Friday, July 25, 2014

A Bedlam Escapee - Complete, NB, PG

A Bedlam Escapee - Complete, NB, PG
Did you notice that I set up a guestbook? I tend to lose the comment pages in the blog, so hopefully, from now on, I can find your comments easier. Your encouragement is most welcomed. Here is part 2 of the NB, unbeta'd.

Part 2

“Finally you are awake!”
     Elizabeth stared at the handsome young girl sitting by her bed for a moment. She then scanned the room. “Good morning, Miss Darcy. Did I sleep for very long?”
    “It is almost time for lunch. So you still remember me?”
    Elizabeth sat up on the bed. “Yes, I do. I hope you do not find me fit for Bedlam.” She sighed.
    Miss Darcy’s face turned a shade of pink.
    “Ah, your brother or the good doctor did consider I could be a candidate for such an establishment?”
    “Oh no, Miss Bennam, you should not be over concern about what they think. I shall not let them send you away!”
    Elizabeth viewed the determined tilt of the young girl’s chin with interest. “Why is that so? Not that I am not grateful. For I do not think I shall behave as generously as you do if I am presented with such wild story as my own.”
    “May I call you Elizabeth?”
    “You can call me Georgie, short for Georgiana. And may I sit on the bed? It is so much more comfortable than the chair.”
    “Come, Georgie.”
    Elizabeth moved slightly to the right. Georgiana climbed onto the bed and sat by her side, not giving a care to the pretty day dress she was wearing.
    “Brother had a fall from the horse about three months ago, right after he took me out of the school. It really gave me a fright!”
    “I am sorry to hear about it. Has your brother much recovered?”
    “I thought he would die like mother and father, and left me all alone in the world.”
    “Oh! Georgie!” Elizabeth took Georgiana’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I am really sad that you lost your parents at such a young age. Did you miss them often?”
     Georgiana nodded. “It is funny that you are the first one to ask me about this.”
    “Is that so?”
    “I do not have a lot of friends.”
    “But you said you were in school. Did you not make any friends there?”
Georgiana shook her head. “Most of them are not very nice. They either envy or despise the Darcy names.”
    “That is a sad burden.”
    “It is true. Even the lady,” Georgiana hesitated. “A Miss O, for I shall not reveal her identity. You may meet her in the future. This lady, whom I have been urging my brother to take on as his wife, also only wants our wealth.”
    “If that is the case, why do you encourage your brother to consider the match?”
    “I was really really shaken. For nearly two weeks, Doctor Dickson was not hopeful, my cousin Richard and Uncle and Aunt Matlock thought my brother was in his deathbed. And then after brother became better, he did not take the doctor’s instruction to stay in bed well. He still had dizziness and headache from time to time. He would limp suddenly because of the pain in his back. And he would not allow me to take care of him. Said he is a grown man. Miss...O has visited me very often during brother’s illness. She said men would take more kindly to a wife taking care of them, instead of a younger sister. I do not want my brother to die, so I try to promote the match. Brother got very angry with me.”
    “Poor Georgie! You have been through quite a lot. Who is taking care of you?”
    “It is kind of you to say so, but I am a grown woman now. I do not need taken care of. And now that you are here, I can see how silly I have been to promote the match between Miss...O and brother.”
    “I am confused. What did my presence have to do with that?”
    “Brother said Miss O only cares about our wealth and not about him as a person. He said he will not discourage her friendship with me as her brother is his best friend. But he wants me to be on guard about her fake regards. I catch a glimpse of Miss O being mean to our servants. And I have caught the impatient countenance behind the mask when she talks to me like she is truly pretending to be my best friend. I am not a simpleton. But what am I to do? I do not want my brother to neglect his health and die on me. Now that I saw brother brought you back yesterday, I can see the genuine concern he had over you, the remorse he felt in injuring you and the sadness he displayed when you could not remember where you came from…”
     “Please Georgie, I do not think you should be thinking in this direction.”
