Mr. Darcy Faces his Ghosts :
A tale in three parts by Renée, Roya and Lisa L
Mr. Darcy had too much to drink to begin with. There was no doubt whatsoever about it. The brandy decanter that the butler filled when he had retired to his study was empty as was his snifter. Darcy knew very well that he had consumed too much and, truth be told, it had not helped one bit to make him feel better.
This Christmas Eve in the company of Georgiana, Bingley, Miss Bingley and the Hursts had been the absolute low point of a disastrous year. In spite of Georgiana's efforts to create an enchanting Christmas atmosphere, replete with beautiful decorations, a lavish dinner and the determined cheerfulness of the company, Darcy could not enjoy himself and he was unconcerned that his mood infected the entire atmosphere. All the gifts, refined dishes, exquisite wines, intelligent conversations -- apart from the Bingley sisters' insipid contributions -- and the kindness which his sister and his friend Charles Bingley bestowed on him could neither chase his black thoughts away nor fill the bitter emptiness in his heart. Shortly after the party exchanged the dining room for the music room to hear Georgiana play the pianoforte, Darcy excused himself. He retired to his study under the pretence that duty called, whilst the truth of the matter was that he wished to spend the rest of the evening alone with his thoughts. Normally ever careful of his role as host, he had noticed the astonished looks on his guests' faces when he rather unceremoniously quitted the party, but he simply could not bring himself to care.
Darcy did not miss the disappointed look in his sister's eyes when he left so soon after her performance and his heart shrank for her. He was well aware of the fact that he had failed in his duties as her brother and guardian these last months, but this knowledge only added to his melancholy disposition. How much longer must I bear her sad expression and the inquisitive glances she casts upon me? Darcy thought, I know it is not fair to keep her in the dark. She senses that there is something wrong with me. She is not a fool. But I cannot tell her that the offer of my hand was rejected. My humiliation, my shame would be complete and the indignation which undoubtedly would be her reaction, unbearable. Besides, am I not entitled to some solitude and private reflections?
Shortly after he had entered his study and seated himself behind his desk, he heard a knock on the door and Georgiana's voice asking: "May I come in, Brother?"
"Of course, my dear, please do." he responded, attempting to hide his impatience with the interruption.
She strode towards him, mustered up her courage and came straight to the point: "Pray, Brother, why did you leave your guests so soon? It pains me to see you spending the remainder of Christmas Eve all alone, here in your study. Cannot you tell me what the matter is? You have been in this state of apparent anguish for months now and I quite despair. This evening you scarce spoke one word! It is so distressing."
"I apologise, Georgiana, but..." Darcy momentarily considered unburdening himself to Georgiana, but dismissed the notion yet again. "There is nothing the matter with me. It is just that..., well, I..., I have urgent business to attend to that cannot be delayed." "Nothing the matter with you? Oh, Brother, why is it then that you are so dismal?" she riposted while walking behind him, lovingly putting her arms around his neck and resting her chin on his head. "I know I must not argue with you, since you always speak the absolute truth, but it is so hard to imagine that you have business to attend to on Christmas Eve. Why do not you confide in me? I am not a child anymore!" Georgiana cried in desolation. For months she had attempted to make her brother open his heart to her, but he would not.
"No, Georgiana, I thank you to leave me now, I have business which demands my attention and wish to retire early, and I am rather tired." Darcy responded rather impatiently, "Return to our guests, my dear, and pray do not concern yourself with my state." Thereupon, Darcy turned his head and kissed his sister on the cheek.
"Very well, then, Brother," Georgiana replied stung, "I should indeed return, for I am the hostess, am I not?" She hesitated before making one last effort, "I cannot stay away from our guests too long, but I so wish you would change your mind. I loathe leaving you here all alone."
"Indeed you cannot stay away too long, Georgiana. Go now, my dear, I am quite alright." And he gave her a smile that did little to reassure her as it did not touch his eyes.
Looking at the piles of letters waiting to be answered, Darcy sighed. Although he had not been completely honest when he gave the excuse of business to which he must attend, he determined that to distract his mind from his gloomy thoughts he would go through his correspondence and reluctantly took the letter on top of one of the piles.
