I have no news to report here. Our country is still in uproar, so dazed with rotten politics that nothing else happens. Brazil is a country in suspension.
At least I've got this Darcy and Lizzy to take me along their dreamily love affair..
A ball, how can this be any lovelier?
Love in acts
ECLIPSE OF THE HEART
angst, rated M, short, P&P, Alternate Universe
Part 2 -
amiss with you, ma-’ Ben cleared his throat. ‘My Lizzy?’
‘Something amiss with you, ma-’ Ben cleared his throat. ‘My Lizzy?’
She sucked in a breath and lowered her mask holding the stick a lot more firmly than necessary. ‘No. Why you say that?’
‘I was talking about Clarence for the last ten minutes and you didn’t answer.’
‘I beg your pardon, Lesley. I didn’t- sorry.’ She raised a hand to him. ‘Sorry, again.’
‘You seem distracted, Lizzy. This is not like you.’ He twisted his nose as he did as a child when his ‘favorite sister’ denied him a second slice of pie. ‘Secrets. I hate when you keep secrets from me.’
‘There are things a lady cannot tell a gentleman, Lesl- Ben. Ben.’
‘Where the deuce have you found this lame excuse, Lizzy? You are no lady when it comes to-’ Wellesley Bennett stopped as he heard a thundering harrumph behind him and turned, his black cape swiveling around him. For a moment he felt he was not one and twenty but a small boy of seven, spooked out of his senses by a suitor of his ‘adored sister’.
‘Good evening, Bennett.’ The huge man in a black cloak over his pristine night attire bowed stiffly and the demi beak mask revealed a small smile towards Elizabeth. ‘Miss Bennett.’ He asked for her hand to bow over it, but the enormous black beak prohibited him of offering a kiss.
Ben frowned and looked intently at the gentleman, at least one and a half inches taller than him. ‘Mr.…? Darcy?’
The man nodded.
‘Ah!’ He sighed. ‘For a moment I thought you were a real plague doctor.’ Elizabeth chuckled and raised her mask to her eyes. ‘Have you just arrived? I can’t keep my mask in my face for more than four minutes at a time.’ Ben raised his Casanova demi mask attached to a black hat.
‘Forgive my baby brother, Mr. Darcy. He lacks gentlemanliness when it comes to patience.’
Ben wanted to retort, but Darcy spoke first. ‘Also in manner of speaking to his sister.’
Both Bennetts pressed their eyes to him and Darcy felt like they were not only similar, but eyes made out of the same cast.
‘My brother was being an impertinent child, Mr. Darcy. Don’t feel it concerns you in any way, sir.’
Darcy was surprised by her coming to her brother’s rescue so ferociously, like a tigress protecting her cub. He nodded and with dismay realized he had started off in the wrong again. He was of the intention of making things right but the Earl of Brakenbury arrived close and got her by the hand gesticulating big, his white beak mask dangling awkwardly from his nose.
Ben eyed Darcy curiously, his intentions seemed clear. It was not the first time a man showed interest in his mama, Lord Brakenbury almost stole her thirteen years prior and if not for his papa’s demise, she might have done what her mama wanted. Every now and then came a gentleman thinking he could persuade her into marriage or at least into mistress, but he knew she would always stay with him by his side in his place – Longbourn, the estate he inherited to save all his sisters and mama Amelia. There was the auctioning business he conducted during season, a business he started to please her, to praise her good eye for beauty. He devoted his young days to her; she devoted her life to him.
In turn, Darcy eyed Ben with interest too. There was something very pleasing in the siblings’ features but he couldn’t identify what it was. The sister was fetching, bright fine eyes and charming countenance; the brother had the same eyes but his face struck a chord in Darcy. He found himself prone to empathize with the spoilt lad after all: if he had such a lovely spirited sister, he too would be protective.
‘Ah, Darce!’ Bingley arrived and rested his hands on both men’s shoulders. ‘Clarence can put together a ball, can’t he? He manages all this and still keeps everyone proper.’
