Previous Section, Section III
Chapter 8: What secrets do we hide? Posted on Wednesday, 1 November 2006
By midday, guests at Pemberley finally started rousing themselves out of bed. The ball and dinner was not over until the early hours of the morning, and it was nearly three o'clock before the Darcys wearily farewelled their last guest of the evening and stumbled up to bed. Elizabeth was exhausted by the entertaining and dancing, yet she had a wonderful time, as did Georgiana. The young woman, having mercifully been spared from almost the entire spectacle of Lady Catherine's tantrum, danced most of the night with Darcy and Lord Rupert, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam had taken her hand a few times, before her cousin mysteriously disappeared, and the rest of the evening was interspersed with dances from less memorable gentlemen. Elizabeth and Darcy had taken note of the Colonel's absence shortly after Lizzy had gone to the balcony after Evelyn failed to return. As hostess, Elizabeth's attention was usurped by many things, and she did not have another opportunity to see where either Evelyn or the Colonel had gone. She only hoped that all was well, and that nothing untoward was happening, but knowing the two as she did, that was unlikely.
Evelyn had previously instructed Ellen to not disturb her until noon the day following the ball, so it was with some surprise that the maid found her mistress asleep in the chair in front of the dying fire, her hair still done up with irises and her gown thrown carelessly over the bed. Ellen immediately roused Evelyn, whose first sight upon waking was the worried face of her friend.
"Are you all right, Miss? Have you taken ill or something?" Ellen asked with concern.
"No ... no ... I am fine, Ellen, just a bit cold. Could you grab me a blanket or my robe?" she said weakly.
"You don't sound fine, Miss. I think I should call someone at once!" she said wrapping the counterpane around Evelyn's weak body, and was soon down the hall to the Darcys' chambers, knocking on the door.
After a moment, Elizabeth's head peeked out from behind the door. When she saw that it was Evelyn's maid, she immediately inquired, "What is the matter, Ellen? Is something wrong with Evelyn?"
"I'm so sorry to bother you, Ma'am, but I just come upon Miss Evelyn, it seems as if she's slept all night in a chair, and she's in a sorry state! She seems feverish and weak, and I was wondering if someone could send for an apothecary?" Ellen said, twisting her hands.
"Of course! I shall be with you momentarily, please go back to Evelyn for now and try to get her into bed," Elizabeth said before closing the door to finish getting dressed. She had her maid help her with a simple frock, and neglecting to do more with her hair than fasten it up quickly, rushed down to her friend's chambers to check on her. When she approached Evelyn's bedside, Lizzy could tell that she had a fever and was pale. Elizabeth directed Ellen to get a bowl of cool water and some cloths, and began laving the ill woman's face and limbs. Mrs. Reynolds came upstairs with the apothecary, a Mr. Phelps, almost as soon as the man arrived. Darcy had stopped by to see how Evelyn was faring, then excused himself to see to the rest of the guests who were assembling in the dining room for brunch.
Evelyn lay back in her bed, weak and with chills wracking her body. She had never been ill before, and was in a sorry state. Her body ached, she was abominably thirsty, and was quite put out by having so many fuss over her. Elizabeth had managed admirably in bringing down the fever, and Evelyn was administered a draught by Mr. Phelps, along with the instruction that she was to drink plenty of tea and broth until the fever was completely gone, and to not go outside at all for at least two days.
After the apothecary left, Ellen busied herself in tidying up the room, and putting away Evelyn's gown and slippers. Elizabeth had praised the maid in acting as quickly as she did, and blushing, Ellen bowed and left the room after Elizabeth requested a moment of privacy with the invalid.
"I am very glad that you are going to recover quickly, Evelyn, but please, do tell me, wherever did you go last night? Did you go riding, perchance? You worried some people when you did not reappear," Lizzy inquired while holding Evelyn's hand.
"Oh ... Lizzy ... I do not know what happened last night! I am so confused ... I cried myself to sleep and tossed and turned ... only to get up and sit in the chair ... and I must have fallen asleep there again ... Oh, Elizabeth ... what I am to do?" she lamented, tossing her head against the pillow.
"Evelyn? What on earth happened? You must tell me," Elizabeth said, extremely concerned now.
"I was so angry ... so very angry at the Colonel ... He interrupted my dancing with Sir Adelmeir, chasing the man away by cruelly informing the man that I was merely the ward of Lady Veronica ... then he followed me out to the balcony where I snapped at him ... then ... then ... Oh, Lizzy ... he kissed me! I do not know how or why it happened, but the Colonel kissed me! The man hates me ... why would he do such a thing? To embarrass me further? It that is even possible at this point? He's already mortified me at every opportunity ... and then he ran away! I know not where he went, but I can only think he removed himself as far away from me as he could!" Evelyn said miserably.
Elizabeth sat in stunned silence for a moment, holding Evelyn's hand, before she said softly, "Oh, Evelyn. If only you realized ... "
"Realized what, Lizzy?" Evelyn asked weakly.
"Realized what everyone else here has observed, even Lady Matlock! That the Colonel appears to be in love with you, you little fool!" Lizzy said with a small smile.
Now it was Evelyn's turn to be stunned. "No! That is not ... I had not ... that cannot be!" she exclaimed. "He always ridiculed me, laughed at me ... he could not possibly.."
"It is quite true, Evie. You have only need eyes to see it! Lady Matlock herself remarked upon it, and I have told you that he was not 'ridiculing' you, but was only laughing along with the rest of us. I think that you prejudiced yourself against him for some reason, although I cannot think of why," Lizzy said furrowing her brow.
"It was that time in the music room, when he laughed so hard at me ... I had thought ... that he was laughing at me, because I was being so unladylike and coarse..." Evelyn said, biting her lip.
"Evie, I had told you that he was laughing with the rest of us ... yes, a bit more heartily, but that is the Colonel! He has always been a most jovial and mirthful person and laughs loudly and readily. I've heard him chortle like that myself while at Rosings, and with far less amusement to set him off!" Elizabeth said. "But you did say ... that he kissed you last night? What happened afterwards?"
"Yes ... he kissed me ... it was so unexpected ... I was so shocked! Afterwards ... he apologized to me and backed away in mortification ... then he sped down the stairs to the grounds. I know not where he went after that ... I could not think clearly at all! I think I must have stumbled up to my room..." Evelyn said with a blush staining her cheeks, either from the fever or the remembered kiss.
"Hmm ... Darcy's correct..." Elizabeth said under her breath, then more audibly, "Well, the Colonel did not reappear last night either, so he may very well be secluded in his chambers as well. Hopefully without a fever, for I do not think I have the energy for two invalids! He'll have to see to himself, then!" she said teasingly, bringing a weak smile to Evelyn's face. "Very well, you get some more rest now, and ring the bell if you need anything more. I will have the kitchen prepare some broth for you in the meantime. *Sigh*, oh Evelyn, it never is easy in the beginning. Most vexatious and irritating I would say, but the end result is worth it."
When Evelyn raised a querying brow, she was answered with a mysterious smile, and Elizabeth rose and left the room. Evelyn sighed, snuggled into the bed, and closed her eyes. The last thing she envisioned before falling asleep was the Colonel's eyes staring deep into her own.
When Elizabeth had closed Evelyn's door behind her, she turned to go down the hall and nearly ran into Lady Matlock who appeared livid and grasping a sheet of parchment.
"Is Darcy downstairs? I must see him at once!" she fumed.
"Whatever is the matter, Lady Matlock? Has Lady Catherine done some mischief again?" Lizzy asked worriedly.
"That woman? Thankfully, no ... it is my mule-headed son! If he thinks he is too old to be taken across my knee, he may think again! Indeed! Here, look at this! He scribbled it last night before leaving, without saying a word to anyone! Not even his parents or hosts!" she exclaimed shoving the parchment at an astonished Elizabeth.
"Ah ... could we take this into Georgiana's sitting room, your Ladyship? For some privacy," Elizabeth said weakly, feeling suddenly faint.
"Oh! Yes, of course, Elizabeth! I am so very sorry for barking at you ... here, stand still for a moment and catch your breath. Better, now?"
"Yes, your Ladyship. I must be more tired than I thought," Lizzy replied, slowly making her way to the sitting room. After she sat down, she rang for some tea, realizing she and Lady Matlock may be talking about recent events for some time. After she caught her breath, she excused herself and began to read the Colonel's note.
Please forgive my hasty and unannounced removal from Pemberley. Events occurred which, however unintentional they may have been, demand my immediate departure for London. I am returning posthaste to my regiment, where I will be engaged with the duties that I have left for too long. Within a short time, I may be deployed to the Continent for more active duty and I will attempt to contact you beforehand, if possible. Please do not worry, I am quite well. Give my love to my parents, Georgiana, and Elizabeth. Give my best wishes to the Bingleys, Gardiners, and (blot) of health and happiness to Miss Westcott.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam
"The Colonel returned to London? Last night?" asked Elizabeth in astonishment.
"Yes, it appears that my son has done just that. I have not the slightest notion of why, though. Do you, Elizabeth? Did anything happen that may have caused him to leave without saying any farewells? This is so unlike him!" Lady Matlock said, shaking her head.
"Well ... there may have been something..." she ventured cautiously. "I spoke with Evelyn a short while ago. She is ill with a fever. Oh, she will be fine, the apothecary has been to see her," she said in answer to Lady Matlock's concerned look. "It appears, that while Evelyn was out on the balcony last evening, the Colonel kissed her..." Elizabeth said, waiting for Lady Matlock's reaction.
Lady Matlock smiled at first, then her expression fell, and she furrowed her brow. "He kissed her, you say. But then, after declaring himself to her so, why ever did he leave? Did she reject him?" she asked incredulously.
"Apparently, the Colonel had interrupted her dancing with a Sir Adelmeir, informing that gentlemen that she was the Countess' ward. I suppose this embarrassed Evelyn a great deal, and she was very angry with the Colonel. She was out on the balcony after dancing with the Colonel, and I maneuvered him into bringing out her wrap to her. She said they had some sort of altercation, and he ... just kissed her! After that, he appeared to Evelyn to be mortified by the event and left, running out onto the grounds. She has no idea where he went after that. Evelyn has no idea that the Colonel has gone back to London, certainly. I do not get the impression that Evelyn 'rejected' him in any way, I believe she might have been too startled by the whole thing, and knew not what to expect or do," Elizabeth said, throwing up her hands over the entire mess.
"Well ... I should hope that he might have felt a little mortification over kissing a young woman that he is not at least betrothed to, I brought him up to have some manners ... but he kissed her!" Lady Matlock said romantically. "That is great news, but I have not the foggiest idea why that would cause him to run away! It is quite evident, as plain as the nose on my face that the silly man is in love with Miss Evelyn! What would send him running back to London like that? Do you think she is in love with another? I have seen no sign of it, but it could be a reason. Or ... *gasp*" Lady Matlock stopped suddenly.
"Your Ladyship? What is the matter?" Lizzy asked.
"Oh ... no ... that silly man ... that silly, stupid, mule-headed ... boy!" Lady Matlock said, shaking her head and beating a fist upon the sofa. Elizabeth hurriedly moved to the other couch and attempted to calm the woman. Finally, Lady Matlock calmed and turned to face Elizabeth's concerned eyes.
"It is that 'second son' rubbish he's always on about! How he could never marry a woman of lesser means! Do you not see? That is why he was behaving so oddly around her! Why she thought that he did not care for her at all! He thinks he is too poor to entertain any serious designs upon the poor girl, and has fled for London because it was becoming too serious and obvious!" Lady Matlock cried furiously. "How idiotic and infuriating can that boy get!?"
"Oh, you must be correct! I can understand it all now. Yes, I remember, the Colonel said very much the same thing to me when I first became acquainted with him at Rosings last Easter. I had thought he was being somewhat facetious at the time ... do you mean to tell me that he honestly believes that?" Lizzy asked with no little astonishment.
"For some reason, yes, he does. I believe it is because he assumes that if he ever were to wed, his wife and family should have no less than what he had in his childhood. He is far from penniless, even without his military pay. Lord Matlock and I set aside my dowry for any children born before or after our first son and heir, and we have contributed to it each year since Richard was born, and his older brother has added to the trust as well. I have informed Richard of the trust, and that he will have it when he is married or retired, but he has always refused it. Silly, stubborn man," she said with vexation.
Elizabeth had drawn her hand over her eyes as her head had begun to throb. Lady Matlock noticed and advised Lizzy to go down and try to eat something, as it would probably help.
"You must keep up your strength, Elizabeth, you are eating for two now," she said with a slight smile.
Elizabeth looked up in surprise and asked if everyone knew her secret. "A woman always knows, my dear," Lady Matlock said chuckling and patting Lizzy's hand.
Elizabeth shook her head ruefully and remarked, "I have heard that before, your Ladyship!" The two women rose and walked slowly down to the dining room, deciding to deal with messy courtships another time.
