Section I, Next Section
Posted on May 01, 1998
Author's note: Oh! The flutterings in my heart, the pains in my side, I get no rest by day or by night.... This is my first contribution to fan fic and I pray that you are all kind to me, else I do not know what I shall do!
It was a glorious afternoon in the late fall. The Bennet household was all in a flurry of activity and anticipation, making ready for the celebration of the coming evening.
The eldest daughter of the family, Jane, had very lately come to an understanding with a noble young man by the name of Bingley. There was to be a large gathering in honour of the occasion.
It is said that the path of true love never runs straight. That was certainly the case with regard to this particular match. The unfortunate couple were besieged by misunderstandings and machinations of the most vexing sort. At long last however all obstacles were overcome, declarations of love were made and exclaimed over and they were proclaimed by all to be the happiest, loveliest couple in all of England.
For another pair of star crossed lovers however, fate was not so kind. Elizabeth Bennet, sister and best friend to Jane, despite a poor beginning indeed had come to cherish a very warm and tender regard for Bingley's closest friend Mr. Darcy. This gentleman had some months prior made a very discreditable proposal to Elizabeth and she in the heat of disapprobation cruelly rejected him. That however had been many months ago, and the vacillations of the human heart had worked their magic. Though not without many sleepless nights, confusion and repining, she had come to the conclusion that Mr. Darcy was the only man in the whole of the world who could make her happy.
She hoped, she wished, she longed. With many heavy sighs and a laden heart she considered whether his regard for her survived, and if it did would it all come to anything of good?
Mr. Darcy had been instrumental in bringing about the marriage of her youngest sister Lydia to the wastrel and blackguard George Wickham. As imprudent as the marriage was, as distasteful a creature as was her new brother, Elizabeth rejoiced that they were indeed wed for Lydia had come perilously close to being lost forever.
Elizabeth hadn't shared with a single soul her knowledge of Mr. Darcy's involvement in Lydia's wedding. On his own he had discovered the couple, he had offered all inducements, he had acted as groomsman to Wickham! How it vexed Lizzy that he should have borne such mortification.....he who had every reason in the world to revile and shun Wickham.
Did he still love her? Was it all done for her? He had given, as justification for his actions, a perfectly reasonable explanation, His excessive pride had prevented Wickham's degenerate character from being common knowledge. Darcy was rectifying a wrong attributable to his own failings.
How unfortunate that Lizzy was a sensible, level headed girl who had no choice but to accept the validity of his explanation. She had pondered the whole situation at length, dwelling on all that was perverse and delightful in her dealings with Mr. Darcy, alternating triumph and despair. She could not decide the issue and resolved to put it out of her mind and let the gentleman's actions decide for her.
The couple had been in company together on two occasions recently. Elizabeth's feelings were in such discomposure that she could but rarely speak and spared only a few glances in the general vicinity of the gentleman. What she saw then had not been very encouraging. He was aloof and austere, more silent than she had ever before known him to be and paid her no particular notice. He observed her sister Jane very keenly, but their eyes met only once, very briefly and Elizabeth thought, or rather, hoped she had seen a shadow of the brightness she had been used to see when in happier times he had held her in his gaze.
Her hopes came to naught however, Mr. Darcy went away. And although he had given Bingley to hope for his speedy return, Elizabeth was convinced that some excuse would be invented to justify his staying away. She could not blame him. The wretchedness of her own feelings caused her to wish him away nearly as intensely as she desired him near. She was sensible that Lydia and Wickham's union was the salvation of the Bennet family from ruin and infamy. For Jane she was glad, but she could not, on the whole, rejoice. The redemption of Lydia drove from Elizabeth all future happiness, not that she had been redeemed, but rather that she was connected with such a man! Mr. Darcy could not countenance such a close relation to the infamous Mr. Wickham. She was desolated. All hope died....
All the preparations for the evening were well in hand and Lizzy, feeling all the strain of appearing contented could no longer remain indoors. She smiled at Jane "I must get out for a bit of air. If I am witness to very much more of my mother's frantic activity, I shall be the one with NERVES!"
Jane giggled and squeezed her hand " I understand dearest Lizzy, but don't be too long for I confess I am feeling somewhat nervous myself and need your steady presence to keep me calm. How shall I bear such happiness?"
"You shall have your Bingley to bear it with you, but I shall return almost before you even realize my absence," Lizzy called as she stepped out of the room.
Once outdoors, away from keen observation, Lizzy took a deep breath and released a tiny sob. She had been out of spirits for such a long while and had desperately felt the need to disguise it. Jane's present felicity did not entirely preclude her from being a shrewd observer and Lizzy would not on any account lessen by even a degree, the happiness Jane so richly deserved. I must compose myself, I must overcome this. Jane's nature is so sweet it would cause her grievous hurt if she knew even some small part of my pain. There will be leisure enough for me to languish once Jane and Bingley are happily settled.
Unfortunately for Lizzy, Mr. Bennet had no impediment to shrewd observation. The study of the human condition, which was a favourite amusement of Elizabeth's, had been learned at the knees of her father who was a keen and interested master of the art. His attentions had lately been focused on his dearest daughter. Although her dissimulation had worked with the rest of her family, Mr. Bennet soon realized that all was not entirely well.
