Get Me To Her!
A Damsel In Distress
Part I An early ride in the park, to be followed by a lonely breakfast before his sleepy guests had made their appearance, with not much of an appetite for the likes of eggs and pork. His hunger was of a different kind. Finally some time spent deliberating with his steward on matters of the estate. Those different occupations were all just serving the purpose of passing the time until it could be considered proper for him to pay a visit to his acquaintances at the Inn at Lambton.
The peacefully outstretched dog on the floor beside his bed, let one eye observe the tall figure of his master. Darcy was standing in front of the mirror buttoning up his striped waistcoat. He had been ordering his valet about to a degree that nearly made Mr. Stevens wish for the quick departure of his master. He entered with a most appropriate choice of jackets, in his own opinion, only to be told, "No no, the green one ... ." And on trying to make himself useful by attending to an irregularity of the cravate, he was shooed, away as if he was an annoying fly. "Never mind that ... ."
He had rarely seen Mr. Darcy being so particular about his outfit and yet so impatient about getting it all properly done. His cravate was not the only item on which they had tried in vain to please the master. When Paul brought the usual pair of boots for morning use, he was met by an exclaim of annoyed impatience. "Those boots are on the brink of being all worn out. No matter how they are polished, they are not fit for this purpose. Get me the pair that was sent from London last month."
Finally he had assisted Mr. Darcy putting on his jacket and was all the same very content at the sight of his master. His appearance was most decidedly that of a perfect gentleman, and Mr. Stevens felt proud that it was his doing, ... though he did allow for the fact that the tall well-trimmed figure of his employer added to the satisfying result of his efforts. He also believed Mr. Darcy to be pleased when he was leaving his chambers, as he turned his head to nod and mumble: "Thank you, Stevens, will you please see to it that the dogs remain here."
At a gallop towards Lambton, Darcy directed his horse to the shortcut over the hills. He was on his way to her at last after what had seemed an eternity to him. It was a beautiful morning and its promise of a splendid day to follow was most neatly fitting into his plans. He would ask Miss Bennet ... and her relatives, if they"d be interested to walk the Orangery and the Gardens under the guidance of his most proficient gardener.
Though he was not certain what Mr. Gardiner would think of such a way to spend his morning, and even secretly hoping that he might prefer the trout stream ... .On the other hand he found it highly likely that his suggestion would be appreciated by Miss Bennet. Her comments on flowers and gardening had led him to believe that she would be sincerely interested. He wanted to give her pleasure, but he would certainly be delighted himself to walk with her in the agreeable atmosphere of the Orangery. The gardener could be counted on to capture the interest of the polite and clearheaded Mrs. Gardiner and that would give him some time to find out whether his expectations from yesterday evening were well founded or merely due to some elusive trick of his mind.
The thought of Miss Elizabeth Bennet made him hurry his horse with a lash of his riding crop. Make haste, be quick and get me to her! I can"t wait to hear her voice and be near her.
While he was covering the well-known road to Lambton, Darcy observed very little of the lovely summer scenery encircling him. He noticed neither the white woolen clouds of sheep grazing the hillsides in a perfect paradisiac depiction, nor the fluttering swarms of brimstone butterflies paying their tribute to the cornflowers on the flourishing ditch-banks.
Other things delighted him. He saw a pair of sparkling eyes or the soft material of a dress blowing in the wind. He smiled at the sound of her voice in his ears, then it turned hostile to have his face look worried at the memory. But soon he could feel a silk ribbon brushing his hand or imagine an enchanting scent of rosewater to stifle his disquiet. The regular throbbing of his heart and the hooves marked the pace get-me-toher, get-me-toher and before his eyes a crimson cross on pale skin was glimpsed now and again.
Closing up on Lambton, he slowed down to fall into a trot, and though his mind registered it, and made his brain react in the expected manner to answer the frequent salutes from passing villagers, his thoughts were now ahead of him, already in her company at the Inn.
Those remembrances and expectations of Darcy"s were rather different from the reality to face him, as Hannah showed him into the Parlour of the Bull. He was utterly correct, his hat tucked under his arm as he commenced to address the lady he had come to visit, making a bow and saying : "Miss Bennet, I hope to ... " But he was thoroughly amazed at the sight of her. There seemed to be a general commotion about her, she approached him in a hurried manner, apparently bewildered and about to loose her countenance, as she interrupted him without any of her usual courtesy. "I beg your pardon, I have not an instant to loose ... I must find Mr. Gardiner on business that can not be delayed."
"Good God! What is the matter?" He, too, lost his well-bred manners, but only for a brief moment while he watched her, and as she was about to pass by him, he stopped her saying: "Of course I shall not detain you ..." and after a very short pause, deciding that she was on the point of collapse, he added, "but let me go ... or better still let the servant go and fetch Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner ... You are not well!" She tried to persist, but he would not hear of it. She seemed to him to be nearly fainting, certainly not fit to be seen in public and he seized her by the arm to support her and prevent her from leaving the parlour, saying : "No I insist ... It"ll be for the best. Come and sit down, you are not well."
