Color of Love
By Jane Greensmith
often than not, Fitzwilliam Darcy considered his condition more a curse than a
blessing. He longed to be able to take the world as it came, without being
prejudiced by shades and hues. He longed to be able to lose himself in a book
and see the worlds of literature unencumbered by the pigment of their portals.
He longed to be able to point to a printed page and say, "It's right there,
in black and white." But he couldn't. For Darcy, logic was forever clouded
opinion of a work was formed as soon as he saw the words on the page, before he
had the chance to read one word. Shakespeare was a soft cerulean. Voltaire was
crimson. Milton violet. Wordsworth emerald. The Times was orange.
his father, Darcy had never known anyone else who read in color. Not until he
was eight years old did he realize that the rest of his fellow creatures didn't
see beyond the color of the ink used to transcribe the words. In his innocence,
he had thought ink was but a medium, a base from which the true colors of
letters and words sprang.
father counseled him to keep his condition a secret. No need to seem a freak
amongst his peers. But his father also taught him to use his insight to
advantage. He learned to trust those who wrote in blue, as he did. He learned to
watch those whose words were flinty, metallic, or iridescent. He learned that
his father was color-blind.
Darcy mixed up his reds and greens, his son discovered, which was how he had
missed the latent treachery of Wickham. It wasn't until after his father had
died, when his own writing had dissolved into muddy brown while he battled
depression and fear, that Darcy reread a long-forgotten letter in which his
father wrote of his delight in seeing again 'young George's rosy hand.' Darcy
had read the passage twice over, puzzled, until he remembered his parent's
ongoing discussion over the carpet in the morning room. He remembered that for
years his father would tease his mother regarding her choice of a red carpet in
the room while his mother would line up her allies to repeatedly testify to its
being a lovely shade of green. The children, Darcy and his sister, had assumed
it was but playful banter and not truly a disconnection between their parents.
Wickham, Darcy knew, had always written in a dull green-gray that seemed almost
leaden. His father had seen his favorite's words in dusty red and never thought
to look to see what lurked beneath their color. George Darcy's only daughter
almost fell victim to a fortune hunter because her father came to rely
exclusively on first impressions. Darcy learned from his father's mistake-he
reminded himself always to read the words as well as see their color, to
question his understanding of the colors he saw. He stayed on guard. Color was a
tool, not a toy.
then he came to Hertfordshire and was blinded by the kaleidoscope that was
Elizabeth Bennet. Until she came to Netherfield to nurse her sister Jane, he
thought of her as nothing more than a pretty face with a pretty figure and a
saucy tongue. But then she wrote a note. It was a simple note to her mother, he
heard her explain to Bingley, begging the lady to come to Netherfield so that
she might personally assess Jane's condition. Darcy saw it lying on the
footman's tray waiting to be delivered. It was a gleaming, shimmering ray of
light, a beacon, a pool of warm viscous honey, a lightning bolt across a
darkened sky. It took his breath away.
closed his eyes and thought of summer. He opened them, entranced. When he looked
at Elizabeth that night at dinner and later as she walked and talked and sang
and read, he saw ochre, amber, umber, pearl. He saw the warm glow of a candle
flame and the silken, perfect folds of daffodil. He saw the first faint light of
dawn, and the white-hot gold of stars. He tried to tell himself that color was a
tool and not a toy, but showers of golden rain swept away all trace of reason
and left him basking in the memory of her Midas touch.
Bingley's fawning, jittery presence brought him back to earth, though, sobered
him up and reminded him that all that glisters is not gold. He had been caught
by the loveliness of her hand too, years ago when he and Charles Bingley had
first met. He had been entranced then too, but his infatuation had faded as her
brazen nature surfaced. He wondered whether the color of her words had really
ever been anything other than polished brass-had she changed, or had he?
Regardless, he scolded himself, marriage was a business not to be taken lightly,
and many a man had brought his family to ruin because of a misalliance. Marriage
with Elizabeth Bennet was unthinkable-ochre, amber, umber, pearl were untenable.
