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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version I: Volume IV.

Chapter XV.

The new year dawned, and along with it came the two days that Mrs Bennet would have the greatest of woes to suffer on one, and the greatest profusions of joy on the other. January brought first the wedding of Mr William Collins to Miss Maria Lucas, an event which the mistress of Longbourn had at last resigned herself to believing inevitable and was at times moved to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she 'wished they might be happy,' though she often added to the sentence when she was among her daughters 'that they might both plague each other's hearts out.'

The wedding took place on the Thursday; the reluctant bride and willing bridegroom set off for Lucas Lodge from the church door, and everybody had as much to say, or hear, on the subject as usual. Lady Lucas and Sir William were everything that one would expect the mother and father of the bride to be; gracious in accepting the repeated praise for their new son in law, and their daughter, as anxious to talk about it as the groom himself.

Mrs Bennet bore it with her usual manner, countering much of the proud mother's talk with her own hopes and expectations for the morrow, which had prevented the Collinses from departing to Kent from the church door.

Friday brought the event that the aforementioned lady would have the greatest profusions of joy upon: the marriage of Mr Charles Bingley to her eldest daughter Miss Jane Bennet. Not for them the crowded breakfast at Lucas Lodge. No, they had that event after the ceremony at Netherfield, where Mrs Bennet had the pleasure of residing as mother of the new mistress, intent on talking about the match long after it had took place.

Indeed it was a day from which no distressing comparisons to the one that had gone before it could be drawn. Mrs Charles Bingley was all smiles and happiness; nothing about the day could make her lose the expression of bliss upon her face, from the moment she recited her vows, to the moment she said her farewells to her family. As for the groom, his sincerity concerning the event was likewise just as heartfelt; he was observed never once leaving his wife's side throughout the day.

Elizabeth watched the events with an equally happy eye, thankful that, as determined as her mother was to have them all married, Jane would at least be very happy with her prosperous match, which would not have taken place unless she had been willing. The comparison to the wedding the day before had brought back to her mind her own ceremony, and its many conflicting memories. She had felt herself to be happy that day, some two years ago, but the emotion had soon faded; first into indifference, then into fear. Not until this moment had she ever thought herself capable of observing the marital event with the degree of happiness that she felt now.

Mr Darcy, as groomsman, stood up to deliver a toast upon the couple, surprising those guests who had previously thought him proud, by offering words that few could not agree with or find wit within. After that the breakfast began to break up, friends making their farewells, Meryton spectators leaving, until only close friends and family remained.

The Countess then bestowed upon her sister her surprise; she offered for their honeymoon one of her estates, to be let by them as long as they wished, or, if they so preferred, to be their home indefinitely. Her new brother in law had often mentioned his desire to find a suitable estate near his Derbyshire friend, and Elizabeth believed that Pearlcoombe, as it was called, would suit all his dreams excellently, though it would put a distance between two very close sisters.

The couple were overjoyed with the place, finding it perfectly situated in the county it presided over; it was within thirty miles of Pemberley, and seeing distance of two other equally fine but older landowners1. Elizabeth had the pleasure of hearing from her sister within a week of their arrival there, and was comforted by the knowledge that Jane could not be happier with the place. Her only regret, as Mrs Bingley communicated in her letter, would be that she had to cope with only Elizabeth's words and not her presence to make her laugh at herself.

The departure of Netherfield's tenant brought with it the departure of Meryton's hopes and dreams concerning its other eligible bachelor occupant, as the Darcys left for London the day after the wedding. The journey, although a reluctant one, was necessary, at least on the gentleman's part, who had long felt the need to address the accounts of his estates directly rather than by post.

Darcy however found it difficult to complete this task with his usual focus. It was the first time that he had been assured of not seeing the Countess of Saffron Walden since Michaelmas. It was an absence that his mind and emotions felt greatly, to the extent which made returning to matters of business and Society in town a most disagreeable prospect.

For the first time in his existence as master of Pemberley, he found the task of tackling the accounts almost intolerable, especially when he thought of the company that he had to sacrifice in order to attend them. Often his sister or his steward, upon entering his Study, would find him not scratching away with his pen, but gazing into an abyss, which, by his expression alone, they could safely judge as a pleasurable alternative to the more real task of papers and sums before him.

He soon discovered within only a week of his stay in town, that his mind was extremely liable to wonder back to Hertfordshire on a daily basis, and usually without any warning whatsoever. More often than not, as he examined his accounts for Pemberley and other estates which he had inherited, he would find himself picking up those concerned with his situation in the event that he married, a set of accounts which he would never normally remove from his bureau before now.

By the end of the second week Darcy had at last determined that it would best for the sanity of his mind that he take a look at these particular accounts, and prepare for the event that his subconscious was now contemplating daily as almost a certainty. Thus it was not surprising to his thoughts that he attacked the task with an unusual relish, and finished all within an hour before he had reasonably expected to complete it.

After this he discovered the return to his previous accounts an easier business, and was at last able to attend to them in a manner with which he found satisfaction. One thing he concluded when he was at leisure to think upon the subject again; that he would soon be able to see once more the woman whom his thoughts were now frequently occupied with, when he departed for Kent in March.

For Elizabeth, the rest of January and then February diversified with little beyond walks to Meryton, Longbourn and Lucas Lodge, sometimes dirty and sometimes cold. Often she found herself as a chaperone to her sisters, especially when Kitty's coughing proved too much for their mother's nerves.

March was to take her to Hunsford, a circumstance which frequently brought complaints from Mrs Bennet whenever it was remarked upon within her hearing, the lady being determined in the thought that Mr and Mrs Collins would talk of their plans for Longbourn constantly.

For Elizabeth herself it was something that she now viewed with greater pleasure than she had done before. Absence had weakened her disgust of Mr Collins and the circumstances of the marriage, and there was novelty in the scheme. Her only pain in the matter, was in leaving her father, who so much abhorred the idea of her going away, that he told her to write to him, and almost promised to reply to her letter.

It certainly could not be said that she thought of a particular gentleman with no greater frequency than he did of her. Mr Darcy was often foremost in her mind. It was an occurrence of a most unexpected nature to Elizabeth, who had not imagined herself able to think of any gentleman in the manner she was presently thinking about Mr Darcy ever again. Her mind could rarely be separated from the thoughts or recollection of him, and the occurrences of such would invariably happen at the oddest of times.

At first she put it down to the fact that she did not know when she would see him next, and therefore had very little chance of receiving information about him, until a letter from his sister arrived at Stoke Edith a fortnight after their departure. It was a correspondence which at times Elizabeth found herself unable to read in company; for Georgiana, while reticent with people, was the contrary in her writing. Much would contain snippets of information about her brother's activities, and how distracted he appeared sometimes, and what his sister speculated was the cause of this condition.

Another regular correspondent to Elizabeth was her Aunt Gardiner, and her letters also contained parts that had a tendency to make her niece blush. Perceptive as she had been during the week they spent with her in the winter, and the brief days for the wedding of Jane and Charles Bingley, Mrs Gardiner had cultivated enough from both to understand perfectly the nature of the situation between her niece and Mr Darcy.

And, upon her return to London, she had obviously opened her correspondence with her friends from Derbyshire, whom she used to discover more about the gentleman she believed had lost his heart to her niece. Many times would Elizabeth deny this supposition to be true when she responded to her Aunt and his sister, but neither would interpret the words the way she wished them to.

But then, as the weeks continued, and the thoughts of him persisted in holding favour in her mind, Elizabeth soon felt unable to contradict their speculation, let alone attempt to stop their teasing.

1. Pearlcoombe: Sutton Scarsdale, Derbyshire. Built in 1724 by Francis Smith of Warwick, the 5,093 acre estate can be seen if you drive down the M1 in England, with Bolsover Castle opposite. Owned by the Arkwright family, and the Earls of Scarsdale in reality, it was saved from demolition by the writer Sir Osbert Sitwell, who handed it over to the Environment Department when he realised that he could not afford to restore it, his action meaning that the care of the shell is maintained by English Heritage. Hardwick Hall is also in sight of it. Some of the rooms are in Philadelphia's Museum of Art, America. There are also pictures of them at the site, and in the archives of the Country Life magazine. Source was again England's Lost Houses, by Giles Worsley.

Chapter XVI.

From Longbourn to Hunsford via London, the first part of it was a journey of only four and twenty miles, and Elizabeth, Charlotte and Sir William began it so early as to be in Gracechurch Street by noon. After greeting her younger cousins and involving herself in their pleasures to their satisfaction, Elizabeth contrived to sit by her Aunt, who made their plans of how she and the Lucases were to be amused on this one night in town.

