Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 10 of 21

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Inevitable Change

When the hour came, Elizabeth accompanied Georgiana to the foyer, so that she would greet her guests. "You look lovely, Georgiana; quite grown up," said Elizabeth, embracing the girl.

"I am so nervous, Elizabeth – I do not know why. Perhaps because I know this will be the last occasion we shall attend together for a long time."

"Perhaps, but you no longer need a companion, Georgiana. You have become quite the socialite. If I am fortunate, perhaps you shall invite me to join in one of your fashionable salons."

Georgiana laughed aloud. "Oh, Elizabeth, surely by now you know that I will never reside with the London set – I shall happily retire to Pemberley after this party, and never look back until I'm forced to return next season! For as much amusement I've enjoyed in society these past months, I miss the quiet and peace of the country. I will be more than content to hibernate through the long months there. And then, perhaps you will have made your fortune in India, and I can present you to Court!"

"I would not plan on anything, Georgie, only enjoy what time we have right now. It is good to see you know your mind, and are willing to state it plainly, though. You have changed so much – you have grown so!" Mr. and Mrs. Darcy then made their entrance into the foyer, Caroline throwing her usual glare of contempt at Elizabeth. As was her habit, Elizabeth made a quick curtsey and stepped away from the small group.

The guests began streaming in, and Elizabeth remained to her self, sipping tea in a corner, and occasionally conversing with those of her acquaintance. She glanced about the room, and recognized some of the young gentlemen of the better families in town that had made Georgiana's introduction during the season. In planning the guest list, Georgie had included most of the men equitably, without special favor, for it seemed that none of them had attracted her sole interest, but rather all of them held merit. And so, the room was filled with eligible partners for her, and since receiving Captain Danbury's gift, perhaps for Elizabeth as well. For, word of Elizabeth's good fortune had already started circulating among those familiar with the Darcy's and Bingley's – even though the party was not taking place in a common assembly room, the guests were not above common gossip.

One guest in particular was particularly interested in Elizabeth's recent turn of fortune. Lady Catherine DeBourgh sat, holding court on one side of the ballroom, her sickly daughter Anne perched beside her. If Elizabeth had the mind to position herself closer to that grand lady, she would easily overhear the diatribe about the gall of some people, thinking a gift of a generous allowance and a dowry would be enough to grant one entrée into good society, and how dare Miss Elizabeth Bennett show her face among the members of the ton, with a loose sister who was barely attached to some sea rowdy; what sort of upstart would venture to the wild ends of the world to seek a pot of gold, placing herself at risk for "going native" – for surely, a girl from a family of such ill repute would not have the decency to maintain acceptable cultural lines or boundaries!

Some time later, Elizabeth realized that Anne DeBourgh had surreptitiously removed herself from her mother's side, and had sidled up alongside her. Quietly motioning to the empty chair next to Elizabeth's, waiting for permission to sit beside her, the spectre-like girl sank on the cushion with an intake of breath. "Miss Elizabeth," she half-whispered, "It is good to make your acquaintance again."

"And yours, Miss DeBourgh. I hope you are in good health. I know that the trip from Rosings must have proved tiresome for you."

"Yes, yes, enough of that. Let us not spend what little time we have speaking of my delicacies. You are bound for India, or so I've heard."

With not a little surprise, Elizabeth gazed at Anne's watery grey eyes. "Yes, you have been given correct information."

"You must consider the railroads, Miss Elizabeth. Consider placing your fortune in the railways."

Again, with surprise, Elizabeth murmured, "Thank you, Miss Anne. I shall consider it."

Anne's gaze flickered across the room, and spied her cousin Darcy, with Caroline at his side. Gesturing with a tilt of her head, she said to Elizabeth, "He should not have married her." Elizabeth blushed at the young woman's declaration. "No, no, do not be shocked, you think the same as I – although I think he should have married you."

"Miss DeBourgh, I hardly understand what it is you are saying…Mr. Darcy could not…would not…"

At Elizabeth's stammering, Anne tilted her head back and smiled broadly, a skeletal smile that gave Elizabeth chills. "Could not – hardly, he could do what he pleases. Would not? Maybe." Leaning into Elizabeth, she hissed, "But he tried, didn't he?" And again, this time with a gasping titter, she raised her head up and grinned again. "I have known illness, in my days, Miss Elizabeth. And I have seen Darcy quite ill in love – because of you! And I do believe that there was a time he would've had you, if you had wanted to have him. But you did not. Now, you both ache, do you not?" And with that query, she laughed outright, to the extent that she had to stifle the noise with her ever-present handkerchief.

