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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

The Tragedy of A Woman.

Volume II

Chapter VIII.

The two days given before Elizabeth's departure to Hunsford, was scarce enough time to come to terms with the events at her sister's wedding reception. She had not expected Mr Darcy to take the break up as well as he did and it chilled her to the bone, for it confirmed all the fears that she had been contemplating; he no longer had any need for her.

She felt cheated and used, yet she could not change her feelings towards him. She still loved him and it was that love which encouraged her to ignore his apparent lack of emotion at the end. She ran over the scene again and again in her head and each time the observations and conclusions she gained differed completely.

Two days were not enough to reconcile these feelings and it was with great difficulty that Elizabeth shut them off, in order to concentrate upon the forthcoming visit to her friend's new abode. Her friend had departed the day after Jane's wedding to prepare the parsonage to receive visitors. Elizabeth had noticed nothing unusual about her manner, but then she had rarely seen Charlotte that day due to other events.

Mr Darcy and his sister also departed the next day, for town it was said, and the departure would have further surprised Lizzy had she not already heard of it as planned from Georgiana before the end of yesterday. It had been done to give Jane and Mr Bingley time alone together, although the proximity of Mrs Bennet threatened constantly to interfere with that plan.

However the two days remaining did not procure such a visit and Elizabeth soon found herself standing in the hallway waiting for her bags to be loaded on to the carriage that was to take her to Hunsford. Her father's farewell was the last she received.

"Well Lizzy," he began in a tone that was trying to appear happy. "Pleasure bent again. And never a thought to what your poor parents will suffer in your absence."

"It is a pleasure I could well forgo father as you know."

"What of the famous Lady Catherine de Bourgh? As a connoisseur of human folly I thought you would be eager to see such delights."

"Of some delights, sir, I believe a little goes a long way."

"Too true," her father replied, his tone turning serious at last. "Till you return, my dear, I shall scarce hear two words of sense spoken together. You'll be very much missed."

Elizabeth assured her father that she would return as soon as she felt able to do so before she finally went on her way.

The actual journey itself was uneventful, with conversation only on admiration of the estate of Rosings Park, whose boundaries remained forever on one side of the carriage the entire time.

Mrs Collins welcomed her friend in a manner that made Elizabeth glad she had come and her cousin's civilities were all that they had always been; he ostentatiously welcomed them into his humble abode and repeated all of his wife's inquiries and refreshment offers.

A tour of the house was then commenced, with almost every item being attributed or compared to Mr Collins' patroness whenever they were singled out, and every time he did so Elizabeth would glance at her friend and wonder how she bore it.

As the party separated, Mr Collins, Sir William and Maria to the gardens, Charlotte and Elizabeth to a drawing room, she soon found out how. Charlotte explained to her friend how she encouraged her husband to walk to Rosings almost every day, to spend time in his garden, and to keep to his study because of the good view it afforded of the road should Lady Catherine's carriage ever happen to drive by. When Mr Collins could be forgotten, Charlotte could be happy and, judging by these events, he was forgotten often.

On the third day of Elizabeth's visit to Kent the whole of the Parsonage were honoured with an invitation to dine at Lady Catherine's residence. It was an invitation delivered by Miss de Bough the day before and it was enough to send the whole house into a flurry of activity, with Mr Collins instructing his guests as to what to wear, what to expect, so that nothing of the grandness of Rosings Park overwhelmed them. Lady Catherine, as Mr Collins put it, liked to have the distinction of rank preserved.

The weather being fine, they walked to the house, with Mr Collins pointing out various sites of which he termed to be of interest. His patroness was referred to constantly and everything which could be priced, was told of and showed; from the windows to the ornaments that adorned the entrance hall. All of this managed to awe Sir William and Maria but not Elizabeth who was able to observe the scene composedly.

Maybe it was this or maybe it was because she was Charlotte's friend that caused Lady Catherine to be curious about her. The lady turned constantly to Elizabeth, always asking question, and, for her friend's sake, Elizabeth tried to answer them as properly as she could, although the last questions soon put a stop to all that.

"Are any of your younger sisters out?"

"Yes ma'am, all of them."

"All? All five out at once? The younger ones out before the elder ones are married? You're youngest sisters must be very young."

"Yes, my youngest is not yet sixteen."

"Well," Lady Catherine finished, expecting the topic to be over.

"She is fully young to be out much in company," Elizabeth continued, much to her host's surprise. "But really, Lady Catherine, I think it hard on younger sisters that they not have the pleasures of society just because their elder sisters have not the inclination to marry early."

Mr Collins looked shocked, Charlotte tried to check her smile, and Lady Catherine became indignant, immediately inquiring her age as to give so decided an opinion.

"With three sisters grown up your Ladyship can hardly expect me to own it."

"Come, Miss Bennet, you cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, so there is not need to conceal your age."

"I am not yet one and twenty."

"Well," Lady Catherine conceded, before turning to Charlotte in an anxious decision to change the subject.

