Posted on Sunday, 21 December 2003
"Oh, good morning, Elizabeth." Mrs. Garbet, the owner of the millinery greeted the younger woman with a guilty smile. Elizabeth had the impression she had interrupted some confidential conversation between the merchant and her customer and friend, Mrs. Moulton.
Elizabeth returned a greeting to both ladies and began to look at the new winter bonnets on display. Apparently the women considered it unlikely for Elizabeth to hear what they were saying and look at bonnets at the same time.
"...And all this went on when the fellow was engaged to Miss King?" Mrs. Moulton whispered none too quietly to her friend.
"Yes," Mrs. Garbet returned "No one can know how many merchants' daughters are involved. Apparently the young man believed if he gained their good opinion the girls would give gifts or do favors for him: have his horse shod, give him handsome new neck scarves or the like. Who knows how much he's collected around town-all gratis!"
"Well, I just hope he didn't LEAVE anything around town, if you take my meaning." The two women exploded with laughter. Mrs. Moulton continued. "What finally brought it to an end? Was it one jealous girl that discovered his attentions to another or a father that discovered his daughter and the fellow ---?"
Elizabeth could no longer concentrate on hats. Unfortunately she recognized who the women were speaking of and she could not pretend any longer that she wasn't listening and bid them both good day.
As Elizabeth walked down the Meryton street toward Longbourn, conversations with George Wickham played in her mind. He had portrayed himself as the best of men, able to overcome the cruelties of Mr. Darcy, nearly a clergyman and now a dashing regimental officer. Was his true nature what the ladies proclaimed it to be or was this idle gossip?
Had Elizabeth's mind not been so excessively diverted, she might have seen the Bingley carriage on its way out of town on the road to London. One of the riders along side that carriage was certainly aware of her presence. The sight of Miss Elizabeth Bennet almost tempted Mr. Darcy to turn back his horse so he could walk with her to Longbourn, enjoying her fine eyes and provocative conversation. But reason cleared his mind and he spurred his horse on ahead of the Bingley sisters and Mr. Hurst inside the carriage to distance himself from Elizabeth as quickly as possible before he fell irreparably in love with her.
Darcy left Bingley riding behind him, mourning the loss of Miss Jane Bennet. Charles would likely be no company for him on the road. Darcy might as well ride ahead and sort out his own dilemma. What was it about these Bennet girls?
That same evening Elizabeth and her family, excepting Jane, attended a house party at her Aunt Phillips' house. Elizabeth had volunteered to stay with her elder sister who was still brooding over Mr. Bingley's sudden departure, but Jane had begged Elizabeth to go, for if their mother suspected the truth behind Jane's "illness", the family would never hear the end of her lament and Jane would feel still worse.
It was at the party that Elizabeth was able to hear the truth of the tale of Mr. Wickham and its sudden end. Mrs. Phillips knew it all. Mr. Wickham was no longer engaged to Mary King. His hopes for a better situation courtesy of her fortune were dissolved when her uncle had been informed by several sources that Wickham had been consorting with their daughters. As one liaison was brought to light, another soon followed. The crowning revelation was that Wickham's exploits were not reserved to just gambling debts and unmarried women. Young Mrs. Forster, his colonel's wife, was among his conquests as well.
Poor, unfortunate George Wickham, as he would undoubtedly portray himself in his new locale, was given the choice to join a regiment in the farthest, most unpleasant region of the kingdom or be court martialed and sent to prison. He chose the former, leaving broken hearted daughters and clench-fisted fathers behind. Colonel and Mrs. Forster were transferred to a new military unit in another part of the country.
It disturbed Elizabeth that she had believed Wickham's lies so implicitly. As they talked together later that night of Wickham's story, Elizabeth told Jane she hoped to have learned a lesson from all this not to trust a person until his character was well known.
Chapter Two: Reveries
That same evening at his home in London, Darcy stood in front of the hearth in his study, one arm on the mantelpiece and the other supporting the snifter of brandy in his hand. The pop and crackle of the fire somehow made him more reflective. From the time of the Netherfield ball to the present, Darcy had been utterly unsuccessful at chasing Elizabeth Bennet from his thoughts. He recalled, that evening at the ball, Elizabeth's dancing with Mr. Collins. It was no stretch of the imagination to predict the toady parson had his beautiful cousin in mind as a prospective bride. At this moment he actually hoped Collins would succeed in his conquest, for then Miss Bennet would be erased from his consciousness, a country vicar's wife. But if Elizabeth married Mr. Collins there she would be near Rosings each time he visited Lady Catherine. All the better reason to spend less time there, he thought. Even so, the very idea of that exquisite creature with the repulsive Mr. Collins-he couldn't imagine those fine eyes twinkling for him with thoughts of some verbal mischief. No, marriage to Mr. Collins would snuff out every last vestige of brightness in her, would be an arrant waste of the spirit he so much admired.
Because such thoughts did not diminish over the succeeding weeks, Darcy determined to occupy himself with every possible social engagement; his theory being that reacquainting himself with his own milieu would place him in the company of women who would be more suited to be his wife. These women would convince him once and for all that Elizabeth Bennet was not worthy of his consideration.
His efforts, however, had quite the opposite effect. Some- where in the past six months, after Georgiana's thwarted elopement and becoming acquainted with Miss Bennet in Hertfordshire, his tastes had changed. Caroline Bingley and her sister had never been favorites of his, but compared to Elizabeth, they disappointed him and so it seemed did all the suitable young ladies of the ton. That there were an inordinate number of beautiful, well-connected women fitting a paper description of the wife Darcy imagined he wanted before the summer was undeniable. Even more certain was that Darcy found them all wanting in contrast to Elizabeth Bennet, despite her background and connections.
Under the persuasion of such powerful sentiments Darcy could not even convince himself that his duty to his family and the inferiority of her own were so very important as they seemed while he was in Hertfordshire. It now seemed absurd that he had directed his friend away from Jane Bennet for many of the same reasons.
Now and again during the weeks after he left Hertfordshire, he told himself such foolish emotions were the result of loneliness, but if they were, social activity did not assuage them. Perhaps, he thought, having Georgiana come to town to enjoy the merriment of the coming Christmas season would appease his longing and bring back his lucidity.
In the days before his sister arrived in London, Darcy forced himself to get out of the house, on business, to go to his club or even just to waste time window shopping.
It was accidentally, while engaging himself in this last activity that Darcy passed a very eye-catching vitrine in a popular ladies apparel boutique. An elegant claret-colored gown and wrap there diverted his attention, and it at once set him dreaming of Elizabeth wearing it; offering him her hand, eyes shining, lips smiling as they took their places and began to dance as they had not a month earlier at Netherfield. Just then a group of passers by on the sidewalk jostled him, awakening Darcy from his reverie and sending him on his way.
She reappeared that night in his dreams, standing in a theatre box, wearing the gown and facing away from him. Drawn toward the still unaware Elizabeth, he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her to him gently, while his lips kissed her shoulder, then her neck. She turned in his arms tilting her face to kiss him, when the spell was broken and he woke, numb and empty.
Miserable, he staggered out of bed and walked to the window. Looking out into the cold, moon-flooded street he decided he must prevail upon Bingley to return to Netherfield with him. If he succeeded, by this time tomorrow he could be with her. Then he remembered, tomorrow Georgiana would arrive in town. He had promised to do whatever she wished and her requests were numerous. It was impossible to go to Hertfordshire. He returned to the bed, throwing himself heavily upon it. Face up, he stared at the velvet canopy above him. Surely he was going mad. He'd never felt so irrational. A Darcy should have more self control. Elizabeth Bennet had none of the qualities requisite to his wife. Why could he not be logical and forget her? He closed his eyes and saw her again before him. Soon he had no desire to forget her, no wish to be logical or rational. How could he go on indefinitely without knowing when he would see her?
Georgiana's arrival in town and his subsequent services to entertain her there lifted Darcy's spirits for the next few days. They visited friends like the Bingleys, he listened to her play and sing at their home and talked about what she had been doing the past few months. Both were content to find last summer's affair with Wickham was well behind them.
Darcy was actually able to think of Elizabeth Bennet no more than perhaps once an hour after his sister arrived. Thanks to Georgiana things were returning to a proper perspective for him, until one afternoon when the two of them were shopping for Christmas gifts. They had just left a music seller's when Darcy's eyes were once again diverted by that same window display of the claret-colored gown. Had he unconsciously led himself back there? No, for it was Georgiana who chose the music shop and all other places they'd gone that day.