Darcy left Hertfordshire, chastened by his brief intoxication, hardened to the
tricks his mind would play to get its way.
wisdom lasted only as long as his separation from Elizabeth. When he encountered
her again in Kent, he found himself drawn to her again and sought to validate
his attraction to her. He found himself caught between the undertow of desire
and a relentless current of self-doubt. Should he trust his mind's eye, which
continued to insist that Elizabeth was sunny and warm, or let society contradict
his insight and denigrate her as unworthy of his regard? His answer came in a
rush of words. A verdant tangle of words. A fertile crescent, a mossy mass of
words that began as an anagram.
and Colonel Fitzwilliam, his cousin and companion on this trip to Kent, decided
one Sunday after tea to amuse each other with word games. He wrote a puzzle and
laughingly handed it to her to solve. She did so in but a quarter of the time it
took him to create it, and then handed him one of hers. Before Fitzwilliam had a
chance to tackle it, Elizabeth was bid to play and sing and he dropped her
unsolved puzzle when he followed her to the pianoforte. Darcy moved quickly to
pocket the prize before following her as well. Later, in his bedchamber that
night, Darcy unfolded the sheet of paper and gazed on the simple yellow lines
that formed the jumbled letters.
solved her puzzle in an instant--The Vision of Don Roderick--and began to write
the title of Scott's poem beneath her clue. He wrote in blue, and his eyes shone
with delight and desire as the color of his words blended and danced with her
yellow ones. At first, with only the first word transcribed, the halo around her
words took on a pale green hue, the green of freshly mown hay drying in windrows
under an August sun, Darcy thought. By the time he had finished, the paper was
glowing with vibrant streaks of emerald that flowed into aqua sunbursts before
swirling and twirling into rainbows that sparkled with the colors of a mermaid
the paper in his hand, watching the glorious living dance of color unleashed by
the act of writing his words beneath Elizabeth's, Darcy suddenly knew that he
was looking into what life with Elizabeth as his wife could be. Imagine, he
thought, creating such color every day, with every touch, with every loving
thought, without even writing, by just breathing.
next day he proposed.
stood up from the writing desk in his bedchamber. Dawn was breaking, the first
tremulous rays of morning were spilling across the lawns of Rosings and night
was tiredly slipping away, taking its comforting cloak of darkness with it. He
looked down at the letter he had spent the better part of the night writing, and
shook his aching head. He couldn't deliver it. No one had the right to see into
another's soul as nakedly as that letter revealed his own. He could never let
anyone, least of all Elizabeth, see that letter. No matter that she would
continue on in ignorance of Wickham's true character if he did not deliver it
into her hands. No matter that she would continue to think of him as cold,
arrogant, cruel, and unjust. Better that he not try to excuse his actions than
that she should look upon the raw wound that was his heart, now embodied in the
writhing ghastly letters of his words upon the page.
course, he reminded himself, trying to keep a firm grip on his sanity, she
couldn't see his words as he did. She couldn't see how his hatred for Wickham
erupted blood-red like Vesuvius on a field of ashen text. She couldn't see the
defense of his behavior regarding Bingley and her sister glowing with the
unhealthy sheen of spilled mercury. But she would sense what lay beneath every
agonizing word and he couldn't bear the possibility that those words would ever
make her pity him. She had refused him so completely, so decidedly, so
unceremoniously that he knew that she could never love him, but at least she had
scorned and despised him without pity. Better to be flung away than to be softly
what of Wickham? His silence on that devil's behavior towards Georgiana would
leave Elizabeth in harm's way. Darcy knew that he could enlist Fitzwilliam's
help in enlightening Elizabeth, but wasn't that the coward's way? A man of honor
does not shrink from his duty. A man of honor does not duck or flinch or even
blink. He does not cry out.
looked again at his letter, bruised and bleeding. If only he could bandage it
somehow. Fashion a tourniquet perhaps? Apply a salve? He reread his words...
a brutal way to start. What if Elizabeth took the letter from him mistakenly
thinking that he were going to plead again for her hand, and then be confronted
with this epistle of egotism? She might not read beyond this first paragraph.
