|The Birth of Love
Author: babygumm07 PM
A 'What if . . .' story: Lydia remains in possession of her common sense in Brighton, unknowingly allowing her elder sister to experience the birth of love at PemberleyRated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 4 - Words: 18,977 - Reviews: 67 - Favs: 242 - Follows: 117 - Updated: 03-15-10 - Published: 01-03-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5636614
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: I do not own, nor do I have any claim over the characters or creations of Jane Austen. Okay, this is the last chapter, I hope you enjoy and thank you so much for your reviews and support - it keeps me going! xxx
"The Highest Happiness on Earth is Marriage" – William Lyon Phelps"
The party were seated in the Darcy's box, much to Elizabeth's amazement. They sat in full view of the stage and Elizabeth was hard pressed to contain her excitement: the murmuring crowd looked expectantly towards the curtains as the last patrons were seated and she twisted her programme nervously until she felt a steadying hand entwine with her own.
"You shall tear it to shreds, Miss Bennet." Mr Darcy smiled, gesturing to her ruined paper. "You shall not know what happens." Elizabeth panicked, thinking of any discussion in which Miss Bingley might inevitably challenge her knowledge of the opera.
"You shall have to help me, Mr Darcy. I know not what I am about." He replied that he doubted very much she would not grasp the action of the performers. Without warning, the light dimmed and applause ran through the audience: Elizabeth's attention was rapt.
Elizabeth identified immediately with the female soloist, Marzelline, and her expression of frustration. Though she did not understand the words, the emotions were clear for her to grasp, and Elizabeth allowed them to take hold of her completely. This woman was, apparently, singing about her lover, who was not the gentlemen who had been proposing to her at the beginning. Elizabeth prided herself on having deciphered the plot so well, and fervently hoped she was correct in her assumptions.
By the time the performers had concluded the first act, and the audience were filing out for refreshments, Elizabeth found she was the object of some scrutiny. The party had moved to the foyer and though Miss Darcy looked considerably nervous at the prospect, Elizabeth and Jane were glad to meet some Derbyshire society and it would certainly make a pleasant change from the Meryton families.
Mr and Mrs Gardiner found conversation with a couple with whom Mr Gardiner had done business, and Miss Darcy stood close to her brother and Elizabeth. "Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley," a sweet and cultured voice came turned their heads, and brought into view a young woman moving swiftly toward them. "How pleasant it is to meet you again." The lady, Elizabeth thought, was perfectly tall and handsome and unfortunately was exactly the kind of woman she could imagine marrying into the Darcy family.
"Miss Delafield," Mr Darcy gestured to Elizabeth, Jane and Mr Bennet and introduced them. "They have been my guests at Pemberley this past week."
Miss Delafield nodded haughtily and eyed Elizabeth. "I had no idea you were entertaining. We should have dropped by." Momentary confusion crossed their faces until a young man was brought over, and found to be Miss Delafield's elder brother with whom she and her mother had been touring the coast during the summer.
Speaking clearly, the gentleman was revealed to be a well-educated man, if perhaps slightly pretentious, and it made Lizzy smile when she thought how very much he reminded her Mr Darcy when they had first met. "Well then, Miss Elizabeth, and how do you like Pemberley? I am sure Darcy has provided his guests with only the best."
His manner contained something of an unsavoury connotation which Elizabeth did not like. She would have passed it off merely as an unfortunate result of his surrounding society had she not felt Mr Darcy tense and seen his expression turn sour. "Indeed he has, sir. I am very impressed with Pemberley, and Miss Darcy and I have become close friends."
The couple looked surprised at this, and Elizabeth thought perhaps she saw Miss Delafield about to speak, before her brother silenced her. "Darcy I did not realise you were so well acquainted with these young ladies." Jane nudged her sister, and Elizabeth turned to see her father wearing the same expression as Mr Darcy. "Perhaps then they are also acquainted with your own family." Confused, but curious, Elizabeth saw Mr Delafield bring a very unwelcome figure through the crowd.