He then cried out for Hannah and told her to fetch Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at once. "They walked in the direction of ... " He looked at Elizabeth for guidance and her faint voice stammered ... "the church." He repeated the direction and stressed that they were to come at once. The alarmed servant girl assured him. "Yes sir. At once!" and closed the door behind her, after a troubled look at the young lady.
Darcy had brought Elizabeth to a chair and made her sit down. He got rid of his hat and crop, putting them on the table and with a gesture of deepest care, took hold of her arm anew, and sat down on a chair opposite hers, leaning towards her and spoke with gentle concern: "May I not call a doctor? Truly. You look very ill. Can I get you something for your present relief?"
He became aware of his hands holding her forearm. It had been an attempt to get in touch with her in her worked up state and to comfort her, but now he began to feel the warmth from her and realized that he had no right to touch her like that. He let go one hand first and then the other, hesitantly, with a slight caressing stroke. She had not objected to his forwardness, but then she was in a vulnerable and deplorable state. He examined her face, he could see tears in her eyes and therefore renewed his attempts to ease her discomfort. "A glass of wine? Can I get you one?" But she merely shook her head and threw a glance at him, her face all agitation.
Then she tried to be brave and said: "No, there is nothing the matter with me, I assure you. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just recie ..ved ..." Her voice broke, as she bent her head down in distress and burst into tears.
He was beside himself for want of means to comfort her. He wanted to hold her close and kiss those tears away, stroke her hair and speak gently to her, promise her that he would take care of everything ... but he was not supposed to, ... oh the agony of it. He put the back of his hand to his lips while watching her dissolved in tears, to control his wild wishes and silence his mouth, preventing any rash words from escaping him ... he felt like speaking to her from his heart, but that would not do either. He wanted to share her troubles, to be of assistance to her, but what was there to be taken care of? Was someone dead ... taken seriously ill or injured by accident?
He was deeply moved by her distress, as she had always been more or less in full control of things when he had been in company with her. She had never been so utterly helpless, she seemed to need him and he wanted nothing better than to protect her, if only he knew how.
She tried to recollect herself, and even asked his forgiveness for her behaviour ... Oh ... He was touched by her attempts at propriety in her present state and once again his hand instinctively brushed the cloth on her arm ..."No no ..." Don"t think of it. I want you to confide in me. I love you and I wish you would never conceal your feelings from me. How can I help ...? He said none of this of course but he was thinking it. Had Elizabeth been able to see the look of tender concern for her that spread on his face, she might have gotten some comfort in this moment of unhappiness and mortification.
Elizabeth dried the tears from her eyes, drew breath and once again tried to explain the matter to him. "I have just had a letter from Jane with such dreadful news. My youngest sister has left all her friends, has eloped; has thrown herself into the power of ... She hesitated for a moment knowing that it would be a shock to him as well. ... Mr. Wickham." He shuddered to think of it and could at first not really believe he had heard her properly. She went on to point out every detail that spoke of the unlikeliness of any intended marriage.
He realized the full meaning of her words and the shock made him rise and turn his back to her while he tried to come to terms with his reaction. Miss Bennet spoke of her neglect to inform her family of Wickham"s character, exclaiming, "I might have prevented it! I who knew what he was!" and her words hit him painfully. They applied to him much more than to her. He was to blame! His remorse was acute. What had he not inflicted on his beloved and indeed on himself? By keeping the full extent of his knowledge of Wickham"s nature a secret to the world, he had exposed innocent women to his deceptive ways!
Darcy was expressing his feelings of shock and grief in a low voice and then he tried to find a way to conciliate her by questioning the very truth of it all. Saying, "But is it certain?"
The sad tune of her voice was enough to make him even more determined to interfere. She said: "Oh yes. They left Brighton on Sunday night and were traced as far as London, but not beyond that. They are certainly not gone to Scotland."
He was again silent.
The fact that Elizabeth was behaving so trustingly towards him, that this meeting with her had been so different from all of their previous encounters, stirred up his emotions. He found that he had to suppress a strong inclination to respond to her opening up, by showing the full extent of his concern for her.
But he knew that he must be watchful of her behaviour towards him, to be sure to interpret correctly any signals from her. Until he was certain, he needed to be most particular as to his manners towards her.
After his first almost dumbfounded reaction, Darcy forced himself to postpone his endless ruminations, and to instead take action as soon as possible. He must help her. How should this be done? She must not suffer like this and he must endeavour to find a way to deal with the situation. In his mind he was trying to be rational and attack this problem. But at the same time he was very much aware of her distress and eager to find a way to reassure her. "What has been done? What has been attempted, to recover her?"
"My father is in London and Jane writes to beg my uncle"s assistance. But what 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?"
