Posted on Saturday, 26 June 2004
Fortune can, for her pleasure, fools advance,
And toss them on the wheels of Chance.
Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves.
Elizabeth barely noticed that her aunt's letter had fallen to the floor, her eyes were wet with unshed tears, her heart in turmoil. To be loved like this, to be cherished like this after all she had said and done. She had done nothing to deserve his regard, on the contrary, she had tried to find the weak points of his armor, to wound him to the heart whenever possible. It had not been done to improve him as she had thought at the time, but to nurture her own rather sensitive pride. Lydia's elopement had proved his objections against her family in the highest degree, yet how could he possibly love her still? Her aunt's words put it plainly, His understanding and opinions all please me; he wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and that, if he marry prudently, his wife may teach him. I thought him very sly;—he hardly ever mentioned your name. But slyness seems the fashion.
She had to see him, had to thank him in person! A rather daring plan arose in her breast and she didn't allow herself to cogitate further. Leaving the letter on the floor she hastily ran upstairs to pack a little trunk with clothes, money and other things and got ready for the ride of her life. Not being a very good horsewoman she decided to go on Nelly, the sweet-tempered mare belonging to Jane. After scribbling a note to her family she mounted her horse and rode off towards London, a long and draining trip yet worth every moment of hardship. Moving slowly it took her longer than usual to get to town but the two inns she picked to stay at were well known to her from former trips to London to visit the Gardiners. Of course the people there were most surprised by her glowing appearance and her traveling on horseback, it certainly wasn't fitting but Elizabeth couldn't care less. She needed to be there in time, before Mr. Darcy returned to the bliss and solitude of Pemberley and for that she gladly overlooked some puzzled faces.
It wasn't easy to find her way once she had reached London, had she not observed the streets and places during previous travels she might have been lost in the crowd and noise of London. She didn't regret her impulsive move for a moment, the only thing she had forgotten was to send word to the Gardiners to inform them of her arrival. As she arrived in Gracechurch-street her heart missed a beat while remembering that Mr. Darcy had been there shortly to resolve her sister's shame. But instead of humiliation she felt the very deepest love and gratitude warming her heart and despite the biting truth that Mr. Darcy surely would never offer her his love again she felt a little bit of hope for the first time in weeks. Dismounting Nelly she knocked and was greeted by Julia, her aunt's maid.
"Why Miss Eliza, we sure weren't expecting you! What a pleasure, but oh, did you come all the way on horseback?" Julia's eyes were widened in disbelief.
Elizabeth laughed heartily at Julia's reaction and gave her a most affectionate greeting. "Dear Julia, it's good to see you," Elizabeth smiled. Of course it was shocking to see a woman traveling so far on horseback, even though she had stayed at two inns and thus prolonged her travels for safety's sake. It was perfectly natural that men were traveling on horseback but for a woman and a rather inexperienced horsewoman like Elizabeth it posed a high risk and a lot of stress.
"Julia, I'm really sorry for not announcing my visit through an express or a letter but I had to get here as soon as possible and I had barely time to pack. Is my aunt at home?"
"Yes M'am, she's at home and she'll be happy to see you, I'm sure!" Julia responded warmly.
Elizabeth followed at Julia's heels to greet her aunt, hoping that Mrs. Gardiner wouldn't be too shocked at her appearance for the hem of her gown was muddy, her hair in disarray and her dress disheveled. Of course she would have to call on Mr. Darcy as soon a possible but before that a visit at Mr. Bingley's townhouse was in order to find out whether Mr. Darcy was still in town or not. In her heart she knew that he was not far away.
"Darcy, are you sure you don't want to return to Netherfield with us?" Bingley asked incredulously. He simply couldn't believe that after all they had been through he wouldn't follow his heart and ask for Miss Elizabeth's hand. Observing them together he had long since found out about Darcy's attachment to Jane's sister and his saving Lydia Bennet only confirmed the matter. Watching his friend sip brandy while reading a letter from Pemberley he wondered if something had happened between him and Miss Bennet.
"Bingley, I am definitely sure. Your heart is in Hertfordshire and that is why I'm glad you're going back to Netherfield. I hope that the young lady waiting for you there will make you very happy. I have pressing business to attend to and that is why I'm staying here in London!" Darcy looked up from the letter, put down the glass and gave his friend a stern, yet affectionate glance.
"Darcy, whether or not you have business here, where does your heart lie?" Bingley asked taking away the glass and sat down to face his friend.
