In Ten Days Time
As Darcy crossed the threshold of the house, Bingley said, "You tell me now that she was in London all those months and you concealed it from me?"
Relieved that Bingley was beginning to understand his transgressions, Darcy replied, "Yes. I can offer no justification. It was an arrogant presumption based on a failure to recognize your true feelings...and Miss Bennet's. I should never have interfered. It was very wrong of me, Bingley, and I apologize."
Bingley looked both angry and confused now. He asked, "You admit that you were in the wrong?"
Darcy calmly replied, "Utterly and completely."
When Bingley asked, "Then I have your blessing?" Darcy was flabbergasted.
He couldn't believe that Bingley would seek his opinion after all he had just revealed. Also, he felt that as Charles was about to marry and become the true head of his household, he should learn to value his own judgment. Darcy replied, "Do you need my blessing?"
Bingley squared his shoulders and replied, "No. But I should like to know I have it all the same." The fervent energy in his eyes touched Darcy deeply.
Thinking of Hurst's admonishment to them, Darcy replied, "Then go to it!" He then continued on into the carriage.
Bingley looked after Darcy in amazement. Darcy's return gaze was serious and sad. How he envied his friend!
Day One- A Long and Winding Road
Some moments later as Darcy's carriage neared the road to turn off towards Longbourn he caught sight of his friend on horseback-- tearing across the fields at top speed. Darcy smiled as he saw Bingley reach the road to Longbourn, pause, square his shoulders, and then set off at a more proper pace towards the estate. Lucky man! What joy awaited him...
Watching Bingley trot up the hill, Darcy idly noted and muttered, "Bingley, you bounce like a sack of potatoes in the saddle! We shall have to work on that." He sat back in his seat as his friend disappeared over the hill to Longbourn. His habit of looking after his friend was still with him. He would have to mark this tendency and be careful lest he overstep his bounds and interfere overmuch in Bingley's life again.
As he left the Hertfordshire neighborhood his thoughts returned to their visit to Longbourn. Elizabeth had seemed so serious. She had barely met his eye. She only spoke when her mother's conduct embarrassed her into doing so. But what had he expected? What conduct had he expected from her in front of her family?
He nearly laughed out loud at how her family would react were she to even address him in a friendly manner before them. She excited him so much that he could barely contain his adoration and behave properly when he was near her. He knew enough of Mrs. Bennet to know that her senses and instincts were finely tuned when it came to eligible young men and their admiration for her daughters.
A small voice in his mind conjectured hopefully that perhaps Elizabeth felt as he did and was unable to speak easily with him as a result. He dismissed this thought as fanciful.
As to his own conduct, he was also confused there. He could not be as easy with Mrs. Bennet as he was in company with her brother and sister-in-law. In addition to being generally quite silly, Mrs. Bennet seemed bent on coldness to him. He supposed from her comments that she still believed that he had deprived Wickham of his rightful inheritance. Despite his knowledge of how unjust her feelings were, he would not change her views by making his assistance of Lydia known. He cringed at the thought of Elizabeth feeling only polite gratitude towards him when he felt so much more towards her.
The small voice in his mind proposed that if Elizabeth felt only gratitude and polite indebtedness to him she would address him as a proper and indifferent acquaintance. He was certain that he preferred silence from her to that! His confusion increased.
He did worry that they were unable to be in company together easily. His admiration of her had rarely allowed him ease in her presence. How much had been repaired by a few days of felicity together in Derbyshire? Could such a short time of pleasantness stand up to so many months of loathing?
The road away from Hertfordshire to London seemed remarkably long that afternoon. Darcy arrived at his house in London weary and discouraged. He stepped from the carriage and walked eagerly to the house, grateful to have arrived at last.
His housekeeper, Mrs. Davis, greeted him warmly but with surprise. No urgent business brought him to town. He had decided but the day before to leave for London after telling Bingley of his ill conduct of the previous year. Whether Bingley were angry with him (as Darcy felt he ought to have been), or were simply in need of privacy to address Miss Bennet, Darcy felt that his absence would be appreciated.
Mrs. Davis asked whether friends or family would join him. Learning he came alone, she set to preparation of dinner. Darcy looked about the entrance hall, aware of the servants, but more aware of how his footsteps echoed on the cold stone. He could not help but wish that Elizabeth were beside him. He walked down the long hallway toward the staircase. The house was colder and darker than it would have been had he given the staff more notice. He could see servants lighting fires and candles in rooms they thought he might use this evening. They worked quietly. Again he was struck by the empty echo of his lone footfalls as he mounted the stairs.
Reaching the top of the stairs, he looked back down at the hall. It was beautifully appointed, but cold and empty. He had a disturbing sense of what his life might be if he did not change the path he was on. The cold and emptiness of he hall filled him.
His valet, Mr. Dillon, greeted him quietly. Darcy had always valued Dillon's tendency to say very little. When in Town, Darcy was inevitably in company with people who said far too much (in his opinion), so Dillon's general lack of conversation pleased him greatly.
"Bath, sir?" asked Dillon.
"Yes," replied Darcy. Then, worrying that he sounded imperious, he added, "Thank you, Mr. Dillon." Dillon stopped and looked at Darcy with some surprise, nodded, and left to see to the bath.
Darcy paced the chamber, gratefully stretching his legs. Mrs. Davis knocked at the door and then entered with some tea for him. He accepted it and took a seat at the table. She backed away to leave, but he stopped her, asking, "How are you, Mrs. Davis? And your family?"
Mrs. Davis replied, "They are all well, sir, as am I. I hope the same can be said of you?"
Darcy smiled ruefully. Though his housekeeper hid her surprise well, he knew it was unusual for him to converse politely with her or the other servants. His feelings of being 'hunted' by London Society did not leave him in the best of temper. His town servants had always seen the worst of him. While he knew that he was regarded somewhat differently at Pemberley, he had decided to look to his conduct away from his estate as well.
He replied to Mrs. Davis, "Thank you, ma'am. I am glad you and your family are well. Also, I am well. I apologize for not giving you notice I was to arrive today. Thank you for all of the arrangements you tend to without notice. I do appreciate your efforts."
Mrs. Davis looked as surprised as any good servant accustomed to going long periods without recognition. Quietly, she replied, "Thank you, sir. I am glad to do whatever is needed." Then she turned and left the room.
