Below is a sample of Letters from the Heart, Book 1 in the Jane Austen Re-Imaginings series. Each book in this series is a stand alone and can be read in any order.
December 10, 1811
Darcy House, London
Fitzwilliam Darcy tore through the contents of his desk drawer again. I must find it! He lifted every single piece of correspondence from his letter tray. His usual fastidious standards did not help today, as there seemed no hope of finding the object of his search.
The letter was not on or in his desk, or among his personal files. He considered he may have burned it after all, but soon rejected the notion. His earlier drafts were crumpled and in the waste bin. Surely if he would have burned the final product, he would have burnt all the evidence. He could only face the truth and the likely consequences of his actions. The letter he had written to Miss Elizabeth Bennet the night before had vanished!
He called for his butler, who confirmed several letters were sent out last night in the last post. In an agitated manner he interrogated the housemaid who had tidied the room before he had arisen for the day. He decreed to his housekeeper that she alone was to clean the room henceforth, and only at his request. Additionally, all outgoing mail would be placed by him alone into the hands of the butler since obviously other members of his staff were too incompetent to carry out the task. If they had not served his family faithfully since before he was breeched, he would have reprimanded their mild look of censure; as it was, he knew he would be apologizing for his ungentlemanly display sooner rather than later.
Darcy dismissed them and slumped into his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. How could this have happened? No, now was not the time to ask questions. He needed to make plans.
Yes, he needed a new plan. Darcy knew how to make arrangements and carry them through with authority. Groomed as a child to be the landlord and master of a vast estate, complete with wealth, smaller holdings, and many investments, forethought was fundamental to good order. However, he loathed admitting the truth to himself; his contrivances caused this very problem. As a Naval acquaintance had once told him, one could be too clever for one’s own good.
Yes, Wentworth, I have been truly hoisted by my own petard: my very need to control and plan my future has, inexorably, resulted in the elimination of any freedom of choice: there was now only one honourable way forward.
There could be no more excuses or dissemblance, which he found strangely comforting; instead, he must plan to present matters in the most positive light. He thought back to how it had all came-to-pass the night before.
Monday, December 9, 1811
Darcy House, London
“Are you certain you do not wish to attend the theatre this evening?” Charles Bingley queried his friend.
“No.” Fitzwilliam Darcy said emphatically.
The two sat in the billiards room after the early and informal dinner. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, had excused herself early to write letters in her chambers, leaving the two gentlemen alone.
“I say!” Bingley proclaimed with a hint of his usual levity. “I truly had it right that evening at Netherfield when I claimed I never knew a more awful fellow than you on a Sunday night—and now a Monday—in his own home with nothing to do!”
Darcy remembered this remark and the surrounding conversation in great detail, but feigned ignorance. “I do not recall you saying such.” He affected a scowl in hopes of the subject being dropped, but he could not intimidate his friend.
“Truly? It was after you and Miss Elizabeth were in a dispute over whether my impulsiveness was a fault or a virtue, and before you asked her to dance a reel and she refused you.”
Darcy did not need the reminder; he had already spent hours with his memories of the twinkle in Elizabeth Bennet’s eyes during their debate—it was not a dispute! He recalled precisely the expression on her face, the scent she wore and—to his extreme mortification—the exact shade of blue of her gown with the delicate yellow ribbon in her hair. It was like the sun cresting over the rocky peaks of Derbyshire in a sky just after a rainstorm. Darcy cringed again as he realized how ridiculous and poetic his thoughts regarding the lady had become. I am practically a mooncalf!
Despite himself, Darcy sighed at his memories. It was the second time Elizabeth had refused to dance with him, and he should have been offended, but she was simply too endearing. She had a unique mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner. Darcy had not met with her more than six times before being entirely bewitched. The time she spent at Netherfield, seeing her each day, had been a sweet torture.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sigh from his companion, no doubt remembering his own Bennet lady.
“Netherfield really was a very picturesque estate. And so close to London, Caroline could have no complaints.”
Darcy closed his eyes in annoyance but knew the following conversation necessary, yet again. “Considering how frequently she claims to enjoy Pemberley and Derbyshire, it should be no surprise she cannot complain about the distance from Hertfordshire to London. I believe her complaints were of a different matter.”
“Everyone in the area was very welcoming and kind. Caroline wishes to remain in London for Christmas but I had thought it would be quite nice to celebrate at my own estate, perhaps invite my closest family and friends.” Bingley let out another sigh.
Darcy was growing alarmed. He had no desire to return to the area. “Are you certain you wish to host such a large party again so soon? You hosted a ball just over a week ago. You would not want to overexert yourself or Miss Bingley.”