Not one member of the party standing in astonishment wished to acknowledged the Lady now before them; it was Mr Bingley who voiced it. "Lady Catherine," He bowed to her, "I did not realise you would be in attendance this evening. How wonderful it is to see you."
His bright tone convinced Lizzy that the situation was not cause for alarm; though Lady Catherine brought forth unpleasant memories, she had seemed to like Elizabeth and the sweet nature of her sister and playful nature of her father told her that at least the conversation would be interesting.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet, how is it that you come to be here?"
Elizabeth smiled, widely, ensuring the party could see she was not at all disconcerted by the obvious attempt to flutter their calm. "I was touring the Lakes with my Aunt and Uncle. Mr Darcy happened to be home when we visited Pemberley."
Lady Catherine seemed mildly impressed that she had fairly wealthy relatives. "I have no doubt you are very impressed with my nephew's estate." Elizabeth nodded. "It is a grand house which we fully intend to expand." Elizabeth blushed heavily at this, and again felt Darcy tense next to her. What an offence it must have been to him to be told what the intentions for his own estate were.
Before any member of the group could reply with a witty retort, three short, loud bells were rung, signalling that the entr'acte was to begin in three minutes. Mr Delafield guided his own ladies to their seats, and Mr and Mrs Gardiner returned to walk back to their own with their host. Emotions were running high through Elizabeth, as she realised that the jealousy she had felt towards Miss Delafield had come from the same place in her heart as had her declaration of love. Lady Catherine's reminder of Mr Darcy's position sent her heart falling as the second act began, and she resumed her guessing game.
Unfortunately, by the end of the play, emotional and atmospheric assumptions were insufficient. She was struggling to follow the story and each new entrance confused her more, despite the beautiful music. On stage were two familiar characters, who had never been together in the opera before, but who appeared to know one another and were perhaps married. Elizabeth was trying very hard not to show confusion in her expression, but there was one perceptive gentleman who was not fooled.
Mr Darcy leaned in and placed her hand reassuringly in his. "Shall I translate, Miss Bennet?" His breath tickled her, and she almost giggled. Not trusting herself to turn and face him, she nodded. "Florestan and Leonore are married." Elizabeth congratulated her powers of deduction. "This is the first time we have seen them onstage, so it is a powerful love duet. O unnamed joy, O endless joy, they sing."
Elizabeth saw the sentiment expressed in the song, and knew he meant to explain that what it expressed were those words he could not express to her, himself. This time, she possessed the courage to face him, and turned slowly and discreetly. They were eye to eye, and his look could have held her attention forever, the performers onstage and the swell in the music suddenly far in the recesses of her mind.
Elizabeth grateful to Mr Darcy for his having directed her understanding of Fidelio, but neither one paid much attention to rest of the opera. The possibility of Miss Bingley's paltry attacks and Lady Catherine's interference might have crossed the lady's mind, had she not had much better thoughts with which to occupy herself. She remained comfortably in her seat, his thumb gently grazing the back of her hand.
"A performance that left much to be desired, I think." Miss Bingley's frosty tone could be heard by Elizabeth as she left her room for the morning meal. Having been told, much to her dismay, that she would be perfectly able to travel as her concussion had gone, Elizabeth sought to make the most of her remaining day and could not help but disagree emphatically with the lady's cold remark.
"I thought it was wonderful, brother." Miss Darcy spoke quietly to her brother, and received his thanks. Her comment which had been intended merely as a sign of gratitude was taken, however, taken as a sign of analytical weakness by Miss Bingley.
"Miss Darcy, I cannot believe that you, of all young ladies would call that a wonderful performance." She said with a scoffing laugh. "Perhaps other ladies who are not quite so accomplished as you may make a weak comment," This said whilst Elizabeth and her Aunt sat down, "but you must have recognised the faults in the music."
