Chapter 1 - Rudeness
Posted on 2014-07-16
"Meryton is delightful! I could very happily have spent my whole life exploring its woods and lanes as you have Charlotte." Elizabeth dropped herself, rather indelicately, onto the sofa, exaggerating her exhaustion and revealing a shockingly muddied petticoat.
Charlotte cast her exalted friend a fond, half-smile. She continued arranging the vase of flowers upon the sideboard as she made her reply. "For one who has had every advantage of refined society, you may believe that you would have always tolerated the idylls and idiosyncrasies of our confined one. The reality must be somewhat less palatable."
Elizabeth sat up properly to raise one brow at her hostess, then rearranged her dress to cover up the drying spatters. "I see what you are about. I have your measure; just as you may think you have mine. You delight in pointing out the flippancies of my speech. Very well. I shall amend my compliment: Meryton should be a fine place to build a charming yet grand, an idyllic though elaborate cottage. Somewhere I might enjoy the full bucolic experience; in the low season, attended to by a veritable army of staff. Is this more in line with what you have divined of me, wisest friend?"
Charlotte shot her a look filled with amused reproof. "If you will not be sensible, I can give you no form of wise response at all."
Elizabeth's eyes held a familiar sparkle, "And yet with this response you show your wisdom! A veritable paradox."
"What a ridiculous mood you are in!" Charlotte's indulgent smile to the bouquet rather belied the censuring tone of her words.
Sir William Lucas bounded into the drawing room of Lucas Lodge and surveyed the scene with a bountiful and approving smile. "Capital! Capital! What a fine sight to see you girls getting along so well!" Although enjoying Elizabeth's stay, and in general content with his lot, Sir William Lucas could not be entirely complacent of the great boon that his standing gained by hosting the daughter of a peer of the realm. Rather than be subdued by her consequence and its advantages to himself, Elizabeth had been subjected to the full brunt of his enthusiastic sentiment.
"We have just been discussing the merits of Meryton, Father." The triumphant look that Charlotte shot sideways at her through lidded eyes was, to Elizabeth's way of thinking, quite mean spirited to the good-natured man. Though she did concede the point in her mind, a lifetime spent with such unquenchable cheer might be somewhat trying.
"A more welcoming neighbourhood would be difficult to find, you must agree Lady Elizabeth? And I have just been to call upon our newest neighbours, who can only add to the appeal of our fair town. A Mr Bingley has just leased Netherfield Park, a very fine estate, situated just a few miles hence." Sir Lucas paused here, but on garnering no response continued, "A more amiable young man I have yet to meet. They were all pleasant gentlemen I must say - that is Mr Darcy and Mr Hurst who were with him. And all are to attend the assembly tomorrow! Capital! Capital!"
Always astute, Charlotte had not failed to notice the surprise and recognition betrayed by Elizabeth's countenance as she heard Mr Darcy's name. Her father, however, had. "What a shame you are to be leaving us before the assembly, Lady Elizabeth. I am sure you would enjoy meeting such upstanding young fellows, would you not?"
A small smile crept over Elizabeth's lovely features. "Indeed."
This assembly was particularly well attended: the inclusion of a member of the aristocracy was no less of a draw than the wealthy new neighbours leasing the largest house in the vicinity. Elizabeth was flanked by Charlotte and Jane Bennet and enjoying the night immensely. For her, this country assembly filled with well-meaning friends and neighbours was much preferable to the social scene she had encountered in the court of Naples. There, all seemed to be jostling for position and power, and the immoral behaviour that was acceptable left her uncomfortable.
Elizabeth had spent three years in Italy visiting her older sister. Margaret had married a visiting Royal and left for his country when she was but 16 years old. When her father had been planning his voyage for a family visit and diplomatic mission, Elizabeth had insisted upon accompanying him. She was adamant that she should meet the nieces and nephews she had never seen and the sister she had no memories of. The reunion was joyous and the sisters had devised that Elizabeth should be left behind and returned to England a year hence. Their plans were enacted, but the scheme had to be extended by unsafe travelling conditions. So it was that Elizabeth was now returned to British soil after an absence of over three years.
Although she had adored the beauty of the Mediterranean, she was unspeakably glad to return to the verdant land of her youth and be around those she could understand the motives of once more. And it was heartening to be at an informal assembly where she could throw herself into the dances and laugh and joke with all, from the sweet old lady to the nervous young lad attending his first ball.
"Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley, Mr and Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley." The entire assembly hushed and turned to gain a view of the door; attempting to fulfil the curiosity that had been building amongst the denizens of the town.
Elizabeth smiled widely. He was just as she remembered him, though perhaps more brooding - and more handsome. She blushed lightly at the thought.
Her spirits were high and conspired with the joy of seeing him after so long an absence to push her feet forward. She was to his aft and he did not notice her approach until she was almost upon him.
"Good evening, Mr Darcy" She bowed formally, attempting to impress upon him how she had matured in their separation. Darcy looked her up and down, his face displaying the full extent of his distaste. He met her eyes with admonition and disgust, then turned away in dismissal.
He had cut her!
She burned with fury and humiliation, how dare he treat her so cruelly! Who was he to disdain the connection? She stood in the fire of her emotion for a protracted moment, then turned and walked with forced dignity to the balcony.
What conceit! What cruelty! What possible reason could he have to treat her so shamefully? Once outside, she stormed to the balcony rail and gripped it tightly. All warm feeling towards her cousin was terminated, unable to reconcile her kindly and indulgent relative with that parody in the assembly room.
"Are you well, Lady Elizabeth?" Jane, ever feeling of other's plights, had hastened in her wake. She now stood timidly in the doorway. Upon their meeting, Elizabeth had quickly recognised the true heart and gentle nature of the older girl and had been trying to draw her out; however, she was still somewhat overawed by Elizabeth's consequence.
"Oh, I am exceeding cross! The arrogance of that man!" She turned and focused upon the clouds drifting around the moon. Her voice was smaller as she asked, "How did the room react?"
"Those who saw were terribly shocked. Poor Sir William was barely able to utter his welcome; he seemed truly torn." She paused before adding uncertainly, "Could I get you anything, My Lady?"
