Beginning, Next SectionJump to new as of June 22, 2011
Posted on: 2011-06-04
Sunlight filtered in through the parsonage window rousing Elizabeth from a fitful sleep. Usually up before the sun, the lateness of the hour gave testament to the degree of unrest she suffered through the night. Elizabeth awoke with a slight headache and was tempted to seek fresh air and exercise to rejuvenate her body and her spirits but the temptation was quelled when she recalled the number of mornings her ramblings were interrupted by the cause of her unrest, Mr. Darcy.
Thinking back to the events of the preceding night, Elizabeth could only, again, wonder how she could have so significantly mistaken Mr. Darcy's feelings toward herself. She was so confident in her belief that he never looked at her without seeking to find fault, that his declaration of ardent love put her in a state of shock. She recalled not being able to utter a word for a full two minutes following his avowal. How she wished her state of speechlessness had continued for she was decidedly ashamed of the words that proceeded to spew forth from her mouth for the remainder of the encounter. Did she regret her refusal of his proposal? No. He was not a man she could respect and she would not marry without respect for her husband and his respect for her. Did she regret the manner of her refusal? Yes. Although she was tempted to believe that he deserved her harshness, Elizabeth realized that she was not untouched by Mr. Darcy's pain. He was most definitely an arrogant man, a prideful man, a man without compassion for the thoughts and feelings of anyone not intimately connected to him, but he was, in all basics, just a man. Deserved or not, Elizabeth did not wish suffering on any of God's creatures.
The wonderings of her mind began to increase the slight throbbing in her temples so she decided that her best option would be to rise and seek tea and toast. Elizabeth arrived in the breakfast room just as Mr. Collins was leaving to tend his hedges. "At least the morning is getting off to a good start" she thought. Charlotte, aware of her distress but unsure of its cause, pleaded with Elizabeth to sit and eat so she might feel better. "Lizzy, I cannot help but believe that there is more to your ill state than just a headache. Will you not confide in me?" "I'm sorry for being such a poor guest. I confess that I am worried about poor Jane. Her letters are full of liveliness about London and all that she has seen and done but there is a lack of serenity and cheerfulness that only someone so close to her can detect. I strongly suspect that she still suffers the loss of Mr. Bingley and I know not what to do to help her recover." Charlotte leaned over to give her friend a consolatory pat on the hand.
Once their meal was complete, the two friends moved into Charlotte's favorite sitting room to mend shirts donated to the poor box. They had scarcely been at their work for a quarter hour when the bell was heard. As the gentlemen from Rosings were to depart for London this morning, no visitors were expected. It was but a moment before the maid entered the sitting room to announce the arrival of Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Good morning Ladies!" said the Colonel with a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. "Good morning Colonel. I must admit to being quite surprised by your appearance this morning. Lizzy and I thought you and Mr. Darcy would have long been on your way to London by now." "That was our plan, Mrs. Collins; however my cousin was suffering the headache this morning upon rising and decided to stay abed a little longer to allow it time to abate." "I hope he is much recovered by now, Colonel" stated Elizabeth feeling much guilt for being the most probable cause of Mr. Darcy's indisposition. "Thank you Miss Bennett. He feels much better and is now readying the carriage for our departure. Upon finishing his packing last evening, my cousin came upon the book he borrowed from you while at Netherfield and realized he had failed to return it. He asked me to bring it to you while he farewells our Aunt and Cousin Anne and will pick me up in a moment on the lane."
Elizabeth looked at the Colonel quizzically while accepting the proffered book for she knew she had never loaned a book to Mr. Darcy. In truth, she doubted she had owned or even read a book that was not already a part of the famous Darcy Library. The Colonel gave a slight nod of his head indicating that he understood her confusion and seemed to plead with her to corroborate his story. As she looked down at the book, Elizabeth noticed a thickness to both the front and back covers and realized that the book concealed two letters. "Thank you Colonel. Please inform Mr. Darcy that I am pleased to have the book returned. Though I do not imagine there is any further information the book can contain to make me change my opinion on the subject, I will read it once more with an open mind." "Thank you Miss Bennett. I am sure that my cousin will be pleased to hear that. Should you ever meet again, I am sure the subject can once again be explored and, hopefully, both your and his opinion might be more similar." "I doubt that we shall ever meet again, but I do hope that you will tell Mr. Darcy that, though I do not wish to change my opinions stated in our debate of the book, I do wish that I had conveyed them in a gentler manner. Regardless of the provocation received, I should not have let my temper guide my words." Appearing a little disheartened, the Colonel simply replied, "I will give him the message."
Charlotte and Elizabeth saw the Colonel to the door but did not escort him to the lane where a fine black carriage bearing the Darcy family crest awaited. Elizabeth excused herself to take "her" book and put it in her room. Curious about the contents of the letters, Elizabeth thought to take a walk where she might read them in privacy. However, her friend was very astute and would be suspicious of a sudden desire for solitude on Lizzy's part. Therefore the mysterious communications would have to wait.
It was a busy day for the occupants of the parsonage. Mending for the poor, relief baskets for the elderly, visits to the sick and many small duties that been let slide due to the increase in visitors of the last few weeks. Elizabeth could not keep her mind off the letters concealed in her room but had found no time for the length of privacy that would be required to give them her full attention. She had decided to wait until she retired for the night and would read them before bed. However, the day had truly been busy and she found that the increase in activity along with the prior night's poor sleep had left her exhausted. She wanted to keep her promise to the Colonel and read the letters with an open and refreshed mind so she decided to wait and take a long early morning walk.
Being able to convey her apologies to Mr. Darcy, through Colonel Fitzwilliam, for her loss of temper aided Elizabeth to sleep soundly so that she felt very much refreshed the next morning. Upon waking, she realized that her sleep was the most restful she had experienced since the arrival of the gentlemen at Rosings. For a moment she allowed her mind to wonder why just the presence of Mr. Darcy caused her so much discomfort. But, coming to no immediate conclusion, she pushed the matter to the back of her mind and dressed for her walk.
The morning was still a bit chilly but the air was crisp and fresh and a light fog hugged the grounds. Elizabeth wandered down her favorite path until she came upon a clearing in which a stone bench was placed. She removed her bonnet and gloves and sat down on the bench to finally read the letters she had placed in her pocket before leaving the parsonage. Upon close inspection she realized that there was a note on the back of each letter indicating that she was to read first one then the other. She traced her finger over her written name on the back of the first packet and observed that Mr. Darcy had fine penmanship. She could not help but chuckle as the memory of Caroline Bingley fawning over Mr. Darcy as he wrote to his sister came forward. She had to agree with Caroline on the fact that the gentleman must have occasion to write many letters and it was evident that he took care to make sure his desires were readable. Another chuckle arose when thinking of the comment on Mr. Bingley's correspondence being written so hastily that it sometime conveyed nothing.
Elizabeth turned the letter over and examined the seal. Holding it up to utilize the light she was able to see that the "D" was set in the middle and the edges were scalloped. She had seen many seals when sorting her father's correspondences for him and realized that this one was actually quite plain. She had imaged the haughty Mr. Darcy would never want something so plain to grace his letters so she wondered if he used this simple seal on those communications he felt were of less importance. She immediately scolded herself for the ungracious thought and decided to believe that this was the seal Mr. Darcy carried on travels rather than let her anger rise to an insult that might very well be only imagined. Upon opening the first letter, she realized that it was only the first half of a very long narrative that had to be split up to be better concealed within the book. She opened the second packet and placed it behind the first and began the lengthy dissertation.
Allow me to apologize for taking the liberty of writing to you even though I am aware that it is improper and undesired by you. After our disastrous meeting this night and the revelations that came to me afterwards, I knew that I could not leave Kent without attempting to face the charges you laid at my feet. I had thought to wait for you to attend your morning walk, but realized that there were no assurances that we might meet and, if we did, there was no assurance that my tongue and mind might not trip up again. You must think me an utter simpleton, but I am not. Though, as I related to you once before, I have difficulty conversing with those I am not acquainted with, I find that I have less ability to speak to you in a coherent manner than anyone I have known before.
Of the three charges I have been accused of, there are two for which I feel no guilt and one that plagues me most grievously. I shall begin with the two I can defend myself on. The first accusation was my part in separating your sister and my friend, Mr. Bingley. I don't deny or regret my actions concerning the above charge but I must make you understand how I can make those statements without guilt. We were not long at Netherfield when I realized that my friend was paying particular attention to Miss Bennett. I cautioned Charles to use discretion so as not to raise false hopes in your sister but he assured me that he would do nothing to hurt her. My mind was burdened at the time by events that preceded our coming to your community and then, upon arrival, with emotions that I had never before faced; therefore, I did not see that the populace of Hertfordshire was looking upon a marriage between my friend and your sister as an almost given conclusion. It was not until the Netherfield Ball that the situation was brought to my attention in the remarks made by Sir William Lucas during our dance.
For the remainder of the evening, I watched the talked of couple closely to determine for myself the feelings of each. At first I believed your sister to be indifferent to my friend. Her smiles were not exclusive to him and her serene countenance did not alter when in the company of other gentlemen. But just as I was beginning to look away, Charles turned from her to address another guest and her expression changed. For only a moment she allowed her great admiration for Charles to show on her normally placid face. I knew then that I had been wrong in my assessment and began to criticize myself for being such a hypocrite. For many years I have despised the overt flirtations of most women of the Ton. Here before me was a gentlewoman of the highest character acting in a manner of upmost modesty and respect and I came close to dismissing her soundly. I was hardily ashamed.
My attention then turned to Mr. Bingley. It did not take long to understand that the expectations of a forthcoming marriage were completely due to the actions of my young friend. His attentions to your sister were marked and at the exclusion of every other lady attending the ball. I would have been most happy for him had I not seen him act in a similar manner several times past. Being a man with an open and pleasing manner and a great passion for life, Mr. Bingley has a tendency to find himself in love on a somewhat regular basis. While in London, as long as the object of his desire is not a lady bent on attaining a husband through a compromising situation, I overlook his actions for there his nature is well known and his overtures are not taken seriously. However, I realized, almost too late, that he is not known in Hertfordshire and his attentions could cause your sister great pain. Therefore, I concluded that I must speak with my friend at the earliest opportunity.
The following morning Mr. Bingley was to set out for London to conduct some business that had long been delayed. I notified my valet that I would be joining Charles on the trip to London on horseback and asked that he return with the carriage and my trunks the same afternoon. This gave me ample time to address the issue of expectations with my friend. Charles was somewhat surprised that an engagement was expected but did not seem disappointed in the fact. He expressed a deep affection for Miss Bennett and stated that he would be happy to call her wife. I stated my concerns regarding the constancy of his devotion and readiness to settle and was adamantly rebuffed. I then offered a compromise. I asked Mr. Bingley to remain in London a fortnight complete. While there, I suggested that he attend all the balls and parties that he could fit into his schedule. If his feelings and wishes did not change at the end of the two weeks, I admitted that I would then give him my full support. He accepted my terms.
Unknown to either of us, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst along with Miss Bingley returned to London the following day. Upon their arrival, both sisters began a campaign to keep their brother in town indefinitely. I was approached to aid their cause but refused. I will use my influence to assist my friends but I refuse to use it to manipulate their lives. Yet, my assistance was not needed. Just over a week had passed before I saw Mr. Bingley at our club in a very animated conversation with friends. He joined me shortly and began to expound on the incomparable attributes exhibited by his latest lady love. I interrupted him in the middle of his recitation to ask about his feelings for Miss Bennett. He immediately hung his head and ashamedly admitted that he had not thought of Netherfield or its neighbors for several days. Please do not think that he did not care for Miss Bennett. Charles truly felt she was one of the sweetest and most handsome ladies of his acquaintance and was utterly ashamed of his behavior and deeply concerned about Miss Bennett's feelings. I pointed out to him that while his behavior was wrong it was not done in malice. He is young and simply not ready to settle down to a wife or to an estate. I encouraged him to take much time to think over his feelings and wishes carefully and without reference to the opinion of others. He agreed that was the best plan of action. Several weeks later he informed me of his intent to give up the lease of Netherfield and travel to Scarborough to visit family and check on his factories. He felt that he needed time away to reconcile his emotions. He asked my opinion on whether or not to return to Hertfordshire to personally take leave and I advised him that doing so would only reopen any wounds that had slowly begun to heal. I hope I was right in giving this advice.
I cannot give an honest account of all that occurred in the separation of your sister and my friend without admitting that there was a little selfish motivation on my part. My feelings for you had already grown more than anything I have ever experienced. I knew how close you are to your eldest sister and I was sure that her disappointment would cause you pain. Having personal experience with the heart-wrenching agony that can be brought on by watching someone you love so dearly suffer cruelly and have no recourse to bring about their comfort, I could not live knowing that you would feel such agony. There was little I could do to alleviate the disappointment already experienced by Miss Bennett but I did all the I could to lessen it so that your suffering would be less as well.
The second charge laid against me was my supposed mistreatment of Mr. Wickham. George Wickham and I grew up together. Old Mr. Wickham was my father's steward as his father was the steward to my Grandfather. I have the upmost respect and many fond memories of the late Mr. Wickham. I cannot express the same sentiments for his wife. Mrs. Wickham was a cruel, selfish woman who felt cheated by God for being born the daughter of a lowly tenant farmer. She attempted to trap my father in a compromising situation but her plan failed when my Mr. Wickham was sent to attend to her complaint in his place. My Grandfather was still master at the time and tried to pay her to keep quiet of the situation and not force Mr. Wickham into a marriage that he did not desire. Knowing that Mr. Wickham would be a step up the social ladder that she might never have the chance to take again, she insisted on payment and a proposal to keep the situation to herself. Fortunately, my Grandfather insisted she sign an agreement so she could not expose her deed at the death of my Grandfather or Father. I learned of the agreement when I took over the managing of Pemberley.
Two years later my Father married my Mother and brought her home. Mrs. Wickham was jealous of my Mother's beauty and wealth and often tried to entice my Father into an affair. He was finally forced to ban her from the main house. A cottage, located on the outskirts of the grounds, was given to the Wickham's. To achieve some semblance of peace, Old Mr. Wickham allowed his wife to spend excessively which kept him close to poverty. He felt it was a small price to pay for it gave him a reason to work more and be away from home for longer lengths of time.
A year after my parent's marriage they were visited by my Father's cousin. My Father despised his uncle and had little use for his cousin but felt a family obligation to open the doors of Pemberley to them when a request was made. Jonathan Darcy and his wife were traveling to London and expressed a wish to spend some weeks in the country prior to enduring the smog of the city. The truth of the matter was that Cousin Jonathan had gambled away his inheritance and needed a loan from my Father to afford the trip to town. Jonathan's wife, Julia, was said to be a sweet but meek woman. After only a few days stay, it was clear to my parents that my cousin used brute force against his wife as a means of discipline and, at times, just for his own entertainment.
After the visit of a few weeks turned into one of over a month, my Father was becoming anxious for his relations to leave. He began to notice that Julia was much happier than he had seen her since their arrival and was soon aware that the reason for her joy was the obvious absence of her husband for many hours each day. He felt uneasy not knowing what his cousin was about so he set a trusted footman the task of following Jonathan wherever he went. The report came back three days later that Jonathan Darcy was spending many hours a day at the Wickham Cottage alone with Mrs. Wickham. My Father was enraged at this and demanded that Jonathan leave Derbyshire. An offer of protection was made to Julia but she refused and left for London with her husband. It was only two months later that Mrs. Wickham appeared at my Father's study door demanding his cousin take financial responsibility for the bastard he had sired.
My Father again paid Mrs. Wickham a settlement for her silence. It was put in the agreement that my Father would give her a lump sum, act as the child's godfather, provide the child with an education and provide the child an inheritance upon his death. In exchange, Mrs. Wickham agreed not to tell anyone, including the child, that Jonathan Darcy was his or her father. My Father kept his promise and came to truly enjoy the company of George Wickham. Wickham was very solicitous of my Father and kept his more base nature well hidden when in company of either of my parents. However, being close in age and much in each other's company, Wickham could not hide his true nature from me. I probably should have made an attempt to enlighten my Father but I could not bring myself to disappoint him. Old Mr. Wickham died a year prior to my own Father.
