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© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2002-2021. All rights reserved.

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Note: This story has been translated into French and posted at fanfiction.net by Marcelle26.

Author's Note: Despite the recent laws of equality, there are some titles which were created in the past that could pass down through both female and male lines or through marriage. It all depended on the wording of the letters patent, and the blessing of who bestowed the title. For example Barbara Villiers, Mistress of Charles II was created Baroness of Nonsuch in 1670, then Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, with a special remainder that allowed the title to be passed to their illegitimate son, Charles Fitzroy. Another of Charles mistress's Lousie Renée de Penancoet de Kérouaille was created Duchess of Portsmouth in her own right. 


Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version 1: Volume I.

"Marry in haste, repent at leisure."

Proverb 16th Century.

"SHARPER: 'thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure.
Marry in haste, we may repent at leisure.
'Some by experience find those words misplaced: At leisure
married, they repent in haste.'"

The Old Bachelor, 1693, Act 5, Scene 1.
William Congreve, 1670-1729, English Dramatist.

"Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but
they detest at leisure."

Don Juan 1819-1824.
Lord Byron, 1788-1824.

Chapter I.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a well-known person marries, all those who know him- and the ones who do not -produce an almost insatiable curiosity about their new partner in life. How ever little is known of the newlyweds' feelings upon the subject, it is fixed in the minds of people in general that this bride will instantly be introduced to them after the announcement of the event.

This was the case with the Earl of Saffron Walden. Having inherited his title at the unexpected age of nine and twenty, along with several nice country estates, at least two houses in town, and no disadvantaged dependant relatives, all of Society in general had held high hopes concerning his marital prospects- that is to say that they wished for him to set an eye upon their daughters. All wanted him to marry soon and well, and when he did neither of those things, all were naturally disgusted with him.

His choice instead was a young lady who was the second daughter of a gentleman who resided at Longbourn in Hertfordshire, close to one of his own estates, Stoke House. They met just by chance when he condescended to attend the Meryton Winter Assembly, a month before he inherited his title. Naturally the entire village and its occupants were all a chatter at a Viscount attending their assembly and when he chose to honour the second daughter of one of the richest gentlemen in the neighbourhood with his hand, this gossip increased.

The future Earl himself spent but three weeks in Meryton, before returning to town upon the death of his father. Everyone but the lady in question expected his return, but all were surprised when it was announced that he had offered his hand to the lady and she had accepted him.

This was two years ago. Such a passage of time alone might not be considered astonishing, if it were not for the fact that after the couple had returned to town, the new Countess of Saffron Walden was only seen in Society once; when she was presented at Court. Society was in astonishment. Many stared, some coloured, a few doubted and most were silent. All wondered why she was never seen again.

They wondered even more when, again quite unexpectedly, the Earl was found dead in the spring of 1811. The nature of his death proved to be a delicious scandal; he had been thrown from a carriage while riding down a very poor road, as was a tradition of his club, the Four-Horse.1

Society now awaited impatiently for the Countess to make an appearance. Since the Earldom of Saffron Walden was a title that passed through both male and female lines, it was presumed by all that she would enter Society as soon as possible. All anxiously hoped that she would grace one of their beloved single sons with her hand.

However, this was not the case. Instead the Countess disappeared from town and was never heard of, nor seen again.

Must that woman be quite so loud? was the first thought that entered Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy's head when he reluctantly arrived in the assembly of Meryton, Hertfordshire, that fateful night.

The woman in question was still commenting, or rather complaining, when Sir William Lucas, after having accosted both Darcy and his friend the moment they arrived, dragged him- not Bingley, for he was quite willing -over to her and the two younger ladies standing beside her.

"I really must protest as to you living there comfortably, Lizzy. The Great House at Stoke it may be, but the Drawing Rooms should really be larger."

Fortunately, it was at this moment that Sir William chose to interrupt. "Mrs Bennet, may I introduce you to Mr Bingley? He has expressed a wish of becoming acquainted with you and your daughters."

