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

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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version 2: Volume V.

Author's note: For those of you who may be distressed to read Lord Lucius' attack on Elizabeth, you can stop at the second horizontal line, it will not affect your knowledge of significant events in the story in any way. And do excuse Charlotte and Richard for borrowing some of Elizabeth's lines from the book.

Chapter XVII:

After departing the breakfast parlour for the rooms where he had entrusted the Countess to be taken care of the evening before, Darcy allowed himself a brief moment of silent gratitude concerning his cousin. Without asking the Colonel had consented to be his second in the altercation which he believed was inevitable now. He considered himself fortunate to have such a man as his cousin by his side in this endeavour.

All through the evening he had observed the Earl, from his reaction to the challenge which he delivered, to his manners and conversation, until the scoundrel departed from Rosings. Although quite clearly the man was angered by what Darcy had said, he had not allowed such words to affect his disposition during the rest of the evening, however sorely Lady Catherine might tax his forbearance.

His Aunt had paid her usual amount of attention to Elizabeth's absence, advising the Earl to be solicitous as to his wife's health, ensuring that she remained in the best state to continue the distribution of his wealth and estates. Upon her godson's departure this attention to Elizabeth's care was bestowed upon Mrs Jenkinson, whom Lady Catherine entrusted to relate to her maid the wisdom which she laid out.

Securing a moment alone with his cousin's companion, Darcy was able to ascertain for himself the state of Elizabeth's health, which required her to remain for a few days in the rooms he requested to be given over for her use. Knowing that any further inquiry would doubtless draw the attention of his Aunt, he waited until the morning before paying another call upon the Countess.

He found Elizabeth attired in some fresh clothing which her household at Blisstham had the kindness to send over the night before, seated in a chair by the window, where the light of the sun was cast upon the open pages of the leather bound volume within her hands, from which she looked up, at his entry.

"Good morning, Mr Darcy," she greeted, in a lighter tone than she had possessed the evening before.

"Good morning, Countess," Darcy returned. "I came to inquire if you are feeling better."

"Thank you, I believe I am a little better," Elizabeth replied. "I hope there was not too much concern expressed regarding my absence."

"Naught but the usual which my Aunt is used to dispensing," Darcy informed her, as he took the seat which she silently indicated that he avail himself of. "I hope your needs were well attended to."

"Yes, thank you, your Aunt's staff were most solicitous," Elizabeth answered. Nervously she glanced at him, attempting to assess his emotions before she issued her next inquiry. "May I ask how my husband took the news of my absence?"

Darcy steeled his composure as he replied. "With his usual forbearance, milady. My Aunt and I took care to make him aware of our concerns."

Elizabeth caught the hidden meaning behind his response. "I fear my husband's temper is apt to rise on the slightest provocation, such as attention paid to myself by another gentleman."

"I gave him to understand that he must practise a greater restraint," Darcy revealed, "or else precipitate certain events."

His meaning here was unmistakable, and Elizabeth found herself imagining the event with her creative eye, wondering who would emerge the victor of the field and the prize such a joust would entail or claim. Though from general observation of Mr Darcy's appearance she could conclude him to be in the best of health, such an attribute was not usually an asset to affairs of that nature, where a certain possession of skill and luck usually presided. For the Earl had a healthy disposition too, along with a dissolute lifestyle which might incline him to act in a dishonourable manner. In short, she feared that the outcome to the affair would not meet with her satisfaction.

Just as his words, however seemingly innocent in their appearance belied the strength of his convictions behind them, Darcy found an equal concern in her silent response. He knew that she was capable of understanding what precisely had passed between himself and the Earl, but beyond that he could only speculate as to the rest of her thoughts. Concluding that the most likely source behind her silence was fear, he decided to assuage such an emotion as best he could.

"I assure you, that I will endeavour to achieve an satisfactory outcome, to the best of my ability," he said. "And you have that of my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who has always leant his support to all my endeavours."

Elizabeth received his words with a modicum of relief, but she felt that her fear was not entirely assuaged. Such emotions would not be given leave to depart until the event was over and she was living with the consequences of it, a notion which she feared just as equally as the event itself. Yet she knew that there was nothing within her power with which to prevent them from occurring, for there was something of a steadfastness in Darcy's demeanour that left her in no doubt of such a certainty.

"Will the Earl pay call on you before his attendance at dinner this evening?" Darcy asked, for the Earl and Elizabeth were invited to dine at Rosings with far more regularity than his Aunt's vicar and his family.

"I do not know," Elizabeth replied, with a glance directed at the window, a view which Darcy now realised displayed the driveway into Rosings, thus enabling him to conclude that she had deliberately seated herself by it in order to be prepared in case such an event arose.

Seeing the fear in her fine gaze which accompanied the thought of his visit, Darcy made an attempt to change the subject of their discourse, turning her thoughts to far more pleasurable things. However the event continued to prey upon his mind throughout the course of the day, and it was scarcely with relief that he quitted the Countess's company upon the entry of his valet to remind him that he needed to dress for dinner.

How he had managed to escape spending until the evening in the Countess's company without an enquiry as to his whereabouts from his Aunt was nothing short of miraculous, but as Darcy soon concluded from Lady Catherine's enquiries as to his wellbeing during the evening, she had presumed him to be spending the day elsewhere, outside of the house, as he usually did so. Though disguise of every sort was his abhorrence, he had been forced into a general practise of such a mask, and therefore allowed her to continue to believe in that presumption.

The Earl came for dinner that evening, as indeed came Mr Collins and his family, whose usual attentions to his patroness allowed Darcy a certain liberty in his occupations. Although it did not grant him the freedom of visiting the Countess, he was able to prevent her husband from doing so as well. After hearing him enquire as to her wellbeing from Mrs Jenkinson, Darcy saw to it that the Earl's attention was claimed upon by his cousin and her mother.

He knew that it would be impossible to prevent the Earl from seeing his wife again, at least until she agreed to his proposal, but while she remained under the roof of his Aunt, he would do all that lay within his power to part the two of them, however much such schemes might prevent himself from spending time with her.

Silently he reflected over the pleasure of her company which he had enjoyed during the course of his days at Rosings. He had not expected her to be visiting the godmother of her husband, but the knowledge of her presence incurred a feeling of relief, along with other emotions which he hardly ever experienced each year in his stay in Kent. Not for the first time he realised that taken in another context the walks which they had spent together were a form of courtship, which but for her marriage he would have happily allowed to be publicly acknowledged.

His heart was certainly engaged, far more than it ever had been in the company of a lady, though her own feelings were less certain. She appeared to enjoy his company, there was an ease of conversation and good humour between them which had risen from their first acquaintance in London. But how far such accommodation extended into her mind and heart was quite another matter.

If she were unattached, he would be more able to show her the degree of his attentiveness towards her, the heartfelt delight he experienced whenever he held the pleasure of being in her company, the deprivation felt when they were parted. From the earliest moments of their acquaintance, his initial feelings of pity at her situation had been borne away into an admiration of her courage for enduring such conditions with a composure which shielded her more vulnerable self.