Three weeks passed on in this fashion before any change occurred to the party twice weekly at Rosings Park, and the change was to give Elizabeth much uneasiness, for it was made known that Lady Catherine's nephew Mr Darcy was to be paying his annual visit and was due to arrive any day.

Elizabeth's reaction to this was well concealed, although when she was alone her manner was agitated in the extreme. As yet she had been unable to properly reconcile herself to forgetting him and his visit was sure to case her pain. She considered writing to her aunt to have her picked up some weeks earlier than planned, but she realised that she could not desert Charlotte or Maria in that way. There was also no reason for her to leave. She would have to bare Mr Darcy as best she could.

The gentleman in question soon arrived, bringing along another nephew of Lady Catherine's Colonel Fitzwilliam, the younger son of the Earl of ________ . Upon their arrival they paid call on the parsonage.

"I'm delighted to meet you at last, Miss Bennet," was the Colonel's first remark after the introductions were done. Mr Darcy barely managed a greeting, shocked to meet with her again.

"At last, sir?"

"Well, I've heard much of you and none of the praise has been exaggerated, I assure you. I hope we shall meet often at Rosings. I am fond of lively conversation."

"This you do not find at Rosings Park?"

"My aunt does talk a great deal and seldom requires any response. My friend there speaks hardly a word, although he's lively enough in other places."

Elizabeth glanced over at Darcy and met his gaze. He turned away first, as if caught unawares. Elizabeth wished she knew what he was feeling. She turned back to Colonel Fitzwilliam's conversation.

It was another week before Elizabeth was to encounter Darcy again, for Lady Catherine kept her nephews much to herself. Colonel Fitzwilliam visited the parsonage more than once during that time, but she only saw Darcy at church.

This week was not enough time for Elizabeth to come to terms with the shock of seeing her former lover again. She had been prepared certainly to see him some time, as he was her brother in law's friend, but she had not expected to encounter him here and now. Thus when they were requested to spend an evening at Rosings she had to spend a considerable amount of time alone to compose herself so she could greet him without a reaction.

Colonel Fitzwilliam was most glad to see them and soon engaged Elizabeth in conversation. They conversed with much spirit and flow, as they spoke of Kent and Hertfordshire and of others, as to draw the attention of both Mr Darcy and Lady Catherine, the latter of whom demanded to hear what they were talking of. After hearing that it was music Lady Catherine instantly took up the topic, addressing the whole room about the importance of music, how proficient Miss Bennet would be if she practised more, and how if she had taken the time to learn she and Anne would both have mastered it as well.

Her talk took up the rest of coffee time, and afterwards the Colonel requested Elizabeth to play for him, an offer which she accepted willingly. She immediately sat down at the instrument and for awhile everyone listened until Lady Catherine began to talk to her nephew once more, much to his annoyance. Mr Darcy bore it as long as he could, before getting up and walking over to where Elizabeth was.

His intention to try and avoid her had been abandoned, and replaced by a desire to find out why she had ended their affair. Her request had taken him much by surprise and, had it not been for his plan to leave the next day he would have sought her out once more to ask her why. He was now sure no longer of her regard, for it seemed that she had ended it because she did not care about him and did not wish to hurt him any longer. However, as he observed with his cousin, it occurred to him for the first time that her desire to end it might have another motive.

Over the next few days Darcy began a careful observation of his cousin's activities and what he found began to cause him concern.

He discovered that the Colonel would often pay call on the parsonage and stay there for some time and that when ever the party were to spend an evening at Rosings, he would talk to Elizabeth all the time. They would also spend many a day walking together, leaving Darcy to conclude only one thing and it was an conclusion he did not like at all. Not that he begrudged his cousin any happiness, but he could not escape the feeling of jealousy and annoyance at his own situation for not being able to express the same regard.

He still loved her as much as ever and the three weeks always from her and in the company of his wife had filled him with the desire to see her again. However, since his reunion with her, he had rarely seen her, except when in the company of others. He needed to talk with her, find out if what he suspected was true, however much he wished it not to be.

Later as the evening dawned and the Hunsford party came over, Darcy prepared himself to find a moment alone with her, only to be told by Mrs Collins that she was not feeling too good and begged them to excuse her.

Dinner was absent of two guests that night, as Darcy went to the parsonage to find out the secret of Elizabeth's heart.

Elizabeth readjusted her shawl, still not feeling the heat that it was emanating. Her eyes kept drifting to the window and she did not like the reflection they were receiving.

The parsonage was even more quiet than usual. It held an ominous portent, as though the storm was about to break the calm. A few minutes later it did, with the sudden, unexpected click of the front door. She turned round and prepared herself to welcome the visitor. At the opening of the door, she gasped out loud.

"Forgive me, I hope you're feeling better."

Elizabeth was too surprised to reply. The evening guest which she had been purposely trying to avoid, had turned up on her doorstep. "I am, thank you." Now, can you go?

