Is Mr. Darcy too late?
While Mr. Darcy rushes to London to help Miss Lydia Bennet avoid ruination, the unexpected death of their father throws Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s future into doubt. The remaining Bennet women move to London in order to support themselves, and Elizabeth accepts the first position as a governess she can find—with the Countess of Bremont and her ward, Madeleine.
But the Countess is crueler than she could have imagined, and she finds herself a virtual prisoner alongside Madeleine. Elizabeth must devise a plan to free herself and her young friend from the Countess’s schemes…
With the help of Mr. Bingley, he travels to London and searches for her with the only information he has: her name and her position. Darcy must know if her feelings for him have changed since he last proposed. Will he find Elizabeth before the Countess can separate them forever?
Love Unmasked is a Cinderella story of 50,000 words that is a stand alone novel. This book features second chances, a lost love, forbidden love, women in peril and a happy reunion.
Elizabeth walked to the dresser she and Jane shared. She heard the familiar creaking of the floorboard in the room’s middle as she stepped on it. Jane had the top two drawers and Elizabeth the bottom two. The drawer closest to the floor never slid out smoothly but would catch on the left side. Elizabeth jerked it for the last time and pulled it out.
She gathered all her dresses into her arms and then turned to put them in the large trunk on the floor. As she pushed the clothes down, the scent of lavender permeated the air. Elizabeth smiled as she remembered when she had picked the lavender last summer and dried it. She put it in her drawers to scent her clothes.
Elizabeth sighed. She would miss her lavender bushes, the plant drying room, the grounds of Longbourn. She knew all the paths, the hiding spots of birds, foxes, and deer. Who would check on the next generation of hedgehogs? Elizabeth would have to tell Charlotte where to look for them.
A creak in the hallway alerted Elizabeth to someone approaching her room. She turned to find Charlotte standing just outside the door.
“How are you faring, Lizzy?” Charlotte walked into the room, scuffing her shoes on the floor. There were no rugs in the room anymore to silence the sound of shoes.
Elizabeth smiled at her good friend. “I am doing well, Charlotte.”
Charlotte glanced down at Elizabeth’s filled trunk and then around the room. “There is not much left for you to pack, is there?”
Elizabeth looked closer at her friend and saw Charlotte wringing her hands, the tightened corners of her mouth. Elizabeth held out her hands to Charlotte. “There is not. You seem anxious, Charlotte. Is anything the matter?”
“I do wish you would stay, Lizzy.” Charlotte held onto Elizabeth’s hands like a lifeline. “Living in Meryton without you does not seem right. You know Mr. Collins and I would not mind at all if you stayed at Longbourn. As a matter of fact, I would enjoy our close friendship greatly.”
“Oh Charlotte, you know a newlywed’s home is no place for a family of relatives to stay.” Elizabeth grinned at her friend. She knew how hard it would be for Charlotte to say goodbye this day, but it had to be done. They could not stay at Longbourn forever, not with the Collins’ family growing at some point.
Charlotte tilted the corner of her lips up. “Be that as it may, Longbourn is much too big for just the two of us. And Mr. Collins is often gone in the fields and walking about town. I fear he does not have as much to do here as he did at Hunsford. I would greatly love it if you could stay, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth squeezed Charlotte’s hands. “I would love to do that Charlotte, but you know I cannot. It is not right for us to stay here in Longbourn any longer.” Charlotte opened her mouth, but Elizabeth cut her off. “No, do not say anything. You have been most kind and generous letting us stay for several months after Papa died. It gave us time to find new places to live. We will never forget that.”
“Lizzy, you know it was the right thing to do. But do you all have to go? I can understand how difficult it is for your mother to live here, but do you and Jane need to leave? There is no need for you to leave and seek employment when you can stay here. Think of how that will affect your ability to marry well.”
Elizabeth grinned and looked away through the beam of sunlight flowing through the single window, out to the winter landscape outside. She knew Charlotte was desperate now, but she would be fine. Her family lived not far, and Meryton and all the landscape was familiar to her. Elizabeth felt a pang of sadness, but she pushed it down again. She had to be strong and look forward with optimism. There was no other course of action for them. Mr. Bennet had not left them enough money to live on, not to even rent a small house to keep the family together. The Phillips did not have enough room for Jane and Elizabeth as well as the rest of the Bennets. The eldest two had to leave.
“Well,” Elizabeth said and looked back at Charlotte with a smile, “there is not much I can do about that, Charlotte. When a family of five girls is left with not enough money to live on there must be some way to make ends meet.”
