Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 12 of 21

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Inevitable Change

Fitzwilliam Darcy winced as his tongue grazed across his salty lips. The smell of sea permeated the air, and the sweat of the night clung to him as he recognized the now familiar sound of the wooden ship creaking about him. He opened his eyes and saw the shadowy figure of his cousin Robert sprawled in the berth across the cabin. They'd been at sea for 150 days, and today, at last they would set foot on the ground of their destination. He would see Elizabeth today, this very day, at last, and that was all that mattered.

Darcy, having lived his young adult life strung through the tragic death of his mother first, and then his father, had never truly had time alone, without the pressing demands of either university or house and hearth upon his head. Yes, he was an experienced world traveler – in Europe. But those journeys had always been brief and finite and focused in their ends. When he had announced his intention of seeking passage to India, he could not answer for when he would return, for he had determined that was dependent upon Elizabeth. She was his port of call, and when she left, so would he.

The news was not well received by all of his friends, family and acquaintances, but there was precious little time to air their grievances to him; he had made arrangements to travel with his sister and cousin and they were India bound only a month after Elizabeth's departure.

Georgiana, of course, was thrilled to have him accompany her and Col. Fitzwilliam, but she was always easily pleased by any of his decisions. Col. Fitzwilliam was baffled, but not completely oblivious to his cousin's sudden streak of impetuousness. Little was said between the two gentlemen, but there was an underlying tension that had never been fully resolved concerning the matter of one Elizabeth Bennet. The colonel could not help but wonder if Darcy's motives for the trip were swayed by the presence of that particular young lady at the end of the journey.

Mrs. Caroline Darcy, as one would imagine, was truly apoplectic upon hearing the decision. She was fully aware of Darcy's lack of affection for her – had come to accept it, even, given the generous pin money he put out for her. But his intention to pursue that graceless hick across an ocean – to depart so scandalously soon after his wedding - she had reached her limit of patience. Knowing full well the lack of influence she had upon her strong-willed husband, she turned to her brother Charles and pressed him into persuading Darcy to stay in England.

Bingley could not imagine anyone's desire to travel so far from home, from family – particularly from their new wife – even if that wife was his sister Caroline. At one point, he stated he would never desert Jane in such a manner, which made Darcy bristle. He would not stand for a tongue lashing from Charles Bingley, not under any circumstances. He declared in his most dismissive tone, "Charles, I am not deserting Caroline. I am merely accompanying my sister on her extended holiday. I will not discuss this matter further."

Bingley, truly uncomfortable with the confrontation, but still feeling the urge to come to his Caroline's aid said, "Sir, may I remind you that you are married to my sister?"

Darcy flushed with anger. "Sir, need I remind you that I do not love your sister?" He swallowed and sighed deeply. "Charles, I cannot deceive you. In the face of losing your friendship, it is time I tell you all. I have…quite deep feelings regarding Miss Elizabeth Bennet." Darcy allowed the words to sink into the air between them, and then pressed on. "I have loved Elizabeth Bennet as long as you have loved your dear Jane. If I could, I would wed her now – today. But," he held his hand out, as if in surrender. "Things have worked out differently for me."

Charles was struck dumb by the admission. His mind flooded with memories of Darcy's past interactions with his wife's sister. He could not, for his life, recall one moment of cordiality or tenderness that had passed between them. Indeed, he had a vivid recollection of those first months Elizabeth and Darcy had known one another, memories of the two of them conversing with contentiousness and sharp comments. His mind then turned back to his sister and his sweet innocent wife's reputation. His eyes narrowed. "Darcy, do you intend to take on Miss Elizabeth as your mistress?" he hissed, embarrassed having to ask.

"I would not distress her so. Besides, she would not have me," Darcy stated simply. "She would not have me as husband. She will not have me as lover. Not for the lack of trying, mind you…" he grimly added with a smirk. "There is much secret affection between us, but she has steadfastly clung to her morals, much to her credit. At my first proposal, she refused me because of my arrogance and derision of her status and lack of connection. In the end, she would not consider marrying me because her status had been laid so low, with the death of her father, and the scandal involving Lydia."

Bingley shuddered internally; he thought back to his past feelings of resignation to a life of unhappiness, for his own Jane had been burdened with the same misfortune. It was Darcy's marriage to Caroline that ultimately cleansed the name of Bennet. Bingley strung together the series of events and stated, "You married Caroline – not to save your reputation, or hers – but to save Elizabeth's?"

"And Jane's, yes, so that Jane could marry you. Since Elizabeth rejected me, I have worked to undo what I had done – to check my unjustified pride, and to do what I could to assure that you and Jane would be joined together again. Caroline's entrapment simply sparked the action that cleared the path for the two of you to be joined forever."

"Entrapment?" The word sounded so harsh, and yet…truthfully, Bingley could not think of a more accurate term. "You truly have no affection for Caroline – no partiality whatsoever?"

Darcy's voice grew quiet and he spoke with measured words. "Bingley, your sister is a beautiful woman. She is a gracious and artful hostess, and has a great deal of wit. I have, in the past, enjoyed her company. But I have never longed to be her lifelong companion." Darcy looked down and away. "I did not wish to marry her. I do not wish to be married to her. But again, things have worked out differently for me."

