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The Pemberley Betrothal

Copyright © 2019 by Anne-Marie Grace

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Chapter 1 – Elizabeth

Elizabeth Bennet sat idly beneath a spreading oak tree, her book forgotten in her lap as she delighted in the feeling of the warm breeze drifting across her cheeks. The patches of sunlight warmed her skin and she leaned against the trunk of the tree with her eyes closed. She had not been certain she wanted to accompany her aunt and uncle to the Peak District when first they asked, but now she was quite glad they had convinced her to join them for their holiday.


Elizabeth opened her eyes and turned to the voice that broke into her tranquillity. She saw her aunt and uncle walking toward her from the direction of the inn in which they were staying. She smiled and waved to them.

I am here, Aunt,” Elizabeth called, closing her book and reluctantly getting to her feet. She had been quite content beneath the swaying branches, and the presence of this bench beneath the tree spoke to the popularity of the spot.

The Gardiners were dressed for walking; Uncle Gardiner wore a large straw hat and swung his walking stick about, while Aunt Gardiner affectionately held his arm, her bonnet shielding her face from the summer sun.

So, Lizzy, what do you think of your aunt’s home?” Uncle Gardiner asked, glancing at his wife with a smile.

Lambton is as lovely as you have always described,” Elizabeth answered. “I can hardly imagine how one could ever leave a place such as this!”

“It is beautiful, is it not?” Aunt Gardiner sighed. “I miss it so. However, London has its own delights.” She smiled at Uncle Gardiner as she spoke.

Amusement rose within Elizabeth—Aunt and Uncle Gardiner had always seemed quite affectionate with each other, and this trip had continued to prove how well-suited they were for one another. Elizabeth only hoped that she would find a similar match one day.

I almost regret coming here,” Uncle Gardiner said, a jesting note in his voice. “For I seem likely to lose both my wife and my niece to the rugged moors of the Peak District.”

Nonsense, my dear,” Aunt Gardiner replied, laughing. “You have nothing to fear, even though there is much to admire. In fact, Lizzy, that is why we have called you just now. I have just learned that Pemberley is open to receive visitors! The estate is quite close by and well worth a visit. The house and grounds are astonishing to behold and we were thinking to drive there this afternoon. What would you say to that?”

At the mention of Pemberley, Elizabeth felt a rush of dread. For it was not the first time she had heard of the wonders of the estate. She had heard of Pemberley from none other than the master of the house himself—Mr. Darcy. No place was so wondrous as to induce her to visit anywhere she might run into him. They had not parted from their last meeting on good terms and she was far too embarrassed to risk meeting him ever again.

I would not wish to intrude upon the family,” Elizabeth replied slowly. She thought Aunt Gardiner might remember her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth was certain she was unaware of the true nature of the connection Elizabeth shared with the gentleman. Elizabeth had no wish to enlighten her aunt or uncle either.

Families such as these are never at home,” Uncle Gardiner said with a wave of his hand, dismissing Elizabeth’s concern. “And the innkeeper assured us that it is open for public tours.”

I still do not think I should care to visit,” Elizabeth said, turning her book over and over in her hands. Her aunt and uncle stared at her quizzically.

Whyever not?” Aunt Gardiner asked, clearly astonished at Elizabeth’s reluctance. “I would think you would jump at the chance to see a place such as Pemberley. I believe you would find the grounds quite to your liking.”

Elizabeth felt herself go red with embarrassment. She knew that she sounded quite unreasonable and she wished she could explain. But she had not told a single soul what had transpired between her and Mr. Darcy and she did not think she could even form the words to explain.

For Mr. Darcy was far more than a mere acquaintance. Rather, he had hoped to be more than acquaintances. Far more. Elizabeth allowed herself to think back to that day not so long ago: the day that Mr. Darcy had proposed marriage.

As she remembered that day, she felt a rush of anger—the arrogance of the man! The awful things he had said of her and her family! However, the anger was quickly replaced by shame, for she had said equally, if not more, awful things in return. She had not merely turned down his proposal, she had humiliated the man!

Is it truly so impressive?” Elizabeth asked, realizing she had been silent for too long. The Gardiners regarded her with curiosity.

“It is,” Aunt Gardiner replied firmly.

Come now,” Uncle Gardiner added. “Let us go see for ourselves. It is a beautiful day and the carriage ride alone will be a pleasant treat.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest once more but closed it quickly as she realised that she had no other excuses. She nodded.

You are right,” she said. “I cannot understand why I am being so ridiculous. I would be very happy to accompany you. Thank you for inviting me.”

Excellent,” Uncle Gardiner said. “We shall head in that direction this afternoon.”

Elizabeth nodded her assent, but she could not quite dispel the feeling of dread that continued to rise within her. She only hoped Uncle Gardiner was right and that Mr. Darcy was away indeed…

* * *

Half an hour later, as the carriage rattled to a halt in front of Pemberley House, Elizabeth felt her mouth drop open in awe. Aunt Gardiner had been quite accurate in her description of the place. If anything, her words had been far too modest for the astounding house that now filled her view.

She struggled to take in everything: the marble staircases leading up to the entrance, the columns soaring upwards into graceful arches, the seemingly endless rows of windows glittering in the afternoon sun, the carefully kept hedges and trees expertly arranged around the drive, courtyard, and house…

It seems that you approve,” Aunt Gardiner said, clearly amused by the look upon Elizabeth’s face.

Elizabeth quickly closed her mouth and tore her eyes away.

You were quite right,” she admitted. “It is magnificent.”

I have heard the inside is even more admirable, since the younger Mr. Darcy took charge,” Aunt Gardiner confided. “Let us report to the housekeeper for permission to take a look.”

Elizabeth nodded her agreement, and the three of them climbed down from the carriage. Uncle Gardiner quickly strode to speak with the man who met the carriage, and Elizabeth found herself gazing around the grounds that surrounded the house.

