Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 1 of 21

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Inevitable Change

What can we take on trust
in this uncertain life? Happiness, greatness,
pride - nothing is secure, nothing keeps.
~Euripides, Hecuba


Fitzwilliam Darcy winced as his tongue grazed across his bloodied lip. How did he get here, he wondered, squinting through his swollen, blackened eye. He turned his head from the pillow and looked about the room he'd rented in the small country inn.

It had been three fortnights since he had left Lambton – since he'd left Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sitting alone in her distress. He had since regretted his hasty departure, but at the moment it had seemed for the best for her. He'd determined within moments of hearing the story of Mr. George Wickham's seduction of Elizabeth's youngest sister, Lydia that he would have to lend his assistance to find the errant couple and bring them aright. He was driven not only by his guilt at not revealing Wickham's true character to the folk in Merryton, but also by his undeniable passion for Miss Elizabeth, and the hope that she may have sparked a passion for him, as well. It was that which carried him through the first days of his mission, knowing that she would be waiting for news of her wayward sister. He imagined the relief she'd gain on his behalf once Wickham's and Lydia's whereabouts were pinpointed. Her eyes, tear-filled when he left, would smile and shine once more.

That was the thought that sustained him as he raced through London, meeting up with his old contacts, and new, and walking the streets of the most nefarious places in that city. The thought of finding Wickham and Lydia in Gretna Green seemed improbable, as he had no doubt Wickham had no intention to marry the poor girl, but the search was on.

And on it went south onto the continent. Darcy had hopes that Wickham had joined a regiment fighting the French across that channel, and that a stray bullet would end up in that cad's head. But, another series of days left Darcy without victory. He crossed the channel again and ended up in, of all places, Cornwall – all for naught. Wickham and Lydia Bennet would not be found. He'd spent weeks trying to recover them, and had found nothing. Nothing but a split lip and aching jaw – leftovers from a brawl with a street hooligan in Falmouth, who'd accosted him at the local pub.

He contemplated the endless days of lonely riding he'd faced searching for that villain. His efforts had utterly drained him; he'd survived on few hours of sleep every night for weeks, but somehow his head was suddenly clear. The realization came to him - he was done looking. He could do no more. He longed to be home in London, or rather at Pemberley. Actually, it was not only Pemberley, but instead he longed to see Elizabeth – see her again, not at the tiny room in Lambton, but at his home Pemberley. He longed for it, ached to see her again walking his gardens, taking the winding paths to the woods - sitting next to Georgiana at the pianoforte - sitting next to him in front of a fire, side by side. He wanted to go home to Elizabeth.

But she'd be back at Longbourn, surely. He was uncertain because it had been days since he'd had correspondence from any of his connections. His cousin Col. Fitzwilliam had returned to his post after scouring the North country for the pair; he, similarly, had decided that the search was over. Fitzwilliam's stake was not as great in seeking out Lydia and Wickham; it was at Darcy's insistence that he assisted at all. In fact, Col. Fitzwilliam found it puzzling that Darcy would go to such trouble to find the cad and his dilettante – but, Darcy's sense of propriety would lead him where it would, and the colonel was loyal enough to follow.

Darcy was out of bed, throwing the sheets away from him and clamoring into his clothes. He was determined to be away, back in England before nightfall. He would obtain a horse and go directly to Longbourn, and then…then what? Admit to Elizabeth he left her to go hunt down her sister and put her family to rights? And that he failed utterly to do so? He paused, one leg in his trousers, the other out – and he wondered what exactly he was to say to her. He dropped back on the bed, pausing briefly. His inner thoughts tumbled. No matter, he thought. Just so long as I see her again. Just see her, not the way she was at the inn, not heartbroken. And if I am unable to give her solace, I can at least comfort her in her grief.

He was only too well aware of the pain found in those moments of grief and despair. He had lost both his parents, prematurely in his mind, and he remembered too keenly the edge of darkness he nearly stumbled upon when his sister Georgiana ran off with George Wickham. To have been played a fool by the man his own father had raised as a son, one who was as a brother to him – to have been betrayed in such a heinous and criminal manner. Darcy knew all too well the pain in Elizabeth's heart.

His heart ached for her, his heart ached for the love he knew he felt for her, and the love he hoped she had for him. True, she had rejected him those many months ago, in a most definitive manner. She had called him "ungentlemanly" and stated she would not marry him were he the last man on earth. He had taken her lesson and had learned from it. Yes, he was overly proud, and he conducted himself with arrogance and vanity. He had worked to change, and had the lucky opportunity to display his improved social skills upon meeting Elizabeth and her Aunt and Uncle quite unexpectedly on the grounds of Pemberley. That blessed summer week they'd spent at his estate and in the nearby town of Lambton – he sensed the distance between he and Miss Bennet was not that great after all. And she seemed to be coming to the same conclusion. There was such felicity in her eyes during those idyllic moments at Pemberley. Had her sister Jane's alarming letter not reached her at the time, he would've made another offer for her hand. He was certain she would've said "yes."

But now, he had a plan to formulate. He would ride to Longbourn, he would call upon her and bring her the news he had, which was pitiful in quantity. Lydia's actions had damaged her family's name beyond repair; he would comfort her in her desperation and his comfort would strengthen her. And then…then what? A proposal of marriage? Darcy paused again, this time in the midst of knotting his cravat; no, marriage would not be his offer. He could not offer that to her. Not now.