‘Since Cambridge he manages to keep himself proper, that is a wonder.’ Darcy mumbled and took off his mask. The lad was right; the damned mask was a bore.
‘That’s exactly what Lizzy says!’ Ben chuckled and his brother followed.
‘Lizzy and Clarence were friends from the moment he set eyes on her, Darce. He was in my wedding.’
‘Friends!’ Ben snorted. ‘He was enraptured with her. I was too young to understand why your friend managed to meet her every morning, but I remember them together often and mama gushing about Lizzy marrying a titled man.’
Bingley chuckled. ‘They almost stole my marriage, if Lizzy had given Clarence a chance to court her…’
She refused an Earl? The second daughter of a small estate in Hertfordshire? Darcy was more intrigued than before. But he had to wait until the night was advanced to locate her wandering the massive gardens to have a chance to talk without interruptions.
‘The dance floor is that way, miss.’ She gasped, he smiled. ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. I saw you wandering alone… Escaping, perhaps?’
‘Oh, yes.’ She fanned her face using the hand that was not holding her mask’s stick. ‘I danced since the band started, I cannot allow any gentleman demand another set. It’s a bit stuffy, is it not?’
‘I believe by the lake we’ll find a refreshments’ table.’ He pointed the way including himself in her plans without considering her opinion. ‘Miss Elizabeth, I believe I have to apologize to you once more.’
‘I accept your apologies, sir.’ She said walking carefully over the tiny pebbles on the floor, a hand holding the mask and her skirts as the other helped her balance. He worried his mishap had been bigger than he thought. ‘I’m not sure what you think you have to apologize for, but I feel obliged to accept.’
Darcy chuckled watching her walk with difficulty. ‘Madam, if not for propriety sake, I’d carry you all the way to the lake.’
She stopped and looked up at him. ‘Don’t you hate propriety sometimes?’ She said exasperated. ‘I do, as much as I hate these pebbles.’
He chuckled, offered her his arm and took a side path carefully shoving her over the grass bed. ‘You’ll ruin your slippers, but you’ll walk safely. I’d hate myself if I let you sprain an ankle while walking with me.’
She looked down at her new golden slippers adorned with tiny mauve roses just as the ones on the stick of her golden mask and sighed dramatically. ‘They match.’ She pointed the mask to her feet slightly raising the hem of her dress so he could see in the dim light the few candle posts offered. ‘My maid helped me choose, the day we ran into you at the park.’
He nodded amused with her sorrow. ‘Matches the dress too, I see.’
She blushed so violently that heat reached her neck. He had noticed the golden poinsettias on her neckline, and that there was one on her mask, close to her right eye. Feeling stupid as a debutante for letting this man elicit this kind of reactions from her, as if a woman of six and thirty hadn’t met handsome men before, she nodded keeping her head down. ‘It’s a set, especially made for this ball. Clarence is always so happy with this Masquerade and makes plans for so long and I wanted to please him and…’ She looked up to find him frowning deeply at her feet. ‘I suppose it’s too late to agree on you carrying me?’
He laughed and shook his head. ‘Not at all, madam.’ In an instant, he was closer extending his arms but she leapt to the side.
‘I merely tease, sir!’
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Darcy. I didn’t mean to trifle with you.’
‘Not at all, Miss Elizabeth.’ He smiled and offered his hand for her to hold as they walked as if they were dancing instead of alone in the gardens. ‘If you end up changing your mind, I can still carry you.’
‘Mmmm…’ She mused out loud and he leaned his head to a side. ‘Wouldn’t you say I’m a little too old to break propriety in such a manner?’
‘One is never too old to have fun.’
‘I thought the intention was saving my new slippers.’
‘But of course, that too.’
She laughed as he chuckled. ‘Your sister could not be persuaded to come, even behind a very flowery or feathery mask? Or is she here dazzling the young gentleman dancing?’
