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Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version II, Volume II.

Chapter V.

Upon reflection Darcy was not sure how he had got through one day without seeing her. Ensconced in the study, his private domain, where no one could disturb him and with only work to occupy his distracted mind, his thoughts constantly drifted out of that room, out of his townhouse, out of Grosvenor Square, to that of Hanover, to her.

Scattered before him on the bureau were papers, correspondence from his capable steward in Derbyshire, dating from Michaelmas, when he and Bingley had left for Netherfield. That seemed so long ago now. Yet it was not even the end of the year. He chose one from the pile, scanning the closely written words. One of his tenants had fallen behind in their rent, due to the unexpected increase of their family a month ago. Her face suddenly floated before his eyes. The temptation was irresistible; he dwelt upon the image.

A mantle clock struck the hour, and the dream faded away. Sighing Darcy picked up his pen and wrote upon a fresh sheet of paper his reply to the tenant, congratulating the family on their new addition, assuring them that the rent could wait. Four years ago his steward would have shook his head at the leniency, but now he would merely remain silent. The Darcy family, their estates and wealth vast, could well afford the delay. And they had always been generously loyal to their tenants.

He wondered if he could persuade Bingley to visit Miss Bennet again. The weather was so unusually fine for this time of year; just right for a walk in Hyde Park. Once there he could..... he could what? She was married. And besides, Bingley was also confined to his townhouse this day; drafting the settlements with his solicitors, his eagerness outweighing the need to ride the four and twenty miles to Longbourn in order to obtain the father's consent without them.

Darcy picked up another letter. A receipt of the successful land buy from his neighbouring landowner. This would increase the boundary of his estate by two more miles round. He wrote a entry in his ledger, and then added it to the complete pile. Silently he ridiculed himself at the meagre amount of work he had done in four hours. It seemed so impossible, so hard to concentrate on anything but her. But he had to. His estate could not be neglected for another month, lest he be reduced to sacrificing a long Christmas with his sister in order to complete it before the new year.

Georgiana. The mere thought of her brought him harshly back to the present. It was barely half a year since Ramsgate and he was neglecting her already. The fascination with the Countess seemed paltry by comparison. At the moment she was with his Uncle and Aunt at their estate in Matlock, having travelled from Hertfordshire to spend the rest of the year at their Uncle's estate, after the existence of a certain scoundrel was discovered within the ranks of the militia.

Though at the time Georgiana had valiantly attempted to endure spending time in the same neighbourhood as him, festivities had soon prevented her from continuing such endeavours, as upon arranging his ball, Bingley was required by civilities to issue a general invitation to all officers. In the event Wickham elected not to attend, but his sister had not been able to stomach the thought of spending the night in the same house as him, so to Matlock she had gone before his absence was discovered.

He laid aside his work and quietly calculated how long his stay in London would be. Bingley would want him to accompany him upon his return to Hertfordshire, which his friend had arranged to be but a day after Miss Bennet's departure for the same county. It was now the end of November, which gave him two and twenty days.

The time would suffice, and he needed to see his cousin, whose contacts in the military would discover if the militia had left Meryton. He knew Georgie would want to attend the wedding of his friend, and he could not bear the thought of her having to endure the presence of the man who had betrayed her feelings during her time spent in Ramsgate.

Which would be when he could see the Countess again. Idly he contemplated the idea of her standing up with her sister, an office which he would also perform for his friend. A minute later he shook his head to get the image of the two of them standing so close in church and what such closeness might lead to out of his imagination.

This was getting ridiculous. She was married. How many more times would his mind strive to forget that most salient of facts? True, her husband was, in his humble opinion, the most disreputable man on earth- a certain childhood friend excepted -but it was not impossible that the Earl could have some amiable, perhaps even admirable, qualities?

Darcy tried not to discount that point immediately. Yet public reputation was not in his favour. The Earl had made the headlines of the Society gossip columns for all the wrong reasons from the moment he had come of age. A known gambler, and rake, only his fortune and title had saved him from being considered anything other than eligible. A member of Prinny's1 set, he had been rumoured to indulge in liaisons with married women.

