This story is inspired by someone who was looking for a story in which Elizabeth married Darcy for reasons other than love and while she was content and happy never fell in love with him. While on the surface rejecting such a notion, I was insanely curious how this could happen. If nothing else, forever in a Regency story is a long time. Why couldn’t she fall in love with him at some point? In a modern, it’s pointless to marry or at least stay married without love. I also wondered how there could be a story arc, it didn’t sound like there could be much of a conflict or resolution. The idea wouldn’t leave me alone and this is what I came up with. This is a one shot, I’m pretty sure I’ll never expand it. Unbeta’d.
Warning: Character deaths
Summary: Five and twenty years after their marriage Darcy mourns the loss of his beloved Elizabeth and all the things left unsaid.
Fitzwilliam Darcy took an unsteady step and peered at the marker before him as he shaded his eyes. The sunlight felt harsh and pained his head, not only because of the effects of near constant inebriation over the last three days. All light was gone from his world and he could not account for the fact that the sun could shine at all. It should not. Once again he was reminded how useless he really was, how little he could actually control and order things. He, who liked to have his own way perhaps more than any other man he had ever known. Certainly more than any other man she had ever known, which she hesitated not to tell him so recently.
It was just another argument. One of many over the last five and twenty years of marriage and as usual, he was too selfish to hear her hurt and pain. How was he to know it would be the last time he ever saw her beautiful face? He now knew he could never forget the turn of her countenance, her eyes filled with unshed tears, disappointment and regret. The last words spoken from the most perfect mouth that ever existed were, “I cannot speak on this at present. I am leaving for a walk, Fitzwilliam.”
Elizabeth Darcy was known for her long walks, she delighted in Pemberley’s paths. From the first moment she saw the estate and grounds it was evident she would enjoy them immensely. When she was gone for three hours there was little cause for concern. That she chose to walk instead of enjoy afternoon tea with Darcy rankled him and he hid in his study. He would not seek her out, this time. When three hours turned to six and the mistress of the house still had not returned, the servants became restless. It was no secret she was their favourite and no secret she was an exemplary mistress. Despite her humble origins, she managed the estate with more grace, generosity and good sense than the ladies in most of London’s oldest families. Mrs. Bennet had taught her to be an excellent hostess and Mr. Bennet taught her sense and wisdom. Darcy knew that now, but learning to value her relations came too late in their marriage to make a difference.
Once upon a time, Darcy had hope. At first it was just arrogance and vanity. As he stood in the grove at Rosings and awaited her approach, with every intent on handing her the letter meant to defend his character, he still felt disbelief at her refusal. Disbelief, anger and the deepest pain he had ever known. Not even the near loss of his sister and the betrayal of his former best friend compared to the searing pain he suffered at the thought of life without Elizabeth. At last she appeared and he instantly saw her reluctance to even acknowledge his existence in the world. Her eyes flashed in reproach as he asked her to read his letter. Suddenly his selfishness and pain got the better of him. Hearing the approach of a carriage, for they were still in eyesight of the gate, he captured her in his arms and held her tight as he branded her lips as his. He had sealed their fate.
Elizabeth was angry, oh how she was angry! Some months after their forced and hasty marriage she seemed to have improved feelings for him and consummated their marriage. That was when the hope began. Months later in the throes of passion she whispered she loved him and he thought he might explode from the feelings of triumph those words stirred.
But then all hope was dashed. She never said the words again. She seemed absolutely embarrassed to ever had said them and his pride could not suffer to ask her on it. A week later she announced she was with child but she confessed to having had suspicions for quite some time. It was obvious to Darcy the love she had felt was a mixture of passion and gratitude at providing her with a child to love, especially as she could never love him. She had declared that in no uncertain terms.
And so their life passed on. They begat a total of four children. They both spoke of desiring more, but Darcy had not wanted to impose himself very frequently on Elizabeth and she never initiated their encounters. She seemed content with her life, perhaps even fond of Darcy. She doted on her children and was the most affectionate mother he knew. It occurred to him when their eldest was a toddler that she learned to mother from her own. He still found his mother-in-law ridiculous and rather vulgar, but she had created this wonderful woman, the perfect mistress for his estate and mother to his own children. How could he not value the family that formed his beloved Elizabeth?