When my Father died, he left a request in his will that Wickham receive a valuable living at Kempton when it would become available. Wickham returned to Derbyshire not six months after my Father's passing upon being summoned by his Mother's physician. He was informed that her days left for this world would not be many and he should make his peace with her while he had the chance. He paid a visit to the main house stating that he had not the funds to give his Mother a proper funeral when it would be needed and asked for my assistance. I granted his request out of respect for his late father. He then stated that he did not feel that he was suited for the Church and would prefer to study law instead. It was his intent to begin his study as soon as his obligations to his Mother were complete. Rather hoping more than believing him to be truthful, I wrote up an agreement giving him £3000 in lieu of the living. He had already received £1000 after the reading of my Father's will and I gave him an additional £500 for the cottage and covered the funeral costs when his Mother departed this world a week later. I thought our acquaintance was then at an end. I was wrong.
Upon her death, Mrs. Wickham disclosed one thing that set off many years of adversity, debt, and cruel use of innocents. She told her son that he was not a "Wickham", that he was in fact a "Darcy". The agreement stated that she could not disclose to Wickham that he was Jonathan Darcy's child but said nothing about disclosing his true last name without revealing the true father's identity. Wickham naturally took her to imply that he was, in fact, the son of my own Father. Wickham was enraged. He was almost a year my elder which, in his understanding, made him the rightful heir to Pemberley and its fortunes. He felt he had been cheated due to illegitimacy. Before approaching me, Wickham went to London and hired a solicitor to ensure his rights as heir would be acknowledged. I did not feel it wise to divulge the identity of Wickham's father so I made an agreement with the solicitor that I would provide proof to a well-known and reputable source, agreed on by both parties, that Wickham was not the son of George Darcy and this person could then advise the solicitor on whether or not Wickham had a legitimate claim. We agreed on a neutral source that could be trusted to be discrete and, less than a fortnight later, Wickham's claim was dismissed.
Regardless of proof offered, Wickham still felt cheated. He accused me of paying off our "so called neutral source" to protect my inheritance. I refused to succumb to his threats and admonishments but took care to increase the guard around Pemberley and Darcy House for almost a year after. Over time I began to relax my guard believing that Wickham was no longer a threat. I could not have been more wrong.
At the age of fifteen I decided to remove my sister, Georgiana, from school and set up an establishment for her in town. I hired for her a companion named Mrs. Young who came with references I was most deceived in. She was in my employ for six months when she recommended that a trip to Ramsgate might be beneficial to Georgiana's art instruction. A well-known master of seascape art was applied to and accepted Georgiana as his student. Being a busy time at Pemberley, I advised my sister and her companion that I would not be able to join them for at least a month. At first Georgiana wrote at least twice each week full of excitement over the scenery and her lessons. After the third week, I could tell that there was something troubling my sister that she did not feel comfortable expressing in a letter. It was nothing in what she said but more in what she did not. I think that you can understand what I mean. I worked hard to complete the most urgent business and decided to journey to Ramsgate a week early and surprise my sister.
When I arrived at the house I leased for Georgiana's use I was informed that she and Mrs. Young were out. Anxious to see my sister I asked if anyone might know the direction they had gone so that I might meet up with them. It was then that I was informed that they had left with "our dear friend Mr. Wickham" who had been a frequent visitor of my sister. I left immediately in the direction given and came upon my sister sitting quite alone with Wickham on a blanket by the sea. I dispatched Wickham, found Mrs. Young and demanded that she prepare to depart my residence immediately and returned Georgiana to the house to question her thoroughly. Unable or unwilling to lie to me, she openly confessed that Mr. Wickham had declared his most devoted love for her and asked her to marry him. Thinking herself in love, she had accepted his proposal. Upon her acceptance, Wickham told Georgiana that he would go immediately to ask me for her hand. He returned shortly to her side with the "sad news" that I had refused him. He convinced my sister that I was jealous of her affections towards him just as I had always been jealous that our Father loved him better. He begged her to elope with him telling her that I would come to accept their marriage in time. Again, she agreed. I had arrived only a day prior to their anticipated departure.
I tried to convince Georgiana that Wickham never approached me and told her that I would have refused if he had. I explained that I was not jealous of Wickham but that he was not a man to be trusted, respected, or admired. She called me a liar and vowed to run away with him if I would not allow them to marry. I cannot begin to express the depth of pain her words caused me. I decided that the only way I could convince her of Wickham's true character would be for her to hear him refute his declaration of love first hand. I called Mrs. Young to my study and advised her that if she wished to gain her last wages then she would find Wickham and bring him to me for a discussion of the marriage contract. Wickham, thinking he had won, readily agreed to accompany her.
I told Georgiana that I would agree to the marriage if, and only if, Wickham convinced me of his sincerity. I asked her to hide herself behind a closet door and not allow Wickham to know she was observing our meeting. I told her that I wanted his words to come without knowledge of her presence but, as she could not trust my word over his, I wanted her to know what was discussed. She agreed to these conditions only if I would agree to offer my apologies to her, Mr. Wickham and Mrs. Young upon learning the truth of the matter. With a heavy heart, I agreed. Wickham arrived wearing a smug expression and full of arrogance. He plopped down in a seat in front of the desk I was using and began making demands before I even uttered a greeting. He told me that he would release my sister from their engagement if I would agree to pay him the £10,000 set aside for her dowry. I asked him if he loved Georgiana and he denied his love in a very insulting manner toward my sister. It was only the knowledge that she was listening that kept me from violence at his insults of her. I refused Wickham's demands and asked him to leave my sight. In his arrogant assurance of my sister's devotion, he stated that he would just take Georgiana to Gretna Greene and there would be nothing I could do to stop him for she believed his word over that of mine. I then informed him that she was listening to our conversation and would never believe his lies again. Wickham lost his temper spouting vulgarities against me and my sister. He threatened to ruin her reputation by tales of their being left alone quite often and of her agreeing to elope with him. I made a counter offer of an additional £3000 to what I had already given him in the past for his agreement to never speak of his time at Ramsgate to anyone. He accepted the payment, signed the agreement and left my sister in misery.
I dismissed Mrs. Young after paying her the wages she was due and reminding her that she had signed a privacy agreement upon employment. I let her know that I would not think twice about having her jailed should I hear any remarks made against my sister. I don't believe there are words to express the grief my sister suffered. Not only was her heart broken by Wickham but she had said things to me that could never be unsaid. I tried to reassure her of my continued love and respect for her but it seemed that everything I did only made her weep more. I contacted Colonel Fitzwilliam and asked for his advice and, together, we found Mrs. Annesley who is Georgiana's current companion. Needless to say, her references were given more scrutiny than the references of the King's own guard. Mrs. Annesley suggested that Georgiana be given time and space to come to terms with not only the injuries she had sustained but with those she had inflicted. I was against this decision but Richard agreed it was best so that is when I left for Netherfield with Mr. Bingley.
I had no future dealings with Wickham until that day in Meryton when I came upon him in the company of you and your sisters. I feared being able to keep my temper in check so I left abruptly but did not immediately return to Netherfield. Instead, I commissioned an express rider and sent a note to the Colonel regarding Wickham's presence in town and of his enlistment. My cousin hired a man to work undercover to keep Wickham from running up too many debts or being a danger to the ladies of your village. I will not bore you with the details of our surveillance of Wickham but I did want you to know that I was not allowing him to take advantage of anyone through my silence on his character. I felt it would only make him desperate if he was openly challenged so I made sure he was watched and any mischief he created could be counteracted behind his very back. This is all I have to say on the subject of George Wickham.
The third offense I have committed is the hardest for me to address. You accused me of pride, arrogance, lack of feeling for others and ungentlemanly behavior. On all counts you were correct. When I left the parsonage last evening I was blinded by anger and frustration. My Cousin had come looking for me at the request of our Aunt and I literally ran right into him. I must stop to ask your forgiveness for discussing affairs of such a private nature with someone outside of their knowledge but I was in anguish and could not hide that from Richard. He has always been like a brother to me and he would not let me suffer in silence. I told him everything that had occurred from the first moment I laid eyes upon you until I practically ran from the parsonage. I must admit that I was not prepared for the revelations he imparted upon me.
He laughed at me. Can you believe that? He then sat me down and lectured to me for over an hour. I will, again, not bore you with the details but give you a summary of what he said. He let me know that you were completely correct in refusing me after I had so thoroughly insulted you and most everyone you hold dear. He reminded me that your Mother was no different than any mother of the Ton who put her girls out on the marriage mart every season. He, also, reminded me that your Mother actually had more cause to desire a respectable match for her girls than the Mothers of our social circle since there are five of you and your home and future are not guaranteed. He then asked me if I recalled that Lady Catherine is part of our family and we have more to be ashamed of in her alone than most people have in their entire ancestral line. He asked me how I could bring up the impropriety and silliness of your younger sisters when my own sister had come very close to ruining herself and our entire family less than a year ago. The shame that came over me in that instance was great. It was as if I had been walking through the world with blinders on and suddenly had them jerked off. He, lastly, reminded me that the Darcy name required no connections or wealth to be brought in by marriage. He pointed out that my best friend was the son of a tradesman and still held stocks in the factories his father had managed. He, also, stated that the only family duty I should concern myself with would be making a happy home for me and my sister.
I knew that my Cousin was correct in all he said and I knew that I could not leave Kent without, first, apologizing and, second, letting you know that I am taking your reproofs to heart. I have no hope that you will change your opinion of me as a potential husband but I cannot live knowing you are in this world and thinking ill of me. I do not write this letter in hopes that you will change your answer to my proposal but I implore you to not hate me. I value your regard above everyone else and I beg for nothing more than your respect.
I have been writing now for hours and the sun is already making its way above the horizon. There is so much more that I wish to say but soon this letter will be thicker than the book I plan to conceal it in. So I will close with only this….
God Bless You… F.D.
As Elizabeth finished the letter it felt as if she was waking from a dream. She knew not if it was good or bad but everything around her suddenly seemed so different than when she had first set out upon her walk. Several hours had passed since she left the parsonage and many tears had been shed. She still was unsettled and unsure of what she felt about all that was disclosed in the letter but she knew she must put it all aside and return before Charlotte became worried for her safety.
As the remaining days of her Hunsford visit passed by, Elizabeth reread Mr. Darcy's letter several times. Now that she had her emotions under good regulation, she was able to admit to herself that she never really knew the man with the dark hair and intense stare. She knew that her vanity had colored her impression of Mr. Darcy from the start of their acquaintance but she never realized how much until this moment. She now understood that his comment about her being "not tolerable enough to tempt" him was made under the duress. If being in a room full of strangers who were making no attempt to hide their assessment of his worth wasn't enough to make him uncomfortable, he was still trying to deal with the strong emotions connected to the situation involving his sister and Mr. Wickham.
From that moment on, Elizabeth realized, it was she and not Mr. Darcy who was looking only to find fault. Had she not allowed her pride to blind her then she would have surely seen what an honorable man stood before her. She had not deluded herself into believing him to be completely without fault, but she now understood that there was a lot more good to this man than negative. Looking back to the times they spent in conversation, she could only regret the wasted opportunity to truly test his intellect and discover the depth of his personality.
Not being of a melancholy personality, Elizabeth was determined to enjoy the last of her visit with Charlotte. It wasn't until the carriage left the parsonage lane and headed to London that her mood became low. While she walked the parks and trails around Rosings, it was as if a piece of Mr. Darcy remained behind with her. Now with the miles growing between her and those memories, she suddenly felt a strange sensation building in the center of her chest. It took her until their first rest stop to realize that what the feeling was…. she missed Mr. Darcy.
Posted on: 2011-06-07
So it was with conflicting emotions that Elizabeth arrived at her Uncle's house on Gracechurch Street. She was happy to soon be reunited with her beloved sister, Jane, but sadly missing her time with the quiet man who had so thoroughly invaded her thoughts. She had barely left the carriage before being engulfed in a surprisingly exuberant hug by Jane. Elizabeth could not help but laugh at the abundance of emotion coming from her normally stoic sister.
"I am so happy you are here Lizzy!" confided Jane.
"As am I." stated the refined, slightly older woman coming down the steps of the modest, yet stylish, home.
"Aunt Mattie! I have missed you as well!" Elizabeth hugged her much loved Aunt before being ushered inside to a comfortable parlor for tea. Elizabeth looked around as she removed her bonnet and gloves and realized how, though the furnishings had not changed, everything seemed so different. She tried to put her finger on what made everything seem so altered but could not pinpoint anything specifically. She had always considered herself as at home in her Uncle's house as she did at Longbourn; but, she now felt that she no longer belonged here …or anywhere else, for that matter. She pushed those thoughts and feelings aside to spend time with her aunt and sister.
"Oh Lizzy, you must tell us everything that has happened since you were gone. Your descriptions of Rosings and of Lady Catherine were amusing but I am sure that you left out much detail. And Charlotte, you must tell us how Charlotte and our Cousin are. Is the parsonage all that you imagined?" inquired Jane.
"First I must find out what Aunt Mattie has been putting in your tea, Jane, for I do not know that I have ever heard you so expressive" laughed Elizabeth. Jane blushed and their Aunt beamed at the playful banter of her two favorite nieces.
"I am just excited to be reunited once again" remarked Jane with a pleased smile. Elizabeth spent the next hour telling a much edited version of her visit to Hunsford. She had already decided to be completely honest with Jane about everything that happened and everything she had learned in Kent, but she wanted to wait until they had time to talk in depth and in private.
As if sensing Elizabeth's thoughts, Madelyn Gardiner suggested that Jane escort her sister upstairs to rest a few hours until time for their Uncle to be home. The two ladies linked arms and made their way to a pleasant room with blue and yellow wallpaper that was so pretty it made Elizabeth sigh every time she entered the room.
"I wish I could cut this room from the house and take it with me everywhere I go" remarked Elizabeth. "It reminds me of walking out onto a cliff where the clouds are so close you can almost touch them."
Jane helped Elizabeth change her dress and the two sisters made themselves comfortable on the bed.
"Are you very tired Lizzy?" asked Jane.
"Not very. So much has happened, Jane, and I want to tell you all. However, I first want to hear about you. You have changed while I was away. What brought this about?"
"Aunt Mattie" smiled Jane. "She has been so wonderful to me, Lizzy. She and Uncle Edward have both been so patient and gracious. I was disappointed by Mr. Bingley; but, being cut by Caroline hurt me deeply. Other than my sisters, I have never had a close friend the way you have always had Charlotte. Having been dismissed so easily by someone I thought was a friend made me feel boring and unworthy."
"Don't Lizzy" said Jane when she noticed her sister was about to argue in her defense. "I am not saying I feel that way now, but I did then. Aunt Mattie picked up on this without me telling her how I felt and she began taking me to her charity meetings and introducing me to her friends. It was there I made the acquaintance of Miss Cassie Jamison. She is such a sweet lady and we have enjoyed each other's company many times over the last few weeks. She knows the Bingleys, Lizzy. We have not discussed them often but she is aware of my disappointment and has helped me see that my heart was not very deeply touched. I cannot wait for you to meet her. I know that you will be great friends."
"She already has my undying devotion just for helping you smile again my Jane" said Elizabeth reaching out to hug her sister and allowing a lone tear of relief to escape before reeling in her emotions once again.
"Now" stated Jane emphatically, "tell me all about Kent."
Elizabeth gave a detailed account of her time in Kent, including those specifics she feared may be painful to Jane. She allowed her sister to read Mr. Darcy's letter and gave her time to deal with the emotions it evoked before trying to speak.
"Jane, are you well?"
"Do not fear for me Lizzy. I held Mr. Bingley in great esteem and find the reasoning behind his behavior somewhat disconcerting, yet it is neither my nor his situation that touches me so. Mr. Darcy's love for you must be deeply felt …and his pain. We both knew from Miss Bingley that he took on a great amount of responsibility at a very early age but I had no knowledge of the weight he carried upon himself while in Hertfordshire. The poor man."
"You are too good Jane."
"Don't mock me Lizzy. I know that you cannot be untouched by his letter. You said that you could not accept his proposal because you did not respect him. Has that changed?"
