The babysitter asked to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese today so I am getting some work done! I’ve been able to resume writing some and you get rewarded with a post!
I’ve said a few times the conflict here is Elizabeth and her head. She’s going to face another test. What do you think she’ll do? Panic or stay?
Over the next few days, Elizabeth thought much about Jane’s letter. She had replied the following day. Uncertain how to approach Jane’s presentation of her illness, Elizabeth avoided addressing the past at Longbourn. Instead, she congratulated Jane on her marriage and reiterated her blossoming feelings for Darcy.
Soon, she would need to explain to Jane the change in her understanding not about Darcy, but about herself and her family. That would be best suited to do in person, however, so Elizabeth decided to bide her time. She wished for Jane to know that Elizabeth had no doubts regarding Darcy’s character, but more importantly that Elizabeth knew she would have a healthy future for she chose to heal. Jane’s insistence in pushing away her mental strain and redefining her feelings and actions worried Elizabeth. She knew it was impossible for Jane to merely wake up entirely new and healed the next morning and skip down the sunny lanes of Meryton and into the arms of a Prince Charming. Happily ever after was possible, of course, but the dragons must be defeated first. Judging from her letter, Jane acted as though there was nothing to vanquish.
The days and nights with Darcy furthered their intimacy. Elizabeth still wished for moments of greater privacy and a greater variety of activities. She was ever so tired of carriages and inns. Darcy had kept his promise, however, of arranging for her to have time to walk in the middle of the day. They would have a light repast and then walk about whatever village or town they in before returning to the carriage.
Her time with Darcy did bring to mind her own deficiencies. It was allowable that she not have any other pursuit while travelling, but Elizabeth noticed she had no activity to occupy her when they stopped in the evenings. She had always thought she used her time wisely and her parents were sensible in not pushing their daughters to learn things which did not appeal to them. However, now she saw how ill-prepared she was for anything beyond being the daughter of a gentleman of middle means. She believed she could speak with the housekeeper and handle her tasks for the estate fine enough. If the rest of her life was merely attempting witty conversation at dinner parties, she could perform those duties well. What she sorely lacked, though, was knowledge in how to exist in quiet moments with a reserved man.
She did not mind the silence, of course. She was curious enough to read about current affairs and intelligent enough to converse with her betrothed about them. It was the other times that she did not know what to do. At Longbourn, there had always been a sister to talk or argue with. There was always some conflict to ignore, watch, or attempt to stop. The lack of distress and crisis made Elizabeth decidedly restless and nervous. Perhaps if she embroidered or painted fireplace screens, she would have some activity to take her mind off such things.
Darcy did not seem to mind. In fact, he appeared inordinately pleased merely to be in the same room as her even if they were silent for much of it and occupied in separate pursuits. Elizabeth supposed much of her life at Pemberley would be this way. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. At Longbourn, she acted as she did out of a need for survival. She did not enjoy those mindless accomplishments thrust upon most ladies, but even if she did, she would not have been able to study them to mastery. There was too much conflict in her home. Indeed, much of her character relied on who she had to be for her family. She must direct her sisters. She must share in her father’s jokes. She must not cringe at her mother’s vulgarness. She must not partake of her sisters’ frivolity too much but not be as severe as Mary. She should not be as kind as Jane, who was easily taken advantage of.
Who was Elizabeth Bennet without her family? The thought which used to anger or terrify her suddenly felt like great freedom. She could be absolutely anyone she wanted. And what was more, she knew that Darcy would love her unconditionally.
He looked up from his book just as the realization of that struck her. She was saved from having to explain the queer expression in her eyes by the carriage jostling over a rock.
“We should make it to Holyhead before nightfall,” he said.
Excitement brimmed in Elizabeth. At Holyhead, they would board a ship to ferry them to Scotland. They would marry at Portpatrick and, Darcy had promised, a quick journey to Ireland after before they returned to Pemberley.
