Chapter Twenty-seven - Rejection Posted on Saturday, 1 June 2002
Angry. Distressed. Humiliated. Jonathan had never felt so miserable in his whole life. True, he was no stranger to misery, but nothing in his memory could compare to what he was presently feeling. Indeed, if this were how it felt to be in love, then he never wanted to be in love again. It was an affliction he could wish only on his greatest enemy.
It took him a great deal of composure to walk out of Pemberley's drawing room without losing the last remaining shreds of his dignity. Rejected! She rejected him! He left Abigail without another backward glance and vowed never to look at her again. Ever. He was sure he would suffer no great loss if he never laid eyes on her beauty again. Beauty? he scoffed inwardly. There are other women more stunning. He continued to walk rapidly, his boots echoing loudly down the hallway.
As he reached the main entrance to the great house, he ran into Mr. Borden, who nodded at him gravely. Jonathan nodded back, smiling faintly. The thought of someone else receiving the same treatment he had just endured comforted him a little. He derived some satisfaction in knowing that he was not the only one fated to a state of wretchedness.
"But she could never hurt him as much as she has hurt me," he muttered bitterly, after Mr. Borden was out of hearing range, "for he could never love Abigail as much as I love - no, loved her."
He continued on towards the stables, where his horse was waiting patiently. He stroked Lightning's mane, and led him outside.
"Never fall in love, my dear friend," advised Jonathan as he prepared to mount him. "It is not worth the trouble."
Lightning snorted in agreement. Jonathan hoisted himself onto the saddle and quickly rode back to Ambercombie Manor. He handed his horse over to the stable boy and went directly to his room to nurse his wounded heart. He shut the door behind him and locked it, as if doing so would shield him from any more pain. Slumping into an armchair, he began to dwell on the details of his disastrous proposal.
"If I may ask you, sir, what motives have driven you to such a proposal?"
"Motives!" he exclaimed loudly. "What other motives could I have? I want her to be my wife, to be with her for the rest of my life. Is that not an obvious motive in a proposal of marriage?" He ran his fingers through his hair. "Motives," he muttered disgustedly. "Did she expect me to say that to her face? Women!"
"...but are they the only reasons you have for marriage? To have a family, to produce an heir?
"Well, of course not!" he said indignantly. "But what kind of gentleman would enumerate his reasons from marrying? Ridiculous!" He got up and paced the room. "Only a fool would attempt that. And I am sure if I did, she would have rejected me just the same for not possessing an ounce of good sense."
"Mr. St. Vincent, I know you think that these are sufficient reasons for marrying. I must admit, they are honorable, but they are not enough for me."
"Not enough, are they?" he said, still pacing the room. "It is always not enough." He shook his head in frustration. "Women. Nothing is ever enough for them. Is it not enough that a man put his pride and dignity at stake to ask for a woman's hand? Is it not enough for a man to lay bare his emotions for her and the world to see? What, did she want me to grovel at her feet?"
"We are of different opinions in this matter."
"How would she know that?"
"I believe that love is an essential part of marriage."
"Well, I know that! She has already told me that numerous times. I never would have asked her to marry me if..." Once again, he ran his fingers through his already disheveled hair, and remembered how shocked he was to hear what she said next.
"I cannot accept your proposal, sir.
"But why, Abigail? Why?"
"I am sincerely sorry for any pain I may cause you..."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Jonathan sardonically.
"...but I cannot marry a man who does not love me."
He sighed, and sat back down on the chair. "But I do," he groaned desperately. "I do love you, Abigail. How can you not see that?"
"And I cannot marry a man whom I did not love."
Jonathan hung his head dejectedly. "I suppose it was presumptuous of me to ever hope that you could love me back, Abigail. No one in my whole life ever did. Why should you be different?" He looked up and addressed heaven. "Is it selfish of me to want to know how it feels to be loved? Is it a sin to want to be happy?" he whispered hoarsely. "Is it too much to ask? What do you want me to give up for it? Take my wealth. Make me a pauper. Take my status, my looks - I do not care. Take all of it! I want none of it!" He shouted out the last two sentences in anger. And silence answered him back.
He sighed once again, leaned back on his chair, and closed his eyes. It was unfair! Oh, so unfair! But there was nothing he could do about it. He had loved and lost. That was all there was to it.
Jonathan fell asleep, but there was no comfort in his slumber. His dreams were filled with images of his lonely past and present - distorted, confusing, and disturbing. Abigail. Angelica. Darcy and Elizabeth. Henry. Angelica into Abigail. Lady Witherspoon. Jonathan as a boy. Elizabeth into Angelica. Bernadette. Pemberley. Darcy and Angelica. Jonathan in Cambridge. Anthony. Angelica into Elizabeth. Lightning. Jonathan. Boarding school. Anthony and Henry. Mr. Miller. Abigail into Angelica. Ambercombie Manor. Anthony and Bernadette. London. Mr. Edwards. Old Mr. St. Vincent. Rebecca. Abigail. Ruth. Darcy. Abigail. The images repeated themselves again and again and again. Soon they were all blending together with dizzying intensity. Swirling round and round and round. Faster. Faster. Faster.
"Aaahhh!" cried Jonathan, waking up with a start and breathing heavily. He felt cold, yet beads of sweat lined his forehead.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Pause. Tap. Tap. Tap.
It took Jonathan some time to focus. Then he realized that he was in his bedroom, and that someone was knocking incessantly on his door. He slowly stood up from his uncomfortably cramped sitting position, and walked toward the door, massaging his stiff neck with one hand. He opened the door with a scowl on his face.
"What?" he demanded.
"A letter for you, sir," said Mr. Edwards stoically, handing him a piece of heavy, cream paper, folded and sealed.
"Thank you, Mr. Edwards," he managed to say, though he was still quite irritated.
When the butler had left, he locked his door once more, and ripped open the letter. It was an invitation - to Christopher Bingley and Victoria Stewart's wedding ball. The letter stated that the ball was going to be held at the Bondeville Estate on the first Saturday of February, and both the Bingleys and the Stewarts would be delighted if he, Jonathan St. Vincent, could join them in their celebration.
His first thought was, Abigail will be there! He wondered if he could still bear to see her. He knew he vowed never to look at her again, but the opportunity seemed very tempting. If he could see her just one more time, talk to her just one last time, then maybe she would change her mind about him.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "She does not love me."
But what if? What if he could make her love him? A tiny hope surged through his soul. He was certainly not going to give up without a fight. Now, the question was how? How can he win Abigail's heart?
He strolled over to the window. The snow had stopped falling, and the afternoon sun had managed to peek through the clouds. Jonathan furrowed his brows in deep thought. How, indeed? As if in answer to his question, he saw Anthony and Bernadette walking side-by-side toward the great house, talking intimately with each other. Bernadette. Anthony. Bernadette. And then, it dawned on him. And when it did, he gave no other thought to anyone but himself.
Of course! A smile played on his lips. It was so simple really. Simple. Common. And sometimes, dangerous. But can we blame him? Can we blame him for thinking up such a plan? After all, many a lover have used it time and again, and many a lover have succumbed to it.
Jonathan sat down in front of his writing table, pulled out a sheet of paper, dipped his quill in the inkwell, and began to compose a letter accepting the invitation to the wedding ball.
Chapter Twenty-eight - Jealousy Posted on Saturday, 8 June 2002
Abigail peered through one of the windows of the Bondeville estate, taking note of each carriage as it came into view, wondering if Jonathan would come. Victoria said he would, and she believed her. After all, he did attend the wedding that morning. But almost all the guests had already arrived, and still there was no sign of him. She drew herself away from the window and heaved a sigh of impatience. Dusk was already settling, and it was getting harder and harder for her to make out the guests as they entered the house.
A few seconds later, however, Abigail heard the sound of horses and the rumbling of carriage wheels outside. She rushed to the window and saw the Raines's carriage draw up in front of the main entrance. Although a little disappointed that it was not Jonathan's, she felt nonetheless relieved to see that Bernadette had arrived. She hurried downstairs to meet her friend, stopping by the cloakroom to grab her rose-colored cloak, which she threw around her without bothering to pull the hood over her head. Upon reaching the bottom of the steps, she met Mr. and Mrs. Raines, followed closely behind by their two sons. She greeted them all quickly with a curtsy, and inquired after Bernadette. Mrs. Raines told her that her daughter was still outside.
Abigail hastened to the entrance. "Bernadette!" she called, flying down the steps toward her friend - but stopped short. Jonathan had arrived.
He got off his horse, handed the reins to the stable boy and turned to Bernadette, who was dressed in a striking cream gown hidden by a pale green cloak. "Good evening, Miss Raines," he said with a smile, and a gallant bow. Then he turned to Abigail and gave her only a slight bow. "Miss Darcy," he acknowledged icily.