Again, his thoughts spun in his head. In these long frustrating weeks, he had not been willing to give up all hope of a more expansive relationship with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Indeed, his nightly dreams all carried a common theme – that of her lovely eyes looking up at him, her delicate hands upon the keys of the pianoforte, her light melodic laugh in his ear, her lavender scent in his nostrils. His senses were allowed to run rampant through his sleep, imagining and re-imagining the woman who had bewitched him so. His visions went further still with every moment away from her – in his resting hours, his imagined Miss Bennet in the gardens of Pemberley, throwing a glance at him over her shoulder and run ahead of him; he would give chase and reach out to catch her, his hand on her waist, pulling her close. And there were dreams beyond his dreams that were far more addicting and mind-addling – Elizabeth, kissing him with her soft lips, the curve of her naked, round hips before him on silk sheets on his bed at Pemberley, her melodic voice whispering his name against his ear. He had to see her again, and soon.

What happened after coming to her with his news of Lydia, or rather lack of news, was immaterial. He had to see her. He had to see her now. The next step would come to him, of that he was certain. The distance of the ride would allow him to set his plans.

He dashed down the stairs of the inn, threw a handful of coins to the barkeep to settle his bill, and ran toward the stables. He was off.


It was no trouble at all for the Gardiner family to take in the two eldest Bennet girls. Jane and Elizabeth were the favorites in the Gardiners' hearts and minds; the death of their father, Mr. Bennet, had laid a serious blow upon the girls' future – leaving their matrimonial fate in the hands of their mother's whimsy. But then, worse upon worse, the widow Bennet and her girls were immediately uprooted from their home; Longbourn's entailment was claimed by the repugnant Mr. Collins. Without hesitation, when approached by the girls' mother, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner could not bear any other arrangement than to have Jane and Elizabeth stay with them in town. Indeed, the couple rationally felt it was the girls' best chance for Jane and Elizabeth to make a modest match to some young working gentleman – for there was clerks and law secretaries galore in town, to be sure.

had accompanied his brother-in-law, Mr. Bennet, for the fortnight that the search was on for the foolish Lydia. Running low on resources and information, the men had returned to Mr. Bennet's country estate, forlorn and broken from their efforts. They accepted that the girl ran off with her dandy and she was surely fallen now. The rest of his children ruined at the impetuous whims of his youngest – and Mr. Bennet truly felt only he was to blame for permitting Lydia to run wild. He took to his bed immediately upon returning to Longbourn; he never stepped out of bed again.

Whatever ailment took him, (the doctor, who called upon the family later after Mr. Bennet had passed, said it was a broken heart) whatever sickness overcame the gentleman, it was merciful to the bearer, but cruel to its witnesses. Mrs. Bennet and her remaining brood were thrown into various states of shock, grief, anger, disbelief in a crescendo and decrescendo of waves. The entire storm caused by Lydia's scandalous behavior was forgotten; the severe disappointment they'd all felt when she was unfound dribbled away. The loss they felt of their father was their deep unyielding pain that they carried about in the root of their souls. The household, always lively with laughter or bickering or music or chattering, was silent.

Mr. Gardiner sent for his wife, to aid in preparing for the funeral and burial. A small stream of visitors began appearing at the manor's door. Sympathy wishes were collected and shown to the uncharacteristically subdued Mrs. Bennet; she had said very little on the passing of her spouse, and cried even less. Her daughters, in their grief, made little notice of their mother's changed state. However, after a space of time, a panic rose in Mrs. Bennet's heart. What would become of them all? Now that Mr. Bennet was gone, Longbourn would no longer be their home, for it was entailed to Mr. Collins. Indeed, he would be arriving any moment, Mrs. Bennet was sure, to claim what was now rightfully his. If only Elizabeth had done her duty by her family and married him in the first place when he proposed! That girl had ruined them all!

The case of the jilted suitor had long been a bone of contention between Mrs. Bennet and Lizzy. Mother and daughter scarce had a word to say between the two of them since Elizabeth had flatly rejected Mr. Collins' offer. From that day forward, Fanny Bennet blamed Elizabeth's strong will for the ruination of not only the girl's own marriage prospects, but also for the security of the entire family.

Mrs. Gardiner was quite alarmed to see Mrs. Bennet's strained relations with her second daughter after the passing of Mr. Bennet. The day prior to the funeral, Mrs. Bennet took to her room to receive mourners there, and throughout the house, one could hear the woman railing to her friends and neighbors against her daughter's frivolity in turning down the parson's proposal of marriage. "For now Mr. Bennet is dead, and we shall be turned out by Mr. Collins and that Lucas girl – that Charlotte! And Lydia, my Lydia has gone missing – at such a time! And she shall have no house to come home to – for Charlotte Collins will hold the keys!" This declaration would be followed by great sobs and flutterings of lace hankies, and the visitors would murmur, "There, there, Mrs. Bennet." It came to be that Mrs. Bennet would refuse to allow Elizabeth to attend her at all, which suited Elizabeth well enough, except that the burden would then fall to poor Jane.

The Gardiners, having met Parson Collins at Mr. Bennet's funeral, understood all too well Elizabeth's reluctance to partner with such a man. Her wit and charm, her spirit and independence – these attributes would have to have been scourged from her before she could engage in a marriage with such a numbskull. All the same, no matter how abhorrent the man was, Longbourn was indeed entailed to Mr. Collins, and he had held the key the Bennet girls' security all along. Mr. Bennet's passage meant Mr. Collins was now a gentleman of property.

