Unable to endure being indoors and under the scrutiny of her aunt's gaze Elizabeth begged the carriage under the pretext of visiting her dressmaker and took herself to the nearest expanse of greenery where she might think undisturbed by the kindness and solicitude of her aunt. To her dismay when she reached the park the first person she saw wandering about in her favourite grove was none other than Mr. Darcy. She turned away quietly but on hearing herself called she was forced to turn around and face him.
"I suspected I might find you here in the course of the day" he said with a small smile, "I remember at Hunsford how you walked when you had much on your mind and I do not imagine the streets of Cheapside provide the same pleasure as Rosings." It was said with a pleasant expression but the words were haughty and Elizabeth recoiled slightly from their apparent meaning.
Yes, I do have much on my mind but the proportion of it that you command is decreasing rapidly.
She remained silent, however, allowing him to continue as he wished.
"I have no wish to intrude on your time or privacy..."
Very well then, do not.
"...but I would never have been easy if I had not the opportunity of apologising to you for my behaviour last night. You must have thought me incredible but I had that very moment returned from the north and had no notion whatever of your engagement." > "It had but just been announced" she said, her mortification increasing with every word.
"I wish you all felicity" he continued after a few moments awkward silence.
She hoped that with her curt reply the conversation would end and he would leave but it was not to be so. He seemed determined to stay although to what avail she could not guess.
"You are absolutely sure of your decision, Miss Bennet?" He looked strained and worried now but she felt no sympathy.
"Of course I am sure" she said, "do you think that because I was once deceived by Mr. Wickham that I can never judge a man's character accurately again? Do you know of any reason why I should not consider myself the happiest of women by gaining Colonel Dashwood's hand?"
"No, I do not" he replied slowly, "I only wish your happiness and..."
Elizabeth had had more than enough.
"I have the love of a man who loves me for myself, who has always loved me for myself, who met me in the least auspicious of circumstances and yet loves me for myself. His affection has never been governed or turned by consideration of wealth or status, he has never rejected me because of my relations, never loved me against his will because one of my uncles is a country lawyer and the other a businessman in Cheapside!"
Darcy seemed momentarily helpless but soon rallied.
"I should think not given his own heritage, good man that he is he would today be a country attorney or some such himself if not for a ludicrous entail!"
"And therefore no friend of yours!" she retorted with restored vehemence, "Of course an entail must be ludicrous where it bestows consequence upon country attorneys."
"I am not such a monster" he responded quietly, "at least I hope I am not."
Elizabeth shook her head, "I have no way of knowing. I have heard that among your equals in rank and consequence you are remarkably agreeable but I am not one of them. I shall never forget your words about marrying beneath you... inferiority... degradation!"
He coloured, started and was silent for several moments, "I can never be sorry enough for what I said that day. I did not mean it to have such an effect on you."
"Nevertheless" she replied, "you certainly made me aware of my station in life. I would have thought that as a gentleman and a gentleman's daughter we were equals but your words to me and your actions towards Jane proved me wrong. Do not think I was ever insensible of the full meaning of Colonel Fitzwilliam's phrase, I understand there were some very strong objections to the lady. Yes, my father is a gentleman but my mother's family, Mr. Darcy, are objectionable indeed to those who value people only on the grounds of income and status. My uncles are both sensible, honest, hard-working men but that is not good enough for you - any fool or fop with ten thousand a year would be preferable by your standards."
"I once accused you of taking delight in professing opinions that were not your own but I can hardly believe you sounding so unlike yourself and so much like Lady Catherine...station in life? Elizabeth, I admire you, I love you - I am no longer concerned with anything so trivial."
She chose to ignore the last part of his speech, "Is that what you think, Mr. Darcy? I think I see a strong family resemblance between you and your aunt."
She smiled, daring him to defend himself but he remained stonily and sadly quiet.
"Please believe me, Mr. Darcy, when I say I wish you all imaginable happiness but it is quite plain you will not find it with me. You may have persuaded yourself that you can endure the connection with my aunts and uncles but I think are deceived and I know you could not bear Mr. Wickham for a brother-in-law, not all the respectability of Bingley and the Owens can compensate for that."
"I was connected with Wickham before I met you and had I been less proud and more willing to lay my actions open to the world then he would have been unable to attempt to seduce my sister or succeed with yours. In both cases the fault is mine."
Elizabeth began to mellow a little, "No, Lydia's folly can be blamed on several people, not least Lydia herself. Had she conducted herself in a proper manner she would have been quite safe." She stopped remembering that Miss Darcy had also been duped by Wickham and doubtless her behaviour been irreproachable.
They continued to the end of the walk in silence and turned into an avenue of white flowering trees; the tiny petals fluttered on to her hair and shoulders like snowflakes and reminded her of Colonel Dashwood and their walk in Longbourn woods last winter. It reminded Darcy of the same thing, for five minutes or so he had forgotten Dashwood, forgotten the previous evening, indeed had become oblivious to everything but the present moment with difficulty he recollected himself and said, "I do not wish to take up your time, Miss Bennet, only to apologize for my behaviour yesterday evening. It remains only for me to bid you joy."
Elizabeth stood at the mirror rearranging the folds of her lemon damask wedding dress while outside the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness prepared to give way to winter. Her bouquet of late cream roses lay on the table beside her; it contained a sprig of white heather sent all the way from Scotland by Mrs. Wickham whose husband was now stationed in Edinburgh.
"You'll pay for that a thousand times over" remarked Mary sourly as she examined the decoration on Elizabeth's bonnet, "do you know how much they have sponged off Jane and Bingley this past year?"
"I would rather you did not tell me" replied Elizabeth.
Mary sniffed, "And Kitty and Richard - she knows better than to approach me though. I told her quite firmly if she should ever have a child I will be most generous with linen and the like but not one shilling will I send!"
"At least Wickham cannot drink baby linen" smiled Elizabeth.
"Aye" said Mary, "he does drink. I am glad you realise it for Jane refuses to - God knows what will happen to them when the Peace returns them to civilian society."
"We are not at Peace yet" said Elizabeth sadly, her wedding day was tinged with the fear that accompanies every bride who marries in war-time.
"I am sorry" said Mary with a kiss, "there your bonnet is perfect now."
"It was perfect when I bought it seven weeks ago" said Elizabeth, "only you, mamma, Jane, Kitty and Mrs. Hurst have made it more perfect!"
"I think Jane's baby is making Mrs. Hurst very nice" said Mary, "I suspect the poor thing cannot have any of her own so she is looking forward to being an aunt more than any of us."
"I wish it would have a similar effect on Caroline!"
"Urgh - Caroline!"
The leaves from the trees in the churchyard made their own red carpet for the bride whose carriage could not maneouvre the narrow path to the ancient church. Mrs. Bennet had not traveled to Devon for the wedding preferring to stay with Jane but Mr. Bennet would not have missed this occasion for the world or any number of grandchildren; he took Elizabeth's arm in the lychgate and smiling said,
"Well, Lizzy, I believe this is what they call keeping the best for last."
Elizabeth could not have been happier, her father's expressions of affection had always been laconic and she had thought he might be content at last to give his blessing from Hertfordshire and allow Mr. Gardiner the duty of giving her away. They entered the tiny mediaeval church in absolute silence bringing with them a train of orange leaves and then Edward began to play Vivaldi's Autumn, it had seemed to Elizabeth that with so much autumn outside there should be some inside too and every trick and contrivance had been used to prevent Mary from playing it. Mr. Bennet walked Elizabeth up the aisle as slowly as he could and as he did the sunshine made rainbow patterns through the stained glass windows and covered the whole church and everyone in it with a celebratory glow. Elizabeth glancing up at the windows became aware that each one depicted the life of a female saint - Katherine, Margaret and, yes, Elizabeth herself complete with dragon.
So I have maids of honour after all! she thought.
The chancel was reached at last and Elizabeth handed her flowers to Kitty who was sitting on the edge of the front pew. She did not dare look at the Colonel but she could see Christopher standing behind him grinning like a schoolboy; this was his church on his land and he was taking personal pride in the loveliness of it all.