As he spent more time in her presence, this admiration grew, coming on gradually into a depth of feeling which he now felt to such an extent that he could not fix upon the spot, or the look, or the words which had laid the foundation. He had been in the middle before he knew that he had begun.

Her resemblance to his sister Georgiana, not in terms of the colour of her eyes or hair, for in that their appearances were wholly disparate, but the look within them when he first laid eyes upon her, the similarity of height between them which enabled him to comfort the one while he dearly wished to relieve the sorrow of the other.

Elizabeth's disposition yesterday had enabled him to achieve a partial success in that endeavour, but until she agreed to his proposal he could not come to know such a feeling again. In but a few days she would be recovered and able to return to her husband and his estate, where he dared not speculate what she would find herself enduring, lest he be forced to break the vow which he had made to her and his cousin regarding the level of injury he would inflict upon the Earl, should the occasion arise in which he would be able to do so.

That occasion proved to arrive sooner than previously he had allowed himself to believe, for shortly after the Countess was well enough to consider returning to her husband's household, the Earl was invited over to escort her home, as his godmother advised him.

Allowing herself to enjoy what little pleasure could be derived from grounds which had been designed to a taste too ornate for her liking, Elizabeth was walking within the gardens which lay immediately before an entrance into Lady Catherine's favourite drawing room, with Mr Darcy in attendance. About to turn round and take another turn in the park, they were suddenly prevented by the sound of a shout, echoing from that room within the house. Even from outside, Darcy could identify the owner as his Aunt, and, having a suspicion as to what was the reason of her shouting, led the way up the steps and into the house.

Lady Catherine was holding court, her daughter, Mrs Jenkinson, the Earl, Miss Lucas and Colonel Fitzwilliam in attendance. The positions of the latter two, standing close together and directly in front of his Aunt, confirmed to Darcy his suspicion, along with what he now began to hear of her conversation.

"Oh, such a girl to be my nephew's wife! Richard, can you not see what she is about? Her arts and her allurements have made you forget what you owe to yourself and your family! You are descended, on both sides, from ancient, respectable and noble Earldoms. Do not put them to ruin because of the upstart pretensions of a young woman without family connections or fortune! Richard, do not forget the sphere in which you were brought up!"

"On the contrary, Lady Catherine," Richard replied, his voice tempered with anger at her insults and presumption, "in marrying Charlotte I would not consider forgetting that sphere. Although I am the son of an earl, she is the daughter of a knight of the realm. We are not so wholly unequal.”

“But who is her mother? And what of the rest of her family? We are entirely ignorant of their condition.”

"Whatever my connections may be," Charlotte said, "if Richard does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

" You can have nothing further to say to either of us," Richard remarked crisply. "You have insulted us in every possible method. We are both resolved to act in a manner which constitutes our own happiness, without reference to you, or to anyone else who finds a fault with this match."

"And these are your final resolves?"

"Yes," Richard and Charlotte declared in unison.

"Very well," Lady Catherine replied. "I shall know how to act." With a motion of hand to her daughter and Mrs Jenkinson, Lady Catherine swept out of the room. The latter silently followed, leaving only Anne to add a quiet sentence of support and congratulations, before doing the same.

Richard turned to face his cousin. "Well Darcy," he began in an attempt to be cheerful, "do I have your approval? Or shall you cast me aside in disgust?"

Darcy chuckled and shook his head, pulling his cousin into a brotherly embrace. "My congratulations, Fitzwilliam. I have every belief that you will be very happy together. And I shall defend you with all that I have to all who say otherwise." With a slap on the back in further confirmation of his support, he stepped back, and took Charlotte's hand. "Miss Lucas, my utmost felicitations. My house in London and Pemberley shall always be open to the both of you."

"Thank you, Mr Darcy," Charlotte replied, blushing when he kissed her hand. She then moved out of their company to stand before her friend. "Well, Lizzy?"

Elizabeth smiled and embraced her. "You have my support and my congratulations, Charlotte. I am very happy that you have found love at last."

"My dear," the Earl began then, "surely you do not mean that?"

"Why would I have any objection?" Elizabeth countered, facing him.

"Because your husband happens to agree with his godmother. Have you forgotten our marriage vows? Love, honour and obey!"

"If I have," Elizabeth returned, her courage high, "then I am not the only one. To love, to honour, to cherish. These I believe you have disregarded for a long time now, sir!"

"Enough!" The Earl shouted, causing all in the room to focus upon the confrontation. They stared at the both of them, one in surprise, two in concern for what could come of it. "We shall make our farewells to Lady Catherine and return to town upon the morrow." He turned and swept out of the room.

Elizabeth shyly met the eyes of the remaining occupants. "Excuse me," she uttered, before also, though reluctantly, quitting the room.

Darcy made a slight move to follow her, then realised that he could not. She was married to the man, and while he disagreed with her reluctance to leave him, he could not act upon his own authority until he received some proof of the very thing which he had threatened the Earl to prevent. He had no wish for her to suffer such ministrations, but it seemed after such a disagreement that those injuries and their consequences would inevitably follow. With a deep breath he turned back to his cousin and affianced. "Well, I can foresee us being turned out of the house soon enough. Do you intend to give our Aunt that satisfaction?"

"No," Richard replied, "I was hoping we could depart tonight. I had hoped that the Countess and the Earl would be able to give Charlotte suitable escort to town and stay at their house, but I see that we must throw ourselves upon the mercy of my bother and his wife, who are staying in the townhouse at present."

"Elizabeth's Aunt and Uncle Gardiner," Charlotte remarked, "did offer a room at their house for me when I chose to return to Lucas Lodge. I am sure they would not mind me arriving a day earlier than planned."

"It is settled then," Richard declared. "We shall convey Charlotte to the Gardiners, and then I shall inform my brother of our engagement."

There was something of a stony silence all the way through the drive from Rosings Park back to Blisstham Place. Elizabeth avoided the Earl's angry gaze, fixing her own on the passing countryside, until the open coach and four came to a halt in the drive. Then she opened the door, jumped down, and dashed inside.

Unhappily, she only managed to reach the first landing of the grand staircase before the Earl caught up with her. He grabbed her dress and shoved her against the wall. Holding her neck with one hand in almost a strangling move, he began, "how dare you disagree with my opinion on that subject!"

Elizabeth had had enough. Her absence from his side while she recovered at Rosings had given her a taste of freedom only known to her when she was a girl at her father's estate, and now she was determined that her hunger for such liberties was quenched no longer. Her legs were free of his restraint, she used them to strike him. Winded, he move away to recover. "How dare I? Have you forgotten who I was before I married you? I had even less than Charlotte!"

"Forgotten!?! I am hardly likely to ever forget that!" he countered back. A moment later he had recovered from her strike, and he moved to impede her escape once more. He grabbed her neck again, and used his body to press her against the wall. "Indeed, I chose you precisely because of it. I thought that a woman with your kind of connections would never dare to defy any will of mine."

With a sudden, cruelly deft movement, he moved her from the wall to the stairs standing to left of them. Elizabeth just managed to prevent herself from receiving any injury, before he was upon her again. He forced her body against the stone steps, preparing to lift her skirts, when she fought back again, rolling him over, then jumping over him to seek the sanctuary of her apartments. He was after her within a moment, managing to avoid ending the chase with being confronted by a locked door. He fought his way in, and secured it from the outside world himself.

