Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 5 of 21

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Inevitable Change

Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them. ~Marcel Proust

Fitzwilliam Darcy winced as his tongue grazed across his dry lips. How did he get here, he wondered, squinting through his swollen, bloodshot eyes. He dared not turn his head from the pillow for he feared the throbbing therein would increase; also, he feared that his new bride might be wakened by his sudden movements.

A six month had passed since his hasty departure from Pemberly at the new year's turn. He had successfully evaded both Miss Bingley and Miss Elizabeth initially; when he had returned to London, he invented a dozen enterprises across the sea that begged his attention – experiments in grape harvesting, he would attest, so as to bottle his own supplies of ports and brandies at Pemberley. He traveled through Italy – Rome and Venice; Germany, as well, and to Greece, through the untroubled parts.

The first two months he traveled uninterrupted; but then the missives from Charles began, querying about when he would return, when he and Caroline would marry, would he reconsider a double ceremony, would the summer suit his tastes for the celebration? It was evident Charles Bingley was determined to seal his fate with his young woman – not true for Darcy. Darcy had no sense of urgency about the matter. Committing to a life spent with Caroline Bingley – well, there it was.

He did not wish to get up, this first day after the first night of his marriage. He did not wish to face that which he had reaped. Instead, he closed his eyes tight and reviewed the nights he'd spent on his travels.

He was not a debaucher by nature; as a scholar in Cambridge, he would not join his comrades as they caroused through the pubs and countryside in the area, dipping their wicks in the pots of village girls and farm lasses as they pleased. The activity, though a constant temptation, did not appeal to him primarily because of George Wickham. Wickham's loose morals regarding the fairer sex had always been a scandal to the reserved Darcy. Darcy's view of relations with women had been forged by the model set by his loving parents; he had determined the path of true happiness lay not between the sheets of any harlot's bed, but in the arms of a steadfast and noble wife. Besides, Darcy had been taught at a very early age that his dalliances whether with women or drink or gambling could bring ruin to his family – the very wellspring of his life, as he viewed it.

During his self-exile from England, however, he succumbed to that basest of calls – not at first, but once he'd started, he found it difficult to resist. Haunted by the passion of her kisses, he was determined to exorcise his burning desire for Elizabeth. He buried himself in the sporting houses of Europe. The gambling and drink was more a formality than a necessity – it served as a brief interlude before his nightly plunge into his private oblivion.

Late in the evening, the women would be presented to him in drawing rooms and parlors. His work was simple enough – he would choose the one with the dark hair and lively eyes – they all displayed luscious breasts. The girls would escort him to overly decorated boudoirs and sitting rooms, and he would take them, sometimes in a hurry, and sometimes not, sometimes reclining or standing or sitting, sometimes from above or behind, but always, always, with Elizabeth's name on his breath. He would breath it out as he spent himself, or if the fantasy in his mind was set just right, he would shout it in short syllables in rhythm with his thrusts.

His aloof demeanor both before and following the act made the women conjecture who this Elizabeth was, and how she could inspire such fever in such a cold man. Despite the resolution of their business exchange, he would never truly admit to satisfaction (though more than one whore would walk away not only richer but smiling after their transaction). None were Elizabeth – none possessed her creamy skin and dimpled cheek, and none arched their brows just so. The women were too short or plump or fair or bronzed or buxom – and though his money would buy the best Europe had to offer, none of them matched her beauty in his eyes.

He'd done well to stay away from her these many months. He did not know how he managed it in the end – his return from the continent to London coincided with the beginning of the Season. He was at Georgiana's side when she appeared at her first ball, and at her presentation at Court. Elizabeth, too, attended, but thankfully had the wherewithal to avoid contact with him, though he could hardly keep his eyes from secretly gazing upon her lovely body, dressed in fine new silks worn in accordance with her occupation as Miss Georgiana Darcy's companion.

He kept to himself while staying in the London townhouse, joining Georgiana for private meals, but never appearing in the dining room, and always using an obscure entrance to the home, so as not to mistakenly encounter Elizabeth in a hallway or foyer. He was certain if she knew how he'd used the dream of her in his head these past months – if she knew the depths of his obsession – she would be mortified.

