Part IPart I
Posted on 2014-07-30
April 10, 1814
Hearing the baby cry, Darcy rolled over and sat up. Elizabeth disliked relying on the nurse but the poor babe was teething and sometimes there was nothing anyone could do to relieve the pain or make the babe happy. Elizabeth was exhausted and Darcy thought to allow her to rest longer. Shuffling in the dark and opening the connecting door from the mistress's chamber to the small nursery, Darcy was surprised to hear Elizabeth already walking around with the baby and humming a tune.
Did he not just leave her in their bed? Something was not right. He shook his head and his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he took in his surroundings. He was not at Pemberley, but the small sitting room attached to his bedchamber at Rosings and Elizabeth was not his wife, but rather, Mrs Collins. Yet it was her voice on the other side of his sitting room wall. With anguish the last two years came flooding back to Darcy. He had just returned from a long holiday at Bath with his sister, still weakened from her illness which took hold over eighteen months ago, to settle affairs at Rosings after the death of his cousin, Anne de Bourgh. It was the only thing that could bring back him to Rosings.
Elizabeth walked the floor of her bed chamber and sitting room with baby Jane. She mused that the baby seemed to have captured more of her own disposition than that of her sweet, gentle and departed aunt. Allowing her daughter to suck on her finger to relieve the pressure of her teething gums she smiled down to her infant.
"You were worth it all, love."
"Papapapapa" the baby cooed. Elizabeth gave little Janie a sad smile, the only kind she could manage these days. The child was only now experimenting with syllables and she preferred the "Pa" syllable to any other, especially "Mama" it seemed. Elizabeth had never loved William Collins but in the near two years since he left this earth, she had come to value him a little. Certainly her life as a new mother and witnessing the deaths of so many loved ones might have been a little easier if he had survived.
It was not in Elizabeth's nature to dwell on sadness and heartache. The words she spoke earlier she believed with all her heart. She could scarcely guess what life might bring them next but being mother to Jane was worth every trial. She allowed herself to consider the past two years with a degree of fondness, even amidst the tribulations.
November 27, 1811
"Jane, you cannot be serious!"
"Caroline's letter makes it quite clear. Mr Bingley is not to return to Netherfield this winter, if ever, and she is certainly desirous of a match between her brother and Miss Darcy. I was mistaken and believed his regard meant more than it did."
"He loves you Jane. You must not marry Mr Collins instead! I know you cannot respect him."
"Lizzy, you must make allowances for differences of temper. Do you think because he has not secured your regard he is incapable of gaining the esteem of any young lady? And think of all the happiness I can bring to my family. He may never ask me, but if he does I will accept."
Elizabeth's lips set into a thin line and she turned and left the room. Marching down stairs she announced quite clearly in the drawing room, where her mother was fluttering near Mr Collins, that she wished for a private conversation with the gentleman. Her mother cleared the room faster than Elizabeth could blink.
"Mr Collins, I have seen the attentions you have shown my eldest sister and I confess it has inspired feelings in me I never knew before. I was mistaken to refuse you. Please allow me the honour of accepting your proposals."
Mr Collins seemed astonished, for only a second, and then a smug grin crept across his face.
"My dear Elizabeth," he said as he walked to her and kissed her hands. Elizabeth tried her best to not cringe at his touch. Soon he would be allowed so much more, forever.
The news of their engagement was met by her mother with the most extreme shrieking. Mr Bennet had attempted to talk Elizabeth out of it and Jane seemed quietly relieved of the task of marrying the obsequious parson.
Before Christmas Elizabeth was married and settled at Hunsford Parsonage. Her primary source of joy was the plan for Jane to come and stay in March, after an extended stay in London with their aunt and uncle.
In the months since her marriage Elizabeth met Lady Catherine's conceited questions with her usual spark, which seemed to confuse the great lady most of the time. Elizabeth attempted civility but she could see that her lack of fawning displeased her husband. Growing up Elizabeth faced the constant disapproval of her mother, to have her husband share the sentiment did not overly affect Elizabeth.
