Elizabeth entered Julianne's room cheerfully, and found her cousin sitting up in bed, eating her breakfast with her usual appetite. "Good-morning my dear," she chirped.
Julianne scowled. "You should go away Lizzie," she replied. "All you see in this room is a moving bundle of sickness."
Elizabeth opened all the windows and inhaled the fresh air. "The room is being aired, and I am perfectly safe, although I depend on your generosity in not sneezing in my face," she continued.
Julianne rolled her eyes, Elizabeth had the really maddening habit of waking up in a regular good mood. "I'll do my best, Liz," she sighed impatiently. Then she couldn't help adding a jibe. "You amaze me, cousin. I've heard of women feeling nauseated and bad tempered during their pregnancy. Must you be the only exception?"
"Surely you don't want such calamities to befall on me dear?" retorted Elizabeth. "You must know by now that such misfortunes tend to affect all the people that surround me!"
"If you put it in that way, I guess no then! So, have you all finished breakfast?"
"Oh yes, Fitzwilliam and Uncle Edward are discussing some business, while Aunt Margaret and Georgiana are with the children. They are decorating the house with mistletoe."
Julianne sighed, she really hated being confined to her room. "And where is my brother?"
"Oh I think he's out --" Elizabeth was interrupted by a yell from outside.
Julianne laughed. "That must be Jeremy. Classy isn't he?"
Elizabeth grinned. "I guess there must be some underlying common factor between the Philipses and the Bennets, no?"
"God forbid! He will start sounding like Lydia in no time!" With that, she scrambled hurriedly out of bed and went to look outside. Jeremy and Robert were standing on the snow outside. The former was waving wildly, and laughing at her while the latter stood looking at her sympathetically, and also rather sheepishly. Julianne waved at them, grinning happily.
"How are you sister?" yelled Jeremy from below. "Is it as bad as you are making it out to be?"
"Let him try repeating that when we're in the same room!" said Julianne wryly to Elizabeth who was also standing near the window. "I can't yell out the insults I have in mind," she continued, rather ruefully.
Tired of his teasing, Jeremy gave her one last wave and turned to move away. Robert stood for a minute under the window, and gave her a small tentative wave. Julianne responded in kind, and they gave each other a look that was not lost on Elizabeth. She pulled the younger girl gently away from the window and gave a searching gaze. "Julianne, take care," she said.
Julianne immediately understood her meaning and looked away. "Do not concern yourself Elizabeth, I am in no danger."
"I am not contrary to you having a certain sympathy towards Robert, but do not let your heart and romantic notions run away with you. He may not be exactly what you want him to."
"What do you mean Lizzie? Please explain, and don't use half measures, you know how I despise that sort of thing."
Elizabeth looked at her closely. "Unfortunately for him, his reputation precedes him in every place he decides to go too," she began rather cryptically.
"Reputation? What on earth are you talking about?"
"You are well acquainted with his father's habits, Ju. Unfortunately it seems that his son also shares his love for beautiful women and is known as an inexorable flirt." Elizabeth paused. "I am only telling you this to be careful; I wouldn't want him to hurt you in any way."
Julianne gave her a thoroughly puzzled look. "A flirt? I never noticed that -- oh, that means that he never flirted with me. That is even worse." There was a pause. "A reputed flirt who doesn't try it out with me. Flattering, isn't it?" she remarked wryly.
"Julianne! Surely you don't really mean that!"
Her cousin stared again out of the window, and saw the retreating figures of the two young men. "Of course not, Elizabeth" she said with a sigh. "I don't want to be taken for a ride by anybody!"
That night Julianne couldn't sleep. She was used to very active days and being confined in her room made her restless and bored. Her cold was much better; she had always been very strong, and hardly ever ill. Not even a warm bath had managed to soothe her and lull her to sleep. After some hours of tossing and turning in her bed, she decided to go to the library and search for some book to amuse her. She ascertained that everyone was asleep and quietly made her way downstairs. The small light of her candle produced strange shadows in the corners of the house and she was very glad to find herself in the warmth and comfort of a well-lit library. Julianne had hardly time to be surprised at the fact that the fire was blazing before she heard an amazed whisper behind her. "Miss Philips!"
She whirled round and found herself looking at Robert, who was precariously perched on a ladder. "Mr. Darcy! You scared me!" she replied.
"What are you doing out of bed?"
"I couldn't sleep, so I came looking for a book."
"A book to entertain you through the night, or a tedious one to lull you to sleep?" he replied, with his usual smile.
"Do you volunteer to choose one for me?" she replied with equal joviality. "Then I put my trust in you. Make your own choice."
Robert turned his attention to the shelves and pretended to be searching industrially. "There must be a book of fairy tales somewhere," he joked.
"I don't think you'll find one here. The only copy must be under your pillow," she retorted.
He shook his head. "Spiteful, spiteful girl! I always though amiable, you disappoint me," he replied, giving her a teasing wink.
The last part seemed to be lost on Julianne, who suddenly looked at him very seriously. "Do you see me as a little girl, Mr. Darcy?" she asked suddenly.
What? Is she serious? To Robert, as he looked at her cascading locks of hair, tied loosely by a ribbon, and the thin nightgown that clung to her soft curves provocatively, she looking anything but a little girl. He tore his gaze from her and noticed that she was still talking.
"I know that I don't have the beauty of Elizabeth, or Georgiana's natural sophistication and talent, but--- " her voice trailed off and she shrugged her shoulders to try to prove her point.
Robert went down the ladder and looked at her closely. "Believe me, Miss Philips, you don't have to worry. I can assure you, that I find you amiable, pretty, accomplished and all the things you seem to think you lack. I love being in your company, and -- " Here he lowered his voice and trailed his finger on her cheek. "I hope to be more acquainted with your virtues in the near future."
Julianne gave a small gasp at this contact and couldn't help lowering her gaze away from his close scrutiny.
Say something girl. You are standing in front of the most amazing man in your acquaintance. Think of something, quick!
A sneeze. Charming. Not exactly what I had in mind though.
The embarrassment Julianne felt at that moment can't quite be described. How could she have sneezed in the magical, perfect moment?! She was on the verge of tears, and blushed furiously. She couldn't face Robert and was wondering at the best way to run away when she suddenly saw a handkerchief offered in front of her. She looked up and saw him looking at her with an amused expression. "Bless you," he said softly.
Julianne took the handkerchief and blew her nose discreetly. "I already have one of these," she remarked, referring to their first meeting.
"Do not worry, I have plenty," he replied, laughing softly. He placed his hands on her arms, as he had sensed her urge to leave the room. "You really should be in bed, Julianne," he said. "Though I'd love you to stay here and keep me company."
It was the first time he had called her by name, and Julianne loved the sound of it. "I don't want to leave you, Robert," she said in such a low voice that he could hardly hear her. She closed her eyes and that was all the invitation he needed to place a soft kiss on her lips. The kiss tentative at first, was soon deepened by their eagerness and Julianne wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
Oh my God, he's kissing me.
All right, you've had enough, now stop.
Stop? Are you crazy? I wanted to be kissed by him five minutes after I first met him!
You're playing with fire!
Robert suddenly broke the kiss and let out a small breath. "That was good," he whispered in his ear.
Julianne shivered and painfully detached herself from him. She couldn't trust herself and her actions if she stayed longer near him. "I think I should go now, Robert," she told him.
"Yes, me too," he replied, passing a hand through his hair awkwardly.
"Good night Julianne."
That night, neither party slept comfortably. Julianne was ecstatic with sheer joy and happiness. Robert stood for a long time gazing at the fire, wondering how he should act towards her from now on.
