A/N: Mr. Darcy's Dilemma and Delight are now available on Amazon and Createspace. I'm taking down all but the first chapter of the story here. Please enjoy the chapter. If you want to read the revised version, or if this is your first time reading, I hope you will check it out on the two places. It will soon be available on Kindle as well.
Thank you all for your encouraging reviews. As a writer, I sometimes have a problem finding the right words to express my thoughts, and this is one such time. I'm grateful for all of you who took the time to comment. Again, thank you.
Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire inhaled deeply of the crisp autumn air as he stood in the paddock waiting for his horse to be brought to him. The day was perfect for his desired solitary ride. The morning sky shone bright, clear, and the air was cold. He had left the house eager for a good gallop away from the insipid, overly flattering attentions of Miss Caroline Bingley. Since he was a guest at Netherfield, the house her brother and Darcy's good friend Charles had leased, there were few places inside where he could avoid her.
The groom finally brought Darcy's horse, Paladin, to the mounting block. As soon as Darcy was in the saddle and out of the yard, the large bay obliged his master by galloping quickly over Netherfield's pastures. The two travelled with great pleasure over many acres of land before Paladin slowed and began to favour his left front foot. Darcy quickly pulled the animal to a stop and dismounted. After examining the horse's leg, he found that his mount had a loosened shoe. He knew he could not ride anymore without the risk of injury to the stallion.
Taking stock of his surroundings for the first time, Darcy realized he could see the spire of Longbourn church at not too great a distance. The road to Meryton lay between his location and the Longbourn estate. Grabbing up the reins, he guided his horse down the rise toward the road.
Darcy understood that most of his morning would be spent in the pursuit of a new shoe for his mount. He kicked at the grass and then upbraided himself for his irritation. Nothing could be gained in allowing free rein to the frustration caused by the inconvenience of having to find a blacksmith. Only aggravation and a bad mood would be the result. His father had never shown such a negative attitude, so he decided to follow his parent's example once again.
The late Mr. Darcy would also have been ashamed of his son's conduct during the past few weeks. He had allowed his distress about his young sister's near elopement to colour his dealings with the people of the small Hertfordshire village. Lifting his eyes heavenward, he asked for patience and understanding of why this inconvenience should happen on such a fine day for riding. Drawing upon the sudden infusion of strength resulting from the prayer, Darcy moved on with resolve.
When he arrived at the fence that separated the field and the lane, he could find no gate through which to pass. To his left he spied a copse of oaks with a brook running through it. Paladin could use the refreshment after such a ride, as could I, he thought.
Guiding his horse toward the bubbling stream, Darcy thought he heard a woman cry out. He stopped and strained his ears to listen. Perceiving no other sound, he shook his head. It must have been a magpie, he told himself, remembering several swooping and diving across his path as he rode.
Darcy tethered Paladin within reach of grass and the stream before he stuffed his gloves into his coat pocket and crouched to scoop up a drink for himself. When he finally stood up again, he became conscious of the fact that he could not see the road from his position amongst the trees. Leaving his horse, he walked toward the place where he knew the lane to be. As he reached the edge of the grove, he viewed the road through a tall hedge of wild roses growing over the fence.
Pulling a face that expressed his annoyance at not being able to find a place from which to gain the road, Darcy made to turn back to his horse when he heard the sound of rapid foot steps on the lane. Curiosity got the better of him, and once more he peered through the gap in the hedge. He was astonished by what he saw.
George Wickham strode quickly up the lane toward the village of Meryton. He was buttoning his fall, which in most circumstances would not have seemed too unusual. Darcy knew of men who relieved themselves by the side of a road, however ungentlemanlike the action was. On the other hand, because of the bright, bloody scratches on Wickham's cheeks and the leering, smug expression upon his face as he straightened his uniform jacket, Darcy came to a completely different conclusion. He had seen that look on his former friend's face once before. In fact, it had been the final death blow to their friendship.
