What will I do with myself now that this is done? Oh yah, keep working on my next book--sorry the new one is not JAFF, but that doesn't mean I won't do another one later. I'm thinking I could go modern…
Many heartfelt thanks to all of you who have kept up with this story and for encouraging me along the way. I truly will miss you. Enjoy the last chapter!
As much as Elizabeth did not want to leave Georgiana behind, she could not expose her fragile friend to her mother and her nervous fits. She reluctantly left her at Pemberley, knowing that she would be in good hands with Mrs. Reynolds, and praying that the gentlemen would recover Lydia quickly.
Longbourn was exactly as expected. Mrs. Bennet kept to her room, demanding everything and everyone revolve around her. The lady was certain that either pirates, gypsies or the French had infiltrated Hertfordshire and somehow got to her "dearest girl," and made her act in a way that was most unlike her. She demanded over and over again to be shown Lydia's note, and convinced herself that even though it appeared to be Lydia's hand, that it was most certainly written under duress.
Jane and Mary had stopped arguing with her on that point the day prior to Elizabeth's arrival, although Mrs. Bennet repeated her theory to Elizabeth in hopes in finding a partner in her outlandish suppositions. Elizabeth simply made her mother comfortable, shot Jane and Mary silently exasperated looks, and went in search of the good wine.
Mr. Bennet had gone to every post between Longbourn and London, where he was joined by Mr. Gardiner, who helped him search London proper. For even combining her pin money with Kitty's for the past two or so months would not get Lydia very far.
Jane and Mary attended their mother faithfully while Kitty pouted in a corner, since she was receiving a good amount of blame from everyone for accommodating the secret relationship, and providing Lydia with money for her fool's errand.
Kitty cried in Elizabeth's arms and explained that Lydia claimed it was true love, and that Wickham meant to marry her before he left suddenly. Lydia was certain that it was only Father forbidding him to contact Lydia, that he did not write. She had it in her head, as soon as she heard rumors he was in Newcastle, to join him there. Elizabeth wanted to berate Kitty as well, but stroked her hair instead, and told her that Wickham was the very best at deception, and never meant to marry Lydia.
Mrs. Bennet had finally fallen asleep. Not so much from exhaustion, for her nerves were in excellent shape, being exercised often and could continue their tirade for hours and hours without rest. It was with the gentle help of a few glasses of the good wine that she eventually dozed off, and the eldest sisters happily sought privacy in Elizabeth's room. Jane would stay the night with Elizabeth, since her mother might wake and call for her at any hour.
Now that the two were finally alone, Jane was able to tell Elizabeth that she now had full knowledge of her dear husband's dealings with Wickham. Elizabeth was relieved, and talked of her last night at Pemberley, and how shocked she was to learn that she was the reason behind Wickham's mysterious attack last spring. She asked Jane how she felt about it—not only how she felt about finding out why Bingley lied to her about his destination, but how she felt about what he had done.
Jane smiled. "You might be surprised, Lizzy, but I was very relieved. Charles meant to protect me, not wanting to distress me with the story of what happened to you, and also thinking that I would not approve of what he was up to."
"But do you… approve of what he did?"
"Yes, Lizzy! I feel it was a very honorable thing to do," Jane enthused, surprising Elizabeth, indeed. "And besides, it was all for you!" She added with a grin.
"I owe your husband so much, Jane. He has taken so much upon himself, now that he is part of this family."
Jane looked at her curiously. "Lizzy, of course Charles would do anything for you, but you must know that it was all Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy was behind everything. Not only in defending your honor along with Charles and Colonel Fitzwilliam—which I understand the Colonel enjoyed probably more than he should have," explained Jane with a mischievous smile, "but Mr. Darcy has been tracking Mr. Wickham's debts for months. It was quite a tedious process. He has gone to Mr. Wickham's previous residences over the past few years and found dozens of tradesmen as well as private citizens whom he owed money to. The 'warning' that they gave him in March, was to tell him what was to come, and to scare him into not bothering any more ladies."
Elizabeth looked at Jane in wonder, not fully being able to receive the information. The three gentlemen exacting revenge in the veiled shadows of Meryton for Elizabeth and Georgiana; and Mr. Darcy, traveling and collecting information for months. It was beyond her.
Jane continued. "But when Charles found him with Lydia in May, he had to meet with Mr. Darcy to figure out how to deal with him immediately. Even though Mr. Darcy knew he could find more debts, he knew he had enough to throw Mr. Wickham in debtor's prison…"
Elizabeth took in a deep breath, full of shock. "Mr. Wickham is in debtor's prison?"
Jane smiled. "He could be, but Mr. Darcy gave him a choice: they would turn him in with all the documentation and he would go to debtor's prison, or Mr. Darcy would buy all his debts, and he would be sent to Australia to do hard labor on a plantation."
"No!" Elizabeth said under her breath, but with a great smile. She then remembered what Bingley told her before the gentlemen left Pemberley.
"Did Papa choose Australia, Jane?"
"Yes! How did you know?"
"Your Mr. Bingley told me… I cannot believe that Papa was in on all of this! Jane, I feel like I have been stumbling around blind for months. How could all of this go on under my nose, without me knowing about it?"
