Chapter 13 ~ Elizabeth's Lament
Posted on 2010-11-26
Elizabeth was happy to be back at Longbourn. If it sometimes felt a little dull and lacking in excitement, it was a welcome respite from the emotional turmoil and social complications of the past several months. The home scene was very different from when she had last lived at length in Longbourn with her sisters Mary and Kitty. Mary now Mrs. Tiddlington was happily installed at the parsonage, and Lydia was once more at Longbourn, now the mother of a delightful little girl, Eleanor.
"Are you not astounded, Lizzy, at the change in Lydia?" her father inquired one afternoon in his library, a week after her return.
"Indeed, Father, I am. The alteration is astonishing, and entirely for the better. Lydia is totally devoted to little Eleanor, and has become quieter and more serious not to mention sober. When my mother or a visiting lady offers advice concerning some efficacious method of managing the baby, she listens attentively. One cannot but admire the way in which she strives so diligently, and with good sense, to do what is best for her child. I never would have believed that motherhood could have wrought such a change in a person."
Mr. Bennet nodded in agreement, and with a wry smile, he said, "Sadly it was not the case with your mother, and so I am vastly surprised that it should be so for her daughter. And Kitty, who has forever been influenced by her younger sister, has likewise become somewhat more serious and sensible. Even Mary is no longer quite so blinkered and silly as heretofore although that is doubtless due to the influence of her husband, and perhaps also, the responsibilities of running a household. Yes, I can, in all honesty, declare myself pleased with all my daughters."
"It is indeed fortunate, Father, that Lydia is by nature confident and jolly, for it seems that she may face the daunting task of raising her child alone."
"Yes, what you say is most probable. From what I can make out, though she has written to Wickham repeatedly both before and after the birth of the child she has received not a single letter from the scoundrel. It would appear that he has determined to abandon both wife and child."
Elizabeth loved helping Lydia with little Eleanor and developed a closeness with her younger sister which she could not have imagined possible. One day, Lydia asked Elizabeth if she had learned anything further with regard to the business she had observed between her husband and Miss Bingley in London. Elizabeth revealed the gist of Wickham's letter to Mr. Darcy, and that it had been written at Miss Bingley's behest.
"Mr. Darcy refused, point blank, to pay Wickham, and promised, instead, to call him out if he put about the lies contained in his letter. Wickham then threatened to reveal the whole deceit to Mr. Darcy unless Caroline Bingley paid him to keep his silence."
Elizabeth chose not to reveal Lady Catherine de Bourgh's part in the scheme, nor anything of the letters that Darcy received from Mr. Collins or his aunt. Nor did she wish to disclose the abominable way in which Mr. Darcy had subsequently behaved towards her; it all being entirely unknown in Hertfordshire.
"How shocking! Although, I must tell you that nothing can any longer surprise me concerning Wickham. I know it is a terrible thing to say, Lizzy, but I wish that Mr. Darcy had challenged Wickham to a duel. Oh, how could I have been so foolish to believe that I would be happy with such a selfish, dishonest man?"
"Do not blame yourself, Lydia. George Wickham is a most plausible deceiver; almost every lady in Meryton was taken in by him myself included."
"But only I was foolish enough to elope with him," said Lydia, remorsefully.
"Lydia, my dear, I have a confession I must make. Before you went off to Brighton with the officers last year, I learnt the truth about Wickham's character, but because the story was revealed to me in confidence, and concerned another young lady, I did not feel authorised to make it known. So you see, it was my fault, Lydia; had I told you what I knew of Wickham you would never have been deceived into eloping with him."
"Do not blame yourself, it was my own stupidity; no one else is to blame but me. Lizzy, this account you heard of Wickham, was it perchance from Mr. Darcy that you heard it?"
"Mr. Darcy seems to know a great deal about Wickham, and though Wickham hates him and is forever flaming his character, he is nevertheless very wary of him. Does this information you heard from Mr. Darcy perhaps explain why he spent so much money settling Wickham's debts and purchasing him a commission in the regulars?"
"Yes, it does. Mr. Darcy believed that had he made public what he knew of Wickham, no respectable young lady could possibly have been deceived by him. He felt responsible for your elopement. When he learned of it, he immediately set out for London to find Wickham, and then bribed him to marry you."
"Was it done just for me, Lizzy?" asked Lydia with a curious smile.
"What do you mean?" asked Elizabeth quickly.
"Well, from what you told me of Wickham's letter, Caroline Bingley wished to defame you in Mr. Darcy's eyes. Obviously she wants to marry him, and must have somehow come to believe that he might prefer to marry you instead."
Elizabeth did not wish to reveal all the details of her long and painful history with Mr. Darcy. Though Lydia's character was much improved, Elizabeth was not certain that she could rely upon her younger sister's discretion, and the last thing she wanted was for any of it to get back to her mother, who disliked Mr. Darcy with a passion, and would seize upon his cruel and unjust treatment of her daughter to flame him endlessly; there would be no peace, and very soon, the whole neighbourhood would know it all.
"Caroline Bingley has, I believe, a very jealous nature," replied Elizabeth. "I imagine that Mr. Darcy asking me to dance at the Netherfield ball was probably sufficient reason for her to imagine me as a competitor."
