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Chapter 18


When Darcy entered the library, he was greeted by:

“Has that odious, little man left my house?” Lady Suzan asked, still agitated at having to deal with such pomposity.

“Yes, Aunt.  He and Sir William just left.  Though I may have overstepped myself in dealing with your staff,” he replied.

“You were not rude to them?” she questioned, concerned.

“No, your Ladyship, I only asked Hornsby to never admit those two gentlemen into this house ever again,” he responded.

“No, Darcy, you did not overstep. I would have issued those same instructions,” she said, “So tell us how you were able to get them to depart so quickly.”

“I simply indicated that I found his behavior toward the Bennet family reprehensible.  And the fact that Lady Catherine’s conduct in such an unchristian act was just as abhorrent.”

“You spoke sacrilege about Lady Catherine to Mr. Collins and remain unscathed,” Elizabeth mockingly gasped with a smirk.

With a big grin, Darcy expounded, “He was so taken aback by my statement that before he could respond, I informed him that if he ever again tried to contact any member of the Bennet family, I would make sure he would regret it.  Then I escorted them to the door.”

Elizabeth smiled as she imagined the scene he had just described.  Then a frown appeared on her face, “Poor Sir William!  Poor Charlotte!”

“I did feel badly that Sir William had to be witness, but it could not be helped,” Darcy explained.

“Yes, Sir William may be a bit pompous and bombastic, but he means well.  He truly cares about his family and friends,” Elizabeth stated.

“Yes, well, that is all settled.” Lady Suzan let out a sigh of relief.

“Yes, Mr. Darcy, I must thank you again for coming to my rescue.  Your help is very much appreciated,” Elizabeth addressed Darcy.

Lady Suzan looked from Elizabeth to Darcy and decided that this was as good a time as any to address her concerns with Darcy.  Elizabeth, dear, would you give me a few moments with my nephew?”

“Yes, Lady Suzan. I will be in my rooms.  I owe my sister a letter, describing the presentation and the ball, and now I can relate to her Mr. Collins’ comeuppance.”  Turning to Mr. Darcy, “Mr. Darcy, will I see you later?”

Lady Suzan said, “Mr. Darcy will have something to do for me, and I doubt he will be here later.”

Darcy looked at his aunt questioningly.

“In that case, I wish you a good day, Mr. Darcy.”  Elizabeth curtsied.  “And again I thank you for your gallant service.”

After executing a bow much deeper than his normal, he stated, “It was my pleasure to be of service to you, Miss Bennet.  Good day.”

With a tender look on his face, Darcy watched Elizabeth leave the room before turning to his aunt and asking, “You wish to speak with me, Aunt Suzan?”

“Yes, Nephew. I want to know what you are playing at with Miss Bennet?”

“Playing at?” he queried, slipping on his mask of reserve.  He knew that this conversation would not reflect well on his character or his aunt’s opinion of him.

“Over the past two weeks you have been courting Miss Bennet,” she stated and then added in a more stern voice, “An affianced man courting a woman who is not his intended; it is not done!”

“Aunt, I have been courting, as you say, Miss Bennet but not in the way that you are alluding to.” Looking away from his aunt, he went on to explain, “I like Miss Bennet.  I have liked her from the first time we were introduced.  But she developed a dislike of me based on many factors, and it has always bothered me that she has been out in the world thinking ill of me.  I only wanted to take this time to improve her opinion of me.”

“In that, I say, you have succeeded…succeeded only too well.”

Looking at his aunt with a furrowed brow, “What do you mean that I have succeeded too well?”

“Darcy, had I not interrupted you at St. James Palace, you would have kissed Elizabeth, and she would have let you,” she said, somewhat troubled.

He startled at that bit of information.  Had he truly gained Elizabeth’s affections?

“What were you thinking to attempt to compromise a young lady in such a place?  A gentleman engaged to be married to another?  It is just not done!”

Lowering his head, he knew she was right.  Elizabeth focuses all my senses on her, and I truly forget myself when she is so near.

Seeing he was contemplating what she had said, with a softer voice she stated her main concern, “Miss Bennet is very special to me.  I do not want to see her heart broken when you wed Virginia Wagstaff.”

He looked up at his aunt.  Never had he meant to hurt Elizabeth, but evidently his aunt believed he had the ability to do so.  “What would you have me do?”

“Distance yourself from her.  You have achieved your goal of winning her regard, but you have also succeeded in developing a powerful physical attraction between the two of you as witnessed by that little intimate scene at the Palace.  A step down that road will lead to nothing but disaster,” she noted.