"Of course, if you wish me to."

She gasped and turned away from him. She had not meant to speak the last part out loud.

Darcy looked at her unresponsive back, wondering what was bothering her, what had been bothering her for several days. Ever since they had decided to end the affair. "Elizabeth, I need to ask you this. Why did you end it between us?"

"I told you," she replied, her voice barely controlled. "There was no future to us. I thought it would be better to end it before it could not be stopped, for both our sakes."

"That never bothered you before, why now?" He paused and suddenly there it was, as clear as day. "Are you in love with someone? Is that why?"

Elizabeth found herself gasping in surprise again. How could he know her as well as that? "Yes, there is someone that I care about."

"And does he return those feelings?"

"I do not believe so, but I love him all the same."

Darcy felt his self control slowly collapsing. His heart was breaking piece by piece. Trying to speak in a normal tone he began with the words that would change his life forever. "Then I wish you every happiness........" he trailed off and his next was in a choked voice. "My cousin is a very lucky............"

Elizabeth started to laugh, checking Darcy's speech. "You do not understand," she began, turning round to face him, her eyes glistening with tears. "It's not your cousin I'm in love with, Fitzwilliam. It's you. I'm in love with you and I know you don't feel the same, which is why I ended it while I still had the strength to do so." She turned away once more, in a vain effort to control her voice. "And now I would prefer it if you left."

Darcy could not believe what he was hearing. It was the answer to his prayers. He stepped forward and slowly stated his intentions. "I'm divorcing Caroline."

Chapter IX.

"I'm divorcing Caroline."

Elizabeth could not believe what she was hearing. Still confused, she turned round to face him once more. "How? I thought that was impossible."

"It can be done, with the right connections." Darcy stepped forward until he was only two paces away from her. "Do you know why I'm divorcing her? Because I love you, Elizabeth, and," he knelt down on one knee, "I want to marry you."

Elizabeth was almost crying now. Still in shock she turned her surprise into anger. How dare you. "Get up," she whispered harshly, walking away from him. "How dare you ask me this, how dare you!"

"How dare I? Elizabeth, I thought........"

"You told me once that you never wanted me to feel obligated to you. And now you ask me this?!"


"Fitzwilliam, you may be divorcing Caroline, but you are not yet divorced. You have no right to ask me this now, not until you are free. You cannot tie me to you now, it is not fair on me. Now I think you ought to go."

Darcy stood in shock, unable to believe what had just occurred before his eyes. He had gone from the deepest despair, to the highest happiness and back again. Slowly he turned round and walked out. He would never see her again.

Elizabeth heard the click of the door closing and then the reality set in. She collapsed on the nearest chair, grief racking her entire body. "What have I done," she cried out loud, in a voice choked with tears. "I will never see him again."

Elizabeth was still in that position when she heard the return of her hosts, marked by the sound of a carriage. Not wishing them to see her in such a state, she quickly ran to her room, locking the door behind her. She sank down against it, tears overflowing once again.

Her friend found her in the same state the next morning after pounding on the locked door for several minutes. When it opened, Charlotte instantly inquired as to what was wrong.

"Nothing," Elizabeth lied, but her face gave her away. Charlotte shut the door and asked again. Elizabeth replied that she felt a little ill, would not enlighten her friend any further.

"Do you wish me to fetch you Aunt?" Charlotte asked, seeing that Elizabeth was in no fit state to see others right now.

"I do not wish to cause any inconvenience to you," Elizabeth slowly replied, for her planned leaving date was another week hence.

"It will only be but a week earlier than planned. I'm sure Mrs Gardiner will not mind."

Elizabeth silently consented to Charlotte's plan and her friend left to write the letter. Once alone she tried to calm herself down. The last thing she wanted was for Charlotte to find out.

After Darcy returned to Rosing he announced rather unexpectedly that he was leaving the next day. His cousin having travelled with him, agreed to return with him to town as well, much to their Aunt's annoyance.

The two gentlemen travelled to Hunsford the next day in order to take their leave. They only found three of the occupants at home, Elizabeth having taken a walk outside. Darcy knew she was avoiding him and in a sense that was why he was leaving Kent. He knew that he could do nothing to change her mind, particularly as she was right in this case. He did have no right. So the only option was to go to town and set things in motion, hoping that in time he would be able to offer himself once more, if he ever saw her again.

Elizabeth returned after they left, in some better spirits that before. She was most anxious to allay her friend's concerns and was able to do so before the end of the evening.

It was with some relief that she looked to her Aunt Gardiner's arrival the next day. She needed a change of scenery and the brief sojourn in London which had been planned to take place in a week's time but now of course was would start from today, would suffice. The only worry was that her Aunt might guess something more was wrong than just a mild illness.

Indeed her Aunt was most concerned when she arrived that next day to take her niece to town. The express she had received only told the barest detail, nothing of what was wrong. Mrs Gardiner could see the instant that she arrived that Elizabeth was not her usual self. It was something deeper than just a mild illness or desire to go home. And she was determined to find it out.