Elizabeth smiled up at Kitty's husband, handsome and serious in his best black gown and white bands. He returned the smile briefly and opened his prayer-book with accustomed ease at the page which begins, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God..."
She stood quite still listening to each word carefully but all the time smiling inwardly at the strange similarities between her and Lydia. Lydia would have loved Wickham to have worn his red and gold uniform and to have had Denny or Carter for grooms-man equally handsomely dressed, but in the end she had settled for Wickham in a blue coat, and what wouldn't Elizabeth have given to be marrying a man in a blue coat? A plain country gentlemen, not an officer in the King's Army, while the King was at war with France.
The ceremony ended; they were solemnly pronounced man and wife. Everingley, where they retired for the wedding breakfast, as the house at St. Erth was not fully decorated, was a large medieval house separated from the shore by a garden and a narrow road. The gardens at the back, protected as they were from the sea, were in their last glory before winter, and beyond them all the land as far as the horizon belonged to the estate.
They spent the next day in bed, and the one after. The servants no doubt giggled at the idea, and Christopher almost certainly had guessed it, as he found plenty to do at St. Erth, but Elizabeth had learned quickly that a good deal of propriety can be dispensed with when one lives quite literally in the middle of nowhere. On the third day, however, they were obliged to go to Redruth to bid farewell to Mr. Bennet and the Owenses who were beginning their long journey back to Longbourn and Oxford. They sent the carriage ahead of them into the village and walked as far as possible along the shore.
"This is the quietest part of our coast," he said after a while, "which is why the house was built as it is. My valet assures me there are secret passages from those caves right up to the house."
Elizabeth stared in astonishment, "Might we look?"
"Not today - I promised your father you would be at Redruth at least two hours before his departure besides you cannot deprive William Anderson of his treasure."
"What treasure?" she asked.
"Smugglers' loot" he replied, "he is convinced that somewhere in those caves he will find case upon case of fine French brandy."
"Now that is something," she laughed, "what will you do when I come home drunk one day?"
"Inform the Excise Officers directly," he grinned, "now give me your hand over these rocks, I dare not face your father if you fall and break an ankle."
But Elizabeth would not take his hand; she managed not only those rocks but the next ones by dint of not caring how many pools she splashed in and by the time they reached the road her boots were ruined and her hem four inches deep in mud and sand.
"My mother and Miss Bingley would say I am not fit to be seen!" she smiled.
"You are fit to see your father which is all that matters, I have no doubt he is used to your wild appearance by now. By the way, I received a letter from Fitzwilliam this morning, and Miss Bingley is engaged, it seems she could not bear to be long outdone by you."
"To whom?" asked Elizabeth in a small voice. Not Mr. Darcy surely?
"To Sir James Hampton, he has a huge spread of land up in Norfolk and more money than he can easily spend."
"More money than he can spend? Caroline will be a most appropriate helpmeet for him then!"
"Mrs. Dashwood, your honesty takes an almost evil turn at times," he remarked with a sparkle in his eye, "I often wondered why Darcy was so uninterested in her but now it is clear, he values his relationship with the bank too much."
The village of Everingley was reached at last with many curious looks from the inhabitants. A mistress had long been lacking at the great house as the past two owners had been bachelors and so the new Mrs. Dashwood must expect to excite even more curiosity than a bride usually does and she certainly did. The men had never seen such a beautiful woman, all chestnut curls and rosy cheeks, and the women declared they had never seen such a sight.
Elizabeth's first year in Cornwall was very happy, although she never saw the inside of William Anderson's caves. There was nothing in the house or gardens that did not please her and nothing her husband could do to increase her comfort that was not already done. At the end of the year her happiness was made complete by the arrival of a baby girl, the first in the family as Jane and Mary had both produced boys, but her father was not there to see her. The War Office had sent him back to France.
She sat in the soft evening light rocking the cradle gently but needlessly; little Jemima slept without her help. The housekeeper came in and, sitting down took her hand, "I will watch the little one, Mrs. Dashwood, please go out and take a walk for your health's sake. Sitting alone looking at his picture will not bring him back."
"Last night I dreamed I was at Longbourn again, Mrs. Carmichael, and none of this had ever happened. I tried to make it happen but with no success - there was no Jemima!"
The old woman smiled, "The piskys have never stolen a baby from me yet; now, go out and get some air. She will be here when you return, I promise."
Reluctantly Elizabeth left the house and walked through the long garden to the road that led to the beach. She sat on the dyke and watched the sunset for a while trying to time a sensible period for a walk, when an express rider came into view. She stood up and waited, she rarely received an express and half-hoped it might be from the War Office, they were wrong, he was not dead, but when the boy put the letter in her hand it was from Lydia. She paid him and wandered up the path - what could Lydia require funds for so urgently?
She opened the letter in the light of the hall.
My poor Wickham is dead and I do not know what to do. Please may I come to Everingley for a little while? I will be so good and quiet and help you with the baby.
Your miserable sister,
Elizabeth sighed and sat down at her writing table. Poor Lydia, she had known Wickham was in France but had not given him another thought. The letter was written and dispatched with more efficiency than she had exercised in anything those past few months.
Lydia arrived a week later with pitifully few possessions and nothing of any worth. She was unrecognizably quiet; the shock of her husband's death seemed to have affected her at least as badly as Mrs. Dashwood and, much to the despair of the servants, the two of them spent day after day sitting on the porch gazing out across the water. Jemima was passed between them comfortably; she learned to say, "Lyddy" and "sad" and "I wish..."
By the time she reached her first birthday her mother and aunt had recovered from their mutual sorrow sufficiently enough to wish for new clothes and so a journey to Truro was arranged to buy fabric and look at the new patterns. Gradually their lives formed a pattern in which Elizabeth wrote as a means of exorcising the feelings it was no longer practical to talk about and Lydia sang and kept house. She was not a good housewife; no daughter of Janet Bennet's ever could be, but her hard times with Wickham had given her a practicality that, while it did not equal Charlotte Collins', certainly exceeded that of her four sisters. Mrs. Carmichael sat on the porch nursing her rheumatism and telling Jemima stories of faeries and smugglers; Elizabeth would not make her retire and happily paid her a housekeeper's salary for being an honorary grandmother.
One night as they sat alone in the drawing room Lydia began to speak of her dear Wickham once more. This always disconcerted Elizabeth as Wickham was taking on a virtuous aspect in death that he had certainly never possessed in life. She suspected it would not be long before Lydia could refer to him as, "my late espoused saint," and she did not think she could bear it with much solemnity.
"I loved him so much, you know."
"I know everyone thought I married him simply because I had to but, Lizzy, I really, really loved him."
"I know, dearest."
"I don't think anyone really knows..." Lydia was becoming maudlin, a tear trickled down her cheek onto her needlework, "Mr. Darcy thought I was a little fool and I am sure the whole world was on his side!"
Lydia looked surprised, "Yes, Mr. Darcy. He came to see Wickham while we were living in London before our wedding. He came the first time alone and the second time with Colonel Dashwood. Did you not know?"
"No... yes... no. It was Mr. Darcy who organized your wedding, then? Mr. Darcy who put up the money?"
"Aye, he was very handsome about it and clever, if it was not for him I would be quite destitute today."
Elizabeth was speechless; she had devoted hours to working out who Wickham's mysterious benefactor might be after James had disclosed that he was not responsible but she had never for a moment imagined Mr. Darcy.
I am so blind!
"Lizzy, are you all right?"
"I am fine, Lyddy, just fine." Why did I not guess?
Lydia laughed, "You know, we thought Mr. Darcy must be madly in love with you. We did not think he was helping us for purely altruistic motives - we thought it must be for your sake."
And so it was! Oh, you loved me that much and I didn't even realize.
