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The Governess & The Master

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“Mr Darcy, we will have to leave now,” said Doctor Moore. The Doctor tried a further time to help Darcy to his feet without success. 

Darcy remained kneeling by the bedside. The only action he took was to look at his own hands which were covered in Anne’s blood. He could not find it in him to wipe it off. He closed his eyes for a moment to stop the fresh tears he could feel threatening to spill. However, when he opened them his once bloodied hands were clean. He noticed he was also no longer struggling to see under candlelight as the room was flooded with daylight and Doctor Moore and the nursemaid were now absent from the room.

Looking at the bed he noticed that it was also clean and Anne’s lifeless body was no longer lying there. He was not certain if he was even in the same room as that fateful night but the furnishings looked similar. 

Like the fateful night when his children wailed as their mother lost her life, Darcy now heard the sound of a baby except this time it was not a cry but a coo. The cooing seemed to be chorused by another similar sound. This was then followed by a soft voice saying: “There, there little ones.” 

This seemed to prompt Darcy to stand and he moved towards the open door which adjoined what seemed to be a nursery. His subconscious seemed aware of what it would discover beyond the threshold but it was also in a state of confusion as to the events unfolding. 

“Aren’t you beautiful?” the voice spoke once more as Darcy now had a full view of the room beyond. 

A woman with dark brown hair was looking down into a crib where two bundles lay. Without seeing their faces Darcy knew it was his children. As he walked closer, he also knew it was Elizabeth before she turned her head. Except this time when she looked up her smile was directed entirely at him. 

“There he is,” said Elizabeth. She extended her hand out to him, and still smiling, said, “Come Mr Darcy, the children have missed you very much.” 

Though he could not see his face, Darcy knew he was also smiling. As Darcy reached out his hand to take Elizabeth’s, his heart constricted as if recognising that something was amiss and the sharpness of the pain led Darcy to clutch at his chest. When he looked down at his chest to see what could possibly have caused such pain he saw that his hand was bloody once more. However, it was not his own blood that coloured it. He saw that his clothes now resembled the state they had been the night Anne had passed away. He looked up to Elizabeth and discovered she was no longer in the room, the crib was empty and that once more the room was dark with only a couple of candles providing some light.  

“Have you already forgotten about me?” a soft, tearfilled voice spoke from behind Darcy. He whirled around and stepped back in shock. Standing in the doorway between the nursery and the bedroom was Anne dressed in the same bloody dress she had died in. She was clutching her now baby-less stomach.

Darcy moved forward with a desperate plea of, “No, Anne I could never forget-.”  However, before he could say anymore or reach her, Anne suddenly shrieked, pointing a bloody accusatory finger at him, “You did this to me! You! And yet your heart is so fickle!” She moved forward with such speed, Darcy tripped over his feet in his attempt to move back and fell back scrambling for purchase. 

Before his dream body hit the ground Darcy came to, breaths coming in short spurts as he lay feeling restrained to the bed. As usual after one of his nightmares it took him a moment to acclimatise and remember he was no longer in the confines of his mind. He quickly sat up and reached, with a shaking hand, for the glass that was always by his bedside. His heart hammered frantically, requiring him to take more deep breaths to calm himself. 

This had been a first. Anne hardly ever spoke, moved or was still alive in his nightmares. He knew it was nothing more than his subconscious taking his already crippling guilt and using it against him. However, he could not fathom how his own mind could have been so cruel.

What he also found strange, but perhaps not surprising considering the earlier events of the day, was Elizabeth’s presence. He had not dreamt about her since the time he left for London, and he could not understand why his dream self had been so welcoming towards her, seemingly desperate to take her proffered hand. But however unwelcome her presence was, he would have appreciated to see how that version of events would have unfolded as compared to the horror of having the mother of his children accuse him of being the cause of her death. 

No matter how many times his family and friends had told him Anne’s death was beyond his control, Darcy, ever the responsible one, could not help but place the blame on himself. Even though it was his aunt and mother who agreed for him and Anne to marry, even though Anne had consented to having children in her sickly state, and even though in the few lucid moments before she passed she had even told him he was not to blame, Darcy still carried the guilt and responsibility from that night. 

He always wished that he could take it all back and prevent Anne from consenting to the marriage but then he would remember that taking it all back would mean his children would not be alive, and distant as he might be to them, Darcy knew he loved his children dearly. 

When, early on in his life as a widower, he had talked to Dr Moore, who had remained the children’s doctor long after the passing of their mother, Dr Moore had encouraged Darcy to let go of the guilt and blame he placed on himself. 

“It does not do to dwell on such matters Mr Darcy,” said Dr Moore sympathetically. “I have delivered hundreds of babies but in the same span I have not been able to save nearly as many mothers as I would like to. These things are beyond our capabilities and I have reconciled myself with the fact that only God knows why at the same time we rejoice at the birth of a new life, we must also suffer at the loss of another.”

Darcy had merely nodded. 

He had barely been able to speak to God for most of his children’s lives. Attending church was a formality for him as he knew he had to lead by example for his servants, tenants and the villagers. However, most of the time his mind would drift elsewhere, not really listening to the clergymen that delivered sermons at St John’s Parish. They all preached about letting go and trusting in God as Dr Moore had told him but sensible as the message might be, Darcy’s heart refused to listen.   