It also meant whatever imaginary feelings he had conjured before the marriage quickly evaporated and she had to suffer little of his attention day or night. In fact, she encouraged him to be out of doors or to visit Lady Catherine, and repair any damage she had done, frequently. Elizabeth was not happy, but she managed something near contentment, until she would read a letter from her sister Jane.
Jane had gone to London with secret hopes of seeing something of Mr Bingley, the gentleman she fell in love with during his brief stay in Hertfordshire. She called on his sisters who treated her with tender affection while at Netherfield but was met with the barest of civility and was led to believe Mr Bingley was soon to be engaged to his dearest friend's young sister. Georgiana Darcy had spectacular wealth and connections.
Jane's heart was broken and Elizabeth welcomed her to Hunsford with anxiousness. While Jane was melancholy, Elizabeth was relieved to see her sister in otherwise good health. If it were not for the arrival of Fitzwilliam Darcy that Easter life might have been drastically different for them all.
March 24, 1812
Darcy's hands were sweating as he and his cousin followed Mr Collins to the Hunsford Parsonage. His aunt had mentioned in her most recent letter that the new Mrs Collins had been acquainted with him in Hertfordshire and her sister, Miss Bennet, had recently arrived to stay with the couple. It appeared he had been very correct in separating his best friend from Jane Bennet, the lady married where her mother told her to. But at last he would see Elizabeth again.
He had expected his fascination with the lady to cease when he was no longer in her company but he was incorrect. He undoubtedly preferred her to every lady of his acquaintance and as the months slipped by he had begun to realize that he would be happy to take on the degradation of a connection to her relations in trade. And he could accept his in-laws impropriety. Plenty of members of the ton had scandalous families. Darcy had the highest pride in his own legacy, but hoped marriage to Elizabeth did not mean he had to socialize withheld family. They never came to London and Darcy would not finance their trips. They could visit Longbourn a few times a year, it was close enough to London. Pemberley was too far away for them to visit on their income.
Yes, it could all work out nicely. The only problem was the fact that he had not kept an acquaintance with the Bennets and his only way of doing so, through Miss Bingley keeping in touch with Miss Jane Bennet, was destroyed by him. In the back of his mind he was aware of the hypocrisy of claiming Bingley should not marry Jane Bennet while he schemed of a way to meet Elizabeth Bennet again, but he pushed it aside. He had been right to caution his friend, if for no other reason than the lack of affection. He had almost accepted some plan to meet Elizabeth's London relations when his aunt's letter came. This would be his redemption, his salvation. He could meet Elizabeth again and propose and other than a meeting or two and the wedding scarcely need any contact at all with her abominable family.
And now he sat in the Parsonage sitting room, drinking in his fill of Elizabeth's fine eyes and shiny, dancing curls. Darcy realized he had been silent since entering and extended some civilities.
Looking toward Mrs Collins he said, "This seems to be a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr Collins first came to Hunsford but I am certain the present lightness is owed all to you, Mrs Collins." The compliment was genuine, he was surprised at the taste the present parlour afforded.
He was startled to hear Elizabeth reply, "I thank you Mr Darcy."
In horror he saw Mr Collins bound over to Elizabeth and put a hand on her shoulder and tried to speak but Elizabeth interrupted. Her eyes looked strained and there was a twinge of pink on her cheeks as she spoke. "I assure you she could not have bestowed her kindness on more grateful objects."
Darcy looked incredulously at Jane who gave her sister a sad smile. "Oh, Lizzy! You forgot your lace cap again."
"Forgive me." Elizabeth murmured as she stood and searched the room for one. She looked in the mirror hastily as she placed it on her head. "I had just returned from a walk." Darcy's heart shattered to see her spirits so low, to think of how often she must feel the need to flee her own home.
Mr Collins had sidled up to Darcy and whispered to him. "My dear Mrs Collins and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is in everything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideas between us. We seem to have been designed for each other. And I wish you every bit of such felicity in your upcoming marriage to Miss de Bourgh."
Before Darcy could stutter anything out the parson continued. "And I believe you have done much to increase your betrothed's affection by paying your attentions elsewhere instead of at Rosings for all these months. I know from experience. Mrs Collins rejected my proposals at first and claimed no great affection for me until I began to bestow my attention on my cousin Jane and then Mrs Collins came gratefully to me. We have been blissfully happy since mid-December. So you see, sir, I am certain Miss de Bourgh will prove quite the eager bride."