Both ladies curtsied. Abigail noticed Jonathan's cold reception of her, and was hurt, but did not have much time to dwell on her feelings for Anthony joined them almost immediately. After greeting Jonathan and Bernadette warmly, he held out his arm for his fiancée, and they both walked toward the house. Jonathan, however, took a few moments before offering his arm to Abigail. She blushed with shame when she took it, aware that it had been proffered unwillingly.
They had not taken a single step toward the house when another carriage rolled in behind them. They both turned and witnessed Mr. Borden descend from it. When Mr. Borden saw them arm-in-arm, he nodded stiffly to acknowledge them and cast a disapproving frown on Abigail.
"Miss Darcy," said Mr. Borden haughtily, "I will speak to you tonight." Then he turned and walked ahead of them.
Abigail colored with humiliation and anger. She looked up, and saw Jonathan watching her with a mocking expression on his face. She turned away, her mortification mounting. Neither of them said a word as they walked up to the house and into the ballroom. They parted at the entrance. Abigail took off her cloak, handed it to one of the ushers, and surveyed the room.
The ballroom was nearly full. Everyone who had spent the holidays at Pemberley was present; only now, the guests also included the Collinses and the Gables. Abigail made her way through the crowd, and overheard Mrs. Gable talking to Georgiana.
"Oh, simply lovely!" cried Mrs. Gable. "Victoria was so beautiful this morning. You must be so happy.
"Yes, I am," replied Georgiana quietly.
"Your daughter is so lucky to have such a wonderful young man as a husband."
"Very much so. Mr. Bingley is a good man."
Abigail glanced at her Aunt Georgiana and saw that her eyes were becoming misty once more. Abigail felt her own eyes begin to sting, and she quickly moved on to keep herself from crying again. She next came upon Mr. Collins, who was hanging on to every word Mr. Borden said.
"I must admit, I have a partiality to bees," Mr. Borden stated.
"Indeed, my good sir! You will be pleased to know that I keep a hive of bees for honey. I agree with you and I am sure that my honorable patroness, Lady Catherine, will, too, if she were still alive. Bless her noble soul. Fascinating creatures, they are. The bees, I mean. And their sting! So very precise!" Mr. Collins's voice dropped to a whisper. "I must confess that I have been stung quite a few times. But, please to not think that I mind it at all." His voice grew a little louder. "Not at all, sir."
Abigail ducked before both men could notice her, and changed her direction. She then spotted Henry at the far end of the room, and made her way toward him. Henry, however, did not notice her immediately for his eyes were focused on Anthony and Bernadette.
"Henry," said Abigail softly.
Henry turned and looked a little surprised to find his cousin beside him.
"You must let go," she advised.
"Of course, I expect you to say that. He is your brother after all," replied Henry sarcastically.
"Henry, you are most unfair. Did you not tell Bernadette that you did not have enough fortune to marry her? Did you not tell her to marry someone else? You have no reason to be angry!"
"Yes," said Henry resignedly. "I did tell her to marry another, but I did not expect it to be Anthony. He is the last person in the world I had hoped she would end up with. It is not right. She cannot love him."
"But she does," stressed Abigail. "You have to accept that."
Henry merely shook his head. Abigail was about to say something more, but her attention was diverted with the entrance of Christopher and Victoria. The newly-weds stood at the top of the staircase looking so blissfully happy. Applause broke forth from below as the couple descended down the steps. As soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, the orchestra started to play, and almost all the gentlemen stirred to search for a dancing partner. Abigail saw Anthony and Bernadette walk to the center of the room. She looked at Henry and witnessed a venomous expression cross his face.
"Abigail, dance with me," he said urgently without taking his eyes off Anthony and Bernadette. "Please?"
Abigail had no choice but to acquiesce. As she took her position opposite Henry on the dance floor, she noticed Jonathan watching her. Their eyes met briefly, but he averted his gaze immediately and walked away from her view.
Jonathan walked to the other end of the room where he could observe Abigail without being seen by her. The sight of her standing up with another man made his stomach churn. He found himself hating Henry. How could she look at him with so much compassion? How could she smile at him with so much sweetness? How? he thought angrily. His hands unconsciously curled into fists.
As soon as the first dance was over, Jonathan asked Bernadette for the next dance in front of Abigail, who had already agreed to be Anthony's partner. When the next piece began, Jonathan smiled attentively at his partner, while pointedly ignoring the true object of his affection. The appalled expression on Abigail's face made him all the more amiable to Bernadette.
When the dance was over and Jonathan had escorted his partner to a corner, Henry came between them and claimed Bernadette's attention before anyone else had a chance to. "Will you do me the honor of becoming my partner in the next dance?" he said.
Bernadette accepted, and Jonathan was disappointed for he had counted on keeping her as his partner for the next two dances. But before Henry could lead Bernadette to the dance floor, Anthony had already crossed the room and barred Henry's path.
"You stay away from her, Henry," growled Anthony menacingly.
"You cannot order me about, Anthony," replied Henry calmly.
"You cannot be her dance partner," Anthony said, glaring at him furiously.
Henry laughed contemptuously. "That is not for you to decide, I am afraid."
"She is engaged to me. Remember that."
"For money, undoubtedly."
"Stop it!" exclaimed Bernadette. "You are both acting ridiculously. Anthony, please do not make decisions for me."
Henry looked smugly at Anthony.
"And Henry," continued Bernadette, "how dare you accuse me of being a mercenary woman!"
Anthony gazed triumphantly at Henry.
But Bernadette was not through. "I cannot stand the both of you tonight. I have agreed to be Mr. St. Vincent's partner for the next two dances, is that not so, Mr. St. Vincent?"
Jonathan, who was listening to the entire exchange the whole time, was surprised, for though he had fully intended on asking her for the next two dances, he had not yet done so. Nevertheless, he was pleased with her decision. He escorted Bernadette to the center of the room, much to the consternation of the other two gentlemen. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Abigail looking at him furiously. His vengeance was complete.
Jonathan focused all his attentions on Bernadette through the two dances that followed. Every once in a while, he would search for Abigail and find her glaring at him. He was elated by her reaction. It was the best tonic for his wounded heart.
When the last chords of music had faded away, Anthony approached both of them. "I want to talk to both of you, but not here," he said gravely, and motioned them to follow him.
He led them to one of the rooms, and Jonathan was surprised to find Abigail already there. Anthony closed the door behind them.
"I do not know what is going on, Bernadette, but this is unacceptable behavior! I do not think I have done anything to deserve this!" Anthony's eyes held none of the mischief it usually had, and his resemblance to Darcy was unmistakable. "And you," he continued, addressing Jonathan, "if you were not a friend of mine, I would doubt the sincerity of your motives. What is going on here?"
Jonathan feigned innocence. "Why do you not ask Henry? Where is he?"
"Leave Henry out of this!" cried Bernadette, unable to contain herself.
"Must you always defend him?" asked Anthony heatedly.
"I am not defending him. What is the matter with you? Can you not trust me to be faithful to you? Why must you always be suspicious of me and Henry?"
"Because you have given me reason to!" roared Anthony.
Bernadette looked shocked. "Indeed! Well, if you insist on mistrusting me, I might as well earn your mistrust!" She turned on her heels, walked out the door and slammed it behind her.
Anthony appeared stunned, he headed toward the door to follow her, but Abigail stopped him.
"Do not go, please, Anthony. You will only make it worse. Please," begged Abigail.
Anthony sighed. "I must speak to her."
"No, let me go instead. She will listen to me," insisted Abigail. "You must go back to the party, or they will surely miss us."
Anthony remained unconvinced, but Abigail looked determined. In the end he agreed, and left the room quietly.
"I hope you are satisfied," said Abigail to Jonathan when they were alone.
"What do you mean?" asked Jonathan in surprise.
"You know exactly what I mean," replied Abigail angrily. "Bernadette is my brother's fiancée! What you are doing is despicable!"
"You are mistaken. You should be accusing Henry, not me."
"I am not blind, Mr. St. Vincent, nor am I stupid. I do not know what game you are playing, but I suggest you stop it immediately." With that, Abigail turned around to leave, but Jonathan caught her arm.
"Wait!" he called. "Must we part like this?"
Abigail shrugged off Jonathan's grip on her. "You are a mean and heartless man, Mr. St. Vincent, and I do not care if I ever see you again. I was right to turn down your proposal of marriage. You are incapable of caring for anybody but yourself. You are the most selfish and conceited human being I have ever had the misfortune of knowing. I do not care at all how we part!" She marched to the door, yanked it open, and shut it loudly behind her.
Jonathan stared at the door in despair. This was not how he planned it at all. He found a chair, and sat down to collect his thoughts. He had to do something! But what? He ran his fingers through his hair in desperation, and shook his head desolately. There was only one thing left for him to do.