Now pacing about in his room, Darcy sighed wishing for day break. He could not risk walking this late in the night in case he alarmed the groundskeepers who would think he was an intruder. So he did the only thing that cleared his mind after such a bad dream. He wrote the whole dream down adding to the hundreds of dreams he had been penning down since Dr Moore had suggested the exercise to him some three years back. Had he been able to walk, he might have come back and done this later but since he was confined to his room, writing presented a better opportunity to find peace. Come morning he knew he would have a lot to face, what with his steward briefing him on the state of the estate in his absence, his guests needing to be entertained, his aunt possibly seeking an explanation from him about Elizabeth and Elizabeth being the anomaly he could not quite figure out. 

While Darcy scrawled away, in another wing in the house, Elizabeth was also frantically writing. In her case, it was about a nightmare she had lived through earlier that day and now had to share in a letter to Jane. It was her third letter of the night having first written one when, after Darcy's stern warning, her feet had finally carried her to her bedroom. 

The first letter was stained with tears and she had almost decided to not send it as the ink was so smudged it made her writing unintelligible in places. However, she thought the letter landed a lot of credence to her emotional turmoil. The second had no evidence of tears although Elizabeth had still felt quite overwhelmed while writing it and had used the opportunity to expand more on the stream of consciousness style she had adopted in her first letter. The third letter, and she hoped for it to be the final one, was being written after another failed attempt to sleep.  

It is strange dear sister, and I can not fathom why every time he treats me in such a belittling manner I can never seem to pluck up the courage and defend my actions. Every time it is as if I am all of five and mama is scolding me for climbing a tree and tearing my dress. Except with mama the scolding would be warranted as she is, after all, my mother and reserves the right to discipline me but with Mr Darcy the injustice of his harshness is so acute. And yet I have barely done or said anything to ensure I retain my dignity.”

At the conclusion of this sentence Elizabeth huffed frustratedly, the shame of the earlier events of the day encroaching. She could not understand why she had not just said the truth of the matter instead of trying to appease Darcy by taking the blame for something that she knew was a good deed while she just stood there like a mute in her wet and cold dress as Darcy scolded her. 

Elizabeth put down the quill and stood from the chair. She vowed she would conclude the letter later. Her head was starting to ache with all sorts of thoughts, chief among them being how to confront Darcy come morning and whether she should listen to the voice telling her to run for the hills. 

She began pacing around the room. Are the children really worth all this trouble?, Elizabeth wondered. She knew she had grown to love the children but perhaps the inability for her and Darcy to reach common ground was a sign that she should find employment elsewhere. For what good was it to care for the children when their father undermined everything she did for their good? 

Elizabeth wished for Jane’s wise counsel in that moment and she even missed her younger sisters who would no doubt have given their own unflattering opinions about Darcy. Overall, the warmth her family exhibited even in their dysfunction was what Elizabeth missed most. She never felt out of place at Longbourn and yet at Pemberley even when Darcy was away and she had had more autonomy with how to educate the children, Elizabeth had still not felt at peace. 

As she found herself situated at the mirror at her dressing table Elizabeth said to her reflection, “I think it might be time to admit defeat and leave before it is too late.”

This was followed by a low, “Please do not leave,” to which Elizabeth shrieked, clutching at her heart in panic. Looking behind her she spotted the source.

“Master Archie!” said Elizabeth moving towards him, where he was half concealed by the door. As Archie looked just as panicked, no doubt believing he had done something wrong, Elizabeth refrained from letting him know how much of a fright he had given her. She said instead, “Whatever are you doing up? Did you have a bad dream?” Elizabeth knelt before him, eyes roaming over his face to check for any signs of distress or pain. 

“No, I could not sleep,” said Archie, shaking his head. “I was worried that Papa might have sent you away. So I came to see for myself if you were still here.” His stealth impressed Elizabeth as she had not heard the heavy door opening.

“You are too kind Archie,” said Elizabeth. “Fear not, I live to see another day.” Elizabeth attempted to smile but she knew she had not convinced him.

“I am sorry about whatever Papa said to you,” said Archie.

“Do not trouble yourself dear. Your father did not say or do anything to hurt me,” said Elizabeth. She did not want Archie to think any worse of his father. “If anything he was most gracious,” said Elizabeth. She knew it was a stretch of the truth but it was still partly true that Darcy had given her another chance. He might have dismissed her on the spot otherwise.

“Still I am sorry you got in trouble,” said Archie, his eyes showed wisdom way beyond his young years. “And I know that now Papa’s back things will have to go back to normal. So thank you for the fun we have had these last couple of months.” Archie smiled. He threw his arm around Elizabeth who could only hug him in return trying to keep the tears at bay. She hated that such sweet children were subjected to a life where their father was more of a spectre, even as he endeavoured to provide for them materially. Elizabeth reasoned that perhaps leaving was not a wise plan after all. Necessary as it might be for her wellbeing, being the bright spot in the children’s lives meant more to her than the torture of working under their father.

After a moment Elizabeth let go of Archie and hastily wiped away at a tear or two that had escaped. She directed Archie back to his room and after seeing that he was tucked into bed with the promise that she would see him again upon daybreak, Elizabeth returned to her room feeling more inspired to finish the letter to Jane. 

....

The next morning Bessie found her sleeping at the desk where, after concluding the letter, Elizabeth had laid her head on the desk believing it to be for a moment only to be consumed by sleep before she relocated to her bed. Bessie brought news with her that Darcy wanted to see Elizabeth before he broke fast with his guests. 

