Posted on September 21, 2008
With a mighty roar, ocean waves crashed upon the rocky beach, the effect of which jarring the foundation beneath Elizabeth's bench. The sun was gone today, and in its place an expansive sky was shrouded with black clouds. From the outside in, she felt the blackness bleeding into her very being, its chill shocking her system.
It was of little matter; she was already numb.
Without thought, she tugged her shawl tighter around herself---it had been scarcely past seven when she had left her sister's for the bench she now rested upon. She reckoned it was now a quarter 'til nine.
They would be wondering where she had gone, but it mattered little. She would return, and they would relax again. It was all a part in a particularly dark play---feelings were bestowed on an obligatory basis, offered as response from one character to the next. Nothing mattered today that would matter tomorrow. It was all lines to be read. Nothing was real.
In the distance, thunder growled monstrously, and the ocean roiled in answer. Elizabeth watched it all as a conductor, as though it were her own emotions that orchestrated the flare of nature's temper. Again and again the waves slammed against the sand, dragging anything foolish enough to be near the shore back into the current, swallowing it whole, drowning the life from it. Wind whipped and stung her cheeks, but Elizabeth did not react. She breathed deeply, as though she had been running, inhaling the salty air, embracing the turmoil. She closed her eyes, and lightening flashed behind the lids.
Like the waves, memories would tumble in and drag her away, enveloping her in an abyss of remove. For a moment, the world would cease spinning on its axis, the sea would calm, and she would just remember...and remember.
Thursday, 17 October 1811
The remnants of summer's warmth were finally abating, Elizabeth noted with a sigh, as they arrived at the evening's assembly. Soon the bright green hues of foliage bolstered by sunshine and summer rainstorms would give way to rusty colours of orange and red---and scents of burning leaves and cinnamon would be floating in the crisp air of autumn. She shivered involuntarily and linked arms with Jane for added warmth.
Mr Bingley appeared at the assembly soon after with the good humour to please and be pleased with every person he met. As his sisters were cognizant of what it meant to be fashionable, his party did not arrive until the ball was well into its second set. All were very glad to catch a glimpse of Mr Bingley and his party. The ladies were relieved to see that the seven ladies town gossip had fabricated only resulted in two, both of whom his sisters. The eldest of which was accompanied by her husband, Mr Hurst, and another gentleman, soon determined to call himself Mr Darcy, was present with them.
Mr Darcy, it was reported, boasted even more wealth than Mr Bingley's five thousand a year. That he was expected to have twice that, and very likely more, infiltrated the minds of gossiping mothers, all anxious of making his acquaintance. Elizabeth had been unable to escape his entrance any less affected, as she found Mr Darcy to be quite handsome. Though Mrs Bennet agreed with her daughter's assessment enthusiastically, Elizabeth suspected that her mother would not find him quite so handsome if he were not quite so rich.
Sir William Lucas, a very amiable gentleman, well-liked for his generous manners and enjoyment of balls and parties, was the man to introduce them. Mrs Bennet collected as many of her daughters as could be located on so short notice and pointed them all out to the gentlemen by name. Elizabeth noted with pleasure that Mr Bingley locked eyes with Jane almost instantly and had secured her for the next dance before the conversation's end.
Much to Elizabeth's disappointment, her Mr Darcy said very little. However, student of character that she was, she determined that his silence stemmed more from unease than arrogance, and she soon resolved to soothe his discomfort at the first available moment.
As was common, there were several sets that she was obliged to sit out as there were quite a bit more ladies present than gentlemen. She took her seat rather good-naturedly and watched merrily as Mr Bingley danced with Jane another time. Elizabeth could not remember a time when she had last seen her sister so animated or laughing so often, and she was very glad to see a gentleman appreciate her sister's charms so thoroughly.
As they so often had since their introduction, Elizabeth's eyes sought out Mr Darcy where he stood alone in the shadows for the better part of the evening. This time his gaze caught hers. She dipped her chin, smiling in polite recognition, and was pleased to see him reciprocate similarly. Before more communication between them could be applied, Bingley, who had momentarily removed himself from the dance, came up to his friend.
"Come, Darcy, I must have you dance! I hate to see you standing about in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not," Darcy replied. "You know how I detest it."
"There are several girls here I find to be uncommonly pretty. I should think that many of them would be a vast deal less than a punishment to stand up with."
Darcy pursed his lips, all the while aware of Elizabeth's attention to their conversation. "Your Miss Bennet is very handsome, I grant you. However, I am in no humour to dance, Bingley, you had better go back to your partner."
"Oh, Darcy, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! I do declare she is an angel."
Elizabeth thought she could sense Mr Darcy's amusement with his friend's exultations.
"But look there," Bingley said, indicating to Elizabeth. "There sits her sister. I daresay she is very pretty, too."
Elizabeth lifted her eyes from the hands in her lap she had been fascinated with since the beginning of the gentlemen's conversation. Again, she met eyes with Darcy and cocked her head to the side, brow raised. For her reward, she received a glimpse of a smile before his more solemn expression retrieved it.
"Perhaps you are right," Darcy said more to Elizabeth than Bingley. He stepped closer and on impulse asked, "Could you be prevailed upon to stand up with me, Miss Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth dipped her chin graciously and rose, allowing him to lead her to the dance.
"I am very honoured by your condescension, sir," she began, a smile lingering on her lips, "for I know how you detest this activity."
"You hear uncommonly well."
"Oh, yes, especially when I have the privilege of being seated not three steps away from a conversation!"
Darcy's lips twitched at the sound of her tinkling laughter.
"Though I suspect a gentleman would not be at liberty to express his true feelings aware as he was of perked ears from nearby parties."
"You are quite right," Darcy replied with some amusement, "for I certainly could not refuse to stand up with a lady within earshot."
"A capital offence," Elizabeth agreed cheerfully.
"I believe Meryton in general will be very relieved to know that you are not so insufferable as to refuse to dance with its ladies, sir."
"I am glad to prevent such a misunderstanding."
"Indeed," Elizabeth smiled. "Do you intend to stay long with your friends at Netherfield, sir?"
Darcy thought carefully, "My plans are not absolutely set as of yet. Though, I do plan to stay some weeks."
"And from where are you being kept for some weeks?"
"Derbyshire. I have an estate there."
"I do hope you will enjoy your time in Meryton, Mr Darcy. We are nothing to London, I know, but we try our noble best to be hospitable."
"I have no doubts on that count, madam."
"Good," Elizabeth said with a smile. "Though I am disappointed, sir."
"And what has you so cast down, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Well, you see, I do dearly love to laugh, and I find that your manners from the beginning of this dance have been such as to distress me thoroughly."
"Why is that?"
"I have found nothing wanting in your addresses, no sourness of expression, no frowns or particular facial contractions. You see, I have nothing over which to tease you, save your time glowering in the corner, and I fear I am obliged to let such behaviour escape my notice in light of such flawless politeness as you have presented just now."
"You cannot know how grieved I am to disappoint, Miss Elizabeth."
"Nor I," she agreed. "I am afraid that there is nothing else for it. We shall have to be friends."
"And you see no other alternative?" Darcy asked with mock gravity.
Darcy gave her a true smile, his very first of the evening. "Then friends we shall be."
Elizabeth gasped as another clap of thunder snatched her awareness back to the present. Had it truly been above seven months since she had first laid eyes on him? Was that possible? She had come here today with a purpose---to send away all thoughts of what had been. In her hands she held a book of poetry. It was one she had picked up because he had called it his favourite. Even now, after everything that had happened, she had kept it by her side. Today she had meant to cast it into the sea and allow the ocean to wash away her feelings of sorrow and regret. She had tried hating him, she had tried forgetting, but nothing abated the tempest her heart felt at a love that was requited, but not enough.
Absently, she ran her fingertips against the cool, leather binding. Her mind flashed to the destruction it would receive upon hitting the water, though it now rested in her hand undisturbed. Painfully, she realized she could not do it. She could no more destroy the novel than she could forget the man that had inspired her affection for it. She pressed the book to her chest and a tear escaped her eye, but was engulfed by the drizzle that had begun to fall from the heavens. Resolutely, she turned and walked back to the great house. She would conquer this, somehow... and when she needed to cry, she would wait until it was raining outside.
Saturday, 4 January 1812
I write to you this morning to report I have not seen any evidence of Mr Darcy in London, nor am I likely to. I am not acquainted with his sister, and it is very unlikely that we would ever be invited to the same parties or assemblies. I find myself growing quite indifferent to him. Certainly, if we were to cross one another in the street, I would be perfectly comfortable to carry along my way.
I have known better all along than to expect anything from Mr D. We are too different, the disparity of our circumstances would never permit me to allow such feelings, nor would they permit him to act on any feelings he might have had for me. I know, though, that whatever our acquaintance might have been in Hertfordshire, whatever my fanciful ideas might have entertained, they cannot survive when practicality must be attended to.
I am delighted with the news of your engagement to Mr Bingley and beg you to think no more on my situation as I vow I shall not once this letter is sent. Not another blot of ink on this page shall dwell on my unfounded and disappointed hopes.
So Mr Wickham has married Mary King! I cannot say that I am surprised. I suppose his ridding the neighbourhood of himself, and with such a wife, shall be our consolation for having tolerated him as long we did. He may certainly go, and after all the deception he attempted, I doubt any of us will wish him back again.
My aunt has already begun to enquire when she might expect you to travel here for your trousseau. I have assured her that it shall be no menial task to pry you from Mr Bingley's clutches long enough for us to shop!
Mary has written to me. She says she finds herself very comfortable in Kent. Though I never could have been content with such an establishment---with such a husband---I know must I account for our difference in temperament. If she is happy with so silly a man, then I commend her. She has extended an invitation for me to visit Hunsford Parsonage, but I have written back declining the offer just now. I cannot bear the notion of being away from Longbourn any more until you are married. Soon you will be gone and married to your excellent Mr Bingley, and I cannot imagine being away from you for the remainder of your time with us.
I must go now, for my aunt wants me downstairs. Do write soon, dear Jane. I look forward to hearing more of your lovely fiancé. Give my mother and sisters my love and a very special kiss for Papa.
Sunday, 5 January 181
"This is contemptible!" Jane exclaimed, tossing aside Elizabeth's letter and stealing to the window. She rounded on her fiancé, who sat confused on the settee. "She has been led astray! Your friend has acted a part to her all these months only to abandon her now, when he has made her love him!"
Bingley frowned as he mentally worked through all that had happened since they had come to Meryton. "Jane, dearest, Darcy is not the sort of man to torment a young lady. I am convinced within myself that he knew nothing of her feelings when he left for London."
"No, he knew her feelings. He knew, and yet he betrayed her," Jane argued emotionally, tears filling her eyes.
"Jane, my love, do sit down. You are upset. Your compassion will surely come to you."
"My compassion, sir? My compassion is with my sister---the friend I have loved and turned to for every day of my life! That someone could treat her so carelessly is beyond my forgiveness!"
"Will you permit me?" he asked, indicating to the letter.
Jane appeared to think carefully before making a decision. "If I permit you to do so, you must understand that I do so with a trust that you will not violate her privacy, nor will you use her thoughts for your own purposes."
"Of course," Bingley replied gravely.
Drying her eyes with a handkerchief, Jane nodded and watched silently as he read her letter. When he was finished, he looked at her with large eyes.
"He cannot know that she is in love. I know Darcy---he is simply incapable of acting so dishonourably. I do not know what has happened, but it cannot be so easy as his abandoning her."
Jane's expression softened. "Why would he leave her?"
"I cannot tell you," he sighed, "but I shall get to the bottom of it. He cannot have known her feelings."
"Jane!" Mrs Bennet cried, coming into the room. "Kitty tells me you have had a letter from Lizzy. What news? Has she seen Mr Darcy?"
Without answering, Jane gave her mother the letter. When she was finished, Mrs Bennet seated herself roughly on the cushion. "To go all the way to London and see nothing of Mr Darcy! Bingley, how contemptibly your friend has behaved to our poor Lizzy!"
Jane flushed in embarrassment. "Mama, we do not know the circumstances---"
"Is it not plain enough? How ill he has used her! Her bloom will go as she pines for him, and she will end an old maid! Mark my words, my dear."
"If I were you, Mr Bingley, I should refuse to ever see Mr Darcy again, for Lizzy is to be your sister, and he has ruined her every hope of happiness. Poor girl, what she must suffer. I doubt we shall know her again when she returns. How altered she shall be!"
Jane was very embarrassed by her mother's speech and could not look at Mr Bingley, who experienced a great confusion. As he did not know how to behave in the presence of such plainness of speaking, he wisely chose to remain silent. When her mother had left the room to cry to Mr Bennet, Jane looked at her fiancé apologetically.
"She does not mean to be cruel."
Mr Bingley shook his head. "Think nothing of it. She is certainly very upset."
"I wish I could acquit your friend of offence, but I fear I cannot until we know the circumstances."
"You are determined to blame him, I think."
"I am determined to defend my sister," Jane said evenly.
Bingley sighed as he seated himself beside her. His expression was very troubled. "Can you not reserve judgment until we know the particulars?"
Jane's gentle heart could not resist such an entreaty. She placed her hand on his, "Very well. I will try, for you."
"But only because he is your dearest friend and not because I think him deserving of any particular consideration."
Bingley sighed. "I fear that this is not the sort of question one may ask outright. If I have the misfortune to offend him, he will tell me nothing."
