Chapter 17 ~ A Change of Heart
Posted on 2008-08-24
Elizabeth resolutely turned Georgiana away from the rose garden, and almost dragged her down the first path that would take them out of sight of the lovers: James Darlington and the Countess de Namur.
Georgiana seemed unconscious of their direction. She walked doggedly onwards, as quickly as possible, tears streaming down her cheeks. When they had gone a good distance from the rose garden, Elizabeth stopped Georgiana, and embraced her. Georgiana now began to cry in earnest. She spoke not a word as her sister attempted to comfort her. Eventually, Georgiana allowed herself to be led back to the house, where she straightaway rushed upstairs to her apartment.
Elizabeth instructed the butler to serve refreshments to her guests upon their return to the house, and requested him to give them her apologies: both she and Miss Darcy had taken too much sun, and would not be well enough to rejoin them. She then retired to her own apartment, for she had not the slightest wish of seeing either James Darlington or the Countess de Namur -- ever again.
Elizabeth had refreshments sent up to Georgiana, but when she visited her sister's apartment, she saw that the food lay untouched. Elizabeth attempted to encourage her sister to speak, but she would not respond. Georgiana sat huddled in her favourite chair, her body shaking and shuddering with grief. All through the afternoon, she sobbed wordlessly. It was plain that she wished to be alone in her grief, so Elizabeth confined herself to looking in on her sister every hour. Georgiana's abject misery broke Elizabeth's heart, and there seemed nothing she could do to help her poor, suffering sister.
It was not until Elizabeth's final visit, at bedtime, that Georgiana finally spoke. Once started, the words gushed forth in a searing torrent. Georgiana recounted to Elizabeth every detail of what had passed between James Darlington and herself. She spoke of their profound friendship, which had swiftly transformed into the deepest, and most intense, love -- for her, at least. It was only in the last few days that she had finally allowed herself to believe that he might return her love, while all the time, she feared that it must be eclipsed by the Countess de Namur, should that French siren desire him. But yet she loved him, despite all her fears, for she was entirely unable to do otherwise; her heart was his completely. And now it was utterly crushed and shattered.
There was nothing Elizabeth could say to ease Georgiana's pain. She hugged her, and knelt before her, holding her hands while she cried and cried, until exhaustion eventually overcame her, and she allowed herself to be helped to her bed.
The following morning, when Elizabeth entered her sister's apartment, she was surprised to find Georgiana at her toilet, preparing herself to go downstairs. Georgiana seemed entirely altered from the previous evening. It was as if all the emotion had drained out of her. She was calm and passive -- lifeless almost -- as if something had died within her during the night. It discomposed Elizabeth greatly to see her thus.
"Georgiana, I intend to go to Kympton directly after breakfast. I am so angry with Mr Darlington that if I do not tell him what an abominable, deceitful, rogue he is to his face, I shall never again feel at ease."
"What good will it do? It is all too late now; it will make no difference," said Georgiana, bleakly. "I never wish to see him again."
"I will be most surprised if, following my dressing-down, he does not depart Derbyshire this very day. And I doubt, very much, that he will ever dare show his face in these parts again."
Georgiana made no response; she just sat staring at her pale reflection in the mirror with unfocused eyes.
"My dear, you do not look well. Stay in your apartment; I shall have breakfast sent up."
"I must go down later," said Georgiana. "Lord William comes this morning."
"Oh, dear, I forgot all about Lord William," said Elizabeth. "Never mind, I shall send a message to The Grange, informing him that you are not well, and requesting him not to come. I shall also politely decline the invitation to visit Hampshire on your behalf."
"No," said Georgiana. "Do not send a message, I wish to speak with him."
"Are certain, my dear? Are you sure that you are strong enough? You know how persistent he can be. You will need all your wits about you to decline his invitation."
"I do not intend to decline anything," replied Georgiana.
"What? You intend to accept the invitation to visit Hampshire?"
"No, I intend to accept his offer of marriage."
"Georgiana, are you certain you know what you are about?" demanded Elizabeth, in astonishment.
"Yes. I am certain; it is exactly what I want."
"But... only yesterday, you told me that you had no love for him. How can you now be contemplating marriage?"
"I have no love for Lord William, it is true. I have no love for anyone any more. I gave all of my love to that man, and he tore it up and threw it away. There is no more; I shall never feel love again. Twice, in my life, have I entrusted my heart to a gentleman; and twice, was I utterly duped and deceived. Following the first occasion, I became cynical about love; I was no longer able to believe in it. I decided that it was all fancy and self-delusion. But when he appeared in my life, all my doubts gradually dissolved. This time I was certain that I had truly found love, of the highest order. It was an emotion so exquisite, so superior in every way to that first childish indulgence that I was convinced this time it was real. However, as it has transpired, on his side at least, it was nothing -- nothing at all but my own wishful thinking and delusion. Never, again, shall I allow myself to believe in love."
"My dear Georgiana, you have just experienced an enormous disappointment, and it is very natural that you should feel deflated and bitter about life... and love. But you are yet young, my dear, and these feelings will eventually diminish and pass with time. At this moment, when you are cast so low, it would be a very great mistake, I believe, to make a decision of this kind, and commit yourself to a marriage which will last your whole life long."
"Lord William is a good man, and I am certain that my chances of happiness are as good with him as they can be with any other. And at least, with him, I may be sure that his affection is genuinely for myself, and not my fortune. When we marry, and I wish for it as soon as may be, he will take me away from here, and away from the Darlingtons. I do not blame Lady Darlington or Julia in the least; but I cannot see them without thinking of him -- and that, I cannot support!"
