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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version 2: Volume IV.

Chapter XIII.

As the carriage bearing the crest of one of the richest families in Derbyshire travelled the familiar environs of a certain Kentish relative, the occupant who owned such a magnificent equipage could not but help turn his mind to the last time his horses and coach had traversed that road, and the desperate resolution which had occupied him during that fateful journey, only for it to be swiftly abandoned shortly after his arrival, leaving him bereft in the wake of an impassioned plea from his cousin, which neither of them would have imagined to be rendered into prophecy.

Having resolved during his recent sojourn in town his future actions regarding that situation, his visit to his Aunt this time was with the intent 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 had 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 of his Aunt. Anne was pale and sickly; her features, though not plain were insignificant, her appetite often nearly nonexistent and her view of the world rarely extended beyond daily short rides in her phaeton. Even if his heart were 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 to, and in terms which spoke of the prospect as certain. Whilst he continued to remain un-enamoured by the daughters of society, such nescience 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.

Many of his motives which he could reveal to her as his reasons for disappointing her wish, related to his cousin and her health, for if Lady Catherine were ever to learn of the truth behind his endeavours, the silence in which he desired to surround the matter, not just for his sake but for the sake of the Countess, would be broken before it could even be implemented. His Aunt would not be above the idea of using any children he might conceive through his affairs as legitimate heirs of himself and her daughter, rendering the proposed marriage a necessary cover. How far the Earl might be complicit in such a disguise was a possibility on which he did not desire to speculate.

One other person, aside from his sister, would need to be informed of the matter: his cousin Richard, who held joint guardianship over Georgiana and who was sitting opposite him at this moment, on leave from his regiment, attending the annual visitation to Rosings as a supporting buffer to provide his often beleaguered cousin relief from their Aunt's continual badgering regarding her favourite wish.

How Richard was likely to react to his cousin's intentions was difficult to determine. He had been a confidant of Darcy's nearly all their lives, a relationship nurtured through close correspondence and the guardianship of his sister. A few years older than he, Richard began his career early in the army, rising through merit rather than birth and wealth to the rank of Colonel. His connections in the military high command were an impressive if somewhat closely guarded secret, due to the nature of the work he was involved in for the war effort. Respected for his moral, upstanding behaviour, he was one of the few high ranking officers on staff who was not living a scandalous lifestyle off the battlefield.

Between the cousins there was a mutual respect founded on those morals, borne in the wake of witnessing a certain godson's total disregard for such values. Darcy knew that it would take his cousin greatly by surprise when he learned of his intentions, not to mention that he was likely to incur the Colonel's disapproval of the affair. But by choosing to confide in him the full nature of the affair first, rather than have him along with the rest of his family learn of the matter through the gossip columns favoured by society, he might earn some acceptance that his actions were honourable in their intent.

It was a quiet hope that society would never learn of the affair, for the Earl was known to keep his wife confined within his estates, whilst he spent time at some of the most dangerous gentlemen's clubs in London. Darcy's own disdain for Society was well known also. It would not be too difficult to remove himself from it, disappearing into the wilds of his estate, hopefully taking the Countess with him. The Earl knew little of their acquaintance, he was unlikely to number Derbyshire amongst the places that his wife might escape to, for the county was not connected to her family, save for it being the birthplace of her Aunt. If indeed they were traced, where better to challenge her oppressor than on the loyal stomping grounds of his estate.

But before he could even begin to contemplate such a future, he must first disappoint his Aunt, an interview that was likely to be difficult for all concerned. So, it was with anything but pleasure that Darcy commanded his coachman to come to a halt outside the front entrance of Rosings Park. He took a deep breath and schooled his face into an expression of indifference, before disembarking from the carriage on to the pebbled driveway of the estate.

"'Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more,'" Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam quoted as he stepped down from behind his cousin.

Darcy allowed himself to smile and chuckle at the wisdom of it. "No truer words could be spoken," he agreed, before returning his countenance to his previous mask of composure.

They walked the short distance to the edge of the building, up the stone steps, and inside the opened entrance. Darcy met the eyes and hand of the understanding and long suffering butler. "How are you, Mr Darcy?"

"Moderately well, thank you, Simmons," Darcy replied as he divested himself of his travelling clothes, depositing them into the hands of the waiting footmen. "And yourself?"

"Very well, thank you, sir," Simmons replied, touched by the gentle enquiry.

"And how are your wife and children?" Darcy asked, incurring another gratified smile from the butler.

"They're very well, thank you, Mr Darcy," Simmons replied. "Lady Catherine is in the Drawing Room, if you'll follow me."

The trio crossed the checked marble floor into the room in question. Simmons prudently waited for his mistress to pause in her conversation before announcing to the occupants at large, "Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam."

All rose from their chairs to greet the new visitors. Colonel Fitzwilliam paid them all merely a cursory glance. Darcy however, was able only to fix his eyes on one. He had not thought it possible that this visit would be anything but an endurance. Then he had glanced from the form of his Aunt to meet her startled fine eyes.

For a moment he was unable to do naught else but return the expression. Time seemed to stop. Sounds seemed too quiet. The rest of the room seemed to fade away. Unconsciously both changed their countenances, from startled surprise, to almost perfect joy at each other's presence. Joy then also drifted away, as each moved to express a longing silent and unacknowledged only to one, but deeply felt by both.

Lady Catherine spoke, and Darcy found himself back in the present with a jolt. When he had discreetly glanced at the Countess again, the expression was gone, with no evidence that it had ever existed, almost persuading him that he had imagined the entire thing. Counselling his own face back into the mask it had held before, he made the appropriate response to his Aunt's greeting.

As he and his cousin took their seats amidst the company of their Aunt, her daughter, her godson and his wife, her curate and his wife and sister, Darcy allowed himself to take a deeper look at the Countess. From his vantage point immediately to the right of his Aunt, he was able to observe her discreetly, unhampered by by the Earl, by whose side she was sitting. His presence might have been a hindrance, had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of Mr Collins, who was conducting a one sided conversation with his Aunt's godson.

He found her much subdued, a contrast to their last meeting, where he had been able to observe how well the ride had brightened her fine eyes, rendered a rosy hue to her face, and untamed her long, tightly coiled hair. By contrast she seemed pale, save for a redness around her mouth, which he was at a loss to comprehend. Allowing his eyes to drift downwards, he soon descried the same stain at the limits of her bodice, sinking in between her breasts. But it was the marks upon her wrists which drew the most attention.

Concealed partially by two ornately jewelled bracelets, was the discoloured bruising indicative of restraints. When he swept his gaze from the injury upwards to her face, it was to meet a gaze from her that conveyed a fair degree of fear. He could only speculate as to the cause behind such evidence, and the emotion with which he reacted to this thought required considerable restraint in preventing himself from rising to his feet and calling the Earl out.