No one was more surprised that Mrs. Bennet's dire predictions would come true than Elizabeth. Mr. Collins did indeed conspire to turn them out, and quite promptly after Mr. Bennet's burial. In all, the girls and their mother had but a space of 6 days to pack their meager belongings; all the furniture of the house, and the serving staff would stay behind. Tiring of blaming Elizabeth entirely for the family's woes, Mrs. Bennet spilled all of her ill feelings at Charlotte Collins nee Lucas' feet. "That Charlotte Lucas! First, stepping into the path of Lizzy's only marriage prospect, and then clearing us out of our own house! In our most troubled hours!" Jane would attempt to soothe and cajole her mother into calmness, "Mama, she is with child – she wishes to finish her laying in here at Longbourn – for it is…her new home now."

Lizzy would learn much later that the very pregnant Charlotte had little to say about her removal to Longbourn; the renowned Lady Catherine DeBourgh, of Rosings and patroness of the parsonage at Hunsford, had put it in Mr. Collins' head to act on his entailment, and to rightfully claim the land and house as his own. Citing the improper behavior of the youngest Bennet girl as proof that the family was not genteel enough to maintain an estate such as Longbourn, Collins made arrangements to settle his intentions the day after Mr. Bennet was put into the ground. In fact, when her husband declared his intention to have the Bennet family put out, Charlotte was in a state of emotional turmoil such as that she had to retire to her bed immediately. Two days later, the Collins' baby boy was born – too early and rather puny, but healthy all the same.

During the days after their father's funeral, and before Mr. Collins took possession of the property, the Bennet sisters had cast their lots in all directions. Jane and Elizabeth were to London, to stay with the Gardiners, Mrs. Bennet's brother and sister-in-law. Mrs. Phillips and her husband agreed to take in Mrs. Bennet and Catherine Bennet – they had little room or resources for more at their home in Meryton.

Most surprising was Mary's arrangement with the Collins to remain at Longbourn as nursemaid to their infant. She had proposed the idea to her mother and at the mere mention of the Collins' name, Mrs. Bennet had taken up one of her own slippers to throw at Mary – "DO NOT SPEAK of the Collins! WRETCHED CREATURES!" Jane comforted Mary, and pled the girl's mind to Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, who in turn consulted with Mrs. Bennet about the matter. In the end, it was the steadying and stern direction of Mr. Phillips who turned the decision in Mary's favor. "For what else has she? Why should she not, if she can, settle into a quiet life here where she's always lived? And if she is employed as a nurse, what of it? Many a nanny has been the object of a gentleman's affection. She may still find herself a match under the influence of the Collins' connections." Mrs. Bennet, thinking immediately of Mr. Collins' benefactor, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, and the prospect of that women's connections, objected no longer to Mary's putting herself forward as nursemaid the Collins' infant boy.

Elizabeth and Jane spent their final night at Longbourn speaking in subdued tones about what it would be like to live in London, and if they would ever see Hertfordshire again. Jane stooped to gather up Mr. Collins' gift of black bombazine silk Lizzy had thrown viciously in a corner ("For I am certain that the purchase of such materials may encumber your family at this time," he'd stated, as he presented the mourning cloth to the eldest Bennet girls. Once he'd left, Elizabeth gritted out, "Our only encumbrance is being thrown out of our home by his doing. Odious man!"). Jane folded the cloth neatly into her trunk. Elizabeth, brushing out her hair at the mirror, saw her sister's head bow and shoulders softly shake with tears.

"Jane, please no more crying. It hurts me so. I'm beginning to think mama is right – if I had married Mr. Collins –"

"If you had married Mr. Collins, then I would still be crying, and you along with me, for you would not be happy, and I would not bear to see you unhappy."

Elizabeth smiled at her sentiment. "Jane, all of this will pass. This tragedy – Lydia running away, papa's death, even losing Longbourn to Mr. Collins – these are tragedies we can withstand, for we shall be with one another. And we shall be with our much loved Aunt and Uncle Gardiner."

"I shall miss mother."

Elizabeth moved to Jane, and sat on the floor beside her. "As will I, but honestly, it shall be a relief to be in a home that is more serene. We shall be happy again, someday. I promise you. Perhaps we can view it as a rather long visit to town."

"A rather long visit, to be sure. Until another change takes place." Jane wiped away her tears and squeezed Elizabeth's hand. "There are many diversions in London, to be sure. And many suitable young men for two visitors from the country."

Elizabeth smiled further. "Perhaps, perhaps." She recognized her thoughts tugged away to one young man in particular, but a young man who she would never meet while staying the Cheapside townhouse of Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.

The two sisters climbed into the four poster, clasped each others' hands, and drifted to sleep – cheeks damp with their silent tears.


Darcy was usually not an impulsive young man. His thoughts and logic were measured and weighed carefully, always with an eye toward propriety and preserving the family name. He had inherited one of England's largest land holdings at the age of 22; he was sole manager, with a full serving staff and tenants to manage. He was not given to flights of fancy or changes in plans.

All of that was different since his growing infatuation with Miss Bennet; she had challenged the order of his world, made him question many of his beliefs about the society he had kept, about the way he regarded himself. She had turned him upside down and he found himself willing to take risks on her behalf.

So it was not a complete surprise to him to realize, as he rode the last mile to Hertfordshire, that he had three days' growth on his face, and had not bathed in twice that time. Indeed, he had spent three quarters of three days upright in a saddle, pounding away the miles to get to Elizabeth. At the last turn to Longbourn, he pulled up and contemplated again what his approach to her would be like, particularly if he arrived in such dishabille. He needed to amend his appearance, and quickly. He chose to take a side trip to Netherfield, country home to his friend, Charles Bingley. Besides, he had business with Bingley, such as it was.

Drawing his lathered horse to a stop in front of the manor, Darcy was startled to find Bingley on the steps, directing a band of workman to and fro. "What ho! Darcy!" came his friend's call. "Whatever do you think? I am leasing Netherfield – all of this is to go to London into storage for now, until I find a more suitable property, and….I say, Darcy, you are quite the tatterdemalion, aren't you?"