“I cannot even have the benefit of a light meal. Shall I feign lightheadedness to escape the inevitable lecture?” said Elizabeth. Bessie laughed enjoying Elizabeth’s dramatics. The two had established a camaraderie as they spent more time in each other’s company than with other servants in the house. Although she was younger than Elizabeth and had only ever lived in the neighbouring village of Lambton before assuming employment at Pemberley, Bessie made for good company. She was soft spoken and very obliging which made it easier for Elizabeth to delegate tasks. 

“Master Darcy means well,” said Bessie. As usual she would never encourage Elizabeth to speak ill of Darcy. “Most masters would have sent any of us packing for far little.” 

Elizabeth could not disagree with that. However, Bessie’s comments did nothing to quell her worries that maybe Darcy had gone back on his word and was now sending her packing. She could not help wondering why he had not dismissed her considering, as Bessie had highlighted, under any other Master she would have been on her way home last night. At some point last night the prospect was welcome but after speaking to Archie, staying on was not as daunting an idea if it meant continuing to teach him and his sister. 

As she made her way to Darcy’s study, Elizabeth knew that word of what had happened between her and Darcy had already travelled among the servants. The little glances that were cast her way by the footmen, the whispers as she passed by a pair of maids and the knowing look directed her way by the butler, Mr Mason as he exited Darcy’s study on her way in, told her all she needed to know. What exactly had transpired might be a mystery to the servants but Elizabeth knew that the servants were aware that whatever was said was not in Elizabeth’s favour. They were probably surprised that she was still at Pemberley.

Elizabeth sighed as she shook her hands slightly to rid herself of the nervous energy that had set in as she waited for Darcy. The servants’ behaviour was a reminder of the society back home when her sister’s hopes of a marriage with Mr Fairfield were dashed. People always love to talk. Another subject will interest them soon, Elizabeth thought, trying to be unfazed by the attention. 

While she waited, Elizabeth forced herself to stay still, by rooting herself to the spot and clasping her hands in order to not give in to the temptation to move around Darcy’s study which she realised she had never been in alone. On her previous visits she had not allowed herself to admire the room nor had she had the opportunity to do so owing to Darcy’s unnerving presence. 

Without the worry of Darcy observing her Elizabeth, still standing in one place, glanced around the study taking in its beauty and in particular the bookshelf behind his desk which stretched from wall to wall and all the way to the ceiling. While Pemberley’s library held a beautiful collection in a magnificently decorated room, something about the titles on Darcy’s shelves added to the room’s beauty. The books were not the contemporary, cloth-bound texts lining the library’s shelves, these texts ranged from ancient codices to heavy tomes and leather bound books with metal clasps. They were no doubt precious which explained their selection to be in a room barred from public access. Elizabeth was itching to open them but before that thought could form into an action she was startled by a sound from the corner of the room. 

A section of the wall suddenly shifted and Elizabeth realised it was a door from behind which emerged Darcy. He did not look at Elizabeth but proceeded to his chair and directed Elizabeth to sit after which he also took his seat. Elizabeth could never not find his sense of propriety vexatious as she wondered how a man who always displayed such gentlemanly manners could have such a displeasing manner. 

He proceeded to speak to her officiously, hardly pausing, nor giving her room to comment nor looking at her face. Darcy instead chose to look at the papers and ledgers on his desk as if she was not worthy of being addressed with some respect.

“As I said yesterday Miss Bennet, that was the final warning. You embarrassed me in front of my guests and it is a wonder none of them were offended by your display. I would have made an ultimatum that you are to leave as soon as my guests also leave however, the process of finding a new governess is arduous,” at this Darcy sighed resignedly. “I have also already heard from Mason and Thorpe that you deviated most severely from the curriculum and schedule I had set. While nothing can be done for the lost time, I assure you that I will be monitoring everything to ensure that no more time is lost. From now on I am increasing the meetings from once a week to three times a week and I will also be observing a couple of lessons, time permitting. I will be combing through everything and I want to see that the plan is followed exactly as set out.” Darcy paused as he seemed taken for a moment by the contents of the paper in his hand. He continued, “While my guests are here I expect the utmost level of decorum from you and the children. They are to greet the guests tonight and my aunt informed me she wants the children and Georgiana to exhibit, outside of that I do not expect to see the children disturbing the guests. I trust all this does not need repeating. I will send a footman to call for you and the children after dinner.”

So long had been his instruction Elizabeth felt like taking a deep breath on his behalf. She was once again reminded of their first meeting in his study where she had almost felt sympathy for him considering his responsibility as a widower. In this moment she could only feel contempt for his insistence to once again disregard the best interests of his children. His behaviour was not surprising though and the Elizabeth who had arrived at Pemberley earlier in the year might have taken offence at his remarks, however, Elizabeth now understood that she owed it to the children to withstand Darcy and his foul manner. This thought did not make the prospect of returning to the status quo with even more stringent rules any more pleasant though.

“I believe you are dismissed,” said Darcy when Elizabeth remained seated. 

You never dismissed me! Elizabeth thought, rolling her eyes. His immersion in his work meant he could not see anything beyond the papers on his desk.

As Elizabeth moved to the door, her wounded pride screaming to make its presence known, Elizabeth turned back to Darcy, heart beating frantically, and asked: “If you do not mind me asking -.”

“I very much mind,” said Darcy impatiently. At this he cast her a withering glance that would have intimidated weaker beings. Elizabeth was not such a person. 

She cleared her throat and continued as if she had not been interrupted, to which Darcy frustratedly threw down the paper he was holding and finally looked squarely at Elizabeth as she spoke, impatience rolling off him in spades. “If you do not mind me asking, Sir ,” her mocking tone was slightly concealed by the fake smile plastered on her face, “have you looked at the children’s results from the time you were gone?”