His own excellent father had sought to instil in both the boys that they were never to take advantage of the positions they held, Darcy as the master's son and Wickham as his godson and son of his trusted steward, in the Pemberley household. Not once did Darcy expect that those lectures had failed to reach the mark with George Wickham until he happened upon him hurrying down the back stairs, doing and looking much the same as he had at the present moment. Pushing past Darcy, he had grinned lecherously.
Darcy had chosen to use the back stairs since he had fallen from his horse while practicing steeple jumping. Remembering that the elder Mr. Darcy had visitors that afternoon and not wanting his father or his company to see him in such a state of dishevelment, he used the kitchen entrance to the house and the servants' stairs to go to his room to change.
All the while his newly acquired valet, Peters, had helped to make himself presentable, Darcy pondered the look and actions of his childhood friend. The expression on George Wickham's face caused him great concern, and the scratches on his cheeks spoke of a confrontation of some sort.
Once he was changed into fresh clothes, Darcy dismissed his valet and sought Pemberley's housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. She was not at her usual occupation for that time of day. When he inquired of a footman as to where she could be found, the servant told him that one of the maids had summoned her to tend to an emergency.
Darcy suddenly knew where to find Mrs. Reynolds. He would never forget the horror of what he found in one of the upstairs maid's tiny room, a bruised and terrified young girl of no more than fourteen. Mrs. Reynolds was giving her aid. The girl seemed to be mute and only whimpered and cowered when she saw Darcy standing in the doorway.
"Master Fitzwilliam, this is not a place for you," Mrs. Reynolds admonished. "Please leave. Tillie needs privacy."
Blushing as he bowed and turned away, Darcy ran down the stairs to find Wickham. When he found him, he trounced him heartily. While the young man lay moaning on the ground, Darcy managed to threaten him strongly enough that young Wickham never repeated that particular offense at Pemberley.
Wickham received no other punishment for the incident. The maid remained so traumatized that she did not reveal who had attacked her. Although she was not found to be with child, she requested a new position and was sent to work in the London house of the Earl of Matlock to protect her from further attacks.
Darcy explained to his father what he had witnessed on the stairs and what he suspected of Wickham, but after interviewing his godson, the elder Darcy believed his tale of innocence over his own son's observations. He cautioned Fitzwilliam against spreading falsehoods, and the two young men removed to Cambridge the next week with their former friendship destroyed completely.
Shaking himself from the memory, Darcy caught a glimpse of Wickham as he rounded a corner and out of sight. That was when an awful premonition flowed over him. Who was Wickham's latest victim? He had to help whoever it was. He owed her that much. Why had he not warned the villagers when he first found the cad in Meryton two days ago?
Making sure that his horse was securely tied, Darcy ran out of the grove and vaulted the fence. He sped in the direction from which Wickham had come. After running nearly a hundred yards, he heard a groan. Turning his glance in the direction of the sound, he spied a footpath leading away from the road. After travelling only twenty feet, he saw a young woman who lay on the grass curled into a ball, her knees tucked tightly against her chest.
As Darcy moved closer, his breath caught in his throat. There was no mistaking who the victim was. He had seen the cream-colored sprigged muslin and the green spencer too often within the past few weeks not to recognize the unfortunate young woman as none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Hurrying to her side, Darcy dropped to his knees. "Miss Bennet," he said gently. "May I be of assistance?"
When she did not answer, he touched her shoulder. Her panicked reaction alarmed him. She slapped at his hand and tried to move away from him.
"Miss Elizabeth, it is I, Fitzwilliam Darcy," he responded and removed his hand. "You are injured and need help. Please let me assist you to your family."
At the mention of her family, she stopped her feeble crawling and turned to him. "No, no, they cannot see me like this. I … they will …. No, I must go away," she protested weakly, tears leaking from beneath her closed eyelids.
"But Miss Elizabeth, you are unwell," Darcy pleaded. "You must allow me to find your father or mother and to call a doctor."
