The day after Jane's wedding the weather broke. In place of the brilliant sunshine which had graced the ceremony, the skies were overcast and a thin, penetrating drizzle fell, depressing the spirits and driving everyone indoors. Mrs Bennet complained every few minutes of the dullness and the loss of her dear Jane. Elizabeth who perhaps of all the family most truly missed her sister, was driven to her room and her correspondence to escape.
On the Tuesday there was no letter from Mr Darcy and, although two arrived the following day, somehow that did not make up for the missing daily delivery. On Thursday the letter announcing his arrival and the successful end to the suit was delivered and Mrs Bennet was once more cast into transports of expectation and preparation. Elizabeth knew there was no point in writing to him again while he was on the road, and was reduced to calculating and recalculating how quickly he could arrived. The newspapers seemed full of news of carriage accidents and highway robberies and she had almost succeeded in fretting herself into a decline when, on the Friday afternoon, the weather cleared and Mr Bennet strongly advised her to borrow Young Tom from Mrs Gardiner and take herself off for a long walk. As she left the house on the cliffs, she could hear her mother wailing her protests behind her.
She could hear the soldiers in the castle at musket practice, so she headed inland, towards the woods above Scarborough and the York Road. It was, she told herself severely, far too early to expect Mr Darcy but it could do no harm, surely, to look. The ground was just soft enough underfoot to make the walk pleasant without being too muddy and, although Young Tom carried an umbrella, she thought the chances of her having to make use of it were small.
As she strode up the hill away from the town, she could feel her spirits start to lift. This was what she had needed and she blessed her father's thought of Young Tom as an escort. He at least was active enough to keep up with her, unlike the maids who, poor things, were wont to complain after a mile or two. The leaves were just starting to change; she had always loved the colours of autumn and fell to imagining the woods about Pemberley, utterly fettered by her complete lack of any accurate information on the subject.
They reached the top of the hill and she looked back at the sea, once again sparkling in the sun as it rose and fell against the sandy beach where she had played with her young cousins. She decided that they would bring their children here one day and see the little piles of sandy boots and shoes in the hallways, the tiny wooden spades and buckets. She would love to watch a storm at sea at least once in her life. She flung out her arms and drew in a breath of salty air: life seemed once more full of possibilities and she was conscious of her enormous good fortune. He was coming and her life would never be the same again, and she was so very, very thankful.
She turned her back on the town and struck out through the woods and towards the main road. She could see for miles from this vantage point and it seemed but one more gift amongst all those with which she had been blessed that, in the distance, she could see Him, astride a great grey horse, galloping towards her.
She ran down, hearing the heavy boots of Young Tom behind her, until she reached the road, stopping to catch her breath as she waited for him to come up to her. He had seen her and urged his horse to even greater efforts, until he drew to a halt before her, scattering the gravel, dismounting almost before the horse had stopped.
They were on the public highway and Young Tom was standing stolidly a little way away, so they could not embrace as she knew they both wished, but they could look. He bowed over her hand. "Miss Bennet."
"Mr Darcy." She curtsied, suddenly shy.
"Shall we?" She took the proffered arm and, Young Tom leading the horse at a discreet distance, they all three headed back towards the town. There was so much news to share that they scarcely knew where to begin and eventually settled on the fate of That Man and the court case. "Once again, dearest Elizabeth," he said. "I am indebted to you for your advice. I arranged for Laurence's Bow Street Runner to meet up with Mrs Hollerneshaw while she was at Sunday Service to assure her that, whatever the outcome of the case, I held myself bound to provide both the value of her brother's legacy and whatever assistance she required to live apart from her husband. The next day she arrived on my doorstep with her daughter and the contents of her husband's desk. They include correspondence with the suborned witnesses, including their complaints that he is not paying them enough to perjure themselves. We swore out criminal information against him with the magistrates but he got wind of what we were about and fled." He laughed grimly. "He was trying to get to America from Liverpool but had insufficient funds and is currently, I understand, stranded on the Isle of Man, where hardly anyone speaks English and he can afford only the meanest of accommodation."
"And Mrs Hollernshaw?"