Despite Elizabeth’s desire to arrive in time to tour the coastal town, they reached the inn as darkness blanketed the sky. The road the last several miles was rough and required a slower pace. Even then, the carriage was stuck in a rut twice and required the men to push it out. Elizabeth let out a sigh that her first view of the seaside was not during daylight or even the romance of the sunset. Clouds covered much of the sky meaning there were very few visible stars to reflect on the water and it was not safe to walk on the promenade. Darcy had promised, however, that they could rise early the next day. Elizabeth supposed seeing the sunrise was fair enough compensation.
When they entered the coaching inn, he needed to speak with the inn’s proprietor about a few matters. Elizabeth was shown to their room by a maid. Unexpectedly, she returned a few moments later with a letter in hand. Elizabeth thought she made out Jane’s new address, but the writing was not as neat as usual. Tearing it open, Elizabeth stumbled into a chair as she read the words.
I have directed this letter to Holyhead in hopes that it will reach you before you board your ship for Scotland. I have just come from Longbourn and have been urged to send for you.
About a week ago, Papa was injured riding over the fields. He had fallen from his horse, and it was many hours before anyone found him. He sustained a head injury and a severe break to the leg. His pain was acute but more troubling was the amount of blood he lost. It was evident too, to the men who found him, that his leg would most likely be lost. The apothecary and surgeon were sent for. They agreed an amputation was necessary.
They had hoped for a quick recovery, but Papa was too weak from the blood loss. After several days of fever, a physician has been sent for. He arrived earlier today and has observed Papa all day. He has given us no reason to hope.
I know your differences with our parents. I can even understand you blaming them for Kitty and Lydia’s elopements. However, no matter their faults, they are our parents. If you hasten, you might have some time with Papa before he passes. Either way, your presence will be a balm to our mother. They have lost two daughters already. Will you make them lose another?
Elizabeth’s mind raced with thought. She could be ready in an instant. They could be on the road again in less than an hour. Surely Darcy could arrange for them to travel overnight and they might arrive at Longbourn in less time than it took for them on the first journey. He would support her.
As soon as the thought crept in, she dismissed it. Darcy had every reason to think ill of the Bennets. He would never condone Elizabeth cancelling their plans to see to her wayward parents. Indeed, he never would conscience to see them again. He had admitted only to a willingness to write to Mr. Bennet about how to help find Lydia. He had made no promises to visit Longbourn or to personally search for Lydia. Mr. Bennet would soon die, and she doubted he would be willing to communicate with Mrs. Bennet. Even more, he would not get a sensible reply. Darcy surely esteemed Mr. Gardiner even less between his lower rank and the greater pain the Gardiners had given to Elizabeth.
There was the continued issue of propriety. It was one matter to elope. It was another to spend weeks together unchaperoned and in inns without marriage. She would be no better than Lydia at that point. Gossip could hardly be avoided if she arrived at Longbourn unmarried. If he accompanied her, it would taint him and possibly even his sister who had been through enough.
Besides all this, he would feel any request to alter their plans to be an abandonment of him. He would feel jilted. He had sacrificed so much for her, and she would be just as well leaving him behind. Oh, he would be too honourable and selfless to say anything. He might even accompany her all the way to Longbourn. However, it would burn in their relationship. Once there, she would be at the mercy of her mother’s grief. All the expectations would weigh on her.
Jane and Mary had become ill once before and might again under stress. What would happen if they succumbed again and Elizabeth was not there to assist them? She could hardly hope they—or even herself—would be able to behave perfectly. Something would invariably happen that would separate her from Darcy. He would see why she was so unsuitable and come to his senses at last.
Elizabeth understood if she desired to return to Longbourn, she would be as good as ending her relationship with Darcy. As such, she should finish it rather than prolong the pain. She would need to rescind her agreement to marry him and flee. The heartbreak was impossible to avoid, and it was better to face it on her own terms.
Two choices were before her. Return to her family or marry Darcy.
“Here we are, my love,” Darcy said as he opened the door.
