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Volume Three.

Part XIX.

The evenings spent at Rosings by the occupants of Hunsford now passed more agreeably with the addition of the Darcys and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Anxious to please her daughter, Lady Catherine submitted to having her parson and his guests for dinner almost every evening, commencing but a day after her arrival.

With astonishment did she witness the degree that her share of converse was not sought as often as the guests, and instead she had to resort to disapproving glares and snorts in order to express her views.

Elizabeth found herself spending most of her days at Rosings, in the company of Anne and Miss Darcy, with the frequent additions of Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. His affability in comparison to his cousin differed greatly. He enjoyed lively conversation, professed an appreciation of music and debate, and displayed a wide knowledge of books and travelling, the latter of which attested to his position in military circles.

As for her friend, Anne seemed well enough, at least to all outwardly appearances. By the time of their first week at Rosings, however, Elizabeth descried sufficient to conclude that Lady Catherine had yet to be told of the fate which would soon befall her daughter, for in her absence Anne would cough with greater frequency and her features reverted to paleness.

From that moment Elizabeth took part in the act, helping her friend to conceal whenever she needed the assistance. Whenever she acted so, it was with sadness, knowing by the oft repetition, that her friend had not long until concealment was no longer an option.

In any case, whatever the occasion, barring the evening engagements, she always had Mr Darcy as escort on her return to the parsonage. The distance between his Aunt's estate and the parsonage was many an afternoon taken up by conversation, as Elizabeth's impression of her friend's husband grew better and better.

She felt much distress upon first encountering him and discerning by his form that he had neglected himself dreadfully in his concern for Anne, but as the weeks of their stay progressed, she witnessed to her relief some improvement if perhaps only slight. Despite this, he was well in all other respects, and his usual habitual reserve gradually slipped away, as Elizabeth built a greater intimacy than she had ever known with a gentleman not related to her.

For the gentleman in question, the effect of her increased acquaintance produced within him quite the contrary. As another day passed in her company, Darcy's torture grew. His absence from her had done nothing to alter his feelings, and upon his encountering her in the woods at Rosings, he had realised that his attempts to forget her were in vain. With every passing moment his love for her grew to unbearable limits, and his guilt at having such feelings doubled.

At Rosings there was very little to do besides ride, billiards, or read, his estate was in good order thanks to the weeks spent on it in town via correspondence, and since his avoidance had only strengthened his inability to do without her, Darcy could do naught but spend his time with her.

When they were in company with his wife and sister, the feelings were less overwhelming, but when the time came to escort her home as Anne dictated, every sense in his body and soul called out to him to declare to her the truth he had so long concealed. And he knew full well he could not.

To make matters worse, while this internal battle was raging, another more urgent concern came to the floor. On the first day of April, Anne passed out at the breakfast table. Somehow, between Lady Catherine's frantic lecturing and the frightened servants, Darcy swept her up into his arms and to her apartments upstairs.

The physician was sent for at once. While he examined the patient, Darcy quietly gave the fatal news to his Aunt. Lady Catherine's reaction was extreme, and by the time the physician was down, she was preaching to her nephew on priorities and would not allow for any interruption.

When the Hunsford party, having not been informed, came for afternoon tea, the house was still in uproar. The Colonel and Georgiana were there to receive them, and Elizabeth, upon seeing the despair written on their features, requested to see Anne immediately. Georgiana, who was unaccustomed to the task of delivering bad news, took her up, leaving the Colonel to inform Mr and Mrs Collins.

Darcy looked up the moment she had entered the room, barely noticing her escort, who, with memories of her father's illness rendering her incapable of attending, left to rejoin her cousin. His intense gaze at her would, at any other time, caused Elizabeth to wonder, but she could not focus on him, only Anne.

She rushed to her friend's side, gratefully accepting the chair he quitted, and took her hand. In reply she received just a listless glance. Noticing her other hand was also held, Elizabeth glanced up to offer compassion at the mother.

Lady Catherine stared at her, then at her nephew. In her grief she saw her worse fears, and exploded angrily at the two. "Get out!"

"Aunt..."

"Do you think I am so unseeing? I know what is in your minds. This is how you repay all my attentions to you, Miss Bennet, with arts and allurements? Well, you shall never succeed. The position which you have the presumption to aspire for is already filled. My daughter's condition is to be expected, and I expect you, nephew, to do your duty, and cast whatever pleasures you find in this upstart aside for the good of your heritage, your heir and your wife! Now, I will not be swayed any longer. Get out!"

They had no choice. Elizabeth, with a last look at Anne, quitted the chamber, not caring to see if anyone followed. As she rushed angrily downstairs, a voice called out to halt her.

"Miss Bennet!"

It was Darcy. "I apologise for my Aunt. She has difficulty believing the news we told her of this morning." He joined her a few steps above. "When Anne passed out at breakfast, she became convinced that her daughter was suffering another, much happier state and would not be persuaded otherwise. I am sorry if she has hurt you."

"She has not hurt me, only angered me," Elizabeth replied, the emotion showing in her eyes. "How could she think things like that of you?"

"I do not know," Darcy answered, hoping his feelings remained concealed. Sighing he turned to lean on the banister. "I suppose though, that she is remembering my previous reluctance. Before.. Ramsgate... I fought every attempt to marry Anne." He closed his eyes, forcing back the sudden tears. "Perhaps I should have given a show of courting my cousin, instead of just relying that her long held wish would convince away any doubts."

"You did what you thought was best," Elizabeth reminded him. "No amount of foresight could have predicted this." She paused. "Do you want us to leave?"

"Never." The word was uttered before he could prevent it. Gathering himself he tried again. "I mean, please stay, if you could. Georgiana will need the distraction." He took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself. "Come, let us go down. I'll speak to the household, make sure everything is arranged."


Elizabeth arrived at Rosings the next morning for breakfast, at the request of Miss Darcy, to find the that the insanity which had reigned the house the day before, to be of a temporary nature.

To the relief of all assembled, Lady Catherine was in her chamber, the physician having persuaded her to partake of some laudanum. To the even greater comfort, Anne was down from her bed, and eating, as if yesterday had never occurred.

After the meal the gentlemen departed for a ride and the ladies passed the day much as they had passed many before in each other's company, until Lady Catherine awoke in the late afternoon, whereupon Elizabeth thought it best to leave.

The days reverted to their previous fashion.


When Elizabeth was not called to spend time with Georgiana or Anne, she indulged her passion for walking, and was found on many an occasion by Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam exploring the garden paths and wooded walks that were to be toured on their Aunt's estate. Lady Catherine was not a great walker, thus achieving a certain privacy for herself could be relied upon, during such rambles.

She was engaged one day as she walked perusing a letter from her father, dwelling on some passages which could prove to be amusing, were it not for the events at Rosings, when a shadow crossed her path. Upon looking up, she saw that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting her. Putting away the letter and forcing a smile, she said, "I did not know before that you ever walked this way."

"I have been making the tour of the Park," he replied, "as I generally do every year and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?"

"No, I should have turned in a moment."

And according she did turn and they walked towards the Parsonage together.

"I am glad, Miss Bennet, that we have a moment alone," the Colonel began, "for I have been meaning to talk with you, regarding a subject of some delicacy."

Elizabeth noted his expression to be serious, and wondered if he was to touch upon the matter which Lady Catherine seemed determined to accuse herself and Mr Darcy of. Though she believed that the Colonel knew nothing of the outburst from his aunt which had caused her to leave Anne's side when she collapsed, the household had been in chaos, and the mistress's voice of a volume loud enough to carry the accusation to the hearing of her servants. It was reasonable to suppose that someone, be it staff or his cousins, might have informed him of it.

"If you mean to talk to me about what Lady Catherine accused myself and your cousin of," she began, "I can assure you that...."

"Oh no," he interrupted, "I know that both you and my cousin have behaved with absolute proprierty, that it is of my Aunt's illusions, nothing more. No, I merely wished to thank you for your friendship and support to my cousins since the beginning of their acquaintence with you. I know these past days have been hard and I do not hesitate to assure you that your efforts are much appreciated."

"You do not need to thank me, Colonel," Elizabeth replied, "it has been no hardship. I consider all your cousins as friends well worth having, and I am sorry for their present suffering."

"It has been difficult," Colonel Fitzwilliam admitted. "Knowing the truth behind their marriage, what they hoped to achieve now so cruelly dashed by an illness that, given Anne's past health, we should have foreseen. To her it appears no surprise, but Darcy was deeply saddened by the diagnosis. I know she intends for him to live on, to find himself some happiness when the worse has passed. I hope you can help him to achieve such a state."

Elizabeth merely nodded at first, thinking that the Colonel meant for her to continue in her friendship with his cousins. But then she happened to look up, and caught a certain look in his countenance, which caused to comprehend another meaning entirely. It was one which Lady Catherine dared to accuse her and Mr Darcy of only eight days ago, one which she had no cause to place the slightest suspicion in, until this moment.

The Colonel parted from her at the parsonage door, leaving her to seek her room, as she dwelt upon the conversation which had passed, wondering if she was right to suppose he meant to arouse such suspicions in her. She recalled when Mr Darcy confided in her the truth of his marriage, and the care which he showered upon his wife, often to the neglect of his own health, as she had observed during her sister's and his friend's wedding, as well as during her time at Rosings. She did not believe that Mr Darcy could possess room for other concerns, particularly those of such a dishonourable nature, which he had apologised on behalf of his Aunt for daring to accuse them of.