Poor Miss Darcy was a far way down that same street, still believing she was talking with her brother, when she turned to find he was no longer with her. Backtracking, she found Fitzwilliam completely distracted by a window display in a ladies apparel shop. She could not imagine he was considering the purchase of this gown for her as it was not her style, but if not, she wondered, did he have it in mind for someone else? Was her brother in love? She couldn't imagine asking him that question point blank. She would quietly watch for any clues. Georgiana smiled to herself and tapped her brother's shoulder gently. Without ever knowing his sister had left him and returned, noting his reverie and that nearly ten minutes had passed in front of the window, as visions of Miss Elizabeth Bennet wearing the displayed gown wove in and out of his mind, Darcy offered Georgiana his arm and they continued their outing.
Chapter Three: Restlessness
Posted on Thursday, 25 December 2003
Unbeknownst to Fitzwilliam Darcy, on the same night he stood looking out his bedroom window agonizing over Elizabeth Bennet, Charles Bingley was doing the same, but the tumult centered around another Bennet sister, Jane. Nearly every night since his return from Netherfield he had been unable to sleep by night, unable to concentrate by day.
Whether it was his worn-down state telling him to act against the advice of Darcy and his sisters or simply the thing he should have done all along, Bingley decided he would return to Hertfordshire the next morning. In his own heart he believed Jane Bennet loved him, but he had to know for certain. If she did, he meant to waste no time in asking for her hand in marriage. This agony of being away from her was more than he could bear. In spite of recriminations from those who warned him against her, he wanted to act for himself. The matter was simply too important to him.
At nine o'clock one particularly bleak December morning, Daugherty, Darcy's valet pulled back the window curtains in his master's bedchamber. Mr. Darcy, Daugherty noted had not slept well since he returned to town two weeks before, therefore, he had allowed him to sleep later than was his master's custom. Mr. Darcy had not mentioned his approval of the later hour, neither had he asked Daugherty to wake him earlier. Until this morning the valet had been greeted very curtly and Mr. Darcy had little to say as he took care of his master's needs.
This morning, however, Mr. Darcy continued to be sparing in his conversation, but what there was of it was cheerful. When Mr. Darcy was not speaking, Daugherty noticed his master seemed to be preoccupied, even day daydreaming. Darcy himself would have explained his behavior as floating, for he had dreamed again of Elizabeth and the sensations of that dream remained with him after waking, at his club, while conversing with his attorney and throughout another tedious house party where even Georgiana agreed none of the company was very interesting.
At that party Darcy began to wonder why he had ever valued the empty artificial London social scene. Looking around the room he saw many beautiful women that he knew very well. In the midst of hundreds of people he felt lonelier than ever. He considered what his life would be if he followed social protocol and married one of them. The thoughts made him sick at heart. Elizabeth Bennet, in spite of all his logical pre-conceived ideas about wives and marriage, was the only woman who had ever brought him joy.
That night before he went to sleep Darcy began thinking what Christmas with Elizabeth would be like. He imagined a jolly Christmas dinner at Pemberley with Bingley, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. Of course to please her, Jane would be with them too. He thought of her singing and playing his favorite carols at the piano forte. The fireplaces burned more brightly than ever as, in his mind, he slipped into a dream of Elizabeth wearing the elegant claret gown, beckoning him to join her under the mistletoe where she stood on tiptoe, her arms around his neck and kissed him teasingly at first and then ever more passionately.
The next morning Darcy's spirit was livelier than ever. His overwhelming thought was that he wanted to do something to bring Elizabeth as much joy as she had brought him. The London streets were thick with heavy slush from an already three-day-long storm that continued. Getting anywhere in a carriage was impossible, so Darcy had his driver take him as near as he could to the dress shop and he slogged through the slush the rest of the way, purchased the gown in the display window and had it sent, anonymously, to Elizabeth at Longbourn.
His pending surprise made him merry and inevitably he continued thinking of Elizabeth. What sort of regard had she for him? Did she ever think of him? If so, in what sort of light?
Based on the way he had treated her, he formulated a guess. When introduced at the Meryton assembly he had found her attractive, but had not said so or acted as such. Later at Lucas Lodge he admired her playing and singing, yet did not recall telling her as much. He did not blame himself for such seemingly uncaring behavior whilst Elizabeth was tending to Jane at Netherfield and later at the ball. There he had been every inch the gentleman. Had Miss Bingley not constantly interfered, perhaps the two of them could have become better acquainted. He was wealthy and handsome, he knew and his conjecture was that she admired him well enough, but as he folded his arms and nodded his head in satisfaction, it occurred to him that there was not a shred of proof to that effect. She had politely refused to dance with him at Lucas Lodge and again at Netherfield when asked to join him in a reel, but at the Netherfield ball they had very much enjoyed both dancing and conversation.
Elizabeth never forced herself upon his attention as so many other women had done. Perhaps that was one reason he craved her company so. Lack of assertiveness on her part might mean Elizabeth was not interested in him or that she was shy, though he had never seen evidence of that.
The realization dawned on Darcy that he had never before cared what a lady thought of him. He took for granted their esteem for him. His attachment for Elizabeth for the first time made him unsure of himself and reflective of the way her treated others. He had been so very selfish in all his relationships. Bingley acquiesced to what Darcy wanted to do, where and with whom he wanted to be.
It was the same with Georgiana! He'd only gone to Ramsgate last summer because it was convenient for him. Had his selfishness with his time caused him to neglect his sister and prompted her in loneliness to turn to Wickham? He vowed to apologize to Georgiana and to be more generous in giving of himself to others whom he loved. Darcy credited his acquaintance with Elizabeth and his esteem for her with bringing these faults to his attention. He vowed to begin that very moment to give more of himself to those he loved and to make this the truest Christmas of his life.
Chapter Four: Return
Posted on Friday, 26 December 2003, at 9
Miss Bingley appeared at the Darcy residence early the third morning after her brother had left for Hertfordshire.
"Mr. Darcy", said she dramatically, "you must accompany me to Netherfield this very day for Charles is there and we must persuade him to return to London. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst have left for their country home to be with their children at Christmas and I am quite alone."
"What reason did he give for returning to the country?" Darcy asked.
"He said he had finished his business in town and meant to spend Christmas at Netherfield. He wrote this all in a note, mind you, and invited me to join him if I liked. I know he has a notion to ask Miss Bennet to marry him. We cannot let that happen, now can we Mr. Darcy? It would spoil all our plans."
Darcy did not want to be included in Miss Bingley's plan and lately he had begun to see no fault at all in Miss Jane Bennet. If she had the same feelings Bingley had for her, the two of them should marry. Miss Bingley's scheme he knew to be more for herself than for Charles. Georgiana was too young to be considered a candidate for Bingley's wife anyway. However convoluted her logic otherwise, Miss Bingley's plea for him to accompany her to Hertfordshire would make a very convenient excuse for him to see Elizabeth again and he could take Georgiana with him. Suddenly he felt it would be a very merry Christmas indeed!
The trio left town in the Darcy carriage early the next morning. Half a day's journey had seemed very little when Darcy traveled with Charles, but the same amount of time spent with Miss Bingley criticizing Jane Bennet was insufferable.
Georgiana, not knowing Miss Bennet, looked a little confused so Caroline set her straight.
"Jane Bennet is a sweet, simple country girl with whom my brother fancies himself in love. Poor Charles, his tender heart is so easily touched, but when it is, his mind seems to leave him. Mr. Darcy and I believed we had persuaded Charles against her-"
Mr. Darcy interrupted, "Perhaps he recognized something in Miss Bennet's behavior toward him that we did not, Miss Bingley. We may have been too hasty in our assessment of her feelings for him."
Miss Bingley looked shocked. "Mr. Darcy!", she cried "I recall you saying in the breakfast room at Netherfield one morning how the Miss Bennets' connections were simply not good enough for them to marry well. I cannot believe you have changed your mind."
"What you or I believe, Miss Bingley is immaterial." Darcy replied, "Charles' choice of wife should be entirely his own."
Georgiana and her brother were both relieved that the conversation was put to rest, but she was curious to meet Jane Bennet. She wondered if Fitzwilliam truly had changed his mind about her or whether he was simply tired of Caroline's ranting.