Jane's mouth set in a line. She was wild to go to her sister in London, yet it was still another week before she was scheduled to travel there for her wedding clothes. She worried that Elizabeth would be beyond conversation by the time she arrived, that she would have resolutely sealed up her feelings on the subject and would allow no one to comfort her. Jane felt for her, as she did not know how she would bear it if she had been similarly abandoned by Mr Bingley. She felt angry and concerned for Elizabeth. They would get to the bottom of this misunderstanding---anything else was indefensible
Posted on September 24, 2008
Friday, 10 January 1812
Elizabeth smiled as the spirited Gardiner children hopped up to greet him. They had been sprawled out in the floor listening raptly as Elizabeth read to them. She had noticed for some time that their attention had been arrested by the anticipation of Mr Gardiner returning home from work. Every so often, one of them would sit up and peek out the window. Elizabeth could not fault their enthusiasm. They were very fortunate to have such a loving father.
Jane and Elizabeth had always called him "Uncle Sugar-in-His-Pocket" because he always had a treat for them, even if it were nothing more than a spare sugar cube meant for the horses. Mr Gardiner was a very round, jolly man who always had a smile on his face. He and Mrs Gardiner had always been a favourite with the Bennet girls.
Elizabeth had returned with her aunt and uncle after their annual Christmas with the Bennets, a visit originally meant for Jane, but was prevented by her recent engagement to Mr Bingley. Elizabeth had been glad for the change in scenery and relief from her mother's continued expressions of regret over the departure of Mr Darcy. If she were being honest with herself, Elizabeth had cherished a small hope that she would see Mr Darcy in Town---though the likelihood of that was near impossible. She hoped her letter would be enough to put an end to her family's expectations with the gentleman, as she desperately wished to forget the entire endeavour. It had been foolish of her to ever relish the hope that Mr Darcy would look on her as a suitable match. Even if he had entertained that notion, his continued absence in her life spoke testament that she was now long forgotten.
As she returned her attention to the present, she felt a small object land in the palm of her hand. She looked up to see Mr Gardiner standing over her.
"You looked as though you were in need of some lemon candy, Lizzy," he said, giving her a wink.
Elizabeth gave him a genuine smile. "Thank you. I am very glad you are home, Uncle."
Mr Gardiner was prevented from responding by his youngest son running up and attacking his pocket. Elizabeth laughed out loud as the little boy shoved his hand deep into the coat pocket and removed a piece of candy gleefully.
"One day, Lizzy, you will see that your children's behaviour will often depend on what you can give them. I am in luck, however, because I have replenished my resources!" he chuckled patting his pocket. She watched him go, smiling to himself as he turned the corner. It was one of the many reasons she loved to stay in London, as the Gardiners were always bent upon their home being a happy place.
Darcy threw his newspaper in the fire, giving vent to his frustration. The town gossips had fallen over themselves with glee to report his cousin, the Viscount of Rosemont's, marriage to a woman of foundling status---presumed to be a natural child of uncertain parentage---a woman with no connections, no fortune, no education and who had never been in Town until her wedding day.
The marriage had scandalized the Fitzwilliam and Darcy families and had sent Lady Elinor to bed and Lady Catherine into hysterics. His cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, had written just that morning that his mother, Lady Elinor, had all but refused to see Gregory and this "wife" when they came to Desham House.
Lady Catherine had written them all very scathing letters, expressing her outraged feelings and her refusal to acknowledge the woman. Darcy could feel how tightly wound the muscles in his shoulders had become. He too, was astonished at his cousin's behaviour. He had been quick to assume what everyone else had suspected---that Gregory Fitzwilliam, heir to the Desham earldom, had married his mistress---but the man himself insisted that nothing could be further from the truth. The viscount professed himself in love with her. Even so, Darcy was smart enough to recognize the damage that had been rendered to the family name.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had further voiced Darcy's own thoughts by pointing out how damaging this could be for poor Georgiana, who everyone hoped would eventually make a respectable match. There were no misgivings that this charade would have her suitability called into question. The rest of them would have to be very careful in their handling of the affair. Their behaviour would require the strictest adherence to decorum if they ever hoped to put this circumstance behind them.
Chapter FourSaturday, 18 January 1812
Elizabeth and Jane fell into the other's arms as soon as the latter arrived on Gracechurch Street. It had been a full two weeks since Elizabeth's letter had arrived, and both sisters were very glad to be together again. Elizabeth noted the fine blush and freshness adorning Jane's features. There was no doubt she was a woman in love, and Elizabeth was very glad to see it.
"Oh, I am so glad to see you, Lizzy!" Jane exclaimed once they were upstairs. She seated herself close to Elizabeth on the bed they always shared at the Gardiners' house. "And are you well?"
Jane's compassionate gaze confused and embarrassed Elizabeth. She blushed and released her sister's hands. "Of course," she insisted, putting on a brave face. When Jane looked doubtful, Elizabeth rushed to convince her. "I am well Jane. Truly."
"I cannot believe you have been treated so carelessly."
"Jane! This from you? I did not come to Town to see Mr Darcy. In any case, there is very little chance he is aware of my being here."
"Charles could write to him---"
"No," Elizabeth responded resolutely. "If he sought to know my location, I dare say he could find me easily enough."
Jane looked at her through worried eyes, and Elizabeth pressed her hand to soothe her.
"In any case, Jane, he could have hardly left Hertfordshire with the intention to ever return again---Meryton, as well as the people in it, were undoubtedly a diversion. He has forgotten all about it, I am certain, and I think the surest thing would be for us to follow his example. He will be forgot, and soon I will go on as I did before."
"I am sorry, Lizzy. It was not my intention to upset you."
"I am not distressed, I assure you," Elizabeth replied more cheerfully than she felt. "Now, you must tell me all that has happened since I have been away." Elizabeth relaxed in relief as the topic was turned elsewhere.
Monday, 20 January, 1812
If you will see me, I should like to pay you a call this afternoon on a matter of import.
As he read the note again, Darcy sighed deeply and left his chair to look out the window restlessly. In his quest to exorcise the laughing eyes of Elizabeth Bennet from his mind, Darcy had made a point to communicate little with Bingley after news of his engagement to the lady's sister had reached him. In any case, he and Bingley had not parted well upon his removal to Town. Even now, his initial inclination had been to decline. Darcy had no idea of how their first interaction in months would play out. Now, as he prepared to greet Bingley, he regretted the rashness of his own temper at the younger man's refusal to take his advice.
Wednesday, 27 November, 1811
"If she is indifferent," Bingley said hotly. "Let her say so herself!"
"Do you truly believe she would be so candid, Charles? Good G-d, do be rational!"
"My feelings for Miss Bennet are not rational."
"Then you are willing to be the object of disappointed hopes, to play the fool when it all comes out that she has married you for your money?"
"If the alternative possibility is that she might marry me because we are in love, then yes, I am willing to take that chance."
"You are a fool, Charles!"
"A fool I may be, but fickle I am not. I have made my preference to her known by everyone. Even if I wished it, to turn my back on her now would expose her to ridicule."
"There is still time for you to quit Netherfield and close the book on this ridiculous notion."
"A very clever scheme, Darcy, but you forget that I have no desire to silence such hopes and expectations! You dishonour Miss Bennet by presuming she would welcome the attentions of gentlemen for whom she cared nothing."
"A woman has been known to accept a man for less, Charles."
"We are talking now of your own prejudices are we not, Darcy?"
"I cannot think what you mean."
Bingley narrowed his eyes. "Can you not?"
Bingley sighed with frustration as his friend retreated to the window. In a calmer, more resolute voice, he said, "Go to Town, Darcy. Rid your mind of her, if you must, but I am quite determined. I have no intention of being persuaded otherwise. I am my own man and responsible for my own actions. Though I would be glad to have your approval in all things, I do not require it."
"You are resolved then."
"Then I will wish you joy and hope that I am incorrect about Miss Bennet's feelings."
"So do I," Bingley said softly.
"Goodnight." Darcy did not look back as the tapping of his boots echoed down the hallway. Bingley might have been lost, but it was not too late to save himself. He had left with the sunrise the following morning, well on his way before any of his acquaintance had thought to stir. A night of fitful sleep had left him exhausted. He prayed that with some distance, his heart's obsession with the laughing eyes of Elizabeth Bennet would soon dissolve like the morning dew.
Monday, 20 January 1812
Two months. The next week would mark two months since he had last laid eyes on Elizabeth Bennet. Seven long weeks had passed, and yet his mind continued to habitually turn to her when unoccupied. He dreamed of her, every conversation reminded him of her, and every woman proved their inability to measure up to her. She had become the voice in his head, a spirit that haunted him waking and in sleep. Yet, since his return, events had only further compounded his feelings that a serious attachment to her was unthinkable. She may have been all that was lovely, kind, and intelligent, but he knew he would be the only one who took time to see it once her origins were revealed. Even so, he could not so easily dismiss his guilt for what had passed between them.
"Mr Bingley for you, sir."
Darcy turned from the window to see Stevens let Bingley into the room. He came from around his desk to shake hands with his friend.
"Bingley, it is good to see you."
"Yes, Darcy. I am very glad to see you, too. How have you been?"
"As well as can be, I imagine. Getting on with my usual activities," Darcy said, forcing a pleasant expression as they both took their seats.
Bingley nodded pensively, and Darcy detected a reserve in his friend he was not accustomed to seeing from him. He quickly ascertained that this was not merely a friendly visit.
"Can I get you a drink, Charles?"
"Yes, I think we could both use a brandy."
Darcy nodded and set to his task. "I believe I owe you congratulations, in person, on your engagement."
"When is the happy day?"
"The third of February. A Monday."
Bingley chuckled, "Soon enough for the rest of the world, though for myself it cannot come quickly enough."
Darcy smiled, as he handed Bingley a glass. "Shall you settle at Netherfield?"
Darcy looked up in surprise.
"I have given up my lease. A retired admiral and his wife intend to take it up after I am gone." Bingley was quiet for several moments before he attempted to explain. "Before he died, my father had been looking closely into the investment of some shipping imports. After a number of conversations with my uncle on the subject, I have decided to move forward with my father's intentions. I have taken an estate off the shore of Yorkshire. Darnwell is its name. We intend to settle there."
"Yes, but we will be close to my family, and it is a very handsome estate. I hope to have you visit me there in the future."
"Of course," Darcy said absently. As he was unused to Bingley relying upon his own sense for anything, he could not help but be surprised. "I would be glad to visit once you are settled."
Bingley nodded. "I also hope you will stand up with me in February."
Darcy frowned gravely into his glass. The thought of returning to Hertfordshire was unsettling. Bingley, however, was his dearest friend, and he owed him more than that. "It would be an honour."
There was a silence between them then, as each man became lost in his own thoughts. After several minutes, Bingley spoke.
"My fiancée is also here in London. She is staying with her aunt and uncle."
"Yes, she has come for her wedding clothes. She was very glad to see her sister again," Bingley said carefully, watching the subtle reaction cross Darcy's features.
"Yes, Miss Elizabeth Bennet has been in town since the week after Christmas. Did you know it?"
"No," Darcy said softly.
"Yes, her sister was thankful to be reunited with her. Apparently, Miss Elizabeth's letters seemed a bit melancholy of late."
Darcy frowned and turned to the window. "I am sorry to hear it."
"As was I."
Darcy turned and almost asked the question that was on his tongue. Almost.
Bingley caught his reaction and continued, "I am hosting a dinner in Miss Bennet's honour, next week. I intend to invite only our families and my closest friends. I hope you will agree to come."
"Of course," Darcy replied uncomfortably, and his voice sounded strained, even to him.
"Good. I will send you an invitation when I know the particulars." He rose and again shook hands with Darcy. "I will keep you from your business no longer. It was good to see you again, Darcy."
Darcy nodded, giving Bingley a small smile. "Indeed it was. Thank you, Charles."
As soon as the man had left, Darcy slumped in his desk chair and covered his eyes, rubbing them in frustration. A bad situation had just decidedly gotten worse.
Elizabeth thought it was fearfully warm inside Netherfield as she resolutely stood up with Mr Collins. The heated room had only served to amplify her cousin's less than desirable scent---of wild onions, she had decided. In a misstep, her partner had lost time with the music and slammed squarely into the chest of Colonel Foster. Embarrassed, Elizabeth chewed her lip and looked to where she knew he would be standing. Their eyes locked, and Elizabeth thought she could detect amusement in Mr Darcy's countenance. She puffed her cheeks in frustration as Mr Collins stepped on her foot. An interminable quarter-hour passed, and at last the music ceased. Without waiting to be escorted, Elizabeth bowed to her partner and fled the dance line.
"It was most unkind of you to take pleasure in my suffering," she whispered, coming to stand beside Mr Darcy. "My toes will be bruised for a week."
"I see your cousin has set his sights on dancing with your youngest sister."
Elizabeth looked over to see Lydia with a unique expression of misery. Lydia dancing with Mr Collins! She laughed aloud. "What a face she has!"
"Will you do me the honour of standing up with me, Miss Elizabeth? Do you think your toes might bear the experience?"
Pleased, Elizabeth agreed, and as she allowed him to lead her toward the dance, she relished the feeling of her gloved hand resting in his. As they stood closer and began dancing, she caught his familiar scent, one that reminded her of cinnamon and black pepper. She loved dancing with him. Every move Darcy made spoke of his quiet elegance, his graceful masculinity consumed her, and like every other time they danced, she forgot there was any creature in the world but him.
