Elizabeth and Teresa Gardiner sat contently on a rug and talked amiably. Paul Bennet preferred the rocks that were some meters away from the sandy spot they had chosen. Now he was sitting on them as comfortably as only fishermen managed to do and he was reading Elizabeth’s published articles, with a proud smile brightening his face. He had pulled off his shoes and was absent-mindedly moving his feet in and out of the sea underneath him. Although it was January the 7th, the sun had appeared warm, sending its rays to heat the skin, the flesh and the soul. The sky had the most beautiful blue color Elizabeth had ever seen and she could not trace even a tiny cloud in the horizon. The sea mirrored the sky’s exquisite color. The dark green shades in the water, caused by the trees that dominated the mountain behind the beach, added a cryptic charm. The scenery was so peaceful and serene that Elizabeth wanted to drink from the sight, to imprint the image in her mind in order to be able to bring it before her frequently in future. She wished she could paint but her unskillful hand and lack of talent could not do justice to the feelings inspired. She longed for Will. She wanted to share this with him. She suddenly felt the urge to write something, anything, to remind her of all these precious thoughts and feelings in future. But she had no means for that at present, so she continued her conversation with the woman that sat next to her.
Teresa Gardiner was a good-looking, middle-aged woman who had followed her dream and passion for archeology and had never married. She traveled all over the world and had worked in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe, choosing this small island in the end. She decided to dedicate the rest of her career to the miracles the ancient Cycladic art had created. She had lived many adventures and had confronted many dangers successfully. Her experiences had filled her with knowledge, wisdom, understanding and compassion for people’s misfortunes. Elizabeth felt at ease with her immediately. Trusting her instinct, as well as her father’s opinion, she confided in Teresa. The latter just listened to everything, without interrupting, offering a warm comforting hug instead of useless advice in the end. Now they had already dropped the subject of William Darcy and were chatting about less serious topics.
“So, does everyone call you Elise like your father?” Teresa asked.
“No, actually my father is the only one that calls me Elise… No, not the only one, now I have added one more to the list.”
“Well, I’ve been listening to your father’s warm praises of his beloved Elise for so long, that I can not really call you anything but Elise. But if you don’t like it, I am willing to impose discipline on myself.”
“No, no, Elise is fine with me.” Elizabeth smiled warmly. “I have always associated it with my father’s memory and it’s special for me. Has he told you why he has always called me this?”
Teresa winked mischievously and then said proudly: “I guessed it!”
‘This is the right woman for my father! I’ll make sure to see them both happy soon,’ Elizabeth thought. She wanted to know more.
“It was hardly difficult. Everyone who knows Paul is also acquainted with his adoration of Beethoven. What is more natural than to call his child after such a beautiful piece?”
“Do you like Fur Elise as well?”
“My heart aches each time I listen to it… So fragile, so bittersweet, such hidden agony and fervent passion in the middle! And then the first melody reappears and ends so evenly, so tenderly, as if whispering goodbye…” Teresa said with a dreamy look on her face.
‘Yes, their music tastes are alike too,’ Elizabeth thought contently. As she was imagining this pair walking down the aisle with loving faces, her father approached them, bringing with him the pile of previous issues of ‘Meryton’ he had perused. He kissed his daughter’s cheeks and sat on the rug, between her and Teresa, saying:
“My dearest Elise, you could not make me any prouder. You have chosen a wonderful job and you are performing marvelously!”
Teresa embraced Elizabeth lovingly.
“And you know, Elise, your father never bestows praise easily. Ask any of his colleagues. Ask me!”
