Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.
The past few weeks have been hectic. We moved the contents of our house into storage, took care of some medical needs, and headed to South America. We will be in Ecuador for two months. The elevation is about 9,000 ft. so I’m still adjusting to the altitude. But, we have our grandchildren here so every breath I struggle to take is worth it. Needless to say, Jennifer is after me to keep my focus and get busy writing so you should expect chapters fairly frequently.
I owe a huge shout of gratitude to Dr. Russell of the Urgent Care clinic in Roseburg and Dr. Susan Williams, my orthopedic surgeon. They both confirmed I was crazy for having a compound fracture in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s leg. So, you will note a change at the beginning of chapter eight. As they each graphically explained where the break should and should not be along with explicit impacts on a person’s body, I truly wanted to faint. Thus, you will read about the injury but it will not be as detailed. Phew!
Without further ado, here is chapter eight. If you are just starting to read, here is the link to the beginning: Chapter One
Elizabeth ran as if her life depended upon it. Her house shoes provided little protection against the rocks and sticks in the field. When she approached the carnage, the sights and the sounds brought bile to her throat. She should not be here.
The stream of words erupting from the colonel, the air blowing from the horse’s nostrils, the ensuing boom of the pistol held tightly in the grip of the older groom, the motion of Mr. Darcy sawing the shaft of the colonel’s boot with a knife blade, the smell of blood and fear served to punish her impulsiveness.
Mr. Darcy looked up and caught her eye. Surprise, or was it disgust at her boldness, covered his face making her wish even more that she had remained firmly in place at Netherfield.
This was the carnage of warfare. A sight the colonel had undoubtedly witnessed on a much grander scale. A sight no lady should witness.
“Might I be of service, sir?” She asked no one in particular as her feet brought her to a stop. Elizabeth desperately wanted to look away. Her eyes refused to obey.
She had never seen death. Nor had she heard it.
The final exhale from the grey animal wrenched her gut until she feared her stomach would empty upon the ground.
Mr. Darcy ripped off the colonel’s stocking, exposing his lower leg to the cold air. Her gaze fixed upon his injured limb. Against Bingley’s declaration, there was no bone emerging through the dark hairs curling from the pale skin. The colonel’s calf did not lay straight on the ground. About mid-way up, there was an unnatural bend, evidence the leg was, indeed, broken.
Elizabeth closed her eyes as Mr. Darcy began to unknot his cravat. She knew his intent. He would wrap the leg to offer whatever stability and cushioning could be provided.
“Ye be wantin’ ‘is, sir.” It was the voice of the aged groom.
Raising her eyelids, she saw him hand a straight piece of wood to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth, grateful the cool temperatures necessitated a shawl inside the sprawling house, removed it from her shoulders and held it in front of her—a gift offering on the altar of compassion.
However, her feet refused to move her closer as her eyes again focused on the injury.
The groom approached her in the same manner as Mr. Darcy had done the wild stallion. Calm. His steps evenly paced. Without a word, he took the fabric from her hands and returned to kneel across from the gentleman.
With her view of the colonel’s leg blocked, Elizabeth came to her senses. “Pardon me, gentlemen.”
She turned to leave when the colonel’s voice stopped her.
“Miss Elizabeth, I thank you for your kindness and aid. Tis what every wounded soldier longs for.” He said through gritted teeth, his breaths coming in gasps.
Glancing first at the officer and then Mr. Darcy, she nodded. Then she returned to Netherfield Park.
Darcy counted the chimes from the clock on the mantle—three. The room was pitch dark except for the lone candle casting shadows over his sleeping cousin’s face. Richard had readily consumed a fair amount of Bingley’s brandy by the time the surgeon had arrived from town. The pain had been far easier to deal with than the news. Not only would the injury end his active military service, it would leave his lower leg bent for the rest of his life. Richard, whose joy had been dancing with the ladies as well as gentlemen’s activities such as boxing and fencing, would have a decided limp. According to Dr. Stevenson, it may also necessitate the permanent use of a walking cane.