Whether Bingley had actually avowed aloud this intention or not, Darcy- nor indeed his friend- knew not. All Darcy could remember was that Bingley had fixed his gaze upon the woman who, in his opinion, smiled too much, and then lost the ability to be aware of anyone else.

Mrs Bennet, now presented with the new and eligible tenant of Netherfield, forgot the unsuitability in size of the Drawing Rooms of Stoke's Great House and began to fawn. "Mr Bingley. How lovely to see you. This is Jane, my eldest. And Mary sits over there. And Kitty and Lydia my two youngest you see there dancing. And of course, my second daughter, the Countess of Saffron Walden."

While Mr Bingley had gone past the stage of listening to Mrs Bennet and back to gazing at the woman he now knew to be Jane, his friend's interest had suddenly renewed itself.

Mr Darcy's reputation as the richest man in Derbyshire had granted him the acquaintance of the late Earl, and he, like everyone else of Society, had wondered over the identity of the Countess. Now he was the first of them to set eyes on her.

And to be struck. The Countess was a beauty. Darcy found himself mesmerised by her enchanting eyes which complemented her hair perfectly. However, there was one element more that when combined with the other two induced his attraction; that she was hiding her true self from the intrusion of her present society, donning a facade that presented all the emotions of enjoyment in the evening, but in reality concealing her real feelings upon the subject.

Darcy had seen that look before, and in his own opinion, far too recently. It had been the same look his sister had produced the first time she had been in company with anyone but him after Ramsgate. Darcy had sworn to himself upon being witness to this look that he would do everything within his power to restore Georgiana to the happiness she had previously always felt and displayed, and now, as he gazed at the Countess of Saffron Walden, a woman he had never met until this moment, he found himself making the same vow.

"And you, sir. Are you as fond of dancing as your friend is?"

Darcy glanced reluctantly at Mrs Bennet, her question bringing him out of his enchantment. A single look at his friend was all he needed to conclude that Bingley had just achieved his first wish of tonight, to dance with the angel named Jane. Usually he would not be inclined to acquiesce to this less than subtle hint from a matchmaking mama, but this was different. "Not quite as fond, Mrs Bennet, but I usually indulge in the custom. Countess, if you are not engaged, may I request the honour of your hand for the next?"

She looked surprised, Darcy thought, upon receiving the request, and her acceptance, he was sure, bordered on a wish more to be away from her mother for a brief time, rather than a real desire to dance. Taking her proffered hand, Darcy gently led her to the floor behind his friend and her sister. Then, at the last moment, he turned to her and remarked, "Would you mind if we took advantage of the balcony over there for some fresh air? This room is a bit stifling."

After escorting her outside, Darcy stepped away and leaned on the railing. Seeing her shoulders relax in relief, he waited silently until she found the courage to join him. "Thank you, sir," she began once she had.

"It was nothing, I assure you," Darcy replied. "You looked as though you might need it."

"I confess that I did," the Countess remarked. "You are very astute."

"Not terribly," Darcy admitted. "My sister often displays that look when in large groups. She is rather shy, and I, being her only constant companion, always try to bring her comfort. Indeed I am often prone to the same defence myself." He paused briefly to turn and face her. "My expression, however, my sister is convinced, presents quite the opposite, often offensive attitude." He displayed it.

She chuckled. "Indeed, you do look fearful."

"Well, one has to frighten away the matchmakers."

"Surely not all the time?"

He smiled. "You'd be surprised." He turned to resume his previous stance. "We can stay out here as long as you wish."

"Unfortunately not," she replied. "My mother will notice that I have disappeared, as much as I would have liked Jane to have been the centre of attention this evening." She sighed. "I wish I had never come."

"Only a part of you wishes that, I hope?"

"Only a part." She smiled at him. It was a real smile and Darcy felt all the honour she had accorded him.

"I must confess," he began honestly, "to possessing the same feeling, until I met you."