Ten days earlier, he had received a letter from a most unusual source, advising him of certain circumstances pertaining to Lizzy, and asking him particularly to take note of her demeanour and judge for himself her true state of mind. A meeting with the letter writer was promised this very evening, at the engagement party. Mr. Bennet looked forward to it, for the mysterious author of the letter had also hinted at a means to alleviate Elizabeth's melancholy. How heartily he wished it could be so!
Mr. Bennet stood by his library window, noticing a decided droop to her shoulders, the lack of customary spring in her step. His heart was pierced when Elizabeth quickly dashed away a stray tear. There was nothing he wouldn't do to put a stop to such misery!
Elizabeth dressed for the evening in such a state of emotion that she knew would require the utmost of determination to conquer. She prepared herself with extreme care, chose her gown only after much deliberation and many changes of opinion. She had taken great pains with the dressing of her hair. Such agitation she attributed to her earnest desire to appear before Jane as ever she had been, lively of spirit and easy of mind. The fastidiousness with regard to her appearance stemmed from another motive.
As she gazed pensively in her looking glass, a shadow of the former Lizzy swept fleetingly across her face and sparkled in her eyes for a bare instant as she acknowledged the irony of the situation. Pride, pure and simple made her want to appear her best this evening. He would be there of course, all of the individuals who had been used to make up the family party at Netherfield would be in attendance.
Lizzy was anxious above all that Mr. Darcy should not observe her to be pining. In such a situation she would never begrudge him his triumph, but she dreaded seeing in his eyes a look of pity. If he no longer cared for her, so be it, but she would move heaven and earth not to show the pain in her heart. In addition to appearing unmoved in the eyes of the gentleman, she could not bear that the insufferable Caroline Bingley look upon her with a knowing sneer of amusement.
After a last moment's quiet reflection, Elizabeth squared her shoulders, thrust out her chin and took a deep breath. She forced a smile, well, if not quite a smile then at least a pleasant expression. She was determined to come through this evening unscathed and undiscovered.....
Mr. Bingley was fortunate enough to have escaped the majority of the chaos reigning at Longbourn by virtue of having excused himself early to see to the arrival of his guests from London. Always ready to be pleased with the world and its inhabitants Bingley was in very high spirits to have won the regard of Jane Bennet, whom he viewed as an angel on earth. His sisters were not quite so well pleased with the turn of events, but being prudent with regard to anything likely to affect their material interests, they very wisely held their tongues, that they may in future continue to have access to their brother's home.
Mr. Darcy approached the evening with great trepidation. With all his heart he wished Bingley and Jane well, was very much relieved that his officiousness and arrogance had not caused irreparable damage to his friend's happiness. His own emotions however were in great disarray. He had not planned on returning to Hertfordshire before the wedding, but could not withstand the turmoil of his heart. He had to be near her, even though he was in great doubt of receiving a return of his deep regard. He tried to convince himself that he only wanted the opportunity to show her of his improved manners.
Of their last two encounters he could not think without great discomfort. He had been desperate to be with her, to speak with her. When it came to the point however, he had been unable to utter more than the barest civilities and she had been very little encouraging him to do more.
He was not the sort of man to hide behind a woman's skirts, but from the sheer awkwardness of his emotions he had invited his sister Georgiana to be one of the party.
Posted on May 03, 1998
Fitzwilliam Darcy pondered his reflection and shook his head in wonder that he should be in such a position. He had never, not in the whole of his life, not even as a child, felt so unsure of how to behave, how to proceed. Georgiana's presence at the party tonight would provide him with an occupation in attending her so that he would not be tempted to stalk about in that stupid manner he was wont to do in Miss Elizabeth Bennet's presence. He hoped that Miss Bennet would spend some part of the evening speaking with Georgiana, after all they had seemed to enjoy each other's company in Derbyshire. He was determined to be on hand if they did speak, for if he could not find the courage to speak to her, he could at least have the pleasure of listening to her, drown himself in her dulcet tones.
He was thoroughly ashamed that he would use his little sister to get close to Miss Bennet. He was the elder, the authority, the head of the family, used to society and well versed in the ways of the world. He cringed with embarrassment as he felt an unmistakable itch of tears. Never had he felt such turmoil, such helplessness! He was in agonies of despair.
Poor Mr. Darcy wanted nothing more than the ability to speak to his beloved, tell her of the depth of his emotion, gaze upon her with impunity and perhaps even touch her hand. But for the first time in his life, he desired something he was by no means assured of getting, and the fear, the gut wrenching uncertainty, the bleak emotions that washed over him were very nearly overwhelming. He felt most distracted, out of control, something a gentleman of his standing in society endeavoured never to be. This must be what it feels like to be quite mad, he thought .
He occupied himself in fussing about his apparel as much as any lady could do. In a very few moments he was able to tolerably recompose himself. He was not happy, but he was resigned. Tonight he would exert himself to display a countenance of calm and ease, affability and openness. It would be difficult, he knew, to counteract the behaviour of many years practice. It must be done however, if he ever hoped to demonstrate to Elizabeth that he had attended her remonstrations and had made every effort to improve. With persistent application and patience, he felt there was some chance of earning her good opinion, something he resolved to do, even if it took a lifetime of loitering on the edges of all her family gatherings. How fortunate that his close association with Bingley should afford him such opportunities.
