Previous Section, Section III
Chapter 22 Posted on Monday, 4 March 2002
Elizabeth closed the door behind her, and made her way towards the bed. Sitting on the edge of it, she untied the bundle of letters that Angelica had given her. As Angelica said, the top letter was from James. It was written in London, on expensive paper, with the same date as the letter he had sent her when he announced his marriage. The similarities, however, ended there. Whereas the tone of the letter she received years ago was formal, written in James's customary neat handwriting, this letter's tone was emotional, written in a shaky hand, smudged and blotched with what could only be tears.
London, April 29.
My Dearest Lizzy,
I cannot go on pretending that everything between us was a lie. You must know that I love you and I always will. Please believe me when I say that this hurts me more than it does you. My only consolation is that in time, your merciful heart will be able to forgive me. I will never forget you. My punishment for the wrong I had done you is not only the guilt that I will carry for the rest of my life. It is also the knowledge that I will never be able to have the woman that I love more than life itself. I know your memories will haunt me night and day, and I shall never have peace until the day I die. I was never inconstant to you, though it may appear so. I hope, someday, the bitterness of this experience will pass and leave you as bright and spirited as I have always known you. And maybe, in time, you will remember me in the light of the good times we shared. As you always say, "Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure." I will always remember you because you are the only part of my life that has given me happiness and meaning. I pray that someday you will find someone who is worthy of your love, someone who will love you as much as I have.
James St. Vincent
Elizabeth folded the letter slowly, feeling sorry for James. Oh, James, you must have suffered even more than I did! She looked through the rest of the bundle containing all her letters to him during his stay in London. Some of them were worn out from constant perusal. An irrepressible gloom settled upon her. She quickly gathered up all the letters and tied them up once more. Then, she got down on her knees and pulled out a cedar box, which she had brought with her from Longbourn, from under her bed. In it were two other bundles of letters, the one she had taken from Netherfield and the one that consisted of all James's letters to her. Underneath the bundles was the small velvet box that held the ring James had given her. She carefully laid the new bundle of letters inside, closed the box tightly, and shoved it underneath the bed once more.
Elizabeth felt enervated and out of spirits from the day's events. She crawled into her bed, pulled the sheets up to her chin, and fell into a long, deep sleep filled with confusing dreams of James and Darcy.
James St. Vincent was buried the next day, but Elizabeth did not attend his funeral for she could not bear to see it. Instead, she spent the day with Jane, Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Gardiner, looking at trousseaus, and silk and laces. Her heart was not in it, however, and she was most grateful when they went back to Gracechurch Street for lunch.
Bingley and Darcy called on Gracechurch Street in the afternoon. Bingley, who was characteristically happy, invited everyone for a ride through the park. He thought an excursion with Elizabeth would lighten Darcy's mood. His friend had not confided in him. All he knew was that Darcy had finally met Mrs. James St. Vincent and that she was an old acquaintance of his. For the past two days, however, he had been puzzled at his friend's gloomy behavior, and had since been waiting for an opportunity to drive away his melancholy.
Jane on the other hand, knew all about James and Angelica. But she and Bingley were of the same mind, and she heartily agreed to Bingley's plan, thinking that fresh air in the company of Darcy would do Elizabeth a lot of good. Darcy and Elizabeth, finding no plausible reason to decline the invitation, agreed.
The park was crowded, and soon Bingley and Jane were separated from Darcy and Elizabeth.
"I believe we lost them, Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth, standing on her toes, and straining her neck.
Darcy, who was much taller, searched the crowd in vain. "I believe you are right."
They walked around the park, searching for Bingley and Jane, but to no avail. Soon, Elizabeth's feet were hurting, and she and Darcy were forced to sit on one of the benches and rest.
"I am sorry, Mr. Darcy. I should have worn my walking shoes, but I did not realize we were going to walk around in circles like this," said Elizabeth.
"How are you feeling?" asked Darcy, with concern.
"Now that we are sitting down, much better. I am worried about Jane and Mr. Bingley, though. How shall we ever find them?"