‘She is not here.’ He said and his face darkened, he looked silently in front as they walked.
‘How sad. Clarence told me she is a beauty, similar to you in looks, very agreeable on the eye. I find myself unable to disagree with him, sir, even without meeting her.’ He pressed a satisfied smile, his face lighting a few notches. ‘That’s better. A ball such as this cannot be held while one is saddened and brooding. It was certainly me who stole the happiness from you, I’m at least glad I managed to bring some of it back.’
‘Don’t fret over me, madam.’ He held her hand with more force when she wavered almost falling in a hole covered by grass and brazenly switched hands to hold her waist with another.
‘You were offering me to break propriety and a second later you were upset.’
‘I am still considering how we were to shock society if I did carry you. Your ankles are bound to suffer tonight.’ She laughed delighted. ‘How good is your brother with a gun?’
‘Not good enough, I fear.’
‘Does he fence?’
‘He’s better with a gun.’ She said and Darcy laughed. ‘Are you planning such actions as to need a duel?’
‘In my part, it wouldn’t probably be needed. I have seldom in my life offered such a thing to a lady and I usually consider the implications of my actions carefully before making decisions. To break propriety with you wouldn’t be a burden, I assure you.’ He complimented her insinuating that whatever intention he might have was good and honorable and looping in his mind since he met her, but she understood that another mistress proposition was coming her way. She sighed and loosened the hold on his hand taking a step aside to escape his other hand on her thin waist. ‘I fear your brother’s care, for you two seemed to be very protective of one another.’
‘Ah, that was why you apologized before?’
He nodded. ‘I didn’t mean to meddle in family affairs.’
‘You didn’t.’ She finally saw the refreshments table surrounded by giggling people by the lake. Now she only had to come up with an excuse to send him away.
‘I am very protective of my sister as well.’ He said tucking her hand in the crook of his arm as they walked slowly. ‘She has been through a lot in life, a long time ago, but it still seems fresh in her heart.’ Elizabeth waited in silence. ‘People around us still think it’s a subject good enough to gossip about, as you may have heard.’
‘Pray, sir, you don’t have to tell anything that doesn’t concern me. Caroline Foxton is a horrid woman, I can wager she had an eye on you and your fortune when she was younger – and uglier still.’ She added under her breath. He looked at her surprised before chuckling. ‘Incredibly enough.’ She blushed. ‘Why is it, sir, that when we are together there is the need to apologize constantly?’
‘Why indeed… and why, madam, have we not met these last thirteen years your sister has been married to my old friend from Cambridge?’
‘Where you at the Bingley’s wedding?’ He shook his head. ‘Neither for the births of their children, I suppose.’ He shook again. ‘Of course not. I haven’t been very close to Jane for the last ten years or so. The companionship with her new sisters changed her; it seems she is distant from me.’ She said sadly and repented the indiscretion one more time.
‘Time tends to push people apart. Sometimes it’s difficult to put our past behind us.’
Elizabeth looked at him feeling something different inside her, at least different towards him; tenderness. ‘Time has not been kind to you, sir?’ He raised his brows and pressed his lips. ‘I struggled to make peace with time… can I offer an advice, something I use?’ He smiled sadly. ‘From the past, keep fresh only what brings you pleasure. Let the rest fade.’
‘Not easy to put in action, but worth it.’
He nodded. ‘What do you want, madam? A glass of punch?’ He offered helping her climb off the grass bed before walking to the table.
She felt like a young girl being looked upon by an older and handsome boy, like when her paramour in a dashing uniform used to indulge her in silly conversations. Funny, she didn’t remember him in a long time; his features in Ben’s face seemed ethereal, like come from Heaven not from the man who left her. And all of a sudden, he was present in her mind whenever this man was near...
Darcy returned with the glasses and they sipped in silence watching the boats adorned with candles being roared around the lake by poor footmen for the sake of the party.
‘I may need assistance to select what to think about, madam.’ He said at last.
