An Unsuitable Governess Graphic

Chapter 4

“Highwaymen you say?”

Mr. Darcy did not like the glint in his cousin’s eye. Col. Richard Fitzwilliam had been given leave from the front at the behest of his father the Earl. Richard had explained neither the reason, nor how long he would be on English soil. He attended to his duties, but Darcy could tell his cousin itched to return to battle, and anything that promised excitement was enough to send him charging forward.

Though Richard had little income or inheritance, Darcy admired his cousin the freedom of his position as second son. Darcy was wealthy, and his duties were chains. He did not dare anything improper. His mind, quite against his will, flitted once again to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who was nothing if not improper. He ought not to crave her smile or the hint of challenge in her dark eyes.

He had even accepted his aunt’s invitation to Rosings under the impression that Miss Lucas had invited Miss Elizabeth Bennet to visit, only to learn to his dismay it was Miss Jane Bennet who visited.

Another conundrum.

Miss Jane Bennet was sweet and impeccably polite. Even Aunt Catherine warmed to the young lady, but Miss Bennet’s smiles, when she gave them, lacked warmth. She asked Mr. Darcy about his time in town, not once referring to Mr. Bingley, but Mr. Darcy’s friend stood between them like an unwanted ghost.

Had he made a mistake about her?

Perhaps it would be best if he returned to Pemberley. Not that he wished, as Richard did, to patrol and dispatch of highwaymen personally.

“No, Richard. Perhaps you might offer aid to the parish constable. I am but a fair shot.”

Col. Fitzwilliam laughed. “You are an excellent shot, Darcy.” He said clapping his cousin up on the shoulder. “And a fine rider. You merely despise Mrs. Darcy, and that makes you reluctant to return to Pemberley.”

“I do not despise her.”

“No,” Richard said, still chuckling. “You would not admit to such a strong emotion, Fitz. But after your father’s passing, and the other affair…” Neither Darcy nor Fitzwilliam ever directly spoke of Wickham’s betrayal. “Both you and Georgiana have avoided your home.”

“My sister required a change of scenery.”

“And your other sister?”

“Rosalind is too young. And even if she were not, she is as likely to stomp on Wickham’s feet and spit in his face should he make any attempt at seduction.”

In truth, Darcy had never been close with Rosalind, or Rose, as she preferred to be addressed. As a baby and toddler, Rose had offered living evidence of his father’s betrayal. How dare his father remarry a merchant’s daughter a bare four years older than Darcy himself!

Mrs. Eugenia Darcy was not a proper mother, and though politeness dictated Darcy address her as such, the word caught in Darcy’s throat like a fishbone. He would not. The second, unwanted, Mrs. Darcy was too boisterous, too common, and too admiring of Darcy’s father to earn any measure of Darcy’s regard. Better she and her hoydenish daughter stay at the estate while Darcy kept himself far away. “The local constable ought to be able to handle this menace,” Darcy said. “Should it not prove exaggerated. These stories often are.”

“I had never thought you a coward, Fitz,” his cousin said.

Darcy saw red. “I am no coward. If not for the duties to my estate as my father’s heir, I would have joined you on the front to defend our shores.”

“I know of your temper in battle. We stood back to back when those cutpurses tried to rob and murder us five years back. But, for a man, bravery in the heat of battle is a lesser courage than facing the truths we wish to avoid.”

How was it Richard so often saw into his soul?

No, Darcy did not wish to see Mrs. Eugenia Darcy or his half-sister Rosalind. If he could have sent them honorably away to another estate, or Scotland or even the Americas, he would have. But Darcy honored his father’s choice even as he despised it. So how was it cowardice to let them manage their own affairs?

Darcy said, “That woman and her daughter will gain no comfort with my presence.”

“I see,” Col. Fitzwilliam said. “Had you wished to shoot? Aunt Catherine has stocked her lands well with pheasant.”

“Yes.” Darcy felt like shooting something. Coward! Only Richard would have the nerve to accuse Darcy of cowardice. Only Richard could get so easily under Darcy’s skin.

Darcy and his cousin rode out to the edge of the brush and tied the horses to a tree. Shotguns slung over their shoulders, Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam skirted thick brush and dense patches of grass where the pheasants foraged. It was late afternoon. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy took turns flushing out the game, which hopped, dashed and flew from one man’s stomping feet into the site of the other’s scattergun.

As Darcy shot, his anger grew sharper. He was not a coward.

Except, perhaps he was. A pheasant crossed his line of sight, and, holding his breath, Darcy fired. The shot went wide, and the other birds scattered.

“Blast,” Darcy cursed under his breath.

Next it was Darcy’s turn to flush the game, which his cousin dispatched with workmanlike precision.

Who was Darcy, to allow a woman four years older than he was to drive him from his home?

Darcy had resented her from the moment his father began courting with her, and then, far too quickly, offered his hand in marriage. But that was no excuse.

After the second round of shooting, Colonel Fitzwilliam held three braces of pheasant, while only one hung for Mr. Darcy’s line. Pathetic. He was no soldier, but he was, as Col. Fitzwilliam had said, a fair shot. A better shot than this.