"We will have to wait until the crowd thins out. It would be pointless to search for them at this time. I'm afraid, we would have to wait until the sun goes down," replied Darcy. "Do not be alarmed. I am sure that Bingley will take good care of your sister."
Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, I am sure he will."
They both fell silent, watching the people pass by.
"Miss Bennet," said Darcy, after a while. "I owe you an apology for my behavior yesterday. It was unpardonable."
Elizabeth sighed. "So was mine. I am sorry."
"Elizabeth," said Darcy softly, "Do you ever regret being engaged to me?"
She looked at Darcy and saw uncertainty in his eyes. "No, do you?"
Gradually, the crowd dispersed. The sun was already setting gloriously behind the trees, and for a moment, a certain kind of peace settled upon Darcy and Elizabeth.
After watching the sun disappear from their view, Darcy said, "Perhaps we should look for Bingley and your sister while there is still some light."
Elizabeth agreed, and after a few minutes, they met Bingley and Jane, who were also looking for them. Exclamations of delight were exchanged, and soon they were on their way back to Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners invited the gentlemen to dinner but they both declined. Elizabeth walked Darcy to the carriage while Jane and Bingley stood by the door.
"Elizabeth," said Darcy tentatively, "I have been meaning to give you this." He handed her James's letter that he had found at Netherfield.
Elizabeth took the letter and opened it. "How long have you had this?"
"Some time now," answered Darcy, guiltily.
"How long were you going to keep it from me?" asked Elizabeth, a little hurt.
Darcy did not answer.
"Any more secrets, Mr. Darcy?" said Elizabeth, coldly.
"No, no more secrets," he said.
"Good night, Mr. Darcy."
"Good night." Darcy watched her return to the house. Elizabeth...
Supper was a lonely affair for Darcy, and for a fleeting moment, he wished he were dining with the Gardiners and Elizabeth. But he needed some time alone, some time to sort everything out. It was not to be, however, for after supper, a visitor came.
"Angelica! May I ask what brings you here at so late an hour?" asked Darcy. "You do understand that this is highly inappropriate."
"I told your housekeeper that I came to see you regarding a matter of business," replied Angelica.
"I just wanted to bid you goodbye. Do you not remember that I leave tomorrow?"
"Where are you headed?"
"Somewhere far. There is nothing left here for me, is there?"
Darcy looked down and shook his head. "No, perhaps not."
"Goodbye, Fitzwilliam." Angelica headed toward the door and opened it. She stopped for a second, and turned, "You will never be able to forgive me, will you?"
"Goodbye, Mrs. St. Vincent." Angelica nodded, and walked out the door. Angelica...
Chapter 23 Posted on Monday, 4 March 2002
Darcy sat in the dark. The curtains in his bedroom were parted far enough to allow only a sliver of light from the full moon outside to pass through. Thoughts of Angelica and Elizabeth hovered over his mind like the sword of Damocles threatening to fall with fatal precision. His situation was precarious, indeed. He had, on the one hand, his first love-the woman he had loved for a long time, the one he can never forget. And on the other, his only match-the only woman who had dared to defy him in spite of his wealth, the one he respected and admired.
Two questions remain unanswered: who, among the two, loved him, and whom did he love? Darcy wearily stared into the black nothingness that seemed to swallow his soul, and found no answers there. The minutes ticked into hours while he struggled to remain awake, as if afraid of the dreams that may stealthily sneak in during the night. Alas, fatigue won, and Darcy was forced into a slumber that he suddenly wished would go on forever.
The morning sun broke through the line between the heavy drapes, waking Darcy up. It took a few minutes for him to shake off his drowsiness. When his senses took over him, he quickly reached for his timepiece by the nightstand and glanced at the hour. It was already half past nine. Angelica!
He scrambled out of his bed and quickly rang for his servant.
"Quickly, man," he barked urgently, "prepare the carriage!"
The servant hurriedly departed and did just as his master had ordered. Darcy quickly dressed, and ran downstairs. He did not even bother to eat breakfast. He purposely made his way outside. As he stepped out the door, however, Bingley's carriage stopped in front of him.