"I see," he began, "that wifely submission was something else you were never taught. I shall just have to begin the instruction myself."

"What of the care to yourself?" Elizabeth countered. "Do you desire such an dishonourable end upon a grassy knoll in the dawning mist, the beams of the rising sun reflecting off the steel?"

He stiffened, but his course never wavered, as he grabbed hold of one of the fastenings from the bed curtains. "I see that you know of the challenge my godmother's nephew had the presumption to make to me. I wonder what possible motive could lie behind his desire to champion your state." He clutched at her wrists, fastening the rope around them. "Have you dared to cuckold me whilst abed at Lady Catherine's house?"

Despite the restraint about her hands, the knowledge of what was to come, Elizabeth felt her courage rising. "Given your practise of terrifying me, I am hardly likely to seek the state with another willingly. Nor was I even in a condition to do so."

An expression of disgust crossed his face at her last reference. "I do hope, madam, that you have recovered from such indignities."

"Not every occasion can rise to the level of potency required," Elizabeth took a perverse pleasure of informing him, leaving aside the question as to whether she had recovered, knowing from past experience that such a state would not serve to protect her.

In response to such an insult the Earl delivered a slap across her face which had the strength to press her upon the bed. Within a moment he was above her, lifting her skirts with one hand whilst he released the fall of his breeches with the other. As she began to recover from the blow which he had inflicted, he grabbed hold of her bound wrists, placing them as once he had before, entering her with a single thrust that shocked the breath from her.

"Is this potent enough for you, madam?" he hissed at her, the violence of his ministrations preventing her from answering. The sudden surrender of her body to his attack soon invited his disgust and barely did he allow himself to finish before removing himself from her presence, loosening her wrists from the restraint upon his way.

Once alone Elizabeth's hands sought out the small token of protection which her champion had once given her, now knowing how she would act.

Chapter XVIII.


The journey back to Hanover Square was conducted in a strained silence which in a way far rivalled the previous time spent in the carriage from Rosings to Blisstham the night before. The carriage made its way through the passing countryside without the notice of either of its occupants, and the pedigree of the horses which carried it, was such that they needed no rest along the way.

This was a fortunate thing in the eyes of the coachman, who, upon encountering the stormy expression of his master, and the masked grief in that of his mistress that morning, felt extreme reluctance to suggest such a notion in the first place. He, like the rest of the household, was not at all ignorant of the state of affairs between their master and mistress. And, though he and his ancestors had served the Cavendish family for many years now, he felt more inclined to be loyal to the mistress than the master.

Elizabeth, if she had known of the coachman's feelings, would no doubt have expressed her gratitude at having his and many others of her husband's household support, but nothing could penetrate her thoughts today with any noticeable degree of success. The events of last night still prayed heavily upon her mind.

She could not remember a time when he had ever been more violent to her. Even in the early days of her marriage, when she had still possessed enough of her old self to fight him, she could not recall having endured such abuse as he had set upon her last night. She still did not know how she had managed to rise this morning, partake of a light breakfast, and mount the steps to the carriage seats. She had been most grateful for the assistance of her maid with her travelling attire.

He had even forgone his usual concern to shield any part of herself which was visible from injury, the evidence of the strike of his hand to her face had yet to fade. Her gloved wrists ached, her arms, her neck where he had grabbed her in a strangling hold, not to mention the rest of her body.

Yet, she now reflected, as the countryside rushed by outside the confines of the carriage, not once had she surrendered. Every single time she had struggled, resisting him until and beyond the last move that she could. That fact was one thing to be grateful for, despite all the pain he had inflicted upon her. It was the instance which she had to focus on, in order to keep up that resistance, during the days ahead.

She had walked into this fight with her eyes open. She had known of its inevitability from the moment she had voiced her objection to his opinion on the match of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Charlotte Lucas. Until, and probably even beyond their marriage, she would have to endure more of the same.

Either that, or give into the temptation of accepting Mr Darcy's offer of sanctuary. After the injuries of last night, her reasons for staying with the Earl no longer seemed as important as they once were to her. After all, what was the point of avoiding scandal if one had to face the likelihood of dying in the attempt?

As selfish as it may seem, Elizabeth was now having difficulty in seeing the logic of that. Her alliance with the Earl had hardly brought any benefit to her family's situation. Her mother's hopes of that one rich match would throw her other girls into the path of rich men as well, had proved to be unfounded, as Lucius had refused every entreaty to invite her sisters to town for the Season.

Obtaining permission for Jane to spend a few days with them had been a battle within itself. And Elizabeth's hope that she could improve the value of her sisters' dowries was also quickly dashed away in the first moment she had asked. Finally, in all her two years of marriage, the wedding of Charles and Jane had been the only occasion in which she had been able to see her family, not once had they sojourned in Stoke Edith until then.

Thus, during the few short hours in which she had been able to escape the Earl's 'ministrations,' Elizabeth had debated silently in her head upon the nature of the possible scandal that her decision to leave her husband could inflict upon her family. Meryton was usually far more concerned in spreading around the gossip created by its own inhabitants, let alone anyone who now lived outside its environs.

Though the Earl might be inclined to travel to there in order to hunt her down, he would soon abandon that intention when he discovered no trace of her travelling to Hertfordshire by post, which is what she would have to do, if Longbourn was the only place to which she could go. And, if he did reach the place, and managed to explain what had happened, Elizabeth doubted that she would end up as the one who was considered the most evil by those who lived in the village.

Meryton's inhabitants had never held a high opinion of the Earl, not even when he had first arrived in the neighbourhood. While Jane had been considered the most beautiful by those who lived in the village, Elizabeth had earned the title of most sensible. If she did leave him, Meryton's inhabitants would debate over a reason why, before exclaiming at the shame of it all.

As for her family, their opinions were also something that she could predict with some certainty. Her mother would rant and wail, wondering what would become of them, while her father would quietly worry until he had heard from her, whereupon he would become her staunch defender. Mary would extol some biblical judgement, while Kitty and Lydia would only wonder at her giving up the wealth. As for Bingley and Jane, like her father, they would worry until they had heard from her, then offer their full support.

In short, she had little to lose by accepting Darcy's offer. And all the more to gain.

The carriage reached Hanover Square late afternoon. Its sudden stop caused the Earl to wake from his slumber, and fix his stony gaze upon Elizabeth. She felt its power for a minute, then was able to make an escape, as the carriage door was opened and she was able to climb down. Her appearance in the urban scenery of London was brief, as the entrance was already open to admit them, with footmen at the ready to take their coats and hats.

Elizabeth handed hers to them, ignoring their shocked expression at the sight of her face. She waited at the foot of the staircase, to see what the Earl's next actions would be. She was soon granted discovery, he began almost at once, hardly bothering to wait for the servants to depart.

"Are you still firm in your opinion concerning the marriage of your friend?" he asked in a imposing authoritative tone.

"Yes I am," Elizabeth replied, fully determined to resist him still. "Your actions so far have done nothing to persuade me to support any concern of yours."

