11 December, 1812
Once again I find that I must write to you without the intent of your ever reading what I have written. My sentiments are too strong to contain within my breast; they will be expressed.
I love you. I love you more each day. You seem to flourish under my cousin’s care, as when I saw you just last week your cheeks were rosy and your smile bright. I confess I imagined that those blushes and smiles were meant for me. I did not fail to notice how becoming you looked in your new yellow frock. Do I dare dream that you know how I favor yellow? I know you will not deny me these small fantasies, you are far too generous.
The inspiration for this letter came from the most unexpected corner. Today I was in London with Georgiana, who prevailed upon me to visit the milliner’s with her. As I stood with disinterest, as I am sure you can imagine (for you must know how I detest such chores as choosing lace and buttons), my eyes fell upon a piece of brown velvet ribbon. It was the very color and warmth of your eyes. I purchased a small length and hold it now, smiling at the thought of your gaze.
And now, with such happy thoughts in my mind, I am reminded that those eyes are not to favor mine. That the warmth expressed in those rosy blushes, in those timid smiles, will never be turned to me. What sweet torture it was to see you such. You are generous to bestow such affection and yet cruel indeed to bestow it so often.
I know you cannot join me in my fervent wish that my dear cousin will meet an unfortunate accident! Ah, you know I jest; I flatter myself that you would appreciate my humor, had you had the chance to know me better. As I would have appreciated yours every day, forever.
But now my heart is too full of sadness to continue. Goodnight, sweetest. I will meet you in my dream, as we meet every night.
31 December, 1812
Let me be the first to wish you a happy and prosperous new year. Although this letter will never reach you, know that you are in my thoughts always.
I have good news; my sister Georgiana is to be married to an excellent gentleman named Robert Franklin. I am happy to say that not only is it a good match but it appears to be a love match. I would have her as happy as our friend Bingley.
I was most warmly welcomed by your own dear sister Jane over Christmas, having been invited to spend my holiday at Netherfield. Your sisters and your mother are all well. I was at least spared the indignity of meeting with Wickham, as they have now been transferred to the North. Jane is too generous, for Charles tells me that she has started sending all of her pin money to Lydia. Knowing her husband’s disposition, I have no doubt that Mrs. Wickham’s money is drunk before it is spent. But upon this, my dear, I shall say no more.
Your mother, Miss Catherine, and Miss Mary were all in high spirits as I am sure you can imagine. Your father spent a good deal of time in the library; I grew quite fond of him during our quiet refuges there.
And now this happy reverie must come to an end as I realize that I can never share these intimate observations with you. Indeed, I confess I spent most of my time at Netherfield imagining that you were there with me, only just in the next room or on one of your walks. With such deceptions of mind I was able to bear your family’s happiness quite cheerfully. But now it is at an end as I sit in my room and pen this letter, never to be read again.
Be assured that my love for you is unwavering and true.
6 January, 1813
Sweetest, I do not know what compels me to write these letters. I only know that they bring some release when my heart is aching or overflowing with my love for you. In these letters, at least, I am only a man who loves a woman with all his being.
I have thought of you constantly these past few days. I am ashamed of the lustful thoughts that seem to spring into my mind at every waking moment. Shall I tell you of them?
Shall I tell you how I can imagine you in my arms, as graceful as a nymph? Your figure has always been light and pleasing but more so in its most natural form. I know that your skin is soft under my fingertips and I know that your lips taste like warm honeysuckle. I know that your hair feels like silk in my hands and smells like apples.
I know what it is to have you lie beneath me, embracing me with the same ardor I possess for you. I know what it is to have your arms and legs twined around me and mine around you. I know what it is to lose myself completely in you and to hear my name on your lips as I fulfill your maiden wishes.
I know these things but you do not and that is the sad state of my life. For truly, you must understand, that the fulfillment of such fantasies requires another person present. It is quite enough to make a man lose all humor.
But, with good fortune and better weather, I shall see you in a few short weeks as I have business to attend and hope to impose upon your hospitality at that time. The extent of my imposition, or rather the extent of your hospitality, dare I hope, could restore some of my humor. If only I had the courage to make such an imposition and you to offer such hospitality.
9 March, 1813
My Dearest Lizzy,
It was a cruel blow indeed yesterday. I know that my cousin has every right to be proud and yet what bitterness it left in my mouth to make such congratulations to him. I know that you would never have allowed me to endure such pain had you but only known and that you will excuse my cutting my visit short in light of such circumstances. Please accept my sincere congratulations and wishes that the child growing within you were mine.
