Let Not the Sun Go Down
"Good afternoon, Mr. Dawson," said Elizabeth to Darcy's steward, as he emerged from the gentleman's study. "Are you and Mr. Darcy working on a Saturday?"
"Yes. We had some business to resolve, as it appears we will soon lose a tenant."
"What do you mean?"
"Mr. Warren is late on his rent payment once again, and Mr. Darcy has informed him that if he cannot make restitution by the end of next weekend, he will be evicted. Since Mr. Darcy must leave for Cheshire on business today, he has given me authority to carry out the eviction myself in his absence--in the event that Mr. Warren should not pay." The steward seemed pleased by his employer's confidence in him, but his words unsettled Elizabeth. She bid Mr. Dawson good day and hastened to the study to confront her husband.
"Fitzwilliam," she asked, "is it true that you intend to evict one of your tenants if he does not pay by the end of the week?"
"Yes, darling," he replied, as he walked over to kiss her by way of greeting.
"But you have always been a liberal landlord," she said. "Why would you insist on such a drastic action?"
He smiled at her generous spirit. "Believe me, I have my reasons, and they are impeccable. If I had more time, I would explain them to you, but I am already late. I must leave."
She was distracted from her interest in Mr. Warren by her concern for her husband's impending absence. "When will you be returning?"
"As soon as my business is concluded. I will be gone no more than two weeks, I assure you."
"I will miss you," she said, unhappily anticipating the lonely days ahead. Georgiana would be a pleasant enough companion, but Elizabeth would still yearn for the meeting of minds that characterized her marriage to Mr. Darcy.
"And I you," he replied, leaning to kiss her. When she responded eagerly to the pressure of his lips, he drew back. "Elizabeth, I am already late, and I shall by no means find my way out of this house if you return my kiss like that."
"Oh, I am so very sorry, Mr. Darcy," she answered with feigned contrition. "Please, do kiss me farewell again, and I promise to respond as coldly as possible."
He laughed. "No, dear. I do not think you could ever be capable of frigidity, even if you were to try very hard. Therefore I will not risk another kiss. I must depart." He bowed and walked away, but she followed him to the door, and so he allowed himself to touch her lips with his own one last time before descending the stairs to his awaiting carriage.
The following weekend, as Elizabeth was taking a tour of the grounds to determine what additions Pemberley might require, she encountered Mr. Warren. He addressed himself to her, holding his hat abashedly in his hands. "Mrs. Darcy?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, cautiously, for she had never met the man before.
"I am Mr. Warren, one of Mr. Darcy's tenants."
"Oh, yes," she said pleasantly. "I know the name."
"Is Mr. Darcy at home?"
"No, I am afraid he is away on business and may not return until next Saturday. If you have come to pay the rent, you may see his steward."
"You see, that's just the thing madam. I cannot pay the rent. There are certain circumstances...that is, I had hoped to speak with Mr. Darcy. He is a good man, madam, a very good man, and if I could just speak to him, I know he would understand." The farmer blinked as though attempting to fight back tears.
"Mr. Warren, what is wrong?"
He began to toy with the rim of his hat, looking down as though to control his emotions. "My sister, madam," he said, "is very ill. Her husband cannot possibly afford to give her the care that she needs. I have sent her the last shilling in my pocket, that she may be well. I will earn it back again in a month. I will be able to pay Mr. Darcy then."
"I do not doubt," responded Elizabeth with warm reassurance, "that when Mr. Darcy knows your extenuating circumstances, he will offer you a reprieve."
"But that's just the thing," replied Mr. Warren. "The wheels are set in motion, you see. If I do not pay by tomorrow afternoon, I am certain I shall be evicted by his steward."
"I will see what I can do, Mr. Warren," she told him.
"Thank you madam," replied the farmer, grinning wildly, "Thank you so very much." He bowed hurriedly, and then he scurried back down the lane.
The following morning, Elizabeth was determined to see Mr. Darcy's steward. After arriving at his cottage, she placed a handful of notes on Mr. Dawson's desk. "Will that be enough to satisfy Mr. Warren's rent?" she asked.
The steward glanced at the notes suspiciously. "Yes," he said, but the word was laced with hesitation.
"If I pay, it is still acceptable?" she asked.
"It makes no legal difference, Mrs. Darcy, who pays the rent, as long as it is paid. But have you discussed this with Mr. Darcy?"
"I have not had the opportunity."
"Because Mr. Darcy, though he did not tell me why, seemed eager to see that this man was evicted, and I trust his judgment, as, I am sure, do you."
"Mr. Darcy will understand my motivation."
Mr. Dawson shuffled the notes together and then opened a locked box, where he placed them. The box also contained a ledger, but he made no notation within it.
"Aren't you going to record that?" she asked.
"Later," he replied. "Where did you get the money? It is not from Mr. Darcy, I assume, if you have not discussed it with him."
"He gave me the money before he left, as a gift to buy a new dress for the upcoming ball. But I will be more than satisfied to wear an old one, if these funds can be put to better use."
"That would have been an expensive dress," remarked the steward, as he counted the notes.