The long carriage ride to Gracechurch street did nothing to accomplish this. Mrs Gardiner was waiting for Elizabeth to begin, but the lady herself was silent the entire time, the recent events at Hunsford continuing to occupy her mind. Her emotions were still in turmoil. She had not in the least expected Darcy's declaration of love, or a desire to marry her for that matter, and her instinctive reaction to it had surprised her.

If she had not broken down, she realised, she would have run after him, retracted her statement, and bind herself to a promise that only minutes ago she had emphatically refused. Her refusal had been logical, and perfectly reasonable, except if she had had time to think, she would never had said it. What must he think of me, she wondered. The question bothered her, it had bothered her ever since the event. She knew at this moment he was perfectly justified to hate her, but all the same she wished for his feelings to remain unchanged. A part of her still hoped that they had a future together, as well as a past.

Aunt Gardiner glanced at her niece, her own mind equally thoughtful. Usually he was pretty adept at determining Elizabeth's feelings but this time she remained an impenetrable mask. She had nothing with which to base any suspicions on. She had gleamed very little from Charlotte who had seemed as baffled as she was. It was nothing to with their family, of that she was certain. Therefore it must have occurred in Hunsford.

Yet what was it? Mrs Gardiner ran over the last correspondence she had received from Elizabeth after the second week of her stay. It contained nothing out of the ordinary, not in tone or style, nor could she detect anything between the lines. Whatever it was then, must have occurred after that letter. Mrs Gardiner looked at her niece again, to see if her face revealed a possible clue.

Elizabeth was staring out of the doorway, a look of wistfulness upon her. It was obvious that her thoughts lay not upon the passing countryside. Mrs Gardiner wondered if it was perhaps to do with love, as she had often seen that gaze before, only this time the scarring looked to be of a much longer, much deeper nature. It also looked like she had confided in no one, leaving Mrs Gardiner to hypothesise that it was a love which had no future, which was not returned. Hopefully whatever it was she would confide in her aunt about before the two weeks of her stay were out.

The Gardiners house on Gracechurch Street was not of a wealthy style but for a house near Cheapside it was surprisingly comfortable and elegant. It housed their four children, with two spare rooms as well as the master bedchambers besides, and accommodated for a reasonable amount of servants. It was red bricked, with guarding railing and well kept lawns.

After installing Elizabeth and her luggage in one of the guest rooms, Mrs Gardiner gave her some privacy while she reunited herself with her children. Elizabeth took off her coat and went to the window. After surveying the prospect for some time, flashes of scenes at Hunsford began to appear in the window panes before her eyes. Instantly she closed them to try to prevent this, but it was to no avail. She turned away from the window and sat glumly on the bed, at a loss of what to do. Without realising, tears began to fall down her face.

"Lizzy?" Her Aunt tried to speak to her but in vain. She had seen the tears and her heart had lurched at the sight before her. "Dearest, will you not tell me what troubles you?" Still silence. "It might relieve you."

Finally she got a response. "I fear if I tell you it might forever alter your good opinion of me," Elizabeth replied sadly.

Now her Aunt was really concerned. "Nothing will change my opinion or my affection for you. Please Lizzy."

Elizabeth turned to face her Aunt and silently surrendered. Slowly and calmly, she began to tell her Aunt everything, right from the beginning.

Mrs Gardiner listened silently to her niece's story, as she told of the ball they had attended last year when they had met for the first time Mr and Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy, recently married. She explained how she had later met Mr Darcy on one of the balconies and how they had conversed amiably for almost all of the night. Then how they had met again the next day in the park.

She told of the constant walks and conversations which had sprung up after that day, of the first visit to his townhouse where it had resulted in committing the society taboo which Lizzy had dreaded of telling anyone. She confessed that the holiday she had supposedly spent with a friend before returning to Longbourn, was in fact spent with Mr Darcy. Finally she revealed the more recent events at Meryton and Netherfield, before she told of the Hunsford events where she had both received and refused a proposal.

If Mrs Gardiner was shocked she did not show it. Instead she took Elizabeth in her arms, offering comfort. True, she was surprised, indeed who would not be, but she still loved Elizabeth as both a friend and a niece. If anything, she admired Elizabeth for the courage she possessed in both ending the affair and confiding in on one. "So, what will you do now?" She asked.

"Try to forget him. What else can I do?"

"You will see him again, Lizzy. He is Charles' best friend. And when he does return to Hertfordshire he will most likely be free."

"That's if he is divorcing Caroline."

"Do you doubt him?"

"I........... I do not know, Aunt. This is the last thing I expected."

"Lizzy, do you not think that his concern merits an affection for you?"

"Does it? Considering the nature of our relationship, I think not."

"Yet you cannot deny that some part of you hopes this?"

Elizabeth sighed. "You right, I cannot deny it. Oh Aunt, how am I meant to forget him?"