"Why should you need to be persuaded?" he bellowed, making the rapid departure of the servants unnecessary, as they could now hear the whole thing. "You are my wife, and as such, your support should be unconditional!"

"Why," she returned, "when yours is hardly ever bestowed?"

He strove forward suddenly, and grabbed her wrist. "Do not ever suppose our situations to be equal! You were far below my circles in life, something which you should never forget!"

"Believe me," Elizabeth countered, her temper too far gone to care about the further pain he was currently inflicting upon her, "that is something which I never could forget, as you constantly remind me of it every day. Although, your actions rarely answer the superior description!"

His only reply to this, was to pull her closer towards him, using the strong grip he had on her wrist, then abruptly fling her to the stairs. Elizabeth put her uninjured hand out to prevent the full impact of her fall, then surprised him by rising quickly up to face him once more. Her courage was high within her, making the past pain which she had endured seem far more distant than it actually was. Her eyes bright with resistance, she stared him down.

"I see that my lesson to you last night has made not as much impact as it should have done," the Earl commented in a deadly tone. "I shall have to try again."

"Try with all your might," Elizabeth calmly remarked, "you shall never again control me as you have done before."

She surprised him then, by running up the stairs so fast that by the time he had recollected the need to chase her, she was on the landing. Reaching her chambers before he was even half way up, Elizabeth entered them in a rush, and immediately locked the main door.

A moment later and the dressing room doors, the one which connected to his room and the one that connected from the room itself to her bedroom, were also locked. Now there was no way in which he could get to her, for she had the only set of keys for all of the three doors. It was a matter she was glad now that she had insisted upon, with the housekeeper, from the beginning of their marriage, once she had been released from his rooms, the full horror of the nightmare she had just entered still upon her. Until now she had never acquired the opportunity to use them.

Some minutes later, just before the mantle clock announced the quarter hour, she heard him arrive at the door to her room. She watched with silent prayers, followed by a sigh of relief as he tried the lock and was unsuccessful. She moved away from the other door into her room, and watched it too when his actions tried to open that as well, after the clock had finished its chiming.

Then both doors stilled, signalling her escape for the rest of the day. Elizabeth felt herself smile, then she shoved all thoughts of relief aside and set about her next actions. Taking her portmanteau out from the chest at the foot of the ornate four poster bed, she began sorting through her drawers.

All the clothes in her bedroom were a mixture of those from her marriage, which favoured the extremely low cut and transparent material fashion, and the far more sensible ones from her life before Hanover Square. Selecting the only one of the former in which she felt comfortable, and which he had not touched her in, Elizabeth put it in, then discarded the rest in favour of as many of the latter as her bag could contain.

Then she packed away all her correspondence with her family, thankful that he had never given her a study, so he would not be able to obtain her families directions without some cost, and a long search. These were followed by the small collection of volumes which she had managed to take from her father's library, having been unable to acquire any herself during her marriage.

She did not sleep that night. Her emotions were too high, her fear of discovery too great. Instead, she watched from her window seat as darkness fell upon the city, and waited for the sound of her husband going to bed to fade into silence. Only then did she rise from her temporary refuge, and change out of her clothes.

It was a slow process. Her bruises from the night before had yet to fade entirely away, and many parts of her body still ached. Nonetheless however, she was soon attired in a light green dress from home, which was sturdier than the one she had been wearing before, and much warmer. Then she resumed her seat, and waited for dawn to come upon London.

As that early morning light gradually fell upon Hanover Square, Elizabeth rose from her seat. Grabbing her portmanteau, she quietly made her way to the door, and stealthily unlocked it. Slipping out of the bedchamber, she made her way to the servants quarters, where she carefully woke her maid.

Sarah had accompanied her from Longbourn, and had always remained her loyal anchor in this two year storm. Understanding her mistress instantly, she hurriedly packed her own things, then followed Elizabeth back down to the ground floor.

The front door had already been unlocked by the butler upon the first stroke of dawn. He was still in the kitchen when Elizabeth opened it, and they made their way out of the house. With the card carrying his address secure in her hand, Elizabeth led the way to Grosvenor Square.

At the front door she hesitated, a sudden fear of being unwelcome creeping into her mind. Then, as if detecting her silent arrival, the entrance was opened, and the kindly senior face of the butler was displayed. With a smile did he greet them, opening the door fully, and ushering them inside.

"My lady Georgiana is at the Earl of Matlock's," he began when they had entered the large marble and white entrance hall, which, when compared with the Earl's, was a great deal more elegant and welcoming, "but my master is at present in the Drawing Room, if you wish to see him."

"How did you know who I am?" Elizabeth began, just now handing her card, while Sarah took charge of the portmanteau.

"My master told us to expect you," the butler replied, still looking upon her kindly. "If you would like to come this way. If your maid does not mind to wait, I shall return to take her to her room presently."

Sarah blushed at the contrast in attention she was receiving, while Elizabeth followed the butler across the pink and white marble floor to one of the white panelled doors. He knocked, waited for a voice from behind to utter "come in," then pressed the handle down, and opened the door.

Darcy was up from his chair in a instant, dashing to the entrance before his butler had even finished announcing her presence. Dismissing his servant, who led her maid away to the rooms below, he put an arm around her and guided her into his Drawing Room.

Once there, all her mask of composure was dropped as Elizabeth collapsed. Darcy swept her into his arms and then down on a sofa, covering her with a blanket he somehow had to hand. He kneeled knelt beside her face, smoothing her hair back with a protective caress, silently wishing that he held the power to make the red mark which was revealed disappear. "It is all right, it is all right. You're safe now, I promise you. He'll never harm you again."

She nodded, tears sliding down her face, her energy reserves now all quite depleted. Darcy remained beside her, stroking her face until she had exhausted her grief, calmed, then closed her eyes. When she had fallen asleep, he quietly slipped out of the room and commanded the nearest servant to fetch his butler and housekeeper.

"The Countess is a permanent resident from now on," he instructed them when they had arrived before him, "to be quartered in the second of the state suites. If her husband should call, you are to forbid him admittance and entrance. Neither she or myself are at home, understand?" He paused to wait for their nod before adding his final requests. "Please instruct the household to do the same. She is to be treated as mistress of this house."

Darcy did not wait for their shocked assurances, returning instead to the Drawing room.

When Elizabeth woke, the first thing she encountered was two long legs crossed, clothed in black trousers. Raising her eyes upwards, she found the comforting figure of her champion, reading; although unbeknownst to her he had never turned a page since picking the volume up some hours earlier.

Seeming to sense her sudden movement, he looked up and met her gaze, laying aside the book in order to lean forward and talk to her. "How do you feel?" he softly asked.

"Awake," she answered, "safe."

He smiled at that. Gesturing to a table beside her, he asked, "Are you hungry?"

Elizabeth nodded, and timidly partook of a tea and some sandwiches which he had had prepared for her by his kitchens. When she had eaten and drunk all that she could, she leant back into the comforting confines of the sofa, and roused her courage.

"What will happen now?" she forced herself to ask.