She might fling all of the pages into the fire. And then she would remain
ignorant of the dangers Wickham held for her. And he would have failed her and
deserved the scorn with which she looked upon him.
sat down and picked up his pen. Perhaps if he edited out the words that were
red. Softened them, perhaps. He dipped his pen, ragged from a night's work, in
the ink pot and drew a line through the word "degrade" and replaced it
with "humble." The new word took on the hue of the old. He tried
again, with the same result. And again. Out of sheer stubbornness, he continued
editing the letter, working his way through the red words, crossing them out and
replacing them with softer synonyms. The effect was negligible. His jaw locked
in frustration and his eyes brimmed. He couldn't give this to her, and yet he
must. Writing it wasn't enough, delivering it and ensuring that it be read was
his sacred duty. He owed that to her, the woman he loved.
took up the pen again not knowing how to proceed. He must set her mind at ease,
he thought, contrive to make a contract with her so that she would read on and
not immediately consign his words to the fire. He must begin afresh. He must put
her feelings first. He wrote:
breathed with relief as he saw his old familiar blue seep through, turning the
red words to purple, and flitting amongst the ashen text. The letter, with its
new commencement, was still a battered thing but at least it was no longer
bloody. This he could hand to Elizabeth. Once it was recopied.
mended his pen and drew forth a clean sheet of paper-he wrote the new letter
without pause until he reached the end. He stood up and gazed out the window.
The sun was fully above the horizon, now. He needed to be abroad, seeking
Elizabeth so that he might finish his task and deliver his letter. He changed
the final period to a comma and added:
then he signed his name. He stared at his signature for a long time, reluctant
to write what was in his heart, afraid to be so bold. Then slowly, he picked up
the pen again, and wrote one more sentence above his name.
couldn't see the words he had just written. Prayers were always white; always
invisible until the paper on which they were inscribed yellowed sufficiently to
bring them into view, and then they were ghostly, ephemeral. He couldn't see his
closing words, but he knew that Elizabeth could. And in seeing them, he realized
with a rush of wonder, she would see now him so much more clearly than before
because these words had somehow absorbed or swallowed the traces of red and the
flinty shadows that had still lingered though out even after he had edited the
letter. With the tips of his fingers he touched each invisible letter as his
lips breathed the benediction he had bestowed upon the lady who would never be
his, and he knew that they would enable her to look upon his heart, and if she
felt pity at what she saw...what then?
delivered his letter into Elizabeth's hands, and returned to his home in London.
His cousin Fitzwilliam returned to his regiment. The sun continued to rise and
set. Spring passed into summer. Darcy and his sister fled from the oppressive
heat of the city and walked together through Pemberley's forests, along cool
paths that wound along beside the river. He fished for trout and carp. She
sketched and read. On the land, the hay was cut and dried and baled. Before it
was cut again, it was time for Darcy and Georgiana to go to Weymouth to bathe in
the sea and walk along the Esplanade and meet with friends, to read novels and
write letters. But Darcy no longer found joy or even refuge in either reading or
first he thought his aunt's letter, which had followed him to London from Kent,
was the cause of his disquiet. It was this letter, sprinkled with venom directed
at Elizabeth Bennet's impudence in fancying herself above her station in life,
yet written in a hand as blue as his own, that made him fully realize how
arrogantly foolish he had behaved towards that fair lady. The letter made him
doubt himself. It made him second-guess his judgment and question the truths
that he held to be universally acknowledged.
