Elizabeth wandered the lane after having read Mr. Darcy's letter twice through, and again she returned to it, unable to refrain from self-punishment, with each reading experiencing anew a profound sense of shame, until the words burned, and she folded the pages once more, but they would not leave her mind, and she could not deny the truth of them. Torturing herself with recriminations, appalled that the superficial had overcome essence in her regard, she walked on, unaware of surroundings, distance, or time.
Sitting under a tree, absently throwing twigs, she continued the self-abuse, now recalling Wickham's inconsistency of profession and performance, details that on her part had been willfully ignored, or worse, she had been too blind to recognize. This new awareness of her lack in judgment, of being so easily, so readily taken in by such a man, only served to increase her agitation; physical movement became a necessity, and she ran from the shelter of leaf and shadow, letter in hand, running in humiliation, and a mixture of other emotions so numerous as to make naming them impossible, save none were pleasant.
The behavior of her family gave no comfort either, but she could not deny entry to these thoughts; she was determined to examine every aspect of her behavior and beliefs, attempting to remedy her previous blindness, and when finally out of breath and tiring, she sat again, for yet more reflection.
Depressed, becoming aware of her fatigue, she walked slowly toward the parsonage, hoping to be able to act reasonably in company, but doubting her distress would pass unnoticed by Charlotte; whether she would make mention of it in a private moment was another matter. Elizabeth could not speak to her of Mr. Darcy's attentions, and certainly not of the missive she held. Upon reaching the gate to the gravel walk, she turned her back to the house and quickly read it through a final time.
Being so occupied, she did not hear his approach, and was unaware of his presence as he stood watching her, the shake of her head, her blush of embarrassment upon reading particular passages; and he heard as well the few unconsciously whispered words of self-criticism she offered up, a frown appearing as he began to have some small idea of how much distress his words had caused her, and he became ashamed in turn, the beginnings of regret forming as he quietly spoke, "Miss Bennet."
She started at the sound of his voice; she could not have been taken more off-guard, and sheets slipping to the ground at her feet, she glanced hurriedly at his face and quickly turned away, stooping to retrieve the pages. She was horrified that he should see her thus, and had no words to speak, no defense or apology to offer, no longer even possessing anger over the charges made against her family, for she knew how improper some behavior had been, and the reproaches he had made, although severe, were in her mind warranted.
He joined her in retrieving the fallen items, their hands meeting; she withdrew first and stood, face averted, still at a loss for words, and he became concerned at the depth of pain he must have caused her in so frankly speaking his mind.
"Miss Bennet," he began again, but she interrupted him, saying in a strained voice,
"Forgive me," and fumbled so with the gate that he opened it for her in silence, watching as she headed for the house without a backward glance, her pace increasing with the distance between them, and he cursed himself for his folly, his act of vengeance upon her refusal, knowing he would never be able to put it right.
Darcy headed back to Rosings at a slow pace, unknowingly repeating her actions, and some of her thoughts as well, though directed now toward himself. He was heartily regretful of the anger and bitterness that had prompted his writings, as he read again some of his own words from the page still in hand, and they burned.
He formed a resolution: he would return, would attempt to see her, speak with her before she departed for Longbourn, and attempt to make his apologies known. He now believed he had not behaved in a gentleman-like manner, not at all, and this realization pained him deeply.
The Letter 1 B
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled as she entered, and Elizabeth struggled to perform the civilities required when parting with new friends, wanting desperately to be alone with her thoughts, dreading an encounter with Mr. Collins, knowing herself unable to cope at all should he arrive as well. The Colonel did not remain long, however, taking leave with the same friendliness and good humour he had always shown her, and it was with relief that she headed to her room, physically as well as emotionally drained.
Fitzwilliam had much to ponder as he made his own way back to Rosings. He had only seen it briefly, but a moment was enough for him to know with complete certainty that the broken seal on the letter in Miss Bennet's possession was the one used by his own cousin. Recollections of the previous evening held his attention for some time, and Darcy's state as hurriedly ascended the staircase, not even speaking to their aunt, took on greater meaning. He wondered if writing had been the urgent business to which Darcy had referred, and believed it to be more likely than not. His musings also shed light on his cousin's demeanor around Miss Bennet, and not having given this very much thought previously, he did so now, eventually arriving at what he felt to be the most likely interpretation of events, that his cousin had botched it, badly. He couldn't repress the smile arising with this conclusion, and dwelt on the question now uppermost in his mind: If Darcy would not speak of Miss Bennet to him, should he himself broach the subject? But to this no satisfactory answer was found.