Since his marriage, as far as Darcy knew, none of this had stopped. Setting aside the fact that it was common practice amongst the Ton to conduct themselves in this manner, as well as his increasing fascination for the woman in question, Darcy could not see why any man would continue, married to such an inducement.

The clock struck another hour, bringing him back to the present and the mound of estate work once more. He picked up the next letter. A report of the state of his stores from the harvest of his estate last summer. Wheat, hops, rye, flax and oats had yielded excellent results, but the fruit, particularly strawberries and raspberries, was poor.

This result had been not the fault of his tenant farmers, but the weather. Darcy consoled his steward and tenants in his reply and surveyed the letter underneath, which reported a good yield in blackberries and soles, making up for the loss elsewhere.

Somehow, Darcy managed to make his way through the rest of his estate work without his thoughts distracting him. Two hours later he emerged from his study, and ate the cold late luncheon his servants had left him. Bingley would be joining him for dinner this evening. Perhaps then he would be able to forget the Countess of Saffron Walden.

At least for a little while.


Charles Bingley, while still marvelling over his happiness, could not fail to notice that his friend was rather pensive that night. The quota for conversation at dinner was filled largely by himself, with his friend uttering only a few comments. Darcy, Bingley well knew, was prone to reserve, but rarely with his closest friends; a title with which Charles had the honour to call himself.

Not until they retired for the night, as he had elected to avoid remaining at his townhouse while his sister hosted a soiree, did Charles discover a hint as to the motive behind his friend's preoccupation. Roused from sleep by the sound of music, an unusual occurrence when Miss Darcy was not in the house, he ventured downstairs in search of the source, which he discovered to be located within the drawing room.

In one corner stood a pianoforte, a requirement of Georgiana's and one that her brother always indulged. But Charles had never known his friend to play the instrument himself. Until this night. For there was Darcy, playing out a tune, without any need for sheet reference.

Bingley listened in silent surprise. He determined the identity after only the first few bars, a piece, by Beethoven.2 He could remember Georgiana- knowing her from her youth, he had always called her Georgiana or Georgie -playing the tune often, but never with this depth of feeling or masterful skill. Miss Darcy was an excellent musician, but her brother seemed to far surpass her with this piece.

As he had previously witnessed, there was no sheet of music to serve as a guide for Darcy's fingers, yet his friend's memory of the piece never wavered for a moment. Observing Darcy's face, Bingley could see his eyes were closed, but the emotion felt by the music was clearly written all over the rest of his features.

Charles wondered who had taught his friend. Music was not a skill required by heirs of great landowners, and he would have remembered if Darcy had acquired such a talent during their time at Cambridge. No, the learning must have come earlier, which was a true testament to Darcy's memory to invoke this display.

The piece came to an end, Darcy only having played a sample of the second movement, which in Bingley's opinion, was the most moving of the entire composition. Only then did his friend realise that he was not alone, for he glanced up at Bingley with surprise.

"Darcy, I never knew you could play," Bingley remarked, trying to ease his friend's sudden embarrassment.

"My mother taught me," was the quiet and serious reply.

"You have a marvellous memory then," Bingley rejoined, remembering that the late Lady Anne Darcy had died when Georgie was but six years old, miscarrying their younger sibling. "You seemed almost to be in a trance."

"I believe I was," his friend uttered quietly. A trance brought on by the Countess of Saffron Walden. He felt bewitched. Abruptly he moved away from the instrument to the selection of brandy and port on the sideboard.

"Drink?" he offered, in a tone that spoke volumes to his friend.

All conversation on the event had to be ceased. Charles obliged, and changed the subject, never speaking of the moment again that night. But the occurrence haunted him throughout the journey back to his townhouse the next morning and long into the conclusion of the night.


 

1. Prinny was the nickname for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, currently Prince Regent and soon to be George IV. His father George III had ruled the country excellently for thirty years, before the suffering caused by his inherited porphyria rendered him unfit to rule and made his government to request for his heir to serve as regent. Prinny was of the racy set at court, and reputations in the Regency were known to be in frequent disrepute.

