Section I, Next Section
Young Andrew Bingley had awaited this day eagerly for weeks, ever since Henry Knightley, son of George and Emma Knightley of Donwell Abbey, had given him the book to read. Andrew fidgeted in the carriage on the ride home from school, much to the consternation of his older sister. He could not wait to confront his father and have him explain why such falsehoods about his family had been published. To his and his sister's great relief, it was not long before the barouche made the familiar last turn and stopped in front of their house. The carriage had barely come to a halt before the children bounded out into the awaiting arms of their parents.
"Mama! Papa!" they exclaimed while scurrying out.
"We are glad you are finally home," said his father, Charles Bingley. Joy radiated from Bingley's eyes. Good fortune had blessed him with a happy home, a good wife, and two children. His youthful good looks had been somewhat altered over the years by the addition of a few grey hairs and laugh lines, but nonetheless his eyes retained all of their sparkle. "Why Andrew, you are nearly as tall as I," the father declared with some astonishment as he sized up his son. "I do believe you grew a full foot when you were away."
"I have grown a little Papa," said Andrew with a bashful smile.
"Come inside children," urged their mother. "Mrs. Wilkins has made you some cake."
As mother and daughter linked arms and proceeded indoors, Andrew held back a moment, searching for the first opportunity to have his father alone. "Papa," he said in a low tone. "I wish to speak with you on a matter of some delicacy."
"What is it?" Charles asked his son quizzically.
"Do you ever read a book entitled Pride and Prejudice?"
The elder Bingley blanched and could not speak.
"I read the novel. Well, I mean, it purports to be a novel, but it is the history of our family. Or at least it imagines itself to be so. When I read it, I could scarce believe what the book said. I even looked at the front of my Bible to double check dates. It cannot be true! What lies!"
Charles Bingley patted the shoulder of his son, "Steady now. It isn't as untrue as you seem to believe. In fact, the beginning of the book is true. I did go to Hertfordshire and fell in love with a lovely young woman named Jane Bennet. Darcy and my sisters did urge me to go to London to separate us. And Darcy did go to Rosings and proposed to Elizabeth Bennet. All of that happened as was told in the novel. It was only after Miss Elizabeth Bennet rejected Darcy's proposal of marriage did the story stray from the truth."
"But why?" asked Andrew.
"Several years after Darcy had been married, a woman approached him. She had heard rumours of the one true love of his life and wanted to write about it. I don't know why, but Darcy felt compelled to tell her the story of he and Miss Bennet, conveniently changing several facts. I suspect the resulting book is what Darcy thought should have happened."
"Father, what really did happen between he and Miss Bennet?"
"It is a convoluted story, but I suppose I should start with Rosings after Miss Bennet rejected his offer of marriage…"
As soon as Darcy entered the entrance hall to Rosings, he walked towards the staircase. His mind was reeling. Elizabeth Bennet had just summarily rejected his offer of marriage. Imagine, a young country girl rejecting his suit? Impossible! He could drape her in more jewels and money than any other man who would ever call upon her. Darcy paused in front of the staircase long enough to hear his aunt call, "Who's there Fitzwilliam?!"
Oh Lord! Aunt Catherine. I cannot face her now, he thought to himself.
Colonel Fitzwilliam immediately walked out of the parlour and smiled upon seeing Darcy's disheveled appearance. "Darcy! We've quite despaired over you!"
"Is that my nephew? Where have you been?! Let him come in here and explain himself!" Lady Catherine de Bourgh demanded.
I must escape! "Ah no... You'll forgive me. You'll forgive me," Darcy mumbled to the Colonel just before racing up the stairs.
The Colonel looked puzzled as he quietly asked, "Darcy, are you unwell?"
Darcy turned around with a panicked and distracted look on his face. "I am very well, thank you. But I have a pressing matter of business. You'll forgive me... Make my apologies to Lady Catherine, Fitzwilliam," he muttered while continuing to run up the stairs.
Early the next morning, Darcy walked in the grove of Rosings Park for at least an hour looking for Elizabeth. He hoped the walk would help him sort out his feelings and get them under control, but the more he considered the events of the past day, the worse he became. He was a tumult of emotion... Anger at himself for his horrid behaviour, disgust at his prior actions towards her, resentment towards Elizabeth for refusing him, outrage at George Wickham for the lies, but most of all an overwhelming deep sense of grief for the loss of his only love. As he searched the grove, he was eager to give her the letter he wrote that morning, hoping that the letter would at least soften her dislike. For a few minutes, he despaired that perhaps he would not see her, but finally, she arrived. He heard soft footsteps approach behind him then suddenly turn. Darcy whirled around to see Elizabeth turning back. She looked more pale than usual, but she was still beautiful enough to take his breath away. "Miss Bennet," he called, stopping her retreat. "I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?" he asked after handing the letter to her. She stood silent a moment, as if stunned by his request. Darcy didn't want to wait for her answer; he gave a slight bow, then turned to walk back to Rosings.
Darcy was in a foul and black mood once he arrived at his aunt's house. He was eager to leave Kent and distance himself from his failure. Determined, he marched up the stairs to the house and entered quickly. "James!" he shouted to the footman, who had the unlucky fortune of passing through the entrance hall at the moment Darcy stormed through the front door, "Where is Colonel Fitzwilliam?!"
"I believe he is in the morning room with Lady Catherine sir," answered the footman with a bow.
As Darcy marched towards the morning room, he could hear Lady Catherine's lecture echoing down the hall. "Colonel Fitzwilliam, you must find a wife suitable for the honour of the Fitzwilliam family name."
"Yes, Lady Catherine," came the reply in a flat tone.
"She must be of good breeding and character. Preferably the daughter of royalty, though being a younger son, that may be reaching too high. At the very least, her family must be of the gentry. And of course she must have a substantial dowry."
"Yes, Lady Catherine," the Colonel muttered as he struggled not to frown.
"I will be very vexed if I find out that you..."
Darcy gave a quick bow to Lady Catherine as he blew in to the room and interrupted her lesson, "Aunt, the time has come for Fitzwilliam and I to depart for London."
Both Lady Catherine and Colonel Fitzwilliam were momentarily stunned. It was unlike Darcy to interrupt his aunt, regardless of how sorely he was tempted. Lady Catherine recovered herself and gave her nephew a comforting smile, "I know that your spirits are dull this morning because you must leave Rosings, perhaps you should stay another fortnight."
Darcy shook his head, "You are very kind, but no, I am sorry. I have business that cannot be delayed. I must leave now." Glancing at the Colonel, he demanded, "Are you coming?"
The Colonel, always eager to escape Rosings, jumped up, "Yes of course, Darcy. I am at your disposal." With a bow to Lady Catherine, he added, "It has been a pleasure visiting you again aunt. I will heed your advice and find a suitable wife very soon..."
Before the Colonel could finish speaking, Darcy stormed out of the room, down the hall, and had almost reached the front door before Colonel Fitzwilliam finally caught up to him, "Darcy wait!" he exclaimed. "We have not been to the parsonage to pay our respects. You would not wish for them to think we are ungentlemanly."
Darcy stopped dead in his tracks and paled. Elizabeth's reproach of the day before rang in his ears, ...had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner... Agitated, he replied, "You are quite right Fitzwilliam. Let us walk there now before we take our leave."
Darcy strode out of the door, down the steps, and along the path to the parsonage so fast, the Colonel had difficulty keeping pace with him without running. "Darcy," exclaimed the Colonel while struggling to walk beside him, "Why are you in such a hurry? And what has put you in such a disagreeable mood? Usually you are very happy to be leaving Kent, but today..."
Darcy stopped and abruptly whirled around to face the Colonel, "I wish to put as much distance between myself and Kent as I can. The faster we leave the better."
The Colonel grabbed Darcy's arm and exclaimed, "Whatever is the matter? You have been acting very odd since yesterday. Will you not tell me what is wrong?"
How can I admit how poorly I behaved yesterday? I was unbearable and Elizabeth has every reason to hate me. How do I explain that to a man who is always pleasing and easy in company? Darcy thought. He could not look his cousin in the eye as he replied, "Fitzwilliam, I am fine. Let us pay our respects and be gone."
The Colonel frowned, but acquiesced. "If you will not confide in me, I will not force the issue. However, I am always of service, if the need arises."
Darcy struggled to smile as he muttered, "Thank you."
"Then let us get this errand over with and be on our way," the Colonel soothed. "But I hope you will be in better humour for our visit at the parsonage."
Darcy blanched and could only just stammer, "I will try."
The cousins walked to the parsonage in silence. One was looking very grave, the other trying to contain his excitement.
"Mr. Darcy! Colonel Fitzwilliam!" Mr. Collins exclaimed once they were ushered inside. "I am so pleased that you are here to call on us. We are truly honoured by your condescension..."
