The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
Part 30 -- 'I shall conquer this . . . '
Darcy and Georgiana rose early to see their cousin off for his regiment in the North. The others were still deep in slumber.
"I am sorry that I shall not be present to celebrate your sixteenth birthday, Georgiana," said he as they stood on the steps. "Take care of your brother."
"I will. I still wish that you could stay longer," said she.
"I have stayed too long already," replied he. "Darcy, I do not want to hear from Georgiana that you are going to jump into the Thames or such."
"No fear of that. I am quite over it now."
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy with a knowing look.
"You say that, but I don't believe it. No one can get over love in a single night." He took the reins from the grrom and mounted his horse. "Perhaps a change of scenery is called for, Darcy. Maybe you should go to Pemberley - I remember it is quite beautiful in the summer."
"That is an idea. I think we shall take heed of it and go to Pemberley in a few weeks."
"A few weeks? As soon as possible!" Fitzwilliam gave a mock-scowl and laughed. "Au revior until we meet again."
Colonel Fitzwilliam rode at a trot down the road. Darcy and Georgiana watched him leave until his figure was swallowed by the morning crowd.
Darcy missed his cousin keenly. There was no one to help him laugh at himself or counsel him through times of need. Yes, his days were no longer dark, filled with long hours in which Darcy brooded in the library doubting himself, but he knew that he could never go back to being the man he was before Kent.
The memory of that dream still filled him. But that was all it was - a dream. And that dream did nothing to help him in his determination to stop loving Elizabeth Bennet.
His cousin's suggestion of going to Pemberley that summer was a wonderful idea. Maybe he could invite Bingley and his sisters to accompany him. Darcy enjoyed his friend's company, even if he did have a rather determined sister.
He informed them of his plan at lunch.
"Summer is approaching and Pemberley is a wonderful place to spend the warm months," said Darcy. "I intend to go there soon. Would you do me the honour of staying at my estate, Bingley?"
"Go to Pemberley? I would be absolutely delighted to join you, Darcy," said Bingley.
"So it is confirmed that we shall be going?" asked Georgiana. "That is wonderful!"
"A summer at Pemberley. Perfect," mused Miss Bingley, lost in her own thoughts.
Darcy smiled. He couldn't wait to leave London and travel to the refreshing landscapes and wonders of his home.
Not to mention that Pemberley would help him overcome the feelings he stil harbored for Elizabeth.
Plans were made to leave in a week. As Georgiana's birthday would be the day they arrived at Pemberley, Darcy was determined that a birthday present would be awaiting his sister.
The pianoforte he had had his eye on lately was secretly bought and arrangements made for it to be sent up before them. He gave instructions to Mrs Reynolds for it to be placed in the sitting room.
Gerogiana was impatient to be home. She spoke fondly of Pemberley for she loved it as well as he. Darcy noticed that she expressed her liking of one of the sitting rooms that held a wonderful view of the grounds at sunset, but regretted that the interiors were not so pleasing on the eye as other rooms in the mansion. Hearing this, another letter was sent to Mrs Reynolds asking her to renovate the room in Georgiana's favourite colours of pale blue and white. As another gift for Georgiana on her birthday, Darcy hired a painter to paint her portrait, also to be sent early to Pemberley to greet Georgiana.
Darcy was determined to make up for his abominable behaviour and indulged in his sister in every way. He had no wife to buy presents for to show how much he loved her. That was the main reason for Darcy's continous activity during their last week in London. He was trying, unsuccessfully, to forget Elizabeth. This was quite easily done when his mind was occupied, but one cannot work forever. It was at such times when Georgiana forced him to rest, but more especially at night before he fell asleep, that banishing Elizabeth from his thoughts was like trying to pick a lock with a wet herring. He would tell himself, before sleep took him, that he did not love Elizabeth but he would dream of her; how her eyes sparkled when she laughed how beautiful she looked when they met in the garden at Netherfield. Sometimes the dreams were repetitions of the one where they had kissed.
Darcy would wake up, torn between his determination to forget her and the pleasure felt whenever he did dream of her . . .
Darcy sat in his study, working his way through the pile of letters. He came to the last, and saw that it had the seal of Pemberley on it. Any business from his estate always recieved his immediate attention, no matter how small.
It was from his steward, Mr Cage. It told him that one of the farmers had been lax in his care of the fences that enclosed his land which was right beside the grounds of Pemberley. Unfortunately, that area of land was for the grazing of cows. One of the cows had broken through the fence and had not been caught until it had done soome minor damage. Mr Cage required his master's immediate decision on how much the farmer was to be fined.
'This farmer possesses a rather stubborn nature, and refuses to acknowledge the authority you invested in me. He insists on hearing from the master and no one else. Would you be so kind, sir, as to come to Pemberley earlier than you had originally planned?
Darcy put down the letter. He had a great deal of concern in the welfare of his tenants and servants, and though the change in plans would be a bit of a bother, it would not be too much trouble. He would simply leave a day earlier than the rest of the party.
As the day of his departure grew closer, Darcy found to his alarm that work and activity no longer helped.
He was at the fencing gallery, the day before they were to leave London. Darcy challenged Baines to a match. His expertise with the blade had been growing and he wished to test his ability against the fencing master. The challenge was accepted.
Almost as soon as they had begun, it was clear who the winner would be. Darcy pushed Baines back almost to the wall. Finally, Baines conceeded defeat.
"Aye, acknowledged, very good sir," complimented Baines. Darcy moved away, very pleased with himself. He heard the whip of the blade behind him as the master saluted, and leaned against the pillar.
"Enough, thank you, Baines."
"Will you be back tomorrow, sir?"
"Not tomorrow, I have buisiness in the North - I will be back tomorrow week."
"Very good sir. Bid you good day sir," said Baines, leaving to attend to another of the young men.
Darcy sighed, tired out. Tommorrow, he was going home. Back to Pemberley - it was the dearest place in the world to him, but it was also where more duties awaited him.
I wish that Elizabeth would also be there to welcome me home . . .
Damn it! There I go again!
"I shall conquer this - I shall!" muttered Darcy to himself before leaving to change and to go back to his townhouse.
He left the next morning, riding slowly through the London streets. He knew that Georgiana was worried that, alone, he might fling himself into depression again. She was only partially right.
There was no meaning to his life anymore. All he had now was his duties and responsibilities. Friends and family for certain, but he had hoped that love would be part of his life too.
Fate it seems, has deemed otherwise.
He reached the outskirts of the city. He turned the horse's head to the North and dug his heels into the animal's flank, inducing it into a gallop.
It would be good to be home again.
God, it's hot today.
Part 31 Lakeside Meetings
The journey to Derbyshire was long, as well as hot, it being summer and all. But it was also uneventful; the moderate pace at which he travelled nearly lulled Darcy into sleep a few times along the way.
Finally, after many days journey, the village of Lambton came into view. Behind it, Darcy could see the facade of Pemberley house.
Darcy reined in his horse, tired. He did not feel up to riding through the village, where he would be the object of much scrutiny and observation. He had travelled this road many times and he was sick of it, wanting some change.
Well, why not?
He turned the horse's head around to approach Pemberley from behind.
