Part 1: A Carriage Ride to Longbourn
Posted on Monday, 12 June 2006
It was 1838. Fitzwilliam Darcy, age 54, stared out the window of his carriage. A steady drizzle greyed the landscape, but the effect perfectly matched his mood. He wondered what he was doing, really, in traveling to Longbourn. He rarely paid social calls and rarely entertained. He wasn’t a recluse, not exactly, but his life-long reserve had become more pronounced as he aged and he had little interest in social interaction outside his immediate circle.
He reflected on the steps that had brought him to his present journey. A couple of months earlier, he had attended a dinner at his club, a dinner which preceded the club’s annual meeting of the members. He had been paying little attention, particularly as the meeting had reached the point where new members were to be welcomed; he had no interest in new acquaintances. His attention had been seized, however, by the overly-loud acceptance speech of one of the new members.
“It is with the humblest of hearts and the most sincere gratitude that I endeavour, inadequate though the effort must be, to praise the munificent condescension of my esteemed sponsor …”
Darcy had turned to his cousin, the General. “Richard,” he had said, “Did you happen to catch the name of that buffoon?”
Richard Fitzwilliam had laughed. “Darcy,” he had said, “Do you mean to say that you don’t recognize our late Aunt’s clergyman? That is William Collins.”
Of course. Darcy had not expected to see William Collins in his own club, but then Collins would have come up in the world if Mr. Bennet was dead. Darcy remembered everything he had ever known about William Collins. He particularly remembered that Collins was married to the former Charlotte Lucas, who had once been Elizabeth’s best friend.
Darcy had not been to Rosings since Aunt Catharine had passed away, nearly twenty-five years previously. His cousin Anne, suffering from consumption, had pre-deceased her mother and Rosings was now in the hands of a great-nephew of Louis deBourg. Darcy had not been to Hunsford since the night of his proposal to Elizabeth. He had not seen William Collins since his Aunt’s funeral.
Curiosity had overcome Darcy. He had found himself wishing to talk to Charlotte Collins. So, with the laughter of his cousin echoing in his ears, Darcy had made his way across the room and had reintroduced himself to William Collins.
Collins had been transported to heights of verbal ecstasy by this unlooked-for attention from the nephew of his late esteemed patroness. Words had nearly failed him as he attempted to express his joy at Darcy enquiring after the health of Mrs. Collins.
When Darcy had asked if he might call on Mrs. Collins when convenient, Mr. Collins had been nearly prostrated by grief. It seems Mrs. Collins had encouraged Mr. Collins to join a London club, because such membership would be beneficial to a man in his position, and to acquire a house in London, with windows and staircases suitable for a gentleman such as himself. She would necessarily be staying at Longbourn to be near her mother, Lady Lucas, who was no longer young and, although in the very best of health, could be expected to deteriorate at any time. Mr. Collins was grieved because he could not honour Darcy’s request to call upon Mrs. Collins.
Unless … Mr. Collins had an inspiration. He extended an invitation to Darcy to visit at Longbourn.
Darcy knew it was too much to hope that he might visit Mrs. Collins at Longbourn while Mr. Collins remained in London. What he did not know was why he had accepted the invitation.
The carriage rolled along. Darcy had reached Hertfordshire, but the rain continued to fall and the world remained grey.
While Darcy could not have articulated why he was subjecting himself to three days as the houseguest of William Collins, he had come to realize the truth of the matter. He wanted news of Elizabeth Bennet. He had not seen her since the morning following his proposal at Hunsford, when he had handed her a letter defending himself from some of the charges she had laid at his door; and he had not so much as heard of her since his last visit to Rosings. But having seen her cousin by chance, he now wanted to know how her health was; whether she had had children and what they were like; whether her interests were still as they had been; whether she was happy.
Whether she was happy …. She had not been so the night he had proposed marriage. She had been angry and had condemned him in the strongest language available to a woman of her gentility. Even in her anger, she was the most beautiful, the most desirable woman he had ever known. He had replayed that scene a thousand times in his mind. Sometimes, he imagined he had improved on his performance. He could never imagine away the awful finality of her rejection.
After Hunsford, Darcy had retreated to London and, later that summer, to Pemberley. On arrival, his housekeeper had told him the house had been toured the previous day by a party consisting of a gentleman and two ladies, the younger of whom had claimed to know the master a little. The gentleman’s card read “Edward Gardiner”; although Darcy knew nobody by that name, he had latched onto this trivial incident as the starting point for a recurring fantasy in which he, by arriving at Pemberley a day early, had encountered the party and had found that the younger woman was Elizabeth Bennet. Unlike the replays of the proposal scene, the fantasy of an encounter at Pemberley invariably played out to a happy conclusion.