"I have been in the dark with you, Lizzy. Charles did not explain anything until Lydia went missing. I feel the same as you."
"Yes, but you have the excuse of not living here anymore. I saw Lydia's secrecy and then her tears. I even saw Papa's smirks when he would walk by and hear Lydia wailing. I could not figure it out, but now I can surmise that he would retreat to his study and find Australia in his atlas, and toast the distance over a glass of port."
The two sisters laughed, and then realized they were in danger of waking their mama, so they quieted.
Jane looked at Elizabeth curiously. "Lizzy, how do you feel about Mr. Darcy taking all of that upon himself?"
Elizabeth sighed, and lay back on the bed. "I feel unworthy."
"No, please listen, Jane. I feel unworthy, only because of how I have treated him. I forbade him to see me, and he did not even come to visit at Netherfield for fear of disturbing me. He was hunting down all of Wickham's debts, listening to countless mortifying stories about his escapades, while I was being unreasonable and selfish."
"How were you being selfish?"
"I was so scared of failing, Jane. I did not want to humiliate Mr. Darcy with an unfit wife, but at the same time, I did not want to have to face Lady Catherine or anyone remotely like her again. I wanted to be safe. I wanted to be sheltered by the trees in the wood once again. I was acting like a child."
"I would not necessarily call that selfish, Lizzy."
"It is if it hurts someone. It is selfish if the other person involved is out there being humiliated on your behalf."
Jane sat up straight. "Tell me, Lizzy, what are you thinking now?"
"I was just wishing I could blame the same French-gypsy-pirates whom Mama thinks caused Lydia's bad behavior."
Jane smiled but did not give up. "Lizzy, do be serious. What will you do?"
"What do you mean, Jane?"
"You know exactly what I mean. Will you see me at Netherfield if Mr. Darcy comes to visit? And would you receive him at Longbourn if he came to call on you?"
"Jane, I do not think we should be anticipating anything like that, until our sister is recovered… Stupid girl! Could we have written a script and hired players who could make us look any more foolish and undesirable?"
Elizabeth smiled, to which Jane sighed and lay down next to her.
Another day went by before they received news by express. The letter was addressed to Elizabeth. She opened the letter from her father, with Jane and Mary present. She read the first few lines to herself, and exclaimed out loud.
"They have found Lydia!"
"Oh Lizzy, please do not keep it to yourself," pleaded Mary.
"I am sorry, Mary, I was not thinking." She started from the beginning and read aloud.
"My dearest Lizzy,
We just got word by express that your sister was found in Huntingtonshire, north of London. She had run out of funds, and had been sheltered by a semi-goodhearted innkeeper, who knew she would get paid for Lydia's room and board, if her family could be found.
Once discovered, Lydia was adamant that she be taken to Newcastle and not be brought back to Longbourn. It took some monumental effort on the gentlemen's behalf to convince Lydia that Mr. Wickham was no longer in the country, and that he would never have married her. Dozens of signed and sworn statements of unpaid debts, amounting to thousands, were shown to her, trying to make her see that he was only looking to marry a woman of fortune, like Miss King, or Miss Darcy, but to no avail. What finally brought her around were the three signed statements, from three young unfortunate women, who each bore a child of his. Two girls and a boy. The oldest child being five years in age.
Your sister is now being escorted by the three very generous gentlemen to London, where she will remain for a few days with me at the Gardiners. I do not have a well-formed plan as of yet, but I do think it will involve one human sitting quietly and humbly, while the other paces, points and pontificates.
Forgive me, dear child, for not taking better care and stopping silly and idle behavior. I should have heeded Mr. Darcy's note in late December, when he warned that my girls might be targets for unscrupulous soldiers. It was idle talk he overheard, and I did not dismiss it fully, requiring that you go out in pairs. But I should have known Lydia's drive for attention and Kitty's weakness. They should have never been out on their own. They should have not been out in society at all.
Well, hindsight and all that goes with it will weigh on me, as it should, but probably not as long as it should…
We will arrive back in Hertfordshire on Monday. Until then, tell your mama to save some good wine for me.
Yours most humbly,
Elizabeth put the letter down. There was too much to take in. Mr. Darcy wrote to him after she went to London with the Gardiners in December, to make sure her sisters were safe. She now knew why her father did not want her to go out by herself when she returned. She felt ashamed that she did not listen to him.
"Well, it could have ended much worse," she confessed.
"Wickham has three natural children?" whispered Jane in shock.
"That were found, Jane," added Elizabeth.
"How long do you think she would have stayed at the inn if she was not found?" wondered Mary. "Did she think she could write and receive this month's pin money from father?" she asked shaking her head.
"Who knows what is in the mind of that girl," complained Elizabeth. "How I wish I could hear what Papa will say to her!"
All three sisters smiled at the thought.
"I should go to Mama," Jane interjected. "She needs to know that Lydia is safe."
Jane left the room, and Elizabeth smiled at Mary.
"Mary, I have a feeling that Lydia may return hearing more sermons than Fordyce himself concocted."
