Posted on Thursday, 13 October 2005
Darcy was conscious yet again that he could not keep his eyes from searching out Elizabeth and gaining sight of her. There she was, returning from a large planting of roses along the south of the garden wall. She bent to smell a bloom. How could I ever have hurt you so, my dearest Elizabeth, thought Darcy, as he recalled the cruel way in which he had first proposed marriage to her. What a fool I was! What stupidity to think, to believe that an offer of marriage from me could never be refused. But she had refused him absolutely, when he thought himself so above her, and in his own high esteem... He was brought sharply back to the present. What had happened? Something was wrong, with Elizabeth, but what...he gazed in horror at the sight, willing it to be unreal, to be some kind of nightmare from which he might awaken in an instant, but there it was before him; she looked as if someone had taken her arm and pulled her roughly backward, then released her, and her face was blanched white with shock; pale and silent, her lips opening to speak what would not be heard, she took one small hesitant step forward. Darcy shouted, "No!" and running to reach her side, he yelled to a confused servant to ride for the doctor immediately. He reached out to hold and guide Elizabeth's limp form as she fell slowly, ever so slowly toward the earth, and he saw the hideous shaft of an arrow, its feathers straight and unmoving, piercing her arm. "Elizabeth!" he cried, his voice full of uncontrolled anguish and fear. He held her gently, as he turned her ever so slightly to see the injury.
Others were beginning to be aware of the horrible turn of events, and the Gardiners hurried over to their niece. As people began to crowd in on them, Darcy cried, "Make room!"
"Darcy, what…?" Mr. Gardiner stopped cold, his face turned grim. "We must get her to the house, quickly, it must be removed," he was interrupted by Darcy.
"No, we cannot move her yet, the pain will be..." for a moment he could not continue. "We must first remove the length, it will be easier for her then." Elizabeth's uncle knew immediately to what Darcy referred, and produced his own pocket knife to cut through the shaft. "Please," said Darcy, reaching for it himself.
Mr. Gardiner wondered how long it had been since a man of Darcy's position and standing had used that word, and how he now used it with no thought. He silently handed the instrument over, and Darcy quickly and efficiently cut through the shaft of the arrow, removing the greater part of it and lightening its weight.
"Mr. Darcy, when the time is more appropriate." Mr. Gardiner left it there, certain by the anguished expression on his host's countenance that whatever poor fool responsible would pay, and dearly, possibly with his life if Darcy had any say in the matter!
"I promise you, sir, with every breath I have left in me, I will..." he stopped as Elizabeth stirred.
"Easy, little one," said her uncle softly, as his wife caressed her cheek, "you will soon be mended." Mrs. Gardiner was weeping softly, but was in control of what her husband knew must be considerable emotions, as Elizabeth had long been her favorite niece.
"Darcy, I must insist she be removed now, before she's fully with us again."
"Yes, I agree. Immediately." And before Mr. Gardiner's surprised sight, as well as the others present, instead of calling for a litter and servants, Darcy gently raised her in his arms, careful of her wound, and slowly, cradling her with infinite care, walked toward the house with Elizabeth.
The Gardiners looked at each other with eyes full of meaning as well as tears. "He is so much in love with her, this is likely to hurt him even so much as poor Lizzy!" And with that thought, they made to follow Darcy and his precious burden back inside Pemberley House.
As Darcy carried Elizabeth, his thoughts and emotions were wild, jumping from one to a hundred more. But two or three were uppermost and he kept returning to them: This happened here, I alone am responsible for this atrocity...Dearest Elizabeth, shot...Who, how could such a monstrous thing..., and then, "My dear heart" he murmured to her, as she stirred again in his arms, "You will be made well, I promise you! Everything that can be done, and more." Her eyes, those beautiful exquisite eyes, opened once, twice, then fixed on his face in confusion. He could not bear the pain they revealed her to be in, glistening with unshed tears. "You will be fine, Elizabeth, you have been injured," he said to her softly, as they entered the hall, and he proceeded to carry her to his own private rooms. A fire was lit there, and she would be secure.
A soft moan escaped her lips, and it tore at his heart. "I don't..." she began to say in a weak, almost inaudible whisper, "what has happened?"
It was a moment or two before he could reply, his emotions were so strong. You must help her...Take hold or you will be worse than useless... she must be able to depend on you...
Arriving in his rooms, a small entourage of servants as well as the Gardiners had quickly arranged the bedding and pillows for greatest comfort, before he finally relinquished her to the silks and masses of pillows. He still held her hand, the right one, the uninjured one. "Be strong, Elizabeth," he thought, before looking into her face, to explain what had happened, to apologize with all his heart, to say anything that might relieve her mind of the pain she was experiencing. Because of him, because someone had gotten access to bows and arrows that were not, could not have been properly secured. Would that he never had heard of archery than that this be the result! Darcy looked into the face of the one dearest to him, prepared now to speak, but she was no longer aware. At least she will be spared some of this nightmare, he thought, as there was a great commotion in the hall outside his rooms and the doctor entered hurriedly, carrying with him a large black leather satchel.
Darcy turned even paler, if possible, as he thought of what Elizabeth had still to endure before she could begin a recovery from this injury. Mr. Gardiner saw his white face and trembling hands and, deciding Darcy did not need the sight of the arrowhead in Lizzy's arm, said brusquely to him "Darcy, this is my niece, I insist on seeing this thing through myself; you have other duties to arrange with the current state of things, and Lizzy's future care to consider, as I daresay the doctor will insist she not be moved for some time, am I correct in that presumption, sir?" turning to the man for his prognosis.
"The wound is certainly not life-threatening," (there were several sighs of relief from various quarters as this pronouncement was heard) "she will recover, but there are always after-effects, and of course all care must be taken to prevent an infection taking hold. But I would not advise she be moved until I give leave, possibly three or four days, a week even."
As Dr. Stewart began rattling through his equipment, Gardiner approached Darcy and said in a low but firm tone, "Darcy, take my wife out of here, and make your people ready for Lizzy's stay and care. Go, man," and in a lower voice still, for only Darcy to hear, "She is still not aware of her surroundings, but should she become so, she will forgive me easily, though perhaps not immediately."
They stared at each other for a moment, Darcy almost glaring his defiance of Mr. Gardiner's wishes, until he realized with absolute certainty that Gardiner was adamant, and would accept no other course of action. He bowed his head briefly, and reached to escort Mrs. Gardiner from the room. As he reached the doorway, he turned to look back at Elizabeth's unmoving face, before catching her uncle's eye one final time. Darcy bowed to him, a formal but graceful movement, and said "Sir, Miss Bennet is a most fortunate lady, having you as a relation. Take good care." And he strode from the room.
Darcy was issuing brief but thorough orders to the appropriate staff concerning the injured occupant of his rooms. Almost a full hour had passed, and nothing had yet been heard from that quarter. He finished with the staff, Mrs. Reynolds being so solicitous of him and concerned as to Elizabeth. Darcy was gratified that she seemed to have formed an attachment already to his dear love; her feelings were made so clear. "Poor girl" she murmured, as she took leave of her master, "Poor dear girl..." Indeed, Mrs. Reynolds, you mirror my thoughts, went through his mind, as he headed for the staircases and back to his love. This has to have been time enough, someone must be looking to inform me of her. No longer.
As he entered the hall leading to his goal, he was stopped in midstride, and reached out an arm to find balance against the wall, as a cry that pierced his soul was heard to come faintly from beyond the closed doors ahead of him. Then nothing further reached his ears. "Upon my life!" Darcy burst out involuntarily, unaware he had spoken aloud, and ran to the doors of his rooms and threw them open.
Darcy entered his chambers and, moving toward the bedside, quickly viewed the tableau. The doctor was packing up his instruments, servants were removing discreetly hidden linens, cloths, and articles of Elizabeth's clothing, and maids had provided appropriately for their new charge. He gazed at Elizabeth, and realized momentarily that although she was murmuring softly, and seemed to be in some distress, she was not fully aware of those around her.
The doctor, having completed his rituals (and also wisely having given Mr. Darcy a short moment to grasp the current state of things) spoke up then. "The arrowhead was removed with little difficulty, Mr. Darcy, and there should be no damage of a permanent nature." A huge weight was taken from Darcy's shoulders, and heart, when he heard this pronouncement, and he let go a sigh of relief. "Unfortunately the young lady awoke whilst I was applying the last of the sutures. I administered laudanum, but it was a short while before it took its full effect. Amazing girl, really." At this Darcy looked to him for further explanation. "Many a man would not have been half so brave as she," the doctor pronounced with a smile to Darcy and Mr. Gardiner, a tribute to his esteem for her given to the men who cared so much for her well-being. "She'll of course be in some amount of pain for a while yet, but the roughest road has been passed. I shall return later this evening to check her condition. Keep her warm, mind. Quite a courageous young lady, indeed..." he trailed off to himself as he prepared to depart. Thanks were given all around, and after some pieces more of information being sought and given, the good doctor took his leave.
Two maids remained behind, placing themselves discreetly in a corner removed from the center of activity, but at the ready to act on any request of their master. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner remained, Darcy having pulled a chair near the bedside so as to easily see Elizabeth's face, and to try and read of her state. Mr. Gardiner knew what would shortly be asked of him, and he obliged his host and fellow sufferer with a precise recounting of all that had occurred, with no reservations. He knew it was but in aid of Mr. Darcy to be fully informed, and had no qualms on this being the right, even the necessary thing to do, for it would also serve to relieve the man's mind of his gravest concerns. This continued for some time, as Darcy stared often at Elizabeth as she lay before them, now sleeping.
After a pause in which each followed their own thoughts, Darcy spoke quietly to Gardiner, although his eyes were only for Elizabeth. "Rooms for you and your wife have been prepared for as long as..." he sighed and continued in a different manner "as long as you desire to remain here, sir." Standing, he continued formally. "I owe you and your family a debt of honor, which I can see no way of ever being met, not in my lifetime. I am deeply obliged to you, and you have my thanks as well for" and here Darcy's voice all but failed him, yet he managed to maintain his composure, though just barely, "for everything you have done here today."
Seeing his deep distress, Lizzy's uncle thought to divert him first, rather than reply immediately to his words of debt and honor. "Has anything yet been learned as to how this came about, who the culprit might be, who was so careless in..."
This remark had its intended effect as Darcy sprang to his feet energetically and began to pace about the room. Still with voices low, and frequent glances toward the still-sleeping young woman, Darcy carried on at length as to the forces he had set in motion in determining who had made use of the weapons which were the cause of Elizabeth's being injured.
Mr. Gardiner was quite impressed, as it seemed Darcy had no reservations whatever in turning his entire estate upside down, from top to bottom, in finding the doer of this deed. "It sounds as though you have things well in hand, sir, and he will soon be found out. I have no concerns there. However, regarding the other..." Darcy stopped his pacing and stood before Mr. Gardiner, ready for any manner of reproach and fully prepared to accept it. Gardiner continued, now with a bit of his own pacing, more to give Darcy some relief than any agitation on his own part, "We shall of course, my wife and I, stay the night, and I am quite certain that Lizzy's Aunt will desire to remain until our niece is able to travel in comfort. But I have already delayed some urgent business, and I'll be taking my leave tomorrow," seeing Darcy's expression at this bit of news he continued with "only for a day or two, not long, and I know," this with a direct look, and repeated again, "I know my niece is in the best hands, and shall receive excellent care until my return." Darcy gave a quick bow of his head to acknowledge the compliment. "However, I do believe you will shortly be repaying any debt you may feel owed to the family, or" with a look toward Lizzy, "the individual."
Darcy immediately became upright and still, but only said quietly, "How can this be so, tell me at once."
At that, Mr. Gardiner gave him a small but quite genuine grin. "Sir. Mr. Darcy," and grinned even larger. "You have never had the, shall I say experience, of being around Miss Elizabeth Bennet while she is recuperating from an injury." He couldn't help himself, and a genuine laugh escaped. Darcy was staring at him with a bewildered look, which only seemed to increase Gardiner's amusement. "I'll tell you a little story, not to reveal what your near future holds, as I shall greatly enjoy the penance she will undoubtedly put you through. We had the honor of caring for Lizzy as a young girl. This is just one instance, mind! During a visit to our home some years back, she managed to fall out of a tree." Seeing Darcy's expression at these words, he chuckled, "Oh yes, come now, you certainly know of her love for the outdoors. It was nothing truly serious, no broken bones even," that comforted Darcy, it was plain to see, "but being a bit bruised, it was necessary to limit her activities a great deal, just as this present condition will require." Darcy was following along with this narrative, but the poor fellow really had no idea. "Let me just say this: Better you than I! I could not bear the full brunt of, no, I've said quite enough. She'll put you through it most definitely, and then some. I do feel for you. But it is a highly worthy way of paying off whatever debts you may perceive as owing, especially considering the source of your future punishment." He couldn't resist one further remark to a now totally confused Darcy, "You will catch it, man!"
