Last month I gave you a taste of my new Austen book, Amending the Shade of Pemberley when I shared Chapter One of my tale, which has lots of twists and turns, and FAIR WARNING, nothing is exactly as it seems in the first few chapters, so do not go crazy when you read parts of it. Just know, I NEVER place Darcy and Elizabeth with others. Such would tick me off if I was reading an Austen tale.
If you missed it or want to read Chapter One again, you may find it HERE.
Remember this is still a draft. It has not been set up for publication yet. I am hoping for a release around Mother’s Day in the U.S.
“You have willfully misunderstood me, Miss Bennet. You have no worry of my releasing you, for I do not wish you to perform as a governess to my daughter, but rather as my wife and the mistress of my hereditary estate.”
Elizabeth Bennet had thought the stranger quite handsome; yet, she had ignored those first tendrils of interest, for she was in no position for the gentleman to pursue her. She and her sister Mary were all who remained of their family. Moreover, Longbourn and its furnishings were to be sold. They were destitute, and, if fortunate, headed for service in some stranger’s household.
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal of marriage would save both Mary and her, for her sister had agreed to assist with the gentleman’s young daughter. But what of the man’s tale of having corresponded with her father and of Mr. Bennet having purported a marriage between this stranger and her? Elizabeth knew nothing of the arrangement nor of the man’s existence. Though their marriage would solve all her troubles, what if the man’s tale was not completely truthful? Would Mr. Darcy become her enemy or a man she could learn to love?
Darcy had been enchanted from the first moment he had laid eyes upon Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She was exactly as her father had described her, except Darcy thought Mr. Bennet had not given her feminine form justice. Perhaps a father never considered his daughter’s appeal to a young gentleman, but Darcy felt it nevertheless.
It had been a pure stroke of luck, although it was his luck hitching a ride on the back of the Bennet family’s misfortune, that he had taken note of the advert for the auction. He had been in England less than a day when he had stopped in St Albans for refreshments for himself and Alice, before he made the last twenty miles or so to London to settle his father’s affairs. If Darcy had had his choice, he would have immediately traveled to Pemberley and sent all involved in his banishment from his ancestral home to a place much hotter than the constant sun of India. Yet, once again, Thomas Bennet had extended his hand, only their roles had been reversed. Instead of calming Darcy’s woes and offering friendship, this time Thomas Bennet, or rather his family, required a hand up. Somehow, the Bennet family had fallen on hard times, which Darcy did not fully understand, but he would eventually discover the truth of it. He owed Mr. Bennet his loyalty.
Therefore, he had taken a detour, not south to London, but rather north to a small village called “Meryton” to discover what had occurred.
“The pox kilt more than sixty,” the innkeeper explained, “including quite a few from the militia.”
“What of the Bennets?” he asked as casually as he could. “I am familiar with Mr. Bennet from a business endeavor.”
“Only Mr. Bennet and two of the daughters survived. The youngest be quite friendly with Colonel Forster’s young bride. The two ladies spent time together in Brighton when the militia removed for training late last spring. Miss Lydia was meant to marry herself a lieutenant, but the ladies and many of the soldiers carried the pox back to Meryton. Perhaps fifteen or twenty of the militia passed, as well as several townsfolk. Bennet, he survives, but had some kind of heart spasm. Gone quickly. Now, only Miss Elizabeth and Miss Mary survive.”
Darcy had said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for God sparing Miss Elizabeth. He had promised himself he would someday take the lady’s acquaintance; after all, Mr. Bennet had promised his daughter would put Darcy’s steps on the right path, and what man could walk away from such a challenge.
Although he had spent most of his adult life avoiding overzealous society mamas, who had touted the assets of their marriageable daughters, it was rare to encounter a father who sang the praises of his daughter; yet, Mr. Bennet had done exactly that. Except, Mr. Bennet knew Darcy had essentially been disowned. “Even an impoverished gentleman’s daughter would be superior to a man such as I. One who has fallen from grace,” he had told Mr. Bennet. Yet, though the man knew Darcy struggled shoulder-to-shoulder with his hired men in the depths of a mine, attempting to earn his own fortune, Bennet spoke often of how he would like someday to view his Elizabeth on Darcy’s arm.
Driven by his curiosity, he had called upon the estate and had been a bit surprised by how much it felt of home, despite his never having seen it. Longbourn was smaller than Pemberley, but, then again, most estates in England were, even those belonging to dukes and princes. In one letter, Mr. Bennet had told him, “Longbourn has been in my family since the Restoration.”