"Miss Anne – you astonish me. Why ever would you believe that Mr. Darcy, master of a great estate such as Pemberley and of Derbyshire – why would he choose to… have me? It is known that you were his intended, before – before his - amorous confession to Mrs. Darcy."

"We both know there is little amour in that match, Miss Elizabeth. As far as Darcy being intended for me – there are only two souls in the world who wished that, and one of them is dead. The other, well…" and she glanced toward Lady DeBourgh. "Miss Elizabeth, please know that I do not with you harm, nor do I wish to expose William. I feel for you both - pity. For to have loved and lost…I do not know that it is better. I have never loved, myself."

Elizabeth stared again into her great grey eyes, knowing she was sincere. Anne placed her bony hand upon Elizabeth's and gave it a small squeeze, then removed herself from the chair and evaporated into the crowd.

Before Elizabeth could recover, another figure emerged from the crowd – this one more welcome – Col. Fitzwilliam had appeared before her. "Miss Elizabeth, how well you look," he declared with a bow. "London society has converted you utterly!"

With a laugh she replied, "I am still an acolyte, I promise you, Col. Fitzwilliam! Sometimes, I do not think I shall ever espouse the faith," she teased.

"Nonsense, I understand you are to be the talk of the ton by next season! A trip to India, to gain fame and fortune – the Elizabeth Bennett of Hertfordshire will soon be forgotten, to be replaced by an oriental princess of much renown!" His smile was contagious and Elizabeth had to laugh at the picture he painted of the best of London society discussing her prospects and her returning to England tied to Indian royalty.

"Sir, you do honor me with your dreams of my ambitions!" And they both shared the laughter. Col Fitzwilliam requested the next dance, thus permitting the conversation to continue.

With a slight lilt in his voice, Col. Fitzwilliam took the opportunity to ask Elizabeth about her position as Georgiana's companion. "How is my dear cousin? Has she enjoyed your company?"

Elizabeth assented and added, "And I, hers. She has developed into a true lady, before my very eyes."

"Yes, I can see it myself this evening." He took a moment to look up the row of dancers, to see Georgiana curtsey deeply to her partner. "She is most exquisite this evening. How is Darcy doing with her sudden transformation?"

Elizabeth laughed nervously. "I do not think her transformation sudden. And I do not think Mr. Darcy sees any change at all. He has had other - subjects - on his mind."

Col. Fitzwilliam grunted in response, as the dance went on. "Darcy's vision is limited at times. He cannot see past his own fastidiousness." With a pause, as the music concluded, the colonel explained himself, "That is to say, he is so very devoted to his own family and to those he loves, he is not always objective." Elizabeth nodded, although she was unclear as to the Colonel's meaning.

Darcy had been observing his cousin dance the quadrille with Elizabeth with great interest. He narrowed his eyes as he viewed Robert's hand clasping Elizabeth's, and his other arm about her waist briefly. Why did he insist on dancing with her, wondered Darcy. She is beneath him – she surely hasn't enough fortune to interest him. Then, his thoughts paused at the sudden realization. He had not learned of the details of Elizabeth's sudden wealth…perhaps it was enough to pique the interest of an earl's second son…Mr. Darcy approached the couple.

"Darcy – Miss Elizabeth and I were just speaking of you!"

Darcy, seeing Elizabeth share a conspiratorial grin with Col. Fitzwilliam, did his best to conceal his emotions. Elizabeth noticed the muscle flexing alongside his jaw, and glanced away nervously. Darcy thought to himself, she is free to converse with whomever she will. Wife of his heart did not mean that she was his, only that he was hers.

Georgiana breathlessly ran up to the group. "William, good – you remembered! It is time for the waltz – and you found Elizabeth, as I said you should!"