Upon their arrival at Netherfield, which was made known to the staff only that morning by express, they found Charles absent. They were informed he was at Longbourn. Darcy wished with all his heart that he was there as well. Miss Bingley suggested they go after him, but Darcy tempered her hastiness.
Bingley returned after the others had dined and were almost ready to retire. When asked about Miss Bennet's health, Charles extolled her every virtue and Darcy felt sure they would be engaged before Christmas. After enough time had passed listening to Bingley's praise, Darcy asked after the health of Miss Bennet's sisters.
Georgiana saw Miss Bingley disliked to topic of Jane Bennet, but when the subject of her sisters was broached, Caroline's face took on a hard new veneer and she took a new tack and began to insult their mother. When no one joined in she reminded Mr. Darcy that he had reproached the lady himself not long ago. Darcy defended himself by explaining.
"It was very wrong of me to speak in that way about a woman I know so little of and whose elder daughters are beyond reproach."
This answer pleased Charles, but sent his sister to bed before the rest of the company.
Chapter Five: Recognition
Posted on Monday, 29 December 2003
After breakfast Mr. Bingley left for Longbourn with the Darcys. Manifesting her displeasure at their visit, Miss Bingley was largely ignored and left behind. As usual, the Bennets cheerfully welcomed Mr. Bingley and whomever else he brought with him, although Elizabeth was very surprised to see Mr. Darcy and his sister, for she was certain the last person Mr. Darcy would want to see with his friend was Jane.
After Miss Darcy was introduced to the Bennet family, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters sat with their visitors while Mr. Bennet adjourned to his library. Georgiana did not wonder at her brother's virtual silence as the group conversed, he was often quiet with people he didn't know well, but nearly at once she noticed her brother's frequent glances at Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
That lady was very talkative and friendly to Georgiana and as the group, sans Mrs. Bennet and Mary, began to walk outside on that crisp, bright winter day, Elizabeth walked between Georgiana and her brother and asked her many questions about what she studied at school in town and what sort of music she preferred. Darcy was pleased to see the two of them quite comfortable together. His sister, who had been reticent to come into Hertfordshire with him now seemed content to be there. As for the lady of his heart, she was more lovely than in his dreams. He wanted so much to say all that was in his heart, but didn't trust himself to be prudent. If he said all that he felt he would frighten Elizabeth away.
Becoming tired of one another, Kitty and Lydia sought Miss Darcy's company to walk with them and the three girls fell into step behind Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. She could think of nothing civil to say to this man she disliked so much, although he did look strikingly handsome against the bluest of clear winter skies for her sisters were talking so animatedly behind them.
Elizabeth wasn't sure Mr. Darcy was listening to what they said. He was probably shuttering at the thought of his sister keeping company with such low, unconnected creatures as Kitty and Lydia.
As the girls talked, Miss Darcy noticed her brother's continual, silent, almost longing glances at Elizabeth Bennet. For her part, Elizabeth said nothing and did not lift her eyes from the path ahead. Kitty and Lydia asked Miss Darcy about her life in London. They were amazed at her not being "out" and at her having no beaux. They began telling of their own conquests around Meryton, specifically about the officers, even of Mr. Wickham's hasty departure.
At this topic Darcy turned to his sister, but seeing her interested, but unembarrassed by the subject of George Wickham, he turned around considering that his undue concern for Georgiana just at that time might raise more suspicion than if he simply kept walking. He was elated to hear Wickham was banished, for it was his only concern with bringing Georgiana to Hertfordshire.
Continuing to talk of young men, Lydia observed, much to Elizabeth's chagrin, that Mr. Bingley and Jane were likely to become engaged soon. Their attachment was more evident than at the Netherfield ball a few weeks earlier and Mr. Bingley had come back without his sisters and friend, spending every day with Jane. Elizabeth turned to look scoldingly at her sisters.
"Lydia....!" was all she needed to say to put the girl on the offensive.
"Why do you look at me that way Lizzie?" Lydia spat, "You are so proper, so particular. You could have been married yourself by now,to Mr. Collins,if you weren't."
Elizabeth's face was scarlet. Lydia had no business talking this way in front of the Darcys, but if she expressed her mortification, Lydia would only take more liberties. Unfortunately Elizabeth's silent treatment did not ameliorate the situation and Kitty was no help.
"But Lizzie has a new admirer now." Kitty chimed in, "Oh, Miss Darcy, you should see the gown sent to her just the other day, from town; an elegant wine-colored dress and wrap, of the latest fashion. I don't know what the person who sent it could have been thinking. Where in Meryton would Lizzie wear such a beautiful thing?"
"When we return to Longbourn we shall show you." Lydia offered.
If Elizabeth was scarlet before, she was now beet red and wishing she would sink into the frozen earth beneath her feet.
"We do not know who sent the gown." Elizabeth explained almost apologetically, "It could easily have been a woman."
Kitty and Lydia giggled overtly and mumbled about that being an unlikely possibility. Mr. Darcy and his sister both empathized with Elizabeth. Certainly Mr. Darcy, when he sent Elizabeth the gown, never thought she would have to suffer such indignities from her sisters, though, being realistic, he should have known. His desire was to give Elizabeth the pleasure of a piece of clothing as beautiful as herself, not to cause wild, overt speculation as to who gave it to her.
Miss Darcy attempted to save Elizabeth further humiliation by coming up to walk with her for the rest of their stroll and her sense of compassion made her able to keep up a benign conversation that included Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, did not touch any more imprudent subjects and brought them safely back to Longbourn with Elizabeth's grateful dignity in tact.
To keep the younger girls from mentioning the subject of the gown once again, Miss Darcy agreed to go upstairs with them until Mrs. Bennet called them to tea. Meanwhile Darcy and Elizabeth joined Jane and Charles, who had returned earlier, to talk in the drawing room.
Georgiana not only had seen Elizabeth's humiliation at the mention of the mysterious gown, but her brother seemed discomfited as well. When she saw the dress in question for herself, she knew exactly why, for it was the gown he had been staring at so intently when they'd been shopping together a few days before. She was absolutely certain, though it went contrary to his usual staid behavior, that Fitzwilliam had purchased the dress for Elizabeth and sent it to her. Whether or not Elizabeth knew who sent it, Georgiana could only speculate, but she knew now the reason behind her brother's strange moods the past weeks. He was in love with Elizabeth Bennet.
Chapter Six: Regret – Part OnePosted on Thursday, 1 January 2004
"But we have just had a ball at Netherfield not a month ago, Charles!" wailed Caroline Bingley.
"Nevertheless, Caroline, I wish to celebrate my engagement to Miss Bennet in high yuletide style. If you do not wish to plan it yourself, I shall find someone else to help, but you did such a splendid job in November, I really hope you will consider it."
Caroline seemed flattered, but was still pouting." Louisa helped me in November and she is no longer at Netherfield!"
"By all means then, write to her and ask her to come! Let us plan for Christmas Eve, shall we?"
Miss Bingley reluctantly agreed. It was bad enough that Jane Bennet had accepted his offer of marriage, but now to be forced to plan a celebration for it!
The night of the Netherfield Christmas Eve ball, Elizabeth looked at the claret-colored gown hanging on the back of her wardrobe door. It was an exquisite piece of clothing and she would delight in wearing it on such a joyful occasion as this had not her mother and younger sisters noised it abroad that the dress Elizabeth intended to wear was given to her by a secret admirer who would most certainly be in attendance there. Seeing the return address, a fine ladies shop in London, Mrs. Bennet ordered the younger girls to open it at once. Inside was the gown and an unsigned card which simply read: "Wear this with my best wishes for a joyful Christmas."
Elizabeth, without doing anything on her own, redeemed herself for refusing Mr. Collins. Her mother was in raptures. After all, the gown was purchased from the finest of shops, whoever Elizabeth's admirer was, he must be rich!
Mrs. Bennet dispatched a letter to Mrs. Gardiner, a rare effort for her, to ask her to visit the shop in question so as to ascertain the name of the admirer. The answer must, Mrs. Bennet stipulated, be sent express. Two days later, Mrs. Bennet's answer came, but there was no information to share. Whoever had purchased the gown was unknown to the owners of the shop it came from or at least that was what they said.