"I am sorry to have wasted your evening, Miss Bingley." Darcy spoke lightly, and his hint was lost only on his intended target, who suggested he demand a refund. Even following a subtle reprimand from her brother, the lady continued.
"Perhaps it was your concentration on such fine points of the performance that ruined the evening for you." Elizabeth said confidently, after Miss Bingley had listed the fine details in which the opera had been let down. "It may have been better had you been more willing to let the performers draw you in."
"I am not so gullible." Miss Bingley replied, avoiding acknowledging Elizabeth.
"Tis not gullible, it is the point of the theatre." Elizabeth replied proudly, winking at Georgiana and causing her brother to laugh.
Miss Bingley raised her eyebrow. "That is a very profound comment, considering you, Miss Eliza have never been to the opera before last evening."
"That is enough, Caroline." Elizabeth was surprised to see Mr Bingley adopt quite so strong a tone with anyone. "Mr Darcy was very kind to indulge us with such an evening and I am inclined to agree with Miss Darcy, it was wonderful."
"That is an excellent notion, Mr Bingley." Mrs Gardiner said, looking at the party. Then, looking outside she said: "What beautiful weather. I suggest a walk, who will join me?" Almost the entire party volunteered to enjoy the sunshine, even Miss Bingley's sour expression vanished somewhat, and Mr Darcy suggested a game of rounders.
The equipment was set out, and the men bolstered into their positions. The younger gentlemen were more easily persuaded and stood up both in an effort to impress the ladies and to benefit from competition and exercise. The elder men joined if only to give the opportunity for some games to their friends.
Jane and Elizabeth delighted in watching the game, as it had been their misfortune to have only witnessed one before in Hertfordshire, and they were too young and had not the patience to observe the rules and the tactics of the players. Now, however, it was the very players that held their attentions.
"I remember my brother played this game often when I was younger, with his friends." Miss Darcy smiled, sitting under a parasol. "They were so competitive; it often became nothing more than a brawl."
Laughing, Mrs Gardiner patted the girl's arm. "I am not surprised, it is a favourite pastime of the boys in Derbyshire; the cold weather lasts longer, and they need a good run to keep themselves warm if they wish to be outside. Occasionally, there were not enough boys to make up a team."
"Oh dear, I can imagine the disappointment." Miss Darcy replied.
But the lady laughed and shook her head. "Perhaps, until the boys realised that certain young ladies were just as good as sports as they were." This was said cheekily, and Lizzy and Jane watched Miss Darcy's scandalised reaction, as they had heard this story many times before.
"Brother!" Miss Darcy called to him as he returned to set out another post. "Do not be concerned should one of your players have to sit out, for Mrs Gardiner here is quite proficient in the game herself. She played in her girlhood."
"Indeed, that is a great comfort. I am sure Mrs Gardiner would be a great asset to our team." Mr Darcy winked at Lizzy, and kissed her hand, before returning to the field.
Several amiable games were played, and at length Elizabeth found herself walking quite alone, which at this moment she preferred, towards the drive at the side of the house where Mr Darcy had caught her before she had run off. She smiled at fortune as it had prevented her leaving and allowed her to enjoy the company of the remarkable master of Pemberley.
Unfortunately, this moment was not to be remembered fondly. Suddenly, she found upon her the most enormous carriage, and as it drew near she discovered the passenger to be none other than Lady Catherine. Thinking it would be rude to run and fetch Mr Darcy and knowing herself to be perfectly capable of entertaining the Lady until he arrived, Elizabeth stood where she was and made ready to greet her.
The great Lady descended, eventually, and, espying Elizabeth, begged an audience with her and they began to walk about the grounds, though Lizzy subtly led them closer to their party, hoping in earnest to reach them soon. Her carriage remained at the door, and Elizabeth saw that her waiting-woman was in it. They proceeded in silence along the gravel walk that led to a copse; Elizabeth was determined to make no effort for conversation with a woman who was now more than usually insolent and disagreeable.