Darcy rose when his wife and Aunt entered the room. Lady Matlock gave him a folded piece of parchment, which he read quickly and stuffed into a pocket. Those who knew him well could tell that he was agitated by the note, but did not inquire after it.
Caroline Bingley sat and ate with a large smile on her face. Charles and Jane sat across from her, and cast frequent glances at their sister, then at each other, smiling with mirth. Lord Douglas was staying at the inn in Lambton, and had promised to call upon Pemberley over the next few days before returning to his estate up north. Charles, who was fond of Lord Douglas, was very happy for Caroline. His friend seemed to like Miss Bingley very much indeed, and Charles and Jane were eagerly anticipating a greater acquaintance between Caroline and Alfred Douglas. Charles had always wanted his sister to be taken care of, and a union with a great and friendly man such as Lord Douglas would ensure Caroline's future and happiness, in more ways than material comfort. It was a perfect match.
Georgiana looked tired, but radiantly happy. The young woman had danced most of the night, and after meeting such a quiet and charming man like Lord Rupert, soon had romantic dreams of shared music and poetry to send her to sleep. The Gardiners had come down with Lord Matlock and Anne deBourgh, as Lady Matlock had stayed behind to rouse her son. Anne sat quietly, sipping her tea and shyly eating her meal. She was still quite pale and shocked by the previous night's events, but her Uncle had insisted on her joining everyone for brunch. The more the young woman was in company, the better he reasoned. She had spent too much time shut away by her mother, and it had damaged her health and spirit. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner attempted to draw the shy Anne out with conversation. Anne sat quietly for a while, until Mrs. Gardiner discovered the young woman was fond of poetry, and began a discussion of sonnets and poets, which Anne joined almost animatedly.
"Did you have a good night's rest, Cousin Anne? Was everything comfortable enough?" Darcy asked with a friendly smile.
Anne stopped mid-sentence in her conversation with Mrs. Gardiner and dropped her eyes to her plate before replying that everything had been quite fine and thank you.
"That is good to hear. You are welcome here anytime, Anne. I am sorry to interrupt, but I couldn't help but overhear your interest in poetry. Perhaps Elizabeth and I may show you the library here. It is very well stocked, I must say. You could lose yourself for hours! Mrs. Gardiner, would you like to come with us? Perhaps you could help Anne chose something she might like," Darcy added, noticing that his shy cousin had warmed slightly to Lizzy's kind and motherly aunt.
"I would like that ... very much indeed, Mr. Darcy," Anne said shyly.
"Come now, Anne! This is a family table here, you can call me 'Darcy' or 'Fitzwilliam' if you would like," he said smiling at Anne when she lifted her eyes. Anne smiled tentatively back before she was overcome with shyness again and returned to her meal.
"Now, how is your patient faring, Elizabeth?" Darcy inquired before taking a bite.
"The worst of her fever seems to have broken, Darcy, and she should recover quickly," she said with a pointed look that meant 'we have to talk later'.
Darcy gave a nod that he had understood and looked at the Lady Matlock, who was eating her meal a little more vigorously than usual, stabbing her eggs and meat with her fork. He had read that Colonel Fitzwilliam had disappeared in the night for London, and was quite worried for his cousin. He knew that Lizzy would probably know of this, as well, but intended on speaking with his Aunt about it. She was clearly agitated over his cousin's abrupt and unannounced departure.
The rest of the meal was finished quietly as most everyone was still recuperating from the previous evening. The guests that had stayed left shortly afterwards, wanting to make the most of the good roads before it was dark, and the Darcys were left with Anne, the Bingleys, the Gardiners, the Matlocks, and Evelyn, who was still resting in bed. Mrs. Gardiner, Lizzy and Darcy took Anne to see the library, and she was soon absorbed in all the books of poetry she found. She was left to read in peace as no one wanted to push the poor young woman too quickly. Anne had already had a very trying past few days, but was bearing up and dealing with the changes quite admirably.
Lord and Lady Matlock returned to their chambers to discuss the behavior of their youngest son, Lady Matlock loudly enough for servants to hear her in the hall. Edward Gardiner was soon joined by his wife, Madeline, and they met Charles and Jane in the conservatory, as they had been quite taken with it during the ball. Mrs. Gardiner and her niece studied the flowers while Charles and Edward sat and talked about the fishing they intended on enjoying before they departed. Caroline Bingley had excused herself to tidy up in anticipation of Lord Douglas calling, which he did shortly thereafter. After making his duties to his hosts and praising the ball and the hospitality, he requested that Miss Bingley accompany him for a walk through the garden, to the joy of Charles and everyone else.
As everyone had gone upstairs to prepare for dinner, Darcy and Elizabeth sat in front of their fire for a while, resting a bit more and preparing to discuss the situations with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Evelyn.
Elizabeth closed her eyes for a moment to focus her thoughts, and Darcy took notice of her slightly drawn look.
"Is anything the matter, Dearest? Shall I send for some tea or a draught? Do you need anything else for your relief?" he asked worriedly. He had begun to regret Elizabeth's activity of the past few weeks, realizing that a woman in her condition should not be working so hard and spreading herself so thin.
"I am fine, beloved, just a slight headache, is all. It is already receding, I just need only a moment," she said softly. After taking a few more deep breaths, she turned upon her husband with a small smile. "Do you think that everyone knows, Darcy? It seems that my Aunt and Lady Matlock have already discovered our little secret."
"Are you sure, Lizzy?" he asked with surprise. "I have honestly told no one except Evie, and that was purely by accident. I was speaking to her about ... attempting to hold her temper in check before the ball as you already had your hands full and I did not want anything to upset you further," he said in hasty explanation when he noticed his wife's arched brow. "I was ensured of her discretion in the matter, so how was it that my Aunt and Mrs. Gardiner found out?"
"They both informed me that 'a woman knows' those sorts of things. Oh well, it shall make informing everyone that much easier, shall it not? At least Jane doesn't know yet, or she would have told Mama, and we would have an invasion of Bennets!" she said laughing, imagining the spectacle.
"Could you not tell your sister until after the child is born then?" Darcy asked weakly, receiving Lizzy's thrown pillow in response. "All right, all right!" Darcy laughingly acceded. "So my dearest wife, are you going to tell me what in heaven is going on with Richard? Do you know why he left in such haste last night?"
Elizabeth sighed and informed Darcy of everything told to her by Evelyn, and what was discussed between her and Lady Matlock. Darcy sat forward in his chair and covered his face with his hands, groaning. "Oh lord ... if it is at all possible, my cousin has made a bigger mess of things than I did! If only he knew!"
"If only he knew what, Darcy? About the trust? Lady Matlock informed me that he is well aware of it." Lizzy said with confusion.
"Oh ... no ... about Evelyn, my dear," he said, looking up at his wife. Lizzy sat there completely confused, waiting for Darcy to enlighten her. After much deliberation he finally said, "I am very sorry for keeping this from you Elizabeth, but I had promised Evelyn that I would keep her secret. Maybe it will help things, if you know, and she very well may be quite angry for telling you..." Darcy began before Lizzy placed a finger on his lips to stop him.
"Thank you, for wanting me to know, Darling. I know how you hate to keep secrets, especially from those you love, but as you said, it is Evelyn's secret. If she wishes me to know, she will tell me. Now, speaking of Miss Westcott, I will finish getting ready for supper and check in on our invalid," she said gently and kissed her husband on the lips. "I do love you so, Fitzwilliam. You are the most honorable and caring man I have ever met."
"And I love you so, my darling, most beloved Elizabeth," Darcy said, reaching out to encircle Elizabeth's waist in his arms, holding her momentarily and savoring the bliss and indescribable happiness he felt each day since knowing she belonged to him.
After reluctantly breaking the embrace, Darcy and Elizabeth dressed quickly, and both of them checked in on Evelyn. She was awake and sitting up, reading in bed. Her fever had apparently gone, and was enjoying the warm broth Ellen had brought up to her. Elizabeth excused herself to go down for dinner, and Darcy said that he wished a moment with Evelyn, and would join everyone downstairs in a moment. Elizabeth looked at him curiously for a second, then wished Evelyn well and left the room.
Evelyn studying Darcy questioningly, waiting for him to speak. He glanced about the room, asking if everything was to her liking and if she needed anything else. Replying that she was more than adequately being looked after, she finally told Darcy to 'spit it out'.
Clearing his throat again and somewhat uncomfortably, Darcy informed Evelyn that Colonel Fitzwilliam had left for London in the middle of the night, to the surprise of everyone. Evelyn blanched slightly upon receiving this news, and began to twist the bedsheets in her hands. Darcy went on to tell her what information he was given by Elizabeth, including the opinions of Lady Matlock on his cousin's erratic behavior. Evelyn sat there in silence, attempting to keep the tears from coming.
"And ... I nearly told Elizabeth your secret, Evelyn. Please, do forgive me," Darcy said, not meeting Evelyn's eyes.
"But ... I had assumed that you have told Lizzy already?" Evelyn said.
"It was not my secret to tell, Evie, and I would not break your confidence, although I was tempted to."
"But I know how much you hate to keep secrets, Darcy. That you are 'honest, to a fault'. To tell your beloved wife, your Elizabeth and my dear friend would not be breaking my confidence! I had not mentioned it to Lizzy for I thought she already knew! You may tell her Darcy, please do so. I know she will keep it as well," Evelyn said, placing a calming hand on Darcy's.
"If you wish, my dear friend. But, you should be getting some rest now. I fear that I have upset you, even though I did not wish to do so," Darcy said, rising from Evelyn's side.
"It is quite all right, my friend. You were right to tell me. It seems that the Colonel is not the only one to make a muddle of things," Evelyn smiled sadly. "If only this could be resolved, at least so the Colonel and I could be friends again. It seems that I have misjudged him ... so abominably."
"You are not the first person to be guilty of that Evelyn, and I dare say the last! Your friends will do all they can to help mend this situation, you will see. I think it has become the pet project of Lizzy and Lady Matlock at any rate," Darcy admitted with a smile. "Now, to sleep with you, you invalid! Get well, Goliath shall miss you!" Darcy left Evelyn to get some rest. She lay against her pillow for a while, finally losing the fight against the tears silently coursing down her cheeks.
"Oh ... Colonel ... what have I done? What shall I do? It was not until this moment ... when you are gone ... that I realize my feelings for you ... How could I have been so blind? How could I have misjudged you so? And now, I will probably never see you again, for you left so mortally offended ... and you will probably never renew affections for me ... 'poor, penniless orphan' that I am..." she silently lamented.
When the next morning came, Evelyn stretched and kicked the covers off her bed. She reached for her robe and put it on, grumbling about being confined inside for another day or so. Although she had never fallen ill before, she seemed to recover fairly quickly. She rang the bell for some coffee and proceeding to stoke the fire back to blazing warmth. Ellen appeared with the coffee service, and after quickly checking for any signs of illness or fever, sat down next to Evelyn with a sigh.
"Oh, I am so glad that you're doing better, Miss! You had me so worried yesterday!" Ellen said while pouring out for the both of them. It was a mark of their friendship that they frequently had coffee together, just the two of them.
Evelyn smiled at her friend warmly, and apologized for worrying her. As she turned back to the fire, her expression fell.
"Are you all right, Miss? Are you suffering a relapse?" Ellen asked hurriedly.
"Ellen..." she began with a slight blush, "have you even been kissed?" Evelyn finished with deepening color.
"Is tha' how you caught your cold then?" Ellen giggled, then stopped when she saw Evelyn turn away. "I have been kissed once, Miss. By a young man I met at a social. He was very handsome, and very charming. We met a few times after that, but he had to leave when his master moved to the country for good. He kissed me before he left, and I'll never forget it, or him. Billy Murdock. I'll never see him again," Ellen confessed, sadly. Evelyn had turned back to look at her friend.
"I was kissed last night, by a handsome man, before he left me. I do not think I will ever see him again. But I shall not forget it, or him, either" Evelyn lamented.
Ellen sat and reached for Evelyn's hand. The two friends sat there quietly, staring into the fire, the coffee forgotten.
After their shared reverie, Ellen drew a bath for Evelyn, which she slid into happily enough, allowing the hot water to ease the tension in her muscles and sooth her aching joints. As she lay there, Ellen pulled up a stool and grabbed a brush to undo Evelyn's hair, which had remained up since the ball. As she removed the pins, Ellen also began to pull out the remains of the irises that had stayed in, as well.
"Too bad, really. These were quite pretty," she said, holding up a flower for Evelyn to see.
"Yes, they were quite pretty. Thank you for thinking of them, Ellen."
"T'wasn't me, Miss. They were brought to the room when you were getting dressed, and the footman wouldn't tell me where they came from, only that I was to put them in your hair for the evening," Ellen said, then stopped brushing and smiled to herself. "Could be that you have an admirer, Miss."