Memories of the cousins romping through Pemberley or Matlock woods, running across fields, and racing to see who could climb a tree fastest flitted through Darcy’s mind as he felt Richard’s loss in his own heart. His cousin was an energetic man, always on the move. The doctor had been blunt, which had been his cousin’s request.
Dead silence had been Richard’s response until the doctor walked from the room. Only then had he allowed his devastation to show. When Bingley had stopped by the bed chamber, the colonel’s apology for the loss of a fine animal had been sincere. When it was, again, just the two of them, his elder cousin proceeded to drink himself into an inebriation that would have impressed the man had he not been so overcome.
Chuckling softly to himself, Darcy had to admit that among the sterling qualities his cousin possessed, singing well while drunk was not one of them. However, what he lacked in melody, he made up for with enthusiasm. Darcy was eternally grateful none of the women, including the maids, had witnessed Richard’s lack of skill or overheard the words to his selection of songs.
Richard was a fine man, the finest in all of Darcy’s acquaintance. His refusal of laudanum had not surprised the physician. Many patients who had witnessed the destruction caused when a person became dependent upon the drug would not touch the substance. As an officer in the army, Richard had seen his fair share.
The clock struck the half hour. Straightening in the chair positioned next to the bed, Darcy stretched his arms to the ceiling and yawned. He needed coffee—hot, strong, and black. Shaking the stiffness from his limbs as he stood, he decided that rather than disturbing a servant to provide the beverage, he could do with a walk downstairs and back. A quick glance at his cousin found him to be sleeping just as soundly as he had been the past hours.
In his shirtsleeves with no cravat, he stepped outside the room, confident he would meet none of the other residents. His confidence was severely misplaced.
Her body was warm and surprisingly solid.
Miss Elizabeth’s effort to jump back to avoid him barreling into her was in vain. Instinctively, his arms surrounded her, pulling her close as he stepped to the side to regain his footing and regain his balance.
“Sir!” Her hands automatically grabbed at his waist to keep from falling backward.
It was over in seconds. Yet, his arms tightened rather than relaxed their hold her as a hint of honeysuckle ensnared him in the moment. When she stepped back, his hands fell to his side.
“Pray, accept my apology…” They both began, their voices soft in the hallway.
“You will not accept my apology? I would not have thought it of you, Mr. Darcy.”
He stammered. “No, you…yes, I…” Could a man be more embarrassed? “I gladly accept your apology, but you were not responsible for our collision. The fault is solely mine.”
Tilting her head, she grinned. “I see the situation clearly now. You were waiting behind the door until an unsuspecting person walked by, thereby pouncing to catch them by surprise, is that correct? Tell me, sir, since you and your cousin and my sister and I are the only residents of the guest wing, were you hoping to frighten me into revealing my choice of possible bride, so you would have to wait no longer?”
He adored her smile. He shook off the thought. She would never be accepted by his peers or his family. However, his imagination quickly went from friendship to marriage where she was concerned. Emotions shot through him bringing clarity. He was in serious danger of falling in like with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
“No, not me.” She huffed. “My choice is Miss Mary King, a lovely young lady with a dowry of ten-thousand to bring to the marriage. She is, much as you are, reserved in company.” Again, Elizabeth tilted her head. This time she rested her finger on her cheek. “No, I should rather compare her to Jane, both in looks and character. Her quiet comportment and sweet temperament would be a lovely addition to any gentleman’s home.”
He could see she was pleased with herself. On one hand, it pleased him as well that she had taken the time to give consideration to his requirements. On the other, how in the world could she recommend someone who was the complete opposite of what he truly needed? He was quiet. Imagine having a wife who rarely spoke. The walls of Pemberley would suffer for the silence. In addition, he did not need to add to his fortune. Also, he despised sweets. Rather, he savored rich, bold flavors, brilliant colors rather than pale hues, and lively conversation rather than the mere exchange of polite inanities. No, Miss King would never do, not when Miss Elizabeth was standing less than two feet in front of him.
