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Dearest Anne 6

September 04, 2020 12:07AM
Chapter 6

Elizabeth sat gazing at her own image as Betsy carefully arranged and pinned each cascading curl from the crown of her head. Completely unaccustomed to such tasks, Betsy struggled to please, wishing that she had actually seen how Miss Elizabeth’s hair had been styled for the ball she kept referring to.

“And I also found the loveliest white flowers that we interlaced here and there—but then, it was a rather formal occasion,” said Elizabeth, encouraging the young woman with an approving smile.

“You must have looked very beautiful, Miss Elizabeth,” said Betsy.

“Oh no, not beautiful! I would save that description for my sister Jane. But I did feel rather pretty that evening and I believe there were others who thought so, too.” Elizabeth blushed at the thought of Fitzwilliam’s face—so painfully rigid and unreadable as he asked her to dance. Never before had she considered the courage it must have taken him to approach her with Charlotte there to witness his possible humiliation, had she refused him.

Did he have feelings for me even then, she wondered.

She had misjudged Fitzwilliam Darcy from the first and had continued to misunderstand him even after all that had passed between them at Pemberley. Truly, she did not deserve his love and was finding it difficult to believe that he could still want her! Lady Catherine’s disapproval was certain, but what other sacrifices would he have to make? Though these worries gnawed at her, Elizabeth was determined to ignore them. If Fitzwilliam’s love was strong enough to withstand such censure, she would have to find the courage to forgive her own foolishness and allow herself to be happy. Yet even now, she pinched herself to see if it were really true! Had this miraculous day really come?

The gown she had chosen to wear was too formal for a morning’s walk in the garden, but all the others had gone through countless washings to remove the stains that Jonathan had inflicted on them—and she would not accept Fitzwilliam Darcy in a shabby gown! Would he realize that she was dressed just as she had been at the Netherfield ball? She laughed at herself. After all that they had both suffered, how could any of this matter!

Too nervous to eat, she now sat at the breakfast table with Sir Robert and sipped her tea, attempting to answer his questions in an easygoing manner.

“You’re looking especially lovely this morning, Elizabeth,” he said, eyeing her thoughtfully. “Would that this fuss were for me…but I dare say it is not. Pray tell me, has royalty arrived at the inn?”

“I’m to meet Miss Darcy for a walk, Sir Robert; that is all. My other gowns were so stained that I decided to wear this one. It is a bit fussy for a stroll in the gardens, I know. Do I look terribly silly?” she asked, laughing lightly. “Do you think Miss Darcy will realize that I am wearing my very best when she dresses in such finery every day?”

“And is that why you didn’t take your morning ramble? I thought you might be ill when I heard that you were still in your room. Will Miss Darcy be coming here to fetch you?”

“Oh,” stammered Elizabeth, suddenly flustered. “I don’t know. I don’t think so—though we didn’t specify where we were to meet. But it is still early,” she finally said with conviction. “I shall wait here for a while and then meander over to meet her.”

“Excellent! Then I shall have the pleasure of your company a little while longer; I wanted to talk to you this morning. Come dine with me at the inn this afternoon. I have some happy news to relate and will abide no distractions from children or servants. What do you say to one o’clock? Surely your visit with Miss Darcy will have ended by then?”

“I would be happy to,” said Elizabeth, hesitantly, “if only I were certain that Miss Darcy didn’t expect me to dine with her and her brother. I believe she said something to that effect when we first made the arrangement. I would not wish to keep you waiting.”

“Elizabeth,” he now said, looking intently at her, “why is it that despite your physical presence here, I feel as if I have already lost you?”

“I suppose it is because you know my time here is at an end,” she replied, not daring to look at him as she spoke.

“Well, don’t pack your trunks just yet, my sweet—not before you hear my news!” he grinned and then drained his cup.

Surprised and a bit uneasy at this pronouncement, Elizabeth asked, “Well, won’t you tell me what it is now? I shan’t be rushing off just yet.”

“No, I want us to be sharing a fine bottle of wine and enjoying a good meal when I make my news known. I wish to savour the moment and the look on your face! You will not cheat me of that, my dear Miss Bennet!”

“Very well, I shall try to keep our appointment, but I cannot promise, you understand. I will, of course send word to you if I cannot come,” said Elizabeth, rising from her chair. “Now if you will excuse me, I have some instructions for Betsy concerning Jonathan.”