"I can not begin to think who would send me irises. Not even Darcy knows that they are my favorite..." then Evelyn's face fell as she wondered if by some coincidence, the Colonel had known to send her the irises.
"Well, I dare say that they certainly did the thing! They were quite pretty in your hair, and matched your ensemble really well," Ellen said, going back to brushing out Evelyn's long, wavy, albeit tangled locks.
Evelyn dressed after her bath, choosing a loose morning dress, and wrapped herself up in a long shawl before going downstairs to meet everyone. Although the broth had been delicious and nourishing, her stomach yearned for solid food, and let it sentiments me known, loudly at times.
She was escorted to the breakfast room by Ellen, occasionally leaning on her friend's arm as her legs were still weak. Evelyn hated being an invalid, but was assured by her maid that some good food and more rest would see her fully recovered in no time. As Evelyn entered the room, Darcy quickly rose and walked over to take her arm from Ellen, smilingly dismissing the young woman to return to her tasks. Darcy led her to a seat and offered to make up a plate for her.
"Oh yes, thank you! I would like some toast with jam, eggs, ham, sausages if there are any, biscuits, and some kippers. And a cup of coffee, if you please!" she said, her stomach making her hunger known with growls.
Darcy chuckled and asked if he should just move her chair over to the buffet table, but quickly made up her plate and deposited it in front of Evelyn, who ate it with less decorum and more enthusiasm than usual. Everyone inquired after her health and she responded that she was feeling so much better, although she was very hungry and still a little weak. Evelyn looked around the table, taking notice that Elizabeth had not come down yet.
"Darcy, where is Lizzy? Is she well? Please tell me that she did not catch my fever," Evelyn asked worriedly.
"She is quite well, just not hungry at the moment," Darcy said evasively. Evelyn understood immediately, and nodded, observing out of the corner of her eye Lady Matlock and Mrs. Gardiner exchange quick smiles. The smile was soon gone from Lady Matlock's face, however, and the woman returned to looking at Evelyn wistfully. "Darcy said that Lady Matlock knew of her son's ... feelings ... towards me. Does she look that way at me because the Colonel possibly left on my account, or does she feel sorry for me? Poor Lady Matlock, she seems like such a nice, lively woman, she should not be sad for anyone," she mused while taking bites of toast.
Elizabeth finally came downstairs and joined everyone in the breakfast room, declining anything to eat still.
"Are you well, Lizzy? Should someone send for a doctor? It is not good for anyone to not eat," Jane said concernedly.
"I am quite well, dearest Jane. And I have already seen the doctor," she said as Darcy assisted her with her chair and stood next to her, holding her hand. "It is nothing serious, my sister, although my 'cure' shall be several months away," she said smiling radiantly, attempting not to laugh at Jane's worried countenance.
Finally, Darcy could no longer hold his joy in, and burst out with a loud and exuberant, "We're expecting! We are going to be parents, I am going to be a father!"
Jane sat there in mute shock, her hands going to her cheeks. Charles got up and began slapping a laughing Darcy on the back, Caroline went over to Elizabeth and gave her hearty congratulations. The Gardiners went over and quietly congratulated the couple, Mrs. Gardiner embracing and kissing both the Darcys. Georgiana waited quietly for the crowd surrounding her brother and sister to disperse a bit, before she joyfully jumped out of her chair and ran to Darcy, throwing her arms about him and crying in happiness. When she released him, she knelt by Lizzy and did the same thing, although more gently. "Oh, Lizzy! I am to be an Aunt!" Georgiana said, laughing through her tears.
"Yes, you are going to be Aunt, Georgiana, sometime in the Spring, according to the doctor," Elizabeth said happily.
Jane got up quietly and walked over to her sister, she held Lizzy's hand and smiled angelically. "Oh, Lizzy! I am so very happy for you! To think, you are going be to a mother soon, I cannot imagine such happiness! Have you told mother and father yet?"
Lizzy's smile slipped a little bit, and she told Jane that she had not yet had the opportunity to, but would do so as soon as possible, and to please not say anything to them. Jane looked confused for a moment, then understood why Elizabeth had asked not to spread the news. Mrs. Bennet would indeed be an obtrusive and meddlesome visitor for a woman in a delicate condition and required peace and rest.
Lord and Lady Matlock had gone over to give their congratulations as well, with Lady Matlock wagging her finger at the Darcys and saying, once again, that a woman always knows. Anne had remained in her seat, shy and somewhat afraid of all the loud activity around her. When it finally dawned on the young woman that her family was happy, and that they were merely displaying their happiness, she hesitantly got to her feet and walked over to her cousins. She timidly congratulated the couple on the happy news, and looked down at her feet. Darcy stepped up to Anne and grasped her hands in his.
"Thank you my cousin, thank you! I, that is, Lizzy and I, are very happy that you are here with us, to share this news!" Anne hesitantly raised her eyes to meet Darcy's and was once again surprised to see the grim, dour, and brooding man she had known from his visits to Rosings, so completely replaced by this friendly, happy, and boisterous man before her. She looked over to Elizabeth, and saw the woman smiling up at Darcy, then move her gaze over to Anne. Anne could not remember anyone looking at her in so happy and friendly a manner, and found it to be contagious. A timid smile began, which slowly grew into a full grin. The transformation of Anne's face by happiness was amazing, and Lord and Lady Matlock looked at each other and sighed, the weight of what could have been a very bad decision lifting from their shoulders. If Anne could smile like that, a smile that had never been seen before on her wan face, then there was hope for the young woman to recover from all the years of her mother's strangling control.
Evelyn stayed in her seat and watched everyone boisterously celebrate. She felt that she did not have the energy yet to get up and leap around as everyone else was doing, and watching them do so was making her feel tired. She looked across the table at her dear friends, and said a silent prayer for them, that everything would go well, the darling babe would be healthy, and that the Darcys would be looked after and happy the entirety of their days.
After breakfast, Evelyn excused herself and went to the library, needing some quiet time to herself. It was not the physical illness that had sapped her strength, but the heart-sickness she felt. She was cursing herself for her obtuseness with the Colonel. She remembered her first impression of him at the Darcys' wedding breakfast. He was handsome, to be sure, but also open, easy going, and friendly to everyone. Evelyn had liked him immediately, an opinion that was strengthened after learning about his stout and loyal friendship to the Darcys.
When she met him again while out riding that nearly tragic day, she was again impressed with his jovial and easy temperament. Colonel Fitzwilliam was like no man she had ever been acquainted with before. He seemed to be so ... genuine ... he did not follow the strictures of society as rigorously as most gentlemen, while maintaining his own sense of propriety and honor. Evelyn replayed the scenes of the music room and willow grove in her mind, over and over, and was finally able to see what Lizzy had proposed. The Colonel was only showing his mirth in the manner he had previously; without restraint. She could admit that she probably looked extremely silly covered with mud and sitting in a pool. If she were an observer, she would have laughed as well. Evelyn could also recall the fact that the Colonel did attempt to assist her and calm her down after she awoke, terrified. It was her own fault that she lost her balance and fell.
"What am I to do?" Evelyn asked aloud, placing her hand over her heart, which was aching.
The rest of the day passed quietly enough for Evelyn. Darcy, Lord Matlock, Edward Gardiner, and Charles took advantage of the fine day and went down to the trout lake. The Matlocks would be leaving a few days early to take Anne home and get the young woman settled. The Gardiners would be leaving as well, returning home to get back to business, and to ready the house for the return of their children, who had spent the summer with Madeline's brother in Dover.
Jane and Charles would be staying on for another week, as Charles had found an estate in neighboring Staffordshire that would suit him and Jane quite well. Jane lamented that she would be so far removed from her parents in Longbourn, but was pleased that she would be nary a day's ride from her beloved sister. Darcy had invited the Bingleys to remain to close with the attorney, and then they would return to London to make the necessary visits to Charles' bank and to the Hursts'. Caroline would be returning to Town with her brother and sister, albeit reluctantly. Her acquaintance with Lord Douglas had increased, and she was loath to leave him, although he was to return to his estate in Cumbria soon.
Evelyn was to return to London as well, and had been invited to travel with both the Bingleys and the Gardiners. Finally it was settled that she would go with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, as they had the most room in one carriage, and the luggage, Ellen, and the Gardiners' valet and maid would return in Evelyn's borrowed carriage. Goliath sensed that time was short, and Evelyn had to visit him to calm him down. He was unhappy that he had not been ridden in a few days and was of short temper. Finally, against all protests and doctor's orders, Evelyn suited up for a ride and had Goliath saddled. She led him out in an easy trot until they reached an open field. She dismounted, tied up his reins, and let him gallop across the fields as he wished. After he tired himself out, she remounted and led him back to the stables in a much-improved temperament. She brushed out his mane and fed him sugar cubes, which he munched on contentedly. Evelyn was not looking forward to bringing him back to his stables outside of Town. The great, ebony horse had delighted in his freedom at Pemberley, and would not take well to being cooped up again.
With the rush of events and the focus of the group on Elizabeth's condition, the suggestion picnic for the ladies was swiftly forgotten, and the remaining time was spent packing and group events. The Darcys and their guests ate every meal together, some joined by Lord Douglas, and evenings were spent in the music room. All too soon Evelyn's time with her friends had come to an end, and she was standing by the Gardiners' carriage, embracing Elizabeth tearfully.
She turned to Darcy afterwards, and was gently enfolded in his great arms. "Take care, my friend. If you need anything, anything at all, do not hesitate to ask us. And please come again soon. You are always welcome in our home," Darcy said, releasing Evelyn and taking a step back to join his wife.
"Thank you, dear friends, for a most wonderful time. It was very good seeing you again, as well, Miss Darcy. My best wishes for your health and happiness," and she was handed into the carriage, dabbing at her eyes. She looked out the window at the scene of her friends waving farewell, until they were lost in the distance. Sighing, she turned her gaze on the surrounding countryside. The Peak District was very beautiful, and she sat looking at the high hills and low dales in silence, biting on her lips.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had chatted amiably for a while, until both were lulled into somnolence by the motion of the carriage. Evelyn sat back and mulled over what Lady Matlock had said to her the day before. As everyone had gone outside to farewell the Fitzwilliams and Anne, Lady Matlock had come over to Evelyn, patted her on the cheek, smiled fondly, and said, "I am so sorry for all of this trouble, my dear, but it does have a way of working out in the end."
Evelyn had been startled by the gesture and the comment, and received no further clarification from her Ladyship, as she had turned and entered the carriage.
"Oh, she probably knows what happened the night of the ball, then. So, she knows that her son left because of me. Things will work out in the end? Lord, I do hope so ... I hope so..."
The Gardiners and Evelyn stopped at the town of Northampton for the evening, and were on their way the next morning, as soon as they were breakfasted. The remaining leg of their journey to London sped by fairly quickly, as Evelyn's turmoil had been somewhat replaced by her anticipation and eagerness to see the Lady Veronica. Shortly before nightfall, after they had delivered a snorting and bristling Goliath to his boarding stable, the travelers had arrived in Town. They stopped at the Gardiners' first, unloaded the luggage, and Evelyn spent a few moments saying farewell to her new friends before she was on her way home.
As Evelyn peered out the windows attempting to catch a glimpse of Hargrove House, she was astonished by the sight of a man she knew being rushed into the front door. The carriage pulled up and Evelyn jumped out before the footman had an opportunity to set the steps. She ran up to Mr. Childs and demanded to know what was going on, as the man she had seen was Lady Veronica's physician.
"Calm down, Miss, please. Her Ladyship has taken a turn for the worse. Here, come into the house, now," the kindly man said, escorting Evelyn into the front parlor. "Her condition has been worsening over the past month or so, and no one seemed able to help. Dr. Wallace had been on the Continent, learning some new procedures, and a replacement was found who, unfortunately, was no help at all. Dr. Wallace came as soon as he was able, and hopefully will be able to help. Sorry that you had to come home to such a scene, Miss. Her Ladyship had hoped to welcome you back herself, and celebrate," the loyal butler said sadly.
Evelyn sat down heavily on the nearest sofa, and began to sob. She had thought that she would be able to handle what had occurred at Pemberley, burying her feelings, as she knew she must. But the thought of losing Lady Veronica had sent the young woman over the edge. She wept tears of grief, frustration, anger, and desperation.
After some time, Dr. Wallace came downstairs, wiping sweat from his brow. He saw Evelyn looking at him in trepidation, and he managed a small smile as he walked over to her.
"Her Ladyship is stable for the moment, and I have a good belief that she will recover sufficiently," he began, being interrupted by Evelyn's large sigh of relief, "However, Miss Westcott, her condition is very serious. The therapeutic regimens that I have been studying are unknown in England. If Lady Veronica were to take advantage of them as I believe she must in order to save her life, she will have to go to the Continent for some time. I believe that the more temperate climate would be beneficial as well," he finished.