Darcy narrowed his eyes, “Miss Bennet do you truly wish to keep your job? Because the line of questioning you are pursuing does not display to me that you care about your security in this position.”

Elizabeth was saved from saying something she would regret, by a knock on the door. Instead of calling for the person to enter, Darcy stood to open the door himself. With the way he stood up, roughly pushing his chair back and glaring at Elizabeth as he rounded the length of his desk, it was clear he was beyond frustrated with the situation and had needed the short walk to the door as an outlet for this. It was fortunate the chair had not tipped back making the scene more dramatic. 

Elizabeth only stared at Darcy, chin held high, refusing to cower at his glare until he reached the door and she used the few seconds of reprieve to take a calming breath as she was feeling her heart threatening to burst. If he was frustrated then she was incensed. She had wanted to leave, had hoped to reach the door without giving in to the temptation to speak but those few steps she had made towards the door were enough for her to think on how ignorant he was to the workings of his children. To merely decree that they resume life as it was before his departure without acknowledging how well they had worked while he was away was simply cruel. So willing as she was, for the sake of the children, to take the blame for what she had technically done well and to acquiesce to his ridiculous desire for control, she could not stand by while he completely ignored what Archie and Rosie had achieved. Had it not been for the interruption, Elizabeth was certain she would have lost her job.  

“Ah, there you are.” Elizabeth heard Lady Sybil’s voice say. Elizabeth could not help her small smile as she knew Lady Sybil would undoubtedly rescue her from this situation. “Am I interrupting something?” she heard Lady Sybil ask Darcy. 

Darcy opened the door wider allowing Lady Sybil to enter. He walked back to his desk saying, “No, Miss Bennet was on her way out. She need not concern you.” 

Lady Sybil ignored her nephew and offered Miss Bennet a warm, sympathetic smile. “Good morning my dear. I trust you managed to get some rest?” 

Darcy in turn pinched the bridge of his nose clearly annoyed at his aunt’s intrusion. 

Elizabeth felt satisfaction at having someone show Darcy that his authority did not apply to all things at Pemberley. “Good morning Lady Sybil. Yes, I did. Thank you for asking,” said Elizabeth, hating herself for lying but knowing that admitting the truth of her horrid, sleepless night would only raise more questions and not make the already precarious situation with Darcy any better.

“Well, you have a busy day ahead, what with preparing the children to meet our guests, I shall not hold you up any longer,” said Lady Sybil choosing to dismiss Elizabeth on her own terms. Her look though said she had more to say to Elizabeth but would choose a more opportune time. 

Elizabeth almost laughed at the comical look on Darcy’s face who clearly could not believe his aunt’s subversion. Serves you right, thought Elizabeth as she exited the room with a warm farewell for Lady Sybil and a cutting “Sir,” and barely visible curtsy directed towards Darcy.

“Must you always undermine me like that Aunt?” Darcy asked as Elizabeth closed the door. He resumed his seat and now looked properly at the paperwork which, while Elizabeth was in the room, he had only used as a ruse to distract himself. 

Following his confrontation with Elizabeth and after his mind had calmed and he was in solitude, Darcy had immediately regretted his decision to command Elizabeth to see him so soon. The nightmare he had had made the whole situation worse as he was uncertain how to interpret her presence in it. That is why he had approached this meeting as if he was a general rattling orders to a soldier. He had wanted her in and out of his study in under five minutes and had even contemplated writing her a letter to save him the trouble of being in her presence. 

Once again he lamented at his own foolish belief that London might have been the cure to his “governess problem”, as it clearly had not been. Now he was stuck for a solution as looking for a new governess when he had guests to attend to would be a challenge. 

This predicament was the least of his problems though as he knew that a much more pressing issue was that of his undeniable attraction to Elizabeth. He had hoped his time away would diminish it but it had only seemed to grow as was proven by the way his heart skipped a beat when he set his eyes upon her through the rain splattered window while she shielded his children from the rain. 

While he was in society he had fooled himself to believe that the ladies of the ton would offer a distraction. Not dreaming about her had added to this misbelief as he knew his overactive subconscious would have conjured some image of her. However, when he really reflected on how he had interacted with the ladies in London, his governess had not been far from his mind. He had compared the other ladies’ affected smiles to Elizabeth’s effortless and genuine ones although they had never been directed at him besides in his dream. He had compared how the other ladies conversed with the objective of flattering him while Elizabeth, even in their brief interactions, seemed determined to do anything but that. On the journey back he had tried in vain to pretend that the prospect of seeing Elizabeth again did not fill him with dread.

When he had finally set his eyes upon her he knew the dread had been warranted and he cursed his false belief that the attraction had been a fluke. The sight of Elizabeth drenched, her wet dress defining a surprisingly shapely figure, her hair loose and her cheeks flushed, had so affected him that he had doubted his intentions when he directed her to the secluded sitting room. He knew part of the reason he had been so harsh towards her was due to the sudden desire that he did not know how else to channel except in anger. Unfair to her as it might be, it was the only way he could reign in control. It had taken everything in him to walk out of the room without a second glance for even though he did not agree with her actions with his children, he could not deny that he was drawn to Elizabeth. 

Which is possibly why, he realised, she had appeared in his nightmare. Which is why he had regretted setting the meeting and as a result had made a fool of himself by trying to rush through it. And which is why for now he had resolved himself to endure Elizabeth for as long as he must. As much as he hated the process of looking for another governess, he reasoned he might have to start the search sooner rather than later. 