‘From my past. One memory that brings me pleasure seems to bring a dark one attached.’
‘I suppose memories are chained.’ She mused and he nodded. ‘But can we not choose what links to attach?’ He turned fully towards her and leaned on a railing. She felt a frisson run through her with the attention of a man of such consequence. ‘Childhood memories seem safe enough...’ She mused. ‘Sardines, perhaps?’ He smiled. ‘I used to play with my sisters and when Ben came years later it was even more fun.’
He pressed his lips, she sipped watching him. ‘I lost a dear cousin to Napoleon.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Her stomach turned and she blinked slowly to recompose. ‘Your parents are long gone, I suppose, if your sister is under your care.’ She tried again steering the conversation away from child’s plays, he nodded, she nodded too. ‘So, instead of remembering how the house felt the day they left you, think about how it felt with them around. What it smelt like on Christmas’ eve, for example?’ He seemed to be considering. ‘My father loved porridge spiced with peppermint and honey and when I think of him I concentrate on that smell, so peculiar.’
‘My father used to smoke cigars. The very nasty ones.’
‘That smell of horse manure?’
He chuckled nodding. ‘It stuck to his coat; it was stronger when he spent the day in the library reading. Sometimes he let me curl beside him.’
‘What did you read, usually?’
He grinned and it surprised her at how it lighted his handsome weathered face. ‘I found a small copy of a book filled with illustrations of the human body that fit perfectly inside an old sermons book.’
She laughed. ‘What a little cad! No one ever found out?’ He shook his head. ‘And what did you like to have with tea at the time? Scones?’
‘Honey biscuits. We had a cook down at Pemberley, my estate, who used to make them for me. Also berries I used to pick with a-’ He cleared his throat.
‘And a friend I had at the time.’
She raised her index finger at him frowning. ‘Don’t leave me here, return to the dirty book tainting the sermons!’
He smiled mesmerized by her. ‘A fine lady as you is unmarried. It is astonishing.’
‘Oh, I’m not half as fine as I appear.’ She shook her head. ‘All this finery is the work of my excellent maid. Ashton disguises herself as a simpleton but she is a sorcerer.’
‘No maid can produce such a figure, madam.’ He gave her an appreciative stare hoping to convey his admiration. ‘But I was referring to your sensibility.’
‘I thank you.’ Air seemed difficult to breathe all of a sudden, she felt a bit too old for this kind of flirt. ‘Sometimes we have to make choices, and I chose to stay at home with my family. My father passed away leaving our brother still young and unprepared to deal with the estate. You see, my brother is fifteen years my junior, ten from my youngest sister; my parents had given up trying for a boy and when Ben arrived, my father had to start taking good care of Longborn, to make it produce more than what we needed to have a comfortable country life. With his passing, Longborn was not strong enough to run itself, my mama and youngest sisters needed care, Lesley was but a boy.’
‘Oh, deuce.’ She said and blushed. ‘Pardon. Wellesley Bennett, Ben for short, Lesley for the family. Pray, do not let him know I told you, he hates ‘Lesley’ with all his being. He would kill me if he knew.’
He shook his head smiling. ‘So you refused marriage to devote to your family?’
‘Yes. It took me a great deal of commitment through the years, my mama wanted to force me into marriage a couple of times. Clarence wanted to court me once, but we weren’t compatible.’ She glanced at him quickly and averted her fine eyes once, twice, three times as he frowned.
‘I know Clarence since we were lads younger than your brother, Miss Elizabeth, I know he can-’ He stopped raising his brows as realization hit him. Then he frowned even deeper, his face contorting in anger. ‘Clarence didn’t offer to involve you in any horrific kind of scheme-’ He stopped ashamed to say it out loud.
