Section I, Next Section
Posted on Tuesday, 6 January 2004
“The green one,” Darcy muttered impatiently as his valet held up the selections he had made for him. He quickly shoved his arms into the coat, adjusted the collar and with one last glance into his mirror, turned and strode out of the room.
He had spent the entire sleepless night contemplating the precious look she had bestowed on him from behind the piano…. that ever so tiny smile that had played upon her lips….. that sweet, contended expression on her face. Had he read her correctly? Had she really looked at him that way? ………or was it just his imagination, his own desperate need for her to look on him so lovingly? What if he had misjudged her feelings again? What if their unspoken understanding was only in his mind and heart?
He had to know her feelings and he simply could not wait until they met for dinner. He knew how it would look, his coming to see them so early, but he was past pride. He had to see his Elizabeth! His pace quickened as he headed for the courtyard where his horse and the stable boy stood waiting. He mounted energetically and bound away towards what he prayed would be his future happiness.
He had, for these past, painful months, thought that all was truly lost. He would never have a chance to win her, or at least show her that he had taken her opinion of him so to heart. How could he make her see that he had changed, if they never had the opportunity to be together? Yet, now she was here, at Lambton, at Pemberley, and he had no intention of losing one precious moment. He spurred his horse on, perhaps a bit too forcefully and arrived in Lambton within a very short time.
He swung himself off his horse as he reached the Inn and was about to hand the reins over to a lad that had run out to meet him, when he suddenly turned to face his mount. He gently rubbed the beloved animal’s nose. “I’ve been a bit hard on you this morning, old boy,” he whispered, “Forgive me.” And with that said, he left him in the stable boy’s care and eagerly entered the Inn.
The owner was behind the desk sorting the morning’s posts and messages, but immediately stopped to welcome his illustrious visitor.
“Good morning, Mr. Darcy! How can I be of service to you, Sir?” he said with a bow.
“I was wondering if the Gardiner party had come down for breakfast yet, Mr. Jenkins. I was hoping to catch them before they started out on their morning’s excursions.”
“Oh, I am sorry Sir. The Gardiners and their niece left Lambton but an hour ago. They had a sudden change of plans and were quite eager to get an early start.”
Darcy stood staring at the man in disbelief. His chest tightened and his breath caught in his throat. For a time, he was totally immobilized, but when his faculties were finally restored to him, he asked, in what he hoped was a casual tone, “Is there a message, a note, perhaps?”
Turning to look in the post boxes for the Gardiner’s rooms he saw that there were none and looked through the pile on his desk. He then shook his head. “No, Sir, I am sorry. There are no messages,” he said rather softly, knowing that this was not the answer Mr. Darcy was hoping for.
Darcy remained fixed to the spot, unable to move or speak. He could not keep the look of shock and despair from his face. That is not possible. There must be a note. “Perhaps it was given to one of the staff or left on a writing table in one of their rooms. Please go up and have a look, Sir.” Darcy was keenly aware that his voice had gotten louder and his tone more demanding than was appropriate. He tried to control the panic rising in his chest.
“Of course, Sir. One moment please.” Jenkins quickly started up the stairs, and to his total amazement, Darcy was right behind him. Darcy realized how utterly ridiculous his behavior was and how it must appear to the innkeeper, but he couldn’t help himself. If Elizabeth had left him a note, it must be found! He wasn’t going to trust anyone’s eyes but his own.
Mr. Jenkins would certainly not have tolerated this sort of behavior from any other person. But this was Fitzwilliam Darcy, and he could not think of a polite way to discourage the man. He opened the door to the Gardiner’s room and looked about it. There was evidence of a hasty retreat …… closet doors left ajar, some hangers on the bed, but no sign of a letter.
Darcy walked around the room quickly, checking all the furniture surfaces and peering under the writing table. “Miss Bennett was in an adjoining room, I suppose,” Darcy asked.
“Yes, this way, Sir.” Jenkins said and led him to a door at the far end of the room. Darcy entered Elizabeth’s bedchamber more slowly. He hesitated at the threshold, as if he were entering some private sanctuary that should not be disturbed. But once inside, he moved quickly, searching everywhere. He left no drawer unopened, no corner unchecked. He was mortified at his own conduct, but it seemed as if his legs and arms were no longer under his control.
Suddenly he turned to face the Innkeeper. “Mr. Jenkins, would you excuse me a moment?” he said with such an intense stare, that the poor man backed himself out of the room and quietly closed the door.
As soon as he was alone, Darcy picked up the pillows and checked underneath them. He then tore the bedding off the bed, searching through the blankets and sheets in desperation. He got on his knees to look under the bed and when there was nothing there to be found, he sank heavily down upon it, hugging her pillow to his chest. His nose suddenly detected the faint fragrance of lavender and closing his eyes, he lowered his face onto the pillow, breathing in her wonderful scent. “Elizabeth, why have you run from me?” he whispered into the pillow, “Why have you left me?”
He was startled back to reality by a soft knock on the door. “Mr. Darcy, Sir? Have you found anything?” When no answer came, Mr. Jenkins waited a few moments and knocked again.
“Yes, come in, Mr. Jenkins, I was about to join you downstairs,” came the reply.
Mr. Jenkins opened the door a few inches and peered inside. He could scarcely believe his eyes. There stood the Master of Pemberley, Fitzwilliam Darcy, hugging a pillow to his chest, an embarrassed and bewildered look on his face, mumbling incoherently. After a very awkward moment, Darcy discarded the pillow on the bed, stepped forward and bowed slightly.
“Mr. Jenkins,” he began, looking at the man intently, “I know you to be an honorable man, known for your understanding and discretion. I must ask you to keep this morning’s dealings and discussions private. I would be most appreciative if what has transpired here today was kept strictly between us.” And saying that, he extended his hand.
Darcy had never in his life placed himself in such a compromising position and was truly embarrassed. But there was nothing to be done about it now. He would have to put his trust in a relative stranger’s character and hope that his own reputation, and prior dealings with the man, would serve him well. Their eyes locked as they shook hands vigorously and Mr. Jenkins murmured softly, “Not to worry Mr. Darcy, I will ask the night clerk if a message was left and send you word immediately.”
“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your understanding.”
And with that, he left the Inn, his senses numb, his heart breaking.
Darcy managed to mount his horse and ride slowly out of Lambton, his body erect and his countenance expressionless. But as he came upon the open countryside, his grip on the reins slackened, and his posture seemed to crumble.
She had fled from him… evidently not wanting to face him with her decision. She must have thought it through during the night and realized that she still could not, would not, have him. Then she ran!………... What else could account for such an early morning escape?
Darcy’s horse sensed his master’s despair and inattentiveness, and took it upon himself to slowly head for home. But as they reached the crest of the hill that overlooked Pemberley, Darcy suddenly took control of the reins and pulled back on them, bringing the animal to a stop.
“No, no…not yet. I can’t face them,” he whispered, “least of all Georgiana.”
He slid himself off the saddle and onto the grass, stretching out on his back and covering his eyes with his forearm. His horse remained close by, grazing, and every so often, nuzzling his master affectionately.
It was too painful to think of what had just occurred or to contemplate the coming hours or days. What was he going to do? How could he possibly live without her now…after having seen her at Pemberley, after having had her by his side at dinner, and delighting at the sight and sound of her in the music room? How could he live without her? Oh, he would never harm himself, of course. He could never dishonor his family or abandon Georgiana. No doubt, he would force himself to function, but he could not imagine ever feeling really live again.
His horse nuzzled him once more, and brought him back to the reality of the moment. He rose to his feet, lifted himself onto the saddle and urged his mount down the sloping path. “I must get you to water, my friend,” he said, patting him affectionately.
He brought them to one of the small streams that ran in back of Pemberley’s stables and while his horse drank his fill, Darcy wet his handkerchief and refreshed himself. They mustn’t see him in such a state. What would he tell Georgie? What could he say that could lessen her disappointment and prevent her from asking too many probing questions? What could he fabricate that even Bingley would believe? Even more to the point, what could he say that would allow him time alone, to think, to grieve? The last thing he could now bear was to be in company, to play host. He led his horse towards the stables and braced himself for what was to come.
As he entered the house, Charles was coming down the stairs. “Darcy, we missed you at breakfast and I assumed that you went for an early ride. Back so soon?”
“Yes, Charles, I was out early. But I’ve returned with a message for Georgiana. I met with a servant from the Lambton Inn on the road. He was coming with a note from Miss Bennett and the Gardiners. It seems some family emergency necessitated their leaving early this morning. Excuse me, I must find Georgie and alert the staff to the change in our number for dinner, as well.”
Bingley could not keep the concern from his face. He stayed one step behind his friend and plagued him with one question after another as to the particulars of the note. “Is someone in the family ill, has there been an accident? Do you not know who it is?”
“No, Bingley, the note was very sparse. It must have been written in great haste. I know nothing more than what I have already told you.” How stupid of me to invent a story that would cause Charles more pain and worry. He will not let this rest, I know it! Darcy lengthened his stride in an unconscious attempt at leaving Charles behind, but as he bounded through the French doors leading into the solarium, he could feel his friend’s hand on his shoulder.
“Stop, Darcy, wait. You’re not keeping anything from me, are you? You don’t need to protect me, you know. If something has happ….” He stopped mid sentence as Georgiana suddenly appeared before them.
“Fitzwilliam, have you been riding?”
“Yes, Georgie, I felt a need for some exercise.”
“I’ve been quite restless, myself. Happy anticipation, I suppose. I did so want to discuss tonight’s menu with you before Cook sent Margaret to the market.” Here, she paused, eyeing him with concern. “But, brother, you don’t look at all well…what is wrong…has something happened?” Her anxious, loving look strengthened his resolve to play his part well.
“I am perfectly well, Georgie, just a bit out of breath from a rather hard ride. I do, however, bring news that I know will disappoint you. I’ve received a note from Miss Bennett regretting the need to leave for home immediately. Some family emergency, I fear. She sends her apologies, especially to you.”
“Oh”… whispered Georgiana, almost to herself. She turned away slightly, trying in vain to hide her disappointment from her brother. “I was so looking forward to her company again this evening. But that is nothing ……given the circumstances. I am very concerned for her, Fitzwilliam..…it must have been something very serious to make them leave so quickly.”
Yes, thought Darcy, she couldn’t escape quickly enough from me! And suddenly anger and resentment replaced grief, as he looked at his sister’s somber countenance. How could you Elizabeth? I would have thought it beneath you to act in such a cowardly fashion!.