Chapter Twenty-nine - Kidnapped! Posted on Thursday, 27 June 2002
Abigail hurried back to the crowded ballroom in search of Bernadette. Several couples were dancing; women were gossiping; men were discussing politics. But Bernadette was nowhere to be found. Abigail ventured to ask several people if they had seen where she had gone, but received only negative replies to her inquiries. She began to worry. She knew that her friend could be both stubborn and impulsive. When Bernadette set her mind on something, it was difficult to talk her out of it. Abigail then decided to do a more exhaustive search of the house. She was about to make her way to the drawing room when she ran into the housekeeper.
"Mrs. Riley, have you by any chance seen Bernadette?" she asked hopefully.
"You mean Miss Raines? Why, I just saw her a few minutes ago! She was heading towards the cloakroom."
"The cloakroom?" repeated Abigail, a little bewildered. What can she be doing there? she wondered. "Oh, well then, I shall look for her there. Thank you, Mrs. Riley."
Abigail hurried off in the direction of the cloakroom. Upon opening the door, she was surprised by the sight that greeted her. The room was in total disarray. Several coats were strewn all over the room and some of the hatracks had toppled over, as if a fight had just taken place. Her heart stopped. Where is she? she thought apprehensively. Then she saw Bernadette, in the middle of the room, frantically going through the coat racks, visibly angry and distressed.
Bernadette looked up at Abigail and appeared relieved. "Oh, it is only you."
"What are you doing?" asked Abigail with a touch of annoyance. "I have been so worried about you!"
"Is it not obvious?" said Bernadette, who had gone back to searching the coats one by one. "I am looking for my cloak. I cannot find it anywhere!" She threw up her hands in the air. "I have been searching for the past ten minutes. Where could the usher have put it?"
"I am sure we will find it later. Come, Bernadette. Let us go back to the party."
"I am not going back," replied Bernadette determinedly. "I have already requested the carriage from my parents. I told them I was feeling unwell."
"But Bernadette!" Abigail protested. "You cannot leave! What about the rest of your family? How will they get home?"
"Your mother has generously offered one of your carriages to take my family home." Bernadette attacked another rack. "Now, if I could only find my cloak..."
Abigail saw the futility of arguing with her friend. "What color is it? Green, am I right?" she asked resignedly.
"What?" Bernadette looked up at her with a puzzled expression.
"Your cloak! What color is your cloak?"
"Oh, yes. Green. It is a pale green color."
Abigail sighed and started sorting through the heavy winter coats.
After a few seconds, Bernadette gave an exclamation of despair. "This is hopeless! Unbelievable! We shall be stuck here all night!"
Abigail was also about to lose her temper, when she caught sight of a piece of cloth sticking out from underneath a blue coat. It was her own rose-colored cloak. "Here," she said, yanking the cloak free. "Take mine. Then you can go home and rest."
"But what about you? Will you not be needing it?" asked Bernadette.
"I just live close by. Besides, I can borrow one from Aunt Georgiana, or if I find yours, I shall use it."
Bernadette managed a small smile. "Thank you." She hugged Abigail.
"Go. Go, before Anthony finds you. I shall make excuses for your absence, though I doubt if he will believe me," said Abigail, trying to look disgusted. She looked around the room and grimaced. "And I suppose I will have to tidy after you, too."
Bernadette hesitated. "Abigail..."
"Oh, go on!" prodded Abigail.
"Thank you. You are such a good friend."
Abigail smiled and waved her off.
Bernadette threw the cloak around her, lifted the hood to cover her head, and tied the ribbons securely by the neck. She left Abigail, who had already started picking up the coats lying on the floor, and proceeded down the hallway, hoping fervently that Anthony would not see her when she passed by the ballroom entrance.
Inside the ballroom, Darcy, who had made it his personal responsibility to keep an eye on Henry and Jonathan, realized that both of them were not in the room. This did not suit him at all, and he immediately set forth to find out where they were. Unfortunately, before he could make it to the entryway, Mr. Borden saw him and prevented him from leaving.
"Mr. Darcy! I must speak to you about your daughter," said Mr. Borden.
Darcy turned around and steeled himself for the encounter. "I am afraid, sir, that it will have to wait until tomorrow."
But Mr. Borden went on as if he had not heard him. "She is being quite stubborn. I am confident, however, that once she hears the advantages of having me as a husband, she will immediately consent to be my wife."
Darcy tried his best not to let his exasperation show. "Mr. Borden, I really must go. Can we not talk about this some other time?"
"Mr. Darcy, this is a matter of absolute importance! The future of you daughter is at stake! Indeed, sir, I thought you would have more concern for your child."
"I assure you, the future of my daughter is very important to me, but-"
"Excellent. Excellent. Then we are in agreement. As you well know, I have a pretty large estate, which generates seven thousand a year in income. I would say that this is a more than an ample living, and I have no doubt-" Mr. Borden paused abruptly, looking past Darcy's shoulder.
Darcy took the opportunity of surveying the room once more. There was still no sign of Henry or of Jonathan. He then turned and gazed longingly at the entrance behind him, and wondered what he could do to escape Mr. Borden. While he was staring past the entryway, into the hallway, he saw Jonathan pass by. This relieved him, but only a little. Now Henry is the only one unaccounted for, he thought uneasily. I must find him! He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he did not realize that Mr. Borden was talking to him once more.
"...I must leave. I have forgotten that a friend of mine, a brilliant entomologist, is scheduled to arrive tonight. It would be highly impolite for me not to receive him." Mr. Borden bowed hastily, and took his leave, muttering something about being too late.
Outside, the full moon lit the night with its luminous glow, while the cold winter air grew colder still. A wolf bayed mournfully in the distance, while an owl hooted portentously nearby. Bernadette drew Abigail's cloak tighter around her and pulled its hood to cover part of her face. She stood a few feet to the right of the main entrance, waiting impatiently for the family carriage, which she had requested from one of the servants. The Bondeville House cast a shadow on her, shielding her from the moonlight and covering her in darkness.
She had only been standing there a few minutes, when she saw Jonathan leave the house. He paused for a second, breathed in deeply, and went in the opposite direction. To the stables, presumed Bernadette. A moment later, she saw Mr. Borden. He did not pause at all, and seemed to be in a hurry. He went in the same direction as Jonathan. This time, Bernadette presumed that he was headed to where the carriages were, close to the stables.
Several minutes after she saw Mr. Borden, Bernadette saw the carriage finally draw up to the main entrance. She stepped forward eagerly, anxious to get away from the cold, but was surprised at what she saw.
"B-but this is not our carriage!" she exclaimed. "I am sorry to say, but you must go back, for I cannot ride in someone else's carriage!"
But the driver did not say a word. This frustrated Bernadette very much. Thinking that the driver was hard of hearing, she stepped closer to the carriage.
"There has been a mistake!" she said loudly. "You must-"
She was not able to continue. A gloved hand clamped over her mouth, preventing her from making any sound whatsoever.
"Sshh! They will hear you if you do not keep quiet. There has been no mistake, I assure you, no mistake at all," said the voice from behind her.
That voice! thought Bernadette fearfully. She recognized it immediately; there was no mistaking it. But what could he want with me?
"I must talk to you."
Bernadette struggled to speak but could not. Her temper was once more aroused. I will not be treated in this infamous manner! she thought angrily. She began to twist around in an effort to free herself, but the arms of her captor only tightened around her.
"Please do not fight me. It will be easier for both of us. I only wish to talk to you."
Bernadette shook her head.
"Very well, then. I am sorry to do this, but I have no choice. Do not worry. The effects are not permanent."
She felt one of his arms release its grip on her for a second. Then she saw his free hand holding a handkerchief. Before she knew it, he pressed the handkerchief against her nose. A dizzying sensation overwhelmed her immediately as her captor pushed her into the carriage. Then everything went black.
When she came to her senses, a few minutes later, she found herself inside the carriage, sitting opposite her captor. His image was hazy, but she thought he looked rather pale. She struggled to focus, but could not. To aggravate matters, her hood had fallen off, leaving her hair in disarray and allowing a few stray strands to get into her face.
She was only slightly conscious, but she heard him yell, "Stop!" Her captor got out, and pulled her out of the carriage. She wanted to protest, but was too groggy to do so. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the snow, while the sound of the carriage grew fainter and fainter.
Chapter Thirty-The Accused Posted on Monday, 8 July 2002
Anthony looked at his timepiece for the umpteenth time. Where is Bernadette? he wondered impatiently. He scanned the ballroom, but could not find the familiar crown of bright copper hair among the crowd. He now searched for Abigail. Surely she would know where Bernadette was. But, alas! She too was nowhere to be found. A vague feeling of uneasiness descended upon him, and he decided to approach Mr. and Mrs. Raines.
"Mr. Raines," he said, upon reaching the older gentleman's side. "I was wondering, sir, if you have, by any chance, seen- "
The entrance of a uniformed footman interrupted Anthony and caught the attention of everyone else. The footman looked embarrassed, yet he made his way courageously toward Mr. Raines, bowed gravely, and apologized for disturbing him.