Darcy realized that her quick retreat was as much in awareness that he might wish to freshen up after his travels as from her surprise at his loquacity. He also realized that he was not just talking with his servants in order to be less self-centered or to improve his conduct. He was lonely.
Though the bath was warm, the cold and emptiness of the hall stayed with him.
Day Two- A Man of Thought
Daylight revealed cloud-filled skies and rain-slicked streets. Darcy had slept poorly. His thoughts were far too active for a deep slumber to be possible.
He wondered whether Bingley might even already be engaged to Jane Bennet. It could not take long for a happy resolution to be reached. Bingley was eager. Jane was receptive. As to an opportunity for them to speak alone, Darcy felt certain that Mrs. Bennet could be relied upon to provide that... He grinned at the thought.
In his haste, Bingley had probably arrived before the ladies of Longbourn were even dressed and down to breakfast table. Before they were dressed... Laying back against his pillow with his arms crossed behind his head, he found himself trying to imagine Elizabeth in a nightdress, her hair curling wildly down about her shoulders. He sighed and closed his eyes. In his mind's eye she was eager for his embraces and kisses. He allowed this fantasy to continue for a fanciful moment before leaping from the bed to splash cool water on his face with a frustrated groan. He pressed his hands firmly against his eyes, banishing the thoughts that plagued his nights.
He rang for Dillon and began his preparations for the day.
He had a light breakfast of tea and toast. Seated at the table, he faced a portrait of himself as a child sitting together with his mother in the rose garden at Pemberley. Looking up at the portrait, he decided to write a letter to Georgiana, who was still at Pemberley with her companion, Mrs. Annesley.
My dear Georgiana,
Greetings and good morning. I hope that this letter will find you and Mrs. Annesley well and content. I write to you from our house in Town. After several days of hunting in the Hertfordshire countryside, I have left Mr. Bingley's company to attend to some business here.
Mr. Bingley was very well on my departure. When I left Netherfield he was not only enjoying the country air and sport, but also the society of a young lady whose acquaintance he had made last year. I will be surprised if he does not have joyous news to share with us shortly. I will be certain to share any information with you as soon as I am in possession of it. I know you will join me in wishing him every happiness.
I find myself pensive this morning. From the portrait by the fireplace, Mother smiles on me. I remember the painter coming to Pemberley to take the portrait. I was all of five years. Mother kissed me on both cheeks when I was dressed and ready. I was frightened of the stranger in our home, for I was as shy as any young child could be. Mother allowed me to bring down my toy bear, Guildford, but the painter discouraged including him in the painting. He is therefore invisible to the viewer as he was hidden behind the folds of mother's skirt on the bench, just near enough to comfort me.
Memory is an amazing thing. Sitting here looking at the painting I remember the scent of the paints, the heat of the sunlight, laughter, the delicate perfume that mother wore. Her dress was made of a satin. It was very soft to the touch. You can see my hand on her sleeve, savoring both the smoothness of the cloth and the feel of her protective embrace and gentle guidance.
I am amazed at how very much you have grown to resemble her, both in appearance and spirit. I remember her sweetness and gentility. Though she had many responsibilities she had such patience... and a consuming desire to contribute to the happiness of those around her. The happiness of others was her primary goal. She was so very good. Continue to grow in your resemblance to her and you will always be happy and admired.
I will check with your music master and your favorite bookseller to see if they have any items for me to bring home to you at Pemberley. Write post-haste if you have any other commissions for me. I am to return to Netherfield next week, but know not how long I may remain in that neighborhood. I will write you upon my arrival there to tell you of my plans.
I will write again soon. Please take the best of care of yourself.
Your loving brother,
He knew Georgiana would be puzzled to receive so short a letter from him, but he was unable to concentrate further. All he could think of was the dilemma he was presented with. How could he win Elizabeth Bennet to his wife?
Attempting to turn to a logical approach, he remembered her objections to him and his proposal in April. Her objections were: first, that he had ruined the happiness (perhaps forever) of her most beloved sister; second, that he had thrown off his childhood friend, Mr. Wickham, and reduced him to his present state of poverty; but most importantly, that he had not behaved in a gentleman-like manner to her, and that he behaved with arrogance, conceit, and selfish disdain for the feelings of others. In summary, he was the last man she could be prevailed upon to marry.
Indeed, this imposing catalog of failings was depressing. On the other hand, he could not but feel that he had begun to remedy some of these items. He had confessed his deception of Bingley and encouraged him to pursue happiness with Miss Bennet. He had convinced Elizabeth that Mr. Wickham's account of their history was false. As to his behavior to her and others... while he could not change the past, he certainly behaved as a gentleman to her now. More importantly, he would continue to do so. He would behave as a gentleman and moreover as a gentleman deeply in love with her. And he quite strongly doubted that there were many left in the world who could accuse him of arrogance, conceit, and selfish disdain for the feelings of others--- at least based on current observation.
Quite simply, Miss Bennet's accusation had so deeply penetrated his heart and soul that he had taken steps to attend to these failings every moment of every day since. Was he still the last man on earth she could be prevailed upon to marry? Looked at from a logical standpoint, it would not seem to make as much sense as previously. Unfortunately, he could not speak to the subject from an emotional point of view with any level of confidence. He had been so wrong in his assessment of her feelings toward him in the past...
Restless and full of questions and frustrations, he decided to go for a fencing lesson. Though he was accomplished with the foil, he always enjoyed learning new techniques. Mr. Baines had proven himself exceptional time and again in providing fresh challenges. Darcy was also in need of exertion, stimulus to concentrate on thoughts not centered on Elizabeth Bennet, and the clean precision and ordered demands of the sport.
Some hours later as he finished his time there he was pleased with Mr. Baines' observation, "Very good, sir. You have mastered much of the anger that drove you from the Spring through into the Summer. If I may be allowed, I hope that you have conquered the difficulties that were pressing on you."
Darcy replied, "As do I, Mr. Baines. Thank you."
Day Three- Man or Beast?
Though Darcy was still not in the best frame of mind to appreciate it, the weather was unusually fine. Walking in the park he watched every happy couple with the greatest of envy, wondering how those people were able to avoid misunderstandings and obtain the felicity which eluded him.