A trip to the theatre was proposed, then aired, and agreed to with a willingness from all, as they had heard much of the acclaimed 'Macbeth' production which had been feeding the masses of Society this late winter.

At first their presence went unnoticed, until one of the Ton observed that for the first time in the two years since her presentation at court, the Countess of Saffron Walden had come into Society. This rumour soon spread quickly to the rest of those attending the theatrical production. As her late husband had been declared the most eligible bachelor in London and the kingdom, so was she, by the peculiarity of the inheritance terms, now given the same honour in eligibility circles.

A unentailed title, with two houses in town, plus estates in Derbyshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent, all with incomes well above five thousand per annum, all these attributes were rapidly realised and discussed by the matchmaking Mamas and scheming rakes among the crowd that attended the theatre that night.

Elizabeth let all of the conversation about her pass without any attention paid towards it. Her intention was to enjoy this night with her Aunt and Uncle, and her friend and Sir William, and if she paid any notice to the speculation it would increase the value of it unnecessarily. She remained in close talk with Charlotte and Mrs Gardiner, refusing to meet the eye of any Society mother who tried her hardest to catch it.

What was soon also taken into discussion as well was the sight of two other most eligible personages, who chose to attend the evening's performance as well. Their arrival was most unexpected and completely unannounced, for they came to their box after the commencement of the first act, and thus their presence was not noticed and therefore not remarked upon until intermission.

With the audience's full attention once again returning to those around them, a general gasp was declared and the whispers increased, exclaiming at the honour of having not only the Countess of Saffron Walden, but also Mr Fitzwilliam and Miss Georgiana Darcy in attendance upon Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' this night. Their box was situated directly across from the Countess', resulting in the rest of Society displaying the fashion more commonly observed at tennis matches.

With such an extravagant display, it can hardly be wondered that the objects of such staring would escape noticing each other's arrival. Indeed, Darcy was sensible of Lady Elizabeth's presence almost from the moment he had sat down.

He felt a smile forming upon his face immediately and the first few lines of act one, scene one, passed him by completely. Then, seeing her own fine eyes fixed unceasingly on the play, he reluctantly pulled his away from her form and attempted to concentrate on it also.

It would not be to the credit of either the actors performing the Scottish play or our hero and heroine if it could be said that the latter could not keep their eyes from observing each other during the course of the play. Elizabeth descried his presence at intermission, when their eyes happened to meet from across the room.

Like him, her first reaction to the knowledge of his attendance was surprise, followed by a becoming blush as his eyes came to rest on her. For a few moments, as the crowds moved obliviously below, the entire room and people were lost to them, as they felt unable to turn away. Then, a light touch upon the shoulder from their companions served to bring them both back to the present, encouraging them to follow into the foyer.

With a protective eye and arm over and around his young sister, whose first night it was out in public, as a prelude to her coming out in two years time, Darcy led the way out of their box and across the foyer, dodging the matchmaking rakes and mamas with all the practice of a gentleman who had been cast as the object in the same pursuit since his majority. He reached their exit from their seats just as Elizabeth and her party were coming out.

Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with a slight blush. As they had been forewarned of each other's presence, there was no natural embarrassment or surprise to prevent conversation, awkwardness was done away. He greeted all of the party with ease, introduced them into gentle conversation with Georgiana, then fell into a review of the first half of the play with the Countess.

It was a sight that many could not avoid noticing, and Society there gathered itself around the most experienced and most informed of personages to debate and speculate what their obvious prior acquaintance of each other could mean, invariably getting part, if not all, of their conjectures wrong. Elizabeth and the Darcys again noticed none of it, as they remained in close conversation with each other until intermission was over.

The inhabitants of Gracechurch Street returned to that house from the play, their faces glowing from the effects of the company and the performance. Mrs Gardiner smiled knowingly at her niece, causing Elizabeth another blush, as she recollected the new knowledge which she had gained from seeing him this night; that he would soon be joining her in Kent, to visit his Aunt. Elizabeth did not know how to regard this new piece of information. She had hoped that her time in Kent, where there would be no parts of buildings or countryside that she had occupied in his company, would give her a chance to rationally reconcile her thoughts and emotions concerning him. To consider if she could truly be happy accepting the attentions of another gentleman so soon after losing her hated first husband.

But now he was to be in Kent as well, which meant Elizabeth would have to spend the night before her departure there, along with short time that she would be in that county without him, in thought about it all.

"Look Charlotte, all that land to the left of us is Rosings Park. Has not your sister made a most fortunate alliance?"

This speech of Sir William's, the next morning, was the first to bring Elizabeth out of her reverie that she had fallen into the night before. The novelty of the countryside that the carriage was passing soon caught her full attention, and she dealt it all the observance that it was worth, pushing the thoughts that had so previously consumed her so much that they stood to exclude all others, to the back of her mind.

At length they came upon the crossroad that divided Rosings Park, the Parsonage, and Elizabeth's own inherited estate. Sir William offered immediately to drop her off there, but was firmly declined. Elizabeth did not feel ready to visit Blisstham Place,1 an estate which had been shut up long before her acquaintance with her late husband and subsequent owner had even begun, let alone a stay at the place. No, she would accept her cousin's humble hospitality, and visit the place when her courage was high.

The Parsonage was soon discernible. Mr Collins and Maria appeared at the door, and the carriage came to a halt in the small drive which separated it from the lane that led to Rosings Park. Maria welcomed her sister and the Countess with the liveliest of pleasure, and her husband's frequent inquiries as to their journey and their health showed that so far marriage had done little to alter the character of either. He welcomed them twice, once in the garden, the other inside the house, apologised to his cousin for it being much smaller than he presumed she was used to, and repeated all of Maria's offers of refreshment.

Elizabeth saw much to take note of; observing her hostess carefully, to see if any sign of her previous reluctance concerning the match still remained. She knew well that Maria was not like her sister Charlotte, who at seven and twenty was much more concerned about a good establishment rather than love, which the younger Lucas had given a higher priority to before her marriage. She watched her countenance throughout Mr Collins' almost unceasing conversation, in which he unseldom uttered anything that could not make his wife reasonably ashamed. When it was time for them to view their host's gardens, Elizabeth had observed enough to conclude that while Maria might not be satisfied with her husband, she had settled for merely being content.

Lady Catherine's presence at her estate was inevitably talked of, as Mr Collins observed during dinner; "You, Countess, will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh at Church and I need not say that you will be delighted with her. Indeed, I have already taken the liberty of informing her of your stay with us, and she hopes to have our presence at the Park for dinner as soon as she is available. She marked you, Cousin, with peculiar condescension, and instructed me to inform you that any one of her guest bedrooms would be available for you to take possession of whenever you wanted to."

Though Elizabeth did not feel pleasure at this, as Mr Collins had expected her to, she felt nonetheless obliged to explain her connection to Lady Catherine, which thus explained away the peculiarity of his patroness' hospitality towards her. Mr Collins, who had thought himself well informed on all of her ladyship's relatives, blood relation or no, was now further enamoured with the honour that he believed should be felt and frequently expressed, of having the goddaughter in law of his patroness staying at his humble abode.

As for the Countess, she tried to prepare herself for the encounter, by making her character remain true to the phrase she had often used to describe herself once; as possessing courage which always rises at every attempt to intimidate her.

1. Blisstham Place: Normanton Park. Built between 1735 and 1740, by Henry Joynes, retaining the unfashionable H-plan of the Elizabethan House, but with the correct Palladian dress. In 1793 the interiors and Bow were remodelled/added to the building. In 1813 Britton's Beauties of Britain described the house as 'a rich scene of modern elegance throughout.' Originally in Rutland and owned by the Heathcotes, of whom in 1827 Sir Gilbert, 5th Baronet, married Clementina, daughter and heiress of the 21st Lord Willoughby d'Eresby.

They eventually acquired the estates of her grandmother; Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, and Gwydyr Castle in Caernarvonshire, and her mothers;' Drummond Castle in Perthshire. They also owned Bulby Hall in Lincolnshire. The vast wealth of Saffron Walden is somewhat based on this family example, showing how much wealth can be obtained through marriage and luck.

The house remained with the family until 1925, when the state of the family wealth and the current political situation required that they sell off a number of their land assets. Gwydyr Castle was sold to a cousin, then Normanton's 6,000 acre estate, plus the villages of Empingham and Edith Weston, were put up for auction.

The house did not sell, and a fire left it demolished. Its site now lies under 900 million gallons of Rutland Water. Only the stables and farming building remain, 200 yards North-east, and the tower of Normanton Church, left on an island in the lake. Source is again Giles Worsley's 'England's Lost Houses' from the archive of the magazine Country Life. Pictures of the interior and exterior are contained in the book.