But the testimony of the Colonel, a close family member and friend, guardian to Georgiana, could not be doubted. Yet should she really trust that he meant such an illusion to be read into his words? He was a man of sense and education, who had lived in the world, endured the scars of a battlefield. A Colonel used to giving out commands upon which the slightest misunderstanding could cost lives. By this reasoning she must conclude that he meant what he said. Yet the interpretation of his words was dependent on her, and would she really have descried another sense behind them if Lady Catherine had not accused her and Mr Darcy of what she did? Elizabeth doubted it, but the words preyed on her mind, until she no longer knew what to think.


The door to the Parlour closed, and Elizabeth sank into a chair, her excuse of a headache now very much a reality. Determined to distract herself from what was at present only a slight discomfort, she chose for her employ the examination of all the letters she had received since her arrival at Hunsford.

Five minutes later, however, she had to abandon the attempt, for any distraction was impossible. The Colonel's words would not stop repeating themselves in her head. Leaning back in the chair, she forced herself to recollect all the events which had lead this.

Eight days after her friend's collapse at breakfast had passed, and Elizabeth had spent the majority of each one at Rosings. There was difference however, in the manner of their passing; as she did not see the gentlemen except for meals and returned to the parsonage only after supper each evening with her cousin and sister.

At first she had thought nothing of it, knowing that the nephew would wish his Aunt and mother in law to see that there was no truth in her delusion. As the days wore on, certain conversations from the past began to play in her mind though, causing her to question the once firm belief of his character.

Matters had risen to a head when, only hours ago, she had encountered Colonel Fitzwilliam in the park. After exchanging the usual salutations, conversation had drifted on his cousins and their marriage, whereupon all the implications had suddenly made sense.

At first, the clarity seemed preposterous; she had heard from the gentleman's own lips his intent to give Anne as much happiness as he could, therefore any illicit dealings would be impossible. Yet the idea would persist to remain in her thoughts, even going so far as to bring certain comments of his as further testament to it truth, until Elizabeth had lost all courage to face him that evening.

Her cousin had done nothing to help the conflict in her mind by lecturing her on the insult her absence would be to Lady Catherine and her daughter, insisting that she bravely attend, however ill she felt. Mary then interceded, much to Elizabeth's relief, reminding her husband that they would be late if they did not leave soon and so concerned did Mr Collins become on that point, that they departed the parsonage that very second.

Elizabeth hoped that her absence, although noted, would not excite any concern amongst her friends, that Mary would be able to provide an excuse which would not occasion a visit to enquire after her health. Securing herself a book, she tried to immerse herself within in a novel, in the hope that the ache caused by all the agitation of her thoughts regarding the conversation with the Colonel, would soon lessen.


Elizabeth was surprised when Mr Darcy entered just as the ache had begun to lessen. In a hurried manner he inquired after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She, in no mood to be in company, answered with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes he resumed his seat, casting an agitated look at the mantle-piece.

Another silence ensued, with she glancing at him and he at her, each hoping the other would be the first to break it, for neither felt up to speaking. Finally, Elizabeth could stand it no longer, and inquired after Anne.

Her name seemed to at last acquaint him with his situation. Glancing around the room as if seeing it for the first time, his expression of agitation faded, though not without considerable struggle. Steeling himself, he rose from the chair and announced his intention to leave.

Elizabeth rose to say farewell, but this came to be her undoing. For quite suddenly and without forewarning, a sharp pain shot through her head and she collapsed on the floor. At least she would have, had not he, seeing the torment in her fine eyes, acted so quickly, coming behind her so she fell into his arms.

As unconsciousness stole upon her, Darcy gently lifted her to the chaise-long. Softly he raised his hand to her head and felt for fever. Caressing her smooth skin, he kneeled by her side and laid the most tender of kisses upon her face. Hovering over her, he uttered huskily, "you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." Brushing a curl aside, he watched her slip into the realm of sleep, before and with a great sigh, he rose from her to ring the bell.

He awaited for the maid to enter, and then quietly departed.


"Darcy, we quite despaired of you," Colonel Fitzwilliam commented. His cousin merely offered him a tired countenance in reply. After quitting Hunsford, he had walked the long way back to Rosings in order to talk some sense into himself and make him realise just how close he had come to letting Elizabeth know his feelings. And that's another thing, no more Elizabeth. She is and always shall be Miss Bennet to you, for you will never have that privilege.

"Is that my nephew?" Lady Catherine shouted from the Drawing Room. "Where have you been? Let him come in and explain himself, Fitzwilliam."

"No," Darcy uttered involuntarily. "Forgive me. But I have a pressing matter of business." He started up the stairs, but was prevented by a restraining arm.

"You had better come to the Drawing Room, Darce," the Colonel began in a solemn voice, leading him through the hall.

The gentlemen entered to find their Aunt standing imposingly at the door, her features stern and unyielding. Behind, Mr Collins held his hands in prayer, his face grim and suitably devout, his wife nowhere to be seen.

"Nephew," his Aunt began when Darcy had closed the door, "if you had graced us with your presence a little longer this would not be necessary. Nonetheless, I know however much you ignore your priorities, you cannot avoid this one. My daughter is upstairs. The physician is with her."

Instantly he made moves to quite the room to be by his wife's side.She raised her voice. "I did not command you to go."

Darcy retreated back to his previous position.

"The physician's judgement is that she does not have long. Though that is not my opinion, I shall expect you, nephew, to obey my wishes and attend to her side, as a husband should. You have responsibilities that can not be treated with the contempt you have so far shown them. From this time you are to spend your every waking moment in her company. I shall prefer it if you did not sleep. Now you may go."

Darcy bowed, and left the room. Outside, his features relaxed, and he just stopped himself from collapsing to the floor. If it were possible, he felt more grief and guilt than before. He had deserted her when she needed him the most. He had neglected both of them. As he marched up the stairs, he felt heart split, one half drifting from the house to the parsonage and the other to the woman he had left sleeping upon the Parlour sofa.


Part XX.

When Elizabeth awoke the next morning, it was without any idea of how she had come to be in her bedchamber. The events of last night she could not bring to her mind, other than saying farewell to her sister and cousin as they departed for Rosings.

Everything that had occurred afterwards was a complete blank. Her room appeared normal, nothing was disturbed or out of place that could reveal a clue as to how she had passed her time, and why she had escaped an evening under the accusing eye of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Matters were not improved by the time she had come down for breakfast, to find that the Parlour was devoid of all but the food that Mr Collins' had not managed to scoff down before his usual pre-midday exertions. A note addressed to her from his wife sat quietly on her plate and, upon the closing of the door, a solemn faced Colonel Fitzwilliam was revealed.

Barely had she time to take in all that she saw and add it to the other puzzling sights, before she was asked to sit down and given the terrible news of Anne's latest collapse. Her heart awoke the quiet dread that was once more alive in her head. Her friend had not long.

The Colonel persuaded her to eat, and then escorted her outside, to the rich blue damask upholstery of the Darcy coach. During the short journey, oblivious to the passing countryside, Elizabeth read her sister's note, learning that her cousin was at his church, where a service had been call to pray for Mrs Darcy, and that Mary had spent the night by her bedside.

Leaning against the back of her seat, her distraught mind seemed not to notice the comfort or her facing passenger, as her eyes gazed beyond the passing greenery, willing the journey to be over.

Rosings Park seemed already to be in mourning as the carriage came to a halt in front of the imposing north face. As she descended from the carriage, Elizabeth noticed the unopened blinds, darkened rooms and empty gardens, palpably casting a shadow over the sunny April day.

As she entered the house, it appeared even more shrouded in sadness, the entrance hall giving way to countless fanned out doors, revealing empty rooms. The building, so usual alive with activity and baronial importance, now looked barren and devoid of occupation. The house had said its goodbyes.

Elizabeth parted from Colonel Fitzwilliam to the upper floors. She found her sister nearly asleep from exhaustion in a chair by the large ornate four poster that practically conquered the bedchamber. In the rich sheets, Anne lay.

Her friend was shocked at her appearance. Too early did she have the quietus pallor upon her. Shrunken, pale cheeks accompanied limp arms. A cold but ineffectual compress covered her forehead. Her eyes were closed.

Nothing seemed real. Elizabeth woke Mrs Collins and shepherded her out of the room in a trance-like state. As if in a dream she took the chair, reached out, and placed her hand over the thin ailing, one of her friend that lay limp upon the sheets.

Unable to look at Anne's stricken face, she glanced at the room. No candles had been lit, applying an even more grave sense to the dark mahogany furniture. Mural walls stared at the scene before them, their own depiction's acquiring a new tragedy. In short, nothing offered hope. She clutched the hand, trying to ignore the troubled pulse and cried for a miracle which she knew would never arrive.


With much gloomy deliberation Colonel Fitzwilliam made his way through the empty and silent rooms to the library. Foregoing a knock that would be refused admittance, he entered the dark room and found the object of his quest; encased in one of the dark green leather armchairs, staring morosely at a half-empty decanter of whiskey. Richard took a long, hard look at the hunched figure, and silently sat opposite him.

"What am I to do Rich?" His cousin asked, surprising him, for the Colonel had not thought that Darcy had noticed his presence. "I do not know what to do." He raised his head and fixed his eyes imploringly on his cousin. "Give me an occupation or I shall run mad."

Richard looked into Darcy's eyes and saw the torment, the guilt, apparent for the first time in months. He wondered how long his friend had been carrying the burdens. The control, the carefully rationalised walls that usually formed whenever his emotions, his equilibrium were attacked, enabling him to appear still detached and calm that Richard had always admired in his cousin, were gone, no trace of them remained.

His entire form appeared older than his years. Obscurely his mind recalled the night before, wracked with the outraged voice of Lady Catherine. She had yelled continuously at her son in law, Darcy all the while sitting silently before her, offering no defence. It was only now that Richard knew why. All his cousins' strength for keeping his emotions and thoughts had gone. He was completely vulnerable, his whole self laid bare before anyone who cared to look and judge. A dangerous state to surrender into at Rosings, where their Aunt ruled, and her sovereignty was never begrudged by those who served her, for fear of censure and dismissal.