After fifteen minutes hard riding, he slowed and strayed off the path. The afternoon sun was warm, and his dark green coat did not help matters much. Darcy was tired, the horse was tired, but they were nearly there. He could see Pemberley through the trees.
There was sunlight glinting off the lake. The waters looked cool, refreshing. Darcy sighed, wishing he dared swim. But it was not a proper thing for a gentleman to do. If one wanted to swim, Brighton was the place for it.
The water was very inviting though . . .
Who cares? These are my own grounds. I can do whateer I please!
He nudged the horse into a tired gallop towards the lake. A few metres from the edge he halted and dismounted. Leaving the animal there to graze, he put his hat and cane down on the green grass. Darcy walked towards the water's edge, removing his jacket as he did so. He sat down and began to undo his cravat.
As he did so, he wondered if all had been well at the estate in his prolonged absence. With a feeling of guilt, he realised he had been away for nearly a year.
I would have returned sooner, had not my attention been focussed . . . elsewhere . . . somewhere . . . someone.
Get your mind off her.
Vest, boots, all were removed until he stood, clad only in his shirt and breeches.
He looked at the calm water for a moment, then dived in.
The surface was warmed by the sun, but below it was cool and refreshing. Darcy swam through the cold water, a brief respite from duty and from the tumult of his tormented and unhappy feelings, before lack of air forced him to resurface.
The next quarter of an hour was spent in a similar fashion. For a few moments, Darcy could forget all his worries and responsibilities and just enjoy himself.
It was those same worries and responsibilities that brought Darcy back to the present moment. The day could not be spent in sport - he had things to do. That business with Mr Cage for example . . . oh, what was it again?
Yes, I really need to be heading home now.
Reluctantly, Darcy exited the water and gathered his clothing. He went to fetch his horse, only to see it gone. He searched the nearby area, and sighed with relief as he saw one of the groundsmen leading it back.
"Sir? Are you all right, sir?" asked he, concerned.
"I am quite fine. Thankyou," added Darcy. He began walking in the direction of Pemberley House. The groundsman followed behind, leading the horse.
They approached the trees, Darcy carrying his clothing in his right and his hat in his left. The slight breeze was easily felt through his wet shirt and it cooled him a little.
"Would you like to ride him, sir?" asked the servant.
"No, no, take him home to the stable," said Darcy, dismissing him. The man led the horse away to the left, while he continued his way alone.
He was nearly home. Just past the trees, down the hill covered with small yellow flowers . . .
The trees thinned out, Darcy looked up from the ground to rest his eyes on . . . Elizabeth Bennet.
He stopped and stared an absolute shock.
What in God's name is she doing here?
"Mr Darcy!" said she, obviously as surprised as he.
There was a pause as Darcy found his voice.
"Miss Bennet!" That was all he managed to say before his tongue stopped. "I . . .er . . . " he continued, fumbling for words.
"I . . . I did not expect to see you . . . . . . sir . . . . " Her voice trailed off and Darcy saw her lower her fine eyes from his face to the region of his chest. He was painfully aware that he was clad in only breeches and linen shirt, the latter being rather transparent due to his earlier activity. He grew hot and Elizabeth seemed just as embarrassed.
She pulled her eyes and focussed them on a more appropriate place. "We understood the family to be from home or we would never have presumed . . . "
"I arrived a day early," said he, finding his voice again.
She did not seem as if she still detested him; if she did, she would have turned her back on him and walked quickly away. Distractedly, Darcy realised that here was the chance to show her that he could act in a more 'gentlemanlike manner'.
"Excuse me, is your family in good health?"
"Ah, yes, they are very well . . . I thankyou, sir . . ."
"I'm glad to hear it," replied Darcy genuinely. He searched for something more to say. "How long have you been in this part of the country?"
"But two days sir."
"And you are staying . . . ?"
"At the end of Lambton?"
"Yes, of course. I've just arrived myself . . . " He tore his eyes from her face, embarrassed in his present state. "And your parents are in good health? and all your sisters . . . " he said stupidly.
She laughed, making him even more uncomfortable. "Yes, they are all in excellent health."
The conversation ground to a halt. Darcy tapped his cane against his chest, growing more and more embarrassed.
What must she think of me?
He had better hurry indoors and cloth himself more appropriately.
"Excuse me . . . "
He bowed and walked past her, forcing himself not to run.
The moment he was out of her sight, he began to run.
Darcy nearly flew into through the door, nearly knocking over a serving girl carrying a tray of dishes. She did not let it fall however, but as Darcy ran up the stairs to his own room, he heard a smash as the girl dropped the tray at the sight of her master. Darcy did not register this, but quickly grabbed some clothing and hurriedly changed without even bothering to call for his valet.
I might still be able to catch her!
Elizabeth's very unexpected appearance was a great shock, but whether he felt more pleasure or pain at seeing her he did not yet know. All he knew at the present moment was that she was here, on his property, and he had about three minutes to prove to her that he was willing to forget their past differences and show her that he was prepared to be apologetic, tender, amiable and unsnobbish.
In four minutes he was nearly ready. Darcy ran out of the room, bumping into Mrs Reynolds.
"Good sir, whatever is the matter? We have had visitors here today and they are - "
"I know, I know, Mrs Reynolds!" shouted Darcy, flying down the stairs, adjusting his cravat.
A servant hurriedly opened the front foor. Darcy ran through, down the stairs, still buttoning his jacket.
In the courtyard he finally slowed, breathing deeply. Another precious moment was taken to check his appearance then he went in search of ELizabeth.
He did not have to search very long for he spotted hre walking at a hurried pace in front of the entry to the courtyard where Darcy could see the back of a carriage. He quickly went after her, calling out, "Miss Bennet!"
Elizabeth stopped at the sound of his voice and turned. She did not smile and Darcy knew that she was stil shaken by his sudden sppearance, as well as his recent appearance itself.
Darcy plowed on.
"Please allow me to apologise for not recieving you properly just now. You are not leaving?"
Elizabeth averted her eyes towards the ground.
"Yes sir, I believe we must."
"I hope you are not displeased with Pemberley?" said he, finding a safe topic of conversation.
"No, not at all."
"Then you approve," replied Darcy hopefully. He was dimly aware that there were two people standing behind him.
"Very much." She smiled. "There are few who would not approve."
Darcy cared not about other's approval - Elizabeth's was all that mattered.
"But your approval is rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning."
Darcy favoured her with one of his rare amiles. The atmosphere had become a little uncomfortable, and he turned to see who their companions were.
The pair were well-dressed and politely standing to one side, not interfering but certainly alive with curiosity. Their general air was dignified and calm; Darcy wondered who these people of fashion were that were so kind as to accompany his love.
No, not love. All you can hope from her is friendship.
"Will you do me the honour of introducing me to your friends?" asked Darcy, gesturing towards them.
"Certainly," replied she. They walked over to the man and woman. Elizabeth stood in between Darcy and her friends.
"Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Mr Darcy."
Mr Gardiner removed his hat and Darcy saw he and his wife exchange a meaningful glance. These people were obviously very observant and had noticed something.
"Mrs Gardiner is my aunt, Mr Darcy," continued Elizabeth, a slightly challenging note in her voice. "My sister Jane stayed at their house in Cheapside when she was lately in London."
