Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 9 of 21

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Inevitable Change

Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! -yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. - A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. - One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same! - For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.


Upon returning from her visit to Meryton, at the earliest possible moment, Elizabeth told Georgiana what she intended to do with the gift of Captain Danbury's money. She did not wish to upset Georgiana, but it had to be done. She stated herself plainly to the young girl, vainly attempting to avoid any emotional scenes or exposing her true feelings. "I am to travel with my Uncle Gardiner to India, so that I may invest my allowance there. There is much room for profit in the new ventures – the plantations, the building, the roads. He has advised me that it would make good business sense, and that I should take advantage of the opportunity."

"India?" declared Georgiana. "But it's so far away – it might as well be on the moon!" And she proceeded to weep, then sob, thinking about her dear friend departing and living so very, very far away, in such a savage land, with little chance of returning soon. Elizabeth tried to comfort her as best she could, but in faith, she was uncertain that she would ever return.

Next, Elizabeth turned to the equally daunting task of delivering the news to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Would he protest? Would he insist she stay? But no, he surely understood that she had to go, to leave this place and leave him above all. They were silent at her declaration, but she could spy a thin muscle flex across Darcy's jaw, and his face paled slightly. Mrs. Darcy's mouth quivered, fighting the urge to smile and she clasped her hands abruptly, as if to keep from clapping aloud.

"Eliza, how very independent you are. I do admire your courage - such a bold manner in which you conduct yourself. Your efforts will no doubt be well rewarded, and I understand there are many militia companies being sent to India everyday. Perhaps you shall marry an officer after all."

Darcy, shaking away his state of shock, asked in a broken voice, "When? When do you depart?"

"A week after Georgiana's party, when you depart for Pemberley."

"Yes, Pemberley," Darcy murmured, almost to himself. "Of course you will not be accompanying us to Pemberley."

"It is difficult to say when I shall return to England." Elizabeth looked into his eyes, and thought about their last meeting. It would be difficult to return, to England, to Pemberley, to him. "I wished to thank you for – your kindnesses to me these many months." She felt the color creep up her face, and felt the need to flee the room. Elizabeth curtseyed, thanked the Darcys, and turned to leave the sitting room.

"Miss Bennet – " started Darcy.

"Yes, Mr. Darcy?"

"N—Nothing, excuse me Miss Bennet."

And so the plan was well underway. Her uncle had been put to the task of researching passage and investment opportunities for the two of them. He had known for some time that his business would eventually lead him to India, for a good portion of English trade was now bound with the East India Company and that vast unknown country. Elizabeth's inquiry to the plausibility for such a venture was the tipping point for his decision to explore the country for himself. Letters were written to Captain Danbury, informing him of Elizabeth's intention, and proposing that a portion of her allowance be reinvested back into his plantation, in exchange for room and board – until she was more soluble.

Elizabeth had to wait to tell her sister Jane of her travel plans, for Jane and Bingley were still enjoying an extended honeymoon. Mrs. Darcy had arranged a dinner party for their return. Truthfully, the entire affair was awkward; the relationship between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had been somewhat strained since the two gentlemen had become affianced.

Bingley, so blissfully enthralled with his Jane, had always been oblivious to Darcy's attachment to Elizabeth; however, he was painfully aware that Darcy was somewhat more than indifferent to his sister Caroline, whom he married only after Bingley had pressed him. He still could not believe that it had worked – that he had been able to force Darcy to do anything against his will – but apparently, Caroline's instincts had been correct: Darcy would feel duty-bound to do the right thing and marry her after being caught in a delicate situation.

Darcy's compliance to wed came at a cost, however, Bingley soon discovered. In the few short weeks after the ceremony, Darcy had undergone a severe transformation. Bingley was appalled at Darcy's appearance when they arrived at the London townhouse for supper. He'd lost weight, and had grown pale, with an edgy air of restlessness about him – like a caged animal. He rarely smiled, anyway, and now Bingley's sunny optimism made him glower even more. When sharing brandy with him in the study, apart from the ladies of the group, Bingley could not find an adequate subject of conversation to share with him.

In their bachelor days, he always surmised that once he and Darcy settled into married life, they would continue their quasi-fraternal relationship, sharing and comparing the joy and rapture they'd found in their respective partners. Indeed, with this Darcy, Bingley daren't discuss the happiness and tranquility of his own domestic arrangement, and would never think to bring up the ecstasies he enjoyed while he held his Jane in his arms. Not that he would ever want to know about Darcy's nocturnal explorations of his sister Caroline – the mere thought made him shiver.