She blushed. Through the curtains the orchestra struck up a series of notes and she offered him her hand. "I believe I promised you this dance, sir."

Darcy took her hand, and was lost.

It was a mixed and indifferent party that returned to Netherfield later that night.

"Dear God, what a ghastly evening," Miss Caroline Bingley was heard to voice as soon as they had entered the hall.

Darcy merely rolled his eyes and then returned the eager hug his sister gave him upon the moment of his arrival.

"Was it really so very awful?" She asked him.

"No, Georgie, at least as far as Bingley and I are concerned. Although, I doubt he even noticed it was a ball."

"She is an angel!" declared Bingley at that moment, confirming his friend's opinion. "Was she not an angel, Darcy?"

"By she I presume you mean Miss Bennet?" his friend calmly queried.

"Miss Jane Bennet?" Bingley mused. "Is that not the most perfect name?"

He waltzed into the Drawing Room, followed by Georgiana and Darcy, who commented, much to her amusement; "You may be surprised to learn that he drank nothing tonight."

"So, Mr Darcy," Caroline rudely interrupted as soon as they had seated themselves in the Drawing Room, "who was that woman whom you graced with your company all evening?"

"The Countess of Saffron Walden," Darcy replied, before returning to his sister. "Who would like very much to meet you."

"Will she like me?" Georgiana asked shyly.

"Of course she will, dearest."

"I do not see why people hovered around her," Caroline continued to the whole room. "She should be at home mourning her late husband."

"Caroline, mourning is hardly fashionable," her sister Mrs Hurst reminded her, knowing that Caroline was only complaining because Darcy had danced three dances with the Countess and no one else.

Darcy merely rolled his eyes, while his sister smiled at the thought of a future sibling.

1. The Four-Horse Club was a very popular club in Regency times and its members indulged frequently in the tradition of riding carriages down very poor roads. Source is the Regency Collection which can be accessed on Austen.com's online Regency links page.

Chapter II.

It was only when she had become a widow, that the former Elizabeth Bennet had been able to use her good fortune to help her family. Her late husband's inheritance possessed a peculiar advantage. It could pass to any member of the family, whether they were male or female, and since none had been left, the Earldom, lands and wealth had automatically become hers to do with as she wished.

With this in mind, she had secured her father's estate and raised its income to three thousand per annum, and settled the sum of thirty thousand pounds each upon her sisters, which would be held in trust until their marriage or till they reached the age of five and twenty. This had still left her with considerable funds, and land to live on comfortably for the rest of her life.

Which she was quite determined to live alone. Nothing in the world at present could ever give her the inclination to marry again. She had tried love, failed, settled for security, and the experience had forever changed her.

At least, she had believed that it was love. The only kind of love which she had sworn she would marry for, having witnessed daily what marrying for only slight affection could do. Barely a day in wedlock had passed before the illusion she now knew it to be had shattered before her eyes. The reality it had left behind had chilled her to the bone, and she could not bear to dwell upon it.

But, as she was reflecting the morning after the Meryton assembly, the event had brought some blessings to her life. Not only the inheritance, but also time to improve her talents. At the pianoforte she was now a true proficient and the excellent libraries she had been left deepened her knowledge of the world's literature. From being no horsewoman she had become a master at both side and normal saddle.

She also had a house- or rather several houses -that were not too far, yet far enough from Longbourn that the distance brought her welcome peace and solitude. To her mind Stoke Edith1 was perfect, including the size of the Drawing Rooms, which her mother had lamented much over last night.

It had been built around 1698 for a Paul Foley, Speaker of the House of Commons and had thus been acquired by the Cavendishes of Saffron Walden by marriage. Considered one of the finest Restoration Houses, it represented the skills of James Wyatt, Issac Bayly, and James Thornhill.

A hipped roof housed the servants' quarters, and windows covered most of the walls. Its grounds while extensive had both formal and informal design. Only two things was Elizabeth planning to change: the Hall walls and the Green Velvet Bedroom, which were in her opinion far too opulent and ornate.