“Do tell me, Teresa!” Elizabeth cried very amused. “I am afraid that I had idolized him all these years, ” she continued in the same teasing tone. Her heart felt light this day. The past wasn’t casting its shadows over her anymore. The conversations with her father, the time they had spent together, as well as the exploration of her true feelings and fears had worked wonders on her. For the first time in years she felt released from her own demons. Now, she could admit that she had made mistakes; she could judge more properly her former actions as well as the actions of others. Elizabeth regretted some decisions that she had made, but she had no intention of being miserable because of them. The past didn’t haunt her anymore; she could think of it and speak of it and joke about it with relative ease. She was determined to learn from it in order to build a solid future happiness. She was feeling it: her wounds were healing.
“I’d be most grateful if you set me straight about him,” Elizabeth told Teresa.
“But I wouldn’t,” Paul interrupted them, as Teresa opened her mouth to speak and they all laughed.
“Elise, this magazine you work at, is it very old?” Teresa decided to change the subject.
“The late Anne Darcy started it, about thirty years ago.”
“Anne Darcy? The Anne Darcy that did the wonderful work in Latin America? Anne Darcy is your Will Darcy’s mother?” Teresa asked leaving Elizabeth speechless. Paul shared her astonishment as well but not to the same degree, so he could speak.
“You knew her?”
“Knew her?” Teresa repeated with emotion. “She was my best friend; she was the person that I admired the most! The best woman I have ever met. So loving, so devoted to her mission!” Teresa’s spirit had flown away and she looked as she was traveling back to Latin America, reliving her youth. Suddenly her expression changed from a contented one, to one full of pain, as she exclaimed, “Why did she have to go to Africa? Why did that blasted car…” she stopped, evidently too hurt to continue.
Elizabeth tried to impose self-discipline and collect her thoughts. It seemed that every conversation found its way to the mystery of Anne Darcy. She had heard many versions: the favorable reports from her ex-colleagues at Meryton who adored her and the negative descriptions of William and Wickham. William, though, had never accused her of being a bad mother the few years she had lived with them. She remembered him telling her that he needed her. Elizabeth suspected that his pain was caused by the fact that he was deprived of a very affectionate mother and not an indifferent one. As for Wickham…the least she could say about him was that he was not a man to be trusted. So, what was left? An enigma, a puzzle, a mystery that she had not yet come to solve. In fact, she had not cared to solve. But, somehow, she knew that it was important. For her, and for Will too. She prepared to listen to Teresa’s version of the story, which, she believed, would be the closest to the truth.
“Teresa, this is important. I have heard so many things about her… I need to know the truth. I am afraid that William holds much against her.” At Teresa’s frowning, she hastily added, “She hurt him too much by leaving without an explanation.”
Teresa’s features became less tense.
“I can not enlighten you in that aspect, I’m afraid. Anne Darcy had many photos and used to recount lots of stories about her two angels, but that was all about her former life that she ever shared with anyone.”
Teresa didn’t fail to notice Elizabeth’s look of disappointment.
“But I can tell you that she loved them more than her own life. Her decision to leave them was not a simple whim. She was forced to do it, I am certain of that.”
Elizabeth still didn’t look convinced.
“All right, I’ll tell you what I know and you can form an opinion of your own. No prejudice, ok?”
“Anne had already lived in Colombia for five years when I arrived there. I met her in a library. We were both doing research… in very different fields. I was studying something related to art, as always, while she was investigating drug plantations and drug dealing.” Teresa paused and Elizabeth looked at her pleadingly, as if she couldn’t take a moment’s delay in finding the truth. “You see, Elise, Anne Darcy had devoted her life, her whole existence, to the war against drugs. Whatever I say, I cannot do justice to her passion, to the sacrifices she made, to the threats that she received and ignored. I don’t know what you have heard about her but she has saved lives! Really, Elise, I do not exaggerate. She sabotaged the plantations, she insisted on better information, she proposed alternative job programs for the farmers and yes, she managed to reduce the production. The big drug-dealers never forgave her,” Teresa stated firmly while Elizabeth’s mouth was agape and showed no intention of closing anytime soon. Teresa paused for a moment, as if she was making a decision, and then whispered hastily, as if afraid that someone would listen to her, “Personally, I don’t think that her death in Africa was an accident.”
