Posted on 2012-07-02
Five days had never before seemed to be an overly lengthy amount of time to Fitzwilliam Darcy, but five days apart from his recently betrothed, did. Arranging the marriage settlement was taking just as long as one might expect; but for Darcy, whose heart had just realized its fondest wish, Friday seemed eons away.
As an anxious lover might, Fitzwilliam Darcy sought to occupy every waking moment to keep his mind - and body - distracted. He immersed himself in business, called on friends, lunched at his club, and spent time with his sister. More often than not, however, his thoughts bent towards his lovely Elizabeth - and lingered there: the lilt of her voice, the music in her laugh, the expressiveness of her eyes. He thought about her soft, sweet lips, of which he was allowed only the briefest taste. How smooth her skin; how graceful her carriage. Her touch. Her smile.
There was no response.
"Mr. Darcy? Are you listening to me?" The solicitor tore off his spectacles in a restrained expression of his frustration. Mr. Weston had served the Darcy family for over twenty years, and he had never been known for patience; what little he possessed had been sorely tried by Darcy's uncharacteristic distraction. "Truly," he grumbled, "you seem to be miles off. Are you well?"
Donning a somewhat sheepish smile, the gentleman, who had indeed been miles off, about twenty or so, in point of fact, responded, "I am quite well, Weston; pray, continue."
"I was merely saying that I will be able to finish the rest and have the papers prepared in the morning. You are free to go."
Darcy very nearly jumped out of his seat and shook the older man's hand with warmth. "Thank you sir; I am most pleased that it will be settled so quickly."
He turned to leave, but before he reached the door, Mr. Weston called out, "Darcy?"
"This Miss Bennet, she must be a special young woman."
"She is extraordinary," he said simply, with a grin, and the solicitor could do naught but smile with him.
He had seen that look - in the mirror, not thirty years before. With the door shut behind Darcy, Mr. Weston shook his head and chuckled. He was old enough to be annoyed by the young man's preoccupation, but not so old to have forgotten the thrilling sensation of love's first bloom. The young Mr. Darcy was in love; that was for certain. He must have been in order to disregard the fact that his intended was dowerless, and, if the rumors were true, wholly unconnected. As a second son of a wealthy landowner, Weston was no stranger to Society; he had a fairly good notion of how the Darcy marriage would be received by the ton. To own the truth, however, the young man had not seemed the least bit perturbed by the societal implications of his choice. "Good for him," Weston said to himself, then busily began working on the settlement, so he could return to his own wife.
Darcy, meanwhile, elated to be able to return to Elizabeth a day earlier than he had anticipated, set out in search of a gift for his dearest love. He went from one merchant to the next in a frenzy that would have tried the most exuberant of shoppers: fine jewels, dainty lace, even rare volumes - none of them seemed to suit. This gift - his first to her - had to be special; it had to be perfect. After a search comprised of several unsuccessful hours of trudging the streets of London, he went home, feeling bone weary and utterly defeated.
After taking a light repast, Darcy went to his room to examine the engagement ring he planned to give Elizabeth. It had been his mother's, and her mother's before her. It was a beautiful ring, with delicate bands of gold interlocking around a single round sapphire. It was unpretentious, graceful, and unique: like Elizabeth. He stared at it for some moments before he finally understood why the task of finding a gift for his love had been so difficult. He did not want this first token of his affection to be in any way a confirmation, or declaration, of his wealth. He won Elizabeth in spite of his position in society, not because of it, and until she was his in every way, he did not want to use it as leverage; there would be plenty of time to shower her with jewels. No; this gift would have to be born of the heart, not of the pocketbook.