The Wyatt Drawing Room in which she presently stood, was her favourite room. Its position in the house gave her an advantage to observe any who were coming to visit or leave, while the furniture was simple, yet elegant Georgian and the walls were detailed but sparsely carved with Grecian arts.

Now she sat upon one of the sofas, planning in her mind when it would be best to ask her sister over to stay without being forced to invite the rest of her family as well. Peaceful solitude was the way she had spent most of her marriage, and she had no desire to enter the chaos that was Meryton Society and her family just yet.

Soon however, her mind drifted on to the recollections of the events that occurred last night at the Assembly Rooms. Elizabeth had not expected to enjoy the evening, refusing to attend until the last moment and even then, only at Jane's persuasion.

The first fifteen minutes had confirmed her expectations. Her mother had monopolised her company, presenting her with great fawning to Lady Lucas and Mrs Long and her nieces, before complaining to her about the size of the Drawing Rooms at Stoke Edith.

The Netherfield party's arrival had brought a welcome relief. In particular she was grateful for the presence of Mr Darcy. Astutely attuned to her feelings, he had cleverly won her company by asking her to dance and then escorting her to the balcony, where she could gain a brief moment of peace.

She had rewarded him with three dances, which she felt were the most agreeable of her life, and then spent the rest of the evening in his company, with the occasional additions of Jane, Charlotte Lucas and Mr Bingley.

In both gentlemen Elizabeth found much to like. Mr Bingley exuded happiness and liveliness and, having spent almost all the evening by her sister's side, could not do more to raise himself in her estimation as one of the best gentlemen of her acquaintance. His friend Mr Darcy was to her mind equally deserving of such a title, if not more so.

His conversation had been intelligent, flowing and witty. They had talked of books, music and travelling with if not exactly the same opinions, then well-informed enough to arrive at new perspectives upon which to consider. To everyone else he had been a little reserved, but she had spent enough time in his company to put this down to shyness rather than haughty indifference. In short, she wished to know more of him.

This was a wish that came to be obtained within only a few days of that thought. By the request of her great friend Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth had been obliged to attend a soiree at the Lodge, in the company of her family, the officers of the militia which had lately arrived in the neighbourhood, and the Netherfield party.

After seeing Jane happily settled in Mr Bingley's company, Elizabeth had received her taciturn friend. Mr Darcy was really pleased to see her, having been forced to attend four dinners at which she had not been present. After spending some time in conversation, he led her to a sofa, where there was seated a young woman of about sixteen. As the party was an informal affair- the Lucas children were also present -Darcy had brought his sister, and he now introduced her to Elizabeth.

Lizzy found Miss Georgiana Darcy to be even more shy than her brother, and it was partly his presence and Elizabeth's talent for drawing people out that made Miss Darcy exert herself to utter more than just monosyllables. Of fair complexion and Grecian elegance, she presented an intriguing contrast to her brother, who Elizabeth noted, was content to further their acquaintance rather his own with her.

The trio kept to themselves until they were joined by Miss Lucas, who had come to ask her friend's opinion of the relationship between her sister and Mr Bingley.

"I can answer well enough for Bingley," his friend replied, as they discreetly observed the couple, "he is in raptures."

"And what of Jane's opinion, Lizzy?"

"That if he continues to be all that he has been so far, she will soon be in a fair way to be falling in love with him."

"And Mr Bingley? Do you think he is in love?" Charlotte asked.

"My friend has a propensity for falling frequently in and out of love," Darcy answered her, "but on this occasion I think it is different. Before he has never established himself within the immediate neighbourhood. Now he has settled himself here with a view to staying.... Yes, he professes the same emotion."

"Then Jane should leave him in no doubt of her heart. She should show more affection, even than she feels, not less if she is to secure him."

Elizabeth laughed, surprising her companions who had not realised that Miss Lucas was joking. "Secure him! Charlotte! That is not sound, you know it is not. You would never act like that yourself."