Averting his eyes from his aunt, he could not help but think that she was correct.  But heaven help him if he could do as she asked.

"Darcy, my concern is for you as well.  If you have developed tender feelings for Miss Bennet, it cannot bode well for your marriage to Virginia Wagstaff.  Even if it is a marriage of convenience, you will not find any happiness.  You must break the ties you have established with Miss Bennet, for her sake as well as your own.

With a forlornlook, he addressed his aunt, “I am not sure how it is to be done.  Are you forbidding me from calling here?  Am I to be persona non grata as Mr. Collins is?

Shaking her head in the negative, “No, my dear, but if you feel the need to call on us here, you will bring Georgiana.  She can act as buffer and a chaperone.  There will be no more strolls in the park unattended.  You and Miss Bennet will be accompanied by Georgiana or Richard or a footman.  Though I will remind you that the servants in this house think very highly of Miss Bennet and are very loyal to her; so do not think about bribing or intimidating any of them.”

Giving his aunt a weak smile, he nodded his agreement.

“One more thing…” she said.

Looking intently at his aunt, he replied, “Yes?”

“Our social calendars will converge over the next months; I do not want you taking Miss Bennet out for fresh air.  The conversation between the two of you will be of a civil, polite variety.  And if you feel the need to dance with Miss Bennet, it will be limited to one and only one dance.”

Leaning his head back as he closed his eyes, his shoulders sagging, he silently admitted to the truth of his aunt’s words.  He had put both Elizabeth and himself in a dangerous situation and it was his responsibility to get them out of it.

Lady Suzan walked over to her nephew and placed her hand on his upper arm, “William, you know I love you as if you were my own son.  I do not wish to put these restrictions on you as I know that you care deeply about Miss Bennet and value her friendship.  But you will have to admit that whatever is going on between the two of you goes beyond the bounds of friendship, and you know that this simply cannot happen.”

Looking at his aunt with a dejected expression, he admitted, “Yes, I do know.  I would never intentionally do anything to harm Miss Bennet, so I will abide by your wishes.”

Leaning down to kiss his aunt’s cheek, “I will take my leave now.”

She patted his cheek, and he then turned to walk to the door.  Giving his aunt one last look, he opened the door and walked down the hall to take his leave of Crandall House.

After he left, Lady Suzan sat heavily in a nearby chair.  She had hated what she had done to him.  His reactions confirmed the fear she surmised -- that her nephew was in love with Elizabeth.  Of all her boys, he had been the most responsible, dedicated to his family, his duties and his honor.  Never would she have thought that he would intentionally trifle with a woman’s affections.  But that was in essence what he had done.  Darcy had been a master at maneuvering around marriage-minded mamas and grasping young women looking to snare him.  Now he had let his heart be touched by a simple, country girl.

Yet, Elizabeth was not a simple, country girl by far.  Her intelligence, ease of manners, and those keen skills as an observer put her head and shoulders above the other ladies of the ton---young and old.  She could easily see why Darcy had been attracted to Elizabeth.  While their manners were opposite, their characters and intellect were well matched.  When Darcy was around Elizabeth, his vaulted reserve disappeared and his humor and charm emerged.  Their playful banter and teasing was a pleasure to watch, and to see Darcy laugh and smile when he had always been so serious was a joy to behold.   Why, oh why, did he decide to marry now?  He and Elizabeth would have been perfect for each other. 

Lady Suzan could not help but ponder on the mystery of what exactly happened between Elizabeth and Darcy three years ago atRosings Park.  She had asked Elizabeth about it, but the response she got was vague, without any specifics.  Lady Suzan believed that Elizabeth was covering for Darcy, and it was probably due to something he had done or said that caused the rift.  But whatever it was, they seemed to have gotten beyond it.

It must have been something very insulting or inappropriate as she had never seenElizabeth angry.  Lord knows I should have seen her ire as hard as I pushed her these last few weeks.  WheneverElizabeth showed signs of things becoming too much for her, Darcy would do or say something that caused her to laugh and she would be back to her easy temperament quickly.  Which makes this all the more a mystery, they act now as if they had been close friends for all their lives not just for a few weeks. 