It had made Darcy sad to think the Bennet line had lost everything and had come to an end. He feared the Darcy line would die with him, and so, his inquisitiveness had led him to call on Longbourn. Unsurprisingly, he had not been disappointed. It was a well-lived in house, one superior to Pemberley in that manner. Pemberley had become a “showcase” after Lady Anne Darcy’s death, but it was no longer a place Darcy wished to be, at least not under his father’s terms.
Then he had stepped into the room to discover a woman he had never seen, but one he recognized immediately, that is, except for her hair. Mr. Bennet had described it as red, but it was actually more bronze than the red of the Irish or Scottish lass Darcy had been expecting, for he knew the woman had Scottish relations. In his opinion, the lady was absolutely stunning, and, like it or not, the idea of her had claimed a corner of his heart long before he had ever laid eyes on Elizabeth Bennet.
* * *
“You cannot expect to purchase me as if I am another of Mr. Bennet’s treasured books!” she said incredulously.
“Would you have considered my plight if I had courted you for the last few months?” he asked in sharp tones.
Elizabeth swallowed the anger rushing to her lips. Instead, she said, “An acquaintance of more than a few hours would be preferable.”
“Would such actually have provided us more stability in our relationship? Should I have walked you home from church and sat in your mother’s drawing room for six weeks every Sunday? Asked you to dance at the local assembly? Would you prefer such displays to prove you are handsome enough to tempt me?” he countered.
Privately, Elizabeth wished, when she married,f her husband would find her both handsome and desirable: She had stood in Jane’s shadow for more years than she cared to admit, and, despite her sensibilities, she could not resist wishing for someone to look upon her with affection in his eyes. “My father never spoke of you to me,” she objected lamely.
“Mr. Bennet spoke often of you to me,” he confided. “I would be happy to share his letters with you when the rest of my trunks arrive in England. Your father swore I required a woman of your nature to set my world aright.”
“Is your world so off kilter, sir?” she demanded.
“It has been so for some years, but I pray my fortune has changed. My family and I paid a heavy price for a spoken lie,” he stated flatly.
“A lie spoken by you or another?” she questioned.
For a moment, Elizabeth thought the gentleman would respond, but, instead, he said, “It does not matter who spoke the lie, for the past cannot be changed. Only the future can be molded to suit our natures. Your father was fond of telling me there was no future in the past.”
Elizabeth found herself swallowing hard against the sudden swell of tears rushing to her eyes. “It was Papa’s favorite saying when Mama bewailed one suitor or another abandoning her girls.”
“Mr. Bennet reminded me often of the necessity to plan for a future,” the gentleman said softly.
Elizabeth wished her father had taken his own advice. “What you ask is out of the question.”
“Do you object to my appearance? To my manners? I assure you, as the grandson of an earl and a relation to the Da’cre and Fitzwilliam families, doors will be open to you as my wife, as well as to our children.”
“I do not question your lineage, sir,” she said dutifully. “Mr. Bingley shared something similar earlier.” Elizabeth did not address his appearance, for how could she admit she found him handsome, despite the scowl currently marking his brow.
“I am a gentleman. You are a gentleman’s daughter. We are equals in the eyes of society,” he summarized.
“I am the daughter of a disgraced gentleman,” she corrected.
He smiled weakly. “I am the disgraced son of a noble gentleman. In my humble opinion, we remain equals.”
“Is there not someone from your past you would prefer to pursue?” she asked. “You cannot possibly wish to strap yourself to a woman you barely know. You cannot be so very old and running out of time in order to court another properly. Not to know affection in your marriage,” Elizabeth argued.
“I was recently thirty,” he remarked with a small smile, which transformed his features into something quite remarkable. “And you are two and twenty.”
“You know my birthday?” she asked, flabbergasted.
“Month and year,” he admitted, “but not the day of the month. I also possess a miniature of you when you were sixteen.”
“The one father customarily kept on his desk?” she asked. “Mr. Bennet said he lost it during one of his journeys to London, a journey he claimed to be the most agreeable of his business ventures.”
“He did lose it,” Mr. Darcy explained. “On the dock when he saw me off to India,” the gentleman said with a sadness about his mouth. “It was the morning after the night we met. We talked throughout the dark hours. One of the sailors found it and presented it to me, for Mr. Bennet had already departed. In a letter to him, I offered to return it, but your father claimed your image would provide me hope. And so it did. However, I must say, upon taking your acquaintance, the painter did not do your eyes justice.”