Darcy was trying to sort through all this and comprehend its significance, but really could not, so instead he asked, with no importance being attached to the question, "How old was Miss Bennet when she had this set-to with a tree?"
This served to set Mr. Gardiner off on another bout with controlling his amusement as he replied, "Just eight years, and that she has improved her talents with age cannot be doubted for a moment!" Upon which he excused himself to go in search of Mrs. Gardiner, smiling and shaking his head, leaving Darcy to watch over Elizabeth for the moment, and in a bit of a confused state.
Darcy sat at Elizabeth's bedside, holding her small hand in both of his. He was calmer now, since he had been assured of her recovery, but no lessening of his intense feelings of guilt and remorse conflicted with his abounding love for her, and under all a deep admiration for her beauty. Even thus, pale as winter sunlight, she would break the heart of any man who looked on her and could not have her as his own, he thought, stroking her hand softly. Please allow me a chance to prove myself to you, Elizabeth. I couldn't bear it if you refused me one chance to win your love. But he said nothing aloud, only gazing intently upon her, as time passed outside of his awareness.
Servants had been coming and going at regular intervals and performing various small kindnesses for Elizabeth, but Darcy had no real knowledge of their presence until Mrs. Reynolds made an appearance with Mrs. Gardiner and spoke to the master of Pemberley directly, interrupting his reveries and bringing him into the present. "Mrs. Gardiner is here, Sir, to relieve you a bit." Darcy looked around dazedly at first, then he recognized the presence of others and reluctantly released Elizabeth's hand, as he rose from the seat he had occupied for an hour.
"It is my turn, Mr. Darcy. I should like to be with my niece for a while, and you surely could do with some food. You mustn't stop taking care of yourself, you know, for you'll need your strength and wits about you in a few days, as my husband informs me he has already tried to warn you! You will be notified immediately if Lizzy awakens, or of any changes ..." and with a gentle smile, before he knew it he had been shown out of his, now Elizabeth's, quarters.
I've been selfish again, he thought; instead of allowing those who can see best to her to do what they need, I've been indulging myself and accomplishing nothing. No more. And finally, his step determined and his countenance once again the familiar one of the master of Pemberley, in a dignified but cold, even icy manner, he all but terrorized every living soul in his employ, and even one or two who had left the living some time before. Not surprisingly, results were to be had shortly, but of a disconcerting nature.
Darcy was in the library, having eaten something he had no memory of; it was approaching midnight and he was considering tapping gently on her door, making enquiries as to how Elizabeth was faring, but he feared waking her and keeping her from what must surely be much needed rest, when Mrs. Reynolds did just that upon these doors, and entered without waiting for his reply. This alone was enough to cause him concern, and he rose to meet her. He saw her expression, and taking a deep breath, spoke first. "Say it quickly, what news?"
"Miss Lizzy has taken a turn, sir." (He barely registered the familiarity taken with her name). "Dr. Stewart is still here, he never left this evening. In the past hour she has become feverish, but has chills as well."
"And what does the doctor have to say about this?"
"If she does not improve this night...he is concerned, and wishes you to join them upstairs, rather than..."
"Of course," Darcy interrupted as he headed out the room, "immediately." And was gone from her sight that quickly.
Nothing could have prepared Darcy for the quite different sight he came upon as he entered and approached the group at the bedside. The room was quite warm, almost uncomfortably so, and Elizabeth was enwrapped in soft warm blankets, but it was obvious she shivered, and her lovely face was flushed, her curls massed damply around her forehead and face, and her eyes, Heaven above, he thought, her eyes were open, but filled not with their sparkle and wit that he so admired, but a feverish glow that at once struck him full of fear. As he looked on her, she became aware of him, and attempted a smile even as she shivered. Darcy was paralyzed at the sight of her, such beauty and spirit in so much misery, and he longed to hold her and make her warm, to give his warmth to her. "Mr. Darcy," she whispered, and he bent near to hear her soft words, saying her name as he did so. "You need hire a better instructor for these..." as her voice failed, and the slight smile faded, she went away again, drifting into an uncomfortable sleep. He knelt for a moment beside her and once again took her hand in his, feeling the heat from within her; her shivering gradually subsided, and she was quiet.
He had made his mind clear in an instant. He was not leaving her side again, and he dared anyone to tell him differently.
A brief and fruitless discussion ensued. All that could be done was being done. There was lack of nothing, no comfort not already provided. Yet another change of servants took place, and the doctor remained, as well as Mrs. Gardiner, who by this time was more than concerned at the state of her Lizzy's health. And Darcy kept his chosen place at Elizabeth's side, keeping hold of her hand, saying little to anyone but her, an occasional whisper, but mostly in his heart.
Around daybreak, a much better view than the night's presented itself. The doctor thought all was well enough for him to see to a few others in his care, as Elizabeth's fever had broken. Even her aunt was cheered by this, and elected to take a short rest herself, to return in a few hours unless needed sooner. And Darcy remained.
The thoughts he had had through that terribly long night would shame the most ardent of lovers, for he fought for the life of the only woman he could ever say to have loved, and the possibility, the slimmest chance that she might depart forever from him drove him beyond himself, into a different universe than most mortals inhabit, and he dwelt there longer than many could ever have survived. With near certainty, the only reason he found his way safely back from that place was the touch of Elizabeth, and the sound of her voice, faint, but hers, oh yes, it was she, what was she saying? "What, dearest?" And Darcy was back at her side.
Darcy looked around the room, both familiar and alien to him now. Two women in service to him, both long in his employ, were sitting some distance away and speaking softly of household matters. No one else was present; the fire had died down somewhat, and the air nearer normal than the heat of the previous evening. As his eyes took all this in, and more, Darcy felt a soft pressure within his hand and he returned it without thought. Then realizing what this must be about, his gaze returned to her, to be met by her eyes on him, and once again he saw that sweet little smile, and was made whole. When he could speak, and it was a while before he was able, all the time her eyes on him, with that small bewitching smile, all he could manage was "How are you feeling, my dear?" And waited patiently for her reply, content to sit there for all eternity if that was what was required of him.
But she spoke sooner. "Mr. Darcy, how long have you been sitting there, if I may enquire?" she asked, and he knew she was on the mend, for her tone had a glimpse of its former playfulness, a shadow of itself, but recognizable and most welcome to Darcy's ears.
"I'm not certain, all night, I suppose," he calmly replied, as he took her hand in both of his. "You've been very ill, and still have not answered my question. Please tell me, Elizabeth. Now."
She slowly blinked her eyes but it was to cover any reaction he might see from her. He said please! How lovely! It would be quite cruel to tease him now. Plenty of opportunities will present themselves, she was certain. "I believe I am much better, sir, thank you for asking." And was silent again.
He took a deep breath in, and released it, loosing much of the tension he had not been aware of carrying. Then he made a decision. "I have much I would like, no, need to say to you, Elizabeth, but not like this, not now, before you are recovered completely from this ..." he stopped himself. Darcy did not know how much Elizabeth was aware of the previous day's events, of how such harm had come to her. It made him feel sick to have to be the one to tell her what had happened, that her safety had not been assured at Pemberley. He began again, "When you are well, please allow me some time, but for now your needs must be seen to, and you must rest and recover."
"All will be well with me shortly, I assure you, sir. Have no great concern on this matter" she sweetly replied. "As you have just said, I must recover. It should please you greatly, to know I intend to follow that particular order," and at this Darcy almost smiled, to Lizzy's gratification, "with all possible speed!" and gave him a heart-wrenching smile.
He couldn't, wouldn't stop himself. He lowered his head to the silk pillows, bringing her hand up only slightly, still held by him, and placed there the tenderest of kisses. He remained so, with his head bowed, for a minute or two, then gently replacing her hand on the bedcovers, and with a final caress, he rose as he looked on her face. Her eyes were again closed but he doubted she had fallen asleep again. That smile was still present.
Darcy had canceled all social activities at Pemberley for a week with virtually no explanation except to his sister, and to her his message had said only that he needed her presence, and that it was a private matter. Georgiana was expected from London the next day. After all he had been through emotionally, and with no sleep in over twenty-four hours, still he wasn't what one could call tired, but strangely invigorated, because Elizabeth was under his roof, in his care, and she was improved; by no means well, but much better than the frightening conditions the past night had seen her endure. He was so very relieved and grateful for this, he was not able to express it even to himself.
The library doors were open, and Darcy saw Mr. Gardiner approaching. With some surprise Darcy rose, saying "Are you returned so soon?" Mr. Gardiner looked surprised in his turn.
"Darcy, I have not yet left, don't you remember...ah, I believe your perception of time has gotten disconnected from the rest of us. I am leaving now, I wanted to see you first." How to say this? "It was very good of you to stay with Lizzy all night; Mrs. Gardiner, well, we both thank you for..."
"Not a word, sir. Not one word of thanks will I hear on anything regarding this misery."
Mr. Gardiner inclined his head in acknowledgment of his host's wishes, and spoke of Lizzy again, relaying that she had taken some food and had been sleeping when he left her minutes earlier. "I am confident now that it is quite safe for me to take leave, if only for a day or two." These two men were coming to have a high regard for each other, and had a comfortable conversation before Gardiner departed.
After taking leave of Mr. Gardiner and finishing matters of estate business that were absolutely required of him, Darcy was considering taking the well-meant advice regarding a rest, when footsteps again approached. This time it was Mrs. Gardiner, and she was smiling; no need for concern, she seemed to be saying with her expression as she approached him.
"Forgive the irregular means, Mr. Darcy, but I am to deliver a message to you," and handed him a folded piece of writing paper, on the outside of which was written in fine script: "Mr. Darcy", underneath which was "Pemberley Hall". "I know the contents, as I wrote it upon direction. I am also asked to await a reply." She folded her hands and waited.
"Nothing is wrong? She is doing well?"
"Just fine, sir." A smile, and silence.
This was ...hmmm. He opened the sheet. Within was a short but formal letter, in her aunt's hand, as explained, but signed "Miss Elizabeth Bennet". He took in the contents; thought a bit; looked at Mrs. Gardiner. That lady remained as she had been, and said nothing. He read it again, then carefully placed the page in the center of the desk at which he was seated. He rose and took a few paces. Turning back, he said, "She wants me to deduce this? You, or anyone on my staff, will not enlighten me?"
Mrs. Gardiner nodded her head with a smile.
"Not even a clue? A hint?"
"Well, that is a possibility, but not at present."
Darcy returned to the desk and arranged writing materials, still pondering, then began a reply. "Perhaps you would look over my answer? I should not like it to be found wanting."
This was agreed to, and he commenced writing: "I shall be delighted to call on Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the hour of seven o'clock p.m. this evening at her current residence, and will do all that is within my power to fulfill her," here he paused.
"You are doing very well so far," allowed Mrs. Gardiner.
This brought a small smile to Darcy's face, which she would be quite pleased to relate to the petitioner. "...to fulfill her eminently reasonable request." This was pronounced excellent, folded, sealed and given over to be "delivered."
"She really expects me to deliver a basket of her favorite fruit to her? Without knowing what it might be?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Darcy, she fully expects it," said her aunt, smiling as she left him, thoughtful, bemused, and totally in love; Darcy looked forward to the accomplishment of a pleasant task.
"You would tell me if I am in error, wouldn't you, Mrs. Gardiner?"
"Of course! Neither of us wishes you to fail her in her first request."
Ah, thought Darcy, the first of how many, and with what complications attached? This could soon get difficult. Well, nothing to be done, he'd do his utmost for every request, puzzle, or riddle she concocted. And enjoy every moment of it!
He lifted a beautifully colored silk scarf in shades of ruby and emerald to reveal the basket beneath, within which were arranged, in pyramid fashion, the largest tomatoes to be found in the area. "Well done, Mr. Darcy! She'll be so pleased!" And they proceeded to the rooms occupied by Elizabeth, bearing gifts.
