Her first letter had arrived by the time Elizabeth reached Baildon. He must have sent it before she even left. Elizabeth hurried to her room to read it in privacy, eagerly breaking the seal. Another letter dropped to the floor, written in an unfamilar hand. Unlike Darcy, the writer was not careful of his paper, and the two sheets were covered in a bold masculine script. She immediately caught it up, wondering why on earth Darcy should have included a letter from another man, and caught the first few lines --
My dearest Lizzy,
I have longed, my love, to address you as such -- and although this separation tears at me, I delight to be able to write this name freely. My darling Lizzy, who can keep pace with the fluctuations of your fancy, the capprizios of your taste, the contradictions of your feelings? You are so odd, and all the time so perfectly natural! -- so peculiar in yourself, and yet so like everybody else! It is very, very gratifying to me to know you so intimately. You can hardly think what a pleasure it is to me to have such thorough pictures of your heart. You seem a different person every time I see you -- even in my thoughts, you alter from day to day -- to-day the wilful girl Lizzy, and tomorrow that gracious, confident woman, "Ana."--Never, never "Eliza" -- such a name, so staid, so commonplace -- utterly unlike you, my darling. You see, Miss Elliot, what a laughably foolish, fond creature I am by way of a lover -- but lovers are never sensible --
Elizabeth found her eyes brimming with tears, and the flamboyant signature, Francis Darcy, was blurry. She still remained uncertain as to why that long-ago Mrs Darcy, pretty Georgiana Elizabeth, so touched her heart; but she was far more affected by the knowledge that Darcy had perceived it, with so little information from her. She put Francis' letter aside, and turned to the other. Darcy's neat, economical handwriting, and coherent, forthright manner, were as great a contrast to his great-grandfather's as could be imagined, but she smiled at the similarity in address nonetheless:
My dearest Elizabeth,
You have not yet left me; I can hear you speaking with your aunt. I only wished that you should not have to wait, when we have only just parted; and I thought you might enjoy this correspondence. I have thought a great about Francis and Georgiana as of late -- not only because of my sister, but because, in some way, you remind me of her. You are not alike -- not in face, but something about her manner and carriage reminds me of her. I have found myself in the parlour, looking at her, and thinking of her, and wondering what sort of person she was, really -- more often than I daresay I have ever done in my life. Sir James says that she was always high-spirited, always laughing -- next time, I shall enclose her reply. I am a poor lover, without the gift of pretty words perfectly suited to the occasion; but perhaps Francis and Georgiana's words shall keep the memory of what we share fresh in your heart. Your mind, I hope, does not require them. My grandparents were in their way fond of each other, and my parents certainly did not want for passion; but I like to think that we have more of Francis and Georgiana's attachment . . .
The letter was not as long as the other, and the tone, by and large, could not be more different. Yet the care taken with the words, the consciousness of how they might be received, the restrained feeling behind them, and most of all, the peculiar bittersweet quality, reminded her very much of the first one, which had so upset her life. She took it out of the drawer in which she still treasured it, and looked at them side by side. The older letter, yellow and charred, was a stark contrast to the crisp white sheets, although the handwriting had hardly altered at all; a slightly greater precision was the only noticable difference. It was somehow surreal, to look at them together; the people who had written and received the two letters were so very different now. She had hated him -- she, who had never hated anyone in her life -- and he -- she shied away from thoughts of what his feelings had been upon writing that letter, and worse, what they had been afterwards. He had alluded but once to that time, and refused point-blank to speak of it again.
Elizabeth swallowed. That is over, she told herself sternly, and soothed her turbulent feelings by dedicating herself to the other letter. There was a wistful contentment pervading the entire epistle -- nothing of the sharp joy which often overtook him in her presence, at Pemberley -- but also nothing of the anguish and despair she had seen in him. It was not a conventional love letter, in that he spoke as often of others as themselves; yet casual expressions of affection were scattered throughout it, warming and reassuring her.
