Lunch with her mother and step-father was one of the duties Elizabeth disliked the most. She could never forgive the way Fanny Lucas had treated her father, how she had made him lose his trust in people; how she had made him leave. Had not Jane insisted that they owed gratitude to the woman who had given birth to them, she could very happily go on living without ever seeing or missing Fanny. But here she was, Sunday noon, among her sister Jane and her step-sister Charlotte eating her mother’s roast beef and listening to her long monologues. Fanny was proud of not making distinctions between daughters and step-daughters, so her speeches were equally displeasing to Charlotte.
“I cannot believe it! What is wrong with you? Instead of attracting men, you get dumped! Do not look at me like this Elizabeth Bennet! You are twenty-eight and I haven’t met a single boyfriend of yours. You are incapable of keeping them for more than a week! How long is it since you last had a relationship? And you, Charlotte, you are almost thirty-five! I had two daughters and a divorce at thirty-five! How much longer do you think that you will be able to conceive? And now, you Jane! You who never gave me any trouble! Well, apart from the fact that you couldn’t get pregnant during twelve years of marriage… You, who had secured the richest and handsomest and most gallant of husbands at eighteen!” Here Fanny shed a tear. “And you let him dump you at thirty? Who is going to look at you now? Right, you’re still very pretty but the charm of youth is a better allurement than your blue eyes and blond hair. What do you say, darling?” she asked her husband who looked at her full of admiration.
“You are very right, my dear, as always.”
Elizabeth felt disgusted but Charlotte immediately changed the topic of the conversation.
“Your roast beef is wonderful as always, Fanny. Will you give me the recipe?”
“You’ve lost it again? I must have given it to you at least four times!”
Charlotte smiled and Elizabeth whispered to her, amused, “Try to be more a little more inventive, Char. There are other ways of changing the subject, you know!”
“You’d prefer a discussion about your slight by the boss?” Charlotte teased.
Unfortunately Fanny heard Charlotte and wanted to know the whole story. Elizabeth, unlike what her sisters would expect, provided her with it. She enjoyed her mother’s anger towards anyone—apart from her own self—who spoke ill of her daughters. William Darcy deserved to be a little abused by her mother. But as she was listening to her mother’s exclamations and exaggerated resent, she felt her own anger melting. The more Fanny Lucas abused the arrogant man, the less irritating he appeared to her daughter. Elizabeth started thinking that maybe he was right to insist on secrecy. And he didn’t say anything really bad on Friday, did he? She had acted like a teenager at the party. Jealous of Caroline? But he had forgiven her without second thought. And he was really sexy. And passionate. Besides, he always treated her with the utmost respect. Why should she break up with him if she had no serious cause for complaint? Oh, Elizabeth, don’t do this again. You’re forgiving him. You won’t ask him to end this tomorrow. He has this power over you, that grows and grows and grows. You are going to get hurt, Elizabeth. Really hurt.
Jane, who had been living in New York for the past eight years, had forgotten how embarrassing her mother’s speeches were. By the time her mother was done speaking ill of Mr. Darcy, however, she had recovered enough to attempt to change the conversation. She chose Mrs. Lucas’s favorite subject and asked about Fanny’s new neighbors.
“Oh, the Forsters... I like them exceedingly even though they have no sons. Thank God their daughters are ugly!” she smiled with satisfaction ignoring Jane’s look. “They are very rich you know. Well, maybe not as much as that abominable Mr. Darcy—Charlotte, did you say that he owns the magazine you work at?”
“Not only ‘Meryton’, Fanny.” Charlotte replied. “He owns three other magazines and two newspapers. As soon as his uncle retires—and from what I hear that is going to be very soon—he will be CEO of Pemberley Net. And he owns land and…well, he is wealthy. He is, at thirty-four, the fifth richest man in England.”
“Parents?” was all that Fanny could say.
“Both dead.” Charlotte smiled slightly watching Fanny’s look.
“A younger sister. She is twenty-six. Not interested in companies, just in mathematics. A genius, they say. She will have a brilliant career, and surely Mr. Darcy will provide for her generously, but the company will be his and his only.”
“What a catch!” Fanny exclaimed. “Any other family?”
Elizabeth was not feeling very well. She was having an affair with that man for three months, but Charlotte, and probably everyone who read magazines, knew more about him than herself. Not him, she corrected herself. His wealth and his relations, yes. But not him. Charlotte continued with a sly smile.
“Well, his cousin is Richard Fitzwilliam…”
Jane and Fanny cried together.
“The actor? The sexiest man on planet?”
Elizabeth sighed in relief. At least I knew that. Richard and Georgiana were the only family members William had talked to her about. He absolutely adored his little Georgie and he could speak of the adventures he had lived with Richard for a whole night.
“Well, well, he will never be in want of money, I can vouch for that!” Fanny Lucas was practical woman. “I repeat, what a catch! Jane dear, did you have a chance to speak to him?”
“Well, Jane spent her night speaking to the eighth richest man in England. Charles Bingley of Netherfield Editions!” The words escaped Charlotte before she could check herself.
“O, Jane, you sly thing! You didn’t drop a word of this. Now, you must absolutely…”
Elizabeth Bennet was a journalist who wrote about politics. She would listen to all her sources and investigate every bit of the seemingly unimportant information she got, revealing many well kept secrets. That is how she had built her reputation. She would listen attentively to anyone…except her mother. After years of self-training she had managed to exclude her mother’s voice while receiving all the other stimuli. This worked only from time to time, not always, of course. Fortunately for Elizabeth, it did work for the rest of that day.
