With the Colonel’s Help: A Pride and Prejudice Variation: Chapter 12


The following day, Elizabeth paced from Lydia’s bed to the window and back. It was a well-worn path that she had walked many times over while taking her turn at her sister’s side. She placed a hand on Lydia’s forehead and smiled. Her sister’s breathing was even, and her skin remained cool to the touch. The worst was most definitely behind them. With time, Lydia would heal. The only question that brought any sort of worry to Elizabeth’s mind at all was whether there would be any lingering effects from the fever. Lydia had been so warm for so long.

Lydia stirred and opened her eyes.

“Good afternoon.” Elizabeth greeted her sister while filling a cup with water from the pitcher that sat on the table next to the bed. She waited for Lydia to push to a sitting position and then handed her the cup. “You are looking well.” Elizabeth tipped her head and studied her sister. Lydia’s cheeks were no longer brilliantly red from fever, nor were they, thankfully, overly wan. “You are not ready for an assembly perhaps, but your eyes have more sparkle to them than they did,” she said as she took the cup back from her sister.

“I am certain I look a fright,” said Lydia, running a hand through her hair. “But I am not certain I care.” She yawned. “I am so tired.”

“A bit of broth will help with that. I shall go fetch some for you as soon as Mama comes back.” Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed with a brush in her hand. “Do you wish for me to brush and braid your hair while we wait?”

Lydia scooted forward so that Elizabeth could squeeze in behind her and begin to fix her hair.

Elizabeth untied the ribbon that had held Lydia’s long chestnut coloured hair and then ran her fingers through it before lifting the brush and beginning her work. “Mama is in the sitting room with Jane and Mr. Bingley again.”

Lydia sucked in a quick small gasp of delight. “Do you think he will offer for her?”

“I should not be surprised if he did,” Elizabeth replied. Lydia had been pleased to the point of tears to learn that Colonel Fitzwilliam had given her message to Mr. Bingley and that the message had had the desired effect.

“I hope it will not be long,” Lydia said wistfully. “Jane has waited a long time to be happy, you know.”

“Indeed, she has, but I do not believe it will be much longer. Mr. Bingley only needs time to be certain of his heart and hers. Remember, he did not know she was in town.” Elizabeth had shared as much as she knew about why Mr. Bingley had not called on Jane with Lydia during one of the moments when Lydia had not been sleeping or delirious with fever. She had not had a lot to tell, but the small amount of information she possessed had been enough to put Lydia’s mind at ease. Elizabeth had always known Lydia to be concerned with the fate of this or that animal when Lydia was young but had not realized until now just how much of the caring heart that cried over a meal prepared with her chicken still resided inside the young lady Lydia had become.

Lydia reached over to the table and picked up the book that lay there. “Is this the book you have been reading to me?”

“It is.”

“There are some very good poems in it. I heard them even as I fell asleep. They brought lovely dreams.”

Elizabeth pulled the brush through Lydia’s hair as her sister opened the cover.

“Mr. Darcy?” Lydia said in surprise, twisting to look at Elizabeth. “Is this his book?”

“It is.” Elizabeth tried to keep herself calm and her eyes on the work she was doing. “He was kind enough to lend it to me.”

“He is not so bad, you know.” Lydia flipped a few pages in the book. “I like this one,” she said as she paused to read a bit of that particular poem.

“You like Mr. Darcy?”

Lydia nodded. “He is very serious, but he seems,” she shrugged, “Oh, I do not know. He is friends with Mr. Bingley, so I imagine that makes him a good sort of person, and I would venture to guess he is not always so serious. I do not think Mr. Bingley would spend so much time with anyone who was always grave and disapproving. Do you?” Lydia flipped a few more pages.

“I believe you are right,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

“Do you still hate him for being rude?” Lydia asked. “He was very rude.”

“No, I do not hate him. We have become friends,” Elizabeth said. “Mr. Collins is Mr. Darcy’s aunt’s parson, and Mr. Darcy was in Kent while I was there. We were returning to town from Kent when we found you.” Elizabeth reached around her sister and flipped a few pages. “There. Read this one. Mr. Darcy said you should when your fever was gone, and he insists you must change the name from Louisa to Lydia.”