“I am going to miss you greatly, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth beamed at her friend. “I know. I shall miss you greatly as well. But the longer we stay the harder it will be for us to leave. No, it is better for us to leave now and make our way in the world.”
“And Jane is determined to go as well?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, we are both going to my aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, in town. We will stay there while we find employment as governesses. I am sure Jane will find employment with the very first family she interviews with. She really does love children. It is the perfect job for her. As for me, well… ” Elizabeth smiled. “I just hope they do not expect me to teach them how to play the piano and sing.”
Charlotte smiled while Elizabeth laughed, but she was worried for Elizabeth. She feared this was an error, an irrevocable step that could not be undone and would greatly diminish Elizabeth’s chances for finding a good husband, let alone any husband.
“I will write you often. Let me know where you will be staying.”
“I expect weekly letters. You can write to me at the Gardiners as they will always know where I am.” Elizabeth and Charlotte hugged tightly.
* * *
Servants carried the trunks from the upstairs bedrooms down the stairs and out the door to the waiting carriages. The clattering of servants going up and down the stairs made it hard to hear anyone speak. Mrs. Bennet yelled orders to the servants for the packing of the trunks in the carriage going to Meryton. She also gave orders as to the care of the belongings they could not take with them due to lack of room. Mr. and Mrs. Collins patiently listened even though they had heard it all before. They knew Mrs. Bennet was overcome with nerves at this final departure from Longbourn as a household member.
The last few months living with the Collins at Longbourn had gone better than Elizabeth had expected. Mrs. Bennet had moved to a smaller room as she could not, and did not want to, stay in the master bedroom. She had spent more time at the house of her sister in Meryton than at Longbourn during the last month, so the move was not the upheaval to her life that it could have been. Kitty and Mary also accompanied their mother to Meryton on her trips. Kitty was glad to be away from the boring life at Longbourn, and Mary was glad to be recognized as a proficient pianoforte player by the Phillips.
Elizabeth and Jane had enjoyed Charlotte’s kindness and shoulder to cry on those first weeks as they came to grips with the reality of living at Longbourn without Mr. Bennet. The trio enjoyed their time walking and conversing about many subjects. Elizabeth pointed out her favorite walking paths and known locations of certain animals and plants. It was easier to leave Longbourn knowing her friend would continue to watch over the plants and various animals she had fed.
Mrs. Bennet exclaimed at the uncaring superiors where Mr. Wickham was stationed. They had not given the Wickhams enough leave to travel from the far north to Meryton and stay for a sennight as Mrs. Bennet had wanted. Lydia would not travel by herself, and Wickham did not want to come, so the Wickhams did not come at all.
The last of the trunks were loaded onto the carriages. The Bennets hugged as tears rolled down many faces. Mr. Collins wished Jane and Elizabeth good fortune as he helped both into their carriage. Elizabeth settled on the worn leather bench, and the carriage moved as Jane climbed in.
“It will be a bumpy ride to town.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at Jane.
Jane shared a wide eyed look with Elizabeth. “I did not realize the Gardiner’s coach was sprung so badly.”
Both steeled themselves for a rough ride to town. As the carriage moved onwards, the eldest Bennet girls waved to the Collins and the rest of their family. The clatter of hooves and wheels on the gravel made it impossible to hear anything that was said to them. But the girls waved and smiled until the coach moved past the row of hedges.
Elizabeth leaned back against the coach with a sigh. Now, she had plenty of time to think about the future and the past without anyone noticing. She looked at Jane who sat next to her and wished that somehow, in some way, Mr. Bingley would make his way back to Jane.
Elizabeth leaned back against the carriage and looked out the window at the passing countryside as she wistfully remembered the kindness and changed behavior of Mr. Darcy when she had seen him at Lambton and his fine estate of Pemberley. She had been sure he was on the verge of offering for her again until the letters of Lydia’s actions had arrived and ruined everything.
A tear rolled down Elizabeth’s face. She wiped it away surreptitiously, hoping that Jane had not seen her crying. Elizabeth had put on a good front to everyone, including Jane, that nothing bothered her. But when she had time to herself, when no one was around, Elizabeth would remember the most perfect man: Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth will marry Mr. Collins even if Mrs. Bennet has to drag her to the altar.
When Mr. Bennet dies, Mr. Collins takes over Longbourn. He shows his true character when he vows to force the Bennets from their home unless he is given Elizabeth Bennet’s hand in marriage.