"No!" she fairly screamed. "You do not understand. I am ruined, and if anyone learns of it, my sisters will be ruined as well." She began to sob uncontrollably. "I… wish he… had… killed me."
Raking his hands through his hair in frustration, Darcy tried to decide what to do. Miss Bennet was not to be reasoned with at the moment, but she did need care for her injuries. There had to be a way to get help without causing her any more trauma.
He ached with compassion for the young woman before him. His own sister had barely escaped a similar fate. Technically, she had not been ravished as Miss Bennet had been, but her trusting innocence had been lost, and her confidence had suffered a blow as well. Georgiana still refused to see all but a few of their closest friends and family, though her new companion, Mrs. Annesley, seemed to be helping her deal with her fears.
"Miss Elizabeth, is there any place where I can take you?" When she did not answer, Darcy asked another question. "There must be someone, your sister, perhaps? Miss Bennet would want to assist you. May I fetch her?"
"My sisters and mother went shopping in Meryton first thing this morning," she replied as her weeping quieted. "If I had only gone with them," she spoke with deep regret.
"Are you certain that I cannot bring your father?"
"He is also in the village. He had some estate business with my uncle Phillips. Papa took Mr. Collins along, so that I would be able to stay home." Slowly her voice lost all emotion. "I am alone as I should be."
"Come, Miss Elizabeth," he said as he offered his hand, having decided to humour her for the time being. "If you do not want to be discovered by your family, you will need to find shelter until we consider what can be done. Is there somewhere close by where you will not be seen?"
Elizabeth stared at his proffered hand. She could not understand why he would not leave her alone, but she could see the wisdom in his assertion. "The shepherd's cottage is only beyond that rise. Mr. Oscar left two days ago to visit his family in Kent. His only daughter gave birth to twin boys, and Papa gave him leave to visit them for a fortnight since he is not needed for the sheep at this time."
Finally, she accepted his hand and attempted to rise. It was then that the world began to spin wildly around her, but before she fell back to the ground, Darcy caught her in his arms. At first, she closed her eyes against the dizziness and marvelled that she could feel so safe in the care of a man so soon after an attack by another.
"Thank you, sir," she sighed and tried to lift her head, but the spinning began again. Her body ached, and she could feel the lump on the back of her head start to throb.
After a short walk, they viewed a small stone cottage. "Do you have a key?" Darcy asked.
"There is no lock." Her voice took on a sleepy quality which gave Darcy some concern.
Hurrying as quickly as he could without jostling Elizabeth, Darcy arrived at the cottage and opened the door. He had to bend his tall frame to enter. Once inside, he searched for a place for Miss Bennet. The only spot available was the shepherd's cot, which was where he laid her down as gently as possible and covered her with a surprisingly clean blanket.
For a moment, he stood mutely, surveying the small room. A gasp from Elizabeth brought him back to her side. She had turned her face away trying to find a comfortable spot to rest her head, and he detected a blot of red on the pillow. His concern increased as he saw that blood was seeping through her hair.
"Miss Bennet, your head is bleeding!" Reaching into his pocket, he dropped to his knees next to the bed and brought his handkerchief to rest on the bump.
"When he threw me to the ground, I struck my head on a rock," replied Elizabeth with a detached voice. "I was so stunned that I did not fight as I ought. I tried …. I think I scratched him.
He took her hands in his free one. "You need a doctor. If you will lie still, I will fetch one."
Jerking her hands from his grasp, Elizabeth tried to rise only to have dizziness overtake her once more. "Please, Mr. Darcy, no doctor," she pleaded, her breathing shallow, her face pale.
"Please do not excite yourself. Lie back. I will do as you wish, but if not a doctor, there must be someone I can summon."
Elizabeth pondered her choices. Although at the moment she wished for death, the stronger part of her knew she needed assistance. If she was to keep the attack quiet, she wanted an ally. Indeed, Mr. Darcy seemed to be one such person, but he could not nurse her.
