Mr. Darcy's Torment
The moon was bright and high in the midnight sky, illuminating the gardens with its ancient silvery light. The carefully cultivated hedges and fragrant rose bushes looked surreal in their lunar radiance while the underlying shadows created secret hiding places that would not exist in the light of day. The contrast between light and dark was exaggerated and gave the gardens an unearthly feel. Abruptly, the wind picked up and large grey clouds swept in to obscure the moon. Dark shadows swallowed up the house, like a candle being snuffed out.
On the third floor of the large stone-faced manor, a window was open and curtains were fluttering in the gusting wind. As the temperature in the chamber swiftly dropped, the gentleman sleeping in the large tester bed groped blindly for the counterpane. Being unable to find it, he groggily propped himself up to look for the blanket. He felt an unusual, penetrating chill and suddenly noted that his breath was visible in white puffs. He stiffened in apprehension, now fully awake, and wondered if - nay, fervently prayed that - this was only another bad dream.
On the other side of the bed, he saw a shimmering shape between the half-closed curtains, and he held his breath as it started to take a defined form. As his heart rate accelerated, he felt his lungs begin to burn and he belatedly remembered to breathe, puffing out quick clouds of warm air. He was not a man who was intimidated by anything in life, but this was not a night terror, a figment of imagination. His mind could not rationalise what was occurring and reluctantly he thought, not for the first time, that this apparition was not something associated with the living side of the veil that he himself was currently inhabiting. No, this was something supernatural, something he had never experienced before.
The apparition was fully formed now and appeared to be a woman in a flowing, white nightdress. Her silvery hair was unbound and floated around her like she was underwater, seemingly defying the laws of gravity. The gentleman inhaled sharply and was unaware that he was again holding his breath as the ghostly figure hovered in space and time. She was moving her mouth but he could hear no sound. The look on her face was one of extreme sorrow and pain. He could physically feel the anguish emanating from her luminous form. It slithered through his body, unwelcome and foreign. Raising her arm, she pointed accusingly at him. Her agitation growing, her mouth moving faster, opening wider, mutely yelling, noiselessly keening in her sorrow.
He felt a shudder roll through his body as he broke out in a cold sweat across his forehead, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. Anxiety and something akin to panic took possession of his senses as the apparition floated closer, parting the bed hangings with a fierce blast of air. He recoiled and crashed back against the headboard, realizing that he had nowhere else to go. In his shock, he could not form any thoughts coherent enough to launch him out of the bed. She was hovering over the middle of his bed, extending out of the mattress at her waist, the lower half of her body not visible; her face at the same level as his own.
Her bony hand was still reaching in his direction, her finger pointing accusingly at him while her mouth worked in silent screams. Her anguished countenance started to shimmer more intensely, like heat rising from the street on a stifling hot summer's day in London. In an instant, her face transformed into a skeleton, the eyes glowing crimson in the black, fathomless sockets. The gentleman gasped out a strangled cry and every muscle in his body was tense, in anticipation of something even more terrifying.
The apparition swiftly advanced towards him and he closed his eyes to avoid looking at her unearthly figure. He felt the ghost pass through his body with a tingling, burning shock that left him breathless and freezing. And then she was gone. The curtains went still as if the air was sucked out of the room and the clouds receded, allowing the silvery moonlight to once again shine down on the manor and through the third floor window, cutting across the room and penetrating the gap in the bed hangings. The gentleman slumped against the headboard, his teeth chattering, his heart pounding and tried to catch his breath. He knew he would not sleep again this night.
Mr. Darcy sat at the table in the dining room the next morning, staring at his cup of coffee. The sideboard was filled with a tasty array of food to break his fast but he was not remotely interested. Georgiana walked into the room and greeted her brother with a quiet "Good morning, William." She walked to the sideboard to fill her plate and sighed when she did not hear a reply.
