Jealous Of His Esteem
Part I -- The First Weeks At Longbourn
The first days after their return to Longbourn were somewhat disordered. Mr. Bennet was gone to London, without, it would seem, any firm plans to direct his search for Lydia.
His wife was so overcome by the threatening disgrace of her family and the probable neglect on Colonel Forster's side, which had so cruelly exposed her dear sweat daughter to the malicious tongues of Hertfordshire, that she had withdrawn to the seclusion of her rooms.
She implored her brother to please hurry to London to prevent Mr. Bennet from fighting a duel with Mr. Wickham. "He shall get himself killed and then what will become of us all? The Collinses will turn us out, before he is even cold in his grave and if you are not kind to us, brother, I know not what will happen."
The attempts to assure her, that Mr. Bennet could not be supposed to entertain any plans of such a violent nature were neglected, but her unassorted brain soon found another cause for alarm.
"Ohh, and when you find them and have made them marry, tell Lydia to await my instructions on wedding clothes for she does not know which are the best warehouses."
Mr. Gardiner, who had known his sister most of his life, merely kissed her hand and with a resolute endurance and some disbelief in what he heard, told her to calm herself.
Mrs. Gardiner saw no reason to persuade her sister-in-law to join the rest of the family, on the contrary, her unguarded tirades had better be overheard by as few of the staff as possible.
She had a word with the reliable Hill, who had been with the family for years, and who was attending to Mrs. Bennet, on the desirability for discretion and instructed her to free the younger maids from the duties of waiting on their Mistress.
Mr. Gardiner only stayed the night and then left for London to assist and support his brother-in-law in his dreary search for his stray youngest daughter.
The uncertainty of Lydia's whereabouts and future had been discussed and lamented to a point where Elizabeth found further ruminations utterly futile, before any additional intelligence was received from London.
She carried her share of the burdens, that Jane had initially taken upon herself. Together they managed the household, in their distress very grateful for the rational and experienced help of their favourite aunt.
But when everything of a practical nature was attended to, when Mary's self-righteous stupidity in the form of proverbs and bon mots from her notebooks, had been listened to as patiently as she could manage, and when Kitty's sudden floods of tears from her bad conscience and silly attempts to make light of Lydia's misbehaviour were respectively wiped away and rebuked, there still remained long hours for secret reflections.
Some of them, she was able to communicate to her sister, but most of it was too private.
The very first evening after Elizabeth's return, there was a knock at her door and Jane entered to say that she had realized what Lizzy had been implying in an outburst that same afternoon.
The two of them had been discussing the whole sad affair and in particular the reactions of their parents.
Jane happened to mention that Lady Lucas had visited, kindly offering to send one of her daughters over to Longbourn to help out. This information of Lady Lucas' attempts to be helpful, made Elizabeth very angry and far from grateful. Suspecting that the neighbours were gloating over their misfortune, she declined any assistance whatsoever. Jane was upset by the unkindness of her remark and reproached her mildly.
Elizabeth admitted that she had probably been unfair and apologized but continued by asking her sister in a rather unsteady voice,
"Oh Jane! Do you not see, that more things have been ruined by this than Lydia's reputation?"
With a look of despair she then left the room hurriedly.
Gentle as ever Jane now wanted to comfort her sister and tell her that she could understand her reasoning.
"You meant of course, that our chances of marrying well have been materially damaged by Lydia's disgrace?"
When she heard Jane refer to that emotional explosion, she regretted bringing distress to her beloved sister, who had already had to go through a good deal. In a dispirited voice Elizabeth again begged forgiveness for her uncontrolled behaviour.
Then she let out a resigned laugh with the faint sound of a stifled sob somewhere in it. "Chances of any of us making a good marriage were never very great. Now I should say ... they are non-existent!"
She went over to sit on her bed and continued, 'No one will solicit our society after this, Mr. Darcy made that very clear to me."
Jane was surprised. "Mr. Darcy? Does he know of our troubles?" Her eyes widened as she came to sit opposite her sister.
Elizabeth turned her head slightly to avoid the inquiring eyes and tried to steady her voice, 'He happened upon me a moment after I first read your letter. He was very kind, very gentlemanlike ... . But he made it clear he wanted nothing more than to be out of my sight."
Her words revived the memory and she had some difficulty to keep her tears back. Gently taking her sister's hand in a gesture that was meant to give comfort, she was also unconsciously seeking some for herself.
"He will not be renewing his addresses to me ... and he will make very sure his friend does not renew his to you ... ."
Again Jane could not conceal her amazement.
"I never expected Mr. Bingley would renew his addresses. I'm quite reconciled with that ...." Her voice expressed amused disbelief in her next exclaim. "But Lizzy, surely you do not desire Mr. Darcy's attentions, do you?"
Firmly convinced that there was nothing she desired more and realizing the absolute necessity to hide this improper wish, Elizabeth managed to laugh with Jane on such an absurd suggestion and to answer without stating a lie.
"No ... , I never sought them ..."
"But you do think he was intending to renew them? Do you think he is still in love with you?"
Another threatening sob was concealed while Elizabeth answered her unsuspecting sister. Jane would have been alarmed indeed to realize the pain inflicted by every word of hers to a heart that was so dear to her.
"I don't know what he was two days ago. All I know is that now he, or any other respectable man, will want nothing to do with any of us."
Though Jane was not aware that a good deal of her sister's low spirits was on behalf of one particular sorrow, she felt there was reason enough to be depressed in view of Lydia's future prospects and even considering those of their own.
Therefore she pretended not to notice the faint trembling of a lip. Nor did she ask why Lizzy's eyes were suddenly glistening with tears.
The sisters shared one long desolate look of mutual affection before Jane got up to say good night and tenderly embrace Elizabeth.
It had been a long and wearisome day so Elizabeth immediately put out the candles and went to bed. But she could not sleep. Left to her own thoughts she lay awake staring into the dark, a victim of her aching heart.
Her ruminations brought her repeated visions of Darcy's face looking earnestly at her. In her memory she was able to recall his intense voice uttering those words of ardent love, that had meant nothing to her when they were spoken, but which she would now dearly wish to hear him say again.
The days went by and there was no letter from Pemberley.
