While Elizabeth forbore the temptation to read the remaining letters, she was compelled to discover more about this Elizabeth Bennett. She found that she had a sister Jane, who married a Mr. Charles Bingley. The prominent Bingley family had long ago moved away but some descendents had returned to Derbyshire. She hunted them down and paid them a visit. They were pleased by her interest in their family and especially by the possibility of a familial connection. She did not tell them that Bennett was her adopted name.
As she went through a box of old photographs, she came across a journal. She flipped the pages of the journal absently, not expecting to find anything of interest, until a slip of paper fell out. She read it in the dim light of the attic before slipping it into her pocket.
22 November 1812
I know you, as my dearest, most beloved sister, will hold my confidences close and betray this letter to none other. My despair is such that I cannot contain it and must pour it out on these pages. Please forgive me. I am sure I will be quite well after I have done with this letter and we need never speak of it again.
But first, let me assure you that I am well. My dear Colonel has been nothing but kindness and affection since our return to the North after the wedding. His family has settled a generous living on him and he seems well content to live out his retirement from the regiment. We have a delightful abode, though I confess the rain is much colder here than at home. He is as cheerful company as ever and, if he knew of this letter, I am sure he would convey his love to you.
It is supremely ungrateful of me to have such a warm and considerate husband and to feel the strength of sadness that dwells in my heart this day. But I fear I cannot bear the burden of this secret any longer and must impart it to you, who I know will honor my wishes for secrecy and discretion.
You will recall that last April, Mr. Darcy made an offer to me which I refused. Not long thereafter, my own dear Richard began his suit. As you know, I resisted the Colonel’s attentions for quite some time but, in the end, found myself harboring a true affection for him.
I know you will also recall my chance encounter with Mr. Darcy at Pemberley some months later. Can you recall my astonishment at how changed he was? He was so altered, so genial, that it was not to be believed. I had not considered that my rejection of his suit had caused him to improve his manners but his attentions were constant during those few days in Lambton. Indeed, I had found myself beginning to return his affections. But all hopes of his renewing those sentiments were dashed by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. For how could he align himself with such a family as would take in and make their own, one who had so grievously insulted him?
After Lydia’s elopement, I felt it best to secure myself to my dear Colonel if he would still have me. Lydia’s fortuitous marriage eased any doubts Richard may have had and I quickly accepted his proposal. At the time I genuinely believed that I would be content and happy with the arrangement. It was not until later that I learned of Mr. Darcy’s involvement in the affair from our Aunt Gardiner.
Last autumn, just after Mr. Bingley—my dear brother—made his offer of marriage to you, I began to know myself. I know you, and indeed mama as well, felt that I attended Mr. Darcy in order to allow you and Charles some moments of serenity during that hectic time. But I confess, I thought not only of you and dear Charles.
Although I had already accepted Richard’s offer of marriage, I found that I had feelings for Mr. Darcy. At first, I thought it was gratitude for all he did for poor Lydia. But does one’s heartbeat grow faster out of gratitude? Does one blush and forget what to say out of mere thankfulness? Does one eagerly await the arrival of somebody to whom one merely wishes to impart one’s appreciation?
No, Jane, one does not. I do not know when it began or how it happened but I had developed a deep and abiding love for Mr. Darcy. And I was promised to his own cousin! I believe you can imagine my guilt and mortification, which continues to this day. And yet, Mr. Darcy remains in my heart as strongly as ever.
I have just received a very warm letter from Mr. Darcy congratulating me on my fortunate marriage to his cousin and I can read it only with bitter tears. Oh, Jane, what have I done? To have ill-used my Richard and to have harbored such feelings for Mr. Darcy? I am a traitor to both. And it is I who must bear the pain of that treachery forever as I look daily upon Richard’s adoring face and wish that before me, instead, stood my dear Darcy.