The following morning, Jeremy noticed the glow on his sister's face as she entered the dining room. She was grinning from ear to ear and hardly acknowledged his morning greeting. He gave her a kick under the table. "What happened to you?" he mouthed.
Before she could answer, Robert entered. He looked tired and pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. "Are you all right Robert?" asked Darcy. "You look terrible!"
Robert gave him a look and sneezed twice. "I'm not feeling well, cousin." He paused for a moment and blew his nose. "Somehow I must have caught Miss Philips' cold." He sat down, and gave Julianne an almost imperceptible wink.
Julianne made a face at her reflected image in the mirror. She had been staring at it absentmindedly for quite a few hours, and it was well into the night. She had needed some time to think about the events of the last couple of days, and the behaviour of Robert Darcy towards herself. To say that he had been acting strangely, was at the very least, an understatement. After they had kissed in the library, Julianne's mind had flown towards engagements and weddings, and she had hoped that Robert had been on her same wavelength. It was Christmas Eve and the Darcys had opted to spend the Christmas festivities quietly with their immediate family, while preparing for a grand ball at Pemberley for New Year. His behaviour that day had alternated between cold and distant to pleasant and attentive. At times he would just stand near the window and brood, at others he would yearn to sit beside her, and be as gentle as possible. All the adults at Pemberley had noticed a change in him, and although they suspected, none of them knew for certain what happened between him and Julianne.
"Is what Elizabeth told me true?" she asked her reflection sadly. "Didn't he care at all that night? Was it just a lark? God knows, how happy I was ..." She soon felt a lump coming to her throat, and swallowed it angrily. She was not going to cry over Robert Darcy, at least not until she found out what had happened to him, and what the kiss has signified. But whom could she ask?
Elizabeth and Darcy? NO way. The Bingleys had repeated the story of her hosts' formal dislike towards each other ad infinitum, or to be more exact, ad nauseam! There were no kisses shared before the engagement for them, for sure. And she certainly didn't want to suffer from similar misunderstandings. What about ...?
"Jeremy! Jer! Are you awake?" she whispered, as she shook her snoring brother.
"No," he grunted. "Go away."
"Jeremy, it's important, I swear," she pleaded.
"What time is it?"
"Three. Listen I was thinking--"
Jeremy groaned and hid his face under the pillow. "No one thinks at this time of the night! Think again in the morning and come to me, I'll be willing to listen."
"Jeremy it can't wait. Please. Please!"
Her brother sat up painfully and shook his tousled head. "This has better be important," he warned.
Julianne nodded eagerly and jumped beside him in the bed. Very soon a scuffle ensued between them for the possession of the blankets and the dominion of the bed.
"Move over Jeremy!"
"You have enough space!"
"But I'm cold, and your side is warmer!"
"I wonder why! Be careful, Ju, your genius is scary." Julianne tugged again at the blanket and Jeremy could stand it no longer. "Listen, if you give another tug to that blasted blanket I swear you'll be roasting over the fire!"
Julianne looked meekly at her brother. She was not accustomed to these outbursts. "You are usually more docile than this, what on earth is happening to you?" she remarked. Jeremy rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath, while remarking something about "darned cheek.". His sister's eyes were suddenly on the bedside table and she burst out laughing. "Spectacles? Oh brother, when did this happen?"
Jeremy faced her squarely. "You have three seconds to start talking about your alleged problem. If you don't, rest assured that you will not make it through the night," he warned menacingly.
Julianne's countenance subdued immediately when she was reminded of the reason of her nightly visit to her brother's room. "Jeremy, tell me something. Why do boys kiss girls?"
Jeremy looked at her in utter disbelief. "You woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me that?!"
"No! You don't understand," his sister explained hastily. "You see, two nights ago, I -- well, me and Robert --- you know... kissed."
Her brother's eyes narrowed down to slits as the missing pieces of the puzzle were suddenly put into place. "Ahhhh, so that is how the fellow got his cold! Oh my God, the poor chap must be, for some obscure reason, attracted to you!" He shook his head. "Robert has got all my pity!"
"Do not tease me Jeremy, can't you see I'm wretched?" Julianne replied sadly.
"Why should you be?"
"Well you know the story of him being a flirt and that he toys with the feelings of women," she began.
"Robert? A flirt? Who gave you such an idea?" he replied, amazed.
"It was Elizabeth," she explained, looking equally surprised.
Jeremy frowned at his sister. "You should know a false rumour when you hear it, Ju. You are usually the one to start them!" He let out a breath and continued. "Robert told me all about this idea that people seem to have of him. What they say about his father is true, albeit a bit exaggerated. But Robert--why! All through his adult life he has been suffering from this misconception of his character. When he just speaks to a girl, he is either chased off by a protective father, or else has her thrown at his feet by an over zealous mother who wants her to save him from eternal damnation!"
"What? So it's not true? Are you sure?"
"Absolutely! He was telling me just a few day's ago how happy he was to be here, because he is able to be himself and not be judged and misinterpreted all the time. I always suspected that he did care a bit for you, and the kiss actually confirms it. In fact, I think you might be his first."
"First what? Girl he kissed?" she asked eagerly.
"Good Lord, he's almost twenty-three years old! Isn't that improbable? I was talking more about you being the first girl he really cared for, you know, he's first love," he said. He gave her a pained look. "Touching, isn't it?" Julianne beamed at him and Jeremy rolled his eyes impatiently.
"But how can you explain his behaviour since he kissed me? He's silent and withdrawn one minute, and then completely at ease the moment after!"
"Well, he may be shy, embarrassed, how should I know?" he asked impatiently. Sleep had started to take its toll on him again. "Go and ask him for God's sake!"
Julianne gave her brother an affectionate squeeze. "You know what? That is what I will do!" she cried in determination.
"Yes, why don't you go now?" Jeremy replied, trying to shoo her off the bed.
Julianne looked at him completely unperturbed. "Jeremy, you have made your sister happy," she told him.
"I know that," he yawned. "She should try to reciprocate that some time."
"I owe you a lot," she said happily.
"Yes you do. Just go for now, then we'll settle it later. Good night Julianne."
"If you ever need to talk about a girl or anything, don't hesitate, all right?"
"I'll keep that in mind. Good night Julianne."
"Oh! And I won't tell anyone about you wearing spectacles!" Julianne gave a small squeal as she ran off to avoid the pillow her brother hurled at her.
Jeremy looked at the closed door as he picked up the pillow, and smiled a little sadly. You can't help me this time Ju. I think that what I want is way beyond my reach!*
*You seem to have read my mind Melanie! But let's take things bit by bit...my brain can't handle more than one couple at a time!
As she closed the door of her brother's room, Julianne went over all the conversation, trying to think rationally over what Jeremy had told her about Robert. Did he really care for her? Has everyone been so deceived by his appearance?
Go ask him for God's sake!
You know, Jeremy, that is what I am going to do!
But was she? Did she have the courage to face Robert and demand from him an admission of his feelings towards her? Her initial resolve seemed to falter a bit, until she pulled herself together and walked briskly to his room.
What will people think of you? Scurrying from one bedroom to the next!
If I don't do it now I'll never will.
What about tomorrow after breakfast?
NO! Robert Darcy, be ready, Julianne Philips is on her way!
