Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 1: The Meeting

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

Today’s post is brought to you by To Save Elizabeth! LOL (This is an affiliate link. It’s free to click on and no purchase is required. However, I may earn a tiny commission from your click.)

I have finally begun to re-edit this book. I have no plans for major re-writes. I would not have bothered with it at all, except there is a major mistake in the second half of the book.

You may have heard that I’ve begun recording my books to go on my YouTube channel. This book, To Save Elizabeth, will the the third or fourth I narrate. I figure it will start going up in the fall.

Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy this trip down memory lane! <3

The Meeting

Fitzwilliam Darcy set aside the last of his business letters, having sanded, sealed, and addressed the missive. It joined the pile of other letters to go out in the post later in the morning. Sighing, he looked next at the pile of personal letters and invitations. It often felt as though all he did as master of Pemberley was to write letters. Managing such a large estate took hours of his time every day, for though he had a steward whom he trusted implicitly, Darcy was by no means an absentee landlord. He subscribed to the idea that the only way to do it correctly was to do it yourself. Or, at least, to supervise it being done.

Despite the busyness of his life, Darcy was bored. Granted, there was some variety in his daily tasks, but it honestly felt as though all he did was work. Even when in town, there were meetings with charity boards and his solicitor, who was in charge of his investments. On top of that were the social obligations. There were so many events on any given day that he could easily find himself madly dashing from one to the other with no time for anything else. And yet, they were all the same. The same people, the same gossip, the same activities repeated over and over until he felt his head might explode.

Darcy longed for someone to share his life with—a companion—someone in whom he could confide his deepest secrets, who would commiserate with him, and help him think through estate problems. He wanted a partner in life, a wife who saw marriage as more than hosting dinner parties and spending his money. Though he had many friends and enjoyed spending time with them, he came home to an empty bed.

He had his sister, of course, so it was not as if he was totally alone. Georgiana did not spend as much time with him as he would like, not as she used to. She had been importuned by a cad last summer, a childhood playmate of Darcy’s, a man with whom all connection had been severed, though Georgiana had been unaware of that fact. Darcy’s guilt at failing her grew every time he saw her downcast countenance. He longed for someone to talk to about it.

Darcy sighed again, shaking himself out of the reverie he had fallen into. He looked at the letter he had picked up and groaned. “Aunt Catherine.” Reluctantly, he broke the seal and unfolded the missive. He had just finished reading when his sister knocked on the frame of the open door and stuck her head around it.

“Brother? Are you busy?” Georgiana’s quiet and gentle voice, so like their mother’s, brought a smile to his face.

“Not too busy for you. Come in. I was just reading a letter from our aunt.”

“Aunt Audra?” Georgiana gracefully settled herself into a chair beside his desk.

“No. Aunt Catherine.”

“Oh.” Georgiana grimaced. “I am sorry.” She could only imagine what that particular aunt had to say. “Was it bad?”

“Mostly the usual nonsense. Make sure your sister practices the pianoforte. You give your staff too much autonomy. Anne awaits your proposal.”

Georgiana’s brows rose at the last, stopping the shaking of her head. “Will you?”

Darcy flicked his eyes up from the letter to give his sister a wide-eyed, incredulous stare. “Are you mad?” He smiled when Georgiana giggled. “No, I made it quite clear to both of them that no offer was forthcoming. Anne seemed relieved; Lady Catherine did not.”

“She obviously did not believe you.”

“No, she did not. She is bound to be disappointed one day.”

Georgiana smiled at his words. “Did she have any news to share?”

“As a matter of fact, she did.” A crease appeared between Darcy’s brows as he looked back at the closely-spaced words in the spidery hand. “She hired a new rector since I was there last. It seems he was the heir to an estate and the family all died quite suddenly. This clergyman has hired a curate to shepherd the flock while he takes over his inheritance.”

“How sad for that family.”

“Yes,” Darcy murmured, “but fortuitous for the rector.”

Folding the letter back up, Darcy decided to take advantage of his sister’s attention. He put the missive on the pile from which it had come and gave his sister a bright smile. “Will you play for me?”

He was rewarded with an answering grin, the first real smile he had seen in weeks.

