Posted on July 22, 2009
"In time of sickness the soul collects itself anew" (Latin proverb)
One sung of thee who left the tale untold,
Like the false dawns which perish in the bursting;
Like empty cups of wrought and daedal gold,
Which mock the lips with air, when they are thirsting. (Shelley)
Pemberley had not known a rain storm of such magnitude in many years. Thunder and lightning seemed to be melting into one, a cascading down in flashes brilliant like the sun, drops of rain large as marbles and thunder clouds blacker than the darkest velvet. Nature seemed to cry out in anger, blasting its rage like demonic forces battling the divine. Though it was long past dawn, darkness enveloped the manor house, making it seem like the end of the world. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of said manor, had no objections to this weather, for it mirrored his mood perfectly. He was not by nature a brooding man, yet fate had dealt him sufficient blows to turn even the most jovial of men into recluses, surrounded only by memories of better times. All of which concerned Anne, his beloved wife of several years and, equally adored, his daughter, Maria, who was all he had left in this world. And now she too had been stricken by some malady that left even the most qualified doctors in the dark. Unlike her frail, angelic mother, Maria had been a healthy child, bursting with energy and life, his pride and joy for many years. She had inherited her late's mother's loving disposition, yet unlike her mother's gentle eyes, Maria's eyes were her own. Blue as corn flowers they were, sparkling with vivacious zest for life, stormy like the elements outside; until their fire had died down to be replaced by what could only be described as blankness, quiet despair and, so often, a pain that defied description.
Both Darcy's mind and heart raged against the injustice of it all, had God determined to rob him of his last stronghold after all? Maria was the center of his dark, barren life, his last remaining link to the wife he had come to love only when it was too late to treat her as he should have, a constant reminder of his guilt and, he was loath to admit, of the selfish desires that had shortened Anne's life so tragically. It was Maria on whom he could lavish all the affection and love so deeply buried within him, with her he had been able to be himself and be loved just for that. Pretense and decorum fell from him in her presence, his many sorrows and duties paling into a calming oblivion. All that had changed. Much as it shamed it, he had come to dread the times they spent together, for Maria would never let him close again for an offense he was not even sure he had committed. Questioning yielded naught but cold indifference and her health, now as frail as her mother's, seemed to worsen whenever he went upstairs to her rooms. They too had undergone a change so significant, it made his heart break a little every time he entered them. Once an island of sunshine, they now were dark due to the constantly shut drapes and windows, no toys lay strewn about, nor was there a laughing Maria playing in the mess, oblivious to the chaos.
His hand on the doorknob, he heaved a sorrowful sigh. As he opened the door, stale air and the smell of sweat assaulted his nostrils. Swallowing his disgust he went through the large playing room and knocked at the bedroom door.
"Come in," a tiny, stilted voice answered. And so he did, there was no reprieve.
"Good morning, my darling," he said pleasantly and quickly continued, "How are you feeling today?"
His daughter's eyes were narrowed into slits and the look she was regarding him was hardly welcoming. She was eleven, yet looked no older that eight in her pale white nightgown, her thin face outlined by two dark braids of curly hair. Her tone when she answered him was indifferent, yet clipped.
"Good morning, sir." Her formality made Darcy cringe inwardly. "Tolerably well, though the fever has climbed since yesterday." She answered his concerned gaze with a quelling look. "Would you be so kind to tell Mrs. Reynolds that I expect her to take my wishes into consideration when it comes to serving me breakfast?" Her stilted, formal speech, so very alien for a child of her years, chilled him. When had his feisty little leprechaun of a daughter turned into this smaller version of Lady Caroline Bowfield, née Bingley? He remembered the days, now seeming so long ago, when Maria had mocked said lady and, his disapproval back then notwithstanding, he was longing for that impertinence now. Maria had loathed such formalities, laughed at his objections and melted his justified concern for her manners with that disarming smile he had never been able to resist. Steeling himself for another outburst he answered as gently as he could.
"Eating cake in the morning will hardly hasten the healing process. Surely you must see that...." He never got further than that for the timbre of her voice, once so pleasant, cut through him like a knife through butter.
"No, I do not see that," she said in a deadly sharp tone, slicing through his inners mercilessly. "Given that it is highly unlikely I shall ever get well, I do not see no need to rob me of the precious few joys in my life." Nothing in these words asked for encouragement or hope, she seemed utterly determined to die before her time. To waste away before his very eyes to make him atone for sins he knew not he had committed. Rage flared up within him and, forgetting that he was speaking to a child, his retort lacked none of her bristling sarcasm and icy demeanor.
"Would you not deign it beneath yourself, a girl of such courage and wit, to surrender your life without a fight?" As soon as they were out, he wanted to call the unspeakable words back. Too late, the damage was done and the price would have to be paid.
"Get out," she demanded icily, turning her gaze from him as if he were a particularly nasty insect.
"I am your father," he stated the obvious. "I will not have you disrespect your elders!" It came out more angrily than he had intended, but he was past caring. She had worn him down in all those months, he would no longer tolerate her disrespect and her insolence.
"A fact I can hardly deny, now is it?" She sounded tired all of a sudden. "Please leave me be. I want to rest." Disarmed by her illness once more, he could do nothing but oblige her.
"Rest well," he said before turning away. His pace was fast enough to be desperate and he knew it would not be lost on her just how fast he wished to be out of her presence. As the door clicked shut, Maria turned around, her gaze fixed on the now closed door. Tears were brimming in her eyes and as she was too exhausted to wipe them away, she let them flow down in silence. Every time this happened, her father took a little of her soul with him. Nearly spent, she buried her face in her soft pillows and wept in quiet desperation.
The storm raged on. So much so, that it deprived Darcy of one of his few means of escape. He loved to go riding alone. Away, far away from this house where nothing but gloom resided; feeling the wind in his hair, soaring over fences, taking dips in the lake... The cold water would assault his skin cruelly, make him feel strangely alive and at peace. But there was no reason other than an acute death wish that would justify saddling up his stallion to gallop away from his misery. Shrugging off what he deemed to be a very ludicrous attempt at self pity he withdrew into his study to write a few letters. The Bingleys had written, asking for permission to call on him and much as he loved his one and only true friend in this world, the thought of enduring his sneering, arrogant sisters with their husbands as well as Bingley's betrothed, Miss Anne Ravenbrook, made his head spin in what seemed to be endless throbbing. No one was more surprised than he at his fondness of said young lady, she would be an asset to any man. Exceedingly intelligent as well as witty, the raven haired beauty not only possessed a surprisingly level head on her slender shoulders but her kindness reminded him of the other Anne, whose portrait was gazing down lovingly on him. Never a great beauty, Anne de Bourgh had healed wounds he had not been aware of until death severed her healing power forever. Bingley's Anne, so very like and yet in many ways unlike his, had charmed herself into his life and had his wife's memory not been sacred to him as well as the determination not to lose his friend, he might have courted her himself.
Sighing deeply he got up from his desk, shredded the unfinished letter and approached his wife's terribly still portrait. Her voice, the most charming aspect of her, no artist could ever hope to capture on a canvas. Anne, my love, help me as you always do. Show me what you would have me do... His reverie was cut short by a commotion outside and a very disgruntled Mrs. Reynolds seeking to speak with him.
"Master, you have a visitor." From the looks of it she considered said visitor to be a nuisance. Why then did she not take care of it herself?
"Who is it, Mrs. Reynolds?" he asked, clearly not interested.
"A young lady who claims to have come here to take of the young mistress, sir." she explained, clearly baffled by that lady's insolence.
That got his attention. A doctor from London had promised to send a specialist to Pemberley to treat Maria. The references were excellent and so he had gladly agreed. But, surely, Dr. Simmons would not send some foolish girl to take care of his only child? Curiosity as well as mild anger led him to the hall. The large door was gaping open, allowing rain as well as dirt into the house. And in that frame, painfully slender in such a great doorway, stood a young woman carrying a heavy bag. She was not beautiful in the ordinary sense, but striking nonetheless. Wild curls framed a more mature face than her figure would have led him to believe; hazel eyes were shining into his like a ray of the sun. Her clothing was modest, yet elegant; the heavy velvet cloak was beyond ruined however. Her smile warmed him strangely, the confidence radiating from her made him dismiss the thought of sending her away immediately.
Mr. Darcy, I presume?" she asked politely, her voice lilting with kindness.