Darcy was surprised. So these were the infamous Cheapside relatives? Darcy had taken them to be people of fashion. He was relieved to note that not all Elizabeth's family were not people to be ashamed of.
"Delighted to make your aquaintance sir, delighted madam," said Darcy, bowing to each of them in turn. "You are staying at Lambton I hear."
"Yes, sir. I grew up there as a girl," replied Mrs Gardiner.
"Delightful village. I remember running there almost everyday as a boy from Pemberley to Lambton during the horse-chesnut season. There was one very fine tree there . . . " said he, trying to remember which tree it was.
"On the green. By the smithy," answered Mrs Gardiner with a smile.
"The very one." Darcy turned his attention to the gentleman. "Mr Gardiner, do you care for fishing?"
"Indeed I do sir, when I get the chance of it."
"Well, if you have time, you must come and fish in my trout stream. Oh, there are carp, tench and pike a-plenty if your course runs to fishing; I should be happy to lend you rods and tackle and show you all the best spots."
Darcy was acutely aware of Elizabeth standing close to him on his left, staring at him with a kind of wonder.
At least her eyes no longer reflect hatred.
He continued, "Or - let us walk down now. Follow us to the lake, my man," he called out towards the carriage driver. He turned back to the trio. "I will show you."
Darcy walked by Mr Gardiner's side, keeping up a pleasant conversation about the sport and fish in general. Mr Gardiner proved to be intelligent and cordial and a pleasure to talk to. He sensed the ladies following behind, speaking closely to one another.
He took them to the edge of the lawn whicxh commanded a good view of the river. Mr Gardiner pointed out the places he suspected held the most fish, and Darcy was surprised to see that the man had got most of his guesses right.
After some minutes, Darcy could no longer restrain himself, and went to Elizabeth, who was standing a little way from the rest of the company. He gestured for her to preceed him in the walk around to the walk.
At such a time, they both wished to speak, and both began,
"I, errrr . . . "
They both broke off.
"Please, continue," said Darcy.
"I was going to say again, sir, how very unexpected your arrival was. Had we known that you were to return today we would not have dreamt of invading your privacy," said Elizabeth uncomfortably.
"Please, do not make yourself uneasy - I had planned it so myself but found that I had business with my steward and so rode on ahead of the rest of the party." There was a pause after this speech. Darcy looked at his fair companion, who returned his gaze. Nervously he twisted his ring.
"They will join me tomorrow; and among them tose who will claim an aquaintance with you." Darcy dropped his hands and his gaze. "Mr . . . Bingley and his sisters."
"Oh . . . " She also looked away. Darcy was painfully reminded of the last time Mr Bingley's name had been mentioned between them; and from Elizabeth's countenace, her thoughts were not much more differently engaged.
Darcy suddenly remembered Georgiana.
Even if we are not to be friends, then at least she and Georgiana can meet each other.
It was the highest compliment he could bestow on Elizabeth.
"There is also one other person in the party," he continued after a pause, "who more particularly wishes to be known to you. Will you allow me - or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?"
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise.
Shocks and surprises seem to be the order of the day.
"I would be honoured, sir," replied she shyly.
They now walked on in silence; each of them deep in thought. Darcy was still too uncomfortable to easily talk. One thought dominated his maind - what did Elizabeth now think of him?
He was certain that she no longer hated him, that much was obvious. She seemed as if to view him with undisguised wonder, as if she could not comprehend what she was seeing.
Is she comparing my behaviour with her memory of the past? Darcy asked himself. Surely she can tell that I have changed.
Darcy looked at her. She was still beautiful, though perhaps not as lively as times past. He was confused as to how she felt about him, how she now saw him.
There was only he knew for certain, though; he still loved her, even after all these months, misunderstandings and his trials and tribulations in London. And as he reflected upon it, he realised he had never stopped loving her.
He began to wish that she returned his affections. But no - that was an impossibility. He told himself that all they could now be were common and indifferent aquaintances.
They had walked in relative silence for most of the walk. As they were younger, they had soon outstripped the older couple. They arrived at the road where the carriage was waiting.
He then asked her to walk into the house, but she declared herself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. At such a time, much might have been said, and silence was very awkward. He wanted to talk, but there seemed an embargo on every subject. At last he recollected that Elizabeth had been travelling, and they talked of Matlock and Dove Dale with great perseverance. Yet time and the Gardiners moved slowly - and his patience and ideas were nearly worn out before the tÕte-›-tÕte was over. On Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's coming up, Darcy pressed them to go into the house and take some refreshment; but this was declined.
Mr Gardiner climbed into the carriage and Darcy assisted Mrs Gardiner in doing the same. He turned to ELizabeth, half-expecting her to decline his help and get in herself, but instead to his surprise (and pleasure) she held out her hand. Darcy gently took it and handed her into the carriage.
"Thankyou," said she before sitting down.
Darcy closed the door.
"I hope we shall meet again very soon," said he hopefully. "Good day Mr Gardiner, Mrs Gardiner," said he, nodding to each of hte two in turn.
He looked for a moment at Elizabeth.
"Good day, Miss Bennet."
Darcy bowed his head and stepped away. The carriage moved slowly forward. He lifted his head to see Elizabeth and her relatives one more time.
Then she looked back at him.
Darcy stood still, and held her gaze until they passed around the corner and out of sight.
He sighed, content, and walked slowly back to the house.
Mrs Reynolds was waiting just inside with the main servants to officially greet the returning master.
"Sir, it is a pleasure to se you again," said she.
"It is a pleasure to be home," returned he. "I apologise for my hasty entrance before; I hope I did not startle you too much," he said to the maid who was standing beside the housekeeper.
"Oh, I am quite well now, sir."
"The visitors we had here earlier today?" said Mrs Reynolds. "I believe you went to attend to them."
"Yes I did. Tell me, Mrs Reynolds, what did they say?"
"Oh, it seems that you and the young lady have met before."
"Yes, we know each other," said Darcy, hiding a smile.
"I told them all about you, sir, how good a master you are and all. The young lady seemed to take it all quite to heart."
"Did she now?" said he, pleased.
"She also said she recognised Mr Wickham among the minatures. I told her that he had turned out very wild and was now in the army. But then I showed her the portrait of you upstairs in the gallery, and dear me, she spent ten minutes in front of it, just staring at it with a small smile on her face."
"Yes, she did. In the end her aunt had to shake her out of it, sir," said Mrs Reynolds, a grin lighting up her homely features.
"That is very interesting news."
And it was. For now, a small spark in him had arisen. Hope that perhaps Elizabeth did feel more for him than he had first thought.
"Very nice folk they were," continued the housekeeper. "The gentleman and his wife were very kind. Their niece, if I may say so, is a very lovely, charming young lady."
Darcy agreed wholeheartedly.
For the first time in many a month, Darcy slept under his own roof.
The day had been very interesting indeed. Elizabeth was no more than five miles away from him, and it seemed that the past had been put behind them. There was certainly no ill-will between them any longer.
Darcy had checked that all would be ready for Georgiana when she arrived tomorrow. The sitting-room was done to perfection, and the new instrument sat proudly in the same room.