"Well, some of the money you see before you I managed to save by applying economy at other times."
"Very well, madam."
Elizabeth parted from Mr. Dawson's company, wondering why his eyes followed her warily as she went.
As Elizabeth walked home from the steward's cottage, she smiled. She was not the sort of woman to congratulate herself on her own generosity; nevertheless, she could not help but feel satisfied. The old Christian adage, that it is better to give than to receive, had proven itself to Elizabeth time and time again. Consequently, when Mrs. Reynolds told her that Mr. Darcy had returned from Cheshire early, she hastened to his study to convey her news.
His countenance brightened upon her entrance, and he ceased looking through the stack of letters he held in his hand, although he did not set them down. She kissed him warmly but briefly and began to relay her story, telling him with eagerness how and why she had paid the farmer's rent.
She was so preoccupied with her tale, that she did not observe how his expression altered as she spoke. She had anticipated that, at worst, he would be endearingly ruffled by her initiative-taking venture. She was shocked, therefore, when he responded with actual anger.
"How dare you, Elizabeth!" he exclaimed, raising his voice to her for the first time in their six months of marriage. "How dare you presume to interfere in my affairs, without my consent and indeed against my will!"
Elizabeth stepped forward and grasped the back of a chair for support. "Fitzwilliam," she said, the natural instinct to defend herself mounting rapidly from within, "Mr. Warren was desperate, and I thought you would not return until next week."
"I told you I had reasons for delivering that ultimatum. Mr. Warren has been delinquent in his rent on more than one occasion, and on more than one occasion I have forgiven him. But when for the fifth time in a year his rent was not forthcoming, I paid a call to him on his farm. That land, Elizabeth, is as lush and fertile as any in Derbyshire, but he has let it go to waste. It did not take long for me to ascertain that he squanders both his time and income on drink and gambling and who knows what other perverse habits. Whatever cock and bull story he may have told you, his debauchery is the real reason for his inability to pay." He watched her reaction, but he was unable to decipher her feelings. "Now, this whole matter would never be so urgent," he continued, "were it not also for the fact that I was approached by a very deserving man who desires to rent from me. At the time, I had nothing to offer him. Although he was raised as a farmer, he has since been forced to seek other work in Lambton, and he desires nothing more than to return to the land. He and his family are presently crowded within a tiny apartment, and his active children have no fields in which to roam. As Mr. Warren has leased that property, I cannot reasonably evict him until he defaults on the rent. I had forgiven him previous failures, but once I had purer knowledge of his character, I forewarned him that should he default again, he would have to leave. I saw no reason to expect he would pay, and so I had hoped to have him off my land by the month's end. But you have prevented me."
"Fitzwilliam, I am sorry; I did not know--"
"Of course you did not know! You did not even trouble to consult me."
"But I did ask you about him. Only you were too hurried to trouble yourself with an answer!"
"I answered you enough to assure you that I had good reason for my actions." As he spoke, a new emotion mingled with his anger. To his wife, it sound very much like pain. "Had you respected me Elizabeth, my word would have been sufficient."
He awaited her response but she was speechless. When she did not reply, he took the letters he had been holding, tossed them violently upon his desk, and stormed from the room.
Elizabeth sat down. It took awhile for her astonishment to subside before she could begin to consider the scene that had just transpired. She assured herself that her intentions had been honorable. And they had been. But it was not long before further reflection inspired her to admit that she should have waited to discuss the matter with her husband. He had, before leaving for Cheshire, claimed an "impeccable" rationale for issuing such an ultimatum, and she should have valued his character enough to know that he would never conduct his affairs in either a rash or ruthless manner.
Elizabeth Darcy had her moments of pride, but she was not naturally a proud woman. Therefore, she was able to confess to herself that her actions--however well-meaning--had been wrong, that they had, in fact, injured Mr. Darcy by making her regard for him appear less than it really was.
She had now taken that first, awful step of self-admission, but there was a grimmer task at hand. How was she to make amends? Since their wedding day, a cross word had never passed between them, and she was not sure how best to proceed.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth rose to seek out her husband, anxious for an immediate reconciliation. But he was nowhere to be found. "Mrs. Reynolds," she asked the housekeeper, "have you seen Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes madam. He asked me to tell you he has gone to Lambton on an errand of business, and that he will not return until this evening."
Elizabeth was disheartened by the reply, but she supposed Darcy needed time to cool-off. He was a passionate man, and such a trait must inevitably have its disadvantages, although until now, she had experienced only its more agreeable effects.
When Mr. Darcy returned late that evening, Elizabeth approached him in the hall. "Should I have the cook set out dinner for you?" she asked. "We can talk while you eat."
"I have already eaten," he replied. His face was stern, but his tone was only indifferent, and that was even worse. He reached into his pocket and removed a bundle of notes, which he held out to her.
She took them uncertainly. "What is this?" she asked.
"Your money. My steward returned it to me. He never officially acknowledged its receipt. He trusted me."
"Darcy, we need to talk--"
He held up a hand to stop her words. "No, Elizabeth," he said. "Not tonight. I might say something I will later regret." With that, he began to walk past her.