Darcy was not, temperamentally, a man to despair. Over the years following Hunsford, he had attended to Elizabeth’s criticisms. He had substantially improved himself.
In 1814, he had met Lady Claire Grimsby, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Munster. Lady Claire was wealthy, handsome and connected to the royal family itself; the match was warmly approved by Darcy’s entire family. The irony that Lady Catharine would have disapproved was lost on everyone save Darcy himself, due to her untimely passing earlier that same year.
Darcy’s eyes glazed over, as the carriage continued under a steady drizzle through Hertfordshire.
Lady Claire had decided to remain at Pemberley, rather than accompany her husband to Longbourn. This was not surprising, as she rarely traveled from Pemberley, but Darcy was not, on this occasion, disappointed. Darcy’s confusion, with respect to his marriage to Lady Claire, was total and he feared that, should he have the opportunity to discuss Elizabeth Bennet with Charlotte Collins in the presence of Lady Claire, he might let some part of that confusion slip into the open. He could not, with propriety, allow that.
Darcy could not regret his marriage to Lady Claire. Their three children, Louise, Frederick and Anne, were as near perfection as a rational man could expect. He loved them dearly and could not regret anything connected with them. Indeed, for fifteen years, Darcy had been a happily married man; during that period, he often went days or even weeks without so much as a passing thought of Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy had not married Lady Claire strictly as a matter of dynastic convenience. He had believed, and continued to believe, that Lady Claire had, in the beginning, loved him. There had been nothing feigned in her affection and she had nothing to gain in wealth or social standing by an alliance with him. Her affection, in itself, had made her very attractive to Darcy. But there was more than that. She was well-read, intelligent, and witty and had a lively disposition. She was altogether reminiscent of … well … of Elizabeth.
Fortunately, Lady Claire had not resembled Elizabeth physically. Lady Claire was tall, unfashionably thin and flat-chested, whereas Elizabeth was shorter and more feminine in her build. Lady Claire was blonde and pale; Elizabeth dark. While Darcy could be said to have rebounded into the relationship with Lady Claire, she was not merely a substitute for Elizabeth.
Everything had changed ten years ago, with the death of Lady Claire’s mother. Darcy had not considered the two to be so very close, but the death of the Duchess profoundly altered Lady Claire. Darcy’s physician confirmed that the problem was in the nature of a mental, rather than a physical illness, but opined that it was not madness. There were no words in the English medical lexicon to describe the symptoms and there was no cure, although the good doctor had heard that Austrian physicians were interested in the problem. In the vernacular, Lady Claire was chronically unhappy.
Lady Claire’s unhappiness manifested itself in several ways. Her lively disposition was only a memory. She no longer read for pleasure. Indeed, she seemed to take pleasure in nothing, save only pride in the achievements of their children. Her weight had doubled. She showed no affection for Darcy and had become a brooding, dark presence at Pemberley. It was several years since she and Darcy had so much as touched.
So it was that, for ten years, Darcy had also grown increasingly unhappy. For ten years, his thoughts had turned increasingly to Elizabeth Bennet. He was a married man, who would never consider an affair, obsessed with a woman who had rejected him and who was the least likely candidate one could imagine for the role of mistress. What was he doing in Hertfordshire?
The carriage came to a halt. He had arrived at Longbourn.
Part 2: A Visit to Longbourn
Darcy was met outside the house by Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Mr. Collins welcomed Darcy to his “humble manor” and fussed over him ad nauseam. Darcy was shown to a room, where the closet had been fitted with convenient shelves. He hoped that the room given to his valet might have a closet suitable for hanging his jackets.
The evening seemed interminable. There was no opportunity to talk to Mrs. Collins, as Mr. Collins monopolized all conversation.
Eventually, Darcy retired to the room he had been given. As he settled into the small single bed, he wondered if perhaps this had been Elizabeth’s room, Elizabeth’s bed. Pulling the candle towards himself to extinguish it, he noticed, carved on the near back leg of the night-stand, the initials “L.B.”
The next day broke sunny and clear. After breakfast, Charlotte suggested a walk to take in the view from Oakham Mount.
“My dear Mrs. Collins,” said Mr. Collins, “you must realize that the gout in my right large toe prohibits such an ambitious undertaking.”
Had her opinion been sought, Charlotte would have doubted that Mr. Collins had gout, but as it was quickly agreed that Darcy and she would take the walk without Mr. Collins, the issue was moot.