"Darcy, where are you headed?" Bingley asked.
"To see Mrs. St. Vincent," he answered, striding briskly toward his own transportation.
"But did you not say that she is leaving this morning?" said Bingley, jumping off the carriage and running to catch up with Darcy.
"That is precisely why I am in such a hurry," explained Darcy impatiently, without breaking a stride.
"I hope you remembered that we were supposed to call on Gracechurch Street this morning."
"Please give them, my apologies, Bingley. I have not a moment to lose," he replied, jumping in the carriage. He quickly gave the directions to Angelica's residence, which was clear across town, and ordered the driver to take him there as fast as possible.
"I must get there before ten!" he cried.
The carriage lurched forward, leaving Bingley gaping in the dust. It sped along the crowded streets of London, swaying from side to side as it sharply rounded the curves. The driver yelled constantly at the horses, lashing his whip from time to time. At one point, the carriage quickly turned on a corner where a bakery stood, just as a man was coming out with his hands full of pies. The horses startled the poor fellow and his pies catapulted into air, doing some quick somersaults. Two of them landed face down on the sidewalk, while third one splattered on his head. Darcy yelled his apologies, which were not heard. From the window, he could see the man holding up his fists with some sweet berry filling oozing down his face. Darcy leaned back guiltily, making a mental note to find out who he was and recompense him, if it was possible.
The carriage hurtled on, past the quaint little shops that lined London's dirty but colorful streets, past the dainty women with ruffled parasols twirling in the air, past the dignified gentlemen walking stiffly while tapping their canes on the cobbled sidewalks, past the grimy little faces dressed in rags that loitered all over. The carriage streaked across town, the wheels dipping into water-filled potholes, splattering mud all over little girls with curls in frilly bonnets, earning the ire of indignant mothers.
Darcy looked at his watch. It was a quarter before the hour. He worriedly gazed out the window. He must get to Angelica. He must - for his life, his happiness depended on it. He inwardly berated himself for uncharacteristically getting up too late. But one can hardly blame him, for he spent most of the night awake.
The horses bounded through London at a brisk canter, the clippety-clop of their metal shoes echoing above the din of the town's usual commotion. As the carriage entered the town's busiest commercial district, it dangerously weaved through the traffic of mules and horses carrying heavy loads of fruits, vegetables, and other merchandise.
Darcy's driver, in an effort to dodge a cart carrying a load of apples, collided head on with one carrying a load of cabbages. Green heads flew into the air, and rolled all over the streets. The owner furiously yelled at the driver. Darcy quickly got off the carriage, and received a barrage of insults from the aggrieved man. Minutes were being wasted, and as much as Darcy would like to help the man load the goods on the cart again, he had not a moment to lose. He gave the man a few gold coins that seemed to pacify him a bit. Darcy expressed his apologies and got back on the carriage. The horses backed up a few feet, and then dashed off to their destination.
"Hiya!" cried the driver, propelling the poor animals into a frenzied gallop.
The carriage halted abruptly in front of the big mansion that was owned by the St. Vincents. Darcy rang the bell nervously, looking for some sign of Angelica. The housekeeper, a heavy, old lady, hobbled slowly to the door. The door opened, and Darcy inquired after her mistress.
"I am sorry, sir," she answered leisurely, "but she has already left a few minutes ago."
Fear gripped Darcy's heart. "Can you tell me which direction she went?" he asked.
The housekeeper pointed up the road. Darcy thanked her hastily, and once more jumped into the carriage, barking orders.
The carriage raced on, and soon Darcy saw another carriage in the distance.
"Quickly, man!" he bellowed, "Follow that carriage."
This encouraged the driver, and soon Darcy's carriage was rattling all over, as if it were going to burst at the seams. Darcy let down the side glass, and yelled, "Angelica! Angelica! Please stop!"
After a few minutes, the carriage in front seemed to notice the one behind it and gradually slowed down. When both carriages had stopped completely, side by side, Darcy got out.