Looking away from the house, Elizabeth could see a wide green lawn extending downhill toward what appeared to be a well-maintained garden full of flowers and trees in full bloom. A flagged path cut the lawn in two and disappeared into the garden. Elizabeth could see there was a gate, but it was open and inviting.

On one side, trees lined the edges of the lawn and continued on to form a wooded park. In the other direction, she could see what appeared to be a small lake. She noticed that there were paths leading in many different directions, proving that what she could see was far from the entirety of the grounds.

“Have you been here before?” Elizabeth asked her aunt as they both gazed about.

Not since I was a girl,” Aunt Gardiner laughed. “The previous Mr. Darcy was an incomparably kind soul; he believed that Pemberley should be shared. It was he who began offering the grounds and house for public tours.”

And the current Mr. Darcy continues his father’s tradition,” Elizabeth observed.

Indeed. In town, they say that Mr. Darcy is quite as generous of spirit—just like his father before him,” Aunt Gardiner continued.

Do they really?” Elizabeth asked, somewhat startled. The man she rebuffed was cold and arrogant, hardly one to be called ‘generous of spirit’.

You sound surprised,” Aunt Gardiner said, turning to Elizabeth. “I had thought you’d met Mr. Darcy—I was certain your mother had mentioned it.”

Of course, yes, we are of distant acquaintance, but I hardly know him well enough to judge his character,” Elizabeth said, not wanting to discuss the matter further. She breathed a sigh of relief to see her uncle walking toward them once more.

“What news, Uncle?” She asked, hoping her aunt would not pursue the subject further.

The housekeeper will give us a tour this afternoon,” Uncle Gardiner said. “She invited us to explore the grounds while we wait.”

“What a lovely idea,” Aunt Gardiner said. She gave no indication that she wished to continue their previous discussion, and Elizabeth gave a quiet sigh of relief.

The three of them began to walk together, but Elizabeth was displeased to find that she could not pull her mind away from further thoughts of Mr. Darcy.

The man infuriated her! While in Hertfordshire, he had treated her with behaviour bordering on contempt, and yet declared his love and affection for her months later in Kent! And that letter he wrote!

After Elizabeth’s refusal, Mr. Darcy had delivered her a letter to address her accusations against his character. She had no idea what to think after that. And since she would not seek him out to discuss the matter further, Mr. Darcy seemed destined to remain an irritating mystery.

“Let us go this way,” Elizabeth said, spotting the lake once more.

A stretch of green grass, dotted with large bushes and hedges, and less neat than the lawn in front of the house, flowed downhill several hundred yards to the water’s edge. Elizabeth was suddenly filled with the urge to run down the hill, to outpace the mounting confusion and frustration in her mind. She was beginning to think that coming to this place was a poor decision. Thank goodness Mr. Darcy was not at home.

“You go ahead,” Aunt Gardiner said, looking downhill as well. “I believe I would prefer to stay on the path.”

As would I,” Uncle Gardiner agreed. “But I see no reason why we should keep you from exploring. We shall continue along this way and meet up with you in a few minutes.” He indicated that they would walk along the path that led around the house, away from the hill and the lake.

As you wish,” Elizabeth said, realizing that she would relish the few solitary moments. Her aunt was not nearly as worrisome as Mama, but she hardly thought that Aunt Gardiner would fully approve of the pace at which Elizabeth planned to take the hill. And there was always the danger that they would want to hear more of Mr. Darcy—Elizabeth needed time to prepare more careful answers.

Enjoy your time, dear,” Aunt Gardiner called after Elizabeth as she began to walk slowly down the hill.

And you,” Elizabeth returned. She watched her aunt and uncle turn back toward the path and begin to walk again. She maintained her easy pace until they were out of sight. Then, with a thrill of excitement, she turned to face the lake. It had been ages since she last indulged in a good run. Glancing about, she made sure that there were no other witnesses. She could see no one; it was as if she were entirely alone.

Taking a deep breath, she widened her stride and let herself gain some speed. Her momentum pulled her forward until she was sprinting down at a breakneck speed. Laughter burst from her lips as she ran.

The wind pulled her bonnet from her head, and she did not bother to try to keep it in place. It bounced on her back as she ran, the ribbon cutting slightly into her neck. She hardly noticed, so liberating was the feeling of wind and speed. Her thoughts and frustrations seemed to be left at the top of the hill and she relished the joy that flooded through her.

At moments like this, she felt truly free.

Chapter 2 – Darcy

Darcy pulled his galloping horse to a stop at the edge of a small lake, his eyes fixed upon the house he could barely see between the tops of trees in the distance. A small smile crossed his lips: it was good to be home.

Despite spending much of his time in town, he could not abide London, especially now that the weather had turned warm. He took a deep breath, the scent of trees, flowers and fresh air filling his nose—scents that were conspicuously absent from the city. Yes, it was wonderful to be home.

He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. Now that he had stopped moving and no longer felt the air across his skin, he realised was quite hot. There was a small rowing boat by the lake, perfect for warm summer days such as this, and Darcy had a sudden idea. His household was not yet expecting him; perhaps he could take a moment to enjoy the lake.

Swinging off his horse, he tied the horse’s reins to a nearby tree. He walked to the rowing boat, ready to hop in, when he misstepped and fell knees deep into the water. Darcy looked down at his misfortune. His boots were soaked, but the cool water of the lake felt wonderful against his heated skin.

Although he hadn’t planned on getting wet, he was suddenly filled with a childish notion: it would be absolutely refreshing to take a quick swim in the lake. As a young boy, he had spent many summer afternoons swimming in this very lake, and it was the perfect way to cool down.

Deciding to indulge this foray into childhood, Darcy stepped out of the lake. He took off his jacket and unceremoniously dropped it to the ground, quickly moving on to untying his collar. He was alone, having decided to ride on ahead by himself. His manservant was still somewhere on the road, and Darcy was relieved about that. He hardly could have behaved in such a manner had others been about. The master of Pemberley could never conduct himself in such ways. But today, there were no witnesses to his whims, so he wasted no time in pulling off his wet boots and stockings.