She sighed, feeling for a moment rather lost and lonely. There was nothing for her here; her brother and sister and their children, fond as she was of them, had no need of her. In fact, they seemed quite aggravatingly comfortable with settling her affairs, independent of her own thoughts, or even her presence. They meant well, to be sure, but she felt as if she were waging a constant war against their sweet determination to arrange her life for her. She was so accustomed to the command over her life, and even others', that had been hers at Pemberley, that adapting to Baildon was a great deal harder than it had been when she first came. Elizabeth immersed herself in the letters once more.
She wrote a reply, as open and affectionate as she could make it, and sent it with Lydia's the next morning. His reply arrived promptly, and she set Georgiana's letter aside, her eyes eagerly flying to Darcy's.
My dear Elizabeth,
My delight at receiving your letter so promptly was such that my relations -- at least, those of my own generation -- have been relentlessly mocking me all morning.
Elizabeth laughed outright. She had tried, futilely, to quarrel with Jane the evening before, over a matter that in the light of morning seemed quite inconsequential -- simply one of a thousand tiny, trivial things -- and woken in a foul humour. The arrival of Darcy's letter had been more than fortuitous; she thought she should go mad with only the Bingleys' repressive kindness for company, and felt such a rush of guilt at her ingratitude that her thoughts seemed only to circle endlessly.
. . . Stephen was unwell last night, I honestly thought him almost m ill -- he was very unlike himself, pitching tantrums and throwing things -- not at me, but at Cecily. I am not certain why, because she is a great favourite with all the children, including Stephen, and with no sons of her own has a great fondness for him. I can only imagine that her resemblance to my sister in some way upset him. He was completely better this morning, and seemed scarcely to recall his behaviour the evening before; he let Cecily kiss him and his manner was open and cheerful all day, even when I left the house for several hours on urgent business at one of the mills. He asked just now after "Aunt Elizabeth," and wishes to know when you will be returning to us; he did not understand why you could not simply stay here, and propriety is a difficult subject for a boy of his age and disposition; in this matter, it is difficult enough for me to accept . . .
. . . Anne finds it unfair that Stephen may call you "Aunt Elizabeth" while she may not, since you are to be her mother and only Stephen's aunt; I told her that you could call her simply by name, if she wished, but never to repeat the sentiment again. I try to avoid the same mistakes my own parents made, not only with me but Georgiana; I think I shall do better once you are here, Elizabeth. Somehow there seems to be a greater brightness, or perhaps clarity, to the world when you are here, even if I am not with you precisely; I cannot explain it properly, but despite all that occupies my time, and the constant noise and -- company, everything seems exhaustingly dull and grey and blurry.
Elizabeth fervently seconded this. It was a blustery day; the wind rattled against the house, rain fiercely attacked the windows, and she lay curled on her bed, wrapped in a shawl, and longing for his company. The letters, delightful as they were, remained a poor substitute. She felt rather ridiculously forlorn, a silly girl like Lydia -- she glanced at the few lines that comprised her sister's latest letter, and reconsidered. Perhaps not quite like Lydia, but . . . oh, what did it matter? At least there is someone to miss, she comforted herself, and after lingering over several choice lines, picked up the faded enclosure -- and laughed. That effervescent young girl, with her laughing eyes and bold smile, had addressed her besotted fiancé with a restrained,
Dear Mr Darcy,
I am in excellent health, and all my family, thank you. My parents and siblings all send their best wishes . . .
For the entirety of the first page, the dainty girlish handwriting proceeded in like vein. Elizabeth looked curiously at the next sheet, and smiled.