it wasn't the contents of the letter that had robbed him of his equanimity. It
was the color of it. He could no longer write a line without remembering that he
wrote in the same hue as Lady Catherine, and that she wrote in the same hue as
his mother had, and father, and cousins, and uncles, and friends. Blue--true
blue wasn't true, after all, he scolded himself after reading Lady Catherine's
letter for the twelfth time. The sky was not really blue, he had learned as a
child, no bluer than was the ocean despite all the songs and poems and words to
the contrary. Sky and water were simply dark and light that passed for blue,
just like all his fine words, just like his life, when you got right down to it,
an illusion of what was important. And yet there was nothing he could do about
it. He couldn't change the color of his words any more than he could change the
color of his eyes. He was to the manor born and nothing could alter that. He had
loved and lost before he had learned how completely he was blinded by his
went to Weymouth resolved to be quietly unhappy. He went to stand aloof from
friends and family and reflect bitterly on the irony that was his lot. He went
to walk beside the sea and think deeply on the splendid isolation into which he
was withdrawing. He went to be Byronic, but he could not. One morning, as he
stood on the dunes, peering into the morning fog, trying to catch a glimpse of
the fishing boats he knew were creeping across the bay, he put his hand to his
check, surprised to discovered that it was wet with mist. He felt like a child,
a baby, putting his hand into water and laughing at the sensation. How long had
it been since he had felt the rain on his face, the sun on his cheek, the breeze
on his neck. He loosened his collar, then shed his coat, and stretched out his
arms feeling the mist penetrating the fine weave of his shirt and soaking his
put his finger to his tongue and smiled at the sharp saltiness of body and sea
together. He ran his tongue over his lips, catching droplets of mist.
closed his eyes and listened-the deep bass of the waves rolling in lapped over
cries of sea birds and the murmur of wind across dunes. He flared his nostrils,
breathing in the heavy wet smell of fog and seaweed, wind and ocean, sand and
grass. He felt his sadness, his self-pity, his very blueness drain away, leaving
the man alone, chastened and humbled and awed by the unabashed freshness of the
world. He stood, for he knew not how long, hesitant to move for fear that the
strictures of his tired old London world bind him up again if he did move.
saw him first. Charles Bingley and his sisters had called for her after
breakfast and they had all decided to walk to the end of the pier. Bingley
hallo'd to him before Georgiana could stop him. Darcy turned, quickly
refastening his collar and slipping into his coat. He met them on the pier.
Bingley laughed at his disheveled look, and Caroline Bingley frowned to discover
that he had been out since daybreak. He smiled at Georgiana and kissed her hand.
He lifted his eyes to find her looking curiously at him. Later, after they had
said goodbye to their friends, he asked her to sit down, and then he told her
about Elizabeth Bennet and what it means to write in blue and what it means to
only see the world but never to feel it.
you go back to Hertfordshire," she asked when he had finished.
day," he replied. "But first, there is much that awaits me at
Pemberley. Much that I need to put right before I can go calling anywhere. I've
been neglectful in my blindness, I'm afraid. A good master, perhaps, but not so
good a man. I have to make peace with Pemberley before I can face her
off my right hand? Change my name? Denounce my father? Deny myself?"
Weymouth to London to Derbyshire, Darcy journeyed alone, his thoughts crowded
with questions that he couldn't answer. Knowing that Georgiana was safe under
the wing of Mrs. Annesley, he left her to follow his path at a more leisurely
pace. He was eager to get to his estate quickly so that he might have a day or
two alone there before his entourage descended upon the place.
on the edge of the world at Weymouth, he had vowed that he would return to
Hertfordshire before the year was over and apologize to Elizabeth Bennet for
being a blind and prejudiced idiot. Somehow, he would thank her for daring to
open his eyes. How she felt about him after that or how she might come to think
of him, he dared not speculate. He resolved to live each day as it came and to
face his future without trying to peer around corners. At least, he told
himself, he wouldn't have to see Elizabeth again until he had fashioned himself
into a man worthy of her. And so he went home, alive to the world around him,
hungry for purgatory, keen that his penance might be named so that he could get
on with it. In wayside inns that furnished lodging along his journey he wrote
long into the night, listing his transgressions, confessing his shortcomings,
wallowing in his stone-washed words, now faded and drained of the indigo that
had damned him.
