Hello, AuAus! It’s time for Part Nine of my very short supernatural novella, Darkness Falls Upon Pemberley. I hope you’ll enjoy it, even though it’s several hundred words longer than the previous chapters. (Do we really mind that, though? I know Monica P. certainly doesn’t! Cheers, Monica!)
The links to previous chapters are listed below, in case you missed them. I’ll be back again on Wednesday (my official blogging day) with the long awaited conclusion. Until then, happy reading, and many, many thanks!
Pemberley, Derbyshire, two months later…
For dear to me you have become. Pray forgive my forwardness in writing to you, but time is of the essence and I must speak to you by such means are within my reach. Would that our situation was not so hopeless—that our every circumstance was fated for pleasure and promise, rather than disappointment and despair—but I fear nothing can be so simple where you and I are concerned, and so it is with a heavy heart that I must take matters into my own hands, lest I do something truly unforgivable.
At my father’s behest, I am quitting Hertfordshire to stay with my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, who have long been particular favourites of mine and Jane’s, perhaps even more so within the last three years. Please do not attempt to follow me there, but recall instead the many hours we have spent together as I will—fondly, and with the very deepest affection. Though we have known one another but a few precious months, your friendship has been the most important of my life. I hope with all my heart I will always have it, as you shall have mine, and more.
May God bless you and keep you, and grant you nothing but happiness. Be assured, dear sir, I will remain…
Yours, most faithfully,
With a long exhalation Darcy laid Elizabeth’s letter upon his desk and cradled his head in his hands. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d read it; or the tenth, or the five-and-tenth. For months he’d scrutinized the elegant slant of her handwriting and endeavoured to discern some deeper meaning within her words; some clue as to what his course of action ought to be. But each time he came up empty, and his questions remained unanswered.
She’d asked him not to follow her, so why had Elizabeth mentioned the name of her relations, as well as her destination? Was it merely so he wouldn’t worry about her? Or did she intend something more? For the life of him, Darcy had no idea. He knew only that he missed her beyond reason; almost beyond his sanity.
With a groan, he gripped his hair tightly with his fists. How many times in the past few months had he considered calling for his carriage and setting off for London, but saddled his fastest horse instead and rode him hard—perhaps even recklessly—until man and beast were both ready to drop? How many evenings had he drunk himself into a stupor, pining for her touch in the middle of the night, her musical laughter during the day, and her incomparable presence in general? Too many to count, he realized.
The ache in his chest was almost unbearable tonight. He exhaled again, raggedly, and clenched his jaw until his temples throbbed.
“Come now, Cousin,” a familiar voice chided from the doorway. “Nothing can be as bad as your appearance implies.”
Darcy raised his head with a start. Colonel Fitzwilliam was leaning against the door jamb, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I thought you and Georgiana were…out,” Darcy rasped, averting his eyes as he attempted to assume some small semblance of composure, however impossible a feat it seemed at the moment.
“We went hunting earlier,” the colonel said pleasantly, “without your beloved dogs, as you requested; but Georgiana was impatient to return, and so here I am.”
“Good.” Darcy raked his fingers through his hair and waved his hand absently toward the sideboard. “I’d offer you some brandy, Richard, but I suppose that would be pointless.”
The colonel chuckled. “Entirely, though I can’t say I don’t miss the camaraderie attached to it. It’s true my tastes have…shifted, but that’s neither here nor there.” He patted his waistcoat pocket, where Darcy knew he carried a flask. “I’m always well stocked. No need to concern yourself with me.”
Darcy tried to repress his grimace and failed. “Is that so?”
“Of course.” Fitzwilliam’s demeanour turned serious as he closed the door to Darcy’s study with a soft click and joined his cousin at his desk. “I would never do anything to jeopardize anyone here at Pemberley,” he said sincerely, claiming the chair opposite Darcy, “or any other person for that matter. It is why Georgiana and I hunt game rather than…well, other fare. If you’d prefer I decamp, I’ll do so immediately, but—”
“No,” Darcy muttered, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “No. I’m glad to have you here, Richard. You’ve been a world of comfort to Georgiana, and to me as well. Frankly, I wouldn’t know what to do with her if you were to go away now, and, considering the circumstances, it’s the very least I can do for you. If you hadn’t been here last autumn when I was away, God knows what would have happened to her, or to the staff.” He pursed his lips and shook his head angrily. “I owe you a debt I will never be able to repay.”
The morning after Darcy’s fever broke, Elizabeth’s father came to Netherfield to collect her. In her stead, he deposited her sister Mary. According to Bingley, Jane requested Elizabeth be allowed to remain with her, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Mr. Bennet refused. Several days later, it was Jane and not Elizabeth who quietly slipped her sister’s letter into Darcy’s hand.