"Georgiana, my dear, you are in no state to make such a decision. Lord William may indeed be the very best match for you; I have always liked him very much. But today is not the day on which to make such an important decision -- even though, perhaps, it may be the right one. You are not yourself."
"Oh yes, I am very much myself," said Georgiana, gravely. "Yesterday, I was not myself; I was distraught and discomposed. Today I am most certainly myself -- or at least that which remains. Something has died within me; an emotion that I shall never again know or feel. I may not be happy, but my mind is clear and rational. Do you believe I am better to remain here, like this? Dwelling on all that has been, and all that might have been? Dwelling on that which is now lost forever? Would you have me live out my life in bitterness, consumed by disappointed dreams? In marrying Lord William, I shall leave this sad episode behind. I shall make new friends in Hampshire, and strive to make him a good wife. At least I shall have something to aspire to, something to occupy my mind... something to stop me thinking about..."
"Then I shall not go to Kympton, Georgiana; I shall stay here with you."
"And do what? Tell Lord William I may not marry him? You know perfectly well that my brother has already sanctioned the match."
"No, that I would never do."
Georgiana sighed deeply. "Then go to Kympton and say what you must say. Leave me here at Pemberley, to say what I must say. I know my own mind; I am no longer a naïve young girl."
Elizabeth was shown into the sitting room at Kympton, where all the occupants of the house were gathered. She found herself unable to say the harsh words she had intended to Mr Darlington, out of respect for Lady Darlington, who loved her deceiving and undeserving son so excessively. Elizabeth decided that she must wait until they were alone to do justice to his treachery... and her anger.
When the pleasantries were completed, she said, "I come with news from Pemberley; although it will hardly be a very great surprise to any of you." They all looked at her expectantly. "Georgiana is to marry Lord William Beauchamp."
She stared straight at James Darlington as she uttered these words. He looked suddenly grave, and the blood drained from his face. "No!" he said, jumping to his feet, and rushing from the room.
The three ladies sat in stunned silence. Elizabeth felt most uncomfortable. Finally, the countess spoke. "Mrs Darcy, is it possible that Miss Darcy was in the vicinity of the rose garden at Pemberley, yesterday? And did she, perchance, happen to see Mr Darlington and myself there?"
Elizabeth coloured. "Yes, we were there together. We saw the two of you beside the sun dial. You have no idea of how greatly it discomposed Miss Darcy," said Elizabeth accusingly.
"So discomposed, that she has decided to accept Lord William's addresses?" asked Julia.
Elizabeth nodded gravely.
"But is it final? Has she given Lord William her word? Is it really too late?" asked Lady Darlington anxiously.
"Too late?" repeated Elizabeth, confused.
"Has Georgiana positively accepted Lord William's offer of marriage?" demanded Julia.
"She is utterly and irrevocably determined to marry him," said Elizabeth.
"But she has not yet given him her promise?" asked Lady Darlington, urgently.
"No, he comes to Pemberley this morning, and Georgiana is resolved to accept him."
The countess jumped to her feet. "She must not! Have you come in your carriage?"
"Yes, of course," replied Elizabeth, becoming increasingly bewildered.
"Then you must return to Pemberley, immediately! And I must accompany you! I must speak with Georgiana!" said the countess imploringly, as she attempted to pull Elizabeth to her feet.
Elizabeth was stunned. Lady Darlington and Julia had also risen to their feet, and together with the countess, hurried Elizabeth from the house.
"I shall explain everything to you in the carriage, Mrs Darcy," said the countess.
As they alighted from the carriage they saw a gentleman approaching the main entrance. It was Lord William. Upon seeing them, he stopped and came towards them.
"You must detain him," whispered the countess to Elizabeth, "while I speak with Georgiana."
Elizabeth nodded. After they had made their formal greetings, Elizabeth said, "Lord William, I must apologise on behalf of Miss Darcy. She was a little indisposed this morning, and I fear that she is not yet ready to receive you. Would you care to take some air with me?"
"It would be my great pleasure, Mrs Darcy," he said without suspicion.
The butler showed the countess into the morning room, where Georgiana sat stiffly in her chair, awaiting Lord William. Upon seeing the countess, she rose, ashen-faced, to her feet and without troubling with the usual pleasantries, said angrily, "How dare you enter this house! Please leave immediately; and do not return, so long as it remains my home. I never wish to see you again!"
"I am here at the express invitation of Mrs Darcy," replied the countess, resolutely. "There is something I must tell you; something that your sister wishes you to hear -- something that you must hear!"
"Please leave me!" cried Georgiana, glaring at the French woman. "There is nothing you can have to say that I should ever wish to hear."
"You are angry with me, because you saw Mr Darlington and me together in the rose garden yesterday."
"Yes! I saw you! Why have you come? To taunt me? To thrust your dagger deeper into my heart and twist it?"
"No. I have come to tell you that Mr Darlington and I are not lovers; that we have never been lovers."
"How do you expect me to believe such brazen lies, when yesterday I saw you two standing together by the sun dial, holding hands, and gazing into each other's eyes like the most devoted of lovers? There is no other explanation."
"Yes, there is! What you and Mrs Darcy saw yesterday was an act; a charade; a sham."