Mrs. Bennet was convinced Elizabeth must wear the claret gown to the Christmas Eve Ball as a signal to the secret admirer that she was willing to accept his addresses. Of course Elizabeth, not knowing who her benefactor was, or indeed who it possibly could be, did not wish to send such a message.
"And you must tell Miss Bingley there must be mistletoe in every doorway at Netherfield." Mrs. Bennet instructed Jane, who nodded though she had not the slightest intention of saying anything of the kind. Caroline Bingley became a little more accustomed to Jane and Charles' engagement each day and Jane didn't wish to set her back.
"I mean to see more than one daughter well on her way to marriage and this ball is just the thing!" Mrs. Bennet burbled on and her two eldest daughters rolled their eyes behind her back.
The Christmas Eve ball was Georgiana's first. She wondered if she could truly be "out" after attending. She would much prefer attaining that status at a friendly occasion such as this rather than a cold London affair. Miss Darcy considered telling her brother that she knew he was Elizabeth Bennet's secret admirer, or even telling the lady herself. There was really no good reason to do so except that it seemed as if both parties concerned might need a confidante. She determined to watch the two of them and be a supportive sister and friend to both without divulging her knowledge.
As Jane was occupied with Mr. Bingley and Charlotte Lucas was married and in Kent, Elizabeth had no one to save her from her public misery. Sarah had taken equally as much time dressing Elizabeth's hair as she had doing Jane's, though it was in honor of Jane that the ball was being given. As commanded by her mother, Elizabeth wore the claret gown. Both sisters looked exquisite as they entered the ballroom at Netherfield. Just as Darcy hoped, Elizabeth appeared at the entrance to the Netherfield ballroom wearing the gown and making it look more remarkable than ever it looked in the dress shop window. He wanted nothing more than to have her to himself all evening, but he had to consider Georgiana's happiness as well. He asked her to dance the first set and Bingley tore himself away from Jane to dance with her in the second.
Not long into the festivities, Darcy, who was dancing with Miss Bingley, saw Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet together talking with a mother, father and two daughters near to Elizabeth's age. Her actions and the blush on her cheeks revealed her discomfort. He imagined the subject of their conversation to be Elizabeth's secret admirer.
As he continued to dance, Darcy's eyes fell upon Lydia and Kitty Bennet, who for once, were not dancing with some officer. Instead they were talking animatedly with Colonel and Mrs. Foster who were surrounded by several single officers. Telling gestures said their discussion centered around Elizabeth's dress as well.
Another glance in Elizabeth's direction showed Darcy a woman who would have left the room were this not a ball honoring her sister and her fiancé. His gift was meant to bring Elizabeth joy, not mortification. How he wished he'd thought through the possibilities of his actions. He had understood the workings of Elizabeth's mother and younger sisters and the inevitable reaction of their demi-monde to such a story as theirs about Elizabeth's good fortune. Thank heaven Miss Bingley hadn't heard the rumours. She'd never have let Elizabeth rest for goading her to discuss them and thereafter to speak ill of her to all she knew.
It was time for Darcy to confess his part in the intrigue though he had no idea where that would lead. What was meant to bring Elizabeth near to him might just work in reverse.
Elizabeth had not been dancing. Any man who asked her would surely be subject to her mother's raptures and a betrothal would be fixed before the set ended. That Mr. Darcy would come forward to ask her to dance was incredible; Mr. Darcy who never saw anything in her that could not be criticized, Mr. Darcy who had heard with his own ears her younger sisters' account of the secret admirer fairy tale. It would be like dancing with Caroline Bingley. Elizabeth was certain, if they had any conversation it would be to make her look more ridiculous. She almost refused his offer, but decided to punish him and subject him to the scrutiny and speculation of the room instead.
"You look very beautiful tonight Miss Bennet." observed Mr. Darcy in a serious, almost agitated voice. Elizabeth supposed he was trying to avoid laughter. She could easily have lashed back with something sarcastic, but she bit her tongue and blushed at this compliment. How could she let herself be affected by it?
Elizabeth thanked him for the compliment and the dance continued, its two partners silent for some minutes before Mr. Darcy began.
"I believe the other day when we were all walking, your sisters mentioned George Wickham had been re-posted with a militia in the north."
"Yes, although I cannot tell you exactly where.
"Do you mind my asking what the circumstances of his departure were?"
This question infuriated Elizabeth. Though she knew Wickham to be the worst of men, she sensed Mr. Darcy was trying to prove just that point to her, to finish the conversation about Wickham that they began at the first Netherfield ball. She would not allow him the privilege of gloating.
"Mr. Wickham was certainly not the man he made himself out to be. You were correct Mr. Darcy," to show him she could graciously acknowledge her misconceptions, she raised her eyes to meet his, but instead of a gloat, she saw in them a great warmth and tenderness that suddenly made her heart beat wildly. "in saying he could not retain his friends. I believe his departure centered around a great number of gambling debts and a dispute with Colonel Forster."
If he wanted to know more, he would have to hear the sordid details from someone other than herself. As the two continued to dance they heard not a little speculation going on around them: "Is MR DARCY THE SECRET ADMIRER? He certainly could afford to make a gift of such a gown. What is their relationship that he makes such a gift?"
Darcy wished to protect her, but wasn't sure how. Elizabeth became increasingly uncomfortable. She thanked Mr. Darcy when the set ended and hurried to the entrance to get her cloak. Though it was a celebration for her most beloved sister, she could not stay a moment longer. Jane and Charles would be much more able to enjoy their party when she was gone.
She disappeared so quickly that Darcy lost her in the crowd. Without noticing, Elizabeth passed Georgiana Darcy on her way out. Sensing where Elizabeth went and the purpose therein, Miss Darcy hurried to alert her brother. In passing Mr. Darcy wondered how Georgiana knew he would be concerned that Miss Elizabeth was leaving, but he hadn't much time to waste on an answer. He caught Elizabeth just as she was getting into her family's carriage.
Chapter Six: Regret - Part Two
Posted on Sunday, 4 January 2004
"Please, Miss Bennet I beg you, do not leave so soon. Come inside for a moment. We must talk." He saw her glance back toward the carriage, as if she would carry through and get in. "It will not take long and when I've said my piece, you may leave, if you like." Darcy was certain when she heard what he had to say she would want to leave-and quickly.
As the guests were all in the ballroom, Darcy chose a small, well-lighted sitting room not far from Netherfield's entrance, which was free from any persons but themselves. Darcy left the door open. What he was about to say would reveal enough impropriety on his part. If people were to discover them behind a closed door it would be even worse for Elizabeth's reputation.
Still in her cloak, Elizabeth sat very rigid and uncomfortable on a sofa near the fireplace. Mr. Darcy stood silent for what seemed a long time in front of the fire, his hand on the mantelpiece. When he had collected his thoughts as much as he could, Darcy began.
"After I returned to town last month, Miss Bennet, I realized how much I missed your company. I knew I had great admiration for you before we left Hertfordshire, but it became all too evident as I attended functions in London society that every woman there was wanting in comparison to yourself."
He briefly looked up at her to see how she was receiving the news. She had been staring at him incredulously until their eyes met, she blushed and looked immediately at the hands in her lap.
"One particularly gray day I found myself in front of the window of a ladies dress shop-"
Elizabeth jumped up from the sofa and began to walk quickly toward the open door. Darcy lunged forward, taking her upper arm, through the cloak, in his hand.
"I beg you, Miss Bennet, hear me out." She was really helpless to run from him, being in his grip. Turning her face from him, she stopped her motion toward the door and he dropped her arm. He knew he must speak quickly to keep her there.
"When I saw the gown I thought immediately of you; how beautiful you would look in it, how much you deserved such a lovely garment, what a pleasant surprise it would be for you to receive it..." Elizabeth laughed softly, bitterly.
"Not knowing that I would ever come to Netherfield again, I purchased the gown and had it sent, anonymously, to Longbourn. I had no idea the gift would cause such a stir. I certainly never wished to embarrass you or cause you pain of any sort. I thought it incumbent upon me to tell you the truth, to put your mind somewhat at rest. If you wish, I will inform your parents..."
Elizabeth, who sat listening quietly until this point in Mr. Darcy's explanation, exploded.
"Oh no, Mr. Darcy, you mustn't do that. Please just let them speculate."
Elizabeth considered her response was a little severe. His gift had been very generous and apparently he had not given it with any malicious or untoward intent.