The Netherfield party were gathered together in the main reception parlour cooling their heels until the carriage could be brought around. The carriage was not late, rather Bingley was impatient to be once again in the company of his 'angel' and so had hurried them unmercifully to be ready in good time. He had great hopes of being the first to arrive.
Bingley was fairly beaming with happiness, his expression in direct contrast with that of his sisters and to a lesser degree his sister's husband.
Caroline and Louisa had long since reconciled themselves to the notion of Charles marrying Jane. They were astute enough to know when they were beaten. They had only now to reconsider and amend, post haste, their manners toward their new sister.
Caroline wanted first and foremost to stay in good favour with Charles and his new bride in order that she may take full advantage of being frequently thrown together in company with Mr. Darcy. He was the man she set her heart on, the one she was determined to 'secure'. It was only a matter of time she told herself, until he was completely overwhelmed by her charm, beauty, grace, poise, intelligence, superiority and of course 'accomplishments'. Everything Caroline did was with one end in mind, becoming Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. It was her life's occupation and she would never admit defeat.
Louisa was not so sure that the eventuality her dear sister counted on so steadfastly would ever come to pass. Mrs. Hurst was a vain woman, idle, ignorant, vapid. But she had eyes in her head, and in her humble opinion it was patently obvious that the gentleman lacked enthusiasm. However, she would never admit as much to Caroline and from a lack of any other suitable occupation, was quite content to engage herself as confidante and occasional helpmate to further the cause.
Mr. Hurst was neither more nor less out of spirits than usual. Weddings and all their attendant social activities were a pitiful waste of time as far as he was concerned, except insofar as they afforded him the opportunity to live off the largesse of his relations and sample the various libations to be had from the local wine cellars. He expected no particular enjoyment from the evening ahead, but knew he was expected, so may just as well go as not.
Caroline could not suppress a knowing smile as she furtively glanced at Mr. Darcy, who, as was his habit was gazing out of the window. "I do not believe he can be pining for 'fine eyes'," she whispered to Louisa, "he knows very well an alliance with the odious Wickham would be insupportable for a man in his position. He will soon begin to plant his affections in more exalted ground." Louisa made no reply but an expressive gesture with her eyebrows to satisfy her sister.
Georgiana Darcy was only slightly less happy than Bingley at the turn of events. She was diffident and retiring in her manners, stemming mostly from a gentleness of disposition and a lack of experience in dealing with slyness and dissimulation. She was very clever, and from observing her brother's demeanour for the last year had quietly discerned that he was deeply in love and that it was, as yet, bringing him no happiness.
Elizabeth Bennet's presence at Pemberley in August had enlightened her tremendously on the matter. Georgiana was very much relieved that her brother loved such a delightful lady, especially when so many others had been designing for him these last few years. Caroline Bingley above all had made her intentions perfectly clear by her assiduous attentions to both William and herself. How she had prayed that William would not succumb to such a creature. Charles Bingley marrying into the Bennet family would provide many opportunities for William to be near Elizabeth and settle the matter satisfactorily. She would do anything in her power to help her brother and his beloved come to an early understanding.
Caroline heaved a heavy sigh, knowing one more delicate would not be noticed. "Charles, it is so delightful to see you so happy, but really, I must ask you, can you be looking forward to such relations? Excepting Jane, the Bennets are so vulgar, coarse and impertinent! Indeed you must confess it to be most unfortunate."
"Indeed," echoed Louisa.
Bingley's smile wavered and he almost looked cross at the persistence of his sister's in being so terribly rude as to bring up such a subject. " Caroline, Louisa," he exclaimed, " I dearly wish you would speak of other things. I am not marrying the family, I am marrying Jane and it is already settled that I shall be happy above all others! "
Caroline felt all the danger of vexing her brother and realized she would have to elicit the opinion of his friend to make him aware of the consequences of this marriage. With Darcy to support her, Charles would pay attention. "Mr. Darcy I am sure that you comprehend my meaning. It is true that Charles will be mostly in company with Jane and not the others. It is also true that Jane is a delightful girl, on that account I have no reservations. However, it will be impossible to never be in the company of the other Bennets. For my part I wish it were not so. I expect there are others among us who would feel the same...."
Mr. Darcy turned suddenly from the window to face Caroline. He regarded her impassively for a moment before replying. "Indeed Miss Bingley, I find that I must agree wholeheartedly with your brother. One cannot help who one's relations are....I would hope to be judged by my own character and merits, and I endeavour to do the same by others, and for the woman that I loved I should be willing to endure anything, or anyone!"
At that moment the carriage was announced, saving Caroline from having to reply. Georgiana watching the whole exchange was surprised and pleased by her brother's vehemence, she understood his meaning perfectly and was cheered by it. Caroline was less than pleased. She wanted for her and Darcy's opinions to be always as one. To be so contradicted was very annoying. The substance of his speech gave her a moment of confusion and worry. Surely he could not still be partial to Eliza Bennet! Her eyes narrowed with anger though she forced a smile. She vowed not to be out of his hearing all evening. If he were to become entangled with that conniving sly country girl!, she would be there to enlighten him.
