The Colonel stayed for another two days, entertaining the ladies with colorful stories of his travels. The weather and the roads cleared, and he was off to Matlock with a promise to return on Saturday to welcome Darcy home, at Georgiana’s earnest request.
Before he left, he took Elizabeth’s hand and wished out loud that she would still be at Pemberley when he returned. “Perhaps the roads will delay your aunt and uncle, as they have delayed me,” he added with a sparkle in his eye.
According to everyone’s wishes, Elizabeth received word from her aunt that they, indeed, would not be able to come until Monday. The rain had kept them from one of their destinations, and they did not think she would mind if they made up for it. Mrs. Gardiner was well aware of Elizabeth’s wishes not to be left at Pemberley, but she could not help but smile at her aunt’s high handedness, and wondered if it had not been planned at the outset.
Elizabeth was in a bit of a fog, not quite knowing how she felt about his arrival. She recalled the conversation that she overheard in front of the shop in Lambton. It was Mr. Darcy’s idea that Elizabeth come and stay with Georgiana. He wanted her to be at Pemberley. And now he wanted her to be there when he returned. And moreover, she was glad that she was staying—terrified, but glad. She knew not what to do or how to act, but she had three days to pull herself together.
Georgiana could not be more pleased, and she enlisted Elizabeth’s help to make everything perfect for her brother’s arrival. An elaborate dinner was planned, and Georgiana wanted to practice a duet to perform that night. Georgiana wanted Elizabeth play a piece by herself, but Elizabeth refused and begged her not to mention her improvement. She explained that it was a private matter, and that she was not ready to exhibit by herself until she felt more comfortable. Georgiana did not quite understand, but honored Elizabeth’s wishes.
The day before Mr. Darcy’s arrival, Elizabeth passed by his chambers. The door was open for the first time, as the room was being aired and new linens were already in place. The room was in keeping with the rest of the house—large and tastefully decorated. A liberal amount of green was used on the walls and in the many fabrics, which gave it an outdoor tenor. The furnishings were oversized and dark--like ancient trees amidst the various shades of leafy colors. She liked the looks of it very much. It was comforting, and it reminded her of the woods she loved so much at home.
Elizabeth felt foolish since it was simply a room, but she could not help herself from staring. Mr. Darcy would be here tomorrow. The reality of his coming struck her forcibly. There was nowhere to run here. She was over one hundred miles from home and she was now under his roof—a place she was coming to love. The more she thought about what had passed between them over the past several months and how she now felt, the more she wished she could change things. She did not care if this was a scheme of her aunts. Elizabeth did want to see him—with all of her being.
The days had been unusually warm, and the evenings balmy. Elizabeth could not sleep as expected that night. The moon was out and poured onto her bed. After staring at it and tracing its lines and craters for a quarter of an hour, she had yet another horrible idea. She dressed herself and she stole out into the garden. It was either that or pounding on the pianoforte--there was no question on which one would win.
The crickets chirped a mirthful chorus as Elizabeth took in the beautiful plants in the diffused light. The white roses were like globular beacons shimmering and bobbing in the soft night breeze. Mixed with the honeysuckle and gardenias, the fragrance was heavenly.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and breathed in everything she could. She turned to see Pemberley lit up by the moon. It was anything but imposing. It was immense, to be sure, but it was inviting, and right now she would be happy to call it enchanting.
She must have spent an hour walking and thinking about what the following day would bring, before she returned to her room and fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
Mr. Darcy was not expected until mid-afternoon, so Elizabeth did everything she could to occupy her mind. Luckily, Georgiana was in high spirits and had Elizabeth ride with her after breakfast before the temperature became too uncomfortable. They went further than they had before, and through a wood that reminded Elizabeth of the one she had so often ran to back home. Pemberley had everything, and soon, it would have its Master.
They were met in the stables by Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had just arrived. The Colonel smiled knowingly at Elizabeth, and she tried not to color. The Colonel’s health and the state of the roads were asked about. And even though Georgiana’s excitement could barely be contained, Elizabeth managed to pry Georgiana from her dear cousin, so they could change.
