Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 4: Getting to Know You

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

Today’s post is brought to you by To Save Elizabeth! (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.)

As I go through this book, I remember why it’s one of my favorites! <3 #teambrutus

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

Chapter 3 is here.

Enjoy!

Getting to Know You

The next week passed swiftly for the Darcys and for those who lived on Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners took Elizabeth out in the carriage every day, and though she was able to appear calm, it was obvious to the couple that she still struggled. However, they refused to give up, and searched for ways to assist their niece with her internal battle.

Elizabeth bore their efforts as best she could. Her disposition had always been toward cheerfulness. She had not been formed for unhappiness, and that made her fear all the more vexing, even for her. She acknowledged readily that it was unreasonable of her to be afraid of riding in all carriages, but all the talking to herself about it in the world did not stop the rising tide of terror inside her every time she faced one.

This day, Wednesday and the day of the Darcys’ visit for tea, Maddie Gardiner took her niece out alone, with only a footman and Brutus for company. They made it a short ride, because there was still so much to do to prepare for the visitors, or so Maddie felt. She chattered to Elizabeth about it as they rode around the block, but Elizabeth did not appear to hear above half what she said.

Later that afternoon, as they sat sewing together and chatting, Maddie complimented Elizabeth. “You are making excellent progress in taming your fear, you know. Your uncle and I are proud of you.”

Elizabeth immediately stopped sewing, dropping one hand to Brutus’ neck, gripping his scruff, and allowing the other hand with its embroidery hoop and dangling needle to fall into her lap. “I am uncertain that I deserve such praise, but I do appreciate it.”

Maddie lowered her sewing, as well, to turn her gaze to her niece. “You do deserve it, else I would not have given it. A month ago, we would have had to lift you bodily into the carriage and hold you the entire time you were in it. Now, you are able to sit with the appearance of calm, and with Brutus along, you only need a little help to enter it.” Maddie leaned forward and reached for Elizabeth’s arm, laying her hand gently there. “At the rate you are going, you will have left behind your fear before you even realize you have.”

Elizabeth merely nodded, her head lowered. She sighed and blinked the tears out of her eyes. “I am not certain I believe that, but thank you for having faith in me. I want so desperately to be rid of this terror that seizes me!” Turning her head to the side, she wiped her cheek on her shoulder, erasing evidence of the tear that had escaped to run down her face.

Maddie squeezed Elizabeth’s forearm once more, then leaned back into her seat and resumed work on the seam she was letting out on her eldest son’s shirt. “Your uncle and I have been searching for a way to help you conquer the remaining fear. We cannot bear to see you suffer. Will you allow yourself to be seen by a physician, if we can locate one who is willing to deal with this?”

Elizabeth’s head jerked up, eyes huge in her face. “I do not want to spend the rest of my life in Bedlam. I am not insane.”

“No, no,” Maddie dropped her sewing to her lap again as she rushed to reassure Elizabeth. “That is not what I meant. We would not consult someone who would rush to that conclusion. What I meant was that there are men who study how the mind works and how it influences behavior. There are also theologians who counsel on the subject, based on the teachings of the Bible. We would like to find one of those sorts of gentlemen to talk to you and help you get over the fear. I promise you, your uncle will never allow you to be sent to Bedlam or anywhere else.”

Maddie tossed her sewing on the table beside her when Elizabeth sobbed, and pulled her chair closer to Elizabeth’s. Putting her arm around her niece and pulling her as close as she could, Maddie held Elizabeth as she cried. Brutus was, of course, draped over Elizabeth’s shoulders and lap crowding out Maddie. “I am sorry, dear girl. Shhh …” Maddie kissed Elizabeth’s head.

When her sobbing slowed, Elizabeth apologized for becoming emotional, but Maddie would hear none of it. She sent her niece off to her room to rest; in a few short hours, they would have visitors, and they all needed to present their best selves to their guests.

By the time the Darcys arrived, Elizabeth had slept off her emotion and appeared as cheerful as ever. She had cried herself to sleep and when she awakened, had given herself a stern talking-to.