"Your observations are as succinct as ever," muttered the weary Darcy, dismounting his horse and handing the reins over to the stableboy. "I should very much like to call upon your courtesy, Charles."

"Yes, yes of course, Darcy, the guest rooms have not yet been disassembled yet. Only some of the bric-a-brac will be packed this day. I shall call for tea, and you may straighten yourself upstairs."

Three quarters hour later, the two gentlemen lounged in the front parlor, teacups in hand. "Charles, I come here on business - a matter that I should have cleared up some time ago. Charles, last winter, you left Netherfield for town – do you recall?"

"Why, yes, Darcy. We spent several months in town together – you, and Caroline and Luisa. We were there through the spring, if you recall."

"Yes. There was a purpose to your removal from Hertfordshire."

"Removal - from here, from the country? I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Darcy."

"Bingley, your sisters and I had concerns about your….attachment to Miss Jane Bennet. I had observed you growing… close to her in such a way that I felt it would be inopportune for you to stay on in her company."

Bingley paused, taking in this revelation. "You mean to say, you were attempting to keep me from….from Miss Bennet?"

"Yes Charles. We – or, rather I – had observed a rather disconnected manner in her regard for you. I doubted that she had the reserve of feeling for you as you had for her. I thought it best to avail you of any awkward progressions of relation with her, and so I convinced you to remove yourself from her neighborhood." Darcy paused, set his cup in its saucer, and leaned forward with a bowed head. "And, there's more….During the early part of the year, Miss Jane Bennet visited town in hopes to see you. I conspired to keep her from meeting with you there. She spent several weeks at her Aunt and Uncle's townhouse, waiting for you to call upon her. But, you were never made aware that she was there."

"You…lied to me? About Miss Jane Bennet?" Bingley's face paled, his knuckles white against the bone china cup. "My sisters, and you – you lied to me, Darcy!" His tone was more awed than indignant. It seemed improbable that his good friend would go to such lengths to hurt him, and in such an ungentlemanly fashion. "I cannot understand your reasoning."

"Forgive me, Bingley, I did think I had your best interests at heart. Since then, I have learned…perhaps I was wrong. I believe Miss Jane Bennet did indeed hold you in the highest regard then, and I have no doubt her feelings have not changed for you at all, as yours for her have not."

Bingley rose, and began a frantic pacing. "Her feelings? For me? Darcy, do you not know? Miss Jane Bingley's feelings for me mean nothing now. Have you not heard? Her youngest sister, Lydia had gone off with that scalawag, George Wickham! He, who ran up debts with all of the Meryton merchants! He's a seducer of women, and a gambler and a card cheat." His voice rose in pitch as he was overcome with desperation at his true love's situation and with his own anger with Darcy and sisters' maneuvers to separate him from Jane. "And now Lydia Bennet's mixed up with him. The Bennet family is no longer welcomed in town or anywhere - their position has sunk to the depths with this latest fiasco."

Darcy listened to his friend's assessment of the situation, not giving away his knowledge of it. In an attempt to play the devil's advocate, he said, "Surely, Charles, you are exaggerating. Mr. Bennet still is a gentleman, despite the unfortunate actions of his youngest daughter." Darcy made a vague half gesture. "Perhaps she and Wickham are indeed wed, after all. Then it is truly an elopement and nothing more. Perhaps Wickham will pay his debts, and clear his name in the town."

"Perhaps pigs will fly. Darcy, where have you been? Did you not receive word? Mr. Bennet has passed away these two fortnights ago."

Darcy sat up, the air knocked out of him. "What? How did it…?"

"They say his heart was weakened by the shock of his daughter's wicked ways." He added bitterly, "He should not have been so shocked, if he'd observe the girl around the militia officers while they were in Meryton."

"Mr. Bennet, dead. That means that...Longbourn was entailed to Mr. Collins, isn't that so?"

"Correct, Darcy. The Bennets have quit Longbourn altogether, and have flown their separate ways."

Darcy paled and set aside the teacup and saucer in his hand before it fell to the carpet. "Separate, meaning they are no longer at Longbourn? Where did she – where did they fly to?"

"They say Mrs. Bennet and Kitty Bennet have removed themselves to their Aunt and Uncle's in Meryton – a Mrs. Phillips, if you recall. The remaining younger Bennet girl, Mary, she's been kept on at Longborn as a nanny to Mr. and Mrs. Collins' infant – the Collins moved into the home less than a week ago.'

"And Miss Bennet? Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" Darcy's patience was wearing thin.

Charles stood and stepped toward the window, his forehead creased. "Jane and Elizabeth Bennet have moved to their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner's home on Gracechurch Street."

Darcy exhaled, and sighed. "They're in town? Just in London, not further? Then we can call on them – in two days' time, if we need to wait."

Bingley turned to his friend. "Call on them? I have little intention of calling on ….I think, perhaps, Darcy, you may be able to call upon them both, but not I." Bingley bit his lip, and his friend could see the struggle in his eyes. "I have considered the consequences such a connection would invite upon my family. To associate with the Bennets now would not be a feasible proposition for the matrimonial future of myself …or my sister, Caroline."

Darcy blinked at Charles' statement. "That surely is not what you mean…your fondness for Jane Bennet is not evaporated, surely. I have seen you speak of her since departing Netherfield." Darcy squinted at Bingley, sensing the subtle shift in his discourse. "You have taken on your sister's tone, Charles. She has obviously schooled you well in this matter."