Elizabeth washed and sat upon her bed. He was to arrive at any time. Her heart began to beat irregularly, and apprehension started to creep in. Would they be able to fall into easy conversation? Certainly with Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam the mood will be merry, for most. She once fancied that she had an abundance of courage, but Mr. Darcy seemed to put her in an altered state, from London forward. She did not know herself anymore.
Everything was in place for his arrival. Georgiana was anxious and kept moving back and forth from the window to see if she might spot him before as he approached. Elizabeth tried to read a book, but if she was to be honest with herself, she understood nothing that she read. Her mind was elsewhere.
Colonel Fitzwilliam walked into the drawing room.
“It is too fine a day to stay indoors, ladies. A breeze has come in. May I beseech either of you to take a turn with me outdoors?”
Georgiana looked at him with concern. “I do not want to be away from the house when my brother arrives, Richard. I will stay here, where I can keep watch.”
The Colonel looked over at Elizabeth who had put her book down.
Elizabeth smiled. “Certainly, Colonel.”
The two walked in the opposite direction of where Darcy would be approaching.
“We do not want the sight of you to cause another riding accident, do we Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth looked down and ignored his teasing. “You are quite devoted to your cousin, Colonel. Has it always been that way?”
The Colonel smiled at the question. “Yes, I would say it always has been that way. We are practically brothers, and have had our moments, but Darcy is the best sort of man. He is generous to a fault, and is just as devoted to me as I am to him. There is nothing we would not do for each other.”
“How very lovely to have such a friend and relation, Colonel.”
“Yes, it is.”
The two talked about Pemberley, its grounds, the tenants and the former Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. The Colonel had warm words for his aunt and uncle, the former he remembered as being very accomplished on the pianoforte. He mentioned that Georgiana took after her mother in looks and in her love of music. Elizabeth was pleased to hear this account, as Georgiana’s memories of her mother were very faint.
The afternoon sun was beating down hard, and even with the breeze, the pair had enough exertion. They turned and headed back to the great house. As they cut through the formal garden and rounded a large boxwood, Mr. Darcy suddenly stood before them.
He smiled graciously at both of them, but then fixed his gaze on her. Three months absence of meeting his eyes had not prepared her for the swell of emotions that struck her. She wanted to run. She wanted to cry. She wanted to be enveloped in his arms once again. She grasped at nothing and held tight as she answered his bow with a curtsy.
“Darcy! You have arrived! We were beginning to despair of you ever showing. Georgiana could not be pried from her window these past three hours,” exclaimed the Colonel.
“Georgie and I have already had our reunion. She looks remarkably well.”
He once again turned to face Elizabeth.
“Miss Bennet, I am very pleased to see you. Georgiana tells me that your aunt and uncle were delayed. I hope you are not too inconvenienced,” he added as he took in her face, her form, her flushed cheeks and her remarkable eyes.
“Not at all, Mr. Darcy. It is no inconvenience. Your sister, and now your cousin, have been nothing but accommodating and gracious,” she managed to reply calmly with much effort.
“I am very glad to hear it.” He reluctantly turned from Elizabeth and looked over at the Colonel, who was suppressing a smile.
“Georgiana sent me after you. It is time for tea.”
Georgiana wanted a minute-by-minute account of what her dear brother did while away, and since the Colonel had been with him for much of it, Elizabeth was able to sit back and observe the great felicity that existed between the three.
Elizabeth was brought out of her thoughts when Hertfordshire was mentioned. Darcy had visited the newlyweds at Netherfield. Elizabeth felt a sudden sting, as she knew that she was the reason he had not visited sooner.
Darcy turned toward her. “Miss Bennet, your sister has stepped into the role of Mistress of Netherfield beautifully. I was in want of nothing while under her watchful eye.”
“Yes. You cannot praise Jane too highly for me, Mr. Darcy. I am very pleased and proud of her.”
“She misses you, Miss Bennet. She bade me to tell you so, if I should see you, and to give you the intelligence that her promised letter is coming soon.” His eyes looked at her so tenderly, so gently that she barely perceived she was staring at him. She caught herself, and recovered quickly.
“Thank you, sir. I always look forward to Jane’s letters.”