"An act? I do not believe you, madam! You must think me some kind of silly, naïve, girl, who is gullible enough to believe such preposterous falsehoods. Or, perhaps, you believe me to be so besotted with Mr Darlington that I will grasp at any straw that might allow me to again be deceived by that insincere rogue? You are wasting your renowned acting abilities on me, madam, for I am no longer an innocent... I am no longer deceived by that scoundrel."
"Let me ask you, Miss Darcy: how can you be certain that what you witnessed yesterday, from quite a distance, was real, and not an act?"
"Because I had already seen enough of you and Mr Darlington in each other's company, both in London and here in Derbyshire, to suspect that you have long been lovers. Of course, I tried to persuade myself that it was not so; to delude myself into believing that it was all my own imagination. But there was nothing imaginary about what I saw yesterday."
"You are quite mistaken in the matter, Miss Darcy. What you saw yesterday, was an act, a performance, intended to create the illusion of a liaison between Mr Darlington and myself."
"You are making not the slightest sense! Why would you and Mr Darlington wish to convince either Mrs Darcy, or myself, that you are lovers, if you were not?" demanded Georgiana.
"The performance was not intended for you and Mrs Darcy."
"Then, for whom was it intended?" demanded Georgiana distrustfully.
"Gwendolyn? But why?"
"Can you not guess? Between her and Lady Beauchamp, poor Mr Darlington has had no peace. Miss Beauchamp is constantly pursuing him. Her mother engages in increasingly transparent hints of her desire for them to marry, and he is too gentle and considerate of them both to rebuff Miss Beauchamp outright. So, I conceived of the plan for her to catch us en flagrant délit, and so end all her hopes of receiving Mr Darlington's addresses."
"How can I be sure you are telling the truth? It looked entirely real to both myself and Mrs Darcy."
"I would certainly hope so; I am an actress, after all. But if you cannot trust me, you may ask Julia Darlington, who also played a part in the deception. It was she, who led Miss Beauchamp to the rose garden; although by a different route, and to a different entrance, than that taken by Mrs Darcy and yourself."
Georgiana felt weak at the knees and had to sit down, in the light of this new information, which she realised must be true. Whatever she might have allowed herself to believe of Mr Darlington, Julia would never lie to her. The countess must be telling the truth: it was all an act.
"You said, before, that you and Mr Darlington have never been lovers; yet you seem to be very well acquainted."
"But of course. He and my late husband, the Count de Namur were very good friends. My husband was a brilliant composer. He stayed one summer at Darlington Hall before we married. Mr Darlington was later our guest in Namur. Sadly, my husband died three years ago, and with all the recent troubles Bonaparte is making on the continent, I decided to seek refuge in England for a time. Mr Darlington was kind enough to assist me in establishing myself here."
"Sometimes, countess, when I see you look at Mr Darlington, I see an affection which exceeds mere friendship."
The countess sighed. "I shall be honest with you, Miss Darcy, and confide in you something I have spoken of to no one. I have always considered Mr Darlington one of the most exceptional gentlemen of my acquaintance. When I encountered him in London for the first time in several years, I found myself feeling very differently towards him, than previously, when the count was alive. I must admit to being fascinated by him, drawn to him -- desiring him. I began imagining how it might be if we were to become lovers, or even perhaps to marry. Though it was a most attractive idea, I could also see difficulties: Naturally, I wish to return to France when peace is restored; whereas he is so very close to his mother and sister that he would not wish to leave England.
"But this was all in my fancy, you understand, Miss Darcy. We women like to indulge in such things. My dreams did not last very long, because I soon realised that I could never win his heart; which I must tell you, was a most unusual experience for me. It soon became apparent to me that his heart belonged entirely to another, and there was absolutely no hope that it could ever be mine. It was quite a puzzle, because I had not the slightest idea of the identity of this extraordinary creature who had captured the most worthy of hearts."
"And have you since discovered it?" asked Georgiana hesitantly.
"Oh yes," replied the countess smiling. "I knew it instantly, the moment Mr Darlington introduced you to me in Lady Basildon's supper room. There was not the slightest doubt in my mind, that the possessor of his heart was you, Miss Darcy."
"Me?" asked Georgiana.
"Yes, of course it was you; and still it is you; and if you will allow me the audacity to speak it: I am certain that he possesses your heart in equal measure. Is it not so?"
"Yes, it is so," replied Georgiana accepting the warm embrace of the countess and crying with joy.
The two ladies found they had much to say, and were presently joined in their delightful conversation by Elizabeth, who had been presumptuous enough to inform Lord William that Miss Darcy, with the greatest of gratitude, had chosen to decline Lady Beaumont's kind invitation to visit Hampshire. Elizabeth had also confidentially counselled the gentleman, that contrary to his mother's hopes and aspirations, it was her belief that there was not the slightest likelihood of his present attentions to Miss Darcy bearing fruit. She gently, but firmly, advised him of the wisdom of looking elsewhere
Posted on 2008-08-27
After the countess' departure from Pemberley, Georgiana was in a state of ecstasy. She wondered when she would next see Mr Darlington, and what would then transpire between them. Towards evening, shortly before Mr Darcy's return from the Derby assizes, a servant arrived from Kympton with a message for Georgiana from Julia Darlington, which she read aloud to Elizabeth:
I am so pleased that the Countess de Namur was able to enlighten you regarding the ruse which you inadvertently witnessed yesterday. My mother is likewise greatly relieved, and rejoices with me, that you learned the truth of the matter before taking the drastic step which you had contemplated.