"Just give me a few minutes of quiet here, Jane, then I shall rejoin you." She heard Jane depart and breathed deeply. She allowed the soft breeze to cool her raging temper while the lively music wafted out to her.
After the set had finished, she gathered her courage and returned to the room. She endured the curious stares and forced herself through some uncomfortable dances, then sat down amongst the matrons to nurse her resentment.
She had not been sitting long when she noticed Darcy aimlessly stalking the room and coming towards her position. She turned away in a huff but was soon drawn back when his friend approached and began to berate him. "Come, Darcy, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance." Elizabeth smirked; let the man be reprimanded.
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment for me to stand up with." What misplaced pride! Even her brothers - the sons of an earl - would not be so ridiculously pompous! Simultaneously another thought occurred to her: could he have not known her?
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is a very pretty girl sitting down just behind you. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."
"Which do you mean?" Elizabeth realised with horror they were talking about her! Bingley must not have seen the débâcle upon their entrance. She felt she needed a week entire to forgive Darcy's rudeness enough to so much as speak to him again.
Turning around, he looked for a moment at her, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to bold hussies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."
Elizabeth turned pale and then red. This was too much! What an arrogant, impudent, despicable man! She stood, and in passing him threw a look of such frigid hauteur that her mother, the Countess, would applaud. She made her way loftily to Mrs Collins to heap ridicule on the unmannered dolt. Charlotte dutifully set about helping Elizabeth find her humour again.
What a waste to have such a jewel such as Charlotte married to her aunt's absurd parson!
She recalled how upon returning to London, she had been hurried away from her family home after a very short reunion, and sent to her Aunt Catherine's. Although the Rosings estate held some of her favourite walks, which she was glad to re-familiarise herself with, it would not have been her choice of homecoming.
She was a favourite of her aunt, with all the trials that entailed. Her cousin Anne, was always distant and unfriendly as a rule. Anne liked to keep her own company and Elizabeth attributed the animosity she detected to her aunt's belief that the two were the greatest friends and her forceful attempts to bring her delusions to fruition.
More pertinently, though, Elizabeth's chief feeling towards Anne was pity. She was always in poor health, and had for her only company the constant attentions of such a mother (though very dear as an aunt in small doses). That Anne could detect Elizabeth's compassion and that her pride did not appreciate the condescension was a surety. That she was also jealous of her cousin's looks, liveliness and abilities had not once occurred to Elizabeth.
Upon her arrival at Rosings, she discovered that her aunt had employed a remarkably silly parson, who had recently married a remarkably sensible wife and Elizabeth had made an instant friend. She soon discovered that her only witty company was packing to visit her home county. She was to aid in the come-out of her young sister, a goal Lady Catherine - and therefore by extension Charlotte's husband - believed to be a worthy familial duty. Elizabeth quickly procured herself an invitation; ostensibly to see more of the country before she would be allowed to return to her family in London.
This evening at the assembly, Charlotte quickly fulfilled her office and cajoled her guest back to true good cheer. Elizabeth spent the rest of the ball socialising and dancing. Her cousin's slights certainly not forgotten, but he, and his awful pride, were consigned to the insignificance they deserved.
Darcy, however, was not so sanguine. He had noticed Elizabeth's hard glance as she passed him and the better view that it afforded of her features flushed a spark of recognition. He could not determine how he knew her. Surely he could be acquainted with no one from such a rustic and tedious village?
The feeling, however, could not be shaken. He spent the rest of the evening following her with his eyes and trying to sate the need to place her.
Unexpectedly, he began to notice that she was not entirely without merit. No sooner had he found one aspect to admire, then he noted something else that warranted closer inspection: her figure, her smile, her eyes... until by the end of the evening he was thoroughly enchanted.
Blurb: Elizabeth is a relation of Darcy's and happens to visit Hertfordshire at the same time. He doesn't recognise her and perpertrates his usual assembley insults as well as inadvertantly cutting her.
Chapter 2 - Reactions
Posted on 2014-07-20
He tried, unsuccessfully, to quiet the inappropriate admiration as the carriage pulled away from the assembly rooms. His musings were more effectively silenced by the contents of Miss Bingley's soliloquy. "What a tedious backwater! I could barely credit finding such an illustrious name here. You would never have guessed her status from her dress. Why, it was at least three seasons out of date and of the poorest quality! She confided to me that she had packed in no expectation of attending a dance, and had to borrow an outfit from a local girl. Such a pity! If only I had known she was here, she could have had the pick of my own wardrobe. I do hope she will consider extending her stay. She would be very welcome to remove to Netherfield and be hosted in a manner more befitting her station."
Darcy had felt more and more uneasy as she went on. "About whom are you talking?" His tone was brusque; he had noticed no one from the first circles in the ballroom.
"Why, Lady Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, of course. It was such a surprise when we were introduced. I feel easier residing here now that I know she recommends the place. Is she not some sort of relative of yours, Mr Darcy?" Darcy went pale and his stomach clenched. Now he knew her! He instantly called to mind the handsome face he had been studying for the greater part of the evening. How she had changed!
Darcy abruptly thumped his cane on the roof. "Stop the coach!"
"What in the blazes, Darcy?" Bingley was half out his seat, ready for danger.
"I have some business I must attend to at once. I will return to Netherfield later. My regards to you all." With that he swung down from the barely halted coach and raced back the way they had come, his coat tails flying behind him, and the full moon lighting his way. Those left in the coach sat staring at each other stupefied.
It was all for naught. When he arrived back at the assembly hall Elizabeth and her hosts had departed, leaving him alone with the beginnings of a rather large headache.
In the library that night, Darcy digested his predicament over a decanter of brandy. What a mess! What a ridiculous situation to put himself into.
He thought back to the last time he had seen her. She was wearing the plain dress of the school room then, her hair braided and her features awkward in the midst of her adolescence.