Evelyn stood there for a moment in shock. She felt profound relief that there was a way that the Countess could pull through this, and stabbing fear at the thought of moving to the Continent. She had read the reports of the wars in the papers, and the thought of being near any such bloodshed filled her with terror. But she would accompany her Ladyship if she must, and bear up the best she could.
Dr. Wallace informed Evelyn that the Countess had been made aware of her return, and was awaiting her in her chamber. Evelyn was to remain calm and quiet, and visit for only a short time. Evelyn nodded her understanding and went upstairs to see Lady Veronica.
The great lady was reclining in her bed, propped up with pillows. She smiled at Evelyn as she entered the room, and weakly waved her over to the bed. Evelyn sat down next to the ill woman and gently took her hand.
"Evelyn, my dear! It is so good to have you home, at last. You look very well indeed! Tell me, did you enjoy your visit?" Lady Veronica asked in a soft voice.
"I did enjoy it, very much indeed. Oh ... Lady Veronica ... had I but known I would have come back sooner. Why did no one inform me!" Evelyn said.
"Because I told them not to, my dear. There is nothing you could have done for me, so why should one old woman curtail the entertainments of the young? I have had my time on this earth, Evelyn, now it is your time. Now, now, everything will be all right. I am to go on a journey it seems. I haven't been to the Continent in some time, I am quite excited!" she said, smiling.
"How soon are we to go?" Evelyn asked.
"We are not going anywhere, my dear. You are to remain here, in Hargrove House, and I will away to Italy with Mrs. Thesden. My nurse shall be company enough as I recuperate. Now, I will not have another word! This is your home, and you will stay here. I have heard that you have new friends in Town? They shall keep you company. I have already contacted Lady Malgreaves, and she is sending a Mrs. Mitchell over to the house, to be a companion, at least for propriety's sake. You are full old enough to be on your own in my opinion, but we must keep up appearances," Lady Veronica said teasingly.
"Now, give me a kiss and let me rest for a while, my dear. You shall come tomorrow and tell me all about your adventures and about any young gentlemen that have caught your eye. Good night, Evie," Lady Veronica said as she pulled the covers up and closed her eyes.
Evelyn bent to kiss the woman's forehead, then rose and quietly left the room for her own chambers. She sat in the dark for a while, in the silence of the deepening night, wondering what else would life surprise her with.
Shortly after her arrival in Town, preparations were made for Lady Veronica's journey to Italy, so that she could take advantage of the warmer clime and treatments newly available. Evelyn did not relish the thought of being left behind in the large house, but rallied her spirits well for the Countess' sake. She had told Lady Veronica of the ball, the new friends she had made, and the Darcys' good news, leaving out all mention of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Ah, Lord and Lady Matlock were there! How nice for you to meet them, they are pleasant people. Did either of their sons accompany them? No? That is strange that Darcy's cousins would not attend Miss Darcy's ball," Lady Veronica remarked.
"I believe that the eldest was busy with the estate, and the younger is in the military and may have been detained by his duties," Evelyn offered, chewing her lip.
"Ah, yes. I imagine that is so. Too bad, for I have always liked Colonel Fitzwilliam whenever I have met him. He makes me laugh."
Evelyn sat in silence, wishing that she could open her heart to the old woman, yet reluctant to upset her with anything. Over the next few days Evelyn helped get Lady Veronica prepared, and when she was ready to take the next ship to Venice, accompanied the woman to the harbor. After tearfully listening to advice and exchanging promises that she would be a 'good girl' and write often, Evelyn watched Lady Veronica get on board and then stood on the pier waving good-bye for some time.
Disheartened, Evelyn returned to the seemingly empty house, and picking up some parchment and pen, began a letter to the Darcys.
Dearest Darcy and Elizabeth;
Greetings from Hargrove House, my friends. I hope that all is well with you both, and that you, as well as Miss Darcy, are in good health.
I hope that the Bingleys are well, also, and that Mr. and Mrs. Bingley have begun to settle in their new home with little difficulty.
I am writing to inform you that Lady Veronica has just sailed for Italy. It is apparent that she may be there for some time. Evidently while I was away, her condition had worsened, and under the direction of her physician, is to receive some of the newer treatments and enjoy the benefits of the warmer air in Italy.
I shall miss her very much, indeed. I was going to accompany her on her journey, but she would not hear of it, and insisted that I stay in England. So, my friends, I am alone in this house. A Mrs. Mitchell has been asked to be my companion while Lady Veronica is away. She seems like a nice sort of woman, but I have observed that she has little in the way of conversation, preferring to embroider and sneak a bit of what I assume is sherry, judging by the smell.
Three Days Later:
I have been attempting to keep myself occupied by reading and wandering about the Town with Mrs. Mitchell and Ellen. I have been visiting the booksellers, and even went to a few exhibits of Miss Catherine Bennet's work. It is very fine, indeed. Miss Bennet has quite an eye for color, and great talent with a brush. Elizabeth's family must be very proud of Miss Bennet's accomplishments, and I intend on acquiring a landscape for Lady Veronica.
Although I am practically alone here, I am busy with the household. Lady Veronica left Mr. Childs and I in charge, and it is consuming work. I have no idea how Lady Veronica managed by herself with her health!
So, in closing my dear friends, I only ask that you pray for Her Ladyship's recovery.
Yours with friendship and love,
Darcy had opened and read the letter in the breakfast room, as he waited for Elizabeth to join him. He was shocked and concerned when he read that Lady Veronica was ill and that Evelyn had been left behind. Although she was left with a companion, Darcy knew that Evelyn was lonely and despondent by the tone of her note. He quickly began running through his mental calendar to see if there was any pressing business that would curtail a journey to Town. Although he disdained being in London, Evelyn was his dear friend, and he did not wish for her to be so lonely. Finishing his mental scheduling, he discovered that he, in fact, had business approaching that would necessitate a journey to Town. "How fortuitous! Now, I will see if Lizzy and Georgiana will wish to accompany me?"
Due to the somewhat shaky nature of Elizabeth's digestion of late, breakfast was being served an hour later than usual, so that she would have time to recover from her morning sickness. She came into the breakfast room with a radiant smile on her face, a frequent thing since the announcement of her impending motherhood. Darcy smiled at her as well, and rose to embrace her gently and place a kiss on her curls before she sat down for her meal.
"You have received a letter, I see. From whom?" Lizzy asked brightly.
"It was addressed to the both of us, my dear, please excuse me for reading it before you. It is from Evelyn," Darcy answered.
"Ah, Evelyn! How is she?" Elizabeth asked concernedly. She believed that Evelyn had hidden the majority of her feelings from everyone, and Lizzy was of the opinion that the young woman was very confused and heartbroken over what had occurred with the Colonel. Elizabeth knew full well what it was like to discover you have feelings for a man after a series of unfortunate events, and such a discovery was often accompanied by heartbreak.
"She appears to be alone, Lizzy. Lady Veronica had taken quite ill while Evelyn was here, and has been instructed by her doctor to make for the Continent. Evelyn was requested to stay behind in London, and although she has a suitable companion, is very low. At least, she doesn't say as much, but her tone in the letter suggests it strongly," Darcy said, handing the letter over to Elizabeth.
Lizzy scanned the contents of the letter quickly. When she was finished she looked up at Darcy with a furrowed brow. "Is it too late for me to be going to Town, Darcy? Really, we must away to Evelyn's side at once," she said pleadingly.
Darcy laughed merrily at his wife. "I was attempting to find a way to convince you and Georgiana to join me, Dearest. I have just remembered that I have upcoming business with my bankers and attorneys, and it would not be disturbed by conducting it bit early. And I do not think it is too late for you to travel. You are certainly not 'showing' at all, my darling," Darcy said with a smile.
Georgiana had already broken her fast earlier, as she was unable to go that long without eating at least a piece of toast. She joined her brother and sister in the breakfast room to say hello.
"Ah, Georgiana, would you terribly mind accompanying Lizzy and I to London for a fortnight? I find that I have some business to tend to, and we might catch the opera, a play, or go to an exhibit if you would like. We could visit some of our friends, as well," Darcy said.
"I would love to join you. Are you feeling up to traveling, Elizabeth?" she asked shyly.
"I am full well to travel, Georgiana. It is only for a short time after awaking that I feel unwell, and that passes quickly enough, but thank you for inquiring. I do look forward to seeing everyone again, even though it seems we finally got Pemberley back to ourselves! I enjoyed seeing my family and friends," Lizzy said cheerfully.
"Well, it will not be entirely visits and events for me, I was not hedging about when I said that I have business to attend to. But you two fine young women shall do nicely keeping yourselves busy, and getting into no end of trouble, I imagine," Darcy said with a teasing smile, "just make sure you do not spend the entire estate on dresses, all right?"
"Oh, Darcy ... really," Elizabeth said, threatening to throw a glob of marmalade at her husband. Thereafter, the three Darcys talked excitedly about the impending journey to London, which was a novel thing for the Master of the House. Georgiana was excited about attending the opera or a play; she had never been allowed to go before, as she was not yet 'out'. Elizabeth was hoping to see another of her sister Catherine's exhibits, as well as visiting with her Aunt Gardiner. Elizabeth had not much opportunity to speak to the woman about what to expect with her condition. As Madeline Gardiner was the mother of four children, and much more intelligent and informed than her own mother, Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth dearly wanted her advice and wisdom.
It was decided that plans would be made to leave in three days; as that would give Darcy enough time to send the expresses to London to have the townhouse prepared, his bank and attorneys notified, and leave detailed instructions with his Steward and housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. Darcy intended to be gone for only a fortnight, but always made alternative plans, just in case.
The days passed quickly, and Darcy sent a final missive by express to Miss Evelyn Westcott of Hargrove House, informing her that he, Lizzy, and Georgiana would be on their way to London, and to expect a call within the next few days.
Chapter 9 Posted on Thursday, 2 November 2006
Evelyn awoke that morning, grumbling to herself as she got out of bed. She did not look forward to her tedious days at all, anymore. Mrs. Mitchell, although a kind woman, was as interesting as watching dry paint, and more than once, Evelyn had caught herself on the verge of nodding off while listening to the woman prattle on.
She had sent an invitation to call upon her to the Gardiners', but was regretfully informed that their children had arrived from vacation, along with a few colds, and were therefore unable to pay a call on Evelyn.
She dressed morosely and went downstairs to the breakfast room. Grabbing a cup of coffee, she plopped down inelegantly into a chair and began to read the paper.
Mrs. Mitchell joined her shortly thereafter, and brightly inquired after the society pages, which she incorrectly assumed Evelyn was reading.
"I have not the slightest idea, Mrs. Mitchell. I am sorry, but when I am finished reading you may certainly see for yourself," Evelyn said in a steady voice.
"If you are not reading the society pages, why ever are you reading the paper? A proper lady does not concern herself with news of war or politics," Mrs. Mitchell instructed.
Evelyn sighed as quietly as she could, and hid the fact that she was rolling her eyes behind the paper held in front of her. She did not respond to the woman, believing a contradiction would only encourage her. She was interrupted in her reading by Mr. Childs arriving with a letter. She looked up at the butler curiously, then began to smile and attacked the envelope when she recognized the handwriting. She quickly scanned the contents, and let out a 'whoop' when she read the part where it said that the Darcys were coming to Town.
"Oh, dear!" Mrs. Mitchell said in surprise. "Whatever is the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter, Mrs. Mitchell. Everything is finally a little better. The Darcys are coming to Town for a short while and they are going to call. Oh my, according to the date on this, they should be in Town already! I shall have to speak to the staff and to Ellen, please excuse me!" and with that she leapt from her seat and dashed out of the room, leaving Mrs. Mitchell to mutter to herself about "wild young women who will never amount to anything!"
Evelyn spoke to the housekeeper and to Mr. Childs, informing them of the impending visit and to prepare everything that may be needed. She also quietly instructed them that they should place a few decanters of sherry in conspicuous places about the house, to the stifled mirth of everyone. The staff was in high spirits, as their Miss Evelyn had not been in a good mood since the Countess had gone away. Evelyn's happiness was often contagious, and since she had arrived at Hargrove House, it had seemed more like a home to everyone.
The next afternoon, the Darcys had finally arrived at Evelyn's door. She had spent the previous day in agonized anticipation, nearly tearing her dress as she twisted it about in her hands. When she heard the bell ring she ran downstairs, sliding down the banister, of course, and skipped into the entrance hall. When Mr. Childs opened the door, she could barely wait for the man to take her guests' hats and coats before she ran to them.
"Darcy! Lizzy! and Miss Darcy! You have no idea how happy I am to see you!" she said excitedly. Then she sidled nearer to Darcy and said in a stage whisper, "You have to save me! Mrs. Mitchell is driving me mad!" to the amusement of everyone. Even Mr. Childs let a chuckle slip out before bowing and leaving the hall.
