Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two /Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen
Angels We Have Heard on High
Darcy House, London
December 23, 1811
Feeling as though he had awoken from a deep slumber, Darcy resisted the urge to stretch and yawn as he looked around his dining room. Had he gone mad? A moment ago, he had Elizabeth in his arms, and now he had returned to London.
Down the table, Mr. Hurst snorted in his sleep, causing him to jump. “Pardon me! Bingley, you were…uh…saying?” He looked from one confused face to the next then shrugged and gulped the remaining port in his glass.
“I…” Bingley trailed off and blinked rapidly.
“I believe you were just saying you needed to return to Netherfield immediately,” Richard supplied.
“Yes,” Bingley’s eye’s widened, and he nodded emphatically. “Yes, I was. Thank you.”
“You want to go back to that desolation?” Hurst asked as he sloshed more port into his glass.
Richard and Bingley both swung their heads to Darcy, willing him to play along. A part of him thought he had lost his mind or dreamed. He recalled everything. Mary Bennet’s revelation of repeating December twenty-third. Wickham attacking Elizabeth. Lydia bearing his child. Collins dying. Time and time again, Darcy had found the Bennets in distress, and due to matters he could alleviate or prevent. More than this, he could still taste Elizabeth on his lips, and her perfume clung to him. As often as he had vividly imagined such an encounter, he never considered that she tasted like mulled cider or would imagine the woodsy scent of trees and dirt mixing with her usual lavender.
“What kind of master would he be if he did not attend to his house and estate?” Darcy replied to Hurst and out of the corner of his eye saw Richard and Bingley relax.
“Hurst,” Bingley said while standing, “Please see to Caroline and Louisa. You will need a hack as I’ll be leaving from Darcy House within the hour.”
“Surely it is not as urgent as that!” Mr. Hurst exclaimed and looked longingly at Darcy’s fine wine.
“Take the bottle as my thanks,” Darcy said.
Bingley’s brother-in-law instantly agreed. Bottle in hand, he left to corral his charges.
“Do you remember?” Richard asked Bingley and Darcy.
“Was it real?” Bingley asked in wonder.
“It was real,” Darcy answered. As he stood the chair scraped against the floor, echoing in the vast room. “Let us be about it, then.” He turned to leave, ever fibre in his body thrumming with the need for activity, with the need to see Elizabeth.
“What are your intentions, Darcy?” Richard called after him.
“What are yours? I am sure Miss Mary would like to know.” Darcy tempered his reply with a grin, sending Richard to laughter.
“I am going to marry Jane,” Bingley declared and walked to Darcy’s side. “With or without your blessing.”
Darcy stared his closest friend in the eye. The man he had protected like the brother he always wished he had, finally stood up to him and Darcy could not have been prouder. Extending his arm and placing a hand on one of Bingley’s shoulders, Darcy nodded. “You have it, not that you ever needed it. Can you forgive my officiousness?”
“It was kindly meant,” Bingley said with a smile. “Now, we had best be off, or I will have to interfere with your prospects.”
Darcy laughed and shook his head, his hand dropping to his side. Elizabeth may never return his affections, but he could not have Bingley play matchmaker for him. He would earn her devotion or spend his entire life striving for it. Richard approached. “What will you tell Georgie?”
“She probably has more of it figured out than we do,” Darcy said ruefully and led his friend and cousin to the drawing room.
“There you are!” Georgiana flew to his side, twisting her hands.
“Caroline and Louisa did put up some fight, but I sent them on their way. Mr. Hurst can be quite firm when motivated well enough,” she slid her brother a disapproving glare. “I have already sent for my trunk.”
This time, Darcy did not even try to argue with her. They all separated and agreed to meet in one hour. At the appointed time, they were boarding Darcy’s carriage. Bingley’s, as smaller, would follow with the luggage. The ride passed in silence, no one knowing what to feel or expect.
Arriving at Netherfield, each returned to their chambers. The sleepy looks and dark circles under each pair of eyes at the breakfast table confirmed to Darcy his supposition. No one had slept well. Before dressing this morning, Darcy had sent a message to Mr. Bennet requesting to speak with him on an urgent matter. To his surprise, and relief, the older gentleman agreed immediately and hinted that Elizabeth was behind his decision and speedy reply.