"Georgiana is in the music room," he replied softly, remembering, as he had passed the room, the sounds of the most mournful tunes emanating from the gap underneath the door. "All she has is childhood memories of illness and what it can do. Miss Bennet is with Anne. If you cannot trust yourself to spend your time beside her and your wife without betraying your inner troubles, go and attend your sister."

Darcy nodded, and left the room. As the door closed with click, Richard took the decanter from the table and poured himself a glass. The liquid brought little comfort. He dreaded to think what else the coming days would bring. A part of him wanted his leave over, to be back in Spain, fighting battles made of gun, sword, canister, shot and shell. Not the emotions of illness and death.

He felt guilty for wishing himself away, but also felt unable to help anyone. His Aunt was upstairs, sleeping off another of the physician's laudanum doses. Miss Bennet was with Anne. Mr Collins in his Parish. Mrs Collins most likely abed, and he had sent Darce to his sister.

His parents and brother had been informed by express the night before. The estate had been comfortably and effortlessly run by Lady Catherine's Steward since Sir Lewis' death, and besides, it was a task that he had little experience in. There was nothing else that needed to be done, and to pass the time by playing billiards, or horse riding would be completely inappropriate.

Outside the sun rose higher, doing nothing to alter the mourning house. Richard emptied his glass and stood. He remembered his cousin's face, the torment etched in his eyes, and the struggle to rise from it, to draw upon the strength that previously had helped him many times before. He quitted the library, his decision made. He would help his cousin and friend, prevent him from losing control completely. There would be time enough for that later.


Somehow, the day passed, although the occupants of Rosings and Hunsford parish hardly noticed. The weather surrendered to the state of the former, rainclouds replacing sunshine, grey sky replacing blue. Its sudden change made the building look worse, even to the impartial observer.

Inside the house was still silent, none of its guests or occupants daring to make the slightest sound for fear of it damaging the fragile state of their young mistress. She herself did not even notice. In fact, there was great concern about if she had noticed anything since her collapse. She had passed the day after it in a restless sleep, broken frequently by coughing that seemed to have no end, and now her unmoving form threatened the same activity once more.

Nothing brought her comfort. Every draught of doctors and old wives tales had been attempted, and failed. Lady Catherine forbade the scarifier,1 lancet and leeches being used, leaving only those who watched over her daughter to do nothing other than holding her hand and hope for the worse to pass.

The Hunsford guests had spent the night at Rosings, Elizabeth in the chair she had occupied most of the day, watching over her friend, gripping her hand, afraid to fall asleep or relax in case Anne grew even weaker.

Throughout the day she had attended her, propping her up when she coughed, holding the bowl underneath, changing the compress, trying in vain to feed her the broth proscribed. Mary replaced her sister at the daylight of that second morning, leaving Elizabeth to wander the house in an attempt to distract her mind and make it face some sleep.

She found the gentlemen in the Music Room with Miss Darcy, who sat motionless at the pianoforte, watching her brother. He was by a window, trying to escape the room, only turning at Elizabeth's entrance. One look at his expression was enough.

Elizabeth left the building for a walk before the rain that was to come, rebuking herself for misjudging his character. She knew not why now she had ever supposed him to be in love with another. The concern for his wife ran deep on features, clearly marked for anyone to see.

He had not the room to care for someone else at the same time, despite his marriage of convenience. The speculation spoken by Colonel Fitzwilliam had been but that; nothing more. It had be stupid and prejudicial to interpret it any other way, especially the way that she had done so.

He did not deserve her condemnation, nor did she have a right to give it, let alone believe it. She had been so wrong. She who prided herself on intelligence, discernment and professed to know a person by their actions, expressions, manner and converse. She could not have been more blind. Her sister Jane's generous candour would have been far more wise to adopt.

With all this in mind did Elizabeth return to the house, to find it in uproar. Lady Catherine was awake, and yelling, as Lizzy soon discovered, at Georgiana, who was now alone in the Music Room. Upon her entrance the elder woman stopped, glanced at her, snorted in contempt and left.

Georgiana burst into tears. Elizabeth pulled the girl into her arms, and carefully helped to calm down. Slowly the circumstances were revealed; how she had been playing the harp when her Aunt had come into the room.

Instantly Lady Catherine had attacked, accusing her young niece of neglecting her cousin and sister by not taking part in the bedside vigil, and playing her music while Anne lay dying upstairs. Georgiana had tried to explain that she felt it beyond her, her memories of her father's sickroom making her struggle to breathe, but her Aunt would have none of it.

Elizabeth knew not how, but she managed nonetheless to comfort her friend, see that she partook of a little luncheon, and went to find a servant to fetch it, before making a search for the gentlemen. She found them where she had expected, the library, and acquainted them with the situation.

Darcy thanked her, and left to attend his sister, leaving Colonel Fitzwilliam to help Miss Elizabeth to a chair, a fortifying sip of wine and a bite of food before she went back to the sickroom.


She woke with a start, her fine eyes rapidly glancing around the room to see that she was still in Anne's bedchamber. Across from her sat Mr Darcy, his hand gripping Anne's. He nodded a silent good morning.

Elizabeth returned to gaze at her friend. She at last seemed to be easier. As she was about to murmur a prayer of relief, Lizzy noticed the other symptoms, ones that bespoke not a recovery, but of the afflicted surrender to the inevitable. She did not even have to glance at the other attendant to know that he had witnessed the same.

The day reasserted its dream quality, hours passing with aching slowness. Anne woke at the tenth, causing the room to acquire more people as those who wished to say farewell did so, one by one. Elizabeth, feeling that she was intruding, waited outside until all but herself was left.

Anne did not say much. Elizabeth leaned closely to her, listening carefully to the softly spoken words, pronounced in a rush, for fear she did not time to make her point clear. She glanced up at the one who had been present throughout each visit, unable to leave, and back at her friend, shock and grief overriding the full understanding, but realising what was mainly required of her. Solemnly she uttered the promise.

The room slowly drifted back into stillness. Quietness reigned once more, as the vigil was resumed and the sufferer closed her eyes. Outside the wind swept through the trees and the rain crackled upon the window panes. Flames inside the hearth attacked shriven wood. Above, upon the mantle, the clock struck the first stroke of midday and Anne Darcy drew her last breath.


1. Scarifier: A device used in the nineteenth century to bleed for medicinal purposes, replacing the traditional leeches and lancet. A small metal box, concealing a mechanism which released two blades that clasped the skin, cutting it for the blood to run. Those who have read Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Eagle, will realise this is where I got the name from. You can also see it on the Carlton adaptation of the book.


Part XXI.

Georgiana, memories of her father's funeral still vivid in her mind, broke down and had to remain at the house. Elizabeth stayed with her, her own mind still in a state of shock about the whole course of events. Anne's death had an unreal quality to it, one that she could not ignore, even though she had witnessed the passing herself.

It was not right, it was unfair that she should have so little time on this world compared to others. Elizabeth was well aware of the injustices of life, in her situation it would impossible to avoid them, but nothing seemed just in the death of her friend. She had only known her a short time. Was it really only since Michaelmas last? Time was frequently all too cruel.

The house, if it was possible, mourned all the more deeply now the event had occurred. The sadness, the grief, had drifted to the outside, where a thick mist hung over the grounds and formal gardens, clothing everything in its despondency. A coldness, like some deadly plague of centuries past, had inflicted the house and it occupants, one that was impervious to any fire, no matter how blazing. Fortunately none of the occupants seemed to notice it.

Elizabeth knew not how the day had passed. She felt herself at times to be watching the world as if she were an outsider and did not exist within its harrowing aftermath. She did not witness the mist fade into the darkness of the night. She did not remember standing with Georgiana to welcome Lady Catherine, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Mr Darcy back. She knew nothing of the meal that followed their arrival, nor her escort back to Hunsford Parsonage where a dour-faced Mr and Mrs Collins were waiting.

Indeed the only thing that did manage to somehow force itself upon her notice was a thin piece of paper, folded in half and sealed, lying on the bureau in her bedchamber. Closer examination revealed the directions written by a familiar hand; it was her father. Anxious for some partial relief, no matter how temporary, Elizabeth set herself down and opened the paper.

The contents were brief and succinct, as such that might be expected coming from a source so usually hateful of sending correspondence. He asked her to come home. The letter, delayed by the usual modes of travel for such mail, was dated earlier than the express she had sent to Longbourn, informing them of her friend's death.

However at this moment, none of that concerned her. She wanted to go home, to put some distance between herself and the weeks at Rosings now so horrible to her. She wanted the chaos of her sisters, the nerves of her mother, her father's whimsical and often barbed humour. But most of all, she wanted Jane. The outlet to whom she could finally pour out all her grief. She had been forced to be strong for others far too long.

It was time for her to grieve herself.


The morning brought little alteration to either the people or the weather. At breakfast Elizabeth informed her hosts of her desire to be on the road by the afternoon. Unfortunately proprieties interceded, Mr Collins vowing on their behalf. Elizabeth was forced to delay a day, so she could make proper farewells to those of Rosings.

Whether Lady Catherine had realised her daughter was dead or not was not for Elizabeth to judge. All she could remark about to herself after the visit was that her cousin's patroness seemed unchanged by the circumstances around her. Nothing of the outcry concerning their last encounter in her daughter's room was recalled or referred to by the lady, and Elizabeth chose to remain silent over the matter in light of such. Whether or not Lady Catherine remembered the matter was up to none but her. All that lady could seem to focus on now was a departure which was not following her desired manners and customs. That Miss Bennet should leave so soon was not to be borne.

