Beginning, Section II
Posted on October 17, 2008
The Viscount of Rosemont and his wife, Lady Rosemont, were waiting outside to greet Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam as they arrived. Darcy immediately took in the appearance of his infamous new cousin. Lady Rosemont appeared to be attractive, though not exceedingly so, and Darcy could not perceive anything extraordinary in the lady's figure that might have induced such a determination in his cousin to marry her.
Rosemont, like his younger brother, was amiable without being foolish, and was more disposed to smiles than solemnity. He shook hands with both gentlemen and introduced his wife, who to Darcy's surprise, was very quiet and well-mannered. After the usual greetings were given, they all adjourned to the house where the guests were permitted to freshen up before supper.
The meal was a modestly comfortable affair, and Darcy left the conversation to his cousins, preferring to simply observe. It was quickly ascertained that they had been the first to visit the couple since their marriage, and Lady Rosemont was rather nervous over her role as hostess.
"Have you spent the winter in Town then, Darcy?" Rosemont asked, drawing his cousin from his silent thoughts.
"Yes, I had thought it best this year."
He noted that Lady Rosemont immediately coloured at this response, and her hand was covered by her husband's. Darcy had not meant to draw attention to the obvious upset they had endured this winter, and now he could not think of an appropriate way to smooth things over. Fortunately, Richard was not so unlucky.
"The north experienced a particularly chilly winter this year, Brother, and so Darcy and I thought it best to stay warm in Town."
"I am sure Georgiana had no complaints with that plan," Rosemont smiled.
"Ana is simply content to be where her brother is, I think," Fitzwilliam replied.
Darcy finally found his voice, "I would not have you think she requires me, in fact, of late, I think she is content to be relieved of her overly serious brother."
"She is very lucky to have you," Lady Rosemont said, speaking for the first time since they were seated. "I always longed for a sibling."
"Yes, Lillian, that is what everyone says until said sibling is pestering and fighting with them incessantly, is it not, Brother?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. "Your husband and I had our share of scrapes and disagreements, madam. We caused my mother and father an intolerable amount of grief and vexation."
"Not to mention your poor cousins," Darcy replied.
"Lily, Darcy would have you believe he was not a party to most of our indiscretions, but it is a well known fact that he instigated his fair share. Do not let his current severity fool you. There was a time when he helped his cousins with plenty of mischief. He was too clever for us by half."
"Little has changed, you see," Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. The rest of the meal was spent recounting childhood stories for the amusement of Lady Rosemont. Darcy could not help but relax with her manners, for she was very genteel and her comportment was flawless. Soon, supper was completed, and catching her husband's eye, Lady Rosemont excused herself to leave the men to their port.
"You cannot know how thankful I am that you chose to visit us. We have not sought anyone's approval, but Lillian has been troubled that she has caused a rift amongst family. It was a relief to have my cousins visit."
"Brother, you know that we are family before anything. We would not forgo visiting your wife, no matter the scandal in Town."
"But I imagine that this is also an attempt to prove us to be united as a family. Father would not have us appear at odds, of course."
"No," Darcy said. "My uncle has always concentrated on keeping his family respectable."
"At any cost," Rosemont laughed. "I am no fool, Darcy. I know this winter has been spent rectifying the damage I have caused by my marriage."
Darcy did not speak.
"It has not been easy," Fitzwilliam owned. "The gossip pages have not been kind."
"No, I imagine not."
The colonel sighed. "I will not relate to you all that has been said, but---"
"But it has been my wife who bears the brunt of their attacks," Rosemont finished for him. "Insufferable, the lot of them."
"You could not have thought it would have ended otherwise?" Darcy said rather unkindly. "You are the heir to a well-respected earl, Rosemont! Your wife has no father at all!"
"Lower your voice," Rosemont said evenly. "I do not care to have Lillian overhear our conversation. She does not deserve your disdain, it is I who have disappointed you."
"Indeed it is," Darcy said gravely. Rosemont shook his head.
"But in time it will be forgot," Colonel Fitzwilliam offered, "and your wife seems to be well-mannered enough to comport herself respectably for any occasion. I believe, despite our difference in opinion, we would all like to see her eventually accepted as a worthy lady."
"Yes," Rosemont sighed. "Though I will not expose her to the disdainful remarks of jealous women. Lillian will not be seen in Town for some time, I assure you."
"Perhaps that is for the best," Darcy sighed, and he noticed his cousin's eyes dart toward him angrily.
"You are wrong to judge her, Cousin," Rosemont said quietly. "She is my wife. I offered for her, not the other way around."
Darcy did not reply and was relieved when the conversation ended, and they joined Lady Rosemont in the drawing room for more neutral conversation. Before long it was time for bed, and they all made to retire. Darcy was stalled in his progress by a hand coming to rest on his shoulder.
"Darcy, I know you are angry, and no doubt after what you have endured this winter, your feelings are justified," Rosemont said softly, "but there are things that are more important than society's good opinion."
Darcy nodded briefly and eyed his cousin carefully. The viscount seemed to have humbled considerably since they had last seen one another.
"Ride out with me tomorrow, I have a few spots of land I think you would be glad to visit."
"After breakfast then?"
Rosemont smiled and bade him goodnight. Darcy watched his cousin disappear around the corner before turning and entering his own chamber, the events of the day serving to puzzle him exceedingly.
Elizabeth's fever broke less than a day later. Jane's unsolicited care and attention brought about her recovery more quickly than anyone would have expected. That day, Elizabeth was sitting up in her bed, taking some broth brought up to her from the kitchen. Jane had been silent at her bedside for some time, and Elizabeth decided to reassure her sister so that she might see to other things.
"Jane, you surely do not have sit with me. I will be quite well here on my own."
Jane shook her head thoughtfully, but it was several minutes before she replied. "No, you are not well. You have not been well for some time. Even now, you are not trying to be well. All of this could have been avoided if you had kept enough sense about you to care for your own health. You have had me worried and frightened for you again and again for months."
Elizabeth was taken aback by her sister's tone. She opened her mouth to speak, but Jane held up her hand.
"I do not want you to say anything, Lizzy. For all you have had to say to me for months is that you are well, and I should not worry. You have nothing of substance to say, you lie to me---if not literally, then by omission. I do not wish to hear another word from your lips until you are willing to be honest with me," Jane finished, her voice caught in a sob.
Elizabeth looked at her hands, ashamed. Jane's words mortified her, and she knew every word of it was true. She turned back to her sister, tears of regret in her eyes.
"I am very glad you are well. Perhaps you might come downstairs tomorrow," Jane said, leaving the room.
Elizabeth watched the doorway a long time, at last thinking of the consequences of her actions. She did not reflect upon her behaviour with any pleasure, and it was clear she owed Jane and Charles so many apologies for repaying their kindness in this way. Tears filled her eyes at the realization. She knew she had to stop this. No, this could not be the rest of her life---she had to make an effort, for herself and for her sister. Things could not go on this way.
"A thrown horseshoe," Rosemont said thoughtfully as he looked out into the distance. He and Darcy had ridden out early as planned and had just reached a fine prospect that afforded them a wonderful view of the landscape below.
"If it had not been for a thrown horseshoe just outside of London, I might never have met my Lily."
"Mmm," was Darcy's noncommittal reply. He could not help but consider all the great trouble something as simple as a thrown horseshoe had caused.
"Darcy, we have known one another all our lives, and I am fully aware that you resent my decision. You should be fully aware, however, that I am unconcerned with your or any one else's feelings on the matter."
"I believe you have made that abundantly clear, Cousin."
Rosemont turned to inspect his cousin's features, the bitterness in his voice giving him pause.
"Yes, but what is not entirely clear to you, I think, is why I have done what I have."
"You owe me no such explanation."
"Do I not? I would think you anxious to know why a seemingly intelligent gentleman like myself would cast aside all he has been taught is his duty and dispose of himself in such a way."
"It is not my business to pry into your concerns, Gregory."
"And yet you have taken up my cross to bear."
Darcy continued to stare straight ahead. He had not come to exact answers from his cousin, and he certainly cared nothing for his sympathy.
"I reacted much as I would imagine you did to the idea. I met Lillian, and before I knew myself, I was in love. But it was not enough---she was grievously unsuitable, and I am the heir of a well-respected earl. As would any man in my position, I fought my feelings and did everything in my power to push her away."
"What convinced you otherwise?"
Darcy scowled at his hands as they clutched the reins of his horse.
"I finally allowed myself to comprehend that Lily was the woman I loved because of who she is---including her situation in life. Gentlemen like you and I, Darcy, are taught to believe that the women we marry are to compliment our rank, wealth, and connections. She is meant to make yet another ornament to hang about our shoulders---responsibility to our grand estate, our good name, our impressive income, and reputation. It all conceals what really matters, I think."
"That we are searching for someone who sees us...in here," Rosemont said, pressing his hand to his heart. "How many men of our station can say they have a woman who loves him solely for his heart, for the man he is beneath the layers of duty and privilege? How many then can say that this woman would not care if all of his consequence was lost tomorrow?"
Darcy felt the weight of his cousin's gaze, and he turned to look at him.
"I can, Darcy."
"Then you are a very rich man, indeed."
"Darcy, I know you better than most---is this not what you desire?"
Darcy did not venture a reply, as he felt a wave of emotion set in. He suddenly felt very weary.
"You will not find that kind of woman in Town, Cousin. It was difficult for me to accept, as well. Yet, I had to realize that Lillian is the woman I love not in spite of her connections, but because of them. She spent her childhood under the protection of those who taught her to live simply, to be kind, and to look at the character of a man before assessing his riches. She is a true diamond in the rough, and I would have been a fool to let such happiness slip through my fingers. The women in Town are vain, selfish, senseless creatures---I have seen how you look at them, and I share your opinion.
"Their minds and hearts are empty, worthless. You search for a wife amongst them, and you will find yourself saddled to a simpering, simpleminded woman you detest with no way of being rid of her. She would bear your children and teach them to be vain and ridiculous like herself---I could not stomach such a future, and thus, chose otherwise. As for the rest, I never asked for any of you to mend what I broke, Darcy. You could have written me off the pages of your lives, and I would have understood. It would have been worth it to me."
Darcy turned his head sharply at this proclamation.
"You think me ungrateful?"
"I confess I do not know what to think."
"Ungrateful, in my eyes, is to be given such a precious treasure and not spend the rest of your life expressing your gratitude that it came your way. Few people ever find such love, Cousin. Who am I to refuse when it is offered to me? Lillian, she breathes life into me."
Darcy did not respond. Such an unsolicited speech from his cousin was chilling. Rosemont could not have known about Elizabeth, of his private struggle, and yet he was advising him as though he did. A coincidence, perhaps, but a significant one.
They rode back in silence, both men lost in thought. As they entered the house, Darcy watched his cousin's wife greet his return as though he had been gone for days instead of hours. The realization hit Darcy in one fell swoop---they were in love. So in love, in fact, that they were prepared to face the censure of the world to be together. Unconsciously, his hand reached to his pocket and removed Elizabeth's handkerchief. As his thumb rubbed gently against the fabric, he wondered if the good opinion of the rest of the world was worth anything if he did not have Elizabeth. For the first time, he did not feel so sure.
Elizabeth sat by the window, her shawl wrapped around her shoulders, her eyes fixed on an unfocused point in the distance. Jane's words to her the other evening swam in her mind, and she could not forget them. Indeed, if this was to be the only chance she had for life in this world, she would not spend it despairing over what could never be. She could not close herself off from the rest of the world. It was time she accepted that there were people who loved her very much and could be depended upon, if she would only let them. She turned from the window to look at Jane, who sat close to the fire embroidering a cushion. The sisters met eyes, and Elizabeth shared a smile with Jane. They had not spoken a word to one another for nearly two days. Finally, Elizabeth felt ready to speak, ready to keep going.
Hesitating only a moment, she left her place at the window and seated herself across from Jane. "I did have my heart broken, and I did stop trying. I am sorry for that, Jane." It was then that Elizabeth related the whole story to her sister, describing how she fell in love with an unattainable man against her will, her disappointment at his leaving, and the devastation she had experienced in London when he told her they could never be together. "I did not want to keep going, and I am afraid I thought only of myself for the longest time. I could not make myself care for the feelings of others---my own hurt feelings quite outweighed any other consideration. It was wrong of me to conceal everything from you, Jane. You deserved more than that. I am genuinely sorry for all the grief and trouble I have caused, and while I do not think it will be easy for me to change my ways, I promise to do better and try harder."
Jane hugged Elizabeth and promised her she was not angry with her---only thankful that the tide had somehow changed. They sat in silence a while longer, both enjoying the return of their closeness.
"Have you opened your letter from my aunt, Lizzy?" Jane asked in a bit.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied, moving to retrieve it from the writing desk there. She passed the letter on to her sister, who took it and read.
Friday, 17 April 1812
Your uncle finds it within his power to leave London for several weeks. We have decided that, if you are agreeable, you had ought to come with us. We have a mind to tour the countryside, and I would very much like to visit my childhood home in Lambton. Your uncle and I both agree that it would be an excellent thing to have you with us.