"How could I ever think her like her nephew?" She thought, as she looked in her face.
As soon as they entered a copse, Lady Catherine began in the following manner: "You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I come."
Elizabeth looked with unaffected astonishment. "Indeed, you are mistaken, Madam. I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here."
"Miss Bennet," replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, "you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you."
"If you believed it impossible to be true," said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, "I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?"
"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."
"Your coming here, to see me and my family,'' said Elizabeth coolly, "will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence."
"If! Do you then pretend to be ignorant of it? Has it not been industriously circulated by yourselves? Do you not know that such a report is spread abroad?"
"I never heard that it was."
"And can you likewise declare that there is no foundation for it?"
"I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer."
"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?"
"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible."
"It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in."
"If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it."
"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am?" Elizabeth acknowledged her position only with a slight nod. "I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns."
"But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit."
"Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?"
"Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me."
Lady Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then replied. "The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, they have been intended for each other. It was the favourite wish of his mother, as well as of her's. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends and t his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?"
"Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss De Bourgh. You both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on others. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?"
"Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by every one connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us."
"These are heavy misfortunes," replied Elizabeth. "But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."
"Obstinate, headstrong girl, I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment."
"That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me."
"I will not be interrupted. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient -- though untitled -- families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! It shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"Lady Catherine, in marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."
"But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth angrily, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."
"Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?"
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment's deliberation, "I am not."
Lady Catherine seemed pleased. "And will you promise me never to enter into such an engagement?"
"I will make no promise of the kind." Elizabeth made to walk confidently from Lady Catherine and found she was followed. Unbeknownst to both ladies, however, was the fact that they had in fact gone further towards their party than they knew and Mr Darcy himself watched their conversation. Heat rose in his face as he listened to its progress.
"Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."
"And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject."
Elizabeth stepped forward quickly, not realising the hot tears that threatened to spill from her eyes had already begun to run down her face. It seemed to her that as she stepped out of the copse, Mr Darcy appeared from nowhere and his expression told her he heard everything. Elizabeth, not wishing to remain in the company of two people who would soon find her own presence entirely distasteful, ran from his side, ignoring his protests and wandered further into the park.
The discomposure of spirits which this extraordinary visit threw Elizabeth into could not be easily overcome; Lady Catherine, it appeared, had actually taken the trouble of this journey from Rosings, for the sole purpose of breaking off her supposed engagement with Mr. Darcy. She was mortified at what he might have heard, and what she must now be telling him. All the reminders of her family's weaknesses and the embarrassment her name must cause next to his must convince him of her unworthiness. No matter what assurances he might have made, she knew that the respect he must hold for his own family would outweigh anything he felt for her. She felt saddened as she thought that she might never see him wink at her, or feel his kiss on her hand.
"Miss Bennet!" A voice that made her heart jump up into her throat came from behind her. Mr Darcy had clearly followed her, but she saw no sign of his Aunt. "I see you are confused. She has gone."
Elizabeth nodded and looked around for somewhere to sit, eventually resting on a bench and giving into her tears. Mr Darcy was unaware she shared his feelings of mortification, but he sat next to her, unwilling to leave her alone when she was so distressed. "Miss Bennet, you must allow me to apologise for my Aunt's rudeness. She had no right to come here and make such accusations against you." Elizabeth stopped, and turned to him, wondering very much why he apologised to her. "I must ask for your forgiveness in that respect, and for overhearing your conversation."
Unable to contain herself, Elizabeth smiled and began to laugh. Mr Darcy, of course, was very perplexed and knew not what to say or do, he only delighted in the knowledge that she seemed no longer unhappy. "I am sorry," she said, "I do not mean to trivialise your sentiment. Of course, if you wish it, I shall grant you forgiveness, but I tell you it is not necessary. I only hope you do not think ill of me." He returned her happy expression and she gestured to her drying tears as she wiped more away. "My tears are superficial, and a response which is the ill-fated result of living in a house full of women. I was merely affronted by her Ladyship; she can be quite brash."