Posted on May 10, 1998
The evening long anticipated by some, long dreaded by others finally arrived. Unfortunately for Mr. Bingley, the Netherfield party were not the first guests through the door. They advanced into Longbourn's largest reception room to find themselves already among a sizable crowd. Bingley was only momentarily annoyed, then he caught Jane's eye and unceremoniously left his party to join her.
Caroline and Louisa surveyed the group with barely concealed distaste, communicating this silently to each other with a series of lifted brows, rolled eyes and expressive sniffs. Nothing could be read in Mr. Hurst's expression but bored distraction as his eyes swept the room briefly. He immediately made towards the refreshments.
Georgiana clutched her brother's arm rather more tightly with the discovery of each new face unknown to her. He smiled reassuringly down at her and whispered, "Do not worry, these people are for the most part, amiable and unassuming. You cannot fail to please them... besides, Bingley and Jane will be the centre of attention this evening." Darcy rejoiced inwardly at the number of the room's occupants. It would be simpler to conceal his turmoil with so many objects to deflect attention from him. Though his heart was deeply affected, he had no intention of wearing it on his sleeve for all the world to wonder at and mock.
Upon perceiving their entrance Jane smiled charmingly, her eyes sparkling with pleasure, breathless with excitement as Bingley came to her. All the room's attention became focused on the happy couple as yet again friends, family and neighbours stepped forward almost as one to offer congratulations and best wishes. All, but four lone souls... Mr. Bennet and one other stayed on the periphery, their attention directed in quite another quarter of the room. The other two were of course Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.
Georgiana bravely joined the well-wishers around Jane and Bingley. Her desire to allow her brother a moment with Miss Bennet far outweighed her reticence in company. She was however not entirely part of the group and had retained a clear view. She was able to glance surreptitiously toward them every now and then.
Mr. Darcy stood facing Elizabeth, at rather too great a distance to allow for conversation, transfixed by her beauty. She was rather thinner than he remembered and somewhat pale, but looked ravishing in a deep azure gown. He'd never seen her wear such a vibrant shade, yet she still outshone it. The gown was only a compliment to her wonderful spirit and grace. He swallowed hard as he contemplated the cascade of curls framing her sweet face. He longed to throw himself at her feet in supplication, but was rooted to the spot.
Elizabeth regarded Mr. Darcy with wonder. Her heart's desire right in front of her! She dared not look away for fear he would vanish. How handsome he was! She searched each feature of his face longingly, as if committing them to memory. She was unable to see the love there, having convinced herself it was impossible, and it hurt so much to hope. Her legs felt as though they would not support her much longer, her heart as though it would burst, she prickled with embarrassment and confusion.
Mr. Darcy could see her discomfort, and it pierced him. He was certain she could perceive his love sick stare, and supposed that it pained her. He could not draw breath, he feared he would become physically ill, to his great mortification he wanted to burst into tears like a disappointed two year old. With supreme effort he forced his features to become calm and impassive. He bowed deeply to her.
Elizabeth acknowledged his greeting with a very pretty curtsey. She resisted the temptation to drop down to the floor in a heap of hysteria. Mr. Darcy of the Meryton assembly had returned, all hauteur and dignity, eyes aloof, expression closed. She grieved, but understood. All they could ever be to each other..... She curtseyed once more eyes downcast and excused herself to join Charlotte and Mr. Collins who had just finished greeting Jane and Bingley.
Mr. Darcy very nearly crumbled. He closed his eyes and drew a deep ragged breath. Fool!!!!!, he berated himself , that was a poor start. The poor girl could see he was besotted and evidently did not welcome any return of his attentions. If all he would ever be to her was a family acquaintance so be it, he would strive to his dying day to make her at least think well of him. His love must be overcome, he could not bear to give her further pain. To appear disinterested became his first object that he may be able to remain in her presence.
In the space of an instant Mr. Bennet's spirits reeled with shock, soared with joy and sank with despair. Mr. Darcy loved his daughter, of that he had been given good information, and tonight had observed it with his own eyes! More astonishing was the revelation of the depth of her affections and distress. She loved him back!!!! Until now he had not entirely allowed it to be possible, there had always been some other way of explaining Lizzy's despondency.
Well, now the problem was properly identified and there was no reason to expect its continuation. These two clearly adored each other. Mr. Darcy was generally disagreeable, he was not wild to have him as a son, but he had no material objections to the match. If Mr. Darcy were to make Lizzy truly happy, then Mr. Bennet wanted nothing else. He was content. He could not believe his eyes when Lizzy left, both she and Mr. Darcy fairly radiating soul wracking grief. It was over in an instant. Mr. Bennet glanced at his correspondent, his eyes were held for a moment, and he sadly nodded his head in agreement. It was as the letter had said, two souls meant to be together, made for each other, very much in need of outside assistance. Everything in him struggled against it, especially the mode of its completion, but he knew his interference may be the only opportunity for his most loved daughter to find happiness in life.
Posted on May 15, 1998
Georgiana could not help but notice her brother's distraught expression in the instant Lizzy turned from him. How peculiar! She wondered what on earth could have caused such a muddle. She moved quickly to Mr. Darcy's side and clasped his hand in hers. "William? Are you unwell?" When there was no response, she continued tentatively, "William I know something is wrong. You can hardly consider me as an advisor, I have neither wisdom nor experience, but I do have compassion -- If I can be of any use to you as a listener please know that I am here. It pains me to see you so."