Darcy embraced Georgiana and kissed her forehead. Looking into her saddened eyes, he murmured consolingly. “I have no knowledge of what has occurred, but she has the love and strength of her aunt and uncle and you know what wonderful, sensible people they are. She is in good hands.”
“I must write to her immediately and let her know of our concern. Perhaps we could be of some use to her family? ”
“Yes, precisely, that is what I have been thinking as well,” Bingley chimed in.
Darcy felt the panic rise in his chest, but he forced himself to appear calm. “Sweetling,” he said, “Perhaps we should give Miss Bennett some time to deal with whatever the problem is. Her family must need her now and we don’t wish to add to her burdens or distract her so soon upon her arrival home.”
He stopped to gauge her reaction to his words, and when he saw her trusting expression, continued. “With such a large family, I am sure that there are ample helping hands. Besides, perhaps it is a family matter that they would regard as personal. Perhaps what they require most is privacy. Let us wait until Miss Bennet has written to us, as I am sure she will, before we begin our inquiries. She will no doubt let us know what has happened as soon as she can.”
“Of course, you are right, brother. It would not be right of me to impose on her just now. You are always so clear thinking, Fitzwilliam.” She kissed his cheek and with a sad little smile, said that she would inform the staff of the change in plans. Darcy watched her leave with a knot in the pit of his stomach. What lies will I now need to invent to cover the ones I have just told?
“I hope you are right, Darcy, about waiting for Miss Bennett to contact us before expressing our concern. I would not want her to think us so uncaring. Or…. others of her family….. Perhaps…….perhaps it is time that I returned to Netherfield for a fortnight or so,……..to see to estate business of course,…..and the like…….and then whilst in the neighborhood, I could determine the nature of the….
“Bingley,” said Darcy, finally looking him straight in the eye for the first time since his return. “I can well imagine your anxiety,” he began slowly. “But truly, you and I are now barely old acquaintances of the Bennets, and surely, you would not want relative strangers to interfere in your private family matters, were you in distress?”
“But what if she is ill, ….that is, if someone is ill? Surely it is only good manners to express one’s concern and offer help?”
“Certainly, Charles, but think. Has Miss Bennett written or made any effort to contact your sisters and inquire after you in all these months? You said yourself that you would be guided by her actions.” And if it is, G-d forbid, a serious illness, of what help could you, or for that matter, anyone be?”
How he hated himself for doing this to Charles. If he believed his original interference to have been well meant, he clearly saw that this interference was truly cruel. Yet he seemed to have no choice but to use any means possible to keep Charles from Longbourn. Elizabeth had made her decision and he would not have it appear that he was sending Charles as his emissary.
“I suppose you are right Darcy,” said Bingley, but his expression was most troubled as he absent mindedly fingered the velvety leaf of the African violet before him.
I swear I shall right this wrong I have done you, Charles. I shall confess all and send you off to find your happiness, I promise you. Not just now, not yet. Allow me some time to deal with this………this loss. Ah, you see Elizabeth, you were right. Yet again, I put myself first, selfish being that I am.
He put a protective arm around Bingley’s shoulders and led him out onto the lawn towards the Gazebo where he saw Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley chatting comfortably, their embroideries lying untouched on their laps. “Now there is one person that will be delighted with this news,” he muttered to himself. But he could not bear to repeat it again and decided to make his escape.
“Good morning, ladies. I see that you are both well and enjoying the morning air.” He bowed slightly, but before either of them could even respond to his greeting, he continued very rapidly. “I regret to say that my plans have changed for today and I must see to some urgent business that I have been neglecting, due to our unexpected company yesterday. I hope you have a very pleasant day and I shall be eager to hear all about it at dinner tonight. Please excuse me.”
And leaving Charles and the rest of his guests with puzzled expressions and rather unbelieving stares, he turned and walked quickly toward the house.
“Please send some brandy up to the library, Mrs. Reynolds,” he called as he took the steps three at a time. “And then please see to it that I am not disturbed. I must see to some pressing business.”
Mrs. Reynolds nodded and watched her Master retreat. She knew him too well to be fooled by his seemingly casual manner. Something was dreadfully wrong and it surely revolved around that pretty little Miss Bennet. Brandy, this early in the morning! She had never known her Master to abuse drink, but surely that was his intention now. A feeling of true dread overcame her. She felt a sudden sadness settle over the house she loved and cared for. Things had not been well since Ramsgate, and even more strained after Rosings, but now…the people she loved were in pain, and she was helpless. All she could do was serve them as best she could.
A gentle knock on the library door was answered with Darcy’s “Come,” and the footman entered, setting the tray down on the table beside Darcy’s armchair, and then leaving quietly.
“Mrs. Reynolds,” he whispered as he viewed the tea sandwiches, fruit and sweets that were sent along with the drink. “Don’t fret about my being drunk, Mrs. Reynolds, worry about me when I’m sober.”
And with that said, he poured himself his first glass and finally let down his guard. At first he sipped slowly, letting the liquor warm him, and stared blankly at the far wall. He could picture her standing protectively behind Georgiana, slowly raising her lids to look at him. Her loving gaze had been all that he had prayed for these many months. He had basked in her love for barely a moment and now she had snatched it away again. He rose in a fury and paced the room, ranting, cursing, and throwing his head back to gulp down the alcohol as if it were water. He went on this way for hours, until feeling suddenly exhausted; he put the glass down and slumped into his chair. There, he buried his face in his hands and wept. He sobbed uncontrollably, murmuring Elizabeth’s name, begging to understand, imploring her to return. He had not wept so since the death of his mother and had forgotten the cleansing effect it had, if only for the moment. Feeling totally spent, he finally drifted off to sleep.
By this time, Elizabeth and the Gardiners had been traveling for far too many hours and were feeling the effects of the road. Their muscles ached, their nerves were sorely rattled and their minds were far away, each in its own private place.
Elizabeth watched the countryside pass by her window and scolded herself for her foolish daydreams. She was normally so sensible. How could she even imagine that Darcy could fly to her side so quickly… that he would overtake their coach in only a few hours time? The thought was ridiculous, but it was there nevertheless, and she could not help feeling disappointed. Even if he had come to the Inn that morning, did she imagine that he would not first return home to pack a few things before starting out after her?
She went over the contents of her letter to him again in her mind and all her anxiety returned. Did she really have the right to ask his involvement in such a shameful matter? It would be so distasteful, so painful to him. Yet surely he was the only person capable of giving them any credible information on Lydia and Wickham’s possible whereabouts, and he, of all people, would have compassion for their situation. No, surely, he would come to their aid. She knew his character well enough to know that despite the distress and embarrassment it would cost him, he would come.
But the more she thought about their personal involvement, the clearer it became that whatever future there might have been for them as a couple, before this shameful calamity, was now impossible. She could not expect him to keep his commitment now, however much he loved her. And she was sure that he did. She had seen it so clearly on his beautiful face, from her place behind the piano. This was not the selfish desire she had seen at Hunsford. This was a love so deep, so real, that it had forced her to cast away all doubt of their belonging to one another.
Had he understood her response to him? Could he see the love and admiration in her eyes? Did he now know how she adored him? Oh, she truly hoped he did! Yet despite her desperate need for him, she could not think of ruining his honored family name, his good standing in society or risk Georgiana’s chances for the future. It was odd how quickly they had become her family in her mind. She loved them both too much to hurt them.
Chapter 3 and 4
Posted on Friday, 9 January 2004
Hannah was about to put her shawl around her shoulders for her walk home when she remembered the letter in her apron pocket. She went back to the pantry where she had hung it, and was surprised to see it gone. Someone must have taken it to be laundered.
As the Gardiners were leaving early this morning, Miss Bennet had given her the note for Mr. Darcy. She was about to bring it to the front desk when she heard a loud crash in the kitchen, below stairs. She raced down to see what had happened and saw the three dozen eggs that she had brought from the market on her way to work this morning, decorating the kitchen floor. Cook was screaming at young Jonas, who was cowering in the corner and the kitchen was now silent with terror.
“How can I prepare breakfast for our guests now, you clumsy fool,” roared Cook. “Get a mop and clean this up. Get moving, before I throw you out altogether.”
On seeing Hannah on the stairs, he ordered her back to the market. “Be quick, lass,” he bellowed, “Guests are waiting.” She ran up the stairs, pulling off her apron as she went, stopping only long enough to hang it on the pantry hook and grab her shawl. When she returned, Cook had insisted on a clean apron before allowing her to go into the dining room.
She had forgotten about the letter until the end of the day, but as Mr. Darcy had not come to the Inn today, she felt that no harm had been done. She would give it to her brother tonight and he would add it to the general Pemberley Post the next morning.
She raced to the laundry room and looked for the dirty linen baskets. To her dismay, they were all empty! All the soiled linen was soaking in the huge tub. Chastising herself all the while, she desperately groped through the wet laundry until she found an apron with ink stains on the pocket. She pulled it out of the water and extracted the ruined letter from it gently. “Oh, what was she going to do with it now?” she thought. “It was totally illegible! How could she hand this mess to Mr. Darcy? How could she face him?”
Hannah blotted the paper as best she could and rolled it between two handkerchiefs. She raced towards home, stopping first at her brother’s house to ask his advice. She was not at all pleased with what he had to say.
“ What have you done, Hannah?” he shouted. “How will this neglect look for the family? You’ve disgraced us all! Mr. Darcy’s usually a fair man, but I would not dare hand him a letter like this! How forgetful can you be? Don’t you see that we could all lose our positions at Pemberley? No, I say forget the letter. Tear it to little bits and toss it to the wind. Don’t say a word about it. Maybe it won’t be missed after all.”
Hannah knew she ought to give the letter to Mr. Darcy and face the consequences, and she would have, had she only herself to think of. But her whole family worked for the Darcys and she could not risk the Master’s anger. She had heard nothing of his coming to the Inn that morning. Perhaps her brother was right. Perhaps this letter would never be missed, never be talked of again. She left it on her bedside table to dry completely and slipped it into her secret treasure box the next morning. She trembled as she dressed for work. “Dear Lord, please help me through this. Let this letter be forgotten.”
Georgiana Darcy had been playing hostess all day while trying to hide her concern for her brother. He had cloistered himself in his library under the pretext of some “urgent business”, but she knew that his heart and mind where on the road to Hertfordshire. If she was disappointed in losing Elizabeth’s company so quickly, he must be doubly so. She had never seen Fitzwilliam look at anyone with such open adoration before. Surely he was suffering and had no patience for their guests.