"Mr. Collins," interrupted Darcy, "We are leaving Kent and only stopped by to say good-bye to you, Mrs. Collins, Miss Lucas, and Miss Bennet."
"Sir, cousin Elizabeth was not feeling well and decided to walk though the groves. I am sure she will return any moment," Mr. Collins said with a bow.
She will return any moment... echoed in his mind. I must leave, I must escape. I cannot face her now. How can I bear to see her again knowing how much I love her and how much she despises me! he thought. Darcy desperately searched for an excuse to leave. "Mr. Collins, I am afraid that I cannot wait. I must return to Rosings, but please extend to Miss Bennet my farewell and best wishes," Darcy said with a bow and quickly left the room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, bowed and excused himself before chasing after Darcy and stopping him just outside of the house. "Darcy, I do not understand your manner. You are very abrupt today. We must stay and visit at the parsonage until Miss Bennet returns."
"You visit, I will wait for you at Rosings," Darcy countered while starting to continue to walk back.
The Colonel shook his head in wonder as he turned around and re-entered the house.
Darcy walked on to his carriage and stepped inside. Although the barouche was less comfortable than waiting in Rosings, it gave him the privacy he sorely wanted. How could I have behaved in such a fashion? he thought, How could anything be as sweet as her love? My pride, my conceit, my arrogance has lost the only woman I will ever love. She is the best woman I've ever met and I truly don't deserve her. Darcy spent much of the next two hours thinking similar thoughts. He was so caught up in going over every nuance of his previous meetings with Elizabeth that he had not noticed his cousin's long absence.
"I'm sorry," Fitzwilliam apologized upon entering the carriage and rousing Darcy from his reverie, "I hadn't realized the time nor that you would be waiting outside for my return. Please forgive me," he asked while settling into the seat opposite Darcy.
"Of course," Darcy muttered as he reached for his pocket watch. "Drive on," he called to the driver. Upon glancing at his time piece, he was shocked to realize that his cousin had taken so long, "Good God Fitzwilliam, do you realize I have been waiting for two hours?"
The Colonel blushed as he shifted nervously in his seat. "No, no... I do apologize. It was very rude of me to keep you waiting so long."
Darcy stared out of the window as he muttered, "It does not matter."
Darcy soon noticed that his cousin seemed to be bursting with nervous energy during this trip back to London. Normally, the Colonel was anxious to leave Kent and eager to return to London, but usually not in such a demonstrative fashion. After an hour, Darcy's nerves were frayed beyond containment and he had to ask, "You are fidgeting about like a school boy on his last day of class, what is the meaning of this behaviour?"
The Colonel stammered, "I am sorry. I will try to stay calm."
Still irritated and unsatisfied, Darcy demanded "Whatever is the matter?"
"I am just anxious. I have to make many quick plans once I return to London. I hope to be going to Hertfordshire within a fortnight."
Darcy gave a start, "Hertfordshire, why ever would you go there?"
Fitzwilliam smiled as he replied, "To ask Elizabeth's father for her hand in marriage."
Darcy blanched and his throat closed. In momentary shock, he stared at his cousin. Could I have heard Fitzwilliam correctly? No. No, I must be wrong. He must be wrong, he thought. With Herculean effort, Darcy struggled to keep a calm demeanor as he was finally able to ask, "Have you? Have you asked her to marry you?"
Fitzwilliam beamed and joyfully responded, "Yes! I asked her this morning and she accepted! That is why I took so long. I waited at the parsonage for a half an hour, but Elizabeth had not returned. During one of Mr. Collins's long speeches about gardening, I remembered that she liked to stroll in the grove. I extricated myself from the parsonage as quickly as possible and began to search for Elizabeth. After about fifteen minutes, I found her sitting on a tree stump crying..."
"Crying?" Darcy interrupted, barely masking his horror at the revelation.
"Yes crying," the Colonel responded absentmindedly with a momentary frown on his face. "I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she had received a letter during her stay which conveyed some bad news, but it was of little consequence." Darcy gave a start, but forced himself to listen. "I could not bear to leave my dearest Elizabeth unhappy, so I sat next to her and began to talk with her. Soon, I drove all of her unhappy thoughts away by recounting some of my more ridiculous adventures of youth," the Colonel chuckled. "Seeing her smile again lifted my heart to the heavens. Before I knew it, I knelt beside her and begged her to marry me. She hesitated a moment... It was the most hideously long moment of my life... Then, she smiled and accepted with a kiss." Fitzwilliam stopped to lean back, close his eyes, and smile. "I have never been more contented or happy in my life."
Darcy was shocked into silence. He begged her to marry him? Why was I so insensible of her merit? he pondered a moment. Elizabeth is to be Fitzwilliam's wife? How could this be? No, this cannot be! Panicked, he tried to concoct a reason for them not to wed. "Have you considered that Miss Bennet has a very small dowry? Wasn't it you who always said that you needed a rich wife? Haven't you always said, 'Younger sons cannot marry where they like?'"
The Colonel chuckled good-naturedly, "Do not listen to the Fitzwilliam of old, Darcy. I am quite transformed. I know she may only receive fifty pounds per annum upon her parents' death, but that does not matter. To have Elizabeth by my side for the rest of my days, I will gladly learn to economize."
Darcy stuttered, "But... But... What of her connections? You are an Earl's son and her mother's family is in trade?"
Fitzwilliam slowly shook his head, "You would have me give up the woman of my dreams for factors which are beyond her control? She chose to be related to people in trade no more than I chose to be an Earl's son. Her lack of connections will not affect our happiness."
The Colonel's last words burst upon Darcy. His cousin's wisdom added salt to his wounds. Darcy began to sweat and stammer, "But... But... You haven't met her family. Her father, mother, and younger sisters often display a horrible lack of propriety. If you think her cousin, Mr. Collins, is irritating, wait until you meet her mother!"
Fitzwilliam laughed as he replied, "Darcy, I have more patience than you. Perhaps they will not vex me as much as they seem to vex you... Regardless, their ill manners have not affected her."
"Lady Catherine!" Darcy almost shouted, "She will never approve of the match and will certainly attempt to turn the rest of the family against you."
Fitzwilliam smiled again as he patiently explained, "Darcy, none of that matters. When you fall in love, you will understand. All that matters is that Elizabeth will be by my side forever. Family, connections, money... Those are all secondary considerations when you are in love."
Darcy leaned back in his seat defeated. When you fall in love, you will understand, echoed in his head. He knew the truth of Fitzwilliam's statements and feared he lost her forever.
Darcy returned to London a changed man. Though he was pleased to be back in the company of Georgiana, no one's society, not even his sister's, could cheer him. Every morning, Darcy leapt out of bed, threw on his blue silk robe, and raced downstairs to search hungrily through the newspaper for the announcement of his cousin's engagement, though he knew it was unlikely to be announced so soon. Upon not finding the announcement, Darcy felt a mixture of relief and impending doom. Slowly, he would walk back upstairs to his bedchamber to dress and prepare to face the day.
A week after Darcy and Fitzwilliam's return to London, a note was delivered while Darcy and Georgiana were eating breakfast. When the footman entered the breakfast room with the letter, Darcy immediately recognized the Colonel's writing on the envelope and seized it. He quickly tore open the seal.
The General is sending me on an urgent commission to Scotland. I should be glad to be trusted on such an important mission, but I cannot rejoice. Though my assignment is only temporary, it prevents me from going to Hertfordshire to ask for Elizabeth's hand in marriage. I am to be away for approximately seven months, but I hope to leave for Hertfordshire as soon as the assignment is finished. I wrote my dearest, and we agree that we should keep our engagement a secret until we receive her family's approbation. Besides my dearest Elizabeth and myself, only you and her sister Jane are aware of the attachment. We would appreciate it greatly if you do not mention it to anyone until our formal announcement.
Needless to say, the distance from my darling will be agony, but hopefully I will not be gone as long as anticipated. The only good that will come of the separation is that it will give me a chance to rehearse what I will say to Mr. Bennet.
I suppose you think your cousin is being foolish, because I am so lost in love after swearing that I will never marry. I must confess that I am lost without my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, but I shall not try your patience any further with my ramblings. My only advice to you, little cousin, is that you find a woman half as wonderful as my sweet, and get her to the alter as fast as you can.
Darcy cringed as he read the last paragraph. He stared at the last sentence until it burned into his soul. Slowly, Darcy folded the note and dropped his head in dejection. How can I think of marrying anyone but Elizabeth? Yet she is to marry Fitzwilliam, he thought.
Unbeknownst to Darcy, Georgiana viewed her brother's altered behaviour with alarm, but she was unsure of how to address him. She had observed her brother's manners closely upon his receipt of the letter. His eyes darted across the page, quickly skimming over the contents. He cringed and paled when he reached the end. She now studied his manner as he contemplated the message. "William, is anything the matter?" she asked. Consumed by his thoughts, Darcy did not hear her. "William?" she asked with more urgency. "Fitzwilliam Darcy!"