At that moment, a wave of shame came over Elizabeth for never having opened his letter, or properly responding to it. She had good reason, though it now seemed weak and selfish. For she feared that she would fall off of the edge of the earth, and would never be able to find her way back again. She did not know if it spoke of his undying love, or if it released her fully. Back in April, she could face neither.
Elizabeth excused herself after tea and went up to her room. She sat upon her bed and reached in her pocket for the precious item. It was well worn, yet still sealed. That small letter had a great hold on Elizabeth. She could imagine whatever she wanted the contents to be. And it was always in flux along with Elizabeth.
If she needed reassurance of her decision to ask him to stay away, she would imagine that the letter contained his full agreement. He graciously noted the vast differences in their stations in life, he saw the astute reasoning behind her decision, thanked her for her prudence, and wished her a blessed life.
If she needed reassurance that his regard was not a fancy of her imagination, if she wanted to remember what his eyes betrayed every time he looked her way, his letter was filled with heart felt passionate words, begging her to not to dismiss him, not to condemn him to a life without love, without her, without the sun.
She held his letter tenderly and pressed it up against her chest.
She knew what it said to her today. She saw it in his eyes once more. There was no question of how he felt. There never was. What a fool she has been! Written or spoken words could never do his eyes justice. She was suddenly hit with a powerful certainty. What he wrote to her in April does not matter, because what she wrote to him in April no longer matters. Too much has happened. Too much has changed. She already had everything she needed to know. The one thing she was sure of was Mr. Darcy, and he was downstairs right now.
Elizabeth slid the unopened letter back into her pocket.
Dinner was absolutely lovely. But even more so was Georgiana, who sat at the opposite end from her brother, beaming. As each course was brought out, her brother and the Colonel would compliment her on her choice, and of the elegant arrangements. Georgiana blushed, but explained that Elizabeth was just as involved as she was, if not more. Elizabeth immediately put the praise back on her hostess with all graciousness.
“I do not doubt their equal involvement, Darcy. You should hear the duets they have played for me. They are quite the pair,” Colonel Fitzwilliam remarked.
“I must hear one of these duets after dinner, if you are so inclined,” added Darcy with a generous smile.
“We have been practicing one for days with the hopes of playing it for you tonight,” Georgiana enthused. “Elizabeth brought me a gift of several duets among other pieces when she arrived. We have been very occupied.”
“Have you heard of ‘French Hour,’ Cousin?” the Colonel teased.
Elizabeth shot him a look, which made him only smile wider. Darcy looked at both of them, and developed his own smile along with a curious look.
Georgiana came to her rescue. “Richard is being intolerable, Brother. He happened upon us during our daily French practice. We speak nothing but French for an hour each day—I wrote to you about it. I have improved greatly. Vous ne pensez pas?”
Something occurred to Georgiana, and she decided to have her own horrible idea. French Hour should now include everyone present. So, after a superb performance of the duet on the pianoforte, the evening passed with Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam trying to tell stories of their childhood within those restrictions. There were more hand motions and pointing than there was actual French, but it was a jolly party and everyone laughed and enjoyed themselves.
Elizabeth felt it only proper to retire at the same time as Georgiana, even though she was far from tired. She reluctantly said her goodnights and briefly met Mr. Darcy’s eyes. He was silently asking her something and she wanted desperately to answer, but knew not how. She smiled slightly before she quit the room arm-in-arm with Georgiana.
Once in her room, Elizabeth started a letter to Charlotte, for she had been corresponding by means of Maria, and now she could send letters from Lambton without any suspicion. Charlotte would have a child in late fall, and Elizabeth was very happy for her. Lady Catherine was not mentioned by name, but apparently, she did not make any more surprise visits at the cottage, and ceased all interference with Charlotte’s housekeeping.
At least something redeeming had come out of her visit. Elizabeth did not know what to relay to Charlotte about her Derbyshire visit now that Mr. Darcy was present, for she knew that she could not simply discuss French Hour and duets. They were past that. Charlotte would require more, and Elizabeth had nothing to share beyond a pleasant evening and a brief glance. She sighed and put down her pen.