Darcy was exhausted, and had not slept but a few hours the past three days. Lydia was recovered, and safely deposited at the Gardiners. Even though their characters could not be more different, Lydia did resemble Elizabeth the most physically of all her sisters. He found it difficult to be around her, but he could not help but wonder at her when she fell asleep in the carriage. Lydia's dark hair, her delicate nose and her mouth were very much like Elizabeth's. Her still and sleeping frame helped him remember who inspired him—whom all this was for. And it also became clear to him why Wickham would choose Lydia after Elizabeth rejected him. He was exacting revenge on her without her even knowing it. Darcy smiled briefly, knowing where Wickham was now, and hoped everything that he heard was true about that cruel, vast wasteland.
They were to take Bingley back to Netherfield where they would spend the night, and then travel to Pemberley, where Georgiana anxiously awaited them. He was loath to be parted from her. She did not like to be alone although Mrs. Reynolds was always around for her. But even good Mrs. Reynolds' presence was very different than having a friend, a companion, or an honorary sister, as Georgiana referred to Elizabeth in her many letters.
While Bingley and Fitzwilliam nodded off in the dark carriage, Darcy could not think of anything but Elizabeth's face after she learned who was responsible for Wickham's attack. She simply stared and said nothing. He could not believe that he could be so unguarded as to give out that information in front of her. They were so careful to cover their tracks, and to ride separately, so no one could place them all together. What must she think of him, ambushing people in the dark and taking their queues as trophies?
Darcy thought further back that same evening, before his footman interrupted them. When he leaned in and touched her cheek. Elizabeth said nothing when he asked if she had forgotten him. He did everything he could to read her face, and he was seconds away from kissing her, but now he doubted everything. Her breathing could have been labored because she was frightened of him. The tear that came down her cheek when they were interrupted, may not have been for Jane. She might have been relieved that she was spared. The footman might have saved her. He had seen her tears before, after another man kissed her.
Elizabeth had not stayed at Pemberley by her own decision. She had no choice. Was she simply rising to the occasion out of duty? She was reserved, but he thought it was only because it was the first time they had seen each other in months. She had not wanted Darcy to join the search party. Was that out of concern for him, or concern that he was intruding into her family's private business? Was he only reading what he wanted to see? He could not trust his judgment anymore.
Darcy finally fell into a fitful sleep and was only awakened when they arrived at Netherfield.
It took several days for Mrs. Bennet's nerves to quit their miserable state. They actually took a turn for the worse when Lydia returned home, for Mrs. Bennet had secretly hoped that Lydia would have been able to find Wickham, and would have married. So instead of receiving a married daughter, she received a disagreeable, headstrong girl, who was set on ruining the family. And she spoke of it loudly, and quite often.
Kitty was swiftly sent to the Gardiners in London. Mr. Bennet felt it best to separate the two youngest if they were ever to get them to think straight, or have a sensible word spoken. She would be kept on a tight rein there—no balls, no parties unless it was a family affair with very few, if any, young men.
Lydia was to remain at Longbourn with no end in sight. She would take her studies seriously, and if she could not recite certain things at the end of each day, she would risk never regaining her monthly pin money. Balls were strictly forbidden, and even Meryton was out of reach until she could prove that she could be out in public without bringing ridicule upon her family. The example would have to start at home. Hang the French-gypsy-pirates.
Lydia was not an apt student, and exclaimed most frequently that everyone was terribly cruel and meant to make her life miserable. Elizabeth should not have been surprised that Lydia could not learn how to behave overnight, even after such a jarring lesson. Unfortunately, the pianoforte did not always drown out her youngest sister, so Elizabeth retreated often to Netherfield.
Mr. Bingley had returned even before Lydia did, and it was lovely to see Jane reunited with the man who was so devoted to her. The secrets that came between the newlyweds and caused Jane unease, were now aired out, and Elizabeth was certain they were even happier. She had a new respect for her brother-in-law, whom she previously thought was rather simple, but, indeed, generous and goodhearted. She now saw the complexities that Jane had seen, and once again, marveled at her own blindness.
Without asking directly, Elizabeth found out that Mr. Darcy returned to Pemberley to be with Georgiana. Elizabeth was relieved that her dear friend would not be alone for long, for Georgiana was indeed distressed to hear that even though an ocean or two away, Mr. Wickham was still able to leave behind him a wide path of destruction. And although she was glad that Georgiana was being comforted by her brother, Elizabeth wished the same for herself.
A few weeks went by, and with each day that Darcy did not come to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth plunged deeper into disappointment. Could Lydia's flight after Wickham be the last straw in her family's misadventures? Elizabeth cringed when she thought of Lydia's defiance to accompany the gentlemen back to Longbourn after they had searched for three full days for her. Elizabeth knew Lydia's mouth too well. A mere five minutes with her would betray how selfish and out-of-control that child was. If Elizabeth wished a good portion of the time that she not be related to her, how much more would Mr. Darcy?