Julianne knocked quietly on the door but received no answer. He was asleep, no doubt. She felt her determination weaken even farther, and before she could entertain the thought of leaving Robert sleep and walking away to her room, she opened the door and barged in. She looked around timidly, expecting to find Robert's sleeping form, but to her surprise, the bed, albeit used, was empty. She was immediately struck by the warmth that surrounded her. It, together with the lingering scent of cologne and the general disorder of the room reminded her of Robert. It evoked in her the tender feelings she felt for him in the rare, close moments they had shared.
The door suddenly opened and Robert entered, clad in his nightclothes and dressing gown and carrying a glass of milk and a plate of biscuits. He stopped abruptly when he saw Julianne standing awkwardly in his room, and gaped at her in amazement. They stared at each other for a long moment, Julianne blushing in embarrassment, and Robert trying to seem nonchalant as he tried to hide his own discomfiture. When he saw her on the verge of tears, he gave her a big smile and attempted a bit of levity. "Julianne, don't you ever sleep at night?"
Julianne swallowed a sob painfully. "You don't seem to be in blissful repose either," she answered in a broken voice.
He looked at the plate and glass he was holding and grinned. "I do get hungry at this time of night," he said sheepishly. "The cook got used to me sneaking in his kitchen looking for his newly baked biscuits." Robert paused and breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw Julianne returning his grin with a small smile of her own and set the plate down on the table in front of the divan. He handed her a blanket from his bed and told her to sit down with him in front of the fire. They sat down for a while in silence, eating the biscuits and sharing the warm milk, but Robert was still totally puzzled about the presence of Julianne in his room, and could not hide the confusion for long. He noticed that at regular intervals, she would try to formulate a word, but would then clamp her mouth shut, as if her courage failed her.
Robert didn't know that he was really near the truth. Julianne wanted nothing but to run away from his room, from his earnest gaze, and even from Pemberley. But why, why do I get in all these scrapes? She couldn't give herself a satisfactory answer and finally gathered all the amount of strength in her to address the young man sitting beside her. "Listen Robert, I'm sorry that I came to your room at this time of night but I have to talk to you about something that is so serious that it couldn't wait and I don't know how to tell you and -- "
Robert put his arm around her. "You're rattling," he said matter-of-factly. "Now, calm yourself down will you?"
Julianne felt his arm on her shoulder and gently shook it away. "Not again Robert, please not again." He immediately understood, and looked at the fire, nervously chewing his bottom lip. "The same thing always happens when we are alone, and yet nothing comes out of it," she continued earnestly. He didn't answer again, and that angered her. "I swear Robert, I'm not going to let you hurt me," she warned. "I was led to believe that I meant something to you, but if that is not so, tell me now so that we'll prevent any further misunderstanding."
Robert turned to face her in astonishment. "You actually think that our kiss meant nothing to me?" She didn't answer but looked steadfastly at him. "Julianne, that's not true, that episode in the library was the happiest moment in my life. I care a lot for you, and I do not want you to think otherwise."
"Then why were you so withdrawn and cold the following days? You can't blame me for doubting your affections can you?"
He took her hand in both his and held it gently as he continued. "I know. I am to blame. But I didn't know how to behave, how to act with you; I never felt the same way for a girl before! Believe me, I never wanted to hurt you."
Julianne put her head on his shoulder. "How will you act now with me?" she said softly. "Am I to expect a proposal soon?" she continued, only half-jokingly.
Robert looked startled at the mention of marriage. "Proposal? I'm not really sure about that," he said, rather agitated.
"What?" Julianne gave him one word, and one look that expressed it all, causing him to realize all too late the faux pas he had made.
"Oh God! I didn't mean that I don't want to marry you, but we've known each other for a few weeks, don't you want to wait a bit?"
Julianne couldn't help feeling that he was right, but was determined not to let it pass lightly. "So what do we do? We pretend that nothing has happened? That we are just friendly acquaintances?"
"No, listen to me," he said as he took hold of her other hand. "You know I don't mean that. I'm sincerely attached to you, and I'm sure we will get married eventually if we still feel for each other what we do now but look at us, we're so young, what do we know about love? I don't want to marry now, and find out that all we had was an infatuation of some short duration!" Julianne didn't answer, but she didn't snatch her hand away either. Robert interpreted that to his favour and bravely continued to venture the unexplored path of female endurance. "We both come from families that are not what one may call stable and happy. I've never had a long term mother figure in my life, and you have spent most of it away from home with a distant aunt. You yourself told me that your parents are indifferent to each other, do you want our marriage to be like that?" She shook her head slowly. "I would never want you to marry me, then to regret it later. I want our life to be perfect and happy together."
Julianne linked her fingers with his and gave him a tender look. "Problems will always arise Robert," she said in a small voice. "But one has to try one's best to solve them. You can't expect your married life to be always as blissful as you want it to be, but I must say that I agree with you. But what do you propose?"
"I think that we should not announce out engagement to our families and friends, at least until we are sure that we do want to get married after all," he answered seriously. Julianne nodded, and buried herself in his warm, comfortable embrace. They shared a bashful kiss and she decided to return to her room. Before she left he caught her again in her arms and whispered "Merry Christmas."
"I had forgotten all about that," she said ruefully. She still didn't know whether to be happy or wretched. "Robert, I have to tell Georgiana and Elizabeth about this, I'm sorry, but I can't keep it hidden from them."
"If it makes you feel better, by all means."
"So now you know all," she concluded the following day. Elizabeth and Georgiana were walking with her towards Pemberley after the Christmas service. The men were walking behind them, and Mrs Gardiner was showing her happy children all the landmarks that had remained unchanged from her childhood days in Lambton. Seeing them all three together, Robert sensed that the secret engagement was the topic of their conversation, but tried hard to ignore them and to take an active part in the discourse of his companions.
Elizabeth and Georgiana stared at her before their faces broke in a large smile. "That's wonderful," exclaimed her cousin in a low voice.
"Do you think I'm doing the right thing, Lizzie?"
"Of course you are," she replied seriously. "I think Robert is right, Ju. There are many emotions that are often mistaken for love. I want you to be happy with the partner of your choice, and embrace matrimony only when you are sure of your feelings."
Georgiana entered the conversation suddenly, and spoke to her while she stared ahead, as if trying to evoke some distant recollections. "Julianne, some years ago, I fancied myself in love, and I was going to marry a man who had tricked me with his handsome looks and gallant ways. I was ready to disgrace my name and that of my family for him, until my brother made me realize what a mistake I was going to make. He was just a fortune hunter that wanted to revenge himself on Fitzwilliam." She sighed and went on. "At the time, my heart was broken, but now I realize how dreadfully unhappy I would have been if I had just married him there and then, without reasoning out my feelings for him. I'm not saying that Robert is like that, but just that you have to be careful."
Elizabeth squeezed her hand and looked at her affectionately. She knew the enormous effort it must have cost her to confess her past dealings with George Wickham. "You must realize that love is not only romantic words and kisses. Sometimes you must pass through various misunderstandings and turbulences to realize whether what you feel is the real thing or not," she said, addressing her cousin.
Julianne looked away. Ever since, she got "engaged" to Robert, she had had this nagging feeling in her heart that something terrible was going to happen, that maybe the "turbulences" weren't so far away ... "Why must love be so complicated?" she cried. "Georgiana, I can't help envying you, your heart is not touched by anyone."
It was now Georgiana's turn to look away. Don't be so sure about that Julianne, but mine is a hopeless case. How could he ever love me back?
