Fitzwilliam Darcy slowly perused the merchandise of the jeweler's shop. Bingley seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time to choose a few Valentine baubles for his sisters.
"Darcy, what do you say to this one?"
He looked up from a string of pearls. "Why ask me? Every year you contrive to bring me shopping. Whatever is it for?"
"We'll take these," Charles said to the storekeeper. Then he came to stand by his friend. "You've been in bad spirits all week," he said in a low tone. "Come now, what has you in such a state?"
"I would rather not discuss it." Darcy returned to the glass cases. Bingley sighed and concluded the exchange.
What has gotten into me? Darcy stared through the glittering showcase of gems. Lately I just feel restless. Nothing to keep my interest, I suppose. The winter was dull as usual. No real conversation. Not like when I was in Hertfordshire. There he stopped. In the past few months, Darcy had let his thoughts wander much too often to Netherfield and the associations thereof. Everything reminded him of last fall. Brown eyes occasioned memories of sparkling wit. Slender throats overlooking rounded shoulders reminded him of a rousing debate during a dance. Even mud--well, perhaps we had better not go into that. At least Charles is safe from my mental torture, came unbidden to his mind. "Bingley, have you considered selling Netherfield?"
Bingley turned ashen. "No, I had not. Why?"
"No reason. It just came to mind." There, he isn't ready to put this whole Bennet business behind him. Spring will bring occupation enough for both of us.
"Sir, would you care to look at this piece more closely?" a little man asked.
"Yes," Darcy replied, but only because he was confused by the man's accosting him. In truth, he had been miles away.
The attendant placed a ruby necklace closer to the shop window for a better view. Each jewel danced in the light, making it a ring of fire. The whole construction of the piece communicated elegance and refinement.
Bingley came up behind his wondering friend. "Rubies are well on brunettes, eh, Darcy?"
"Well..." Each new facet opened a world of contrasting glitter. So like... "It is lovely." The jewels pleaded with all their bleeding hearts to be bought.
Suddenly a shrill voice behind him broke into his thoughts. "Dear, now please consider! He is rich. A larger diamond will hardly put a hole in his pocket, I fancy." Her stage whisper immediately snapped his reverie.
"I do not think this will suit. Come, Bingley." Both men were startled by Darcy's abruptness.
Once in the carriage, Bingley swooped down on him. "Why did you not buy? The necklace was lovely."
"Then why didn't you buy it?" was the surly retort.
Charles turned to the window. "I prefer sapphires."
Darcy looked up in understanding of his friend's thoughts. Still pining. He returned to his window. Why must the streets be so muddy? he thought in agitation. ___________________________________________________
Later that day Darcy found himself in the billiard room. Supper would be announced shortly. He knew it, but promised himself one more round. One by one, Darcy picked off the striped balls. Then he applied his deadly aim to the solid colors. The red ball sat, ready to be struck into the farthest left corner pocket. Something seems so familiar. The rustle of a dress came from the hallway. Darcy's gaze was riveted to the door in expectation of a creamy, satin gown with girlish arms and throat slipping out of it.
"Dinner is ready, Mr. Darcy." Caroline Bingley stood at the door, simpering. How he hated that simper.
"Thank you." With much force and no aim, Darcy shot the ball in no real direction.
But Caroline continued at her post, perhaps envisioning that he would escort her down. When Darcy was quite convinced that she would not leave, he spoke. "I will not be joining the rest for dinner." Blue ball expertly deposited into a side pocket.
"Very well," her voice tight.
Darcy hid a small smile at his triumph. Caroline turned and clomped away.
Ah ha. But there was a disappointment. He had dreamed, nay, believed Elizabeth would be there, staring at him the same way she had at Netherfield. Her hair would be as dark and curling as ever. Her eyes would reflect his astonishment before softening into delight. But this time the vision wore a ruby necklace. Darcy squared his jaw in resolution and went in search of his greatcoat. ________________________________________________________
As Darcy placed the velvet box on his dresser, he felt wretched. The past hour had been a nightmare of many degrees. He threw off his coats, vest, and hat before sitting in front of the jewelry case. With reverent gaze, he opened it. Amazingly enough, the necklace looked different in every light. Even now, the rubies blushed in the soft glare of a candle. Surely the cost had been worth it.
Darcy brought his fist to his lips. Maybe I should not have let that man goad me into bidding. He recalled the whole humiliating spectacle to his mind.
He had arrived at the shop in hot haste. He entered and strode purposefully to the object of his errand. With proper horror, he saw a gentleman of middle age looking interested in his Elizabeth's necklace!