It was never easy for Georgiana to deal with the Bingley sisters, and today had proved most difficult. And now as the whole party was gathered in the parlor, waiting for their host to escort them into dinner, the tension was palpable. Charles was becoming uncharacteristically impatient. “Georgiana, do you not think that I should remind your brother that it is dinner time? I believe he has fallen asleep at his desk.”
“I’ll go, Charles. You may be quite right. He may not even realize that we are waiting on him.” She slipped quietly out of the room and up the stairs to the library. She knocked and waited for a response, but as none came, she slowly opened the door and entered. Fitzwilliam was asleep in his chair, but even in sleep he looked anguished. His knitted brow, his fitful muttering confirmed his distress. When she saw the empty brandy bottle she knew that they would not be enjoying his company at dinner. She slipped out of the room to find his valet and instructed him to rouse her brother gently and help him to his rooms. She would have his dinner sent up to him.
Before entering the parlor she squared her shoulders, smoothed the bodice of her gown and put on the best face she could. She swept into the room with a shy little smile.
“I’m afraid Fitzwilliam will not be joining us this evening. He has been fighting off a dreadful headache all afternoon, but it has gotten the better of him now, I’m afraid. Although he wanted to come down to dinner, I insisted that he go to bed. He sends his regrets and will hopefully be well enough to see us in the morning. Shall we go in then? I’m sure you are all famished.”
Caroline Bingley frowned at this unwelcome bit of news. She was losing her patience as well as her good humor. She had not been in Mr. Darcy’s company for five minutes these twenty-four hours and she was sorely vexed. Not for one moment did she believe that Darcy had a headache. No doubt, he was pining the loss of that hussy from Hertfordshire. What did he see in that country nobody? Truly, she caused even more trouble when she was away than when she was present
Darcy was startled awake by the sound of the latch on the library door. With great effort, he roused himself to determine where he was, and quickly recoiled at the memory.
“I told Mrs. Reynolds very precisely that I was not to be disturbed,” he grumbled. “Leave me.”
“Begging your pardon, Sir. Miss Darcy felt you might be more comfortable taking your supper in your rooms. She has had a tray brought up. May I be of service, Sir?”
“Confound it, Man, leave me!”
As the door closed, Darcy covered his eyes with his hand, and breathing heavily, sank deeper into the cushions of the chair. He had been in and out of a fitful slumber, thrashing back and forth between painful dreams and an even more painful reality. Yet both in sleep and in wakeful contemplation, one nagging thought persisted. “This cowardly escape was not in the nature of his beloved Elizabeth. Distasteful and uncomfortable as the task might be, she would find the strength to face him.”
He certainly understood that had there truly been a crisis of some sort, there might have been a need to leave at the earliest possible opportunity. But the absence of any form of communication was beyond understanding. Even had Elizabeth been too distraught to think clearly, surely one of her relations would have taken it upon him or herself to pen a brief note! No! The silence of their departure said it all. Perhaps he had misjudged her character, as badly as he had misjudged her feelings for him.
Elizabeth arrived home to find Jane anxious and exhausted. Her worries over Lydia's situation, her responsibilities for the care of her nieces and nephew, together with the running of the household had become overwhelming. Of course, her mother was far more demanding of her energies than the children. Elizabeth wanted to reassure her that they were not alone, that help was on the way, but she suddenly thought the better of it. Let his coming be a surprise, for she could not bear to listen to her mother’s remarks in anticipation of his coming. She settled into the new routine of the house, trying to take as much of the burden off Jane as possible. Days passed, and still Darcy did not come.
At first she could find very reasonable excuses for the delay. Perhaps he was making some preliminary inquiries before setting out for Longbourn, perhaps he had important business dealings that had to be attended to before he could leave Pemberley, perhaps… It was only after two full weeks of silence that she began to suspect that he had made a decision not to come.
She understood the shame involved in associating with her family now, and obviously their acquaintance could not be continued, but not to extend his help…….not even to write? It was impossible! This was not the behavior of her beloved Fitzwilliam. There was something delaying him, but he would come.
Darcy’s morose mood had frightened the Bingleys from Pemberley. At first, Charles had wanted to remain behind to perhaps be of some help or support to his friend, but Darcy made it impossible for him to do so. He kept to his rooms or the library and permitted no one to join him. He took his meals alone, rode out extremely early and returned even before anyone was down to breakfast. Georgiana could sometimes prevail upon him to be in her company for a short while, but he spoke very little and revealed nothing concerning his feelings. He ate very little and slept even less. A frightening gloom settled over the house as servants tiptoed about it, and Georgiana struggled with how to help her brother. After almost two months of unbearable solitude, she was able to convince him to take her to town.
He did so for her sake alone. He was not insensitive to what his misery had done to her. He must take himself in hand and find a way to live, at least to all outward appearances, somewhat normally. If word of his secluded life reached his aunt and uncle Matlock, he would be in danger of losing Georgiana. That would be the end of him.
He made a great effort, those first few weeks in town, to find his way back to normalcy. He accepted dinner invitations, attended a few private parties and even forced himself to attend a ball held at the fashionable home of an old school friend. But after each event he returned home convinced that he should not have bothered to venture out. He had no patience for people, and they were certainly not pleased with him. He found some solace in Georgiana’s music and in occasionally walking with her through a gallery or museum. Strenuous exercise cleared his head for a time, so he spent several hours a week fencing.
Most of his energies, however, now went into his business ventures and investments. He threw himself into his work with such focus and determination that even his solicitors and accountants were at loss to understand it. He had always taken his business responsibilities very seriously but now he seemed obsessed with them. His wealth increased considerably and he became more and more philanthropic. The London papers were full of his achievements and good works, adding to the prestige of the Darcy name. He was, of course, much sought after by the best of society, yet he disappointed them all. His only personal pleasure was attending the opera. He had gone several times since returning to town.
He had gone on his own, stealing into his box just seconds after the lights were dimmed and remaining there throughout the intermission. He sat towards the back of the box, where the shadows helped to conceal him and there in the darkness, he could close his eyes and allow the music to transport him to that precious place where hope still lived. There, he could savor his wakeful dreams of Elizabeth. Of course he thought of her throughout the day, every day and his nights were filled with his passionate longing for her, but here he could let the music envelope him without being fearful of having anyone notice the emotions that played on his face. It was part pain, part consoling pleasure.
There were moments in his secluded reverie that he felt pangs of guilt for not believing in her more completely. Should he have trusted her and followed her in concern? Should he have made discrete inquiries as to the rest of their trip? Yet, these insecurities were always answered with his wounded pride. “ Fool, you are deceiving yourself! Had there truly been any urgent matter pressing her home, she would have written to Georgiana with news of it later on. No, they had heard nothing from her for good reason. It was over.”
When Easter came and his annual trip to Rosings was due, he scheduled only a three-day visit, claiming that he had business obligations that demanded his being back in town. He worked feverishly to accomplish what needed to get done, which had the added benefit of giving him little opportunity to spend time with his aunt Catherine. He didn’t go near the parsonage and avoided the Collins’s by telling his aunt that he would much rather spend his few evenings at Rosings alone in her company than share them with other guests. This flattery had its desired effect.
During dinner one evening, Lady Catherine began to flatter herself for having been correct last spring when she said how imprudent it was for the Bennet girls to grow up without the benefit of a governess. "She had been proved right, had she not? Those girls ran absolutely wild!"
Darcy quickly commented that he no longer had anything to do with the families at Hertfordshire and wanted to know nothing about them. His aunt was glad to hear that he had the good sense to disassociate himself from such inferior company.
On his return to town, the servant gossip mill informed him that Wickham had abandoned his regiment in Brighten and had run away with some young tart right from under his Colonial’s nose. He was being sought not only by the militia, but by all the creditors he had left behind. "Nothing surprising there”, thought Darcy.
Charles Bingley had taken his sisters and Mr. Hurst to visit some distant relations in Bath after quitting Pemberley. The ladies found the social opportunities in Bath most appealing, as there were galleries, exhibits, concerts and lectures to keep them occupied, as well as many new friends to be made. They had the pleasant experience of knowing themselves admired, by people they thought respectable and worthy of their acquaintance.
It was in Bath that they met the Gilbert family, landed, active in Parliament and rather gentile. Caroline had finally caught the eye of someone, who it seemed, returned her admiration, and Charles was not about to discourage her acquaintance with the eldest Gilbert son. So when talk of a grand tour of Italy was discussed, he allowed himself to be persuaded to join them. They were to be traveling during those winter months that were most dreadful in England, and the lure of the warmth of Southern Italy could not be denied. They planned only a few days in London to prepare for their journey, to instruct their servants in the packing of their trunks and to see to business matters that needed Charles’s attention. They naturally wanted to see the Darcys before they left.
They accepted an invitation to dine the evening before their departure. Charles was genuinely happy to see his friend and relieved to see that, although somewhat altered, Darcy could manage polite conversation and appeared interested in their tour.
For his part, Darcy had been anxiously waiting for an opportunity to fulfill his promise to himself and tell Charles of his interference last year. But certainly this was not the time. How could he burden his friend with such disturbing news before his trip? No, it would have to wait. In some ways, he was glad to postpone any event that would bring him into contact with Elizabeth. He did not think that he could endure it.
And so they spent the evening sharing lively news of Bath and their new acquaintances. Georgiana was eager to hear of their itinerary and was almost giddy at the thought of such an exciting trip.
“Perhaps, when your brother marries, Miss Darcy,” said Mrs. Hurst, “he will take his bride to Italy on their honeymoon and take you along.”
A full eight months had now passed and it had been the longest year of Elizabeth’s life. Lydia and Wickham had never been discovered and the family’s disgrace was complete. Although the stares and whispers had died down, and they were now able to enter a shop without the great dread they had earlier experienced, there were few people in Meryton who would socialize with them. The Lucases visited them every now and then, but would not extend an invitation to their home. Charlotte secretly wrote to Elizabeth, enclosing her letters in posts to her sister and Elizabeth returned her’s in the same manner. They attended church each Sunday, but did not stop to chat with their neighbors after services. They knew how uncomfortable everyone was in their company.
Elizabeth had become resigned to it all. She read far more than she ever had before, spent more time at the piano and even convinced her mother to allow her to sometimes help Hill with the baking. She did everything she could to keep her mind off “what could have been.” It was only on her solitary daily walks that she occasionally allowed herself to indulge in self-pity. How she missed him! How she longed to be near him, to touch him, to cover his face with kisses, to spend her nights in his arms. When her nighttime yearnings overtook her during the day, she would shake herself loose of them and pull herself together, once again. Her family needed her and she was of no use to them bitter and brooding.