Elizabeth, who has promised only to marry for love, refuses. But as her mother and sisters take increasingly drastic steps to force Elizabeth to wed, how long can she resist? Will Elizabeth make the ultimate sacrifice to save her family from being cast out?
Elizabeth Bennet stood in front of Netherfield Park and waited for the Bennets’ carriage to pull around. She was quite sure that Mrs. Bennet had arranged for their carriage to come last, which did not make the Bingleys any fonder of the Bennets.
Elizabeth had a first-hand view of how much some Bingleys wanted them to leave. Mr. Bingley was still talking to Jane, completely oblivious to Caroline Bingley, Mrs. Louisa Hurst, and Mr. Hurst yawning, coughing and making pointed comments about how much they wanted to go to bed. This embarrassment on top of the entire mortifying and disappointing evening made Elizabeth wish she could fly home like a bird. Elizabeth was glad Jane and Mr. Bingley had this extra time to talk to each other, though. She was sure that Mr. Bingley would offer for Jane within a sennight.
However, that was the only thing Elizabeth was glad for this evening. She had spent extra time on her hair and dress to look good for George Wickham, who never even appeared at the ball. He had sent a word with his friend Denny that he decided it was best if he did not show up because of someone else there. Denny did not name anyone, but pointedly looked at Mr. Darcy.
So Mr. Darcy had ruined her evening without even trying. Then he had the gall to ask her to dance! This after he insulted her at the Meryton Assembly when he stated that she was not handsome enough to tempt him! Elizabeth did not care for men who could not make up their minds. She especially did not care for men who ruined the livelihoods of others. Namely how Mr. Darcy ruined George Wickham’s life.
Charlotte Lucas had warned her not to make Mr. Darcy angry, that he was a man of great consequence. Charlotte was of course correct; however, Elizabeth could not keep quiet about such injustices as Mr. Darcy did to poor George Wickham. During her dances with Mr. Darcy, she questioned him. It did not go well.
She left the dance more frustrated than ever with Mr. Darcy. She did not know nor care what Mr. Darcy thought of her. The man may have 10,000 pounds a year, but he lived in Derbyshire. How did his opinion even matter to her? He was just a friend of Mr. Bingley, an arrogant and proud friend.
Then the Bingley sisters had to stick their nose into it. Caroline told her that she did not know the particulars, but she was quite sure George Wickham had done something awful to Mr. Darcy. Did they not think that Mr. Darcy told them whatever would make him look good?
And then, to make the night even worse, Elizabeth had accidentally agreed to dance the first two with Mr. Collins. What an embarrassment! She blushed just remembering it. Mr. Collins did not even know how to dance correctly. He stepped on her feet, turned in the wrong directions and used her exceedingly ill. She could not wait to get away from him, but he continued to embarrass her, along with her entire family, except Jane, throughout the night.
Finally, the Bennets’ carriage pulled up. If she had to listen to Miss. Bingley utter one more time how much she wished to go to bed, Elizabeth did not know what she would do. They all squeezed into the carriage with some of them sitting on each other’s laps. And no, she would not sit on Mr. Collins’ lap, thank you for the offer though.
She did not know how Mr. Collins ever came to be a parson. He was so entranced with the female figure. She pitied whoever had to marry him, for no one could stand his fawning behavior for long. She vowed to marry for love; nothing less than love, to a man that was intelligent, playful, and one that she respected.
* * *
Mr. Darcy did not feel that he had to stand with the Bingleys and wait for their last guests to leave, but for some reason he could not keep himself from the occupation. So, he stood quietly listening to the comments of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, the quiet talk of Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet, and the simpering praises of Miss Bennet by Mrs. Bennet.
He had not thought his friend in danger until Mrs. Bennet had stated during the ball that she expected Mr. Bingley to offer for Miss Bennet soon. He then paid attention to his friend and Miss Bennet throughout the rest of the evening. He would much rather have kept an eye on those two, but the rest of the Bennet family, except Elizabeth, seemed determined to make spectacles of themselves. His attention was drawn to their lack of decorum over and over.
It was obvious that the Bennet family was an embarrassment. It was a miracle that Mr. Bingley chose to dance and talk to Miss Bennet, given the poor behavior exhibited by Mrs. Bennet, Miss Mary, Miss Catherine, Miss Lydia and even Mr. Bennet. There was no way he would let Mr. Bingley make such a monumental mistake and offer for Miss Bennet. Sure, Miss Bennet was nice and pleasing to look at, but her family was horrid. The younger girls, Lydia and Kitty, ran around and played as if a ball was a big lark for them. Mary Bennet could not understand that this was not her own theater to showcase her lackadaisical pianoforte talents. And that singing voice! Mr. Darcy shuddered.