Truly humbled as she looked into her troubled eyes in the mirror, Elizabeth realized that she had been entertaining a small hope of receiving such a letter.
Curled up on cushions in the windowsill, she stared out into the garden, where the splendours of summer were fading away, while she told herself that it was not to be expected. Why would he write to her ?
She spent hours lecturing herself and reflecting ...I have been behaving most inconsistently. It mortifies me to consider the whole of our acquaintance, it has been so full of perversity and contradictions on my side ... . I was barely civil to him. Nothing can be said to fully justify my behaviour.
I never even knew my own heart until it was too late ... and yet I now believe him to be exactly the man ... whom I could respect ... and love. We are not alike ... but he would suit me. Through him I would have gained a greater understanding of things outside this confined little world I am used to ... and as for his solemnity and rigidity, I could have softened him.
He is perfectly reasonable, at least he appeared to be at Pemberley ... .
A smile of tender longing interrupted her self-examination and she indulged in pleasant memories of compliments, softly spoken in his deep voice, of the warmth and intensity in his dark eyes and of a few gentle touches, that had felt very similar to endearments.
Some commotion from downstairs called her back to harsh reality and in a bitter moment of clear-sightedness she knew, that she had absolutely no reason to permit herself such attachment to his person.
Whatever his intentions might have been those last days in Derbyshire - this unfortunate affair would certainly prevent her from ever again having the pleasure of his company. Her disgrace was sure to put an end to every possible design of his.
To be even slightly linked to a family whose name would be forever tainted by associations of a daughter's lost reputation, must be unthinkable for a man with such noble and respected relations.
The fact that Mr. Wickham was involved doubled the damage and made her feel devoid of hope. Mr. Darcy was sure to avoid any dealings with this infamous man, who had already injured his family to such extent.
She was often thinking of his letter, from which her knowledge of this harm came, and of his confidence in her ... Being herself, from her own experience, now more aware of the pain attached to such embarrassing and humiliating events, Elizabeth was able to appreciate the sincerity of this part of his letter.
He had trusted her with this private family matter, and she was grateful for it. Just how much this had meant to her even that miserable morning, she fully perceived when she contemplated Mr. Darcy and their last meeting in Lambton; she had not hesitated to place her problems before him, trusting him like he once trusted her.
Elizabeth now saw the importance of his early confidence in her. It had really meant a lot to her; in fact her self-knowledge had matured as a result of studying his letter.
The more saddened was she to think of her loss.If Lydia were to marry Wickham through some incredible ability of persuasion of my uncle's ... there's still a gulf opening between us now ... Mr. Darcy would scorn to be connected to Wickham ... .
Innumerable were the times she had been reading and rereading his letter.
Even before she met him again at Pemberley, every time she contemplated its contents, it had made her look into her own mind and reconsider her former high opinion of her perceptibility and judgment. How utterly wrong she had been to come to such false conclusions about the characters of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham.
It was even more painfully obvious now, after the misery of Lydia's elopement, after she had learned about this repetition of the latter's wiles and deceptive ways. He must be further degraded in her opinion, whereas on the other hand, Mr. Darcy had offered her renewed proof of his goodness and greatness of mind.
That gentleman had behaved with such civility, such concerned attention, that although she could understand that he wished himself miles away, he had endeavoured to not let her feel it, he had truly been a most generous soul.
She had felt so ... abandoned after he left. She missed him, the strength that he radiated had inspired her to keep up her courage. It was as if she had been, against reason, somehow relying on him.
How silly! Her face turned slightly pink when she remembered the sensation of emptiness that had come over her on listening to the sound of his horse going away; it had been as if her heart failed her.
He probably regretted his visit when her dishonour came to light in it's whole extent. It had been obvious that he wanted nothing better than to get out of her sight as soon as possible!
She went through agonies over her disgrace, no honourable man would wish any connection with such a family. Certainly not a gentleman whose own family was as ancient and illustrious as that of Mr. Darcy's.
Part II--Mutual respect.
From his repeated meetings with Mr. Gardiner, Darcy had come to appreciate this honest gentleman. He had proved to be a valuable consultant partner during the trying commitment in which they were both involved. This estimation was reciprocated for Mr. Gardiner, who had initially feared that Mr. Darcy might be just a fickle landowner, friendly one day, hostile the other, now felt quite convinced he was not.
Since he had been visiting their house on several occasions, Darcy had also got to talk more to Mrs. Gardiner. As soon as the whole of their complicated and depressing undertaking had been brought to a solution, they wished for him to have dinner at their house.
More than once during those days the two gentleman had found reason to look at each other in disbelief, when they were again forced to deal with the various results of Mr. Wickham's falsehoods and, as if that was not providing sufficient trouble, even some whims of the strikingly immature Miss Lydia Bennet.
Mr. Gardiner had considered himself obliged to apologize to Mr. Darcy for the inconvenience and unnecessary troubles that her childish stubbornness had brought about.
But Darcy would not hear of it. "I see no reason to blame you for the circumstance that this young lady is so deplorably divorced from reality. Your own children bear witness that you would never allow a child of yours to take such liberties in conversation with people who are several years their senior ... ,' his voice died away and he regretted his openhearted remark. "You must excuse me sir. I have no wish to insult you by any slighting remarks on a member of your family."
Mr. Gardiner waved his apology aside and uttered.
"Well Mr. Darcy, in confidence I must admit that I have certainly been uneasy on several occasions in the past, seeing the younger girls of my sister's being so frequently left to their own judgment. They have not had the necessary care and concern from their parents to teach them how to behave and form a sensible outlook on the world. I fear after the two eldest daughters, the beneficial parental guidance of my brother-in-law was no longer available. He sort of withdrew from the responsibilities of a father, I regret to say. When Jane and Elizabeth were younger, they were often guests in our house, since Mrs. Gardiner and I are particularly fond of them. We had no children of our own then and were able to devote a good deal of time and interest to our niÈces. Ever since those days there seems to be a special attachment between us, and we are always glad to have them visit us. I don't mean to take the credit for their pleasant manners or their sensible and intelligent attitude to life, I just feel that their younger sisters have not had the same upbringing, but been left to indulge much more in their own pursuits ... . "
He was surprised to hear himself carry on like this on private family matters, but since Mr. Darcy was devoting both his time and his money it felt somehow right to try and give some explanation of Lydia's spoiled manners.