Elizabeth stood up and walked over to the window. Why had she made such a mess of things? Why could she not receive him in London? Why did she let Lady Catherine affect her so? She hated to think of her actions now. She looked down at the garden below. The moon was even brighter tonight, and the flowers nodded and swayed under the soft spotlight. It bid her to come once again, and she could not resist its luminescent call.
As she silently glided by the drawing room, she could hear the gentlemen who still occupied it. She held her breath until she was safely outside. The balmy night air was perfumed with the various flowers in bloom. Elizabeth wandered the garden, her bare feet feeling the cool grass beneath her, and her lungs took in the heady floral scents. She wanted to fill her room with the same fragrances, so this time she was armed with a small pair of scissors and some ribbon. She gathered whatever her senses craved and tried to not think about anything else. She tried not to think about how she felt when he walked into a room. She tried not to think about how his eyes kept finding their way over to her no matter where she moved. And she tried not to think about what she would dream about if she did finally fall asleep tonight.
Darcy and the Colonel parted in the hall on the bedroom wing, each tired from their earlier journeys. Darcy passed by Elizabeth’s room and noted that no light came from under the door. Tonight went well. Elizabeth stayed—even if not by choice, and even though they had no private conversation, she did not seem distressed. He was simply pleased that she was at Pemberley. He was simply pleased.
He had waited months for this day. He had waited for this chance to once again find a way to let the woman that he loved know that she was safe, she was appreciated, and she was worth one hundred Lady Catherines. How he kept his wits about him this evening, he knew not. For Elizabeth wore soft white, and her eyes took on the greenish hue of the walls when she was near them, and then the clear blue of Georgiana’s gown when she sat next to her at the pianoforte.
But there was something reserved about her, in her looks and conversation. Although she smiled and laughed, she was hesitant, and did not give herself over fully to the gayety of the evening. Although she played beautifully with his sister at the pianoforte, she was holding back. He did his best to make her comfortable, and not bring up anything or any place that might cause her pain. Kent was not spoken of. Many things were not spoken of.
He closed his door and took his jacket off. Diffused light spilled through his window, and he moved toward it. Tonight the moon was full and still low in the sky. The view from his room was a grand one, as it should. The formal garden under the watchful eye of the silvery globe was lovely, and he absently stared out as his thoughts were elsewhere. He was making up his mind exactly what he would do and say tomorrow, when something caught his eye and then his breath. A small white figure was moving through the garden.
“Elizabeth,” he breathed.
He watched in wonder as she floated down below him, gathering flowers and placing one in her hair. He thought it months ago, and how could anyone deny it? She was mythical in gossamer white, and he was certain her feet were not touching the ground. He blinked thinking she would disappear, but the amazing vision continued to tease and torture him. She stepped into the path of the moonlight, and turned to gaze up at it. As he watched in reverence from his window above, the great celestial entity illuminated her and transformed her into something extraordinary. If he thought Elizabeth was never more beautiful in the rain, and then again in the morning sun, he had no concept of what the moon could do. She was more than a vision. She was flesh and bone. She was tangible. She was real, and he could stand it no longer.
He hurried to get his jacket back on. He buttoned it up, and looked at his reflection. He tugged at his jacket, ran his fingers through his hair, and turned to go out into the hall, having no plan whatsoever.
He hastened down the flight of stairs to get to the ground level. He turned the corner to go down the darkened hall, when he almost ran over Elizabeth. They both stood breathless with less than a foot between them, looking at each other in shock. The fragrance of the flowers quickly filled the space between them.
“Miss Bennet!” he said in a low shocked voice.
She was barefoot, holding a bouquet wrapped in ribbon in one hand, and her slippers in the other. She looked down at the flowers and back at him. Standing there, so close to him, she could not stop thinking about her dream, which made her blush and kept her from forming any coherent thought. She was very grateful that it was mostly dark, so her rising color would not give her away.
“I am sorry. I could not sleep, and the moon was so bright…” She stopped without finishing.
“It is very bright outside,” he agreed awkwardly.
He could not help but simply stare at her, and both of their breathing increased.
“I should go,” the lady said, though she did not want to.
“Please, Miss Bennet. Please, let me speak with you,” he pleaded.