On her previous visit to Longbourn, in June, Elizabeth had cleverly avoided her mother's matrimonial campaigning on her behalf by hinting that she had met a number of eligible young gentlemen in London, which had the desired effect of allowing Mrs. Bennet to persuade herself that a proposal must be imminent.
Unfortunately, it now being six months since she was in London, without receiving a single offer of marriage, her mother decided that it was time to take matters in hand herself.
"It is a pity, Lizzy," she remarked as the two of them sat together one day, "that you did not return to Longbourn several weeks earlier, when your Uncle Phillips first introduced his new law clerk, Jonathon Chester, to us. I am certain that he must have preferred you to your sister Kitty and I would naturally have directed his interest towards you, being the eldest but as it was, there was only Kitty, and he is a most eligible young man with a most promising future, according to your uncle."
Elizabeth had met Mr. Chester at her Aunt Phillip's house, and thought him a very agreeable and well-favoured young man. What impressed her most of all, was his steadiness and good sense. Had it not been for Kitty's recent improvements, on account of Lydia, Mr. Chester might have found her sister a little too foolish for his taste. "I am very pleased on Kitty's account; he is a fine young man, and she seems well pleased with him," replied Elizabeth.
"But it shall be most vexing to have your three younger sisters all married before you. If you are not careful, Lizzy, people will begin to speak of you as an old maid."
"But, Mamma, I am but two-and-twenty!"
"Nevertheless, it would not be right to have all your younger sisters married first. I know perhaps it is not too late. You must put on that lovely pink muslin gown you received from Jane; for Mr. Chester is invited to dine with us today. I will seat him beside you at the table, instead of your sister surely he must see that Kitty is nothing compared to you."
"Mother!" exclaimed Elizabeth, rising to her feet in distress. "I will not hear of it! I am not interested in Mr. Chester not in the least bit and Kitty is a fair way to being in love with him! Promise me that you will do nothing of the kind or I shall leave Longbourn immediately!"
"Oh, very well, Lizzy; if you insist upon being an old maid, there is nothing I can do to help you but it is most provoking. All that beauty for nothing!"
Late one morning, as Elizabeth was sitting in the parlour with her mother, Kitty, and Lydia who was cradling little Eleanor in her arms the sound of a carriage was heard. Kitty rose from her chair and looked out the window; but the carriage, which struck her as rather fashionable, was unfamiliar, and its occupants had already alighted and entered the house, thus denying her a glimpse of them.
"Who can it be?" asked Mrs. Bennet, straightening her cap and quickly taking up her sewing, "I am not expecting visitors today, and it is rather late to be calling. Lydia, my dear, take the baby upstairs. People who travel in fashionable carriages and think nothing of calling at whatever hour they please, are very likely persons of rank and importance; and not accustomed to the presence of an infant in the parlour."
Lydia rose with the baby in her arms, but before she could leave, the door opened and Hill announced, "Mr. Darcy, ma'am."
Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, and Kitty rose to their feet in astonishment and curtsied, together with Lydia. Mrs. Bennet was speechless; whatever did that awful, arrogant, unpleasant Mr. Darcy mean by calling upon her? What could the odious man be wanting?
Elizabeth's emotions were in such a flurry at this inexplicable visit that she found herself quite unable to speak. When she briefly allowed herself to look in Mr. Darcy's direction, he appeared equally ill at ease and embarrassed. They were all of them so discomfited, that for some moments, they all stood staring at the floor.
Finally, Mr. Darcy, aware that it was incumbent upon himself to offer some explanation for his unexpected visit, addressed Mrs. Bennet. "I would be most obliged, madam, if I may be permitted to speak privately with your daughter."
Mrs. Bennet was dumbfounded. To which of her three daughters was he referring? She could not imagine what possible business he could have with any of them let alone the need of a private conversation!
It dawned upon Mr. Darcy that he had failed to be explicit, and he quickly added, "If Mrs. Wickham would do me the honour."
Mrs. Bennet stared unmoving and uncomprehendingly at Mr. Darcy for some moments until Elizabeth, recovering herself, approached Lydia and gently took the baby from her arms. This had the desired affect upon her mother and Kitty, who joined her in wordlessly retreating from the room.
They repaired to Mrs. Bennet's upstairs sitting-room where her mother gave voice to her considerable dislike of the man and what on earth could he be thinking of, arriving unwanted and uninvited upon her doorstep in so extraordinary a manner? When she was finished with his character she began speculating wildly upon what could be the meaning of his astonishing request for a private conversation with Lydia; for when a gentleman makes such a request with regard to a lady it is generally assumed that his intention is to pay her his addresses did he not know that Lydia already had a husband?
Elizabeth had superior information to her mother and sister upon which to conjecture the meaning of Mr. Darcy's unexpected arrival, but she chose not to give voice to her meditations. It must concern George Wickham, she surmised, for Mr. Darcy could have no other concern in common with my sister. What has Wickham done that would cause Mr. Darcy to come all the way to Longbourn? she wondered.
Of course! Wickham will not have received the quarterly payment of one hundred and fifty pounds, that was due in October; for Caroline Bingley no longer has reason to continue paying him, now that Mr. Darcy is aware of the whole deception she will have kept it herself! Wickham was doubtless desperate for money, and so attempted to extort it from Mr. Darcy who will have made good his previous promise to challenge Wickham to a duel.