The grass felt wonderful beneath his bare feet. Darcy strolled confidently back to the edge of the lake and waded into the waters. Mud squished between his toes and when the water reached his waist, he took a deep breath and dove forward into the water.

Popping up in the middle of the lake, Darcy felt pure bliss. He floated on his back, watching the clouds move across the sky, relishing the break from his responsibilities. His mind was heavy indeed, and he hoped that this might be the solution to clear away the thoughts that weighed him down.

Darcy sighed. His time in London was unpleasant for more reasons than just the crush of people and smells. He had spent time with his dearest friend, Charles Bingley, and he was most disturbed to see Bingley’s mood. Normally a laughing, smiling man, quick with a joke, Bingley was now pale and withdrawn, his blue eyes dull, and sadness painted across his face. The man was still heartbroken over a certain Miss Jane Bennet, and nothing London offered could distract him from his misery.

It pained Darcy to see his friend in such a state; it pained him more to know he was responsible. It was he, Darcy, who had encouraged Bingley to leave the country—and Miss Bennet—behind. Darcy had been entirely convinced that Bingley’s affections were unreturned and his attention maintained for selfish and nefarious motivations.

Bingley sometimes forgot that rich men could attract the attention of scheming mothers. Women who did not care about the feelings of their daughters when so much money was in the mix. Darcy was certain that Mrs. Bennet was one of such mothers, taking advantage of Bingley’s obvious regard to make a good match. Jane was a nice enough girl, but Bingley deserved true love and affection in whomever he married.

It was not just Darcy who had raised the concerns; if it had been his impression alone, Darcy never would have acted in such a forthright manner. However, Bingley’s sisters had expressed concern as well, and when all four of them had discussed the matter freely, the only solution had been to leave Hertfordshire behind.

Taking a deep breath, Darcy admitted to himself that he had been glad to leave as well—to protect his own heart. Bingley was not the only one who had been snared by a Bennet girl. Darcy felt the quiet joy of his homecoming slip away from him, to be replaced by anger, embarrassment and shame. Where he had been strong enough to save Bingley, he had failed to save himself.

Elizabeth Bennet had plagued his thoughts from the first moment he met her. While he had pretended to be unimpressed by both her looks and manner, the truth was that his attentions were firmly trapped by the woman’s wit, humour and passion. He had been so ensnared that, upon meeting her once more in Kent, he had proposed marriage. However, she had made it quite clear that his attentions were unwanted and unreturned.

Darcy shook his head, willing himself to forget the dancing brown eyes, soft chestnut hair and curved lips that so often fixed into a wonderful smile. He groaned to himself and dove underwater once more, hoping that he would leave his shame and anger beneath the surface.

The negative feelings were not directed toward Elizabeth, not anymore. When first he had been refused, he thought that his affections had turned to hate, so deep was his fury and so acute his humiliation. However, after the initial shock had worn away, he realised that many of her accusations surrounding his conduct and character were far more accurate than he would prefer to admit.

Beyond her charges against his character, Elizabeth had also revealed her anger for his role in tearing Bingley away from Jane. According to her, Darcy had been quite mistaken in his estimation of Jane’s regard for his friend. It seemed that Jane was despondent over the affair, having fallen quite in love with Charles Bingley. And now that Darcy had seen how Bingley continued to mourn, he felt that he had done something truly terrible.

Could it be that he, despite his good intentions, had separated two people truly in love? This shame had plagued him during the entirety of his stay in London and continued to afflict him now.

He held his breath beneath the water so long he felt his lungs beginning to burn. He kicked himself off from the bottom of the lake and burst through the surface of the water, drawing in a sweet breath.

Darcy sighed. He felt quite as miserable as before. Suddenly, the water did not feel so pleasant anymore. He turned to go back to where his clothes and boots lay abandoned. It only took a few pulls of his powerful arms before he was standing once more and walking up the bank.

With a heavy breath, Darcy wrung the excess water from his shirt and breeches. He picked up the rest of his clothes and stuffed them haphazardly into his saddlebags. He grabbed the reins, and gently pulled the mare away from her meal of soft green grass. It was time for the master of Pemberley to go home.

He was a few days early, and he smiled at the thought of how surprised his sister, Georgiana, would be. She was supposed to arrive tomorrow and thought that Darcy would not join her until the end of the week. It had been weeks since last they saw one another, and Darcy was eager to spend some time with her.

Georgiana was fast becoming a lady, and Darcy knew that times like these were fleeting. Before he knew it, she would be off and married with a household and family of her own. The thought depressed him more than he cared to acknowledge.

Darcy stared at the ground and he trudged up toward the house. He decided to approach from the side, rather than the front, so as to not startle his servants with his attire and appearance. If he could make it to the stables without being seen, then he would have no problem making it to his rooms to wash and change before informing the entire household of his arrival. His staff was made up of wonderfully loyal people, but his pride preferred that no one see him in this state.

He moved around one of the many large bushes and began walking uphill. Because his eyes were so solidly fixed downward, Darcy had no warning when something crashed into him, sending him sprawling.

He dropped the reins of his horse on impact and had nothing to keep him from rolling and tumbling back downhill toward the lake. He was tangled up in whoever—for he registered that it was a person—had crashed into him. And as they rolled, he could hear high-pitched screams and cries, making him realise that it was a woman. Who was this person running so dangerously fast that she could not avoid crashing into him?

Darcy and the mystery woman finally rolled to a stop in an ungraceful heap of limbs. Darcy was shaken and hardly realised what was going on. His body ached with bumps and bruises, and for a few moments, he could do nothing but lie still, breathing deeply.

However, he quickly realised that he was not lying on the grass, but on another person! Darcy tried to move quickly but found that his arms were responding sluggishly. Placing his hands on the ground, he pushed himself away from the woman.

A wave of dizziness suddenly washed over him and he paused. Darcy shook his head, trying to clear it, and glanced down to see who had caused this little accident. She rolled onto her back, her eyes closed tight, and Darcy received a shock that almost caused him to collapse once more: he knew exactly who this woman was!