As he was about to break the seal, he noticed that it was no ordinary letter he held in his hand. How odd! This letter cannot have been sent recently. He pondered confused. The letter appeared to be very old. It was yellowed and stained with moisture. When Darcy held it under his nose to sniff it he detected a faint smell of fungus and earth. Perchance a letter emerged from the grave? He wondered amused and intrigued at the same time. Looking at the address, he noticed that the ink had faded due to the humidity to which the letter obviously had been exposed and thus, the name of the addressee was barely legible. 'To Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy', Darcy deciphered. He was unfamiliar with the crest on the seal and there was no reference to the sender that he could see.
Even though his curiosity was piqued, Darcy did not open it immediately. Toying with the mysterious letter in his hand and absentmindedly observing it, he thought back to his letter to Elizabeth. His honour had demanded that he defend himself. Did the letter make her think better of him? He desperately wished to know, but how? Every single day he thought of their almost-encounter at Pemberley. He remembered the shock he felt when, looking from the window of his dressing room he saw her walking at a leisurely pace, obviously enjoying her surroundings, laughing and talking with two strangers. His pride dictated that he not go out to meet her, but rather remain inside, watching in astonishment that she was there on his grounds. And he stood there behind the window, pinned to the spot, suffering, longing...yet still angry.
After she had left, not a day went by that he did not speculate on what could have happened had he chosen to go out and face her. You are a damn fool, Darcy, a fool and, if you are honest with yourself, a coward! He fulminated. Whatever she may have said, you would have been delivered of some sort of certainty. At least you would have known whether your letter would have made her think better of you or not...However, you were afraid to hear she did not care about your letter, that it did not move her.
He stood up and walked to one of the windows looking out on the square. It was a dark, foggy, cold night; a night that reflected Darcy's mood admirably. Apart from a few children singing Christmas carols and a chestnut vendor stamping his feet in the snow and warming his hands above his smouldering chestnuts in an attempt to chase the cold from his body, all Londoners who dared defy the bad weather earlier that evening had undoubtedly rushed home to bask in the warmth of their loved ones on this Christmas Eve.
Darcy reviewed the infamous evening at Hunsford parsonage in his mind and, as so often happened, he was filled with anger. He clenched his fists. He still could not really accept why she refused him. If she had accepted his hand as she was expected to do, she would have been seated next to him, this Christmas Eve, as his wife, as Mrs. Darcy. However it was not to be: Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the woman who had dominated his thoughts almost from the very beginning of their acquaintance, was forever lost to him. Nine months ago she had rejected the offer of his hand in no uncertain terms. The refrains were sheer torture, but he could not prevent her severe reproofs towards his person from ringing in his ears From the first moment I may almost say of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others...In vain he attempted to vanquish her cruel rejection from his mind ...you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry...
For all these long months following her rejection he had felt miserable and wallowed in his self-righteous anger with her. What was wrong with her? Why had not she seen my proposal as the greatest honour one of my station could bestow upon her, as every other woman of my acquaintance would have? He recalled his perplexity when he learned her disapproving opinion of him. He could not fathom it! Admittedly, he fully comprehended that she believed George Wickham's falsehoods. Why should she not? She did not know Wickham as well as he did. That cunning scoundrel with his engaging manners had thrown dust in the eyes of many a trusting person, his own good father for one.
However, her indignation with regards to her sister and Mr. Bingley was beyond him. Yes, he had prevented Bingley from making a most imprudent match, but had that broken Miss Bennet's heart? He most strongly doubted that. They had been acquainted but a few weeks, and during that period of time he had not perceived any particular regard in Miss Jane Bennet's countenance for his friend. Convinced of his own discerning abilities, he remained convinced that Elizabeth was wrong. Truth be told, Miss Bennet had received Bingley's attentions with pleasure, but nothing in her demeanour revealed that her heart was likely to be easily touched. Indeed he could not have been mistaken, quite impossible. I, Fitzwilliam Darcy, the cause of their misery? Humbug! To them I have been kinder than to myself Darcy sullenly mused and unconsciously shook his head, remembering with a shudder that had she accepted him he would now be forced into socializing with her family and enduring their total want of propriety in his own home. That at least was something to be thankful for, even if he otherwise regretted Elizabeth's refusal, and her disdain for him and his actions. He was doomed, doomed to lead a life without her, a loveless lonely life in which the only comfort he might find from time to time would likely be in the arms of a widow as lonely as he. But what miserable consolation that would be! Each time, he imagined, when he sought to fill the void in his heart, the emptiness following any ephemerally pleasant physical sensation would be well nigh unbearable. He longed for real, genuine love, but knew that that kind of happiness would not be granted to him, because she was too blind to love him.