Remembering his manners he took the heavy trunk from her cold hands and led her inside. Heavy droplets of rain were caught in her curls, streaming from her soaked clothes, as well as running down her face. She followed him inside, her gratitude obvious.
"Indeed. And who is it I have the pleasure to meet in this unspeakable weather?" Her cheerfulness, despite being soaked to the bone and shivering with chill, touched him in a place he knew not still existed.
"My name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I have come here on Dr. Simmons' orders." She explained with a smile.
"I have not the pleasure of understanding you. I am expecting a specialist to treat my daughter but surely...." Her smile disarmed him by not fading at the insult.
"Surely no woman could be entrusted with such a task?" she challenged him brightly.
"Yes...I mean, no, I am surprised, that is all. Dr. Simmons did not mention your name and so...."
"Do not expect me to be surprised at that. Most families are wary of females in the medical profession." she said while shedding her cloak and bonnet.
"Would you like some tea? I would not dream of sending you back tonight of course." What he deemed to be a polite offer caused her eyes to shoot daggers at him. Raising her chin defiantly she did not break her glare, nor cower as he returned her gaze in kind.
"Do you, Maria's father, truly expect me to abandon a child in need?" she asked, her eyes flashing meaningfully. Hazel melted into a darker hue, boring into his conscience.
There was no refuting her argument without seeming rude, so he refused to take the bait. She was the most extraordinary creature he had ever beheld, he admired how she squared her shoulders like a soldier ready for battle, her fine eyes sparkling with determined fire held him captive for much longer than society would deem appropriate.
"Have my references not been to your satisfaction, sir?" Another smile was curving her beautiful lips, a mocking one this time.
"No, of course not, but..." Traps were lurking at every possible end to this sentence, so he remained silent.
"What is your objection then?" she inquired, visibly relaxed. Seeing him at loss for words she smiled once more and continued in a more cheerful tone. "I should like to introduce myself to Maria before I change my clothes. Would you be so kind as to show me to her room?"
"You seem to forget that you have not been granted my assent." he said, barely curbing down his anger.
"No, I did not forget that. But considering that I deem you to be a man of common sense as well as breeding, I know that you would not turn me out based on being born a female." Veni. Vidi. Vici. He thought, bristling at her irrefutable logic dressed up as flattery. It seemed that what little peace of mind he had managed to keep would be challenged by none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet, more specifically speaking: her disarming, knowing smile and those fine eyes which seemed to have gazed upon his very soul without the need to recoil from the distressing sight.
Posted on July 25, 2009
"I'll hear thy voice of melody
In the sweet whispers of the air;
I'll see the brightness of thine eye
In the blue evening's dewy stare;
In crystal streams thy purity,
And look on Heaven to look on thee." (George Darley)
"Dark was her hair, her hand was white;
Her voice was exquisitely tender;
Her eyes were full of liquid light;
I never saw a waist so slender;
Her every look, her every smile,
Shot right and left a score of arrows;
I thought twas Venus from her isle,
I wondered where she'd left her sparrows." (Winthrop Praed)
"Who is responsible for this outrage?" Elizabeth hissed barely under her breath so that her future charge's rest may remain undisturbed, She had seen it so many times and never gotten used to it, it always struck her anew. The ignorance of most of her colleagues always caused more suffering than the ailments they were set out to cure; some of them still used leeches, were not above bleeding already weakened patients or subscribed ground pearls or some such nonsense. Such barbaric measures would not keep them from sneering at her work, some even called her a witch. She knew better than to challenge those rumors outright, however, disregarding them would have been foolish as well as fatal. Dedicating her entire self to helping children had not been easy, however the rewards were plentiful as well as well worth the effort. Circumstances being as they were, she was was reconsidering her opinion of her employer being a man of reason; that he too adhered to the medieval practise of shutting out both the sun and fresh air had disappointed her and she feared that there was much more to come.
"I must apologize for the smell, the doctors ordered to keep the air in Maria's rooms undisturbed. They fear that she might catch cold or that these winds might carry more diseases." What he considered to be a rational explanation for the stale air in this room only deepened the look of scorn and shock on her face. The glare she was giving him now would have frightened a lesser man; her features were not made for scowling and sneering but for the smile he just now realized he was missing. He let out a breath he did not know he was holding as her gloved index finger jabbed into his chest as if to chastise him for something awful.
"I do not know what surprises me more; that a man of your education actually believes such ancient superstition and gibberish or the fact that you are actually practising it to the letter." Her finger withdrew to point at the shut drapes and windows to her left. "The air we breathe as well as daily sunshine is essential to a person's well-being, especially when it comes to those with a sickly constitution. This," her eyes were sweeping the barren room disdainfully, "resembles a prison cell rather than a girl's playing chamber. Being surrounded by gloom and darkness would depress even the most joyful of hearts and children, being young and impressionable, even more so. Can you honestly tell me that, if you were in your daughter's place, you would be happy here?" Her accusations stung, made him color and silenced whatever protests he could have come up with. "Mr. Darcy," her features softened into the kind smile he was longing to see, "Please take no offense at my frankness or what you must have concluded to be a desperate want of propriety. My profession entails seeing much suffering and pain, usually caused by the lack of either funds or love; neither is the case here." There was a lilt in her voice as she spoke the word love, her eyes shining softly like undisturbed candles. "Once this storm has passed I would ask you to open the drapes as well as the windows until both these vile odors as well as the gloom have vanished. Open them every day, allow the sunlight in and, mark my words, you will no longer dread coming here."
Her ability to read his mind left him mute for a few moments. It was as if these luminous eyes could see right into his soul and did not resent what they saw. Their glow had softened the sting of her accusations, melted his anger into something he could not name. The instant her fingertip had touched him was like a gentle bursting of lighting within him, rushing through his veins like gentle warm droplets of rain. It was neither proper nor heard of for a nurse or doctor to use such physical means, and had she been anyone but herself he would have sent her back to London with his most scathing sneer still ringing in her ears.
"My feelings about coming here are of no importance, Miss Bennet. What matters is the welfare of my daughter, and I will not have anyone use her in some experiment of healing." he snapped in a clipped tone that usually silenced every kind of resistance. For the blink of an eye he thought he had seen a shadow cross her features but it was gone too quickly to be sure. Another violation of propriety made that thought obsolete. His arm was tingling through two layers of cloth as he felt her hand resting on it as if to calm a scared colt, even the slight movement of her fingers was the same. Much against his will and better judgment he melted into the caress and listened to her answer without even an attempt to disagree.
"Oh, but that is exactly where you are wrong. The crux of the matter, so to speak. A child who has lost her mother before her time, there is nothing more important than the happiness and the support of the remaining parent. If you are unhappy, she will sense it and if you dread coming here, she will know it." She made it sound like the world's most logical conclusion and indeed it was.
"What makes you think that I even dread coming here?" he challenged, noticing the gaping trap the moment he said it. Her laughter was like melted silver, no mockery or pretense here.
"It is plainer than the fact that the sun will rise and set every day. I meant no offense by it, I have seen it many times and I very much doubt that this will be the last time." He bristled at the accuracy of her words, maybe he had underestimated her after all. But what puzzled him even more was that he did not shrink from her touch. He abhorred being touched even by his closest friends, it made his nerves protest angrily, and here this strange woman had broken even that resistance without a fight. If unconditional surrender was what she had in mind, she'd be disappointed. Wrenching his arm away he caught his breath at her expression, understanding mixed with genuine affection, and steeled himself to resist her gentle warfare.
"If you are intent on staying here for longer than one night, I suggest that you stop treating me like a patient instantly, madam." And for good measure he added, "You shall never win my approval nor my trust by constant breaches of etiquette, insufferable impertinence or unorthodox methods of healing. Let me be perfectly understood, Miss Bennet, neither I nor my daughter will submit to methods that no doctor in his right mind would prescribe. If it is my good opinion you desire, I am afraid that this has done nothing to acquire it." His eyes met her defiant glare and, for a moment, the world seemed to stand still.
"It is not your good opinion I desire above all, Mr. Darcy, even though I would welcome it." Her tone was still gentle, yet there was steel beneath it, steel and defiance as well as pride and conviction. "Nor do I expect you to trust me completely after knowing me for but a few minutes. What I do expect however is courtesy as well as fairness. I will gladly admit that my methods do not follow ancient rules, yet the outcomes were always to my clients' satisfaction, as my references must doubtlessly have convinced you of, otherwise I would not be standing here and be insulted as well as ridiculed for having the purest of motives at heart." Veni, Vidi, Vici, once more, for there was no arguing with anything she had just said. "For Maria's sake, I would like to offer a compromise."