Bingley’s brow furrowed and then his face lit up in amusement. “I am certain Caroline would perform any task to impress the Master of Pemberley.”
Darcy groaned and walked to the sideboard to refresh his port. “Did you not already accept the invitation to Lady Tennyson’s ball?”
“Yes. Caroline is desperate for me to meet Lady Tennyson’s niece, Miss Howe, again.”
“She is quite lovely and has a good portion.”
“Her hair is too dark.”
Darcy raised an eyebrow. “I believe you admired her hair and more in August.”
“And her eyes are too small unlike…”
Bingley did not need to continue, and Darcy took a large sip. Blast the Bennet sisters and their eyes! The eldest had very large and perfectly blue eyes. Elizabeth had the most expressive and intelligent eyes Darcy had ever seen, a beautiful shade of brown that could turn nearly emerald green as well. Even the youngest daughters and the mother had a special twinkle in their eye. Yes! That was an important recollection—the younger sisters and the mother!
“Bingley, I know you are quite attracted to Miss Bennet, but you did promise to use this time in Town to consider other ladies and all the consequences.” Darcy had privately vowed to do the same.
“Yes, I know. But what is consequence to affection?”
Darcy took another gulp of his drink and then decided to refill his glass and offer more to Bingley.
“The match would be lacking in all important ways.”
“It is just like you to think money and connections are all that matter.” Bingley appeared to be teasing, but Darcy still felt a bit offended.
“I do not mean only money and connections. You desire affection, perhaps even love, but you will not gain that with Miss Bennet.”
Bingley looked sharply at Darcy. “What do you mean?”
“Her heart is not easily touched.”
“She enjoyed my attentions!”
“She has a very easy way with everyone, quite a serene countenance. Do you truly believe she treated you differently than others?”
“I cannot believe her to wilfully deceive me.”
“Did she declare sentiments?” Darcy was aghast at the idea. He had thought at least Miss Bennet and Elizabeth capable of proper behaviour.
“No, but surely she could see my intentions, and she made no move to discourage me.”
“You are very amiable. She most likely thought you were engaging in an idle flirtation while visiting the area.”
“You do not believe she has expectations of me?”
“Have any of the others?”
Bingley looked sheepishly at him. “I…no, their feelings were never attached, as you well know after this summer.”
“And did Miss Bennet truly seem different than the other ladies?”
Bingley looked from the glass in his hands to Darcy’s face and back to his glass. “I think you had better pour me another glass.”
“She never loved me. None of them have,” Bingley bemoaned and sloshed the wine in his glass.
“You are quite young and so amiable you cannot see those who would scheme against you.”
“I ought to be more like you. Or how you used to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“Since we have returned from Hertfordshire you have danced nearly every dance at every soiree, accepted every dinner invitation, and talked with many ladies at each outing. Everyone is full of gossip that you mean to finally take a wife!”
Darcy grimaced. The last thing he needed now was London’s gossips after him. His friend laughed at his scowl.
“Well, so it was until three nights ago. Then, you only danced half the evening and wanted to leave early, and have refused to go anywhere since. What has happened?”
Darcy sighed. “Nothing has happened. I have agreed to go to the next ball with you.” He motioned toward the billiards table, “Please, let us enjoy our game. More port?”
“I’m a catch aren’t I, Darcy?” Bingley asked bleary-eyed.
“Of course,” Darcy replied, quite a bit more in command of his faculties.
“Not like you, though.”
“Pemberley! You’ve got Pemberley!”
“Yes…too many want me for my estate.”
“And your uncle, an earl!”
“You are a fine catch, Bingley.”
He grunted. “And I’ll prove it at Lady Tenley…Tenson…”
“Lady Tennyson’s ball. I’ll be irresistible.”
“And you too. Maybe Lady Elizabeth Harkin for you?”
Darcy scowled at the name. No Elizabeths. And she was blonde. “No.”
“Your cousin Miss de Bourgh then?”
Darcy choked on his port. “Good G-d, no!”
“What do you want then? More money? Ties to the royal family?” Bingley laughed and then snorted, causing him to laugh all the more. “I know, love!”
Without thought, Darcy whispered quietly to himself, “No. I will never find love again.” He peered at his glass with distrust. Where had this sudden understanding come from?
Bingley had not heard Darcy speak over his own laughter. “What did you say?”
“I will never marry for love.”
“Right. Too silly for you. We must be dignified. We must not laugh.” Bingley tried to affect Darcy’s scowl. “No more love for me! No more angels!”