The waltz – Elizabeth had forgotten. She had meant to release Mr. Darcy of his commitment to her for this dance, so he would not suffer the mortification of partnering with her. Darcy pulled his eyes away from Elizabeth, and bowed with a smile to Georgiana. "It is my pleasure to relieve Miss Bennett from the clutches of this scoundrel." Georgie laughed , and Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes in mock disgust. Then, to Elizabeth, with a warm smile, Darcy held out his arm.

Glancing up at him through her lowered eyelashes, she could not see any indication of distress in his demeanor, even though the atmosphere in the ball room had changed subtly. Looking about the room, it was obvious there were some whispers, some words behind the fans of the ladies. Two faces of the crowd caught Elizabeth's attention most acutely: Lady Catherine DeBourgh sat in her corner, pinched eyes peering down her long Roman nose, with degree of distaste Elizabeth had yet to witness on the old woman's face. The other visage: Caroline Darcy, who stood stock still, staring at the spectacle of her husband leading another woman to the floor in order to dance the most scandalous dance of the century. So careless, thought Elizabeth, but the deed is done, or will be done as soon as the music commences. She took in a breath and waited for the first strains of the introduction.

"Miss Elizabeth," bowed Darcy, then he drew her toward him for the preparation of the dance. "Elizabeth," he whispered, "Just look at me." And the music began in earnest and all the couples who chose to dance began whirling about the ballroom. Elizabeth was giddy from the spinning, ebbing and flowing of the dance. Darcy twirled her about, hand over her head, then pulled her back toward him, in an enthusiasm that caused her bodice to press briefly against the hard shell of his chest. She was cognizant of his solidness under her delicate hand that lay lightly upon his upper arm and in his hand. She felt the pulse of his heart under her fingertips, and the smell of him whirled through her nostrils, as they went around and around again. She lost herself in his dark eyes, and resisted the urge to plow her hands into his dark curls and draw him near to kiss his lovely lips and taste him again at last.

The music was over before it started, or so it seemed, and at the end, Elizabeth and Darcy froze in position, staring deeply at each other until the other dancers began to applaud the orchestra for their performance. Tearing his eyes away from hers, Darcy glanced about and observed his cousin and Georgiana also on the dance floor apparently recovering from their turn about the floor. The next waltz was about to start, and Mr. Darcy turned back to Elizabeth. "Would you care to dance again, Miss Elizabeth?"

Fighting to control her breath, and overcome by his closeness, she politely bowed out, claiming a need for rest. "Allow me to accompany you to the gardens –you may wish to get fresh air." Elizabeth assented, and the two began to work through the crowd to the glass French doors. Mr. Darcy was stopped along the way by a footman, who informed him Mrs. Darcy had gone to bed with a sick headache. He acknowledged the news with a nod of his head.

When the servant had retreated, Elizabeth asked Darcy, "Should you not attend to her, sir?"

He gave her a sidelong glance. "I do not think she is so terribly unwell…We had a discussion about the events of the evening, is all. It has given her …a headache, which is all."

They sat on a stone bench, far removed from the crowd in the ballroom. After a silence, Elizabeth began, "I had the opportunity to speak with your cousin Anne. She has a great deal of sense, and much to say, so I found."

"Anne has had the pain and pleasure of being her mother's daughter. The pleasure is that she is often not required to take part in conversation, and therefore is free to observe quietly and collect her own private observations and wisdom. The pain," he added dryly, "…well, you may very well draw your own conclusions regarding the pain of her relationship with her mother."

Elizabeth smiled, amused that he could tease about the great Lady DeBourgh, his aunt. It wasn't that long ago that she believed he would never disparage any of his relations, no matter how obnoxious, because of his pride in his family. He had changed as well, these past months, as much as Georgie. Was there ever a moment when everything would simply stay the same? Or was that what life was, ever moving, ever changing?

"Elizabeth, you are deep in thought this evening. Perhaps you are recalling your conversation with another of my relatives?"

"Do you mean Georgie?" Elizabeth asked archly.

Darcy groaned and rolled his eyes. "Elizabeth, you must know that I mean the Colonel." He paused, too embarrassed to continue, but not able to cease. "I would very much understand if…if Robert holds some allure to you, now that you have come into a dowry…"

Elizabeth turned to him, shock in her face. "Mr. Darcy – I am stunned. How could you think it? Col. Fitzwilliam?"

Darcy released his breath, an expression of relief on his face. "I'm sorry, I just…I am aware that Robert has a rather easy way around women."