They always said very little while dancing, both preferring to be mesmerized by the act of giving away and taking their partner back again. Over and back, and through the couples he led her, and Elizabeth, so affected, chose simply to follow. She saw his colour rise and absently acknowledged her colour was high also, yet she could not tear her eyes from his. A connection so deep had passed through them, from one to the other, and Elizabeth was undone. Too quickly the music stopped and the trance broke. Dizzy, Elizabeth swayed and would have lost her footing had not two strong hands taken hold of her elbows and steadied her.
"Elizabeth? Are you well?" Darcy asked anxiously.
"You are too warm. Come, let us step outside into the fresh air."
Elizabeth felt herself being manoeuvred through the other guests and out into the cool November night. She gasped at the chill. Obviously seeing that she would be too cold, Darcy mindlessly moved closer to cover her bare arms with his large, warm hands. A frisson shot through Elizabeth's body at their closeness. She looked up into his eyes, her heart pounding in her ears. What she saw gazing back at her would change her life forever. In his dark brown eyes, she found a desperation that mirrored her own, an unravelling of feelings never felt before---love. Without knowing what happened, his lips had pressed against hers. The softness of his lips, the gentle pressure of his hands against her arms was beyond any joy she had ever experienced. She exhaled in pleasure against his mouth...
Elizabeth's eyes popped open, and she sat up straight in her bed. Absently, she pressed her cool hands to her burning cheeks. Beside her, Jane slept soundly. She was at her uncle's in London. It had been a dream. She pulled her knees up to her chest in an attempt to ease the aching she felt inside. She was alone. He was never coming back---she had to accept it.
Thinking of his warm, spicy scent and the comfort of his closeness threatened to make her throat close up with emotion. Tears spilling on her cheeks, Elizabeth shook and swallowed the sobs that threatened to make her cry out. Turning, she lay down again and pressed her face into her pillow, crying painfully. He had loved her. She had felt it. She had seen it in his eyes. Why had he gone from her? Why
Posted on September 27. 2008
Friday, 10 January, 1812
Darcy frowned, his grave expression marring his otherwise handsome features. All along he had assured himself that Elizabeth had not loved him as he had come to love her. He had preferred to believe that her youthful innocence had somehow spared her. But if Bingley was to be believed, she had felt for him, too. Frustrated, he raked his hand through this hair. His kiss had happened so unconsciously that he had been astonished to find his lips pressed against her soft, pink ones. He was a beast that had carelessly left her to hope where there could be none. He had read somewhere that lovers rarely survived without the other. How untrue that was! One survived---but that was almost the extent of such an existence.
Now, to see Elizabeth, to face her after what had happened between them would only further his despair and catapult him deeper into this hellish prison of guilt and pain. The irony of which, was that it was an escape that, as a man of consequence, he was supposed to be thankful for. He did not wish it, but it was what it was. She was considered unsuitable in the eyes of the world, and though a gentleman's daughter, her connections in trade were enough to further humiliate a family still struggling to overcome an even more imprudent match. If it had been only his reputation that answered for Darcy's actions, he could excuse such selfish behaviour on his part. He would have asked Miss Bennet to marry him long ago. As it was, he had only gotten out in time, and all the strict demands of propriety and decorum insisted he appreciate his good fortune. However, he could not. He had come to feel deeply for Miss Bennet, and his own heart knew how completely he had wronged her.
Their kiss had left him in such a panic that he had practically ran from her at Netherfield. It had been the catalyst of his heated confrontation with Bingley and hasty return to Town. Whatever Elizabeth thought of him, he was sure it must be akin to contempt. He deserved her censure, and he rightly deserved her hatred. He had taken her unrehearsed heart and taught it to love, then abandoned her without a word.
But what could he have done? Marriage was not an option, not now, not ever. Elizabeth would find a man who could love her without misgivings or reserve. He would go on with his life---forever regretting his treatment of her. She deserved more than such carelessness, and Darcy dearly wished she would find it. For himself, he thought it only just that he would always regret her. He thought back to when the first seeds of his feelings for Elizabeth had begun to grow. It haunted him how he might have acted differently, yet his own attachment to her had not permitted prudence.
Friday, 15 November, 1811
As he rode out that morning, Mr Darcy contemplated his attention to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. So little did he enjoy to be amongst strangers, his mood the evening of the Assembly had been so foul he had scarcely been capable of feigning civility. However, the moment his eyes met hers, it was as though a light had been lit. Something about her manner had relaxed him. Her eyes, her laugh, her intelligence---he would have to be very careful. If he did not begin to exercise some restraint, he would be in grave danger of raising the lady's expectations. It was thus that for all her smiles and sparkling eyes, Miss Elizabeth was not a suitable match for a man of his station. Her father might have been a gentleman, but her connections combined with the behaviour of her mother and younger sisters were enough to give him pause. No, he could not allow himself to love her---such a match would expose them both to censure and ridicule of the worst kind.
While Darcy was often misconstrued as disagreeable and thinking himself above his company, what was not quickly ascertained was that which lay beneath his impenetrable countenance was a man that felt deeply. He had always considered himself fortunate that he rarely met a woman who caught his eye. In his mind, there had always been the possibility that a young lady with handsome features and little else would eventually come his way. He knew this could be only temptation, as certainly fate would not be so cruel as to snatch his heart along with it.
Throughout his life, it had been impressed upon him the duty he owed both his family and the Darcy name. He would marry a lady of fortune and connections, thus uniting two noble lines and securing the continuation of his own. Alternatives did not exist. Yet, despite his cold and fastidious nature, Darcy was not cruel. He no more wished to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet injured by his lack of self-control than he did himself. Indeed, he had to be very careful.
It came as quite a surprise to him when, upon his return, he was informed that Miss Elizabeth Bennet had arrived to enquire after her sister. He was relieved to learn that she was also upstairs with Miss Bennet at that particular moment. Darcy quickly returned to his chamber, perhaps the one true room at Netherfield where he could be assured he would not encounter her. He seated himself anxiously in a chair by the window while he awaited his valet to attend him.
He was being tested. There was no other explanation for what was happening. He had resolved to behave himself in Miss Elizabeth's company, and now she had been sent to test that resolve. Darcy ran a frustrated hand down his face, feeling the sweat and grime that had accumulated during his ride. He was not a weak man---he had the strength to adhere to his determination---and now was as good as any to act. He would prove to her and himself that the attraction neither of them had any right to presume could be extinguished.
"I would find them just as agreeable had they uncles enough to fill all of Cheapside!" Bingley exclaimed passionately.
Darcy scowled into his coffee cup. "With such relations, they have very little chance of marrying well. That is the material point, Bingley."
Miss Bingley nodded at her brother pointedly.
"I think you all had better remove the beam from your own eyes before pointing out the speck of mote in the Bennets'.* You, my dear sisters, should take care to recall that the fine gowns that drape your figures this evening were purchased with funds rendered from trade. And you, Darcy, I would not be as judgmental as you for a kingdom. If uncles in Cheapside do not give me pause, I daresay there are others that would judge similarly."
"They have other disadvantages to provoke such judgment, Charles," Miss Bingley reasoned. "Their mother? She has no discretion."
"Quite so," Mrs Hurst nodded. "What man would wish to align himself with such a mother-in-law?"
"And I suppose you have determined that although you are forced to be amongst such uncouth individuals, you have no duty of common decency to give them your notice or consideration," Bingley said impatiently.
"Did we not invite Miss Bennet for supper?" Miss Bingley replied gently. "You are correct, Charles, she is a dear, sweet girl and I feel for her. But you must keep your head about you."
Darcy could sense Bingley glowering in his direction, but he did not venture to speak further. He believed himself perfectly justified in his assessment.
"Excuse me, I have quite lost my appetite," Bingley said, and Darcy sighed deeply as he watched his friend toss his napkin on the table and exit the room. A glance at Bingley's sisters was enough to confirm that they were similarly surprised by their brother's outburst. Darcy began to wonder if coming to Netherfield with Bingley had been a mistake.
He stepped into the hall and found Bingley conversing amiably with Miss Elizabeth Bennet on behalf of her sister. Despite his inclination to join their conversation, he thought better of it, and continued on his way. If Bingley would not take care, let it be his own failing, for Darcy was quite determined to remain strong.
*Bingley is referencing Luke 6:41 from the New Testament
Monday, 18 November, 1811
Elizabeth watched as Darcy dipped his chin without stopping and disappeared into the library. She resisted the inclination to follow him, and tried to attend Mr Bingley. To her embarrassment, she discovered that she had, in fact, no idea what the gentleman had just said. Luckily, she was able to discern by his laugh that Bingley had likely said something he meant to be amusing. Dinner that evening was a sombre affair. The Bingley sisters endeavoured to extend only the smallest appearance of civility to her, and Mr Darcy said nothing at all. Elizabeth soon determined that if Mr Bingley had not attempted to converse with her, she might have passed the meal without above five words being spoken to her.
Cognisant of the fact that she was obviously not a welcome addition to the party at Netherfield, Elizabeth felt embarrassed to have imposed upon their hospitality, even for her sister's sake. Involuntarily, her eyes often sought out Mr Darcy, and each time she found he did not look up from his plate. The coldness from him she could not account for, and it startled her how unhappy it made her. Was she so affected by him? Why was he so different? Such was her discontent she excused herself immediately after dinner to return to Jane. She found her sister awake and talkative which relieved her despite the questioning that came with it.
"Lizzy, will you not tell me what makes you so forlorn?" Jane asked once Elizabeth had gotten a report on her health and had settled down to read aloud from a book.
"I cannot think what you mean."
"You have not smiled since you returned upstairs. Are you so unhappy?"
Elizabeth forced a smile. "It is nothing. Only, I could not help but feel as though I am imposing on the Bingleys by remaining here with you."
"What gave you that impression? What trouble will you be?" Jane demanded. "To make an extra seat at mealtimes and turndown another bed at night? Lizzy, be sensible."
Elizabeth frowned. "You are right, it must have been my imagination."
"I am sure Mr Darcy is very glad to have you here."
Elizabeth raised her brows. "I do not know why you should think he would feel any differently from the rest of our friends here at Netherfield, Jane."
"Lizzy, what will it take for you to admit what is obvious to the rest of the world? Mr Darcy has an obvious preference for you."
"I do not know why you suppose that. True, I have offered him compassion instead of judgment, yet one must not think that gives me a particular distinction from the rest. Mr Darcy is a rich man, Jane, who convenes within the highest spheres of society. He may be glad to find a friendly face amongst strangers, but beyond that you must not believe."
"Can I not hope for you?"
"No, please, I beg you, do not hope, for there is no thought of that."
"Has he spoken to you since your arrival this morning?"
Elizabeth set her expression to one of decided reserve. "He has not."
Jane frowned in surprise. The source of Elizabeth's unhappiness soon became clear. "Lizzy, I know he will, though, and soon. He can scarcely take his eyes off of you."
Elizabeth did not reply, instead she opened the book and began reading aloud, silencing further conversation between them.
Darcy was not particularly surprised to find Miss Elizabeth absent from the breakfast table the next morning. The expression on her face the evening before, as she was pointedly ignored by himself and Bingley's sisters, had filled him with a guilt that prevented his sleep that night. He had awakened that morning feeling even less rested than when he had lain down the night before. Darcy's first impulse upon waking had been to locate her and apologise for his behaviour. That she was nowhere to be found was frustrating, though understandable.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and strode toward the window. It was there he spotted her, walking near the edge of the property. Discarding his coffee on the table, he took his gloves and coat and went out after her. He was relieved that Miss Bennet slowed her pace when she saw him approaching and accepted his arm when it was offered.
"Good morning, Mr Darcy."
Darcy nodded. "You are out very early."
"I was anxious to take in some fresh air."
"How does your sister fare this morning?"
"She is recovering very well, sir," she replied civilly, then added, "I have hopes that we will not be required to trespass on your friend's hospitality much longer."
Darcy cringed at her reference to their behaviour the previous evening. "You and your sister are always welcome at Netherfield well or not---though preferably in good health, of course."
"Thank you," she said softly.
The silence of the remaining moments beckoned Darcy to regret his failing at easy conversation. Eventually, it was Miss Bennet who thought of something to say.
"Do you travel often with Mr Bingley?"
"No, this time would actually be the first. Bingley has great intentions to purchase an estate for himself and has enlisted my opinion in such matters."
"You must be an invaluable friend."
"Not at all. Bingley is like a brother to me. I am glad to do almost anything for his benefit, as I believe he would for mine."
"His present benefit, I think, is that he reminds you to laugh."
Darcy smiled. "You must be surprised that any person would require it. I doubt you are in need of reminding."
"Oh, Mr Darcy, even the greatest of teasers may forget to let themselves be teased from time to time."
"Who reminds you?"
"My family counsels me on a great deal of things. My father makes certain I know how to laugh at myself, Jane reminds me to think well of others, and my mother reminds me never to think myself above my company."
"An invaluable family you have, then."
"They are dear to me," she smiled. "And may I ask what your sister reminds you?"
"She reminds me to think well of others, like your Jane. But it is her presence in my life that reminds me daily of the duty and responsibility I owe her and all my family."
"Such grave reminders," she chuckled lightly. "You are very lucky then to have Mr Bingley to make you laugh!"
Darcy laughed at her teasing. "Indeed."
"But come, sir, surely your sister must be prone to also induce daily happiness!"