Sighing, Bingley laid his glass aside. “I’m off to bed while I can walk up the stairs.”
“Are you certain? It is still very early.”
“Yes, but I have had little rest in over a week.”
Darcy only grunted as his friend exited. Willing the voice in his head taunting him with declarations of love for Elizabeth Bennet to silence, he drank another glass of port before an idea of sheer genius struck him. Ten nights with little sleep plagued his ability to think clearly. Then, in a flash of inspiration, THE plan came to him. Writing a letter of sorts to Elizabeth, confessing his affections would clear them from his mind. He would even keep the letter to remind himself of all the reasons he could never marry Elizabeth Bennet.
The following morning, as he finally comprehended where this ultimate, brilliant plan had led, Darcy ruminated on all the plans that had inexorably brought him to this impasse. Darcy had always firmly believed in planning, it was part of his very essence. He knew how to make arrangements and carry them through with authority.
He planned to merely advise his friend, Bingley, on his leased estate in Hertfordshire and recover from his troubles of the summer. He soon realized his budding attraction for an impertinent country miss and so he planned to keep his distance. But when he was thrust into her company against his will, he sought to find fault with her. And when he found her entirely charming and bewitching, he schemed to leave the country forthwith.
Upon noticing Bingley’s attachment to the very lady’s sister, and not perceiving the affection reciprocated, he planned to extricate his friend. He even realized the plot held the added benefit of never again needing to face Elizabeth’s fine, captivating eyes. Bingley would give up the lease and never marry a Bennet. Darcy need never visit Hertfordshire again, need never come into Elizabeth’s company on a visit to his friend’s estate, nor see her in Town as Bingley’s new sister. Yes, it was a succession of very well-considered, if increasingly desperate, stratagems.
Darcy shook his head again. He should have realized it could come to this when things went decidedly against his plans. He did not plan to admire the young lady whose beauty he had early withstood, whose manners were not fashionable, and who had connections in trade and the most vulgar family in the kingdom. He most certainly did not plan to fall in love with her. He should not have been surprised that, after leaving Hertfordshire, he could not cast out Elizabeth’s teasing words and lovely face from his mind. He never planned to think of her day and night with increasing levels of distraction—even with a distance of twenty miles and the passage of ten days between them.
Before he met Elizabeth, Darcy could not remember the last time he was able to admire a lady as more than a dance or dinner partner. At this point, he could scarcely recall another lady’s name. He should have known better than to assume his plans regarding Elizabeth Bennet could ever succeed; Elizabeth’s appeal defied logic!
Yesterday due to the tension of feigning disinterest for several hours, and a bit more drink than usual combined with a severe lack of sleep, he was impressed with the prudence of his next scheme—writing Elizabeth a letter declaring both his love for her and all the reasons why it was impossible to ask for her hand would surely banish her from his thoughts.
Upon completion, instead of burning it, he planned to keep it to remind himself of his resolve. He immediately left the library and ignored the unease he felt over his decision. He would keep to his resolve. He had hoped writing the letter would give him instant peace, but he was confident reading the words again on the morrow would be beneficial. Although he retired to his chambers, sleep did not come easily. It was not until waking that morning that he realized he had a nagging fear that he sealed the unblemished final draft and addressed it out of habit. And now it was missing from his desk, clearly having been sent with last night’s mail.
Now came the culmination of all his designs. There was nothing to be done for but write an express to Mr. Bennet, travel to Hertfordshire and initiate plans to marry Elizabeth Bennet. Her reputation would be damaged by his letter, and he was nothing if not honourable.
Darcy leant forward, rested his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his palms. He took a deep breath in, then slowly exhaled and brought his head up. He could not help the broad smile from appearing on his face. He was to marry Elizabeth Bennet!
Monday, December 9, 1811
Elizabeth returned to the house from an exhausting late afternoon walk after dinner. Several days ago Jane received Miss Bingley’s note announcing the departure of the entire Netherfield party. Elizabeth argued at the time that Mr. Bingley could be no less sensible of his love for Jane or somehow in his sister’s power to believe himself in love with Miss Darcy instead. Now, she began to wonder.
Elizabeth had based her remarks on the belief that Mr. Bingley was a man of independent means and thoughts, but now she recollected more about his character. He did have such an easiness of temper and want of resolution. Was he really so willing to sacrifice his own happiness? Had his regard for Jane died away? Or had he not noticed her attachment to him?
She sought out Jane and found her misty-eyed in their bedchamber, seeking refuge from their mother’s constant prattle bemoaning Mr. Bingley’s sudden departure and hoping for his eventual return.