in the thought that it was better that he should read and write in the pale,
colorless world of his peers than that he should commit hubris a second time,
after a week of riding Darcy slid off his tired horse and handed him to one of
Pemberley 's stable boys to curry, feed, and water. He was home. Here was where
he could begin again. Here was where he could practice all that he had preached
to himself on the journey northward. It would take time, he acknowledged. He had
habits to break. He must learn to listen carefully and not let his mind wander
when people were talking to him. He must learn to comfort and embrace and
compliment. He must learn to be generous in spirit. He wondered if he was up to
it. And then he thought of Elizabeth and swallowed hard.
year's end," he swore silently as he rounded the stable and headed up the
little hill to the formal garden, "by year's end."
then he stopped short and blanched, for the lady herself, Elizabeth Bennet,
stood not more than twenty yards in front of him. Not a mirage, but in the
flesh, his pulse told him above the racket that his pounding heart was making.
God," he thought blasphemously, his cheeks flushing and his mouth turning
to cotton, "so this is to be my penance. Blindsided, again."
spoke, somehow, and so did she. And the sun went right on shining as if time
hadn't stopped. The light glanced off her curls, shattering into shards of
color, prism-like, that pierced his memory then flooded it in a wave of
nostalgic longing, and his mind wandered along old paths as she stammered
answers to his ill-formed questions.
comfort, embrace, compliment," he scolded himself while Elizabeth stumbled
on unheard. "Gad, but you aren't even a gentleman," his mind shrilled,
distracting him into forgetting to invite her into his home for rest and
refreshment. "Speaking to a lady whilst dressed in dirty traveling
clothes...she will think that you can't be bothered to be presentable to
her...get yourself inside and make yourself agreeable. You have no time to think
and plan, you must simply act. That is to be the price you pay for thinking too
much." He bowed and fled, leaving the mistress of his heart unheard,
unhappy, unaided, unsung.
sooner was he inside, shouting for his man to come to his assistance, than he
realized how oafishly he had just behaved. Smacking his head with impatience, he
groaned that now Elizabeth would think him uncouth as well as proud and
arrogant. So much for impromptu listening, comforting, embracing, or even
fundamental complimenting. And then, agony of agonies, he realized that his
behavior would probably send her flying to her carriage, mistaken in her
probable assumption that he thought her presumptuous and ill-bred to visit
Pemberley at all. With no time left to gnash his teeth or brood, Darcy hastily
changed his clothes and dashed back down the corridor and down the steps of the
courtyard. She must not feel any doubt that she was welcome in his home.
crossed the stones double quick, noted that the hired carriage was still waiting
by the stables, and beckoned to Reynolds, his estate manager. Relieved to hear
that Elizabeth and her party had undertaken to walk the river circuit, Darcy was
about to set off after them when Reynolds reminded him that if he went by way of
the meadow he could intercept the visitors shortly after they entered the woods.
He set off, eager to be back in her presence, unable to fathom any course of
action but to comfort Elizabeth and let her know that she and her companions
were full welcome in his home and on his grounds. He was their host. He would
listen. He would comfort. He would embrace, at least metaphorically. He would
compliment. He would do these things even if it killed him. He felt as if he
were an ogre holding a tiny speckled egg in his hands. He almost didn't dare to
breathe. He surely didn't dare to think.
then she was before him once again, and all the world was filmy white with
spidery cracks spread across a fragile sky that he was willing himself to hold
together. His heart found words, perhaps aping the practiced courtliness of his
cousin Fitzwilliam, but words sweet enough to satisfy the lady that the ogre was
on his best behavior. She smiled. His heart grew bolder, basking in the warmth
of well-placed dimples and gentle curves, and in time he ventured a
compliment...and then a request. And then it soared as his heart's request was
answered with gentle acquiescence. If this kept up, Darcy half-believed that
civility could become a habit. He made another offer and held his breath. This
one she declined. He handed her into her carriage and watched as it made its way
though the frosty landscape he now called home. He did not question whether
Elizabeth's regard came at too high a price. He knew he would learn to love this
pale world as much as he did the one on the other side, in time.