Elizabeth took a moment to think on the question. "I am not really sure. I still do not regret refusing Mr. Darcy, for his manner was insulting and he gave me no reason, at the time, to think anything but ill of him. I don't love him, Jane. Yet, I feel as if I am just now beginning to really know him. I believe what has changed in me is that I would like to take the time to know him now. Only our acquaintance seems to have come to an end so there IS no time left to know him the way I would like. Ironic is it not."
Elizabeth turned to look out the window but Jane saw the distress in her sister's eyes.
"There is something more Lizzy. What is it?" asked Jane.
"His anguish Jane. It pulls at me. He seemed so broken in his letter, pleading with me to "not hate him." The pain in his eyes when he left the parsonage haunts my dreams. I do not know how I can go on without at least letting him know that I am sorry for the mistakes I made about his character …without letting him know that I do, now, have the respect for him that he so earnestly besought. But there is no opportunity left to talk to him. How will he ever know that I have changed my opinion of him? How can I live with the guilt of defaming him based on the lies of a man I barely knew and my own bruised vanity?"
Jane crossed the room and wrapped her arms about her sister. "I have no answers in this moment but we will find a way to relieve your conscience and Mr. Darcy's mind. For now, I believe it is time to go down for dinner. We will give it thought and discuss it again tonight. Agreed?"
"Agreed" vowed Elizabeth.
Elizabeth enjoyed the dinner with her family. Her Aunt and Uncle, being interesting and intellectual people, always had stimulating conversation and observations to make. She spent a great deal of the night debating current events with her Uncle then laughing at the stories being told by her Aunt. She could always count on these relations to lift her spirits without invading her privacy. How she loved them so.
She was sitting at her vanity table brushing out her hair when a soft knock was heard on her door and Jane peeked in to see if she was still awake.
"May I come in Lizzy?"
"Of course. Let me braid my hair then we will talk."
Elizabeth finished her hair, gathered her shawl about her shoulders, and went to sit on the bed with her sister. She noticed that Jane looked slightly anxious yet had a small smile playing about her lips.
"I must say Jane; you look like you are getting ready to create some sort of mischief. I know that I must be mistaken in my assessment for you have never been one to involve yourself in mischief of any sort. Our Mother's nerves would not have survived two daughters like me" laughed Elizabeth.
"I have thought of a way to solve your dilemma, Lizzy. It may breech the bounds of propriety but I do think that Mr. Darcy can be trusted to be discreet and I do believe that it will bring comfort to both of you."
Elizabeth was slightly startled at Jane's pronouncement. She was certain that her sister intended to suggest that she visit Mr. Darcy at his townhouse before leaving London. She appreciated Jane's confidence in Mr. Darcy's character and her conviction to helping relieve her guilt; but, she knew that visiting an unattached gentleman of no relation was a great enough break in propriety that even she could not attempt it.
"I am sorry Jane but I cannot go to Mr. Darcy. If found out, it could be damaging to not only me but our entire family. I have no doubt of Mr. Darcy's discretion but I cannot say the same of anyone who might see me enter. I imagine his servants are trustworthy but there may be other's about. "
Jane just stared at her sister for a moment then broke out in a fit of giggles. The more Elizabeth sighed and huffed over Jane's amusement, the harder her sister laughed. Finally unable to take it anymore, Elizabeth began to laugh herself. It was several minutes before the sisters were able to quell their mirth.
"Oh Lizzy! How could you think I would suggest you seek out Mr. Darcy in his home? At my friend Cassie's suggestion, I am trying to be livelier and enjoy things more; but even I would never suggest something so very wild."
"I am sorry Jane" sighed Elizabeth. "I guess the thought jumped into my head because I feel almost desperate enough to try that very thing. So my "lively" sister, what was your suggestion going to be?"
"Write to him Lizzy."
"What?!" exclaimed Elizabeth jumping up to pace beside the bed. "How would that even be possible? I could not give a letter to our Uncle addressed to a man and ask him to post it for me. Even if we took the letter to be posted ourselves, someone might remark on the address. I suppose we could say the letter was from our Uncle but that would seem odd to the postmaster who knows our Uncle sends Tommy with the mail. And suppose we were able to get the letter to Mr. Darcy, do you not think that it would raise false hopes in him? Jane, how could this even be possible?"
Elizabeth began to pace faster the more she rambled and Jane waited patiently for her to calm herself.
"Lizzy, listen to me."
Elizabeth took in several deep breaths and sat back down on the bed next to her sister.
"You said that Mr. Darcy sent the letter he wrote to you concealed in a book. Could you not write back to him and conceal the letter in that same book? We could then tell our Aunt that you failed to return Mr. Darcy's book to him before leaving Kent and ask if we might have Tommy take it to him here in London."
"What of his expectations, Jane?" asked Elizabeth.
"He was open and honest with you in his letter and you must be the same to him in yours. Let him know at the beginning that you have not changed your answer to his proposal but be open and frank about your thoughts and feelings since he left Rosings."
"I don't know Jane. What if he is not even in London? What if the book sits on his desk for months or the letter is discovered by a maid while dusting his desk? It is a big risk to take."
"Then we shall just have to minimize the risk. We will wrap the book in brown paper and give Tommy explicit instructions to leave the package with no one but the intended recipient" strategized Jane.
"Do you not think that would cause a lot of suspicions? If it is just a book being returned, would I really care if it was left in the hands of his butler or housekeeper?"
Jane thought for a moment and replied, "We will tell Tommy that Mr. Darcy is a very wealthy man and the book is quite valuable so we do not wish to take a chance on it getting misplaced. It is not exactly a lie, Lizzy. I am sure the book will be very valuable to Mr. Darcy if he knows what it contains. Tommy will understand and not question our motives."
"What have you done with my real sister?"
Elizabeth and Jane began to laugh again and spent a long while going back over their plan. Jane retired to her room and left Elizabeth with the task of writing a letter to a man she barely knew but could not stop thinking about. She was so happy at the positive changes in her sister and felt more at ease than she had in a long time. But she could not put it off any longer and sat down to begin her letter.
The next morning at breakfast Elizabeth asked her Uncle if he could spare Tommy for about an hour to run an errand on her behalf. When asked what kind of errand she required, Elizabeth explained that Mr. Darcy had loaned her a book while in Kent and she still had it in her possession. She told her Uncle that she was afraid that the book was quite valuable to Mr. Darcy and she wanted to make sure it was returned to him while she had the opportunity. Never before having a reason to doubt his niece, Mr. Gardiner agreed to her plan.
Elizabeth called for Tommy after retrieving the book from her room. She had wrapped it in brown paper and tied a string about it to keep anyone from being able to peek inside. She told Tommy that the book was of great value to its owner so he should not release it into the care of anyone but the intended recipient. By the time Tommy was on his way across town, Elizabeth's nerves were on edge and she had a moment of sympathy with her poor Mother.
She came into the morning room to sit with her Aunt and Jane but could not concentrate on the book she held in her hands. She put it away and picked up her needlepoint only to stare into space for long periods of time and accomplish nothing.
Fearing their Aunt might get suspicious of her sister's behavior, Jane suggested that they take a walk in the small park across from the Gardiner's residence. Their Aunt agreed as long as they were accompanied by a footman and did not stay long. The Gardiners lived in a relatively safe neighborhood but it was still too dangerous for a lady to walk about without protection. So the two sisters gathered their outerwear and asked Marley to attend them to the park.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was out but the temperature was still rather mild and the flowers in the park were all in bloom. The scent of the flowers overpowered the stench of the business district close by and Elizabeth was finally able to breathe. She did not understand why she was so nervous over the letter she had written. She trusted Tommy not to leave the package with anyone but Mr. Darcy so why did she feel like her entire future was hanging in the balance?
They had only just made the half-turn when Elizabeth noticed a tall gentleman wearing a red coat approaching them in long strides. She looked back and saw that Marley had seen the man, as well, and was moving around them to put himself between the unknown man and the sisters. After only a few more paces, Elizabeth became aware that this was not a stranger approaching but was, in fact, Colonel Fitzwilliam. She caught the devoted footman's attention and let him know that all was well. Marley retreated but stayed close at hand, just in case he was needed.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam! I am greatly surprised at seeing you here. I thought that you had rejoined your regiment after leaving Kent" stated Elizabeth a little nervously. She wondered if Mr. Darcy was appalled at her writing to him and had sent the letter back by his cousin. Or, even worse, what if he was at her Uncle's house even now and had sent the Colonel to find her. Elizabeth did not feel she was ready to face Mr. Darcy yet.
"You are correct, Miss Bennet. My regiment is camped outside London and it is my duty to assist in the training maneuvers. Still recovering from injuries obtained in His Majesties service gives me a little flexibility in the amount of time I actually spend on the training field and allows me to occupy more time with family in town" explained the Colonel.
"I am sorry Colonel, I was not aware that your injuries were so severe. I was told of your injuries by Lady Catherine who was sure you would recover rather quickly for she had taken it upon herself to advise you on the proper care of wounds" laughed Elizabeth.
The Colonel laughed heartily and replied, "I am well on my way to recovery. I shall be healed properly and facing down Bonaparte in no time at all."
"I think I would prefer you to stay injured!" exclaimed Jane. Realizing that she had spoken aloud, Jane was mortified. She covered her face but could not hide the blush that was already moving down her neck.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked over at the blushing lady and smiled. Elizabeth realized that, in her anxiety, she had forgotten to introduce Jane and the Colonel. Now it seemed that Jane was embarrassed at the remark she inadvertently made and Elizabeth was unsure how to proceed.
Sensing their unease, Colonel Fitzwilliam made a gallant bow to Jane. He reached up and removed her hands from her face and kissed the back of each. "I am deeply touched by your concern for my welfare fair lady. Might I have the honor of your name so that I may keep it close to give me strength as I ride off towards my fate."
Even in her embarrassed state, Jane could not help laughing at the antics put on by the Colonel. With everyone now at ease, Elizabeth made the introduction.
"May I introduce my elder sister, Miss Jane Bennet? Jane, this is Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam who is a cousin to Mr. Darcy."
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Colonel" stated Jane. "To what may we owe the pleasure of your company?"
The Colonel smiled. He had never met such charming yet unassuming ladies as the Miss Bennets. In his opinion, his cousin was an utter fool if he did not beg Miss Elizabeth for her forgiveness and her hand.
The trio had begun walking back to toward the Gardiner's house as they spoke. "I was having breakfast with my cousin, Georgiana, when your footman arrived with a package for Darcy. I could tell by the shape that it was a book and assumed it was the very one that was loaned to you in Kent" explained the Colonel. He lifted his brow slightly to question the accuracy of his assertion and Elizabeth nodded in agreement. "I informed the lad that my cousin was not at home but assured him that I would put the parcel into his hands myself at the earliest convenience. He explained to me that he had specific instructions to give the package only to Mr. Darcy. Therefore, I suggested that I accompany him back to your residence where I could seek your permission to intercept the package on my cousin's behalf."
"Thank you, Colonel" smiled Elizabeth. "I know that the book is quite important to Mr. Darcy and it contains information that he might be interested in reading, again, so I wanted to make sure it got to him safely."
The Colonel's eyes brightened at this bit of information. He was sure that the package contained more than just the book he had left with Miss Elizabeth upon departing Kent and was glad that he followed his instincts to come here.
"My cousin is currently out of London assisting a friend with a drainage problem. As exciting as that seems" quipped the Colonel while rolling his eyes and causing giggles from both ladies, "I am sure that he would be most pleased to have that book returned and I am sure it would help him greatly with the situation he is currently dealing with. If you would trust me, Miss Elizabeth, I can guarantee you that the book will reach my cousin safely."
"Thank you, again, Colonel. I have the utmost trust in your ability to carry out this very important mission" stated Elizabeth in the most serious tone she could muster. Then, unable to resist, she added "As long as you are not required to stay atop your horse for very long."
The Colonel threw back his head with a bark of laughter. He wasn't sure until that moment whether or not his Aunt had disclosed that exact location of his battle wound but it would appear that she had held back nothing in the description of her nephew's service to the King. The Colonel glanced from Miss Elizabeth to her lovely sister and could see the glint of humor in Miss Bennet's eyes. Apparently Miss Elizabeth had not spared his dignity either. This only made him laugh harder.
It was in good humor that they returned to the Gardiner's home only to find another visitor had arrived. A very pretty young woman was sitting in the parlor talking with Mrs. Gardiner when the trio entered. Jane immediately crossed the room to give the lady an affectionate hug then turned to introduce her friend to the Colonel and her sister. But before she could proceed, Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped forward to place a kiss on the lady's cheek in greeting.
"Richard! What on earth brings you here?" asked the lady, obviously pleased to see him.
"It is good to see you as well, Cassie" teased the Colonel. "I am here on a commission for my cousin Darcy. It involves one of his precious books so you know it comes before King and Country." Both guests laughed and Jane intervened.
"As it seems you already know the Colonel, may I introduce you to my sister, Elizabeth? Elizabeth, this is Miss Cassie Jamison."
"What a pleasure to finally meet you Miss Elizabeth. I have heard so much about you from Jane and your Aunt. I feel as if I already know you" smiled Miss Jamison.
"It is a pleasure Miss Jamison. I am very pleased with the changes I have noted in my sister since my return from Kent and I am told that you are partly responsible. That highly recommends you in my eyes" Elizabeth laughed.
The Colonel wondered about that statement. He knew that Miss Bennet was the lady Bingley had supposedly disappointed but she seemed not to be disheartened. Could it be that she is only just recovering from her heart break? He would have to ask Darcy about Miss Bennet's character as he knew her in Hertfordshire.
Donning a conspiratorial smile, the Colonel said "Don't let her fool you Miss Elizabeth. Cassie is quite dangerous and you must always be on guard in her presence."
"Richard! You will have Miss Elizabeth thinking the worst of me. Pay him no mind, Miss Elizabeth, for he cannot be trusted to utter more than a single truth in a sitting"
Everyone laughed at the playful banter between the two but Jane could not resist asking, "How is it that the two of you know each other? I have not heard you mention the Colonel before, Cassie."
"Miss Bennet" began the Colonel in a serious voice, "Cassie is my cousin on my Mother's side. She is, also, the first person to try and scar my handsome face."
"Richard, would you hush! Had you not thrown that worm in my hair, I would not have thrown that stick at your nose. So it is your fault that your somewhat pleasant-looking visage has been marred."
The two cousins carried on for several more minutes while those around them enjoyed their playful manners. It was easy to see that the Colonel must get his humor from his Mother's side of the family for the characters of the two guests were much alike. Elizabeth wondered if the Colonel's father was more reserved like Mr. Darcy.
"Colonel, I was just musing that you must get your disposition from your Mother. Is your father a jovial man?"
The Colonel smiled widely. "Not at all, Miss Elizabeth. Should you put my father and Darcy in the same room, you would swear that they were father and son. They have the same color hair and eyes, are about the same height, and their manners could not be more similar. Should you ever desire to see what my cousin will look like in the future, you only have to look at my father."
"Based on knowing how reserved Mr. Darcy is, it is hard for me to believe that your father would marry someone as lively as your Mother must be" said Elizabeth more to herself than those sitting around her.
"My Mother is full of energy and good humor. But she is also full of independence and passion. One minute she may be teasing my father and the next she may be yelling at him. But my father takes it all in for he thinks my Mother is a gift from God. Like Darcy, he has a sense of humor but it is a bit on the dry side. You have to cajole him a little and then pay attention or you might miss his wit. He can look foreboding but be quite funny at the same time. My parents complement each other and share a deep affection that is rare among our social circle. My brother, sister and I were lucky to grow up in such a home."
Elizabeth was unsure, but she thought the Colonel might be trying to convey more than just his impression of his parents. Would she be able to complement Mr. Darcy? He seems so intense and serious all the time that she wondered if he even knew how to be playful. She never realized before this moment that it was important to her that her future husband have, at least a little, playfulness about him.
Elizabeth realized that the Colonel had stood to leave so she immediately excused herself from the room to retrieve Mr. Darcy's book. As she returned to the parlor, she heard the Colonel offer his congratulations to Miss Jamison on her recent engagement.