And I have another surprise for her, thought Darcy with anticipation. She will meet Elizabeth Bennet.
And that means I shall also see her again.
Did he dare hope that maybe, just maybe, his dreams might come true?
He thought back to when they had come upon each other in the garden, he less formally attired than normal. Darcy remembered the fire in her eyes as she had looked at him - not at his face but at the rest of him.
The feeling that look had generated was very pleasant indeed . . .
Darcy looked at the empty pillow beside him. He envisioned Elizabeth lying there, asleep.
There was no pain in the vision this time, nor did he reject it.
Part 32 -- 'Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet'
For the twentieth time that morning, Darcy looked out the window of Pemberley House, only to sigh with frustration as he did not see the carriages bringing his sister and guests. He had been awake since dawn, waiting for them to arrive. Forcing himself not to pace the room, he sat down in a chair and thought back to the day before. He had arrived home, decided to take a quick swim and met the last person he expected to see walking in his grounds. After hurriedly changing, he rejoined Elizabeth and met her aunt and uncle then conducted them personally on a quick tour of his estate. They had parted amiably, with a desire to meet again.
Darcy blushed again as he wondered how Elizabeth must have felt, suddenly seeing him, less formally attired than usual. Though each had been extremely shocked at the meeting, it did not seem as if the misunderstandings, pride, prejudice and other troubles were still there between himself and Elizabeth.
Yesterday's events were still very clear in his mind, but only one thing mattered at the moment.
Elizabeth was only five miles away, and not only did she no longer hate him but she was also willing to meet his sister.
Darcy smiled, imagining how delighted his sister would be to know that she would finally meet the woman who had affected his life so much.
A slight movement outside caught his eye. A closer observation proved that it was Georgiana and the Bingleys' carriage. Darcy leapt out of his chair and quickly went outside to greet them.
The first carriage slowed and came to a halt just in front of the stairs. Bingley exited first, then handed is spinster sister and Georgiana out. Behind them, Mr Hurst did the same to his wife. Georgiana smiled when she saw who was waiting to greet them. Darcy descended the stairs and told the carriage driver, who was about to leave, to wait for them.
"It is good to be home!" his sister said. Close by, Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley were looking around appreciatively.
"So it is," said Darcy, taking his sister's arm. "But right now, there is someone I want you to meet."
Georgiana curiously asked who it was.
"We need to go to the Lambton Inn - she is staying there at the moment," continued he, side-stepping the question.
Bingley joined them in time to hear this conversation.
"She? Who is here, Darcy?" he asked.
Unable to restrain himself any longer, Darcy anounced, "Miss Bennet and her aunt and uncle are five miles away in Lambton!"
This brought all conversation to a halt. Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst looked striken, Bingley hopeful and Georgiana pleasantly surprised.
"Which Miss Bennet?" asked Bingley urgently.
Darcy looked at his friend, who was obviously hoping it was Jane Bennet. "Miss Elizabeth."
There was complete silence for a moment, broken by Georgiana's happy exclaimation, "She is here? You have seen her?"
Bingley was disappointed, but his face still expressed delight. Georgiana was impatient and dying of curiosity to meet the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom she had heard so much about. Miss Bingley and Hrs Hurst, however, were looking at each other, shocked. Darcy revelled in their expresssions for a moment, then turned his attention back to his sister.
"Yes, I have seen her, and I am quite anxious for you to meet her. Would you come with us, Bingley? Miss Bingley?"
Bingley with no surprise, immedietly accepted. Miss Bingley did not answer immedietly; Darcy watched desire to come and desire not to struggle for supremacy on her face. After a few moments, she declined.
"If that is all settled, then we shall leave," finished Darcy. Georgiana began to enter the carriage she had just vacated a few minutes ago, when Miss Bingley said,
"You are going now?"
"Of course," replied Darcy. To halt any further delays, he joined Georgiana, Bingley following behind.
"Is she expecting us so early?" inquired Georgiana as the carriage pulled away.
Darcy hesitated. Did Elizabeth expect them today or later?
"I am not sure. But I wish very greatly for you to know each other."
"I am very eager to see her too," said Bingley. "Ii will be interesting to hear what has happened in Hertfodshire in our absence, and to know if all our aquaintances are well; Sir William, Mr Bennet, Mrs Bennet . . . ."
He trailed off, staring out the window. Darcy felt a pang of guilt - he should have told Bingley the truth of Jane's feelings for him and apologised for not informing Bingley of Jane's presence in London.
But he would do that soon enough - right now all that mattered was that the two women he loved most in the world were finally to meet each other.
The carriage pulled in front of the Lambton Inn. As soon as it came to a complete stop, Darcy got out, leaving Bingley to assist Georgiana. He took off his hat and nodded a greeting to the innkeeper. The man's eyes grew wide as he saw who his visitor was.
"Sir!" He looked behind Darcy to see Georgiana and Bingley come in as well. "This is an unexpected pleasure, my dear sirs and madam. How can I be of assistance to you?"
"Good morning, " said Darcy. "I understand you have some guests at the moment - a couple travelling with their niece. Mr and Mrs Gardiner, and Miss Bennet."
"Indeed I do, sir. Very genteel folk they are; do you wish to see them?"
"Yes I do."
"I am afraid they are out at the moment; I believe Mr and Mrs Gardiner are visiting friends while the young lady is out walking. Miss Bennet should be returning shortly; the gentleman and lady sometime later."
Darcy glanced at his companions. "We shall wait."
The innkeeper nodded, then turned to shout through the door behind him, "Hannah!"
The girl stuck her head through the door. Upon seeing Mr and Miss Darcy and Mr Bingley she came out at once.
"Show Mr Darcy to where Mr and Mrs Gardiner are staying - and if you see Mr or Mrs Gardiner, or Miss Bennet, give them a shout and tell them they have visitors."
"Is there anything else I can help you with?" asked the innkeeper.
"Yes, you can get me a cup of tea, please," said Bingley. "I am eager to see Miss Bennet but if she is not here as of yet I will wait here. You dragged us here before we had even gone into the house to take breakfast," he said to Darcy.
Hannah shyly joined them and said, "This way, if you please sir."
Darcy and Georgiana followed her up the stairs.
The rooms where Hannah led them to were comfortable and well-kept. There was no one inside, but Darcy was determined to wait for as long as he could. He sat down in the chair near the door, while Georgiana restlessly looked around. Hannah ws obviously uncomfortable in their presence, and though Darcy tried to ease this, she was still uneasy and regularly looked out the window.
After a while, Hannah leaned out the window and called out to someone in the street below. Darcy could not hear what she said, but surmised that either Elizabeth or her aunt and uncle had returned.
Hannah turned back to them with a smile and said, "She is here and will be coming up directly." She bobbed a curstey and hurriedly left. Darcy watched the door, listening for footsteps. Georgiana was in the inner room, partially hidden by the wall, looking out the window at the countryside.
At long last, Elizabeth Bennet arrived. Darcy quickly rose, absently noticed that she was wearing the same colours as Georgiana - pale blue coat over a white muslin dress.
"Mr Darcy." She curtsied and he gave a bow. "I hope you have not been waiting long."
"Not at all. May I," said he, stepping to one side to reveal Georgiana. "introduce my sister, Georgiana."