Regrettably, my brother, James, was not so fortunate as to learn of the satisfactory outcome of the meeting between the countess and yourself. When he heard the news this morning at Kympton from your sister, Elizabeth, he believed that you had accepted Lord William Beauchamp. He understood the engagement to have already taken place, and departed immediately for London, feeling himself unable to remain in Derbyshire. By the time the countess had returned from Pemberley with her wonderful news, my brother was already many miles distant.
As you may imagine, I straight away despatched a letter to his London address, informing him of the true state of affairs. I only hope that it reaches him quickly, for I fear that he must presently suffer most grievously.
Your dear friend,
Georgiana waited anxiously for word from James Darlington. Three days following his departure from Derbyshire, an express from him arrived while she was sitting in the morning room with Elizabeth and her brother, together with Julia Darlington and the Countess de Namur, who had come to wait on them. Georgiana was surprised that the express was addressed to her brother, rather than herself. The four ladies looked at him, and were alarmed at the sombre expression that came upon his face as he read.
"I must go to London immediately," he said with some urgency.
"What is it, my dear? What has happened?" asked Elizabeth, anxiously.
Mr Darcy read from Mr Darlington's letter:
I have just this hour heard some most surprising, and disturbing news. It concerns your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. It is reported that he is engaged to fight a duel over an insult upon the honour of his future wife, Miss Anne de Bourgh. My informant is not privy to any further particulars; and although the details are sketchy, I believe there to be a high probability of the accuracy of the report.
"Yes, yes, of course you must go immediately, my dear; and if it is not too late, attempt to dissuade your cousin from fighting," pleaded Elizabeth. Then after a moment, she added. "I think I shall come with you, my dear; perhaps he will listen to me."
"I fear we shall not arrive in time to prevent it; although I would be most happy of your company," replied Darcy, ringing for the servant who was immediately despatched to the stables to have the carriage readied for the journey.
"May I come also?" asked Georgiana, greatly anxious for the fate of her beloved cousin.
"Yes, of course, my dear," replied her brother.
"And if there is room in the carriage for a fourth, do I ask too much, to beg that I may be permitted to accompany you?" entreated Julia.
Mr Darcy readily assented to her request, and within the hour the four of them set off for London. They stopped briefly at the first town through which they passed, to enable Mr Darcy to send an express ahead of them. When they were once again on their way, he explained, "I have alerted the housekeeper to our arrival, and instructed her to prepare a guest apartment for Colonel Fitzwilliam. I also sent an express to Mr Darlington, requesting him to bring my cousin to Grosvenor Square, and take all necessary measures, at my expense."
"Such as engaging a physician, should he require one?" asked Elizabeth anxiously.
"Yes, exactly," Darcy replied. "I recommended Stevenson of Harley Street."
Julia gasped and turned pale as she contemplated the import of his words.
In an effort to distract her from such worrying thoughts, Elizabeth said, "I find the whole affair quite bizarre. Anne de Bourgh is the very last woman one would expect to be the object of a duel."
"I have been thinking much the same thing," said Georgiana. "On account of her poor health, my cousin, Anne, never travels to town, and is seldom seen abroad. It is hard to imagine many persons beyond the immediate neighbourhood of Rosings Park, or my aunt's visitors, even being acquainted with her; much less, finding cause to make so offensive a remark in her regard, as might provoke a duel. She is so insipid and reserved; she never speaks to a soul outside of the family circle; it is all quite inexplicable."
"Perhaps Mr Darlington's source had the wrong de Bourgh," suggested Elizabeth. "Perhaps it was your aunt who gave rise to the precipitous insult. She is doubtless a woman well able to give offence."
Darcy snorted. "Yes, my dear; as you know from first-hand experience, my aunt is indeed gifted in the art. I very much doubt, however, that my cousin would risk his life challenging the offended party to withdraw what was, very likely, a well-deserved insult of Lady Catherine. I think a far more likely explanation of the business is that my cousin has been challenged for the hand of Miss de Bourgh by a competing suitor."
"Without wishing to injure Miss de Bourgh," replied Elizabeth, "she is hardly the young lady one would expect young men to fight over. It has taken all of Lady Catherine's considerable powers of persuasion to bring your cousin to the point; and if I recall correctly, they were entirely insufficient to the task in your case," she said, smiling impishly.
"Indeed they were not," reflected her husband fondly. "But I believe there are men who would find Miss de Bourgh's fortune ample motivation for wishing to marry her. Rosings Park, unlike so many great estates, is not entailed upon the male line, and will pass in its entirety to my cousin, Anne, when her mother is deceased. It is one of the finest estates in all of England."
They resolved to drive on through the night, stopping only to change the horses every few hours, and for a brief dinner at an inn. Managing only a fitful sleep, they were rather weary upon arriving in London, late the following morning.
When the housekeeper opened the door, all she could manage, after welcoming her master and mistress, was to announce that Mr Darlington could be found in the morning room. Whatever else the good lady wished to impart to them was lost; for the entire party hastened immediately to find him. As they entered the morning room James Darlington rose from his chair; but before he could speak, his sister Julia was urgently demanding news of Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Is he alive? Is he badly hurt? For God's sake, James, where is he?" she entreated him most passionately.
"Sitting right here," came an amused voice from the occupant of the large wing chair, which stood with its back to them, and facing the chair from which Mr Darlington had just arisen.