My God! gasped Elizabeth. He must have killed him! And he has come to Longbourn to inform Wickham's widow; and to express his condolences and regrets unaware of how entirely unnecessary such a declaration would be, for Lydia will be delighted.
However, in those awkward few moments between Mr. Darcy entering the parlour and the surprising revelation of his desire to speak privately with Lydia, an entirely different idea had formed in Elizabeth's mind. She felt certain that the object of his visit must be herself there seemed no other rational explanation and his purpose, in coming all the way to Longbourn, could only have been to pay her his addresses. In that brief moment of confusion, Elizabeth felt outraged at his audacity in believing that he could have been so easily and quickly forgiven the presumptuous, arrogant man! It showed not the least consideration of her feelings!
But now, realising that his purpose in coming to Longbourn was in fact to speak with Lydia, Elizabeth found herself feeling something akin to disappointment, and not a little jealousy towards her younger sister, who was presently engaged in conversation with him. Her mother's endless babble became unbearable, and she wished to be alone. Handing little Eleanor to Kitty, she said, "I am in need of fresh air, Mamma; I shall take a turn in the garden."
As she strolled along the path, Elizabeth reflected on her reaction upon first seeing Mr. Darcy. How could she have been foolish enough to believe that he had come to pay her his addresses? Quite aside from the arrogant presumption and lack of consideration for her feelings it must imply on his part, upon what evidence could she have possibly construed the notion that he might still wish to marry her? For indeed there was none.
In truth, she had very little idea of what were Mr. Darcy's feelings for her which was hardly surprising, as it must be fourteen months, she calculated, since they had last conversed. Yes, it was in September the year before, when Mr. Darcy came to Longbourn with Bingley, for a very brief morning visit and then again to dine. They scarcely spoke with each other on either occasion; it had all been most awkward and unsatisfactory. She had to go back a further two months to her time in Derbyshire with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner to recall the last time that she and Darcy had really engaged in conversation. She had, at that time, come to believe that he still loved her and indeed was intent on paying her his addresses.
But that was all of sixteen months ago, and so much had occurred since. There was Lydia's elopement, which at first seemed certain to sink all her hopes. When later she received her Aunt Gardiner's letter and learned what Mr. Darcy had done for her sister, and of her aunt's understanding of his true motivation, she began to believe that his regard for her had remained constant. Her subsequent attempts at forming a better understanding of what were his feelings for her, during those two visits to Longbourn in September, came to naught, as neither provided an opportunity of engaging him in conversation; and his behaviour had been so awkward and unfathomable.
Then Lady Catherine's wicked deception had been executed, and for the past twelvemonth Darcy had believed the lies of his aunt, and imagined her to be unchaste and disreputable. That he had allowed himself to be thus persuaded by his aunt's fabrications was itself evidence that his love for her had not been strong and steadfast from the outset. And whatever it may once have been, it could not have survived a full twelvemonth of his believing her to be the immoral and defiled woman of George Wickham's letter.
Even though Darcy now knew that it was all an elaborate deception to ensure that he would not consider marrying her, the repugnant image of her that he had held in his mind for the entire year must have destroyed every feeling of affection for her that he had heretofore felt.
In his three brief speeches as they danced recently at Fendalton Park, Darcy had certainly sounded remorseful and contrite, and his resolution to depart immediately after the ball so that she might remain a few days longer to enjoy the company evinced consideration, to be sure. But none of it spoke of love only of guilt, regret, and repentance.
As she walked up and down the path which ran close to the house, Elizabeth's mind was fixed upon Mr. Darcy who remained within, and she seemed somehow incapable of moving more than a short distance away.
Each time she passed the front door, she glanced through the window beside it, which afforded a view of the hallway. Eventually she spied Lydia coming out of the parlour, followed by Mr. Darcy. Lydia immediately ascended the stairs, no doubt to relieve her mother's burning curiosity regarding her conversation with Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth was about to turn and walk quickly around the house to avoid being seen by Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the front door to enter his carriage; but to her surprise, he crossed the hall instead. Elizabeth crept closer to see what he could be doing. He was knocking on the door of her father's library. It opened, and Mr. Darcy entered!
Elizabeth was stunned at what this might mean. She turned and ran to the wilderness where she seated herself on a bench, but she could not remain still, so agitated were her emotions. She rose and began pacing up and down the path. Darcy had proposed to Lydia! Why else would he trouble Mr. Bennet, if not to beg him to sanction the marriage? She shook her head and sighed there was no other explanation. Darcy still felt guilty and responsible for Lydia's elopement with Wickham and now he had killed her husband and left her a widow, alone with a child. Evidently, he had chosen to make amends for both wrongdoings by marrying her!
She should have felt respect and gratitude at so noble an act of restitution; but all she felt was empty and hollow, with nothing to look forward to but grey, dull, insipid days that disappeared into obscurity. Elizabeth collapsed onto a bench and cried until her tears were exhausted. The day was cold and gloomy, and her shawl was not thick enough to keep her warm as she sat huddled on the bench, her body becoming numb, like her mind. At length, the sound of Darcy's departing carriage roused her, and she walked slowly back to the house. Encountering Hill, she asked her to tell her mother that she would not join them for the meal, as she was somewhat tired, and felt the need to rest.