Mr. Gardiner also wanted Mr. Darcy to know of the high regard in which he and his wife held Elizabeth and how they considered the two sisters to be so totally different ... but luckily he came to think of the absolute discretion with which the assumed connection between his taciturn new acquaintance from Derbyshire and their favourite niÈce had to be treated ... .
His wife had reminded him in her most serious manner, exhorting him that they knew only what their eyes had told them and what the extent of the recent actions and substantial generosity of Mr. Darcy must lead them to believe and so he left his testimony half spoken looking slightly uneasy.
But Darcy, with an earnest expression on his face, assured him that he valued this confidence and that his secrecy was complete.
Letters of importance.
An express letter from their uncle arrived only a few days after Mr. Bennet had returned home. It told them the essential fact that Lydia was recovered and that she had been brought to the home of her aunt and uncle.
She was not yet married and it seemed to be a matter of some doubt, whether that had been the intention of Mr. Wickham.
Thanks to their uncle, however, the wedding was now to take place in two weeks time. It was to be a small and discrete one, like the circumstances called for.
In return he only asked that Mr. Bennet assured for Lydia her share in the inheritance and allowed her a modest annual sum during his lifetime.
This was easily approved of and consented to by Mr. Bennet and his eldest daughters.
His wife however was very upset about being deprived of her share of the wedding.
Mrs. Bennet had to be told that since Lydia had actually been living with Mr. Wickham, there was no way she could return home before they were married. She sulkily agreed to the vexing necessity.
That same evening Jane was drying her hair in front of the fire, while Lizzy was restlessly moving about the room.
They were grateful that their uncle had managed to sort it all out and that Lydia's marriage was to take place after all. Though they both resented the thought of a lifelong commitment, built on so loose foundation.
Jane tried to be forgiving and said, that perhaps Lydia and Wickham might be happy once they got married and live more quietly after this, to make people forget how they first came together.
It was not in Elizabeth's power to be so mild and she exclaimed, 'Their conduct has been such that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can ever forget it!"
She had someone particular in mind while uttering those agitated words. The fact that their youngest sister was to be married, made Elizabeth think of her own disappointment and she told Jane about some of the concern it caused her. "I wish I had never spoken a word of this whole affair to Mr. Darcy. I wish he knew nothing of it! It had better be concealed."
Jane was trying to comfort her.
"Dear Lizzy, please do not distress yourself. I am sure Mr. Darcy will respect your confidence. You can trust him to be discreet!"
There was a look of uneasiness on Elizabeth's face when she persisted. "I am sure he will, but that's not what distresses me!"
Lizzy knit her brows, trying to get a clear idea of the reason for her anxiety. "I don't know ... how he must be congratulating himself on his escape. How he must despise me now!"
"But Lizzy, you never sought his love ... nor welcomed it when he offered it. If he has withdrawn his high opinion of you now ... . Why should you care ... ?"
She sighed at the mentioning of her former thoughtlessness. "I don't know, ... it's just that I can't bear the thought of him ... being alive in the world and ... thinking ill of me."
She knew she could tell Jane no more. If she did, Bingley's name was sure to appear sooner or later and that was to be avoided.
There was something like a general sigh of relief drawn at Longbourn as the most atrocious misgivings turned out to be unjustified. A time of less anxiety began and the worst fears of the passed days were come to an end.
It is probable that Mr. Bennet had some disturbing late broodings on the size of his debt to his brother-in-law. It is also possible that Jane sent some melancholy thoughts back to last autumn and her weeks of happiness.
But it is beyond doubt, that though she was able to get some peace, knowing Lydia and the family name were rescued, the candles were often lit in Elizabeth's room while the rest of the house was peacefully asleep.
Many a sleepless night, when Elizabeth was unable to refrain from dwelling on all that had happened to her during this last year and in particular everything concerning a captivating gentleman from Derbyshire, quite often ended with her taking out Darcy's letter from the small wooden box on her dressing table, where she kept her most treasured belongings.
Some nights she just placed the letter in front of her. She knew it by heart, but still there was pleasure to be found in watching his expressive and even handwriting and in reading some lines of it.
In moments of despair she spent hours reading his letter, indulging in reminiscences of their every meeting, trying to remember what he had said and done, even thinking of how particularly handsome he had been wearing some of his attires, dwelling on certain moments like they were treasures lost, until tears filled her eyes and she was suddenly ashamed to be such a romantic.
She would reflect on how his person had slowly gained in value. The thoughts crossed her mind, often without any obvious order.
What a treasure have I lost? ... Did I anticipate a renewal of his addresses? Was I on the brink of being defeated by his altered manner at Pemberley. From where came those warm waves inside me when his eyes met mine? Surely I never experienced anything like that in Kent ... or even less during his stay at Netherfield Park. In those days I was mostly vexed by his proud behaviour and self-assured way of expressing himself. But ... now that I think back, it was never dull to talk to him, often surprising and his decided opinions were forcing me to consider my arguments.
He would watch me, to an extent that I used to find annoying, since I was convinced, he was noticing my faults. Now I know that there might have been admiration in his eyes ... he told me so, during his proposal ... "almost from the first moment of our acquaintance' ... that's in Hertfordshire ... "I have come to feel for you' ... oh, when I think of his countenance during those first minutes ... his face was so agitated ... I realize now, that it revealed the intensity of his feelings. He loved me then, in spite of all the faults he could list ... an admiration that had overcome every attempt to forget me ... .
Was it still there when we met at Pemberley? What other reason could there be for such attentions towards me, such pleasant behaviour towards my aunt and uncle ... He was so obliging, so unaffected and friendly. Even if that was just sheer politeness, there could be no reason for him to introduce Miss Darcy to me, or to invite us all to his home for dinner. That evening was ... I was totally confused, I did not understand my own feelings, ... I missed him when he was not in the room and then, when he approached me, I knew not what to say, I felt so awkward, his mere presence made me uncertain as to the wishes of my heart. Still ... sometimes when he actually spoke to me, I was so light at heart, ... he is so sincere, sensible and interesting.
But there had been something else, something more in the atmosphere. Inevitable perhaps, because of all that had passed between the two of them ... .?