He could not think of anything bad about Elizabeth, though. Her eyes, her pleasing form, her luscious lips. He had enjoyed holding her hand while dancing with her. Unfortunately George Wickham had told her a fictional version of events that Elizabeth believed. She had spent their dance questioning him. Of course she did not outright accuse him, but her questions were obviously about Wickham. Instead of being angry at Elizabeth, he was attracted even more to her quick mind. However, he was very angry at Wickham.
It was far too dangerous to pay any more attention to Elizabeth Bennet. He greatly admired her wit, intelligence, and pleasing figure, but it was too dangerous for him to continue to think of her, let alone be around her. He could not marry someone with such a family as hers. He would have to exert control on himself; the same control that he had put forth in every other aspect of his life. He would ignore the Bennets, especially Elizabeth Bennet, from this day forward.
“Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.” Mr. Darcy then walked out of the Collins’ Parsonage, slamming the door.
Oh, that insufferable man! To think that he could have made his proposal in any manner that she would have accepted. For him to think that she would have accepted after he told her how inferior her connections were! “Arrogant, prideful man!”
Elizabeth could not stand still and contain her anger at Mr. Darcy. How did he ever think anyone would be flattered by that? Especially after finding out from Col. Fitzwilliam that it was Mr. Darcy’s fault that Mr. Bingley left Netherfield suddenly and without proposing to Jane! “That insufferable man!”
Elizabeth was so angry she knew she would not be able to calm down unless she got out of the house and walked. She put on her Spencer and walking shoes, and took off for her favorite walk in Rosings Park. “There had better not be anybody that I run into today!”
The number of times that she had run into Mr. Darcy while he had been walking the very same grounds had been too many. Elizabeth now realized that had probably been his version of courting. “Only such an egotistical and prideful man would think that I had been walking in that area specifically for him to happen across me!”
She walked fast without seeing where she was going as she kept thinking back on what had just occurred with Mr. Darcy. The man who would always seem to dislike her, who did not want anything to do with her, who had even told Mr. Bingley that she was not handsome enough to tempt him. Why would he propose marriage? It was preposterous! And for him to be upset that she denied him? “As if I had somehow induced or incited him to think that I was interested!”
She could not wait to write Jane about this. Actually this was something that would probably have to be told in person, as it would take too much paper and ink to tell properly. How unexpected was that proposal!
And yet she could not tell Jane why she was so angry with Mr. Darcy—that he played a big part in ruining Jane’s chance for happiness with Mr. Bingley. How could she ever marry someone who had thwarted the love growing between Jane and Mr. Bingley? “Never!”
* * *
“Richard, where is Fitzwilliam? Did he tell you where he was going for his business errand? And what business does he have in Hunsford?”
Col. Fitzwilliam fussed with this jacket. He was not going to tell his aunt the reason Mr. Darcy left was to check on Miss Elizabeth’s health. His cousin had been quite concerned when they found out from Mr. Collins that Elizabeth Bennet stayed home. If Lady Catherine heard where Mr. Darcy had gone it would not be from him.
“I am unsure, Aunt.”
“He has been gone long enough. He comes to Rosings but once a year. I will not have him spend his time away. Go and find him, Richard. Tell him I want to speak with him.”
Col. Fitzwilliam bowed to the room and left. He was glad to leave, as he had been tired of listening to Mr. Collins talk about himself or admire anything his aunt said. How he could stand that level of flattery and obsequiousness was beyond him.
Col. Fitzwilliam would walk the path to the Collins Parsonage and expected to find Mr. Darcy on the grounds of Rosings Park. He could give Fitzwilliam a warning about their aunt’s mood.
* * *
“Yes, yes, but I am exceedingly displeased.”
“If I may suggest a new topic, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the book that you recommended—The Spiritual Readings of an Enlightened Mind—has arrived. I should very much like to read parts of it to you as I have found—”
“It has arrived you say? Yes, do go and bring it here. I should very much like to see it.”
Mr. Collins popped up from the sofa, bowed, and backed away until he could leave the room without turning his back on his patroness.
Mrs. Collins lowered her eyes, embarrassed at her husband’s obvious fawning. The only person in England who should be treated as such was the King of England. No one’s back could ever be turned to him as they left his presence; however, her husband thought that the same should be done to Lady Catherine.