Darcy shivered. It was cold in his study and dark. The fire in the hearth was almost extinguished and there was but one candle left burning on his desk. He ordered a footman to stir up the fire, light a few extra candles and refill his decanter.
Taking a sip and feeling the strong liquid warm his cold body, Darcy realised that he had yet to open and read the mysterious letter. He seated himself in an easy chair before the fire and carefully broke the tarnished wax that formed the seal. When he unfolded the paper, a faint perfume of lavender mixed with the predominant smell of moisture and fungus. The text was written in an old-fashioned, but highly elegant hand:
Tonight is the night, dear Nephew. It is my duty to warn you and I do so through this letter. As you have yet a chance of escaping a fate of lost opportunities, and thus a life of loneliness and unhappiness, three visions will visit you as of tonight. As soon as you have finished reading this letter you must burn it in the hearth in order for the first ghost to make his appearance. Do not fear, it is the ghost of a person you respected and dearly loved. He will show you some events of the past. When you have burned the letter my task will be fulfilled.
Remember, Fitzwilliam, your entire future happiness depends on these three spectres. Let them show you the way.
Yours very sincerely,
This is most peculiar. Who is this Lady Henrietta who claims to be a relation? I, her nephew? I have never known an aunt by that name. And what does this all mean? Ghosts who will visit me? What nonsense is that? That cannot be! I must be dreaming. Darcy pondered confused, looking into his brandy glass with furrowed eyebrows, wondering whether the cognac had caused a delirium of some kind. And, in heaven's name, what does she mean by 'your future happiness will depend on three spectres'? Bewildered and not a little annoyed, Darcy rose from his chair, pacing the room with a slightly unsteady step. Stopping in front of the hearth he let himself be hypnotised by the dancing flames and, all of a sudden, through the crackling sound of the burning wood, Darcy thought he heard a voice whisper: "The letter, Fitzwilliam, the letter, do as your aunt Henrietta told you to do!"
Taken aback, Darcy incredulously cried out loud: "Am I imagining things? I believe I heard the voice of my father speaking!
"You heard correctly, my son, it is I, but what are you waiting for? Into the flames with the letter, boy!" spoke the voice.
Recalling the words of Lady Henrietta, he cast a last glance at the letter in his hand and threw it into the hearth.
As soon as the letter had gone up in flames, Darcy saw the contours of a man emerging from the fire and, feeling a draught pass alongside his body, he noticed that the phantom had seated himself in one of the armchairs by the fireplace. "Come sit opposite your father, Fitzwilliam." Darcy heard the ghost speak.
"Father? Is it... is that really you? How... how is this possible?" Darcy asked standing rooted to the spot, watching the ghost in disbelief and bewilderment. It was indeed a transparent image of his father, impeccably attired as had been his wont, although he now wore a heavy chain attached to his leg.
"Again, yes, Fitzwilliam, it is I." replied the ghost with a smile that betrayed a mélange of emotions amongst which tenderness, regret and poignancy were the most obvious.
"But how is that possible?"
"I wish I could answer that question, dear boy, but I cannot. There are more things between heaven and earth that we simple men -- even when dead -- cannot explain. The fact remains that I am here and there is a reason for that."
"Can I touch you?"
"No, you cannot, Fitzwilliam, I am dead and gone and have no corporeal existence. However, we can communicate through speech, as you see."
"Why have you come?" Darcy asked with a muffled voice.