Elizabeth smiled and moved to face Georgiana Darcy. Darcy watched as his sister shyly looked at the woman who had touched her brother's heart.
"Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
The two woment curtsied to one another. "How do you do?" asked Georgiana softly.
"Very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy - I've heard so much about you," replied Elizabeth.
"And I about you."
Darcy hoped to goodness Georgiana would know not to talk about how he still loved Elizabeth. Remembering that Bingley was still downstairs he said, "Mr Bingley is here with us, and very desirous to see you as well. He insisted on accompanying us." He gestured towards the door. "May I summon him?"
Elizabeth turned to face him, a large smile covering her face. "Of course! I should like to see him very much."
Darcy bowed and left the room, leaving his sister and Elizabeth to talk.
Things were going very well - Georgiana and Elizabeth liked each other immedietly.
As for Elizabeth herself, there was certainly no reproach in her manner towards him. Did he dare hope that he could actually win her love?
He looked around the room in search of his friend. He espied him in a corner, talking gaily with the innkeeper.
"Miss Bennet is here, Bingley," said Darcy.
"She is? Wonderful!" He drained his cup, picked up his hat and gave the innkeeper some coins. "Let us go!"
He motioned for Bingley to preceed him. They quickly ascended the stairs and entered the room. Elizabeth and Georgiana were deep in conversation but turned at the gentlemen's arrival.
"Miss Bennet!" began Bingley happily. "I can't tell you how delighted I was when Darcy told me you were not five miles from Pemberley! How do you do?" He bowed; Darcy stood at a slight distance away from the group, content to watch. "I can see that you are well."
"Very well indeed, I thank you."
"Good, good, excellent!" Bingley looked at Georgiana, then back to Elizabeth. "And your family? are they in good health?"
"Yes, very well."
"Yes?" There was something in Bingley's tone that Darcy did not miss. "Pray tell me, are all your sisters still at Longbourn?"
It was obvious to Darcy that there was only one sister Bingley was inquiring about.
"All except one," replied Elizabeth.
Even though Bingley's back was to him, Darcy could tell his friend was distressed.
"My youngest sister is at Brighton."
No doubt she is enjoying herself immensely, thought Darcy remembering Lydia Bennet's flirting with the officers. But he politely did not say this aloud.
"Ah," said Bingley, the relief plain in his voice. He looked meaningfully at Georgiana, who curtsied to them both and left to join Darcy. Bingley and Elizabeth carried on their conversation while Darcy whispered to Georgiana,
"How do you find her?"
"Perfectly amiable. I like her a great deal," replied his sister.
"That is good."
They looked towards the lady in question. She laughed and smiled which touched Darcy greatly. He had not seen her for so long, though he had thought of her often, but not always with fondness.
But she was right in every respect, except with Wickham, thought he. I have changed - and so has she in some respects.
"Maybe we can invite her to dinner tomorrow?" said Georgiana hopefully.
Darcy looked at his little sister. "I think you shall."
Darcy remembered his cousin saying that his sister was brilliant in devising schemes. Whether this was another of them, he did not know. Either way, she was too shy to put her plans into action.
"Do you know, I don't think I can remember a happier time than those short months I spent in Hertfodshire," said Bingley wistfully.
"Go on," said Darcy. His sister shook her head, embarrassed.
"Miss Bennet," said Darcy, "my sister has a request to make of you."
Georgiana slowly moved towards Bingley and Elizabeth.
"Miss Bennet . . . My brother and I would be . . . honoured if you and your aunt and uncle would be our guests at Pemberley for dinner. Would tommorrow evening be convenient?"
Elizabeth smiled. "Thank you - we shall be delighted."
Georgiana looked back at Darcy, relieved and pleased.
"I can answer for Mr and Mrs Gardiner, we have no fixed engagements."
"And shall we hear you play?" asked Georgiana hopefully.
"If you insist upon it, yes, you shall."
Darcy was delighted that she had accepted. He made a mental note to himself that tommorrow night, everything would have to be perfect for Elizabeth.
Footsteps were heard entering the door. They all turned to see Mr and Mrs Gardiner there. Their faces showed their surprise and delight.
"Mr Darcy, we did not expect to see you so soon, but is a wonderful pleasure to see you again" said Mr Gardiner.
"As it is for me to see you again," replied Darcy.
"Lizzy dear, would you introduce our gusests to us?" asked Mrs Gardiner, glancing at Bingley and Georgiana.
"Of course, Aunt." Elizabeth moved to stand beside Darcy. "Miss Georgiana Darcy, Mr Darcy's sister," said she, indicating the lady, "and Mr Bingley, who resided in Hertfodshire for a few months in Netherfield."
"Bingley, Georgiana, this is Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Miss Bennet's aunt and uncle," said Darcy. "We have invited you all to dine with us at Pemberley tommorrow night - Miss Bennet has accepted the invitaion on your behalf, sir."
"That is excellent news, thankyou sir."
Mrs Gardiner, upon hearing this, looked at her husband and silently directed his attention to Elizabeth and Darcy. He wondered what they were thinking of about himself and their niece.
Do they suspect more than is actually there?
"Would you not like to come earlier, Mr Gardiner? My invitation of coming to fish is still open," said Darcy. He caught a glimspe of Elizabeth, still looking at him with an expression of astonishment.
Mr Gardiner readily agreed to this proposal. The visit did not continue for much longer afterwards, and Darcy, Georgiana and Bingley soon took their leave. Mr and Mrs Gardiner saw them off; Elizabeth stood off to one side after expressing her farewells, staring at him. Darcy looked at her and their eyes met for one moment. She was the first to look away, blushing.
"Till tommorrow, then," said he before the carriage pulled away. __________________________________________________________
In the carriage, Bingley and Georgiana talked gaily about the visit, each saying how pleased they were to meet them, either again or for the first time. Darcy was silent, wondering what Elizabeth felt for him. He still loved her, but did she feel the same?
Every time I answer one question, another rises in its place.
"I wonder what it is like, living with four sisters," wondered Georgiana. "Miss Bennet said she wished she had a brother."
"If you had four sisters, Darcy would go mad trying to keep all of you happy," joked Bingley.
"I wish I had a sister. I wish Miss Elizabeth Bennet was my sister," said Georgiana aloud.
She looked at Darcy, as did Bingley.
"What?" asked Darcy uncomfortably.
Miss Bingley was waiting for them inside.
"And how is Miss Eliza?" asked she of Darcy. "Are her eyes as fine as they were in Hertfodshire?"
Darcy was too pleased to take offence. "Yes, maybe more so. Her aunt and uncle are here with her, Miss Bingley - the ones who liv in Cheapside." He paused. "I have invited them to dine with us here tommorrow."
The look on Miss Bingley's face was priceless, but Darcy pretended not to notice and led Georgiana to see her birthday presents.
Part 33 --Reconciliation
True to his word, Mr Gardiner arrived at Pemberley at noon. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley eagerly awaited his arrival in the drawing room, valiantly bearing Miss Bingley's snide comments and complaints about their guests for dinner. Thankfully, the entrance of Mr Gardiner silenced her at once, and after greetings were made the men, excluding Mr Hurst who was having lunch, set off for the river.