Roused by the sound of his full name, Darcy suddenly looked up, "What? Ah... yes Georgiana? Is anything the matter?"
"That's what I just asked you," Georgiana replied with great concern.
"I do apologize... You asked something?"
Georgiana narrowed her eyes and gauged her brother's reaction closely. "Yes. I wanted to know if anything is wrong. You seem to be quite consumed by the note you received."
"Wrong? No, no... Nothing is wrong. Colonel Fitzwilliam is being sent to Scotland for a few months, that is all..." replied Darcy with a wave of his hand. "Why don't you finish your breakfast?"
Georgiana nodded and obeyed, but a nagging suspicion began to form in her head.
Georgiana had been carefully observing her brother's behaviour since he returned from Kent. His odd actions frightened her. Darcy's demeanour was unlike any she had ever witnessed in him. He was constantly agitated, anxious, and in a grim mood. Every morning, he visited his club to play chess or pool or practice fencing, but it did not satisfy his restless heart. Every afternoon, he returned home in a worse state than when he left. He made dinner engagements with old friends, just to come home early. When at home, he frequently sat in the library with a book on his lap, pretending to read. Georgiana noticed that hours would go by without a page being turned. He just stared at his book, apparently consumed by his thoughts. At night, she heard him pace the halls, unable to sleep.
Three weeks after receiving the Colonel's initial note, a messenger arrived at the Darcy residence. Just after Darcy left for his daily trip to his club, Georgiana heard a knock at the front door. As the footman was returning from answering the door, Georgiana stopped him in the hall. "James, who was at the door?"
"'Tis nothin' Miss. Just a messenger delivering a letter for Master Darcy."
"May I see the note?" Georgiana asked while holding out her hand to receive it.
James stammered, "Ah Miss... Ah... It is a letter for the Master. He likes me to place his letters on his desk in his study when he is away."
Georgiana glared back at him, her jaw set, with her arm outstretched for the letter. James hesitated a moment, then offered the silver plate upon which the letter rested. Georgiana quickly snatched the letter from its resting-place before he had a chance to change his mind. "Thank you James. I will put the letter on Mr. Darcy's desk myself. That is all."
James, still shocked at Georgiana's manner, bowed and walked away, baffled by Georgiana's transformation from a shy, quiet girl, to a commanding, demanding woman.
Georgiana swiftly went to Darcy's study, closed the door, and sunk into one of the leather chairs. She was still shaking from her encounter. Though she tried to look calm to James, she was struggling not to sink under the agitation. She rarely confronted anyone, always content to live under the protection of her parents, brother, or cousins. But now, for the first time, William needed her to be strong and she was determined not to fail him.
After collecting herself, she looked at the note. Immediately, Georgiana recognized the writing on the envelope. It was another letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Oh no!" she gasped. "This cannot be! He could not have found out, could he?" Georgiana began to panic. She had tried to hide the truth from her brother and cousin, but the truth has a bad habit of leaking out, eventually.
After desperately trying to peer into the envelope without breaking the seal and holding it up against the window to let the sun shine through it, Georgiana placed the letter on her brother's desk without gaining any information. Colonel Fitzwilliam's military training served him well and he automatically closed his letters in such a fashion that it is impossible for anyone to peer into them, without making the violation of privacy obvious.
Georgiana left the study to go to her bedchamber to contemplate the situation in quiet. She had been very careful to hide the truth from her brother, but apparently he knew. She could not account for his altered behaviour otherwise. After an hour of sitting alone in her room, she decided to go to the music room. Playing the piano forte always seemed to comfort her in times of distress, though she knew not why. Darcy always teased her that it was an inherited trait from their parents.
Darcy returned home midday to be greeted by the sound of Mozart echoing through the halls. The music washed over him and for a moment soothed his soul. He loved when his sister played because it reminded him of their mother. Lady Anne Darcy was fond of music and, unlike Lady Catherine, played the piano forte very well. Whenever he heard his sister play, he felt like he was being surrounded and cuddled by a warm blanket. He walked directly to the music room to listen. He strode into the room and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Georgiana stopped playing and turned to face him.
"Please do not stop," Darcy begged. "Your playing is marvelous. You are becoming quite an accomplished musician," he said while smiling warmly at his sister.
Georgiana blushed, "Thank you William. However, I wanted to inform you that you received a letter today from Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Darcy said nothing, but his face revealed all to his sister. He paled and his eyes clouded over. His smile faded. Her heart sunk when she saw the change. "I will go and read the letter presently. Please continue as you were," he said as he swiftly turned to leave. Georgiana was glad that Darcy left the room quickly, for he did not witness the tears forming in her eyes.
Darcy dashed to his study, eager to tear open the note. He ran inside of the room, closed the door behind him, rushed to the desk, and grabbed the message. He tore open the seal and began to pace back and forth.
I am here in Scotland, in body alone. My heart and soul is at Longbourn awaiting me. I know that you must think me foolish or mad, but I am mad. I am mad in love with Elizabeth. I have not received a letter from her since I arrived. I rush to the post office everyday, hoping for a short note, a word, anything. I know that she is a sensible woman and frequent notes to a man would be most imprudent, especially since our engagement has not been announced, however, I have moments of doubt. You do not think she is regretting her choice, do you? A part of my heart knows that I am being foolish, while another fears the worst. I will not rest easy until she is Elizabeth Fitzwilliam.
Life is so empty without her. I spend my days mechanically going through my duties, while I spend my nights reading poetry and dreaming of her. Frequently, John Donne's words are the last I see before drifting off into a fitful sleep.
Thank you for your time, Darcy. I thought I would explode if I could not express myself to someone.
He smiled sadly at the letter as he slowly folded it and placed it in his pocket. Little did his cousin know how deeply Darcy understood his emotions. Yet, there was a glimmer of hope. Was Fitzwilliam correct in his fears that Elizabeth might be regretting the attachment? Or was it just the doubts of a lover separated from the object of his affections too long?
Darcy walked over to the window and stared outside. He hardly noticed that the day was bright and sunny. Instead, he stood at the window, playing with the signet ring on his left hand, contemplating the letter's implications. He knew that the only balm that could soothe his frustration was Elizabeth, but that was impossible. Elizabeth was not the kind of woman whose heart could be won or lost so easily, was she?
Lost in his thoughts, he did not hear Georgiana knock at the door. After a few moments of silence, she entered quietly. She stood for a moment, looking at her brother, unsure of whether she should interrupt his thoughts. She was about to turn and leave when he finally spoke.
"Yes?" he asked.
Flustered, Georgiana wasn't quite sure how to respond. "I was just coming to check... To see... I wanted to know if anything was the matter... If there was anything I should know about."
Darcy finally turned away from the window and smiled reassuringly, "Nothing is the matter. Colonel Fitzwilliam informs me that his duties in Scotland are going quite well."
"Oh, that is good," she answered, still unsure of his mood. "I am sorry I disturbed you." Darcy nodded and smiled, but said nothing as he turned back to the window. Unsure of how to interpret this action, she left silently.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Neither Darcy nor Georgiana was in the mood for much conversation or company. He brooded over Elizabeth, while she turned her thoughts towards her brother's altered state.
The next day, Georgiana resolved to do the one thing she had never done, she would confront Darcy. In the years since their father's death, she relied on her brother as a father figure. He had comforted, guided, and sometimes scolded her as their father had. During that time, she looked up to him in awe and wonder. Georgiana was unsure whether she was capable of facing him, but she knew she must do something. How did father treat William? she pondered. I remember him sitting William down in his study while he paced back and forth and lectured him. Or sometimes he would sit behind his desk with William standing in front and force William to explain himself. Am I equal to the task? But I must, for William's sake. Though she was nervous and somewhat scared, Georgiana practiced looking calm and stately, as she imagined their father, George, would have looked.
Georgiana decided to confront Darcy upon his return from his club. He left for the club shortly after breakfast, and by her calculations, should be returning shortly before two o'clock in the afternoon. She went to his study to steel herself for the encounter and spent the morning contemplating what she would say.
For the first time in many years, Georgiana felt nervous entering the study. She gingerly stepped inside and looked around. Her brother hadn't altered anything in the room, and it looked exactly as it had when it was their father's. The old oak desk was still the first thing the eye was drawn to upon entering the room. It was large and imposing, dominating the room. Brought over from France when the Darcy ancestors first moved to England, it was made from the finest oak from the Limousin forest. Lady Catherine always hated the desk and urged George and Lady Anne, to replace it, but they would never oblige her. Shortly after her father's death, Lady Catherine made her sentiments known to her brother. But Darcy did not buckle easily to his aunt and much to Georgiana's relief, the desk stayed.