"What is your advice then, Lizzy? As one who has been married?"

Elizabeth gazed wistfully at her sister and Mr Bingley. "That they should take their time and be sure of each other. Neither is going anywhere. They should not feel obliged to conform to the wishes of anyone who might hold an influence over them."

The remark struck Darcy as having a certain relevance to her own marriage, and he found himself dwelling upon her words long after she had changed the subject of their discourse. It caused him to wonder whether she had been influenced into marrying the Earl, and the more and more he thought about it, considering what he knew of Lord Saffron-Walden's character, he was certain.

The evening continued on, admitting some dancing into its passing, an activity eagerly taken up by the Lucas children and Elizabeth's youngest sisters. She stayed in the company of the Darcys and her friend for the rest of the night, before paying farewell to everyone, inviting her sister over to Stoke Edith on the morrow.

"He is just what a young man ought to be, Lizzy."

It was the next day, and Elizabeth and Jane were walking in the grounds of Stoke Edith, discussing the gentlemen who recently arrived in the neighbourhood.

"Sensible, lively, and I never saw such happy manners."

"Handsome too," Elizabeth added to her sister's praise, "which a young man ought to be if he possibly can. And that he likes you excessively, shows good judgement."

Jane blushed. "Lizzy....."

"Indeed, Jane, he does. His friend told me as much last night. Do you doubt such an authority?"

"No, not at all. But we have had so short an acquaintance."

"Do not concern yourself with that. Time nor opportunity do not determine intimacy, only disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other and seven days are more than enough for others." Elizabeth came to a halt and took her sister's hands in her own. "Believe me, Jane. No one who has seen you and Bingley together can doubt the start of his affections. Now, what do you think of his sisters?"

As they continued to walk together, Elizabeth, listening to Jane's opinion of Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley, privately disagreeing with the notion that they were as kind as their brother, thought back to her own brief courtship, wondering if anyone had thought the same of her and the Earl.

She could remember her mother's enthusiasm for the match, her father's doubts, and her sister's wish for her to enjoy every happiness. But had any one thought her to be love with him and he with her?

"Jane," she quietly asked, and in such a tone as to make her sister halt both her walk and her conversation, "did you think the Earl was in love?" Seeing her sister's hesitation, she added, "Please answer me honestly."

"I thought him fascinated by you," Jane replied, "but as for love... he kept his feelings hidden a lot of the time while in our family's company." She took her sister's hands. "Lizzy, did you have a happy marriage? Please tell me honestly."

"No Jane," Elizabeth answered with tears in her eyes, "I confess that I did not."

1. Stoke Edith is- or rather was -an actual place, though it resided in Herefordshire. Everything I have stated is true to the house, except for the bit concerning James Wyatt. The decoration in question is in his style, but has also been attributed to Robert Adam.

Tragically, on the 16th December 1927, a fire struck the building, completely ruining all the fine architecture and interiors. Only the ruinous wings survive. My source for the place is a lovely book by the late Giles Worsley titled 'England's Lost Houses' from the archive of the magazine Country Life. Pictures of the interior and exterior are contained in the book. They are also online, providing you search for them.

Chapter III.

"Why did you not tell me of this before?" Jane asked her sister, after hearing about all the events of the past two years which Elizabeth had kept secret.

"I did not wish to alarm or upset you," Elizabeth replied. She refrained from adding that the Earl had a tendency to read her correspondence, nor other details which only a married woman would understand. She did not want to frighten her sister. "There was also very little that you, or anyone else could do about it."

"I am your older sister, I should be able to protect you."

"That is exactly why I kept it silent. I have no desire for anybody to blame themselves regarding a state which I entered into with my eyes open. Rest assured though, it will not happen again."

"Indeed it won't, I am determined to make sure of that."

"It will not, Jane, because I will not marry again."

"You will not marry again? Lizzy, why ever not?"