Could Elizabeth's reserve and lack of words at Pemberley be playing into his absence? He asked her if she had forgotten him, and she gave him no answer. She was lost in his wonderfully expressive eyes, but what a time for her sharp tongue to get stuck! She was sick about it, and prayed for another chance to show him just how grateful she was and how she had not forgotten about him.
And she would never forget about him. He was sealed into her heart, her head and her memory with more permanence than she could stand. She could recall every detail of his voice, his face, and the precise color of his eyes without trying, and it was driving her mad. She could not lay down without him taking over her subconscious and running away with it and with her. Nothing existed for her without him. In an attempt to have some semblance of normalcy, Elizabeth threw herself into her music even more than before.
Most of her time was spent on the Bingley's pianoforte. Jane had seen her sister sink deeper and deeper—though Elizabeth tried to hide it. So Jane sent for her clothes two days prior, insisting that she stay with them for at least a week. Elizabeth basked in the quiet and peacefulness that Netherfield provided along with the warmth of her sister. She began to think that she would never go back to Longbourn, and it seemed that Jane wanted it that way too.
Jane appeared at the door of the drawing room while Elizabeth was practicing.
"Lizzy, get dressed for dinner. I had one of your gowns pressed for you."
Elizabeth looked out the window, the sun was still out though it threatened rain.
"It is too early for dinner."
Jane smiled. "Go get dressed. Penny will help with your hair, and you know that even though she does a good job, she takes her time. You may come back here and play if you are done early," her sister pressed.
Elizabeth looked at Jane quizzically. "Jane, you should not waste Penny on me and my insufferable locks."
"Nonsense. You have much more hair than I. She will come to me right after. I insist. Please Lizzy, I have a lovely meal planned tonight, and you shall play your beautiful songs for us after dinner. I will not let you be despondent tonight."
Elizabeth was about to argue, but she could see great resolve in her sister's countenance. Elizabeth could only smile, as she knew that it was useless. Jane certainly was the sun, as she stood in front of her beaming. She married the man she loved. She was the great Mistress of Netherfield, and now she was directing her stubborn sister to dress for dinner.
Elizabeth stood up and gave Jane a kiss on the cheek. "Yes, your ladyship," she teased as she left the room.
The low sun came in through her west-facing window, and illuminated the far wall and everything in its path. Something brilliant caught Elizabeth's eye as she walked in. Hanging in the corner of her room, pressed perfectly and gleaming like an emerald, was Elizabeth's green dress. She caught her breath. Not that gown!
Just looking at it caused her great pain. She did not even know it was packed. She had put it in the bottom of her closet under her oldest frocks at Longbourn. How did Betsy find it? She looked around for another gown, but none of them were ready to be worn.
She walked back over to the dress and touched the soft silk. She remembered how Mr. Darcy looked at her, how he could not stop looking at her, and she reddened at the thought. Stupid dress! She wanted to take the dress back to Mademoiselle Adele and throw it at her. She wanted to accuse her of shoddy work and split seams, but the exquisite gown contradicted her thoughts. It fit her perfectly. It complimented her skin and her figure, and brought out her eyes. It swayed gently and softly rustled with each step she took. She never felt more beautiful then when she wore it that night at Rosings.
No. She could not bear to wear it. She was about to go find Jane when Penny came in.
"Oh, Miss Bennet, all of the maids downstairs could not stop speaking of your dress! I was actually afraid to press it, but it is not as delicate as it appears," she enthused.
Penny moved over to the dressing table and started to put out some ribbons, flowers, and jeweled hairpins.
"Mrs. Bingley has provided you with many pretty baubles for your hair. Come sit, and we will see what will suit you best."
Penny motioned for Elizabeth to come over. Elizabeth hesitated, but then knew that Jane, and all her bright beams, would only send her back to Penny. So she took her seat reluctantly, and tried to recall a Latin verse where you were allowed to argue with the sun, or at least the moon or a flickering star.
Darcy rode on horseback from London, and the rain finally caught up to him. Bingley had sent an invitation for him to come stay at Netherfield, since Georgiana had gone back to school for the season. Nothing was said about Elizabeth, but Darcy could imagine that once again, if he were to be there, then she would not be.
How could she, after the liberty he took with her? He could not look upon his actions without mortification. She was stranded at Pemberley against her wishes. She did her best to act at ease, most likely to please Georgiana. And when he cornered her in the darkened hall, she told him that the incident with Lady Catherine was forgotten, but at what cost? She could not look at him without remembering how his relation treated her. It was only forgot if he was. And she did not answer—either his letter or his question. What was he thinking setting her up like that? At least she did not know of the plot. He hoped.
He arrived soaked through at Netherfield, and told the servant not to announce him yet. He would go straight to his room to change first. The servant bowed, and Darcy started down the hall.
As he passed through the long corridor, wondrously mesmerizing music came from the drawing room. He was perplexed at who could be at the instrument. It was no one he was familiar with. He was certain that Jane did not play. The sensation was both magnificent and excruciating at the same time. It was tragically beautiful, and Darcy was drawn to it.
He made his way to the drawing room, and opened the door quietly.