Elizabeth began to abuse Mr. Bingley’s inconstancy when Jane interrupted her. “I have nothing to reproach him with. He is the most amiable gentleman I have ever known but he will be forgot. My pain cannot last long.”
“You are too good!” Elizabeth rejoined, but when Jane tried to compliment Elizabeth as well, the latter would not allow it. “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
“I cannot believe I have been intentionally injured. Mr. Bingley is such a lively young man; his manners give the impression of more favouritism than he holds. It was nothing but my own vanity which believed admiration to be more than it was.”
“Most women believe admiration to mean more than it does, and men take care that they should.”
“How can you expect a man to know a woman’s hopes and fears? If men design to inspire such regard in a woman it cannot be justified, but unlike you I do not think so meanly of the world.”
“I can agree to an extent. I cannot believe Mr. Bingley to have meant to raise your hopes, but there may still be misery without scheming. Some are thoughtless, some pay no attention to other people’s feelings, and still others are too pliable.”
“And which do you impute to Mr. Bingley?”
“Oh, definitely the last.”
Fortunately, Jane did not inquire why Elizabeth felt the need to even mention the other two trespasses. Elizabeth left Jane and allowed herself to think on the matter as was her wont.
“But why has Mr. Bingley not returned?” Mrs. Bennet cried as the ladies sat in the drawing room.
Jane tensed and Elizabeth, sitting beside her, intervened. “The note from Miss Bingley suggested the business he left on might take quite some time to complete. It is not for us to know his life or to demand his time. We cannot expect so amiable a young man to find pleasure in our company alone.”
Mrs. Bennet sighed. “He is so very amiable. Not like his disagreeable friend!”
“Wickham told the most dreadful tale about Mr. Darcy!” Lydia crowed and proceeded to tell of Mr. Darcy denying the handsome and amiable officer a valuable living.
Elizabeth understood that now that the Netherfield party had left the area, Wickham felt at ease to spread the tale of Mr. Darcy’s true character, which slightly unsettled Elizabeth. However, recalling Wickham’s words on the matter and his intelligence of Miss Darcy as a very proud sort of girl, Elizabeth found herself exceedingly vexed at Mr. Bingley. If he were so ungrateful as to throw off Jane’s love for a disagreeable girl with money and great connection, then Elizabeth found herself believing he would deserve whatever misery befell him. Yet, she balked at the idea of him being truly so inconstant, and, considering that two sisters could have little sway over a man, Elizabeth determined most of the blame must lie with Mr. Darcy.
Her mother’s wails continued on the subject, compounded with her anger at Elizabeth for rejecting Mr. Collins’ proposal and the resulting calamity that would now befall them all when Mr. Bennet died and the new, and hateful, mistress, the current Charlotte Lucas, would cast them out.
The rest of the house had gone to bed, but Elizabeth could not sleep. As was often the case, she wrote her disorderly thoughts down. Wishing she could converse with Mr. Darcy himself, she chose to write him a letter and imagine his response. Then her mind could rest. Surely puzzling out his character was the only reason why he was constantly in her mind.
Unexpectedly, her plan unravelled. While she intently examined each of their conversations and interactions, instead of understanding Mr. Darcy’s character, she received a revelation on her own. She was hurt when he insulted her at the assembly because she was attracted to him as a handsome stranger.
At first Elizabeth believed him ridiculous, but too soon she recognized she gave weight to his words. To save herself from caring for his opinion, she found a reason to dislike him with every breath he took. Her reason could not tolerate her weakness in liking so ungentlemanly a man, which must explain why she lashed out at him as often as possible.
Despite herself, his intelligence and wry sense of humour appealed to her. The way he challenged her in debate but still respected her opinion made her feel valued. She had seen that he was proud and haughty, but something in her believed there was more to him, almost as though he wore a mask, as though her heart knew his. She could not fully explain how it happened, but while she was determined to dislike Mr. Darcy, she had somehow fallen in love with him instead.
I love him. The words were still barely a whisper in her heart; she did not have the confidence to allow them more voice than that. He looked at her only with contempt and had departed, taking his friend with him. Learning of his mistreatment of Mr. Wickham, his childhood friend, and his assumed role in separating Mr. Bingley from Jane hurt worse than his first slight ever could.
Her first thought was to burn the letter immediately. Then she determined she would keep it, for a little while at least. Such a momentous understanding, that she dare not share with anyone else, she might wish to read again. Indeed, in the letter she expounded all the reasons she should not care for him. She could easily talk herself out of her fancy and firm her resolve when reminded of his faults.
