Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 19 of 21

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Inevitable Change

… Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.

-from Mutability by William Wordsworth

As the early morning sun crept up in the sky, Elizabeth and Darcy left their secret hiding place, to face the world. They said little as they walked side by side the field up to the plantation house. Both felt equally the weight of their decision in the jungle. It seemed such a simple proposal: to marry, and soon. In reality, what it meant was to ignore the strictures of society's proper mourning customs. And, to appear to disregard the depth of the sacrifice Caroline Bingley had made to cement her (albeit) sham marriage. And more, but perhaps the easiest reality of all, to be pinioned to raise Caroline's daughter – Darcy's daughter – together. Charles Bingley would have to be notified about the passing of his sister, as would Louisa Hurst. Darcy's family would also learn about what had transpired in this ill-fated trip abroad. Lady Catherine would have much to say about the imprudence of her nephew's choice in brides – both brides.

"At least Georgiana has found her match," Darcy murmured, almost to himself.

Guessing at his meaning, Elizabeth agreed. "It seems that the Colonel Fitzwilliam and your sister have had plans of their own for some time – God willing, he will cure quickly and so they may return to England soon."

"Yes…return to England. They will be able to return soon."

Elizabeth looked about, slowing her step. "William, if we do this thing, if we marry in haste, won't it be…difficult…" She sighted in frustration. "It will be so scandalous. We will not be welcome back into many families under the circumstances."

Darcy considered this, wondering what response he could give that would assure her that nothing else mattered other than her becoming his wife. "Yes. It will be difficult. I would not wish to have you feel uneasy in any way." He took a deep breath and exhaled. "We could…wait. If that is what you would wish." His voice betrayed the deep disappointment he felt.

Elizabeth looked deeply into his eyes. "No. No, I do not care to wait…but…we shall give some time to repairing what was damaged in all of this?" She held up her hands, gesturing to the house, the fields. "We should take some time, in memory of…" She could not speak Caroline's name, but Darcy understood. "We have had so little time alone - we could spend some handful of weeks, perhaps, just…as fiancés, promised to one another."

Darcy cocked his head and with his brow raised, he nodded his head tentatively. "A few weeks. I can wait a few weeks."

"Yes, and then perhaps…perhaps we can stay here, in India, a while longer?" She smiled prettily at him. "I know that my uncle is nearly concluded with his business, and with setting up proper investments for me here, but you yourself have called it Eden! I do feel as if I've found paradise here, and with you as my husband – I shall be pleased to stay forever!"

Darcy smiled with some pensiveness, and stroked her soft cheek with his finger. He shook his head. "Ah, Elizabeth, we must leave the garden sooner or later. I know you fear what awaits you in London and Pemberley. I know your reservations about your status, your position in society. But none of it matters to me anymore, you must believe me. You have taught me, above all, that one's position in life has more to do with one's behavior and actions, rather than their lineage or occupation." Seeing the disappointment and fear in her eyes, he raised her chin up and said, "We may stay long enough to travel the North Country, to the hills and the sights just beyond; oh, have no doubt - we shall marry here, in a proper English church. We may linger here while the news of our matrimony spreads through London society. But sooner or later I must return to Pemberley, to my home, and you must take your place as her mistress." Elizabeth closed her tear-filled eyes and nodded with what little courage she possessed. They turned and continued walking to the courtyard.

After a few moments in tense silence, Elizabeth spoke. "There is another obligation which must be met. You have another role to fill, Mr. Darcy. You must meet your daughter."

He winced, still shocked at the reality of having produced a child, and shook his head as if to clear it, but then acquiesced. "You are correct, madam. I must meet my daughter." At their arrival to the courtyard, the wet-nurse was summoned. Elizabeth stood at his side, and she could feel him tremble in anxiety.

As the nurse approached with her bundle, he croaked tensely to Elizabeth, "I don't think I can hold it."

"Her, it's a her. William, you will not hurt her. Just - hold her. And, you must think of a name…"

Darcy felt a wave of panic sweep over him, and he looked sharply at Elizabeth. "She doesn't have a name? I thought…"

"William, they don't come with names," Elizabeth said blithely, amused at his lack of composure. She looked up at him tenderly. "You must name her now. No one else can."

Darcy drew a ragged breath, and then let it out. "Yes, yes, of course. I am her father. I shall name her." Upon the wet-nurse's arrival, he grew very solemn, and tears welled in his eyes. "She shall be named…she shall be named…Carolina, for her mother…and her middle name shall be Anne, after my own mother." He took the infant from the nurse, and cuddled her to his chest.

"That is a fine name," whispered Elizabeth, unable to speak further for she was so moved by the picture of father and daughter together. "You shall make a fine father, William."

Tears streaming down his face, he turned to her. "You shall be a fine mother to her, Elizabeth. I depend upon you, always."