Her sister gestured around her. "I have no real need, Jane. I have enough comfort and security with on which to live alone for the rest of my life. And I do not think that I could ever let myself trust someone enough to enter into a state of matrimony with them once more. Nor am I ready to lay my emotions open to it."

"But Lizzy, what of Mr Darcy?"

"Mr Darcy? What does he have to do with any of this?"

"He looks at you a great deal, Lizzy. And he spent most of last evening in your company, as well as the assembly."

"I consider him to be just a friend, nothing more. No, Jane, I shall end an old maid, and teach your ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill."

Jane would have protested to this, had not the sound of hoof beats suddenly accosted them. They rose from the stone bench where they had been sitting and tried to discern the identity of the rider who was coming to meet them.

It was Miss Darcy. Bringing her horse to a halt with the easy confidence of one who had spent her life around the animals, she descended from her side saddle and greeted them. "I hope I am not intruding by coming without warning?"

"Not at all, Georgiana," Elizabeth replied, "You are welcome any time."

"Thank you." Georgie's acquaintance with the Countess at Lucas Lodge last night had been enough to secure her confidence of enjoying a firm friendship with her. "My journey also has another motive. Caroline and Louisa have invited you, Miss Bennet, to dine with them, when the gentlemen dine with the officers on the 12th. I also have persuaded them to invite you, Elizabeth. I know what they are like when they invite their brother's friends over to dine." She leaned forward in confidence. "Inquisition is an understatement."

"I sure that they shall be fine, Miss Darcy," Jane replied, "they have been so nice to me so far."

Miss Darcy choose not to respond to that judgement, leaving Elizabeth to conclude that the lady's opinion of the sisters was exactly like her own. "Will you come, Lizzy?"

"I am afraid I cannot," Elizabeth replied, "I have promised my father that he can dine with me that evening." She felt sad about disappointing the young woman, but it could not be helped. It was the only evening that her father was free from any engagements he was required to attend by her mother. "But I shall let Jane have my carriage," she added, knowing that if given the chance, Mrs Bennet would make her ride to Netherfield, in the hope that it would rain and Jane would have to stay the night.

Those thoughts were soon to turn into a prediction, for as the days passed, Jane felt herself obliged to decline the offer her kind sister had made, as her mother had made the suggestion of a journey to Netherfield by horseback impossible to refuse.

"I am afraid I could not persuade her otherwise, Lizzy," her father commented that evening as they sat down to dine. Around them glowed candles and the sound of crackling from the fire in the hearth, while from outside, the sound of rain pouring down the window panes, could clearly be discerned.

"Is there any chance that Jane missed the downpour?"

"None at all." Mr Bennet himself had felt the drops as he entered his daughter's carriage for his own journey that evening. "This speculation however, is useless. We will know nothing of whether it has affected her until tomorrow."

"True," Elizabeth noted reluctantly as the servants entered with the first course. She changed the subject, to avoid worrying, asking her father instead for his view on the events that she had missed. She could always rely on him to brighten her mood whatever its stance, being a studier of characters like herself.

Mr Bennet, it was no secret, regarded her as his favourite daughter, and as result looked forward immensely to their dinners alone. He was prone to displays of wit and irony, possessing such an odd mixture of caprice, sarcastic humour and reserve, that few of his immediate family understood him. Only Elizabeth, who had spent so much time with him during her youth and unmarried years, had the ability to read him as well as he could read himself.

She had only disappointed him once, on the occasion of her marriage. Mr Bennet did not know that his daughter held this opinion, he only remembered a talk with his daughter after granting consent to the Earl, whom he felt was a person from whom he was incapable of refusing such a request.

After expressing his doubts to her, he had been forced to relent when she assured him that she loved the man who had asked for her hand, and was not marrying in the hope that it would secure her family for the rest of their lives. He did not know that in reality it had destroyed the former affection but accomplished the latter.

Elizabeth did not wish to hear his guilt or disappointment at the truth of her two year marriage, and so refrained from confiding in him what she had only just confided in her sister eight days ago.

