I told myself if I got a chapter finished this week then I could post earlier than Saturday. Well, I didn’t get to write at all until yesterday afternoon and it wasn’t a complete chapter.
I’m hoping next week will go better for me. I woke up late Monday through Thursday. The kids missed the bus Tuesday through Thursday and were so late I had to sign them in twice–one time they were about 45 minutes late. I wish I could blame it on them, but really it was me. I just had problems falling asleep at night so it was even harder to get out of bed in the morning. This on top of some lingering fatigue from my Christmas Plague. Friday went well, however, so hopefully a corner is turned.
I’m hoping I can finish this story in the next week or two. We’re so close now! I know all of you are as eager as I am to see the happy ending!
Elizabeth was unsure how long she remained crumpled in Darcy’s dressing room, but a maid found her. The woman did not offer pity but did extend assistance to help Elizabeth to her bed. She had brought up breakfast and tea, but Elizabeth could not stomach them.
Curling up in bed, Elizabeth threw her head on Darcy’s pillow, where his scent still lingered. She sobbed until her eyes were sore and swollen. Her throat ached, and it felt like stones rolled in her stomach.
As evening fell, Elizabeth grew thankful that her mother and sisters had already relocated. Surely the Bingleys and Hursts all knew that Darcy had left her there, but she could hide away from pitying looks and prying questions. The fact that the maid had not been more sympathetic told Elizabeth that even the servants had opinions about her marriage.
A different maid had delivered a tray at dinner, but it did not appeal to her. Having cried all the moisture out from her body, Elizabeth stared blankly at the wall. Now and then, she sniffed Darcy’s pillow for a reminder that he had been there at all.
When there was a quiet knock at supper time, Elizabeth assumed it was the maid with another tray. She turned her head to dismiss the servant. Instead, Caroline stood at the foot of her bed. She handled the tray she carried with grace and set it down on the table near the bed before drawing a chair to Elizabeth’s side. Elizabeth could not meet her eyes.
After a few moments of silence, Caroline cleared her throat. “You must eat, Elizabeth. I know you do not feel up to it just now, but there is no sense in wasting away over him.”
A rueful laugh erupted from Elizabeth’s throat. It may not be very sensible, but then was love ever rational? The thought of not mourning Darcy’s defection was as impossible as not grieving over her father’s death. Worst of all, Caroline must be thinking how right she had been in her beliefs about the unsuitableness of their marriage. Surely, she felt that she would never lose her husband, especially if he were Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth’s worse fear was proven correct. She was defective, after all. True, she was more than able to love. However, she was unable to love correctly.
“Have you come to gloat?” Elizabeth asked her hostess.
“I would never.”
“Is this just another exercise in your duty as a hostess?”
“I should have thought you knew me better than that by now.” Caroline’s reply was matter-of-fact. It did not hold the affront or glee which Elizabeth expected.
“How could I? I barely knew myself until a few hours ago. Tell me, does everyone find me as unforgivably stupid as I do now?”
“Does it matter?” Caroline shrugged.
“No,” Elizabeth admitted and sighed. “There is only one opinion which matters, and his is crystal clear.”
“What do you think is so clear?”
“Mr. Darcy tired of waiting on me. He could not withstand my cold treatment.”
“You could hardly do otherwise when reeling from your father’s death. I told him so, but he would not listen to me.”
Caroline did not blame her? If only her husband could be persuaded to think likewise.
“Do you think you understand his actions so well?” Caroline asked. “Did he not confess to loving you?”
“How did you know?”
“Oh, we all knew he was in love with you. It was only a wonder that it took him so long to discover it himself. Of course, once he had realised it, it would be unlike him to keep it a secret—even if it had been for your own good.”
Elizabeth stared at her hands. “He did say he loved me.”
“And you doubt his word?”
Blowing out a breath, Elizabeth answered, “When we first met, I took his words to mean he was cold and unfeeling. I thought he was proud and arrogant. When I realised how wrong my impression was, I determined to rely more on his actions. They have proven how affable he really is. I had not thought they were done out of love, but after his declaration, it was easy to see that they were. Now, he has left which shows—”
“Which only shows he thought it best not to stay, Elizabeth. Do not be so hasty in your presumptions about him.”
Elizabeth eyed the woman who might have been her rival. Did she love Darcy as well? Why did she seem to know so much more about him? Or perhaps she was merely friendly, even sisterly in the absence of Jane? Maybe Caroline could see clearer than Elizabeth did on the subject, as it seems had always been the case.
“Think about what I have said.” Caroline stood. “Eat something. If you would like, in the morning I could send for Jane or Miss Lucas. You should have some company you prefer.”
Elizabeth did not miss the brittle smile and look of regret, which glossed over Caroline’s features.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. “Both for the words and your friendship. I will think about what you said.”
Caroline’s smile brightened. “See that you do,” she added softly before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.