Chapter XVII.

With the knowledge that the wife of her late and much lamented godson was in the neighbourhood, Lady Catherine wasted no time in making a request- and let it be noted her use of that word is in its loosest terms, and only as a means of tactful phrasing -to Mr and Mrs Collins and their guest to attend upon her at Rosings for dinner only two days after Elizabeth's and the Lucases' arrival.

Mr Collins, being who he was, made no refusal and the Countess soon found herself walking up the drive of the great estate to meet the woman whom her late husband had, as she recalled, mentioned only once in their brief married life. And not in very generous terms.

In spite of having been at St James, Sir William was so completely overawed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he had just enough courage to make a low bow and take his seat without saying a word. Charlotte meanwhile, remained perfectly calm, a stark contrast, it must be said, to her father and her sister, the latter of whom, despite having spent over two months in the twice weekly company of her husband's patroness, still lacked the courage to speak to her.

Lady Catherine herself was a tall, large woman, with strongly marked features, which might once have been handsome. Instantly could her most important manners be made out; she spoke authoritatively, and with an air that was most definitely not conciliating.

Her late godson's wife, being a lady she had never met in her life before, naturally became Lady Catherine's first, last, and all-encompassing, port of call and attention. After performing the role of hostess at dinner, during which she believed it her duty to induct Mrs Collins further in the duties of a vicar's wife, Lady Catherine turned to the Countess with the intent of satisfying her extreme curiosity.

How many sisters did she have? What sort of person was her father? What was his situation? What sort of person was her mother? Did she have any other senior relatives? Were any of her sisters married? Were they handsome? Were they educated, and if so, where? What carriage did her father keep? What was her mother's maiden name?

All these and more did Lady Catherine ask, and persisted in asking until she was satisfied with the answers that she received. She then turned to the matter of her godson.

"When did you meet him, Elizabeth?" asked Lady Catherine, seeing no point in calling her with the title as befitted her rank, though it was superior to her own, because of their connection to each other.

"In the autumn of nine," Elizabeth replied, feeling all the impertinence of the questions, but striving to answer them composedly.

"And where was this meeting?"

"At the Assembly Rooms in my home village of Meryton."

"So he must have being staying at his estate in Stoke at the time then? It is a good sized home I suppose, but the second drawing room must be most inhospitable during winter. Why, the windows are full west! Was it a long courtship?"

"Long and short are relative terms, upon which circumstances count, I believe your ladyship," Elizabeth replied. "It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy: it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. As for myself and your godson, nearly four months before our marriage spent in courtship was not enough, upon reflection, to determine either."

Lady Catherine was astonished at receiving such a reply. "Upon my word," she began, "you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?"

"With three younger sisters grown up, your Ladyship can hardly expect me to own it."

"You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, therefore you need not conceal your age."

"I am not one and twenty."

"And my Lucius to decide upon an eighteen year old woman, at nine and twenty, without family connections or fortune! I find myself surprised at how he bore such a match! He, I hope, put to rights your lack of education and appearance in his circles?"

"If, you mean, your ladyship," Elizabeth, though extremely insulted, answered, "that after my marriage to your godson I had time to improve myself at the pianoforte, horse riding, and other subjects which his godmother deemed me to be lacking in, then I would have to answer, yes, he did. But with regards to 'appearances in his circles,' I am afraid you will be disappointed in him, for beyond my presentation at Court, he rarely let me out of the house."

"Indeed?" Lady Catherine uttered. "Well, we must excuse that to his lateness in entering the marriage state, I suppose. Then his tragic accident with his carriage and four two years later. Oh how saddened I was to hear of it! Has he left you in full control of all his inheritance?"

"No, he stipulated that I must let his steward manage it for me, a matter which I managed to have remedied and I am now in full control."

"Remedied? What gave you to think that the steward would be inferior to yourself?"

"When he came close to embezzlement, your ladyship."

"Well," was all that Lady Catherine could say in reply, and the matter was subsequently dropped, as she returned to Mrs Collins for the remainder of the evening.

"Was it really that bad, Lizzy?"

It was the next day, and Elizabeth was out walking the woods and groves of Rosings Park with her friend, both of them having chosen to escape the company of the others soon after breakfast.

"I spoke the truth when I professed that over three months had not given us enough time to know each other properly, Charlotte," Elizabeth now replied to her friend's question. "It is not something I like admitting, indeed, aside from Lady Catherine, you are the second person who I have, voluntarily, confessed it to.

"I believed myself to be in love, and then was rapidly proved wrong when I married him. The match has had one benefit however. Since my widowhood I have been able to provide for my family enough to make sure that they do not have to marry without some consideration to money.

"Stoke Edith also is a saving grace; as a haven for any of my sisters whenever they wish to escape the confines of Longbourn." And then with that sentence Elizabeth changed the subject.

The entertainment of dining at Rosings was repeated twice a week; and, allowing for the eventual loss of Sir William- who left after a week, a length long enough to assure him of his daughter being finally convinced as to the blessings of her match -and there being only one card table in the evening, every such entertainment was the counterpart of the first.

Other engagements were few and far between, the rest of the neighbourhood being beyond the Collinses' reach. This was, however, no evil to Elizabeth. She spent her time in conversation with Charlotte, or in solitary enjoyment of the woods and groves of the park, the weather being so particularly fine as to allow a daily ramble in them.

Elizabeth used this time alone wisely, and it was well that she did, for the time before the expected and actual arrival of Mr Darcy and his cousin passed with greater speed than she had anticipated. Eleven days was all she had to determine whether or not she welcomed his attentions, and if she wished for them to continue, and, perhaps increase, during her stay in Kent.

His absence had been felt by her, though if it was with a mark of the keenest emotion, she was unable to tell. That she felt a desire for his company, was certain. That she felt a concern for his well-being, was equally so. But was this enough? Did not she need more to be in love? Elizabeth did not know, and her first marriage experience presented as neither a helpful, nor unhelpful, incident with which to make her decision.

Most thoroughly did she question herself in order to discover where her feelings lay. Did she care for his opinion or his concern? Did he truly meet with all her beliefs as to what must be an amiable and ideal partner in life? Could she see herself happy with him? Finally, and most importantly of all, was there any hint from his behaviour which might indicate a hidden disposition which bore a likeness to that of her late husband's?

This question made Elizabeth pause in her wanderings, and seat herself upon a old tree trunk by the country path which she had been rambling on, in order to answer it with careful consideration and no partial conviction. Like Mr Darcy the Earl had been prone to reticence in company.

But, where the latter had chose frequently to excuse himself to town, the former had remained, and improved his familiarity with those in her acquaintance. Elizabeth could even remember at one time hearing that the Earl was regarded as the proudest, the most disagreeable man, by the entire population of Meryton, until her marriage was proclaimed, whereupon the approval of him rose dramatically.

Mr Darcy, however, had made no attempt to change the entire village's opinion of him outright. No, he had gone for the more subtle approach; by being a good customer for the tradesmen, remaining a steadfast proponent of his friend's marriage, and mustering himself to talk more with those he knew beyond a week of daily acquaintance.

Added to this was her Aunt Gardiner's testimony of his situation with his tenants and neighbours in Derbyshire, which she had gained from her old friends in the county. With the Earl, Elizabeth had no one to rely upon for knowledge of how he was regarded in the place of his birth.

But with Darcy, it was a different matter. He had been described as the best landlord and the best master by all of her Aunt's Derbyshire correspondents. From the age of three and twenty had he been in possession of his inheritance, as well as the added responsibility of guardianship over a much younger sister.

The Earl however, had not inherited until he was nine and twenty, and therefore had been more fixed in the manners and conduct of a youth of little responsibility, a fact which had been proven by his behaviour when she had returned to London with him as his wife.

Upon his death it had fallen to her to fix most of his mistakes in the management of his vast estate, a position which, thanks to her being her father's favourite, had not been a stranger to her. With Mr Darcy, Elizabeth could detect not even a hint of the same mismanagement.

During her stay at Netherfield, she had observed his weekly retreat to the study to deal with correspondence from his estate, and he had refused to take up his friend's offer of an continuation of his residency in the area in order to attend to his inheritance after Bingley's departure from Hertfordshire.

Finally, Elizabeth also knew that Mr Darcy was not a member of the Four Horse Club, having been in a position to overhear his conversation with Mr Hurst and her brother in law about the gentlemen's clubs of London during her care of Jane.