Elizabeth had plenty time to meditate on Mr. Darcy's goodness to her. He had let James take all the credit not wishing to unfairly influence her feelings for him, he loved her but did not want her to accept him out of gratitude. And James? He had not intended to fall in love with her but it had happened anyway and he must have hated himself for being party to a deceit. Why was life so complicated?
A week or two passed without Lydia mentioning Wickham again and Elizabeth began to hope she might be considerate enough not to speak of him above once or twice before Christmas. She occasionally felt guilty about this but found it hard to persuade herself that Wickham as a husband or as a man was much of a loss. One particularly stormy night they cheered themselves up for the bad weather and lack of outdoor activity by holding a small party in the nursery for Jemima. Halfway through when the cake had been cut and Lydia was fidgeting with the samovar to make another pot of tea they became aware of the door bell ringing through the sounds of the storm.
"I hope Roberts can hear that in his room," sighed Elizabeth, "I don't want to go down myself."
Finally they heard the door open and Christopher's voice carried up the stairs, "I must see my sister, Roberts, now!"
"Who on earth is that?"
"Captain Dashwood - James's brother." Elizabeth stood up and shook the crumbs off her dress, "What is he doing here? He is supposed to be with his regiment in Derbyshire."
She ran down followed by Lydia with Jemima in her arms and the sight which presented itself to them at the foot of the stair was quite terrifying. There, pale and dripping, stood Georgiana Darcy!
"Good God!" cried Elizabeth, "Does your brother know you are here?"
It was a redundant question, of course he could not know. She shook her head meekly and dropped her eyes. Elizabeth glanced up at Lydia who, having guessed a good deal, could barely conceal her smiles.
"Put Jemima to bed, Lydia," she said sternly, "and tidy the nursery!"
Lydia gawped but did as she was bidden and Elizabeth, dismissing Roberts, led the guilty pair into the drawing room.
"I do not believe you!" she said to Christopher as soon as they were behind the door, "What do you think you are doing?"
"It was my fault," said Georgiana in a very small voice.
"Well, tell me about it."
"We were sure Darcy would not give his consent..." began Christopher.
"...and so we ran away." Georgiana finished the sentence for him. "I am not entirely inexperienced in those things, Mrs. Dashwood."
They both giggled and Elizabeth had had enough. "Guest-room for you, young woman. Christopher, I trust you will not fall off your horse in the dark, and we will see you in the morning."
He stared in astonishment, "You intend to make me ride to St. Erth in that storm?"
"I do indeed," she replied coolly, "two young widows are not sufficiently respectable chaperones under the circumstances. Show yourself out."
He went most unwillingly and Elizabeth kept hold of Georgiana's arm. You can be affectionate afterwards, she thought, surprising herself with her meanness.
"We haven't done anything wrong!" wailed Georgiana as Elizabeth helped her out of her wet coat and boots.
"You certainly haven't done anything right." replied Elizabeth, God, I sound old!
Georgiana followed her upstairs to the guest-room keeping up a flow of pitiful chatter,
"I thought... I thought that as my brother and Colonel Dashwood seemed to have fallen out that he would not let me marry Christopher but I am ashamed of that now, he would never be so spiteful... and Lady Hampton said he would be a fool to give me to anyone on less than seven thousand a year...."
"That's what she says," said Elizabeth, "does your brother always do what Lady Hampton recommends?"
"Then don't you think you have acted just a little foolishly?"
"Yes. What are you going to do?"
"Well, I am going to have a good night's sleep and in the morning I will have my lawyer draw up a statement for Christopher to sign saying that your money is your own and always will be and that will prevent your brother thinking he is a fortune-hunter..."
"But he isn't! You know he isn't!" protested Georgiana tearfully.
"Yes, I know," she said practically, "but I am thinking of Mr. Darcy. What is he to imagine when the brother of an old friend cannot ask him for his sister's hand but slinks off into the night? Miss Darcy, most elopements take place for the single unromantic reason that the man wishes to have the woman's money without the inconvenience of a settlement."
"Oh!" She sat back on the bed, "I didn't think of that."
Elizabeth sighed deeply, "And then I will contact the Bishop of Truro to obtain a Special License and you will be married on Friday morning."
She sat up half the night wondering what to write to Mr. Darcy and when.
He must be frantic, she thought, I should write directly and inform him that Georgiana is safe.
She began to write straight-away but was disturbed by Lydia.
"What if Mr. Darcy arrives and forbids the wedding?"
"I do not think he will do that," replied Elizabeth pausing momentarily, "why should he?"
"For whatever reason he might have refused Captain Dashwood had he asked?"
Elizabeth sighed and laid down her pen.
"I cannot see him so blinded to his sister's well-being that he would refuse his consent, simply because Christopher has only three thousand a year."
Lydia shrugged her shoulders, "There is more to it than they are telling us, mark me, Lizzy."
"Then what do you recommend, that the poor man should be left to his agony for longer than is necessary?"
"You put him through agony before."
Elizabeth jumped up, "Out of my room, Lydia, sometimes you go too far!"
Lydia almost ran but she had made her point. Elizabeth considered the matter a while and decided that, thanks to her, Mr. Darcy must be practiced in endurance and put off the letter until it was too late for him to stop the wedding.
The Bishop rode over in the morning full of interest. His diocese did not provide him with much beyond the most desultory matters and the elopement of an heiress was more than he could have comfortably expected in ten years. Elizabeth explained the situation and, having her assurance that it was a love match and the young lady's brother would not be too put out, he agreed to the license and undertook to perform the ceremony himself.
"I would not like to cross Fitzwilliam Darcy," he said with a broad smile, "I would be condemning myself to a lifetime in this backwater. He has great influence in the Church, you know."
So my father reminded Mr. Collins after Jane's wedding, remembered Elizabeth smiling at the recollection of Lady Catherine refusing to visit Jane at Hunsford and the ensuing riot in which Mr. Darcy had more or less ordered her to be civil to his dear friend's wife, I wish I could have been there, how did I miss Hunsford at its most entertaining?
"Do not worry, Bishop, I have known Mr. Darcy for several years and while I have not always thought well of him, I can assure you he has not an ounce of spite in him."
Georgiana was still in the parlour having been well examined as to the state of her heart by the Bishop, who although ambitious, was also conscientious and really did not want to create an unhappy union.
"When will you write to my brother?" She asked.
"The moment the ceremony is over." she answered.
"Thanks are not necessary; I have a soft-spot for Dashwood men. I would, however, like very much to know why you were so sure your brother would refuse his consent had he been asked."
Georgiana looked confused and turned momentarily away, "Christopher was so very sure," she answered.
"Christopher?" repeated Elizabeth.
"Both of us," she said determinedly, "we were both quite sure."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. She now agreed with Lydia, there was more to the affair than she had been told.
Friday arrived quickly enough for Elizabeth, but it seemed not nearly fast enough for Georgiana. Lydia, having decorated the church at Everingley, returned to the house breathless and excited.
"There were not many flowers," she said, "but we found a good deal of foliage. I shall never forget that bleak church Wickham and I were married in and thought I would save Miss Darcy the same disappointment and Lizzy... Lizzy..." she stopped for breath, "there is an officer at the Grey Horse enquiring after Captain Dashwood - he will be here any second for he will need to take the long road and I came through the wood!"
A glance at her sister's hem proved to Elizabeth that Lydia had indeed come through the woods in true Bennet style. And the officer? It could be none other than Colonel Fitzwilliam.
She stood on the verandah looking out on to the water. France. And his grave...
"Mrs. Dashwood, ma'am, here is a gentleman to see you." Elizabeth turned very slowly, deliberately allowing her eyes to trick her into seeing Colonel Dashwood. He was the right height and age and wore a similar uniform...
"Good afternoon, Colonel," she held out her hand, "please sit down. If you cannot bear our crisp air, we may sit indoors."
He bowed elegantly, "Thank you, Mrs. Dashwood. May I, first of all, express my sadness at your loss; he was an excellent officer, a fine man, and a good friend - I shall never forget him."