Indeed his anger was such that it was with difficulty that he managed to recall himself to his surroundings, to find his Aunt staring at him, clearly awaiting answer to whatever it was she had deigned to ask him.

"Forgive me, Aunt," he replied, rousing himself from his violent thoughts, "of what were you talking?"

"I hope, nephew, that your inattention is merely a product of your long journey rather than an acquired habit," Lady Catherine remarked by way of admonishment. "As it is, I was recollecting my advice to my godson which I delivered to him on his first evening in my company, concerning the continuing establishment of his bloodline. It is wisdom that I believe you would do well to follow, being as you are but two years his junior. You have had the management of the Darcy estates for five years now. Surely enough time has passed for you to be able to direct yourself to other duties required by society."

Her inference was clear; she expected him to raise the issue regarding her and, as she frequently claimed, his mother's favourite wish, although Darcy could not recall Lady Anne mentioning anything of the sort in his presence. "Indeed, Aunt, I came into Kent with no other view," he replied, leaving her surprised, along with the rest of his immediate family.

Lady Catherine was too highly pleased by his response to recollect that the words could convey entirely different meanings that would necessitate an outcome which was contrary to her wishes. "It is high time that you address these concerns, nephew. As I said to my godson upon his first evening here, the begetting of heirs is an important endeavour, one which you should be wary of entertaining late in life. The Earl has been married two years before I reminded him of this task, and I hope that you, nephew, will not allow a similar period of time to elapse before your own bloodline is allowed to prosper."

Darcy nodded, directing a glance to Elizabeth as soon as his Aunt's attention was focused elsewhere, in time to observe that her colour had paled even further, allowing him to draw a swift conclusion as to what his Aunt's wisdom had led the Earl to do during their stay. He would have to act quickly if he desired to remove her from her husband's household, lest other signs of his treatment began to show themselves, preventing such departures.

Persuading the Countess of the wisdom in his plans however, would doubtless prove a difficult endeavour. Clearly the Earl's actions had conspired to produce an even greater fear of his person than she had already possessed, one which only time and distance could hope to erase. Despite the extraordinary conversation between them during their last encounter he could hardly presume on her trust; measures would have to be taken to earn such favour from her throughout the duration of their stay. Providing that is that he was able to procure her company, and bring matters regarding the desired union between himself and his cousin to a speedy end.

As Darcy silently began to compose the conversation which he was likely to be having with his Aunt, reprieve for Elizabeth came in the form of that lady's request that she favour the company with a song, performed upon the instrument situated in the next room, whose opened doors would permit Lady Catherine and her guests the privilege of hearing such music. Rising from her seat with some care, for the Earl's increasing intentions upon her had caused much more damage than that which was readily apparent about her person, the Countess walked slowly towards the pianoforte.

Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her nephew, till her attention was drawn to the the actions of her other blood relation. Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see additions to the usual party with which he was met at Rosings, indeed anything was a welcome relief to him, and Mrs Collins' pretty sister had moreover caught his fancy very much.

Upon entering the room he had seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, 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, as well as of the Earl. His 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 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 were 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 are 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 true proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident she would have performed delightfully."

It was with some irony that her ladyship managed to deliver this speech while ignoring the fine piece of composition which the Countess was now performing. But that her attention had been caught was enough, causing Darcy to rise from his post and move with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte, stationing himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance.

Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and her fear at how the Earl might interpret such actions on his part arose within her to such a degree that it was to the testament of her talent that no evidence of such emotion flowed through her performance. At the first convenient pause, he said to her softy, "I do not mean to frighten you, milady, by coming to hear you."

"I shall not say that you are mistaken," she replied, raising her gaze from the sheet music before her to observe that his station not only allowed a full view of her countenance but also shielded the two of them from the company within the other room, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of being alarmed by you.”

"I am glad to hear it," he returned. "I hope your time in Kent has been agreeable. The countryside hereabouts features much in the way of lanes in which to lose oneself, and I recollect from our previous acquaintances that you have professed yourself to be a great walker. Indeed I know you to be a magnificent horsewoman from my own observation."

Elizabeth frowned as she endeavoured to conjecture what he might mean through this unconnected enquiries and compliments concerning her pleasures in solitary walks. Catching his intense gaze, she soon realised that he meant to secure a moment alone with her, in a location where no interruption to their conversations would occur. Discerning his motive was another, far easier matter, for he could only mean to raise the subject which had existed between them during their last solitary encounter.

That things had worsened since their last meeting clearly had not escaped his notice; his coming to see her, his close observation of her whilst in the company of his Aunt, and finally his continued stance which served to hide her from the Earl all spoke of his knowledge as to the misery of her situation. "There is a open grove towards one side of the park, where there is a sheltered path that no one seems to value but myself and where I feel beyond the reach of the Earl's curiosity."

"Thank you, milady," Darcy acknowledged the nature of her confidence with small inclination of his head. "I shall endeavour to insure that the perverseness of mischance shall bring us together in such a favourite haunt."

Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who approached them, and after listening for a few minutes, said to Darcy, "“Elizabeth does not play at all amiss. She has had the advantage of a London master thanks to my godson, the Earl, and must merely practice diligently. 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 learn."

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

If anyone served to witness the seemingly unexpected meeting of Mr Darcy and the Countess of Saffron Walden, both desired to appear as being brought together by wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, consisting of a merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause, before turning back and walking together , as gentlemen feel themselves obliged to do when in the company of a lady.

As no such perverseness of mischance occurred however, they were able to conduct their rendezvous with some ease, meeting in the middle of the sheltered walk, having entered the path from the opposite ends of Rosings and Blisstham.

Darcy was the first to arrive, and thus able to observe the approach of the Countess, the walk being here less sheltered than on the other side, allowing him to see her before they met. At no great distance, he could easily establish that some discomfort lay within the manner of her walk, along with the care she took to ensure that her garments might shield herself from any unforeseen incursion from the fine weather.

Aware that his emotions would remain difficult to keep in check if he allowed himself to speculate as to the real reason for such modesty, Darcy forced himself to focus on how best to approach her. There was little recourse to be had by talking of general matters such as the state of the roads and the weather, yet to directly begin with the subject which preoccupied both of them would undoubtedly serve to wrench a fair amount of fear from her. Yet he was also of the opinion that she would not care to raise the matter first herself.

It was therefore to his surprise however that her first remark upon joining him was almost a direct reference to the affair. "I risk a great deal by coming here to see you. If the Earl knew of your interest, the damage to my situation would only increase."

