The Color of Love
More often than not, Fitzwilliam Darcy considered his condition more a curse than a blessing. He longed to be able to take the world as it came, without being prejudiced by shades and hues. He longed to be able to lose himself in a book and see the worlds of literature unencumbered by the pigment of their portals. He longed to be able to point to a printed page and say, "It's right there, in black and white." But he couldn't. For Darcy, logic was forever clouded by color.
His opinion of a work was formed as soon as he saw the words on the page, before he had the chance to read one word. Shakespeare was a soft cerulean. Voltaire was crimson. Milton violet. Wordsworth emerald. The Times was orange.
Besides his father, Darcy had never known anyone else who read in color. Not until he was eight years old did he realize that the rest of his fellow creatures didn't see beyond the color of the ink used to transcribe the words. In his innocence, he had thought ink was but a medium, a base from which the true colors of letters and words sprang.
His father counseled him to keep his condition a secret. No need to seem a freak amongst his peers. But his father also taught him to use his insight to advantage. He learned to trust those who wrote in blue, as he did. He learned to watch those whose words were flinty, metallic, or iridescent. He learned that his father was color-blind.
George Darcy mixed up his reds and greens, his son discovered, which was how he had missed the latent treachery of Wickham. It wasn't until after his father had died, when his own writing had dissolved into muddy brown while he battled depression and fear, that Darcy reread a long-forgotten letter in which his father wrote of his delight in seeing again 'young George's rosy hand.' Darcy had read the passage twice over, puzzled, until he remembered his parent's ongoing discussion over the carpet in the morning room. He remembered that for years his father would tease his mother regarding her choice of a red carpet in the room while his mother would line up her allies to repeatedly testify to its being a lovely shade of green. The children, Darcy and his sister, had assumed it was but playful banter and not truly a disconnection between their parents.
But Wickham, Darcy knew, had always written in a dull green-gray that seemed almost leaden. His father had seen his favorite's words in dusty red and never thought to look to see what lurked beneath their color. George Darcy's only daughter almost fell victim to a fortune hunter because her father came to rely exclusively on first impressions. Darcy learned from his father's mistake-he reminded himself always to read the words as well as see their color, to question his understanding of the colors he saw. He stayed on guard. Color was a tool, not a toy.
And then he came to Hertfordshire and was blinded by the kaleidoscope that was Elizabeth Bennet. Until she came to Netherfield to nurse her sister Jane, he thought of her as nothing more than a pretty face with a pretty figure and a saucy tongue. But then she wrote a note. It was a simple note to her mother, he heard her explain to Bingley, begging the lady to come to Netherfield so that she might personally assess Jane's condition. Darcy saw it lying on the footman's tray waiting to be delivered. It was a gleaming, shimmering ray of light, a beacon, a pool of warm viscous honey, a lightning bolt across a darkened sky. It took his breath away.
He closed his eyes and thought of summer. He opened them, entranced. When he looked at Elizabeth that night at dinner and later as she walked and talked and sang and read, he saw ochre, amber, umber, pearl. He saw the warm glow of a candle flame and the silken, perfect folds of daffodil. He saw the first faint light of dawn, and the white-hot gold of stars. He tried to tell himself that color was a tool and not a toy, but showers of golden rain swept away all trace of reason and left him basking in the memory of her Midas touch.
Caroline Bingley's fawning, jittery presence brought him back to earth, though, sobered him up and reminded him that all that glisters is not gold. He had been caught by the loveliness of her hand too, years ago when he and Charles Bingley had first met. He had been entranced then too, but his infatuation had faded as her brazen nature surfaced. He wondered whether the color of her words had really ever been anything other than polished brass-had she changed, or had he? Regardless, he scolded himself, marriage was a business not to be taken lightly, and many a man had brought his family to ruin because of a misalliance. Marriage with Elizabeth Bennet was unthinkable-ochre, amber, umber, pearl were untenable. Darcy left Hertfordshire, chastened by his brief intoxication, hardened to the tricks his mind would play to get its way.
His wisdom lasted only as long as his separation from Elizabeth. When he encountered her again in Kent, he found himself drawn to her again and sought to validate his attraction to her. He found himself caught between the undertow of desire and a relentless current of self-doubt. Should he trust his mind's eye, which continued to insist that Elizabeth was sunny and warm, or let society contradict his insight and denigrate her as unworthy of his regard? His answer came in a rush of words. A verdant tangle of words. A fertile crescent, a mossy mass of words that began as an anagram.
Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam, his cousin and companion on this trip to Kent, decided one Sunday after tea to amuse each other with word games. He wrote a puzzle and laughingly handed it to her to solve. She did so in but a quarter of the time it took him to create it, and then handed him one of hers. Before Fitzwilliam had a chance to tackle it, Elizabeth was bid to play and sing and he dropped her unsolved puzzle when he followed her to the pianoforte. Darcy moved quickly to pocket the prize before following her as well. Later, in his bedchamber that night, Darcy unfolded the sheet of paper and gazed on the simple yellow lines that formed the jumbled letters.
He solved her puzzle in an instant--The Vision of Don Roderick--and began to write the title of Scott's poem beneath her clue. He wrote in blue, and his eyes shone with delight and desire as the color of his words blended and danced with her yellow ones. At first, with only the first word transcribed, the halo around her words took on a pale green hue, the green of freshly mown hay drying in windows under an August sun, Darcy thought. By the time he had finished, the paper was glowing with vibrant streaks of emerald that flowed into aqua sunbursts before swirling and twirling into rainbows that sparkled with the colors of a mermaid lagoon.
Holding the paper in his hand, watching the glorious living dance of color unleashed by the act of writing his words beneath Elizabeth's, Darcy suddenly knew that he was looking into what life with Elizabeth as his wife could be. Imagine, he thought, creating such color every day, with every touch, with every loving thought, without even writing, by just breathing.
The next day he proposed.
Darcy stood up from the writing desk in his bedchamber. Dawn was breaking, the first tremulous rays of morning were spilling across the lawns of Rosings and night was tiredly slipping away, taking its comforting cloak of darkness with it. He looked down at the letter he had spent the better part of the night writing, and shook his aching head. He couldn't deliver it. No one had the right to see into another's soul as nakedly as that letter revealed his own. He could never let anyone, least of all Elizabeth, see that letter. No matter that she would continue on in ignorance of Wickham's true character if he did not deliver it into her hands. No matter that she would continue to think of him as cold, arrogant, cruel, and unjust. Better that he not try to excuse his actions than that she should look upon the raw wound that was his heart, now embodied in the writhing ghastly letters of his words upon the page.
Of course, he reminded himself, trying to keep a firm grip on his sanity, she couldn't see his words as he did. She couldn't see how his hatred for Wickham erupted blood-red like Vesuvius on a field of ashen text. She couldn't see the defense of his behavior regarding Bingley and her sister glowing with the unhealthy sheen of spilled mercury. But she would sense what lay beneath every agonizing word and he couldn't bear the possibility that those words would ever make her pity him. She had refused him so completely, so decidedly, so unceremoniously that he knew that she could never love him, but at least she had scorned and despised him without pity. Better to be flung away than to be softly let down.
But what of Wickham? His silence on that devil's behavior towards Georgiana would leave Elizabeth in harm's way. Darcy knew that he could enlist Fitzwilliam's help in enlightening Elizabeth, but wasn't that the coward's way? A man of honor does not shrink from his duty. A man of honor does not duck or flinch or even blink. He does not cry out.
Darcy looked again at his letter, bruised and bleeding. If only he could bandage it somehow. Fashion a tourniquet perhaps? Apply a salve? He reread his words...
I will not degrade myself by dwelling on that which you have denied me. My character requires that I write this letter, and I demand it of your justice to read it.
What a brutal way to start. What if Elizabeth took the letter from him mistakenly thinking that he were going to plead again for her hand, and then be confronted with this epistle of egotism? She might not read beyond this first paragraph. She might fling all of the pages into the fire. And then she would remain ignorant of the dangers Wickham held for her. And he would have failed her and deserved the scorn with which she looked upon him.
Darcy sat down and picked up his pen. Perhaps if he edited out the words that were red. Softened them, perhaps. He dipped his pen, ragged from a night's work, in the ink pot and drew a line through the word "degrade" and replaced it with "humble." The new word took on the hue of the old. He tried again, with the same result. And again. Out of sheer stubbornness, he continued editing the letter, working his way through the red words, crossing them out and replacing them with softer synonyms. The effect was negligible. His jaw locked in frustration and his eyes brimmed. He couldn't give this to her, and yet he must. Writing it wasn't enough, delivering it and ensuring that it be read was his sacred duty. He owed that to her, the woman he loved.
He took up the pen again not knowing how to proceed. He must set her mind at ease, he thought, contrive to make a contract with her so that she would read on and not immediately consign his words to the fire. He must begin afresh. He must put her feelings first. He wrote:
Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you
Darcy mended his pen and drew forth a clean sheet of paper-he wrote the new letter without pause until he reached the end. He stood up and gazed out the window. The sun was fully above the horizon, now. He needed to be abroad, seeking Elizabeth so that he might finish his task and deliver his letter. He changed the final period to a comma and added:
I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning.