"Perhaps you are not meant to," Mrs Gardiner suggested as Lizzy looked at her surprised. "Aunt, I thought you were rational. Do not tell me you believe in fate?"

"My children are too young for matchmaking, so my nieces have to suffice," her aunt joked back, finally getting a smile from her niece. "In all seriousness my dear, I never did until I met your uncle." Mrs Gardiner reached out to brush back an errant strand of Lizzy's hair. "Have faith my dear, and all will turn out well."

Over the rest of her stay at Gracechurch, Elizabeth kept her Aunt's advice in mind, and thus, was able to tolerably enjoy the fourteen days she was to spend there. It was with some effort that she kept the scenes at Hunsford from her mind, especially when her uncle announced a change to the holiday she was to spend with them, previously to be at the lakes.

Now, as her uncle informed her, it was only to be as far as Derbyshire. Elizabeth tried to express excitement at the prospect and her Aunt, seeing the conflicting emotions in her niece's face, assured her privately that they would change plans if she wished it. Lizzy however, managed to recover her spirits and after admitting to herself that she have to learn how to enjoy Derbyshire sometime, assured her Aunt that her worries were unnecessary.

So, a date for the holiday was set to be another two weeks time, giving Lizzy, she hoped, enough time to look forward to it with agreeable composure.

Chapter X.

Elizabeth had expected to find a changed Meryton and Longbourn when she returned from her Aunt's, feeling much better after a fortnight of enjoying all the pleasures that town afforded. Instead both appeared to be much the same as when she had left them.

Her father welcomed her back with open arms, relishing at the chance for some sensible conversation and a change of scenery from his study where he had spent most of the past six weeks.

As for Lizzy she was able to bare the memories of the past that any walks or places incurred tolerably well. Her Aunt's prescribed therapy had managed to cure some of the pain and although the scars remained, Elizabeth found she could bare it all better than she could do fourteen days ago. She had tried to avoid any indulgence upon how much she still cared for Darcy, lest it undid all the barriers she had built up to face the next time she encountered him.

As she was only to spend two weeks at home before she joined her and Aunt and Uncle once again, Elizabeth made the most of her time. She spent the first couple of days with her father, exchanging anecdotes, witticisms and the ridiculous which she had witnessed at Rosings and which he had witnessed at home. It was a talk they often did as Mr Bennet disliked writing letters and Elizabeth had had no time to do so.

They had used Mr Bennet's study for these discussions and after quitting it at the conjunction of such, they returned to the Drawing room to find the talk still of the same subject that had occupied Lydia for awhile. The Militia's departure for Brighton.

"I am sure," Mrs Bennet began on what seemed to be the instant that Elizabeth and Mr Bennet entered, "I cried for two days together when Colonel Millar's regiment went away. I felt as though my heart would break."

"I am sure I shall break mine!" Exclaimed Lydia, looking at her father. Mr Bennet calmly continued to read his paper.

"I should love to go sea bathing, " added Lydia a minute later.

"A little sea bathing would set me up forever," continued Mrs Bennet.

Still Mr Bennet did not stir. Instead he continued to read the article that had caught his eye, until Mrs Bennet's pleas became monotonous. Sighing he put down the paper and said, "and yet I am unmoved. Now Mrs Bennet, if you could refrain from mentioning the delights of Brighton for but three hours we shall pay a call on your eldest and presently forgotten daughter."

"Forgotten! Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome! I would never forget dear Mrs Bingley!"

And thus with the topic of Colonel Forster's and his regiment's removal to Brighton forgotten, the family went to Netherfield.

Jane was glowing with happiness, that was the first thing that Elizabeth noticed about her when they arrived. She glanced at Mr Bingley, and was pleased to see that his devotion was just the same and suddenly she wondered if he knew that Mr Darcy was divorcing his sister. The thought brought her some distress and her own sister, whose happiness always made her wish and try to make others just as so, remarked upon it instantly. Brightening immediately, Elizabeth assured Jane that she was fine.

They all retired inside with Mrs Bennet fawning over her son in law and Mr Bingley bearing it admirably, Lydia and Kitty giggling together, Mary flicking through her book, and Mr Bennet watching it all with a bemused glance upon his face.

Elizabeth and Jane exchanged news and the former was glad to hear that Jane enjoyed her life as a married woman and that it was just as perfect as Elizabeth had wished it to be for her. She kept silent still about her affair, even now that it was over, for fear of Jane's reaction. Aunt Gardiner might keep faith with her but Elizabeth feared to disappoint her sister.

Why am I doing this? She wondered to herself. She had managed to stop herself thinking about him for two weeks, yet the minute she had set foot in Meryton, she constantly wondered about him. Resolutely she dragged her thoughts away from him. It was over and, despite the fact that they were visiting Derbyshire soon, Elizabeth was determined to forget him. Little did she know how useless that vow would turn out to be.