While the Four Horse was famed for its scandalous reputation, Alfred's1 was more highly regarded by those of the intellectual set for precisely the opposite reasons. As for Watier's,2 which was founded by the Prince Regent, a gentleman whom Elizabeth, like most of her sex, disliked, she was relieved to hear him protest to attending it out of no more than family tradition.

Thus, after all this reflection, was her final concern was done away with.

1. Alfred Club: Established in 1808, and described by the Earl of Dudley as "the dullest place in existence," as it attracted mostly gentlemen scholars. Lord Byron was a member, and he found it literary, pleasant and sober. Despite all this it achieved so much success that by 1811 it had three hundred and fifty-four on its waiting list to join. In 1855 it joined with the Oriental, established in 1824.

2. Watier's: Established on the corner of Bolton Street, at number 81 Piccadilly in 1807. The Prince Regent- whom Jane Austen hated herself, for his dissolute ways -had suggested the club using his new chef, Jean-Baptiste Watier, for the food of White's and Brook's was not to his satisfaction.

The club's main entertainment was gambling, its usual game being Macao, a form of twenty-one. It was nicknamed the Dandies Club by Byron, as Brummell was a member. Having become a haven for blackguards and acquiring a reputation of fortunes being lost and won in the gambling, it died out in 1819.

Source for both of these notes was the Regency Collection website, which can be accessed by the following link; http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/club.html

Chapter XVIII.

The gentlemen performed all that was expected of them as holders of that particular title, by choosing to pay their respects to the Parsonage upon the same day of their arrival in Kent, meeting the eager owner of that abode on the way.

Richard Fitzwilliam, younger son of the Earl of Matlock, and currently a holder of the rank of Colonel in the Second Life Guards,1 entered the room first. He was about thirty, and compared to his younger cousin, not handsome, in Elizabeth's partial eyes.

He entered into conversation with all the ease of a well-bred man, and one used to many an officers' ball or mess in service abroad. His cousin meanwhile, after paying stilted returns of introduction to Mr and Mrs Collins, had only eyes and words for the Countess. She happened to look around, happened to smile, and it was decided. He seated himself by her.

"I hope, Milady," Darcy began after the necessities of formal greeting were over, "that you have had an agreeable time in Kent so far?"

"I have, thank you sir," Elizabeth replied. "May I ask the same of you with regards to London?"

"The town was its usual self," he answered, "full of society with invitations galore. I ignored most of them, for the sake of keeping my sister company. But there was one night at the theatre which I managed to attend with Georgiana, and I confess to having enjoyed the company I found there immensely."

He said this with a sort of expression directed at her which conveyed to Elizabeth that he could only mean one evening: the same evening that she had attended, with the Gardiners, Charlotte, and Sir William. With a blush, she found her courage high enough to reply, "I must confess to possessing the same feeling when I attended, sir."

Darcy smiled at that, then changed the subject. "Have you heard from your sister Mrs Bingley, or your family at Longbourn since our last meeting? And if so, are they well?"

"I have had a letter from Jane, and one from my father. She seems to be very content with her married life. My father also reports all at Longbourn to be in good health. Have you heard from my brother in law?"

"I received a letter just before I left, which I have yet time to properly read. I know his technique too well to expect to read it quickly. But from what I could see from just a glance, he seems vastly contented."

"And how is your sister?"

"Georgiana is very well, and, I gather, in frequent correspondence with you. I often witness or hear her chuckling over your witty letters to her."

"And how, may I ask, do you know them to be witty, sir?" Elizabeth teased. "Have you read them yourself?"

"What would you say if I had?" Darcy countered in same manner.

"That you should be ashamed of yourself for betraying the confidence of letters between intimate friends. And you have not answered my question."

"I am afraid, my lady, all I can confess to is the occasional knowledge of some lines which Georgiana chooses to read aloud to me. Is that acceptable?"

"I suppose it must be," Elizabeth replied, in a voice that sounded extremely like that of his Aunt's. Darcy looked at her in surprise, until she laughed, whereupon he realised she was joking, causing him to chuckle also.

The sound of their laughing caught the attention of his cousin. Colonel Fitzwilliam sought the opportunity to observe them. A brief look was all that it took to establish a conclusion; he returned to the company around him, his focus drifting inward as he considered what he had just seen.

Darcy had been unusually reticent during the journey from his house in Grosvenor Square to Rosings Park, choosing to speak only when Richard's conversation had required him to do so. His correspondence as well, had been unusually different. Due to their long standing relationship, being closer in age than with his brother Jolian, Darcy had regularly written to Richard whenever he felt a need.

Usually, they were letters of detail, but recently Darcy had taken to summarising, refraining from mentioning his time in Hertfordshire apart from only a brief sentence, when he had been used to giving vacations the same length of paper space as his time at Pemberley. At first, Richard had been unable to account for this sudden change.

Various theories had suggested themselves, but all were eventually discarded when he found them wanting. Now however, he had found a reason that suited the difference perfectly. His cousin, for the first time- at least as far as Richard knew, and that was almost all -was in love.

Nothing to the contrary could be determined from the expression he had seen Darce to possess just now. He was in love, and, Richard believed he could judge, almost from the first moment he was in Hertfordshire.

Well, it was about time, the Colonel believed. Although he was almost an advocate of the bachelor state, he had always held the opinion that his cousin and friend often had a tendency to loneliness, and therefore, was in need of a wife to wipe away that sadness which the early passing of his mother, and the recent passing of his father had produced on both him and Georgiana.

The Countess of Saffron Walden seemed just the woman to suit the needs of his cousin perfectly, if their recent mutual amusement was anything to go by. Richard could almost fancy himself jealous. His cousin had found a beautiful, intelligent, witty woman to fall in love with. And a rich one at that. He knew the wealth of that Earldom as well as the rest of Society. Not that his cousin needed fortune in a wife, he had enough of his own.

"Is not that right Colonel?"

Richard looked about him, startled at the sudden interruption in his thoughts. Locating the source of the voice, he responded contritely, "forgive me, Miss Lucas, I was not paying attention. Could you possibly repeat what you just said?"

"I merely asked whether or not you agree with me that the sight of a certain two people over by the window is a most fascinating one to study," Charlotte remarked.

Richard did not need to look where she had directed him to, for it was in the same direction as he had been looking before. "Yes, Miss Lucas," he answered, "I do agree." He paused before continuing. "My cousin and I are glad to find that Mr Collins has guests. I hope you will come over to Rosings as often as he does. We are fond of lively conversation."

"And this you do not find at Rosings Park?" Charlotte asked.

"Oh, our Aunt talks a great deal, but it seldom requires a response," Richard replied. "My friend usually speaks but half a word when he is in Kent. Only elsewhere have I ever seen him so lively." He glanced at the couple by the window once more before turning his attention solely on the woman before him. "How have you found Rosings and Hunsford so far, Miss Lucas?"

"I am content with all I have observed," Charlotte answered. "My sister seems happy with her choice of husband. And in a prudential light, it is a good match for her."

"Mr Collins does appear very fortunate," Richard agreed. "And it must be agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her family."

"I would not call fifty miles an easy distance!" Charlotte countered.

"What is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a days journey," he pointed out. "Yes, I call it a very easy distance."

"The near and far must be relative, and depend on varying circumstances," Charlotte argued. "Where there is fortune to make the expense of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. My sister and her husband have a comfortable income, but not one as will allow of frequent journeys. I am persuaded Maria would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance."

"Forgive me, I was thinking of my own travails abroad which make such differences in friendly country easy by comparison." He answered with a certain look that spoke of an authority to his rank which lay not just in money to afford commissions, but the steadfastness and courage to earn them through merit instead.

Charlotte smiled to show that she was not offended. "I can believe that. There must a self-denial and dependence in those conditions which younger sons of Earls know little of."

"Perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships at home," he allowed. "Except perhaps in one matter of weight. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."

"Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do," Charlotte remarked.

"Our habits of expense make us too dependent and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money," he added, but with a look which suggested he was speaking generally as opposed to personally.

"And pray, what is the usual price of an Earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds."

He answered her in the same style and the subject stopped, giving way to a silence which required instant interruption else one might fancy the other was affected with what had passed. In truth both were possessed of the same feeling and had much to think about.

1. 2nd Life Guards: Together with the 1st Life Guards they sent two squadrons to Portugal at the end of October 1812, where, with the Royal Horse Guards, they formed Household Cavalry Brigade, under the command of Major-General Rebow, who was also of their regiment. They were inspected by their Commander in Chief, the future Duke of Wellington- this title was only bestowed on him in 1814 -on May 23rd 1813, and on June 21st they took part in the battle of Vitoria.

