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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version II, Volume III.

Chapter IX.

Matlock was different from Pemberley, though the houses were built in the same style, with hints in both the interiors and exteriors to the designs which predated the current coatings of modernity. But where Pemberley reposed unaffectedly within the nature which surrounded the house, Matlock like Rosings, demanded all the attention required to be paid on the country estate of a prosperous earl.

If when he arrived, Darcy had expected to find some peace here that he could not find at Pemberley, a mere forty miles distant, where every patch of land or every room lent itself to wondering what she would make of it, then he would be sorely disappointed. But he had come for distraction, and so it proved, though the mode and the source varied constantly throughout his stay.

Georgiana was a delight to see, fully recovered from Ramsgate and the brief intrusion of a certain scoundrel in the militia in Meryton whilst they were guests of his friend. Aware now that in two years she would be a debutante, he had slipped the role of father off from his broad shoulders and gradually allowed himself to become a brother to her, as they spent time with each other and their cousins and their uncle and aunt.

She was not the only beauty to see, there were his new cousins Jocelyn and Olivia, the son and daughter of his cousin the viscount and his wife. Jolian had been married but two years, an heiress of fortune and pedigree, whom he highly regarded if not fully loved. She in turn cared for him as much as any wife in a match which was frequently and commonly transacted within the circles of the wealthy and the pedigreed.

But despite all that of their union being something which he did not desire for himself or his sister, they were people he was proud to call cousins, though he was not quite as close to them as he was to Richard, yet. He was honoured that they chose him and Georgiana to be godparents. Many an hour he had spent in their company, his creative eye unable to resist imagining them to be of a much closer connection. If he had come to Matlock to rid himself of this fantasy, it seemed that his heart would do all in its power to prevent it.

When he returned to London, the fantasy was still present, especially when the carriage passed the familiar route into the square that was her home. Alone with only Georgiana in the carriage, he was not insensible of her curiosity, nor that she held such feelings while in Matlock, whenever he appeared lost in thought, or at a loss of what she talking of. If he ever followed through with his plans he would have to explain it to her one day, to open her eyes to another part of the world which he had tried desperately to shelter her from.

A desire born from protection and love he realised, but he wondered now if in hindsight such a practice had been wise. Her ignorance had not prevented Ramsgate any more than her knowledge might have, there was simply no way of knowing. Yet he did question what was the point in sheltering girls until they were deemed women, only to usher them into a world where all vices and proclivities were practiced, however openly or privately, and expect them not only to deal with it, but to accept it and do nothing but continue such misguided teaching.

It was fortunate that when he reached this conclusion the carriage had come to a halt outside the townhouse, and the figure of a familiar friend was waiting outside to greet them, an almost gleeful smile splayed across his face.

"Charles!" Georgiana cried as she descended from the carriage, falling into his arms.

Mr Bingley smiled as he opened his arms to receive the embrace of a young woman whom he had always looked upon as his sister. "Georgiana! How was Matlock?"

"Oh, its usual self," she replied with a shrug of her shoulders. For the siblings nothing quite compared with the wild and untamed beauty that surrounded Pemberley. "Jolian and Onamae are well, and I got to see little Jocelyn and Olivia. How has London been?"

"Splendid, absolutely splendid," he replied, receiving her confusion in response. Somewhat terrified at the prospect of her debutante season in two years time, Georgiana regarded London with a fair amount of healthy suspicion.

"I think I can guess the reason behind such praise," Darcy remarked as he came into hearing, before all of them began to walk the short distance from the street where the coach was standing into the entrance hall of his residence. "He has spent many an evening in Hanover Square, or Gracechurch Street."

Bingley smiled. "Yes, I cannot wait to meet her," Georgiana replied, in reference of her friend's intended.

"And you soon shall," the gentleman assured, "for she departs town for Longbourn after us on the morrow." He glanced ahead, and seeing that his friend was out of hearing distance, added, "and how has your brother been? Distracted?"

"Yes," Georgiana confirmed in low tones, "How did you know?"

"He has been all while he was here," Bingley commented as they came up to the Drawing Room. "Ever since we encountered Jane's sister."

"Miss Bennet's sister?"

"The Countess of Saffron Walden."

"You mean the mysterious one that since his marriage the Earl has only once displayed to Society?"

"The very same. I do believe your brother, according to dearest Jane, is attracted to her."

"Really?" Georgiana glanced at her brother. "He has been distracted most of the time at Matlock. He would not tell me why." She turned back to Mr Bingley. "What do think will happen?"

"I do not know," Bingley answered honestly. "Knowing your brother, I believe that until he has sufficient reason to call the Earl out, he will continue to simply brood upon the matter."

Conversation on the subject ceased at that moment, as the two neared the object of their ruminations. Georgiana happily detailed all that had passed during her stay with her Aunt and Uncle. She commented on the well-being of her cousins, the Viscount and his wife, and on the antics of her little godchildren.

Mr Bingley listened to the conversation, while Darcy gave every appearance of listening, but was actually in spirit, miles away from his sister. Ever since he had departed London, he found it impossible to drive any thoughts of the Countess from his mind. The need to see her, which had arisen from the moment of his parting after their first meeting, had increased tenfold, and if it were not for the occasion of his friend's wedding, he would soon be imposing himself upon her doorstep.

All throughout his stay with his Uncle and Aunt had Darcy argued with himself over the propriety of his desires concerning the Countess. Affairs, he knew well, were rife in his Society, particularly among the Ton, but it was something he had vowed to himself that he would never embark upon.

Now, however, he was seriously contemplating such a notion. Such musings had led to many eloquent debates within his mind, as he thought of the consequences and the possible damage that might be inflicted if he chose to embark upon such a course. Calling the Earl out to duel, although being the preferred option, was not practical, due to its illegality, but the alternative, while the more common, was not palatable to his sense of morals and values either.

But he could not cease thinking of her, and wishing to see her. And he knew, if he did see her as much as he wished, what it would soon lead him to, whether he objected or not to his rationale. This was the first time he had ever felt the need to act against his principles, and as a result, he found himself extremely reluctant to take such an action, however much his feelings might incline him towards it.

All through the evening that Bingley spent with them, and the next day after that, as they departed for Netherfield, did Darcy ruminate upon the subject; arguing the pros and cons of the matter with himself, while the countryside drifted past the carriage window. Beside him his sister glanced at him after every page turn of the novel in her hands. She was concerned, not for the outcome of the situation, but for her brother.

In her view, he had not experienced much happiness in his life, having been her guardian for nearly six years, and master of Pemberley and all the Darcy estates since three and twenty. She was well aware of all that such duties entailed, and the troubles each had brought upon him during the years of his tenure. Like any good sister she wanted him to fall in love, and marry where he found it, believing that such state would not only help to relieve him of some of his burdens, but allow him a freedom which his current troubles denied.