Elizabeth lay on her bed and covered herself with a thick shawl, trying to get warm, but the chill was not of the body. Visions of Lydia and Darcy beset her mind, and she was powerless to prevent them: The bride and groom beaming happily in the church in Longbourn, with herself as bridesmaid; Lydia presiding merrily over the dining table at Pemberley, while she was seated, sad and silent, beside a disappointed Georgiana; Lydia and Darcy dining at Willowbank and strolling arm-in-arm beside the river; dancing gaily together at Pemberley, Willowbank, Fendalton Park, and London.
Lydia will, at least, make him a better wife, and Georgiana a more amiable sister than Caroline Bingley ever could, she reflected, but I could not bear to witness it; I shall remain here at Longbourn, for I cannot live at Willowbank.
Elizabeth was roused by a knock on the door; she had apparently fallen asleep. "Lizzy, may I come in?" asked Lydia.
"Yes," replied Elizabeth, sitting up on her bed and arranging the shawl about her shoulders.
"Were you asleep? Are you quite well, Lizzy? You look very pale, you know. I have such news to tell you," said Lydia, bursting with pleasure and excitement as she sat down on the seat beside the dressing table. "I am so happy, Lizzy. All my worries and troubles are over! I shall never again need to worry about money and how I shall be able to support myself and little Eleanor. But I had better start at the beginning, for I am sure you have no idea of the matter."
"Yes, please tell me everything," said Elizabeth forbearingly; for though she had already guessed it all, she was resigned to allowing her sister the joy of relating her good news.
"As you may have guessed, this is all about my private conversation this morning with Mr. Darcy. You can doubtless imagine how astonished I was when he said that he wished to speak with me, for I could think of nothing he might have to say to me. Well, he began by informing me that he was aware that I had witnessed some conversations between Wickham and Miss Bingley, concerning money and a letter. The letter in question, he said, was written by my husband to himself, and contained scurrilous lies concerning you, and in which, most regrettably, he was eventually persuaded to believe. Miss Bingley, he said, had been giving Wickham money to prevent him from revealing that the letter was, in fact, a fraud."
Elizabeth nodded, but said nothing.
"Mr. Darcy said that as a consequence of his recent discovery of the fraudulent nature of the letter, Miss Bingley stopped giving Wickham money, as there was no longer any reason. Wickham was, of course, badly in debt, and in arrears in his rent. Without the money from Miss Bingley, he became desperate, and wrote to Mr. Darcy demanding a large amount, and threatening to make public the allegations in his earlier letter if he did not receive it. Mr. Darcy's reply was to name a time and place where he would meet Wickham with his sword."
Elizabeth gasped. It was just as she had guessed, but still it was shocking to contemplate. "Wickham was killed, then?"
"He deserved to die," said Lydia, harshly. "Mr. Darcy did not wish to disclose it, but I asked him pointedly whether Wickham was living alone, for I suspected him of forming a liaison with another lady which Mr. Darcy eventually confirmed to be true."
"You are a widow, then?"
"No, I am not," said Lydia, shaking her head.
Elizabeth gasped; all her fears that Mr. Darcy had intended to marry Lydia were for naught! She had to put her hands on the bed to steady herself. It felt as if some great oppressive weight had miraculously been lifted from her chest and she could once again breathe freely. All the tormenting visions of Lydia as Mrs. Darcy were nothing but a bizarre fantasy that had somehow taken hold of her mind.
"Lizzy, are you quite well? You look as if you are about to fall into a swoon," said Lydia anxiously, resting her hand on Elizabeth's shoulder
Taking another deep breath, and struggling to compose herself, Elizabeth replied, "Thank you, I am well very well pray continue. So Wickham survived the duel?"
"Yes. Mr. Darcy easily disarmed him without inflicting injury. He then held his sword at Wickham's heart and offered him a choice: Die, or emigrate to Australia, and never return to England. Mr. Darcy paid off his debts, purchased his passage, and gave him a small sum of money to get him started in the colony as a free settler. Wickham's ship sailed two days ago."
"A very clever arrangement," reflected Elizabeth. "There was absolutely no point in demanding Wickham's word that his attempts at blackmail would cease; because his word is worthless. Once he reaches Australia, with his propensity for gambling, he will always be in debt and will never have the money to purchase a return passage. He will live out his life there."
"Yes, that is exactly what Mr. Darcy said. He apologised for denying me the company of my husband. I told him that no apology was necessary; I never wished to see George Wickham again, and it would have suited me better had he killed the scoundrel, as it would have afforded me the possibility of marrying again."
"How did he respond?" asked Elizabeth.
"He was unsurprised; and said my feelings about Wickham were entirely understandable; and though he was a wicked, immoral man, who deserved to die, he did not wish to be his killer. It had occurred to him that in choosing to allow Wickham to live, he must unavoidably deny me the opportunity of remarrying. On that account, and on account also of his not previously having made Wickham's character known to the world, which would have prevented the elopement in the first place, he is determined to provide financial support to me and my child. He is to set aside a sum of ten thousand pounds in my name which, upon my death, will pass to Eleanor. The interest will be enough for us to live on comfortably!"
"Good heavens! How generous!"