They entered the entanglement late afternoon, just as Joseph Bonaparte's army collapsed, the 2nd Life Guards driving off the enemy infantry. After spending the winter of 1813-1814 in Logrono, they followed the army into France. More squadrons of the Life Guards joined them and they were present at the battle of Toulouse, on April 10th, though they took no part in the battle itself.

On July 22nd both regiments disembarked Boulogne for England. On the 27th April 1815 two squadrons from each of the two regiments of both the Life Guards joined Wellington for the battle of Waterloo.

They took part in the Earl of Uxbridge's charge against D'Erlon's corps, at a cost of 17 killed and 41 wounded. They marched into Paris on July 7th 1815, and remained in France until January 17th 1816 when they returned to England.

Source is Ian Fletcher's Wellington's Regiments; The Men And Their Battles 1808-1815.

Chapter XIX.

It was not until Easter Day, almost a week after the gentlemen's arrival, that Mr and Mrs Collins, Charlotte and Elizabeth were invited to Rosings again. Though Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy had called frequently at the Parsonage, they only saw Lady Catherine and her daughter at Church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine's drawing-room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that some of their company were by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs Collins's sister had moreover caught his fancy very much. He now seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of new books and music, that Charlotte had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself, as well as that of the Countess and Mr Darcy. Their eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship after a while shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for she did not scruple to call out, "What is it that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Lucas? Let me hear what it is."

"We are speaking of music, Madam," said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

"Of music! then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?"

Mr Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister's proficiency.

"I am very glad to hear such a good account of her," said Lady Catherine; "and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel, if she does not practise a great deal."

"I assure you, Madam," he replied, "that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly."

"So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies, that no excellence in music is to be acquired, without constant practice. I tell you, Elizabeth, that you are welcome to take up residence here, in the guest apartment which was always reserved for my late godson and his future wife, whoever that came to be. Mrs Collins has no instrument and once you are residing here, you can choose which ever of mine, for I have several, to play on every day."

"Your Ladyship is very kind," Elizabeth replied, "but I am perfectly content to stay at the Parsonage."

"And there is not just Rosings. Why Blisstham Place, one of my late godson's estates, is but a short walk from here. You could have opened up the house and spent your time in Kent there, for the furnishings are very fine, the instruments especially so."

"I thank you for your thoughtfulness, your Ladyship," Elizabeth answered, "and I must confess, I did consider such an event, but the house has been shut up since well before my husband's passing. I would not dream of inconveniencing the servants so."

"Well," was all Lady Catherine could say in receiving such an decided opinion from one so young.

"I believe, Countess, that you promised to play for me when we were next in company," Darcy remarked. "Would you be so kind as to favour me with a performance this evening?"

"I shall be delighted, Mr Darcy," Elizabeth replied, eager to seize upon an excuse for some time spent with him away from their hostess's immediate presence. "If you will permit me some time as to familiarise myself with the music to hand and the instrument?"

"Of course," he replied, and she rose from her place to sit down directly to the pianoforte. Lady Catherine listened for half a song, and then talked as before, to her nephew, till the latter walked away from her, and moving with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte, stationed himself beside her in such a way as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance.

"I am glad to see that nothing about this instrument discomforts you today,” he said.

She turned to him in some surprise, for she had not realised that his interest in her had caused him to theorise as to the source behind her discomfort that night when she asked his sister to play, during her and Jane's stay at Netherfield. "A memory intruded then, of an evening spent with the Earl. It did not end well."

He gently laid a caressing finger upon her own, the movement so light as to not affect her playing, but so tender, as to be savoured by her thoughts and emotions. "You do not have to tell me anything you do not wish me to know."

"Someday you might need to," she remarked, causing within him a quiet gasp, for it was the first time she had alluded as to her feelings regarding his earnest interest in her. "I was sitting down at the instrument after dinner one evening. It was of those rare occasions where we had invited guests and a gentleman paid particular attention to me. His attentions were charming, his manners gentlemanlike, his conversation full of spirit and flow. I forgot my situation in his presence. Afterwards, when the guests were gone and I was at the instrument, the Earl decided to remind me of the reality which I had attempted to forget."

Darcy breathed deeply, attempting to calm within himself the emotions and thoughts which had risen in his mind in consideration of her confession. Her words revealed nothing of the horror which she might have endured that night, but the very lack of it alluded to a greater suffering than he could imagine. "I admire your courage, milady. I hope such memories did not prevent you from staying at Blisstham during your time in Kent?"

"Yes and no," she answered. "The house has been shut up for some time. I never saw the place when the Earl was alive, for we spent our time wholly in Hanover Square. But although I am curious to see the place, I fear what memories it might invite upon myself."

"Would you better bear the expedition with company?" He asked her.

"Are you volunteering your services, sir?" She countered.

"I believe I am, milady," Darcy affirmed.

"I shall be delighted to accept," she assented.

Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine who called out to know what they were talking of, having observed their intimacy by the instrument with increasing concern as to the fate of her wishes for her nephew and her daughter. It was a favourite wish of hers that Anne and Darcy would someday unite their two estates, and her primary reason for inviting him and the Colonel over at this time every year, to involve them with the running of her household, for if one was found wanting, the other would supply the deficit.

She approached Darcy and the Countess now, who immediately began playing again and after listening for a few minutes, said to Darcy, "Elizabeth would not play at all amiss, if she practised more, and could have the advantage of a London master. I am surprised my late godson failed to supply one. She has a very good notion of fingering, though her taste is not equal to Anne's. Anne would have been a delightful performer, had her health allowed her to learn."

Lady Catherine continued her remarks on the Countess's performance, mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste. Elizabeth received them with all the forbearance of civility and at the request of the company remained at the instrument till her ladyship's carriage was ready to take them all home.

"There," the Countess suddenly announced, bringing her steed to a halt, just beyond the clearing of the woodland that separated Rosings Park from its neighbouring estates in the county of Kent.

Darcy halted his stallion as well, keeping a tight a grip on the reins of his horse, as he was of a somewhat wild heritage, which was what his master preferred, and followed the Countess's direction, to gaze at the estate before them.

During their conversation of the previous evening, he had persuaded her to visit the place for the first time the very next morning. Reflecting back, Darcy was rather glad now that she had agreed to his proposal. For, though she had never visited the place before, the mere fact of knowing the identity of the late owner, would likely bring memories to the fore, that as she admitted herself, she did not perhaps wish to recollect.

Observing her expression now, he realised that his original suspicions had been, unfortunately, perfectly right. With all the skill of an expert horseman, he deftly moved his horse closer to hers, and gently took one of her nervous fiddling hands into his own calm ones. Cradling it as if her hand was the most precious object in all the world to him, his eyes locked on hers in a solemn gaze, and he raised it to his lips, laying the most gentle of kisses upon her wrist and palm.

Elizabeth could not help but blush at the gesture. His meaning could in no way be misconstrued. There was something deeper here, far deeper than just a simple display of support between long acquaintances. He was not accompanying her just as a friend, but as one who hoped one day to become something more to her.

It was as if in that moment he had all but declared his intentions to her, and in such a way that she felt none of the fear which she had expected to feel if such a situation came upon her once more. His meaning was absolutely clear. The feelings were entirely unconditional. He was offering her all that he was and all that he possessed, without any expectation or need that she would ever return the emotion.

What a contrast to the suitor before him. She felt almost guilty that she had ever allowed any one other than him to come first. She was tempted, oh, so tempted! to have him declare himself now, but knew that would be delaying the inevitable that lay in front of them.

She had to face this house, and all the demons it might awaken for her. From the outside Blisstham did not appear to be as grand as the town house where she had experienced such misery. Blinking, she changed the look in her eyes, and silently thanked him for the gesture which he had just bestowed. "Shall we continue on to the house?" she then asked.

Darcy nodded, and reluctantly released her hand. They allowed their steeds free rein, and continued in their journey. When they were upon the pebbled drive before the house itself, they carefully halted their horses and made to dismount.

Darcy was the first upon the ground, and, as they had brought no groom, moved to assist the Countess. She placed her hands upon his broad shoulders, and gracefully dropped down into his willing arms. He longed to be able to clasp her closer to him, and shower her glowing face with kisses, but knew that he had not yet been granted liberty to do so.

Reluctantly he made his hands rest loosely at either side of her waist until she was safely dismounted, then respectfully moved away to attend to their horses.

Once their steeds were stabled in the fields beside the drive to the estate, Darcy followed her closely as they mounted the steps to the front door. Elizabeth drew out the key from a pocket in her skirts, fitted it into the lock, and turned it until it clicked. The door opened and they stepped inside.