She wrapped her arms around her sister and pulled her back against her chest so that she could look over Lydia’s shoulder as Lydia read the poem.

 

Why need I say, Lydia dear!

How glad I am to see you here,

A lovely convalescent;

Risen from the bed of pain and fear,

And feverish heat incessant.[1]

 

Lydia giggled. “He wished me to know he was pleased I had recovered?”

“He did.” Elizabeth could not help but smile at the thought, nor could she, in gratitude for her sister’s recovery, resist the urge to squeeze her tightly for a brief moment. No matter how silly Lydia had been or would be, Lydia was her sister and, therefore, very dear to her heart.

“Will Mr. Darcy call when I am allowed to leave this room?” Lydia’s finger held her place in the poem. “I should like to thank him for this poem and the others you read to me.”

Elizabeth sighed and returned to her work of fixing Lydia’s hair. “I am afraid he will not.”

Lydia turned her head, and Elizabeth tugged it back around, so she could finish the braid.

“Why ever not?” Lydia asked in surprise.

“Papa does not wish it.” Elizabeth swallowed and willed herself to remain calm. It was not easily done, however. Though she had been given the chance to declare her feelings to Mr. Darcy and to have them so readily returned, and though she believed Mr. Darcy’s promise that their parting would not be forever, it still pained her to think of any separation from him. How drastically her opinions had changed from what they had at one time been! The thought made her smile.

“Why?” Lydia asked as she once again attempted to turn her head to look at Elizabeth, only to have her action met a second time with a tug of her hair to keep her facing forward.

Elizabeth pondered how to respond to the question for a moment, and then, remembering the portion of the tale regarding Wickham that Darcy had told her she could share, she related to her sister about Wickham’s refusing the living and wasting a large sum of money. “And so, Papa feels that had Mr. Darcy shared that information when he was in Hertfordshire, Mr. Wickham would not have become our friend, and you would not have been harmed.”

Lydia sat quietly for several minutes as Elizabeth finished the braid and tied the ribbon.

“There is more about Mr. Wickham,” Elizabeth said sadly, “but I cannot tell it for it may cause harm to someone dear to Mr. Darcy.”

Lydia nodded slowly. “I do not blame Mr. Darcy.” Her voice was soft. “I knew I should not travel alone. In my mind, I could hear Jane telling me to stay home. I should have listened.”

Elizabeth wrapped her arms around Lydia and pulled her close. “But if you had known Mr. Wickham was not to be trusted, perhaps, you would have been well.” She said it not because she wished to convince Lydia that Mr. Darcy was to blame but as something to soothe and not stir Lydia’s emotions. Calmness of spirit was much better for recovery than agitation, and Lydia was as prone to fits of nerves as their mother.

Lydia shook her head and replied in a voice that surprised Elizabeth with its solemnity and seriousness. “No. I cannot blame either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickham. I should not have been where I was.”

“No,” Elizabeth agreed, “you should not have been.”

The door opened just as Lydia was about to say something more.

“You have a caller, Lizzy,” Aunt Gardiner’s face fairly glowed with happiness. “He is waiting for you in your uncle’s study.”

“He?” Lydia sat forward excitedly.

“Mr. Darcy,” Aunt Gardiner’s brows flicked up. “And he asked to see Lizzy privately.”

Lydia’s eyes grew wide, and she turned to look at Elizabeth, whose cheeks were rosy and her eyes damp with happy tears. “A friend does not request a private interview,” said Lydia. “He is going to offer for you.”

Elizabeth wrapped Lydia in her arms again and whispered. “He already has. He must have convinced Papa…” the rest of what Elizabeth was going to say was cut off by a small squeal of delight from Lydia.

“Go,” Lydia pushed at Elizabeth. “One should never leave a gentleman waiting.”

Elizabeth laughed, for Lydia sounded very much like their mother.

“Wait,” Lydia called as Elizabeth reached the door. “Do you love him?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“And you will accept him?”

Elizabeth smiled and looked from her sister to her aunt and back again. “I already have,” she said with a wink for Lydia. “But you must not tell.” Then she scooted out the door and flew down the stairs and to her uncle’s study.