"I know, Lizzy. I could scarce believe it. I knew that Wickham had abandoned me, and that I could not depend on him in the least to support Eleanor and me. I could live here at Longbourn, I knew, but only during Papa's lifetime, after which it passes to Mr. Collins and how then was I to live?"
"Jane and Bingley would never have allowed you to become destitute, Lydia, of that you may be certain."
"Yes, I suppose you are right; but I should so hate for us to have to depend upon the charity of others. God, I wish there was some way to thank Mr. Darcy for his kindness and generosity. After our conversation, he went to speak with Papa about the financial arrangements."
"Lizzy, come to my library for a minute," requested Mr. Bennet.
Her father seated himself behind his desk and Elizabeth sat uneasily in front of it. "Mr. Darcy has astounded me yet again, Lizzy! No doubt Lydia has given you an account of what transpired between Darcy and George Wickham in London, and of Darcy's determination to settle an endowment of ten thousand pounds upon Lydia and her daughter?"
"Yes; it is an act of unequalled generosity. I find it almost incomprehensible that Mr. Darcy should feel so great a sense of responsibility for Lydia's welfare, to contemplate such a thing."
"Yes, indeed. It is entirely unprecedented," agreed her father, shaking his head. "After Mr. Darcy had outlined the precise details of what he intended, I felt obliged to point out to him that should Lydia become a widow and subsequently remarry, there was no provision for him to recover the ten thousand pounds that it would remain her property. Furthermore, given the high mortality rate amongst those voyaging to the Australian colonies, it was not an entirely unlikely prospect."
"And how did Mr. Darcy respond?"
"He acknowledged that he was fully aware of the dangers facing George Wickham, and owned that he would not be saddened, in the least, if it transpired that he was unlucky enough to suffer an early demise. Evidently, Darcy had considered that eventuality and the possibility of his widow subsequently remarrying; and though he could have arranged it otherwise, it was his intention that she should retain the ten thousand pounds. 'If in the event of Mrs. Wickham being widowed, and wishing to remarry, the money may materially assist her in such an endeavour. Your daughter deserves happiness, and if my endowment is of some help in that regard, I shall feel myself amply rewarded,' he said."
Elizabeth shook her head in wonder; he was truly the most admirable of men. That he had allowed himself to be duped by his scheming aunt still greatly vexed her; yet she must concede that while he might rightly stand accused of family bias, faulty judgement, and a lack of faith in her own good character, it in no way reflected upon his goodness and morality. Indeed, given what he had believed about her, his actions could not be considered unjust or even uncharitable. He went to great lengths to prevent what he believed to be the truth about her character from becoming common knowledge, and divulged the contents of the incriminating letters to not a soul. It indicated that a measure of regard and concern for her welfare must have persisted, notwithstanding his conviction, at that time, of her character being dissolute and tarnished.
Was it possible, Elizabeth conjectured, that in time he might eventually come to love her again now that his faith in her virtue and good character had been restored? It seemed almost too much to hope. But of her own heart she was now quite certain: After the unbearable anguish she had suffered during that brief period yesterday in which she had so foolishly persuaded herself that Mr. Darcy would marry Lydia, her feelings could no longer be denied. She had never stopped loving him, she now acknowledged it was only that those feelings had been for a time obscured by other unhappier emotions just as Victoria Netherby had hinted.
"Lizzy, my dear, you seem somewhat distracted this evening," said her father.
Startled, Elizabeth realised that her father had been describing the details of the arrangements Mr. Darcy planned to make regarding the ten thousand pounds for Lydia, but she had been so lost in her reverie that she had not comprehended a word of it. "I am sorry, Papa, I must be a little tired," she said.
"Darcy was most reluctant to receive my gratitude for what he intended to do for Lydia," said Mr. Bennet. "He claimed it was undeserved as he was merely righting a wrong of his own creation. But I would have none of it, and was determined to acknowledge the considerable efforts and expense that he went to last year in bringing about Lydia's marriage; I obliged him to allow me to thank him for his generosity on that occasion, also."
"What was his reaction?"
Mr. Bennet laughed. "He appeared quite put out that I knew anything of the matter, and asked me how I had become aware of it. I told him that I heard it all from you, and explained how you first learned of his involvement from Lydia and then obtained the entire story from your aunt."
"And how did he respond?"
"In a most peculiar manner," replied Mr. Bennet shaking his head. "Something about you possessing an extraordinary ability at penetrating mysteries. I have not the slightest idea as to what he could possibly be alluding do you, my dear?"
Elizabeth blushed and looked confused.
"Do not worry, Lizzy, he probably meant nothing by it he is somewhat eccentric, I think. In any case, he seemed perfectly satisfied at my reply, that your powers of penetration are great, indeed. He then made clear his wish that as few people as possible should know of either act of generosity concerning Lydia. He is a man who does not like the world to know of his private affairs, I think."
"True," agreed Elizabeth. "And in particular, of his association and dealings with George Wickham. With regard to Lydia's marriage, only my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, Jane, you and I are aware of all that he has done; even Lydia does not know the whole of it."
"Yes," said her father with a sigh, "but in the case of the endowment of ten thousand pounds, your mother knows of it, and it would be entirely pointless to ask her to exercise discretion in the matter. If Mrs. Long, and half of Meryton do not already know of Lydia's good fortune, they very soon will!"