She had not expected him to fall for a woman already in that state. She was not naive about the behaviour of society; the whispers she heard from those at her school and her experiences with Mr Wickham had cured her of that, but she knew how strongly her brother had believed in not following any of their usual vices. Thus this matter, she believed, would cause him more pain than any other concern he had so far had to tackle because it demanded that he ignore his long held beliefs.

Yet, despite all this, she wanted to meet this woman. Anyone whom her brother was entranced by must be by default an intriguing person, worthy of his approval and attraction. Especially since the Countess' reputation was one frequently conjectured upon by all of her friends and family. Her Aunt had speculated to all of those in her acquaintance while she was in attendance about the Countess many an occasion. Very few had seen her when she was presented at Court, and no one had seen her since then.

Georgiana, when she had first heard the stories, had believed it to be a great romance, the stuff of fairy tales. A husband who was so enamoured of his wife that he could not bear to be parted from her by the usual proclivities which were demanded of them through society. Now however, she was more suspicious of the affair. She knew her brother would never attach himself to someone who was already happily attached. No, something had to be wrong, and Georgiana could only wonder at what.

The mystery would be solved only when she would meet the Countess.

Chapter X.

"And, now, I request you all to join me, in raising a glass to their health and felicity in marriage. Mr and Mrs Charles Bingley."

Elizabeth smiled, agreeing entirely, with Mr Darcy's sentiment. It was two days since she had arrived back in Hertfordshire, and this was already the second marriage which she had attended. The first had been the day before, of Miss Maria Lucas, and her cousin Mr William Collins. A not more mismatched pair could be found.

Elizabeth had not spent five minutes in their company before she had concluded the impossibility of any true felicity in their marriage. The one, she had found out, had clearly followed the instructions of his 'esteemed patroness' to the letter, while the other had obviously only accepted due to the persuasions of her parents. She was loathe to imagine how long domestic bliss would last. If indeed it occurred at all for either of them. Poor Maria.

Still, she concluded as her glance surveyed the present, Mr Collins had his good points; one being the confidence to enter into conversation with a person he had never laid eyes upon in his life before. She smiled as she witnessed her husband unable to get away from the ever talkative parson.

The minute Mr Collins had obtained their names, he had quickly decided it was necessary for him to inform the godson of his 'most esteemed' patroness, that Lady Catherine de Bourgh had been in excellent health, four days ago.

"It appears we are connected in more ways than I had previously realised, Countess," remarked a voice at that moment.

Elizabeth turned. "Connected, Mr Darcy?"

In reply he gestured to the two people she had previously been staring at. "Mr Collins' patroness is also my Aunt." He smiled. "Perhaps I should teach your husband how to extricate oneself from Mr Collins' company."

"I would rather that you did not," Elizabeth replied boldly, then quickly seized upon the happy couple as they came towards them, preventing Mr Darcy from replying with anything but the most curious of expressions. "Jane," she began, "congratulations once again."

"Thank you Lizzy," Mrs Charles Bingley replied, her glow of sweet complacency increasing. Happily she clasped her sister's hands, prepared to embrace her close, had it not been for Elizabeth cringing a little in pain. "Lizzy, what is the matter?"

"Oh, its nothing," she replied, almost too quickly, "merely a strain from sleeping upon it last night. Now, you were telling me of your ideas for the East Room....."

The two ladies walked away, leaving the gentlemen to stare after them. Bingley smiled in adoration. "Is she not an angel, Darce?"

Which one are you referring to? Darcy nearly asked in reply, but swiftly remembered to refrain, uttering a noncommittal "hmm," instead, before parting from his friend. Silently his eyes followed the Countess' form around the room, as his mind pondered upon the expression that had accompanied her cry of pain. All too soon he found further evidence for the conclusion it had drawn. The dark red mark briefly uncovered by her hair could not be explained by anything else.

That scoundrel.

Darcy clenched his fist and rapidly rejoined his friend. If he continued in letting his thoughts run down this path, they would lead him into dangerous territory.

Alone once more, Elizabeth breathed a grateful sigh that her sister had not inquired further after her wrist injury. Once again, she was glad that this occasion had required her to wear long evening gloves. Had it been otherwise, the bruise would have immediately been apparent.

The events of the evening that it had occurred were still fresh in her mind. Since then he had not laid a hand on her, and the bruises had faded from her skin. She still shuddered at the thought of it. Unhappily, despite the advantage of hindsight, the incident had been unavoidable. Even if she had told him the truth, told him outright that Mr Darcy had attended along with his friend, she would still have received the attack. The Earl was quite possessive of her, to the extent that he required to know exactly everyone she knew. He also positively hated any single men having an acquaintance with her.

Elizabeth hated every one of his restrictions, and usually found ways and means to evade them. She could only escape his detection so long, however. Sooner or later, someone would carelessly inform him, and he would exact punishment upon her for the concealment. She still did not know how she had managed to keep her pain hidden from Jane the morning after, let alone get out of bed.

She longed to fight back, longed to revenge herself upon him for his treatment of her. But he had broken her resistance long ago. She had believed herself to be in love, and the moment of her awakening from such an illusion, could not have been when she was more vulnerable.

Nervous as she had been of the truth of her mother's description of the wedding night, versus the possible truth of her Aunt's, she had failed to calculate on his being anything but gentle with her. Instead he had forced her every step of the way. Still of her old character, she had resisted as much as possible, only to have every resistance countered by even greater pain. She shivered as she remembered her final attempt at escape, early in the morning.

The door had been locked. What was worse, upon her first try, he had woken and dragged her back to the marriage bed. When he had let her out, four days later, she had been unable to do naught but retire to her own chamber to recover. Since then, he had barely given her a chance to think of any escape.

And she had rapidly realised the futility of such a notion. His staff were loyal to him, she had only her small dowry to assist, and it would not get her very far. Even if she managed to get away, there was hardly anywhere that she could go where he would be unable to find her. Her family would be unable to protect her, and he had assured that she had no friends that could help in London.

But she had not yet given up hope. The idea of escape still continued to exist within her mind, despite the harsh reality. Despite two years of marriage. She was grateful that Fate had not seen fit to give her children yet. She dreaded the Earl getting his hands on anything so small and so precious.

And she knew that the difficulty for her to escape would be even greater. She had done nothing to prevent their arrival, but two years had passed and still there were none. And although she dearly would have liked a child, she was grateful that they had yet to come along.

Elizabeth sighed, knowing that this present subject was not really something she should be thinking of, on this, the day of her sister's marriage, but once she had begun, she could not think of anything else.


The interruption could not have come at a better time. Elizabeth turned gladly to the source with a smile. "Mr Darcy."