2. Moonlight Sonata otherwise known as Sonata No. 14 in C# minor (1801). Beethoven dedicated the piece to a Countess with whom he was in love, however, as I have recently discovered, it gained that name long after this story was set, around the 1830s.


Chapter VI.

Longbourn
December 2nd

My dear Lizzy,

I write to you from a house of chaos. The scene you have witnessed before and I must trouble you with the task of delivering the news abroad for you know too well my dislike for the craft of the pen.

I trouble you for congratulations to the Lucases; they now have a daughter soon to be married; Maria. Our cousin Mr Collins is the lucky suitor fortunate enough to grace her hand.

He visited us some weeks ago, parting too soon and returning too promptly; a veritable source of amusement to us all, at least for those of us who possess the sense with which to appreciate his foibles, that is.

Many's a moment during the stay I wished you there, for the man is not sensible,- quite the reverse in fact, -and in raptures so over his patroness and dear cousin the Countess, though he has never set eyes on you in his life.

The man set his cap first at Jane, determined as he was to provide a matrimonial olive branch and also get the best of our remaining single daughters.

But your mother soon prevented that, a word in his ear and he was a changed man, in the time it took to stir the fire.

He tried for Mary, but she has announced her intention to take the veil - saving me a world of expense and inconvenience - and then set eyes on Maria during a party at Lucas Lodge a day or so later.

Enquiries must be made to your health; I presume it to be well, else your husband shall bear retribution for it. His health must be inquired after as well and Jane's; I know she will not begrudge that I give her no news myself, no doubt your mother will soon send her own post haste.

I hope you have encountered Mr Bingley and wrought his worth for Jane. They shall be happy I am sure; both are so complying that nothing will ever be resolved upon, so easy that every servant shall cheat them, and so generous that they will always exceed their income. Both of you I know will shake your heads at me for this, but you, my dear, cannot refute its truth.

Hopes of hearing news regarding the above soon; Mrs Bennet cannot be allowed to run her course in the deepest despair of failing to secure the heir of Longbourn only to start again in the joy of securing a man worth three thousand more his fortune so soon.

And thus I cease, remaining etc, etc,
Andrew Bennet.

Elizabeth was restored entirely to good humour after this missive, and related eagerly the whole to Jane before luncheon. During the meal itself, she give the news to her husband.

"Well it is an equal match for her I suppose," was Lord Lucius reaction. "And she is within easy distance of her family."

"An easy distance you call it?" Elizabeth replied, some of liveliness returned by her father's letter, "it is nearly fifty miles."

"And what is fifty miles of good road? Less than half a day's journey. Yes I call a very easy distance."

"Near and far are relative terms, it is possible for a woman to be settled too near her family," Elizabeth, mindful of Jane's future situation, replied.

"Yes it is unlucky that I have an estate in Hertfordshire," mused the Earl, in a tone which caused Jane to have difficulty in restraining a gasp at the obvious insult which was implied. Anxiously she glanced at her sister to see how she bore it. Elizabeth's liveliness had disappeared almost instantly, and when she did respond, it was with a clear but quiet desire to change the subject of their discourse.

Jane remarked only upon the words after the meal had long since ended; when the Earl had departed for his club. "Lizzy, does it not distress you how he refers to our family?"

"Often," Elizabeth replied, "but it is the way of things. I have learned to bear it."

Her face betrayed otherwise. Jane persisted. "Lizzy, I saw how he treated you. Why have you not said something of it to me before? Why have you not fought it?"

Elizabeth turned away. "Because it is of little consequence, Jane." She rose from her chair. "I must make sure Mrs Stancoombe has the dinner menu." And with no more than that, she left the room.

Once outside Elizabeth leant against the doors. Silently she took several deep breaths, trying to restore her previous composure. She did not feel able to face her sister's discovery of part of what she had suffered these two years.

Jane knew her far too well, two years had done little to change that. Elizabeth could already predict her reaction to the entirety. She would be much distressed, try to pry from her the whole history, then write to her father, Uncle and Aunt Gardiner for help.