She was always aware of some slight tension, some hint of ... uneasiness or even a trace of excitement whenever he was present.
The embarrassment had been there while thinking of him, ever since she received his letter and had read it carefully enough to fully comprehend its mortifying consequences to her self esteem.
That's when I realized that he was not the man I had imagined.
I enjoyed his company in Derbyshire, despite the confusion from some peculiar sensation or other, ... a lack of breath or ... a sudden flush of heat. His eyes can be very warm ... and his smile. ... when he was so kind that last day in Lambton. Oh that wretched day, it seems we have been meeting in such agitated states of mind, he must have found me utterly discomposed. I would have wished his last impression of me to be more dignified ... oh, to think that I shall never meet him again ... ."
And at Hunsford ... he has certainly had the opportunity to study my manners when I have not been very well behaved.
He said he loved me ardently ... Oh I wish I had known him better then ... , but he was very different, his appearance so conceited and haughty! Not as amiable as he was in Derbyshire, he did not annoy me any more then. He never uttered any of those abominably proud things he used to when I first met him.
I did not know my own faults by that time either, much too pleased with my own capability of judgment and so easily deceived by some flattering, believing myself to be the chosen confidant of this odious man. I am a ashamed to think of my prejudice in perceiving the true value of those two men. How is it possible that I did once prefer such an unreliable man as Mr. Wickham. That I was disappointed when he did not attend the ball at Netherfield. That I resented the necessity to dance with Mr. Darcy ... . He was by far the most handsome man in the room, his conversation, once he got started was sincere and polite, even humourous and the way he moved to the music was elegant, so easy and still very dignified .... oohh I have been such a fool.
She found the last page of the letter and held it near the candle to let her eyes linger on his last words ... "I will only add, God bless You! Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Her fingers were trembling as she gently folded the worn sheets of paper and put them back into the shrine. Suddenly frozen to the bones, she blew the candle out and crept into bed pulling a spare blanket over her.
One Miss Bennet Married
Standing on the steps that led from the small church, he watched the coach with Lydia Bennet and her husband driving off towards Gracechurch Street and sent a compassionate thought to the agreeable Gardiners, who would have to put up with the insufferable couple for yet another hour or two. He knew that after a wedding breakfast, the participance of which he had politely declined, they were to leave London heading for Hertfordshire.
It was about time they did too, Darcy told himself with an exhausted sigh at the memory of the last weeks. There had been times when he had feared the ifs and buts, the tiresome fussing about this and that of the newly married couple would never cease.
Their final destination was of course with Mr. Wickham's new regiment in the North, but their first stop would be at Longbourn, since Mrs. Wickham had been most persistently expressing a wish to see her family before they were off to their new home.
From what Mrs. Gardiner had informed him yesterday, Mr. Bennet had not been willing to receive Mr. Wickham in his house.
I can understand his reluctance, it would be utterly mortifying to be polite to the seducer of one's daughter.
He shuddered to think of it.
But referring to Lydia Wickham's age and future hardships, the two eldest daughters had made their father yield. Mrs. Gardiner had told him it was her opinion the girl desperately needed her family to support her.
To this he nodded, secretly reflecting that the persuasive powers applied to Mr. Bennet were probably irresistible.
His eyes wandered without goal along the grey pavement of the empty street outside the church, as he contemplated one of the inhabitants at Longbourn.
Slowly striding towards his awaiting carriage, he allowed himself to get completely lost in thoughts of her for the first time since his arrival in town.
How was she? Had she been able to regain her former merry spirit and energetic approach to life ? His last picture of her had been a sad one, but he hoped the news of her sister's recovery and rehabilitation by marriage had been sufficiently soothing to comfort her.
He wished for her to be devoting her splendid and manyfold talents to other things.
She probably went for long walks during those beautiful early autumn days. He smiled longingly at the memory of her face blushing from the exercise and her locks of hair somewhat ruffled by the wind.
She was not meant to occupy her mind with worries over the faux pas of an inferior and, he suspected, ungrateful sister.
During this time his impression of Miss Lydia Bennet had not been improved. She was very young to be sure, but still, such total want of propriety!
Whereas her sister ... !
"We are going home directly' he told his footman, who bowed and closed the carriage door behind his master.
He had not needed Mr. Gardiner to point out the vast difference between the two sisters of the Bennet family, with whom he had been in closer contact.
Running his fingers through his hair, he stared at the soft upholstery of the other seat, trying to picture her person there, though he had never been traveling by carriage in her company. If only she was sitting opposite him now ... ! He stroke his forehead as he leaned back in the corner and sank into reveries.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet was as close to perfection in a woman as he had ever seen. In his eyes she combined the virtues of an interesting, intelligent and good-humoured companion with the intriguing and bewitching qualities of a woman. She was not afraid to speak her opinion and she expected to be respected doing so. She had a generous heart but she was no flatterer.
To all this she was loveliness personified. The curls of her hair surrounding the fairest face, eyes clear and sparkling and a bewitching mouche invitingly placed above her upper lip, her tempting frame soft and curvy ... he adored everything about her.
He wanted to wind one of those alluringly bouncing curls around his finger ... to have her bestow upon him the dizzying pleasure of looking into her dark eyes, to touch those soft cheeks ... feel those lips against his mouth ... embrace her, holding her body ever so close to his own ... .
To do all this and know she agreed to it, permitted it, ... wanted him to ... make love to her. The beating of his heart increased at the thought of such bliss. He closed his eyes and visualized her face smiling on him, her hands reaching out to hold his and he even imagined her voice confiding her private thoughts to him.
The uproar of his emotions caused his pulse to throb in his ears he could hear nothing else, he was lost in such heavenly fantasies.
The discrete hawking of his footman made him start. He noticed the coach had stopped and the door was held open by young Thomas. They were actually arrived at his house ... .
He composed himself tolerably to rapidly leave the coach.
With a hoarse 'Thank you Thomas. I shall not be needing your services any more today." he ran up the stairs and disappeared into the house.
"The master is often absentminded those days wouldn't you say Thomas?"
The coachman had turned on his seat to watch Mr. Darcy climb the steps and enter his house.
"Aye, he sure is," the young footman admitted.
