Fitzwilliam Darcy opened the double doors to the parlor, unconsciously straightening his cravat as he entered. He was followed by Mr. Bingley, Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Hurst. The ladies were already assembled there. His eyes instantly sought out Miss Elizabeth Bennett’s form; he was surprised and pleased to see her dimpled smile when their eyes met.
Miss Bingley approached him directly, her bronze gown shimmering richly in the candlelight.
“Mr. Darcy, do help us to convince Miss Eliza Bennett that she must play for us tonight,” she said as she tucked her arm through his.
Even his annoyance at Miss Bingley’s presumption could not diminish his pleasure as Miss Bennett bowed her head graciously.
“Indeed, I would very much like the pleasure of hearing you perform again, Miss Bennett,” he replied warmly. He led Miss Bingley to a seat and took his own near the pianoforte so that he could view Miss Bennett to her full advantage. He was sure that his warm gaze on Miss Bennett was received with pleasure; for although her color rose, she did not avert her eyes or turn away from him.
Although the evening did not end as he had hoped—assured of Miss Bennett’s admiration of him—he did at least feel confident that she was conscious of his admiration of her.
Elizabeth Bennett did not know who her parents were. She had been found on a warm April morning on the steps of a church on Bennett Street when she was just hours old, swaddled in a towel with the initials “F.D.” embroidered on one corner. She had been taken in by the priest there and sent to an orphanage. She was a beautiful baby, with big brown eyes and dark curly hair; but she had an uncanny quality about her. Her eyes were too big for her face, her expression too solemn for one so young. Her eyes seemed to have a world-weariness even at a young age. She had been passed from foster home to foster home but never found a permanent place. By the time she was two, the priests at the church decided that she was not adoptable and kept her at the orphanage where at least she had some stability.
It was a mystery as to why she was never adopted. She was not a somber child, in fact she was never known to cry beyond infancy; she laughed and giggled like all little girls. She had a fondness for yellow hair ribbons and pictures of horses. Everyone at the orphanage loved her and wondered why she could not be placed; she seemed unable to form a bond with anyone but them. But with them, she was charming; she teased them and made them laugh and took the younger children under her wing. How she came through her childhood so well-adjusted was beyond anyone’s understanding.
Elizabeth, in truth, could remember very little about her childhood; it was merely a bridge between birth and adulthood, where she had always wanted to be. She was smart and excelled in school, receiving scholarships with ease. She set about her adult life with a purpose not commonly seen among the young. She did whatever she wanted to do without fear. She sky dived, she walked alone in darkened alleys at night, and she ate unhealthy food. She had a sense that she would know when it was her time to die and it had not yet come.
At the tender age of 18 she made her first million, investing the money she had earned in after-school jobs on a shrewd business investment. She drifted aimlessly from job to job, her main occupation being perusing the stock pages and managing her investments. Some thought she was a business genius, others thought her uncommonly lucky. She knew not which she was; her methods were unusual, to say the least. Her first concern in any investment (and she fully owned that this was a private superstition and never revealed it to anyone) was that the company’s name contain the letters F and D. She knew not why, only that it must be. It had never failed her.
Her life seemed to be charmed. She was welcomed into the best social circles without application. She attended the best parties. Her opinions were sought on all manner of topics and she was considered exceedingly witty, exceedingly beautiful and exceedingly charming. Men and women alike clamored for her attentions and affections. Yet she held her heart and mind close to her and shared them with no one.
She had no serious boyfriends; she took lovers when it suited her and discarded them when it did not. She was not touched by jealousies or rivalries. She had never been spurned and so did not know the pain of heartbreak. Nor had she ever felt the throes of infatuation for a man. She felt detached, impenetrable. She had always felt so. In fact, she had always felt like she was holding her breath, waiting to exhale, waiting, waiting…
Her Jaguar tore along the dirt road at a reckless speed. She had no destination in mind, only to see where her impulses would take her. She slowed and took a side lane; the road was unpaved, rough and bumpy. Trees grew on either side forming a dark tunnel that at one time had probably been charming, but now felt oppressive to most. The road curved, rose and fell, undulated like a restless snake. It hypnotized her; she steered unconsciously, as if from long habit.
At the end of the road rose a tall sandstone mansion, its stateliness untarnished by the worn exterior, the haphazardly hanging shutters and the unkempt grounds. Slowly, she pulled onto the gravel before the house and switched off the ignition. As she gazed up at the house, she had the distinct impression that it was looking at her. She stepped out of the car and warily approached the steps leading to the entrance. She climbed the steps slowly, avoiding a crumbling stair, running her hand along the cool, rough granite balustrade. She stood before the closed door. For the first time that she could ever recall, she began to cry.