Elizabeth,” he breathed.

Chapter 3 – Elizabeth

Elizabeth tried to catch her breath, tried to breathe, but she was having great difficulty doing either, owing to the heavy body lying across her back and pressing her into the grass. The blades tickled her cheeks and she wished that she could sink into the ground and disappear forever!

Her body ached and her head hurt, but most of all, she felt great humiliation at causing such a scene. She felt the man lift himself off her and she closed her eyes, thinking that if she could not see the man, then perhaps it would not be so bad. She rolled over onto her back, getting ready to sit up, but before she could do anything else, she heard a deep voice say the last thing she would have ever expected to hear: her name.

Her eyes flew open and she saw, looming over her, the very man she had so fervently hoped to never lay eyes on again: Mr. Darcy.

He seemed quite as shocked as she, staring down at her. His curly hair was wet, causing drops of water to drip onto her face, and she could feel that her dress was now damp as well.

Mr. Darcy?” She said questioningly, hoping that this was some sort of bad dream. But before he could answer, Elizabeth heard her name being shouted once more.

Elizabeth!” Uncle Gardiner’s voice sounded hard and cold. “Get off of her, you brute!”

Both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth turned their heads to see her aunt and uncle rushing toward them. Uncle Gardiner had his walking stick raised in a threatening manner and seemed ready to strike as soon as he was in range. Mr. Darcy quickly pushed himself up and scrambled to his feet. Elizabeth sat up slowly.

What is the meaning of this?” Uncle Gardiner asked harshly, dropping to his knees beside Elizabeth and helping her to sit up the rest of the way. Elizabeth could see the fear and anger painted all over his face.

Uncle,” she began, but she could not say anything else before her uncle spoke once more.

I will have an explanation, sir,” he said, looking at Mr. Darcy in anger.

Uncle Gardiner got to his feet once more as Aunt Gardiner knelt beside Elizabeth and began hugging her close. Elizabeth appreciated her aunt’s concern, but she needed to be free from the embrace to explain. Uncle Gardiner was now advancing on Mr. Darcy, his stick raised like a sword.

Please, good sir, it is not what it looks like,” Mr. Darcy said, his hands raised.

Even though Uncle Gardiner was coming closer to him, Mr. Darcy did not back down. Despite herself, Elizabeth was impressed—not many could face down a big man like her uncle when he was in a rage. However, Elizabeth did not think it was wise to allow things to continue in this vein. She pushed her aunt away and tried to get to her feet.

Uncle,” she said, standing and starting to brush the grass from her dress. “Please, stop. He did nothing wrong. This was all my fault!”

I will hear no word about it, Elizabeth,” Uncle Gardiner replied, still staring at Mr. Darcy in a menacing fashion. “I hear my niece’s screams and, rushing to her aid, I find a half-dressed man on top of her!” His resolve failed for a moment and he swung the walking stick at Mr. Darcy’s head. Mr. Darcy ducked just in time, but it was a near miss.

Uncle!” Elizabeth said in a much firmer tone. She moved between her uncle and Mr. Darcy and grabbed her uncle’s arm before he could aim at Mr. Darcy again. “You must listen to me! It was an accident.”

An accident?” Uncle Gardiner gave a mirthless laugh. “A likely story.”

It is true,” Elizabeth persisted. “I knocked into him and we fell down. That is all.”

“Edward,” Aunt Gardiner finally spoke. “Edward, perhaps we should listen.”

Uncle Gardiner glanced at his wife, and Elizabeth held her breath, wondering what he would do. With a sigh, he dropped his arm and looked expectantly at Elizabeth.

“Well?” He said, his voice still harsh. Elizabeth took a deep breath.

Uncle, Aunt,” she said, standing aside so both could see Mr. Darcy. “May I present Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth paused for a moment, wondering if she needed to elaborate. She decided to underscore Mr. Darcy’s identity. “Of Pemberley.”

Mr. Darcy?” Aunt Gardiner asked disbelievingly.

Elizabeth could see why Aunt Gardiner might have difficulty believing such a thing. Now that they were both on their feet, she could see that Mr. Darcy was only half-dressed. His long white shirt was untucked from the cream-coloured breeches he wore and his feet were bare on the grass. On top of all that, she noticed with a flush of embarrassment, he was completely soaked and she could almost see through his shirt. She quickly turned away.

I apologise for my rough appearance,” Mr. Darcy said, bowing to the Gardiners. “I had thought to take a private swim to combat the heat of the day. I had no idea that there were visitors about and that I might be observed in such a state.” Elizabeth could see that his cheeks were pink and she felt sorry for him. She knew that he must hate standing here looking so foolish.

That does not explain the circumstances upon which we found you,” Uncle Gardiner barked. He did not seem to care who Mr. Darcy might be.

Mr. Darcy glanced at Elizabeth, as if trying to decide whether or not he should explain. Elizabeth took the matter into her own hands.

After we parted ways, I came upon this hill and was overcome with the temptation to run down it,” Elizabeth said, flushing red again. She knew she was far too old for such childish behaviour.

Lizzy, such behaviour is hardly fitting,” Aunt Gardiner scolded.

I know,” Elizabeth sighed. “But I was not thinking, and I began to run full-tilt down the hill. Mr. Darcy,” she nodded in his direction, “came out from behind one of these bushes and I was moving with such speed and momentum that I did not have a chance to avoid him. I crashed into him and we both tumbled down the hill to where you found us. It is all my fault.”

Uncle Gardiner stared at her, as if attempting to decide if he believed her tale. He shifted his stare to Mr. Darcy.

Is this true?” He asked sharply.

Every word,” Mr. Darcy quickly replied. “Upon my honour as a gentleman, this was a mere accident.”

Uncle Gardiner looked at Mr. Darcy with hard eyes and then turned to Elizabeth. She felt nervous under his stare and began to realise just how dishevelled she was. Thick strands of hair had come loose from their pins, her dress was covered in grass and mud, and one sleeve had torn almost completely away. She must look a frightful sight.