The driver winked his eye asking 'What can that be to totally occupy a man's mind? What do you think, Thomas? A pair of laughing eyes maybe ... ?"
They both smirked in good-natured collusion, though Thomas knew he was supposed to be unaware of what he saw and heard while waiting upon his master.
The coachman, being considerably older and employed by the Darcy family for many years, somewhat fatherly persisted, 'I say, it is time for him to get married. It is no good for a man to be on his own ... ."
They were approaching the stables with the empty carriage and Thomas with uneasiness hushed at him.
"For Christ's sake, lower your voice, man. You know we are not supposed to speculate ... ."
Though the coachman did obey his young workmate, his friendly laughter rumbled against the walls of the stable yard as he teased him, 'This is obviously a ticklish subject! How are you getting along with that sweet Sarah in the kitchen eyh?"
A window in the library was open and through it came the faint echo of that laughter. The happy and unaffected nature of it gave rise to a deep sigh of unreflected envy.
Darcy was listlessly picking at the food he had ordered to be served in the library. He had no wish to sit in the dining room and have servants watch his every move, listen to his breathing, observe his countenance and simply annoy him by their mere presence.
His library was the place where nobody was allowed to enter unless he rang for them. This last year his need for privacy had been considerably increased.
If I can not have her, I must at least be allowed to think of her. Surely that is not too much to ask!
The tray was impatiently pushed away and he grasped his glass to take a large gulp of the wine.
Holding the heavy crystal wineglass in his hand, he slowly turned it to catch a sunbeam on the exquisitely facet cut surface. Thereby causing the reflection to place a tiny sparkle in the red liquid.
He took another sip but was careful to recover the brilliance which seemed to have a reviving effect on his frame of mind.
Dreamily gazing at the trapped light he leaned back in his chair, the tension in his body slackened and a tender smile diffused on his face.
Part III--He Wants Nothing But A Little More Liveliness!
True, he had been thinking of Elizabeth Bennet during the days of his search and later meeting and negotiating with Mr. Gardiner -- and Mr. Wickham, to come to a solution. To attain an arrangement that would solve the situation once and for all.
But only briefly, when he needed her image to remind him what he was about, why he was exposing himself to the awful ordeal of being daily in contact with the man he so despised and resented. Whose behaviour towards his innocent sister he could never forgive, though he would try to bear with his company, if circumstances were ever ... demanding it of him.
Her desperate words of self-reproach had been ringing in his ears. "To think that I might have prevented it! I who knew what he was!"
Those words were more appropriate to make him realise his mistaken pride. Miss Bennet was not to blame. She had merely complied with the wish for secrecy expressed by him in his letter.
He had felt it an absolute necessity to try to provide whatever remedy there could possibly be to this great wrong caused by his selfish reserve.
His mind had been much occupied with matters of economy and legal dispositions those days and the urgent nature of the matter had kept him constantly busy. This had left him little time to indulge in speculations of a more private nature.
His endeavour to keep his head clear and his attention directed to the problems at hand soon enabled him to secure a firm grip on Wickham and he would not risk to loose it on behalf of a momentary weakness or some neglect of his. He shook his head in disbelief at the thought of the mercenary nature and dishonourable mind of his former playmate. The infamous man has no backbone!
Now after they had reached an acceptable agreement, he had allowed her person to occupy most of his thoughts. His love for her once again imbued his whole existence.
The wedding had taken place, the couple had left London and his dinner invitation from the Gardiners was due to be finally fulfilled. Despite his appreciation of the comfortable atmosphere in their dining-room, he was not sure whether his coming there had been a wise decision.
It soon proved to be much more disturbing to think of her in the company of her relatives. The mere presence of those friendly people whom he understood were very close to her, brought her person to his immediate attention. But this called for some reserve of his, he must watch his tongue and be in command of his face, for he resented the idea of revealing any partiality for her. It would indeed be incompatible with his nature to expose his vulnerable heart, his irretrievable admiration for their niece.
Not that they were forward or persistent on the subject, but it was inevitable that her name should be mentioned several times. Every time it was spoken, no matter how he tried to harden himself, he had this surprising feeling of heat and turmoil inside.
He strove to appear perfectly calm and easy on those occasions when he was obliged to say something about her.
The dinner conversation was pleasant and full of variety. One topic that was discussed at some length was contemporary art, since Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had been to an exhibition recently and on realising that so had their guest, they wanted to know Mr. Darcy's opinion about it.
Mrs. Gardiner was pleased to draw from his answer the conclusion, that he was fairly open-minded and interested to see new aspects within the concept of painting and sculpture.
Speaking of paintings, the work of William Turner was mentioned and Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed 'Oh yes his art is something special." Then she appealed to her husband.
"My dear, do you recall last year when Lizzy was staying with us. She insisted on our going back to the Academy since she wished to view that Turner painting again.
She was so fascinated by the colours and the softness of reflections in the water's surface. She said something ... about him painting with colour resolved into vapour. We had to do as she wanted ... not that it was any sacrifice. I am an admirer of his paintings myself."
To Mr. Darcy she added with an affectionate smile, that softened the impression of her words,
"Elizabeth can be really persistent once she has put her mind to something."
That gentleman seemed to be very busy cutting the meat on his plate and merely mumbled, 'Yes. I can imagine she would be ... . "
As a matter of fact he had been listening most attentively. Taking delight in picturing her in front of the painting, her clear eyes observing and her mind responding to every detail of it. He was also interested to know more ...
"You do not by any chance remember the name of that painting, Mrs. Gardiner?"
His inquiry was civil and sort of casual, he was trying to conceal his eagerness to know. If it was available ... he would very much like to acquire it. He considered placing it at Pemberley. The music room perhaps!
Mrs. Gardiner however regretted that she could not remember what it was called, she only had this impression of some Italian view, possibly Venice?
Later that afternoon, they were drinking coffee and enjoying the occasional pleasant chat that is quite sufficient when people of a friendly disposition are in each others company. Mrs. Gardiner was happy to feel that their acquaintance with Mr. Darcy was already of such nature as to permit that the children be brought down to bow and curtsey to their guest. His kind manner of addressing them made her inclined to allow the elder ones to stay a little longer.