An hour later, Fitzwilliam Darcy was in his study, surrounded by volume upon volume of poetry, and several balled up pieces of paper. He did not believe Elizabeth was in earnest when she said poetry had the power to drive love away, but after a few failed attempts - some of which might have induced the Bard himself to seek revenge - he decided not to risk it. Sighing, he sat back and picked up his beaten volume of Shakespeare's sonnets which had once belonged to his grandfather. He ran his fingers over the gold lettering; this book had been well read, and well-travelled. In fact, it was one of a few which he had taken with him to Netherfield the previous fall, and the one which he had found Elizabeth reading in the library that torturous Saturday morning when he fought against his feelings for her. He shook his head at the memory; how foolish he had been! He could no sooner close his heart against Elizabeth than stop its beating. It was beating rather rapidly now, he realized. Taking a deep breath, he looked back at the volume in his hands. It had followed him to Rosings where Elizabeth had soundly rejected him. He shuddered at the thought of a life without her, opened the book, and smiled to himself as something fluttered out from within, thereby solving his dilemma.
Mr. Weston blew out the candles in his study, grabbed his greatcoat, and strode purposefully toward the door and his awaiting carriage. He was to dine at his elder brother's house that evening, where his wife awaited him. This was not an unpleasant prospect; the two families were very close, and did not stand on ceremony, but he was quite anxious to see his wife.
The short carriage ride gave Mr. Weston a little time for reflection. He was well-satisfied with his life; he had married well - not necessarily in terms of fortune, but in greater matters: of spirit, of respect, of intellect. His wife, Margaret, was a vibrant, lively woman who had borne him two beautiful children, now married themselves. She challenged him, teased him, and intrigued him. Had he married a woman of greater fortune, he might have been able to manage a life of leisure, but he could not have chosen better for himself: he chose for love.
After waving off the footman who greeted him, Mr. Weston found Margaret, sitting, alone, in a small parlor, curled into a settee below a window as she buried herself in a volume of Blake's poems. This was not an unusual sight, but one which he had taken for granted of late, and one which, on this day, he found to be uncommonly lovely. At seven and forty, age had not diminished her beauty in his eyes, but instead, had lent her a greater elegance than she had known as a debutante.
"Margaret," he breathed.
His wife looked up at him, and smiled warmly. "How did you fare today, Simon?"
"Quite well, but I cannot tell you how good it is to be home."
"I would say that I agree with you," she laughed lightly, "except that we are not, in fact, at home, my dear."
"Oh, but that is where you are wrong, my darling; for home is wherever I am with you."
The maid who came to announce that supper was ready was a mite surprised, but not the least bit displeased, to find the middle-aged couple in the midst of a tender embrace. She smiled, and backed out of the room slowly; no mention was made of their late entrance to supper.
Mr. Bennet chuckled at the soft humming which floated just below his library window. The sound had become more joyful, and more frequent, since Elizabeth had become betrothed to Mr. Darcy. However sorry he was to lose his favorite to any man, he could not deny her obvious happiness, and it pleased him enormously to see that the young man valued her as much as he did. Setting his book down, he ventured into the drawing room where his wife of four and twenty years sat, quietly looking over the latest fashions in wedding gowns.
Mrs. Bennet would never be accused of being too sensible a woman; indeed, she would always be rather nervous and silly, but here and now, as she sat, almost serenely, Mr. Bennet was reminded of the beauty and vivacity which drew him to her all those years ago. She looked up, and saw her husband, leaning into the doorway, with his arms crossed against his chest. Their marriage had aged him, but he still cut quite a dashing figure, and as she met his eye, she saw that he was smiling at her - not a smirk of sardonic mockery, but a smile of true affection; she blinked in surprise, and blushed in spite of herself.
"Oh Mr. Bennet!" she exclaimed, "I still cannot believe our good fortune. To think that our girls will be so well settled; I know not what to say! God has been very good to us!"
As she was speaking, Mr. Bennet moved towards his wife, and, placing a tender kiss upon the crown of her head, he quietly agreed, "Indeed He has, Mrs. Bennet."
Jane Bennet would never tell a soul - excepting Lizzy, of course - what she witnessed when she walked past the drawing room at that moment, but as she tiptoed on, she brushed a joyous tear from her face.
