Bella Breen writes historical romance stories with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice characters.
Elizabeth stayed standing in front of the painting while her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, followed the housekeeper to another room. With her head tilted up, she studied the portrait of Mr. Darcy. It was a good likeness of the man himself, as she had informed the housekeeper. Again, she was thankful that they had arrived the day they had, for the housekeeper expected Mr. Darcy with a large party from London.
She turned away and caught up with the Gardiners in the next room. Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper of Pemberley, brought their attention to a new piano just arrived from London as a gift for Mr. Darcy’s sister. Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, as a piano that large and made by that company could only be purchased by the wealthy. She refused to let herself admire the piano, for she knew it would be difficult for her to play their small, worn piano afterwards at Longbourn without envy.
Elizabeth wandered over to the large windows facing the pond. As she gazed at the entire view, she thought of the estate’s owner and his proposal to her in the Hunsford Parsonage. “Of all this, I could have been mistress.”
She felt a small pang of regret but assured herself that Mr. Darcy’s pride and snobbery were still probably unbearable, though she did know him better for having read his letter handed to her at Rosings. Elizabeth had read the letter so much that she could recite it from heart if she wished, but she did not, for she was still embarrassed at the horrible things she had said to him.
“Lizzy, we are going to the next room.”
Elizabeth turned with a pleasant smile and walked next to Mrs. Gardiner as they continued their tour of the grandest home in Derbyshire. The tour ended where it had begun, at the entrance across from the pond she had spied from inside the house. She walked down to the pond and picked up a rock near the edge. When she stood up again, she blanched.
Mr. Darcy walked out from around a corner of Pemberley.
She dropped her rock, quickly looked around to find her aunt and uncle, and walked briskly in their direction. Elizabeth hoped they were far enough away that he had not seen them. As she reached the Gardiners, she checked Mr. Darcy’s location and, to her horror, found him only about twenty yards away. Close enough for Mr. Darcy to determine who she was, as he stood stock still staring at her.
This had to be the most mortifying day of her life. What must he think of her, coming here to tour his house?
Mr. Darcy started and walked to their party.
Elizabeth looked down, then at the Gardiners, then back at Mr. Darcy while clenching the sides of her dress.
“Miss Bennet, …I –”
“I did not expect to see you here, sir.” Her countenance had to be as bright as a red apple.
“I returned a day early. How are your parent’s health?”
Elizabeth blinked. “They are well, thank you, sir.”
“Would you do me the honor of introducing me to your friends?”
Wouldn’t he be surprised when he found out this well behaved couple were related to her?
“Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Gardiner is my aunt.” She studied him to not miss his reaction, but he was perfectly amiable, the perfect gentleman.
“Delighted to make your acquaintance. You are staying in Lambton?”
“Yes, sir,” said Mrs. Gardiner. “I grew up there as a girl.”
Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Gardiner reminisced about Lambton and the large tree by the smithy that they both used to play on. Elizabeth stared nonplussed at this extraordinary change in his behavior.
He even asked them for their opinions of his estate, which the Gardiners answered.
“You are not displeased with Pemberley?” Mr. Darcy looked at Elizabeth.
What could she say other than it was magnificent? But how embarrassing to be caught admiring the house of the man she had rejected after berating him based on falsehoods.
“No, not at all.”
Mr. Darcy smiled. “Then you approve of it?”
“Yes, very much. There are few who would not approve.”
“But your good opinion is rarely bestowed and therefore worth more.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat. Did he not dislike her? His behavior was so removed from what she expected, that she knew not what to think.
As they walked down to the pond following Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth clenched her hands and turned to her aunt.
“We should not have come.”
She kept her eyes averted, hoping her aunt would not be able to deduce why her niece was so embarrassed. “We should leave—”
Mr. Darcy turned and walked the few yards to join them.
“Would you like to view the formal gardens? They have recently been replanted and are at their best for viewing.” He stared directly at Elizabeth.
“Yes, that would be delightful.” Said Mrs. Gardiner.
Elizabeth closed her eyes in dismay. When would this embarrassing ordeal be over?
“Would you walk with me, Miss Bennet?”
They soon outstripped her aunt and uncle, which gave her the opportunity she needed. “I must apologize. We had been assured that you were not in residence, otherwise we never would have come. I am—”
Mr. Darcy placed his hand on her arm. “You have no need to apologize. I am glad, quite glad to see you again.” He trailed his hand slowly down her arm, squeezing her hand before he let go.