Darcy and Charlotte walked along companionably. At first, what little conversation they had centred on commonplaces such as the weather. Darcy desperately wanted to ask after Elizabeth Bennet, but could not think of how to begin. Charlotte solved the problem for him.
“Mr. Darcy,” she said, “When Mr. Collins informed me that you wished to call upon me, and then that you were to visit us here at Longbourn, I was quite surprised.”
“Surprised?”, Darcy echoed.
“Yes, sir. While I was never among your many critics in Meryton, you and I were never great friends and it has been a quarter-century since we have seen each other at all. I should have thought I would have been among the last women in England that you would go to such trouble to visit, for my own sake.”
“Ah, well …” said Darcy, stupidly. “Uh, you, uh, mistake the matter. I, uh, have very fond, uh, recollections of many of the occasions, uh, on which, uh, we met and I thought, uh, that, uh, it might be pleasant to reminisce, you know, and …”
“It is fortunate, then,” said Charlotte, “that Mr. and Mrs. Brown are to arrive tomorrow to visit. Mrs. Brown was present on, I think, all of the occasions to which you refer.”
“I don’t recall a Mrs. Brown,” said Darcy. “Is she from Meryton?”
“Not exactly,” replied Charlotte. “You might remember her as Elizabeth Bennet.”
It occurred to Darcy at this point that Charlotte had, perhaps, been toying with him. Disguise of all sorts being his abhorrence, he decided the time had come to confess his true interest, at least insofar as he understood it himself.
“I do,” he said, “I do remember her as Miss Bennet. I must confess, Mrs. Collins, that you have found me out. When I encountered Mr. Collins in London, I was overcome with a desire to know whatever had become of … Mrs. Brown, is it? I recalled that she was your close friend and thought, through you, to have news of her.”
“She was and is my close friend, Mr. Darcy,” said Charlotte. “I trust you do not expect me to assist you in reaching any improper goal? “
“Indeed not, Mrs. Collins,” he said. “I assure you my interest is merely the curiosity of an old friend, ah ,err, uh, acquaintance. It’s just that, I must know how she is. I can’t explain why, but it’s very important to me to know that she is happy.”
“Really, sir? Is it that you seek to know she is happy, or that you hope to discover she is unhappy?”
“I’ve asked myself the same question. I have feared that I desired her unhappiness, so that I might appear as some sort of white knight riding to the rescue. But I hope, Mrs. Collins, that I speak the truth when I say that I wish to discover that she has been deliriously happy all these years.”
Charlotte laughed. “I don’t think it is given to any sane person to be deliriously happy for twenty-five years. But I think Elizabeth has been reasonably happy most of those twenty-five years. Do I disappoint you?”
“No, no, you don’t,” he said. “It is a relief to me to know that she is and has been happy. We did not, you know, part on the best of terms.”
“I have heard the tale,” Charlotte replied. “Elizabeth did not confide in me at Hunsford, but we have always made a point of seeing each other regularly, and the story slipped out sometime. It was so long ago, I scarcely remember when.”
“I am surprised that the two of you remained so friendly. Mr. Collins’ inheritance of Longbourn must have placed a strain on your friendship.”
“It might have done,” said Charlotte, “but Elizabeth understood the legalities of the situation, and appreciated my efforts to mitigate the harshness of the circumstances. Forgive me for saying so, Mr. Darcy, but the death of your Aunt before that of Mr. Bennet was a great relief. She had encouraged Mr. Collins towards a strict application of the law. In her absence, I had little difficulty in persuading Mr. Collins to allow Mrs. Bennet to remain at Longbourn for her year of mourning and for a further six months while she found suitable accommodation.”
“How long ago did Mr. Bennet pass away?”
Charlotte replied, “Well, Mr. Collins took possession of Longbourn before Easter in the year 16; so, Mr. Bennet’s death would have been in 1814.”
“So long ago?,” wondered Darcy. “Why, that is but two years after we were all together at Rosings.”
“A little more, I suppose,” said Charlotte. “Elizabeth visited Hunsford in the spring. That same summer, her sister Lydia ran away with George Wickham.”
“George Wickham?,” exclaimed Darcy. “Oh my God; what have I done?”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy?”
“Nothing, nothing,” said a shocked Darcy. “Please continue.”
“Poor Lydia was never found alive. A year later, her body was fished out of the Thames; she was with child when she died. Mr. Bennet had his first attack within an hour of identifying her body. He never recovered fully, and had his final attack the next year.”