Elizabeth stared out the window of her room, the door closed, and tried to create a plausible excuse for remaining there the rest of the day, relieving her of the need to converse easily, maintain a semblance of normalcy, and heaven forbid, to smile on occasion, but her thoughts were so disordered, only ill-health came to mind; she felt unable to use this reason again so soon, and once more became preoccupied with words on paper, in fine script, closely written. How much she missed Jane, wishing she could share some small part of her turmoil, reveal something of recent events, but it would be days yet before she might have that comfort, if at all, for she did not yet know how much she should say. The last thing she wanted was to cause her sister pain; she could not impart to her the fact that Mr. Bingley's friend had actively, determinedly kept him from continuing his relationship with her. Elizabeth longed for the release, the forgetfulness of sleep, and finally put away the one physical reminder in hopes of achieving at least a temporary respite. In this, at least, success came quickly.
Fitzwilliam spied Darcy ahead and quickened his pace; a short distance before reaching his side, Fitz called, "I managed to say my good-byes to Miss Bennet after all, Darcy, did you happen to see her as well?"
"Briefly," was the reply.
"She seemed a bit..." and Darcy's attention was fully given to his cousin, "perhaps preoccupied would be a good description."
"I know what you are doing, Fitz. Not now," was the unsatisfactory response, and the two continued on in silence, one deep in thought, the other wondering what those thoughts might be.
They were to leave the following morning.
The Letter 2
Darcy was pacing about the room, no longer able to bear with equanimity his aunt's never-ending expressions of judgment and direction, and he excused himself from her company, heading for what here passed as a library, little used but for his and Fitzwilliam's visits. Some minutes into his solitude he recalled the condescending offer Lady Catherine had made to Miss Bennet, and how gracious it's reception had been; he pictured her in his mind, seated at the pianoforte, laughing with his cousin. The images which intruded on this one were not as agreeable; attempting to dispel them he randomly removed book from shelf, forcing himself to read a page or two, but that was all he managed as again she appeared before him. With a sigh he gave up the effort, and sat in silence with painful thoughts as nightfall began her approach.
He became aware of the darkness only when it was lifted, and rose as his cousin spoke, "Darcy, this may come as a shock to you, but reading is much more manageable when some light is available."
No response was forthcoming. A different tack was tried, "I saw your letter to her," this in a casual, conversational tone, and the reaction was strong and immediate.
"You read it?" Darcy asked in a tightly controlled voice which warned Fitz he was treading in forbidden fields.
"I barely caught sight of it, and Miss Bennet said nothing, but the contents were surely not the cause of any great happiness for her." He waited, knowing that in all likelihood there would be no further conversation, and proven right, the Colonel quietly left.
It was some time before Darcy realized he was alone.
Elizabeth had given a fair performance of sociability throughout dinner, attending to the minutia of Mr. Collins' lengthy speeches with remarkable endurance. This in itself was enough to raise Charlotte's interest, knowing full well her friend's opinion of him, and she wondered of the events which could have prompted such a degree of engagement in what ordinarily would have been given scant attention. No opportunity for discovery was presented, however, and patience was deemed the best course for the moment. Charlotte could be very patient, indeed.
Sleep eluded Elizabeth; she was now paying the price for having welcomed it earlier. She began a letter to Jane, but soon realized her words reflected a state of mind that would only cause her sister concern, and abandoned the effort. Staring out at a sky filled with stars and a waxing moon, she acknowledged the need, quietly dressed, and slipped out to meet the night.
The air was chill and she rubbed her arms as she walked, soon warmed by movement and pace, gradually losing herself, gaining a measure of peace in the altered appearance of what had become so familiar during the past few weeks. Moonlight concealed and revealed, changed color and perspective, conferred a newness on prospects thought well-known. She followed her favorite paths, now awash in shades of blue, gentle shadows ill-defined, and thought of nothing but the soft sights and small sounds of the present, grateful for a gift such as this, given freely by the darkness and the light.
The Letter 3 - The End
Darcy walked slowly, immune to the beauty surrounding him, paying heed only to internal aspects as his progress inevitably led him toward the lanes she favored, as he considered his cousin's recent words. Why his own reaction should have been so strong, believing Fitz to have read the letter, he could not initially explain; he had directed Miss Bennet to seek verification of the truth of his words from the Colonel, never truly expecting her to doubt them. Eventually honesty won over self-delusion, and he rued the writing of certain pieces, knowing the source to be wounded pride, disbelief at the complete rejection she had so thoroughly pronounced, and to his shame, a willingness, a desire even, to inflict some degree of pain upon the object of his attentions.
Elizabeth gradually became aware of sparkling teardrops on the grass, the gently rising mist, a halo now gracing the moon as feathery wings of clouds slowly, silently passed above, against midnight blue and silvery white, and she wished to hold the sight forever, able to return to it again and again, if only in her dreams.
He became aware of her at just this moment, as she faced the sky, and he stood in perfect reflection of her stillness; a profound sense of loss made it's presence known, growing like the mist, though more tangible, possessing more substance and endurance.
As Elizabeth finally made to retrace her steps, he followed at a distance, seeing her safely back to the parsonage, believing her to be unaware of his attendance, although she paused several times along the way, but never for very long.
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