Elizabeth stared at him. He looked the same in appearance, but his behavior was so changed.
They continued to walk down the side of Pemberley to the back of the house while Mr. Darcy walked closer than was proper. Their hands kept touching, so Elizabeth held her hands in front of her. But then Mr. Darcy placed his hand on the back of her arm and slowly moved it until he held her elbow while he pointed to a statue in the gardens.
She knew not what to think. Had he turned into a rake?
* * *
Mr. Darcy was not going to have the woman completely unaware of his admiration of her again. It was due to the greatest luck that they had crossed paths this day. He had, once he had gotten over his anger, spent the time since that disastrous proposal employed in improving himself. He had never forgotten what Elizabeth had said to him.
He stepped close and turned to point out a topiary at the nearest edge of the garden. Mr. Darcy also used this opportunity to smell her unique scent, one that made his breathing quicken in delight. He brushed her arm with his chest, then led her closer to the gardens with his hand at her elbow. She would not miss his intentions this time.
“Yes, it is lovely. Your gardener has much skill to arrange the plants and flowers of such differing colors into such a pleasing arrangement.” Elizabeth glanced at him and then quickly looked away again.
She was skittish around him, which was to be expected when they had not seen each other for some time. And after how they had parted on less than pleasant terms.
“These gardens were designed by Capability Brown. I did not have any preference, but my sister Georgiana chose the colors.”
Elizabeth turned to him with a smile, which made her eyes light up and transformed her countenance into one that stole his breath. But her aunt and uncle approached, so he dragged his eyes away from Elizabeth.
“You may walk down the main path of the gardens,” said Mr. Darcy, “and find benches placed to enjoy the flower arrangements.”
“That is very thoughtful, thank you,” Mr. Gardiner stated, “but we must go now, as we have an engagement with friends of my wife in Lambton.”
Mr. Darcy swallowed a pang of fear and disappointment.
“May I call upon you tomorrow?” He turned to Elizabeth as he asked and saw her surprise and confusion.
“Why yes, you may.”
They walked back to the carriage as he asked Elizabeth about the rest of their travels through Derbyshire. While she spoke, he studied her countenance, the freckles on her face, the way her curls escaped her bonnet.
Mr. Darcy helped her aunt into the carriage and then Elizabeth. As they pulled away, he stood on the driveway and watched until he could not see the carriage anymore. Then he turned and walked up the steps into Pemberley.
He had never thought he would see her again unless he travelled back to Hertfordshire. And that would never have happened, as it would negate his and Mr. Bingley’s sisters’ efforts to keep Miss Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley apart. Mr. Darcy had felt guilt as Elizabeth had informed him, on that horrible day, that he had misjudged her sister and had forever ruined Miss Bennet’s happiness.
Mr. Darcy pursed his lips as he walked through the grand house to his study. He had not yet made amends on that front, and he felt he needed to do that before he could ascertain what Elizabeth’s feelings were for him.
But by Jove, he was going to make sure she knew his feelings for her before she left Derbyshire. Hopefully she would not leave the area before he had convinced her of his changed behavior and his admiration of her.
The next day, at the earliest hour he could call, Mr. Darcy rode to Lambton. He could have waited for the party from London to arrive, and he probably should have, since Mr. Bingley was part of the party. When he learned that Elizabeth, Jane’s sister, was in Lambton, Mr. Bingley would no doubt want to call upon her immediately. But Mr. Darcy was selfish for his own happiness, his own desire to see Elizabeth again without any distractions. He knew Mr. Bingley could converse much more easily than he, and he did not want Elizabeth and his friend to have a conversation while he stood there like a nodcock.
Mr. Darcy enjoyed the ride to Lambton, as he relished riding through the countryside. He was not a city man, as he desired to be in the country whenever he was in London. He was sure Elizabeth loved the pleasant country life as much as he did.
He pulled up his horse in front of the Lambton Inn and handed the reins off to a stable hand. Mr. Darcy walked inside whence the staff greeted him.
“Please let Miss Bennet know that Mr. Darcy is here to call upon her.”
NEW RELEASE - Pemberley's Secret has been published!
Elizabeth grabbed Mr. Darcy’s hand as they rounded the corner of the long drive and Pemberley finally came into view. She inhaled and squeezed his hand so hard that it must have hurt. The building and the estate were still stunning, just as magnificent as the first time she had seen it with her aunt and uncle that fateful day.
