The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love (3 page)

BOOK: The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love
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Mrs. Gardiner slipped out of the room to allow them privacy as Mr. Bennet rushed to his daughter’s bedside. “How do you feel, Lizzy? Are you in pain?”

“I was in much pain before, but now it seems to be less so. I think it has something to do with that abhorrent tasting stuff the doctor gave me.”

“Can you tell me what happened? Jane said she had fallen asleep and does not remember anything.”

“I am not sure, Papa, it all happened so fast,” she said as she earnestly looked up into his eyes.

“We had not long left the dance. Oh, Papa, it was a
wonderful
dance!”

“Try to contain your enthusiasm for the dance just for now Lizzy, and tell me about the accident.”

It was hardly a moment for amusement, but Thomas Bennet could not help the smile that threatened. Even in such a situation his daughter was not thinking of her injuries, but of the lovely dance she had just attended. He thought her the most special child in the world.

“Yes, go on, you were just leaving the dance, and then what happened?”

“We had not gone very far and had just turned a corner when another carriage came around the bend. It was travelling fast, much too fast, and it came upon us so quickly that it could not stop in time. It collided with our carriage and spooked the horses, causing them to rear up, and our carriage overturned.”

“Did you see who was driving the other carriage, Lizzy?” asked her father.

“As our carriage came to rest on its side, he looked down at me, but quickly turned his head away. It all happened in an instant as he took a whip to the horse, and then shouting a curse, he sped away.”

“Do you think you would recognize him, if you saw him again?”

“I do not know. Aside from the fact that his hair was dark in color, I cannot honestly say what he looked like. But for a moment, I thought I saw . . . I thought I saw the devil!”

Mr. Bennet eyed his daughter for a long moment. He knew she must be overwrought and that the doctor had given her some laudanum for the pain, but she was also the least likely of all his daughters to partake in hyperbole.

If not the devil, at least a monster, for only a monster would leave two young girls injured on the road without even offering some assistance.

“Try not to think upon it now, Lizzy. You must get some rest.”

“Is the injury to my leg so very bad, Papa?”

He did not wish to lie to her, but he did not think it best to disclose the extent of her injury just now. Mr. Reeves, the Gardiners’ long-time driver had sustained a concussion after being thrown from the carriage and rendered unconscious, and Jane’s injuries seemed to be only minor. No, it was Elizabeth who was fated to suffer the most serious of injuries.

Though he had pressed the doctor for an answer to Lizzy’s very same question, the doctor had refused to speculate. He said there was a chance she could recover the ability to walk—if the operation went well, if she obeyed all his instructions, if she was very diligent and persistent with her exercises, and above all, if she was very lucky.

That was a lot of
ifs
to overcome. They would deal with them one day at a time.

“The doctor has given me every hope to believe that you shall make a full recovery. He has set your leg as best as he can for now, but you will have to undergo an operation, Lizzy, and some treatments, but I am confident you shall be as good as new. It may take a good deal of time, but you are young and otherwise healthy, my child. I am certain you shall prevail.”

Elizabeth seemed to relax at this declaration. For if there was anyone who was up to a challenge it was Lizzy. And besides, in her mind there was no question that she would make a full recovery, for how else would her dream of one day dancing so elegantly with the handsome Mr. Darcy ever come true?

She gave a stifled yawn, as the laudanum was now taking its full affect upon her. “Did I mention that we met Mr. Darcy, Papa? He was most . . . (yawn) . . . congenial and quite handsome.”

“Yes, I believe you dedicated an entire lengthy letter to describing every gesture and word the man produced,” said Mr. Bennet, slightly shaking his head at the priorities of her thoughts.

Moments later he looked down upon her as she slept soundly, a smile on her face as she most likely dreamed of her Mr. Darcy.

CHAPTER
THREE

Hertfordshire 1811

“Shall we visit Charlotte this afternoon?” Jane asked of her sister.

“You go if you wish. I would rather stay here and read,” said Elizabeth.

“We could pick some flowers. They are at the perfect stage for drying.”

“I would really prefer to finish my book.”

“There is an Assembly on Saturday. Will you come, Lizzy?”

“You know I do not dance, Jane. I will stay home and keep Papa company.”

Even though Jane always asked the same questions and Lizzy’s answers never varied, the two sisters seemed determined to play out this identical scene at regular intervals.

“Oh Lizzy, are you ever going to leave this house? You used to love dancing and riding and visiting Charlotte, and taking long rambles through the . . .”

She quickly looked down as the words died upon her lips.

Then she raised her head and met Elizabeth’s eyes, “You can still do all those things, Lizzy. Maybe you cannot do some of them as well as you used to, but the doctor said
walking
would be good exercise.”

“Really, Jane, I don’t understand why you won’t just let me be. I am perfectly content as I am.”