“This is so vexing.”
Mrs. Collins was grateful that her friend Elizabeth was not present with the mood Lady Catherine was in. With Elizabeth’s outspokenness and Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s bad mood, who know what could happen.
* * *
Mr. Darcy walked one of his favorite routes on the grounds of Rosings Park. He could not go back inside the house immediately as he was much too upset. How dare she think that he had ruined George Wickham’s life? Would he never get rid of that lying millstone around his neck? He would have to write Elizabeth a letter. It was not possible to speak to her with any measure of civility after he proposed to her. And he had thought the offer of his hand would be greeted with favor! To not only be turned down, but in such a manner as to insult him! No, he had not expected that.
Mr. Darcy continued to walk through the grounds of Rosings Park without seeing where he was going, reliving that horrible moment in the Collins Parsonage over and over.
* * *
Mr. Collins reached the parsonage in record time. He picked up the new book off his desk and then also picked up the sermon he had written for Sunday’s service. He was sure Lady Catherine de Bourgh would admire his brilliant turn of phrase. He gathered both and left to walk back to Rosings Park. He had not spared one thought to his cousin Elizabeth, who should have been in the house suffering from a headache.
He was thinking so much of how Lady Catherine would admire his sermon that he failed to notice the village women walking on a path towards him.
“Oh, Mr. Collins. There you are. We had hoped to find you today. We have some questions and thoughts regarding—”
Mr. Collins stopped. “Good day, ladies. I am on my way back to Rosings Park as Lady Catherine de Bourgh had sent me on an errand to fetch a new book of spiritual readings. I must hurry back to her, you see. I do not have time to tarry.”
The village woman would not be so easily put off as that. Though they did not have the wealth of Lady Catherine de Bourgh nor the elevated status of being the daughters of an earl, they were both married to wealthy landowners, one of whom had a daughter getting married soon. They understood Mr. Collins needed to get back to his patroness, especially if she was waiting for him. They were therefore willing to accompany him on his walk through the grounds to Rosings Park while they talked to him about the upcoming wedding.
* * *
Elizabeth had been walking on the grounds of Rosings Park replaying over and over the scene that had occurred in the Collins Parsonage between her and Mr. Darcy. She felt a little regret regarding what she said to Mr. Darcy. However, after remembering that he had disparaged her relations to her face, she stomped down on her remorse. “What a nodcock!”
She was so inwardly focused that she missed the large tree root in front of her, which she tripped over. She tumbled and finally landed on her front with her dress up almost to her shoulders. She had attempted to brace herself during the fall but now her hands hurt too much to push herself off the ground. She turned her hands over to see her palms scratched and bleeding.
“And now this! This has to go down as one of the worst days of my life.” Elizabeth tried to get up on all fours without actually using her hands. She was therefore in quite an awkward position with her rump high in the air, her dress still up near her shoulders, and her chemise completely exposed when she heard a gasp.
Elizabeth looked up to see a pair of highly polished Hessian boots along with a long greatcoat. She followed the legs up to the countenance she knew quite well, having just seen it not long ago. It was Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth looked in the mirror without seeing her reflection. She still could not believe her good fortune.
Her wish, for her sister Jane to be married to Mr. Bingley, had come true on the very same day Fitzwilliam proclaimed to still love and care for her when he asked for her hand a second time.
“And to think that it is all due to him that I am alive right now.”
Mr. Darcy had undertaken a very quick and dangerous trip to bring back a physician from London, who had correctly diagnosed her with arsenic poisoning. The doctor’s treatments restored her health. Without Mr. Darcy’s help Elizabeth was not sure she would be standing there.
“But that is all in the past, and I shall no longer concern myself with that.”
“What was that, my dear?” Elizabeth saw Mr. Darcy walking towards her. She smiled at him, still amazed at how very lucky she was indeed.
“I was just talking to myself. Your wife has a habit of doing that. But it is too late to do anything about that now!”
Elizabeth turned around and reached her arms out, though he was still unused to her spontaneous hugs to relax completely.
“I would not change a thing. I love my wife just the way she is.” Mr. Darcy looked in his wife’s eyes and then lowered his head and kissed her. He was still in awe of his good fortune.
Elizabeth blushed, glancing down after the kiss. When her gaze returned to her husband’s eyes the look was heated. “I suppose we shall both have to call a truce and declare that both of us are the luckiest. For I shall not give it up that I am the luckiest one and I imagine you will not give up that you are.”