I will only add, God bless you.
He couldn't see the words he had just written. Prayers were always white; always invisible until the paper on which they were inscribed yellowed sufficiently to bring them into view, and then they were ghostly, ephemeral. He couldn't see his closing words, but he knew that Elizabeth could. And in seeing them, he realized with a rush of wonder, she would see now him so much more clearly than before because these words had somehow absorbed or swallowed the traces of red and the flinty shadows that had still lingered though out even after he had edited the letter. With the tips of his fingers he touched each invisible letter as his lips breathed the benediction he had bestowed upon the lady who would never be his, and he knew that they would enable her to look upon his heart, and if she felt pity at what she saw...what then?
Darcy delivered his letter into Elizabeth's hands, and returned to his home in London. His cousin Fitzwilliam returned to his regiment. The sun continued to rise and set. Spring passed into summer. Darcy and his sister fled from the oppressive heat of the city and walked together through Pemberley's forests, along cool paths that wound along beside the river. He fished for trout and carp. She sketched and read. On the land, the hay was cut and dried and baled. Before it was cut again, it was time for Darcy and Georgiana to go to Weymouth to bathe in the sea and walk along the Esplanade and meet with friends, to read novels and write letters. But Darcy no longer found joy or even refuge in either reading or writing.
At first he thought his aunt's letter, which had followed him to London from Kent, was the cause of his disquiet. It was this letter, sprinkled with venom directed at Elizabeth Bennet's impudence in fancying herself above her station in life, yet written in a hand as blue as his own, that made him fully realize how arrogantly foolish he had behaved towards that fair lady. The letter made him doubt himself. It made him second-guess his judgment and question the truths that he held to be universally acknowledged.
But it wasn't the contents of the letter that had robbed him of his equanimity. It was the color of it. He could no longer write a line without remembering that he wrote in the same hue as Lady Catherine, and that she wrote in the same hue as his mother had, and father, and cousins, and uncles, and friends. Blue--true blue wasn't true, after all, he scolded himself after reading Lady Catherine's letter for the twelfth time. The sky was not really blue, he had learned as a child, no bluer than was the ocean despite all the songs and poems and words to the contrary. Sky and water were simply dark and light that passed for blue, just like all his fine words, just like his life, when you got right down to it, an illusion of what was important. And yet there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't change the color of his words any more than he could change the color of his eyes. He was to the manor born and nothing could alter that. He had loved and lost before he had learned how completely he was blinded by his breeding.
Darcy went to Weymouth resolved to be quietly unhappy. He went to stand aloof from friends and family and reflect bitterly on the irony that was his lot. He went to walk beside the sea and think deeply on the splendid isolation into which he was withdrawing. He went to be Byronic, but he could not. One morning, as he stood on the dunes, peering into the morning fog, trying to catch a glimpse of the fishing boats he knew were creeping across the bay, he put his hand to his check, surprised to discovered that it was wet with mist. He felt like a child, a baby, putting his hand into water and laughing at the sensation. How long had it been since he had felt the rain on his face, the sun on his cheek, the breeze on his neck. He loosened his collar, then shed his coat, and stretched out his arms feeling the mist penetrating the fine weave of his shirt and soaking his skin.
He put his finger to his tongue and smiled at the sharp saltiness of body and sea together. He ran his tongue over his lips, catching droplets of mist.
He closed his eyes and listened-the deep bass of the waves rolling in lapped over cries of sea birds and the murmur of wind across dunes. He flared his nostrils, breathing in the heavy wet smell of fog and seaweed, wind and ocean, sand and grass. He felt his sadness, his self-pity, his very blueness drain away, leaving the man alone, chastened and humbled and awed by the unabashed freshness of the world. He stood, for he knew not how long, hesitant to move for fear that the strictures of his tired old London world bind him up again if he did move.
Georgiana saw him first. Charles Bingley and his sisters had called for her after breakfast and they had all decided to walk to the end of the pier. Bingley hallo'd to him before Georgiana could stop him. Darcy turned, quickly refastening his collar and slipping into his coat. He met them on the pier. Bingley laughed at his disheveled look, and Caroline Bingley frowned to discover that he had been out since daybreak. He smiled at Georgiana and kissed her hand. He lifted his eyes to find her looking curiously at him. Later, after they had said goodbye to their friends, he asked her to sit down, and then he told her about Elizabeth Bennet and what it means to write in blue and what it means to only see the world but never to feel it.
"Will you go back to Hertfordshire," she asked when he had finished.