At the pianoforte, facing away from him and dressed in deep green silk, was Elizabeth. How very well he knew the length of her neck, the line down her ivory back and the dip of her small waist. Darcy went completely numb and stood frozen as the woman who held his very soul, now seared his already bloodied body with her dissonant song.
Unaware of her audience, Elizabeth continued, her fingers moving flawlessly across the stretch of keys. The music swelled, and a heart-wrenching anthem reached throughout the room and encompassed it. Elizabeth moved with the music, feeling each note, each chord resonating throughout her being. Everything that she could not let herself profess or act upon came flowing out of her fingertips. Her raw emotions, her incredible passion flooded the room and assaulted the gentleman who stood helplessly by the door.
The rhapsody waned, and a surprisingly sweet and simple melody took over. It lingered and teased in a minor chord, making it melancholy, almost haunting. The soft singular refrain seized what tiny portion was left of Darcy's heart; bound it tightly, and floated it back over to the illusory woman at the keys. The sad, exquisite piece ended, and Elizabeth sustained the last few notes before they resolved into a peaceful and blithe conclusion.
There was absolutely nothing left of him. She possessed him fully. He had no thought of his own anymore. They all originated from her or passed through her. Nothing seemed to exist apart from her. He certainly did not, and could not remember his life before Miss Elizabeth Bennet glanced his way.
Elizabeth stayed motionless in front of the instrument, until she sniffed and dabbed a handkerchief at her eyes. Without thinking, wanting to comfort her, Darcy took a step toward her. Elizabeth suddenly turned, and saw him. She caught her breath and immediately stood up, making the bench squeal against the floor, and it echoed throughout the room.
Neither knew what to say. It almost seemed that they were beyond words.
Darcy stared at her in wonder. She filled the room. First her music, and now her presence. He could see it, he could taste it. He was positive that he could grasp onto it if he put out his hand. Her brilliant green eyes flashed from across the expanse between them and brought him back to his senses.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Miss Bennet. I did not know you would be here. At Netherfield, I mean." he managed to mumble.
She stared at him, as his words sharply ran her through. "I did not know you would be here," she repeated to herself, as the sword plunged deeper.
He came only because he thought she would be elsewhere. Her head pounded with her pulse. She could only stare at the man who consumed her every thought. The man who no longer thinks of her.
He looked down at the puddle he was making, and realized how ridiculous he must look. "Excuse me, I must change." He turned and he was gone.
Elizabeth heard the door close, and took her first breath of air since she saw him. She waited too long. The man who had followed and pursued her faithfully was done, and she could not blame him. She felt sick and wrapped her arm around her middle. She could not bear one more tortuous minute in his presence.
Darcy sprinted up to his room, where he tried to get his bearings. He threw his jacket down, and peeled off the dripping cravat. He found some linen and started drying himself, as he paced the floor.
She was at Netherfield! She did not flee knowing he would come. She stayed. Elizabeth stayed! Now what was he supposed to do? How many times had he found himself in this very same situation? Could he be easy and flirt with her over dinner once again? Could he engage her in witty conversation, when all he wanted to do was declare himself in front of the entire world, and draw her into his arms? He was exhausted but elated that she was there, and resolved to do anything—be it winking at pheasants, turning music pages for her, to slipping a note under her door. Whatever it took.
He paced in front of the window while drying his hair and neck. The rain was coming down harder than it had during his ride. He stopped when a small flash of dazzling green caught the corner of his eye. He stood bewildered, as his mind tried to make sense of what was playing out in front of him.
Elizabeth did not care if Jane was disappointed. She did not care if everyone thought she was the most ill mannered creature that ever breathed! She could not bear it. She could not take one more moment of being under the same roof, of sharing the same air. How cruel of them to not tell him that she would be there, for it was very clear he would not have come! He could not get out of that room quick enough, and now Elizabeth could not get out of Netherfield quick enough.
The rain pelted her as she hastened away from the house. Elizabeth picked up her gown and splashed through the puddles in her best shoes. Once again, her legs did not let her think beyond quitting Netherfield. Her muscles nimbly moved within her without direction, and carried her swiftly away. She found herself on the path toward Meryton, and would cut through the wood to Longbourn. Oh, how she longed for the woods.
"Aut disce aut discede!" she spat out loud through the rain. "Either learn or leave!"
She soon lost both of her slippers as they stuck tight in the mud, but she did not stop to retrieve either of them, for they were already ruined. All was ruined. She continued her pace and thought nothing as the rain came down even harder. Her thick hair and beautiful gown became heavy in the deluge, but she only fled faster as she turned the bend and the sheltering wood came into view.
Her hair finally came spilling down, and Elizabeth grasped at the jeweled pins, freeing the rest of her locks, and pocketed them. The woods were now before her, welcoming and beckoning her to its protective embrace. There she would disappear into its dark green interior, and never have to look back.
"Miss Bennet!" called a most familiar voice, a distance away.
Elizabeth's heart sputtered in her chest. She abruptly stopped, but did not turn. Mademoiselle's words started to play in her head.
"For he weel be drawn to you, and weel find you, no matter…" But Elizabeth would not let her finish. She was angry with her. She did not believe her. Stupid French-gypsy-pirate!