As Elizabeth walked further from Longbourn, her humming flagged and her frustration increased. Her betrothed would return on the morrow, and she had naught to offer him. Every attempt to select a gift had failed her. The shops in Meryton had limited wares; none of them especially rare or fine - nothing Fitzwilliam could not buy himself - or did not already have, for that matter. What does one give a man who has the ability to procure that which he desires at a moment's notice? Not even the good bookseller could help her; his less common titles had been picked through, and a new shipment was not expected until the following week. She thought to embroider some handkerchiefs, but though her needlework was passable, she was by no means proficient in the art, and she did not want to sully her first gift to the man who had come to represent her most tender hopes; he, who offered her everything.
She had accepted his hand; all she had to give him in return was her heart, and as he had stood, waiting for her response to his renewed declaration, she did not even have the presence of mind to fluently give him that. Instead, Elizabeth merely accepted his assurances with gratitude and pleasure. That she loved him, she was certain - how could she not? He was determined yet patient; noble and generous. He was intelligent - more so than anyone she knew. He had given his love freely, and humbled himself before her. He was handsome - extraordinarily so, and passionate, with a fire in his eyes than left her feeling quite weak: she wanted to leave this man in no doubt of her affection.
She petulantly kicked a rock aside as she continued her ramble. Stopping beneath a large oak, she closed her eyes and leaned back, resting her head against the solid trunk, and sighed deeply. Quite oddly, she felt a warmth and security that had been absent since Fitzwilliam had departed four days before. Elizabeth opened her eyes and grinned: she had an idea.
Darcy could not believe his good fortune; Elizabeth had been out walking when he arrived at Longbourn, and Mr. Bennet was good enough to inform him of the general direction in which she had gone. His hands trembled slightly with anticipation. The autumn leaves crunched beneath his boots with each determined stride, and before long, his eagerness was rewarded. Elizabeth ambled along a slow incline, bonnet in hand, as she neared the top of a hill. He watched, captivated, as she stopped and surveyed the landscape before her. He might have stayed longer, to watch the wind play with her escaped hair, but his limbs betrayed him, carrying him up the hill of their own volition. She turned to him; a look of surprise was quickly replaced by one of delight, and he missed a step. Elizabeth laughed and held her hands out to him, which he readily took and brought to his lips.
"I did not expect you back today, sir."
"I did not expect to be back, but my solicitor was efficient; I daresay he grew tired of my distraction and wished to rid himself of me as soon as possible." He smiled somewhat abashedly, as he knew his assessment to be rather close to the truth.
"Distraction?" Elizabeth mocked him, "When has Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, ever been anything less than focused?"
"Only when an exquisite pair of eyes tease him from afar."
She could not hold his gaze for long, and Darcy noticed the shift immediately.
"Whatever is the matter, dearest?"
"You are here! How could anything be the matter?" The warmth of her reply alleviated his fears, and he wanted very much to close the gap between them, but her next words slowed him. "I am afraid you will think me very silly, is all; you see, I have a gift for you - it is nothing but a trifle - and, it seemed a lovely idea, but now, I am not sure." She twisted the fabric of her skirts between her fingers as she awaited Darcy's response.
It was Darcy's turn to laugh, for he had never seen his Elizabeth so fretful before. He stepped behind her, and twined his arms around her slender waist, resting his chin at her shoulder. They took in the view together for a few moments, or rather, absorbed the sounds, for they had both closed their eyes in quiet contentment. Before releasing her, Darcy softly kissed Elizabeth's cheek, then, taking her right hand, he turned her to him with an elegance and fluidity of motion usually reserved for the ballroom.
"My love, I could never think you silly, but if you fear I will, perhaps I should show you what I have brought; you will soon see that you need not concern yourself at all." He surreptitiously patted the pocket which held his grandmother's ring; he would save that for the next day.
Elizabeth smiled and nodded slightly. He reached into his pocket; she clasped her hands and laughed with heartfelt pleasure when he produced a single white plume.
"From what manner of foul have you pilfered this feather?" she asked cheekily.