She and Georgiana had been inseparable in the holidays, Elizabeth treating her as her own little sister. He knew it was a natural expression of Elizabeth's kind and tender heart to care and protect for any she thought vulnerable. And Elizabeth was no timid miss. She was lively and intelligent. She easily charmed all their relatives, gaining treats and concessions, and would attempt to join in the games of her older cousins with much gusto and bravado.
He recalled her eager, hopeful expression gazing up at him that evening. At the time it had seemed the most shameful forwardness - yet now it was revealed to be the sweet and tender greeting of his much loved younger relative. And he had cut her! He closed his eyes in regret. But that was not the worst of it; he was sure that she heard what he so foolishly voiced to Bingley - that she was not handsome. And he'd called her a hussy! Darcy's gut folded anew.
If - when - she told the Earl, the best scenario he could entertain was being called in for a caning as he had been given as a boy. Strongly did Darcy feel he deserved it. His darling little cousin, grown so beautiful. He would call a fellow out for less insult to her than that! However was he to fix it?
The next morning did not afford the opportunity Darcy sought. When he and the Bingleys called at Lucas Lodge, they were informed that Elizabeth had returned to town; her stay only having been extended on the expectation of meeting her cousin. Mrs Collins delivered this last piece of news with a speaking look. He was left in no doubt of her good information. He shifted uncomfortably and spent the rest of the visit gazing out the window, planning his imminent departure.
Miss Bingley sighed to herself as she stood on the front steps of Netherfield watching his carriage disappear from view that afternoon. She had some notion of the 'family emergency' Darcy had cried off with. Although ignorant of Darcy's faux pas, she had seen his eyes following Lady Elizabeth around the assembly room and alighted upon her own conclusions.
She was not bitter; she had always known that for Darcy, she was competing with the best connected and wealthiest families. And Lady Elizabeth had the added ties of blood. No - this was not an unexpected or painful loss. She only hoped that she had made a favourable enough impression on the Lady that she would still be the recipient of invitations to Pemberley and events in the first circles.
"Welcome home, Mr Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliam called and is awaiting you in the billiards room." Darcy suppressed a groan as the footman took his coat. He had hoped for a couple of hours to refresh himself from the journey and steel his resolve before encountering anyone from that family.
"Greetings, Richard." Darcy offered warily as he entered his games room.
Richard straightened from his shot and Darcy was surprised to see a glint of amusement in his cousin's eye. He momentarily held some hope that this was a courtesy visit and his cousin remained ignorant. "Darcy. What's it to be then - Pistols at dawn? Or a savage game of billiards for my sister's honour?"
"She told you." His voice was flat and tense.
"Oh she was in fine form - recounting her story to all who would listen. Abusing you savagely to any she could. A hussy, Darcy. Really?" The last was said with more reproach than tease.
Darcy slouched into an armchair and rubbed his cheek firmly, his eyes half- closed. "I should never have said it. No matter if I had not the faintest idea it was her. I came to London on her heels to offer my apologies."
"Just as well you did. Mother is livid. Her precious daughter newly home from such a long absence - and her gushing over how beautiful Elizabeth's grown. Then you oafishly opine that she's tolerable but not handsome. I think that was the worst of it for Mother. Never mind that you'd called into question Elizabeth's virtue and manner - to have her looks maligned on the eve of her début was sacrilege."
"I deserve all the reproach she - or anyone else - could give, Richard. I messed up royally and am thoroughly disappointed in myself. Do you think she will forgive me?"
"Mother? You know her - her moods change more frequently that her outfits." Darcy scowled silently at Richard, to which he only grinned.
"Elizabeth." Darcy ground out.
"Oh, well she might be a bit more reluctant. She claims that she has never found a more - now let me get this right - rude, ill-mannered, arrogant, stuck-up, good-for-nothing brute. She had some other colourful sounding words to describe you, but they were in Italian and I wasn't sure of the exact meanings." Richards grin had grown wider. "Do call however - I'm looking forward to seeing how well you can grovel Darce. And it had better be darned well to make up for this one."
Richard set down his cue and headed for the door. Just before exiting he offered, with all trace of light-heartedness gone, "She's damn beautiful you know. And a model of behaviour and propriety. In the future, do not allow yourself the liberty of thinking differently."
Darcy slumped further into his chair as the door clicked shut - what a perfect mess!
"Well really, Fitzwilliam, it is just too much. Truly it is! Why, if your uncle was not at business in Hampshire, I am sure he would have somewhat to say to you. You simply cannot go around the countryside offending the populace like that. But my Elizabeth! I know that you did not realise her identity - but really, Fitzwilliam! How could you say those things? And about my little girl!" The countess was working herself up into a fine state and Darcy was almost desperate to stop it.
"You have my abject apologies, Madam. I know I was fully in the wrong."
A movement from the doorway caught Darcy's attention in time to see Elizabeth enter. She looked every inch the Lady in her expensive finery. Darcy briefly wondered how he could not have seen she was of the bluest blood. And she was painfully beautiful. Darcy's breath hitched in his throat.
"I am pleased to hear that Mr Darcy. My mother is perfectly right. How rude to brazenly insult any girl so openly in her hearing. How mean and petty you were!"
Darcy's gut, which had not yet had a chance to settle, did another flip. "It was terribly wrong of me - I am truly sorry Elizabeth."
"Yes, well, I'm sure I will learn to forgive you in time. Mother, I have a dress fitting with your modiste. I shall return before our meal." She walked over to the countess - who was gamely keeping the tears at bay by wafting herself with a handkerchief - and kissed her cheeks before turning and heading away without so much as a single glance in Darcy's direction.
Darcy attended dinner that night with the Fitzwilliams as was customary on his return to town. Lady Matlock did not scruple to inform him of her struggle over extending him the invitation. Elizabeth pointedly ignored him all evening. Richard was as affable as ever, but took obvious delight in Darcy's discomfort at his treatment from the ladies.
All in all Darcy thought, as he made his way home, he was glad to be away from them. Or almost glad. Despite her antipathy, Elizabeth continued to fascinate him. She was undoubtedly beautiful. Her wit and intelligence were readily evident in the snippets of conversation he overheard. And although he did not realise it - Darcy had spent most of the evening contemplating the captivating way Elizabeth's eyes would alternately darken then sparkle, colour and animate with each sentiment. Perhaps, just perhaps, he would be willing to endure countless more such painful evenings as long as they were spent in her company.