On returning to his house, he walked once more to the dining room. He studied the portrait of his mother and himself. For the first time he noticed a book on the bench next to his mother. His fingers traced its outline as he attempted to remember...
To amuse him she had read to him that day. The story was in French. Why could he not remember?
After lunch he went into the library and looked at the shelves, attempting to remember which book his mother had read to him the day their portrait was painted. He eventually gave up the search and settled into a book he'd been reading the last time he'd been in town. His attention wandered much. Eventually he fell into a nightmare-filled sleep.
...In the mists, Elizabeth was running before him. Occasionally she would glance back, he fancied in teasing admiration. Oddly enough she seemed to whimper when she felt him closing on her. He glanced down at his paws. He was a quick wolf, quick and deadly. He leapt. Elizabeth fell under his furry body. No, not a wolf. Elizabeth was screaming. He left her and ran through the rose garden.
Elizabeth was running from him. He paused in his chase and looked into the mirror on the wall. He had the face of a beast. He heard harsh laughter. He looked down beside him to see his cousin, Anne, smiling up at him. Lady Catherine told him how pleased she was that Anne was finally his wife. Lady Catherine led them to his bedchamber at Rosings and pushed Anne into his arms, which snaked about him tightly.
He ran down the cold hallway and through the arch into the rose garden. He saw his mother talking to him, a boy of five years of age. She told his boy self not to be a beast. The book she held was "La Belle et La Bette," his favorite. She walked away from him, smiling and disappearing.
His mother lay on the bed, so pale and weak. She read from the book to Georgiana, trying to capture one of the many moments they were to lose. He screamed for his mother not to die, not to leave. No sound was heard. Wickham took the infant Georgiana from her mother's arms and left the room.
He ran through the rose garden. Elizabeth was running before him. Quick and deadly, he leapt at her, claws at the ready...
Darcy awoke with a start. His own yells had awakened him. He was shaking as he sat in the chair. He leaned over and held his head in his hands. He wiped the sweat from his brow and breathed deeply, in and out. He sat up, embarrassed when Mrs. Davis entered the room with a tray of refreshments a moment later. She smiled kindly and said, "Perhaps some refreshment might help, sir."
He nodded and took the offered tea in trembling hands. As she reached the door, he remembered to thank her. Darcy was touched and reassured by the warm smile she gave him.
Determined to pull himself from his emotional turmoil, Darcy turned to activity. He was able to force himself to concentrate on estate business, answering necessary correspondence and attending to business with his attorneys. The balance of the day passed calmly. Only occasionally and fleetingly did his distress return. A shake of his head and a long look at evidence of his many responsibilities nearly crowded it from his mind.
That evening Darcy decided to take in a play. He considered attending a performance of "Romeo and Juliet," but decided that such tragic romance might be beyond his abilities to withstand at present. He finally chose to attend a performance of "Richard III." He was late arriving, but slipped into his box just as the first soliloquy began. Though the subject matter was not likely to cheer him, he was familiar with some of the actors giving this production and anticipated it as a welcome distraction. He had always found the history fascinating and found new aspects to it with each viewing of the play. At the very least he would be quite capable of observing Richard as someone more tragic and flawed... and beastly... than himself, he ruefully observed.
At the intermission after Act III, he was set to step from his box when he overheard the harsh tones of Miss Caroline Bingley in the hallway beyond. He stopped in surprise and remained unseen as she said, "Perhaps I should follow Richard's example and murder our brother, Louisa! How could this befall us! To have to bow to Jane Bennet as mistress of Netherfield Park! It is not to be born!"
Darcy could not help but smile at the welcome news that his friend's proposal had been accepted.
Mrs. Hurst replied, "I was as surprised as you when Arthur came home bearing this news, Caroline. And he seemed entirely unconcerned! I was quite put out with him and was glad when he declined to join us here. I hoped that an evening at the theater would distract us from the goings on at Netherfield. Please, dear, do calm yourself before someone overhears."
"What care I for people who eavesdrop? It is all for naught with Charles marrying to shame us. No one of importance is here this time of year anyway," replied Miss Bingley. "Oh, Louisa. This means that Mr. Darcy will again be thrown in company again with that wretched Eliza Bennet! I cannot bear it! Seeing her at Pemberley was almost too much. How is it that these Bennet girls manage to impose themselves so thoroughly? They are insidious. What does he see in her?"
Mrs. Hurst spoke up, "We shall have to bear with both Jane Bennet's company and that of her family if we wish to be received at Netherfield, Caroline. You must realize that. So calm yourself. With her connections this is just the sort of crowd in which someone she knows might overhear your lament. As to Eliza Bennet, do not fret. Once Mr. Darcy spends time in the company of MRS. Bennet again he will forget any attraction Miss Eliza's eyes hold for him." Mrs. Hurst laughed.
Miss Bingley replied forcefully, "Do NOT speak of her eyes! I shall scream! How can I even believe that the mother will repulse him as she ought when he looks at the daughter as he does? Oh, do let us leave, Louisa. This is dreadfully dull. I only wished to see the play because Mr. Darcy expressed an admiration of it once. Though I do not understand Mr. Darcy's admiration, I have seen enough to converse on it with him..." Her voice trailed off as the sisters moved away down the passage.
Darcy leaned back against the wall and laughed softly to himself. Many times Miss Bingley had seemed strangely uninformed regarding plays she professed admiration of and had seemed to believe any pretend ending he concocted. Whenever he'd confessed his trickery she'd pretended to be humoring him. Though he'd had his suspicions, he now understood why it so often seemed she knew only half the story!
Day Four- A Man of... Shopping?
In the morning, Darcy went to visit Georgiana's music masters. He collected musical selections for her that he knew she eagerly awaited. Truth be told, Darcy was as eager to hear her play the selections. Georgiana's accomplishments in the area of music impressed him greatly. He had also already seen that her confidence in her musical abilities might help her overcome shyness and make herself known in company.
Following the last of these errands he went to visit his favorite tailor. Darcy was a man of good fashion. He did not follow every trend, but preferred to maintain a dignified and traditional style of dress. He was not a flamboyant man in nature, therefore he was not a flamboyant man in dress. But for the trials to come, he wished to appear at the greatest advantage. He had been assured by many that he presented a fine figure. He had certainly been assured of that often enough when in society.
