Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty-Three

Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty-Three

‘What the…where…?’ The captain’s words were barely discernible, and Anne leaned closer.

‘Frederick?’ A low sob escaped her. ‘You have been injured, but you are safe now.’

It was clear Captain Wentworth was struggling to keep his eyes open. ‘I—thirsty.’

His voice was rough, and he winced, trying to raise a hand to his head, but Anne took it in hers as Elizabeth hurried to fetch the flask left by Mr Robinson.

‘Only small sips at first, Anne.’ Elizabeth unfastened the stopper and poured the barley water into the feeding cup, handing it to her friend.

‘Come, Frederick, you must drink.’

His eyes were staring at the canopy. ‘I heard your voice…you were calling me…’

‘Yes, I called for you, and you came.’ Anne’s voice broke on the last word, and tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes.

‘Get him to drink,’ she whispered.

Lifting the captain’s head, Anne held the cup to his mouth, and he took a sip.

‘More,’ he croaked.

‘Slowly, Frederick.’

Anne aided him in taking a few small gulps, then lowered his head to the pillow, and Elizabeth took the cup from her, offering a wet cloth in return.

A soft groan came from the gentleman. ‘I do not understand…’

‘You took a blow to the head. Frederick?’ Anne sent Elizabeth a frantic look as the captain’s eyes closed, and he became very still again. ‘Will he stay with us?’

Elizabeth had no answer to that. ‘Moisten his lips and just keep talking to him.’

Anne turned back to the captain and pressed the wet cloth to his mouth. ‘We are at Kellynch, Frederick. Well, on the estate, at least. They brought you here because you mentioned it, and you also spoke..…’ She swallowed hard. ‘You said my name.’

‘Anne.’ The sound was barely a whisper, but it gave them hope, and a few moments later, Captain Wentworth’s lids lifted a little. Then, he made a guttural sound, and his arms began flailing, his face distorted. ‘The water! So cold…My men…I cannot breathe. I cannot help them…’ Just as suddenly, his arms dropped heavily onto the bed, his breathing ragged.

‘What shall we do?’ Anne’s voice was frantic. ‘He is in distress!’

Elizabeth placed a hand upon her friend’s back. ‘He is coming to life. Can you not hear his breathing?’

Anne’s frame shuddered under Elizabeth’s hand, but she nodded, her attention fixed upon the man in the bed. How long they remained like so, Elizabeth was unsure, but then, the captain’s eyes opened again, more fully this time.

‘Need…a drink,’ he rasped.

A suppressed sob came from Anne. ‘Yes, yes. I have more of the barley water.’

Captain Wentworth pulled a face. ‘Brandy.’

Elizabeth pursed her lips to keep from smiling, as she handed the cup to Anne again before going over to the box of supplies left by the apothecary—supplies no one had expected to need. She returned with a small bottle of cordial, which Mr Robinson had asked them to administer if the sick man came around, watching as Anne helped the captain drink some more, then offering the bottle to her.

‘You must take a little of this now, Frederick.’

The captain spluttered as the liquid hit the back of his throat. ‘What the…?’

‘It is a restorative cordial.’

He pulled a face again. ‘I cannot stomach the stuff.’

‘This is on the apothecary’s orders.’ Anne persevered, then slowly lowered his head to the pillows.

‘My men…the water closed over my head and I could not see them. Blackness…’ The captain had closed his eyes again, but his brow was furrowed.

‘What do I tell him?’ Anne whispered to Elizabeth, but she shook her head.

‘Do not speak of it, for we know so little and you can say naught of any comfort.’

Before Anne had need of words however, the captain spoke again.

‘I had such…dreams.’ His voice held hardly any timbre, and Anne leaned in closer to discern it. ‘Lost…’ He turned his head from side to side on the pillow. ‘Thought…lost…’

‘You were saved, Frederick. They pulled you from the sea and brought you back to land.’

The captain’s frown deepened, then he pouted like a little boy, and Elizabeth had to bite her lip. It was not a laughing moment, after all.

‘Not me. Lost…you…I thought…’ He tried to raise his head in his agitation, and Anne placed a hand on his arm to calm him, leaning in closer so that he could hear her.

‘Now is not the time to worry about dreams. You must get well.’ Her eyes were clouded with anxiety. ‘Does he not recall? I must—’

‘What I must have is a kiss.’ The captain’s voice was plaintive, and Anne stared at Elizabeth, who was torn between tears and laughter at the expression on her friend’s face.

‘Humour him,’ she whispered, tapping her cheek, and Anne turned back to the bed.

‘There’—she placed a gentle kiss upon the captain’s whiskery face. ‘Now you must rest whilst we await the apothecary.’

Captain Wentworth’s eyes remained closed, but the hint of a smile graced his features.

‘Again.’

Anne hesitated, then leaned forward, but as her mouth neared his cheek, the captain turned his head on the pillow and pressed his lips to hers.

Elizabeth looked away for her friend’s sake, adding, ‘He is disorientated.’

‘Who…who is there, Anne?’

‘It is my friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.’

‘Then…’ He attempted to clear his throat. ‘I trust she will forgive me.’

‘She will, but all the same, you should not—’

The captain made a weak movement with his arm, which then dropped heavily onto the coverlet. ‘Why should I not? A man’—he cleared his throat again—‘may kiss his betrothed if he so chooses.’

Anne gasped. ‘Oh, but you and I are not—’

‘Alone, remember?’ Elizabeth finished, though the captain had closed his eyes again and was probably insensible to their words.

She took Anne’s arm and persuaded her away from the bed.

‘He needs peace and comfort just now.’ Elizabeth spoke quietly. ‘Follow what his dreams have told him.’

Anne shook her head. ‘How can I? It is my dream he is lost in.’

‘You will not aid the captain by revealing the truth just now. He is too weak to even turn his back, never mind stalk out of the room. Just bear with it for now.’

Anne’s attention was fixed on the captain. ‘Do you think… he is not unconscious again?’

Stepping closer, Elizabeth studied the face upon the pillow and the rise and fall of the sheet on Captain Wentworth’s chest. ‘I am no expert on such matters, but I believe he sleeps of his own will. I must inform Mrs Reynolds.’

She turned to leave, but Anne grasped her arm. ‘You cannot go!’

Elizabeth embraced her friend.  ‘Do not fret so. The man has received a severe blow to his head and received no sustenance for days on end. He certainly cannot be held accountable for a little delirium on first waking.’

She walked over to the door. ‘I shall leave this ajar and send a maid to wait with you. And keep talking to him, Anne. Your voice will bring him comfort.’

Anne did as she was bid, and Elizabeth, unable to locate a servant nearby, headed down the stairs, a myriad of thoughts whirling through her mind.

Captain Wentworth’s rousing was both unexpected and a blessing. Whether it would sustain should be swiftly determined, she assumed, but the implications for Anne were profound, especially if the gentleman persisted in his belief that they were still engaged.

As she reached the hall, Elizabeth stopped as a disturbing thought encroached upon her speculation. Mr Darcy could not have anticipated this, much as he might wish for the captain to recover. He had been more than gracious, but that had been when the prognosis implied no more than a night’s inconvenience. What now?

Elizabeth turned around in a circle. Where should she go? She had only seen the drawing room. Then, she noticed the door to the service areas, and as there was as much chance as any that Mrs Reynolds would be down there, she set off towards it.

‘Miss Bennet?’ Georgiana had emerged from a door to Elizabeth’s left. ‘Is all well?’

‘Good morning, Miss Darcy. I trust your health continues to improve?’

‘Indeed. Beyond a trifling cough, I am quite well. How is…Mrs Reynolds said there was some change and has sent for the apothecary.’

Elizabeth smiled as Georgiana approached her. ‘We may have turned a corner. The captain has awakened and seems a little confused but is now sleeping.’

Clasping her hands together, Georgiana returned the smile. ‘Oh, that is news I dared not hope for!’ Her expression sobered. ‘Are you looking for my brother?’

‘In truth, I sought word of when Mr Robinson might arrive. With hindsight, Mr Darcy ought not to be the last to know of this alteration.’

‘Then we had best seek him out.’ Georgiana gestured along the hallway, and Elizabeth fell into step beside her. ‘Fitz has been in his study since coming back from his ride.’

‘You and your brother have been most accommodating, Miss Darcy. I do not think I, and certainly, Miss Elliot, can thank you enough.’

Georgiana stopped, and through necessity so did Elizabeth.  ‘My brother…’ She hesitated. ‘He has been brought low with worry and concern of late.’

‘I am sorry to hear it.’ Elizabeth hoped the young girl was not going to blurt out words Mr Darcy would wish she had not.

The girl was clearly uncomfortable. ‘There are matters I cannot…I must not speak of.’

Elizabeth was unsure this warranted an answer, but Georgiana seemed to labour under some anxiety.

‘You are a good sister, I think.’ To Elizabeth’s dismay, this did not bring comfort.

‘I am not. I do not deserve Fitz. He is the best of men, and the most attentive of brothers.’

The latter was true. Elizabeth could not fault anything she had seen in Mr Darcy as a brother. ‘It is quite natural, Miss Darcy, to feel for our siblings when we are powerless to aid them.’

Georgiana seemed thoughtful as they resumed their walk. ‘Do you experience this also, Miss Bennet, with regard to your own sister?’

Elizabeth slowed to a halt, and Georgiana turned to face her, colour filling her cheeks.

‘Forgive me. I know now I spoke out of turn the other day, about Mr Bingley. My brother explained, but I…’

She fell silent as a door opened behind them.

‘Georgiana?’ Mr Darcy emerged from his study, frowning. ‘Miss Bennet? Is there a problem?’

‘No, Fitz. Miss Bennet has news.’ Georgiana threw Elizabeth a conscious look. ‘I will advise Mrs Reynolds.’

With that, she hurried back along the corridor, leaving Elizabeth trying to decipher what Georgiana might have been about to say. She had a strong suspicion she comprehended something of the disagreement between herself and Mr Darcy.

‘Miss Bennet?’

‘Oh, yes! There was a change in the captain’s condition, a positive one, and Mrs Reynolds has sent for Mr Robinson again.’

Darcy gestured along the hallway and they walked back in the direction Elizabeth had just come. ‘Then he should be here directly.’

As they reached the main entrance hall, Elizabeth came to a decision.

‘Mr Darcy, should the captain recover—and I pray to the Lord he does—you may be obliged to extend your kindness in sheltering both the gentleman and Miss Anne Elliot a while longer.’ Elizabeth’s gaze raked his face, trying to discern his feelings but his habitual mask was firmly in place. ‘I appreciate my being here has been difficult in the light of our…’ What on earth could one call it? ‘Our discussion the other day. You will wish me to leave for Hertfordshire at the earliest convenience.’

Was he glaring at her? Elizabeth cast around for other words.

‘Not content with revealing what you think of me, Miss Bennet, you now wish to put words in my mouth?’

‘No! I did not mean—’

Elizabeth stopped as Mrs Reynolds came into the hall with Boliver, who assisted Mr Darcy into his great coat.

‘You will have to excuse me, madam. I am due up at the Hall.’ With that, the gentleman took his hat and gloves from his butler and strode towards the door.

Confused as to why her words had raised Mr Darcy’s ire, Elizabeth’s puzzled gaze followed him. What was his meaning? How could he not want her to depart as soon as possible?

Unable to account for such a notion, Elizabeth summoned a smile for the housekeeper. She would dwell upon Mr Darcy another time. For now, all her interest must be for her friend and the prompt return of Mr Robinson.

~o0o~

Anne had been staring with rapt attention at Captain Wentworth. Though five years had passed, he was as handsome as she remembered, despite the facial hair and the bruise upon his forehead. Full of thanks as she was for his awakening, however, Anne’s head was a complete muddle.

Frederick speaking her name in his delirium she negated, for it could be accounted for by all manner of things, but now this! How could he think the engagement persisted, when it could not be farther from the truth?

Wary of touching him now he had been conscious, Anne eased away from the edge of the bed, then got to her feet and walked over to stare out of the window. The sky was a heavy grey, indicative of further snow, and she shivered. What would happen now?

If Frederick recovered, he would soon realise his mistake, remember the angry words exchanged between them, judge her once more with the disbelief and disfavour of five years ago. Though it was a memory Anne had been unable to expunge, she had no desire to revisit it.

A sound came from across the room, and Anne flew back to Captain Wentworth’s side. She watched him carefully as his head moved restlessly to and fro on the pillow, grateful for these returning signs of life, then glanced over at the open door before retaking her seat.

Anne caught her breath as his eyelids flickered, then slowly raised. His face bespoke confusion but then the corners of his mouth lifted.

‘I did not dream it, then.’ The captain’s voice remained distant, and Anne retrieved the cordial bottle, doing her best to administer it, before he fell back against the pillows, his brow furrowed.

‘What happened to me? My ship, the men.’ Captain Wentworth sighed. ‘I cannot recall, though I suspect the dear old Asp is gone to her watery grave.’

Unready for this inquisition, Anne knew not how to respond. The Laconia was indeed sunk. The Asp was the sloop he had taken command of back in the year six, soon after their acrimonious parting.

‘I know only what the papers reported and the little supplied by the naval emissary who brought you here from the port. At first, we thought all hands had been lost, and—’

‘We?’

Anne drew in a short breath. ‘My friend. Miss Bennet. She was here earlier when you first awoke.’

The captain did not speak, his eyes closing once more, and assuming he had drifted back into sleep, Anne remained quiet, but then his hand gripped the coverlet tightly.

‘Tell me. I must know, however little.’

Despite its hoarseness, Captain Wentworth’s voice was as commanding as she recalled it, and Anne closed her own eyes briefly, simply relishing a sound she had long thought lost.

‘Anne?’

‘Your ship was caught in a monstrous storm off the coast of Ireland. I am so sorry, Frederick. I believe only a handful of men survived.’ She lowered her head, imagining those terrifying moments as the freezing waves crashed over them all, as they fought with all their being for survival, thoughts of their loved ones most prevalent in their minds as life was brutally forced from their bodies.

There was silence for a moment, but then the captain drew a shuddering breath and his eyes opened. Though Anne did not wish him to know she could see his distress, the moisture on his lashes was sufficient to have her reach for her handkerchief, which she held out to him.

‘Take this.’

Turning his head on the pillow, the captain took the square of linen, a strange consciousness filling his face. ‘You made me such an offering before. I kept it with me always as a token, but I fear it is now lost.’

Tears welled in Anne’s eyes, and she dashed them away. She recalled the moment, in one of those happy days before they had parted. Was Frederick speaking the truth in that he had retained it?

The captain pressed the linen to his eyes, then held it to his nose. He tried to raise himself, but fell back against the pillows.

‘I am ashamed to appear before you like this, dearest Anne.’ He weakly indicated his state of undress. Then, his frown reappeared. ‘How long have I lain thus?’

‘You have been here in Somersetshire a mere four and twenty hours, but you were brought into Plymouth a few days ago.’

‘I am so weary. My eyes persist in closing against my will.’ Captain Wentworth’s hand fell open upon the coverlet. ‘Stay with me. Take my hand.’

Anne reached out to take it, just as footsteps could be heard approaching, and Elizabeth entered the room with Mr Robinson.

~o0o~

Shepherd was once again at the desk when Darcy was shown into the study, his attention with the papers before him.

Sir Walter, who had been adjusting his cravat in the looking glass, greeted Darcy, then turned to his lawyer.

‘You may leave us, Shepherd.’

‘But Sir Walter, we must deal with the…’ The man flicked a wary glance in Darcy’s direction. ‘The Northamptonshire problem.’

Sir Walter waved a dismissive hand. ‘We will deal with it later.’

With a displeased glare, Shepherd left the room, and Darcy wasted no time in informing Sir Walter of his daughter’s intention of remaining at Meadowbrook House until she felt able to leave. He chose not to mention the captain’s awakening, or Elizabeth’s continuing in the neighbourhood. Besides, if the lady had her way, she would be homeward bound as soon as the horses could be harnessed on the morrow.

Darcy pushed away his feelings on the subject. It was no time for such indulgence.

Sir Walter, in the meantime, was eyeing Darcy with displeasure, but then he brightened.

‘Well, doubtless the man will soon be gone, and there will be an end to it. You will have heard I sent the Bennet girl onward? Anne’s choosing to bring her here was most ill-judged.’ He gestured towards the tray of spirits on the dresser. ‘Shall we drink to the departure of those who are naught but an obstruction?’

Darcy kept his tongue under good regulation, shaking his head as Sir Walter poured himself a large brandy.

‘That is better.’ He sipped at the brandy, waving Darcy into a chair and taking his own behind the desk. ‘She was harmless enough, I will warrant, but Elizabeth took it into her head Miss Bennet was some sort of threat.’

Sir Walter laughed, and Darcy gripped his hands together, his ever-present anger towards the man and Miss Elliot stirring in his breast.

‘Had some odd notion she was setting her bonnet at you.’ Sir Walter continued, oblivious to Darcy’s silence. ‘Nonsensical. Ladies can be irrational in matters of the heart can they not?  I had no such fear, the lady’s circumstances being so decidedly beneath your own. You would never deign to stoop so low.’ He drained his glass. ‘But my daughter would not have it. What we do for those we love, eh, Darcy?’

Darcy stood up, almost choking on his words. ‘That we can agree on, sir. I will do all in my power to protect those who are dear to me.’

‘Capital. A father could not ask for finer sentiments.’ Sir Walter rose from his seat and gestured towards the door. ‘ Let us find Elizabeth.’

‘You will have to excuse me, sir. I came merely to advise you of your daughter’s wishes.’

‘Nonsense, Darcy. A good turn deserves one in return. If I am to cause no fuss over Anne defying me and making a fool of herself in your house, then you will humour me. There is much to be decided.’

~o0o~

Copyright © 2020  Cass Grafton & Ada Bright

Thanks for reading along! The next chapter will be up on Saturday (23rd).

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty-Two

As mentioned last week, the cover reveal for Mr Darcy’s Persuasion took place last Monday over at Austenesque Reviews, and here it is!

If you follow the link here, you can read the blurb for the story and also enter the giveaway, which offers the chance for three readers to win a copy of the book when it is released on 9th March (yes, we had to move the publication date back a little, I’m afraid). The giveaway ends on 18th January, so hurry hurry hurry!!

Meanwhile, here is the next chapter in the story!

Chapter Twenty-Two

‘Brother? You are quite distracted.’

Of course Darcy was distracted! Elizabeth was upstairs with her friend, watching over the sick man and potentially staying overnight. What idiocy had driven him to make such an offer?

‘Your tea, Fitz. Do not let it cool beyond your preference.’

Darcy turned away from his contemplation of the Elliot carriage as it left the driveway. It had taken all his willpower to maintain an air of inscrutability on briefly greeting the ladies, that Elizabeth would perceive no hint of the emotions she stirred in him. Thank heavens he had never uttered those carefully planned words to her, a proposal she would have—he now knew with certainty—refused.

Rejection! Darcy had never, ever, contemplated it.

‘Fitz!’

‘Forgive me, dearest. What did you say?’

‘Tea?’ Georgiana pointed to the cup on the table beside his chair, and he walked over to resume his seat.