"Ah, Mr. Darcy. You are back. How may I help you?"
Darcy did not answer the jeweler in words, but stared at the ruby links. He looked up slowly. "Two hundred and fifty pounds."
"Three hundred," the gentleman replied. He took a drag from his cigar.
The shopkeeper stood dumb. The necklace was only worth 200 l.
"Four hundred." Darcy's jaw clenched.
Smoke wafted past the elder man's nose for one tense moment. "I'll keep looking."
Darcy glared until the man left. Then he heaved a sigh when the necklace and its owner were safely on their way. Now, as he gazed at the dancing color, Darcy madly wished to give it to...well...er...maybe he could hold onto it for a while. But night after night, Darcy dreamed of finishing that thought. Sometimes she rewarded him with a kiss. More often than not, her reply was haughty and stinging. Though he was under such tremendous anguish, Darcy slept with the encased necklace under his pillow. Somehow, it was a comfort to touch its smooth, velvet covering after a bad dream of its reception. At other times his mind would tease him for his folly in buying such a gift. Certainly Miss Elizabeth Bennet was not worthy so much consideration. Yet Darcy could not bring himself to return it. He knew he would never be able to part with the hope it inspired.
The winter melted into spring. Colonel Fitzwilliam hinted that the yearly visit to Lady Catherine was approaching. Darcy grudgingly settled on April for the journey.
Shards of a crystal paperweight lay in one corner. The floor was littered with clothing and a few pillows. Following a trail of jacket, vest, and cravat led to Darcy in a chair at the writing desk. Rinsing his burning face had done nothing to relieve his despair. His fingers were slightly singed from putting out the candle. And the letter to Elizabeth stared back at him.
Darcy watched the rising sun. Hardly caring, he glanced at the wreck his room displayed. Last night several feelings had converged into a nightmare of rapids. Bitterness, anger, despair, and rejection filled his being. Yet with all this going on inside, a maddening, hollow pain took precedence in his heart.
Darcy left the window and approached the bed. From underneath the only pillow remaining on the mattress, he withdrew the blue velvet case. His dry eyes burned as he hesitated. The lid rose slowly on its hinges to reveal the dull-red gems. Darcy's haggard face crumpled from intense emotion. The overwhelming surge forced him to sit down on the floor. Head buried in his knees, Darcy fingered the jewels one by one. Each time he caressed another ruby, a shudder swept his body. Hoarse sobs escaped his throat. It was agony--agony--to sit there and know he'd lost the one Jewel that mattered the most. The first tears trickled and burned through the cloth of his shirt; many more followed. He gasped and tried to swallow whatever was choking him.
How could I have said those things? He looked at the room from tear-clouded eyes. "She must know." Darcy rose on unsteady feet. The daylight smiled happily at him, and the happiness jeered at his pain. The links of rubies burst into scarlet flame--so like the searing beauty of love. He stared at them before preparing to dress.
By ten, the letter vindicating him was safely in the hands of Elizabeth Bennet. By eleven, Darcy knew beyond all doubt that he could never part with the necklace that had kept him company thus long. ______________________________________________________________
Summer brought unbearable heat. Darcy barely noticed anyone or anything midst the gnawing pain. Over and over again, he relived the proposal and with it all he might have done or said differently. The buzz of summer in Town was beginning to overwhelm. Distractions only magnified his sense of loss. I must escape this torment. Pemberley. Home was just the place. Georgiana's approval was obtained. Days later Darcy arrived on horseback.
The heat really was horrendous. After slowly dismounting at the lake, Darcy moved to the water's edge. He stared moodily at the surface before diving into the refreshing gulf. Better and better; soon he had fooled himself into ignoring the old pain. If he had dispelled pride, Elizabeth, as his wife, would welcome his return.
A groom claimed the horse and led him to the stables. Darcy continued on to the house with his hat, coat, and riding crop in hand. The sun reflected off of the river running past the house. He squinted to shut out the light. _____________________________________________________________
Pinpoints of starlight dotted the black sky. Darcy sighed as he leaned on the balcony railing. He replayed the events that had occupied him for some hours. Elizabeth Bennet had actually been there! Did her heart race, as his did, at the remembrance of each handclasp, each look?
During the whole of the unexpected interview, he had been unable to form a complete thought. But now, gazing up at the endless expanse of night, Darcy struggled to keep his thoughts from becoming run-on sentences. He turned and wandered into his room. As usual, it was lonely and empty. Restlessness overtook him. A few thoughts presented themselves, but he dared not allow them to be completed. A question or two arose that Darcy cringed to answer. The next few days would certainly be crucial in the outcome of his future happiness.