The Entrance Hall was a complete contrast to the grand equivalent of its neighbour. Whereas Rosings Park wished to show off all its wealth with every room, Blisstham Place opted for a simple, more refined style.

Its walls were a pale cream, with elegant, but not overly ornate flourishes, while its floor showed a pale marble that had been rarely used, covered only where it made the stairs, which had gold rods to keep the light pale pink staircase runner in place.

Its visitors could not help but gasp in mutual surprise of how well it suited their tastes. Elizabeth had not expected this. Her late husband had obviously never visited Blisstham, for all his other houses tended to resemble the style of his godmother.

Despite all its excellence in wealth and taste however, there were also obvious signs of neglect. The estate had been shut up for a long time, that much was evident by the cobwebs in the corners, on the stairs, and about the chandelier. Elizabeth caught sight of them all, and was thus reminded of her task in viewing the estate.

That was to see what, if any, repairs were needed, and how many servants would be required to form a household staff in her absence from the place. All her fears were forgotten. The difference in style from the other houses that were in the earldom of Saffron Walden made the memories that usually preyed upon her whenever she was in a house of his disappear. She resumed her walking.

The next room was the drawing room. Again the style was refined, simple and elegant, with walls of dark blue, mahogany furniture, and silhouette profiles as its only ornaments. Dust sheets covered the sofas, as well as a large pianoforte in one corner of the room, but nothing else was protected from the elements of neglect.

Elizabeth ran one of her fingers up a Sheraton table, barely making an impact in the layers of dust which covered the full glory of the wood from them. She turned to Darcy. "What do you think? Is there much to be done so far?"

"I do not believe so," he replied, lifting one of the dust sheets to examine a sofa before continuing. "There does not seem to be anything more than a general cleaning required to restore the place to its usual standards. What are your plans for the estate?"

"I am not yet certain." Elizabeth led the way into the next room, which proved to be a breakfast parlour. "I could let it, but I really do not have need to do so. The Earl gambled away a lot of his wealth, but not enough to break the bank." She looked up, just in time to catch his expression of surprise.

"Oh," she began with a laugh, "the earldom I possess is still as wealthy as Society claims it to be. All he gambled away was his own inheritance from his mother, which was kept entirely separate. In my opinion I have already far too much money to have any need to increase it."

"I envy you," Darcy remarked. "My father installed the need within me to always try to enhance the wealth of our family."

"Perhaps if I had been born into it," Elizabeth allowed, "I might feel differently, and wish to increase the fortune as much as I can. But I only married into it. I had no notion until his death that it would ever become mine alone."

"He never told you of the peculiarities of the title?"

"He never told me anything. He left it all to be managed by his steward, and chose to while his time away at his clubs, or," Elizabeth trailed off, reluctant to finish the sentence. But her expression conveyed its conclusion however. Darcy understood all too well what she could not find the strength to say. His admiration of her rose once more. To have suffered so much, yet to still be all the things that he knew her to be, was truly remarkable.

They examined the rest of the house, and found much the same degree of dust in every principal room, and nothing worse. The house had obviously been gifted with only the service of the careful Earl before her husband, and did not require much beyond a general sweep of the dust and airing of the furniture and beds.

After forming this conclusion, Elizabeth led the way out of the house, and into the formal gardens at the back, which separated the estate from the fields of its environs. Here too, in the overgrown topiary hedges and trees, dried fountains and a surplus of wildflowers, there was evidence of the neglect it had endured under just two years of the Earl's reign.

Darcy stepped forward, and with the practised eye of one who had been trained to take a close interest in everything upon one's country estates, examined one of the topiary trees. "Nothing beyond a day or two's work by a half a dozen or so experienced gardeners needed," he pronounced to her.

Elizabeth, her gaze fixed upon the fields which stretched beyond the grounds, acknowledged his judgement and sighed in apparent relief. "I cannot believe how scared I was in coming here," she uttered softly. "It is so different from all the others I have stayed in. It truly does justice to its name." She turned to face him. "What is Pemberley like?" She asked with sudden interest.

Darcy smiled, happy that she was happy. "I do not believe I could do it justice with any description," he answered her. "One can list the architects involved, the stone it was built out of, the furniture and rooms it possesses, but you cannot describe the feeling that comes over you when you are there. There is a certain magic about the place, which comes over you to such a degree, that every word feels inadequate."

He paused to reflect upon it. "It is a place where I have always felt at home, a sanctuary from the world, yet I feel both of those phrases have something wanting." He stepped closer to her. "I would dearly like to show it to you, someday."

It was as close as he yet dared come to making his feelings known to her. Even now it was perhaps presumptuous of him, considering their short acquaintance, and her past history, of which he could still only guess at the nature. Yet this day had bewitched him somehow, made him bold.

Their time together today seemed different from all the other days that they had passed in each other's company. Here, in the grounds of her estate, they seemed to be closer than they were anywhere else. The surroundings felt almost intimate to him, as though the place was a world where nothing could interfere between them.

Perhaps it was all this which had affected her too, and made her reply with words that, from this moment, would be forever dear to him. "I would like that."

The days passed. Rosings found itself often lacking the occupancy of the gentlemen which it presently provided board and meals for, as the two cousins were more at the Parsonage or out about the grounds than they were at the court of their Aunt. Rosings only had the Billiard Room or the Library, both of which soon lost their appeal in favour of Mr Collins's guests.

Darcy's reticence upon the subject of his feelings concerning the Countess continued, though the Colonel rarely pressed his insistence to know all home, as he once might have done. For his mind too was far more agreeably engaged. Previously he had looked upon his annual stay in Kent as one would look upon the prospect of taking part in a war.

Now however, that feeling had been done entirely away, and replaced by ones of pleasure. He who was used to scorning at all who played the role of suitor to the woman they professed to love, would now seem to echo an agreement in all their sentiments.

He was contemplating this trail of thought during his usual tour of the park, which he made every year, when he encountered the Countess, and to his surprise, alone. She had been reading something in her hands, which, upon first sight of him she had folded away, and now looked up to say, "I did not know before that you ever walked this way."

Richard explained his reasons for choosing to walk it, adding his intent to finish with a call at the Parsonage. "Are you going much further?" he then asked.

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

Turn she did, and they walked towards the Parsonage together.

"Do you intend to leave Kent on Saturday?" she asked after a few moments, for the length of their stay was frequently speculated upon by her cousin. .

"Probably not," he replied. "I am not needed by my regiment, and therefore entirely at Darcy's disposal. Kent has had some additions this year which make the inducement to stay more preferable than that of going."

"The combination of Lady Catherine, her daughter, Mrs Jenkinson and Mr Collins is not usually a inducement to visit Rosings then?"

"My Aunt tends to talk a great deal when we are here, but she seldom requires any response," Richard answered with a smile. "And my cousin hardly speaks a word here, though he's lively enough in other places. This time however, he seems to have discarded that character trait of his."

The Countess coloured, indicating to Richard that she had caught his meaning, which was just what he had intended, for her intimacy with his cousin had caught his interest, awakening a possibility in his mind. Then, her countenance suddenly transformed, and she smiled as she remarked, "According to him, you seemed to have abandoned a character trait as well, that of obstinate bachelorhood."

Richard smiled, and replied, "Perhaps I have, Lady Saffron Walden, perhaps I have."

Chapter XX.

Arriving at the Parsonage, upon hearing that Miss Lucas and Mrs Collins were at leisure, the Colonel stepped inside. Seeing that the weather continued to be fine, Elizabeth remained outside, engaging herself upon another ramble within the surrounding countryside.

She had discovered during her stay a walk along the open grove which edged the side of the park, that no one seemed to value but herself, and where she felt beyond the reach of Lady Catherine's curiosity. It was a frequent haunt of hers, in which she was often joined by Mr Darcy, for he ascertained her certain preference within the course of one promenade there.

Today however, the walk was solitary, and she found herself keenly preoccupied by his absence. They had spent so much time which each other over the course of their stay, that she felt the loss of his company whenever she happened to be deprived of it.

Eager for some comfort, she reached into a pocket within her skirts and withdrew the folded letter which she had put away earlier upon perceiving an encounter with the Colonel. In a careful, artistic hand which was a seeming contradiction in belonging to a man who professed to loath all correspondence, she found much to treasure, so rare were the pieces of such examples that she possessed.

Whilst the hand failed to resemble the whim and mannerisms of the sender, the content contained therein did not, delivering a flow of wit so spirited as to bring humour to all who were granted the privilege of reading it. For some moments she dwelt upon the passages which she had covered before the approach of the Colonel, until her curiosity drove her to examine those which were yet to be perused.