Uncle Gardiner seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

I believe you, but it hardly matters!” He said, his voice angry again. “This is a wholly compromising situation. Elizabeth’s reputation is most certainly ruined! And you, sir, are responsible for it!”

Horror washed over Elizabeth. She had not considered this possibility. But how could her reputation be ruined over so small a thing, she tried to reason to herself.

Surely that is an overreaction, Uncle,” she said, hoping that he would be easily persuaded of the innocence of the situation.

Edward, dear, how would anyone ever know?” Aunt Gardiner added. Elizabeth felt a surge of gratitude toward her aunt. “I am certain this will pass without anyone ever knowing.”

And what do you think they will say at the inn when Elizabeth returns in such a state?” Uncle Gardiner demanded, seemingly unmoved by the arguments. “Or the servants of the house? Gossip like this would spreads like wildfire.”

You need not worry that my servants will say anything,” Mr. Darcy said. “I assure you they are completely trustworthy.”

Let me tell you about trust,” Mr. Gardiner said, turning his anger back on Mr. Darcy. “The trust that a father put in me to protect and defend his daughter! Elizabeth is under my care and my protection, and I demand that you take responsibility for your actions!”

And what are you suggesting?” Mr. Darcy asked, clearly not knowing what Uncle Gardiner had in mind.

You have ruined her reputation,” Uncle Gardiner replied, folding his arms across his chest. “I think, sir, you are well aware that there is just one remedy for such a thing: marriage.”

Elizabeth felt her heart skip a beat. She could not possibly marry Mr. Darcy! Not after everything that had passed between them. He surely despised her after everything she had done and said to him. And she despised him as well, she reminded herself.

Surely there is something else,” Aunt Gardiner said quietly, glancing from Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy.

There is nothing else,” Uncle Gardiner said. “How could I ever look my sister and her husband in the eye again after letting something like this happen to their daughter? No, no, there is nothing for it.” He turned to Mr. Darcy. “As a matter of honour, you must marry Elizabeth. To refuse is to lose all claim to any sense of honour or decency.”

No one spoke for several long moments. Elizabeth did not dare to look at Mr. Darcy, did not dare to see what crossed his face.

This is hardly the best place to discuss matters such as these,” Mr. Darcy finally said. “Please, come to the house with me. Miss Elizabeth and I can both clean up, and we shall continue to talk.”

A fine idea,” Aunt Gardiner said quickly, before her husband could object. “We accept your gracious invitation.” Aunt Gardiner put an arm around Elizabeth and began to walk toward the house. Elizabeth followed mutely, trying desperately to think of ways to reason with her uncle.

I shall ride to the house and inform my housekeeper to expect you,” Elizabeth heard Mr. Darcy say to her uncle.

She did not hear her uncle’s reply, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Darcy walk quickly toward his horse (who, despite all of the excitement, remained where Mr. Darcy had left her). He swung into the saddle without bothering to put on his boots and urged the horse forward. They trotted toward the house at a quick pace.

Uncle Gardiner caught up to them, and the three of them walked in silence. Elizabeth was in complete shock and she hardly knew what to feel or think. So many different thoughts and emotions were floating through her mind, she could hardly make sense of any of them.

The only constant theme was that she could not possibly marry Mr. Darcy. The very thought made her want to cry, but she held her tears back. Her aunt and uncle were worried enough. There was no need to add to their burden with her tears.

They reached the top of the hill and took the path back toward the house. As they rounded the last curve before the house, a plump, friendly looking woman with more grey than red in her hair, hurried toward them.

Oh my,” she clucked in concern. “You poor dear. Here, let me help you.”

Elizabeth looked at the woman nervously and did not know how to respond. The woman seemed to notice the hesitance on Elizabeth’s face and stopped short.

Oh, please forgive me,” she said with a chuckle. “I am Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper. Master told me that you had taken a bad fall and needed looking after. I am to take all of you inside to freshen up.”

Elizabeth looked at the woman, surprised at her friendly and open demeanour. She felt some of the fear that had gripped her leaving her body in the face of this kind woman. Elizabeth nodded her head and allowed Mrs. Reynolds to lead her away toward the house.

Aunt Gardiner kept a firm hold on Elizabeth’s arm, and Elizabeth was grateful. She did not think she could face being alone right now. The past hour had been most horrible, and she was afraid of what the rest of the afternoon might hold. It had been a bad idea to come here, she thought to herself, and this just confirmed it!

Chapter 4 – Darcy

Darcy could hardly believe this was truly happening. Was it only an hour ago that he had been floating on his back, looking at the sky and desperately trying to forget about Elizabeth? Trying to drive her from his mind and his heart? Trying to soothe the pain within? Elizabeth, whose uncle was now insisting Darcy to marry? How could things have come about so quickly?

After informing Mrs. Reynolds, his housekeeper, to prepare for Elizabeth, Darcy had disappeared into his rooms, hoping that no one would ask more questions about his state of dress or the strangers he had brought as guests.

Now, he stood before a full-length mirror, tugging and adjusting his dark blue jacket. He knew it might be foolish, but after making such a horrible impression upon Mr. Gardiner, he hoped that looking impressive now might help the other man’s mood.

Even after making sure his clothing was perfect, Darcy continued to stand in front of the mirror. He was dreading meeting the Gardiners again, let alone Elizabeth.

You must marry her.”

The words echoed in his mind, and he did not know whether to laugh or cry. He was quite certain that Elizabeth had not mentioned his proposal to her aunt and uncle, or the matter would have been raised with even more alacrity. Darcy could imagine what Mr. Gardiner might have said: “You wanted to marry her before, and now you shall.” A forced marriage to a wife who despised him—that was not the future Darcy had envisioned for himself.

Despite everything that had passed between them, Darcy could not deny that he still loved Elizabeth deeply. A strong part of him wanted nothing more than to immediately agree with Mr. Gardiner’s demands and marry Elizabeth on the spot. But she clearly loathed him and he could not sentence her to such unhappiness. It would be the most selfish thing he could possibly do. So, he determined to save Elizabeth from that fate, by whatever means necessary.

