Monday, almost midnight (San Francisco) / Tuesday late afternoon (Sydney)
As William made his way to Manly Wharf to catch a ferry back to Sydney, Elizabeth opened her apartment door to find the living room empty, a single lamp glowing in the corner. She had made the trip across the Bay Bridge after her last class of the day to meet Charlotte in Berkeley for dinner and a movie. Having had the chance to say her piece on Friday, Charlotte seemed satisfied to drop the subject of William, and their evening had been a pleasant one.
As soon as she switched on the bedroom light, she saw the large envelope on the dresser. Emblazoned with the bold FedEx logo, it seemed to vibrate with urgency. She reached for it, inspecting the label until she saw the name of the sender. Her breath caught in her throat and she ripped open the package, extracting a thick cream-colored envelope bearing her name.
With trembling hands, she opened the envelope and removed several sheets of paper filled front and back with his meticulous handwriting. She snatched a shaky breath when she saw the two words at the top of the first page: “Dearest Elizabeth.” Her heart thumping, she sank onto the bed and began to read:
You needn’t worry that this is the first of a constant stream of letters from me. I don’t think silence is the best way to resolve our differences, but I intend to give you the time and space you requested. You didn’t specifically forbid me to write you, and I feel justified in doing so this once; however, I realize that to do so repeatedly would violate the spirit of the promise I made before I left San Francisco. You probably consider it hopelessly old-fashioned that I wrote this instead of emailing you; however, I believe that something this personal needs to be written by hand.
Please read this letter in its entirety and seriously consider what I’m going to say. I didn’t explain myself well when we spoke in person, and I need to try again. No matter how inexcusable you consider my actions, I deserve the chance to offer a more cogent defense.
Her lips compressed in a grim line. Apparently he still believed that their central problem was not his behavior, but her failure to understand his motives. It was a perfect demonstration of the arrogance that had caused their problems in the first place.
First, let me explain the situation surrounding my donation to finance your job. At Jane and Charles’s rehearsal dinner, I learned that you had an upcoming interview with Catherine de Bourgh. I saw an opportunity to use my family’s association with Catherine to assist you. And since I’m determined to be honest, I’ll admit that I hoped to win your favor in the process. Although we had just met, you had already cast a spell on me.
I had brunch with Catherine and Anne before flying home, but unfortunately my attempt to help you backfired. To my great surprise, Catherine was indignant at what she called my interference in her business. Like most influential people, she operates within a network of personal contacts and mutual favors, and I had expected her to view my recommendation in that light. I suspect that I displayed too much interest in you to suit Catherine, who persists in considering me Anne’s property. Thus, it was probably my fault that she disliked you from the start; she was jealous on her daughter’s behalf. I confessed that much to you during our picnic in Golden Gate Park last August.
My involvement resumed after the benefit recital for Juilliard. That evening, you mentioned that you hadn’t heard from the conservatory since your interview, and you spoke of your concern for Jane and your wish to be with her. The next day, I called Catherine and learned that, though she was satisfied with your qualifications, she did not intend to offer you a job. Hearing this news, I made the offer that has caused so much trouble. I made it clear that you hadn’t asked for my assistance and in fact knew nothing about the arrangement, but it’s likely that she didn’t believe me. Despite her misgivings, she finally agreed to hire you.
Please understand how difficult it was for me to make that phone call. It was at the Juilliard recital, just the evening before, that I realized I had fallen in love with you. Had I thought only of myself, I would have done everything in my power to keep you in New York. But I saw a chance to use my resources to make you happy, and I wanted your happiness regardless of the consequences for me. In addition, I had expected us to have two months together before your departure for San Francisco and hoped to use the time to build a relationship that could survive at a distance. The news of your early departure was devastating to my plans, and I could barely restrain myself from begging you to refuse the job and stay with me in New York.
She felt a few bricks threatening to crumble in the fortress around her heart. But her remaining defenses, weakened but defiant, struck back. Good intentions didn’t excuse the way he had lied, or at least had concealed the truth. As though hearing her thoughts, his letter continued:
Although you may not believe me, I intended to tell you what I’d done. Originally I thought you might appreciate my gesture. But then you spoke of your pride at being hired by such a prestigious school. I knew it would hurt you to know the real reason, so I kept the secret to protect your feelings. Later, when we were reunited in San Francisco, I was a daily witness to the depth of your independent spirit, and I knew you’d be angry with me for taking matters into my own hands.