Mrs. Gardiner accompanied Darcy to the doors of the chambers where Miss Elizabeth Bennet was currently in residence and, stating that she would be returning shortly, whispered to Darcy "She tires quickly," knocked on the door, and departed.
Darcy only wanted to see with his own eyes that Elizabeth was no longer ill, and was full of admiration that in such a short time she had wits enough about her to have engaged him in this pursuit.
A maid answered the knock momentarily, and with a curtsy to her master and eyes on the floor, for she was quite nervous and feared her master's reaction to her enquiry, as it might easily be deemed a gross impertinence, stammered out, "And who shall I say is calling, sir?"
Darcy had been somewhat expecting this, and to her surprise and relief handed her one of his personal calling cards.
She took it gratefully, murmuring "One moment, please, sir", and retreated into the rooms, only to return seconds later, opening the door wide, smiling, and saying, "Miss Lizzy will be happy to see you, sir, let me take that for you." With curtsies she removed the basket from his possession and led him into the room.
He entered slowly and looked about, taking in the changed atmosphere, the flowers he had arranged to be sent, the many candles brightly but softly adding to the illumination provided from the fire, near which the object of his entire being was seated. He caught his breath; Elizabeth was positioned in a large wing chair, a silk robe about her, a light blanket covering her lap to the floor, beneath which peeked elegant little slippers. Her dark curls were tied loosely back from her face with a ribbon, draping over a shoulder. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever, would ever see, of this he was absolutely certain. His heart swelled and he barely had control of his voice as he bowed and said,
"Miss Bennet, thank you for doing me the honor of receiving me this evening."
She smiled. "Do come in, Mr. Darcy, I hope you will forgive me for not rising," said she.
"You have my deepest admiration for your abilities and accomplishments, Madam. Indeed, I am astounded." Darcy found himself quite at a loss to proceed, and Elizabeth bade him be seated.
"Thank you for the lovely gifts, Mr. Darcy, how did you know my favorite fruit to be the humble tomato?" with a bit of sparkle in those eyes of hers, in that pale face turned towards him, awaiting his reply.
For this he was well prepared, or so he had thought. "I recalled a conversation I happened to overhear, I believe at the ball at which we were both in attendance, at Netherfield, between yourself and the now Mrs. Collins." She inclined her head, and he continued with a half-smile, "It struck me as unusual at the time. If I remember correctly, you described the nature and qualities of this particular item as misunderstood and highly under-rated, which in turn caused you to defend and praise at every opportunity which presented itself its complicated nature and the benefits it offered so generously."
"You have an excellent memory, Mr. Darcy," she said so warmly he felt himself flushing. "Appearances are so easily misunderstood, and when one does not take the proper care in evaluating the nature and character of something, seeing only that which is shown on the surface of things, looking no more deeply than at what seems immediately apparent, Oh," she said earnestly, averting her eyes, and now seeming in some distress. He frowned, and gazed at her intently. "When one becomes aware of the true qualities contained therein, what can result but a feeling of regret, a sense of shame for not having recognized," her voice caught and she turned her face away, refusing to look at him.
Good God, he thought, this woman is apologizing to me! I cannot bear this! But she continued before his voice would make itself heard. "For not having seen what was present the whole time, being so certain of an ill-made prejudgment..."
He finally found his voice: "Miss Bennet, I implore you not to distress yourself so. Being surrounded in the main by others who share in and even encourage a similar, if erroneous, conviction, it is entirely understandable that a lower regard be held, until such a time as one is shown it to be undeserved. To be corrected in a misapprehension does not perhaps take place immediately upon receipt of conflicting information. Time and a better understanding of factors that may not have been made apparent, or could not have been openly presented, these things, it is perfectly understood," he cleared his throat, rose, thought better of it, and seated himself again, "It should be perfectly understood that the beholder bear no blame of any kind."
Elizabeth had been unable to look at him, and when he saw her profile, realized tears were coursing down her cheeks; he felt as if a knife had been plunged through his heart. He went down on one knee at her side, and realized for the first time that her injured arm was bound immobile inside her robes. "Elizabeth," his voice full of emotion, but she still would not look at him, "A mistaken apprehension is surely a forgivable one, when once it is seen to be so, is then amended. I sincerely hope that when I am the one to have had a change in my understanding of the value and qualities of something before me, the focus of that higher regard would be able to grant me forgiveness. Although I could not expect such a generosity, I would still sincerely wish it able to be bestowed upon me."
She still could not face him directly, but gently inclined her head and seemed on the verge of speaking again. As Darcy knew he would not be able to control his actions if she continued in this manner, he rose and quietly said that he feared he had stayed over-long and caused her to tire. As he wished her a good night and his hopes of her being in more improved health the next day, she finally turned toward him with a composed countenance, thanking him for his visit and his concern, and wishing him a good night as well.
The tears have ceased, thank heaven, thought Darcy; it will be the death of me if I see any more of hers. With a bow he made to leave, and realized Mrs. Gardiner was present, apparently awaiting him as he strode across the room. She followed him out into the hallway, gently closing the door behind her as Darcy led the way. He stopped suddenly, and reaching both arms out, placed his hands against the wall, leaned forward, and with head lowered, closed his eyes.
Mrs. Gardiner observed him for a few moments, thinking to herself, "Oh, Lizzy, what are you doing to this man?" She decided to make an offer of aid; if sharing her understanding of her niece would better able him to withstand what she would put him through, that could only be for good. "Mr. Darcy, if you wish, I may be able to offer some insights regarding my niece that could be of some help to you in the next few days."
Still with closed eyes, he nodded his head and softly, but in a tone of absolute certainty stated to that generous lady, "If someone does not, I believe she may be the death of me. Please, join me in the library. I find I am in dire need of a brandy." He abruptly resumed walking, and with increased pace sought his place of refuge.
Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy, she with a glass of wine, he with a brandy, were situated comfortably in the great library, which generations of his family had made one of the finest in the country. They each had been silent some minutes, when Mrs. Gardiner, believing him able to fully attend her words, began:
"Let me first state that I, rather, we, Mr. Gardiner and I, have no knowledge of your and Lizzy's past dealings with each other. It has become obvious that there must have been more to them than either of us had previously understood, which was that of casual acquaintance only."
"I am ashamed of my past dealings with your niece, Mrs. Gardiner, but would enlighten you even as I would be placing myself in the poorest of lights, but for thinking I might reveal something that...no, I will tell you, some at least, of my behavior toward her." He turned to face her more directly. "You are not aware, then, that Miss Bennet refused my offer of marriage, made to her some months ago?" He saw her shock. "Yes, it is true, and she was perfectly justified in doing so, I assure you. My behavior toward her was abominable, the manner of my address...I was a fool, a complete..." he broke off speech, and held his glass in both hands, staring into the past. In a moment he continued: "I was insulting, rude, condescending, full of my own superiority, and God help me, unaware of it at that time. I can not number all the manner of ways in which I, in my arrogance, made it impossible for her to decline my offer with anything less than complete honesty in her opinion of me. She gave it freely, as you may readily imagine, knowing her as you do. When Miss Bennet has complete convictions she speaks them, and she did so to me, enumerating my most serious faults with complete accuracy and no hesitation. I, of course, could not see the justness of the accusations she lay before me as to my disregard for her feelings and my manner toward her. Not at first, but I came to know the truth in what she spoke; to realize what I had done would be the loss of what I now see to be my only happiness, and I had no one but myself to look to for blame. Since that time I have tried..." he paused. Never had Darcy revealed so much of his inner self to another person, but he knew it might be his only hope of redemption to do so now, to her, "I have made every effort of will to correct myself, to earn her regard. Everything I do I have her opinion in mind, for without her regard for its worth, any action of my own is worthless."
They had been sitting in silence for some time, Mrs. Gardiner absorbing the incredible information Mr. Darcy had just revealed to her, and he still reflecting on his past behavior toward Elizabeth. Darcy came out of his reverie, and spoke first. "I should also say that there were other factors involved at the time, one of which I believe to have been clarified between us, given your niece's extraordinary behavior toward me during our most recent..." he trailed off.
"I truly do not wish to intrude on your privacy, but is there any way, in a general manner, you can relate to me not the content, but perhaps the tone of her conversation with you?"
Darcy leapt from his chair, startling Mrs. Gardiner. "She apologized to me!" he exclaimed in disbelief, then a bit more calmly, "To me, who has treated her so ill she had no reason to think other than the worst of me; she, because, I believe, of this other matter of which I am not free to speak, apologizes for having misread me, my character." Darcy finally stopped his agitated pacing. "If you do not direct me in this, cannot give me some small guidance, I have no idea what...I cannot..." and Darcy could say no more, and seating himself again, stared down into his brandy.
"Let me first say that this is very good news, Lizzy apologizing to you, Mr. Darcy." She awaited a response to this, but his expression was not accepting. "She has a generous heart, and is quick to fight an injustice. If perceiving she had wronged you in some way, and was unable to correct this wrong, it would trouble her deeply. This explains much to me of her behavior of late." This last in a soft voice, speaking to herself, yet Darcy heard it, and was now listening intently. "She would feel obligated to admit an error and make it right, if at all possible, and until she was able it would weigh on her, you can see this, can you not?"
"I have always known her to have a generous heart."
The lady nodded at this and went on: "Elizabeth has some wonderful qualities, and they are tied together. If one sense is offended, the others suffer. She is not the shallow sort of girl that once something is out of sight, it is also out of thought." Again Darcy agreed. "As she has made her regret of this error known to you, and under these circumstances, her health," here Darcy winced, "surely you can see how much this must have been preying on her mind, to make her feelings known to you at this particular time? It must be very important to her."
"I had not thought of it in such a light. Yes, she had to make it known to me. I tried to stop her, but she would not be stopped. I believe, I hope it is now resolved, as I can not bear to go through that experience again."
"If she believes you understood her meaning, she will not revive the subject, not until such a time, perhaps, as you both may speak freely of it to each other. I hope this is of some help to you. She is quite complex, in a wonderful way. I love her very much, Mr. Darcy, and all I wish for her is her happiness. If you are the answer to that wish, I should not worry for her."
"God bless you, Mrs. Gardiner," was all he could reply.
Her aunt was going to check on Lizzy one more time before retiring for the evening, when Darcy recalled that his sister would be arriving the next day, and related this to her, as well as his desire to introduce the two most important women in his life, and his hope that they would hold each other in as high a regard as he did each of them. Mrs. Gardiner was truly touched, and assured him that Elizabeth would be honoured by the introduction, and said her good nights.
The final event of this day, as complex as it had been, was so unexpected that Darcy elected to handle the matter the next morning. He had to decide what punishment to mete out on the one who had caused so much suffering for Elizabeth. The archer had been discovered, and was awaiting judgment.
Darcy awakened early, having decided what he felt was the best course of action regarding the guilty archer. He penned a quick note to Elizabeth, asking to call on her later that morning, as he had some unexpected news he wished to relate. A time was set, and Darcy made his preparations. This, he thought, will be most interesting. I wonder how she will regard it...
Darcy arrived promptly, accompanied by two others, who remained in the hall outside Elizabeth's room while the master of Pemberley greeted those within. It was with no little surprise that Elizabeth heard Darcy's news; she knew what had taken place, what had caused her injury, but had not thought further on it. It was not her place to intrude into how the master of this estate managed its business; this had to be his concern. She had been the one injured; she could not determine a fair relief for it; but here was Mr. Darcy, saying just that: She was to be the sole judge, determining how the perpetrator was to be punished, and that was that!
"Mr. Darcy, I can not and will not do this. How could I possibly be a fair judge, as I am by no means impartial to the actions of this individual, and it is not right that I be the single determiner of such penance he is to make. It is not right to him or to myself that you ask this of me. Surely you know this, you must know it!"