‘You have been on tenterhooks all morning, pacing the halls like a caged animal.’ Georgiana frowned. ‘Visitors do not normally unnerve you in such a way.’

‘Georgie.’ Darcy’s voice was cautionary. ‘The ladies are not our guests. Miss Bennet is, as I have told you, on her way home. Should it be necessary for the ladies to linger into the evening hours, they will both stay overnight in Willow Cottage, where they may wish to dine rather than be under any social obligation.’

The notion of Elizabeth leaving so precipitously was still tearing Darcy apart. Her disapprobation was insufficient in altering his feelings for her, which—since he had acknowledged them—seemed to intensify by the day. How was he to—

Fitz!

Darcy’s head shot up. Georgiana had come to stand before him, and he made to stand, but she urged him back into his seat, settling on her knees at his side and taking one of his hands in hers.

‘Then your preoccupation must be down to Sir Walter and his actions. I am grieved over my part in bringing it upon you.’

Her despondent air was returning, and Darcy was keen to dispel it.

‘Not at all. The blame lies elsewhere. I assure you, my mind was engaged upon another matter entirely.’ He summoned a smile

‘Is it the poor man upstairs?’

Shaking his head, Darcy then wished he had not as Georgiana’s face became curious.

‘Perhaps it is Miss Bennet’s arrival here which disturbs you so?’

Darcy fixed her with a stern eye, but his sister merely assumed an innocent expression belied by the twitch of her lips.

‘There is nothing to be said on the subject. Miss Elizabeth Bennet does not view me with favour.’

Georgiana frowned again. ‘Why ever not? She must be grateful, at least, for your kindness towards her friend. I am certain she considers you the perfect gentleman, Fitz.’

Darcy almost laughed out loud as he rose from his seat. ‘No, dearest, quite the contrary.’

Getting to her feet, Georgiana peered up at him. ‘I do not understand. Please explain, lest I make any misstep with Miss Bennet.’

It was a fair request in the circumstances. ‘The matter I spoke of the other day, my separating Bingley from an unsuitable alliance. Miss Bennet strongly disagrees with my opinion.’

Quite the understatement. 

Georgiana’s surprise was evident. ‘How would Miss Bennet know of it?’ Then, she gasped. ‘Of course! She hails from Hertfordshire. Were they acquainted, then? Is she privy to this unsuitable lady’s thoughts?’

Somewhat.

Discomfited, Darcy walked over to the window, taking up his habitual stance. ‘It was her eldest sister.’

‘Oh dear!’

At Georgiana’s strangled cry, however, he spun around. His sister had paled, a hand to her throat.

‘Whatever is it?’ Darcy strode back across the room to stand before her.

‘I beg you to forgive me, Fitz. I did not realise…I fear I may have caused unintentional upset.’

Darcy studied his sister’s face warily. ‘For whom? What have you done, Georgie?’

She began to pace, her hands clasped by her waist. ‘Miss Bennet. I had no idea the lady concerned was her sister!’ She turned aghast eyes upon him. ‘What must she think of me? Of you?’

Darcy was well able to satisfy his sister on the latter but chose not to as she resumed her pacing.

‘It was an attempt to illustrate your character. I told her what you had said of removing Mr Bingley from a potentially damaging and ill-suited relationship.’ Georgiana hurried over to him but Darcy was not overly concerned.

Elizabeth’s understanding of his role had been made clear during their argument. At least now he comprehended the accuracy of her supposition.

‘Georgie,’ Darcy took her hands. ‘You must think before you speak.’

‘Have I angered you?’ Georgiana’s mouth trembled, but Darcy shook his head.

‘It was unfortunate, my dear, but it is done now. Miss Bennet has already made it clear that she disagrees with my assessment of her sister’s indifference.’

Georgiana’s eyes widened. ‘So, she thinks there was interest. Perhaps even more than that?’

Darcy shook his head. ‘I studied Miss Jane Bennet carefully on more than one meeting between the lady and Bingley and saw no special indication of regard.’

Georgiana’s solemn eyes held Darcy’s, and he stirred beneath her scrutiny.

‘But Brother, Miss Elizabeth Bennet would know her own sister best, would she not? Both in terms of temperament and her heart?’

A question that had tormented Darcy for days. Had he erred? Elizabeth was convinced of it, had been quite distraught when she had told him of Jane’s agreeing to wed the obsequious parson.

‘I think we have spoken enough on the topic, Georgie. Please remember my caution.’

He observed her sternly for a moment as his sister considered his words, but she must have recognised the unyielding expression on his face, for she smiled.

‘Speak of what, Fitz?’ Georgiana reached up to kiss his cheek, then hurried from the room, and Darcy returned to the window.

Why could he not rid himself of this growing sense of awareness that he had somehow erred in his judgement? Damn it.

Striving to rid his mind of Elizabeth, and everything connected to her, Darcy moved to the study and immersed himself in his correspondence, his main purpose being the express to his cousin requesting he come to Somersetshire at his earliest convenience but without any mention of why.

It was soon on its way, but the remaining letters lay unread as Darcy’s mind grappled with his present situation, the awareness of Elizabeth being in the house thwarting his every attempt at concentration.

Tossing his pen onto the blotter, he studied the clock on the mantel. There had been no word from the sickroom, other than Mrs Reynolds reporting the apothecary had gone and would return in a few hours, and likewise, no sight or sound of Elizabeth.

Darcy leaned back in his chair. What if these truly were the last few hours he would spend in any proximity to Elizabeth? What likelihood was there of their paths crossing in the future? This painful prospect was enough to propel Darcy from his seat, and he strode over to door.

He needed activity, some distraction before he had to call on Sir Walter again; a fast gallop on Gunnar would be the solution.

~o0o~

Anne continued her painful vigil, reading aloud from a book of poems, with Elizabeth keeping watch from her chair by the hearth. The captain remained ashen and still, and sadness hung over the room in a veil.

‘Is there no alteration?’ Elizabeth spoke softly.

Anne shook her head. ‘Sometimes I think I hear a change in Frederick’s breathing, but as I am reading aloud, I cannot be certain.’ She placed a hand on the captain’s arm. ‘He has become warmer.’

‘Mr Robinson did warn of it being a complication of a lack of fluids. He did not seem confident he had succeeded in dropping much barley water into the captain’s throat overnight.’

The door opened and a maid came in with a tray of tea, and Anne rose wearily to her feet, stretching her back as she joined Elizabeth, who handed her a cup before they both moved to the chairs beside the hearth.

‘I confess I had almost forgotten we are not alone in the house.’ Anne sipped her tea. ‘It is so quiet.’

Elizabeth cradled her cup. Unlike Anne, whose entire attention was upon Captain Wentworth’s lifeless form, she had heard a few sounds. Mr Darcy and his sister must have been walking down the landing at one point, for she had detected Miss Darcy’s voice and her brother’s answering rumble.

Elizabeth took a sip of her tea, relishing the hot, refreshing taste. ‘Mr Darcy surprises me sometimes.’

Anne raised a brow. ‘In what way?’

‘I did not expect to find him such a caring and attentive brother. He and Miss Darcy appear to spend much time in company, despite a considerable age difference.’

‘Does age affect your level of intimacy with all your sisters, Lizzy?’

Elizabeth laughed quietly. ‘No, indeed it does not, and we are near in age. I take your point.’

‘I suspect you are surprised any time you find a positive in Mr Darcy’s conduct. You are so decided against him, it is an uphill struggle for him to appear in a good light.’

There was some truth in Anne’s observation, but Elizabeth did not want to think on it.

‘I have been considering of late how different we all are, my sisters and I.’ She smiled. ‘I believe we have very little in common beyond our family name.’

Anne assumed a thoughtful expression. ‘I could say as much myself. At least you have a dear friend in your eldest sister, even though you may be opposites. I have never been so dear to either of mine.’

‘We were all born in quick succession. Perchance it is the closeness in our ages which draws Jane and I together.’

Placing her cup on a nearby table, Anne glanced over at the unmoving figure in the bed, then turned back with a sigh.

‘My old nursemaid spoke of there being difficulties around my eldest sister’s birth. The baby came earlier than anticipated as well, and had to be delivered by Mattie – my mother’s personal maid. It is said Mama did not emerge from her chamber for some days after Elizabeth’s arrival.’ She sighed. ‘I wonder if it made my mother wary of another confinement. I cannot imagine Mama’s anxieties, her own parents having struggled to have a child’.

Elizabeth drained her cup and placed it beside Anne’s.

‘Do you know if she suffered upon your birth?’

Anne smiled mistily. ‘Mama always said Mary and I came into this world with all the ease of lambs in the fold.’ The smile faded. ‘I miss my mother so very much.’

Elizabeth got to her feet. ‘Sadly, I do not miss mine! Would you care for one of the pastries?’ She fetched the plate, offering it to Anne, who shook her head.

‘I fear I shall never be hungry again.’

Elizabeth was concerned. Anne had hardly consumed a morsel in the past four and twenty hours. Her energy would be sapped before this day was out. She returned to her seat, but before she could select a pastry, the faintest whisper of sound came from the other side of the room, and the hairs on the back of Elizabeth’s neck raised.

Anne…

Elizabeth leapt forward to take her friend’s cup as she shot to her feet, tea sloshing over its rim.

Then Anne sped over to the bed, and Elizabeth hurried to join her.

‘Frederick? Can you hear me?’ Anne looked frantically over her shoulder. ‘You heard it too, Lizzy, did you not? He spoke…’ Her voice broke. ‘Frederick said my name again.’

There was definitely a change, though it was hard to define what it was.

‘His breathing has altered. Lizzy?’

Anne’s plea for confirmation was heart-wrenching, and Elizabeth put an arm about her friend, praying this was not a reflex as the end neared.

‘Talk to him some more. I will ring for Mrs Reynolds.’

Anne was sitting on the side of the bed now, one hand grasping the captain’s, the other smoothing the hair from his forehead.

‘Frederick? It is I—Anne.’

Elizabeth tugged the bell fiercely, then ran to the door and pulled it open, in hopes of seeing a servant nearby, but the landing was empty.

No further sound came from the man in the bed, however, and with Anne oblivious to whether Elizabeth was in the room or not, she flew along the landing and down the stairs, only to meet Mrs Reynolds hurrying towards her.

‘Oh, Mrs Reynolds, please can you ask Mr Robinson to return as a matter of urgency.’

‘Of course, Miss Bennet. Is it time?’

‘I do not know.’ Why was she wishing Mr Darcy were there? ‘But the captain uttered a sound—a word.’

Mrs Reynolds put a hand to her mouth, then hurried away, and Elizabeth ran back to the room.

Nothing had changed, with Anne clasping Captain Wentworth’s hand in hers, but now there was a steady flow of tears falling down her cheeks.

Elizabeth walked slowly across to her friend. Was it over? She placed a gentle hand on Anne’s shoulder, but she did not move, nor remove her steadfast gaze from the man’s face.

‘The apothecary will be here directly.’ Elizabeth spoke quietly, and Anne raised her teary face to her friend and nodded.

‘If he would just once more say my name, if I could see his mouth speak the word, then I—’

‘Look!’

Anne’s head whipped around. The captain’s eyelids were fluttering, the first time there had been any movement at all.

‘Frederick? Please, wake up.’ Anne placed a hand on the side of his face. ‘You can hear me, my dearest. I know you can hear me. Open your eyes. Oh!’ Her voice came out in a squeak. ‘I felt his hand move in mine!’

They both stared at the prone figure, willing him to come round. Elizabeth did not know how long they waited, with Anne whispering constant encouragement, but eventually Captain Wentworth’s lids fluttered once more, then slowly lifted.

~o0o~

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

You an read the next chapter HERE!!

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-One

Dropping his pen onto the blotter, Darcy leaned back in the chair, his lids closing over weary eyes. Sleep had evaded him as he relived the interview with Sir Walter and Miss Elliot, his mind grappling endlessly with its implications, and he had risen early,  requesting a tray of tea in his study long before the breakfast table was made ready.

Notwithstanding the fact coercion was a crime, Darcy’s hands were tied—and Sir Walter knew it. If the offense were reported, it would all come out. A baronet in the dock would guarantee the attention of the national press, and Georgiana’s indiscretion would be revealed to all and sundry over their morning repast.

There had to be another way!

Raising weary lids, Darcy blinked and looked around, taking in the scattered pieces of parchment on the floor, before taking a slug from his cup and getting to his feet. Retrieving the papers, he stared at the lettering, then crumpled them into a ball.

Even with the distraction of the Elliots’ underhand actions, the despair and frustration over Elizabeth’s ill opinion showed no sign of abating. The dangers of putting sensitive matters in writing were forcibly before him, yet he had been unable to resist attempting a letter to the lady, defending himself against her charges.

Thrice Darcy had made a start. The first two efforts had stalled, but as the third began to take shape, and he addressed Wickham’s connection to his family, the pen had fallen from his hand.

It was a damned foolish notion; a risk he could not take.

Darcy walked over to the hearth, his hand clenching the parchment ever tighter. There was no way of justifying his actions towards Wickham or his service to his friend. He would have to live with Elizabeth’s condemnation ringing in his ears. Throwing the ball of paper into the flames, he watched it catch and burn, soon fading into ashes, much as his hopes had done.

Flexing his shoulders in an attempt to ease some tension, Darcy consulted his watch. Georgiana would soon be down to break her fast with him. He would—

The doorbell sounded, and Darcy checked the clock to see if his watch had erred. It was infernally early for callers!

~o0o~

Admitted to the house by a surprised Boliver, Anne dutifully waited as the housekeeper sought Mr Darcy, curbing the urge to fly up the stairs to the captain’s room.

‘Good morning, Miss Elliot.’ Mr Darcy had emerged from a hallway to her right, the housekeeper on his heels. ‘There was no change in the captain’s condition when I enquired after him earlier.’

The gentleman’s gaze flicked towards the door, then back to Anne. ‘You are alone?’

‘I am. Forgive the untimely intrusion, Mr Darcy. I must speak to you without delay. I did not know who else to turn to.’

‘Come with me.’ He led her over to the drawing room. ‘Mrs Reynolds, would you bring tea?’

Darcy’s curiosity was at its height as Anne sat on the sofa and he took a seat opposite.

‘You are concerned for Captain Wentworth.’

‘No. I mean, yes, of course, but that is not all.’ Anne drew in a visible breath. ‘In the short time I have known Lizzy, Mr Darcy, she has shown me more kindness, compassion and love than any of my family since my mother was lost to me.’

Darcy inclined his head, his mind racing. Elizabeth was not the subject he thought she would touch upon.

‘She is obliged to leave today and—’

Leave?’ Darcy struggled to conceal his shock. ‘Forgive me, please continue.’ His heart was pounding. What if he never laid eyes upon Elizabeth again, what if their paths never crossed in the future?

‘It is an edict from my father, sir. I know not how to account for it, nor does Lizzy, but he sent word to Longbourn yesterday to expect her return, and she is to be on her way at ten this morning.’

Darcy’s despair was tearing at him. Whatever Elizabeth’s estimation of him, he was not ready for her to walk out of his life! Not yet.

A reprieve came as Mrs Reynolds entered with the tray of tea, giving him a moment to gather himself.

Once furnished with a cup each, Darcy strove to marshal his thoughts. He had a fair notion of why Elizabeth was being sent away; his careless slip in front of Miss Elliot had not gone unnoticed.

‘What is it you would ask of me, ma’am? If I am able to do anything to assist, you have my backing.’

‘Lizzy was meant to stay for another se’nnight, but it is the next four and twenty hours that concern us. It is cruel to send my friend away when she is desperate to be my comfort, and I shall suffer deeply for the loss of…’ Anne’s voice cracked. ‘The loss of Lizzy, especially if…when…’

Anne seemed to run out of words, and Darcy viewed her with sympathy. He would aid her in any possible way, and not just for Elizabeth’s sake.

‘Today may be crucial, as I understand it from Robinson.’

Anne raised eyes filled with emotion to Darcy. ‘Beyond which there can be no resolution. I do not wish’—she stopped, her breath hitching—‘I do not wish to be parted from Captain Wentworth again until he must leave this earth. I am come to beg your assistance, sir. May I stay with him as long as is necessary, and may Lizzy remain with me?’

Darcy’s keen mind was whirling with a possible solution. Ought he to suggest it? The likelihood was, the situation upstairs would not last beyond a day, or two at most. He had no qualms over speaking to Sir Walter about giving shelter to his daughter. Much as the man had his hold upon Darcy, it was obvious he was desperate to have him wed Miss Elliot and would likely consider himself to have the better deal.

‘You are—’ he hesitated. Was this foolishness of the highest order? ‘The cottage in the grounds is at your disposal, Miss Elliot, for as long as you require it. I would not have you leave the captain against your will, and this should enable you to be on hand throughout the night in case of need.’

Anne placed her cup unsteadily onto a side table. ‘Willow Cottage? You will permit me to stay there should I need to remain this evening?’ She swallowed visibly. ‘I had longed for a way of doing so. Your kindness overwhelms me, sir. And Lizzy?’

Darcy drew in a short breath. ‘Miss Bennet is welcome to stay with you, if she will agree.’ Would she? Could Elizabeth, for the love of her friend, put aside her aversion to him?

‘Thank you, Mr Darcy.’ The lady’s relief was evident as she rose from her seat and Darcy did likewise. ‘If I am ever able to repay you for such generosity, you must take it as given. I shall return to the Hall directly. The carriage is due to leave at ten, and we will be here soon after.’

Darcy smiled wryly as they left the room. ‘You are assuming Miss Bennet will be amenable to my suggestion. I could never be quite so certain.’

‘Lizzy will do anything for those she holds dear, Mr Darcy. Though our friendship was only recently formed, I am confident I comprehend her well enough.’

As the door closed on the lady, Darcy went in search of Mrs Reynolds to give his instructions regarding the cottage. For all the threat of Sir Walter’s scheme, his spirits had risen a little by knowing he had done all he could to assist Anne Elliot. If he was likewise filled with relief at securing a little more time during which he might lay eyes upon Elizabeth, he refused to acknowledge it.

~o0o~

Elizabeth had returned to her room with her tea and some toast, but once they were consumed, she resumed her place at the window. The sun had risen a little higher in a cloudless sky. There would be no inclement weather to prevent her leaving, and her thoughts turned instantly to what Anne would face without her.

A tap on the door roused Elizabeth, and her friend’s head appeared around it.

‘Anne! I was going to come to your room.’ She noted her friend’s attire in puzzlement as she entered the chamber. ‘You are riding to Meadowbrook House this morning?’

Anne hurried to join Elizabeth by the window. ‘I have already been there.’

Elizabeth placed a comforting hand on her friend’s arm. ‘I comprehend your urgency for news of the captain. How is he?’

Anne shook her head. ‘I have not seen Frederick, though I am told there is little change in his condition. Come. Let us sit.’ They perched on the bed as she continued. ‘I went to speak to Mr Darcy. Listen, Lizzy. You do not have to leave immediately. I mean, you need to quit the Hall, but not the estate.’