Elizabeth looked up at him. His eyes took hers hostage, she could not move if she had wanted.
“My aunt…” he halfway whispered.
“It is all forgotten,” she barely breathed back.
“Is it really? Elizabeth?” He searched her eyes.
The sound of him saying her name undid her. She could not think. Once again, she could not get enough breath.
Darcy reached over carefully and touched her cheek with his fingers. He slid them down along her jaw line, and she could feel the warm tingling trail they left behind.
“You are not yourself. I have been waiting, but I was afraid you would forget me.” He stepped in even closer.
Elizabeth could not look away from him, but she could find no words. He completely stunned her. She marveled that she was still standing.
“Please tell me you have not forgotten me, Elizabeth…”
He bent down to her face, still searching her eyes, his lips nearing hers when footsteps were heard from behind, and a light source moved their way. Darcy immediately straightened up and turned around. Elizabeth caught her breath and took two steps back, while the footman approached holding a candelabrum. She bent down and quickly slipped on her shoes.
“Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley has arrived and requests to see you immediately.”
Darcy processed what was said. “Certainly, Ford, please tell him that I will be right there.”
The footman’s words snapped Elizabeth out of her state. Her thoughts went immediately to Jane.
The footman bowed and walked away, taking most of the light with him. Darcy turned and faced Elizabeth who looked shocked, and had a tear rolling down her face.
“Forgive me, Miss Bennet. Please forgive me…” He was torn. Her look frightened him. “I must go and see Bingley.”
“Please, Sir, I need to see him as well. For I fear it is bad news, and he is now family.”
Darcy could see her concern, and hoped that Bingley’s sudden arrival was the reason for the tear, and not the liberty he took with her.
“Of course. Follow me.” Darcy led the way through the dark corridor until they reached the foyer.
Mr. Bingley had his gloves in hand and was pacing across the great marble entryway. Darcy let Elizabeth enter first before he spoke.
“Bingley! What brings you here? Is everything alright, for I fear you have startled Miss Bennet with your presence.”
Elizabeth stepped forward with concern running across her face.
“Please, Charles, is Jane alright?”
Bingley looked over at Elizabeth, who held a bouquet at her side, and then back at Darcy. He was not sure if he should speak or not.
“Miss Elizabeth, do not be distressed, Jane is perfect… I mean she is well.” He looked between them again. “I meant to meet with Darcy first, before I talked with you, but maybe it is best this way.”
“Please tell me,” Elizabeth begged.
Bingley looked at Darcy once again before he met Elizabeth’s eyes. “This is about your sister, Lydia. It seems that she has run off.”
“Run off? Where?” Darcy demanded.
“She left a note for Kitty stating that she was off to be with Mr. Wickham,” he explained.
“Mr. Wickham?!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “But I thought that he was gone!”
Darcy moved toward Elizabeth. “Bingley, let us move this conversation into the drawing room, where Miss Bennet can be more comfortable.”
They quickly moved to the drawing room, which was still lit. Once they were all seated, Bingley continued his story.
“As you know, Mr. Wickham has not been around for a couple of months now, but Lydia heard rumors that he was stationed in Newcastle, in the north. She had put together her pin money along with Kitty’s and has most likely journeyed north.”
Elizabeth simply stared at Bingley, her mouth agape.
“Apparently, there had been some attachment on her side before he disappeared,” he explained. “Others knew of it… before.”
Elizabeth started at the last sentence. “Who knew about it?”
“Well… I did. And your father. I happened upon them. Kitty was stationed on the road to keep watch. I surmised that something was amiss, and found Wickham with Lydia in the woods.”
Elizabeth stood up. “Oh, how could I be so blind?! I saw the very same thing!” She started to pace. “Kitty told me that Lydia was right behind her tying her lace. I knew something was not right, but I did not figure it out. How blind I am!”
“Please Elizabeth, do not berate yourself. I went straight to your father. You saw me. I asked you to stay with Jane. We… uhm… the situation was taken care of shortly thereafter. He was sent very far away. Your father chose the destination.”
