Posted on 2010-09-11
"Bingley, this is not a subject I intend to discuss." Darcy's elegant eyebrow rose, a definite admonition toward silence for his one man audience. He fussed briefly with the cuffs of his jacket, adjusting the white trim of his blouse to show just the right amount of material. "If Miss Bennet is so pig-headed, so stubborn, so prejudiced, then all I can say is, a good day to you madam, and to yours. Don't let the door hit your bottom as you leave."
It was the most loquacious his friend had been in the two months since Jane and Charles Bingley's charming wedding and the mysterious dissolution of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet's betrothal. For two months he had barricaded himself in his rooms, drunk himself senseless and lost at cards to his valet. Then, when he finally emerged from this self imposed exile his friends were sorry to see that he had returned to his previous persona – the cold, aloof, disdainful Darcy of Derbyshire.
"She is miserable, Darcy. Do you want to make her miserable? Do you? Of course you don't. You're a decent sort of man at heart, Darcy. Deep, deep, deep down at heart, are you not?"
A momentary squirming in his chair was all that revealed Darcy's own distress. He quickly tried to collect himself. "I seriously doubt if that is true, Bingley - I mean that she is miserable – not that I am a decent sort, which I am, of course, basically, somewhere deep down. In any event, it is no longer my concern. She made herself clear as glass, as crystal – she never wants to see me again, has nothing but contempt for my position or for Pemberley, can…can…" The thought that he had hurt her in any way interfered with his train of thought - bothered him much more than he cared to admit. It was humiliating for a man so proud to be in the power of another human being, especially to this extent; he loved her to distraction, loved her more than his own life and that thought alone aggravated the hell out of him. He cleared his throat and looked away.
"She wants to see you. Alone."
"Bah!" Darcy hoped the sound of his pounding heart coming back to life was not too much of a distraction. Damn the woman, she drove him crazy. He smiled calmly at his friend. "I have not unknowingly moved from your house, have I? She may come see me whenever she wishes." He took a long draw on his cigarillo. "Hopefully, I'll be home."
Charles shook his head in vexation and scrubbed a hand through his hair. He and Jane had worried and discussed and plotted for two long weeks now, hoping to somehow find a resolution to the standoff between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Miss Bennet. They had returned home to Netherfield Hall from their extended wedding trip surprised to find Darcy still in residence and the much anticipated next Bennet daughter wedding called off; and, although Darcy was the best of friends, the finest of fellows, top drawer – he still was the fifth foot in the bed! Gad! The newlyweds wanted peace and they wanted privacy; they wanted to start their family as soon as possible without the distraction of the insufferable, miserable, despondent gentleman dwelling down the hall.
They wanted Darcy to go home! And please God take Lizzy with him! She too had become impossible to be around; stomping about Longbourn like a bear with a thorn, trudging through mud and muck, complaining and weeping. Enough was enough.
"She wants to meet you to talk, to beg your forgiveness in private, away from servants' ears and eyes. Surely you can understand? Will you do that, Darcy? You owe her that much, I believe, seeing as she was your fiancé for a few months - you might consider that you owe her something."
Darcy puffed away, distracted momentarily by a particularly interesting article in the morning papers. He raised his eyes slowly, bored to distraction as he apparently ruminated the situation around a bit, considering all his varied options before answering. In actuality he was wondering where they could meet and how quickly he could get there.
"Oh, all right, Bingley; if I must. I suppose I can spare some time for her. Will this afternoon be agreeable?"
Seeing as it was already past the noon hour Bingley suppressed his grin. This was a welcome sign of eagerness; well, as much eagerness as Darcy would ever expose to others. "Oh, I think that will be fine. Shall I tell Jane then to speak with Lizzy. It will give the poor thing some shred of hope, that."
"What?" Lizzy was tearing through her clothes closet. She had been sorting old dresses from new, worn shoes from boots from dancing slippers. She had assembled her two hats on the bed, her old, serviceable, gloves sat proudly side by side. She had been at the pointless endeavor for weeks now, never able to toss a thing out, never finding even a button out of place. She was neat to a fault and annoyed with herself. There must be something in here she could clean. "What did you say, dearest?"