Not that Elizabeth did not desire help. But she did not believe that anything could be done, at least without making the whole thing public. And she did not desire that. True she was not out in Society, but if the help succeeded, she would be, and the gossip would prove a damage not only to her reputation, but to the reputation of her whole family.

But that was only if it succeeded. If it did not, it would not only be reputation, but also the risk that she might be shut away in a institution instead. He had the influence to get her to be declared insane, an influence that her family, for all the Gardiner connections which their trade acquired, did not have the ability to fight if it ever became reality.

Which left her only one option. However this one option would be her last resort. She could run away, leave the country, if needs be. She had talent enough to be able to find herself suitable employment. But it was the losses that made her discount this whenever she thought about it.

She would lose what little contact she had with her friends and family for ever. She would not be able to tell any of them her whereabouts, or indeed if she was all right, for the Earl would instantly find out, and she gravely feared to imagine the consequences if he found her.

Besides, her life was not yet that unbearable.


Jane sat gazing at the door which her sister had closed a few minutes before. She sat shocked and amazed at the state of her sister's marriage. Why had Elizabeth never told her about this before? Why had she not seen any of this before? Had the signs been there, but she had been too concerned with other matters to see them?

However, Jane realised suddenly, this was the first time she had actually seen her sister in the flesh since her marriage, the Earl being allegedly far too busy to attend to any familial obligations. And she had noticed that her sister was not herself from the moment of her arrival at Hanover Square. Yet she had refrained from questioning her about it, preferring instead to try and determine what was the matter herself, by careful observation.

Elizabeth, Jane could already tell, would be reluctant to talk about it. Jane also knew that the fact that she was not yet married also barred her sister from seeking her confidence, at least in part. But despite that, Jane knew well that what she had just witnessed was not the sign of a happy marriage, far from it.

The truth was not at all what she had supposed it to be. Indeed, Jane saw it to be far worse. She wondered how far it extended into their marriage, and instantly her fears and concerns for her sister quadrupled before her eyes. Something had to be done. But what? Jane realised that so far, she only had suspicions. If she could but get her sister to admit it....

As if hearing that thought, Elizabeth returned, and resumed her seat beside her. Jane laid aside her needlework instantly, placing a hand upon hers. "Lizzy," she began in earnest, "please tell me the whole. I must know how long it has been like this."

Elizabeth shook her head. "Jane, I am perfectly fine, I assure you."

"Do you not trust me?" Jane asked. "Has been so long since we have been in each others company that you have forgotten how to confide in me?"

Elizabeth seemed to have difficulty in replying to this entreaty with the same composure as she had dealt the last. For a few moments did she sit breathing deeply, until replying, "Jane, I do not wish to start a quarrel. So you must believe me when I say all is well and nothing can be ill."

Jane rose from her seat to stand before her sister. "Elizabeth, I wish I could. But I see quite clearly that it is not the case. What is it that is keeping you from telling me the truth?"

"The..... There is nothing! I am fine!"

"Look me directly in the eye and say that!" Jane returned. It was the angriest that Elizabeth had ever seen her. And she was almost tempted to confess the truth. But she still did not have the strength for the consequences that would follow.

So it was with regret that she looked up at her sister, and, quite frankly, lied through her teeth. "I assure, you, Jane. There is nothing wrong."

The only response her sister could offer to that was a resigned sigh. Then she took up her needlework, and walked to the door. After placing her hand upon the implement tasked in the office of aiding the opening, Jane turned and faced her sister with a solemn facade. "I hope that, one day, you will find the courage within yourself to tell me the truth, Lizzy." Then she left.

Barely had the door shut than did Elizabeth almost abandon her previous notions, and run outside to confess all. Yet at the last, she held back. She did not wish to quarrel with Jane, indeed it was so rare that they did fight, and they both disliked doing so intensely. But this time there was no other way.


Author's Note: Again, I must warn you that there will be another instance of abuse towards the end of this chapter, and for those of you who wish to avoid it, cease reading after the second horizontal line. To give you a frame of reference as to the other version, Elizabeth recalls a memory of this during an evening a Netherfield when Georgiana plays a piece of music that Elizabeth confesses to be her favourite, but unable to master sufficiently to play it with the same degree of skill. Enjoy.