Bingley contemplated this. His thoughts swirled in his head as if he was caught in a whirlpool. His sister was locked in a loveless marriage – that was unfortunate, but not unheard of in society. His friend, however – Darcy's fate seemed far more torturous. Married, yes, to a woman he did not love or care for, for the sake of pleasing the woman he loved more than all – a woman who had since removed herself thousands of miles away. Why had Jane not told him of this – unless, Darcy and Elizabeth's affection was so secret that even she did not know? Bingley wondered at Darcy's restraint, when he reflected upon his own fragile temperament when he'd been separated from Jane for a time.

"Darcy, what are your intentions?" Bingley finally asked quietly.

"I will be with her, Charles, if she needs me. Or if she doesn't need me, for that matter. I will be with her as a husband would, but I will not enjoy the pleasures of consummation. That will be enough."

"And Caroline?"

"Caroline is my wife in name, and she owns what I own. That is what she wanted, after all. She may retire to Pemberley, if she wishes, while I am away. Or, stay in London. She is free to do as she pleases."

After a moment, Bingley said, "I will no longer seek you out upon this matter. Your feelings for Miss Elizabeth are none of my concern. I will not speak of it to anyone – not my sister, nor my wife." He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I will never be able to repay you the sacrifice you've made for me and Jane. I have nothing but shame in my part of it."

"Let it go, Charles. You have not to blame in yourself. My decisions have been my own, and any sacrifice I've made will be tainted by your feelings of guilt." He grabbed hold of Bingley's shoulder and stared intensely at him. "Just be the best man you can be for Jane. For my sake, and for Elizabeth's."

Months later, in the dim morning light that seeped through the cracks in the cabin ceiling, Darcy recalled the discussion he'd had with his friend. He wondered if Bingley kept his promise – he wondered how he and Jane were faring. Perhaps by now he would've gotten a child on Jane. Bingley's life would be truly complete then. With some frustration, Darcy shot up from the berth, and pulled on his boots. He kicked the foot of his cousin's bed and said, "Wake up."

Robert raised his eyebrows, without opening his eyes, and he murmured sleepily, "Anxious to set foot on land, cousin?"

"Perhaps. The voyage has been good though. I won't miss the sea."

"Ah, well there is the difference between you and I Darcy. I am a horseman all the way. Leave the sailing to the navy, if you will." Robert yawned and stretched his muscles, which were sore from sleeping in the cramped quarters.

"I am going above to check the launch. Get out of bed and keep your ears open for Georgie, won't you?" Georgiana had been situated in a cabin next door to the men, and she had her servant accompanying her. Darcy and Fitzwilliam took turns chaperoning her about the ship, making sure she was always attended by either one of them. Even though the captain and crew seemed reputable men, the two would not chance having her wander about the ship without their company.

It was true - Darcy had been invigorated by the long voyage. The times he spent in solitude were most gratifying. Somehow, being on the vessel, in the elements, brought him to a closer understanding of what he thought was essential, and what was not. Georgiana was essential. Pemberley was essential. Elizabeth was essential. Having the luxury of time and the solitude of traveling simply on the vessel, with his dear sister and cousin as company, had proven a balm to his wounded spirit. Thoughts of London society, and Caroline, had been driven away with the salt spray. He bounded out of the sleeping cabins below and onto the deck, and strode to the bow of the ship. Before him, he saw the buildings of the town and its bustling inhabitants, surrounded by the plush wild green jungle all about it, and felt the electricity of a new adventure about to begin.

On shore, accompanied by her Uncle Gardiner, Elizabeth Bennet gazed at the voyage ship that had anchored yesterday. Her Uncle had been a good chaperone and a delightful companion, but she missed the camaraderie of her young friend and the dashing colonel. She had so looked forward to the day Georgiana and Col. Fitzwilliam would arrive, and now that day was finally here. She had so much to share with them about her own voyage and the month she'd spent learning about this strange new country. Now, the small passenger boats were being lowered, to ferry the ship's occupants to shore. Elizabeth raised her gloved hand to her brow, to shade her eyes as she anxiously stepped forward out of the protection of the parasol Ashwini carried for her. She caught sight of a light colored muslin on deck, with a flash of sandy blond hair, bending down to be seated in one of the boats. That surely was Georgie! And yes, there was Col. Fitzwilliam in his red coat. But who was the tall gentleman who joined them?

Their passenger boat was set lightly upon the water, and the ship's crew rowed steadily to the shore. Elizabeth squinted as they approached, and smiled and waved as she caught Georgiana's beaming face. Col. Fitzwilliam was jovial as well, and he humorously saluted her from the small vessel. Then she caught the eye of the third gentleman and gasped. Quickly, she turned her look of shock into a welcome smile, and she threaded her arm through her uncle's in an attempt to steady herself. "Uncle, please tell me – do my eyes deceive me, or is that not Mr. Darcy in the boat with his sister and Col. Fitzwilliam?"

"My dear, you are correct. It seems that our visiting party has grown in size – but," and here he glowered slightly and pursed his lips. "it seems Mrs. Darcy has been left at home."

Elizabeth's heart fluttered in her chest. She could not say if she was pleased or frightened or angered or ecstatic to see the familiar form in the boat, now unfolding his long legs and disembarking to help guide it through the surf. His dark curls blew about his head, and his crisp white linen shirt was open about his neck. She could see his skin had browned on the voyage, and when he finally looked up from his work, he flashed a blazingly white smile at her. She knew then what her heart felt, and it was definitely more like pleasure. She smiled back at him, unabashedly calling out, "Welcome to India! Welcome to India, Mr. Darcy!"

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 12 of 21

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