"Is understandably distressed by the whole business. She has gone to Harrogate to take the waters for a while, before deciding whether to live at her brother's cottage or sell it and live elsewhere. She is worried that she might be ostracised following the scandal, although I believe I can muster enough credit in the neighbourhood to ensure that she is treated with respect. If you and I and our friends visit, there are few who will dare stay away." He heard her giggle at this and looked down. "Oh dear, did that sound very pompous?"
"Perhaps a little, but it is in a good cause, so I believe I shall overlook it on this occasion." Unseen by Young Tom, he brought her hand to his lips and they walked in contented silence for a little way before he thought to inquire after the recent wedding.
"It was quite the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen..."
"To date," she agreed happily. "Jane was so very happy and Mr Bingley so very dazed that, even had they both been ill-favoured, I believe everyone would have agreed. I do not think either of them heard a word anyone said between the church and their leaving for their honeymoon. My cousin Amelia was rather struck and has been playing at weddings with her dolls ever since." She looked down and bit her lip. "You will be pleased to know that I bridesmaided with great aplomb, I do not think anyone realised just how jealous I was." She looked up into his face and blushed at his expression.
"We leave tomorrow, my darling, if I have to pack everyone's luggage myself." He pulled off his riding gloves and stuck them in his pocket so that they could hold hands, skin to skin. "I have written to Pemberley and to the church at Lambton. I am afraid you will have to reconcile yourself to a church full of people you have never seen before, since half the town appears bent on attending. Then I shall drag you away from your family for our honeymoon - I thought you might like to visit the Lake District."
They were passing through a small copse of trees and, with a nod to Young Tom, he seized her by the hand and pulled her behind a thick clump of young oaks. There was a pile of fallen timber and he lifted her up and stood her upon it. She was laughing until he kissed her. She had relived his kisses a hundred time but she had still forgotten, she had forgotten the strength of his arms, and the warm, firm tenderness of his lips. She seized his lapels to draw him closer and then had to hang on to them for support when his tongue brushed against hers. Her heart was hammering in her chest and she was conscious of the press of her breasts against his waistcoat and the faint brush of the cloth that covered them. All at once, suddenly and shockingly, she longed to lie with him. She knew only what her Aunt Gardiner had told her, for she utterly discounted her mother's vague murmuring, but she had gathered that with a gentle and loving husband it could be glorious. If it was as good as this then, with the addition of privacy and the right to touch and hold, it must be truly wonderful.
But not here. She felt the exact moment they both realised they must stop. He lift his head and she rested hers on his chest, while they both fought for control. Then, after a few minutes, he helped her down from her perch, retrieved his hat from where he had dropped it and they walked back to the road.
As they entered the town they saw Caroline Bingley in the distance, just coming out of a shop on the marine parade. Elizabeth saw him frown and realised he had received her unfortunate letter. She was about to say something when he spoke. "I really must commend Miss Bingley on the speed of her communications with London," he said. "Let us see how long it takes news to travel in the opposite direction." And Elizabeth realised he intended to cut her dead.
Although she held no brief for Miss Bingley, this seemed altogether too cruel to her, so she curtsied in that lady's general direction and had the satisfaction of seeing an expression of utmost mortification on that discontented face, while she herself had been nothing but kind. A distinction she had difficulty in explaining to her betrothed, who was disinclined to mercy where anyone who offended his future wife was concerned. A discussion which was, although they did not realise it, to reoccur many times in their marriage, without ever reaching a satisfactory resolution.
They strolled together towards the house in the late afternoon sunshine, their shadows stretching out before them, as their new lives stretched out. A marriage that was to last fifty-three years, with some sorrows but many more joys, a life full of active benevolence, happiness and laughter. A marriage that extended to welcome in Anne De Bourgh when her mother died, and gave her a life so much happier and healthier that any she had known hitherto. A marriage that brought them two children: a daughter with her mother's liveliness and her father's musicianship, who on her marriage became one of Victorian England's greatest supporters and patrons of the arts and a son who combined his father's industry and his mother's compassion to become both entrepreneur and philanthropist. Darcyville, the model village he built for his work people, still stands today, a monument to a family for whom love was not merely a word but the backbone and breath of everything they thought and did.
See The End of the Beginning (M) for the er..... consummation of the story.