Elizabeth drew a breath and released it slowly before opening the door to the room where Darcy waited.

Darcy stood as she entered. Even in her slightly wrinkled blue day dress, she was beautiful.

If Mr. Bennet had wondered about what his daughter’s reception of an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy would be, the way her face lit with a smile on entering the room told him all he needed to know.

“You wished to see me?” she asked, looking from Mr. Darcy to her father.

“We did,” Mr. Bennet said. “I shall leave Mr. Darcy to explain himself, but before he does, I must apologize. I was wrong. I allowed my fear for Lydia to override my good sense, but,” he stood and straightened his jacket, “thanks to Colonel Fitzwilliam, I was set right, and then, Mr. Darcy was gracious enough to forgive my folly.”

It was not a long apology or filled with great detail, but then, her father was not good with admissions of error, and she could tell by the look on his face that he was truly penitent.

“Well,” he gave Mr. Darcy a nod, “I will leave you to it. I wish you well, though I suspect there is no need of the wish.” He paused as he passed Elizabeth and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You have my blessing whatever you may choose.” Then with a pat of her shoulder, he left the room.

“You are well?” Darcy asked as he shifted from one foot to the other.

“I am tired, but I am well.”

“And your sister? How is she?”

“She was sitting up in bed, waiting for some broth, and reading the poem you wished her to read when her fever was gone. She wants to thank you.”

“I am pleased she is recovered enough to read it.” He took a step closer to Elizabeth and smiled. “You are free to choose.” He took her hand. “Please say you will choose me, for I cannot bear to think of a life without you in it. I love you, more than words can tell or actions prove.” He lifted her hand to his lips.

She squeezed the fingers that held hers. He was hers. “I could choose no other, for no other man holds my heart.”

“You will marry me?”

She nodded. “Happily.”

He pulled her into his arms and held her for a moment, relishing the feel of her form pressed against his. “My Elizabeth,” he murmured as he pulled back to look down at her. “May I kiss you?”

Her cheeks flushed, and a flutter of nerves danced in her stomach. However, she nodded her consent, and he, dipping his head, pressed his lips against hers. The nerves that just moments ago fluttered, now, danced into her chest and down her limbs, surrounding her in a most delightful sensation that was all too soon gone when he broke the kiss and once again pulled her against him.

“My Elizabeth,” he said once again as he held her.

“My…” she paused. She wished to return his sentiment but was uncertain what to call him. My Mr. Darcy did not seem all that endearing.

“Fitzwilliam,” he supplied.

“My Fitzwilliam.” The name rolled off her tongue most pleasantly. “My Fitzwilliam,” she repeated. “Forever and always my Fitzwilliam.”

It was truly impossible for Darcy not to respond to such a comment in any other fashion than to kiss her, and not just as he had done before — chastely — but with an intensity equal to the love that he felt for her.

To Elizabeth, this kiss was even more intoxicating than the first, and she was saddened when it ended. However, when there is a rap on the door, and when one knows her father is likely to enter, there is no other choice than to stop kissing the man she loves, give him one final tight squeeze, and step away to a proper distance.

“All is well?” Mr. Bennet said as he popped his head inside the study. “Am I to go delight your mother with the news of a daughter becoming betrothed?”

Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, Papa.”

Mr. Bennet chuckled. “I would ask if you are happy, but I dare say, even a blind man could see your delight.” He pushed the door open fully. “Come along. We shall share in your mother’s raptures.”

And share in Mrs. Bennet’s raptures they did! Her delight knew no bounds. A son with so great an income! A daughter so well matched! She had heard how Mr. Darcy might fancy Elizabeth. Mr. Bingley had hinted it might be possible. But then, she could not be certain, for there had been little indication of such a thing, save for that dance. However, she reasoned, Elizabeth did dance well, so perhaps that was just the thing. For to Mrs. Bennet, it was difficult for a man to forget an excellent dance partner.

Elizabeth bore her mother’s joy as best she could without cringing and was helped in her forbearance by Darcy’s low chuckle now and again.

