The blue one or the crimson one? Crimson is the ball gown colour, so better make it the blue. But then which bonnet? The straw one, with the white ribbon? Or replace the white ribbon with a blue one! Muslin day gowns. Silk evening gowns. And of course the crimson velvet ball gown.
A knock on the door interrupted her reverie. 'Come in.'
'Lizzy, are you nearly done packing? I don't mean to hurry you, but I need your help to pack.'
'Don't fret, dear Jane. I am nearly done, but I confess, I was coming to ask your advice as well.'
And so it was that the two sisters prepared for their first trip into town. Well, that was not entirely true. They had been to stay at their Uncle Gardiner with their family many times before, but this was their first time since they had been 'out.' Jane, at 17, had been 'out' for more than a year, but had refused to make the trip alone. Elizabeth had recently turned 16, and so had just been formally presented to society.
Now the girls were ready to make the trip. They were again to stay at their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, and their young aunt had promised to introduce them to the sisters of her acquaintance. It promised to be a very interesting trip indeed.
The journey to town was uneventful. The scenery was pleasant, but the eldest
Bennet girls had travelled that road too often for it to be a novelty. The carriage ride was occupied with much discussion of what to expect, and even more anticipation of the delights that were in store for them.
They arrived in the evening, eager to begin meeting people, but their aunt insisted that they spend their entire first day at home with their two baby cousins. As it happened (although they would never admit it) the girls were tired, and more than happy to play with the children.
The second morning of their stay, however, found them wide-awake and ready to take on the town. So they were very disappointed when their aunt announced her intention to call on an old friend of her mother's, Lady Sophia, the Countess of Matlock. The Fitzwilliams had been in town for almost a week, and Mrs Gardiner had yet to call on her favourite semi-aunt. Besides, of all the people currently in town, or ever in town for that matter, Lady Sofie was the one who was the best example of what a lady should be. She was a regular gentleman's daughter, not wealthy but determined to marry for love. When she met the Earl, she did not pursue him like the other girls, but instead found herself pursued. After a lengthy courtship, for the lady to ascertain her feelings, they were married, and had been very happily in that state for the past quarter of a century. Mrs Gardiner believed the girls could learn much from Lady Sofie.
From the moment they entered Matlock House, Jane and Elizabeth were in awe of the place. Everything was so beautiful, and expensive. It was very elegant, which appealed to the young ladies (read 'lovers of anything tasteful and aesthetic'.)
On entering Lady Sofie's sitting room, the girls were put much at ease. Not that this room was not gracefully decorated, it was. It was the occupant of the room that put them at ease. Lady Sofie was middle aged, but with a brightness, a light, emanating from her. She was bubbly and gracious, and the girls instantly took to her, and she to them.
The visit passed without much to remark on, except for the youngest Gardiner, aged 8 months, regurgitating his breakfast all over Lady Sofie's lap. The Lady, however, did not seem overly concerned, and returned very quickly with a clean frock and a towel for the child.
As the visitors were about to take their leave (Mrs Gardiner was just inviting the Earl and Countess, and any children in residence, to dinner the next evening), Lady Sofie's younger son and nephew arrived.
'My dears, may I introduce my son, Lieutenant Fitzwilliam, and my nephew, Mr Darcy. Boys, Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. They are Madelaine's, that is Mrs Gardiner to you, nieces.'
Pleasantries were exchanged, and very shortly thereafter the ladies took their leave.
That afternoon, in the privacy of their own small sitting room, Jane and Elizabeth discussed their impressions of the morning. Jane expressed a satisfaction with everything she saw, especially Lady Sofie. Elizabeth was also pleased with their morning, but something was bothering her.
'Jane, did you see the expression in Mr Darcy's eyes? As if something was deeply troubling him? What can be so bad as to trouble a man of three-and-twenty so?'
Across town, at the Matlock townhouse, another conversation was being carried on in the library. It could hardly be described at a conversation, though, for hardly anything was being said. Lieutenant Fitzwilliam knew the reason for his cousin's silence. It was the memories that troubled him. Darcy's father was becoming more and more ill, and Darcy was thinking back to the time when his mother had passed away. He had been banished to his aunt and uncle in town for a fortnight, and his cousin had been called from his regiment to keep him company. Fitzwilliam hoped their dinner engagement the next evening would distract Darcy a little, or at least enough for him to open up and say how he was.
The next morning was spent shopping, for Mrs Gardiner felt she could with her extensive knowledge of the London shops and warehouses, significantly improve the girl's outfits with relatively little extra expense. A little extra lace (bought on sale) on that blue evening gown, a satin sash added to the forest green morning gown, new ribbons with embroidered roses (bargained down to half price) for that plain old bonnet.
The afternoon passed primarily in preparation for the evening. All the dinner parties the girls had attended had been with the people from their own neighbourhood in Hertfordshire; pleasant company, but boring after the fifth such event with exactly the same people. Tonight's dinner promised to be exciting; new place, new people, new dresses. And they were dining with the family of an Earl!