"There are two reasons for my appearance here tonight. First, I want you to know how very proud I am of you of the way you took my place as Master of Pemberley. Admittedly, I expected nothing less, but I am most pleased that you have lived up to my expectations and beyond. The manner in which you care for little Georgiana is my greatest joy."
"Thank you, Father, I try my best to live up to the good principles that you taught me." replied Darcy, affected by his father's praise.
"Ah! Principles, you say! That is precisely what brings me to the second reason for my appearance tonight. Indeed I taught you good principles but I made a terrible mistake by teaching you at the same time to care for none beyond our own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world. Thus, because of my doing, you have made a number of blunders this past year that caused your own unhappiness as well as that of others."
"I beg your pardon, to which blunders exactly do you refer?" Darcy asked indignantly.
"I would not think that I need to spell it out for you, Fitzwilliam. However, if you insist: I refer particularly to your interference with your friend Bingley's courtship and your proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. However, let us leave those for the moment and not run ahead of things. It is my task to make amends and help secure your future happiness. To achieve that goal, I intend to show you the biggest mistake of my life, and I do not mean my misjudgement of George Wickham." his father said with a wink. "I am going to take you with me to an event in the past; a Christmas celebration at your aunt Henrietta's."
Thereupon the ghost of his father rose from his chair and bade Darcy follow him. When they quitted the study, Darcy did not find himself in the corridor of his London townhouse, but in the drawing room of a country cottage he had never seen before. The atmosphere in the room was magical; it was bathed in the golden glow of a crystal chandelier, and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree lighted by tiny candles graced one corner of the room. The furniture was elegant, albeit simple. The wooden floor was adorned with an exquisite Persian carpet and the walls with delicate miniatures and refined landscape paintings. Above the mantelpiece a mirror in a charmingly ornamented frame gave a lovely reflection of the modest, but pretty collection that revealed good taste and elegance. In front of the fireplace, two beagles slept on their rug and a cat stretched out in one of the window frames, lazily licking its paw. Children's voices were exclaiming their joy and enchantment with the packages under the tree. A handsome couple in their thirties, arms wrapped around each other's waists, cast loving glances at each other and the children, expressing their happiness with the gifts.
Darcy was enthralled by the scene before him. It brought back the sweet memories of Christmas celebrations with his mother and father, and his countenance betrayed a feeling of regret for things that belonged to the past and would never return.
"The woman is your aunt Henrietta, Fitzwilliam, your mother's youngest sister and standing next to her is her husband. They are watching their children enjoy themselves. I am ashamed to admit that you never made the family's acquaintance, because of our own family's mistaken pride and prejudice."
Still not yet comprehending why he was there, Darcy asked his father to explain himself.
"Listen carefully to the discussion between your aunt and her husband, Fitzwilliam, and you will know. And do not worry, they can neither see nor hear you."
"Oh, my love, what a wonderful Christmas Eve this is." Darcy heard his aunt say. "The children are so happy. Everything looks so perfect, except..."
"Except what, my treasure? What is the matter? Are you unwell?" Darcy heard her husband asking, tenderly stroking his wife's back.
"No, dear Husband, I am quite well, but on occasions like these I miss my family very much. I love them, in spite of how horribly they have behaved. I dearly wish they could accept our marriage and share in our happiness. If only they could see what a wonderful husband and father you are!" cried Henrietta.
"You married beneath your station, my dearest wife. As your father's steward I came to you: a man without money or connections. By choosing me as your husband, you disgraced your family in their view. We have done everything in our power to alter their opinions about my suitability as your husband, but our attempts have been fruitless. We must accept that they will neither receive us nor will they know our children. I feel as badly about it as you do, my love."
Darcy was shocked by this disclosure and, looking quizzically at his father, asked. "Did you never make amends?"
"No, my son, I did not and neither did your grandparents, your mother, Lord Matlock nor Lady Catherine. I know now how wrong we were and I will regret it for eternity. I am forced to wear this heavy chain attached to my leg to remind me forever of the burden of prejudice and inappropriate pride of the family of which I was part. These two people loved each other devotedly and your aunt willingly gave up everything she was brought up with and taught to value for this love. As a consequence she lived her life in relative poverty. Instead of being proud of the choices she made, proud of her courage to follow her heart, we despised her and shunned her. By acting accordingly, we not only deprived her of the family she loved, but we denied her husband the respect due him as a good and honest man. We denied their children as well. I pay for this into eternity, for my wilful disregard of their merits."
