the assistance you have rendered.”

“With respect to the letter, I have to inform you that Sir Riley discovered it in your luggage. He handed it to my aunt who handed it to me.”

“Oh dear, did they read it?”

“Sir Riley has said he only read so far as to discover your name, but as he had seen my signature on the bottom, he gave it to my Aunt. My Aunt, however, curious to know the status of our relationship, has read it. She insisted on it being destroyed due to the damaging information on my sister. She has handed it back to me.”

“Oh my. Your aunt came to pay me a short visit after the doctor left and she said not a word of it to me! I never thought it would be read again by anyone other than me; that was why I brought it with me to ensure it was not discovered at Longbourn. I never thought it would be discovered due to an accident. Yes, of course, please destroy it. I do not want any harm coming to your sister from it.”

“I'll destroy it when I return to my room. With regard to Mr Bingley, I hope it gives you comfort that he knows all, admittedly it was from your letter we discovered. He intends to return to Netherfield after the arrival of your father. I suppose he awaits to see if your sister accompanies your father.”

Elizabeth nodded. “I'm certain my father will bring one of my sisters, but it won't be Jane. He will need her to take charge at Longbourn.”

“I thought I had said that now was not the time to speak of my failed proposal- that it would be best for you to heal first,” said he with a smile.

“When would we get a better uninterrupted time than this? I feel greatly relieved to offer my own apology for my failings. I feel a burden has been lifted off me, and I have enough burdens at this time. I must admit, as I was walking, nay, stumbling, this morning, my mind kept going back to my acquaintance with you. My poor judgement was my biggest and only regret.”

“I have a few regrets. My dealings with Wickham and my treatment of you. At least with respect to you, I feel a burden has also been lifted, Miss Elizabeth.

Lizzy laughed. “Do you feel a little foolish for being so formal as you are here alone with me at night in my room?”

Darcy laughed softly. “When you put it that way, yes, somewhat foolish, Elizabeth. I'll admit this is not how I imagined it would be.” He then blushed at how inappropriate that was, implying where his fantasies had taken him. The hour was much later than he realised and his tiredness must now be affecting his reason.

Lizzy would have blushed if she had been physically able to, but her heart rate did quicken. “I would have us be friends, Mr Darcy.”

“I would like that too. I think I have probably compromised you enough today.” He stood and made towards the door. “Though I have no problem marrying you were tonight to be discovered, I would not want you to be forced into any marriage unwillingly.”

“Thank you, Mr Darcy, for your consideration, and for your help tonight. And today. There is one more favour I would ask of you.”

“What is that, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Could you help me to visit my uncle tomorrow morning? I would see him. If you don't, you know that I am stubborn enough that I will try to go myself.”

“Of course, Miss Elizabeth, I believe you to be stubborn enough and I can't have you trying to do that on your own.” He paused as he opened the door. “Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Mr Darcy.”

He opened the door just enough to check the hallway was clear before leaving her room and closing the door behind him. For the first time since his disastrous proposal, he felt hope. She clearly did not hate him, and she seemed grateful for his presence and assistance and even welcoming of more. He knew that he should not have stayed.If he’d been caught, she would have been considered compromised, even in her injured state. But he could not regret it. He could see a future again where they would be together.

It felt strange to Lizzy how she missed his presence now that he was gone. She knew she should not have encouraged his behaving beyond the bounds of propriety, especially as she knew the affect she had on him. Yet she could not regret it. She was surprised how comfortable she felt in opening up to him, someone whom she'd had such an avowed dislike for. Was it only because he happened to be here in her weakened state? She thought whether she would have done the same if it were Mr Bingley or the Colonel here instead, and she could not picture it. It must be because of the letter and all he had shared. That letter had given her a picture of his real character and opened up a bond that could only be shared between the two of them. There was something about him that inspired her respect that she could not put a finger on. And she could not help liking the way he said her name.

She wished she could talk this over with her aunt, before realising she'd never be able to do so again. She cried herself to sleep.

Action Lizzy and the Four Thieves Chapter 12

Anne VFebruary 23, 2023 10:47AM

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