He gestured to the young, clearly bashful, woman beside him. "May I present my sister to you? Georgiana, this is Jane's sister, the Countess of Saffron Walden."

Perceiving instantly the lady's shyness, Elizabeth held out her hand in greeting and remarked, "I very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy. I have heard so much about you from Mr Bingley."

"I am glad to meet you as well, Countess," Miss Darcy replied shyly. "I have had heard much of you as well."

Seeing Miss Darcy's brother hovering anxiously, Elizabeth endeavoured to draw the girl out, and was pleased when her shyness disappeared nearly half an hour later. Remembering from Mr Bingley's frequent visits to the Earl's town house, that he had spoken of Miss Darcy's fondness for music and art, Elizabeth had begun to speak of the former, which she had more knowledge and experience on, and was glad to see the lady brighten immediately.

Soon they were speaking deeply upon the subject, even drifting into a gentle debate, as they discussed the merits of the harp verses the pianoforte. Occasionally this involved Mr Darcy, who, Elizabeth found to her surprise, had also some skill in the field, and she had been happy to see another facet of his character revealed, as he looked kindly, encouragingly, and proudly upon his sister.

Later, when she was in the company of her sister and brother in law once more, Elizabeth found out even more to give her pause for thought about her recent acquaintances. She had learnt from Mr Bingley how Mr Darcy's parents had both died while his sister was still very young, and that he had seen to most of her education and accomplishment.

Clearly he cared a great deal for his sister as he demonstrated whenever he was around her. There, at least, was proof that not all men in the same circumstances as her husband, were of the same character. Unlike the Earl, who upon his inheritance had used and abused it to its greatest advantage, Mr Darcy had preserved and improved upon what he had, and cared for all of those that were in his care.

His friend respected him a great deal, and therefore had talked much about the nature of Mr Darcy's circumstances, wealth and generosity. Throughout each conversation Elizabeth compared her husband more and more to the man, and found the Earl to be considerably lacking.

Why had it taken her so long to realise that her husband had never been the man of her dreams? She had sworn to marry only for the deepest love long ago, and now she knew that she had completely ignored that vow when she had married the Earl. She had clearly not known what it was to love two years ago. To agree to his proposal after so short an acquaintance! She should have known better.

The next morning dawned, and Elizabeth rose from her bed in somewhat better spirits. Calling her maid, she attired herself in her riding clothes and informed the Earl that she was going riding. For once he declined to go with her.

A half hour later, and far enough away from the house not to be clearly defined, Elizabeth broke into a gallop. Despite the sadness which her marriage had brought, it had also enabled her access to some good things. The ability to ride was one. The Earl had insisted that she learn, even though they had never ridden in public yet, and she was grateful that she had, for the temporary freedom that it gave her was enough to make her forbear most of the bad parts of her marriage.

The other thing that she was satisfied with was this house. Stoke Edith1 was perfect. It had been built around 1698 for a Paul Foley, Speaker of the House of Commons and had thus been acquired by the Cavendishs of Saffron Walden by marriage. Considered one of the finest Restoration Houses, it displayed 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, though she thought the Hall walls and the Green Velvet Bedroom far too opulent and ornate.

Compared to the other houses that the Earl owned, it was smaller, but Elizabeth did not think that a disadvantage. Now, as she rested her horse, looking back on the building from a distance, she wondered why such a beautiful house should be owned by a man who had no value for anything he owned. True, he owned more than most; for apart from this house and the two houses in town, there was another in Kent, another in Cheshire, and one in the highlands of Scotland, but Elizabeth knew that all but the house they lived in were closed up, not even maintained by a steward, due the Earl's fondness for gambling. He could not lose them, due to the terms of his inheritance, but he could certainly rob them of any value.

The sudden sound of a neigh made Elizabeth come back from her introspection. Looking up, she descried another horse and rider, far away, but close enough to determine that it was not the Earl come to join her after all. Her first instincts were to return home at once, before they spotted her, but as the notion ran through her mind, Elizabeth found herself wanting the opposite.

Exhilaration from the ride had made her bold, made some of her old self return to guide her emotions, her desire to resist the Earl. But she kept her steed steady, and watched the other, as its rider spotted her, and broke his horse into a gentle trot in order to join her.

The sight was a powerful one. Elizabeth could not remember ever seeing anyone so in tune with their horse before, even her husband, who had been riding almost as soon as he could walk, although he preferred now to recklessly race carriages with his fellow members of the Four Horse Club.2

He came to a halt before her, and bent forward in the saddle to serve as a bow in greeting. It was Mr Darcy. "Good morning Countess," he added, his voice displaying little sign of exhaustion, even though he had ridden a fair distance from Netherfield.

"I had not realised that I had strayed on to the Earl's land." That was a lie. Though he abhorred disguise of any sort, Darcy was sure she would not want to know that he had specifically ridden this far just in the hope that he might see her.

"You have not, sir, for this hill is just past the edge of his boundary," Elizabeth replied, remembering the Earl referring to it the last time they had stayed here, shortly after her marriage, so he could teach her to ride. Quickly she shied away from memories of that time. "Have Charles and Jane left yet?"

"Yes, they went early this morning," Darcy answered. "The rest of the guests in residence there and I leave today. Yourself and the Earl?"

"We leave this afternoon."

A moment of silence passed between them. Then Darcy decided that enough was enough. He had to know. "Countess, may I ask; what did you mean yesterday when you wished for me not to tell the Earl how to get away from Mr Collins?"

"I meant..." Elizabeth hesitated, then made herself bold. "I meant exactly that." She flicked her reins and drove her horse to turn and gallop further on.

Darcy kept his position for a moment, watching her, deciding what he should do next. Before he knew it, he was also galloping. Rapidly he drew level with her, as their horses, as if by a mutual agreement unknown to the riders, matched strides with each other, jumping a hedge boundary into another field together.

Then Elizabeth stopped, turning hers to face his once more. "I wanted to avoid him," she confessed aloud.

"The Earl?" Darcy confirmed. "Why? Because of that?" He pointed with his gloved hand to a faded but still apparent red mark just under her chin. Any other possible injury was hidden by the fashion of her riding clothes.

Elizabeth hesitated a mere second this time. "Yes." For some reason, unknown to herself, she wanted this man to know the truth.

Darcy had difficulty in keeping his anger in check as he heard his suspicions verified. When he spoke, his voice was awash with emotions; anger at him, fear and love for her. "Has it always been like this?" He saw her nod her head, and his hands became clenched fists as he asked, "Why have you not run from him?"

"Where could I run to?" she replied rhetorically. "My family have not his connections. I have no one."

He was about to come closer towards her. About to vow that she had now had him, and that he would protect her with his life. But the outside world interfered. A church bell sounded the hour, causing her to change.