Unfortunately, he did not have the slightest idea of how to win approval of his person from Elizabeth. He had always taken appropriate care of his appearance before her, to no avail. In fact, the one time she had seemed to look at him with any interest was the day they had met at Pemberley. That day he had been a state of dishabille. He repressed a grin at the thought that perhaps he should pay someone to make certain that he was always in a soaked and wretchedly inappropriate state before he greeted her. Of course he would do so if it would guarantee that she would look at him that way... The look on her face as she glanced up and down his form that day had fed the fire of many a dream since.
The tailor took his many measurements as Darcy faced himself in the full-length mirror. He had never spent a great deal of time before mirrors. Today, however, he considered his appearance as it might affect his suit to Miss Bennet. He did not think he was at all unattractive. He was quite tall. Many hours of fencing, horse-back riding, swimming, and other sports had contributed to give him a healthy and well-toned physique. His face was not unpleasant. Perhaps if he smiled more...
The tailor spoke up, "Special occasion, sir?"
Darcy was startled from his self-examination and cleared his throat as he shifted his eyes to the tailor's friendly face. He hesitated and replied, "Not so much an occasion, Nichols, but I do wish to appear to the best advantage."
Nichols laughed at this reply, "Ah, then there is a young lady to be impressed! The most special of occasions, Mr. Darcy. Have no fear. I shall give you my best work!"
Darcy smiled. Nichols moved over to some selections of cloth and continued, "Your long coat is especially handsome, sir. I have a rich, dark cloth that would do very well for you for a jacket. It would set off your eyes well and contrast the coat. But... perhaps some lighter colors... perhaps a light checked gray for a vest... over a crisp white shirt, of course... perhaps some cream colored trousers... All together the warmth of that combination should help put your young lady at ease. So, I shall create a warm and handsome ensemble for you, sir. An outfit to win any young lady's heart." Darcy followed Nichols' movements as he sped from one bolt of cloth to the next, pulling some that matched his fancy to the forefront, tossing others to the side. At last a set seemed to have been chosen. Nichols promised to work night and day and deliver the new ensemble to Darcy's house before the following Friday.
The awkwardness of clothing purchases aside, Darcy sought out the booksellers. He hoped not only to find some appropriate selections for Georgiana, but also several items for himself and his libraries in town and at Pemberley. He immersed himself in the search through the fascination-filled shelves, a peaceful sense of calm flowing through him. Searching through a shop of many volumes filled him with possibility and anticipation at what would be revealed to him therein.
The greatest revelation of the day, however, was not to be found in books. From behind a voice inquired, "Mr. Darcy?" He turned to see who the speaker was.
Mrs. Edward Gardiner stood before him, a smile of delight across her face. "It is you! It is good to see you, again. I hope that you are well?"
Genuine pleasure lit up Darcy's countenance. "I am. I only hope the same can be said of you and your family?"
Mrs. Gardiner replied, "Yes. We are all well. Mr. Gardiner is here with me seeking some particular volume or other. And we have had such good tidings from our niece, Jane. She is engaged to marry your dear friend, Mr. Bingley. I suppose that you have heard of it?"
Darcy smiled slightly, "I have not received a letter from Mr. Bingley as yet, but when I departed Hertfordshire I expected that he would seek Miss Bennet's favor shortly."
Mr. Gardiner walked up beside his wife and heartily greeted Darcy with a friendly handshake. "Mr. Darcy, this is indeed a welcome surprise. What brings you to London?"
Darcy quickly replied, "Business with my attorneys, sir. I only arrived a few days ago. I plan to return to Hertfordshire next week."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner exchanged a look. Mr. Gardiner replied, "Ah, we have had good news from Hertfordshire. It seems that our niece Jane is to marry your friend, Mr. Bingley."
Mr. Darcy said, "Yes. Your wife and I were just speaking of that. I am heartily glad for them both. She is a delightful young woman and I know that my friend has admired her from the very first days of their acquaintance. I believe that they will be very happy together."
Mrs. Gardiner smiled happily and spoke up, "You must join us for dinner one evening, Mr. Darcy. Would Monday or Tuesday perhaps suit you?" Mr. Gardiner smiled eagerly and nodded his urging. Darcy was glad for the invitation and the opportunity to become further acquainted with the Gardiners, therefore he accepted with anticipation. Before the three parted it was agreed that Mr. Darcy would dine with his friends in Cheapside in two days' time.
Darcy watched as the Gardiners walk away from him, arm in arm. Mr. Gardiner leaned in and spoke to his wife. She laughed lightly and patted his arm. It was obvious to anyone who saw them that theirs was a union of understanding and happiness.
Such would be the union of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet. Darcy stopped in mid-stride as he fully realized that his friendship with Bingley would no longer be the same. It would serve as another reminder of just how alone he really was. Darcy saw to his purchases and called for his chaise.
It began to rain again. Riding back to his house, Darcy looked out at the cold, gray streets. How he wanted to return to Hertfordshire! Yet at the same time, he feared what might happen there more than he had ever feared anything.
Day Five- A Man of Prayer
Darcy was a man of good principle who regularly attended Sunday service. He had been raised to believe that doing so was right and proper and he truly valued church service. Nevertheless, this Sunday found him desiring to be elsewhere. He was distracted and frustrated.
That morning he took his breakfast, aware of just how alone he was. He could not even lose himself in reading. His distraction of thought was too great. He looked about the table, wishing he were not alone. He could almost see her there if he tried, but she was not there. Loneliness for her overwhelmed him.
It was raining heavily as he climbed into his chaise. The gray day suited his mood. He looked at the empty seat across from him. He shook his head to dispel his fanciful wishes and looked out at the rain-soaked streets. A servant held his umbrella for him as he stepped from the chaise and made his way into the church.
Entering the church, he greeted several acquaintances. On arriving at his pew, he was delighted to be joined by Colonel Fitzwilliam. The two men greeted each other with glad surprise at finding each other in town.
He was also glad that he had come to service. His heart was warmed by the worship.
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them…"
As the vicar read of the creation of the beasts and then of man to watch over them, Darcy recalled his strange nightmare of two days before. He was doing his best to control the beast within him. Now if only God would see fit to give him a mate!