"In my experience, offering a compromise usually means taking rather than giving."
"Why will you not listen first and judge once you know what I am going to suggest?" she teased, smiling again.
"Alright then, say your piece!" he snapped, eyes flashing.
She sighed, this was not the perfect moment to offer a truce, yet Maria's well-being depended on it and, like it or not, so did her father's. Why Mr. Darcy's reaction should needle her more than all the others before ever did, she could not explain. Much as she welcomed the challenge to prove him wrong, she knew that a bland victory would yield little satisfaction. More than anything she wanted to banish the gloom residing in this most beautiful manor house she had ever seen, fill it with laughter, health and happiness. For that she would need its master's compliance, otherwise she was bound to fail.
"Give me a few days' time, without payment of course. Should there be no notable improvement whatsoever, I shall leave. I will bow to your judgment one way or the other." It was a risk, yet a calculated one. Considering him carefully she noted that he was struggling against his better judgment as well as newly found hope.
"I accept." he finally said. "One condition." One of her fine eye-brows rose at the addition.
"You will stay here for one week but not without payment."
"That I shall gladly accept." She held out her hand to him. "Agreed?" He took it in a firm grip.
"Agreed. May I introduce you to Maria now?"
"Please do so."
The little girl was in no mood to receive visitors and the sight of her shocked Elizabeth deeply. Her braided hair was matted and greasy, her skin pale as a ghost's and there were deep shadows under her eyes. Her nightgown seemed clammy and much worn and her finger nails were chewed off, some of them even bleeding as a result. Her blank gaze did not change when her father introduced her to him, informing her that Elizabeth had arrived to 'cure' her, which made her cringe at his choice of words. Maria's countenance hardened at the expression, yet Elizabeth could see the fear lurking beneath her blank eyes. How many tortures had this child endured at the hands of those who attempted naught but to fix her like a broken toy? It was far too easy for comfort to persuade Mr. Darcy to leave them alone, she would have a talk with him later. Was he ignorant to the despair ghosting over his daughter's gaunt face at his hasty departure?
"Maria," she said kindly after sitting down at the girl's bedside. There was no reaction but a blank stare with a note of disdain and fear. "There is no need to be afraid. I will not hurt you, nor will I force you to do things you do not wish to do."
"You are just like the rest." Maria determined without as much as a glance in Elizabeth's direction.
"Would you like me to read to you?" Elizabeth offered, undeterred.
"Do as you please."
She picked a book of fairy tales and began to read in a gentle tone of voice. The story she had picked lacked the angst and horror elements of the better known fairy tales and her way of reading consisted of giving each character a unique voice. As she was describing the antics of a field mouse quarrelling with a hamster she heard Maria snicker lightly. She had her attention, now all she had to do was keeping it engaged. Acting as if she had not heard the laughter, she read on. As she arrived at the part where all the animals were fighting over how to celebrate New Year's Eve she shot a quick look at Maria. Much to her satisfaction the little girl was hanging at her lips, entirely engrossed in the story. The instant she said "The End", Maria looked at her hopefully but did not say anything.
"Another one?" she said with a smile.
"Oh, please, please! You read them so well, Miss Bennet." Enthusiasm was flowing in those words, exactly the reaction Elizabeth had hoped for.
"Call me Lizzy, all my friends do so." she amended kindly.
"Oh, may I? But....I would much rather call you something special."
"Like what?" Elizabeth went along. The little girl thought for a moment and then smiled from ear to ear.
"May I call you Lisa?"
"That is very special indeed, Maria. Of course you may."
The first step had gone well, yet Elizabeth knew that she was still far from having gained Maria's trust.
"And you may call me Mia. Papa used to...." Gloom was washing over her face at the thought of her father. The sight stabbed Elizabeth to the heart. What could possibly have happened between them to cause such sadness?
"Another story then, Mia?"
"Yes, please." The light seemed to have gone out after flickering for only a few moments.
"I always liked "The Seven Ravens", yes, please read that one." Maria decided, much to Elizabeth's dismay. It was a sad story which, despite its happy ending would do little to lift Maria's spirits. She read it nonetheless, swearing to bring back that enchanting laughter, no matter how.
Posted on July 30, 2009
"Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty." (Richard Lovelace)
"Then I was thrill'd and melted, and most warm
Impressed a father's kiss: and all beguil'd
Of dark remembrance and presageful fear,
I seem'd to see an angel form appear-
Twas even thine, beloved woman mild!
So for the mother's sake the child was dear,
And dearer was the mother for the child." (Coleridge)
As the tale of "The Seven Ravens" concluded in a bittersweet happy ending, Elizabeth noticed that Maria had fallen asleep long before the curse of the ravens came to an end. Ever alert not to disturb the little girl's slumber, the healer tip-toed closer to rearrange the messy bedspread over Maria's body and froze at the sight. One of Maria's sleeves was pushed up slightly due to a movement she had made in her sleep to find a comfortable, or rather less painful position, revealing a slender white arm nestled against Maria's now peacefully breathing chest. Jagged cuts covered and festered on the sensitive skin in an array too clear to be a co-incidence. Some wounds were no more than scrapes, others were deep and awfully fresh. There were no scars, clearly a sign of this behavior being anything but a habit....yet. Self-inflicted, Elizabeth knew, fighting down the urge to weep right then and there. It did not take much for a child to accomplish such abuse, a threading needle here, a fork there, occasionally even a knife that had mysteriously disappeared from the dinner table. This was more than a disease, more than grieving for a mother she had never known, this was a case of parental neglect. Contrary to most in her profession this healer had no regard for corporal punishment and defined it as it was, namely abuse of defenseless souls in need. Part of her was yearning to storm downstairs and confront her employer with what she knew, but reason finally triumphed over the urge justice was imposing on her. For all he had said and done, she knew that this man would never do as much as even consider such punishment and therefore it could not have caused this constant well of self-hatred. And had he known of it, would he have concealed it from her? Indeed he would; her instincts told her however that Maria's father knew nothing of these wounds, as it had been painfully obvious that he had not touched her in months and that Maria could barely tolerate her father's presence as it was.
Yet there were people bound to know, the girl's maid came to mind first but Elizabeth rejected the idea. Maria had not been bathed in quite a while, that much was obvious. In addition, she was old enough to change her nightgown herself, so there was a small chance left that this discovery had not been made before. Little did it serve to quell the anger raging within her, finding its target in her predecessors who would have considered such behavior as a clear sign of mental illness and, even more so, in Mr. Darcy, whose seclusion from his daughter had not only nourished Maria's behavior but given the privacy needed to carry it out without much danger of being caught in the act or after-wards. The gloom and sadness surrounding her had multiplied all of a sudden and her shoulders sagged as the weight settled down upon them.
A muffled moan tore her from these bitter thoughts, Maria was battling a nightmare, one of many it seemed. Kneeling down she put gentle fingertips on the little girl's shoulder and began to sing softly. Her thumb was drawing calming circles down Maria's back. A pair of terrified blue eyes met hers as Maria awoke, trembling like a trapped hare. Her sleeve was back in place and Elizabeth knew better than to question her now, so she continued to sing softly. The shivering slowed down markedly and finally disappeared entirely.
Coch a melyn a fioled a glas,
Porffor ac oren a gwyrdd.
Dyma lliwiau enfys,
Lliwiau enfys hardd.*
"Irish?" Maria guessed, enchanted by the quiet charm of the song.
"Welsh, cariad." Elizabeth explained, delighted that the tremors were gone now.
"Cariad?" Maria frowned, clearly puzzled by the word that rippled down her skin like gentle rain.