Jane wrote to us of her concern for you and of the time you spent unwell. She says you will not confide in her. I will not ask you to tell me of your troubles, but I extend the offer if you are inclined to speak of them. Remember, Elizabeth, that we all love you very much.
Mary has written to us, and she speaks favourably of her situation in Kent. One may not write much of her husband's sense, but I wish them very happy. She would have me understand very little goes on at the parsonage. She writes mostly of her husband's sermons and the kindness extended to them by Lady Catherine.
If you are agreeable to joining our expedition, write in the affirmative, and you may expect us to send for you on the second week of June. We will return you to Mrs Bingley the second week in July, before our return to London.
As Jane has expressed a wish of hearing more of my children, be so kind as to mention that they are very well and ask after her regularly. They are to stay with your mother and father while we are away, despite my concerns that their behaviour may be a bit trying for you mother's nerves. Your uncle, as always, sends his love, and we both wish everyone at Darnwell very happy.
I pray that this letter has found you well. Take care, Lizzy, to smile when the sky is blue.
Your devoted aunt,
"Do you plan to go, then?"
"I thought I might, if you could bear to spare me," Elizabeth owned.
"I think it a very good plan," Jane said seriously, returning the letter to Elizabeth's hands. "You would have a lovely time, I am sure, and you would benefit from the warmer weather, I think."
"I would not have my sisters think Mr and Mrs Gardiner favour me."
"Nonsense, Kitty and Lydia would think it a punishment to be visiting old houses in the summertime."
"You are right," Elizabeth sighed. "I confess I would very much like to go."
"Then it is settled," Jane said seriously. "You must write to my aunt this afternoon accepting her invitation."
Elizabeth laughed at Jane's impulsiveness but took her advice. It was soon determined that she would travel with the Gardiners in June, and Elizabeth concentrated on spending her time before then lifting her spirits. If she had no intention of being anything more than sister, niece, or daughter to anyone, she would make the most of it.
True to her word, Elizabeth did try, and she rallied considerably in the two months that followed. Elizabeth had always been better suited for happiness than grief, and so she set her sights on reminding herself of one thing she could be thankful for each day. Yes, her heart had certainly been broken, but she could not simply stop living. Nothing was ever so bad as that.
Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam spent nearly four weeks with the Viscount and his wife. Darcy could not help but envy the happiness he had finally admitted existed between the couple. It had occurred to him, during that time, that perhaps not everything ought to be weighed by how it would be received by the ton. Every day, in his pocket, he kept the handkerchief that symbolized Elizabeth's love---it had become both a yoke and a treasure.
They left their cousins in the beginning of May, Colonel Fitzwilliam travelling to Desham with the intent of reporting his brother's condition to his parents, and Darcy returning to his sister in London. He had decided that it was perhaps time to ask Georgiana's opinions on this entire matter. Darcy suspected that she might be capable of shining a new light on this subject that had been plaguing him for months. Most importantly, she undoubtedly would be able to tell him if he had done right---for he was honestly beginning to lose faith that he had.
Posted on October 28, 2008
"And so this what has had you so agitated," Georgiana said softly. She looked to her brother, who stood at the mantel, breathing heavily. He always seemed to breathe harder when he was emotional. She had not expected him to open up to her in this way. Darcy almost never shared his concerns with her, preferring always to keep his own counsel. It had surprised her significantly when he had arrived that morning anxious to tell her everything. Even now she struggled to comprehend the whole of it.
"What I do not understand then, is what Gregory has to do with Miss Bennet."
Darcy smiled, but she knew he was not at all amused. "At once, he has everything and nothing to do with Miss Bennet."
Georgiana waited. She needed more information.
Finally, Darcy came and seated himself beside her. She offered him her hand. "I determined I could not marry her because of what had happened with Gregory."
"Yes, you said that."
"The whole notion is preposterous, is it not? My cousin makes the indiscretion, I choose to do what is right, and yet who is punished? It surely is not him, for I have never seen two people more happily married."
Georgiana sat quietly, her brow furrowed in confusion. In a moment, she looked at her brother to see him watching her. "What you have suffered!" she said feelingly.
"Ana, I ask you to tell me. Have I chosen wisely? I feel as though my perspective has been lost, I hardly know myself these days."
She could see by his movements he was very agitated, and she had to look away to concentrate on forming an answer. Georgiana had learned a very painful lesson by attempting to follow her own heart the summer before when George Wickham, a disgraced family friend, had taken advantage of her naivety and convinced her that she was in love with him and agreed to an elopement. If her brother had not happened upon them on the eve of their plans, she knew now she would have been lost to him forever. Even the thought now sent chills down her spine. How close she had come to losing everything she held dear! An entire year had not lessoned the mortification she felt at her own lack of perception. Hence, Georgiana was frightened even to suggest that her brother follow his own heart. Why would he ask her feelings? Did he attempt to query her understanding on what was proper?
"All signs of propriety would suggest that you have indeed done what is right and good. I know you could never do anything that was not. You acted to protect our family from further shame. I am sure you did what you knew you must. You never behave rashly. It grieves me to think you suffer for it," she replied almost mechanically.
She saw her brother look at her in sadness, and her stomach clenched. Had her answer displeased him?
"I beseech you, Ana, do not tell me what you think I wish to hear. I come to you today to beg your honesty. I will think no less of you for expressing the truth of your feelings."
"I am honoured by your confidence in me, but do you not think that I am an unsuitable counsel for this particular struggle? Have I not completely displayed my unworthiness to judge properly in matters of the heart?"
"No, you have not," he replied emphatically. "You cannot always blame yourself for a youthful indiscretion."
"It was not a mere youthful indiscretion, Fitzwilliam. I nearly threw everything away for a deceptive fantasy."
"You were deceived by one acting a part, and you learned a painful lesson. If there is anyone more suitable to speak sensibly on this matter, I ask you to show them to me at once, for I can think of no better than you."
She remained quiet as she mulled over his speech. "Truthfully?" she finally asked softly.
"I beg it of your justice."
"If I have learned anything, it is that those who truly love us come as a precious few."
Darcy's mouth pursed grimly. "Indeed."
"Particularly for us, who have only one another."
"That very much echoes what Gregory has said."
Georgiana hesitated. "I---" she faltered and closed her mouth, thinking again before deciding to speak her mind. "Brother, you could be happy, too. What do you care for society's favour?"
"I have not only myself to think of."
"It sounds as though Miss Bennet would not care one way or the other as long as you were together."
"No, I daresay she would not." Darcy squeezed her hand. "But it is you I was talking of, Ana."
"Me? Brother, I fail to comprehend what this has to do with me."
"Your name is inevitably affected by my actions. How could I act and know it would jeopardize your prospects of marrying well?"
"Fitzwilliam, do I seem to you the kind of person who aspires to be the next society darling? Have I ever once reminded you of Miss Bingley? In any case, it should be years before I consider marrying, if I consider it at all," Georgiana said gently. "I learned with disturbing clarity last summer that I am not at all prepared for the attentions of any man."
"I would not have my actions make things more difficult for you. There would be some who would rule out a connection with you based upon who your brother chooses for his wife."
"And there will be some who will be more interested in my dowry than in me," she finished for him. "Neither of them would produce an ideal husband in any case. If a man is discouraged by anything so wholly unrelated to the woman I will be, then I would beg you to marry Miss Bennet for that benefit alone. I wish to marry for love, and nothing else. The kind of gentleman I could love would not calculate my worth based upon the actions of my relatives."
Darcy did not reply, and Georgiana felt for him. He was deeply troubled, his brow creased fiercely and his shoulders slumped. She did the only thing she knew to do, and wrapped her arms around him. He held her tightly, something he usually did when he was particularly worried or concerned---usually for her. But he was not the concerned sibling today, it was she who felt the overwhelming need to protect him and insist he be happy.
"Brother, if you love her, I beg you to follow your heart. You deserve to be happy, and you have done your duty to us all. You take care of everyone, and yet no one takes care of you. I want so much to look after you, but as a younger sister, I know you cannot always let me. If she loves you as you say, then I have faith that she will see that you never want for anything. You cannot always be protecting the rest of us, if you had done right you would not be so unhappy."
"I came here convinced you would see the merits of my choosing as I have."
"I gave you that answer and it was not to your liking."
"The insincerity in your voice grieved me. I knew you were only attempting to respond with what you believed I wanted you to say. Ana, I could not live with myself if you suffered from my actions."
"Fitzwilliam, you worry too much. You will have frown lines before long," she said, running her fingers soothingly along his forehead.
Darcy gave her a small smile. "You truly think I have done wrong?"
"I think you had ought to cease worrying about everyone else and think of your own needs, just this once. If my cousin is indeed so very happy, perhaps you might take a cue from him."
"What did you think of Miss Bennet when you met her?"
"I thought she was lovely, if a bit sad about the eyes. Her sister, aunt, and uncle were very kind, I found nothing wanting with any of them. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I confess, was my favourite. She makes you feel so comfortable in her presence even though you have only just met."
"A gift neither of us possesses, I am afraid."
"No," Georgiana smiled. "But it is possible if she came to live with us we might learn...I believe."
Darcy gave her a surprised look, and she gave his hand a firm squeeze as she rose to leave the room.
"Think on it, Brother, surely there can be no harm in that."
The month of May passed quickly, and soon enough Elizabeth found herself travelling with the Gardiners. Although one can never return to the way they were after their first heartbreak, Elizabeth had recovered steadily in the passing months, and learned not to think so much on the things that she could not change. She had eventually ventured out and made several friends in the small town just outside of Darnwell. Though several men had paid her attention, she found she could still not abide them---she just was not ready to begin again, there was still more healing to be had. It had been a long winter, and with the sunshine came a return of her smiles and laughter. She was again feeling like herself, the Lizzy everyone loved---and when she was sure no one was watching, she would travel down to the ocean and curl her toes in the water that washed up on the sand.
When she greeted her aunt and uncle again, she was able to welcome them with her familiar bright smile and they spent a long while in the carriage catching up on the events of their lives in the time they had spent apart. The route to Derbyshire, where they travelled to Lambton, was lined with fine enough estates to keep Elizabeth's mind occupied agreeably for the journey. Her quick eyes and ready mind took in all there was to see and learn. They finally arrived in Lambton near the end of June. Over supper that evening, Mrs Gardiner posed the question that Elizabeth had all along known to be inevitable, as Pemberley was not five miles from their current location.
"We could not be so near Pemberley without my asking, Lizzy. Would you not like to see this great house of which you have heard so much?"
"I should think it would be very awkward for us to be there without an invitation."
"No more than anywhere else we have seen," her uncle reasoned.
"Lizzy, the family is not likely to be home this time of year."
Elizabeth felt torn. Could she truly visit Pemberley? "Do you really wish it, aunt?"
"I had thought you would be more anxious to see it."
Elizabeth did not reply. She was worried that Pemberley would remind her too much of its owner. She did not think she could bear feeling such sadness again. On the other hand, she was curious to see Pemberley's beauty for herself. Mr Darcy had often spoken so highly of the place that it would have been unnatural for her not to wish to see it. She reasoned that this might be the last thing she needed before she could truly move on. Perhaps it would complete the picture in her mind's eye of the man she had come to admire so greatly. Indeed, after all that had happened, she still thought him to be the best man she had ever known.
"If you are confident that we shall not encounter the family, I shall not resist," she said at last.
"Well, then," Mrs Gardiner smiled. "Shall we go tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is as good as any day, I think," her husband said cheerfully. "What do you say, Lizzy?"
"Tomorrow then," she said thoughtfully.
Darcy could feel grime that had accumulated on his face and body as he rode toward Pemberley. He and Georgiana had agreed upon spending the remainder of the summer there, though his own impatience had sent him riding ahead of his sister and her companion. After perhaps the longest winter of his life, Darcy was greatly looking forward to the solace only Pemberley could offer. He had mulled over his actions, and the actions of others, again and again, only to realize there was no right answer to be handed to him. He alone would have to determine what was best. That, of course, was much easier said than done.
He arrived at Pemberley and travelled directly to the stables where he abandoned his horse. Feeling the layer of dust and sweat drying on his skin, he considered diving into the lake that was located around the side of the house, but decided against it. Instead, he walked indoors, and up to his bedchamber without encountering anyone. Exhausted but thankful to be home, he lay down on the bed and promptly fell asleep.
Elizabeth found Pemberley to be absolutely breathtaking. The landscape that surrounded it spread out in rich colours of green as far as the eye could see. She immediately discerned that Mr Darcy was in no way exaggerating in his praise of the estate. It was beautiful, and she was required to remind herself to close her mouth on more than one occasion. Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper, was found to be a very kind, elderly woman and she welcomed them sincerely as she ushered them inside.
Elizabeth thought of inquiring if Mr Darcy was truly from home, but she was afraid to do so, lest they be told he was not. She was spared of the task, however, by her uncle, who asked after him.