Boarding the carriage once more, they hurtled forth swaying on a bumpy road and with equally turbulent thoughts clouding their minds. At last, they arrived at Longbourn and entered, surprised when they met with a trio of blushing Bennet sisters. It seemed that the ability to remember the events of the past week transferred to the eldest three daughters as well.
“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet greeted him, “I hope you do not mind that Elizabeth will join our discussion.”
“Of course not,” Darcy said as nervousness gnawed at his belly. He ought to have explained about Wickham long ago. It was the only thing he could think of which featured at each day they had experienced. And yet, he had never told a soul all of Wickham’s evil at once. Never had he believed the good opinion of one he loved more than life depended upon accepting his presentation of the facts.
Mr. Bennet and his second daughter left the room, and Richard nudged Darcy to follow before taking a seat beside Miss Mary, who blushed and caused her mother to stammer even more than when she had seen Bingley. He was greeted favourably by Jane while Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty fawned over Georgiana. She gave him a brave smile and a shooing motion.
Taking a deep breath, Darcy quelled his courage and left for his battle. Declining, Mr. Bennet’s offer to sit, Darcy chose to pace. While he told his tale of Wickham’s years of deceit and betrayal, he fixated his eyes on various objects in the room. Now and then, something struck him as more Elizabeth-like than what he would guess her father to enjoy. How had he dared to think less of this family? They made Elizabeth who she was, kept her healthy and happy her whole life while others were so miserable they sought to compromise him. He could not always like the behaviour of the Bennets, but what flaws they had were innocent and when looked at through the eyes of love, not so unbearable.
When Darcy relayed the news of Wickham’s desired elopement with Georgiana, he heard Elizabeth gasp. Turning to look at him, he saw tears prick her eyes.
“I had hoped it was a nightmare,” she murmured.
“What was that Elizabeth?” her father asked.
She cleared her voice and spoke more distinctly. “I said, what a nightmare.”
“Indeed,” her father said.
Darcy’s eyes never left Elizabeth’s as he carefully chose his words. “Unfortunately, all of this is true. You may corroborate with my cousin if you wish. Imagine if Georgiana had eloped with him. Once he received her money, he likely would have cast her off and seen to his own pleasures regardless of any familial duties he may have incurred.”
By the widening of her eyes, Darcy presumed she understood he referenced the period of time when Wickham had fathered Lydia’s child.
“I do not think consulting your cousin will be necessary,” Mr. Bennet said. “I suppose there is a reason you have explained all this.”
“Yes,” Darcy said finally allowing his eyes to leave Elizabeth. “The area merchants and gentlemen should be warned. Richard and I will speak with his colonel.”
Before Darcy could say more, there were happy shrieks from the drawing room followed by Mrs. Bennet’s frenzied voice.
“Mr. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” Her rapid steps were heard down the hall. She flung open the door, chest heaving as she worked for breath. “Mr. Bennet, it is the best news imaginable! Mr. Bingley has proposed to Jane! Make haste!”
Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes, but Darcy saw the pleased smile on the older man’s face as he returned to his family. Taking a moment to consider what it would be like if he had five daughters, Darcy concluded he likely would not be half as sensible as the Bennet patriarch.
Darcy could feel Elizabeth’s eyes upon him. One side of his body tingled, and he knew she approached. Did she remember everything? Did she remember their kiss? And had she felt the passion he had?
“Thank you,” she whispered. “You did not need to come.”
Heart pounding in his chest, Darcy looked down at her. He could see she had also not slept and yet she was still the most beautiful woman in the world to him. “Yes, I did. A gentleman must right his wrongs.”
Elizabeth nervously fingered her neck. “I can still feel it…” She took a deep breath. “Do all of you recall the events?”
“Yes,” Darcy nodded. “And your sisters?”
“I cannot apologise enough for allowing Wickham to harm you. If I had behaved better, you might not have trusted him. If I had done my duty and exposed him, it would have been impossible. If I had not angered you—”
Elizabeth placed a hand on his arm, silencing him. “There is nothing to forgive. If it were me, I would have protected my sister as well. You are not to blame for Wickham. I, however, must beg your forgiveness. I had been so prejudiced and blind—”
Darcy now felt it necessary to interrupt her. “We have misjudged each other. Might we begin again?”