"Good Heavens! You do look the part of a lady!" cried Jeremy appreciatively as he contemplated his sister's appearance. She was looking at herself critically in the mirror, wearing a beautiful, silk gown that Elizabeth had lent her. The whole household was preparing for the Pemberley ball that was being organized to celebrate the New Year and the twins had been caught in all the contagious flurry of activity that was found in the house. Jeremy had finished dressing some minutes before, and was now in his sister's room, passing comments on her attire. Frances, the maid, was at first put out by the appearance of a young gentleman passing rather vicious comments about his sister's hairstyle and apparel, but she soon realized that the he was just teasing her, and was now looking at Julianne with undisguised admiration. "I can hardly believe it. Julianne, you are actually a pretty girl!"
His sister smiled at him wryly. "Oh thanks, that is so good to know!"
He moved near her and whispered in her ear. "He will drop dead on seeing you."
Julianne bit her bottom lip guiltily. "Well, we'll see about that," she said, trying to sound nonchalant. She really hated keeping things hidden from her brother but she had promised Robert not to tell anyone, other than Elizabeth and Georgiana, about their so-called engagement. This past week had been rather trying for her; she had had to act a part that was difficult to keep up. She and Robert had kept their distance, and acted aloof, or at the most, as friends and what was hardest for her to endure was the fact that she seemed to be the only uncomfortable actor of the two. Her "fiance" had been his usual cheerful, careless self and Julianne seriously wondered at times whether she had just dreamt all that had happened in his room. Only when they were alone, when she would savour his warm kisses, would she feel a bit better.
Any other awkwardness was spared by the arrival of Georgiana, looking stunning in her own simple, but very elegant ball gown. "Georgiana! You look lovely," cried Julianne. "Doesn't she Jeremy?"
Jeremy immediately averted his gaze. "Yes, you look nice," he mumbled.
You moron, you don't even have the courage to look at her!
"Thank you Mr. Philips." She saw his averted look and, as usually happens, interpreted the action wrongly.
He didn't even look at me. Jeremy, must you be so indifferent?
Julianne linked her arms with both of them and they went down the stairs to the ballroom. Robert was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs, and Jeremy immediately left him his place at his sister's arm. "You look wonderful," he whispered softly. Julianne smiled at him happily and squeezed his arm. Robert smiled back, and returned to his usual indifference when they passed the threshold to the ballroom. She shook her head and released herself from his hold. Will she ever be able to understand what was going on in the mind of the young man she professed to be in love with?
At the same time, Jeremy was walking alongside Georgiana. Finally he mustered enough to address her. "Miss Darcy, would you be so kind--" he faltered then went on with greater determination. "Would you do me the honour of dancing the first dance with me?
Georgiana tried to swallow down the rush of excitement she felt in her heart and composed an expression of calm demeanour. "I'll be glad to Mr. Philips," she replied.
Julianne scanned the ballroom, trying to find a familiar face. Elizabeth and Darcy were welcoming their guests near the entrance. Oh, there were Uncle Edward and Aunt Margaret, and weren't those the Bingleys? She hurried over to greet Jane and her husband, when she suddenly caught sight of Kitty near them. She looked very pretty, classy, thought Julianne with surprise. And wasn't that Mr. Bingley's sister, what is her name -- Caroline something? Yes, there she was, hovering over Robert like a bird at prey.
For shame, he must be about ten years younger than her.
Thank God he seems just as disgusted as I am.
Julianne tried to shake any negative thoughts from her head as the time passed. She was introduced to many of the most powerful people of the kingdom and she did all that was in her power not to mortify her cousin, and especially her husband, and with her simple, pleasing manners she managed to gain the favour of the most accessible.
The dances started and Robert was immediately by her side, choosing now to act as a faithful betrothed. They danced in silence, both feeling, for the first time, uncomfortable in each other's presence. There seemed to be a wall between, a wall that just would not go down. Before the end of the dance dance, Julianne couldn't help bringing up the awkward subject. "Robert, why do you choose to ignore me when we are in public?"
"Julianne, I thought we had both agreed upon this. No one must know we are engaged!"
"But I seem the only one affected by it," she replied sharply.
Robert glared at her. "Don't ruin this dance for us Ju. It may probably the only one we will dance together tonight."
Julianne looked at him incredulously. Did he actually say that? How could he be so insensitive?
At that moment they were interrupted by a voice behind them. "Darcy! Rob Darcy is that you?"
Robert turned around. "Harper! Jack Harper!" he cried and slapped the young man on his back. They shook hands eagerly and Robert introduced Jack as an old University friend.
Jack bowed ceremoniously, he was handsome, but in an artificial, put-on way, and Julianne didn't really like the look of him. There seemed to be a sly, sinister look in his eyes, as if he were not a man to be trusted. "Enchanted," he said graciously and kissed her hand. "Darcy, you have found yourself a beautiful girl here!" he added, addressing his friend.
Robert laughed nervously. "Oh Miss Philips is not my girl," he said. "What gave you such an idea?"
Julianne paled and excused herself quickly. She was not going to stand such humiliation as this! She made her way quickly out of the ballroom and leant on the wall, trying to inhale some air, and calm down her ire. She heard some footsteps and Robert came after her. "What was the meaning of that? What the hell got into you?" he demanded angrily.
She faced him squarely. "I can't take this anymore. I don't want any secrets," she said in clipped tones.
"You know I'm doing this for us. You don't have to make such a fuss about it!" he replied rather cruelly.
Julianne fought her urge to slap him straight in the face, but she was still seething with fury. "I don't think that is your only reason," she accused.
"Don't be absurd."
"I'm not absurd, in fact I think I found you out. Are you ashamed of me and my family? Is that why you are keeping our engagement hidden from everyone?" she demanded.
Robert gave her a cold stare. "You're just being silly. I don't want to talk about this now. You're ruining our cousins' ball with your silly accusations."
Julianne ran off, completely devastated. She had never seen this side of Robert. What was the matter with them? Why were they fighting in such a terrible manner? She spend most of the ball sitting down near Elizabeth and her sisters, trying to join in their conversation as much as possible without them noticing the fact that she was completely miserable. She would have joined her brother and told him all about her troubles but he was dancing with Georgiana.
Again? That's strange....
At the stroke of midnight, all the guests welcomed the New Year with champagne and friendly embraces and kisses. While the married couples kissed, the single people simpered, flirted and smiled. Julianne, being neither one nor the other, was sitting down, when she felt a tap on her shoulder, and a very seemingly penitent Robert was standing beside her, holding a single rose in his hand. "Don't be mad at me," he said in a gentle voice.
Julianne gave him a tight smile, but she accepted the rose anyway. "Robert, you and I have to talk," she said slowly. "I can't believe we behaved in such an abominable way today."
"I know, you're right," he agreed. "But can we do it tomorrow? Jack Harper invited me and some other lads to go down to the village. You know to celebrate the New Year there. A Cambridge reunion of sorts."
"What? Do you know what time it is? What is there at the village at this time of night?" she asked, her good humour vanishing immediately.
"The pub will be open all night tonight," he explained. Then seeing her look of displeasure, he added, "Oh come on! I hardly ever go to the pub, and this is New Year after all!"
"So that's the reason for the rose, right? To cajole permission?"
"I don't need your permission," he replied sharply. "We are not married."
He did not say "yet" and they both noticed it. Were there any second thoughts hovering about? Julianne looked down. "Go then, and have fun." With that, they went on their separate ways, she straight to her room, and he following his old friends to the village. They were both so caught up in their argument that they failed to notice that Darcy had unintentionally eavesdropped on their conversation, and was staring at them leaving, flabbergasted -- to say the very least.
"Elizabeth? When were you planning to tell me about Julianne and Robert?" he asked casually as they were both settling down under the covers.
Elizabeth sat up to face him. "How do you know?"