"Excuse me, sir, I must go," she announced, her voice quieter than before, as if she was afraid of being overheard. "Please, tell no one of this," she entreated, before galloping back the way they had come.

This time he did not follow, choosing to watch her silently instead, as he contemplated all that had passed between them, and what his emotions and thoughts had now revealed to his conscious mind.

It was too late. He had already gone beyond the point of no return. He would love her for the rest of his life. Above all others. From this moment on, he would do all that he could to help her.

And damn the consequences.

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 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.

2. The Four Horse Club was an organisation in which wild groups of young men enjoyed bribing coachmen to give them the reins of their vehicles then drive them at breakneck speed down very poor British roads. By the early nineteenth century it was considered a respectable club for only the best drivers, numbering at its peak thirty to forty members.

Sometimes referred to as the Four-in-Hand Club, the Whip Club, or the Barouche Club. Its popularity began to die out in 1815, and it was briefly disbanded in 1820, before being revived in 1822, but only for another two years.

3. Duelling: According to Richard Hopton's book, Pistols at Dawn, a History of Duelling, the question of honour lay at the root of any challenge. When one gentleman calls another other he is seeking to expunge a slur, either real or imagined on his repution (honour). This could range from the seduction of a wife or daughter, an insult delivered in speech, to a trifling argument over dinner. Failure to pay debts were also grounds for duels, this is where the phrase 'debts of honour' comes from.

With officers, there was the additional requirement to defend not only their own honour, but the honour of their regiment. During the Pensinsular War officers could be punished, cashiered and dismissed from their regiments if they failed to uphold their honour or the honour of the regiment.

An insult offered to a woman's honour would be an insult to the man of whom she belonged to, be he husband or father. It was considered more shameful to stand by and be a cuckold than to fight a duel with your wife's lover. The events of Anna Karenina are a classic example of this.

One of the ironies of that time was although duelling was illegal, and penalities ranged from the gallows to a mild reprimand, with a few notable exceptions, duellists got off very lightly indeed.

Chapter XI.

Elizabeth spent most of the days after that encounter wondering whether she had done the right thing in being so bold. She still had no idea why she had chosen to tell Mr Darcy, a man whom she only knew as the friend of her new brother in law, and the nephew of her husband's godmother, of all people, a part of the terrible truth of her marriage. Since that meeting in the fields between Netherfield and Stoke Edith she had not seen the gentleman again.

Which was, as she reflected now, probably why this was bothering her so much. It was so unlike her to confide in someone who was practically a complete stranger to her, and a gentleman. She had made herself tell no one about the nature of her marriage, and yet, something about Mr Darcy had made her forget all that. What, she knew not.

It was a puzzle, and a puzzle that she spent most of her time in Hanover Square trying to figure out, as January and February passed by, sometimes dirty, sometimes cold, and sometimes both. Life for her and her husband resumed much of its unique normality. She spent her days in the townhouse, reading, embroidering, performing on the pianoforte, while he passed the majority of the time at the various clubs he had yet to be thrown out of.

The nights were taken up with her quietly submitting to his ministrations and then escaping into sleep and dreams. Often the latter would cause even more consternation to Elizabeth, as the puzzle prayed more and more upon her mind. Its effects resulted in regular imaginings of a different life, one spent far away from her present location, and in an entirely different manner and emotion to how she spent it now.

The surroundings were usually places she had never seen before, and the people around her strangers, due to their less than distinct form, which, whenever she would try to define them more closely, tended to fade away.

After much thought upon them, she had achieved the ability to discover the identity of at least one of the forms in her dreams, and that discovery had given her even more concern over the puzzle, for Mr Darcy had proved to figure prominently in all of them.

Why she had suddenly begun to dream of this gentleman as well, Elizabeth did not know. Sometimes she would only see him in the distance, others he would be nearby, observing her. Mostly she would picture him as she had last seen him, upon a horse facing her, with the same expression that he had held in his eyes. The one that had always both intrigued and terrified her.

For it seemed to speak of a desire to protect her, to spirit her away from the tragedy that was her marriage. The prospect of such an endeavour was intriguing and tempting, but, and this is what frightened her, Elizabeth could not tell if she had imagined the look, or if it had been as real now as it was that day of their meeting.

A sudden rustle of paper broke into her thoughts, and Elizabeth awoke to her surroundings once more. It was an unusual day to be spent much in thought so early upon its morning. The former because her husband was still at home, having breakfasted late for reasons as yet unknown to her.

Now he was reading through a thick volume of papers the size of a letter, which he had just split the seal and opened. Taking a deep breath, she returned to her own meal, hoping he had been too concerned in his correspondence to wonder why she had hardly touched it yet.

Twenty minutes later, the Earl laid down the letter, just as Elizabeth had finished and was engaged in taking a sip of tea. "That was a letter from my godmother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh," he remarked. "It appears she has learnt of our attending her parson's wedding, and now wishes for me to renew my annual visitation to her, beginning at the end of this month." He took a sip of his own drink. "What do you think, my dear? Shall we say yes?"

Elizabeth knew immediately from the tone of his voice that this was not a inquiry as to her real preference, but one more conforming to a direct order. "If you wish it."

"Indeed I do wish it." He stood up, striding to the end of the room. Pouring a refill, he added, "Lady Catherine, though not in any way a relative of blood to me, is the only relation left to me upon this earth. As she is my godmother, she has had a profound effect on my ideas and wishes concerning much of my future.

"You will find her a very wise person for a woman. I would also consider it a good thing if you took many of her pearls of wisdom concerning marriage, proper decorum and behaviour into your character and displayed them accordingly."

The inference was unmistakable. Elizabeth made no reply, knowing from past experience that any comment would likely cause more damage to her than the actual dig had caused itself.

Taking another sip of tea, she bowed her head as if in acknowledgement of his instruction. Quietly she observed him as he resumed his previous seat. His features were still composed, signalling little sign of any trouble ahead. Yet, she could never be sure.

"I shall write a reply, and attend the Four Horse meet this afternoon," he remarked some minutes later. Taking another draught of his coffee, he waited for her reply. When a few moments had passed and she had made none, he added, "Are you not going to comment on what a reckless and dangerous use of my time that it is?"

"I never have done so before," Elizabeth answered cautiously, "for I know you enjoy it, and I would by no means disturb any pleasure of yours."

The Earl smiled and rose from the table. "It seems you are already following Lady Catherine's advice without even having heard it before. Excellent."

He left the room. Elizabeth waited until the door had fully closed before sending a look that could have killed him on the spot, if she had the nerve to display it before his face. There were times when she could tolerate him, and times when she hated him with everything within her. Recently, the latter had been occurring with more and more frequency.

