It’s been another long week for me but I did manage to get in some good writing time. I am hoping that I finish writing this weekend! That would give me plenty of time for editing and still have a February release! We’ve been waiting for it! Elizabeth is finally determined to find Darcy and talk to him!
In the afternoon, Elizabeth’s mother and sisters called upon Netherfield.
Caroline kept Elizabeth’s younger sisters sufficiently distracted as they talked about fashion and music. However, Jane and Mrs. Bennet sent concerned looks to Elizabeth. When Mr. Bingley proposed a walk in the garden, Elizabeth used the time to talk with her mother privately.
“How are you truly, Mama?”
“The house is charming. We have everything we could need in Meryton, and I think you are the only one who would miss the rambling lanes around Longbourn. It is a relief that I do not have to oversee an estate any longer.”
“You did not enjoy being the mistress of an estate?” Elizabeth had always thought it was one of the things her mother loved most.
“When I was younger, I revelled in the higher status it brought me. I had always thought I would hate leaving Longbourn behind. Still, I confess that without your father, I am happy to not be haunted by memories of our life together. I am not made of the stuff necessary for women who run large establishments without a companion at their side.”
Elizabeth grew quiet as she considered her mother’s words in light of what her aunt had written.
After a few moments of silence, Mrs. Bennet put her teacup down and broke the quiet. “Lizzy, where is Mr. Darcy?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes in pain. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to admit the truth to her mother. “He left,” she whispered.
“I thought he was not needed in London until Twelfth Night? Did my brother send for him again?”
Elizabeth shook her head as a tear slid down her cheek. “No, Mama.”
Bracing for criticism from her mother, Elizabeth gasped in surprise when Mrs. Bennet squeezed her hand.
“He left because of me.” Elizabeth forced the words out before doubling over in sobs. In an instant, her mother’s arms were around her, rubbing her back and whispering soothing words into her ear.
When she had calmed from the newest onslaught of pain and fear, Elizabeth dried her eyes. Resting her head on her mother’s shoulder, she explained the breakdown of her marriage. “I was so stupid. I thought I did not love him. I did not understand what love really was. He grew tired of waiting.” She shook her head. “No, I must be honest. He grew tired of my rejection.”
“When did you reject him? That is not the picture I ever saw of you two.”
“When he told me he loved me, I could not say it back. I did not understand then how I felt.”
“Oh, Lizzy.” Mrs. Bennet smoothed her daughter’s hair. “I am afraid you and I are far more alike than we had ever guessed.”
“How is that?”
“Your father and I never told you about our courtship.”
“No, I do not think so. Aunt Gardiner wrote to me recently and told me to ask you, but I did not know how to bring it up.”
“The first time I met your father, he was about eight or nine and with a group of boys who teased me on the streets of Meryton. They had snuck up behind me as I walked home from school, and one of them pulled my braids. I spun around, and when I did so, my satchel of books went flying into his knees. He cried out in pain and demanded I apologise. I said that I would not even though I had not done it on purpose. I said he got what he deserved. He claimed one of the other boys had pulled my hair, and I declared if he would be friends with the likes of them, then he deserved more than a bruise from some books.”
Elizabeth stared at her mother in disbelief. It sounded very much like something she would have done.
“Of course, once I got home, I told my parents all about it. My father decided to speak with your grandfather to smooth over any feathers I may have rumpled. A friendship emerged between the two men, and Thomas’ father became a client of my father. Your father and I saw each other infrequently as the years went on; less as he went to Eton and had the education befitting a gentleman.
My sister and I followed a different path. After my mother died, Papa spent long hours at work. Having children of my own now, I can tell you that we were left to run too wild. My sister ran off to Scotland with one of his law clerks. After that, Papa remarried and had Edward. I hated my new mother, and what I believed was her undue strictness.
Just before Thomas graduated from University, my father died. Sally and John moved in with us, and he took over the office. Sally and my step-mother constantly argued and looked to me to make peace. I hated it. A young man that I had a flirtation with a few years before when he was an army officer returned to Meryton. I never cared to ask why he was back in Town. He had no employment that I knew of. I thought only of escaping what I thought was a dreadful home.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. This did not seem akin to her at all. She had loved Longbourn, and despite often being the peacemaker, she would never throw herself at a poor young man just to leave.