That her father could not do without her was, to Lady Catherine's mind, even more incomprehensible. Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father. Why would she not stay a fortnight longer? If she would stay but another month complete, it would in her power to take Miss Bennet to London herself;- in the Barouche box.

Careful to make sure her host was placated, and desirous of causing the mother of her departed friend as little grief as possible, Elizabeth exclaimed that as sensible of the honour as she was, she believed that she must abide by her original plan. To which, her host's reply was to make inquiries as to if a servant was to be sent with her.

 

When she heard that Miss Bennet's uncle had already taken care of that, Lady Catherine turned to making sure that the equipage by which Elizabeth was to travel would change horses in Bromley, and that if Miss Bennet mentioned her name at the Bell, she would be attended to.

The visit ended shortly after that. Mr Darcy, understandably morose and silent, escorted Elizabeth and the Collins to the carriage. As he held her hand in assistance, Elizabeth had occasion to look into his eyes. Seeing the sadness she felt and more besides, she turned away, only to glance up once more as he pressed a thick envelope into her hands. She had no time to question its author or contents, only to stare at him from the carriage window as it moved out of the front drive.

Not until she was inside the parsonage did Elizabeth open the envelope and take out the two sheets of letter paper contain therein. Even then, it was only to skip to the end and find out the author.

It was Anne.

Elizabeth rapidly put the letter back, and then out of her immediate sight. She was not ready to face such a letter yet, nor did she presently possess the will or ability to read it. Her emotions and thoughts were still tangled too complexly for the contents of the lettered sheets to make any sense to her current frame of mind.

Slowly she returned to her trunks and travelling clothes, making a final check on all their contents. She placed the letter in a deep pocket of her coat, hoping to read it after she had put a distance between the neighbourhood of Hunsford, Rosings and herself.

The next morning passed slowly. Mr Collins sequestered her company soon after breakfast, thanking her for the honour that she had paid him and her sister in coming to visit them so soon after their happy union.

At length did he hold monologue over the bliss that was his marriage with Mary, and how well suited, in fact seemingly designed, they were for one another. Most fervently did he summarise the hours and days spent in the company of his gracious patroness, underlining the value she had showed by choosing to invite them so many times to Rosings Park.

At length the chaise arrived, the trunks were fastened on, the parcels placed within, and it was pronounced to be ready. After an affectionate parting between sisters, Elizabeth was attended to the carriage by Mr Collins.

As they walked down the garden, he commissioned her to send his best respects to all her family, not forgetting his thanks for the kindness he had received at Longbourn in the winter, and his compliments to Mr and Mrs Gardiner, whom he had been so happy to make an acquaintance of at the happy occasion of his wedding.

He then handed her in, and the door was on the point of being closed, when he reminded her with some consternation that she had hitherto forgotten to leave any message for the occupants of Rosings.

For that duty however, he was willing to take on himself, and then the door was at last allowed to be closed, whereupon the carriage drove off.


Part XXII.

Elizabeth found the ride first to London then to the last stop before home, too short to take the time to dwell upon her friend's letter. In remained in her pocket throughout each carriage ride. As she stepped out of the post at the Inn which had been appointed as the place to meet her father's carriage, she happened to look up at the building, causing an instant sigh as a result.

Her younger sisters were behind an open window, Lydia shouting down to her, laughing at the surprise and gesturing for her to come up. Elizabeth obeyed, trying at the same time not to regret her earlier desire to be returned to chaos of her family life.

"Is this not nice? Is not this an agreeable surprise?" Lydia uttered as soon as Elizabeth had entered the dinning room. "We have been here but an hour and we mean to treat you as well, Lizzy, but you will have to lend us the money, for Kitty and I have just spent it at the delightful shop opposite. Look at this bonnet! I do not think it is very pretty, but I thought I might as well buy it as not."

"It is frightful, isn't it, Lizzy?" Kitty declared.

"Indeed it is. Whatever possessed you to buy it, Lydia?"

"Oh there were two or three much uglier in the shop, but it will not signify much what one wears this summer, for the militia are leaving Meryton in a fortnight."

"Are they indeed?" Elizabeth cried with great satisfaction. Even though she had not seen much of them, she was thankful that her sisters would no longer be subjected to their charms.

"They are to be encamped near Brighton, and I do so want Papa to take us all there for the summer. Especially as Mr Wickham is still safe. Mary King was taken to Liverpool by her uncle."

Lydia's chatter continued throughout lunch and into the carriage ride beyond. It turned from the departure of the regiment to inquiring whether her sister had gained a husband, and at her response, protesting the desire to be married herself before she was twenty. On to what she believed a delightful scheme that she and Mrs Forster had played on an officer, then back to the Brighton plan as the carriage drew up Longbourn's drive. Elizabeth focused her mind upon as much of it as she could, unwilling to think of the sadness she had left behind in Kent.

Mrs Bennet rejoiced to see her home, asked constantly after Mrs Collins, and more than once during dinner did her father say voluntarily, "I am glad you are come back, Lizzy."

The party was large for dinner, joined as it had been by the Lucases and Mr and Mrs Charles Bingley. Elizabeth was overjoyed to see her sister looking so well, so happy with her life as the mistress of Netherfield, although they were to move very soon.

Being seated so with her father, Jane and Charlotte, she was able to return to serious conversation, though Lydia did try much to rule the discourse in general with her desire for Brighton. It was a topic Elizabeth found her parents to have debated frequently, and adamantly persistent in their positions upon it; her mother for, her father just as steadfastly against.


The next morning, Elizabeth met Charlotte at the gate, and together they called on Jane at Netherfield. It was a meeting which had been planned the night before, and only once in the calm solitude of her sister's new home did Elizabeth feel able to touch upon the subject of the late Mrs Darcy.

Jane and Miss Lucas listened carefully and solemnly to her, as she related everything that passed; having no secrecy between her best friend and sister. With quiet sadness did she tell of Anne's gradual decline, and the reaction of everyone there, including her shameful thoughts concerning misperceptions of Mr Darcy.

Jane, anxious that no blame be attached to anyone, struggled hard to reconcile her sister being at fault rather than her husband's dearest friend, neither of which she could rightfully choose between. Charlotte added her usual collected rational side, and soon Elizabeth felt all the better for having confided in them.

Lizzy and Charlotte stayed to luncheon with Mrs Bingley; the conversation drifting on to what had passed while the former was in Kent, and descriptions of her future home; Pearlcoombe Abbey.

Sad as she was to part from her sister, Jane was reassured by her Charles' promise that Lizzy could visit them often, and the latter expressing the wish for her sister to be happy, that she was perfectly right in wanting to move from the risk of their mother visiting daily.

Indeed, Jane was happy. Married but three months, and enjoying every moment of it. Netherfield had fallen rapidly under her charms, and was now as besotted as its master. She managed the household perfectly- a relief to the housekeeper, who had feared herself a captive of Miss Bingley for life. Mr Bingley joined them at luncheon, and Lizzy was glad to see such love between them as she had hoped for her sister.

She parted from Charlotte at the gate of Longbourn, and entered the house to find it in chaos. The reason was soon discovered; Lydia had been invited to Brighton by Mrs Forster. While she flew about the house exclaiming her ecstasy to everyone, ignoring completely Kitty's repining, Mrs Bennet was in such raptures for her daughter that her husband had been forced to retreat to his library.

Elizabeth secretly joined him there but half an hour after her return from Netherfield. Her intention was to persuade him to refuse Lydia permission to go, for she could not help but feel a foreboding about the journey; a quiet dread that something would happen which would be a death warrant to her sister's character.

Mr Bennet however, was not so convinced. "Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in some public place, and here is an opportunity that is without any expense or inconvenience to her family."

"If you were aware," Elizabeth persisted, "of the very great disadvantage to us all which arises from Lydia's unguarded and impudent manner, I am sure you would judge differently."

"Do not make yourself so uneasy, Lizzy my dear. Wherever you and Jane are known, you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to any less advantage for having a couple; I may say even three, very silly sisters. We shall no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and she is too poor to be any kind of prey to a fortune hunter. Rest easy, my child, all will turn out well."


Elizabeth was forced to be satisfied with this answer but only a week. For, in the second since her return from Kent, matters concerning Lydia's travelling plans were taken out of their hands. It all began with a visit from Mrs Phillips, who came dashing to the house one late afternoon.

"Sister," cried she, "I hope you still do not mean to let Lydia go to Brighton, indeed it is my hope that if you do, you shall no longer after I tell you my news. A terrible scandal has descended on Meryton this day and you will all be surprised at its source. Louisa, one of Mrs Long's nieces, has been caught inflagrante delicto with Mr Wickham!

"Mr Wickham of all men! It all started at an evening party Mrs Long had held but last night. The officers were all there as usual, and he and Louisa were in company all evening, until it was time for them to go, and only then did all notice the two were missing. Lousia eventually was to be heard screaming and crying from the garden, causing us all to rush to her, where we encountered the shameful sight."

Told as this had been to all three daughters and their parents, reactions were varied and in the extreme. Mrs Bennet exclaimed in grief for the poor girl, relief when she learnt that Miss Lousia was unharmed, the party having reached them in time.

Wickham it was said, had been under arrest since the incident, whilst his activities were being investigated. But alas for Lydia, who had yet to appear in the least concerned, things were already decided; she would not go to Brighton. Her father and mother were, for once, in total agreement about that.

As deeply overjoyed as she had been about going, was Lydia grieved that she no longer could. In vain did she appeal to each and everyone of her sisters to persuade her parents to relent.

None would hear her.