Elizabeth’s confusion deepened. ‘How so? My family anticipate my return on the morrow. Besides’—she laughed, though little amused—‘it is a little cold for sleeping under the stars.’

‘Mr Darcy is offering us shelter for the next four and twenty hours.’

Her mouth a little open, Elizabeth stared at Anne. ‘But…why? And how? Surely we cannot be guests in the house of an unmarried gentleman?’

‘I do not think Mr Darcy considers us guests, dear Lizzy.’ Anne’s smile was faint. ‘There is a charming cottage standing empty, just across the lawn from the main house. The gentleman sees no problem with us making use of it should the need arise.’

The thought of staying in such close proximity to Mr Darcy was unsettling, but Elizabeth instantly comprehended the benefit for Anne. ‘It is a kind and generous offer.’

‘You are surprised.’

‘A little.’ Elizabeth sighed. ‘Leastways, I would have been had I not seen the compassion Mr Darcy has already displayed. But will your father not protest?’

‘I intend to tell him I will return to sit with Frederick, nothing more.’ Anne’s expression darkened. ‘It is unlikely we shall be required to stay beyond a day.’

This reminder of the captain and his circumstances was sufficient to have Elizabeth get to her feet and hold out a hand to Anne.

‘Then so be it. If Mr Darcy can tolerate my presence, I am certain I can do the same.’ She frowned as they walked towards the door. ‘I must get a message home.’

‘I will ask for an express rider to come. Write to your father, Lizzy. I shall pack a small bag in case’—she drew in a wavering breath—‘in case we need to linger overnight.’

~o0o~

The express to Longbourn dispatched, Elizabeth waited beside the carriage at the appointed hour, as the coachman, James, attended to their luggage.

‘All loaded, miss.’

‘Thank you. I will seek out Miss Anne.’

Elizabeth hurried inside, filled with relief when she saw her friend walking swiftly towards her.

‘I thought perhaps your father would prevent your leaving.’

Shaking her head, Anne took Elizabeth’s arm as they emerged into the cold morning air.

‘My father blusters with words but often fails to act. He remains excessively angry with me.’ She eyed Elizabeth as they moved towards the carriage. ‘I did not enlighten him to my intention of remaining with Frederick for as long as is necessary. Mr Darcy has promised to deal with my father, should I need to stay through the night.’ Anne drew Elizabeth to a halt. ‘Nor did I make mention of your staying with me.’

A wave of discomfort swept through Elizabeth as James opened the carriage door.

‘Will your father’s wrath be brought down upon your coachman when he returns so precipitously?’

‘You forget, Lizzy. He is wed to Elise, who is a most loyal maid. Indeed, she will join us if we have to stay beyond the evening. James is already primed to return to the carriage house by a back lane. My father will not notice immediately, if at all, and there is every likelihood James will be back to collect you at some point on the morrow to convey you onwards.’

This sobering thought and all it implied washed over them both, and they observed each other solemnly, but then footsteps approached from behind.

It was Miss Elliot.

‘Quick, Lizzy, let us get into the carriage.’

Anne urged Elizabeth forward as James lowered the steps.

‘Where are you going, Anne?’ Miss Elliot narrowed her eyes at Elizabeth, then turned back to her sister. ‘Miss Bennet is for her home. You cannot possibly contemplate accompanying her to Hertfordshire.’

‘I do not.’

Anne took the steps into the carriage, but as Elizabeth made to follow, Miss Elliot came to her side.

‘My father has forbidden Anne to attend that…that man.’ She sniffed. ‘I shall speak to Mr Darcy about it, see that he sends him elsewhere. That is, if the captain does not oblige us by taking himself off permanently.’

A gasp came from inside the carriage, and Elizabeth removed her foot from the bottom step and faced Miss Elliot.

‘You may speak to Mr Darcy, by all means, but do not rely upon his hearing you.’

Miss Elliot raised a brow. ‘The gentleman will do anything I ask of him.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Our acquaintance is more than you might suppose.’

‘I suppose nothing,’ Elizabeth muttered, turning her back on Miss Elliot and taking the steps into the carriage.

‘We send no compliments to your family, Miss Bennet.’

‘I am sure they will be delighted, ma’am.’

The door closed, and Elizabeth met Anne’s anxious look with a reassuring smile.

‘We are free. Do not fret.’ Elizabeth patted her friend on the arm as the carriage began to move.

‘I thought I would breathe easier once we were on our way, but now I fear what this day will bring.’

‘I know.’ Elizabeth held her friend’s gaze. ‘I will stay with you as long as you wish—or at least as long as Mr Darcy permits.’

Anne smiled tremulously. ‘If only Reverend Wentworth could have arrived in time. Though I am saddened for Frederick, and all his family, I am thankful to have seen him once again.’

Elizabeth settled back into her seat. ‘I have not given up hope. I find myself attached to this man I have never quite met, for he had the good sense to fall in love with you and has succeeded in winning your heart.’

Silence fell for a short while as the carriage moved into the lane. Then, Anne spoke. ‘Your countenance is troubled. Is it for your parents when you do not arrive?’

Elizabeth shook her head. ‘Not particularly, now the second express is on its way to them. My overriding anxiety stems from being beholden to a person I have considered the worst of men for some weeks. An opinion I chose to share with him but days ago.’ Elizabeth rolled her eyes. ‘And here I am, deeply indebted to Mr Darcy for his understanding and kindness towards you.’

‘I do wonder.’

‘What do you wonder?’

‘If it is for me that Mr Darcy has allowed himself to be so imposed upon.’

Elizabeth’s brow furrowed. ‘For whom else would he do this?’

Anne shrugged. ‘Perchance my imagination is at play.’

Elizabeth turned to stare out of the window. They were almost at their destination, and her trepidation was rising. ‘I suppose you could say he has done it for the captain.’

Anne did not respond, and Elizabeth looked over at her. ‘What? Why are you smiling like that?’

‘No reason.’ She leaned forward and took Elizabeth’s hand. ‘Thank you for being my champion, my companion, and most of all, my friend, dear Lizzy.’

‘I would choose to be nowhere else than by your side.’ Elizabeth meant the words, but as the carriage pulled through the gates into the driveway, and she espied Meadowbrook House, her heart faltered.

What would the coming day bring?

~o0o~

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

You can read the next chapter HERE!!

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty

 

Cover reveal coming on Monday over at Austenesque Reviews!!

We cannot wait to share the gorgeous cover of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion with you, and it’s coming this Monday (11th January 2021) over at Meredith’s excellent Austenesque Reviews. Do join us there and let us know your thoughts!

In the meantime, Happy New Year, and without any further delay, here is the next chapter of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion!

Chapter Twenty

Georgiana stared at Darcy in disbelief. ‘Did you agree to this?’

‘Not entirely.’ He released his hold upon her.

‘But you must not! Better I am sent away than you have to marry her. Tell me you did not agree to their terms?’

Darcy turned to stare out of the window into the blackness that had now fully enveloped the house.

‘I said I needed some time. I implied my possible acceptance of the terms merely to keep Sir Walter quiet, but I have no intention of being trapped into a sham of a betrothal.’ He turned around to face Georgiana. ‘My way is not clear, but I intend to overcome this without further pain for either of us.’

Georgiana seemed on the verge of tears again. ‘I cannot see how this might be resolved. It is all my fault. Can he not be reported?’

Darcy took her hands and held them gently. ‘Not without risk of exposing that which we seek to conceal. Take heart, my dear. It is my duty to keep you safe. I almost failed you in the summer. I will not do so again. No, do not cry, Georgie.’ He wiped away a solitary tear as it rolled down one cheek. ‘We have no need of tears. What we need is a plan.’

‘Have you ever been threatened in such a way before?’

‘I have not.’

Georgiana walked slowly back towards her chair, then turned around, her expression hopeful. ‘Richard will know what to do.’

‘Are you insinuating our cousin has experience in such matters?’

‘He cannot have been born so mischievous for no reason.’

‘I will write to see if he can expedite his arrival.’ In truth, though Darcy would be thankful for his cousin’s presence and ear, he could not see how it would help free him from this trap.

~o0o~

‘What is it? What has happened?’

Elizabeth hurried to Anne as she came into the room.

‘You are ashen. Come, sit by the fire.’

Elizabeth coaxed Anne into a chair and hurried to fetch a small glass of wine from the tray on the sideboard.

‘Here, take this. What is it? Is there news from Meadowbrook House?’ Her throat was taut with anxiety.

‘No, that I have been spared. My father says I am not to visit Frederick again.’

Elizabeth stared at her friend. ‘You will not conform?’

Anne sipped the wine as Elizabeth resumed her seat. ‘I shall not. I chose not to tell him so, for argument with him is futile.’ She took another sip from the glass.

Elizabeth sank back against the cushions. ‘Why is your father like this—so unfeeling towards you?’

‘He has little time for me. Even as a child, Elizabeth commanded all his attention and love.’

‘What love he can spare from himself,’ muttered Elizabeth, but Anne let out a small laugh. ‘Forgive me. I speak out of turn.’

Anne’s expression was resigned. ‘I was to be the son who would cut off the entail and, to add insult to the offence of my being born a girl, my mother was next brought to bed of a stillborn son.’ She raised her hands in a helpless gesture. ‘I am a nonentity to him. Mary was much the same, though she gained a little importance with him by marrying the heir to a neighbouring estate. I have not distinguished myself sufficiently, thus he is dismissive of my interests and cares.’

Elizabeth frowned. ‘I had not thought upon it, but my own father can be that way towards my younger sisters at times.’ Dissatisfied with this notion, she leaned forward in her seat. ‘How are you feeling? I worry you will not gain any rest again this night.’

‘I shall endeavour to sleep.’

Elizabeth hesitated, then said tentatively, ‘Have you considered—should Captain Wentworth awaken—what you will say to him after all this time?’

Anne drained her glass and placed it on a side table. ‘I think of little else, whenever I dare to dream of his surviving. It is a vain hope, is it not?’

‘But it is a hope, and as long as he breathes, it will remain. He has roused before.’

‘I fear Frederick will still be the angry man I last saw and will not wish to see or speak to me.’ Anne’s eyes were troubled. ‘It is, after all, our final memory of each other.’

‘But he spoke your name, Anne.’

‘In his delirium.’

‘True.’ Elizabeth could not help but smile, and Anne returned it as she got to her feet.

‘I have said as much before, but I do not know what I would have done without you these past few days, Lizzy.’

They left the room and walked along the hallway towards the great hall.

‘I will continue to do all I can to comfort you, Anne.’

‘You have proven it. Such proximity to Mr Darcy in the light of all that went between you the other day.’

‘The circumstances of those Mr Darcy’s has injured may be unchanged, but I have to afford him full credit for his recent actions.’ Elizabeth frowned as they crossed the room. ‘I cannot account for his kindness.’

They had reached the staircase, and Anne turned to her friend.

‘I do not know that I can suffer a dinner with my father and sister, Lizzy. I shall ask for a tray to be sent up.’

‘Would you like me to keep you company, to be an ear when you wish to talk?’

Anne shook her head. ‘I will do better left alone.’

They parted, with Anne taking the stairs under Elizabeth’s watchful eye, before she left to retrieve her book from the small sitting room.

She was forestalled before she had gone far, however, by Sir Walter, who peered out of his study as she passed.

‘Miss Bennet. If you would be so kind as to join me?’

He held the door wide and, much against her inclination, Elizabeth walked into the room.

It was over-ornamented, fussily decorated and contained a strategically placed looking glass by the desk.

‘There has been a change in circumstances here at Kellynch. I am afraid it is no longer convenient for you to remain for the length of your proposed stay. You will depart for home on the morrow.’

Elizabeth stared at him across the desk. Whence had this come?

‘Anne is in great need of me at present, Sir Walter. Could I stay but another four and twenty hours?’

Sir Walter seemed disinterested as he checked his neckcloth in the mirror, but a suspicion came to Elizabeth. Was this Mr Darcy’s influence?  It was likely Sir Walter would accede to such a request, for he had no time for Elizabeth either, but that would be of no aid to Anne.

‘Sir, your daughter is likely to be in distress when she returns from Meadowbrook House tomorrow. I would prefer to remain with her until the day after.’

‘It is too late. An express has already been sent to inform your family of your imminent return. I will provide a carriage.’ Sir Walter seemed proud of this generosity. ‘As for my daughter, she will not be going to Meadowbrook House again until I permit it.’

So you may believe.

Elizabeth was confident in Anne’s commitment, but she had to at least try to sway the gentleman.

‘But Sir Walter. The captain—’

He slammed a hand on the desk. ‘The captain be damned. I would not have Miss Anne Elliot throwing herself away on him in the year six, and I will not have her hanging around a dying man now. The sooner he is gone, the better for us all.’

If Elizabeth had thought her anger for Mr Darcy to be severe, her feelings towards the gentleman opposite knew no bounds. Vexing though it was to be sent packing like some recalcitrant child, her fury was all for Anne’s treatment at the hands of her uncaring parent. It was, perhaps, fortunate her rage rendered her speechless, or she would likely say something regrettable.

‘The carriage will be prepared for ten o’clock. A maid is already seeing to your packing.’

Sir Walter opened the door, and with one last glare, Elizabeth walked with dignity from the room before breaking into a run. If it were not for Anne, she would happily leave and never return to this damnable place.

~o0o~

Darcy had encouraged Georgiana to join him in the drawing room before dinner, cognisant the last thing either of them needed was to be alone with their incessant thoughts. Mrs Annesley had successfully occupied Georgiana by encouraging her to place her embroidery hoop on its stand and do some stitching, but Darcy had found it harder to settle and had taken up his usual stance at one of the windows.

Determined to keep his anger towards Sir Walter at bay as best he could, Darcy tried to clear his mind as he stared into the darkness, but Elizabeth remained entrenched in his thoughts.

This realisation brought little comfort, and impatient with himself, he turned around. He must make more effort at distraction.

Darcy’s gaze fell upon his sister. Despite their upsetting conversation, she appeared brighter than she had in a while, her cheeks bearing a little more colour as she wielded her embroidery hook with finesse.

‘You seem in better health, Georgie.’

‘I believe I am. My cough troubles me less, and I am sleeping more soundly. Mrs Annesley has suggested we take a longer walk tomorrow.’

‘If it remains dry, I see no problem with you doing so, but only for a short duration. Your cough plagued you after your walk with Miss Bennet the other day.’

Georgiana smiled reminiscently. ‘It is because I talked too much, Fitz.’

Disquiet filled Darcy, but before he could speculate on what had been said, Mrs Annesley stood up.

‘We will remain within the grounds, sir. If you will excuse me. I have a letter I must finish before dinner.’

As soon as the door closed behind the lady, Georgiana put the hook aside and joined her brother by the window.

‘How are you feeling, truly, Georgie?’

‘I am concerned about you and ashamed of myself, but I passed the captain’s door on my way down and it made me realise there are worse situations to endure.’

‘Wise words, my dear.’

Georgiana took his hands in hers. ‘But what of you, Brother? You are quite ashen.’

‘I am perfectly well, Georgie. Perhaps I am need of fresh air myself. Shall I accompany you on your tour of the grounds in the morning?’

‘Yes please! Mrs Annesley is pleasant enough, but I have so little in common with her.’ Her expression brightened. ‘May I ask Miss Bennet if she will walk with us?’

‘Miss Bennet is not at liberty, my dear. She will be here to chaperone her friend.’

‘But they are likely to be here for hours, are they not? I cannot imagine Miss Bennet would not wish for a moment’s exercise, should the opportunity arise.’

Darcy’s eyes drifted to the window again as thoughts of Elizabeth filled his mind. Would this foolish longing ever leave him?

‘Brother?’

His attention snapped back to Georgiana. ‘Pay me no mind. I am wool-gathering.’

‘Are you thinking of the poor captain?’ Georgiana shook her head. ‘It is so tragic for Miss Anne Elliot.’

‘It is decidedly tragic for Captain Wentworth.’

‘Yes, I know. But he does not, if you see what I mean? The lady is having to live through the pain of their parting a second time.’

Lord knows how one does such a thing. Darcy was struggling to accept his own loss, and Elizabeth had never even been his to lose…

‘I should like to further my acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Fitz.’

So would I.

Georgiana turned away, soon resuming her stitching, and Darcy stared at his feet. His sister’s eagerness to befriend Elizabeth was a complication he could well do without.

~o0o~

Anne pushed the food around her plate. Her appetite remained poor, and despite her hope of indulging in happy memories of Frederick, she was failing miserably.

With Elizabeth at her side, Anne felt stronger, better able to face what was surely to come.

Laying aside the tray, she took a sip of wine, but then the servant’s door opened.

‘Oh, Miss Anne!’ Elise wrung her hands as she hurried over, and panic gripped Anne.

‘What is it? Is there news from Meadowbrook House?’

The maid shook her head.

‘It is Lottie, miss. Or rather, it is Miss Bennet. Lottie says she was ordered to pack the lady’s trunk, that your friend is to depart on the morrow.’

What?’ Elise grabbed the wine glass as Anne shot to her feet, confusion flooding her mind. ‘I must go to Lizzy.’

She snatched up a shawl from the bed and in no time was tapping on Elizabeth’s door and entering.

‘You have heard. I was going to come and see you directly.’ Elizabeth was clearly uneasy. ‘I am so sorry.’

Shaking her head, Anne surveyed the open wardrobes and the half-filled trunk beside them. ‘I do not understand.’

Elizabeth led Anne over to the bed, upon which they perched as she revealed Sir Walter’s edict.

Anne stared at Elizabeth in disbelief. ‘But why?’

‘I know not. Sir Walter gave no reason, merely saying it was no longer convenient.’ Elizabeth hesitated. ‘It crossed my mind, perhaps Mr Darcy had made the suggestion, my having angered him so, but then I could not account for his word being so influential.’

‘Nor can I. It is nonsensical. Let me speak to Father.’

Elizabeth stayed Anne as she made to get up. ‘You will not change his mind. My trunk is to be taken down as soon as it is ready, and he has written to my father to expect me.’

‘But you cannot leave! I shall need you more than ever once…’ Anne drew in a short breath. ‘Let me try, Lizzy.’

She hurried from the room, filled with trepidation. How would she cope if Elizabeth were taken away too?

~o0o~

As anticipated, Anne’s request of her father, that her friend be allowed to see out the duration of her planned visit, fell on deaf ears, and the two friends talked long into the night, both attempting to provide comfort for each other until exhaustion obliged them to part.

Having barely slept, Elizabeth arose early, her mind full of how Anne would fare throughout the coming day. Though the pain of them parting as friends could not compare to the emotions Anne would experience if the captain finally passed, she was angered by the unnecessary distress brought upon her friend.

Resigned to her fate, Elizabeth picked up the book from her bedside table, adding it to her small travelling bag. With the trunk taken away the previous evening, the room would soon be free of any reminder of her sojourn.

Walking to the window, Elizabeth surveyed the scene. Dawn had broken, and a dusting of snow had fallen, but the skies were clearing, a weak winter sun peeping through the bare branches of the trees bordering the garden. Much as she disliked Sir Walter and his eldest, she would miss the view from her room.