Mr. Darcy regarded his sister's earnest expression with great tenderness. He kissed her hand. "Perhaps one day I will be capable of discussing this with you....but at this moment....I cannot." Darcy's voice was thick with emotion, he doubted he could ever find the courage to speak with Elizabeth if he could not even stand near her. But what exquisite torture! It was a sentiment, he supposed, he would soon become accustomed to. He took Georgiana's arm and deliberately moved toward the Collins and Elizabeth, stopping a short distance away. If he could not speak with her, he could over-listen her conversations with others. In time he supposed she would be willing to tolerate his presence in the group, and given a few years may even direct some of her comments to him. He was patient and would wait for and rejoice in the smallest crumb of attention.
Charlotte, for all that she had married Mr. Collins, was a clever, perceptive and intuitive lady. Lizzy's discomposure was disturbing to her, she loved her friend dearly and would not have her denied happiness. Charlotte would have liked to scold Lizzy, for how little her actions were likely to alleviate her suffering. How was she to secure him if she did not show any encouragement! And Mr. Darcy! Charlotte inwardly fumed and boiled. How stupid men were! She longed to knock their heads together, but she knew she could do nothing. The respectability and awe commanded by one, and the possibility of causing more hurt to the other precluded any action. Charlotte sighed and continued to converse on every subject but the one uppermost in her mind.
The rest of the evening continued in much the same vein. Lizzy would sense Mr. Darcy's proximity. She would bask in it, revel in it, grow uncomfortable in it and become pained by it. She would then move away to speak with another guest, all the while denouncing her weakness and cowardice. Her occasional glances toward him confirmed that his stern countenance was still firmly in place. He conversed politely but not easily with others, he seemed aloof and distracted. Mr. Darcy followed her about the room, suffering from her closeness but unable to remove himself. "Please notice," his eyes begged when turned in her direction, "I am being amiable, I am not judging, I have been properly humbled."
Caroline Bingley watched this cat and mouse game with narrowed eyes and an increasingly sinking spirit. "Dear Lord! What can he be thinking!" she hissed, "Teasing, horrible girl, she has taken him in! She has! It is insupportable!"
Louisa patted her arm. "Calm yourself sister, you know and I know, he will never ally his illustrious family with such a ragtag bunch of vulgar scoundrels! Let him amuse himself, we know who will carry the point in this." Mr. Hurst returned to them at this moment.
Caroline felt that this required a change of topic. "Do you not think, Mr. Hurst that it will soon be time to sit down to dinner?"
"It will not be soon enough I'm certain, " he grumbled.
Caroline and Louisa indulged in another session of dramatic facial expressions and knowing smirks as they observed Mrs. Bennet's high spirits. That lady was as shrill and agitated from happiness for one daughter as she had been some weeks earlier in her distress for another. She sighed, she exclaimed, she flounced about with great vigour acknowledging her share of the congratulations, and bludgeoning good wishes out of those from whom they had not yet been forthcoming. "Two daughter's married!" she shrieked, "I shall go insensible from the happiness of it! Do you know," she simpered, "that I quite count on having my other girls settled by the end of a year, after all they will now be much thrown in the path of other rich and worthy young men!"
Caroline fairly snorted with disgust as she turned from this scene. Suddenly she turned back and watched Mrs. Bennet closely for a moment as she considered the possibility of having a cozy chat with her later. A malicious smile played around the corners of her mouth. Experience had taught her that a direct approach would only annoy Mr. Darcy. Caroline did not trust her sentiments would allow her to be judicious in pointing out the unsuitability of his lady's family and situation, for all her 'fine eyes'! Who better than Mrs. Bennet herself to convince him?
In due course dinner was announced. Through good fortune---or by design---they knew not which, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth found they were to bear the splendour and mortification of being seated next to each other. Thankfully, Lizzy's spirits were bolstered by her father's presence on her right, and Mr. Darcy's by Georgiana's presence on his left. Directly across from them (and not much to the liking of anyone) sat Mr. Hurst flanked by his wife and sister.
Never before at that table had dinner conversation been so insipid and contrived, being carried for the most part as it was by Caroline and Louisa. Everything uttered by Caroline was sure to be instantly repeated in some variation by her sister. Mr. Bennet resolved to amend his opinion that his daughter's were among the silliest girls in Britain.... The meal passed in the midst of insincere flattery and overbearing attention, insignificant nonsense, eloquent glances and significant silences.
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were isolated from their dinner companions and from each other by their overwhelming emotions and preoccupation. Each was acutely aware of the other's nearness.
Elizabeth could not see, nor hear, nor feel as she should. Conversation was unclear and muddled, as though she were hearing it from under water, yet his every breath resounded in her ears and she imagined she could hear his very heartbeat. She could not see anything beyond her own plate, except for the occasional flash of gold from the signet ring worn on the smallest finger of his right hand, which almost blinded her with its brilliance. It was only with the greatest effort that she could bring herself to eat, so little control did she have over her hands. They were so numb she was certain she would drop her utensils and break the dishes. The sensation of her limbs was overpowered by his presence. The very hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
Mr. Darcy fared not much better than Elizabeth. He had the decided and dubious advantage of being frequently the object of Caroline's remarks , which, if they were not exactly welcome, at least forced him into a certain presence of mind. His awareness of Elizabeth however was painfully strong. The rustling of her gown resonated in his mind, her scent enveloped him. His heart sang to her, his soul cried out for her solace.