Kitty was glad that her younger sister was for once disgruntled, and Elizabeth grateful that the danger had emerged before her sister had left with the regiment, though she was distressed at the way it had arisen. Even Jane, whose generosity for her sister's well-being was always paramount, was of the opinion that Lydia must be resigned to remaining at Longbourn for the summer.


If there was one constant in his life, then Mr Darcy was sure that summer that it was his home. Despite all the grief its occupants had suffered, Pemberley seemed to possess a certain mysterious magic in its walls and rooms that produced smiles in even the gloomiest of expressions. The weather had blessed its sandstone with a beautiful golden glow, casting magnificence all over the grounds below.

Darcy, who had ridden himself almost to exhaustion by only stopping to change horses during the journey from Kent to Lambton, now brought his mount to a halt where the valley dipped low and presented him with the first real view of his country home.

The sun had just cast its brilliance over the walls and grass, and everything glistened as valuable gems. Enchantment took only a moment; his features brightened, his tears faded away. Dismounting his horse, he let the stallion rest while he walked to the large lake that lay in front of the house. Discarding his jacket, waistcoat and cravat, Darcy dived into the water. He emerged some twenty minutes later, refreshed to the core.

Seeing that his horse was attended to, he walked on to the house, where he was welcomed by the comforting arms of his housekeeper. Mrs Reynolds, having known her master from the age of four, had no trouble in the task of making him drop his masks, and Darcy always felt the better for confiding in her all his troubles. Since the death of his parents she was the only person on whom he could rely to offer impartial judgement on any matter that haunted him.

Together did they sit in the Library, his personal retreat, until dinner. Mrs Reynolds was shocked and saddened at the sight of her master. Knowing as she did the full circumstances of his marriage, she had not expected such a onslaught of grief and guilt to be hanging upon him, as it did.

Since she had seen him last, he had lost weight, slept little and laughed even less. His entire appearance and manner conveyed to her such a sadness as she had only witnessed at the passing of his parents. And it had been by luck that she had managed to help him rise out of it then.

Darcy did indeed feel as weak as he looked. He had come alone to Pemberley, leaving his sister in the company of Mrs Annesley at their townhouse, so she was not a witness to his sad state. He was not ready to face any part of the world, a feeling he made clear by requesting that his presence in Derbyshire was to be kept a secret.

No one, not his tenants, Kympton nor Lambton, were to be informed that Pemberley was no longer shut up. How long this was to be a requirement, he did not know, and neither did his staff. Mrs Reynolds was determined that it would not outrun the summer, and made sure that every other member of the household, strove to ensure the same.

Mr Darcy however, noticed not. Nor did he notice the passage of days, spending time involved with accounts, ledgers, and all nature of things which contributed to his fortunes, without any desire for distraction.

He could not yet bear to face the world, nor did he feel ready to read the letter that had remained in his bureau since his luggage had arrived from Kent. He already knew the identity of its author; and it was this alone which drove him away from its drawer, for it related to all the other matters which caused his grief and guilt.

For, if there was one similarity between our hero and heroine that summer of 1812, it was that neither of them could read the letters Anne had penned them. Thus, neither of them were to know that, had they risked doing so, all their feelings of guilt would be forever washed away.


Part XXIII.

After the departure of the regiment for Brighton, and the transfer of the former Lieutenant Wickham to the county assizes, events in Meryton and Longbourn settled down to their usual occupations during this time of year, though much of the gossip which took place still referred to scandal involving those personages for some weeks to come.

After the first fortnight or three weeks of their absence, health, good humour and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn. Everything wore a happier aspect. The families who had been in town for the winter came back again, and summer finery and summer engagements arose. Mrs Bennet was restored to her usual querulous serenity and by the middle of June Kitty and Lydia were so much recovered as to be able to enter Meryton without tears; an event of such happy promise, as to make Elizabeth hope that by the following Christmas, her younger sisters might be so tolerably reasonable as not to mention an officer above once as day, unless by some cruel and malicious arrangement at the War Office, another regiment should be quartered in Meryton.

Elizabeth continued to visit her sister and Charlotte, spend time with her father, and with her younger sisters. During her daily rambles she contemplated her friend, the letter that waited for her from that lady, still unread in her bureau. Try as might, her courage could not rise to opening it, and her heart and mind still feared its contents would refer to what Anne had asked of her before she breathed her last. She did not feel that it was right or just to accept the promise yet.

July brought the Gardiners to Longbourn once more, with a planned excursion to take Elizabeth with them for the Lakes, a tour which was proposed and discussed last winter before she went to Kent, accepted in favour of the prospect of such delights as to be seen in that part of the country. Although much had happened since it was first proposed, Elizabeth was still in favour of going and assured her aunt so during their correspondence, as the travel itinerary became fixed.

A fortnight before the beginning of their Northern tour, a letter from Mrs Gardiner arrived which at once delayed the commencement and curtailed its extent. Mr Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within the month, and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour; and according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire.

In that county, there was enough to be seen, to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity, as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.

With the mention of Derbyshire, there were many ideas connected, it was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. At first Elizabeth was reluctant to visit the place so soon after Anne's death, until she heard that her sister and Mr Bingley were to join Mr Darcy there after they settled into Pearlcoombe Abbey, bringing Miss Darcy with them from her cousins' estate in Matlock. The estates were within thirty miles of each other, and as such Mr Darcy had promised to assist his friend in certain matters regarding the surrounding villages and tenants.

Mr Bingley showed the letter he received in confirmation of such a prospect, where his friend wrote as to the house being unoccupied until then, to his sister in law, and Elizabeth realised that she could perhaps enter the estate, rob it of a few petrified spars without perceiving the owner. Not that she desired to avoid Mr Darcy, but she would rather not intrude upon him during his time of grief, when the sight of a dear friend of his late wife, might cause him some sorrow afresh.

Mr and Mrs Bingley were the first to depart, and their leaving of Netherfield caused some little sorrow within Longbourn and Meryton for Mrs Bennet to mourn over at the loss of having a daughter married and living on a grand estate so near. Nothing would persuade Mr Bennet to let his wife go with her daughter to her new estate, and Jane stood firm in her inclination that she did not need her mother's help. Between the sisters there was a fond farewell with the promise of frequent correspondence to faithfully observed and kept. At least in those letters, Elizabeth knew she would have very little to fear reading of.

The period of expectation was now doubled. Four weeks were to pass away before her uncle and aunt's arrival. But they did pass away, and Mrs and Mrs Gardiner, wth their four children, did at length appear at Longbourn. The children, two girls of six and eight years old, and two younger boys, were left under the care of their cousin Kitty, who was to take Jane's place in teaching them, playing with them and loving them.

The Gardiners stayed only one night at Longbourn and set off the next morning with Elizabeth in pursuit - that of suitableness as companions; a suitableness which comprehended health and temper to bear inconveniences - cheerfulness to enhance every pleasure - and affection and intelligence, which might supply it among themselves if there were disappointments aboard.

It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay; Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth, Birmingham, are sufficiently known. A small part of Derbyshire is all the present concern. To the little town of Lambton, the scene of Mrs Gardiner's former residence, and where she had lately learned that some acquaintance still remained, they bent their steps, after having seen all the principal wonders of the country; and within five miles of Lambton, Elizabeth knew from her friend, Pemberley was situated. It was not in their direct road, nor more than a mile or two out of it. It talking over their route the evening before, Mrs Gardiner expressed an inclination to see the place again, and Mr Gardiner declared his willingness for the event.

After confirming with the chambermaid at the Inn that the estate's owner was still absent, Elizabeth consented to the plan, although she knew that she would be viewing the grand house and gardens which much of what her friend has said of the place in mind. To avoid thinking of Anne however was fruitless, she had tried to no avail. Perhaps seeing a place which she had spoken so much of, would help compose her mind enough to face what was waiting for her.

To Pemberley therefore, they were to go.


Anne did not do it justice. That was the foremost thought which entered Elizabeth's head upon first encountering Pemberley. She had heard her late friend's description of her Derbyshire home many times, including the best stop along the entrance way from which to view the place. Now, as she sat with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in their carriage viewing the country house, Elizabeth also realised that no one could really describe Pemberley and do justice to the reality.

The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley house, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well upon rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills - and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.

Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.

The carriage drove on to the entrance and the trio descended. After acquiring the assistance of a groundsman, they stood waiting to see if the housekeeper would allow them to see the place. Elizabeth gazed at the house, silently observing to herself once more how happily the place was situated.

She remembered the words her friend had used once about the place; claiming that no matter how a visitor felt, Pemberley always managed to a cast a spell of happiness upon them. Indeed, she could confess to possessing the same enchantment.

The trio were a little concerned when the wait had begun to lengthen, and then even more surprised when the groundskeeper returned without the housekeeper in tow. Instead the person that accompanied him was no other than the owner himself.

Elizabeth uttered a gasp which drew an enquiry from her Aunt, but before she could reply Mr Darcy was standing in front of her. Scarcely able to lift up her eyes to his face, she was astonished at her efficiency in answering his enquiries after her family and herself.

When she apologised at their presumption and misconception that he was not at home, only then did she risk a look upwards.

The result gave her much to think about.

Though he spoke with the same tone and intellect as reflected their previous acquaintance, it was clear from his entire mien that Mr Darcy was not at all himself. His face, nay his entire form, appeared almost shrunken, and his clothes, once tailored precisely to his measurements, seemed to hang upon him.

"There is no need for you to apologise, Miss Bennet," he answered to her last words. "It is my own fault. I did not wish any body to know that Pemberley was no longer shut up. And now that you are here, it would be my pleasure to escort you and your relatives in a tour of the house."

They were first shown a Dining Parlour, a large, but well proportioned room, and handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to the window and viewed the prospect it displayed.