Proud of her restraint, Jane congratulated herself on her ability to control the urge to beat this sister senseless. After repeating a thing more than three times anyone could become annoyed – even sweet natured Jane. "I said Darcy is miserable without you! He sobs into his cravat and moans at the moon."
Lizzy's head poked up. She looked at her sister intently, with squinted eyes. "Jane, you are being nonsensical."
"All right, I may be exaggerating a little, but he is heartbroken, Lizzy. I pity the man – he terrifies me - but I still pity him. He wants to see you. Alone."
Lizzy suddenly lurched as she reached above her. "Bah! Have I left for London? Do I appear to be…ow!" A reticule stored on a high shelf fell on her head.
"He has begged Charles to arrange a meeting with you. Begged. Are you amenable? Don't you believe it would be kinder to confront him than to send back all his missives, unopened?"
"What missives? Those two or three brief notes from Pemberley? Is that what you mean? Jane, my precious, those ended almost before they began. They were most likely requests for Papa to return the greatcoat that Darcy forgot here. I'm certain it was nothing more than that." For two months Lizzy had sobbed into her pillow. For two months her heartache had ruled her actions and she had alienated friends and family alike; the family dog was even growling at her.
Rubbing her temple briefly she checked her fingertips to see if her change purse had drawn blood. "I suppose I could afford him the opportunity to apologize for his ungentlemanly like behavior. Heartbroken you say? Huh. Yes. I will. I'll see him. Briefly. Return his coat."
"You are the essence of Christian charity, Lizzie."
"No need for sarcasm, Jane."
The old hunting lodge at the edge of the Netherfield estate had long since been abandoned, weeds crowding the cobbles, the window panes not yet broken smeared with years of neglect. Gratified to see Lizzy's carriage there before him, Darcy allowed himself a self satisfied grunted. Excellent. That meant she was eager to see him. He would be kind to her, polite, no reason to behave in an uncivilized manner after all. He would return his copy of the marriage contract, ask for his mother's ring back, a family heirloom, that. The thought made him suddenly very sad, then annoyed. There was no reason they could not part friends; unless she opened her harridan's mouth again and ruined everything. He sighed and willed his heart to calm itself; he dismounted his chestnut mare, Biscuit. He inhaled deeply. He entered.
The sky outside was overcast, a storm grumbling somewhere in the distance. It took a moment or two for his eyes to adjust to the room's gloom before he saw her, pacing back and forth against the far side of the room. Her head was, naturally, uncovered; so typical and stubborn of her - she would never listen to him about the harmful effects of the sun on her delicate, porcelain like skin.
By God, she really is so very lovely he mused in spite of himself, so feminine with her petite figure and her dark long curly hair tied with ribbon at the nape of her neck. A shawl was draped loosely around her elbows and she was fiddling absently with some of the fringe. She stopped pacing and looked up briefly as he entered then looked away, returning immediately to the dismantling of her shawl trim.
"You are alone?" He was faintly surprised at this breach in decorum; a lady and a gentleman supposedly never had a moment alone together – of course that was nonsense, and always easily overcome.
"Yes, of course I am alone. That is what you desired, is it not? Now why did you wish to see me? Please be brief, I have a busy afternoon planned and this is wasting too much of it."
"Me? Wished to see you? Alone? Nonsense. Please Miss Bennet, do not try my patience once again! It was you insisting on seeing me that has brought us out on such a miserable day." Outside the daily late afternoon rain shower had quietly begun.
"I never did!" Distant thunder growled.
Darcy quirked an amused eyebrow at her and harrumphed.
"Stop that!" She order. "Put that down."
"Put what down?"
"That thing – that caterpillar – that growth of hair above your eye. I hate when you do that. Such a pompous affectation! I'll not have it."