     “No, Elizabeth, I am not trying to make a match of you with brother. I can see you are not feeling well either, or you may not recover from your memory loss and find your family. What I am saying is, brother deserves so much better than Miss O. He is the best brother any girl can want. When father died five years ago, I was only eleven years of age. My two aunts wanted me to live with them so brother could be free to live his gentleman life, carefree. But he refused. He said father made him and Richard, my guardian, father would not have wanted him to send me away. Brother felt this sadness and concerns all the time. I could see that in his eyes those days. But he would always try to cheer me up and play with me, even though heaps of servants asked him for directions and instructions in Pemberley and here. He shouldered all the responsibility, stayed with me most of the time when he could have gone away to enjoy his single and unattached life in London. Even when I went to school, he visited me often, said he missed me and wanted to make sure I felt happy in school.”
    “Mr. Darcy does sound like a wonderful brother.”
Georgiana nodded. “That is why I am thankful for your timely appearance, to make me see senses. For I would have bored brother into giving in. Then I shall be burden with a horrible sister in Miss O.”
     “Surely you jest! Miss O cannot be that bad.”
     Georgiana shuddered in exaggeration. “Brother taught me not to gossip and talk ill of others. So I shall not go into this. How about you tell me more about yourself, so I can help you start the search for your family?”
     Elizabeth thus told Georgiana what she could remember about herself. She had a good memory of her childhood, frolicking in the wood and groves with friends. Besides Jane, she had two younger sisters, Mary and Catherine. Her father was called Thomas, and she adored her uncle and aunt.  When it came to her mother, her mind turned blank. The two new friends could not take the search far though as Elizabeth could not remember any names of places.
     Despite Elizabeth's worries of not remembering more, she forged a steady friendship with Georgiana. Elizabeth was well read, intelligent and witty while the younger girl was a keen learner. As Elizabeth's stay in Darcy House stretched from days to weeks, the townhouse was filled with smile, laughter, music and good conversation.
    Darcy behaved awkwardly in front of Elizabeth at first. After apologizing to her for aggravating her injury, he usually stayed quiet and observed the guest's interaction with his sister. He initially did not find Elizabeth very pretty. But soon, he found her teasing smile and ease with Georgiana captivating. One moment, he decided that her form lacked elegance, nothing as compared to those of the handsome ladies in London. Another moment, he would find himself staring at her light and pleasing figure. He particularly found her distracting when she sang. His mind often wandered off as his eyes glued to her rosy cheeks, lovely lips and delightful bosom. He felt the full force of the emotion she displayed through her face and body.
    This evening was no exception.
    After Elizabeth completed the rendition of an Italian love song, Georgiana asked him a question. But his mind was still inhabited in the Italian paradise with Elizabeth and failed to answer his sister.
     “Should I summon Doctor Dickson?” Georgiana's cries startled Darcy.
     “Is Miss Bennam ill? Miss Bennam, would you like a glass of wine or water?”
     “I am very well, thank you.”
     “Brother, the doctor is for you!”
     “Why? I feel fine. I have no headache for some weeks now.”
     “But you did not hear me.”
     “Perhaps the fall from the horse has a delayed reaction on your brother, Georgiana. His hearing is affected.” Elizabeth's lips curled up teasingly, making Darcy's heart raced.
     “I can hear very clearly I have been teased.”
    “Hmm, Mr. Darcy's smile is bizarre. Georgiana, you must record all these strange reaction and report to Doctor Dickson.”
    “If I cannot ponder and smile at my leisure in my own home on a Sunday evening, Miss Bennam, what do you suggest me to do?”
    “I remember,” Elizabeth smiled. But she stopped suddenly. She panted and raised her fingers to rub her forehead. “I...remember...”
    On hearing the shortness of her breath, Darcy forgot about proprietary, rushed to her side and held her hand. “Miss Bennam. You look very ill. Should I call for Doctor Dickson immediately?”
Georgiana dashed to sit by Elizabeth's other side too. “Do you remember something?”
    “Georgiana, let us not rush her. She looks quite pale.”