When her youngest sister eloped with his sworn enemy, he did all he could to find the couple and arrange their marriage. He could never receive Wickham, but Lydia did visit and Darcy assisted her husband in his profession. He allowed Kitty to visit frequently and helped forward a match between her and another Derbyshire gentleman. Mary married the vicar of a living Darcy held and he had helped Bingley find an estate near Pemberley. All of Elizabeth’s sisters were well settled and all but Lydia lived only a few hours away. They were never quite demure, the youngest ones would forever be silly and loud, and their offspring even more so, but he grew to care for them as his own sisters.
But for her unfortunate choice of words in their last fight, he might have imagined Elizabeth happy in their marriage. And he had thought he corrected his failures that she outlined at Hunsford. But he was wrong.
Elizabeth and their youngest daughter, Betsy, stood united in their opinion about Betsy’s coming out ball, but Darcy would not hear of it. Truthfully, he knew she was as lively and beautiful as her mother and would likely receive several offers in her first Season. Beyond believing no man worthy enough for his daughter and the feelings of loss at his youngest leaving his home and his care, he did worry for her sensibilities. Their other daughter, Anne, was more reserved like him and had wished to delay coming out until she was 19. Darcy believed it a wise decision and advocated it again for Betsy.
But she and Elizabeth were adamant in beginning preparations at 18. Their stubbornness only awoke Darcy’s own obstinacy and he became stalwart in his decision. Elizabeth had approached him on the subject once more and when he would not relent she muttered under her breath about his selfish disdain for the feelings of others.
Suddenly Darcy was that man from five and twenty years before. Elizabeth’s feelings for him had not greatly improved. For over two decades he had lived with the knowledge and guilt that he forced their marriage, that Elizabeth did not deeply love him, and now she apparently barely esteemed him. His control broke. He explained that even if she did not love him, she should respect his authority as her husband. She had stared at him in disbelief. He had announced he long knew she did not love him, and never would, but had thought she esteemed him. She made to apologize but he would not allow her to speak. He expected her anger but instead she looked at him with regret in her eyes and stated her intent for a walk and left.
She never returned on her own will. He found her eight hours later, as daylight slipped to evening, on her favourite foot path. There had been excessive amounts of rain which washed the path away some, leaving the occasional unexpected rock. Had she been walking she would have seen them, but Darcy surmised she must have been running. She clearly tripped over one rock and as she fell, struck her head on another larger one. The first thing he saw after finding her on the ground was her lifeless eyes. Her mesmerizing eyes that always held so much emotion, all the light snuffed out. He had done this. He had driven her to vexation, driven her to needing the exercise in what she must have already viewed as more a prison sentence than a life worth living. Had she felt pain? Had she suffered? He held her stiff and cold body as he attempted to choke back sobs. He was certain it was the last time he would feel anything again.
His mind coming back to the present, Darcy raked his hands through his now greying curls and shook his head. He cast one long glance at the marker as he was uncertain he could ever look upon again and read it:
Beloved wife and mother.
Five years had passed since Elizabeth’s death and Fitzwilliam Darcy was honestly astonished he still lived. He would never take his own life but was amazed his heart still beat. Shortly after Elizabeth’s death he moved to the dower house and allowed his eldest son, Robert, to handle all of Pemberley’s affairs.
He could not live in the house so full with memories of Elizabeth, nor could he see his daughter-in-law, Emily, become the mistress, no matter how much he loved her. Betsy’s coming out was delayed a year for mourning and Darcy had never been so struck with his own selfishness than the day he realized that he got his way. He was correct, she received three offers her first year but fortunately Elizabeth had counselled her wisely and it was another two years before she married, only for the deepest love. Now she was at Pemberley, going through her old trunks to retrieve items for her own daughter. As Darcy held his newest grandchild, called Beth, pain gripped his heart. She had Elizabeth’s eyes.
The little angel had fallen asleep in his arms and he sat quietly, lost in memories. He searched his mind once more, an obsessive habit now, attempting to determine if it had all been wishful thinking. How had he missed that Elizabeth still disliked him? It was true hope for her love vanished before Robert was even born but he had believed Elizabeth cared for him some, and not just as the father of her children. Her words did not lie though.