The girls made sure to be ready in good time, for they wanted to make a good impression. They obviously did not understand the concept of being 'fashionably late'. Fortunately for their nerves, neither did Lady Sofie; she just considered being late as pure rudeness.
When the doorbell rang, both our young ladies jumped to their feet, so when the door opened, they were ready to greet the guests. They were very surprised to find everyone with long faces, which Lady Sofie promptly explained.
'My brother-in-law, Mr Darcy, has been ill for some time, and we have just received word that he has taken a turn for the worse. If we had been dining with anyone but you, Madelaine, I would have cancelled, but I think a little quiet, pleasant company will do much more good that an evening spent at home contemplating the worst case scenario. I have given instructions that should any expresses come, they are to redirected here immediately.'
Elizabeth glanced over to Lady Sofie's son and nephew. Lieutenant Fitzwilliam was greeting her uncle, while Mr Darcy was just standing quietly by the side. She moved over to greet him.
'Good evening, sir.'
'And to you Miss Bennet. Are you well?'
'Indeed I am, sir, and you?'
'In a manner of speaking.'
Their quiet greetings were interrupted by Mrs Gardiner inviting everyone to be seated. Jane was speaking to Lady Sofie, the Lieutenant was still speaking to her uncle, and Mrs Gardiner was involved in a discussion with the Earl, so Darcy and Elizabeth seated themselves in twin chairs by the fire. Wanting to try draw this young man out, Elizabeth began,
'I believe you attended a university, Mr Darcy. Where did you study?'
'I studied at Cambridge. My family has always prided itself on the fact that, although we have been part of the landed gentry, indeed the nobility, for many generations, each of us has a sound education in all areas.'
'I should so have loved to attend a university. My education had been limited to the books I could acquire.'
And so they passed the time till dinner in a discussion about books, for this was not a ballroom, but a drawing room, a very fitting place for such a discussion.
At dinner, they again were seated near each other, and again spent the majority of the meal talking quietly. Lady Sofie noticed how her nephew was talking, and wondered about the younger Miss Bennet.
'Madelaine, how old is Miss Elizabeth?'
'Just 16. Why do you ask?'
'She seems to have managed to draw Fitzwilliam out considerably, which none of us have managed to do. He is so concerned about his father, and all he can think about is when Anne passed away. Although this time I know it is worse, for if George leaves us, Fitzwilliam will be responsible for the estate, and his younger sister Georgiana. I don't think he has much confidence in himself right now. He needs someone to show him what he is capable of, and I believe your niece might just do that.'
After dinner they adjourned to the music room. Elizabeth had been prevailed upon to play, and did so with much grace and style. All through her performance, Mr Darcy's focus never left the carpet at his feet. He could hear the music, but his mind was in such a state that it brought memories of his mother's sweet playing, rather than the performer's lively countenance.
The evening ended quietly, with the lateness of the hour, rather than a sudden message, calling them home. In their sitting room that night, Jane and Elizabeth discussed their impressions of the evening.
'You seemed to get on remarkably well with Mr Darcy. He spoke to no-one else.'
'Yes. He is very shy, which is compounded by the worry over his father. But he seems to have a very strong soul, and I believe he could weather anything, even the responsibility his father's death would force on him. If his father were to die tonight, tomorrow morning would be dull and harsh, but the sun would still rise for him, as it would every morning until he adjusts, however pale and wan it would be.'
Little did she know that her theoretical situation was indeed the reality.
'Lady Sofie left this here last night. I thought that on our way this morning we could call there and return it.'
This suggestion was met with agreement from her two charges, so after breakfast, they set out for Matlock House.
This time round the girls were still impressed with the house, but were not in such awe of it, and it's occupants. They were shown into Lady Sofie's sitting room, where Mrs Gardiner presented her with the scarf.
'Oh, you could have sent a servant. You did not have to come all this way yourselves.'
'It was on our way. Besides, I could never pass up an opportunity to see you.'
As the tea was served, Lieutenant Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy entered. They each took a cup, and seated themselves.
Elizabeth noticed that Darcy looked pale and drawn as he took the seat next to her. For a few moments they were silent before Elizabeth asked if he had slept at all. The reply was a detailed account of the dreams that had haunted him the previous night, all vividly portraying his father's death. They continued in similar conversation for a few minutes before Darcy burst out.
'Miss Elizabeth, I can almost feel that my father has passed on. And so I say to you, if it were another place, another time, I would court you properly. But now, at this time, it is not possible.'
Elizabeth was prevented from replying by the entrance of the Earl with a very grave expression.
'I just received the express. Fitzwilliam, your father passed away late last night. We must all travel to Pemberly immediately.'
Darcy's face turned white, but his grip on the teacup remained steady. He rose, placed the cup on the table, excused himself and left the room. Lady Sophia echoed Elizabeth's comments from the night before.
'It will be hard, but he will be all right. He is strong enough to withstand this, as difficult as it will be.'
