Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 2: Brutus to the Rescue

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.)

It turns out, I’m a week ahead of where I thought I was for this. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m going with it. LOL Enjoy!

If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here.

Brutus to the Rescue

The next afternoon, Darcy was in his library, his favorite volume of Shakespeare in his hand, relaxing after a long morning of answering correspondence, when his solitude was interrupted by his butler.

“A message has just come for you, sir.” Mr. Baxter held out the silver salver containing the missive as he bowed.

Brows furrowed, Darcy’s curiosity was piqued as he reached out to accept the letter. Light, he thought. Must be a single sheet. As he waved Baxter away, Darcy turned the missive over to examine the direction. Gardiner. Gracechurch Street. Gardiner. Mrs. Gardiner and her niece; I have been waiting for this. Darcy broke the seal and unfolded the letter, where a short but polite message filled the space.

Gracechurch Street

London

Mr. Darcy,

My wife shared with me your invaluable assistance with our niece yesterday afternoon, and told me of your wish to be informed as to our Lizzy’s condition.

First, let me thank you for stepping in to help. The assistance of someone of far greater consequence than ourselves was greatly appreciated by us both, though it was not at all a surprise to my wife, once she had learned your name and estate. She spent part of her youth in Lambton and remembers the Darcys as being kind and liberal, in general. She has fond memories of Lady Anne Darcy visiting her grandparents’ home and giving her sweets.

My niece is much recovered from her fright. Mrs. Gardiner tells me that Brutus’ presence made a distinct difference; the ride home was easier for Miss Bennet than the trip to Hatchards was. It has been more than half a year since we brought her to London; yesterday was her first ride in a carriage since her accident.

Mrs. Gardiner has decided to force our niece to learn to ride in carriages again. I am uneasy about subjecting my sister’s only surviving child to doing something that obviously terrifies her, but my wife insists the only way to get over a fear is to face it. We will begin by taking Brutus with us whenever we go, in the hopes that Miss Bennet will learn to ride without fear and leave him at home once again.

Thank you again for your timely and much-appreciated assistance.

Yours,

Edward Gardiner

Darcy nodded as he finished reading. They were right to require their niece to face her fear. To allow it to continue would be to limit her socially and mentally. Miss Bennet was too bright a jewel to allow that to happen. Folding the letter, Darcy tucked it into his pocket, picked up his book, and began to read once more.

Kensington Gardens

Two weeks later

Elizabeth had endured several carriage rides of varying lengths in the fortnight since the trip to Hatchards. Her aunt had insisted upon them, saying that the more Elizabeth practiced riding in a carriage, the easier it would become. Though Elizabeth had begged and pleaded with her relatives, both insisted she comply. Her only consolation had been having her beloved pet with her.

Brutus loved riding in the carriage, almost as much as he loved his mistress. He sat in various positions, sometimes on the seat beside her, and sometimes stretched out across her lap. The latter he did most often, but now, after a couple weeks, Elizabeth seemed calmer, and Brutus began to sit up more.

Elizabeth could not explain the comfort she found in her dog. Even to her, it was strange. Elizabeth could find peace no other way than by stroking the dog’s massive head, or holding him close, or burying her face in his fur. She had stopped trying to rationalize it. Brutus helped her hold the fear at bay, she was going to cling to him, and that was that.

Now, here they were, about to explore Kensington Gardens. Brutus sat beside her, his head on her shoulder and his paw clutched in her hand. Across from her sat her aunt and uncle, surreptitiously keeping an eye on her. Though Elizabeth’s terror had diminished a bit, getting her into the carriage took time, and sudden stops and the sounds of neighing horses often sent her into a panic. She sat still and erect, but also stiff and alert to an unhealthy degree.

Mr. Gardiner peeked out the window. “Lizzy, the carriage is going to slow soon.”

Elizabeth nodded, gulping in a huge breath and letting it out. “Thank you, Uncle.”

“You have done very well today, Lizzy.” Maddie Gardiner squeezed Elizabeth’s hand.

“Thank you, Aunt,” Elizabeth whispered. “I think you were correct; avoiding carriages would limit my life.” She did not let go of Brutus until the equipage had come to a complete stop and it was her turn to descend. Then, turning to her faithful companion, she wrapped her arms around his neck and momentarily buried her face in his fur. She pulled back and spoke quietly but firmly to Brutus, instructing him to stay. He took a quick swipe at her cheek with his tongue before meekly lying down on his belly.