They decided upon one of the spots Darcy had pointed out to Mr Gardiner two days before. Before long, Mr Gardiner, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley were comfortably settled on the bank, talking while waiting for a bite. Unfortuantely, the fish did not wish to oblige them - many smaller ones were caught but had to be released - and it was nearly an hour after they had first cast their lines before Bingley drew his back, landing a large trout.
"I wonder if that fine specimen of a fish will grace the table tonight?" asked Mr Gardiner.
Darcy thought about it. "I think it will. My cook could do wonders with it." He turned his attention back to his own line, which stubbornly refused to catch anything.
"That is good to hear," said Mr Gardiner. "I must confess I enjoy a good meal heartily."
Bingley looked up from his catch. "Hurst does as well, though I think he eats more than is healthy for him."
"When you get to my age, young sir, the simple pleasures become very dear," laughed Mr Gardiner. "As long as one eats healthily, a little indulgence won't do any harm."
"Outdoor excersise won't harm a person either. My cousin is of a delicate constitution, and spends much of her time indoors. I believe it would do her a great deal of good if she were to venture out of the house a bit more often, like your niece," said Darcy. "Miss Bennet, I hope was well this morning?" he asked as casually as possible.
Mr Gardiner looked at him with a questioning look. He smiled, as if knowing something Darcy did not know. Bingley by this time, had re-baited his line and cast it out. The splash was unnaturally loud in the silence following Darcy's question.
"In actual fact, I began to worry this morning that she might be coming down with some illness or other. Don't worry," he hastily continued upon seeing Darcy's very concerned look, "she assured me that she was quite well and that she would be keeping tonight's engagement. I only thought so because for the last few days she has been unusually silent and this morning she remarked that she had stayed awake two full hours thinking about - " Mr Gardiner broke off. "I know not what would have kept her awake for so long for she did not tell me."
This did nothing to alleviate Darcy's concern, and he inquired as to when these symptoms had begun.
"Come to think of it, that afternoon when we came upon you while looking at your estate."
This threw Darcy into deep thought. He was certain Elizabeth was not ill, (if she was, he vowed to do everything in his power to help her recover) and somehow knew that, to her, his sudden change in behaviour must have seemed most strange indeed. Add to that the letter he had written to her months ago, and her feelings towards him must be be very confused indeed.
But what did she feel for him? Certainly not hate, was it friendship? More than friendship?
Is it even right for me to wish more from her? thought he. God knows how much I love her, should I ask for more on her part?
He cringed away from the thought, as realistic as it was. Did she only wish for friendship when he felt so much more towards her?
Mr Gardiner let out an exclamation of delight as he reeled in a fish whose size challenged Bingley's catch. Darcy and Bingley congratulated him as it was landed and expressed hopes for more sport.
Darcy's thoughts, however, were no longer on fishing. "When will your wife and niece be coming?" he asked Mr Gardiner.
"I believe they were to visit one of our friends in the village and come here - in fact they should have been at Pemberley quite some time now," finished he glancing at his time-piece.
Darcy had to restrain himself from immedietly getting up and heading back to the house. Such an action would only arouse suspicion in people's minds and so it was with some difficulty, he waited.
After a five minutes, he could not fight the desire to see her again.
"I do not think I shall have any luck today," said he getting up. "I will return to the house. Will you join me?"
Mr Gardiner and Mr Bingley glanced at each other. "In a little while perhaps. I am still willing to hope there will be more fish later," said Bingley. Mr Gardiner agreed and so Darcy excused himself and returned to the house.
He found the ladies in the saloon, whose northern aspect rendered it beautiful for the summer. They were eating some fruit and Darcy was glad to see that Georgiana was playing the role of a good hostess.
His eyes immedietly searched for Elizabeth. She sat off to one side, far from Georgiana, next to Miss Bingley. Upon his entry, Elizabeth had turned towards him and seemed as if to say something but Miss Bingley had risen and come to talk to him. He soon quickly but politely deflected any attempts to secure him in conversation and made to go and sit in the seat Miss Bingley had vacated but Miss Bingley quickly moved to retake her seat. He chose instead to sit beside Mrs Gardiner.
There was little conversation; Miss Bingley hardly spoke a word (except to himself), Georgiana was shy, Elizabeth uncomfortable and so the bulk of the conversation was carried by Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Annesley. What was more, Darcy soon realised that the suspicions of the entire party were awakened against himself and Elizabeth and so he was unable to even glance at Elizabeth without alerting Miss Bingley or Mrs Hurst.
Not long after his arrival, Mr Gardiner and Mr Bingley returned, the servants carrying another trout as a result of their patience. The fishing equipment were put away, the fish sent to the kitchen and soon with the addition of the two men, the whole party were conversing gaily.
After some time, Mrs Gardiner expressed her desire for some music. She ruefully admitted to being unable to play, a confession which was greeted with haughty smiles by Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. The former agreed to play a piece, "if Miss Eliza would be so kind as to oblige us with a song?"
Elizabeth, Darcy noticed, was still very deep in thought, and Miss Bingley had to repeat her question another time before Elizabeth agreed.
They all moved into the music room, where Georgiana's new pianoforte stood by the window. Miss Bingley, before she sat down at the instrument, gave Darcy a triumphant smile. He ignored it, merely waiting for her performance to be over.
From his seat near Mr Gardiner, Darcy looked again at Elizabeth. She was talking to Georgiana off to one side, near Mrs Hurst who sat opposite him. Bingley talked quietly to Mrs Gardiner nearer to the piano. Mr Hurst sat next to some food. Georgiana walked towards her brother, leading Elizabeth. Darcy watched in amazement; she did it all so artfully, Elizabeth did not realise that she was drawing closer to Darcy until Georgiana said,
"What would you like to hear Miss Bennet play?"
Elizabeth looked down at him in sudden surprise. Darcy looked up. "Ah - anything you like, Miss Bennet. Is there some favourite of yours, perhaps?"
Before Elizabeth could reply, Miss Bingley began to play, a fast and demanding sonata, thus cutting off any conversation - which might have been her intention.
Miss Bingley played agreeably, but though it was technically brilliant, there was no feeling behind it. Polite applause followed, then fell silent as Georgiana searched through a neat pile of music. She found the music she was looking for and gave it to Elizabeth, giving her brother a sly smile. Miss Bingley sat next to her sister, opposite Darcy.
"Would you not play this?" asked Georgiana softly. Elizabeth replied that she knew the piece very well, but would Georgiana be so kind as to turn the pages for her? Georgiana agreed and stood to Elizabeth's left, allowing herself a full view of the room, and Darcy a full view of Elizabeth. Which might have been her intention.
Elizabeth glanced at Georgiana and then began to play.
The aria, from one of Mozart's operas, was a beautiful piece, and though Elizabeth did not perform it masterly, nevertheless, it toushed Darcy's heart. She sang, and everyone else disappeared from the room - only Elizabeth remained. Darcy relaxed and leaned back, vaguely aware of Mr Gardiner looking at him with amusement, and Miss Bingley with worry. But he did not care - all that mattered was the song and the performer. A rare smile of pure contentment lighted up his handsome features.
All too soon, the song drew to a close. He applauded, never taking his eyes off her. He only did so when Mrs Gardiner looked at him curiously.
