Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 5: An Attempted Kidnapping

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.)

I apologize for missing last week. Between a rather impromptu eclipse party and doing my taxes, time got away from me.

This chapter is all Darcy’s point of view as he contemplates Lizzy and his feelings for her. <3

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

Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 is here.

Enjoy!

An Attempted Kidnapping

The British Museum was located in a beautiful home in Bloomsbury called Montagu House. The Darcys and Elizabeth’s family arrived at the same time, having all come in Darcy’s coach-and-four. The Gardiners had travelled to Darcy House for a quick meal before the group headed out. Now, they stood on the walk in front of the building that housed innumerable artifacts from all over the world.

Of necessity, Brutus had been left at home. Neither he nor Elizabeth was happy about it, but there was not going to be room for him in a coach with five adults, or, in Georgiana’s case, near-adults. Though she outwardly bore the lack of her dog with reasonable calm, Elizabeth’s nerves were in such a state when she arrived at Darcy House that it had taken a full half-hour for her to recover her spirits. Darcy had given her couple of glasses of wine at that point, after quietly consulting the Gardiners, as a way to relax her so she could face the ride to the museum. It was a successful tactic, and a great improvement over the laudanum that Elizabeth had previously required, and she descended the carriage almost languidly.

Darcy and his sister entered the building ahead of Elizabeth and the Gardiners. Once inside, the five of them wandered the exhibits, pausing in each room to examine the treasures and antiquities inside.

Once more, Elizabeth consumed Darcy’s attention. His heart pounded upon seeing her in his house, as it had when they last met. He had previously refused to consider his reaction to her any further, and he had kept himself busy with social engagements, his sister, and his club for the past week. Immediately upon being in her presence again, he realized his adamant refusal to think about Elizabeth’s effect on him before made it that much greater now. Worried, he could feel himself falling in love with her. He had been determined to avoid her on this outing, but he could not. She drew him as a moth to a flame. He found himself trailing after her, looking for ways to draw her attention. His opportunity came when she stopped to examine a case of ancient Egyptian funerary artifacts.

“Amazing, are they not?” Darcy rolled his eyes internally at his weak beginning.

“They are,” Elizabeth agreed. “I find it fascinating the way Egyptians sent their dead off with so many goods. It is in total conflict with what the church teaches today.”

“It is, but then, the ancient Egyptians had not had the redemption message preached to them.” Darcy gestured to the display. “Are you well? Surely this brings up memories for you.”

Sighing, Elizabeth nodded. “It does. I was very ill after the accident, and then whisked away from Longbourn before I was able to heal. My family was buried without my awareness; I have not even seen their graves.” Her voice had trailed to a whisper. She placed her gloved hand on the glass of the case. “My favorite sister was Jane. I would have buried her with her sewing needles and silk. She had such a fine hand and enjoyed embroidering all of our dresses. Mary would have had her favorite book—Fordyce’s Sermons. Kitty would have had her crayons and sketchbook, and Lydia … Lydia would have had a brand-new bonnet with all the frills and lace I could fit on it.”

Darcy had watched Elizabeth’s face as she spoke. Perhaps it was the aftereffects of the wine, but she managed the conversation and the reminders very well. “And, your parents?”

A ghost of a smile quirked the corners of her lips up. “Mama would have had her salts with her. And my dear Papa would have had two or three of his favorite books tucked in beside him.”

She gave another sigh, this one deep, seeming to come from deep within her.

“You would have done well by each of them.” Resisting the urge to embrace her, Darcy forced his hands to stay at his side. For one thing, they were in public; for another, he had no right to do so, and her reputation could easily be ruined. She had suffered enough, in his opinion. He would never forgive himself for causing her more pain.

Elizabeth merely smiled her thanks and moved past him to the next set of displays. Darcy followed, hesitant to leave her side even for a moment. He could see Georgiana across the room with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner; having assured himself that his sister was in good hands, Darcy wandered about after Elizabeth.