It took a moment until Darcy responded bleakly,
"Nowhere!" he fibbed while thinking of a pair of unusually fine dark eyes surrounded by glossy, smooth curls and a smiling pair of lips, far too enticing not to kiss. He found himself once more longing to run his fingers through her hair, to hold her in his arms, to kiss her sensuous lips.
"Darcy, Darcy, I believe your heart is set on one very special young lady. A lady very close to my beloved Jane. Are you still going to tell me that your heart is untouched by her?" Here he paused for a moment to place his hand on his friend's tense shoulder. "Remember who you are speaking to, Darcy. I'm your friend, you can trust me!"
Touched by Bingley's kindness he gave him his rarely seen smile and got up for another drink, only this time he chose a light wine instead of the clouding brandy that offered no redemption but headaches and melancholy. While filling his glass he remembered the last time he had seen her, that dreadful time at the inn when her beautiful face was bathed in tears and her always smiling mouth quivering with sobs. Seeing her in such agony he cursed propriety which forbade him to comfort her in his arms and for a moment he yielded to his desire to give her comfort and let his hand linger on her arm, to pull away was one of the most dreadful things he had had to do in his life.
"Bingley, I thank you for being such a wonderful friend but there is no good in talking about something that will never happen anyway. I regret that my regard for the lady in question has been that obvious but believe me, I shall conquer this, I shall!" His jaw was clenched, his eyes burning with love. How was she now? Was she taken care of and was there someone to look after her, to protect her once her sister was married to Bingley?
"Darcy, not even you are above falling in love. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a lady who deserves your attention more than anyone I can think of," Here he smirked knowingly. "No, I wouldn't even dare to hope to have you as my brother in law through my own family, be assured of that!"
Mrs. Gardiner welcomed her niece lovingly and not one word of stricture passed her lips. Seeing how very much in love Elizabeth was reminded her of her own happy marriage and if she could help Elizabeth in any way to be as happy as she was even coming to London on horseback was acceptable. After a short talk she sent her upstairs to tidy herself up and when she came downstairs about two hours later she was wearing one of her aunt's eldest daughter's dresses, a lovely white cotton dress with long, flowing, translucent sleeves and a beautifully embroidered neckline. Her hair was shiny and no longer in disarray and her face was still as glowing but perfectly clean.
"Now Lizzy, it's just like you to come to London on horseback!" Aunt Gardiner smiled knowingly and seeing her niece blush only broadened her grin.
"I'm really sorry, aunt, but I had to come here as soon as possible!" Elizabeth's mind was elsewhere already for she was yearning to leave the house to search for Mr. Darcy. Letting her mind wander she remembered the last time she saw him, the time when she had to conclude that she would never see him again. Yet the last look he had given her was always with her, always warming her heart, giving her hope. Those weren't the eyes of a man who had stopped loving her, yet what if his glance had been dictated by pity rather than love?
"I'm sure that you wish to call on the Bingleys. You may take our little carriage and I insist that Julia will accompany you. No, do not resist for you've been on your own for way too long! It's not right to challenge one's luck at every opportunity! Now go and find him and be happy, my love!"
Elizabeth embraced her aunt affectionately, then she put on her bonnet and cloak and followed Julia to the already prepared carriage. My dear aunt, she thought, she truly is one of a kind!
"Darcy, am I to understand that you already asked Miss Bennet for her hand in marriage and that she refused your offer?" Bingley was shocked. From what he had seen between his friend and his beloved's sister there was a special bond between them that would never be broken. At Pemberley he had already expected him to tell that he would be married to Miss Bennet in the nearest future but then Miss Lydia's elopement had spoiled all the hopes he had had for his friend to be happy.
"You do not know when and how I proposed to her though," Darcy responded, his face painfully sad.
"Then tell me!" Bingley cried, his arms crossed in anticipation.
"Well, it all happened when I was visiting my aunt at Rosings Park. Call it fate but Miss Bennet was calling on her very dear friend Charlotte Lucas who had by then married Mr. Collins and is living in the parsonage near Rosings. Miss Bennet and her friends often called at Rosings, sometimes they were even summoned and I had the fortune to see more of her, to get to know her better. After some battles of wits I found myself totally under her charm and decided that, against my then better judgment to ask her to marry me," Darcy saw Bingley's shocked face and then continued,
"My manner of proposing could only lead to disaster but I was blinded by my pride and arrogance then so that I couldn't see how much my words put salt on her wounds and how I offended her. She, being a prudent and intelligent woman, refused me in a most clear and rather disturbing way and then I thought that I would never be able to face her again. Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner! those words haunted me even after writing to her and only her soothing presence at Pemberley could give me hope," He paused meaningfully remembering the events that followed.