Elizabeth explained the story about the secret engagement and the reasons for it being so. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I was bound to secrecy by my cousin," she explained. "Are you angry at me?"
Darcy shook his head perplexed. "No it's not that. But it is annoying to be master of a house and not knowing what is going on. And it is strange to think of Robert as engaged."
Elizabeth snuggled in his arms. "Do not worry about Robert. Those stories circulating about him aren't true."
"It's not that that worries me dear," he replied. "But don't you think it strange that they hardly seemed to talk to each other, and that he just left off to have fun with his friends, leaving his fiancee at home?"
However his wife's thoughts were not really on the subject. "You're right dear, but they are not children anymore. Must we spend all night talking about them?" she said as she put her arms around his neck and raised her mouth for a kiss.
Darcy kissed her hard. "I think not Madam," he said rather hoarsely.
As soon as her maid left her alone, Julianne burst into bitter tears. What was happening to them? Had Robert been right when he said that what they had might have been just a physical attraction? How could he have left her alone? Was it all over? He had treated her infamously this night, cruelly, so why was she so miserable knowing that he was getting drunk at the pub?
Is Robert feeling the same way too?
"To a world without women!" slurred Robert loudly, as he raised his glass to the air. All the men in the pub shouted likewise, and another round was called, all paid by the friendly cousin of the grand Master of Pemberley.
"Poor Rob!" cried Jack, who was the most sober of them all. "You're heartbroken aren't you?"
"NO," he replied, as he downed another drink. "I'm angry! I don't need women. They are all a nuisance!" He was totally drunk.
"I think I know just the person who will make you change your mind, Rob" his friend said slyly. "Molly! Come over here!" he cried, addressing the young woman who was standing behind the bar.
"Does anyone need company tonight?" she purred, as she stalked slowly towards their table. She sat on Robert's lap, and slowly took a sip from his drink.
Darcy couldn't sleep. He could hear the steady breathing of his wife, as she lay peacefully in his arms, but he couldn't help worrying at the delay of his cousin. The clock had chimed three o' clock ages ago and still Robert had not arrived. When the clock chimed four, he couldn't stand it any longer and gently detached himself from the embrace of his wife.
"What is the matter?" she asked sleepily.
"I'm going out to look for Robert," he explained as he dressed hurriedly.
"It is almost morning and he hasn't arrived. Elizabeth he is under my responsibility. I can't stay here doing nothing!" He quickly left the chamber and went down. As he walked briskly to the stables, he caught sight of his a horse and a rider approaching. It was Robert.
He dismounted slowly and walked unsteadily towards his cousin. He looked terrible, with his hair and clothes all unkempt and disheveled. He stumbled, but Darcy caught him midway. "Oh my God, Robert," he said in disgust. "You stink of alcohol!"
Robert looked at him, his eyes dazed and unfocused. "Julianne I'm sorry," he said in a broken voice. "I didn't want to...God knows I didn't want to..."
Darcy entered the bedroom some time later and sighed loudly. Elizabeth was waiting for him anxiously and questioned him with her eyes. He sighed loudly and kicked off his boots, the events of the night making him forget his usually tidy habits. "Could you ever have imagined that such bedlam would arise in this house with the simple presence of our cousins?" he demanded wearily.
"Why? What happened? I saw from the window that you met Robert near the stables, and I realized that he was in a very bad state," remarked his wife.
"Believe me, I do not know," he replied. "He spent the whole time I dragged him to his room mumbling apologies to Julianne. Then I just left him to the care of his valet."
"Mumbling apologies to Julianne? Whatever for?"
"From the vehemence of his apologies, my love, I think that that is something she would definitely not like to find out."
Late the next morning, Robert was, with a lot of difficulty, trying to make himself look a bit presentable to meet the other guests. He felt dreadful, looked even worse, and sorely threatened to make his overly patient manservant go crazy with his bad humour.
Julianne had heard about Robert's condition from Darcy during breakfast, and although she was still very hurt from what had passed between them the previous evening, was also very concerned about him. After all, she still cared a real lot for him, and her greatest wish was to try and reconcile their differences. She passed in front of his room discreetly and was surprised to find the door slightly ajar. She pushed it open slowly, and caught sight of Robert, as he was struggling to tie his cravat. "Paul, that was fast!" he cried as he turned around with some difficulty. "How did you manage to get it so --" He stopped abruptly and looked down as he saw Julianne in front of him.
"Good morning Robert," she began slowly.
He looked a little strained and could hardly look into her eyes as he acknowledged her greeting. "Good morning. I guess you've heard, haven't you?"
Julianne nodded and gave him a small smile. "How are you feeling now?"
Robert gave his head a small shake and groaned. "As if the war against the French is being fought inside my head," he said. "And I also have a stiff neck," he added and winced as a spasm of pain hit him.
His valet pushed the door with a little more vehemence that would be considered appropriate for a man of his station and entered quickly, carrying a mug full of some foul looking concoction. "Mrs Reynolds assured me that this brew is very useful in battling an unsettled stomach, Sir," he said woodenly. He stonily acknowledged Julianne's presence with a small bow.
"Unsettled stomach? That is an understatement if there ever was one," he remarked and drank the mixture with one breath, turning a pale shade of green as he finished it. "You can go now Paul," he whispered, and plunged deeply into a chair.
The valet left, and a sound that resembled suspiciously a snort was heard in the corridor. Robert looked a little miffed but Julianne could not resist a jibe. "You must admit Mr. Darcy, you deserve all this! Lately you have been behaving in a reprehensible manner to all who have the misfortune of knowing you!"
Robert gave her a crooked grin, and refrained from answering, finding solace in trying to move his neck. Julianne could not help pitying him, and was also glad that he was more approachable than the previous evening. She walked slowly behind the chair he was sitting on and placed her hands on his neck. "Where is it hurting you?" she asked.
"Here," he replied pointing at the particular spot with his finger. "A bit lower, almost ...ouch! Yes that's it." For some minutes, only his groans could be heard as Julianne kneaded his stiff muscles with practiced ease.
"There!" she said after some time. "Does it feel better now?"
Robert gave his neck a vigorous shake and grinned. "You performed a miracle here!" he exclaimed. He got up to hug her but she moved determinedly away. "What?" he asked.
"A hug and a cuddle can't erase what happened yesterday," she replied sharply.
"Yesterday?" he echoed, horrified.
"Yes. I'm still very hurt with some things you told me."
"Oh those! I mean -- I'm sorry Julianne. You know I didn't mean them! We were just both in a bad mood that's all," he said holding each of her hand with one of his own.
"It wasn't just that Robert, and you know it," she replied, but she did not let go of his grasp. "It has been brewing for quite some time." Robert did not answer and Julianne continued. "I don't want something like that to happen again. It was awful."
He looked at her earnestly. "You're right. But look at us today, we're here alone...[he waggled their hands and grinned sardonically] holding hands ... and we still haven't said anything nasty to each other! That does mean something, you know," he said with some levity. Julianne gave him a begrudging smile and he gained more courage. "Listen, I don't want any more secrets. We shall tell everyone about our engagement! What do you say to that?"
"What? You're not saying that to humour me, are you?" she asked, still wary.
"Don't be silly. I want to marry you, I'm sure of it. Don't you believe me?" he prodded.
Julianne looked at him deeply. "I'm sorry. Of course I believe you. You have always been honest with me," she replied.
Robert bit his lip and engulfed her into a warm embrace. "It's all settled now, isn't it? All I have to do is ask your father's consent, and that," he added, "I plan to do as soon as possible!"
I'll tell her. She will forgive me.
