Part 2 – Distinctions are Made

A few days passed and the ladies in the neighbourhood had each offered their congratulations, intent on honouring the engaged couples with a steady diet of card parties and dinners. However, Mrs Bennet was not completely content. “All that need be done hinges on your plans, Mr Darcy. When are you prepared to take our dear Lizzy from us?”

Darcy stated calmly, “I should like for the wedding to take place before the roads turn inclement in the north. I must return to Pemberley by then.”

Mrs Bennet nodded with undue deference. “Very good, Sir, and very wise of you not to plan such a journey in bad weather. We shall do as you say.”

The sardonic amusement slipped from Mr Bennet’s face as he sternly interrupted, “Not so hasty if you please, Mrs Bennet.  Before you marry her off to-morrow, you should consult Lizzy’s opinion. There are settlements to consider and I am certain Mr Darcy will understand if she wishes to marry in the spring.”

“If those are her wishes, I have no objection,” came Darcy’s immediate reply. “My attorney has begun the preparations, sir — I believe we can reach an agreement on the settlement rather quickly.”

Elizabeth flushed, thinking herself a little foolish at being caught unaware as both men looked at her. She quietly replied, “I have no objection to setting the date before winter, sir.”

Her father turned his gaze back to his plate with resigned sadness. Mrs. Bennet beamed. “Very good! Let us pick a date! Oh! Two weddings to plan before the year is out! How shall I manage it?”

*****

After the meal, Darcy found Elizabeth standing before the fireplace. “Elizabeth,” he whispered on a hesitant breath, somewhat heartened when she turned to him with a smile. He reached forward to briefly clasp her fingers. “I was rather awkward at supper. I hope you can forgive me.”

She turned her puzzled gaze upon him. “Did we not settle it with Jane and Bingley? Mama is well pleased.”

Darcy flinched.  “Surely you do not think I expect an excess of deference and submission from you.”

“Not an excess,” she replied with a teasing smile.

To her astonishment, his mouth turned grim.  “I can speak to your mother again. Your father was correct, I think, to ask for your wishes to be consulted.  I intend to consider your wishes above my own.”

She very much wished to take hold of his hand, knowing she could not with Kitty nearby, ready to gasp at the merest touch.  Forced to content herself with a gentle smile, she answered him in a soft voice, “Forgive my teasing.  I could not speak of it easily before the entire table, but I truly do not wish you to leave for Pemberley without me, M-Fitzwilliam.  Tell me, is it your custom to spend the winter at Pemberley? I know so little of your business and I wish to know all of your concerns.”

Several small changes occurred in his face and manner – small enough to have been disregarded by the casual observer -  but Elizabeth caught them in short order.  The upward tip of his lips, and his bright eyes, even in candlelight, proclaimed his excitement as he shifted forward.  It was an excessive display of enthusiasm, at least for him to display in company, Elizabeth thought with a fond smile.  He said,“We do have much to learn of the other, I think. I did not go until January this past winter but in previous years, I have settled there before Christmas. The conditions this winter may be very bad and I think I should be in residence.” He coloured, adding softly, “And I have wished to bring you to Pemberley since I first began to love you.”

Later, after she had finished her letter to her aunt and observed Darcy folding his own, she came to stand beside him. It had never taken her so long to write a letter, she reflected, inwardly mocking herself a little. She had seen him write at Netherfield, but then she had not liked him and she would not have cared that the candle highlighted a few lighter strands of hair nor would she have found his furrowed brow attractive. She was somewhat giddy when she showed her letter to him. “Was I very forward, Fitzwilliam?”

In spite of the dim light and their distance from the others, Darcy thought himself most forward, pressing his lips to the inside of her wrist for a lingering moment. “I asked you to send my regards and I believe – your aunt might have guessed – my love for you.”

“I did not mean that though I was very forward to send her only that love which you might spare from me, was I not?” He smiled at her lively lack of repentance as she breezily explained, “I refer to my invitation, for them to come to Pemberley at Christmas.”

He gripped her hand tightly and whispered in an earnest tone, “Pemberley will be your home, dearest, and you should invite whomever you wish.  In truth, I cannot imagine receiving anyone else as our first guests, knowing what I owe them for bringing you into Derbyshire.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I cannot wait to see Pemberley again.  Shall I take your latter to my father?”

“If he does not mind posting it,” Darcy replied somewhat breathlessly. Their hands met over the envelope, and his serious stare brought another blush to Elizabeth’s face as she quickly turned into the hall.

*****

“Well, well, Miss Eliza,” Mrs. Long said. “Your marriage is certainly a very prudent one. I hope you will be happy.”

Her look of doubt annoyed Mrs. Bennet. “Of course she will. With such a grand life, who would not be happy? Her other admirers were nothing to this, nothing at all!”