He needed to be able to think clearly, and this was very difficult when he allowed her sad appearance to influence his heart and render it weak from love and pity.
He even found it necessary to place a distance between them. Lest the sound of her trembling breath, her broken voice or those dark eyes filled to the brims with tears would make him forget himself and reach out to touch her like he had initially done, from his heart without thinking!
Elizabeth was shaken and not herself, in fact far from her usual power of observation, but through the mist of tears and anxiety, she was able to apprehend a feeling of gratitude for Darcy"s presence. It was amazing that she experienced such trust in him. She never hesitated to tell him the entire story of her misfortune.
This was not the result of any conscious consideration. She just knew that she could rely upon his secrecy, that he would not betray her confidence.
She was still grateful for his generous manner towards her. But when he had withdrawn from the chair near her, to stand by the wall, she could understand this change in his behaviour. He was of course shocked to realize that he had almost got himself involved with a woman whose name was now tainted by such disgraceful circumstances.
She had spoken of her own mortification, saying that she had no hope whatsoever of an honourable solution, that her whole family must partake in Lydia"s disgrace.
She would recall, that it was after that he had spoken those words to bring tears to her eyes, when she looked back on it. "I am afraid that you have long been desiring my absence." He probably became suddenly aware of a necessity to escape her company so as to not disgrace himself or his family by further association!
She had looked towards him, a chill creeping into her heart, and on hearing him cancel their previous dinner invitation, she felt utterly grieved, but tried to compose herself and asked him to convey their excuses to Miss Darcy. "Say that urgent business calls us back home immediately, and if you would be so kind as to conceal the unhappy truth as long as possible. I know it can not be long."
Her tear-eyed gaze at him and the sound of her trembling voice almost made him abandon his resolved course of action. But he steeled himself against her impact upon him and murmured that she could depend on his secrecy.
Like most men Darcy hated the feeling of inadequacy. It was terribly awkward for him to be a mere witness to such despair. He would do everything in his power to protect her from any evil in consequences of this unfortunate affair. But he would not have her obliged to experience any humiliating gratitude on behalf of his interference, and hence he did not mention his intentions to her. It might also have given occasion to vain hopes. Hopes, that were maybe never to be gratified.
Realizing that he would be of better use to her if he left her, to start making inquiries, write some letters and prepare for his departure for London, Darcy forced himself to speak: -"I shall leave you now." and he walked over to pick up his hat and crop She gave a start. "Yes." to herself she added, I knew you would not wish to stay in my company after this. "Thank you." ... for being so gentlemanlike about it. She curtseyed, and he made a slow bow. He directed his steps towards the door and opened it. Then he turned his head to send her one long serious parting look. Be courageous, I wish to God it was in my power to say something to relieve your suffering this minute. The door closed and he was gone.
Elizabeth regretted to see him go and mumbled to herself, "Now I shall never see him again." Her heart was so heavy. She was now quite convinced that he would have been just the man to best suit her. It was ironic indeed, that she should become aware of her feelings, when it was all too late. She missed him already, but she brushed those thoughts aside. She must prepare to inform her aunt and uncle about the bad news and get her things packed to be ready to journey back to Longbourne.
Part II -- I Believe I Thought Only Of You
As soon as he was outside Lambton, Darcy spurred his horse to gallop violently over the fields, completely disregarding the height and width of any hedges and ditches in his way! He jumped them like he was following the trail of the fox, while started birds and rabbits fluttered and scampered away in every direction where he went ahead. This wild riding at full speed was a method he had unconsciously used before, on occasions when he had been keeping his emotions locked up, until he was on the brink of an outburst. It was a tremendous alleviation to let go of precautions and well-considered actions for a while.
His thoughts were at first not dealing with those problems ahead! The predominant feeling was one of profound disappointment. Was there no end to his being persecuted by misfortune and ... prejudice? George Wickham seemed like an evil spirit designed to bring him misery. Was he ever going to secure her affections? Why was he never allowed to court her like most men trying to win the lady of their hearts choice - - in peace and quiet, without those incessant ups and downs in his hopes .
In the beginning, he had brought it on himself to be sure, by his proud and hateful behaviour last spring. There was no escape from that, but he began to think the punishment was almost too severe, he had been humbled and made to reconsider during the months to follow. Those painful dreary hours of grief and mortification had forced him to see his own faults.
But now he had been given another opportunity by their chance meeting at Pemberley, and to then encounter this new obstacle seemed too cruel a freak of fate. Why today? If she had not received those letters until ... next week, she might have been accompanying him now ... . He heaved a sigh and as he was passing between the gates of Pemberley, advancing on the drive to the South Vault, he pulled up his horse and dismounted in haste, leaving the animal to a man-servant who had come running forward on hearing the sound of his master approaching. Darcy strode under the vault and crossed the inner yard to run up the stairs and enter through a side door, hopefully unnoticed by his guests. He was in desperate need of some privacy.