"Indeed, he is not. However, we expect him and Miss Darcy later in the week. We are very glad to have them back as they have been in Town almost exclusively for the winter and spring."
Elizabeth puffed her cheeks, and thanked heaven they had not thought to delay even a day in their travels. Even so, she could not relax herself, as she quite expected Mr Darcy to come around some corner or another at every moment. They were led through several rooms on the ground floor, and Elizabeth drank in every detail. Eventually they came to stand in front of a portrait of Miss Darcy, and she paused, admiring how very much alike brother and sister were in appearance.
"That is Miss Darcy, there," Mrs Reynolds explained. "My master had that painted of her this year, and it has only just arrived. She is a beautiful young lady, if I do say so."
"Indeed she is," Mrs Gardiner agreed.
"If you will come with me," Mrs Reynolds began, "I will take you upstairs to see a portrait of the master. It is only two years old, and very like him."
"Well, what do you think of Pemberley?" Mrs Gardiner whispered to Elizabeth as they followed the housekeeper upstairs.
"Undeniably charming," she replied quietly. "I can easily see why its owner is so fond of it."
"There!" Mrs Reynolds exclaimed, stopping at a very large portrait hung in the hallway. "Is he not the handsomest gentleman you have ever seen?"
"Yes," Elizabeth whispered, a reply heard only by herself. She found that if she stood just so, the man in the portrait seemed to look directly at her. It was a lovely portrait and she determined that his gentle expression was one she had seen often during his time in Hertfordshire. He was beautiful, she could never deny that, and it would have been impossible for her heart not to ache at the sight of him. After a few moments, she turned away and walked to the window to calm herself. Mrs Reynolds must have led her aunt and uncle further up the hall, for she heard their voices travel away from her.
As she looked out at the landscape surrounding the house, she felt her heart jump. What would it feel like to be mistress of all this? To look out these windows upon this great land as her own. There was no disputing why Mr. Darcy was so fond of this place. It was beyond comparison to any of the great houses they had visited in their travels. None had the wildness of untamed nature permitted to flourish as did Pemberley. She sighed, but that was not the rarest treasure that Pemberley had to offer. The house and lands were very fine, exceptionally so, yet it was the master that was the true prize. In her eyes, there was no equal.
It was perhaps not well done to come here, she reasoned emotionally. Elizabeth had been fighting tears valiantly for the better part of the afternoon. She knew herself to be very flushed, and she took several very deep breaths to calm the jittering panic she felt to be among the very spirit of the man she loved. The walls, the foundation, the trees, the water---they all breathed of him, like cords irrevocably intertwined. Closing her eyes, she focused on another thought---of carriage wheels and long dusty roads---anything to distract herself from the predicament she now found herself in. When she was calm enough, she joined her party again, and Mrs Reynolds led them back outside where they were entrusted with the gardener there and led away to explore the grounds.
Darcy awoke from his nap several hours later, and determined it to be later in the afternoon. Groggily, he pulled the cord for assistance, though he noticed that it was some time before a person came in response.
"Master!" Mrs Reynolds cried in surprise when she saw him. "I thought it must have been my imagination when I heard the ring. Have you been up here all this time?"
"The fault is mine, I did not notify anyone of my arrival, and simply came upstairs and fell asleep. I believe I have been sleeping since noon."
"I suppose that is fortunate, sir. As I was giving some travellers a tour of the house during that time."
"Ah," Darcy said, thankful he had missed them. "If you could please send someone up to prepare a bath, I would be eternally grateful. I thoughtlessly dirtied the bed covers when I arrived, I fear I was too exhausted to consider the state of myself before lying down."
"Never you mind, sir. It will be seen to," Mrs Reynolds smiled. "I am very glad to have you home with us, Mr Darcy."
Darcy smiled back at the sweet lady who had been like a mother to him for as long as he could remember. It was indeed good to be home.
Once he had bathed and dressed, Darcy came downstairs to the library. He buried himself in the business neglected during his long winter in London. After a while, though, he grew weary of it and strode over to look out the window. Georgiana would be there soon, and the house would not seem quite so quiet. At least she would provide a little music and conversation. When he was alone like this, he found he could only think of Elizabeth.
He knew now, that if he had had it all to do over again, it was possible that he would have chosen differently. This honour, this obligation he had felt for his family had not been worth losing her. He felt, however, that it was much too late now to change his mind---she had undoubtedly moved on. He reached to his pocket and pulled out the handkerchief. Months had passed, removing from it the remnants of Elizabeth that he had come to treasure. Now, only the memory of her tears, long dried in that small piece of fabric, remained. No, he had not chosen right.
Despite his ruminations, his eye caught on some people below, near the lake. He watched them for a moment with passive curiosity. However, when the woman turned around, he absolutely started. Surely his eyes were deceiving him! It could not possibly be---
"Mrs Reynolds!" he called, striding out into the hallway.
"Do you recall the names of your travellers from this afternoon?"
Mrs Reynolds appeared to think very hard. "Gardiner, perhaps? Why do you ask?"
"Never mind, thank you," he said hurrying away. He had dashed out the door and down the front stairs, still unable to believe what his eyes were telling him was true. It was unbelievable that he had seen Elizabeth, yet he would have known her anywhere. It simply could not be anyone else. He forced himself to walk, though it was as quickly as possible, toward the guests who had now been led even farther away on the property. A moment later and he might have never seen them from the window.
"Mr Darcy," the gardener said with surprise to see his master approaching.
Darcy watched as Elizabeth whirled around, her eyes wide. It was clear none of them had expected to see him this day. He noted that she blushed violently, but he could not take his eyes from her. How or why she came to Pemberley was the farthest thing from his thoughts at that moment, for he was beyond thankful to see her.
"Mr Darcy," she said, with a curtsey.
"A pleasure to see you, Miss Bennet."
Mr Gardiner and his wife both expressed their gladness in seeing him. Darcy spoke to them very briefly, and was able to perceive that this was one stop of many scheduled for their travels. He expressed his pleasure they had chosen to view Pemberley.
"We would not have dreamed of doing so had we known you were to be here, sir," Elizabeth said uneasily.
"It is no fault of yours, it was I who returned ahead of schedule," he said, hurrying to comfort her.
Darcy ascertained what remained of the tour from the gardener and dismissed him back to his work. He then led his guests the rest of the way. He noticed Elizabeth was uncharacteristically silent and kept an eye on her always. She seemed greatly troubled by meeting him again and he regretted being the cause of her discomfort. Nevertheless, she seemed even more beautiful to him than he remembered and he had to force himself to concentrate on the conversation he held with Mr Gardiner. Too soon, the tour was over, and despite his offer, his guests were not willing to go back inside for refreshments. He was forced then to hand Elizabeth into her uncle's carriage without the opportunity of conversing with her.
As the horses pulled them away from Pemberley, Elizabeth could feel herself trembling, and endeavoured to calm her breathing. Seeing Mr Darcy after all had given her the shock of her life, and she was too mortified for words. What he must think of her coming to his home after all that had passed between them? It had been foolish indeed coming there, and she cursed the bad luck of his arriving early.
"Uncle?" Elizabeth asked, her voice shaky.
"How far is our next destination?"
"Not above two hours, I believe."
"Is it possible that we may go that way today instead of tomorrow. The day is young yet."
"Tonight?" Mrs Gardiner said, surprised. "What has caused such an anxiousness to leave?"
Momentarily, she attempted to find an excuse, but she recalled her determination to no longer conceal her discomfort from those she loved.
"It is too much," Elizabeth replied, trying desperately not to cry. "I thought I could manage to see his house, but it is too much to see him again. I am so mortified! What must he think of me?"
"There, there, my dear," Mrs Gardiner said gently, wrapping an arm around her niece. "He did not seem so very cross to see you. But we may go, if it gives you comfort."
"Yes, I do not see why that cannot be managed," Mr Gardiner agreed solemnly.
Elizabeth nodded, and a tear slipped down her cheek. Seeing Darcy again had seemed to liberate the stream of emotions she had worked so diligently to cut off. He had appeared so tired, so weary and it pained her to see him so. Even then he had to have been regretting her reappearance in his life. She regretted it, they should never have presumed to come. In her mind, they could not leave quickly enough.
Darcy returned to the house highly agitated. The emotions in his breast threatened to undo him, and he had certainly just experienced the greatest shock of his life in seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley. Seeing her again evoked an energy within him and he paced the length of the library anxiously. One thing was certain, he was still deeply in love with her. The thought of her going away again unnerved him. He did not know what to do with himself and he did not like to be impulsive. He considered following her, he knew he ought to have tried more to speak with her, but his love for her left him speechless in her presence. Elizabeth belonged at Pemberley, it was a feeling he felt deep in his bones. This was meant to be her home, and he could not possibly imagine another woman taking her place. Suddenly, he was reminded of something Rosemont had said.
"Ungrateful, in my eyes, is to be given such a precious treasure and not spend the rest of your life expressing your gratitude that it came your way. Few people ever find such love..."
Instantly, he knew what was right, and knew exactly what was left for him to do. Indeed he could think of nothing else to do after such an epiphany. He rushed into the hallway and shouted for his horse to be readied.
He rode into Lambton fiercely, thankful his man had thought to give him a different horse than was his usual animal, the other likely unable to endure his impatience after only just arriving from his previous journey. Indeed, he knew he was being very reckless by riding much too fast, but he could not calm himself. He had decided on one possible course of action and he could not wait a moment longer than necessary to see it through. He had discerned from the uncle where they were staying, and he dismounted quickly, striding inside purposefully.
"Hello there. I am here to see a Mr Gardiner, can you take me to him?"
"Oh no, sir, Mr Gardiner and his party have left an hour ago at least."
Darcy frowned. "Are you absolutely certain? Mr Gardiner does not intend on coming back?"
"No, sir. Seen ‘em leavin' with their belongings, I did."
Darcy cursed under his breath. "Thank you," he said tightly as he strode back out. He looked left and right, trying to discern which way they might have gone. At last making a decision, he climbed back astride his horse and rode fiercely down the road. He knew he would feel extremely foolish if they had not gone this way, but he was almost positive that they had. He pushed the horse hard for half an hour before he was forced to ease up on it. Darcy continually promised himself that just around one corner or at the top of the next hill he would find them.
At last, when he began to doubt he would, he saw a carriage in the distance. When he got up to it, he took his riding crop and banged it against the side. At first, the driver appeared alarmed and prepared to pull his gun out, but Darcy's appearance evidently convinced him that he was a gentleman and the carriage stopped so that Darcy could look inside. Indeed, it was them, and he closed his eyes for a moment in relief. He opened them to see each inhabitant of the carriage watching him with alarmed expectancy.
"Forgive me for frightening you. I came into Lambton and discovered you had gone away. I simply could not allow you to so," he said, looking only at Elizabeth.
"Is there something amiss?" Mr Gardiner queried.
"Yes," Darcy replied after he had dismounted, "If you would permit me to speak privately with your niece, sir, perhaps it might be rectified."
Mr Gardiner looked from Darcy to Elizabeth in confusion. "Pardon me, sir, do you mean now?"
"Yes, please, Mr Gardiner."
"Lizzy?" her uncle asked, and she nodded, though reluctantly, and allowed Darcy to hand her down. He led her around to stand behind the carriage, never releasing her hands. He looked into her eyes for several moments, realizing that he had forgotten to think of what he meant to say to her in his haste.
"Miss Bennet, Elizabeth, how do I even begin again after what has passed between us?" he said softly. "I dare not believe your feelings are unchanged, but if by some fantastic chance they are what they were before, I must ask you what I should have asked you last November."
Darcy paused to take in her expression, and saw that tears had welled in her eyes. She looked almost frightened. Nervous, he almost lost his resolve. "Say the word, Elizabeth, and I will stop this."
"No," she said sudden sternness. "You must not stop!"
He smiled in relief and brought her hands to his lips. "Elizabeth Bennet, if you can love a man as foolish as I have been, I ask you, beg you, to consent to be my wife."
Elizabeth looked at him for several minutes as though he had gone mad. "But, I---"
"I have been a fool---I am totally unworthy of your regard. But I do love you, Elizabeth. Can you manage to forgive me? Can you marry me?"
"How can this be? You said you could not," she sputtered, pulling her hands from his and hugging herself. She looked everywhere but at him. "You are bound by your responsibility to your family. You cannot ask me to permit you to dishonour that."
"My responsibility is to you, for it is you that I love, you who is the most worthy of my protection," he said, managing to capture her hands again. "I not only made a promise to you when we kissed, Elizabeth, I made a promise to your heart and mine. It is not something that can be discarded so carelessly. Love is a gift, and I promise to value yours for the rest of my life, if you will only allow it."
Elizabeth nodded slowly. It felt was as though she relied on his hands gripping hers to remain standing. Tears slid down her cheeks now, and his stomach burned with the fear she would refuse him.
Yes...yes," she said almost confused at first, then realization set in and she threw her arms around his neck. "Yes, yes, yes."