‘No!’ She shook her hand to him. ‘Of course not.’ He tilted his head pressing his teeth together. ‘Clarence is nothing but a true gentleman; we have been friends since we met when he attended my sister’s marriage. I believe you were all friends from Cambridge.’ He nodded still silent. ‘I like long walks, as you know, and once I ran into Clarence. It was awkward at first, I offered him help and discretion, and he much needed a friend. We care for each other, only not enough to wed.’ She shrugged and sipped from her cup. ‘Not that his father would ever accept a simple country gentlewoman as wife for an Earl’s heir. He did well marrying Margaret.’ There was silence for a while. ‘And what about you, sir?’
‘Marriage?’ She nodded; he averted his eyes to the lake again. ‘My sister needed me, it was my fault she was seduced into elopement by a man we considered family-’ He stopped not believing his own silliness.
‘Don’t feel bad, sir.’ She touched his arm and caressed his coat for reassurance. ‘Sometimes it feels good to let go of one’s secret. A stranger may be the best person, and me in special, I just told you I can be discreet. You can trust me.’
‘How do I have no doubt of that, madam?’
She pointed upward and he looked at the sky. ‘It’s written there, perhaps?’ She smiled saucily.
‘Perhaps.’ He smiled.
‘Unless you paid for the carriage to Gretna Green, it probably was not your fault. Aren’t there any good memories left to link?’
‘No, my dear lady. The fault is mine, she was but a child. Fourteen years of age.’ Darcy spoke in halted breaths, eyes pressed in anger. ‘He was over twenty five, a secret elopement promise seemed incredibly romantic to her. She was defenseless, an easy prey for him. I should have been more attentive, she was under my care.’ Darcy balled his hands.
‘Maybe she had reason to believe him.’ She whispered.
‘She trusted him, was raised with that bastard roaming our house; she thought he was a good man.’
‘And maybe, maybe they had an understanding.’ She swallowed. ‘Of sorts.’
‘No.’ He stared ahead taut and angry, refusing his body even the release of a blink. ‘He wanted to have fun before going off to the world, he had joined the militia. Maybe he hoped to collect her dowry if I were fool enough to pay before-’ He turned to her suddenly, his hand caught hers a second after she let go of her mask’s stick and a fat tear landed on his wrist. ‘Miss Elizabeth? Are you well?’
She blinked back tears lowering her eyes just as he reached for her hand and realized she had let the cup of red punch fall over the hem of her dress staining the slippers. He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and stepped in front of her. There were other people around them; an unmarried couple talking for a long time was bound to call attention, even if the lady was way over her seasons.
He let her recompose thinking her reaction to Georgiana’s ordeal quite endearing. Not that he could compare for he had never talked about it to anyone after he discussed the problem businesslike with his solicitor trying to find a way to make the blasted cad pay, but he had never expected such passionate response from a woman he had met but a month before, an spinster – albeit a very fetching one with a figure that would make half the debutants of the season envy, but an unmarried woman who devoted her life to her family-
A chill ran down his spine. ‘Miss Elizabeth.’ He whispered looking down. ‘You don’t have to tell me anything of your past that doesn’t bring you comfort. Please, forgive me.’ She kept immobile, his heart froze. ‘Take as much time as you need to recompose, madam. A few steps to the side, a little more distant from the candle post you’ll have more privacy.’ He waited for any form of agreement and when there was none, he held her by her elbow and calmly walked to the side, still in sight, still very proper but a lot more concealed.
She needed a long time to recollect. Her past had indeed been lurking in the shadows, disguised as an absurdly handsome gentleman of wealth and consequence, friend of her friend and of her sister’s husband, polite and pleasant and a lovely flirt; past that had been seducing her to spear a knife through her chest. ‘A man considered family.’ She swallowed several times until she considered herself capable of speaking another word. ‘What was-’ Her voice cracked and she swallowed again. ‘Pray, what was the name of the cousin you lost in war, sir?’
‘You misunderstood, madam. My cousin was not with me anymore when it happened. Richard would surely have helped me.’ He said frowning and, still holding her elbow, actually felt a powerful shiver run through her. ‘My sister fell prey to George Wickham, son of Maxwell Wickham, my father’s steward for many decades.’