"I thank you for the gift, sir. It is certainly the most beautiful garment I have ever worn, but it was quite unnecessary and much too much. We hardly know one another."
Seeing such tenderness in his eyes directed to her was pleasantly frightening. No. She disliked this man. She would not fall victim to his flattery. What did he want of her? The idea of Mr. Darcy caring for her was so very strange. At the Meryton assembly he found her "not handsome enough to tempt" him. He'd smirked when he saw her arrive at Netherfield on foot to care for Jane and while she stayed there he was never more than polite, in fact, she had the impression he had looked down his nose at her. Even dancing with her at the first Netherfield ball, Mr. Darcy had said very little, his looks betraying no special feeling. Such capricious behavior as sending her so personal a gift was not in his nature.
Every woman he'd met lately in London hadn't compared to his opinion of her... he admired her so much as to imagine how she would look wearing the gown...This was a much different Mr. Darcy than she'd decided upon before tonight. It was impossible to stay here alone with him. At present she had nothing coherent to say.
She stood and as the candlelight in the room touched her face, Darcy thought her more beautiful than he had ever seen her. His one desire at that moment was to take her in his arms and kiss her, to tell her he would end all the gossip and speculation by marrying her.
"Please excuse me, Mr. Darcy, I would like to leave now. If you would kindly inform Mr. and Miss Bingley of my regrets. I shall speak to my family at home." With this Elizabeth returned to her family's carriage and left the ball.
When she had gone Darcy couldn't bear to join the others in the ballroom quite yet, his mind was too full of what had just passed. He returned to the room where he and Elizabeth had talked and had been there he didn't know how long before Georgiana came in.
"Fitzwilliam! I've been looking everywhere for you. Has Miss Bennet gone?"
Georgiana thought it a shame for Elizabeth to feel so uncomfortable as to leave a celebration for her sister, but she could not voice her feelings, for it was very possible her brother was the cause of Miss Bennet's discomfort.
"Fitzwilliam, do you know who Miss Bennet's secret admirer is?"
"I think you know it is I who made a gift of the gown to Miss Bennet."
Georgiana nodded, her head lowered. "I must ask, brother, what you expected the consequences of giving that gift to be?"
Darcy sunk into the sofa, face in hands. "I only wanted to please her by giving her something as beautiful as she is-a gift she could never have otherwise. Truly I did not wish her to know I was the giver. I didn't know I would return to Hertfordshire at the time the gown was sent." He hesitated, shaking his head, tears filling his eyes. "And now she will despise me. The gift has had just the opposite effect."
Georgiana knelt beside him. Calmingly, soothingly, she spoke to her brother. "Miss Bennet is not insensible to your kindness, Fitzwilliam. You must allow her some time to accustom herself to your feelings for her. In the meantime, do not distance yourself from her. You are, after all, the person who caused her to be an innocent object of speculation. You must comfort her. Who would be a more natural ally than yourself?"
Darcy looked up, amazed and pleased at his sister's perception. She was more level-headed and mature than ever he'd given her credit for. Taking his sister's face in his hands, he kissed her forehead.
"Yes, you are right."
From the hallway the Darcys heard Miss Bingley calling them. Miss Darcy pulled her brother's handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face while he ran a hand over his hair and straightened his clothing. The two of them met their curious hostess and returned to the party as if nothing had happened.
Chapter Seven: Remediation
Posted on Wednesday, 7 January 2004
Christmas Day in Hertfordshire dawned clear and bright with more than a few inches of new snow. Before the revelations of Christmas Eve, Miss Bingley, Miss Darcy and their brothers had been invited to Longbourn for dinner.
Elizabeth heartily wished she could go back to sleep and not wake until after the day was done. Knowing that her father was tired of hearing his wife and younger daughters speculating about her secret admirer, Elizabeth begged Mr. Bennet not to allow his wife to mention that subject while their guests were in attendance.
"I shall try," Mr. Bennet sighed, "but you know your mother has a mind of her own and not much sense to go with it." Elizabeth winced at her father's assessment of his wife's qualities.
"There, there, Lizzie, do not concern yourself. I shall offer Mrs. Bennet some little reward for her silence, how is that? Besides, our guests know you and Jane for your good sense and the other females of our family for what they are. I expect it is too late for their opinions to change, however Mrs. Bennet chooses to act."
Christmas services at Longbourn church did not provide a stage for Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Lydia. Encountering Mr. and Miss Darcy at the church door, Mrs. Bennet and her younger girls merely nodded their good mornings. Darcy thought Elizabeth must have slept more than he'd been able to, for she glowed with health in the Yuletide sunshine.
Quite contrary to Miss Bingley's plan, Georgiana asked Elizabeth to sit with her during the meeting. Flattered, she accepted, hoping that wouldn't mean she also sat next to Mr. Darcy, but Georgiana had not finished contriving in favor of Miss Bennet and her brother, she maneuvered herself in front of Miss Bingley so that when the four of them sat down, Elizabeth sat between Georgiana and Fitzwilliam with Miss Bingley at her other side. Mr. Darcy continued to be surprised at Georgiana's new-found assertiveness.
Never had a Christmas service been so significant for him. Usually Mr. Darcy concentrated very well on the sermon and wasn't too keen on the hymns. Today, however, he couldn't keep his mind on what the vicar was saying to save his life, but when it came to the singing, Darcy's voice rang out low and melodic, happily sharing the hymnal with Elizabeth, who reluctantly enjoyed listening and eventually joined in enthusiastically, preferring song to conversation.
After church, at Christmas dinner, Mrs. Bennet seated the Darcy's at the table facing her second daughter, with Miss Bingley happily at Darcy's other side. Georgiana knew her task would be to keep Miss Bingley from being uncivil to Elizabeth, as she had been last evening when that lady had left the ball. She hoped to encourage Miss Elizabeth and her brother to speak to one another if only just to prevent Miss Bingley from monopolizing the conversation. Caroline Bingley's haughty, entitled behavior annoyed Georgiana and each hour she spent in Elizabeth Bennet's company confirmed to her why Fitzwilliam admired her so.
Mrs. Bennet seemed to think present company had nothing to do with Elizabeth's anonymous gift and she kept to praises of Mr. Bingley and how next Christmas she might even have a grandchild. It was Miss Bingley who was more inappropriate, commenting to Georgiana and her brother about the plainness of the meal, the simplicity of Longbourn's furnishings and the lack of style in Elizabeth's dress compared to the RED GOWN she'd worn when SHE LEFT THE BALL.
Darcy was embarrassed by Miss Bingley's comments, but it was Georgiana who defended the Bennet family in general.
"I have been in grand houses at this season of the year, Miss Bingley, but seldom have I felt such easy companionship and warmth as I do here."
That was a feeling Darcy also noticed amongst the Bennets. Granted, their interactions were a bit quirky, but an outsider quickly sensed the affection they held for each other. This was the sort of familial association he missed and obviously Georgiana did too. Generally he looked forward to the peace and quiet of Pemberley, but at Christmas time there was something to be said for boisterous sociality.
Elizabeth was uncharacteristically quiet throughout the meal. Mr. Darcy ascribed this to Miss Bingley's inappropriate comments, yet he noted more than one blush cross her cheeks whenever he spoke to her directly. Whether that reaction was favorable to him or not, he could only wonder. Again he regretted that his past actions had diminished her spirits, especially on Christmas Day.
After dinner and a bit of digestion time, the Darcys, Bingleys and all the Bennet girls save Mary took a ride across the fields of Longbourn estate in two horse-drawn sleighs.
Georgiana, Lydia and Kitty got in one sleigh with plenty of room, while Charles and Jane, Elizabeth and Darcy settled in the other. The natural division would have been for Miss Bingley to join the younger girls, but she refused and planted herself rather unceremoniously next to Mr. Darcy as the horses set out.
Again Elizabeth was unnaturally quiet, having no choice, for lack of space, but to snuggle in next to Mr. Darcy. To make room on their side of the sleigh, Darcy rested one of his arms on the seat above Elizabeth's shoulders. He could have chosen to do the same with his other arm near Miss Bingley, who saw this at once and was furious.
Thank Heaven for Charles Bingley who kept the group laughing in spite of themselves as they sped across the snowy fields, the bells and the horses jingling merrily. When Mr. Darcy smiled Elizabeth had to admit he was more handsome than ever and her heart beat unevenly as he relaxed and joked with his friend, his arm frequently falling off the seat and around Elizabeth's shoulders with the motion of the sleigh.