Like it or not, Elizabeth enjoyed the compliment. “I do not know what to say, Mr. Darcy. This is all so sudden.”
He nodded his understanding. “I must travel to London to settle the estate matters and to make arrangements to move your father’s possessions to my home. I will return at week’s end to present Mr. Birkhead with my signed payment. You may provide me your answer then.”
“What of your daughter?” she asked, curious regarding what he might say of the child.
He sighed heavily before responding. “Alice has been frightened since we departed India. She is with her ayah at this time, likely staring out the window of the inn in Meryton and awaiting my return.”
“And your sister?” she asked.
“I have sent word to Georgiana of my return and have asked her to consider joining me at our ancestral home,” he explained. “I assume Mr. Bingley told you of my sister?”
“He did,” she confirmed.
“And of my fall from grace?” he questioned.
“Some, but I do not believe he knew what actually occurred,” she admitted.
“Few do,” he said in obvious resignation. “From what I have been told by my uncle, my sister only knows what my father told her, and I imagine George Darcy went to great lengths to protect his daughter from the truth. I do not know such with any certainty, but from what Georgiana did and did not say, her vision of what occurred is severely skewed.”
“And you did not correct her opinion of you when you wrote to her? Is such not a high price to pay for your pride, sir?” Elizabeth asked.
He shrugged his response. “What was there to say? I could not in good conscience speak against her only parent. It would not be fair to ask Georgiana to choose between her father and her brother. My shoulders are wide enough to bear her disdain if such proves to be her choice.”
Elizabeth wondered if anyone could withstand losing all of his family. She had come close to doing so, and, she would admit, if Mary, too, had succumbed to the pox, she would be quite soured upon the world. She thought Mr. Darcy’s actions both admirable and foolish at the same time. “I pray Miss Darcy chooses to return to your care, sir.”
“And I pray you will seriously consider my offer, Miss Bennet.” With those words, he turned on his heels and exited not only the room, but the house. The silence was eerily frightening, and, although others would not approve, Elizabeth wished the gentleman had not withdrawn. Despite not being certain she even liked the man, she did appreciate the frankness of his responses, as well as the manner in which he looked upon her in apparent appreciation.
* * *
“He offered you marriage?” Mary asked in awe. “And our father had written to him of you?”
“Such is what he claims,” Elizabeth explained. “Mr. Darcy says Mr. Bennet often touted my ‘admirable’ qualities to the man. I just wish I had at the very least known of the man prior to today’s auction. How am I to know what is best?”
“Could you not learn to care for the man?” Mary asked.
“You know my mind, Mary. I despise a question not resolved, and there are so many questions left unanswered.”
“Perhaps it is just me, but would it not be possible to seek answers equally as well as Mrs. Darcy as it would be as Miss Elizabeth Bennet? The man has a history, but who does not? You have a history, and so do I. Ours, up until this last year, was commonplace, very much of the nature of all our neighbors, but, you must admit, no other house held a mistress quite like our mother when it came to gossip, nor a master even half as intelligent or as well read as our father. None held a daughter as beautiful and sweet-natured as our Jane, and Heaven forbid there is another Lydia in the world. How could so much exuberance be contained?”
Elizabeth smiled easily. “And, absolutely, there can be no other child who coughs just to ‘irritate’ her dear mother as Mama always claimed Kitty did.”
“We were quite blessed and none of us realized it,” Mary said softly.
Elizabeth caught her sister’s hand. “I do not wish to leave you to your own devices. I shall agree to marry the gentleman if he will consent to your coming with me. If Mr. Darcy’s daughter is to live with us, should not Mrs. Darcy’s sister be extended the same privilege?”
“What if he refuses?” Mary asked in alarm.
“Then we continue on with our plans to enter service,” Elizabeth declared, but the idea of being a governess no longer appealed to her. Without a tangible reason to do so, she thought being Mrs. Darcy’s wife and mother to his child would definitely be preferable to being Miss Elizabeth Bennet, governess. As Mrs. Darcy, she would tend her own children. Watch them grow. See them marry and have children of their own.
“I shall say a prayer for your happiness,” Mary told her, “and for God’s hand to guide each of our steps.”