"Then I am grateful that you chose to risk such dangers, and I admire your courage in doing so," Darcy replied. He held out his arm to her. "In light of such information, it would be best if we continued to walk."

After some hesitation, the Countess took his arm, and they rambled along together. "How long do you intend to sojourn in the company of your Aunt and cousins?"

"That depends on the result of the conversation I plan to have with Lady Catherine," Darcy explained. "I came into Kent with the intention of disappointing a favourite wish of hers, regarding a union between myself and my cousin Anne."

Elizabeth nodded in understanding, as she came to recall the many allusions which her husband's godmother had made concerning her daughter to her nephew the evening before. "Such a match is not to you or your cousin's liking, I may infer."

"Once, last summer, I came close to capitulating to her wishes, " Darcy confessed. "My sister, Georgiana, whose guardianship is under the care of Colonel Fitzwilliam and myself, was taken out from her school and given an establishment in Ramsgate, under the care of a Mrs Younge, in whose character we were unhappily deceived. Unbeknownst to myself, she had made the acquaintance of the son of my father's steward, a George Wickham."

To his surprise, Elizabeth gasped in recognition of the name. "I believe I know something of this man. His name has been mentioned by my sisters as a great favourite member of the militia who are quartered in Meryton."

"Yes, it is the same man, as Georgiana and I discovered when we came to stay with Bingley at Netherfield." Darcy paused before continuing. "George Wickham was my father's godson, and in gratitude for the service which his father had done, my father saw to his education, with the intent of providing him a living in the Church. We played together as children, and attended Cambridge, where Wickham's behaviour was as dissolute as his manners were engaging.

"My excellent father died about five years ago, and his attachment to Wickham was to the last so steady, that he left him a legacy of a thousand pounds, and recommended to me to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow, and if he took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant.

"But Wickham declined any interest in the church, and hoped that I should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment, by which he could be benefited. He had some intention of studying the law. I wished rather than believed him to be sincere, so an agreement was drawn up between us, where he resigned all claim to assistance in the church, and accepted in return three thousand pounds.

"For about three years I heard little of him, but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had once been designed for him, he applied to me again by letter for the presentation. His circumstances, he assured me and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He had found the law an unprofitable study, if indeed he had even taken up the profession in the first place, for his life was always one of idleness and dissipation."

"I hope you refused him," Elizabeth remarked, greatly shocked by the tale, "to go through a sum so great as four thousand pounds in three years, to then presume on your nature and trust him not only with a living, but the salvation of a parish, marks gravely against his character."

"Indeed I did refuse him, and his resentment was in proportion to his the distress of his circumstances, and he was doubtless as violent in his abuse of me to others, as in his reproaches to myself. All connection between us seemed now at an end, until last summer when he intruded painfully upon myself and my sister's notice. You have met Georgiana, and seen how fragile her character is, a state affected by Wickham's persuading her to believe herself in love with him, in order that he might revenge himself upon me, and gain her dowry of thirty thousand pounds. He intended for them to elope, but fortunately he was prevented, by my joining them in Ramsgate unexpectedly.

"This near ruin of my sister persuaded me that I had neglected her somehow, by focusing on the management of my estates, by delinquency in providing her with someone in whom we could both trust. Since a stranger had failed, I sought to establish a more familiar connection, by marrying my cousin. So the summer before I went to Netherfield, I returned here, with the intention of asking Anne to marry me.

"I found Lady Catherine to be visiting a neighbour of hers, and in her absence Anne had called for a physician from London to attend upon her person. I was allowed the privilege of witnessing his diagnosis, which rendered my visit pointless. Her health is too delicate to risk the establishment of heirs to Rosings or Pemberley. She pleaded with me that I might find another, whom I could care for, and until recently, I feared such an endeavour would be impossible."

He finished this with a look directed towards her, whose meaning was unmistakable. Elizabeth felt the intensity of his gaze, and wondered at the measurement. "How can you profess such, after so short an acquaintance?"

"I cannot explain it," he confessed. "From the first moments of our acquaintance, I have come to feel for you an attraction which despite all my struggles has never faded. Had you been happily married, I would have striven to rid myself of the feelings, but you gave me to believe otherwise during our last encounter, and from my observation yesterday, such circumstances have only worsened."

"Whether such is the case," Elizabeth allowed, "what can you possibly do to provide relief? I am subject to my husband, one of the richest Earls in the country."

"I can offer you sanctuary," Darcy revealed. "If you are willing, I could take you from this place into my household as a guest of my sister."

"For how long?" Elizabeth queried. "Forty days and forty nights, or until perhaps he endangers himself on one of his reckless vices?"

"For as long as you wished, and as holy as the church used to render it," he promised. "I'm not asking you to make a decision immediately, I know there are matters which you need to consider, and I have yet to speak with my Aunt regarding her wishes, but I desire you to know of my intentions, in order to give you the time you need."

"And what shall we do in the meantime?" Elizabeth asked as they neared the environs of her husband's estate.

"Spend what time we can together, with the aim of furthering our acquaintance, so you may come to trust me as much as I trust you," he replied, before gently letting go of her arm, as they reached the gate which marked the entrance of Blisstham.

Elizabeth parted from Mr Darcy at the gate of the drive to Blisstham. The path before her led to the house in such a way as to obscure him from the view of any who might be inside, making it appear as though she had returned from the parsonage alone. Which was how she preferred it to be for now.

Though she had known of his coming and possessed a fair idea of what it would inevitably include, Elizabeth was by no means ready to let the situation become reality. His expression when they had parted that day after her sister's wedding, had made his intentions clear enough.

At first she had not allowed herself to admit it, nor let her mind entertain the possibility, and what answer she might give him. Then, when she had heard of his coming to Rosings, the response had come upon her so suddenly as to make every thing within her revolt against it. For a time she had chosen to ignore it, believing that he was not serious in his intentions, that she had misunderstood his expression.

His arrival put all that doubt and any emotion that came along with it to bed immediately. For, from the moment she had possessed the courage to raise her eyes to his own in the Drawing Room of Rosings Park, that expression returned to his face.

And Elizabeth now knew that she had responded to it. She had not realised her expression at the time, but now, as she recalled his response, she knew that her heart had declared before her mind what would be her destiny. The understanding of it was almost terrifying to her.

Yet her heart was welcoming, and she had almost been unable to prevent him from speaking about it just now. Thoughts of her accepting him had made her naturally think of the worst consequences that could occur. It was the first time she had contemplated such a notion; at least one involving the protection of another. A part of her feared what it might entail. What she might owe him.

But another part of her welcomed the prospect, however, and it was with these two conflicting emotions in mind that Elizabeth had made herself want to wait until her heart and her mind had firmly declared to her jointly in favour of either yes or no.