Mrs Gardiner and her nieces departed immediately. Back at the Gardiners' home, Jane and Elizabeth retired immediately to their sitting room, where Elizabeth related her conversation with Mr Darcy to Jane.
'I confess I do like him, a lot, and he apparently likes me too. It is so frustrating, Jane.'
'Dearest, it is as he says, it is the wrong time. If he is the right person, he will return to you at another time, the right time.'
The next morning Jane and Elizabeth received word that there had been a great fire at Longbourne. While no one had been hurt, the wing which contained Jane and Elizabeth's bedrooms had been severely damaged, and they and the Gardiners were called there immediately.
It often happens that in a time of extreme distress, there are very few memories of the time. And sometimes it also happens that with the shock, memory of the time immediately before is lost, or is buried so far in the recesses of the mind that it takes a very similar, or intricately connected circumstance, to jog the memory. This is what happened to both Elizabeth and Darcy, so when they met at the assembly after Bingley had rented Netherfield, neither recalled their previous meeting.
The next time Elizabeth and Darcy met, at the Meryton Assembly rooms, has been described elsewhere with much greater skill than this author could presume to claim. The course of their acquaintance, from Netherfield to Kent, has also been related in detail. It is there, at Hunsford, that we resume our tale, right after Darcy's disastrous proposal.
When Elizabeth left the parsonage the next morning, it was in all haste. She had not slept well the night before, and was in no state to put up with Mr Collins' nonsense. She set out for a good, long walk, with thoughts of Jane and the happiness she might have had crowding her head, complete with unrelenting anger to the person who had caused her beloved sister such misery.
The thought of that set her thinking of a comment Jane had once made to her. 'If he is the right person, he will return to you at another time, the right time.' She could not place the comment, not the time or the place or the context, let alone to whom Jane referred (she had no memory of ever being romantically attached to anyone that would require such a reassurance), but it had been preying on her mind since Mr Bingley had entered the neighbourhood. Elizabeth assumed that it was an indication of hope for Jane; her first meeting with Mr Bingley was not intended to secure her happiness, but in another situation, at another time, they would have their chance.
And besides for that, the undeserved injustice towards Jane, for the man to be accused of such cruelty towards his father's favourite, a friend who had been almost like a brother during childhood, and to not even attempt to deny it. Surely that, if nothing else, proved Mr Darcy's guilt. How could the man be so unfeeling?
Needless to say, when the object of her anger appeared, Elizabeth was less than thrilled to see him. Mr Darcy was walking a parallel path, crossing the ground with the apparent intention of meeting her.
'I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?' And he turned on his heel and walked off without a backward glance.
With much reluctance, Elizabeth sat down to read the letter. She was convinced that he could not possibly have anything to say, but being the creature of justice that she was, she thought it only fair that she do him the courtesy of reading it.
The contents were more than disturbing to her. She read it once, scarcely understanding anything; again, absorbing only the words pertaining to Jane's situation; and a third time, concentrating on the passages concerning Wickham. It was in this third perusal that her mind picked out two lines, for no understandable reason.
'My excellent father died about five years ago . . . My sister, who is more than 10 years my junior, was left to the guardianship of my mother's nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and myself. Georgiana.'
She was at a complete loss as to why these phrases caught her so, but they did. Much as she tried to push them out of her mind, trying to concentrate on the facts contained in the letter, she could not. Every time she tried to turn her thoughts, the lines would intrude. Eventually she resigned herself to the idea that her subconscious was trying to tell her something.
Georgiana. It was not a common name, but she had heard it before. And now that she thought of it, the names Darcy and Fitzwilliam seemed naturally to come up, with the word Pemberly. 'Fitzwilliam, your father passed away late last night. We must all travel to Pemberly immediately.' And there was the large, beautiful townhouse she had once visited.
But the clear association evaded her. No matter how hard she tried, she could not clear the words from her mind, but nor could she conjure the memory needed to solve the puzzle.
The words troubled her for the several days remaining of her stay, and by the end of it, she resolved to tell Jane everything, save the part pertaining to Mr Bingley. She had seldom travelled without Jane, and Jane was sure to remember better than she did. So she resigned herself to being utterly confused until she met Jane two days hence, in the hope that Jane could shed some light on the situation.
The journey was uneventful, save the facts that they had nearly missed the coach, got stuck in the mud twice and drove right past the Gardiners' house 3 times before they finally stopped in front of the right house. But to Elizabeth's confused and disordered mind, this was perfectly normal.
Dinner that evening was a quiet affair, with only the Gardiners, their nieces and Maria Lucas. Elizabeth was in no mood for conversation; a day spent brooding did very little for her peace of mind. Fortunately, her usually perceptive aunt took this as a sign of exhaustion, and sent the girls to bed early.
As it happened, this arrangement suited Elizabeth perfectly. She was exhausted, from having slept very little the preceding three nights. Every night the words of the letter floated through her mind, an endless river of words, tumbling over each other, refusing to slow enough for her to contemplate them. Like water, the moment her mind grasped the essence of the words, they would slip from her grasp, leaving only a wet, useless trail of what had been.
