Part Two: Owing Something
If you missed it, the first part of this tale is here http://austenvariations.com/autumn-gone-awry/
“So tell me about her.” Darcy jerked his head around to find his cousin, Viscount Saye, studying him carefully, an air of eager anticipation about him.
“The lady sitting with my Lillian.” Saye gestured at a group of ladies across the drawing room in which they stood.
They were all at Lady Gilchrist’s soiree, enjoying what bit of society there was to be had in London at such a time of year. To her credit, their hostess had managed to rouse up quite a party, with nearly two hundred people assembled to celebrate the harvests which had occurred at their far-off estates.
“I know her,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam who had only just that moment arrived to join them. “Her name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Or at least it was; I knew her some years ago, she is likely married by now.”
“Ah! Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” Saye nodded with satisfaction. “Yes, I have heard Lillian speak of her, often enough to know that indeed she is not married.”
Darcy prayed that the jolt of happy satisfaction this news afforded him was not writ all over his countenance. Then again, what did it signify? She would never be his wife so in that light it was uncharitable of him to delight in her single state. He should wish her married, for her sake.
“You should give it a go,” Saye urged his brother. “She is pretty and—”
“And poor,” Darcy said in a louder voice than he intended. He cleared his throat to make it seem his tone had been the result of some obstruction therein. “That is to say, she has no fortune and her father’s estate—”
“Someone left her some money,” Saye informed them. “Some distant relation, both childless and charmingly ancient departed their mortal coil just in time to afford Miss Bennet a bit to fill her purse.”
“How much?” Fitzwilliam asked, and Darcy was mightily grateful for he should never have asked it himself.
“Erm.” Saye looked pensive a moment. “I daresay it was ten thousand pounds? Not enough to keep her in too much style but a pretty sum. The frugal sort could survive on it, I believe.”
“And speaking of fortune,” Fitzwilliam turned his attention from the ladies to his cousin. “What did you think of your meeting with Addiscombe?”
A wince and a frown was Darcy’s only response. Dash Fitzwilliam if he thought he would like to bandy about his financial difficulties in the midst of a soiree!
He had come to regard autumn as a singularly unlucky time of year for him. Indeed unlucky hardly described it but he knew not a word which would describe heartbreak, financial ruin and overall despair in a better way. Even now he reviewed it in his mind. Autumn 1811: the year he met Elizabeth and in one particularly unfortunate alliance of ill humour and indiscretion, he managed to make her hate him. Autumn 1812: the year he realised they could never marry. Autumn 1813: the year he lost enough of his fortune to poor investments to force him to retrench.
So far, by comparison, the autumn of 1814 had been sublime in that he suffered no significant tragedies. Of course, he reminded himself, over a month remained until the winter solstice. Anything could happen, really.
Addiscombe, the man mentioned by Fitzwilliam, was an advisor of sorts. A banker, he had aided several prominent families in extracting themselves from debt or increasing already substantial fortunes. He had been useful to Darcy but now was not the time to discuss it. Fitzwilliam realised it too and offered a small penitent smile.
“Shall we go to them?”
“No,” said Darcy just as Fitzwilliam drained his drink and said, “Of course!”
Saye looked at both of them strangely.
Darcy cleared his throat. It seemed there was nothing for it now and in any case, no doubt he was nothing more than a long-forgotten friend to her. “I meant to say, no sense standing here like dullards. Let us join them.”
Elizabeth drew a deep breath, watching him approach. This was it, the moment she had awaited.
With Jane married to Mr Bingley, she had never been in want of news of him. Though Bingley did not often see Mr Darcy, they had between them mutual acquaintances enough to hear the news of one another. Mr Darcy had suffered difficult times in the two years since they last met. She knew not exactly how it had happened, but a rather large sum was lost, thanks to the sinking of a cargo ship in which he held substantial interest. There were other things as well, investments that went sour and the like but unlike many, he did not turn to drink or gambling to console himself. No, he did as he would, silently retrenching and going about his business with honour and probity.
It was this, the sense of his fairness in the face of so much injustice that rankled within her. He had done so much for her family! For Lydia and Wickham, the least deserving people she knew!