Chapter VII.

For two days Jane had be content at that, and let the matter rest. Or, at least, show the appearance of contentedness. There was nothing that she possessed which could be offered as a new persuasion to obtain her sister's confidence. Nor was there nothing firm with which she could go to their father or the Gardiners with. All that she could do, all that her sister wished she would do, therefore, was to provide her company as always, and pretend that the entire affair had never occurred.

Then, Mr Bingley came to dinner. The Earl, having no wish to appear as anything but the good brother in law, had invited him some days ago, and this was the evening that Mr Bingley had been able to accept. He had just returned from Netherfield, where he had travelled to obtain Mr Bennet's consent, and finalise the settlements. He arrived and presented himself as he always had been, having had nothing but good news on all fronts.

To his delight, when he first presented his card, his beloved angel was alone in the Drawing Room which he was ushered into, enabling him time to acquaint her with as much affection as one can suppose to receive from a man in the happy position of being engaged to the woman whom he is violently in love with.

With much joy did he clasp her hand in greeting, raising it to his lips for a lingering kiss, followed by one to her own smiling lips. Together they sat down upon the sofa, he retaining her hand, clasping the other as her own came to caress his dear face. Time became endless as they gazed into each other's eyes, sending and receiving all the love which many days apart could not overcome, but only increase in strength.

"My dear Jane!" uttered he in greeting; in awe.

"Charles!" returned she, managing to convey the same amount of sentiment as he, but with but one word and tone.

Speechless, they lost themselves in each other's eyes once again. Then, with a happy sigh on both sides, resumed conversation.

"How is my father?" She did not need to inquire after her affianced, his very smiling countenance assured her that nothing could be ill on his part.

"He is very glad of our engagement," Mr Bingley replied, his smile seeming to grow wider as he spoke the last word which signified as the reason for their mutual happiness. "He agreed with all the settlement arrangements, and, if you are agreeable to it, a date has been tentatively set."

"Charles, I shall be happy whatever day is set, providing that it is still you I am marrying," was Jane's reply.

Charles took a moment to gaze happily into her eyes, and increase his smile, before continuing. "Then it will be a day after Miss Lucas' and Mr Collins', January the tenth."

"January the tenth," Jane echoed, with such a tone that expresses how perfect the day will be, but also the regret that it was over a month away. Only, a month? "Did not my mother object to the early date?"

"No, she believes that as you are presently in town, you will have the opportunity to furnish yourself with all that is necessary." Bingley paused to clasp her hands even more joyfully, as he saw a slight worry that crossed her angelic features. "Relax, Jane, your father managed to persuade her that Lizzy and Mrs Gardiner knew the right shops to get everything from."

Jane smiled happily at that. "Has anything else occurred while we have been apart?"

"Nothing in Hertfordshire," Bingley replied, "but when I visited Darcy before I left, I experienced a most strange event."

"What was that?"

"Well, after we had retired for the night, I awoke to hear music coming from first floor. Granted, music is not an uncommon sound within the Darcy household, for his sister has been proficient at the instruments almost as soon as she could walk. But Georgiana is away at the Matlock's estate, so I was curious and concerned as to who was taking such a liberty, though Darcy has always been generous with his staff. My quest took me into a Drawing Room, where, as is the custom of his house, for his sister's enjoyment, there is in a corner of the room a pianoforte, and discovered my friend at the instrument, performing a piece with not just the genius and taste that his sister had always displayed, but true feeling as well."

"How strange! And there was no reason at all?"

"None, at least that I could see. I never even knew he could play. I knew his sister was proficient, but not him."

"What did he play?"

"Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C# minor."

Jane gasped, realising the significance. "Did you talk of the time you had spent here?" she asked to confirm her suspicions.

Bingley thought for a few minutes before replying. "Yes, I believe we did. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason," Jane replied, not quite ready yet to betray her thoughts as to the reason for Mr Darcy's activities. Due to Elizabeth's and Mary's enthusiasm for the instrument she had learnt to whom that particular piece had been dedicated, and thus was much amazed at the light it now placed upon events.