Chapter 3 - Repentance
Posted on 2014-07-24
Elizabeth was enjoying a hugely successful London début. She was by no means the most handsome new-comer - but she was more than pretty. Her liveliness of manner added more to her appeal, in some quarters, than a surfeit of good looks could. She was worldly and witty in an entirely charming and disarming way. And her wardrobe was filled with the latest fashions from the continent, which lent her an exotic and sophisticated air. In short, Elizabeth was not wanting for admirers - courted by ladies for her company and men for her favour.
Her youthful and giddy enjoyment of it all was intoxicating and Darcy watched it with longing. But Elizabeth never deigned to acknowledge him. She never cut him - but if he approached her at a function her manner was cold and indifferent, and she excused herself as soon as politeness would allow.
It was at a musical evening that Darcy became aware that his feelings for Elizabeth ran deeper than mere cousinly love.
Elizabeth and Georgiana had, in times past, performed together for the family. But even the fullest recollection of her youthful talent could not have prepared Darcy for the shock and delight of hearing a grown Elizabeth sing.
She looked poised and confident preparing her music. The passive enjoyment Darcy had been listening to earlier performances with was replaced by rapt attention: he sat fully forward gazing at her.
When the first notes were sung, Darcy was transcended. Not idly had Elizabeth spent three years at the finest music conservatory in Sicily. She had honed her skills to the best of her tutors' abilities. At the piano she would never be perfection - although her playing sounded near so to the untrained ear. But her voice was a true wonder.
Darcy sat stock still, barely blinking, barely breathing, enjoying the warmth, the exaltations and depressions, the sweetness and depth that she vocalised in resonating tones.
At the end of the piece it was not only Darcy who was slow to applaud. The whole room sat in the stillness of mute appreciation. When the applause did begin it was long and rapturous. Elizabeth smiled shyly, feeling more nervous now for the excess of praise than she had during her performance. Many congratulations flowed in that night and Elizabeth's mother basked in the plaudits heaped upon her daughter.
Darcy hung back. He watched her as she accepted compliment after compliment, her cheeks reddened. He could tell she was flustered, though she accepted each exultation with her unique charm and easy manner.
She was beautiful - he had quickly repented of his first hasty assessment. And graceful, she was a true lady; yet full of vitality and joy. She was witty and clever, but never rude or unkind with it. She shone as a true diamond amid the false, dull sheen of the ton. He knew then. Something had clicked in his realisation and he was aware that she was a greater treasure than any woman he had met previously.
Here was a woman worthy of his troth. But was he worthy of her? He knew not. Yet he must try to win her esteem and from there her heart and hand. His resolve was set - now how to get her to regard him at all?
His new found self-knowledge changed nothing initially. She was still as aloof as ever, though he tried every way he could think of to engage her interest in conversation. He had even bought her a little trinket as he had when she was a child, but she returned it saying it was inappropriate to accept.
She had twice refused a dance with him - declaring fatigue during her only free sets. Once she had been forced to acquiesce or sit out; her acceptance was acerbic and her annoyance palpable.
Although he had enjoyed the touch of her gloved hand and revelled in the smell and sights of her nearness, their set was a disaster. She was merciless in her rebuke. Every topic Darcy brought up, she would somehow manage to reply with an allusion to one of his insults. Commendations on the organisation of the ball were met by, "Oh, you do not find it insupportable to stand up here then?" Modest compliments on her person were rejoined with, "You find me more than tolerable tonight, I am grateful for the elevation."
The highlight of the conversation were her inquiries about Georgiana. However, as Elizabeth was ignorant of Georgiana's close brush with ruination, and the location of her establishment was being kept secret while the girl recovered, he could give no satisfactory answers to the otherwise pleasing curiosity.
He went so far as to buy a new matched pair for his phaeton to give him an excuse to ride out in the mornings. He would stop by the Fitzwilliam house, arriving just as Elizabeth was leaving to pay her calls, and was able to offer her transport. During the rides she was mostly silent, and remained polite but distant when he tried to converse; she refused to call him anything other than 'Mr Darcy'.
It was all hurtful and frustrating - but Darcy could do naught but admit it was his own doing.
Eventually, Darcy realised he would need some form of help - his current lines of attack were getting him nowhere. Elizabeth had suitors coming out of her ears - not only vain, false or impoverished ones either. Darcy needed to pick up his pace or risk losing without even leaving the starting block.
To this end, he called upon his former favourite cousin with his tale of love. Richard tossed his head back and laughed heartily. "Well, Darce, I cannot think of a more perfect revenge than your falling in love with her after so thoroughly ruining your own chances."
Darcy was already regretting his choice of confidante. His countenance darkened and he made to go. He growled out "If you will not help, then my self-wrought misery and I will take our leave and devise another solution."
"No, no, no, Cousin," came Richard's jovial reply. "I would be eminently pleased to see you both settled so nicely. She would make a fine mistress of Pemberley; and if you can stop thinking only of yourself for a minute, you would make her a good husband.
"Really, now that you have suggested it, I cannot see myself entrusting her to anyone else." Darcy could not help but be pleased with this approbation for his match, and his mood visibly lightened. Richard continued, "The first thing we need to do is get her away from the riff-raff chasing her at all hours. I believe our annual trip to Rosings is approaching, is it not?"
Chapter 4 - Rosings
Posted on 2014-07-27
Richard went about requesting Elizabeth's attendance on their sojourn so he could enjoy more of the company of his little sister. His dramatic entreaties involved him being called to some distant battle for the empire, facing dire hardship, and likely never to return. His manner was joking, but Elizabeth knew his farce held a distinct kernel of truth. That knowledge overcame any of her objections to being in Darcy's presence for a fortnight.
Once on the road, Richard did not wait long to pretend to fall asleep. Darcy resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the obvious ploy and decided to be grateful for his cousin's assistance. Elizabeth sat beside her brother - her attention firmly set on the passing greenery.