The clock on the mantel chimed the half hour, and Elizabeth, longing for a cup of tea and knowing none of the family would be breaking their fast at this early hour, left the room and headed down the stairs.

~o0o~

Anne was pacing to and fro in her chamber. Unable to sleep after leaving Elizabeth, she had risen before dawn, emotion heavy in her breast at what the coming day would bring. How could her father do this? Did he not know the comfort Elizabeth had been to his daughter?

She turned on her heel. Of course he did not. If only her mother were still alive. No one had ever loved Anne as she had. Was there anyone she could turn to for assistance?

For a moment, Anne thought of Charles Musgrove. He was a sensible, pleasant man, and he was kin. He had always been kind to her, but would the gentleman stand up to his father in law? She doubted it.

Fetching up in front of the hearth, a thought struck Anne.

‘Nonsensical!’ She shook her head, resuming her pacing, but once the thought had taken hold, it would not leave her, and she dropped onto the edge of the bed.

Might there be one person who could help her? Help them? Had the offer not already been made, should she have need of it?

Loath though Anne was to make the request for herself, could she not do it for her friend? Elizabeth’s distress at having to leave at such a crucial time had been touchingly obvious. Besides, might that not be an added inducement?

Anne noted the lightening skies and crossed to the dressing room. ‘Elise, make haste. Bring my riding habit.’

~o0o~

Chapter Twenty-One can be found HERE!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen

Mrs Reynolds had done all Darcy had asked of her in his note, sending for a surgeon without delay and deploying a maid to ready a chamber for the sick man.

With the aid of two footmen and a flat board, they had conveyed the captain upstairs, and Darcy left his housekeeper to bring tea for Elizabeth and her friend in the drawing room before seeking out his sister.

He found Georgiana in the small parlour she had taken to using.

‘Fitz! I did not realise the time.’ She put aside her book and Darcy indicated they take the chairs beside the hearth. ‘How is it we have an injured naval man in our home?’

Darcy briefly outlined what had occurred. It was no challenge to spare the details, for he had so few.

‘Poor Miss Anne Elliot.’ Georgiana’s sympathy was obvious. ‘And poor Captain Wentworth. How is it they are acquainted?’

‘I believe they were once…’ Darcy’s voice petered out. Betrothed. Much as he had anticipated being by now.

‘Brother? Is there anything wrong? You are pale and drawn.’

Darcy shook his head. ‘Pay me no mind, my dear. It has been a rather trying day thus far. Miss Anne Elliot was once engaged to the captain. I know not the reasons for their separation, but it is evident the lady is extremely distressed by the gentleman’s prognosis.’

‘Could she not stay here, to be with him until the end? It seems unkind for her to have to leave, for she may not be there when…’ Georgiana stopped. ‘How terribly sad.’

His sister was right; it was both sad and cruel, and Darcy ought to be feeling for Anne and her captain rather than wallowing in his own despair.

Your selfish disdain for the feelings of others…

Darcy winced as Elizabeth’s words struck him anew. Then, he felt Georgiana take his hand as she came to kneel beside his chair.

‘Fitz, your face is alarming me. I feel your sorrow for the poor man and his fate, but you must not dwell upon it.’

Recalling himself, Darcy gave Georgiana’s hand a squeeze before releasing it and getting to his feet.

‘I am quite well. We must await the surgeon’s verdict, but there is little to be done unless the captain awakens soon.’

‘I am grieved.’ Georgiana followed Darcy as he crossed over to a writing desk. ‘Do you require Mrs Annesley to act as chaperone? I am well able to spare her.’

Taking a seat, Darcy was assailed by conflicting emotions over Elizabeth being in his house.

‘Miss Bennet attends Miss Elliot, and we can spare a servant to be in the room if need be.’ Georgiana came to stand by his side. ‘The captain is hardly in a position to compromise a lady, my dear.’

‘I know, Fitz.’ Georgiana watched him select a pen and dip it in the ink. ‘Are you writing to Richard?’

‘I promised Miss Anne Elliot I would send word to Reverend Wentworth—the captain’s brother—of his being brought here. The reverend believes him to have perished but has since left the district.’

‘Is there any chance he will discover his brother’s situation before it is too late to wait upon him?’

‘The news will have to await him in Shropshire, for it is the only known direction. I believe he was to be married today and travelling north to the Lakes before taking up his new living.’ Darcy summoned a smile for his sister. ‘We must have faith, Georgie. As long as the captain breathes, hope remains.’

As Darcy set pen to paper, his sister returned to her seat, and he penned his missive whilst his mind grappled with the captain’s situation. If only the timing had not been so unfortunate, Captain Wentworth would have been able to go to Monkford and have kin around him in these final hours.

Sitting back in his seat, Darcy set the pen aside. Perhaps the man was not so ill-served as he supposed. Despite the separation of so many years, Miss Anne Elliot’s devotion could not be questioned.

Darcy reached for the seal, then slumped in his seat as sadness gripped him once more. Would his passion and admiration for Elizabeth haunt him indefinitely also?

~o0o~

Welcome though the tea tray had been, and warming as the brightly burning fire was, Anne’s mind remained in turmoil.

‘I struggle to comprehend all that has come about, Lizzy. First, Frederick has perished at sea. Then, he has not. In his conscious ramblings, he speaks my name and arrives at Kellynch. Now’—Anne’s voice hitched–‘even now, he lies upstairs in a stranger’s home for what may be his final hours, unaware of all of this.’

‘It is a great deal to assimilate, dear Anne. It is no wonder you are conflicted.’ Elizabeth pointed to the teapot. Would you care for more?’

Anne shook her head. ‘I cannot face it.’ She willed the door to open and bring intelligence of Frederick’s condition. ‘Why would he say my name?’

Elizabeth leaned towards Anne and took her hand briefly. ‘Perchance you were his last conscious thought?’

‘If only it were so.’ Anne’s cheeks became chalk white as a hand shot to her throat. ‘Oh, Lizzy!’ She turned frantic eyes on her friend. ‘He said ‘Kellynch’ too. His memories of my home cannot be good ones. He must have recalled an awful time in his life as he felt his own near its end. I do not think I can bear it.’

Elizabeth put an arm about her. ‘Take one moment at a time, dear Anne. Be thankful he has been brought home to England and will be assured the best of medical care for as long as he may need it.’

Holding back impending tears, Anne nodded. Elizabeth was right. She must be grateful for the small mercy of seeing Frederick once more, of having gained her point with her father over attending him.

‘You are wise, Lizzy. I shall do my best to take comfort from seeing Frederick again, of being able to hold his hand in mine, and I shall endeavour—’

They both started as the door opened, and Mr Darcy came into the room.

Getting a little unsteadily to her feet beside Elizabeth, Anne grasped her friend’s hand tightly.

‘The surgeon—a Mr Parker, from Martock—has examined the captain and left. The gentleman is as well as should be expected after such a journey, but he remains unconscious and with no sign of waking at present.’

The tightness in Anne’s throat threatened to overwhelm her, and Elizabeth seemed to sense her struggle, picking up the conversation.

‘Has he given any indication, sir? Any hint of what we may expect?’

‘Mr Parker has made the captain as comfortable as he could but said there was little aid he could offer. He says the blow to the captain’s head must have been severe, but he believes there is no fracture and the contusion, though extensive, is already beginning to fade. An apothecary will be best placed to provide the care Captain Wentworth requires now.’ He smiled kindly at Anne. ‘I understand our local man is a Mr Robinson, and a note has already been despatched to request his services.’

Anne felt as though she were clinging to Mr Darcy’s words like a drowning man takes hold of a life raft.

‘There, Anne. All is as well as we can expect for now.’ Elizabeth’s spoke gently, and Anne turned towards her. ‘An apothecary will likely provide a stimulating tincture or some such, it may rouse the captain.’ She addressed the gentleman. ‘Anne had hoped to sit with Captain Wentworth for a while, sir. Is it possible?’

Mr Darcy inclined his head. ‘I will ask Mrs Reynolds to show you to him. I can place a servant at your disposal.’

Anne’s grip on Elizabeth’s hand tightened. ‘Lizzy will be with me.’ She noted the strained look Mr Darcy sent her friend before walking over to pull the bell. Was he recalling the argument with Elizabeth?

‘I hope you comprehend, sir, how much I appreciate your taking Captain Wentworth under this roof until…’ Anne faltered, then added, ‘I shall never forget your kindness.’

‘Please, do not speak of it. I take no credit for doing what is right.’ The door opened to reveal the housekeeper. ‘Mrs Reynolds, would you be so kind as to show Miss Elliot and Miss Bennet to the captain’s room? Excuse me, ladies. I must return to Kellynch.’

Mr Darcy turned on his heel and left the room, and Anne and Elizabeth exchanged a quick glance before joining the housekeeper who led them out into the hall.

‘May I ask after Miss Darcy?’ Elizabeth addressed Mrs Reynolds as they mounted the stairs. ‘We would not wish her to be distressed by all this.’

‘‘It is kind of you to enquire, Miss Bennet. She is well and has been with Mr Darcy, who has explained the situation.’

They were soon on the landing, and Mrs Reynolds pushed open a door into a pleasant room, with ample light streaming in through the windows and a fire crackling warmly in the grate. A servant rose from a seat beside the bed, placing a damp cloth onto a tray bearing a pitcher and bowl of water.

‘Greening, you may return to your duties for now.’

As the servant left the room, Mrs Reynolds invited Anne to take the seat beside the bed, and Elizabeth took an armchair a short distance away.

‘Ring the bell’—Mrs Reynolds pointed to the pull rope in the wall beside the mantel—‘should you need anything or there is any alteration in the gentleman’s condition.’

Silence settled upon the room, only disturbed by the arrival of a kitchen maid with more tea, and although Elizabeth placed a cup by Anne, beyond a whispered ‘thank you’ they did not speak for some time.

Elizabeth was soon lost in her thoughts. Mr Darcy was a conundrum, one moment angering her beyond reason, the next displaying a strong compassion for his fellow man and—

‘I believe Frederick’s breathing improves. It was weaker when we first arrived, I am certain of it.’

Moving to stand beside her friend, Elizabeth watched for movement of the sheet as the captain’s chest rose and fell. In truth, it was barely discernible.

‘I cannot believe I am here with him.’ With a hesitant hand, Anne reached out to touch the injured man’s hair before tentatively running a finger down the side of his face. ‘This shadowy growth brings me comfort. It is a sign of life.’

‘It is indeed. Talk to him, Anne. Let the captain hear your voice.’

Elizabeth returned to her chair and the afternoon passed with them exchanging a little conversation now and again but with no alteration in the captain beyond the indistinct movement of the sheet upon his chest.

Anne kept up a low-voiced monologue, and Elizabeth drifted back into thought, her mind grappling with her fluctuating emotions towards Mr Darcy. His anger from yesterday seemed all but gone, but there was a strange awareness about him, a constraint to his regard, as though fearful he might display something he would rather not.

Unbidden, Mr Darcy’s words seared through Elizabeth’s mind.

‘In vain have I struggled…my feelings will not be repressed.’

What on earth had been Mr Darcy’s meaning? Then, colour flooded Elizabeth’s cheeks as a sudden notion took hold of her.

‘No,’ she whispered, shoving it fiercely aside. ‘That would be unfathomable.’

Despite the admonishment, however, the memory of the gentleman’s expression as he spoke those words returned, and she—

‘Here we are.’ Elizabeth started and looked up as Mrs Reynolds swept into the room, a gentleman in her wake. ‘Mr Robinson is arrived to treat the patient.’

The newcomer placed a worn leather bag on a table before walking over to study the lifeless captain. Then, he turned around.

‘Ladies, if you would be so kind as to leave the room? Mrs Reynolds, if you would assist?’

~o0o~

Darcy felt no real obligation to wait upon Sir Walter, but as he would rather be where Elizabeth was not at present, it was a welcome release to escape from Meadowbrook House.

He took himself to task on the walk back to Kellynch. His confrontation with Elizabeth had happened; it could not be undone, and he must stand by his earlier declaration to the lady. It must be forgot; all of it. Regulating his mind with the aid of occupation was a given; restraining his recalcitrant heart, however, was entirely another matter.

‘Damned foolishness,’ Darcy muttered as he took the step up to the imposing portico and rapped on the door.

The butler let him into the house, showing him into the great hall just as Miss Elliot sailed into the room.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Darcy.’ She curtsied elegantly, and Darcy performed a cursory bow.

‘Miss Elliot.’

‘It was unfortunate you had to leave earlier. My father wished to speak to you on a matter of some urgency.’ She waved an imperious hand to dismiss the butler and took hold of Darcy’s arm.

He gently but firmly released his arm from her grip, and the lady’s gaze narrowed.

‘As I am aware. If you will excuse me, ma’am, I shall await your father here.’

With that, Darcy walked over to the bookshelves lining the far wall and began ostensibly perusing the titles, relieved to hear the swish of Miss Elliot’s skirts as she swept from the great hall.

She returned directly with her father in tow, who strode over to Darcy.

‘Come, sir. We have business to discuss.’ Sir Walter reeked of brandy.

‘I cannot fathom what possible business could concern us both, Sir Walter.’ Darcy replaced the book he held and turned back, but the gentleman was already walking away.

‘My study, Darcy. if you would be so obliging.’

Obliging Sir Walter was the last thing Darcy felt inclined towards, but the desire for distraction was genuine and his curiosity got the better of him. He would give the gentleman five minutes of his time, and then he would go on an extensive walk before returning to Meadowbrook House.

~o0o~

The apothecary had promised to return to pass the night at the captain’s side but had warned that the next six and thirty hours would deliver one outcome or another. If the injured man did not regain consciousness soon, there was little the apothecary could do to change the inevitable path down which Captain Wentworth seemed destined to tread.

Elizabeth and Anne had lingered for the rest of the afternoon in the sick room, but there was no alteration in the gentleman, his shallow breathing sometimes the only sound to be heard when Anne’s voice trailed away.

She had grown wan and forlorn as the day had faded and no further signs of life had come from the captain, whose hand Anne clasped almost constantly. It therefore took all of Elizabeth’s efforts to persuade her from the gentleman’s bedside, but the impending dusk finally convinced Anne she could linger no longer.

It was a solemn walk back to Kellynch, but with Anne wrapped in her reflections, Elizabeth’s mind returned to the inconsistency of her fluctuating sentiments towards Mr Darcy and growing puzzlement over his words meaning what they hinted at.

‘Will you keep me company until dinner, Lizzy? I do not wish to be alone with my thoughts just now.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Elizabeth welcomed the proposal as she followed Anne into the house. She had no desire to be alone with her thoughts either, for they were not serving her well.

No sooner had they entered the great hall, however, when Sir Walter appeared.

‘Anne. I wish to speak to you. Come.’

Anne exchanged a look with Elizabeth as Sir Walter headed for his study. ‘I will meet you in the small sitting room, Lizzy.’

With a troubled heart, Elizabeth watched Anne disappear down the corridor in her father’s wake. How much longer could her friend endure this strain?

~o0o~

Dusk had fallen before Darcy could face returning home, though he had left Kellynch Hall within a half hour of his arrival. Walking for miles around the estate had done little to shed the feelings assailing him, however, and when he reached Meadowbrook House, he stood for a moment, staring at its benign façade.

Was Elizabeth still within? Then, Darcy assessed the darkening skies. No, she would have returned to Kellynch. Frustrated to feel disappointment instead of relief, he strode towards the boot room. This was no time for such indulgence.

Ten minutes later, Darcy was prowling the house in search of his sister. Mrs Annesley had last seen her in the music room, but it was empty, as was the drawing room, the small parlour, and the breakfast room.

Heading upstairs, Darcy hesitated as he reached the door to his sister’s chamber, but then it swung open.

‘Fitz! I thought I heard a step.’ Georgiana raised her cheek for his kiss, and he followed her into the room, wishing they were anywhere but Somersetshire. What hellish sort of week was this? Firstly, Elizabeth’s damning of his character, then…

‘Fitz?’

Marshalling his thoughts, Darcy took the chair opposite his sister, fixing her with a keen look.

‘Forgive me, my dear, but there is a matter we must discuss. I am going to be brutally candid, and by return, I expect full and open honesty from you. You do understand, Georgie? I would not ask it of you in such a way if it were not of the utmost importance.’

The colour had drained from Georgiana’s face, but she nodded. ‘You are scaring me, Brother. But, yes, I understand, and I promise to speak the truth.’

‘Are you still…does your attachment to George Wickham endure?’

A deep pink filled Georgiana’s cheeks, and she lowered her head.

‘Dearest?’ Darcy tried to soften his voice, though impatience for an answer gripped him. ‘I do not wish to pain you, but it is imperative I understand the reality. Be not afraid of speaking honestly. Do you remain enamoured of the man?’

Georgiana’s head shot up. ‘No! How could you think so? I am ashamed of my foolish inclination and could not regret it more.’

Much as he did not wish to distress his sister, Darcy knew he must press on.

‘But you keep a letter from him between the pages of your book.’

At this, Georgiana leapt to her feet, and Darcy stood too, stepping forward to take her hands in his.

‘Please, Georgie. Tell me the truth.’

Her eyes were pleading, and Darcy’s ire stirred. If that scoundrel did still have a hold upon her, he did not want to be accountable for his actions, should Wickham ever cross his path.

‘It is not what you think.’ Georgiana spoke urgently, holding tight onto Darcy’s hands. ‘I promise you. I merely keep the letter to remind me, daily, not how much I loved him, but never to fall again for such false promises. I do not attend to its content, it is but a marker for my text, but also a constant reinforcement of my foolishness and gullibility.’ Her voice broke on the last word, and Darcy released her hands and put an arm around her, holding her close.

‘I know what it cost you to save me, Brother.’ Georgiana’s voice was muffled against his chest, and Darcy lowered his head to better hear her. ‘I have lived with the guilt these past months, learnt a lesson I wish never to forget.’

Georgiana straightened up, and he released his hold on her as she took a step back to peep up at him. Her eyes were no longer full of guilt. ‘I have no feelings for George Wickham other than hatred and distrust.’

Darcy’s heart clenched in his chest. Much as Elizabeth Bennet feels for me…

He cleared his throat. ‘Thank you for your honesty, Georgie. Forgive me for forcing it from you.’ He dropped a kiss on her cheek. ‘I am immensely proud of you.’

Georgiana sat down as Darcy reclaimed his own seat, wishing he felt as at ease as he normally did when sitting there.

‘I am so relieved, Brother.’ Georgiana gestured towards the small pile of books on her bedside table. ‘I could not work out what had happened to it, other than it must have fallen from the pages. I have been searching everywhere for it.’ Her face reflected her relief. ‘I did not realise you had found the letter.’

‘I did not.’

A hand flew to Georgiana’s throat. ‘Oh no! Please tell me it was Mrs Reynolds, not one of the other servants who…’ Her voice faded as Darcy shook his head.

How he hated to do this to her.

‘It was Miss Elliot.’ Darcy spoke through clenched teeth, his recent interview with the lady and Sir Walter burning through his brain.

‘Miss Elliot? But how…when…?’