At this, Darcy's expression became solemn and it was some moments before he responded. There was a time when his sister's youthful innocence had lit the halls of their home with laughter. It had once been near impossible to look at Georgiana without smiling. Yet, after suffering a grievous disappointment in the summer, some time had passed since he had seen even the smallest evidence of a smile on her face.
"Georgiana, is very shy, Miss Bennet. But you are a correct, her happiness is mine."
As Elizabeth watched Jane sleep later that morning, she thought back to the remainder of her walk with Mr Darcy. It concerned her how affected she had become by his presence. In light of his behaviour the day before, she had been rather surprised to have his company for her walk. The opposing sides of his character perplexed her. As she listened to the smooth rhythm of her sister's breathing, she thought back to the things he said of his sister. It had warmed her heart to learn how dear Miss Darcy's happiness was to him.
"She is a very lucky girl to have such a devoted brother," Elizabeth had said seriously.
"On the contrary, Miss Bennet, it is I who am very lucky."
Elizabeth could have done nothing but smile at such kind words. Such declarations only served to improve her opinion of him. Darcy was a very good and honourable sort of man. His devotion to his sister spoke volumes of his character. A wealthy man of his situation---unmarried as he was---could afford to accommodate his sister elsewhere in a situation where she would be of very little inconvenience to himself. That he had chosen to keep her at home with him was, in Elizabeth's eyes, the mark of a worthy gentleman. She had regarded his features as they walked, admiring the firm set of his jaw and the colour of his smooth skin. The elegance which he carried his tall frame commanded respect, and Elizabeth could not help but think his handsomeness remarkable.
"It must worry you to be away from her."
"Her companion is a very trustworthy lady, but I confess I am more at ease when I can be with her."
"It is a remarkably fine morning," she had said, concerned he might think her prying into his personal matters. "I think I might pull back the curtains for Jane when I return to her. I believe a little sunshine might do a world of good for her."
"You are very devoted to your sister."
"She is the dearest creature in the world to me. My mother once said of us when we were younger that if Jane was going to have her head cut off, I would insist that mine be cut off too."*
Darcy laughed aloud at this, which had made Elizabeth turn and look at him in surprise. She found that his entire expression changed when he laughed, and it surprised her how much pleasure she took from his reaction. In an attempt to keep her wits about her, Elizabeth reminded herself of his coldness the day before. That person was so different from the man that walked beside her his morning. No, he could not possibly look on her in the same way she did him.
Though Darcy gazed out his bedroom window, his eyes did not see the view it afforded, for his mind was deep in thought. He had known it would be difficult to walk out with Miss Bennet. Her behaviour, her sweetness, everything would serve to undermine even the most steadfast of resolutions. He had noted a blush graced her features when she saw him approach her that morning, but he could not allow it to give him pleasure. That she might come to enjoy him as similarly as he enjoyed being near her would only serve to expose him as indefensibly cruel, for he could never act on any feelings that might arise between them. To hurt such a kind and honourable young lady was inexcusable. She did not deserve to be treated so carelessly.
He remembered the small hand that had rested on his arm and how it had drawn his eyes up its length to behold her sweet face... how her dark lashes grazed her cheek, her complexion brightened by the exercise. He thought then of her almond-shaped eyes and how they sparkled when she was merry...how they shone when she spoke with conviction...how they lifted as a true smile reached her eyes while she looked upon him. It had become a torture to watch her, to be so near her and know that for all of his appreciation of this woman, a love between them could never result in anything but bitter regret. Upon returning from their walk, he had escorted her to the breakfast room and abandoned her there with the intention of answering some missives on matters of business. He had hoped, rather than believed, that it would serve to remind him of his obligations and put his frivolous attraction into perspective.
*This was actually something Jane Austen's mother was reported to have said of Jane's devotion to her sister, Cassandra.
Chapter NineSaturday, 11 January, 1812
Turning over in the bed, Darcy sighed deeply as he took up his pocket watch. It was after three in the morning, and he could not get to sleep. The information that Elizabeth Bennet had been, and still was, in Town disturbed his false sense of security. There was no getting over her---no, of course not.
How would he face her after what he had done? The guilt of his actions weighed heavily upon him. How could he have allowed himself to behave so unguardedly? It was inexcusable, and the fact that he had come to feel a decided regard for her only served to complicate matters further. A lesser man would have been capable of forgetting her. However, as it was, he instead tortured himself constantly with a pair of fine eyes, saddened with disappointment and pain.
He could not recall the last time he had felt hunger. Every spare instant was seized and consumed by thoughts of Elizabeth. Darcy thought he saw her everywhere. It took little more than the brown, curly locks of a lady's hair to make his heart soar with anticipation, only to plummet moments after, once it became obvious that the woman was someone else. His chest ached at the loss of her, and yet he had no choice but to let her go. Finding himself again wavering over Miss Bennet, he took up the worn pages of a letter his uncle had written to him weeks previously.
Tuesday, 31 December, 1811
Words cannot express the weariness with which I write to you. As I am sure you are aware, my son and heir, Gregory, has chosen to marry a woman of no fortune, no family, no respectability, and is wholly unknown to the world. I need not repeat to you what is being said there in Town, for you have surely experienced it first hand.
My younger son, Edward, has confirmed his intention to speak with you personally over how we must proceed. My wife has taken to her bed, and it grieves me to see her so distressed. Nevertheless, we must not appear to, in any way, shun Gregory, in spite of how dearly he deserves it---but we must not sanction his behaviour, either. Though I am sure you are quite informed upon the subject, I fear it is necessary for me to again stress the demands of duty and propriety, for the sake of our family, as it apparently was not made clearly enough to my own children.
By birth, each member of the Fitzwilliam-Darcy-De Bourgh family was given the honour and responsibility associated with our good names. We are meant to serve as a presiding example to the rest of the world by the choices we make, and the actions we take. As a man of this family, you are responsible for the continuation of that standard of respectability and the furthering of connections. The wife you choose and the children she bears will also carry this responsibility to the generations to come.
It goes without saying, that Gregory is thoroughly aware of this same responsibility and even more, as he not only stands to become the next Earl of Desham, but also the head of this family when I am dead. That he has not fulfilled it only means that rest of us must work that much harder to compensate for his failing. Not even the smallest gesture of improper behaviour may be tolerated. Every eye in society will be looking to the rest of us to confirm our inadequacy as a great family. We must not, nay, will not give them more reason to speak badly of us. The entire family's respectability has been called into question, and you and your cousins are now called upon to answer with the utmost comportment.
Of course, there has not been an instant in my mind that I thought you unaware of these facts, yet there was never an occasion for me to believe I ought to feel concern for Gregory's behaviour. Therefore, I feel I must again express the duty and expectations for my family's good name. I know I will be secure in my trust that you will not fail on this or any account. At any rate, we must be very careful with whom we associate and train our every move to speak of our respectability. You will know how best to communicate this for yourself.
With that point made, I would like you to know that you have grown into a very good man, Fitzwilliam, and your father would have been quite proud of you. I am convinced that we may safely rely on you to make a more prudent match in marriage.
Your aunt sends you her love and begs that you add her to your thoughts as she suffers most cruelly.
Until we meet again---
How it pained Darcy to think of his uncle's confidence in his abilities! He had already failed this command with his actions toward Miss Bennet and again as he now allowed himself to fully acknowledge the extent of his attachment to her. Despite prudence and expectations, he had genuinely fallen in love with her. He had never before considered himself the type of man capable of toying with a lady's feelings. He had always attempted to behave honourably, and yet with Miss Bennet, he had somehow lost control of himself. It was without question that he suffered as much, if not more, than the lady herself.
In Elizabeth Bennet, he had found his equal in every particular but consequence. Her intelligence was unquestionable, her heart, genuine. Her personality, so different and yet so similar to his own. He thought her the perfect compliment to himself, as she instinctively knew how to beckon him from his awkward reticence. She was everything that was lovely, and he ached for her. The warmth of her eyes, the comfort of her friendship---he even missed the scent of lavender that floated in the air as she moved. The taste of her lips, so forbidden, had been exquisite and yet not enough. He could never get enough of the flavour of honeysuckle sweetness he had found in her kiss.
His heart tore in his chest. How badly he wished that he could honour the promise made to her with that kiss! To spend every day of his life with her, basking in the love and happiness he had felt for only a few precious moments. Elizabeth was joy, and he was bereft without her. And still, the barrier between them, once only inconvenient, had been rendered insurmountable by his cousin's scandalous marriage. To marry a woman so beneath him in consequence would only add to his family's grief and further lower them in the world's esteem. Yet, what pained him most was that it was no fault of Miss Bennet's. She could not control her connections or their behaviour.
He had been the one responsible for their attachment. He could have taken measures to ensure she never entertained hopes for their future, and yet he had not been capable of controlling his actions. Each smile, laugh, and happy moment with Elizabeth had only added to his hunger for more. A lifetime would not have been enough of the joy he had felt with Elizabeth. Indeed, the thought of how his behaviour had injured her only served to make him feel ill. The misery he felt was, in his opinion, only right for what he had done. He had known her to be in love, and he had allowed it to happen. As desperately as he had wished to believe that it was only his feelings that would be wounded at his departure, deep inside, he had known with all his heart that Elizabeth would suffer from his abandonment. Only the constant reading of his uncle's letter reminded him of his responsibility. The raised brows of the ton at his expense alone would have meant nothing to him. For his own sake, propriety could be damned!
Yet, it was not only himself he could think of. His sister, his cousins, his aunts and uncle would all feel the effects of his choices. He held a responsibility buried in love for them that prevented him from acting differently. The family could not stand another imprudent action, not now. It was for their sakes he held firm to his wretched, god-forsaken honour. He detested it with all his being, but he could not give way. In any case, he resigned himself likely never to feel whole again. The self-loathing of being his own keeper, yet forced to practice monumental willpower, ate away at him. He did not care to eat, much less be civil in company, and even his dear sister was taking care to avoid him.
He was a slave to his own "good-fortune" in birth and consequence, and he made it quite clear how thoroughly he detested it. He had been born knowing that anything he wished for, he could have---the world was at his fingertips. However, at the age of eight and twenty, he had found the one thing he wanted and could not have. It was a cruel irony that the greater his fortune, the more inaccessible his dear Elizabeth became. She was there, within arm's reach, and yet he could never allow himself to pick that apple from the tree. It was at this moment that he discovered this alleged Garden of Eden was no paradise, not even close---he was living in the midst of Hell itself
Posted on October 3, 2008
Elizabeth dipped her pen in the black ink bottle and attempted to concentrate. She had been seated there for nearly a quarter-hour trying to think of what she might write to her sister, Mary, in Kent. After the last two sleepless nights, her head ached and her tattered sensibilities gave her no relief. Only two days earlier, Bingley had informed them that Mr Darcy would be joining them at Bingley's dinner for Jane. She did not know how she could face him, as she was sure no meeting between them would be comfortable. She suspected that Mr Darcy would take the opportunity to make it very clear that he had no intention of furthering a connection between them.
Elizabeth's stomach lurched at the thought of enduring cold civility from him. Oh, why did I let this happen to me? she thought sadly. She knew that she only needed to tell Jane she preferred to stay home, and her sister would understand. Yet, the masochist that was her heart longed to see him again no matter the circumstances. Her more reasonable side hoped that his pointed dismissal of her might result in ceasing her love for him. Deep down, she knew that the only result would be to make her feel wretched.
Elizabeth turned at the sounds of her sister's voice. "Mmm?"
"My aunt wondered if you would like to go out with us to the dressmaker's this morning."
She almost declined, but thought better of it and agreed to go along. It would do her more good, she reasoned, than sitting indoors and mulling over what was inevitable. The fresh air and distraction would certainly do her good. Elizabeth hoped, rather than believed, it would take her mind off matters that were entirely beyond her control.
It almost did not seem real that Jane was to be married. Elizabeth felt as thought it was a fact said more than it was meant. However, she knew it was true, and though it meant that Jane would be leaving her, Elizabeth was genuinely happy for her. Mr Bingley was perfect for Jane, good-hearted and genuine, and she knew they would be very content together, though Jane's sisters would miss her terribly.
So it was that Mrs Gardiner and the Misses Bennet set out to visit the dressmaker. It was a very mild afternoon for January---cold, but not unbearable. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was grateful for the hot bricks at her feet as the carriage rode along.
As the Bennets were rarely in Town, Jane and Elizabeth relied on their aunt to know the best places for forming a trousseau. Mrs Gardiner took them to several dress and trinket shops, allowing the girls to buy whatever they liked and Jane to be fitted for her new things. After several hours of admiring various colours of silks and muslins against Jane's lovely complexion, the ladies declared the day a success and went out to wait for the carriage.
Elizabeth was cheerfully exhausted by the trip and smiled widely as her bright eyes watched the people passing. Hence, she was not at all prepared for the sight she saw coming toward her at that moment. So distracted was she that she dropped the ribbons of Jane's bonnet, having forgotten her task of tying it completely. Later, she would realize that the moment a person is most likely to appear is when you stop thinking of them.
Darcy paced his study, his humour positively boorish. Another night without sleep, spent regretting the past, had only served to amplify his beastly temper. It was the fourth morning in a row he had left Georgiana to breakfast alone.
He had come to the conclusion in the early hours of the morning that he needed to speak with Miss Bennet. He was honour-bound to give her an explanation for his behaviour. If he could give her nothing else, she at least deserved to know the truth.