One of them, Emily, a little girl not yet six years of age, was instructed to approach Darcy to offer him sweets from a silver plate. He thanked her and helped himself to some almonds.
She then sat on a footstool near him feeding almonds to a tiny doll. He watched her with amusement and asked her for the name of her doll. "She is Betty Susannah, but she will not eat her food." Obviously she got tired of it, for she propped the doll up against her stool and looked thoughtfully at him, 'Have You met my aunt Lizzy, Mr. Darcy?"
He was mildly astonished but answered 'Yes, I have."
"I love her, she is so sweet and funny don't you think, and she knows so many games. We play a new one every time she visits."
I am sure she does. The thought, somewhat improperly, ran through his head, however he uttered.
"Is that so?"
"Oh yes, she taught me lots of them. Do you know how to stay serious?"
"Stay serious?" That might be a game to suit me, I guess.
Rather impatiently Emily explained. "Yes! I make funny faces and you must not laugh. Want to try?"
"Hrm, well yes ... ."
The girl had got up to stand at the side of his armchair and now began to twist her sweet little face. She was quite charming doing so and Darcy smiled slightly.
"Ah, You lost!!" She was triumphant. "Now it is my turn!"
She looked very determined assuming a stern face. Darcy was at a loss, he was not used to making faces. As a matter of fact, he could not remember when he last did that.
He sneaked a glance towards Mr. Gardiner, but he was apparently busy loading a wooden toy cart with grapes for a toy horse to pull away. Since Mrs. Gardiner begged to be excused and temporarily left the gentlemen after being called upon by a somewhat distressed nursery maid, he felt more at ease and some vague reminiscences from his playing with Georgiana made him blow his cheeks out and stare at little Emily.
She observed him seriously, but shook her head declaring 'I am not laughing!"
"No, I am afraid I am no good at this," Darcy admitted.
She patted his hand. "Don't be sorry, we can try another ..."
Now Mr. Gardiner raised his voice and said, "Emily you must not disturb Mr. Darcy. He might like to drink his coffee peacefully ... ."
Mr. Gardiner was pleased to have another proof of their guest's amiable character, on receiving an answer to set his mind as a host at rest. "No no, I am perfectly comfortable. Please do not make yourself uneasy."
Darcy now remembered more clearly, how the daily routine at Pemberley during his vacations from Eton and later Cambridge had included some time spent in the nursery with his sister. It seemed so long ago! Darcy smiled on Emily and asked her to show him the new game.
"Now you must guess how many fingers I hold up." She hid her hands behind her back and looked him expectantly in the eyes. He realised that he was growing quite fond of her, she reminded him of Elizabeth Bennet. She had the same bouncing curls and in her eyes there was a familiar persistence ... .
"If you can guess, you get kisses! As a reward."
"I do?" He was nearly breathless to think of Miss Bennet playing this game. After several mistakes he managed to guess right ..."might there by any chance be three fingers then, I wonder?"
Her little face lit up from a sweet smile and she encouraged him. "Yes, that's it, Mr. Darcy. See, you can do it! Now you get the kisses."
"Yes, but since I don't know you ... ." She seized his hand and placed three hasty little kisses on the back of it.
He was moved and smiled on her. "Oh, that was ... kind."
She objected. "Not at all. You won them." Then she leaned towards him to whisper. "Maybe you would like one to keep?"
He was slightly confused. "To ... keep?"
"Yes. Like this." She took his hand and turned it to kiss the palm. Then she hurriedly made him close it, bending his fingers.
She lectured him. "Aunt Lizzy says, you have to close your hand firmly or the kiss will go away!"
"Oh ... !" He was delighted to imagine her playing those games with her nieces and nephews. He would not mind being subjected to her playful mood himself ... .
There was a sense of emptiness inside him as Darcy climbed his carriage to leave Gracechurch Street. His thanks to his host and hostess had been most sincere and he was now grateful that he had accepted their invitation although he experienced a mixture of feelings. He had really felt himself at home in their comfortable house, but the afternoon had made him even more keenly aware of what he had not ... , a wife ... and a home like the one he had been visiting, ... perhaps even children of his own?
Part IV -- Mr. Darcy was at your wedding?
Most decidedly against the idea of ever receiving the couple in his home, Mr. Bennet after listening to Jane and Lizzy still found himself persuaded to yield. They told him that for Lydia's sake and to acknowledge the union in the eyes of Hertfordshire society, she had better be permitted to visit her family before the Wickhams went to the north.
Mrs. Bennet, apparently quite forgetting the sad events of the passed weeks, or at least allowing her delight to have a daughter married outshine every other aspect of the matter, praised Lydia insufferably. The only one affected by her effusions was Kitty who was excited and envious at the sight of her young sister by the side of her smiling husband.
Mr. Bennet suffered in silence, mostly in the privacy of his library, but Jane and Elizabeth, were often appalled by Lydia's impropriety.
They felt obligated to be present when the family circle gathered in the drawing-room, however unwanted the company was to such as did think. That was hardly the reason why Mrs. Bennet often avoided it by frequent parties and many visits in the neighbourhood. She was simply thrilled to introduce her daughter, Mrs. Wickham.
Lydia was boasting of her ring and made a point of her new dignity, stating that it did allow her to go with her mother before Jane on entering the house. She apparently understood nothing of her disgrace.
On the contrary she spoke of how she would get husbands for all her sisters, once she got settled with Wickham's new regiment, which caused Lizzy to impatiently cry out,
"Thank you for my part, I do not particularly care for your way of finding husbands!"
One day as they were out walking in the fields Wickham was circling around them in a tedious manner, displaying his skill as a horseman. Lydia was as usual overflowing with admiration for his looks and babbling on about it, she once again mentioned how she wished they could have had all the officers in their red coats and their sabres drawn present at the wedding.
"But in the end there was no one there but my aunt and uncle and Mr. Darcy ... ."
"Mr. Darcy! He was at your wedding?"
Lizzy's sentiments caused her to almost scream her question in astonishment. Lydia was visibly embarrassed at this slip of tongue and she revealed that she had been made to promise not to say a word of that gentleman's presence.
"In that case you'd better be silent," Jane advised her sister and Lizzy most reluctantly seconded though she was burning with curiosity. Lydia made a remark to imply that she would not resist telling them, if they were to ask her about it. This forced Elizabeth to run away to rid herself of the temptation.