Mr Collins appeared entirely insensible that the occupants of the entire room had turned bright red at his speech which grew in volume. That Mr Collins had been pushed towards Elizabeth had been evident to Darcy at the Netherfield ball, but he had no worries she would accept the parson. It was clear then that Mrs Bennet had meant for Jane to marry Bingley. Shortly after the ball Mr Collins must have proposed to Elizabeth, who refused him. Mr Collins then turned his eyes on Jane, undoubtedly encouraged by the absence of Bingley, and Elizabeth intervened on her sister's behalf. The torment Darcy now knew, of seeing Elizabeth married to this ridiculous man she could not respect and could not treasure her was his own doing!
He sat numbly in his chair, incapable of speech as Collins carried on and his cousin talked with the ladies and made them laugh. Elizabeth occasionally looked over at Jane and seemed to search her sister's face but more often than not looked mostly disconcerted. Jane was not in the best of humour either. Darcy perceived the difference in the way she accepted Colonel Fitzwilliam's attentions and the way she had accepted Bingley's.
"Mr Darcy." Elizabeth's voice was the only thing that could register in his mind at this point and he turned his eyes upon her.
"Pardon my distraction..." he could not bear to call her Mrs Collins.
"My sister was asking you if Mr and Miss Bingley and Mr and Mrs Hurst were in good health when last you saw them."
He looked to Jane, who was quite pink. "Very, I had the pleasure of seeing them the day before last."
She looked excessively relieved. Before he knew it, she had tears streaming down her face. "Oh, thank goodness. My aunt had written of several families in the area contracting a fever. You are certain Mr Bingley...that is all of them are quite well?"
Her concern for Bingley was unmistakable. "Miss Bennet, I assure you the Bingleys and the Hursts were in the best of health when I left Town. I will be happy to forward your concerns to Mr Bingley and his family, though, it does you great credit."
Elizabeth looked at him sharply after that comment and Darcy was sure she had perceived the truth. It was impossible to explain his regrets to her. He was only allowed to speak to her with the barest of civility and under the circumstances found it nearly impossible to speak at all. But the distress and concern on her face for her sister, a sentiment he understood entirely, caused him to act when nothing else could. He simply could not allow Elizabeth to think poorly of him.
"How long do you remain in Kent, Miss Bennet?"
"I shall depart in two weeks."
"And do you return to London?"
"Only for a day, sir."
"That is quite unfortunate. My aunt informed me of your visit in her most recent letter and I made mention of it to my friends when I recently spoke with them. They regretted that they had not had more time to visit with you while you were in London and enthusiastically hoped to see you again." It was near the truth, Bingley certainly hoped to see Miss Bennet again, he still spoke of her.
Jane's eyes lit up and she looked to Elizabeth who smiled and nodded her head. His message had been received. It now fell to him to explain the matter to Bingley and hope for his forgiveness.
At long last Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed ready to depart. Darcy looked around uneasily. He could never bear to call on this parsonage again; to see Mrs Collins again.
While collecting his hat and gloves from the table near the main door, he overheard Elizabeth and Jane, who trailed behind. "You see, Lizzy! I told you Mr Darcy was not so awful. There was no willful deceit to keep Mr Bingley from me. And I still believe Mr Wickham misunderstood the will."
Darcy always had sensitive hearing and was able to understand Jane's whisperings to Elizabeth. Suddenly he was being hurried out the door by Colonel Fitzwilliam. He had missed his chance to even have one last look at Elizabeth and was left with the knowledge that Elizabeth had never even liked him and doubted his character entirely.
He left the next day. He could not bear to be near Elizabeth now. He also made it entirely clear to Lady Catherine he would never marry his cousin Anne. Their reactions were entirely as he expected. Anne was clearly relieved and Lady Catherine spewed forth nothing but vitriol. He could almost wish for a permanent breach in the relationship. He knew not how he could ever return to Rosings and see Eliza...Mrs Collins again.
Instead of returning to Pemberley in June, as usual, he employed several masters for Georgiana through August. He could not in good conscience force her to remain in London during the most blistering month but he loathed to return to Pemberley with the sure knowledge Elizabeth would never be there.