It was after one of these early morning walks that she arrived home to find a letter addressed to her, postmarked London. For half a second, her heart fluttered. How stupid she was to still imagine that it could be from him! She opened it and let a delighted giggle burst forth. “Emily, dearest Emily! Have you given birth early?” She quickly devoured the contents of the letter and headed directly upstairs to find her sister.
“Jane, may I come in,” she inquired as she gently tapped against her sister’s bedroom door.
“Of course, Lizzy. Have you been out and back already? You really put me to shame; I’ve been staying in bed so late,...but truly, I see no reason to get an early start. The day is long enough.” She now eyed her sister more closely. “But what’s this, Lizzy? You seem awfully cheerful this morning.”
“I am, Jane, I am!” said Elizabeth excitedly. “I’ve just had a letter from Emily, begging me to come to London to help her with the baby. It seems her mother had to leave for Scotland to nurse her eldest brother who is very ill, and Emily will have to manage all by herself. You know they cannot afford to hire a nurse.” Here she stopped to study Jane’s expression. “You know how much I want to go, but I will not leave you to bear this burden alone unless you promise me that when I return you will take your turn away and visit aunt Gardiner for at least two months.”
“Oh Lizzy,” laughed Jane, “you need not be so concerned about me. I know that I have far more patience for Mama than you, and it is important for you to get away. We need to keep you strong and sensible, you know. Father depends upon you.” And saying this she hugged her sister and assured her that she would also take a respite when she returned. Elizabeth took her sister’s hand in hers and kissed it. “Oh Jane, how blessed we are to have each other. If not for you, I should have run mad months ago. Thank you, thank you for being so good to me.”
“I love you, Lizzy. Do not thank me. You would do the same for me.”
Elizabeth then flew down to find her father, who she knew, would be more difficult to convince. But to her surprise he was eager for her to go, and told her that he would smooth things over for her with her mother. Again she raced upstairs to write to Emily and begin her packing. She was not only getting away, she was getting time with the two friends she most loved and admired.
Elizabeth had met Emily Haversham when she returned to school for her second year. Due to her mother’s fussing, the family had gotten a late start in delivering the girls to their respective class houses, and Hannah Johnson, who had promised to room with Elizabeth, had chosen to find another roommate. The house Mistress then introduced Elizabeth to Emily Haversham, a new girl, and informed her that they would be rooming together. Emily’s face had shown clear signs of weeping, and Elizabeth thought that perhaps it was her first time away from home.
“Thank you so very much, Miss Bennet, for agreeing to room with me. I shall make every effort not to embarrass you.” said Emily, when they were finally alone and unpacking their things.
“Why in the world do you think that you would embarrass me?” asked Elizabeth. “I was new once too, you know, and it always takes a little while to become accustomed to a new place. Do not fret, I shall help you.”
Emily Haversham looked at her new friend in disbelief. “Was this gentleman’s daughter really going to accept her so easily? Was she not concerned that the others would ostracize her?” Emily suddenly realized that Elizabeth had no idea that her father was in trade, or that she was one of the first young women of her social class to be admitted to the school.
“Miss Bennet,” she began hesitantly. “I don’t believe you are aware that your rooming with me was not a matter of chance. She paused, as Elizabeth turned from her trunk with a puzzled expression on her face. “You see, none of the other girls would have me, and since you were the last to arrive”……… Here she paused once again, obviously embarrassed and not knowing how to continue.
“Is there something that I should know about you, Miss Haversham? Is there something that makes you an undesirable roommate?” she asked with a teasing grin. “Do you snore very loudly?”
Emily could not help but laugh at this. But when she was able to contain her giggles, she looked at Elizabeth most earnestly and said, “I think you should know that my father is a haberdasher, Miss Bennet, and owns a shop in London.” She lowered her eyes and waited for her roommate’s reaction.
“Then it shall be very convenient for us to meet when I visit my aunt and uncle in Grace Church Street during the holidays. What fun we shall have exploring the town shops together.”
“Emily graduated from the Academy at the top of her class, winning many music and writing competitions. Her wonderful stories were not only published in the school newspaper, but were picked up by the local town paper as well. Elizabeth had to admit that this was one time that her mother’s annoying fussing had truly benefited her. Emily became one of those few people that Elizabeth truly loved and admired. Next to Jane, Emily became her very best friend.
Elizabeth was most anxious to leave for London immediately, but as she could not travel by Post on her own, she had to wait until a Meryton neighbor that was traveling to London as well, was willing to be her companion. Happily, Mrs. Long was willing to take on the task as she was going to visit her sister. She greeted Elizabeth with respectful civility when they met at the Post station, but had very little to say to her during their trip. This was much appreciated, as it gave Elizabeth time to think.
What was her beloved Fitzwilliam doing at this moment? She had these same thoughts several times each day, yet she had long ago forgiven him for his abandonment. She knew that he had no choice but to protect his family. He was a sensible man and she expected nothing less from a sensible man. The pain she felt, however, was not sensible, yet she felt it nonetheless.
Thomas Witherbee was waiting for the Post with a bouquet of flowers in his arms. He dashed up to the coach to help Elizabeth out and kissed her cheek with great affection. “Oh Lizzy, how happy we are that you were able to come,” he said excitedly. “Did you have a tolerable trip? Are you well?”
“Yes, Thomas, I am very well, now that I am here. I believe that I am in greater need of your good company than you are of my assistance.”
“That could not be, Lizzy,” Thomas laughed, “for there is only one of you in need of our company and soon there will be three of us in need of yours. I know your coming away is a great hardship for your family,” he said more seriously, “and I am most obliged to them for letting you go.”
“I do feel for Jane.” said Elizabeth, giving him a saucy wink. “She will have a great deal to contend with on her own. But I’ve made her a promise to take over her post when I get home and send her away for some rest and recuperation.”
“So you will have to pay dearly for this guilty pleasure!”
“ Yes, I’m afraid I shall. So you and Emily better make it worth my while,” she teased with a playful grin.
“Do not fear Elizabeth, we will give you much to entertain you; cooking, washing, walking the baby, marketing…………shall I go on? Or is the prospect of such pleasures already overwhelming you?” She laughed heartily at this as he had her trunks transferred to a carriage he had hired to take them home.
When they were finally settled in the carriage, Elizabeth took Thomas’s hand in both of hers as her face took on a grave expression. “Now tell me,Thomas, seriously. Have your parents not had a change of heart now that the baby is due? Have they not sought reconciliation with you? Surely they must be excited at the prospect of a grandchild!”
“Darling Lizzy, you must let go of your indignation on our account. We are reconciled to the fact that my family is lost to us. I do miss them, especially my mother, but I know they will not be changing their views on our marriage. Do not torture yourself about it. Emily and I do not.”
“I do not understand how you can speak of it with so little resentment.”
“When I married Emily I made a decision as to how I wanted to live my life. Truly, Lizzy, I know this must sound ridiculous given our circumstances, but I am content. Emily and I are so very happy together, I am learning an exciting and rewarding trade, and our baby is about to be born! Our finances will improve in time, and although my father–in-law can give us only a very modest amount of help, I know that he will never see us go without.”
Elizabeth sat back in her seat and thought of how life had dealt each of them their share of blessings and pain. Emily had gained the love of an exceptional man, but he had lost his fortune and family to have her. She had been blessed with the love of the finest man in England, but would never know the pleasure of it.
The Witherbees’ tiny flat was at the top of a dark, narrow, flight of stairs. The dirty walls and flimsy banister spoke of the landlord’s neglect. But as soon as Emily opened the door, a warm, happy glow filled the dreary corridor. Emily’s enormous smile and outstretched arms enveloped her friend and within seconds it felt as if they had never been separated. They kissed each other again and again, laughing between happy tears. Elizabeth pulled back a bit to get a good look at her friend’s unbelievably expanded belly.
“My goodness, Emily, how can you even stand in that condition? I must admit that I have never seen any women quite so enormous!”
“Well, thank you very much for the compliment Lizzy! You are such a good friend to point that out to me, especially in the presence of my husband.” She laughed good-naturedly as Elizabeth quickly threw her hand over her mouth in horror. “Oh Emily, I am sorry. How insensitive of me,” she replied laughing. “But you know that I could never dissemble with you. It was you, after all, who made us promise to always be truthful with one another.”
“Excellent excuse, my friend. Now come inside and let me get a better look at you. Perhaps I can find some truth about you that needs to be commented on.
The entrance door opened directly into the parlor, which was small but very neatly and prettily arranged. Elizabeth immediately recognized some of the furnishings. They had obviously come from the Haversham home and were now combined other well-used pieces. But the atmosphere that they created was warm and inviting and spoke of the simple good taste of the people who lived there. Beyond the parlor to the right was a small bedchamber and through a narrow arched doorway at the far end of the parlor, was the kitchen.
“Oh this is sweet and snug, Emily.” said Elizabeth with genuine admiration. She knew of no other person who could do so much with so little. “I can see why Thomas tells me that he is so content here with you.”
“Now Lizzy, you needn’t pretend that this is a comfortable, lovely home. It is not, I assure you. It is terribly inconvenient and in many ways very poor, but we do intend to laugh about it when we are better situated next year. Thomas is almost finished with his architecture exams and he has already been asked to join a well-established firm here in London. Did he not tell you on the way here?”
“No he did not. We spoke only of you,” she said, holding both her friend’s hands in hers. “But you are wrong about the sincerity of my compliment. I truly commend you on making such a tiny space so livable.”
“Enough of this, you two. Emily, it is time that you got off your feet and Elizabeth needs to rest as well, especially since she is going to the opera tonight! I shall make you both some tea.”
“Opera? I’m going to the opera? Why on earth would I be going to the opera? Unless, of course it was with both of you.”
“Well, I will have the pleasure of escorting you, Lizzy , as Emily cannot sit in one spot for more than five minutes these days. Actually, the tickets were a gift from Emily’s father. He wanted to give us a special night out before the baby arrived. But as that is not possible now, we decided it should be our treat to you, a very inadequate way of saying thank you in advance, for all the ways we shall use and abuse you in the next six weeks.”
Elizabeth started to protest when Emily interrupted her saying, “You are not going to take this one honor away from us, are you Lizzy? Believe me when I say that I would love to go, and would, if I could. Had I been able to sit through a performance, we would have bought another ticket for you. You would have gone, one way or the other, so hush and come lie down on the bed with me and tell me all the latest news.”
