Dear readers, my Muse has deserted me. There is no update for Darcy's Chilling Proposal yet. But I try to get back into writing by posting this short NB which I haven't posted here before. It's unbeta'd. Happy reading! Part 2 will be up tomorrow. If you have been to Austen Underground, you would have read it.
A Bedlam Escapee - Part 1
Mr. Darcy marched out of Darcy House towards Hyde Park direction in quick strides, ignoring the following footman sent by Georgiana. He was frustrated by his sister’s ridiculous suggestion, begging him to marry Caroline Bingley so the fawning woman could take care of his failing health. As if he needed taking care of! He was no invalid. He only bumped his head when he fell from the horse three months ago.
A few moments after he walked into a quiet corner of Hyde Park, a young woman approached him. The setting sun glowed on her dark hair and painted her cheeks into lovely rosy complexion.
“Excuse me, Sir. Can you point me to the direction of…Mr. Darcy’s residence? The coachman assured me it is quite near here.”
Surprised, Darcy stared at the woman he did not know. “Why?” The word came out harsher than he would have liked. The woman winched and took a step back.
“I need to…see Mr. Darcy.” She murmured in a low voice.
“Why?” With a deep scowl, Darcy repeated the question, this time in a more controlled manner.
“I have a matter that cannot be…delayed to discuss with Mr. Darcy.” Her face turned red, and a cloud of uncertainty filled her fine eyes. “It seems you do not know the way. Sorry for interrupting your walk.” She curtseyed and turned to leave.
“Are you an acquaintance of Mr. Darcy?”
She stopped. “I cannot…divulge that.”
Darcy drew in a deep breath, to suppress his anger. “What is your name?”
She bit her lips.
“Surely you do not expect me to direct you to the residence of an honorable man without asking more detail.”
“Oh, so you know Mr. Darcy!”
“And he is an honorable man?”
Darcy stared at the woman. “What is your name?”
“Miss Elizabeth…Ben..hmm,” The woman raised her hand to rub her temple.
“Miss Bennam, I do not know what you are getting at, but I do not know you.”
Her mouth gaped for a second as if to protest but then thought of something else. Her eyes rounded as she said, “You are Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy turned to leave, but she grabbed his arm. He shivered, a sense of shrilling sensation cruised through his body, jotted by her touch. But he turned a cold stare at her.
She withdrew her hand immediately. “Please, sir, I can explain.”
He wanted to walk away, but something in her eyes made him stop.
“I suffered a fall during a walk,” she swallowed. “and cannot remember where I live, except your name, Pemberley and your…delightful library.”
Anger brew in Darcy’s chest. How could this young woman who looked innocent and fetching, invented such a silly scheme to try to make his acquaintance! Perhaps she was an escapee from the bedlam. He turned to walk away again, but the woman grasped his arm. With some strength not too gentle, he struggled to free his arms of her hand and pushed her away. She winched as the back of her head hit the tree nearby. She swayed. Her knee buckled and she slid down the ground, like a lump by the tree.
Darcy swore and was sure she pretended to swoon. But after two steps away from the woman, he glanced back, and she was still lying there motionless, leaning on the tree. He darted to her side. “Miss Bennam!”
Her eyes remained closed and did not flutter. Darcy touched her shoulders and shook her lightly, but she lay limp. With more force, he jolted her again. Her head lolled forward.
Darcy gasped on seeing blood sipping from the back of her head. Drawing in a deep breath, he took off his greatcoat, wrapped it around her and picked her up.
“Send for the doctor!” He called out to the footman who was a few steps away and carried the young woman to Darcy House quickly.
Darcy took a breath of relief when he put the woman down in one of his guest chambers. He called for warm water and some clothes to clean up the wound on the lady’s head, while he waited for the doctor to arrive.
“Brother, are you hurt?” Georgiana rushed into the room with worrying words. “I heard the doctor is being sent for.”
“No, Miss Bennam hurt her head in the park.”
He shook his head, signaling for Georgiana to hold off her questions until he tended to the patient. Once he had done so and instructed the maid to watch over Elizabeth, he took his sister to a private room.
“What is the matter, Fitzwilliam? And who is this Miss Bennam?”
Darcy brushed his hand over his hair and shrugged his shoulders. “I do not know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I met the lady in Hyde Park. She asked me the direction to here.”
“Here? Did you know her?”
“Why does she want to come to Darcy House?”
“She said she wanted to see me.”