His breathless voice came closer. "For how long are you going to continue to run?"
She stood still amidst the shower. Not turning. Not looking, but feeling everything.
"Miss Bennet. Will you do me the courtesy of facing me?" he demanded.
He was very close now. She did not want to see his face again. She did not think she could bear it. She stood for several seconds in the downpour without moving. Finally, taking a deep breath, she turned around.
Mr. Darcy stood before her without a jacket or cravat. The rain sheeting down upon him. His face was a mixture of anger, concern, and utter exhaustion, but he was glorious. He ran his hand through his hair to move it from his face, and his thin shirt was untucked and clung to him. From the knees down he was spattered in mud. He would have shocked anyone else with his uncivilized appearance, but he was the most beautiful being Elizabeth had ever beheld. The sharp pains that she fully expected from seeing him, jabbed at her chest and shot down through her limbs.
"This cannot continue, Madam," he managed while catching his breath.
"What, sir?" she asked without thinking.
He laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. He threw his arms up. "This!" He took a step back and looked up at the stormy sky for a second.
"I am finished running after you! God knows I have done everything in my power to assure you of my affection. To tell you of my constancy. To prove to you that you, and only you, have my heart. Yet, once again, you flee from my presence without so much as a glance my way!"
The pain was evident on his face. Streams of rain ran down the lines that formed around his eyes, and laterally along the deep creases the agony etched in his forehead.
"You torment me. You spear my very soul… Do you enjoy it? Does it please you, that I once again lay broken and bleeding before you?" Darcy pointed to his left.
Elizabeth looked at where they were. They were no more than twenty feet from the great oak. She looked back at him, pleading.
"Please, Sir…" She could not go on, and she did not know why. She wanted to look away, but his eyes would not let hers go.
"Why will you not speak with me? Why will you not answer the letter that I gave you last April? Am I a dog that you should kick me out of the way? Am I nothing to you, Miss Bennet?"
She said nothing. She struggled with his words, with his professions. They did not make sense. How could they when he just hastened from her presence? The rain continued to batter them both, and neither of them moved, but to gain the breath they lost in their haste.
"This is utter madness! I must be mad! For how else can it explain my actions?" He laughed as he looked down at himself. "Look at me! I am running after a specter that teases me in the daylight, and haunts my dreams at night. A mere ghost with no feeling, no soul, no comprehension!"
He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. Elizabeth's handkerchief. The handkerchief that she used to gently wipe scarlet from his head a forever ago. The one she lay on the ground when it could soak up no more. She took in a sudden breath at the sight of it.
"Only a madman would carry around a token that meant nothing." He held it out to her. "Take it, and be rid of me. I will have no more to do with this."
She glared at him and the handkerchief. Emotions battled for voice in her head, but she knew not where to begin.
"Take it! Have you no heart?" he continued. He saw that she would not take it, so he threw it down in the mud at her feet.
Elizabeth looked down at the handkerchief and then snapped back up at him. Her voice started low and measured, but grew with the swell of her heart.
"You know nothing, Sir. You do not know my heart, and you do not know me. You speak of feelings. Well, I have enough feelings to flood this valley and sweep all of us into the sea! Do not accuse, when you have no foundation!"
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a worn letter. His letter. Darcy recognized it immediately.
"Do not tell me that I have no feeling, no soul or comprehension! And do not think that you are the only one who lay broken and bleeding. I have been in agony this entire year. My feelings assault me, they will not let me rest, or leave me alone for one moment. My soul, Sir, is wearied from this journey and cannot take one more moment of it."
Darcy stood still in the downpour, taking in everything she said.
"Why have you not answered my letter?"
She turned the letter over to let him see that the seal has never been broken.
"You have never read it?" he said, exasperated.
"You have a way of breaking my resolve, Mr. Darcy. Breaking the seal would be the same thing," she admitted quietly.
An irritated smile crossed his face. "You are the most stubborn creature I have ever come across."
"I do not see what you find so amusing, Mr. Darcy."
"You think that by not opening my letter, that everything would go away? Are you that simple?"
"I am not simple, Sir!"
"And I am not mad! Answer my letter, Miss Bennet! Give me an answer!"
"But I do not know what is says!"
"You certainly do! How many ways do I have to express myself to you? Should I have a long talk with our Creator, and have him write it in the stars? Shall I teach my song to the sparrow or nightingale? Will not these trees cry out if you keep silent? For they witnessed it all, and they know it very well. Answer me!"
Hot tears came to her eyes and mixed with the drops that would not cease. How could he treat her so?
Darcy took a step closer, not releasing her from his gaze. Elizabeth fought back tears that melded with the rain, as he started to possess her with his deep piercing eyes. She could feel the warmth of his breath as she stood frozen, mesmerized by his words, by his face, by his very being.
He spoke in a low forceful voice, overrun with the feelings he has finally let loose. "Do you think it is fair that I have gone about like a fool for months on end declaring myself to you in every way conceivable? Do you require that I get on my knees and spill forth my insides?"
He took a deep breath, and she filled his lungs. How he wanted to kiss her angrily right then! He stepped back, found his wits and raised his voice.
