J´ai perdu mon Elizabeth - A short story
Posted on Thursday, 19 February 2004
Gracechurch Street, April 1812
Mrs. Gardiner eyed Lizzy thoughtfully. Although the young woman had done her best to put up a cheerful appearance since she’d arrived at their Cheapside home from Hunsford, she couldn’t fool her aunt.
Madeline knew that her favourite niece would confide in her if she wanted to and therefore didn’t probe for reasons of Elizabeth´s pensiveness. She didn’t seem to be sad or dispirited like Jane but possessed an altogether more somber air; a certain reluctance to part with her wit. To Mrs. Gardiner she appeared as if something or somebody had shaken her confidence, had questioned some of her previous convictions, ways of looking at life and that Elizabeth was now readjusting. Maybe witnessing her friend Mrs. Collins´ married life had brought this on.
Lizzy was truly happy to see Jane again but immediately saddened by her elder sister’s bearing. Obviously London had done nothing to raise her spirits, had brought her no closer to overcome her disappointment over Mr. Bingely’s desertion. In Elizabeth’s breast a familiar anger directed at Mr. Darcy began to flare, after all he was the means of ruining Jane’s happiness, forever so it seemed now. But Lizzy checked herself. She had come to implicitly believe what he’d written in his letter and while his interference with Bingley’s courtship must still be considered to be officious, Elizabeth knew for certain that she wouldn’t have acted differently from him had she thought Jane to be falling for someone who didn’t care for her.
No, sad as it was, Jane’s unhappiness could not be pinned on Mr. Darcy alone, Bingley’s timidity, his lack of confidence and courage were the reasons at the bottom of this. Along with that had come even more grim realizations about her family and about herself. To accuse Mr. Darcy of arrogance! What chutzpah! Arrogant he may be, but he was also a responsible landlord, a caring guardian and friend where as she had no excuse why she had been so sure of her own assertions. Mr. Darcy would have some years worth of proof of the general soundness of his decisions.
True, Mr. Darcy was too reserved, but in that was less likely to give offence than a person who was too outspoken, like herself. With growing shame did Elizabeth realize that it had been mainly her doing to make Hertfordshire society assume pride in his quietness, where Charlotte and Jane had always insisted on him being reserved only and rather pleasant in small company.
She knew now that he had not troubled himself enough to get to know his country neighbours out of a conviction of them not being worth it. But then even if he had changed his opinion – as he had obviously done in her case – and wanted to know them better after overcoming his natural reserve it would have been too late, the prejudices against him would have been too violent by then to overcome.
Despite all her witticism Elizabeth was a kind person at heart. So what unsettled her most about her encounter with Mr. Darcy was her growing conviction that he must be deeply hurt be her actions and words. In her refusal she’d been sure that the reservations he’d mentioned in his proposal would cause any grief it cost him to be of a short duration. Now she was pretty sure that this would not be the case.
He was a quiet, private man, one could even call him stiff. Elizabeth realized what his proposal must have cost him and how her refusal must have shaken him to the core. If she recalled his mien and looks that evening at Hunsford she saw a man driven by the utmost forces of passion, a man indeed violently in love.
Elizabeth would not belittle Mr. Darcy or herself in that way to begin to feel something warmer for him out of pity but she could not help being flattered by the force of his emotions and intrigued by the more complex picture he presented. But all this musings must be in vain, it seemed highly unlikely that their paths would ever cross again.
With a sigh Mr. Gardiner rested his feet under the corner table of his favourite coffee house. His business was thankfully thriving and he loved his lively family dearly but an hour of quiet chatting with a friend was a treat he relished in.
Carl Wilcox however was not in good spirits. After some minutes of talking about their businesses, Mr. Gardiner enquired after Wilcox´s family. The latter answered with a sigh that his wife was not at all well. Their third child was on the way but unforeseen difficulties had forced Mrs. Wilcox to stay in bed and now the doctor was even more worried. Mr. Gardiner expressed his sympathies and assured Mr. Wilcox of a visit from Mrs. Gardiner to his wife soon.
After a day of rest it had been planned that Mariah Lucas, Jane and Elizabeth would return to Hertfordshire. On the evening before their departure Mariah complained about a headache and during the course of the night it progressed to a severe cold. Lizzy and Jane of course decided to stay in London; they would care for Mariah as Mrs. Gardiner had her hands full with her four children.
Madeline left her little ones in the care of cousin Lizzy and selected from her newest books those which were must unlikely to disturb anyone’s peace of mind for her friend Mrs. Wilcox. The lady was in tolerable spirits, her last few days had brought a slight improvement and every passing day meant a better chance for the child. The two women had a nice visit and Mrs. Gardiner promised to come back again soon when she noticed her friend growing tired. On leaving she was called back.
“Maddy, I had procured a box at the opera for Gluck´s “Orpheus and Euridice” for the day after tomorrow. Carl doesn’t want to go without me, you know he only attends the opera to please me. The piece is not in fashion nowadays but it is truly lovely. Maybe you would want to go with your nieces?”
Mrs. Gardiner thanked Mrs. Wilcox profusely and accepted the offer as she knew the particular piece to be one of Lizzy’s favourites.
As Mariah was getting better day by day, Elizabeth looked forward to the outing. _______ was not the biggest nor the finest place in London where one could see and hear an opera but was renowned for its very sound productions. Jane declined accompanying the Gardiners and her sister, pretending to stay back for Mariah´s sake. Lizzy suspected that her elder sister didn’t want to subject herself to an evening of mourning over one’s lost love and therefore did not try to persuade her.
They arrived in good time and the Gardiners met several acquaintances. Lizzy amused herself by watching her fellow opera goers. She spotted some who would belong to the fashionable set but not many and conversations around her mostly went on about the fine music they were to expect tonight.
The Wilcox´s box was one of the less expensive ones, quite high up, but rather to the middle, so they had a good view of the stage. After settling down Elizabeth soon lost herself in Gluck’s music and the haunting story of the lovers Orpheus and Euridice. His song of mourning touched her deeply.
Something began to bother her and during the second act, when the opening chords of the aria “Oh, I have lost her” were played she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
She’d lost something, too. Not a lover but part of her innocence. Her dealings with Wickham and Darcy had shown her her own fallibility; she could no longer approach people and the world in general with the same easy confidence as before. And – though she didn’t let her thoughts go there too often – she’d lost her chance of getting to know Mr. Darcy. Fidgeting in her seat Elizabeth took the opera glass to occupy her hands.
When she found she could not watch the singer perform the hauntingly beautiful song she let her gaze travel over the boxes further down. In one on the right sight, just above the stage her attention was caught be something. A man’s hand rested on the railing that seemed familiar – long and lean fingers, a signet ring. With a start Elizabeth recognized it as Mr. Darcy’s.
She looked away. What would he be doing here? This was certainly no society event. But then Elizabeth again felt shame for her thoughts. She’d known that Mr. Darcy liked and appreciated good music. And she knew that he didn’t feel comfortable in large crowds, that he would not throw himself into a society event if he could avoid it. No, he was here for the same reason as nearly anyone else – for an evening of music with Gluck’s realization of one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.
Try as she might to look away, Elizabeth’s gaze was bound to return to Mr. Darcy. She searched for his face in the darkness of his box. Lizzy couldn’t make out his expression in the shadows but one thing she saw clearly – a single, glistening tear rolling down his cheek as the aria came to its close.