Do you suppose I have now convinced your mother, that I am a respectable young lady and worthy of correspondence with her precious son? I know the look you will get on your face now -- but I know she does it, I have seen her myself -- she always looks at the first page, and no farther -- if your father's correspondence bores her, what must she think of mine? Of course, nothing will convince her that I am not a fortune-hunter of the worst kind -- she would really prefer it, I think, if you had attached yourself to the daughter of an impoverished baron, or even a rich tradesman's daughter -- with them, she could at least have the satisfaction of catching them at it! I am just respectable enough that she is denied that pleasure -- not low enough to properly look down her nose at, and not high enough to be a desirable match. How does she bear it?
I know, I should not speak of Lady Isabella in such a disrespectful fashion, as she would be the first to inform me. She is, after all, the daughter of a peer, and she is not about to let anyone forget it. Do you remember how I looked askance at how you used to speak of her? I understand better now. Even so, I would tolerate anything, if I could only be with you; even here at Kellynch, with all my family -- my brother is the greatest fool who ever lived, and I am filled with dread every time he opens his mouth in your presence, dearest -- and mamma admiring her reflection in the silver -- I truly would have eloped with you that evening, had you asked me. I daresay your revered mother would have taken an even greater dislike to me than she already has. Oh, I know what you will say -- she does not really dislike me, she would be the same no matter who I was, etc, etc -- but she does, not only for my family, but because she simply doesn't like me. I don't mind -- truly, Francis, I only mind for your sake, and your father's, because he always was at least kind to my face, whatever else he may have said to my face. Still, I would endure the torments of endless hypocrisy and conversation I cannot ever quite understand, if only I could be at your side!
Somehow, my love, whenever I try to express my feelings for you, without levity or mockery, they sound trite, even trivial. I can only say, Francis, that I love you, so much that I feel I have become a stranger to myself -- nothing seems to matter but you, there is nothing I would not do for you. I wish to give you something wonderful -- something in return for this incredible gift you have given me -- I wish there was some way to silence all the suspicious glances and wicked insinuations, to proclaim, "oh, what do you know of it? I am to marry the best man in the world, and I would not care -- much -- if he had not a cent to his name." I am happy simply knowing that you are there, somewhere, and perhaps thinking of me. You see? You say I have made you silly -- but you, Mr Darcy, are hardly one to accuse me of such a transgression, when I am singing and dancing all the day long (except when I go into a decline at the loss of your greatly esteemed presence, which is the other half of the time), and cannot stop even when my mother sits me down to tell me the horrors I should expect on my wedding-night. I shall never look at papa the same way again!
The first days were the worst; slowly, Elizabeth became accustomed to life at Baildon and everything it entailed. Accustomed, in a way -- she spent more time alone than in her life, in her room poring over her letters and composing new ones. In particular, about six weeks past her departure, not long after the Fitzwilliams had left Pemberley, the tone of Darcy's letters altered dramatically. His expressions of regard for her did not alter, except to grow rather more passionate and intense, but there was a weariness and distress she could not have failed to detect. The mood varied slightly, lightening to a peaceful resignation, or darkening to an anguish that tore at her heart. The first time she caught the pained quality to his words, she was tempted to abandon Baildon and propriety, and go to Pemberley by whatever means possible; but she reconsidered. She was certain he would not wish it; likely he would only worry himself sick and do something eminently male and foolish.
Instead, she wrote, enough letters that her hands and arms grew sore. Her first instinct was to continue her light, chatty, unaffected letters, to veer away from the matter -- thinking directly on it could only distress him further. Nevertheless she decided that avoiding thinking directly on unpleasant matters had not done either of them any good. So she told him stories of the newest steward, whose appearance of goodness was sufficient to rouse her immediate suspicion, she told him of her faithful swain who still called her "Miss Elizabeth," of the escapades that her nephews and nieces got up to, and even of how Lydia fared. She also told him of the conscience-stricken resentment that seemed to boil within her every time Bingley or Jane simply decided something for her, and of the constant frustration that seemed to eat at her; and she asked questions. She asked after Kitty and Cecily and Stephen and Anne, and as subtly as she could encouraged him to tell her about whatever preyed on his mind. His replies were at first vague and unsatisfactory, and she pressed further; she asked him to tell her about what he did -- nothing, she insisted, was too trivial, and she knew his time was not entirely taken up in perfecting his handwriting. Slowly he responded; she heard of the farmers who worked his land, of the quarrel between young Reynolds and the second cook that had escalated to such proportions that it was brought to his notice, of the schools and mills and the poor and all the concerns that occupied his daily life.