Darcy only sang along softly with the hymn that came next, softly enough so that he could hear his cousin unimpeded. Darcy heartily enjoyed listening to Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam possessed one of those God-given voices that caused people to stop and stare. His clear, strong tenor sounded out joy that enhanced any service of worship. When he sang of angelic praise one could almost believe he was of that chorus! As Darcy expected, several people turned to see where the beautiful voice came from. He was amused by the fluttering glances that many of the surrounding ladies bestowed on his cousin. Fitzwilliam, caught up in the music and possessed of an unassuming nature, did not see any of this. He never did. This further amused Darcy. Flush with the pleasure of singing worshipfully, Fitzwilliam smiled at his cousin. Darcy smiled affectionately in return before lowering his head as the vicar began to pray.
What a balm it would be to his heart if Elizabeth were here praying next to him! He wanted her as part of his entire existence, not only as a lover. To be able to share in worship, in friendship as well as love, in matters of daily life--- these were the things that he wanted most. Darcy found himself in debate as he prayed. Was it right to pray for the chance to win her and share in her life? He had evaded that question for many months now. He did not think of his prayer relationship as one into which he only brought selfish concerns. He knew that prayer was not merely for the purpose of petitioning God, but was for worship and praise.
As he was thinking on this, the reading from the New Testament was given. Darcy lifted his eyes up as the vicar intoned, "for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Humbly, he bowed his head and offered praise to God. He was grateful for this moment of peaceful joy and understanding. He was also grateful that he had learnt to be a better man. He prayed that if it be God’s will he might have the opportunity to thank Elizabeth. He prayed that he might have the chance to love her and look after her. It was good. His turmoil dissipated. A sense of calm and focus enveloped him.
After service was finished, he turned to the Colonel, "Fitzwilliam, where do you stay in town? How long are you to be here?"
Fitzwilliam replied, "I arrived only yesterday. I stay at my parents’ townhouse, but quite alone. I shall depart for Newcastle on Thursday."
Darcy wasted no time in inviting the Colonel to spend the rest of his time in town together with him at his house. Colonel Fitzwilliam assented to this agreeable plan and stated his intention of arriving at Darcy’s house in time for dinner that evening. Darcy went home and informed Mrs. Davis of the need to prepare for an additional guest.
After dinner that evening the two gentlemen adjourned to the Billiard Room. Removing their jackets, they set to play. Billiards was very much Darcy’s game, but the Colonel offered fair challenge, sometimes nearly besting his cousin.
As the Colonel watched Darcy play a decisive shot, he observed his cousin’s demeanor. He commented, "Darcy, you seem almost at ease. I am glad to see it. You have often been quite low… since the spring."
Darcy looked up from the table, successfully took his shot, and moved to line up another. "I suppose I have. I have had much to ponder. I do think I’ve learnt a thing or two, however. That would make it a successful year, I suppose."
Fitzwilliam gave Darcy a strange look, but did not pry. The two men played on companionably late into the night.
When Darcy retired for the evening he lay awake for some time. Though Fitzwilliam’s company was very welcome indeed, his loneliness remained. He turned on his side and looked at the empty pillow beside him. It was a long time before sleep finally claimed him.
Day Six- Stories and Truth
While taking breakfast and reading the newspaper, Darcy was glad to receive a letter from Bingley. The long-expected missive announcing his engagement to Jane Bennet was finally here. Even had he not been expecting a letter from Bingley he would have guessed the author’s identity immediately from the many ink blots and the terrible scrawl that served as Bingley’s penmanship.
He smiled so on reading Bingley’s account of the matter that Fitzwilliam demanded his share of it. Darcy said, "You remember Charles Bingley, do you not? He writes to announce his upcoming marriage. He also urges me to hasten back to Hertfordshire."
Fitzwilliam sipped his coffee and replied, "Ah, yes. I remember Bingley. Pleasant chap. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, but he seemed to be quite a favorite of yours. I remember you telling me of some of the scrapes you helped him out of. En garde, Darcy. Nothing whets the appetite of an ambitious mother more than an eligible bachelor at his friend’s wedding." Fitzwilliam laughed and continued, "Who is he to marry?"
Darcy replied quietly, "He is to marry Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn, an estate in Hertfordshire. They first met last fall."
Fitzwilliam sat back and set down his coffee cup. "Is she related to the Miss Bennet whose company we had the pleasure of this spring?"
Darcy nodded and then looked down at the table and twisted his pinkie ring. Fitzwilliam noticed this. Suddenly a painful idea came into his mind.
"You say they met last fall? Darcy, please tell me that this is not the young lady whom you told me about in the spring! I surmised that Bingley was the young man you meant when you said you had helped a friend avoid an unfortunate alliance. You said that there were objections to the lady," Fitzwilliam said, a very serious look on his face.
Darcy winced and groaned, "Objections to the lady? I did say that, didn’t I?" He closed his eyes and shook his head in wonder. "No. There could not be any objections to Miss Bennet. She is a sweet and gentle creature, probably the perfect woman for Bingley. But I did think differently last year. Despite her goodness and how Bingley adored her I convinced him that she was not only a bad match, but also indifferent to him. My interference was officious and wrong. I kept him from the best of happiness for far too long." Still looking down at his own hands, Darcy did not see the Colonel’s stricken expression.
He continued, "Last week I confessed my deception to Bingley and also told him that I now believed I had been incorrect regarding Miss Bennet’s affection for him. Of course he readily forgave me-- too readily in my opinion. As I said, he now asks for me to hurry my return." Darcy looked up and was surprised to note that Fitzwilliam had gone quite pale. "Good God, man. What is it?" he queried.
Fitzwilliam jumped up from the table began furiously pacing up and down in front of the fireplace. He turned to face Darcy, started to speak, stopped, and resumed his pacing. He shook his head and put one hand to his mouth, finally stopping to lean against the mantle.
"Fitzwilliam, whatever can be the matter?" asked Darcy again.
Fitzwilliam shook his head and replied, "I am an indiscreet wretch, Darcy."
Darcy prompted his cousin, "I cannot believe that, Fitzwilliam. I have always relied on your discretion. You are as amiable and trustworthy as any man I’ve ever known."