"Miss Bennet, I would not ask this of you if I did not believe it to be the best, indeed, the only course of action open to me. Please believe me, you are far more likely to do right in this instance than I am either capable of or willing to do." They were in the places each had occupied the evening before, seated near the fireplace. Elizabeth had looked a bit better, less pale, when Darcy had first arrived, but was now loosing the improvement and under no little stress. "I hadn't thought how difficult it might be to convince her," Darcy thought, "will I never learn not to underestimate this woman?" He moved closer to her and spoke in a low voice, gently, allowing some of his feelings for her to be heard: "Elizabeth, can you not trust me in this?" She looked into his eyes, and saw so much there that she had to look away and catch her breath. "I would never ask you to do anything against your principles, against your sense of fairness. I could not desire to compromise that which I hold in so high esteem myself. Do you not know this to be true of me?" Confusion ran across her fine features, but she readily acknowledged this to be so. "Then agree to do this in the manner I have proposed, as we will each be happier for it."
Minutes later Darcy returned with the two who had been waiting in the hall. "Miss Bennet, allow me to introduce Timmy Hutchins, our archer, and with him is his grandfather, my head stableman, Matthew Hutchins," he said solemnly as a young boy entered the room, blond-haired, white as a bone, and quaking in his little boots. He was followed by an older man with grey hair and a very grim expression. Elizabeth was astonished, and looked quickly to Darcy, but he was facing the windows and had his back to her.
Mr. Hutchins spoke to her, in a voice as grim as his features: "Miss Bennet, I would not blame ye a bit were ye not able to forgive such as this. Ye have the most sincere apologies we can give fer all the troubles Timmy here has caused ye. He's been hidin' this whole time, only found him out last night. We're very truly sorry, mum, for all that's been done to ye." And having said his piece, Mr. Hutchins went silent. The room was still, then the boy burst into tears. At that, Darcy finally turned from the windows, glanced at the boy, and faced Elizabeth, awaiting instructions from her. "Mr. Darcy, Mr. Hutchins," she said, fighting back some tears of her own, "would you be so kind as to leave us for a short while? I believe we have some things to discuss." And she finally turned her face to the master of Pemberley, and gave him a radiant smile which quite took his breath away. With a small smile of his own, he bowed to her, and left without a word.
About half-an-hour later the men returned, to find Timmy seated on the floor at Elizabeth's feet, looking as though he wished to stay there for life, munching away at some treat, Elizabeth contentedly drinking tea, and not a tear in sight. Well done, my love, thought Darcy gratefully. You may have saved his life. Aloud he spoke differently: "Miss Bennet, have you decided on a punishment suitable to the wrong you have suffered at the hands of this young man?"
Upon first hearing Mr. Darcy's voice, Timmy scrambled to his feet (sneaking the biscuit into Miss Lizzy's hand behind him as he did so) and stood as straight as a soldier. "Yes, Mr. Darcy, I believe I have. Timothy, please go and stand by your grandfather, as this involves each of you, in different ways." Both men looked surprised at this pronouncement as the child went obediently to his grandfather. Miss Bennet continued: "Lambton is generally considered to be too great a distance for a boy Timothy's age to travel alone, is it not, Mr. Hutchins?"
"Aye, 'tis so, mum," he replied.
"Then Timothy shall be accompanied to Lambton by yourself, or as head of the family, whomever you assign to do so, to see that no harm comes to him during his journey or his activities there, is this manageable on your part, Mr. Hutchins?" she asked in a perfectly neutral tone of voice. This was affirmed. "He is to work for no less than three, and no more than four total hours, including food and rest breaks of course, given his youth. Does this sound about right in your opinion, Mr. Darcy?" She turned her eyes on him, and they fairly shone with delight at the gift he had allowed her to give the boy. He nodded his assent. "Well, then it is all settled." And she sat back in her chair and smiled pleasantly all 'round, as at the remains of a sumptuous feast much enjoyed.
Darcy could barely repress a grin; he was enjoying watching this play very much, and Elizabeth's obvious satisfaction in it. It took Mr. Hutchins a bit of thought before he was able to ask just what exactly had been agreed upon, and Lizzy was happy to inform him. "Why, Timothy is to gather chestnuts for Pemberley House, of course. It is my understanding that one of the best trees for this is in Lambton, unless you have knowledge of one better. As I am not from these parts, I defer to your judgment. You may choose the tree."
"Oh no mum, yer very right, that tree is the best one, I know of which ye speak, and Timmy can manage it. Thank ye fer the kindness, mum, we're very grateful to the lady, aren't we, Tim. Speak yer thanks, now."
"Thank ye, mum" said the younger Hutchins softly, with a shy smile, and bobbed his head to her.
"Nothing to thank me for, I am certain, when you are up in a tree all day. Be careful you don't come out of it unless you mean to!" With that caution, and a few nods and smiles exchanged with a pretense of secrecy between Lizzy and the boy, the two Hutchins left in the company of a maid to show them out.
Darcy remained with Elizabeth, pacing slowly around the room. She was silent, watching his progress with a contented smile, until he came to stand before her. She raised her eyebrows and said archly, "Yes, Mr. Darcy?"
A small smile still played about his mouth when he said, "Please allow me, madam, to express my deepest admiration and gratitude for the manner in which you handled this most difficult situation."
"You may express all the admiration for me you wish, Mr. Darcy, I shall not stop you," she laughed up at him, "but I must tell you, it would be taken under false pretenses. The situation, as you call it, was not difficult at all, and the manner in which I handled it was only that of compassion and common sense. Poor little thing," she said sincerely, "he was terrified. Did you know he is just reached eight years? No child should have to experience such fear of the consequences of an unintended act, no matter the degree of injury resulting from it." She sighed. "I hope he will be as happy as I when..." she stopped at the realization that she was voicing her private thoughts aloud, and being embarrassed at what she had been about to impart to this dignified gentleman before her, she blushed and turned to occupy herself with her tea.
Darcy could not resist. "Miss Bennet, could you possibly have been about to say something like," he waited, and she saw the expression on his face, in his eyes; she had never witnessed one such as this on him before, and it struck her how handsome he was, having so relaxed a manner, a teasing quality about him, but something else as well, which she still hesitated to recognize; and he saw a change in her, and delighted in it; his smile widened as he continued, "when you were but eight years, and loved to sit in trees?" Her laugh was a blessing to those who heard it, to Elizabeth herself, but most of all to the man who loved her.
As Elizabeth was obviously tiring, Darcy spoke with her aunt while she was preparing for a rest. Both expressed great satisfaction with the morning's events, although Darcy was concerned they had taxed Elizabeth beyond her strength.
"Mr. Darcy, she is a stubborn young lady. If anyone had attempted to shorten her visit with Timmy it would only have caused a deal of trouble."
"Of that, madam, I have no doubt," replied Darcy, and they smiled at each other. One of the maids came out of Lizzy's rooms and met them in the hall with a worried look.
"Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Gardiner, she is bleeding again, and she will not allow anyone near her..."
"How badly?," asked Darcy quickly.
"Not much, sir, but we cannot do anything..."
"Tell Mrs. Reynolds to send for Dr. Stewart at once, and bring fresh bandages, quickly." He turned to Mrs. Gardiner. "With your permission, and your assistance?" She nodded her assent. He went into an adjoining room through a secondary entrance in the hall, and returned with a crystal decanter and a small glass. "Do you believe this will make her ill?"
"Not in small amounts, no," Mrs. Gardiner said worriedly; she did not know his plans, but trusted him to do what was best for her niece.
"Get her to drink at least one full glass, keep filling it if you must, let her sip it, do what it takes. Then cut the sleeve from her injured arm, don't touch her or let her move it. Tell me when you've done this." He handed the glass and decanter to her, and waited for the maid to return. She did in minutes, though to Darcy it seemed to take forever; he approved her choices, and bade her take them inside, but not to allow Miss Bennet to see them. "Keep them out of her sight until I need them."
"Yes, sir," and she disappeared. Finally Mrs. Gardiner returned to him, and he entered the room and went to Elizabeth.
She was lying on her side in the large bed, her eyes closed, but she opened them at his approach, and tried to smile. "Mr. Darcy, do all your guests have access to the brandy?"
"Yes, they do," he replied calmly.
"I wondered if you were trying to get me drunk," and with this she did manage a brief smile.
"Yes, Miss Bennet, I am. It is your reward for being such a terrible patient." He went to the other side of the bed, so she was facing away from him, and could not see what he was doing. He got the bandages and placed them on a bedside table.
"I'm so sorry, Auntie G. I have never been very good at this, have I?" said Lizzy, in a drowsy voice, "I have tried. You know I hate lying about doing nothing..."
"I know, my dear, even with practice, you just cannot seem to get it right."
Lizzy smiled gently, and her eyes were beginning to close, but she struggled against it. "It is nothing. Such a fuss..." and then her eyes did close.
Mrs. Gardiner thought her to be asleep, and Darcy directed her in a low tone how to hold Lizzy, who mumbled something, then was still. Her aunt lowered the silk cover from her niece's shoulder, and even though he had seen such injuries before, on Elizabeth it was frightening. He cleansed the sutured wound as gently as possible, and she stirred a few times, but did not cry out. Darcy decided to wait for the doctor rather than have Elizabeth go through an ordeal twice more than was necessary; it was both better and worse than he had feared. "You are not sleeping, Elizabeth, I know you are not," Darcy said softly, looking at her in her aunt's arms. She shook her head once. "You are staying in bed for a week. Not one foot is to touch the floor, or I shall have to get you drunk again. Only next time, you will not get the good brandy, and you'll be very ill. Agree to this, my dear. Now." She slowly nodded her head, and then did fall asleep.
The doctor arrived shortly, and after a hurried discussion with Darcy, made to examine the patient. Darcy and Mrs. Gardiner stood at the far side of the room, speaking quietly. "She must have taken more than a single glass of brandy, Mr. Darcy, I poured small amounts several times. I do not believe she will be ill from it, but I neglected to keep measure."
"No matter, Mrs. Gardiner, it helped ease her discomfort. A headache from liquor can be nothing to what she has already been through. My concern is keeping her still long enough for her to heal; I know she is unaccustomed to inactivity, and I can think of no means to ensure it. If the weather holds, and Elizabeth..." he thought a bit, "would she view a balcony as much of an improvement?"
"Of course, she would find it a great deal more pleasant than the current prospect, spending her time totally indoors, with no relief from it," she informed him.
"I had ordered the balconies to these rooms closed off, to prevent drafts; in a day or so I shall have them reopened. I hope it will keep her quiet, if only for a day." He smiled slightly at Lizzy's aunt and asked, "Is this some of what your husband had tried to warn me?"
"Some, Mr. Darcy," she replied, "a little."
"A little, indeed..." and Darcy became lost in thought.
The doctor was not pleased; he would need to replace one or more of the sutures if the rest were not to come undone. Perhaps Mr. Gardiner could be called upon to assist him? He was informed that Mr. Gardiner was unavailable, and the doctor turned to Darcy. "Then it looks as though this task falls on you, sir." Darcy turned to Lizzy's aunt, and they exchanged looks full of meaning. "You should leave for a while," he said softly to her.
"Perhaps, but I will not," she said simply, and Darcy left it at that.
Dr. Stewart instructed Darcy that he wanted Miss Bennet as immobile as possible, as any movement might cause her further injury. Darcy sat on the bed next to her and held her against his chest; as he did so she began to wake and he whispered to her, "Hush, dearest, go back to sleep," and after a moment she seemed to do so.
"I administered a numbing agent to the area, but it is not totally effective; she will feel some of this, so you are warned."
Darcy grimly nodded, and told him to get on with it. A few seconds later Elizabeth cried out in pain, and Darcy's hold on her tightened. "The doctor is repairing your stitches, it will be over in a moment," Darcy said quickly, and tried to think of something to say to keep her mind occupied during this ordeal.
"I am sorry..." she began, and then cried out again.
The sound tore into Darcy, "It is my fault, I put you through too much this morning." He had her against him, in his arms, and he could feel her rapid breaths as she fought the pain. He put a hand up to cradle her head, and brushing against her cheek, felt her tears, and it made him want to kill the doctor for putting her through this agony.
"Dogs," she gasped.
"Dogs, you have dogs, speak of them, quickly," her voice rising with each word, expressing her pain.
He began speaking rapidly, "One of my favorites, Jasmine, we call her Minnie, silly name for a dog, is it not? she is due to have a litter in the next week or so, would you like to choose a pup for yourself? You could have Timmy care for it, then you would have them both following you around constantly, never wanting you out of their sight, it would make quite a picture. The puppy could learn to climb trees under his tutelage, or yours of course, I can not imagine you have lost that skill, and shocking visitors by being up in a tree should suit you no end, you could even throw things to get their attention and then hide your presence, and they would only see the dog and think it most peculiar that a dog should choose such improper behavior, and they would think very ill of the master of this estate, and you would laugh, you enjoyed it so much, you would do it daily, and soon everyone coming to Pemberley would want to see the dog in the tree, and you'd have to spend a great deal of time above every one's heads, as you would not want to disappoint any who wished to see such a bizarre sight, Stewart, how much longer?" cried Darcy.