She asked about his family; and he talked, first of Sir James, Lord Newbury, his god-children; then of the others, wild Mr Fitzwilliam who had died when Darcy was only a child, Lady Catherine and how he quarrelled with her over Cecily's marriage -- and she heard the full tale of that -- of his grandmother, Lady Newbury, then his colourless aunt, and finally, a very little of his mother and father. Elizabeth told of a life growing up with a temperamental, silly mother and witty, irresponsible father, who had as little to do with one another as a man and woman living under the same roof could; Darcy told of a giving, charismatic, careless young man, who had never been denied anything in his life, of the clever, wilful, beautiful woman he had married, who had been petted and spoilt by an adoring family. She knew what it was to be the child of a vastly ill-suited marriage, and the dread that such a fate would be hers; she would never have taken such care otherwise. She was not romantic -- nor was he -- but the desire to escape the life of misery and regret that she had witnessed at such close quarters, which had been with her since she was a very young girl, was perfectly sensible. She had not been looking for love, as such -- she wanted mutual respect and affection, and she wanted a gentleman, with a comfortable income. She suspected that Darcy's expectations had not been very different, except, obviously, upon the latter point.
Finally, he spoke of Georgiana, who he had not so much as alluded to since his mood first darkened. When he first mentioned his sister, Elizabeth wept unashamedly at the all-encompassing grief, and wished for nothing more than to be at Pemberley and hold him. Initially, he talked of nothing but her end; of the room that had once been hers, how Anne had awoken crying for "Aunt Nana" -- and with a peculiar combination of anger and sorrow, of the carelessness that had led to her death. Then, more gently, he spoke of the young girl she had been, the sweet little sister he had so adored -- of teaching her to play the pianoforte, as their mother had done with him, of the way she followed him around like a duckling, of how his temperamental pet cat had come to terms with the attentions of a three-year-old. He even told her of how, not long after their father's death, Georgiana awoke with blood on her sheets and a pain radiating from her belly to every part of her body (or so she insisted). The young siblings were both absolutely convinced that she was dying. Elizabeth laughed a little tearfully as the anecdotes unfolded, perfectly able to see the sheltered, motherless pair, a girlwith only a bewildered young man to guide her into womanhood, and a Fitzwilliam who was suddenly Mr Darcy with an estate and a dying father and a child-sister all dependent on him.
Although the grief and pain still remained, it seemed to lessen by the time he confided his fears over Georgiana and her marriage and his nephew, how he knew something had gone wrong, but even now, he did not know how else he could have acted. Elizabeth was strongly reminded of Georgiana's own words. By the time he came full-circle around to her death again, the anguish had given way to sorrow. He no longer avoided speaking of his sister, but the topics of his letters shifted back to what they had been; assurances of his affection, information about his life, and questions about her own.
As they neared the time of Elizabeth's return to Pemberley, the constant reassurances of how much they missed one another, and longed to be together once more, almost disappeared entirely, to be replaced by nearly incoherent expressions of anticipation and excitement at their imminent reunion. Even Mrs Bennet's arrival and shrill, petulant ditherings could not quench Elizabeth's high spirits. In the middle of June, the entire party arrived at Pemberley, Elizabeth feeling like a young girl, almost bouncing in her seat as she looked around the place that had already become her home. Mrs Bennet was actually rendered silent, which was an unforseen benefit, and both Mrs Reynoldses and the butler greeted her warmly, Mr Fairweather with unexpected cheer.