All she wanted to do was to talk to Jane, to reveal to her the source of her distress, and receive comfort and counsel. Growing up, Jane had always been able to console Elizabeth, to lead her to foreign ideas. The absolute gentleness of Jane's manner had always soothed Elizabeth, and she had grown used to the idea of Jane being able to make any problem better.
That night, in the small sitting room that had been for their exclusive use during their visits, Elizabeth spilled all to Jane, from the disastrous proposal, almost word for word, to the contents of the letter.
'I don't know why these words keep haunting me, Jane. I know it sounds silly, but they have been consuming my days and my nights. I wake up in the morning, and before I can even open my eyes the words "My excellent father died about five years ago . . . My sister, who is more than 10 years my junior, was left to the guardianship of my mother's nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and myself. Georgiana," come floating through my head. I lay my head on the pillow at night, and I hear "Fitzwilliam, your father passed away late last night. We must all travel to Pemberly immediately," echoing through my head. I know these words mean something, have a great significance for my future, but I just cannot place them. And I have all these strange associations."
'I am sorry, Lizzy, but I am as much at a loss as you are. I don't recognise the names, except for Darcy and Georgiana, and the only association I have is from Mr Bingley in Hertfordshire.'
'You have no idea?' Jane shook her head. 'I thought you would know, I was sure you would be able to help. . .' Elizabeth could not believe that Jane could not solve, or al least ease, the problem.
'Try and neutralise it in your mind, Lizzy, just so you can sleep a little. Tomorrow our aunt is to have company for tea, which will help take your mind off things a little.' Seeing the look on Elizabeth's face, she added, 'No, don't look like that, Lizzy, it is only Aunt's old friend Lady Sofie, Countess of Matlock.'
To Jane's great surprise, Elizabeth jumped up and kissed her forehead. 'You are an angel, Jane. That is it! That is who it is! Matlock! Lady Sofie is Mr Darcy's aunt. . .'
Her voice trailed away as she remembered, and realised that the problems that came with this revelation would surely be worse than the torment of not knowing.
'What Lizzy?' asked Jane, very surprised. She had mentioned that they were expecting a family friend of their aunt's, Lady Sofie, Countess of Matlock, and suddenly Elizabeth had become very excited, thinking this was the answer to her torment. But just as quickly, her face had drained of colour and her excitement had disappeared. 'You must explain yourself. What does Lady Sofie have to do with Mr Darcy, and why does that make your problems with him more complicated?'
But Elizabeth just sat there, staring into space for a few moments without showing any sign of having heard her sister. Slowly, she turned to Jane with hollow eyes, began, 'Jane, I . . .' and abruptly burst into tears.
It took Jane quite some time to calm Elizabeth down. Eventually, her crying slowed so quiet sobs, and then ceased all together. It was several more minutes before Elizabeth could speak, which she only did to ease the anxiety on Jane's face.
'I am sorry, Jane, I did not mean to frighten you. It is just that, oh, I cannot believe it is him. Of all the men on this planet, for him to be the one to propose to me, to claim to love me. But it is not him. It cannot be. He is not the man I remember. Oh, Jane! Why does life have to be so complicated? Could I not just have fallen in love with a man who loved me? Why did it have to be him?!'
Jane let her carry on in this vein for a few moments before interrupting her. 'Lizzy, you are making no sense at all! I am quite at a loss as to what to do with you. Here, sit still.' She rose to ring for a maid to bring some tea. 'Now I want you to just sit here, quietly. No,' she added as Elizabeth began to protest, 'quietly. Take a deep breath. There we are. Now just sit here for a moment.'
They sat in silence while they waited for the tea to arrive. Jane poured each of them a cup, and handed Elizabeth hers, before sitting down beside her sister. 'Now I want to hear all about it. But only after you drink that tea,' she added, seeing Elizabeth was about to begin talking, and working herself into a hysteria.
Elizabeth drank the scalding tea as fast as she could, took a deep breath, and began. 'Do you remember the first time we travelled to town on our own? Just after I turned sixteen? We were to stay at our aunt and uncle for two full months, but our visit ended after only a week, because of the fire at Longbourne. The only family we were in company with was Lady Sofie's. It was her, the Earl, their son, and their nephew. Do you remember?' she paused, seeing recognition slowly settle onto Jane's features. 'Their son was Lieutenant Fitzwilliam. He was since promoted to Colonel. I met him again, although I did not remember him and I am certain he did not recall our acquaintance, at Rosings, where he was staying with his aunt, Lady Catherine. With him was his cousin, Mr Darcy. Their names were familiar because I had met them before, here. I remember Lady Sofie speaking about her niece Georgiana. The reason our acquaintance with them was discontinued was not only because we had to return home because of the fire, but also because they all had to travel to Pemberly, Mr Darcy's home, because the elder Mr Darcy had passed away. "Fitzwilliam, your father passed away late last night. We must all travel to Pemberly immediately." It is what I keep hearing, the Earl's words. You may or may not recall, but in the few days that we were in their company, I formed some kind of attachment to Mr Darcy. He was so vulnerable, and venerable at the same time. He and I developed a very quick rapport, and I was well on my way to being in love with him. I do not understand how a man could change so. It seems as if his fundamentals, his very essence, has changed. He seemed so centred, so accepting of the inevitable, when I last saw him, but when he came to Hertfordshire he had morphed from being reserved and dignified to being aloof and proud. I do not know what to make of it.'