Yes. And your father will take the vote of chastity!
"Julianne! How could you keep this hidden from me? I cannot believe it, you have always told me everything before!" cried Jeremy reproachfully. Julianne, now sitting forlornly on his packed trunks, had just revealed to him the entire story about her engagement, and the secret she had kept from him. He was to leave with the Gardiners and the Bingleys (who had spent the night there after the ball) in a few minutes to go back to university. It was in incidents like these that Julianne fervently wished that they resembled each other also in height. Jeremy's tall frame was towering over her, making her feel more vulnerable than ever.
"I'm sorry! Robert and I had agreed to keep the affair a secret, that's all," she offered meekly.
"And you go tell Elizabeth and Georgiana about it. That makes sense," he replied, his voice dripping with bitter sarcasm.
"I don't know how to explain it. I was ... I was afraid of you."
"What?" He was sincerely stunned.
"Yes, I was scared of you, who has known me all my life, who knows my character -- you wouldn't have agreed to it! I'm sure of that!"
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because, I, myself, was not sure about it! Listen, after I talked to Lizzie, I was tempted to tell you everything, believe me, but then, I realized that it was always the same thing. I would be the one to come to you, and you would tell me what to do!" She waved her hands helplessly in the air and tried to be a bit clearer. "I wanted to do this all by myself, and bear the consequences myself. You see, if I had to suffer from my choice, I'd know that for once, it would have been done consciously by me, and me alone."
Jeremy stood silent for a moment. "I understand. However, I don't want you to feel that I am imposing on you in any way. I only offer advice, and that only when you seek it."
"I know you do that," she replied fervently. "But what should I say? You never tell me anything about yourself. Doesn't anything interesting happen in your life?"
Jeremy realized that his sister had artfully led the conversation to a different, rather awkward angle, but he was not one to resist a challenge. "I assure you that things do happen in my life, but whether they are interesting or not, is only a matter of subjective opinion."
Julianne rolled her eyes impatiently. "Speak English will you? Or better still, tell me a dark, dreadful secret of yours!"
Before her brother could reply, they were interrupted by the sudden entrance of Georgiana and Robert. The latter looked infinitely better and actually seemed very cheerful. "The carriage is here!" he announced. "It's time for you to leave!"
Jeremy gave him a mock glare. "You'd better be civil, you scoundrel," he warned. "I might be able to jeopardize your marriage to my only, beloved sister."
"But you wouldn't do that, would you, brother?"
"No. You can keep her!" he replied laughing.
Robert and Julianne went down the stairs ahead of the other two, earnestly discussing something or other. Jeremy and Georgiana followed at a more leisurely pace, each occupied with his or her own thoughts, which were unconsciously very similar. Finally Jeremy spoke up. "Miss Darcy, would you be affronted in any way were I to write to you from London?"
Georgiana smiled. "Of course not Mr. Philips. Should I be?" Seeing that he was a bit taken aback by her answer, she hastened to add, "Please do write to me, I would be very happy to correspond with you. I'd hate to see our friendship end."
They reached the bottom of the staircase and Jeremy took her hand in his and kissed it gently. "I never want it to see it end Georgiana."
The carriages departed, and Julianne stayed outside, waving till she could not see her brother's carriage any longer. Robert went up to her. "My dear, I think you need to be cheered up quite a bit!"
"I'll miss him, Robert."
"Now you have me," he replied. She nodded sadly. "Oh come on," he continued. "I don't want to see you sad. Is there anything I can do?"
"Why don't we go for a walk?" she asked him. "A walk always improves my spirits! Why don't we go to Lambton?"
Robert's grin faltered. "Lambton? Why would you want to go to Lambton?"
"I want to look at some shops, go round, meet people. Please Robert, please!"
He sighed, "Oh all right then!"
I know that!
They walked it to Lambton and the little village was bustling with activity. Many villagers looked quite surprised as the couple walked leisurely, holding hands and chatting happily. They all knew who they were, and the gossip went around like an autumn breeze.
"People are looking at us, Robert. You think we should hold hands?"
"Do you care what people say?"
"No, but I don't think it really appropriate, everyone seems to be talking about us."
"We are engaged and I want people to know!"
Julianne suddenly stopped. "Oh look at that cloth! I'll buy it and sew a little dress for the baby!"
"You sew? And why a dress? Are you sure the baby is going to be a girl?" he asked.
"Well a little dress is the only thing I can sew. Maybe by the time another Darcy is born, I would have improved my expertise!"
Robert grinned. "And would that baby be a William or a Robert the second?"
Julianne laughed and suddenly groaned. "Look who's coming," she said. "Isn't that Jack Harper?"
Her fiance paled when he caught sight of his friend. "Darcy, my charming Miss Philips! What a wonderful surprise!" He caught her hand and kissed it, while she rolled her eyes. Robert stared at him, his face white and pinched.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded in a strained voice.
"I couldn't leave without giving you a message!" he said dramatically.
"Well Molly sends her best regards, and she also said that you forgot this" he said pulling out a cravat from his pocket. "You moron, you left it in her bedroom!"
For a few minutes, none of the three spoke. Suddenly Julianne reached out and took the cravat that was still in Jack's outstretched hand. She handled it slowly, and looked up to face Robert. His face was pale, and his look of horror was only mirrored in her own expression. "Molly," she murmured flatly, and her hurt expression turned into one of absolute disgust. "I can't believe it," she said her voice still void of any emotion. "All you have told me, all that was between us, was just a lie." It was not an accusation, she seemed just to be stating a fact, and that made it all the worse for Robert, who felt as if the entire world was collapsing around him.
Julianne turned around and ran off. Robert quickly reached her, and grabbed her by the arm. "Julianne, listen to me, it is not as it seems, please stop!"
She shook her head and tried to tear her arm away from his grasp. "Let go," she hissed. "I don't want to make a scene here. Just let me go!"
Robert didn't remove his hold. "Not until you hear what I have to tell you!"
Julianne faced him squarely. "Nothing that you have to say to me will ever induce me to listen. Now, just leave me alone, and do not even dare to follow me!" With a final ounce of strength, she escaped from his grip and ran off, as fast as she could.
He was going to follow her, when he suddenly heard a snicker from behind him. It was Harper, who had witnessed the whole scene with all the gusto of a theatre lover at a performance of Shakespeare's plays. Robert felt an incredible surge of fury rise at the sight of the man who was supposed to be his friend, and grabbed him by lapel of his coat, forgetting for a moment his initial resolve to follow Julianne. He dragged him into an alley behind an old shop, trying not to give the already astonished villagers anything else to talk about. He slammed Harper's head against the wall and fought any urge to beat the life out of him. "Why?" he managed to hiss. "Why did you do that?"
Jack leered. "I didn't do anything. You were the one in bed with Molly, not I!"
Robert tightened his grasp angrily, partly because he knew that what Jack was saying was truth. "You knew that Molly didn't mean anything to me! Why did you tell Julianne? Do you want her for yourself?"
"Don't flatter yourself," the other spat. "I don't want your woman!"
"Tell me you have a motive for being such a vicious rogue," said Robert evenly. "Tell me that you didn't do this just for simple mischief!"
Harper glared at him, and Robert was taken aback when he saw the hatred in his eyes. "I hate you," he said in a low, menacing voice. "I followed you to Derbyshire, and when I say Miss Philips, I knew what would hurt you the most. I wanted you to pay for the death of my father!"
"What?" Robert was flabbergasted. What did he have to do with Mr. Harper's death? Then suddenly he remembered. Frederick Harper, one of his father's debtors, couldn't pay his debts, had resorted to ...