    “I am...fine, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth drew in a deep breath. “I just...remember that I knew about you from Mr. Bingley.”
    “Bingley? Are you a friend of him?”
    Elizabeth frowned for a moment. “I do not know.”
    Darcy brushed his thumb along Elizabeth's palm. Georgiana tried to suppress her smile. She could see that her brother had grown very attracted to Elizabeth lately. He stared at Elizabeth a lot and listened to her witty conversation.  Recently, he no longer sat quietly to observe but enjoyed bantering with Elizabeth. Since Elizabeth was evidently a gentleman's daughter, Georgiana was confident that once Elizabeth regained her memory and that there was not a betroth at home, her brother would not hesitate to propose, fortune or no fortune. She was ecstatic that her brother held Elizabeth's hand and that Elizabeth seemed to welcome his touch as well.
    “Bingley is my best friend. Pray, tell me what you remember about him.” He urged softly, still not relinquish Elizabeth's hand.
    “He was teasing his sister, who has been waxing eloquence about your delightful Pemberley and library,” Elizabeth said, her face turned pink. “Mr. Bingley said that you are an... awful object at your own house, on a...Sunday evening, when you have nothing to do.”
     Darcy laughed out loud. “I must thank Bingley tomorrow, for sending you my way.”
    “Tomorrow?” Georgiana asked. “Are you going to visit Mr. Bingley at Netherfield to ask about Elizabeth?”
    “Netherfield?” Elizabeth gasped. She stood up abruptly and then swayed. Luckily Darcy was by her side. He prevented her fall, scooped her up and took her to the bedchamber immediately.
Elizabeth prevented Darcy from calling for the doctor, once she regained some colour on her bed.
    “I am really...fine, Mr. Darcy. I just have a slight headache. But I remember... everything now.” Her voice trembled.
     Darcy gazed at her and bid her continue with his eyes. Georgiana observed her brother. He forgot all about proprietary and did not think of leaving Elizabeth's chamber for a moment. Though he did not take Elizabeth's hand this time, now that she was lying on the bed. He sat on a chair, entirely close to the bed than necessary.
    Georgiana went to sit down by Elizabeth's side on the bed. “Do you want to tell your brother and I now? Or do you want to rest and tell us tomorrow?”
    “You and Mr. Darcy have been so good to me during the time I lost my memory. I should tell you immediately.”
    “But if you are unwell...” Darcy murmured.
    “I am Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, Hertfordshire. I was on my way to Meryton, via Mount Oakham when I injured myself.”
    “Hertfordshire, but that is where Netherfield is. Mr. Bingley leased the estate there.” Georgiana exclaimed.
    “Yes, my father's estate is about three miles from his. Jane, my sister, visited Miss Bingley and fell ill. I visited Jane then, and the Bingleys invited me to stay on to take care of Jane. That was when I heard the Bingleys talking about you, Mr. Darcy and your estate Pemberley.”
    Darcy nodded. She did not look like a fortune hunter, who remembered his grand estate in the time of her memory loss, just to ensnare him. But he had an uneasy feeling, from the guarded way Elizabeth was relating the story, he felt something was wrong with the Bingleys.
    “You mentioned you were angry with your father...”
    Elizabeth bit her lips. “Yes, our estate is entailed away to our cousin, Mr. Collins. A very foolish and self-important man, I must say. He is the parson of Lady Catherine de Bourgh...”
    “But she is our aunt, what a coincidence!” Georgiana cried out.
    “Ah, I have the misfortune of meeting this Mr. Collins,” Darcy shook his head. “Your description of him is most accurate, Miss Bennet.  You are unhappy about your father...”
    “For not protecting Jane.”
    “What happened?”
    “The second day I stayed in Netherfield, my mother came to visit us with Mr. Collins who was visiting Longbourn. It would appear Mr. Bingley favours my sister. My mother who has five daughters to marry...”
    “But you only have three sisters,” Georgiana interrupted.