After briefly visiting the nursery, Elizabeth wandered about the house, avoiding Sir Robert, but making certain that she had a view of the gardens, should Mr. Darcy approach. The plan for their rendezvous had not been explicit, but she felt it only natural that he would come for her. She waited and paced—then waited and paced some more. Finally, she sat and tried to read a little, anxiously peering out at the gardens every now and then and becoming more and more anxious as the morning wore on. An hour passed, then another, and by eleven o’clock she felt herself close to tears. Where was he? Had he not said that he would see her after her morning ramble? She had not expected him to know the exact time of her return, but surely he had meant before noon! The sun was now directly overhead and the morning would soon be over. Had she misunderstood him? Had she only dreamt yesterday’s miraculous events?

Ruminating on these thoughts, she was suddenly startled by Sir Robert as he passed her, deep in conversation with his steward.

“Ah, Miss Bennet,” he said, stressing her family name. He was always so ridiculously proud of himself when he remembered not to call her Elizabeth. “Are you back from your walk already? That is good news!”

“Oh, no sir. Miss Darcy was delayed and I am just now going to join her. Please excuse me,” she said curtsying and hastily making her escape. She had no choice now but to head towards the inn, as embarrassing as that would be! What else could she do? Her mind raced. Where was Fitzwilliam? And why was he putting her in this terrible predicament?

Before she knew it she was at the front entrance, smiling at those who greeted her and wishing that she could become invisible! Her face felt hot and flushed, and she was certain that everyone could read her thoughts and see directly into her heart. She prayed she would not run into Fitzwilliam now.

“Have you come for the post, Miss Elizabeth?” came the familiar voice from behind the front desk.

“Oh, yes! Thank you, Mr. Simmons,” she said, grateful to have been offered a logical explanation for being there. “Has a letter arrived from Hertfordshire?”

“Yes indeed! But Sir Robert picked it up himself early this morning, Miss.”

“That is odd; he did not pass it on to me,” replied Elizabeth, a bit bewildered.

“It wasn’t addressed to you, Miss. That particular letter was addressed to him, but this one from London bears your name.”

Elizabeth took the missive and saw immediately that it was from her Aunt Gardiner. Nodding her appreciation, she curtsied and was about to leave when she turned back and asked, “I was hoping to run into Miss Darcy this morning. Is she perhaps in the dining room with her family?”

“Miss Darcy? Oh no, Ma’am! The Darcys left Braemar very early this morning! The Matlocks and de Bourghs will remain as planned, I believe, but the Darcys have gone. I can’t imagine why they left so suddenly, but it must have been a matter of some urgency. They departed even before the morning fires were lit.”

Elizabeth felt her very breath being violently sucked from her body. In desperate need of air, she gasped and steadied herself against the counter. It wasn’t possible! … Had Fitzwilliam fled? Had he run from her yet again and without a word? She clutched her trembling hands to her heart and dared to inquire, “Did Miss Darcy leave a message for me, by chance? We had planned an outing today.”

“No, Miss Elizabeth. I’m terribly sorry, but there were no messages at all.”

*****

Anne de Bourgh had been locked in her room all morning and a footman had been stationed outside her balcony door to ensure she would neither escape nor communicate with anyone. Lady Catherine’s fury had made her suspicious even of Anne, and when, upon questioning her daughter most severely her Ladyship had noted a subtle tone of defiance, she lost her temper as well as her reason. Lady Matlock had come to Anne’s defense, insisting that no matter what had transpired before his departure, Darcy’s decision to leave was his own and that Anne could not be held responsible. Indeed, if anyone was to blame, it had to be Richard, for he had accompanied Darcy, perhaps even encouraged him, betraying both his parents. Nevertheless, Lady Catherine was adamant that Anne be secluded and not given the opportunity to converse with that mercenary wench who was about to ruin them all!

Anne had been served breakfast in her room, but the Earl, now deeply disturbed by the machinations that had come to mar his special holiday, demanded that his niece be allowed to dine with what remained of his family. The other guests were already gossiping about the strange behavior of his clan and he was not about to add fuel to the fire. So it was that Anne de Bourgh, flanked by her mother and her aunt, descended the stairs, just as Elizabeth was trying to regain enough composure to leave the inn. Their eyes met, and Anne, desperate to convey her cousin’s message, looked longingly at Elizabeth. Elizabeth, attuned only to her own anguish, read mocking contempt in the intensity of her gaze and walked past her with as much dignity as she could manage.