'Now that you tell me all this, I do remember it all. You say you were well on your way to loving him before, but do you remember how he felt?'
'No, not at all. I do not remember if he liked me, or if he was too distracted to pay much attention to the relationship we were developing, or whether he possibly even began to love me. The fire blotted out my memory of that trip, save the fact that we made it, until now. I just cannot remember what his feelings were. Then I thought so much of him, and until last week I thought so little of him, and now I am so confused I do not even want to think of him, but it seems to be all that I am capable of doing. I wish I could remember how he felt. I do not know how that will help our situation now, but I still can't help wondering. If I only knew what he thought of me then, and,' she paused and a small sob escaped, 'after I levelled all those unfair allegations at him, after I remembered my former partiality to him, I wonder what he thinks of me now.' And the single sob overtook her, and became quiet, but uncontrollable tears.
It struck Jane that Elizabeth was not anywhere as coherent as she normally was, and she wondered how much more of this her sister, or herself, could handle, so she escorted Elizabeth to her bed. As she tucked her sister in, she wondered if the remembrance of his former feelings would help ease her sister's mind. No, she thought, surprisingly assured that this would be the case, it is bound to make things worse.
As she packed her trunks, Elizabeth thought back to all that had happened in the past months. The morning after what she now referred to as her 'great realisation', the ladies at Gracechurch Street had met with Lady Sofie. She recognised Mrs Gardiner's nieces, but did not remember anything else of her former acquaintance with them. This suited Elizabeth very well, as she had no desire for Darcy's aunt, who he was apparently quite close to, to know anything of their dealings, at least not until she had come to terms with them, anyway.
Their stay in town had been brief, and they had been at Longbourne ever since. Occasionally Jane and Elizabeth would discuss Mr Bingley or Mr Darcy, but fortunately for Elizabeth, never both at the same time. And then a fortnight previously Lydia had gone to Brighton, a move which Elizabeth, with Jane's support, had steadfastly opposed.
Now Elizabeth was packing for a trip with her aunt and uncle to Derbyshire. They were originally supposed to go to the lakes, but due to her uncle's business, their trip had been shortened to only go as far as Derbyshire. Elizabeth was extremely anxious at the prospect of travelling into Mr Darcy's home county, because she was so unsure as to her feelings toward the man. But as Jane pointed out, these fears were totally unreasonable. The chances of he seeing him were so minute that Jane would not let her worry over such a remote possibility.
The following morning Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrived, depositing their children in the old Longbourne nursery, under Jane's capable care, and departing on their own journey.
After some days they arrived in a town called Lambton, where Mrs Gardiner had lived in her youth. There were still some of her old acquaintance there, so they were to stay over a week. On the second evening of their stay, Mrs Gardiner suggested that they visit Pemberly, saying that the Estate did not only boast a fine house, but magnificent grounds as well. After ascertaining that the family had not yet returned for the summer, Elizabeth agreed to the plan.
During the journey to Pemberly, Elizabeth was uncharacteristically quite, her thoughts fully occupying her attention. She wondered what the grounds would look like, was curious as to the furnishings, and agonised over the master's opinions, former and present, towards her.
The carriage entered the grounds, and Elizabeth immediately was filled with a sense of tranquillity, which she attributed to the beautiful forest through which they were travelling. It was quiet and peaceful, with only the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of the birds breaking the silence. The trees were tall and dignified, and Elizabeth's thoughts jumped to compare them to their owner.
They drove to the top of a rise, and Elizabeth gasped at her first sight of the house. Her first emotion was awe at the stately, yet welcoming home, for it was far more than just a house. As her shock wore off, much to her surprise, she identified a feeling of absolute belonging.
And she realised that she loved him. He was truly a good and honourable man, who showed absolute loyalty to his friends, like Bingley, but was perceptive enough not to be taken advantage of, as his dealings with Wickham showed. To be sure he had made a mistake regarding Jane's feelings, but Jane seldom showed her emotions, and after being put on his guard by the events of the previous summer, he was only protecting his friend.
As they entered the house, her thoughts returned to the feelings of comfort she experienced here, comparable to those at no other place save Longbourne, she despaired. Now that she knew in her soul that she loved him, she was certain his love for her must have dissipated after her horrible rejection at Hunsford. No, there was not a man on this earth who would continue to seek a woman who had rejected him so bitterly. She walked through the house, her mind's eye picturing her and Darcy in the music room, her at the piano, him on the sofa with their baby daughter asleep in his arms, their son asleep with his head in Darcy's lap. Her heart sank, fearing that her vision would never be a reality.