How much do they suspect - or know?
Georgiana spoke softly to Elizabeth. They continued their quiet conversation while Miss Bingley tried to involve Darcy in hers. He pretended not to hear her but stared out the window at the lake where he had met Elizabeth.
Suddenly, he was aware of some one looking at him. He looked up to see Georgiana and Elizabeth staring at him. He was glad that Georgiana and Elizabeth were getting along like sisters and he wondered what they were saying about him.
Elizabeth moved away from the piano and gestured for Georgiana to play. His sister's look of horro did not dissuade Elizabeth and soon Georgiana was performing. Darcy was delighted, finally, someone had persuaded Georgiana to overcome her shyness.
Elizabeth began to walk in his direction. He feverently hoped that she would dit beside him, but instead Miss Bingley turned to her and said,
"Pray, Miss Eliza, are the militia still quartered at Meryton?"
"No, they are encamped at Brighton for the summer," replied Elizabeth.
"That must be a very great loss to your family."
Darcy was shocked that Miss Bingley would have the audacity to insult his guest.
Elizabeth responded politely, "We are enduring it as best as we can, Miss Bingley."
Miss Bingley, however, was not finished.
"I should have thought one gentleman's absence might have caused particular pain."
In the tense pause that followed, Darcy was torn between his anger at Miss Bingley and his uncertainty of what feelings Elizabeth still harboured for Wickham.
"I can't imagine who you mean," said Elizabeth evasively.
"I understand that certain young ladies found the society of Mr Wickham, curiously agreeable."
At the mention of Wickham, Georgiana looked up sharply and the piece abruptly stopped. Darcy half-rose to go to his sister's aid if need be.
How dare she mention Wickham in my house!
But any drastic action was quickly avoided. Georgiana quickly recovered and began playing again. Elizabeth calmly returned to the instrument saying, "I'm so sorry - I am eglecting you. How can you play with no one to turn the pages?"
Her calm and controlled manner soon dissapated any uncertainties Darcy still harboured in regard for Elizabeth's feelings to Wickham. He restrained himself and settled back in his seat.
His anger at Miss Bingley had not disappeared. The lady in question was looking at him triumphantly. He allowed himself the pleasure of glaring at her. She saw this and quickly averted her gaze.
"There, allow me," said Elizabeth softly to Georgiana. A page was turned.
The piece modulated into a minor key. As it did so, Elizabeth looked at him.
Darcy caught his breath and held her gaze. None of them were willing to break the spell. She smiled at him, and he returned the favour.
What unspoken meanings spanned the distance - so close and yet so far - between them! Love's light-through-eyeball energy raced and flew over the heads of the party, unaware of the silent communication in their midst. What a gift this moment was from the unpredictable hands of Fate that had thrown them together, erected walls between them, built on their pride and prejudice, and only now allowed them this one moment of happiness together.
For that one moment, Darcy made himself completely open to the world. His love and adoration were clearly written on his face. He knew that anyone could tell he was in love.
And he knew that Elizabeth could see it as well.
The visit had ended after dinner. The afternoon's catch had been the focus of the meal. It was Georgiana's first experience at being hostess, and she performed admirably. She had also made the seating arrangements and whether by accident or design, had tactfully put Miss Bingley at the far end of the table and placed Elizabeth to Darcy's immediate right. He had to tell himself time and time again to keep his eyes on his plate and not the lady sitting next to him.
Darcy, Bingley and Georgiana had been the only ones to bid their guests farewell outside. Promises to meet again were made and as the carriage drove away, Bingley escorted Georgiana back indoors. Darcy, however, ventured further outside, watching Elizabeth depart.
Though the night was dark, he somehow knew without using his eyes to confirm it, that Elizabeth had turned back to look at him and smiled.
Georgiana, tired after the day's activities, went to bed, leaving Darcy and Bingley to go to the drawing-room where Miss Bingley and Mr and Mrs Hurst were. No sooner had he poured himself and Bingley a glass of wine, Miss Bingley began her torrent of criticisms.
"How very ill Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy,'' she cried; "I never in my life saw any one so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."
However little Darcy liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather tanned - no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer. He turned to face the fire so as to not let any of his anger show. When Miss Bingley rose from her seat, he took it.
"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way. And as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive any thing extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion which is intolerable."
Though Darcy was somewhat nettled, he was resolutely silent. Bingley, ashamed for his sister, began, "I think - "
"I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty," continued Miss Bingley, cutting off her brother, "and I particularly recollect your saying one night, Mr Darcy, after that Meryton Assembly, ÎShe a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit!'" She laughed heartily with Mrs Hurst at this recollection, then said, "But afterwards she seemed to improve on you. I even believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes I did," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first knew her." He rose from his seat, drew himself up to his full height and looked at Miss Bingley challengingly.
"For it has been many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance!"
Miss Bingley looked shocked, then shamed, then she hung her head in defeat.
There was little ancouragement to continue any activity after that outburst. Mrs Hurst declared herself fatigued and woke her husband to go to bed. Miss Bingley quickly followed suit. Bingley gave his friend an apologetic glance then hurried after his sisters. He could be heard chastising them for their behaviour.
Darcy did not care. This had been one of the best days of his life.
It was getting very late, but sleep could not claim Darcy. He lit a candle, determined to conduct a quick patrol of the house to see that everything had gone well in his absence.
Most of the servants had already retired for the night and so the house was dark. Darcy did not mind, he could see easily enough. Two of his dogs silently accomapnied him on his solitary stroll.
Though he thought he was walking aimlessly, he found himself heading for the music room, where that magical moment had occurred.
He placed the candle on the mantle over the fireplace. He sighed and leaned against it. He looked up at the piano.
Unbidden, the image of Elizabeth rose from his memory. He could see her; her beautiful face framed by her dark curls, they way her eyes had sparkled when she smiled at him.
It was very likely that Elizabeth returned his affections. But his modesty prevented him from being sure. Though they were no longer enemies, they were most certainly not lovers. Friends, perhaps.
And there was only one way he could strengthen that friendship.
Confession, apology and forgiveness, his mother had once told him, were the tools friends used to break walls down into bridges. And afterwards, the relationship would be much stronger.
He headed back to bed, determined to see Elizabeth the next morning.
And when he did see her, he would apologise for his past actions.
Part 34 -- Fortune's Fool
Elizabeth was on his mind when he fell asleep, and when he woke up. As soon as he had dressed, Darcy was off riding across the field on his horse to Lambton. He was impatient to see her again. He whipped his horse faster.
Darcy intended to invite her again to dine at Pemberley and also, to apologise to Elizabeth for everything he had done in the past.
And maybe, just maybe, his apology would end in the same way he had dreamt it.
The innkeeper grinned as he saw who his visitor was. Before Darcy could even voice his request, the man had called his daughter and told her to go up and announce Mr Darcy to Miss Bennet.
Darcy laughed and gave the man some coins.
"Always ready to help, good master," said the innkeeper.
Darcy quickly ascended the stairs, just as Hannah opened the door and say, "If you please ma'am!"
Darcy quickly entered. "Miss Bennet, I - "
He stopped short as he saw her. She was pale and looked as if she was about to burst into tears, faint or both at once.