    “I forgot my youngest sister, Lydia, during my memory loss.” Elizabeth blushed. “Lydia is not my favourite sister. She usually behaves in a silly manner and does not listen to Jane and my censure.”
    “Pray continue, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said.
    “My mother was giddy about the prospect of Mr. Bingley and Jane's engagement. She is not a sensible woman,” Elizabeth lowered her eyes in embarrassment. “she boasted as much when we were left alone with Mr. Bingley's sisters. Not only that, she said Mr. Collins will offer an olive branch and soon ask me for a hand in marriage.” She sighed.
    Darcy and Georgiana gasped out loud.
    “I could see the anger in Miss Bingley's eyes.”
    “She did not approve of your sister Jane?” Georgiana asked.
    Elizabeth shook her head. “We have neither fortune nor connection. Although Jane is the sweetest, kindest and prettiest of all, she does not win Miss Bingley's approval.”
    “But surely if Mr. Bingley loves your sister...” Georgiana's voice trailed off, on seeing her brother's frown.
   “I did not foresee Miss Bingley's determination in preventing the match,” Elizabeth said, her voice trembled again. “On the last day before we were due to leave Netherfield, Miss Bingley invited our mother, sisters and our cousin back to Netherfield for breakfast. She said to celebrate Jane's recovery and for the party to fetch us back to Longbourn afterwards.”
   “What happened?” Georgiana urged keenly.
   “Miss Bingley must have written the invitation for a much earlier time. She must have separated Mr. Collins from my sisters and mother, doused his clothes wet or something and steered him into a room to change.  It was where Jane stayed, and she was still abed.”
    “Oh my goodness!” Georgiana exclaimed while Darcy kept silent and his face was grim.
    “Mr. Collins was in a state of undress while Jane was still in bed in her nightdress. Amid Jane's scream, Miss Bingley, her brother, my mother and sisters, the servants and I appeared in the room, Jane's fate was sealed.”
    “But your mother favours Mr. Bingley as her son-in-law!” Georgiana said.
    Darcy shook his head. “Too many people have seen the impropriety.”
    “Yes, and father could do nothing but sanction the marriage.”
    “What did Miss Bennet say?”
    “Jane is resigned to her fate. She does not find Mr. Collins as unbearable as I do. I am just so angry for the injustice. Jane and I always want to marry for love. We often joke that we do not mind a penniless soldier, an impoverished pastor or a struggling artist.  We will work hard if we can find love in our marriage.  Why does the kindest and sweetest person in the world have to suffer in marriage, all because of the arrogance of a woman?  Are we to be treated lesser persons just because we do not have fortune or connection? Do our character and nature not count? Even if Miss Bingley has to protect her brother, she does not have to sacrifice Jane's future to do that.” Elizabeth cried out and broke down in tears.
    Darcy clenched his fist. He thought about if Elizabeth were being compromised, he would be furious for her fate. And all of Miss Bingley's doing. She was the worse fortune hunter in the whole of England. How could she so conveniently forget about her family fortune coming from trade and used such dirty tactics to ruin the life of a kind gentlewoman? What could be done? He wondered why Bingley still stayed in Netherfield. If Darcy was in love and his love was to marry another man, he would hide away to the other side of the world, nursing a broken heart. From Miss Bennet's horrible fate, Darcy's thoughts turned to Elizabeth. Seeing her tears and wretched feelings, he vowed to protect his Elizabeth and all those she loved! Suddenly he remembered something. He stood up abruptly and paced around the room, gathering his thoughts.
    “Miss Bennet,” Darcy said. “Perhaps we can help to extract your sister from such a cruel fate and reunite her with my friend.”
   “How?” Elizabeth raised her tear-stricken face and looked at Darcy eagerly. Darcy felt an enormous urge to embrace her and promise her everything. He would be her protector and partner for the rest of his life. He vowed that once the situation was resolved with her sister, he would ask her to marry him. Elizabeth continued: “I remember the wedding is set for 26th November. It is only one week away.”