"Not I," he said gravely, "You."
"Yes; but let me explain why I thought a goose feather a suitable gift first."
"A goose feather!" she cried, "I would like to think that you are reminded of a swan, or some equally lovely creature when thinking on me."
"If you are baiting me for empty compliments, it won't work," he said firmly, but he could not resist kissing the tip of her nose as he added, "however, I will say that geese are lovely. May I continue?"
"Yes," she replied, curtsying with mock severity, "Proceed, sir."
"Thank you. You see, I have come to realize that you are rather like a goose." He smirked at her wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of wonder. "Did you know that if a goose has fallen during migration, one will stay behind with it?" As she shook her head, brows knitted in confusion, he continued, "Yes; well, geese are fiercely protective of those they love, they are loyal, they are brave, and they are intelligent; all traits which I admire in you, and," he added with a smile as he handed her the gift, "they are gifted navigators."
"You flatter me, sir, but how did you come to say that I was the one who took it?" She stroked the feather absently as she awaited his answer.
"Because you were; it was when I had met you on one of your walks in Kent. When I happened upon you, you were holding this, and when we parted, you dropped it. I picked it up, and placed it in my volume of Shakespeare's sonnets. When I despaired of ever seeing you again," he clasped her hand tightly at her pained expression, "this feather reminded me of my resolution to become a better man; it gave me the hope that I might one day be the type of man you might be prevailed upon to marry. And now that I have become that man, the noble feather belongs to its rightful owner." Darcy used his free hand to brush a fallen tear from Elizabeth's cheek. She sniffed and laughed softly.
"Thank you, Fitzwilliam, for a gift which I will treasure, and for easing my mind, for I have brought you this." And Darcy smiled broadly as she handed him a crisp oak leaf.
"Dare I hope for an equally fascinating elucidation?"
"Indeed, sir, now you flatter yourself!"
Darcy laughed aloud. It felt good to be teased - by Elizabeth, at least.
"I shall enlighten you despite your arrogant pronouncement," she said archly. "The Celtic people believed the oak was a most noble tree; they felt it symbolized strength, heritage, honor, wisdom, and security, all of which I find to be characteristics possessed by you."
"Thank you," Darcy said warmly, "I shall place it close to my heart." And he did, tucking it carefully into the breast pocket of his coat. Elizabeth met his eye and the tenderness she saw there nearly caused her to lose her resolve, but she was determined to continue.
"Furthermore, I was seated beneath an oak tree when I read your letter in Kent, and realized how horribly I had misjudged you." Her voice did falter a little, but she was quickly soothed by the gentle fingers rhythmically tracing her palm. "I watched an oak from the carriage as we left Lambton, when I realized that I might have been able to love you, and it was beneath an oak when you renewed your addresses to me. So you see," she concluded, eyes misted over, "the oak is very precious to me, and I - I love you so much and -"
Whatever declaration might have followed, Darcy would never know, for Elizabeth's avowal of her love for him was all he could ever wish to hear, and he pulled her to him in a close embrace, taking great pleasure in the kiss he had long been imagining. But, unfortunately, his enthusiasm caused him to forget his precious burden, and his eyes flew open at the crushing sound of the leaf secured within his pocket. He pulled away abruptly, and hesitantly removed the victim of his ardor, which had been reduced to a brittle skeleton.
"Oh Elizabeth!" he said contritely, "I am so sorry!"
She laughed heartily and assured him he needn't concern himself over such a triviality. "Besides," she added, "I still have my-" She looked down to see her feather floating away, well beyond her reach. Mouth agape, Elizabeth chanced a glance at Darcy, whose tightly pursed lips threatened to break into a smile.
"Well then," she said primly. She regarded her betrothed to witness his continued struggle against his merriment. Simultaneously, they both succumbed to laughter, and Darcy happily pulled Elizabeth back into his embrace, his lips resuming their former occupation.
The ephemeral gifts gone and forgotten, the two remained, bound by the permanence of their love.The End