At last the time came when the gentleman by common agreement decided to leave the ladies for the time being and retire to the library for brandy, cigars and the refinements of male conversation. Mr. Darcy was reluctant. He lingered for an instant after standing, in the hope of noticing some gesture of regret from the object of his love. The actions of the other gentlemen conspired against him however, as they too hovered watching him, waiting almost for him to lead the way.
For the first time in many hours Bingley approached Darcy and proceeded to enumerate his blessings; the loveliness of Jane, the angelic disposition and good understanding of Jane, their two hearts that beat as one. Darcy allowed Bingley to go on and on unaided by a single comment from him. At long last Bingley drew breath and surprised Darcy by uttering, "When will I have the pleasure of seeing you this happy? I highly recommend it Darcy, indeed I do...."
Mr. Darcy could see that a reply was expected, and rather uncomfortably endeavoured to turn the subject aside without arousing suspicion. It was painful to him to suppose that Charles might perhaps have some expectations with regard to Caroline and himself, and he felt all the awkwardness of having to put such beliefs to rest delicately, without insulting his friend.
He need not have worried. "Darcy! Really, I have always been aware that Caroline's regard for you excited no return. Do not worry yourself over it. She is my sister and as such has my good wishes, but truly I would never hope for such a wife for you! I was meaning rather, to try and persuade you to follow my example...."
Mr. Darcy could not pretend to misunderstand his meaning, and the agitation he felt translated itself in the insensible reply that was given. Darcy knew he was dangerously close to being found out, and took refuge once again in looking out the window under the auspices of pointing out a lovely stone bench in an isolated corner that might be just the thing for a newly engaged couple desiring no one else's company but their own. Bingley frowned in contemplation for a moment and then thanked Darcy for his kind suggestion. "Perhaps a little later, I can convince my love to come and gaze at the twinkling stars with me." His own eyes twinkled at the notion.
Mr. Bennet sat in his favourite chair, sipping his favourite port. A portion of his attention was occupied in listening in part to every conversation in the room, particularly to Darcy and Bingley. He came to the conclusion that Bingley was indeed more clever than he had ever given him credit for. His great preoccupation however was how to manoeuvre his guests in the course of the rest of the evening, that he may have the opportunity to speak with the letter writer to decide on a final course of action. It would be a risk, however they decided to go about it....it must be approached with a certain degree of delicacy.
Posted on May 23, 1998
Elizabeth felt Mr. Darcy's departure most keenly. Like a limb that has been sat on for too long, the discomfort of returning to a normal state was unpleasant. Luckily the bustle of removing to the drawing room with the other female guests was a welcome opportunity to make the transition. She deliberately chose a seat near to Georgiana, although it meant being with Caroline as well. Elizabeth was well aware that so far this evening she had not at all conducted herself as she had meant to. The first awkwardness was now over however and though extremely uncomfortable she approached the remainder of the night with a renewed determination. She felt ready to converse with Georgiana and indeed it would seem very odd if she did not.
At first their conversation was hesitant and somewhat wary. Georgiana expressed her regret that Elizabeth had been unable to keep their dinner engagement in August, and added shyly that she had been much looking forward to her acquaintance. Elizabeth responded feelingly, with heightened colour that Georgiana's regret was nothing to her own on the occasion and hoped that in future they would have many opportunities to know each other. The two ladies regarded each other closely for a moment, eyes warm, smiles tugging at the corners of their mouths. Within moments they were perfectly comfortable with each other and began to enthusiastically discuss the music Georgiana had been lately learning.
Before long Caroline barged into the conversation, blithering on about Georgiana's great talent, and how she longed to hear for herself how she got on with her latest piece. Her comments were meant to demonstrate to Elizabeth how very great friends she and Georgiana were, in the hope of introducing the notion that her relationship with Mr. Darcy was a great deal more significant than it appeared. She meant to make Elizabeth feel very much the outsider, not wanted, not needed. She intended to warn her off.
Georgiana paid little heed to Caroline's words, waiting only for her to draw breath before directing another question or comment to Elizabeth. She was rather surprised at herself, she was not usually this talkative in company and had almost never been the one to direct the conversation, being more easy with merely giving replies when spoken to. Her open sweet expression betrayed some of the alarm and incredulity she felt, and Elizabeth smiled her approbation and gratitude. Whatever the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, these two ladies were every moment becoming more dear to each other.
Caroline could feel the blush of annoyance creep over her features and struggled to recompose herself. She felt a roar of displeasure lodge itself in her throat, and for many moments did not trust herself to speak. She took a few minutes to breathe deeply, briskly fanning herself with the elegant silk and mother of pearl fan that she was prodigiously fond of . She rarely passed any opportunity to draw attention to it. This was one of the few instances of wielding it that it was actually of some use, normally it was simply an affectation. Soon enough she felt better though still very out of sorts. She snapped her fan shut and dropped it to her side with some violence.