"As you know what happened afterwards I believe you'll understand my present course of action much better, don't you?" Darcy took another sip of wine and leaned back in his chair.
"Darcy, I wouldn't say..." But before he couldn't finish Mr. Darcy's servant Rossiter entered with a message for his master. "Yes, Rossiter, what is it?"
"I beg your pardon for interrupting, sir, but a Miss Elizabeth Bennet is here to see Mr. Darcy."
"Show her to the library!" Darcy ordered and once Rossiter had left turned to Bingley. "What is she about?"
Elizabeth didn't have to wait for him in the library for he joined her just as Rossiter had left her. Her heart missed a beat as she laid eyes on him again, she had forgotten how handsome he truly was. And hearing his deep, caring voice again brought a smile to her lips. She had missed this masculine, commanding sound with its tender timbre and the gaze he usually gave her. Feeling his dark eyes on her face again she blushed but not for shame.
"Miss Bennet, what a delightful surprise! I did not know you were visiting the Gardiners at this time, I surely would have called on you!" He kissed her hand gallantly.
"Mr. Darcy, I only arrived today from a trip filled with possible adventures. And once again I might act selfishly by expressing my feelings in all honesty but it cannot be helped. Ever since hearing about the vital role you played in Lydia's rescue from eternal shame I wanted to thank you. But please do not think ill of my aunt for telling me, it was Lydia who let it slip and then I couldn't rest until I knew everything," she explained, her eyes filled with tears of both happiness and mortification.
"I would have preferred it as a secret but Miss Bennet, there is no need to thank me. I do not wish you to trouble yourself, please just accept it as an act of help from a friend!" Seeing her tears the urge to take her in his arms nearly overcame him.
"I have done nothing to deserve your friendship and least of all such benevolence and generosity. My family has caused you nothing but distress, socially, emotionally and now even financially. I do not know how a small part of this can ever be repayed, how my family can be so indebted to someone without even knowing it!" She averted her head from his gaze and wept silently. Suddenly she felt a strong arm around her shoulders, giving her comfort and protection.
"Payment of any kind isn't necessary, your family is me nothing!" His warm breath was caressing her cheek. With his finger under her chin he gently forced her to look at him. "And there is no necessity for tears either, you hear me? All is well and nobody is to blame. I too hurt you emotionally at Hunsford and your reaction was what I deserved to see the error of my ways. I regret so much I have done to you, having caused you such distress!" His voice was raspy and stretched.
All she wanted to do was rest against this broad chest, listen to his heartbeat and tell him again and again how much she loved him and what a fool she had been. Here he was, apologizing to her, making her heart glow with love and gratitude. She found herself thanking the Lord for letting her cross the path of this best of men.
"You could never cause me any distress, Mr. Darcy!" she whispered, holding her breath.
"Dare I hope then that you hold me in higher regard now as you did then?" Even though he smirked just a little the question was perfectly serious.
"In the highest regard possible...uh.." Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand and bashfully dropped her look to the floor.
Those words meant the world to him; seeing his prayers answered he swore to God and the world that he would not lose her again. Taking her gloved fingers in his he caressed her cheek with his other hand and feeling her leaning against him he finally found the courage to tell her his heart's feelings. "Miss Bennet, Elizabeth, no matter how much went on in our lives and how long we were apart since our last meeting there wasn't a moment I wasn't thinking about you, hoping you were well and happy and that someone was there to love and protect you!" Her beautiful eyes connected to his intense glance he continued to speak. "My affections and wishes are unchanged. I shall love you for the rest of my life. Yet what I want for you is to be happy, protected and cherished. If you'll let me I shall try to make you as happy as you're making me for the rest of all my days!"
Feeling so singled out by the man she had spent so much energy on to outwit and to hurt him made her eyes overflow with tears of both happiness and shame. Finally he wrapped her in his strong arms and she could rest her hurting head against his shoulder. She would never come to rue the moment she had decided to ride off to London to see him for it had brought nothing but bliss and love. As her tears ceased she felt herself returning the heat of his embrace and when their lips met for a first, tender kiss both knew that the mist that had kept them from seeing the other's love had finally vanished, never to return.