Without thought, Elizabeth wiped her face with her hand, but then pulled her handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped both hand and face.

“Lizzy.”

Turning at the sound of her uncle’s voice, she placed her shaking hand in his and allowed him to hand her out. Standing on solid ground again, Elizabeth remained still for a few moments as her trembling legs quivered underneath her. She accepted her uncle’s arm, leaning on him for support. Finally, when she felt as though she could move without falling, she breathed a sigh of relief, gripped her uncle’s arm more tightly, and allowed him to lead her and her aunt away.

By the time the trio approached the gated entrance to the gardens, Elizabeth had composed herself, and none who looked at her would have noticed evidence of her recent distress, save a little redness around her eyes. As they walked she visibly relaxed; she greatly enjoyed both nature and walking, and this trip gave her a little of both. As they began to stroll the many paths in the garden, admiring the trees and flowers and general layout of the place, Elizabeth’s naturally cheerful disposition began to come to the fore. She began to entertain her aunt and uncle with her observations about the people around them, making them laugh at her vivid verbal pictures.

“Look, Aunt,” Lizzy murmured, leaning in front of her uncle. “I think that couple must be courting. Look how the gentleman tries to impress his lady. Oh! He has plucked a flower and has presented it to her!”

Maddie and Gardiner looked in the direction their niece had indicated by a tilting of her head and saw the beaming young man and blushing lady. They smiled at the scene.

“They appear to be very much in love, do they not?”

“They do,” Elizabeth happily sighed. Her attention was caught then by a child attempting to escape his nurse, and she laughed. “Look there.” She gestured toward the red-faced and huffing servant and the laughing toddler.

“Oh, my,” Maddie gasped, “his poor nurse! Our youngest is just that way, is he not, Edward?” She laughed as she watched the servant catch up to the baby, snatching him up and scolding him as she walked him back to his family.

The trio had wandered about for close to an hour when they stopped to sit for a few minutes on a bench that was charmingly arranged beneath the boughs of a shade tree. They continued to quietly converse amongst themselves until they were suddenly interrupted.

“Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Bennet, I am happy to see you both.” Mr. Darcy stood in front of them and bowed.

“Why, Mr. Darcy, what a surprise to see you here!” Maddie smiled.

Darcy smiled back, his lips just lifting the corners of his mouth. “I was equally surprised to see you.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Are you well, Miss Bennet?”

Elizabeth had risen along with her companions, and she now curtseyed. “I am. You must allow me to thank you again for your assistance at Hatchards. It was very much appreciated.”

“Think nothing of it. I would hope that, if it were my sister in such a position, someone would come to her aid. Speaking of whom, may I introduce her to you?”

“I should love to meet her; please do.”

Darcy introduced his sister, Georgiana, to Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle. He smiled to see that Georgiana did not retreat into herself, but instead responded to their warm greetings, blooming like a flower under their gentle welcome.

Darcy could see that Elizabeth and Maddie both enjoyed meeting new people, and took to Georgiana right away. They seemed to understand that she was shy, almost painfully so, and they took care to rein in their enthusiasm while at the same time being welcoming and friendly.

The group decided to walk together for a while, with Elizabeth and Georgiana taking the lead, and Darcy and the Gardiners behind them. Darcy smiled every time he heard his sister giggle and remained near enough to overhear much of their conversation.

Turning her head to momentarily glance at the girl walking beside her, Elizabeth asked, “Do you enjoy nature, Miss Darcy?”

Georgiana nodded. “I do. My brother and I come here often to enjoy the gardens, and almost every day we walk in Hyde Park. It is just across the street from our house.”

“I greatly enjoy being out of doors, as well. There is a small park near my uncle’s house that I like to walk to as often as I can,” Elizabeth answered. “I have always enjoyed walking, and in Hertfordshire, I could wander all over my father’s estate. I studied the flora and fauna, and got to know each bird and animal almost by name.” She laughed. “When I was younger, I tried to get them to eat out of my hand, and was heartbroken when they would not approach.” Shaking her head, Elizabeth laughed again.