He sighed deeply and turned from the mirror. The Gardiners were undoubtedly waiting for him, and it was rude to let them wait for too long. He walked from his rooms toward the parlour where they would be waiting. His feet felt heavy and he took no pleasure in the paintings, tapestries and other fineries that lined the wide corridor.

Finally, he reached the closed door. Leaning close, he could not hear any voices inside. Perhaps they had not yet arrived? Darcy pushed the door open uncertainly, unsure who he would find inside.

Mr. Gardiner was there, standing alone, his hands clasped behind his back as he looked out of one of the large windows. He turned his head when he heard the door open and, seeing it was Darcy, turned back to the window.

Darcy wanted to shiver at the man’s cold welcome, but he was not angry. He could understand Mr. Gardiner’s desire to protect Elizabeth—he felt the same pressure for Georgiana.

Darcy allowed Mr. Gardiner to continue to ignore him for the moment. Instead, he walked across the room to where a decanter of brandy sat with several glasses. He poured two generous drinks, picked them both up, and finally approached Mr. Gardiner.

Mr. Gardiner,” Darcy said quietly, holding out the drink.

Mr. Gardiner turned toward him and did not immediately take the proffered glass. Darcy felt a slight flash of irritation, but he tried to push it from his mind. Mr. Gardiner eyed him from head to toe, and then finally accepted the drink.

“Thank you,” he said stiffly.

You are quite welcome,” Darcy replied, equally as stiff. He brought the glass to his lips and was grateful for the warmth that filled his mouth and stomach as he took a small sip. He noticed that Mr. Gardiner did not drink his.

Darcy sighed to himself. He could only continue to be polite and hope that Mr. Gardiner would eventually thaw enough to rationally discuss the matter. Darcy turned to the window to see what had caught Mr. Gardiner’s attention. His eyes met the rolling lawn and lush forests of his home. Despite his current predicament, he felt a rush of affection for the beauty of this place.

I am not an unreasonable man,” Mr. Gardiner said after they had stood together in silence for a few minutes. “I am not attempting to trap or trick you. I am simply looking out for the welfare of my favourite niece.”

Darcy was surprised by the sudden statement, surprised by the honesty of it. He was not certain how to respond.

I do not believe you to be unreasonable,” Darcy said slowly. “And your affection for Miss Elizabeth is quite evident to anyone. Just as her affection for you is obvious.”

Mr. Gardiner sighed and finally took a sip of the brandy. He gave the glass an appreciative look.

Fine brandy,” Mr. Gardiner said. He took another sip. “You seem to know my niece quite well,” he said, turning to look at Darcy. “Yet she led us to believe that you had a distant and passing acquaintance. I am not sure how to reconcile the manner in which you speak of one another.”

Darcy felt a stab of pain as Mr. Gardiner described Elizabeth’s view of their relationship. A mere passing acquaintance? Well, he supposed he could understand if she wanted to forget everything about him. But he did not know how to respond to Mr. Gardiner.

He was saved from having to answer by the sound of the door opening. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner both turned and saw Mrs. Reynolds leading Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth into the room. Darcy set his brandy down and strode over to meet them. He bowed deeply.

Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds,” he said, straightening up.

Mrs. Reynolds curtsied in response. “I have ordered a tray of tea to be brought to you,” she said.

Darcy nodded gratefully. He would not have remembered to do such a thing.

Mrs. Reynolds turned and took her leave and Darcy was left standing with the two women. Elizabeth’s hair was once again neatly pinned into a knot at the nape of her neck, and she was wearing a clean, dry and untorn dress. It was a bit too long for her, and did not fit quite right (it was clearly one of Georgiana’s), but Darcy could not help but think that she looked beautiful.

He immediately scolded himself for the thought and held out his arm to invite them further into the room.

Please, would you have a seat?” He asked.

Both women nodded politely and followed his invitation. Mr. Gardiner joined them and all four sat down: Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner shared a small divan, while Darcy and Mr. Gardiner both sat upon richly upholstered chairs. No one spoke, and Darcy could see that everyone looked uncomfortable and nervous.

A knock at the door indicated that the tea had arrived. A servant entered and set it on a low table. She quickly prepared four cups before bobbing quickly and departing—Darcy thought she must feel the intensity in the air and had no wish to linger.

I am glad that Mrs. Reynolds was able to find something for you to wear,” Darcy said, unable to bear the discomfort any longer. Mr. Gardiner frowned at him and he felt his cheeks go pink.

You will have to thank your sister for me,” Elizabeth said, taking a sip of her tea. “I believe it belongs to her. I hope she will not mind.”

I assure you she will not,” Darcy said, hoping it would help put her at ease.

Elizabeth gave a small, forced smile, and Darcy felt his heart sinking. It was clear that her dislike for him had not lessened since last they met. The silence fell again, quickly becoming awkward.

You have a lovely home,” Mrs. Gardiner said after a few more moments. But before Darcy could reply, Mr. Gardiner cut in. It seemed as though his wife’s comment had struck a nerve.

Yes, yes, very fine,” Mr. Gardiner said, waving his hand dismissively. “That is quite beside the matter at hand.”

Uncle, the matter to which you refer is quite ridiculous,” Elizabeth said sharply. “Your concern for my reputation is beyond unreasonable, and believe me when I say that my father will agree.”

Your father might agree, but your mother is another matter,” Mr. Gardiner retorted. “And we both know that your father will do whatever my sister asks in the name of peace.”

Darcy quickly took a sip of tea, embarrassed to bear witness to such a frank discussion of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s marriage.

Edward, you seem to have given much thought to what will happen if Elizabeth does not marry Mr. Darcy, but have you considered what you are asking of her if she does marry him? Would you really force your niece to marry a man who is practically a stranger?” Mrs. Gardiner asked.

Darcy held the teacup in front of his face, not wanting anyone to see his emotions.

Such things occur every day,” Mr. Gardiner responded. “You and I, my dear, hardly knew each other when we wed, and I like to think that we are quite happy.”