Be assured, the violence of my affection for him shall never be known to any but you nor shall any opportunity to express such affection ever be taken. I know Mr. Darcy can have nothing but sisterly affection for me despite his prior proposal. Fear not, I will never dishonor Richard in any manner.
Thank you, Jane, for letting me pen this letter to you. Please forgive me for burdening you with this trouble but my heart feels lighter having told you. I know I can trust in your complete confidence and, while I would never presume to inhibit any communications betwixt yourself and your own excellent husband, I would hope that the particulars of this letter not be made known to him, as it can bring only pain.
Please, give Charles my love and know how very blessed you are to have made such a happy union.
Your loving Lizzy.
Fitzwilliam Darcy opened the double doors to the parlor, unconsciously straightening his cravat as he entered. 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.
Yes, he had definitely been here before. The sense of déjà vu was no longer a mere tease in his mind. He knew that Miss Bingley would implore him to encourage Miss Bennett to play for them. He recited his lines and watched in wonder as the scene played out before him. Yes, Miss Bennett would make a mistake just there. He failed to respond to Miss Bingley’s inquiry but it had no effect; the play continued uninterrupted. Finally, Miss Bingley let out a shrill titter and then, somehow, all was gone...
She slipped silently down the steps and approached the parlor doors. Inside she could hear muffled voices and, finally, a shrill titter. She flung open the doors. The room was dark and empty, just as she had left it.
Before him stood Elizabeth Bennett in a cotton night dress with her dark hair flowing over her shoulders, her toes peeking from beneath a ruffle. Darcy sat in mute amazement at the ghostly figure before him. Was he dreaming? Had he fallen asleep during Miss Bennett’s performance? Had they left him there, prone and humiliated, snoring in his chair? And if so, why was Miss Bennett here? Surely she would have returned to the inn?
“Miss Bennett?” he said. She looked about the room for a moment, his query seemingly unheard. She waved her hand over a fixture on the wall and the room was cast into brilliant light, blinding him…
Yet when she opened the doors, she could feel the thrum hanging in the air of an interrupted conversation. She felt as if all eyes in a room had turned to her, waiting, expecting her to do or say something. Slowly she lifted the lid of the piano. She ran a finger lightly over the keys, making no sound.
She looked around the room, holding her breath. She could feel it, a heaviness in the air. She put her fingers back to the keys and picked out two notes: F and D. She let the notes hang in the air for a moment, then turned back to the door. As she walked toward the doors, she heard a sound from the piano.
The notes E and B.
Her breath stuck in her chest. Elizabeth freely admitted that she could be prone to superstition; her lack of parents and her fortuitous discovery already bred in her a sense of fate and destiny. But was she prepared to believe in this? That she was presently engaged in a communication with something?
It had responded to her notes of F D by thrumming out her own initials. She was convinced that it was Fitzwilliam Darcy who was in this room with her. She dashed back up to her room and retrieved the remaining letters. She returned to the parlor, built a fire, and turned off the lights. Then, by the firelight, she read the remaining letters.
Darcy watched this woman who was in his parlor—or rather, the parlor that had been his—with incredulity. At last he understood. He recalled now what his last thoughts had been: he had remembered that evening in the parlor and his love for Elizabeth.
Was this she? How could it be? Could they reach across time and space to find each other again?
He watched as she went to the piano and plucked out two notes. F and D. He felt sure that she knew who he was. She had not heard him call her name, she could not see him; would he be able to communicate with her?
He went to the piano and pressed out E and B. She had turned to the piano in surprise and then fled the room. He sat at the piano bench wondering how he could reach her.
She returned moments later, lit a fire, extinguished that blazing light and sat in a chair. He approached her and sat across from her. She was reading his letters—those letters that were never intended to be read!
At first his mortification was acute; of course, he then realized his situation. If she was his Elizabeth, somehow here and now, then he wanted her to read these letters. He sat in the chair and watched her face as she read the letters and wept.
Chapters 7 and 8