until Darcy had been two hours in his carriage on the high road back to London
did he realize that he had known from the letter in Elizabeth's hand that
tragedy had befallen her even before her face and voice had confirmed his
darkest fears. Now, he opened his
eyes wide with excitement as he drew out the packet of letters he had meant to
peruse during the journey. Despite
his grim determination to restore Elizabeth's piece of mind and her family's
well-being, he smiled with relief to see that his second sight had returned with
a vibrancy greater than before. There
was the gentle azure of Georgiana's brief lines bidding him to return to her
when his work in London was finished. And
there was the friendly rust of Bingley's scrawl.
He happily shuffled through the cinnamon tones of his solicitor, and
grimaced at the familiar pleas for donations, subscriptions, and sponsorships,
all edged in pious frost, that had been accumulating for him in his study while
he had been practicing his new-found civility with Elizabeth and her relatives.
swallowed hard as he carefully unfolded the final piece of paper in the packet.
Not daring to breathe, he looked down onto the words Elizabeth had
written but two days ago. He
exhaled a sigh, relieved to see her words glowing warm and golden once again.
Ocher, amber, umber, pearl—her shades, dancing once more before his
eyes, the colors he had willingly sacrificed when he had sought to purge himself
of blue. She had written the note
when she had come with her aunt to Pemberley to visit his sister while he fished
with her uncle. She had been
talking of music with Georgiana when he had entered the room, and Georgiana had
asked her to write down the name of a new piece that she had heard in London.
After Elizabeth had left Pemberley and returned to Lambton, Georgiana had
quietly handed him the note and asked him whether he could procure for her the
piece that Elizabeth had admired so much. He
had eagerly agreed to do so. In
fact, his purported reason for visiting Elizabeth yesterday morning at the
Lambton Inn was to discover the name of the pianist who had performed the piece. He knew not where that inquiry would lead, he hadn't dared to
strategize, he had only hoped to heal, but then she had met him at the door,
wild-eyed, already grieving for her lost sister and her sinking family,
distracted, disarmed. He embraced
her loss as his own. Her family was
his. Her grief was his.
Her tears were his. Her
comfort was his.
retied his packet of letters, save but for the note from Elizabeth, which he
tucked into his waistcoat pocket, and prepared for his descent into hell.
The bowels of London was his destination, and he needed the color of his
lady on his arm to keep his eyes on the prize and his hands steady.
month later, Darcy found himself on the high road back to Pemberley, unfolding
the now edge-worn note from Elizabeth, still delighting in its sunny warmth,
still thankful that he had been granted a second chance to see and feel her
golden tones. Doing battle with George Wickham and bribing him into marrying
Elizabeth's chit of a sister, Lydia, had been little more than child's play, he
had discovered. Secure in the
knowledge that the Bennet family's reputation was secure and Elizabeth's anxiety
had abated, Darcy was returning to Pemberley to tend to his affairs, kiss his
sister's brow, and write to Charles Bingley.
A little hunting in Hertfordshire was just the thing to put a spring back
in his friend's step, he thought with a smile.
leaned his head back and closed his eyes and wondered what color would proclaim
his marriage banns to Elizabeth. He
hadn't yet offered again. She
hadn't yet accepted. But his hand
would find a way to hold hers someday, somehow, he knew.
Some men throw life away with both hands. Some drown their sorrow in self-pity. And some ask for a second chance.
the harvest moon shone down on Hertfordshire, Darcy joined the ranks of those
who tried again.
His marriage banns were blue, and gold, and green. He never took for granted the kaleidoscope that was Elizabeth. Even in old age, when his eyes began to fail him and he had to squint to see the contours of her sweet, loving face, Darcy felt her yellow candle warmth caress and love his blues away until all the world was Eden once again, and all the light was the soft green of newly mown hay. Sunrise, sunset. Waterfalls in dark forests. A meadow filled with flowers. Craggy heights and distant vistas. Elizabeth was the color of his love.
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