"Why are you showing this to me, Sir?" Darcy asked, "Surely you are not suggesting that I have acted in a similar manner?"
"Not exactly, Fitzwilliam. However, your pride has led you astray. This pride and your own prejudices have resulted in misery, your own and that of others. I am convinced that you would not have made the misjudgements to which I referred, had I not been so blind to my own weaknesses. Therefore, I feel responsible for your present state, and for that, I wish to atone. If you learn from my past as well as from your own, your faults might not be irreparable as ours are with regard to poor Henrietta." his father said remorsefully. "Follow me!"
Through the wall of the room they went. Quite to his astonishment, Darcy found himself in the small provincial town of Meryton in front of the "Red Lion" where the local assemblies were held. "Do you remember this place, Fitzwilliam?" his father asked while going inside.
"Oh, yes Father, I do, this is where I first saw..." here Darcy stopped, discerning the same poor music he remembered from the first time he visited the Red Lion brought a tight smile to his lips.
"I know whom you saw here, I know everything. How could I have led you to this Assembly otherwise?" his father asked.
"Look, there you are, over there standing by the mantelpiece. Listen to your conversation with your friend Charles Bingley and heed closely the reaction of the woman of your dreams."
Darcy could not believe he was looking at himself at first, but as men have a tendency to adjust rather quickly to new situations, he followed his father's advice and listened attentively while looking at Elizabeth who, hands chastely folded in her lap, calmly watched the dance on a bench next to her sister Mary. As soon as Darcy heard himself answer Bingley's observation about Elizabeth She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me., he noticed a change in her countenance. Her mouth fell open, her eyes grew big with astonishment and a derisive smile appeared on her lips. She stood up, cast him an icy look and went to her friends in a different corner of the room.
"Good Lord, she overheard!" For the first time, Darcy suspected that he might have behaved rather uncivilly. A feeling of embarrassment overcame him and a deep red flush crawled from his neck to his cheeks. Your selfish disdain for the feelings of others... One of her observations that he had not comprehended until now. "Good Lord, I had forgotten all about this. It most certainly was not a very polite thing to say, but I was annoyed with Bingley and wishing myself far away from the country people at that Assembly. Obviously, I did not intend to speak so loudly that Miss Elizabeth would overhear."
"Not very polite! Not very polite? Ha! My boy, what you said was shameful and most ungentlemanlike" cried the senior Darcy with energy, "However, I am in a rather good mood today, so I will not make you relive your proposal to Miss Elizabeth, which was far worse. You suffer enough as it is. But I will attempt to explain what you did wrong."
"Pray do, Sir, enlighten me as to what I did wrong," Darcy replied, taking visible offence at his father's outburst.
"Very well then, I shall. I am proud that you were ready to marry the woman you love, regardless of her lower connections and dubious upbringing. Unfortunately however, you were far too conscious of feeling yourself to be her superior. The manner in which you made that feeling known to her was most discourteous and offensive."
"Those were exactly her thoughts, Father, and she explained them to me in no uncertain terms. She called me ungentlemanlike as well, although I was at all times utterly civil. Why do you agree with her? Did not I do her a great honour by offering to align my family to hers?"
His father sighed. "No, Fitzwilliam, you most certainly did not. Did you expect Miss Bennet to be happy as your wife, as the Mistress of Pemberley, knowing beforehand that, because of her relations -- 'so decidedly below your own' - you did not truly feel that she deserved the standing inherent in that position? Remember, this is a position that you, her own prospective husband expressed doubt in your proposal of finding her worthy? Have you never thought of that, Fitzwilliam?
Darcy stood still in shock. "No, Sir, I most certainly did not. Indeed, I still sincerely believe that I bestowed upon her a favour and I thought that she would be grateful." Darcy admitted, for the second time colouring beet red, but still unwilling to acknowledge that he might have been wrong.