Behind the desk sat a large, overstuffed leather chair. While it matched the desk in style and dimensions perfectly, it had the unfortunate habit of swallowing up its occupant and making them look smaller. In front of the desk sat two, normal sized leather chairs, though they looked miniaturized by comparison. As much as Georgiana hated to agree with her aunt, the room did look ridiculous, but she would not change it for the world.
Georgiana walked over to the wall on the left side of the desk to look up at a small portrait of her mother that hung above the fireplace. Though the picture was not as large or fine as others in the London home or at Pemberley were, it was her father's favourite. Her father once told her that it was the only portrait he felt truly captured the intelligence in her mother's eyes. Lady Anne passed away when Georgiana was just four, so she remembered little of her mother. She did, however, remember the warmth and intelligence of her mother's eyes and hoped that by peering into her eyes in the picture, she could gain some of her mother's wisdom. After staring at her mother's face for a few minutes and smiling at her father's portrait next to it, she decided to prepare for her encounter.
Georgiana carefully moved the two chairs in front of the desk back against the wall. When her father called either of his children "to the carpet" he meant it, and always vacated the middle of the room so his subject was forced to stand at attention. She intended to follow her father's lead. Once the furniture was in place, she walked to the window behind the desk and peered downstairs to the street. Now all that is missing is William, she thought.
At one o'clock, she summoned James to the study.
As James entered the study, he bowed and asked, "You called for me Miss?"
"Yes I did," replied Georgiana. "Has my brother received any letters today?"
"No Miss. No messages."
Georgiana hesitated a moment, afraid she would lose her nerve. Finally, she looked James in the eye and strengthened her resolve, "Send him in to see me immediately upon returning from his club."
James was momentarily stunned. Miss Darcy never issued such orders of her brother, it had always been the other way around. "Where... ah... Where shall I have him meet you?" he finally stammered.
"Here, in the study. Send in Mr. Darcy as soon as he arrives," Georgiana commanded. "That will be all. Thank you."
The bewildered footman bowed and swiftly left. Georgiana sat in the study waiting for Darcy's return.
As the clock in the hall struck two, Georgiana heard a carriage arrive. She rose from the desk and peered outside. It was her brother. Quickly, she returned to her seat and gripped the arm rests to the chair to help calm her. Within three minutes, there was a knock at the door.
"Come," Georgiana called with a slightly trembling voice.
Darcy entered the room and immediately noticed the furniture had been moved. With a look of confusion on his face, he asked, "Georgiana, I am told that you want to see me?"
"Yes William, we have some matters to discuss. Please close the door," she calmly replied.
With an amused grin on his face, Darcy quickly did as he was bid and returned to stand at his spot in the middle of the room. He thought of the lectures and discussions that he had with his father that began in the very same fashion. Instead of being the object of his father's interrogations, he was now the object of his little sister that looked even smaller behind the large desk and sitting in the oversized chair.
Georgiana spoke pointedly, "I am very serious William."
He quickly wiped the smile off of his face, "Yes ma'am."
"I summoned you here to speak about your behaviour since you returned from Kent," Georgiana said in as commanding a voice as she could muster.
All thoughts of laughter left him. "Kent?" Darcy gasped. "I don't understand."
"Ever since your trip to Rosings with Colonel Fitzwilliam, you have been acting very strangely. I want you to explain yourself."
"I... I... I... I don't know where to begin," Darcy stammered.
Georgiana took a deep breath. "Then I will. I can only assume that Colonel Fitzwilliam has learned of Mr. Wickham's latest dealings with me and informed you."
All of Darcy's thoughts stopped cold. "George Wickham!" he cried, his cheeks turning red. "What does George Wickham have to do with all of this?"
Georgiana's eyes widened as her hand flew to her mouth. "You mean you don't know?" she asked in a small, trembling voice.
"KNOW WHAT?!" Darcy bellowed, his face flaming red.
Georgiana tried to calm herself as her brother paced back and forth in front of her. "What have you been hiding from me?!" he growled. Georgiana, not accustomed to Darcy speaking harshly to her, burst into tears. The sight of her weeping softened his reaction. Finally, he stopped pacing and stood in front of the desk. "Georgiana, do not cry. I didn't mean to shout. But what do you have to tell me of Mr. Wickham?" he asked.
Georgiana looked up at her brother with tears rolling down her cheeks. "He came here in November while you were still at Netherfield. Mr. Wickham had just taken up a commission with the militia and was quartered in Meryton. He came to see me that night, because he said that we were not in danger of being discovered because you were attending a ball."
"The night of the Netherfield ball," Darcy gasped.
"He wanted me to run away with him to Gretna Greene and elope."
Darcy's eyes blazed, "I am sorry Georgiana. I should have been a better guardian. I should have killed that blackguard long ago!"
Georgiana began to plead, "William, please listen to me! Nothing happened! I most obviously did not run away with him. You were right, he doesn't love me and never has. He only wants my dowry and I suspect revenge on you."
Her last words caught him by surprise. Though Darcy always knew Wickham's motive was revenge, he never admitted as much to his sister. As he looked at her, for the first time he began to see that she was no longer a little girl.
"But what of Mrs. Annesley? Where was she during this encounter?" Darcy asked with a little composure.
Georgiana took a slow breath and gaining nerve, she stopped crying and spoke with an inner strength that astonished the listener. "I asked Mrs. Annesley to leave me alone with Mr. Wickham." Darcy raised an eyebrow at this, but she met his eyes. "I didn't want him to think that my resolve was based solely on your influence. I wanted him to understand that under no condition would I ever agree to be his wife. I told him that I had discovered who and what he really was and that he could no longer harm us."
"And why am I just now hearing of this?"
"Because it did not concern you. It was between myself and Mr. Wickham." Darcy opened his mouth to protest, but the look of determination on his sister's face convinced him to stay quiet. "William, I asked Mrs. Annesley not to tell you because I was afraid of giving you unnecessary pain. It is finished between Wickham and I, and you have no reason to fret."
Darcy was at a loss of what to say. He could only look upon his sister in wonder. She had handled herself admirably without his help. With a touch of sadness, he realized that she was growing into a woman before his eyes.
"Now William," she said calmly, "since you have not been troubled by Mr. Wickham, what has been troubling you?"
He looked down, unable to meet her questioning eyes. "I don't know where to begin," Darcy responded. "I am sorry to give you pain, but I have acted abominably and in a way in which I will always regret."
"It can't be that bleak," soothed Georgiana.
"When I was visiting Bingley in Hertfordshire, I met a young woman... Georgiana, excepting our mother, she is the most handsome woman I've ever laid eyes on, and her beauty is the least appealing of her traits. She is intelligent, vivacious, witty, talented..." Darcy let out a sigh. "She is the daughter of a gentleman, but some of her relations are in trade. Because of her relations, I let my pride get the better of me and I treated her horribly. I was unkind and pompous. I thought that when I left Hertfordshire, I would never see her again, but then I saw her at Aunt Catherine's. After struggling with my judgment and emotions, I finally realized that I could only be happy if she were my wife. Finally, I asked her to marry me the day before we left." Georgiana gasped, but Darcy stopped her reaction by raising his hand. "She refused me." Georgiana looked at her brother in shock. "She refused me with good reason. I had been arrogant and conceited. I treated her and all of her relations with disdain for months and then I foolishly expected her to accept me," he said quietly. "She is far too good for a wretch like me."
Seeing the pain etched on his face, Georgiana rose from the desk, walked around it, and gave him a long hug. "I wished you had told me earlier," she whispered in his ear.
"So do I," he replied.
"Is that the full extent of what has been troubling you?"
Darcy swallowed hard as he quietly answered, "Yes."
"I am sorry," she said while cradling his head on her shoulder. "Perhaps we should leave London."
"You are always happier at Pemberley. Maybe seeing the hills of Derbyshire will bring you some comfort," Georgiana offered. "Invite some of your friends to come with us. I know that it cannot make up for your heartbreak, but perhaps it will help ease the pain."
Darcy smiled at his sister's wisdom. "You are right. Pemberley will bring me comfort. I will start organizing the trip immediately. Unfortunately, I have some business to take care of first. Perhaps we can leave next month."
After a half a minute, Darcy kissed his sister on the forehead and asked, "Am I free to leave?"
"Yes, of course."
Darcy smiled, kissed her on the forehead again, and turned to leave. Upon opening the door, he stopped to turn around and look at his sister once again. "You did quite well. I am very proud of you."
She blushed. "Not bad for my first inquisition?"
"Your second, you mean."
Bewildered, Georgiana questioned, "Second? William, I've never called you in here before."
"Have you forgotten?" Darcy asked with a teasing smile. "You were four and I was sixteen. Your doll had gone missing and you 'called me to the carpet' to interrogate me."