"Yes, Morris, what is the matter?" asked Mr. Raines with mild concern. "I thought you had already left. Bernadette said she was unwell and has asked permission to leave early."
"She has?" exclaimed Anthony in surprise and indignation. Addressing the footman, he demanded. "Well, then, is she out in the carriage" Where is she?"
The footman looked at Anthony and frowned. "I do not know, sir. That is the problem. Miss Raines did request for the carriage, but the driver and I have been waiting for several minutes now, and she has yet to come down," explained the footman. Turning to the older gentleman, he added, "Perhaps Miss Raines has changed her mind. If she has ... Well, sir, it is mighty cold outside."
Mr. Raines nodded vaguely, knitting his brows together. "Perhaps she has, indeed. She must have come back then, though it is not like her to let you wait in the cold. You have not seen her around, have you?" He directed the question at his wife, who now wore a worried expression.
"No," Mrs. Raines answered slowly. "No, I have not seen her since she asked for the carriage. I - I naturally assumed she had left."
By this time, all the guests were watching them, and upon hearing Mrs. Raines's declaration, each of them turned around and went through the motions of looking for Bernadette, but, of course, to no avail.
"But why - why did she not tell me she was leaving?" asked Anthony in a hurt voice.
"Oh, Anthony, perhaps she forgot, for she did look quite ill tonight," replied Mrs. Raines.
Anthony merely shook his head for he knew better. Bernadette's forgetfulness was deliberate. He supposed, and rightly so, that her anger against him had not subsided.
"I hope," continued Mrs. Raines in a frightened voice, "I hope she has come back and is merely resting somewhere. She probably felt so ill, she was not able to inform Morris that she was not leaving after all. It is possible, is it not?" She clasped her gloved hands together, and looked around for some assurance. She received but a few nods.
Anthony breathed in deeply. "We must find her then," he said resolutely. He could not explain it, but he knew that something was amiss. If anything happened to Bernadette ... He dismissed the thought from his mind. "Excuse me, please!" he said loudly, addressing the audience. The music stopped and the room fell silent. "Has anyone seen Miss Raines lately?"
A low murmur arose from the crowd, as everyone tried to recall his last sighting of the missing lady, but no one was able to give a positive response. Anthony was about to succumb to despair when Abigail entered the ballroom.
"Abigail!" Anthony called out to her. "Where have you been" Where is Bernadette?" In his anxiety, he had mentioned his fiancée's first name in public, but no one noticed this impropriety, for all eyes were on Abigail.
Abigail looked uncomfortable and nervous. "I, uh, Anthony, I cannot..." She looked around and saw that everyone was waiting for her answer. She flushed. "I cannot tell you, brother," she said, resolving to cover for her friend. "I promised her that I..." But her resolve faltered when she saw the footman standing beside Mr. Raines. "Wh-what is going on?"
"Please, Abigail," pleaded Anthony. "It is important. She is missing."
Before a word could come out of Abigail's mouth, the crowd stirred and parted to let Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Gregory Stewart through.
"We have asked some of the servants to search the whole house," announced Darcy, who had overheard the whole conversation and had acted quickly. "I am sure we can fi-"
"You will not find her here!" blurted Abigail. "She left some time ago. I saw her leave! Why, Morris, did you not see her?" She turned to the footman, who only shook his head. Blood drained away from her face. "Are you certain? Absolutely certain?" And the footman nodded. "But - but..."
"Abigail," said Darcy sternly, "Did you really see her walk out of the house?"
"Why, yes, Papa. I saw her walk down the hallway and out the door," replied Abigail anxiously. "She cannot be in this house."
Mrs. Raines started to sob. "Oh, my poor baby. She could be out in the cold, for all we know."
Mr. Raines drew his wife closer and patted her shoulder. "There, there, Mrs. Raines, I am certain we will find her," he said, trying to sound confident.
"Let us form several search parties, then," commanded Darcy, fully in control of the situation. Gregory and Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded in agreement, and Darcy continued his orders. "Let the servants continue to search the house, and we shall go forth and search all of the grounds: from this estate to Pemberley to Ambercombie."
Gregory immediately set out to round up all the gentlemen, and Colonel Fitzwilliam started to follow him, but Darcy caught his arm. "Richard," he whispered, "I cannot find Henry anywhere."
"Darcy, you do not think-"
Darcy shook his head. "I do not know what to think. One can only hope that he is not like his father, and Bernadette, not like-" He stopped before he could mention Angelica's name, but his cousin gave him a knowing look.
"I understand," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, and he and Darcy parted ways.
Jonathan rode his horse recklessly, slashing through the soft, shimmering blanket of snow with a vengeance that mirrored the turmoil in his heart. He spurred Lightning on with an urgency born out of desperation. His first thought was to escape, to get away, to flee. And yet how" How was he to free himself from emotions so strong that it overpowered his reason" He knew not how, and that is why he had to leave. Abigail was right. He did not deserve her, for no man as selfish as he could ever be worthy of her.
Ambercombie Manor looked majestic under the moon's phosphorescent gaze, and as Jonathan approached it, a feeling of awe swept over him. How different it looked from the time he first laid his eyes upon this grand edifice! How cold and dark it appeared to him then! As if mesmerized, he slowed Lightning to a stop, and gazed at it in wonder.
"Beautiful," he murmured softly, sorrowfully, for he knew that underneath its magnificence, Ambercombie Manor remained empty and lonely and sad. "And yet 'tis an illusion - a beautiful illusion."
He heaved a heavy sigh, breathing in the cold winter air, which shocked his system into awareness. He had ridden his horse in a state of confusion, oblivious to everything except his pain. But now, the world seemed clear once more, and for the first time that night, he felt conscious of his surroundings.
"Come on, my friend," he said, and spurred Lightning on. But Lightning refused to take a step forward. Surprised and annoyed, he dug his heels against the horse's flanks, and repeated his command. But Lightning reared and neighed his disapproval.
"What is the matter?" muttered Jonathan, more vexed than ever. "What more disaster can this evening bring?"
Lightning pawed on the ground and snorted in response. Disconcerted, Jonathan looked around to find the cause of his horse's strange behavior, but the place was deserted. He was all alone. His eyes traveled across the ground, expecting some strange beast to arise from the snow. No such creature emerged, but what he saw terrified him more than anything could ever have.
"Oh, my God!" A cry of genuine prayer escaped from his lips. He quickly dismounted his horse and ran to the rose-colored heap on the ground. "No, this cannot be. Please let her be alive! Please let her be alive!"
Jonathan knelt down beside the crumpled heap, and saw that it was indeed a human being. Fear gripped him, and panic surged through his soul. He gently turned the figure over, and gasped in surprise. "Bernadette!" he exclaimed.
Bernadette moaned. "Anthony?" she whispered hoarsely.
"No, no, it's Jonathan." He lifted her head and cradled it in his arms.
"He did not mean to..." Bernadette's voice sank into an inaudible mumble that Jonathan could not understand, and she lapsed into unconsciousness once more.
Jonathan took his coat off and covered Bernadette with it. From a distance, he could hear the sound of muffled hoofbeats against the snow. He turned around and saw a group of men coming fast towards him. Relief flooded through his veins. Help had come when he most needed it! He gently brushed the snow off Bernadette's hair and face, secured both the cloak and the coat around her, and gently lifted her from the ground. By this time he could clearly see the group of men approaching him, and was glad to see who they were-Darcy, Anthony, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Jonathan turned and carried Bernadette toward Lightning, assured that everything would be all right.
"Stop!" cried Darcy. "Stop right there."
Jonathan turned around slowly, still holding Bernadette. In a flash, Anthony was off his horse.
"Hand her over," he said, in a hardened tone that Jonathan had never heard before. Jonathan relinquished his burden to Anthony most willingly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam shot a rifle in the air, and the blast echoed loudly, shattering the tranquil night. Several shots answered back. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed that a hundred horsemen appeared from nowhere.
Jonathan stood in the middle of the circle that had formed around him, utterly confused and bewildered. All the gentlemen, still in their ballroom attire, were looking at him with accusing eyes.
"What is going on?" he finally asked.
"You better come with us immediately," ordered Darcy in a voice that no one can refuse.
Still in shock, Jonathan mounted Lightning and obediently followed Darcy. The rest of the men rode behind them, including Anthony, who held the reins of his horse with one hand, and cradled Bernadette against him with the other.
They all headed in the direction of Pemberley, in what seemed to Jonathan, the longest procession in his life. When they reached the great house, the Rainses, Elizabeth, and Abigail rushed outside.
"Did you find her? Is she all right?" questioned Mrs. Raines immediately. "Oh, please tell me she is all right!"