By early November, Elizabeth was contemplating returning to the north. Her mother had been in one of her ebullient moods ever since Darcy's visit, and could not stop talking about Lydia's good fortune and all the fine clothes that her daughter might spend her newly acquired wealth upon. Fortunately, Lydia had become surprisingly sensible and level-headed, and had no intention of wasting her money imprudently. She intended to continue living at Longbourn, although she hinted to Elizabeth that she would very much like to pay a visit to Jane and Bingley in Cheshire when little Eleanor was old enough to make the journey.
Mrs. Bennet was a person who could not easily tolerate her own company; she must have companions one at the very least to whom she could incessantly recite the erratic ramblings of her mind. It was an occupation that her husband refused to countenance. With Kitty well on the way to matrimony, it was greatly to her mother's advantage, considered Elizabeth, that Lydia should make her home at Longbourn. Elizabeth admired her younger sister's ability to cheerfully endure her mother's endless chatter, which, apart from Lydia's recent windfall, often turned upon strategies of hastening Jonathon Chester's proposal of marriage to Kitty. Elizabeth felt confident that left to his own devices, he would come to the point soon enough. Mrs. Bennet, however, could not be persuaded that any gentleman could be relied upon to behave sensibly in such an important matter, and that a firm hand and a well-devised scheme was the best means of ensuring a satisfactory outcome.
Aside from wishing to escape her mother's tiresome conversation, Elizabeth had received an invitation from Georgiana to attend a ball at Pemberley in honour of her birthday at the end of November. She was anxious to re-establish herself in the neighbourhood, and comprehend how she would be received in society, now that she was no longer a pariah and though perhaps she would not admit it to herself, she was eager to be in the company of Mr. Darcy, and to learn what were his feelings for her.
Elizabeth was greatly pleased to be at Willowbank once more, after a long, wet, cold journey travelling post. Autumn had given way to early winter and the scene, particularly along the river, now lined by leafless trees, was quite different from when she had last viewed it two months earlier. Yet still it charmed her; there was a delicate, tranquil beauty to the long, bare branches of the willow trees dangling over the swollen river in the pale winter sunshine, causing a myriad of ripples as they touched the water.
Jane could scarcely believe that motherhood had brought so great an improvement to Lydia, and was naturally overjoyed to learn of it. "To think that a tiny baby has achieved, in so short a time, what you and I were powerless to accomplish with our constant attempts at correcting Lydia's wayward behaviour over so many years," reflected Jane, shaking her head.
Elizabeth recounted how Mr. Darcy had dealt with Wickham and of the endowment of ten thousand pounds he had settled upon their sister. Jane was astonished at the news. "Certainly I shall tell no one apart from Charles, of course and you say I may not even thank him for such an exemplary act of generosity and kindness?"
Elizabeth shook her head. Jane could not praise him enough, and Elizabeth was ready to agree to every well-deserved accolade her sister laid at his feet. Jane was satisfied that her sister was a fair way to forgiving Mr. Darcy for the terrible way he had treated her. It pleased her, for she very much wished for felicity and ease in the intercourse between Pemberley and Willowbank, which had been so awkward and fraught when her sister was previously in Cheshire. Jane dearly wished to know if there had been a consequent resurgence of Elizabeth's feelings for Mr. Darcy, but she was too considerate to ask. She must wait for Elizabeth to speak upon the subject something her sister had thus far eschewed.
The morning following Elizabeth's arrival, Georgiana came to wait on them. She was overjoyed to see Elizabeth, and spoke at length of her visit to Fendalton Park, where they had last been in each other's company, two months earlier.
"I passed an entirely delightful fortnight there. Lady Netherby was so very kind and charming," said Georgiana. "It was lovely being in the company of an older lady, and particularly to hear her reminiscences about my own dear mother, whom I can barely remember. They had been acquainted since youth, and their friendship persisted after they both were married. Lady Netherby told me how she remembers holding me when I was but a tiny baby."
"And how did you enjoy the rest of the company?" asked Elizabeth teasingly.
Georgiana blushed. "Miss Netherby also treated me with the greatest kindness. I found her directness a little alarming at first, but I very quickly became accustomed to her ways."
"Yes, she is a little eccentric, is she not?" replied Elizabeth. "I must say that I admire her intelligence and self-confidence. She seems quite unwilling to fit into the demure, ornamental mould expected of young ladies these days."
"That may be admirable, but it might also damage her prospects of finding a suitable husband," counselled Jane. "An intelligent lady, who wishes to find a husband, will strive to meet all the expectations of society. After she is married is the time to allow any eccentricities a freer reign."
Elizabeth laughed. "I believe you are correct, Jane, and doubtless it is the common practice; but I believe Miss Netherby is yet undecided as to whether she wishes to marry. She has a considerable fortune and a home she loves. She may very well be loath to leave Fendalton Park."
"Although she was not explicit," said Georgiana, "it seemed to me that she might have developed a preference for my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was staying at Fendalton Park as the guest of Lord Netherby. She spent a good deal of time in his company, and it seemed to me that she paid close attention when he was speaking; it was almost as if she were attempting to form a comprehensive opinion of his character."