* * *
Darcy had been eager to return to Longbourn, but he feared the lady’s response, and, like it or not, he desired her agreement. For longer than he would care to admit, he had wanted Miss Elizabeth Bennet as his wife. However, her father always said the lady was often too stubborn for her own good, and so Darcy held his qualms regarding her response. Equally as tense in the way she held herself, Alice sat beside him on the bench.
“We be on this road before,” she remarked.
“Yes, we will visit the house and the lady I spoke of earlier,” he explained.
“Who’ll stay with me? Ayah go home,” she said in alarm.
Earlier in the week, he and the child had seen Alice’s nursemaid’s return to India. Darcy had found the woman passage on a British East India ship. “You will call upon Miss Elizabeth with me. I think the two of you will like each other greatly. She is the daughter of a friend and no longer has a mother or a father.”
“No mother, like me,” Alice observed.
“Would it not be good for us all to know each other better?”
“She’ll like me?” Alice asked.
“Miss Elizabeth will adore you, just as I do.”
His carriage turned onto the lane leading to Longbourn, and Darcy turned his head to study the scenery. Although it was not his beloved Derbyshire, he would agree with the late Thomas Bennet: Hertfordshire was a beautiful shire. Darcy had said a prayer each night he was in India to be permitted someday to return to England and begin again.
Not all his prayers were answered. True, he was in England and there was the hope of claiming Miss Elizabeth Bennet as his wife; yet, he had finally heard from Georgiana before he and Alice had left London. Although his sister had not agreed to return to Pemberley, she had promised to give the prospect serious consideration. “You must be patient,” he warned himself as his carriage rolled to a stop before Longbourn. “England and, hopefully, Miss Elizabeth. Discard what cannot be unchanged and count the goals you can claim as success as you earn them. The goals achieved will eventually outweigh what you once thought important.”
* * *
“Mr. Darcy, Miss Elizabeth,” Mrs. Hill announced as the gentleman was shown into the sitting room, which was nearly bare of its furnishings. His men had arrived several hours earlier to load the furniture and such onto flatbed wagons for their journey to his home. Elizabeth suddenly realized she had no idea where Mr. Darcy lived.
She curtsied more from habit than realizing she did so. “Your men arrived promptly, sir.”
“I meant to appear earlier, for I imagined all this has been difficult for you, but I was delayed by my sister reaching out to me.”
“I am so glad, sir. I know such was your wish,” she said in all honesty.
“I told her of you,” he said.
“Of me?” she gasped. “What have you to say of me?”
“Only that I have extended my hand to you, and I believe the two of you might go on well together,” he explained. An awkward pause hung between them before he said, “If I am not being too presumptuous, might I bring my daughter inside? She is most desirous to know the lady whose house I visited earlier this week.”
“Please tell me you did not promise the child I was to be her stepmother,” Elizabeth begged. “I have not presented you my response, sir.”
“I simply described you as the daughter of a friend,” he assured. “I would not use my child as a pawn to have my way. If you agree to marry me, I pray you do so because you believe a future together is in our grasp.”
“If all is as you described it, I would be pleased to greet the child,” she said with the slightest hesitation.
“Pardon me a moment.” With a quick bow, he disappeared while Elizabeth claimed the interruption to pat her hair in place. Yet, before she was thoroughly prepared, the gentleman reappeared. He looked quite awkward as he bent to hold the child’s hand. He was tall, and the child appeared to be so very small, though, in reality, she had the build of Jane, when Jane was a child.
“Who do we have here, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile. The child looked down, and Elizabeth instinctively knelt before her—not bending over, but going down on one knee to be at the child’s eye level. “How very beautiful you are.” The girl gazed shyly at her as she and her father came to stand before Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy knelt also.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he said formally while watching his daughter, “may I present Miss Alice Darcy?”
The child frowned. “Biss Alice Faith Anne Darcy, Papa,” the child said precociously.
“I stand corrected, my love,” he responded dutifully. “Miss Alice Faith Anne Darcy.”
Elizabeth noted the faint violet shadows under the child’s eyes, belying her liveliness. “Your father told me what a wonderful daughter you are.”
The child looked up to Mr. Darcy. “He says I’m his fav-or-right girl.”
Elizabeth, too, looked to the gentleman. “I can understand his preference, and may I also have the acquaintance of your doll?” The child clutched a fine china doll with a head of blonde hair and blue glass for eyes.
“This is Biss Cass Andra Darcy,” the child proudly pronounced.
Elizabeth took the doll’s porcelain hand and shook it. “I am honored by the acquaintance, Miss Cassandra.”
