Happy Halloween, AuAus! I entered this installment into the posting queue on Sunday, just in case Hurricane Sandy wiped out every power line in the state of Connecticut, making it impossible for me to get this to you on time.
I hope you’ll enjoy learning a little more about Elizabeth and her father, and how she came to be a vampire.
In case you’re new to this story and would like to catch up:
“What of your mother and sisters?” Darcy inquired. He’d always thought Elizabeth resembled her father while her sisters favoured their mother, but it was now evident they had more in common than mere physical appearance.
Elizabeth shook her head. “They are human, though Jane knows precisely what we are and why. She has kept our secret, and always shall; but I fear it’s been very hard on her. She worries for us constantly, as you must also worry for your sister.”
“Of course,” he agreed absently, running the back of his hand over his mouth, deep in thought. While he could relate to Mr. Bennet’s desire—and even his desperation—to provide for his family using whatever means were within his grasp, after seeing Georgiana through her transformation and the harried, emotional months that followed, the master of Pemberley disagreed with the elder man’s solution, especially when Mr. Bennet’s decision ultimately sentenced Elizabeth, a favourite child, to such a difficult and dangerous existence.
“Your father made a conscious choice, did he not, to become what he is?” he asked her.
“He did. Though I’ve often questioned his sanity, I’ve never questioned his devotion. He cares for us, and paid the ultimate price in order to assure our future at Longbourn.”
Darcy resisted the urge to snort derisively. In his opinion, Mr. Bennet would have done far better to save and invest his money so his wife could purchase another home after his demise, or grow their daughters’ meager dowries, but that was a moot point at this juncture. The damage done was tragic and irreversible for all parties, whether some were aware of the sacrifices made or not.
The master of Pemberley struggled to keep his temper in check and exhaled roughly. “Your father had no right to contemplate such an act of selfish defiance, never mind commit one. He’d no right to condemn you to a fate no sane person would ever choose for herself. Forgive me, but if he desired a companion he ought to have bestowed such an honour upon your mother, yet he did not. He forced it upon you instead.”
To his surprise, a wry smile tugged at her lips as she regarded him through her lashes. “You’ve been in company with my mother on many occasions, sir. As dear as she is to me, the soul of discretion she is not; nor does she practice economy, or exercise restraint of any kind. I fear she’d make a poor vampire.”
“You can joke about such a thing?” he asked incredulously.
“I fear I must,” was her matter-of-fact reply, “or else the regret—the knowledge that I’ll never have a husband, or children—would consume me. I believe you are well enough acquainted with me, sir, to know I wasn’t formed for melancholy. I’ve simply chosen to carry on as though nothing has changed. Trust me when I say it’s better this way.”
Darcy pursed his lips, furious that she’d had so much taken from her, and all because her father was both foolhardy and self-serving enough to devise and carry out such a damning subterfuge!
As though she’d sensed the bent of his thoughts, Elizabeth placed her hand upon his arm and shook her head. “My father may have chosen this path for himself, but he certainly didn’t choose to make me his image on a whim. You must believe me when I tell you it was out of necessity; nothing more, nothing less.”
“There can be no necessity so urgent as to sentence one’s own child to such a fate,” he replied harshly. “No truly loving parent would ever resort to such an option.”
“Mr. Darcy, tell me you would simply do nothing if your daughter lay dying. Tell me, if you had the means to save her—the one you cherished most in the world—you would choose differently. After being thrown from my horse three years ago, my injuries were so severe there was no hope for recovery. I was also in great pain, which in turn pained my family.”
For a long moment he regarded her in silence, his eyes taking in every detail of her person, searching for any sign of former injury; but, as with Georgiana, he could see no blemish; could detect no flaw. He lowered his eyes. “Would you have returned the favour last night? Would you have acted similarly yourself if the chill of your body failed to drive the fever from my own?”
Elizabeth swallowed thickly and turned aside her head. “We were not speaking of you and I, but of my father and myself.”
“That’s true,” he conceded, “but you must understand—you must know it’s you who I’ve come to cherish more than any other, yet I cannot imagine making the same choice in such a case without first obtaining your consent.”
“Then it appears we are of one mind,” she responded heatedly, “but know this, sir: if faced with the prospect of your imminent death—of poor Miss Darcy being left entirely alone in the world to shift for herself—I would have considered it, and perhaps even acted upon it, but only—and I mean only—as a last resort. This is not an easy existence, Mr. Darcy, as you and your sister are well aware. Unless your need was indeed most dire, I’d never want you to know it. Never.”
He shook his head emphatically. “But I do know it!” he cried. “I know it through Georgiana, and now through you. I daresay I always shall, so there’s little point in protecting me. It’s far too late for that, my dear.
“How good you will be for her, Elizabeth! Your liveliness and generous spirit will buoy Georgiana. With you as her example, she’ll learn to overcome the hand she’s been dealt; she’ll learn to embrace life and live to her fullest potential.” He brought her hands to his lips and kissed them reverently, then settled them upon his chest, over his beating heart. “She will love you as I do,” he said fervently, “at once and with everything she is.”
Slowly, and with great care, Elizabeth pulled her hands from his grasp and rose from the bed. “I would be honoured to be her friend, sir, as I am honoured to be yours,” she said softly, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and averting her eyes, “but to more than that I cannot consent.”
Darcy felt the colour drain from his face. “I believe we are more than mere friends, Elizabeth,” he told her, his voice thick with emotion. “After all that’s come to pass between us; after all we’ve shared you cannot possibly believe otherwise yourself. You can be in no doubt of my intentions toward you—of the ardency of my admiration. I wish to court you; to worship and love you in every respect; to live with you always, at Pemberley as husband and wife.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes as though pained. “As flattered and moved as I am by your declaration, Mr. Darcy, and despite the fervency of my own feelings regarding the matter, I must ask you to never speak of such things again. You must surely know, dear sir, no matter how much I desire it, that I can never consent to be your wife.”