Darcy knew that there would never be a good time to give a person such bleak and painful information, and he dreaded the interaction like a soul does death. Despite all his wishes and wants, he could never be what they both needed. Elizabeth deserved, however, an explanation. If it made her hate him or ruined her opinion of him forever, he believed that it was only fair. He would rather be loathed than loved by her in this situation, as it meant she would be liberated of him. Darcy could not bear to think of her forever unhappy at his hand. He hoped for anything but that. She ought not suffer for him---she was the innocent in this, and he the rogue. He knew it was his duty to do whatever he could to set her free.
"Brother?" Georgiana's sweet voice rang timidly in the air and served to return his thoughts to the present. He looked at her in surprise. It was unusual to see her in his study. Out of respect or fear, he knew not which, Darcy's little sister never ventured to disturb him here. It had been some time since she had attempted thusly---not since before.
"Ana," he said, forcing himself to smile warmly. It was not entirely difficult as his sister was very dear to him. She hurried forward to receive a hug. "You are unhappy with me," he predicted.
"No, never. Only I---have I displeased you, Fitzwilliam?"
"Of course not, my dearest," he sighed. His thoughtless brooding and skipping meals had evidently worried his sister. He should have known better.
"I did not think as much," Georgiana continued, and Darcy ascertained that she was clearly attempting to muster enough bravery to question him. "You are troubled, Brother, and I would be remiss if I did not notice it. Will you not confide in me?"
Darcy looked into her hopeful bright eyes, dark brown like his own. She was the very image of his mother and became more like her every day. He led her to sit with him, and he kissed her small fingers. Pensively, he held her hand in his and studied it while he decided how to answer. She was not a child, not anymore, and was quickly growing into a young woman right before his eyes. Yet, his propensity to shield her from everything was instinctive---it was difficult to think of her as a confidant, though he knew she would be superior to any he could find elsewhere.
"You are right, my mind has been over-occupied of late. Some of it I am not at liberty to speak of, though I have also been very distracted with this business of Gregory's marriage. He has placed us all in a very uncomfortable position and has required much of my attention of late. The other, thankfully, is not at all grave. Charles Bingley has informed me he is to be married."
Georgiana's face broke into a large smile. "Oh Fitzwilliam! That is wonderful news! He must be so happy!"
Darcy smiled. "Yes, I believe he is."
"Are you to stand up with him? What is the lady's name? When is the wedding?"
Darcy chuckled at his sister's enthusiasm. "Yes, I have agreed to stand up with him, and he is to be married to a Miss Jane Bennet of Hertfordshire. The wedding is to be in February."
"Bennet? The same family you wrote of? Your friends?"
"Yes, though they were certainly more the friends of Bingley than myself."
"So this is the lady he favoured."
"The very one."
Georgiana smiled at the thought. "What a lovely story they will have to tell their children."
Darcy's smile faltered a bit, but he kept his composure. "Indeed."
"Brother, are you worried for Mr Bingley?"
"No, I am very happy for him."
"Then what keeps you so troubled as to prevent you from staying in my company? It is not only breakfast I have missed you. You remained closed up in here for most of yesterday. You cannot be so concerned for my cousin as this. It has been weeks since we learned of his marriage."
Darcy smiled sadly. "I am afraid, dear one, the rest is what I am not at liberty to speak of."
Georgiana gripped his hand tightly. "I understand. But it pains me to see you so unhappy."
Darcy lowered his head and nodded. "Perhaps a day out might improve our spirits. What do you say?"
Georgiana agreed eagerly, her expression changing to excitement. "Might we go shopping? I would like to purchase a gift for Mrs Annesley."
Darcy shook his head---his sister's companion had admittedly been all but forgotten in the past two months. "Ah, yes, it is her birthday this week is it not? I am relieved you have remembered."
"May we go?"
Darcy nodded in the affirmative, and Georgiana hurriedly went upstairs to ready herself. He watched her go, thankful for the diversion this excursion would afford. They had not visited three shops before Georgiana found the perfect gift for her companion. While Mrs Annesley did not care for bright ornaments, Georgiana was certain the lady would like a pair of tortoise-shell combs similar to a pair of her own that Mrs. Annesley had often admired.
Pleased with their purchase, the siblings left the shop and were preparing to cross the street to look at ribbons when Darcy stopped in his tracks, eyes wide with shock. They must have seen one another that the same moment, as Miss Elizabeth froze at the sight of him.
"Come," he said, recollecting himself and taking the hand of his thoroughly confused sister.
Jane Bennet was the first to acknowledge them, and she curtseyed with a smile. "Mr Darcy."
"Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth," he said in reciprocation. "Allow me to introduce my sister, Georgiana."
Georgiana blushed, but managed to greet them shyly.
"Aunt, allow me to introduce you to Mr Darcy," Jane continued. "Mr Darcy, this is my aunt, Mrs Edward Gardiner."
"I am very pleased to meet you, madam," he said, inspecting the lady carefully.
"Thank you, sir."
Darcy watched Elizabeth as Georgiana was addressed by Miss Bennet and Mrs Gardiner. He noticed easily that her colour was high, and he felt for her discomfort, so similar to his own.
"I hope you are well, Miss Elizabeth."
"I am, thank you," she said looking anywhere but at him.
"And your family? Are they well?"
"They are, thank you for enquiring."
Darcy chose then to be merciful and avoid questioning her further. "I believe congratulations are in order, Miss Bennet. I am very happy for you and Mr Bingley."
The polite conversation continued until the two parties found an excuse to part ways. The interaction had been very uncomfortable to say the least. Darcy unhappily took note of Elizabeth's sad expression and tired features. She was as lovely as he remembered, but he could determine a change in her. There was but one smile, offered at the introduction of Georgiana, and the rest of her demeanour was consumed with nervousness that had replaced her customary ease. He miserably knew it was because of him and spent the carriage ride home silently staring out the window.
"That was, I suppose, the trouble you were not at liberty to speak of," Georgiana said gently as she removed her gloves in the hallway. He looked at her in surprise, but she had not waited for a response. Wretchedly, he watched her disappear up the stairs before returning to his study, closing the door with a resounding thud behind him.
"Do not ask me questions," Elizabeth said firmly as Jane sat on their bed that night.
"Why must you keep secrets?" Jane pleaded.
"You know as well as I that some stories are better left untold."
Jane worriedly watched her sister comb her dark, curly hair in the mirror. Elizabeth had gone straight to her room upon their return that afternoon. When she had come down for supper, Jane had noted that her sister had been crying. She dearly wished Elizabeth would confide in her.
"It was quite a surprise to see Mr Darcy this morning. His sister seemed very kind---and lovely."
"Miss Darcy was very beautiful," Elizabeth agreed. "She and her brother favour one another considerably.
"Yes." Jane took the hairbrush from her sister's hand and began brushing Elizabeth's hair herself. "Lizzy, we both know you are not obligated to tell me, and I know you well enough to understand that you certainly shall not if you are not inclined, but I beg you not to suffer silently. I know it must be very hard to see Mr Darcy again."
Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably. "I believe I made my sentiments on that subject known to you in the letter I wrote before you came to Town. Mr Darcy and I are common acquaintances, that is all."
Jane pursed her lips, but she did not argue. She did silently note that one was not often induced to tears by a common acquaintance. She laid down the brush and began braiding Elizabeth's hair. It was very hard for her not to push her younger sister to speak of her feelings, but she reminded herself there was virtue in not asking questions for which she required no answer.
"Mr Darcy has agreed to stand up with Charles at my wedding. I was very glad. I knew how badly Charles wanted his friend to be there."
Elizabeth did not venture a reply, and Jane chewed her lip, pressed for some sort of conversation. At last, she was resigned to silence and tied her sister's braid with a ribbon. Elizabeth caught Jane's hand before she could pull it away.
"How shall I do without you?"
Jane smiled. "We will write, and you will come to visit me often. Charles thinks very highly of you, and I cannot see him unhappy to have you stay with us."
Elizabeth smiled, but Jane saw it did not reach her eyes.
"Trust me, Jane?"
Jane sighed and nodded. Despite wanting an explanation badly, she knew that the kindest thing would be to support her sister now. By the time she finished tying back her own hair, Elizabeth was in bed, eyes closed. Resolutely, Jane blew out the candle and climbed in beside her. She sent up a silent prayer that all would be well.
Elizabeth waited until she was sure Jane was sleeping before creeping out of the room and downstairs. Candle in hand, she curled up in the windowsill and rest her chin on her knees. Seeing Mr Darcy that day had done nothing to cure her frustration of feelings. His looks, his conversation, everything about the interaction had spoke of mere acquaintanceship. She did not know how else he could have behaved without being inappropriate, but it had stung nonetheless. It was there her uncle found her in the morning, curled up in the windowsill asleep, her candle long burnt out, and she nowhere closer to finding her peace of mind.
The evening of Bingley's dinner party soon arrived, deriving equal parts anxiety and anticipation from the attendants. Although she would have firmly denied it, Elizabeth had taken a great deal of time on her appearance. She wore a gown of mint green silk with matching ribbons woven in her hair. She was exceptionally lovely and more nervous than she had ever felt. Elizabeth had visited the Bingley townhouse many times in the daytime with her sister, but the night seemed to grant it a mysterious air. Her aunt's hand coming to rest on her back reminded Elizabeth to keep moving. She was not surprised to learn that Mr and Miss Darcy were already arrived.
Despite her rapidly beating heart and inner turmoil, the evening had gone rather well. Even so, the comfortable friendship Elizabeth and Mr Darcy had once enjoyed in Hertfordshire had vanished. They could scarcely look at one another. Mr Darcy had retreated behind some sort of expressionless mask, and it was impossible for Elizabeth to read him. In truth, while this pained her, Elizabeth was relieved that Mr Darcy had not gone out of his way to ignore her pointedly as some young men were wont to do. She told herself that this was right. Their friendship had taken them so far outside the dictates of propriety that they were now obligated to return to the beginning. Despite that, though, Elizabeth knew herself to be blushing every minute of the evening. How dearly she envied Darcy's mask! As a woman, she found it more difficult to conceal every emotion she felt. The more valiantly she attempted to disguise her discomfort, the brighter her blush became, imagining that every creature in the room was aware of her silliness.
After eating, Miss Darcy was convinced to entertain them on the pianoforte---saying that she would play for them if they would not make her sing.
With her brother so caught up in Miss Bennet, Miss Bingley found herself required to hold conversation with the Gardiners, as Mr Darcy had gone over to turn pages for his sister. Grateful to be ignored, Elizabeth kept her expression as neutral as possible while her uncle and aunt skillfully endured the patronizing conversation of their hostess. One of many glances at Darcy confirmed that he had a similar plan by removing himself to the piano. Throughout supper, he had seemed scarcely interested in anything and had contributed almost nothing to any topic discussed. In any case, Elizabeth knew him to dislike speaking amongst a group, preferring only to speak when there was but one other. Having had many such interactions, Elizabeth knew that he did, in fact, have a great deal of intelligent conversation when he wished it.
He turned to look at her then, their eyes locking. She was unprepared, unsure of what message she wanted to send with her gaze. She searched his eyes for the slightest bit of understanding. All she could find was overwhelming sadness. Its effect was so powerful, Elizabeth broke away and stared at her lap until she could regain her composure. The expression of his eyes she locked away inside her memory to decipher later.
For that moment, she concentrated on everything but him. Briefly, she discerned that Miss Bingley was giving Mrs Gardiner her opinions on lace. Elizabeth listened attentively until the turmoil of her thoughts was interrupted by the discussion of fabric. By the time Miss Bingley had moved to muslin, Elizabeth had regained her bearings. She opted not to look at Darcy again.
"Have you now seen what I have been saying all along is true?" Elizabeth asked when the candles were out.
"I could not comprehend what I saw tonight," Jane said, lying beside her in the bed.
"Any connection that ever existed in my mind or in anyone else's is impossible. It no longer exists because he clearly wishes to communicate that he is not interested in furthering any sort of acquaintance between us."
Elizabeth watched Jane frown and shift uncomfortably in the moonlight.
"I cannot understand it."
"It is not so complicated, Jane. Mr Darcy's attentions to me are over. We are meant to move on with our lives."
She struggled to give her sweet sister a confident look, and changed the subject. "Did you enjoy your party, Jane? It was for you."
Jane smiled sweetly. "I did. Charles makes me so happy, Lizzy! Tonight I felt as though we were already married with our dear family around us."
"I am glad to hear it. Mr Bingley could scarcely keep his eyes off of you all evening. I do believe that with you in the room, everyone else ceases to exist for him."
"Do you think he was negligent to his other guests?"
"No," Elizabeth laughed. "Just beside himself with love for you."
Jane blushed prettily. "Sometimes I do not think I deserve so much happiness."
"But you do, dear Jane. Your goodness has been rewarded, and you must not feel guilt for your happiness, only gratitude---and you must miss me very much when you are gone."
"I will miss you very much, as you well know," Jane laughed, "but perhaps not so very much if you are willing to go along with our plan."
"Charles mentioned tonight that it might be a good thing for you to come and stay with us for a while once we are settled." When Elizabeth did not immediately respond, Jane continued. "He thought it might be nice to have you there with me---as I will have almost no acquaintances in Yorkshire."
Elizabeth was silent for several moments. It seemed as though she was to be away more than she was home this year. Her mind was a jumble, unable to determine what it was she wanted to do. "May I think on it and give you my answer later?"
"Of course," Jane replied, rolling over to sleep. "Goodnight, Lizzy."