Relieved and overjoyed, Darcy pressed his nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. "Lizzy, Lizzy."
She pulled back and he kissed her thoroughly, tasting her lips, communicating his love for her in a way words never could.
"Do not go, my sister comes at the end of the week, she will want to see you again. You all must stay at Pemberley," he said, one sentence rushing after another.
Elizabeth laughed aloud, and he saw the sparkle in her eyes that had been missing for much too long.
"I will go anywhere with you, Fitzwilliam," she whispered softly. He had never felt such joy in his life. Now, finally, he had done right. The answer had been there all along, waiting for him to accept its truth---love Elizabeth, be swept away...all would be well.
Posted on November 3, 2008
Thursday, 2 July 1812
I am so happy I can scarcely write. So much has happened since I saw you last, for I have seen Mr Darcy again, and we are engaged! I am sure you had to read that sentence again. I almost cannot believe it myself. Everything has happened so fast, and the remainder of our travels have been foregone in favour of staying at Pemberley with Mr Darcy and his sister. The only person in the world I lack is you, dear Jane, and my merriment would be complete.
I expect to return to you for the second week in July, which is when Mr Darcy plans to visit my father. If all goes according to plan, we hope to be married by the end of August. I hope you will send us your congratulations. Who could have thought things would end in this happy way?
Send only my love to Charles, as Mr Darcy is writing his own letter to your husband, and one must expect he will express his own feelings in whatever way he finds most pleasing to himself.
I will see you soon, dearest Jane. Until then, you may spend all your time being deliriously happy for me.
Elizabeth smiled as she set down her pen. She truly could never have imagined being such a happy creature. She turned her head and watched the man responsible for her present joy as he wrote his letters. In the moments after their engagement, Darcy had somehow managed to convince her uncle to stay with him at Pemberley, had ushered her back into the carriage, and had everyone travelling back toward the great house with him before Elizabeth had even regained presence of mind. Indeed, she had been in such a state of extreme relief and happiness that she had cared little what the plan for their destination had been.
She had yet to comprehend just what had affected the change in Mr Darcy to send him after them, but she would be forever grateful it had happened. They had agreed that after their letter writing they would take a walk. Miss Darcy had arrived that afternoon, and most of the day had been spent supplying an explanation of all that happened in the short time between Darcy's arrival and her own. Miss Darcy had expressed her pleasure with the news most vehemently and had hugged both her brother and her new sister, discarding her usual shyness to welcome Elizabeth into the family. Now, after an eventful day, Elizabeth looked forward to some time alone with her fiancé.
"Miss Bingley is incorrect," she said to him as he carefully wrote his letter.
"Is she? How so?"
"You do write terribly slow."
"Yes," he laughed softly, "I do. Shall I abandon it until later?"
"I would not disrupt your thoughts."
"I believe you just have," he said turning to smile at her. "I can come back to this."
Elizabeth rose and they departed the house, headed out on their planned walk. She followed his lead, as he had expressed a wish to show her his favourite spot on the grounds. She wondered to herself how it was possible to have a favourite in such an array of beauty, but she discovered why he loved it so at once, when she saw he had led her to a small cluster of Linden trees, sunshine raining in amid the shade.
"Fitzwilliam, this is beautiful," she whispered holding her hands palm up to catch the rays.
"My mother often came here to read. I would sometimes join her, and even after she was gone, I came. My father had that bench installed for her comfort."
Elizabeth spotted the seat he referenced and seated herself there. "I think I like this bench much better than those of my past."
Darcy's face tensed. "Yes." He came to sit beside her. "I have not made things easy for us."
"Fitzwilliam, if I may, I would ask what changed your mind?"
She watched him exhale heavily but could not regret her question. Before she could truly accept that things were going to be different, she needed to hear him say why they had changed.
"It is times like these that a person wishes that there had been some fantastic reason, be it spells or mythical creatures, that impacted the foolish thinking and the ill-fated decisions they have made. I have no such excuse, Elizabeth. I am no epic hero, I am only a man. A man, that in his desperation to do what was right, chose wrongly. The greatest tragedy of all, however, was that I was not the only one to suffer the consequences---you have no idea how keenly I feel what I have done to you. I will never think back on my actions without pain."
Elizabeth placed her hand in his, and he clutched it tightly.
"I tried to go on, as I meant to, and do everything in my power to mend what had been damaged by my cousin's marriage. Every woman I met only spoke testament to fact that there is none your equal. I could not abide them, or anything it seemed, after our conversation. I was lost---I have been lost since long before I met you, and then---"
"Then we were lost again," she quietly finished for him.
"Two months ago, I visited my cousin and was witness to the happiest marriage I have ever seen. I did not quite understand it at the time, but it changed everything, Elizabeth. It made me think on things in ways I had never allowed myself before---how he was happy while I suffered; how that could be so when I was supposed to be the man that had done right.
"My cousin could not have known my feelings for you, or that I was attached to any woman, but he spoke to me in such a way that brought all that I had been through into question. He said he learned that he had fallen in love with his wife not in spite of what she was, but because of it. I thought he must have been mad when he spoke so."
Elizabeth gave him a small smile. She could only imagine his reaction to such information.
"But it made me think and question myself, which was frightening to me, because I thought it my goal to have put it all behind me. I never could, but the conversation made everything fresh again---it was painful, but I was beckoned to be honest with myself.
"When I returned, I spoke to my sister, and the more time that passed, the more I agonized over it. I kept this by my side always." He pulled out the handkerchief he had carried as his constant companion and placed it in her hands. "It was a foolish thing, but this was the handkerchief I used to dry your tears that dreadful day in January. It came to represent all I had lost when I turned you away. Perhaps, now that we are happy, we ought to burn it."
"No," Elizabeth said clutching it protectively and bringing it to her nose. "It smells like you."
Darcy shrugged. "Well---"
"If you no longer care for it, I will keep it, for it means too much to throw away."
"If you wish."
"Finish your story, Fitzwilliam."
"When I saw you here at Pemberley, everything became clear, and I could not deny the truth anymore. In all honesty, I could not but expect you would refuse me without question, but I had to know. If there was the slightest chance you still felt for me as I did you, I had to ask you to marry me."
"I was never angry with you---I tried, but I was unsuccessful. I know my situation; I am not blind to the difference that lies between us. I could not fault your responsibility to your family. I punished myself for having loved you in the first place."
"I encouraged those feelings, Elizabeth. I will not allow you to defend me."
"I think, sir, if your suffering was in anyway similar to mine, there is no need for further punishment. I believe you are sincere. I love you too much to question your intentions beyond that."
"I do not deserve you," he whispered, brushing aside a lock of hair that fell in her eyes. They kissed tenderly, and Elizabeth leaned into the warmth of his kiss. His lips against hers, the taste of him was exquisite. His lips left hers when they both required air, and travelled from her chin to her neck. She sighed sweetly at the novelty of it. Elizabeth placed a palm on his cheek, and he pulled back to look at her.
"I could have lived without you, Fitzwilliam, but I would have never been whole. That is what your love is to me."
He turned his head and kissed her palm. "Oh, Lizzy, how did I ever think I could do without you?"
"You must know how relieved I am you found that you could not!" she laughed, happy tears beginning to prick at the corners of her eyes. "How I love you."
The skin on his shaven cheek was so soft and warm, and she had learned in the days since their engagement that she could not resist feeling it. His dark eyes were so expressive, they penetrated the very heart of her. She was indeed under his spell, and it was a great relief to know that she now had that right. While before she had loved with guilt, now there was nothing to come between them. Her happiness was unpolluted and genuine. She would never have to do without him again.
Elizabeth opened her eyes and closed the book in her hands. Bleary-eyed, she looked around her and realized she must have fallen asleep in the library. Months of sleepless nights and the past week of over-excitement was beginning to catch up with her. Elizabeth looked up to see Miss Darcy standing over her.
"Forgive me, I must have fallen asleep."
"I would not have woken you, Miss Bennet, but I believe my brother is looking for you."
Elizabeth smiled. In a house as large as this one, it was scarcely a wonder that more than one person was necessary to locate someone. They had been at Pemberley now for almost a fortnight, and the following week would see them parting ways again. It was no surprise that the couple were desirous of spending every available moment together.
"I will go and tell him I have found you," Georgiana said, leaving the room. Elizabeth watched her with interest. Georgiana Darcy was such a shy young lady that Elizabeth had been hard-pressed to find conversation with her. She could only hope that familiarity and time would make Georgiana more easy in her presence. Before she could think further on the matter, however, Mr Darcy entered the room, a large smile on his face.
"I was beginning to think you were hiding from me."
"Never," Elizabeth laughed. "I had fallen asleep in here."
"There are rooms designed for that purpose, you know."
She smiled. Elizabeth loved when he teased her. Though it was very mild and infrequent, his humour was actually quite similar to her own.
"Your sister said you were in search of me. Was there something you required?"
"Nothing pressing. I only had something I wanted to ask of you."
"You may ask, sir, and I will decide if I wish to answer."
"How very gracious of you," he replied, rolling his eyes at her playful impertinence. "Too soon, we will have to part ways again for several weeks, and there will always be times when we must be apart."
Elizabeth nodded. She was no longer smiling.
"Though even the idea of being apart grieves me, I thought we might exchange a bit of ourselves for the other to keep with them when the original is not accessible to us." With that he opened his hand. In it she recognized the miniature portrait of himself that Mrs Reynolds had shown them on their tour of Pemberley. Gingerly, she took it from his hands. She lightly ran her fingers over his likeness, then looked to the original with large eyes.
"I would be honoured to carry it with me, Fitzwilliam, but I have no such gift for you," she said sadly. "I have never sat for any portrait."
"I was sure that even if you had sat for a portrait you certainly would not be carrying it with you," he replied. "But, I have thought of something I would very much like to have if you would oblige me."
"Lizzy---would you permit me...that is, I would very much like---"
He stopped himself in frustration and began anew. "If you would be so gracious as to allow it, Elizabeth, I had hoped you would donate a lock of hair for my keeping."
Elizabeth blushed, but her smile was in pleasure. It seemed very intimate to give him such a gift, yet she knew immediately she would gladly indulge him. Automatically, she removed the pins from her hair, and it fell about her shoulders. It was only seconds before his fingers were tangled in her curls.
"I assume you will know best how to acquire it," she said, turning to the side in an attempt to aid his progress. She closed her eyes as she felt his hands tenderly inspecting the ringlets for the one he wanted. When she heard the scissors snip, she felt a warmth in her belly that she could not explain. The delicacy of such an experience left her flushed and feeling very vulnerable to him. She turned to see him bring the ringlet to his nose to smell its fragrance.
"Lizzy, when you let down your hair, your scent filled my senses," he said, and she could see he was just as affected as she was by this intimate gesture. "You are beautiful."
She turned to him then and kissed him, placing her hands on his chest as his cradled her neck, holding her steady to receive his caressing lips against hers. The sweetness of his mouth left her breathless, and they were soon leaning on one another for support as they calmed and the kiss ended. Darcy buried his face in her hair, and she held him close for several minutes. It felt as though her skin was burning, and both were in awe of the intensity of feeling they had for one another.
In a week's time, their stay at Pemberley came to an end. She was to return to Yorkshire, he to Hertfordshire seeking her father's consent. As the carriage pulled her away, Elizabeth clutched his portrait close to her heart, knowing that she had left a piece of herself with him, and rejoiced that neither of them would ever truly be alone again.
It seemed to Elizabeth that Yorkshire had not varied from her initial assessment of it being the coldest place in the world. While her heart now rested warmly in her chest, the coolness in the air at Darnwell required extra care with her apparel and another blanket on her bed. Despite the chill, Elizabeth was very glad to see Jane again, and they spent no little time catching up. Although she had already related most of the particulars in her letter, Elizabeth shared again all that had precipitated what was now a very happy engagement between herself and Mr Darcy.
After a full week at Darnwell, Elizabeth sorely missed the presence of Mr Darcy from her life. They wrote every day, and as each new letter arrived, she could be seen hurrying down the path toward the sea to read his words in private. On one such day, Elizabeth received a rather thick missive directed from Hertfordshire. Knowing what information this particular letter likely contained, Elizabeth anxiously tore it open with trembling fingers. As she did, another letter fell into her lap.
Friday, 17 July 1812
I am pleased to announce that your father and I have spoken, and he has given us his blessing. I am now for London to make further arrangements, though in a week's time, I hope to be with you again.
As I am sure you will read in your father's message, he was not particularly grateful for our engagement. For myself, however, I can only bring myself to feel so much regret for his unhappiness, as by leaving Longbourn, you will become my very dear wife.
I hope this news is met with your pleasure, for I cannot express how relieved I am for your father's sanction of the match. Until I see you again, my dearest Elizabeth, I shall think and dream only of you.
Elizabeth smiled lovingly as she finished reading. Gently, she ran her fingertips against his signature, feeling the small indentions his pen had made. In a moment, she took up her father's letter. She was equally anxious to read his response, though Darcy had already indicated that their meeting had been a success. She was not surprised to find her father's letter to also be brief.