After reading Elizabeth’s words and coming to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t be accessible to him in Hertfordshire for an undisclosed amount of time, there was little holding Pemberley’s master to that area of the country. Though he entertained thoughts of going to London and taking up residence there, once Mr. Jones pronounced him recovered enough to travel, Darcy departed for Pemberley instead. He’d been gone from his estate long enough; not to mention his impatience to see his sister, rather than read about her well-being in letters from his cousin, was considerable.
Darcy’s homecoming was hardly what he’d anticipated, however. He’d arrived at Pemberley after travelling for three arduous days just as night fell. The torches that lined the long drive burned brightly in welcome, a familiar sight that made the heaviness of his heart a little lighter, as did the figure of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who threw open the door with a wide grin the moment Darcy ascended the front steps. They exchanged pleasantries and, though Darcy desired to see Georgiana directly, he obliged Richard by joining him for a drink in his private sitting room instead, where the colonel promptly poured Darcy a healthy glass of brandy, and none for himself.
It was then that Darcy made several observations, the first being his cousin’s complexion. For an athletic officer in Her Majesty’s army well-known to spend far more time out-of-doors than in, Richard appeared exceptionally pale, even in the dimly lit interior. Certainly, he hadn’t spent the last several months at Pemberley lounging about indoors? Darcy took a fortifying drink and proceeded to tease him about it, which led to a second and third observation: Richard’s uncharacteristic seriousness, and a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
In that moment Darcy feared something terrible had happened, either to or concerning Georgiana; but before he could form the words, something else caught his eye, the very possibility of which chilled him to the bone. The proof was there, however, staring him in the eye, and Darcy’s glass slipped from his hand and shattered upon the hearth. The colonel cringed, but held his cousin’s horrified gaze with a slightly sheepish expression. Instead of a brilliant, piercing blue, Richard’s eyes were now dark like Georgiana’s; like Elizabeth’s; like Mr. Bennet’s.
“It’s not your fault,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said as Darcy shuddered, attempting to shake off the unpleasantness and discomfort that particular memory never failed to invoke. “When you left for Hertfordshire—at your sister’s urging, I might add—we had no idea she was unstable. She was adjusting far better than either of us had expected and hadn’t shown any outward behavior that indicated we ought to be concerned. Since then, both of us have learned to read her better. As for me, I’m perfectly well.”
“Perfectly well,” Darcy hissed. “She was a fifteen-year-old girl whose judgment was anything but sound before she became a vampire, Richard. I never should have left you and my staff alone with her!”
“And I fail to see how things would have been any better had you actually been here. She probably would have done the same to you, Cousin.”
“Would to God that she did, then!” he hollered, his voice choked with emotion.
The colonel stared at him long and hard. There were no secrets between them. Richard knew all about Elizabeth and Darcy’s obsession with her, as well as her refusal to be with him and why. “Darcy,” he said quietly, “you know you are not without options.”
Darcy clenched his jaw and shook his head, his expression tortured. “Becoming what she is…it’s not an option, Richard; not so long as I am healthy and still relatively sane.” He laughed humourlessly.
“You consider yourself healthy, do you? I beg to differ. You hardly sleep at night, and of late I’ve seen you consume more brandy than you have food. That is anything but healthy. If you continue in this vein you will drive yourself to an early grave. Surely, Miss Bennet did not risk her reputation to save your life only to have you slowly kill yourself. She would not want this for you.”
Darcy pounded his fist upon his desk. “She wants nothing of me!” he growled. “Nothing!”
“That remains to be seen. In the meantime, tell me what is it you want, Darcy, for you cannot continue to carry on like you have been. You do yourself great harm.”
“Her,” he breathed, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Just her. Nothing more, nothing less, but it is hopeless. So long as I am human she will never consent to have me.”
“Yet she loves you?”
Darcy exhaled raggedly. “So she says.”
“And you will not consider…changing. Not even for her?”
Darcy closed his eyes, his chest tight as he resolutely shook his head. “Not so long as I am in health,” he rasped. “I have too many responsibilities; too many people who depend upon me for their livelihood. I could not bear to put them at such a risk.”
“But if you were not in health…” Fitzwilliam prompted.
Darcy swallowed thickly. “If there was no other option…” he began hoarsely, “if there was no hope, then I suppose it would be a different matter.”
Fitzwilliam raised one brow. “You would consent, then? To become what she is?”
“If I could be with Elizabeth—always—then yes, I would consent.”