In the days that followed, the two of them spent their hours filled with work – either tending to the injured or homeless, or sorting the building materials, or playing with the infant girl. They also spent some time in correspondence with Bingley and his sister, Mrs. Hurst, detailing to them the tragic incident that stole away the life of their dear sibling Caroline. It was in their composition that they found the will and the strength to meditate kindly upon poor Caroline Bingley Darcy, to note her intellect and musical talent, and her wit and enthusiasm for social gatherings, and to particularly commend her for the most precious gift she left behind, little Carolina Anne Darcy.

Darcy also composed a short note to his Aunt Catherine de Bourgh, informing her of Caroline's fate. He did not couch his words in regards to the forward manner in which Lady Catherine had inserted herself into his private affairs, and that her scrutiny of his personal habits was no longer welcome. He concluded the missive with reassurances that the birth of Carolina Anne marked only the beginning of a new Darcy line – for he had intentions to engage himself to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Hertfordshire. "Let her scrutinize that for a time," he muttered, as he posted the letter.

When the rebuilding of Captain Danbury's plantation was securely underway, elephants and horses were loaded with the necessities to transport the visitors north to the hill country. Col. Fitzwilliam was mending well, his strength returning to him under Georgiana's careful watch. Elizabeth and Darcy observed the proceedings, and bided their time with some little patience, waiting to announce their plans, though it was all they could do to resist meeting in the jungle for some stolen moments and secret kisses. The best they could do was to cast surreptitious glances toward one another, filled with promise and desire unbeknownst to those around them.

Within days, the caravan was prepared to move forward, the captain and his guests to follow behind. As the party traveled northward, Elizabeth and Darcy agreed that Mr. Gardiner would need to be consulted regarding their engagement. Elizabeth was not certain how her uncle would accept the agreement the young lovers had forged in secret – such disregard for order and custom! At the same time, she also felt liberated in her attachment to Darcy. They, she and Darcy, had followed two separate paths to their common destiny and had finally met. She no longer needed her Uncle's consent, but she desired to have her uncle's blessing at the very least – in place of her father's.

Darcy approached Mr. Gardiner while at a rest stop on the way to Captain Danbury's new house in the hill country. "Mr. Gardiner, there is a matter of which I would like to speak to you."

"Darcy, my good young man. I have been expecting you." Mr. Gardiner set aside the tea that one of the servants had brought to him.

Darcy hesitated. "You – you have?"

Mr. Gardiner smiled. "Yes, yes I have. In fact, I was just mentioning to Captain Danbury – good man, Captain Danbury – I was just wagering with him that you would approach me sometime upon this journey to ask the question which you no doubt are very anxious to ask." Mr. Gardiner's eyes sparkled. "I am pleased that you have chosen the opportunity sooner rather than later, as later was Captain Danbury's prediction. You see, he judged that despite the evident passion you possess for my niece, you would be a rather fastidious soul, too reserved to ask for Elizabeth's hand so soon after the tragic death of Miss Caroline. But I believed that you would do anything to secure the situation once and for all. After all, I have been an active observer of your courtship of my niece."

Darcy was shocked. He and Elizabeth had taken extra care not to be caught in any private moments alone – in fact he foreswore laying a finger on her until their engagement was announced. How did Gardiner know his intentions? "Forgive me, sir, but – I have been most fastidious in my – I have tried very hard to hide my feelings for your niece, to protect her reputation. Courting her, as you say, so soon after the death of my first wife is a severe broach of custom. I have in every way sought to closet our mutual affection so that we would not be found out. And yet, you knew."

Mr. Gardiner rose from his camp chair to meet Darcy's stare of incredulity. "I've known all along, man. Since you carried her to Gracechurch Street in London. Since I learned of your chase after her wayward sister and that scoundrel Wickham. Since you offered to employ her as your sister's companion. Yes, I've known and seen it all, with my good wife, Maddie. Of course, your marriage to the Bingley girl was somewhat of a surprise – a disappointment, quite frankly. We had to guess that there was some wrongdoing in the affair, and we guessed you were indeed the innocent in the matter. It was a natural prejudice, for we truly admired your character and gravity, and never imagined you would do something so very foolish. All of that is done now. Miss Caroline is laid to rest, too soon, but she gave you a lovely baby girl. And now you are free to marry the young woman you've wanted all along, if it so pleases you…as the bard once wrote, all's well that end's well!"

Darcy was still aghast that Gardiner had collected so much knowledge about him – to have known all along of his attraction to Elizabeth – to have found out about his hunting down Lydia and Wickham. It was stunning news. He blinked out of his reverie and recalled what it was he had come to say to the older man. "Yes…yes, you are correct, Mr. Gardiner. I do love Elizabeth, and she loves me. We have loved each other for quite a while now. Fate has seemed to have tripped us up along the way. I do not wish to wait long to marry her. May I please have your blessing in this regard?"