“Oh hush Fitzwilliam!” said Lady Sybil, bringing him back to the moment. “No one was undermining you but yourself.”

Darcy looked at her as if she was a mad woman, “How could I possibly be undermining myself?”

Lady Sybil sighed and said, “One of these days you really must open your eyes and realise the asset Miss Bennet is instead of being so at odds with her as you stubbornly insist on being.” And as if she had heard Elizabeth making the same enquiry she asked, “Have you looked at the progress the children made while you were away? It is remarkable and all because of Miss Bennet no less.”

“I believe they could have progressed further had she followed their set schedule instead of going against me and doing what she damn well pleased,” said Darcy, finding it difficult to acknowledge that the work he had managed to review showed good results that he no doubt could attribute to Elizabeth’s efforts but was loathe to admit to his aunt as it would only encourage her. 

“I do hope you give her the benefit of the doubt,” said Lady Sybil.

“What is it you wanted to see me about?” asked Darcy, ignoring his aunt’s comment and effectively ending any further discussion about Elizabeth. 

Lady Sybil only smiled and proceeded to discuss the matter of their guests and how to entertain them. Her thoughts though were not too far from how she could shift her nephew’s views on Elizabeth. 

… 

Preparing the children to meet the guests afforded Elizabeth a much needed reprieve from thoughts about Darcy and the precariousness of her employment. Georgiana’s presence also helped. Although Georgiana was effectively the Lady of Pemberley, while Darcy remained unmarried, she gladly relinquished most of her duties to her aunt who not only had more experience in matters of hosting but was a natural at the role. 

“I know someday I will have to be in charge of my own household,” said Georgiana as she, along with Elizabeth and the children took a break from practicing. They had settled on Archie and Georgiana playing a duet while Rosie sang an accompanying piece. “However, I hope it will be a much smaller one than Pemberley. And please do not take that as me being critical of Pemberley.”

“How could I take it as such Georgiana?” said Elizabeth, trying to reassure Georgiana. “I know you love Pemberley very much but that does not mean you are not allowed to reflect on how its grandeur impacts on one’s ability to run it as a household.”

Georgiana smiled, grateful for Elizabeth’s understanding, “Although I think you, Miss Bennet, would fall into the role naturally.” 

Though Elizabeth insisted Georgiana address her using her christian name, as Georgiana herself had insisted for Elizabeth to do, Georgiana could not seem to shirk the rules of propriety and always called Elizabeth ‘Miss Bennet’.

“The role of being a lady of a great house?” Elizabeth laughed.

“Yes!” exclaimed Georgiana, surprising Elizabeth who was accustomed to a usually reserved Georgiana. Over the short time they had known each other, Georgiana had become more comfortable expressing herself and Elizabeth was enjoying the display of emotion. Georgiana continued, “You are confident and self assured. You are also very innovative and resourceful, going off the remarkable work you have done with my niece and nephew. Even my ladies maid, Florence tells me Bessie has nothing but kind words to say about you for the way you treat her as an equal. You would be invaluable to any household.”

Elizabeth coloured slightly for having such praise heaped on her especially from one as reticent as Georgiana. “That is very kind of you Georgiana,” said Elizabeth suddenly longing for a life which would allow her to be a lady of an estate such as Pemberley. 

It was not that the prospect was impossible. If she really wanted to she could have married the men in her village who had shown an interest even when she had spent most recent years away from home. However, after growing up with most of them and interacting with them at assemblies or balls, Elizabeth could not find a man among them who truly captured her heart or stimulated her intellectually. Particular as she might be considering she had not much to offer financially due to her small dowry, Elizabeth had always been keenly aware that she could not marry a man where she would be forced to flatter and please him. However, her greatest dilemma lay in the fact that such flattery was exactly what most men expected. 

“Well when the time comes that you will be married, you will also find that all the exposure you have had at Pemberley will be of benefit to assist with you running your own household,” said Elizabeth. 

Georgiana flushed for a moment and suddenly became interested in the stitching on her dress. She struggled to form her response, “It might be a while yet before my brother entrusts anyone with my wellbeing. Especially in such a permanent way.” 

When she looked up at Elizabeth the sadness reflected in her eyes led Elizabeth to move closer. Elizabeth hesitated to clasp Georgiana’s hands fearing she might be overstepping but in that moment Georgiana reminded her of Jane and the pain that had been visited upon her. So disregarding any fears about propriety Elizabeth proceeded to lay her hand on top of Georgiana’s. 

“I am sorry if my statement caused you any pain Georgiana,” said Elizabeth, hoping their contact conveyed some comfort. 

“It is not your fault Miss Bennet,” said Georgiana, trying and failing to convey a smile. “I was just reminded about something that happened a year ago. Why my brother might be hesitant -” Georgiana seemed to want to say more but thought better of it and instead said, “I do not want to burden you. Please forget I said anything.”

“You would not be burdening me Georgiana,” said Elizabeth encouragingly. She was curious as to what could have troubled the young lady to lead to her carrying such a heavy weight. Clearly Darcy was also affected by what had happened. Had a young man who had been betrothed to Georgiana broken his promise? Or had Georgiana fallen for someone who Darcy considered unacceptable? The latter seemed more likely to cause Darcy to be against the idea of Georgiana marrying and Elizabeth would not put it past Darcy to deny his sister her happiness for the sake of meeting some societal expectation about suitable matches.