"You profess that you have feelings enough to carry us away, Miss Bennet, but why will you not let them speak? Do they have no voice of their own? Are they so tightly locked away, or do they need more proof of my own? Should I fall on my sword?! Will that loosen your mouth? Will it unlock your heart? Tell me once and for--"
And that was it. The world, Lady Catherine, and anyone else between them be damned to the deepest level of hell.
"I do love you! I have loved you! Can you not see? Can you not feel it when we are in the same room? Your very presence plagues me! How you afflict me! How you claim my every thought! How can you stand there and profess that I have no heart?! I understand everything you related to me. I comprehend you fully. I feel it acutely. It goes to the center of my being and devours everything else that I am. I see you, yet I cannot touch you. I hear you, yet cannot be comforted by your voice…" Elizabeth's faltering voice dropped as she tried desperately to breathe and not collapse in a heap in front of him.
Darcy stood stunned and amazed at her confession. He heard everything he had wished for and more. His chest could not take one more profession, and he looked at the woman before him who loved him, who has loved him, and who was completely and utterly miserable because if it.
"Elizabeth…" he whispered, as he closed the gap between them.
His lips found hers, and he met no resistance as Elizabeth sighed and grabbed his strong shoulders with all her might, letting his saturated letter fall next to the handkerchief below. The rain slowly leached away the ink, and as in her dream, everything around them melted away, pooled at their feet and soaked into the ground. Only Elizabeth and the man who would find her no matter where she would go existed, and they each answered every desperate and unspoken question between them.
Darcy finally pulled away for a breath, but did not let go of her face. He looked at her with exhilaration as she smiled at him amazed, and tried to breathe through the downpour.
"I told you that I would never compromise you, Elizabeth. Marry me. Say you will be my wife, and never run from me again…"
Something unpleasant flashed across Elizabeth's face and she broke the gaze. He pulled her face up to his again, refusing to be without those eyes if he could help it.
"What is it, my love?" he entreated.
"It is just that I need to tell you something that I am afraid will make you angry. That will make you think very ill of me," she whispered.
Darcy looked down at her concerned. He released her face, but moved his hand down to hold her cold wet hand.
Elizabeth took a breath. "I am responsible for your fall… for your accident last November."
Darcy simply stared at her not understanding what she was saying. Elizabeth knew that she must continue, and the rain persisted without mercy.
"I was very upset by something that had happened at home."
"Collins' proposal?" He smiled at her.
Her eyes widened. "How did you know?"
"Does it matter? I am terribly upset that I am not the first, but what else can I expect? For you are all loveliness," he whispered teasingly in her ear.
"Please, you must hear me out," Elizabeth pleaded.
"Continue with your confession," he urged, trying not to smile.
"I thought I was all alone in the woods, so I yelled at the top of my lungs, and startled the blackbirds… The same blackbirds that flew out in front of your horse."
Darcy knitted his brow together.
"I found you only minutes later. I am so sorry. My indecorous behavior caused you a great deal of pain, and I cannot look upon my actions without great mortification." Elizabeth tried to look down, but he would not let her. He had his hand under her chin again, and he looked at her gravely as the rain streamed down her worried face.
"That is a very bitter confession, indeed," he said with a low severe voice. "I only see one way out at this point, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth looked at him quizzically as his stoic face melted and he was beaming.
Without waiting for her to respond, he swept her up in his arms and made his way under the shelter of the great oak. They reached the base of the tree where the rain lessened, and he slowly lowered her to her feet, but his lips brushed against her ear and he did not let go of her tiny waist.
"Answer me, Elizabeth," he breathed.
"But Sir…" she whispered.
He buried his face against the side of her head and neck, pulling her side into him, and spoke quietly yet fervently into her ear. "My happiest day happened right here. You may yell all you want. You may strike me with a rock yourself. I fell in love with you in this very spot, and have never regretted it. Dearest Elizabeth, tell me that you will marry me right away."
He released her from his grasp, and she turned to face him. Elizabeth looked up at him in awe, and brushed a few drops away from his face with her fingers.
"This is my happiest day, Mr. Darcy… Yes, I will marry you. Right away." She smiled, and her emerald eyes told him everything he has ever wanted to know.
He caught his breath, pulled her into him and crushed his joyful lips onto hers. If he were not holding her up, Elizabeth was certain that her legs would have given way, yet somehow her hands explored his angular face and wet curls, while one of his hands tangled in her hair and the other pulled her in as close as he could. Darcy encompassed her. He was everything. He was everywhere. Their lines blurred and dissolved. With her eyes closed, there was no certainty where she ended and he began, as he held her tightly against him.
All was forgotten. All was changed. All was utter happiness.
Everything was done as it should. The engaged pair walked back arm-in-arm in the downpour to Netherfield, where Elizabeth, drenched, in a daze with muddy stockings, let an euphoric Jane take her to find dry clothes. While Darcy, with a slap on the back from Bingley, quickly changed, and was off to Longbourn to speak with Mr. Bennet. But not before he took hold of a dripping Elizabeth one more time, and kissed her senseless in front of her own sister and his friend.