She had taken only a few steps and was almost at the threshold of the entrance when Sir Robert bounded towards her. Seeing the expression on her face, he took her arm and led her out onto the portico. At that moment, she could not have been more grateful for his rescue. Part of her wished to flee to the solitude of her room, while the other ached to collapse into the safety of his arms. Yet pride determined her course of action. Looking away from him towards the mountains— and trying desperately not to cry—she murmured, “It seems Miss Darcy and her brother have left Braemar. I imagine she forgot all about our little outing.”

“The very rich can be so thoughtless!” murmured Sir Robert, pressing her hand. “I can see you are sorely disappointed and much offended, Elizabeth, but don’t take her neglect so to heart. She is not worth your tears.”

It was only then that Elizabeth realized that the tears she had been trying so desperately to control had found their own way down her cheeks.

“Oh no! You must not think so meanly of her!” said Elizabeth, horrified at attributing anything unkind to Georgiana. “She is normally the sweetest and most thoughtful of young women. I am sure that there were circumstances which she could not control.”

“As always, it is you who are too kind and generous! But come, dry your eyes and allow me to brighten your somber mood. I have arranged for a quiet table by the window, and a few sips of that wonderful wine I ordered will do you a world of good just now.” He gently grasped her elbow and attempted to lead her back inside.

“I must go home, Sir Robert, please! Allow me to leave without a fuss. I am in no condition to be seen by anyone and cannot imagine sitting in a dining room full with people. Please let me go. We can have our talk later.”

“Elizabeth,” said Sir Robert in the gentlest of voices, “at this very moment, no less than ten people, the Matlocks and de Bourghs included, are whispering about what could have possibly upset you so! If we are to stop their gossiping you must remain here and disappoint them with a show of strength. I have an excellent excuse for your tears if you would but add a little smile to your countenance. Trust me, Elizabeth, and all will be well. Though my news is of the happiest kind, a few tears would not be an inappropriate response to it, and you can save face with very little effort. Come,” he said, handing her his handkerchief, “you know I would do nothing to hurt or embarrass you.”

Feeling numb and completely helpless, Elizabeth dabbed at her eyes and allowed Sir Robert to lead her into the dining room. He, himself, pushed in her chair and immediately poured her half a glass of wine. She waited for him to be seated and to serve himself before taking several sips and smiling awkwardly back at him.

“Thank you, Sir Robert. As always, you are too good to me. I know that displaying a little dignity just now is the right thing to do, but I would not be capable of it on my own.”

He smiled lovingly at her, pulled a letter from his breast pocket and handed it to her. “This should make you genuinely happy!” he said.

She immediately recognized her father’s hand and unfolding the missive, eagerly drank in his words. Sir Robert had been right! A few tears would not be inappropriate! But it was the last thing in the world she would have wanted—especially now! How could she bear to remain here yet another month, entertaining her family and pretending that everything was right with the world? No! This was dreadful news! Dreadful, horrible news!

“It was very thoughtful of you to invite them,” she murmured, trying her best to keep a happy countenance. But the muscles about her mouth and eyes refused to produce the expression she wished to present to him. In her emotional state she was too upset to notice that all eyes had shifted from her to a commotion at a larger table in the middle of the room.

“I WILL NOT SIT DOWN! I DEMAND TO SPEAK TO THE PROPRIEITOR THIS INSTANT! WHAT SORT OF ESTABLISHMENT IS THIS TO ALLOW SUCH GOINGS ON?” Lady Catherine’s booming voice suddenly broke through the fog of Elizabeth’s mind, and she became aware that her Ladyship was staring directly at her!

Mr. Simmons was hastily summoned, and was now bowing and scraping before Lady Catherine, asking what he could possibly do to be of service to her.

“I am not accustomed to dining with my servants!” she loudly declared. “And I will not share this dining room with the servants of others! Why is that woman allowed to sit among us?” she said with venomous disdain, still glaring at Elizabeth. “She is a common nanny and has no business mingling with unsuspecting ladies and gentlemen. I want her removed immediately or my family shall depart and spread the word that this is no place for people of good breeding to spend their holidays!”