Julia rushed to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and dropping to her knees, she embraced him, tears streaming down her face; until, realising the impropriety of her behaviour, she quickly released him, her face turning bright red. Rising to her feet, and taking a backward step, she now regarded him carefully. To her horror, she observed the right sleeve of his jacket hanging empty and lifeless from his shoulder.
"My God!" she cried, falling once more to her knees, her face turning from red to white. "You have lost your arm," she said, clutching at his left hand, miserably.
"Indeed not," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam, extricating his hand from hers and throwing open his jacket to reveal his right arm heavily bandaged above the elbow and supported by a sling. "It is merely a flesh wound; the physician assures me that with a little rest, I shall make a complete recovery."
Julia had to resist the impulse of throwing her arms around him again, so happy and relieved was she, to be thus reassured that he was not badly hurt. The formal greetings between the four newcomers and the two gentlemen, which had given way to Julia's impetuous behaviour, were now made; and they all sat down to take refreshments after their long journey.
Georgiana found herself excessively conscious at being in James Darlington's company after all that had passed recently in Derbyshire. Her mind, however, was very soon occupied with the surprising details concerning the duel, which were now revealed. It began with Colonel Fitzwilliam informing Julia that he had something to tell them which was bound to dampen her present good spirits, and that would cause her unhappiness. "My opponent was not so fortunate as I," he told them ruefully. "My intention was only to force him to the point of surrender, and oblige him to withdraw his odious remarks. Regrettably, in endeavouring to defend oneself with the sword, it is not always possible to limit the injury one does to one's opponent. Accidentally, I inflicted a mortal wound upon him," he said lowering his head sorrowfully.
"Now look here, Fitzwilliam," said his cousin. "You can hardly blame yourself for such an accident. He was a fool to agree to fight a swordsman of your reputation in the first place. And if you were prepared to accept the withdrawal of the offending remark as satisfaction enough, then it was entirely his own fault, if he chose to persevere."
"Indeed, I was prepared to forgo the satisfaction of a duel, if he would but retract the insult. I was most surprised that he chose not to do so."
"But, who was the gentleman you fought with?" asked Elizabeth. "Was it anyone we know?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked exceedingly uncomfortable, and was unable to answer her question. At length he said, "For heaven's sake Darlington, tell them -- for I cannot."
All eyes turned to James Darlington. He rose from his chair, and approaching the couch, where sat his sister, he went down on his knees and took her hands in his. "My dear Julia," he said sombrely, "his opponent was our brother, Edwin."
"No!" gasped Julia. "Edwin dead? No!" she cried, tearfully.
"But, Mr Darlington, this makes not the slightest bit of sense," said Elizabeth. "Why would your brother Edwin insult Miss Anne de Bourgh? He can hardly know her. What is she to him, that would cause him to do such a thing?"
"It was not Miss de Bourgh whom he insulted," replied James Darlington. "Yes, I know, in my express, I stated that the duel concerned Colonel Fitzwilliam's future wife, Miss de Bourgh. My informant, it transpired, was not entirely correct; and unfortunately, I made a wrong assumption, thereby further compounding the misinformation. It was not Miss de Bourgh who was the subject of the insult."
"And neither am I engaged to my cousin," added the colonel.
"You are not engaged to Anne de Bourgh?" exclaimed Julia, so startled that she stopped crying. "But there were several reports to the effect that the matter was entirely settled, and an engagement was certain, if not yet fact."
"No doubt rumours put about by my good aunt, in the belief that if all the world believed me to be engaged to marry her daughter, Anne, that I, too, must believe it," said the colonel smiling.
"But... then to whom are you betrothed?" asked Julia.
"I am not presently betrothed to anyone."
"Then who is the lady whose honour you were defending?" asked Julia, perplexed.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked away from Julia and remained silent. Finally, James Darlington spoke. "My informant was only slightly in error: he told me that a gentleman had insulted the woman that Colonel Fitzwilliam wished to marry, and I naturally assumed he must be referring to Miss de Bourgh."
"But then who is the lady," demanded Julia of her brother, who looked towards Colonel Fitzwilliam with raised eyebrows.
Finally, the colonel spoke. "I encountered your brother, Miss Darlington, several nights ago at his club; where I happened to be dining at the invitation of a friend. I understand that in recent years, he has gone there but little. Indeed, he is rarely in town, since the loss of his character. He was come to London, I understand, in order to make preparations for his forthcoming marriage to Miss Caroline Bingley. It seems that he decided to dine at his old club, though most of his former acquaintance there refuse even to acknowledge him. Probably, he had been drinking to excess. Upon recognising me, he arose and, somewhat unsteadily, approached the table at which I was dining, where he delivered his insult."
"But against whom was the insult made?" asked Julia.
Since the colonel again declined to name the lady, Mr Darlington spoke. "It was not the lady to whom the colonel was engaged to be married, for of course there is no such lady. It was the lady whom he had wished to marry."
Julia turned and looked enquiringly at the colonel.
"There is only one lady I have ever wished to marry," said the colonel, staring at the floor.
"Oh!" exclaimed Julia. Then a moment later she asked, "But... why would my brother Edwin have insulted me?"
"Because you refused to marry him, I imagine," said Elizabeth. "And very probably, he still wished to marry you, despite knowing that his suit was hopeless, and having settled for Miss Bingley."
"Yes," added the colonel, "it seemed very much that way to me. With his impending marriage to Miss Bingley, I imagine that the disappointed hopes of what might have been were prominent in his mind; and of course, when he recognised me, he recalled that though you refused him, you were on the point of accepting my addresses."