Lost in such melancholy thoughts, he did not hear Betsy enter. She touched his shoulder and called out, “Father?”
He startled and looked up at the intruder quickly before glancing away to hide his glassy eyes. Once composed he turned his attention back to his daughter. “Yes, Betsy? You can see we are fine.” He attempted to smile. Before Elizabeth he seldom smiled and now, years without her, it was the same.
“I see. You are always wonderful with children. Mama loved that about you.”
Darcy’s countenance darkened, “I hardly believe there was much your mother loved about me.”
Betsy shook her head and emphatically stated, “I know she did.”
“Elizabeth Jane, you know this subject is out of the question. Desist.”
She spoke with a tone very reminiscent of her mother, “You can no longer order me about, Father. Will you not ask me the cause for my assuredness?”
He let out an exasperated sigh. “You are sometimes too much like your Aunt Jane, always reasoning things out to see the good in everybody and everything. The fact remains that I am a selfish man, no matter how you may try to explain it differently.”
The combined strength of the Darcy, Fitzwilliam and Bennet stubbornness became apparent on Betsy’s face in a flash. “I am not so kind-hearted as that and you know it! But I just found proof. I have her own words.”
Darcy looked at her in confusion and she removed several journals from a basket she had brought in. She laid them on the table next to her father. His eyes darted to them and looked at them in a mixture of longing and fear. Gathering up baby Beth, she kissed her father on the cheek and whispered, “Read them.”
Darcy was uncertain how long he sat staring at Elizabeth’s journals arguing with himself. Brought out of his reverie by the chill in the air, the fire had long ago grown low, he quickly added several more logs and then stared at the growing blaze. For a moment he thought about simply burning them all, but glancing at them again he decided he would read some, if only to look at her beautiful penmanship again.
He started with the earliest one. He winced at reading the first few entries, full of anger directed at himself for their marriage. He blushed to think his daughter might know of his ungentlemanly behaviour. Elizabeth did not write daily, or even monthly. Before many pages there was an entry that caught his attention. She had redecorated the mistress’s apartments and had come across some old things of hers brought from Longbourn. She had found his letter. After his kiss she had never bothered to read it, but somehow did not burn it either. It’s affect on her was great. As Darcy looked at the date on the entry again he realized it was near the time he had sensed an improvement in her feelings for him.
Many weeks later there was another entry. Lydia had eloped with Wickham several months earlier and Elizabeth had only heard that her uncle patched up the marriage. Lydia had recently visited Pemberley. She did not announce Mr. Darcy’s role in her marriage, for she was sworn to secrecy, she did mention that her uncle found them after tracing them to a Mrs. Younge, where they had stayed their first night in London. Elizabeth quickly recalled there was a Mrs. Younge who had been Georgiana’s companion. She applied to her Aunt Gardiner directly and was quickly informed of the whole of Darcy’s role in the matter. Another look at the date and it occurred to him that this must have been the cause for her declaration of love. He hated to think it was elicited out of gratitude of any kind, but this was much worse than out of her falling with child.
Bravely, and against his better instincts, he turned the page and read:
I love him! My whole heart wants to scream it loudly! And I know not when it happened but I believe I have loved him for a very long time now. Possibly since he first pulled me in his arms and showed me I was too precious to him to let me go. I must confess this here, for I fear uttering them aloud. I have been so wrong, I misjudged him so badly. He does not speak of love, though his every look confirms it. I am a muddled mess! Surely, I should not say it if he does not?
He stared at the page for nearly an eternity. She loved him? Even a bit, even if he starved it away, she had loved him. He turned the page again.
I must tell him, he deserves to know. My happiness is only made more complete by the fact that I felt the first flutterings of our babe today. I had long suspected but was not certain.
The next page was dated only days later.
I told him. Last night I confessed my love and he seemed pleased. He smiled, his beautiful smile, he looked younger than I have ever seen him before. He did not say it in return, but again his every action told me he does.
Darcy was compulsively reading now.