“But Lizzy, you are the only one who sees your limp as an impediment. Even Father says you are too self-conscious about it.”

Elizabeth almost startled at the word
limp
. For even though she most definitely had one, it was not something that anyone had ever actually voiced before; a more tactful turn of phrase had always been used in its place, at least, when in
her
company.

The room was suddenly silent as Elizabeth chose not to respond to her sister and instead returned her attention to her book. When she next looked up, she saw her sister hurry from the room.
Yes, leave me
, thought Elizabeth.
You can never understand
.

It was not Elizabeth’s intention to be contrary, but as many times as she had tried to convince her sister of her aversion to social events, she knew Jane would never be able to relate to her circumstances.

All she had wanted was to be as she was before. How could Jane and Papa not understand? When people looked upon her, they no longer saw
Elizabeth
the young girl they had once smiled upon and admired, they now saw
poor Elizabeth
the young woman on whom they now took pity.

She would rather spend her days in solitude than be the object of such pity.

Jane had quickly left the parlour, no longer capable of hiding the tears that had been threatening. As she passed her father’s library, he called to her. Composing herself, she peered inside the library door.

“Yes, Father?”

“Come in, Jane. I wish to speak to you.”

She entered the sanctuary of her father’s domain and sat down in the chair across the desk from him.

“What has upset you so, Jane?”

Her gaze was focused on the hands in her lap. “Oh Father, I just wish that Lizzy would not be so . . .
so stubborn
. I cannot help but feel . . .”

“What, Jane? What is it you feel?”

She took a deep breath and looked up into his soft eyes. “I cannot help but feel guilty that it was Lizzy who suffered the greater injury. I would give anything had it been me instead. Lizzy was always so full of energy—so full of life. It is I who could have fared better under such circumstances.”

Mr. Bennet looked at the anguish in his daughter’s eyes. He did not doubt for a moment that she would have gladly reversed the situation had she the ability to do so.

“Jane, you must not feel guilty. You had no more to do with Elizabeth’s injuries than I. It was a twist of fate, and who are we to argue with such things as fate? Elizabeth will come around. She has always been a sensible girl, and I am confident she will regain her enthusiasm in good time.”

He did his best to convince his daughter that he spoke the truth, and she made believe, just as he did, that the situation would eventually improve with time. Jane gave him a guarded smile as she left his company.

But in truth, Mr. Bennet silently grieved. He and Jane had tried everything they could think of to encourage Lizzy to take an interest in life again. They had pleaded, bribed, and cajoled, all to no avail. If something did not change soon, Elizabeth would be beyond amendment, her spirit damaged forever by the events that had occurred that fateful night.

He sighed. He hardly recognized his own daughter anymore. The young girl who had once waxed profusely on all she experienced, no longer seemed interested in experiencing
anything
. What must he do to bring her back from the precipice on which she precariously teetered? Was it already too late?

********

“Your mind seems to be on other things today, Mr. Darcy,” said the young woman as her hand lightly tugged his upper arm bringing his attention back to her. Miss Alyssa Marston looked the picture of elegant London society. Her beautiful, auburn hair was intricately braided, covered by the most exclusive bonnet that Estelle’s Boutique & Millinery had to offer. She reached up and brushed a curl from her forehead, displaying the beige kid glove that fit smoothly over her delicate slim hand. It was a glorious Sunday afternoon, and the handsome couple were strolling the fashionable Hyde Park.

Yes, his mind had been on other things, and for the life of him, he could not recall what their topic of conversation had been before his thoughts had begun to wander. Knowing Miss Marston, it undoubtedly had to do with some party or ball she had attended, for the young lady had only recently arrived in London and was enamoured of the social scene, a situation she relished.

“Forgive me, Miss Marston, I was momentarily distracted. You were saying?”

As he spoke, she looked upon him, from his thick, dark brown hair to his highly polished hessian boots, stopping at certain intervals along her downward path, as she tried to imagine what lay beneath his impeccably tailored clothes.

The limited social life of her country province, where she had been highly admired, was a far cry from that of the sophisticated, elite society of London. However, she was determined to make her mark. She especially enjoyed the attentions of all the young gentlemen who expressed their delight upon meeting her—her only regret being that she must eventually settle on only one. But as her gaze continued to appraise the attributes of the gentleman by her side, she had no cause to complain.

What a prize he would make!

Over the course of the last five years, Fitzwilliam Darcy had proved himself worthy of his inherited title and was indeed looked upon by the women of society as a prize to be won. All of London had waited to see if the new Master of Pemberley would be successful in restoring the once thriving estate to its former glory, or if he would succumb to the costly vices and proclivities that lured so many young men and separated them from their newly inherited fortunes.

The very fact that he had a fortune to squander had made him a target for every kind of deception and temptation, and he had not been without his curiosities.

He had quickly discovered that games of chance were not to his liking. He could not understand why a gentleman who already possessed great wealth would risk wagering a portion of it on a hand of cards or a toss of the dice.