Mr. Darcy shook his head. “Of that I will not.”
Elizabeth ran her hands down Mr. Darcy’s chest, both of them still fully clothed in their formal attire. Now that the wedding breakfast was over, it was time for them to begin their few days’ journey north to the beautiful Darcy estate of Pemberley. Georgiana and her companion Mrs. Annesley would be accompanying them in their own separate carriage.
Despite feeling guilty that Mr. Darcy had not seen his sister Georgiana for several months, Elizabeth was glad Georgiana was in her own carriage. She wanted Mr. Darcy to herself for a while.
“You do not mind that we are leaving so quickly for Pemberley? I could delay our trip if you would like to stay here with your family for longer,” he offered.
Elizabeth laughed and patted his chest. “Stay? Have you met my mother? No, I think it is much better for us to leave as quickly as possible.” Elizabeth was of course thinking not only of her mother, but of the Bingley sisters as well. Especially Miss Bingley. There was a new feeling she picked up from Miss Bingley since her engagement, and it was not a good one. She would much rather be far away from those two sisters.
She knew Mr. Bingley was a good friend of Mr. Darcy’s, but hopefully when Jane and Mr. Bingley visited them at Pemberley, they would do so without Miss Bingley and the Hursts. Elizabeth never did figure out what Mr. Hurst did other than lie around and get drunk every day. She could not imagine having a husband like that.
“Very good. I will check on Georgiana and have our bags taken down to the coaches.”
“That will give me time to say my goodbyes, though I suppose you should be with me when I do that so we are together as a couple.”
“Yes, I imagine we should.” Mr. Darcy sighed. “This marriage business is exhausting.”
Elizabeth smiled. She agreed with him, but it was not every day a girl got married. And for her, she planned that it would be done just once in her life.
She was quite tired though. She had not slept a wink the night before. Elizabeth had finally given up and peeked in Jane’s room, to find her awake and sitting up as well. Both sisters talked of how excited they were yet nervous about their plans for the future.
Elizabeth would miss Jane and her papa the most. She hoped that with only two sisters left at home, Mr. Bennet would get out of his library and take a hand in raising the girls. It was not too late for Kitty; with Lydia gone her behavior could still be corrected. She did not have high hopes for Mary though. She was older and quite set in her patronizing ways. Perhaps Mrs. Bennet and Mary would both need a place to live after Papa died.
“Elizabeth? What has you so sad?”
“Oh, I am sorry, Fitzwilliam.” Saying his first name still sent tingles through her body. “I was thinking of who I would miss and was sad when I thought about being away from Jane and Papa.”
Mr. Darcy squeezed her hands. “I have it on good authority that Mr. Bingley is in the market for an estate near Pemberley. You shall in the future not be too far from Mrs. Bingley.”
Elizabeth squeezed his hands.
Mr. Darcy leaned in and kissed Elizabeth again, longer than before. They had better make haste and proceed to Pemberley, or if he was not mistaken, they would be spending their wedding night here at Netherfield. He neither wanted to spend it on the road, nor did he want to remain at Netherfield. Mr. Bingley’s sisters would be too interested in how Mrs. Darcy was feeling the next day.
* * *
“Georgiana, how goes your packing? We are ready to say our goodbyes.”
Georgiana opened her door to reveal her cases sitting very neatly by the door.
“Ah, I see that you are ready.” Georgiana was never ready for anything on time, so this surprised Mr. Darcy.
“Have I surprised you, brother? I am so very excited to go back to Pemberley with you and Elizabeth. I hope that I can ride in your carriage at least some of the way. Elizabeth has been so busy I barely have had a chance to speak with her.”
Mr. Darcy could not deny his sister anything and hadn’t spent much time with Georgiana either. “Yes, you can. Let Elizabeth and I have the first part of the trip until we change horses. Then you may join us.”
Georgiana smiled and clasped her hands together. She wanted to give her brother a hug, like she had seen Elizabeth do many times, but he was not fond of it. Elizabeth told her she was working on changing that. She would have to be patient.
* * *
“Well, my dear child, I daresay you should have a splendid time at Mr. Darcy’s estate. What did you say it was called? Pimbly?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. Of all the places for her mother to mispronounce, she had to do it in front of people that had actually been there. Even worse, Miss Bingley heard her mother’s mispronunciation and corrected her.
“Excuse me, madam, but it is called Pemberley. Surely you have heard of it? It is the grandest estate in Derbyshire.”