Her heart was all aflutter to think of him present on this occasion, it was not to be comprehended!
The wedding of a man whose mere apparition he must thoroughly loath and resent. Her brain was overheated trying to figure out what could be the meaning of this ... . Such suspense was not to be borne. Whatever was he doing there?
Conjectures as to the meaning of it hurried through her head. Hopes and wild speculations. The answers she first came up with were too unbelievable.
She must know the whole truth and at the first opportunity she sat down to write to her aunt to inquire about this intriguing fact.
In her letter she assured Mrs. Gardiner that if she would not supply the requested information she would leave her niece no alternative but the use of tricks to be satisfied about the reasons for Mr. Darcy's presence!
Part IV--An exertion of goodness.
Elizabeth had an answer from her aunt at the earliest possible time and the letter was thick enough for her to feel certain that her request had been gratified! She withdrew to a secluded place in the garden to acquaint herself with its contents. The little copse was provided with wooden benches and she choose the one that was best hidden from view.
It began with several lines expressing her aunts amazement to hear that Elizabeth was in need of such enlightenment from her. It also stated firmly that her uncle had acted on the firm conviction that Lizzy was 'a party concerned'. Mrs. Gardiner asked forgiveness if she seemed impertinent and added that she would be more explicit if her niece was really as 'innocent' and ignorant as her questions suggested.
Elizabeth's eyes flew along the lines and what she read filled her with feelings of both pleasure and pain.
Mr. Darcy had left Derbyshire the day after their last meeting at Lambton and he had gone to London to hunt for Wickham!! Why? Her heart was beating so hard. As soon as he had found him and talked with him, and Lydia, he had 'called at Gracechurch Street and been shut up with Mr. Gardiner in his study for hours." Lizzy could scarcely believe her eyes.
Her aunt proceeded to give Mr. Darcy's reason for interfering. He stated that his mistaken pride had allowed Mr. Wickham to carry on. Had his character been exposed, he would not have been able to continue his trickery.
'And so my dear Lizzy, Mr. Darcy would not hear of any opposition. He insisted on bearing the entirety of the expense and nothing was to be done, that he did not do himself. He said the fault was his and so must the remedy be.
So your uncle, instead of being allowed to be of use to his niece, was forced to put up with having the credit of it. Mr. Darcy was most firm on this matter, though your uncle tried to express our opinion, that he was taking to much upon himself. He told us argument was fruitless and since the responsibility was his, he must have it. He would not give way!"
Her vague speculations as to Mr. Darcy's part in forwarding Lydia's wedding were proved to be true beyond belief. She had judged it to be an exertion of goodness to great to be probable but he had taken it all upon himself.
Mrs. Gardiner also mentioned that had they not been convinced that Mr. Darcy had 'another motive' for his involvement, they might not have given way to his demands.
Elizabeth could not help wondering if her aunt might be right. Could there be a reason for this interference of Mr. Darcy's other than his remorse? Another motive!
Her heart whispered He did it for me ... but brother- in-law to Wickham? Never! She was foolish indeed, to even think that could ever be and so immediately rejected the idea as wishful thinking ... He had given sufficient reason for his actions. Perhaps some remaining partiality for her might have strengthened his wish to remedy.
How utterly ashamed she was to think of her former behaviour. She had been unkind, rude even towards him, this man to whom they now owed everything! The restoration of Lydia, the paying off of Wickhams debts, the assistance to provide him with an ensigncy with a regiment in the north ... .
There was one part of her aunt's letter that was most pleasing to her eyes; the praise of Mr. Darcy, his behaviour, his understanding and generosity. She was also thrilled to see that both her uncle and aunt had deduced that there was an understanding between herself and Mr. Darcy! Oh, how she wished they had been right!
He is perfectly amiable.
There was a rustling sound in the heaps of leaves, as the heavy hooves of the horse pushed them aside, to place their imprints in the soft black mould under the old trees, where the sun seldom shone. The sky was visible through the black network of half defoliated branches thus allowing more light to fall on the ground than during the summer, when the thick foliage prevented the grass from growing. He inhaled the rich scent of wet soil and mouldering bark and leaves.
The busy days of harvest and storing were almost come to an end and he had deliberately burrowed his way down into detailed matters concerning the stock books, the autumn-sown grain, repair work on the tenancies and deciding which animals from his livestock should be brought to the cattle market.
This was the first ride of any length he had taken since he arrived ten days ago, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Passing under a young bower of beeches, he closed his eyes as the damp leaves brushed against his face. Their moist softness tickled his lips and compelled him to take a deep breath. His eyes were directed forward unconsciously registering the ground between the pricked up ears of his mare. In his mind he was elsewhere.
Sometimes when he looked back on their meetings in Derbyshire, he arrived at the conclusion that though she no longer resented him, she would never consider him to be anything but an acquaintance, not too disagreeable perhaps, but still ... no more.
He had this overpowering wish to protect her. He wished to be near her, see to it that no harm came to her. Do not fool yourself, man. That is not your sole interest in her. True, it is not! There is no denying that I am desperately in love with her. I want her! I need her to be part of my life ... in every way.
But even if she would always remain beyond reach of his most fervent wishes, he still felt a need to guarantee her future safety and happiness. He had no idea how this could be done from a distance, but one possibility was of course Bingley's becoming her brother-in-law!
He ransacked his motives for approval of this match, was he that egoistic? Was it because his own interests would benefit from a closer connection with the Bennet family?
But he really felt he must acquit himself of such base calculations.
He had noticed the change in Bingley's personality this last year, and he was sincerely ashamed to think of the pain he had caused his dear friend ... and another. On his conscience was also the sufferings of the object of Bingley's choice.
Now he only feared that Miss Jane Bennet might have had her heart broken beyond repair. He thought of Elizabeth Bennet's words about him being the means of ruining the happiness of a most beloved sister. Through her revelations of the acute misery and disappointed hopes, he knew of her sister's affectionate heart.
If only she had been equally explicit as to her own heart! Some of her looks and reactions in Derbyshire, had implanted a faint belief of her not being totally indifferent. Still he dared not hope that she cared ... . Not the way he did.
