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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapter 25! Sorry!

July 26, 2022 01:19PM
Author's Note: I'm sorry I missed posting this in the right order, though it doesn't add that much to the story obviously...! Thank you P_Will for noticing and pointing it out smiling smiley

CHAPTER 25

Their first public engagement as an acknowledged couple was an evening of supper and entertainments at Lucas Lodge. It was to be an informal affair and Elizabeth looked forward to seeing the Lucases and their other neighbours and hoped it would be an opportunity for them to begin to undo the damage her very public disapproval of Darcy had wrought. Arriving early with the Bennets, she sought out Maria to return her sketch book and receive her heartfelt congratulations. She drew her aside to have a more private conversation with her.

“Maria, could I ask for a very great favour from you?” Maria’s eyes widened and she nodded as she stared at her favourite Miss Bennet. “I have spent many hours gazing upon your delightful sketches of myself and Mr Darcy, but I have not yet shown them to him. I would love to be able to give them to him as a gift. I do not have any artistic skill at all and would never be able to recreate something so precious myself. You have managed to capture the genesis of our relationship with these little moments in time, vignettes almost. If you are not willing to part with them, would you consider making me copies? I have a second sketch book which I purchased in London which I wanted to fill with memories, mementoes and musings, like a travel journal, but I decided when I realised what you had captured that it would be better used as a journal of the start of our life together, and it would be perfect if I could fill it with your sketches.” She drew out her journal and showed Maria how she had already begun to fill it with her musings and mementoes from her travels in Kent and outings in London with Mr Darcy, with pages left bare for the images Maria had captured with her charcoals and inks.

Maria blinked back tears of pride and swelling emotion that her quick little sketches meant so much to her Lizzy. She handed back her book, took her hand and guided Lizzy towards her bedchamber. “You are welcome to take whatever sketches you wish for your journal, Lizzy! I am afraid any copies I could make would lose something of the intimacy as each sketch really was capturing a moment in time. I was only trying to practice capturing form and expression, to somehow convey the feeling of the moment, as well as attempting to improve my visual memory.” She was rummaging in her closet, as she spoke, and Lizzy marvelled at the walls displaying her latest work. “Here it is!” She fanned the pages of another journal, filled with more vignettes and small portraits. “There are more sketches that I attempted from memory here, you are welcome to take what you like from these too, if they are acceptable. I confess your countenances are burned into my memory. Mr Darcy’s face is so beautifully manifold. I used to think him quite static and closed in appearance, but he fairly came alive in your presence, Lizzy. I didn’t really notice at the time but when I tried to sketch him from memory, I was amazed at the changes I recalled!”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to blink back tears as she scanned the pages and listened to her passionate young friend wax poetic about the many faces she had drawn of the love of Lizzy’s life. She closed the book and drew her in a warm embrace, trying to convey all her gratitude, love and wonder for the precious gift she had been given. “You are simply amazing, Maria. The things you see that no one else does. You must have so many secrets in your head you don’t even know about. How I wish I could see the world as you do!”

“Don’t be silly, Lizzy! I’m always forgetting where I put things, and Mama is forever despairing that I won’t be able to keep house properly, if I ever find a husband, as I just can’t seem to attend to basic things. She’s trying to teach me about the household accounts now, and I am unable to retain what numbers go where and how to work out if the butcher is short-changing me! I am so pleased that the one thing I can do well is something that can give you such joy.” Maria’s eyes became unfocused, and she wandered towards her wall of paintings, tapping an unfinished scene with a field of bluebells next to a stream. “I will have the perfect wedding gift for you and Mr Darcy, but it will not be ready for a long while yet. Perhaps for your first anniversary, though the size of the canvas will be a problem, and I need to improve upon my skills with oils and watercolour before I decide on the best medium.”

“You have given us gifts enough with these two books of sketches, Maria. I will never tire of looking at them and when I have completed my journal, you must sign it for me. I have a feeling your work will one day grace many august homes and galleries, Maria Lucas, and I want to be able to say that I knew you first and that the galleries of Pemberley and Darcy House were the first to have the privilege. Now, we better return to the parlour, lest we both get in trouble with our mamas.”