“Do you still approve?”
She heard a note of humor in his question. It was nearly the same question he had asked the last and only other time she had been at Pemberley. Elizabeth dragged her eyes away from the view and focused on her husband.
“Yes.” Words were not enough to convey all she felt at seeing that grand estate, sitting next to the man she loved, the man who owned that house and had driven her to distraction these last three days of travel.
Mr. Darcy’s lips turned up at the corners, and his gaze changed from happiness to a deeper and more primal emotion. Elizabeth licked her lips at the desire she saw in his eyes. They had teased each other mercilessly on this trip. He had to teach her how to tease, which she had learned at a rapid pace. Both had wanted to wait until they reached Pemberley to consummate their marriage.
And now that they were here…
Mr. Darcy pulled her hand towards him, holding her on his lap as she fell on him. Elizabeth did not even wait to situate herself before she reached for his curly hair, squeezed a handful and put her mouth on his. One of his large hands was on her back, the other squeezing her rump. His hot mouth, inquisitive tongue, and groans drove her wild.
During the trip to Derbyshire, she had learned all sorts of new things about her husband, most of all what drove him wild. She learned about herself as well and what she enjoyed, though he promised her there was more, much more to learn. They had had to redirect their attention from consummating the marriage in the carriage and so to distract themselves, they had talked of what they knew and loved.
Elizabeth blushed at the noise she had just made. She could not help it: his hand was on her left breast, kneading it. She moved her rump to have a better angle to kiss and run her hands down his face. Mr. Darcy’s long groan nearly had her stop, but he had taught her in the last few days that it was not a groan of pain, but of exquisite pleasure.
“Oh my love, you will have me unfit to meet the staff.”
The breathy statement against her neck penetrated her fevered mind, and she stopped her kisses, then sat up.
Mr. Darcy stared at her heavy lidded, eyes glazed, mouth agape and breathing heavily. Her bosom rapidly rose and fell with her breaths, drawing her husband’s gaze. She blushed again with the widest smile. The quite proper Mr. Darcy had come completely undone with her kiss. This must be what a hunter feels like bagging the biggest bird, she thought.
“You seem quite proud of yourself, Mrs. Darcy.”
She chuckled and put her hands on his shoulders again. “I am. The great, proud, proper Mr. Darcy has come undone by a simple kiss.”
He rose his eyebrows and scoffed. “That was no simple kiss. You were touching me and making the most divine noises of pleasure.”
Elizabeth raised her hands, intending to cover her face, but he caught them in his grasp and did not let go. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I am very happy to hear those noises. To have you squirming in my lap, driven wild by my kisses.”
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. “Your kisses? Why sir, I believe you stated it was my kisses that drove you undone?”
Mr. Darcy chucked and then froze as the carriage stopped. Elizabeth raised her head in horror. They were at the front steps of Pemberley, and she was astride Mr. Darcy like a wanton lightskirt.
He picked her up and set her next to him, and they both proceeded to straighten their clothes, run hands over their hair, and do whatever they could to make themselves presentable. It would not do for the new mistress of Pemberley to meet the staff looking like she had been nearly ravished in the carriage. Even if she had.
* * *
Mr. Darcy could not keep the small smile off his countenance as he adjusted his vest, coat, and cravat. Elizabeth, his wife, was no cold fish. She melted at his touch, could not get enough of his kisses. He grinned and wished he could show off his wife to everyone and crow that he had found the best woman, intelligent, kind, and best of all, she craved his touch.
He glanced at Elizabeth, who was patting her hair back into place. It was obvious that they were not perfectly presentable, but perhaps the servants would attribute that to being in the carriage all day. If not, well… he did not mind if they thought Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had a happy marriage.
His grin grew even bigger, and he opened the door to the carriage. The footman was still there, having knocked several minutes before. The lad was a good servant, though, and kept his face blank.
Mr. Darcy turned back, offering his hand to Elizabeth. She held onto his hand as she stepped down from the carriage and saw the grand estate not as a day visitor but as the mistress. She inhaled and looked up, then left to right as her eyes widened. The number of servants at Pemberley was prodigious. An estate this size needed many servants, and all were lined up in two rows from the carriage to the steps.
He tucked Elizabeth’s arm in his and nodded to Mrs. Reynolds the housekeeper, who then stepped forward and curtsied. “Greetings, Mrs. Darcy. I am Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper. I am quite happy you are finally here.”