Georgiana scowled. “But you do not know her. How did she come to be injured?”
Darcy felt the heat on his face. “I pushed her away, and she hit her head on the tree.”
She gasped. “Brother! What did she do, to make you do so?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to next. “She said she had suffered a fall during a walk and cannot remember where she lives, except my name, Pemberley and my library.”
“That is absurd!”
“My thoughts indeed.”
“But why did you push her away?”
“She grabbed my arm, twice,” Darcy said. “I was afraid she wanted to compromise me, in the park.”
“But you are a grown man, almost a head taller than she!”
The heat on his face turned up a notch. He should not have let his sister’s overprotective behaviour, and the ridiculous suggestion about Miss Bingley got the better of him. He over-reacted when Miss Bennam had grabbed his arm. He had no words to retort.
“What are we going to tell the doctor?” Georgiana’s words startled him.
“The truth. Or Doctor Dickson cannot give Miss Bennam the right treatment.”
Georgiana nodded. The sibling returned to the guest room and dismissed the maid when the doctor arrived.
“What can you tell me about the patient?” The doctor glanced from the brother to sister with interest. He was Darcy’s family doctor since they were babies. He had never seen them so uncomfortable in his presence.
After Darcy explained the circumstances, in more detail, the doctor understood why they attended to the patient themselves. “Miss Bennam has not woken up since she knocked her head on the tree?”
Darcy shook his head.
The doctor examined Elizabeth. “She needs some stitches. There was a long gush here.”
Darcy turned pale and remorseful.
The doctor added, “It is unlikely that your push has caused it, as I can see a new lump above it. The gush probably gapes open when she hit the tree.”
“It is still my fault. I am sorry.” Darcy said in a low voice, to no one in particular, while Georgiana stood by the bed to assist the doctor.
Once the stitching and the bandage were done, the doctor tried to wake Elizabeth with some smelling salt. After a few attempts, she stuttered and coughed. Georgiana sat on the bed and held her, preventing her from moving violently to hurt herself.
When Elizabeth finally opened her eyes, the doctor said, “I am Doctor Dickson. How are you feeling, Miss?”
Elizabeth winched. “It hurts.” Darcy stared at her fine eyes. They were in dark green, resembling the lush foliage of a mysterious forest. They were expressive, conveying her pain right to Darcy’s heart. His remorse increased, without even needing her to prove her sanity.
“That is understandable,” the elderly doctor said softly. “your head suffers two traumas.”
“Two?” she looked from the doctor, the other persons in the room to the interior of the chamber. “Where am I?”
“Oh, I finally found it!”
“Why are you in search of Darcy House?” Doctor Dickson said.
Elizabeth darted her eyes to Georgiana, then to Darcy by the door. “I cannot divulge…” She stopped mid-sentence and sighed. “In fact, I do not know.”
“Tell me what you know.” The doctor said kindly.
Her eyes turned back to Darcy again. He was not sure if the depth of her eyes spoke of confusion, fear or anger? “Forget about Mr. Darcy and his sister.” The doctor said.
“Oh, he is Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth exclaimed. Darcy could see her eyes sparkled, with excitement. But then they dimmed almost immediately.
The doctor nodded. “Just tell me what you remember.”
She licked her lip and said in a pleasant soft voice. Her eyes darted toward the windows. “I remember…running up the hill…to Mount Oak..hmm. Then I tripped on some rocks and rolled down a slope. When I woke up, I could not remember where I live or where I came from. I roamed for a while and walked again. I met a farmer, and he asked me if I was injured. I did not feel any pain on my body except a headache. He kindly agreed to take me to the nearest town and dropped me by an inn. It was a coaching inn. I still could not remember where I live, except about a Mr. Darcy, Pemberley, and his…delightful library. The innkeeper asked me if I wanted to stay the night. I have my reticule with me, but I am afraid I may not have enough money to last long. When a coach pulled in for a change of horses, I bought a ticket to London. I thought…with Mr. Darcy always buying books…his Pemberley must be a large house…in London.”
Darcy stared at the woman with wide eyes. Was she really from Bedlam? Or was her story real? She could make a decision about not staying in an inn, bought a coach ticket to London instead and yet she could not remember where she came from. And she thought Pemberley was in London. Where did she hear about his estate?
“What did you do when you arrive in London?” The doctor continued to probe.