For the reason of this she did not have to look too far. It was the same reason which had caused her dreams and was the source of her puzzle. Mr Darcy. Elizabeth sighed. All thoughts of remaining where she was, went from her mind. She rose from her chair and exited her present surroundings for the Music Room.

As she did so, she wondered once more why she could not stop thinking about Mr Darcy. And why, whenever she did, her rebellious nature would arise, and would persuade her to try and fight the Earl.

As she had used to. Two years ago, from the moment she had discovered the truth of her marriage, Elizabeth had tried every means she knew to resist whatever he chose to foist upon her. Even now, there were times when she still tried to do so. But in comparison to her first years with him, they were much less used.

Now a lot of the thoughts that had accompanied them had arisen within her mind again. Usually after she had thought or dreamt about Mr Darcy.

Elizabeth seated herself at the pianoforte and tried to put this train of thought out of her mind, afraid of where it might lead, if she continued to pursue it further. She knew what the signs were indicative of, her marriage had never taken any hopes of a happier future completely away.

But she was not prepared to take any step down that path. Not only was it foolish for her to even try, it was also impossible. She was married. There was no probability of any reprieve from it, even if the fates chose to smile down upon her. She could not fall in love with any one while the Earl was still alive.

No matter what their position or status was. The idle fancy would not do her any good, and the alternative, while however normal in her society, was still a dangerous direction to take. The likelihood of the scandal of it reaching her family was all too great. Just as were the odds that he would find her and bring her back.

Shaking her head, Elizabeth tried once more to rid her mind of these thoughts. She opened the cover that protected the keys, and focused on choosing the music she would try to learn this day. It would do her no good to continue to think like that. To continue to hope for a better tomorrow.

There was no real chance whatsoever of her ever being free of this torment. Thus the wish was rendered useless, and the thought a waste of her mind and intelligence. It was irrational and full of folly. Yet the strength of its persistence to remain within her mind was powerful.

And Elizabeth was no longer certain about how long she could resist any of the possible consequences it might bring.

Some streets away, in the same fashionable and rich area of London, another person was also contemplating all the possible consequences. Not because he wished to talk himself out of the actions he intended to take. Nor because he needed to talk himself into them either. Instead, because he needed to tell someone what he was about to do.

That someone was very precious to Fitzwilliam Darcy. Indeed, a few months ago, she had been the most important person in his life. A person who counted on him to teach her the ways of the world, and the best way to conduct oneself through it in life. A person whom he had always sought to protect and provide for, almost from the moment of her birth.

Finally, she was someone to whom he had always told the absolute truth. And therein lay the present trouble within his thoughts. For what he intended to do would be in complete contradiction to all the values he had taught her to hold most dear. It would set an example that he had never wished to set her, and would teach her some ways of the world in which they lived that he had wished her never to know.

Naturally, this caused him great consternation It also reminded him of something that he would much rather had never happened, and something that he wished to entirely forget. For she already knew a little of the ways of a world he had wanted her never to know. Her discovery of them had occurred during her summer in Ramsgate. Last summer.

The mere mention of the place caused horrible recollections for both of them still. Darcy did not know which of them judged the place with the greatest part of fear; she for experiencing the events, or he for being capable of imagining all the possible outcomes that could have resulted from the incident, whether he had learned of it, or not.

Even now, with the event almost a year old, he still refrained from leaving her in the care of her new companion for too long, despite Mrs Annesley's excellent references.

There was of course a perfectly simple solution to his present hesitation and reluctance in his next step. And that was, to never tell her. To keep his actions secret for ever. But, while that would solve any possibility of her learning about the rest of the world he had wished her to remain unaware of, it would compromise another intention of his entirely.

For if, and he would, having now gone long passed the point of caution over the matter, follow through with his future actions, the consequences of them would bring about a sacrifice that he did not want nor wish to ever make. That was to never see one of them again. He knew that he could never do that. Both were now far too important to him.

A click, originating from the motion of the door opening, awoke him that moment to his present surroundings. He turned away from the window and smiled at the source, his mind suddenly made up. They had always been completely honest with each other. It was that he had to focus on. If he tried to keep this from her it would damage their bond forever.

"You wanted to talk to me, William?" Georgiana asked him now, as she sat down within one of the armchairs. She was the only person in the household, and the world, who could join him in his study without asking first.

"Yes," he confirmed, coming away from the window to sit opposite her, so they could be on equal terms. For a moment or two he simply stared at her, uncertain as to where or even how to begin. Then abruptly the words formed in his mind, and he found himself speaking before he had even decided to do so.

"You remember I told you once that I wanted us always to be completely honest with each other?"

"Yes, it was after father died." Georgiana smiled encouragingly at her brother. She did have a slight knowledge of where he might be heading with this turn of conversation, and she wanted him to be able to tell the whole.

"Well, while we were in Hertfordshire for Bingley's wedding, I decided something which will greatly affect both of us when I act upon it." He leant forward in his chair, clasping his fingers together. "It is something which I have been contemplating for many months. For a long time I withheld myself from pursuing it, because of the consequences I knew that could occur. These consequences would be very dangerous to all of us. Especially for you."

"Why for me?" Georgiana asked, puzzled.

"Because when you are old enough to come out, the nature of my reputation by then would damage your chances of ever making a good match."

"But you always taught me to put love before fortune and title."

"I did, and I still believe in that. But I also, out of purely brotherly concern, wanted whomever you chose to be able to cope without the fortune that would come with you. I did not want there to be any likelihood of you being sought for your money and connections rather than yourself."

Georgiana lessened her smile a little. "That has already happened once. And I am determined to make sure I do not let it happen again."

Darcy sighed and shook his head. "Georgiana, none of that was your fault. In disobedience of my vow to always be honest with you, I also wanted to protect you, which was why I never told you about his bad character. I had hoped I could keep you safe from him. I realise now that I should have told you long ago the entire truth about him, instead of you having to learn it in such a traumatic way.”

"We should not quarrel for the greater part of fault upon that subject," Georgiana decided. "The result will benefit neither of us."

"You are quite right," Darcy agreed, wondering suddenly how his sister had become so wise. "And it is not what I wanted to talk about anyway.

"I shall start from the beginning. Late last year, when I was with Bingley in London after the ball he had held at Netherfield, I went with him to see his intended while she was staying with her sister in Hanover Square."

"Ah," Georgiana uttered in complete understanding. "You wish to tell me that you have fallen in love with the Countess of Saffron Walden."

Darcy leaned back in his chair in surprise. "How did you know?"

"You were distracted all the time we were at Matlock. When we returned to town I mentioned this to Mr Bingley. He told me that he believed you to be thinking about the Countess. Then you introduced me to her at his wedding. The look in your eyes whenever you glanced at her and her character made me realise the rest." She smiled at her brother's still stunned features. "I know you very well, William. You can rarely hide anything from me nowadays."