   “I remember a letter from Bingley. He said a neighbour of his is sick, since her sister's disappearance. And that her betrothal seems to be delaying his return from Kent due to this disappearance. I felt strange that Bingley is so eager to talk about this neighbour at that time. I think that is why Bingley stays in Hertfordshire. He still holds out hope, as long as your sister is not yet married.”
   “Mr. Bingley really cares about Jane?”
   “I believe so.”
   “About your plan to resolve Jane's situation...”
   “What I am about to disclose may not be right for the sensibility of you, Georgiana...”
   “Brother! I am not a girl anymore, especially since your fall. I have grown up a lot. I shall not leave the room now when Elizabeth is in distress.”
    Darcy thought for a second and nodded. He then turned to Elizabeth. “I must make apologies first for causing the difficult situation your sister is facing.”
    “That is not possible. You have never set foot in Hertfordshire, and you do not even know Jane.”
    “You see...I urged Bingley to go away to Netherfield and tried to keep his sister there because I found Miss Bingley paying too much attention to Georgiana and myself after my fall.”
Elizabeth gasped.
    “In one of his letters, Bingley inadvertently disclosed that he used an incident happened in Ramsgate to 'threaten' his sister, to get her to go to Netherfield with him and stay there.”
    “What happened to Miss Bingley in Ramsgate?” Georgiana asked eagerly.
    “When Miss Bingley was sixteen, she was taken out from school and stayed with an older friend in Ramsgate one summer. She seemed to have fallen in love with a most unsuitable man. Luckily her mother happened to arrive early and nipped the romance.”
    Elizabeth and Georgiana looked at Darcy with wide eyes.
    “But if the romance was stopped, how could Mr. Bingley used it to 'threaten' Miss Bingley?”
    “That was exactly what I thought. And during my idle time in recovery from my fall, and it was a...Sunday evening,” Darcy's face turned pink. “I had nothing to do, I sent someone to check on the fact in Kent the next day.”
    Both ladies stared at Darcy with disbelief. “Would it not be easier just to ask Mr. Bingley?” Georgiana said.
    “I do not wish to force Charles to disclose anything he does not wish to, but I am just too curious...or too bored.”
    “What did you uncover?” Elizabeth probed.
    “Miss Bingley was about to elope with the man when her mother arrived, according to one of the servants in Ramsgate.”
    Elizabeth and Georgiana were lost for words for a moment.
    “But how can this help Jane?” Elizabeth said. “We cannot revert Jane's compromise by 'threatening' Miss Bingley about her indiscretion during her youth.”
     Darcy stated: “I am now quite convinced that the person Miss Bingley wanted to elope with all these years ago was Mr. Collins.”
    “What?!” Elizabeth and Georgian exclaimed.
    “My man reported that Miss Bingley was seen with a theology student quite often. They met in church.”
    “But what made you think he was Mr. Collins?” Elizabeth shook her head. “I cannot believe it.”
    “I met Mr. Collins just this Easter. He was newly appointed by my aunt. Lady Catherine told me about his background, growing up in Exmouth, studying in Canterbury, spent several years before to further his study in Ireland. His overseas trip was all thanks to some inheritance he had received from another uncle in Ramsgate.”
    “But there is no other relative in our family, and none hail from Ramsgate.” Elizabeth murmured. “Unless Mr. Collins referred to his maternal side.”
    “At the time, I thought it was quite convenient for Mr. Collins to have an uncle who gave him an inheritance to advance in church and another uncle to leave him an estate. But when you talked about the entail, marrying for love, even to an impoverished pastor and how Miss Bingley got angry when your mother talked about Mr. Collins would offer for you. I joined the dot together.”
    “You think...Miss Bingley was angry about this, not about her brother and Jane? But if she still has feelings for Mr. Collins, what does she hope to achieve by compromising him with Jane?”
     “I think the 'inheritance' Mr. Collins received was from Miss Bingley's mother.”
     “He was paid off to leave young Miss Bingley?”
    “I believe so.”
    “Miss Bingley was angry with Mr. Collins, for accepting the money and leaving her? But why did she stage the compromise of Jane?”