"I found my father in his study. He had hanged himself," replied Jack bitterly. Seeing the expression on Robert's face, he realized that the young man, who was still pushing him against the wall, had remembered the connection. "It was your father's fault," he accused. "He drove my father to ruin!"
Robert shook his head vehemently. "That's not the true story! Your father ruined himself with his gambling. My father lent him money, then only wanted what was rightfully his! He never put pressure on him."
"I don't believe you," Jack replied bitterly.
"And I do not care," Robert snapped back. "I'm sorry for what happened to your father, and if you had any fragment of decency in you, I would offer you any help, but now! I know now who you really are and I don't want to have anything to do with you."
Harper looked at him defiantly. "I don't want anything from you, seeing your state now is enough! Come on, why don't you beat me now?"
Robert let go of him. "I have better things to do Jack. And thank your lucky stars, because if I started beating you, I wouldn't have been able stop." He gave him one last disgusted look and cursed himself for losing so much time with him, when he could have been following the girl he loved, the same one he had hurt so cruelly.
Julianne ran through the trees, blinded by her tears and breathless from her sobbing and her frantic dash. She chose not to stick to the path, because she could hear Robert's voice calling out her name from behind her.
Robert ... Liar!
She ran through a shortcut she had discovered during the early days of her visit at Pemberley, and very soon found herself within sight of the great house. Her thoughts were in an utter state of confusion as she remembered all the particulars of her relationship with him.
"I don't want any more secrets between us." LIAR!
"We are engaged and I want everyone to know!" FRAUD!
That is why he came late yesterday. That's the reason for our engagement. He wanted to escape from any responsibilities concerning Molly!
Julianne had never felt so hurt, so betrayed and humiliated in her life! She didn't know what to do now, or how to act. She ran quickly up the stairs that led to the front door, and found herself bumping into Darcy.
Robert rushed inside the house, hoping against hope that Julianne had arrived there before him. He had run all the way from Lambton, hoping that he would meet her along the way, but he had not seen any trace of her. Georgiana, Elizabeth and Darcy met him in the hall, and the looks on their faces gave him the assurance he needed. At least, Julianne was at Pemberley.
"Where is she?" he asked breathlessly.
"I think you have some explaining to do," said Elizabeth sternly. "Can you tell me why my cousin burst into the house breathless and sobbing, and why she ran up to her room without talking to anyone?"
"Didn't she tell you?" asked Robert, not knowing whether to be surprised or relieved.
It was Darcy now who spoke up. "She bumped into me, but she refused to tell me anything before she spoke to you. She said that she didn't want to show you in a bad light before us before confronting you"
Robert was touched. He had treated her so abominably, and yet she wanted to give him a fair trial. Julianne was so decent! The thought of losing her suddenly hit him as a hard reality. No, he couldn't let her go, he would have to talk to her, to cajole forgiveness. He was ready to beg her to forgive him, he would do anything!
Suddenly he heard a noise, and saw her standing at the top of the stairs. Her face was still pale and her eyes were swollen and red from crying, but she held her head high, and regarded him with the air of stubborn dignity that he had so often witnessed and admired. He slowly mounted the stairs, while the Darcys discreetly left them alone, still bemused and totally at loss.
Before Robert could say a word, Julianne spoke up. Her voice, which was before flat and unemotional, was now broken with sadness and bitterness. She still held the incriminating cravat in her hand, and was caressing it mechanically. "I've been trying to convince myself that this is not true, that it is all a mistake or a joke," she began. "But I can't believe it anymore. Unfortunately, all your behaviour towards me seems to confirm all that Jack Harper has implied. Now, I want you to respect me enough to tell me the whole truth."
Robert looked down in absolute shame, and knew that he had to come clean. "It's true Julianne, I cannot deny it."
She closed her eyes in despair as his words confirmed all her deepest fears, and then walked slowly towards her room. Robert followed her in silence, and she made no protest. He had no way of knowing what she was thinking, because her faced masked all emotions. They entered her room and stood in total silence, until Julianne turned around, and flung the cravat angrily into the fire. "Why Robert?" she demanded. "Why did you do this to me? Did I wrong you in any way? Is there anything wrong with me?" She was facing him squarely now, her expression laced with a different emotions that were difficult to fathom.
"There is nothing wrong with you Julianne! It was just a stupid, horrible, idiotic mistake! I am to blame!" he cried. Then seeing that she did not answer, he continued. "I promise, I swear that I won't do it again."
Julianne narrowed her eyes. "From now on you can do anything you like Mr. Darcy, because your actions will not concern me anymore." Robert gasped incredulously and she went on. "I want this farcical engagement to end, and I hope that any relationship of ours will come to the same amicable conclusion."
"What?! NO! It can't finish like this!" he cried. "Molly meant nothing to me! I was just drunk; I didn't know what I was doing! Surely you can see that?"
She regarded him coldly. "All I can see Mr. Darcy is that you spent the night with another woman, and that you did not have the courage and decency to confess your disgusting behaviour. You tried to take me on, and the worst thing is that I would have believed any of your lies had we not met Mr. Harper." She took a deep breath and went on. "You were right when you said we must wait to get married. Luckily, our engagement ended before it was announced on the papers, and no irreparable harm has been done. We are both young, and have much to look forward to."
Robert could not believe his ears. Is it all over? He was so sorry for what he had done, couldn't she see that he was desperate?
Of course she can't see it! She is hurt, heartbroken, betrayed, angry, need I go on?
"I don't want our story to end," he said, his voice breaking. "Julianne, I love you."
It was the first time he had said those words, and they both knew it. However, Julianne's resolved was not to be shaken. "That is a bit too little, too late, Mr. Darcy," she said angrily. "You have had your share of the fun, and it is now my turn to lay down the rules! Our engagement is over, and that is my last word." She turned around and walked to the window. "Now get out," she snapped. "And stop making a fool of yourself!"
Darcy and Elizabeth heard the loud sound of a slamming door, and then absolute silence. Georgiana looked at them, totally bewildered, but neither they could offer some kind of explanation other than that of a serious dispute between the two lovers. They walked cautiously to the hall, where they could see Robert walking slowly down the stairs. His face was dazed, pale, the very picture of a defeated man. Darcy had never known his cousin to look so devastated and was immediately hit by a sense of foreboding. All too familiar feelings lashed at him, and he realized what had happened to the young man.
He looks just like I did after that damn proposal. Robert, I think you totally blew it this time.
His cousin walked over to him slowly, and shook his head. "Darcy, she has just ruined my life," he said, his voice visibly shaken.
Elizabeth bristled. "I seriously doubt that my cousin has the disposition or inclination to do so, Robert Darcy," she said severely, slyly ignoring her husband's earnest looks of disapprobation. "At least," she added, "not without sufficient reason!"
At this comment, Robert's sorrow seemed to take a turn for fury and he swiftly turned round to place a piercing glare at his cousin's wife, whom she impeccably imitated, before hurrying up the staircase to offer comfort to Julianne.
Darcy caught his angry relative by the arm and dragged him into his study. He pushed him firmly on a chair while he leant back on his desk, all obliging and ready to listen. "Tell me what happened Robert, and I want the truth. Why was Julianne so upset?"
"Darcy, were you aware that last week I asked Julianne to marry me?"
The astounded reaction Robert was expecting did not come. His cousin, who knew all too well about Robert and Julianne's relationship, just gestured with his hands for him to go on. Robert did go on, haltingly at first, but then his story gained more and more feeling as he described what had passed between him and his fiancee. "Lord, Darcy! It was just a mistake! Why can't she understand that?" He got up furiously from his chair and paced around the room. "Damn Harper! Damn Molly, whoever she is!"