"I have spoken to my household," he replied, as if what was taking place was completely normal and commonplace. You are to treated with the respect your rank deserves. He," he emphasised the word, meaning her husband, "is to never be allowed admittance. Any servant who sees him at the door, shall say that no one is here, and turn him away. If indeed he ever discovers you are here."

He paused to take a sip of his own tea, before adding, "Georgiana is with our Aunt and Uncle Matlock, and shall return upon the morrow. Until then we have the house to ourselves." He set his empty cup down. "And you, shall be treated as an honoured guest."

Darcy then rose from his seat, and held out an arm. "Do you feel up to a tour of the house before dinner? We shall limit it to just the principal rooms for now, ending with your bedchamber so you can do whatever it is your ladies do before dinner."

Elizabeth felt secure enough to laugh at that, and consented. She took his offered arm, and quietly listened as he began to describe the history of the house, which family member commenced the design and built, what changes his descendants had made. His eloquence upon the subject, displayed a thorough knowledge of it, as well as a love for the magnificent home which he owned.

The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the rather imposing furniture she had seen in Rosings, and in the houses of the Earl, the furnishings and decoration opting for the more subtle approach of simplistic sophistication and comfort. There was no over usage of finery, no overflow of gilding in the wood cravings in gold or white plaster. Elizabeth could not find a fault. And nor did she wish to.

His bedchamber and dressing room were shown only in passing, giving no time to Elizabeth to entertain a fear of what obligations he may expect from her, now that she had placed herself under his protection, the evidence about her body imposing another debt of honour which he would soon force the Earl to collect upon. Then they halted briefly outside a door nearby.

Darcy turned to her, pressing the handle down and opening the door. "And, these are your rooms."

He led her into a spacious ante room, in which there was set two sofas, some chairs, a table and a small bookcase against the wall. Then turning to his left, he opened a door located in the middle of that wall, to reveal a small space, containing access to two doors. He pointed to the furthest one, proclaiming it to be her dressing room, and then opened the one directly opposite them, which proved to be her bedchamber.

Elizabeth gasped as she stepped inside. The layout of her rooms were the exact replica of his own. As he began to relate the history of the room, she found her suspicions confirmed. This was the suite intended for the mistress of the house.

She turned to face him. "Sir," she began cautiously, "you do not need to give me this distinction. I shall be quite content in one of the guest rooms."

Darcy shook his head. "I would not be content in giving you one," he replied, "for this is what you deserve." He took a step forward towards her. "Please, have no fear of my disturbing you here. You are under no obligation. I only wish for you to feel safe and content."

"Then, thank you, sir."

He took another step forward, and took her hands into his. "Fitzwilliam, please," he requested. "There is no longer any need for such formality here."

Darcy raised those hands to his lips, bestowed a kiss, then bowed and left her alone.

Compared to all that had passed before, the remainder of the evening passed away normally. She sat to the left of his chair at the head of the long dining table for dinner, where the servants did not stare, nor whisper, but behaved as the best example of servitude under a good and kind master, attending to their every need, and disappearing when they were no longer required.

After dinner they retired to the library, where Elizabeth was given the chance to peruse all the volumes contained therein at her leisure. Selecting one which she had been obliged to part from when leaving Longbourn, a long held favourite selection of Cowper1 and secured herself a deep armed pillowed chair, before opening it to read.

He likewise took a volume down to peruse, but soon found the task a difficult one, often turned from for the more pleasurable notion of observing her. He watched with gladness her face lose the fear, and the glory of contentment come into her fine eyes. Hours passed, but his enjoyment in such a pursuit did not cease.

Soon, as it became very late, he saw the book come to rest upon her lap, and her eyes begin to close. When she had been asleep long enough to make removal not a disturbance, he rose from his chair, lifted her into his arms, and carried her to her room.

1. William Cowper was a favourite of Jane Austen's and she quotes from it in some of her novels. In Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, Marianne quotes the following from him;

No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone;
When snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.

The Castaway 1799.

Chapter XIX.

The sight of a Colonel in the uniform of the Guards raised hardly any astonishment from the cigar fumed rooms of the Four Horse club. Such officers were members and thus needed little introduction. Few paid him more than a cursory glance, and those who did found nothing remarkable with which to give their distraction focus.

He inquired after the Earl of Saffron Walden, and was directed to a private room. Dismissing the attendant, the Colonel entered without prior notice, and the scene which met his disapproving glance was one which would have drawn shock at its vulgarity, had he not been a hardened soldier. Clearing his throat caused the men within to realise his entrance, whereupon his patience was tested as they attempted to assume some degree of dignity, whilst the girls scrambled into their shifts and exited through a side door.

With all the precision of his military bearing the Colonel placed a piece of folded paper embossed with the Darcy seal before the Earl, who attempted to treat it with disdain as he viewed the words contained therein, while his company visibly blanched from recognition of the crest.

"Is he serious?" queried the Earl imperiously, turning his gaze from the note to the man who had couriered it. "A gentleman farmer seeks to challenge me?"

"My cousin may be a gentleman farmer," the Colonel remarked, "but he is nephew and grandson to Earl whose reputation is far superior to your own. He is also the scion of one of the oldest families in England." Resting his hand on the grip of his sword, he leaned forward to add. "And yes, he's entirely serious."

Saffron Walden took a noticeable breath, his eyes unable to resist catching sight of the sword and the Colonel's experienced grip. For the first time the reality of his situation began to sink in, and the image was not one which his mind desired to become or remain truth. Then he asked quietly, “What are his conditions?"

"You'll meet on his estate in Derbyshire," the Colonel replied. "Some sword practise will be in order, and I would advise you to find your second, unless either of you gentlemen would care to volunteer?"

It was hardly surprising to either the Colonel or the Earl that the gentlemen present declined that honour. Resuming his previous position, Richard bade them farewell, his parting words directed at the Earl. "We await your pleasure, sir."

Elizabeth woke the next morning with a deeper feeling of contentment than she had ever known before, even prior to her marriage. When she had first arrived at his door, she had felt all the fears which, during the journey from Hanover Square, she had been trying so hard to ignore, abruptly take hold of her. About what he might expect from her. About what she might be obliged to do, since she owed her present sanctuary entirely to his goodwill.

But she knew now that what she had imagined could not be further from the truth. He was truly the best man she had ever known. He had given her far more than she had felt any right to even hope for, let alone expect. For the first time she actually believed in the noble truth of his declaration to her in Kent.

It was Society and the Earl who would judge her circumstances and conclude accordingly. She had abandoned her husband's bed and household for another man. She had thrown away all the advantages she had gained by marrying into one of the richest Earldoms in the kingdom, to live with a man worth not half his value. In the eyes of Society she was Mr Darcy's mistress.

But in truth, she was not his mistress. He had not even suggested that idea to her. Nor dragged her out of her husband's house. Nor forced his intentions in any way on to her. She was simply a companion for his sister. Their guest. His home was truly her sanctuary, with no other motives involved.

The mantle clock chimed the hour, and upon glancing at it, Elizabeth reluctantly withdrew from her thoughts. Morning was almost over. She was suddenly aware of how little sleep she had gotten the night before she had left Hanover Square.