"Angelica!" he called, and she climbed down looking at him in bewilderment.
On the other side of town, Bingley greeted the Gardiners and Jane pleasantly, but when he came to Elizabeth, he looked at her uneasily.
"Where is Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth asked the dreaded question.
"He sends his apologies," said Bingley, uncomfortably. "I am afraid, he shall not be able to come by this morning."
"Is something the matter with him?"
"No, he only has, uh, has some business matter to attend to."
Elizabeth, possessing a high degree of intuition, persisted in her interrogation. "What kind of business matter, if I may be so bold to ask? Where was he headed?" The question ended with a pleading note that Bingley could hardly refuse.
He wiped the perspiration that formed on his brow, and looked hesitantly at Elizabeth.
"Do tell her, Mr. Bingley," urged Jane, the last person whom Bingley wanted to disappoint.
He sighed in defeat as he looked at the expectant faces looking upon him with rapt attention. "I believe, he has gone to visit Mrs. St. Vincent," he said finally. He was not privy to all the details, but he had a nagging feeling that such an information would upset Elizabeth, and it did.
An expression of pained surprise came over Elizabeth. She hastily excused herself, ran up to her room and locked the door behind her. Taking a piece of paper from the writing table, she wrote hurriedly.
Gracechurch Street, October 31.
Due to the circumstances that have occurred during the last four days, I have come to believe that a union between us would be a mistake, and would result in great unhappiness to us both. I, hereby, release you from our engagement, and all the duties and responsibilities that come with it. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. I will only add, God bless you.
The letter was quickly dispatched, and when Elizabeth joined the others, they looked at her with concern.
"Lizzy, are you unwell?" cried Jane.
"No, no, I am fine. A little fresh air is all I need. I hope you both do not mind if I take a walk, do you. I need to clear my head."
Bingley merely nodded, while Jane followed her with her eyes. "May I ask where you are walking to?"
"Just around town."
"Lizzy, this is London. It might not be safe for you to wander around. Perhaps Mr. Bingley and I should accompany you."
"No, Jane," said Elizabeth resolutely. "I need to be alone."
Jane was forced to acquiesce, as it was not her nature to argue. She and Bingley watched Elizabeth as she rounded a bend and disappeared into a corner.
Chapter 24 Posted on Thursday, 7 March 2002
Elizabeth headed toward the cemetery for reasons she did not know. At the moment, it seemed the only peaceful place to go. The streets were full, the park, crowded. All she wanted were some moments of quiet-alone. She entered the rusty gates, and walked up the winding path to the top of the hill.
As she stood at the top, the mournful clanging of the church bells announced the hour. She breathed in deeply. Her position afforded her a good view of the whole cemetery. She surveyed the scene and wondered what it would be like to feel no more pain or suffering. Then, she spotted a fresh mound of earth a few feet down. James! She ran towards it, feeling the air whipping her face. Upon reaching it, she read the words etched on the tombstone. It said: James St. Vincent, Loving Son and Honorable Husband.
A tear escaped Elizabeth's eye. Oh, James... She looked around and gathered some wild flowers that grew nearby. Placing the flowers near the tombstone, she said a little prayer for him. "Goodbye, James," she whispered, "I will miss you."
A cold wind blew, carrying her whisper over the hills. Then, another gust came, and took with it the few remaining leaves on the tree close by. Elizabeth crossed her arms to protect herself from the cold. Dark clouds formed above her, casting an eerie gloom over the place. A thick fog slowly closed on her. Lightning ripped through the sky, its veins spreading far. Thunder rose in a crescendo, making its presence felt.
Elizabeth turned to run, but suddenly, she saw a figure trudging toward her in the distance. Through the fog, it looked like a ghostly apparition, and the sight of it chilled her to the bones. She gasped and put a hand over her mouth, preventing a scream from escaping her. Though not superstitious, the eerie atmosphere she found herself in made her imagination run wild. Rooted to the spot, she stared at the figure slowly advancing toward her. She waited in fearful suspense until the figure was close enough to be recognized.
"Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed in surprise, confusion, and relief.
Darcy looked equally relieved. "Miss Bennet! Are you all right?" he asked, seeing the frightened look in her eyes.
She exhaled the breath she had been holding. "I am fine now, I thank you. I could have sworn you were a ghost."
"The ghost of James St. Vincent perhaps?" said Darcy, glancing at the tombstone.
Elizabeth ignored him. "What are you doing here?" she asked, still in a bit of a shock.
"I came to see you," said Darcy as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
"B-but I thought," she stammered, "you were ... you had gone after..."
Darcy shook his head.
"I am sorry it did not work out for both of you," Elizabeth said.
"Elizabeth, you do not understand..." began Darcy.
"No, Mr. Darcy, I can understand," said Elizabeth, sadly.
"So, is this how it ends?" said Darcy with a mixture of pain and anger in his voice. He tightened his already clenched fist.
Elizabeth noticed a piece of paper crumpled in his hand. My letter! "How else did you want it to end?"
"Not this way," said Darcy.
Little drops of rain came falling down from the sky, and Darcy saw Elizabeth shiver a little. He took off coat and draped it on her. Elizabeth was overwhelmed by his closeness and felt the urge to snuggle closer to him, but she thought the better of it and stepped back a little. Feeling her resistance, Darcy stepped back as well.
"Perhaps we should go home," he suggested.
"No, I am fine here. Please go," she answered stubbornly.
"Then I shall stay."
Elizabeth shrugged, as if she did not care. The rain fell faster and the wind blew stronger. But they just stood there in an unbreakable truce.
"Elizabeth," said Darcy finally, taking a step forward. "Please forgive me."
"There is no need for an apology. We both made a mistake."
"A mistake," Darcy repeated. "Everything between us-a mistake?"
"What do you call it then? A pastime? Something to tide you over until your first love comes back?"
Darcy looked at her in disbelief. "No, that is not true. You cannot believe that."
"But it is, and I can."
By now the rain pelted down heavily on them, until they were both drenched to the skin. Elizabeth was forced to hold onto Darcy's coat and wrap it around her. His scent lingered on the coat and he felt very near, yet so distant.
She looked at Darcy sadly, her tears mingling with the rain. "First love. That is what it is all about, is it not?"
Darcy shook his head. "Second chances. That is what it is all about." Darcy walked toward her until they were only a few inches apart. Elizabeth tried to back off but the tree behind her prevented her from doing so. Darcy cupped her chin so that she was looking straight into his eyes. "I love you, you must know that. It does not matter to me anymore whether you love James more than me or whether you do not love me at all. As long as you are with me, my happiness is complete."
Elizabeth turned her head. "You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy looked hurt and backed away from her.
"I do not want to be your second choice," she declared firmly.
"Second choice? You were never my second choice!"
"But this morning! This morning you-you went after her. And-and she refused you once again. That is why you are here, is it not?"
"She did not refuse me."
"What?" Elizabeth's face betrayed confusion.
"I ran after her not to tell her I loved her, but to tell her I forgave her. And to ask for her forgiveness. It is over between us, Elizabeth. It has been over for a long time now."
Elizabeth let his words sink in. She felt remorseful and ashamed forever doubting him. "Oh, Fitzwilliam..." was all she could say, but the love in her eyes said it all.
The rain continued to pour down on them. Darcy said with a sparkle in his eyes, "Madam, I would dearly love to stay and chat about the weather, but I think that is too obvious a topic.
Elizabeth smiled. "I believe you are right sir." She looked at Darcy standing in the pouring rain, trying his best to be dignified about it. Suddenly, she started laughing, that gleeful, carefree laugh that made Darcy's heart flip. Looking up to face the sky and holding out her arm to catch a few raindrops, she said, "Just look at the two of us. What fools we both are!"
Darcy watched her in amusement. Outside, underneath the dark clouds and pelting rain, amidst the blustering wind, surrounded by the dreariness of the cemetery, there stood Elizabeth. She was drenched to the skin, her hair wet, limp, and plastered to her forehead, her eyes twinkling with joy, her gay laughter breaking the eerie gloom. She was the most beautiful sight Darcy had ever seen.