Yes…” Mrs. Gardiner paused long enough to give her husband an affectionate smile. “But you and I are of an entirely different temperament than Elizabeth. She is far too spirited to be satisfied with just anyone.” At this, Mrs. Gardiner looked guiltily at Mr. Darcy. “Forgive me, Mr. Darcy, I do not mean you in particular. I speak in frank generalities.”

There is no need to apologise,” Mr. Darcy said, lowering his teacup. “I believe I can see that you are quite right about Miss Elizabeth: she could not marry just anyone.” He glanced at Elizabeth as he spoke, and saw her duck her head with a blush.

He felt a little guilty for making her feel uncomfortable. However, he saw an opportunity to try and dissuade Mr. Gardiner from his course of action. He knew it would be hurtful to Elizabeth, and her aunt and uncle, but if it would save her from an unwanted marriage and a miserable life, then perhaps it would be worth it. The thought struck him as having merit and he decided to push forward.

He cleared his throat and continued, “And there are certain expectations upon me, as a Darcy of Pemberley, about who I will marry.”

Elizabeth jerked her head up, and Darcy could see that all embarrassment was gone, replaced by a sudden burst of anger. Darcy regretted his words, and not just for the sparks of rage that flickered in Elizabeth’s eyes. These were the words of a man he did not want to be.

What are you saying, sir?” Mr. Gardiner snapped. “Are you implying that my niece is not good enough for you? What an outrage!”

It is not a question of goodness or moral standing,” Darcy continued, hating himself for what he had said. “But you cannot pretend to be unaware of the great distance between us—both in terms of social standing and wealth?” He tried to make his words drip with arrogance, to match the worst impressions Elizabeth ever had of him.

You, sir, have no honour!” Mr. Gardiner said, jumping to his feet. “To allow such trivial matters stand in the way of doing what is right! No honour at all.”

Darcy took the words, but the accusation stung deeply. Honour was by far the most important thing Darcy possessed and the repeated questioning was difficult to bear. More difficult, however, was Darcy’s mounting agreement of the sentiment. Every prideful and conceited thing he uttered grated against his sense of honour and he wondered if he had the fortitude to continue acting so contrary to his true beliefs and feelings. He wondered if he could sacrifice his honour for Elizabeth’s sake.

Sit down,” Mrs. Gardiner said exasperatedly. “My goodness, Edward, you cannot pretend that such things do not matter!”

Yes, Uncle,” Elizabeth added, throwing Darcy a sickened look. “We must consider the social implications of what you are suggesting.” Darcy could hear her words dripping with sarcasm and disgust and he felt a wave of shame engulf him.

Am I truly the only one who has fully considered this?” Mr. Gardiner said, looking at his wife and niece with deep frustration. “Allow me to clarify my position. As we walked up to the house, you were taken away by Mrs. Reynolds. I, however, was led here by another servant. Along the way, I heard two maids gossiping about how Mr. Darcy showed up drenched to the bone and covered in grass stains and mud, and someone else mention that a lady needed to change her dress because she tore it in a fall. Are you absolutely convinced that the two circumstances will not be connected in some improper way? If they are not already! News of this will spread; it is too interesting a story to keep to oneself.”

Mr. Gardiner sat down heavily and rubbed his forehead. Elizabeth looked shocked and appalled that her uncle seemed to be so accurate in his assessment of the situation. Darcy, for himself, was embarrassed at the behaviour of his staff. He had not considered how tempting such a salacious story would be.

People are already talking about it?” Elizabeth said, sounding horrified. “How could that be? We did nothing wrong!”

Unfortunately, my dear girl, in matters such as these, the world we inhabit cares very little for right and wrong,” Mr. Gardiner said, sounding defeated and tired. He turned to Darcy, all anger dissipated from his face. Mr. Gardiner’s face was now ashen and grey, painted with fear for his niece. He began to speak, but Darcy held up his hand to stop him.

“I will marry her,” he said softly.

Chapter 5 – Elizabeth

I will marry her.”

Mr. Darcy’s words had plagued her mind almost continually in the days since he uttered them. Elizabeth sat in the window seat of her room at the Lambton Inn. She pressed her forehead to the cool glass and watched the rain fall outside. The raindrops ran down the window, one enveloping another until they all came together in a single stream.

The raindrops felt apt given her current mood: she very much felt as if she had been absorbed by something she could not fight. She only hoped that, unlike the drops, she would not disappear.

She watched the lane outside, waiting for her family’s carriage to arrive. Jane had written that the whole family was coming north, and Elizabeth longed to see her sister and to talk about what had occurred.

However, she was also quite apprehensive to see her parents. What would Mr. and Mrs. Bennet say? Elizabeth was quite certain her mother’s response would be hysterical, and for that, she had already prepared herself. But she did not know about her father. It had been difficult enough to bear the looks of disappointment from her uncle, but she could not bear if her father was disappointed in her as well.

Through the rain, Elizabeth saw a carriage coming around the bend and she sat up. It came toward the inn and stopped directly beneath her window, so she could not see exactly who exited the carriage. However, she felt certain it was her family.

She stood up, smoothed her dress, and prepared her mind for what might soon happen. In the minutes between the carriage’s arrival and a possible knock at her door, Elizabeth paced the small room. When the knock eventually came, she had barely an instant to face the door before it burst open.

Jane’s face was the first Elizabeth saw, and she felt she might cry with relief when she finally hugged her sister close. She needed Jane’s calm presence and wisdom, now more than ever. But they were only able to hug for a moment before Mrs. Bennet pulled them apart and dragged Elizabeth into an embrace. Her mother roughly pulled her head to rest upon her chest and held it there tight. As Elizabeth was several inches taller than Mrs. Bennet, it was quite uncomfortable.

My poor girl!” Mrs. Bennet cried as she began to rock back and forth in a manner she evidently thought was comforting. Elizabeth felt a knot developing in her neck and she tried to adjust herself, but Mrs. Bennet held her even tighter. “My poor girl, ruined by that horrible man, Mr. Darcy! Whatever did I do to deserve this?”