"I am all astonishment that you were able to get Wesley to propose. Did you break his nose in coercion?" joked the Colonel.
Cassie retorted by saying, "Unlike some in our family, I do not require coercion or strategy to obtain a marriage partner. Wesley loves me just as I am. He practically lit up the night when I accepted his hand. Speaking of which, I have come today to try and persuade Jane and Miss Elizabeth to delay their journey home for at least another week. My parents are hosting an engagement dinner for family and friends on Tuesday next and I would so love it Jane if you, your sister and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner would attend."
"We would not want to intrude on a family affair" answered Jane.
"Nonsense! My parents will be inviting their friends. Some of which I would rather not have in attendance. I would be so happy to know that you are there with me Jane. I want you to meet my intended. He is anxious to meet you, as well."
Miss Jamison turned to the Colonel, "Richard will be there, too. Will you not cousin?"
"When have I ever turned down a free meal?" inquired the Colonel.
"I shall talk it over with my Uncle when he returns home then write to my father. I should be able to let you know for certain in a couple of days" remarked Jane.
"Then it is surly settled" exclaimed Miss Jamison.
"If you are to stay in town longer than planned, perhaps we all might be able to take in a play at the end of this week. Darcy keeps a large box and often encourages me to use it in his absence. What say you, Mrs. Gardiner?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"I will speak to my husband, Colonel, but it sounds delightful."
The Colonel stated that he must be returning to the regiment and was escorted to the door by Elizabeth. He reassured her once more that he would guarantee Mr. Darcy receive the book as soon as possible, and then took his leave.
Darcy stood at the window watching the twinkling of the stars. "I wonder if Elizabeth is looking at them this very moment, too." He recalled that she should be departing London either tomorrow or the next day. He knew he was being a coward by taking refuge at his friend's house just outside of London but he did not think he could be in the city right now knowing she was close by but so far away from him.
He was startled from his thoughts by a quick knock at his dressing room door.
The door opened to show a man of advancing age with a rugged face, yet kind eyes, enter the room.
"I am sorry to disturb you Sir but a package from Colonel Fitzwilliam has arrived with a message to give it to you immediately."
"Thank you Boswick. Just leave it on the table. That will be all for the night."
"Very good Sir." Mr. Darcy's valet turned to leave the room with a concerned look on his face. He had served in the Darcy household since he was old enough to walk. He took over as young Mr. Darcy's valet very near twenty years ago and had always held a soft spot for the lonely boy who had grown into the lonely man standing by the window. In all those years he had never seen his master so low, so he said a prayer each night that love and peace would touch his master's heart.
Darcy turned from the window to eye the package left on the table. Had something been wrong with Georgiana or another family member, Richard would have sent an express not a package that appears to be in the shape of a book. The package was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. There was a note tucked behind the string on the front.
Darcy took the candle from the window and carried it to a table near the fireplace. He retrieved the package and sat down in an overstuffed chair to see what his cousin thought was so important.
He pulled out the note from behind the string and recognized Richard's handwriting. He broke the seal and read:
A footman showed up at your house yesterday bearing this package. He would not release it to anyone but you, so I was forced to go across town and get permission from the sender to intercept it on your behalf. I would normally invade your stock of brandy to take payment for services rendered; but considering I got to spend a delightful morning with two charming ladies, we will call things paid in full.
Come home, Will.
Your concerned cousin,
Darcy's heart stopped. Could Richard mean that he retrieved this book from Elizabeth? He heard Elizabeth tell his Aunt that she would be meeting her sister, Jane, in London and spending a few days with her Aunt and Uncle before returning to Longbourn. Could Elizabeth and Miss Bennet be the two ladies Richard had spent time with? A sudden wave of jealousy coursed through Darcy but he quickly brought it under control. He had counted up the travel time and figured that Elizabeth would be in London now and likely leaving for Hertfordshire in the next day or so.
Might this be the very book he used to conceal his letter to her? He had hoped that she would keep the book. It was his favorite and he carried it often when he traveled. He wanted to leave that small part of him with her. If it was that very book, why would Richard send it here? Could he not have left it at Darcy House?
Darcy realized that the answer to all his questions lay beneath the brown paper in his lap. Yet he was fearful to open the package. He was beginning to hope that Elizabeth used to book to send him a message and he did not want to be disappointed. How would he bear it if there was nothing but the book inside the wrapping? Would he be able to touch the cover of his beloved book knowing that she had run her small, delicate fingers across its top?
Taking a sip of his wine, Darcy steeled himself and used his small pocket knife to cut the string. He carefully unwrapped the paper and sighed as he looked down on the book that had been revealed. It was not his favorite book. Instead he held a book of poetry by William Wordsworth. He enjoyed the man's verses and had a copy of this very book at Pemberley. He carefully examined the book on both sides and felt his breath hitch as his fingers ran across the inside of the back cover. There was something there. He carefully inserted his fingers beneath and pulled out a letter with his name elegantly written on the back.
Darcy could not believe it. She had written back to him. What could this mean? Did she change her mind regarding his proposal? Did she write to ask him to desist in contacting her? Whatever the content be, Darcy could not help the slight smile that graced his lips just seeing his name written in her elegant hand.
He took another sip of wine to settle his nerves then turned the missive over and broke the seal.
I do not write this letter to cause you any additional pain so let me state honestly that I have not written to you with the wish to change my answer to your proposal. You were kind enough to be honest and frank with me in your letter and I hope that you will allow me the same courtesy.
You admitted in your letter that you behaved in a less than gentlemanly way toward me in your proposal and that you have taken my reproofs to heart. It takes a man of great integrity to, not only see the error of his way, but to strive to correct it. I have faith that you will be most successful. I hope that I will be equally so.
Please allow me to apologize to you. First, I apologize for my attitude at our last meeting. There was no excuse for the things I said to you or the manner in which they were spoken. Second, allow me to apologize for my rather vocal defamation of you character. I am ashamed to admit that I made no attempt to hide my former dislike of you from any of my friends or relations. I am truly sorry for my thoughts and actions regarding you from almost the moment we first met.
I heard the remark you made to Mr. Bingley at the Meryton Assembly about me not being "handsome enough to tempt you" to dance. I made a joke of it and laughed about it often among family and friends. But the truth is, I was rather hurt by the remark. Please do not think that I am relating this to cause you more pain; I simply need you to understand what guided my thoughts and actions. I look back at that night, now, and see so many things I was blind to at the time. Had I only looked past your words, I would have seen your pain. I thought you arrogant but now I see that you are rather shy. I thought you proud but now I see that you are rather guarded and I understand why you have to be so. I thought you dissatisfied with our community and my neighbors and now I see that you were low in spirits and simply desired solitude.
For the remainder of our acquaintance I did nothing but purposely provoke you. In reaction to my wounded vanity, I treated you with contempt and a decided lack of respect. I refused to get to know your true character but built an imaginary one based on lies and misconceptions. I look back now and despise the person I was to you. Yet you stated that you ardently admire and love me. How can this be? I honestly do not understand.
You asked me not to hate you. I do not. You asked for my respect. You most emphatically have it. I only wish that I had not wasted the opportunity to get to know you. For, after reading your letter, I realize that I really do not know you at all; but, I think we could have been friends. For those regrets, I have only myself to blame.
I hope that should we ever meet again, it be with smiles and easiness not guilt and a heavy heart. You are good man, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Please accept my hopes and wishes for a happy future.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet
Darcy sat staring at the last lines of Elizabeth's letter for many moments. She thought him a good man and wished him happiness. He knew beyond a doubt that happiness was not possible without Elizabeth in his life. Then he saw that another note was hastily scrawled at the bottom of the page.
Your cousin is downstairs waiting so I write this quickly. I first sent this letter to your house enclosed in the book in which you concealed your letter to me. I had begun reading that book but had not finished by the time I decided to write to you. After the note was dispatched I was sorry not to get a chance to finish the book. Between the time that it first left my Uncle's house and now, my Aunt has invited my sister and me to accompany her and my Uncle to the Lake District later this summer. We will end our tour in the town she grew up in, Lambton. I understand it is very close to Pemberley. I promise to take good care of your book until that time and will find a way to return it to you then. I hope you do not mind.
Mind? He was thrilled. Not only was she reading and enjoying his favorite book, she would be staying very close to Pemberley in only a few months. The book would give him an excuse to see her again. Could that be what she wanted as well? A huge smile graced his face as Mr. Darcy reached over to pull the bell calling his valet.
It was but a moment before there was a knock on his dressing room door.
"You rang Sir?"
"Yes. I am sorry to disturb you after having dismissed you for the night but there has been a change in plans. We will return to London tomorrow. We are going home Boswick."
"Very good Sir. I will make sure all is packed first thing on the morrow. Will there be anything else?"
"That will be all. Good night Boswick" beamed Darcy.
"Good night Sir" replied the valet as he turned to exit the room.
Just as he was closing the door behind him, the elder gentleman smiled and whispered to himself, "It is a good night indeed."
Posted on: 2011-06-13
Elizabeth watched in the reflection of the mirror as her Aunt's maid finished styling her hair. She was excited about getting the chance to see a play while in London. This would not be her or Jane's first time to the theater; but, it would be their first time viewing the play from a box. She could only imagine how much easier it would be to see and hear the stage when not trying to look and hear over the person sitting in front of her.
She wondered how often Mr. Darcy made use of his box. He did not seem the type to hold social gatherings for many friends but she could imagine him going to the theater with Colonel Fitzwilliam or Mr. Bingley and his sisters. What kind of plays did he enjoy? Does he enjoy music? Elizabeth could think of a hundred questions she would like to know the answer to regarding Mr. Darcy. Maybe she could ask Colonel Fitzwilliam about his cousin's preferences.
"There you go Miss. You look right beautiful tonight" observed the maid.
"Thank you Lilly. It is all due to you. I wish our maid at home had your skill with styling hair. You always make me look like a princess" said Elizabeth while smiling at the young maid. Lilly blushed but glowed at the praise as she left the room to check on Jane.
Elizabeth's compliment was honest for she truly felt beautiful tonight. She was wearing her mint green silk gown with the jade green ribbon that ran high on the bodice. Jane said this dress best complimented her eyes and complexion. Lilly had styled her hair into soft curls that cascaded down the back of her neck and were secured with a beautiful green butterfly comb. Her hair pins were topped with tiny white silk roses that shimmered in the fire light. Her Aunt Mattie had loaned her a string of pearls with matching pearl earrings to complete her look.
She reviewed her reflection once more and wondered to herself what Mr. Darcy might think of her appearance tonight. She was almost sorry that he would not be there to see her look her best. The Colonel had stopped by this morning to finalize their plans for the evening. He had subtly informed her that the book and note had been dispatched but he gave no indication of what Mr. Darcy's thoughts on her letter might be. She had asked, in the most unconcerned sounding voice possible, if Mr. Darcy was still out of town. The Colonel had replied that his cousin had not returned to London as of yet. Elizabeth sighed, "It is for the best. I am sure that we are neither ready to meet as indifferent acquaintances."
Hearing the sound of voices below, Elizabeth grabbed her reticule and proceeded down the stairs. She entered the front parlor only to stop suddenly in shock. For there talking to her Uncle was none other than Mr. Darcy. The gentlemen turned at the sound of her gasp and she immediately locked eyes with the man who had so dominated her thoughts of late.
Darcy's morning was not going at all the way he designed. He had planned to arrive at his home in London before luncheon and attempt to find his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. He hoped that Richard would know if Elizabeth was still in town or if she had returned to Longbourn. If she had not left London, it was his intention to pay her a call today at the home of her relations and try to show her that he was attempting to become a man worthy of her. If she had left for Hertfordshire already, he would find a way to contact her again. He did not think he could wait months without some sort of communication.
Yet here he sat in the private dining room of an Inn still outside of London. His carriage had cracked a wheel only a few miles into his journey. He untied his horse from the back of the carriage and decided to ride on to London on horseback. He would stop in the next town and send back help to fix the carriage wheel and his servants could continue on at that time. He had made it to the outskirts of the next town when his horse began to limp. He dismounted and discovered that the horse had nearly lost a shoe. He cursed the wet and rocky path that had undoubtedly been the cause for both the cracked carriage wheel and his horse's injury.
He had not gone far before he found the Inn in which he currently resided. The owner had been more than happy to assist with having his horse seen to and help dispatched to retrieve his carriage. Unfortunately, it would take time to attend to both and he had no option but to wait. He thought about procuring another horse but decided he was too tired and frustrated from the unsuccessful morning to travel safely.
So here he sat brooding. Deciding that he needed some occupation lest he lose his sanity, Darcy asked the owner for some paper and writing implements. Once received, he sat down near the window and began a letter to Elizabeth. She had remarked that she felt she did not know him so he intended to correct that matter post haste.
By the time he had finished his letter and had a light luncheon, his horse was shod and rested. He continued on to London arriving only a half hour earlier than his carriage. He found his sister, Georgiana, in the music room working on a new piece of music he had purchased for her after returning from Rosings. She smiled hesitantly and came forward to greet him.
Darcy could not refrain from feeling helpless when confronted with the proof that his sister still did not feel at ease in his company. Though she no longer broke into sobs when he entered the room, she smiled rarely and hardly spoke in his presence. He took her hands in his and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.
"That piece is coming along beautifully, Georgiana. I am very proud of you" he stated with conviction.
"Thank you Brother" was the only response he received.
"Georgiana, let us sit for moment" he requested as he led her toward the chairs set up beside her harp. "I have missed you while I was away. Won't you tell me how you have been spending your time?"
Georgiana ducked her head and replied, "I have been attending my studies and music. Mrs. Annesley escorted me shopping and Richard has come for breakfast each morning."
"Have you read anything interesting?" he inquired, hoping to open a discussion with her.
He noticed a tear drop onto her clasped hands lying in her lap and was barely able to hear her whispered "No Brother."
Too tired from his journey to attempt any further progress with his sister, Darcy kissed her other cheek and excused himself to wash up. After donning a clean shirt, he asked his valet to send a footman to see if his cousin could be located. He had only an hour to wait before receiving word that Colonel Fitzwilliam was leading practice maneuvers but stopped long enough to pen a note. Darcy opened the folded note and began to read:
Glad to hear you have decided to grace us with your presence again. You could not have chosen a more providential time to show up because we are going to the theater tonight. Dress in your best togs for we will be escorting two very beautiful ladies, their Aunt and Uncle, my cousin Cassie and her fiancé. I plan to make use of a guest room there to ready myself so I will see you early.
Darcy thought his heart might pound right out of his chest. They were taking Elizabeth and her relations to the theater. He would see her again. He would see her in only a matter of hours. He immediately began making preparations, for everything had to be perfect. As he made his way to begin his ablutions, he remembered the letter tucked away in his bedchamber and vowed to find a way to present it to her this evening.
When Richard arrived, he informed Darcy that they would pick up Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their nieces in Gracechurch Street then meet Miss Jamison and her fiancé, Sir Wesley Talton, at the theater. By the time they reached the Gardiner's house, Darcy was ready to pummel his cousin. Richard had teased him about his nervousness and taunted him about his lack of loquaciousness when in the company of a lady with a "pair of fine eyes" the entire carriage ride. He instinctively knew that his cousin was trying to rile him to help abate his anxiety, but it was not helping.
When the carriage came to a halt, he was pleasantly surprised to see that Elizabeth's relations live in a nice home in a clean looking neighborhood. He had been through this part of town before but it had been many years ago. They were let inside and a maid took their hats and gloves and escorted them into a conveniently located parlor on the first floor. Colonel Fitzwilliam was greeted fondly by a fashionable, pleasant-appearing couple who must be the Gardiners.
"Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, may I introduce my cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire? Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are the Uncle and Aunt to the Miss Bennets."
The couple bowed and curtseyed in order. Darcy bowed to each in greeting.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner. I have heard much about you from my cousin."
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Darcy. We have heard much about you from your cousin, as well. Our nieces have explained they first met you in Hertfordshire" stated Mrs. Gardiner.
"That is correct. I was staying with my friend at Netherfield when I first had the pleasure of meeting all your nieces along with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet" conveyed Darcy.