Elizabeth was embarrassed to be so necessarily close to Mr. Darcy, but found herself confused at liking it. Did she feel this way because he'd given her the beautiful gown or would she have felt this attraction in any case?
The group returned to Longbourn just as the sun was setting in a glorious pink and blue sky. Mr. Bingley helped Jane and Caroline from the sleigh so Darcy could get out and help Elizabeth. As he did, Elizabeth slowly looked up into his eyes and was rewarded with another smile.
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy." she fairly whispered not wanting to let go of his gloved hand.
"It is my pleasure, Miss Bennet," he replied. "I hope you were not overly crushed during the ride."
Not at all." Elizabeth fibbed.
Caroline Bingley watched this whole scene and took Mr. Darcy's comments as a criticism of her actions. Indeed she was angry at herself. her desire to interfere between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth had backfired and thrown them closer together. As the company said their farewells, Miss Bingley gloated that she was the one to sit next to him in the carriage as they rode home to Netherfield.
Early on Boxing Day Mr. Bingley was to accompany the Bennet girls on their visits to needy parish families. He arrived unexpectedly, attended not only by his sister, but the Darcys as well.
The gifts of food, blankets and wood were divided, to be delivered by whichever of the company could present them first. Therefore, if Elizabeth and Lydia finished with one family, they would return to the gift sleigh for another load. Sometimes original delivery partners stayed together, but if, on occasion a heavy load needed to be taken in to a family, the girls would wait for Mr. Hill, Mr. Bingley or Mr. Darcy to help. It was in this way Elizabeth found herself visiting families once or twice in company with Mr. Darcy, who was very kind and helpful. It was evident to Elizabeth this sort of visit was something he was accustomed to doing at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy observed how naturally, how cordially Elizabeth behaved with these needy families, exactly the necessary attributes for the Mistress of Pemberley.
He contrasted Elizabeth's actions with those of Miss Bingley: reluctant and condescending. Though these were strangers, his own sister behaved much more charitably than she.
Chapter Seven: Remediation (part 2)
Posted on Sunday, 11 January 2004, at 10
A house party at the Phillips' home was the gift-givers' reward and they were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, lately arrived from London.
Jane introduced her aunt and uncle to Mr. Bingley, Caroline and the Darcys. Upon being told that the latter hailed from Derbyshire, Mrs. Gardiner immediately placed them at Pemberley and mentioned how much she admired that estate, explaining that she had lived in nearby Lambton as a girl.
Mr. Darcy's easy cordiality with her aunt gratified Elizabeth and added to her growing list of that gentleman's virtues.
At whist Elizabeth and Darcy were not seated at the same game tables. She sat nearby with her aunt Gardiner, Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Charles and Mr. Phillips, while Miss Bingley triumphed at joining the Darcys, Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Phillips and a reluctant Mr. Bennet.
In no time at all Mrs. Gardiner, who half listened to her husband's conversation with Mr. Darcy about fishing, noticed that the young Master of Pemberley seemed very interested in Elizabeth, much to the chagrin of Miss Bingley. While Darcy spoke to Mr. Gardiner, his eyes often strayed in Elizabeth's direction. Surreptitiously Mrs. Gardiner watched her niece to ascertain whether she returned Mr. Darcy's attention. She perceived Elizabeth also listened to Mr. Darcy's conversation, looking at him as she did, and blushing if ever their eyes met. There was none of Elizabeth's usual vivacious teasing; on the contrary, she was very reserved. An intriguing attraction thought Mrs. Gardiner; he from such a fine, wealthy family and Elizabeth her favorite niece.
Toward the end of the evening Darcy made a mental note of a conversation where he heard Elizabeth making plans for the next day to take her young cousins outside Longbourn house to walk and make snowmen. Perhaps he would "accidentally" encounter them.
After several days now of Mrs. Bennet's company, Darcy concluded that the woman's absurdities were something he could accustom himself to, if that meant he could spend time with Elizabeth. Her aunt and uncle Gardiner he felt quite differently about. The couple had a calming affect on Mrs. Bennet and at the end of the evening a steaming Miss Bingley heard them invited to stay at Pemberley so that Mrs. Gardiner could visit old friends and her husband could fish with Mr. Darcy.
The Gardiners were a little taken aback by his sudden friendliness and though they did not fix a date to meet in Derbyshire, later Mrs. Gardiner shared with her husband the potential reasons behind Mr. Darcy's generous offer.
During the days between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, Darcy frequently happened to encounter Elizabeth, sometimes alone and sometimes with her cousins. When they were with the Gardiner children, Mr. Darcy showed himself quite willing to join in the fun and frenzy. Interacting with the children put the couple more at ease with one another and they chatted about their own growing-up years and couldn't help each one considering how the other would behave as a parent. Their conclusions were uniformly positive.
One morning Mr. Darcy arrived in a carriage at Longbourn to ask Elizabeth to go for a ride with Georgiana and himself. Mrs. Bennet was out of the house, but Mrs. Gardiner, now having repeatedly heard the story of the claret-colored gown, found herself guessing that the Derbyshire gentleman was Elizabeth's devotee and wondered if her niece suspected as much.
Another afternoon while Elizabeth was at Netherfield going over wedding plans with her mother, aunts, Jane and Miss Bingley, she left the group, put on her coat, hat and gloves and began walking outside in the cold December sunshine. Elizabeth was walking in the direction of the stables when she met Mr. Darcy who was on horseback.
"Good day, Miss Bennet," he bowed.
"Mr. Darcy," she returned a curtsy.
" I am off for a ride. It is a very fine day, would you care to join me, perhaps?
Elizabeth was no horsewoman, but the promise of outdoor exercise was much more alluring than the endless discussions going on inside the house about wedding clothes, trousseau and the like. The prospect of an hour or two alone with Mr. Darcy was not unpleasant and so Elizabeth agreed to the outing. Mr. Darcy pointing out what he considered the outstanding vistas around Netherfield, the two of them enjoyed a pleasant, leisurely ride.
There was no groom to be seen in the stables upon their return, so Mr. Darcy suggested they ride into the barn to escape some of the muddy spots caused by melting snow nearby. The gentleman dismounted and tied his horse to a railing. As he turned to help Elizabeth do the same, he noticed the heel was coming apart from her boot and had slid under the edge of the stirrup. Not noticing this herself, as she tried to get off the horse Elizabeth's progress was impeded and she was thrown off balance and began to fall.
"I fear your boot heel is coming apart, Miss Bennet," said Mr. Darcy after catching her in his arms. The tone of his reply was much more calm than what he felt holding her so closely. Take off your boot here and I'll carry you over to that barrel," he explained, motioning, "set you on top of it and try to find a mallet to repair it temporarily so you can put it on again and walk into the house."
Elizabeth did as she was told though her movements to remove her boot were awkward both because of her position in his arms and because she worried that if he dropped her whilst she tried to remove her boot, she'd have one leg on the ground and one in the air, attached by her boot to the stirrup.
"It seems, Mr. Darcy, that perhaps your gift should not have been such a frivolous thing as an elegant gown, but rather something practical like a pair of good boots!" Elizabeth remarked, tongue in cheek, having successfully completed her task.
"If I may be forgiven for my poor judgment in giving you the gown, Miss Bennet," he laughed, "I would willingly make you such another gift."
She blushed as they looked into each other's eyes, now so close that the temptation to give in to a kiss was almost overwhelming.
Elizabeth broke the spell by motioning toward the nearby barrel," I believe I may stand on one foot, sir, while I'm waiting for the repair. It may be cleaner than sitting on top of that barrel."
Darcy nodded as he looked more closely at the top of the barrel. "I believe you may be right, madam," he said, putting her down. "I shall attempt to work quickly."
Still not knowing whether the lady had forgiven him, he repaired the boot enough to get Elizabeth home to Longbourn and the two of them returned to Netherfield house, missed by no one but Miss Bingley.
Chapter Eight: Renewal
Posted on Thursday, 15 January 2004
Several outings with Elizabeth in company with Mr. Darcy had made the Gardiner children very demanding. Suddenly it was not just a pleasant surprise to have him along, it was a necessity. Not wanting to lose his popularity, one afternoon Mr. Darcy accompanied them to skate on a Netherfield pond. It was he who asked Mr. Bingley's permission to go there and he who brought the sleighs to collect the four Gardiner children, their parents and Elizabeth at Longbourn.