"Welsh again. It means...." Elizabeth hesitated for a moment, "Well, it means 'darling', Mia." It was one thing to sing a Welsh lullaby to comfort a child in distress, going as far as using a pet name after being rebuked initially was a risk of no little magnitude. Maria's eyes were gleaming happily however, being called darling by someone other than her father made her blossom; a fact that caused Elizabeth both to shudder and wonder just how many secrets had been kept from her. The pieces just would not fit, no matter how much she tried to assemble them correctly. His reluctance and mistrust aside, experience had taught Elizabeth thoroughly, she recognized a loving parent when she met one. Regarding Maria carefully she went through the reports of her predecessors, inadequate though they were, as well as her own experiences as a healer. No case had managed to encompass everything she encountered here and for a moment she wondered who would challenge her gift as a healer more, Mr. Darcy who, though quite frank, made no effort to resist when his own daughter defied him beyond all boundaries or said child who, her ease with Elizabeth aside, seemed to hate her father with her entire being. They were father and daughter alright, little good though it would do to point out their similarities to either of them.
"Did your father call you that when you were little?" Maria asked in a fairly interested tone.
"He still does sometimes." Elizabeth smiled gently.
"Well, you may call me that when I am good." Maria smiled back; then a shadow subdued her happiness. "My Papa calls me darling too, though I prefer 'cariad', it is more special."
"You are special, Mia, never forget that. Your father knows this too, I have no doubt."
"Could you translate that song for me, please?" Maria's face had hardened at the subtle reminder, obviously now was not the time to analyze this topic in depth.
"Certainly," Elizabeth replied, her smile unwavering.
Red and yellow and violet and blue,
Purple and orange and green,
Here are the colors of the rainbow,
Colors of the rainbow,
Colors of the beautiful rainbow.
"I want to see a rainbow....I never saw a real one....." Maria mused, her face morose. "But my father will never allow it."
"I will have a word with him about that. We might be able to catch one in the afternoon if we are lucky." Maria's features lit up at that. Warmth flooded through Elizabeth's entire being as Maria snatched her hand in both of her own.
"Really? You mean it, Lisa?" How many promises had this child received that were never honored?
"Of course I do, Mia. It would be wise however if you rested a little before going outside." Elizabeth laughed gently at the child's defiant glare. "Now do not defy Lisa, she knows best, remember? Also, your father will be more disposed to grant us our request if we both behave according to his wishes." Elizabeth fingers tapped the comfortable pillow. "Lie down, Mia, and I shall read you another story."
"Our request?" Maria repeated, clearly in awe.
"Why, certainly! Or do you want Lisa to stay inside in the dark?" Maria giggled at that.
"No, of course not. And while we are looking for that rainbow, you will tell me more stories and use those funny voices?"
"It will be my pleasure, Maria. Now lie down and tell me which story you would like me to read to you."
"Um....Lisa?" Maria's eyes regarded her nurse intently.
"Sing another song and could you....er...." Maria blushed scarlet. "Could you hold my hand until I am asleep? The bad dreams will not come with you here...." Elizabeth said nothing but grasped Maria's hand in both of her own and smiled. Her gentle mezzo soprano filled the air, chasing the gloom away as Maria settled down, transfixed by the beauty of the lullaby.
Gee, geffyl bach, yn cario ni'n dau
Dros y mynydd i hela cnau;
D?r yn yr afon a'r cerrig yn slic,
Cwympo ni'n dau. Wel dyna i chi dric!
Cwyd Robin bach a saf ar dy draed,
Sych dy lygad, anghofio'r gwaed;
Neidiwn ein dau ar ein ceffyl bach gwyn,
Dros y mynydd, ac i lawr y glyn.
Gee, geffyl bach dros frigau y coed,
Fel y Tylwyth Teg mor ysgafn dy droed,
Carlam ar garlam ar y cwmwl gwyn;
Naid dros y lleuad, ac i lawr at y llyn**
Maria was asleep before the third stanza, Elizabeth however remained at her bedside for much longer than the song. Gazing down at the child with loving eyes, the healer began another verse, holding Maria's hand until she was resting peacefully. Never seen a rainbow in eleven years, how could that be? Having overcome Maria's initial resistance was but the first step in a long journey; a journey she could not travel alone. Maria might have been surprised by not being subjected to ridiculous treatments, however she was still far away from having gained the secretive girl's trust. Her defiance and fear both spoke volumes about the dire state of her education. There was no harm in granting privileges to a suffering child, if it was done moderately. Her father, Elizabeth assessed rather accurately, had come to dread these conflicts for fear of Maria distancing herself even further. A child's natural reaction was to test the boundaries until resistance was encountered, in this household resignation had replaced resistance. Surprise and shock soon melted into determination to honor her promise. Convincing Mr. Darcy would be difficult of course, but not impossible. Remembering the hope blossoming in Maria's subdued eyes she steeled herself for the draining confrontation she knew could no longer be postponed.
"Rest, cariad," she whispered, pressing a kiss on the back of Maria's small hand.
Mrs. Reynolds, née Miss Emilia Amstrong, took loving pride in having served three generations of the Darcy family; having been raised in the household of her present master's formidable grandmother, Mrs. Eleanor Marie Darcy. Said lady's descent went as far back as to Cecily of York, herself the daughter of none other than one of England's greatest kings, Edward IV. The Darcys owed their strikingly dark eyes to this most fascinating of kings as well as the legendary Plantagenet height. Other less favored members of the family tree included Henry VIII and his daughter, Mary I., both being redeemed by the greatest monarch the realm had ever had, Queen Elizabeth I., daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Lady Eleanor Marie had caught the eye of Mr. Mortimer Darcy during a royal progress in the fine spring of 1762; by the summer of 1763 they were married and only a year later Eleanor Marie had given birth to a son, William, who would remain her only child. Little Miss Emilia had been William's playmate and confidant until his marriage to Miss Sarah de Bourg, herself the sister of none other than Lady Catherine de Bourg, her present master's beloved wife.
No one would ever replace the present Mr. Darcy's grandmother as the mistress Mrs. Reynolds had loved best; however slender and shy Anne de Bourgh had depended on her guidance in her first few months as mistress of Pemberley and rewarded her with unwavering loyalty and kindness until her untimely death in childbirth. An arranged marriage it may have been, yet she knew her master too well not to recognize how the attachment between him and his young bride had blossomed into the truest love humankind was capable of. Relief at being delivered from a residence dominated by her cold, indifferent mother had turned to quiet adoration on Miss Anne's part and her master's duty had not been able to resist these gentle, childlike eyes in the late Mrs. Darcy's heart-shaped face. Her mistress had not been a beauty, indeed, evil tongues had often called her plain, a fact soon forgotten when that pair of luminous gray eyes did as much as glance at the keepers of said tongues. Framed by smooth, honey colored hair, they had been her greatest and only claim to beauty. Her figure, frail to the point of being childlike, had been regal, yet never bore the peacock like pride of other ladies of rank. Her tenants loved her to this day, her daily visits being their fondest memory.
Seeing Anne's daughter suffer from ailments no doctor had been able to cure only added to her genuine distress at her master's solitude. He positively shunned society in favor of Zeus, his black stallion, and were it not for Mr. Bingley and his enchanting betrothed, he would have been a hermit. A hermit living on memories of her who could never return to rekindle what Mrs. Reynolds knew to be a heart most noble and generous. Imprisoned by the past rather than by stone walls, she mused sadly, for there was no prison more terrifying than that of a mind in despair. No one was more surprised than she to see a spark of what her master used to be return through the insolence of a young woman deeming herself a healer. Lack of breeding was the easiest path to losing her master's good opinion rather than obtaining it; an opinion that, once lost, was lost forever. Or so it seemed, for contrary to her prediction, Mr. Darcy had not sent Miss Bennet back to London as soon as the thunderstorm eased into gentle rain. At this very moment that....that creature was with the young mistress, much good that would do, she bristled inwardly. It was then and there that she decided to keep an eye on that young lass who had torn Mr. Darcy from his self-inflicted distance from his surroundings without even making an effort, all she had done was presenting a challenge and her master had grasped the opportunity with very good cheer, despite his indignant reaction at Miss Bennet being the wrong sex. There was no evil in Mrs. Reynolds' decision to keep a watchful eye on that self proclaimed healer. Her motives were as pure as they could be and, much to her own disbelief, were to lead to a deeper understanding between healer and patient.
"Rest, cariad," a gentle voice whispered nearby; quiet yet quick footsteps and a door clicking shut almost soundlessly. No mother could have poured more love into those two words, Mrs. Reynolds had to admit, much to her own consternation.
*Welsh lullaby, original source unknown to the author of this story
** See above
Posted on August 3, 2009
"I see thy beauty gradually unfold,
Daily and hourly, more and more.
I muse, as in a trance, the while
Slowly, as from a cloud of gold,
Comes out thy deep ambrosial smile.