He closed the gap between them, and whispered to her ear, "Will you still be mine?"
"Always," said Elizabeth, gratefully taking his offered his arm.
Later that afternoon, Elizabeth lay on the sofa, warming herself by the fire. Darcy sat in another chair perpendicular to her, studying the way the light from the fire turned her hair into burnished copper. She smiled at him.
"Are you comfortable?" she asked.
"Very much so," he replied, gazing at her with frank admiration.
Elizabeth blushed. "I am glad you are here," she said, softly.
"So am I."
Exhaustion overtook Elizabeth. She closed her eyes, and soon fell into a peaceful sleep. Darcy watched her, thinking about how much he loved her. If only she could love him half as much as she did James.
Mrs. Gardiner came into the room a little later and saw that Elizabeth had fallen asleep. She smiled fondly at her niece.
"Mrs. Gardiner," said Darcy, "would it be all right if I bring her to her room? She would be more comfortable there."
Mrs. Gardiner nodded. Darcy lifted Elizabeth effortlessly from the sofa, making sure that her head lay safely on his shoulder, and carried her up to her room. Elizabeth stirred a little, and snuggled closer to Darcy for warmth. He laid her gently on the bed. Elizabeth stirred once more and called out his name.
"Fitzwilliam," she murmured.
"I am here, Elizabeth," said Darcy, holding her hand.
She smiled and fell asleep once more.
Epilogue Posted on Sunday, 10 March 2002
Darcy and Elizabeth got married on a crisp and clear December morning. Three days later, Elizabeth found herself alone in their room, pacing worriedly. Dusk had already settled, and outside, snow fell quickly, adding to the already thick layer that covered Pemberley. Darcy and his steward, Mr. Gray, were outside inspecting the grounds and making sure that everything was ready for the winter. Every now and then, she would look out the window trying to catch a glimpse of her husband, but he was nowhere to be seen.
A knock on the door startled her. She quickly ran to it, thinking it might be Darcy. It was just the butler wondering if she would like some supper.
"No, thank you, Mr. Harris. I would rather wait for Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth in reply to his inquiry.
"Yes, ma'am," said Mr. Harris. He noticed Elizabeth's look of anxiety and tried to comfort his new mistress. "Mr. Darcy always goes around Pemberley at this time of the year, ma'am. He should be back soon, I am sure."
"Do you really think so? It is so dark out there. What if something happens to him? How will we know?"
"He is with Mr. Gray, ma'am."
Elizabeth calmed down a little. "Yes, of course. I forgot." She looked at Mr. Harris who was trying his best to keep a straight face. Embarrassed, she smiled. "I am being rather silly, am I not?"
Mr. Harris answered gravely, "Not at all, ma'am. It is perfectly natural."
"Thank you, Mr. Harris. That will be all," said Elizabeth, and the butler bowed and left.
Feeling a little cold, Elizabeth climbed into her bed and tried to read. It was difficult, however, for her thoughts always flew back to Darcy and how he must be wet and freezing in the dark. Exasperated, she put her book down, got out of bed, and put on warm clothing. Grabbing her coat, she quietly sneaked out of her bedroom, making sure none of the servants saw her, and made her way downstairs. She was almost at the door, when she saw the prim and proper Mr. Harris coming round the corner. She ran back and ducked into one of the many rooms of Pemberley, silently berating herself for behaving in a foolish manner. Nonetheless, she was determined to find her husband, and reason did not have any place in her mind. As soon as Mr. Harris was out of sight, she made a dash to the door, quickly stepping out into the cold night.
Thankful for the torches that dimly lighted the path, Elizabeth made her way down it, peering into the darkness on one side and then the other, searching in vain for Darcy. She was concentrating too much on looking for her husband that she forgot to pay attention to where she was going-until she bumped into something-or someone.
"Oh!" she exclaimed.
"Going somewhere, Mrs. Darcy?" asked a deep voice.