Precarious and shady business propositions had been dangled in front of him, but he soon learned to invest only in those ventures in which he had a working knowledge and interest, such as cultivating the land. His investments centered on those endeavours that would advance agricultural development, for he had a love and respect of the land just as George Darcy had.

A vast panoply of temptations had been offered from the denizens of smoke-filled private clubs where nefarious gentlemen supplied substances that were touted to stimulate his mind, while those enticements offered by the ladies had been of a more carnal nature. He would admit to appeasing his curiosity on several occasions, but it had been years since his young inquisitiveness had been piqued and sated.

With all his ‘indiscretions of youth’ now in his past, his social life had settled into a routine of escorting perfectly bred young ladies to perfectly proper social functions, today being a perfect example. He imagined he would, in good time, marry one of these perfect young ladies and live a seemingly perfect existence, a perfect existence uncomplicated by love.

It was not that he was opposed to love, for he was sure that there were circumstances where love survived beyond the inevitable diminishing of physical attraction, but that kind of love was rare. Indeed, his cynicism had increased steadily over the years as he witnessed his peers profess love for their wives and then take mistresses as soon as the first bloom had faded. And the women had proved to be no better, as he had been approached by more than a few bored society wives who indicated their willingness to form secret alliances.

Having experienced what passed for love in the polite, sophisticated social circle in which he lived, he decided it was not a requirement for his happiness and branded it just another one of the dubious propositions in which he was unwilling to invest.

In his seven and twenty years he had managed to avoid even the slightest hint of romantic love, and he had no cause to repine. In fact, he had not encountered even one young lady for whom he might be willing to take such a risk with his heart.

Of course he had witnessed the devotion that his beloved parents had shared, but even that did not make his opinion any less critical on the subject. For what good had love done his father when his mother had become so irrevocably ill? All the love in the world had not been able to save her. And Lady Anne’s death had brought the onset of George Darcy’s as well. It was as if they both had died that day. For even though his father continued to draw breath for many more years, his spirit and will to live had long ceased.

At the tender age of sixteen, Fitzwilliam Darcy had made up his mind about love. After watching his father’s long-suffering demise, he was determined never to let his heart feel that much for any woman.

As far as he was concerned, love was a painful and unrewarding experience in every possible way. And life was much too short to waste one’s time on something that had no redeeming value. Yes, he could well be content to live his life free from the emotional turmoil of love.

He forced his concentration back to Miss Marston who was now relating the gossip that was sure to result from the fracas that had erupted last evening at Miss Fiona Redley’s coming out ball. Indeed, the young woman on his arm seemed determined to relate the entire incident and left out not even the smallest of details.

Their newly emerging relationship had begun only a few months prior as they both had attended a dinner party of a mutual acquaintance. She was somewhat of a mystery, which perhaps added to her appeal.

She was from the small town of Cornhill in Northumberland and had arrived in London to assist her recently widowed aunt while attorneys sorted out the affairs of her late uncle’s estate, a gentleman of some nobility, if one took stock in rumours. Her aunt he had met only once as she was quite frail and was usually resting or had retired for the evening when he called.

The elderly woman’s butler, a gentleman by the name of Stivers, obviously had been in her employ for many, many years; as his memory, his hearing, and even his eyesight were all quite deficient. When Darcy called at the townhouse, he usually had to resort to pounding his fist upon the door in order for Stivers to hear, and the man failed to recognize him each and every time.

Miss Marston took to London society like a duck to water, and it seemed the ton had taken an instant liking to her as well, for there was nothing that they esteemed more than beauty and breeding, and he could not refute that her striking good-looks had caught his eye. He had called upon her regularly since their introduction and could find no fault in her comportment.

She seemed receptive to his attentions and on several occasions had purposely fashioned circumstances that allowed them to indulge in some intimacy. A number of liberties had been accorded, and he had not refused them. He found her boldness surprising but did not consider this a fault, as his ego presumed this access to her charms was reserved for him alone.

And while he found her charms pleasurable, he could not say that she had engaged his emotions, a fact that seemed to be of no consequence. He had not professed love, and she did not seem to require it, which only confirmed Darcy’s opinion that they were well suited.

As to his and Miss Marston’s conversations, on each occasion they had talked of the weather in great detail, the possibility of rain apparently being of utmost concern to the young lady. Fashion seemed to be another of Miss Marston’s anxieties as she fretted over the newest trend of shorter sleeves and the new season’s scandalous lack of lace.

His attentions upon her had been duly noted by the ton, and it was assumed by all that he would soon make her an offer, a prospect which he did not find intolerable. After all, he must marry
someone
as he was so often reminded by his family, and Miss Marston was a more likely candidate than most. Had not everyone he met declared them a most handsome couple?

BOOK: The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love
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