Elizabeth was stunned. She had never speculated on Anne Darcy’s life after running away from home, but she was rather inclined to believe that she had led a comfortable life in South Africa and not one full of deprivations in Latin America. After the initial shock, one thought prevailed: ‘William must know’. She felt a new wave of tenderness for him. She couldn’t remember a thing regarding his disastrous proposal anymore. Only images of their happiest moments came to her and filled her with bittersweet longing. She couldn’t know a thing so important for him and his family and not share it with him immediately. Especially since she knew how much his mother’s behavior had made him suffer. There were still questions unanswered; she felt that there was more to the story. Still, the thought that this could be the key that would unlock the gate of pain in his heart and set the man she loved the most free, almost overwhelmed her. ‘I have helped myself, now it’s time to help him.’
“I believe,” Elizabeth started hesitatingly, “I believe that it is time for me to return.”
Her father nodded understandingly.
“Will had no idea about his mother’s whereabouts, I am sure of that,” Elizabeth continued, talking to herself rather than addressing the other two, “And it will be difficult to persuade him to accept the facts. But I know that he needs it. And it must be done soon.”
“Of course, dearest. Secrets and hiding are not good for anyone,” Paul said calmly. “As soon as we return home, we’ll have a look at the airline schedules and decide.” Then, after hesitating a little, he added. “You know, Elise, I was contemplating your suggestion… You know, about coming to England for a few weeks… and I have talked to Teresa about it… Would you mind if we both joined you?” he said with a sheepish look, avoiding his daughter’s surprised eyes.
Elizabeth however was not displeased in the slightest. In fact she was thrilled that her father had acted upon her advice and pursued Teresa Gardiner. She would return from her trip with two people that she loved and knew that she could count on. She had not dared to hope that things would turn out so good when she had gotten on that plane on December 25th, feeling that she had lost everything. She embraced them both, kissed them on their cheeks and jumped up.
“Let’s make haste!” she cried with enthusiasm. “We have so many things to prepare!”
Paul managed to find tickets for the day following the next. Elizabeth was thrilled at the prospect of seeing William so soon. Her impatience increased with every passing hour and in the end she was certain that she would not have stood being away from him even a day longer. She spent her remainder of time in Greece with Teresa, talking about Anna Darcy. In order to please her friend, she found in the small collection that she always carried with her of some issues of ‘Meryton’ the editorial of which was written by Anne Darcy. Teresa devoured them with a zeal that even Elizabeth was lacking. She studied every page that her friend had written or supervised and many times Elizabeth saw tears in her eyes. She became accustomed to Teresa’s murmuring or laughing while reading. Phrases like, “How right you are, Anne,” or “Serves them right, Anne!” or “Anne’s subtle irony!” were constantly on her lips, so Elizabeth didn’t pay attention to her. She withdrew to another corner and went on packing. Thus she didn’t notice Teresa’s frowning, or her exclaiming: “What is this? It’s odd!” And she was very surprised by her gentle tapping on her shoulder, followed by the question:
“Excuse me, Elise, but what is this? ” She handed a note to her.
“I’ve never seen it before. Where did you find it?” Elizabeth replied, very astonished.
“It was in the magazine, stuck to one of the pages. What can it mean?” Teresa was baffled as well.
Elizabeth let a gasp escape her as she read this:
Stop your wife before it’s too late. For all of you. You know me too well, George. I don’t forgive mistakes. J.W.
Georgiana put on her pajamas, lit the fireplace, found some popcorn and sat on her favorite couch to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca.’ In other cases, she would have been most happy to be able to relax this way, but on this particular occasion, she was not at all content. She knew that William and Charles’ plan would be at stake if she showed up at the party. Still she could not help sighing heavily at the prospect of missing all the fun. The moment so many people were waiting for had arrived; but she wouldn’t be there. Her brother had promised to bring her the first copy of the morning paper. Well, that was something.