“Please know I am here if you ever need to talk,” said Elizabeth, resolving to not push Georgiana for information despite her curiosity. 

Georgiana nodded appreciatively but was prevented from saying anymore when a footman arrived advising that Darcy wanted to see Rosie and Archie in his study instead of coming to visit them in the nursery. Georgiana tried to reassure Elizabeth that Darcy’s decision to see the children elsewhere was not a reflection of what had happened the previous day but Elizabeth knew better than to believe her, well intentioned as Georgiana’s attempts might be. Regardless of how Georgiana perceived her brother’s actions, she was not to know that Elizabeth was relieved as she could also do without seeing Darcy for a while longer.

The children’s visit with Darcy was brief and through their evening meal as they waited to be called to the drawing room, Archie and Rosie both seemed defeated, owing to what Rosie described as “Papa being unfair” about how the lessons would now be conducted. 

“He knows what is best for you,” said Elizabeth and struggled to look at Rosie as she knew the little girl would see through Elizabeth’s pretence at understanding Darcy. 

“If he does then why does he not just let us continue as we were when he was away?” asked Archie resignedly. He had barely touched his soup, choosing instead to stir it around his bowl. Elizabeth had tried to prompt him multiple times to finish to no avail. 

“Well your curriculum is set by a highly trained school master and your father no doubt wants you to derive maximum benefit,” said Elizabeth. She hated supporting Darcy in any way but she knew the best way forward was for the children to accept the change, unwilling as they may be. 

“But he said we did a good job and should keep it up. Only we have to go back to the boring routine,” said Rosie. 

Elizabeth was lost for words momentarily as she did not know whether to believe what Rosie had said considering that in their earlier meeting, Darcy had barely wanted to answer a question that related to what he thought about the children’s progress. She looked to Archie who nodded as if understanding what Elizabeth was thinking.

“I even asked him why we must go back to the boring routine, but all he could say was ‘that is what’s best’,” said Rosie doing a pretty accurate impersonation of her father, complete with an imaginary pat on the shoulder demonstrating how Darcy would have interacted with them. 

Elizabeth pretended to wipe her lips with her napkin to avoid outright chuckling at Rosie’s impersonation. And not wanting to incite any more grumbling from her charges Elizabeth simply said, “Then we have to trust he knows what is best,” to which Rosie only sighed and Archie continued playing around with his soup. 

When the footman arrived to escort them, Elizabeth had to fake being excited so as to motivate Archie and Rosie even though the last thing Elizabeth wanted was to face Darcy especially in front of his guests.

Upon entering the drawing room Elizabeth stayed back while the children, directed by Darcy, were taken around the room to greet the guests. Aside from Lady Sybil and Georgiana, the small party also consisted of four men and two women. The first man Darcy introduced the children to was a Mr Hurst, who was a portly man and seemed to be a lover of wine judging by the way he had moved on to a second glass before Darcy had made the last introduction. Seated close to Mr Hurst was his wife, Mrs Hurst, who could not have been more mismatched from her husband. While Mr Hurst was rather unkempt despite the fineness of his clothing which indicated that he had some wealth, Mrs Hurst was dressed in the latest fashions and rather overly so as the rich red of her gown clashed in a most unflattering way with her red hair (so perhaps she was well matched with her husband, Elizabeth decided). 

Seated next to Mrs Hurst was her sister Miss Caroline Bingley who, although unlike her sister in some ways with her dark hair and tall frame even while seated, still sported the same fashionable clothing as her sister which was only redeemed by the way the colour complimented her pale complexion. Elizabeth did not miss the disapproving look Caroline cast her way, especially when Lady Sybil moved from where she was seated next to Georgiana to converse with Elizabeth about the exhibition while Darcy finished the introductions. 

The rest of the men, who seemed to be familiar with the children save for one, consisted of a Mr Bingley, a handsome young man who neither looked nor acted like his sisters as he greeted the children warmly, giving them hugs and presenting them with some sweets to indulge later. Mr Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam exuded the same warmth as Mr Bingley and exhibited this by proceeding to tickle his niece and nephew. Elizabeth was surprised that Darcy, who loved order, seemed to enjoy the lighthearted moment; she reasoned that it was the Colonel’s status as family that exempted him. Finally, the children were introduced to Mr Forsythe who seemed like the youngest among the men present. He paid Rosie a compliment that somehow managed to compliment Georgiana’s beauty resulting in Georgiana blushing furiously while Darcy looked at Mr Forsythe with a challenge in his eyes as if daring the young man to say more. 

Elizabeth now understood the root of Georgiana’s comments about Darcy’s reluctance to see her married. If Darcy was to take offense at every man who so much as glanced Georgiana’s way, then Georgiana would never find a match. 

Outside of this observation about her master, Elizabeth’s fears at the greetings and introductions being stiff and cold, as she had come to expect with Darcy, were not warranted. The guests seemed amiable and were welcoming of the children exhibiting for them. This was evidenced by Mr Bingley saying: “That is most marvelous! How fortunate you are Darcy to have such a talented family.” This was received with annoyed looks from his sisters who no doubt, like all other ladies in society, believed their proficiency when it came to singing or playing an instrument was far superior than others.

“Remember children, you have nothing to fear. We have practised this multiple times and each time you excelled. This is no different,” said Elizabeth whispering to Archie and Rosie as they prepared to sing and play. She looked to Georgiana who had already seated herself at the piano bench, “That goes for you too Georgiana.”  She smiled and the trio smiled back, or tried to in Georgiana and Archie’s cases. Rosie on the other hand looked like she had been born for this moment. 