With what she believed to be a renewed calmness of mind she readied her other letters to go in the morning’s post: a letter to her Aunt Gardiner and letters to two local friends whose families were spending the winter in Town. She set her stack of four sealed letters aside on her desk and readied herself for bed, determined to sleep well despite her resolutely troubled mind.
December 10, 1811
Thomas Bennet heard his wife in the parlour shrieking with unprecedented enthusiasm. Although the man was rarely stirred to leave his sanctuary, he was able to discern the difference in her screams. This one had a tone of genuineness. He entered the parlour.
“Ten thousand pounds a year! ‘Tis as good as a lord! Oh, I shall go distracted!”
“What are you speaking of, Mrs. Bennet?”
“Of Lizzy marrying! I knew she could not be so clever for nothing! And so sly!”
Letting out an exasperated sigh, as it seemed he was mistaken in believing his presence needed, Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes. “And to whom have you presumed to betroth her this time?”
“Mr. Bennet, I am sure I have no idea what you mean. It is not I who am presuming a thing! It is all here in this letter! Listen! ‘Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.’ What else could it be but a proposal?”
Her husband snatched the letter she had been waving around and scanned the words with widened eyes. “Mrs. Bennet! How much have you read of this letter?”
“Why, I only read the first line before deciding I must know who sent it! I opened it because it’s from London, and I do not know the handwriting. I hoped it might be Miss Bingley, but when I read the first line I determined I must know what gentleman the girl was corresponding with! This must be why she rejected Mr. Collins! So clever of Lizzy!”
“Who else knows of this letter?”
“It has only just arrived. I have not even seen Lizzy. She must be gallivanting-off on a walk. I swear I do not know what such a great man can see in her. But perhaps he may introduce Lydia to a duke!”
“Mrs. Bennet,” Mr. Bennet spoke sternly, but was unable to capture her attention. “Fanny! Hear me now, woman. You shall tell no one of this letter. I must speak with Elizabeth.”
“Tell no-one? Mr. Bennet, we are saved! And it is such a fine match! I am perfectly resolved to forget how proud and hateful he is. I must go and tell my sister immediately!”
“You shall go to your rooms until I ask for you, or else you and the girls will lose all pin money for the next six months.” By this time he was ushering her upstairs.
“Mr. Bennet! How dare you? This is no way to treat a wife! I must protest.”
“Whether or not you must, you usually do. Fanny, I will not tell you again, nor shall I justify my actions. Remain in your rooms.” He slammed the door before she could protest further. She let out a huff, but decided it would mean little if her information was delayed a few hours. Instead she drafted a letter to her sister Gardiner.
Elizabeth Bennet crept up the servant’s stairs to her bedroom. The last thing she wanted at present was to be discovered by her mother. She had been unusually troubled this morning before her walk and took little heed of the mud puddles she walked through. My petticoats are six inches deep in mud again, Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth shook her head; she must stop thinking of that arrogant, annoying, frustratingly beautiful man. She chose not to reprimand her thoughts for describing him as beautiful, for it was as true as any description of him. Opening her bedroom door, she had every intention to burn the letter she wrote the night before. Indeed, as she should have after she finished writing. No, I never should have written it at all.
Her eyes grew wide with foreboding when she saw her letter stack gone. The maid must have taken her mail to be sent. Attempting to stave off the alarm rising in her breast, she assured herself that no matter how agitated her mind was last night, she would not have left it on her desk. She must have absently tucked it in a drawer. She had not even sealed it and so there was no mistaking it for a letter to be sent, certainly.
For good measure, she recounted her motions before bed last night. She had sealed and addressed four letters. That fact was entirely perfect, as she had written four letters. No, No, No! She wrote four letters, but only three were meant for the post! Flying down the stairs, she asked the maid if the post had been sent.
“Aye, Miss Elizabeth, and the master has all the letters that came today in his study.”
“Elizabeth!” Just then her father called from his study, before she had a chance to give in to the despair that must naturally follow the situation.
“Yes, Papa?” she asked from the doorway.
“Shut the door and be seated.” Elizabeth looked at her father in confusion and consternation. His tone had a sharpness she seldom heard; it was as though she was being reprimanded for some grave error.
Mr. Bennet looked at his favourite daughter expectantly, but when she said nothing he decided to begin. “It has come to my attention that you have been involved in a secret correspondence with a gentleman of our acquaintance, though I am uncertain he deserves the title gentleman.”