“This is in every way horrible,” said Darcy.
“Indeed,” agreed Charlotte. “There was only one silver lining to the Bennets’ cloud of misfortune. It was while in London, helping her father and uncle search for Lydia, that Elizabeth met Thomas Brown. He was quite taken with Lizzy, and spent considerable time and, I dare say, fortune in assisting the search. It was one of his men who recognized that Lydia’s body might be the one they were searching for.”
“I see,” said Darcy. “So, Mr. Brown took advantage of Elizabeth’s grief and gratitude to obtain her hand.”
“Mr. Darcy, what a mean-spirited thing to say! Tom Brown respected Lizzy’s year of mourning, then courted her properly for another full year. I believe that, by her wedding day, Elizabeth could honestly claim to be living up to her ideal of marrying only for the deepest affection. Certainly I have never seen a more radiant bride.”
“I’m sorry. I should not leap to conclusions, particularly where they are unkind. Truly, I have tried to improve my manners over the years.” And, he thought, the image of Elizabeth as a radiant bride nearly took his breath away.
Charlotte laughed. “Do not despair, Mr. Darcy. I believe your manners are more amiable than they may have been in your youth. But, in essentials, I believe you are very much as you ever were.”
Darcy did not know whether this could be considered a compliment, so he moved the conversation along. “Have the Browns any children?,” he asked.
Charlotte answered warmly, as if speaking of a favourite niece. “They have one daughter, Lydia. She is everything Elizabeth was at the same age; if anything, Lydia is more intelligent. Tom and Lizzy are just returned from a trip to Massachusetts, where Lydia is to stay with a companion to attend a ladies’ college.”
“All the way to America?” Darcy was, again, surprised.
“The Browns believe an intelligent girl like Lydia deserves a higher education. Given the attitude of our own universities, they had little choice but to look to a more progressive society.”
“I suppose not,” said Darcy, who couldn’t understand what use a gentlewoman could possibly have for a formal education. Surely a program of extensive reading was sufficient to improve any woman’s mind?
Charlotte interrupted these reflections by returning the conversation to the subject of Darcy’s “essentials.” “Mr. Darcy,” she said, “Is it true that, all those years ago, Elizabeth accused you of having a selfish disdain for the feelings of others?”
“Indeed,” said Darcy with a rueful smile. “It is one of the failings I have attempted to correct.”
“Allow me to say, sir,” said Charlotte, with a sardonic smile of her own, “that it is an attempt conspicuous in its failure.”
“You have said that you came here to satisfy your own curiosity about Elizabeth’s life. Is it not so?”
“Well, sir, allow me to suggest that such a reason is both selfish, in that you seek to gratify only yourself, and disdainful of the feelings of as many as three women.”
“Three?,” asked Darcy, somewhat cautiously.
“First, there would be your wife, … Lady Claire, I believe? Have you given any thought to how she would feel about this visit of yours?”
Darcy replied, somewhat stiffly, “Lady Claire is indifferent with respect to my activities.”
Charlotte said “She may be indifferent as to your activities in general, but she may draw a distinction where the ‘activity’ is an interest in another woman. Have you discussed this with her?”
Darcy made no reply.
“I thought not.” Charlotte continued, “Then, there is the question of Elizabeth’s feelings. She has been happily married for over 20 years; she may have little interest in revisiting the interactions she had with you, so long ago. Have you given any thought to whether this curiosity of yours might not be upsetting to her feelings? And, lastly, did you give any thought to how I would feel about being sought out only as a means to an end? This visit is not the action of a man who has learned to be considerate of the feelings of others.”
Darcy stared at his feet. “I should leave Longbourn immediately.”
“Indeed, you should not,” said Charlotte, with some force. “We had arranged for you to stay until tomorrow, and tomorrow Elizabeth arrives. This visit might better never have been made, but having come this far, you must see her. If nothing else, it will give Elizabeth an opportunity to apologize to you for having trusted Wickham’s tales about you. She has several times expressed regret that she never had an opportunity to do so.”
Darcy and Charlotte had by now returned to Longbourn. Mr. Collins greeted them at great length and officiously presided over the remainder of the day’s activities. Darcy retired early.
As he lay abed on the second and last night of his stay at Longbourn, he was unable to sleep. Elizabeth had not married until after he did. Had she truly despised him? Would she have waited if he had not sought comfort elsewhere? Could he have won her, if he had been the one to find her sister Lydia? He would have known where to look, would have found her alive. What could he have done then? Would he have wanted Elizabeth to marry him out of gratitude? What of his children? Would they ‘exist’ if he had not married Lady Claire? How would they differ, had Elizabeth been their mother? Could he have lived happily ever after with Elizabeth? Or would a marriage to her have failed, as had his marriage to Lady Claire?