"I think she is," assured Darcy, as Anthony dismounted and carried Bernadette towards Mrs. Raines, who gave a cry of alarm at the sight of her unconscious daughter.
"Quick, call the doctor," said Anthony. "Let me bring her inside." He gave Jonathan one last angry look, and went inside the house. Mrs. Raines and Elizabeth followed him.
A servant was dispatched immediately to call for the doctor, and as soon as this was accomplished, Mr. Raines began to ask questions.
"Where did you find her?" asked Mr. Raines.
All the men looked at Jonathan.
"Near Ambercombie Manor," Darcy said.
"B-but how did she get there?" exclaimed Abigail.
"That I believe that is a question only Mr. St. Vincent can answer," replied Darcy.
Abigail looked at Jonathan in shock. A horrible realization seemed to dawn on her, and her expression changed into one of hurt and disgust.
Jonathan's soul shriveled up within him, as he understood the full implication of his situation. "You do not think..." He looked around and saw exactly what they were thinking. "I assure you, I had nothing to do with this! I found her lying on the snow, and that is all."
"But why was she in your estate, in your arms when we saw her?" countered Colonel Fitzwilliam. "It is too much of a coincidence, is it not?"
"B-but I saw her on the ground and picked her up! I have no idea how she got there! You have got to believe me! I have nothing to gain from this. Nothing at all!"
"How dare you take my daughter!" yelled Mr. Raines, lunging at Jonathan, but Lightning reared and almost struck the older man with his hoof. Darcy was on the ground in an instant. He immediately pulled Mr. Raines away from harm.
"This is all a product of circumstances! You cannot accuse me of something I did not do! You cannot prove it because I am innocent!" Jonathan was vehement in his assertions.
All the men stirred uncomfortably in their saddles.
"I suggest you leave right now, Mr. St. Vincent," said Darcy grimly. "Leave and never come back. Do not ever show your face in any of our estates again."
"But I did nothing!" protested Jonathan. "Why will you not believe me? Why?"
"Leave now," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. "We have been more than generous to you. We do not wish to create a spectacle here, but if you would you rather be tried in public..."
"I will leave," said Jonathan angrily. "But I will never admit guilt. I have done nothing."
He gave Abigail a pleading look, but she turned her head away. He looked up and saw Elizabeth watching from the window. Her face showed a mixture of shock, pain, and disappointment. Then he saw Anthony come to the window, wearing a betrayed expression on his face. He turned his gaze back to Darcy and saw the fury in his eyes. He looked around. No one held an ounce of compassion for him.
"You are mistaken," said Jonathan in a tired voice. "God knows you are mistaken."
Abigail looked up, and he gave her one last pleading look, but there was not a trace of forgiveness in her face. Only pain. Jonathan turned Lightning around, and galloped off into the night.
Chapter Thirty-one-The Real Villain Posted on Thursday, 25 July 2002
Brilliant shades of orange and pink gradually seeped into the gray skies as the sun stealthily rose from behind Derbyshire's indigo hills. Daylight slowly drove the darkness away, spreading across the vast expanse of snow, streaming through the windows of Pemberley, making its way through the narrow spaces in between the heavy drapes.
The promise of a new day beckoned Bernadette from the depths of her slumber, and she opened her eyes to greet the morning. But as she took in her strange, yet vaguely familiar surroundings, confusion reigned within her. The memories of the night before began to flood her brain, and panic gripped her like a cold, clammy hand.
"Where am I?" a frightened whisper escaped from her lips. She looked around the room, and found that she was alone. She shut her eyes again and tried to sort out the memories that now swirled around in her head.
A few minutes later, her eyes flew open. "Oh no!" she exclaimed. She remembered! And what awful memories they were! But there was no time to wallow in self-pity. She had to get out, or it might be too late.
She summoned all her strength and rolled out of bed, almost falling onto the floor. A dull ache pounded on her head, but the urgency of her mission drove her to her feet. She grabbed a robe draped on one of the chairs, quickly put it on, and dashed to the door, yanking it open with all her might. To her surprise, it was unlocked. But the sight that greeted her shocked her more.
Anthony was a sight to be seen. His face looked haggard and his clothes-the same clothes he had on at the wedding ball-were all wrinkled and bedraggled. He was pacing up and down, in front of her room, but stopped when he saw her standing before him. "Bernadette!" he cried, and with one swift motion, gathered her into his arms and held her tight. "You are all right. Oh, thank you, thank you, God!" he mumbled over and over.
When he let go, the realization of what he had done hit him. He stepped back a little, embarrassed at his inappropriate behavior. "Bernadette, I beg your pardon. Please forgive..."
"I beg you, do not apologize. Oh, Anthony! I thought I was never going to see you again." A tear escaped from her eyes, and she brushed it away with the back of her hand. How she wanted to lie down and have a good cry, but duty prevented her from doing so. "I must tell you something," she said urgently, "and you must listen to me and do as I say. I shall explain later."
Anthony's face clouded over. "Do you - do you know who did this to you?"
Bernadette nodded. "Yes. Yes, and we have no time to waste." Her temples still throbbed mercilessly, and for a second, she thought she was going to faint. She grabbed Anthony's arm to steady herself.
"Bernadette! You are unwell. You must go back to bed."
Bernadette protested, but Anthony had already picked her up and carried her back to her room. As soon as he deposited her on the bed, however, she grabbed his lapels and whispered lengthily in his ear. Anthony's face first registered disbelief, and then anger.
"We shall see about this," he said furiously. He breathed in deeply, as if to control himself, before gently tucking Bernadette in and giving her a swift kiss on the forehead.
Bernadette sank helplessly back against the pillows. The last thing she heard before she passed out was the slamming of the door.
Abigail quietly walked the solemn halls of Pemberley, fatigued from lack of sleep. Her strength was spent from a whole night of thinking and crying. And now, she decided she was in great need of fresh air. As she passed by one of the guest rooms, the door suddenly opened, and Abigail jumped in surprise.
"Henry!" she exclaimed. "You scared me half to death!" She took in her cousin's unkempt appearance. His coat was off and his shirt was slightly unbuttoned.
Henry rubbed his eyes, and stifled a yawn. "I beg your pardon, Abigail," he mumbled, rubbing his neck. "I am sore all over."
"What happened to you? Where have you been?" demanded Abigail.
"What happened to me?" repeated Henry, slightly amused. "I passed out on a chair - that is what happened to me. And now my whole body is stiff."
Abigail frowned. "You have not been drinking, have you?"
Henry smiled wryly. "Only what was served last night, I assure you. Although, I might have had more than I intended to. I regret it most exceedingly."
Abigail sighed. "Well perhaps it was best that you were not around last night."
Henry looked at Abigail sharply. "Last night? Why? What happened last night?"
"Oh," said Abigail, biting her lip, "it was the most horrible night of my life. Bernadette disappeared and - " She paused for she could not continue.
Henry turned a sickly white color. "What did you just say?" he asked in a small, hoarse voice.
"Bernadette was kidnapped. Oh, it was awful!" Abigail shuddered at the thought of it.
"Where is she? Has she been found? Is she all right?" Henry's voice was tinged with fear and guilt, but Abigail failed to notice it.
"Yes, but she is unconscious. I do not know when she will wake up. Anthony is guarding her door." She clutched her coat to keep her hands from trembling, and looked down at the floor.
"Do they - do they know..." Henry's voice trailed off for a moment. "Do they know who did it?" he asked in a quivering voice. An expression of alarm was still on his face.
Abigail looked up. "You - you had better ask Anthony," she said miserably. Without another word, she swept past Henry and ran down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the door.
The cold, brisk air greeted Abigail and accompanied her on her way to the top of Pembercombie Hill. When she reached the summit, she stopped and stared at the deserted hill in disappointment. She had hoped to find Jonathan there, even though she knew he would not come. Why? She was not sure. Perhaps to ask for an explanation. Perhaps to demand for an apology. Perhaps to tell him just what a hateful, despicable man he was. Or perhaps to tell him she loved him. Loved him! she thought disgustedly. She cannot love him. After what he did? It would be unthinkable.
She brushed the snow off her log, and sat down in resignation. Whichever way she looked at her situation, it was a hopeless case. Her gaze strayed toward Ambercombie Manor, and she wondered if Jonathan was within its gray walls. What if he had left? And so what if he had left? It was probably for the best.
She averted her gaze, and her heart gave a leap. A gentleman was slowly trudging up the hill. And who would climb Pembercombie Hill on a cold, winter day? Only Jonathan. She stood up to see him more clearly, and as he drew near, she recognized who it was. Alas! It was not Jonathan. It was Mr. Borden.
"Good morning, Miss Darcy," he said happily.
"Good morning, Mr. Borden," replied Abigail, though she found nothing good in the morning. Indeed, it was quite the opposite. "I did not expect to see you here, sir."
Mr. Borden gave her a smug smile. "Did you not? I am surprised at you, Miss Darcy." He walked toward her until there were only a few feet between them. "You have been avoiding me," he said sulkily.