Obviously her subconscious had already adjusted to the feeling of safety that was to be derived from having her own chamber without the duties of marriage attached to it, given the length of sleep it had taken. She reached out and rang the bell for her maid, before realising what she had done. Scarcely had she time however to worry if that was acceptable, before there was a knock at the door, and Sarah had entered at her answer.

She was full of all the joys at the novelty of a new household to greet and know, and Elizabeth was content just to listen to her joy, as she described how kind the housekeeper and butler, as the heads of the household staff, had been, as well as the rest of the servants.

Instead of sharing, as she had done at the Earl's, Sarah explained that she had her own room, and was given equal precedence to Miss Darcy's maid and the master's valet, a respect that the Earl's servants had never given, even though it should have been her due, as maid to the Countess, the lady of the house.

Even Mr Darcy, or the master as he was called, with a sort of strange mixture of affection and respect, had come down to inquire as to how she was settling in, and whether there was anything else she required or could want.

Through Sarah, Elizabeth learnt that Miss Darcy was already home from her stay with her Aunt and Uncle, the Earl and Countess of Matlock. She wondered whether she should make her presence known to her first, or inform Mr Darcy that she was up, and let him announce her to his sister.

For the first time that morning Elizabeth wondered whether Miss Darcy would really welcome her as her brother had said she would. Surely she had every right to be scandalised by her presence here, her brother's obvious affection for her, and his involvement in the escape.

Added to this, was her occupation of the rooms that were once Miss Darcy's mother's. She had every right to resent her presence in them. Elizabeth remembered having a good conversation with her at Jane's wedding, and being able to make her come alive from the quiet, shy person that she had first been introduced to. But she had been with her husband then, living a non-scandalous life. And that could make all the difference.

These musings were brought to an abrupt halt at that moment, by a knock on the door. Sarah ceased putting the finishing touches to her hair, and went to answer it. Elizabeth turned at the sound of the door opening, to fix her eyes upon the very person who had been occupying her worried thoughts. And the contrast to them, if her outward appearance and facial expression was anything to go by, was exactly the opposite of all her imaginings.

"I thought I should come to welcome you to our home, Countess," Miss Darcy began in greeting, making her way to stand by the dressing table that she was seated at. "I hope you have had a comfortable night, and that everything was to your liking?"

"Indeed," Elizabeth managed to get out. "I could not have had a better one, thank you, Miss Darcy."

"Oh please, none of that. If we are to be friends, which I am determined that we are, then you must call me Georgiana, or Georgie, as my brother does."

"Then, please call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy, as my sisters do," Elizabeth entreated, her fears fading away at such a welcome.

"I shall be delighted to," Georgiana replied, smiling. "Now, would you like some breakfast? I can have it prepared in a moment."

"No, just something light I think, if you do not mind. It is too near luncheon to have a full breakfast."

"Of course, I shall arrange it directly. You could have it in the Music Room with me and my brother. We have been quartered there all morning. He has insisted on hearing me play a new piece that our Aunt Fitzwilliam gave to me, even though I have barely even begun to master it."

"I'm sure you are already an expert at it."

Georgiana blushed. "William must have informed you of his opinion of me. He is too good to me sometimes."

"Oh, no," Elizabeth assured her, "I remember hearing you play at Netherfield when you came for the wedding of my sister. And I have heard nothing the but highest praise of you from Kent, and the Bingleys. I should dearly love to hear you again."

"Well thank you. I shall try. If I can hear you as well."

"Oh, I play very ill."

"Not according to my brother. I have heard nothing but the highest praise of you from him, and he plays much better than me." Georgiana paused, as Sarah finished attending to her mistress and excused herself from the room. Then, advancing closer to the chair Elizabeth was in, Georgiana added, "Lizzy, please do not worry about whether I resent your presence here. For, I can assure you that that is not the case.

"Ever since I heard about you from William, I wanted to meet you, and when I did, I wanted us to be friends. My brother spoke to me about you before he ever went to Kent. He loves you so much. I could never disapprove of you, because of that. Indeed, it is unchristian for me to say so, but I wish you were free of the Earl, so you could," she blushed, "be my sister. I could not want for a better one."

Elizabeth could not be anything but touched by this statement. She looked up at her new friend with a smile full of gratitude. "Thank you," she softly uttered.

A short while later, they came downstairs together, arm in arm, much to the happiness of the master of the house, who stood up as they came into the Music Room. At ease was Elizabeth soon able to feel, as she sat down in the sofa nearest the pianoforte, with Darcy to her right and Georgiana to her left. They welcomed her into the conversation without any awkwardness or difficulty, ensuring that within minutes Elizabeth felt completely at home in their company.

Luncheon came and went without any change in occupation, or absence of any of the trio. To her relief Elizabeth heard nothing to indicate that her husband had learned of her presence in Grosvenor Square, and she soon felt confident and safe enough to sing for the Darcys when she was entreated to do so in the afternoon.

They spent the rest of the day together; each entertaining the other two with their performance on the instruments. Elizabeth heard them both play much to her liking, and to the compliment of their talent and skill for the vocation. Both played with feeling and artistry, and each performance was to Elizabeth, too unique in its own right for one to be judged the better, or more talented, of the two.

When the day had darkened into night, and Georgiana retired for the night some hours after dinner, Darcy remained with her, seating himself at the piano which his sister had just given up, his hands absently fingering out a tune as he talked with Elizabeth. She thanked him for the day, telling him how much she had enjoyed it, and how much she had been glad of his sister's welcome of her.

"I thought she was going to resent me," Elizabeth confessed.

"It is not in her nature," Darcy replied, not in the least offended, having suspected that she might think that. "She thinks well of everybody, everyone that knows her thinks well of her too. Her loyalty once given is rarely retracted, and she inspires a desire to protect her in everyone, without knowing it."

Her eyes drifted to his fingers, unconsciously admiring their supple nature as they danced along the keys of the instrument. An image of them gripping a sword abruptly flashed into her mind and she allowed herself to ask the question which concerned her the most.

"When is the duel?"

Darcy's hands stilled, and he turned to face her. "Not for some time. My cousin went to see him at his club with my note, and apprise him of the conditions. But until he has found himself a second, there is nothing to be done." He paused, regarding how she took in such news, before adding. "It shall take place on my estate, I hope before Richard's wedding."

Elizabeth nodded, unable to refrain from flinching a little at the suddenness, for that event was due to take place soon, before the Colonel's regiment were ordered back to Spain. If she had been with the Earl he would have likely refused their attendance, however much she wished to see Charlotte happily married. Now, she wondered if she could attend, given her soon to be scandalous reputation. It was not unheard of for ladies such as herself to flout the notoriety of their scandalous circumstances by appearing in public, but the motion was frowned upon and likely to be much talked of.

"You must be wanting to inform your family," Darcy remarked suddenly, causing her to rouse herself from her thoughts. "I understand you have a Aunt and Uncle in town, and of course there are the Bingleys, as well as your parents and sisters."

"Should I be so bold?" she queried. "I would hate to place them in the position of being able to inform the Earl as to where I can be found, though he will most likely surmise my location in any case."