"Oh, it is finished," said he with a twinkle in his eyes, "I wanted to hear the end of your story, I was quite enjoying it!"
Darcy realized Elizabeth was trembling, and went to raise her face to wipe her tears, and discovered she was not trembling with pain, but shaking with suppressed laughter, although the remnants of tears were still on her cheeks, and he brushed them away gently. Resting his head back against the headboard, he sighed with relief. "I did not know how much longer I could continue in that vein," he said, thinking how he longed to kiss her, and feeling her softness against him, how he never wanted to release her from his embrace. Her head still rested on his chest, and the doctor was bandaging her arm again.
"That was an excellent story, and I thank you for it. Is there truly a Jasmine, and is she to be a mother?" asked Elizabeth, for she was touched by what he had said, and in such a manner. "He so wanted my mind off this business," she thought, "he came up with an absurd tale to make me laugh and ease my mind; it is so sweet, so thoughtful of him!"
"There is a Jasmine, and the other can be arranged if you wish."
Elizabeth laughed at this, and thanked him again. "Do you think we could manage to teach a dog a skill such as tree-climbing?" and the doctor and Mrs. Gardiner chuckled, she having heard the entire thing.
"I fully believe you capable of such a feat," replied Darcy, "you would probably have the poor pup believing it perfectly normal behavior, and why her litter-mates did not join in would confound her in their silliness for not enjoying the activity!" He relayed this with such absolute conviction that all joined in the laughter, and Elizabeth was very pleased, indeed.
Tea and drinks were ordered, for the ladies and gentlemen respectively; it was usual for the men to adjourn downstairs, but this time each was reluctant to leave. (Indeed, Dr. Stewart, if he were not happily married, and twenty years younger...but he shook that thought off as unprofessional). Darcy did not relinquish his hold on Elizabeth until they had arrived, and he much regretted having to do so; as he gently eased her from him onto the pillows, she took his hand and pressed it gently, and they smiled into each other's eyes. He finally released her hand, and took his drink, conversing with the doctor and Mrs. Gardiner, but his eyes kept finding hers, and her expression was such that gave him hope in his longing that she might consent, one day, to be his bride.
As Dr. Stewart was taking his leave, he told Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy of the painkiller he was providing for Miss Bennet. "I have left you with half my supply, with instructions. I wish it had come in earlier, I only just received it this morning. It is bitter to taste, but if taken with food it might be disguised somewhat, and it will help ease the pain a good deal."
"I believe she has already requested a dish she is particularly fond of when she is unwell; I am certain Lizzy will have no problems there, sir." Mrs. Gardiner was smiling broadly, and Darcy knew something again was afoot.
"And will you share with us what manner of dish she enjoys so well?" asked Darcy with no small amount of curiosity.
"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy, I have been sworn to secrecy, but you will soon learn of it."
"Undoubtedly," he replied.
Darcy stayed a while after the doctor took his leave, in part to assure himself of the doctor's pain remedy, but in truth he did not want to leave Elizabeth's presence. If anything further happens to her, he thought to himself, I could never forgive myself; having gone through so much, how she is able to remain in good spirits is unfathomable; still she attempts a smile... He paced about the room; the sight of her injury was with him still. It truly astonished him that Elizabeth had done so much only two full days after it having been inflicted on her. "The way she handled the child was brilliant; what woman other than she could manage such a thing? I love her even more deeply this moment than the last." He sat at her bedside, and hoped desperately that some day his name would be hers as well.
A short time later Elizabeth stirred, moaning softly. Darcy uttered an oath under his breath: she is still in great pain, he thought. "Oh, my head," she complained softly.
This brought a smile of relief to Darcy's lips, and he said, "It is from the brandy; I warn you to be good, or it will be the worse for you."
"It is too cruel of you to take such pleasure in my discomfort, Mr. Darcy, have you no sympathy for me?"
"I take no pleasure in your pain, Elizabeth, quite the reverse, and I have more sympathy than I am allowed to show," he said so earnestly that she opened her eyes and looked on him, seated so near.
"Please do not give me any more spirits, Mr. Darcy, or I shall behave in quite embarrassing a fashion, and not be responsible for it."
"Your actions will determine the need of it, Miss Bennet; if none is required, none will be given." She seemed satisfied with that remark, and he continued, "How does your arm feel?"
"My arm? Oh, so much better, thank you for asking, I had almost forgotten it," she said lightheartedly. "If I were not wrapped up so, I should hardly know of it. Whatever the doctor gave me had its intended effect, though I should hate to taste it again. I am having second thoughts on the brandy, regardless of my poor head," and she giggled.
"Miss Bennet, I believe you are quite tipsy," Darcy said with a smile.
"I believe you are right, sir, and you are the cause of it. Aunt Gardiner, you cannot possibly approve of such behavior toward your niece, and from a gentleman such as he, it is shocking! Most improper! What will everyone think!" and Lizzy grinned wickedly.
"I can and do approve, Lizzy, and as I have never known you to concern yourself with the opinions of others, I see no reason for you to start now."
"Yes, dear aunt, you have caught me expressing views which are not my own. That seems to be happening more often of late; it is most disconcerting. But Mr. Darcy must concern himself with the opinions of others, and should his behavior become known, it could only be distressing to him."
"There, you are doing it again." He continued softly, to her alone, "My concern is that of one person's opinion, Miss Bennet, and she needs her rest."
"To be contradicted so often in so short a time, soon I shall be unable to speak of anything at all, and will be forced to sit silently, terrified of censure," she spoke in deeply gloomy tones, and the master of Pemberley threw his head back and laughed heartily, to Elizabeth's delight.
"You, my dear, will never be afraid of voicing an opinion," he said with great amusement. "Yours or anyone else's."
"I am contradicted once more," said Elizabeth. "You have only proven my point."
"Hush, dearest. Get some rest, or I will not allow you on the balconies tomorrow."
"Balconies? That would be wonderful! Breakfast on a balcony, lovely!" And Darcy agreed, but only on his terms.
Posted on Thursday, 13 October 2005
Darcy had ignored a great deal of estate business, and he accomplished much toward righting his negligence throughout the remainder of the day, but Elizabeth was never out of his thoughts; he kept seeing her in his mind, different images, laughing, in tears, arguing, but with one common element: she was always beautiful. After long hours of overseeing the matters of running Pemberley, Darcy decided it would not be intrusive to check on her, make sure she was doing well, and if she is, he thought, maybe I will see her, if only for a few minutes. To that end he went in search of Mrs. Gardiner.
He found her in the drawing room, and enquired if her niece had had a restful afternoon. "Very much so, I am pleased to say, although now she has talked two of the maids into washing her hair, but.."
"She what?!" exclaimed Darcy. He was more than ready to be angry at this, but Mrs. Gardiner smiled and reassured him.
"She has to have some activity, and I know they will be exceedingly cautious. We cannot very well tie her up, can we?"
"I think I may if she does something foolish and re-injures herself," Darcy grumbled.
"As she slept most of the afternoon, a little variety will do her good," Mrs. Gardiner calmly said, hiding her amusement at the thought of anyone trying to restrict Lizzy. If her niece was determined to do something, it would be done, no question about it! "Would you like me to see if she is accepting visitors, Mr. Darcy? I was about to go up shortly anyway."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gardiner, I would appreciate it. At least I can assure myself she has not slipped and broken her other arm, as she does not have many to spare!"
"Oh, I would like to mention, given Lizzy's rather busy day," at this Darcy was all attention, "I have told her nothing of your sister being expected this evening. I fear she may be concerned with not being at her best when they meet, and I do not want her troubled with such thoughts." To Darcy this was unfathomable; Elizabeth was always at her best, but he readily agreed that the two should not meet this evening, but perhaps tomorrow, especially if the weather was fair and they were able to spend some time outdoors on the balconies. Elizabeth would be greatly cheered by that pleasure, and her attention diverted from what they both believed to be unwarranted anxieties.
When Mrs. Gardiner told Lizzy of Mr. Darcy's enquiries, she finally saw in her niece some evidence of the feelings she hoped Lizzy had for that gentleman, and was very pleased. Honestly, Lizzy, she thought, I did wonder how long it would take you, it is high time! But of course she said nothing. Lizzy was pleased to have another visit from her host, and after a short time Darcy came striding in, tall and handsome as ever, but with a glint in his eyes she did not recall seeing before.
"Hello, Mr. Darcy, it is good of you to be so concerned for my well-being," she said quietly, wondering what his mood involved.
"Yes, I am concerned, a great deal. I thought we agreed you were not to get out of bed," he said rather shortly.
"Surely I am allowed to move from bed to chair, sir, and even if you said I was not," she began, but Darcy interrupted her,
"That is not to what I refer, Miss Bennet, I understand you had the maids help do your hair..."
It was her turn to interpose, "Mr. Darcy, you object to one washing one's hair?" she asked in disbelief.
He responded sharply, "What I object to is you putting yourself at risk for further injury, or God help us, a totally new one! I may as well have Dr. Stewart choose his own rooms at Pemberley, if you continue doing as you please with no thought of the consequences!"
Silence. It lengthened. Finally Elizabeth, in a small voice, said "I am sorry to be such a bother to you."
He stopped his pacing and spun around sharply to stare at her, speaking forcefully, "A bother to me?" and then stopped as he saw her expression. Her head was lowered, but she was peeking up at him with an almost sincerely contrite expression, brows raised and a small secret smile on her lips, looking for all the world like a child caught with sweets before dinner. He groaned, threw himself into the chair opposite hers, and muttered, "You will be the death of me yet!"
"Oh, I most sincerely hope not, sir, I could not have that on my conscience. Perhaps you would like me to prepare a daily list of my planned activities, and if something of an unexpected nature should arise, I could send you a note, wherever you might be, and ask your kind permission to indulge in it?" This was delivered in a sweet, very nearly apologetic voice, but with a noticeable undertone of amusement.
"Would you do such a thing?" he barked, but he was no longer angry, and she knows it, he thought, she knows she has charmed me out of it. Her reply was deeply sorrowful,
"I cannot lie to you, sir. I do not believe I would," and sadly shook her head.
"Then what is the answer, Elizabeth?"
Ahh, she thought, I am Elizabeth again, not Miss Bennet! She said dolefully, "I fear there is no good solution. I shall do something of which, upon discovery, you disapprove. You will berate me for my horrible activities, I shall apologize most sincerely, and you will forgive me. It is really quite hopeless, there is nothing to be done, and I am truly sorry for it."
"Well, Miss Bennet," oh dear, back to that, are we? she thought, "I only have one thing further to say to you on this matter."
"And what might that be, sir?"
"I have always thought your hair quite lovely."
He knew what he had just done. He had surrendered totally. She is absolutely right, he thought, there is nothing to be done, and I have acknowledged it. I only pray you have mercy on me, Elizabeth!
The arrival of a maid bringing tea interrupted this quiet moment, for which Elizabeth was grateful, as she believed Darcy's compliment to be the first, at least of a personal nature, that he had ever paid her, and was a bit flustered by it. He watched her, though, and given her bound arm, she was not able to occupy herself with arranging things, but she avoided his attentions, and he realized his remark had had an effect on her; she had lost some of her composure. This intrigued him, but while he was pondering the change in her, she spoke to the maid, and with an impish grin said,
"Thank you, Reginald." The girl bobbed her head,
"Miss Lizzy," with a returned smile, and made to leave.
Darcy ignored the maid, and turned back to Elizabeth. "I am not going to pursue this now. Not now." She smiled at him, and sipped her tea.
He brought up the subject she had been so happy about earlier in the day, of breakfasting outdoors, and her response was gratifying. Darcy made mention of the possibility of a third joining them; she seemed unsurprised. Indeed, it was almost as if she had expected it. Obviously Mrs. Gardiner is not her only source of information at Pemberley, Darcy thought with amusement, then it dawned on him. I am so blind, she did it for Georgiana, he thought, and I criticized her. Darcy, you are truly an idiot, he told himself. The next time you underestimate this woman, and there will be a next time, just get down on your knees and get it over with! But if she refused me a second time...