"It's an eyebrow, Miss Bennet, not a golden quizzing glass! Of all the…no, you'll not make me loose my temper again. All right. Bingley declared you were miserable and wanted to apologize. I can make this easier for you, Miss Bennet. I accept your apology. You were disturbed at your sister's wedding for some outlandish reason – although any reason will do, I suspect, for someone possessing your aberrant temperament. Come, let us shake hands and be friends before we part."
"Me? Miserable? Ha! And didn't Jane tell me of your sobbing and moaning, or perhaps my sister lied to me? Is that it, Mr. Darcy? With you now accuse my family of being liars?"
Darcy could feel his blood rising. No, she would not do this to him again; she would not cause him to behave like a raving Bedlamite. Not this time. He would remain rational, calm, cogent, composed…
"Well, someone is a liar Miss Bennet, and it is not me!" Darcy suddenly roared then cursed himself for his loss of reason. Turning toward the window he clamped his fists upon his waist and shook his head. "Dear God! I suspect both Charles and Jane have cooked up this ridiculous situation thinking to reunite us. Unbelievable! Fantastical."
"Oh calm yourself. Really. I don't know why you always over react like this." She turned toward the window too, at its opposite end, and stared outside at the rain. "More than likely they just want their home back. Isn't it a bit crowded at Netherfield these days, with you and Jane and Charles and Caroline?! Hmmmm?! "
Darcy turned his head in surprise. "You really are unhinged, aren't you? I'll have you know that Caroline is in Greece with the Hursts. Of course you would have already known that if you had bothered to remain at the wedding breakfast for more than five minutes after Jane and Charles departed." Leaning his shoulder against the window pane Darcy crossed his arms and turned to face Lizzy. "Is that what all the shrieking was about that day? Was it merely jealousy over Caroline Bingley? You cannot be serious, Elizabeth! Why of all the ridiculous, stupid…"
"I was not jealous! I was not! What do you mean she's…they've been in Greece? When did they leave?"
"The following morning." He made a motion to step toward her then stopped. Could that have been the reason for her sudden anger at him that day, her cold manner, her shrinking away from his very touch? "Elizabeth, have you been thinking I was staying on at Netherfield with Caroline? I've been alone there from the time Jane and Charles left until their return."
She looked down at her hands and studied her nails very carefully. "Possibly."
He was suddenly very angry with her. "If you had bothered to read my letters you would have known the situation there; but, no, you sent them all back, unopened and unanswered. Badly done, Elizabeth. I deserved a bit more trust than that, I'm afraid."
"Well, what was I to think? You were speaking with her throughout almost the entire breakfast, you laughed at her horrid jokes, you helped her from her chair…it was disgusting. Mama warned us about you and Charles, how men can become imbecilic around a woman who fawns over them, and Caroline certainly does that around you."
"I have no idea of what you are speaking. And, when did your mother say all this to you may I ask? Are we a source of instruction for your Mama with regards to the male species? "
Lizzy poked her finger at him angrily. "She spoke to Jane just before she and Charles left on their trip, and she called me in as well. Said she did not want to have to explain things twice, since once would be embarrassing enough."
Darcy closed his eyes and cursed silently. Of all the drawbacks he had found to a future with Elizabeth the only one which still concerned him day and night was her mother. The woman was a walking catastrophe, where she had once loathed the sight of him, she now stood in his presence in petrified silence. She drove him insane. "What else did your mother talk about with you and Jane?" He dreaded what sort of mother daughter talk had occurred with the crazy old woman.
"Well…she spoke of a wife's role in the home as not only the heart of the family but also and most importantly the servant to her husband, a silent and obedient handmaiden to her lord and master."
"You didn't believe that, did you?"
"Not for a moment."
"Well? What else did she say to you? Something was said that sent you into a panic." He had an idea where this was leading and he was not happy about it one bit. Some of the misinformation that old tabby had fed to her five daughters had been comical to the extreme, but this had interfered somehow with his life and future.