"We are grateful for the invitation to use your box at the theater tonight" added Mr. Gardiner, "for the girls have never viewed a play except from the floor. I am sure this will be a treat for the both of them."
"It's an honor, Mr. Gardiner" began Darcy, but his speech was stalled by a small gasp coming from the doorway to the parlor. He turned toward the sound only to be stunned silent by the sight before him. She was beautiful … his Elizabeth.
Elizabeth could not believe that he was there. He was dressed impressively in his black evening clothes and a lock of hair hung enticingly across his forehead and over his right eye. She had the strangest urge to walk up and smooth his hair back. She imagined his hair would be soft and full between her fingers. She knew not how long they stared at each other, but she was brought back to reality by a discrete cough coming from the direction of Colonel Fitzwilliam.
She turned immediately and curtsied to the Colonel. "It is good to see you again this evening, Colonel. I see you have picked up a stray on your way here" she added in jest as she tried to calm her nerves.
"Good Evening, Miss Elizabeth, may I say you look stunning. I discovered that my cousin had returned to London after I left for the practice fields this morning. I took pity on him and invited him along tonight. Had I known such beauty awaited me here, I might have been selfish enough to leave him behind" smiled the Colonel as everyone laughed.
Elizabeth turned to Mr. Darcy and curtsied again. "Good Evening Mr. Darcy. It is a pleasant surprise to have you join us tonight."
Darcy was so choked up with emotion that he was unsure if he could make his voice work. He bowed and attempted to speak. "The pleasure is mine, Miss Elizabeth, for you are truly radiant this evening" he managed to croak out.
Elizabeth blushed and the Gardiners looked on inquisitively. They had discussed Elizabeth's vehement dislike of Mr. Darcy several times in private, wondering if there were more to their niece's feelings than she was aware of. To them, Jane and Elizabeth had been almost like daughters and they made sure to keep up with what was going on in each of their lives. They were well aware of Elizabeth's propensity to laugh at the foibles of others, but had never known her to be so adamant in her dislike of someone. To them it had seemed that she was anything but indifferent to Mr. Darcy and the look on Elizabeth's face when she entered the parlor only confirmed their suspicions.
Jane entered the parlor and saw Mr. Darcy. She immediately looked to her sister to ascertain that she was not distressed by the gentleman's presence. Elizabeth appeared to be holding up well and was involved in a discussion with Mr. Darcy and their Uncle. Jane turned and saw Colonel Fitzwilliam conversing with her Aunt. He noticed her and smiled and she thought to move in their direction; but, she decided it best if she greeted Mr. Darcy first.
As she approached the group, her Uncle kissed her fondly on the cheek and said, "Jane, you look lovely tonight."
"Thank you Uncle. I am looking forward to this evening." She turned to face Mr. Darcy, "Mr. Darcy, I am pleased to see that you have returned to town and will be joining us."
Mr. Darcy bowed, "It is a pleasure to see you again, Miss Bennet. I arrived after luncheon today and was grateful to receive news that you and your sister had not left for Longbourn yet. I had hoped that I might bring my sister for a call today but my carriage broke a wheel and I arrived later than planned."
"It is a shame we missed the opportunity to meet her. Perhaps you can bring her tomorrow or another day before we leave for home" encouraged Elizabeth.
Darcy could not help the broad smile that appeared at Elizabeth's words. She had given him a reason to see her again before they leave London. "It would be an honor."
The group gathered their hats, gloves, and shawls and set off in Mr. Darcy's large, plush carriage. Elizabeth could not help but admire the soft, cushioned seats and leather trimmings. She knew that Mr. Darcy was wealthy but she had never really paid it much attention before now. She recalled that his manner of dress was always meticulous and of the finest fabrics. She had once seen him bring out a very fine chess set when she was staying at Netherfiled attending Jane and she had heard repeatedly about all the fine furnishing at Pemberley and Darcy House from Miss Bingley. She wondered if she might have been intimidated by the man when she first met him had she not designed to hate him instead. This thought made her laugh.
"Might I ask what amusing thoughts you are contemplating, Miss Elizabeth" asked Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth blushed and tried to come up with an answer for she did not want to tell Mr. Darcy that her hating him had probably been the one thing that kept her from being cowed by him. "I was just musing over the play we are to see. I have read it many times and cannot wait to see how it is interpreted by the players."
The group speculated on the play for many minutes going over what they read and how it might be portrayed differently on stage. As the carriage pulled up to the theater, Jane remarked that she could see Cassie standing with her sister Rebecca at the top of the steps. The gentlemen departed the carriage and assisted the ladies down. Mr. Darcy made sure to be there to take Elizabeth's hand as she made her way out and was encouraged by the smile that was his reward.
Colonel Fitzwilliam offered his arm to Jane and led the party to the top of the stairs where his cousins awaited them. Cassie had arrived at the theater with her sister, Rebecca, Rebecca's husband, Mr. Moore, and her fiancé, Sir Wesley Talton. As she spotted Jane, she came forward with an excited smile to greet her friend.
"Jane, Richard, I am so happy you are here. What an exciting night this shall be." She then turned and greeted the Gardiner's and then Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
"Good Evening Mr. Darcy, I hadn't expected you to join us tonight but I guess we shall make room" teased Miss Jamison.
Darcy responded "Miss Jamison, please forgive me for the uncommon rudeness of attending my own box on such short a notice. I will be sure to send my itinerary over to Radmoor House first thing in the morning so I will not disappoint you with my unexpected appearance in the near future."
Elizabeth was shocked at such a rude response coming from Mr. Darcy. Then she happened to look up to see a slight quirk to his lips and a bit of humor in his eyes. She almost lost her footing when she realized that the serious Mr. Darcy was teasing Miss Jamison back.
This was confirmed when Miss Jamison replied, "Ah William, you and Richard have stayed away from Radmoor too long. How I miss the humor the two of you bring to company."
They made their way to the rest of the group and introductions were made to Miss Jamison's relatives and to Sir Wesley. It was then asked if the Moore's would be joining them but was discovered that they had been invited to sit with some of the Moore family that was also attending. The couple relinquished their chaperoning duties to their Cousin Richard with a stern warning to take the duty seriously and went in search of their seats. So it was a happy party of eight that made their way up the stairs and to the Darcy box.
Darcy's box was large enough to seat twelve people, arranged in three rows of four chairs. Darcy wanted very much to be seated by Elizabeth but, knowing she had never viewed a play from this vantage, gave up his selfish desire to make sure she had the best view. Therefore he seated Elizabeth, Jane, Cassie and Sir Wesley in the front row. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were placed behind Cassie and Sir Wesley, Richard behind Jane and Darcy behind Elizabeth. If he could not sit beside her, he would at least be able to look upon her without bringing too much attention to himself.
Everyone talked excitedly until the musicians signaled that the play was starting. Through the first half of the play, Darcy could do nothing but watch the gambit of emotions that played across Elizabeth's face. She was so beautiful that he could barely contain his desire to reach out and wrap one of the curls at the nape of her neck around his finger. He wondered how his heart did not burst forth from his chest so full it was of love for her.
Darcy was startled from his reflections when everyone began to stand. He realized that intermission had come and he could not remember one thing about the play. He hoped that he was not asked his opinion for he did not have one to give. It was decided that the gentlemen would go retrieve refreshments while the ladies stretched their legs out in the lobby.
Cassie had excused herself to go and greet her brother's family; so the remaining ladies entertained themselves by observing the gentry assembled and remark on their fashions and manners. They turned a corner and suddenly saw a familiar face staring back at them. The ladies all drew in a breath unsure whether to acknowledge this unwelcome individual or to turn around and return to their box. The decision was taken out of their hands when a recognizable voice was heard calling after them.
"Miss Bennet, I am astonished to see you here. Miss Eliza, Mrs. Gardiner, a pleasure I am sure" greeted Miss Bingley with a clear lack of sincerity.
"Miss Bingley, it is a surprise to see you again" simply stated Jane.
"I was not aware that you and your sister were still in town. I guess it is an extravagance for you to get to attend a play. I do hope that the seats on the floor provide you with an adequate view. Perhaps we will meet for tea and I can fill in anything you are unable to see" mocked Miss Bingley.
Elizabeth was about to correct Miss Bingley's assumption in the most polite voice possible while she raged inside but was unable to speak before a deep, obviously angry, voice was heard to reply.
"Miss Bingley, your assistance will not be required as the Miss Bennet's and their relations are guest of mine. As my box is closer than the rented ones, they might better assist you with anything you should happen to miss viewing from such a distance" stated Mr. Darcy with barely contained fury.
Miss Bingley just stared in disbelief as Mr. Darcy handed Elizabeth the punch he had procured for her. Mr. Gardiner and Colonel Fitzwilliam appeared with refreshments for the other two ladies. There was but a moment of silence when the group was approached by another past acquaintance who had noticed Darcy from behind.
"Darcy, I heard it mentioned that you were here. Why did you not tell me….." started Mr. Bingley before noticing Mr. Darcy's other guests. After spotting Jane, he froze, his face turned blood red, and he began looking in all directions as if trying to find a quick escape.
"Bingley" answered Darcy, "I trust you remember Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth."
Mr. Bingley bowed to each lady but was still unable to voice a greeting so Darcy continued. "May I introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Bennet's Uncle and Aunt? Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, this is Mr. Bingley, the friend of mine that had held the lease of Netherfield last fall."
The Gardiner's acknowledged the greeting and Mr. Bingley was able to come out of his stupor enough to bow and express his pleasure at meeting the Gardiners. Then all eyes, save one pair, turned toward the woman attached to Mr. Bingley's arm.
"Ah yes, may I introduce my friend, Miss Margaret Thornton? Miss Thornton, my good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner."
Miss Thornton gave a curtsey and simpering smile to Mr. Darcy and only a slight nod of her head to the others. "Mr. Darcy, what a great pleasure to meet you at last. Mr. Bingley and Caroline have told me so much about you. I know we shall be good friends. The four of us should make plans to tour the gardens soon" contributed Miss Thornton putting a stress on the word "four".
"Thank you Miss Thornton but I am not sure what my calendar will allow at this time" answered Mr. Darcy in the most polite manner he could gather.
At that moment, Miss Jamison and Sir Wesley rejoined the group. Thinking to show up the Bennet sisters, Caroline Bingley grabbed Cassie's hands and greeted her like a long-time friend.
"Miss Jamison, what a happy coincidence seeing you here tonight. I was just remarking this morning to my friend Margaret that she should watch for you this evening for your fashion sense is incomparable."
"You are too kind, Miss Bingley" responded Miss Jamison.
"Nonsense" returned Miss Bingley. "Miss Bennet, Miss Eliza, would you not agree that Miss Jamison's dress is the height of fashion? Oh, I am sorry, I forget that you live in the country and are not up on the latest styles."
Jane appeared unable or unwilling to respond, so Elizabeth answered, "Of course Miss Bingley, Cassie always wears such fine dresses that even someone with very little fashion knowledge as myself can only be jealous."
"You are embarrassing me with all these compliments, Lizzy. It is obvious to anyone with eyes that you are quite beautiful and stylish tonight; for, in my opinion, you come in second only to my dear friend Jane as the most beautiful woman in the theater tonight."
Miss Bingley could only gape at the obvious intimacy between Miss Jamison, a member of the highest circles, and the Miss Bennet's. She was about to make a remark but was saved the embarrassment she would surely have caused herself by the ringing of the bell signaling the play was about to resume.
Goodbyes were said and each group made their way to their respective box. Colonel Fitzwilliam offered his arm to Jane and she took it without thought. The Colonel noted a slight trembling in her hand and asked if she would like to walk out for a bit of air before returning to their seats. Jane thanked the Colonel but assured him she was fine and would rather return to their box.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had not taken his eyes off Jane but for a few moments during the exchange with Mr. Bingley. She was obviously pained at seeing another woman on Bingley arm. This confirmed to him that she was not completely healed from the disappointment he had dealt her. For the life of him, he could not understand what was wrong with Bingley. There had to be a deficiency in mind for Bingley not to jump at the chance to make Jane his own. She is everything a man could hope for in a wife. She is kind, intelligent, compassionate, and very beautiful. Not to mention her sweet sense of humor and loyalty to friends and family. Had he had money enough to support her and the family they would have, he would not let her out of his sight before securing her hand. But his situation in life did not offer him that luxury.
The party reached the box and the gentleman escorted the ladies to the seats they had occupied previously. As everyone else was distracted getting settled for the remainder of the play, Mr. Darcy took this opportune moment to whisper privately to Elizabeth.
"Miss Elizabeth" said Darcy in a voice that only she could hear, "I have made the presumptive decision to write to you again. I wanted to address some things you spoke of in your letter. If you do not wish to receive the letter, just nod your head and I will approach the subject no more." Elizabeth stood perfectly still. "If you would do me the honor of reading my letter" said Darcy hesitantly, "I could slip it to you once the play starts."
In a voice equally quite, Elizabeth replied, "I acknowledge that I should deny your request out of a sense of propriety, however, I am most welcoming of further communication with you. Slip me your letter and I will secure it in my reticule until I have the opportunity to read it."
Darcy could not help but rejoice. Would he not make a fool of himself, he might literally jump for joy. He contented himself with taking his seat and surreptitiously taking the letter from his inside jacket pocket. He waited until the play had resumed for a half hour before he covertly leaned forward as if to better see the scene on stage and tapped Elizabeth on the arm with his letter. Elizabeth crossed her arms and took hold of the letter. She had placed her reticule in her lap when she took her seat and now she let it drop to the floor. As she bent down to retrieve it, she slid the letter inside and sat up looking innocent while resuming watching the play.
After the play and ended and they were back in the carriage, Elizabeth took a moment to speak softly to Jane. "Jane, are you well?"
Jane just smiled at Elizabeth and answered, "Lizzy, that question seems to be asked too much lately. I am fine. I was just unprepared to see either of the Bingley's; but, now that the first meeting is over, I shall not be so affected again."
Elizabeth gave Jane's hand a squeeze and sat back to enjoy the ride back to Gracechurch Street. She would reassure herself that Jane remained unaffected once they readied themselves for bed.
The others had settled in the carriage and began a discussion on the play. Elizabeth contributed a few times but her mind kept wandering to other events of the night. She had been surprised to hear Mr. Darcy teasing Cassie and wondered if she had overlooked such behavior on his part in the past. Looking back over all the times they spent together, she was ashamed to admit that there were several instances that she could now see where Mr. Darcy portrayed his dry humor and she had, at the time, dismissed his comments as arrogance.
Once they arrived at the Gardiner's residence, Mr. Gardiner asked the gentlemen if they would like to come in for a drink. They both declined stating that the Colonel would need to be back with his regiment rather early on the morrow. Mr. Darcy reaffirmed his desire to bring his sister by to meet both Bennet sisters and a time was set up for a visit the next day. The gentlemen then said their goodbyes and were off.
The ladies pleaded fatigue and excused themselves to go straight upstairs. Elizabeth waited several minutes after she finished her nightly ablutions before slipping down the hall and knocking on Jane's door.
"Jane, may I come in?"
Lizzy walked in the room and saw Jane sitting on the window seat with her knees pulled up to her chest looking out at the stars.
"It was a wonderful play, was it not Lizzy?"
"Yes, it most certainly was. I do not recall ever enjoying a night at the theater more. Your friend, Cassie, grows in my esteem every time we meet and I liked her fiancé very much" said Elizabeth.
"Sir Wesley was a very pleasant man and one that seems to adore her. His eyes seem to light up every time he looks at Cassie. I am very happy for her."
"Jane? Are you truly alright? Does the meeting with Mr. Bingley not upset you still?" asked Elizabeth.
Jane thought carefully and replied, "I admit that I was a little pained at seeing another woman on his arm. I looked at her and tried to see what quality she might possess that I do not. But then I concluded that it was nothing about me that separated us. Once I settled that in my mind, I could be happy that Mr. Bingley had found a lady that might make him happy."
"I have no doubt that Miss Thornton will not be able to make Mr. Bingley happy. Miss Thornton will only make Miss Bingley happy" stated Elizabeth.