"Did you steal Mrs. Stanley?" Georgiana laughingly asked while narrowing her eyes.
"No! For the hundredth time! I did not steal your doll," cried Darcy. "Penrose must have taken it and placed it under my bed," he innocently replied, but with a wicked smirk on his face.
"Blaming your dog again," sighed Georgiana, rolling her eyes. "Really William, you should be more original."
"Thank you Georgiana," he said with sudden earnestness.
"You are welcome Fitzwilliam," she answered softly as Darcy left the room and slowly closed the door.
The following weeks passed more easily for Darcy. Though he still thought of Elizabeth constantly, it gave him some comfort to know that his sister knew at least part of his troubles. His upcoming return to Pemberley also gave him something to look forward to and planning for the trip offered a break from his routine. He quickly secured the company of Bingley and his sisters for the trip. Two weeks before they were to leave, all of the plans were in place, however, Darcy was still troubled. He wanted to show his sister how much he appreciated her words of comfort and wisdom.
One morning, Darcy rose and was particularly melancholy. The previous afternoon, he and Bingley were playing chess at the club when a former schoolmate of Darcy's, Giles Beeker, approached. He was running through the club, passing out cigars, and celebrating the birth of his first son. "So when are you going to give up bachelorhood and get married?" asked Mr. Beeker with a slap on the back. The question hit both Bingley and Darcy with equal weight and neither was up for much conversation afterwards.
Instead of going to the club to face the forlorn looks of Bingley or the happy celebration of Mr. Beeker, Darcy decided to stay at home with his sister and listen to her play the piano forte. After breakfast, he settled into a comfortable chair in the music room.
"William, aren't you going to the club today?" questioned Georgiana.
"No, I thought I would stay here and listen to you play... If it does not disturb you..." Darcy meekly answered.
Georgiana smiled comfortingly. "Not at all."
After she finished her first concerto, he praised her warmly. "Will you not play the harp for me as well?" he begged.
Georgiana hesitated, "Well, I will if you would like. But there will be plenty of opportunities for you to listen to me play the harp once we are at Pemberley and..."
"There isn't a suitable piano forte there," finished Darcy, a smile creeping across his face. "Ah, I'm afraid that I suddenly remembered a piece of business that is not complete. If you will excuse me, I must take care of it immediately." He quickly rose and left the room.
Georgiana was puzzled. For the first time in months, Darcy seemed to have a bounce in his step, though she could not understand why.
He dashed out of the room and sent for his carriage to be readied immediately. As soon as it was prepared he hopped inside. "Why hadn't I thought of it earlier?" he asked himself. The piano forte at Pemberley had been in the family for generations and while looking very lovely, it had long lost its usefulness as an every day instrument. It had the unfortunate habit of losing its tune quickly. Darcy, as his father had before him, hesitated to replace it because it was a family heirloom, but he realized that with every year that passed, the instrument grew worse. Georgiana did not play it often, for fear she would damage it and instead, contented herself with the harp while in Derbyshire.
Within a half an hour, he entered the office of Broadwoods, the finest piano forte maker in England.
"Hello sir," said a short, heavy set, older man who greeted him at the door accompanied by a stiff, formal bow, showing Darcy more of his bald head than Darcy cared to see, "I am Mr. Smythe. May I be of service today?"
"I hope so. I am Fitzwilliam Darcy. I wish to purchase an instrument for my sister," came the reply.
Mr. Smythe smiled, "Very good sir. We will be happy to oblige you."
"How soon can you deliver one?"
"Oh, it should take no more than eighteen months."
Darcy frowned. A year and a half was not what he had in mind.
Mr. Smythe immediately noticed the change in expression of his client. "Did the gentleman have another date in mind?"
"Yes. I was hoping that I could have something delivered within two weeks," Darcy answered while nervously twisting his signet ring.
"Hmm..." Mr. Smythe furrowed his brow. "There is one instrument we have that may suit your needs. It is a grand piano forte that we were originally crafting for one of the finest musicians in the world. Unfortunately, he fell ill while we were making it and recently passed away."
"I will gladly purchase it," replied Darcy eagerly.
"Well," hesitated Mr. Smythe, "you do understand that it is a very special instrument that is unlike any other and as a result... Well, it is more costly than most piano fortes..."
"That does not matter. If it is ready now, it will suit my needs perfectly," answered Darcy confidently.
"Very good sir," smiled the relieved Mr. Smythe, "We will be happy to deliver it for you. We insist that we send one of our men with it to properly tune the instrument once it arrives at its final destination. Will next week be soon enough?"
"Yes, that will do very well. Deliver it to Pemberley in Derbyshire."
The morning before their scheduled departure for Pemberley, Darcy went to his club as usual. He fenced with the fencing master as well as he could, but he could not push Elizabeth out of his head. Although the master praised his performance, Darcy knew his concentration lapsed at times, forcing him to make some very elementary mistakes. He finally gave up and left the club early.
Darcy arrived at his home in a depressed state. As soon as he stepped in the door, he heard the sound of music wafting through the halls. Normally, a tune drifting through the air would lift his spirits, but this one made his heart stop. Could it be? he desperately thought. He immediately dropped his hat and walking stick and ran to the music room. He burst in to see Georgiana at the piano forte.
"William! You startled me!" Georgiana exclaimed, while trying to regain her composure and finish the piece.
Speechless, Darcy silently and slowly moved towards the piano forte. His face was pale and his eyes vacant. He seemed as if he were in a trance.
At the conclusion of the piece, Georgiana immediately turned her attention to her brother, "William, are you all right? William?"
"What was that song?" he finally gasped.
"It is a piece by Mozart. I was just learning it. Do you like it?"
Darcy stood dumbstruck, unable to answer. It quickly became obvious that though his body was in the music room, his mind was elsewhere.
"William," she finally asked, "what is it about this piece that you do not like?"
"No, no, it isn't that," he blurted out, "It's just... The last time I heard that song I was at Rosings and she was playing it."
"Oh, I see..."
"Georgiana, rarely has anything given me more pleasure than listening to her play. While she is not as accomplished musician as you are, she fills her music with such playfulness and liveliness that I couldn't help but be drawn to it. Everything she does is filled with such life..." Darcy's voice trailed off into a whisper that Georgiana could barely hear. "Such energy and playfulness as I have never known... I pray that you are never riddled with the regrets that I have." Abruptly, Darcy turned, walked to the window, and stared outside.
Georgiana watched her brother, unsure of how she should react. Clearly he was in pain, but she did not know how to bring him relief. "We will be traveling to Pemberley tomorrow with the Bingleys, perhaps that will give you something to look forward to," she offered.
Darcy winced. The thought of the upcoming trip did not cheer him. Unfortunately, Bingley was bringing his sisters with him. As usual, the Hursts were to ride in their carriage while Bingley and Caroline rode with the Darcys. He was not in the humour to bear being trapped in a carriage with Caroline Bingley for the hours it would take to ride from London to Derbyshire. No doubt at some point, she would abuse those that they met in Hertfordshire.
"Georgiana, would you mind terribly if I rode up today?"
"And leave me alone with the Bingleys?" Georgiana asked with a slight tremble in her voice.
"I have some business to take care of with my steward. And you will not be alone. You will have Mrs. Annesley with you," Darcy offered.
"But I'm never sure of what to say to strangers. I'm always afraid that I will say the wrong thing," she pleaded.
Darcy turned to her and smiled. "I'm sure you will do quite well and the Bingleys are hardly strangers. Besides, you've exhibited lately that you are quite capable of holding your own in a conversation."
"But William, that was different. It was just you and I. Miss Bingley makes me nervous."
Darcy laughed. "Don't let her intimidate you. She is quite fond of you as you know."
"But I think she is fond of me because I am your sister," Georgiana replied with a smile. "I doubt that in her eyes my merits go much further than my family name."
Her insight surprised him. "Perhaps you are right. More reason for me to ride up today, don't you agree? I am sure that you will be quite safe."
"Very well. If you must. When will you leave?"
Darcy rode for several hours in the hot summer sun, all the while, the memory of Elizabeth haunted him. He thought of the sparkle in her eyes, her rosy cheeks after a long walk, her radiant smile, her laugh, and the way she moved when she walked across a room. As hard as he tried, he could not get her image out of his mind. By the time he arrived in Derbyshire, he was hot, tired, and frustrated. I cannot go on like this, he thought, Elizabeth is to be Fitzwilliam's wife. Honour and duty alone should force me to give her up. But how can I give up one so dear?
Darcy rode directly to Pemberley, desperate to see its familiar grounds again. Upon reaching his property, he let out a sigh of relief. Home at last, he thought.