The gentlemen from Netherfield had arrived in their absence and Darcy looked most relieved as she joined him in conversation with Sir William and Lady Lucas. The parlour was full and spilling over into the adjoining dining room where tables had been set up for the evening’s entertainments. Mary was already installed at the pianoforte, Kitty and Lydia were giggling with the Goulding twins and their cousin, and Jane and Bingley were conversing with the new curate and his young wife. Mrs Bennet was loudly proclaiming her good fortune at every opportunity to anyone who would listen, but Elizabeth was practiced at ignoring her and Darcy was practiced at pretending not to notice. If he stiffened slightly every now and then and let the mask of affability slip to reveal his genuine disdain at her shrill proclamations, he only needed a gentle squeeze from his fiancée to bring him back to the present. If nothing else, these moments added to his hope of the future; and he looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley. Whenever his thoughts took him thus and his gaze hovered over her lovely face, his features softened, and it was possible for all to see a little of the depth of his love for her. This, more than anything else, won him an increased regard from the country gentry who were now able to sincerely rejoice in the attachment between them.

As the evening progressed, Elizabeth had noted some coolness towards herself from some of the ladies. Darcy was bearing up well, all things considered, and when she sent him to gather refreshments, she noticed that he smiled more often than not and greeted known as well as unknown persons with equable affability. She was momentarily distracted in watching him and failed to attend to the conversation of Mrs Townsend, of Purvis Lodge. “Forgive me, I did not attend you, can you repeat that?”

“It appears you have descended from your lofty perch valuing equal respect and affection as the only inducement to marriage, Miss Elizabeth. Ten thousand a year is a much stronger inducement indeed!” She tittered as though she was sharing a joke, but her bitter resentment was evident in the thinned lips and unsmiling eyes. Mrs Townsend had a long-standing resentment against all the Bennet ladies, which likely began in the unassailable beauty of the eldest daughter and endures in that daughter’s gentleness and good nature, along with the charm, intelligence and lively wit of the second eldest. That the Bennet sisters were universally reputed to be the belles of Meryton also did not help.

Elizabeth smiled along with her interlocutors, all waiting to see how she would respond. She had been so focussed on improving Darcy’s standing in Meryton, she had not considered how hypocritical her own behaviour would seem. There was no other way forward but to own her own shame, even if Mrs Townsend had failed to hit the mark. “You are correct to suggest there may be something amiss in my integrity as a woman, though marrying prudently within my sphere to secure a future home and family is probably the least of my failings. You could have noted my rank hypocrisy in returning to Meryton engaged to the very man I had so publicly abused to anyone who would listen. It is somewhat embarrassing for me to admit that I was completely wrong about Mr Darcy and was instead taken in by an unprincipled scoundrel of the first order! That I have apparently been rewarded for my stupidity is as astounding to me as it must be to you. These failings I will admit to freely. I should not have spoken so vociferously against him and should not have assumed the worst of his character, simply because my vanity was wounded. However, my intention to only marry for the deepest love and affection has been maintained. It is either good luck or my great care that have allowed me to fall in love with a man of good fortune. It must be great good luck, for it is Jane who was destined to marry well, being quite ten times as pretty as the rest of us!”

Elizabeth knew her conversation was being attended to by more than just the three women around her and was happy to have been able to confess her sins, defend her integrity, correct her opinion of Darcy and allude to Wickham’s perfidy all at once. She took care to remember her words, as she knew she would be called upon to repeat them in some way or another to whoever needed to hear it for the rest of her stay in Meryton. She knew there would be some people who would choose not to believe her change of heart was anything other than mercenary, but she could only tell the truth and tell it over and over again. Perhaps she ought to write them out several times and just hand them to people in the town square. She chastised herself for the uncharitable thought. She was lying in a bed of her own making, and her character demanded this penance.

Her words were received with surprise, as Mrs Townsend apologised for not intending the slight everyone knew she intended, but the other women took the opportunity to question her minutely about her courtship with, and the real character of, her fiancé. She responded with the genuine enthusiasm of a woman in love, tempered with the dignity befitting a man with his natural reserve. She wanted to keep the real Mr Darcy - her warm, affectionate, passionate and witty One Darcy of Pemberley - all to herself for as long as she could, but she wanted his honour, integrity and probity to be known to all. He truly was the best man she had ever known, and she was not ashamed to say it to anyone who cared to ask.

Colonel Forster and his wife had been invited, along with several of the more well-known members of the militia so Elizabeth and Darcy were surprised not to see Wickham amongst the redcoats in attendance. It was natural for the couple to remain in one another’s orbit when they were not immediately together and would frequently glance at each other whenever a red coat was seen to assure each other that it was not Wickham. As the evening progressed, they relaxed, assuming he was wisely keeping his distance and spared no further thoughts for him.

© Janine van der Kooy 2022
SubjectAuthorPosted

Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapter 25! Sorry!

Janine van der KooyJuly 26, 2022 01:19PM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapter 25! Sorry!

Lucy J.August 04, 2022 04:28AM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapter 25! Sorry!

AlidaJuly 27, 2022 06:06AM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapter 25! Sorry!

EvelynJeanJuly 26, 2022 10:43PM



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