"What ever made you think I was?" asked Abigail innocently.
"Oh, Miss Darcy, Miss Darcy," he said, repeating his words as was his habit. "Do not feign innocence. I told you I was going to talk to you last night, but you disappeared. I told you, remember? When I got off my carriage? Or perhaps you chose to forget."
"B-but I did forget!" protested Abigail, feeling uncomfortable at the way the conversation was going.
"Aaaaahhhhh, indeed," said Mr. Borden, smiling once more as his eyes had narrowed considerably. "You have more intelligence than I gave you credit for, my love."
My love! The mere thought was revolting. "I do not know what you are talking about!" cried Abigail. "Please leave, sir. You have exceeded your welcome here."
"My, my! Feisty. But no matter. It is something that can be fixed," said Mr. Borden. "Well, come now, Miss Darcy. Let us go to your father for his blessing."
"I will not!" shouted Abigail. "Indeed, I will not. You are the last person in the world that I could ever hope to marry! Leave now, Mr. Borden!"
"You cannot refuse to marry me. You cannot! Did you really think I would take your rejection seriously? No one says 'NO' to Mr. Borden." He gave her a menacing grin. "Your scheme of sending your trusting childhood friend in disguise did not work, you see? But I must concede it was a nice attempt on your part to avoid the inevitable."
"Bernadette!" Abigail gasped. "It was you! How could you! How dare you! You - you evil, evil man!"
"Me? Evil?" He laughed. "And you? Were you not willing to endanger the life of your friend just to taunt me?" accused Mr. Borden. "You are stubborn, Miss Darcy. But, as I told your father, once I have persuaded you to marry me, your stubbornness will be curtailed." He suddenly grabbed her arm and tried to drag her down the hill.
"Leave me alone!" yelled Abigail. "Let me go, or I will scream!"
"No one will hear you, I am afraid," replied Mr. Borden as he continued to pull her down. "And if you do not keep your voice down, you might suffer the same fate your friend did."
Abigail struggled with all her might, but Mr. Borden was stronger. Then, she heard the faint pounding of hoofbeats that quickly became louder and louder and louder.
"Leave her alone!"
Abigail looked up to see Jonathan's face contorted with fury. His eyes blazed like blue flames. It was a frightening sight. Mr. Borden appeared stunned by Jonathan's appearance, and in his surprise, released his captive's arm. Abigail ran away from him, and he started to go after her. But he never had a chance. At that moment, Jonathan flung himself on top of Mr. Borden and toppled him over, and they both hurtled down the side of the hill with increasing speed. Abigail ran after them, but they were way ahead of her. Then she saw something that made her stop dead in her tracks. A big jagged rock lay directly in their path!
Within seconds, Jonathan hit the rock with tremendous force. Mr. Borden flew high into the air and landed on the soft snow. He did not seem hurt, only shaken. But Jonathan lay immobile against the rock.
A panic-stricken Abigail sprinted to him to see if he was all right. She knelt down beside him and gently brushed away the hair from his forehead. When she lifted her hand, she saw that blood had stained her glove.
"Jonathan?" she said softly. "Oh, Jonathan, please do not die." She checked his breathing. It was shallow, but at least he was still alive. She pressed her hand on the gash on his head to stop it from bleeding. What was she going to do?
Mr. Borden had gotten up, and was shakily walking toward them. Jonathan was bleeding to death. And Abigail had nothing to fight Mr. Borden with. But like a hawk swooping down on his prey, Anthony came charging out of nowhere, and plucked Mr. Borden from the ground. He swung him face down on his horse, and restrained him with one hand.
A second later, Darcy came thundering toward them.
"Papa! Anthony! Thank God you came!" cried Abigail. "He is hurt. We need to get help."
"Let me get the carriage," said Darcy. "Anthony, you take that poor excuse of a man to the house and tell one of the servants to fetch the doctor." He looked at her daughter. "I suppose you want to stay with him?"
A few minutes later, Jonathan was carried into the carriage, and for the second time in her life, Abigail cradled him in her arms.
The door of the library swung open, admitting Elizabeth inside.
"I was wrong," said Darcy, who was sitting on one of the chairs facing the windows.
"We all were," replied Elizabeth, walking toward her husband.
Darcy sighed and faced his wife. "I prided myself in my good judgment. Once again, pride has gotten the better of me." There was regret in his eyes as he said this, and it was plain that he took his failure to heart. As usual, he was harder on himself than anyone else. "I misjudged him, Elizabeth. How could I have been so unfair?"
Elizabeth sat down on a chair opposite him and held his hand. "You did not know."
"But it was my duty to know!"
"I misjudged you, too, once long ago. And do not say that was your fault. Do not say you deserved my treatment of you. You are the fairest man I have ever known, and I will not allow you to say otherwise." Elizabeth stated this so determinedly that Darcy had to smile. She squeezed his hand reassuringly, then bravely continued. "Fitzwilliam, we have to tell her, you know."
"No, we do not," said Darcy forcefully.
"She is his mother. She deserves to know. Can you imagine how we both would feel if we found out that our children had been injured and no one took the time to notify us? My conscience bothers me. It is the least we can do."
Darcy leaned back on his chair resignedly. "All right. You write to her then."
"Me?" said Elizabeth in disbelief. "Dearest, I do not know her well, and you are the master of this house."
Darcy shook his head, but Elizabeth knew she had won. When she left, Darcy was already scribbling away at his desk.
Chapter Thirty-two - Angelica Returns Posted on Thursday, 15 August 2002
Angelica unfolded the letter, now creased from constant perusal, and concentrated once more on its contents as her carriage swayed from side to side and bumped along the furrowed roads that led to Pemberley. The message was disappointingly brief and to the point.
Pemberley, February 5, 18-
Dear Mrs. St. Vincent,
I regret to inform you that your son, Mr. Jonathan St. Vincent, has met a serious accident. He is currently at Pemberley, and is still in critical condition. Be assured, however, that he is receiving the best possible care and treatment from the best doctors in Derbyshire.
Should you wish to visit him, you are certainly welcome to stay at Pemberley.
Angelica folded the letter angrily and let out a sigh of frustration. Her son was in critical condition, and yet Darcy did not see it fit to give her more details regarding the accident. As Jonathan's mother, she had the right to know everything. Even Darcy should know that. And yet he chose to leave her in the dark. Indeed, it was very unlike him to be so insensitive, and so out of his character to write with brevity. But that was the Darcy she had known long ago. Who knows what kind of man he has become. Now, after many, many years, she would finally find out.
The thought of meeting Darcy made her nervous. She was definitely eager to see him, but she was also afraid to confront her past. Although she and Darcy had made peace with each other in London, her last moments at Pemberley years ago were not exactly joyous. She often wondered if Darcy had truly forgiven her. If he had, did he still remember her from time to time? What memories did he hold of her? She fervently hoped they were not all bad. After all, she and Darcy had shared some wonderful moments together...long, long ago.
The carriage rounded the bend, and Angelica instinctively looked out the window as Pemberley came into view. A wave of fear and excitement washed over her as she took in the scene that she thought she would never see again. Pemberley remained unchanged. Even after thirty years, it was still magnificent and beautiful.
By the time Angelica alighted from the carriage, she had worked herself up into a state of panic and anxiety. Her worry over Jonathan increased tenfold and her trepidation in meeting the master of Pemberley continued to gnaw at her stomach. After removing her bonnet, she carefully smoothed her hair and hastily straightened out the wrinkles on her pale blue gown. Instinct told her to turn around and flee while she still had the chance, but reason told her to muster all her courage and walk up to the great house with dignity. For once in her life, Angelica followed reason.
Darcy could feel the tense silence that reigned in the drawing room of Pemberley as he and Elizabeth awaited the arrival of their guest. Darcy, though full of nervous anticipation, tried to hide it by pretending to calmly read a book. He knew that Elizabeth was not fooled by his composure, but he was grateful that his wife decided not to comment on his mental and emotional state. He sensed Elizabeth's agitation as well, but could only guess what was going on in her mind. The return of Angelica was a sensitive subject that neither of them wanted to discuss lengthily.
The abruptness with which the servant entered the room startled Darcy, and he dropped his book on the floor. He felt Elizabeth's eyes on him, but he deliberately avoided them by picking up the book and carefully putting it down on the center table. He directed his gaze towards the entryway and waited for the servant to convey his tidings.
"Mrs. James St. Vincent to see you, Sir, Ma'am," announced the servant sonorously.
Darcy stood up immediately, still not meeting Elizabeth's eyes, and unconsciously held his breath. Angelica has returned at last!
For a moment, time stood still for Darcy as Angelica swept into the drawing room, gliding lightly towards him, like a ghostly apparition from his past. Angelica was as beautiful as ever. Her hair shone like gold and her eyes sparkled like deep blue sapphires.