Fitzwilliam groaned, "Darcy, in the springtime when we were at Rosings I occasioned to mention to Miss Elizabeth Bennet that I knew you looked after Bingley. I further told her that I knew you had recently congratulated yourself on preventing Bingley from making a most imprudent match. I even told her that I understood there to be strong objections to the lady!"
Darcy’s eyes lit up, "Ah! So that was how she knew! I wondered how she could be so certain that the fault lay with me. At least I now know that she did not learn of my part in a less desirable manner." Darcy looked strangely pleased.
Fitzwilliam was aghast. "What is this you say? Certain that the fault lay with you? She confronted you over the matter? When? And how could she learn of it in a worse manner? I insulted her sister!"
Darcy laughed wryly at the Colonel’s discomposure. "Make yourself easy, Fitzwilliam. It was I, not you, who insulted Jane Bennet. Elizabeth Bennet understood your part perfectly. I’m sure she found you and your company as pleasing as ever." This last Darcy could not help but say with some resentment. Fitzwilliam noted this, but directed the conversation another way.
Fitzwilliam asked, "Darcy, that last evening when we were at Rosings you disappeared. When you returned you were obviously unwell. You claimed you had business to attend to. Was that when you discussed this matter with Miss Bennet?"
Darcy pointed to the chair across from him. "Please sit down, Fitzwilliam. I will tell you all." Darcy took a long sip of his tea.
Fitzwilliam returned to his seat at the table, both curious and hesitant at the same time. He felt his part in the situation most keenly.
Darcy sat back and sighed. He stretched his legs out full length and then sat up straight against the back of the chair, his hands placed flat on the surface of the table. "There was a time when I felt the lack of status of the Bennet family, uncles in trade and the like, to be a strong objection to Bingley’s affection for the eldest daughter. Additionally, I was concerned by… a lack of decorum sometimes displayed by the younger Bennet sisters and even the parents. That was what I referred to as ‘objections to the lady.’ There could be no objections to the lady, herself. The two eldest daughters are as different from the rest of the family as possible. But I have already told you my part in separating Bingley from Miss Jane Bennet. What I have not told you is that my affection for Elizabeth Bennet far outweighed any objections. That night at Rosings I proposed marriage to her and was refused."
Darcy looked to see Fitzwilliam’s reaction and stopped, choked by what he saw in his cousin’s face. Fitzwilliam was the picture of compassion and concern. "You are still in love with her, though, aren’t you?" asked Fitzwilliam.
Darcy fought to control his emotions. He realized now that he had been foolish to think that he could maintain a detached air in sharing this information with his cousin. He simply nodded, surprised at the tears that sprang into his eyes. He was amazed at his loss of control. He gripped the table’s edge. He felt tension grip his stomach. So long he had felt this pain, yet kept it locked deep beneath the surface.
Fitzwilliam could see that his overt compassion had undone Darcy, so he changed his tone. "What business did you have that night? You didn’t tell an untruth in order to avoid our aunt making your evening even worse, did you?" This last was said in a teasing manner.
Darcy smiled at this and wiped his eyes. His voice was hoarse as he spoke, "I did not lie. My business was to defend myself. One of the charges she laid at my door was the result of falsehood on the part of George Wickham. I wrote to her to lay the truth of my association with that man before her. I entrusted her with the entire story. I even told her that if she needed to corroborate any of it she could appeal to you."
Fitzwilliam grimaced, "I can guess what he had to say. How is it that he came to know her family? Is he not married to a young lady previously named Bennet? Another sister?"
Anger tinged Darcy’s voice as he recalled, "Mr. Wickham was quartered with the militia in Meryton. He imposed himself on the Bennets while there. At that time they had no way of knowing the sort of man he is. I was to blame for that through my own mistaken pride. He was apparently quite interested in Miss Elizabeth Bennet for a time. Later he eloped with the youngest Bennet sister as he fled creditors in Brighton. I found them in London and arranged their marriage."
Fitzwilliam smiled ruefully, "And that is when you had me arrange for him to join the regiment in Newcastle. I do not look forward to visiting there. Undoubtedly his commanding officer will have some questions as to why I would send him such a man. I wonder what I will be obliged to do to regain my friend’s trust…"
Darcy grimaced. "I hope that he will not be too hard on you. I appreciate your assistance more than I can say."
Fitzwilliam waved his hand in dismissal. He pondered what Darcy had said. He grimaced again and asked, "Do you mean to say that she gave Wickham’s concerns as a reason for her not to marry you?" Darcy nodded. Fitzwilliam frowned, "And she accused you of separating her sister from your friend?"
Darcy nodded. Then he laughed bitterly at himself. "I offered a complete farce of a proposal, Cousin. Then when I was refused I foolishly demanded to know her reasons. I was arrogant and presumptuous and rude. She dealt me some very telling blows, justified but for Wickham’s concerns. I learned much of myself. She taught me that there was much that I could improve."
Fitzwilliam considered this. "Darcy I apologize for my part. I should not have been so indiscreet. I remember how affected she was by our conversation. She claimed that she had walked too far and that that had brought on a headache. Though I thought that odd for so active a woman, I did not realize that I had brought about her distress. I am heartily sorry."
Darcy replied, "How could you have known? I should not have bragged of my success. I should never have so officiously interfered in Bingley’s life in the first place. I am only glad that he is happy now."
Fitzwilliam asked, "I am confused about something. I thought Georgiana wrote to say that she had met Elizabeth Bennet this summer."
Darcy smiled, "They did meet. Miss Bennet was traveling in Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, very respectable people. I happened upon them visiting Pemberley. On Georgiana’s arrival I immediately dragged her into Lambton to meet Miss Bennet. Bingley accompanied us. The next evening Miss Bennet and her companions dined with us at Pemberley. It was…" He waved his hand, searching for a word to express his feelings. "After dinner she sang for the company. She was so kind to Georgiana. I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening."
Fitzwilliam laughed and raised an eyebrow, "Really?" Darcy blushed in surprise and started to offer a protest. Fitzwilliam laughed and held up a hand to silence him.