“That sounds absolutely wonderful to me, but I’m afraid I have no happy news to relate,” said Elizabeth.
“Then tell me all that is in your heart, Lizzy. Letters leave so many questions unanswered.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy stole into his box and settled himself in the depths of its protective shadows. Why was he doing this to himself? As if he wasn’t miserable enough! The Marriage of Figaro! Did he have to pour salt on his own wound?
The lights had already dimmed, but he could clearly make out the profiles of many acquaintances. He would have to be careful to avoid them. How animated and happy everyone looked when anticipating a lively performance. The buzz of pleasant chitchat was just dying down when he caught sight of something familiar. He didn’t know quite what it was. He hadn’t recognized anyone, yet an uneasy feeling came over him. . “This solitude is affecting your mind, Darcy,”he thought. The overture began and he closed his eyes to shut out all distractions to the music.
During the intermission he poured himself the wine that he had ordered to be placed in his box before his arrival. It was an excellent Port and he sipped it contentedly as he watched the bustle of elegantly dressed people below him. It was so easy to tell, from his secluded perch, who was sharing a confidence, who was flirting and who was doing his best to impress. Suddenly he was struck again, by that familiar something…….a turn of the head, the bounce of dark curls caught in a sprig of tiny flowers…….. “No, it couldn’t be…….my G-d it is! Elizabeth!” Darcy rose from his seat involuntarily, and leaned over the railing of the box to catch a glimpse of her face. He held his breath.
She was just turning to her companion, smiling broadly, tilting her head to the side a bit, when he saw her beautiful face. She leaned towards him to whisper something to ….him him! Darcy felt suddenly ill. Who was this man? Who was he to Elizabeth? He strained to observe them more closely. She was certainly at ease with him. Look how he has made her laugh!
He was now taking her hand in his and leading her out of the row, then offering his arm so casually, and covering her hand with his as they sauntered up the isle. “Stay where you are. Don’t follow them,” ordered his sense of honor and decorum, but Darcy’s legs were already carrying him down the stairs to the rotunda where refreshments were being served.
He stayed against the wall, attempting to spot them in the crowd, his eyes searching frantically for her bobbing curls. Where had they gone? Why couldn’t he spot them? After several frustrating minutes he turned to head back to his box when he suddenly saw her not five feet away from him. Their eyes locked. Her mouth opened slightly for a sudden tiny gasp, she colored, lowered her eyes in confusion, and then lifted them to look at him once more. Darcy held his breath. A shy, embarrassed smile formed on her precious lips as she took a few steps towards him. He could not move from the spot, but willed himself to nod in recognition and bowed respectfully.
“Mr. Darcy,” she began hesitantly. “How very nice to see you.”
“Good evening Miss Bennet. It is a pleasure to see you as well. I hope you are enjoying the performance. I know you are very fond of the music.”
“Yes, I am enjoying it immensely. Thank you, Sir. Is your sister with you this evening?”
“No, I am sorry to say she is not. She would have been very happy to see you……” He was suddenly interrupted by the first gong that signaled the end of the intermission and saw Elizabeth’s companion rush towards her.
“Lizzy, my sweet, we best get back to our seats,” he said before he noticed Darcy. But when he did, instead of being uneasy, he grinned enthusiastically and eagerly stuck out his hand for Darcy to shake. “Fitzwilliam Darcy, of all people! This is an honor, Sir. I know we have not been formally introduced, but I feel as if I know you very well.”
Darcy could not believe the gall of this man!
Elizabeth saw Fitzwilliam hesitate in extending his hand to Thomas, and immediately offered an introduction. “Mr. Darcy, may I present Mr. Thomas Witherbee.” Darcy bowed and then extended his hand. He could sense Elizabeth’s indignation at his behavior. “Arrogant and insensitive to the feelings of others.” He made every effort to soften his expression and listen attentively as Witherbee continued.
“I was in my first year at Cambridge when you were in your last, you see. I joined the debating club and became instantly in awe of your style, your powers of persuasion. I don’t think I missed a debate. Of course, as a first year student, I was not worthy of your attention.” Here he turned to Elizabeth and said, “Lizzy, Darcy was the president of the Debating Club and the best speaker you would ever want to hear. I studied his techniques and made great use of them when I came to lead the club some three years later. In fact, Darcy, I have always thought of you as my unwitting mentor in that area of study. So you see, you may have never heard of me, but I am intimately familiar with your persuasive mind.”
Darcy did not know quite what to say. He was deeply ashamed for having been so standoffish. Finally, he found his voice. “It is a shame that we have never met before, Mr. Witherbee. I thank you for your compliments, but I am sure that your memories of my orations are colored by your fondness of those happy days.”
‘Not at all, Darcy,” Witherbee continued, as the gong sounded again, “I assure you that my memory is quite accurate. You were, and I imagine still are, quite accomplished in the art of persuasion.” As he bowed to Darcy he failed to see the heightened color on Elizabeth’s face.
Darcy bowed slightly and replied softly, “No, Sir, I believe I’ve lost my touch.”
Witherbee took hold of Elizabeth’s arm in a most natural way, and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir. I hope our paths cross again very soon.”
Elizabeth, who had been studying her gloves while Thomas was speaking, now lifted her gaze to Darcy. “Good evening, Mr. Darcy. Please convey my regards to your sister.”
Darcy bowed deeply, and could only utter a feeble, “Thank you,” in reply.
Thomas swept Elizabeth away, chatting excitedly. “Wasn’t that a fortuitous meeting, Lizzy. I have wanted to be introduced to Darcy for ages.”
Darcy remained for some moments transfixed, watching them happily make their way towards their seats. “How easy they were together. How casually he touched her and called her by her Christian name. Good G-d, the man had no manners! Yet she did not seem to object.” The obvious truth suddenly hit him. “They must be betrothed!” Darcy felt his chest tighten. His despair now reached new depths. She was now truly, and irrevocably lost to him. He had known it to be so for so long, but actually seeing her so happy with another man brought an unspeakable pain to his heart. He left the theatre without retrieving his greatcoat and gloves from his box.
Going over it all again in the privacy of his bedchamber, a part of him wished he had never gone to the theatre. Then he could still cling to that foolish hope that she might one day be his. His reasonable side told him that it was for the best, of course. Now he knew that she was taken and he would be forced to move on. Move on...dear G-d, how can I move on? If only I could move on.
It took all of Elizabeth’s strength to feign easygoing delight for the rest of the evening. Her mind kept replaying each look, each word uttered between them and she could not attend to the music or to Thomas’s whispered remarks.
She now knew Fitzwilliam well enough to recognize that expression on his face. It was pure terror. “Had he been mortified to be accosted by her in public? Was he ashamed to be seen speaking to her?” Although these possibilities made sense, she somehow felt that they had nothing to do with his distress. Why he barely breathed when conversing with her! Was it that he was excited to see her, she wondered? He was certainly shocked. Her instincts told her that he disapproved of Thomas, and not only because he had imposed himself on him. “Did he think they were a couple? Was he angry, jealous?” “Well,” she thought indignantly, “you certainly have no right to be jealous, Fitzwilliam Darcy. You made your decision to end our relationship and so you must live with it!”
When they arrived back home, she raved about the performance, told Emily about the elaborate sets and costumes, but failed miserably in fooling her friend. As she was spreading out her linen on the foldaway cot, Emily came to sit on a chair near by it. “What happened tonight, Elizabeth? What has upset you so?”
Emily was the one person who knew all the particulars about her relationship with Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth could confide in her with complete confidence and Emily was not part of their tangled history, as Jane was. Elizabeth had needed someone to pour her heart out to after her return from Lambton and Emily’s straightforward, good sense always made her feel stronger, if not better. She sat down on the cot to ease the case onto the pillow.
“Fitzwilliam was at the opera tonight and we spoke for a few moments. Did Thomas not mention it? He was thrilled to finally meet him.”
Emily simply shook her head and waited for Lizzy to continue.
“I’m afraid it did not go very well,” she said quietly.
“Was he uncivil to you, Lizzy?”
“No, not at all! He was a perfect gentleman. Well….at first. He was a little taken aback when Thomas strode over to shake his hand before they were introduced. But then he corrected his behavior and was very polite.”
“What was it then? Was it just difficult being in his company?” asked Emily.
“I don’t really know, Emmy.” She took her friend’s hand in hers and massaged it gently with her thumb. “He was just so shocked to see me that his reaction was difficult to read. He seemed nervous, highly agitated. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to escape from me or...” Here she stopped and bowed her head.
“Or what? Lizzy. Tell me.”
“Or if he was upset at my being with Thomas. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I had the impression that he was jealous of Thomas, that he thought we were a couple.”
“Well, if Thomas was as affectionate and outgoing as he usually is with you, I could easily believe it,” laughed Emily.
Elizabeth smiled at this. “Yes, Thomas was just being Thomas, but Fitzwilliam could not know that. In any case, what does it really matter? There can never be a future for us now and Fitzwilliam has made his feelings very clear on that subject with his silence. Giving Emily’s hand a little squeeze, she said, “Now that I have this off my chest, I feel much better. Thank you Emmy.”
She leaned over to kiss her friend when Emily let out a rather loud, “OW,” and then giggled. She placed Elizabeth’s hand on her abdomen and smiled at the shocked expression on her friend’s face. “My goodness, what a hard kick, Emily! Does the baby do that to you often?”
“More and more of late. I guess he is trying to tell us something.”
Early the next morning, Emily went into labor and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, baby boy. They named him Robert, after the grandfather who would not acknowledge him.
Elizabeth’s days were now filled with caring for both little Robert and Emily. She cooked and cleaned, went to the market and rocked little Robert in her arms for hours at a time. Hill would have been very proud of her. She had never worked so hard in all her life, and had never felt so happy! Of course, all this labor was made more palatable by the knowledge that it was to be short lived, but she truly loved being part of this precious little family. Was this the closest she would ever come to knowing such contentment?
Fitzwilliam Darcy never told his sister about his meeting Elizabeth at the opera. What would be the point? She belonged to another and he could therefore never encourage a friendship between them.
He had learned through discreet inquires at his club, the history and background of Thomas Witherbee. He was told that he was the firstborn son of a highly respected, landed and wealthy family from Devonshire. He had graduated first in his class from Cambridge and had been expected to marry well, become an MP and inherit his father’s sizable estate. When he decided to marry a woman quite below his station, his parents cut him off completely and publicly disowned him.