William, Charles, Richard and Monika appeared, coming down the stairs and presenting the group of people that would definitely draw all the attention to them in the course of the evening. Georgiana felt proud of her brother. He looked even handsomer than usual in his black tuxedo and white shirt. Even though Darcy hated tuxedos as much as he hated this kind of parties, they made him appear to the best advantage. Actually, his sister doubted that there could be one woman who did not find the sight of him breathtaking. She felt certain that even if Elizabeth was still furious with him, she could not have resisted him this night.
Charles was charming and resembled something of his former self. Only those who knew him extremely well could notice the difference. His smiles were neither as frequent nor as genuine as before. His childish enthusiasm and happy manners were replaced by more restrained and less spontaneous reactions. ‘Welcome to the dark side,’ Georgiana thought and laughed inwardly.
Richard’s appearance justified all his admirers’ screams each time they saw him. He wore a tuxedo as well, that accentuated his masculinity. His perfectly shaped body and broad shoulders were combined with a teenager’s smile, destined to break some more hearts. Tonight however, his smile was not as innocent and heartfelt as it used to be. He seemed ill at ease. Georgiana wondered why, since her cousin had nothing to want payback for. Was he so devoted to his family or should she seek the cause elsewhere?
Monika appeared next to Richard, and, without doubt, she was the revelation of the evening. She, who never wore anything but trousers and T-shirts, had now chosen a fabulous evening dress that revealed for the first time her perfect silky, airy silhouette. Its color was dark green that matched her brown-green eyes perfectly. In fact, it was the first time that Georgiana noticed the color of her eyes, as well as the rest of the charming features of her face. She had let her hair loose and now it danced around her shoulders, touching at times Richard’s back and causing abrupt and unexpected small reactions in him.
They were all worthy to look at—for hours in fact.
“I see you are ready for the campaign,” Georgiana joked. “Are your pistols ready and loaded?”
“Mine is,” Monika replied and added, “Just don’t ask me where I’ve hidden it.”
Richard coughed violently, while the rest laughed.
“Well, I see we have some absences here.” Georgiana said somewhat hesitatingly.
“If you are concerned for my sister,” Charles answered with an irony that surprised even him, “You must know that she would never miss the chance to show off and seduce my friend here with the big fortune,” he said pointing at William. “She will join us there.” A pause followed this, as no one wanted to comment on his words. Charles broke the silence again addressing Darcy. “By the way, Will, if you ever happen to tell her that you are in love with Elizabeth Bennet, please make sure that I am there. I want to see that.”
“If things go well with Elizabeth, Charles, I will let you tell her that Miss Bennet is the woman of my dreams. Actually, I do not want to see that!” he said and as the rest laughed, some of the tension was removed.
“No, no,” Georgiana finally spoke. “I was wondering about…”
“Me?” Alex suddenly appeared from the kitchen holding some popcorn. He wore jeans and a T-shirt and for some unknown reason Georgiana considered him the most charming person that evening. “As I explained to my generous employer this morning, much as I admire the gentlemen’s plan, I really wish for a quiet evening. So, since my services are not needed, I am resting tonight.” He paused and then gazing directly to Georgiana’s eyes, he continued, “Would you like some company? I haven’t watched ‘Rebecca’ for ages and I’d love to.”
“Yes, yes, I’d love to… I mean that I’d like to… I mean that your company is very welcome,” Georgiana finally managed to say and averted her eyes. But then, they returned to him, as if she couldn’t help it. He was smiling and his brown eyes were shining. She smiled back, shyly at first but then more and more broadly. William didn’t fail to notice this. He opened his mouth to speak, but then he saw Charles and remembered that he had promised himself never to interfere in his loved ones’ relationships. ‘Maybe I’ll just call them a little later,’ was all that he could content himself with.
“Shall we?” he said as they left the house.
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