His fingers itched. Darcy stopped abruptly and stalked to the bureau. He jerked a drawer open. Cravats fell in discarded heaps of ivory. Suddenly he paused and stared at the concealed object. Weeks ago, he had banished it to this prison. Only now could he look at the necklace without reeling. No, this time hope rose from its stifled tomb. The jewels glowed as though they'd never been enshrouded. Darcy handled the links with great attention. He felt that soon his own long-sought love would wear the rubies that he had so long cherished.
Before lying down for the night, Darcy slipped the necklace under his pillow. "Dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth." Dark silence answered.
Darcy awoke to deadness in his arm. He lazily opened one eye to find that Elizabeth had slept on his arm all night. But Darcy found he could bear the pain cheerfully when caused by such a weight. Long, lonely months had kept them apart, but now he held all the delightful rights of a newlywed husband. Least of all these privileges being that he could now hold his beloved whenever the whim took him (or her) and rarely did it not.
Elizabeth stirred, sighed, and moved closer to her husband. Darcy welcomed the excuse to cuddle. Already he was planning just how to go about the day.
"What time is it?" his wife asked drowsily.
Elizabeth smiled and rubbed his arm. "No, really. What is the time?" She still had not opened her eyes.
"About eight." He leaned closer to brush his lips against her face. No response. She had evidently gone back to sleep. "Elizabeth," he beguiled in a rich voice. "Darling."
"I need to get up."
Her eyebrows lowered. "Hmm!" She rolled her dark head onto his chest and snuggled there.
A spark entered Darcy's eye. "Darling, will you always love me?"
"Good!" He stood quickly and scooped up his alarmed lady. Shrieking and grasping for support, Elizabeth was carried to an armchair. As Darcy settled her on his lap, he asked, "Do you still love me?"
"Ask me tomorrow." And forthwith she began a wrestling match. "How horribly...mean...of...you, Will!" her reprimand punctuated with half-serious blows. When she encountered her husband's pleased dimples, she could only finish with a laughing whimper.
"You know, dear, that I only do this of a morning to see you feisty." He captured her lips with his own. "Happy Valentine's Day, love." Elizabeth only allowed short pecks. She put her hands on his chest to keep him at bay.
"Darcy," she warned.
"Yours to command." He covered her hands with his own. Elizabeth dodged and blushed before she found herself cornered against a wing of the chair. The kiss started slow and warm; that all changed when Elizabeth curled her arms forcefully around Darcy's willing neck. __________________________________________________________
"Close your eyes." Darcy stood behind his wife on the balcony of the master bedroom. Elizabeth sighed and fell back against his warm chest as his arms encircled her. The night and its chilly clearness surrounded them. The day had been beautiful. Gifts had been exchanged, and the couple had been generally at the occupation of loving each other. "Are your eyes closed?"
Elizabeth nodded with a slight smile on her lips. Something cool came into contact with the skin of her neck. She knew it to be a necklace. "Darcy!" and she turned to him. "What is this?"
"A necklace." He adjusted the length of jewels.
"I know that, but when? How?" Darcy laughed at her unbelieving questions. "Oh, I must see it!" She ran into the softly illumined room and stared into a mirror. Darcy slowly followed her.
"It's just something I had laying around."
She welcomed the embrace he restored. "I love it."
"I love the throat it adorns." Darcy's lips found his favorite spot just behind her ear. "I thought you could wear it with the red dress I gave you," he murmured.
"Of course." Elizabeth glanced at the mirror and her exposed throat. The rubies glistened as if conspirators. "Will, you are too good for me."
"I am fully convinced that I can never be 'too good' to you, dearest." His hold tightened on her waist. "They look like fire on snow against your soft skin."
"Since when have you developed a way of articulating poetically?" she teased.
"Since I met you." Darcy began to nuzzle her neck and shoulders again.
"You are a delightful paradox," she whispered into his ear. "I want to spend the rest of my life finding you out."
Then try this paradox." He pulled back and touched her nose with his own. "Winter's fire."
Elizabeth's gaze softened. Her husband kept his head motionless as she leaned toward him, head bent to one side. "I believe I've discovered the solution." Her lips met his with yearning and wonder; almost the same way she'd felt when watching the snow on her wedding day.
Darcy finally had to pull back. Gasping, he said, "You have always...been wonderfully quick...at conundrums."
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