Until then, she should just carry on with her everyday life, spending time with him when circumstances permitted them to be alone and unnoticed. That, she hoped, would help her decide which course of action to follow.

Chapter XIV.

Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had not earned his title by his family's position and connections in Society. All that had earned him was his first commission. It was his intelligence and natural ability in the art of soldiery which had got him the rest of the way up the ladder, and now in charge of his own battalion in the Life Guards.1

Senior to his cousin Darcy by only two years, and having all the appeal of a second son, he had begun and still maintained a close friendship with him, providing many a voice for advice and counselling, even when the man became master of Pemberley and all its estates.

Fitzwilliam was the fellow that Darcy turned to when this inherited gift became a burden, and in turn the Colonel was provided with that most precious of luxuries; his cousin's unswerving but rarely bestowed loyalty. Richard knew Darcy to be an honourable man, ruled by his sound principles, a very good brother and a rarely shocked friend.

Thus, Fitzwilliam was most surprised when his cousin announced to him his intentions concerning the Countess of Saffron Walden. Richard could not recall a time when he had been more shocked. He could not speak a word for a full ten minutes. When at last he did find the words, they could not have been more blunt. "Have you lost your mind!?!"

Darcy, who from originally sitting opposite him to tell the tale, had now moved to stand in front of the window, a habitual pose for when a conversation deeply touched his heart. "If when one is lost in love one is presumed to be out of his mind, then yes perhaps I have, Fitzwilliam."

"Seriously Darce," Richard continued, "have you really thought all this through? Do you have any idea what will happen when, and I do not mean if, the scandal of it comes out?"

"Have you really so little in faith in me?" his cousin replied. "Do you not think that such a man as I would have not spent many weeks and months running through all the consequences in my mind? Fitzwilliam, I have not decided to embark on this course of action purely because I am in love with the lady. If I could see that she was happy in her marriage, then I would not dream of removing her from it, either by choice or by force. But I know for certain that she is not."

"For certain?" Richard echoed. "You have already asked her?"

Darcy described the day that they had met riding in between the fields of Netherfield and Stoke Edith, and what had passed in their conversation there, along with what he had observed during their first evening together at Rosings, and the conclusions which the evidence led him to form, as well as the substance of the conversation which he had with her the day before.

"If this is true," Richard commented after a while, "and I am not implying if it is that or if it is false in any way, then why has not the lady herself endeavoured to find some way out of the marriage?"

"Because she cannot afford to," Darcy answered. "You know as well as I do, the terms of the last Earl's will. Its details were made clear to almost all of Society. The wealth in its entirety passes solely to the next in line. None of it is delegated to the wife or any issue of the heir until the present holder of the title is deceased. Any that they have is due to the will of the present Earl alone. And you know that his reputation is hardly that of a generous soul. Which means the Countess could only rely on the goodness of her family, which would not get her very far."

"And so you are offering all the means which are at your disposal?" Richard surmised, to which his cousin nodded. Leaning back in his chair, the Colonel clasped his hands behind his head. "You realise of course how this will look to everyone else, including those who know you?"

"It is not uncommon, Fitzwilliam. But yes, I know it will look to others as though I have another, less honourable motive in pursuing this. And, to be frank, I don't care what they think, be it family, friend or stranger." Darcy paused and turned his back on the window. "The only opinions I do care about are Georgiana's, the Countess', and yours."

"So you haven't chosen to confide in her new brother in law?"

Darcy hesitated before replying, "No. I did not want to put Bingley in a difficult position."

"Yes, I see your point," Richard conceded. He returned to his previous position in the chair. "Darce, don't take this the wrong way, but have you an ulterior motive in pursuing this mission?"

His cousin heaved a sigh and sat back in the armchair opposite him. "I'm not a monk," he eventually began, his face solemn, "you know that. I may not practice what other men my equal usually participate in, and nor do I approve of the dubious fashion. And I will not deny that, if the opportunity was presented to me, I would be strongly tempted. But I would not take the step, not unless she was as willing as I. It would never feel right otherwise."

Richard smiled slightly in response to that. "Good to see you are still thinking about this as rationally as you deal with any matter. Now, dare I ask; have you spoken to Georgiana?"

Darcy judged his expression before replying, "Yes, I spoke to her when I was in London, after Bingley's wedding."

"And what is her opinion?"

"She likes the Countess very much. She approved."

Richard found himself smiling again at that. "Yes, I cannot imagine Georgie not approving of any woman you fell in love with or vice versa."

Darcy leaned back in the leather and displayed the same expression for the first time in the conversation. "You haven't met Caroline Bingley."

Richard chuckled. "No, but I remember your expression when Bingley mentioned his sister once between us all." He chuckled once more, then returned to his previous seriousness. "All right. You asked for my opinion and I shall give it, though I never dreamt of being required to provide one on this subject. I have yet to properly form an acquaintance with her, but I know you very well. I know how highly you hold your notions of honour, principles, and loyalty. Therefore, I can give no other answer but this. You have my blessing. And my unbending support."

His cousin smiled for the second time in the conversation. "Thank you Richard," he uttered, dropping the formality of surnames. "You know I will do my best to make sure that you never find yourself regretting that assurance."

"I know."

Later, when the morning had faded into afternoon, Richard walked with his cousin to the Parsonage, where he found occasion to properly meet the Countess of Saffron Walden. The time they spent in conversation together could not have lasted more than half an hour, but it was enough for him to form an opinion of her, and her suitability for his cousin.

Aside from the undeniable fact that she was married, Richard could not help but approve of her. She displayed all the wit of a highly intelligent woman, and none of the usual arrogance that the other woman of that rank tended to display, when they thought themselves so.

Her loyalty to her friends and relatives, he saw having the equal measure of his cousins. Most importantly of all, her interests in literature, music, and travelling, exactly complimented Darcy's. In short, Richard approved, and he could think of few who would not.

He conveyed this much to his cousin. Not vocally, for the visit did not give them such a chance, but silently, with a look, which Darcy, knowing him as well as he did, could interpret without any difficulty. Then, feeling his task done, Richard resumed what had been his previous occupation.

That was, conversation with the Countess' friend. Miss Charlotte Lucas. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam could not deny that he felt a certain fascination for Miss Lucas. Upon first meeting her, he had perceived her to be unusual, having a younger sister married before her, a contradiction it seemed when he was confronted with her practical nature.

Within minutes he had concluded that she would have gladly taken her unwilling sister's place in the match with Mr Collins, and not out of any regard, personal or sisterly, but because the one thing he could provide was a reasonably respectable good home.