While they exhibited, Elizabeth stood by and turned the music sheets. Occasionally she would glance up to see the audience’s reaction which was a mixture of boredom, in Mr Hurst’s case; feigned interest, in the Bingley sisters’ case and joy from the rest of the party except (as she expected but was still annoyed by) for Darcy. It was not that he was disinterested or bored. He just seemed to be present without showing any emotion. Most of the time when she glanced up he would be looking down at his glass as if its contents had more to offer than a display by his own children and sister. 

What Elizabeth missed was that at the times when her eyes would shift back to turn the music, Darcy’s would ever so slightly glance back in the direction of the quartet. On his part Darcy was trying to enjoy the performance, actually he was enjoying the performance. After all he recognised that the children and his sister had put a lot of effort into and the effort was apparent with the way they hit the notes beautifully. However, (and this was where his enjoyment of the piece could not be savoured), Elizabeth’s presence made it difficult to concentrate. He was still dealing with all that had happened earlier in the day and hated that what his mind pretended to believe was contrary to what his heart felt. 

On one occasion, when caught up in his thoughts about the opposition between his mind and heart, Elizabeth glanced up while he was still looking in her direction. Their eyes locked. Desperate as he was to look away, Darcy was drawn in. If one was to look further than the bored expression he wore (or hoped he wore) while looking at Elizabeth, they would have discovered that Darcy was desperately wondering, How, when you are so determined to infuriate me, have you managed to capture me so? 

They were both forced to look away when the audience started clapping in reaction to the conclusion of the wonderful display. As he re-oriented himself to his surroundings and companions, he noticed his aunt looking at him with a knowing smile. Darcy quickly averted his eyes not wanting to give her the satisfaction of catching him unawares. 

Darcy joined in the applause, moving forward to embrace an excited Rosie and inviting Archie for a hug which he moved into with some hesitation, seemingly surprised that his father seemed to approve of the exhibition. 

As she had done when they entered, Elizabeth stayed back, allowing the guests and family to pass their compliments to the trio. She was trying to understand just what Darcy had found fault with when she had caught him looking at her during the children’s performance. He had not even tried to hide that he had been looking. Is there that much for him to disapprove of, she wondered. 

“What did I tell you, my dear,” said Lady Sybil, drawing Elizabeth from her thoughts. She embraced Elizabeth’s hands in a familiar manner which caught Caroline’s attention once again, “The children were wonderful. All your efforts have paid off. I think Bingley is even calling for an encore.”

“It is all thanks to you Lady Sybil. It was your idea after all,” said Elizabeth. 

“But the execution can only be credited to you,” said Lady Sybil. “I know the children will have to retire but you must stay for a little while.”

At this, Elizabeth’s eyes widened. While she was accustomed to dining with Lady Sybil and Georgiana. Such behaviour was not acceptable in respectable society. By the way Caroline Bingley’s eyes also widened, as her situation close to Elizabeth and Lady Sybil had allowed her to pick up their conversation, Elizabeth knew she would not be welcome. 

“Thank you Lady Sybil, but I am afraid that would not be appropriate,” said Elizabeth trying to move towards the children to direct them to the nursery.

“My dear, only London society worries about such things,” said Lady Sybil trying to work her charm and convince Elizabeth to stay. 

“While that may be true in theory, in practice I fear it does not apply,” said Elizabeth, looking pointedly at Caroline. 

Lady Sybil followed Elizabeth’s eyes to land on Caroline who had moved towards her sister to no doubt gossip about what she had overheard.

“Those girls are a thorn in my side, I tell you,” said Lady Sybil, doing a very unladylike thing and rolling her eyes. 

Elizabeth could not help laughing at Lady Sybil’s apparent disregard for the Bingley sisters.

Lady Sybil continued, “If it was not for Darcy’s generosity to extend this invitation to Bingley’s sisters, neither of them would be anywhere near Pemberley. Regardless, you are still welcome to stay, after such a wonderful display, even Darcy won’t mind.”

“No!” said Elizabeth in a panic. This drew the attention of the guests, including Darcy’s. She did not dare look at him lest his eyes strike her down with their venom. 

Elizabeth pretended to clear her throat and simply said, “Thank you for the invitation Lady Sybil but I really must go.” 

Lady Sybil did not fight her further resolving to find another opportunity to have Elizabeth in the company of their guests.

Elizabeth moved towards the children who were engaged in conversation by the gentlemen, save for Mr Hurst who was looking around no doubt to refill his almost empty glass. 

As she took the few steps towards the group, Elizabeth made a concerted effort to only focus on the children, who now seemed more relaxed after their performance, but had no choice but to look at Darcy when she was close enough to be heard. 

“Excuse me Sir, I believe it is time for the children to retreat,” said Elizabeth. 

Darcy did not have an opportunity to react or respond as Mr Bingley chimed in. 

“Miss Bennet!” said Mr Bingley with such enthusiasm Elizabeth felt like they had been acquainted prior to that night. “The children tell me you were instrumental in helping them practice. May I say how thoroughly I enjoyed their display. I hope we can look forward to more from the children.” His smile was so open that Elizabeth could not help returning it, disregarding her worries about Darcy. Mr Forsythe and Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded in agreement. 

“Thank you Sir,” said Elizabeth. She was apprehensive to speak more as she knew Mr Bingley’s easy manners would draw her into a conversation that would no doubt be met with disapproval by Darcy. So instead of engaging with Mr Bingley who seemed to expect her to elaborate on the background preparations or when the next performance might be expected perhaps, Elizabeth merely held out her hands to the children and said, “Come now Archie and Rosie. It is time for bed. Say good night and we can be on our way.”