So many questions. No answers. “L.B.” Lydia Bennet’s room? Lizzy Bennet’s room?
Part 3: A Departure from Longbourn.
The next morning was bright and sunny. Darcy was in the drive with Mr. and Mrs. Collins, to greet the large and obviously expensive carriage that arrived bearing the Browns.
A man in his fifties exited the carriage and turned to help the female occupant down. His clothes spoke of elegance, but not of ostentation. He had a full head of still-black hair, and had the trim physique of a man thirty years younger. Darcy, for the first time in his life, felt self-conscious about his own badly-receded hairline and his middle-aged paunch.
For Darcy’s benefit, Charlotte observed in a soft voice that she had never known Thomas Brown to let a footman help Elizabeth in or out of a carriage.
And then Elizabeth appeared. Time had been kind to her; there were a few wisps of grey in her head, and motherhood had rounded her body, but it seemed likely she was still a great walker. Her face was aglow with the happiness of a reunion with an old friend; her eyes fairly sparkled. Darcy was transported back 27 years to Lucas Lodge; once again, he could do little but stare in admiration of those very fine eyes.
Elizabeth embraced Charlotte with enthusiasm, and greeted her cousin with surprising warmth. Only then did she notice the third member of the reception committee.
“Goodness,” said Elizabeth. “It’s not … Mr. Darcy, is it?”
As Darcy seemed incapable of speech, Charlotte replied, “The very same.”
“Mr. Darcy, it must be 20 years since I have had the pleasure of speaking with you.”
“We have not spoken since the morning of April the 3rd, 1812,” replied Darcy.
Elizabeth favoured Darcy with one of her impish grins and said, “I think you must be right, sir.”
As nobody seemed inclined to make the necessary introductions, Thomas Brown decided to join the conversation. “Is this the Darcy that was your old flame, Lizzy?,” he asked, mischievously.
Elizabeth laughed; a joyous sound which Darcy had thought to go to his grave without hearing again. “Hardly an old flame, Tom. Mr. Darcy and I were not the best of friends, were we, sir?”
Had a hole opened in the ground, Darcy would gladly have crawled into it. But he gamely replied, “No, madam, I suppose we were not. Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins,” Darcy continued, “my carriage has been ready to depart for some time now. I must thank you for you hospitality and take my leave.”
“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth interjected, “we have only just arrived. You are not leaving now?”
“I am, madam; I think I must,” said Darcy.
Elizabeth turned, whispered something in her husband’s ear, and kissed him on the cheek, before returning her attention to the reception committee.
“Charlotte,” she said, “do you realize that you have now lived in this house longer than I did? Yet the last time I was here, the only real change was some shelves in the closets!”
The two friends laughed. Elizabeth then continued, “Mr. Darcy, I have been so long in this carriage, I must walk. Would you not join me in a turn around the garden, while my husband superintends our invasion of my childhood home? If you stand your horses down, the delay of an hour cannot signify. You are going only so far as London, I suppose?”
What Darcy had most feared, and most hoped for, had now come to pass. He was to have a private interview with Elizabeth Bennet; Elizabeth Brown.
Darcy admitted he was going only to London, and gave his coachman the necessary orders. He and Elizabeth walked off, into the garden.
Elizabeth began. “We have only a short while, sir. Permit me to begin. I have long wanted to thank you for the letter you gave me the last time we met, to thank you for the confidence you showed in trusting me with your sister’s secret, and to apologize for having believed George Wickham’s slanders.”
“Mrs. Brown,” Darcy replied, “it was only yesterday that I heard the tragic tale of George Wickham’s elopement with your sister Lydia. I wish I had known; I wish I could have done … something.”
“If wishes were horses, Mr. Darcy … You must learn to share some of my philosophy. Let us think of the past only as it gives us pleasure. Let us speak of some happier subject. Your sister, Georgiana; how is she?”
“Dead 19 years this coming August, Mrs. Brown. She had married Charles Bingley; perhaps you remember him? She died in childbirth. Neither did the child survive.”
“Oh, dear,” said Elizabeth, “I have failed to move the conversation to happier memories, haven’t I. How is poor Mr. Bingley?”