It was during the double wedding ceremony where he had the leisure to gaze upon her again, without drawing attention to her or himself. He and Caroline stood beside Charles and Jane, and if Darcy tilted his head just so, he was able watch Elizabeth's response to the vows being recited at the altar. She was a vision in a soft yellow dress, suitable for the warm summer weather. Darcy was self-conscious of his own appearance – a night of drinking with Col. Fitzwilliam and Bingley had left him feeling peaked and sluggish. Yet, Elizabeth's appearance, the serenity in her face as her sister turned to embrace her new husband; Elizabeth's mere presence invigorated him. The memory of their stolen kisses at Pemberley fed his imagination, as he stood their woodenly reciting his vows. When it was his turn, he grasped Caroline Bingley nee Darcy with both hands, and kissed her fiercely, all the while thinking of Elizabeth's sunny yellow silk.

No one would've guessed his heart was with her, except perhaps Caroline – it was no news to her. A month before the wedding while sharing a rare private moment together at the breakfast board, Caroline complained to Darcy, "I do not think it wise to keep such a girl as dear Georgiana's special companion. Who is she but an ordinary country spinster, really? No prospects, no accomplishments – how can you expect her to guide and form our Georgiana?"

Darcy gritted his teeth at Caroline's reference to "our" Georgiana. He stopped the conversation short with the brief statement, "Miss Bennet is well suited to act as Georgiana's companion. I will not consider dismissing her, under any circumstances."

Caroline puffed up a little, and determinedly pressed as she eyed the poached egg dish in front of her, "Mr. Darcy, you do me ill. What is your consideration for Elizabeth Bennet, that you will not even listen to reason regarding her employment in our household?"

Darcy grimaced at her tone. "I count Miss Elizabeth Bennet as a friend to this family, and to me. Indeed, she will be family to you once your brother marries! It would suit you well if you would not ask further questions!"

"Why ever not, Mr. Darcy? I am soon to be your wife, have I no say in who is living under my roof?" Turning to him directly, she declared, "Some relatives are to be borne at a distance. Have her go to her mother's in Meryton, Mr. Darcy."

Darcy's anger peaked. In clipped tones, he responded, "Madam, I told you it would do you well not to pursue this issue further, and yet you have done so. I cannot masquerade my feelings. You surely know that I do not love you, that what has passed between us has been an unfortunate miscommunication that has been made known to society. However, I have agreed to carry forth with this pretense and act the gentleman, with the understanding that our union will secure the happy and much-awaited marriage between your brother and Miss Jane Bennet. Beyond that, let me assure you, your opinion has little to do with my household or its occupants."

Caroline gasping in rage, blurted out, "That – flirt – Elizabeth Bennet cannot stay under the same roof as I!"

He leaned forward menacingly. "Once we are married, you are free to do as you like, so long as it does not interfere with those who depend upon me - or to those for whom I care." He silently cursed himself for the admission, but there it was. With that, he deserted his breakfast and left his astounded fiancé in the dining room. The subject was never broached again. Caroline shrewdly held her tongue about Elizabeth's presence in the household, treating her with the barest tone of civility, all the while pondering a means to remove the girl once and for all.

While still unwilling to move from the bed, Darcy recalled his cousin Richard's advice as he bid him adieu to the wedding chamber: "Your duty is with your family, Darcy. Few men marry for love in our set, eh? She will do whatever it takes to keep you, man – don't throw that aside so readily." In these past months, he had tried so very hard to keep up the appearance of attendant fiancé, such as purchasing for Caroline a ruby-encrusted wedding band as would befit the future mistress of Pemberley. He had played the role of proper groom, arranging for a special license so that they may be married late in the day and hold a ball for their relatives and guests. He had taken Caroline's hand upon the dance floor for all the sets, and stayed as sober as he could care to during the infernal celebration. Finally, he retired to his room, stripped and fell into his bed. Before he shut his eyes for a moment, Caroline had come to his room to consummate the marriage, and he did his duty; she was more eager than he anticipated, and he was less drunk than he thought, so the deed was done.

Indeed, he remembered Caroline entered his room with a determination, a focus. There were few words exchanged between them – she simply knocked at his door, pulled back the counterpane and climbed into his bed. He was so taken aback by her presence there, he did not know at first how to proceed, but she soon set aside his hesitation as she lowered her body down between the sheets and grasped him in her mouth. It was not his first experience with such an intimacy, but his first time to have a lady such as Caroline perform it. It was at once titillating and disturbing, as he could not fathom how she would have come to know such an art. It was but a moment before he mounted her and spent himself, pausing only once to assure her comfort in his entry. At the culmination, he clamped his mouth shut, determined not to utter Elizabeth's name as he'd done so often in the past months. He would not associate her name with the act he executed in his marital bed – it would be too painful; it felt like betrayal.