Here, in the unfamiliar sentences her comfort was lessened, for her father had decided to relate to her the current expectation of their friends and acquaintances concerning his favourite daughter and a young man of ten thousand a year from the north of England. Her marked preference for him and his singular attention paid to her at the Netherfield ball and other social gatherings where their intimacy hinted at more than mere acquaintance, was now at the forefront of debate amongst the four and twenty families whom her mother and sisters consented to dine with.

This notoriety had not come by chance. A evening party hosted by Colonel Forster, attended by his wife and his officers, Sir William and Lady Lucas, Mrs Long and her nieces, the Gouldings, Mr and Mrs Philips, and her mother and her sisters, was the source of this expectation, during a conversation between her younger sisters and a particular officer. Lieutenant Wickham, the officer in question, had occasion to relate a tale of misfortune which he had suffered at the hands of this gentleman from Derbyshire. This claim, once it reached Mrs Bennet's hearing, was seized upon and pronounced as a most arrant falsehood, for whoever paid court to her daughter the Countess could not be such a scoundrel as Mr Wickham ascribed.

Within a few days of this party, doubts concerning the officer's claims soon found weight, as it emerged that he had debts with numerous merchants of Meryton and Longbourn, ones which his funds could not repay. From that moment on, everyone began to declare that he was the wickedest young man in the world, and everyone began to find out that they had always distrusted his appearance of goodness. He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and his intrigues, all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family.

And all the while the tale of his misfortune at the hands of the gentleman from Derbyshire continued to spread, as the basis for the means of discovery concerning Mr Wickham's guilt. Her father treated the matter with his usual humour, considering it a most worthy example of human folly, but as Elizabeth read the account she found she could not summon the same feeling of amusement. She knew the truth behind this misfortune, for Mr Darcy had recently recounted to her the matter, in one of their many ambles about the very grove in which she now trod. That Mr Wickham had treated his former childhood friend in an infamous manner was true, but she did not think it right that something which caused much suffering to one family should be bandied about a neighbourhood so salaciously.

Returning to the parsonage, she resolved to amend the gossip as best she could. Mr Darcy had not authorised her to make his communication public, and certainly she would not dream of sinking to the same level that the rest of her acquaintance and family seemed to have, but she would endeavour to make sure that tale did not take preference over what was to happen to the man who had so viciously striven to blacken Mr Darcy's name in the first place.

While Elizabeth was engaged in this somewhat mortifying task, Darcy was facing an equally disagreeable prospect, that of an interview with his Aunt. He had resolved during his last parting from the Countess, to broach the matter regarding the extent of his involvement and cooperation in her favourite wish, and to disappoint her accordingly.

He had spent too many years in keeping silent upon the matter, a silence which he had long since realised served to create as much suffering as failing to disabuse her of the notion from the moment when she had first voiced the wish aloud to him. While he had often looked upon the union as something of a prevention against the matchmaking whims of society regarding his eligibility, his Aunt had treated his silence as certain assent, and sheltered his cousin from rivals accordingly, in detriment to her health and to his.

His cousin was a contrast to her mother, being so thin and small, with little resemblance to the tall, large and strongly marked features which were borne by his Aunt. Anne was pale and sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant, her appetite often meagre and her view of the world rarely extended beyond daily short rides in her phaeton. Even if his heart was not engaged elsewhere, none of his cousin's qualities stood her in good stead to be the next mistress of Pemberley and Rosings.

Lady Catherine reigned over her household with a firm, almost domineering hand, depending upon her steward to report to her every accounting, no matter how insignificant. While she was content to observe the proper forms of estate management, her trust would only extend so far. However, her concern for her daughter's health prevented her from taking her in hand and preparing her to succeed, causing his Aunt to rely on her nephew's experience, hence his annual obligation to visit.

It had not taken many visits for Darcy to determine the motive behind his Aunt's request for assistance, and for some time now he and his cousins had taken pains to help her daughter become acquainted with the instruction which their Aunt had failed to supply. Anne possessed a fine intellect, which only the want of education had neglected, and once that need was stimulated, flowered accordingly. But while her talents flourished, her health remained worrisome.

Last summer, after a certain godson had painfully obtruded upon his notice, Darcy had travelled to Rosings with a desperate resolution formed out of guilt that in striving to raise his young sister, he had neglected to supply her with a companion in whom they could both trust. Where a stranger whose character served to unhappily deceive them failed, a family member might succeed. It was the closest he had come in submitting to his Aunt's wishes, and had she known the full extent of his thoughts her triumph would have been complete.

But she had not anticipated his arrival, nor did he seek to warn her ahead of his visit, two instances which served to disappoint both her wish and his desperate resolution utterly. For when he entered the house, he discovered that his Aunt was out to dinner with Lady Metcalfe, and her daughter had used this absence to her advantage, by requesting a physician from town to pay her a consultation, for the one established in Hunsford was too enamoured with her mother's patronage to be capable of delivering an unbiased diagnosis.

At Anne's request, Darcy was permitted to witness the physician's verdict, and the result was enough to render his motive for visiting Rosings pointless. While her intellect and humour were sound, her physical anatomy was not. Procreation was considered too dangerous an endeavour to be attempted, for it was declared doubtful that she could conceive, let alone bring an heir to term. As long as such a possibility was never entertained, her longevity was certain.

Lady Catherine's ignorance regarding this consultation was equally established, for neither Anne nor Darcy had desired to inform her of the diagnosis unless certain events required them to do so. He and the physician, after ascertaining Anne's sagacity regarding such grave prospects, returned to London before his Aunt returned from her dinner engagement. Upon his return to town he was informed by Colonel Fitzwilliam of a woman whose references were of the highest recommendation, and after meeting her, employed her to preside over the household of his sister. Then Bingley came to him with a request for his assistance in estate management, whereupon the matter was left in the hands of his cousin.

During his continued correspondence with his Aunt and his cousin whilst staying in Hertfordshire, it soon became apparent to Darcy that Lady Catherine's ignorance remained unabated. Her desire for himself and her daughter to unite their great estates was forever alluded too, and in terms which spoke of the prospect as certain. Whilst he continued to remain un-enamoured by the daughters of society, such nonnescient was preferable, but when he began to realise that his heart was engaged, the means to disabuse her of this wish became a troublesome prospect.

Hence his journey into Kent upon this particular occasion, although the task of securing an interview alone with Lady Catherine had proved to be more difficult than he anticipated. Aside from the daily visits of Mr Collins, her desire to engross himself and his cousin's company proceeded from a surfeit of talking to them, rather than allowing them to talk to her. For a time he endured such conversation in the slight hope that she would soon be exhausted in her wealth of news, but this soon proved to be a fruitless aspiration.

So, whilst the woman who engaged his heart proceeded to inform her father of her desire for salvaging his reputation, he set about to ruin himself completely in the eyes of his Aunt, for he knew that no matter how delicately the nature of Anne's health was relayed, her reaction would be far from sanguine.

When Elizabeth emerged from her room to rejoin the company of Mrs Collins and her friend, she found that the Colonel was still sitting with them. His preference for remaining in the parlour of the parsonage rather than the drawing room of his Aunt's was clear, but the reason for his delay in returning to Rosings was less so, as he would have pleasure of their company at that estate this evening, and the hour upon when they were expected to attend, was fast approaching.

Nevertheless, it would not do for her to remind him of this social duty, nor did there arise a suitable opportunity to do so, as his conversation lacked none of his usual flow of spirited wit and agreeableness. Indeed, his talk soon served to make her forget the passage of time, and it was not until the opening of the door which served as the entrance to the parlour, incurring a significant pause in the conversation, that she was caused to remember.

Mr Collins was the person to whom this role of interruption was rendered, and unusually for him, he appeared to be at a loss of those sentiments deemed pleasing and acceptable to the elegant company which awaited his arrival. For some moments did he stand before him, encountering their curious looks with one of increasing confusion, until the prompting of his wife served to jar him out of his insensibility.

"Her Ladyship regrets that she must withdraw her kind solicitude of allowing us the honour to keep her company this evening," he said in response to his wife's searching salutation.

Colonel Fitzwilliam immediately inquired as to the health of his Aunt, and upon receiving only a vague accounting in reply, began to make his farewells. However he had not advanced beyond a general promise of conveying his regrets at being unable to enjoy the pleasure of their company that evening, when he was obliged to pause, in favour of welcoming his cousin into the room.