Darcy could take it no longer. Had his uncle reared such an idiot for a son? "Why don't you start damning yourself?" he demanded. "Robert, you know you are the sole responsible for what happened, so stop this stupid self pity. It will have absolutely no effect on me."
Robert stared at him, realizing from the stern look on the man's face that he was not to expect sympathy from Fitzwilliam Darcy. "If Harper had not set me up --"
"Oh please! There will always be Harpers around setting you up but, unfortunately for you, there will be only one Julianne, and that you have lost by your irresponsible behaviour!"
"It wasn't my fault!"
"Then whose fault was it? Tell me that! Who was with the barmaid while his unsuspecting fiancee was at home?" he demanded. Robert did not answer and Darcy lashed on. "When will you start taking some responsibilities of your actions? For God's sake you're not a ten year old shrimp any longer!"
"Oh, I forgot your perfection Fitzwilliam," he snapped. "You are so responsible aren't you? A perfect home, a perfect wife, doting servants! Where could one err?"
"Oh you think I've had a perfect life don't you? You know well enough what my life was. At your age I had to take care of the whole estate and a twelve year old sister, alone! How would you have liked that?" He took a deep breath and glared at the downcast young man in front of him. "You need a good doze of good sense slammed right into you Robert," he continued. "You have had too much your own way, and I was glad that you had set your heart on such a sensible girl." He frowned in disgust. "Now look what you've done1"
"All right! Stop now! You're right, I am to blame," he interrupted bitterly. "I know it now, like I always knew it before." He ran his hand helplessly through his dark hair and refused to meet Darcy's eye. "I hurt her, I know that but I'm sorry for what I've done. This is so stupid! It's not like I fell in love with another woman or anything. Darcy, I can't even remember Molly's face!"
"What?" he asked. Had Robert been so drunk?
Robert nodded and sat down again, looking down on his boots. "I don't remember a thing of what happened last night. Fitzwilliam, it was even my first time," he confessed, gulping. "This was not the way it should have happened! All I remember was finding myself alone in a bed with this horrible headache --" He stopped unable to continue, and found solace in tracing the curved surface of the chair with his finger.
Darcy limited his reaction to one raised eyebrow. "I don't know if this will comfort you Rob, or maybe add insult to your injury, but I now seriously doubt that in your condition, anything really happened last night."
Robert's head snapped up. "What?"
Darcy nodded, and went upon to explain the intricate biological factors (caused by excess alcohol), which would have probably prevented Robert from totally being able to indulge in the pleasures offered by precocious women the previous night. The young man hardly knew whether to be happy or rather humiliated by this knowledge and finally set his heart on the former. "But this solves everything doesn't it?" he asked enthusiastically. "I just have to tell Julianne that nothing happened and--"
"Oh of course! Do that!" replied Darcy, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "How on earth could anyone think you were a flirt! My God, Robert, when it comes to the opposite sex you are totally clueless! Do you think that saying that will reconcile you to Julianne? The whole point is that you were flirting around with Molly when you were supposed to be here. At Pemberley. With her."
There was a pause while his cousin took it all in. "I understand."
"But I still don't know what I'm going to do."
"Listen, give her and yourself some time to reflect upon these past weeks. Go back to your estate, spend some time alone or with your father, think about your wrong doings and try to improve. In time she will cool off, and maybe offer you another chance."
"Is this wisdom or experience?" asked Robert slowly.
Darcy looked at him seriously and, with much emotion, admitted to him the story of his first disastrous proposal to Elizabeth, and the terrible months of yearning and heartbreak that followed. Robert listened carefully, enthralled, scarcely believing what he heard. He could have never imagined that such a harmonious relationship could have had such a terrible beginning.
When Darcy finished, Robert put forward the question that was foremost in his mind. "Will you help me Fitzwilliam?" he asked earnestly. His cousin nodded seriously and Robert shook hands with him earnestly. "Thank you," he said. "I guess it is now time for me to pack my trunks."
Elizabeth entered Julianne's room, finding her sobbing pitifully on her bed. The two cousins embraced each other tightly in silence, and stayed like that for a long time, each trying to find the best-suited words to explain what was going on in their minds and heart.
"Sssh," whispered Elizabeth after some time, as she slowly stroked Julianne's hair. "Stop crying now, all will be well, I promise."
Julianne shook her head vehemently. "No, nothing will be well, not while we're both under the same roof!"
"What did he do to you Ju?" asked Elizabeth gently. "Please tell me, keeping it to yourself is so much worse!"
Her cousin steeled herself, and although she never wished her brother's presence more than she did at that moment, she contented herself by telling her story to another – almost equally dear—listener.
"So now you know everything," she concluded. "And you may guess why I am determined to leave Pemberley tomorrow."
"What? Leave Pemberley? No Julianne, please," pleaded Elizabeth. "I want to be near you in this time of sorrow."
"No," she replied stubbornly. "You should not be worrying about me in your condition. You have your husband and your unborn child to think about! Staying here will bring nothing but more distress, to all concerned."
"But I don't want you to go, you'll be alone in Hertfordshire!"
"I will not be alone, there will be my parents, your parents, the Lucases…"
"You know what I mean!"
"I'm not worried Lizzie," she said with a shadow of her old smile. "Why, being with Mamma will do me good, I'm sure. Probably, her influence will make marriage seem detestable as it once was!"
They both looked away from the eyes of the other, and did not speak, trying to comfort themselves with silence.
Robert Darcy left the next day at dawn, with only his cousin to bid him goodbye. He left in shame, but with a determined resolution to make amends, and to win back the heart he had so carelessly thrown away. It was a difficult task to do and he knew it, but he was able to derive some comfort from the knowledge that Fitzwilliam Darcy was willing to help him and he was certain that where that great man was concerned, nothing could really go wrong.
Some hours later, the Darcy's were saying goodbye to their other guest. While the footmen piled the trunks on the carriage, Elizabeth silently fussed over Julianne, tucking a stubborn lock of hair under the bonnet, helping her on with the gloves and trying to make her as warm as possible. Julianne was not offended at being treated like a little girl, in fact these tiny actions made her love her cousin all the more, and rendered her departure incredibly difficult. "You should not be out here in the cold, Lizzie," she began.
"I wouldn't be inside for anything in the world," replied Elizabeth, sobbing.
Julianne held back the tears as she embraced her and Georgiana goodbye, but broke down when Darcy bent down to give her an affectionate hug. She would have never imagined it from a man so respectful of propriety and the gesture touched her deeply. She ran to the carriage and refused to look back at them until they were far out of sight.
Tears streamed down both Elizabeth's and Julianne's face, but while the former could seek comfort in the warm arms of a loving husband, the latter had to find solace in the piercing silence of the carriage and the soft velvet seats of the Darcy carriage. She could only hope that time, maybe, would be able to soothe her fresh wounds, and make her forgive, and possibly forget, the man who created such havoc in her young life.
Jeremy stared in dismay at the letters that he held in front of him in the dim light of his lodgings. He had received an account of the same story from Julianne, Robert and Georgiana and could only shake his head ruefully as he tried to think of a way to clear out this mess that his sister and her former fiance had made of their lives. One letter he held most dear though, especially one line from it, so simple, and yet so meaningful.
I sincerely hope Mr. Darcy, that this unfortunate affair will not affect the wonderful friendship that unites us. I would not bear to have it thus interrupted…
Your friend (I hope)
Continued in Part 3
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