Elizabeth lay awake for very long while that night---she could not remember the last time she had gone to sleep easily. Her thoughts swirled in her mind without order, and her heart felt ragged and bruised. She had spent an entire evening in Darcy's company and survived. For all appearances, she had accepted that what was done, was done, and she felt that it was all she could do for now.
Yet, the sadness in his eyes had worried her. It had spoken volumes and still she could not make it out completely. The one point she had determined, however, was that there was no hope left. Those sad brown eyes had held all the hopeless regret that she felt inside. It had been difficult to see, but it had given her the confirmation she so badly needed. It had not been a dream. Two months earlier they had fallen in love, against all odds, and they had kissed outside at the Netherfield Ball. Time and removal had begun to combine and make her question that truth. But his eyes---his eyes that night had confirmed what she knew. They had loved. It was no dream...
Posted on October 8, 2008
Georgiana's gentle hand on his forearm brought Darcy back to the present. She had been singing softly at the pianoforte, her skill lulling him away from the present. He saw her then, as she sat beside him, offering her support in her own quiet way. Darcy smiled briefly, but neither of them said more. They had always known how to communicate without speaking. In silence, he accepted her comfort, and they remained that way for some time.
Seeing Elizabeth that evening had done little to decrease his resolution to speak to her. So little did he like the thought, and yet it was all he could think of. Her eyes, like windows to her emotions, had shown him the depth of her confusion and hurt at being abandoned by him. Not for the first time, Darcy wished he had never gone to Hertfordshire with Bingley.
"I am going to bed. You should as well."
"Goodnight," he said as she kissed his cheek. He knew he ought to go as she said, but he was not quite ready to face the darkness that would come soon enough as it was.
He knew that the sooner he spoke to Elizabeth the better and the more quickly she would recover, and yet he disliked the finality of at the gesture. The conversation would end all that was unsaid between them. He dreaded causing her pain. He swiftly penned a note to Bingley, and then sent himself to bed. Let his friend unknowingly decide the date. It was far better than determining it himself.
Darcy's note had suggested he go along for Bingley's next intended trip to the Gardiner residence, though Bingley was sure he had no idea why Darcy would wish to accompany him on the visit. Bingley had read the note over three times and determined that he would answer by calling at the Darcy townhouse that afternoon. He was ushered into the library where he located Darcy studying a large tome very carefully.
"Bingley! To what have I the honour of this visit?" Darcy queried, looking up with surprise.
Bingley seated himself without invitation. "I received your message. Darcy, I confess I find it puzzled me exceedingly."
"Yes. You see, I cannot understand your motive for wishing to visit the Misses Bennet." Darcy did not answer immediately, and Bingley watched his friend closely. "Darcy, have you not done enough in that corner?"
Darcy appeared momentarily alarmed, but quickly overcame it. "I have done little to recommend myself to them, I know."
"Then I must ask what the reason is that you feel you must provoke them. If there had been any doubt that you no longer cared for Miss Elizabeth, you did what you could last evening to make it a certainty."
In his infuriating way, Darcy did not react in demeanour or with words, preferring only to twist his signet ring pensively.
"Bingley, I will not attempt to explain myself to you, for there is nothing I wish to make known to anyone. However, I assure you that this visit shall be my very last."
Bingley left his chair in frustration. He was agitated and unsure if he ought to allow it. He suspected that Jane would not appreciate Darcy speaking to her sister again.
"Darcy, you are the dearest friend in the world to me, and I would do almost anything to repay you for all that you have given me. However, Miss Elizabeth will be my sister in two weeks' time, and it will be my duty to protect her---even from you."
"In a fortnight, I assure you there will be no need to protect her from me."
Bingley noted an edge of impatience in Darcy's voice. Knowing his friend was becoming irritated, Bingley chose to take his time before responding again.
"Charles," Darcy said quietly, "I am aware that what I am asking requires you to go against your nature, and your every instinct commands you to reject it. But I ask you as my friend to allow me one more interview with her. I give you my word that this is indeed the only time I will ask something like this of you."
Bingley sighed and turned to look into the fire burning in the hearth. Darcy was a difficult man to refuse. This was compounded by the fact that Darcy had been the closest friend and mentor that he had ever had in his life. It gave Bingley pause. He knew well enough that Darcy would never ask for something of this nature if he did not think it absolutely necessary. Reluctantly, Bingley relented.
"I visit Miss Bennet tomorrow at three in the afternoon. If you are climbing into my carriage at the precise moment I mean to leave, I will not prevent you from accompanying me."
Darcy nodded once and said nothing.
"I will leave you now," Bingley said, walking to the door. Before he exited he added, "And Darcy?"
His friend raised his face at the sound of his name.
"Do not make me regret this decision."
Elizabeth was reading to one of the children when Mr Bingley was announced with Mr Darcy. She looked wide-eyed at her sister in shock. Jane's similarly surprised expression was enough to convince Elizabeth that she had not been a party to any scheme.
"I hope you do not mind," Bingley said in his usually cheerful way. "Darcy expressed a wish to join me on my visit with you all this afternoon."
"Not at all," said Jane who found her voice first. "You are very welcome, Mr Darcy."
In her great confusion, Elizabeth kept her eyes lowered and said nothing. She had not been at all prepared for Mr Darcy to come that afternoon. A sense of foreboding settled in her stomach.
Bingley and Darcy exchanged a look. Bingley spoke again, "I thought we might go for a walk if that is agreeable?"
The ladies acquiesced, and they all started off toward a nearby park. Soon, Jane and Bingley reluctantly trailed away from Mr Darcy and Elizabeth. When Darcy turned to step into a small copse of trees, Elizabeth instinctively followed him. She walked to a bench and seated herself. He had said almost nothing on the walk over, and Elizabeth could sense that whatever the reason he had for cornering her in this way, it was not to be a happy occasion. She steeled herself for his speech, her heart already feeling painfully swollen inside her chest. He paced in front of her, turned his back, then around again to look her in the eyes. Elizabeth swallowed audibly, the gulp resounding in both of their ears.
"I have treated you abominably. I cannot reflect upon it without pain," he said softly. "Whatever you think of me, I absolutely deserve. I can never make amends for how I have acted, so I will not trouble you for forgiveness. I have no excuse for myself, yet despite my most fervent determination to control my feelings, I fell in love against my will, in spite of every attempt to prevent it. You captivated me, took hold in my heart and I was helpless. You are unlike any woman I have ever known, and you somehow surpass them in everything---there is no comparison to you, Miss Bennet."
The glaze of unshed tears in his eyes invited Elizabeth's own emotions to take control. She tried desperately not to cry, but she had determined that this was no proposal. Whatever it could be called, this was certainly its opposite---he was letting her go. How little prepared she was for this painful admission! She tried fervently to control her breathing.
"I am ashamed of myself, Miss Bennet. No matter my feelings, I should never have imposed myself upon you as I did at the Netherfield Ball. It was inexcusable. I know not what came over me---I should not have departed before expressing my sincerest apologies. You did not deserve such misbehaviour. I cannot tell you---"
"Mr Darcy, sir, I beg you, speak plainly. We are beyond such formality. Say what you must---but say it without such reserve, if you please. You owe me this."
At this, his shoulders seemed to droop, and Elizabeth straightened her spine with a deep breath. To her surprise, he came to sit beside her on the bench. He studied he ground for quite some time before speaking again.
"Elizabeth, my cousin, the heir to the Desham Earldom, has disgraced my family with a marriage of the most imprudent kind. If he had been intending it, he could not have located a more unsuitable young woman. She is with literally no family or connections. No one has any accounting of her coming to be. She is a foundling, and most likely a gentleman's natural child. It has left us all in uproar. It falls now to my cousins and I to repair what can be mended of the family's reputation. It is for this reason I cannot offer you marriage. A connection that might have once been begrudgingly overlooked will now only fuel the destruction wrought by gossip and further lower my ancestors' good name to an irreparable level. I must also think of my sister's prospects in wake of this unfortunate occurrence. You are not at fault. It is I who must place this wretched situation firmly on my own shoulders. I have brought us here; it is I who should feel it."
Elizabeth rose from the bench and turned her back to him. Her voice was a sob when she spoke. "You are forgetting something, Mr Darcy. You must remember that you were not the only one of us to fall in love. I craved your attentions, I encouraged them, I wanted you to kiss me! It is not only your own heart that ignored its owner's wishes. I knew you could never marry me, and yet I was helpless in what took place. It was wrong of us, but it could not have been helped."
Darcy frowned silently at the ground in front of him. Elizabeth turned to face him, and he lifted his eyes to reveal the tears that had finally spilled onto his cheeks.
"I am so sorry, Elizabeth."
She closed her eyes from the sight, her body trembling with repressed sobs. "In another time, another place, we might have been very happy together."
She came to sit back down on the bench beside him. Looking around to assure himself they were alone, he placed his palm on her cheek and kissed her gently---she tasted the salt of their mingled tears.
"I love you, Fitzwilliam," she whispered. "I-I thought you ought to hear it, just this one time."
Darcy pulled out his handkerchief and dried her tears, she leaned into his touch. "Lizzy, why do you not despise me?" he said softly, searching her eyes.
"How can I? I cannot when I know you are suffering as much as I."
He nodded, but he said no more. There was nothing left to say.
She watched him examine the handkerchief in his hands, still wet with her tears. "I think I should prefer to return back on my own. Thank you for telling me, Mr Darcy. You are a good man."
"I have never felt less so," he admitted quietly.
Mr Darcy was a very rich and grand gentleman. Society watched his every move eagerly, his time was his own, but his wishes could not rule his life. He had said he loved her, begged her to understand his struggle, and they had cried together. There was no way for him to escape his duty, no way for him to marry her. Elizabeth felt her body shake involuntarily with the force of her sobs.
He did not understand that she asked for so little. If she could but have his love forever, she would have been content. It was at this time in her life that Elizabeth understood what drove some women to live improperly with a man. She knew she would never resort to that, and Darcy would never ask that of her, knowing she loved him. She would spend her life a maiden---no home of her own, no children, or husband to love---alone. How could she ever act as a respectable wife when her heart was irrevocably captured by another? If she could not have Mr Darcy, then she would have no man. She was not the type of woman to transfer her affections. No, they were to be fixed forever on one man.
Elizabeth wondered if she might ever have the strength to leave the bed where she lay, the room she was in, cease the tears that she cried. Such calm behaviour seemed beyond her. How could she leave and pretend that her heart was not shattered? Would she ever smile or even laugh again? She did not think it possible. Darcy would marry another woman with a large dowry, a darling of the ton, and incomparably handsome. He would forget her and his declarations. Worse yet, he would live to regret disclosing such feelings for her and the time in his life where their paths had crossed. She, however, would never forget him. His name was branded on her heart and she would take her love for him to the grave. Elizabeth could never dishonour her feelings by marrying another. She would not stain them with caprice. Her heart would never be touched again. It belonged to one man, whether he chose to claim it not.
Elizabeth could not fault his decision, thought she hated the circumstances that brought it about. She dared not imagine what might have been if things had been different. A knock at the door disturbed her misery. She gulped for air and endeavoured to silence her whimpering.
"Lizzy?" a small voice she recognized it to be Jane's asked on the other side of the door.
"Yes?" she said, her voice hoarse.
"Please let me in. I know you are upset."
"I cannot, Jane, please leave me be."
"Lizzy, I cannot be easy knowing you are so distressed."
Elizabeth did not answer. She closed her eyes and breathed rhythmically until she felt her sister give way and return downstairs. What could Jane comprehend of this in her happy state? Everyday she was assured of Mr Bingley's love for her. He had promised Jane that they would be together all the days of their lives. She could not know of the aching emptiness that Elizabeth felt or the cruelty of knowing her dearest wish could never be. She could not bear to see Jane now.
It was a full two days before Elizabeth chose to leave her bedroom at the Gardiners'. Despite poor Jane's begging, she had not been capable of convincing her younger sister to eat or come downstairs for a few hours. The family had been coming very close to applying force when Elizabeth appeared as the family was taking breakfast. Without speaking, Elizabeth took a seat beside Jane. They all greeted her in genuine surprise, and Elizabeth flexed her facial muscles in the shape of a smile. A little cajoling from Jane convinced Elizabeth to nibble a slice of dry toast.
Elizabeth felt as though she no longer existed. The only confirmation that she was alive was the constant throbbing of her heart. The rest of her reality felt like the details of a painting---rich, vibrant, perfectly dimensioned yet nothing was real. The spoon beside her plate, the velvet curtains over the windows, the dirt on the carpet, were all props for the exquisite still life that was her existence---a sadness that would not abate.
She could scarcely countenance the concerned expressions on the faces of her loved ones. How it must have pained them to see their vibrant Lizzy so cast down, and yet, she could not care. When she felt as though her appearance was sufficiently executed, she rose from her seat and abandoned her half-eaten slice of toast to retire upstairs. It was an improvement, she reckoned, for she had left her chambers for a time---something she had despaired of ever doing again.
A deep frown creased Jane's beautiful features as she wrote furiously to her fiancé. She was determined to know what had happened to Elizabeth in the park. She was simply not Elizabeth anymore. Never in her life had Jane felt more helpless. Never had Elizabeth erected a wall so insurmountable. She had been sure her sister would allow her inside to sleep, but Jane was only granted entrance long enough to transfer her belongings elsewhere. Elizabeth did not wish to speak, could not allow for affection, even the presence of others could not be endured above a quarter-hour. Such behaviour was something she and Elizabeth would have laughed at in the past, yet now Elizabeth was drowning, and Jane could not help her.