Elizabeth looked up. "Fitzwilliam!" she cried, throwing her hands around his neck.
Darcy allowed her to cling to him for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of her body against his. When Elizabeth finally let go of him, he said, "Perhaps we should continue this inside."
Elizabeth blushed and hoped the darkness would hide the deep color of her cheeks. She turned her face away from him and said, "Yes, we must go inside. You must be very cold."
Darcy watched her walk ahead of him, quite amused. He followed her and soon his long strides caught up with her short, quick ones. He offered her his arm, which she silently took, and they both walked toward the house without saying a word. Mr. Harris greeted them at the door.
"Mr. Darcy!" exclaimed Mr. Harris, looking vastly relieved. When he saw Elizabeth, he looked shocked for a second, but being the seasoned butler that he was, he quickly replaced it with a stoic expression. Without emotion, he said, "Mrs. Darcy, I did not know you went out for a walk."
"I, uh, I felt the need for some fresh air," replied Elizabeth lamely.
"Of course, ma'am," said Mr. Harris, as if it were a perfectly reasonable explanation. He, then, announced that supper was ready.
"Give us half an hour, Mr. Harris," said Darcy.
Darcy quickly went upstairs to his dressing room to change clothes, while Elizabeth went into their bedroom. A few minutes later, Darcy joined Elizabeth.
"Well?" he asked Elizabeth as soon as he came in, walking toward her.
"What were you doing outside?" asked Darcy. "Not running away, I hope."
"Fitzwilliam," reproached Elizabeth, "how can you even think such a thing. You know I would never do that."
Darcy waited patiently for the explanation to come out. It was interesting for him to see uncertainty in Elizabeth's manner. He had always seen her act and speak her mind with confidence.
She said, softly, "I was just worried about you is all."
Darcy smiled and kissed her on the forehead. "I promised you I would never leave you, did I not?"
She looked up at him, and he saw fear in her eyes. "I do not want to lose you, Fitzwilliam. It does not seem logical, but when you were out there for so long, I feared the worst. I went out to find you. I know it was a silly thing to do but I do not know what I would have done if..."
"Elizabeth..." said Darcy, not allowing her to finish. He pulled her in an embrace and she laid her head on his chest.
"I have a confession to make," Elizabeth said after a while.
Darcy pulled away to look at her quizzically. "Oh?"
"I know you think that I still love James." Darcy's brows furrowed at the mention of James, but Elizabeth continued. "He will always be a part of my life history because in some way he helped shape the person I am now. But it is the Lizzy of my youth that loved him ... and it is this Elizabeth, the one standing before you right now, that loves you. James will always be part of my past, but you-you will always be part of my present and future. I just wanted you to know that."
Darcy, so overwhelmed with feeling, did the only thing he could think of. He kissed Elizabeth with a gentle, but lingering kiss. "Elizabeth," he whispered, "you have made me the happiest of men."
"Do you not have any regrets?" she asked.
He looked at her tenderly. "If you are thinking about Angelica..."
"She was your first love."
"But not the love of my life," declared Darcy. "Elizabeth, even when I saw Angelica, I never stopped loving you. But seeing her brought back all the anger and pain I was keeping. I did not want you to feel that from me. It took me a while to forgive her, but when I did, that was the only time I felt that I could be worthy of you."
"Fitzwilliam," said Elizabeth, drawing close to him, "I love you."
Darcy leaned and gave her a long, passionate kiss. When they broke apart, Elizabeth said breathlessly, "I think we should go down to supper, or Mr. Harris will be extremely disappointed."
"Whom would you rather disappoint? Mr. Harris or me?"
Elizabeth thought for a moment. "Mr. Harris."
"Brilliant answer, Mrs. Darcy," whispered Darcy, duly rewarding her for her answer. The rest of the world faded away, like snow melting against the fire, until all that was left were Darcy and Elizabeth.
Here ends the tale of first love. But where it ends, another story begins. The story of second chances. First love. Second chances. Without them, life would be very dull, indeed.