His fears were well-founded. Miss Bingley, who had been expecting his return, had heard some noise from the yard and made her way to a window. But she was too late. Though her eager eyes searched the whole yard, she saw only his horse being led to the stables with an empty saddle. She soon managed some cunning remark to Miss Darcy which made this obliging lady ask a footman for the whereabouts of her brother. They were informed that Mr. Darcy had returned from his ride and thereafter immediately withdrawn to the seclusion of his chambers.
Darcy, flung his coat on a chair, sat down at his writing desk and, while undoing his cravatte, asked his valet to have a bath prepared in half an hour. As he waited, he forced himself to focus on his line of action, not only to protect Elizabeth Bennet but to make amends for his former neglect. To that purpose he wrote some letters, one giving instructions to his legal adviser and a brief note to an old friend in town.
The latter"s knowledge of London and it"s diversified multitude of inhabitants was truly astounding, and Darcy believed he might very likely be in need of some guidance, if he were to search for Wickham in those parts of town where he himself did not usually set foot. He arranged for a meeting with his friend to take place the day after tomorrow.
He remained at his table turning the pen in his hands, considering his intended plan of action, until Stevens told him, that the amount of water required to commence his bath had been heated and brought up. Darcy appreciated the speed at which his unexpected request had been carried out, and he told his valet so, while being assisted in removing his new boots. On discarding his clothes, his thoughts went to the recent hour of expectations, when he had dressed with such care and in so different a mood.
He stepped into his bath and leaned back with an exhausted sigh. Closing his eyes he tried to rest his tense body and soul in the soothing hot water. However, it was not long before reminiscences from his visit to Lambton began to impose on him! Her face in anguish and sorrow, touching to make his heart ache ... her dark eyes all glossy from tears, her shoulders shaking with her sobbing ... thinking back on it, he could not understand that he had been able to control his desire to embrace her ... . Though he was grateful for this restraint. He must not rush things ... . He did not know her opinion of him. Would she have wished for him to ...? The possibility ran through his chest like hot water. For a while he indulged in this fantasy, but the sound of Stevens preparing his towels and robe, called him back to his senses. He shook his head and contemplated their meeting more soberly.
Never again would he expose them both to a situation in any way similar to that mortifying proposal of his. While he had thought he was paying her a great honour, he was instead hurting her pride most abominably. He had been sincere about his own deepest feelings, but he had not had any insight on the state of her heart. Nor had he cared to consider her feelings. Why, he had been trampling on her self-esteem in an inconceivable manner, impaired by such insolence as to make him feel utterly ashamed of himself, whenever he came to think of it. Prejudice had made him believe that she was eagerly expecting his addresses, and that this "honour bestowed upon her" would make up for everything.
His thoughts were once more interrupted by his valet, this time he was approaching to pour some water over his head and shoulders. Her rejection of him back in Kent had been like such a heavy dash of cold water on his pompous offer. It had been no more than he deserved after his most disgraceful treatment of her. All resulting from a very conceited idea of his own importance and his total lack of knowledge of her feelings toward him. How could he possibly have expected her to accept him after his deprecatory remarks on her family?! That he had been to such extent conceited! He coloured at the thought.
A mistake of that kind must not be repeated. Imagining her to be more favourably inclined than there was reason to believe ... If she looked upon him as a friend, ... and he had some hopes she might do that ... he had to be content ... for the moment.
When he walked back into his dressing room to get ready for dinner, he was not much restored. Though he did summon all of his inherited and trained abilities to perform the perfect host, he had some difficulty in keeping his facade through the whole of the evening. It was not so bad in the Billiard Room or after dinner with Bingley and Hurst, he just had to suffer their friendly scoffing because of his bad play and recurring symptoms of absent-mindedness. But with the ladies present he more than usually loathed the empty smalltalk.
When at last he had persuaded Georgiana to play the pianoforte, he was prematurely congratulating himself that he had managed it to the end. Seated in the corner of one of the yellow silk sofas, his elbow on the arm-rest to support his troubled head, he appeared to be listening admiringly to his sister, but he soon lost track of the music as his mind was preoccupied in the same way it had been all day, with thoughts of either one devil of a man or ... one angel of a woman.
Darcy was appalled to contemplate the moral decline of this companion from his early youth. His attempt to lead the daughter of his benefactor astray, was an incomprehensible display of human wickedness. Surely Georgiana, then but 15 years old, had been a helpless victim of his smooth talk. She who knew and trusted him from her childhood days. To try and deceive her young and unsuspecting heart that she was in love with him! To be prepared to ruin her happiness for life in order to get his hands on her fortune. What a worthless base wretch of a man! Darcy reflected, that there was no consideration for any code of honour to be expected from a man capable of such despicable actions.