‘When she paid her call upon us. You had retired to your chamber to rest after the ladies visited, do you remember?’ To Darcy, it seemed a lifetime ago. ‘Miss Elliot returned with a request for a carriage to take her home. I was bound for Yeovil and bade her await me in the drawing room. I can only assume she discovered it then.’

Georgiana face reflected her horror. ‘She did not…she would not read it?’ Darcy’s expression must have confirmed the truth of it. ‘How dare she?’

‘How indeed.’

‘But—’ Georgiana frowned. ‘Brother, how do you know of this?’

Darcy rose from his seat and strode over to the window. ‘When I was at the Hall earlier, I was obliged to meet with Sir Walter. Miss Elliot was there, and she’—he broke off, anger consuming him as he recalled the meeting.

Georgiana came to join him, taking his hand in hers. ‘She told you she had seen it?’

Darcy nodded. ‘Worse than that, she has passed it to her father.’

‘No!’ Georgiana’s face was all confusion as she dropped his hand. ‘But why? Of what possible importance could it be to Sir Walter Elliot?’

Darcy stared out across the grounds of Meadowbrook House. The snow had all but gone, and all was grey and desolate in the fading light.

‘As an instrument to further his own interest.’ Darcy turned around. Georgiana’s face reflected her despair, and his heart went out to her. ‘I am grieved to say, Sir Walter is threatening to expose your plans with Wickham and cause a scandal around us.’

‘But you prevented the elopement!’

‘He claims it is all in the telling. I do not think he cares if the report misrepresents the facts.’

Georgiana’s eyes were full of tears, and Darcy put his arms around her again, holding her close as she sniffled into his waistcoat.

‘They will not harm you, Georgie. I will protect your reputation with everything I have.’

Darcy held her tightly, but then Georgiana raised her head, her forehead furrowed. ‘What is his purpose? I cannot see how Sir Walter benefits from making such a threat.’

‘His barter for keeping silent is that…’ Darcy forced back the bile rising in his throat. ‘That I take Miss Elliot as my wife.’

~o0o~

You can read Chapter Twenty HERE!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen

Elizabeth turned to stare at Anne, whose shoulders had stiffened. What strangeness was this?

‘Wentworth?’ Anne spoke faintly, and Elizabeth put a supporting hand under her friend’s elbow as she walked unsteadily towards the men.

‘Did you say Wentworth?’ Anne’s voice hitched, but the stranger looked over with relief.

‘Yes, ma’am. A Captain Wentworth. Badly injured, pulled from the ice-cold sea.’

‘Then he is alive.’ Anne wilted against Elizabeth, who put both arms around her and held tight. Involuntarily, her gaze flew to Mr Darcy, but he seemed as bewildered as she.

‘Sir’—the stranger had turned back to Sir Walter—‘I beg of you, as an emissary of the Navy, give the man shelter and a fighting chance. His injury may well do for him, but at least let him die in peace, not on the road.’

‘If he is to die, then so be it. He is no loss to me.’

A whimper came from Anne. ‘Where is he?’ She spoke so distantly, only Elizabeth heard her, or so she thought, but Mr Darcy turned his head suddenly, taking in Anne’s distressed state, before turning back to the stranger.

‘Take him to Meadowbrook House. It is but a mile back down the lane.’ He turned to Sir Walter. ‘You will not object, sir.’ It was not a request, but the gentleman’s colour deepened, and he began a spluttering protest.

Mr Darcy, however, much to Elizabeth’s surprise, ignored him, turning instead to the newcomer. ‘There is no fever?’

The man shook his head. ‘Captain Wentworth suffered no open wounds but took a severe blow to his head. He was pulled aboard another ship, along with a handful of survivors. At first, he drifted in and out of consciousness, which permitted the intake of some fluids, but the captain has not roused once since before the journey here commenced, and if he remains insensible, he will fade rapidly.’

‘If you would be so good as to accompany the gentleman. My housekeeper will summon a local surgeon. Rest assured, sir, he will be well cared for by my staff until…’

Elizabeth held Anne even tighter as a further whimper escaped her lips.

‘Wait. You said he spoke but two words upon his rescue.’ Sir Walter glared at the stranger. ‘Can you not take him to this other place?’

The man shook his head. ‘I would, sir, but it is not a place. He spoke only of Kellynch and a name: Anne.’

Anne swayed in Elizabeth’s arms.

‘I must go to him.’ Her voice was weak, but the emissary nodded. ‘Where is he?’

‘In the carriage out front, ma’am, but…’

Wrenching herself from Elizabeth’s grasp, Anne fled towards the door, and Elizabeth did not hesitate, breaking into a run—propriety be damned—and reaching the carriage standing on the gravel sweep just as the coachman opened the door for Anne to clamber inside.

An anguished cry came, and Elizabeth hurried over and peered into the small space. Anne had fallen to her knees beside the prone figure lying awkwardly across one of the benches. The gentleman was too tall for it, his legs half off the seat, though clearly he was insensible to the fact.

‘Frederick!’ Anne’s voice broke as she grasped his nearest hand. ‘You said my name…’ Tears began to stream down her face as she lowered her head, her body shaking.

Elizabeth leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on Anne’s back.

‘Take hope, Anne. You thought all was lost.’ Her friend did not answer, continuing to cling to the captain’s lifeless hand and weep. ‘Mr Darcy will ensure he has the best possible care.’

Elizabeth blinked. Where on earth had that sentiment come from?

The words seemed to reach Anne, however, and she raised her head, sniffed back her tears, and turned to Elizabeth.

‘Do you think…’ Anne sniffed again. ‘Is it possible Frederick may come round in time?’

‘Anything is possible.’ Elizabeth hesitated, knowing she must be honest. ‘You must prepare for the worst, for what you had already believed to have happened, but there is hope, Anne, as long as he breathes.’

Anne raised a tentative hand and brushed a thick lock of hair from the captain’s forehead, which bore testimony to the blow it had taken. Leaning forward, Anne pressed a kiss upon it, and Elizabeth felt tears prick her eyes. It was a poignant moment and a far better farewell for her friend than never seeing the captain again.

‘Frederick…’ Anne’s voice was a whisper, and Elizabeth leaned forward.

‘Speak a little louder. If you were in his thoughts when last he was conscious, your voice may reach him wherever he is.’

‘Er, excuse me, ma’am?’

Elizabeth looked up. The stranger was at the open door.

‘You are fortunate in your neighbour. I must get Captain Wentworth to Meadowbrook House as a matter of urgency, that the local medical man may be summoned.’ He raised a folded piece of paper. ‘I have instructions from the gentleman for his housekeeper.’

‘I wish to go with him.’ Anne clung tighter to the stricken man’s hand. ‘I cannot leave him. I will not.’

Elizabeth frowned. What was she to do? Anne’s determination to withstand any family opposition to following her heart a mile down the road was evident, but Elizabeth could hardly enter Mr Darcy’s home uninvited in the present circumstances!

~o0o~

Darcy had come out onto the portico. His confusion over who this Captain Wentworth might be and why Miss Anne Elliot had reacted so strongly had soon been answered by a terse explanation from Sir Walter and his eldest, who had joined them. The gentleman’s aversion to accommodating the injured man was thus accounted for, but his lack of compassion was not. How could anyone be so unfeeling of any human soul in such a condition?

Taking in the scene before him, Darcy assumed his habitual mask as Elizabeth aided her friend from the carriage, determined no indication would escape him of his admiration for her. His heart was less obliging, clenching in his breast and drawing an involuntary hand.

‘Anne Elliot! You forget yourself. Come here at once.’ Sir Walter stepped forward to stand beside Darcy.

The lady’s skin was pale but her expression firm as she walked up to her father, Elizabeth at her side.

‘I am staying with Captain Wentworth, Father, and I shall not be persuaded otherwise.’

Sir Walter looked astounded, his mouth open and closing like a stranded fish. ‘You’—he huffed a breath, then blustered on—‘you overreach yourself, Anne. The man was beneath you then. He is beneath you now, and undeserving of any particular attention. Besides, why can his brother not care for him?’

‘The Reverend Wentworth has left the district, as well you know, Father.’ Anne raised her chin as Elizabeth grasped her hand. ‘To send Frederick onward in his condition would be inhumane.’

‘For heaven’s sake!’ Miss Elliot had now emerged from the building. ‘Why must you, Miss Anne Elliot of Kellynch, daughter of a baronet, no less, be reduced to nursing a sick man? There are people paid to do such chores. It will reflect badly upon us. We have a name to uphold, and—’

‘Sir Walter.’ Elizabeth’s interruption drew Darcy’s attention almost against his will, and he strove not to admire her intelligent eyes as they fixed upon Sir Walter. ‘If Mr Darcy permits’—she looked to Darcy. Was she seeking his approval?—‘I can be at Anne’s side throughout the duration of…’ She hesitated, and Darcy knew she comprehended as well as he the likely outcome for the captain. ‘There is no infection in the case, so your daughter’s attendance upon the gentleman will affect no one adversely.’

‘Gentleman?’ Sir Walter all but spat the word. ‘He is a sailor, not a gentleman.’

Elizabeth’s eyes flashed. ‘Captain Wentworth is one of His Majesty’s naval officers, sir, and it is our Christian duty to care for him.’

Darcy wished he could applaud. Instead, he turned to Sir Walter.

‘Miss Bennet will be the most fitting person to be with your daughter. I will send for medical advice, and my housekeeper is more than competent. Miss Anne will not be required to do anything beyond being present.’

‘But a single young woman staying in a room with such a man! It is unseemly.’

‘With Miss Bennet in attendance and my sister’s companion, Mrs Annesley, also on hand, the lady will be more than adequately chaperoned.’

Sir Walter harrumphed, then turned back to Anne. ‘I am vexed beyond measure by your unfathomable behaviour, but never let it be said I am not an indulgent father.’

A small sound escaped from Elizabeth, but Darcy kept his attention firmly on Sir Walter. He, however, had turned his narrowed eyes upon the lady.

‘It goes without saying, Anne must never be alone. You understand, Miss Bennet. You must accept your duty. It is time you were the companion I have always believed you to be.’

Elizabeth inclined her head. ‘As you wish, sir. You will be unsurprised to know you have likewise, in this time of crisis, shown yourself to be what I have always believed you to be.’

Anne had turned to Darcy, her usually mild eyes deep with feeling. ‘May I go to Meadowbrook House directly, sir?’

Darcy turned to the emissary. ‘Are you able to convey Miss Elliot?’

The gentleman bowed. ‘There is room only for one, but if you will allow me, ma’am?’ He offered an arm to Anne, who took it.

‘Lizzy?’

‘I will follow on foot. Let me first gather our pelisses.’

Sir Walter glared at Darcy as the carriage pulled slowly away. ‘You have been part of ruining my day, sir.’

Darcy raised a brow. ‘I am sorry to hear it, sir.’

‘Father!’ To Darcy’s surprise, Miss Elliot sent him a condescending smile before turning back to Sir Walter. ‘You mistake Mr Darcy. Has he not been of the utmost assistance in removing any obligation for us to take that man in? We ought to be grateful to him, do you not think?’

‘What? Hmm, I see your point. Well, you can redeem yourself, sir. Let us now attend to this matter of business.’

‘You will have to excuse me, Sir Walter. I have a duty to go to Meadowbrook House to ensure all is done for the injured man. I shall return later, if that is convenient?’

Sir Walter scowled, then gestured at the footman who hovered by the door. ‘Bring a fresh bottle of brandy to my study! Well, go on, man!’

The footman scurried away and Sir Walter, with a dismissive wave of his hand to Darcy, stalked back into the house.

‘It is all too disagreeable, Mr Darcy. But at least we may assume the situation will persist for a short while only.’ Miss Elliot spoke in her usual languid tone, but Darcy merely bowed. He needed a moment to collect himself, to prepare.

Elizabeth had hurried into the house, bent upon retrieving some outerwear for herself and her friend, and Darcy tried to marshal his thoughts. So much for distancing himself from Elizabeth. Now she was to spend the remainder of the day under his own roof.

~o0o~

‘Oh!’

The involuntary exclamation fell from Elizabeth’s lips as she emerged from the front door once more, a laden basket upon her arm.

She had hoped—nay, fully expected—Mr Darcy to have left, but there he was, turning from his contemplation of who knew what, his expression uncompromising.

Without a word, he held out a hand for the basket, but Elizabeth merely stared at him. Was he truly intending to walk with her, after all that had occurred the previous day?

‘I am perfectly capable—’

‘Did I say anything to the contrary, Miss Bennet?’ Mr Darcy threw her a frustrated look. ‘I cannot allow you to bear the weight of it over such a distance.’

Elizabeth moved aside to take the step down onto the gravel path, but with an exclamation from the gentleman, he tugged the basket firmly from her grasp and set off down the driveway.

She glared after Mr Darcy, then followed, taking a small skip now and again in an attempt to catch up. The basket would indeed have become quite the burden, but Elizabeth was in no humour for his acting the gentleman.

Her step faltered. She was accustomed to holding Mr Darcy in little esteem, but in the time it had taken for Elise to fold Anne’s pelisse and add further items to the basket, she had been unable to shake a sense of confusion over him. His gallantry and compassion in permitting a sick stranger to be taken into his home spoke volumes, but this conflicted with all Elizabeth knew him to be. Or did it truly?

Mr Darcy had reached the gates, and he turned around to wait for her, so she hurried her steps. They made silent progress along the lane at first, and Elizabeth assumed he preferred it that way. He was, after all, prone to being taciturn, and this was hardly a social occasion.

Elizabeth tried not to dwell upon all that had been said between them, though she was conscious the gentleman had constrained his stride now and was merely a pace ahead. Her thoughts most naturally fell upon Anne and the implications of the captain’s sudden arrival. It was evident his chances were slim, but what if he were to recover?

Whichever direction the Fates took Captain Wentworth, Anne would likely need Elizabeth for the foreseeable future, and with no wish to curtail her visit, she realised it might be best if she tried to clear the air.

‘Mr Darcy!’

The gentleman slowed further, though he did not turn around, and Elizabeth hurried to fall into step beside him, chewing on her bottom lip, unsure how to begin.

‘Miss Bennet? You had something further to say?’

‘We have angered each other.’

‘And you have more you wish to add?’ Mr Darcy’s tone was not encouraging, but Elizabeth persevered.

‘No, sir. It is…in the circumstances, with this new development and my friend needing my companionship, I wondered if…’

‘We both know how to conduct ourselves, madam.’

Elizabeth felt she could well contradict Mr Darcy on this, but her situation was precarious enough.

‘It is an imposition for me, in the circumstances, to enter your home.’

‘Is it?’

She raised her brows. Was it not?

‘Whatever you may think of me, Miss Bennet’—Mr Darcy’s voice was clipped, and he continued to stare ahead—‘I do have compassion. This gentleman is in need and unable to ask for help. Providing a safe place for him to pass his remaining days is the least I can do. From the little I have seen and heard, the captain was once of some importance to Miss Anne Elliot. It would be uncharitable to prevent her from being by his side at such a time.’ He threw Elizabeth an assessing glance. ‘She wished you with her.’

‘Aye. And I’ll wager you wished me the other side of the county.’ Perhaps she should not have spoken so, but surely it must be the truth?

‘If it were so, I would hardly be escorting you to my home, Miss Bennet. It is the only right thing to do.’

Elizabeth mulled this over for a moment, but then Mr Darcy spoke again.

‘There is one thing I wish to know. Will you permit me one question raised by our conversation yesterday?’

Elizabeth almost laughed. ‘You are generous, Mr Darcy, in calling it that.’ Uncertain where this might lead, however, she clasped her hands together. ‘Do, please ask, and I shall endeavour to reply appropriately.’

‘Your inference of there being an understanding between my sister and my friend concerns me. If there are rumours to this effect, I would be grateful if you would take no heed of them. Protecting Georgiana’s reputation is of the utmost importance to me.’

With mixed feelings, Elizabeth studied the chimneys of Meadowbrook House as they came into view above the hedgerows. Thankful though she was that, of all the words thrown about on the previous day, this was what he wished to speak of, she also appreciated her own indiscretion. It had been thoughtless of her to mention such a thing.

‘Forgive me, Mr Darcy. I spoke out of turn. I have heard no general rumours, but…’ Elizabeth hesitated. Ought she to reveal her source?

The gentleman stopped, and perforce, Elizabeth did too. Mr Darcy turned to face her, his countenance unreadable.

‘You would not fabricate such a thing.’

‘Never!’ Elizabeth drew in a short breath. ‘It was presented as almost a fait accompli to my sister, Jane, recently, and with it so intrinsically connected to her unfortunate situation—of which I had but that morning received news—I spoke without caution.’ She raised wary eyes to his. ‘As you may have noticed.’

Mr Darcy regarded her silently. Then, he resumed walking and Elizabeth did likewise.

‘I will not ask you for your source, Miss Bennet, for I believe I can guess. Suffice it to say, my sister is only recently turned sixteen and not yet out. I do not envisage her seeking an establishment for the foreseeable future.’

Elizabeth nodded. ‘I was unguarded, sir, and regret that the words were spoken.’

‘We shall speak of it no more.’ He paused, then added. ‘The entire conversation is to be forgot.’

Elizabeth blinked. She doubted she would ever forget it. ‘Must you always have your own way, sir?’

To her surprise, Mr Darcy stopped again, his shoulders stiffening. He drew in a visible breath, then said, ‘If you believe I have had my own way of it lately, then you are much mistaken, madam.’

The look upon his features was unfathomable, but Elizabeth could not help but smile. ‘You did win the battle of the basket, Mr Darcy.’

The gentleman closed his eyes briefly, the edges of his mouth twitching, before he set off again. ‘I believe you would charge me with selfishness again, Miss Bennet.’

Elizabeth winced but persevered as they approached the gates to Meadowbrook House. ‘Will you not enlighten me?’

Mr Darcy gestured with his free arm. ‘We are in public, are we not? No gentleman would be seen walking empty handed beside a lady bearing a burden. Just think of the damage to his reputation.’

Elizabeth laughed, but then she sobered, assailed by a myriad of emotions as she saw Anne hovering beside the carriage, and she hurried forward as fast as her skirts permitted.

~o0o~

Chapter Nineteen can be found HERE!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen

Elizabeth’s emotions were high as she raced through the house, hurrying as quickly as decorum permitted along the corridor to the great hall, where she stopped and drew in a shuddering breath.

How could she have done that? Colour rushed into her face and she put a hand to her cheek.

Because Mr Darcy deserved it. 

All the same, he was Lady Catherine de Burgh’s nephew. Did he not have the power to make Jane’s life even more intolerable? Elizabeth shook her head. How could it possibly become more so? Would it be wise to remain at Kellynch? Her being there had always felt somewhat tenuous, but now she had insulted Mr Darcy in every possible way, perhaps his influence would be brought to bear upon her?

A door slammed somewhere in the distance, and Elizabeth hastened her steps, desperate for the sanctuary of her room.

~o0o~

By the time Darcy reached Meadowbrook House, his head was pounding, and he took refuge in his study, closing the door behind him with a resounding thud.

Then, he stood stock-still, the rigidity of his frame belying the incessant thoughts spinning around in his head. What, in the name of the devil, had just happened?