“You have made new friends, Lizzy,” she scolded herself in the mirror. “Do not run them off by looking a fright or becoming a watering pot.” She laughed at herself. “It does feel good to meet new people again. I have missed that.”

She took one last look into the cheval glass, smoothing her dove grey skirt and assuring herself that her hair was in place. Then, she took a deep breath and descended the stairs, arriving at the bottom just as the Darcys were being admitted to the house.

“Welcome to our home,” Elizabeth greeted the visitors warmly. “My aunt is giving final instructions to the governess, I believe, and my uncle is in the drawing room waiting for us.” Elizabeth curtseyed to Georgiana and Darcy and accepted their greetings. Once the maid had taken their hats, gloves, and wraps, Elizabeth led them to Gardiner, chatting about the weather and the traffic between Mayfair and Gracechurch Street as they walked.

Similarly to what happened when they shared tea the previous week, the group as a whole conversed before breaking off into smaller groups. This time, Darcy had found himself beside Elizabeth on a settee, she on his left, with his sister on his right, nearer their hosts, who sat in chairs on either side of a small table holding the tea service. As he turned to ask Elizabeth a question, he braced himself. When he had first seen her this evening, his heart had skipped a beat. He knew not why that should happen, but she had looked happy, and that happiness had lent a glow to her features that captivated him.

“You are looking very well this afternoon, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth smiled. “You, also. You seem particularly pleased.”

“I lay that to the joy of meeting with my friends.”

“Very well, then. We shall do that,” Elizabeth teased. “I confess that I was also eager for this afternoon to arrive. I have been unable to visit for a long time, or it felt that way. You and your sister are my first guests since …” Elizabeth swallowed, suddenly choked up. “Since the accident.”

Darcy’s eyes had never left Elizabeth’s face, and he saw the tears welling in her eyes as she stumbled over her words. Softly, he asked, “Have you been out of your first mourning for long?”

“It has been four weeks as of yesterday.”

“Four weeks? Georgiana and I arrived back in town four weeks ago.”

Blinking back tears, Elizabeth’s lips lifted at the corners. “What a coincidence.”

“You have had no other visitors? None of your aunt’s friends have come?”

“She has had friends come by in the mornings, and I have greeted those and sat in the parlor with her while she entertained them, and she has had two or three dinner parties. I have not felt much like entertaining for that long, so I greeted the guests and then spent the evenings upstairs with my cousins. It was probably rude, but Aunt assures me that everyone assumes I am still mourning. Which, I am, but …” Elizabeth’s gaze slid away from Darcy’s.

“But you were not ready for company. I am certain your aunt is correct and that her friends understood. Losing one parent at a time is difficult. I cannot imagine losing all of my family at once.”

“It is devastating,” Elizabeth agreed.

Darcy watched, mesmerized, as a determined glint came to her eyes and she straightened her shoulders.

“I am ready for society again, though. Do you enjoy social events, Mr. Darcy?”

“Actually, no, I do not, in general. I prefer intimate evenings like this one, with few people. Most society events are crushes, where there are too many people and not enough air.”

Tipping her head, Elizabeth studied her companion. “I am surprised. I would have expected a man of sense and education to enjoy the company of a great many people.”

“Oh, I do, but I am uncomfortable making small talk with all but my closest companions. I cannot catch the tone of people’s conversations and find it difficult to care about their concerns. In a word, small talk is generally boring to me.”

During his speech, Elizabeth’s brows had risen almost to her hairline. “You do very well with us here, and we are almost strangers. Perhaps you need to practice more, and then you will become proficient in conversation with new people.”

“Oh,” Darcy began with a smirk, “but you and your aunt and uncle are no longer strangers but friends. With my friends, I am far more comfortable; I care about their concerns and enjoy their conversation.”

“Hmmm,” Elizabeth murmured, her lips twisted to one side and her eyes narrowed. “If you say so. You shall have to prove yourself to me, though.”

Another smirk crossed Darcy’s face. He suspected from Elizabeth’s tone of voice that she was teasing him. “Your wish is my command. Tell me what you want me to do, and it shall be done.”