"Don't be unkind Lizzy. You do not know her character. I admit that she appeared a little rude but this is only our first meeting and she might have not been in high spirits this night. Mr. Bingley might even have mentioned us at some point, so meeting me might have made her feel uneasy."
"I will try and reserve my judgment on Miss Thornton just for you; but, I hope that you will not tell me you did not notice the insults that came from Miss Bingley" remarked Elizabeth.
Jane sighed, "I did notice. I had hoped that my first impression of Caroline was the correct one. I had thought that she might have cut me due to her brother's wavering affections; but, it was clear tonight that she thinks us below her. I did admire the way you and Cassie handled the situation. I was too overwhelmed at the moment to deal with her."
"What are your feelings for Mr. Bingley now, Jane?"
"I honestly do not know. I do not think we will ever be friends and I know, now, that I do not want to be more than friends. So I guess we will remain just acquaintances. I liked Mr. Bingley because he was easy to like. He did not stir up any strong feelings that confused my heart or my mind. I did not understand at the time that this lack of strong emotions signified that he did not touch my heart. I was flattered by his attention but I want more from a husband."
"Like what?" asked Elizabeth.
Jane blushed, "I don't know how to put it in words exactly. I want a husband who is kind but strong. Someone who makes me feel protected yet precious. I guess I want the man I am to marry to look at me the way Mr. Darcy looks at you."
Now Elizabeth blushed. "He wrote to me, again."
Jane sat up straight, excited at this news. "What did he say? Did he give you the letter at the theater?"
"Yes, he slipped me the letter after the start of the second half of the play. I am not sure what it says as I have not read it yet."
Jane jumped up, pulling Elizabeth up with her. "Then you must go now and read his letter. He will be coming tomorrow to bring his sister for a visit and it will be the perfect time for you to give him a letter of reply."
"Jane! I cannot allow this to continue on. He asked my permission tonight before giving me his letter and I granted it because he stated he had answered some of my questions to him. But this must stop soon, for if we are discovered, it will be a great scandal."
"You and he are both being careful, Lizzy. As long as you are not giving him false hopes, I see nothing wrong with exchanging letters with him. I know that propriety states that it is not to be done; but, how are two people supposed to mend their differences when society restricts their ability to communicate?"
"I am not sure Jane" replied Elizabeth. "I guess I will just take things as they come. Once Mr. Darcy and I have said all that needs to be said to one another, then I will put an end to it all. But for now, I will go read my letter so that I can give you a full accounting come morning."
The sisters said their good-nights and Elizabeth returned to her room. She sat down on the bed and pulled Mr. Darcy's letter out from under her pillow where she had placed it earlier. She once again admired his handwriting before turning it over to look at the seal. She was unsurprised to see the same seal on this letter as the first. Mr. Darcy had been traveling, after all. She tore open the seal and read:
I sit here at an Inn outside of London wondering if you have returned to Longbourn or if you might still be at your Uncle's house. I had plans to pay you a call today but fate has made that impossible. Therefore, I write this letter hoping I will have an opportunity to give it to you in the near future.
You apologized in your letter for your words and manners. Please, do not. What did you say that I did not deserve? We have both made mistakes in regards each other and I hope that they are now all in the past. Therefore, let us not quarrel over blame but speak our words for a better purpose.
You stated in your letter that you do not feel as if you know me. I must disagree. You said that you now see that I am rather shy and guarded which are two qualities I do possess. I can guess that, if you look closely at our past, you will realize that you know a good deal more about me than those two character traits. I believe that your confidence in judging my character has been shaken so you do not trust yourself to believe what you have observed about me.
I am a man of many faults but I hope that I am repairing many of them. I shall never be perfect but I will forever more strive to be a worthy gentleman. I do not think I understood the true meaning of the word "Gentleman" before meeting you.
As I believe that you know my basic character, I feel the need to simply fill in the details. Giving you my entire life story would take a great deal of time and paper so I will just present you with a brief summary of the more important events.
My parents' marriage was arranged. The Darcy's wanted a connection to the Fitzwilliam titles and the Fitzwilliam's wanted a connection to the Darcy wealth and landholdings. My parents liked each other well enough but they were not in love. My Father loved Pemberley and was devoted to his estate. He never cared much for London but made the required appearance each season because it was expected. My Mother shined in society and was everything society expected of Mrs. Darcy. However, my parent's had little in common and practically lived separate lives under the same roof. Theirs was the typical Ton marriage.
My Uncle, the Earl of Matlock, and his wife were completely opposite of my parents. Their marriage was arranged, as well, but they truly love one another. I loved spending time at Matlock with Richard because their house was not just a residence, it was a home. There was joy and laughter in good times, tears and comfort in bad, but always togetherness. I knew from an early age that I wanted that same kind of marriage and home and tried in every way to emulate my Uncle so that I might obtain it. But, there are just some things regarding love that cannot be taught or mimicked.
Our Mother was a good Mistress of Pemberley. She ran the household efficiently and took care of the needs of the tenant wives. She was involved in many charitable organizations and held many balls and parties before she took ill. She was not a bad mother; just not an overly demonstrative one. Georgiana and I both knew that she loved us, but our Mother did not believe in openly showing affection. I believe her reserved nature is a Fitzwilliam characteristic I inherited. However, I am trying to overcome this and be more open. It is easier on paper but I hope that I am learning to express my feelings better in person, as well.
Georgiana was the first female Darcy born in four generations and our Father adored her. Some say I was jealous of their relationship; but, that was untrue for I adored her as much as my Father. Georgiana was often in our Father's company wherever he went. He taught her to ride at a very early age so that she could ride out with him when he viewed the property and visited the tenants. She would play under his desk while he read correspondence or conducted business with Old Mr. Wickham. When she was not following along after our Father, she was usually with me. I loved to read to her, take her out on walks to teach her about the native plants and animals, and talk to her of our heritage. She was a Darcy princess.
When my parent's passed and I was given guardianship, along with Richard, of Georgiana, I tried to be everything our parents were not. I tried to be the disciplinarian that my Father refused to be and the comforter that my Mother was incapable of being. I have tried to raise her to understand right and wrong but to, also, know that she is loved and can come to me with her problems. I thought I had been successful until the situation at Ramsgate. Since that time, I cannot walk in a room without Georgiana shedding tears. Richard fairs better than I with her and I must confess, I am at a loss how to proceed any further in reestablishing a relationship with her. I cannot help but feel that I have failed her.
I hope that gives you some insight into my immediate family relationships and into how my character was formed. Now, I need to answer the question you asked in your letter.
You said that you did not like the person you were around me in the past and wondered how I could claim an ardent love for the very person you despised being. First, I never saw your remarks as being disrespectful to me. In my eyes, at the time, they were flirtations. That was arrogant thinking on my part but it was honestly what I thought. Second, you never once looked at me and saw the Mater of Pemberley or a prospect worth ten thousand a year. You always looked at me and saw a man, though one of many faults. In all my life, I have never had anyone, but family, contradict anything I say. I could say it is raining outside and all the ladies of the ton would simply agree even while looking out the window at the bright sunshine. Third, I have never met a woman who is as intelligent and unashamed of it as you are. I have met several women whom I believe might be great thinkers; but, they hide behind talk of lace and bonnets because that is what they have been taught. They do not have the strength of character to show their true worth. That is a shame in my eyes for it would make them far more interesting to a man if their Mother's would not suppress such expressions.
There are many more things I would like to say and I will be happy to answer any questions you might have of me; but, I will end with this last thought. I want you to know how touched I was when you said you thought me a good man. It is not the first time I have heard that compliment; but, I have never valued it as much as when it came from you. I know that you are honest in your words and that makes it all the more dear to me.
I hope to see you again soon…. William Darcy
Elizabeth tucked the letter back under her pillow, blew out the candle, and lay down to contemplate all that she had learned of Mr. Darcy. She was glad he touched on his childhood and how it shaped his character. She knew now that she would write back to him. She wanted to share some of herself with him the way he had with her. Also, there were a few questions she wanted to ask. She only hoped that she was not making a mistake continuing on with their letters. She did not want to hurt him.
Posted on: 2011-06-16
Elizabeth awoke early the next morning. She did not want to feel rushed in replying to Mr. Darcy's letter. She considered carefully what she wanted to share with him then set about writing. Elizabeth had not been finished long before she heard Jane knock at her door.
"Lizzy, are you up?"
"Yes Jane. Come in."
Jane sat down on the end of the bed and watched as her sister sealed a letter, most likely the one to Mr. Darcy. "Lizzy, do not keep me in suspense. What did Mr. Darcy say in his letter?"
Elizabeth walked to the bed, reached under her pillow and removed the letter hidden there. She gave it to Jane to read and awaited her response.
"Lizzy, he is trying so hard to change your opinion of him. Does he stand no chance?"
"My opinion of him has changed drastically already. I am just still not sure to what end. He professes to love me and is trying to change his character for me. But how long will that last? Will he still make an effort to please me if we are married? Will he suddenly decide that our parents and sisters are not welcome in our homes because they annoy him? How can I be sure that he does not simply want me as his wife because I am one of the few people to every refuse him something he thinks he wants?"
Jane groaned, "Lizzy, you are thinking too much. Answer me this, do you think him a man of honor?"
"Yes" stated Elizabeth reluctantly.
"Then there you have it. You are going to have to trust him, Lizzy. He is an honorable man who clearly loves you deeply. You are either going to have to accept his love or lose it. But think hard about your decision for, if you turn him away this time, I do not think he will have the strength to try again."
"But why me, Jane? He can have any woman he desires, why would he choose me?"
"Lizzy, he explained that in his letter. He thinks you are honest, intelligent, of strong character, and full of life. He said that he wants a marriage like the Colonel's parents have. He is a lot like his Uncle and you are a lot like his Aunt. I think the similarity between you and the Colonel's mother was probably what first attracted him to you, then, as he got to know you, he fell in love with the wonderful person you are."
Elizabeth let out a gust of breath and fell back on the bed. "I just need a little more time to sort out my feelings. I have written to him of our family and I want to hear his responses before I think too far ahead."
"Fair enough" replied Jane. "Now, let us go down to breakfast and prepare for the visit with Mr. Darcy and his sister."
Darcy walked into the breakfast room to see Georgiana at the table reading a letter. "Good morning, Georgiana, did you sleep well?"
"Yes Brother" she replied as she started to get up to leave the room.
"Please stay. I wish to speak to you."
Georgiana sat back down but refused to look him in the eye. She took up her fork and began moving things around on her plate.
"Georgiana I have made plans for us to visit some friends of mine this morning. I think you will enjoy making their acquaintance. "
Georgiana paled and said, "Must I go Brother? Can I not stay here?"
Darcy reached over and took her hand, "No Georgiana, you must come with me but do not fear. Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner are very sweet and genteel ladies. You do not have to feel uneasy in their presence."
"Who are these ladies and why do you wish me to meet them?" she asked.
"I met Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth when I went to Hertfordshire with Bingley last fall. I was again in the company of Miss Elizabeth over Easter while at Rosings. Her good friend married our Aunt's parson and she was a guest at the parsonage while Richard and I were in Kent. They are currently in London visiting their Aunt and Uncle. Richard has spent a good bit of time in their company and they were all my guests at the theater last night."
"Why is it that you wish me to meet them?"
"Because I think they would make really good friends for you. I know that you do not have a lot of female friends to associate with and I do believe that you would enjoy their company."
"But you always avoid the company of ladies that are not relatives" observed Georgiana.
"Yes, that is true. I have never felt comfortable around people I am not acquainted with, especially ladies. But I am trying to change. It is not right for me to judge all ladies based on the bad experiences I have had with a few. I am trying to practice my social skills more and I think it would be good for you to do the same."
Georgiana still looked pale and uncertain but Darcy was encouraged. This was the longest conversation he has had with his sister in months.
"We still have a while before we must leave. Would you play your newest piece for me?" asked Darcy hopefully.
Georgiana bit her lip looking very nervous but nodded her head. Darcy smile and said, "Then let us head to the music room."
The ladies of Gracechurch Street were in the parlor discussing their anticipated trip to the Lake District when Mr. and Miss Darcy were announced. Mr. Darcy introduced his sister and Mrs. Gardiner rang for tea. It was obvious to everyone that Miss Darcy was a very timid young lady and appeared scared to death. Only Elizabeth and Jane knew of Ramsgate and how it must still affect her. So they all tried to include Georgiana in their conversation without making her feel pressured to contribute.
Once tea had been served, Mrs. Gardiner remarked "Miss Darcy, you look very much like your father."
Georgiana's eyes shot up from the floor where she had been staring for most of the visit. "You knew my father, Mrs. Gardiner?" she asked.
"I did not know him personally; but, I saw him often. I grew up in Lambton, you see. Your father would come into my father's book shop once or twice a month. He was always such a nice man and my own father thought very highly of him" Mrs. Gardiner recalled.
"Did you ever see my mother?" Miss Darcy asked.
"Once or twice. She never came into my father's shop but she was known to visit the milliner on occasion. I often heard her spoken of by the town's people. They said that she was a very charitable woman and quite beautiful."
Darcy was amazed when Georgiana actually smiled. Not the small, hesitant smile he was used to seeing on her but a real one that went all the way to her eyes.
As the visit continued, the conversation drifted from art to music. Georgiana could understand why her brother enjoyed the company of these ladies. They were not at all like Miss Bingley, as she had feared.
Darcy wanted to speak to Elizabeth but he did not want to interrupt his sister's visit as it seemed to be doing her so much good. So he sat back and just watched and smiled and made a comment here and there. But as is the norm when you are enjoying yourself, time passed by quickly and it was time to leave before Darcy was ready to depart. However, he knew that he should observe society's rules since Georgiana was with him.
He stood and announced that it was time for them to depart. Georgiana then stood and leaned over to speak softly to her brother. He smiled and nodded his head at his sister. Miss Darcy turned and addressed Mrs. Gardiner. "Mrs. Gardiner" she said in a shaky voice, "would you and your nieces do me the honor of having tea with me tomorrow at Darcy House?"
Mrs. Gardiner smiled at her bravery, then came up and took the young girls hands in her own for support. "Thank you, Miss Darcy. It is an honor to be asked and I would love nothing more; but, I am afraid that my husband and I will be visiting my elderly aunt on the morrow. However, I do not know of any plans that Jane and Lizzy have so I do not see why they cannot come. What say you Jane, Lizzy, do you have any conflict in scheduling?"
Elizabeth smiled and spoke up, "No Aunt. We had only planned on sitting at home and staring at each other so this will be a good distraction." Everyone laughed and arrangements were made for the Darcy carriage to pick up the ladies the following morning.
Elizabeth followed Mr. and Miss Darcy out into the hall and waited while they donned their hats and gloves. Mr. Darcy turned and smiled at Elizabeth and said, "Thank you Miss Elizabeth for having us today. I believe that my sister enjoyed it very much."
Elizabeth looked around to make sure no one could see what she was doing and then slid a letter from her pocket and into Mr. Darcy's hand. Mr. Darcy's eyes widened a bit but his smile grew even wider. He turned so that he was facing the wall and hid the letter in his jacket pocket.
"Until tomorrow, Miss Elizabeth."
Elizabeth smiled, "Until tomorrow, Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth said her farewells to Miss Darcy then brother and sister entered the carriage and were off. Elizabeth was nervous about Mr. Darcy's reaction to her letter; but she knew the subject had to be discussed.
On the way back to Darcy House, Darcy was glad to see Georgiana more at ease than she had been in a long time. She looked up and saw him smiling at her and she blushed. Darcy took her hands in his and spoke earnestly. "Georgiana, I am very proud of you. I believe you have made new friends and I am happy for that."
"Thank you, Brother. I enjoy Mrs. Annesley's company but it was nice to spend time with ladies closer to my own age. They were all so kind and made me feel very much at ease."
"I am happy for that and I am sure you will have an enjoyable visit with them tomorrow. Perhaps Mrs. Annesley will help you decided on the refreshments you would like to serve."
"Oh yes, Brother. I know that she will be glad that we are to have visitors."
Both Darcys spent the remainder of the carriage ride silently looking out the window lost in their own thoughts. Darcy could almost feel Elizabeth's letter burning a hole in his pocket and he did not think that they would ever reach home where he could find the privacy to read it.