With a raised brow, Elizabeth chirped, "Do you mean your cousin is a flirt?"

"Wha- no, no that is not at all it, it is just that he has a way, a manner of fitting in with anyone, that I have not. He is far more comfortable in society than I."

"Ah, perhaps he can train you in how to socialize with the tender sex," she teased.

Drawing himself up in mock-defense, he said, "Wait, now, a moment. I never said I was incapable. I hardly need to go back to school."

With laughing eyes she quipped, "No, I would think not – after this evening, I can attest you merely have to waltz with a woman to have her find favor with you!"

His eyes bore into hers, and he asked, "Do you find favor with me, Elizabeth?" He allowed his fingertips to brush against hers, hidden by the dark in the garden.

"I find that I favor your waltzing particularly. I see now why it is such an infamous dance."

He suddenly rose from the bench, bowed to her and extended his hand. She tentatively stood and curtseyed to him, and allowed him to place his hands upon her waist in the position once again. "It is not too very different than any other country dance." He slowly swayed her on the spot, in a slow three-quarter time, much slower than the orchestra's pulse inside the ballroom.

There they moved in the silence, away from the crowd, and his head bent down to hers, and he kissed her gently, and she responded. She felt the blood rushing to her head, pounding in her brain, deafening the warnings that beat within her heart. She raised her arms to embrace him more fully, and he brought her body even closer to his. Her fingers found their way up to his dark curls, and his hands wandered down her back, her waist, squeezing their way to her hips, pulling her closer still. She was still not content, and had to touch him the way she wished he would touch her – her hands stole down his chest, under his jacket, so that she could feel the tight muscles stretching across his back. He reciprocated by approaching that which he most desired – his hand moving up over her waist, upward to her breast – and cupping that warm flesh, stroking the exposed skin with his thumb, feeling the raise of the nipple under the light fabric against his palm.

"Enough!" she stopped him, stepping away from the embrace. Catching her breath, she laughed a little to break the tension. She continued, "Mr. Darcy – I cannot pretend that I do not wish this – dance – could continue. But you and I both know it cannot. You are a married man, and I am bound to travel abroad. I ask you to forgive me, for tempting you so."

Darcy laughed, drawing his shaking hand across his eyes. "You, forgive me? Elizabeth, I should be asking you for forgiveness. I draw you into sin, every time that we are together. Remember, I asked you to dance."

"But I allowed it. And so it would go, on and on if we do not part company immediately. And, so I must bid you good night." She turned to leave the garden, but nearly crashed into Col. Fitzwilliam with Georgiana on his arm. Self-consciously, she smoothed her hands down her dress, and the curls that had evidently gone astray while dancing with Darcy.

"Elizabeth! There you are! Oh, and William – I've found you both! Wait until you hear the news!" As usual, Georgiana's enthusiasm was buoyant, and both Darcy and Elizabeth turned to her expectantly.

Georgiana smiled broadly with dancing eyes. "Robert has agreed to accompany me on a trip to India, to visit you, Elizabeth! We'll be ready to depart in a month, no more than two, he says!"

William and Elizabeth both stared, looking from the Colonel to Georgiana in utter surprise. Elizabeth was the first to speak, in a restrained voice. "Why, Colonel, what a generous offer. How lovely to think you and Georgiana shall join me for a spell – what a marvelous adventure!"

"Adventure!" Darcy railed. "More like a disaster waiting to unfold! Georgiana, you cannot mean this. India is a wild country – it's hundreds and hundreds of miles away! There are bandits and animals, dangers around every corner!"

"I shall be with her Darcy," stated Col. Fitzwilliam. "I can set the arrangements into motion in no time at all. Miss Elizabeth's departure is very much on Georgie's mind; I thought planning a jaunt might ease her sadness. It is my birthday gift to my beloved niece." He bowed to Georgie, and graciously kissed her hand, causing her to blush and giggle. He turned and gave a brilliant smile to Elizabeth.

Darcy, still filled with shock and rage, quietly took in his cousin's explanation, as well as his beaming grin at Elizabeth. He had little else to say in the conversation, as his sister and cousin discussed their plans with Elizabeth. Darcy observed and collected his thoughts, which held the primary motif, "Adventure. Indeed."

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 10 of 21

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