"Mr. Darcy..." Angelica's soft voice sounded like the whisper of a gentle wind.
Suddenly, a dizzying sensation overcame Darcy. Angelica's presence filled the room, and then it seemed that there was never a time that he felt its absence. For some unexplainable reason, he felt young again, whisked back in time by the memories that carried him away from the present.
As soon as Darcy reached his mother's side, she said, "Oh, Lady Witherspoon, you remember Fitzwilliam, our eldest."
Darcy greeted her with great decorum as he noticed the young lady looking at him.
Lady Witherspoon said, "Well, he has grown up to be a quite a young man, I see. Well, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, may I present to you my niece, Miss Angelica Devane."
Darcy bowed low and the young lady curtsied. He then held out his arm to both Lady Witherspoon and Miss Angelica and escorted them to the center of the ballroom, only to be intercepted by Georgiana, who bounded excitedly towards them.
"Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed. "The first dance is starting. Edward, Richard, and George have all asked me for a dance. I said yes, but I told them the first dance is for you."
Darcy looked fondly at Georgiana. "Lady Witherspoon, Miss Angelica, may I present my sister, Miss Georgiana."
After curtsies were once more exchanged, Darcy said, "May I have the honor of having the first dance with you, Miss Georgiana?"
"It would be a pleasure, sir," replied Georgiana, whose eyes were shining in obvious delight.
Before Darcy led his sister to the floor, however, he turned to the young lady and said, "And it would be an honor, if you reserve the second dance for me, Miss Angelica."
"Yes, of course. It is a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. St. Vincent, though I wish it were under happier circumstances." Elizabeth's clear voice broke through Darcy's reverie, pulling him back to reality.
"How is Jonathan?" asked Angelica, her anxiety now evident.
"I am afraid he is still unconscious," answered Elizabeth gently. "But his prognosis is good, according to the doctor."
"I, er, you must be tired from your trip," said Darcy, now fully recovered from his trance, "will you not sit down and have tea with us?"
"No, thank you," replied Angelica with a weariness that Darcy had not noticed before. "I would rather see my son, if that is all right with you."
"Of course, I understand," said Darcy. "Let me call one of the servants."
"There is no need for that," countered Elizabeth. "Let me take Mrs. St. Vincent to her son."
Darcy watched resignedly as both women made their way toward the entryway. Before Elizabeth stepped out of the room, however, she turned to give him a knowing look. He flushed and averted his gaze immediately. When the rustle of skirts was gone, Darcy took one deep breath, inhaling Angelica's lingering scent, and departed for the library.
Once within the safe confines of the library, Darcy gave up all appearances of composure. His reaction to Angelica troubled him deeply. All through the years, he had believed himself over her, and yet... He shook his head vigorously to clear his head and proceeded to pace the room. This cannot be borne! He had a loving wife, and two wonderful children. It was inappropriate for him to dwell on memories that happened ages ago. What was the matter with him? He silently berated himself while continuing to wear out the carpet.
"Darcy, you'll tire yourself if you keep on doing that."
"Richard!" cried Darcy in surprise. "Did not anyone teach you to knock first?" He sat down, obviously irritated by the intrusion.
"I did knock," replied Col. Fitzwilliam calmly, sitting himself opposite Darcy.
"I did not hear it."
"You obviously have a lot on your mind," observed Col. Fitzwilliam.
Darcy sighed. "You know I do."
"I was looking for you to tell you that my family and I am leaving in an hour. But if you need me to stay..."
"There is no need for that, Richard. Your duty is to your family."
"My family does not desperately need me at the moment. But you do. Darcy, this situation is a difficult one, even for you."
Darcy stood up and looked out the window. Pemberley was still enveloped in snow. Everything looked so cold and bleak, and Darcy was sorely tempted to accept his cousin's offer. But instead, he turned around and said, "No, I can manage."
Col. Fitzwilliam did not appear convinced, but he did not argue with his cousin. After all, it was a pointless endeavor. "What did she look like?
"No sign of aging whatsoever?" Col. Fitzwilliam shot Darcy a quizzical look.
"None that I noticed."
Col. Fitzwilliam laughed out loud. "Indeed! Angelica has defied old age! I should ask her if she has discovered the fountain of youth."
"Do not mock me; that is not what I meant," snapped Darcy. The truth was the moment Angelica entered the room, she was immediately transformed into the Angelica of his youth. In his mind, she had never aged.
"It is too bad I was not there to see her for myself. I will have to rely on your biased opinion. I suppose I will not even get a chance to say hello to her, will I?" asked Col. Fitzwilliam with regret.
"Probably not. She is with her son at the moment."
Col. Fitzwilliam sighed. "Shame. Perhaps some other time. How is Elizabeth?"
"Yes, Elizabeth. Your wife, remember?"
Darcy scowled. "Indeed, Richard, there is no need to make fun of me. If you were in my situation..."
"I would ask some help from my friends," finished the Colonel. "Darcy, Edward can look after my family. I can stay here with you. There are too many women in this household; it is not healthy for you."
"Thank you, but Elizabeth and I can handle this."
"If you say so," said Col. Fitzwilliam in defeat. "Well now, I must prepare my family for our journey. I shall leave you to your thoughts."
"No, let me come with you. I must bid your wife and children farewell."
"You do not have to. I am sure they will understand that you have many things on your mind."
"No, I want to see you and your family off, Richard," insisted Darcy, knowing full well that any more time alone would render him insane. He needed something to keep himself occupied, to keep his thoughts away from Angelica.
Both gentlemen headed towards the door, with Col. Fitzwilliam in the lead. He put his hand on the knob, paused, turned to Darcy and said, "If you need me - "
"I will call for you."
Col. Fitzwilliam nodded, opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Darcy followed and shut the door behind him.
Chapter Thirty-three - A Confrontation Posted on Saturday, 12 October 2002
Angelica anxiously followed Elizabeth up a long flight of stairs without saying a word. She had so many questions but did not know where to start, and so she kept silent instead. Elizabeth did not attempt to engage her in a conversation. Whether it was out of consideration or animosity, Angelica did not know nor did she care. Her thoughts were focused on Jonathan.
They both reached the top of the landing and proceeded down a spacious corridor, with huge windows gracing one side and doors lining the other. Elizabeth stopped in front of the fifth door down, but seemed startled when she realized that someone else was in the hallway, seated on an armchair opposite the closed door.
"Abigail!" exclaimed Elizabeth in astonishment.
A beautiful but pale-faced, young lady jumped up in surprise, and Angelica correctly surmised that she must be Darcy and Elizabeth's daughter. Abigail had her mother's eyes, but her other features bore witness to the fact that she was also a Darcy.
"Mama! You startled me!" cried Abigail, clutching a book in her hand. "I was just reading..." Her eyes wandered towards Angelica. "Oh, I beg your pardon," she said, a little flustered. "I did not know we had company."
"Mrs. St. Vincent," said Elizabeth, "this is my daughter, Abigail. Abigail, this is Mrs. James St. Vincent, Mr. Jonathan St. Vincent's mother."
A tinge of color slowly crept up Abigail's pallid cheeks, but she politely curtsied and Angelica curtsied back.
"Pleased to meet you," said Abigail. "I - I know you have come to see your son. I - we - hope he recovers soon." The blush deepened a little.
Angelica sensed something more than concern in Abigail's voice - love perhaps? There were many things she did not know about her son that she would need to find out later. For now, she simply thanked the young lady for her concern, and prayed fervently that Jonathan would, indeed, recover soon.
"If you need anything, Mrs. St. Vincent," said Elizabeth, opening the door to Jonathan's room, "please do not hesitate to call us."
Angelica thanked her hostess, and watched as Elizabeth and Abigail made their way down the stairs. When they were out of sight, she stepped inside the room and closed the door gently. The room was dark, for the blinds were drawn, and the only source of light was the fire roaring in the fireplace. Her eyes swept across the room and finally settled upon the unconscious figure of her son.
Even in the dim light, Jonathan's face was almost as white as the sheet that covered him. A big, red stain blotted the bandage on his forehead. His body was immobile, and only the almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest suggested that he was alive.
Although Angelica had prepared herself for the worst, the sight of her almost lifeless son shocked her. She slowly sank to the floor by the bed and spent a full five minutes staring at his still form. When she had reconciled herself to the gravity of his situation, she broke down and wept, planting her arms on the bed and burying her face in her hands. As time passed, however, her sobs became less and less audible, and fewer and farther in between. At last, fatigue took over her body and she fell fast asleep.
How long Angelica slept she did not know, but when she awoke, the fire was still crackling in its place. A servant must have stoked it, she decided, wondering why that servant did not wake her up. A quick glance at Jonathan told her that there was no change in his state. She felt suddenly hungry, not to mention dirty, for she had not freshened up at all since she had arrived. Right now, she would give anything for a bowl of soup, some bread, and a fresh change of clothes. A clock sat on top of the mantel; both its hands pointed at twelve. Midnight! The whole house must be asleep, she thought desperately.
