I wanted to take a moment and let you all know that since I’ve started writing Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley I’ve had a little trouble staying within the original six parts I estimated this short story would be.
I’d hoped to wrap it up on Halloween day (Wednesday, October 31st), but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. I’ve written not six parts, but nine parts (although I’m trying to chop it down a bit, so far without luck, though).
SO. What this means is this: Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley will continue to post here at Austen Authors on the following days: Tomorrow (Part 6), Wednesday (Part 7), Next Saturday (part 8), and the final installment will be next Sunday (Part 9). Phew! That’s a lot of parts. I sincerely hope no one reading it minds. I didn’t want to sacrifice any pertinent details in a mad dash to the ending.
Now, without further ado, part five. Happy reading, AuAus!
In case you missed the prologue-part 4:
Wide bands of sunlight shone through the bedchamber windows, eliciting a groan from Darcy as he shielded his eyes with his hands. The stark brightness made the pounding in his head unbearable, and he cursed whatever servant was responsible for drawing the curtains that morning without first obtaining his consent.
The master of Pemberley was ill. Throughout the night his repose had been fitful at best, and now—in addition to his throbbing head—he suffered a sore throat, a wracking cough, chills, and a fever.
Parched with thirst, Darcy licked his lips and looked toward the bedside table, hoping to discover a pitcher of water. He struggled to sit upright, nearly overcome by the effort. The encroaching blackness behind his eyes and ringing in his ears made his head spin, and for several excruciating moments he fought against the urge to retch.
Swallowing thickly, he wiped sweat from his brow with shaking fingers and willed the sensation to pass. He’d no recollection of ever feeling so helpless, even as a young boy. As a grown man it was nothing short of intolerable. With an exhalation, he yanked the bell cord and collapsed onto his pillow, where he shut his eyes and prayed that his man Jennings would soon appear with an elixir to restore him to health.
* * *
Darcy was having the strangest dream. Elizabeth Bennet was standing in his bedchamber wearing nothing but a dressing gown. Her hair was loose; a riotous mess of curls framing her face and tumbling down her back, giving her the appearance of a nighttime fey, untamed and otherworldly as she argued with his valet from the foot of his bed.
“I should not be here,” she insisted, her eyes darting repeatedly to Darcy, then away. “It was wrong of me to come.”
She held a taper made of beeswax. Its flame bathed her features in glowing warmth, rendering her so beautiful that Darcy found it difficult to breathe. How long had it been since he’d beheld her? How long since he’d inhaled her sweet scent? At the moment he couldn’t recall. He knew only that he’d missed her beyond reason; that he craved her more than food or water, exercise and air.
“You mustn’t speak so, Miss,” Jennings chided. “Not when you may be of help.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I am no doctor, Mr. Jennings. Though I wish it with all my heart, I can do nothing for Mr. Darcy that would not result in more pain and a lifetime of regret. You’d do better to call for Mr. Jones.”
Jennings scoffed. “Mr. Jones will bleed him unless he is better by morning. Cutting into his flesh will only rob my master of what little energy he has left. I cannot allow it, not when it is within your power to offer Mr. Darcy far more than any local butcher-turned-apothecary. In fact, after seeing you standing here as you live and breathe, I’m willing to bet my life on it.”
Elizabeth turned aside her head. “You are delusional, Mr. Jennings,” she said shortly. “Human life is not something to be bartered, but revered and protected at all costs.”
“My dear lady, it’s imperative that you understand my loyalty and affection for Mr. Darcy is deeply rooted. The general concurrence is that he is unlikely to overcome this illness without intervention; therefore, certain concessions will have to be made, and I’m willing to accept full responsibility for any and all consequences incurred by those concessions. If you save him, I solemnly swear to guard all your secrets as closely as I do my master’s: with my life.”
Darcy’s blood grew cold as he watched Elizabeth undergo a shocking metamorphosis. She was suddenly no longer the delightful, teasing woman he admired so ardently, but an esoteric creature whose entire presence radiated danger.
There was something disturbingly familiar about the dark glint in her eyes, though; the slow curl of her mouth; the way she moved—methodically, determinedly, with an ethereal grace. Her body, draped in gossamer silk, seemed to glide toward Jennings as her candle cast heavy, sinister shadows on the bedchamber walls and all that lay within.
“You presume a great deal, Mr. Jennings,” she hissed, “but what do you presume to know about me?”
Despite the sinister image Elizabeth presented, Jennings did not shrink from her, but stood his ground, meeting her baleful stare with every appearance of composure, and no hint of fear. “Madam, as Mr. Darcy’s valet, it is not my place to presume anything about anyone; but, as his most trusted servant, it is my duty to make observations, especially pertaining to my master and all that affects him.
“For instance, since you’ve come to Netherfield to attend your ailing sister, Miss Bennet, you’ve made inquiries about my master and his health. As your agitation and concern for him appeared sincere and heartfelt, I concluded that you must care for Mr. Darcy. The fact that you’re standing here now, in his private apartment and at great risk, not only to your own reputation, but to that of your family as well, confirms it.
“You might also be interested to know,” he continued lowly, “that you happen to have several very unique traits in common with a certain young lady of my master’s intimate acquaintance. Miss Darcy would be inconsolable if her beloved elder brother were to succumb to a thing so trifling as an illness when she, or someone very much like her, could easily have prevented it.”
Elizabeth’s eyes, glaring so malevolently at Jennings only seconds before, grew wide and petrified as she brought one hand to her mouth with a horrified gasp. “No,” she said on a breath, her hands trembling uncontrollably. “No.”
Jennings, however, neither confirmed, nor denied his implication, but continued to look Elizabeth straight in the eye. “As you are well aware, Miss Bennet, my master’s situation is extremely dire. Nothing Mr. Jones attempted has yielded any improvement. If Mr. Darcy’s fever doesn’t break soon, your apothecary bleeding him will be the least of our worries. To put it bluntly, my master will die.”
Elizabeth swallowed thickly and closed her eyes. “And what is it you will have me do, Mr. Jennings?” she whispered harshly. “My hands are tied just as tightly as yours! What can be done? I know very well there is nothing within reason—nothing within the laws of nature—that can be done!”
“With all due respect, Miss, desperate times call for desperate measures. I happen to have knowledge of several options before us that could be most effective in restoring Mr. Darcy to health.”
Elizabeth opened her eyes and Jennings indicated two chairs in front of the hearth. “Come,” he urged. “Allow me to tell you of my plan, but for my master’s sake we cannot tarry long. We must try the less drastic of the two measures first, before attempting the other, infinitely more…unalterable solution.”