She had seen Charles' friend talking much to her sister during that afternoon of proposal, and the fascination he had seem to hold for her. This now added to the music, showed to her clearly what Mr Darcy felt for Elizabeth.

Jane knew it was wrong, for her sister was married, but, in witnessing the unhappiness apparent in her sister's air since her arrival at Hanover Square, Jane could not help but be glad at the romance of it. She did not think it at all unreasonable for a man to admire her sister, indeed, to be in love with her, if he chose to be.

And she could not help but wonder at what the gentleman would do about it.

The privacy that Jane and Mr Bingley had enjoyed came all too soon to an end, as the Earl and Elizabeth came down and joined them in the Drawing Room. For a while did they sit in discussion before moving to the Dining Room for the invited meal.

Lucius entered into conversation long enough to ascertain what precisely was Mr Bingley's station in life, and, finding it to be only the son of a self money making man from a respectable line of trade, but of trade nonetheless, decided that the fellow was not of his station, nor worthy of his attention, and turned into the silent observer for the rest of the evening. His guest noticed not the contempt, having always greeted and regarded people with the mind to approve of everything and everyone that he met, and nearly always apprehending nothing beyond the presence of the angel that was soon to be his wife.

Elizabeth noticed, but chose not to remark upon it. She preferred to watch the entire evening with a cautious eye, careful not to let anything that the Earl did not know about, out from its hiding places. Those nights when she escaped his 'attentions' were too few, installing in her the need to savour every one.

However, it was impossible for her to completely careful. As the desert was laid out, Mr Bingley mentioned in passing his friend Mr Darcy, and his presence at Hanover the day of his proposal to Jane. He had no idea of the effect it would have, or what it would cause, and the Earl took care to assure that none realised or noticed either.

Elizabeth heard the remark, and barely refrained from shuddering in response. She did not dare to glance at her husband, and when she had occasion to do so without being seen, she saw all that could cause her to fear and to regret. But there was nothing that could be done to take it back.

She would just have to bear whatever consequences it brought. Making sure that she showed that the remark meant nothing to her, she let the conversation continue until a reasonable enough time had passed to begin the separation of sexes.

Her time away from the Earl was not long enough for her liking, however. His Lordship, having no desire to talk with his future brother in law, soon acquiesced to Mr Bingley's need to be returned to Jane, and they entered the Drawing Room only half an hour after the ladies had arrived there. The gentlemen immediately assumed a place beside each of their ladies, Mr Bingley entering into the conversation, Lucius observing like a hunter, waiting for the right moment to strike and pounce upon his prey.

It was soon time for Mr Bingley to leave, a task which he completed with all the proper reluctance of a man about to be parted from his future bride for the night. Elizabeth willingly obliged her sister some time to say farewell alone, seating herself at the piano, in order to delay what was to come.

Her sister unconsciously furthered the delay, returning after Mr Bingley had gone, smiling and exclaiming to all over the gift he had just given her. It was an engagement ring, with the brightest blue gemstone she had ever seen, set in a perfect thin band of gold.

Eagerly did she show it to her sister, remarking upon how well 'dear Charles' knew her, and how she could not remember ever remarking that she liked the particular gem before, showing all the more how they were destined for each other. Elizabeth willingly praised the gift to Jane's content, truly happy that her sister would so obviously have better success than she in choice of husband.

Jane then asked for her favourite song, and Elizabeth obliged, grateful to have a reason for her decision to be at the piano. As she played, she felt herself for a moment transported back to her past, when she and Jane had as children, laughed and sang together at the piano, as she tried to further the talent that she had the most patience for.

Reluctantly did she let the piece end, returning to the present, her mind sad at the contrast. Careful not to let her sister know, however, Elizabeth did not beg her to remain, when Jane decided that she would retire.

Alone at the instrument, Elizabeth quickly began to play another tune, not letting the silence that the pause had created linger. It was a piece that was her favourite, but for which she had never been quite able to master the fingering required to the excellence that she wished, and therefore it required all her concentration. Slowly did she work through the movements that presented a struggle, not turning to the next until she felt she had mastered them sufficiently for her patience.