He felt so proud of his wife and of the wonderful greeting that he almost burst. From despairing to ever find a woman, to finding and losing her, to winning her back and marrying her—his emotions were threatening to overcome him. He would need a stiff drink, or he would probably cry from joy.
Mr. Darcy escorted Elizabeth down the lines of servants. She said something nice and smiled at every servant, and there were a large number. By the end of the second line he could tell she was tiring, as her smile was forced and she was fidgeting often.
“Mrs. Reynolds, could you have a bath drawn for my wife and myself and brought to our rooms? I am sure Mrs. Darcy would like to rest and wash off the day’s travel.”
Elizabeth turned towards him with love in her eyes and a smile. He grinned again at her, unable to stop smiling. He could not imagine ever not smiling now that he had his love at his home. She squeezed his arm, then they both walked up the steps to enter Pemberley, but he stopped Elizabeth and turned back, ignoring her quizzical gaze.
“Mr. Jameson, could you hold open the door? I shall be unable to do so.”
He turned back to his love with a grin and then smirked at her furrowed brow and open mouth, probably to ask why he would be unable to open a door. He bent his knees and swooped her in his arms and stood ready to cross the threshold with his bride.
Elizabeth laughed with her arms around his neck. He beamed so wide his cheeks hurt and stepped across the threshold of Pemberley as the servants cheered and whooped. He was finally home with Elizabeth.
Mr. Darcy breathed in the salty, fresh air and sighed. He relaxed against the carriage seat and smiled. He would have a lads holiday with not even a modicum of distress. Even though this journey to Brighton had taken several days, he was contented that he had listened to his cousin.
He had originally been surprised at the invitation to join Col. Fitzwilliam in Brighton for a holiday, as his cousin had never invited him on a holiday before and most officers took their leave far from their current post. But the more he avoided Miss Bingley’s machinations, and the more Elizabeth’s boorish refusal of his marriage proposal tormented him, the more he realized his cousin was a brilliant man.
The only concern he had was leaving his younger sister. But he had to escape from Miss Bingley, or he would do something wholly ungentlemanly and demand her to leave, which would insult his friend. So instead of ordering them to leave, Mr. Darcy left himself, thereby forcing the Bingleys to leave by consequence. This actually pleased his sister Georgiana, as she did not admire Miss Bingley’s false cheer concerning her.
He verily should have been more commanding at letting Miss Bingley know his thoughts about her. The last night he had spent with the Bingleys, she had conveniently forgotten what door was her bedchamber. His valet had been in the room undressing him, otherwise he would have been well and truly caught in the parson’s mousetrap.
Mr. Darcy had departed the next day for Brighton.
He turned his head to look out the carriage window. Pairs and groupings strolled along the Steyne, the principal street in Brighton. According to his cousin, walking on the Steyne was a popular pastime. Mr. Darcy hoped his reply in the affirmative had reached Col. Fitzwilliam by now. He had replied to his cousin’s invitation the morning he departed Pemberley, as he had not made his decision until the night before. Or should he say Miss Bingley had made the decision for him?
His lips tipped up. This was exactly what he needed. He would be refreshed by the sea, away from Miss Bingley, and he would get his mind off Elizabeth Bennet. Every time Miss Bingley fawned over him, he wished Elizabeth was in her place. Every time he saw happy couples, he wished they were he and Elizabeth. He had to master his thoughts regarding her, or he would end up in Bedlam.
Brighton would not have been a destination he would have chosen, as it did not have the best reputation. This was due no doubt due to the Prince Regent holding court with his mistress at the Marine Pavilion after having abandoned his wife in London. However, there was a military camp located there, to prevent Napoleon from landing, and as that was his cousin’s location for the time being, he was more than willing to get away to Brighton.
* * *
Elizabeth almost leaned out of the carriage window as they rode through Brighton, so excited she was to view the sights. This would be her first time seeing the English Channel, or any ocean, and she was quite exhilarated. She had read descriptions of the ocean in books, but there was no substitute for encountering it herself. After that, she did not care what attractions they visited.
Their journey to Brighton had come about principally due to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth had never forgotten what he had said about the conduct of her family. When Lydia had received an invitation to accompany Col. Forster’s wife as her particular companion in Brighton, Elizabeth had known she had to stop her sister from going. Lydia, an unabashed flirt let loose in a military camp with her friend, who was only two years elder than Lydia, was a means for disaster.
However, her discussion with Mr. Bennet regarding Lydia staying home had come to no avail, and Lydia had cheerfully departed for Brighton.