I muse, as in a trance, when'er
The languors of thy love-deep eyes
Float on to me. I would I were
So tranced, so rapt in ecstasies,
To stand apart, and to adore,
Gazing on thee for evermore...." (Tennyson)
"More than most fair, full of the living fire,
Kindled above unto the maker near:
No eyes but joys, in which all powers conspire,
That to the world naught else be counted dear.
Through your bright beams doth not the blinded guest,
Shoot out his darts to base affections wound:
But Angels come to lead frail minds to rest
In chaste desires on heavenly beauty bound.
You frame my thoughts and fashion me within,
You stop my tongue, and teach my heart to speak,
You calm the storm that passion did begin,
Strong through your cause, but by your virtue weak.
Dark is the world, where your light shined never;
Well is he born, that may behold you ever." (Edmund Spenser, Sonnet VII)
A week had never seemed so long before; days stretching into what seemed to be months of confinement to what had been the only home in his entire life. Being accustomed to come and go as he pleased made yielding even a scrap of his authority a cause for displeasure as well as resentment. With her looming over him like an unwanted lilac in a bed of roses, how could he help feeling trapped, cornered or whatever else the English language may come up with to define the anger boiling within him at having relented with so little resistance. Anger that found its target mainly in himself rather than the vexedly convincing healer whose bright eyes seemed to have cast a charm, an enchantment that clouded his better judgment to the point of ridicule. Rather than delivering him from the perpetual gloom that resided where he had been so happy with his wife, she had trapped him, made his only means of escape impossible. For as much as he dreaded his daily routine with Maria; leaving the child in the sole care of Miss Bennet was beyond the realm of possibility. For that reason he had altered his reply to Mr. Bingley's joyful letter and invited him as well as his betrothed to Pemberley at their earliest convenience. Anne would have liked to see them and knowing her as he did, he could almost see her insist on seeing them wed at Pemberley rather than Woodsworth Manor, Bingley's current residence in the country. Anne...Anne... Her name had become a sad song, a melody of unfulfilled promise that seemed to wash over him whenever he felt vulnerable and defenseless. Gazing at her portrait with burning eyes he could feel her so near; as if all he had to do was turn around and there she would be, smiling, her arms open to him. An insistent knock cut through these musings like a scream over a symphony, jarring, unsubtle and intrusive. Gnashing his teeth he returned to his desk and bid her enter.
"Please, have a seat, Miss Bennet." he said, biting the words out like angry slaps. He might as well have told her to leave him in peace, for she gazed at him sadly, almost as if he had struck her rather than telling her to have a seat.
"This moment seems to be inopportune, if you would rather have me return later...." she said softly, her eyes catching his in a concerned glance.
"No more than any other, I assure you." The moment he said it, he wanted to call the words back. Her features sharpened at the insult, her eyes flashing daggers. "Forgive me for these ill chosen words, madam, please do have a seat." She did but remained quiet, her features stern and reproving. "How is my daughter?" Darcy asked, bristling at her impertinence.
"The truth, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth challenged, barely controlling her temper.
"Whatever else would I expect from you?" His attempt to disarm her backfired completely. Her nostrils flared in either anger or distaste as she replied. Words like tiny shards of ice were boring into his conscience as she dealt him blow after blow with the skill of an expert archer.
"It is not part of my unorthodox methods to lie or to deceive my employer, Mr. Darcy. Whatever you may have come to assume, let me assure you that my being here is not caused by any desire to torment you whatsoever. Maria, your daughter, is not only suffering from a weak constitution but, even more-so, from neglect. Parental neglect, sir."
"You dare....." The chair flew back as he jumped to his feet, all restraint forgotten. She remained seated, did not even flinch at the scene that was taking place before her very eyes. He paused, shocked at the waves of energy surging through his body, at the feeling of being alive for the first time in months. Resignation as well as stoicism had melted away, leaving him breathless and incensed.
"Yes, I dare, sir, for the time is more than ripe that the truth be heard. Maria's health is my utmost concern, everything else pales compared to the suffering this child has endured and will continue to endure if no one dares to speak up on her behalf!" Her features softened at the distress and anger etched upon his face, compassion was dripping from her words as she spoke again. "Mr. Darcy, I too must apologize for my manner of speaking. It is not in my nature to respond to taunts," here a smile, as beautiful as it was wicked, curved her beautiful lips. "However, please do not perceive what I have said as an attack or insult." He winced at that, causing her to stand up as well. "Please, be seated, so we may begin again." Her tone was pleading, reassuring and intolerably gentle.
"You are very generous, considering that you remain in this house depending on nothing but my good will." he retorted, his eyes still blazing with fury.
"Far be it from me to deny what is the sober truth."
"You will do well to remember it in the future!" Her eyes clouded over with sadness at this latest barb, causing his conscience to stir when it was most unwanted. No woman of rank had ever dared address him in such a manner, usually a dark glare was enough to force his adversary into unconditional surrender. In her he had found an equal spirit where he would never have expected it. Her pride and sense of honor matched his own; said spirit was addressing him beyond social decorum and mores, her heart lying open behind those exquisitely colored eyes. When she spoke again her tone was subdued without giving an inch of her conviction and determination.
"Mr. Darcy, I believe you are very well aware of my gratitude, so well deserved by your kindness and understanding." Somehow she was able to make even flattery seem like a challenge. "Do I have your forgiveness for what transpired here a moment ago?" she asked, one eyebrow raised mockingly.
"Very well," she smiled again and sat down in the chair she had previously occupied, causing him to do the same. "According to Maria herself, she suffers more from resignation and solitude, rather than physical pain." That certainly got his attention, for it mirrored his feelings like a twin. "What this child needs above all, sir, is the permission to be a child."
"Kindly explain your meaning, Miss Bennet." For all he knew she could have been talking about the fact that horses needed a paddock to stay healthy and robust. The truth of that metaphor only struck him when she spoke again.
"Fresh air, sunlight, careful exercise and playmates of her own age," she explained carefully.
"So what you are trying to tell me," he spoke as levelly as the situation warranted, "...is that a child whose constitution is delicate to say the least, should run across the fields chasing butterflies with other children? Do you think me mad to allow my daughter to endanger herself thus, Miss Bennet?" She had the audacity to laugh at that, her mirth bubbling to the surface like the brew in a witch's cauldron.
"Extremes are uncalled for in any situation, sir." Another string of pearl-like laughter followed but then her features grew stern again as she interlaced her slender fingers in a pleading gesture. "Moderation and balance are the key to a healthy life. Excesses and extremes usually tend to disappoint once the moment of pleasure has passed. With your kind permission, sir, I would like to make a few subtle changes." She saw him quirk an eyebrow at the word subtle and smiled most disarmingly. "As of today I would like to see Maria bathed regularly as well as allowing her out of bed for short amounts of time. Perpetual bed rest impairs the healing rather than hastening it, for it weighs heavily upon a child not to be allowed to play and learn like her peers." He began to wonder whether Veni. Vidi. Vici. was her secret motto, for not even Caesar himself could have turned a battle almost lost into certain victory like her. What she said next however erased whatever charm she had evoked entirely. "Also I must request of you to see to it that Maria is never left unattended with a sharp object close at hand."
"What are you implying?" he hissed under his breath; his tone icily clipped and dangerous. She had the grace to flush at that, however, she still refused to acknowledge her defeat. She would have defied heaven itself, or so it seemed, for her eyes were blazing with emotion barely withheld.
"Self abuse." It explained so much and yet so little. "Children who suffer from loneliness and depression are highly at risk when it comes to dark moods and acts of aggression. Being entirely powerless on their own, they often vent their rages and anxieties by turning on themselves as they are incapable of punishing anyone else." Her gaze locked with his, there was no resentment, no reproach in her gaze this time, only compassion. Expecting another explosion, she remained quiet, regarding him intently. It never came. His reaction, so entirely against what she had expected from him, tore at her heartstrings just as much as discovering the wounds had done.
"My God...." he gasped, his face as mask of torment and confusion. Utterly paralyzed by this shocking revelation he slumped back into the chair and buried his face in his hands. Seemingly oblivious to her presence he began to ramble his feelings of guilt and shame and she let him. Tremors rippled through his shoulders as he fought the tears he had never permitted himself to cry and it was only her soothing voice that broke the spell. She was standing by his side, one hand on his shoulder, the other covering his own in in a gentle grasp.