Before the child could respond, a few notes of music could be heard from the adjoining room.
“What that?” the girl asked.
Elizabeth assured, “Such is my sister Mary practicing her music. Would you like to greet her also?”
The child looked to her father. “I likes music, Papa.”
Mr. Darcy’s features softened. “I know you do, love.” He nodded his permission for Elizabeth to escort his child into the other room, stood, and reached down a hand for Elizabeth to assist her to stand. Like it or not, Elizabeth enjoyed the warmth of his hand as it encircled hers. It was the first time she had felt safe in many months.
The child released her father’s hand and claimed Elizabeth’s free one, which, like it or not, had Elizabeth yearning for her own children. By the time she had led Alice into the small parlor, Elizabeth realized although he had risen, Mr. Darcy had not followed her. “Good day, Mary,” she said as the child slowed her pace. “We have a visitor.”
Mary stopped her efforts to address the child. “My, I do not think I have ever had such a delightful audience. Do you like music?”
The child nodded her agreement, but did not step closer. Elizabeth knelt again. “Should we ask Mary to play for us again?”
“Peas,” the child said softly.
Mary nodded her agreement and set her fingers to playing a children’s chant. When she finished with a flourish, the child begged, “Again.”
“I mean to please,” Mary responded and set about playing the tune once more.
“Again,” the child ordered with a smile, which immediately melted Elizabeth’s heart.
“Only if you ask Elizabeth to sing,” Mary countered.
“Peas, Biss Lizbet,” the girl pleaded.
Elizabeth asked, “Do you not know the rhyme?”
The child shook her head in the negative.
“Then might I teach you?”
“Very well. Listen first, and then we shall sing it together.” She looked to her sister. “The first phrase, if you would, Mary.” Elizabeth waited for Mary to finish playing before she sang, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.”
“Again,” the child ordered.
“Humpty. Dumpty. Sat. On. A. Wall,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Will you try it with me?” The child nodded unsurely. Elizabeth began again, saying each word slowly. A third and a fourth time had the child mumbling some words while managing others. “Let us add line two. I shall permit you time to repeat each line until you are assured of yourself.”
The child smiled weakly, but she did not look away. Elizabeth sang the first line, and the child repeated the words she knew.
“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Elizabeth enunciated each word slowly just as she had done with the opening line.
Alice’s eyes widened. “I fells down once, but Papa not mad I torn my dress.”
“I am pleased to hear it. My father never was angry when I tore my good dress,” Elizabeth shared.
“Mama was,” Mary remarked before she realized what she said.
“I no have a mama,” the child explained innocently.
“Then we three are all alike,” Elizabeth assured. “Mary and I no longer have a mother either.”
“Are you bonely?” the girl asked.
“Sometimes,” Elizabeth admitted. “You are fortunate to have your Papa.” After an awkward moment, she sang the whole rhyme. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again.”
“Why Umpty break?” the child asked in concern.
“Most people consider him to be an egg,” Elizabeth said as she looked to Mary who shrugged her response. “An egg would surely break if it fell from a wall.”
The child giggled. “Spat.”
Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from correcting the girl. “Shall we sing the lines again?”
Alice nodded her agreement and began the song herself. “Umpty, dumpty sat on a . . . wall. Umpty, dumpty, have a gre. . . at fall.” Unexpectedly, the child plopped down on the floor, but when she realized she still held her doll, she jumped up to carry the doll to her father. It was only then Elizabeth realized Mr. Darcy was standing in the open doorway. “Did you see me spat, Papa?”
Mr. Darcy’s smile widened. “I did, sweetheart.”
“Biss Lizbet say she fell when she a little girl like me,” the child announced.
Elizabeth noted how tears misted Mr. Darcy’s eyes. Therefore, she said, “Perhaps we might convince Mary to teach you the notes on the pianoforte while I speak to your father for a moment.” She shot a pleading glance to Mary, but Elizabeth need not worry, for Mary had already stood to move the bench closer.
With Mary’s assistance, the girl climbed readily onto the bench.
“I will be near, Alice,” Mr. Darcy told the child.
“Leave Biss Cassie,” the child instructed without looking to her father.
Elizabeth whispered her gratitude to Mary, but her sister was already leaning over the child to take the girl’s finger to play the first note.
Mr. Darcy waited for Elizabeth so he might offer her his arm. “Let us walk in the garden,” he suggested. “If I know anything of my daughter, Alice will be highly entertained for at least a half hour.”