The dinner passed at a pace suitable for both consumers, after which Elizabeth reluctantly bade her father farewell before retiring for the night.

Matters unfortunately did go Mrs Bennet's way that next morning, as Elizabeth discovered when she sat down to breakfast. Upon her plate lay a note from her sister, with the news that she was unwell, and that her 'kind friends' had insisted she stay at Netherfield until she felt better.

Jane's only concern had been to assure her sister that she was fine, and that the physician had only been sent due to the concern of her friends, nothing more. Elizabeth however, after reading the note, could not settle. Scarcely an hour had passed and she found herself quitting the house, travelling on a horse to Netherfield.

Chapter IV.

Three miles away from Longbourn and nearly five times as much from the great house at Stoke, a rider and horse came to a halt in surprise upon seeing another occupied like themselves. Despite the distance the rider could discern by saddle alone that the figure was female, leaving him to entertain a brief prayer which he never in all the world thought to be answered to his liking.

Yet indeed it was so. The horse came closer, and closer still, until he had to firmly grip the reins of his own stallion in order to restrain it from backing away, as the stranger halted beside him and remained a stranger no longer.

"Countess," he uttered in greeting.

"Mr Darcy," she returned. "I have come to inquire after my sister."

"On horseback?" He could not help seeking to confirm, noting the effects which such an exertion had brought to her appearance; the joyful exhilaration about her face, her hair barely restrained by riding bonnet and pins.

"What else do you call this steed?" She replied smilingly.

"Not an animal certainly," he answered. "He is magnificent."

"As is your own." She looked over it in comparison. "Would you be so kind as to take me to her?"

"Who?" He was still staring at her.

"My sister."

Embarrassed by his own inattention regarding her gently spoken words, Darcy could only gesture as he flicked the reins and set off, leaving her to follow and eventually catch up with him.

They entered Netherfield's breakfast parlour together, where her appearance caused a great deal of surprise. That she had ridden all the way from Stoke Edith so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley, who could barely keep their countenances.

Their brother however was all politeness, kindness and good humour. Instantly did he deliver a faithful and detailed report of her sister's health since her arrival, before escorting Elizabeth to the room himself.

Jane, her worry at the inconvenience or possible alarm preventing her from expressing such a desire in her note, was very glad to see her. She felt her headache acutely and her feverish symptoms increased after the apothecary had made his diagnosis and prescribed draughts for the cure.

Elizabeth silently attended her for most of the day, and by the time the illness had lessened just a little, it was too late to return to Stoke Edith by day light, nor could her sister contemplate even the thought of being parted from her.

Miss Bingley, her dislike of Elizabeth tempered by her title, invited the Countess to stay until her sister had recovered. Elizabeth consented willingly, and a servant was dispatched to collect a supply of clothes, travelling via Longbourn on the way to inform the family of the situation.

At five o'clock the ladies retired to dress, and one hour and a half later Elizabeth was met by Georgiana who came to call her to dinner. Once all the party were assembled she received such an onslaught of enquiries as to be almost overwhelmed.

At her answer Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley announced that they were grieved, shocked and disgusted by colds, then thought no more of the matter. Miss Darcy and Mr Bingley- for his sister had engrossed his friend, much to that friend's annoyance -were the only ones who replied with real sincerity.

When the meal was over Elizabeth returned to Jane, whereupon Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room.

"She has nothing," Louisa Hurst commented, "in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent rider. Her appearance this morning, she really looked almost wild."

"Indeed dear sister, I am caused to wonder why the Earl ever married her."

Perhaps because it is not her sole object in life to copy the behaviour of women such as yourself, Darcy could not help but utter silently to himself.

"It shows affection for her sister," Georgiana pointed out, blushing at announcing her judgement to the whole room, and heartily grateful for her brother's nodding agreement.

"You are perfectly right, Georgie," he remarked. "And we must not forget that as a Countess she can set the fashion, not follow it."

Caroline merely snorted in reply.