Bod am dangnefedd , cara.
His shoulder stiffened at her touch, yet when she spoke those gentle words he melted into her touch. There was healing and peace to be found; her hands seemed to exude tenderness and peace. Choelia 'm , anwylyd , choelia 'm His walls, his very defenses, began to shake and crumble at these lilting words, the world was standing still once more and this time he wished it would never move again. Raising his head he saw naught but understanding and warmth flickering in her candle like eyes, no reproach, no gloating at having seen him at his worst. Her hands withdrew and, for a moment, he missed their soothing, healing touch.
"I ask your forgiveness for forcing you to witness this shameful spectacle...." he rasped hoarsely, still not quite himself.
His shaken dignity forbade her to say that there was no shame in showing distress at such horrifying news, much as she would have liked to put his mind at ease. The balance they had reached was delicate, one wrong word might destroy it entirely. Her heart was aching for him, yearning to dispel the notion that dignity must prevail over emotions, whatever the cost. Maria had exhibited similar behavior and seeing her father in such a state cleared many things that had eluded her previously. Both father and daughter needed her and she was determined to lead them both to the road of recovery, both mental and physical.
"May I take Maria outside for a few minutes once she has rested?"
"Why, yes, please do as you see fit." His tone was morose to the point of despair. She would have none of that.
"Do you agree that fresh air will be beneficial?" she probed gently.
"Since when does it make a difference whether I agree with your schemes or not?"
Elizabeth barely held back a smile, for that was more like the Mr. Darcy she knew.
"It will always make a difference, sir. You are her father. I would not openly defy your judgment."
Openly.... now that was masterfully done.
"Miss Bennet, let us cease playing this childish game. For reasons I cannot and will not explain I find that I can trust your medical judgment." She beamed at that. "However, you will consult with me first before making vital decisions."
"I would not want it any other way." Her smile was positively sunny.
"You may tell my daughter then. And we shall discuss this further once you and my daughter have come back from your excursion. This revelation of yours demands immediate action as well as planning. Do not speak to my daughter about this under any circumstances. Since the weather has cleared, I suggest you give my daughter the good news." The conversation was clearly at an end. Never blind to the need of solitude Elizabeth got up quietly but turned back at the door.
"What else, Miss Bennet?"
The door clicked shut quietly, leaving him alone to wonder what she had said to him in that musical language of ancient times.
Posted on August 8, 2009
"How clear she shines!
How quietly I lie beneath her guardian light;
While heaven and earth are whispering me,
'Tomorrow, wake, but dream tonight.'
Yes, Fancy, come, my Fairy love!
These throbbing temples softly kiss;
And bend my lonely couch above,
And bring me rest, and bring me bliss." (Emily Bronte)
"Love is strength, and faith, and hope;
It crowns with bliss our mortal state;
And, glancing far beyond the grave,
Foresees a life of endless date." (William Johnson Fox)
Darkness engulfed her in a mantle woven out of despair and guilt; fear pierced through her heart as the darkness was stabbed by a voice even blacker than the night sky. Were it not for you, your mother would still be alive and well!, it shrieked mercilessly, taking pleasure in her tears and pleas for silence. Her heart was thumping so loudly, it seemed close to bursting with agony. Her mother's face, so kind and mild on her portraits, appeared in her line of vision, a frightening canvas of hatred, revulsion and accusation. Her scream was silenced; swallowed up by the misery surrounding her like a thunderous cloud. Another voice chimed in, gentler, loving even. She knew that voice; wanted to cling to it for protection. Ddeffro i fyny, 'm cariad! A beam of light parted the blackness like a ray of sunlight as the voice spoke on, undeterred by the image of her, Maria's, mother reproaching her. Ach yn breuddwydio, 'm cara! The vile, distorted vision of Anne began to fade at these words; the icy grip around her heart lightened slightly. That voice, that beloved voice, was her anchor and her refuge. Clinging to the velvety, warm timbre of those words she felt herself being pulled up into the light. Her eyes fluttered open to a woman's gentle smile. Bod am dangnefedd, bod am dangnefedd byth! There was no need of translation, for her heart was in her eyes; hazel gleaming gently like candles, like the light that had parted the shadows of her nightmare.
"Li-Lisa?" she moaned, still terrified by what she had seen and heard. Warm arms were holding her around the waist as the healer pulled her into a gentle embrace. Releasing a breath she did not know she had been holding; she buried her face in Elizabeth's warm shoulder. Shivering with fright she wished the image away but the nightmare had been too vivid, too real for a child's peace of mind. Her body was convulsing with sobs and gasps as she felt the healer's gentle hands drawing circles on her back; soothing, loving, more real than the nightmare had ever been. 'm 'n anwyla blentyn , dydy ar awron. Choelia 'm , anwylyd , choelia 'm! Elizabeth's arms were like a barrier the vision dared not touch; and, finally, fear was replaced by trust and peace. Her tears ceased as she threw her arms around Elizabeth's waist, her head resting in the crook of the healer's neck. She smelled of herbs and violets, like spring itself.
"It was a nightmare, cariad, just a dream...." Elizabeth said, meeting the little girl's exhausted, glum eyes.
"Oh, Lisa, it was so terrible! She...she..." Once more tears welled in the dark blue eyes, so utterly clouded by anguish and horror.
"Do not speak if it pains you, cariad." Elizabeth spoke in a gentle, calming tone to comfort the stricken child.
"I-I....must....tell......someone! It is driving me mad, Lisa! She...." A strangled sob forced itself upon her. "She died....because....just because..." The end of that sentence was unintelligible due to another emotional breakdown. The idea of her mother's face, distorted by loathing and revulsion, made her skin crawl with fear and despair. She had never believed the tales of monsters and bogeymen; seeing the only woman whose love she had ever craved revile and curse her in daily nightmares had rekindled her childlike imagination to a frightening level.
"Who, cariad? Who died?" A dark suspicion reared its ugly head, unbidden and unwanted, yet true nonetheless.
"My....my Mama....." Her tears ceased abruptly, her features stiffening at the admission. Elizabeth's heart ached at the word, remembering her own mother's treatment of herself. She extended her arms again but the little girl recoiled as if struck.
"Go away!" Maria ordered, her face whiter than the sheets. Her fingernails were raking through the skin of her arm, tearing open the wounds underneath the sleeve. Elizabeth lifted a gentle hand to disrupt the terrifying movement. Maria's eyes were shooting daggers as she attempted to wrench herself free. "Do not touch me, how dare you?" Scorn was dripping from every word, fury blazing in her eyes.
"No, cariad, never. Please, stop hurting yourself." Seemingly unmoved by Maria's rudeness, her grip tightened around Maria's wrist, her eyes pleading.
"You are in no position to give orders here. You..." Hatred was etched upon her features as she spoke the reprehensible words. "You are no more than a servant, Miss Bennet!"
The comparison, though expected, stung deeply. Elizabeth had harbored no illusions when it came to having won her patient's trust and respect. Maria reacted happily when treated as it pleased her; being crossed was something she could not endure because she had never met such resistance. She knew the child to be blameless for the most part, she was not responsible for her own upbringing.
"Maria Darcy, I would be pleased if you remembered your manners. No gentleman's daughter should treat her servants with such disdain." Maria now, no longer cariad. The child's eyes widened with shock at the healer's stern tone and clung to silent defiance.
"Cariad..." The word was like a longed for caress. "I mean you no harm. In fact, I came here with very joyful news...." Elizabeth's eyes twinkled merrily as she saw Maria's features brighten at the words joyful news. "However, I would like you to apologize for your rudeness first." Maria scowled at that, clearly offended. "There is no weakness in asking for forgiveness, Maria." Elizabeth continued gently.
"Tell me the news first." Maria demanded with a challenging glare.
"No, my dear, I would rather tell you a story first."
"Very well then, tell your story." Maria retorted indignantly.
Once upon a time there was a little girl, we shall call her Jane, who had everything a child might desire. Loving parents, a comfortable home and a sweet gray kitten to keep her company. The kitten was named Rhiannon and had been with her ever since she could remember. Jane was the youngest daughter of a kind gentleman who regarded her to be his pride and joy. Her three older sisters had married when Jane was only a few years old; she had no friends of her age, no playmates except Rhiannon who was no longer young. One day the kitten got ill and, only a few days later, died in the little girl's arms.