The Earl did not let her continue thus for long. Laying aside the book which had occupied his attention until her sister's absence, he rose from his chair, and moved to stand behind her. Catching her by surprise he placed his hands firmly upon her shoulders.

Elizabeth's hands stilled. Desperately she tried to begin again, but his grip was too firm. Desirous of not pre-empting anything, she remained silent.

"I told you," began he, "that I would find out." With one hand he maintained a grip upon her shoulders, his strength serving to hold her in place whilst his other reached down below to tear up her dress till the garment was bunched up around her waist. Pressing her against the instrument, he sank down upon the seat behind her, his clasp releasing her now reddened shoulder in order to encircle her neck. As for the other, that continued to thrust what little was left of her clothing away, until his fingers could penetrate the prize which the material had previously concealed.

As usual his handling was rough and her resistance only served to increase the pressure of his touch. With strength he imposed himself upon her, pinning her arms against the instrument, the notes which this produced serving as a signal of the doom which she now endured. In silence, for due to the grip which he imposed upon her neck, she could not find the breath with which to air her terror, she submitted to his abuse.


Chapter VIII.

Jane woke the next morning to see through her window that snow had come early to London this winter. She watched it with some fascination and some sorrow, for today marked the time that she was to depart from her sister and return, with the Gardiners, to Longbourn for the winter festivities. Before she had arrived at Hanover, Jane had felt this stay would be enough to heal the separation between herself and Elizabeth which had fallen over them since her marriage to the Earl. Instead she feared that they had drifted even further apart, and that distance would only increase upon her departure.

Her own marriage to Mr Bingley was imminent, and with that she would move to her own household, with the same pressing concerns to manage that her sister had, though of a entirely lesser degree of wealth. For all her prospective husband's affability, she doubted that they would stay at Netherfield; her mother would not resist the opportunity of so short a distance between them to visit. Jane could in truth bear that no more than her sister. She also desired for her husband to fulfil his father's wishes of purchasing an estate, not out of ambitious sentiment, but through her proclivity to do good by everyone, and see it in everything, for the owners of Netherfield showed no sign of selling.

In town she and her sister would move in different circles, if the Earl ever took her into society, for she was not insensible of the rumours which surrounded Elizabeth. Whenever she was at Longbourn, she would witness her mother eagerly scouring newspapers for accounts of their activity in society, and daily did she lament their absence from the gossip sheets. And with marriage came children, though that was yet another difference between herself and her sister. She would not have time for the visits, nor would she desire to have her children stay in a house where she knew her focus was directed more to her sister than them.

This visit seemed to mark then the last time she would see her sister, a separation which Jane did not foresee, nor desire to endure. In their youth when Lizzy had joked of teaching her ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill, Jane had imagined a future not so dissimilar, involving both their offspring, emulating their Aunt and mother with their accomplishments, without the concern of having to marry well in order to save their entailed estates. The harsh reality did not sit well with her, nor would time inure her to its Unpleasantness.

Somewhat reluctantly she entered the breakfast parlour, greeting her sister as she sat down to partake of the morning repast. Elizabeth responded in the same vein, but Jane detected almost at once that all was still not well. Glancing at her discreetly throughout the meal, Miss Bennet descried the marks around the eyes which indicated a lack of sleep and tears, and the occasional flinch from some invisible pain when her sister moved from the sideboard to sit down and partake of her decidedly meagre selection.

In contrast the Earl, when he came down to join them, was in very good spirits. Having seated himself at the head of the table with the two of them on either side, he proceeded to converse with his sister in law, asking her if she was happy to be seeing her family once more, and how he and his wife would miss her when she had gone. It was the longest conversation she had ever had with him, causing Jane to inwardly speculate as to why he had suddenly exerted himself to make such an effort to be sociable with her.