Quietly, he trailed through the museum beside her. He felt no need for conversation; he was content to be in her presence. Eventually, she spoke to him.

“So tell me, Mr. Darcy, what you think of the theater? I recall you saying that you did not enjoy social events, but you did not mention plays or opera, or even musicales.”

Hands clasped behind his back, as they had been for several minutes now, Darcy gave her question thoughtful consideration. “I do enjoy plays, especially Shakespeare. I like to see how the actors’ interpretations compare to my own.”

“I do, as well. I often find differences, both large and small, between what I found in a particular story and what is portrayed on the stage. Have you ever found the variations too terrible to watch?”

“No,” Darcy confessed, shaking his head, “though I have at times wondered if a particular actor had never bothered to make a study of a particular work. In my opinion, if one is going to become a Shakespearean actor, one had best conduct an in-depth study of the gentleman’s works.”

Elizabeth hid a giggle behind her hand. “That is a very stern expression you wear to go along with your serious opinion.” She smiled when she recognized his discomfort with her words. “I am making sport of you; do forgive me. I sometimes forget that not everyone is familiar with teasing.”

Blushing, Darcy was quick to reassure her. “I took no offense. You are correct that I am unused to being teased. I am not opposed to it, however, at least, not from you.”

Elizabeth blushed. Soon, though, she asked him something else.

“Of all the plays you have seen, which was your favorite?”

“Shakespeare’s?” At her nod, he said, “Henry V is my favorite. Since I already know,” he added with a grin, “that you will ask my reasons, I shall tell you at once. I prefer that work over the others because King Henry is described as being a certain manner of gentleman, one that I strive to be—intelligent, courageous, and a strong leader.”

“I can see that in you, that you try to emulate someone who is presented as a noble and just character. I think you do very well. I have heard my aunt say that the Darcys are reputed to be liberal masters in general, and that her old friends in the area say the same of you. Yes, you have done very well indeed.”

Darcy had looked down when she first started speaking. He was used to praise from females, but it had never been given in the sincere manner Elizabeth had. Most ladies complimented to turn his head and entice—or trap—him into marriage. Elizabeth Bennet, in the month that he had known her, had never behaved so with him. He knew she considered him a friend, but she had never treated him as though he was something special or extraordinary. To her, he was just “Darcy.” For her to think highly enough of him to say what she did made his heart swell in his chest. Finally, he cleared his throat and looked up. “Your good opinion is important to me, Miss Bennet. Thank you.”

“It was nothing. Just the truth.” Elizabeth fell silent once more, watching a group of people pass them.

As they began moving again, out of this room and toward a display containing a stone carved in ancient languages, Darcy cleared his throat a second time before asking Elizabeth about her favorite play.

“Oh, As You Like It, is by far my favorite. I find the idea of high society city dwellers trying to live in the country, in lowered circumstances, amusing.”

“You cannot see Prinny living in a tenant’s house?”

“Definitely not.” Elizabeth’s laugh rang out, and she quickly covered her mouth with her hand.

They were joined at this point by Georgiana and the Gardiners, and the conversation moved on to other things.

The five of them spent a pleasant afternoon examining the museum’s treasures. As the hour grew later, they gathered together in the entry hall to wait for the coach to pull up outside. Elizabeth excused herself, and made her way to the small chamber set aside for ladies to refresh themselves. On her way out a few minutes later, a man dressed all in black accosted her. He was not much taller than she was, perhaps half a foot, but was of a stocky build and strong. He grabbed her, one hand over her mouth and the other wrapped around her waist.

Elizabeth thrashed against him, hitting and kicking and trying to scream. His hand muffled her voice at first, but when she reached her own up and scrabbled for the mask on his face, leaving deep scratches, he moved his appendage from her mouth to his head, allowing her scream to reverberate down the hall.

Around the corner, in the entry hall, the Darcys, the Gardiners, and everyone else in the vicinity stilled at the sound of a woman screaming. Darcy and Gardiner looked at each other briefly before running around into the other hall. Once there, they could see a woman struggling with a man, and they charged toward her.