Since that fateful time two years past she had dedicated much time to comprehending why he had done it, with no satisfactory result. Her heart had once whispered that he did it for her; however, being that he had disappeared from her life shortly thereafter, she had decided that must not be the case. For Wickham, she decided, because boyhood bonds would never be broken.
Nevertheless, it had all redounded to Lydia’s benefit and the Bennet family. She still, at times, woke from dreams in which they were ruined, dreams where she and Jane worked as governesses or her mother begged in the streets. Dreams where her father fought Wickham and died, dreams of whatever disaster her mind could conjure. It seemed it would never end and she determined that her guilt, her sense of debt towards him, must be the cause.
Then one day came the news that some old uncle on her father’s side had died, leaving a sum of money that Mr Bennet was to grant onto one of his daughters. Mrs Bennet had thought this excessively unfair and campaigned loudly on behalf of Lydia’s share of the windfall. This, Mr Bennet, would only reply to with a disgusted tweak of his brow.
No, it was for Elizabeth, no matter how she protested against it. The terms of the will — and the agreement of the gentlemen — was such that one daughter should be given the princely sum of ten thousand pounds.
It sat ill with her until revelation came upon her one afternoon while she walked the very path she walked when she learnt of Mr Darcy’s involvement in Lydia’s marriage. Pay him back.
The first time she considered it, she decided it could not be done. The second time, her mind was less confident. By the third and fourth considerations, she had begun to contrive ways in which it might be done, and shortly thereafter she conceived a plan.
Therefore was she in London and therefore was she ingratiating herself among the Quality. She had Caroline Bingley, recently engaged and eager to show herself about the ton, to lead her and she surrendered willingly to her guidance, all in hopes of someday seeing him.
This was to be the day it seemed.
Her eyes swept over him as he walked towards her. Thinner, to be sure, but just as handsome as she remembered if not more. Her heart pounded to see him — undoubtedly this was the measure of love such that time could not diminish nor tarnish it! She ached to see the worried creases around his mouth and eyes, the shadows that suggested sleepless nights.
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Was her smile too broad? Her joy in seeing him too evident? “Mr Darcy. How good it is to see you again.”
“And you as well.”
There were introductions to be made then and greetings to bestow. Elizabeth could at last know Miss Goddard’s beloved, Lord Saye. She had expected someone with an exuberant character, and she was not disappointed. Lord Saye was filled with conversation, somehow managing to speak even while drinking and eating.
“’Tis a gift,” he explained. “I learnt at an early age to speak with my mouth full without emitting crumbs on my dining companions.”
“Or so you think,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam drily while brushing something from his chest. “Those of us who boast many years experience in sitting near you might say otherwise.”
Throughout Mr Darcy was mostly silent, as was his custom. She found, as in days long past, that his eyes were frequently upon her and it made her smile a small secret grin. She had at least this much power remaining to her credit.
When Saye had at last diverted his attention toward making love to his lady, and Colonel Fitzwilliam had wandered off to take a turn about the room with someone who took his fancy, she spoke to Mr Darcy.
“Sir, for a dear friend as you have been, we have seen very little of you. I daresay your horse has likely forgot the lane to Netherfield.”
He smiled. “You think too little of him. He is a very smart horse. In any case, no-one is at Netherfield now are they?”
She smiled back at him. “We are in Town now but intend to be soon in Bath.”
“Oh? How soon shall you go?”
“The day after tomorrow,” she said. Then, with her heart drumming a fierce staccato in her chest, she said, “I wonder if I might prevail upon you to call on me at Bingley’s house.”
“Of course,” he agreed, his confusion apparent on his countenance. “I should be honoured.”
“I have something that I would like to give you.”
“Oh? A gift?” he teased gently.
“No,” she said. “Something which belongs to you is rightly yours. I must return it.”
Still bemused, he nodded and so it was set.
Look for the 3rd and final installment of this story in 2 weeks 🙂 Thank you for your comments below I love to hear from all of you!
Photo credit for Austen in Autumn banner: Paul Lakin – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Autumn_in_England#/media/File:Almost_Autumn,_Cottingham_Park_IMG_8214_-_panoramio.jpg