Dropping her head to hide a grin, Elizabeth replied, “That shall do for now.” She looked up again, directly into Darcy’s intense gaze. “To be honest, the three of us feel the same about you and Miss Darcy. We greatly enjoy your company, and are grateful for your condescension and friendship.”

“You are intelligent and fashionable people.” Darcy shrugged. “That makes you superior company, in my view.” Changing the subject, he asked a question. “My sister tells me that you prefer the Bard’s comedies to histories, but she did not tell me why. What is it about the comedies that make you prefer them?”

“The short answer to your query is that I dearly love to laugh. I greatly enjoy histories, but one cannot always be so very grave and somber.” Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled above her wide smile.

So struck was he by her looks at that moment, Darcy almost forgot to reply. Mentally shaking himself, he admitted, “I had not thought of it that way, I suppose. While I do enjoy comedies, I confess that I tend to be dour, or so my sister tells me. That must color the manner in which I look at things, even those that make me laugh.”

“I suspect it does. I have always preferred being cheerful. That quality seems to be part of my nature. I used to tell my sisters to look at the past only as it gives them pleasure, and I strive to do the same.”

“Even now, after losing all your family?” With the weight of his responsibilities, Darcy could not imagine following it.

Elizabeth smiled sadly. “Yes,” she replied in a soft voice. “Or at least, I am trying to do so. I admit that some days it is easier than others. I never imagined a year ago that I would be the only remaining Bennet, and that I would be torn from the only home I have ever known.” Her tone turned urgent, “We do not know what tomorrow holds, Mr. Darcy. We must,” she clenched her fists before her. “We must grab hold of life, of happiness, with both hands, because it could be gone tomorrow.”

Drawn into the fervency of Elizabeth’s words, Darcy could only agree. Her spirit in the face of her loss and fear raised his. She is magnificent, he thought. Darcy looked into her eyes, his heart racing, until he suddenly realized he was staring and looked away. “You are correct, Miss Bennet.” He looked up again, happy that the strange hold she had gained over him had dissipated. “I learned that lesson when my father died, leaving my sister and me orphaned. I think this is why I value my friends so highly.”

Elizabeth blushed at Darcy’s words, suddenly uneasy. “Forgive me, sir. I sometimes become too passionate about my most strongly-held beliefs.”

Darcy smiled gently, a hint of his admiration in his eyes. “There is nothing to forgive. It is good to see you so passionate about something.” With that, he turned the conversation to other topics.

The friends parted that evening with pleasurable memories on all sides, and plans to visit the British Museum together the following week.

~~~***~~~

Darcy spent the next days thinking about Elizabeth a great deal. The realization that he saw her as more than a sister or friend had been startling. He had not expected to have such tender feelings for someone he had only known a few weeks. He was startled to realize that he wanted to know everything about her. He suddenly stood from his chair at the fire and strode to the window, looking out at the gathering darkness. Why in the world do I have this desire to learn everything I can about her? A thought popped into his mind from seemingly nowhere, a memory of one of his friends from school, John Morgan. Morgan had fallen in love the previous season, and Darcy recalled with perfect clarity the way his friend would stop speaking when his lady walked into the room, and the awestruck look on his face. Darcy also remembered Morgan describing his feelings upon sighting her; he said it was as though his heart had stopped for just a moment before beating again, but harder.

He slapped his hand to his chest, gripping his waistcoat in his fist. Is that it? Am I in love? No, it cannot be. Turning from the window, he paced up and down the room. I barely know her. We have been in company, what, four times? That is not long enough to fall in love with someone, is it? No, it cannot be. It is not possible. Darcy stopped pacing to look around the room as though the answer he sought was written on the walls. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to tamp down on the rush of excited energy surging through him. Taking a deep breath, he ordered his inward self to calm. I cannot solve this mystery now. I will wait for a more opportune time. With the forcefulness of a man in denial, Darcy pushed the issue to the back of his mind and strode across the room, pulling the bell to call his valet to help him prepare to dine.

To be continued …

 

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