Be calm, Darcy cautioned himself, but the rapid pounding of his heart and the raw anger filling his being fought against him. How could the world present itself the same as when he had left earlier, determined, fired up by his decision, and excited almost in his anticipation of claiming Elizabeth as his own? Elizabeth

Darcy almost shied away from the name. Miss Bennet, possessor of his mind, his senses and finally his heart. For weeks now, the woman had filled his thoughts…but he must think of her no more.

The clock on the mantel chimed, and a momentary anguish gripped Darcy, sweeping aside the anger and disbelief that had carried him back to the house. Had all this taken place in so little time? Far from realising his dreams, the past hour had unfolded into a nightmare of wretched proportions.

He had no desire to see Elizabeth again, wished he had never come to Somersetshire. Why had they not gone further south?

Then, a flare of frustration shot through him as Darcy recalled her championship of Wickham and her defence of her sister’s feelings. The lady was quite liberal with her affections where she chose to bestow them. Her fondness for Miss Anne Elliot was also obvious, even under such short acquaintance. Darcy seethed in silence. The lady had no feelings for him other than hatred and disgust.

He did not wish to dwell upon what his own feelings had been; they must be forgotten. Elizabeth Bennet did not deserve such honourable sentiments, and certainly not from a gentleman of his consequence…

Yes, he was a gentleman, of excellent character, family, and social standing, and acknowledged by all for his integrity and honesty. How could the lady question his character? How dare she?

Darcy’s throat felt tight, and he tugged at his neckcloth, unable to shut out Elizabeth’s voice.

‘Your arrogance, your conceit and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others…’

Ridiculous! Unfounded, totally erroneous accusations and, what is more, a slur on his honour! His conduct was never questioned—–never! What did she comprehend of his worth?

Darcy leaned back against the door; his heart clenched so tightly in his chest he could scarce draw breath. The unspoken proposal and her harsh words smouldered in his gut.

What a damnable day this was!

~o0o~

Elizabeth cooled her face with a damp cloth as she took herself to task. Her anger had all but dispersed but she felt out of sorts from a combination of embarrassment at having spoken so candidly and frustration that the gentleman seemed to have no interest in the consequences of his past transgressions.. Her head felt almost too full for coherent thought, but as she noted the chimes of the nearby church bell, she left her chamber, intent on seeking out Anne before she wondered what had become of her.

Notes from the pianoforte drifted towards Elizabeth as she approached the music room, and slipping inside, she allowed them to wash over her, desperate to soothe her frayed spirits.

‘You are out of countenance. What has happened?’

Elizabeth walked slowly across the room as Anne lifted her hands from the keys. What could she say?

‘Lizzy?’

‘My taking the air did not deliver the hoped for remedy.’

‘You seem flustered. Whatever is the matter?’ Anne rose from the stool with a concerned air.

‘It is nothing.’ Elizabeth tried to push aside a tumult of feelings. Had she not vowed to support her friend? ‘I am perfectly well. Shall we find somewhere to sit and talk? You can tell me more of your captain if you wish.’

‘I think it best you tell me more of what has happened to you. Sit with me.’

They settled into the window seat, and Elizabeth strove to push away her anxieties , but Anne’s need of her only emphasised her sense of culpability.

‘Tell me what it is.’ Anne shifted in her seat to face her friend, and Elizabeth pulled a face.

‘I had an…argument with him.’

Anne blinked. ‘With whom?’

‘Mr Darcy. I—I told him what I think of him.’ The words tumbled out in a rush.

‘He was here at Kellynch? I wonder what his purpose might have been?’

Elizabeth could not care less. ‘He materialised on the terrace, just as I was going over in my head all Jane had written in her letter. It was not the most fortuitous timing.’

‘Oh dear.’ Anne bit back on a smile. ‘Forgive me, dear Lizzy. I can sense you are uncomfortable enough.’

‘I am, though the man does not deserve it. Mr Darcy’s scorn for the feelings of others has long raised my ire.’ Elizabeth waved a hand. ‘He has done a cruel disservice to a…friend, and coupled with Jane’s latest news, my indignation overruled my sense, and out it all came.’ It sounded so childish when said aloud.

Anne patted Elizabeth’s arm soothingly. ‘All, as in your sister’s situation and your belief his influence upon his friend was a factor?’

Elizabeth nodded. ‘He owned his actions with pride and conceit, but he is angry with me, and I cannot say it is completely unwarranted.’

There was silence for a moment; then, Anne sent Elizabeth a searching look.

‘What set you off in the first place, Lizzy?’

With a huff of breath, Elizabeth got to her feet. ‘I felt goaded. He had the gall to claim I must allow him to—’

‘To what?’ Anne was frowning, and agitated, Elizabeth walked over to the hearth, then spun around.

‘I have no idea. I interrupted him. I tried to walk away, to leave.’ She threw Anne a pleading look as she paced back across the room. ‘I promise, I did, but…’ Stopping abruptly, Elizabeth stared at Anne. A vivid recollection of Mr Darcy’s expression, of the unfathomable look in his eyes—one she had no familiarity with—assailed her, as did the words: “My feelings will not be repressed.”

What feelings? What on earth had he been about to say?

‘Lizzy?’ Anne rose to stand before her. ‘What is it?’

Unhappy with indulging her curiosity, Elizabeth summoned a smile. She would not spare Mr Darcy any further notice.

‘Nothing. Shall we indulge in some music? I believe I was charged with the duty of teaching you a duet!’

~o0o~

The remainder of the day passed in a blur, and Darcy kept to his study for much of it, knowing his sister was occupied with Mrs Annesley, but before long the evening had descended. Staring out of the drawing room window into the blackness, Darcy strove to keep Elizabeth from his thoughts. His earlier burst of anger towards her had abated, replaced with a despair he feared would never leave him.

‘Brother?’ Georgiana appeared in the doorway and crossed to stand before him. ‘Is anything wrong? You are quite strained.’

Darcy shook his head. ‘Pay me no mind, my dear. It has been a rather trying day, that is all.

Judgemental, supercilious, and filled with arrogance…’

Darcy winced as Elizabeth’s angry face appeared before him again. Was there some truth in her accusations?

He almost jumped as Georgiana took his hand and kissed it.

‘Your face is dark as night. What is the good news you were to share on your return?’

The irony was galling.

‘I am afraid I was mistaken. I have no good news to impart. Come. It is time we went in for dinner.’

The food would taste like ashes, but he had to maintain a pretence of normalcy for Georgiana, even as his world was in tatters.

~o0o~

It was not until his sister retired for the night that Darcy could finally release the tight rein he held upon his thoughts.

Dismissing his valet, Darcy roamed his chamber like a caged beast, then dropped into an armchair near the hearth. For a while, he stared into the flames, but then his frame sagged, and his head dropped into his hands.

Elizabeth’s dislike and her damning of his character were galling enough, but nothing to the devastation coursing through him at the loss of all his recent hopes and dreams.

Darcy leaned back in his seat, then pressed a palm against his pounding forehead. How foolish of him to assume Wickham’s tales would antagonise her more than his influence over Bingley.

Sitting up, Darcy narrowed his eyes. Elizabeth had been fierce in her claim of his being mistaken. Could he have erred? Had the lady’s affections truly been engaged?

No! He had made certain to observe Miss Bennet closely and had thus done both the lady and his friend a great service. How could Elizabeth doubt his good intentions?

Darcy’s brow furrowed. And what had been her meaning regarding Georgiana and Bingley?

Getting wearily to his feet, Darcy loosened his neckcloth and unbuttoned his waistcoat. How he was to seek repose, he knew not. And how was he to behave when next he saw her? Elizabeth’s departure for Hertfordshire could not come soon enough.

You deceive yourself.

It was a truth Darcy owned as he removed his shirt and tossed it onto a chair. The thought of never laying eyes upon Elizabeth Bennet again brought little consolation to his bruised heart.

~o0o~

More snow fell overnight, and Darcy—who had escaped to his study as soon as breakfast was over, Georgiana having gone on a short walk with Mrs Annesley—viewed the day stretching before him with dissatisfaction. How interminable did time seem now? With little effort at resistance, his thoughts swept along the lane to Kellynch.

What might Elizabeth be doing? Did she spare a thought for him at all?

You are ridiculous, Darcy. Why would the lady think of you? Has she not made her view of your person, your character, plain?

Darcy dropped his pen onto the blotter and got impatiently to his feet. Though his anger had indeed been of short duration, he had no doubt the pain and disappointment would linger. The only saving grace—one he had been haunted by through the long night—was the certainty Elizabeth would have refused him, had he been permitted to speak. How thankful was he that the words had never fallen from his lips.

Rejection! A notion so alien to all Darcy had been raised to expect, he simply could not comprehend it.

A tap on the door heralded Mrs Reynolds, who placed the salver of post on his desk.

‘A note has come from the Hall, sir. The boy did not wait for a reply.’ She pointed to the folded paper on top of the pile. ‘Shall I send in more tea?’

Darcy examined the note, before raising his eyes to his housekeeper.

‘No, thank you. I shall be going out directly.’

~o0o~

Anne and Elizabeth had taken to the long gallery again after breaking their fast, the cold wind convincing them to remain indoors.

Although Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction with Mr Darcy had not abated in its entirety, Anne’s soothing voice and calm demeanour worked upon her vexation much as Jane’s was wont to do.

‘You are good for me, Anne.’ Elizabeth smiled warmly at her friend. ‘I will do as you suggest and ask my aunt if Jane can visit them for a few days before they travel to Longbourn for the Christmas season. Thankfully, Mr Collins can ill be spared from his parish at this time of year, so his stay is of short duration. Distance and Aunt Gardiner’s good sense may prevail upon Jane yet, though I fear it is all too late.’ Elizabeth sighed. ‘I have been selfish, indulging my own low spirits with little regard for yours. You said you still had trouble sleeping.’

‘I am a little weary. It is not a new sensation, to have Frederick in mind. Only now, it is intensified, as though our parting has happened all over again.’

‘Do you’—Elizabeth hesitated, welcoming the change of subject from her own obsessive thoughts—‘Were you fortunate enough to have a likeness of him?’

Anne shook her head as they turned their steps back along the gallery. ‘It was promised, but we were parted before he could have one done.’ She was staring ahead, and Elizabeth suspected her mind was years away. ‘After he left, I was glad I had no permanent reminder. I did not feel I warranted the consolation, so badly did I feel my guilt for being persuaded away from him. I thought perhaps I might forget him, or at least his features, over time. With no miniature to savour, and few letters…’ She sighed. ‘We were only parted once, for but a few days, during the short months of our acquaintance, so any correspondence was of a trifling nature.’

‘You cherish it, all the same?’

‘Our course. Yet’—there was a tremor in Anne’s voice—‘I can see him as clearly in my mind’s eye today as I could then. I am comforted by it, that he has not become some faceless memory, but it pains me also.’

Elizabeth put an arm around Anne. ‘Let us go to the small sitting room. Perhaps your cook, Mrs Howard, will prepare us a hot toddy, and you shall talk to your heart’s content about your captain.’

~o0o~

Darcy had no idea what the matter of business was that had persuaded Sir Walter Elliot to request he call on him at his earliest convenience, but it at least provided him with a purpose. The fact it meant walking up to the Hall was hardly conducive to peace of mind, however, for each step reminded him of the walk there on the previous day and how high Darcy’s expectations had been, not only of bringing his plans to fruition, but also the happiness it would have brought, both to him and Elizabeth.

Disgusted with himself for indulging in such false hopes, Darcy swiped at the snow-capped verges with his cane, lost in his thoughts until he registered the sound of a conveyance making its sedentary way along the lane, the clip clop of the horses’ hooves, and the rumbling of the carriage wheels muffled by the cushion of snow. He stepped up onto the verge, lifting his hat at the gentleman peering out of the window, but the carriage slowed to a halt as the driver turned in his seat.

‘Begging your pardon, sir. Be this the direction for Kellynch Hall? The road markers are all but unreadable.’

Darcy replaced his hat and pointed ahead. ‘Around this corner, then a little further on. You will see the gates on your left.’

The driver urged the horses onward, and Darcy continued his preoccupied march along the lane. If Sir Walter had an unexpected caller, then perhaps he could escape his own meeting?

His desire to avoid seeing Elizabeth wavered as the tight band across his breast tightened. How could he not wish to lay eyes upon her? Harsh though her words had been, they could not extinguish his ardent love for her so easily.

Fetching up at the gates to the long driveway, Darcy noted the carriage pulling up in front of the house. Whatever this business of Sir Walter’s was, it could be of little importance. He would allow the stranger to enter, then Darcy would present his card and indicate his return the following day.

~o0o~

‘I am merely using you as a distraction, you understand.’ Elizabeth smirked as she and Anne made their way down the stairs. ‘I wish to spare no further thought for Mr Darcy today. Instead, I shall learn all about Captain Wentworth from one who knew him best.’

‘And loved him best.’

Elizabeth took Anne’s arm fondly as they walked along the corridor. ‘And that too.’

They were but a few steps from the great hall when raised voices drifted towards them.

Anne and Elizabeth exchanged a look.

‘That is Mr Darcy’s voice.’ Elizabeth’s irritation returned. What was his obsession with being at Kellynch Hall?

‘I will not have it. He cannot come here.’ Sir Walter sounded angry.

‘Sir, where would you have me take him?’ A stranger’s voice this time. ‘He has spoken but two words and one of them was Kellynch.’

There was silence for a second, and Elizabeth frowned at Anne. ‘Should we find another way?’

Anne shook her head. ‘My father is in a temper. He will likely not register us passing.’

They rounded the corner into the great hall, and Elizabeth followed Anne as she skirted past the three men in the centre of the room: Sir Walter, red-faced and indignant, a stranger who was equally red-faced, and Mr Darcy, whom Elizabeth pointedly ignored.

‘Let it be understood! No sailor will cross my threshold, least of all one called Wentworth.’

~o0o~

Chapter Eighteen can be found HERE!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen

Darcy had never had such fastidious care taken with his appearance. Raworth—though he knew not his master’s intentions—had seemed to think it more than adequate recompense for his master having no use of his services the previous evening, and fussed around him, knotting his neckcloth three times before he was satisfied and insisting—with due deference—the green stripe waistcoat suited his master best.

Darcy had hurried down the stairs on pure adrenaline, belying the sleepless night he had passed as he tossed and turned, fighting the voice of reason, of duty, whenever it made itself known.

He was going against all his principles, taking a woman of inferior birth, no fortune, no connections, for his wife. There would be family obstacles to overcome; Darcy would invoke their displeasure by connecting himself to someone whose relations and condition in life were so decidedly beneath his own. Even his own parents would have railed against a match with Elizabeth.

‘Then it is a blessing they are at rest,’ he mused as a footman assisted him into his great coat. The gratification of having Elizabeth as his wife overruled all sense, all reason. His heart would win out, beyond any rational argument Darcy’s conscience could summon.

‘Brother? Where are you going?’ Georgiana had emerged from the drawing room, a book in her hand.

‘Up to the Hall.’

She walked over to him, then frowned. ‘Is anything amiss?’

Darcy, who was committing his speech to Elizabeth to memory, did not respond, so Georgiana tugged at his sleeve as he held out a hand for his gloves.

‘What is it?’ He had not meant to speak so sharply and colour flooded her cheeks. ‘Georgie.’ Contrite now, Darcy waved away the footman and took her hands in his. ‘Forgive me, dearest. I have a matter of some import on my mind.’

Georgiana went into his open arms and he held her close, then dropped a kiss on top of her head.

‘And it will be resolved by your visit?’

Darcy smiled, though she could not see it. ‘Most indubitably.’

‘Then you will return in better humour, Fitz?’ Her voice was somewhat muffled by his coat, but Darcy’s heart swelled with the joy he soon anticipated. The family in general may not approve, but Georgiana would, and hers was the only opinion he cared for.

He set her away from him. ‘I shall. And I hope to bring news.’

Her face brightened. ‘What sort of news, Brother?’

Darcy laughed and tapped her lightly on the nose. ‘Later, Georgie.’ He checked his watch. ‘I must leave directly.’

~o0o~

‘You seem a little better this morning, Anne.’

Elizabeth followed her friend into the small sitting room they had taken as their own.

‘I did sleep for a time.’ Anne walked over to the writing desk against the far wall. ‘I am sorry your night was disturbed, though.’ She placed a bottle of ink into one of the compartments and turned to face Elizabeth. ‘Will you not tell me why?’

Knowing how riled she would become if she began, Elizabeth shook her head. ‘Pay me no mind, Anne. Now, I am curious. I was most taken with this painting the other day. Do tell me about it.’

She gestured towards the portrait hanging above the mantel, and they both walked over to stand before it.

‘This is my mother.’ Anne pointed to the young lady seated in a chair, a baby in her arms. Resting a hand lightly on the figure, she trailed a finger down the canvas to rest upon the baby. ‘And this is Mary.’

‘It is beautifully rendered.’ Elizabeth turned to her friend. ‘And the little girl nestled upon the gentleman’s lap? She appears perfectly content.’

‘She was.’ Anne’s gaze had fallen upon the small figure. ‘I was all of four years of age and despite appearances, apparently I fidgeted a great deal!’

Elizabeth laughed. ‘Who is the gentleman? You were vastly at ease in his embrace.’

Anne’s face softened. ‘Grandpapa James. My mother’s father. We were extremely close.’ Her air crumpled, and Elizabeth took her hand.

‘I am sorry if my inquisitiveness has brought you pain.’

‘It has not.’ Anne squeezed Elizabeth’s hand gently. ‘I miss them both so much. Grandpapa only survived my mother by a year. He was devastated by her death.’ She raised her fingers, placing a kiss upon them before touching her mother’s cheek and then her grandfather’s. ‘Mama used to take Mary and I to visit Grandpapa often.’

Elizabeth frowned. ‘What of Miss Elliot?’

‘My eldest sister preferred to remain here with Father.’

A tap came on the door, followed by the appearance of the housekeeper bearing a salver.

‘The post has arrived, Miss Anne.’

Anne took up the letters as the housekeeper hurried from the room.

‘There is one for you, Lizzy.’

‘Oh, it is from Jane.’ Elizabeth broke the seal and began to read, sinking onto a chaise beside the hearth, but within seconds, her hand dropped into her lap and her fingers clenched as she struggled not to screw the letter up and hurl it at the glowing fire.

‘What is it?’ Anne came to sit beside Elizabeth, who released a frustrated breath.

‘Mr Collins has returned a week ahead of himself, but that is not the worst of it. Here.’ Elizabeth handed the letter at Anne. ‘Read the first paragraph, and you shall see.’

Anne did as she was bid, then handed the letter back. ‘So, Miss Bennet has capitulated. I am grieved for you, Lizzy.’

‘I truly thought Jane would come to view the scheme as nonsensical.’ Elizabeth leapt up, though uncertain of her purpose. She took a few steps, turned on her heel, and walked back before sinking onto the chaise beside Anne again. ‘How rude of Mr Collins, to return unannounced to press her for an answer? This is Lady Catherine’s doing, I am certain. He will heed no one’s advice but hers. A curse on that family! I wish they had never been born—any of them.’