Georgiana tried to hide a grin and could not contain a giggle. “I confess to attempting the same at Pemberley. There was a rabbit that took up residence on the front lawn when I was eight. I loved to sit in the yard and watch it. One day, I hid lettuce in my pocket and tried to get the rabbit to eat it. Now that I am older, I think that I should have set the lettuce out and moved away, but back then, I was disappointed that it would not come to me.”

Now that the ice was broken between them, Elizabeth and Georgiana moved on to other topics, the chief being music. Elizabeth learned that it was Georgiana’s passion, and Georgiana learned that Elizabeth had not practiced enough to play really well.

Behind them, Darcy forced his attention to the Gardiners, asking about Mr. Gardiner’s business.

“I am an importer, mainly of goods from exotic locations; silks from China, spices from India, and cottons from the West Indies, among other things.” Gardiner spoke confidently, his pride in his accomplishments clear.

Darcy nodded, intrigued. “Mrs. Gardiner said you live on Gracechurch Street, I believe. Is it close to your warehouse?”

“Within sight of it, from the top floor of either building. When we purchased our townhouse, we did not wish for our children to be raised in the center of the business district. The houses are bigger in the section of Gracechurch Street where we live, as well, so there is more room for our growing brood. It is a perfect location for an increasing family.”

“Excellent. I can remember my parents saying something similar about our homes, but with an opposite meaning. They preferred for all of us to be at Pemberley, rather than at the townhouse here in London.” Darcy smiled at the memory.

“I think it must be common to parents everywhere, the desire to give their children the best they can.” Mrs. Gardiner’s tone was thoughtful.

After a pause, Darcy changed the subject. “You took your niece in. Have her parents passed on?” When Gardiner confirmed his suspicion, informing Darcy that the entire family, with the exception of Elizabeth, had died in a carriage accident, Darcy continued, sadness for Miss Bennet’s situation filling his voice. “How awful for her, to have gone through such a terrible experience and find herself alone in the world! She seems happy now, though, except for riding in carriages. I must commend you on that; too often, a lady in her situation is taken in but treated as a servant, or resented.” He thought of what would happen to his sister if he were to die before she married. He did not worry as much about his uncle the earl taking her in, but his aunt, Lady Catherine, would crush Georgiana’s tender heart. His mind could conjure up all manner of ways the demanding woman would make his sister remember “her place” in that situation. Mentally shaking off such melancholy thoughts, Darcy turned his attention again to the Gardiners.

“Elizabeth is my sister’s daughter,” Gardiner began. “I loved my sister, and would have done the same regardless, but Elizabeth and her older sister, Jane, have always been our favorites. We would have gladly taken Jane in, as well, had she survived the accident. It still grieves me to know they are all gone.” Gardiner fell silent visibly struggling to control his emotions.

Maddie clarified her husband’s words and squeezed his arm. “We would have gladly taken any of them in. We simply were not as well-acquainted with the younger girls; by the time Mary was old enough to come for visits the way her sisters had, we had begun our own family and were not able to give our attention to nieces the way we had before.”

Darcy was impressed with the intelligence displayed by not only Miss Bennet, but also her relatives. Had he not already known that Mr. Gardiner was in trade, he would have taken him as a man of fashion; a gentleman, the same way he had assumed Mrs. Gardiner was a gentlewoman. Darcy was not one to turn away from someone based on their social rank alone, and he had learned enough of the Gardiners to want to extend their acquaintance, and so asked the Gardiners and Miss Bennet to tea on the morrow. When he learned they were unable to attend that day but were free the day after, he amended his offer to match their schedule, and they happily accepted.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Gardiner was hailed by a well-dressed lady whom Darcy recognized as the widow of a friend of his father’s, Lady Marlee. Darcy was surprised at first that the Gardiners would know someone from his circle, but quickly felt shame at his arrogance and prejudice. Their social status did not preclude them from knowing peers any more than his did.

“Maddie, it is so good to see you! It has been an age.” Lady Marlee pulled her friend into a tight hug and then beamed at her as she let go. Peeking around Maddie, her eyes landed on Gardiner standing behind her, and greeted him, as well. “Edward! Hearty as ever, I see. Our Maddie must be feeding you well.” Lady Marlee winked, causing both Gardiners to laugh.

“It has been quite a while, my lady. We have missed you at our meetings.” Maddie grinned as she spoke.