"What do you think of it?" Darcy asked, surprising her, for she had thought him to be beside her Uncle and Aunt, describing the pieces in the room.

"I do not believe I have ever seen a place so happily situated. Anne was right."

"Right? What did she say?"

"That Pemberley possesses a magic about it that has the ability to make any person smile."

Darcy displayed the emotion as he replied, "indeed it does." He returned to her relatives.

As they continued the tour, Elizabeth found the place to be rising further and further in her estimation. The rooms were all lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy, nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings Park.

The owner proved also to be an excellent guide, answering any question that might be put to him about any object within the place, with detail and an unconscious appreciation. He truly loved his home, that was clear to see by all of the visitors. It showed in his every description of each room and his recounting of what changes his ancestors had done to them.

Even the discovery by Mrs Gardiner of a likeness of Mr Wickham- whom she had seen at a Christmas a gathering at the Phillipses -at a mantle piece, did not discomfort him. Calmly did he tell them that it was his late father's favourite room and everything had been left as he preferred it and that was that.

They soon reached the second level, and were shown into a sitting room which their guide explained had been just done up for his sister, who adored the room.

A picture gallery, and three of the principal bedrooms were all that remained to be shown. In the former there were many family portraits, which the owner took care to name each one's identity, along with a story about them which served to produce interest in the visitors who otherwise would not have dwelt upon a stranger.

Elizabeth soon discovered his own likeness, wearing such a smile as she remembered to have sometimes seen when he looked at her. The painting having taken in his father's lifetime, contrasted naturally with the reality, due to the passage of time. Elizabeth however soon noticed as well how much better the likeness seemed than the man himself, who was trying so much to hide his suffering.

With their tour of the interior now completed, the owner offered refreshment, which was politely refused, before escorting them outside. They walked across the lawn to the lake, where they surveyed the outside of the house once more, before entering a beautiful walk by the side of the water.

Here Elizabeth found herself by Mr Darcy's side, her Aunt having taken her Uncle's arm. Once more did she offer her apologies about their intrusion, once more did he brush them aside.

"I am glad you have come," he finished, "for as you know, I am joined here tomorrow by Georgiana and Mr and Mrs Bingley. I would be delighted if, providing you and the Gardiners have no fixed engagements, you could join us for dinner."

"I am sure we would happy to," Elizabeth replied, knowing that they had no fixed plans in the neighbourhood as yet.

They entered the woods, where Mr Gardiner expressed a wish of seeing the entire grounds, only to be informed that they were over ten miles round, causing his wife to request for a return to the carriage, as she was not a great walker.

Mr Darcy obliged them by taking them back the long but easier route, passing through the valley and glen on the way. He observed Elizabeth's regret at not exploring the coppice wood, and decided.

Instantly did he offer for them to spend the remainder of their time in Derbyshire at Pemberley, assuring them that due to the estate's position they could visit the other places in the county that they had planned to see as well as seeing the rest of the estate at their own pace.

After inquiring as whether they were imposing and being assured that they were not, along with the information of the Bingleys joining him on the morrow, the Gardiners were delighted to accept.

When they had reached the carriage he offered refreshments once more, which were again politely declined, and then bade them farewell until the next day. Lastly, as the Gardiners were climbing into the carriage, Darcy turned to Elizabeth. "Do you approve then of Pemberley?" He quietly asked her.

"I think there are few who would not," Elizabeth replied.

They moved to the carriage. Darcy held out a hand to assist her and then added, "but your good opinion is so rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning."

Elizabeth was too astonished by the reply to respond, as she took his hand and stepped into the equipage. She could only watch as he delivered his farewells and the expectation of seeing them for dinner on the morrow, before the carriage drove her away.


Darcy watched the vehicle until it had disappeared out of sight, then walked back inside his house. Only when he had reached his retreat did his mask collapse, along with the rest of his strength. Sinking into a chair, he put a hand to his eyes as the entire visit began to repeat itself in his head.

He had been overjoyed to see her, but now the guilt at that feeling had started to attack him in the extremes. It had been an indulgence, one that he should have left to Mrs Reynolds, rather than deciding to take them around himself when she had informed him of their arrival.

Yet he could not resist the temptation of seeing her again.

A knock at the Library door startled him out of his gloomy reverie. "Come."

"I thought you might like some refreshment," Mrs Reynolds answered, entering with a tray in her hands.

"Thank you Mrs Reynolds, but I am not hungry."

"It was not a request."

There was only one person at Pemberley who could overrule him by authority of relationship, and that was Mrs Reynolds. Darcy gazed up at the woman who had known him most of his life, and reluctantly allowed the tray to be placed in front of him. Slowly he let a little of its contents pass into his mouth.

His housekeeper was not satisfied. "William, you have had no breakfast, and no lunch. You must eat more than that." She sat down upon the sofa opposite him, showing no intention of leaving the room until the tray before her master was cleared.

Darcy carefully swallowed some more food. "They are to have dinner here tomorrow."

Mrs Reynolds smiled, knowing who he meant. "Good. Maybe that will persuade you to partake of the meal."

"Kate..."

"No excuses, please, sir. Your sister will be here tomorrow and you are a too awful object to greet her. Since your stay here you have done little to improve the neglect you have inflicted upon yourself since I last saw you. Rest assured, it may make Miss Bennet pity you, but it will not accomplish anything else. Promise me, that you will try to return to your normal well and happy self while she stays here."

"I promise, Kate." Darcy smiled at her. "Thank you." He knew however, that the assurance he had just given, would prove difficult to keep.


Part XXIV.

"William!"

He caught her before she could fall out of the carriage, his smile almost as radiant as her own for their reunion.

Georgiana's journey to Pemberley had been a protracted affair. After leaving Rosings as she had done so with her brother in April, she had remained in London while he travelled to Derbyshire.

A month exactly was then spent in town under the chaperone of Miss Annesley, before travelling with Colonel Fitzwilliam to his parent's estate in Matlock, where she had occupied herself until the time had come to travel to Pearlcoombe Abbey, where she had joined the Bingleys in their journey to Pemberley.

Now, as she set herself back from the embrace he had eagerly returned, Georgie looked with solemn concern into his eyes, her own carrying the silent message that she had noted his neglect of himself and that she was most displeased about it. His reaction to it was all that she could hope for; serious acknowledgement, and promise to make retribution upon the neglect as soon as may be.

"Darcy!" The ever jovial Bingley cried, causing his friend to retain a hold of only a hand of his sister in order to receive the vigorous shake from the latter. "I must say again how well chosen Pearlcoombe is! How can I ever thank you?"

"There is no need, Charles, you know that. I only passed the description, name and location of the place on. You did the rest."

"Nevertheless I am grateful for your keen senses in smoking it out." He put a loving arm around his wife as he added, "we both are."

Darcy held out a hand, "Mrs Bingley I am happy to welcome you to Pemberley."

"I am happy to be here, Mr Darcy," Jane replied, her eyes grazing up at the sandstone front entrance. "Anne was right when she said that the place holds an enchantment over you."

"And there are none who are more so bewitched than its owner, I assure you," Darcy added as he lead them into the courtyard to the stairs and entrance hall. "I believe your sister said the same thing when she visited."

"Lizzy has been here?" Mrs Bingley queried in surprise.

"Yes with the Gardiners," Darcy replied. "Did you not know of their vacation in the county?"

"Of course, but we did not know the exact day they planned to visit here," Jane explained as they entered the first room of the house.

Georgiana meanwhile walked to another part of the house with Mrs Reynolds who had been there to welcome her home. "Dear Mrs Reynolds, how has my brother been?"

"I think you can see that for yourself, Georgie," Mrs Reynolds replied, their voices low and too distant to be overheared by the man himself. "We have tried to remedy the matter, but you know how stubborn he can be."

"Only too well," Georgie replied. "I hope the presence of myself, the Bingleys, the Gardiners and Miss Bennet will reverse the neglect." She paused consideringly. "But he will only really recover if he heals himself."


Pemberley cast its spell upon Elizabeth once more she arrived there that evening, the Gardiners and their luggage in tow. She noticed the deeper effects it had in candlelight; the glow that the decor and furnishings emanated in result. This glow could be found everywhere in the building, including the owner himself.

For the first time in their acquaintance Elizabeth discovered herself judging him not as the husband of her late friend, not as a widower, not as a man of wealth, not as a man of influence, not even as her friend. She saw him instead as a woman regards a single man that she cares for great deal, and spends the night in his company contemplating what it would be like for the rest of her life.

Such a revelation was not realised until later that night, but it begun like the enchantment of the estate, in slow, soft, small incidences, rising steadily to a crescendo.

Nor was the effect noticed by the man himself. Concerned he was that her every whim should be seen to as was due of a host, but Darcy remained more focused on how he appeared by his manner and discourse to the party rather than awake to any new feeling the lady of his dreams might suddenly have.

The words of his housekeeper the night before had done a great detail to affect the concern he felt over how people saw and judged him. His natural reserve had assisted the desire, and he forced himself not to collapse and show the reality. A front of perfect calmness and health had to be kept, at least until it became fact rather than fiction.

Dinner was announced; and it was with surprise that Elizabeth noted her place beside Mr Darcy who was at the head of the table, which had been shortened from its usual length for twelve to accommodate conversation more freely.

Jane was opposite, her Uncle and Mr Bingley flanked them, Georgie and Mrs Gardiner at the end. Like the house the meal also served to charm its consumers, containing nothing but the best that the season and his kitchens could provide.

Darcy exerted himself to both eat and talk, and Elizabeth, being aware of his struggles in conversation, willingly assisted him, by requesting a history of his family. It was a topic that he was very familiar and very fond of, for the history had been the first thing he had read; a tradition in his family regarding all children.