As the object of his thoughts was touring his house, Darcy was just entering his grounds. Since he had left Kent, images of Elizabeth had troubled his days and nights. Yesterday he had abruptly departed for Pemberly, for if he could escape her anywhere it would be his home. The entire trip, he could not shake the feeling that he had forgotten something very important relating to her. But that was ridiculous; he could remember almost every single moment of their acquaintance since they had met the previous fall. Still, he could not rid himself of the feeling.
He reached the stables and dismounted, giving instructions that his steed was to be well cared for after the long journey. As he approached the house, he removed his coat after the long journey, certain that there would be no one to see him. As he shrugged off his outermost layer, he caught sight of Elizabeth, and immediately chastised himself for daydreaming. But he blinked, and she was still there. He resolved to show her that the reproofs had been attended to, and prayed that this was a second chance.
They spoke for a few minutes before he excused himself to change. When he returned, he found Elizabeth, with his gardener and two strangers, in a small wood. He approached them and requested an introduction. The name 'Gardiner', and their faces, seemed very familiar, but he could not place it. He escorted them to their carriage, bestowing constant attention on Elizabeth.
After they left, the name of Elizabeth's companions would not leave his mind, along with the feeling that he had forgotten something. But that was not possible, for while they were certainly people of fashion and intelligence, Mr Gardiner was in trade, and he had certainly not met them before.
The events of the following two days have been excellently described by the original authoress, and I will not sport with your patience by repeating it. We resume our story the evening after Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth visit the ladies at Pemberly.
Georgiana was sitting with her brother in his study, escaping from their guests. Too much time spent in the company of Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst rattled even the calmest nerves, and her brother wished to speak with her about that morning's visitors.
'Miss Bennet is lovely. She is sweet and kind, with a lively sense of humour. I can see why you like her.'
'That was perceptive of you, Georgie. I have not said anything.'
'William, I have eyes, you know. You have been miserable since your visit to Aunt Catherine, but suddenly you are beaming, whisking me off to meet a young lady before I have even settled myself. I can see she is important to you.'
'Yes, she is. And what of her relatives?'
'The Gardiners are such genteel people. Mrs Gardiner told us that she is an old acquaintance of Aunt Sofie.'
'That is it! Goergiana, you are an angel. That is where I know her from.'
'What did I say?'
'Just before father passed away, I was in town with Aunt and Uncle Matlock. There I made the acquaintance of two young ladies, sisters, and their aunt and uncle, friends of Aunt Sofie. I became quite close to the younger sister, and was well on my way to falling in love with her. The entire trip home this time was taken up by thoughts that I had forgotten something very important about my acquaintance with Miss Bennet, and this is it. You reminded me. And from what I recall, she was quite partial to me, although I don't recall if we reached any kind of understanding before I had to return here. But I do believe there is hope, Georgie. I do believe there is hope.'
The following day Mr Darcy went to the Lambton Inn to visit Miss Bennet, only to find her in tears. He eventually extracted from her that her youngest sister had eloped with Wickham. Instinctively he knew what he must do, and as soon as he departed from the Inn, he made plans to travel to London.
In the long hours in the carriage that followed the revelation of Lydia's indiscretion, Elizabeth had much time to think on it, and a little to think on her now dashed hopes for Mr Darcy. During her stay in Lambton, he had been kind and amiable beyond civility, and she had thought there might be reason to hope. But now, the best outcome of the situation, that Lydia and Wickham marry, would put him out of her reach forever. For who would want Wickham as a brother-in-law?
She returned home to Longbourne, where she found Jane under much stress from their mother's 'nerves.' Elizabeth resolved to put her own selfish concerns entirely out of her mind at this traumatic time, that she could be of better use to her family. This approach worked well during the hours of the day, when she was occupied in attending her mother and speaking with her aunt or Jane, but in the long waking hours at night, her mind constantly dwelt on the disgrace that Lydia had brought on them all, and the misery it would cause.
The weeks passed on, and eventually they heard that Lydia was to be married, and that Mr Bennet had capitulated and allowed the newly weds to visit Longbourne before they travelled up north. The fact that they were married served as little comfort to Elizabeth, save that their family had been saved from total disgrace. As for her sister, she had no expectations of more than fleeting happiness in that quarter.
But on her first day, Lydia let slip that Mr Darcy had been at her wedding. Naturally she wrote to Mrs Gardiner to ask, for now her heart was willing to leach onto anything that might be hope.
The reply came after Lydia and her husband had left, and it left much room for hope. Her aunt had said that she might tell Jane, but no one else. That night, when Elizabeth was sure there were no interested ears pressed to doors, she told Jane the whole.
'Yes Lizzy, from the very beginning of this debacle, I had hoped for there to be a logical explanation. I know between Uncle and Father they could not have produced such a sum on such short notice. Fate is working to help us here. As Solomon said "Everything has it's season; everything in it's own time under heaven," and I believe now is the time for us, for our hopes to reality.'
'Say that again, Jane.'
'Everything in it's own time.'