Gardiner smiled thoughtfully. "I think that given our present circumstances… we live in extra-ordinary circumstances. I do not approve of men who trifle with women's affections; but I do believe you to be sincere when you speak of the love you hold for my niece. It is time we turn the table on your ill fates, once and for all. I give you my blessing. When we are settled in the hill country, you and Elizabeth may go about with your wedding plans. Yes, yes, have done with it once and for all!"

Darcy laughed, and extended his hand to his affable friend. "I shall cherish her always, Mr. Gardiner. She shall want for nothing."

"Ha! Darcy, you are right on that – for I have landed a most auspicious investment in her name. She owns shares in a most promising venture – the East India Railway Company. She might very well make you a very rich man, Darcy," he joked. "Now, I suspect you wish to depart to share the news with your fiancé!"

Darcy agreed and went directly to the shaded area where Elizabeth and Georgiana rested during the noontime break. Carolina dozed on a blanket between the girls, her dark curls fluttering in the light breeze. "Elizabeth – Georgiana! I have just spoken to your Uncle, Elizabeth. Georgiana, I have some rather sudden news, and I do not wish to alarm you."

Georgie looked up at him from beneath her straw hat. "What is it, brother? You speak with such urgency, yet I see not a hint of trouble about you!"

Darcy laughed and smiled, and knelt beside his sister. "Georgie, what do you say? I am to marry Miss Elizabeth! Is that not splendid news?"

Georgiana gasped, and smiled in delight, and held her fist to her mouth so that she would not screech in her excitement and wake the baby. Darcy took Elizabeth's hand and grabbed her up so, twirling her about in an impromptu waltz. He stopped and kissed both of her hands. "Elizabeth…at long last. We are to be married. It does not seem real, it seems like a dream."

"No, it is no dream, sir. We are together, here with your sister and your daughter to witness it all. You shall marry me, you shall marry me and I shall be your wife." And they kissed in plain view of their witnesses, and the travelling party, in the hot noonday sun.

Once they reached the hill country house, Lydia showed unusual restraint when Elizabeth announced her engagement. She commented only peripherally on the wedding night activities that awaited her, much to Lizzy's relief. "If you don't like it, Lizzy, just tell him you have a headache. It works all the time with the captain," she whispered conspiratorially. "Of course, with Wickham, there were some parts that were quite bracing, which I did not want to miss," and she sighed at the memory. "Oh well, better to be wed rich than poor, and you have found yourself a rich man in Mr. Darcy. What mother must think of it – she hates Mr. Darcy!" Lydia laughed and laughed as if it were a great joke.

Elizabeth shrugged off these comments, as they were coming from foolish Lydia, but she did wonder at what her family's reaction would be to her wedding. Mr. Gardiner had written his wife, of course, and Elizabeth had sent word to Jane and to her mother, but news travelled slowly from India. It was possible the letters would arrive after she and Darcy returned to England. She also reserved a small amount of curiosity regarding her wedding night, though she would never divulge that to Lydia. She recollected her past encounters with Darcy, and found much to be "bracing" about them – perhaps the marriage bed would be an enjoyment to her. Perhaps.

Darcy went to discuss his intentions with his cousin, the colonel. Elizabeth and Darcy had decided to wait the ceremony until Fitzwilliam was up and about. The colonel still wore an elaborate bandage about his leg, and there was a rakish scar running the length of his face. It was fortunate the tiger hadn't caught his eye. It was also fortunate that Ashwini and Elizabeth had gathered their medicinal herbs that morning, so they could make poultices to treat his wounds immediately.

When the colonel had been apprised of his cousin's wedding plans, he remained silent for a long time. Then he spoke, "Well Darcy, I have come to know the value of following one's heart in love. I should never have discouraged you from pursuing Elizabeth…to think that I supported your insufferable marriage with Caroline. I was convinced you must've dallied with her, some way or another. And I truly found it inconceivable that you would burn so long for any woman, especially Elizabeth – she was so beneath you."

"Only beneath me in status, but not in her spirit. Robert, we were fashioned for each other, from the start. I see it now more than ever, and I will abandon society forever if there is ever a moment that her status comes into question. Please support us in our union."

"William, have no doubts – I support you as you support my union with Georgie." For Darcy had gratefully given his blessing to the unexpected match, the moment Robert had requested it, which was the moment he was fully conscious and sitting up in bed.

"We are understood then. Our arrangements are almost complete. Elizabeth has been consulting with the local minister, and the local women have asked to assist in the festivities. The ceremony shall be held in a fortnight."

"And then what, Darcy?"

He smiled broadly at his cousin. "Then what, indeed!" And then, more seriously, he stated, "We shall stay here in India for a few months more, until little Carolina is grown enough to take the sea travel. We intend to go further north and see some of the temples and ruins. Who knows? Perhaps we will join a spice caravan travelling west and work our way through the continent. By then, perhaps the scandal will have died down enough for our return." He smiled ruefully. "We hope to be back in England in time to see your wedding to Georgiana take place."

"I have no doubt you shall, Darcy, and I thank you for it."

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 19 of 21

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