"Yes," said Elizabeth, "that is very likely what provoked the insult."
"It is quite certain," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, "for he began haranguing me about it: asserting that it was I, who came between the two of you, and that, were it not for me, you would have accepted him."
"Never!" exclaimed Julia. "I will not call it a lie, for perhaps he allowed himself to believe it. I would never have accepted him -- under any circumstance."
"Your brother began to gloat, and crow about how he had taken his revenge upon us both, by thwarting our marriage. I became so angry, that I immediately apologised to my host, and rose to leave the club; for I could tolerate his behaviour no longer."
"But, then how did the duel come about?" asked Georgiana.
Elizabeth now realised why Colonel Fitzwilliam had earlier wished to avoid naming Julia as the object of the duel. He did not wish to disclose her brother's insult for fear of hurting her.
"He hurled an insult at my back as I was leaving. It was a most scurrilous lie, and he spoke it so loudly that all the dining hall heard it. I could not allow such a scandalous perjury to be made publicly, and demanded that he withdraw it immediately -- or give me satisfaction with his sword. He readily accepted the latter, and when we met two mornings later, I again asked him if he would publicly withdraw his falsehood -- rather than fight. He insinuated that my offer was borne of cowardice, and refused to withdraw."
"What did he say of me?" asked Julia, anxiously.
"I shall never repeat it," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. "It was a total fabrication, and utterly unworthy of ever being uttered again."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," said Julia sternly, "I have a right to know what has been said against me publicly."
But the colonel remained steadfast in refusing to speak it.
Elizabeth turned to James Darlington. "Mr Darlington, your sister is entirely correct; it is her right to know -- and your duty, as a brother, to tell her what the colonel is too noble and kind-hearted to reveal."
Mr Darlington looked questioningly at Colonel Fitzwilliam, who shook his head. "You must all know that because the colonel so bravely challenged the slanderer, and defeated him, that his lies are now publicly repudiated."
"Yes, that may be so, by the agreed rules of gentlemanly chivalry; but still you must tell her," insisted Georgiana, adding her voice to those of the other ladies. "If she does not know, then she will very likely imagine something even worse than what was actually spoken. No matter how terrible and great a lie it may be, it can in no way reflect upon your sister -- only upon the one who uttered it."
"I am sorry, colonel," said James Darlington, "but, I must agree with the ladies: my sister has the right to know what slander has been said about her; and if you will not speak it, then I fear I must." Turning resignedly towards Julia, he said gently, "Edwin's aspersion was with regard to the fact that when we were made destitute some years ago, you came to London and, for a time, were forced to seek employment."
"What? Only that?" asked Julia in surprise. "Although people are kind enough not to speak of it now, and dismiss it as nothing of the least import, it was already known to a great many in society. Where is the insult in that? I do not understand."
James Darlington sighed. "Edwin asserted, most explicitly, that the manner in which you earned money was not solely as a teacher of music, but also... in the most dishonourable way imaginable, for a woman."
The ladies all gasped in unison. "What a despicable thing to say of any lady -- let alone his own sister!" exclaimed Elizabeth angrily.
"Indeed it is," agreed Georgiana. "But the whole world already knows how disgracefully and dishonourably he acted against his own mother, sister, and brother. He has already, by his own actions, condemned himself as the most disreputable of scoundrels. My dear Julia, no rational person can believe a word of it; your reputation and honour remain untarnished."
"Thank you," said Julia, "I know you are correct; but it is not my reputation that concerns me, or for which I grieve. It is for my brother, Edwin, whom once I loved, that I grieve; for that beloved companion of my childhood, who was lost to me so many years ago. I have grieved a long time for him; and yet, that it should come to this -- that he could have spoken such cruel and wicked lies about me... And now he is dead, and there is no longer hope for him..." Julia began sobbing into her hands. Elizabeth and Georgiana sat themselves on each side of her to give what comfort they might.
"Miss Darlington, I hope, in time, you shall be able to forgive me for what I have done," said Colonel Fitzwilliam earnestly. "Please believe me, that it was not my intention to kill your brother -- only to force him to withdraw his wretched lies."
Julia looked up through her tears and smiled at him. "You have nothing for which to beg my forgiveness, sir. You have acted entirely honourably. And although I wish, with all my heart, that my brother Edwin were still alive, as imperfect as he was, I do not blame you in the least for what has happened. I think I must express my gratitude, that you would defend my honour with your life. I am greatly in you debt, sir."
The colonel's face glowed, and he smiled at her with the deepest affection.
"Fitzwilliam, when will you be well enough to travel, do you think?" asked Darcy.
"I am ready now -- to travel by carriage at least. It may be some time before I am again ready to be mounted."
"Then, I think we should return with you to Pemberley, where you may recover at your ease," said Darcy. "We shall depart tomorrow morning, if you are up to it, and make an easy journey of it."
"That is very kind of you, Darcy," replied his cousin, "I most happily accept your invitation."
James Darlington rose to his feet. "If you will all excuse me, I have the rather sad business of making the arrangements for my brother Edwin's funeral."
"James, I shall remain here, to assist you," offered Julia.
"No, dear Julia," her brother replied, shaking his head. "You must return to Derbyshire, and give the sad news to our mother, and comfort her. She will be most distraught. I shall take Edwin back to Cheshire, to be buried in the graveyard at Middlewich, beside our father. When the arrangements are made, I shall send an express with the date and time of the funeral, so that you and mother may join me." Taking an envelope from his jacket pocket, he handed it to Julia. "When our mother is somewhat recovered from the dreadful news, please hand her this letter.