“Of course!”

~~~***~~~

“Lizzy, would you like to accompany me to Hatchards today? Your uncle and I have a couple books we have been looking for, and rumor has it, Hatchards has them.”

Elizabeth looked up from her embroidery, laying it on the table in front of her. “Oh,” she began, “I do not know …” She looked down at herself, her hand immediately seeking the fur on the neck of the Great Dane whose head reclined on her knee. Though the outward signs of the terrible accident had long ago receded from her skin, the usually confident Elizabeth had been unnaturally diffident about going out in public in general, much less in a carriage.

“Come with me, it will be good for you.”

Elizabeth sighed. The sound seemed to come from the middle of her being. “I know.” She devoted her full attention to repeatedly smoothing her hand over Brutus’ head and neck, an action the dog happily submitted to.

Tilting her head, Maddie Gardiner examined her niece for a few minutes. Suddenly, her curious gaze turned tender.

Making her way to sit beside her niece on the sofa, Maddie slipped her hand over one of Elizabeth’s, squeezing it gently. “The carriage is a must, I fear, for this trip. Mayfair is simply too far to walk. We will be perfectly safe. It is daylight, and there is not a ditch or cliff for a dozen miles.” She looked at the incipient terror in her niece’s eyes and continued, “You must get over this, Lizzy. It has been months since it happened. You cannot stay in the house forever, and you cannot always be walking to get to where you are going. You will come with me, I will instruct the driver to go slowly, and we will get there and back with no mishaps. Brutus will be here waiting to comfort you when we return. Do you trust me?”

Elizabeth, though terrorized by the memory of the accident, nodded. Swallowing hard, she agreed to ride along, and then buried her face in Brutus’ neck.

~~~***~~~

Fitzwilliam Darcy exited his carriage, nodding to his driver to move on before turning to walk the few steps down to his favorite shop. Piccadilly Street was busy for this time of day, and his driver had been forced to drop him off a couple doors away from Hatchards. Darcy stopped abruptly when an elegantly dressed lady descended from the carriage right behind his, blocking his path.  He watched curiously as she turned, waited as a manservant helped someone else down, and reached out to take the arm of another woman. The servant stepped out of Darcy’s way just as the younger lady swayed. Darcy took one of his customary long-legged strides, reaching the young lady’s side just as she began to crumple. Grabbing hold of her arm, he supported her on one side as the older woman did the same on her other side.

“There you are,” Darcy murmured. Looking over the younger woman’s head, he spoke to the older one.

“Were you going into Hatchards?”

“Yes, we were.”

“I will help you inside; it was my destination, as well.”

Within minutes, they had helped the young lady into the shop, settling her on a settee placed there for the comfort of the shops patrons. Straightening, the older lady thanked him, inquiring after his name.

Darcy took the opportunity to examine the younger of the two as he introduced himself with a bow.

“I am Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Brook Street here in London and Pemberley in Derbyshire.”

The older woman curtseyed. “I am Mrs. Edward Gardiner, of Gracechurch Street. This is my niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, formerly of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. I must thank you and apologize for the imposition.” Mrs. Gardiner dropped her voice. “Elizabeth is the only survivor of a carriage accident. This is the first time she has ridden in one since she arrived at our home from her father’s estate, and she required laudanum for that trip. It has been nearly a year; I did not think she would still require it.”

As Mrs. Gardiner spoke and then resumed her place beside her niece, Darcy looked again at Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She appeared to be coming around; her color was much improved. Darcy desired to know more about her, although he had no ready reason as to why. She was attractive, but no great beauty. Her features were irregular, but as she had yet to open her eyes, he did not know their color or how they might affect her overall appearance. He did know, however, that she was delicate—fragile, even. He realized now that it was likely due to her injuries and recovery.

“It was no imposition. I am happy to be of service. Is there anything I can do for her present relief? Shall I fetch some tea?”

“Thank you, sir. That would be wonderful.”

Darcy nodded, then hailed a clerk, murmuring his request to the servant before turning back to his new acquaintances. “I need to speak with the proprietor, but I shall return in a few minutes. I should like to see how Miss Bennet gets on before I return to my home.”

“You are very kind.” Mrs. Gardiner watched him nod and walk away. Turning back to Elizabeth, she chafed her niece’s hands before reaching up to push a stray lock of hair away from the girl’s ear. “Come now, Lizzy. You are well. Let me know you hear me; you are frightening me.” Mrs. Gardiner’s voice was soft but firm, her eyes glued to Elizabeth’s face.

Just as Elizabeth began to respond, blinking her eyes and squeezing her aunt’s hand, the tea tray arrived.  Mrs. Gardiner fumbled a bit with the service, so eager was she to help her niece to calm. With great relief, she pressed the cup to Elizabeth’s lips, urging her to take a sip.

Elizabeth swallowed the warm beverage, closing her eyes once more as her breaths came in panicked gasps for the first few moments. Mrs. Gardiner helped her hold the cup; hers were shaking enough to cause her to drop it, had she not had the extra support. She looked up when she heard a throat clear.