Elizabeth slipped her hand about his elbow and permitted him to lead her outside.
“Pray, it is not too chilly for you,” he said. “I did not think of claiming your shawl or your cloak. In truth, it has been many years since I offered a lady my arm to walk about the garden.”
“Not even your wife?” she asked. “Has she been long gone from your life?” Elizabeth would like to know more of Alice’s mother and the woman he originally took to wife.
“The last time I saw Ruth was shortly after Alice was born,” he said. Before Elizabeth could ask more of the late Mrs. Darcy, he commented, “I was quite impressed with how well you tolerated Alice’s questions and her proclivities. I fear I tend to allow her too much latitude.”
“I thought her delightful,” Elizabeth admitted.
After her spoken observation, they walked in silence for several minutes, each caught up in his or her own thoughts.
At length, Elizabeth mustered the courage to speak. “I have considered your offer most seriously, Mr. Darcy.”
He set their steps on a second sweep about the little wilderness her mother had called a “garden.”
“Am I to be accepted or denied, Miss Bennet?” he asked without looking to her, as if he meant to shoulder her denial if it came.
“Before I provide you my response, I would like to ask a favor of you,” she said cautiously.
“I am listening,” he assured.
“You spoke previously of attempting to convince your sister to return to your family home.”
“Do you object to the idea?” he asked as he halted their progress and turned towards her.
“I would not object to claiming another sister. After all, I am quite accustomed to sharing a home with a number of ladies and personalities.” She paused and looked down at her scuffed half boots. “I would not feel right, sir, if I were sleeping in a comfortable bed and sharing a full meal with you at your table while knowing Mary was serving as a governess in another’s household. I am not capable of abandoning her. As Miss Darcy and little Alice are all which remain from your years of banishment, along with me, Mary is the only one with whom I share Thomas Bennet’s blood.”
“I had not thought to separate you from your sister. Mr. Bennet warned me you would not wish to be far removed from your family. As my home is in the northern shires, I was concerned you may know a number of qualms regarding our joining and leaving Hertfordshire.”
“In truth, I was not aware of your being in a northern shire, though from Mr. Bingley’s mention of Cambridge, I should have made that assumption. You will think me a woman of no sensibility, as I have not asked of your home,” she said with a flush of embarrassment marking her cheeks. “Which shire, may I ask?”
“Derbyshire. Do you know it?”
“Only by reputation,” she admitted. “My Aunt Gardiner’s brother is a vicar at a church near a place called ‘Lambton.’ A Mr. Ericks. The vicarage was to be my destination until I could locate a governess position.”
“I know Lambton well. It is the nearest village to my estate,” he explained. “I know of a Mr. Ericks who was a surgeon, but he and a son died in a terrible flood. I was just a boy when that occurred. The vicar’s position was open when I departed for India.”
“The surgeon was Aunt Gardiner’s father,” Elizabeth said with a bit of excitement to know she might meet Mr. Ericks again. Occasionally, the man joined in with his sister for celebrations.
“Then you will not be completely without family in the area,” he said.
“And you will permit Mary to be a part of your household?” she asked.
“If your sister promises to assist you with Alice’s care and setting my manor aright, I would consider her presence a blessing. I must warn you, though I will be surrounded by women with the presence of the Bennet sisters and Alice and, hopefully, Georgiana, my home has long been without a mistress. You will find a ‘masculinity’ about the estate, as well as it being quite dated. My mother lost her life nearly two decades past. She was its last mistress. I would like to see it brought into its former glory as one of England’s finest homes.”
“Your home and your child,” Elizabeth summarized. “Nothing for you, sir?” she asked tentatively.
“Permitting me time to right my family legacy will be an answer to my prayers. As it is now, I expect to know long days working alongside my tenants for many months until Pemberley is again prosperous. I do not wish Alice to think I have abandoned her. She will be frightened when I leave early and return late. Such was so in India. I would not have the child suffer again. I believe with you to guide her, she will learn to love England and Derbyshire as much as I.”
Elizabeth regarded the array of emotions crossing his features. She prayed she was not making a mistake. If she were, she must find a means to survive it. In any event, she would have a home and, perhaps, someday a family of her own. Many women of society knew satisfaction with such an arrangement. Although Elizabeth had always thought to marry for love, she would make herself a life carved out of the security Mr. Darcy offered her and Mary.
“Mr. Darcy,” she said solemnly, “I accept your kind proposal.”
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