"Elizabeth," he began gently. She turned her eyes to him but they were cold and hard. Darcy swallowed. "Please let me take this opportunity to apologise again. What I said was abhorrent. It should never have been uttered. Would you, perchance, let us go back to being friends?"
Elizabeth let out a little huff and raised an impatient brow at him before replying, "I suppose it will make this visit more tolerable if we can be on good terms. I reserve the right to dislike you in my own thoughts, Fitzwilliam, but I will try to be more civil."
Richard cold not help the guffaw that exploded forth, though he valiantly attempted to disguise it as a cough. He received a rather indelicate 'humph' of indignation from his sister and a less than ladylike thwack to his knee.
Lady Catherine was delighted to have her niece accompany her nephews and felt the compliment of their presence in full. She was especially pleased to see Darcy; she made no secret of the fact that she wished him for a son.
Darcy, however, was rather concerned with marrying himself off to his other, more genial, cousin. To this end, Elizabeth was met at the door early on the first morning of their stay as she set out for her usual walk. Darcy was exultant when, after a noticeable hesitation, Elizabeth took his proffered arm. He spent some minutes just enjoying her nearness as they made their way through the formal gardens just budding to life.
"I think we must have some conversation, Cousin, otherwise we had much better keep our own paces."
Darcy certainly did not wish to lose her company and cleared his throat. "It is fine weather we are having now." Darcy almost kicked himself at the inanity of it.
"Yes, very pleasant for April. How does Georgiana?" Elizabeth's face had been turned away admiring the blooming cherries, but now she turned to him, her expression unreadable.
"She is... she is in fair health."
"So I had gathered. My mother says she is residing in town but I am not to visit her."
"Yes. She could do with some space for a time." Elizabeth was ignorant of Georgiana's near elopement. The family had decided it was best to keep it on a need to know basis. Although the Fitzwilliams had mooted the idea of telling Elizabeth and sending her to lift Georgiana's spirits, it was decided to be more important that she make her late introduction to society without the added burden of keeping secret her cousin's close shave with ruination.
"I have not received a letter from her in months. I hope she still considers me a friend." Darcy looked down at her, trying to impart his sympathy, but she had turned her face away again.
"I am certain that she values her true friends more than ever."
In the silence that stretched for the next few minutes, Darcy managed to light upon the topic of the theatre. They discussed plays Elizabeth had seen since returning to London - she comparing them to her experiences in Italy. From there they moved to music, then books, then philosophy. Darcy was elated by the progress he had made and by the thawing of her sentiment. What a treasure she was! How well he could imagine his days spent debating with her and delighting in her.
Elizabeth played and sang at Lady Catherine's pleasure that evening.
"I am gratified your mother took my advice in where to send you for the best masters. Indeed, you have become a credit to the superior taste you inherited from your father.
"My own Anne should have done the same if only her health would have allowed it. I can see it now, how you would have played and sung together all day long. The Fitzwilliam blood differentiates you both from the common." Neither Elizabeth nor Anne were much pleased with this praise, or thought her supposition a likely scenario. Neither felt contentious enough to disabuse the matriarch.
Darcy was lost in his own mooncalf imaginings. How dearly he wished to spend the rest of his days like this one, walking with Elizabeth in the day and listening to her melodies in the evening. Theirs would be a marriage to surpass any he had yet observed in its happiness.
The remainder of their days at Rosings were spent just as Darcy had daydreamed that first night. When he did not have other duties, he would accompany her on her walks through the woods and groves, their dialogue becoming ever less strained and more companionable, and he would even lend her his company when she visited with the vicar's wife. His evenings - once he had reacquired the knack of tuning out Lady Catherine's speeches - were spent basking in the pleasure of Elizabeth's melodies.
The last days of the visit approached too soon. Darcy was determined to make good on any advantage he had earned. And on the second last night he received the sign he had been looking for.
He had sat beside Elizabeth, turning her pages as she played. The rest of the company were engrossed in a game of cards leaving the pair in relative privacy. "You play beautifully," he murmured near her ear. Elizabeth misplayed a note and Darcy smiled to discompose her. "Is your scent from Italy?"
Her eyes flickered to him before intently regarding the music again. "Yes, Margaret bought it for me, it is the same perfume she wears."
"I heard that the two of you were thick as thieves, inseparable once you were reunited." He remained close to her neck, his breathy words moving the small hairs near her ear.
"I would hardly call it reunited." She was attempting her usual bold manner, but he could tell she was unsure. "She left this country when I was a babe, we knew nothing of one another."
"She was always bossy, you know." He moved away and flashed her an impish grin. Rather than recovering her composure, she looked at him and her cheeks flamed a darker shade of red. "And a tell-tale. I'm surprised the both of you got on so well - she must have changed much in fifteen years. You certainly changed immeasurably in three."
"You think I am too much of a fine lady to attempt to beat you at chess or shuttlecock anymore?" She sent him her own teasing smile.
He could not resist the challenge and brought his lips near to the corner of her mouth, "I think you a very fine lady indeed, Elizabeth." She turned slightly towards him and their eyes locked. She glanced down to his mouth and wetted her lips. And then he noticed Anne watching, her eyes narrow slits.
He turned back to the piano sharply and Elizabeth closed her eyes and let out a slow breath before resuming her playing.
He knew she was attracted to him, as he to her, and today, the last full day of their visit, he planned to speak to her as they walked through the grove. However, the strength of his affection found the perfect outlet as they waited at the parsonage to take their leave.
They had been informed upon arrival that the couple were expected back within the hour, and they had decided to await upon their return in the parlour. In the stillness after the maid had left, Darcy gathered his courage and made his declaration.
How he had fallen so deeply in love with her, how difficult he had found her silences and reproofs, how only she could assure his future happiness. Would she end his suffering and consent to be his wife? In the silence that followed Darcy barely knew if he breathed.
Finally, Elizabeth met his eyes. "I thank you, but no."
Darcy felt the stab in his chest. "Elizabeth, I know my treatment of you in Meryton was revolting, but please, do not hold that against me in this. I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you."