Something like indignation percolated in Bingley. He'd been lied to by this man, he'd been treated like a mewling kitten by his sisters. He deeply felt the shame of being so ill used, coupled with his wounded pride. "I have made my decision, and I have made known to Miss Jane Bennet our connection is ended." Charles blushed deeply, clearly in conflict over his statement. Despite his resolve, the sound of Jane's name associated with an end lay heavily upon him. "I sent her a missive shortly after the death of her father."

"You wrote your intentions or withdrawal of said intentions in a condolence letter? I would not believe you to be so harsh, Bingley." A darkness gathered in Darcy's demeanor. He shook his head and rose. "You must see that Jane Bennet would surely welcome your compassion in the face of what has transpired in these long weeks. I cannot understand how it is you have had such a change of heart. I have not. Despite appearances to the contrary, I have the utmost regard for Miss Elizabeth - for the elder Bennet sisters - and I will seek them out in London. Do you have a desire to join me?"

Head bent, Charles Bingley indicated he did not. Darcy peered at his friend, and saw a man defeated. Bingley's feelings for Jane may not have changed, but somehow he'd been convinced to give up the connection once and for all, with little or no pretense. Caroline Bingley had much to do with this, Darcy thought. Selfish woman, so cold as to force her brother to sacrifice his chance for happiness on her behalf, so that she may marry up in society.

Ah, but it was not that easy. After all, it was only a year ago that he himself had interfered with the affairs of Charles' heart. While Darcy believed his actions were justified because his intent was pure, he acted with a cold logic and no regard to Bingley's ultimate happiness. He shared Caroline Bingley's view on the inferiority of Jane Bennet's connections then; then, there was little difference between Caroline and him, after all. And now the Bennet sisters were marked women, sisters to a luxuriant, debauched before her vows made and intimate with a man who'd proven himself locally to be a lech and a scoundrel. Of course, Caroline wanted to put as much distance between her family and the Bennets. Of course, it would be best to quit Netherfield and forget the Bennets once and for all.

Except if you were beyond forgetting them, as Darcy was convinced he was. Darcy felt obligated to aid Elizabeth and her all her sisters, considering it was his damnable pride that had cloaked the reality of Wickham's true character, thus leaving Lydia exposed to seduction.

Without revealing the details of Wickham's thwarted attempts to elope with Darcy's own sister, Georgiana, Bingley would not understand Darcy's call to duty. Besides that, Darcy doubted that Bingley would not deter from the course Caroline Bingley had set out for him. Bingley's happiness had been misplaced along the way; but Darcy sensed the man's present resolve and felt that his happiness would perhaps have to wait. Darcy discerned his own resolute stand to fly to the Bennet sisters would cause only more pain for his young friend. Seeing no reason to linger at Netherfield, Darcy bid his thanks to the young man, and planned to leave for London the next day.


Darcy rode the three miles between Netherfield and Longbourn in moments. He'd sent along his carriage to the rest stop on the way to London; he did not intend to stay long in Hertfordshire, but was drawn by a need to see the Bennet's former residence one last time. He would not set foot in Meryton; it held too many unpleasant memories for him. The assembly room where he first met then rejected Elizabeth was there; the street where he spied Wickham worming his way into the Bennet girls' hearts; he knew Mrs. Bennet now resided there, along with Kitty Bennet, but he felt their tendencies for dramatics would hinder his quest, rather than help.

He sought information more than anything. He wanted to know about Elizabeth and the manner in which she and her sister Jane had left for London. He wished to know if her father's passing was hard…of course, it would be, he thought – in their brief encounters at Rosings and Lambton, he surmised she was his favorite. He grimaced, thinking back to the empty well of pain that had filled him after his own father's death.

But to then lose her home, as well, to the odious Mr. Collins - and so soon after Mr. Bennet's death. What had Charles said? Mr. Bennett two weeks gone, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins moved within last week? How could Elizabeth have borne that? And what would possess, of all men, a member of the clergy, to claim the Bennets' home with so little regard to their grief – how would he not have allowed them a generous mourning period to mend their hearts? He would confront the servile little man, and Elizabeth's friend, Mrs. Collins, as well.

He was received at the door by a serving girl not much older than Georgiana; she stammered and blushed, obviously unaccustomed to receiving visitors of Darcy's stature. She brought him to the small parlor at the front of the house, where Mr. Collins welcomed him with a great flourish. Mrs. Collins made a small curtsey, then resumed sitting quietly by the fireplace.

"Mr. Darcy – it is a pleasure to receive you at Longbourn! We are so very honored by your presence in our new home! You are but one of the few visitors we have greeted of such esteem, besides, as you must know, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, your aunt and your charming cousin Anne. Please forgive the state of the rooms; we have not yet completely settled our household. And perhaps you have heard - we have recently experienced an addition to our little family…" Mr. Collins' eyes turned to his pale wife seated at the hearth.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Collins, Mr. Collins. I had heard there had been some changes since I'd last left Hertfordshire so many months ago." He glanced at Mrs. Collins, who then blushed and looked away from his gaze; he continued, "I had hopes of calling upon the Bennet family while visiting the area. I have been made aware that they have left."

"Since the entailment of the property was left to me, after the sudden demise of Mr. Bennet, the family has gone their separate ways. Sad tale, too tragic, really. Mrs. Bennet has taken up residence in Meryton with her sister – little Catherine Bennet stays on with her there. Miss Mary Bennet remains here, at Longbourn, as our nursemaid. She is with little Sebastian now, even as we speak. She is a very serious young lady, not at all exhibiting the weakness of character so prevalent in her sisters. The eldest Bennets chose to move to London and stay with their Aunt and Uncle – I believe they think their chances of marrying might be better given the town's multitude of unmarried men." Here, Mr. Collins leaned in towards Mr. Darcy and he stated in a confidential air. "Of course, all of their prospects have dimmed since the tragic fate of the sister named Lydia. She was involved with a nefarious officer in the militia. It was her wantonness and lack of propriety that drew him to her, no doubt; it reflected quite poorly on the whole of the family."