Well perhaps Thomas Witherbee deserves Elizabeth more than he does. After all, he did not hesitate to make her his wife, despite the social and financial consequences. The better man had won, he supposed, but he could not bring himself to accept that Witherbee was the right man. Elizabeth ought to be his; he knew that in his soul. It was an arrogant, selfish presumption, but he knew it to be true.
Posted on Tuesday, 13 January 2004
Georgiana Darcy was desperate to understand the changes in her brother. For a time, the move to London seemed to have helped his sagging spirits a little, and she had nurtured the hope that eventually he would become his old self again. But in the past few weeks he had become more and more sullen and withdrawn and she was at her wits end as to how to help him. Fitzwilliam had chosen to have his breakfast alone in his rooms, yet again and she was determined to persuade him to spend some time with her.
Her forceful knock on the library door startled him. “Come in,” he replied in an annoyed tone. “Oh, it’s you Georgie, forgive me, I thought you were Benson. “What can I do for you my love?”
“What you can do for me Fitzwilliam, is spend some time with me,” she said, looking him squarely in the face. “You may not need or desire my company these days, but I am sorely in need of yours. I will not take no for an answer.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but she was too quick for him. “And I do not care that you do not think yourself good company. I require it all the same.”
His sheepish grin and guilty expression softened her manner. “Please come take a stroll with me around the lake in the park. The weather is mild and if you are not in the mood to talk, at least we can enjoy the outdoors together. We have been cooped up all winter and besides, I just need to be close to you for a little while.”
Darcy rose from his chair and took Georgiana in his arms. He kissed her tenderly on her forehead and looked into her anxious eyes. “I don’t know how you put up with me, Georgie. I don’t deserve you.”
“But you do deserve me, and every blessing that G-d can bestow. You are a wonderful man, Fitzwilliam. I do not understand why you berate yourself so.”
He kissed her again, and clearing his throat, said in a livelier tone, “Let us inform Mrs. Fields, that we shall be having luncheon out, and after we work up a good appetite walking, we can dine in the park café, you and I. How does that sound to you?”
“It sounds heavenly,” exclaimed Georgiana. And hooking her brother’s arm in hers, led him out of the library.
They walked in silence for a time and then chatted amiably about their plan to visit the Matlocks in the coming weeks. Fitzwilliam found himself relaxing in the sweetness of his sister’s company and being very glad that she had forced him out of doors. As they came around the bend they saw some children feeding the ducks, with their nannies fussing about them. Georgiana smiled at the scene and suggested they rest a bit on a bench by the water. They sat down together, quiet and contented, breathing deeply of the soft spring air. Darcy stretched out his long legs as Georgiana looked about her in obvious pleasure.
Suddenly she jumped up and cried excitedly, “Elizabeth!” Before Darcy knew what was happening Georgiana was dashing towards a bench some fifty feet away.
There, sat Elizabeth Bennet, cradling a baby in her arms. She had been caressing the baby’s head and talking to him lovingly when she looked up in response. A delighted smile spread immediately across her face as she rose to greet Georgiana. She then suddenly hesitated for a moment, looked around warily, before holding out her hand to her.
Darcy looked around, a bit embarrassed at Georgiana’s display. He had never witnessed her behave so in public. But how could he blame her for her excitement. This was their Elizabeth after all, and his own heart was having difficulty keeping its rhythm. His breath caught in his chest as he looked at the infant in her arms. “She must be married to him, he thought to himself. How lucky that man is! Look at her! I don’t think I can bear to………”.
Georgiana had reached Elizabeth and was now hugging her and speaking excitedly. “Oh, how I’ve missed you. How anxious we have both been about you and your family. Tell me, is everything now well?”
“As well as can be expected, Georgiana,” said Elizabeth, looking down at her shoes. “I’m so happy to see you myself. I would have truly been saddened to have missed meeting you.”
By now Darcy had closed the gap between them and was able to hear their conversation. He realized that he might now have to pay dearly for all the lies and omissions of the past year. He presented Elizabeth with a formal bow and watched as she lowered her eyes, then raised them, with a soft, “Mr. Darcy.”
“What a beautiful baby,” exclaimed Georgiana, reaching out in an obvious request to hold him.
“Yes, he is very beautiful,” said Elizabeth, handing him to her. “Here, allow me to introduce you to Master Robert Witherbee. Master Witherbee, Miss Darcy.” Georgiana made a small curtsy, and giggling with delight, took the baby in her arms.
Darcy looked on in agony. He was afraid that his face would betray him, and took great pains to control his breathing and expression. After what seemed like an eternity, he was able to force out, “My congratulations to you, Mrs. Witherbee,” in a hoarse voice.
Elizabeth looked up at him in surprise. Suddenly quiet and embarrassed, she laughed softly for a moment before saying, “Oh, no…….you thought?…….no, Mr. Darcy, he is not mine. He is my friend Emily Witherbee’s son, ……though I love him already as if he were my own. I am only helping her care for him until she gets her strength back.” She cast her eyes down to avoid his intense stare.
Darcy’s mouth dropped open as he tried to grasp what he had just heard! His emotions overwhelmed him and he was afraid that the tears that had been threatening to pour forth since he had seen her might actually leave his eyes. He turned away from her and walked a few feet ahead to try to gain some composure.
Georgiana, trying to cover up her brother’s odd behavior, began making happy plans for herself and her friend. “How wonderful to have you in London, Elizabeth. You must allow me to show you my favorite galleries and take you to tea. We can explore the shops together and you must come to dine with us…..tonight! Can you come tonight? You must bring your friends, of course and even little Robert. We can set up one of the guest rooms as a little nursery for him and get one of the servants to watch him during dinner.”
“Oh Georgiana, I’m afraid that I shall have to disappoint you. This is my last night in London. I’m leaving for home early tomorrow morning.”
“No, Elizabeth, that cannot be so! We have just found each other again. Surely you can extend your visit a week or so. Please, don’t leave just yet, please!”
Elizabeth drew her arm around Georgiana’s shoulder. With a shake of her head, she said, “I must leave tomorrow. My sister Jane is depending on it and I cannot disappoint her. Truly, I am sorry. I would indeed enjoy spending time with you, but it is impossible.”
Fitzwilliam decided that it was time for him to intervene. Georgiana was obviously putting Elizabeth in an uncomfortable position. “Georgie, I’m sure Miss Bennet would stay if she could. Let us not press her.”
Georgiana’s expression sank. She looked entreatingly at Fitzwilliam and then relented with a nod. “But would it, at least, be possible for you to dine with us this evening? Could we have one evening together?”
“The Witherbees have planned a special farewell dinner tonight, Georgiana. I could not abandon them on my last night in town. I’m sure you understand.”
“I do, of course I do. But that does not make it any easier to bear. I am sorely disappointed not to have had any time with you this visit. If only we had known that you were in town!”
At this remark, Elizabeth lifted her eyes to Fitzwilliam’s. What she saw there surprised her. She certainly recognized his discomfort at having been found out, but she also saw a look of sincere regret. He didn’t flinch or look away. He stared at her beseechingly.
“All right, Fitzwilliam, let us see what you do with this,” she thought.
“Mr. Darcy, I just realized that there is a way for us to spend this evening together. I know that my friends would join me extending an invitation to you and Georgiana to dine with us tonight. Thomas would be honored to have you at his table and my friend Emily will be thrilled to have such good company about her. Since her confinement she has not had the opportunity to be much in company. It would be a treat for her. Unfortunately, their simple living arrangements are not what you are accustomed to, but I am sure you would be quite comfortable. I sincerely hope you will accept.”
“Georgiana’s face brightened as she looked to her brother for his approval of the plan. “Please Fitzwilliam, can we go?”
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “But you have already told us that this is a special farewell dinner for you, Miss Bennet. Surely, we would be intruding.”
“Not at all, Mr. Darcy. I think it should make for a much merrier party. I will not pressure you, of course,” she said with a saucy look, “but I assure you, your company will be most welcome.”
Suddenly all the tension washed from his face, his shoulders relaxed and he answered with obvious pleasure. “Then we shall be delighted to come, Miss Bennet. Thank you for the kind invitation.” Georgiana beamed at her brother.
Elizabeth was in shock. She had never expected him to accept! Taking little Robert from Georgiana’s arms, she placed him in his carriage and began to fuss with his blankets. Her cheeks burned and her heart beat wildly. “What has just happened here?” she thought to herself. “ Is it possible? Can he really contemplate an association with my family? Will he permit Georgiana to be my friend? Dear G-d, does he still love me?” She straightened up and smiled at them with as much composure as she could muster. “Well, I will be going then. Robert will be hungry soon and I have much to prepare. I look forward to seeing you tonight. The address is 34 Shepard’s Cross. Good day Mr. Darcy, Georgiana.”
“Good day, Miss Bennet,” said Darcy, bowing.
“Good day, Elizabeth. See you this evening.”
Georgiana watched the neighborhoods change from her carriage window and a bewildered expression appeared on her face. She had never been to this part of town before, nor did she know of anyone that lived here. The people she observed went about their business in a normal way, but their manner of dress, their way of greeting each other and the volume of their voices was very different from what she was accustomed to. She looked at her brother. “Fitzwilliam, Miss Bennet’s friends live here?”
“Yes, Georgiana, they do. It seems that Mr. Witherbee’s family has cut him off and he is not in the best financial situation.”
“But why, Fitzwilliam? Has he done something so very bad?”
“He married a woman his family did not approve of, someone they felt was beneath him.”
“But she is Elizabeth’s friend? She must be very gentile and accomplished, I’m sure. And Elizabeth would not love her so if she was not of good character.”
“Well, we shall be meeting her shortly and you can form your own opinion of her, Georgie. He turned and gazed at the passing scene before him and then added softly, “It must not be an easy thing to give up one’s family and fortune. But I suppose if the love between two people is strong enough….” He stopped to look into her troubled face. “Sometimes people just know they can’t bear to live their lives without each other,” he said in barely a whisper and then turned away from her again. Further confusion spread over Georgiana’s face. Fitzwilliam had always been very clear about family duty and honor. Why was he speaking this way now?
When the carriage stopped at the address given, Darcy momentarily questioned his judgment in bringing his sister into this situation. The entry way did nothing to alleviate his discomfort, but in his heart he knew that Elizabeth would never put Georgiana in an uncomfortable position. He tapped gently on the door, remembering that there was an infant within. It was opened by a young, dark haired woman with the warmest smile he had ever seen. Her eyes were not as fine as Elizabeth’s, nor was she quite as handsome, but she had an inner strength and beauty that was immediately visible. She beamed at them, curtsied, and welcomed them into her home. “Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy, we are so pleased that you have come. Please come in. Welcome! Forgive me for introducing myself, but poor Cinderella is in the kitchen and my husband is not yet home. I am Emily Witherbee.