Thursday, 16 July 1812
You may imagine my surprise when Mr Darcy arrived this week to declare himself. While I might have been at leisure to receive him thusly last autumn, I had quite determined he was to join the ranks of young men determined to cross my daughters in love.
I listened to all he had to say, indeed I could see no way of avoiding it, and I gave him as much trouble as I could. In the end, I determined that I had better agree to this plan, if you are as adamant about it as your Mr Darcy.
He said he would wait for this letter from me before dispatching his own to you. I thought I had better get to it with some expedience, and after two days had passed, I knew it must be done immediately, and thus am writing this to you on the third day since our conversation.
I trust I have inconvenienced and pestered you both sufficiently enough for my own amusement.
Write soon, Lizzy, and tell me that this is all a misunderstanding and you will be home to stay.
Elizabeth shook her head, smiling at her father's insufferable sense of humour. She had suspected he would take delight in teasing Mr Darcy to the extent of his tolerance. Indeed, Mr Darcy was certainly the very type of character her father routinely enjoyed pestering. He was oft solemn, very serious, and most of his interactions were conducted in a very businesslike manner. Naturally, her father would playfully interfere with Darcy's plans. When the opportunity presented itself so conveniently, far be it from Mr Bennet's abilities not to indulge.
On the walk home, Elizabeth meditated on the misfortune that a full week and a half lay ahead before Darcy would join them. It seemed very hard to have to wait even a day longer to see him again. She removed the miniature that she kept constantly on her person and ran her finger over his dear face.
In spite of her relief to have acquired her father's blessing, a niggling thought continued to intrude upon her cheerfulness. Though everyone had expressed their happiness for their engagement, Elizabeth had noted that Jane had been rather restrained in expressing her congratulations. It concerned Elizabeth that her sister might yet harbour misgivings or ill-will toward Darcy. She hoped the passing days might do something to smooth such discontent over---she did not think she could bear it if her dearest sister and the man she loved could not be friends.
The sun was still high in the sky when Mr Darcy was spotted riding up to Darnwell house. Jane thanked the housekeeper, Mrs Edwards, for informing her of the arrival and immediately prepared herself to receive him. It was very unlucky that Mr Bingley had gone down to the docks, as well as Elizabeth having left for her usual afternoon walk. Jane had not expected to be required to greet Mr Darcy on her own. In spite of her sister's present happiness, Jane still felt a bit of frustration with this man who had caused them all so much grief and trouble. Regardless of how she had tried to forget it, the memory of Elizabeth's previous desolation prevented Jane from releasing her long-standing dislike. It seemed to her that he was the sort of man who chose to have only the things that were pleasing to him---hang everyone else. And now, because the very spoilt Mr Darcy had determined Elizabeth worthy of him, her sister could at last be happy. Compared to what her poor sister had suffered, things seemed to have worked out very conveniently for Mr Darcy. Nevertheless, Jane had not been so unkind as to mention these feelings to her husband or sister. Esteeming him as they did, it would have only caused them pain.
"Mr Darcy for you, Mrs Bingley."
Resolutely, Jane rose from her seat and greeted him with her usual kindness. She noted his distraction and determined he was looking for her sister.
"You find me quite alone this afternoon, sir. My husband and sister are usually not to be found before dinnertime."
Darcy nodded, and affected a smile. "Allow me to take the opportunity to thank you, madam, for your hospitality. You have a very lovely home here."
"Charles will be very glad to hear you say so. He has looked forward to having you stay with us almost as soon as we were settled. He greatly values your opinion, I think."
Jane searched his face for any indication of remorse and had only detected a twinge of guilt before Darcy replied, "I am sorry to have been required to stay away for so long. I assure you it stemmed more from necessity than from my own wishes."
"I am sure you came as soon as you could, Mr Darcy," Jane replied serenely. "I believe I owe considerable congratulations on your engagement to my sister. Lizzy informed us that you had successfully gained my father's blessing."
Darcy dipped his chin graciously and gave her an almost imperceptible smile. "I am a very lucky man, Mrs Bingley."
"Indeed," Jane said a little more tersely that she would have liked. Not surprisingly, Darcy picked up on her tone. The two eyed one another carefully.
"I would have been very astonished had you not looked on me with something like anger and distrust, Mrs Bingley."
Jane looked down at the hands clasped firmly in her lap. "I am only glad that my sister has found the happiness that she deserves."
"It would be inhuman for you not to consider me a villain, Mrs Bingley. G-d knows, I have often thought of myself in those terms this year." Darcy rose and came to stand before Jane.
"Truly, Mr Darcy, you owe me no such explanation."
"Yes, madam, I do," Darcy sighed, clasping his hands behind his back. "I have caused your sister, and no doubt yourself, quite a bit of pain and confusion. There is no question, I do not deserve Elizabeth, but I do love her---very much. I have not earned the happiness I currently enjoy, but I intend to spend the rest of our lives making amends to your sister. I was mistaken to deny her the place in my life that was rightfully her own. I cannot take back my actions, but I intend to learn from them as best I can. Elizabeth will never suffer from my hands again if it is within my power to prevent it. I hope, in time, for her sake, you might come to trust that I will never hurt her again---even if you find you cannot forgive me."
"Mr Darcy, you are the dearest friend of my husband and are soon to be my brother. You have spoken plainly, and so will I. You will have my forgiveness," Jane said gently, then quietly added, "but know this---once you are irrevocably tied to us, you may be sure that I will exact appropriate revenge at my leisure if you disappoint me."
Darcy eyed Jane seriously for several moments. Jane squared her shoulders and glared back at him. She was not afraid of him and intended for him to know it. Suddenly, Jane perceived the beginnings of a smile from her opponent. Then, the most astonishing thing of all happened---he began to laugh. It was barely a chuckle at first, but as she began to laugh as well, it grew into generous guffaws from them both.
"Madam, do not think for a moment I take your warning lightly. I would not dream of inspiring your ire," he replied, and though he was smiling, Jane was able to determine he was serious.
It was into this scene of calming laughter that Elizabeth returned from her walk. Jane saw that the couple greeted one another with the utmost propriety, but noted that her own presence in the room was now painfully obvious to them all. She deliberated for only a moment, looking from one lover to the other, before determining to be merciful. She put her hand on Elizabeth's affectionately, then excused herself to speak with Mrs Edwards. Before she left, she pointedly assured them she would only be ten minutes.
As soon as Jane departed, Elizabeth left her seat and stepped into Darcy's embrace.
"You were earlier than you predicted," she whispered. "I should have been back sooner had I known."
"I am afraid I was too impatient for the carriage and rode ahead."
"Yes," he smiled, and giving her a small kiss, he allowed just the tips of his fingertips to graze her neck. She shivered.
"Enjoy it now, sir," she advised, inclining her cheek to rest in the palm of his hand, "for once you are married, your wife will insist you remain in the carriage with her, impatience notwithstanding."
"When I am married, Lizzy, I shall have all that I want at my fingertips." He ran his free hand down her back in illustration of that fact. "I will have no need to rush."
"Mmm, a very pretty speech, Mr Darcy, but I suspect you will think differently when the time comes to make good on your promise."
Darcy watched her face for a moment, his smile slipping into a more thoughtful expression. He rubbed noses with her, and rested his forehead against hers. "Lizzy, I love you."
Elizabeth rose up on her toes and gave him a tender kiss, and in the heat of which, she expressed all the love she felt for him that there were no words to convey. He returned the kiss in kind, and they might have easily let themselves be carried away by such an action, but the awareness that Jane was due back at any moment induced them to soon pull back and compose themselves. However, Elizabeth made no move to return to her previous seat, preferring to remain beside Darcy. As promised, Jane returned promptly thereafter, and further intimacies were cast aside for more appropriate conversation.
Darcy excused himself when his luggage arrived, as he was desirous of a bath and a few moments' rest before Bingley returned. There was no doubt in Darcy's mind that his friend would be anxious to take him on a tour of the estate. Truthfully, he wanted nothing but to be alone with Elizabeth. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and he owed his friend more than that. He and Elizabeth were obliged to observe propriety for a month longer.
Despite weathering the man's teasing, Darcy had been pleased that his meeting had gone relatively well with Mr Bennet and that he had not insisted upon a long engagement. While his betrothal to Elizabeth had its advantages, Darcy would not imagine enduring the dictates of proper behaviour for any great length of time. As it was, he found it becoming increasingly difficult to remain a gentleman in her company.
When it was ready, Darcy sank into the hot bathwater gratefully, washing away the dirt from the road as well as the kinks in his muscles. Although it had been somewhat uncomfortable, Darcy was thankful for his conversation with Jane. The lady had more than enough reason to feel sceptical of his feelings for her sister. He was determined to earn back the trust that had been lost with his previous actions---for Elizabeth's sake, he felt obligated to prove to those who were yet unconvinced how invaluable she was to him.
Posted on November 8, 2008
Darcy turned to the lady on his arm curiously. He and Elizabeth were taking one of their frequent walks. It had been found to be a very useful exercise for them to escape the house and the watchful eyes of Mr and Mrs Bingley.
"Do you believe Charles would permit you to escort me for a late evening walk?"
"How late are you suggesting?"
"Only as the sun is setting, out by the sea."
"If you wish it, I will ask him. I do not think he will be difficult to convince."
"If not, we shall have to sneak away," Elizabeth said seriously.
"I believe we would be very easily missed at that time of day, my love," he joked.
"Then you must gain his approval," Elizabeth advised.
As promised, Darcy sought Bingley out at the next opportunity. He was surprised to find his friend so reluctant to allow Elizabeth out at that time of night. Darcy had almost decided not to ask his reasoning when Bingley offered the information on his own.
"Darcy, you realize it is not safe to be walking out at night---for anybody. The last time Elizabeth was out of doors at night she took ill. Did she happen to mention it?"
"When was Elizabeth ill?" Darcy asked, frowning deeply. The information hit his stomach like a brick.
"Toward the end of March. She had taken off earlier in the day and been gone much longer than anyone realized. When she was not present for dinner and could not be found in her rooms, we organised a search for her. I found her eventually, near the sea---she was wet-through from the rain. I have never seen a sight that frightened me more than her appearance then. She stared blankly out at the water, and due to the cold, she looked almost ghostly. I bundled her as best as I could, but not surprisingly, she took a fever that evening. The whole experience terrified my poor wife dreadfully. Elizabeth recovered soon enough, but it was one of many such mishaps that came to be last winter."
A completely new kind of guilt came over Darcy as he leaned to rest his elbows on his knees. Why would Elizabeth wish to take him back there? Whatever it was, he believed it must be connected with that experience. "Elizabeth has not spoken much on what came to pass after we parted in London."
Bingley smiled mirthlessly. The wan expression did not suit his happy disposition. "Yes, well, perhaps that is for the best---it was a very worrisome time for Jane."
Darcy nodded but said nothing as his mind reeled over such information. He had known Elizabeth had suffered in those dark months, but to hear it in detail was another thing altogether.
"Bingley, I believe after hearing this story, there must be some significance to her wishing to show me. I can well comprehend your reluctance to allow it, but I assure you I would let no harm come to her from the expedition."
Bingley nodded quietly. "Jane will not thank me for permitting it, but I will do so. I trust your judgment acutely. I will only ask you to remember not to be out so long that you cannot find your way back should the lantern burn out."
"There it is," Elizabeth whispered. "Twilight."
Darcy took in the beautiful sight of the sun sinking into the ocean as darkness fell around them.
"Lovely," he said just as softly. They were seated together on the beach, Elizabeth leaning back into his embrace as the lulling sound of ocean waves crashing ashore enveloped them. Darcy affectionately rested his chin on her shoulder.
"I would come here whenever I could and watch the sky and the sea come together as one, if only for a little while, and close the abyss between them. It made me think of us and of how we had closed our own abyss for a time when we fell in love."
Darcy tightened his arms around her and placed a lingering kiss just beneath her ear. "What you have suffered, Lizzy."
"No, Fitzwilliam, no more of that. I brought you here to show you that we are this beautiful twilight. Our love is like twilight of the abyss---only now, we know that ours goes on and on. We shall live in twilight forever."
The overwhelming emotion Darcy felt from her speech made it impossible for him to speak. He turned her to face him and kissed her passionately. Elizabeth had shown a connection to his soul that irrevocably tethered his heart to hers. It was then that Darcy willingly gave himself over to Elizabeth for safekeeping. He belonged to her, and for all his supposed superiority and respectability, with her he was simply a man, completely swept away in the comforting arms of a woman's love. It was not a choice, it was fact.
Elizabeth eventually pulled back and searched his eyes. Cognizant of the danger to overstepping decency, Darcy brushed back the curls that hung near her face. "Lizzy, I believe we had better go in."
"Just a few minutes more," she beseeched him. "I am not ready to return you to the dictates of restraint."