His expression was so hopeful and genuine, his fine countenance displaying his vulnerability. Part of her longed to assure him that she would love to spend the rest of her life with such a handsome and learned man. But her other feelings rebelled, and she won the struggle she had been waging all week to hold on to her initial resentment. The battle that she had so nearly lost made her express herself with uncharacteristic vitriol.
"You display your selfishness in this as in all other parts of your life. You have no care if I am ready, if my feelings match your own, and yet you declare yourself to the detriment of me, whom you claim to love. Your love for yourself and for your own feelings overwhelms any sentiment that you have towards me, I am sure.
"Could I put myself under the power of a man who feels it necessary to chaperone my visits with someone not of our standing? Who regards me with disdain as I socialise with my peers? Who treats his sister so meanly as to shut her away and keep her from the company of her own family? To deny me, whom you would have for your future confidante and aide even the meanest knowledge of her?
"I cannot forget our first meeting - yes, you are sorry that you insulted a member of your family and the ton, but would you have been so quick to apologise to a Miss Elizabeth Lucas or a Miss Bennet? You look down upon the world from your lofty standing. You have been given the privilege of being more powerful than your fellow man, but you are not born as their better or to the greater goodness; yet from your dais you regard the world with a meanness that I could not tolerate.
"I hope that you will find happiness with some other titled heiress, who will fill the role you have envisioned for me with much more suitable comportment and gratefulness. For myself, I shall choose to marry where I am respected and can respect my partner." Her breath came heavy and her bosom heaved as she finished her tirade.
Darcy had looked so despondent but now she could feel the restrained fury radiating off him and see it sparkling in his eyes. "I see I have been mistaken, I will take my leave of you now - good day." He quickly bowed and exited the room. Elizabeth followed soon after; she was in no state to encounter Charlotte, let alone her ridiculous husband.
Chapter 5 - Recriminations
Posted on 2014-07-30
Elizabeth drifted through the woods between Hunsford and Rosings, her emotions numb, her mind desperately trying to collate Darcy's shocking revelations.
In love with her! She could scarce believe it. In all his looks she had read chastisement: she was the immature little cousin who should be more restrained. But this changed everything. He had been admiring her?
Her mind darted back to the night before. Her longing for him was a tangible thing as he sat beside her; the attraction she had been desperately holding back confronting her forcefully. She had thought him playful and unaware of her admiration. She had convinced herself that she had been mistaken in his intentions. Now, she had no doubt that he was desirous of her: he had said he loved her.
She tried to recall the minutiae of his proposal to find clues to the reasons and causes of his love, but nothing had been revealed. Indeed, one could scarcely conceive of a proposal with fewer compliments to its recipient! She took some moments to wonder if her decision would have been swayed by more flowery language and flattering phrases. She could not, to her discomfort, be entirely sure.
Her traitorous heart had been soundly influenced by Darcy's attentions and intelligent conversation this past fortnight, and she had been rendered almost weak at the knees by his sincere and dazzling smiles as he met her each morning. Had she truly made the right choice? She was already beginning to feel shame for the way she had spoken to him - and she had once thought him cruel!
When she arrived back at the house, she was informed that Darcy had taken his leave and ridden away already, giving her no chance to apologise. Her heart almost failed at the thought of the hurt and anger he must feel on his journey home.
Elizabeth pleaded a headache that evening, and excused herself from company. However, this did not dissuade Anne who walked into her room some time later.
"I did not invite you to my rooms. Leave. Now." Elizabeth glared at her from where she sat on the bed, her hand holding open the book she had been fruitlessly trying to read.
Anne walked to the window, unconcerned by her cousin's strident tone. "Darcy left here in quite a hurry, he seemed most upset by something." Anne turned her icy blue eyes on Elizabeth. "What did you do you foolish girl?"
"It is no concern of yours what I do with anything or anyone. I insist you leave my rooms this instant."
"He is worth a thousand of you. Just as well you refused him. It was a huge mistake to offer for someone so beneath him."
"I am he daughter of an earl! I outrank him and could marry a duke or a prince if I wished it."
Anne took some moments to survey the view from Elizabeth's window before nonchalantly turning to face her again. Her words were slow and deliberate, "Yes, that is what you should do. Who you deserve. Marry a coxcomb who will care more for his appearance than for yours. Or one who covets your pretty little face and fine figure and cannot see the content of your character and mind. Or a gambler or glutton who loves the dowry you bring more than yourself. Find yourself a handsome duke who thinks nothing of bringing to bed any woman who is willing and catches his eye. They are all like that, you know. Your brothers included. Do you think they would hesitate to bring a mistress to their beds? Your father does."
"He does not!" Elizabeth was vehement, "My father is a good man, he loves my mother!"
"Blind, stupid girl! Just because I am locked up here does not mean I do not see what goes on in the world. You have blinkered yourself - of course he keeps a woman in the town.
"I see them all when they are here, importuning our maids, cornering our pretty servants. It is their right as gentlemen to have their needs looked to in whatever way they choose. Perchance you find someone devoted enough to your looks and talents that they remain faithful? How long do you think they will abide so when your beauty fades and your body and temper are diminished by bearing their children.
"Or mayhap you will find yourself an honest man, a farmer or a parson, perhaps. How low would you go in search of someone to love you truly? What level of degradation and estrangement would you endure for a man who would be true?
"In Darcy you could have had everything. He is one man who would never betray you. Once you had his vows, his faithful promise - even if he abhorred you - he would remain steadfast.
"He would never allow his bride to feel pain, to receive an injustice, to suffer hardship that he could do anything within his power to stop. He is a real man, and a genuine gentleman. You would not have wanted for anything - physically, emotionally, he would not desert you.
"And you refused him. You thought yourself so above his suit, but you are not. You are a silly little girl that is not fit to be dross upon his foot. I congratulate you on releasing him from his own foolishness. You go ahead and find your Duke now, I'm sure he's waiting for you out there somewhere, his perfect society bride." Anne turned on her heel and exited with no more ceremony than she entered with.
Elizabeth spent the night oscillating between denying the truth of her cousin's embittered words, and castigating herself for her own accusations and manner, occasionally regretting her refusal.