This occupied them for the first course. By the time the servants had returned with the next, Darcy had realised that he had run away himself on the topic and apologised.

"Forgive me, Miss Bennet, I am being selfish. I have not even asked you about your own family history."

"No indeed, sir," Elizabeth replied immediately, anxious that he should not slide into his reserve. "It was I who asked you, and I was well aware of the length it might entail."

"But it cannot be very interesting, surely?"

"It is, I assure you," she answered with a light laugh. "Please continue."

And he did.


Night arrived, and the guests retired to their beds. Unknowing to each other Elizabeth and Darcy were the last to fall asleep, both their minds having too much thought upon the events of the evening.

Elizabeth lay awake for two full hours, her mind continually reflecting upon every nuance of the evening, from arrival to retirement. He had been everything she could of expected. It was only her feelings that she believed needed clarification and rebuke. She had no right, no right at all to suddenly think of him as a potential partner in life.

Marriage of convenience he may have had, but it was to a woman she regarded as friend, and who had passed on not four months ago. Every feeling in her should forbid it. This place and its magic had stole upon her unexpectedly, catching her off-guard, serving to awake such thoughts about a man she had known for ten months.

From this moment on she would make herself more aware of probabilities, such as the likelihood of a owner recently widowed wishing to inform no one in his parishes that he was at his estate for the summer so he could pass the season in the relative solitude that the building afforded him. She would not seek him out, respecting his right to mourn as any friend of his late wife should. Instead she would concern herself with her aunt and uncle's plans, and involve herself therein.


With Darcy, he spent most of the night seated in a armchair before the fire in his bedchamber, stroking his faithful greyhounds which sat either side. They, alert as any other dog to the moods of their master, had stayed by him from the moment he had allowed them into his present.

Silently had they followed him from the gallery, down the stairs to the Music Room an hour after the guests had retired, pushing their curiosity about the room aside to observe him leaning on the mantle, gazing at the pianoforte.

Just as silently they had returned with him to his bedchamber some moments later, watching with anxious eyes as he dismissed his valet, stripped down to his shirt and breeches, and sank into the chair before the hearth.

They had joined him their immediately, pushing their heads into his hands for a stroke and pet before he could sink into a gloomy reverie. Like their master, they knew that they had only obtained partial success.

Darcy lost track of how long he remained haunted by the flicking flames, his eyes fixing upon them as a marker to guide him back to the present, upon the instant that memories of the past threatened to overwhelm him.


Part XXV.

My dear Lizzy, you and I have been such close friends for so short a time. I wish it could be longer, but I know that cannot be. I have to depart, if my wishes for you and my other dearest friend are to come to fruition......

Elizabeth opened her eyes, and the image, like any other dream faded way. Arising from her bed, she walked to the window, remembering the scene in her past where the words had come from. It was when she had sat beside Anne at Rosings, on that dreadful day.... she sighed.

Even now she could not recall the specifics of the conversation. At the time she had been too concerned with the need to make her friend content rather than the details of what she was promising herself to fulfil.

Before she could dwell upon the moment now though, her eyes and senses recollected where she was. Pemberley. She looked out, gazing at the prospect properly for the first time.

The grounds below her rose quite naturally and gradually into a hill, whose own foundation level remained the same until the woods, which seemed to almost surround the estate, over came its plush greenness. Straining her eyes, Elizabeth could espy two figures upon the hill, working in harmony the only way that man and horse excel at. Even at this distance she could, from the outline, determine the identity of the rider.

Indeed, it could not be anyone else; Mr Bingley was married and prone to later rides, while her Uncle preferred to hunt the trout. Elizabeth found herself fixed upon the figure until he arched the horse round to return to the house, whereupon she instinctively turned from the window to a chair.

She knew it to be ridiculous to think that he could discern her from where he was presently halted, and therefore put the irrational fear down to her revelations the night before. Verily now she still did not believe in the notion that the feelings which had arisen during one evening spent in Mr Darcy's company were more of a longer nature rather than the effects of Pemberley's enchantment.

He was an excellent man- she could hardly acknowledge otherwise, given her intimacy with Anne. Their friendship had presented her with a side to him which she might only now be beginning to learn if he had been unattached upon their first acquaintance.

And it was in this significance which the barrier lay. As a rational woman she could not ignore the reality, she recognised that. Had they met in different circumstances..... no, she should not give way to such supposing. There was nothing that could alter the situation between them. It was simply not meant to be.


Upon a hill far away, a rider sat upon his steed, staring at the house. He wondered absently if she knew that he had spent the hours before her arrival discerning which window was to be hers, for just this moment.

Loosing any desire to be attuned to his whereabouts or the time, he remained gazing at the panes, until he had almost imagined the figure in white who he had seen move away just as he had come round. Below him his stallion, as wild as its untamed ancestors, stamped a hoof and rapidly reminded him where he was. Flicking the reins he complied with its wish for exertion.

Arriving in the breakfast room not half an hour later he found to his satisfaction only his sister and Miss Elizabeth- how oft he was prone to drop her last name, wishing for his own to replace it -partaking of the bread and pastries his servants had laid out. Delivering a genial good morning to them both he sat down in his usual seat, and discovered, to his surprise, that, for the first time in months, he actually felt a desire for nourishment rather than just a need.

Georgiana noticed her brother's marked alteration regarding food, and unconsciously smiled in relief before drinking her tea. Her companion espied the gesture, but was unable to remark upon the emotion until their host had moved to sip his tea at the window, a custom she had observed from her days at Netherfield.

"Forgive me, Lizzy, I did not mean for you to notice it," Georgiana replied, her voice too low for her brother to hear.

"Then I shall not inquire further about it."

"Oh no, I do not want that. It is something I dearly wish to keep an eye on, and I know full well how rarely my daily pursuits cross his. Yet, the matter is so delicate..... and heaven knows I do not want him to realise my worry....."

"But..." Elizabeth prompted her.

"It is necessary. Since.... well, I'm sure you can guess, I have seen him take little, if any, enjoyment from eating. He eats the little that he does out of necessity rather than want. I know him too well to think that this will not last. It is his way when he dwells too often on things past. This is the first time in months that I have seen any change."

"I understand your concern. Do not worry, I will try to help, if I can."

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Georgie answered, her thoughts adding but I believe you already have. It was too soon for that to be voiced aloud.

Darcy returned to the table, and the rest of the occupants entered the room to partake of the repast, ending the conversation.

While Georgiana offered to show the ladies around the rest of the grounds, the gentlemen decided that their morning activity was to be fishing. As soon as breakfast was concluded the latter set off, their host regretful that formalities had to be observed, while the former dawdled longer, reminiscing over their travel delights.

Thus, many a minute of the morn was passed by host and our heroine fighting to appear all that could be expected of them and thinking about the other at the same time. He failed to lessen the quantity of fish in his estate, she found herself spending the entire walk wondering on his location and what distance he lay from her group.

His distraction soon led to his friend speaking almost entirely to her Uncle, and her own for her Aunt to smile at her other niece and their hostess and for them to return the expression in mutual understanding.

At luncheon the entire company reunited, and the weather turned for the sake of host and heroine. In the Music Room they sequestered themselves, Georgiana at the pianoforte, idly playing out a tune, the Gardiners in conversation with the Bingleys, Elizabeth at the window watching the effect of rain on the grounds, and Darcy quietly in the sofa by the hearth, his eyes never moving from her form.

The doors opened and the greyhounds came in, rushing for their master in complete disregard of the footman that had only brought them to the room in a request that they be let out of their confinement for some indoor exercise. Their master brushed away the apology, happy for the distraction, his mental meandering having by now drifted into gloom.

Silently he greeted them both, and then watched as they moved from him to meet the others. Despite their size it was with grace that they moved to each person, allowing them to make the first move before sniffing their hands and prancing to the next.

With Georgiana they balanced their forelegs upon her lap, willingly accepting her joyful fuss of them, until the woman by the window caught their eyes. Solemnly they walked towards her, sitting down before her in almost a bow. Her own pupils lit up at their arrival, and willingly she held out a hand in greeting. Eagerly they stayed by her side.

Their preference did not go unnoticed. Darcy watched them not with surprise, but with the emotion of a man who had long suspected such an event to occur. A man who had foreseen that she would have such a way with everything that he owned, stealing all their hearts without any intent or design, but by sheer manner and character themselves.

A man who knew how well the woman had stolen his own heart.


Part XXVI.

With the first day passing so agreeably to all concerned, one could hardly hope that the second would pass by with the same emotion felt by all. Yet it did, even going so far as to surpass the first.

The weather continued to prove satisfactorily for this time of year, that is as far as satisfaction can be gained by spending one's time in a typical English summer, being both good and bad, wet and dry, answering not only the requirements of our hero and heroine, but the rest of the guests currently residing at Pemberley as well.

Elizabeth woke to the second morning at the estate with cheerful memories of the pleasant day which had passed before. After the entrance of the dogs, afternoon had soon drifted into evening, bringing dinner. In the Dining Room she had found herself seated by him as previously.

Conversation was begun by him, an anxious enquiry concerning the company of the hounds, to which she had replied in a truthful and enjoyable opinion. They had continued to talk amongst themselves throughout the rest of the meal, the other guests happy to let them alone.

The formalities of separation by sexes followed, whereupon she had spent a half hour with her Aunt and Miss Darcy. Upon the entrance of the gentlemen, he had resumed his usual seat, which happened to be opposite her, causing the trio, quite naturally, to involve him in their discussion.

As a result of this first day, Elizabeth found her emotions unchanged. She responded to them this time however with a new resolution. While she could suppose herself to be affected by the estate for feeling the feelings she currently felt about its owner, she could hardly assume that he was feeling the same about her.