It took Angelica a while to get up, for her bones and muscles had stiffened from their uncomfortable position, but when she did, she immediately lit a candle and made her way out the door and into the pitch-black corridor. There was no moon outside, and an owl mourned its absence with a grief-stricken hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. A sharp wind's wailing song accompanied the owl's sad lament, and together they blended into a mournful melody.
Angelica walked down the stairs, taking care not to trip on her gown. Her footsteps echoed noisily, but she did not care. She almost wished that somebody would wake up. She had no idea where her room was supposed to be or even where her trunk was. Her first thought, however, was to get some nourishment and she was perfectly willing to rummage through Pemberley's kitchen to find something to eat.
Upon reaching the landing, she paused, trying to remember the way to the kitchen. After all, it had been thirty years since she had last seen Pemberley. It was difficult enough to find one's way inside the house during the daytime, but at night, it was virtually impossible. Angelica looked left, then right, but could not decide which way to take. After much contemplation, she decided to turn right, hoping that the Darcys would not find her dead from starvation in some obscure hallway three days later. Holding the candleholder with one hand and clutching her skirt in the other, she took a tentative step toward her right.
"Good evening, Mrs. St. Vincent."
Angelica let out a blood-curling scream, dropping the metal candleholder, which clanked noisily against the floor. She struggled as somebody took hold of her arms; her only thought was to get away from her attacker.
"For heaven's sake, Angelica! It is only me, Fitzwilliam!"
Angelica stopped struggling and found herself looking into Darcy's face. "Fitzwilliam! You scared me half to death!"
Darcy released her. "I am so sorry. I did not mean to frighten you, but you sure frightened the whole household with that scream." He grinned and picked up his own candle, which was now the only source of light, since Angelica's had been put out when she dropped the candleholder. "I was afraid you were going to knock this one out, too."
She smiled sheepishly, picking up her candleholder and putting the candle back on. "Sorry. I was not expecting anyone to sneak up behind me like that." She relit the candle with Darcy's light.
Darcy looked genuinely embarrassed. "I really am sorry. What are you doing out here anyway?"
It was Angelica's turn to look embarrassed. "I was feeling a little bit hungry. I have not had a bite to eat since I arrived."
This time, Darcy looked mortified. "I am terribly sorry for being such a bad host. We had a servant call you for dinner, but he said you were asleep and he did not want to wake you up. I should have asked him to check on you again."
"Please, do not blame yourself. I was the one who insisted on seeing Jonathan immediately. I did doze off, and the next thing I knew it was midnight." Angelica rubbed the back of her stiff neck. "And you? What are you doing up so late?"
"Just taking my usual midnight stroll," answered Darcy. "But come, we must get you something to eat. Let me assure you that we are not in the practice of starving our guests."
Darcy led Angelica to the kitchen and fixed her a bowl of soup, some leftover roast muttonchops, and bread and offered it to her. "I must apologize for this simple repast. It is not fitting for a guest such as you, I know, but I am afraid I am not as skilled as Cook in fixing dinner," said Darcy.
"Thank you," said Angelica, eyeing the food hungrily. "I was never a finicky eater anyway."
Darcy watched her eat, marveling at her ability to consume her food quickly yet elegantly. There was, after all, no inelegant bone in Angelica's body. The years had done nothing to erode her poise and grace.
"So, Fitzwilliam," said Angelica between bites, "how many children do you have?"
"Only two. My son, Anthony and my daughter, Abigail."
"Your daughter is very pretty. I met her a while ago."
"You did?" asked Darcy, slightly surprised.
"Yes, she was sitting outside Jonathan's room."
Darcy did not answer, but his face clouded a little. He knew that Abigail felt something for Jonathan, but did Jonathan feel something for her? She had never confided to him about Jonathan; after all, affairs of the heart are not matters which daughters usually confide to their fathers.
"How did Jonathan meet his accident, Fitzwilliam? Does it have anything to do with your daughter?" queried Angelica perceptively.
"He got into a scuffle with a neighbor and hit his head on a rock. I was not there when it happened. I cannot provide the details." Darcy was not lying. He really did not know much about the accident, except what Abigail and Anthony had told him. He knew he was not giving Angelica much information, but he was not about to tell her that Jonathan risked his life to save his daughter.
"Is there something going on between my son and your daughter?" asked Angelica pointedly.
"No," answered Darcy quickly. Too quickly.
Angelica frowned a little. "Why, Fitzwilliam, do you not approve of my son?"
"I do not know what you mean."
"I am sure you do," replied Angelica stubbornly. "I believe that your daughter loves my son and if I am not mistaken, my son loves your daughter. I know love when I see it."
"Do you really?" challenged Darcy. He stared at Angelica, daring her to defend herself.
"I did not use to," said Angelica softly, avoiding his eyes. "But I do now."
They both fell silent, as if the rush of memories was too much for both of them. Angelica concentrated on her soup, and Darcy stared unseeingly past her.
"Jonathan is not like me, you know, if that is what you are afraid of," said Angelica suddenly. Darcy focused his eyes on her, and she continued. "He is not going leave Abigail."
"How well do you know your son?" It was not really a question. It was more of a statement.
Angelica remained silent.
"I take that to mean not very well," concluded Darcy. "I do not want my daughter needlessly hurt, Angelica. She does not have to go through what I did."
"I thought you have already forgiven me for what I had done."
"I have, but it does not mean I have not forgotten."
"Just because James and I..."
"Abandoned your respective partners does not mean it runs in the blood?" Darcy laughed mirthlessly. "I am not willing to take that chance. One parent, I can make allowances for, but two? Forget it."
Silence reigned once more, and Angelica took the opportunity to finish her food. She quickly cleaned up afterwards, before Darcy could stop her, and when she was done, she turned to him and said, "I am afraid I do not know where my trunk or my bedroom is. Do you think you can help me find it?"
Darcy merely nodded and led the way up the same flight of stairs that led to Jonathan's bedroom. Angelica's room was actually the sixth room down the hallway, just beside Jonathan's. Darcy unlocked the door and held it open her. Angelica entered and saw that her trunk was already in it.
"Well," said Darcy with some awkwardness, "Mrs. St. Vincent, I hope you have a good night's rest."
"Back to Mrs. St. Vincent, is it, Fitzwilliam? I do not know how you could address me so formally when just moments ago you were quite content with Angelica. We should not have to pretend that we do not know each other very well, because we do."
"We do not," countered Darcy. "Not anymore. Although we used to."
"But we did have some good times together, did we not?" said Angelica, looking up at him.
Darcy gazed back into Angelica's blue depths - the same blue depths that he had gazed into many lives ago. "Yes," he said softly. "Yes, we did."
Angelica took a step forward. "Did you really mean it when you said that you have forgiven me? Because I can accept it if you cannot forget the pain I have caused you, as long as you have forgiven me."
Angelica's proximity to Darcy made it hard for him to concentrate. "I have forgiven you, Angelica. Believe me, I have."
"I regret everything, Fitzwilliam. You do not know how much I have suffered." She moved a little closer still.
Danger signals flashed in Darcy's head, and he forced himself to look away from her eyes. He stepped backwards, and breathed in deeply. "Goodnight, Angelica." He turned around and left, without waiting for her response.
When Darcy reached the door of his bedchamber, his heart was pounding hard against his ribcage and his breathing was labored. He nervously opened the door and saw Elizabeth's sleeping form. The sight of her calmed him. She has always had that effect on him. He proceeded to his dressing room through a connecting door and quickly changed his clothes. When he returned to his bedroom, his breathing was normal, though his heart still palpitated. He slid quietly into bed, beside his wife, contemplating what had just transpired between him and Angelica.
He loved Elizabeth. He was sure of that. But for all of Angelica's faults, he still had a soft spot for her. She was a part of his history, just as James was a part of Elizabeth's. There was a time when Angelica had made him happy. She made a terrible mistake years ago, but it was not entirely her fault. He was never there for her. Now Angelica still has nobody...but he has Elizabeth. Perhaps that is why his mind refuses to see Angelica the way she is right now: older, sadder and lonelier. Perhaps that is why he remembers her the way she was before. Perhaps he wants to believe that there was a time when Angelica had felt happiness. But he should never have let nostalgia and sympathy override his good sense. He was lucky that nothing happened.
"Nothing happened," he repeated his thoughts aloud.
Elizabeth stirred from her sleep. "Fitzwilliam?" she said sleepily. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing," he replied soothingly. "Go back to sleep."
Elizabeth snuggled closer to him and returned to her sleep. Darcy smiled and reached out to brush the curls away from her face. "Everything is going to be fine," he said, as he put his arm around his wife and tried to go to sleep.