"So, are we to meet this Mrs. Mitchell, or have you locked her in the cellar?" Darcy asked.
"Oh, for some reason the poor woman was too ill to get out of bed this morning," she said as she led them into the parlor. Then, indicating a row of half-empty decanters, she continued, "I really have not the faintest notion of why."
"Evie!" Lizzy said chuckling, "what have you done to the poor woman?"
"I have done nothing, Elizabeth. I certainly did not force Mrs. Mitchell to drink more than any sailor I have ever seen" Evelyn said in wide-eyed innocence.
Evelyn asked her guests to sit and rang for tea and sandwiches. The friends caught each other up on post-ball events, and Evelyn noticed that the Darcys did not mention the Matlocks or the Colonel, at all.
"So, how are Lord and Lady Matlock? How is Miss deBourgh?" Evelyn asked.
"My aunt and uncle are doing well, and report that Anne has improved already during the short time she has been at Matlock. She has gained a bit of weight, some color, and seems to smile more readily. They will be joining us in a week or so, depending on how Anne feels. She has never been to the city, either, and wants to experience some things, poor woman. I cannot believe how my Aunt shut her away like she did" Darcy said.
"And ... Colonel Fitzwilliam? Is he well?" Evelyn ventured, then took a quick gulp of her tea.
"Richard appears to be back at his post, just outside of London. They are on ready alert, it seems, in case Wellington sends for reinforcements," Darcy said, watching Evelyn carefully.
"Ah ... yes. That is good for the Colonel, although I can understand that his family will be worried about him," she said, biting her lip and looking away. Forcing herself to remember the happiness of having good company, she cleared her throat and began speaking of the one thing she noticed in the society pages Mrs. Mitchell pointed out to her; that Lord Douglas appears to be buying a large house in Town.
"I had heard that from Charles, actually. Miss Bingley is currently with the Hursts I understand. She was going to go with Charles and Jane to Staffordshire, to assist them with opening and preparing the new house, but they insisted that she stay in Town so that she would be able to see Lord Douglas while he was here. I dare say that my brother and sister are hoping to plan a wedding soon," Lizzy chuckled, glad to change the subject.
"I had sent Caroline a letter, but she must have missed receiving it. She is back in Town, now? That is good, perhaps we could include her on some outings?" Evelyn asked.
"Yes, I think we shall. I am still amazed at the transformation that Caroline has undergone. At Pemberley, she was so helpful and pleasant, I dare say we ended up becoming good friends!"
"I, too, Elizabeth," offered Georgiana. "I would very much like to have Miss Bingley with us while we are here."
"If we can tear her away from Lord Douglas, that is," Evelyn said.
"I liked Lord Douglas," Darcy admitted, "perhaps we shall have him over for supper some night, when he is available."
"Would we be able to invite Lord Rupert as well?" Georgiana inquired shyly, looking at her slippers.
"Lord Rupert?" Darcy asked, raising a brow. "Pray tell me just how do you know that he is in Town?"
"He had mentioned to me at the ball that he was going to London for some duration," the shy girl said, blushing.
"Hmph ... we'll see, Georgie ... we'll see.." Darcy muttered non-committedly.
"Well, I do not know about you," Lizzy said, breaking the tension, "but as it is such a lovely day, I was wondering if you ladies would like to accompany me to some shops? There is a lovely booksellers that I would like to visit, and Georgiana may stop into some music shops."
"That sounds wonderful, Lizzy. I haven't had much opportunity to enjoy myself lately," Evelyn said, rolling her eyes.
"Let us finish our tea, and be off, then! Darcy, will you join us?"
"No, Elizabeth, I should be going to my attorneys' today for a preliminary meeting. The sooner that is over and done with, the easier the rest of my business should be. Then, I shall have more time to take in diversions, such as an opera. Evelyn, you must join us when we go out," Darcy said.
"Oh, that will be lovely! Of course I shall join you, just tell me when," Evelyn said joyfully.
The Darcys and Evelyn finished their refreshments and made their way downtown. Darcy was let off at his attorneys', and the ladies continued on to the booksellers. Once inside, Evelyn quickly lost herself in perusing the shelves of new books. She was determined to catch up to Darcy on the modern authors. Evelyn found some books that she was interested in, and was scanning through one novel as she slowly made her way to the front. Nose deep in the book, she was not watching where she was going, and bumped into someone, causing her to drop her armload.
"Oh! Dear me, I am so sorry, Sir! Please forgive me, it was my fault entirely. I am afraid I was not paying attention," she said as she bent to collect the books.
"It is quite all right, Miss! I was not paying attention either. Here, allow me ... Ev ... Miss Westcott?" the man's voice said with no little astonishment. Evelyn looked up, recognizing the voice, and her eyes fell upon the person of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Evelyn froze momentarily in shock, then dropped her eyes to the floor and hastily began retrieving the books she had dropped. "Forgive me, C..Colonel Fitzwilliam, I did not see you," Evelyn stammered in her agitation. Just then, Elizabeth and Georgiana rounded the corner of the aisle, and hurried over when they recognized the Colonel.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam! What do you do here?" Elizabeth said in surprise.
"Elizabeth? I did not know that you were in Town!" the Colonel said, just as surprised. "I am here picking up some books that I and my Commander had ordered," he said, assisting Evelyn to her feet, and relieved her of the stack of books in her arms. "Here, allow me, Miss Westcott," he offered, not looking at her.
"Ah! Darcy, Georgiana and I arrived in Town just the other day. Darcy had some business to attend to, and we came along to keep him and Evelyn company. Lady Veronica has gone to the Continent and had Evie remain behind to take care of Hargrove," Lizzy said a bit excitedly. "We must have you over for dinner some night, Colonel. We have some good news that Darcy would love to share with you."
"Good news! And this is something that you cannot tell me yourself?" the Colonel inquired.
"I would not dream of usurping Darcy's prerogative, Colonel," Elizabeth said with a smirk.
"I can understand that, indeed I can. Very well, I shall call ... tomorrow night next, if you are not otherwise engaged?"
"We have no plans for that evening, so you would be very welcome. Evelyn, will you not join us then?" Lizzy asked.
Evelyn glanced at Lizzy in panic. She blushed as she accepted the invitation, and looked away, pretending to scan the nearest shelf. The Colonel was as uncomfortable as she was, but was using every ounce of will to keep it hidden, although he thought that everyone would be able to hear his racing heart.
Richard escorted the ladies to the desk up front, purchased all of their selections for them against all protests, and placed the packages in their awaiting carriage. The Colonel promised Elizabeth that he would call, duties permitting, and with a crisp salute and bow, and turned on his heel and walked down the lane, rounding the nearest corner. As soon as he was out of sight, he stopped and took a deep, shuddering breath, placing his hand over his heart. "I cannot get Evelyn out of my mind, and now she is here! Haunting me, tormenting me! You must forget her ... .you MUST!" he screamed to himself. After taking another deep breath and attempting to collect himself, he continued on his way back to the barracks, where he soon shut himself up in his quarters, and quietly got drunk.
Meanwhile, Lizzy helped a troubled Evelyn into the carriage, and instructed the driver to take them to the Darcy townhouse. Evelyn sat staring out the window, chewing her bottom lip raw. She had not thought she would ever see the Colonel again, and running into him unexpectedly had thrown her mind and heart into turmoil. Evelyn knew that she had reacted badly to seeing him, but did not care. Elizabeth watched her friend with concern, and as soon as she returned home, steered Evelyn into the sitting room. Georgiana quietly excused herself, and went to the piano-forte sorting through the stack of sheet music, and after making several selections, began to play those songs she had found soothing.
Evelyn sat down on a settee and stared at her hands. Elizabeth sat next to her and placed a gentle hand on her friend's shoulder.
"Oh, Lizzy. I do not know why I accepted your invitation. I could not possibly face the man again," she said, wringing her hands until her knuckles turned white.
"Evie, calm yourself. It will be all right, you will see," Elizabeth said hopefully.
"He could not even bear to look at me! How could we sit through an entire evening like that?" Evelyn asked morosely.
"The same way you did for most nights at Pemberley, I imagine," Lizzy said in an attempt to cheer Evelyn up. This statement had the opposite effect that was intended, and Evelyn began to weep, and covered her face with her hands.
"There, there, dear friend. Oh, how I know how you are feeling. I thought that my heart would break when I thought that I would never see Darcy again. And when I did ... when he appeared in front of me at Longbourn, I thought that I would die. I had no hope of him renewing his affections for me, but then, ten days later, he returned. And then he proposed the same day! See, Evelyn? Sometimes, while we are walking through the shadows, we cannot see the bright sunlight at the end, but we do finally emerge, and everything is better than fine," Lizzy said, holding Evelyn and rocking her gently.
Evelyn had stopped weeping and looked at her friend. "Always the romantic, Lizzy," she said sadly. "Sometimes though, the story does not have a happy ending."
"Everything would be well enough if the Colonel did not stick to his silly beliefs," Elizabeth said, snorting inelegantly. "I do understand that young men need something to live on, but the extent to which he believes in such things is shocking. He is far from destitute! Lady Matlock is correct. The 'second son' nonsense he goes on about is ... ridiculous!"
"Not to mention, incredibly ironic," Evelyn said under her breath, but was overheard by Elizabeth.
"Whatever do you mean?" she asked, curious.
"Has Darcy told you my secret yet?"
"Oh no. He began to one night, but I stopped him. It was your secret to tell, not his," she said hurriedly.
"It is all right, Elizabeth. I gave Darcy permission to, but it appears he has forgotten to do so," she said, taking a deep breath. Then she quietly informed a stunned Elizabeth.
Darcy had arrived back at the townhouse. He heard music, and went to investigate. Upon finding Georgiana, he inquired why she had returned so early. When he heard that the ladies had run into Colonel Fitzwilliam and Evelyn had become upset, he quickly went to the sitting room to check in on his wife and friend.
He knocked on the door, and entered when bid. He found Lizzy and Evelyn seated together, embracing one another.
"Of course not, my dear friend. Of course this changes nothing ... " Lizzy said, taking a deep breath and looking to her husband.
"Whatever is the matter?" Darcy asked.
Evelyn informed Darcy that she had told Elizabeth her secret, and Darcy walked over to kneel by his wife, taking her hand.
"I am sorry I forgot to tell you, Dearest. I had other things on my mind for a while," he apologized.
"It is quite all right, my love. Everything is fine. Well, this has certainly been an interesting day, has it not," she said with a small laugh.
"Georgiana informed me that you saw the Colonel, and that he has been invited to supper?" Darcy asked quietly.
"Yes," Lizzy said, sighing. "I could not think of what else to say, taken by surprise as we all were. I am sorry, Evelyn, that I asked you to join us without thinking of your feelings first."
"It is quite all right, Lizzy. But I fear that I shall have a relapse of that fever I had, for some reason," Evelyn said teasingly in an attempt to return to a better humor.
They soon joined Georgiana in the music room for a while, and then Evelyn excused herself and returned home, mentally drained by the day.
The evening came for Evelyn to venture over to the Darcys' for supper. She had spent the previous hours in dread. The day before, she went with Elizabeth and Georgiana to call on Caroline at the Hursts'. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst were out for the morning, and the three ladies chatted amiably with Caroline, who had never looked happier, and invited her to supper for the next evening. Caroline was informed that an invitation had been sent to Lord Douglas, as well, and she responded with a blush. Evelyn was hoping that Lord Douglas would propose to her friend soon.
Evelyn, Lizzy, and Georgiana had left to continue their shopping that had been interrupted the day before. Evelyn had trailed behind her friends silently, her mind on things other than dresses and music. She had returned home shortly before dark in a foul temper, and retired for the evening, unable to eat a bite.
Presently, she sat in the Darcys' drawing room, attempting to pay attention to her conversation with Caroline. She was gratefully interrupted by the arrival of Lord Douglas, who immediately came over to see Caroline as soon as he had finished chatting with his hosts.
Evelyn got up and slowly walked about the room, trying to still her beating heart. She looked up when someone entered the room, and let out the breath she had been holding when she saw it was a footman delivering a note to Darcy. Darcy and Elizabeth scanned the note quickly, and Evelyn saw Lizzy's brow crease. Lizzy then said something to her husband and walked over to where Evelyn was standing.
"Everything is all right, Evelyn, but we just received word that the Colonel sends his regrets. Evidently something came up at the barracks, and he must attend to his duties," Elizabeth informed her quietly, then went back to her husband.
The knot that had formed in Evelyn's stomach began to slowly unravel, and she was able to better enjoy the evening with her friends.
During the supper, it was quite evident that Caroline and Lord Douglas were very, very fond of one another. He was attentive towards her and barely left her side the entire evening. Darcy had mentioned to Elizabeth and Evelyn that Lord Douglas had the gentlemen shorten their time at the port so that they could join the ladies in the drawing room. Everyone was anticipating an engagement at any time.