Anne brought her hand to her mouth, while her uncle’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Sir Robert was already out of his seat and striding towards her Ladyship when Elizabeth cried out, “Sir Robert, no! Please don’t!” Indeed, even the walls of the dining room seemed to lean in to hear his words.

“I beg your pardon, Madam?” he said indignantly. “You have insulted the lovely lady with whom I am dining and I demand that you apologize to her at once! Miss Elizabeth Bennet is no hired servant, but even if she were, it would be no concern of yours. It is I who am enjoying her company and you, Madam, have not been invited to our table!” His eyes blazed as he stared at her Ladyship with obvious revulsion.

“If she is not your servant, Sir Robert, then I wonder what function she serves in your household!” retorted Lady Catherine, completely unaffected by his penetrating stare. “Is she so close a relation that she can reside in your home for months on end without another lady or a chaperone present? I can well understand your gallant defense of her when she is clearly so important to your personal happiness, sir—you a widower, unable to keep proper company before your year of mourning is out!” Lady Catherine lifted her chin still higher, clearly proud of her performance.

Enraged, Sir Robert instinctively raised his hand to strike her, then quickly lowered it again as the entire room let out an audible sigh of relief. A guttural growl escaped his lips. “If you were a man I would call you out, Madam! As it is, there is no need for me to disgrace you or prove you wrong. You have done that well enough yourself! Anyone who knows the character of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and the charity with which …”

Elizabeth could not bear to listen to another word. With everyone focused on Sir Robert, she backed herself against the wall and quietly made her way out of the dining room and into the open air. Though feeling faint, she willed her feet to move her forward through the garden.

Anne now saw her opportunity as well, and easing herself from her chair, inconspicuously left the room to run after Elizabeth. She had great difficulty in doing so, however, as her limited breath was being spent on choking back her sobs.

“Miss Bennet, wait! Please! I must speak to you. I cannot run as fast as you. Please stop! I beg you!”

Elizabeth heard the faint plea but did not stop to acknowledge it or even determine its source. She had to get to her room, to the few necessities she would pack before fleeing this awful place. She wished to be away even before Sir Robert returned, and although she knew it was impossible to accomplish, she was determined to try. She could not face anyone! Not even him!

“Please, Miss Bennet! Elizabeth! I have a message from my cousin! Please stop and wait for me! Please.”

At these words, Elizabeth whirled about and shouted back indignantly, “Forgive me for not making it easier for you to further humiliate me, Miss de Bourgh! And as for your cousin, if he has something to say to me, let him do it to my face! I don’t wish to hear his words from you!” And with that Elizabeth ran on.

She had gone only a short distance when she heard an odd thump and a muffled cry. In a sudden panic, she turned to see Anne de Bourgh lying very still on the ground, some thirty yards away.

“Dear G-d, what have I done!” she murmured as she ran back towards Anne’s lifeless form. “Why did I allow her chase me? Oh G-d, please, let her be all right!”

She could see that Anne’s left foot had caught and twisted on a root, and as she lowered herself to Anne’s side, she noted a trickle of blood oozing from a cut on her forehead. Silently weeping and murmuring Anne’s name, Elizabeth gently dislodged the foot and seated herself on the ground to lift Anne’s head onto her lap. Stroking the hair away from the wound, she continued to call her name.

“Anne, please wake up. Open your eyes and look at me! I am so sorry. I should have stopped; I should have waited. Please, Anne!” she continued to weep, fanning Anne’s face and stroking her brow.

After what seemed like an eternity, Anne de Bourgh opened her eyes and let out a soft moan. On seeing Elizabeth, however, she smiled.

“Oh Miss de Bourgh! Thank G-d you are conscious! I was so frightened! Are you in pain? Does your leg hurt, or your head? Can you see me clearly?” She rattled off one question after another without waiting to hear the response, but then fell silent and simply gazed at the gentle, smiling face looking up at her.

“I much preferred it when you called me Anne. I do so want us to be good friends—close and loving cousins, in fact.”

Elizabeth stared at her in astonishment.