His mind wandered back to the Inn ... . The whole situation had developed into something nearly unbearable. The manifestation of her misery had called forth his instinct of protection and an almost irresistible impulse to simply clasp her to his heart to console and relieve her, but since such behaviour was unthinkable, he had been most anxious to find some means or other to save her from this wretchedness.
How would he go about this business without attracting too much attention to his person. He wished to do whatever would be required of him, but exercising as much discretion as possible. However, practically from the minute she told him, he had been forming a decision ...
"You are very quite this evening, Mr. Darcy! I sincerely hope you are not pining for the loss of Miss Eliza Bennet?!" Miss Bingley had approached to have her pick from the refreshments that were put on a table near him. She watched him with a mocking smile on her face as she resumed her place on the sofa opposite him.
He was completely taken by surprise and the impertinence of her remark was infuriating him, especially considering the sad reason for the loss mentioned. He was able to control most of his anger, but exclaimed "What?" in a tone of utter contempt, his eyebrows frowning to imply that she ought to mind her careless tongue. Then he got up to bluntly articulate "Excuse me!" and swiftly strided across the room towards the door, his head held high and the tails of his black coat flapping behind him indicating that he could not get away fast enough.
He left the party confounded to look at each other in silent disbelief. Miss Bingley, finally realizing that her obtrusive comments were not approved of, was out of countenance. She was also crushed to understand that Miss Bennet was permitted quite another degree of frankness and pertness than herself, and that Mr. Darcy thought very highly of her.
Part III --I Believe I Thought Only Of You
Darcy went upstairs and was relieved to shut the door to his bedchamber behind him. He was on his own at last! In his head he was continuing his interrupted line of thoughts.
Even while he was still silently listening to Miss Bennet expressing her fears about the good name of her family, he was quite resolved to do his utmost to assist in bringing this affair to an acceptable solution.
George Wickham had always known how to approach the ladies and through this ability of his, they were more or less at his mercy. But this time he had gone too far. Though he was not aware of it, he had injured Darcy once again and touched a sore spot. He was not to carry this through with impunity. He must be found and made to face the consequences.
Was not there a time, when even so sensible a person as Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been imposed upon by his artful manners?! The thought had never ceased to hurt him. It was insufferable to think of this unworthy scoundrel in her company.
To imagine that Wickham had courted her, danced with her, talked to her, looked into her eyes, been near her, when he was himself the helplessly bewitched victim under the spell she had put on him. And that Wickham had been allowed her smiles and good opinion, while he, though he did not realize it then, was being constantly kept at a distance by, what he later found out to be, her contempt for him.
She had believed him capable of such unkind and ungenerous behaviour towards his former comrade. At the same time she had listened to Wickham"s lies with a compassion and a demand for justice on his behalf, that he could still envy. He remembered, how tormented by jealousy he had been, after he had proposed to her, placing his vulnerable heart at her feet, to hear her speak of Wickham with such eager interest.
It was a comfort that at least he knew now, that she no longer had such a favourable opinion of that villain. Her clever way of reacting to Miss Bingley"s malicious mention of Wickham and her amiable, considerate support of Georgiana, had calmed him and ended his apprehensions about her regard for George Wickham. The way she had looked him straight in the eyes and responded to his gaze with an enchanting smile, had filled him with such deep love for her... Was it only yesterday he had held her hand, while she was stepping into the carriage to leave Pemberley?
He went over to a window and opened it. Beyond those hills and trees was Lambton but alas ... the inn was no longer embracing the treasure it held the night before ... she was no longer in Derbyshire ... How desolate and confused she had been when he left her. His face softened from love and compassion at the thought. Regretting that he had not been able to console her with some words of assurance ... but he would not seek her gratitude. If she was ever to love him, it should not be for such reasons ... . If she would ... love him ... . He admitted to himself, that there had been moments these last days, when he had believed such happiness to be within reach. Only last night ...
If only he had been granted time enough to speak to her alone, to make out her attitude towards him. If he had been permitted the opportunity to maybe remind her of his admiration and love, not with words, but translating the words into deeds ... . Not that he intended anything improper, but to talk to her, make her realize that she might be happy in his company, that he was not always disagreeable and conceited.
Let her know that he was anxious to have her opinion on most matters. That he needed her to make his life worthwhile; to tease him so delightfully as only she knew how; to make him laugh at her unexpected witticisms; to make him feel truly alive; to look at him with those deep brown eyes and to let him caress her adorable person with his ... . Darcy surrendered himself to thoughts of Elizabeth, until he was overcome by fatigue, and short periods of troubled sleep let him have some badly needed rest.
The barouche was traveling the London road at highest possible speed, the coachman used all his ingenuity to keep the horses alert at full gallop, whipping the air above their backs and yelling to urge them forward, since the master had particularly instructed him to get the most from them, and that they were to change horses as often as he believed it to be necessary. The two footmen certainly got to exercise their muscles, as they were fully occupied maintaining their hold and keeping their balance on the back of the carriage.