Nobody could possibly care about her the way he did. How he cared! He clutched his fists around the reins and pressed his lips together. What I would give to be in her company this minute! I must know that she is well. I want that forlorn expression of sadness wiped from her lovely face. I want to ... . He heaved a sigh at the recognition of his ruminations running into the same trail once more ... .
Was he worth her love now? Was his former out of place pride really conquered?
It was not his intention to have her know of his actions connected to the Wickham affair. He realised that his own reserve had made it possible for Wickham to continue his deceptions in his dealings with merchants, fellow gamblers and worst of all innocent young females. He questioned whether he would have been so determined to act upon it, if his heart had not been involved.
If the welfare of Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not been so vital to him, would he still have devoted so much time and effort to recover the couple? He believed his wish to be a true gentleman, one that she would consider worthy of her esteem, would have guided him into the same line of action.
He knew for certain he owed it to her that his mind had been thus humbled. To help him acknowledge and wish to make amends for the part he had played in this affair. He sincerely hoped he would have acted the same way regardless of his partiality.
However, he was most anxious that Miss Bennet should be ignorant as to his interference. To this effect he had prevailed upon Mr. Gardiner to appear the sole benefactor in the eyes of the world, but more important, in the eyes of the Bennet family and foremost in the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet!
He believed it to be less obvious, offering less reason for speculation if he discretely let some time pass before he visited Hertfordshire.
He had been supportive of Bingley's idea to return to Netherfield for the hunting season from the night it was first mentioned. When Miss Bennet had been dining at Pemberley with her relations.
He knew he did not want to leave her out of sight, he intended to win her heart if possible, but he did not mean to rush things. He thought it might be most convenient for him to visit Netherfield during the autumn, and what more plausible reason to do so could there possibly be, than a fine hunting trip.
So Miss Bennet believed her sister to be seriously attached to Bingley, and although he thought it highly likely, that she was the better judge of her sisters heart, he wanted to see for himself before he owed the whole of his sad deception to his friend. He saw no reason to renew his hopes, if the lady's affection was no longer strong.
A weighty cause for his wish to delay their Hertfordshire trip was his abhorrence of another encounter with the Wickhams. They were presently visiting Longbourn but given the awkwardness of the circumstances, his calculations led him to believe, they would be gone after a week or, at any rate, after two weeks.
So he had been most desirous to go there, but not just yet. He also thought it best that Bingley did not arrive before him. Since he could not let Bingley in on the recent Wickham affair, he had been reduced to the use of different pretenses in order to postpone the departure from London for a fortnight. It had been somewhat difficult since Bingley was apparently very eager to go there.
Darcy had a sting of bad conscience on hearing his friend pleading his cause. To himself he admitted that he was every bit as eager as Bingley to get there and to visit Longbourn. I do understand him. The place holds great attraction ... .
Darcy had to throw the blame on his steward and pressing estate business. Explaining to Bingley that he must go to Pemberley to attend to matter associated with the harvest and other autumnal duties. That he would like to have it all settled to be able to better enjoy the shooting.
To cheer him up with thoughts of the coming pleasures, he mentioned that he would get his favourite bird rifle from Derbyshire, asked him to be patient and await his return. Bingley always considerate and wishing to humour his friend agreed though not without some inner regrets. He would like to join the country gatherings soon... and to dance at Assemblies and ... meet with the young ladies of Hertfordshire.
Darcy had passed through the forest at a walking-pace and the horse was now climbing the hillside. Since the slackening reins allowed her to stretch her neck, she was even trying to snap up an occasional blade of grass. Darcy did not bother to stop her. He was deep in thoughts.
He paused at the brow of the hill and his eyes swept over the land before him. The acres were yellow from the stubble and the meadows were a greyish shade of green. But the trees were tinged with many colours from a bright fiery red to a dull brown.
At a distance he saw the main building of Pemberley beyond the treetops. Thin pillars of smoke were rising from it's many chimneys, speaking of a meal being prepared and of the comfortable warmth to be had in front of it's fireplaces and hearths.
To his amazement he experienced a sense of fulfillment. It was in the air around him and in his mind. This is where I belong, he thought. And so does she. It is all waiting for you, my love. Suddenly he felt strong and determined to bring her home. Collecting the reins in his gloved hands, he made the mare gallop down the hillside over the fields towards the House.
The gravel spattered around the hooves when the horse and rider turned up into the Stable's yard. After dismounting and leaving the horse to his promptly advancing groom he brushed some leaves of his coat.
"What a fine day it's been, George!"
The groom was arranging the mane of the mare and hid his surprise at this exclaim of good humour from his master. He had been known to limit his communications to matters of business lately.
"So it has indeed sir. The air is very fresh and ... ."
"Exactly, George. There is a cool freshness to it, that is very pleasant. Oh, by the way, I shall be off to London tomorrow morning. Will you see to it that the carriage is ready at ... eight o'clock."
"London, sir! The barouche then I suppose? Yes sir, it'll be all set at that hour then."
"Excellent! I would like for you to come along, George. You are very good with the horses."
"Certainly, sir. Thank you, sir."
As if to confirm her masters judgment, the mare gently buffed at George's pocket. Darcy smiled and while giving the animal a last slap on the muscular hindquarters, he teased in all friendliness.
"I guess you have something for her there. You had better oblige her at once or she will eat your coat."
Darcy was heading for the House, but on second thoughts he turned right and directed his steps to the Rose garden. He walked along the paving-stones of the path, while his eyes were searching the climbing tendrils that covered the walls. The leaves were fading from dark green into shades of yellow and brown.
With a triumphant smile he stopped to get closer to the wall. His eyes had found what they were so eagerly looking for. A belated rose bud, half open and utterly perfect among the withering twigs.
His hand reached out to pick it, but it was not as easy as he had imagined. He removed his gloves and using both hands he gently bent the stem to have it yield and fall into his open hands. A sudden pain made him realise, he had stung his finger in the process and a drop of blood was emerging on his skin.
A pensive smile spread on his face. I willingly shed my blood for thee, my precious rose! He marveled at his formulating such romantic thoughts, as he brought the flower to his lips to feel the softness of it's pale rosy petals and inhale it's faint fragrance.
Continued in Part 2
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