"Aunt Elizabeth! Aunt Elizabeth!" The clear boyish voice had Elizabeth turning, smiling as a flushed Stephen slid on the polished floors, followed more sedately by Anne, who added her voice to the furor,
"Elizabeth, you're here, and you're going to stay, and I'm so glad!"
16 June 1819
In the company of every member of their respective families, from the newly-widowed Lydia to the Fitzwilliams and Wentworths, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were married. Elizabeth had attended many weddings and could have recited the entire ceremony by heart; yet she felt the old words sinking into her bones as her brother-in-law read the service.
Her hand was placed in Darcy's, and he said unhesitatingly, his eyes bright and clear of all but her, "I, Fitzwilliam, take thee, Elizabeth, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
She curled her fingers around his, unable to keep from smiling, and only just able to restrain the joyous laughter which threatened to burst out, and replied, "I, Elizabeth, take thee, Fitzwilliam, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."
She allowed her eyes to close briefly as he slid the ring on her finger. It had been re-set for her, but it was the same that had been worn by all the Darcy brides, Lady Anne, Lady Rosemary, Lady Alexandra, Lady Isabella -- and Georgiana, that laughing girl whose portrait now hung in the mistress' bedchamber.
Darcy's voice was lower and richer as he said, "With this ring, I thee wed, with my body, I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Mr Hancock declared, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen."
Mrs Bennet, Mrs Gardiner, and old Lady Newbury wept profusely; in private, Lydia and Jane offered wildly differing advice on how to comport herself that evening, both which were wholly disregarded by Elizabeth; Sir James startled Elizabeth by kissing her soundly; the Fitzwilliams, not to be outdone, greeted her as one of their own; and Anne made everyone, even Lord Westhampton, laugh by her demand for a brother.
That evening, Elizabeth lay happily awake, long after even Darcy had fallen asleep. She luxuriated in the sensation of lying against her sleeping husband, their legs tangled together, his body warm beside her, his breathing steady and peaceful against her hair. Curious eyes had been watching her all day, and she cherished this opportunity to observe him freely, this strange, unpredictable, perverse man, who she already loved far more than she had when she woke that morning. She pushed his untidy dark hair out of his eyes, and admired his features as much as she could in the dimness, allowing one hand to brush against the high slash of his cheekbones, and then, caressing a shoulder through the silk of his robe. Her leg curled possessively against his, and Darcy's eyes fluttered open. She enjoyed watching the expressions cross his face; from bewildered disorientation, to sleepy pleasure, and then, as he became fully aware of her presence, startled alertness.
"Elizabeth?" he asked vaguely. "Are you awake?"
She laughed as she disentangled herself, delighted with the entire world that morning. "Yes, of course. How could I possibly sleep?"
"Possibly the same way I did," he replied, and Elizabeth stored for future use the knowledge that he was much less reserved when just awakened. He began to sit up and she pushed him back down. "Elizabeth?"
"I can admire you better this way," she said, and after a pause, Darcy replied,
"How can you see anything at all?"
"I can see that you are blushing, dearest," she said, resting one hand against his suddenly warm cheek. Darcy laughed ruefully. "Although not with my eyes. Which puts me in mind . . ." She slipped out of bed, and pushed the curtains open to let the moonlight in. "There. Now we can see properly."
"Your way sounded rather more interesting," Darcy remarked, and Elizabeth stopped, looking over her shoulder at his long body sprawled across the bed, and felt her own cheeks burning. She could not keep her lips from curving into a smile, as she approached him and said,
"Such a devoted father as you are, Fitzwilliam, would not shirk at fulfilling your daughter's only wish?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Elizabeth slipped back into bed. "And I believe your grandmother said something about children, as well. Our chances will undoubtedly improve with . . . practice."
"Oh." The change in his voice spoke volumes, but he continued hesitantly, "Elizabeth, we are not too . . . your aunt said something about . . ."
She laughed, her eyes alight. "We are perfectly well, my love."