Having been referred to as the eternal bachelor nearly all his life, Richard had naturally been quite surprised by this turn of thought. He had always been so military in his emotions and frame of reasoning. Love had never been something he felt he could afford, having been always the second son. Second son of one of the richest Earls in the country mind you, but still second son. His birth had not granted him the luxury that his cousin and his brother possessed.

His profession had also been limited, because he was the son of an Earl, to the military or to the priesthood. He had chosen the former because he had a natural aptitude for the life, something which had presented him with the luck of rapid promotion, rather than choosing to rely on the weight of seniority and payment for the rank, as did most younger sons of gentlemen. But he was also well aware, however, that a Colonelcy did not count for much in terms of wealth.

He could live comfortably off the income, but a wife would be hard pressed to in his circle of Society, unless she had a significant monetary worth of her own. This was something which Richard always accepted without question, and something he had never believed he would ever contemplate, as he had never felt himself to be close to falling in love.

That is, until now. To others, reaching this conclusion might have seemed to be too fast, too soon, but Richard was a military man, and as such, his judgement on any situation could usually be relied on to be swiftly formed. A soldier had to possess that ability, as his day to day routine required him to act instantly, or suffer deadly consequences. Their first instinct was always their first port of call, for, the more experienced they became, the less likely it was to be wrong.

And his first instinct on this fascination was that he was about to fall in love. Rarely had his instinct taken him by surprise. In fact, until this moment, it never had. And, having never been in love before, Richard did not know what he should do next.

His brother's courtship had been like many others in Society: a mutual evaluation of each other's potential and existing wealth, followed by a suitable number of public appearances together, before the proposal was conducted and the approvals sought.

His cousin's was obviously going to form an outwardly scandalous end, though Richard knew that the reality would differ entirely from what Society believed it to be. And while he waited to gain the lady's acceptance on the matter, Richard knew that Darcy would never press. Like himself his cousin was a most patient man.

When he reached this thought, Richard realised that he already knew what he would do. He would wait. Pursue the acquaintance, and wait until his regiment called him back to barracks for service in Spain. Only by then would he know for definite what his feelings were for her.

And, by default, what Miss Lucas felt for him.

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 XV.

With the not very tempting attraction of Lady Catherine's company at Rosings, it was not hard to suppose that her nephews would frequently take opportunities to amuse themselves elsewhere. All field sports were over. Within doors, apart from their Aunt and their cousin, there were books and a billiard table, but gentlemen cannot always be within doors; and in the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walk to it, or of the people that resided or visited the place daily, the two cousins found themselves tempted to walk there almost everyday.

They called at various times of the morning, sometimes together, sometimes separately. What their attractions were for the place, their Aunt could not claim to know of, for she believed the nightly experience of her parson and his guests, along with her godson and his wife to be enough for the enjoyment of their company. Nevertheless, she was unable to persuade them from desisting in the exercise, as she discovered only after they had returned if either of them had gone at all.

Elizabeth knew the reasons for one of them to visit, her own declared attendance upon the parsonage for the company of Charlotte was excuse enough, and, while she felt herself still unable to accede to those plans Darcy held, she did not desist from accepting his escort from Hunsford to Blisstham. His company was far from unpalatable to her, despite the possible consequences that might ensue.

She still found him to be everything that was amiable and good, along with the perception that her husband did not hold, which was that ladies could display the same intellect in subjects as men. There was an understanding between them that, while it had not been vowed aloud, made them as intimate with each other in conversation as any sibling, or even husband and wife, which, at present, neither wished to change unless the other was also willing.

Thus the Countess had deduced the reasons for one of the gentlemen's preferences for visiting the parsonage almost every day, and soon she had concluded the reasons of the other. While not presuming to obtain the confidence of it from either party, Elizabeth soon learnt of the Colonel's feelings for her friend. During a brief lapse in conversation with her own- she could suppose him to be termed -'suitor,' she had glanced at the two, and observed an expression upon Colonel Fitzwilliam's face that was impossible to interpret in any other way than one of love.

Having discovered this, she attempted to see if she could also discover the existence in some degree, of the same on her friend's side, and in the same manner, before she came out and asked. Elizabeth knew her friend's nature leaned to the more practical, but had always hoped her to be blessed in love, whatever the situation of her suitor.

Surprise however, was still her initial first emotion when she observed the same interest displayed in Charlotte's manner. That emotion though was soon replaced by happiness for her friend, as Elizabeth observed them together more and more throughout each day, soon coming to the opinion that they were entirely suited for each other.

Having formed this conclusion in her mind, Elizabeth set about discreetly confirming its reality, discussing the Colonel in some outside form, which did not convey her suspicions outright, with Charlotte. Within four or five conversations upon the subject did she soon have her friend blushing, as her teasing revealed more than Charlotte wished.

Leaving the parsonage after this conversation, Elizabeth lingered in her favourite grove for a time, only to have her hopes of encountering Mr Darcy walking along the same path, disappointed. There had been no prior arrangement between them to meet, but she felt a certain amount of emotion from such a deprivation, which caused her to draw a comparison between her own situation against that of her friend, finding one of them wanting in terms of felicity.

Her days spent walking with Mr Darcy had felt like a courtship, which she began to realise was exactly what it had been. Over the course of their walks they had exchanged views concerning their childhoods, preferences on everything from Cowper, Scott and Pope, to sentiments on philosophy, classics, the picturesque, religion, politics. A few days spent in just enjoying his company, had done nothing to ease all of the fear within her, concerning what might happen if she acceded to his proposal, but it was her worries as regards to his safety rather than her own which gave her pause for thought at present.

Though she did not see any of the outside world in which her husband and herself lived, Elizabeth was not naive about the many examples of society's behaviours which she might now be facing for herself . Before her marriage she had heard about and sometimes observed many of the more infamous scandals when she spent time with the Gardiners in London.

Such observation could not be more capable of impressing itself upon her now. There was not one case that Elizabeth had seen to resolve itself satisfactorily to all concerned. The woman of the party was invariably left in a ruinous state, either after a messy divorce, an equally messy duel, or when she had fallen with child of the man of the party. Or else both parties had returned to their previous partners, and the affair was embarked upon openly with the acceptance of all affected by the event.

The latter, considering her husband's character, was not an outcome that Elizabeth expected if she did decide to embark upon such a course. Nor did she expect him to consider a divorce, even though Darcy had money enough to carry it through. No, she knew all too well what actions the Earl would take if she chose to accept Mr Darcy's proposal.

He would follow her to the ends of the earth, as any defeat of that nature would be a grievous insult to his character. And Elizabeth knew his skills in the sports which would doubtless follow or be the prelude to her reluctant return to him, whereas she could only suppose what Darcy was capable of.