He kissed her again, relishing the weight of her against him, the feel of her in his arms. It was heartening to know that this was soon to be their forever. Elizabeth's breath tickled his senses as she trailed kisses along his jaw-line. It was at once unbearable and exquisite to feel her lips so lightly against his skin, and he involuntarily tightened his posture to brace himself. "Lizzy, can you know what you do to me?" he whispered desperately.
Her response was a soft laugh, and she ceased her assault by resting her head on his chest. He released the breath he was holding and soon relaxed in the warmth of her arms wrapped around him. Gently, he twirled one of her ringlets around his finger. Lizzy, he thought to himself. It was more than just a name to him. The word had become synonymous with comfort, safety, and love. Lizzy meant he had everything he needed. In a little while, they reluctantly left their spot on the beach and walked hand in hand toward the house. He kissed her one last time under the ebony cloak of night before they went inside and resumed the distance that was unpleasantly proper.
All too soon, it was again time for them both to leave Darnwell. Elizabeth was to return to Longbourn and Darcy to London. It was a dreaded time that was forgivable only because it marked just two weeks until their wedding day. They parted with the promise to resume their daily writing. Darcy would return with Georgiana and his Fitzwilliam cousins in a week's time. Meanwhile, Elizabeth would submit to her mother's all and sundry wedding preparations.
Elizabeth went to her father as soon as she could, anxious to confirm that he had indeed bestowed his blessing in genuine. Though she was sure her father would never falsely give his approval, she was desirous to make certain he was not too unhappy with the plan. She found him in his usual repose, book in hand and a glass of port on the table beside him. Elizabeth instinctively curled up in the chair to his left, an action she had habitually taken since childhood. She flipped through another book that had been taken from the shelf while she waited for him to finish his chapter.
"It is a great pleasure to see you back in your usual place, Lizzy. Longbourn has not been the same since you went away."
"I have missed you too, Papa," she said, returning the book where she had found it. She smiled warmly at him.
"And yet, your young man informs me he intends to take you away forever. 'Tis very ungenerous of him."
"You are not very unhappy with my news are you?" Elizabeth asked gently.
"Oh, I shall survive, if that is your meaning," he replied with a chuckle. "Though if I had known he wanted one of my daughters, I would have directed him toward Kitty or Mary to begin with."
Elizabeth laughed. "Not Lydia?"
"Oh, I am saving her for a very special kind of gentleman. I intend to amuse myself excessively in finding her a husband."
They both enjoyed a knowing laugh. "Papa."
"Yes, well," he murmured, watching her carefully. "You are a rare woman, Elizabeth. I should have known your intelligence would soon be appreciated by more than myself."
"Mr Darcy is the best of men, Father. I know I shall be very happy and cared for all the days of my life."
"Yes, yes, I suppose you shall, and better than I ever could have," Mr Bennet smiled. "I hope you will not forget us when you are Mrs Darcy."
"Never, Papa, you know that would impossible."
"I am sure your mother will now take delight in reminding you and everyone else that you are her child."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes with a smirk.
"A pity you and Jane were not my youngest. I would have had the pleasure of making you both take your time."
Elizabeth remained there with her father for some time, enjoying their usual comfortable silence. Truth be known, she had always relished being the one child always welcome in her father's study, while it was off-limits to the others. She knew she ought not take pleasure at being favoured, yet she had always been too happy to be in his company to regret his preference.
Mr Bennet was an enigma even to her at times. She did not understand many of his choices or actions, but as he had always turned a kind eye on herself, she had never thought to question him too deliberately. Even so, she was thankful that her own husband would not be so confusing and mysterious as her mother's. Darcy always told her his thoughts, as best he could, though one could discern it was not something he had made a habit of doing in the past. The fact that he was making an effort to do so for her was endearing. Fleetingly, she considered general unfairness that some found such love while others did not, but predisposed to happiness as she was, it only worried her for a moment. Indeed, the thought of some of her acquaintance, namely her mother or Mrs Philips, being violently in love with anyone seemed impossible. Perhaps the love she felt for Darcy was meant for those who felt deeply---with very good luck.
Monday, 24 August 1812
I confess my stay in Town has not been a pleasant one. Do not trouble yourself. Georgiana and I are very well---only anxious to again be in your company. I have acquired the marriage license and will bring the settlement papers for your father as soon as I am able.
I have heard from my cousins. Colonel Fitzwilliam is already in Town and has agreed to stand up with me on the blessed day. My other cousins, the Viscount and his wife, are expected to arrive any day. On the following one, we intend to all make for Hertfordshire as a procession.
Thank your mother for offering to accommodate us, but we shall have to decline. I believe a party of five and servants would undoubtedly disturb Longbourn too inconveniently. Rosemont, luckily, has a friend who possesses a small getaway estate not far from Meryton, and he has generously offered to make it available for our use.
Georgiana has encouraged me to write how happy she will be to see you again. My own feelings I am sure you well know, yet I feel I must express them again. Never mistake that I think you the dearest creature in the world, and my heart shall ache for you until the happy moment when I will see you again.
With all my love,
Elizabeth sighed as she closed his letter. In truth, she was actually enjoying her time at home. The months away had made the little town of Meryton somehow more endearing. Most of the people there she had known all of her life, and she enjoyed being amongst their simplicity again. As she knew this was the last bit of time she had as Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, she had resolved to relish the opportunity of saying a proper goodbye to her childhood home, no matter how terribly she missed Darcy.
Elizabeth had learned that the best time to write to her fiancé was early morning, before her mother and sisters came downstairs. At that time of day, the house was very quiet and lacked the pester of little sisters, stretching their necks to see what she was writing to Mr Darcy.
Tuesday, 25 August 1812
I will not ask questions of your postponing an explanation of why your time in Town has not been pleasant. I trust you will speak of it when we meet again. My mother will be disappointed that you will not stay at Longbourn, and thus, I ask you to prepare yourself for her reaction to the news. For my part, I see the merit in your party staying elsewhere. Longbourn has the tendency of feeling over-crowded as it is, and I would be very sorry to scandalise your relations!
In contrast, my time in Hertfordshire has been very enjoyable. It has been very good to meet with old friends again. Jane and Bingley have written that we may expect them on Monday. Mama has expressed her displeasure that they plan to be coming and going so briefly, but Jane had written that they intend to travel southward after the wedding. I think it a very good idea as they have scarcely taken time to celebrate their own marriage.
I am very glad to know Colonel Fitzwilliam has agreed to stand up with you. I look forward to meeting him and your other cousins when you arrive. Please tell Georgiana that I have missed her, too, and look forward to seeing her again. As you might have expected, my mother has been very meticulous with every detail for our wedding, and while we have enjoyed several dinners and dances in the neighbourhood, the rest of my time is now spent confined to the house and helping her with planning. However, I must say that despite popular belief, I am certainly not as useful a bride as other ladies, and I suspect my poor mother would get on much better if she did not seek my assistance.
Nevertheless, I am certain that our wedding shall rival the splendour of Jane's as, my mother tells me, is only right. I do confess, however, that it would have been more convenient for me had you been a member of the clergy, as my mother restrained herself considerably for Mary's wedding to Mr Collins.
Come soon, Fitzwilliam, for I am sure my mother has many ideas to abuse you with before the happy day, Thursday next, as do I. You are sorely missed, and I long to have you with me again.
Your (very impertinent) Elizabeth
Darcy's shoulders heaved with the residual anger that remained from the afternoon. He had known when he determined to marry Elizabeth that all of the internal conflict he had overcome would again be manifested through his uncle, Lord Desham. Indeed, the anger that pressed against his breast burned white-hot at the memory of his uncle's thoughtless words. He closed his eyes against the recollection, yet it was not an interaction he would soon forget.
"Out of all the insipid, ill-judged, and humiliating things you could have done, Darcy, I believe this is certainly the most ridiculous! I had thought better of you than to throw everything away on a useless country miss! Of all people to be taken in by a fortune hunter! George Darcy's son, no less."
Darcy had stood silent, his own expression conveying the fury he felt.
"Thoughtless! From you, of whom we expected everything! You could have had any number of suitable ladies, even your cousin, Anne, would have been appropriate, if you did not care for the business of choosing a wife. Darcy, I demand you abandon this genuinely absurd notion at once!"
"I am only determined to promote my own happiness and that of the woman I love," Darcy replied quietly. "I was not at all inconvenienced with the responsibility of choosing a wife and chose a lady I held in high esteem and affection."
"The woman you love!" the earl mimicked hotly. "Darcy, the woman you love has looped you, no doubt by disgracing herself, into a marriage that must be impossible. This is a match based upon deceit and artful behaviour, and I will not stand by and allow you to make yourself a fool. You dishonour us all to promote your contemptible happiness! How could you ever be happy knowing what you have done to us?"
"I have done nothing to you, sir. It is you who is determined to connect yourself in my affairs."
"As head of this family I am inextricably connected with all of your affairs!" Lord Desham roared. "You will abandon this plan."
"I will not."
"And so you are determined to see the further ruination of our name? A name built upon generations of respectability and pride? You will make yourself and your wife ridiculous in the way my son has done. Would you have the world speak of this woman as they have Gregory's?"
Darcy said nothing, the tightening of his jaw the only indication he had heard.
"You have a responsibility to this family! You must think sensibly lest we be forced to turn our backs on you."
Darcy shook his head. "You will do no such thing."
"Do not test my resolve, Darcy, you will be sorely disappointed."
"What of Georgiana? You turn from me and she will suffer for it."
The earl ignored Darcy's point, signifying its truth. Yet he persisted. "I cannot disown my son, Darcy, but for you I have no such obligation."
"I beg your pardon, sir, but you imply that it is within your power to disown me. That would be impossible, sir, for I am beholden to no man, and I am not yours to dismiss as you please. While I respect your feelings and feel the honour of our connection, I am not your son, and my respectability---everything that is mine---is no one's for the giving or taking. At the death of my father, I became my own man with a man's responsibilities, and I will answer to no person for my actions. I am thankful for our connection, sir, and I hold your authority in great esteem. However, where that ends is when you attempt to impose yourself on my private matters. I will not heed the demands of a man who asks me to cast aside the woman meant by G-d to be my wife. I will not permit you to come into my home and address me as you would an ignorant child. You will respect the wife of my choosing, or you will no longer be welcome in my home or the lives of the people who reside there. Have I made myself clear?"
"And this is how you speak to your elders? To your mother's brother, no less!" the earl exclaimed, his eyes wide with outrage.
"It is how I will address any person who enters my home and dares to question my judgment, who insults my fiancée with the intent of disrespecting me in every possible way."
Uncle and nephew glared at one another silently for several moments, neither willing to abandon their position. Any person who happened to see them in those moments would have remarked on how clearly they favoured. The same dark expression, the same square jaw set in stubborn fury, both feeling themselves to be completely in the right. It was Darcy that spoke first.
"If you have nothing further to say to me, I must ask you to leave, for on this subject, I do not intend to yield."
Lord Desham seethed in anger as he turned to leave. "May I be thankful your father is dead, that he be spared of knowing what his son has become."
Darcy started visibly at such a cruel sentiment. His eyes flared with barely tethered rage.
"Be gone!" he boomed.
"It is my wish that we never meet again."
"On something, at least, we are in perfect agreement," Darcy had replied evenly.
In the hours that had passed since the interaction, Darcy had remained as incensed as he had been watching Lord Desham turn his back and angrily leave the room. He had suspected the earl would not be pleased with his decision, but he had not expected such angry and hateful words to pass between them. Nevertheless, Darcy did not regret the things he had said or his decision to marry Elizabeth. Nothing in his life could promise him a happiness that rivalled what he felt for her. If it required estrangement from his uncle, so be it. They had never been particularly close in any case---none of his relations had been there in those dark hours after his father's death and in the subsequent months as he struggled to take over and preserve all that Mr Darcy, Sr. had left behind.
He had been alone then, save for his cousins and Georgiana, and he could no longer contemplate his uncle's interference in his personal life. Desham had never shown him consideration when he needed it most, and Darcy was not willing to accept it now. It had been a very long time since he had allowed himself to need anybody, and even so, never so much as he knew he needed Elizabeth. He would not allow others to stand in the way of his happiness ever again. He had played by the rules and lost. Life from this point would be on his own terms, and he would not apologise to anyone for the choices he had made. He would choose happiness, and he would choose Elizabeth.
Posted on November 19,2008
"Lizzy, sit down!" Lydia complained. "You are standing in my light!"
Elizabeth looked back at her sister apologetically, seeing Lydia was redecorating a bonnet. In truth, she owned her restlessness must have been distracting. She expected Darcy to arrive every moment and had difficulty remaining still. She rolled her eyes at her behaviour. To have to be scolded to her senses by Lydia of all people! She sat down and picked up her book. She had been on the same page all morning. She simply could not make herself concentrate on the words. All she could think of was Darcy and how she would see him that day. She felt very silly, but there it was.
Darcy cursed as the carriage rattled over another pothole. He looked up to see his sister watching him curiously. He blushed at using such language in front of her.