“I enquire at the coaching station, about how much it cost to hire a hackney to Mr. Darcy’s residence. I was relieved that there was really a Mr. Darcy in London, for I do not wish to stay a night alone in London. The cost seems expensive; thus I asked for the direction and walk. And then I met…,” she looked to Darcy with a frown. “…Mr. Darcy, after I walked the park for some time.”
Did she not see the danger she put herself in? Coming to London without knowing her destination? Walking across the park near sunset when it was quiet and getting dark?
“Can you remember what happened after you met Mr. Darcy?” The doctor continued. Darcy raised his hand to pull at the ever-tightening neckcloth.
Elizabeth nodded and repeated the incident to the doctor, but saying Mr. Darcy knocking her aside accidentally. Darcy did not know if he should thank her for being kind in protecting his boorish behaviour in front of the doctor and his sister.
“Would you give me permission to check on your reticule?” The doctor asked.
She nodded. “You want to see if there is any clue about who I am? I have done that already, but there is only one note from Jane and a handkerchief with the initials EB, besides the money.”
“Who is Jane?”
Elizabeth’s frown deepened for a moment. “My sister. Yes, Jane is my sister. She is delightful and kind, like an angel.”
“May I?” The doctor read the letter and then asked for permission to read it out to the Darcys. She nodded.
"MY DEAREST LIZZY,--
"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They also insist on my seeing Mr. Jones--therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me--and, excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.--Yours, etc."
“Do you know who her kind friends are?” Darcy asked.
Elizabeth thought for a few moments and shook her head.
Georgiana also jumped in. “Were you visiting Miss Jane? When you ran up Mount Oakham?”
Elizabeth scowled for a few moments. “No, Jane is back at home. I am sure. She is going to marry, soon. I think I was angry when I ran to Mount Oak…hmm.”
“Who is Miss Jane going to marry?” Georgiana continued.
Another minute past. Elizabeth shook her head. “I cannot remember.”
Darcy added, “Who were you angry with?”
“Hmm…Mr…Collins…no, Papa. I was angry with Papa and Miss...I cannot remember.”
“Why are you angry with your father? Who is the other person you are angry with?” Doctor Dickson joined in.
She shook her head, winced, shut her eyes and bit her lip.
“You are in pain. We shall leave the questions until later,” the doctor stated. “Here is some sleeping draught to help you with it.”
Elizabeth opened her eyes and swallowed the medicine from the doctor willingly. Darcy stared at her fine eyes, filled with frustration and confusion.
When the patient drifted off to sleep, the three retreated to Darcy’s study.
“What do you think, Doctor?” Darcy asked.
“She suffered a concussion. The memory loss may be short term.”
“You believe she will recover to remember where she comes from?”
“There is a high likelihood, as she remembers her sister, father and this Mr. Collins already. Did you know any of them, Darcy?”
“Yes, she heard about you, Pemberley and your library. Perhaps she knew them from her sister, father or this Collins.”
Darcy racked his brain for a few minutes. “I truly cannot see the connections of a Miss Jane Bennam and Mr. Collins I know about. What if she did not regain her memory? She seems to be quite sensible, with regards to other things. Could she have invented the whole thing?”
The doctor thought for a minute. “I have seen such cases before. The patients shied away from some traumatic experience, and that memory just would not return. They have their sense and wit with them, otherwise.”
“Poor Miss Bennam!” Georgiana exclaimed.
“What can we do, in such a case?” Darcy murmured.
The doctor raised his eyebrows. “Would you like to send her to a bedlam, since you do not know her at all?”
“No!” Georgiana cried out.
“No!” Darcy echoed. “Miss Bennam seems to be a gentleman’s daughter, judging by her clothes. I hate to commit her to a bedlam, without trying to find her family, if she is telling the truth. And my action contributed further to her injury. I feel…responsible for her welfare.”
“I believe her,” Georgiana said. “She does not look like someone who can make up of such fanciful story.”
“Me too,” Dr. Dickson added. “As you said, you contributed to her injury, Darcy. It is right that you take care of her.”
“Yes, brother!” Georgiana agreed with a smile. Her eyes brightened and made Darcy suspicious of what his sister was thinking. “You need to take care of Elizabeth, at least for a little while.”
Darcy could not figure out what Georgiana was about right this moment, he was too full of the stranger sleeping in the guest chamber. Elizabeth showed sense, determination and wit, despite the strange circumstances she found herself in. He could not get her beautiful eyes from his thought. He nodded absently to his sister, bid the doctor goodbye and stalked out of the study, to his delightful library.
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