Halfway home, she came to a abrupt halt, and wondered suddenly what she was thinking of. She who had usually been so incapable of fearing a man with such character as her husband. She had sworn once only to marry for the deepest love, why should she disregard that emotion now, if she felt it for Mr Darcy in favour of the brute she had married?

To all outward appearances he was not a man who would be defeated by the Earl, and, when presented with the example of his behaviour concerning his sister, Elizabeth could be reasonably assured of his steadfast protection of her, should she choose to accept him. She was not one to be swayed by what others thought of her. Why was this venture something she regarded with fear?

Barely a mile did she pass on, before her mind had brought her the answer. Because she feared that the worst she could imagine had a possibility of occurring. That the Earl would be able to find her. Or that Darcy might tire of her, leaving her with no other alternative but to return to the marital home that was her present nightmare. A situation which would no doubt become even worse because of her attempt at freedom.

All the present comforts which she used as reasons to bear the situation would certainly be swept away, as he made her a virtual prisoner at his home, kept only for the supply of an heir, before being quietly done away with. Her family would inevitably hear of it, those who lived in Meryton would talk much about it, and the ruin of the prospects of her remaining unmarried sisters would duly follow.

As for Darcy, if he was not killed by the Earl in a duel, he would be unable to marry well and secure the survival of his family, because his reputation would be ruined also.

The fears, however nonsensical and devoid of probability they might appear to be, when considered rationally, overwhelmed Elizabeth so suddenly and, to such a degree, that she was unable to push the thoughts of them aside. By the time evening had come that day, her mind was in so much turmoil that she felt unable to face anyone but herself that night, as dinner in Darcy's company would inevitably betray some part of her thoughts, not only to him but to everyone else present.

Yet the Earl would not hear of her remaining at home, far removed from his watchful eye, under the care of a household in whom he did not fully trust. That her attendance upon his godmother was required he declared and expected her to submit to, just as she did regarding all other tenets of their marriage which had been enforced during their sojourn in Kent.

It was with a heavy heart that she entered the carriage, her gaze settling on the passing countryside away from the husband who entered to sit across from her, tapping the hilt of his walking stick to the roof as the signal for their departure. As the carriage trundled along she felt a strange sensation of everything closing in upon her, akin to the darkness she endured when her husband pressed her against the pillows in his rough ministrations. Yet here everything was bright and loud, the pounding of her heart beating in time to the pounding of the horses' hooves outside.

She took a deep breath, then another, until slowly the sensation began to pass and she felt like herself again. Glancing outside, she was disconcerted to discover that they had reached the formal gardens of Rosings already. The entrance was but a short approach, and she felt no readier to welcome company than before she left.

The equipage came to a halt outside the door, whereupon the Earl opened the door and descended from the vehicle, brushing aside any attempt at assistance from the servants of his godmother's household who came rushing from the halls within to render their service. He turned, holding out a hand to her, with a firm inscrutable expression splayed across his features which brooked no opposition.

Elizabeth felt all the indignity of accepting his hand as much as submitting to his nightly ministrations, even more so when his tight grip served to all but crush her slender fingers. He led her up the steps inside to the grand imposing hall, where the footmen rushed from outside to help divest them of their coats. Such freedom which such movements offered was rapidly relinquished as he all but carried her into the drawing room.

Along with his cousin and the vicar Darcy rose as they entered, his eyes fixing immediately upon the symbols of her imprisonment. Acquiring only a moment to comprehend the situation, he swiftly raised them to decipher the fear behind her expression of composure, before fixing his own on the Earl, who nearly blanched as he received the violence contained therein.

His grip of his wife faltered and it was all Darcy could to restrain himself from seizing upon such an opportunity. As it was, he soon had reason to do so, when the Countess swayed in response to the sudden loss of her husband's support. Nimbly catching her arm before she could fall further, he helped her sink down into a nearby armchair.

"Is there anything you can take for your present relief?" he asked her softly, his stance shielding her from the curiosity of her husband and his godmother. "A glass of wine, shall I get you one?"

"I thank you no," Elizabeth answered shakily, "'tis merely a headache, I'm sure it will pass soon enough."

Once more his gaze swept across her womanish form, far more intimately than a gentleman should allow himself. Understanding swiftly reached his temples, penetrating far beyond, and with a deft motion he swung round to capture the attention of his Aunt.

"Lady Catherine, if you'll forgive me, the Countess is suffering from an indisposition which prevents her from enjoying the pleasure of your company this evening. If you will allow me, I shall escort her to the family wing and instruct the servants to find appropriate measures for her relief."

Without waiting to receive her reply, he swept Elizabeth into his arms and carried her out of the room, up a flight of stairs, before entering a room where an impressive display of blue coloured furnishings adorned an opulent four poster bed. Laying her gently amongst the pillows and sheets, he called out to his valet with directions to fetch Mrs Jenkinson's maid, whom he judged the most competent of his Aunt's household.

"I hope you'll forgive me for my impetuosity," he remarked to her as he seated himself in a chair by the writing desk, which he manoeuvred closer to the bed.

"There is nothing to forgive," Elizabeth assured him, "your attentions have been most solicitous and proper."

"In a moment, after I seen to it that Mrs Jenkinson's maid will not allow anyone to disturb you, I will leave you to your silence and solitude," he added. "If you'll forgive my impertinence, I confess that I cannot help but feel some relief at your indisposition. I was concerned that your desire to delay any acceptance to my proposal was perhaps due to another condition."

Elizabeth blushed at his inference, realising that his comprehension must derive from his devotion to his sister and the immediate aftermath of the circumstances which he had recently confided in her. "I hope you are right, sir. It has taken me quite by surprise, I am not usually so indisposed."

Darcy was grateful that they were alone, for he was unable to restrain the grimace which arrested his features in response. "I hope that has naught to do with your husband, but I fear such is indeed the case."

She flinched at the reference to the Earl. "He has been quite adherent to his godmother's pearls of wisdom."

"Though they are often naught but pearls cast before swine," Darcy commented wryly.

"Artificial pearls," Elizabeth countered.

"Yes, but real swine," he returned. "You hope that I am right?" he inquired suddenly. " Did you suspect otherwise?"

"Not suspect, fear that such could come to pass," Elizabeth confessed. "I cannot even contemplate what I would do if such a circumstance were to arise."

"You need not dread a withdrawal of my offer," Darcy informed her. "Indeed I would think it became imperative that you accepted my protection."

"You would bear such a complication," Elizabeth murmured, unable to believe what he was saying.

"I would bear anything to know that you are safe from his ministrations," he assured her, with such a look that left her in no doubt of his sincerity.