Posted on 2008-08-30
On a sunny day in April, James Darlington, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam stood silently beneath the noonday sun, while the remains of Edwin Darlington were lowered into the earth, beside his father. The small country graveyard was the final resting place of generations of Darlingtons. Were it not a graveyard, and such a sombre occasion, one might have felt delight at the picturesque scene of a handsome stone church standing atop a small hill. The ancient stone walls of the graveyard gave way to fertile green fields, which seemed to breathe the very hope of life on the lovely spring day.
Lady Darlington and Julia had travelled that morning from Pemberley, accompanied by Mr and Mrs Darcy, Georgiana Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. As was the custom, the ladies had earlier farewelled Edwin from Darlington Hall, where they awaited the return of the gentlemen. Re-entering Darlington Hall after an absence of almost two and a half years had indeed been a poignant moment for Lady Darlington and Julia. Despite the sombreness of the circumstances, the servants could not conceal their joy at receiving her ladyship and the young Miss into their former home. James Darlington had arrived with his brother's body the previous evening, and had passed the night there. His arrangements for the luncheon unfortunately fell short of what Lady Darlington felt was due to their guests, and she very soon had matters arranged to her complete satisfaction.
After the meal, Mr Darlington excused himself, as he had business with the solicitor in the library. He was accompanied by Mr Darcy, who, as a magistrate, had agreed to witness the signing of some documents. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Julia Darlington decided to take advantage of the lovely spring weather and take a turn in the garden. He offered her his left arm, as the right one remained in a sling. Elizabeth could not help but observe how well they looked together.
Lady Darlington enquired whether Elizabeth and Georgiana would care to take a tour of the hall; to which they gladly acceded. "I understand," said Lady Darlington, "that most of the hall was sheeted, and has lain closed since our departure. It is an enormous place, and far too large for just one inhabitant. The housekeeper tells me that since Edwin was intending to bring his bride to the hall, he had all the rooms opened up; so I have hopes of finding everything in good order."
The quality and beauty of the rooms, the furnishings, and the artwork were a reflection on the exquisite taste of Lady Darlington. The exceptional standard of all she saw, gave Elizabeth pause to reflect that there was yet something further to aspire to at Pemberley. Both she and Georgiana were lavish in their praise of all they beheld; and her ladyship was visibly gratified at their admiration.
Lady Darlington was eager to view the picture gallery, where she feared Edwin may have removed James' paintings. She was greatly relieved to discover after a quick survey that he had not done so. "My late husband, Lord Darlington, painted by our son, James," she said, standing in front of a large portrait of a handsome, benevolent-looking gentleman. She fell silent, and Elizabeth and Georgiana stood quietly beside her as she looked lovingly at the portrait. Then brushing aside a tear, she said, "And now we have a new Lord Darlington."
"What becomes of the estate, your ladyship?" asked Elizabeth.
"Since Edwin had no heir," replied Lady Darlington, "both the title and the estate, in its entirety, now belong to my son, James," she said with evident complaisance.
Georgiana laughed. "Oh dear, we shall have to call him Lord Darlington, now."
"I expect that you may be allowed a slight abbreviation, my dear," said Lady Darlington, smiling mischievously.
Georgiana blushed and Elizabeth laughed. Both ladies understood the abbreviation she alluded to, must be darling, with all that was implied.
"I suppose with Darlington Hall now belonging to your son, you will be anxious to return here, to your former home -- and we must lose our dearest neighbours," said Elizabeth regretfully.
Lady Darlington smiled. "I shall never forget your warmth and hospitality, or your great generosity in our time of need, my dear Elizabeth; but naturally, I wish to return to my beloved Darlington Hall. However, as you will have seen from this morning's journey, we are but a few hours from Pemberley, and I am certain that there must always be the greatest intimacy between Pemberley and Darlington Hall," she said with a smile as her eyes moved meaningfully from Elizabeth to Georgiana.
"But what of Julia, if I may be so forthright as to allude to future possibilities that might take her from you?" asked Elizabeth.
Lady Darlington smiled. "You may be as forthright as you wish, my dear, for indeed, an understanding developed between Julia and Colonel Fitzwilliam upon his removal to Pemberley. It was only out of respect for poor Edwin that they chose to withhold their happy news until after he was laid to rest."
Much congratulation and expression of delight followed from both young ladies at the positive confirmation of what was already much suspected.
"The business, in which my son James is presently engaged with the solicitor, is the execution of the wish of his late father, to settle a substantial fortune upon Julia. When you returned from London, a week ago, Julia had in her possession a letter from James, stating his intention of carrying out his father's fond wish for his daughter. As soon as I communicated the news to Julia, her understanding with Colonel Fitzwilliam was very soon fixed. I am exceedingly happy for them both."
"Oh yes," said Elizabeth. "Love, such as theirs, which has withstood both the test of time and seeming hopelessness -- not to mention the persistent and outright opposition of his aunt -- cannot but produce the greatest happiness. Nevertheless, you must feel some regret in losing so beloved a daughter, your ladyship?"
"No, not at all; on the contrary, I very much hope to gain another beloved daughter," said Lady Darlington, again looking significantly in Georgiana's direction.