August 7, 1812
"Oh Anne! It is in every way terrible!" Elizabeth sobbed on her now best friend's lap. She had just read a letter from her sister Mary which recounted her youngest sister Lydia's elopement with Mr Wickham.
"I should have told my family the truth of Wickham, after you told me it. Oh, wretched, wretched mistake!"
"Shh, Elizabeth. It was not for you to tell and who could ever guess a sister would act so foolishly."
Elizabeth sobbed for a few minutes more and Anne spoke again.
"Elizabeth, look at me. Your family will need you. Now, Mr Collins is to go to London to help your relations and you shall take the barouche box to Longbourn."
"But your mother..."
"Leave her to me."
December 24, 1812
"Happy Christmas, Mama." Elizabeth gingerly stepped down from the carriage then hugged her mother.
"How can you say such a thing? Your first time returning to Longbourn since the death of dear Jane or your father and you tell me it's a happy Christmas? This has been the most dreadful year."
Elizabeth tried to swallow her tears of fury. She had given up much for her family's sake and could barely stand to look at the estate now.
Her mother patted her swollen belly, truly beginning to show she was with child. "I am certain the next year will be better. You will do your duty and bear a son. You owe your departed husband that. If only Lydia and Wickham were here!"
Elizabeth cringed. She alone knew the truth of how Lydia and Wickham were discovered in a cheap hotel in London. Wickham had never meant to marry her at all. She could only imagine how much her uncle had to put out to settle the marriage. Her aunt refused to divulge more information than that.
How unjust it was that her disgraceful sister and her lover never even became ill when a dreadful fever ran rampant in London! Elizabeth's father and husband fell ill after searching London for Lydia. She was thankful that although the Gardiner family were affected, they all lived. It took her beloved Jane in August as well. She had just become engaged to Bingley in June.
Now her family's very situation swayed in the balance. Mr Collins left no will. Elizabeth had not known she was with child at the time of his death. If she bore a son he would be the rightful heir of Longbourn. If a daughter was born the estate would pass to yet another distant male relation. At least Anne insisted she would always have a home. Now that Lady Catherine was gone there would be no quarreling over the matter.
She knew she should be aggrieved at the loss of her husband, but she could not. He had never been cruel to her, but by his death Elizabeth escaped the discredit and misery her father cautioned her against. The hazard of a marriage of so unequal affection became quite clear in recent months. For not only could she never esteem her husband, her heart belonged forever to another.
April 10, 1814
Darcy could hear the baby was fussing again. Elizabeth surely must be exhausted by now. Why did she not call for the nurse? Coming to a decision he shrugged on his breeches and strode out of his room. He knocked lightly on the door he now knew to be Elizabeth's sitting room.
There was a pause but then she opened it. Her eyes grew wide. "Mr Darcy!" She quickly curtsied.
He bowed. "M..." Darcy still could not bear to say her name. "Pardon the intrusion. Might I be of service in some way?"
"Oh! I am sorry if Janie woke you. We are not used to having guests on this side of the wing."
"It was no trouble, I was not asleep." Darcy doubted he could ever sleep knowing Elizabeth was in the house.
"Can I call the nurse for you?"
Elizabeth blushed. "I thank you, sir. But there is no nurse."
"What can you be thinking?" he cried.
For a moment he saw a flash of Elizabeth's ire, something he remembered fondly. Then she did something that surprised him exceedingly.
"Mr Darcy, might you come in here to continue this discussion?"
"Certainly." She did not move very far back as he came in the room and her scent, still lavender, washed over him.
"Mr Darcy, do you care to tell me how you believe you may help me care for my daughter? Or do you desire to tell me that I am being ridiculous in not employing a nurse?"
"No, it is only that...you will exhaust yourself. Why do you not employ one?"
"Anne allowed me to live here out of the goodness of her heart. She would not hear of me becoming a companion to her. At first I did not want to return to Longbourn, to sit waiting to know if I bore the heir. After Janie was born I could not face my mother's scorn."