She was still embarrassed and saddened by the events in Ramsgate a few weeks ago and she was desperately afraid that her brother was severely disappointed in her. She even feared that she may have lost his love as well. She knew that his good opinion once lost was lost forever. William had been so quiet and withdrawn since their return. He barely spoke to her and their time spent together consisted solely of meeting in the dining room twice a day.
As she situated herself at the table in the seat on Darcy's right side, Georgiana looked up and gazed at her brother, willing him to look at her. He was still staring into his coffee cup, with both hands wrapped around it. The newspaper was neatly folded in front of him, unread. For the first time, she noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the bags that were beginning to form there as well. Having not noted this change in him previously, she carefully inspected her brother and discovered that he also appeared thinner. Georgiana felt a deep anxiety as she pondered her brother's change in behaviour and physical presence since their return.
Georgiana cleared her throat nervously and spoke again. "Brother, are you well?" she enquired shyly. William did not acknowledge her question, or even react to her voice.
"William?" she tried again, slightly more forcefully. His gaze remained fixed on his cup of coffee.
"Fitzwilliam George Darcy!" she practically yelled at him, and somewhat mortified at her less than lady-like tone, she dropped her gaze to her lap.
William startled and finally looked up, noticing for the first time that Georgiana was present. He looked pale and troubled. Georgiana had never seen him like this and she was somewhat taken aback. Hot, burning shame crept up her neck as she assumed she was the reason for her brother's altered appearance and emotional withdrawal. William, on the other hand, felt his own shame for not realizing that Georgiana was in the room, let alone that she was speaking to him. He attempted a smile, but it came off as a grimace.
"Good morning, Georgie." His voice was rough and he cleared his throat to gain some semblance of control. The look on his sister's face spoke volumes about how he appeared this morning, although he had no idea about the self-flagellating thoughts that were running through his poor sister's mind.
William thought to himself that he had to get his night terrors under control or he was going to end up in Bedlam. Deep down, he knew that these were not nightmares but could not admit the truth to himself. The truth was not reassuring in this situation. The truth that these nocturnal visits were by a supernatural spirit was even less sane than the possibility of a grown man having the same vivid night terrors for the past three weeks. William was scared. He could not lose his sanity. Who would take care of Georgiana if he was in Bedlam?
"Brother, I am worried about you. What is troubling you?" Georgiana asked. And in a smaller voice, she added, "I hope it's not me."
William winced. Ramsgate was only a few days behind them when these nocturnal visits had started occurring. His anger at Wickham and his fear that Georgiana had been irrevocably compromised had been weighing on his conscience. And then she, it, showed up. He was almost afraid to fall asleep at night now, taking to drinking much more brandy than he normally consumed, just in order to close his eyes in his bedroom. Several nights he had slept on the chaise lounge in his study hoping to avoid the apparition in his chamber. And for a few nights, this change in sleeping arrangements, coupled with an excessive amount of brandy, had done the trick. He thought he was 'cured' and returned to his bed with much relief. Then last night, the apparition appeared again and this time, she was furious and terrifying. He recalled with a shudder the way her face melted into the hideous skull with blazing red holes for eyes. And then it got worse; she had physically assaulted him as she passed through his body. This event marked the turning point of his belief that these were only night terrors. This morning he knew unequivocally that he was being haunted.
William discovered that Georgiana was staring at him, waiting for an answer.
"No, Georgie! This has nothing to do with you. You, I love and adore! Please do not ever forget that." William lifted his hand and placed it over Georgiana's. She flinched at how cold his hand felt compared to hers. She was truly worried about him and she still could not believe that she was the cause of his current distress despite his assurances to the contrary.
Desperately wanting to change the subject so Georgiana would not interrogate him further, Darcy remembered the letter he had received from his friend yesterday.
"Mr Bingley has written."
"Oh, how wonderful! And are he and his sister well? They were so pleasant when we met last summer." Georgiana smiled in remembrance of her time spent with Caroline Bingley.