Then the Gardiners had arrived to take Elizabeth on their excursion through Derbyshire. When Elizabeth had mentioned her concerns, both Gardiners had agreed and were quite anxious. They had changed their destination on the hope that they could keep Lydia in check. Otherwise, all three had feared Lydia would cause a scandal and ruin the reputation of the entire family.
During the short journey from Longbourn, Elizabeth had often reflected upon Mr. Darcy’s horrible proposal, chiefly his thoughts regarding the want of propriety by her family. He had been absolutely correct. It had hurt to admit that even after explaining how Lydia would behave in Brighton, her father had swept aside her concerns.
Along with that embarrassment was the knowledge that she had been so inordinately wrong with what she had accused him of regarding Mr. Wickham. She could not imagine how furious Mr. Darcy must have been. Elizabeth knew she would never see him again and could not write him an apology, but she still vowed to improve the conduct of her family however she could. That included her own tendency to judge without knowing all the facts. She owed Mr. Darcy no less after being so abominably rude to him.
“Lizzy, that is the fourth time you have sighed in the last hour. What is concerning you?” Mrs. Gardiner leaned towards Elizabeth, who sat on the carriage bench across from the Gardiners.
She pasted on a smile and turned to her favorite aunt. “I apologize. I did not notice I had sighed so often.” She hoped that would console her aunt as Elizabeth did not want to tell her the reason. No, only Jane knew how rudely she had spurned Mr. Darcy and how mistaken she had been regarding Mr. Wickham.
“I do not know what is resting heavy on your mind, besides Lydia’s prospects for impropriety. But rest assured, we will soon have her under guidance.”
“Yes indeed,” said Mr. Gardiner. “The brisk air off the ocean cures all ailments, I like to say.”
Elizabeth smiled at the both of them, full of gratitude that they had listened and agreed with her concerns regarding Lydia. It was too late this day to call upon the Forsters, but on the morrow, they would, and she could relax. Plus, with all the new sights and entertainments in Brighton, Mr. Darcy would be replaced in her thoughts. That would give her relief for the first time since she had returned from Hunsford.
Mr. Darcy walked on the wooden floor of the Meryton assembly room, his heels making a rhythmic clack-tap as he paced around the perimeter. No one could hear him, though, for all the noise the uncouth country louts were making as they tried to dance. He glanced away and avoided eye contact with the many matrons lining the walls. Mr. Darcy did not want their attention, nor would he pay any compliment to their unwed and rather plain daughters. He also had to avoid catching the eye of the men in the room, as they all wanted to be associated with a man of good fortune and standing.
He snorted as he walked past the pompous and genial Sir William Lucas, who did nothing except ask if everyone was having a good time and say ‘capital.’ The smell of dancing bodies in close quarters, along with a mixture of scents worn by the women, was driving a headache deep into Mr. Darcy’s skull. This entire thing was a farce, and he regretted Mr. Bingley ever talking him into joining him at this assembly.
Mr. Darcy turned around and walked back the way he had come. He avoided the punch bowl and refreshments for he could be easily trapped there and have to listen to some matron detail the qualifications of her unaccomplished and plain daughter. The only beautiful country miss he had seen was the one that Mr. Bingley was conversing with. Mr. Darcy rolled his eyes.
Mr. Bingley fell in love every month without fail. Everywhere they went, there was a new women Mr. Bingley was sure he would marry, but after a few weeks the obsession would fade. This time it was that eldest Bennet girl. She was uncommonly pretty, but that did not mean she would make a good wife or had good enough connections to marry.
It was unlucky for Mr. Darcy that the country dance had finished and Mr. Bingley headed towards him. He was all big smiles, engaging in conversation with everyone he passed and finding everyone wonderful.
“Darcy,” said Mr. Bingley, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
Mr. Darcy stared at his friend, who had the detestable habit of trying to make everyone surrounding him just as happy and loving everyone and everything as he did.
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room who it would not be a punishment to stand up with.”
It was harsh, more harsh than what he normally would have said, but the utter lack of propriety in these people, especially that Mrs. Bennet, had already driven him beyond the bend.
“I have never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening, and there are several of them uncommonly pretty,” cried Mr. Bingley.
Oh for blazes and damnation. Had he started a new obsession already? “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy. That should put Bingley off this preposterous idea of him dancing and instead distract him with his latest love.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! There is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you who is very pretty and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
Mr. Darcy raised an eyebrow. He had not noticed another girl in the room that looked anything like the girl that Bingley had chosen. “Which do you mean?”