Darcy rode directly to the lake. Upon riding over the last hill, he quickly jumped down from his horse. Habit took over as he shed his hat, riding crop, jacket, vest, cravat, and boots. For a moment, he stood by the lake gazing across it. Many lighthearted hours had been spent swimming in it as a child. I wonder if I can capture the happiness of youth once more, he thought. With that he dove in, swimming under the water between the reeds.
Darcy swam peacefully for several minutes, recalling the carefree days when he and Wickham used to swim in the lake when they were boys. He could almost hear the laughter as he swam among the lily pads.
When Darcy and Wickham were children, during the summer months, they would often leave the house shortly after breakfast "to fish in the lake." Inevitably, the boys would come back to the house a few hours later with no fish, but with clothes that were drenched. The given excuse was usually, "We slipped and fell in," though the boys were clever enough to mix in, "Fitzwilliam/George dropped his pole in the lake and we had to rescue it" or "Fitzwilliam/George had a really big fish on the line and when he went to bring it in, the fish pulled him in and I had to save him." As always, Lady Anne would listen to the boys' excuses with a stern face, but with a gleam in her eye and always let them off with a scolding.
One summer, when Darcy was eight, he came trudging back to the house, soaking wet and without a fish. As soon as he stepped in the house, Mrs. Reynolds took his pole and fishing gear from him. "The Master wants to see you in his study."
"Right now?" Darcy asked, with a look of fear in his eyes.
"Yes Master Fitzwilliam. I believe your father wants to see you immediately."
"Oh," was the young boy's response. Slowly, he walked to the study. He tried to brush the mud off of his boots and straighten his wet, moss-tinged cravat, but it was of no use. His appearance was beyond amendment. He knew that every step brought him closer to doom. He reached the dreaded study door too quickly for his comfort and knocked.
"Come," ordered the masculine voice in the room.
Darcy entered and immediately noticed the middle of the room had been cleared in anticipation of his arrival. "I am told that you want to see me sir?" Darcy asked in a small and trembling voice.
"Yes William, we have some matters to discuss. Please close the door," George Darcy sternly replied.
Quickly, Darcy did as he was bid and returned to stand at attention in the middle of the room, his wet hair falling into his eyes and moss tinged clothes dripping on the carpet.
His father glared at him. He was sitting behind his desk with his hands folded in front of him. Normally, the sight of George Darcy did not strike fear in his son, except when he sat in his study with the room cleared.
"You are all wet. How did this happen?" George Darcy demanded.
Darcy quivered. "I fell into the lake sir."
"And I suppose young George Wickham also fell in the lake?" his father asked in a commanding tone.
"I understand this is the third time you have fallen into the lake this week. Have I been rightly informed?"
His father nodded. "Very well, you are dismissed."
Darcy almost let out a sigh of relief as he swiftly turned to leave. As he reached the door he heard his father say, "Just one more thing William."
Darcy swallowed hard as he turned back around and returned to his former spot, knowing that the axe was about to fall.
His father paused for a moment and glared at his son, watching the boy nervously stand at attention. "You know, when I was your age... I had the foresight to remove my coat and boots before I fell in the lake." Darcy could hardly believe his ears. The stunned boy looked at his father in wonder. "By the looks of the green stain on your cravat, you should also consider removing it and your vest, before you 'accidentally' fall in the lake again." His father could barely stifle a smile as he looked at his son's wide eyes and open mouth and said, "That is all. You are dismissed."
Darcy continued to swim in the water and remember the happy days of his youth. He took a large gulp of air and dove down to the bottom of the lake. He skimmed the bottom and let the vegetation envelop him.
Unfortunately, with his mind drifting elsewhere, he was not concentrating on his surroundings. Suddenly, Darcy's foot became entangled in some thick weeds. Panicked, Darcy began to kick harder and pull, but he only succeeded in entangling himself further. He thrashed about, desperately trying to reach the surface of the water to get a breath of air, but found that he was in too deep to reach the surface. Terror struck him as jumbled thoughts flashed through his mind.
My God! I must get out!
Posted on Sunday, 6 June 1999
Panicked, Darcy flailed for several more seconds. He fought as hard as he could to reach the surface, but he couldn't. His thoughts screamed My God! No one knows I'm here! I'm going to drown! Suddenly, a familiar voice echoed in his head, For God's sake, stop thrashing about. You'll only make it worse. Relax your foot, bend down, and untangle it! Darcy obeyed the voice, bent down, relaxed his foot, and with every ounce of strength in his body, pulled the mass of weeds and brush away as he slid out of his former trap. Now freed, he quickly swam to the shore and scrambled up the bank. It wasn't until he was several yards from the water that he collapsed. After a few seconds of gasping for air, he sat up and looked at the lake. It looked so peaceful, yet those few seconds of being trapped struck terror in his heart unlike he had ever known. He sat for a few minutes trying to understand why he became panic stricken so quickly. Slowly, the memories of a long forgotten adventure flooded back...
When Darcy was just nine years old, he went to swim in that very lake during a hot afternoon. Normally, he did not swim alone, but this day was different. His mother was in bed sick and his father, while trying to put up a brave front, had fear in his eyes. Darcy slipped away from the house undetected to be alone and block out the pain. He jumped into the lake, allowing the green, cloudy water to swallow him up whole. He sank like a stone to the bottom, then pushed off to propel him back out as he had always done. Except this time, his foot was caught. Wildly, he tried to kick free, but to no avail. He tried to stand up and scream for help, but he wasn't quite tall enough and swallowed a mouthful of water. Terrified, Darcy thrashed and kicked until, out of the blue, a figure jumped into the water, grabbed the weeds and pulled them away. Suddenly, the figure grabbed Darcy by the back of his shirt, pulled him up to the surface, then on to the shore.
"What were you trying to do William?!" screamed an angry voice while pulling him out of the water and throwing him on the ground.
Darcy looked up to see his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock, dripping wet. Darcy tried to answer his cousin's question, but could only manage coughing and sputtering.
Richard let out an exasperated, "Oh Will!" before kneeling down, turning Darcy on his stomach, and slapping his back a few times. "You'll be fine... Can you talk yet?"
Darcy coughed and choked a few more times before looking up and managing to ask, "What are you doing here?"
"My mother traveled down to visit your mother and I accompanied her."
"You mean you are here because they think my mother lost another baby?" Darcy quietly asked.
"You weren't supposed to know."
"Well neither were you!" exclaimed the wet boy defensively.
Richard let out a sigh and looked out at the horizon. He turned his face away from Darcy as he answered, "I suppose not. Your father sent an express last night saying that your mother was not well. My father sent for the carriage to be readied and mother, David, and I left within the hour. I was told that we had to rush here because my mother forgot that she was to have dinner here tonight. Not a very creative excuse, but I thought it best not to question it." Looking down at Darcy, Richard smiled, gave Darcy a little push in back, and asked, "Well are you going to get up now? Or shall I leave you here lying in the mud?"
Darcy scrambled to get up. Rising to his full height, Richard stood next to him. "You're getting quite tall Will. In a few years, you may be taller than I."
"Well, you're two years older and... and... and my father is taller than your father!" defended Darcy.
"So he is," replied Richard with a smile. "But you won't grow any taller if you keep doing fool hearty things like you just did here! You know you shouldn't swim by yourself. Whatever possessed you to do such a stupid thing?"
"I wanted to be alone," Darcy quietly answered, looking down at the ground.
"Well alright..." Richard responded with a sigh. "But next time you get caught don't panic and for God's sake, stop thrashing about. You'll only make it worse. Relax your foot, bend down, and untangle it," he warned. "Don't forget."
"I promise I won't."
In the distance, the boys heard the sound of Mrs. Reynolds calling them. "Master William?! Master Richard?! Where are you?"
"Oh wonderful," Richard muttered looking down at himself. "How am I ever going to explain this? I've been here five minutes and I'm already a muddy mess."
"Just say that you accidentally fell in the lake," Darcy offered.
Richard looked at his cousin and laughed. "Very well. I was walking by the lake and I 'accidentally' fell in."
"How did you know where to find me?" asked Darcy with sudden seriousness.
"How do I always know where to find you?" replied Richard with a grin.
"You saved my life."
"No, no. You would have figured it out eventually."
Darcy hesitated. "Will you tell my parents?"
Richard looked down at his cousin and laughed. Being a younger son, he couldn't count the number of times he'd asked that very question of his older brother David. "I suppose we can keep this between ourselves."
Darcy gleefully countered, "See, I told you that you saved my life."
"I suppose I have. But don't you forget it," Richard chuckled.
"I won't!" Darcy called as he began to run towards the house.
Darcy sat in a trance looking at the lake. It had been a long time since he remembered his cousin jumping into to save him. Darcy had tried to forget that visit because, though Lady Matlock and her son gave great comfort to the family at Pemberley, it was not a happy visit.