'I am sure you have said that to me before, and in context with Mr Darcy. It was not in connection with Hunsford, I am sure. And it was definitely not since my return from Derbyshire. Could it have been the first time I met Mr Darcy?'
'You did seem to become quite close to him then. Maybe he said something about timing?'
'Yes! Yes, he did! I remember now, he said that at that time, at that place, it was not possible for him to court me properly, but at a better time he would. Oh Jane, maybe there is still hope for us. Now with Mr Bingley's return,' with a sly look at her sister, 'I believe we will be in company far more often.'
'Indeed, we will be in their company more often, but Lizzy, do not get your hopes up over me. I do not believe anything will come of it.'
'No, Jane. If there is any hope for me, there is surely more for you!'
Meanwhile, at the Gardiner's home in London, another discussion was taking place. Mr Darcy was dining with the family one last time before he was to return to Hertfordshire to join Bingley. He had grown quite close to the couple during the course of the affair with Lydia, and they in turn had almost 'adopted' him. The Gardiners had, of course, picked up on his attentions toward Elizabeth, and approved heartily.
This evening their discussion turned to Darcy's dealings with Wickham.
'My dear,' said Mrs Gardiner, 'I know Wickham has done you a great deal of harm, caused you a great deal of grief, but for your sake, I think you must rid yourself of anger and resentment towards him. I believe he will continue to intrude upon your path,' with a significant look, 'and for the sake of your sanity I think it serves you best to release it.'
'After all,' her husband added, 'did not King Solomon, the wisest man who lived, say "A time for war, and a time for peace."'
'Yes, you are both right. "Everything has it's season; everything in it's own time under heaven." I hope my life will enter a new stage, and I cannot afford to carry old grudges with me. In fact, I believe the first time I met Miss Elizabeth was when she and Miss Bennet visited here for the first time. We seemed to establish a rapport, but our acquaintance was cut short by my father's death. Just before we received the news, I believe that I said to her that at that time, at that place, it was not possible for me to court her properly, but at a better time I would. Hopefully that time will soon come.'
'I'm sure it will, my dear,' replied Mrs Gardiner. 'I'm sure it will.'
The following day Darcy joined Bingley in Hertfordshire, where they almost immediately called on Longbourne, for Mr Bingley had already been in the area 3 days, but would not go without Darcy.
Darcy was able to stay but a week before business called him back to London, but in that time the gentlemen visited Longbourne twice. During those visits, Darcy spoke little, much to the chagrin of Elizabeth, but observed Jane instead. He was that while she was quiet and controlled, the epitome of graciousness, her eyes lit up every time Bingley addressed her (which was often.)
The night before he was to leave Darcy approached the task he had been dreading.
'Bingley, I believe I owe you an apology.'
'You, apologise? For what?'
'For separating you from Miss Bennet last winter. Understand that at the time I believed her indifferent, and I acted only out of concern for you, but I have since received information that she is indeed partial to you, which I have confirmed through my own observation.'
'You did that on purpose?' Seeing Darcy blanche, he added, 'Do not worry, I do not blame you, you only tried to act in my best interests. But . . .'
Darcy interrupted him. 'Wait, there is more. She was also in town, and she visited your sisters and they returned her call.'
'You mean they knew of it too?'
'Yes, and they believed she was going to snare you, because she was a fortune hunter. I did not believe that, but I was concerned that you would be humiliated.'
'Unfortunately, I can believe it of them. Well, at least you can admit you were in the wrong.' He paused for a minute. 'So I have your blessing?'
'Do you need it?'
'No, but I should like to know I have it anyway.'
'Then go to it. And I want the earliest information of it!'
The following day Bingley visited the Bennet family without Darcy, and managed to find a private moment with Jane. This was of course interrupted by one of her sisters, fortunately Elizabeth, but after everything of import had been said. Mr Bennet's consent was obtained, and the engagement was announced.
That night Jane and Elizabeth had a long discussion before retiring.
'I told you it would happen, Jane. I am so happy for you. "A time to weep and a time to laugh." You truly deserve this happiness.'
'And your turn will come too, Lizzy. Do not worry. "A time to hate, and a time to love." Your time is coming.'
'I pray that you are right, Jane. I really pray that you are right.'
Very soon after receiving the almost unintelligible letter from Bingley announcing his joy, Darcy travelled to Hertfordshire. Since his return to town from Netherfield, Darcy had thought on little except for the discussion he had held with the Gardiners. The conclusion he had repeatedly come to was that there was hope, and that he should try again. However, after his first dismal attempt, Darcy was having some trouble gathering the courage. With the news of Bingley's engagement he was almost obliged to return to Hertfordshire, so for better or for worse, he did.
On arrival he found Bingley exactly as expected: grinning from ear to ear, and completely incapable of conversing on anything that did not directly involve Jane. This only disturbed Darcy further, knowing how close yet how far he was from such happiness.
The following day Darcy visited Longbourne with Bingley, where he very civilly, and much to the lady's surprise, offered his sincere congratulations to Mrs Bennet. When she proposed that they all walk out, he could not decide whether he was more distressed or relieved at Kitty's presence.