“Miss Bennet, you must believe me! My cousin’s sudden departure from Braemar had nothing to do with you. I have never known a man more deeply in love and devoted than Fitzwilliam is to you. Before he fled, he begged me to deliver this message so you would not suffer any distress or doubt. My mother made it impossible for me to seek you out, however. Please forgive me.”

This little speech seemed to tire Anne considerably, and she closed her eyes for a few moments and took some shallow breaths before continuing. “My family threatened to remove Georgiana from Fitzwilliam’s care and legally revoke his right of guardianship. He felt it would devastate Georgiana to know that she was at the center of such family strife and determined it best to spirit her away before any action could be taken. He promised to return as soon as possible and hoped it would take but a few days. You must understand how difficult it was for him to leave you.”

At these words, Elizabeth felt as though her heart would break. “Why are you being so very kind when I am the means of ruining all your hopes concerning your cousin, Miss de Bourgh? You should despise me, especially now when I’ve treated you so cruelly.”

“I assure you that my motives are purely selfish,” said Anne, grinning up at her. “I know your true nature, Elizabeth Bennet, and with you as the Mistress of Pemberley I at least have a chance of being welcome there. You would not prevent me from seeing either of my cousins, no matter how cruelly my mother treated you.” Here again she paused to rest a moment. “It is true that I love Fitzwilliam; I always have—but only as a cousin…or perhaps the attentive and protective brother I had always longed for—nothing more. You have nothing to fear from me, Miss Bennet, and I have everything to gain by befriending you.”

“You shall always have my friendship, Anne,” said Elizabeth softly, “I misjudged you so terribly when we first met and am thoroughly ashamed for it. Please forgive me for that as well. It seems I am blind to all the goodness around me.”

“There is nothing to forgive. You only saw the side of me I was willing to present. It is I who should beg your forgiveness for being deceitful. But let us dwell no more on that pitiful subject. Do you think you are strong enough to help me up?”

“Oh no, Anne, you mustn’t try to stand! Your ankle is sprained, I am sure. Does it not hurt you? Does it not feel swollen inside your shoe?”

“No, I don’t think so. It is just fine. You see, I can move it easily without any pain.”

“I thought for certain that it was badly sprained,” said Elizabeth, surprised. “But perhaps it would still be best if I went for help. You’ve hit your head and the cut is deep. I hate to leave you, even for a moment, but I shall run as fast as I can.” She looked up suddenly, as if searching for someone and said, “I’d have thought that Sir Robert would have passed here by now. I hope your mother hasn’t injured him.”

They looked at each other seriously for one long moment and then burst into laughter.

Anne insisted on pulling herself up into a sitting position, and by circling one arm about Elizabeth’s shoulder and leaning on her, she managed to stand. Her ankle was the slightest bit tender, but she could put weight on it and preferred to walk back on her own accord. They limped along slowly and talked as they progressed.

“Two years ago at Easter when my cousins were at Rosings, a friend of Fitzwilliam’s stopped by with his sister. They only spent the afternoon with us, but I could easily see that the lady was very passionate about becoming the next Mistress of Pemberley. I sincerely doubted that she had one ounce of passion for my cousin, however, and I was very glad to see that he had no interest in her. I remember thinking that had she succeeded in ensnaring him, I would never have been welcome at Pemberley and Fitzwilliam would be lost to me forever! And had he insisted on my visiting from time to time, she would tolerate me only in his presence. What a vile, scheming creature she was! So you see, Elizabeth, I have very decided opinions concerning the future Mistress of Pemberley!”

“Well, he hasn’t offered to me yet, Anne, so perhaps all this talk is premature,” said Elizabeth, blushing. Who would have thought that she would find such an ally in Anne de Bourgh? She then thought of Caroline Bingley and smiled.

When they finally reached the inn, Sir Robert was just descending the portico steps, and on seeing them, rushed to lift Anne into his arms and bring her inside. Lady Catherine was enraged when she saw this, shouting at Sir Robert to put Anne down and beating him on the back with her reticule. He lowered Anne gently onto a settee, bowed to her and whispered. “You have my deepest sympathy, Miss de Bourgh! I don’t know how you bear it.”

Not raising his eyes to Lady Catherine, he moved swiftly past her through the gathering crowd to where Elizabeth was waiting outside. But her Ladyship was not yet willing to leave well enough alone. Following him out, she saw Elizabeth, her dress soiled and wrinkled, her face tear-stained and her eyes swollen. She immediately assumed the worst.