Sensitive both to their children's affection for Mr. Darcy and his obvious interest in their niece, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner found that fine line between letting the boys and girls play with Darcy and Elizabeth and giving them a little time alone together.
Ice skating and the spontaneous ensuing snowball fights prompted an easy, cheery mood in the young couple. Elizabeth actually felt she had put the fiasco of the gown behind her. It had not been mentioned for nearly a week. He mind uncluttered by tension then, she was free to wonder about Mr. Darcy's feelings for her and, this afternoon, just brazen enough to ask about them.
As they skated side by side she asked, "Mr. Darcy, you may think me too bold, but I must ask how you could possibly have admired me so soon and so much as to have sent me such a gift as the gown? After all, we barely knew one another."
"A woman worthy of admiration, Miss Bennet, is easily perceptible in a sea of those who are not," he answered concisely, seemingly unembarrassed.
"Oh, but Mr. Darcy, you must own I do not fit your description of a truly accomplished woman. You will recall the account you gave us at Netherfield while Jane was ill?"
Darcy laughed as he recalled what he said. "You may not meet every point of that definition, Miss Bennet, but I find you as accomplished as any woman I have met and more than that, a woman who will very likely want to improve on that perfection all her life."
Mr. Darcy looked down tenderly at the companion by his side, but before she could add a thank you to her very pretty blush, they were invaded by a skating band of mugwumps.
On the Sunday morning before New Year's Day Mr. Darcy arrived at church along with the Netherfield group. Seeing Elizabeth was not seated with her family, he quietly informed his sister, apart from the others of his party that he would soon return, but perhaps not to sit with them. Georgiana took his meaning at once and waved him on to his task with a smile. Seeing Elizabeth not in church and guessing the purpose behind Darcy's retreating form, Caroline Bingley rose to go after him. Luckily the service began and she was kept from her purpose.
At Longbourn, Elizabeth was reaching for her coat when she heard a knock at the door. The servants were at church so Elizabeth went to it herself.
"Good morning, Miss Bennet. You were not with your family at church. I thought perhaps you were ill, but I see it is more likely you were just running a little late."
"Good morning, sir. Yes, I helped my aunt and her maid ready the children for church and sent them on ahead. It was good of you to come-" here Elizabeth wished not to sound over warm in her welcome, for it was not entirely proper for them to be alone.
"I am ready to go. Allow me just to get my coat."
"Would you mind, Miss Bennet, if we talked a little before joining the others. It has been very difficult for us not to be surrounded by people at every moment we are together."
Elizabeth tried with all her might not to blush and she motioned Mr. Darcy into the sitting room, where the winter sun was beginning to warm the room. Though she offered him a seat and took one herself, Mr. Darcy did to sit down, but walking back and forth slowly in front of her, began to speak.
"This month has been a very strange one, I think." Elizabeth nodded and laughed, looking up at him, wondering where he was going with the conversation.
"On my part it began with an ill-advised hope that my gift would surprise and delight you. I did not intend to return to Hertfordshire when it was sent, although I wanted to very much. I was lonely and miserable, dissatisfied with my life in London. I had never felt that way before and I thought perhaps it was because I needed Georgiana's company. When she arrived in town I did feel better. I had once again selfishly neglected her and spending time together was very gratifying, but we were both feeling empty and detached. The prospect of a Christmas in town with the Matlocks or at Rosings with Lady Catherine was not the answer. For me the clear solution was to join Bingley at Netherfield. Luckily Georgiana was not adverse to the plan. You can't conceive of how many times I imagined your face upon opening the gown. I always saw you as being alone, where no one but you could see it..." Mr. Darcy looked quite dismayed as he mentally compared his imaginings to the reality of what happened.
"Mr. Darcy, I believe we may leave this episode behind us now. The gown is lovely and the sentiment behind it even more so. Let us look upon what happened as another of life's absurdities and laugh at the situation. That way the recollection of it will only ever make us smile."
Darcy finally sat down beside her, taking both her hands in his.
You are too good, Miss Bennet, to forgive me this way. I must tell you that when I recollect any part of the past three months that I have known you, it makes me smile."
"What?" Said Elizabeth teasingly, "It makes you smile to recollect that at the assembly in September you called me only "tolerable" and told Mr. Bingley you wouldn't dance with me because I had been "slighted by other men"? Shocking!" Elizabeth pretended to be affronted.
"That was absurd of me. I hadn't remembered it until now. Will you forgive me again if I tell you that it was very soon afterwards that I could not keep myself from thinking of you?"
Again Elizabeth teased, "So much so that you left Hertfordshire. You are an enigma, sir."
Darcy dropped her hands gently and stood, pacing again. Elizabeth wondered if she had misspoken.
"No less to myself, I assure you, Miss Bennet. Before we met I thought I must marry a woman equal to myself in wealth and consequence. I have had the pleasure of meeting a great many young women, as I have said, especially since my parents died. Among them were several very pleasing and beautiful ladies, but never anyone who intrigued me, challenged me, teased and bewitched me as you do. When we returned to London last month I was sure that if I gave myself time away from you, my former perspective would return. Instead I found it to be irrevocably changed. Every party or assembly I attended in those weeks, and I assure you there were purposefully a great many of them, I found dry and artificial. There was nothing and no one there for me anymore."
Elizabeth heard all this with pleasure and yet, "That was only a month ago, Mr. Darcy. Do you not think you should give yourself more time? Perhaps the gray weather in town-"
"You are correct in saying, Miss Bennet, that we have not long been acquainted, yet I need no more time to know that whatever the weather you are what makes me happy. With you I am content and complete."
" A woman of no wealth and consequence, Mr. Darcy?"
He knelt before her, taking her hands again. "You are of real wealth and consequence, Elizabeth, not that artificial facade the world holds dear. With you I feel myself richer than all the kings in Europe. Let me continue this feeling always and allow me to make you happy all the days of your life by accepting my hand in marriage?"
"I believe I would like that very much, Mr. Darcy."
He kissed her hand and looked up at her smiling. When their eyes met, their overwhelming joy and relief caused them both to burst out laughing.
The couple waited quietly, happily outside the church for the crowd to come out so they could slip into it as if they'd been in attendance for the entire service. Mr. Darcy was able to secure an audience with Mr. Bennet the next morning at Longbourn when, fortunately, his lady was not at home.
After Mr. Darcy asked his permission to marry Elizabeth, Mr. Bennet had a few questions.
"I feel I must ask you, Mr. Darcy," he said, cocking one eyebrow, "are you Lizzie's secret admirer?"
Darcy's face became as crimson as the gown he'd given Elizabeth. He'd nearly forgotten the whole to do surrounding the gift.
"Yes, sir. I admit, I am he."
"Then I need not ask if you love my little Lizzie, for if you, being the rational man I have usually known you to be, were reduced to the level of foolishness necessary to send such a gift to THIS house, you must indeed be violently affected."
Mr. Darcy admitted he had not used good judgment and assured his future father-in-law that such a lapse in judgment regarding his daughter would not happen again.
Half Mr. Bennet's permission was given to Mr. Darcy until Elizabeth affirmed her love for the gentleman and it was agreed their engagement would be kept secret from all others, except Georgiana, the Gardiners, Jane and Charles until after an assembly to be held on New Year's Eve in Meryton.
Chapter Nine: Rejoicing
Posted on Monday, 19 January 2004
Those made privy to Elizabeth's engagement news were overjoyed. It was particularly difficult for Miss Darcy to keep the new secret because she was so keen on the idea of having a sister like Elizabeth. Georgiana especially itched to innocently divulge the news to Caroline Bingley, to end that predator's stalking Fitzwilliam.
The Gardiners suspicions were confirmed and Mr. Gardiner felt sure he could now accept, with impunity, Mr. Darcy's offer to fish on the Pemberley estate.
Jane and Charles were thrilled to have two people they loved so much be as happy as themselves.
As they danced together at the Meryton assembly on New Year's Eve, Elizabeth and Darcy reflected upon the first time they'd been here together and how changed they both were after only three months.
"What a pompous fool I was! cried Darcy. "If I had any sense I should have monopolized your company."
Elizabeth noticed Caroline Bingley on the sidelines of the dance, glaring at her. "That was one of the last evenings Miss Bingley may have been satisfied with your behavior."