Elizabeth's sleepless night had taken its toll; Lady Catherine was truly worried for her niece and offered much advice and remonstration on looking after oneself as they prepared to depart. Elizabeth dully took her leave and allowed a stony-faced Richard to hand her into the carriage.
"I know you refused him," he informed her, once they were beyond Rosing's grounds. His countenance was admonishing.
"Do not discuss this with me, please Richard." Elizabeth looked pale and weak, leaning against the carriage window and watching the trees flash past.
"Do you truly hate our cousin, Elizabeth?"
"I thought I did, Brother, but I discover I may have been wrong. Could we please let this topic lie for the moment?"
"No." His tone was serious and Elizabeth sent him a blistering look. "There is a man somewhere in London who has just faced the most serious disappointment; a good man, and a dear friend and relative. Someone who did not deserve to be put through the mill by one who knows nothing of the adversity he has faced. He is your elder and should have your allegiance, not your scorn. What have you to say for yourself, Elizabeth Fitzwilliam?"
She sat herself up erect, "I do not have to explain myself to you - you are not my father Richard!" she railed.
"No, but I am your senior, and I do know when someone has been rude and unladylike. I am not afraid to call you up on your misconduct, Elizabeth."
"I do not have to accept that man! None of you can force me. I am no chattel to be bought and sold to the highest bidder," she cried out in exasperation. "I wish to marry for affection, and to have the respect of my husband."
She lowered her voice, and regulated her tone, "You know he does not esteem me. I heard from the man himself, how my looks have no power over him. He has shut away his sister from the world and I have no intention of being locked away at Pemberley upon his whims or having to endure his foul moods and disdain." The tempo and volume of her voice had risen again, and the last words were spat out.
"I discovered the reason I was dismissed so unceremoniously from our home on my return, though you all tried to keep it from me. She was being kept there. Sheltered from the presence of her own brother."
"Ah, so that is what this is about." Richard's reply was soft and menacing. "You hate being kept out of the loop do you not? Unable to have your curiosity sated by your family, you heeded gossip and jumped to the most wild conclusions - unashamed to slander a good man." Elizabeth had gone back to looking out of the window, her expression black. "Let me enlighten you then, your Ladyship."
His voice was firm and unrelenting, "After the death of our uncle, Darcy had to take on the work of the entire estate - thrown into the responsibility of a large holding and all of its people. No youthful follies and pleasures allowed for him, and that pressure on top of the huge weight of grief he felt becoming an orphan. Not only that, he was forced into the role of parent to a young girl. A girl who last year almost eloped with a scoundrel of the worst kind." Elizabeth let out a small gasp and her head shot round at this pronouncement.
"Yes - that's correct, Elizabeth - she was taken in by the wiles of a profligate gambler and womaniser of the servant classes. If Darcy had not shown up when he did, Georgiana would be now chained to a man who not only would have married her for her large dowry, but to spite Darcy. The most pitiable state imaginable.
"And yes, it was Georgiana who kept you from London, until we could form her establishment. Once he had entrusted us with his guilt-ridden, weeping sister, he stayed away. He left to give her time to grieve without his presence, which was upsetting her. Can you imagine, Sister, your only close kin left in the world rendered so dejected and ashamed that she could not bear to even look at you?
"Once she was settled he took himself off to Meryton, where he met you. Now his disappointments were no excuse for the shameful behaviour he showed you there. However, perhaps now you can understand why I do not think your behaviour yesterday any more laudable than his then."
Elizabeth held his gaze for a moment, her eyes shining. Then she collapsed her head into her hands and began the most pitiable weeping.
Richard was across the carriage in a second, his sister gathered into his arms. He rocked and shushed her gently as her sobs racked her, and her tears fell.
Chapter 6 - Reunions
Posted on 2014-08-03
Elizabeth awoke to the sounds of the bustling London streets. She lifted herself up, and her brother raised his brows at her - the familiar teasing light back in his eyes.
"Do I look a state?" She asked, rubbing her stiff neck.
"Hmm, let me catalogue the damage... puffy eyes, red nose, your hair looks more akin to a bird's nest than a coiffure. Still I would not worry overly much - you're a natural beauty - it would take more than the impressions of the seat tufts on your cheeks to diminish your appeal."
She lifted her hands to fix her pins, and sighed, "I have been very foolish, have I not?"
"Well, you know my opinion on that matter. I am glad our thoughts are more akin now."
"I should have refused him still, you know, even if I was behaving properly. He was a bear to ask for my hand after only two weeks of my speaking to him again."
"If that was what you wished. However, I think you underestimate how happy you could make each other. He is a good and upright man, Elizabeth, in all his dealings. You could go through the world twice over and not find a more forthright, loyal character; or one who would look after and care for you half as well."
"That is a very glowing recommendation. He seems to have many champions; or do you have some money riding on our marriage at that club of yours, Richard?" She smiled as she lowered her hands, her hair slightly more presentable.
"Something far more valuable. The happiness of my favourite sister."
Elizabeth shot across the carriage and threw her arms around him. "I do love you Richard; even if your rebukes are worse than Papa's." The words were muffled in his chest, and Richard smiled down at the top of her head in amusement, one hand fondly stroking her once again dishevelled hair.
"I suppose you cannot do any more damage to this waistcoat than has already been wrought."
Upon their return to London, Elizabeth was insistent that she should see Georgiana. This time, her demands were quickly granted and she was soon embracing her weeping, repentant cousin and whispering words of comfort: that she knew what had happened, that she was safe and loved, and of course it was a stupid thing to do; but she could learn from this and be better, that was the chief part of being a good person. Their childhood friendship was thus firmly re-established.
Darcy, it turned out, had gone back to Bingley's estate in Hertfordshire. As deeply as Elizabeth wished to apologise for her wrongs, and as much as her heart fluttered at allowing herself to feel all that it had resisted previously, she had no imminent means or desire to return to the county where her character and person were so maligned, and the populace witness to her humiliation.