Georgiana chuckled, then curtsied, while Fitzwilliam gave her his most respectful bow. “It is we who are honored to be invited to such an important dinner and on such short notice, Mrs. Witherbee. Thank you for having us.” He handed her the bouquet of flowers he had brought and added, “for the ladies of the house.”
“Thank you Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy. They are exquisite. Do let me take your hat, Sir and your bonnet, Miss Darcy and then I shall put them in water. As she took Darcy’s beaver she quickly glanced at the label in the rim, and allowed the faintest smile to play upon her lips. Darcy wondered at its meaning, but of course, made no comment.
She invited them to make themselves comfortable, promising to drag Elizabeth out of the kitchen on her way to find a vase. Elizabeth stepped into the parlor just at that moment, curtsied and welcomed her friends. She was more than a little anxious to see their reaction to their surroundings, but saw only their eager, happy expressions. Her face was very flushed from the heat of the cooking pots and tiny wisps of hair clung to the moisture on her neck. Darcy thought she had never looked more beautiful.
“I was not aware that you were so accomplished in the culinary arts,” he teased. “I believe I once heard your mother say with pride that her daughters did not cook, Miss Bennet.”
“My mother is not aware of half my accomplishments, Sir,” she said with an arched look. “I owe all my talent in this area of expertise to Hill, who allowed me to escape into her kitchen on many a long winter’s day. But do not speak of my accomplishments before you have tasted your dinner, Sir. You may then be at a loss for words.”
“Oh, Elizabeth,” laughed Georgiana, “You know that Fitzwilliam would only compliment your cooking. He is always the gentleman.”
“But you told me yourself, that your brother always tells the truth, Georgiana, that he is only sometimes too kind to you! Do you think that he will now extend that kindness to me? Heavens forbid, for then I shall never know when he is telling the truth.”
They all laughed heartily together over that last remark and Darcy was amazed at the ease with which his sister was joining the lively conversation. But then, he knew the reason for that.
“I’m sure I have just missed something very amusing,” said Emily as she brought the flowers in and set them on a small round table. “Won’t you let me in on the…” Her request was interrupted by her husband’s opening the door and simultaneously calling out in a cheery voice, “Hey-ho darlings, I’m home!” His broad smile turned into an embarrassingly sheepish grin when he saw his totally unexpected guests staring at him. “What’s this? Special guests? Had I known I would have been home sooner.” He immediately came towards Darcy with his hand outstretched, an expression of genuine delight on his face. “My, but it’s good to see you again, Mr. Darcy, and here in my home; I am honored.”
Darcy was now a bit embarrassed at his host not being aware of the invitation and said apologetically, “The ladies of the house offered your gracious hospitality just this morning, Sir. I imagine you were already at business. I hope this is not inconvenient…”
“Inconvenient? It is my greatest pleasure Darcy, welcome!”
“Allow me to introduce my sister, Mr. Witherbee. Georgiana, this is Thomas Witherbee, Mr. Witherbee, Miss Georgiana Darcy.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Darcy, though I must admit that your pretty face is not entirely unfamiliar to me. I remember your coming to visit your brother at university with your father, many years ago. From the first moment of the visit to the last, you never let go of your brother’s hand. I was quite envious of such devotion. My own sisters never thought so well of me,” he chuckled. Georgiana blushed a little and thanked her host.
“Well now that you are home, Thomas, please wash up and assist me with the table,” said Emily.
Mr. Witherbee strode over to his wife and kissed her cheek and then went to bestow a kiss on Elizabeth’s. “I hope you are not offended at my forward behavior, Miss Darcy,” he said, “but I cannot come into this house after a long day and not kiss my wife. It is one of the few advantages to not having servants about. And I won’t have my sweet Lizzy jealous, so I rally to the difficult task.” He winked at Elizabeth and then disappeared into the kitchen to do as he was bid.
The Witherbees’ tiny parlor had no room for a dining table, but on Thomas’s return he rolled out a large circular wooden board and centered it on the small round one, that only a moment ago had held the vase. Within minutes, it was covered with a fine white cloth, lovely china dishes and glassware, silverware and napkins. The flowers were placed in the center and chairs were set about it. Georgiana was amazed at the ingenuity of it all.
Emily and Elizabeth brought out the fragrant, steaming dishes, the crusty bread and wine. Emily then motioned everyone to the table. “Won’t you come and sit by me Miss Darcy,” said Emily. Elizabeth then took the seat on the other side of Georgiana and shyly nodded to Mr. Darcy to sit beside her. Thomas placed himself between Darcy and his wife. “This was nicely planned,” thought Darcy contentedly.
Just as Thomas raised his glass to toast Elizabeth, little Robert let it be known that he was not about to be left out of the party. Emily groaned and Thomas and Elizabeth laughed. “Our nightly dinner companion,” said Thomas. “I’ll get him, Emily,” cried Elizabeth, already half way to the bedroom. “I know he can’t be hungry.”
“No, Lizzy, you have guests. I won’t hear of it.”
“Emmy, this will be your last opportunity to eat a quiet meal for a good while. And I miss him so dreadfully already. Please let me hold him. You enjoy dinner and Georgiana and I will take turns with him. Won’t we?” She looked to Georgiana who beamed and nodded enthusiastically. “There, you see? Now go sit down.”
Emily relented and Elizabeth sat back down with the baby’s back against her chest so that he could be entertained by the activity at the table. Thomas, who had risen to be of some assistance to her, now drew his son’s little hand to his lips, kissed each of his fingers and commanded, “Now be a good boy for your aunt Lizzy or she’ll never come back to us and then Mummy and I will be in a fix.”
All of Darcy’s senses were heightened by the small, unconscious movements beside him. The sight of Elizabeth holding Robert was disturbing enough, but her gentle stroking of his hands, the tiny kisses she placed upon the top of his head as she cuddled him, and the playful rubbing of his little feet as he kicked about happily gave him the utmost pleasure and pain. How he wanted her!
Emily served her guests and everyone joined in the lively, intelligent conversation. Georgiana shared her views on subjects her brother had no idea she had any knowledge of. He stared as she introduced new topics of conversation and at times even disagreed with him. Quietly watching the scene before him, he knew that he could not find finer women for Georgiana to emulate.
“I will have to commend Mrs. Hill on her fine instruction, Miss Bennet. Your dishes are most delicious. Truly, I don’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a meal more,” said Darcy.
“I too, congratulate you on a wonderful dinner, Elizabeth,” said Georgiana, “Everything is delicious, but I suspect that the company has much to do with our enjoyment of it.”
“Yes, we have been terribly spoiled these past weeks. Our compliments and great thanks to the cook,” said Thomas, lifting his glass again. Elizabeth blushed and simply said that she was glad that they were enjoying their meal.
“I understand from Elizabeth that you are a master musician, Georgiana. Pray, may I ask what you are working on at the moment?” asked Emily as she was clearing the table. “Oh yes, I am struggling with the Adagio of Mozart’s Twenty Third Piano Concerto. I don’t know that I shall ever master it,” she replied.
“Well, you’ve come to the right teacher,” said Elizabeth. “Emily is the finest pianist I know. Perhaps she can help you.”
Georgiana looked around the room in surprise. There was no instrument to be seen. “Oh, of course, I would appreciate any help I could get but…” Emily immediately put Georgiana at ease. “I have left my piano forte at my parents’ home. It is terribly expensive to move and since we hope to be in a larger home next summer, we thought it wise to wait until then. But I still practice as much as I can.”
She stepped into her bedroom and came out holding a paper keyboard, which she placed on the table. She then went to the shelves on the far wall and returned with the sheet music for the Adagio. Handing it to Georgiana, she asked her which section was giving her the most difficulty. Not wishing to appear impolite or ungrateful, Georgiana turned the pages until she found the section in question. Emily looked over it for a moment and then fingered it out on the one-dimensional keys. Watching her in amazement, Georgiana asked her to repeat the fingering. “No wonder I have been struggling with it so. My fingering was all wrong! I couldn’t make a smooth transition from this measure to that measure because I kept tripping over my own fingers. Emily, you are a wonder! Thank you.” She hugged her affectionately and added, “Oh, I must hear you play!”
“And so you shall,” replied Elizabeth with a mischievous grin, “but not on the piano forte. Emily and I have been practicing a little surprise duet for Thomas, and since you are here, we shall swallow our embarrassment and play it as planned. Shall we not, Emmy?”
“I don’t think the gentlemen are very interested in a concert at the moment. They seem quite engrossed.”
Indeed, Darcy and Witherbee had found great satisfaction in their intelligent and witty exchanges. They had found themselves agreeing on many areas of common interest, such as politics, their taste in books, their interest in historic preservation and the like, and where their opinions did differ, they were able to express their ideas so admirably and convincingly, that each man was left with a greater understanding and respect for the other. At the moment, they were bent over some blueprints that Thomas had drawn as his bid for the newly proposed art pavilion across the Thames. Darcy was marveling at his ingenuity and the simplicity of the elegant design.
But Darcy had divided his focus between Thomas and Elizabeth all evening, and was ever mindful of where she was, and what she was saying. It took all his concentration to do so, and as his ears picked up on the ladies’ conversation, he drew Thomas’s attention to it. “I believe the ladies are requiring our attention, Thomas. Shall we join them?”
“Is this the big surprise I’ve been hearing about all week?” asked Thomas, handing Darcy another glass of port. I can’t imagine what the two of you have been up to, sneaking about, whispering and actually shooing me out of my own home.” He settled himself comfortably on the settee as he spoke. “Imagine, Darcy, yesterday I was ordered to take my son for a stroll in the park because the ladies needed time alone!”
Georgiana’s eyes opened wide in alarm. She had never heard of a wife making such demands on her husband. Was Thomas genuinely upset? She then caught the playful wink he sent his wife and saw the loving gaze that passed between them. This was a marriage unlike any she had ever witnessed.
Emily brought a music stand to the center of the room and placed several handwritten sheets of music upon it. The friends then retreated to the bedroom very quietly, as little Robert had been placed back in his cradle only an hour ago, and emerged again with instruments in hand. They both carried recorders, Emily an alto recorder and Elizabeth a bass. Georgiana wanted to laugh. She had first learned to read music on a recorder when she was very young. She never thought of it as a serious instrument, and wondered what Emily and Elizabeth could possibly be thinking. She schooled her expression to conceal her thoughts.