She felt an irrational anger at Bingley for allowing Darcy unsupervised time with Elizabeth. In truth, Jane longed for any outlet that would allow her to give vent to her feelings. She was lost for what to do now. A sudden idea coming to her, Jane dropped her pen and hurried upstairs. Forcefully, she banged on Elizabeth's door.
"Elizabeth, now this is enough! I demand you let me in," she said in a tone rarely heard from her. "We are not at home, Lizzy, and we owe our uncle more than this!"
The door opened, and Jane watched her sister turn away and return to the windowsill, where she sat and rested cheek against the glass. Immediately, Jane regretted speaking so harshly to her sister---though it apparently was the only effective method.
"Close the door," Elizabeth said softly when Jane entered the room.
Jane waited there, silently seated before Elizabeth, taking in her swollen eyes and chapped lips. Jane reached up to tuck a curl behind her sister's ear. She had never seen Elizabeth more unkempt or so unhappy. Her sister's eyes had always laughed or danced with mischief. To see her eyes so sad and tilted down at the corners broke Jane's heart.
"He loved me," Elizabeth murmured simply, "but it was not enough."
Jane could not understand the sentiment. She had always considered love---the thing poets waxed romantically to be all-encompassing---was meant to outweigh the pains of the outside world. In her innocent eyes, love was perseverance, and she stated as much to Elizabeth.
"Love may withstand every attempt to dissuade it, I grant you that, but it cannot enable us to be happy if the world does not permit it. To be loved may sometimes be more painful than to be rejected and scorned. I am bereft of feeling, Jane. The only voice in my heart lends itself to what can never be."
"I do not understand."
A sob escaped Elizabeth's lips at this. "Oh Jane. I hope you never do!"
It was a torture to remain upright, but Darcy managed it as he attempted valiantly to keep his attention on Bingley, who was pacing in front of him. He had done nothing for three days but sit desolately in his study, staring blankly at the wall in front of him, protectively clutching the handkerchief used to dry Elizabeth's tears.
After Darcy had returned from Gracechurch Street, he had gone upstairs and vomited violently, emptying more of his stomach than he believed there had been to give. While he no longer could manage to be sick, the nausea lingered. He felt acidic, achingly empty and his head throbbed painfully. The sadness he had brought to his beloved seemed to gnaw at the very core of him.
"I trusted you, Darcy! I permitted you to see her, to speak with her, and for what purpose? Do you think I would have allowed you to see her if I had known your intentions?"
"I believed it was necessary to conceal my intentions to spare you from making that decision."
A glare from Bingley communicated what he thought of that explanation. "Jane is furious with me. She writes that Miss Elizabeth will not leave her room, and she blames me for allowing whatever occurred between you and her sister."
Darcy's stomach lurched at that information. He clenched the arms of his chair painfully. "Charles, I---"
Bingley put up his hand, and Darcy noted his expression had softened considerably. "I did not come here to quarrel with you. I know you too well to accuse you of duplicity or of treating Miss Elizabeth with cruelty. I supposed I would find you in a similar state today---it is clear I was correct."
"I shall not attempt to make excuses for myself---I deserve no such consideration, I assure you.
Bingley nodded and seated himself. "You are not looking your best, my friend. You are exhausted."
Darcy nodded. "I suppose you have heard of what has taken place with my cousin." He watched as comprehension seeped into Bingley's features. "Everything must now be taken into consideration with this in mind."
"And so you told her the truth."
Darcy said nothing. No confirmation of what had happened would leave his lips. Nevertheless, Bingley did not require such an explicit explanation.
"What a miserable situation!"
"Indeed," Darcy replied.
Bingley appeared to be thinking hard, and both men were silent for some time. Finally, Bingley seemed to have come to a conclusion and spoke. "If you wish to forego attending my wedding, I will understand."
"I leave that for you to decide. You are my dearest friend, and no matter my own personal circumstances, it would still be an honour to stand up with you."
Bingley nodded. "I cannot dispute your goodness, not even in the face of such misfortunes."
"I find I cannot be so kind to myself. Nevertheless, if you wish it, I will be there in a week's time."
"Thank you, Darcy."
"And will you be returning to Hertfordshire soon?"
"Yes, we shall return the day after tomorrow. When may I expect you?"
"I shall only stay one night. I will join you the day before and depart after the wedding breakfast."
Bingley nodded. "Until then, my friend."
Darcy reached out and shook his hand. "Until then."
Elizabeth had never been so relieved to return to Longbourn. Kitty and Lydia's silliness and her mother's animated expressions seemed refreshingly normal. Her father had expressed his relief to see her again, and she had embraced him tightly, inhaling his familiar scent. Indeed, even the smell of Longbourn house was comforting. She was home---where everyone loved her unconditionally, if in their own way.
Mrs Bennet was beside herself dealing with wedding preparations, menus, and place settings for the breakfast after the ceremony. Elizabeth owned that this was her mother's element. If there was anything she did well, her mother was a fine hostess and mistress to Longbourn house. Nary a detail slipped under her nose without detection, and Elizabeth knew that she would only be so lucky to have such domestic skill. Consequently, Jane had left all of her wedding planning to her mother, knowing that she enjoyed it so and would undoubtedly do a superior job in any case.
The first news Elizabeth received upon her return was that her sister Mary and Mr Collins were expecting a child mid-autumn. The family was very glad for her, and Elizabeth wrote a letter expressing her sincerest congratulations.
When the new feeling of being home again began to wane, Elizabeth did everything she could to keep her hands busy and her mind away from London. She did not dare permit herself to consider having to face Mr Darcy one last time for Jane's wedding. She wondered how much more she would have to endure before she was truly permitted to go on. Certainly, he would always be in her life. He was Bingley's dearest friend and would, consequently, be expected to visit often and be a topic of conversation for them all. Elizabeth told herself that if she could only compose herself long enough for Jane's wedding, she could allow herself to slip back into the melancholy she so badly craved. While she was once so disposed to happiness, the feeling now felt very foreign and unnatural to her.
In the face of all this, the wedding of Jane and Bingley was upon them in three days' time. Elizabeth thought Jane looked truly angelic in her white, satin gown. In her sister's hair, Elizabeth had woven pink ribbon gently through her golden locks. Standing amongst her sisters and mother, they all declared Jane breathtakingly beautiful with tears in their eyes.
When the time came, Mr Bennet smiled as he gave Jane into Mr Bingley's care, and Elizabeth found herself again face to face with Mr Darcy. There they were, at an altar, before God and a rector, listening to the sacred words that had been spoken at wedding ceremonies for hundreds of years. Elizabeth noted then that this was perhaps the closest she would ever come to experiencing a wedding for herself---with the man she loved. For a greedy moment, she permitted herself to imagine that this was their wedding, that they were together, that this was their happy ending. Too soon, however, the ceremony ended, and Elizabeth was required to return to her own reality.
True to his gentlemanlike character, Darcy kept his distance from her at the wedding breakfast. To be forced to form a neutral conversation with him now would be too cruel and nearly impossible. He stayed only as long as was proper, then departed as quickly as he had come. It was over. He was gone. Elizabeth was unsure what was felt more keenly at that understanding---relief or pain.
She excused herself to walk outside of Longbourn. It was a cruel trick that every place in her life represented a memory of him. Her entire world was now tainted by memories of happier times, of falling in love with a man she still considered to be the best of men. Indeed, she knew she would never again look at her uncle's residence in London with the same eyes. It would forever, in her mind, be associated with Darcy, their conversation in the park, and those painful days that followed. It seemed that wherever she chose to look, she found a place his fingers had touched. They left a mark---even if it was one seen only by her. The thought was overwhelming, something that encompassed her always. His presence in the world would forever be worn on her mind and heart---she would never escape it, she would never try.
Elizabeth turned her head to see her sister. She smiled warmly.
"I could not find you inside and came looking. We shall be leaving soon, and I wanted to say goodbye to you."
Elizabeth hugged her sister. "I am so happy for you! I will miss you dreadfully."
Jane pulled back, but kept hold of her sister's hands. "Have you thought any more of coming to Yorkshire when we are settled?"
Elizabeth paused. Indeed it had been pushed to the back of her mind of late. She studied Jane carefully. "Do you truly wish it? I will not be imposing?"
"No, indeed! I would be a great comfort to have you with me in such a strange place," Jane insisted eagerly.
Elizabeth made a decision then. It would be a place completely new, a place untouched by memories of Mr Darcy. It was the most sensible decision she felt she had made in months. "If you are positive, Jane, then when you send for me, rest assured, I will come.
Posted on October 13, 2008
Elizabeth looked out the window as the carriage pulled her closer to Yorkshire. Her brother, Mr Bingley, had sent it for her to travel the four-day excursion, providing the adequate protection due to her as his unmarried sister. She was not afraid to journey alone---quite the contrary. The days travelling the countryside bestowed a much-needed silence for Elizabeth. She did look forward to seeing Jane again, and did think the change in scenery would be beneficial. She only prayed little would be asked of her in the way of social niceties. Surely, Jane and Bingley would wish to venture out in society. She hoped, however, that she would not be expected to accompany them. She had no taste for new friendships and sought only peace and solitude.
The trip was long with frequent stops and temperatures lowering as they ventured further north. Elizabeth was very relieved to be informed of their imminent arrival and watched with interest as Darnwell's landscape came into view. It was a well-situated seaside estate, and it gave Elizabeth pleasure to imagine her sister living there. Jane and Bingley were waiting outside for her when she arrived, and the sisters embraced dearly at being thus reunited.
"Oh, Lizzy, I am so glad to see you," Jane whispered, holding Elizabeth tight.
"And I you," Elizabeth agreed, pulling back to get a better look at her sister. Jane looked very well indeed. Her cheeks were rosy with happiness, and her eyes twinkled with true joy. Elizabeth was very glad to see it---Jane deserved nothing less. After evading a few questions after her own well-being, Elizabeth was permitted to escape upstairs to rest from her journey. She closed the door to her bedchamber and leaned against it, exhaling lightly. She felt such relief to be far from Longbourn, London, and Mr Darcy---and though her memories followed, the removal from it all seemed to lift a heavy weight from her chest. A moment longer, and she felt she might have suffocated beneath its consequence.
Darcy walked the length of the dance-line, the noise of the ball blurring into a dull roar. It was his first outing since his return to London, and his experience was not boding well for the season. Every woman he met fell into one category: not Elizabeth. A lady's eyes were too large, her chin too prominent, her height too tall, her chest too flat. No woman compared to his Elizabeth, and he was miserable. He looked directly at Colonel Fitzwilliam, the man who had insisted he attend, and crossed the room to join him.
"Lively company obviously does little to improve your humour, Darcy."
"I cannot tolerate such people. There is not a sincere countenance to be found among them."
"Sincerity, I find, is relative. One cannot ask for what one does not intend to offer."
"Hmph. I suppose you mean to say that because I am guarded, I must accept conniving females in ladies' clothing?"
Fitzwilliam laughed. "Calm yourself, Darcy. We are not here for wives, as you well know. We are here to keep appearances. I daresay such a stony reception will do little to aid our purpose. Relax. Locate a woman who simpers only half as much as the rest, dance with her, and once I have done the same, we may make our excuses."
Darcy glared at him.
"I do not care for it, either," Fitzwilliam sighed, "but we must do our duty."
"Yes, duty indeed," Darcy replied bitterly. The word left a foul aftertaste on his tongue. No longer caring for who he was dancing with, he selected a woman he knew to be considered very eligible. He acquired a dance with Miss Annabelle Peters and led her to the floor, her insufferable blond ringlets bouncing around her shoulders like the boughs of a tree.
"Mr Darcy, we had quite despaired of having your company for the rest of the season! We were sure we were not to see you again until next year at least! I do not wish to be impertinent, but it is said your whole family is absolutely desolate over your cousin's indiscretion. Who knew he could be so very naughty! I know I could scarce believe it when mama related the affair in whole to me. You must have been absolutely humiliated!"
Darcy did not venture a reply, his mouth set in a grim line, and he forced himself to breathe rhythmically as he led Miss Peters around and back again.
"But it is such a treat to be seeing you again, sir! I know several ladies, including myself, who are very glad to see you in such good spirits and dancing again."
Darcy only scowled as he endured her chatter.
"Everyone has been saying that you are all turning him from your doors and have vowed never to see him again! What a calamity this must be! It must be very embarrassing for everyone to know. Were you very mortified?"
"I do wish there were more such good men as yourself, Mr Darcy. We women are never sure of what sort of man is dancing with us. I know I have danced with your cousin many times in the past, and never knew I was standing up with such an unscrupulous character. It is very difficult to protect oneself, is it not?"
"Yes, I imagine so," he replied simply. He briefly considered mentioning how thankful he was to know she was not permanently blighted from standing up with his "blackguard" cousin, but he held his tongue. Indeed, he had no wish to encourage her into more conversation. To his relief, the set finally ended, and he gratefully returned Miss Peters to her friends. He could not leave her presence quickly enough.
Darcy noticed that his cousin was standing up with another woman, and so he found a corner to hover in. He exhaled unhappily. He had performed his duty this night, and it had definitely been as trying as he had expected.