As Elizabeth thought on the subject, she became so quiet that Darcy feared she had fainted. He had determined to go for help despite her objections when she said, "Sarah."
"Sarah?" he repeated in a baffled tone.
"Sarah is the maid we sisters share," she explained. "She will keep a secret. She has always been trustworthy. I frequently share things with her which I would share with no one else but Jane."
"I see," he said, relieved that she was both conscious and willing to receive assistance. "And where might I find this Sarah? Will I not have to apply to the house to find her?"
"No, she is in the rose garden, harvesting rose hips for jelly and our medicinals. Take the path outside to the barn. If you keep close to the hedge to the right of the barn, you may proceed undetected. Once you reach the break in the hedge, you will see the rose garden."
"I will be back as quickly as I can." He touched her shoulder lightly. "Please promise you will not move. I will not leave unless you promise."
Elizabeth lifted her gaze to his, and he saw a bit of her usual sparkle as she said, "Very well, sir, I promise I will not leave this cot. Indeed at the moment, I could not, even if I wished it."
Darcy was both worried and encouraged by her response. He stood and dusted off his trousers. Ducking through the doorway and closing the door behind him, he followed Elizabeth's directions and soon came upon a young maid snapping off rose hips and dropping them into a basket.
"Excuse me, but are you Sarah, Miss Elizabeth Bennet's maid?" Darcy inquired in much the same manner he might have asked about the weather.
The maid started at his question, but as she recognized the gentleman, Sarah curtsied and replied, "Aye, sir, I am. May I help you?"
"Miss Elizabeth tells me that you are discreet and can be trusted to keep a secret when need be. Is this true?"
The girl did not lower her gaze, but rather lifted her chin as she answered, "I would never betray Miss Elizabeth's trust, but I do not understand why you ask."
He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "I must ask for complete secrecy. Your mistress was attacked and needs medical attention. However, she will not allow me to fetch a doctor. She has agreed that you might come and minister to her."
In her concern for Elizabeth, Sarah forgot her station and grabbed Darcy's arm. "Where is she? Take me to her!"
Darcy did not move but said in the same low tone, "You must bring water and clean cloths for bandages. Her head is bleeding. She is in the shepherd's cottage. I will go to her now. Are you able to come without detection?"
"Aye, sir, I am," Sarah held his eyes for a moment longer. "Go to Miss Elizabeth. I shan't be long."
As relieved as Darcy was to have someone else involved, he knew that Elizabeth needed a doctor's care. He began to ponder how it could be accomplished without her attack becoming public knowledge. He uttered a quick prayer for her healing as he reached the small building. Just before he entered the cottage again, an idea came to him that just might work, but he would need Miss Elizabeth's agreement and the maid's help.
It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior of the cottage. Darcy moved quickly to the bed and looked down upon her unmoving form.
"Did you find Sarah, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth's voice startled him since he thought she was asleep.
"Yes, Miss Elizabeth, I did and she is bringing some water and clean cloths to clean your head wound."
"Thank you, sir," she replied wearily. "Since Sarah shall be here soon, you need not remain."
"Madam, I will not leave you," Darcy exclaimed as he pulled out a chair and sat down. "I have a plan whereby you will be able to receive a doctor's attention and no one, not even the doctor, will know the true cause of your injuries."
Elizabeth, who had been lying on her side facing the wall, attempted to turn over to look at him, but her pain was too great. She sobbed out in frustration. "What am I to do?"
"Lie still until Sarah gets here. I shall explain my plan then since her cooperation will be needed for it to work," Darcy said as he gently patted her shoulder.
"Very well," Elizabeth sighed. The pain in her head and body kept her mind occupied while they waited for her maid to arrive.
In a short time, Darcy heard footsteps on the front path and opened the door to admit the young Sarah. Since she was of a petite build and height, she did not find it necessary to lower her head to enter the cottage. Without preamble, she rushed to Elizabeth's side.