Darcy was not one who liked to be fawned over, but for Elizabeth, he would endure far worse. Surprisingly, he found that in the Gardiners’ sitting room, Mrs. Bennet’s overflowing happiness was humorous at times. However, he suspected that once they left the confines of the Gardiners’ sitting room, it would be less so.

Bingley smiled and congratulated the happy couple. As he prepared to leave, he assured Darcy he would say nary a word to his sister until they left for Hertfordshire for the wedding.

This, of course, started Mrs. Bennet down the path of wedding breakfasts, gowns, and necessary calls that would need to be made. And the parson! Oh, they must write to the parson directly! As she left the sitting room to attend to that task, Mrs. Bennet paused at the door and said to Bingley, who was yet in the hall, “Two can stand before the parson as easily as one, Mr. Bingley. I shall not post my letter until the morrow.” Then she was gone, and Elizabeth and Jane were left to say their goodbyes to their gentlemen while Uncle Gardiner and Mr. Bennet pretended not to take notice.

The Bennets remained in town for one more week, both to give Lydia time to regain her strength and to give time for Mrs. Bennet to see that all the wedding clothes she deemed necessary had been ordered — and not just for Elizabeth but for Jane also. Mr. Bingley would propose, Mrs. Bennet declared loudly many times a day, and eventually, she was proven right. Mr. Bingley did offer for Jane within three days of Darcy’s call on Mr. Bennet, and a double wedding ceremony and breakfast were planned.

The evening before the Bennets were to depart for Longbourn and Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy were to return to Netherfield, an intimate dinner was held at Darcy House. Elizabeth had been to Darcy House twice over the course of the week and had taken an extensive tour, but Darcy wished for all the Bennets — especially Lydia — to see the place that their daughter and sister would call home when in town.

Lydia had, unexpectedly, found a place in Mr. Darcy’s heart. Perhaps it was the way Elizabeth had held and cared for her youngest sister that had endeared the girl to him, or perhaps it was the fact that she had been injured by the same man that had injured his sister. It is difficult to say, for Darcy found himself in the midst of enjoying her company before he realized he had begun to do so. It was a task which was likely much easier to accomplish since the fever and her ordeal had left Lydia weaker and more somber than she had been before.

So it was a very different Darcy who entered Hertfordshire and stood three weeks later before the parson with Elizabeth at his side.

As they exited the church, he took Elizabeth’s hand and, lifting it, kissed her gloved fingers. Then, he handed her into the carriage that would take them to Netherfield for the wedding breakfast.

Darcy sighed contentedly as he settled into the seat on the bench next to Elizabeth. He reached across the carriage and picked up a parcel that was wrapped in blue cloth and tied with a silver ribbon. “This arrived yesterday,” he said as he handed the package to her. “I was afraid it would not get here in time. If I had been thinking, I would have brought it with me.” He waited anxiously as she unwrapped the parcel.

Elizabeth looked up at him in surprise. “This is the book you let me borrow when I was in Kent.” She opened the front of the book and looked at his name on the bookplate. A smile spread across her face, and she peeked up at him with delight. He had altered what was written on that page. For now, it did not just say Fitzwilliam Darcy. Instead, it read

 

From Fitzwilliam Darcy

To my wife, Elizabeth Darcy

On the occasion of our marriage

 

“It is beautiful,” she said as she ran her finger over the shape of his name.

“There is more,” he said, taking the book from her and opening it to the very back. There in the same place where he had tucked the letter about Wickham was another folded sheet of paper.

She glanced at him curiously as she unfolded the page. At the top of the page he had copied out the words to “My Heart is in the Highlands.” Her hand rested on her heart as she read the few words of endearment that were written in a neat closed hand below the poem.

 

My dearest Elizabeth,

Forever you shall be,

Far dearer than any a place I could be

My heart will never wander

Nor shall it ever roam,

For in your love it rests secure,

And in it is your home.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“And I you,” she responded before kissing him quite soundly.

And so began a family which would eventually grow to include children and grandchildren as well as nieces and nephews and uncles and aunts. And as the family tree grew and blossomed, a story would be passed from one generation to the next about how a love that was almost lost was captured and secured with the colonel’s help.


To a Young Lady. On Her Recovery From a Fever by Samuel Taylor Coleridge ↵

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