Regret had filled Elizabeth since the moment she discovered Darcy’s departure. She had spent the day thinking only of her own pain. However, before the steam dissipated from her untouched teacup, Elizabeth realised how justified Darcy’s actions were.
Although she could not name the moment she began to love Mr. Darcy, she now recognised that all her misguided actions in attempting to please him were for her benefit. She had wanted to be a good wife. She had believed she was thinking of his happiness. He deserved a loving wife that doted on him. On the other hand, selfishness and pride had filled her so much that she never considered asking him how best to display that. She had worked off assumptions their entire acquaintance.
Elizabeth’s vanity surged to the front, defending her errors. Was not he guilty too? True, Darcy had not been any more open than she about their situation. He had made the first step, though, in confessing his feelings. Indeed, until he left her side without a word, Elizabeth had thought he completely faultless—a fact that had made her nervous and feel undeserving. Now, perhaps they were on more equal footing. But, no. They were not. He had been seeing to her needs for weeks; she had been oblivious to his.
As mistaken as he might have been to flee from her rather than keep his promise to wait out her mourning, it only made him dearer to her. She did not want to love a saint. However, a real man with genuine vulnerabilities—for she readily believed it to be insecurity which had him leave—seemed in need of her love, such as it was. Of course, she did not know when he would return and how she could make it all up to him.
The following day, Elizabeth ventured to leave her room after breakfast. She was just searching out Miss Bingley and found her in the drawing room when the butler announced the arrival of the post. Having a letter from her Aunt Gardiner, Elizabeth determined to read it before discussing Darcy with her hostess.
Praying she would find some sort of guidance in her aunt’s words, Elizabeth returned to her chamber for privacy. Once there, she ripped it open without hesitation.
I hope this letter finds you well. I hesitated to reply earlier as we wanted to be sure we would not be required to come and assist with the moving process. However, I have had a long letter from Jane telling me how well everyone is getting on and shorter letters from the other girls filled with only minor complaints, so I feel we must have got the whole picture. My sister also sends her words of approval—so altered she is!
Many thanks to your husband for arranging the whole thing with as little inconvenience to us as possible. Your uncle would have dropped everything to be there for you all, you know, but he has had an influx of orders just now (again, I suppose due to your husband). He could never have found such a large house to support your mother and sisters. It is a relief to us both that Mr. Darcy handled the matters so swiftly and delicately, and we have no doubt about your care as well. We were just saying the other day that for as much as Darcy was a stranger to us before your father’s illness, we could not imagine a gentleman we trust so entirely as your husband.
Now, to the point of my letter. You have asked if Mr. Darcy came to some arrangement with your uncle regarding your younger sisters. They did, and I am not at liberty to say much else. Mr. Darcy made it clear that he did not wish to have it be common knowledge and was most stern in his desire to keep it known from you. As you had already guessed the matter, I do not feel any trepidation in confirming it. However, we will not discuss amounts. I will only say that your husband saw fit to double the portion your uncle determined upon.
I do not know if this knowledge will make you think even higher of Mr. Darcy than you, no doubt, now do. I think it is safe to say that he would not want you to alter your opinion of him based on this action. However, considering your other questions to me regarding the nature of romantic love, I will write frankly.
You saw your parents’ marriage through the eyes of a child, even as you are now grown. You were not privy to every conversation and look. You do not know their history. As for your uncle and me, of course, we have disagreements! We take care to not air them before others. Why we have even disagreed as I write this letter. He thinks that I ought to have said nothing about his agreement with Darcy, whereas I believe it worth telling you.
I do not pretend to have had a similar path in marriage as you have had. However, you might ask your mother about her courtship with your father. I believe it may surprise you.
I will only add that real love is based on so much more than happy sparks and fluttering lashes. It might begin in such a way when introduced in a ballroom, but that is not what lasts after the vows have been said. You have started the other way around, but there is no reason to think that you cannot also experience those moments of awe and chills in the company of your husband. Did you not inform me that you enjoy the marriage bed? Having such encounters will naturally make other interactions pale in comparison. Do not be so quick to dismiss that you feel nothing for Mr. Darcy when you have written about him very affectionately. It may only appear differently than you expected, such as the first time you attended the theatre, which you now love so well.
I must go, the children have asked for me. I hope to see you soon in Town.
Your loving aunt
Elizabeth folded the paper up as she looked out her window. Her aunt’s note had come too late. Now she understood all too well that she had been looking for all the wrong signs that she was in love. It had come on her unaware, and in a way she least expected it. Mrs. Gardiner had been correct; Elizabeth assumed love would make her feel giddy as it did with her first crush. Everyone always told her love was more than infatuation, but no one had really explained to her that love meant feeling as though you could not go on if they were torn from you. Not in an “I will miss his smiles and compliments” way. No, deep in her bones, Elizabeth felt hollow at the thought of never seeing Darcy again. The only pain which had ever been similar was the death of her father, and that was but a drop in the bucket to this agony. She and Darcy might have had many, many years of blossoming happiness, but she had ruined it all. Could she ever put it to right again?