The next day Lydia, Kitty and Mrs Bennet no longer hinted about going to Brighton. This was not because Mr Bennet had relented and decided to take them, nor was it because all the joys of Brighton had disappeared, it was because Lydia had received a letter from Mrs Forster inviting her as a particular friend to go with them to Brighton. It had set Lydia in the highest of spirits, Kitty in the lowest, and Mrs Bennet all excitement because of the honour of it and the possible matches it would bring.

Elizabeth however saw no joy in the prospect whatsoever. To her it seemed that this one trip would be a death warrant on her sister's character. She had seen Mrs Forster and was of the opinion that any further acquaintance would disrupt Lydia completely. She also knew that unlike at Meryton, they would not be able to keep Lydia in check. She looked her sister's departure with such a strong sense of foreboding that she resolved to speak to her father about it immediately.

Mr Bennet heard all of his daughter's concerns attentively and then said this. "Lydia will never be easy till she had exposed herself in some public place and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

Elizabeth had not expected this. "If you were aware," she began, "of the very great disadvantage to us all, which arises from Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner, indeed which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently."

"Already arisen!" Mr Bennet repeated. "Has she frightened away some of your lovers? Such squeamish youths cannot be of your concern surely?"

"I do not speak of Lydia scaring away any suitors," Elizabeth replied, "I speak of how her behaviour sets us all in a bad light. Forgive me I must speak plainly. If you, papa, do not take the trouble to correct her then she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be fixed as the most determinate flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. You know that Kitty follows wherever Lydia leads. Do you not see that they will be censored and despised wherever they are known and that their sisters will have to bare the disgrace."

"Lizzy, do not make yourself uneasy. You and Jane are respected and valued wherever you go and you do not appear to any less advantage by having a couple, I may say three, very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn unless Lydia goes to Brighton. Colonel Forster is a sensible man and luckily, she is too poor to be a prey to any fortune hunters. Do not worry, my dear. All will turn out well."

Elizabeth was resigned to having to live with this answer and for a while it bothered her more than she liked. However she soon reconciled herself to the fact that she had done her duty and beyond breaking her promise to Mr Darcy, there was nothing more she could do to dissuade Lydia from going. Her sister saw only the delights of the vacation, none of the realities of the world.

Elizabeth had barely a week left when Lydia departed along with the Militia to Brighton, promising to write but never fulfilling that promise. Her letters would be short and always long expected. They were also nearly always left in the middle of a sentence. As the news contained almost a different officer everyday, Elizabeth's concerns soon disappeared, and she was able to return to thoughts of her own vacation with eager anticipation. No thoughts about certain occupant of Derbyshire bothered her, which would have been a great surprise, had not wondering about it wrought an instant alteration to that revelation.

The day of the Gardiner's arrival soon came. They came with the children who were to spend their time with their cousins while their parents were away with Lizzy. They were sensible, well-mannered and with Jane visiting them when she could, no harm to their characters would develop. They stayed only a night at Longbourn and after seeing Jane and Charles, the three travellers departed the next day.

Mrs Gardiner observed some improvement in her niece and her admiration of Elizabeth's courage rose once more. However, she was determined not to avoid the subject of Darcy unlike the last vacation. Mrs Gardiner knew that Elizabeth would never heal unless she could talk of him without discomposure or fluctuating feelings, so she wanted to bring up the subject as soon as she could.

There was also the as yet uninformed plan to stay in the town of Lambton during the holiday, which was not very far from Pemberley itself, and Mrs Gardiner was yet to know how exactly Elizabeth would react to that idea. Therefore, it was with great concern that she broached the subject.

Elizabeth was surprised at first; indeed who would not be? But she soon found herself looking strangely forward to the visit, for although she had seen Kympton, she had never seen Pemberley itself, as Caroline had spent most of her time there, thus it would have increased the risk of discovery.

She experienced something akin to enthusiasm at the prospect of it, although thoughts of it's master would cause nothing but the opposite. She assured her aunt of her willingness and the visit was planned for the day after they had arrived at Lambton.

London, with all it's society and scenery, had been Mr Darcy's home since the death of his parents. He had rarely visited his country home before his marriage, spending no more than Christmas there, because of the memories that it brought of happier times.

Lately since his marriage he had begun to spend more time there, but as Caroline's preference was for the townhouse, the visits were usually no longer than a week or so. Now however Darcy felt a sudden urge to see the place once more, to take advantage of the peace and quiet which Pemberley afforded while his lawyer contacted the relevant parties and began the rather lengthily process of his divorce.

Darcy also wanted Caroline not to find out about what he was doing just yet. Although he knew from Bingley that Caroline had become resigned to not saving the marriage, he was fearful of what her reaction might be when he revealed what he had done.

He had no desire to be at the brunt of a deafening household as well as the gossip which society would no doubt be spreading the instant the news was out. So, a leisurely trip from London to Derbyshire would serve to delay it all until the events were beyond any prevention. He counted himself fortunate that the majority of his family supported in the venture, including, and much to his surprise, Lady Catherine de Bough.