Miss Bingley had taken her under her wing even though she was much older than Georgiana. Having no mother for most of her life, Georgiana craved female attention. And even though Caroline was not at all motherly, Georgiana thought she was very elegant and knew much about being a lady of the ton. As she was shy and dreading her coming out in a year or two, she hoped that she might learn how to emulate Miss Bingley's social prowess and feel more comfortable in society. Darcy, however, frowned in disapproval as he remembered Caroline simpering and fawning over Georgiana. He was aware that this was a ploy to get into his good graces and he was aggrieved for his sister. She was still too naive and good to discern cynical attitudes and behaviour in people. This is why she had been ensnared by Wickham's schemes.
"They are well. Mr Bingley has taken an estate in Hertfordshire and has asked me to visit him. He desires instruction in estate management and wishes me to assist him. I am not sure though that I should leave you so soon after..." he trailed off, clearing his throat, "...our last adventure."
Georgiana paled and looked down at her lap where her hands were grasped tight and white-knuckled. While she wished that their relationship would return to its previous easiness and felicity, she was very concerned about her brother's health. Georgiana thought that some time away from her would lessen the disappointment William felt, and the embarrassment she felt, about Ramsgate. Since she was comfortable with her new companion, Mrs. Annesley, she would not feel so alone at Pemberley without him.
"I think that you should go, William. I am fine here. Mrs. Annesley is a most amiable companion. Please go see your good friend."
William thought on this for a few moments. He did not particularly want to leave Georgiana at Pemberley by herself at this time but he truly feared for his sanity. He was hoping that leaving his estate would also leave the spectre behind and he could recover in the country. He was somewhat unnerved at the thought that the spectre might address itself to Georgiana upon his departure. But he had heard of no such nocturnal visitations from her and he knew that if it had happened she would have told him straight away.
The siblings agreed that William would leave for Netherfield in the morning. Darcy hoped that he would sleep undisturbed tonight and that he would leave the spectre behind for good.
Fortune fancied Darcy overnight. He awoke the next morning feeling better. In fact, he was feeling hopeful as well, as his nocturnal visitor had not shown herself again. Georgiana found him in the dining room and was pleased to see that he was breaking his fast. She thought to herself that her plan for William to leave Pemberley was already showing results. Aside from his revived appetite, she noticed that his pallor was gone and he looked more like himself than he had in weeks. She sighed in relief. Darcy looked up upon hearing Georgiana enter the room and he smiled at her. She grinned back at him.
They finished their meal together and discussed how long Darcy was to be away. He thought that perhaps it would be a month or two. He was not sure and he encouraged Georgiana to write to her Aunt & Uncle Matlock in London if she grew too lonely and bored at Pemberley. They would be happy to have her visit them anytime. Georgiana agreed, but reassured her brother that she would not be lonely with Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Reynolds, the long-time family housekeeper, to keep her company. In addition, she had stacks of new sheet music she wished to master on the piano. Darcy took her reassurances at face value and knew that if she was unhappy, one of her the two women would write to inform him.
Darcy decided to ride his stallion to Hertfordshire feeling that the fresh air and sunlight would help to preserve his improved demeanour today. His valet, Timmons, would ride along with his trunks in the luxuriously padded and well-sprung Darcy coach. The fresh air and freedom of being on horseback was something Darcy anticipated with some relief. He felt that leaving Pemberley behind temporarily would give him his old life back and he looked forward to the change of scenery.
Georgiana accompanied her brother to the front door and as they walked down the steps together, she reached out and grasped his hand. They walked hand in hand to the coach and his saddled mount and Darcy pulled his sister to him for a hug. He whispered that he loved her and that he would be back in a heartbeat if she needed him. Georgiana squeezed him hard and with tears in her eyes, blew him a kiss as she walked away so he could mount his horse. Mrs. Annesley had come out to the front of the house while the siblings were saying goodbye and walked up to put her arm around Georgiana, supporting her, as they watched the convoy set off.
All characters belong to Jane Austen. Although I have respectfully borrowed quotes and inspiration from Pride and Prejudice, this story belongs to me. All rights reserved.