"Yes, I can see that." Darcy smiled too. "Ordinarily, that alone would not cause any worry or damage to either of us. But I decided something back in January that has the potential to do so."

"In January? Why are you only now just telling me about it?"

Darcy looked her straight in the eyes. "I feared your reaction."

"My reaction? Whatever for?"

"Two reasons. One, you are the most important person in the world to me, and two, I did not want to disappoint you."

"You have never, and you never will disappoint me." Georgiana affirmed determinedly.

"I might be just about to. I want to persuade the Countess to come and live with us."

"Why?" Georgiana tentatively asked. "I know you love her," she added, "but that cannot be the only reason. If it was you would not be so concerned. Is it something to do with her marriage?"

"You guess very astutely. Yes it is because of her marriage. From what I have seen, it is not a happy marriage at all. I believe her to be very much afraid of her husband."

"What do you think he has done to her?"

"Not only do I think it, I know it, for she admitted as much to me the day we left Netherfield. That her husband...." Darcy trailed off, suddenly unable to say the actual words. "I have seen bruises on her skin. There was one under her chin that morning I met her while out riding. When I asked indirectly if he had done it to her, she confirmed that he had."

Georgiana's first response was to gasp in astonishment. Her second was to remark, "Sometimes I am glad that I do not know all the ways of this world in which we live." She reached out and took her brother's hands in hers. "William, whatever you have decided to do, I am with you. And I hope for her sake you have decided to rid the Countess of him."

"There is only one way in which I could do that, and duelling is considered illegal," Darcy reminded her. "However, I may be forced into taking such actions. But if I did, I would not render his end mortal. Richard has told me enough of the consequences to dissuade me from assuming such a power over men."

"And how you will persuade her to come and live us?" Georgiana asked. "And when, for that matter?"

"In regards to the how, I hope to simply ask her. I know the price to all our reputations and the scandal that will surely follow makes this a difficult task. It is why I have not wanted to tell you about this."

"Even if you had acted upon it without my knowledge I would have learnt of it sooner or later," Georgiana pointed out. "If not from our family, then the newspapers. If not from the newspapers then society whenever I ventured into it. And you would not have been able to prevent any damage being done to my reputation because of that."

"Yes, you are right about that," Darcy confirmed. "Are you sure you do not mind my decision to do this?"

"If she were happy, then I might have some objection, however much I also wanted your happiness. But as she is not, you have my full loyalty upon this."

"You are also aware of all the things that will be said about me?"

"I think so. But they do not matter to me, because they will not be true."

"Some of them might," Darcy admitted, "if she cares for me as much as I care for her." He hoped Georgiana would be able to determine which.

Miss Darcy nodded her head in understanding. "As long as she loves you, then I do not think it wrong."

"Even though I will become one of those people you and I have always despised?"

"They have the wrong intentions. You do not."

Darcy smiled in appreciation. He had not realised it would be so easy. His heart felt suddenly lighter with the knowledge that Georgiana not only knew, but also supported him entirely in his future actions. "Georgie, do you approve of her?" he asked finally.

His sister laughed in reply. "My dear brother, do you really think that if I did not, I would encourage you in this? Now, if it were Miss Bingley, I would think differently."

Darcy joined her in laughter. "I can safely assure you that it would never be Miss Bingley. Seriously, do you like the Countess?"

"Yes," she replied. "I like her very much."

The weeks passed. March was to take Elizabeth and the Earl to Kent. Specifically, to the Earl's residence there, a few miles from Lady Catherine de Bourgh's home, Blisstham Place.1 Built in the time of Queen Elizabeth, then remodelled between 1735 and 1740, by Henry Joynes, it was a home that Elizabeth had yet to see.

The Earl, ever considerate of the fact that she should be as proud of his wealth as he was, told her the whole history of the place during the journey. For once Elizabeth found much of the topic to be interesting, as they managed to open a sense of ease with each other, the like of which they had not had since the day of their marriage.

At length the place was discernible. The drive sloping down at an angle from the main road, the evidence of more artificial landscaping as opposed to the naturalness of the countryside, every thing declared they were arriving.

Elizabeth looked out through the window of the carriage, noticing the farmed land giving way first to formal gardens, then a large gravel drive which surrounded the building. Raising her eyes to the house, she took in the bow which had been added in 1793, and other palatial improvements that had been made to keep the old H-plan up to the new and present fashionable architecture.

Despite this contradiction of styles, however, Elizabeth saw much to like about the place. Though much larger and established upon a grander scale, it resembled Stoke Edith in terms of possessing a natural beauty that was little counteracted by an awkward taste, lacking the ostentation that the town house and many of the Earl's other properties, such as Pearlcoombe and the castle in Scotland, held.

Alighting from the carriage, the Countess witnessed the servants, who had opened up Blisstham for living in a few days ago, coming out of the house to greet them. This was her due as her first visit to the place, but it brought back memories of another similar time, namely her wedding night.

Instantly, any feeling of ease that she had previously held within the carriage during the journey concerning proximity to her husband disappeared. She still had a vivid memory of that night in her mind. And his actions after that could do nothing to change her fear of him, only increase it.

She followed the Earl inside, and listened without objection to his plans to visit his godmother on the morrow. Knowing his opinions concerning what should be her proper behaviour, she dreaded the prospect already.

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

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

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

The house did not sell, and a fire left it demolished. Its site now lies under 900 million gallons of Rutland Water. Only the stables and farming building remain, 200 yards North-east, and the tower of Normanton Church, left on an island in the lake.

Source is Giles Worsley's 'England's Lost Houses' from the archive of the magazine Country Life. Pictures of the interior and exterior are contained in the book.

Author's Note: Another incident of abuse in this chapter, which for those you who have desire to read such events, begins after the first horizontal line and ends before the second. Elizabeth does recollect the incident during her rambles the next morning, but not in such explicit terms.

Chapter XII.

"Your wife appears to be a very genteel, pretty kind of girl, Lucius. I understand from Mr Collins that you are connected to him by way of cousin. Have you any sisters, Elizabeth?"

It was the day after they had arrived in Kent. Elizabeth had found upon visiting her husband's godmother, to her relief, that Charlotte was staying with her sister and Mr Collins, enabling her not to be the only guest subjected to Lady Catherine de Bourgh's vigorous scrutiny.

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

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

Conversing with Mrs Collins had always proved to be a somewhat thankless endeavour as Lady Catherine could not help but find her too awed by her the splendour of the interior and the manner of her hostess to venture anything reply beyond that of a monosyllable one. Lady Catherine had then turned first to Charlotte, and then to Elizabeth herself, using all the privilege that her relationship with the Earl gave her to ask any question that she saw fit to voice to the whole room.