"Thank you, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
For a moment there was a strained silence which Elizabeth had no wish to break; what if, perish the thought, he was going to challenge Christopher to a duel? Dueling had been illegal for quite some time but she was aware that some gentlemen still saw it as the only gentlemanly thing to do.
"I have to speak to you about your brother-in-law," he said slowly, "and my cousin. Are they here?"
"Miss Darcy is here," she replied, "Captain Dashwood is at his own house some miles hence."
He made a grim face. "I must see them both. I am charged by her brother to return her safely to London and by his commanding officer to conduct him back to Derbyshire."
Elizabeth's heart plummeted, she had not considered the consequences of Christopher's abandoning his regiment.
"They wish to marry," she said.
"Her brother will never permit it."
"Mrs. Dashwood, I do not wish to pain you, but Captain Dashwood has been trumpeting his intention to marry an heiress for too long for us to believe his intentions toward Georgiana are honourable."
"I do not agree," she replied stoutly, "I am waiting on my lawyer, Mr. Banks, he is drawing up a document that will release Christopher from any claims on Georgiana's property."
He smiled kindly, "It is in character for you to think of such a thing and I thank you for it, but it would be unacceptable to Mr. Darcy, any marriage settlement for Georgiana must be drawn up by his attorneys, you must see that."
"Colonel, I was doing my best in very difficult circumstances."
"I know, and believe me I am very grateful but the outcome is the same - she must go to her brother, he is in London now waiting on her."
"I am surprised he did not travel here himself, so fond he is of her."
"We are mutually surprised," he said with a small return of the camaraderie they had shared in Kent, "it took all my powers of persuasion to make him stay away. Of a truth, Mrs. Dashwood, I would sooner deal with a whole regiment than one Darcy."
"May I show you to our Darcy," she said lightly.
As they entered the house Lydia passed them with Jemima in her arms. She made a very pretty picture with her honey curls bound up in a piece of lace and her simple plain dress for she was still in mourning.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I would like to introduce you to my sister, Mrs. Wickham and my daughter, Jemima Dashwood."
"Mrs. Wickham, Miss Dashwood..." he bowed again, making Lydia laugh at his formality.
"Miss Dashwood and Mrs. Wickham are delighted to make your acquaintance, sir," she replied with a little curtsey.
Elizabeth sensed a change in the Colonel as they progressed towards the music room where Georgiana's presence could be heard. I suppose bachelors his age are particularly susceptible to pretty girls and babies.
Georgiana was not happy to see her cousin but it was clear that she was glad, at least to begin with, that it was not her brother. Elizabeth left them alone and went to look for Lydia.
"Lydia, if Captain Dashwood arrives send him away directly, do not let him know Colonel Fitzwilliam is here."
"And, how pray, am I to do that?"
"I am sure the idea of him being dragged off to a court martial will furnish your imagination," replied Elizabeth gloomily, "he is here to prevent the marriage and take Christopher back to his regiment."
"Wickham lost his commission for that," said Lydia thoughtfully.
At that moment the door of the music room slammed alarmingly and Georgiana's little feet were heard making a terrible clatter on the wooden stairs. Elizabeth rushed into the house with Lydia at her heels; the Colonel stood in the middle of the hall ashen-faced and shaking.
"I am leaving for the moment," he said gravely, "and when I return I expect Miss Darcy packed and ready to accompany me to London."
"What has happened?" cried Elizabeth.
He merely shook his head, and striding outside mounted his horse and set off in the direction of St Erth without further ado.
Elizabeth turned to Lydia, "What do you make of that?"
"I hope he has calmed down before he reaches our Captain," murmured Lydia with an impudent grin.
"So do I," said Elizabeth vehemently, "but what has changed his mood, he was perfectly reasonable when I left him."
Lydia rolled her eyes, "Lord, Lizzy but you are dull!"
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, "Enlighten me?"
"What would you say if your cousin had come to drag you away from the man you wished to marry?"
Elizabeth banished the ridiculous vision of Mr. Collins riding into St Erth's church and hauling her from Colonel Dashwood's side. Lydia breathed deeply and, controlling her laughter as best she could, explained that under certain circumstances people had to marry. The idea was so dreadful to Elizabeth that she almost fainted, it was not possible, surely it was improbable? At that moment Miss Darcy descended the staircase with a more measured step and, with the defining Darcy demeanour, demanded to know where her cousin had gone. Elizabeth was not equal to answering her, in the girl's face she saw everything she ever disliked in her brother, but if she could have chosen one person in the world to walk through the door it would be that brother.
"Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Wickham... I asked you where I might find Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
"I am very much afraid he believed every word you said to him," sighed Lydia, "and has ridden off to defend your honour."
The ride between Everingley and St Erth was not a long one but neither was Colonel Fitzwilliam a man to act on impulse. To Georgiana, no doubt, he seemed very old and, as everyone knows, the very old have forgotten what it is to love. He, however, remembered a rainy night on the road to Scotland some twelve years ago, when another frightened young woman had made a similar claim; he smiled ruefully at the recollection, her father had wanted to shoot him there and then and might have done so if it had not been for the intervention of two of his fellow-officers.
He dismounted some distance from the house and walked slowly towards it giving Captain Dashwood plenty of time to determine his course of action. Christopher, for his part, watched warily and rubbed his chin which was still rather sore from a previous encounter with one of Miss Darcy's family.
"Well, good morning, Captain," said Fitzwilliam in his kind voice, the one he kept for privates who were not going to be flogged.
"Good morning, sir."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sat himself comfortably on the fence, "You do understand I have to ask this, son, have you... touched her?"
Christopher shook his head emphatically and the Colonel breathed a sigh of relief.
"I am right, am I not, in thinking that my cousin asked you most emphatically to keep away from his sister?"
"Yes, sir. He nearly broke my jaw and then threw me in the lake to bring me round. He said if I saw her again he'd leave me in the lake for good."
The Colonel nodded understandingly, "And what would your brother do if he were here?"
"He'd take me back up to Derbyshire for Mr. Darcy to hit again, sir."
"I see. And, if in twenty years time, someone steals away that little niece of yours, what will you do?"
"Kill him, sir."
Colonel Fitzwilliam allowed himself to smile, "So you're getting an idea of the seriousness of the situation?"
"Well, I am glad to hear it. I have to tell you that Mr. Darcy expects his sister returned to him unmarried by tomorrow midday."
"He does indeed, and if I fail to oblige him I will be the next in the lake, I imagine."
They sat on the fence together in silence while the Colonel weighed up his various duties. Firstly, there was his duty to Darcy, he had promised to bring her back unmarried, if at all possible; secondly, there was his duty to his late uncle, he had promised him to promote Georgiana's happiness as far as lay in him; thirdly, there was his duty to Georgiana whose joint-guardian he was; and, fourthly, to Darcy again... if he had to come to Cornwall to meet one Mrs. Dashwood he would be unable to avoid the other... a Darcy would become a Dashwood and a Dashwood would, he hoped, become a Darcy.
And so, Colonel Fitzwilliam, taking advantage of all the powers of guardianship consented to Georgiana's marriage to Captain Dashwood. He gave her away in church, signed all the papers and bravely rode off into a west country sunset to share the happy news with her brother.
"He must be the most compassionate and courageous of all the King's men," sighed Lydia as they tidied up after the wedding breakfast, "I should not like to face Mr. Darcy after doing the very opposite of what he asked me."
I already have, thought Elizabeth sadly, and he was all kindness.
As Colonel Fitzwilliam approached his cousin's house, he began to consider seriously the advice given him by a very charming lady at the inn where he had stopped for luncheon.
I think informing your friend of your actions, while still on horseback, with a distance allowing a decent head start, might be called for!
However, he was a military man with a reputation for courage, and if his reputation failed him on the way up the stairs to Mr. Darcy's study it did not reveal itself in his face.
"I see Georgiana is not with you," were his cousin's first words.
"No, she is not," he replied.
Darcy looked somewhat forlorn but collected himself quickly, "So you did not arrive in time to prevent it. Thank you for trying."