He shook his head, leaning closer so she could hear every word. “Although I appreciate your effort, I cannot see how Miss King would be an appropriate bride for me.”
“Why ever not?”
He knew to speak carefully when her hands flew to her hips, her shoulders went back, and her eyes flashed.
“Miss Elizabeth, in canvassing the quality of marriage I would like to achieve as we discussed in the field, I failed to mention one specific area of critical importance.”
“And that might be?”
Her eyebrow arched.
He smiled. “I favor dark hair and dark eyes.”
Her mouth formed into an ‘O’ as her eyes opened wide. Not to be outdone by his shocking claim, she rapidly recovered.
He craved her impertinence. “I would say about like yours.” It was boldly done, almost a declaration of his intentions. Had he intentions? In the middle of the night after hours of worried vigil, he cared not.
“I see.” Her finger went back up to her cheek. The twinkle came back to her eyes. “Then I believe you may need to leave our corner of Hertfordshire to seek a wife elsewhere.”
“You do, do you?” He stepped closer, thinking Bingley might be on to something with his flirting. Somewhere, somehow, his common sense had left him. “Wait, pray do not answer.” He stepped back. Fitzwilliam Darcy was an honorable man. Sudden disgust at his conduct shamed him.
“You have been the model of kindness to both your sister and my cousin, Miss Elizabeth, and I am repaying you by placing you in a compromising position, something I had vowed to myself and my father I would never do to a lady.” He ran his hand over his mouth and took another step away from her, putting his back against the bedchamber door. “I beg you accept my apology and my promise that I will never dishonor you again.”
“Mr. Darcy, I am not an ignorant miss. I, too, am aware of the danger.” She stepped towards him, her hands gripping each side of her waist. “Nevertheless, might I point out that this meeting was accidental, and that we have, in fact, been standing alone for mere minutes. There has been no improper behavior, at least no more than our meeting on the pathway to Oakham Mount. Neither of our reputations were marred then and I have no doubt this impromptu meeting will be the same. With that said, sir, pray excuse me.”
He understood her ire. Accepting she had the right of it, he clasped and turned the door handle behind him, deciding he no longer had the need for coffee. Unfortunately, at that particular moment, his cousin roused enough to launch into a repeat performance of his earlier entertainment.
“Drink, my boys, and ne’er give o’er,
Drink until you can’t drink no more,
For the Frenchmen are coming for a fresh supply,
And they swear they’ll drink little England dry.
Paddie, widdie, waddle, widdie, bow, wow, wow,
Paddle, widdie, waddie, widdie, bow, wow, wow,
For the Frenchmen are coming with a fresh supply,
And they swear they’ll drink little England dry.”
In his mortification, he never lost his focus on the swaying of her hips as her skirts swished in time with the tavern shanty. Gulping at his sudden loss of composure, he hurried into the room to find Richard sitting up, sipping on the glass of water left on the table next to the bed.
“Who were you talking to, Darce? Was that a feminine voice I heard?” His cousin belched, then wiped his chin despite it being dry. “Perhaps, you were discussing my condition with the lovely Miss Elizabeth? Had she come to check on me? Such a kind woman, Darcy. And, she is beautiful, is she not?”
Darcy pressed his eyelids closed, somehow hoping his cousin was talking in his sleep and would not remember the conversation in the light of the morning.
“Oh, my Lord!” Richard proclaimed to the room. “I will not be leaving for the continent. Do you know what this means?” He finally looked directly at his cousin.
Darcy had no clue what Richard had in mind. In truth, this injury would forever change the soon-to-be former colonel. But, they had discussed this earlier, well after the doctor and Bingley left.
While his cousin had slept, Darcy pondered the ramifications of the accident. He knew his Uncle Hugh had set aside little monies for his second son. While Richard was fairly frugal, he was the son of an earl with a lifestyle that cost money to maintain. His prospects outside the military were not good.