The two were married in Longbourn by special license three weeks later.
It is a truth not typically known that a young woman in possession of a large amount of pride and impertinence, must be in want of a little rain, an unread letter and a deep green silk dress. Such was the experience of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Now Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy--the great Mistress of Pemberley, who did not merely love and respect her husband, but would have taken on one thousand Lady Catherine's if necessary, for she was a soldier, and thus armed. And Elizabeth in turn, was loved completely by her steadfast husband, and in a manner the lady never dreamed of and few ever get to experience.
Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy honeymooned abroad for five months, bringing back many books and some select artwork for the Darcy collection. Although they did spend some time in their London home, most of their time was spent at Pemberley where they lived a quiet and happy life surrounded by true friends and loving family. They were blessed with three sons and a daughter over the years, and like Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth was barely altered, at least not in her affectionate husband's eyes.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bingley had six children, and came to quit Netherfield after only one year. They bought an estate only twenty miles from Pemberley were the sisters, and now brothers-in-law, could spend happy times together and have their children grow up together.
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet lived to see all five of their daughters enter the state of matrimony. Mary was married the following year to the Longbourn curate, Mr. Welsh, in a small and properly solemn ceremony.
After being separated from Lydia for a few months, Kitty was able to grow out of much of her silliness, and was able to join society again with a much greater sense of grace and propriety. And with the advantages of two well-connected sisters and a modified inheritance that all the younger sisters were granted, at the age of two and twenty, Kitty happily married the young and well connected Colonel Lawrence. Apparently, redcoats were not completely forgot.
Lydia was not allowed in society for almost two years after her flight. She managed to improve a little, but only to appease those who demanded the change, and to regain her pin money. She learned to keep her mouth closed at the proper times, though the same silly thoughts and obstinate mindset still brewed below the surface. And since she was a very pretty thing, a very admiring gentleman, a Mr. Ransom, who spent many evenings enjoying her smiles and her artful fan work, asked for her hand. Mr. Bennet gave them his blessing, and could not but help but see himself in the gentleman's eyes, knowing what a rude awakening it was to realize one day, in the not too distant future, that you were married to the silliest woman in England.
Georgiana could not have been happier in her dear brother's choice in a wife, for now she had the sister that she had always wished for. She lived with them at Pemberley full time after her studies were complete. Elizabeth helped her make her reluctant transition into society when she was eighteen, but she was never comfortable at balls and assemblies, but was able to bear them especially when another new sister whom she loved, Kitty, was with her. At the age of three and twenty, she accepted the hand of the young Lord Ambridge, who was to be the next Earl of Forbes, and who was not interested in Georgiana's fortune, as he had more money than he cared to know. He had happy and open manners, preferred the country over Town, and preferred the reserved and sweet Georgiana over all the other ladies who tripped over themselves to catch his eye. He loved her just as she was.
Colonel Fitzwilliam chose to fight in several of the Napoleonic uprisings and made his own fortune in doing so. And although wounded, and forced to use a cane for the rest of his life, he found his very own angelic savior in the form of a wealthy French widow, whose arch glances and quick wit reminded him of someone he once fancied very much. He was able to bring her and her two very young daughters into England safely, where they married, and eventually had two boys together who were greatly doted upon.
Mr. and Mrs. Collins were blessed with a child, a daughter, just one week after Elizabeth and Darcy were married. One more daughter followed two years later. And as it was written, the Longbourn estate was entailed away from them, as it was from its earlier female predecessors.
The Gardiners had two more children, and continued to be successful and desired by good society, and even more so, now that their nieces were so well connected.
Caroline lived in Town with the Hursts, who never had children, until she married at the age of eight and twenty. Sir Trent was two and fifty, and a very wealthy widower, who wanted an accomplished and stylish young wife on his arm, and Caroline was willing to play the part. She was well aware that he had a beautiful young woman that he would go out in public with, but she did not have the name or the connections, so he provided an apartment for her and paid for the education of the two children she had with him. He had three legitimate sons near Caroline's age, who made sure that she would not inherit all of his wealth, and made her quite miserable indeed with their gambling and wild lifestyles. But Caroline had her own house, her own carriages and only had to endure ten years with the man before he passed on. She was handsomely rewarded for her decade of service and remarried within a year to another wealthy widower.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh died choking on a pheasant bone. Anne de Bourgh married a very kind and respectable gentleman, whom Lady Catherine would have never approved of, less than three months after her mother's passing. And surprising everyone, Anne produced an heir one year later.
Wickham was never heard from again, although there were rumors that once in Australia, he meddled with the wrong plantation owner's daughter, and woke up to the barrel of an angry rifle. Yet there were other rumors that he indeed worked as a hired hand on a plantation for a while but then drifted from town to town looking for work, never staying in one place long enough to become noticeable.
Mademoiselle Adele dressed Elizabeth, Jane, Georgiana and Kitty until she retired quite prosperous at a ripe old age. And Elizabeth's green dress was passed down from daughter to daughter through the generations, along with a handkerchief, an unopened and now blank letter, and the wonderful and fanciful tale that went with it.
Thank you for reading to the very end.
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