Darcy easily saw that Lady Marlee’s enthusiasm was boundless, and contagious. It was not difficult to understand why Mrs. Gardiner could not remain restrained in the presence of such a cheerful, joking, lively woman.

“I have missed you, as well.” Lady Marlee tossed her head back as she rolled her eyes. “But for the longest time, my sister insisted she could not do without me. I finally had to tell her plainly that I was bored. How she is able to pass months and months in the back of beyond is something I will never understand.”

“Well, you are here now, and that is all that matters. Is that not right, Edward?”

“Indeed it is. I look forward to seeing you at our dinners again. It is such a pleasure to surround oneself with intelligent conversationalists.”

Finally, Lady Marlee noticed Darcy. “Fitzwilliam Darcy, as I live and breathe! How are you, my boy?”

Darcy was grateful that she refrained from hugging him, and he made sure to remain out of arms’ reach. Though he was a man full-grown, in his experience, this lady often forgot that he was. It was not unknown for her to try to pinch his cheeks as she had done when he was a small boy. Bowing with a warm smile, he replied, “I am well, Madam. It is always a pleasure to see you.”

“How is your sister? I did not know you knew the Gardiners.”

“We are new acquaintances, but are quickly becoming friends. They are delightful people. Georgiana is coming up behind you, with Miss Bennet.”

Lady Marlee clasped her hands to her chest. “Miss Bennet!” She turned to see Elizabeth approach with Darcy’s sister. Letting out a soft sob, Lady Marlee stepped closer to Elizabeth, pulling her into a tight embrace. “Oh, dearest Miss Elizabeth. I am so sorry for your loss. How are you doing, my dear?”

Smothered as she was in the lady’s arms, Elizabeth’s response was muted, but it was clear that she was hanging on to her composure by a thread, for there was a hint of tears in her words. “I am well. As well as can be expected, I suppose.”

The lady loosened her embrace, taking a step back and running her hands over Elizabeth’s upper arms. “I have no doubt you are, and if you are not, you will be soon. Of all the Bennet girls I met, you were the strongest. Just to see you here now, standing before me instead of pining away, demonstrates to me that you will overcome this.” Lady Marlee stilled, her hands stopping at Elizabeth’s shoulders and her grip tightening. “Promise me you will come to me if you need anything. Anything at all, Miss Lizzy. Whatever you need, I will get it for you.”

Elizabeth swallowed. “I promise,” she replied, tears choking her voice and welling up in her eyes.

After one more long, tight hug of Elizabeth, Lady Marlee turned to Georgiana and greeted her, as well. “You are the image of your mother. So beautiful.” She grasped Georgiana’s hands. “It is your turn for a hug. How could I not embrace the daughter of my dear friend? I miss her more today than I have in a long time, seeing you.”

Georgiana submitted to being squeezed. As she pulled back after the embrace, she said, “I did not know you were acquainted with my new friends! How delightful!”

“Oh, yes, I have known Maddie Gardiner since she was newly married. We support the same charity. All the ladies get together once a month to sew clothing for the foundling hospital. Social status means nothing in the face of such poverty and need.”

After a few more minutes of conversation, Lady Marlee moved on to another group of friends, calling out promises to call on the Gardiners and Darcys soon.

By now, the group had passed a pleasant hour, and had made a full circle through the gardens to arrive once again at the entrance. Darcy noticed Elizabeth began to fidget and dart glances at the gate. She licked her lips and wrung her hands. Undoubtedly, she worried about once again facing her fear.

The change in her demeanor astonished Darcy, and he began to realize the depths of Elizabeth’s fear. He turned to the Gardiners, who were speaking to Georgiana and appeared not to notice Elizabeth’s increasingly agitated state.

“Did you bring the dog with you today?” He nodded toward Elizabeth. “I fear Miss Bennet will need his services.”

The Gardiners looked at their niece, then at each other. Mr. Gardiner excused himself and hurried out of the park.

“Thank you for alerting us, Mr. Darcy. I think we did not expect her to react until we had walked through the gates. My husband has gone to retrieve Brutus from the carriage; he will be waiting for us just outside. We look forward to our visit.” Smiling warmly at Darcy and his sister, Mrs. Gardiner curtseyed.

“If you do not mind, and if Georgiana does not mind, I will walk with you.”