He had taken the first step in upholding his responsibility as master of the Darcy family. He had wedded and bedded a woman of some status and wealth, an accomplished woman of great pride and some beauty. If nothing else, she would serve as a convenient receptacle for the urges he so often felt, since he'd enveloped himself in his want for Elizabeth. He ventured a glance to the space beside him – it was empty. Indeed, he quickly surmised Caroline had not stayed the night at all. She must've returned to her own chambers afterwards, he thought to himself, not without a little relief. He should be happy. He should be happy. He was not.

Down the corridor, in a bedroom less elaborately outfitted, Elizabeth Bennet was happy – happier than she'd been in months. Witnessing the fulfillment of her dear sister's dream – to wed the man she loved – was a rich and satisfying experience. Stretching luxuriantly on the soft feather mattress of her bed, she giddily threw her arms around herself, recalling the joy she saw in Jane's face as she approached the blushing Mr. Bingley standing at the altar. Could two people ever be so neatly fit together? She giggled softly, contemplating how the introduction of little Bingleys and Janes would only increase the perfection of the couple's solicitude to one another. Dear Jane!

A tap at the door startled her. It was Rose, Miss Darcy's girl. "Beg yer pardon, Miss Elizabeth, but Miss Darcy is proposing an early breakfast and visits today, to give the –er," and here she whispered, "newlyweds time together?"

Elizabeth cocked an eyebrow, allowing herself a brief contemplation of the early morning activities of the "newlyweds." She sat up in bed and responded, "Yes, by all means, Rose, we shall begin the day."

She'd grown used to the perks of being Georgiana Darcy's special companion. She had her own room with her own bed, located closer to the family wing than the servants' quarters. Rose assisted her in dressing and her toilette, after Miss Darcy was attended. She had acquired a new wardrobe, but mostly at Miss Georgiana's insistence; the girl could not purchase a stocking without finding some garb for her dear companion.

The best perk of all was her growing bond with Georgiana Darcy. Although sheltered and somewhat immature, Georgie was naturally curious and a lover of learning, as was Lizzie. They spent many hours on horseback and on foot, rambling about the grounds of Pemberley or the museums of London. Lizzie shared her knowledge and opinion of poetry and art and science, and Georgie brought Elizabeth to the best music venues the city had to offer.

Georgie had learned to imitate Lizzie's ease and confidence in social settings, which helped enormously in the tide of teas, balls, and parties the two attended so far during the season. Lizzie had the pleasure of watching Georgie bloom in the presence of so many fine young men – some of whom had great fortunes, and some, not so. Those without prospects often turned their attention to the charming and attractive young companion of Miss Georgiana Darcy, much to Lizzie's pleasure, but none succeeded in capturing her attention beyond the casual introduction or occasional dance. Astonishingly to her, here in London society, she was sometimes in demand. She learned quickly that some gentlemen with means would try to press themselves upon her in the most irregular way – not unlike Georgiana's brother.

Mr. Darcy. He'd become an enigma to her. She would see him out of the corner of her eye, sometimes staring at her blatantly, sometimes glancing surreptitiously out of the periphery of his eye. It was not long after their interchange at Pemberley that she resolved to be unresolved in her feelings for him, for what took place that afternoon was such a blight in her soul. It was easy for him – to simply take leave of her, once he had opened her feelings so – surely he sensed how exposed she felt. He could have asked her then, anything, that afternoon. Instead, he packed his bags and left. Again.

But she could not hate him. She'd had some bitter feelings and she still nursed her shame at her lustful response that emerged that afternoon. But her essential impression of Mr. Darcy was that of a loving brother, and of a good friend. She had not forgotten what Jane had reported to her – that Mr. Darcy had himself gone in search of Lydia and Wickham, to make their abhorrent union aright. He did not exhibit her as the lowly shopgirl in Cheapside. He did not demand she leave her post as Georgiana's companion, despite her obviously flawed moral convictions. Even his marriage to Caroline Bingley seemed noble - even though she felt it was misguided on his part.

No, Mr. Darcy would always be a puzzle to her, but one she was not apt to solve in her lifetime, so it seemed. After all, now they were related, with Jane being married to Caroline's brother – and choice was not an option when it came to relations, as Elizabeth well knew. Privately, reaching back into her memory, she would still be able to recall the sensation of touching his muscular arms through his jacket, and tasting the salt on his lips as she kissed him in the private study at Pemberley. The resurrected feelings often stirred her at the most inconvenient moments – she would experience a tingling in her breast, and a clenching below that she could not understand. But the recollections would serve her well, for she did not yet know it, but they would be held in her heart as benchmarks for the kisses and embraces she would yet experience. For Elizabeth Bennet was sometimes in demand, much to her surprise.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 5 of 21

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