“Madam,” the Gardiners’ manservant addressed Mrs. Gardiner.

“Yes, Clarke?”

“I have taken the liberty of sending Sally to bring Brutus here. I thought his presence might comfort Miss Bennet.”

“Excellent thought. Did you have enough to pay the driver for the extra trip?”

“Yes, madam, I did.”

Maddie nodded. “Good. You are free to do some shopping of your own, as usual, though our trip may be a little shorter than I had first imagined.”

“No, madam, I need nothing now, but thank you. I will wait here, near the door, for you.”

“Very good. Thank you.” Maddie nodded, dismissing the manservant with a warm smile and turning her attention back to Elizabeth.

“Are you feeling better, my dear?” She smoothed another unruly lock of hair back behind her niece’s ear.

“I am, thank you. I am so sorry for embarrassing you.” Elizabeth flushed.

“You did not embarrass me, though I confess you did worry me.” Maddie cast an appraising eye over her niece’s features. “Your color is better, but you are still shaking. Would you rather sit here while I speak with the clerk, or do you want to go with me?”

“I think I would like to stay here, if you do not mind. I am so tired now.”

“I do not mind at all.” Maddie smiled tenderly at Elizabeth as she stood. She gestured to Clarke, who immediately left his post near the door and took up a position behind Elizabeth’s seat.