Lady Suzan had asked her son, Richard, about that time as he was with Darcy.  Richard’s remembrances were not much help and only made things that much more confusing.  Richard had said that Darcy had shown an interest in Miss Bennet, which was unusual for him to show an interest in any young lady and especially in Lady Catherine’s house where it was common knowledge that Lady Catherine expected Darcy to wed her daughter, Anne.  But it was also evident that Miss Bennet did not have a very high opinion of Darcy. She had made that fact well known, though in a polite way.  Richard had marked it up to the fact that Darcy was just curious about why a country gentleman’s daughter with hardly any dowry and no connections would not show an interest in him.  When they had left Rosings Park, Darcy had been in a morose mood that lingered until he went north to Pemberley for the summer.  And after that, Richard had not seen much of Darcy, though he remembered that he had noticed Darcy had become more reserved than usual.

Now I need to talk withElizabeth.  I hope the explanation of Darcy’s responsibilities to his estate and business concerns along with his upcoming nuptials will be sufficient of an excuse of why we will not be seeing so much of Mr. Darcy in the future.Elizabeth will be disappointed; it is the degree of disappointment that worries me.  If their attraction is of a lustful nature, distance will soon damper it.  However, if either one of their hearts have been touched then there is not much I can do but lend my support.  

Darcy trudged slowly back to his house, trying to digest all that his aunt had said to him.  Upon entering Darcy House, he looked at the stairs thinking he needed the solitude of his chambers.  On second thought, he realized that he was only being selfish in seeking his own gratification when there were more serious matters to attend to.  Thus, he went to his study with instructions that he was not to be disturbed.

Sitting at his desk, he leaned back.  Have I truly won Elizabeth’s heart?  I admit that it was in the back of my mind when I chose to pursue her favorable regard.  Though I never imagined that I would have done so, but if I have, I have sentenced her to the same misery I have lived with these last three years.  Actually it will be worse! For her, there will be no hope if and when I marry Virginia.  Those vows are for my lifetime and nothing can change that. At least in my case, I still had hope for a second chance with her. Was the pain easier when there was hope?  Why did I lose my hope with Elizabeth?  Because I let my selfish interests interfere.  My loneliness led me to settle for a life with a woman I do not love while the one woman that I do love was still out in the world.  These past few weeks have proven that a second chance with Elizabeth would have been successful.  If only I had waited to propose to Virginia; if only I searched harder for Elizabeth.  If only…If only…

Taking a set of keys from his coat pocket, he unlocked his desk.  He reached down and opened the bottom drawer, moving some papers to the side, he released the latch of the false bottom.  Lifting the wooden lid, he pulled out a metal strongbox and placed it on his desk.  Fumbling for his watch fob, he also laid in on the desk to find the lever that would open it and reveal the key to the strong box.  Once the box was unlocked, he saw it---the miniature of Elizabeth he had commissioned two years ago.

After learning of her family’s problems from his Aunt Catherine in Kent, he returned to London and hired a young portrait artist to paint this miniature from his memory of her at the Netherfield Ball. She had been all sparkle and shine that night, her beauty was breathtaking and overpowering.  When he returned from Kent with the knowledge that her family was missing, he felt the need to capture that image of her for posterity.  Since she was no longer available, his relied on his favorite memory of her to have her likeness recorded.  It was his most prized possession. 

After gazing at it for what seemed an eternity, he leaned his elbows on his desk and put his head in his hands, letting the tears flow freely.  After a few minutes, he raised his head and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his tears.  Surprisingly he felt better; at least, enough to consider what he could do to undo the mess he had made.

Of course, I will try to abide by Lady Suzan’s dictums.  It will be hard but I have to do this for Elizabeth, regardless of what the future holds for us.  If I have only captured her affections and not her heart, then distance will prevent her from living with the pain of a broken heart.

With one last glance at Elizabeth’s image, he tucked it safely back in its hiding place and locked it away.  His eyes still a bit misty.

Now what can I do about my engagement to Mrs. Wagstaff.  If there was only me to consider, I would march over to her house and break it this minute.  But Georgiana, I cannot allow her to suffer from the scandal that I will cause by doing such.  Also, Elizabeth would be affected as well. The stigma of being the other woman would not sit well with her.  And Virginia, while I may not love her, I cannot leave her with the reputation of being a jilted woman; too many will be affected by such a rash and inconsiderate action.  Fortunately, I have yet to have the marriage settlement drawn up; otherwise I would have to deal with legal problems as well for such an action.

Maybe I could just approach Virginia and determine if she would agree to mutually dissolving our engagement.  Though I do not think she would agree, I should at least try.  Reasonably I can justify postponing our wedding until the autumn and offer her the option not to wait. I will just have to think harder on reasons why she should not marry me.  Yes, tonight I will seek a time with her this week to discuss our future or hopefully lack thereof.






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