Lady Lucas puckered her mouth into a sour expression. “My Charlotte is very happily settled – ”

“Why of course she is, Lady Lucas,” consoled Mrs. Bennet. “I imagine the parsonage a delightful cottage though I confess myself relieved that Lizzy will not toil as poor Charlotte does. Look at the locket Mr. Darcy gave to Lizzy. Is it not fine?”

Elizabeth instinctively fingered her new adornment with fondness, thankfully drowning out her mother’s raptures as she recalled Darcy’s hesitant manner in offering it to her.

He smiled, almost bashfully, and she looked down at the pouch in her lap. “A small token,” he said.

She reached inside and withdrew a beautifully carved locket, suspended on a delicate silver chain. “How beautiful, Fitzwilliam,” she breathed.  She had never seen anything like it, not even in London and remarked as much.

“It belonged to my grandmother and then my mother.”

Elizabeth grew very still at his first mention of Lady Anne, recalling Mrs. Reynolds’s words on the lady’s elegant tastes and refinement. Darcy’s wistful expression brought her to the present. “What of Georgiana? I do not wish her to feel slighted.”

“We shall set aside pieces of my mother’s for her. I want you to have this.”

At his urging, she hesitantly opened the locket to an image of a young boy with familiar grey eyes stared back at her. The child’s hair was fairer, but she could not be mistaken. “How old were you? Certainly not more than five.”

“Four,” he replied with a blush. She smiled fondly at him, wondering how such maladroitness could be so endearing, when he began to speak rapidly, “I know it is not a very romantic gift, but the locket is a favourite of mine. There is other jewellery in London and at Pemberley, though I am not certain if they are all to your tastes. You must tell me what you do like; I should like to buy you a new suite of jewels, as a wedding gift.”

She looked down at the solemn child, suddenly curious about him until the solemn man before her regained her attention. He looked eager, even anxious, to please her and she touched his hand briefly. “I will treasure the locket, but I do not require expensive gifts, my love.” At his smile of delight, she was pleased to have followed her instincts.  The endearment had sounded slightly unfamiliar on her tongue, but not within her heart.

“I know,” Darcy replied in a cheerful tone, reaching for her hands.  “Knowing your affection cannot be bought makes the gift that much sweeter. How can I repay you for that?”

With her growing confidence in all matters concerning him, she removed one of her hands to tenderly touch his bent head, fighting the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She thought of telling him how he had repaid her, merely by being hers, but then she knew she would cry and such sensibility was not to be endured. “I – Thank you.”

She asked for his assistance with the clasp and after it was fastened, turned around in a circle. “Shall I suit, do you think?”

“Admirably.”

“It seems rather valuable,” replied Lady Lucas, envy creeping into her tone.

Before her mother could speculate on its worth, Elizabeth hastily replied, “I-I suppose it is, especially to me.  It is a family piece, belonging to Mr Darcy’s mother.  There is a miniature of Mr Darcy as a boy.  See?”

Lady Lucas smiled kindly at her daughter’s friend.  Mrs Bennet energetically added, “She will wear it to the assembly this evening.  You may be certain of it.”

*****
Darcy never knew how Jane had fussed over Elizabeth’s hair, but when they met in the assembly room, he found it hard to believe he had once considered the handsome, blooming lady before him almost plain. He took her hand and murmured simply, “You are lovely.”

Elizabeth responded with a small, flirtatious curtsey and then retreated behind her fan. After a moment, she ended the joke, snapping her fan shut with a quiet laugh of pleasure. Darcy felt his lips curve as he led her to their position for the opening set.

Over many months, Darcy had become accustomed to the bewilderment of enchantment, regard, even unrelenting passion, but he now found himself strangely exhilarated by her, which was almost as disturbing as falling in love all over again. His eyes skimmed over her figure whenever the dance separated them, and being clever rather than vain, he found himself at a loss to account for it. She seemed more intoxicating somehow and he only began to comprehend a little of it when she progressed down the line, caught his eye, and smiled vibrantly at him.

The ladies in the neighbourhood watched them closely, observing them with the scrutiny that all lovers excite. “Oh, I thought I should never arrive!” Mrs. Sneed opened her fan, hoping for relief from the heat of the crowded room. “Tell me everything! I could not believe the news when I returned from Dorset.”

“You saw them dance; hardly a grand love affair,” Mrs. Goulding said dismissively.

As much as she disliked Mrs. Bennet’s crowing, Lady Lucas smiled at the sight Elizabeth made. “Does Eliza not look well? I think she almost rivals Jane this evening.”

Mrs. Long sniffed. “She fancies herself a beauty, I am certain of it, with her conceited flowers and his jewels dangling from her neck.”

