A Beacon to Light My Path
My father died when I was three and twenty. He had prepared me, as his heir, for my role as master of Pemberley. I knew how to manage servants; I had been interacting with his steward and solicitor during his illness; I even gained some experience, as my father had, in doing the tasks that usually fall to the mistress, since my mother had earlier passed away and Georgiana was too young to take her place. In training I was prepared to succeed him; but in my heart and in my mind, I was a grieving young man--of age barely two years--who was suddenly master of an estate in Derbyshire and a home in London, and guardian to a young sister. I struggled to maintain a balance between my duties and my emotions.
After George Wickham--the companion of my youth, turned dissolute libertine--exchanged a promised living in the church for money, I spent several days pondering the meaning of it all. Was the point of life that I had a home, and enough money to do what I wanted? Did I have more wealth than Wickham because of my virtues? Was Wickham destitute because of his profligacy? Was the world a different place because my father had lived in it, or would he be forgotten before the year was out? Would I make a place for myself, or would I be likewise forgotten after my time on earth?
These were weighty thoughts for a young man of three and twenty; and mired as I was in my new responsibilities, stunned with the duty of guiding Georgiana's young life, I could come to no useful conclusion. I wanted to believe that I was in some way superior to George Wickham, but I hoped that my estate was not the only advantage I had over him. At least, debauched though he was, he had a clear view of what he enjoyed and wanted to pursue in life--women and gambling. I had no such clarity.
My mood disintegrated, as did my ability to be amiable and, eventually, civil. I observed people around me, attempting to learn from them the deeper meaning in life and the great potential of my new situation; for the most part I observed ladies and gentlemen in marriages without affection, spending money without deriving joy, truly convinced of their own supremacy to those beneath them in situation.
One night, frustrated and confused, I fell on my knees beside my bed and prayed. It was an abomination of a prayer for someone who had been raised in religion--alternately importuning God, my own departed father, and anyone else with ears to hear to give me a beacon to light my path, to make sense of what lay ahead of me and what I should try to accomplish. I fell asleep on my knees without answer; an hour later, cold and numb, I crawled into my bed to sleep.
A voice called me from my oblivion. "Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam." I was surrounded by light, and could feel someone was beside me. I felt no fear, though I could see nothing familiar; in fact, I could see nothing but radiance. "Fitzwilliam."
"I am here."
"What do you seek, Fitzwilliam?"
"Ah," she said, with a gentle laugh. "No small thing."
"I hope you can enlighten me," I said, turning toward the voice. "I have searched without result."
"What if there is no purpose?" she asked. She fixed me in her gaze, and I felt she could see every thought being formed in my mind. I could not so much as discern her features. In the same way that face and form become indefinite in the darkness, I could not see her for the blinding light that surrounded us.
"If there is no purpose," I responded, "then life is a cruel hoax. Why give us breath and being without reason?"
"Who gives life, Fitzwilliam? Who is the author of this purpose?" she asked quietly. For a brief moment I caught a glimpse of her eyes, sparkling with understanding and compassion.
"Now you wish to throw my faith in God into uncertainty?"
"I wish nothing. I am here for you."
I stood silent for a moment, putting my thoughts in order. "I shall say, then, that I believe in God, and I would like to believe He had a reason for giving me life. I would like to believe that He had reason for taking my father and giving me his place. For taking my mother from a daughter who needs her guidance and love." I realized without shame that my voice had cracked at the mention of my parents.
"It was His will."
"But to what end? There is no caprice in God; He does nothing on whim. Why am I who I am, and what is expected of me?"
"A man in your position might make his own future, Fitzwilliam," she replied. "You have the means to create and fulfil your own expectations."
I lost patience momentarily, and sarcasm crept into my voice, before I checked myself. "Oh, yes." Looking around at the endless light surrounding me, I softened my response. "I have seen countless others doing just that, and not an ounce of happiness in any of them."
"Then what do you seek?"
"A better way. Guidance from someone who sees more. To gratify a will wiser than my own interests."
She reached a hand toward me and I grasped it, immediately immersed in a sensation of love and acceptance. "Then come, Fitzwilliam, and I will show you."
A parade of faces and places passed before my vision. "These you can lift with your fortune," she said quietly.
Some of the people were so far below my own situation I doubted I would ever meet with them in my life. I thought with some bitterness that my money would be useful to them, indeed.
She squeezed my hand and, with a hint of laughter in her voice, said, "They are poor, Fitzwilliam, not wicked or depraved. Money could lessen their burdens, or improve their health, or open new opportunities."
The scenery changed to different people in familiar locations. "These you can lift with your time."
"My time?" I questioned, incredulous. "I do not know of any way my excess time can be transferred to others."