The longer I delayed making my admission, the more I feared your anger. You had become so dear to me that the possibility of losing you was more than I could bear to contemplate, so I took the coward’s way out and remained silent. Still, I promised myself that once I was certain that you loved me, I would confess everything and hope that your feelings for me would help you to understand and forgive.
But on the night you told me that you loved me, you also told me about Michael. You needed comfort and reassurance; I couldn’t inflict another blow by revealing my secret. I then nearly told you the truth the night we celebrated your birthday, but I couldn’t bear to spoil the happiest night of my life with an angry scene.
It was difficult to take offense at any of this. Later she might find the flaw in his argument, but now she could think of nothing but his gentle solicitude the night he had learned about Michael. And she was forced to admit that, in his position, nothing could have compelled her to risk ruining the near perfect romance and passion of her private birthday dinner. As for his fear of her anger, both Charlotte and the therapist had commented on the vehemence of her angry outbursts.
But regardless of all of that, it was his fault he’d been painted into a corner: he should have told her the truth long ago. And, besides, he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
I never considered that my actions could have harmful consequences for your career. I have spoken to Catherine, assuring her again that you had no knowledge of my offer, and that the responsibility was entirely mine. Please tell me if I can do anything to rectify the situation. No matter what it is, you have only to ask.
I deeply regret that I’ve hurt you through my actions. You’re an exceptional teacher and you deserve nothing but praise and respect. Despite my guilt at concealing the truth, I’ve taken pride in watching you thrive at the conservatory, your skill and dedication valued by students and colleagues alike. Please believe that, although my actions were wrong, they were motivated solely by my love for you and my wish to bring you happiness.
The words on the page blurred, and she had to dab her eyes with a Kleenex before she could continue.
Now I move to another painful subject: Jane and Charles. My concerns about Charles’s plan to marry date back to the phone call in which he asked me to be his best man. Charles falls in love easily and often unwisely, and although his happy-go-lucky personality is part of his charm, his naïveté can be hazardous to his well-being. He trusts others too much and too soon, and trusts his own judgment too little, making him easy prey for manipulators.
Thus, I arrived in San Francisco that weekend with misgivings about Charles’s whirlwind courtship and sudden wedding plans. To make matters worse, soon after arriving I learned about his deception involving the prenuptial agreement. Despite my efforts to reason with him, Charles refused to acknowledge that he was jeopardizing his father’s company through this subterfuge. His stubborn refusal to raise the subject with Jane was especially worrisome because, as an attorney, she would have understood the need for the document. I concluded that Charles must have believed, or even known to a certainty, that Jane would refuse to marry him if a prenup were involved.
So far, this made sense; if the situations were reversed, she would have felt uneasy about a friend entering into marriage under those conditions. But certainly meeting Jane should have shown William that he was worrying about nothing.
At the rehearsal dinner, I overheard your mother speaking to your aunt about Jane’s success in landing a wealthy husband. She congratulated herself for raising her daughter to recognize that money mattered more than love, and looked forward to the day when Jane’s windfall would be shared by the rest of the family. She even cast an eye my way with one of you in mind. You can imagine how disgusted I was with her attitude, and how it magnified my concerns.
I hesitate to mention one additional source of unease, given the way it aroused your wrath recently, but I can’t deny that other aspects of your family’s behavior also put me on guard. I won’t dwell on a point that I should never have raised in our argument, except to say that my concerns in no way extended to you, or to Jane, whose manners were flawless even if her motives for marriage were suspect.
Elizabeth tried to rouse righteous anger at this criticism of her family, but without much success. She had been disgusted by Lydia’s behavior at the rehearsal dinner and at Charlotte’s birthday party; she could hardly expect a more tolerant reaction from William. Then again, if Charles didn’t care about the behavior of his future in-laws, why should it have mattered to William?
As for her mother … Elizabeth sighed. She could imagine in humiliating, vivid detail the conversation William must have overheard; she had heard more than her fill of the same.