“You are distracted, Darcy.”

“I am not a coward.”

“As you say.”

Darcy pressed his lips together. “It is your turn to beat the game.”

Col. Fitzwilliam nodded and within minutes, the pheasant were running.

Darcy lined up his shot. Highwaymen, at Pemberley. His home. If he allowed a woman and child by their mere presence to run him from his home, he did not deserve the lands he had inherited or the duties he strove to fulfill.

Darcy fired, and a pheasant fell. He fired again.

After he had collected his game, a full six birds, he turned to his cousin. “We are going.”

“Back to the house? There is still light.”

“To Pemberley. I am no coward.”

“No, cousin. You are not.” Col. Fitzwilliam smiled, and it was a smile of a hunter. “Let us flush these bandits out and run them straight into our jaws.”

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Chapter 5

Were candles not already lit, Elizabeth would not have dared enter the library. As it was, knowing likely someone was inside, filled Elizabeth with a sharp sense of dread. Yes, she had been offered free access to the library and other open rooms of the estate, but she still was uncertain of the limitations of her new station. Certainly, it could not be improper to supplement the volumes in the study with other books for Rose’s edification.

Though Rose’s education was far from Elizabeth’s mind as reveled in the sheer size and beauty of Pemberley’s library. The room was massive. Shelves ran along the walls from the floor to ceiling, it required a wheeled ladder to reach the highest volumes. Elizabeth’s slippers shuffled over the flooring. On a high table in the room’s center sat a large, leather bound dictionary.

In the chair farthest from the door, Mrs. Darcy sat, a book on her lap and a glass in her hand. Elizabeth froze.

Mrs. Darcy, still in her dinner gown, looked up.

Elizabeth curtsied. “Excuse me,” she said. “Mrs. Darcy. I had only hoped to look over some texts. For Rose. Tales of Roman gods, I did not mean to disturb you.”

Mrs. Darcy smiled and waved Elizabeth over. “Nonsense. Sit with me. There is another glass on this tray, and it has been so long since I have had company in the evening.”

Elizabeth curtsied again and sat in the chair Mrs. Darcy had offered. “Thank you.”

Mrs. Darcy handed Elizabeth the glass and poured what looked and smelled like brandy into it.

Elizabeth, not wishing to be impolite, took a sip. “Your library is magnificent,” she said. “So many volumes, I do not believe I have ever seen so many in one place. I admit I have a great fondness for books. Perhaps more than is proper.”

“Did your husband share your passion for literature?”

Elizabeth looked down at her hands. “He enjoyed books as much as the next man, I suppose.” She was making a hash of this. Elizabeth should know more about her deceased husband than he had a passing interest in books. “We did not have occasion to learn all I would’ve wished about each other before they sent him to the front.”

Mrs. Darcy smiled, taking a healthy swallow from her glass. “A whirlwind engagement?”

Elizabeth had assumed it would be easier to travel as a widow, assuming nobody would have enough interest to ask about her deceased husband. “Not precisely, more an issue of necessity,” Elizabeth said. Desperate to change the subject, she asked, “You and Mr. Darcy, was it a whirlwind romance?”

Mrs. Darcy sighed. “It was. They say such are for the young, and while I was young, he was not, but when our eyes met…” She reached up, worrying at a lock of hair that had escaped her lace cap. “When our eyes met, I felt as if I was his entire world. He was kind and handsome. My father would have rather I had chosen a younger man, but I liked Mr. Darcy’s certainty. He had lost his wife, and he grieved, but I did not feel as though I was a replacement. Perhaps because I look so little like her.

“What did Mr. Darcy’s first wife look like?”

“She was nearly as tall as Mr. Darcy, thin, with large, dark eyes, much like your own, though, at least from the portrait, hers were more serious. I believe she and Mr. Darcy were very much in love. He loved me, but there are parts of him I never touched.” Mrs. Darcy sighed. “No matter. I had only hoped to have him longer. Fitzwilliam takes after him. I am glad he does not come here often. It hurts me to see so much anger looking out from the shadow of my husband’s face and to know I was not enough.”

“I cannot imagine you not being enough,” Elizabeth said, and though it was a breach of propriety, she touched the other woman’s hand. “You loved him, and it is clear Rose has only known love. Do not blame yourself.”

“You are so kind, Mrs. Wilson,” Mrs. Darcy said, and upon hearing the false name, Elizabeth felt lower than a worm. She wished to be kind, but every attempt hid at its center a shard of deceit.

“I miss him. I miss the closeness we shared. Mrs. Darcy’s face colored and she finished her glass. Pulling her hand from Elizabeth, she took up the decanter and poured another glassful. “I miss the closeness we shared, of a conjugal nature, you understand.”

Elizabeth’s stomach clenched. She nodded stupidly, having no experience from which to draw any semblance of empathy.