Lady Anne tried unsuccessfully to have children on several occasions. Each time Lady Anne began to have complications, George Darcy sent word express to her sister and brother. While Lady Catherine would send letters from Rosings Park that upset, rather than comforted her sister, Lady Matlock, usually accompanied by Lord Matlock, would always rush to Lady Anne's side to lend support. When Lady Matlock sensed that Darcy was old enough to comprehend what was occurring, she brought one or both of her sons with her to help occupy their cousin.
The oldest son, David, was six years older than Darcy was. Accustomed to being the oldest and ordering others about, the Viscount was an imposing figure to young Darcy. As a result, Darcy tried to avoid his older cousin when they were children and never really cared for him as an adult.
Richard, the younger son, was quite different from his older brother. Partially because he was blessed with the benevolent concern for others possessed by his mother and partially because of the closer range in ages, Richard was always Darcy's favourite cousin. As a boy, Darcy looked up to Richard more as a brother, than as a cousin. Whenever they saw each other, Darcy followed Richard like a lost puppy, anxious to please. In turn, Richard always enjoyed Darcy's company, ready to play the older brother role for once in his life.
As they grew older, Darcy and Fitzwilliam's relationship matured into a relationship on equal footing, yet it never lost its bond. Though Colonel Fitzwilliam would always wear the moniker of "cousin," in Darcy's heart, he knew they could not be closer if they were in fact brothers.
Darcy stared at the lake, hoping that the answer to his troubles would miraculously appear. And it is Fitzwilliam's future wife that I am obsessed with, Darcy pondered. I cannot marry her. I can never marry her. I could never treat Fitzwilliam in such a fashion. I must forget her! I will forget her! he pledged.
Darcy's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his name in the distance. "Master Fitzwilliam!" cried one of the gardeners while running toward him. "We did not know that you were to return today!"
Darcy quickly put his boots on and rose from his seat. "I've just arrived," he called out.
"Whatever happened to you?!" panted the astonished gardener upon reaching him.
Looking down at his disheveled and damp appearance, Darcy replied with a grin, "I fell in."
"Lucky thing sir, that you took off your jacket and vest first," commented the confused man.
"Yes, isn't it?" Darcy muttered to himself, barely stifling a laugh.
The gardener ran back to the house to alert the staff that the Master had returned. Quickly, a stable boy rushed out to find Darcy and take care of his horse.
Darcy trudged on towards the house, carrying his jacket, vest, cravat, riding crop, and hat. He could hear the squish of his wet, muddy feet in his boots. As he made his way through the last clump of trees near the lake, he made up his mind. He would think of his cousin's fiancée no longer.
As he cleared the trees, he looked up and stopped cold. He saw her, standing on his lawn, staring at him. Darcy could scarce draw breath and convinced himself that he saw a mirage or vision, until the vision spoke.
"Mr. Darcy!" an astonished Elizabeth proclaimed.
Darcy stood dumbstruck for a moment. At first, he did not trust his senses. Is it really her? he asked himself. "Miss Bennet!" he finally exclaimed. Think man, think! Say something! "I, ah..."
"I did not expect to see you, sir. We understood all of the family from home or we would not have presumed..." Elizabeth said with an embarrassed turn of her head. The awkwardness hung in the air like a heavy fog.
"I returned a day early," he blurted. Be polite, be kind, and don't be proud! "Excuse me, your parents are in good health?"
"Ah... Yes, they are very well I thank you, sir."
She seems surprised at my inquiry. "I'm glad to hear it." That's all right, that will do. God her eyes are hypnotic! Now say something else man! "How long have you been in this part of the country?"
"But two days, sir."
"And where are you staying?"
"At the Inn at Lambton."
"Yes, of course." Darcy panicked as he desperately searched for something else to say. "Well I've... I've just arrived myself. And your parents are in good health and all of your sisters?" Blockhead! You sound like a babbling idiot!
Elizabeth let out a little giggle, "Yes, they are all in excellent health, sir."
You'd better leave before you make a bigger fool of yourself! "Excuse me," Darcy said with a bow before continuing to walk towards the house.
As he walked away, an inner conflict raged within him like he had never known before. I made such a fool of myself! I should not care what she thinks of me, she is Fitzwilliam's future wife! Still, I cannot have her thinking I am an idiot! She thinks you are proud and disagreeable and now you don't even properly welcome her to your home? Stupid man! She had every right to refuse me. God, look at me! I probably still have weeds and moss in my hair. "What must she think of me?!" he mumbled to himself.
As soon as Darcy stepped inside of his home, he dropped his belongings and raced upstairs to quickly change. Throwing off his clothes as he dashed up the stairs two steps at a time, he looked like a man possessed. His vow to forget Elizabeth was the furthest thing from his mind. He ran his fingers through his hair as he flew down the hall and into his bedchamber. Throwing open his closet doors, he lunged at his clothes, ripping them out of the closet. As soon as he was half dressed, Darcy started racing back down the stairs while buttoning his vest and tying his cravat. Slowing to a quick walk and desperately trying to look calm, he hurried outside while adjusting his jacket, his eyes wildly looking for Elizabeth. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a carriage preparing to leave. He rushed towards it, while trying to make himself look presentable.
"Miss Bennet!" Darcy called, stopping her from climbing in the carriage. Oh God, she is going to leave me. He quickly walked towards her. "Please allow me to apologize for not receiving you properly just now." Please do not think me as proud as you once did? his mind begged. "You are not leaving?"
"We were sir. I think we must," Elizabeth answered, her eyes averting his.
Oh God! She is still repulsed by me. "I hope you are not displeased with Pemberley."
"No, not at all," she answered with some astonishment.
"Then you approve of it?" Darcy asked with a gleam in his eye, hope rising every second.
"Very much," Elizabeth answered with a smile. "But I think there are few who would not approve."
"But your good opinion is rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning," he replied with a relieved smile.
Don't be proud. Be friendly and easy. Show her that you've changed. "Would you do me the honour of introducing me to your friends?" Darcy asked after glancing behind him.
"Certainly. Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Gardiner is my aunt, Mr. Darcy. My sister Jane stayed at their house in Cheapside when she was late in London." As Elizabeth was speaking, Darcy could not help but notice that she stole a glance at his face while making the introductions.
Smile man! Be friendly! She is closely scrutinizing you now. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Madame. Delighted sir. You're staying in Lambton I hear."
As Mrs. Gardiner replied, Darcy's mind was racing. She grew up in Lambton. Say something about it. Think man! Lambton, what can I say about Lambton? There's a large tree there isn't there? Yes, comment on the tree.
Mrs. Gardiner smiled when she replied to Darcy's comment. What did I say? Never mind. Mrs. Gardiner seems pleased with me. Say something to Mr. Gardiner. Think man! Ahhhh, stream, fish, does he fish?
"Yes I do, when I get the chance of it," Mr. Gardiner answered with a smile.
Good, babble on about fishing, an inner voice encouraged. Offer your equipment and extend an invitation for him to fish at Pemberley. Say anything, just try and seem agreeable.
Darcy's thoughts flew wildly as he talked to Mr. Gardiner about fishing. Desperate to show Elizabeth that he was no longer the man she thought he was, he chattered on for several minutes, though if he was asked, he wouldn't have been able to recall what he just said. Darcy soon took the party on a short walk of the grounds to point out some of the more fortunate fishing spots. Soon, Mrs. Gardiner became tired and came to her husband to lean on his arm for support. Darcy took a few steps back and looked towards Elizabeth.
"Miss Bennet," he offered with his arm out, showing her the way.
After a few seconds of silence, both Darcy and Elizabeth tried to speak simultaneously.
"Pray continue," Darcy asked, afraid that he had interrupted her.
Elizabeth folded her arms behind her back as she resumed her apology. "I was going to say again sir how unexpected your arrival was. If we had known you were to be here, we would not have dreamt on invading your privacy. The housekeeper assured us you would not be here until tomorrow," she replied with some colour rising to her cheeks.
I would have moved heaven and earth to have you here. "I beg you do not make yourself uneasy. I had planned it so myself, but I found I had business with my steward so rode on ahead of my party without informing anyone." Darcy hesitated as he thought about the group joining him. Georgiana! She must meet Elizabeth. But can I be so bold as to reach for such a dream? "They will join me tomorrow. Among them are those who claim an acquaintance with you, Mr. Bingley and his sisters."
I must ask. I shall, but what if she refuses me? he thought. With great anxiety, Darcy proceeded, "There's the other person in the party who more particularly wishes to know you. Would you allow me to," he paused, momentarily afraid to go on, a lump rising in his throat. "Do I ask too much to introduce my sister to you during your stay at Lambton?" Please?
"I should be very happy to make her acquaintance," she replied with an astonished smile.
"Thank you," came the relieved reply.