Darcy was grateful to be on his way, as he had found the time spent with his guests after his visit at The Bull extremely tiresome. He had mentioned that urgent business called him back to town, but not even to Georgiana had he revealed the real reason for his departure. He had decided that it would upset her too much, she was too young to be troubled with his worries. Her reaction to Wickham"s name had shown that it was still a delicate subject.
Secrecy was vital in this affair, as he wished to protect Miss Elizabeth Bennet and thereby her family. He meant to put all his energy into the search for Wickham"s hide-away, but when it came to bringing Miss Lydia Bennet back to her family, he hoped to stay in the background ... . In London he intended to contact Mr. Gardiner, whom he had come to consider a decent and judicious man and had realized to be respected by Miss Bennet. He also expected to learn from Mr. Gardiner of the area of their search for the runaway couple and any success or failure in apprehending them.
From his ruminations on the hunt for Wickham his thoughts returned anew to the reason for his being thus involved. Surely he had traveled a long way since that afternoon in Kent? There must definitely be some alteration in their relationship. It had taken place during those months of suffering and loss.
He had realized that human values were not always linked with position in society or a respected family name. He had had this feeling of discomfort in the company of unfamiliar people for years, maybe all his life; but he had exerted himself to be less haughty and more generous in his behaviour towards people that were unknown to him. He had, in fact, ventured to partake more in the pursuits of his fellow men.
And it was all her doing! Through her merciless, but appropriate, censure, he had been brought to contemplate and question his former attitude to life. This selfish consideration of himself and his nearest circle as the only beings really worth any part of his time and interest.
Almost as soon as she came within his view, he had started to acknowledge that he had also had this longing to extend his range of action, to explore the possibilities of life more fully. She had been the incentive, and later the main purpose for his expanding horizon. Now it was unthinkable for him to return to his former way of life. Her importance to him had been growing to the point that his first thought in the morning and his last in the evening was of her.
He was firmly resolved to save her from suffering the results of George Wickham"s irresponsibility! His decision was even more determined from the belief that this ravaging was made possible by his own reserve, his neglect to have the world know what sort of man this really was ... the extent of his baseness. A natural concern for his sister had been a main reason then of course but not only that. He had not wished to lay his private actions open to the public. Georgiana might have been spared; if he had set his mind to it, there might have been ways of putting an end to Wickham"s deceptions.
To behold Miss Bennet in this state of despair, had been tugging at his heartstrings. His arms and hands had ached from their forced restraint and had yearned to embrace her and wipe the tears from her exhausted face with his handkerchief. He could not help smiling tenderly at the memory of hers ... so tiny, probably soaking wet, lace adorned, most inadequate ... .
His throat had been thick from those forbidden words of comfort and love that were about to be spoken ...He had wanted to lift the burden from her shoulders, to disregard all propriety and bring her back to Pemberley, where he could attend to her well-being, see to it that every possible measure was taken to relieve her suffering. He had been well aware that this was only wishful thinking ... only impeding his struggle to regain control of his mind.
Instead he had endeavoured to focus on those questions of hers, ... regarding the seemingly hopeless task of finding the couple in the muddle of London. "How are they even to be discovered?" ... and her failing hopes on how to make Wickham realize his responsibility. "How is such a man to be worked on?" He had some ideas on the first of those problems, though by no means, did he believe it to be the work of a few hours ..., as for the second, when it came to influence and persuasion he was more confident. He could think of a few alternate plans of action, when the affair had advanced thus far.
The fact that she had displayed such confidence in him yesterday back at the Inn was a source of happiness to ease his gloomy ruminations. He was proud of it and almost glad to think back on her behaviour towards him. Yes, he must have inspired confidence ...
If he was ever so bold as to approach her again, he had to be very sure. Otherwise he might ruin whatever feelings of trust and friendship he had perhaps awakened in her. Whether she would one day accept him or not, he did not wish her to feel obliged by gratitude. He meant to keep his actions secret and once Wickham was found ...
Part IV--She Saw Him Go With Regret
The return of her aunt and uncle made Elizabeth realize, how fortunate she was to have those two people to confide in and to share her distress. Ever since she was a child they had been exceedingly kind and loving towards herself and her sisters, rather like the extra pair of parents they certainly needed, and now she found that because they were such sensible and steady people, their mere presence was a great comfort to her.
Sincere concern was mirrored on their faces and expressed in words of compassionate worry and immediate resolution, as soon as she informed them of Jane"s letters, thus assuring her that she was not left to deal with her troubles on her own.
The sense of abandonment that had overcome her when the door closed behind Mr. Darcy, was not as acute any more.
Elizabeth"s head was soon filled with practical matters to make those concerns of her own heart be momentarily put aside. There was some hurried packing to be done, Mr. Gardiner attended to the paying of bills and the procuring of the carriage, making sure that it be prepared and provided with horses to take them the first stage of their journey back to Hertfordshire. His wife was occupied writing some letters of explanation to their renewed friends, making excuses and giving plausible reason for, but not revealing the true cause of, their unexpected departure.