Mrs. Darcy continued “Sometimes, while we were sleeping, he would bring his arm around me and pull me close, his manhood—”

Elizabeth coughed, blushing furiously “I—”

Mrs. Darcy looked up. “Are we well?” Elizabeth pointed at the glass and continued to make a show of coughing.

“Oh, Mrs. Wilson, you should have said you were not used to strong spirits!”

Elizabeth, grateful for the excuse, shook her head. “I apologize.”

“No matter. I am so grateful to have you here, Mrs. Wilson. I have no sisters, and my mother passed before my husband, so there has been no one. No one to talk to of the pain of losing him.”

Elizabeth was far lower than a worm. She was a beetle, digging to the center of the earth. “My pain cannot compare to yours,” Elizabeth said.

“A person cannot compare another’s pain to her own. I had years with Mr. Darcy. We were given the blessing of a child. It was hard to lose him, but you had not even the joy of what you might have become. Every cut is its own wound.”

Mrs. Darcy’s empathy was its own wound.

Elizabeth said, “Do not think of mine. Yours…” She held the glass to her lips, pretending a sip and then asked, “How long after Rose was born did Mr. Darcy pass?”

“We had nine years together. Towards the end, I wondered if my husband had taken a mistress, when his vigor seemed to fade and he was away so often. But it was only that he did not wish to worry me. He consulted with physicians in town while leaving me to care for Georgiana and Rose at the estate. In the end though, nothing could be done. His body wasted and his heart failed. I suppose ultimately it was a mercy.” She wiped her knuckles under her eyes as tears fell.

Elizabeth’s eyes burned with sympathy. Had Jane been wrung by so much obvious pain, Elizabeth would have embraced her and let her dampen the shoulder of Elizabeth’s frock with her tears. But as open as Mrs. Darcy was, their stations were not the same. Elizabeth was not a sister and perhaps not even a friend. Between them was the issue of payment and lies.

Elizabeth said, “Mr. Darcy must have been glad for your love.”

“I stayed with him the full night and day after. Fitzwilliam was there too. I should think he would’ve preferred his father and I had changed places, though he would never say such a thing.”

Elizabeth wanted to say Mr. Darcy would never hope for such a thing, but she had lied enough. She did not understand Mr. Darcy. He had, at first, been dismissive, and later strange, following her around and staring, making the hair on her neck raise as she questioned how to be rid of him.

At the first assembly, Mr. Darcy had declined to dance with Elizabeth and insulted her. Then, at Netherfield, he had asked her to dance while proceeding in the act as though he were partnered with the promise of the gallows and not a lady whose company he could enjoy. Mr. Darcy had never moved to outright cruelty, and Elizabeth did not wish to accuse him of malice, but she could in no way be certain of his motives.

Yet, she wished to offer Mrs. Darcy comfort.

Elizabeth said, “Mr. Darcy loved his father, did he not?”

“Completely.”

“And his father loved you. I cannot see how he would wish to tarnish his father’s memory.”

Miss Darcy nodded and took another sip of her brandy. “You say you did not have an amicable acquaintanceship with Fitzwilliam, and yet, you have taken every effort to show him in the best light. That speaks well for your character, Mrs. Wilson.”

Her character? Nothing could speak well of Elizabeth’s character. She had lied to this woman and offered false confidences. Elizabeth wished she could to tell Mrs. Darcy the truth now, but she was hurting, and for Elizabeth to reveal she had based her attempts at comfort upon a foundation of lies would only make things worse for them both.

Not tonight. Perhaps another night when Mrs. Darcy was not inclined to bare her soul to a stranger.

Elizabeth could only hope that Darcy continued to stay away from Pemberley long enough for Elizabeth to find the courage to tell the truth.

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Beneath a gray and weeping sky, a Royal Mail stagecoach trundled north towards Derbyshire. Miss Elizabeth Bennet wished to pretend it was all a grand adventure, but three days being jounced about until her muscles and teeth ached and three nights in tiny coaching inn rooms with the thin, ill-tempered maid Mrs. Gardiner had insisted Elizabeth bring as a chaperone, had robbed Elizabeth of her sense of wonder. Her eyelids were stiff, her hair itched, and she stank.

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After settling herself and Adelaide at the Rose and Crown Inn, Elizabeth ordered them both the luxury of a hip bath and changed into a fresh frock. The Gardiners’ had given her coin for her troubles, but Elizabeth wished to find work as quickly as possible. She would not impose herself further upon their charity by writing to ask for assistance.

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“Highwaymen you say?”

Mr. Darcy did not like the glint in his cousin’s eye. Col. Richard Fitzwilliam had been given leave from the front at the behest of his father the Earl. Richard had explained neither the reason, nor how long he would be on English soil. He attended to his duties, but Darcy could tell his cousin itched to return to battle, and anything that promised excitement was enough to send him charging forward.

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The air was cool and the sun uncharacteristically bright as Elizabeth and Rose sat together in the high branches of a flowering tree. Rose was studying Latin, her feet dangling as she flipped through the book while Elizabeth quizzed her on declensions, breaking the monotony with occasional sayings and pieces of legends, which Rose enjoyed with rapt attention.

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