She called after him, "Then when?"
He paused. He seemed reluctant to answer, but he forced himself to set a time. "Come to my chamber tomorrow morning. We'll talk then."
"Then you will not be staying with me tonight?" she asked, knowing full-well that for the past six months, he had not slept a day in his own bed.
"No. Not tonight," he said, and walked deep into the shadows of Pemberley.
Mrs. Darcy had been angered by her husband's rebuff, but she was still zealous to end the feud. She was at his door at daybreak the next morning. She reached for the doorknob, and then she stopped. She knew it was too early. He must still be sleeping. She began to turn away when the door opened suddenly.
"Elizabeth!" said Mr. Darcy, somewhat surprised. "How long have you been here?"
She was relieved to hear that his voice was no longer apathetic. "Not long," she answered.
He swung wide the door and extended his arm in a gesture of invitation. She passed by and sat down by the fire he had lit that morning, as he took a chair across from her.
Elizabeth held her hands anxiously in her lap, unsure of how to begin. She observed that Mr. Darcy's bed was still made-up, as though it had never even been touched. Eventually she said, "I meant well."
"Of course you did, my love," he answered.
She had not expected such softness in his voice, not after the previous night. "Then why were you so very angry?" she asked.
"Because even though you once vowed to honour and obey me, yesterday you did neither. The obedience I can do without, provided your rebellion is good-natured. But the honour--"
"I should have trusted you, Fitzwilliam, and for that failure I am sincerely sorry. But you must understand my position. I did not know all the facts."
"Nor did my steward, and yet he acquiesced to my judgment."
"Men are different."
"They are certainly less complicated."
"I don't know about that. I've had a hard time reading you these past eighteen hours."
"Have you, Elizabeth?"
"Yes, I have. But I comprehend, at least, that I managed to injure you, and I do not intend to do so again. I may have shown you less honour than I feel for you, but I do feel it, Fitzwilliam. I respect you because you are worthy of respect."
Mr. Darcy was content. He knew his wife would not lie to him; he knew she would not profess admiration if she did not genuinely experience it.
"I am sorry, Elizabeth," he said, "if I was too severe with you yesterday. I should have expressed my displeasure without raising my voice."
"There is no need for you to apologize--"
"There is a need, or I would not do so--"
"--for that, I mean. You had a right to be angry with me. I do not fault you for that. But you should have been willing to talk to me about it, instead of walking away. It was very petty of you to seek to punish me by avoiding me."
"If I appeared to be avoiding you, it was only because I wanted to discipline my emotions before broaching the subject a second time. You are very dear to me, Elizabeth. I did not want to risk saying something unjust, and I was unfortunately in no mood to be rational. I am positively sorry, my love, that it took me so long to master my anger."
Elizabeth smiled in silent acceptance of his apology. The couple grew silent.
Mr. Darcy looked down and began to bend his graceful fingers one by one against his hand. He appeared almost nervous. "So," he said finally, "I suppose we are finished?"
"Finished?!" Elizabeth asked anxiously, misunderstanding his question.
"I mean with our fight."
She looked relieved. "Yes, I suppose we are. At least, I have nothing to add."
"Then what do we do next? What does one do after resolving a marital dispute?"
"I presume we should reconcile," she suggested.
"What, here or in your bedchamber?"
Elizabeth was vaguely irked by the sudden suggestion, which followed too fast on the heels of his apology. But when she looked at him, she saw in his eyes that he was laughing at her. She had taught him how to tease, and now he was going to teach her to regret the fact.
"Ah," she said at last, "You were only joking."
"Half joking," he clarified, and rose from his chair, crossing to stand beside her. He took her hand in his and held it to his cheek before turning his face to kiss it. "I love you, Elizabeth," he said. "Promise me we will never quarrel again."
"Fitzwilliam, you know I only make promises I am certain I can keep."
He dropped her hand in mock offense and tried to appear disillusioned, but her smile soon elicited his own. "Very well then, Lizzy. Promise me that the next time we quarrel, we will endeavor to reconcile with greater haste."
"That I can easily promise for myself, but this 'we' you speak of, Fitzwilliam, is a plural pronoun."
"You have my word, Elizabeth, that I will henceforth obey the apostle's admonition: 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.'"
"Then it is a mutual promise. And my answer is here."
"Your answer is where?"
"No, I mean my answer is 'here.'"
"Lizzy, darling, you're not making any sense."
" 'Here' is my answer to your question as to where we should reconcile. A change of scenery is occasionally requisite."
"Oh," he said slowly, letting her implication dawn gradually upon him. "I see."
Mr. Darcy then kneeled down before her chair so that he might face her without stooping. He wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her close.
"Have you anywhere to be this morning?" she asked.
"Nowhere," he replied.
"Then I need not practice temperance? I need not be concerned that my response may detain you?"
"Not at all," he declared huskily, as he leaned in to kiss her.
And now, dear readers, let us with all due respect avert our eyes, as the curtain closes fast upon this bedroom scene.
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