"Forgive me," he sighed.
"You are in quite a temper today."
"I am only anxious for this trip to be over."
"And to see Miss Bennet," Georgiana supplied smugly.
Darcy turned his head to gaze out the window.
"Do not worry, Brother, I am sure she waits longingly for you in Hertfordshire."
Darcy glared at her, and she laughed.
"The carriage ride is hurting my back," he complained petulantly.
"You always say so, and then you take off on your horse the first chance you get," Georgiana replied, letting him know he was not so mysterious as he thought.
He glanced at Mrs Annesley, only to see her looking serenely out the window. He rolled his eyes and huffed again.
Ten minutes of book reading had still not found Elizabeth on a new page. Finally, she gave in and resolved to take a walk. She supposed that as long as she remained near the house, she would know when the Darcys arrived. As soon as she was outdoors, she broke into a run down the hill in an attempt to give relief to the nervous energy she felt. When she got to the bottom, she laughed and spun around and around childishly.
It was a beautiful autumn day, the sun was shining, the air was beginning to crisp and Elizabeth felt all the relief being out of doors can bring. The four walls of Longbourn had done little to ease her anxiety, but in the fresh air, she felt less constricted. After the previous autumn, there was no way that particular field could escape her memories of Darcy. How many times had they walked this way together during his stay at Netherfield? So much had passed since then, it seems so long ago, and yet just like yesterday.
Elizabeth turned her head at the familiar voice. "Charlotte!" she cried, and they embraced laughing.
"It has been so long since I have seen you, I wondered if it truly was you there. But then I heard your laughter and knew it was you."
"It seems so long since we have walked this way together."
"I do not know if I said so at the Heeleys' the other night, but I am truly happy for you, Lizzy," Charlotte said, linking arms with her.
"The first time I saw you and Mr Darcy together, I knew how it would be."
"How can that be so?"
"He always displayed a particular regard for you."
"You mean he did not ignore me altogether," Elizabeth laughed.
"Yes," Charlotte smiled. "I suppose that was it. You will be very much missed in this part of the world, my friend."
Elizabeth leaned her head against Charlotte's shoulder. "I hope we shall always be friends."
"Look, Lizzy, a carriage has pulled up."
"Oh!" Elizabeth cried, releasing Charlotte's arm and hurrying back up the hill.
For as long as he lived, Darcy would never forget the sight of Elizabeth spinning and laughing amongst a sea of dandelions. She looked so beautiful and carefree that had he not been so in love, he would have fallen again and again until there was nothing else. The carriage moved again from view of Longbourn, but Darcy remained mesmerized. His heart thundered impatiently in his chest for the few minutes left before their arrival. He was passively aware that Georgiana had said something, but he was lost to it, for up the hill Elizabeth came running, and he was out of the carriage to greet her. Mindlessly, he handed down his sister before turning back to Elizabeth and kissing her fingers. She stared up at him, smiling as she caught her breath.
Charlotte cleared her throat, and they both snapped out of their trance. Distractedly, Elizabeth turned her head as if noticing their friends for the first time. She stepped back and Darcy dropped her hands. Only then he realized Miss Lucas was there.
"Forgive me," he said, recovering himself. "Miss Lucas, please allow me to introduce my sister, Georgiana."
"I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy," Charlotte said, obviously amused by the display she had just witnessed.
At length, Charlotte excused herself, and Mr Darcy and his sister were escorted into Longbourn where Mrs Bennet greeted them with enthusiasm. Darcy looked over to discern his sister's reaction, noting surprise and fatigue. In his haste to see Elizabeth, he had thoughtlessly brought her along. Georgiana endured the conversation of Mrs Bennet and her daughters as best she could, though he saw she was exhausted. A glance confirmed she was intimidated by Elizabeth's mother. Nevertheless, he had come to see Elizabeth, and he could not bring himself to leave again without even a moment alone with her.
"Mrs Bennet, I wonder if I might have a private audience with Miss Bennet?" he asked only to see his little sister look over to him, eyes wide as saucers. "I will only be a moment and then we must be going."
"Of course!" Mrs Bennet exclaimed. "Lizzy, take him to the day room."
Obediently, Elizabeth rose from her chair and guided Darcy away from the others. As soon as the door was safely closed, Darcy pulled Elizabeth into his arms and kissed her, conveying how sorely she had been missed in the week away.
"We cannot stay long," he whispered. "Georgiana is very tired, but I could not depart without a moment with you. I am so glad to see you, Lizzy."
He relished the feel of her cheek pressed against his chest.
"I am glad you came, if only for a short time. I have had my eye on the road all afternoon watching for you."
He kissed her again, leaving them both flushed and breathless. They remained together in that way for several minutes, collecting themselves, and holding one another close.
"I love you, Lizzy," he said, smoothing the errant curl that had fallen upon her forehead. "And come Thursday you will be my wife."
"Yes," she smiled at the thought. "It cannot come soon enough."
A few minutes later, the Darcys had gone, leaving Elizabeth standing in the doorway, her lips still tingling from his kisses.
"Miss Bennet, Miss Catherine Bennet, and Miss Lydia Bennet for you, sir."
"Bring them in," Rosemont said with a smile. The whole party found themselves very cheerful that moment, as Colonel Fitzwilliam had just told them a very amusing story about a bumbling man unintentionally assaulting a shopkeeper.
Everyone rose to greet the Bennet sisters. Elizabeth's quick eyes took in all of their appearances. She saw a pleasant man and woman seated close together, both elegantly dressed, though not in an officious sort of way. The other gentleman then, could only be Colonel Fitzwilliam, though his uniform made that all the more obvious. She could discern by their genuine expressions that they were very pleasant people.
"Elizabeth, Miss Catherine, Miss Lydia, allow me to present my cousins, The Viscount and Lady Rosemont, and Colonel Fitzwilliam," Darcy spoke. When the initial pleasantries had been exchanged, they were all seated again, with Elizabeth and her sisters placed beside Mr Darcy. It took Elizabeth only a few moments to see that Lady Rosemont was both young and shy. That she would have such a formidable title was almost farcical, for this woman was no more commanding that Georgiana. Nevertheless, Kitty and Lydia sat in awe of her. Elizabeth felt the need to draw the lady out.
"And how do you like Hertfordshire, Lady Rosemont, does it suit well?
"Very well, Miss Bennet, I thank you," her voice was also very quiet and sweet.
"I am so pleased you will be with us for the wedding. I have met very few of Mr Darcy's relations."
Lady Rosemont blushed. "I am a very new relation myself, Miss Bennet. But Gregory was very glad to come as soon as Mr Darcy wrote to him."
Elizabeth smiled as Lady Rosemont placed her hand lightly on the Viscount's forearm, and the couple shared a loving glance. Darcy had not exaggerated the couple's regard for one another. She felt Darcy's hand brush hers, and she smiled up at him. Hello, she mouthed, and he dipped his chin graciously with a small smile.
Too late, Elizabeth realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam had seated himself near Kitty and Lydia. Immediately, their quiet awe of Lady Rosemont transferred to noisy giggles and conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"I hope you do not plan to leave the neighbourhood after the wedding, Colonel, our hearts will be broken!" Lydia informed him. "Our friends will never believe we have sat with such a handsome colonel."
"Lydia," Elizabeth whispered in admonishment.
"Sir William will certainly host an assembly if he knew you all were here," Kitty added.
"You must dance with us all!" Lydia finished.
Elizabeth felt the mortified blush creep up her neck. In the months away from them, Elizabeth had quite forgotten the painful embarrassment her sisters could evoke. She was surprised to hear the booming laughter than came from the Viscount.
The gentleman elbowed his brother very hard as he said, "Well, we cannot permit the breaking of any hearts can we, Edward?"
The colonel turned his head, and Elizabeth perceived the wide smile he also wore. She exhaled as her ease was recovered.
"I daresay if there are assemblies and dancing while we are here, it would be beyond me to avoid it. I would quite like to become better acquainted with you all," the colonel replied genuinely.
Mindlessly, Elizabeth turned to Darcy to gauge his disapproval, but found him looking down at her, obviously more concerned with how she managed her sisters' behaviour than any other person.
"Miss Bennet?" came the soft voice of Lady Rosemont. "I wonder if you would take the air with me?"
Elizabeth smiled. "Of course," she grazed her hand lightly on Darcy's knee as she rose and followed the lady out of doors. They walked in silence for some time, and Elizabeth was just beginning to search for some sort of conversation when her companion spoke.
"Thank you for walking out with me, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth gifted her with a smile. "I love walking. I was more than eager to accept your offer."
"I hope you will not think me presumptuous, Miss Bennet, but I did want to speak to you. You see, I am so glad to meet Gregory's relations, new and old."
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed encouragingly.
"You must not worry about your sisters' behaviour in his presence. Gregory is not like most men of his station. He sees such enthusiasm for what it is---the brightness of youth. He will not fault them for it."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "That is very kind, however, his opinion is not a popular one in general."
Lady Rosemont seemed fidgeted a bit. "I did not offend you?"
"No," Elizabeth chuckled. "It is no secret that my younger sisters can be a bit challenging."
"I did not mean to say---forgive me."
Elizabeth endeavoured to change the subject. "Mr Darcy tells me you are very lately married yourself."
"Yes, we have not been married a year."
"You both seem very happy."
"Yes," Lady Rosemont agreed softly. "We are very fortunate."
They walked in silence a while longer, as Elizabeth was at a loss for conversation, and none came from her companion.
"I do not suppose it is possible that you have not heard," Lady Rosemont said, breaking the silence at last. "You must know I am responsible for the upset in your fiancé's family."
Elizabeth did not know how to respond. She inclined her head in the affirmative but did not venture a reply.
"I never meant to cause so much trouble."
"Sometimes trouble is unavoidable."
Lady Rosemont smiled sadly. "I believe my husband to know his own mind well enough to make decisions that promote his own happiness. It was how I finally reconciled myself to accepting him. In the beginning, I refused him."
Elizabeth glanced at her companion in surprise.
"I knew the difference in our lives---what was meant for us in our respective stations. It was madness to think I would be accepted amiably as his wife. How could I willingly enter into an agreement that would only harm his reputation in the eyes of the world? It would have been the height of selfishness, I believed. I cried for two days after he left---I loved him with all my heart, Miss Bennet."
"But he came back to you?" Elizabeth encouraged, now fully interested.
"Yes, he came back. He said he would not accept my refusal, knowing as he did of my feelings for him. I do not know if I ought to regret my actions, but I chose to trust him.
"When you accepted Mr Darcy's proposal, he wrote to my husband, and thus I know all that you have overcome together. I have never felt such happiness in my life as I do with Gregory, and for that reason I cannot regret my choice. As long as my husband does not regret, I never will. I have said all of this to one end, Miss Bennet. I wanted you to know that I feel for the magnitude of your present happiness, and I know what apprehension you may be feeling to be joining a family who disapproves of you, though to a lesser degree, as you are a gentleman's daughter. I wanted to tell you that Gregory and I feel nothing but joy for your marriage, and that I hope...more particularly, that we might be friends."
At the end of the lady's speech, Elizabeth felt tears welling in her eyes, so touched was she at the gesture. "I would like that very much, Lady Rosemont. You cannot know how much you confiding in me has meant. I would be very honoured to call you my friend.
"Then please, you must call me Lillian."
"Only if you agree to call me Elizabeth."
With this new agreement, the ladies turned back to the house, chatting cheerfully about the upcoming wedding. Elizabeth felt all the significance of Lady Rosemont's point to make her acquaintance more particularly. She was both pleased and glad to have made such an unlikely friend. Come what may from their husbands' family, they each would now have an ally.
The moment they rejoined the others, Elizabeth locked eyes with Darcy. The warmth of his gaze made her stomach flutter. She seated herself beside him and inclined her head in his direction. Quietly, she related the reason for her excursion with Lady Rosemont.
"I had hoped to gain a few moments with you myself," he said where only she could hear.
Elizabeth smiled at the note of peevishness in his voice. "Perhaps you might suggest another excursion before we leave."
Darcy did not reply, and she knew her idea was likely too obvious. "Will you visit Longbourn tomorrow?"
He shook his head. "I will try, but tomorrow will be a very busy day for us both."
Elizabeth sighed. It seemed they would not gain another chance to speak alone before their wedding.
"You might suggest we all walk out?"
He nodded gently, but did not look hopeful.
"My sisters did not embarrass themselves too severely in my absence, I hope."
"Miss Lydia might have embarrassed a lesser man, but Fitzwilliam is fortunate enough to possess a quick mind and easy conversation. I believe both of my cousins have opted to be amused by her remarks."
"Very generous of them," she whispered, eyeing her sisters warily.
"Where is your elder sister today? I had thought she would have been with you."
"She has gone into Meryton with my mother. An acquaintance of ours, Mrs Evans, has died. They have gone to pay their respects."
"Ah," he replied. "I am sorry to hear it."
"How does Georgiana fare?"