Jane was in despair, her whole world had been built around her beloved companion. One of the servant's children, a little boy named Jamie, offered her friendship and consolation. Soon they were the best of friends. Rhiannon never left her heart completely but Jamie offered what the sweet kitten had been incapable of. Conversation, games and a loving shoulder whenever Jane felt sad. They played together, ate together, shared confidences and secrets, in short, they were inseparable. One day Jane suggested a game that was not to Jamie's liking and he refused. Spoiled by her relenting parents, Jane was unused to the word No, she would not accept his refusal. She desperately wanted to defy her father's disapproval of playing in the paddock where his wild stallion was kept and would hear neither reason nor defiance. In a rush of anger she uttered malicious words that would haunt her till the end of her days.
"Who are you to refuse me? You are but a servant's son. One word to my father and you, as well as your mother, will be sent away to starve in a poorhouse!"
"Take that back!" James demanded, hurt by her shallow cruelty.
"Why should I? It is the truth, is it not?" she jeered without remorse.
"The truth is that your father is capable of kindness you shall never know. Apologize, Miss Jane, or our friendship ends here!"
"Like you will not come crawling back when you feel lonely!" Anger had blinded her completely. Jane was capable of both kindness and love, but a demon of self-centered righteousness had possessed her utterly.
"But....but how could she be so harsh to her best friend who only wanted to protect her from harm?" Maria asked, aghast at such blatant disregard of another person's feelings. Guilt made her color a burning crimson as realization struck her; she herself had behaved just as cruelly toward Lisa. And Lisa, all kindness and love, had not even threatened to walk away from her. Shame washed over her features as she urged Lisa to carry on with the tale.
James walked away from her without as much as a glance back. She knew he would come back to her. He would apologize and she, ever graceful and kind, would grant forgiveness the moment he had repented enough to please her misguided vanity. Only James did not apologize. Jamie, her best friend and companion, avoided her company whenever he could and, if her presence was forced upon him, treated her with cold civility. Her conviction of his penance turned into anger. She returned his icy treatment in kind and the gulf between them grew as the days stretched into long months of stony silence. It was only when James' mother died of a sudden strike of fever and James being sent to his relatives in Derbyshire that her proud heart relented. Too late, James' voice echoed within her stricken soul. She dared not ask her father to take her on such a long journey so she could ask for her friend's forgiveness. Due to unwarranted pride and the inability to apologize she had lost the only true friend she would know for many years.
"Did...." Maria gulped. "Did she ever see him again?" Elizabeth smiled wistfully at that.
"Their paths never crossed again. She regrets her behavior to this day. But more than that she mourns the fact that she can never atone completely now. For remember this, Maria, words spoken in anger are never reasonable. They never do good or help in a difficult situation. Forgiveness and the courage to ask for it can mend almost anything."
"I-I....um....Lisa?" Maria stuttered, her hands shivering. Elizabeth grasped them gently and smiled down at her.
"Would you go away from Pemberley if I did not apologize?"
"No, Maria, I would never leave you like that." She sighed sadly. "Is there anything else you would like to tell me?"
"I....I do not want to be like that girl. Lisa, I am grieved at having offended you. I want to ask your forgiveness, please." Tears were brimming in her eyes as she spoke and, before Elizabeth could react, Maria threw herself at her healer's chest, sobbing in despair. Mood shifts like that were normal in such a case and Elizabeth, deeply moved, returned the embrace in kind. How much this helpless child was tugging at her heart, so much more so than any child she had ever known. Gwna mo bod 'n ofnus , 'm 'n anwyla blentyn. Ewyllysia mo ad 'ch.
"Wh-what does that mean?" Maria blinked through her tears, hope gleaming in her blue eyes.
"It means Do not be afraid, my dearest child. I will not leave you." Elizabeth murmured into Maria's tousled hair.
"My....My Mama left me before I could remember her...." Maria mused, her mind returning to the nightmare.
"You are wary of people promising not to leave you, cariad?" Elizabeth probed, dreading the answer.
Rather than answering the question Maria withdrew from Elizabeth's arms, opened a drawer at her bedside and removed a medallion of silver on a long, matching chain. She handed it to Elizabeth with trembling fingers. The healer took it, clearly startled.
"Open it." Maria whispered, clearly in pain.
Elizabeth did so and beheld a miniature portrait of the girl's mother. Her gentle eyes were looking out of the canvas as if to reassure onlookers; her face, though not beautiful by classical standards, was shimmering with regal pride that knew no cruelty.
"She is lovely," Elizabeth said as she returned the medallion. Maria shrunk from it as if it were a snake, coiled and ready to strike.
"In....in my dreams....she is anything but lovely....." Maria's voice broke at that and, suddenly ashamed of her tears, she buried her tear-stained face in her hands.
Posted on August 20, 2009
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to the tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One ray the more, one shade the less
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow
But tell of days in goodness spent
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent. (Lord Byron)
The medallion fell from her hand as the healer stretched out her arms to the sobbing child and this time Maria crawled into them most willingly. Elizabeth herself was close to tears as memories of her own mother flashed before her eyes. Mrs. Joan Bennet, née Gardiner, had had only two goals in her life, each of them concerning matrimony. First, the ambition to marry well and above her station in life which, though made easier by her beauty, her own brother had regarded with a most cynical eye. Opportunity presented itself in the appearance of Mr. Robert Bennet who had arrived in the neighborhood both in want of a wife and an estate. Being the prettiest of the young maidens at every social gathering had its advantages and Mr. Bennet was not above being enchanted by such simple tricks like charming dimples, modestly lowered lashes shading exquisite eyes and a lovely figure in a maidenly white dress. Fortune both favored and slighted Mr. Bennet equally; first in the inheritance of his uncle's estate in Hertfordshire and second in winning the heart of a beautiful, modest young lady such as Miss Joan Gardiner. Her emerald like eyes had ensnared him beyond his usually good judgment and the promise of her quiet, submissive nature had misled him to the point when her rather unnatural modesty did nothing but enchant him. She never spoke unless she was spoken to; never met a gentleman's eyes without that virginal blush; her motto seemed to be "No other will but his"; Katherine Howard's emblem. This comparison proved to be prophetic once they had exchanged their vows of matrimony; for just like Anne Boleyn never became "The Most Happi", Katherine Howard never knew how to curb her own desires. Both ended on the block. An outcome much more severe than the marriage between the serious, well read Mr. Bennet and the ambitious, sly as well as wanton Miss Joan Gardiner.
Like Anne Boleyn she never bore her husband a living male heir to inherit his estate and like Katherine Howard she was flighty, lacked propriety as well as good sense. They settled at Longbourn a day after their marriage and Mrs. Bennet presented him with three daughters who grew into maturity and two sons who did not survive infancy. Jane, the eldest and the fairest, had inherited little from either of her parents. Her golden hair and her gray eyes were a marriage of exquisite features in a face too angelic to have come from such a bond. Elizabeth, almost entirely her father's daughter, was as dark as her older sister was fair. Her hair was of a reddish brown, her eyes bright with mischief and where Jane was tall and slender, she was of middle height and well endowed with womanly curves. Mrs. Bennet's youngest child was an image of herself, in looks as well as in disposition. Miss Leticia Bennet cared little for her father's Welsh roots and took delight in being petted and spoiled. Her little head was filled with flirtation, gentlemen and the forbidden. By the time Leticia entered society her father had given up both on his children and his wife. His heart was still mourning little Thomas and Edward Bennet; only Elizabeth offered him the joy known as a father's pride. Eager to please she had learned the ancient language of the homeland and it was not unusual for her to spend hours in her father's library.
Leticia's constant pending between scandal and ridicule was of no interest to her father and her mother's greatest delight. For Leticia and Jane were exactly what she needed to fulfill her second ambition in life; having her daughters well married; if possible to gentlemen of noble blood. That she had another daughter in need of motherly affection was a pebble in her shoe rather than a delight for the girl was just too strange to be loved or used on the chessboard of the marriage game. Elizabeth loved her cat more than girls her age, was unwilling to be governed and loathed to dress up for balls and soirees. When the infernal cat died at last she took refuge in befriending the children of the servants as well as her mare Nelly; it seemed that the only two people who cared for her were her older sister and, to a lesser extent, her father. Her gift with languages, her excellent wit and her determination to decide her own fate severed whatever bond there may have remained between mother and daughter. Gentlemen wanting a diversion were well pleased with Leticia while those with earnest intentions preferred Jane. Not that Elizabeth lacked beaux, they just never captured her interest enough to make an effort. Determined that only the very deepest love would induce her into matrimony she was content with her life as a single woman. Jane's marriage to Lord Dominic of Penthwyck came as a shock to her, for now she was truly alone and there was nothing to shield her from her mother's wrath....