“I don’t really know. You must understand, I don’t blame Bingley for Georgiana’s death, but we are each so … awkward … when we are in each other’s company that we have seen less and less of each other. It has been two or three years since I last saw him.”
“He never remarried?,” Elizabeth asked.
“No; some years after Georgiana’s passing, I had suggested to him that I would not be offended, should he wish to do so. You will laugh, but he confessed that the only woman he had ever truly loved was your sister Jane; that he liked and admired Georgiana, but married her only because she seemed to love him and he thought it would please his sisters. He doubted he could ever marry another.”
“Indeed, sir, I would not laugh. I shall cry, but not now. I should tell you that Jane never married. She understood and accepted that Mr. Bingley was gone forever, but no man she met subsequently seemed to her so amiable. It seems that, with nothing more than a few dances and a few minutes of conversation, he quite ruined Jane for other men.”
Darcy stared morosely at the horizon and seemed a dozen years older. “You were justified, then, in your other great complaint. My interference did ruin the happiness of both Bingley and your sister. You despised me then; you must despise me now.”
“This is abysmal,” said Elizabeth. “There is nothing to be done about the past 25 years. Perhaps I did despise you at Hunsford, but that sentiment did not long survive the receipt of your letter. Had we met subsequently, you might have found my feelings to be quite the reverse … well, never mind. Let me ask you this. If I were to give you Jane’s direction, would you see that it reached Mr. Bingley?”
“On my word of honour, Mrs. Brown. He shall have it by sunset tomorrow.”
The two old antagonists now walked companionably for a few moments, each nurturing the faint hope that some happiness might yet come of this reunion.
However, their time was running out, and Elizabeth wished to part from Mr. Darcy without any unfinished business between them. “Why,” she asked him, “have you sought me out after all these years?”
This short question opened the dyke of Darcy’s reserve; all his thoughts of the previous two days poured forth in a jumble. He spoke of the happiness and the unhappiness of his own marriage, of his children, of his feelings for her. He finished this way: “Mrs. Brown, when I met your cousin by chance, I suddenly realized that I had to know whether or not you had been happy over the years; whether you are happy now. I want nothing for myself; indeed, I am not able to take anything for myself, but if I was secure in the knowledge of your happiness, I would rest content. I cannot say this with propriety, Mrs. Brown, but I have loved you from the first time I saw you. If love means anything, the happiness of the beloved must be the highest good.”
Elizabeth blushed becomingly. “You are correct, Mr. Darcy. That was most improper. But, if it will aid you in finding … contentment …, you may rest assured that my life has been, for all its sorrows, more happy than not. When the twins died of the measles at age seven, I thought I could not live another day. But, with Tom’s help and love, I did. And the day after, and the day after that. One day, I caught myself admiring the beauty of a sunset. It is trite to say so, but life goes on, Mr. Darcy.”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Brown,” said Darcy, “I don’t know what to say.” Darcy was oppressed by the realization that, however much he might think himself always to have loved Elizabeth, he had managed to miss most of her life. He had not been there to offer comfort on the deaths of her sister, her father, or two of her children. Tom Brown had been.
“Then say nothing,” Elizabeth replied. “I was trying to assure you of my happiness, not to engage your sympathy. I have had many blessings, not least my great good fortune in meeting and marrying Mr. Brown.”
“You must love him very much.”
“I do, Mr. Darcy. It may surprise you to hear that I did not at first love him so well as I do now. But he has been constant, through a lifetime of joys and sorrows. I love him now so very dearly. He is truly the best of men.”
An hour later, Darcy was in his carriage on the road to London. The sun was gone, and once again a steady drizzle turned the world to grey. Darcy’s mood was not so grey. He could not describe himself as happy, but he did feel better than he had felt three days earlier. Seeing Elizabeth had ended any hope of a future with her; but it had offered hope.
In the dishonour of one sister, the disappointment of another, the death of a father and, most of all, the deaths of two children, Elizabeth had suffered more than had ever been laid at his door. Yet, she could claim that her life had been more happy than not, and Darcy believed her.
Apart from calling on Bingley, Darcy was as much at a loss as ever to know what he should do. But Darcy now understood that he had much to be grateful for and much to live for. His children were his delight and there was always the hope that Lady Claire might recover from her ailment, even without the doctors being able to label it. Bingley might yet achieve happiness, and his happiness might lead to a wider and more congenial circle of acquaintances for Darcy himself, extending perhaps to include even the Browns.
With a smile, Darcy thought he might, once or twice again in this life, hear Elizabeth laugh.
The weekend was over. The carriage had arrived at Darcy’s London townhouse.