Darcy left her with wishes for a good night, and walked the halls of Pemberley, reflecting on all his dealings with the woman he so loved, knowing he would ask for her hand again, but fearing her reply.
Georgiana arrived late that evening, anxious to learn what had caused her brother to cancel the invitations he had made to his friends to join them at Pemberley. Darcy led his sister into the library, sat her down, and quietly relayed to her the cause and nature of the accident which had befallen Elizabeth, in understated terms, as he did not wish his sister to become unduly alarmed. Upon assurances that Miss Bennet would make a full recovery and suffer no permanent effects from her injury, Georgiana was relieved, but still greatly concerned, and eager to aid in any manner possible. She recalled her brother speaking highly of Miss Elizabeth Bennet on several occasions, and knew that harm having come to her at Pemberley must grieve him deeply. Georgiana resolved to do everything within her power to ease his mind, and provide comforts for Miss Bennet that perhaps had not been considered, given such a short time having passed since she had sustained the injury. Darcy was pleased by his sister's desire to be of assistance, and was confident that she and Elizabeth would enjoy each other's company, once his sister overcame the shyness she always felt upon first meetings.
Mrs. Gardiner joined them for a late supper, and Georgiana was quickly at ease in her warm company, going so far as to ask a question or two of her, and a pleasant conversation of her childhood in Lambton ensued. Miss Darcy was very pleased that Miss Bennet's aunt loved the area so well, and Mr. Darcy that his sister had so quickly taken to her, for he now considered Mrs. Gardiner quite a treasure himself. Nearing the end of the meal the talk again turned to Elizabeth, and Georgiana asked after her well-being.
"I believe, I hope her to be asleep, but with Lizzy one cannot count on it," Mrs. Gardiner replied. "I fear from this point on she will be getting very restless, and may become quite intractable if she is not allowed some activity to keep her occupied. I was thinking, Mr. Darcy, that it really would be advisable to allow her a stroll around the grounds, or perhaps a short carriage ride in the next day or two. A change in routine and surroundings would lift her spirits, and I am sure no harm would be done, as Lizzy herself would not want to jeopardize any new freedom she is to have."
Darcy was frowning, not yet secure in the state of Elizabeth's health to have her up and about, but this was her aunt recommending it, and he had no basis on which to object, other than his desire to keep her safe. "Perhaps a short ride, the day after tomorrow? Georgiana and I can accompany her on a short tour of the grounds, and you of course, Mrs. Gardiner, but do you really believe it prudent?"
"Mr. Darcy, my niece," she sighed, and continued, "You have no idea how much trouble she can cause when she is forced into inactivity and has too much time on her hands. It is not only prudent, but necessary. If she continues as she has been, Lizzy's mind will delight in concocting all manner of entertainments that would amuse her no end, but put everyone's patience to the test, including even my own! There, you are warned, decide for yourself, if Lizzy does not make her own decision first," she finished with a smile.
Elizabeth, Georgiana, and Darcy were seated together on one of the balconies off Elizabeth's rooms. It looked to be a fine day, mild enough to cause no concerns for Elizabeth's health. She was thrilled to be outside, and the view provided was nothing short of magnificent. The grounds of Pemberley were beautiful year-round, but they were particularly so now, and she fairly glowed with pleasure. Her happiness affected the others, and Darcy was determined that it continue; he was charming, at ease, attentive. Miss Darcy was very pleased and not a little relieved to witness her good spirits; she had been so concerned for Miss Bennet's state of health that initially she had been quite unable to address her with more than the usual courtesies and remarks made when strangers met, but was soon comfortable enough to engage in some conversation. She quite admired Miss Bennet's courage, and having already relayed her distress and concern regarding her injury, gave compliment to Miss Bennet's remarkable abilities.
"I could never deal with such a thing as well as you have done, Miss Bennet. My brother has told me how you have borne all this; I cannot imagine how you have done so well, and in so little time."
"Please, do not compliment me, I know I have been a bear at least some of the time; my aunt tells me I was quite cross with some of the servants the first day or two, and as they are caring for me, it was not such a very wise thing to do, was it? It seems I was highly annoyed with them, although I do not remember all the particulars."
"I did not hear of this," commented Darcy.
"It was kind of your staff not to relay my bad behavior but leave me to confess it; I do so now," said Elizabeth, "and have already made my apologies to them."
"If you behaved so badly, how is it they are all calling you 'Miss Lizzy', and with great affection, I might add?" Darcy asked jokingly, in a perplexed voice. He had wondered how they all came to use her given name, and this seemed a good time to discover it. Miss Darcy was listening attentively to this interplay, and her admiration for Miss Bennet was growing each minute.
"I believe during one of my tempers, I grew very impatient with everyone hovering 'round, constantly referring to me as Miss Bennet; I told them no one would be allowed near me again and should leave immediately if they failed to call me Miss Lizzy, and they would have to explain themselves to you if I threw them all out of the room. Was that not horrible behavior on my part?" and Elizabeth laughed so sweetly the others joined in. Georgiana had never seen her brother thus, and was much impressed by the effect Miss Bennet had on him.
"No, it was most definitely not horrible behavior, Miss Bennet, and the staff obviously does not hold it against you. You have won them over completely, and I need not tell you that Timmy Hutchins is surely a friend for life. In his eyes you are nothing less than an angel," said Darcy in an amused tone, although he was thinking that she was an angel in his eyes as well. His sister had only been given the essentials of Lizzy's meeting with the young boy, and the details were now provided, with Darcy laughingly describing the scene, when he and the senior Hutchins returned. "They scrambled around trying to hide evidence of their tea party! The lad shoots an arrow into her, and she feeds him sweets, can you believe it, Georgiana?" This was delivered in mock indignant tones. "It was all I could do not to burst with laughter!"
"I did not see any amusement in you then," Elizabeth said archly, "you appeared quite grim to me."
"My dear, you were much too busy hiding Timmy's feast to take notice of it," said Darcy, trying to control his laughter. His sister noticed the endearment he had unconsciously used, and thought how much she should like having Miss Bennet as a sister. Oh, I do hope so, she said to herself, as she is quite lovely, and seems so nice; I do hope so.
A servant appeared then to ask about breakfast, and Lizzy quickly leaned to Georgiana, and a whispered conversation followed between them. "Oh, I have not had it since I was a young child, of course I will join you. On cold winter mornings I especially remember.."
"Do not give it away, Miss Darcy, it is a secret!" cried Elizabeth, and Georgiana smiled and was silent. They both turned to Darcy, and he knew he was being tested again.
"Miss Bennet, am I to understand that I am to have the same, not knowing the nature of it?"
"Only if you wish, sir," she replied demurely, "as I can not say with certainty that you would take any pleasure from it." Georgiana was amazed that Miss Bennet could tease her brother so, but even more amazed at his reaction; he seemed to be enjoying himself greatly.
"As my sister is joining you, it would be quite rude if I did not. My fate is in your hands, Miss Bennet." In more ways than this...
When the servant arrived with a large covered tray Lizzy was fairly beaming, and asked that her thanks be relayed to the cook. As she placed the tray on the table and removed the cover, the attention of the Darcys was diverted by her next comment, "Thank you, Reginald!" The girl curtsied and nodded to her with a smile. Darcy glanced at his sister, but she showed no surprise. Elizabeth has told her, then, what this business is about, Darcy thought.
"Yes, sir?" was the immediate response.
"Nothing, nothing, thank you," he trailed off, and looked at Elizabeth with an unreadable expression, but said nothing further. He then noticed what she and his sister were contentedly tucking into, and nearly strangled trying to choke back his laughter. He did not remember having laughed so much in years; now it seemed he did so minute to minute, and thought it wonderful. "I do not believe my eyes!" he exclaimed.
Lizzy's sparkled at him as she asked innocently, "Why, Mr. Darcy, do you have something against a peaceful bowl of porridge? It is really quite comforting, particularly when one is not completely oneself," and she proceeded to expound on the dish's many merits, as Darcy joined them in their breakfast.
"Very well, Miss Bennet, I believe I understand how it could be comforting, as most have had it as children, but how does porridge come to be described as peaceful, pray?"
"Think on it, Mr. Darcy, it has no strong odor which assaults, the taste is very mild, nothing overpowering about it, you may add nearly anything you wish and it does not fight or complain. It is an accommodating dish, asking very little, really, only that it be served hot. I think it most peaceful."
"I find I must agree with your description, Miss Bennet. It is a peaceful dish."
"I should have been very put out if you had not, sir. It is a great relief not to be contradicted, and gives me some confidence in voicing opinions in the future," and they exchanged private smiles, and Darcy replied,
"Voice away, Madam, I shall be happy to hear them, regardless of their true owner."
Darcy asked of Georgiana if she had seen anything of the Bingleys or Hursts before leaving London, and Elizabeth's attention was absorbed fully with the reply.
"Yes, Mr. Bingley called on me before his departure for Netherfield. He was so pleased of your intention to join him there shortly. He also expressed a wish to meet you again, Miss Bennet. He knows nothing of your injury, I am sure. Does he even know that you are at Pemberley?"
"No, I did not write of it to him," Darcy said quietly, as he was noticing the effect this news was having on Elizabeth.
She was struggling to maintain her composure, and was blinking back tears, looking away from the others as she absorbed this information, and what had been implied by it. Georgiana was speaking to a servant, and did not notice, but Darcy's eyes were for her only, and finally she turned to him, and softly asked, "Did you..."
Darcy nodded his head, saying, "He his happy there, he should be there."
The breathtaking smile she bestowed upon him then made him long to take her in his arms, and he wondered when, or even if, he would be granted that joy. "I thank you for this," she whispered, so Miss Darcy was not to hear it.
He looked away, "No, do not thank me. I am only..." and he did look in her eyes then, hoping she could see in him the depth of sincerity he felt as he said to her, "I am only trying to correct an ill-made judgement." Her smile remained.
The three remained on the balcony for most of the morning, and Mrs. Gardiner joined them for a time, laughing heartily when she heard of their breakfast. "Lizzy, how could you?" She smiled at her niece, shaking her head.
"Easily, as it was your recipe I had sent to the cook," was her mischievous reply. Darcy had seen to it earlier that her medicine would be added to her meals, and she had tasted it faintly, but said nothing, as it helped ease her pain a great deal; she wanted to remain outdoors as long as possible. "When I was a little girl, you always fed me porridge if I was unwell, or..."
"You had fallen out of a tree?" Darcy said innocently.
"I shall not remark on that, Mr. Darcy, your sister will be shocked at my past behavior, and I do not wish her to think ill of me."
"Oh, never," Georgiana said earnestly, "I think you are wonderful!" and then blushed with embarrassment.
Lizzy smiled, but before she could think how to respond to such high praise, Darcy spoke, "Then, Georgiana, we are in complete agreement," and following this, "porridge!" and laughed again.
Darcy had business matters to address, and Georgiana had some things of her own she wanted to accomplish, so the gathering ended with a promise from Elizabeth to get some rest. Georgiana asked if she might visit her later in the afternoon, and this was happily arranged. Darcy could not have wished for a better end to their first meeting, and saying he would see her later if she was able, he kissed Elizabeth's hand and departed.
Darcy had sent a note to Elizabeth early in the evening, and she received him immediately. As he entered he was surprised to see Georgiana first, having forgotten the ladies' arrangements from the morning. "Georgiana, what have you two been..." and he saw Elizabeth, and stopped walking, speaking, and for several seconds, breathing. She was a vision, in a gown the color of rubies; her arm was held by the scarf he had given her a few days before, her curls becomingly entwined with silver combs, and she smiled delightfully. "How..." he was utterly speechless.
"I called for my seamstress, William. Someone should have thought of it," said Georgiana happily. Darcy was having difficulty regaining his self-possession.
"Will you come in and sit down, Mr. Darcy?"
"Miss Bennet, you..." He began again, "Allow me to say how lovely you look this evening."
"I will allow it, sir, please continue! It is amazing what a compliment can do for one's health!"
"In which case I shall give you so many you will quickly become bored with them, and hope I take my leave," he said, still a bit off balance by her appearance.
"Not at all, sir, but you may spread them out a bit if you like. That way they will not suffocate being so close to one another, and I would likely appreciate them more as well."