Elizabeth guessed that Lady Darlington had most probably been entirely aware of the love that was blossoming between her son, James, and Georgiana -- and very likely for longer than the lovers themselves. She suspected that the letter James Darlington had sent with his sister, from London, very likely alluded to his intention of begging Georgiana to be his wife.
"Do Julia and Colonel Fitzwilliam intend to make their home here, at Darlington Hall?" asked Elizabeth.
"Indeed they do," replied Lady Darlington happily. "In his letter, James expressed the wish that they should live here, at the hall. However, if they preferred, he would offer them the manor house at Winsford; which is part of his estate. Although it is only a few miles distant, I am very pleased that they have chosen to make their home here, at Darlington Hall; which, as you can see, is large enough for several families.
Georgiana's imagination was running away with her by this time, and she had a great desire for a private conversation with James Darlington. As luck would have it, he emerged from the library just as they completed their tour. "Lord Darlington," she said, causing him momentary confusion, for he was not yet accustomed to the appellation.
"Miss Darcy," he said with a smile, "I was very much hoping that you might allow me to give you a personal tour of my beautiful grounds."
"I would be delighted," said Georgiana, taking the proffered arm. They walked for a time in silence, while Georgiana admired the great beauty before her. As they entered a lovely avenue of birch trees, she said, "I was hoping that you might grant me a private conversation, during the course of the day, Mr Darlington."
James Darlington laughed heartily, for young ladies were supposed to wait for the gentleman to make such a suggestion. "I had much the same wish, and was hoping that our present excursion might provide the desired opportunity. However, I beg you to wait just a little, until we reach a particular place I have in mind. I understand that my mother has given you the grand tour of Darlington Hall. May I ask how you like it?"
Georgiana smiled at him. "I like it very much; it is beautiful. And the grounds are delightful. Your mother is so happy and full of joy to be again in her own home."
"Yes, she is. I am so happy for her, but will you mind... err, no, I cannot yet ask you that question; let us walk on a little further."
So they walked on silently, arm in arm, enjoying the lovely day, and feeling a wonderful sense of anticipation. Finally, James Darlington led Georgiana to a beautiful rose garden. It was not on so grand a scale as the one at Pemberley, but it had a delicate beauty about it, that Georgiana greatly admired. They stopped at the centre of the garden, beside an ornamental fountain. Georgiana laughed.
James Darlington turned to face her, and took her hands in his so that they were standing in an identical pose to that he had assumed with the Countess de Namur at Pemberley. "Fear not, no one will come upon us," he said, smiling.
"Did you practice the words you are about to address to me with the countess?" asked Georgiana playfully.
"Indeed not. But I have been practicing them, or at least, imagining myself saying them to you, for a very long time, my dearest Georgiana," he said, becoming suddenly serious. "Since the day that your sister contrived to have me paint you in the conservatory, I have loved you as I have never loved before. When you told me that you had no wish to marry, the desire to make you my wife was planted firmly in my heart, where it has flourished and thrived. It was only my poverty that prevented me from paying you my addresses until this time."
"And I, too, have loved you since that day -- although, for a time, I attempted to persuade myself that it was no more than deep friendship. Though I felt such pain, whenever we were apart, and wished to be always in your company, I told myself that I did not wish to marry you. It was not until the Beauchamps came into Derbyshire, and my conversations with Gwendolyn, that I gave serious thought to what it means to be a wife. Then I knew, without the slightest doubt, that I wished to be your wife."
"Are you paying me your addresses, Miss Darcy? Although I am no stickler for social conventions, I always believed it to be the prerogative of the gentleman. But since you are so unconventional a young lady, perhaps I should allow you to finish."
"Yes, you should," said Georgiana, smiling lovingly, and squeezing his hands. "If you recall, I almost came to the point that night in the library at Pemberley, when I told you I had changed my mind about not marrying."
"Indeed, I do recall it. I was amazed in thinking it over afterwards: that had Lord William not happened upon us at that moment, you might very well have informed me that you had decided to marry me."
"Yes, it may well have ended like that; although I had in no way premeditated such a thing -- as I do now: James Darlington, I love you, with all my heart, and I wish to be your wife. I cannot live without you."
"I thought you would never come to the point," he said smiling happily. "And yes, with all my heart, I accept you, my dearest, darling Georgiana." And with that, he released her hands, took her in his arms, and they kissed, for a very long time.
Afterwards, Georgiana said, "You took a great liberty in kissing me like that, James, for you do not yet know if my brother and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who are my joint guardians, will approve of the match."
"They have both approved the match, already. I asked Colonel Fitzwilliam in London, and your brother, this morning," he said with a smile.
"Then you had better kiss me again," said Georgiana, "now that I know it is properly sanctioned."
As they walked back towards the hall, brimming with joy, James Darlington asked, "How will you like sharing Darlington Hall with my mother and sister? I hope that you do not object to the arrangement, for I could not, in my heart, deny my dear mother her own home, or the company of her beloved daughter."
"Oh, James, how could you imagine I would object? I should only have objected had you not begged them to live with us at Darlington Hall. You must know that I love you mother dearly; as much as any daughter could love a mother -- and now I shall, in truth, be her daughter. Nothing could make me happier. It is evident that your mother loves to run the establishment at Darlington Hall; and it is my desire that she should continue to do so for as long as she wishes. I shall gradually learn from her. It will suit us both very well, I believe, and will leave me free to pursue my writing. As to your sister, Julia -- who shall now also be my sister -- and my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am overjoyed that they will live with us at Darlington Hall, for I love them both dearly. It will all be entirely perfect!"The End