I do not think I can bear to return to you. These past few months I have struggled to sate my hunger for you with my frequent impositions on your hospitality. My boyish fantasies sustained me while you remained at least, to my self-deceived mind, within reach. But all that has changed. I cannot bear to see you so happy when it was not I who brought that light from within, that maternal joy, to you.
Can you not see it? Can you not see how your smile rends my flesh each time we meet? Can you not comprehend what slow tortures you inflict on me with every blush, every laugh, every impertinence? Do you not feel my gaze caress you? Can you not feel it each time I kiss you in my thoughts? Do you not feel the passion in your body that I feel each night when I dream? Do you receive your husband with pleasure as you receive me in my mind?
Oh, Lizzy, it is too much to be borne! To have lived without spirit or passion, to discover it only with you and then to have you snatched away by a twist of fate!
Once I felt that I could bear the shame to afford you the privilege of my suit; now I would bear any shame to receive the privilege of your gaze. I would degrade myself to love you, I would fall before you and beg that you allow me as your lover and disgrace my family, my name, and engender the enmity of my dearest cousin, my nearest relation, if only you would love me. I would brave the scorn of every strata of society, nay the very angels above, to receive your tender caress. And yet I could not dishonor you in that manner, I could not bear the shame that you would wear. Even if you would allow such liberties, and even if they could go undiscovered, I know you, dear Lizzy. You would be ashamed of your own actions and for that I could never forgive myself.
And so you see, love, I am in quite a bind. I love you so blindly, so fervently, that I cannot live without you. And yet I cannot live with you so near to me. I shame myself by coveting my cousins’ wife, I shame you by such thoughts, and I shame my cousin by my disguise. I am a shame and a disgrace to all men. I am a shame to God. Yet I gladly bear that shame, sweet Elizabeth, for the gentle kiss you bestowed on me yesterday as I said farewell. I will tell myself that it was a lover’s kiss and I will forget that your husband looked upon us with affection as you gave it. For the kiss I returned was a lover’s kiss, tempered only for your husband’s benefit.
I will end this letter with my prayer to Dear God in Heaven that He look kindly on me and end this sweet misery by striking me down but not by striking you from my soul.
Elizabeth was profoundly affected by these letters. She felt this man’s torment. He had never known that his love was returned.
Moreover, she identified with the other Elizabeth. Her letter had touched her heart in a way that she had never before experienced. She was not reading the letter from a long-dead person; she was reading a letter written by herself almost two hundred years ago. She did not subscribe to mystical ideas like reincarnation, yet she knew this to be true. This letter was from her own heart, her own old, world-weary soul. She recognized this to be the one universal truth in life: she had loved FD and FD had loved her. Whether that occurred contemporaneously was irrelevant.
After some time, she rose from the chair, shaken with the force of her grief. She returned to her bedroom and sat at her table. As she sat, she was overcome by memories that did not seem to be her own: a walk in a grove with a gentleman; a piano piece that she did not recognize but that seemed familiar; being called “Lizzy” when she had only ever been called “Beth.”
As she sat at the table, she dropped her head in her hands. She sat there for some time until a memory, or possibly a dream, took over her mind.
She was being tended by a lover with sandy brown hair and laughing blue eyes. Yet he was not who she desired. As she lay beneath him, she closed her eyes and envisioned dark, curly hair and somber green eyes. Never before had she taken such measures and never before had her response been so passionate. Her husband had no idea that she did not refer to him when she called “Fitzwilliam” in passion. And just as she knew by some divine instinct that they had conceived a child that night, she knew that in mind and spirit, if not in body, the child was Darcy’s.
She pulled out a pen and paper and began to write.
16 September, 20__
My Dearest Love,
I know not how this came to pass. Our lives have ended and begun anew and still we search.
It is not for me to say how events and lives are changed by the whims of fate. I only can say that since time began, I have loved you. Let us not dwell on events that tore us apart, as they were beyond our control. Let us instead reflect on what is the central and universal truth: I am yours and you are mine and so it shall be for eternity.
Take heart, dearest, that my love for you is ever faithful and strong. Know that I wish you to find peace for your soul. When the time is right, we will find each other again.
Your beloved, Elizabeth
She left the letter in the parlor near the piano.
Chapters 9 and 10