Over the next few days, Evelyn was included in most of Elizabeth's journeys about Town. Lizzy was saddened by the fact that she was unable to meet with the Gardiners. The children's' colds had not relented, and Mrs. Gardiner was afraid of Elizabeth catching it while she was expecting. On the night that they were to see the opera, Evelyn was almost excited, and looked forward to going. Georgiana had a wonderful time, and looked around the hall with as much enthusiasm as she had while watching the opera itself.
While there, Georgiana had met with Lord Rupert again, much to Darcy's dismay. The young man was there to listen to the music, and to hear the Italian Diva who was the star performer. Georgiana had looked over at him timidly across the hall during intermission, and Lord Rupert, under the glowering gaze of a protective elder brother, came over to greet the party. Georgiana shyly spoke with him about the opera for a while, and blushingly admitted that she was enjoying it very much. When the announcement for the second act came, Elizabeth attempted to prod Darcy into inviting Lord Rupert for supper one night, which he refused to do, saying that Georgiana was still too young to be courted. Elizabeth sighed and took Darcy's arm. While Georgiana was still very young, only seventeen, Elizabeth was afraid that Darcy would never allow a young man to court his sister, even if she were seven and twenty.
The day after the opera, Elizabeth dragged everyone to view one of Catherine Bennet's exhibits at a well-known gallery, as she had yet to see any of the work, only hearing about it from her father, Jane, and the Gardiners. Darcy happily walked away with a painting of a view from an 'Oakham Mount' that he seemed very fond of and proudly displayed it to a blushing Elizabeth.
Evelyn's turmoil had begun to recede after spending so much time with her friends. The Darcys had realized that Evelyn would need distraction, and bringing her along as they showed Georgiana the sights of London was no bother for them at all. Evelyn had momentarily forgotten her unease at seeing the Colonel again, until the night that they attended a party at the Malgreaves'.
When Darcy first received the invitation, he was not at all inclined to go, but was persuaded to by Elizabeth, who informed him that Georgiana should be allowed to attend, and the Malgreaves were not bad people, so nothing untoward would happen. Evelyn had received an invitation as well, which surprised her as she had not expected one with Lady Veronica being away. But she accepted at once when Elizabeth had told her that they would be attending as well.
Evelyn was picked up by the Darcys' carriage, and the entire party was greeting warmly by Lord and Lady Malgreaves.
"Ah, Mr. Darcy, so good of you to come. And this must be Miss Darcy! Oh, so grown already, where does the time go! Very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy, oh you look lovely tonight, doesn't she? And Mrs. Darcy, very nice to see you again. Ah, Miss Westcott! How are you my dear, have you any word from Lady Veronica? I was so sorry to hear the news, but at least she will recover while she is away ... yes, very good to see you here, enjoy yourselves," Lady Malgreaves rattled on good-naturedly, while her husband just smiled and nodded at everyone.
Evelyn and the Darcys walked into the large parlor and began to mingle with the other guests that they recognized. Evelyn saw Caroline and Lord Douglas and went over to greet her friends. She turned to walk back towards her party and nearly bumped into a man that had been standing behind her.
"Oh, Miss Westcott?" the Colonel said in surprise.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," Evelyn said, making a quick curtsey. "How nice to see you again. The Darcys missed you at their supper last week," she said lamely.
"Er ... yes. I was unavoidably detained due to pressing matters. Um ... I hope I find you well and... " the Colonel stammered and was interrupted by a woman coming up and taking his arm.
"Colonel, I thought that you were going to fetch me some punch," the woman said, batting her eyelashes at the taut-faced man.
"Yes ... forgive me, I shall do that now. Er, permit me to introduce you to Miss Westcott. Miss Madeline Granger, this is Miss Evelyn Westcott, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy," the Colonel said, attempting to not look at Evelyn's face.
"Oh, Miss Westcott and I have already met. Now, may I have some punch, please? Thank you, Colonel," Miss Granger said brightly and released Richard's arm. She watched him go and turned back to Evelyn, whispering dramatically, "Oh, isn't he a handsome man! I dare say, quite the catch!"
Evelyn attempted to keep a straight countenance, and nodded in agreement. Miss Granger was not to be deterred at all, and continued, "He may not be as rich as his brother or cousin, but he is the next best thing. For a while, at least, until some other man catches my fancy," she said tittering. "Ah, Colonel, thank you. You are such a dear man, I was positively parched!" and taking hold of his arm again, pulled him away from Evelyn and said over her shoulder "talk to you again, Miss Westcott."
Evelyn stood there, too numb to move. Elizabeth had noticed the scene and hurried over to her friend as quickly as possible. Caroline walked over to Evelyn as well. The two concerned women quietly asked if Evelyn was all right, and they received a terse nod in reply. Evelyn was livid. Not only had she disliked Madeline Granger from previous acquaintance, but to see the woman carry on as she did, and on the arm of Colonel Fitzwilliam, filled Evelyn with disgust. He heart was crushed even further as she watched the Colonel accept such companionship and behavior.
"Enough, that is it. I am through with you, Colonel Fitzwilliam. You may enjoy your trollop as you will, I will have nothing further to do with you."
Evelyn silently rejoined her group and followed them into the dining room in stony silence. What inner strength she had developed after all of her trials, was fully utilized that night. She stoically and purposefully ignored the Colonel and Miss Granger, who was observed to be hanging on the Colonel's every word and whatever limb was within reach, throughout the evening. Evelyn's friends watched her with concern throughout the supper, and Darcy went to his hosts to inform them of his party's departure soon after the meal was concluded. Evelyn rebuffed all attempts at conversation in the carriage, and requested that she be taken home as soon as possible. She bid the Darcys good night, and entered Hargrove house without a backward glance.
Darcy and Elizabeth returned home in heavy concern. Georgiana had bid her brother and sister an early good night as well, and went up to her room sadly. Darcy and Elizabeth retired to the sitting room for a while, and sat there in silence before Darcy got up and stormed over to the mantle.
"What on earth is my cousin doing?" he demanded of the flames. "I cannot stand by any longer and watch that man torment my friend. It is unconscionable!"
"What would you do, Dearest? March over to his quarters, sword in hand and demand that he marry Evie?"
"I may very well do just that! You do not believe me? I shall go first thing tomorrow and bring back either a bridegroom or his black heart!" Darcy said heatedly. Elizabeth rose at once and went to her husband's side, slipping her arms around his shoulders. Darcy stood there for a moment more, before wrapping his arms around his beloved wife.
"Forgive my temper, Dearest. I am just so angry with my cousin! Evelyn has been such a dear friend to me ... to us ... and I cannot bear seeing her heartbroken and in pain any longer," Darcy said into Elizabeth's curls.
"I know, my love, I know. I feel the same way as you do. I would give anything to have Evelyn happy. I just do not think that rushing in and attacking the Colonel is the best way to go about it," Elizabeth said, running her fingers through Darcy's thick hair.
"I know," Darcy said with a sigh, "but what would you have me do?"
"Why do you not send for him, beloved. Send an express first thing in the morning saying that you must speak with him urgently. He would not refuse a thing like that," Lizzy said calmly.
"That is a very good suggestion, Darling. Yes, I shall do just that." The Darcys stood in front of the fire for a while longer, holding and comforting each other before they retired as well.
In the morning, Darcy scribbled a note to the Colonel and sent it express. Just as Elizabeth had predicted, Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived shortly after breakfast. Elizabeth nodded a greeting to the Colonel, then excused herself and left the men in the drawing room.
Darcy bid his cousin be seated, then proceeded to pace around the room furiously. Richard watched his cousin's agitation with growing concern. Just as he was about to ask what was the matter, Darcy whirled about and faced his cousin in fury.
"Why on earth were you behaving so with Evelyn, last night? Have you absolutely no regard for her anymore?" Darcy asked heatedly.
Richard was taken aback. His cousin was never one to pry into a person's private matters, and certainly had never asked such personal questions. He stared at Darcy in shock, and said evasively, "Miss Westcott is a charming young woman, and I believe that I accorded her all the civility due your friend last night and while she was a guest at Pemberley."
"Bah!" Darcy snorted, throwing up his hands. "You and I, and everyone else know that you are more than fond of her, Richard! What happened to your affection for her that you could so flagrantly and callously parade Miss Granger in front of her?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam glared at his cousin and replied, "I certainly have no idea of what you are speaking of, Darcy."
"Do not hedge or lie to me, Richard! The affection that you have for Evelyn was quite obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes at Pemberley!"
"Darcy.." Richard began in a low tone that resembled a growl, "regardless of what affection that I may have held for Miss Westcott, it is an alliance that I can not afford to entertain. I wish her the best in life, but I am not able to pay court to or marry such a woman. She has no money, no connections, and no family! As a second son I am not at liberty to marry as my heart dictates, unlike some people I know!" the Colonel said vehemently.
"To he** with that rubbish, Richard! You are a blind fool!" Darcy stormed.
The Colonel looked upon his cousin murderously. In all the years that they had been good friends, not just cousins, he had never been spoken to in such a manner by Darcy.
"Consider us no longer friends, Mr. Darcy," Richard said coldly. "I will take my leave of you. Give my regards to your family," and with that he grabbed his hat and turned to leave.
"Do you love her, Richard?" Darcy demanded. When the Colonel responded that it was none of Darcy's business, he asked the question again, more forcefully, "Do you love her?!"
Richard stopped and turned. He looked Darcy right in the eye, and with tears beginning to form in his own, the Colonel replied in a whisper, "Yes ... more than anything, and it's killing me."
Darcy sighed deeply and covered his eyes with his hand. "Then why do you not go to her and proclaim your love? Get down on one knee and beg her to be yours?" he asked in a low voice.
"You know the reasons, Darcy! They may be rubbish to you, but I'll be d**ned before I see a wife or children of mine live below what should be theirs! You have the grandeur of Pemberley! My parents have Matlock, which will be my brother's afterwards! What do I have! Nothing! Aside from the coat on my back and some charity from my family!" Richard said in a rage.
Darcy stood there gaping from the onslaught of his cousin's feelings, then his shoulders began to heave. Before he knew it, he was laughing loudly, while his cousin became even more enraged.
"And ... Lizzy said ... I had a problem with conceit and abominable pride!" Darcy said, gulping for breath. Colonel Fitzwilliam's anger began to recede, becoming replaced with confusion, then dawning comprehension.
"You think that I am being overly proud? Is it really conceit, Darcy, that prevents me from having a family live in comparative squalor beside their relations, pride that keeps me from possibly widowing the woman I love in battle, or ensuring she marries a man too old to see his children reach adulthood?"
"It is pride that keeps you from accepting what is your due! It is not charity that your parents are offering you! It is your inheritance! Lord and Lady Matlock set that money aside before you or your brother were born, and it has been added to over the years in recognition of your accomplishments! Your mother is correct, you are mule-headed!"
When Richard continued to look at Darcy mutely, he added, "You will have enough to set up quite a grand and comfortable landed estate, Richard. You would have enough to provide for your family quite well before the lands begin to see a nice profit. Believe me, I know what it takes to run an estate, and your parents have shown me the trust accounting when they asked me for suitable investments with which to increase it! You could retire from the military a wealthy man right this moment if only you had bothered to notice what your family has been doing for all of these years!"
Richard walked over to and sat down heavily on a sofa, his head in his hands. "Oh G*d, I have made a mess of things, haven't I" he nearly sobbed. Darcy sat down next to him and gingerly placed a hand on the man's shoulder.
"I dare say you have, cousin, like the one that I made with Elizabeth in the beginning. Hopefully, it will work out as well for you, in the end. As Evelyn once, so very wisely, said to me, 'you cannot lose all hope, sometimes ... it is all we have left'." Richard raised his eyes to Darcy's. "Truly cousin, there is hope, and believe me, Lizzy and I will do everything we can to bring you together with Evelyn. I promise you that."
"After everything that I have done, the way that I have acted towards Evelyn, do you honestly think that she will accept me after this?" the Colonel asked morosely.
"One thing that I have discovered, cousin, is that the fair sex is most forgiving of those that they care about," Darcy said with a small smile on his lips.
"Do you think that she cares about me, then?"
"Of course, she would not have reacted so last night, if she did not," Darcy snorted.
Richard sat there for a moment longer then he dropped his eyes again, and quietly asked, "Will you forgive me, Darcy? For what I said to you and for being such an idiot?"
"Of course I forgive you, cousin. What are friends for?"
Evelyn did not get out of bed that morning. She lay awake under her covers and barked at Ellen when the poor woman tried to open the curtains. The maid ran out of the room crying, which made Evelyn feel even worse. She lay there until mid morning, when a knock at the door revealed Mr. Childs bearing a letter. He walked over and set it on a side table, and left without a word. Evelyn remained where she was for a while longer, then overcome with curiosity, she leaned over and picked up the letter. Unable to read the envelope, she got out of bed and trudged over to the window to make it out in the feeble light. Discovering that it was from Darcy, she ripped it open and began to read.