Elizabeth gasped and began to refute the claim, but he interrupted her. “No, Elizabeth, I have indisputable proof. Now, normally such things would point to a secret betrothal, which would be concerning enough, but in this letter—written in your young man’s hand—he denies such a marriage will take place. I must say, for all that we have heard of him and observed, I never believed him so dishonourable as to correspond with a single lady with his name blatantly signed all over it. I suppose he does not have to worry about his reputation, and he must have no fear that I can demand satisfaction.”
“I have not the slightest idea who you mean. I am not corresponding with any gentleman.” The slight blush to Elizabeth’s cheeks betrayed her as she recalled her mislaid letter.
“Do not lie to me.” He pulled out the now-opened letter addressed to his daughter and waved it at her. “Here is the letter from your man, and your maid confirmed a letter to him was sent this morning.”
Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted and was silent. Mr. Bennet considered this sufficient encouragement to continue, “Your mother knows of this and I am uncertain I can keep her silent. At least one maid in the house knows of your correspondence. Heaven only knows what the postman and his clerk have said. I cannot make sense of it. I thought you disliked him, which might explain his actions, but you wrote him. He vows he will not marry you, yet he publicly compromises you.”
After a lengthy pause, he asked very quietly, “Have there been other compromises?”
Elizabeth cried, “Papa! How can you think it of me?”
“What am I meant to think, child?”
Elizabeth still could not credit what she understood from her father’s words and chose to continue her denial, “You have no proof of my alleged letter aside from the maid’s testimony, and I have not read the letter in your hands. I cannot fathom who you mean.”
Her attempt at deceit could not prevail, for her father knew her too well. “I will not play your game, Elizabeth. Now tell me, do you truly hate him, for I think I must appeal to his honour.”
Elizabeth gulped deeply and spoke to her folded hands. She could not meet her father’s eye. “No, I do not hate him. I only wish I could.”
“Very well, that gives me some peace.”
“Papa…surely you have heard how he has treated Mr. Wickham, and I know he has taken Mr. Bingley away from Jane. We cannot hope he will do the honourable thing. If this is known, what shall become of me, of my sisters? How cruel of him!”
“You mailed a letter as well!”
“But I did not mean to!”
“And why not?”
“I cannot respect him! I like him against my will and all reason!”
He laughed heartily and added, “It seems you both love each other against your will.”
Elizabeth’s head sharply lifted at such words, and her eyes flew to the letter Mr. Bennet still held. “Here child, I have kept you in suspense long enough.”
Her hands greedily reached for the letter, and her eyes spoke her thanks. She ran upstairs to her room to read in solitude.
Monday, December 9, 1811
Darcy House, London
Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,
Are you shocked at the forwardness of my address? I should hope not, for I dearly love calling you Elizabeth. You will always be my Elizabeth.
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
Have I shocked you again with my declaration of love? I assure you it is a true, constant love. I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.
How have you bewitched me? I have seen the beauties of the first circle and have remained unmoved until I was captivated by your fine eyes dancing not in candlelight, but in mirth and obvious joy. I have listened to the most exalted performers in the land, yet it is your performance that plays again in my mind. I have conversed with women educated by the finest masters at the best schools, but not one of them has your unique combination of intelligence, honesty, wit and sweetness. I know many women whom are lauded for their kindness, but I know none who would walk three miles after a storm to nurse a sick sister, or forebear Miss Bingley’s insults with such civility. I have been hunted in ballrooms since my youth, and you are the first woman of my acquaintance to refuse to stand up with me, and certainly the first to not seek my approbation.
This must be the answer. I love you because you are genuine and unaffected. You do not simper or seek to flatter. The ladies of my acquaintance may be draped in the rarest silk and costly gold trinkets, and tout many so-called accomplishments, but they can only repeat my own opinion. They are not authentic. You are the most delightful woman of my acquaintance, the only real woman of my acquaintance, as the others are mere figments of fashionable society.
But to one of these insipid ladies I will have to shackle myself one day to serve my duty to my family. Your connections in trade and the improper behaviour of your family could never find a place in London society. Though I care little for it, I must protect my family’s position for the sake of my sister and my future children. And the ladies of the ton would be most unkind to you. I should hate to see you abused or regret a connection to me, though I rather think you would laugh at their folly instead.
In moments like these I must confess I would gladly cast aside my concerns about your family and connections, if only you showed me some encouragement. Instead you have fallen under Wickham’s spell of charming manners. Tell me, what is it young ladies find irresistible about the reprobate? His ability to gamble away three thousand pounds given in lieu of a valuable living—at his request—in the course of two years? Or is it his attempts to seduce young heiresses into elopement, as he tried with my sister?
