How are you feeling about this story? I’d love to hear more reactions about it. Do you find it difficult to believe that Darcy and Elizabeth have found themselves in this position or do you think it is possible…at least as possible as so many of the other JAFFs out there? I admit, I’ve written many that would be highly improbable. Do you think one person is more to blame than the other?
I know there were some guesses about when Darcy and Elizabeth would meet again. How would they communicate about if she is pregnant or not? How would a future meeting go for them? There are some answers to those questions in this chapter.
The following week passed in reflection and melancholy for Elizabeth. The night before she left Kent, the Hunsford party was invited to dine at Rosings again. Elizabeth blushed as memories assaulted her. She wondered, too, what Lady Catherine would say if Elizabeth were now sitting before her as a future niece.
At last, the day came to leave Kent behind. Elizabeth hoped with a change of environment, she could more easily forget about her encounter with Darcy and her regrets. Upon arriving in London, she realised such a thing was not possible. Jane had the most exciting news.
“Mr. Bingley has called on you?” Elizabeth asked in disbelief.
“Yes, he was here yesterday and promises to call again.”
“What reason did he have for not visiting earlier?”
“He said he had not known I was in Town.” A small frown puckered Jane’s mouth. “I suppose his sister did not inform him. Was I a fool for believing she valued my friendship?”
“No more than I was.” Elizabeth squeezed her sister’s hand. “I had thought she genuinely liked you. How did Mr. Bingley learn of your presence?”
“Apparently, Mr. Darcy told him.”
“Mr. Bingley did not go into detail, but it seems Darcy knew of me being here but did not inform him right away.” Concern flitted across Jane’s face. “Before you say anything, I do not blame him. I am sure he thought he was acting in his friend’s best interest. Pray, do not let me hear you slander Bingley’s dearest friend.”
“I was not going to say anything against Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said with her eyes cast down. “Seeing him more regularly in Kent has allowed me to understand his character better. I believe you are correct; he thought he was serving his friend.”
“I am pleased to hear you say so.” Jane smiled. “I know you think it unjust, but the world we live in values connections and money, and we have neither. Of course, a sensible gentleman ought to think seriously before entering into a marriage with one of us.”
Elizabeth sighed to herself. Why must Jane make so much sense? It must be her calmness of mind that allowed her to see past the emotion, which too often clouded Elizabeth’s thoughts.
Soon the conversation turned to plans for outings in London. Mr. Bingley had offered the use of his box at the theatre before the ladies were to leave for Hertfordshire. Maria Lucas let out a squeal of delight at the news, for she had never been to the theatre.
The news brought alarm and anticipation for Elizabeth. The possibility of seeing Darcy again seemed high. Or would he shun the chance for her society? She hardly knew which she preferred.
By the time the evening in question arrived, Elizabeth knew which she had preferred. She attempted to beg off going, but her aunt pressed her to come. Macbeth was her favourite play, and it was rumoured Sarah Siddons was soon to retire. As there had been no confirmation that Darcy would be attending as well, Elizabeth decided she could bear the possibility of seeing him.
Elizabeth gathered with her relatives, Mr. Bingley, and Miss Bingley, in the main hall before the performance began. The others talked, but Elizabeth could not attend the conversation. Suddenly, a frisson of awareness trailed up her spine. She knew without even looking about that Mr. Darcy had arrived and must have seen her. She always had known when he had been observing her. Slowly, she glanced around the room. When she saw him, her breath caught. He was more handsome than she remembered. His eyes met hers, and then he whispered something to a very young lady who smiled at him with excitement and adoration.
Mr. Darcy approached, his presence heralded by Miss Bingley.
“Good evening,” he said. “I know the Miss Bennets and Miss Lucas, but I shall allow you to perform the introductions, Bingley. Might you also introduce me and my sister to your new friends?”
Bingley grinned before doing as requested. Elizabeth watched for any sign of regret on Darcy’s face at meeting the Gardiners, but he only seemed pleasantly surprised. He must have expected people closer to the Phillipses. Upon hearing that Mrs. Gardiner had lived in Lambton, the Darcy siblings seemed more at ease.
Elizabeth quickly observed that Miss Darcy was excessively shy. However, Elizabeth had supposed her brother to still be afflicted with pride. Seeing him relax as he found a topic of conversation about a common interest with people he had just met, made Elizabeth think differently. Perhaps, like he had told her at Rosings, he found it difficult to make conversation with strangers.
“Are you well?” Darcy whispered to her, starting her from her woolgathering. She had not noticed when the discussion turned to other things which required less input from Darcy.
“Yes, so far as I know,” Elizabeth blushed.
“It is too early to know.” Her face felt on fire.
“When do you leave for Longbourn?”
“In a fortnight. I should know by then.” Throughout the exchange, she had not looked at him.
“Will you allow me to call at Gracechurch Street before you leave? I think it is the least conspicuous way to communicate with me.”
“I did not think you would be willing to go to Cheapside, sir.”
“I am willing to do far more than that.”
Elizabeth chanced a peek at him. His earlier ease was gone, and he seemed almost pained to be having this conversation. His first proposal had dwelled entirely on how he owed it to his family to marry better than Elizabeth. His second was out of guilt and duty. He might be willing to do more, meaning marry her, but Elizabeth had not seen any proof that he truly desired it. How he must regret their encounter! The quicker they could put the whole thing behind them, the better.
“You have not answered,” Darcy pressed.
Glancing at him again, Elizabeth saw concern in his eyes and the furrow of his brow. Perhaps she had things all wrong again. He was asking for permission to see her rather than stating that he would come. Maybe he was attempting to listen to her reproofs.
“Yes,” she said, and she could see his relief immediately.
“Thank you. I promise to not stay long.” He flicked his eyes to Bingley. “Bingley intends to return to Netherfield. He has requested I accompany him again.” He continued to speak without looking at her. “Fear not,” he said hastily. “I must attend other business for a time and cannot go with him. However, in the future, I do intend to accept his invitation.”
Did he mean to put her on her guard?
“I apologise if that is unfavourable news to you,” he said even softer.
“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth began slowly. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest. Her tongue clambered to find the words, but her brain moved too sluggishly. She did want to see him again. There was much they needed to say to one another, but she continued to think if only they could sit and speak, things might be resolved favourably. “I do not—”
“Excuse me,” he said and suddenly left as someone else had hailed him from across the room.
Darcy returned to their group only to collect his sister before the play began. Throughout the play, Elizabeth thought of what Darcy had said. She would see him, eventually, at Netherfield. Did he go unhappily out of service for his friend, hoping to avoid her? Or did he, like she, hope that they could overcome their misunderstandings? Amid all the unanswered questions, hung the difficulty of the liberties they took. If Elizabeth were with child, all of this would matter naught. Darcy would insist on marrying her, whether or not he wanted to do so. Did he even wish to speak with her again, or was it only to know if there were consequences to their intimacy?
Elizabeth’s attention was drawn to the play in Lady Macbeth’s final scene. As Sarah Siddons dramatically enacted the lady’s descent into madness and her desperation to wash the blood from her hands, Elizabeth felt a growing dread in the pit of her stomach. She, like Lady Macbeth, had done something which would not wash off with water. Whether there was a child or not, Elizabeth could not pretend that her life could be the same. How did she intend to deal with this longing to be with Darcy while not knowing his true feelings without descending into madness?
As she climbed into bed that evening, Elizabeth decided that what she needed most was time. Time would tell if there was to be a child. Time would tell if Darcy’s admiration was as superficial as she feared. And only time would tell Elizabeth if the feelings she was now experiencing toward the most exasperating gentleman of her acquaintance could grow into love—or even if they should.