More than once that evening, Bingley turned to the man he viewed as an elder brother, with the intention of smoothing the rough seas that churned between them. He refused to believe that Darcy could be that miserable being married to Caroline; after all, she was Bingley's sister, and in his humble opinion, quite beautiful and thoroughly sophisticated. She was everything Darcy ever wanted for Bingley, or so he'd demonstrated when he tore him away from his sweet Jane, so why was Caroline not good enough for him? Yes, she had a strong personality, but her wit was often complimented. And despite Darcy's protest, Caroline had insisted that Darcy had amorous intent toward her – he embraced her, kissed her, while in bed – and declared his love for her. Supposedly. The doubt was enough to keep Bingley's opinion to himself. But still, what was Darcy's problem, anyway?

While Caroline and Georgiana entertained themselves at the pianoforte, Elizabeth and Jane strolled to the back gardens. Elizabeth revealed to Jane her intent to invest Captain Danbury's money into Indian commerce. Jane was somewhat distraught at hearing the news; Elizabeth was confident, however, that Jane's attachment to her new husband would soon obscure any sorrow she felt for missing her sister; Jane simply glowed with the love she felt for Bingley, and Elizabeth was glad for it.

"Elizabeth, it is so extraordinary – I had so hoped you would find a match while chaperoning Georgiana during the season. Still, I suppose Captain Danbury's money allows us all to make different choices, if we wish."

"Many a door has opened with a coin or two, Jane. I am only hoping to find some sense of security – and who knows, as Miss Bingley –" she stopped and corrected herself,
" – as Mrs. Darcy sees it, I still have a fine chance of meeting up with an upstanding young officer. Apparently they grow them in trees in India."

"Oh, Elizabeth, I shall miss how you make me laugh!" And the two sisters embraced, then pulled away. They walked, arm in arm, to join the rest of the party. The evening transpired dully, with little to resuscitate it, and there was more than one person who was relieved that it had all passed.

The next evening, however, was Georgiana's birthday party. Preparing for the evening, Elizabeth sat at her dressing table, gazing at her reflection. The delicate pearl earrings given to her by Georgiana glowed in the fading light of day. She rose and patted down the fine pale pink silk overlay of the ball gown she wore – this was a purchase she had made herself, not a gift from Georgiana, but especially made for the occasion, as were the creamy white satin gloves and matching satin ribbons that were wound through her dark curly hair. She felt, for the first time in a very long time, pretty.

She sighed, and smiled. Pretty, but she was certain her finery would not outshine Georgiana's. Miss Darcy had chosen a French pattern, constructed of water blue silk with silver thread shot through it in elaborate floral stitching about front, emphasizing her bodice. It was Georgiana's evening to triumph, her last grand party before retiring for the summer to Pemberley. By this time next year, it was likely she would be wed. Elizabeth sighed again.

A knock at the door startled her out of her reverie. Georgiana skipped in, beaming with excitement. "I had to show you – look at the necklace William has given me – is it not exquisite?"

Elizabeth concurred, gazing at the glimmering chain of sapphires strung about the young girl's neck. "Mr. Darcy is all that is kind, Georgie. But you've always known that."

"Yes, and I've known that he is the finest dancer in the county, which is why you shall dance the waltz with him in the third set!" Georgie smiled a great mischievious smile, and Elizabeth stared at her, quite unable to speak. "It is not as if you have not danced together before – and he is your brother, at least through marriage, after all…"

Elizabeth found her voice, "Georgie, we are not nearly as related as you would have us be, and I am certain that Mr. Darcy would wish to dance the set with his wife…"

"Perhaps, but I have arranged it otherwise, and I am the birthday girl!" Georgiana whirled about the room, performing a minor pirouette before curtseying low to Elizabeth. "Besides, it is only right that you are engaged in dancing with a man of my brother's stature, now that you have a proper allowance! All those parties and balls we attended before – if the gentlemen had known you were to be a woman of fortune – why I suspect you'd be wedded now, if only they knew what was in store for you!"

"Well, we shall certainly throw them off the trail tonight, as I will be scheduled to dance with a married, remotely connected male relative," thought Elizabeth. But she did not say anything, partially because Georgiana was so insistent, and it was impossible to argue with her charm. "Tell me, Miss Georgie, does your brother know of this plan?"

"Oh, I didn't want to tell him, as I am certain he would beg off – he does not like exhibiting in public under any circumstances." Elizabeth felt a rush of sympathy for Darcy, and decided that she had to let him know about Georgie's waltz scheme. She would not have him suffer mortification.