"An excellent idea, Miss Bennet," and he turned to his sister, who was fairly beaming with delight in her accomplishment; she had earned Miss Bennet's gratitude and thanks, and knew her brother had been very surprised, which pleased her a great deal, as it was difficult to perform any activity at Pemberley without him getting word of it eventually. "Georgiana, this was an excellent idea, and I thank you for it. Very well done," and he kissed her cheek.
"I knew it must get old very quickly for Miss Bennet, to be in robes and shawls all day, and must surely come to be depressing. So!"
"How about this one, Miss Bennet," Darcy smiled at her, "I do not believe I have ever seen you look so..." he paused and frowned. "I fear I am at a loss. I have already said 'lovely', you must choose. Beautiful? Radiant? Splendid? Elegant? Shall I continue?" a smile played on his lips as Elizabeth's face grew rosey, and she turned her head away from him.
"You agreed to leave time between your compliments, sir, and have now delivered enough to last a week!" but he could see she was pleased, and replied,
"It is all for the benefit of your health, after all, as I wouldn't want you stressed by a few hours in the drawing room, or library this evening, if you are up to it?"
"Oh, yes, I believe myself to be most definitely up to it, sir, thank you for your kind invitation!" Darcy bowed and waved the two ladies out the door of the rooms Elizabeth had not left for almost three days, and in the hall offered his arm to Elizabeth, to escort her downstairs, and finally show her some of the beauties of Pemberley House himself.
Georgiana discreetly left them at the main staircase, saying she would join them shortly, and went to her rooms most decidedly happy for her brother and Miss Bennet. Darcy, with Elizabeth's permission, had an arm lightly around her waist as she held the banister with her right hand; he was ready to take her in his arms and carry her down the stairs if she made one misstep; having this small physical contact, he remembered holding her against him, his arms wrapped around her, and longed to do so again. They made it safely down the stairs, and Darcy reluctantly removed his arm from her side, and escorted her to the drawing room.
As they were entering, one of the maids who had been caring for Elizabeth passed them, and as she nodded her greeting Lizzy spoke to her, "I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels, Reginald, to get out for a bit."
"It's good to see you on your feet, Miss Lizzy," she said with a smile, and continued on her way.
Darcy could no longer resist. "Now, Elizabeth, just how many of the servants are you referring to as Reginald?"
"All of them, of course," she replied, as if it should be obvious to him.
"And may I ask why?"
"Elizabeth, out with it."
"It is quite simple. Do you recall me telling you of when I insisted they refer to me as Miss Lizzy?" He inclined his head, and she continued, "Well, the second part to the agreement was that since there are so many of them, and only one of me, which is most unfair by the way, until I was in full command of myself and well on my way to recovering, we reached a sensible agreement. I should refer to all of them with only one name, and Reginald was thought to be suitably stately. Do you not agree?"
Darcy was shaking his in amusement at her, and only asked, "They all agreed to this? Every last one of them?"
"I did understand there was a great deal of discussion on the choice of the name, but it was decided fairly quickly. They really are very accommodating, and have helped me a great deal. I am surprised you were not aware of this," she said cheekily, with eyebrows raised.
"If I had asked, I am certain the reply would have been to see you, as they had been sworn to secrecy, is this not the case?"
"No matter now, as you are aware of it," she said airily, and spoke of how much good a change of scenery did her.
Mrs. Gardiner rose and greeted them as they came further into the room, and told Lizzy with a smile how well she looked. "You are so much improved from just a day or two. I was truly frightened for you, my dear, when you were suffering from fever that first night, but I see you will soon be completely well," and kissed her niece on the cheek.
"I had forgotten the fever business, and I apologize for putting you through such a dreadful experience, Aunt, and you, Mr. Darcy. It was most unkind of me, and should not have been allowed! What was I thinking!", but then her eyes caught sight of the piano forte, and she exclaimed, "Oh, what a beautiful instrument..."
"I shall see you later, my dear," Mrs. Gardiner, "and you might meet your uncle soon, as he will be returning this night." She sighed, " And this time was supposed to have been spent away from business matters." As she departed, she added, "Lizzy, please do not do too much."
"Yes, Aunt," was the meek reply, and knowing she would receive no further reassurance from her niece, Mrs. Gardiner left them.
Elizabeth's eyes returned to the piano, and Darcy led her to it, explaining it had been a gift to his sister. "Mrs. Reynolds and Miss Darcy both spoke of it. You are a most generous brother," and she lightly touched the keys, feeling the satiny smoothness of them, but not so as any sound was brought forth, and her expression became distant, pensive.
Darcy watched her quietly, and was deeply moved. "You will soon play again, Elizabeth," he said quietly.
She removed her fingers from the keyboard and tried to dispel the mood that had come upon her. "It is of no consequence, as I never played with any great talent," and he reached for her hand and took it in both of his, so gently, and repeated to her,
"You will play again, Elizabeth, and I dearly wish to hear you, as I had never been so moved before hearing you," and lowering his head, he placed a kiss on the back of her hand, lightly brushing his lips against her soft skin, and he heard the quick breath she took, but she did not withdraw. He gazed at her face, but she would not meet his eyes; still he saw she was affected, and he began at last to hope for his future happiness.
"Come," he said, taking her arm through his and covering her hand with his own, "I would like very much to show you the library. It is my favorite room of all," and Darcy led her away from the instrument that had brought on her sadness, inwardly pleased to have hold of her, however slightly.
As they entered Darcy's refuge, he was watching her closely, as he truly wanted her to enjoy herself, however short a time she remained downstairs, but he also wished her to share his feelings for this place, and was rewarded in that hope as Elizabeth gasped with pleasure upon sight of the shelves filled with hundreds upon hundreds of books. Her eyes were bright and any trace of sadness gone as she gazed in wonder about the room.
"This is magnificent!"
Darcy smiled at her, "Then you approve?"
"Oh, yes, very much!", and she left his side to wander, occasionally touching a binding, a delighted smile accompanying her.
Darcy sat near the fireplace, where comfortable leather chairs as well as a sofa were grouped, and looked on as she made a turn of the room, thinking it better to allow her a private exploration than fill the air with talk and facts, and he remained silent in his observation of her.
Finally she approached and seated herself on the sofa adjacent to him. "No wonder at all why this is your favorite room, Mr. Darcy, it must give you great pleasure. I am quite at a loss for words," she said with a smile.
"It does, and comfort as well. I spend a great deal of my time here. Georgiana is spending more time in London of late, she is too isolated here, and I do not believe it to be very good for her. She is shy enough, and needs to be in company more, but without her here, well, the place is rather quiet."
"Your sister is a dear girl, I am certain that in time she will gain confidence, and that will bring her out more," replied Elizabeth.
"Forgive me, would you like a drink, a glass of wine?"
At this she laughed, and said, "No, Mr. Darcy, no wine, no spirits, and not for some time! The effects of your brandy are too close in my memory to think of touching the stuff!"
This was acknowledged with a smile, and then, "You will let me know if you begin to tire?"
"Definitely. I am not about to put myself at risk of another three days of idleness. I appreciate all you have done for me these last few days. I do not believe I have thanked you yet..."
"There is no need for thanks," he interrupted, "and no desire on my part to have any. I am deeply sorry for the harm you suffered here, and thank God it is not permanent. Yet I have, apart from your injury, and the pain you have suffered, I have greatly enjoyed your company, and am honored to have you stay here. I wish it had been under different circumstances."
"I have also enjoyed your company, Mr. Darcy," she said quietly. "You have been most kind," she whispered, and turned her face from him.
"Elizabeth, dare I ask a second time?" and she turned to look at him, but he could not read her expression, and went on, "One word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
There were tears glistening in her eyes and for a moment, a brief moment; Darcy's heart almost broke with the thought that she would not have him, would never have him, but a slow smile began to spread across her lips, and he saw they were trembling with the effort not to cry, and in one step he was next to her, at her side, holding her in his arms. He could speak no more words to her; that would come later. With his hands gently holding her he placed a soft tentative kiss on the lips he had wanted to taste for too long, and she began to respond. His hand cradling the back of her head, touching her soft curls, the kiss grew in length, and became deeper, and he took her to that place where only lovers go, until he feared his desire would frighten her, but still he did not stop, until she softly moaned, and he knew if he did not pull back then, he might never do so.
He thought it near impossible, but at last he raised his head, just far enough to see her face in full. Elizabeth's eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply; he whispered to her in a husky voice not completely under control, "Please put me out of my misery, Elizabeth, I beg you. Marry me. I have no life without you. No happiness. Nothing," and at last she opened her eyes, and so as he could just make out the words, she whispered to him, she agreed to become his wife. He kissed her again, and they both became unaware of anything but each other.
At some point in time, the library door had opened, and then closed just as quietly. Mrs. Gardiner turned to Miss Darcy, who was twisting her hands nervously, but Elizabeth's aunt smiled, nodding her head. Georgiana beamed with happiness. Then Mrs. Gardiner spoke firmly, though quietly, so her words would not be heard by any other, "Dear Miss Darcy, you know I would never allow this if it were not for the most extraordinary circumstances involved, and we both know your brother to be an honorable man." Georgiana readily agreed, and they left together.
They spoke at length, returning to past events painful to each, but the need of explanation and assurances on both sides made it necessary; finally, understanding overcame apology, and that they were together now and would become husband and wife shortly was a topic the details of which became the center of their focus.
"I shall write to your father tomorrow, for we will surely not arrive at Longbourn before a week has passed, and your family must be informed without any great delay."
"I shall write as well, as I fear I may have to soften some of the impressions I have given my father in your regard, and I do not want him concerned for my reasons in agreeing to marry you," Elizabeth said, not without some embarrassment.
"It is done, we need not speak of it further, except for me to say I undoubtedly deserved your criticism, and your words have left me sleepless from the truth in them..."
"No more, please, no more, I will not allow it. There are pleasanter things we should speak of. Are we to travel to Longbourn together, when I am able?"
"I am never leaving your side again," Darcy told her with such intensity that she blushed and looked away, but with great happiness that he cared so deeply for her, and after such time had passed from their last meeting, as disastrous as it had been.
Darcy was considering the wisdom of kissing her again, knowing he would be placing his self-control in jeopardy if he did so, when the decision was taken from him by a knock at the door, and with more relief than regret, called, "Yes, come!" putting a very small distance between himself and his future bride as he did so.
Mrs. Gardiner entered, and smiling, said, "Your uncle has finally returned, Lizzy, and he stopped in Lambton before making his way here. You finally have the letters from Jane you have been expecting, several, in fact." She handed them to Elizabeth, who expressed delight at receiving them, but Mrs. Gardiner looked to Mr. Darcy, and he gave her a small smile and a single nod of his head, but the happiness shown in his whole manner gave those gestures the meaning he meant to convey; she saw it easily, and with little change in manner, acknowledged his triumph silently.
"Dear niece, as I know you have been waiting to hear from your sister, I will allow you to read them now, but it is already a longer time you have been about than I believe is wise."
"I will retire immediately after I read them, Aunt, I promise, and please thank my uncle for me. I will do so myself tomorrow," Lizzy replied with a grateful smile.
Darcy spoke to Elizabeth quietly, and she agreed readily to his suggestion, and after opening the first of the letters for her and placing her at his desk, he left the library with Mrs. Gardiner, to speak with her husband regarding his intentions, Mr. Gardiner being a blood relative as well as holding responsibility for his niece's welfare.
It was some time before his return, and when he entered the room Elizabeth was agitatedly walking about, trying to open a second letter without destroying it, wincing in pain as she grasped it in both hands.
"Here, I will..." and he saw her face and grew concerned. "You have been up too long a time, Elizabeth," and she ran to him, thrusting the letter at him, crying,
"Open it, I must know, I must read it! Please! It cannot be, it cannot have happened, and Kitty knew..."
"What has happened?" but he stopped speaking, and did as she asked.
"Read the first, there on the desk," she told him, her voice shaking, and she went to sit down, in total fear of what knowledge the next few seconds would bring.