His tone of despondency was almost too much for the Colonel. "I arrived in time to give her away," he replied resolutely.
Darcy who had been leaning on the mantelpiece with a far-away expression, now turned back pale with anger.
"What did you say?"
"You heard me. I gave her away."
Darcy shook his head, "No, Fitzwilliam, you were supposed to prevent it happening. You persuaded me, against my better judgment, to allow you to take care of it, and now you tell me you encouraged it, gave your consent to it... Did you also aid them in their flight from Pemberley?"
"No, you know I did not."
"I am not inclined to believe you."
He turned towards the window, "May I ask why you acted against my wishes and against Georgiana's best interests?"
"Because they are in love," he replied simply. "Are we so old, Darcy, that we have forgotten what matters most?"
"She is in love," he said angrily, "I will not answer for Captain Dashwood's motives."
"Then I will," said Fitzwilliam, "he loves her, of that I am sure."
"It is well seen you do not have a sister!" replied Mr. Darcy with some feeling.
"I have, she is as dear to me as a sister ever could be. Will you visit her soon? She is anxious to see you."
"No, I do not think I will make the journey to Cornwall in the very near future."
"Do you not want to see her in her new home?"
"I see no reason why I should. I trust Dashwood to have set his brother up handsomely, and perhaps she will send me a watercolour of her house in the Spring."
"Darcy, you must visit her! Not only is she your sister but a bride."
"A fact of which you have made me aware, Fitzwilliam. However, she did not comply with convention by eloping, so I see no reason to comply with convention by visiting."
Fitzwilliam groaned, "If there is one thing I detest more than Darcy pride, it is Darcy obstinacy! Look, your stubbornness cost you dear once before, and I advise you not to let it happen again."
"Forgive me, Fitzwilliam, of what are you speaking?"
"Your insufferable conviction that you are always right! Right about Jane Bennet, right about Eliza Bennet, always right until it was too late and she had married someone else! For God's sake, don't let it ruin your relationship with your sister, she's all you..."
"All I have left?" finished Darcy coldly. "Perhaps. And where does Elizabeth Dashwood fit into this?"
Fitzwilliam sighed, for a clever man Darcy was certainly being obtuse. "Had you been a little more tolerant, a little more understanding, a little less proud of being Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, you would have married Elizabeth Bennet years ago. You allowed your pride to deprive you of that, and at this rate it will deprive you of Georgiana too."
"Fitzwilliam, I do not recall the last time I thought about Elizabeth Dashwood, and as for Georgiana, I will write. I promise to keep in close touch, but have no inclination to rush down to Cornwall to see her married to Christopher Dashwood. I find it hard to accept that James Dashwood's brother should have turned out so, and at the moment it is impossible for me to think of him as my brother."
"Darcy, he is not a bad fellow. I agree he is not half as clever as James but we are not all... philosophers and astronomers in our spare time; Christopher is not unlike Bingley actually."
Darcy raised his eyes ceiling-ward in a gesture of impatience, "I think you know I am not concerned with his ability to chart the heavens or discourse on mathematics, I am concerned with his lack of honour. James Dashwood was the single most honourable man I ever met, and I would have given Georgiana to him with the greatest of pleasure; indeed, I would have considered the connection an honour in itself but the brother?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam choked on the irony, I would have given Georgiana to him with the greatest of pleasure; poor, poor Darcy - why had he stood on his pride and forced Dashwood to take the credit for Mrs. Wickham's marriage? If you had attended Wickham there yourself, she would never have met Dashwood!
"No," continued Darcy, "when he has told the world, he intends to marry an heiress... marry for money... am I to rejoice when he marries my sister for her thirty thousand?"
"Darcy, that is the idle chat of the mess-room. He may have joked about marrying an heiress, but he couldn't help falling in love with one, do you not see the irony?"
"If his intentions were honourable why was I not consulted?"
Fitzwilliam poured a remarkably large whisky. "Darcy, I was there when you threw him in the lake, remember?"
"I had had too much to drink," he muttered, "how was I to know he'd take it so seriously?"
The Colonel roared with laughter, "Darcy, you nearly broke his jaw and threatened to drown him - if a great, tall fellow like you did that to me, I assure you, I wouldn't be back the next day to ask for his sister's hand! You made quite an impression on him and he agrees absolutely with your sentiments?"
"He agrees?" repeated Darcy in confusion.
"Absolutely," grinned the Colonel, "he's going to kill the man that tries to elope with his niece!"
"Yes, niece. The little daughter of your good friend and the woman you don't think about."
Darcy ignored the sarcasm; Jane and Bingley had mentioned Elizabeth's child to him once and once only. He had ignored them and they had never dared mention it again.
"I did not know it was a girl," he said, lamely.
"A girl and as like her mother as she can stare," smiled the Colonel, "and I am setting off for Cornwall again as soon as I have seen my lawyer and my tailor. You may accompany me or not as you choose."
He left with a certain rapidity not wishing to be in the vicinity when Darcy put the words lawyer, and tailor together in the way he hoped he would.
"Mr. Darcy, sir, do you want dinner or will you eat at your club?" Mrs. Reynolds asked him a few minutes later. Mrs. Reynolds did not like London, did not like the London house, and did not like Agnes Harris, the London housekeeper, but wild horses would not have kept her in Derbyshire now that Miss Georgiana had run away again.
"I will not be dining tonight, Mrs. Reynolds."
She paused, "How is Miss Georgiana, sir?"
"Miss Georgiana does not exist. Mrs. Christopher Dashwood appears to be very well. I expect you will receive a letter from her shortly."
Mrs. Reynolds expected the same. "I do believe he loves her, sir," she said.
"My dear Mrs. Reynolds, in my grandfather's day I would have been justified in running him through for what he has done, and believe me I would like to!"
"They are in love, sir!"
"Have you an offer of a position at St Erth?"
"No, sir," she replied, "but I have an offer of a shared cottage with my sister in Scarborough and I might well take her up on it. I have no wish to stay here and watch my Lady Anne's son grow into a bad-tempered old bachelor."
She closed the door firmly. To Darcy it sounded very much like the nursery door, he threw himself back in his chair feeling very small, very stupid and very sorry for himself.
The next day brought very little to rejoice about, Mrs. Reynolds' received her letter from Georgiana, but there was not a similar one for him. A visit from Sir James Hampton late in the afternoon was the only pleasure it afforded him, and even then that was not so much because he wanted to see Sir James but because he did not want to see Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"What would you think of a single man suddenly making appointments with his lawyer and tailor in the one day?" he remarked casually.
Sir James peered deeply into his glass, "Is this your usual Scotch, Darcy?"
"I said Fitzwilliam visited his lawyer and his tailor this morning, does it suggest anything to you?"
"Someone has to marry Lady Emilia Milbanke, now that you have changed your mind," smiled Sir James, "or so my wife informs me and, as you know Darcy, Caroline is never wrong."
For a moment his relief was indescribable, "Do you mean to say Fitzwilliam has an understanding with Lady Emilia?"
Sir James refilled his glass, "My wife is of that opinion, and I find it politic to be of her opinion."
"Be serious, I beg of you," Darcy could almost laugh at Sir James' oft-repeated claim to petticoat government; the whole of London knew his wife worshipped him. However, laughter was far from him when there was even a shadow of a suspicion that his other cousin was going to propose to Elizabeth Dashwood.
"You know Fitzwilliam as well as I do," replied Sir James, he held his glass up to the light examining the pale amber liquid, "his taste in women runs to the unaffected, artless types. I might have considered our costly and sophisticated Emilia, had I not been fortunate enough to gain Caroline's hand, but Fitzwilliam - never."
"Not even for her fifty-thousand pounds?" suggested Darcy.
"Not if he is in love with someone else," said Sir James cryptically. "Have a word with your butler, old man, this Scotch is not up to its usual standard."
"I do not see it before it goes in the decanter," said Darcy sharply, "and if it is so bad, you are under no obligation to drink it. So, is Fitzwilliam in love, and if so, with whom?"