"I have no desire to keep you from your family," Darcy replied. "But their concern will naturally be aroused if the Earl goes hunting for you, or if the scandal sheets learn of your presence here. I leave the decision to you, however."

She laughed at that, causing him to smile in hearing such a musical tone which could not fail to gladden his heart, however confused as he might be towards the source of her humour. "I have never known such freedom. Even when I was a girl, my choices were guided either by my mother or my sisters, occasionally by my father. The constraints of family and tradition consign such liberty to the winds."

"I grant you, it is impossible to act without some restraint," Darcy agreed. "One is bound by either their family or their tenants, or their land. We are tied by the weather, or the law, even the calendar to consign ourselves to the routine of tradition, of custom. Our actions presumed, the judgement upon us if we do otherwise often prejudiced in the extreme." He paused, musing over the thought. "But without those restraints, would we not feel a bereft of any care for us? Would we not experience a certain loneliness?"

"However much the care is misapplied or maligned by such a term of its truth?" Elizabeth queried, thinking of her marriage, of Maria Lucas' marriage, and the years of her youth framed by her parents' mismatched union.

"I don't believe that could be called care," Darcy answered. "I think that must be a greater loneliness than what is usually couched in such a term. It exists in many forms; even when one is amongst a crowd of people one can feel entirely alone."

"One can be imprisoned by such a word, however much liberty it professes to provide," Elizabeth remarked. "The very nature of it is solitary and confining."

"Have I given you liberty?" Darcy queried. "I've placed you under my protection, given you little option for an alternative retreat from your husband, setting you up as my mistress in the eyes of society. There are those who would view my actions selfish rather than chivalrous."

"You have not been selfish," Elizabeth assured him. "Where else could I go? I cannot go to my family, bringing the shame of leaving my husband upon them, leaving my mother to despair over their misfortune, the constant concern that the Earl will dare to seek me out and take me back. Nor could I stay with my husband, who has abused his office as such and as a gentleman. I came to you of my own free will, and you have respected such a privilege by living up to your promises."

"But I cannot claim that there are any disinterested motives in my behaviour," Darcy remarked. "I cannot deny that I do not desire you to begin to feel some affection for me, if only a little. In that respect, I have been selfish, by denying you once more the liberty to choose whom you wish."

Elizabeth rose up from her place on the sofa and came to stand before him at the instrument. "But you have, for I confess that I have felt an admiration for you from the beginning of our acquaintance, which I have no doubt will continue to grow." She inclined her head towards him by way of farewell, and left the music room.

Chapter XX.

Despite her confession, little changed in the way Elizabeth was treated or regarded in Grosvenor Square. As the days passed without a call from her husband, a member of her family, or even a curious member of the Society, the three of them settled into a routine which was largely pleasure bent, save for when Darcy was required to deal with matters of business, or one of Georgiana's tutors called.

On one such occasion, Elizabeth was left alone to seek her own enjoyment, which came to be a solitary tour of the house. Inclement weather kept her indoors, but served not to prevent her desire to ramble, and the framed illustrations of countryside occasionally served to satisfy her preference for the source of their depictions.

Surveying just such a prime example, her attention was suddenly drawn from the oils, towards another part of the house, from which a peculiar sound was emanating, a sharp contrast to the peaceful scenes which had so recently held her imagination and focus.

The sound was unfamiliar, it caught her curiosity, drawing her from a solitary tour of the house towards the expansive ballroom. Inside she found herself witness to a most unusual scene, the clash of steel upon steel, held in the hands of two men, one clothed in a loose shirt and breeches, the other only the latter, whose handsome, if somewhat dishevelled appearance could not fail to catch her eye.

All the mechanics of a sword fight soon became familiar to her as she watched the participants dance back and forth across the room in a set piece few couples could prove themselves expert in. Parry, thrust, spin, the foils moved with lightning speed between them, the sound of collision its own musical accompaniment.

Both were well matched, to her untrained eye, though she knew that one must be the superior, having fought his way through the fields of Portugal, Spain and France. Yet he did not seem to have the advantage which his cousin possessed at times, catching him in moves that for all the brutality of the sport, had a certain something in their air which was elegantly refined.

"I tell you, cousin, you will not be able to be this free upon the field, 'tis not the done thing," the colonel remarked during a brief pause from the bout.

"Really?" Darcy queried. "I have heard otherwise."

"Still, you had better become accustomed to it, especially as we will have observers," he said this with a look towards the door, causing his cousin to turn also.

Darcy caught sight of Elizabeth, his astonishment at her arrival nearly preventing him from catching the shirt which Richard hurriedly flung at him. Clothing himself within the garment he advanced towards her, refraining from fastening it as he observed that her fine eyes were still fixed on his person despite the harsh sound which accompanied his blade as it fell to the floor.

"Is there something I can do for you, Elizabeth?" he asked softly, the tone of his voice as he caressed the syllables of her name undeniably intimate.

She blushed at the depth which it held before replying, "No, forgive me for disturbing you." Withdrawing her gaze from his finely toned figure, she made move to leave and would have succeeded, had it not been for his hand gently preventing her.

"There is nothing to forgive, my lady. Indeed, I find such an event a pleasure which I savour daily," he replied, causing the colour of her skin to deepen. Bestowing a kiss upon the hand which he held in his own, he quietly released her and walked back to face his cousin, picking up his sword on the way.

Elizabeth watched as the two combatants raised their weapons before them in a salute, before sweeping the blades towards each other with deft decisive strokes. Silently she recalled the many evenings Colonel Fitzwilliam had joined them for dinner, realising now the motive behind his visits. Clearly there was a great deal of preparation to be had about a duel, which caused her to wonder if her husband was practising similar methods in Hanover Square, or in one of his clubs, which was perhaps a more likely location.

In her father's library there had been a book on fencing. She recalled exploring the leather bound volume once, noticing that the gentlemen before her used swords of a heavier weight without small metal balls decorating the tips. Doubtless the intention was to simulate the conditions of the duel, though she doubted her husband possessed the skill which the colonel was displaying.

She wondered whom he would choose for his second, for she knew none of his close acquaintance. He had come alone to Hertfordshire to court her, and no one stood up with him at their wedding. During their marriage she had never been asked to entertain dinner guests, nor had any made themselves known to her when she was presented at court. Mr Darcy had spoken of his cousin confronting him at his club, where she supposed a second would be found, yet the days had passed without a word from him of a date for the duel so none must have come forward.

It was a day which she tried not to contemplate, for often her worst fears were imagined through dwelling upon what would happen in the event of her husband winning. Equally there were concerns of a different victory, the sudden freedom which it might grant her. Though she was under Mr Darcy's protection now, her husband's defeat would grant her the liberty to return to her family, or a place of her own choosing. Whilst she was assured of being welcome as guest here or at Pemberley for as long as she desired, Elizabeth did not wish for the taint of scandal to linger upon a family who had done so much to broker for her happiness.

Yet the thought of leaving their company was almost unbearable. Mere days had she spent with them but already she felt a greater sense of contentment and belonging that not even her innocent youth could measure up to in comparison. But she could not lessen the scandal which would arise if she remained. Even if she kept herself hidden from society rumours would circulate, as they had done so about her marriage.