“Have you lost your mind?” Roger asked her. She shook her head. The purchase was complete. She had not consulted him. He was angry. “How could you do this without even talking to me about it?”
“Talk to you? About what? Who are you? You are nothing to me,” she said calmly. She stared out the window of her apartment in detached silence as he shouted at her. She did not listen. She did not hear him tell her that he was leaving her; it made no difference to her. She did not notice when he slammed the door behind him. She continued to look out the window.
She had purchased the sandstone mansion. There had been no choice, really. It had called to her and she had to answer.
Her realtor had been surprised. He had tried to discourage her (“The old Pemberley estate has a lot of problems; the heating is awful, the plumbing needs to be replaced and for God’s sake, the pond should be drained, it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!”) but she did not care. She told him that she wanted to convert it to a bed and breakfast but in truth she had formulated no such plan. She knew only that she belonged to the house as much as her arm belonged to her.
When her realtor paused in his laundry list of problems for a breath, she asked,
“Why was it abandoned?”
He sat back and looked thoughtfully at her. He didn’t want to tell her that the place had a bad reputation, a gloomy feeling that people seemed to dislike.
“Ah, well, it has been in a steady decline since the early 1800’s, I supposed it just became too much,” was what he told her. She nodded again.
“Shall we go take a look?” he asked her eagerly. She shook her head and lied that she had already seen the interior. Her first view of the interior would be a private, intimate moment, to be shared with no one else.
The local librarian was able to provide her with a more detailed history. The estate had been the primary residence of the Darcy family for many, many generations.
“The last person of the Darcy family to live there was Georgiana Darcy, who married Robert Franklin in 1813 and lived in the estate until her death in 1850. She did not have any children and she had been the only heir. I believe the Franklin family tried to hold it down for several years, but their fortune was not so great as it had been and it became troublesome to maintain,” the librarian told her.
Elizabeth learned that the Franklins sold the estate and it passed through various owners over the next 150 years. Each successive owner had made modernizing improvements but none had stayed more than a few years. The property declined, acres were sold off and the western wing fell into disrepair. The last owners, the Ashcombes, had given the place up entirely 50 years ago and it had been empty—lonely, Elizabeth thought-- ever since.
Darcy sat at his table in his private chamber, misery settled firmly in his chest. His hands held his head; the tedious business was done and he need never look at the damned letter again. But he must allow himself to write another, more sincere letter…
2 November 1812 My Dearest Elizabeth,
I know that I shall never endeavor to deliver this letter to you and so I will not ask forgiveness for the directness of my address. I have just written you to offer my congratulations on your recent marriage to Colonel Fitzwilliam. What a bitter task it was, to offer such insincere sentiments, indeed, to curse the very man who has been the means of ruining my happiness.
For though I had not the courage to tell you, my feelings and wishes are the same as last April. My admiration and love for you has but grown since that time. I confess that everything I have done in the last year has been with you, and you alone, in mind. Would that I had the knowledge that the Colonel had developed an affection for you in my absence, that he had courted you, how different my actions would have been.
It is all in vain. The Colonel is a good man, yet I must despise him as one who has that which I hold dearest. Oh, Lizzy, how I wish I could have made you see! Had you no knowledge of my intentions toward you? Or were they even then still so disgusting to you? No, I cannot believe that. You are too generous to hold such ill in your heart and I know that you saw that I attended your reproofs.
A man who loved you less might beg you to reconsider. But I cannot love you any less than I do. I can only remain silent and wish you every measure of happiness that he can bestow on you and that I cannot. But how I wish I had the courage to declare myself to you and to know if I was in your heart at all! Just to know, sweetest, that you had even a little love for me, would carry me through the rest of my miserable days.
Oh, how I curse the Colonel! He, and not I, will enjoy your charms and teases. He, and not I, will look into your lovely eyes every day and see your joys and sorrows and share in them. And, since this letter will never reach your own eyes, he, and not I, will enjoy the tastes and smells of your skin against his. He will know your visage every night and wake to you every morning. He will quicken your womb with his seed and share the delight of little Elizabeths. And I shall not.
Bitter, bitter days lie ahead. I hope only that I will endure and remain your loving and faithful,
He sat silently in the parlor. It was this room that had held his last moments of true joy. She had arrived so unexpectedly at Pemberley with her aunt and uncle and their company had been so delightful. How lovely her voice had been when she sang at the pianoforte! How his heart had swelled with love for her when she diverted Georgiana’s attention from Miss Bingley’s mention of Wickham! He could recall everything about that evening: what color she wore, how her curls danced about her face when she laughed, even the mistakes in her playing. That evening, anything had been possible. That evening, she had been his.
Chapters 3 and 4