“You have more tea here, and some biscuits; if you cannot pour for yourself, I am sure Clarke would be willing to help you. If the carriage has not returned by the time I am done, we will walk over to Gunter’s, or maybe stop at one of the tea rooms and see what else we can find to nibble on while we wait.” Maddie patted Elizabeth’s hand and then stood. “I will not be any longer than I have to be.”

~~~***~~~

Darcy turned away from the counter, his package of books in his hand. He always came away from Hatchards having made more purchases than he intended to. It was how his two libraries—one in his house here in town and the other at his Derbyshire estate, Pemberley—had grown so much in his five years as master. The extra books meant he had taken longer than he had originally intended, though.

Immediately, Darcy looked toward the seating area at the front of the shop, where he had left Mrs. Gardiner and her niece. Moving out of the way of the flow of traffic, he stopped and watched Miss Bennet—he could not see Mrs. Gardiner—sip a cup of tea. Tilting his head a bit, he watched her watch the other customers. She still appeared pale, as she had when he had first helped her to sit, but she was not as white now as she had been then. He thought she still looked fragile, though. I wonder about the accident she was in. Mrs. Gardiner said she was the only survivor. Darcy examined her gown. Lavender. Was it a family member that died? Which one? Why is she living here in London and not at her father’s estate? What did Mrs. Gardiner call it? Long something, I think. I remember it was in Hertfordshire.

It was not like Darcy to be so curious about a stranger, much less someone not of his circle. He was drawn to her, felt more for her, than he should be on such short acquaintance and for someone not of his sphere.  Enough, he thought. I shall make certain she is well and then return home. His mind whirling with these ideas, Darcy approached Miss Bennet and bowed. “Miss Bennet, I am happy to find you recovered from your ordeal.” Darcy saw her glance at the servant standing behind her and noticed the man nod. When she made to rise, Darcy urged her to stay put. “No need for that; you had much better rest a while longer.”

Elizabeth acquiesced. “Thank you, sir. Are you-” she began, her stuttered question turning into a statement. “You are the gentleman who helped me.”

Darcy’s lips tilted into a small smile. He bowed again, saying, “I am Fitzwilliam Darcy. I told your aunt that I would check on you and make certain you were well before I left. How do you feel?”

Elizabeth sat up straighter. “I am well.” Seeing the skeptical light in his eyes, she amended her statement. “Well, I am better, anyway. I know my aunt has likely already thanked you for your kindness, but please allow me to add mine.”

Elizabeth’s eyes moved to her aunt who had just returned.

Darcy took advantage of her distraction to reassure her. “I am happy to see you returning to yourself, Miss Bennet. I am pleased to be of service to you both.” Turning to Mrs. Gardiner, he added, “If you have need of anything else before I go, all you need do is ask.”

Maddie glanced out the window and replied. “Actually, I do, if you have a few minutes. I may require assistance outside.” She tipped her head to the carriage and then to her niece.

Darcy immediately understood, nodding his acquiescence. “Absolutely.” He watched as Mrs. Gardiner prepared Miss Bennet for the trip.

“Come, Lizzy. Someone is waiting for you outside.” She waited while Elizabeth rose to her feet, then hooked her arm through her niece’s and led her to the door, Darcy following.

Elizabeth stopped in Hatchards’ doorway, and Darcy saw her visibly swallow.  Her aunt gently pushed her to move forward. When she did not move but began to tremble, Darcy moved to her other side and took her arm, tucking her hand into his elbow. Elizabeth took another deep breath. Darcy could feel her go rigid; she had all the looks of a person forcing herself to take another step.

He heard a deep “woof” and suddenly, the door to the carriage in front of him popped open. A giant dog appeared and stood up on his hind legs, his front paws over Elizabeth’s shoulders and his tongue busily licking her face. With a cry of relief, Elizabeth threw her arms around the dog, burying her face in his neck for a brief moment before pulling her head back and ruffling his fur.

“Brutus! How did you get here? Get off me, now, and behave.”

Darcy had been so surprised at the appearance of the huge animal that he had been unable to react, but seeing Elizabeth’s pleasure, and the way she instantly relaxed in the dog’s presence, he stepped back. It was obvious to him that the animal was hers and the two were close. A small smile lifted his lips at the way a single word from the tiny young woman made the massive canine drop to a sitting position.

“I take it that you know this enormous beast?” Darcy’s amusement was clear in his voice.

Elizabeth smiled at his wry tone, though her gaze never left her dog, and her hands continued their stroking.

“I do. This is Brutus. We have been friends since he was a puppy.” She paused to look at Darcy. “Though he looks intimidating, he is a big baby.” She looked back at Brutus and clasped her hands in front of her. “Brutus, this is Mr. Darcy.” Brutus tilted his head, ears perked up and attention riveted on Elizabeth. “Shake hands with Mr. Darcy, Brutus.”

Darcy watched in amazement as the large animal stood, took two steps to his left and sat again. When Brutus lifted his paw for Darcy to shake, the gentleman laughed and bent down to take it. Letting go of the dog, who promptly returned to press himself against his mistress’ side, Darcy extended his compliments to Elizabeth. “That was amazing! It was as though he understood every word you said to him.”

Elizabeth beamed, burying her hand in the dog’s neck once more. “Thank you. He is very clever. I could not do without him.” As she spoke, Elizabeth began to choke up. She fell silent and looked down.

Maddie stepped in then. “Lizzy, we must get in the carriage now.” She watched her niece’s face carefully. “Brutus is here to help you. Come.” Maddie gestured to the waiting equipage, its door held open by the coachman.

Swallowing hard, Elizabeth looked at the carriage, her grip on Brutus’ fur tightening.

“All is well, Miss Bennet.” Darcy had seen her lose her color and recognized that she needed support. He spoke soothingly to her as he stepped up to offer his arm. With one eye on Miss Bennet and one eye on his destination, he watched her carefully as he slowly escorted her across the crowded sidewalk.

They paused as they reached the carriage, Elizabeth in front of the open door, with Brutus on one side and Darcy on the other, and her aunt behind them. Elizabeth’s grip on Brutus’ neck left her knuckles white, but the dog never complained.

Elizabeth took a deep breath as she faced the equipage, tears filling her eyes. She had a faraway look in her eyes, and Darcy repeated himself a few times until she answered. All the while, she leaned against Brutus. Finally, Elizabeth nodded, allowing him to take the hand that had been tucked over his forearm to help her up. She lifted her foot to the step, and with an ease which did not show the anxiety Darcy had seen in her before, she was on the seat with her faithful furry friend half in her lap.

Darcy smiled at the picture Elizabeth made with Brutus draped all over her. He was happy that she had been able to board so calmly, and that he had been able to help. He turned to Mrs. Gardiner and bowed. “I suspect your ride home will be a far easier one than the trip here was.”

Mrs. Gardiner curtseyed, smiling at him. “Thank you for your assistance. It has been much appreciated.”

Darcy smiled back, just a brief quirking upwards of the corners of his lips. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a calling card, handing it to Mrs. Gardiner. “I should like to know how your niece gets on. If I can be of any further assistance, please call on me. I hate to see a young woman so terrorized.” Darcy felt protective of the young lady, and though he did not understand why, he pushed the feelings aside. “I would hope someone would do the same for my sister, were she in a similar situation.”

Taking the card, Maddie gratefully replied, “I am certain all will be well, but thank you for your kind offer. I shall have my husband write to you in a day or two.”

Murmuring his thanks, Darcy handed Mrs. Gardiner into the carriage, mindful of the fact that Miss Bennet did not need to sit in it any longer than necessary, and closed the door behind her, giving a signal to the driver that he could move on. Turning to his own carriage, Darcy climbed up in, watching out the window as it pulled into traffic and wondering why he was suddenly so interested in the welfare of a stranger.

To be continued …

 

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