"Yes, I have heard of that girl's lapse. There has been no word from either she or the officer, I presume?"

"And none expected, I'm so very sad to say. Although, it was Lady Catherine who suggested that at this juncture, no report of the girl's folly would be good, and that it would have been better the girl had met with an untimely death instead – that fate would've saved the reputation of the family, no doubt." Mrs. Collins gasped at this statement, clearly not in agreement with such a view of the situation. Darcy turned his attention to her.

"Mrs. Collins, I believe you held the second daughter, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, in your friendship. Have you heard from her since her departure?"

Mrs. Collins, discomforted by the way Mr. Darcy was staring at her intently for his answer, again looked down into her lap and murmured, "Miss Elizabeth is a highly spirited young woman, Mr. Darcy. The circumstances surrounding her departure were such that she did not indicate our friendship would continue. She left in some haste, and much grieved after the death of her father."

Here Mr. Collins interjected, "But it was decided before Mr. Bennet's death – the family knew of the entailment, and was quite educated about the occupation of the house and lands once he passed. Lady Catherine herself urged the immediate acquisition of the property, given the fact that the family's name had been so tainted. It was best to secure the land and home right away so the Bennets could quietly retire to their new lives with some dignity. It would be insupportable for them to remain here, in a gentleman's home, given their close relative's blatant disregard of societal standards of propriety."

"Lady Catherine encouraged you to take Longbourn?" Darcy's jaw tightened.

"Under the circumstances, she insisted upon it. As one of the grandest ladies of the country – no, the grandest, surely – she understands the significance of setting an example of virtue and respectability for all. She found it intolerable that the Bennet family would still be held in any esteem after the youngest daughter's wild descent into immorality. After all, it was the Bennets' breeding and subsequent disregard of right manners that brought about the girls' downfall – that and the intrinsic evil in her spirit. Of course, a family so polluted could not continue aspire to the upper circles of gentle society under such a state of affairs. I am certain you would agree with her viewpoint, Mr. Darcy."

The gall of that woman, his Aunt Catherine, thought Darcy. Listening to Collins made him reflect upon what would've happened had Wickham's plan to elope with Georgiana had materialized. How quickly would Lady Catherine insert herself into Pemberley, judging he and his sister too tainted to own those sacred grounds? She would've place Col. Fitwilliam in his spot, and married Anne off to him to secure the deal…she was a conniving, wicked… and Collins, her lapdog, basking in the eviction of a widow and her young daughters, as if it were his moral duty to retool these womens' lives. It was too much to bear. He rose from his seat.

"Mr. Collins. I am much aggrieved by the news I've received here. I was not well acquainted with the family, but I considered the Bennets to be good people – and I still do. It is my intention to seek them out and return them to their rightful place in society. The sins of this girl, Lydia, have nothing to do with the others. Your presence in their household so soon after Mr. Bennet's death is a scandal in my eyes. You speak of a weakness of character – yet how easily you forsook your call to the clergy to claim the right of property. You have no rights to the title of gentleman in my mind, and never will. Good day, Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins." He turned and stalked out of the parlor, leaving Mr. Collins to stare after him with an apoplectic eye.

"Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy!" Mrs. Collins ran after him, and stopped him at the drive. "Have a care!" She caught up with him and whispered, "Mr. Darcy, your attachment to Miss Elizabeth Bennet was made known to Lady Catherine. I believe that is why Lady Catherine prompted Mr. Collins to take Longbourn – she sought to remove Elizabeth from your regard! She knows of your affection for Miss Elizabeth!"

Stunned at Mrs. Collins' declaration, Darcy could only stare and blink and stammer, "How? What?..." And finally, composing his features, "I have no connection with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I thank you, Mrs. Collins for this information, just the same. Good day."

Mr. Darcy mounted his horse, just in time to hear Mr. Collins huff and puff to his wife, "Come away, Charlotte, leave Mr. Darcy this instant!" With a glance back to the house, Darcy thought he spotted the pale visage of Mary Bennet looking out of an upper window, holding a wrapped bundle. He nodded an acknowledgement in her direction, uncertain if she would even notice, and spurred his horse into a gallop.


Mrs. Gardiner was not one to interfere with the affairs of her young nieces. Indeed, as a mother of younger girls, she did not feel she had the experience to guide Jane or Elizabeth in matters of the heart, as she had not yet had occasion to share her guidance with her own brood. All she could do is present them with the examples of her own fond attachment to Mr. Gardiner when he courted her. What happy times those had been – and how convivial their match had been well after the nuptial day. He was her pillar of strength, and she was his soothing balm after a long day out in the world of business. They shared much in the way of their personal tastes and leisure pursuits. Mrs. Gardiner had the best husband, with the best circumstances.

Aunt Gardiner was happy to open her home to the two young women; indeed, she believed herself more capable to take up the role as second mother to the girls, especially considering the fragility of Mrs. Bennet's nerves. Jane and Elizabeth's arrival to the townhouse in London revealed their quiet desperation in the face of their family's sudden upheaval. Jane was not to be seen at meal times at all – she'd taken to bed for the better part of those first few days. Lizzy, more active by nature, was given to sullen pacing through the rooms of her new home, on the first floor to begin, then to the second and third and then back down again.