"Ask him!" roared Sir James, "For God's sake, Darcy, why can't you ask him?"
"Because I think he means to ask Mrs. Dashwood," moaned Darcy putting his head in his hands.
Sir James shrugged his shoulders, "Never mind, Darcy, those Frenchies will be aching for another war in a year or two.... you will get your Elizabeth yet. Coming?"
"Coming where?" He knew he was being a fool and no-one but Sir James Hampton would make it so clear to him.
"Dinner. At my house. With my dear wife and half of fashionable London."
The carriage ride to Sir James's house was a short one, which was entirely to that gentleman's advantage, as his topic of conversation, the advantages of a rich widow over a young heiress, was thoroughly infuriating to his companion.
"Mr. Darcy, how lovely to see you!" cried Lady Hampton, "And how is dear Georgiana?"
"Very happy," he replied, "very happy indeed."
He sat beside Mrs. General Dixon at dinner, Colonel Dashwood's aunt. Her pretty daughter, Henrietta, who had married a week before Elizabeth, was dead in childbirth; Dashwood was dead and buried in a foreign land; his mind ran over all the young men he had known who had joined the army and now lay dead in various corners of England and throughout the globe. I might as well have been one of them, given the way I live.
"Are you quite well, Mr. Darcy?" said Mrs. Dixon.
"Very well, ma'am," he replied.
"I am glad of it," she said. "A marriage is no less likely to be happy because it is contracted in irregular circumstances. Life is too short and uncertain to be concerned about little things. My poor daughter died at twenty-three and my nephew at thirty-three, and yet two years ago they were sitting at this very table with me as happy and carefree as if there was no war...no danger of any sort in the world."
Darcy had had enough. His own miserable thoughts he had grown used to, but hearing the same sentiments from another person made them unbearable. He left as early as he could without arousing suspicion and, returning to Portland Place, ordered his things packed for Cornwall as soon as possible.
"Yes, sir!" replied James and returned to his ale. Mr. Darcy's things for Cornwall had been packed on Mrs. Reynolds' recommendation the day before.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had evaded Lady Hampton's invitation to dinner and sat comfortably in the library of his brother's house with a volume of his favourite Milton and a decanter of very good claret. It was with some surprise then that the footman came in announcing Mr. Darcy.
"I thought you were fair game for the gossips at Sir James's tonight," he remarked as Darcy strode in and stood before him.
"The gossips have you set to marry Lady Emilia Milbanke," he replied.
"And you believe them, Darcy? You know you and I have the same taste in women, what would I do with Emilia Milbanke?"
"Drink remarkably good claret for the rest of your life," replied Darcy uncomfortably. That reply was not what he had hoped for.
"Did you come here for any particular reason?" enquired the Colonel coolly, "Or were you merely at a loose end?"
"On the contrary, I am very busy. However, I thought I ought to inform you that I am taking your advice and setting out to visit our bride tomorrow."
The Colonel did not look up. A paradise lost was looking hopefully like a paradise gained.
"And," continued Darcy with more confidence than he felt, "I intend to ask Mrs. Dashwood for her hand, if she will have me. I can't wait on another war to make her available again."
Fitzwilliam kept his eyes on the page with some difficulty, "I hope congratulations will be in order," he spluttered.
Darcy frowned at him, his reaction was unexpected to say the least, but it was to his advantage. "Will we journey together?"
"We'll meet at six," said the Colonel with an odd tone, "goodnight Darcy."
The door closed and a few minutes later the front door echoed it. Colonel Fitzwilliam leapt up from his seat and giving vent to a great repressed cry of triumph raced upstairs to pack.
Mr. Darcy was not long in visiting his sister after her wedding and Elizabeth, although she was not surprised at his haste, rather wished he had waited. She could not but be surprised, even horrified, at the revival of her feelings for him. Lydia stood on the porch to see Mr. Darcy and the Colonel ride by on their way to St. Erth and was rewarded by the Colonel pausing and raising his hat to her.
"I do believe he looks as handsome in ordinary clothes as he did in his regimentals," she observed to Elizabeth.
"He is a good-looking man," agreed Elizabeth, whose thoughts were over two years ago in London with Mr. and Miss Darcy.
"It is rare for a man to be as attractive out of uniform as he is in uniform," reflected Lydia, "what do you think my little niece, as your mamma's mind is occupied elsewhere?"
Jemima looked most agreeable to her aunt's assertion, causing Lydia to talk of officers as happily as she had once done at Longbourn.
"Lydia, I beg of you, do not start filling her head with officers at such a tender age!" laughed Elizabeth.
"You cannot talk, Lizzy," replied Lydia in mock indignation, "you had the sense to flirt with Wickham, let him go and marry the most handsome officer of them all."
"Yes, he was handsome," sighed Elizabeth. Oh, Lydia, this is not the time to finally see through Wickham!
"Dashwood was a good man... like Mr. Darcy and Bingley... and Colonel Fitzwilliam... Oh, Lizzy, Wickham was not a good man, was he?"
Elizabeth was speechless. Was there anything to say when the truth was so brutal?
"He had to be forced to marry me... Captain Dashwood would have fought the Colonel to marry Georgiana, but Mr. Darcy had to bribe Wickham to marry me!"
Elizabeth put her arms around her sister, "It's all over, Lydia, it's in the past. We all make mistakes..."
"You didn't..." snuffled Lydia, "Jane didn't... Mary and Kitty didn't..."
Perhaps I did! "We did not have your opportunity," she said kindly, "there is no telling what any of us might have done with such temptation..." I hope this is the only time I have to tell such untruths.
"No, Lizzy, that is not true, you don't have to tell comforting lies. I have often compared my behaviour with yours and Jane's and I have no excuse."
"Look to the future, then," said Elizabeth attempting brightness, "there is always the bend in the road."
"I don't believe in the bend in the road any longer," said Lydia, "Jemima has bends in her road but mine is an inexorable straight line. The only thing that could make my life any worse is if you were to re-marry and pack me back off to Longbourn and mamma and Mary."
"Do not despair," smiled Elizabeth, "there is always Oxford and Kitty."
"God forbid! Kitty is so serious nowadays; she makes lace, reads poems and sermons and visits the poor - can you see me doing that?"
"Not easily," replied Elizabeth.
The maid entered with a note for Elizabeth, "We are invited to dinner at St. Erth tonight!" she cried, "Think of an excuse, Lydia, I cannot go."
"Not go? Not accept the only invitation we have had in months?" shrieked Lydia, "Think of your own excuse, Lizzy, for I am certainly going."
Elizabeth threw herself down in a chair and listened to Lydia run upstairs to the joyful task of curling her hair and choosing a gown.
She will be back in an hour with armful of gowns unable to make her own decision, she thought, and I am not going. I am not going to have dinner with Mr. Darcy - it is all too confusing and embarrassing.
By four o'clock, however, all three Everingley ladies were arranged in the carriage. Lydia had dressed with particular care and Elizabeth with none. She did not want to go and could not believe she was actually going. Jemima had had her gown chosen for her by her aunt and, amidst all the excitement, had eaten several curling papers.
"You look well, Lizzy," remarked Lydia after a while, "I am glad you let me dress your hair."
Elizabeth ignored the compliment, "What ails Jemima? She looks very odd."
Lydia squinted at her niece, "No, she does not look odd, it is only trepidation at the idea of meeting the famous Mr. Darcy."
"I think we should not have brought her," said Elizabeth, "we must turn back."
"We will do no such thing," replied Lydia firmly, "you wanted to bring her and that is that. For my part I think it is pathetic when a grown woman resorts to using a child to protect herself from a man, but there you are, you have not my scruples."
"I am doing no such thing!"
"Of course you are," said Lydia pragmatically, "you will feel safe meeting Mr. Darcy again, while you are holding Colonel Dashwood's child."
"Lydia, I want out of this carriage now!"
"It's your carriage, ask the coachman to stop and let you out but we are not walking the rest of the way to St. Erth, so you will have to walk home."