That was another reason she would be so glad to leave. Elizabeth had thought that after her engagement announcement Miss Bingley would be scarce; however, just the opposite had occurred. Miss Bingley doubled her efforts at being around Mr. Darcy, talking to him and doing whatever she could to make it known that she was still there. She had been treating Elizabeth as if she were a ghost: completely invisible. It was enough to make Elizabeth want to run screaming while pulling out her hair.
A clatter arose outside the room. Elizabeth turned to see servants carrying luggage to the front door. Oh, thank goodness. She hoped that meant they were ready to leave immediately.
Elizabeth looked at Jane. “I shall miss you, Jane. You must write me.” Elizabeth leaned in even closer and whispered, “And if you need to escape, you and Mr. Bingley are welcome at any time.”
Jane smiled that angelic smile of hers and hugged Elizabeth. Mr. Bingley kissed his sister-in-law’s hand, Mrs. Hurst smiled, and Mr. Hurst may or may not have mumbled something.
When Elizabeth hugged her papa is when tears started to fall. “Papa, feel free to come and visit any time, please.”
“And you know the same in reverse. Come back to Longbourn for a visit. Make sure you write.”
Elizabeth hugged him once more and then let go.
The sound of horses and carriage carried through the windows to the occupants of the drawing room. They looked up at each other in wonder. “Who could that be?”
Kitty, who had been wandering the grounds, saw the carriage plus four thunder down the lane towards their house. She ran into the drawing room. “There Is a coach with four horses coming down the lane! There is a coat of arms on the coach! I do not recognize it.”
The occupants of the room arose as if one. Shock at having a coach plus four pull up to their house was nothing compared to the shock of Hill introducing their visitor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She stepped into the drawing room roving her critical eye over everything. Then she strolled into the room and sat in the lone unoccupied chair, which was normally reserved for the head of the house, Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth was at a loss as to why the much esteemed and proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh would travel this far, let alone stop in to call upon Elizabeth. Especially since she had not seemed fond of her when she visited the Collins. “Your Ladyship, might I enquire upon your health?”
“You may.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened at the pause before Lady Catherine responded. “I am not unwell.”
Her confusion grew as to the purpose of Lady Catherine’s visit. If she was being polite, making a social call, Lady Catherine would behave in a much more civil manner than she currently was. Why was she here then?
“And how were Mr. and Mrs. Collins when you left?” Elizabeth was hoping to find out when Lady Catherine left, as perhaps that would give an insight as to the purpose of her highly unexpected visit.
“I saw them the night before last and they were well.” Elizabeth glanced at Jane sitting next to her, both sharing a wondrous look. Why had an esteemed member of the nobility, let alone someone that did not seem to cherish the social call, stop for a visit?
“Miss Bennet, you seem to have a nice lawn upon the side. Maybe you could take me on a tour of your grounds?” Elizabeth eyebrows rose at this declaration. It was to be a tête-à-tête! She could not fathom the cause for this. Lady Catherine said the Collins were well, and that had exhausted the list of reasons Elizabeth had considered for Lady Catherine’s visit.
“Oh yes, your Ladyship, the grounds are very nicely kept and vast. You will find-“
Lady Catherine stood, interrupting Mrs. Bennet. “I will await you on the lawn to the side of the house. I expect light refreshments and hot cocoa to be prepared directly.” Lady Catherine then strolled back out the room whence she came, leaving behind a room full of silent and shocked countenances.
Mrs. Bennet rushed towards Elizabeth, grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the room nearly at a run. “Make haste, make haste! It will not do to keep one of such importance waiting! Put on your best bonnet and take this parasol to keep the sun off her Ladyship. Quickly now!”
Elizabeth was so rattled she was nearly unable to tie her bonnet. Thankfully her mother left to oversee the preparations of the light refreshments that her Ladyship had ordered.
“What an honor this is for her to stop in on us.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at Jane.
“Is it? For a social call I would have expected to see happy feelings in the visit.” Jane gave her a small smile and handed over the parasol. Elizabeth rushed out of the house to the side gardens and the iron wrought table and chairs in the midst of the copse of trees.
Lady Catherine was already seated at the head of the table overseeing the placement of the light refreshments and hot cocoa upon the table. Elizabeth sat across from her waiting for the servants to leave. It would not do for them to hear the nature, the real reason for Lady Catherine’s call. Servants were the worst gossips. Aside from her mother and aunt, of course.
Lady Catherine took a sip of her hot cocoa and set the cup back down on the saucer. “You must not be surprised by my visit. You could have no confusion at the nature of my call. I am most displeased.” Elizabeth blinked, folding her hands together in her lap.