As they walked on, easily out pacing Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Darcy racked his brains. Oh God man! What are you doing? She is Fitzwilliam's fiancée and you haven't even said a word about it! a voice shouted in his head. "Miss Bennet, now that we are out of the listening distance of others, may I give my warmest congratulations to you for your upcoming nuptials," Darcy said, attempting to look sincere and cheerful.
"You do not disapprove?" she asked with a raise of her eyebrow.
Darcy tried to look calm as he felt his heart being ripped from his chest. "How could I?" came the soft reply. "He is a very lucky man, and I wish you both great joy."
Elizabeth's smile was as radiant as the sun. "I am very happy Mr. Darcy and I can assure you from the bottom of my heart that I will attempt to make him as content as I am."
"I'm sure you will. You've already made him the happiest man alive," Darcy replied, his voice betraying more feeling than intended.
Upon reaching the carriage, Darcy and Elizabeth stood in an awkward silence while waiting for the Gardiners. For his part, he didn't have the heart or strength to continue speaking of her upcoming marriage. She was still amazed at the alterations in his manner. As soon as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner approached, Darcy asked, "Will you not come inside for some refreshment? I'm sure that you have had a long and hot walk."
The Gardiners seemed genuinely bewildered yet pleased by Darcy's attentions. Mrs. Gardiner smiled, "I'm sorry Mr. Darcy. That is very kind of you, but I'm afraid that we must return to Lambton. I have old friends that I must call upon."
Reluctantly, Darcy replied that he understood. Within half a minute, he eagerly jumped at the chance to hand the ladies into the carriage; the opportunity to touch Elizabeth's hand was too great for him to resist. Darcy handed Mrs. Gardiner in easily, but allowed his hand to linger with Elizabeth's a bit longer than was necessary. She is the most intoxicating, bewitching person I will ever meet, he thought.
Once the occupants were comfortably situated inside, Darcy tried to restrain his bursting heart as he said, "I hope we shall meet again very soon. Good day Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner. Good day Miss Bennet." As he bowed to Elizabeth, his countenance almost involuntarily revealed to her all of the love he still held for her. Instead, he struggled to keep his emotions from not overwhelming his actions.
As the carriage drove away, Darcy stood watching a certain occupant's every move. He breathlessly waited, hoping and fearing that she would turn to take one last look at him. To his delight and horror, his wait was rewarded, and Elizabeth turned to give one last, lingering look. Her demure smile seared itself into his memory.
Soon, the carriage came to a curve in the road and trees momentarily obscured his view. Darcy stood transfixed, nervously awaiting its appearance again. After a couple of minutes, the carriage was seen again, separated from Darcy and his home by the lake. The carriage soon traveled over a crest in the hill and out of sight, leaving Darcy staring at the lake and the cloud of dust left on the other bank.
As he stood watching the lake, the memories of Fitzwilliam's kindness and the vow he made just an hour earlier came flooding back into his consciousness. Silently, Darcy bowed his head, unable and unwilling to look up, as he turned and walked towards the house. Without even raising his eyes, he entered Pemberley quietly, walked directly to his study, and shut the door.
The servants at Pemberley were all baffled by Darcy's behaviour. Never had they seen their master in such a state. First, he galloped into the house without a word to anyone, throwing off his clothes and looking rather, well, indecent. Then, he dashed out of the house to chase after some visitors to give them a personal tour of the grounds. Now, he was shut up in the study without even so much as a look to anyone. Those who watched his peculiar actions weren't sure if they had displeased him, if he was unhappy with Pemberley receiving guests, or if there was some unknown factor causing the distress. After a nervous conference between Mrs. Reynolds; Mr. Ellis, the butler; and Thomas, Darcy's personal valet; it was settled upon that Mrs. Reynolds would be the one to approach the master. Though Mr. Darcy respected all of his employees, it was commonly known that he held particular affection for her, looking on her almost as a kindly aunt, rather than a housekeeper.
After an hour of waiting for Darcy to leave his study, Mrs. Reynolds screwed up enough courage to approach her master. Mrs. Reynolds approached the study door and knocked quietly, not wanting to disturb the occupant if he were sleeping.
"Yes?" came the answer.
"Master, it is I, Mrs. Reynolds," she replied in the sweetest tone she could muster.
"Come," he replied softly.
Mrs. Reynolds opened the door, entered, and shut it behind her. She stood by the entrance of the room, unsure of where to move to until her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Darcy was sitting in almost complete blackness. The fireplace and the candles had not been lit since the servants were not expecting his arrival. Darcy had closed the shades tightly to block out the sunlight. However, a little light did pierce the curtains revealing his outline sitting in a chair in front of the desk. Mrs. Reynolds pondered over his choice of chairs for a moment. She hadn't seen Darcy sit in front of his desk in years. In his youth, he used to sit and wait for his father in that very chair if he needed his father's counsel. However, since his father's death and becoming the master of the estate, Darcy was always the figure behind the desk, never in front of it. He had taken his father's position admirably. Providing guidance and advice to not only his sister, but to anyone whom requested his help. Many of his tenants knew he could be turned to for advice or assistance as easily as they could have turned to his father and he would never fail them.
The significance was not lost on Mrs. Reynolds that he chose his chair for a reason. Though everyone could turn to him for assistance, he had no one to rely upon. He had taken up his father's job without having the benefit of a wife as intelligent and understanding as Lady Anne to counsel him. For a moment, she thought he looked like a lost little boy, seeking his father's help and Mrs. Reynolds was tempted to gather him up in her arms and give him a hug.
"Sir, I came to check to see if there is anything you need," she gently asked.
"I am fine. Thank you."
"I am sorry sir. We had not expected your arrival and..."
"Do not worry," Darcy interrupted, "I changed my mind this morning and did not have the opportunity to inform you."
"Would you like for me to open the curtains, light the fire, or get you some food? Surely you are tired. I will have some tea sent up immediately," she asked, the genuine concern evident in her voice.
"No, thank you. I am fine," he whispered.
"I am sorry about the visitors, sir. They looked like respectable people, and since I didn't know that you were to return..."
"I am glad that you allowed them to see Pemberley. Miss Bennet is a friend and will always be welcome here. Thank you for the kindness you showed them."
Mrs. Reynolds was at a loss of words after his reply. She knew that his unhappiness must stem from some quarter, but knew not where. He was not the broody type to mope without good cause. Suddenly, she recalled that a letter arrived earlier in the day that might brighten his spirits.
"Sir, I doubt that you have seen the message, but a letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived this morning for you. It is sitting on your desk."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam? Are you sure?" his voice suddenly perking up.
"Yes sir. I would recognize the Colonel's writing and seal anywhere. His writing is always very neat and precise. Such a fine gentleman and officer he is."
Darcy rose, walked over to the curtains, and threw them open. "Thank you Mrs. Reynolds. That will be all for now," he said as he grabbed the letter, his eyes hungrily surveying the envelope.
"Your welcome sir," replied the confused woman as she curtseyed and left.
"He is certainly in an odd humour," she thought as she walked down the hall. "And surely the long ride has affected his spirits. I will have the cook prepare tea and I'll bring it to him. Perhaps that will help set him to rights."
Darcy tore open the envelope with some trepidation, afraid that the contents would wound him even more deeply, yet he was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
I must confess that my assignment here in Scotland is not as gloomy and dull as I once feared. The men are all well trained and respectable. However, I didn't write to inform you of my daily routine. Last night, one of the local residents, Mr. McBride, held a ball at his estate, Tanglewood. It was there that I met his daughter, Brenda McBride. Darcy, I have never met a more lovely and enchanting woman, except my Elizabeth. Miss McBride possesses a beauty few could rival. Her skin is like porcelain, very delicate and smooth. Her hair is bright red with flecks of gold. Her eyes are the colour of Emeralds. Her tall, delicate frame is perfectly proportioned. You must see her. She would take your breath away. Her voice has a lilt that is enchanting, yet deceiving. It lulls the listener into complacency while her sharp mind is active, quickly working to devour its prey. In addition to those charms, it has been rumoured that her dowry is twenty thousand pounds. I doubt there are few in the kingdom that could rival her. She is truly an amazing woman.
Unfortunately, time does not allow me to go into more of the particulars of our meeting. I hope that you will consider visiting me in Scotland soon.
A wave of emotions crashed upon Darcy as he read the letter. Indignant and angry that Fitzwilliam would barely acknowledge his fiancée, concern for Elizabeth's feelings, and hope. Hope that Fitzwilliam did not love Elizabeth and would not marry her. However, the idea that he would be inconstant or insincere seemed inconceivable. Is he such a great fool that he would throw away such a prize? A prize who could never be matched by Miss McBride's emerald eyes and large dowry. Yet, the tone of the letter is so different from his earlier letters. Is he having a change of heart? But still, despite the rage within him, the flame of hope began to flicker once again.