Elizabeth spoke rapidly, "I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. I must find Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot be delayed; I have not a moment to lose."
"Good God, what is the matter?" cried he with more feeling than politeness. He recovered himself and continued, "I will not detain you a minute, but let me go, or let the servant, go after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner." He gestured towards the door, about to leave that very minute but the hint of rebellion in Elizabeth's eyes made him say, "You are not well enough; you cannot go yourself."
"No, I must," said she. She tried to push past him but he firmly took her arm and lead her to a chair.
"Come, I insist - it will be for the best." He had to stay with her, so he called out the door, "Hello there!"
Hannah appeared at once.
"Can we have Mr and Mrs Gardiner fetched here at once! They walked in the direction of - " here he looked at Elizabeth.
"The church," said she in so breathless an accent as made her almost unintelligible.
Hannah bobbed a curtsey.
"Yes sir, at once!" She left, closing the door behind her.
Concerned, Darcy turned his attention back to Elizabeth. Placing his hat and cane on the table, he leaned forward, never letting go of her hand.
"Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take, to give you present relief?" asked he in a tone of gentleness and commiseration. "A glass of wine; shall I get you one? You are very ill."
"No, I thank you," she replied, endeavouring to recover herself. "There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just received from Longbourn."
As she alluded to this, she burst into tears. Darcy, in wretched suspense, observed her in compassionate silence.
Seeing her so upset, he was nearly overcome by the impulse to take her in his arms and ease that hurt away. He restrained it, for though relations had improved between them, he doubted that she would appreciate such an action.
Whatever has made her so upset, I swear I shall right it!
At length, her sobs stopped. In control of herself again, she looked away from him and said, "Please forgive me."
"No, no . . . " replied he in a voice full of emotion. He let go of her hand to grip his chair tightly. She was so close - her eyes glowing with tears maddened him.
Get a grip on yourself!
"I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadful news. It cannot be concealed from any one. My youngest sister has left all her friends - has eloped; has thrown herself into the power of . . . of Mr. Wickham."
Darcy was shocked, though he did his best to keep his face stony.
Oh, God, no.
"They are gone off together from Brighton," continued she. "You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to she is lost for ever."
Her voice was trembling, he looked into her beautiful eyes that were brimming with tears that he longed to kiss away. He closed his eyes to shut out that dainty vision of her sweet face. Knowing that if he stayed so close to her, he might do something rash, he quickly got out of his chair and moved a safer distance away, turning his back to her.
"When I consider," she added sobbing, in a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it! I who knew what he was. Had I but explained some part of it only - some part of what I learnt - to my own family! Had his character been known, this could not have happened. But it is all, all too late now."
It is no fault of yours. I should have told you all when I knew he was in Meryton.
He wanted so much to tell her this, for her to confide turn to him for comfort and assistance. But such thoughts were selfish at a time like this, when her distress, not his emotions, needed to be healed.
But had you told the world of Wickham's character, everything he has done since Ramsgate could have been avoided. Elizabeth would never have believed his lies and this whole elopement couldn't have taken place - had you exposed him.
This disaster is my fault - because of my lack of foresight, her family has been disgraced.
There was no way he could expect her to return his love now, not after this. All he could do was try to amend things, even if it meant finding Wickham out personally and hauling Lydia back to Longbourn.
Wickham! Damn the man! Had Wickham been in the room, he would have fled from Darcy's angry glare.
"I am grieved, indeed," cried Darcy; "grieved - shocked. But is it certain, absolutely certain?"
"Oh yes! They left Brighton together on Sunday night, and were traced almost to London, but not beyond; they are certainly not gone to Scotland."
Darcy thought. If Wickham had not yet married Lydia Bennet, there was still a chance that this situation could be mended.
"And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recover her?" He walked to the window, thinking.
"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle's immediate assistance, and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour. But nothing can be done; I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope. She is gone forever, and our whole family must partake in her ruin and disgrace. It is every way horrible!"
Darcy turned to face her. So she was leaving - possibly forever. She would certainly never come to Pemberley again, and he shuddered at the thought of going to Hertfodshire, where he would be constantly reminded that he had caused the ruin of the whole Bennet family.
He would never see Elizabeth again - and his life was nothing without her.He silently resolved to dedicate the remainder of his life to securing the happiness of those he loved. Whatever he had to endure in the years to come, perhaps this would give his existence some value, some meaning.
"When my eyes were opened to his real character - Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not - I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched, mistake!"
Darcy made no answer. He scarcely heard her, and was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation; his brow contracted, his air gloomy. He had to fix this mess, and he resolved to instantly go to London, hunt out the two fugitives and either bring Lydia home, or, God forbid it, make Wickham and Lydia marry.
Darcy spoke, in a manner, which though it spoke compassion, spoke likewise restraint, said, "I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence, nor have I any thing to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, though unavailing, concern. Would to heaven that any thing could be either said or done on my part, that might offer consolation to such distress! But I will not torment you with vain wishes, which may seem purposely to ask for your thanks. This unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure of seeing you at Pemberley to-day."
"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologize for us to Miss Darcy. Say that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth as long as it is possible. I know it cannot be long."
"You can be assured of my secrecy," said he. There was no way he was going to make a bad situation worse by telling the whole world of it.
But he had to leave her now - forever.
"I have stayed too long. I shall leave you now."
He picked his belongings up from the table. Elizabeth rose from her seat. There were still tears in her eyes.
"Yes, thankyou." She curtseied, he bowed.
Darcy opened the door. He looked back at Elizabeth, at the face he so loved, but would never see again.
Darcy arrived home and as he handed his horse to the head groom, he told the man to ready his carriage and the four fastest horses for a journey to London. He then continued to the house itself.
Georgiana had been waiting for him but Darcy's despairing look stopped her short.
"I need to leave for London, Georgiana," said he.
"But you have only just arrived!"
"This is urgent. I will leave in an hour."
Georgiana, seeing her brother was resolved in going, begged him to wait until the next morning. He relented, and proceeded to make the nessecary arrangements to go to London.
That evening, the whole party listened to Georgiana play. Ever since yesterday, she seemed more confident in performing and had needed little encouragement. When she had finished, they all applauded, except Darcy who was lost in his own black mood.
Again, Wickham had upset his dreams! Whenever things had looked bright, there he was, a sneaking snake, bringing darkness to blot out the light of his hopes.
And now, again, relations between him and Elizabeth had crumbled.
He heard Miss Bingley speak to him, but he only caught the name she mentioned.
" . . . Miss Eliza Bennet."
"What?" he snapped.
If she was insulting her again, I will not be responsible for any harm I amy do to her! I am sick of all her games!
Everyone in the room looked at him.
He got up, fixed his black coat and left the room.
Totured again by dark thoughts, he could not sleep. Elizabeth's tear-streaked face haunted him whenever he closed his eyes. She blamed herself for Lydia's disgrace when actually the fault lay with him.
Darcy silently vowed, that though he would never share her life, he would make certain that her life - without him - would be happy.
The next morning found Darcy grimly determined, alone in the magnificent carrige that was hurtling down the road as fast as the four chestnut horses could pull it.
Continued in Part 6
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