    “I believe Miss Bingley separated Mr. Collins from the Longbourn party...for her own sake.”
    “You mean...Miss Bingley and Mr. Collins...that was why he was most improperly...attired...”
Darcy nodded. “He could have wandered off to the wrong room...”
    “It is impossible,” Elizabeth murmured. “Too much coincidence. Too fanciful. But if that is the case, what can Jane do now?”
    “I have influence in the Church. I can force him to resign and leave, for his indiscreet affairs with Miss Bingley. Then Bingley must save Miss Bennet's reputation by marrying her quickly. There may still be, but after some time, people will forget about the incident that morning in Netherfield. But when Bingley moves to Derbyshire to be near, I meant. He always talks about buying an estate in Derbyshire, the talk will be forgotten.”
    Elizabeth and Darcy's face turned scarlet. They gazed at each other with a passionate silent emotion.
    Georgiana was glad of their mutual attachment, but she was an impatient young woman. “Brother, quick! We need to confirm Mr. Collins and Miss Bingley.”
    “True! I will summon my man. He told me the maid from Ramsgate who had talked to him has recently moved to London to find work.”
     Soon after questioning the maid, Darcy bound for Kent while he sent Georgiana to accompany Elizabeth back to Hertfordshire.
     Before they parted company, Darcy pulled Elizabeth aside in the front parlour. “Miss Bennet, although we have known each other for a very short time and under uncertain circumstances, I have come to admire and love you very much. You are witty, handsome and caring. The best woman I have ever known. Would you do me the greatest honour and consent to be my wife?”
     “Are you sure this is what you want, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth's bright eyes pierced his soul. “I have no fortune and connection. My mother and younger sisters are quite silly. I have an uncle in trade, and I am very impertinent.”
     “I care none of those, except for your heart.” He said tenderly.
     “My heart...has been stolen by a tall, handsome gentleman.” She replied softly. “who knocked me down in a park and thought I was an escapee from Bedlam.”
     Darcy grasped her hand and raised it up for a kiss. “Impertinent woman! Is that the only answer I shall get, by requesting your hand so seriously and respectfully?”
She smiled and stood on tiptoes to whisper to his ear. “I love you very much, dearest and wonderful Fitzwilliam. It is a definite yes.” With that last word, she bit his earlobe gently and turned to dash out of the door.
    Darcy stood there with heart pumping, body flushed with heat and breath shortened. He spent the journey to Kent and most of the months until his marriage to Elizabeth daydreaming about her bites.
     What happened to the other couples?
     From Darcy's investigation and confrontation in Kent, he discovered that Mr. Collins had in fact eloped with Miss Bingley to Scotland before her mother could interfere. Mrs. Bingley paid him to disappear from England forever. But Collins returned this year. He was biding his time, wanting to claim back Miss Bingley, who was still legally married to him. Mr. Collins never talked of an olive branch, of marrying one of the Bennet sisters. That was only Mrs. Bennet's imagination. Mrs. Bennet's talk led to Miss Bingley's anger. Miss Bingley sent for Mr. Collins early that fateful morning to discuss. But Mr. Collins hoped for a warm reunion with his wife, but he had wandered off to the wrong guest chamber in Netherfield.
     Jane and Bingley married quickly after Collins resigned from the church and left with Miss Bingley to Ireland. Mrs. Collins's marriage was not a happy one. She soon got tired of Ireland's savage community. They returned to London after a few months and lived far beyond their means. While Mr. Bennet remained healthy, the fortune of the Collins dwindled rapidly. The Collins constantly argued about money.  One day they bashed each other's head so badly that both of them had to be committed to Bedlam.
      It was sad for Bingley to see his sister with such a fate. But his loving wife helped him through the ordeal. The Bingleys moved to Derbyshire and lived within 10 miles of Pemberley. They lived happily afterwards.
     And Darcy was not disappointed by Elizabeth's bites. She loved to bestow them all over his body, especially on Sunday evening when they had nothing better to do.

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