He thought of Miss Peters in comparison with his Miss Bennet, and he felt physically ill. He could marry Miss Peters tomorrow and everyone would look upon her as a worthy match. It was preposterous in every way. Elizabeth was the woman's superior in understanding, character, decorum, and beauty, yet it was her that would be deemed as unsuitable. Darcy felt disgusted with this world and the role he was obliged to play in it. Elizabeth deserved so much more than Miss Peters would undoubtedly receive. He had no taste for the society or good opinion of these people---it was all superficiality, and it nauseated him. He scarcely waited for his cousin to relinquish his dance partner before departing. Another moment spent in this company was one moment too many.
Elizabeth seated herself on the stone bench overlooking the sea. She had discovered this spot several weeks earlier less than a mile from Darnwell. It had become her place to escape for hours without being disturbed. Before her lay the wide mouth of the ocean. It went as far as the eye could see, swallowing up the horizon. She had always thought the air was different near the ocean. Fresher, saltier, cooler---it had always seemed to fill the places in her lungs that the inland air could never reach.
As she looked out over its expansive plain, she marvelled at how small she felt, how miniscule...how alone. How hollow she felt! It was difficult for her to swallow, as her throat thickened when she thought of all that had been lost---of all she had never had. She had found a man that understood her without speaking---knew her. A man that she had truly loved for his goodness and for all of his faults. She had given him her heart without him asking, even without her own permission. How she had come to love his closeness, the warmth of his hands, his scent, the way she had felt significant when he spoke to her, how needed she felt when he kissed her! She knew she would have gone through it all again to have back that joy, that lightness of spirit, if only for a little while.
As much as Elizabeth loved her sister and truly believed that Jane had gotten the happiness she deserved, there were times where she felt wicked and jealous. She could not help but wonder why some people could only have a taste of things that others were given for a lifetime. Her heart felt swollen, and she was sure it did not go on as it had done before. It throbbed instead of beat. The wound it was given had become infected, as though her soul withered from the inside out. No, she would never heal, not when she was paralyzed with the knowledge that she would never feel again for another what she felt for Darcy.
There would never be another creature in the world like him. She would have to be content that he had loved her once. Even if she must accept that happiness would never be hers, she could not blame him for his choice. If anything, she found his selflessness for his sister's sake admirable, even if it meant she would pine for him here, at the edge of all she had ever known. Here, where the land met the sea and the ocean absorbed her tears. In a gulf before her lay her future, an abyss divided her from her past, yet her broken heart remained somewhere in between.
A breeze blew in with the crashing of waves. Elizabeth shivered and pulled her shawl around her, knowing that it was almost time to go in. Though she had never been subjected to such cold winters in Hertfordshire, before that moment she had scarcely noticed. The bone-chilling reality of what had been lost had quite outweighed the coldness of Yorkshire weather. She hated that nothing seemed to matter anymore but her own hurt feelings. Yet, she could not hate them enough to stop examining them. It was a selfish indulgence, but as long as she pined for Darcy, she would not have to let her feelings go. She could grieve the loss of him, and she would not have to laugh for the happiness of others. It was they who must understand that she was sad.
It was an unconscious notion that pointed out that no one could truly feel anything for her but worry. Though she did feel guilt, she could not truly open up to them. That would require admitting her own weakness, owning her vulnerability---admitting her rejection. Accepting their pity was something she could not swallow. She was the strong one---the happy, indifferent sister. It hurt too much to say the words because that would make it real, the rejection, the loss---all of it would be real, and she could not bear it, not yet.
Despite the chill and the lateness of hour, she waited there until twilight, for it had become her favourite time of day---when the sky touched the sea and two otherwise separate entities collided, against all odds. She welcomed the ocean spray on her cheeks and watched as the fall of darkness brought the pinks, yellows, and blues that lined the horizon and reflected in the water. The sight was breathtaking, and she remained there, mesmerized by its magnificence. She never wanted to leave.
Elizabeth turned her head at the sound of Charles' voice and noted that he was out of breath.
"Oh, I am so glad to have found you! Jane has been so worried. Have you been sitting here in the rain?"
Elizabeth realized for the first time that it was indeed raining overhead. She had been so consumed by the clear sunset ahead that she had not noticed the clouds above. Belatedly, she determined the ocean spray she had attributed to her wetness was, in fact, rain.
"Lizzy, it is past seven, how long have you been out here?"
"I cannot tell you," she said in confusion. "I believe I must have lost track of time."
"Come," he said, indicating to his horse. "We must get you dry, and Jane is wild for word of you. It was not like you to be away from the house for so long."
"I apologise for worrying you, Charles," Elizabeth said as Bingley helped her on the horse. "It was not intentional, I assure you."
"I am just relieved you are safe and not injured somewhere, as we had feared."
Elizabeth blushed with embarrassment. She was not pleased that her carelessness had worried her sister. But she had not thought---she had not been thinking at all. She was still in a state of shock as Bingley bundled her into the house and into Jane's welcoming arms. As her maid and Jane led her upstairs and stripped her of her wet clothing, Elizabeth said nothing, thinking only of how oblivious she felt to everything. She was very chilled, she knew, but she could not feel it in the usual way. She felt dazed, negligent, and separated from her usual senses. Before she knew it, she was dressed again in warm, dry clothing and wrapped in several shawls. Elizabeth sat on the bed with her sister and apologised profusely for worrying her.
"Nonsense, Lizzy, I am only relieved you are safe. What were you thinking remaining out in the rain like that?"
"I do not know. I was not myself, I---I was not thinking clearly."
Jane hugged her close. "Do not ever worry me like that again! I was so frightened for you! Do you not know I cannot do without you?"
"Oh, Jane!" Elizabeth sobbed, feeling wretched. She was quite unaware of why she reacted so forcefully, but she clung to her sister and cried, feeling miserable and guilty for causing dear, sweet Jane even the slightest bit of worry. It was irrational and not entirely to do with the current situation, but Jane did not ask questions. She simply held Elizabeth tightly until she was able to calm herself.
"Dearest, do not make yourself so unhappy. I am not angry, I promise."
"Who am I, Jane?" Elizabeth whispered hoarsely when she had relaxed. "I do not recognize this person."
"You will rally, Lizzy. You always do. There will be happiness again."
"I do not see how," Elizabeth sniffled, her cheek against the mattress as she stared at the wall.
Elizabeth trembled as she whispered, "Jane?"
"If you are able, I need you to have faith for me, for I seem to have lost mine."
"Come away from the fire, dearest," Jane asked Elizabeth gently. Since childhood, Elizabeth had had the misfortune of excessive exposure to the heat of fire bringing on illness. Indeed, it worried Jane to see the intense redness in her sister's cheeks. "Are you too warm?"
Elizabeth smiled when Jane laid the back of her hand against her forehead. "I am well, Jane."
The Bingleys were still struggling to warm their new house against the cold winter outside. Darnwell was a very comfortable estate, but it had gone so long uninhabited that warming it was still a challenge. Elizabeth shivered and pulled her shawl up around her shoulders.
"Shall you be content here?" Jane asked after a small silence.
"I should be content anywhere. However, here with you, my dear sister, I will be happy."
Jane watched her sister closely. Elizabeth looked up when she felt her Jane's gaze upon her.
"Truly, Jane. You need not worry for me. I am perfectly content."
"When will you tell me what has happened to you?"
"I told you everything it was necessary for you to know."
"Why must you only keep your own council? Have you no confidence in me?"
Elizabeth's expression softened. "I hope you do not truly believe so. If there were something to tell, you would be the first to hear it. Truly, it is nothing but disappointed hopes. Like anything else, they shall run their course, and we will be as we always were."
Jane's brow furrowed, and she wished dearly that she could shake her sister into compliance. "You are unhappy, Lizzy."
"I am perfectly well. I am comfortably situated with my sister at my side. I have the daily pleasure of seeing how Charles dotes on you. I have nothing to want for in my living situation."
"I do not like how flushed your cheeks are," Jane said worriedly. "You ought to go to bed. I hope it is only fatigue that has you looking so."
"If I tell you, you mustn't worry."
"What?" Jane said, leaving her seat to feel Elizabeth's forehead again.
"My head aches and my throat is very sore."
"Let me help you upstairs, Lizzy. I should really wring your neck for allowing yourself to be wet-through tonight."
Elizabeth's lips twitched at the reprimand, but she obeyed. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
"People do not die of colds," Elizabeth sniffled as she lay in her bed the following evening. Jane had not permitted her to travel farther than the chamber pot since the evening before---not that she had tried. She had become very content simply to lie with her eyes closed. Her sore throat and fever permitted her to escape into her own thoughts again. She felt that her body and her mind were finally in agreement---all was not well.
"Colds do get worse if not seen to," Jane argued, pressing a cold cloth to Elizabeth's cheeks. "After this has taken its course, you must promise me to take better care of your health."
Elizabeth smiled briefly, but did not respond. The cool cloth felt good against her cheeks, and she drifted off into a dreamless sleep, basking in the comfort of her sister's closeness.
Darcy pressed the handkerchief to his nose. In its fabric it held Elizabeth's tears, tears that fell for him---for them. He had rescued it many a times from the valet, desperate to keep everything he owned as tidy as possible. Months ago it had smelled like her, the scent of Elizabeth's innocent sweetness. How he mourned the loss of her, how he mourned the memory of her pain... how mortified he was with himself! The pain he felt was heightened in the wake of his own mistakes. He had sworn never to injure a woman on his behalf, and Elizabeth had not deserved to be turned away, her heart broken. He had helped, nay, led her to love him. Her devastated tears reminded him too much of Georgiana's after the painful transgression she had endured the summer before. He was no better than Wickham.
Despite the certainty of the rightness of his decision, it did not change that he had become a man he could no longer bear to see reflected back in the mirror. What was duty to love? Why must it feel so wrong to walk away from the woman he loved, when every notion of obligation and propriety insisted that it was right? It was clear now, that he had never been worthy of Elizabeth's esteem, never worthy of her love or her tears. He wished he could find a way to cease this feeling that tormented him day and night. He had thought she would have left his mind by now, he had hoped the intensity of regret would wane with time, and that it would get easier. Yet, what he found was that his attachment to Elizabeth had roots too deep to pull.
The futile attempts he had made to put all of this out of his mind and focus on his familial duty had backfired miserably. The women he encountered disgusted him, he cared nothing for visiting his club, or to be seen out amongst the ton. Nothing changed the deep ache that had settled in his chest and refused to abate. He was miserable, forlorn, and boorishly unpleasant to be around. His sister continued to avoid him, and his cousin came and went from him as quickly as possible. Any moment open to fill the air left them susceptible to his irritation. Indeed, he would have been content to see no one at all, but that was not to be. There were obligations to be met, expectations for him. He was interrupted from his gloom by the expected knock on his study door. Yet again, his cousin had requested an audience with him---Darcy hoped that this interview would be brief and to the point like so many were between them now.
"I think we had ought to forego our visit to Lady Catherine this year, Darcy," Colonel Fitzwilliam said, coming to stand in the window of Darcy's study.
Darcy was wearily seated in one of his wing-backed chairs, his elbows resting on his knees.
"Considering that every suggestion you have is unpleasant, I imagine you have another idea in mind for travelling."
"I believe it would be right to visit our Gregory and this wife---we must make it known that we are not at odds."
"And how do you intend to make this known?"
"My mother and father will take care of the details. It is you and I that must do the visiting. My mother still cannot tolerate such an expedition for herself."
"So you and I must travel to Rosemont House and visit the viscount and his very scandalous wife."
"I own that this is my plan."
"You are aware I do not find this scheme to my liking."
"I was aware of how you would perceive it, yes."
"And yet you knew I would agree."
The colonel chuckled mirthlessly. "I had that suspicion."
"When are we to go?"
"In April if that is convenient."
Darcy nodded. "And will this be the very last obligation I am expected to perform in respect to this marriage?"
Fitzwilliam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "G-d, I hope so."
"I am convinced she is not even trying to recover," Jane said to Charles that evening as they lay together in bed. "I do not know what to do."
Jane closed her eyes as her husband's gentle fingers ran through her hair soothingly. "It is only a sore throat and her fever is mild, I should imagine she will recover, whether she wishes or not."
"I have heard of people dying because they do not care to help themselves."
"Yes, my love, but one must be in the position to die before that becomes a concern. I have never heard of a sore throat escalating into anything life threatening."
"But fever can."
"She was never like this until now. Lizzy was a happy girl---she would have laughed to think of someone making themselves ill so carelessly."
"I do not think either of them meant to fall in love," Bingley whispered thoughtfully. "It is a shame his cousin's marriage was so ill-timed."
"I cannot forgive him. If he loved her as she deserves---"
"Yes," Bingley said sadly. "And yet it cannot be easy for either of them."
Jane held her tongue. She did not wish to give her husband pain, but she was still angry over Mr Darcy's treatment of her sister. True, Elizabeth held her share of the responsibility, but it was painful for Jane to see her so unhappy. In her eyes, Mr Darcy was older, educated, and a man of the world. He should have been the better master of himself---he should not have reduced her sister to her current state of despair. It was his responsibility to have acted differently. Now, because he had not, Elizabeth lay in her chamber, barely recognizable as the laughing sister she had always loved. Because of her nature, she found it within herself to pity him and what he must be suffering, however, Jane was not ready to forgive him, and she vowed she would not. Until she could see true smiles in the eyes of her sister again, she could not clear Mr Darcy's name, not even for her husband's sake. She eventually fell into a light sleep, restless worry for her sister leaving her tossing and turning for most of the night.Continued In Next Section