Elizabeth had taken to visiting Georgiana almost daily. They were reclining upon Georgiana's bed one afternoon, heads touching and hands clasped, as they looked up at the canopy, when Georgiana brought up the topic of her brother.
"I long to see Fitzwilliam again. I felt awful to be around him before, I could only think of how I had disappointed him. But I do miss him so." Elizabeth's stomach did a funny little roll at the mention of her cousin.
Georgiana continued, "He was frightening, you know, that day he arrived in Ramsgate. He was so angry and fierce, like a Greek god come to wreak vengeance. I have never seen him like that, he is always so tender and loving with me. I was afraid; but he was never anything but kind and solicitous, even though I could see how furious he was. He inquired where that man could be found and was gone. When he returned he just looked to my comfort. But I did not deserve it at all, Elizabeth. I wish he would have stormed and raged at me and told me how foolish I had been. But he held me as I cried, and looked for my every need. I know I do not deserve such a brother."
Elizabeth traced the patterns on the canopy with her eyes. She knew how he looked when angry, her memory flickered from the sight of him thunderous, barely containing his ire; to when she had first refused him. He had been so dejected, so lost and hopeless. And she had driven in her nail.
He was a good man. She knew that - had always known that really. There was barely a soul she trusted more. Yes, he had been stupid when they met, but in light of what she knew now, she was willing to overlook any slight from those days after he had rescued Georgiana.
Elizabeth's gaze shifted to the music box on Georgiana's bedside. It was very similar to the one Fitzwilliam had tried to gift her.
"Did your brother give you that?" Elizabeth inquired. Georgiana lifted herself up on to her side to see.
"Oh yes! It is so pretty, is it not? He is always giving me little presents and sending me letters. I have never known anyone more generous. Everyone says so. The servants and tenants are always praising him. Mrs Reynolds says he is all that is good and fair, and that he does not allow any in the area to go cold or hungry. But that is just what I would suppose of him! He is the best of men, is he not, Elizabeth?" Elizabeth turned to look more closely at the music box, choosing not to answer her cousin's inquiry. Her heart, however, was shouting her response.
Elizabeth was nervous of Darcy's return to town. She was starting to be cognizant her feelings for him now, but did Darcy still care for her? Was he in Hertfordshire hating her after the awful way she had abused him? She was haunted by his just anger at their last parting.
When Elizabeth arrived at Georgiana's rooms on this day, she was met with a girl thoroughly worked up and almost shaking. Darcy was to go to Pemberley, and through their letters had offered Georgiana the option of returning with him to their ancestral lands. She was keen to see her home again, and had written back to say that she and her companion would make their way there from London as soon as she was packed. Now she was repenting of her impulsiveness, feeling unequal to meeting him and with no shelter from her guilt.
Elizabeth immediately offered to join her on the journey to provide succour and strengthening. Georgiana bounced up and thanked her, kissing her cheek; her excitement for the trip restored. Elizabeth however, could not match her enthusiasm. The knot of nervous tension in her abdomen was already tightening.
And so it was that Elizabeth and Georgiana travelled to Derbyshire, and spent a few days keeping each other's company while enjoying the warm, serene days of early summer.
Pemberley and its grounds were beautiful and although Elizabeth felt she should be more nervous now, when Darcy was to approach only a few days hence, she allowed the majestic sights of Derbyshire soothe away the trepidation that had built within her.
It was when Elizabeth was attending her daily stroll through the gardens that she happened upon a newly arrived Darcy.
"Elizabeth! What are you doing here?" He stopped in front of her, his shock plainly evident on his features.
"Fitzwilliam, I..." She had spent the few last days imagining just how she would meet him - a formal greeting, then a request for a private audience. There she would lay out her list of faults as she saw them and ask for his forgiveness.
Now, however, her tongue felt like a leaden weight was attached to it. She swallowed hard. He was still staring at her incredulously, so she forced herself to begin.
Once she started her thoughts came out in a gushing torrent. "Oh, please forgive me, Fitzwilliam. I was so horrible to you, and offensive. I should not have said any of those things. Richard told me about Georgiana; I was so ignorant and cruel. I do care for you. I was being petulant and could not see that you liked me, and I know..."
She was cut off by Darcy's lips crashing against her own. Elizabeth was shocked frozen, then felt herself relax into his embrace, the new sensations eclipsing all thought of what she had been so earnestly trying to tell him.
"Elizabeth," he gasped out, "please forgive me the liberty."
"Oh," she said, her mind reeling and unable to focus fully on what he was saying. "That was nice..." Darcy laughed and bundled her up into his arms.
He spoke softly into her hair, "I have been such an imbecile, Elizabeth - can you ever forgive me?"
Elizabeth pulled herself half away and shook her head emphatically, "No, no Fitzwilliam, it was me - I have reflected on my behaviour and know I acted as a child - I am so sorry."
"You were right, you know, with what you said in Kent. I see that now. I was in a terrible fit when I left, but when I got back to London there was a message from Bingley awaiting me. He had become engaged to Miss Bennet."
"How lovely!" interrupted Elizabeth, and Darcy smiled down at her.
"I did not think so. My first thoughts were that Bingley was making a terrible match; he could have cemented his place in society with the right bride. Then your words came back to me, how I dismissed those beneath me. I realised you were right: her worth as a person was far more essential to Bingley's marriage than how high she could pull him socially. So I went to visit, and she was - that is - she was all that was good and lovely. Terrible family though." Elizabeth giggled. "I will change, am changing, my view of the world, Elizabeth." His voice was deep and fervent.
She smiled at him coyly through lowered lashes. "That is just as well - for I think you may have compromised my virtue, Fitzwilliam." He laughed and kissed her again lightly before kneeling down upon one knee.
"Dearest, sweetest, loveliest Elizabeth - say you will consent to being my bride. Berate me when I am foolish and make me a man worthy of your love."
"I do love you, am in love with you, Fitzwilliam. I know I should ask you to correct my own foolishness, but I am rather done with being told off for now. Say you will overlook all my faults and think me perfect, sweet William?"
He stood up and bringing her back into his arms, made his reply before kissing her soundly. "I already do, Elizabeth, I already do."The End