As the conversation continued, Jane began to observe that whenever he spoke, Elizabeth flinched, and she constantly fought to prevent an expression of fear from appearing on her features. Silently she conjectured as to the cause, her mind unable to ignore the possibility that he was in some manner responsible for the pain which her sister seemed to be enduring this morning, both in her body and in her spirit.

The conclusion of the meal brought a change to the morning, for usually the Earl would depart for his club, but today he lingered at the table, preventing Jane from inquiring as to the source of her sister's pain from Elizabeth alone. When she sought to rise from the table in order to consult with the housekeeper as to the evening dinner courses, the Earl clasped her hand tightly, causing her to stay until Jane had to leave the room in order to ready her departure.

When the time came, with a heavy heart did she embrace Elizabeth, pressing her close, entreating her most earnestly to write, and, in a quieter voice, reminding her that she could confide in her at any time. Her sister flinched at the embrace, and when Jane drew back, she found difficulty in restraining a gasp as she noticed the bruising upon her sister's neck, which the presence of a jewelled choker had hitherto concealed. Unable to ask her sister about the injury without incurring the attention of her brother, she had no choice but to bid the Earl a quiet farewell, and step into her carriage.

The ride to her Aunt and Uncle's had never seemed longer. All throughout the journey Jane worried over her sister, at times almost ordering the carriage to halt and turn back, so she could try and persuade Elizabeth to come with her. The only thing that kept her from doing so, was the reaction of the Earl.

With such a state of conflict in her mind, it was impossible for her to conceal it, and thus impossible for Madeline Gardiner not to notice the distress when she welcomed her eldest niece to the house.

Being a shrewd judge of character, Mrs Gardiner did not inquire immediately, letting Jane retrieve her luggage from the carriage, see to its instalment within a bedchamber, and divest herself of her travelling clothes. Only when she was seated inside the parlour in the company of just her, did Mrs Gardiner begin to question.

Knowing her Aunt to be the best confidant and adviser, Jane could not refrain from confiding upon in her all that had passed during her stay at Hanover, and the suspicions that she had drawn from it. Mrs Gardiner, knowing that her niece never exaggerated, expressed surprise and shock at the state of her other favourite Bennet girl.

"What do we do, Aunt?" Jane now asked.

Madeline hesitated in answering, hating the fact that she could not avoid inflicting sorrow upon her companion. Then with a sigh she slowly replied, "I am afraid, Jane, that there is little we can do. Elizabeth will not admit it herself, which is half the battle lost, and the law prevents us from doing anything else. Since her marriage she, and everything she is entitled to, has been the property of the Earl, and will remain that way until either her or his death.

"If we try to take her away, he will appeal to those connections which his rank gives him, and we will be forced to give her back. Even if we helped her to escape somewhere else, this is the first place he would come look, and he would use those connections to make it impossible for us to further help her."

Jane uttered a cry of exclamation. "I do not like this!" she declared with feeling, rising from her seat to pace, concern for her sister making act out of character. "I dislike feeling so useless to her. I am her elder, I should be able to protect her!"

Mrs Gardiner reached out and took her hand. "So do I, Jane, but I am afraid that there is little we can do to prevent this. I promise you however, that I will talk to her when they come for your wedding."

Jane thanked her with a look, and then resumed her seat. Her younger cousins rushed in at that moment, preventing further conversation.

Only later, when the Gardiner children had gone to bed for the night, and Mr Gardiner had arrived home from his place of work, did Jane mention the subject again, after her Aunt had told her husband of their suspicions. Mr Gardiner was just as close as his wife was to their eldest nieces, and naturally disgusted at the speculation as to the true nature of her once spectacular marriage. But he was also angry too, for there was nothing he could do to assist, except sit and listen to her sister's and his wife's concerns.

"I don't suppose that there is anything my father can do either?"

His brother in law shook his head. "No, I am afraid not. He is bound by the same restrictions as us. I also believe that we should not tell him of this. Elizabeth is his favourite, and the sense of uselessness that he will inevitably feel frustration at if we do, could cause him great harm."

"I just wish we could do something."

"I know you do Jane," Aunt Gardiner replied. "We all do. But the only thing that we can, despite its futility, is hope."


Volume III