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

All these and more did Lady Catherine ask, and persisted in asking until she was satisfied with the answers that she received. Indeed, five minutes spent in her company was all that Elizabeth had required to determine that nothing was beneath this great lady's attention, which could furnish her with an occasion to dictate to others. She was by no means a woman used to having her judgement controverted, nor her opinion ignored on any subject.

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

"In the autumn of nine," Elizabeth replied, feeling all the impertinence of the questions, but striving to answer them composedly, aware than any infraction on her part would incur not only the displeasure of her hostess, but the wrath of her husband.

"And where was this meeting?"

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

"So you must have being staying at your estate in Stoke at the time then?" Lady Catherine inquired of Lucius, receiving a nod in reply. "It is a good sized home I suppose, but the second drawing room must be most inhospitable during winter. Why, the windows are full west! Was it a long courtship?"

"Long and short are relative terms, upon which circumstances count, I believe, your ladyship," Elizabeth replied. "It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy, it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others."

Lady Catherine was astonished at receiving such a reply. "Upon my word," she began, "you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age? You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure."

Drawing a breath against the crushing pain inflicted upon her by her husband, Elizabeth carefully replied. "I am not one and twenty."

"And My Lucius to decide upon an eighteen year old country girl, at nine and twenty, without family connections or fortune!" Lady Catherine cried.

"I am the only heir to my earldom," Lucius pointed out. "I require good breeding stock if I wish for my land and estates to pass down through my bloodlines."

"Breeding stock is all very well, godson," Lady Catherine replied, "but as I understand from my clergyman, your father's estate is entailed on Mr Collins, I think. For your sake," turning to Maria, "I am glad, but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bough's family, nor indeed in yours, Lucius'." She turned to Elizabeth."You are aware what a heavy task the nature of my godson's inheritance places on you? That if, god forbid, the worst happens, you will be sole benefactor of all his estates?"

"Yes, Lady Catherine, I am."

"Hmm," was all that her interrogator made in reply, as if the simple words had not satisfied her. "Your upbringing has not, I think, prepared you well for the role of mistress and management of such a large estate. The second of five daughters from an estate with only an income of two thousand per annum would be no preparation for any wife of an Earl. Did you have a governess?"

"No, we did not."

"How is that possible? I have never heard such a thing. I have always said that nothing is to be done in education without steady and regular instruction, and nobody but a governess can give it. Especially for one who marries so high born a person as my godson. But then I suppose it was not expected that you would. Yes, I see that now. Lucius, I hope you have sought to remedy that neglect?"

"I can assure you I have," the Earl replied. "Thanks to my instruction, Elizabeth now knows how to ride, and can play the pianoforte with proficiency. My capable steward will see to anything concerning the estate, if anything happens to me."

"So you do play do you? Well, we must have the pleasure of hearing you some time or other. All is just as it should be then. But I do hope that you supervise your Steward's management, godson. I have always said that an estate cannot be managed by owner or steward alone. It must be in combination."

"I do, Lady Catherine," the Earl smoothly lied. For Elizabeth could testify that, aside from a cursory check of the expenses each month, her husband left control of the vast wealth he had inherited entirely in the hands of his steward, without any concern as to how it would turn out with such neglect.

"I presume," Lady Catherine began again to Elizabeth, "that your elder sister is married?"

"Yes, in January of this year."

"Really, that is most peculiar. A younger sister married before the elder, that is something that rarely occurs in our society. It is exactly as I thought, you are quite young to be the bearer of such an ancient title. Still, that is the way of the world. Youth bears more fruit as opposed to the more mature woman. But no children yet, that is unusual. You have time, but one must be wary of having heirs late in life. Remember that, Lucius."

The evening came to a close then, as the carriage was called for the Hunsford party. Elizabeth and her husband left soon after their departure, the return journey to Blisstham fraught with much silent thought. Indeed, how could it be otherwise, upon the end of such a visit? Their host's conversation had been all that served as entertainment for the evening, and her final words had given Lucius in particular much pause for thought.

His godmother had made him aware, perhaps for the first time, how strange it was that he had not been blessed with children. It was not for the want of them, indeed, as far as he was concerned, he only needed one; a son and heir to all that he owned. Until their age had turned into double figures, they were their mother's department, and thus the fault of their having none so far, fell to his wife of almost three years.

So he felt entirely justified in his actions concerning Elizabeth that night. While they returned to Blisstham, he composed himself to the task at hand, taking in every appearance of his wife's attire, calculating the means and speed required to render her disrobed. He recalled the route to their rooms from the entrance hall, the servants upon whose loyalty he was not yet certain of, determining to dismiss his entire household to the kitchens for the night.

Elizabeth, her face turned to discerning what features she could from the passing countryside, could comprehend little of her husband's thoughts, other than his silence seemed unusually constrained and deadly. She too was attempting to recall what she could remember of the house, in order to try to escape his attentions for a night, for she could not help but fear retribution was to be delivered for her behaviour towards Lady Catherine this evening.

When the carriage came to a halt outside the entrance of Blisstham, the Earl anticipated her move to quit the equipage first, forcing her to take his hand in order to descend from the vehicle, instead of that of the butler who had opened the doors almost upon the moment of their arrival. As her feet touched the ground his fingers closed around hers, pulling her inexorably towards his side.

Reaching the servant, Elizabeth felt her husband further restrain her by placing his other hand around her waist, as he spoke to the butler and then the rest of the staff who came to their assistance, dismissing them for the night. With his fingers fast upon her hand and his other close about her waist, there was little she could do to object, or escape him.

Once the hall was deserted, the Earl turned to her. "It is time my dear, to beget the heir to all that I possess, save for you, that is." His features formed a strange expression, half smirking, half frowning, as he swept her upstairs to their rooms.

Inside his bedchamber, he retained his close hold, whilst locking each of the doors that led from the hall, his dressing room and her rooms. As each escape route was barred to her, Elizabeth's fear of what he would do to her increased in it intensity, rendering her mind incapable of providing her with ways to render him incapacitated, whilst she turned the keys which were still within their holes, in order to seek the safety of her bedchamber.

Helpless, she was forced to stand before the large and imposing four poster bed in which husband spent his nights, whereupon he proceeded to rid her of her clothes. She had never been with him in such a state before, a disturbing sight, as his hands roughly surveyed her wares, reminding her horribly of that moment during the evening when she had been compared to breeding stock.

When he reached behind her and produced one of the gold rope fastenings, she knew what was to come next, for such trappings featured regularly in their night time rituals. But once more he surprised her, by binding her hands together as she stood before him, in a position eerily akin of that of a prisoner condemned to death. Using his superior height and strength he forced her backwards until she fell upon the bed, whereupon he seized hold of her legs, resting them atop his broad shoulders.