You are of course familiar with the events that evening leading to the cancellation of the wedding. After you and Jane left the hotel, Charles and I returned to my suite, and I asked about his conversation with Jane. He said little, but what he told me only added to my misgivings. First he said that Jane had refused to sign the prenup; then he reported some harsh words of hers. I was already perplexed by her behavior that evening. I expected to see more emotion from a woman who had broken her engagement on the eve of her wedding, but she seemed remarkably calm when the two of you left the hotel. Combined with what Charles told me about their conversation, I began to wonder how much genuine affection she felt for him.
She bristled at his arrogance. How dare he presume to judge Jane—kind, gentle Jane—based on an acquaintance of only a few hours? But underneath she felt a twinge, recalling her pride at Jane’s calm self-possession that night. Perhaps to a stranger it might have resembled indifference. And combined with Charles’s repeating harsh words from Jane—Elizabeth found it hard to imagine that Jane would have been cruel to Charles at such a time. But in his agitated state, Charles might have taken some things out of context, and reported them to William seeking pity. She was forced to admit that, in William’s place, she might have had some doubts.
The following morning, after I spent time with you at Crissy Field, Charles appeared at my door with Caroline. He had approached his father seeking a compromise but had been rebuffed. Caroline seemed to be egging him on to defy his father and reconcile with Jane. I soon saw that if their father disinherited Charles, it would increase her share of the fortune and clear a path for her to succeed her father as CEO. Clearly she was pursuing her own agenda with no regard for her brother’s welfare, and it was essential that I present an opposing viewpoint as emphatically as possible.
I advised him not to turn his back on his family and sacrifice everything for Jane, about whose feelings I had doubts for the reasons I’ve outlined. I also told him he ought to make a sincere effort to work with his father before he rejected that possibility: until then, he had spent the bare minimum time on the job, never taking his responsibility to his father’s company seriously.
My advice might seem hypocritical since I failed to follow my own father’s path, but my personal experience only strengthened my conviction. I’ve told you very little about my relationship with my father, but it was he, and not I, who decreed that I would never take his place at the helm of his company. I’ve sometimes regretted the road not taken, the one he barricaded. Music was in my blood then as it is now, and my personality isn’t suited to the boardroom. He clearly understood that and did the right thing for all concerned. Still, I live every day with the knowledge that I was a disappointment to my father, and I didn’t want to see my friend suffer the same pain.
Charles was facing not just that, but estrangement from his entire family for the sake of a woman whose feelings appeared to be linked to his checkbook. I did what I thought best for him based on the available evidence.
“Sure,” Elizabeth muttered to herself, “never mind that you destroyed my sister’s happiness in the process.” She tossed the letter aside in disgust, but almost immediately picked it up again and went on reading.
In late August, I came to San Francisco, and through my relationship with you I became better acquainted with Jane. The more I saw of her, the less I understood her behavior the weekend of the wedding. Her commitment to her clients and to her pro bono work offered evidence of a generous spirit, and I found her to be consistently kind and thoughtful. Both Richard and Sonya, after meeting Jane, challenged my initial opinion of her. But the morning I left San Francisco, when I dropped off your birthday gifts on the way to the airport, I overheard your mother advising Jane on a strategy for recapturing Charles and his money.
I saw Charles at the airport later that morning. He was wavering on the idea of attempting a reconciliation with Jane and he asked my advice. He asked if I thought Jane still loved him. I told him what I had overheard, and also that I had seen no evidence that Jane regretted losing him. She rarely asked me about him, she seemed consistently cheerful, and I knew she had been in at least one relationship since August in addition to her evenings with Richard. In short, her behavior was not that of a lovelorn woman. However, I also continually pointed out to Charles that I was not Jane’s confidante, and that she might well have feelings I would be unable to observe.
Again, Elizabeth gritted her teeth at his arrogant presumption, despite his disclaimer. Why did he persist in considering himself qualified to pass judgement on Jane’s emotions, even in the face of conflicting information? Why did he always think he was right about everything? Since he wasn’t sure of Jane’s feelings, why couldn’t he have kept his mouth shut?
Above all, my mistrust of Jane persisted for one reason: she had refused to sign the prenup. Whenever my opinion of her began to waver, I would remind myself that this choice spoke volumes despite the contradictory evidence that continued to accumulate.