‘Lizzy,’ Anne cautioned.

Elizabeth laughed but without humour. ‘Mr Darcy will not overhear me from here, Anne, though more is the pity.’

‘Read the letter fully, Lizzy. See what your sister has to say on the matter.’

Elizabeth took the letter and tried to focus on Jane’s words, striving to suppress her growing despair.

Her sister was resigned, as she had expected her to be, and Elizabeth’s spirits lowered. Much as she had not condoned Jane’s decision to do her duty, as she saw it, to detect her slow awakening to the permanence of her situation was heart-breaking. Damn Mr Bingley for deserting her, and damn Mr Darcy for his influence upon his friend.

‘A letter from Caroline Bingley arrived, putting an end to all doubt. Her brother is settled in London for the winter with no view of returning to Hertfordshire for many months, if at all. The remainder of Miss Bingley’s letter—the chief of it—was given over to praise of Miss Darcy and the anticipated union with her brother.’ Elizabeth was touched by the compassion in Anne’s face. ‘At least my father is insisting upon an engagement of no less than three months. Jane claims her acceptance to be the only logical response, but I cannot condone it. I feel as though I have lost my dearest sister.’

‘Oh, Lizzy. I am so sorry, both for you and for Jane.’

Elizabeth stood again. ‘Will you excuse me, Anne?’ She gestured towards the window. ‘I do not wish to desert you, but I fear if I do not walk off my temper, it will consume me. I am so…I am so angry with that man.’

Anne bit her lip. ‘Is it wise to lay all the blame at Mr Darcy’s feet, Lizzy? It seems Mr Bingley’s family were equally instrumental in separating them?’

Elizabeth knew what they were both also thinking. Jane had put herself in this situation, even if it was a direct result of Mr Bingley’s desertion.

Frustrated and saddened, Elizabeth almost wrung her hands. ‘None of this would have happened if persuasion had not been brought to bear upon Mr Bingley.’

‘Go for a walk, Lizzy. Shed your vexation in the garden.’

‘I am doing you a disservice. I promised you company.’

Anne stood up. ‘Come and find me when you are refreshed. I shall repair to the music room for a while.’

Elizabeth followed her friend out of the room, and they parted at the foot of the stairs.

Anne, of course, did not know of Mr Darcy’s treatment of Mr Wickham. Her mind full of the gentleman’s transgressions, Elizabeth headed for the boot room. Hopefully, Anne’s advice to take the air would adequately calm her agitation, and if Fate was kind, she would return to the house in better spirits and more able to support her friend.

~o0o~

Relishing the crisp wintry morning, Darcy inhaled deeply. He could not stop smiling as he strode down the lane, oblivious to the crunch of snow beneath his boots or the chill wind all but freezing the tips of his ears. Elizabeth would be astonished, of course. For all he had shown her attention, she could not expect an honour such as this!

Darcy felt invigorated, the smile on his face widening as he rounded the corner and approached the gates to Kellynch Hall. All he needed to do was choose the right words, and then, when Elizabeth’s intelligent eyes fixed upon his, her attention fully on him in a way it had never been before, he would not lose the power of coherent thought.

Eying the building’s facade as he walked along the driveway, Darcy’s confidence faltered somewhat. He had not even considered the practicalities! How the devil was he to find a moment alone with Elizabeth? She was constantly at her friend’s side, and even if he found them all in the drawing room, extracting Elizabeth from the room would be nigh on impossible, for what credible reason could he give? What if Miss Anne Elliot was still indisposed and Elizabeth attended to her?

The Fates, however, seemed to be in his corner. As Darcy neared the house, a movement caught his eye, and he espied Elizabeth—alone—walking away from him on the terrace bordering the west wing.

Darcy moved forward, trying to recall his carefully rehearsed speech, insensible to the frozen ground beneath his feet.

‘Collect yourself, man,’ he muttered. ‘You are asking the lady for her hand. It is hardly difficult…just consider all you wish to explain.’ To Darcy’s consternation, this merely brought the entirety of his arguments against the match tumbling into his head.

‘Enough,’ he cautioned himself. ‘You have made your choice. Just decide where to start. The rest will follow.’

Tell her you love her, you dunderhead.

 Though the colonel knew not of Darcy’s intentions, he could hear his cousin’s voice as clearly as though he stood before him.

Yes, Cousin. That is precisely where I shall begin.

Elizabeth would be so gratified, and all he wished to say—of his struggle, of all he was sacrificing for her, of the obligations overcome with such difficulty—would follow quite easily, for his feelings were natural and just in the circumstances.

‘Just breathe,’ Darcy intoned quietly as he reached the terrace. Adrenaline was rushing through him again, filling his ears with noise…

‘Mr Darcy!’

His startled gaze met that of Elizabeth Bennet’s. She had turned about and fetched up short in front of him.

‘Elizabeth!’

Her name fell involuntarily from his lips, but the lady seemed decidedly out of countenance. Darcy stared at her, entranced by the pretty picture she made; then, he recalled himself.

‘Forgive me. Miss Bennet.’

Heat permeated his skin despite the cold.

Speak, you simpleton! Seize the moment!

‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to—’

Must I, Mr Darcy?’ Elizabeth’s expression was not encouraging. ‘Well, I must choose not to listen. If you will excuse me, sir.’ She gestured with her hand. ‘I wish to continue my walk.’

Her tone was uncompromising, and Darcy frowned. Had he so affronted her with merely the slip of address? He could hardly help it; it was how he had thought of her for weeks now.

‘Forgive me, ma’am. I meant no offence and certainly had no intention of treating you with any less respect than you deserve.’

Elizabeth raised a brow. ‘Truly, sir? I am curious to learn what level of respect that might be?’

Darcy drew in a short breath. ‘The fullest respect, ma’am. Without question.’ He ran a hand through his hair. Lord, it was more difficult than he had imagined.

‘I repeat, forgive me, Miss Bennet, for such a slip. I should have been more circumspect.’

A sound escaped the lady. ‘How singular of you to own it.’

Darcy winced. ‘I have made my share of mistakes, like any man.’

Elizabeth laughed, but he sensed she was not amused. ‘How…astonishing.’ She looked around. ‘And how unfortunate I am the only audience for this incredible show of humility.’

Something was definitely wrong. Darcy’s perplexed eyes met Elizabeth’s as she returned her attention to him.

‘Have I committed some particular transgression today, Miss Bennet?’

‘Today, Mr Darcy? Not particularly.’

Darcy released a relieved breath. ‘Then—’

‘Your offences, sir, extend far beyond today.’

He almost rolled his eyes as Elizabeth skipped around him and moved towards the house. Surely she was not going to repeat her defence of Wickham from the ball? Then, he frowned.

‘Offences?’ He set off in pursuit.

Elizabeth raised her chin as he fell into step beside her, fixing him with her intelligent eyes. How he wished to lose himself in them and—

‘You are so consumed with your own consequence, you cannot see worth in anyone not fortunate enough to have your background and upbringing. You may have been raised with good principles’—Elizabeth’s agitation was blatant. She did not sound as if she believed it—‘but you seem to follow them in pride and conceit.’

She headed for a nearby door, then stopped so abruptly, he almost ran into her.

‘You are made of the same ilk as Sir Walter and Miss Elliot. Judgemental, supercilious, and filled with arrogance.’

This was her opinion of him?

‘You would tar me with the same brush?’

‘No, you are right. I should not.’

Darcy’s relief was fleeting.

‘Sir Walter and his daughter have slighted me inconsequentially. I find their contempt diverting. You, sir, on the other hand, have brought permanent harm upon people I care for—far greater offences and ones I find no humour in.’

Cut to the quick by this affirmation of her continued interest in Wickham, Darcy drew himself to his full height.

‘I will not discuss Wickham’s false claims.’

Elizabeth’s eyes flashed. ‘His misfortunes are of your infliction. An offence, to be certain, but not what most angers me against you. That is the ruin of my sister’s happiness by your hand. Your obsession with wealth and consequence should not be imposed upon others, nor should your influence be brought to bear to deny someone the chance of making a marriage of affection.’

Darcy suddenly felt on a surer footing. After all, he had done Miss Jane Bennet a service. ‘I do not deny I was instrumental in separating my friend from your sister. Miss Bennet has much to recommend her—’

‘But not fortune or connections.’

With frustration, Darcy shook his head.

‘Your sister’s air was calm, and her manners towards my friend were cheerful and engaging, but I detected no symptom of particular regard, merely a dutiful daughter following a mother’s objective. I observed your sister closely, and Miss Bennet received Bingley’s attentions with pleasure but did not return them. I acted only to protect him from—’

Protect him?’ Elizabeth was shaking. ‘Please do finish your sentence, sir. Your friend needed protection from what, exactly? And what of my sister and the protection of her heart? Does Mr Bingley make a habit of paying his attentions to young ladies when he is expected to please his family and friends by marrying your sister?’

Darcy frowned. ‘What has Georgiana to do with this?’

Elizabeth ignored the question. ‘I hope they are happy together because I like Miss Darcy. My concern is not with your sister, sir, it is with mine and her current circumstances. A dreadful situation for which I hold you wholly responsible!’

Darcy was thoroughly confused, the ache in his breast intensifying at the words falling from Elizabeth’s lips. What the devil had happened to his intentions for today?

‘I have not the pleasure of understanding you.’

‘My father’s estate, as well you know, is entailed upon my cousin, Mr Collins. Jane has, in the light of Mr Bingley’s defection and her subsequent broken heart, succumbed to persuasion and agreed to marry this cousin.’

Broken heart? His was the heart that was breaking.

Elizabeth grasped the door handle, then turned around. ‘For dear, sweet Jane to have agreed to such an attachment is unbearable.’ She glared at Darcy. ‘I have no doubt you will see the fruits of your labour in person when next you call upon your aunt, for the engagement is to last until the spring, after which my sister will be shackled to the Reverend Collins for eternity. Your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others has brought Jane to this.’

Darcy’s head was reeling; his hopes and dreams collapsing around him. Almost in a trance, he stepped forward to stand beside Elizabeth, who held her ground, glaring at him from the fine eyes he had so long admired.

How could he turn this around, speak words that would diffuse the situation?

The silence between them swelled; then, Elizabeth pushed open the door.

‘If you will excuse me, sir. I find the air out here quite disagreeable.’

Drawing on every reserve as Elizabeth disappeared inside the building, Darcy turned his back on it. How could this have gone so disastrously wrong? The ache in his breast he tried to ignore; pain and disappointment would overcome him later, but not now. His head was reeling with the relentless words that had fallen from Elizabeth’s lips and…

The click of the latch as the door opened, roused him. She had come back! He swung around, hope filling him.

‘Elizabeth! I must explain my—’

He broke off as Miss Elliot fluttered her lashes.

‘Mr Darcy.’ She smiled coyly. ‘You are a little familiar, but it confirms my hopes. What is it you wish to say to me?’

What?

‘No! Forgive me, madam. I meant…’ Involuntarily, Darcy’s gaze drifted beyond the lady into the house, and the expectant smile was wiped from Miss Elliot’s face.

‘Miss Bennet appeared to be in rather a hurry just now.’

Darcy had no reply to this. After all, what was there to say?

‘If you will excuse me, ma’am.’ He bowed and turned on his heel, walking rapidly back towards the front of the house, desperate to put distance between himself and the debacle of his altercation with Elizabeth.

~o0o~

Chapter Seventeen can be found HERE!!

There will be a chapter a day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but then posting will take a break over the holidays, returning in January 2021!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

Ten minutes in Sir Walter’s study was sufficient for Darcy to realise why the rumours about the gentleman’s finances were probably true. Such extravagance over one painting, when the estate was failing to direct funds to more important needs, such as keeping the stock in the fields, was blatant mismanagement.

Whether Sir Walter was entirely to blame, with both an accountant and a legal representative to advise him, Darcy knew not, but he was thankful when the painting’s wrapping was restored and escape seemed imminent.

‘If I could have another moment of your time, Sir Walter?’

Shepherd, Sir Walter’s lawyer, was seated before a desk full of papers. Darcy had attempted to close his ears to their conversation on first arriving in the study. Kellynch business was none of his concern.

‘What is it now, Shepherd?’ Sir Walter gestured towards Darcy. ‘I have visitors.’

‘If you would just sign the authorisation for the quarterly payments?’ The lawyer spoke with quiet authority. ‘I shall not trouble you further.’

Turning away as Sir Walter walked over to the desk, Darcy noticed a large table upon which rested an open book. A quick study proved it to be the Baronetage and, unsurprisingly, the pages were opened on ‘Elliot of Kellynch Hall’.

Darcy’s eyes skimmed the entries, his brow rising as he noted the handwritten additions to the printed entries.

‘Ah, I see you are interested in the family lineage, Darcy. Have no fear,’ Sir Walter had come to stand beside Darcy. ‘The family has long been blessed with the baronetcy. Our credentials are exemplary.’

‘It is a fine volume, Sir Walter.’ Darcy pointed at the entry of his youngest daughter’s marriage a year ago. ‘I am surprised to see the annotations. Do they not affect its value?’

‘Done by my own hand. If anyone has the right, then it is I.’ Sir Walter’s pride in himself was blatant. ‘You would be surprised the value of a good annotation.’ He tapped his nose. ‘Needs must and—’

‘Are you well settled at Meadowbrook House, Mr Darcy?’

Surprised by Shepherd’s interruption, Darcy straightened from his study of the book. ‘Yes, quite settled, thank you.’

‘Good, good.’ The lawyer stepped forward and closed the Baronetage. ‘I have much to work on. If you will excuse me?’

Amused, Darcy followed Sir Walter from the room. Had the man just dismissed his employer from his own study?

‘Hmph.’ Sir Walter cleared his throat as they walked back along the corridor. ‘Shepherd is my confidential friend, you understand, of many years standing. His father before him was my advisor when I reached my majority.’

‘You permit him certain liberties, sir.’

Sir Walter raised a brow. ‘When a man knows the intricacies of your personal business, it is well to both keep him close and allow him some perceived authority.’ He gestured towards a corridor to the left. ‘What say you we go in search of Elizabeth, Darcy?’

A smile touched Darcy’s lips, even as his heart clenched again in his breast. He would gladly do so, and it was only as he followed Sir Walter towards the music room that he realised precisely which Elizabeth he had meant. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he at least felt reassured he would relieve his sister from the obligation of Miss Elliot’s sole attention.

Even so, Darcy had hoped to at least see Miss Bennet, engage her in conversation before he left, and he looked around, half expecting his wishes to have manifested her presence.

Strands of music floated through the air as Sir Walter opened the door to the music room. At least Georgiana would be perfectly content at the piano.

The music room was filled with light, so much so, Darcy felt almost blinded by it at first, but as his eyes adjusted, he realised Miss Elliot was alone in the room.

~o0o~

Elizabeth’s book had failed to capture her attention, her mind engrossed by her recent conversation with Anne. Happiness seemed to hold no sway over the lives of women, who seemed powerless to be their own protectors, whether they had a dowry or not.

Frustrated, Elizabeth checked the weather outside. A brisk walk around the gardens was required, and with that in mind, she hurried to collect her stoutest pair of boots and a warm pelisse before emerging from the boot room into the chill of the wintry afternoon.

Striking out along a path cleared of snow, Elizabeth walked for some time, head down and deep in thought, though none were conducive to raising her spirits.

Poor Anne… Elizabeth’s breath mingled with the chilly air to form swirls, drifting away from her. It was true, this intelligence of her captain had been a shock, and a painful one at that, but as Anne herself had owned, her grieving had been done over many years. Her melancholy may never fully loosen its hold, but her immediate distress would be alleviated given a little time to adjust to the news.

Having reached the shrubbery, Elizabeth turned about and surveyed her surroundings. There were few sounds beyond the cawing of some rooks in the bare treetops, and slowly she began to walk back towards the house. As she entered the formal lawned area, however, a movement caught her eye, and she espied a young woman on the terrace.

She waved a hand, recognising Georgiana Darcy, who returned the gesture.

As she reached the terrace, however, Elizabeth became concerned. ‘Miss Darcy, should you be out here?’ She considered the girl’s white complexion as she put a hand to her mouth to conceal a cough.

‘I have been waiting for my brother, but I could not bear’—Georgiana stopped, the hand flying back to her mouth, her eyes widening. ‘Forgive me. I must not speak out of turn.’

‘I did not know you were at Kellynch.’ Curious though Elizabeth was about what Georgiana had been about to say, she was more interested in how she came to be there.

‘My brother’—she cleared her throat—‘Fitz felt obliged to call upon Sir Walter, so I begged him to allow me to come too. I had hoped to see you.’

Elizabeth eyed Georgiana with surprise. ‘Me?’

‘Oh, and Miss Anne Elliot, of course. Only instead I…did not know where to find you.’

Gesturing for them to walk on, Elizabeth fell into step with Georgiana.

‘I cannot condone you being out in this cold weather, Miss Darcy, but as it is not my place to prevent you from doing so, I shall instead keep you company.’

‘Fitz will not be pleased with me, but I could remain no longer in the music room.’ Georgiana shuddered, and Elizabeth frowned.

‘Was the instrument not to your liking?’ Perhaps she was as fastidious in her tastes as Wickham had implied?

‘Oh no! It was exquisite. It is…I was with Miss Elliot.’ Georgiana stopped and turned to face Elizabeth. Her expression conflicted, and colour flooded her cheeks. ‘I know I should not say it, but I do not find her good company.’

Suppressing a laugh, Elizabeth laid a hand gently on Georgiana’s arm as they moved on. ‘She is an acquired taste. We cannot all like each other in the same way. It is human nature and how we are formed. Though I empathise with your desire to escape, I do not think Mr Darcy would wish you to be out for too long.’

‘My brother is protective of me, as he is of those he holds dear. We are but a small family, but Fitz would offer his protection to any of his close friends, or indeed those acquaintances who had need of it.’

Thinking of Wickham, Elizabeth was unimpressed. She liked Georgiana well enough, but she was incredibly naïve. Suddenly struck with a notion, Elizabeth glanced at her.

‘May I ask you a question, Miss Darcy?’

‘Of course?’

‘You are well acquainted with your brother’s intimate friend, Mr Bingley, I assume?’

Georgiana smiled. ‘Indeed. When we are in Town, he is as much in our house as we are. Fitz considers him almost family.’

That was not what Elizabeth wished to hear! They had few steps to go along the terrace before they were back at the door to the boot room. Ought she to ask more? She was being impertinent…

‘Mr Bingley was well liked in Hertfordshire. It is a shame he is said to be giving up the estate.’

‘I was surprised when my brother first told me.’ They had reached the door now and Elizabeth opened it, waiting for Georgiana to precede her into the building. ‘But Fitz takes care of him where he needs it most, and Mr Bingley is most grateful to him for the service.’

Her dissatisfaction with Mr Darcy growing by the minute, Elizabeth did not respond, hanging her pelisse on the coat stand and sitting down to unlace her boots. The sooner the man was gone from the Hall, the better. Then, she frowned.

‘What service?’

The words were out before Elizabeth could think about the appropriateness of them, but Georgiana Darcy was busy hanging up her own pelisse and continued to chatter, unwittingly revealing her brother’s hand in the separation of his friend from a most unsuitable young lady in Hertfordshire.