I should be angry with you. I should be angry that you are foolish enough to believe his lies, and foolish enough to doubt my honour. You destroyed the pleasure of our dance at Netherfield, which was supposed to offer me a lifetime of memories. Instead you brought up that cad. But I cannot be angry with you. He has deceived many, myself included. I love you entirely, even if you suffer from some misjudgements. I know you by heart – your errors are just further proof of your affectionate character.
I should be angry that you cannot leave my mind for a moment. You have invaded my senses, my every waking hour and each night as well. I want peace and respite from this, Elizabeth! Yet I cannot blame you. It is my weakness that leads me to love a lady unsuitable for my standing. You are not charming, intelligent, witty and beautiful by design. Your enticements are wholly natural and intrinsic.
I am alternately angry and relieved that Miss Bennet does not hold my friend in the same esteem he holds her. If they had married, would I meet with you frequently? Would it be enough to simply keep an acquaintance with you and to satisfy myself with a few lively conversations a year? Would I be forced to see you marry another and bear his children? Or would I claim the honour? And should I try, would you deny me even as you have denied me a dance?
I have made a mess of things, Elizabeth. I cannot see myself through this, though I pride myself in my superior judgment. Since I cannot see clearly, I have run like a coward, hoping the distance would remove the need to find answers, but it has not. You are here with me, Lizzy. You are in my heart.
Perhaps this letter may serve as a balm, and I can regain my composure. Perhaps after this confession I will be able to close my eyes and not see yours laughing at me. It may be that after I conclude this note I will stop searching for your face everywhere I go, remembering your words, and faintly smelling your fragrance.
It may be. I pray it is. And yet my heart tells me there will be none but you residing in it.
By the conclusion Elizabeth’s handkerchief was sodden from her tears.
Tuesday, December 10, 1811
Darcy House, London
Hoping his friend was awake, Darcy sought and found Bingley sulking in the library. The evenings of the last ten days had not been kind to Bingley’s constitution and last night, encouraged by Darcy’s more liberal consumption than usual, Bingley had decidedly overindulged in spirits.
“I had thought to find you in the drawing room,” Darcy ventured quietly, but still his friend winced at his voice.
Bingley shook his head and groaned at the motion, “No, I need quiet, and although your sister plays beautifully, it is not conducive to the ache in my head.”
“I shall have Mrs. Redding fetch some powders…” Darcy began, but Bingley interrupted him.
“Thank you, no. I prefer the pain to anything else I might feel.”
Darcy sat down and wondered how to begin what must be said to his friend. “Bingley, have you thought of returning to Netherfield?”
Bingley cast what looked like a sad puppy’s attempt at a glower: “There is nothing for me in Hertfordshire.”
Darcy cautiously said, “The estate is quite comfortable, and you should experience the winter there before deciding if you shall keep it.”
“I am perfectly resolved to give it up entirely.”
Darcy could see he must apply more pressure. “Is this because of your disappointed hopes with Miss Bennet?”
“You know it is! I cannot bear to see her again knowing…” Bingley’s voice trailed off.
“Ah, but we do not know. I only gave you my impressions and, even if I am correct, it is not hopeless. You could certainly court her and seek to gain her approbation.”
“I thought you believed her mercenary!”
“No,” Darcy stated firmly. He truly did not believe so. “Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth could never be mistaken for mercenary. I believe her heart is not easily touched, but yours seems still engaged. Perhaps you must try harder than you are accustomed to in order to gain her affection.”
Bingley’s brow furrowed in thought. “What of your and Caroline’s other complaints? Her connections are not likely to improve my position in society.”
“As sister to Mrs. Darcy, they will be quite sufficient,” Darcy said, almost smugly.
“Sister to Mrs. Darcy? What are you saying, man?”
Darcy was resolutely silent, but Bingley’s mind was suddenly up to the task, “It must be Miss Elizabeth you fancy! All that staring and disputing. I must tell you that is an odd way to court a woman! And it is you who shall have to try hard to win approbation, for she does not much like you!”
“Does not like me?” Darcy asked incredulously and felt insulted. Perhaps she did not make overt displays of her regard, but Bingley sounds as though he believes she hates me.
Instantly, Bingley was out the door of the library and racing up the stairs to the drawing room. Baffled, but amused, Darcy followed his friend. Georgiana was playing a lively tune, and Bingley grinned at the sound, his head miraculously recovered.
“I thought you felt unwell.” In truth, Darcy was not surprised. Bingley was suddenly much improved at the thought of seeing his angel again. Darcy also felt an unprecedented lightness at the idea of returning to Hertfordshire.
Seeing his friend take up writing supplies, Darcy queried him, “Do you write your housekeeper at Netherfield?”