She sought him out in his study, where he stood gazing out the window at the lowering sun, a drink of port in his hand. "Mr. Darcy, I beg your pardon - may I have a moment?" Mr. Darcy, surprised she would seek him out, saw an opportunity and caught her attention with an authoritative, "Miss Elizabeth, how fortunate - I was hoping to speak with you." Elizabeth froze, and glanced uncertainly at him.

He took great care in seating himself behind the massive oak desk planted in the middle of the room. "Miss Elizabeth," he began, his face a mask, hiding the swirl of emotion he felt inside. "I wished to take a moment and express my concerns about your imminent voyage. It is not to be lightly taken, this decision of yours to cross the world and begin anew."

Elizabeth, caught off guard by his cold regard, particularly when their last private interview was so intimate in nature, was rather flummoxed. She answered him in civil tones, "I am aware, sir, that the journey will be difficult, but I shall be accompanied by my uncle. And we are to be received by Lydia and her husband once we reach Madras."

"That is all well, but," he shut his mouth tight, trying to gather his thoughts. "But have you had any thoughts concerning how you should live there? Your uncle surely does not plan on remaining there long, and you will then make a return voyage with him?"

"I have not yet thought that far. I am not certain how long my stay will last."

He lowered his head, raising a hand to his brow, trying to keep his composure, to remain aloof and rational in her presence, but he could not. He involuntarily smiled, then a short laugh broke over him. He succumbed, and the laugh increased in volume and duration, covering his face with both hands, leaning on the desk. Elizabeth gazed at him in wonder, and found herself smiling, as well.

When Mr. Darcy continued his mirth-filled outburst, Elizabeth interrupted, "Mr. Darcy, I must ask, is there a joke you wish to share with me? Or is it perhaps the effect of the port?"

Catching his breath, Darcy finely was able to pull his hands away from his face. There were tears in his eyes – from the laughter, but Elizabeth could see the pain as well. "Miss Elizabeth, I was foolish, so foolish. I thought to keep you near me, to protect you, to care for you. I had convinced myself that I would not be tempted, that I would keep my love for you at bay, for the sake of keeping you close and safe. How wrong I was! I needed to protect you from me, from my weakness for you. Now you are running to the other end of the earth – you could not be moving further from me!"

She looked into his devastating eyes – so full of regret. "Mr. Darcy… the time I have spent with you…" She cleared her throat, remembering the risks she'd taken in telling him too much already. "I will hold you – you and your sister in my heart forever. I can never thank you for the kindness you showed me – and the kindness you showed Jane - without your hand in it, Mr. Bingley would never have sought her out. And I know of your attempts to save Lydia, although I do not think now that there was much point in doing so…"

He rose from the desk and approached her. "For you. I did it for you. To secure your happiness and your future."

"Yes, I know," she replied in a whisper. "You have been so kind." She was aware of his closeness, now, and knew she was in danger of walking the edge of propriety once more. With an arched brow, she added, "Perhaps too kind." And, feeling the draw of his warmth move toward her, it was her turn to smile. "Your – kindness – has an overwhelming power to it…"

"Miss Elizabeth, I need to tell you…we've not much time before we shall be discovered - you must know that my marriage was made under duress. I did not compromise Caroline, and she knows it. She knows that my heart is not with her." He lowered his head to her, but did not kiss her. Instead, he raised her hand to his lips, then put it to his chest. "You are the wife of my heart, Elizabeth." He shook his head at her attempted protest and said, "I cannot ask what I wish to ask of you, Elizabeth, but I ask you to allow me to use your name – Elizabeth. It is my life to love you always, even if we cannot be together. Even if you do not love me."

She drew a deep breath at his words, wanting only to suspend time and drift in his embrace, in this darkened room, with his hand pressing on hers, hers feeling the beat of his heart, his words in her head over and over again. She could not give him what she wanted to give him, but to give him something… "You may call me by name," she murmured.

"Would you call me William? Just this once, this night, this one time." He drew her hand to his lips again, and sweetly kissed it. "We have so little time left."

Closing her eyes, she whispered, "William."

He swallowed, bathing in the sound of her voice saying his name. She felt his quickening breath, and ventured to raise her eyes to his – but his were closed, and she saw the smallest flicker of a smile on his lips. He drank in the moment, and suffered to not release her hand, but knew that he had to before his animal nature would respond to the temptation that stood before him. He released her, and bowed slightly. "Thank you, my Elizabeth." She'd forgotten why she'd come to him, his presence was enough to dissolve all rational thought in her head, but it was no matter. This time, it was she that left the room, curtseying low to him, and without regret or shame.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 9 of 21

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