~o0o~

‘Damnit!’

Pacing was no aid to Darcy, despite the lateness of the hour. Unable to settle, unwilling to make any attempt at sleeping, he glared at the embers in the hearth, scowled at his reflection every time he passed the looking glass and glowered at the undisturbed bed as though his present unrest was down to them and them alone.

Now, a good half hour after dismissing his rather peeved valet, assuring him that he was quite capable of preparing himself for bed for once, Darcy remained wide awake, his mind in more turmoil than ever.

He strode over to the window of his chamber and stared out into the all-consuming darkness. A crescent of the waning moon stood as a slender sentinel in the sky—just as motionless as Darcy. If his line of sight had been clear of trees, and it was not the dead of night, he might be able to see straight to Kellynch Hall. Did Elizabeth’s room face in this direction? Was she, too, awake and unable to settle? Did she think of him?

Resuming his pacing, Darcy’s expression became thoughtful. His sister had long since retired, her delight in her first visit to the Hall down purely to time spent in Elizabeth’s company.

A sudden image flashed through his mind, Elizabeth’s fine eyes meeting his across the music room as she entered, his sister in tow. He could not recall what he had said. Miss Elliot had been talking to him, but his interest was all with Elizabeth.

Darcy frowned. She had not seemed her usual serene self, and her terse response when he had enquired after Miss Anne Elliot confounded him. Was it because her friend was unwell? If it were to be a lengthy indisposition, would Elizabeth’s time be wholly consumed by attending the lady?

It was Elizabeth’s way to care for others. Had Darcy not seen it for himself when she nursed Jane Bennet through her illness at Netherfield? He had seen it too in the way she had spoken so kindly to Georgiana when first they met, and earlier…

Walking to the looking glass, he took in his conflicted air. How could Elizabeth have such a hold on the Darcys? He was bewitched; there was no other word for it. Entranced by her, unable to pull his gaze away.

Georgiana had blossomed under Elizabeth’s attention as she encouraged her to play a duet. When had Darcy last seen such animation in his sister’s face, such rapt attention upon anything, even her music? The sound of her laughter had been a delight, and he had smiled gratefully at Elizabeth.

Was her assessing stare borne of a growing interest in him? Darcy had yet to fathom the intricacies of Elizabeth’s mind, but she must have detected it, for he was becoming powerless to conceal it.

Darcy prowled over to the window again, staring once more in the direction of the Hall. How could any woman affect him so? Elizabeth could not possibly understand the impact she had upon him; he could scarce account for it himself.

What was it he had said? A stammered compliment about the music, and, because he was eaten up with longing to take a seat beside Elizabeth, to have her notice upon him and him alone, Darcy had done the opposite. He had held out his hand for his sister and, he hoped, made a civil retreat from the room and the house.

Consumed by emotions he knew not how to harness, Darcy turned around and leant against the sill. He had known the danger, back in Hertfordshire, not only of paying Elizabeth too much attention, but of wanting more from the lady than a gentleman of his standing should consider or permit. Now he fully comprehended the truth he had battled to suppress. Denial was futile.

Reaching up to unfasten his neck cloth, a faint smile touched Darcy’s lips. The battle with himself was over; the war had been won.

Darcy’s heart was already Elizabeth’s and, God help him, he was going to marry her.

~o0o~

Pacing to and fro in her room, Elizabeth was thankful Anne had decided to retire early, though relieved her friend had seemed more herself. She had chosen not to relate her conversation with Georgiana, for Anne was sufficiently burdened with her own concerns.

Georgiana Darcy’s naiveté could easily be put down to her inexperience in the world, and the cosseted way she had likely been raised…

Stopping in the middle of the room, Elizabeth drew in a short breath. Yes, she wished to blame Mr Darcy for the entirety, even his own sister’s gaucheness at times, but honesty forced her to acknowledge that over-protectiveness surely had more merit than the lethargic approach of her father towards his daughters.

Elizabeth dropped onto her bed. She had placed the blame for Bingley’s desertion with his sisters—Miss Bingley in particular—though she had not been blind to Mr Darcy’s disparaging opinion of her family. Aside from anything he might have said, it was blatant upon his face, tangible in his air when any of the Bennet family was within close proximity.

To learn from Miss Darcy he had been instrumental in removing his friend from the district and advising him not to return had been galling and infuriating. The girl seemed little troubled by it. If she had any affection for Mr Bingley, it clearly did not distress her to know he had paid attention to another.

‘Poor Miss Darcy.’ Despite herself, Elizabeth could not help but smile a little at the recollection of Georgiana’s face as she realised whatever she was saying was affecting Elizabeth.

It had taken a lot of reassurance, and Elizabeth’s best endeavours, as they walked through the hall, to not blame the bearer of such intelligence, before Georgiana could be reassured no harm had been done.

‘No harm?’ muttered Elizabeth, getting to her feet as agitation returned in full measure. ‘What lies we speak to save the innocent.’

Well, she had done her utmost to make the girl easy, had accompanied her back to the music room only to find him there already. Oh, how proud her parents would have been at the restraint Elizabeth held over her feelings upon entering the room.

As for Mr Darcy…

The door to the servants’ staircase opened and Lottie entered with a pitcher of hot water.

‘Oh! Are you ready, miss?’

‘As ready as I shall ever be, Lottie.’

The morrow was another day, and if chance favoured her, Elizabeth would not see Mr Darcy until she had herself under better regulation.

~o0o~

Chapter Sixteen can be found HERE!!

There will be a chapter a day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but then posting will take a break over the holidays, returning in January 2021!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

As soon as Elizabeth awoke, her thoughts were of her friend and all she had revealed the night before, and she only just allowed Lottie to insert the last pin into her hair before hurrying from the room.

Relieved to find Anne no longer in her own chamber, Elizabeth made her way down the stairs and walked through the great hall towards the breakfast room. Voices drifted towards her, indicating Sir Walter and his eldest were at table, and Elizabeth’s steps slowed. Was she hungry enough to tolerate their company?

Elizabeth decided she was. Besides, Anne may need her.

‘I have told you time and again, my dear. You cannot be too choosy.’ Sir Walter’s strident voice carried to Elizabeth through the partially open door as she approached.

Miss Elliot’s response was muted, but her father continued as Elizabeth pushed open the door. ‘It is the perfect solution. After what I did for you a year ago, you are in no position to delay, and the gentleman is—ah, Miss Bennet.’

Elizabeth curtseyed as Miss Elliot spun around in her seat, discomfort apparent on her features, but she quickly assumed her usual indolent air.

‘Excuse me, Sir Walter. Is there word from Miss Anne this morning?’

The gentleman raised a brow. ‘We have not seen her. She must be in her room.’

Miss Elliot completely ignored Elizabeth.

‘If you will excuse me, sir, ma’am, I shall seek her out.’

Closing the door with a snap, Elizabeth mulled over where Anne might be. It was good to know she had felt well enough to leave her room but breaking her fast had clearly not been the incentive.

Elizabeth clutched her stomach as an ominous growl emanated from it. She would have to do a raid on the kitchens later, finding Anne took precedence.

A search of all the rooms on the ground floor bore no fruit; a passing footman had no answer for Miss Anne Elliot’s whereabouts, and Elizabeth was on the verge of heading down to the kitchens to beg for a piece of toast or plum cake before searching further when she saw Anne coming through the doorway leading from the boot room, dressed in her riding habit. Her face was flushed and her hair a little disarrayed as she removed her hat, but when she saw Elizabeth, she raised a hand in greeting.

‘I was so worried about you!’ Elizabeth hurried her steps to meet her friend. ‘Where have you been?’

‘Come, Lizzy.’ Anne said no more but took Elizabeth’s arm and urged her along to the small sitting room they had gone to the previous day.

‘You are cold.’

Anne nodded, gesturing for Elizabeth to precede her into the room, and she closed the door and turned around to lean against it.

‘I wished to catch the Reverend Wentworth.’

They each took a seat either side of the hearth where a welcome fire crackled in the grate, and Anne held out her hands towards it. Elizabeth chewed her lip. Her friend spoke in a matter of fact manner that belied the dullness of her eyes and the slump of her frame.

‘Did you sleep at all?’

‘I do not feel as though I did, but I had such dreams…and one must sleep to dream.’ Anne sat back in her seat, tucking her hands into her lap. ‘I had to see Reverend Wentworth, to see if he had any further intelligence.’

‘And did he?’

Anne shook her head. ‘It is oft the way in such cases. Initial reports reach the press before private word can be delivered to the families, the distances being so great.’

‘And is the reverend the only family in this instance?’

The colour in Anne’s cheeks, borne of the brisk walk in the cold air, was receding. ‘Frederick had a sister to whom he was seriously attached—he spoke of her often and with great affection. She married a naval man, now an admiral, and they are currently in the West Indies. It will be some time before they learn what has befallen her brother.’

Elizabeth leaned back in her own seat. ‘So much sadness to be borne, for the families of each and every man lost on the ship. I am so grieved for you, Anne.’

‘Reverend Wentworth is now on his way to Leominster, where he is to be wed. His new wife will be his comfort.’ Anne stretched her stocking-clad feet out towards the hearth, wriggling her toes in search of its warmth. ‘He had heard rumours of a ship going down in the Irish Sea but had no reason to suspect it was the Laconia.’ Anne drew in a short breath. ‘He is full of regret for having only seen his brother twice in the past five years. I cannot help but feel I am to blame. Frederick, as you can imagine, never returned to Somersetshire after we…after he…he has not visited his brother at home since the year six. They met in Southampton, when he was ashore, but he was mainly at sea and…’ Her voice trailed away as her mind drifted, and Elizabeth clutched her stomach again as it let out a protesting gurgle.

‘You have not eaten.’

‘I wished to find you.’

‘Dear Lizzy.’ Anne stood up. ‘I will profess to having no appetite, but I am sensible enough to comprehend I will do myself little service by not eating. Let us see if Mrs Howard can supply us with a little nourishment. I cannot face the breakfast table.’

Grateful though she was to know food would be imminent, Elizabeth took Anne’s arm as they made their way back along the hall.

‘If there is anything I can do, Anne, anything at all… I know there is no way to heal your immediate pain, but if you wish to talk to me, speak of Captain Wentworth in confidence, you have my solemn vow, never shall a word be spoken to another of anything you wish to share.’

They had reached the door to the service areas, and Anne turned to face Elizabeth, her expression solemn.

‘Thank you, dear Lizzy. If I had been here with just my father and my sister, then I do not know how I would have borne the news. I could not share it with them, nor would they understand my loss. They had no time for Frederick, he is… was… of no importance to them.’

‘He was important to you, and that is all that matters. I will let you be the guide but I remain at your disposal.’

Anne pushed open the door. ‘Of that I shall take full opportunity, dear Lizzy. Let us eat, and then, after I have changed out of these clothes, we will go up to the long gallery for some exercise and conversation. It will be the best possible balm.’

~o0o~

To Darcy’s disappointment, only Sir Walter and his eldest daughter were present when he and Georgiana were shown into the drawing room, and once his sister had been introduced to the gentleman, she sat in awed silence and Darcy was left to carry the conversation.

To his further discomfort, Miss Elliot paid Georgiana little attention beyond what was required and came to sit beside him to engage him in inconsequential nothings, to which he responded in a distracted manner, his eye upon his equally uncomfortable sister, and his mind wandering the building in search of Elizabeth.

‘Do you not think so, sir?’

Darcy blinked and turned to the lady at his side. ‘I—er, yes, of course.’

‘There! It is as I told my father only this morning. I was certain as to your finding it most agreeable for you to join us for dinner prior to the ball.’

He looked from Sir Walter to Georgiana, who seemed suddenly interested in the lady.

‘We shall, of course, be inviting only the best company.’ Miss Elliot frowned. ‘Though we are under duress to have all the Musgroves here.’ She did not appear overly pleased by this. ‘A family obligation, you understand.’

Georgiana looked eagerly at the lady. ‘And Miss Bennet?’

Miss Elliot trilled a light laugh.

‘Good heavens, I think not. Miss Bennet will have long gone on her way by St Stephen’s.’ Miss Elliot leaned confidentially towards Darcy, who instinctively leaned further away. ‘My sister, Anne, has some singular notions. Her bringing Miss Bennet here was a misjudgement, one I am certain you comprehend.’

Thankfully, she straightened, permitting Darcy to do the same and save himself from falling off the back of the chaise.

He was torn between indignation at her derogatory tone and owning it would have been his exact reaction, had someone had the temerity to bring someone of the Bennets’ status to stay at Pemberley.

‘Her connections, Mr Darcy, and the situation of her family! An uncle who is a small town, country lawyer and another in trade! You can imagine how Father and I felt when we took steps to investigate the Bennets’ wealth and consequence.’

Elizabeth has more consequence than you could ever dream of. 

‘Did you say something, sir?’

Darcy shook his head. ‘Do please continue. You were talking of the ball?’

Miss Elliot accepted the invitation, but Darcy paid no heed to her words. He had known Elizabeth would only stay for a few weeks, but he had hardly seen her.

Why was he so devastated at the thought of her leaving Somersetshire? His hand went involuntarily to his breast. He was not prepared for this chance encounter to come to a precipitous ending.

The door opened, and a butler entered to address Sir Walter.

‘Mr Shepherd is here, sir. I have shown him to the study, where he awaits your instructions.’

Sir Walter rose from his seat. ‘Darcy, join me, if you will. I must just speak with my legal man, but I have recently sourced a valuable painting and it arrived this morning. I am certain you will appreciate seeing it.’

‘But Father—’

Sir Walter waved a dismissive hand at his daughter. ‘Miss Darcy will no doubt be grateful for your attention, my dear. Come, Darcy.’

To Darcy’s surprise, Georgiana nodded as he got to his feet, albeit she eyed Miss Elliot warily.

‘I will return directly, Georgie, and we will be home in time for your music practice.’

‘Music practice be damned, Darcy. Elizabeth’—Sir Walter turned to Miss Elliot— ‘take Miss Darcy to the music room. She can try out the instruments to her heart’s content, and you can display your own talents by return.’

A glimpse of Miss Elliot’s countenance was sufficient for Darcy to comprehend the lady’s view on this, but then she perceived Darcy’s eye upon her.

‘It will be my pleasure. Do come and find us, sir, when your business is complete. Come, Miss Darcy.’ She offered a hand to Georgiana who, after a fleeting look in her brother’s direction, arose to take it, allowing herself to be led from the room.

~o0o~

Elizabeth and Anne had completed several lengths of the long gallery, an impressive area in which the two of them were quite lost, but which enabled them to speak freely without fear of being overheard or interrupted.

‘I shall, at least, have my memories of the happy times we shared, Lizzy. It is more than some can ever aspire to.’

Anne stared out of one of the many windows along the gallery, and Elizabeth joined her. The colour in her friend’s cheeks was returning, as was her calm manner.

‘I have long mourned the man I loved, and though this is wretched, it alters not my own situation.’ She turned to face Elizabeth with a soft smile. ‘There will still be moments of anguish, but I have had five years to accept my lot in life.’

Impulsively, Elizabeth embraced her friend.

‘What you had with Captain Wentworth, though it ended in a way you would not wish, was more than many experience. You are quite right, the memory cannot be taken away from you.’

Anne was silent for a moment, then she nodded. ‘I have come to realise that Frederick Wentworth was the most important person in my life. So much of who I am today is rooted in the love we shared and lost. I had never connected them until now.’

Elizabeth felt consumed by sadness. She wondered if perhaps the good captain had never quite recovered from his affection for Anne. It was certainly likely he had never come across another such woman.

‘The past few months have shown me the many complications pertaining to matters of the heart.’ Elizabeth took in the beautiful expanse of land, then leaned against the windowsill beside her friend. ‘I begin to understand why so many marriages are founded on business. I do not like it, but it seems finding love is oft insufficient.’

‘And sometimes it is entirely too much.’

‘It is sadly true. I hear all you have endured, and I think of Jane and Mr Bingley.’ Elizabeth turned towards her friend earnestly. ‘I know he cared for her, Anne. I know he did. But persuasion was the means of separating them, much as it was in your own case, and for similar reasons, no doubt. I do not fault you for your decision. I have struggled not to fault Mr Bingley, but if he truly is intending to wed Miss Darcy, I ought to rail against him for his blatant attentions to my sister.’

Anne frowned. ‘It may account for his being so easily persuaded to leave Hertfordshire, particularly if his unguarded attentions had given rise to a general expectation of there being a commitment between Mr Bingley and your sister.’

Elizabeth pursed her lips. ‘I had not given such a possibility credence, but now I begin to wonder. Mr Bingley’s manners were so open and inviting. What if he is prone to such missteps and has had to be warned before now by his friends of the danger of his paying too much attention to a young lady?’ Then, she shook her head. ‘But I am certain he was genuinely attached to Jane, that he fell in love with her.’

‘Being destined for another does not necessarily prevent someone from falling in love elsewhere, certainly if the prior arrangement is more of a business arrangement.’

‘Aye.’ Elizabeth’s mind was grappling with this interpretation. ‘Though I did not accept it at the time, with Mr Bingley’s settled absence, I must began to give it some weight. As for Miss Darcy, she had been portrayed by Miss Bingley and’—Elizabeth caught herself before mentioning Wickham’s assessment— ‘and held up as a virtue, so much older and mature than she is. It seems there was some deception in the case.’

‘And what do you think Miss Bingley’s motives were in making you believe this?’

Miss Bingley’s she could surmise, but Elizabeth was unsettled to realise it was harder to fathom Mr Wickham’s purpose. Surely he had known Miss Darcy all her life, and his interpretation ought to be the most reliable?

‘Lizzy?’

‘At the time, I told Jane I believed it was more about Miss Bingley wanting Miss Darcy as a sister through her own marriage to Mr Darcy.’

‘Mr Darcy?’ It was Anne’s turn to frown as they both pushed away from the window and walked across the room. ‘Is he engaged to the lady?’

Elizabeth laughed as they reached the door. ‘Oh, how I wish! Mr Darcy deserves such a life, for all he has done to ruin others! The machinations of marriage are all too much for me. I shall have none of it.’

Anne opened the door, and Elizabeth looked back along the gallery.

‘You are fortunate to have such a place for when the weather is inclement.’

‘And you would, whatever the elements, prefer to be in the fresh air?’

Elizabeth smiled as she followed Anne down the stairs. ‘We cannot always have what we prefer.’

They had reached the first floor, and Anne paused. ‘Will you excuse me, Lizzy? I wish to take a little rest. My poor night of sleep has made me weary.’

‘Of course. May I return to the small sitting room with a book? You are certain you do not wish for companionship?’

They had reached the door to Anne’s room now, and she turned to face Elizabeth. There was a noticeable calmness about her now. ‘I am quite well. I merely wish to rest. I will join you once I am feeling stronger.’

With that, Elizabeth had to be content, and she hurried to her room to collect the book she was reading before heading down the stairs to the seclusion of the late Lady Elliot’s sanctuary.

~o0o~

Chapter Fifteen can be found HERE!!

Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

 

 

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