Friday, September 27, 1811
“Where am I?” Elizabeth Bennet groaned aloud in frustration as she turned to gaze over the landscape, hoping something familiar would catch her eye. For years she had asserted that she possessed such an intimate knowledge of the area surrounding Longbourn, her family home, that she could never become lost, but that declaration proved to be mistaken today. She had explored further today than ever before, and in so many different directions, and now she was truly lost.
Elizabeth thought it would be a great adventure to see what lay on the other side of the river she saw in the distance from her window every morning. For years she avoided this area because of having to cross the river where it was too wide and where the currents were harsh, but a bridge had just been built. She was uncertain if they would finish in time before the weather became too cold for her to explore, but they did. As the sun peeked from the horizon this morning she set out to discover this new area with great delight, exuberantly walking along new paths and daydreaming.
It was the daydreaming that proved to be her undoing. She was now turned around and unsure of which way to go. Usually the position of the sun would help her, but when she followed where she thought her home should be, she discovered unfamiliar wood.
At first, this was an adventure she had looked forward to for ages, but now she just wanted her father’s strong arms around her once again. As tears began to well in her eyes, she remembered what Reverend Hughes said in his sermon last week. ‘We need not be terrified of the unknown places we traverse, because God is always with us.’
Elizabeth knew just what to do. She bowed her head and prayed, calling out to the only one who could settle her heart better than her father. She prayed for the Lord’s guidance and protection. Immediately she felt a great relief as peacefulness settle over her. Somehow she knew everything would work out well.
Off in the distance, along a ridge of trees, she spotted what she thought might be a familiar tree. With a determined lift of her chin she fixed her eyes on the distant ridge and set out in that direction. As she approached the tree with its wide open branches and large canopy of leaves, she realized this tree was so very unique that she could not possibly forget it. Unfortunately, it was not familiar to her. Where should I go? In which direction should I travel?
Elizabeth decided she needed to clear her mind, and the rumbling in her stomach gave her something else to focus on for a few minutes. She saw some wild bushes around, so she decided to see if any of them had edible berries. Luckily, her Granny Bennet had taken her under her tutelage and taught Elizabeth everything she could about the local plants, pointing out which could be used for food, which would be best for medicine, and most importantly, which could harm you if eaten or even touched. Elizabeth might be lost, but at least she knew how to survive!
Finding an elder bush, she held the corners of her handkerchief together and filled it with the sweet berries, then she sat down to contemplate her dilemma while she ate her fill.
With a full stomach, a clearer mind, and renewed hope, she turned back to the distinctive tree to see if it would lend its branches to her plight. Shedding her bonnet and gloves, for they would only hinder her climbing and be ruined, she found a sturdy branch that was low enough and swung up into the tree with practiced ease.
When Elizabeth was younger she was considered the best in the neighborhood at hiding games. What the other children did not know was her favorite hiding places were up above their heads where they never thought to look. She would watch as they went here and there, looking under bushes and behind benches. Many times she nearly gave herself away stifling a snicker while watching them from her perch as they searched. They would finally give up and go inside, and within a few minutes she would see her father come outside. He would slowly stretch his limbs and meander towards the back of the garden where Elizabeth’s favorite climbing trees were located. He would never look up at her, for that would surely give her position away, but he would situate himself under the tree in which she was perched and say, “They have gone now, Lizzy. Come on down, and we shell go in for some tea and biscuits.”
Ahhhh, her father…she loved him dearly! He was the one person in her family who truly understood her. She had a dry wit and loved to read of ancient philosophers and debate their positions. She and her father would spend hours going through texts and discussing the merits and faults of each tome. When they tired of reading they would turn to playing board games – their favorite being chess. He had such a strong, calming presence to those around him. What she would not give to have him ride up right now and rescue her from her dreary day!
In the distance she heard the familiar sound of horse’s hooves as they galloped through the fields. She immediately began to scan the horizon. Could that be my father coming to save me once again? Where is he? Which direction do I need to run to find my salvation? From her treetop perch, she spotted the far-off silhouette of a lone rider. Scampering down the tree and grabbing her gloves and bonnet, she rushed off, hoping she could get to the rider before he was gone.
When she came across the rise of the hill that separated her from the rider she pursued, she slowed to a walk. The rider had stopped and was letting his horse graze while he stretched his arms above his head and looked around at the beautiful autumn landscape. Elizabeth did not recognize him. How far have I come? Am I so far that this person will not know how to direct me home? It matters not, she thought. This man is my only hope and all I can do is pray he is able to help!
Slowing her pace and her breathing, for she did not want to appear the hoyden to the stranger, she placed the bonnet back on over her dark chestnut curls and began pulling on her lace gloves, being careful not to damage the intricate stitching. Her sister Jane had worked hard for several months last year to make these for Elizabeth as a gift. Elizabeth was so taken with the fine stitching that she would only wear them to church on Sundays, but Jane told her that she had made them for Elizabeth to wear any day. So she began wearing them as much as she dared. She did not want to ruin them, but she knew that relegating them to only Sunday gloves was not what Jane intended, and she loved her sister so much that she wanted to please her. Soon it will be too cold to wear them outside on my walks, she thought. Chuckling a bit under her breath as she pulled herself back to the present, she squared her shoulders and found courage to face this unknown gentleman, with hope that he would be able to help her. Her courage rose with every step towards the stranger that she took.
He had been riding for hours across Netherfield’s lands and beyond, unable to determine what had kept him on his horse speeding over fields, jumping fences, and fording rivers. It was almost as though someone were calling to him. It was not an audible voice, but he could feel the pull with his soul. Who needs me so much that their spirit is calling to me? He knew no one in this area other than his best friend, and he had gone back to London early this morning to escort his two sisters and brother-in-law to his new home. Who could it be?