Of course, she could let the rumour become truth, offer herself to her champion as the spoils of a duel concerning which he did not deny possessing a certain selfish interest in winning. That she felt some attraction towards him was undeniable, her eyes were still lingering over his uncommonly handsome figure, observing the taut, toned sinews of his muscles in his sword play with his cousin. In his loose shirt and breeches he was nothing more than a gentleman farmer, despite the elegance which shone through his deft fencing, but it was always the man she had yearned for, not the estates that may or may not accompany him.

With her husband it had been different. She could not recall a desire to see him so simply attired, even before the full horror of their wedding night unleashed his true character from the trappings of company and gentility. Nor could she recollect herself finding a fascination in his occupations, only a preoccupation about their duration serving to save her from becoming the object of his abuse.

However while this contrast existed, she felt nothing but fear regarding such a prospect. Though Mr Darcy had been nothing but a gentleman towards her, professing a disgust at the abuse which she endured, rescuing her from any repetition of them, ensuring such by challenging her husband to a duel, she could not convince herself that such evidence would lead to a difference in his bed. Her life had given her few examples of contented marriages; the Gardiners' were a notable exception and she not yet witnessed that of her sister's. She knew that there must exist some attraction within the union, for else few would choose to seek it outside their marriages of convenience or disenchanted affection.

But how could it be a joy to her, after what seemed a lifetime spent in absolute terror? No matter how much gentleness or tenderness accompanied the caresses, there would still be the rough thrusting amid the growls and moans in quest for the bloody milky fluid that was the seepage of fulfilment. She would still be pressed beneath a crushing form, surrounded by the darkness of the original sin contained therein, obliged to surrender to a further form of blackness, until his need was spent inside her.

Frowning at such thoughts she left the combatants alone in the ballroom, not knowing that despite their apparent focus upon improving their technique, her sudden absence from their company would insert a pause into the proceedings. Darcy's gaze remained fixed upon the doors which her hands had served to touch and close, whilst he took a towel from a nearby chair and proceeded to rid his body of the toils from his exertions.

He wondered what made her frown, hoping that it had not been his confession concerning how much her mere presence disturbed him daily. In hindsight it was an ill-timed compliment, spoken heedlessly, without care for what horrors she had endured in Hanover Square. Born out of him from delight in catching her interest in his form, the fascination which her fine eyes held for the sight of him without the formal trappings required of fashion. Though he had caused her to blush and linger as opposed to darting away, now he inwardly rebuked himself for the thoughtless remark.

Even with the threat of the duel hanging over them, nothing had served to disturb the easy camaraderie which the three of them had cause to find within each other's company. Days were spent in quest of naught but their own enjoyment, save for when his estate required attention or his cousin commanded some sword practise. In her he had pleasure to witness the emergence of a lively wit, an intelligence and a set of accomplishments which few of his female acquaintance possessed. And all without ceremony or a desire to please or offend.

It was such an intoxication which had roused his interest in her firstly, and now served only to increase the depth of devotion he felt for her. With the Earl's absence, along with only the colonel's intrusion by way of society it was all too easy to imagine a relationship enshrined by church and law, which not even their parting in order to retire for the night could cause to fade away. Though there was no display of touching affection, there was a tenderness that existed in both his manner and tone towards her, ensuing reciprocation of the same, however unconsciously portrayed on her part.

Yet he held himself back from taking such tendre further, though he had little comprehension of what she had endured within the marriage bed, other than the terror and the bruising that he witnessed within and without the Earl's company. A part of him longed to show her that such unions need not be a prison born from Hades, but he wished to receive a form of blessing or attraction from her regarding the act first, rather than stoking the embers utterly on his own.

Such was impossible, a part of him often rationalised, for what examples of contented marriages had she witnessed to compare her own with? Neither of them had seen the Bingleys since their wedding, though he had the occasional scrawled and blotted note from his friend, and doubtless she received such missives from her sister before she left her husband, though hopefully more elegantly conveyed. He had not wished to burden his friend with the scandalous dilemma which this affair would create, even though they would eventually learn of it through the rumour mongers of society, and despite his offer to her upon the second night of her stay, she had yet to write to any of her family in order to inform them of her whereabouts.

At times he contemplated doing so on her behalf, but he had no wish to take away the luxury of liberty which his offer of protection had bestowed upon her, however much a part of him might seem selfish in doing so. Though she had declined to call his actions such, he was well aware that they were not all born out of a noble disinterestedness on his part. He wanted to earn her love, but he also wanted her respect, and it was that desire which kept him from demanding more from her than she could yet learn to give.

Brighton may be a fashionable spa town, the embodiment of every pleasure which Prinny enjoyed in his spectacular confection of a beach hut, otherwise known as the Marine Pavilion, but to the Earl of Saffron Walden, it was nothing more than port in a storm, as he rested in an exhaustion brought on by a vigorous Four Horse meet.

At present he found the place even more vulgar than he usually did, overflowing as it was with the sight of red coats, gold braids and gilded steel, reminding him uncomfortably of the incident in London when he encountered his challenger's second in all the military regalia of a Colonel of the Life Guards. The contrast between that battled hardened individual and the drunk, gambling, carousing men around him could not be more harsh, yet the similarity of their coats served to remind him all the same.

Nursing his own ale, he reluctantly considered once more the task that the officer had bestowed upon him, wondering where he would find a man of such calibre willing to perform such a duty for him. Certainly not amongst his friends at the Four Horse club, nor were any of the colleagues from his other clubs likely to volunteer. This was not something which he could just pull a fellow off the street for, and yet this was precisely what he contemplated doing.

But who among them would be brave enough to challenge Darcy, a man who despite his determination to disregard society was nonetheless highly respected by members of the same, the noble scion of a name as old as that of their sovereign's, whose reputation was as remarkable as his desire to remain unremarkable.

"Did I hear you say Darcy?" a voice murmured beside him, causing the Earl to realise that he must have spoken at least some of his thoughts aloud.

Rising from his drink, his gaze met another member of the swarm which had infested the spa town this summer; a red coated, gold braided lieutenant, whose adornments had yet to be completely tarnished, indicating that he was new to the life of a soldier. Added to that there was a certain something in his air which hinted at an upbringing worthy of sons from the first circles, a incongruous contrast to his lowly rank.

"If I did, why should such a man interest you?" the Earl murmured.

"He once cheated me out of an inheritance which would have saved me from this life," the officer replied. "I thought him a friend, an impression in which I was gravely mistaken."

The Earl was astonished, this was the first occasion he had heard something other than praise concerning the man who dared to challenge him. He was intrigued by the story that the words hinted at, the ambiguous expression contained within his companion's genial gaze. While he may not have found the equal to the officer who called him to account so recently, he may have found one as desirous to dish out revenge.

Marine (Brighton) Pavilion: In mid 1780s the Prince of Wales rented a farm house overlooking a fashionable promenade in Brighton. After pleading with Parliament to clear his debts, he hired architect Henry Holland to transform the farm house into a villa, which became known as the Marine Pavilion. It was not until 1815 when the Prince Regent hired John Nash to transform the modest villa into the oriental palace we see today.

Section Six

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