|Colonel Fitzwilliam Interferes - Chapter 3|
| Colonel Fitzwilliam left for London the next day with the promise that Elizabeth would soon follow to begin arranging her wedding trousseau. She was also to meet his mother and father, and together they would all set the date of the wedding. Fitzwilliam hoped to have the wedding in mid-May, before he had to rejoin his regiment in the north. Elizabeth had at first seemed tentative about such a short engagement, but had soon agreed to its logic. Things were almost ready; there was just one thing that still weighed on Fitzwilliam's mind.
He had noticed Darcy's strange mood when he had last been in town, but had been so caught up in his own emotions that he had barely cared. Now he felt guilty for being so callous, especially if his cousin were envious of his situation with Elizabeth. Darcy had certainly reacted very strongly when told of the engagement. Though he was steadfast in his plan to marry Elizabeth, he did not wish to cause his cousin pain, and if Darcy did not wish to stand up for him at the wedding, he would certainly understand. With trepidation, he rang the bell of Darcy's townhouse.
"Hello sir!" welcomed the butler. "Is Mr. Darcy expecting you?"
"No, this is a spontaneous call," Fitzwilliam replied. "Is he available?"
"I believe you will find him in the library sir. Shall I announce you?"
"No, thank you Reid, I shall announce myself." The butler nodded and left Fitzwilliam to fend for himself. He entered the library directly without knocking. "Darcy!" he cried out to the form that was hunched over at the desk busily writing. Darcy stood and whirled around.
"Fitzwilliam! What are you doing here?" he asked with a tired voice that matched his haggard face.
"I have come to speak to you. Good God, you look like the devil! What have you been doing to yourself?"
"Nothing… I have had a good deal of estate business, that is all." Fitzwilliam knew his cousin well enough to realize that when Darcy threw himself into his work, there was a deeper trouble to blame. I wonder if this is because of me... or rather, Elizabeth. I suppose I should just go to it.
"Darcy," Fitzwilliam said with a sigh, "I asked you this when we were still at Rosings, but you never answered me and just ran back to town. It is important for me to know: do you have feelings for Elizabeth Bennet?" Darcy stiffened at this unexpected question.
"Does it matter? Are you afraid of competition?" he asked lightly, hoping to keep his cousin at bay. Fitzwilliam persisted.
"It matters. Tell me," he replied firmly. Darcy sighed in a way that suggested irritation rather than sadness.
"I may have perhaps had a passing attraction for Miss Bennet," he admitted. "But it was trifling, and is quite done, I assure you." It was a lie, but both of them wanted so badly to believe it that they both pretended that they did.
"Then you will still stand up for me at the wedding?"
"Of course Fitzwilliam. I wouldn't miss it," Darcy replied, shaking his cousin's hand with a forced smile. "When do you plan to marry?"
"I hope by the third week of May." Darcy started.
"I'm afraid I must return to my regiment the first of June, and I certainly wish to be married before then. My father is to obtain a special license."
"I see," Darcy replied pensively. He had not counted on losing Elizabeth so soon. Not that she has ever been mine... "And where will you live?" Fitzwilliam furrowed his brow.
"That is uncertain as of yet. We certainly cannot live in the barracks, but I don't know what else is currently available." You are marrying her and cannot even put a roof over her head?! Bad form Fitzwilliam! I could give her Pemberley….
"Is the encampment still in ----?"
"I will make inquiries and see what I can find." Fitzwilliam's eyes brightened.
"Thank you Darcy! That is very good of you." Darcy waved him off, and they moved on to other subjects.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth arrived in London with more than a little trepidation. She was to meet Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents on only her second day in town, and as one does not meet an earl and his wife everyday, particularly when one was soon to be their daughter, she was a bit nervous. Jane, who had accompanied her, attempted to calm her as best she could, but nothing was as soothing to Elizabeth as the discovery that Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam were nothing at all like his lordship's formidable sister, and were exceedingly friendly and welcoming of her. Lady Fitzwilliam was especially impressed with her son's good taste, and began to see why he gave up marrying for fortune in favor of a marriage of obvious affection. After getting acquainted over an excellent dinner, the business of the wedding took over conversation. It was decided that they would be married from Longbourn on the 14th of May and tour the Lakes before returning to Fitzwilliam's regiment.
When Fitzwilliam returned Elizabeth to her uncle's that evening, she was feeling much better than she had before. She even felt that she was truly falling in love with her husband-to-be, which gave her great comfort. He stayed to chat briefly with her aunt and uncle, who discreetly left them a few minutes alone when he took his leave.
"I can hardly believe my good fortune," he said as he stroked her cheek. "In only a few weeks you shall be mine." She smiled up at him with true affection, inducing him to lean down and kiss her ardently. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing back with more eagerness than she had ever done. Fitzwilliam liked the change, and took it as encouragement to run his fingers along her arms in a tender caress. He at last pulled away for the sake of his composure. "I do so love you Elizabeth," he whispered.
Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and replied, "I love you too Richard." His joy at hearing her say those words at last was overflowing, and he could not control the impulse to pick her up and spin her around with glee. Her delightful laughter filled his ears and his heart, and he knew that he would be happy for the rest of his life.
The following day, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam were to dine at Darcy's house accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Jane. Elizabeth was hardly satisfied by this, for although she was no longer deceived by Wickham's tale, she did still think Mr. Darcy to be a most proud and disagreeable man. Jane did not say much at all, but her anxiety over meeting with Mr. Bingley's friend was evident.
Darcy, meanwhile, was still wondering why in the world he had invited his cousin to dine with him, his fiancée's entire family in tow. He would not only have to suffer through seeing his cousin and Elizabeth, but also have to spend an evening with Elizabeth's relations from Cheapside. Shaking his head at his folly, he nonetheless realized that he could not take back the invitation, and so awaited them in dread until the bell rang to announce their arrival.
Their reception was just as Elizabeth had expected; Darcy was formal, of few words, and just as polite as the situation required but no more. He managed to hide his distaste at having his house so polluted by residents of Cheapside, but Elizabeth could tell he was uncomfortable by his aloof manner of address. All this only served to strengthen her opinion of him as the most unpleasant man of her acquaintance.
It was true that Darcy began the dinner determined to think ill of the Gardiners, but found himself enjoying Mr. Gardiner's lively conversation and obvious intelligence and taste. They spoke of common interests such as fishing, and he found that for a city-dweller, Mr. Gardiner was very knowledgable on the subject. By the time the gentlemen had retired for port, Darcy was quite pleased with the opportunity to speak more with Elizabeth's uncle. He was most displeased, however, with what he saw in Jane. Even he could not deny that she looked pale and tired as if she had seen great disappointment. His conscience began to nag at him when he considered that perhaps she was as broken-hearted as Bingley, and that he had been wrong to separate them. He quickly disregarded the thought, however, for no matter how pleasant her aunt and uncle may be, Mrs. Bennet was still reason enough to keep Bingley away from Jane for good.
Though happy that Darcy seemed to accept her uncle despite his lowly station, Elizabeth was still bristling over his obvious discomfort each time he looked at Jane. It reminded her that he was at fault for breaking Jane's heart, and this offense magnified every other one that she perceived in him. By the time the gentlemen returned, her temper was so raging that she asked Fitzwilliam to speak with her privately to vent her anger.
As he looked around the room telling himself over and over again NOT to stare at Elizabeth, his eyes came to rest on that lady speaking to his cousin in what looked to be a very agitated manner. He knew that if he stood near the doorway of the next room, he would be able to hear what they were saying, but of course, this was highly improper. He tried to focus his attention on other things, but eventually his curiosity got the better of him, and he excused himself on the premise of fetching a book on fishing from the library. He hastily grabbed the book, then went to listen in on Elizabeth's conversation.
"I know he is your cousin, Richard, and I am sorry, but everytime I have met him, his behavior has only confirmed my dislike of him." Darcy started. Was she speaking of him?
"Come, Elizabeth, Darcy is not as bad as you make him out to be," Richard replied. "He is just very reserved, and uncomfortable in social situations." Yes, yes, defend me Fitzwilliam! Elizabeth gave a short, bitter laugh.
"That may be true, but it is no excuse for the way he treats people. Did you know that before we were even introduced, he insulted me? Let us see, what were his exact words… ah yes, 'She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.' And this was in response to Mr. Bingley simply suggesting that he ask me to dance as I was without a partner." Darcy cringed, realizing that she had in fact heard him that night at the assembly. "And speaking of Mr. Bingley, how can I not hate the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister? You told me yourself that he took pride in having done it!" Darcy's eyes widened with fury; Fitzwilliam had told Elizabeth of his interference? "And then there is his pride… I don't think I have ever met a man who is more conceited and with such a selfish disdain for the feelings of others!" Elizabeth's voice was soft, but impassioned, and he could almost see her fine eyes blazing with anger as she spoke.
"I am very sorry that he has given you that impression. I promise you, Darcy is really a very generous, gentlemanly man."
"Ha! If he is such a gentleman, he should not have behaved in such an ungentlemanlike manner on so many occasions!" Elizabeth had more to say, but he did not hear the rest of her words; the ones she had already spoken had cut him to the core. Did she really think so poorly of him? Elizabeth, the woman he admired so ardently, seemed to absolutely despise him! A pain greater than he had ever felt, greater even that at the news of his cousin's engagement, seared his heart like a hot poker. The emotions were too much for him; he rushed back into the drawing room and thrust the book into Mr. Gardiner's hands, then excused himself claiming a matter of urgent business. He told Fitzwilliam to take over hosting duties, and said he would return as soon as possible. The moment he stepped into the library, he broke down, torn apart by the realization that even if his cousin had not gotten there first, Elizabeth would never had been his.