George Wickham, it could not be. Fitzwilliam was his mother’s given name, she thought praying that his cousin Richard was a Darcy. She nodded and with difficulty raised her head. ‘There was a militia stationed in Meryton once, I guess I’d have heard of a Darcy soldier.’ She fished. ‘I recall a Wickham visiting the area...’ He extended his handkerchief, dabbed her fine eyes with extreme tenderness, took her hand to press the small square of linen inside and place a lingering kiss on her knuckles.
‘George Wickham was sent to your neighborhood on the cause of my cousin’s demise. Maybe you met him? Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam -’ He leaned forward and held her by both elbows when her knees gave in. His mind needed but a few seconds to fear the worst scenario possible. ‘Tell me it was not the same cad.’ Her eyes were hollow, he noticed.
Fat tears again blurring her vision, she took several deep loud breaths for long moments. Her whole body shook, it was almost impossible to control the chills taking over her bones, an old eerie sensation coming to her memory: the cold North wind in Scot, right after she arrived for her confinement, before Ben’s stirring brought warmth to her being. It was something she devoted her life to forget, the chill hitting her bones and gnawing her heart.
‘Pray, what can I do to make you better? Anything. Do you want me to dive in this lake and bring you one of Clarence’s silly swans?’ He offered.
In spite of herself, she smiled weakly.
‘I can find a leader tall enough to bring you the star where our names are written. Do you want that?’
‘You’d break your neck.’ She whispered sadly. ‘It is silly of me. Something caught in my eye, that’s all.’ She blinked several times in a row and tried to keep the weak smile on her lips.
To him, her effort seemed as feeble and fragile as a hummingbird flapping its wings. ‘Of course.’ He pressed a smile and with a curved finger under her chin, brought her face up. ‘Allow me to clean your eyes of any sadness, my Elizabeth.’ He murmured and a new onslaught of tears attacked her. ‘What is it, where the devil did I wrong again?’
She chuckled humorlessly, tears rolling down her cheeks and he was left mesmerized, puzzled, enraptured.
‘Lizzy?’ They heard. ‘Are you around here?’
She leapt back away from his hands. ‘Please, don’t let him see me like this.’ She asked deeply concerned. ‘Help me, please, don’t let my- my brother see me crying.’
‘Calm down, madam. No one will bother us.’ He could easily take a few strides into light and maneuver Bennett towards the party again but that would mean leaving his adorable sister alone when she was in such need of comfort. Darcy took her by the hand and pulled her towards a narrow path covered with night-blooming cestrum weaved around a canopy, the perfume invading their noses and hearts. Once covered from prying eyes, he pulled her against him and let her recover for long moments ensconced in his chest, his thumbs caressing her naked shoulders as his arms crossed over her back.
‘Thirteen years is too long for one to expect a brother to grow and learn to care for an estate.’ He whispered when she finally calmed her breathing, stopped shaking and relaxed against him. ‘You should have been properly courted.’
‘Never found anyone I considered worthy of sharing my secrets.’ She sniffed. ‘This seemed to be a capital reason to marry.’
He nodded. ‘Georgiana would agree to that.’ She nodded in his chest, the perfume of the flowers and his clothes filling her heart with security. ‘Would you give me leave to call on you tomorrow?’
‘I’m a little too old for that kind of-’
‘In the afternoon.’ He said. ‘For a stroll through the park, I know you like it.’ She nodded. ‘You’ll probably sleep in tomorrow; we’ll go for a stroll in the afternoon.’
She would need to decide if it was time to face reality or if she'd keep running. If he indeed paid her a visit, that is.
He hadn't seen that coming...
|long live disney magic tumblr|
and he has no idea of what the sun will bring when it breaks the following day...
a revised & unabridged version of this story will be available in Kindle, ebook and brochure from Jan 25th, 17.
a revised & unabridged version of this story will be available in Kindle, ebook and brochure from Jan 25th, 17.