Bingley looked at Darcy in confusion. “Why should I? I am certain Mrs. Clark has our rooms prepared still. I had not yet written her that I was to remain in Town for the winter. We can eat at the Tavern if there is no meal to be had.”
“To whom do you write then?”
“Caroline, of course. She will wish to see her friends again.”
Darcy recoiled in horror. The last thing he desired was the presence of Miss Bingley as he courted Elizabeth. Characteristically, Bingley did not notice.
“She will not want to leave Town so soon, and she ought to stay here for the Season.”
Bingley furrowed his brow in thought. “I should like to have a hostess.” Bingley looked toward Georgiana.
“Absolutely not! She is too young. And she is not related to you— she could not be your hostess.”
“She is practically another sister.” Seeing Darcy’s glare, he added, “We can sort it out later; it will take either lady too long to pack.”
“When do we leave?”
“Immediately. Darcy, do you really think I can persuade her to love me?”
“Of course, my friend.”
Bingley actually leapt from his chair and let out some kind of whooping sound. At least one of us will feel comfortable with our in-laws, Darcy thought.
Georgiana broke in then, “Mr. Bingley are you planning to propose to Miss Bennet?”
Bingley grinned, “Only as soon as humanly possible!”
“William, please, may I come?”
“Georgiana, I really am uncertain…” between exposing her to the Bennets and the chance of her meeting Wickham, Darcy refused to countenance the opportunity.
“I wish to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet!”
“Eliza…Miss Elizabeth Bennet? How do you even know of her?”
“Your letters were full of her when you were in Hertfordshire. Or were you too besotted to notice what you wrote?” Georgiana laughed—actually laughed—at her brother, causing Bingley to join in when he noticed his friend’s expression.
“I hardly think mentioning a new acquaintance is…”
“William, really! Your interest was obvious! My only concern is that, while you were enchanted with your debates and her lively mind, I worry she may actually dislike you. I want her for my sister, but I can see you will need my help.”
Darcy had every intention of refuting her claim and commanding her to stay, but she met his gaze with what he knew to be the Darcy spirit of determination, and he conceded. She nearly skipped away to make her plans, and Bingley left with an obvious bounce in his step to order the carriage. As his sister’s words settled in his conscience, it occurred to Darcy he was the only one feeling any trepidation with the scheme. He hoped it was only his continued reservations about the marriage.
Fitzwilliam House, London
Lord Fitzwilliam stared at the letter he held in amazement. His nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, announced his betrothal to a lady of no consequence in the world. Immediately, he sought out his wife and found her sitting with his sister and niece, who had arrived in Town from Kent for the upcoming Holiday.
“Eleanor, I have just received the most astonishing letter from our nephew Darcy! He is betrothed to some lady from Hertfordshire!”
His wife exclaimed with delight and jumped up to read the letter as well.
Lord Fitzwilliam and his wife were too preoccupied with scanning the contents of the letter to see Lady Catherine’s face contort in anger.
That lady knew she would gain no support from her brother and sister for her long-held plans, and so she quickly suppressed her feelings and coolly inquired, “Who is the fortunate lady?”
Fitzwilliam answered absently, “A Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.” He looked from his wife to his sister and asked, “Have you heard of her or the estate? What can he be thinking? I did not know he was even courting anyone!”
His wife answered, “Darcy was in Hertfordshire for several weeks. He has clearly fallen in love. You must forgive the boy for not informing you of his every thought.” As usual, no one noticed when Lady Catherine’s daughter, Anne, left the room.
His lordship resumed his puzzled observations, “It is so unlike him! He is always so fastidious and staid! He must not have known her very long, and she appears to be of no consequence in the world. Yet he has passed over all of the ton’s fashionable and wealthy ladies.”
Lady Fitzwilliam chuckled, “Of course, he passed over all those insipid ladies, he does not need them. And do you forget how difficult it is to command the heart? You proposed during our first dance, mere minutes after our first meeting!”
“Yes, but you refused me, dear.”
“Naturally, I have always had the most sense in this relationship.” Lady Fitzwilliam’s eyes twinkled with her teasing reply. “Now, write him our congratulations and tell him I insist on hosting a betrothal ball. I shall hear none of his excuses, and I cannot wait to introduce my new niece to our society.”
His lordship left for his study to write his reply, and his wife shortly excused herself to speak with the housekeeper, already consumed with plans for the ball. Several hours went by before either questioned the whereabouts of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Told by the housekeeper that their sister had a headache, they were not concerned until she did not appear for breakfast the next day.
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