“What have you done to my child, you vengeful trollop? Anne is no match for you! Have you no shame to strike someone as fragile as my daughter?”

Elizabeth drew herself up to her full height and looked directly at her accuser. “Speak to your daughter, Lady Catherine. She fell, and I simply helped her home— that is all. If I did lay a hand on her, it was only to soothe. Now, if you will excuse me.”

“Not so fast,” hissed her Ladyship. “I warn you again! If you ruin my nephew’s good name by attaching it to yours, I shall make your life utterly miserable. No one in our society will associate with you! You shall not be able to attend the opera or the theater without being sneered at to your face, and no one shall accept your invitations or even acknowledge you in the street. If you insist on capturing the prize, Miss Bennet, you will spend the rest of your life regretting it!”

“I can see that your love for your nephew runs very deep, your Ladyship,” said Elizabeth coldly. “Good day, Lady Catherine.”

*** **

Waiting for Fitzwilliam to return was a torturous business, for Elizabeth thought constantly of Lady Catherine’s threats. She had not taken them so to heart the first time they had been made, but after her Ladyship’s display in the dining room, Elizabeth had no doubt of her ruthlessness. Even if she were willing to endure such public humiliation, did she have the right to inflict it on Fitzwilliam, and through him, Georgiana? Perhaps it would be best for her to end the relationship now and spare them both. Perhaps love was not always enough. And yet her heart ached for him. Now, more than ever, how could she let him go?

***

Darcy reined in his horse and wondered which way to turn. Finding Elizabeth and reassuring himself that all was well between them was his first priority. Yet he reeked of perspiration after so many hours on the road and his damp clothes were covered with a thick layer of dust. How could he propose to Elizabeth in this condition?

His challenge, at the moment, was to enter the inn without being observed. He had left his valet behind, of course, but had instructed him to admit no knowledge of his departure. Finding him now without being seen would not be easy. And he could not chance meeting with any of his relations, save Anne, before he had committed himself to Elizabeth!

He gave his horse to the groom and offered him a few shillings to guide him through the servants’ entrance to his valet’s quarters. Once there, he washed up in a small basin, had himself shaved and changed into fresh clothes fetched from his trunk. Apparently, his things had been packed and his rooms given away—but he would see to that later. Elizabeth was waiting.

***


He found her in the garden, seated on a quilted coverlet under a large elm. Her right hand supported the book she was reading, while her left stroked Jonathan’s back as he slept beside her. He approached her quietly, etching into his memory the precious scene before him.

Suddenly aware of his presence, she looked up, and drawing in a sudden breath of surprise and delight, she smiled. All the anxiety of the past few days melted away as he removed his hat and hurried towards her. She rose to meet him, the glow of her smile warming the very depths of his soul. He held out his hand.

Elizabeth pointed towards Jonathan and beckoned Darcy away from the sleeping child. Once they were several feet away, she stopped and turned to him, her eyes filled with tenderness.

“Was it very awful? Is Georgiana all right?”

“She is distressed, of course, but well. The Colonel will see to it that she is distracted, and I plan to fetch her back again as soon as . . .” He did not wish to verbalize the rest. He wanted only to speak of their future happiness.

“Elizabeth! Oh, forgive me,” he suddenly corrected, “Miss Bennet,” he now said more formally, but with the most adoring grin, “how do I begin to tell you . . .”

She quickly placed her fingers on his lips. “Fitzwilliam, wait! Perhaps these words should not be spoken,” she said softly. “Perhaps, despite our feelings, this marriage is unwise.” Tears moistened her lashes as her hand traveled from his mouth to caress his cheek, then fell forlornly to her side. “It is clear to me now that all your relations disapprove of our union and that we will not be the only ones affected by its repercussions.”

“You cannot be serious?” he said in horror. His brow furrowed, his complexion paled.

“I am sadly very serious,” she whispered, casting her eyes to the ground. “I expected disapproval, but not of the sort that would lead your family to take such extreme measures against you. And I know Lady Catherine’s resentment will not be easily abated. She will use all her influence to hurt you… I cannot bear the thought of it, Fitzwilliam!”