"Some day," he replied. "But first, there is much that awaits me at Pemberley. Much that I need to put right before I can go calling anywhere. I've been neglectful in my blindness, I'm afraid. A good master, perhaps, but not so good a man. I have to make peace with Pemberley before I can face her again."
"How does a man reconcile himself to his family" Darcy wondered. "How can I be at peace with Pemberley?
Cut off my right hand? Change my name? Denounce my father? Deny myself?"
From Weymouth to London to Derbyshire, Darcy journeyed alone, his thoughts crowded with questions that he couldn't answer. Knowing that Georgiana was safe under the wing of Mrs. Annesley, he left her to follow his path at a more leisurely pace. He was eager to get to his estate quickly so that he might have a day or two alone there before his entourage descended upon the place.
Standing on the edge of the world at Weymouth, he had vowed that he would return to Hertfordshire before the year was over and apologize to Elizabeth Bennet for being a blind and prejudiced idiot. Somehow, he would thank her for daring to open his eyes. How she felt about him after that or how she might come to think of him, he dared not speculate. He resolved to live each day as it came and to face his future without trying to peer around corners. At least, he told himself, he wouldn't have to see Elizabeth again until he had fashioned himself into a man worthy of her. And so he went home, alive to the world around him, hungry for purgatory, keen that his penance might be named so that he could get on with it. In wayside inns that furnished lodging along his journey he wrote long into the night, listing his transgressions, confessing his shortcomings, wallowing in his stone-washed words, now faded and drained of the indigo that had damned him.
Comfortable in the thought that it was better that he should read and write in the pale, colorless world of his peers than that he should commit hubris a second time, after a week of riding Darcy slid off his tired horse and handed him to one of Pemberley 's stable boys to curry, feed, and water. He was home. Here was where he could begin again. Here was where he could practice all that he had preached to himself on the journey northward. It would take time, he acknowledged. He had habits to break. He must learn to listen carefully and not let his mind wander when people were talking to him. He must learn to comfort and embrace and compliment. He must learn to be generous in spirit. He wondered if he was up to it. And then he thought of Elizabeth and swallowed hard.
"By year's end," he swore silently as he rounded the stable and headed up the little hill to the formal garden, "by year's end."
And then he stopped short and blanched, for the lady herself, Elizabeth Bennet, stood not more than twenty yards in front of him. Not a mirage, but in the flesh, his pulse told him above the racket that his pounding heart was making.
"Great God," he thought blasphemously, his cheeks flushing and his mouth turning to cotton, "so this is to be my penance. Blindsided, again."
He spoke, somehow, and so did she. And the sun went right on shining as if time hadn't stopped. The light glanced off her curls, shattering into shards of color, prism-like, that pierced his memory then flooded it in a wave of nostalgic longing, and his mind wandered along old paths as she stammered answers to his ill-formed questions.
"Listen, comfort, embrace, compliment," he scolded himself while Elizabeth stumbled on unheard. "Gad, but you aren't even a gentleman," his mind shrilled, distracting him into forgetting to invite her into his home for rest and refreshment. "Speaking to a lady whilst dressed in dirty travelling clothes...she will think that you can't be bothered to be presentable to her...get yourself inside and make yourself agreeable. You have no time to think and plan, you must simply act. That is to be the price you pay for thinking too much." He bowed and fled, leaving the mistress of his heart unheard, unhappy, unaided, unsung.
No sooner was he inside, shouting for his man to come to his assistance, than he realized how oafishly he had just behaved. Smacking his head with impatience, he groaned that now Elizabeth would think him uncouth as well as proud and arrogant. So much for impromptu listening, comforting, embracing, or even fundamental complimenting. And then, agony of agonies, he realized that his behavior would probably send her flying to her carriage, mistaken in her probable assumption that he thought her presumptuous and ill-bred to visit Pemberley at all. With no time left to gnash his teeth or brood, Darcy hastily changed his clothes and dashed back down the corridor and down the steps of the courtyard. She must not feel any doubt that she was welcome in his home.
He crossed the stones double quick, noted that the hired carriage was still waiting by the stables, and beckoned to Reynolds, his estate manager. Relieved to hear that Elizabeth and her party had undertaken to walk the river circuit, Darcy was about to set off after them when Reynolds reminded him that if he went by way of the meadow he could intercept the visitors shortly after they entered the woods. He set off, eager to be back in her presence, unable to fathom any course of action but to comfort Elizabeth and let her know that she and her companions were full welcome in his home and on his grounds. He was their host. He would listen. He would comfort. He would embrace, at least metaphorically. He would compliment. He would do these things even if it killed him. He felt as if he were an ogre holding a tiny speckled egg in his hands. He almost didn't dare to breathe. He surely didn't dare to think.
