Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 7 of 21

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Inevitable Change

With a shaking hand, Elizabeth rifled the sheaves of paper to reread the incredulous story within. The heat of the room, the strenuous exercise of the waltz and the shocking news she'd received all conspired to disintegrate her composure. She turned her head and swallowed back the tears welling up in her eyes – she must not reveal her discomfort to Georgiana, especially, for there was news of Wickham in the letter. Or rather, there was news of a gentleman she supposed was Wickham.

Darcy immediately sensed her distress, and improvised promptly. "Georgiana, I believe Miss Bennet is fatigued from the dancing – would you kindly summon Mrs. Thorndike and request she bring salts and a cool drink?" Georgiana leapt to her feet and left the parlor at a quick pace, concerned for her companion's health. "Miss Elizabeth, is it not good news?" queried Darcy.

"I…I hardly know." She turned her gaze to the gentleman. "She has married…Lydia has been married for all these months…"

Darcy clenched his teeth. "To Wickham?" he hissed.

"No," Elizabeth said. "To the sea captain. To Captain Danbury…see for yourself…" Darcy knelt beside her, gathering the papers from her trembling hands, and swiftly read the letter.

The tidy handwriting told of the story of how Miss Lydia Bennet and her companion – a cousin - had met the sea captain while a passenger on a ship bound for Greece. Captain Danbury described the pair as inseparable, and quite pleasant in their demeanors; the young man was determined to make a great fortune in the East, with his sweet cousin at his side. "They were quite the amiable pair, but 'twere difficult to see the family resemblance - he with his dark curls and so very witty all the time, and she the perfect innocent, fair and light-hearted." Wickham, thought Darcy. It must be Wickham, he thought, for even Lydia would not be dim enough to be lured by two different witty, dark-haired men.

The missive continued: in mid-transit, Miss Lydia's companion met with an unfortunate accident. "It was with great solemnity that we had to bid adieu to that merry man – for by all accounts, he appears to have slipped on the deck and fell overboard, with no man near to witness the peril. The night was dark as pitch, and, alas, no one were near enough to hear the splash, nor his cries for help, should he have made them. Not until he was missing at the morning meal did we detect his absence. Dear Miss Lydia put it together that he had spent some hours up on deck, as was his custom -studying the stars, she said. Not meaning to distress you, miss, but it is indubitably true his fate was bound with the more ferocious creatures of the sea." Darcy raised a hand to his brow – Wickham, dead! But how could it be possible? Surely, someone would've witnessed the incident. The entire story seemed so improbable –either Captain Danbury was terribly naive or a liar.

The captain further explained that upon losing her cousin, it became his habit to accompany Miss Lydia on her walks above deck when he had the chance. "At first, it seemed as though she would not want the company, but as time passed she grew to tolerate this old sea salt." The letter than detailed Lydia's possible turn of heart: Captain Danbury's ship had come in, and he was headed to his newly purchased spice plantation in India. The fortune that Captain Danbury had accumulated in his years as a merchant seaman was astonishing to Darcy. "Miss Elizabeth, this is most…extraordinary. It seems as though your sister has found a benefactor of some means." Disbelievingly, he raised his head and looked at her. "He states he is to provide allowances to you and your mother and to all your sisters – dowries to be paid at your marriages. He has set aside a handsome sum for you, all because of Miss Lydia."

Elizabeth allowed the tears to roll down her cheeks. Lydia's transgressions had been the cause of so much pain and anguish. All of it – Darcy's separation from her, her father's death, being cast out of Longbourn – all of the suffering was for nothing. Wickham was dead, and Lydia was a properly married woman, under somewhat scandalous circumstances, but married all the same to a very well-off man. She and her sisters and mother would have an income, and Jane would receive her dowry, and so would she if she were ever fortunate enough to marry. And their thanks and gratitude would be owed to that selfish twit, Lydia. It was too much to bear. Elizabeth broke down into a fit of angry tears.

"Miss Elizabeth, Miss Elizabeth, please don't – don't cry…" Darcy pleaded, again at her side, setting down the letter, so he could better comfort her. He instinctively placed a hand upon hers, and wrapped an arm about her shoulders, but she bolted from her seat in a fury.

"Excuse me, Mr. Darcy – I am not myself at present," she spoke through gritted teeth. She paced the length of the mantle, to and fro, while trying to regain her composure. Darcy again then approached her.

"Miss Elizabeth – please, allow me to provide you some relief in your distress. This is good news, is it not? Your family has received a most substantial gift in this union – "

"At what cost? Are we to be beholden to Lydia and this sea captain for the rest of our lives? The letter says she comes home to England within the week – is she come to revel in her great fortune, while the rest of us have borne the brunt of the ridicule and derision her scandalous behavior wrought? Are we to thank her for securing our finances after she's stolen away so much?" She turned on him. "And what sort of relief would you give to me, Mr. Darcy – what could you possibly do to secure my comfort when I am so very aware that you cannot bear to be in the same room as I, that I have proven myself to be unworthy of your attentions again and again?"