Emily began to play a most beautiful and haunting melody and Elizabeth joined her a few measures later with the most exquisite harmonies. The pure, deep tones of these recorders had a provincial, earthy beauty that cut straight to one’s soul. The listeners sat enraptured. Thomas whispered, “Oh Emmy, my favorite Handel! How did you manage it?”
When they played their last notes, their audience shouted, “Encore, Encore,” and they were obliged to play it over again.
Darcy had watched Elizabeth with such adoration that when Thomas and Georgiana were applauding wildly, he simply continued to stare, completely unaware of his bad manners. Georgiana shook him out of his stupor by leaning towards him and saying, “Wasn’t that marvelous, Fitzwilliam. Wasn’t that the most beautiful thing you ever heard?” Collecting himself, he rose and stepped towards her. He approached her shyly as she was putting the recorder back in its case, and taking her hand in his, brought it up to his lips. He caressed it with his thumb and then placed a long, lingering kiss upon it. He held her eyes with his and whispered, “Thank you, Miss Bennet. That was truly beautiful. You continue to amaze me, Madam.” She did not pull her hand from his and he continued to hold it a few minutes longer as they spoke.
While enjoying their tea and cake, Thomas explained that he had wanted them to attend the performance of this particular piece in Covent Gardens two months ago, but their finances would not allow it. And now his wife had arranged for a private performance, with a change of instruments of course, but incredibly beautiful nevertheless. Was there a man in all of England more blessed than he?
Darcy watched Elizabeth fight to squelch a little yawn and realized how late it had become. He apologized for staying so long when he knew that she was catching the early morning Post and taking Georgiana’s hand, rose to thank his hosts for a most enjoyable evening. It was obvious to all that his praise was genuinely felt and that this evening had marked the beginning of a new friendship. Elizabeth was especially touched. Never would she have believed that the proud and reserved Fitzwilliam Darcy could be so comfortable in the company of her most beloved friends.
As Emily handed Mr. Darcy his hat, she smiled and complimented him on his excellent taste. “I know this beaver to be of the finest quality,” she said with a grin. “My father uses only the best skins for this model.”
“You are Ernest Haversham’s daughter?” he asked in amazement. “He is the finest of gentleman, Mrs. Witherbee. My family has been doing business with him for many years. Please send him my regards the next time you see him.”
“I shall Mr. Darcy. Thank you.”
Now that they were at the door, Darcy felt a sudden panic. He couldn’t bear to leave her. He desperately wanted to get a few moments alone with her to say a private good-bye, but it was impossible. When would he see her again and how could he possibly arrange it? He felt as if he were losing her again, not to rejection this time, but to propriety and etiquette. His mind raced for answers, but none came. Georgiana was now kissing Elizabeth and promising to correspond often. He cast Elizabeth an imploring look. She lowered her eyes for a moment, then raised them again slowly, honoring him with the warmest of smiles.
“Good night Miss Bennet. I wish you an easy journey and look forward to hearing from my sister that you have arrived in safety. Thank you again for including us in this special evening.” Taking up her hand in his and bringing it up to his lips, he kissed it, then brushed his lips against it once more. Finally releasing it, he bowed to her and led his sister down the stairs.
Posted on Friday, 16 January 2004
Neither of them spoke on the short ride home, for each was overwhelmed by the feelings and questions that the evening had produced. Darcy could not remember a more satisfying social encounter. Never before had he been so at ease with strangers, or been so intellectually stimulated and emotionally charmed. There was not one person in the party that he had “put up with” in order to be in the company of the others. There were no games being played here, no deceptions, no intrigues. Each person’s goal seemed to be only to please and be pleased themselves.
He had never seen Elizabeth quite so contented. Here, there had been no need to be anxiously redirecting conversations to avoid embarrassment, or tremble in mortification at the stupidity or lack of manners of family or friends. In this home she could truly be herself. How much more at ease and happy she would be in a home of her own, he suddenly thought. He closed his eyes to picture her Mistress of her own house, his house, of course. What a loving atmosphere she would create! What he would give to have her accept him. But was she ready to do so? Was he reading her correctly this time? He was afraid to hope.
If he made her an offer again and she refused, he would not be able to ask again. That was for certain. He would have to tread carefully and only make his move when he was sure of her feelings for him. But when would that be and how could he ever be certain? As his mood began to darken he forced himself to remember how far their relationship had progressed in just twelve hours. He should be more than content. Only yesterday he had thought her lost to him forever.
Georgiana’s emotions were in a state of utter confusion. She thought of Emily practicing on a paper keyboard and her heart ached for her. And now that Elizabeth was leaving, she alone would be responsible for the care of her husband and child, their meals, the laundry, the marketing! How was she ever going to get a moments rest? How was she expected to do it all? Georgiana was saddened by her difficult situation, but oddly enough did not pity her. Of all the women of her acquaintance she could think of none happier or more blessed. Elizabeth had been the first to show her that a young woman could speak her mind and still remain a proper lady, but Emily’s relationship with Thomas went even further. This was a different world that she had stepped into tonight and she wasn’t at all sure that she was that eager to get home.
As the door to his townhouse opened, Darcy was suddenly struck by the formal beauty of his home. He had lived with these antique furnishings and valuable works of art all his life and yet it was as if he were seeing them for the very first time. How beautiful it all was, yet how empty….. It had not always been so, of course. He remembered how it had felt when his mother was alive. Yet now, he had everything, except ... what he really needed. He looked at Georgiana and saw from her expression that her thoughts mirrored his own. Determined to lighten their mood, he asked teasingly, “So shall I now have to find you a music master for recorder lessons?”
“No search will be at all necessary, Fitzwilliam,” she said quite seriously. “I was hoping that you would permit me to visit Emily once a week while we are in town. She said she would be most happy to teach me.” With an impish smile she stood on tiptoe to reach his cheek and kissed him good night. As she mounted the stairs, she could feel him staring at her in surprise, but did not turn around to look at him.
Darcy retired to his rooms with feelings of elation and desperation. The evening had gone far better than he had ever expected. After an initial moment of anxiety, Elizabeth seemed very comfortable in his presence. They had both been intimately aware of each other’s feelings and reactions all evening, conscious of each glance, each blush or change of composure. Much was read into every smile, every teasing exchange or serious gaze. The whole of it spoke of intense feelings that could not be hidden or denied. Darcy praised G-d for this miracle, but was at a loss to understand it. How could it be that Elizabeth had such feelings for him and yet had fled from Lambton? Had these feelings only developed afterwards? Well, that was of no consequence to him now. She loved him! At least he thought she loved him…. He was almost certain that she loved him. In any case, she was leaving in the morning and he was determined to invent some pretext to see her off. He had to pave the way for their next meeting or it would be G-d knows how long before he saw her again. He stayed up half the night thinking of what to say to her and finally fell asleep in his chair around four.
When he awoke, stiff and aching from his awkward sleeping position, he checked his watch and leapt from the chair. “Dear G-d, I’m late.” Ringing the bell for his valet, he ordered a quick change of clothes. No, there was no time to wash or shave! He needed his horse immediately, and Mrs. Fields was to prepare a traveling basket of fruit, sweets, wine and the like, things a lady would prefer. “Quickly Man!”
He flew down the stairs with his harried staff scrambling to make ready all he had asked for. As he was about to bolt through the door, he stopped to pluck a rose from an arrangement on the foyer table and placed it in the basket. When the door closed behind him, his servants went back to their tasks, hard pressed not to show the amusement on their faces.
The Post Stationmaster pointed out the carriage bound for destinations south, including Hertfordshire and informed Darcy that it was due to depart in five minutes. He walked as quickly as he could, taking huge strides until he reached it and then saw the sudden look of recognition on her lovely face. A faint blush immediately washed over her as she lowered her eyes and smiled to herself. When she looked at him again, he noticed her struggling for composure as she murmured her greeting. This gave him the courage he so desperately needed to say what he had come to say. Still, it would not be easy.
“Miss Bennet, I hope you do not think it impertinent of me to come and see you off. I could not have you leave without telling you again how honored and pleased I was to be included in your last evening in London. I hope you were able to get some rest last night. One always travels better when rested.”
“I’m afraid sleep escaped me last night, Mr. Darcy. Emily and I talked for some time and then I found it difficult to quiet my mind.”
“I too found little rest, Miss Bennet, for I was struggling with something very particular that I wish to ask you.” He took a few moments to calm his breathing and then continued, gazing at her intently. “As I mentioned last night, Mr. Bingley and his sisters have prolonged their stay in Italy and are not due to return for some weeks, so I will have no opportunity to ……... Forgive me for being so bold, Miss Bennet, but there seems no other way to ask this but in a straight forward manner. I hope I am not offending you?”
Her eyes were wide and fixed on him as her lips parted, just a bit, in astonishment. She shook her head, then looked at her hands resting on the frame of the carriage window and murmured, “No, Mr. Darcy, you do not offend me.”
“I beg you to answer truthfully, for both our sakes, Miss Bennet,” he began. “Please do not feel the need to spare my feelings if……….” He shook his head in disgust of his bumbling. “I wish to know, Miss Bennet…. were I to come to Longbourn, on my own…..would I be welcome?” The excruciating pain he felt at that moment was easily seen on his face, as he waited for her to answer.
Elizabeth had cast down her eyes for a moment, her face flushed with emotion. Then her lips turned upward in a loving smile as she sought his eyes once more. “You would be most welcome, Sir,” she whispered, her loving gaze echoing the words she had just uttered.
Darcy felt his heart would burst in his chest. He looked at her intently, his eyes expressing his relief and indescribable happiness far more clearly than his reserved smile. He placed his ungloved hand on hers on the window frame and whispered in a somewhat hoarse voice, “Then I shall come as soon as may be. Perhaps three days would afford you the opportunity to recover from your journey and reunite with your family?”
She nodded, a shy little smile gracing her lips. “I will look forward to your arrival, Sir.”
At that moment the door on the other side of the coach opened and an elderly couple entered, greeting Elizabeth warmly as they settled themselves in their seats. She nodded and smiled at them, then turned back to Darcy.
The coachman announced the need to depart and Darcy quickly handed Elizabeth the basket through the open window. “Just a few things to make your journey more tolerable, Miss Bennet. G-d speed.”
She took the basket with her free hand and turned the other, palm up, clasping his, as she did so. Giving it a gentle squeeze, she murmured, “Thank you, Sir.”
He stood and watched the coach until it was out of sight. “Dear G-d, can this really be happening?”