"She fares as best she can in this, as well as any conversation," he sighed. And they both looked to Georgiana just as she was looking over to them. Discreetly, she rose and sat next to her brother. Elizabeth could barely hear her voice as she spoke.
"Brother, I will suggest a walk, and you may invite Elizabeth."
Elizabeth glanced gratefully as Darcy's little sister. When Darcy agreed, she did just as she suggested, and soon the three of them set out on Elizabeth's second walk of the afternoon, Georgiana walking ahead.
"Your sister is very thoughtful."
"And I very thankful," Darcy laughed.
"In but two days, we will no longer require artfulness to be together."
"It cannot come quickly enough."
"No," Elizabeth agreed. Once Georgiana had turned a corner, Darcy led Elizabeth to the side of the house and claimed his first kiss of the day. Happily, she ran her fingers through his hair, resting them at the nape of his neck.
"Fitzwilliam, will you tell me why your trip to Town was so unpleasant?" she said when they had resumed their walk.
Darcy grimaced, and Elizabeth wondered if she might be better off not knowing. "My uncle and I quarrelled, as I had expected we would. He used every method available to persuade me to reconsider my engagement. His only success was to infuriate me without repair. We did not part on cordial or speaking terms. I have rarely been so angry in my life."
"Fitzwilliam, I never meant to create a breach within your family, I---"
"Elizabeth, it matters not, I want you to be my wife. I cannot do without you, such is my love. I will not permit any person in my life that refuses to give the proper respect that is due to you as my wife. You are my family, as are those who value happiness over the frivolities of wealth and social standing. Your place is with me, and if there are those who wish to deny that truth, they will find themselves very unwelcome in my life," he said with vehement determination. "I am not fool enough to make the same mistake twice."
Elizabeth did not reply, instead she clutched his arm all the more possessively as they walked. Eventually, she said gently, "I care for nothing if I may be with you. If you do not regret, neither shall I." She smiled at the sentiment so reminiscent of what Lady Rosemont had said of herself only an hour before.
When the visit came to an end, the Bennet girls returned to Longbourn. As Darcy had predicted, the following day was a long one. As the addition of Jane and Bingley had added to the already chaotic scene, the house now buzzed with the last minute preparations and emotions. In the afternoon, Elizabeth received a note from Darcy expressing his regrets at not being available to visit on this last day of their engagement.
In spite of her family's general silliness, Elizabeth chose to spend the day enjoying her final hours at home as Miss Bennet. Tomorrow, everything would change, and though she welcomed her marriage, she also knew it had truly been a favour to have grown up in such a noisy house with lots of noisy people. Longbourn had character, and the constant buzz of activity, friends, and laughter had shaped her into the happy, compassionate, and easy creature she was now. That evening, the Bennets all sat together at dinner, with only Mr Bingley in Mary's place creating variance to how they had passed dinner all of Elizabeth's life.
"Upon my word, I have never seen such a handsome corpse as Mrs Evans!" her mother related once they were all settled. Immediately Mr Bingley began coughing, and Elizabeth knew he had inhaled some of his soup. She bit her lips and took a sip of water.
"Is that so?" Mr Bennet smiled. "Excellent."
"Oh yes, indeed. I can only hope I am as favoured to be looking so well when I am dead," his wife replied.
Lydia snorted and rolled her eyes.
"I may be mistaken, my dear," Mr Bennet began, cutting his meat, "but I was not aware that the deceased cared for such finery."
"Lord, who cares what a person looks like when they are dead?" Lydia cried, obviously put-out by the topic.
"Your mother is determined to always look her best, Lydia. If someone were to dig her up, she would not want to alarm them with her appearance."
Jane and Elizabeth shared an amused look as Elizabeth stifled her laughter behind a napkin.
"You know, she did not look too young or too old, she looked exactly as she ought," Mrs Bennet continued, ignoring them.
Mr Bennet chuckled. "Mrs Evans was just right then, aye, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth lowered her napkin and cast her father an amused, but warning look.
"I shall never forget when Mrs Cox died, and they had her looking so very young. Why, she looked to be only thirty-five, though she was nearly twice that. Everyone went on and on with how well she looked. For my part, I think a person ought to be looking their own age when they are shown."
"I suppose you found Mrs Evans to be looking every day of her sixty years," Mr Bennet smiled.
"I should not care at all how I am looking when I am dead. I shall be dead!" Kitty insisted.
"Yes, you do, foolish girl! Would you have the whole neighbourhood speaking of how ill you looked?"
And thus began an argument where Kitty maintained she would not care, and Mrs Bennet insisted she would. It was only when they were leaving the table that the subject was abandoned.
Elizabeth went to bed that night, her head full of the past, present, and future. Her family at Longbourn would always be her family. They were silly and oft embarrassing, but they were all dear to her in their own ways. Now she had her wedding on the morrow, and it was time to say goodbye to them all and go away with her husband. She looked forward to it with all her heart, but it would be foolish to say she would not miss them.
Lydia and Kitty had insisted she stay with them that night, and so she found herself in between both of them on the bed, enduring their customary bickering and now their questioning her about how excited she must have been. It was late into the night when she got them to be silent, and even later before she closed her own eyes. A mixture of anticipation and nervousness swirled in her head. Tomorrow everything would change. The last thought she had before falling asleep was wondering if Darcy lay awake as she did, and wondering if his thoughts tended in the same direction. The thought of Darcy and his kisses calmed her, and soon she drifted off into a dreamless slumber, the moonlight in the window already casting radiance on the promise tomorrow would bring.
Elizabeth smoothed her frock with shaking hands.
"Oh Lizzy, you are so beautiful," Jane breathed as she fussed with the already perfect arrangement of curls atop Elizabeth's head.
Elizabeth smiled but did not reply. She was exceedingly nervous, and her fingers continued to shake as she adjusted the neckline of her dress. The day was here at last, and it at once seemed very real, yet dreamlike. Countless times she had whispered in disbelief, "This is my wedding day." As she murmured it again, she felt her heart flutter. No, it would not be real until she saw Darcy. Lydia and Kitty came in then, both also expressing how beautiful she looked.
"Mr Darcy will be wild in love with you when she sees you," Kitty advised.
"He is already wild in love with her, Kitty," Lydia argued. "He looks at her as though his eyes will pop out of his head. They will have ten children before anyone knows it."
"Lydia!" Elizabeth and Jane admonished simultaneously.
"Oh well, never you mind," Lydia laughed. "I am sure you will be happy together, but you must promise to have him smile more, Lizzy!"
"Lydia, I have no such control over Mr Darcy's facial expressions," Elizabeth advised, gently placing her bonnet over her hair.
"Make haste, girls, it is almost time!" Mrs Bennet called from down the hall.
Elizabeth found her father waiting for them in the foyer. They stepped into a tight hug that conveyed to Elizabeth just how much love her father felt, giving her away this day. After a while, he offered her his arm, and she took it. There was a sad silence between them today, as each of their hearts was heavy at the prospect of parting. Next to Jane, her father would be the most difficult to leave behind.
In those last moments, she clutched his arm tightly, allowing him to be her protector for those remaining minutes. He looked down at her, and she smiled dearly at him. As they were poised to enter the church, she turned her face toward his ear and whispered, "There will always be a place in my heart that is yours alone, Papa."
His response was to take a deep breath and pat her hand affectionately. Together they faced Mr Darcy and the rector, who waited for them at the end of the aisle. It was at that moment that the acceptance of reality weighed upon her. When Mr Bennet placed her hand in Darcy's, a wave of elation washed over her, and she felt the significance of what was about to happen to her life. She looked into Darcy's eyes as tears slid down her cheeks.
The ceremony was quick but heartfelt, as nary a bride and groom spoke their vows so honestly as did Darcy and Elizabeth. When they were pronounced man and wife, a smile like she had never seen graced Darcy's already handsome features.
Today I am Mrs Darcy, she thought one last time as Darcy led her out of the church. She laughed brightly as the coins were thrown in the air around her.
The wedding breakfast had been lovely, though Darcy was sure he would not have noticed if it had been poorly done. The sort of joy he experienced, he reckoned, was the sort that only comes once in a lifetime. Now, riding in the carriage, he clutched Elizabeth's gloved hand tightly, kissing it another time with every minute that passed.
When he had seen her make her way down the aisle on the arm of her father, his breath had caught in his chest. He had never loved another person as he did Elizabeth and felt all the solemnity necessary to earnestly accept her as his wife for now to all eternity. They had survived so much, inflicted upon them from the world, and some his own doing, but they had made it through those dark times. She had such a rosy blush on her cheeks as she smiled up to him just then. She had told him in a private moment that there was nothing she desired more than being his wife. His heart had grown three sizes since they had met, and she had taught him what it meant to love unconditionally.
He leaned down so his lips were near her ear and whispered, "You are unbelievably lovely today, my own."
She blushed deeper. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam. How can I express how happy I am to know I shall never have to do without you again?"
"I believe you just did," he laughed.
"I am not afraid."
"Neither am I."
"Never again," she said as he pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Soon though, their conversation lulled, and Elizabeth fell asleep against his shoulder.
At length, they came to a stop in front of the Darcy townhouse in London. Darcy nudged his new wife to wake and easily helped her down from the carriage. They sat through a simple dinner, and ended their evening by retiring almost abruptly afterward.
As Elizabeth waited for her husband to join her, she reflected upon all that had happened since she had first met Mr Darcy. In less than a year's time, the Bennets had married three of their five daughters, leaving only Kitty and Lydia at home. How many times had she thought herself destined to be the last sister at Longbourn? She had never allowed herself to hope that things would end in such a happy way.
She looked around her new accommodations and was astonished by its beauty. Her bedroom was adorned in cream and ivory coloured bedding. The walls themselves were decorated with the fine linings of flowered wallpaper. Beside the bed, there lay a table where Elizabeth had found a new mirror and hairbrush left as a wedding present from her husband. Everything in the room was new to her, and yet she embraced its cosiness as she settled herself amongst the bed-pillows.
Elizabeth turned her head to see Darcy's dear face, watching her with trepidation. She smiled in a way she hoped would ease the nervousness he obviously felt. In invitation, she held her hands out, beckoning him to join her there. When they were settled in the plush blankets of her bed, Elizabeth curled next to him and rested her chin on his shoulder.
"I am so happy, Fitzwilliam."
"As am I," he said, running his fingers tenderly down her back.
"Mama! Papa! Look!" Claire Darcy cried as she ceased her running ahead and stopped to pick up a treasure she had found near the water.
"Claire, make sure that shell does not have any inhabitants before you pick it up," Darcy warned as he shifted his infant son's weight to his other arm. Little Gregory gurgled happily as his mother tickled his feet from beside them. Eventually, they caught up with Claire, who was collecting many a precious seashell in her skirts.
The Darcys had arrived at Darnwell only yesterday, a tradition they had kept every Easter since their marriage five years earlier. Since then, the Bingleys had added two very well-mannered children to their brood, and the Darcys were expecting their third. If it was warm enough, as it was this year, the entire family would traipse down to the beach to enjoy a picnic by the sea and this outing resulted in Claire's preoccupation with seashell collecting.
Elizabeth seated herself beside Jane on the blanket and opened her arms for little Charles to tumble into her lap. His cherubic blond hair and blue eyes had always served as a weakness for his Aunt Lizzy, who could never resist a cuddle from him. As Claire was making herself very messy with all the sand, Darcy handed Gregory to Jane and went to see to her.
With time, Jane had been able to abandon her own prejudices against her brother-in-law, and she had learned to look on him with respect, rather than distrust. Even she could not fault how fervently he loved Elizabeth, and it heartened her to know that her dear Lizzy had gotten her happy ending after all.
Lord and Lady Desham had never quite forgiven Darcy or their son for such imprudent marriages, but time and the desire to present a united front in society had beckoned them to accept what they could not change. Nevertheless, for Darcy, the relationship with his uncle would be forever strained by the terrible conversation that had preceded their estrangement.
As Lady Rosemont had hoped, she and Elizabeth had become the dearest of friends and had corresponded regularly over the years. Georgiana, who had yet to marry, was currently visiting with them for the holiday.
Elizabeth turned her head at the sound of her daughter's laughter and saw her husband holding Claire over the water to rinse her hands of sand.
"The sun is setting," Jane remarked, mildly. "We had better be going in."
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed, but made no move to do so. Over the years, she had never shaken her love of ocean twilights and watched mesmerized as the orange and pink sun melted into the water. In the background, she could hear the delighted laughter of Edward Bingley as his father chased him away from the water. In less than a few moments, Jane had managed to pack up their picnic and was calling at Edward and his father to tell them that she was going in with Charles. As usual, the Darcys lagged behind, all holding hands as they walked slowly back inside, Elizabeth and Darcy's eyes watching as the sky fell into twilight.
"It never loses its beauty," Darcy remarked softly.
"The twilight?" Elizabeth sighed. "No, it gets better and better every time."
Darcy took her hand and brought it to his lips. Looking into her eyes, he said softly, "That it does."