“On the contrary, I am at a loss as to the nature of your visit.” Elizabeth shivered more to the icy countenance of Lady Catherine than to the chill air of fall. She took a healthy drink of her hot cocoa to fortify herself during this visit.
“Do not mock me Miss Elizabeth, I am not the sort to be trifled with. You cannot deny that is it is you who started the rumors I have heard. That not only was your elder sister engaged, soon to be married to a man of considerable means,” at this Elizabeth bristled but held her tongue, “but that you too were soon to be engaged to someone most definitely above your station. My own nephew Fitzwilliam Darcy!”
At this Elizabeth’s surprise was complete. Nothing less than pigs raining down from the sky could have surprised her more. “You are mistaken Lady Catherine. I have not-“
“I will not be interrupted! Fitzwilliam Darcy has been engaged to my daughter, yes my daughter since they were both in their cribs. It was the wish of his mother and I that our families were to be united as such. Are the wishes of his late mother, my dear friend, to be slighted and ignored by someone of no standing?” At this Elizabeth could not keep her silence any longer.
“Pardon me Lady Catherine, but my father is a gentleman and I am a gentleman’s daughter. Is not Mr. Darcy the same?” Lady Catherine’s face blanched, her lips pursed so severely that Elizabeth wondered if the woman was even breathing. She composed herself by taking another long drink of hot cocoa.
“I will not be treated as such! You are making a mockery of everything that is held dear in our society! I am sure you have used your feminine wiles upon my nephew, but mark my word it will not be borne. Are you engaged to my nephew Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth took another drink of her cocoa, giving her time to compose herself yet again.
“Your ladyship says that it cannot be so.” Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes furthering the image in Elizabeth’s mind of Lady Catherine as one of the mythical creatures, a dragon. She took another drink of her cocoa to hide her smile.
“I am most displeased. I had not expected to find such insolence. Are you or are you not engaged to my nephew, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth pondered her answer, but then realized Lady Catherine would never leave until she got a straight answer.
“I am not.” The relief seen in the relaxing of Lady Catherine’s body would have been a cause for merrymaking and mockery for Elizabeth had this been any other occasion.
“And you vow to never enter such an agreement with Mr. Darcy?” The hope that rose in Elizabeth’s chest was overcoming. She knew not what caused these rumors that came to Lady Catherine, but if there was any truth in them, any at all, she wished fervently that they would come true.
“I will not.” The rapid turnabout of Lady Catherine’s countenance was comical but Elizabeth did not feel at all like laughing.
“Insolent girl! Unreasonable! Is this how I am to be treated? Is this how my family’s legacy and the hallowed grounds of Pemberley are thus to be polluted?” Elizabeth flared her nostrils and pursed her lips, keeping herself from uttering what she was feeling. At least she, just a gentleman’s daughter, understood the polite and civil dictates of society.
Lady Catherine stood. “I am leaving. I do not wish good tidings upon your mother, your father, or your sisters.” Lady Catherine stepped around the table and out of the of the flower garden situated in the little copse of trees.
Elizabeth looked down at the table, at her empty cup of cocoa, the uneaten finger sandwiches that Cook had so quickly prepared. She tilted her head to the side and looked up at the sky. She dared hope with all her being that there was truth in the rumor.
Current Works in Progress
I have been working on my characterization and feelings. Let me know what you think! “If only that man had not asked you to dance, you would have had two sets free to dance with one of the officers,” cried Mrs. Bennet. “I do not know why Mr. Bingley is friends with such an unfriendly man. What were you discussing during your dance, Lizzy? I could not imagine he had anything nice to say.” As
With the militia having recently moved headquarters into Meryton, the town was aflutter with talk of the handsome officers. The Bennet daughters had recently made the acquaintance of a new officer that was quite handsome and a perfect gentleman, Mr. Wickham. He was especially interested in Elizabeth and planned to dance a set with her at the Lucas gathering that week. Elizabeth was excited for the Lucas gathering as she would dance with the handsome
Bella Breen is the author of over 11 published novels.
A graduate of the University of South Dakota with a B.S. in computer science, she lives with her Welsh Corgi, Bengal cat and kitten Duchess of Destruction in the great plains.
Her favorite book has always been Pride and Prejudice and the best Mr. Darcy will always be Colin Firth.
Her hobbies include cross stitch, reading, gardening, calligraphy, painting, kayaking with her corgi and chasing the kitten.