I know now that I was mistaken on that point, and that Jane’s refusal was linked to Mr. Bingley’s unreasonable demands, not to any objection to the prenup itself. Charles, in his uncommunicative mood that night, failed to explain Jane’s rationale; had I known the truth I might have acted differently. Unfortunately, his abbreviated explanation seemed to confirm everything I’d seen that evening, so I had no reason to doubt him. I see now that I was too quick to assume that I had the full story.
Given my misjudgment of Jane’s feelings, your resentment is understandable. I acted in a way that contributed to your sister’s unhappiness, and I can only say how sorry I am. I trusted my powers of observation too much, and interfered in a situation I didn’t fully understand. You probably know by now that I saw Jane before I left San Francisco; it was from her that I learned of my error regarding the prenup. She was kind, empathetic, and wise, and I feel ashamed of myself for misjudging her.
His revelation of his misunderstanding about the prenup caught her off guard. No wonder Charles had been so quick to accept responsibility. He had misled William—not on purpose, but still, he had been partly responsible. For the first time, William’s occasional cryptic remarks about Jane made sense.
Before I left for Australia, I went to Los Angeles to apologize to Charles in person. He was angry at first but we soon made peace, and I have reason to hope that he and Jane will find their way back together. Familiar as I am with the pain of separation from the woman I love, it’s a heavy burden to know that I helped to inflict similar pain on my closest friend.
My third major failing was that I planned our future according to my personal preferences and needs, without considering yours. I told myself at the time that we would both want the same things, but on reflection I cannot defend such an absurd assumption. It was selfish and disrespectful of me to make decisions about our future without involving you. One of the things I love most about you is your independent spirit; I would never wish to crush it by forcing you into a role that didn’t fit you.
Elizabeth was surprised by this admission, and pleased that he understood her concerns, at least to some degree. It didn’t mean that he was capable of change; she had doubts about that. But perhaps he deserved a chance.
There’s one more thing I must say before I end this letter. Whether you believe it or not, there are expectations, especially of the women, in families such as mine that can be stifling to someone accustomed to a different sort of life. You have often dismissed my concerns in this area as snobbery, but in fact they arise from painful experience. I spent my childhood watching my mother attempt, with only limited success, to adapt to life as a Darcy after her bohemian existence in Rome. I saw my father all but walk away from us, repelled in part by my mother’s natural resentment when he forced her to end her singing career. I saw my grandmother thrust into the middle of their battles, trying in vain to balance conflicting interests but often having to choose sides, until circumstances compelled her to align herself against her only son. And I saw Georgiana deprived of both her parents almost from the day she was born.
Long ago I resolved that my marriage would be a source of happiness and strength, not the prison it became for my parents. Many of their problems were self-inflicted due to poor choices on their part. However, by joining the family you would face at least some of the challenges my mother faced, which is why I suggested that my grandmother’s assistance might smooth your path. But never did I consider you undeserving of the Darcy name. You are the only woman to whom I have ever offered it, and I would not have done so if I had any misgivings.
The marriage proposal was the one thing Elizabeth hadn’t allowed herself to think about. She’d had no choice but to refuse him; accepting had been unthinkable with so much unsettled between them. But of all the painful images from that weekend, the worst was the look of despair in his eyes as he stared at the velvet ring box.
If you believe nothing else in this letter, believe that I love you. It is more painful than you can imagine to have lost your trust, a gift I valued more than anything I’ve ever received. I wanted only to make you happy and to protect you from harm for the rest of our lives; instead, I have caused you pain. That is something I will always regret.
If you want to speak to me, and I’m hoping that you will, Sonya can help you to reach me. I will not contact you again until I return from Australia, but I can’t vouch for my ability to stay away past that point.
I love you, Lizzy, now and always,
A teardrop rolled slowly along the side of Elizabeth’s nose and plopped onto the paper. “What am I going to do with you, William Darcy?” she whispered, gazing down with watery eyes at his signature. He was sometimes arrogant and occasionally self-centered, and those faults shone through in parts of the letter. But other passages demonstrated his generosity, his loyalty to those he loved, and—much to her surprise—his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes. However, for the moment, his final words swept all other considerations aside.
“I love you, too,” she whispered.