Darcy had known Mrs Bennet reacted that way, but he still felt the need to repress his fury. He had arranged with Mr Gardiner to move the remaining Bennet ladies to a comfortable cottage in Meryton if they must leave Longbourn. Darcy looked at the infant. She was as stunning at 10 months old as her mother was now. How could Mrs Bennet be anything but grateful for this beautiful, darling child? For Darcy it was love at first sight.
Elizabeth must have perceived the way he was staring at her baby because she cleared her throat and gave him an odd look before continuing.
"Other than the unexpectedly large portion left to Janie, I have no income. A nurse can do nothing I cannot provide. I have no home to maintain or guests to entertain here. Anne was more than happy to allow me all the time in the world to dote on Janie."
"But she has a fund that is to be used for..." Elizabeth turned her eyes on him and he caught his mistake. He never meant for her to know. It was supposed to appear as an anonymous bequeathal from a distant Collins relative.
"Why Mr Darcy? Why have you done so much for us?"
He closed his eyes. She knew, how did she know?
She saw his confusion at her knowledge. "Anne told me before she passed. I know it all and I can go no longer without expressing my gratitude for the generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications. I know you found Wickham and Lydia and..." her eyes filled with tears.
"Elizabeth, do not make yourself uneasy."
His words seemed only to upset her more. She sat down on a sofa, sobs racking her small frame. He sat next to her, his heart clenching more than he thought it ever could. Seeking to give her some comfort, he took Jane from Elizabeth's arms. She acquiesced, but Darcy could not stop his impulse to touch her in some way. He lovingly rubbed her shoulder and shortly she turned and buried her face in his chest. Darcy was torn between the feeling of completeness with having Elizabeth and her child in his arms and knowing that once again he caused her anguish.
Eventually she stilled and fell asleep. Easing her out of his arm the best he could, he reclined Elizabeth on the sofa. Janie finally seemed ready to settle as well and while he had not held a child since Georgiana was one he lovingly rocked and sang to her. She soon fell asleep but rather than placing her in the crib in Elizabeth's chambers, he settled in a chair across from Elizabeth's sleeping form, his heart in his throat, holding her baby in his arms.
Elizabeth awoke and groggily looked in the direction of where the crib would be if she were in her chambers. She quietly gasped at the sight she saw instead. She realized she fell asleep after crying so much and Mr Darcy settled her on the sofa. He was asleep in the chair across from her, Janie's precious face nestled onto his shoulder, and thumb in her mouth. Gingerly she lifted Janie and took her to her crib.
Returning to the sitting room, she was unsure what to do. It was entirely improper for Mr Darcy to remain but she could see he needed the rest. She also desired to speak with him on several things. But more than that, she was simply so happy to be in the room with him; to see him again at last. He was so handsome and seemed at such peace. She decided to cover him in a blanket and allow him rest. She curled up on the sofa, planning to keep watch over him.
She next awoke to Janie's happy babbles. "Papapapa."
"No, darling. Try saying Mama. I am sure she would be delighted."
Darcy looked at her then and noticed she was awake. "Good morning, Elizabeth."
She smiled a little. She would have hated to hear Mrs Collins from his lips.
"Good morning, Mr Darcy. Good morning, Janie." How curious! Usually Janie desired to nurse instantly upon waking but she seemed exceptionally content with Mr Darcy.
"Has she been awake long?"
Elizabeth rose to take her daughter. "I must tend to her." She paused. It was morning now, the servants would be awake and there were appearances to keep. "Might we continue our discussion in the small blue drawing room in two hours?"
Darcy quickly agreed and carefully exited Elizabeth's sitting room.
Darcy leapt from his seat in the drawing room when Elizabeth arrived. Elizabeth explained Janie was asleep and she asked a maid to sit in the room with her. After the obligatory greetings they sat in strained silence. Darcy decided to forward the conversation.
"You must have many questions for me but it might be easiest if you explain what you know first."
Elizabeth met his eyes and seemed to search him for a long moment. "Very well."
She chewed her bottom lip, clearly remembering things she would rather forget in an attempt to decide where to start.
"I had always believed you were at least partially the reason Mr Bingley left Netherfield and did not return for the winter of '12. You behaved very strangely, even for you, when you arrived at the Parsonage near Easter. You seemed most interested in Jane's reactions to news on Mr Bingley. Knowing your character as I do now, I can only assume you had believed she did not care for him."