"Yes, then and when I left with their party for London in November."
Elizabeth tilted her head, looking him squarely in the eyes with a teasing gleam in her own. "That was definitely not a time when you were overwhelmed with passion for me."
"True, but it was not long thereafter that passion triumphed, though it endured several attempts to destroy it, both from myself and others." The teasing look left Elizabeth's eyes and she became quite serious.
The dance ended and Elizabeth suddenly found a great need for some air. As it was almost January, too cold and muddy to walk much out of doors, the two of them found the small unheated room where the overcoats were hung. It offered cooler air and the privacy Darcy sensed she was also looking for.
The room was lighted by a few candles. There was no place to sit and it was some time before Elizabeth was able to put her thoughts together. Darcy worried that this hesitance did not bode well for him and he began to analyze what he had been saying when she became uneasy. Finally she found the words and began.
"Mr. Darcy, I worry that if you struggled with yourself-if it was passion that persuaded you- Mr. Darcy, my sisters and I have daily proof that passion in marriage is very quickly overcome by reason. I am flattered by your admiration, but I cannot allow myself to marry you if that is the foundation of your suit."
"I admit my passion for you is overwhelming, Elizabeth. It has lead me to do things I shouldn't have, that ordinarily I wouldn't have, things that have embarrassed you and caused you pain where I wished just the opposite, but I believe I am a reasonable man-"
"My father is a reasonable man as well, though perhaps less so as a youth."
"As I have told you Elizabeth, I have been acquainted with many women, but not one can compare to you. I refer not so much to face or figure, for there are nay number of young ladies with those qualities who possess not one ounce of the wit and intelligence you have."
Elizabeth was flattered, but unmoved. "Yes, Mr. Darcy, but how am I to know you will continue to value me for all the years of our lives together? You may decide your first instincts were correct and wish you had stayed in London."
Mr. Darcy's heart was touched by her worries. He took her face in his hands. "How is anyone, husband or wife, to know that for sure, Elizabeth? What would you have me do to prove my good will? How may I show you that my love is all you need it to be?"
It occurred to her that his willingness to do whatever it took to please her was certainly a beginning and she opened her mouth to tell him so, but he continued.
"And what of your feelings for me? Am I always to be Mr. Darcy? How do I know that it is not just a lifetime of beautiful gowns you want and not myself?"
Elizabeth, who was wearing his claret gown, laughed out loud.
"We are both of us taking awful chances by marrying, are we not, Fitzwilliam?" She emphasized his name and spoke as teasingly as he just had.
His eyes lovingly traced her face, lingering on he lips. "I am willing to take any chance to have you as my wife, Elizabeth. Especially the chance that you will someday feel as passionately for me as I do for you."
"And you believe, at this moment, I do not?" She moved closer to him. "That all the emotion of the past few moments surfaced with no such feeling behind it?"
"Would it violate your sensibilities, do you think, Miss Bennet, if you were to demonstrate those feelings just now?"
Elizabeth couldn't have refused if they had been violated, so strong was her attraction. "I suppose that would be acceptable." She kissed his lips very chastely, using great restraint.
"Really, Miss Bennet,that was a very sisterly kiss." Said Darcy, smiling.
"Should I try again?" she feigned innocence.
"You should." he nodded.
This time she stood on her tip toes, put her arms around his neck, closed her eyes and kissed him in a way which she considered to be very affectionate.
Mr. Darcy shook his head, looking very stern. "You have many talents, Miss Bennet, but one of them is not kissing."
Elizabeth went beet red and turned away. "Have you so much experience at it yourself, sir?"
Darcy put his arms around her waist, gathering her to him. His lips to her ear, he whispered, "A little experience and a great deal of imagination since I met you, my love." Elizabeth turned in his arms, grinning widely.
"Then teach me, Mr. Darcy, she answered breathlessly, "For I wish to become most proficient."
For the next few minutes Elizabeth was thoroughly instructed by her fiancé and proved an apt student, quite willing to please her tutor.
Chapter Nine: Rejoicing, Part B
Posted on Monday, 26 January 2004
Without warning the couple were startled by a loud, sharp intake of breath followed by, "Lizzie!" What are you doing!" Mrs. Bennet's exclamation was soon followed by her husband.
"I believe, by dear, that you have identified Lizzie's secret admirer."
Mrs. Bennet looked at her husband as if he'd lost his mind, then slowly she realized what Mr. Bennet meant.
"Mama, Mr. Darcy did send the gown. He has asked me to marry him and papa and I have both agreed!"
"Oh my dear Lizzie!" she kissed her daughter overzealously, "I shall have nothing more to wish for!" She then turned to Mr. Darcy and kissed him a little more gently.
"What a happy new year we shall have!" said she turning to Mr. Bennet and kissing him as well, "Two daughters married. I shall go distracted!"
Elizabeth and Darcy had no choice at that point but to make a general announcement, which was locally received with joy by all but Miss Bingley. The mystery of Elizabeth Bennet's secret admirer was solved.
When news of Mr. Darcy's engagement reached Rosings, Lady Catherine was beside herself. Mr. Collins, trying to comfort his patroness was sent away immediately with such ferocity he thought it wise to make a fortnight's visit to his mother and father Lucas in Hertfordshire. He would stay away until Lady Catherine forgave his relationship to Elizabeth Bennet.
Anne DeBourgh, for her part, was pleased with the announcement. She admired anyone who had courage enough to go against her mother's wishes. She liked Miss Bennet. Anne wished she could be more like Elizabeth. Perhaps they could, as cousins, become friends. When they did, she would inform Mrs. Darcy that she had never desired the marriage her mother so much coveted.
A February wedding was planned for both Jane and Elizabeth together in Longbourn church. The two couples were to spend their first night together at Netherfield.
At a luncheon celebrating the marriages, Mrs. Bennet repeated to anyone who would hear, the story of the claret gown sent to Elizabeth by her new son, Fitzwilliam. Was he not handsome? Did they not think him romantic? His wealth had raised him immeasurably in her esteem. She did not boast nearly so much about her "Dear Charles".
Miss Bingley, accompanied by the Hursts, was among the first guests to leave Netherfield after the luncheon. Miss Bingley certainly did not want to spend the night in the same house as Mr. Darcy and his new bride, but she had not fully given up her quest. Even on her way to London in the carriage, Caroline was scheming how she could separate the undeserving Elizabeth from her husband.
As darkness fell that evening a heavy snow began to fall. Inside Netherfield house the bridal couples felt as if they were blissfully isolated in their private winter wonderland.
Dinner was to be served in each of the newlywed's bedchambers. Elizabeth excused herself to go upstairs before the meal arrived, while Darcy remained downstairs with Bingley and Jane.
When dinner was announced, he, Jane and Charles bid each other good night at the top of the stairway and continued to their separate rooms.
Entering their bedchamber, Darcy saw the butler placing food on the table, which was already set with china crystal and silverware. From the adjoining dressing room came Mrs. Darcy. As he saw her, a broad smile came quickly to his lips and he felt he could have laughed aloud had the servant not been in the room. Elizabeth wore the infamous claret-colored gown and an exquisite ruby necklace and earrings, which her husband had given her that morning. Never had he seen anyone as lovely.
Having finished his work, the butler bowed and left the room, closing the doors behind him.
"Shall we eat, Mr. Darcy?" asked his wife.
"Suddenly, Madam, I am not at all hungry-for food."
Elizabeth blushed and smiled. "Only see what is here for us! Filet, carrots, potatoes..."
While she explained, Darcy walked behind her, wrapping his arms tightly around Elizabeth's waist. She leaned back against him and he began to kiss her neck and shoulders.
"When you first saw this gown you said you imagined me wearing it."
Darcy did not abandon his activity, he merely answered in agreement. "Ummmm."
"Will you tell me more of your imaginings, sir?" Elizabeth purred.
"I would prefer to show you." replied her husband.
Mrs. Darcy enjoyed his demonstrations very much and resolved to wear her exquisite claret gown every year on her wedding anniversary. It became a tradition for the Darcys along with dinner a deux in their bedchamber on that day. There were years that the gown did not fit due to the advanced stages of pregnancy and eventually the time came that the original had to be replaced with a new more fashionable dress, but to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, it was always a symbol of the love and admiration that had begun so many years before and which had deepened and expanded along with their family.