Elizabeth, for her part, was agitated being in his company, and that feeling was so consuming that she could not consider actually speaking to the man.
Jane and Bingley quickly walked ahead of the others, leaving the three remaining in each other's company. The gentleman and the elder lady were too preoccupied with the other's continuing presence that they were not capable of speech; the younger lady would not give herself the trouble. Eventually Kitty requested permission to call on Maria Lucas, and left the others to puzzle out their feelings.
They walked on for a little way in silence, Darcy absolutely intent on the ground, and Elizabeth preoccupied with the passing scenery. Eventually Elizabeth could take it no longer, and thanked him for the kindness he had done for Lydia.
But he had to do it, "A time to rend, and a time to mend." He was shocked that she knew of it at all, and she explained that of her family, only she knew, and that Lydia, not Mrs Gardiner, had first betrayed it.
Darcy lapsed into silence, and walked with his gaze transfixed on the road before him. All he wanted to do was tell he how much he loved her, but he knew that after Hunsford, he would have to go very slowly so as not to intimidate her. If he could gather up the courage, he would ask to court her properly.
Elizabeth, startled at his silent reaction, became even more anxious that she had somehow angered him, and lost any chance of happiness. As his silence continued, she began to wonder if Jane was not wrong, if her time was never to come.
Eventually he spoke again, saying that if she would thank him, let it be for herself alone. Only she had been in his thoughts. Her heart began to hope.
'Miss Bennet, Elizabeth,' he continued, seeing no averse reaction to the use of her name, 'I believe that this time we have made a mess of it.' She looked at him, puzzled. 'We were formerly acquainted, in London, through our aunts. Indeed, during that acquaintance we did far better than we have done in this one.' The recognition on her face gave him courage, emboldened him to continue. 'Elizabeth, I asked you if at another time, in another place, you would let me court you. I don't believe Kent could be counted as courtship, but perhaps we could try again?' He asked the last with such a tremulous note in his voice that her compassion, and her love, were fully aroused.
'Mr Darcy, I do not think there is reason for you to court me.' Seeing his face drop, she continued. 'King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said "Everything has it's season; everything in it's own time under heaven." A few days ago, Jane reminded me of another line of the quote. "A time to hate, and a time to love." I have had my time to hate, and now has arrived my time to love.' She looked up just in time to see the look of heartfelt delight diffuse over his face, and mentally noted how well it suited him.
'"A time to be silent, and a time to speak." Elizabeth, marry me and make me the happiest man on earth.'
That night Jane and Elizabeth again had a long discussion.
'I am so happy for you, Lizzy. You will now have the happiness that is rightly yours. "A time to wail, and a time to dance."'
'Indeed, Jane. "A time to kill, and a time to heal." I believe my heartless rejection at Hunsford almost did kill him, but now I have the rest of my life to heal.'
'Can you believe we have both reached this stage? It is very fortunate that our time has come, for I do not think any of us could handle much more!'
Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Jane and Charles Bingley, were married one beautiful winters day at Longbourne.
Within the year, the Bingleys found an estate not two hours from Pemberly, enabling very frequent visits and constant discourse. The gentlemen would go shooting on one of the estates together, or do business in the library of the estate inhabited by their wives that day.
After one such day, the Darcys were in the chairs by the fire in their bedroom. Lately the visits had been at Firwood Manor, for Jane had recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl, Emma Elizabeth. Elizabeth knew Darcy was pining, wishing for a child of their own. She snuggled up closer to him and looked into the fire.
'Darling, do you remember our first courtship? "Everything in it's own time?"'
He nodded and replied, 'Yes, I said that to you right before I received the news that my father had died. I was distraught. His death was very nearly the end of us, and everything that we have.'
'Indeed. And do you remember what King Solomon has to say on death? "A time to be born, and a time to die."'
For a moment her husband just looked at her, before realising what she was trying to tell him.
Elizabeth and Darcy sat in the music room at Pemberly one evening five years after their marriage. She sat at the piano, and he on the couch with their year-old daughter, Grace Anne, in his arms, and their three-year-old son, George Charles, sleeping on his lap. Elizabeth loved the sight of Darcy with their children, especially here, in the music room, for it reminded her of the vision she had on her first visit to Pemberly, the vision that had helped her recognise the deepest desire of her heart.
Emma's birth, Mrs Bennet's death, little George's birth, Jane's miscarriage, Mar's marriage, Wickham's death, Kate Bingley's birth, Kitty's heartache, Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam's marriage, Mr Bennet's death, Gracie's birth. At times the only thought that had sustained Elizabeth was Darcy's constant reassurance that 'This too shall pass.'
They had travelled a long road, and had suffered much in order to reach this point. In the time since her marriage, Elizabeth had come to realise that life was not easy, was not always fair, and was full of surprises. Death and Birth, Wailing and Dancing, Weeping and Laughter, Silence and Speech, Hate and Love.
"Everything has it's season; everything in it's own time under heaven."