She should not even expect him to consider it. Therefore she knew that it was pointless to dwell and second guess those feelings. Nor should she ever hope that he would learn to feel them too. With this resolution in mind, she put the emotions to the back of her thoughts, and concentrated purely on the present.

Thus, our heroine spent her second day at Pemberley in the noble quest of helping Georgiana and her brother in law, Charles Bingley, in overseeing the health of their host. The latter had expressed his own concern to her during the evening before, and Elizabeth, her own sensibilities deeply concerned with what Anne would have thought of this, promised her willing assistance.

This she began today, the weather proving a help to her cause by not melting the frost of the cold night before enough to encourage the thought of fishing. Instead their host and the gentlemen spent their morning with the ladies, where Elizabeth and Georgiana banded together to involve the former in conversation, keeping him so occupied that when food came before them, he ate with enjoyment rather than necessity.

Darcy was not slow to feel the effects. He had noticed his sister's concern, as every good brother should, but until now it had not occurred to him that she would gain Miss Elizabeth's assistance in the matter. Before this day he had never entertained any reality in the idea that she might feel some part of the same concern and affection that he often felt for her.

The revelation both pleased and distressed him. He still felt guilt over Anne, and he was worried that the distraction of Miss Bennet's presence might lead him to unconsciously express his deep and loving regard for her before either of them were ready to consider such a motion.

As an educated man he knew that his lack of concentration had to do with in part at least to the neglect he had shown in looking after his health, so he began to compensate accordingly. To the delight and relief of his household and of those around him, he ate all his meals, and threw himself not so very wholeheartedly into any estate work that might require his attention while he entertained, as he had been inclined to do so before the arrival of his guests.

Added to this, and in a conscious effort not focus on his feelings for her, Darcy sought to encourage his sister's relationship with Miss Elizabeth. To see Georgiana so much like the young woman he had witnessed before the summer spent at Ramsgate was truly a joy. He saw just how much both Anne and Miss Elizabeth had contributed to make Georgiana smile, laugh, and be confident with her feelings and opinions, and the results did much to heal his own heart as well as his sister's.

Throughout the second day therefore, while Elizabeth and Georgiana were encouraging him in the restoration of his health, he was often reverting to silence in their company, content to watch and or listen to their conversation. For this he had no other motive, only a desire that his sister recover fully, aware of the future when she would find her own love and move away from him. He could only hope that she had better success than he.


As the days passed, Mr and Mrs Gardiner bore witness the state of their niece and Mr Darcy. Both being keen observers, they soon detected how much each felt for the other, and the concern that consumed them enough to prevent any present avowal of feelings on either side.

It was a topic that the Gardiners often mulled over between themselves, with the rising worry of when, if indeed at all, the relationship might be begun. Due to Mr Gardiner's increasingly successful business, he could not lengthen their disgustedly short vacation in Derbyshire. Nor could they accept the Bingley's kind offer of taking Elizabeth home in their own time, for the Bingley's stay would only last one more day in the county than their own, for Charles still had a multitude of things to sort at Pearlcoombe.

Mrs Gardiner tried therefore to speed things along, but in vain. Usually Elizabeth confided in her everything that she could not discuss with Jane, especially now because of Jane's marriage, but so far she had not. Mrs Gardiner knew of the letter from the late Mrs Darcy to her niece which had yet to be read, knew why it had yet to be read, and could discern from appearance alone just how her niece felt about Mr Darcy.

However until Elizabeth made the move to confide in her, Madeline could render nothing in the way of succour. She knew her niece's character too well to expect anything other than a denial in response if she expressed her suspicions.

Madeline was also aware that it was far too early for either of them to begin such a courtship. The recent mortal departure of Mrs Darcy aside, it was clear that neither of them were ready to even contemplate such a possibility, let alone act upon it. A marriage of convenience for Mr Darcy it may have been, but Mrs Gardiner could clearly espy the guilt that still lingered within him, despite their short acquaintance.

Added to this was her niece's relationship with his late wife. For Elizabeth to even consider the idea Mrs Gardiner knew to be impossible. Every feeling for her late friend would justly forbid it. Months would have to pass before either of them would begin to dwell upon such a courtship without any feelings of guilt or betrayal accompanying such an idea.

So therefore Mrs Gardiner could only watch the couple she hoped so much for throughout the stay at Pemberley, along with the constant and private prayer that nothing, upon this green and pleasant land or in their minds, emotions and fears, would hinder and or prevent such a future union. For what happiness such an event would bring, not only to their family and friends, but also to the couple themselves.


Part XXVII.

The Gardiners and their niece passed only six more days at Pemberley before moving from the county back to town. With their absence, distressingly, went what little of their host's brief recovery, which they had accomplished during their stay. Mr Darcy felt deeply the effects of her withdrawal.

Within a day of the Bingley's departure to Pearlcoombe, he sent his sister to Matlock, and returned to the cycle he had wrapped himself so much in previously. He ate little, slept even less for fear of the dreams that would haunt him, wore himself out so he would have no dreams, and threw himself into work on the estate.

His household tried in vain to prevent it. Mrs Reynolds, whom had the advantage of the others by being held in high regard, tried every day to get him to eat, sleep and abandon what little estate work remained, but without success.

Her battle ended with him taking the key of his library and study, and locking himself in both each day, leaving her no chance to disturb him until meals or the household accounts, which, due his lack of appetite, required almost no attention.

Darcy seemed to notice nothing of the worry and concern he was creating by the neglect to himself. The symptoms had settled upon him from the moment of her departure, and nothing could remove them except her return. He would suffer, but he would not allow her to see it.

Pleased he had been once in the knowledge that she cared for him, now he looked upon it with distress. He was not worthy of her concern, nor did he neglect himself just to gain her attention. She deserved a better man than he, a man who had no past that he would rather forget.

Summer began slowly to fade into Autumn, and he moved himself out of the house to help his tenant farmers recover the harvest. It was something he had participated in ever since he was a boy, and they welcomed him to their cause.

Yet this change of occupation did not result in a reversion of appetite. He accepted their offer of repast during the breaks, but often ate little or no dinner and frequently missed breakfast upon his return to the house.

Usually he was a sensible man and realised that this neglect would slowly kill him, but his affection for her had made him act irrationally for so long, that he no longer paid attention to the qualms of his conscience.

If he had thought the strong focus upon his estate would cure him of his fascination for Elizabeth Bennet, he was soon proved mistaken. More and more frequently would images of their time together come into his mind, causing much distraction. Only one look, or expression, or manner, or turn of phrase, only one of these would be remembered without any reason by his mind, and he would be lost for the rest of the day.

When this occurred he worked himself more harshly to the ground; adding riding and fencing- provided by a retired master from Lambton -to his pastimes, until there was almost no occasion to think of her.

This resolution had sporadic results. Sometimes he would go days without thinking anything about her, and other days she would come into his mind no matter what he used to try and his distract himself.

As the days passed, suspicions of the reasons were awakened not only in his household, but also in his tenants and parishes of Kympton and Lambton. When presented with a view of the state of him, the populace of both villages and his land could only comment about it amongst themselves. None knew how, or even if a recovery could be brought on by themselves.

The household, however, did not lose hope of recovery. Mrs Reynolds risked retribution one day and wrote to Miss Darcy. She had little idea of what result it could bring, but it was the last avenue open to her.

Georgiana was shocked indeed to hear of her brother's debilitating health. Never had she seriously thought for a moment that when he encouraged her to visit the Matlocks that he had another motive than her happiness.

She knew it was not a conscious motive on his part to starve himself, but she also realised that he had sent her away so she could not see it, and try to persuade him out of it.

Immediately she wrote a reply to Mrs Reynolds assuring her that she would return at once, and that everything that could be attempted to help her brother, would be. What she did not mention to Mrs Reynolds, is that as yet she knew of nothing that could be done.

She knew her brother in grief and guilt too well. Reversing the process would not be an easy task to accomplish with any degree of success. She could guess at the nature of the long term solution, but also knew that for the solution to be a possibility, other things would have to be achieved, including a answer for the interlude.

At length, Georgiana summoned her courage and confided in her Aunt, Uncle and cousins the full history of events since they had last seen her brother, which, apart from Colonel Fitzwilliam, was well over a year ago.

The reaction to the discovery was great; everyone could not be more shocked, so far had the suspicion of such an event been from their minds. Only to Richard did the development seem not so wholly unexpected.

Discussion of what to do as by way of resolution then followed. First proposed was the notion that they arrived at Pemberley without warning, and confront him. Georgiana instantly discounted that:

"He would not look kindly upon us," said she, "and I doubt if he would admit anything to any of us. I do not wish him to be angry with me or Mrs Reynolds."

Second was the proposal that they persuaded him to travel to Matlock, a notion that was also rapidly discounted. They knew his stubbornness all too well, he would give too clever an excuse to refuse. Disguise of any sort was his abhorrence, but he would do enough to make sure that the excuse was a reality should they try to check.

The viscount then suggested that they took him to town. Soon that was discarded as well; they had all witnessed frequently the effect of Society upon him. Alexis Fitzwilliam was a practical man by nature, and therefore could not understand how his cousin could be so wholly consumed by the guilt of loving someone while under a marriage of convenience, and how his character would forbid him from reacting upon the affection after the end of the matrimonial barrier.

For days did they admit a partial defeat at this juncture, and return to their previous activities for distraction in the hope it would bring inspiration. In vain did they struggle. Georgiana knew not what to do; to inform any one else would only make them concerned, and feel a uselessness in the inability to offer a solution.

At last then, just when all hope of an answer seemed hopeless, a proposal offered itself up for debate, and the nature of it pleased all.


Continued in Volume Four.


© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2011.