"Father, you must understand. For months I struggled against my feelings," he continued, "But that very struggle made my passion for her grow stronger and stronger. Not a single night went by that I did not dream of her. I thought of her every minute of the day. I could not bear it anymore; I had to have her! But I am not a flatterer and I did not wish to hide the reasons for my struggles from her. You know me well enough to understand that disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. I was merely being honest. But indeed, never once did I meditate on what her feelings might be. That could be considered selfish, I suppose." He finished doubtfully.
"Indeed, you may call it selfishness, but you were utterly na´ve in your brutal honesty, my son. Verity is a treacherous notion indeed, and it does not always serve the circumstances of a particular situation in a favourable manner!" his father chuckled, watching his son with sympathy, wishing him to be happy and married to the lovely Elizabeth Bennet. "I am not at all surprised that she accused you of arrogance. You fell in love with a woman, not only because of her beauty, but because she was so different from you and from everyone of your acquaintance. However, you did not treat her with the respect she deserved, instead you treated her as if she were a young woman of the ton you learned to despise." Old Mr. Darcy concluded.
"I perfectly comprehend your meaning, Sir, and while I thank you for explaining it so fully, do you not think that you are a little too severe upon me? My actions and the beliefs that caused them were understandable, were they not? I was convinced that Miss Elizabeth wished, even expected my addresses. Later events proved how very much I misjudged her feelings. You really think I must change, Father?" said he with scepticism and a touch of insecurity in his voice. "Fitzwilliam, I do not wish you to change your character, merely your manner. Your strong sense of superiority got the better of you, which led to the unhappiness of a number of people, not least of all yourself. Allow your old... I mean, your departed father to give you one more piece of advice: Learn to love her for herself, not for you.
I will now take you back to Kent and show you Miss Elizabeth's reaction to your letter. It might give you hope. But that will not be the end of your journey tonight. Come."
Through the wall of the Assembly Hall they went to find themselves in the grove near Rosings Park.
From a small distance, they watched Elizabeth sitting on a fallen tree, reading the infamous letter. Her whole countenance expressed astonishment, apprehension and even horror. "This must be false! This cannot be! This must be the grossest falsehood!" Darcy heard her cry out loud.
Musing on how lovely the woman of his dreams looked, without a bonnet, frequently raising her eyebrows in astonishment and pensively looking in the distance from time to time biting her lower lip, Darcy watched her peruse the letter again and again. He could almost sense her struggles with its content.
Then, suddenly there was a change. Darcy saw tears well in her eyes and her countenance began to express regret as well as anger.
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried out aloud to the trees. "How humiliating is this discovery," she said to the wild flowers, "Till this moment I never knew myself! I have been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd!" she shouted angrily to the birds.
Darcy rejoiced in her reaction: she had believed him...! All thoughts of his other experiences that evening left his mind with this one revelation. He knew now what he so desperately wished to know and with that intelligence he felt serene and calm, hopeful even. With a tender look in his eyes, he watched her walk with an agitated step back in the direction of the parsonage, shaking her head in disbelief....
"Let me take you home now, Fitzwilliam. You have many things to reflect on and you will need all the energy you can spare for the second vision. It will be the spirit of that chap in his handsome uniform, drinking everybody under the table and boasting about his conquests. Mind you, I do not mean battlefields here...I presume, you know whom I mean." Darcy's father said with a wink. "Good Lord, how he drained me of all my energy when I was alive!"
The ghost of old Mr. Darcy looked down on his son and, shaking his head he said compassionately and with a touch of sadness in his voice "I fear that you still have a lot to learn, Fitzwilliam." Casting a last glimpse at him, he turned away and vanished into the dark night.
Exhausted by all the events of the night and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness, Darcy did not even notice that he was in his bed. "She believes me, she believes me, she believes me..." whispered he to himself forgetting all about the other things he had witnessed.
With a smile on his face, not even hearing what his father said, but thinking of Elizabeth's words and rejoicing in his success, Darcy peacefully abandoned himself to Morpheus' embrace.
Read Roya's chapter here
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