Mama,” Elizabeth said, gently pulling away from Mrs. Bennet’s embrace. “It will work out for the best in the end.”

Elizabeth knew how hollow her words were, even to her own ears. In fact, she thought her mother had the right idea of things. However, she knew from experience that if Mrs. Bennet was not calmed down at once, she would build herself into such a storm that she end up in bed with a terrible headache. Elizabeth felt like she had enough on her plate without adding Mrs. Bennet’s hysterics.

Oh, I know you are right,” Mrs. Bennet said, releasing Elizabeth. She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed the tears from her eyes. “After all, he is very rich. Ten thousand a year will be quite a comfortable life for you. I do take comfort in that thought.”

Elizabeth exchanged an exasperated look with Jane while Mrs. Bennet blew her nose loudly.

I simply dread you having to marry that awful man!” Mrs. Bennet went on. “And such a man he turned out to be, ruining your reputation, dragging our good name through the mud! I do not think we ever imagined he could be so horrible a man! Ten thousand a year almost does not seem worth the shame of it all.”

“Almost?” Elizabeth asked.

Well, you will have a very comfortable life,” Mrs. Bennet said matter-of-factly.

Elizabeth thought about correcting some of her mother’s impressions. It did not seem fair to allow her mother’s imagination to run rampant about Mr. Darcy’s behaviour, not when she was the one responsible for the circumstances in which they were found. However, she remembered what Mr. Darcy had said about her family and decided that perhaps he was quite as terrible as her mother implied. The thought, however, only made her feel worse.

Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet now greeted his daughter and gently pulled her into a hug. He kissed the top of her head, and Elizabeth felt the tears that she first felt for Jane come back into her eyes. This time, she could not stop them from falling.

“Oh, Papa,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “I am so sorry.”

Here, now,” Mr. Bennet said gently. “Let us sit down and talk about this.”

He steered Elizabeth into a chair by the fireplace and took the seat opposite her. Jane and Mrs. Bennet sat as well. After they had all settled themselves, Mr. Bennet continued to speak.

Now, I believe I have a good sense of the situation from your uncle’s letter and I cannot help but wonder if a wedding is truly necessary. From what I understand, the whole occurrence was a mere accident and nothing more. Lizzy, what are your thoughts?”

Elizabeth felt her heart leap. Could she truly be free from the awful situation in which she now found herself? Would her father really break the engagement? She began to speak, but Mrs. Bennet interfered.

Of course a wedding is necessary!” She said, sounding affronted. “The rumours have already begun to spread! We heard them all over town!”

What rumours?” Elizabeth asked, her heart sinking once more.

She had hardly dared to go outside and leave her room in the days since the discussion with Mr. Darcy. And perhaps it was silly, but she had hoped that, by some miracle, the gossip would have remained at Pemberley. It was a disappointment to hear differently.

Never mind it, Lizzy,” Jane said, shaking her head. “It does not matter.”

It matters to me,” Elizabeth said. “Please, tell me what people are saying.”

The content of the gossip is hardly the point,” Mrs. Bennet burst out, waving her handkerchief in Elizabeth’s direction. “It only matters that they are talking. Which is why you must marry Mr. Darcy. After all, the only alternative would be for your father to challenge him to a duel! And you know that your father would never best Mr. Darcy in a duel. He shall be killed, and Mr. Collins will turn us out of the house before your father is even in the ground! And then you will be ruined and we will have no home. Is that what you want, Lizzy? For your father to be killed and for us to be destitute?” Mrs. Bennet was sobbing now, her imagination causing her deep pain. Mr. Bennet patted his wife’s shoulder soothingly.

I am not dead yet,” Mr. Bennet said dryly. “And I will thank you to stop trying to put me in my grave. I will not duel Mr. Darcy, but I still want to hear Lizzy’s thoughts on the matter.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment while she watched her mother cry. When first her father had posed the query, Elizabeth had jumped at the chance to agree that the wedding was a silly idea. However, Jane’s confirmations of rumours and even Mrs. Bennet’s overwrought outburst had given her pause.

It was true that the last thing she wanted was to marry that overly-proud peacock Mr. Darcy (and to think that she had considered changing her opinion of him!) but she could not ignore the fact that if she did not marry him, it would impact her entire family. How would Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia find good matches if their sister was a fallen woman? What would happen after Mr. Bennet died?

There were few things in life quite as certain as the fact that Mr. Collins and his wife Charlotte would inherit, and the Bennet women would be left with nothing. Elizabeth would not have that. She would not allow her family to have such a fate. Not when she could save them all—if at the cost of her own happiness.

Yes, Papa,” she said miserably. “I think it is necessary.”

* * *

That night, Elizabeth was relieved to crawl into bed next to Jane. She had hardly slept the last few nights and she was exhausted. However, before she slept, she knew she needed to talk. It had been far too long since she and her sister had shared a heart-to-heart conversation beneath their sheets, and Elizabeth had much to tell her. Sleep could wait a few minutes more.

Lizzy?” Jane asked as soon as they blew the candle out. “How do you really feel about marrying Mr. Darcy?”

Elizabeth had determined that she would be strong, but her resolve disappeared as soon as the question left Jane’s lips. Instead, tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. Jane propped herself on her elbow, looking at her, but Elizabeth found she could not speak. She lay there, staring at the ceiling, feeling the tears slide down into her ears and onto her pillow.

Jane reached out and softly ran her thumb across Elizabeth’s cheek, wiping away some of the tears.

Lizzy,” she said softly. “Is it truly so bad as that?”

“I am afraid it is,” Elizabeth said softly.

Tell me why,” Jane said. Elizabeth shook her head.

I can hardly think to repeat the words,” she said, anger beginning to edge into her voice. “He is the most arrogant, prideful, conceited man I have ever met! He thinks himself far above us poor, country folk. ‘As a Darcy of Pemberley, there are certain expectations about who I marry.’ It was worse than everything he said at Rosings!”

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