Her words struck deeply in him, as if she'd slapped him in the face. "Whatever do you mean, Miss Elizabeth? Do you not know, even now…you are a most worthy young woman, deserving of so much..."

At last, she came to the point. "I am so ashamed." And this time, the wave of tears came from the deep sadness she bore, not the anger at her sister but the deep shame she felt whenever she remembered the moment she and Darcy had shared so many months ago. For although she'd labored to set aside her feelings for him, she could not, and she could not help but think of how little he thought of her once she'd kissed him so brazenly, without any restraint. And still, she knew she would kiss him again if he would have it – and she would give herself to him, if he would want her. For now, nothing mattered. Everything had been spoiled, everything was dust. She collapsed, sobbing, onto the settee.

Color crept up Darcy's neck to his face. He knew too well of the shame she referred. In that moment of weakness, when he would have taken her – seduced her – it was shame and guilt that stopped him. He had run from the temptation, and deliberately avoided her, thinking he was preserving her from further distress caused by his advances. He had not seen nor imagined the pain those sweet seconds had inflicted upon her. All those months, he had only cherished the memory, dreaming of it, embellishing upon it in his mind. He had never thought, never known he'd hurt her so.

He knelt before her, and spoke quietly. "Miss Elizabeth – Elizabeth – I beg you to forgive me. I left you that afternoon in the study, and should've stayed – should've gained hold of myself, so I could stay with you without pressing you further with my advances. I acted like an animal, an animal…"

"I…I…never felt that way…I did not think of you as an animal. I just felt so…overcome. How it felt, when you – when we – I cannot explain it, Mr. Darcy." She dropped her head in her hands and wept softly for a moment, then continued passionately. "I would kiss you again, I would do it again, despite myself. I feel…"

"Miss Elizabeth. You are all that I want in this world, I have never stopped adoring you. I would share everything with you, if you would have me." He grasped her hands in his and raised a finger to wipe away her tears. "Elizabeth – I love you and have always loved you."

She stopped his declaration with a slender finger upon his lips. "You must not call me by my given name." She gazed with sad eyes at him. "We cannot turn back from where we are, Mr. Darcy. We must only move forward. You avoided scandal for the sake of Georgiana, and you are married to Caroline now, and for Georgiana, I will be like a sister to you, no more." She raised his hands to her lips and placed a light kiss upon each of them. Darcy gazed up at her, pained at the gentleness of the action.

Caroline Darcy, returned from her morning visits, her first since marrying into the prestigious Darcy lineage, stepped into the parlor and discovered her husband of less than 24 hours kneeling at the feet his sister's paid companion. She was startled by Georgiana and Mrs. Thorndike, bustling past her with a tray of medicinal wine and salts. Georgiana asked breathlessly, "William, I have fetched an assortment of remedies, and Mrs. Thorndike as well. Is she revived?"

Breaking the intense gaze between him and Elizabeth, Darcy turned impatiently at the source of the interruption, and swiftly rose to his feet. Never a moment, he thought desperately. We have never a moment together without some distraction. We were so close, just then – so close to true connection, to understanding - but the moment was gone, and Mrs. Thorndike had rushed to Elizabeth's side to rub a tincture on her wrists, while Georgiana carefully held a glass of elderberry wine to Elizabeth's lips.

"My heavens, what a startling scene," Caroline commented to anyone who wished to hear. "Is Miss Bennet suffocated by the London summer air? Perhaps her native country air would suit her better." She crossed the room to Darcy, and brushed her cool lips against his cheek. "Good morning, my husband." Darcy said nothing, but turned toward the window.

Elizabeth, thanking Georgiana and Mrs. Thorndike for their ministrations, rose from her seat. "Mrs. Darcy," she curtseyed. "I believe you may be right. Yes, I have been away too long from home. I must see my mama and my sisters at once. Mr. Darcy, may I have permission to travel to Meryton?" Still visibly shaking, she could not raise her eyes to meet his.

"Is this what you want, Miss Elizabeth?" he asked, pointedly.

"It is what I must do, sir. I do not know how long I shall be gone."

"Elizabeth – my party – you must be back in time to help with my party!"

Caroline threw a look at Elizabeth, who ignored her completely. She chirped, "Georgiana, I shall help you. Miss Elizabeth has other – family- besides our own."

Taking a deep breath and straightening her back, Elizabeth concurred, "Yes, Georgiana, Mrs. Darcy will be available to assist you with the party arrangements." She paused briefly, but then resolved, "But do not fear, I shall attend the ball if you would wish it."

"Oh, Elizabeth, why do you tease so? Of course you will attend – you are like my own sister!" She embraced Elizabeth sweetly. Elizabeth's gaze rose over Georgiana's head, and she saw Darcy staring back at her – pained, wounded eyes in an emotionless face.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 7 of 21

<< Previous     Home     Next >>