Elizabeth gave in gracefully and at length they drew up outside Captain and Mrs. Dashwood's new house.
"Our house is romantic," sighed Lydia, "but don't you sometimes long for somewhere modern, Lizzy?"
"Only half as much as the servants do," she replied. "Give me my daughter, please."
Lydia handed over Jemima with a wicked grin as Captain Dashwood appeared on the steps to greet them.
"I see you have brought my niece," he remarked with some surprise.
"Aye, it seemed an inclusive invitation," said Lydia noticing that Elizabeth could not speak. Poor thing, she is really worried about seeing Mr. Darcy again.
They gave their coats to the footman and followed the Captain into the large and well-appointed drawing room. Elizabeth did not dare look up.
"Well, here they are at last," he said, "my two sisters and my niece. It seems we are to be surrounded by beautiful women tonight, gentlemen."
"She is my niece too, now!" cried Georgiana taking Jemima from Elizabeth's arms without so much as asking, "Isn't she perfectly lovely, brother? It was worth the journey from London just to see her, was it not?"
Mr. Darcy stepped forward slightly, "Yes," he said, "more than worth the journey."
Elizabeth was not a little surprised and embarrassed at Mr. Darcy addressing her thus, she could not mistake his meaning and neither could anyone else in the room, even Jemima did not imagine herself to be the object of his journey. However, she smiled and held out her hand to be kissed. Elizabeth sighed and smiled, Jemima was a Bennet girl to the last ounce, but in this instance at least Mr. Darcy seemed to be prepared to be enchanted by the very talents that had once so repulsed him at Netherfield. He bowed gallantly and kissed Jemima's tiny hand which gained him an enthusiastic round of applause from Captain and Mrs. Dashwood and Lydia. Elizabeth could then note that he was as embarrassed as she was and in a state of mutual embarrassment they made their way to the dinner table. At this point Jemima was removed by Georgiana's own maid as not even her doting mamma could think her table manners sufficiently developed for dining with officers and gentlemen.
The meal concluded pleasantly enough and the fact that Elizabeth could not contribute to the conversation did not signify, for everyone else spoke of almost everything, even Mr. Darcy. He had learned that silence had a negative effect on Elizabeth and had realized that had he spoken more previously even without regard to subject she might never have misunderstood him. It was a hard thing to come to terms with, the requirement that one talk about anything for the sake of talking, but the fact that Colonels Dashwood and Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley had succeeded in society where he had failed convinced him of the truth of it. At one point, much to Elizabeth's amusement, the whole conversation around the table centered on Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Wickham discussing in solemn tones the weather and the state of the roads; the irony of the man who never talked and the girl who talked too much conducting a thoroughly proper discourse on such a properly mundane subject was amusing indeed. She was relieved, however, that Lydia could deport herself so well and had not required to be removed with her niece.
Elizabeth walked along the beach the next morning with Jemima who, under Lydia's instructions, was ensuring she returned in time for breakfast. Everingley sands were always quiet, no fishermen used them, the smugglers were long gone and the only visitors were the beachcombers. This morning, however, was different. She had not been there long when she discovered that Mr. Darcy had also chosen the beach for his morning walk and was in half an idea of turning back when she realized that he had already seen her and was walking rapidly in her direction.
"Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed, "I had not expected to find you, or anyone, here so early in the morning."
"Good morning, Mrs. Dashwood," he replied in a conventional manner.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," she smiled, "I did not intend to sound unfriendly, you may walk on the beach whenever you choose."
"Thank you, it is a lovely stretch of coastline, I intend to walk as far as the village. I thought I should take a long walk as I felt rather superfluous at St Erth."
Elizabeth laughed, "Ah, the newly-weds! You would have been most welcome at Everingely, you know."
"I did call in at Everingley but you had already left, and Fitzwilliam seemed to have pre-empted me and was being entertained to iced tea on the porch by Mrs. Wickham."
"Iced tea and Mrs. Wickham..." repeated Elizabeth, The Colonel and Lydia... it is beyond imagination!
She looked at Jemima, Is there anything you haven't been telling me?
Jemima smiled directly at Mr. Darcy. She had not submitted obediently to her Aunt Lydia's teaching for so long to smile at her mother when there was a handsome man available. What would Grandmother Bennet say?
"Your daughter is very like you," he remarked after a while.
"Do you think so? My hair is dark and hers is fair, my eyes are brown and hers are blue, but beyond that you may be right."
"I merely meant that she has your way of looking. A very pretty name too, I suppose it is the feminine of James and the Bingleys will no doubt name their daughter after your mother."
"Would you name your daughter Anne?"
"I think not. Anne is not a... a lucky name in our family."
"I am sorry to hear it, I like the name very much."
"I do not dislike it, but I would name my daughter Jane regardless."
Elizabeth smiled, "If my husband had lived, I would have named this one Jane, it is my favourite name too. Would you hold her for me while I mend my lace?"
He took a definite step backward, "I do not think so, Mrs. Dashwood, I am afraid I do not know much about... them..."
"She is not a 'them', she is a baby," replied Elizabeth sensibly, "and I must tie my lace or break my neck."
He accepted Jemima from her mother's arms very gingerly, but she was polite enough to pretend not to notice, and as one cravat is as good as another for unraveling she was soon content.
"I think she likes you," said Elizabeth when her lace was finally mended.
"I will take your word on the subject," he replied in the midst of discovering how to hold a baby with one hand and preserve his neckwear with the other, "please take her back... I distrust her expression."
"It's her usual expression," answered the wicked mamma, "really it is. What do you find unnerving in it, Mr. Darcy?"
"Her usual expression you say? Well, it has a curious mixture of sweetness and archness that I have come across before somewhere and it always makes me uneasy."
"I am sorry to hear that. Give her back to me, then."
He handed back Jemima, who was rather sorry to have missed the opportunity to invade his pockets.
"Do you intend to bring her up here alone?"
"For as long as I can," replied Elizabeth, "although she will have to mix with other girls and go to school sooner or later."
"Have you ever..."
She did not let him finish, "...considered remarrying? Honestly, Mr. Darcy, I think that is rather a drastic solution to the problem of bringing up Jemima. Perhaps Christopher and Georgiana will have some children soon for her to play with, and if not, she might as well mix with the village children and learn how to smuggle rum and make fishing nets. The future mistress of Everingley has not the pressing need to acquire accomplishments that other girls have."
He stopped suddenly, "She inherits? I thought Everingley was entailed."
"Yes, it is, but not along the male line like Longbourn. It can only be inherited by someone with the name of Dashwood and for several generations the Dashwoods had only daughters who married before they could inherit but, sadly, that is not a problem she will have."
"How strange," he murmured, "but it does make sense. I could almost envy her, if it were not for all this sand and salt-water... it will be the ruin of a good pair of boots."
"You do not have much sand and salt-water in Derbyshire then?"
"Surprisingly little, I suppose that is because it is inland," he said sarcastically and then, in a quieter tone, "I imagine the fact she is to inherit more or less ties you here?"
"Mr. Darcy," she said calmly, "I have nowhere else to go. Where should I go - Longbourn? This is my home, it was my husband's home, where else would you have me go?"
"I do not know," he replied in a voice overcharged with emotion, "please forgive me, I seem destined to say the wrong things today."
Elizabeth looked up at him fleetingly, but had the wisdom to remain silent.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was still sitting on the porch when Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Dashwood began to make their way up from the beach. He stood up to better view his cousin's expression and, although they were too far off to actually see his face, he understood from his demeanour that Mr. Darcy would not be in the mood for iced tea and Mrs. Wickham. He went back into the house and found her in the library, which seemed odd even to someone who barely knew her, but he had not the time to consider the various implications and merely said, "I must away, Mrs. Wickham, my cousin is here and we should return to St. Erth."
"But you will come back?" smiled Lydia, "I found a poem the other day and I wanted to ask you if you had read it, but I cannot find it again."