Georgiana and Elizabeth were interrupted from their reverie by the sharp sound. They regarded Caroline with curiosity and some degree of surprise. "Miss Eliza," she began in a haughty tone " I believe that I have not yet offered you congratulations on the LATE marriage of your younger sister, I have been remiss. Let me offer them now."
Elizabeth's eyes widened at Caroline's emphasis on the word 'late'. She realized that there could be two meanings, one being 'the recent marriage' and the other being rather less benign...again she almost cursed Lydia and Wickham for their lack of morals.
Elizabeth was under no illusions whatsoever which meaning Caroline wished to convey, but would not give her the satisfaction of being embarrassed. She was also desperate to deflect this particular discourse as being one she knew would cause great pain to Georgiana. And so, although she longed to behave in a most unladylike manner to Caroline's smug person, she accepted the congratulations with as much grace as she could muster.
There was an awkward pause as Caroline savoured the moment and prepared to launch more thinly veiled insults and provocations. As she opened her mouth to spew forth another round of vituperation, their group was approached by Mrs. Gardiner arm in arm with Jane. Caroline's mouth snapped shut, jaw clenched, lips unattractively compressed in a moue of displeasure. She considered that to continue the conversation as she would have wished was now impossible. If she could not abuse Eliza, she preferred to be elsewhere and very prettily if not very graciously excused herself.
"Lizzy I have mustered some allies to work on you to change your mind about being one of our party tomorrow, there is still time for you to pack your things...." Jane smiled appealingly at her sister. The very next morning the Gardiner's were returning to London and had invited Jane and Elizabeth to join them.
Mrs. Bennet had been put in charge of all the wedding arrangements save that of choosing the bride's trousseau. She had initially felt very ill used indeed. Her position as the mother of the bride made her the most eminently qualified to choose the wedding clothes. At length however she had been persuaded to think otherwise, that the wedding clothes though vital, were not the substance of the event. The wedding breakfast, the arrangement of flowers in the church and all the multitude of details involved in the matrimonial ceremony were of far greater import. And it was true, she conceded that Mrs. Gardiner may be more knowledgeable regarding the best warehouses in London, but that was only because she had the great advantage of residing there. If she had been able to carry her point with Mr. Bennet about always residing in the country....ahh but that not being the case, she became content to let Mrs. Gardiner be Jane's chief advisor in the matter of wedding clothes.
As soon as the plan had become generally known, it was immediately improved upon by Mr. Bingley. He had many legal details to attend to, besides some shopping of his own. Mr. Darcy did not object to returning to town, and as the master of Netherfield was leaving, the rest of the party felt no obligation nor inclination to stay. They would travel as a group on the morrow and looked forward to many evenings of entertainment together, enjoying the many marvels and amusements of London. It would be the summer of their courtship, every delight to be savoured, even more to be anticipated.
From the beginning Elizabeth had decided she could not go. Her spirits were not good, she anticipated no pleasure and a great deal of pain. Perhaps in town she would be witness to Mr. Darcy's inclinations bearing fruit elsewhere. She knew herself to be strong and resilient, but knew likewise that to see Mr. Darcy love someone else was something beyond her ability to bear. She needed time to become more inured, insensible, better at hiding her shattered heart. She could not confess such melodramatic thoughts to Jane or to her Aunt and so pretended that she was needed at Longbourn to represent the interests of the simple and elegant Jane, that her mother would not turn her wedding into the town fair.
This argument was reasonable enough, everybody being well aware of Mrs. Bennet's taste. Still Jane was disappointed, she cared nothing for the looks of the wedding, only the groom and it would give her far greater pleasure to have the company of her sister in her final weeks of freedom. Elizabeth's eyes stung nastily with tears on the occasion of this speech, and that had been the one point--- the point she had felt the most despair and loneliness at the thought of losing her sister as well as her hopes for the future--- when she had nearly broken down to confess to Jane the real reason behind her choice to stay home. She had not confessed however and never once regretted it.
"Allies, Jane? I see only Aunt Gardiner and she has already acknowledged the soundness of my reasoning in staying behind." Elizabeth smiled warmly, loving her sister so much, amused by her persistence though it caused some degree of pain as well. "Why yes Lizzy. Miss Darcy will also be in town you know and has told me more than once that she hopes to accompany us on some of our evenings out...."
"Yes Miss Bennet, "interjected Georgiana, "would that not provide us with ample opportunity to become friends?"
"You are very sly creatures!" laughed Lizzy. " But some of you know, and others will soon discover that I am an obstinate creature, not to be worked on once I have made my mind up. I am excessively fond of correspondence Georgiana," she continued with a sideways glance at Jane "I should like very much if you would write to me. It is a wonderful way to conduct the beginning of a friendship. That way I may be able to muse and consider my words and responses that I may give the most favourable impression! And you Jane! I fully expect a letter from you at least every other day giving every detail of your purchases and the great sights you enjoy, I should even like scraps of your chosen materials sent, that I may feel one of the party. " Elizabeth was so firm and yet so jovial in her refusal that her friends felt they could press her no further. Her relief was very great when the subject was dropped.