Contemplating how he could help his cousin without offending Richard’s pride, Darcy reviewed his assets for a property easy to manage that could sustain his cousin for his lifetime. Briarwood, a small estate near Pemberley, earned two-thousand a year. The buildings were well-kempt and the ground fertile.
“I will gladly gift you Briarwood for your lifetime,” he offered.
“Do not be daft, my man.” Richard took another sip, the look on his face was entirely too smug. “Since I will be remaining in England, I can join in your pursuit of a bride.”
“You want to help me find a wife?” The idea was good. He trusted his cousin’s judgment more than any other man.
“Not at all.” Again, Richard drank from the glass. “My good man, should I marry instead, you can go back to standing in corners avoiding the active pursuit of maidens and their mothers.”
He was correct. The codicil stated that one or the other of them needed to be wed. Richard finding a bride would satisfy the terms. The lives of Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy would be relatively unchanged if his cousin succeeded.
“Do you have someone in mind? One of Bingley’s discarded ‘angels’ we discussed while we were at Darcy house?”
The smirk on Richard’s face was the first clue that Darcy was not going to like what would next come from his cousin’s mouth.
“Oh, yes, I do have someone in mind. Someone who lights up a room by her mere presence. Someone witty, passionate about those she cares for, and compassionate for all others.”
Darcy gulped again. No, it could not be.
“I will offer for Miss Elizabeth as soon as I am able. We will marry as soon as I can stand at the altar.”
“The doctor said the soonest you could hope for would be three months. We have eighty-eight days.” Relief flooded him from head to toe. Miss Elizabeth Bennet would not become Mrs. Richard Fitzwilliam.
“I can see your relief, Cousin.” Richard set the empty glass on the table. “No, you will not need to rush into matrimony. By my taking on a capable wife, my future will be settled. As far as walking to the chapel, I can apply for a special license for the ceremony to be held here, if Bingley would allow. Thus, I could be a married man within a week.”
His head was spinning. Things were moving too fast. Richard and Elizabeth? No!
“But, you do not know her.” Darcy urged his cousin to sense, while at the same time protecting his own interests. “You have had too much drink to make a decision you will have to live with for a lifetime.”
“Ah, I see what you are about.” Richard wagged his finger at him. “You disapprove because she is not of the first circles nor, I would guess, is she the daughter of a wealthy landowner who could cushion Pemberley’s coffers. Well, pray be reassured that I have no care for the opinions of others. As far as wealth is concerned, I have saved almost everything I have earned by discretely benefitting from the hospitality of both Matlock House and yours, Darcy. My mother set aside part of what she brought to their marriage for me should I ever leave the army. I am convinced she would gratefully release those funds. I can, then, set myself up as a gentleman landowner. Who better to bring to my home as a bride than a young lady raised on a country estate similar to her future husband’s?” Richard barely took in a breath before he continued. “Cannot you see that she would be perfect as a wife?”
Darcy hated disappointing his cousin. He answered honestly. “I cannot approve of Miss Elizabeth as a wife for you, Richard.” He held up his hand when his cousin started to object. “She is an excellent woman. I understand fully why you have chosen her. Nonetheless, you should know that I have chosen her as well.”
Not a sound was heard. Not a breath. Not a whisper. Darcy waited.
His cousin’s reply was not unexpected. “We shall allow Miss Elizabeth to choose.”
Bile shot up from his gut. If only he had not barged into her in the hallway. If only he had kept himself under good regulation. Then, she would view as an exemplary gentleman. Reviewing their short history, Darcy was aware he had a lot to repair in her opinion of his character. He vowed to himself, then and there, that he would begin immediately.
Walking to his cousin, his hand outstretched, the men shook on their gentleman’s agreement. Richard’s parting shot as he walked out of the room was, “may she choose me.”
Not while I can still draw a breath!
The door closed a bit more forcefully than he had intended. This was war. The battle was on.