Elizabeth smiled to herself; for it was exactly the intention Miss Netherby had indicated when she revealed that her brother had, at her request, invited the colonel to stay. She was most curious to know the result.
"And what do you think is your cousin's regard for Miss Netherby?" asked Jane.
"I believe that he genuinely likes her. They were very often engaged in conversation regarding music, art, history and other subjects of mutual interest. Colonel Fitzwilliam treated Miss Netherby with the utmost gallantry and charm but then he treats every lady in a like manner, so it cannot, in truth, be claimed that he showed any particular preference towards her," concluded Georgiana. "I have invited Miss Netherby to visit me at Pemberley; she is expected any day now. It will afford an opportunity to determine the degree of their liking for each other."
"Speaking of which," said Elizabeth playfully, "you have yet to mention how you found Lord Netherby. I am certain that Lady Netherby will have ensured that you were often seated beside him and had ample occasion to enjoy his charming company."
Georgina sighed light-heartedly. "It was exactly as you say. I frequently found myself seated beside Lord Netherby at the dining table, and his mother often contrived to have me play the pianoforte when he sang, or suggested that Lord Netherby might wish to show me some notable feature of the grounds or walk with me in the rose garden."
"And with what success did she meet in her endeavours?" teased Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth! You are terrible! Can you not see that you are embarrassing poor Georgiana?" intervened Jane sympathetically.
Georgiana blushed, but appeared disposed to answer. "As for Lord Netherby, I cannot say. He is well aware of his mother's desire, and if it was only Lady Netherby he wished to please, he would most certainly have paid me his addresses. He alluded, with good humour, more than once to his mother's scheme and how she had been most forthright in expressing her displeasure at him choosing you, Elizabeth, as his partner to open the ball. As I recall, he spoke of you quite often."
"Georgiana," said Elizabeth, "we are neither of us in love with the other please believe me. But what I wish to know is your opinion of Lord Netherby. Did it undergo any material alteration as a result of your visit?"
Georgiana considered her words carefully. "I have always liked Lord Netherby; and yes, I found his company most engaging. I think I can say that my regard for him has increased. More than that, I felt that I could live very happily at Fendalton Park with Lady Netherby and Victoria although if she marries, she will make her home elsewhere."
"Not necessarily," suggested Jane. "Fendalton Park is very large indeed. It could very easily be home to both Lord Netherby and his wife, and also Victoria and her husband, as well as Lady Netherby. If Miss Netherby were to marry someone who had no estate of his own, something of the sort might very well eventuate."
"Someone such as Colonel Fitzwilliam, perhaps?" proposed Elizabeth, smiling.
"Oh, I had not considered that," replied Georgiana. The picture that came to mind of her of living at Fendalton Park, as the wife of Lord Netherby together with Lady Netherby and her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam as the husband of Victoria Netherby was not at all an unpleasant one.
Before Miss Darcy departed, Jane invited her, along with her brother and cousin, to dine with them the following day. Elizabeth was unable to feel at her ease as she contemplated meeting with Mr. Darcy. How would he behave towards her? What were his feelings for her, she wondered.
The dinner failed to meet Elizabeth's hopes and expectations. When their guests arrived, Mr. Darcy made a tolerable performance of greeting her, and while they were taking drinks, prior to entering the dining room, he purposefully stood beside her. Elizabeth took this as a good omen and waited hopefully for him to speak. He cleared his throat on several occasions, with the apparent intention of speaking, but nevertheless said nothing. He appeared nervous and awkward.
At length, Elizabeth said, "I trust that you had a pleasant drive from Pemberley, sir. I understand that it has rained a great deal, hereabouts, in the past several weeks, and that the roads are in rather a poor state."
"Err yes the drive from Pemberley took somewhat longer that usual," he replied stiltedly. Mr. Darcy was clearly most uncomfortable, yet he seemed determined to persevere. Eventually he said, "I hope that your journey from Hertfordshire was not an uncomfortable one on account of the wintry weather, Miss Bennet?"
"I thank you, sir; it was cold and difficult in parts, on account of the state of the roads but well worth the inconvenience."
"Why so? Did you not enjoy your time with your relations in Longbourn?" asked Darcy.
Elizabeth looked away from him, but said nothing. How could he misunderstand my meaning; that it was on account of my desire to be again at Willowbank, and in the society of so many dear acquaintances himself not the least?
"Err excuse me " mumbled Darcy, aware of how boorish his question must have appeared to the lady. "I did not mean to suggest that there was any reason why you should not have found the society pleasing err your parents and sisters in Longbourn are all well, I trust?"
"Thank you, sir, they are all very well and little Eleanor, I am happy to say, is thriving," said Elizabeth.
"I beg your pardon?" said Darcy, evidently unsure of to whom she was referring.
"My sister Lydia's daughter I believe you saw her briefly when you entered the parlour at Longbourn last month."
"Oh!" said Darcy, reddening. His sister and cousin were standing close by, and Elizabeth suspected that they knew nothing of Darcy's visit to Longbourn, or of the endowment he had settled upon Lydia and that he wished it to remain so. They were very likely also unaware of the duel he had fought with Wickham, or of the circumstances which had precipitated it. "Please excuse me," said Darcy abruptly, draining his glass, and walking stiffly across the room to the sideboard to take another. He did not return to Elizabeth, but instead approached Bingley, whom he engaged in conversation.