“I see that look, Lizzy. Just listen. I promise you will see how we are alike soon enough,” her mother chided. “Well, the night we were to elope, the young man never showed. I was heartbroken. Or so I thought.”
Mrs. Bennet waited to see that Elizabeth had resumed listening without judgment before continuing. She cleared her throat. “I considered running away on my own. I had made it as far as the coaching inn when Thomas saw me. He had just returned from University. He insisted on helping me. I was too upset to be coy and told him my whole tale. Before I knew it, he was proposing to me.”
Elizabeth gasped. “Did he love you?”
Shaking her head, her mother replied. “No. However, he said he could not see me throw my life away, and he knew that I was determined enough to follow through with it. You are more selfless than I, Lizzy. For I married without love while only thinking of myself. You married for your family’s sake.”
“If I only cared about my family, then I would have said yes to Mr. Collins. I have been selfish, as well.”
Mrs. Bennet squeezed her daughter’s hand. “A little selfishness is permissible, my dear. Mr. Collins is a dreadful man. I am sorry I ever directed him to you.”
“I think if I had not had the alternative of Mr. Collins, I might not have accepted Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth took a deep breath before meeting her mother’s eyes. “I saw you one night while I watched over Father. You said that you had always loved him. How did it happen? When did you realise it?”
“I was very ill while pregnant with Mary. That is why you always had such a soft spot in your father’s heart. He spent more time with you and Jane than I did. What time he was not spending with you two, despite our having a nursemaid, he spent at my side nursing me. There was a tenderness in his treatment. I knew his feelings had grown for me since we married. Still, it was not until I was nearly insensible with a fever, and I heard him murmuring his love for me that I realised why he would go through so much trouble for me.”
Elizabeth listened with rapt attention. This seemed the heart of what Mrs. Gardiner had attempted to tell her about regarding her parents. While the circumstances were different, Elizabeth could see how they were similar as well.
“Fortunately, I was too ill for him to expect a response. Indeed, I do not think he knew I had heard him. I used the illness to withdraw from him. It was not until I grew gravely ill some months later, that I realised how cruel it would be to die without ever having told your father that I loved him.”
“I had no idea,” Elizabeth said in wonder. “I am sorry to say that I had always thought you two were at odds. I confess I never thought of you being in love.”
“Love can come in many different forms. I will not pretend that I have ever been as clever as you. However, think of how your father dealt with my nerves and anxieties. I know I have been silly at times. He did not abandon me.”
“But, he teased you so!”
“Do you not recall the story of how we met? His teasing me lasted throughout his life. And did I not give back just as good in my own way?”
“Yes, you did.”
“It was not our way to be more affectionate in public.”
Elizabeth nodded. It made sense. Did her father not tease his own daughters and seldom showed what others would think of as a gentle side? “I know you think that I am too much like Papa, but I can see how I am like you as well.”
Mrs. Bennet smiled. “I never thought you were too much like your father. If, however, you were, it would not have caused me any unhappiness. No, my dear. You were always like me.”
Elizabeth laughed at the thought. “Will revelations never cease? I find I did not know myself at all!”
Hearing voices on the lawn, Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet glanced at the window. The others were returning to the house.
“Pray, let me tell you one more thing before I must go. I know you must fear Mr. Darcy’s rejection now. Even more than that, I perceive you might wonder how best to display your new understanding as neither of you put much store by words. I have learned that the key to happiness in marriage is to understand how your beloved needs to be loved. I had said earlier that there are many different forms of love. What I meant was there are different ways to display it. You saw your father’s teasing as dislike, whereas I knew it was his way of showing me love. Think about your husband and how he might best understand that you love him.”
Elizabeth only had time to nod in agreement before the others entered the drawing room. Tea and games were brought out. Rather than having the ladies walk back to Meryton, Mr. Bingley offered them his coach. As Elizabeth said farewell to her mother and sisters, a spark of hope lit in her heart. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as she had thought.
Determined to do anything but feel sorry for herself, the day after speaking with her mother, Elizabeth set out to rectify her wrongs. She spent the morning at a writing desk.