They eventually settled into some sort of normal routine; Jane had adopted the task of entertaining and caring for the Gardiner children as her primary occupation. Lizzy found it necessary to take to rambling through the city streets – she would find the green space in the parks nearly to her liking, although it was obvious she missed the hills in Hertfordshire. She wished to walk alone, but with her aunt and uncle's insistence, she was always followed by one of their male servants at a short distance. It was highly unusual, but they had come to realize that their Elizabeth was indeed independent as she was clever and restless, and they thought their compromise was good enough for the time being - for the Gardiners, above all else, wished to provide comfort to the girls in their mourning, in any way possible.

However, when Lizzy had come to her Uncle Gardiner and expressed an interest to take up work in the local milliner's shop, a line was crossed. "I forbid it – it would not be in your best interests, Lizzy, to lower yourself to that sort of employment. Gentleman's daughters do not work."

"Uncle, it is not at all difficult work – just bonnet trimming – nothing more than what I've practiced all my life, without the benefit of compensation! What matters does it if I apply my talents at a shop rather than the family parlor?" She restrained herself from reminding him her position in society was dramatically altered – yes, still a gentleman's daughter, but with no fortune, limited connections, and tainted by family scandal.

There was no doubt, Lizzy was determined to do some sort of useful work - something other than pass the time prowling about the townhouse and strolling about the city. In the end, Lizzy won the argument, but again with certain conditions. Mr. Gardiner insisted on interviewing the shop keep, Widow McWilliams. He viewed the establishment with his keen eye for business, to assure him and Mrs. Gardiner that it was a reputable establishment. He came away from his visit to the milliner satisfied that Lizzy would work a few hours every other day, in the well-lit and airy back room of the shop. The Widow was more than willing to acquiesce to Mr. Gardiner's demands, for her business was brisk enough to need the extra occasional help Lizzy would provide.

Regarding the affairs of the heart, it was clear that the girls' recent courtships were not at all the same as what Mrs. Gardiner experienced in her youth. Such fluctuations of mind, such inconsistencies of heart! Mrs. Gardiner culled quite soon that Jane was no longer of interest to Mr. Bingley, although it had been reported months earlier by Lizzy that he was all Jane dreamed of in a man, and Mr. Bingley felt the same about Jane. Jane's visit to town earlier in the year had proven to be pointless; the young couple's attachment mysteriously evaporated, even before Lydia had so rashly thrown the girls' fates to the winds.

And Lizzy – what a peculiar thing she was! Having opportunity to press Elizabeth regarding her marriage prospects during their summer journey through the northern counties, was perplexed. Refusing to marry Mr. Collins, was a courageous act at the time, a foolish act in retrospect. And it seemed the tenderness and sympathy Lizzy had felt toward Mr. George Wickham had been extinguished for some time – he had of course attempted to court another young woman, an heiress, during his stay in Meryton. By summertime, Elizabeth had been quite removed about her feelings regarding George Wickham – she seemed glad rid him out of her heart. And of course, little did the family know Wickham would entwine himself with the youngest Bennet – the flirtatious Lydia - instead.

During those sunny walks together in the summer, Elizabeth insisted to her aunt that she had no other suitors; yet it was so obvious to both Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner when they'd visited Lambton, and by happenstance met the notorious Mr. Darcy – he of the ill manners and haughty airs – it was evident that there was an attraction there, on both his and her shares. She even cajoled Lizzy into admitting to Mr. Darcy's finer points, other than of course his possession of the grandest parcel of land in Derbyshire. He was handsome, surely she could recognize that; but had Lizzy not seen how genteel and welcoming he had been to their little traveling party? Where was his supposed arrogance? How very peculiar, indeed.

But of course, it was assumed Mr. Darcy would no longer have regard for Elizabeth, not now that Lydia had eloped with that wicked Mr. Wickham. Lizzy had intimated to her aunt and uncle what she knew of that cad's past behaviour, and what it would inevitably would mean for Lydia, for Jane – for all of them. Utter ruin. And then to have her dear papa pass away, and so suddenly, and to have their house and lands taken from them – stripped of their position in society almost totally. It was so very much to bear, even for a young, spirited woman such as Lizzy.

Given the complexities of the girls' situation, it was understood that neither would receive callers of a romantic nature any time soon. Mrs. Gardiner had hopes that once time had passed, once the sisters had given over to grief and subsequent healing, that there would be opportunities to present them to the small circle of London acquaintances she and her husband had come to know. Actually, Mrs. Gardiner had thoughts that one or two of her husband's young clerks might prove true for the girls' future, and might be successful enough in the business to see them well provided for.

Amidst pondering these future plans, Mrs. Gardiner could scarce believe her eyes when Mr. Darcy stood there, upon their doorstep – not once, but twice – asking to see Elizabeth. It was her pleasure to welcome the handsome young man into the townhouse; Mrs. Gardiner received him to the parlour, but Lizzy had sent word through their maid she was unavailable – both times. Mrs. Gardiner was mortified the second time Lizzy had sent the message to him. A fine young man, obviously interested in Lizzy's welfare despite her present situation - to refuse to see Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Derbyshire - what could Lizzy be thinking?

Truth be told, Mr. Darcy encompassed all of Elizabeth's thoughts and feelings, and it dismayed her heartily. Her recent life experiences - that she would experience such humiliation at the hands of her own sister and a man she'd considered an intimate; that she would lose her most beloved father, a man who filled her life with so much light and laughter; that she would be removed from the country estate that she loved so dearly, where she'd been born and raised – these were the things that should have occupied her mind.