Fitzwilliam said, "In all seriousness, Darcy. Let me see if I understand you. She refused you, citing accusations from George Wickham and your interference in her sister’s happiness. You refuted Wickham’s claims and then even saved her younger sister from disgrace with him and provided for their situation." Fitzwilliam paused. "Does she know of your part in assisting her younger sister?" he asked.
Darcy shook his head vehemently in the negative.
Fitzwilliam continued, "You have also risked losing Bingley’s friendship and have set him back on a path with her elder sister. You chanced to find her visiting your home, introduced her to Georgiana, decided that her tradesfolk relations were gentlefolk and treated them as such. Yet now you sit here in London instead of pursuing her all across Hertfordshire?"
Darcy laughed wryly. "You think me quite foolish! Yes, I have done much to try to change her opinion of me. I intend to do more. It would be presumptuous of me to believe that a few short days of felicity this summer could outweigh the rest of our acquaintance. I return to Hertfordshire at the end of the week. I will do everything I can to win her. I love her, Cousin."
Fitzwilliam smiled. "I wish you success, Darcy."
Darcy smiled appreciatively. "I told you that I have plans for dinner tonight?" Fitzwilliam nodded. Darcy continued, "I am to dine with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in Gracechurch Street."
Again Fitzwilliam smiled as he asked, "Her traveling companions of the summer?" Darcy nodded. Fitzwilliam said, "I am certain that the evening will hold much to interest you. Again, I wish you success."
Dinner with Friends in Cheapside (Evening Six)
It was evening. The rain had stopped. Darcy readied himself for dinner with the Gardiners. He took special care with his appearance. In the back of his mind he considered the possibility that Mrs. Gardiner might write of his visit to her niece. He wished to appear to the greatest advantage.
He even indulged in brief fantasy that Elizabeth was going to be there tonight and they would have the chance to converse as they had at Pemberley. Her eyes would sparkle. She would seem pleased to meet him again. She might even be prevailed upon to play and sing for the company… Darcy pulled himself from this fantasy as he walked out the door of his house, pulling his gloves on as he went. The cold of the night air braced him.
When he arrived in Cheapside he was greeted warmly by Mrs. Gardiner. She apologized, however, that her husband would be a bit late in joining them, due to business. Darcy followed Mrs. Gardiner into the drawing room. He found the Gardiners’ residence warm and comfortable. The rooms were neat and tastefully appointed.
In the drawing room the children were at play. The older children greeted Darcy respectfully and returned to their activities. The youngest gave Darcy a startled wide-eyed look and hid behind his mother’s skirts. The younger girl, an energetic lass by the name of Emily, imperiously led Darcy to a chair and promptly took a seat at his knee. He laughed and assured Mrs. Gardiner that he did not mind.
A servant came into the room and spoke to Mrs. Gardiner. Mrs. Gardiner said, "Please excuse me for a moment, Mr. Darcy. I do apologize."
He replied, "There is no need. I am certain to be well attended in your absence." He gestured at the widely grinning Emily. She sat up very straight and assured her mother, "I shall play hostess, Mama. I can read to Mr. Darcy. I have learned how."
Mrs. Gardiner smiled at this and promised to return shortly. As she left the room, Darcy asked Emily, "And what would you like to read, Miss Emily?"
Emily giggled and said, "We need a good story about a wedding. My good cousin Jane is to be married," said the girl excitedly. Darcy smiled in real pleasure at this. Emily returned his smile and pointed to a book of fairy tales on the table, indicating for Darcy to hand it to her. He obeyed. She said, "And now I will read to you." Then Emily opened the book to a story in progress, its place held by a letter. She pointed to each word with a chubby little finger as she pronounced it. As Emily read the story of the Sleeping Beauty aloud, Darcy’s eye was caught by the letter which lay against the left-hand page.
The writing was delicate and feminine. Familiar names caught his eye. Before he knew what he was about, Darcy had read, "Jane wishes that there were such a man as her Bingley for me, but I have assured her that not even forty such men could do for me. I have not her goodness or sweetness. I must own that I shall feel Jane’s absence from Longbourn quite keenly. How shall I ever do without her?"
Darcy realized that he must be reading from a letter written to Mrs. Gardiner by Elizabeth. His curiosity was great and the pounding of his heart fast at seeing the words of his beloved, but his sense of decency forced him to tear his eyes from the missive.
Emily looked up at Darcy and said, "Isn’t this a lovely story?" He started guiltily and focused his attention on the child. She read quite well for her age, only needing assistance in pronunciation of longer words. She turned the page to a drawing of a beautiful golden-haired princess and said, "Do you think that this is what Jane will look like at her wedding?"
Darcy smiled and answered, "I am sure that the groom will see her that way."
Emily smiled and nodded in agreement. She enthusiastically turned the pages to another drawing, this one of Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to fit the glass slipper. She pointed at the tall, thin one whose headdress included a large feather and asked, "Does Mr. Bingley have step-sisters?"
Darcy laughed despite himself and replied, "No. He does have two sisters though."
Emily bit her lip. "Do Mr. Bingley’s sisters love Jane, too? I met one of them last winter. She did not seem very nice. She looked down her long nose at me. I did not understand why Jane would want to be friends with her."
He smiled and struggled not laugh at the child’s apt description ‘looked down her long nose at me.’ Darcy carefully replied, "I do not know. I know that they are fine ladies. I am sure that they will be kind to her."
Emily considered this and then, leaning snugly back against Darcy’s chest, continued her perusal of the drawings in the fairy tale book. She reached a page with a drawing of the Beauty and the Beast. Emily pointed at the drawing of the Beauty, "She has eyes like Cousin Lizzy. When she smiles her eyes smile too!"
Mrs. Gardiner returned. She stood in the doorway unseen and smiled at the cozy scene. She had long held that the young man before her only wanted a little liveliness. A good wife and some children would indeed provide him that. In the times he had visited her home he had always been kind and warm to the children. Little Emily was especially taken with him. The child was curled snugly against Darcy in a way that showed her to have absolute trust and affection for him.
Darcy studied the illustration and replied, "I think you are right. Eyes such as that can even see past the face of the beast."
Emily looked up into Darcy’s eyes. She looked very serious. "You don’t have a beast face. I like you. If I were Lizzy I would marry you. Maybe then your eyes would smile, too. I heard Mama tell Papa that you love her." The little girl looked at her companion affectionately, well pleased with her idea.