She had thought carefully about what her mother had said on displaying love in the way Mr. Darcy would most understand it. He had always been a man of action. Even when they had first met, his actions more eloquently than his words. His words to Mr. Bingley had wounded her. However, his actions were not nearly as reproachable. He did not add further insult to her injury in choosing to dance with Jane and slighting Elizabeth. Indeed, he danced with no one except the ladies he had already known. When he was next prompted to dance with Elizabeth, he asked with all graciousness. Later, he requested her hand by his own volition. All this to say nothing of his actions since their betrothal.
Yes, her Mr. Darcy would much rather do something than to talk. However, soon they must speak to one another. There was much they needed to say to fully understand each other. At the moment, however, Elizabeth had to put her own plans into action. She visited Charlotte Lucas and begged the use of her skills once more. Next, Elizabeth spoke with Caroline and put her talents to use. Finally, and the part she most dreaded, she talked with Mr. Bingley.
“Pray, forgive me for disturbing you,” Elizabeth said when she found him alone in the library going over what looked like account ledgers.
“It is no disturbance. I am grateful for the distraction. If only Darcy were here—blast! That was not well done. I apologise.”
Elizabeth blushed. “There is no need to apologise, Mr. Bingley.”
“Please, call me Charles. We are to be brother and sister. Indeed, I count you as a sister already as Darcy is as close to me as a brother.”
She smiled in return. “Then you must call me Elizabeth or Lizzy.”
“Very well. Can I help you with anything, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth’s smile faltered, and she twisted her hands. “I was wondering if Mr. Darcy had written to you or gave some indication of his location. I am determined to go to him. However, I do not know where he is.”
Charles flinched at Elizabeth’s words. “Indeed! I thought you must know. He left no note for me and has sent no letter. I have not written to him, either. I sensed that everything was not well between you two, but do you mean to tell me that he left without any word to you?”
She could only nod. Words were too difficult.
“That cad! I ought to write to him and call him out! I cannot believe it of him! Are you sure he left nothing? Might it have been misplaced?”
“There was nothing in my room. I found nothing in his chamber or the sitting room. They have been cleaned since he left. Surely, a maid would have found a letter if he had left one.” Elizabeth blushed and looked away. “I think he may have expected me to know him enough to guess his movements.”
“I am less certain. It is unlike my friend to leave things to chance and expect people to work off no information.”
“Even if he was angry?”
Charles paused. “I am unsure, but that would imply he did not wish to be found. I assure you that would not be the case with you. Indeed, it is most reckless of him to put you in such a position. When did you plan to leave?”
“I had planned to hire a coach in town and leave in the morning.”
“Hire a coach! Certainly not! I shall escort you, and we shall go in my carriage. However, I do not know that I can go as far as Pemberley just now. If you could wait for a few days, I must go to London next week.”
“Please, I do not wish to put you out due to my own folly. I am a married woman now and am permitted certain liberties. If you might lend me a maid and footman, I believe all shall be well.”
“I can certainly do that and give you my coach as well. What about taking Jane with you? I do not like you going with no company.”
“I would rather be alone with my thoughts. Besides, I do not know what sort of welcome I shall receive or even if I must travel more.” Elizabeth sighed. “I shall go to London first. We were to travel there for a friend’s dinner in a few days anyway. However, he might have decided not to attend since leaving here. At any rate, perhaps my aunt and uncle may have seen him. Surely the London housekeeper could tell me if he had sent instruction for the mail to be sent to Pemberley instead.”
Her voice sounded confident, and Charles nodded at her words. However, Elizabeth did not feel as certain. A man might travel anywhere, especially a man how must be as tormented and depressed as her husband felt. He could visit his sister now with his relations. Might he have gone to Lady Catherine’s in Kent? If he regretted his union with Elizabeth, he might, at least, wish to patch things up with his aunt. He had other friends he might visit and, Elizabeth knew, estates in Scotland and Ireland. Did not many go to Bath in the winter?
Elizabeth thanked Charles for his assistance and left to inform the maid that was now packing her room of the plans. Charles would speak with a footman and order the carriage for tomorrow. Throughout dinner, Elizabeth remained distracted. She ordered a tray to her room for supper, so she might go to bed early as she planned to leave at daybreak. It was much later in the evening that she had hoped before she found sleep. Rest came, at last, when she told herself to dwell on what she knew and understood of her husband rather than the possibilities which might be had for any man. The Mr. Darcy she knew would be in London, planning to attend his friend’s dinner. She hoped she had understood her husband correctly for once.