"How would it work?" she found herself softly asking him.

Understanding her, he rose from his chair and crossed to the writing desk. After scratching at a piece of card for but a moment, he was before her once more, his hand bearing one of his calling cards. "The directions for my townhouse in Grosvenor Square and Pemberley. You need only present this to the staff at either of them and you would be welcomed into my household as a guest of myself and my sister."

Elizabeth hesitated but a moment before taking the proffered card from him and secreting within a pocket about her skirts. "What would happen then?" she queried. "Would you call him out?"

"Only for au premier sang1," Darcy answered, "I consider such an end not grave enough in terms of what he has suffered you to endure. As soon as events allowed us, we would go to Pemberley, where we would remain for as long as it is necessary."

At that moment, Mrs Jenkinson's maid knocked on the door, leaving Elizabeth no time to ask what he meant by his parting words. Darcy called out for the servant to enter, and after instructing her to see to the Countess' comfort before he left her for the drawing room.

Lady Catherine was still talking when Darcy entered, paying her nephew no more than a cursory glance as he surveyed the room in order to locate the Earl. He was seated by himself, with a eye directed towards the door, by which watchful movement Darcy presumed he was waiting only for his return before leaving the room to check on his wife.

Silently he walked over to him, coming to a standstill before him, his figure shielding their conversation from the curious eyes of the company. In soft voice aimed to be audible to naught but the two of them, but laced with steel, he said, "If you ever lay a finger of abuse upon your wife again, I will demand satisfaction."

Without waiting for the Earl's response, Darcy returned to his Aunt's side, where he remained for the rest of the evening, his watch on the Earl never ceasing, until the scoundrel was safely in his carriage, without his wife.

*: au premier sang; the terms of duelling with swords were usually agreed by seconds, either to the point of disablement, sometimes to au premier sang (first blood), or sometimes for an agreed number of rounds. Weapons were compared to ensure that they were the same size. Duelling pistols were often kept in pairs, loaded by the seconds to prevent sabotage.

In the case of pistols, eighteenth century England deemed a distance of ten paces was required, although the Irish code of 1777 does not specify, merely providing that the challenger chooses an acceptable distance. The American code of duelling in 1838 pronounces 'the usual distance is from ten to twenty paces, as may be agreed on, and the seconds in measuring the ground usually step three feet.'

Chapter XVI.

Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam's continued acquaintance with Miss Charlotte Lucas had only served to confirm all his first feelings about her, and his desire to drop the previously held beliefs concerning the benefits of prudent marriage versus the possible evils of one chosen with no other desire than that of mutual deeply held regard and devotion.

Having established his present opinions thus, being a military man and using therefore all the practicality and instinct which comes with such a profession, Richard was quite ready to fall deeply and hopelessly in love, and accordingly did so with the utmost celerity. All that remained now, was to continue to spend time in the object of his love's company, until he could be reasonably assured that she felt the same way.

He doubted not what would be his family's opinion if he were successful. His cousins would approve, as would his parents and brother, who, it must be said, loved his wife now despite the initial Society courtship, and she returned that emotion. The only person likely to object- and Richard did not doubt that she would -was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She would consider the match to be a disgrace to the position of a second son of an Earl, and would use all the resources that she had at her disposal to try and persuade both him and Miss Lucas out of it.

Not that he cared for his Aunt's opinion concerning what he did with his life. Lady Catherine had always found a reason to be dissatisfied with all of her nephews' and niece's accomplishments, believing that the best they could do was never enough. When Richard had gained the promotion to Colonel, all his Aunt could say upon the event was that it had not been achieved as quickly as she would like, and that he should have chosen to advance himself the way most gentlemen in his position did, by money and influence.

This was a practice which Richard disapproved of, an opinion which he had professed with frequency to Lady Catherine, arguing thoroughly over all of the merits of an earned position of command on a battlefield, as opposed to a bought one, and the superior responsibility which the former gave him. But, like all her opinions, his Aunt remained firm in holding it, causing Richard, like the rest of her nephews and niece, to ignore her and resolve to act in a manner which best constituted his own happiness.

So, it was with this resolution in mind that both he and Darcy took an early breakfast, before Richard would depart from Rosings Park for Hunsford Parsonage. Usually both possessed a mutual desire to vacate the house before their Aunt rose that morning, for she was likely to express a wish that they might spend more time with her and Anne, a pastime which was not currently to their liking.

However, due to the Countess suffering from an indisposition the night before, requiring her to spend the night at Rosings, Darcy lingered at the table, his features displaying a thoughtful countenance as he went about breaking his fast in the same manner of deliberation. His conduct soon drew the observation of his cousin, for despite his attention being pleasantly engaged the evening before with a certain lady of their acquaintance, his experience in the army had led him to keep himself apprised of what else occurred that evening.

Therefore he had not missed the way in which his cousin had shielded the Countess from her husband's view, whisked her out of the room before their Aunt had time to respond to his excuses, and the conversation which he held with the Earl upon the instant of his return. Given the expression which the Earl displayed after Darcy had removed himself to his Aunt's side, Richard could not help but speculate upon the nature of the conversation, his thoughts unable to reach any other conclusion but the one which he was about to air.

"Darcy, do you need me to carry a note to Blisstham Place on my way to Hunsford Parsonage?" he asked his cousin.

Rousing himself from his thoughts, Darcy glanced at the Colonel, evaluating the military man's expression before replying. Becoming the prey of nearly every eligible woman and her family almost from the moment of his majority had forced him to acquire the skill of thinking before spoke, to determine whether a series of words said to him might carry within them a meaning contrary to what was been heard. By extension he had come to acquire a method of descrying the mood of the person who spoke, enabling him to answer fully, although he was by no means an expert in the latter, except perhaps when it came to members of his immediate family, or close confidantes such as his cousin.

"If the Earl lays a hand on her again, then yes I will ask you to convey a note to him," Darcy replied. "If the Countess seeks my protection in the future, then I will ask you to do the same."

Richard was not surprised by his cousin's response, for he had surmised that such would be the case before he asked him. After consuming a measure of his coffee, he remarked, "I need not ask if you are prepared to face the consequences of what you have just undertaken. However I will remind you that we are at war with the usual port of call for such endeavours."

Darcy nodded. "I have no doubt that the grounds of Pemberley will serve such a task adequately." Meeting his cousin's serious mien, he added, "Au premier sang. Although I may wish her free of him, I do not think he deserves such an easy fate at my hand."

The Colonel relaxed a little at hearing such words. "I must confess myself relieved, cousin. Killing is a grave business. Once a man has committed themselves to the act, they emerge from the affair a different person entirely."