She was grateful Rosie did not try to protest as she was wont to do with most things. The attention seemed to have been to her satisfaction as she was happy to part with her father, aunts and the other guests.

While farewells were bid, Elizabeth tried her best to not look at Darcy whose eyes she could feel on her. While he seemed to have enjoyed the performance, Darcy had not acknowledged her part in orchestrating it as the other gentlemen had. Criticise me all you want Sir, I shall bask in tonight’s glory, Elizabeth mused. She was satisfied that the children, along with Georgiana, had enjoyed themselves after all the hard work. Darcy would not rain on their parade.

...

Little did she know that the only person Darcy was critical of was himself for not having control over his feelings when it came to Elizabeth. 

As Elizabeth and the children left the drawing room Darcy moved to the wine table and poured a glass for himself. He was not so dramatic as to take it in one swig as he so desired for he knew that one too many eyes, including his Aunt’s, were on him. So instead he took his time to drink away from the group for a moment taking in the conversation with little interest.

“I must say Darcy that was quite a show by the children,” said Caroline Bingley, voice as affected as ever. 

Lady Sybil, who had moved to sit across from Georgiana, caught Georgiana’s eye and once again rolled her eyes. She had never concealed how much she disliked Caroline. 

“I must teach one of my favourite pieces to them and we can put on a show for everyone. And I must duet with you Miss Darcy,” said Caroline. At this, Caroline moved from where her sister was seated to situate herself on the settee Georgiana occupied. 

Georgiana could only smile awkwardly. As tolerant as she was of most people, Georgiana rather disliked how Caroline used her as a pawn to gain her brother’s affections. Their interactions in London had been awkward as Caroline would pay her such ridiculous compliments to elicit a reaction from Darcy or would call on the family under the guise of seeing Georgiana only to spend most of the time talking about Darcy. She knew Caroline had designs for her brother and had no objections if the two were to marry as long as Darcy was happy, but to so shamelessly be used to fulfil that end did not sit well with Georgiana. 

“Louisa do you not think Miss Darcy looks prettier since we last saw each other in London?” said Caroline, looking at her sister who responded in the affirmative saying, “The Pemberley air agrees with her.” 

Georgiana could only nod, hating the scrutiny. 

Before Caroline could continue with her flattery, Mr Forsythe, sensing Georgiana’s discomfort, said, “I for one look forward to having the Pemberley air improve my features.” He turned his face this way and that as if to demonstrate the areas which needed improvement. 

The small giggle from Georgiana was worth the momentary foolishness. Her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam moved the conversation back to the children’s performance which suited most guests except Caroline who seemed disappointed to have lost her moment. However, seeing Darcy unoccupied, she moved towards him and made a point to ask the footman to fix her a drink. 

“You governess is quite something Darcy. If it had been my father, she would have been on the carriage back home and even then papa might have made her walk!” Caroline laughed, relishing in the memory of the late Mr Bingley. 

Darcy only sipped his wine. After being in Caroline’s company as long as he had, her attempts to engage him were never as fruitful as she hoped. He was never dismissive nor did he encourage her but he only ever responded where he felt it was necessary. The only problem was Caroline hardly ever said anything that necessitated his response but Caroline never seemed to tire of his unresponsiveness. 

In this case, her attempts to speak on the affairs of his household did not sit well with him and it only served to annoy him further that Elizabeth had made such a display the previous day to the point that his guests were privy to it.

Unaware of the object of his thoughts Caroline moved towards the piano saying, “How about some music? Darcy you look like you could use more cheering.”

“And that will be my cue. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone,” said Lady Sybil rising from the settee at exactly the moment Caroline seated herself at the piano. Caroline did not look pleased, but to vex her even further Lady Sybil said, “Darcy, will you see me out?” which effectively left Caroline to play to a rather disinterested room. 

“So what did you think?” asked Lady Sybil as Darcy accompanied her to the stairs that would lead her to her apartments.

“The children were wonderful. Bingley was right we should have them exhibit more,” said Darcy. By the way Lady Sybil tutted he knew that was not what she wanted to hear. 

“If you must be stubborn Darcy then so be it but after such a display how can you possibly not see how you stand to gain if Miss Bennet remains here?” said Lady Sybil.

Darcy huffed. “She is still here is she not?”

“For how long when you seem intent to find fault with anything she does?” said Lady Sybil. 

“I think as her employer I am entitled to monitor her as a servant of this household,” said Darcy. “In any case, one good show, which I know you orchestrated,” said Darcy looking pointedly at Lady Sybil, “is not enough to redeem her especially after yesterday’s events.” 

“Perhaps. But what if you tried to be more civil?” asked Lady Sybil, letting go of Darcy’s arm to prepare for her ascent up the grand staircase. 

Seeing the look of disbelief on Darcy’s face as he no doubt did not believe he needed to shift anything in his behaviour, Lady Sybil continued, “I have been in her company for the better part of a month and I have nothing but praise for her. She cares for those children. So yes, perhaps she does not follow your orders as precisely as you may wish. She means well.

Ask yourself this Darcy, if she truly is an enemy as you have made her out to be, how come the children have not only improved in their learning but also seem lively? If one was my enemy I hardly think they would be so intent in doing what was best for me,” said Lady Sybil.

Before Darcy could state his case, she bid him goodnight and continued up the stairs leaving him to ponder on her words.