The Colonel stared, A poem? This begins to suggest that she spends above ten minutes a day in a rational manner!
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, are you feeling quite all right?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wickham, thank you for asking but I am fine."
He walked slowly down to the shore road to meet Darcy in a manner that suggested he was anything but fine. The Colonel, being a military man and used to action did not indulge in dawdling unless with ladies, and even Mr. Darcy, caught up in his own thoughts and fears, could not help noticing his cousin's unusual deportment.
"I trust you passed the time pleasantly," he remarked as Elizabeth left them and returned to the house.
"Fairly well," replied the Colonel, "and you, did you pass your time profitably?"
Darcy sighed, "I found myself most unaccountably concerned for my boot leather and discovered how little I know of children."
"I see," chuckled the Colonel, "then Georgiana will have to wait to wish you joy."
"She has spent too long with Miss Bingley," said Darcy sourly, "if a morning stroll is to be translated instantly into matrimony."
"I have barely met Lady Hampton," smiled the Colonel, "and yet I will admit to sharing Georgiana's expectations."
"For me or for yourself?" rejoindered Darcy.
"For you," he replied simply, "as you know I cannot marry without some regard to fortune."
"And it seems I cannot marry without some consideration to the demands of step-fatherhood."
"Darcy, it is pathetic to use a baby as an excuse. I have heard many good excuses in my time but that is not one of them."
"I meant, Fitzwilliam, I cannot marry Elizabeth as if nothing had ever happened, as if she were still Miss Bennet. I... I suppose I was not really prepared for a widow and child."
"No, but the child cannot be much of a problem, she is barely weaned and never knew her own father."
"I do not think that is what I mean."
"If you do not know what you mean, Darcy, I most certainly do not."
Darcy was silent for a moment, "If you did not have to marry with a prudent regard to fortune what would your feelings be concerning Mrs. Wickham?"
The Colonel shook his head, "I do not know. She is certainly pretty and unaffected and I like that in a woman."
"She is as empty-headed as she is unaffected," replied Darcy remembering Colonel Fitzwilliam's marked preference for Elizabeth at Rosings.
"She is teachable given the right teacher," laughed the Colonel, "and it is a great pity to think of her wasting her life away alone."
"That much is true," agreed Darcy, "but I can honestly say for the first time I am glad you have no fortune of your own."
Upon finding Mr. Darcy alone when she visited St. Erth the next day, Elizabeth decided it was time to thank him for his kindness to her family regarding Lydia.
"I am a very selfish creature, Mr. Darcy, and for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings I must thank you for the unexampled kindness you showed to my sister when she was foolish enough to run away with George Wickham. I have but recently learned of it and am most anxious to acknowledge to you how grateful I am. Were it known to the rest of my family I should not have merely my own gratitude to express."
"I am sorry, exceedingly sorry," replied Darcy in surprise, "that you were ever informed of it. I made Dashwood promise that you should never know--Mrs. Wickham told you herself then?"
"Yes, as I said, I have but recently found out."
"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. I respect your family, but I believe I thought only of you."
Elizabeth was much to embarrassed to say a word and had just begun to regret her impulsiveness in thanking him for something that had happened three years ago, when he spoke again.
"Mrs. Dashwood, you are too generous to trifle with me. My feelings for you have not altered from what they were on the eve of your wedding, my affections and wishes are unchanged but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, I cannot express how sensible I am of the honour of your proposal, nor how much I regret the way I spoke to you at Hunsford but, sensible as I am of the compliment, I still cannot accept you... although for very different reasons."
Par O--The End
"Mrs. Dashwood, I really do not think I can survive this a second time. Might I be permitted to ask what offends you - is it simply me?"
Elizabeth walked over to the window and stared out. "No, it is not you."
"And? And a little of me is buried in France... and what will become of Everingley if I marry you?"
"Is that it? You will not marry me because of your estate?" His voice was cold and hard and for a bitter moment the anger and reproach of Hunsford threatened to repeat itself, but on this occasion Elizabeth could not wait for him to leave to give vent to her tears.
"Dearest Elizabeth, do not weep," he sat next to her on the window seat and laid his hand diffidently on her arm, "I love you and I will do whatever is necessary to make you happy."
"Happiness can never be founded on guilt," she replied choking back more tears.
"Guilt? Dashwood would not have had you mourn him forever, believe me, I knew him well, and he was not that sort of man. Do you love me? If you do not love me, I will leave and I will ensure we never meet again. Elizabeth, do you love me?"
Elizabeth feeling all the more the common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak.
"Of course I love you! I may always have loved you... no, I don't know... but I know I love you now so very dearly..."
"Then it is all settled, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth," he replied, kissing her very gently, "love is a great solver of problems."
Elizabeth clung helplessly to him for a moment, but the problem of Jemima and her inheritance did not dissolve even in confessed love.
"What of Jemima?" she asked weakly.
"Jemima? At two years old she is already one of the richest women in England, how many ladies do you know with seven thousand a year? I imagine my only problem as a step-father will be keeping suitors at bay."
"I meant Everingley." said Elizabeth with more composure than she truly felt. "What of Everingley, it is hers, and I intend to see it remains perfect for her."
"You do not run the estate, your steward does," he said.
"It is my responsibility and one I could not exercise from Derbyshire."
"Elizabeth, I have learned to my very dear cost what is to live without love. To love and never know return is the cruelest thing imaginable, and I have had more than sufficient experience of it to regret my separating Bingley from your sister even for a few months. I cannot endure the thought of a life-time separated from you. If Everingley must be my home for the next twenty years, so be it."
Elizabeth stood still as petrified as a Derbyshire spar. No, Mr. Darcy had not offered to live at Everingley. He could not.
Can he love me so much? If I were the heroine of one of Lydia's novels, I would have fainted by now--why am I so prosaically conscious?
"You cannot abandon Pemberley, Mr. Darcy, I beseech you to be serious."
"I have never been more serious, my dearest, loveliest Mrs. Dashwood. If you imagine I regard Pemberley over you, you are very wrong."
"What will become of Pemberley?"
"I have a good steward. Captain Dashwood and Georgiana may live there if they wish, it is as much Georgiana's home as it is mine. I like the idea of her children growing up where we did, so long as there are Darcy children at Pemberley, I do not care much whether they are Georgiana's or mine."
"And you would live here?" asked Elizabeth incredulously, "You would really live here?"
"Derbyshire is not the most beautiful county in England while you are in Cornwall. I have learned that the hard way too."
"I do not know what to say."
"You may agree with me."
Elizabeth dared to look up and seeing the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face could not do anything else but agree with him. And so, Elizabeth Dashwood married Mr. Darcy. The wedding was held in the Cathedral at Exeter, the Bishop who had married Georgiana officiated, and everyone in their respective families attended with only Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter refusing their invitations. Lady Hampton remarked afterwards that there was a most shocking lack of satin but Mrs. Bennet's joy at the lace on Elizabeth's gown could barely be expressed in words, and for once, her husband did not protest at her descriptions of finery.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, learned by observing his cousin's very real happiness with the woman he loved, to value certain things above an excellent income. The management of the Everingley estate was left to him, when the new Mr. and Mrs. Darcy returned to Derbyshire, and he found his happiness with Lydia who was, in respect of good looks and good-temper, not so very different from the sister he had once cherished a certain fondness for. On her part, she learned to read a little more than romantic novels and the latest gothic horrors and took pianoforte lessons from Georgiana, as the Colonel could live without every comfort of London life except good music.
Jane and Mr. Bingley did not remain in Hertfordshire as much as a six-month after Elizabeth's marriage to Mr. Darcy. Netherfield was a lovely house and they had been happy there but its proximity to her mother was more than either his or her easy temper could endure and, having obliged Mrs. Bennet by producing her first grandchild there, they felt it quite legitimate to buy an estate in a neighbouring country to Derbyshire. The dearest wish of the two sisters was then gratified; they were then within thirty miles of each other, and so Jemima did not only have sisters and a brother for companions but three cousins as well.