He had rather tentatively broached the subject some days ago, expecting his aunt to give him an hour, if not more, lecture on the values of marriage. Instead, he had received a quiet acceptance of the plan. It had puzzled him at first until the next day, when his aunt began once more to sing the praises of his cousin Anne.

The plan of a union between them was in motion once again, despite the fact that Colonel Fitzwilliam was yet to be married, and Lady Catherine seemed willing to bare all the social disgrace a divorce might bring just to fulfil a plan that she had wished for since they were in their cradles. Of course Darcy chose not to inform his Aunt that he had no intention of ever marrying Anne in the first place, that would secure her instant disapproval. Nor did he mention who he intended to marry instead.

He thought of Elizabeth often, although he tried to avoid memories of Hunsford and the conflicting emotions it brought. It had taken him quite awhile to admit to himself that Elizabeth had been justified in refusing him. He had no idea how long his divorce could take and to tie a single woman to a promise which would be long in the forthcoming, was to effectively death warrant her eligibility.

However, despite all this the desire to marry her was still there and he was determined to ask her again once he was free to do so. He loved her wholeheartedly and to know that she felt the same had caused him happiness beyond words. He would have embraced her and declared his feelings that evening if he had not begun the conversation by stating his intentions.

He thought back to the last time they were together at Netherfield and what pleasure it had afforded. He had realised then that it was Elizabeth and Elizabeth only that he wanted to wake up to next to everyday, to spend the rest of his life with. He had lain there with her in his arms, revelling in the contentedness that he was feeling and wishing the night to never end. He had never felt truly happy until Elizabeth was with him.

He informed Caroline the next day of his intentions concerning Pemberley only to find that it was not just to be the three of them. The Hursts were invited to come as well. Now Darcy could have chosen to change this but his desire for peace and harmony overwhelmed any objections about the number of guests. Instead he prepared to depart the next day with all of them, arranging to spend time in his sister's carriage than in the other.

Chapter XI.

Elizabeth blinked for the third time and looked again. She could not believe her eyes. He had told her Pemberley was beautiful, but she had always assumed him to be biased. But he was right. It was beautiful, truly beautiful.

The first view she had caught of it was when the carriage paused briefly after the long avenue of trees had parted to reveal a sunken valley upon which lay a lake and the most beautiful house she had ever seen. It large, built of stone, simply finished, with no false adornments, nor was it too formal. It was in short, absolutely to her tastes.

As the carriage came to a stop outside the house, Elizabeth found nothing to alter her previous judgement. As she stepped down from the coach a thought suddenly occurred to her. Was the chamber - maid at the Inn correct in saying that the master was away? The though filled her with apprehension but it was quickly satisfied as the housekeeper came to show them around.

Elizabeth, upon first greeting Mrs Reynolds, remembered the stories about her that Darcy had once told her. She was apparently one of the few women who could overrule him and upon looking at her in the flesh, Elizabeth found some hints of that power. She smiled as she briefly imagined a scene where Darcy was obeying Mrs Reynolds commands.

The woman began the tour of the house and Elizabeth was pleased to see that the interior was also much to her tastes and perfectly complimented the exterior. One of the first rooms they saw was the late Lady Darcy's study, incurring another memory to Elizabeth, this time of when he had told her about his mother. She blushed briefly as she remembered Darcy's expressed wish that she had met his mother.

The next room was the Music room, where there stood pride of place, a piano which, as Mrs Reynolds informed them, was a gift for Miss Darcy from her brother. Mr Gardiner commented that Darcy was a good brother and Mrs Reynolds replied affably.

"And this is always the way with him, whatever can give his sister pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her."

Mrs Gardiner remarked upon how Miss Darcy must be such a good-natured girl and Mrs Reynolds was happy to confirm it so. Mrs Gardiner then turned and commented casually to her niece, "you met Miss Darcy at Jane's wedding last March, did you not, Lizzy?"

As Elizabeth confirmed that she had Mrs Reynolds appeared delighted. "You have met Miss Darcy, Miss?" She ascertained.

"Yes, when she and her brother attended my sister's wedding. It was to Mr Bingley, who is a great friend with your master I believe."

"Yes, indeed he is, they have been friends since Cambridge," Mrs Reynolds replied. "And now they are brothers," she added, in less eager terms. Elizabeth noticed it and concluded that Mrs Darcy was not much liked by any of the Pemberley Household. Mrs Reynolds then inquired if Miss Bennet had know Mr Darcy long. Elizabeth herself was at a loss as how to reply composedly, and her aunt replied in her stead.

"Yes, we had the good fortune to meet him just after his wedding at Lord Harwood's ball. Lizzy then met him when Mr Bingley let Netherfield and met his future bride."

"Did you find him handsome, Miss?"

"Yes," Elizabeth forced herself to reply, still blushing.