In fearful fascination she watched as he unleashed himself from his breeches, his eyes locking on her terrified form as he stroked himself into life before kneeling upon the bed. Placing her hands about her sex, he thrust himself inside that chamber, his movements in time to her every scream of pain, until such cries were smothered from her mouth by his hand.

The grounds surrounding the bordering estates of Blisstham, Rosings and Hunsford Parsonage were still wet with the early morning dew when they were disturbed the next day by the Countess, as she made her way from one end to the other.

Indeed, Elizabeth was heartily glad that she could get away from the house so early. Blisstham Place was now very much a name she was sure was devoid of any truth in its meaning, for she had experienced nothing close to the description inside it yet. Last night had been the worse out of the two she had spent in the building.

Even now she shuddered at the mere thought of it, and was helpless in the quest to avoid thinking about it. She had endured his 'ministrations' on her before, but never more than once a night. And never in such a position. This time she had to submit to seeing his face as he hovered over her, trapping her beneath him, in the cold quest for an heir. The move to dress herself and slip away quietly that morning had not been accomplished with any ease.

Now though, as she ran her fingers through the wet hedges that bordered the lane between Rosings Park and the parsonage, Elizabeth felt much calmer, and much less trapped. Despite its owner's preference for opulence in architecture and interior, the grounds had a pervasive serenity about them.

Thanks to the pleasant surroundings, she did not feel any exhaustion from walking the great distance from Blisstham to the parsonage, in conjunction with the effects of last night. This, added to the fine morning weather, also helped to settle, and gently erase, the turmoil in her mind.

By the time she had met Charlotte a little before entering the gardens of the parsonage, Elizabeth felt much more in control of her composure, much more able to greet her friend with all her usual emotion. They turned back the way her friend had come, until they reached a parting in the path, where the lane became two for access to the grounds of Rosings Park. They turned then in that direction.

Charlotte began their conversation, obliging Elizabeth with all that had occurred to her since the wedding of her sister Maria. Originally their father Sir William had accompanied Charlotte to Hunsford after a suitable time had elapsed for Maria to become accustomed to her new situation. He had stayed but a week, long enough to convince him of his daughter's being most comfortable, and possessing such a husband and such a neighbour as were not often met with.

Since then she and Maria had much more time to themselves, with Mr Collins spending the time between breakfast and dinner paying his respects to Lady Catherine, doing work in his garden, or in reading and writing, and looking out of the window in his own book room, which fronted the road, enabling him to see if any visitors from Rosings came to Hunsford.

Miss Lucas, Elizabeth had suspected, and now discovered to be true, guided much of her younger sister's 'handling' of Mr Collins, making sure that he walked to the Park every day, ministered closely to his parishioners, and attended to the growth of his garden, thus leaving her free to indulge in her own amusement much of the day.

"And so is Maria much more content with her situation now?" Elizabeth asked when her friend's monologue had ended, having heard that when Mr Collins had proposed, there was much objection on the younger Miss Lucas' side, which had been met with stern persuasion by her parents.

"I believe so," Charlotte replied. "She realises now that there are many advantages to be had here, which makes up for the hardships."

"Time has worn away her youthful hopes of everlasting affection in marriage?"

"You know I have never been one to put much faith in that, or indeed expect its occurrence. All I desire is a comfortable home. Maria, I am sure, feels the same." Charlotte glanced carefully at her friend. "Love is not always possible in every marriage."

"Too true," Elizabeth replied, thinking of her own. "Jane's must be the only exception in our world, do you not think?"

"Yes," Charlotte agreed, "Jane will have a happy marriage. With her and Mr Bingley's dispositions, it is impossible to do otherwise I believe. But what about yourself, Lizzy? Three years ago you claimed to have accepted the Earl's proposal for love. Now that you are married, do you find it exists so?"

Elizabeth could not think about her reply, she knew. Yet, she did not feel able to lie straight away to her friend. "I am content," she finally answered.

Charlotte looked at her thoughtfully, remembering the insulting comparison made of her friend to breeding stock at Rosings only the evening before. "That is not an answer to my question, Lizzy."

They neared the boundaries of the woods to the more formal gardens that were closer to the house. Elizabeth directed them around, back into the path that led to her residence. Coming to a halt before the turnstile which was built in the gate that separated Rosings' land from that of Blisstham's, she replied carefully to her friend, "There is always some disappointment in marriage. And always things one finds which gives one an ability to bear the sentiment," before climbing over the boundary in silent farewell.

The entertainment of dining at Rosings was repeated almost every night by the Earl and Countess of Saffron Walden. The former would insist upon them attending on his godmother from the late afternoon, leaving much of the morning to his passion for racing the way of Four-Horse.

Their other engagements were none; as the style of living of the neighbourhood in general was below her husband's taste. This however was no evil to Elizabeth, and upon the whole she spent her time comfortably enough; there were half hours of pleasant conversation with Charlotte, sometimes with the company of Maria as well, and the weather was so fine for the time of year, that she had often great enjoyment out of doors.

Her favourite walk, and where she frequently went when she could seek her own amusement, was along the open grove which edged that side of the park, where there was a nice sheltered path, which no one seemed to value but herself, and where she felt beyond the reach of Lady Catherine's and the Earl's curiosity.

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of their visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, and one that the moment she had heard of it, Elizabeth had not been able to look upon with anything but a mixture of half eager and half fearful anticipation.

It was Lady Catherine's two youngest nephews; Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy. Elizabeth could not help but wonder why now of all times, until she learned that Lady Catherine usually received the pleasure of their company around this time of year.

During her last meeting with Mr Darcy, there had been something in his look, a certain facet of his expression which had left her with the feeling that he had not said all he had intended to say before they parted at the chorus of the church bells.

What the exact nature of his unfinished conversation was however, Elizabeth could not predict with any degree of certainty. He had seemed resolute in finding out whether or not his suspicion concerning the truth of her marriage was correct, and she had felt unable to deceive him otherwise.

His response then, of despaired astonishment at why she had not run away from the Earl, seemed even now to indicate to Elizabeth that, had she ignored the hour, she would perhaps be no longer walking the quiet grove she was walking now. That perhaps, she might be some place far away, too great a distance for the Earl to know her whereabouts.

Did she welcome such a prospect? Elizabeth did not know. The enticement was certainly existent in the outlook, but whether or not she would actually gain any happiness from it, would remain to be seen until she took the courage to agree to whatever he proposed.

But almost as soon as these words had finished forming in her thoughts, Elizabeth found herself shaking her head at her presumption. He had not even spoken these things she was speculating about aloud, and she had no surety that he would do within the near future. All that she knew with any authority was that she had confirmed to him that her marriage was one of abuse, from which she had not been able to escape.

What he did with that information was now up to him.

Volume IV

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