"Her fine eyes," Darcy added for sheer joie de vivre in witnessing Miss Bingley's next expression, "were also brightened by the exercise."

Miss Bingley was thus rendered speechless.

Some time later, when Jane was asleep, Elizabeth rejoined her hosts, to find Miss Bingley at cards with her sister, brother and brother in law, Miss Darcy at the pianoforte and Mr Darcy engrossed in a book nearby her. The latter two looked up upon her entrance and immediately requested her to join them, to which she consented, looking over the music scores that lay in a pile by the instrument.

"Do you have a favourite, Lizzy?" Georgiana asked. "I shall be happy to play it."

Elizabeth examined each piece, her memory and talent imagining the sound of the compositions, then drew one out and placed the sheet music upon the stand. She sat at the other end of the sofa occupied by Mr Darcy, and listened silently as his sister played. Her execution lacked neither taste, nor refinement, nor skill, nor emotion. She played as if she had composed the tune herself, seeming to know instinctively how the author of the piece desired the music to be performed. When she was done, Elizabeth could not praise her enough.

"It is the one piece that I cannot play myself," she remarked, "I have always requested for it to be played by others, but I can never quite manage to perform it with the skill and emotion required, as you have done."

"You see, Georgie," her brother said, having laid aside his book sometime ago, "you are an excellent pianist. I thank you, Milady, for praising her; she never quite believes it coming from me."

"You are my brother and therefore too impartial to offer just judgement."

"Come, Georgie, you know I abhor disguise of any kind."

Elizabeth observed the interaction between brother and sister, wishing, not for the first time, for a brother so that she could have experienced participating in such a pastime. Without volition, her mind drifted back to another time, to another scene that had occurred at the same type of instrument, and she instantly paled at the thought of what had followed.

Darcy noted the alteration. "Countess, are you all right?"

She seemed to take a long time in coming to notice his inquiry, which had been delivered quietly so as to draw no attention from the rest of the room. "There is no need for concern, I am perfectly well. I was just distracted by a memory which this brought to my mind."

More than distracted, Darcy thought, but knew he could not comment. Instead he changed the subject.

The words continued to occupy his mind though, long after Elizabeth, along with the rest of Netherfield's occupants, had retired for the night. Habitually prone himself, by memories of his own recent past, he imagined steadily more and more scenes of a grave and worrisome nature, until his anger had risen so much against the late Earl, that he contemplated bringing him back from the grave in order to call him out so he could have the satisfaction of killing the man himself.

At this point however, he was forced to discount the notion, the realities of death and the illegality of duelling aside. He knew himself to be a master fencer, trained by his military cousin and his London tutor, but that was not the reason. Truth be known, he disliked the idea of killing in such a fashion, and to his present frame of mind, the late Earl did not deserve such an easy death.

This revelation however caused him to realise just how much the lady had occupied his mind since his first acquaintance with her. To his knowledge she was the first to break through his barriers which he had built up long ago, founded upon the arts and allurements that all of Society's female quota displayed.

How easily she had accomplished this had quite escaped his notice until now. Not that he ever supposed her to have intentionally done so, oh no. She was too secure in her situation to be seeking him for his wealth. The same with himself, and this revelation caused him to sit up in surprise.

Since when had he entertained the idea of pursuing her? The only vow he could ever remember taking was to restore to her some liveliness of character. Yet, without knowing it, this had become another motive. Silently he shook his head, trying to think rationally.

She was a Countess in her own right, the situation of the Earldom being public knowledge to all of the Ton. He meanwhile, was only nephew to one. He knew her to be by inheritance the richest woman in Essex, while he was the richest man in Derbyshire. She was a gentleman's daughter, he a gentlemen, ergo they were equals in all but title.

At the same time however, he rebuked his presumption. The Earl had passed away less than a year ago, and judging by her expressions when she referenced him so far, she did not yet possess the confidence to attempt a second union. Nor, if he counted himself as her friend, should he even be contemplating such a notion.

Volume II.

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