"That is correct. I apologize I was gravely mistaken..." Elizabeth waved her hand at him and he stopped short.
"Do give Mr Bingley the justice of being his own man. My sister and he discussed his transgressions before their engagement. I suppose she should have left him in no doubt of her affections, but surely you can see it is an intimidating thought." Darcy gulped. He certainly knew how terrifying it was to love someone and have it not returned. He hoped had been wise to conceal it from her at least.
"It was very kind of you to alert Mr Bingley of Jane's presence in town."
"It was no more than my honour demanded." Elizabeth nodded her head. She knew he believed that to be true but sincerely doubted any other man would do so.
"You also made the acquaintance of the Gardiners and visited them frequently. I could not make you out and as my friendship with Anne deepened, I asked her about you." Elizabeth looked to her hands and whispered, "She told me about Mr Wickham."
Tears flooded Elizabeth's eyes. That moment of her pride had cost her and her family deeply. "I chose not to say anything to my family, to warn them in anyway. The regiment was soon leaving Meryton and even after Lydia went away with Colonel Forster and his wife I said not a word. Truthfully, I was ashamed of my past prejudices and did not want anyone to know. My pride made my family suffer terribly."
Darcy could not bear Elizabeth's tears and he rose to sit on the sofa beside her, giving her his handkerchief. "No, no. It was my pride. I did not wish to lay out my dealings openly before the world. I believed my character would speak for itself but I was too blind to see how selfishly I disdained the feelings of others. I endeared myself to no one in Hertfordshire. Of course they would all trust Wickham over me."
Elizabeth shook her head. "We will not quarrel over who shares more of the blame." Darcy could not agree but remained silent.
"You know how my father and Mr Collins along with my uncle searched London for Lydia and Wickham, unsuccessfully. My father never saw Longbourn again. He fell ill while at the Gardiners'. The whole house did, but mercifully only he and Jane succumbed.
"Of course, as soon as Mr Collins arrived in Kent he visited Lady Catherine. He fell ill there and never returned to the Parsonage. Lady Catherine and Anne also became ill. I returned from Longbourn the day after he returned from London and had no further contact with him. The doctor would not allow it and Lady Catherine insisted I obey. I...I should have been there with him. It is a wife's duty but I could not force myself to do it. I was happy Lady Catherine was so insistent, no one could suspect me of being so unfeeling towards the man I married."
"Although you did not know it at the time, you carried Janie. Would you have risked your health and hers if you could do it again?"
Elizabeth vehemently shook her head negatively. "No, Janie was worth it all."
"Then I insist you forget these reproaches."
Elizabeth marvelled anew at just how good and kind Darcy really was. "Until just before Anne died I had assumed my uncle found Lydia and Wickham. But I know now that Mr Bingley informed you of our troubles and you risked your health. You and your sister had been striken with the fever and yet you abandoned your sick bed to find the scourge and make him marry Lydia."
Darcy tried to speak but Elizabeth would not allow him. "But there is more! After learning my father and Mr Collins passed you created an elaborate hoax. You made it seem as though my father had set aside more funds for my mother and sisters and had bought a small cottage for them in the wake of his passing, should it be needed. An anonymous bequeathal was made from a distant Collins relative to any children William Collins should have. Janie has ten thousand pounds put aside for her in addition to everything I save from the interest it earns. I will make it all part of her dowry. She will not be looked over due to her lack of wealth."
Elizabeth's last words were like a knife in Darcy's heart.
"Elizabeth, I regret so much the pain my actions put you through. If I had not counseled Bingley against your sister you would not have had to marry Collins. Bingley and Miss Bennet would not have been in London and fallen ill. I would have eventually shared the truth about Wickham, I believe. Your youngest sister would be safe from him, they never would have eloped causing your father to enter the city. Lord knows I was more selfish and unfeeling than Wickham could ever be."
"You cannot say such a thing!" Elizabeth cried. "Do not ever let me hear again you holding yourself responsible for that man's actions!"