“Well, at least Mr. Bennet has no need to bribe this husband,” Mrs. Sneed tittered behind her fan.

Mrs. Long smirked. “You should have seen Miss Lizzy offer her hand to him, smiling at him as bold as brass. I should not be surprised to find her taking after her sister.”

“Mrs. Long! I think Eliza a very good sort of girl — I would never have allowed her friendship with Charlotte were she not,” Lady Lucas scolded lightly, in spite of her distaste for disagreements. “Should she not shake hands with him? They are to be married.”

The ladies were silenced for a moment until Mrs. Goulding spoke again. “Indeed, Eliza is everything charming but she does fancy herself clever and it may cometh before a fall, you know. She cannot care two straws for him, and riches cannot turn him into an agreeable, attentive husband.”

She heard a noise behind them and all of the ladies turned pale when they realized that Eliza stood behind them, and Mr. Darcy as well. The young lady was blushing furiously and Mr. Darcy appeared outraged. “Ah, Miss Eliza, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Goulding said in great confusion. “How well you dance together!”

Eliza uttered a weak thanks though Mr. Darcy did not say a word. After a moment, they both moved away, leaving four mortified ladies behind.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” breathed Lady Lucas.

Mrs. Goulding blushed. “I am sorry she overheard but what does she mean by sneaking up behind us?”

Lady Lucas looked at her in shock.

On the other side of the room, Darcy returned to Elizabeth, having fetched her a glass of wine. She took the glass and silently stared at the deep red liquid. “Why must I continue to overhear distressing conversations here at every turn?”

“Elizabeth…”

“I do not intend to quarrel with you,” she said quickly. Darcy thought he might have glimpsed tears in her eyes as she tried to smile. “I would rather dance with you, if you will ask me.”

*****
The next day, after Darcy expressed his concern for her, Elizabeth shrugged. “I was disappointed to be misunderstood. If those acquainted with me are disposed to believe the worst, what will your friends think of me?”

Darcy abruptly stopped to face her. “They should not worry you.”

Elizabeth met his gaze and seeing the indignation burning her cheeks, he held up a placating hand. “You misunderstand me a little, I think. I cannot prevent all idle talk but I will not allow my friends to abuse you.”

“Forgive me — I am rather out of sorts. Those ladies might not speak such spiteful words were my mother and aunt to cease their boasting,” Elizabeth responded then feared she had said too much. She leaned on the stile and shook her head.

“That is no excuse for such unkind gossip,” he retorted immediately and then looked away. “Nevertheless, had I behaved with more civility last autumn, they might believe you cared for me.”

Feeling greatly daring, Elizabeth pressed his hand against her cheek. “This will not do, sir! Now I have made you wretched – why should we care for such opinions? Indeed, I do not care – I will think of them no more.”

Darcy began to stroke her cheek, relieved to see her smiling and more at ease. He hesitantly said, “I hope you understand me; I cannot display what you are to me in company, not as Bingley does for Jane, even if I wished it.”

“You should not be compelled to exhibit for the impertinent. I know your feelings,” she replied, clasping his slender fingers more tightly.

“Shall I tell you what I discovered before the evening turned on us?”

She opened her eyes and meeting his joyful smile, nodded eagerly. He explained, “I saw myself as your happiness, much as you are mine.”

She was overcome by the truth of his disclosure, by his deep murmur, by the handsome expression on his face, both amazed and pleased. She turned her head to kiss his palm and, when he stepped closer, she leaned forward to gently kiss his mouth. They kissed three times, then four, both sighing at their first tender discoveries of the other. He held her shoulders and back in a soft grasp and her arms were clasped about his waist, as easy as breathing.

For Elizabeth, the entire world seemed to spin. Of all the depictions she had ever read of a kiss – as sweetness, as intoxication, as comfort, as joy, she now understood each and every one.

Go to Part 3

2 responses to “Part 2 – Distinctions are Made”

  1. Elizabeth_B

    This line – “And I have wished to bring you to Pemberley since I understand that I loved you” – is lovely, but it’d be lovelier still if it was more grammatical. Perhaps something like “since I first understood”?

    (It’s still weird to actually mention it, but very cool to be, er, allowed. Thanks for this space!)

  2. Ali

    Elizabeth_B: This line – “And I have wished to bring you to Pemberley since I understand that I loved you” – is lovely, but it’d be lovelier still if it was more grammatical.Perhaps something like “since I first understood”? (It’s still weird to actually mention it, but very cool to be, er, allowed. Thanks for this space!)

    Oh, you’re welcome! You may not think it such a favor when you realize what poor grammar I have at times. Heh.

    Actually, I’m glad you pointed it out. I knew there was something wonky about that sentence but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I need to rework that section a little…eventually…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Calendar

September 2009
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930