Shocked, she read that Elizabeth had been having severe pains all morning, and requested Evelyn's immediate presence at her bedside. All thoughts of self thrown aside, Evelyn hurriedly got herself ready and yelled for the carriage to be readied immediately. She threw a bonnet over her unarranged hair, and ran down the stairs, fearfully dreading the thought that Elizabeth may have lost the baby. She worriedly bit her lip the entire way to the Darcys' townhouse, and swept past the butler as she arrived. She looked around in a panic for Darcy or anyone, and realizing that he was probably upstairs attending to Lizzy, sat down on a chair in the entryway.
The abused butler came forward to take her hat and gloves and she carelessly shoved the items into the man's hands, and asked where Darcy was. The butler informed Evelyn that Darcy was currently in the drawing room, and he would escort her there. Evelyn was put off by the calm demeanor of the man when the house could well be expected to be in an uproar. She got up and followed the butler to the drawing room, impatiently waiting for the nonplused man to open the door and announce her.
As soon as the door was opened a crack, Evelyn excused herself and slipped through. She saw Darcy and immediately ran to him, demanding to know if Elizabeth was all right and if she could see her.
"Calm yourself, Evie, Elizabeth is fine. There is nothing wrong with her or with the baby. Forgive us, our mean little trick, but all of our earlier calls on you went unanswered, and we had to get you over here," Darcy said sheepishly.
Evelyn's panic quickly turned to rage, and she smacked Darcy on the arm. "How dare you do that to me! I was so worried for everyone! You nearly stopped my heart, don't you dare ever do that to me again!" she said heatedly.
"Forgive him, Miss Westcott. Having you come over here was my idea. If you are to blame anyone, please blame me," said a voice from behind her.
Evelyn whirled in surprise, causing her hair to float about her shoulders, and found Colonel Fitzwilliam standing by the fireplace, looking at her in a strange mixture of wonder and sadness.
"Whatever are you doing here?" Evelyn demanded, her voice breaking. "And why would you all play such a nasty, horrible trick on me?"
Darcy quickly and quietly left the room, leaving Richard alone with the sobbing Evelyn. The Colonel quickly went to Evelyn's side, and taking out a handkerchief, began dabbing her cheeks.
"As I said, Miss Westcott, it is my doing. I simply had to speak to you," he said earnestly.
"Speak to me? Whatever about?" Evelyn said, pulling away. "You can have nothing to say to me that you cannot say to Miss Granger!"
"I apologize about last night, Miss Westcott. I had no wish to accompany Miss Granger. She attached herself to me rather like a trench leech and was just as difficult to remove. I have never intended to offend or hurt you at all."
"And why should you care if you hurt me, Colonel? I believe that hurting or offending a poor, penniless orphan would be beneath your concern," Evelyn said heatedly.
"Of course it concerns me, Evelyn," he began, and Evelyn looked at him in surprise upon hearing him use her Christian name. "all things involving the woman that I plan to spend the rest of my life with concern me," he said softly.
Evelyn looked at him in shock, "So ... you know then, don't you," Evelyn said dejectedly.
"Know what? What are you talking about? What I do know, is that ... I love you Evelyn ... most ardently with all of my heart. I have been in complete agony without you. Please ... dear, sweet Evelyn ... please find it within your heart to forgive me! Please forgive me, and consent to be my wife. I cannot live without you for another moment," Richard said on bended knee with tears in his eyes.
"You don't know, do you?" Evelyn asked in astonishment. "You are honestly asking me to marry you?" When she received the Colonel's agonized yet confused look in response, she began tapping her finger against her chin and slowly circled the Colonel.
"Hmmmm. I am not sure. You have proven yourself to be most irritating and vexatious, you enjoy playing cruel tricks on unsuspecting young women, you ridicule and embarrass them as well," she said, looking down into the Colonel's tormented eyes. "Well, I shall have to see how Goliath reacts to all of this. I mean, he is my husband, and may not take to well to being spurned for an ass(donkey)! May very well set him over the edge, poor fellow," she said, before breaking into a huge smile, "Of course I will marry you, Richard, but don't you dare ever play a trick like that on me again!"
Richard released his breath and leapt up, closing the distance between him and Evelyn in a bound. He wrapped his arms around her and swung her in a circle, crying for joy the entire time. Finally, he set her down and held her there, gazing into her moist eyes and holding her beloved face in his hands, mesmerized by the beauty he found there. Evelyn stood there, reveling in the feeling of her Colonel's hands upon her, and his gaze locked with hers. Finally, Richard bent down and kissed her, softly. She returned the kiss tentatively at first, then with growing feeling, and she drew her arms up to encircle his neck. The Colonel's arms slipped down to enfold her in his embrace, which tightened almost convulsingly as the kiss lengthened.
Finally, remembering himself, the Colonel drew back and smiled into his fiancé's face. Evelyn panted against him for a moment before she determinedly bit her lip and reached Richard's neck, drawing his head down to meet her lips. The Colonel was startled for a moment, before losing himself to the yielding softness. He kissed her passionately before backing away again.
"Dearest! You are going to make me forget myself!" he said in astonishment.
Evelyn blushed furiously and looked down. "Forgive me for being so wanton and forward, Richard. I have only observed the men and women in the Caribbean and the Indian tribes. They are not as ... restrained? I fear I have behaved improperly, forgive me," Evelyn said with no little embarrassment.
"It is quite all right, Evelyn, believe me. Just ... you have no idea how ardently I love you!" Richard said breathlessly.
Suddenly remembering the tales of what may happen between men and women, Evelyn blushed crimson and looked away from the heat in Richard's gaze. He let go of her after a moment, so that both of them could collect themselves.
After reeling with giddiness, Richard finally remembered his friends who were lurking outside the door, no doubt. In a loud voice he laughingly said, "You can come in now, Darcy!" and watched as the door opened to Darcy, Elizabeth and Georgiana.
With a large grin he took Evelyn's hand and said, "My dearest friends and cousins, may I present to you my fiancée!"
Elizabeth screamed in delight and ran over to Evelyn, embracing her joyfully. "Oh I have waited for this day, Evie! I am so very happy for you both!" she said, laughing through her tears as she kissed Evelyn on both cheeks before moving on and doing the same to the blushing Colonel.
"Thank you, my dear friend, I am so happy!" Evelyn said with a large smile, "but by G*d I will thrash you all thoroughly for that trick you pulled!" she announced, and walked over to the fireplace and grabbed a poker. She pointed it at Darcy and asked if he wished to be first. Georgiana was startled and afraid for a moment, until Evelyn began to laugh and was soon joined by everyone in the room.
"There will be no 'thrashing' today, Evelyn! Today is for celebration and merriment! Come, I will fetch a bottle of the best wine this house has to offer, and we shall toast to the new couple!" Darcy said, and was off to peruse his cellar.
Elizabeth took Evelyn's hands and tearfully apologized for the message that was sent to Hargrove. The Darcys had been informed that Evelyn was not getting out of bed and was accepting no visitors. The cruel note had been sent as a last, desperate attempt to have Evelyn come. Evelyn accepted the apology and embraced Lizzy again, informing her that she was no longer angry, and that she was well pleased with the result.
Elizabeth said softly to Evelyn, "See? I told you that it would all work out in the end. Seems like this story may have a happy ending after all!"
Darcy reappeared with a couple of bottles in tow. He quickly uncorked one, and poured out the glasses for everyone. Raising his to Evelyn and Richard, he said, "To my dear friends, Richard and Evelyn!" which was seconded heartily by Lizzy and Georgiana. Darcy raised his glass again, this time toasting "To Evelyn, my good friend, may you find as much happiness as Lizzy and I share ... and Richard, thank G*d you finally came to your senses!" and the party laughed and seconded again, as the Colonel stood there and sheepishly blushed.
Evelyn and Richard were invited to stay for dinner, which they accepted. Evelyn asked Elizabeth if she could borrow a gown and her dressing room for a moment, as she had no opportunity to fix her hair in her haste. Richard looked at Evelyn admiringly, and requested that she forgo putting her hair up, as he liked it down.
"But Richard, it is hardly proper," she said in return.
"Perhaps, but just this once, for me? I do not think anyone would mind," and Darcy and Lizzy said that it did not bother them in the least if Evelyn were to leave her hair down. As soon as the Darcys' attention was elsewhere, the Colonel leaned over to whisper to Evelyn, "I love your hair down. Too bad there are not any wild, blue irises about that you could put in it."
Evelyn turned a questioning look on Richard, then, when understanding dawned, she blushed crimson and asked him with wide eyes, "You saw me that day, by the pool?"
"I have to confess, I did indeed. I must have had the same idea as you, that day. I went to the grove to find some shade, and found a wild water sprite instead," he said with a blush to rival his fiancée's. "I did not intend to spy on you, but I was so taken with your beauty there, it took me a while to come to my senses and leave."
Evelyn looked on the Colonel in mute astonishment. She had no idea that he had seen her, then she suddenly remembered the white irises that were delivered to her the night of the ball. The Colonel admitted that it was his doing, and Evelyn took his large hand in hers and said, "They were beautiful, Richard, thank you," then, lowering her eyes, she blushed anew and said, "if you ever wish for me to wear irises again, you need but ask."
The group had a merry supper, and spent the night playing and singing in the music room. Richard said a long, chaste good night to his beloved on the steps of the townhouse, and Evelyn returned to Hargrove with a heart full to bursting.
The next morning, Evelyn leapt out of bed and called on Ellen. The young woman entered the dressing room timidly, afraid of any outbursts. Evelyn ran over and embraced her startled friend, and announced that she had glorious news indeed.
"Although I know that others should be told first, I can not hold it in any longer! I am engaged, my sweet friend! Colonel Fitzwilliam has asked me to marry him and I said YES!"
Ellen let out a loud whoop of joy, and the two women hugged each other and leapt about the room.
"But you must get me ready with all speed, my friend! I am expecting him to call any minute!"
Ellen got her mistress dressed and ready in moments, beating all previous records. Evelyn ran down the stairs and met the Colonel just as he was being announced.
"Good morning, my dear!" the Colonel said beaming. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"Indeed I did, but only after I had a glass of Mrs. Mitchell's sherry," she said laughing.
"Forgive me for arriving so soon and before breakfast, my love, but I was informed that my parents arrived yesterday, and I would like to inform them of the happy news as soon as possible! Will you please accompany me to the Fitzwilliam townhouse?" Evelyn accepted, and after gathering her bonnet and wrap, and discretely informing Mr. Childs of recent events along with instructions, followed Richard to his carriage. They arrived at the townhouse in a short time and were escorted into the sitting room to await his parents. Richard paced back and forth in front of the fireplace, with Evelyn laughing at his excitement. Lord and Lady Matlock entered the room, curiosity and anticipation evident on their faces.
"Mother ... Father ... I come bearing good news! Great news!" the Colonel said with a wide grin. Lord and Lady Matlock had noticed the other person in the room and turned to each other, smiling.
"Yes, son? Pray tell us this 'good, great news'" Lady Matlock said teasingly.
"I have asked for, and have been granted the hand of Miss Evelyn Westcott," Richard said, giving Evelyn his hand and helping her rise. "She is to be my wife, and make me the happiest of men!"
Lady Matlock sobbed in joy and rushed over to embrace her son, then Evelyn, then gathering them both in a crushing embrace, crying all the while.
Lord Matlock laughed and clapped and shouted, "Bout time you got to it! Been waiting around here for a while now, for those words!" which caused Richard and Evelyn to laugh through their tears. He was already ecstatic, and to have his parents, who he loved dearly, accept his chosen bride with such joy caused his heart to overflow with happiness.
The Fitzwilliams and Evelyn had a celebratory brunch, just the four of them, as Anne had been tired by the journey, and stayed abed to regain her strength. Soon enough the banns would be posted, the invitations sent out and received, and the numerous parties and fetes would follow, but for now, the small family just enjoyed themselves. Evelyn was treated with several stories of Richard's mischievous adventures from his youth, as well as the story of the Fitzwilliam's courtship.
"I do think that dear Darcy was right! It does seem that the men in this family make a mess of romance. But I do have to say, a difficult courtship makes for a great and lasting union, does it not, my dear?" Lady Matlock said, with a sly smile to her husband.
Taking her hand and kissing it, Lord Matlock responded in the only way a happily married man could, "It does indeed, Dearest," which caused Richard and Evelyn to gaze at each other across the table, both of them dreaming of such happiness and love after many years.
After spending most of the day with the Fitzwilliams, Evelyn and Richard returned to the Darcy townhouse for a visit. Evelyn said that she needed to discuss something with Darcy, but would not say what.