Darcy was shocked by the intensity of her voice, especially as she continued. "You are the best man, the most honourable man. You must not say you are worst than he. He is in every way despicable and you..."
She took a deep shuddering breath before continuing. "You are everything honourable and just. You sacrifice your happiness to fulfill your duties. You care for all those in your charge, even those you have no official responsibility for. You would lay down your life for those you love. You are tender and kind. What does Wickham know of these things? You made a mistake in judgement, but so has everyone. Please, sir. No more of these words. You are not at fault for the fate that befell my family."
Elizabeth hoped her admiration for Darcy was obvious. Anne had been firm in her insistence that he loved her still and always had. Elizabeth could scarcely hope that was true but she did accept he held her in some kind of regard. Why he would ever want her now was beyond her vanity. She spoke the truth earlier, that displaying love openly was terrifying but she had never been one that could hide her true feelings. She likely would never see him again after he finished Anne's arrangements but she could not let him go without allowing him to know.
Darcy sat in stunned silence for some minutes before having the nerve to reply. "I am exceedingly sorry, I did not think Anne could be so little trusted. I never meant for you to know. I am sorry if this information makes you feel indebted to me. I accept your thanks but is that is all I can accept."
Elizabeth felt as though she had been slapped. "You will not accept my love? Foolish girl! How could I ever have thought differently." Angry tears filled her eyes.
Darcy closed his eyes in pain. "Nothing would make me happier than to have your love but you offer gratitude and obligation instead. I will not buy your love. I must earn it or not have you at all."
Elizabeth's face showed her disbelief. "Gratitude! Of course I am thankful for how you have helped my family but I do not love you because of it. I loved you long before I knew of your involvement with Lydia and settling my family. I loved you after I learned your character. You did the truly honourable thing and reunited my sister with Mr Bingley, however briefly they had time with each other. You bore so much abuse from Wickham. You must know he slanders your name whenever he can. You take the affront to protect your sister. I once thought you prideful but no man of pride could bear those insults without ardent love.
"Anne would say you admired me and I never believed it, but I realized you must never have despised me as I had thought. I married a man I did not love, and despite his professions, he did not love me. I was but a silly girl. I expected to be unhappy but my ideas of what would bring me happiness in marriage were so abstract I could not fully mourn what I lost. But I began to wonder what it would be like to be truly loved, to be consumed with love. Out of all the gentlemen I know you are the only one I have seen to love that way. Steady, but passionate, sacrificing everything for the other. I see it in the way I know you care for your sister, in the way you revere your father and mother's memory. In how you love your estate.
"And I confess now to my greatest sin of all. I coveted that love. I wanted it for myself even while I was yet married to another."
Elizabeth's face was scarlet and she covered it with her hands as she shed her tears. Soon she felt Darcy's arms around her, engulfing her as she had long imagined.
"Oh my love. My darling Elizabeth." Elizabeth looked up at him in confusion and at last she saw the love that had always been reflected in his eyes. She leaned forward to kiss him but he stopped her.
"No, I want no more misunderstandings. I love you Elizabeth. I have since nearly our first meeting. I once was arrogant and selfish, perhaps I still am. I am but a man. But I can promise you this. I already love you more each day than the last, so much that I cannot understand how I still live from the crushing feelings. It does consume me, it steals my breath yet it is what keeps my heart beating. I am nothing without you, nothing at all. Will you consent to be my wife? Let me love and cherish you. You and Janie both."
Elizabeth smiled and soon dissolved into laughter. "Oh, Fitzwilliam. You have made me the happiest creature in the world."
Darcy could only agree and added, "Perhaps we had to face so much sorrow to know so much joy."
Elizabeth responded as passionately as a woman violently in love, and finally at leave to have it returned, can be supposed to do.
They married two weeks later and Janie soon welcomed three brothers and two sisters. They were all loved equally and dearly by their parents. Darcy and Elizabeth were so constant in their love and joy not even the occasional presence of Mrs Wickham at Pemberley or the near constant requests for money from the Wickhams or Mrs Bennet could affect their happiness.
When their children asked them about their courtship they would only explain: "There were many trials but we only remember the past as its remembrance brings us pleasure. It was worth it all and now we are the happiest creatures in the world."The End