Elizabeth looked at Bingley with recognition in her eyes. “Wickham disappeared right after that. And Lydia… Lydia cried for days together! Why did I not put it together?”
“I am certain that you had other things to occupy your mind, Miss Bennet,” added Darcy with kindness.
“But where is he? There were so many rumors. Will Lydia find him?” she inquired in earnest.
“No. She will not find him, Elizabeth. At least we do not have to worry about that,” Bingley answered.
“What has been done to find Lydia? How long has she been gone?” Darcy asked.
“She left the day before last. She was not missed until dinner, when her note was found, and I was immediately summoned by Mr. Bennet. We sent an express to Mr. Gardiner to come help with the search, and I set off that night for here.”
Bingley stood up to meet Elizabeth.
“I am leaving the carriage for you to take home, Elizabeth. Your mother is not well, and Jane has asked for your help in caring for her. She would have come with me, so you would have had a companion, but your mother cannot do without her. My servants will take prodigious care of you. You will be quite safe.”
He then turned to look at Darcy.
“I was hoping that you would be able to--”
Darcy stood up and interrupted.
“You do not need to ask, Charles. I will talk with my coachman, and rouse Richard. We can be ready to go in an hour if you would like.”
“Absolutely not! Mr. Darcy, you do not need to involve yourself in this… this madness. And certainly not Colonel Fitzwilliam. Why must he know about this?”
Darcy looked over at Elizabeth who was mortified.
“Miss Bennet, once again, I am inadvertently responsible for this. You know my feelings on this matter. And believe me, Colonel Fitzwilliam is not a stranger to Mr. Wickham’s ill behavior. We warned Mr. Wickham, we gave him every opportunity to behave, but he is never to be trusted.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’ warned him?” Suddenly, her father’s letter flashed in front of her.
“Wickham claimed to not be able to identify the attackers. But witnesses, who saw no faces, just dark figures, reported there were three.”
Three. It happened in March, during Jane’s honeymoon, less than two weeks after her horrible encounter. The lock of hair tied in a red ribbon in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s room, suddenly claimed its former owner.
Elizabeth looked up at both of them, as they looked at each other and back to her. Her mind reeled. Could she be the reason Bingley left Jane in Bath? Elizabeth was alarmed and relieved at the same time. Bingley had kept a secret from his bride, but it was to save the honor of her beloved sister. She blushed at the thought of Mr. Darcy exacting revenge on the man who assaulted her, and winced at the danger that all three had placed themselves in. She was humbled. She was jarred. She was in awe.
She sat down once again, and tried to make sense of the rush of information that was fighting for a seat in her head.
“Miss Bennet, we are already half way to Newcastle. We will stop at every post along the way and inquire about your sister. She will be found. She will be safe. Please let us be of some service to you and your family,” Darcy explained, while Elizabeth stared at him in wonder.
Bingley kneeled before his new sister. “Do not worry Elizabeth, you may count on all of us not to speak of this to anyone else. Remember that we are family now.”
Darcy moved. “I will wake Richard,” he said before he quit the room. Elizabeth waited until he was gone before she spoke again.
“I am sorry that you have married into such a troublesome lot,” she added.
“Did I not bring in my own trouble, ‘Miss Eliza?’” he joked with a clear smile.
Elizabeth managed a matching smile. “Yes, you did, Charles. Yes, you did.”
The gentlemen were off within the hour. Georgiana was woken, briefly told why and where they were going, and said her tearful goodbyes. There was such a rush around them, and Elizabeth was being mindful of Georgiana that she realized that she did not say goodbye to Mr. Darcy personally, or express her gratitude for his involvement until it was too late.
She watched helplessly as the carriage pulled away, all the while comforting Georgiana who was clinging to her. Elizabeth thought about the dim hallway filled with the sweet scents from the garden, and how his profound eyes dipped deeply into hers. She could sense his hesitant breath against her skin. She could hear her name whispered from his lips and it echoed in her mind. And she could still feel the trail his fingers left on her cheek, and the tear that quickly followed. The tear was not for fear of bad news from home. The tear was bitter disappointment. It was as if she woke from her beautiful dream again. She stood holding Georgiana until the carriage disappeared from view, and wiped another tear away.