Once they had ascended the stairs to Darcy House, Georgiana went immediately to find Mrs. Annesley to tell of her visit. Darcy went to his study with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed.
Darcy sat down in a comfortable chair by the window that looked out over the small back garden. He pulled the letter from his pocket and, with his index finger, traced his name. He still received a thrill from seeing his name in her handwriting. He then turned the letter over and broke the seal, anxious to read her words to him.
In your last letter you said that I probably knew more about you than I was willing to admit to myself and you were right. Last night at the theater, you were teasing Miss Jamison about your presence in your own box. At first, I could not believe my ears for I did not know you had a sense of humor. However, as we left the theater, I let my mind wonder back over our past meetings and I recalled several instances where your humor was obvious. It simply was not obvious to me at the time. During that time I thought your comments arrogant because I thought you arrogant and I did not want to credit you with any positive qualities, such as a sense of humor.
You are correct, also, when you said I lack self confidence in my judgment of your character. How can I not? I have misjudged you so badly that I cannot trust my thoughts or feelings when it comes to you. I believe this is the biggest obstacle for me at the moment. It frightens me that I do not know what is truth and what is conjecture. My thoughts and emotions are all in a tangle and I do not know how to straighten them out. I can only ask for you to allow me time and offer me patience. I hope that is not asking too much.
I appreciate you trusting me enough to open up about your family. The things you told me helped me put one more piece in the puzzle I am trying to make sense of. I would like to return the favor by telling you about my family.
Longbourn has been in the Bennet family for many generations. At one time, it was a very prosperous estate. However, my great, great grandfather liked to gamble and almost lost the entire estate. It was then that the entail was enacted to offer protection for future generations. Though the debt he incurred would take two generations to pay off, at least the furture Bennet families would have a roof over their heads.
My father was a second son. His elder brother, Grayson, was being trained up to take over the estate and my father was left to his beloved books and his dream of becoming an academic. He could not have been happier with the arrangement. He had no plans to ever marry and would spend his life in study and research.
Unfortunately, my Uncle Grayson had a dream that did not include being an estate owner. He felt a deep calling from the church and begged his parents to support his wish to take orders. They refused and demanded that he ready himself to take his rightful place at Longbourn and had even found him a potential wife with a substantial dowry. Even though Longbourn was no longer in debt, it had suffered neglect over the years due to low funds and a large dowry could make a big difference for the estate.
Being angry at his parents for not supporting his calling, my Uncle Grayson refused to marry the lady his parents had picked out. He informed his family that he was going to London to find his own wife and that is exactly what he did. He met my mother at a dinner party. She was the daughter of a tradesman and had a dowry of only £5000. At that time, it is said that her personality was very similar to my Uncle Gardiner's. She was lively, sweet, and very beautiful. He thought she was pleasant enough to live with and he knew it would infuriate his parents for him to marry a lady with nothing to offer in connections and little in dowry. So he proposed. Naturally, she accepted. My Uncle went home and informed his parents and they reacted just as he predicted.
The proposal had been made and accepted so there was nothing they could do. My father returned to Longbourn the week the wedding was scheduled to take place so that he could stand up with his brother. It was my father who discovered the note left by my Uncle only two days before he was to be wed. He wrote that he could not go through with a future planned by others and ignore the future planned for him by God. He said that he was leaving the country to do mission work so they should not bother trying to find him.
Everyone was in an uproar. My grandparents were demanding that my father take the place of his brother as heir. My mother's father was demanding someone find Uncle Grayson and force him to marry his daughter for she would be ruined if he did not. My grandparents compromised by offering that my father wed her instead. As he was the new heir, my mother agreed. However, no one thought to seek my father's agreement on any of it. He found himself married and an estate owner before he could wrap his mind around what was happening.
Though my mother was lively and sweet before all of this happened, she was weak of character and of little intelligence. The abandonment by my Uncle and fear of disgrace took hold of her nerves and she was never quite the same. She constantly worried about her future and how she would provide for herself if my father died. Had they had a son, I think she would have settled. Yet only daughters were born and, with each one, her fears only increased for she had five daughters to fear for now and not just herself.
My father could have worked to increase profits and ease some of her worries but, without a substantial dowry, it would have taken a lot of hard work and planning to set Longbourn to rights. He probably would have done so if he had a son to pass things on to; but, he refused to waste his life making Longbourn profitable for Mr. Collins to take advantage of.
My sisters and I each dealt with the family strife in different ways. Jane refused to see that anything was wrong and looked only for the good so she would not have to deal with the bad. I become impertinent, laughing at the follies of others because I was embarrassed at the foibles of my own family. Mary buried herself in sermons believing that God would protect us all, even if our parents would not. Kitty did not know how to cope so she just followed. Then, lastly, Lydia decided to care only about herself because she could do nothing for the rest of us.
Being the oldest, Jane and I benefited greatly by being sent often to stay with our Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in order to give our mother rest as each new sister was born into this world. Our younger sisters were never given this advantage.
Saying all of this may give you the idea that we do not care for each other; but, you would be wrong. Even though we deal with things in our own way, we do love each other. Even Lydia, with her self-centered world, cares; though she refuses to acknowledge it. Our parents love us the best way they know how and we love them despite their faults.
I hope that this gives you a better understanding of my family and how I was raised. I, also, hope that you see that with me comes my family, all of them. Regardless of their faults and improper behavior, I love them all dearly and would never break from them.
You said I could ask you questions so here are a couple of insignificant things I am curious about.
Do you like music? Art? What is your favorite food? Least favorite? We have gone over so many complex things I thought it would be nice to know some of the simple things about you.
I will go now so that I can have this ready when you arrive later today.
I look forward to seeing you again and meeting your sister.
Until we meet again….. Elizabeth
Darcy laid his head against the back of his seat and closed his eyes. He thought on the lesson Elizabeth's letter had just taught him, "Never judge a person for what they have become unless you can understand what they have gone through." He had thought many times on the difficulties women face when they are not independently wealthy or have the protection of a responsible husband. Yet, he had never dealt with the issue on a personal level. He could only imagine how terrifying it must be for Mrs. Bennet to suffer abandonment by her fiancé then to have him replaced by a man without means to care for her and her daughters should he die suddenly.
His heart fell when he thought on this, for he realized that Elizabeth had hated him so much that she would not secure her family's future by marrying him. Knowing how insecure their future is, only made him realize how immense her hatred must have been.
He tried not to think on the negative for the words of her letter and the fact that she signed just her Christian name had given him hope. She had asked for time and patience from him. This could only mean that her opinion and wishes might actually be changing. He would hold onto this hope for it was all he had.
He thought about the situation her father found himself in. He tried to imagine himself in the same position and wondered how he would have reacted. He definitely sympathized with Mr. Bennet for not wanting to raise the profits for Mr. Collins. But what about his daughters? He knew that the majority of the estate profits must stay with the estate by virtue of the entail. Mr. Bennet most likely receives a percentage as an inducement to increase the wealth of the lands. However, if the estate has been in neglect due to low funds over the last few generations, then his percentage must not be a very large sum. Therefore, the only way to raise a dowry for his daughters would be to take his percentage and invest it.
He held quite a few investments of his own and knew how risky they could be. It made little difference to him for he had capital enough to cover any losses he incurred. Mr. Bennet would not; so, he could very well beggar his family. They might have a roof over their heads; but, they would be destitute if an investment went wrong.
Elizabeth was worried that he would not accept her family. He had to be honest with himself and admit that, even though he understood her better and sympathized with her more, he still did not know if he could tolerate Mrs. Bennet for long periods of time. He would always welcome her, of course, in respect to his wife. He would just have to take a cue from Mr. Bennet and enjoy his bookroom during her visits or find some way to abate her nerves so that she might not be so vocal with her anxieties.
His wife. How good that sounded. If Elizabeth ever agreed to his proposal, how would he care for her family? He had just started going over ideas when a knock was heard. "Enter."
"I am very sorry Sir" said Mr. Miller, the butler, "I am aware that you asked not to be disturbed but Mr. Bingley is here again. He came this morning while you were out with Miss Darcy and now he states he will wait until you agree to see him."
Darcy blew out a breath. He guessed Bingley would show up today and he dreaded the conversation that was to come. "It is alright Miller, send him in."
"Very good Sir."
Only a moment later, a harried looking Bingley came in and plopped down in the chair in front of Darcy.
"Good Afternoon Charles. I am sorry I missed your call this morning."
Bingley waved him off but still did not speak.
"Is there something you wanted to discuss with me or are you here just to sit mutely and watch me do my business?" inquired Darcy.
Bingley jumped up and began pacing. "Of course there is something I want to discuss with you. I thought that we were friends. As friends, how could you not tell me that, not only had you seen Miss Bennet, but she was to be your guest at the theater?"
Darcy began, "Well you see….." before he was cut off by Bingley.
"Are you in love with her? Tell me now. I deserve to know" declared Bingley while standing with his fists clenched and his face red.
"Sit down Charles" demanded Darcy forcefully. Bingley complied but did not unclench his fists.
"I am not in love with Jane Bennet and last evening was the first time I had laid eyes on her since we left Netherfield together."
"That makes no sense Darcy, you obviously were there together. Caroline said that you told her that Miss Bennet and her relations were your guests. How could that have transpired if you had not seen her before last night?"
"If you will give me a chance, I will explain" huffed Darcy irritably.
"Very well. Go ahead" stated and equally irritated Bingley.
"If you recall, while we were at Nethrfield, Miss Bennet's cousin, Mr. Collins, came to Longbourn for a visit." Mr. Bingley nodded his head. "Mr. Collins is the parson at Huntsford, overseen by my Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. As you know, every Easter my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I go to Rosings to visit with my Aunt and her daughter, Anne. This year when we arrived for our visit we found that Miss Elizabeth was visiting her friend Mrs. Collins, formerly Charlotte Lucas."
Bingley's eyes got a little bigger at that statement but he remained quiet. "My cousin and I were often thrown into company with the inhabitants of the parsonage and their guest. While there, Miss Elizabeth and I got into a rather heated debate and I loaned her a book to try and make my point. My cousin and I left Kent before she was able to return the book. Once she arrived at her Uncle's house in London, she had a groom bring the book to Darcy House but the groom would not relinquish the package to anyone but me and I was out of town at the time. So, my cousin, the Colonel, went to the Gardiner's house to ask Miss Elizabeth if she would allow him to return the book to me."
Darcy stopped here for a moment to make sure that Bingley was able to follow the story without him revealing the details of what actually occurred between him and Elizabeth. When he assured himself that Bingley was keeping up, he continued.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam was introduced to the Gardiners and Miss Bennet. As it happens, Miss Bennet had become good friends with Richard's cousin, Miss Cassie Jamison. It was agreed between all of them that a trip to the theater would be great fun. I had just arrived home after lunch yesterday and was given notice by my cousin that we were hosting guests in my theater box. So it was last night, before going to the theater, that I met the Gardiners and saw Miss Bennet again for the first time since last November."
Bingley sighed and slumped down in his chair. "What am I going to do Darcy?"
Darcy looked at his friend, honestly confused. "About what?"
Bingley jumped up and began pacing again. "About Miss Bennet, of course. She looked so beautiful last night and there I was with my sister's friend hanging on my arm as if I was a coat rack and she the coat."
"Bingley, you made it clear months ago that you are not ready to settle and proved that you have no serious designs on Miss Bennet. Please, do not tell me that you have a desire to seek her out again."
"What if I do? Why would that be so bad? I need to see her Darcy. I need to know if she will give me another chance. I have found no one that even begins to compare with her modesty and sweetness or even come close to her beauty. I wronged her before but now I will make things right and she and I will be happy together. Just the way it was meant to be" stated Bingley in a firm manner.
Darcy was beginning to get angry. Miss Bennet had suffered enough and he did not want to see her hurt again. "Bingley, you gave up your chance with Miss Bennet. She was disappointed and you caused her a lot of heartache. I cannot in good conscience allow you to destroy the progress she has made to mend and move on with her life. If you do truly care for her, you would not toy with her emotions that way."
"I mean no disrespect Darcy, but I believe that whatever the future holds for Miss Bennet and myself is a private matter between the two of us. I simply wish to pay her a call and find out where things stand. Will you or will you not provide me with the address of her Uncle's residence?" stated Bingley, firm in his declaration.
"I am sorry Charles but I cannot agree to give you that information until I know that it is what Miss Bennet wants."
"So you will speak to her and ask if I may call?" inquired Bingley in a hopeful voice.
"It is too late to call but I will send a note to Mr. Gardiner. He will inform Miss Bennet of your wishes and it will be her choice whether or not to honor them" agreed a reluctant Darcy.
Not wanting Bingley to happen upon Miss Bennet when she came with Elizabeth the next day to visit Georgiana, it was agreed that Darcy would meet Bingley at their club and would let him know Miss Bennet's answer at that time. Bingley left and Darcy sat to pen a note to Mr. Gardiner.
Mr. Gardiner had not been home long from his warehouses. He had joined his wife and nieces in the west parlor to hear how they had spent their day. As they were conversing, a maid entered and informed Mr. Gardiner that he had a note delivered by private carrier from Darcy House.
"I hope that nothing has happened to postpone our visit with Miss Darcy" said Jane.
"I guess we will not know if my husband sits looking at the note and not reading it" replied Mrs. Gardiner, somewhat teasingly but anxious to know the contents of the missive.
Mr. Gardiner just smiled and opened the note and skimmed over its contents with the intention of reading it aloud. The smile dropped from his face and he looked up at his niece, Jane, not knowing how this would affect her.
"Well?" queried Mrs. Gardiner.
"I think that perhaps Jane might want to read this first. It addresses her and it should be her choice as to what she desires to share."
Jane wondered for a moment if Mr. Darcy had written to her Uncle regarding his aspiration to court Elizabeth and her Uncle mistakenly believed her to be the recipient of his affections. She dismissed that thought as she reached to take the letter from her Uncle. She knew that Mr. Darcy would not discuss their relationship without first speaking to Elizabeth and then he would approach her Uncle in person and not in a note.
Jane flipped open the letter and read:
After my sister and I arrived home from our pleasurable visit with your wife and nieces, I went to my study to look over a very important paper. I was interrupted from my deliberation over its contents by the arrival of my friend, Charles Bingley.
Bingley was curious as to how I came to be hosting Miss Bennet and her relations at the theater last night. I gave him a summary of the events leading to our introduction and our taking in a play together with my cousin and your family.
Bingley then stated a desire to pay a call on Miss Bennet. He asked me to provide for him the address of your residence. I declined to provide the information because I could not be sure that his visit would be a welcome one. I thought Miss Bennet should be given time in advance to decide how she would like to proceed.
I did not tell Mr. Bingley that your nieces will be coming here tomorrow so do not fear that they will meet accidentally. I told him that I would seek an answer from Miss Bennet in the morning and would meet him at our club to deliver the verdict.
Please, let Miss Bennet know that I will do all in my power to make Mr. Bingley respect her decision if she does not wish to see him again. Please ask her to think on the matter and I will solicit her answer when she arrives at Darcy House for the scheduled visit.
In humble regard,
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Jane sat there waiting on the tears to come but they didn't. She looked up to see everyone watching her. Her uncle was looking on in concern and her sister and aunt with a mixture of concern and curiosity.
She took the note and passed it to her sister and asked her to read it aloud. Once they were all aware of the situation, they sat waiting for some kind of reaction. But Jane did not have one to give them.
Elizabeth was the first to speak, "Jane, what are you going to do?"
"I am not really sure. I had thought that if this moment ever arrived that I would feel an overwhelming joy; but I feel nothing really. I am not happy, not angry, and not even curious. I simply do not think I care one way or another about seeing Mr. Bingley." Jane looked to her aunt. "Is it wrong of me to feel this way, Aunt Mattie?"
Mrs. Gardiner reached across and took Jane's hand. "Of course not. I believe it a good sign that you feel this way. You have grown and changed since you last saw him. You have suffered disappointment at the hands of Mr. Bingley and suffered cruelty by his sister. These things, while unpleasant, have allowed you to grow from a naive innocent to a mature woman."