After arriving, Evelyn and Darcy went into the drawing room for privacy, and Richard was entertained by Lizzy and Georgiana. After some time, Darcy and Evelyn returned to the others and joined in the conversation. Richard raised a questioning brow at Evelyn, and was informed that he would find out in all due time. Richard left before dinner, as he had duties to attend to at the barracks. Stealing a moment alone, the newly betrothed couple kissed passionately before Richard stepped back from Evelyn to collect himself, and took his leave. Evelyn walked dreamily back to the drawing room, and took her leave as well, announcing, with a cryptic smile at Darcy, that she had plans for the next day, and had to retire early.
"Whatever was that all about, Dearest?" Elizabeth inquired.
"I may have to be away for part of the morning, Lizzy," he said, and leaning in to whisper the rest in her ear, informed Elizabeth of the next day's events. Elizabeth sat back and chuckled, thinking to herself, "poor Colonel Fitzwilliam."
The next day dawned, and the Colonel dressed in his usual precise manner. He was just about to leave his quarters when there was a knock on the door. He opened it, and was surprised to see a Royal Household Guard bearing a letter. The guardsman handed the Colonel the letter, gave a sharp salute and left Richard opening the letter in curiosity.
Scanning the note's contents, the Colonel became quickly astonished to discover it was a request for him to attend an audience at the Court of St. James a few hours from now. He could not think of a single reason why he was being summoned to Court, and wondered if he was receiving a promotion. He quickly dressed in full dress uniform and went to show the missive to his superior. His commanding officer read the note with little surprise, which lent more weight to the Colonel's suspicions of a promotion, and he took his leave and hailed a carriage to St. James.
When he arrived, he showed the guards the missive, and was escorted down a series of hallways until he faced a large set of doors. And Darcy.
"Darcy? Whatever are you doing here?" he asked with astonishment.
"Hello, cousin!" Darcy said brightly and guided Richard to the guarded set of doors. Tuning to his cousin, Darcy began to straighten the Colonel's uniform, flicking off specks of dust and adjusting the lapels.
"Now you look presentable, cousin," Darcy said with a smile. "I am here to 'second' you Richard! Do not worry, everything is fine," he said to the Colonel's confused face.
"By the way, Richard," Darcy began hesitantly, "if you were to discover that Evelyn had been made to keep something from you, would you think of her differently?"
Turning to Darcy in confusion, Richard furrowed his brow for a moment's deliberation, then answered, "If it were not regarding something harmful to her or anyone else I care about, then no. Why do you ask, Darcy?"
"What if it involved her family?" Darcy queried, his eyes scanning his cousin's face.
"Her family? Well ... even if they were black-marked criminals of the lowest sort, it would not change my opinion of Evelyn one jot! She is herself, not her family or any other relation ... past or present. Now, will you tell me why you are here and where this line of questioning is going?"
"Hmm. In a moment, Richard," Darcy said with laughter in his eyes. Then he turned and nodded to the guards by the door. The men stepped forward and opened the large, carved doors, allowing Darcy, who grabbed Richard by the elbow, to enter. The Colonel finally found his feet, and the two men entered the audience chamber. Richard discovered with some astonishment, that his parents, Lord and Lady Matlock were there, standing to the side of a large dais. When he moved his confused gaze from them to the dais, he found to his extreme surprise, that he was being escorted before the Prince Regent and Her Majesty, Queen Charlotte. Darcy came to a halt and bowed deeply. The Colonel recovered his wits enough to drop into a deep bow next to his cousin.
"Rise gentlemen," came a low command from the Queen. She sat on her throne, silently studying the men before her, then continued, "thank you Mr. Darcy. You may join your Aunt and Uncle."
Darcy gave another low bow, and backed away until he met the Fitzwilliams, leaving an anxious Colonel behind.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," began the Queen, "We have recently heard a great deal about you. We have just spoken with your parents, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, and with your cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Your commanding officers have sent Us their reports. Glowing reports, I must admit. You have shown uncommon valor in your years with Our Army, received many accommodations, and reached the rank of Colonel before your thirtieth year."
"Quite the impressive record," the Regent added.
"Yes, quite impressive, indeed. You are to be acknowledged by Us, for your loyalty and service," the Queen said. The Colonel bowed deeply, and thanked Her Majesty for the acknowledgment.
"You are very welcome, Colonel Fitzwilliam; however, that is not why you are before Us this day. Word has also come to us, that you intend to marry a Miss Evelyn Westcott."
Richard was taken aback for a moment, then quickly answered in the affirmative, his eyes lighting up and the corners of his mouth curving in an unconscious smile.
"Hmmmm ... I see," the Queen said, nodding, then turning to the side of the dais that was obscured by heavy drapery, she said loudly, "Evelyn, would you come out here now?"
Evelyn came into view. She was wearing a cream-colored silken gown, with a purple sash, and kept her eyes on the Queen.
"Is this Colonel Fitzwilliam here, before Us? Is this the man that you are betrothed to?"
"Yes it is, Your Majesty," Evelyn said, attempting to keep a smooth countenance.
"Very well, then," the Queen said with the corners of her mouth turning up. She turned to her son who announced, "Colonel Fitzwilliam! May I present to you, your fiancée, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Evelyn, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, of the House of Hanover."
Richard stood, mouth agape and absolutely amazed, staring at Evelyn who was attempting not to laugh. Finally, she took his hand and patted it, murmuring "It is all right. I will tell you everything in a moment," before turning back to the regal figures on the dais. Queen Charlotte and the Prince Regent rose and descended the dais to stand on the lowest step before Evelyn and Richard, who had bowed and curtsied deeply, and rose when bid to. The Regent looked at Colonel Fitzwilliam and laughingly told him, "You had better look after my little cousin, Colonel, or I shall hear about it!" then he departed the room behind the thick velvet hangings.
Queen Charlotte had stopped before Evelyn, and looked upon her with a fond smile. "I am sorry that your Uncle is not here today, little Evie, but he is so happy for you. Your parents would be so happy and proud of you, and I know that your grandmother will be, as well. Take care, Evelyn, may you be happy. You have the blessings of Myself and of His Majesty," she said, kissing both Richard and Evelyn on the forehead, then followed the Regent and left the room as well.
Richard thought he was going to faint, so he went and sat down next to his parents. Lord and Lady Matlock looked surprised as well, but quickly became amused with the Colonel's behavior. Darcy stood there, his shoulders heaving in silent mirth.
"Come on, cousin! Let us return to my townhouse! We have quite a nice little celebration planned!" Darcy said, attempting to pull Richard out of his chair.
Richard looked at Darcy in dawning comprehension. "You knew, didn't you? You knew the whole time!"
"I am sorry, Richard ... I was not at liberty to divulge Evelyn's secret. She told me only after she was given permission to do so from Lady Veronica, who is actually, Evie's grandmother. But, I seriously doubt you will be in the dark for much longer, as Evelyn will tell you all about it shortly. As I said earlier, it was not Evelyn's wish to keep this secret from everyone, but her family's," Darcy said to a still-gaping Colonel.
Evelyn came up beside Richard and looked at him hopefully. He studied her face, looking for any clue ... any difference ... and, finding none whatsoever, happily concluded that she was his Evelyn, the same Evelyn that he had fallen in love with.
"So! Let us away! After you, Lord and Lady Matlock! After you, Evelyn and Richard, or should I say, 'Your Graces'?" Darcy said with a smirk, and followed his friends and family out of the audience chamber to his awaiting carriage.
On the way back to the Darcy townhouse, Richard sat alternatively staring out the window and at Evelyn, quite unable to form a coherent sentence.
When they reached and entered the house, Darcy had held Richard and Evelyn back, and escorted them to a sitting room so that they would have privacy to speak for a moment, before joining the party. Evelyn thanked Darcy quietly for all of his assistance, and sat down and waited for Richard to stop his pacing. Finally, he steadied himself enough and sat down next to Evelyn, tentatively holding her hand.
"I am so very sorry, Richard. I had wanted to tell you, then again, I also had not wanted to tell you," at this admission, Richard looked up and furrowed his brow. Evelyn continued, "My father was William Hanover, the Prince of Wales, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, younger brother to King George III. He went into the Navy after finishing at Oxford, and became so enamored with the freedom of that sort of life, he relinquished his title of Prince of Wales and immediately planned on going to the Americas. During this time, he met my mother, Lady Amelia, daughter of the Earl of Mountbatton and the Lady Veronica, nee Westcott, my grandmother. My mother shared father's sense of adventure and disdain for life at Court, and they were quickly married and set sail for the islands. My brother William Frederick was born shortly afterwards, and a few years later, I was born. My mother had contracted a deadly fever, and passed on directly after my birth."
"My father, although distraught over his loss of my mother, turned all of his attention on my brother and I. William and I were lavished with love and attention, and wanted for nothing. I climbed on my father's merchant ships, ran through the fields, and was raised quite like a boy, for my dear father really knew no better. His shipping business prospered, and he began looking at investments in Canada. We moved to Niagara shortly after my fourteenth birthday."
"William left for Oxford the following year, and I helped my father with the vineyards, and that is when he taught me how to ride and swordsmanship. He finally got a governess for me after that, and I learned more 'ladylike' pursuits, although I hated them. Years passed happily. We missed William, but we received word from him, often enough, from one of father's merchant ships. Then came the time for him to finally return home. It should have been a happy time. A joyous reunion." Evelyn paused in her narrative for a moment, collecting herself.
Richard tightened his hold on her hand and said, "It is all right, Evelyn. You do not have to speak of it, I already know what happened. Darcy told me."
Evelyn nodded, and after wiping a tear away, continued with her story, "After that, my father's attorney contacted Lady Veronica, as he was too afraid to contact my Aunt and Uncle. My grandmother sent for me at once, and I was on one of my father's ships bound for England, along with every scrap I dared not leave behind, and Goliath. I had known my grandmother, Aunt and Uncle through our correspondence, although I had never actually met them. My father kept them as much a part of our lives as possible, considering the distance involved. Lady Veronica took me in and nursed me back to health as best as she could. After a while, she finally brought me before Their Majesties, so that I could be introduced to them, and see them for the first time. My Uncle Georgie, forgive me but he insists on me addressing him so, told me that he had been devastated on hearing of my father's death, as he had been his favorite brother."
"The Queen and Lady Veronica then discussed how I would be introduced into society. Both were very well aware of what I had been through, and that by being raised outside of Court and British society, I would be ill equipped to handle being thrown into it all. So, they devised a way to introduce me to society gradually, allowing me the time to adjust at my own pace, and to also keep away all of the predatory matrons and mercenary men who would be hounding me as soon as they became aware of my status and title. I was instructed to tell not a soul, Richard, other than my most trusted friends and the one who I became engaged to, and not until I had already accepted the proposal. This was very important to my grandmother, as she knew that I am ... somewhat unconventional and improper at times. She wanted me to marry someone who would accept me for who I was, faults and all."
"Lady Veronica gave me permission to tell Darcy after he and I became good friends, as it was evident to my grandmother that Darcy would not be after me for my estate, that we were only to be friends, and that he was probably the most trustworthy person she had known. My grandmother and the Lady Anne were good friends, and she had known Darcy well as a younger man."
"This is why I asked you if you had known when you proposed to me. Elizabeth informed me of how you said that you could not afford to marry a woman without wealth, and there I was, masquerading as a penniless orphan and you asked me to marry you. I was afraid that you had somehow discovered my secret, and wished to marry me after you found out about my title and that I had money. But when I looked at you, I could tell that you did not know, and that you were asking me from your heart."
"So, there it is ... I am a princess," Evelyn said with a small smile. "A princess that sings sailor songs, rides like a man, plays in the mud, and could whip you in a fencing match. I know that this is a lot to take in, Richard. If you wish to break off the engagement, I will understand." Evelyn said, looking down.
Richard listened to all Evelyn had to say in silence. Now, he was convinced more than ever, that this revelation changed absolutely nothing about the way he felt for her, or who she was as a person. This was the woman he loved, and that was it.
Colonel Fitzwilliam slid off the couch to kneel before Evelyn. He held her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "Break it off and stop you from marrying an a**, are you mad?" he said laughing. Evelyn threw her arms around his neck and laughed as well, relieved that he still loved her.
Letting go of Evelyn, Richard stood up and reached into his pocket, drawing forth a small satin pouch, which he handed to his fiancée. She opened it curiously when she had heard a faint tinkling. She reached in and drew out a small, filigreed silver bell on a chain.
"So, I can hear you coming and not be taken by surprise, my dearest Evie. You do have a habit of shocking and bowling me over, my dear," he said smiling broadly, and was rewarded by Evelyn's hearty laugh.
"It is beautiful, Richard! I love it! Will you put it on for me please?" she asked handing the necklace to her fiancé. Richard secured the clasp and helped Evelyn rise. He kissed her softly and briefly, and smiling, led her to the door so they could join the rest of the party.
Only the beginning...