William sat alone in his living room. He hated those Sunday afternoons that everyone was supposed to spend happily with family. Well, he had no family to spend his time with. Georgiana was dealing with her incomprehensible staff an ocean away and Richard was shooting a film in… really, where was he the last time he called? Was it Australia or New Zealand? He couldn’t remember. And Elizabeth had gone to Hertfordshire to see that strange mother of hers. He checked himself: Why did I think of Elizabeth as my family?. Things were getting complicated and that was not to his liking.
Sunday afternoons with family… Well, the last time he had a nice, typical Sunday with family was twenty-two years ago. He was twelve and Georgie was only four. He smiled fondly at the memory. It was strange how clear it was. His mother playing with them, full of laughter, full of life. His father a bit distant, but evidently pleased. They ate in the garden, then his mother told them stories of the past, of her life as a student, and of the first time she had met their father. Sometimes she would look at her husband pointedly, but William was too young and too happy to notice it. His mother seemed so carefree, full of love for her children. In the evening, she put them to bed and whispered to him: “Now off to dreamland, my big boy!” William felt safe and protected and beloved. Two days later she left the house.
George Darcy tried to remove all her traces out of his life and the lives of his children. This only made him more distant than he already was and destroyed his children’s faith in people. Twenty-two years later, Georgiana’s shyness and self-consciousness as well as William’s bitterness were not overcome in the least. A huge “why?” haunted the young Darcys’ lives as their father refused to tell them what had made their mother leave. Only when William was twenty and they learnt that Anne Darcy had died in an accident somewhere in Africa did his father show him the brief note his wife had left him before leaving:
“It’s all about money and power isn’t it? I have forgiven you, please try to forgive me. Take care of our angels. Tell them how much I love them. Don’t destroy my little ‘Meryton’ land. I love you too, George, and I always will. But I can’t go on living by your side.
William never fully understood the meaning of the letter but he was sure of one thing: whatever may have passed between his parents, what Anne Darcy did to her children was unforgivable. She couldn’t have loved them. The mother’s affection, the essence of love had been proven a fašade. And if it was so, how could he ever trust people again? What had happened with his sister eight years ago—another memory that still hurt so badly—had not helped at all. After all these blows, how could he believe in love? He did not believe in love, that word so easily told and so easily written and so easily betrayed. He never pronounced it if he could avoid it. It had not been a problem with his numerous conquests of the past—he was a handsome, rich and intelligent man, after all; and a ride with his Porsche made the need for silly promises forgotten. But with Elizabeth, it seemed to build a barrier. Something was different and that displeased him.
That was the state of his mind when the telephone rang. A smile lit his face at the sound of Elizabeth’s voice.
“I was thinking about you,” she confessed.
“How so?” he asked very contended and angry with himself for being contended.
“Thanks to your wonderful remark which everyone seems to have overheard on Friday, you almost entered my mother’s black list.”
“Well, that should make you my ally.” Elizabeth sounded relaxed, so he permitted himself to be amused.
“I said almost. Unfortunately, before my mother could plan the revenge, Charlotte mentioned your bank account.”
“Then I am not your ally anymore.”
“Worse than that. You are a good catch.”
“I see,” he replied, feeling not a little uncomfortable.
“Not for me, of course.” Elizabeth sensed his uneasiness. “Only Jane is pretty enough to tempt you.”
“You mean that I am dating the least pretty sister?”
“Yes, the one which is not to her boss’s taste.”
“How long are you going to keep reminding me?”
“Well, I have not punished you properly.”
“And when do you plan this punishment to take place?” William suddenly felt that he wanted an invitation.
“If you come to my apartment, you will get it this very evening.”
“Is not Jane with you?”
“No, she’s staying in Hertfordshire this week and then she’ll be looking for her own place.”
“Any other objections?”
“You are not tired, I hope.”
“Come and decide for your self.”
Later that night, as they lay on her bed, embraced tightly, all the tension and anger and bitterness of their day magically disappeared. Before William drifted off to sleep, he heard Elizabeth’s whisper: “Now off to dreamland, my big boy…” She couldn’t have known what those simple words meant to him. Anyway, he didn’t remember them the next day, but that night he slept like a child. A very happy one.
When George Darcy realized that he was dying (that was nine years before the beginning of our story), he looked back at his life. He remembered his wife. Their years together. The years after the separation. He thought about his children. He realized that his son’s heart was cold. That he could not say the word ‘love.’ That he was beginning to resemble him. That he was about to make the same mistakes. Only then did he understand what he had done. Remorse filled him. He wanted to talk to him, to tell him the whole truth, to warn him. But it was late. It was all too late. Desperation threatened to be his final feeling. But then his wife’s smiling face came before him: “Everyone has to make his own mistakes and learn from them, my love. Maybe Will’s won’t be as painful as ours. Now, come with me to dreamland, my big boy!”
A smile, a warmth and, oh, how did that, of all the melodies he had ever heard, come to him?
Wishing you were
somehow here again…
knowing we must
try to forgive…
teach me to live…
give me the strength
*from the musical “The Phantom of the Opera”. Music byAndrew Lloyd Weber
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