The memories released her as quickly as they had seized her. Maria had cried herself to sleep in her arms and it took little effort to lay the girl down on the bed. Tucking her in gently the healer's thoughts returned to the medallion and the nightmares. Was it possible that the child felt to blame for her mother's death in childbirth and that the guilt was manifesting itself in nightmares of Anne accusing her daughter of her untimely, painful end? Bending down she grasped the medallion and opened it again. Anne's gentle gaze met hers and for a split second she mourned the mother she had never been allowed to have. In that they were alike, so much so that it hurt to think of it. What would her mother think if she knew that rather than dying in a poorhouse she had become a healer? Well trained both in London and Oxford, a revered colleague of one of the foremost physicians in the land? And her father, whose feeble, absent minded letters never failed to reach her and beg for her return now that her mother was dead. Too late, she mused, like all my life. Too late for him, too late for me; there is no way of turning the clock back and some wounds just went too deep to heal them sufficiently. He had laughed at her vow of becoming a healer, a healer like those of ancient times rather than a physician. Like her mother he had thought her quite insane and done nothing when his wife had decided that Elizabeth was no daughter of hers. His mind had withdrawn to earlier, happier days before he had met his wife and sometimes he forgot that he was married to her at all.
Maria, thanks be to God, had never known such cruelty but suffered equally. Mr. Darcy's withdrawal from his ailing child was a bitter reminder of her own abandonment and thus her first priority was to mend this rift. Maria's physical ailments, the fevers as well as the fatigue existed not because of a frail constitution but were the sinister reply to neglect as well as emotional turmoil. Once her mind was cleared of guilt and despair and filled with the certainty of her father's love, she would thrive and bloom to the greatest heights. However, it was not only the child who had won her devotion. Mr. Darcy himself was dear to her, for he too was suffering terribly. When his dark eyes had swept over her, her skin had been singing at the appraisal in that obsidian like gaze, a feeling she had never known before. A feeling that was both unwelcome and terrifying. Never again would she allow her heart to be a man's diversion; especially not when another woman held the first place in Mr. Darcy's heart. A woman far more deserving by his standards; the thought stung. Loving children was safe, loving men only held heartbreak and peril. The medallion snapped shut with a click and was returned to its resting place in the drawer. Exhaustion made her shoulders droop as she grasped Maria's hand and before she could remember that this was no place to sleep; she had drifted off. And it was this sight that greeted a rather incensed Mrs. Reynolds who had gone upstairs to fetch Miss Bennet at her master's bidding.
"Wake up, Miss!" someone hissed quietly and Elizabeth felt her shoulder being shaken rather roughly. Her eyes flew open and met those of the housekeeper dazedly. Awareness of her surroundings finally seeped through the mist of exhaustion and she jumped to her feet as if burned.
"Forgive me, Mrs. Reynolds. The fatigue of my travels must have overwhelmed me. May I help you with anything?" Her gentle tone and the offer of help mollified Mrs. Reynolds somewhat.
"The Master sent me to fetch you, Miss." she explained dryly, her opinion on her master's judgment was plain to Elizabeth. It took some effort not to take the bait however.
"Thank you," she replied sweetly, apparently oblivious to the older woman's disdain. "Where may I find him?" A look of gratitude accompanied the innocent question, the deception was so masterfully done, not even Mrs. Reynolds would dare to sneer at that. Of course she knew that Mr. Darcy was in his study but why rob the lady of a little triumph?
"In his study, Madam. I shall bring some tea at once. Would you care for some?" Mrs. Reynolds' features had softened remarkably.
"Thank you, I would be delighted." Elizabeth said, her eyes twinkling. So Mrs. Reynolds did not dislike her, she was merely defending her territory. Needing to be needed, how could she take offense at that? And if her ears had not deceived her, she too had a connection to the homeland. Dendiech yn cyrchu 'm rhyw borthiant hefyd? Mrs. Reynolds' back stiffened for a moment and then she smiled, her first real smile toward Elizabeth.
"Of course you may have some food, 'm anwylyd! Thin as a rail, my dear. You must have dinner at once." the old lady said, as if addressing her own daughter rather than a stranger.
"Thank you. It is such a pleasure to meet someone from the homeland." Elizabeth held out her hand kindly.
"Were you born there, Miss Bennet?" Mrs. Reynolds asked, all animosity forgotten.
"Not I but my father was. He always told me how it was the most beautiful part of the islands when I was a child." Now the memory filled her with pride rather than sadness.
"So it is, Madam, so it is!" Mrs. Reynolds smiled benignly.
"I am sure you have many stories to tell?" Elizabeth inquired, eager to know more.
"Only those my mother told me, as her mother told her." Pride was surging through these words, pride at a heritage many considered to be a slur.
"May Maria and I ask you to tell us one or two whenever your duties allow it?" Elizabeth inquired eagerly. A shadow crossed the old lady's face at that, the twinkle in her eyes had gone out.
"The young Mistress hardly ever talks to me anymore. I doubt that she would be interested in a foolish old lady's stories." Her shoulders slumped at that, as if in defeat. Elizabeth grasped her wrinkly hands and smiled reassuringly.
"If I can persuade Mia to...." Mrs. Reynolds froze in her grip at the name. "What is it?" Elizabeth asked, clearly worried that she had offended the housekeeper.
"Mia....." Mrs. Reynolds' voice broke at the word. A small tear ran down her cheek. "That is the name the late Mrs. Darcy called her by after she was born...." It was Elizabeth's turn to freeze in shock. "The Master used to call the little Mistress that until...." Her eyes widened all of a sudden as if a ghost was peering at her over Elizabeth's shoulder. Elizabeth turned around and, indeed, there stood Mr. Darcy who must have come upstairs to see why neither Mrs. Reynolds nor Elizabeth had come to his study. His eyes were as cold as polished onyx as he regarded Mrs. Reynolds severely.
"That will be quite enough, Mrs. Reynolds!" he snapped icily. The housekeeper flinched at the name, as if she was not used to being addressed so formally. Elizabeth scrutinized him through lowered lashes, quite unable to understand his anger. "I did not send you upstairs to gossip with Miss Bennet. As I recall, my orders were quite clear."
"The blame is mine, Mr. Darcy. It was I who kept Mrs. Reynolds from...." Elizabeth attempted to mollify him. She should have known better than that.
"I will ask you to remember your place, Madam. You have no authority over how I treat my servants." An icy chill ran down Elizabeth's spine, imaginary Jane's image arose, bearing the same cold sneer as her employer's. Mrs. Reynolds sobbed quietly before hurrying away, leaving the Master of Pemberley and the healer to glare at each other with contempt from one and pity from the other side.
"I may have no authority over that, Sir, however it is perfectly within my rights to be revolted by such cruelty." Her tone was as icily clipped as his, her eyes however were full of pity and concern; an unnerving combination. What had urged him to use such cross words toward the woman who had been more of a mother to him than anyone else? He had never treated her harshly, never shown her anything but respect; how could he have forgotten himself in such a manner?
"You are in no position to reprove my behavior, Miss Bennet." he retorted without much conviction.
"You can make out more of a man's nature by examining his treatment of his inferiors rather than that of his equals." she replied hotly.
"Judging by your behavior you consider yourself to be my equal. Is that not so, Madam?" he said, deceptively calm.
She was treading on thin ice and she knew it.
"Before God, Sir, we are all equals. So in the world we should be." She said it without anger, without hatred. 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. It had been one of Anne's most beloved quotes from the bible. How fitting that it should come back to haunt him now. What would she think of him now as she was watching from heaven? He had insulted the woman who had brought him up in honesty and goodness as well as lashing out at the only person still willing to help his daughter.
"You have my apology for my treatment of you Miss Bennet. I have no explanation to give." he sighed.
"I did not ask for one, did I, Sir?" she replied warmly. "Once we are used to carrying the world on our shoulders, we defend that right, however much we may wish to relinquish at least part of its load."
Veni. Vidi. Vici. Again and again.