Elizabeth hastily shoved the letter under the folds of her gown. Two servants walked in behind him carrying trays of refreshments and tea. He motioned for them to set them down on the table near Elizabeth. He sat in the chair opposite her. After the servants left, he inquired which items she would prefer and served her.
Elizabeth found she had little appetite. Her mind considered how she might do what needed to be done. Could she bear to see the heartbreak in his eyes as she chose her family over him? Could she bear knowing that she was forever separating herself from perhaps the only person in the world that could love and respect her so unconditionally?
“You are quiet this evening,” Darcy observed after Elizabeth had either not heard or delayed in answering three or four of his questions.
A knock sounded at the door, and Darcy bade them enter. A maid appeared with wine and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. Yes, if Darcy would imbibe enough, she could leave while he slept. She would leave a note for him to find in the morning.
Elizabeth jumped when he placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him in surprise. When had he left his chair?
“Are you well, Elizabeth?”
“I suppose it was the journey today. I am more tired than usual.”
“I am not surprised,” he said. “I ordered the wine in case you required it.”
He handed her a glass, and she took it with a tense smile.
“You have barely touched your food,” he frowned at her plate. “Perhaps you need rest more than anything else.”
Elizabeth leaned forward to take a biscuit so he might fret over her less. She had never deserved his goodness. The movement caused the letter to crinkle underneath her gown.
Darcy eyed her curiously and then his eyes fell on a scrap that she had torn in her hasty opening. It had dropped on the floor.
“Did you get a letter?”
Elizabeth nodded and held her breath, searching to find something to say.
“From Jane again? What did she have to say so soon? I would be surprised if she even got your reply yet.”
“I would prefer not to speak about it at present,” Elizabeth said with an exhale.
Darcy’s hand left her shoulder. He caressed up her neck before lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “No wonder you seem downcast this evening.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.
Elizabeth nearly whimpered at the gesture. “My stomach is unsettled. I do not think I should have the wine,” she said and glanced at the carafe. “You must be exhausted from helping with the carriage. Please, drink as you please.”
“I would not wish for you to think I am a drunkard.”
“I will worry about you otherwise,” she said, and it was not the lie she had intended.
Darcy’s affectionate and grateful look pulled on her heart more than anything else. He looked so pleased to see a sign of her regard. What was she doing? Why was she willing to leave the man she loved?
The realization of her thoughts made her still as Darcy refilled his glass. She loved him as she had never loved another. She loved him without reserve and without fear. She was not entirely sure what he would say or do regarding her sister’s request, but Elizabeth realized her thoughts had been flawed. He would not condemn her for wishing to be with her family. He would not reject her or even make her choose between them. She thought even if all the worse would be said about them and it taint his good name, he would still stand by her. The man practically lived to make her happy and had sacrificed so much for her.
No, it was not Darcy that would make her choose between him and her family. How had it not occurred to Jane that requesting she return unmarried would likely forever ruin the possibilities of it? Perhaps Jane supposed that mattered little to Elizabeth after the months she spent away from Longbourn, but a woman with a botched elopement could not be Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth thought too highly of the Darcy name and loved him too much to make him live with a tarnished legacy. Once rumours started, who knew what they would contain. Before too long they would hit upon something so close to the truth it would remind someone of a memory. Some passing traveller would have seen her at the inn. From there it would be easy to assume she had prostituted herself and then all their efforts to conceal her identity would be ruined. Marrying Darcy only worked if she could do so honourably and without destroying his name.
“Come,” Darcy said as he put his glass down. He walked to Elizabeth and took her hands in his, raising them up to assist her in standing. “I will leave so you may get ready for bed. We want an early start tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth said with a tremulous smile. “For the ship.”
“Yes, I would not want to miss that. It is not every day I plan to sail to Scotland to marry my love. However, I meant so you may view the sunrise over the sea.” He kissed her forehead again before departing.
The kiss sealed it. She could not forsake him. She loved him too much. Lord forgive her, but she could not choose her family over Darcy; over them; over her. She had genuine love and happiness before her, and she would take hold of it with both hands.