The man let go, shoving Elizabeth out of the way as he sprinted toward the kitchen and the back door. Darcy continued past Elizabeth, but was unable to catch the criminal before he exited the building. Breathing heavily from the unexpected chase, he made his way back to his friends.

Darcy had immediately recognized the scream as coming from Elizabeth. His heart sprang to his throat as she struggled against the stranger’s hold. Now, as he watched her uncle comfort her, he wished he had the right to do so. Equally, he wished he had caught the bounder who attacked her and doled out some much-deserved punishment to the cad. Instead of either of those things, he stood at a respectful distance, just out of arm’s reach.

“He got away?”

Hearing Gardiner’s angry tone, Darcy hung his head. “He did; I am sorry. I was not fast enough.”

Gardiner shook his head, “I am not angry with you. He had a few minutes’ head start; I am not surprised you lost him. I assume the kitchens are down there, and if they are half as full as the rest of the rooms in this house, they were difficult to navigate. I appreciate the attempt.” Gardiner’s hand had not stopped rubbing his niece’s back. “It is the thought of someone accosting a lady, especially this one, that has me angry. It is probably better that he got away. I may not have been able to hold myself back.”

Darcy nodded; then, noting Elizabeth’s continued distress, pulled a flask out of the inside pocket of his tailcoat. “I brought this to help Miss Bennet enter the carriage. I had no idea that it would be needed for more.”

“That was thoughtful of you; I thank you.” Gardiner took the flask and uncorked it. “If it were anything stronger than this port, I would take a swig, as well, after all that.” He held the receptacle up to Elizabeth’s mouth. “Take a few sips, my dear. It will calm your nerves.”