In Mr Darcy they were more reasonably assured of receiving a fair explanation of the source of Lady Catherine's indisposition. Without giving too much information, he led them to understand that his Aunt had received some distressing news about a close companion and as a result, felt unequal to fulfilling her usual social obligations.

With a further eloquent look directed at his cousin, who upon receiving it immediately resumed his previous occupation, Mr Darcy turned to the Countess, whose curious gaze had not left his handsome features from the moment he entered the room. Once he had ascertained that his cousin had successfully secured the attention of everyone else within the parlour, in a lowered tone he spoke to her the following;

"Might I have the pleasure of a private conversation with you, milady?"

Elizabeth could not refuse him, and quietly guided Mr Darcy into the dining parlour, which being a better size and possessing a pleasanter prospect, was more lively than the drawing room, and would have drawn Mr Collins from his book room far more often than the latter, which did not share in providing an excellent view of the road, should Lady Catherine's carriage, or her daughter's phaeton happen to drive by.

After availing themselves of comfortable seats, Darcy began. "Forgive me, for requesting such an intimacy, but I have a particular wish that what I am about to say shall go no further unless it is at your behest." He paused, allowing Elizabeth a moment to speculate as to his meaning. But before she could begin to form an answer as to what he might intend, he spoke again. "What I said in view of my Aunt's indisposition regards not a companion but is in fact her daughter."

On that note, Elizabeth's confusion increased, for she failed to comprehend how the state of his cousin's health could occasion her secrecy. Her initial thought was that he had requested this intimacy in order to declare himself, which given his solicitude during their time spent with each other was not altogether surprising or unexpected. As to what reply he might receive had he done so, she had yet to form a satisfying one.

He was a worthy man, who deserved nothing less than equal love and devotion to whoever he avowed such feelings. And there was the stumbling point. Elizabeth was not quite sure that she held an equal love for him. In his company her thoughts were distracted; she found it impossible to think of anything but the contrast between his manners and those she had endured at the hands of the Earl. Yet there were moments, such as the conversation during her musical performance, or the visit to Blisstham, when she found herself confiding her secrets in him. That she had placed her trust in him, felt nothing to fear from his company was certain. But she did not feel worthy of him.

There perhaps lay the true heart of her concerns regarding his attentions. Her own belief in the worth of herself. He deserved far better than her. In terms of wealth and social standing, she was perhaps his superior but money and title aside, she had been married before. For her to seek a match in order to obtain an heir to the title she held possession of was not something usually frowned upon, but that she would choose a gentleman who had not suffered a similar bereavement might appear unseemly.

Ignoring the concerns of Society, she would be placing a burden on him which was of greater weight than the ones he was presently custodian of. His experience in managing estates notwithstanding, there were the horrors which she had suffered at the hands of the Earl to contend with. He would forever be worried that a move from him might incur the memory of his predecessor in her. In particular there would be those which not even time could serve to assuage. She had no desire to subject him to that concern every year. He deserved someone who had not already been taken by another.

"Last summer, after Ramsgate, I travelled here to pay a call on my Aunt and cousin, with the desperate motive of granting a particular wish," Darcy continued. "For as long as I can recollect, my Aunt has declared a desire for myself and my cousin to unite our two estates. She has spoken of it as a favourite wish belonging to herself and to my mother, though I have yet to recall an occasion when my mother mentioned such a hope in my hearing.

"As far as Anne and I have been concerned, such an event has not provided either of us with the same feelings as my Aunt professes to hold. That it would be a good match has not escaped our intelligence, but a prudential marriage is a fate which neither my cousin or myself have ever entertained."

Within a look in his countenance almost akin to heartfelt delight, he continued. "My parents were blessed in that their marriage was both an eligible and loving one, a union which I have always hoped would be inherited as well those other bounties which they left me. However Society frequently seemed to desire in disabusing me of such hopes. My sister's near elopement served to deepen that impression, which served to send me into Kent.

"When I arrived, my Aunt was absent, and a physician was with my cousin. At her request I witnessed the diagnosis delivered by him which rendered my desperate resolution an impossibility." He paused a moment here, his countenance betraying the true extent of the turmoil which he and his cousin must have endured during that unpleasant interview. "To this day I am not sure of Anne's true feelings regarding the matter, for she has continued to remain sanguine whenever it is discussed.

"For a time I was uncertain as to what I should do. When I returned to London I discovered Colonel Fitzwilliam had found a suitable companion to replace Mrs Younge, and Bingley was impatient to have my opinion regarding an estate he had found in Hertfordshire." Darcy directed a smile at her. "From that moment my mind and my heart were more agreeably engaged."

Elizabeth blushed for his meaning was inescapable. As he continued to gaze at her, she was reminded of her resolve regarding his allusions, but just as she was about to broach them with him, Darcy secured her hand and raised it to his lips. For a moment all she could think about was the softness of his touch, the tenderness contained therein, and the look so eloquently conveyed through his earnest gaze, revealing the depth of affection in this gesture.

Darcy lowered her hand to small patch of space which lay between their seats, but his hand refused to relinquish it as he continued to speak. "Until now, I have not been able to tear myself away in order to inform my Aunt of the fate which will befall her. Such news could not be delivered in correspondence, nor did I desire to sadden her unnecessarily until I could be reasonably assured of my own fate. Relaying such news to her now is perhaps presumptuous of me, but I could not bear to have her continue to live under the illusion any longer."

Without releasing her hand, he rose from his chair and dropped to his knees before her, the posture leaving her in no doubt of his intentions. "Elizabeth, I ardently admire and love you. I cannot fix upon the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words which laid the foundation of my feelings. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun. Your beauty I had early been unable to withstand, and within that lay a sorrow which roused and interested me. It was a state which I had endeavoured to raise Georgiana out of and once I realised the extent of that suffering, my heart demanded of me to procure a remedy."

Laying his free hand upon their clasped ones, which in light of his movements now rested upon her lap, he continued to speak of his feelings, which in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable. "In declaring myself thus, I know full well, that you are not yet ready to return all which I have avowed. Nor do I have any desire to hasten you into another marriage unless you gave me assurances of your desire to be so. But neither can I torment you or others by trifling with the hope of receiving affections which have long been engaged elsewhere. So, I humbly beg you to answer as to whether I have any hope of succeeding."

Elizabeth could no longer bear to look into his eyes. His steadfast earnest gaze, together with his eloquent words and tender touches, conveyed the very sort of feeling that she felt so unworthy of, and therefore she had to look away, to look down at her gown, as she replied, "I do not deserve you."

Darcy said nothing. Instead, he placed a hand under her chin, and lifted it up until she was able to meet his expression once more. Then he leaned forward and caught her lips in his own.

It was a kiss to evoke surprise, and to take one's breath away. How could she not respond to such tenderness, mixed with such passion, such affection, that she felt afterwards to never have received a kiss before? It was impossible not to return, and when she did, these emotions roused an even greater response from his.

Abruptly he broke from her before the joy of receiving her response rose to such a degree as to evoke a depth of love that neither were yet prepared to explore this evening. "We shall not quarrel for the greater share of unworthiness annexed as to position and wealth, or character and feelings. It is a matter which if strictly examined, will be deemed irreproachable on either side. I only wish to learn if you have begun to feel for me as I feel for you."

"I do care for you, sir," Elizabeth admitted quietly, securing the searching strength of her fine eyes in his own, "but as to how deep my feelings are, I am uncertain. I confess that I find it difficult to think in your presence, to focus on any object but that of your nearness. Yet when I am without you, I cannot help but mourn your absence. I feel safe when I am beside you, that I can confide in you my sorrows. But I do not wish to burden you with my suffering, which at times seems inescapable."

"Though you may not realise it, those feelings which you have just spoken of are what I frequently experience whenever I am in or out of company with you," Darcy replied softly. "It is a foundation and one which only time will build upon. But only if you desire such a courtship to do so."

Elizabeth continued her searching gaze upon him, as she considered all that he had declared. She could not deny the sincerity of his feelings, nor the desire which they had sourced within her. There was an intimacy between them which she could no longer ignore, nor did it seem, that her heart desired to do so. Tentatively, she voiced what her heart desired, by returning the gesture which had first awoke those feelings. His hand trembled underneath her kiss, but his gaze never wavered.

The mantle clock chimed out the late hour, and he, with great reluctance, rose in order to go. She rose with him, his hands not releasing hers until he reached the door, whereupon he turned to face her, and pressed his lips to her own once more in a final farewell.

"Until tomorrow, my love," he uttered huskily, before quitting the room. Elizabeth watched him go with a heavy heart, wishing tomorrow already come.

Volume V.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 20212003-2020. All rights reserved.