Turning around, he looked for a moment at the young woman sitting there on the bench, one of the Bennet girls. He withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Darcy closed his eyes and wished again that he had never accepted Bingley’s invitation and was instead at Netherfield enjoying a warm fire and a good book. He would have never been so rude around his own class in town or even in Derbyshire, but this county he could not stand.
Mr. Bingley followed his advice and walked off to be with his partner. Mr. Darcy stood scowling at his friend’s back until that Bennet girl that had sat on the bench behind him brushed by in front of him with a smile.
Mr. Darcy scowled after her as she had heard him. That made him even more irritated, for he had always prided himself on acting like a gentleman at all times, yet he had insulted her.
Not only had he insulted the girl, but she was not plain or ugly. He was actually admiring her backside as she quickly walked away from him.
He watched as she stopped a group of girls and spoke to them, and they all laughed. Just his luck to insult the only girl at the assembly that stirred his interest.
Mr. Darcy turned and stormed off to the punch table. He dared any matron to trap him in this mood. He needed a strong drink to get through the rest of tonight.
* * *
“Well, that lowers his estimation in my eyes, Lizzy,” Charlotte said “for you are one of the most beautiful women in Hertfordshire.”
Elizabeth laughed. What poppycock. “Oh Charlotte, do be serious. There are many beautiful girls here tonight. I daresay Mr. Darcy must have worked hard to be this disagreeable in such a happy setting such as this. I will pay him no mind from here on. He can have no consequence in my life, and I certainly shall have none in his.”
She knew no one could see through her happy visage to the pang she felt in her chest. The insult was hard to bear, especially because the man was quite handsome.
Charlotte looked sharply at her friend. “I feel I should give you some advice, Lizzy. Make sure you do not make sport of him, for he is a man ten times your consequence and could cause problems.”
She loved Charlotte, but their views on many subjects were quite different. “Oh Charlotte, there is no danger of that. He will have nothing to do with me. You are much too serious and concerned about these matters. Come, let us go over to Jane, see how she is doing, and meet the Mr. Bingley she has monopolized all evening.”
Elizabeth was happy to see how attentive Mr. Bingley was to her sister, and like her naturally optimistic and cheerful attitude, thoughts of the other man’s insult were quickly forgotten.
Later that evening all the Bennet females discussed all parts of the assembly while Mr. Bennet begged them not to discuss any more of it within his hearing. The girls continued their discussions upstairs as they got ready for bed.
“Lizzy, I am sorry for what Mr. Bingley’s friend said about you,” Jane said.
Elizabeth sighed. She had cheerfully removed every thought of that earlier scene before now.
Jane continued, “I am sure he must have had bad news today to put him in such a disagreeable mood. He probably is not normally like that, not if he is a friend of Mr. Bingley’s.”
Elizabeth looked aside at her sister with raised eyebrows as she continued to braid her hair. “Jane, even you cannot find the good in a man that would be so rude in front of a woman to whom he had just been introduced. This was the first time he had been in public, and he chose to say that! Know there is nothing you can do to make his behavior better in my eyes, for it was absolutely horrendous.”
Jane did not say anything else about Mr. Darcy but did mention that it was unusual for two men of so different attitudes to be friends, and perhaps Mr. Darcy was not as bad as they all thought.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, pulled the covers up and lay in bed. If there was a fault she wished Jane would stop it would be her propensity to see the good in everyone, even people that did not deserve it.
Will Mr. Darcy save Elizabeth in time?
While Mr. Darcy rushes to London to help Lydia avoid ruination, the unexpected death of their father throws Elizabeth Bennet’s future into doubt. Elizabeth accepts the first position as a governess she can find—with the Countess of Bremont and her ward, Madeleine.
The Countess is crueler than she could have imagined, and Elizabeth finds herself a virtual prisoner alongside Madeleine. Elizabeth must devise a plan to free herself and her young friend from the Countess’s schemes…
Mr. Darcy searches for Elizabeth with the only information he has: her name and her position. Will he find Elizabeth before the Countess separates them forever?
Darcy’s Cinderella is a Cinderella story of 50,000 words that features second chances, masquerade balls, a lost love, forbidden love, women in peril and a happy reunion.
Previously released as Love Unmasked.
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 Pride and Prejudice Variations in Progress
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.
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