And then she was before him once again, and all the world was filmy white with spidery cracks spread across a fragile sky that he was willing himself to hold together. His heart found words, perhaps aping the practiced courtliness of his cousin Fitzwilliam, but words sweet enough to satisfy the lady that the ogre was on his best behavior. She smiled. His heart grew bolder, basking in the warmth of well-placed dimples and gentle curves, and in time he ventured a compliment...and then a request. And then it soared as his heart's request was answered with gentle acquiescence. If this kept up, Darcy half-believed that civility could become a habit. He made another offer and held his breath. This one she declined. He handed her into her carriage and watched as it made its way though the frosty landscape he now called home. He did not question whether Elizabeth's regard came at too high a price. He knew he would learn to love this pale world as much as he did the one on the other side, in time.
Not until Darcy had been two hours in his carriage on the high road back to London did he realize that he had known from the letter in Elizabeth's hand that tragedy had befallen her even before her face and voice had confirmed his darkest fears. Now, he opened his eyes wide with excitement as he drew out the packet of letters he had meant to peruse during the journey. Despite his grim determination to restore Elizabeth's piece of mind and her family's well-being, he smiled with relief to see that his second sight had returned with a vibrancy greater than before. There was the gentle azure of Georgiana's brief lines bidding him to return to her when his work in London was finished. And there was the friendly rust of Bingley's scrawl. He happily shuffled through the cinnamon tones of his solicitor, and grimaced at the familiar pleas for donations, subscriptions, and sponsorships, all edged in pious frost, that had been accumulating for him in his study while he had been practicing his new-found civility with Elizabeth and her relatives.
He swallowed hard as he carefully unfolded the final piece of paper in the packet. Not daring to breathe, he looked down onto the words Elizabeth had written but two days ago. He exhaled a sigh, relieved to see her words glowing warm and golden once again. Ocher, amber, umber, pearl--her shades, dancing once more before his eyes, the colors he had willingly sacrificed when he had sought to purge himself of blue. She had written the note when she had come with her aunt to Pemberley to visit his sister while he fished with her uncle. She had been talking of music with Georgiana when he had entered the room, and Georgiana had asked her to write down the name of a new piece that she had heard in London. After Elizabeth had left Pemberley and returned to Lambton, Georgiana had quietly handed him the note and asked him whether he could procure for her the piece that Elizabeth had admired so much. He had eagerly agreed to do so. In fact, his purported reason for visiting Elizabeth yesterday morning at the Lambton Inn was to discover the name of the pianist who had performed the piece. He knew not where that inquiry would lead, he hadn't dared to strategize, he had only hoped to heal, but then she had met him at the door, wild-eyed, already grieving for her lost sister and her sinking family, distracted, disarmed. He embraced her loss as his own. Her family was his. Her grief was his. Her tears were his. Her comfort was his.
He retied his packet of letters, save but for the note from Elizabeth, which he tucked into his waistcoat pocket, and prepared for his descent into hell. The bowels of London was his destination, and he needed the color of his lady on his arm to keep his eyes on the prize and his hands steady.
A month later, Darcy found himself on the high road back to Pemberley, unfolding the now edge-worn note from Elizabeth, still delighting in its sunny warmth, still thankful that he had been granted a second chance to see and feel her golden tones. Doing battle with George Wickham and bribing him into marrying Elizabeth's chit of a sister, Lydia, had been little more than child's play, he had discovered. Secure in the knowledge that the Bennet family's reputation was secure and Elizabeth's anxiety had abated, Darcy was returning to Pemberley to tend to his affairs, kiss his sister's brow, and write to Charles Bingley. A little hunting in Hertfordshire was just the thing to put a spring back in his friend's step, he thought with a smile.
Darcy leaned his head back and closed his eyes and wondered what color would proclaim his marriage banns to Elizabeth. He hadn't yet offered again. She hadn't yet accepted. But his hand would find a way to hold hers someday, somehow, he knew. Some men throw life away with both hands. Some drown their sorrow in self-pity. And some ask for a second chance.
Before the harvest moon shone down on Hertfordshire, Darcy joined the ranks of those who tried again.
His marriage banns were blue, and gold, and green. He never took for granted the kaleidoscope that was Elizabeth. Even in old age, when his eyes began to fail him and he had to squint to see the contours of her sweet, loving face, Darcy felt her yellow candle warmth caress and love his blues away until all the world was Eden once again, and all the light was the soft green of newly mown hay. Sunrise, sunset. Waterfalls in dark forests. A meadow filled with flowers. Craggy heights and distant vistas. Elizabeth was the color of his love.
This story was inspired by the article on synesthesia that was posted on Ramble about a year or so ago.
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