Jane smiled at her aunt. "I think you are right Aunt. I think of Mr. Bingley right now and see only his immaturity and inconstancy. I do not wish him ill; but, I do not believe that I respect him anymore."
She looked at each person in the room and realized that she truly had changed. She no longer viewed the world through the eyes of youth but with a dawning maturity that she both welcomed and feared. She knew right away what her answer must be.
"When we arrive at Mr. Darcy's home, I will tell him to inform Mr. Bingley that I would, someday, like to be able to call him my friend but I cannot do so at this time. I will not avoid him but I would prefer not to meet by design."
Everyone was smiling at Jane's answer and at her new self-awareness and Jane knew that she had made the right decision.
Darcy smiled as he watched his sister peer out the window as she awaited their visitors. He could not begrudge her excitement for he was as anxious as she for the ladies to arrive. He would not remain long, for he had promised to meet Bingley, but he would get the chance to see Elizabeth and extend an invitation for her and her relations to dine with them tomorrow night. He would, also, find a way to give Elizabeth his letter.
Less than a quarter hour passed before the ladies were announced and greetings were made. Georgiana introduced Mrs. Annesley and rang for tea. Mrs. Annesley took a seat to the side of the room and allowed her young charge to enjoy her visit. Knowing that Mr. Darcy himself had promoted the meeting between Miss Darcy and these two ladies made her at ease enough not to hover.
"Miss Darcy, we are so glad you invited us today. We enjoyed, very much, meeting you yesterday" started Elizabeth when she noticed that Georgiana was still shy about conversation.
"Thank you, Miss Elizabeth. I enjoyed it as well and have been anxiously awaiting your arrival today. How are you today Miss Bennet?" asked Miss Darcy.
Jane smiled at the young girl remembering how frightened she had been when she was first expected to entertain guests. "I am well Miss Darcy. But let us dispense with the proprieties. If we are to be friends, and I know we shall, then you must call me Jane and you can call my sister Lizzy, as I do."
If Darcy's heart did not already completely belong to Elizabeth, he thought he might fall in love with Miss Bennet at that moment. She had done something no one had been able to do since the death of their father. She made Georgiana radiant with happiness. Georgiana looked to him seeking his approval and he gave her a smile and a nod of the head.
"Then you shall both call me Georgiana" she smiled.
Conversation flowed smoothly between the ladies and Darcy knew it was time he spoke with Miss Bennet and made his departure.
"Miss Bennet, did your Uncle receive my note last evening?" inquired Darcy.
Jane gave a small sigh and replied, "Yes, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps we could move over to the window for a moment to discuss it so we do not disturb our sisters' conversation."
Mr. Darcy walked to the window with Miss Bennet beside him. Once there he said in a quiet voice, "I am sorry if my friend is putting you in an uncomfortable position. I just did not know of another way to handle the situation."
"Do not fear for me, Mr. Darcy. You made the right decision for it would have been a lot more uncomfortable had he shown up at my Uncle's house without warning." Darcy smiled and waited until she was ready to give him the answer for Bingley.
Jane cleared her throat and said, "Mr. Darcy, please inform Mr. Bingley that I harbor no ill feelings towards him. Let him know that I hope, someday, we may call each other "Friend"; but, I would prefer not to meet by design."
Mr. Darcy placed his hand on her arm and gave her a warm smile. "A wise and well thought out decision, Miss Bennet. I will inform Mr. Bingley and do my best to make sure he respects your choice."
"Mr. Darcy, I know that there may come a time when there will be the possibility of Mr. Bingley and I coming into contact with one another on a more frequent basis" smiled Jane while glancing over to her sister. Darcy blushed slightly at the implication but only smiled and nodded. "So I want you to know that I will not be uncomfortable around him. You will not have to step lightly around my feelings on this matter."
"Thank you, Miss Bennet. Mr. Bingley had been a good friend but I still think him a damned fool, pardon my language, and I know you deserve better."
Jane could not help but laugh at Mr. Darcy's statement. She looked over at her sister who stared back at her with an amused expression and a quirked eyebrow and could only laugh more.
When Jane composed herself, Mr. Darcy stated, "Miss Bennet I want to thank you for how you handled my sister earlier. I am sure that her situation has been relayed to you." Jane nodded in affirmation. "I have not seen my sister smile so since the death of our father. I think you have done her more good in a few moments then I have been able to do these last five years" sighed Darcy.
"Mr. Darcy, you have been an excellent guardian to your sister. Never doubt yourself on that issue. But let me relate to you something that you may not understand about young women."
Darcy nodded in agreement so Jane continued. "When a man suffers a loss or a disappointment, he has many ways to occupy his mind and physically purge his body of the grief. This allows him to heal and move on in life. A lady does not have as many options available. She may occupy her mind within the bounds of "acceptable" activities. She may also take up horseback riding or walks to try to aid her in conquering the physical pain grief inflicts. But these activities are limited and do not offer but a small amount of relief for a small period of time. We cannot pick up and leave town at a moment's notice and go wherever we choose, as men do. So there is only one solace offered to a woman that can help her heal and give her a self confidence to move on; that is the friendship of honest and caring ladies close to us in age who understand what we feel and what we are going through."
"Georgiana has not had many friends; but, my cousin Lady Sophia is not far above her in age and has tried to help. Does that not count as the same?" asked Mr. Darcy wanting to understand.
"You cousin is a relative. I tell Lizzy almost everything and she confides in me likewise; but, there are times when a young lady needs a confidant who is not related. Lizzy has always had Mrs. Collins but I never had anyone I considered a close friend. When I met Miss Jamison, I knew what I had been missing out on. Cassie has been able to look at me and my situation without the prejudice eye of a relative and offer advice that Lizzy might have been hesitant to give. This friendship has helped me grow in maturity and confidence. I believe that your sister just needs the comfort of a stable and honest friendship to help her heal from the pain of losing her beloved father and from the pain inflicted by Mr. Wickham."
"I shall never be able to repay your kindness but you have my eternal gratitude, Miss Bennet" stated Darcy with strong emotion.
"It is a pleasure, Mr. Darcy. Your sister seems to be a wonderful young lady and I look forward to getting to know her better."
"Miss Bennet, may I ask a favor of you?"
"Of course Mr. Darcy" assured Jane.
"I know how close you and Miss Elizabeth are so I have no doubt that you are aware of how we are coming to know each other better" stated Darcy. Jane nodded her understanding so he continued. "I have a letter for Miss Elizabeth that I would like to give her today. But, I am not sure how I would get it to her without my sister or Mrs. Annesley noticing."
"So you would like to give it to me and have me relay it to her. I would be glad to assist, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy smiled and turned so his back was to the room. He removed the letter from his inside jacket pocket and watched as Miss Bennet secured it in her dress pocket. They then rejoined their sisters.
"Ladies, I have two duties I must discharge before I leave and allow you the privacy to converse. First, Colonel Fitzwilliam asked me to make his apologies for not calling after our visit to the theater. The regiment physician declared him healed and he has been recalled to full duty. He hopes to be able to visit soon; but, if time does not allow a visit, then he has assured me that he has already received permission to attend Miss Jamison's engagement party."
"If you speak with the Colonel again, please give him our best wishes and let him know that we are looking forward to the next time we are in company together" replied Elizabeth.
"I will make sure he receives the message, Miss Elizabeth. The second duty I have been charged with is to invite the both of you and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to come to dinner tomorrow night."
Again, it was Elizabeth who replied, "Thank you Mr. Darcy. We will have to check with our Aunt and Uncle regarding their plans; but, I do not recall anything that has been scheduled for tomorrow night. We will send over a response once they return from their visit."
As Mr. Darcy then made said his goodbyes and left the ladies to their visit, Elizabeth frowned. She had thought he might have a letter for her today. She was anxious for a response and hoped that the lack of a letter did not mean that he was unwilling to accept her family. If that were the case, would he have invited them to dine? She was confused again but decided that now was not the time for such complex thoughts. So she turned her attention back over to her hostess.
Darcy walked into his club and looked around for Bingley. He spotted him sitting in a quiet corner reading the newssheet. As Darcy approached, Bingley noticed him and shot up out of his chair with wide eyes and an excited manner. "Tell me Darcy! Will she see me?"
"Sit down Charles. We need to talk."
Mr. Bingley sat but could hardly sit still. He appeared anxious to be on his way, sure in his belief that Miss Bennet would welcome a call from him.
"I spoke to Miss Bennet this morning. She asked me to tell you that she holds no ill feelings toward you."
"I knew it!" beamed Bingley jumping up again. "Tell me where to find her Darcy; I must go to her now!"
"I am not finished with her message. Please sit down and lower your voice. It would not be wise to draw attention to our conversation" admonished Darcy.
Bingley retook his chair but still wore the excited puppy expression on his face. Darcy knew his friend did not deserve another chance with Miss Bennet; but, it still pained him to deliver the news that was sure to hurt his friend.
"Charles, Miss Bennet has moved on from the disappointment you dealt her and seems content with her life at the moment. But she wanted me to tell you that she hopes you can be friends someday."
"Are you saying she does not want me to call on her?" asked a now serious Bingley.
"Yes, Charles, she thinks it better if you do not call on her."
Bingley sat there just staring down at the table. Darcy was unable to make out his expression so did not know how great his disappointment might be.
"Are you well, Charles?"
"I must confess that I am surprised. I guess that I deserve no better consideration from her. I had my opportunity for happiness and I threw it away" lamented Bingley.
"You still have an opportunity to be happy. There are several ladies with fine qualities that would make you a good wife. You must simply learn to step back and not let your emotions overshadow your sense. Take the time necessary to really know the lady you are interested in before committing yourself" advised Darcy.
"How am I supposed to get to know the lady I feel affection for without raising expectations?" asked Bingley.
Darcy laughed. "I am sorry Charles. I am not laughing at your question for it is a very good one. I am laughing because I have given this very thing a lot of thought lately. The best answer I can give is to handle things the way Richard does. When he meets a lady that he would like to spend time with, he tells her upfront that he is not looking to settle down just yet but that he would very much like for them to become friends. Sometimes the lady hopes for more, regardless or his warning, but that way he never misleads them. He is, also, very circumspect about the ladies he befriends. For instance, Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are ladies you can be friends with without care, as long as you are honest with them upfront. Miss Thornton is not the kind of lady you want to spend time with. Do you understand?"
"Yes, it makes perfect sense."
"One last thought while on the subject, you should be careful around Miss Thornton. I got the impression that she is receiving encouragement from Caroline to make a match with you."
Charles answered, "I was cornered into the trip to the theater but I have been careful about keeping my distance from Miss Thornton. Perhaps I should take Elderwood up on his invitation to his hunting cabin."
"It might not be a bad idea. Give yourself some distance then come back and begin afresh. Settle yourself Charles. I would not want to see you change your liveliness or your love of society; but, if you are serious about wanting to own your own estate, you need to learn to approach decisions with a little more caution and consideration. You have a good head for business and I have confidence that you will do well. Just do not be afraid to be your own man" finished Darcy.
The two men sat and talked of business and sport for an hour more while having luncheon. Then Darcy made his way back home wondering if Elizabeth might still be there.
Jane looked out the carriage window watching the people move about their day. She had been rather distracted since Mr. Darcy told them that Colonel Fitzwilliam was called back to full duty. She remembered when Lizzy had returned from Kent and first told her of the Colonel. She had said that he did not buy his rank but had earned it in battle. He was valuable to his regiment and this made her worry that he would be sent off to fight again.
She heard Elizabeth huff and looked over to see that her sister looked a bit angry.
"Lizzy, what is the matter? I thought our visit today went very well."
"It did go well Jane and nothing is the matter…… not really. I just thought that Mr. Darcy might have answered my letter by today."
Jane jumped. She had got so lost in her own musings that she had forgotten the letter in her pocket. She pulled out the letter and apologized. "Oh Lizzy! I am so sorry! Mr. Darcy gave me this letter when we were discussing Mr. Bingley. I got lost in my thoughts and forgot all about it."
She took the letter and handed it to her sister. Elizabeth's eyes lit up. She could not believe how upset she had gotten when she thought he had not responded.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were not home when the ladies arrived so Elizabeth went immediately to her room to read Mr. Darcy's letter.
She sat on the bed and turned the letter over to look at the seal. This time it was a willow tree. She wondered if this was the seal he used on his personal correspondence as she guessed his monogram would be used for business. Putting aside her pondering, she opened the letter.
I hope that I have not overstepped by calling you thus. You signed your letter as such and I took that as permission to call you buy your Christian name…. at least in our letters.
I would like to start by answering your simpler questions.
Do I like Art and Music? Yes, very much so. I cannot really say what is my favorite style or piece for it changes often. Right now, I really enjoy the paintings of Joseph Wright. His work with light is astounding. Composers I like are vast, Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn to name a few. Georgiana's talent is in music. I enjoy hearing her play as much or more than the masters.
What are my most and least favorite foods? My favorite is venison. Our cook at Pemberley makes the best venison stew in all of England. My least favorite is anything with mushrooms. I just never developed a taste for them, though Georgiana loves them.
I know you love green, is that your favorite color? Do you prefer tragedies or comedies? You wear a garnet cross necklace most all the time. Does it hold special meaning for you?
These are just a few of the "simpler" things I would like to know about you.
Elizabeth, I hope that you know that, should we marry, I would never ask you to break with your family. Even before I understood them better, I never expected to have you and not them. I cannot say that I will not be uncomfortable at times when I am in a room with them; but, I can honestly say, I feel the same about my own family some of the time. You have never heard noise until you have a large gathering of Fitzwilliams and their cousins. So you see, it is not your family that is the issue but my tendency to become uncomfortable in any large or loud gathering. I am sure that, as I get to know them better, I will come to love them just as you do.
There are two things I would like to ask you. First, would you have any objections to me extending an invitation to your Uncle for your party to stay at Pemberley while you are visiting Lambton this summer? There would be no schedule made so your Aunt may feel free to come and go while she visits friends and relations. There are a few places I would like for your Aunt to see but we can fit those tours in to her free time. You and Miss Bennet will have run of the house and grounds, as well as a carriage at your disposal so you can enjoy yourselves and not feel obligated to remain in my and my sister's company at all times. I know that Georgiana would love having you there, as would I.
I asked you this before speaking with your Uncle because I do not want to make you uncomfortable. If you would rather keep a little distance, then I will just be happy to have an opportunity to see you again while you are nearby.
I have been dwelling on the time when you will leave London. There will be approximately three weeks before you leave for your trip to the Lake District and another five weeks before you reach Pemberley. I have enjoyed being able to see you almost daily for all those weeks in Kent and now in London, and I do not know how I will survive being away from you for so long.
I have thought of a way to spend some time in Hertfordshire. Georgiana and I could come and stay the last week before you leave on your trip, then travel on to Pemberley to prepare for your visit there. This brings me to my second question.
Elizabeth, will you allow me to formally court you?
I know that you asked for time and patience and I will give that to you. I go into this with no guarantee or expectations. I simply want to spend time with you and, without some kind of acknowledged declaration from me, that will not be allowed. I cannot come to Hertfordshire without reason; for suspicions will be raised and gossip is almost always negative.
If you agree, then you can find a way to let me know when you come to dinner tomorrow night and I will speak to your Uncle. Then on Wednesday, I could escort you and Miss Bennet back to Longbourn in my carriage. I will ask Mrs. Annesley to accompany us and, with her and your sister along as chaperones, all would be proper and I could seek permission from your father at that time. I could finalize the lodging arrangements for Georgiana and my visit the fortnight later before returning to London.
If you do not agree, then give me a sign and I will step back and allow things to progress at your set pace.
I hope that I have not set back any progress we have made. I feel like a man trying to find his way through an unfamiliar land in the dark. I have to just rely on instinct and faith.
You are my world, Elizabeth, and I love you so very dearly.
Forever Yours….. William
What was she going to do? She recalled Jane's words about either accepting his love or losing it. She knew she did not want to lose him. She was beginning to care for him… deeply. Yet, she still had concerns. Why could she not just let her anxieties go and count her blessings that such a man loved her?
"What is wrong with me?" she asked herself.