"Oh, Miss Elizabeth!" Sarah cried as she saw her blood-soaked hair. Depositing the jug and the cloths she had brought onto the table, she hunted for a bowl or a pot. Finally she found a clean, though chipped, bowl into which she dropped some of the rags and poured some of the water over them.
"Sir, would you please move the table and a chair closer to the bed?" the maid timidly asked of him.
Without speaking, he did so and stood back out of the way, but he watched as Sarah cleaned the wound, placed some kind of herbs against it, and bound one of the cloths around Elizabeth's head as a bandage. Once she finished her ministrations, Sarah looked to Darcy for further instructions.
With Sarah's help, Elizabeth had been able to turn to face away from the wall. The effort caused a new wave of dizziness, so she closed her eyes and waited for it to subside before she asked, "Mr. Darcy, you said that you had a plan."
"Yes, I do," he began, "but first I must ask what may seem a rather impolite question. Have you ever been known to have mishaps when you go for your walks?"
Elizabeth did not answer, but Sarah smiled. "I have heard that Miss Elizabeth does not always watch where she is going. Only last summer, she caught her foot in a snag of tree roots and suffered a mild sprain. Then there was the time, she raced …"
"Sarah!" Elizabeth admonished. "You make me sound like a clumsy oaf or a hoyden."
"Never an oaf, Miss Elizabeth," Darcy interjected with a teasing smile. "However, since you have a bit of a - shall we say - history of mishaps, my planned explanation has a basis of truth."
Elizabeth was astounded by the smile and the tease, but she refused to focus on it. "And the explanation is?"
"You were running down one of the hills and slipped, hitting your head on a stone. I found you. Since I was concerned with the bleeding of your wound, I summoned Sarah to your aid before bringing you into your house." After pausing he said, "Once at the house, Sarah will ready you for bed. This way the doctor can be called. Since he will not see any other wounds or bruises, no one need know of them."
Elizabeth was quiet while she thought about Mr. Darcy's suggestion. Since she had no other plan to suggest and was certain that neither he nor Sarah would leave her alone, Lizzy finally assented.
Darcy gently lifted Elizabeth from the bed, making every effort not to cause her more pain. Sarah held the door open as he left the cottage. She swiftly took the lead back toward Longbourn House.
The butler, Mr. Hill, must have seen their approach because he had the door open before they had crossed the courtyard.
"What happened to Miss Elizabeth?" he called out in concern.
"She slipped and hit her head on a rock," Sarah answered as she reached Hill. "Mr. Darcy found her and asked for my help. Her head was bleeding, so I bound the wound before we came to the house." Her rapid recitation continued as she moved into the house ahead of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.
"Please, Mr. Darcy," Sarah said as she turned her attention to Darcy. "Her room is this way." Hurrying up the stairs, she led the way to Elizabeth's chambers with the butler following in the rear.
Since Darcy had lifted her into his arms, Elizabeth had felt safe and at peace, a very strange thing given the current situation. She closed her eyes and willed the peace to continue, but once Darcy entered her room and gently deposited her on her bed, all the turmoil of fear and pain returned. It took all of the little strength she had left not to cry out in protest.
"I need to borrow a horse so that I may fetch the doctor," Darcy explained as he turned to the butler, who stood in the doorway. "My own horse has a loose shoe."
"Of course, I shall see to it at once," Mr. Hill agreed and hastened to call for the horse.
"Miss Elizabeth, I shall leave you now," Mr. Darcy said earnestly, "I pray you will be well soon."
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy," was her fatigued reply.
Darcy motioned for Sarah to follow him to the hallway. Once they were nearly at the top of the stairs, he said, "I trust that you will keep watch over Miss Elizabeth. I shall return as soon as possible. Please make sure that you give me an account of her condition when I return."
"Aye, I will, sir." Sarah curtseyed and returned to Elizabeth.