But instead, it was Mr. Darcy that stole into her head, like the phrase of some melody that could not be forgotten. And she thought of not just one Mr. Darcy, but all of them – arrogant Mr. Darcy of Herfordshire and Netherfield, presumptuous Mr. Darcy of Rosings and Hunsford, tender Mr. Darcy of Pemberley and Lambton – she would find herself shuffling through the Darcys in her head, like one would shuffle through cards. At night, she would mechanically braid her hair, assigning each thick strand to one of the Darcys she'd come to know. Which was the real Darcy? Surely, he was all of them at once, but how she was not able to ken. And she had resolved there was no need to try and reason – he had abruptly left the inn at Lambton when he learned of Lydia's indiscretions. He would no longer seek her company, and he would never, never renew his courtship to her.

Then, one morning, the word came from below that he was at the townhouse door, and being received by her Aunt Gardiner in the parlor. The house maid, Amy, waited for Lizzy's answer to his call. "Jane, you go – go and see what he wants," she told her sister impulsively. She feared the Darcy downstairs would be the one to break her heart at last.

Jane expressed her sister's regrets to the gentleman, and she and Mrs. Gardiner spent a pleasant, albeit uneventful quarter hour with the young man. Jane smiled politely, and Mrs. Gardiner spoke of her childhood home in Lambton. Some few dozen words were exchanged about the weather, and then Mr. Darcy bid his adieus. As he bowed to the ladies, he thought he caught a glimpse of white gauze flashing between the stair banisters beyond the hall – he imagined that perhaps Elizabeth had been there, a moment ago, viewing his departure from the house. He took this as a good sign that perhaps she would receive him next time.

He would prove himself wrong. His second visit to the town house proceeded much as the first. He was received by Aunt Gardiner and Jane Bennet, in the front parlor. Again, Jane apologized that her sister was not able to receive visitors because of a minor illness; again, he conveyed to her his regret that he would not be able to see her. The conversation turned to the simple, everyday topics, and then he rose to bid them farewell. He looked down the foyer hall towards the main stairs, to see if he could catch a glimpse of Elizabeth's presence, but none was to be had this time.

Aunt Gardiner confronted Lizzy about her refusal to receive Mr. Darcy. "My dear, he asks specifically for you- do you not see what that means?"

"It means nothing, Aunt, except he wishes to extend his condolences for my pitiable situation."

"Lizzy, Mr. Darcy has been all of kindness and friendship these past few weeks. He has been quite cordial in his visits. I do not think he pities you at all," chimed in Jane.

"Perhaps not pity, but he has no real regard for me. He had more regard perhaps, before Lydia ran off with Wickham, but now his main regard is to avoid scandal. He wishes to conclude that which he is deluded himself into thinking has started. For he is a man of some great propriety, and would take the proper action."

"And just what has he started with you, my dear?" questioned Aunt Gardiner, looking quite concerned.

"Nothing, Aunt, and there's the joke of it – he wishes to end what has never started at all!"

"Lizzy, you are very naughty to laugh at Mr. Darcy's expense. I do believe he sincerely wishes to speak with you, and not just out of a sense of decency. Lizzy, I believe he has a…romantic intention!"

Lizzy laughed aloud. "Oh, Jane, too much! Aunt Gardiner, don't listen to her – she sees romance everywhere, for want of a happy ending. Jane, our love stories will have to be revised, I'm afraid. There are no rich men in want of the likes of us!" Lizzy looked thoughtful for a moment. "This I will allow. He does seem to enjoy your company when you receive him."

"Yes, Lizzy – he is not at all imperious or arrogant – those were the words you used to describe him, remember?" Aunt Gardiner raised her eyebrow to Lizzy, and Jane stifled a small laugh. "He seems very amiable, indeed."

"I cannot fathom it. Nor can I gather why he would wish to meet with me. If he calls again, I shall send him away. I cannot entertain a connection with him, for it would lead to misery for both he and I – he would learn too late that my social status would be his family's downfall. And I would learn too late that I rather fancy him."

Lizzy was good to her word. The third visit, in as many weeks, saw Mr. Darcy received neither by Mrs. Gardiner nor Jane, but by a note handed to him on a silver tray by a servant.

"Dear Mr. Darcy," it read. "My deepest regards to both you and your dear sister, Georgiana. Please forgive my absences from your calls these past weeks. I have not been able to receive you, and at this juncture, I must discourage you from calling upon me or my family. I cannot deceive you. Given the distasteful occurrences surrounding my youngest sister's disappearance, and the recent entailment of my family's estate, I fear for your reputation should you continue to pursue relations with me. I value you and your sister's good name too well, and must refuse your addresses.

I ask that you find in your heart some means to forgive me for the cruel way I have treated you, particularly in regards to your relations with George Wickham. I judged you very ill when Mr. Wickham relayed his story; it was my failing to believe him instead of you, and I beg your forgiveness. I laid at your feet many accusations that day you announced your attentions at the Hunsford parsonage. I see now, given the wanton behaviour of my youngest sister, why you had to disengage your friend Mr. Bingley, from his pursuing my sister Jane. It is too evident now that my family's inferiorities would have been his ruin. Your judgment was sound in this matter, and your reputation untouchable regarding Mr. Wickham. Know that I bid you farewell; I hold you in the highest esteem. I will strive to remember strolling the gardens in Pemberley this past summer, and I will think on those times most fondly. God's blessings to you and yours, Elizabeth Bennet."

Peeking between the curtains of the townhouse parlour, Elizabeth could see Mr. Darcy accept the letter, peruse it hastily on the front stoop, and then bid the steward good day. She watched him turn on the step, and observed his retreat as he took leave of the townhouse once and for all.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 1 of 21

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