Deciding to give his horse a well-deserved rest, he slowed his mount. Looking around at the beautiful autumn leaves and breathing in the crisp air, he slid down and stretched his sore back and arms. He loved riding, but some days he felt too old for such long rambles. Fitzwilliam Darcy was only seven and twenty – would be eight and twenty in two days—but he felt the enormous burden of his responsibilities weighing him down. With everything that had happened in the last few months, he was in great need of a rest. It was for this reason that his family insisted he visit his friend, Charles Bingley.
Today of all days he could not remain inside. This was the sixteenth anniversary of the passing of his mother, and he felt her absence keenly. As he stood here in the midst of this unfamiliar land, his mind began to wander to the hours he would sit beside his mother’s bed as she lay there, too weak to even dress and go to her sitting room. His fondest memory was the day she spoke with him about his future and the young lady he would one day marry. She cautioned him to choose wisely, and find someone who could teach him to appreciate the joy that comes in laughter; someone who would keep him young as he aged. At only eleven years of age, he promised his mother that when he met such a young lady, he would carry her off and marry her as soon as may be. Lady Anne Darcy laughed at her son’s exuberance to do the right thing immediately and she added that perhaps he should wait a respectable amount of time for the young lady to fall in love with him first. Darcy was never a child given to much joviality, but she realized that it was what he needed most in his life. His mother was sick off and on for many years, and she saw the way it affected her much-loved son. He needed someone to laugh with him, and she knew she would not be there much longer. She prayed daily for God to cradle him in His hands when the inevitable happened. Until then, she would try her best to show him that even with difficulties in life, he could still have joy.
Lady Anne passed away just a few months after their discussion. She had given birth to his baby sister five months earlier, and her body never recovered. He was heartbroken. She died just two days before his twelfth birthday. Sixteen years ago today, he thought as he watched his horse graze.
Her death was only the first of many difficulties he would face at a young age. His father only lived seven and a half more years and died without warning while Darcy was in his last year at Cambridge. It was a dreadfully wet spring. It drenched the Derbyshire area, and the flooding it brought was devastating to many of Pemberley’s tenant families. Darcy’s father tried to save the life of a girl who was stuck in a tree with the swelled river rushing by below. The girl was saved, but another felled tree being swept downstream by the rushing river struck his father. George Darcy was rescued from the river, but he would never wake again.
Darcy was away when the tragedy took place, and for the longest time he could not believe it had actually happened. It did not help that the flooding prevented him from returning home for the funeral. His family urged him to stay and complete his studies, and in a matter of weeks he was finally able to go back home at Pemberley, only to a home he did not even recognize any longer. Darcy and his nine year old sister, Georgiana, were all alone.
The first few months were spent cleaning up and rebuilding from the disastrous flood, learning to manage the large estate he inherited, and caring for Georgiana. He was so busy that he did not even realize how much time had passed until the day of his mother’s death loomed right in front of him. He missed her so much it hurt. He knew his father had missed her too, and it comforted him a little to know they were no longer separated by life and death. He knew they were in heaven looking down on him, and he sometimes felt as if they were guiding him where he needed to go.
Yes, that is it, he thought suddenly. That is exactly what I feel like – like they are guiding me today. He had felt this way quite often in the beginning, but after a few years he no longer experienced it as often. Today, he could feel it again. I hear you Mother and Father. What do you want me to do? What is so important that you are drawing me out today into the Hertfordshire countryside?
He scanned the horizon and saw a woman come across the top of the rise in front of him, walking his direction. She was breathtaking! He caught himself staring at her as she stopped and replaced her bonnet over dark chestnut curls, and pulled on her gloves. She had a faraway look in her eye, and he wanted to know what memory made her chuckle slightly. She shook her head as if trying to clear her mind, squared her shoulders, and began walking towards him again. Fitzwilliam Darcy knew she would soon change his future.
As she came closer to the stranger, Elizabeth felt as if she knew him. Where could I have seen him before? Maybe when Jane and I visited Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in London? No, I do not recognize his face, but there is something familiar. He had the most exquisite piercing green eyes she had ever seen.
He bowed and asked in a clear baritone voice, “May I be of service to you, madam?”
“Yes, I seem to be lost. If you could please tell me where I am, I would be most appreciative,” she queried with a curtsied.
A shy smile appeared on his lips, “I would take great delight in assisting you,, but I am not from around here and do not know the area well. Perhaps if you could tell me where you need to be I can help you?”
She tilted her head ever so slightly at his familiar accent. “My family lives around here, and I went out for a walk in an unfamiliar direction, and seem to have lost my way. Do you know the way to Meryton from here?”
He furrowed his brow as he thought. Meryton … Meryton … was that not the little village Bingley said we passed through on our way to Netherfield Park? “I might be able to help you. Unless my memory has failed me, my friend and I passed through the village of Meryton a few days ago on our way to my friend’s new home, Netherfield Park.”
Elizabeth was excited to hear a familiar name, “Oh, Netherfield Park is but three miles from where my home, Longbourn, is located. Do you know in which direction that would be?”
“As a matter of fact I do. May I escort you?”
She raised one eyebrow, and with confidence, replied, “I do not see how it would be fitting, sir, as we have yet to be introduced. If you would just point me in the correct direction I would be most grateful.”
Chuckling at her impertinence, he pointed behind himself to the left, said it was about five miles away, and that he was glad he could be of service.
Elizabeth thanked him and began to walk back home.
Darcy could not help but turn around and watch as she walked away. Thank you Mother, thank you Father. I have found her.