Mrs. Gardiner had taken Elizabeth’s arm and looped it over hers, murmuring soothing words to her niece. Turning her attention back to the Darcys, she thanked them once more. Darcy, having received permission from his sister in the form of a nod, moved to the other side of Elizabeth, taking her free hand and tucking it under his arm.

“Lizzy,” Mrs. Gardiner, a crease between her brows the only visible sign of her concern, quietly drew her niece’s attention. “We are going to walk through the gate now. Brutus is waiting for you, to help you into the carriage. You can do this; there is nothing in the carriage that is going to hurt you, and nothing is going to occur on the way home. Are you ready?”

Elizabeth nodded, but her hands were clenched into fists and perspiration beaded on her forehead. Her breath came in quick pants.

Unable to see Elizabeth suffer, Darcy patted her hand. She swallowed as her aunt urged her to take a step. Elizabeth took that step, and then another, and then another. Again, Darcy marveled at her strength and fortitude.

Suddenly, Brutus was there. Gardiner had barely held the animal back while Elizabeth approached. The moment Elizabeth walked out between Darcy and Maddie, the dog leapt for his mistress. His paws on her shoulders, he licked her face in much the same way he had at Hatchards.

As he had a fortnight ago, Darcy stepped back to let Brutus work his magic on Elizabeth, who had instantly wrapped her arms around the dog. He watched the young lady bury her face in the animal’s neck; his heart ached for her. Feeling Georgiana take his arm, he looked down at her, taking in the crease between her brows and her lip caught in her teeth.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” he urged.

“Miss Bennet is afraid of carriages,” Georgiana observed.

“She is.”

“That is her dog?” Georgiana glanced up to see her brother nod, then looked towards her new friend once more. “I have never seen anyone behave in that manner with a dog before. Not in public, anyway.”

“Brutus has been hers for a long time, as I understand it. I can tell you with certainty that he helps her with the fear. The Gardiners tell me they have begun taking the dog everywhere with them, and he lays across Miss Bennet’s lap as they travel. He is a great comfort to her.”

Georgiana tilted her head, still chewing her lower lip. “I can see that he is. Already, she is calmer.” She looked up again, her brows drawn slightly together and a soft expression in her eyes. “It is a good thing she has … what did you say his name was? Brutus?”

“Yes, Brutus, and I agree. There, she has made him sit. Let us take our leave; Miss Bennet needs no more audience for her distress than she already has.” So saying, Darcy and his sister stepped toward the Gardiners and their niece.

Seeing them, Maddie smiled. “Once more I owe you thanks, Mr. Darcy. You have been such a blessing to us.”

“It was the least I could do.” Darcy looked down as Brutus licked his hand. Chuckling, he petted the massive animal’s head, saying, “Good dog.” Darcy looked back at Elizabeth, who had turned from the witty and intelligent girl from the park into the pale wraith he had first met, and whose eyes were glued to the carriages parked in front of her.

“Miss Bennet,” Darcy tried to draw her attention, happy when her head jerked in his direction. He bowed to her. “Thank you for entertaining my sister today. I think neither of us has had such an enjoyable time here before.”

“Yes, Miss Bennet, thank you,” Georgiana interjected.

The corners of Elizabeth’s lips lifted in a small smile. She managed a curtsey with her hand in its usual position, tightly gripping Brutus’ nape, and replied in one of the softest voices he had ever heard.

“You are welcome. Miss Darcy is wonderful. I enjoyed our chat very much.” She smiled at Georgiana. “Will you be there when we come for tea, Miss Darcy?”

Though she still looked at the carriages, Elizabeth exerted herself to speak with them as etiquette dictated. Darcy mentally applauded her excellent manners. It would be most understandable if she could not give them any attention at all.

“I will,” Georgiana assured her in a warm tone. “We should let you go. I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied in that same soft tone. Her eyes darted back to the carriages, and she swallowed, hard. Her gaze returned to Georgiana. “I will be well, soon.” She looked at the carriages once more and added in a whisper, “I hope.”

With a final round of curtseys and bows, the Darcys and their new friends parted. As Darcy handed his sister into his carriage, he looked back to see Mr. Gardiner, with Brutus’ help, assist Elizabeth into theirs. Darcy frowned before he looked up once more to mount the step and sit across from his sister.

To be continued …

 

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