Elizabeth did as her uncle bid, taking more when he encouraged her to, until the flask was empty. Then, he and Darcy whisked the ladies into the coach. As he settled into his seat, Darcy shared a look with Gardiner. They seemed to be in agreement that a conversation was needed. For now, though, they watched Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana fuss over Elizabeth.

~~~***~~~

That evening, after the Gardiners and their niece had boarded a carriage and headed for home, Darcy retired to his rooms. The Gardiners had been persuaded to remain to dine, and they, Elizabeth, and the Darcys had enjoyed a quiet evening of food, music, and conversation. Georgiana had been cheerful when she kissed her brother good night a few minutes after the guests had gone, and Darcy was immensely pleased to see her so.

Turning his mind to his conversation with Gardiner, Darcy’s entire body stiffened. There was no reason for the attack that either man could determine.

“Lizzy never had a suitor in Meryton who might be jealous or angry, and she has been in mourning to one degree or another since she moved in with us, so there is no one here who might be the same. What other motive could there be?”

Darcy, as was his wont when thinking about a problem, paced up back and forth across the room, turning Gardiner’s words over in his mind. “There must be something. Have you any enemies or business rivals?”

“Well,” Gardiner began, “I confess that some of us are rather competitive, but I cannot see anyone that I know using a member of my family to get back at me. I owe money to no one, before you ask.”

Darcy closed his mouth, blushing at being anticipated in such a fashion. “I am sorry. In any other man, it would not be such a farfetched idea.”

Gardiner waved his hand. “Apology accepted. You do not know me well enough yet to be able to determine such a thing.”

Darcy inclined his head in acceptance of Gardiner’s words. “There is truly no one you can think of who would do such a thing? Kidnapping a young lady?”

Gardiner shook his head. “No, there is not.” He sighed. “Would that I could.”

“Then our priority must be to prevent such occurrences in the future.”

“Yes. I will make sure Lizzy is never alone in public again. Had Maddie gone to the retiring room with her, he might not have tried in the first place.”

“Or, she may have been able to detain him long enough for us to catch him.”

Standing from his chair in front of the fire, Darcy walked to the window, looking out into the dark, his robe securely fastened around his waist and a glass of port in his hand. He turned his mind to his female guests. Mrs. Gardiner was just as genteel and sensible as her husband. Georgiana took to her better than he had ever seen her do so with a lady who was not family. Then, there was Miss Bennet.

Elizabeth Bennet was … he searched his mind for an appropriate word … glorious. Every time he was in her presence, she embedded herself deeper into his thoughts. Darcy recalled the feeling of terror he had experienced when Elizabeth was struggling against the man who had her. He thought about how he longed to be the one to comfort her. The feelings had been more intense than anything he had felt towards his sister when he learned of the perfidy she had been subjected to in the summer. He was beginning to realize that his earlier feelings of friendship towards Elizabeth were turning into much more. Mentally, he scoffed at the turn his thoughts had taken just a week ago that he merely felt empathy for her situation. His lip curled in chagrin at the idea, and he shook his head. He did empathize with her, but mere empathy did not explain his deep-seated need to hold her and keep her safe.

I love her. The thought was startling on one hand, but comforting on the other. What will my family think? Do I care? Darcy was the nephew of an earl. He had been raised with high expectations as to his future marriage partner; expectations that Elizabeth Bennet did not appear to meet. However, though his parents had drilled duty into his head, they had also emphasized love.

George and Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy had shared a deep and abiding love, one so strong that upon Lady Anne’s death, George Darcy had pined away. It took him ten years to die, but his grief at her passing never left him. He stopped taking care of himself, eating only when forced to by his body or a relative, and drinking far more than was good. He put in long hours on the estate, often supervising activities that he had previously allowed the steward to handle. Darcy had wondered at times that his father did not die before he did. The only pleasure the man had taken was in the countenances of his children, who reminded him of his dear Anne, and the company of his godson.

Upon George Darcy’s death, the remaining relatives, Darcy and Fitzwilliam alike, had been everything supportive of the grieving young man and his sister. They had, however, expressed very different expectations in the area of his marriage than his parents had, especially on the Fitzwilliam side. The Earl of Matlock was Lady Anne’s brother, and he was clear that he expected young Darcy to marry one of society’s debutantes as soon as possible. Darcy refused. He dutifully attended events, especially those his aunt, Lady Matlock, had pushed for him to attend, and allowed himself to be introduced to dozens of young ladies every year, but he valued his parents’ advice more than that of his other relatives. He intended to marry for love, and none of the ladies to whom he had been introduced sparked anything in him other than a desire to be gone from their presence. Many were insipid, most were boring, and all looked at him more as a pile of money than as a man.

Darcy turned from the window to walk back to the fireplace, this time leaning on the mantel. His thoughts turned to his mother’s sister. Lady Catherine de Bourgh had a daughter—and insisted that Darcy and her daughter, named after Darcy’s mother, had been engaged since their infancy. He shook his head and then took a sip of port from the glass he still held. His parents did not want him to marry his cousin unless it was his choice, and it was not. He had made this clear to his aunt, but she refused to listen. His cousin had added her voice to his, for all the good it did. Lady Catherine was of the opinion that Anne did not know her own mind and dismissed anything she might say on the matter.

Darcy had taken his time, not marrying just to please his family, and now he was happy he had. Images of Elizabeth Bennet filled his mind. He considered again her intelligence and good humor, and the kindness and respect he had seen her show everyone she came across, regardless of station. Conversation with her was delightful, no matter the topic. He felt in his heart that she would make a good wife and mistress of his homes.

Though he knew his heart, Darcy was a deliberate and thoughtful gentleman. The lack of connections between himself and Elizabeth and her relations was uncomfortable for him. I will hire an investigator, he thought. This is no different than any other business matter, really. Before I let my heart become more deeply engaged, I need to know everything about her. I have my sister to think about, as well; I was charged with protecting Georgiana, and I will not fail again. Miss Bennet has opened up to me, and this is good, but there are things she and her uncle will not know that an investigator can uncover. I will make this a priority tomorrow. With these thoughts, Darcy tossed back the last of the port, removed his robe, and climbed into bed.

To be continued …

 

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