“I am not afraid of my aunt’s influence, nor do I think that the Earl and Lady Matlock will harbor ill feelings for long. They are truly good and loving people, Elizabeth. They have been temporarily manipulated by Lady Catherine’s intimidating ways, but I promise you that once they get to know you . . .”

“But that day may never come!” cried Elizabeth. “She has poisoned your entire family against us and will do the same wherever she goes. Life will never be the same for us, Fitzwilliam. Are you prepared to live in relative rejection and isolation and to subject Georgiana to our fate? Perhaps even our children will feel the effects of Lady Catherine’s resentment. You must know how painful it is for me to say these things, but I have seen the lengths to which she will go for revenge.”

“What more has she done to you?” Darcy asked with terror in his eyes. “What has occurred in my absence?”

“Nothing,” murmured Elizabeth, “nothing that matters any longer. It is done. But I beg you, Fitzwilliam, think carefully on this. It is not a problem that will easily be resolved.”

“No indeed,” he said, now raging and pacing before her. He walked about twisting his ruby ring, turning suddenly, grimacing and pacing some more. He lengthened his stride, wearing a wide crisscross pattern in the grass. Finally he paused, looked soberly and intently into her eyes and said, “Perhaps you are right, Elizabeth. Your fears for our social standing in the community are legitimate, and it will be difficult to live a normal life without the honour and esteem to which we are both accustomed. There are those who will snub us; that is certain, and we may even suffer the loss of many a friend and acquaintance. I can well understand your concern.”

These were the very words she had been agonizing over since his departure, but hearing them now from his lips was a totally different matter. She was crushed. She turned away to avoid his piercing gaze. Her eyes brimming, she hugged herself to stop her trembling.

“I can picture it now,” he was saying, “Christmas at Pemberley, a few years hence—a pathetic scene indeed.” He took a step towards her and began in a whisper. “The music room has been beautifully decorated and the air is scented with roast goose, cinnamon and cloves. Candles line the center of our richly set table, and the tree is magnificent with its tapers, gifts and ornaments! All is ready and there we are, you and I, awaiting guests that may never come.”

Elizabeth swallowed hard at the picture he presented, then startled and drew in breath as she felt his arms slid along the sides of her torso to encircle her waist. He pressed his chest against her back and rested his cheek against hers.

“All is quiet except for the happy chattering of the Gardiner children as they open their gifts before the fire,” he whispered. “Your sister Jane is there to help them, and she laughs at their antics as they hold up their treasures for the little one in her arms to see. Georgiana and Mary are at the piano, of course, filling the room with festive tunes, and perhaps an admirer or two is standing behind them, vying for their attention.

The Earl and your Uncle Gardiner are deeply engrossed in a game of chess, while Charles and Richard discuss the latest news from Parliament. Kitty hangs on the Colonel’s every word. Your father, I am sad to report, is not present. He has been cloistered in our library ever since his arrival at Pemberley, but your mother assures us that he will reemerge when the dinner bell is rung. She, after giving some last-minute instructions to Mrs. Reynolds, joins your dear aunt and mine on the sofa. All three ladies are drawn with beaming exuberance to the newest member of the Darcy family, lovingly held by his Auntie Anne. And all the while, you and I are busy greeting the neighbors and friends who have joyfully accepted our invitation for Christmas dinner. It is a very sad scene indeed!”

Elizabeth twisted round to look at him, her cheek brushing his.

“Don’t tease me, Fitzwilliam,” she whispered, her tears flowing freely now, her eyes filled with love.

“Why ever not? My beloved has instructed me to practice these sorts of social skills, and she is the cleverest tease in all of England.”

“How I love you, Fitzwilliam Darcy!”

“Do you not see, Elizabeth? The people we care for most in the world love and admire us in return. Georgiana, Richard and Anne are the family members that matter most to me, and they already adore you. The Matlocks will come round, I am sure. But even if they do not, we shall live our lives very happily without them. Now, I am not certain that your mother will ever approve of me,” he quipped, “but all I need is you to make me happy.”

“And I you!” she breathed.

“So now, Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” he said, turning to face her squarely, “will you allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you?”
SubjectAuthorPosted

Dearest Anne 6

Gaby A.September 04, 2020 12:07AM

Re: Dearest Anne 6

SaraleeSeptember 18, 2020 04:49PM

Re: Dearest Anne 6

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