Darcy was at a loss. He cleared his throat and tried in vain to form an appropriate reply. Though it did not surprise him to think that Mrs. Gardiner might have noticed his affection for her niece, he was unsure of how best to respond to Emily’s statements.
Taking pity on him, Mrs. Gardiner made her presence known. "Mr. Gardiner has just arrived. He sends his apologies that business kept him so late and promises he will join us very soon. I trust Emily has kept you well entertained."
Emily piped up, "We’ve been looking at my fairy tale book."
Mr. Gardiner entered the room. Emily leapt up and launched herself at her father with a loud shriek of "Papa!" Mr. Gardiner greeted his children with hugs and kisses. He shook Mr. Darcy’s hand and welcomed him to his home. He apologized for the delay. Darcy assured him that there was no need to apologize and that he had been well attended.
Mrs. Gardiner asked, "Will you please escort me to dinner, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy took her arm in his and walked beside Mrs. Gardiner to the dining room. The dinner was quite enjoyable. With the bustle of the young Gardiners and the warm companionship of their parents, time passed quickly. One moment during dinner Darcy looked around him trying to imagine himself with Elizabeth and a room full of their own children passing an evening such as this together. He was brought out of this thought as he caught sight of Mrs. Gardiner’s pleased expression. He felt it very likely that she knew his thoughts. He blushed slightly and smiled in return, turning his attention again to the meal before him.
After dinner he and Mr. Gardiner adjourned to Mr. Gardiner’s library for a bit of cognac. The two men sat in wing-backed chairs before the fire. Mr. Gardiner noted, "Sometimes the peace is welcome after the exuberance of the children at table. I hope that they were not too much for you."
Surprised, Darcy realized that the noise and exuberance had been most agreeable to him. Perhaps the past year had even wrought changes of which he was unaware! He replied to Mr. Gardiner, "No, no. I enjoyed the company thoroughly."
He looked about the room. It was filled with a rather good collection of books, some Darcy had been seeking for years. To the right of the fireplace was a neatly kept writing table. Further to the center of one side of the room was a large desk, undoubtedly for Mr. Gardiner’s use.
Against the far wall was another book shelf and a small painting that caught Darcy’s eye. He got up and approached the painting for a closer look. Mr. Gardiner followed and said, "That was taken of my sister Fanny when she was but fifteen years of age. It is my favorite portrait of her. It shows her sense of laughter."
Mr. Darcy studied the portrait of Mrs. Bennet as a girl thoughtfully. He thought that her youngest daughter probably bore the strongest resemblance to her, but thought it would be best not to mention that similarity. Instead he said, "She is quite handsome, sir. And you are right, the artist captured a spirit of good humor in her expression."
Mr. Gardiner smiled ruefully. "I do wish she had not grown to be so concerned with her ‘nerves.’ She loves her family and has a very large heart. She just changed after the loss of our mother. Mother had always curbed her silliness, but with her passing… Then Fanny decided that she was delicate and nervous... I was already apprenticed and away from home. Father was too distraught to pay Fanny or Mary much mind. How I’ve wished that I’d been able to give them the guidance they lacked!" He looked longingly at the portrait and sipped his cognac.
Darcy was moved by Mr. Gardiner’s remorse. He felt pain cut through him at the thought of not having the opportunity to look after Georgiana. He put a consoling hand on Mr. Gardiner’s shoulder and said, "It is my understanding that you and your wife played a large role in the early years of your sister’s eldest daughters. You were very successful in your efforts there."
Mr. Gardiner smiled a sad smile. "It is of consolation to see Jane and Elizabeth turn out so well. They are good girls. Yet at the same time it increases my regret in not being able to assist my own sisters more. I also wish we’d been given more opportunity to know the younger Bennet girls, but Fanny insists on keeping them with her. She feels it is sacrifice enough to share the favor of her eldest…" Mr. Gardiner seemed to feel he’d said enough on the subject. Darcy respected his privacy and said no more. They both looked at the painting of Fanny Gardiner Bennet for a moment longer, seeing in it a portrait of possibilities lost.
Mr. Gardiner turned the discussion to books, showing Darcy the volume he had purchased at the booksellers when they had met there. Darcy said, "You must return to Pemberley sometime, sir. I should like to show you its library. It is the work of many generations. I can see from your fine collection that we share many interests."
Mr. Gardiner cleared his throat and said with careful reserve, "It would please me very much if circumstance were to bring me to your fine estate again, sir." He met Darcy’s gaze with a serious look.
Darcy felt Mr. Gardiner’s unspoken meaning fully. Though many barriers lay between him and Elizabeth, it heartened him to feel that he had the approval of relations who had played such a part in forming her into the wonderful woman that she was. Darcy left Cheapside in improved spirits.
As he undressed in preparation for bed that night, he felt as though a small flame of hope had been lit within him. He was intent upon the goal he had obliquely pursued for the past half year. He would become the man to win Elizabeth Bennet, heart and soul.
Mr. Dillon carefully helped Darcy with his cravat. "Was your evening pleasant, sir?" he ventured tentatively.
Darcy looked at Dillon in surprise. Then, before the older man could change his mind and withdraw his attempt at pleasantry, Darcy replied, "I passed a most enjoyable evening. I dined with some friends in Cheapside."
Dillon replied carefully, "I did not know that you were acquainted with anyone in that part of town, sir."
Darcy said, "I formed some new friendships this year, Dillon. The family I visited this evening may lack the fine address of some of my acquaintance, but they possess happiness beyond the lot of almost anyone I’ve ever known."
Dillon replied, "Perhaps you should visit these friends more often, sir. I’ve rarely seen you this pleased after an evening with people in town." At Darcy’s look, Dillon said, "I apologize if I’ve overstepped…"
Darcy shook his head and said, "No, not at all. I believe that you are right. I should like to spend more time with members of the family I visited this evening." He smiled cryptically at his own statement.
Dillon chuckled softly, "And I should like to meet the young lady who has so completely stolen your heart, sir."
Darcy smiled enigmatically and replied, "Good evening, Mr. Dillon."
Mr. Dillon continued to smile and bowed before leaving the room.
Continued in Part 2
© 1998 Copyright held by author