"Which is why I held you back from committing the same regarding certain events in Ramsgate," Darcy replied. "The affair almost led one of us to fulfil a desperate resolution, I had no desire for you to spurred into conducting another upon a scoundrel who also deserves a ignominious end."

"Speaking of scoundrels," Richard remarked, "is he still in Meryton?"

"I heard as much when Georgiana and I stayed at Netherfield for Bingley's wedding," Darcy answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason," Richard assured him. "I just wanted to prepare myself when I visited the neighbourhood, lest the surprise of his appearance render me impulsive."

Darcy inclined his head in agreement before rising from his chair. Clasping's cousin's shoulder, he remarked, "In view of such endeavours, I wish you every happiness. Now, I shall be attending to matters about the house for the day, thus I shall not be able to join you on our usual promenade. Please deliver my apologies to those at the Parsonage."

"Of course, cousin," Richard replied, whereupon the two men parted, one for Hunsford, the other for the family wing of the house, where the Countess had spent her night.

As a member of the Guards, the Colonel had acquired a certain speed and dexterity in arriving at destinations on horseback, thus it was not long upon leaving Rosings that he arrived at the Hunsford. After delivering his cousin's regrets to the company at large, and waiting the requisite length of time required for Mr Collins to finish his reply, Richard turned to the source of his real desire to depart the company of his Aunt and cousins, requesting a desire to tour the Parsonage's fine gardens in the pleasure of her company.

Charlotte was happy to acquiesce to his request, and the couple departed the hallowed walls, losing themselves amongst the lush greenery of the surrounding environs.

"So," Charlotte began by way of conversation, for it would not do to be silent through the tour, as some conversation would be required in order for the pleasure of the gardens to be enjoyed fully, although doubtless the current custodian of said greenery would be astonished if he had borne witness to their conversation, if not quite alarmed by the subject matter which it entailed. "Your regiment does not require your services yet, Colonel?"

"I am happy to say that it does not," Richard replied. "Not that I do not look upon the profession as nothing more than a duty, you understand. I made the choice for it myself, and strove to earn by intelligence and experience on the field the position I hold now. But when one is not on active duty, relegated to the position of practically courier for one's General, then the profession can become tiresome, and the company of those not in the same employ, much preferred."

"Active field duty was what that attracted you to the profession, then?"

"Yes. I had not the strongly held desire for religion, which I believe all those who enter it must have, to consider the priesthood. My mind tended to lean to things that were of a more practical nature. Once I had served in a battle, I realised how perfectly suited my character was to the life."

"May I ask, what is it like?"

"At first, it can appear like chaos. But once you find it within yourself to cast aside your fear, and remember your training, you can find a sense of order within. The rules of a battle are very simple. If you are good with your sword, if you can adjust quickly to change, then you live. If you cannot, then you die. You learn to rely on your instinct, to hone it until it becomes a fine tool, something that never lets you down."

"It seems to me a very lonely life."

"Sometimes it can be. However, for those officers or soldiers who are married, it can be perhaps even more dangerous. A bachelor has less to lose, therefore he tends to take more risks, whereas the married man does the opposite in order to live for his wife and his children. For those whose wives and offspring could not join him abroad, it is a worrying time when he is on active duty. There is rarely time to write, and many delays before the letters arrive home. Those wives that accompany their husband to his post have only concern during the battle."

"Reasons why most soldiers or officers stay bachelors," Charlotte remarked. "They cannot often find a woman who possesses the character to withstand all the concern their husband's profession forces upon them."

"Exactly," Richard agreed, pleased that Miss Lucas held the same beliefs as he. "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 travels 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 be hardships to endure during war which few 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 second sons must, unfortunately, frequently sacrifice happiness to prudence.”

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.

It was late afternoon when Charlotte returned to the Parsonage. She took possession of a seat in her room with a clouded mind; full of thoughts and feelings concerning her conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam.

That his attentions seemed definitely to be directed at her, and her answer had appeared to matter to him very much. It was a realisation which caught Charlotte by surprise. Having never fallen in love during the time when a young woman is considered eligible, she had never held any expectation that she would come to feel the emotion when she was well past such an age.

Seven and twenty was not considered a favourable age for marrying for women as it was with men, for the former were apt to lose their bloom, while the latter would be considered as to have entered their prime. Thus, to have fallen in love at that time of her life, Charlotte had been naturally suspicious of the emotion when it had first appeared to her. Yet, as the weeks continued in his company, and the feeling not only persisted, but also strengthened, she found herself unable to doubt those sensations any longer.

And today was the first time she had been able to prove, beyond all possible doubt to herself, that the Colonel returned the emotion. His reaction at her answer to his question could not be interpreted in any other way. Now, for the first time, Charlotte could allow herself to properly judge the merits of such a match, and what her family would think of it.

The military profession may be a popular one at the moment, and one which held much influence because of the war, but sooner or later they would be at peace again. Colonel Fitzwilliam had no house of his own, unlike Mr Collins, who stood to inherit Longbourn. They would have to rely on the good favour of his family.

Yet, Charlotte considered, Mr Collins' profession depended upon Lady Catherine, a demanding woman. The Colonel however, was not yet two and thirty, and had many a chance to gain promotion in a war which showed no signs of ending soon.

But, this promotion depended upon his ability and his luck to survive each battle. Another point to consider was her age. Her parents might be glad to see her finally married and off their hands. Charlotte's opinion and affection for them had undergone a change when she had witnessed the forcing of Maria to accept Mr Collins.

The knighthood had obviously not done as much good to their characters as she thought it had. Her mother still held the desire to outbid Mrs Bennet, while her father could not afford another visit to St James. All they had seen in Mr Collins was the eventual inheritance of Longbourn, not his character or whether their daughter would actually care for him.

All that really mattered, Charlotte concluded before she made a move to dress for dinner, was whether or not she wanted to accept Colonel Fitzwilliam if he made his addresses to her. If she did, then her parents could not stand in her way, because, at seven and twenty, she was of an age to be able to decide for herself.

*: Proper conduct of duels usually required that a note of explanation regarding the insult, or in Darcy's case ultimatum, delivered, before a challenge was formally issued. This challenge would then include the details of where the duel was to be conducted and how. Due to such affairs being considered illegal in England, it was customary for some duellists to seek to conduct the duel abroad, one case going to Germany because of the war with France, although this was not a convenient practise for everyone, so anywhere where privacy could be ensured would satisfy. In Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen implies that Colonel Brandon duelled with Wiloughby over Eliza Williams. It also could be suggested in Pride & Prejudice as Darcy says in his letter to Elizabeth at Hunsford that he wrote to Wickham after Ramsgate.

Volume V.

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