"He is indeed most handsome," continued his housekeeper. "And the most kind."

"And Mrs Darcy?" Mr Gardiner asked. "Is she just as kind?"

"Yes she is," replied Mrs Reynolds, although with considerably less enthusiasm than before, proving Elizabeth's suspicions.

The tour moved to the gardens, with Pemberley rising every hour in Elizabeth's heart. Indeed she could find no fault with it. Not that she had been looking for one. Flashes of times with it's master began to form once more in Elizabeth's mind. So full was her thoughts of him that she could have sworn he was standing in front of her. She blinked and found the image still remaining. She blushed as she realised it was not her imagination. "Mr Darcy!"

"Eli- Miss Bennet," Darcy replied, correcting himself just in time, noticing the Gardiners not far from them. Trust this to happen the day I go swimming in the lake. Hurriedly he recollected himself and inquired firstly after her and then her family.

"They are well, I thank you, sir."

"Er, how long have you been in this part of the country?"

"But two days, sir."

"And where are you staying?"

"At the Inn in Lambton."

"Yes of course." Idiot. "And your parents are in good health, and all your sisters?"

"Yes, they are all in excellent health, sir."

Darcy paused, at a loss to say anything else. "Excuse me." He walked past her towards the house, beginning to run as soon as he was out of her sight. She was here, she was here! He was certain he wanted to see her again, just in more respectable dress.

Elizabeth could not believe what had just happened. She had seen and spoken with him. Her first thought was to leave, indeed they had just reached the carriage when his voice stopped her once more.

"Please allow me to apologise for not receiving you properly just now. You are not leaving?"

"Yes sir, I believe we must."

"You are not displeased with Pemberley, I hope?" She must stay, she must.

"No, not at all."

"Then you approve of it?"

"Very much indeed. I think there are few who could not."

"But your good opinion is so rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning." Please, do not reject me. Can you not see I am trying to live by your wishes? Darcy turned briefly to see the Gardiners not far from them. "Mr and Mrs Gardiner, I am most delighted to see you both. I hope you have enjoyed Pemberley."

It was with improvisation like this that Darcy managed to keep them awhile longer at Pemberley. They headed down to the lake where by chance he was able to join Elizabeth once more. Slowly they began to walk up the steps.

Elizabeth spoke first. Aware that the Gardiners were not far behind them, she kept to formal address. "I wanted to say again, sir, how completely unexpected your arrival was. If we had known you were coming we would never have dreamt of disturbing you. Your Housekeeper assured us that you were not expected till the morrow."

"Please do not make yourself uneasy. I had planned it so myself, but I found I had business with my steward and so travelled on ahead. They will join me tomorrow; the Hursts." Darcy paused, leaving Caroline unsaid. "My sister is also to be of the party. Would you...... that is I believe that Georgiana would very much like to see you again. If you and your aunt and uncle do not have plans, will you come and dine here with us tomorrow night?"

Elizabeth saw no occasion nor reason to refuse.

The applause was genuine from all except Caroline Darcy who watched Elizabeth with envious eyes. No performance of hers ever drew such praise from her husband. What if...... No, it was impossible! And yet............

"Will you not play again? You played that song so beautifully."

"Not very beautifully," Elizabeth replied to Georgiana. "Not faithfully at all. You must have seen the way I slurred and stumbled through the difficult passages. But it truly is a beautiful instrument."

"My brother gave it to me this week. He is so good, I don't deserve it."

"I'm sure you do. Your brother thinks you do and as you know he is never wrong." Elizabeth turned to look at him and he had just begun to return the look when she turned away. "And now you must play."

Darcy watched his sister being persuaded into playing, trying to hide his approval. He would create suspicion in such an environment. Casually he glanced his wife, wondering if she knew. Certainly tonight would test that judgement.

Mrs Gardiner glanced over at Mr Darcy and wondered at him. His face showed clearly where his affections lay, indeed he was looking at Elizabeth with such an intensity that could only be described as a deeply held longing for her. She turned to her gaze to Mrs Darcy, to see if Caroline had spotted the expression. Surely after knowing him so well she could not escape to understand him?

Yet Caroline's face showed only that she felt put out, not the anger or jealousy Mrs Gardiner would have expected from her. She glanced at her niece, to see how Elizabeth was coping under Darcy's gaze and was pleased to note that she was coping better than she would have expected under the circumstances, forming instead a firm friendship with the sister rather than trying to meet the eyes of the brother.

To do Mrs Gardiner justice, it should be noted here that she was right in supposing that Elizabeth was coping better than expected. It was not without some difficulty however. Small glances were taken up and used to their advantage, as she took in the other occupants of the room. Darcy she tried to avoid whenever possible, as indeed the same for Caroline, whom she had an intense fear would guess if she so much as looked in her direction.

The party retired late to the Inn, all feeling that they had enjoyed the evening and entertained very little, if any, suspicion in their hosts.

Volume III

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 20212001-2020. All rights reserved.