Georgiana was very disappointed that Elizabeth was not going to London with them the next day. Lizzy was so vivacious and intelligent and kind, everything that Caroline Bingley was not. How she dreaded that long carriage ride! Uppermost in Georgiana's mind however was that her brother loved this woman, and she would have no opportunity to give him aid in this matter if they were separated by such a distance.
The Darcys were said to be an uncommonly well favoured family, both in looks and intelligence, and Georgiana was by no means deficient. Artifice was not in her nature, she could never have told an outright lie, but conceded that to stretch the truth was permissible in this instance. Desperation made her brave.
When Mrs. Gardiner and Jane were elsewhere applied, Georgiana moved slightly closer to Elizabeth on the divan, reached for her hand and regarded her seriously, with large frightened eyes. "Miss Bennet....I wonder if.....I realize this is extraordinary...."
Elizabeth caught her breath at this display from Georgiana who was usually so timid. "Miss Darcy! Whatever can be the matter? Please, speak freely, I will do all in my power to alleviate your concerns."
"Miss Bennet, I know I can trust you, I have been most grievously worried these past weeks. My brother has been.....unwell. I do not know what ails him, he tries to reassure me, he would never want to burden me... I am frightened." Georgiana's eyes were luminous with unshed tears. She was perfectly sincere in her mode of address. She meant every word, but chose them carefully so as to convey a rather more serious meaning.
The effect of these words on Elizabeth is scarcely to be described. Mr. Darcy unwell? Her heart plunged, her stomach churned, her mind rebelled. She turned pale and shook, feeling dangerously close to swooning.
Georgiana felt rather wretched at resorting to such stratagems but fully intended to gauge Elizabeth's reaction and use it to convince her to come to London. Before she could continue, the gentlemen entered, and Elizabeth found herself in scarcely a moment looking into the concerned face of Mr. Darcy.
"Miss Bennet, are you not well? Can I get you a glass of wine?" His agitation was extreme. He had entered the room with such anticipation of seeing her sweet face, his spirits had soared on perceiving her with Georgiana, in such a position as to suggest they were becoming better acquainted. He perceived instantly that something had greatly affected her.
Elizabeth barked a short hysterical laugh, "I, unwell? No, I am perfectly fine I assure you. But will you not sit? Is there not rather something I can do for you?"
Georgiana was horrified. The sight of the two of them, alternately pale and flushed, falling over themselves in being solicitous for the well being of the other was almost comic in its effect. That they should reveal their feelings had always been her intention, but to do it in such an awkward manner and yet so publicly!
Mr. Darcy sat abruptly, in a chair just opposite. Elizabeth sat also, rather quickly and without grace, feeling rather weak. An awkward silence enveloped them as they searched each other's faces.
Georgiana glanced about nervously, and was pleased to perceive that nothing untoward had been noticed. Her agitation served her powers of observation very ill indeed, for several persons had remarked their exchange. She closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed hard at what she was about to do. "Miss Bennet, I believe a little music would be just the thing right now, shall I play? Would you be so kind as to turn the pages for me?"
Both Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were surprised at this, and Elizabeth acceded to the strange request with some alacrity. To stay situated where she was, so near to him, so longing for him and fearing for him, Elizabeth knew she would not be able to restrain herself. She was yet sensible enough to remember this was Jane and Bingley's evening and to cause a scandal would have been reprehensible, but how she longed to go to him and cradle him and make him well.
Mr. Darcy was in the grip of thoughts remarkably similar to Elizabeth's and was glad of the opportunity to control himself. He must not impose himself on her, could not risk doing so, for what if she looked upon him with disdain and revulsion?
Most of the room listened attentively to Georgiana's capital performance. Her page turner and her brother were in such a state that they were not particularly sensible to it, but this did not insult or concern her, she knew her piece well enough to do without the music altogether. She hoped that their thoughts were singularly occupied with each other. She was very relieved that her 'ruse' had focused their attentions without becoming the disaster it might have been.
Mr. Bennet and one very special guest were together in the far corner of the room, to all outward appearances enjoying the performance and a cup of coffee. Of course they were having a hurried and whispered conference. Their eyes had met meaningfully several times throughout the evening, flashing with amusement, hopefully triumphant during Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth's earlier exchange, and many times clouding with despair and frustration.
Mr. Bennet was stunned at the suggestion of his friend, the letter writer. He could by no means agree....a gentleman would never....he would never be forgiven! "You are indeed very perceptive my friend, that such a situation as this could exist would never have occurred to me. But are you absolutely of the opinion that it must be resolved thus? Do you not think it would be wiser to just have a quiet word with them? Could it not be managed without causing such pain?" The two regarded each other over their cups of coffee. "It is only a suggestion, sir. I am however of the opinion that their difficulties will not be overcome without such drastic action. You see how they both hold back, They are both so timid, or afraid that they will never see through all the mess to each others hearts. I leave it up to you now. You must decide soon."
The guests of honour were conspicuously absent, having slipped out for a moment to enjoy the 'twinkling stars' and the fortuitously placed garden bench.
In another part of the room, another tête-à-tête took place. Caroline Bingley had witnessed every mortifying moment of Mr. Darcy's and Elizabeth's time together just before Georgiana's impromptu concert. With blood in her eye she immediately went in search of Mrs. Bennet and was now making good the promise to herself to get better acquainted.