"I cannot say it to you! It is very embarrassing and you'll laugh at me."
"When have I ever laughed at you?"
She rolled her eyes. "All right, perhaps that was unjust." She inhaled deeply before she began. "Mother explained to us how unpleasant marital relations are for a woman. There. Are you happy with this knowledge?"
For the first time in two months Darcy could feel his stomach relaxing and his heart return to normal. "Is that what had you upset? You were afraid?" He took a step toward her and reached for her hand. "I would never, never hurt you Lizzie, you know that."
"Well, of course you wouldn't mean to, I realize that. But you would expect me to do things that were painful or unpleasant, and if I was unsatisfactory you would feel free to find yourself a mistress. She said all rich gentlemen have them, mistresses I mean, that wives are only for breeding and that we will be very glad indeed when your use of us is over. She said marital love is very unpleasant and embarrassing and shameful and we should just keep our eyes closed and pray the whole time until you are finished." Her cheeks were now crimson, but she had left her hand in his, and that gave him comfort and hope.
"Lizzy, your own mother has five children. Do you honestly believe she would have endured five childbirths if the creation of life was so distasteful? Your mother never discomfits herself, she doesn't even like to have the crust on her bread. And she adores your father, surely you've seen that yourself. They are often whispering and laughing. Have you spoken with Jane since she returned?"
Lizzy turned toward the window again and nervously rocked from foot to foot. This was so very humiliating.
"Elizabeth, did Jane look as though she had suffered greatly?"
"No, she said it was wonderful," Lizzy suddenly blurted out. "That is was like nothing else in the world. That it was like flying to heaven."
Well done you, Charles Bingley! Darcy thought. I'm very impressed. He cleared his throat and took another step toward her slipping his hand around her waist. "What bothers you then, Lizzy?" he said softly.
"Well…the thought…of what we must do…together…I'm so very ignorant, Fitzwilliam. You'll be disappointed with me, I know it. You'll be forced to find yourself a mistress within the month – probably Caroline Bingley - then you'll live in London with her and come to Pemberley only on holidays or for elections. You'll grow to hate me, you'll scorn me as some country mouse with mud caked shoes and frizzy hair." She looked up into his eyes for the first time. "I can't compete with those other women of yours, Fitzwilliam, why would you even consider it?"
He knew then that all would be well and he smiled. He loved her sexual ignorance, he loved her simplicity, he loved her honesty. He loved her. "Marry me, Lizzy."
Placing her hand on his cheek she traced his mouth with her thumb. "I want so much to make you happy. I want to be perfect, for you, but I don't know where to begin."
He leaned in closer still, his lips a whisper from hers. "Marry me."
She stared at his mouth for the longest while. "Yes," she said finally. "But you will have to have patience with me, Fitzwilliam. I will be like an unwritten symphony for you, I'm afraid."
"Then I suggest we both follow my Aunt Catherine's advice."
He smelled wonderful, his warm arms wrapping around her and holding her tightly. Slanting his head slightly, he smiled. His gaze caressed her eyes, her nose, her lips. He was home.
"What advice is that, Fitzwilliam?" she asked breathlessly.
"We must practice."
Then his mouth covered hers as he pulled her gently into his embrace. It was the first kiss of so many more to come over the years; it was a lover's kiss, deep, moist and intimate. When their lips parted for a brief moment he sighed, touching his forehead to hers, and she blinked her eyes rapidly, bewildered by emotions she had never felt before, bodily sensations she had never known existed.
"Lizzie," he whispered raggedly and kissed her again, deeper and longer, and then again…and then again…
Outside that cottage, that late afternoon, the torrential rains raged on for a while then slowed; night fell, the stars sparkled in the sky. Inside all conversation had long since ceased, time had stopped. A lantern light was turned low, a hair ribbon was removed and slowly, gently, hands explored a new world, discovered a new purpose for being, clothes were discarded, a new life begun.
The lovers within soon took wing.
And flew to heaven together.The End