Darcy did as she had directed, but with much anxiety for her state, as she was beginning to appear very ill. As he came upon the name he unthinkingly cried it out, "Wickham!" then was silent as he finished reading. He set the letter aside and went to Elizabeth, waiting until she raised her head from the second missive, pale and shaken as she spoke,
"Open the next, this is of my mother and family, poor Jane, the only hope is of my father reaching Lydia before they depart. London! They could never be found there, and he cannot possibly have any intention of marriage, she has nothing to tempt him..." and tears began, as Darcy handed her the next letter and sat at her side. Elizabeth read so quickly she had to return to certain parts, and began to speak in broken phrases, "She may be safe... my father stopped them...It is thought Wickham has left the country..." and finally the letter dropped from her hand, and she wept, but with relief. Darcy held her as she slowly relayed to him her deepest selfishness, for as Lydia, indeed all the family, would be humiliated and brought to ruin, Elizabeth herself would have had to refuse his offer of marriage, freeing him from sharing in their misery.
As she relayed these thoughts to him, his hold on her tightened, and he brought a hand up to stroke her hair, saying, "Never, I said I would never let you go from me, and I meant it. I would do anything, anything rather than lose you again. My dearest, this is too much in one night, it is over, leave it for now. Do you wish me to inform..." She nodded, exhausted and longing to sleep, not knowing if any would come to her that night. He did not bring to her attention that one more letter remained on his desk, unopened, as he believed she could take no further news, bad or good.
"I will see you to your rooms, then speak with your uncle," he told her, making no mention of the conversation that had already taken place between them. Taking her arm under his he led her to the staircase, and soon was half carrying her, with his arm around her waist, as she stumbled several times in tiredness and tears.
Darcy left Elizabeth in the care of two maids, their genuine concern for her evident in all but their remarks, as they spoke cheerfully of "Miss Lizzy" being over-tired, and Elizabeth agreed readily that Reginald was always right, with a weak smile accompanying her attempt at levity. He then asked another servant to request Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's presence in the library, as he had news directly relating to the Bennet family, of which they needed to be informed soonest.
When these three were seated, and as the hour was late, as well as to diminish the anxiety certainly caused by his summons, Darcy elected to simply hand Mr. Gardiner the three opened letters, explaining as he did so that Miss Bennet had given her permission to relate the events, and conclusion of them, contained therein; he also briefly spoke of her distress upon learning of the contents, then went quiet until all had been read through completely.
"It is definite? Lydia is safe, and with her family once more? And Wickham, an old friend to you and your family; this is most disturbing, Mr. Darcy. Foolish girl," Mr. Gardiner added, "but if all is now well..."
"I will give answer to your concerns regarding that man first, and I say man because he has not been deserving of the designation gentleman for some time. It relates to my sister, Georgiana, and while I have been too close with my knowledge of Wickham's character, I beg you to respect the privacy of my sister, and not reveal the details of what I am about to relate to you. She has been through enough; yet if I...no matter, I shall tell you all now, as I once told your niece in confidence, and she kept it as such, with this the result of respecting the same request I made to her."
Darcy related in brief form, but still in enough detail to shock, the behavior directed toward his sister by Wickham, and other actions of his which made clear his character. He then took responsibility for the most recent events, disturbed by his lack of foresight, and blaming himself entirely.
"But that is my guilt, and I am not asking forgiveness for my error in judgment, or my desire to safeguard my sister. There is this," and he held the last unopened letter in his hand, telling them, "Elizabeth was too distraught to read further, indeed, I do not believe she is aware of its existence. I cannot open it, I cannot violate her trust. So I ask you as her family, as people I know she loves and respects, take it, and do what you judge best for her," and handing the sealed papers to Mr. Gardiner, who readily took them, Darcy sat down heavily, and was silent.
After a brief period Mrs. Gardiner quietly spoke, "Mr. Darcy, in the morning I shall see my niece as soon as she awakes, and I will decide then when to deliver this to her, unopened, for I could not do such a thing to her either."
She left shortly afterward, with the letter in her possession, the two gentlemen remaining together in the library, where they stayed late into the night.
It was very early the next morning, or more accurately later the same morning, as Darcy had remained in his refuge for some time, dwelling on different events, but always returning to the fact that she had agreed, she had accepted him, when he awoke to find a dog in his room, and still partially asleep, called for his valet as well as an explanation.
"Please pardon the intrusion, sir, the maids have been looking for her for some time now. I shall return her immediately," and began removing the animal rather hastily.
"Return her to where, if I may be so informed?"
"Most definitely, if you wish, sir, but I must at least mention first that I have been told to keep it a secret," this in a tone of exasperation.
"I see. Would you have any idea as to how this dog arrived in my rooms, if I may be told without violating any secrets?"
"Quite honestly, sir, it would not surprise me if dogs are now capable of opening doors by themselves," and with great dignity, he exited with dog in tow, and a disdainful air as to the necessity of it.
Darcy couldn't have stopped himself if he tried, nor did he care to; he laughed aloud at what Elizabeth had gotten into her mind this time. I didn't even notice which dog it was, he thought with regret. I wonder if it was Jasmine? Most likely, what other would she choose?
He was leaving his new rooms, Miss Bennet being in possession of his former ones, when he saw Mrs. Gardiner heading toward him, and he stopped to ask her if the last letter had yet been read. It had not been, Mrs. Gardiner had not even seen her niece yet, as things had been a bit hectic, but were now settling down, and she hoped to deliver it to her shortly. "And Mr. Darcy, please accept my apologies in advance for any possible...for any possible reasons they might be needed!"
He grinned and asked, "Regarding my dog?"
"She woke me. I am her master, after all. It's perfectly reasonable she would find me, is it not?"
"There is the first reason for an apology," she replied, shaking her head in some amusement, but with frustration thrown in as well. "I learned that Lizzy last night somehow talked a servant into bringing that dog, Minnie?" Darcy nodded his head with a smile, "into her rooms to stay with her, all night. It somehow got loose, and everyone has been searching for the animal for an hour at least. I must go see if she has gotten it back, and try to talk her out of keeping it in her bed!"
And by now slightly annoyed with her niece's behavior, Mrs. Gardiner left him standing in the hall, a delighted smile in his eyes. Then the thought came to him: Where is Georgiana while all this is taking place? And following that: If you are with her, Georgiana, good, you would do well with some influence from Miss Elizabeth Bennet, if it doesn't frighten you too much! Darcy went to have breakfast, planning to enjoy it a great deal.
For some while all was quiet, with Mr. Gardiner joining him, and still nothing had been heard by either regarding any further family news. A crash from the drawing room startled them both, and as they watched, Minnie went tearing through the dining room, followed shortly by two maids in pursuit. Darcy looked at Gardiner, who appeared shocked. Too bad, thought Darcy, I am not ready to stop this, yet. But he let out a short whistle, and the dog came to him immediately and sat at his right hand. "Would anyone in this household happen to have her lead?" he asked, without bothering to glance around. One appeared shortly, and he attached it to the dog's collar, rose, and said to Gardiner, "I must return Minnie to your niece, please excuse me," and Gardiner shook with laughter, unable to make a reply.
Darcy headed upstairs at a slow pace, with great dignity, the dog loping happily along at his side, and he took in the level of activity that appeared to diminish as he passed through the halls. Upon reaching his intended destination, Minnie's tail wagging furiously, he gave a peremptory knock on the door as he attempted to compose his features. After a brief wait, it was opened by a maid, whose face was flushed, and at the sight of Mr. Darcy, she began to stammer nervously, "If I may, sir, I need to announce..." and without a word he handed over his card. "Thank-you," she whispered, and leaving the door slightly ajar, went to deliver it. Darcy waited patiently, hearing noises from within reflecting some hurried business taking place, and giggles from more than one female voice. "Ah, Georgiana as well," he thought, pleased at her being in the company of Miss Bennet.
At last he was admitted, and the dog immediately lunged against the restraining lead in an effort to reach Miss Lizzy, who was seated opposite the door, in aspect radiant, her manner complacent, as she said, "You have found her, Mr. Darcy, well done!"
Darcy lost himself in her smile for a few seconds, but Minnie brought him back to himself with another pull, and he greeted his fiancee. "I shall not waste my breath making enquiries as to your health, Miss Bennet, as anyone with eyes could easily see you are very well," and his slight smile was lovingly given to her alone.
"I thank you, sir, I believe I am very well!" she replied, then, "May I?" reaching her hand to the animal. He debated the wisdom of releasing his hold, but came to the conclusion that as Elizabeth had had the dog with her throughout the night, she surely was capable of managing her, and he dropped the lead but stood ready to intervene if any sign of roughness was shown in her display of affection. Minnie went straight to the proffered hand, and sat happily at the side of her new friend, tail still joyfully in motion as Elizabeth petted her.
"Although dogs are and have been allowed indoors here for some time, it is generally expected that they be accompanied, and not wander the halls alone, for their own safety, of course," Darcy stated reasonably.
"Of course, Mr. Darcy, do forgive me, she is but a pup; I fear her high spirits dominated her innate sense of propriety for a time; let me reassure you she is generally very well-behaved, and has excellent taste as well!" At this pronouncement, delivered in a most sincere and earnest voice, he could no longer contain his amusement, and discarded any effort of doing so.
Darcy's sister was quietly observing them, and saw how happy her brother appeared; she did not recall ever seeing him thus, and hers increased in the perception of his, her smile a testimony to the feelings in her heart. Darcy took notice of her then, and returned her expression in greater measure, as his future happiness had been confirmed, his greatest desire granted; soon there was to be a Mrs. Darcy at Pemberley, and she would have as many dogs as she wished.
"Georgiana, what is it you are trying to hide?" Darcy asked, as he became aware that she held something out of sight, and as he spoke her color rose, and she looked to Miss Bennet for direction.
"The game is up, dear, it is of no significance, although it was fun, as it certainly will be some time before I am able to teach Minnie how to climb trees," Elizabeth said to her, and Georgiana revealed a length of cord with a small embarrassed smile to her brother. Minnie, upon sight of it, went immediately to the door and nudged it closed, then sat in eager anticipation, looking from one woman to the other, tail thumping the floor.
"Is there to be a demonstration of what paces you have put this animal through?" Darcy asked, knowing what was to come, but desiring to see it anyway. Elizabeth nodded her head in agreement, and Georgiana went to tie the cord to the door latch as Minnie returned to Elizabeth's side, waiting until she held the other end of it. As Elizabeth cried, "Go!" Minnie ran to the door, pulled the cord, which released the latch, and flew into the hallway, disappearing in seconds.
"That will keep the servants busy for a while," Darcy commented, in no way concerned by Minnie's flight. "I believe I have a letter to write," this with a smile to Elizabeth, and then, "May I inform my sister?"
"Oh, yes, do," and she rose and went to him, and he took her arm in his, and turning to his sister, said,
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet has bestowed upon me the great honor of consenting to be my bride, Georgiana."
The manner in which this news was greeted left no doubt as to the feelings of the recipient, (for if truth be told, Georgiana had at times feared her brother would eventually marry Miss Bingley, and that prospect she had met with something less than delight), and it was some while before Elizabeth broached the subject of the letter she had recently read, as she was almost overwhelmed by her own feelings, and did not trust herself to speak with any coherency.
"Mr. Darcy, do you know when the post will arrive today?" Elizabeth asked, and the question caused him concern for a moment, but quickly passed as he realized she could not be in such good spirits if family matters had not been resolved in a positive fashion.
He replied, "Early this afternoon, I believe. Are you expecting another letter from your sister?"
"No, sir, but it should not surprise me if you were to receive one from Mr. Bingley, containing some very important news," and she gave him an enchanting smile, her eyes filled with love for him. Darcy stood in place for long moments, unable to move as he returned the look, finally raising her hand to his lips, his eyes on hers the entire time.
Georgiana was beginning to feel most uncomfortable being present during such a private moment, but Darcy, remembering his sister, recovered. Saying he had a letter of importance to write, as well as receive. He took leave with a promise to return when each had been accomplished. In the hall a maid was yet again escorting Minnie to her new friend, and Darcy smilingly told her, "The dog is now Miss Bennet's, Reginald, as she is soon to have a name change as well!" and strode down the hall, eager to complete the necessary task, laughing as he made for the library.
Darcy did that day receive the anticipated letter from his friend, and the news was as expected. Jane Bennet had accepted Charles Bingley's offer of marriage, and the two were exceedingly happy in their love for one another, but Darcy knew they could not possibly be as happy as he. No one could.
He found Elizabeth on the balcony, asleep on a settee, dog at her feet. Silently observing her, curls about her face, book slipped from her hand, he blessed the good fortune that would make it possible for him to see her thus for the rest of his life, then gently woke her with a kiss.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.