I shared the news of the babe with darling Fitzwilliam today. He smiled broadly and even twirled me around and laughed. As the day went on though, he seemed concerned and withdrew into himself. Perhaps he is concerned for my health? Mrs. Reynolds explained his mother did not do well in her confinements, finally passing after Georgiana’s birth.
Months passed before another entry, the page bore evidence of tear stains.
Why does he not say it again? I was such a fool! Did I drive it away with my cruel refusal? But he must still love me. Or is it only vain wishes? Will the only time I ever hear those cherished words from his lips have been during his wretchedly worded proposal I so shamefully spurned?
Darcy felt tears sting his own face and they fell on the parchment in his hands, mingling with her long dried ones. “Oh, Elizabeth! I love you, I’ve always loved you, if only I had known! I had thought you did not wish to hear of my affections! I worried you would not welcome the words, that you would refuse the sentiment. But for my horrible pride! I should have whispered them in your ear hourly!”
He turned page after page but found no more mentions of love, instead her entries were directed on being a new mother and their expanding family.
In the journal dated several years after the birth of their youngest daughter he caught his breath and read:
We have been married 15 years today and my love for Fitzwilliam is stronger than I ever thought possible. He is a silent man, not given to mirth or much sentiment. Years ago, as I first learned my own heart, I was uncertain of his, but I have learned a truer, more constant heart has never beat. He still does not tell me with words but we have an unspoken union. And I daresay he is just as besotted with me as ever. I have accepted Betsy will be my last child. I fear my husband worries too much when I am with child, however much I enjoy his attentions, he does not wish for me to fall with child frequently. But four children, two of each sex, is a good brood. Even my mother cannot complain, for not only do I have the heir and a spare, but Fitzwilliam so generously named our eldest daughter after my mother as well as his. And he honoured my father by naming our youngest son Bennet instead of using his family name. God has been very good to me, I am so very happy.
For hours and hours he read until at last he reached the last pages.
Fitzwilliam is such a vexing man! I know he is anxious to keep Betsy home, that he cannot bear to part with his dearest daughter but she is grown now. In five and twenty years I still have not learned how to move on his stubbornness, but I am hopeful soon we will make him see reason. He cannot have his own way in this for no reason than his own selfishness.
It hurt to read her words of admonishment about his behaviour and tears stung his eyes again but at long last he turned the final page and read her last entry, dated the day of her death.
How have I been so blind all these years? I thought he knew! But it seems he does not, my refusal must have hurt him deeper than I ever believed. Oh! I was so awful just now, I declared he had a selfish disdain for the feelings of others, and no matter how much I love him I do believe he has a selfish streak. But I had entirely forgot the words I said in my dreadful refusal until I saw his face darken, just as it did that day. I had said those very words. And now I learn they have haunted him for five and twenty years and he never believed I loved him. I cannot think now, I must be away to calm my thoughts but when I return I will do what I should have done when I first knew my heart. My stupid pride, I did not wish to say the words again if he seemed unwilling to say them! I will tell him and tell him and tell him until my mouth quits speaking and to my final days, I will tell him: I love you my dearest Fitzwilliam.
Darcy wept joyful tears before falling into a heavy slumber in his chair before the fire. He awoke hours later to a room unusually warm and bright and, after his eyes adjusted, he saw Elizabeth standing before him.
She stretched forward her hand and said, “Come, my love. We will have no more misunderstandings between us now.” Without hesitation he reached for her hand and pulled her into an embrace, feeling the light all around him.
Darcy sat up straight in his bed and gasped. His actions caused his new wife to stir.
“Fitzwilliam? What is wrong?” She reached for his cheek and looked at him in worry when she found it wet with tears. She pulled him down to hold him in her arms and he kissed her in desperation.
Hours later as they lay encircled in each other’s arms Darcy confessed his moment of insanity after her refusal; how tempted he was to publicly compromise her. She only laughed and said it would not have mattered. She would have regretted the origination of their marriage but she would have grown to love him, she never had a choice.
“And now let me tell you until my mouth quits speaking. I love you my dearest Fitzwilliam.”
“And you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
As he drifted off to sleep he was uncertain whether this was reality and the actions before were a dream or if this was that Darcy’s Heaven.