When Mrs. Gardiner mentioned their dinner engagement at Pemberley, she was merely told by her niece that that was all settled. She could not help wondering ... what was settled? What had Lizzy told Mr. Darcy? Surely she had not confided in him ... or ... were they on such terms ...?
From the maid she knew that Mr. Darcy had been visiting Elizabeth when they were sent for. However, the gentleman had left the Inn before they returned. Though Lizzy had made a desperate effort to control her emotions, they soon realized that she was in a state of utter distress.
She let her eyes rest on the face of her niece for a moments reflection. Traces of tears and the shock she had been exposed to were still detectable. Had she been able to behave during the gentleman"s visit? Had she even endeavoured to do so, or had she allowed him to comfort her ...?
In Mrs. Gardiner"s mind there was no doubt whatsoever, that Mr. Darcy would have been more than willing to do so ... . She had studied the young man during those last days and though his behaviour had always been unreproachable, he had not been able to refrain from occasional furtive glances of admiration and love aimed at Elizabeth.
Mrs. Gardiner had been secretly amused to notice that he was seldom many steps away from Lizzy, and promptly offering his support whenever she needed assistance, mounting the grand staircase at Pemberley and descending from or stepping into their carriage.
Though her own opinion of Mr. Darcy had been much improved after she met him in person, and heard his servant"s report, she knew not what Elizabeth thought of him and she would not approach the subject unless her niece showed an inclination to do so. She was not certain how to account for this unusual reticence on Lizzy"s part.
There seemed to be a somewhat complicated prehistory of which she had told them nothing. It had been obvious, during their stay in Derbyshire, that she was much better acquainted with Mr. Darcy than she had led them to believe, when they were first touring the grounds of Pemberley.
It was however a puzzlement to Mrs. Gardiner, when and where this acquaintance had developed into the present intriguingly uneven relation. Mr. Darcy was clearly overflowing with tender feelings, whereas Elizabeth appeared sometimes reserved and sometimes embarrassed. Though there had also been some occasions when she had seemed to be more agreeably affected by his person, his marked attentions towards her and his undeniable endeavours to make her visits to his estate as pleasant as possible.
Mrs. Gardiner reflected that many women would envy her niece"s being subjected to the committed behaviour of this intelligent and likable gentleman, who also happened to be quite handsome and far from destitute. She knew Elizabeth would mock her without mercy if she suspected such mercenary calculations, but she did briefly consider his wealth and its importance to a girl from a family of limited resources like the Bennets.
Their leaving of Lambton took place in great haste, and above the information from Jane"s letters not much was said until they were all seated in the carriage and on their way to Longbourn.
The first hours of their journey were then devoted to speculations on the circumstances, and discussions on the possible outcome, of the supposed elopement. Mr. Gardiner tried to comfort the ladies, saying that he found it unlikely that Wickham"s intentions could be so very bad.
He pointed out that since Lydia was by no means unprotected, this ought to keep Wickham from taking advantage of her. She had actually been staying in the home of his colonel, that fact alone should discourage any soldier. Also from associating with her family and friends, from partaking in the social life of Meryton, he must know that Lydia had male relatives and friends of the family that were sure to act on her behalf. The temptation could not be worth the risk.
Somewhat reassured by her husband, Mrs. Gardiner added, that she could not think so ill of Lydia. Perhaps there was some misunderstanding involved that her friends would soon be able to put right ... ?!
But Elizabeth, because of the extent of her knowledge of the man, was not so easily set at peace and not as full of hope. After the Darcys" visit at the Inn, she had told her aunt and uncle of Wickham"s pecuniary transactions with Mr. Darcy.
In as guarded a manner as possible, she had also mentioned that according to the latter"s relations in Kent, Mr. Wickham"s character was not so amiable nor Mr. Darcy"s so faulty, as they had been earlier led to believe. She found it awkward that she was unable to inform them of all that she knew of Mr. George Wickham and his despicable nature.
She did have an outburst of anger regarding Lydia"s behaviour, saying that ever since the militia arrived in Meryton, there had been nothing but love, flirtation and officer"s in her head. She felt ashamed to utter such depriciatory words about her youngest sister, but unfortunately, she could not see that she had spoken anything but the truth.
At length the conversation ceased and Elizabeth was left to her own reflections. She believed Jane must be in desperate need of some support. Her letters revealed it. With their father gone to London and Mrs. Bennet probably not being very helpful in this time of distress, the maintenance of the household would become her responsibility.
Besides, there was also the Gardiner"s children to be attended to, which meant an extra strain, since they were hopefully to be kept unaware of this affair; if indeed such a thing was possible.
Regrettably there was not much assistance to be expected from Kitty and Mary. Nor did Jane have someone to share her wretchedness and worries.