Darcy scoffed and lifted her hand to his lips, kissing it. "I offer my hope that you will not think ill of me." Elizabeth shook her head slowly, and smiled, thanking him for bringing her father and her sister, and for every kindness he had shown her. "I see the intimacy between my friend and your sister . . . I should not have concluded quite so rashly."
"Perhaps not, but it has all, in its own way, come to the right ending. I must remind you of your promise to forget all that happened in April." He said that he did recall it, and would endeavour to forget, inviting her to walk with him.
Due to the length of his stride and the quickness of her step, the couple soon outpaced the others and Elizabeth found she was in another beautiful spot: the vast parkland was spotted with blooming cherry trees and provided several shaded areas under which some benches had been placed.
"This park never ceases to amaze me, Mr Darcy. You must be so proud."
He smiled and guided them around one of the trees. "I am indeed. I am glad you like it." She replied that she did very much and would be sad to leave the next morning. "I feel I cannot let you leave. You and your Aunt and Uncle have been such a pleasure: I do not believe I have seen the house so vibrant since your arrival."
"I think you mean to reference my fainting episode, but that was not such a successful arrival." She answered, blushing slightly and sitting on the cool stone. "Although I must say, my expectations of our journey here uncommonly improved when we met."
He nodded, but said no more and did not join her. Had she not known him better, she would have labelled his expression as one of discontent and awkwardness. Now, she could see the humour in his eyes and knew the sly smile on his face meant he was happy and it settled her own racing heart.
Darcy was comparatively unsettled. Running over through his mind were the words 'my wife and I expect you to make your intentions towards Elizabeth clear.' His mind flashed momentarily back to his first humiliating proposal: an episode he did not wish to repeat. He knew that if she refused him again, he would never darken her features with the prospect again. "I sincerely hope you enjoyed the performance."
"Yes, I must thank you again."
"Think nothing of it."
"No." She said, firmly. "I most certainly will not."
He laughed. "You are as stubborn as ever, Miss Bennet. How will I ever change your mind on any subject?"
Dryly, she said, "Soft persuasion?" She stood and wandered around the trunk, reaching to pick blossoms from their branches. "I only appear to be stubborn because your arguments are not strong enough to convince me. You must improve your charisma, Mr Darcy."
Following her, he watched her play with the petals and counts them as she picked them off, and they fell to her feet. After a short pause, her companion spoke as she came around again to face him, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."
Elizabeth was too much surprised to speak immediately; she could not think that he would have asked her again after such a time and only a day before they were due to leave. Quickly, she encountered his eye and saw all the feeling there she had hoped to encounter for many weeks now. "My feelings," she breathed, "my feelings are . . . I am ashamed to remember what I said then. My feelings are so different. In fact, they are quite the opposite."
Their expression were so lifted by her acceptance, that it was some time before either could address the other coherently. Instead of conversation, which seemed out suddenly out of place, he drew nearer to her and, taking the flowers from her hand, he slid them into her hair so that her hand might be free for him to hold. As for Elizabeth, her sensibilities told her that in this particular situation, it might be appropriate for him to take liberties with her, such as placing his hand on her neck, and one on her back, so he might draw her in.
Elizabeth's breath came in short, heavy bursts. She felt her own arms on his chest, and she was very light-headed, holding fast to his shirt for support. Elizabeth closed her eyes as she had in the small copse, when he was close to her and felt his lips quietly touch her own and press against them. They were kissing and Elizabeth and Darcy soon were lost in their own passions; they kissed again. Elizabeth realised it was an not an expression of any kind of wanton behaviour, but a perfect end to their summer romance and a predilection to that happiness in marriage, the highest on earth.