Again I heard a whisper of amusement as she replied. "You cannot add to their time, but you can give of your own time and efforts in their behalf."
"I am a gentleman," I balked. "I need serve no man."
She released my hand and turned toward me, holding my face gently. "Fitzwilliam, you are so much more than your station. You are more than your grand house, more than your vast park, more than your income. You are an able-bodied man of good character, well educated, with a keen mind and good health. There is so much that you can do for others." Her eyes came into clear focus as she continued, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. You are born to privilege, Fitzwilliam, and with that blessing comes opportunities for good."
I could see she was smiling, just by the shape of her eyes. She gestured to her right. "Look." A new group of people passed before my vision. "These you can lift with your example. They will watch and emulate you."
Again she tightened her grip on my hand. I felt warmth, acceptance, and love. I saw places that I had seen many times before, and faces that were familiar to me, or that seemed like they should be. "These you can lift with your love," she said simply. My surroundings grew increasingly warm and bright as figures seemed to approach me from all directions. "And these will teach you and treasure you. They love you freely and completely, Fitzwilliam."
I turned toward my guide and saw that she was one of the throng. There had been nothing of romance in our interactions, but I knew I loved her as surely as I knew anything. "And what of you?" I asked her.
"I love you, too."
"Will I see you again?"
"I am a part of you. We are meant to be together. But you still must choose what is to be." Just before the light grew entirely too bright to see, her face came into sharp focus for a single instant. She was smiling at me.
I did not clearly remember my dream when I woke; the more effort I spent in concentration, the more it faded. But I was left with a sense of peace and purpose. In the weeks following my faith increased from theory to practice, and I hoped and believed that my feet were on the right path.
As time passed I forgot completely about the dream; as my grief passed and my competency increased, I grew comfortable with my position as master and guardian. My peace was shattered when Wickham again obtruded on my notice, under the most trying of circumstances, and once again I questioned life's purpose; but I forced myself to be strong for Georgiana, to reassure and calm her, and we returned to a sense of normalcy having been shaken, but not damaged. We were little inclined to leave our sphere, and we participated in the activities of the gentry. I probably would have continued forever on that path had not I been invited to Hertfordshire a few months later.
It was there that I had my first foggy recollections of the dream--of the answer to prayer that had come five years before, and enabled me to heal and carry on. It began as a niggling sense of familiarity when I saw Miss Elizabeth Bennet smile. "I have seen that smile before," I thought. "I know I have." But I was equally certain that we had never met, and so dismissed the feeling of comfort and peace, of familiarity, that I felt when looking at her face. I distracted myself from looking by claiming that she was tolerable, but not handsome--and even as I spoke my heart knew the falseness of my words.
During a casual gathering at a neighbour's home I looked into her eyes--her fine, dark eyes--and I felt she could see every thought being formed in my mind. She fixed me in her gaze, and I sensed her beauty was in her soul as much as her face and figure. She cared for her ailing sister and her eyes sparkled with compassion; she sparred verbally with me, and they flashed with intelligence.
When I watched her relations behave frequently--almost uniformly--with a total want of propriety, I heard a voice in my mind say, These you can lift with your example. They will watch and emulate you. I questioned whether her three youngest sisters would emulate anyone, and I left Hertfordshire before I lost my heart.
Even after departing I had flashes of remembrance. When passing through an impoverished neighbourhood in London I thought, These you can lift with your money. They are poor, not wicked or depraved. Money could lessen their burdens, or improve their health, or open new opportunities. When visiting my aunt and cousin in the spring, I heard, These you can lift with your love. And when Elizabeth rejected the offer of my hand after my abhorrent proposal, I remembered, You are so much more than your station. You are more than your grand house, more than your vast park, more than your income. You are an able-bodied man of good character, well educated, with a keen mind and good health. There is so much that you can do for others. If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
God answered my prayer for purpose not once, but twice--in a dream which faded like a fog, and in the person of Elizabeth Bennet who sparked my memories and called the scenes and words back. I recognized that, had I paid better heed to the message in the dream, I might not have made so many mistakes; nevertheless, God answered another prayer, and gave me a second chance with Elizabeth, despite my missteps. When she consented to be my wife I grasped her hand and was immediately immersed in a sensation of love and acceptance. She will teach you and treasure you. She loves you freely and completely, I heard in an echo--in a whisper.
On my first night as a husband while I slept with my bride cradled in my arms I dreamt the dream again in its entirety. I realized that everything about the vision had been important, including my guide. As morning broke, the face I had seen only briefly five years earlier came into sharp focus, complete with beguiling smile and fine eyes. "Good morning, Fitzwilliam," said the most familiar, most dear voice. And I knew I held my purpose within my arms.
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