Elizabeth heaved a troubled sigh, but after sending her sister the most sympathizing thoughts, she decided that nothing to any substantial effect could be done to ease Jane"s burden, until they reached Longbourn.
Hence she was at liberty to think of Mr. Darcy. She reflected for a moment on the difference in compassion between her relatives and her chance visitor. Looking back on their meeting at the Inn, she was confused to experience such mixture of feelings, on contemplating his behaviour.
It had been characterized by kindness and implied such warm consideration for her state of mind. She had appreciated it immensely at the time and was indeed still grateful to think of it.
When she went over the whole of it, she was a bit surprised to recall his most unhesitating way to take care of her in her first moments of anguish, when she was about to act on her precipitate decision and try to find her aunt and uncle by herself.
His sound judgment had spared her the humiliation it would have meant to hurry through the alleys with the marks of her despair all too evident on her face.
She shuddered to think of the gossip that would have been sure to arise from such behaviour.
After their visit to Pemberley they were no longer strangers in the eyes of the villagers. Quite the opposite, their connection with the Darcy family would certainly have added an element of further interest to the gossipmongers of Lambton.
Though there was also a sort of blur in her memory, she was able to recall bits of that meeting in the parlour. The dominant impression was one of tender concern emanating from him; though she believed that had been before he knew of Lydia"s disgrace.
Yes, she was fairly certain that he had revealed an affection for her, she even vaguely remembered a covert, comforting stroke on her arm ... .
But when she had forced herself to let him hear the full story, he had not been close to her any more. He had got up and turned his back upon her, no doubt appalled by the thought of such scandalous behaviour.
After that he no longer spoke to her the way he had initially done. So soothingly, to make her feel less desolate and lonely. She believed his comforting attitude had influenced her to be bent on confiding in him. His manners had been very gentlemanlike, if anything, perhaps a bit too free and, at first, certainly amazingly easy.
Not that this behaviour had been bothering her in the least, she had been so forlorn and accepted his care and attention with a disconcerted gratitude. It had been a relief to be treated with such consideration.
She stared out through the carriage window and recalled his initial words, expressing a sincere concern for her well-being ..., "Is there nothing I can get you ...?" ...oh, I wish he would have ... . She was suddenly aware of her own foolishness.
What was this ... ? Surely she could not expect a man once rejected to ... .
She was surprised to feel so low at heart on this reflection, and amazed that she should be thinking of Mr. Darcy in this way, so uninhibited, ... she glanced at her aunt to try to figure out if her face had betrayed her, but Mrs. Gardiner was leaning back in her corner of the carriage and her eyes were closed.
Elizabeth tried in vain to get some rest herself, but whenever she relaxed, his face was sure to appear before her eyes. She actually longed for him to be by her side ... he had made her feel ... secure? This insight grew stronger as the hours passed. Yet she knew that he was lost to her. She thought it very unlikely that they were ever to meet again on such friendly terms as those last days had offered.
Then again the thoughts of her youngest sister pained her, the anxiety from not knowing her present situation and the wretched frame of mind she must be suffering, made Elizabeth reproach herself.
Why did I conceal the truth about Mr. Wickham? If I had only let my family share some of my knowledge, we would have been spared our present distress, this unfortunate event could never have happened.
Some kind of information would have been possible without revealing Mr. Darcy"s private affairs. It would have sufficed to hint on Wickham"s bad reputation, his vicious nature ... . But I never believed Wickham to have any interest in Lydia! Nothing of the kind was ever detectable while the regiment was stationed in Meryton.
Lydia"s affections had been continually fluctuating; sometimes one officer, sometimes another had been her favourite. She had wanted only encouragement to attach herself to anybody. When Wickham first arrived in Meryton she had been as delighted as any other girl by his pleasing manners and dashing looks, but after a while her mind was caught by the attentions of someone else.
If only the thought had entered my mind that Lydia might be of any interest to Wickham ... . I would have warned her by giving some general information on his former conduct, his bad reputation ... told her that he was not to be trusted.
The hours went by as this gloomy company proceeded on their way to Hertfordshire. Only the frequent changing of horses, a few quick meals and, at nightfall, some hours of sleep, interrupted the monotony of the carriage"s movements.
Wretched distress was upon Elizabeth, when she devoted herself to endless musings on her sister"s present misery and her father"s mortifying attempts to recover his youngest daughter. Her weary head was trying to imagine any possible whereabouts of Lydia"s.
Inevitably her thoughts went from her own sister, whom she feared to be beyond rescue, to Miss Darcy, who had been fortunate enough to have a brother to protect her with his unyielding resolve and affectionate care.
Some tears fell on her cheeks, causing her aunt to say some encouraging words on the soon recovery of Lydia now her uncle was about to assist. Elizabeth was however aware, much to her own amazement, that those tears were not for Lydia. They were on behalf of those, so very recently born and now lost, hopes of her own heart.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.