Mr. Darcy was ill at ease throughout the visit. His behaviour was exactly of a piece with his conduct in September the year before, when he and Bingley had dined at Longbourn. Elizabeth had attempted to explain his awkwardness on that occasion by the discomfort he likely felt on account of her mother, who treated him with bare civility, and went out of her way to make him feel unwelcome. But no such mitigating circumstance could be claimed today. How was his evident embarrassment and discomposure in her society to be explained?
Jane had seated Elizabeth next to Mr. Darcy at the table, but he spoke very little, and drank rather a lot of wine, she thought. After several unsuccessful attempts at engaging him in conversation, Elizabeth gave up in frustration. Is he avoiding conversing with me for fear that I might again allude to his visit to Longbourn she wondered. Does he imagine me so insensible of his evident wish to avoid the subject that I would speak on it again or does he imagine that I deliberately introduced the subject earlier with the intention of causing him embarrassment, and may very likely do so again? She found him as incomprehensible and unfathomable as ever.
Fortunately, Colonel Fitzwilliam, sitting on her other side was his usual charming self, speaking with intelligence and ease on a range of interesting subjects. But Elizabeth found herself unable to enjoy his affable conviviality, so disappointed and disconcerted was she at the gentleman sitting silently on her other side.
When Jane had earlier proposed the intended seating arrangements for the meal, her sister had not objected to being seated beside Mr. Darcy, although she continued to maintain her silence regarding that gentleman. Jane had closely observed Mr. Darcy's behaviour, and understood how dissatisfied and unhappy her sister must be. She could not understand the man, but resolved not to be the first to introduce his name into their discourse.
Had it not been for the arrival of Lord Netherby and Victoria Netherby at Pemberley, Elizabeth might well have found some pretext to decline accompanying Jane and Bingley to dine at Pemberley a few days later so unwilling was she to again be discomforted and bewildered by Mr. Darcy.
As master of the house, Darcy managed to welcome Elizabeth with a tolerable measure of decorum albeit in a somewhat stiff and formal manner. Lord Netherby's greeting, in contrast, was all warmth and felicity at meeting again with a dear friend. Elizabeth was so pleased to see him and his sister that she began to feel some measure of contentment. While they were taking drinks before the meal, Miss Netherby contrived to draw Elizabeth aside and hinted that not only had she finally resolved in favour of marriage, but she believed that more than one union was presently in the offing. Elizabeth wondered whom, besides herself and Colonel Fitzwilliam, she intended; was it her brother, Lord Netherby, and Georgiana to whom she referred, or was it to herself and Mr. Darcy? If it were the latter, Miss Netherby would become very quickly disabused of that fancy.
As they were about to enter the dining room, Lord Netherby attached himself to Elizabeth, offering her his arm, and she found herself seated beside him to her left, with Colonel Fitzwilliam on her right, next to whom sat Georgiana at the bottom of the table, then Bingley, Jane, Victoria Netherby, and Darcy at the head of the table, with Lord Netherby to his right.
Georgiana was exceedingly confused; this was not at all the seating arrangement she had planned. She wondered how it could have happened that not one of the three couples she had intended to seat together were sitting beside each other, and that the only married couple present, were seated together. She must speak with Jane and discover how better to manage the task of seating her guests in the desired place.
Elizabeth was not starved for conversation today. In fact, she had difficulty finishing each course, so occupied was she in conversing with her neighbours. Colonel Fitzwilliam was as pleasant and engaging as always, although he devoted much of his time speaking and giving encouragement to his young cousin, who remained somewhat disconcerted by the seating arrangements.
Lord Netherby was even more gallant and charming than Elizabeth recalled from her stay at Fendalton Park. He spoke of the great pleasure her visit had given them all, and then said with a mysterious smile that he hoped she would never be a stranger to Nottinghamshire.
He inquired with interest concerning her sojourn in Hertfordshire, and rather surprisingly said, "I am endeavouring to form a favourable opinion of that country for I must confess to having been rather annoyed with Hertfordshire for taking you away from us in September."
Elizabeth blushed at his words, which implied a degree of preference that surprised her.
"You may wonder at seeing me here at Pemberley today," he said. "My original intention was to ride over next week on the day of the ball and stay but a day or two. However, when I learnt that a certain young lady, whom I much admire, had recently returned to the district, I impulsively decided to accompany my sister and come earlier."
Elizabeth was, by this time, feeling quite discomposed. There could be not the least doubt as to the lady to whom he was referring for he was staring at her most ardently. Elizabeth noticed with consternation that Mr. Darcy, on Lord Netherby's left, had heard every word. He sat frozen, a spoonful of pudding arrested inches from his mouth, doubtless digesting the implications for his sister. Elizabeth glanced in Georgiana's direction, hoping that she had not heard Lord Netherby, and was relieved to observe her deep in conversation with her cousin.
Despite Elizabeth's palpable embarrassment, Lord Netherby carried on in a similar vein. If Georgiana could not hear what was being spoken, she could hardly fail to notice the keen attention that Elizabeth was receiving from Lord Netherby. Elizabeth eagerly anticipated the moment when the ladies would withdraw from the table and leave the gentlemen to their port and cigars.
When, at last, the time came, and the ladies had repaired to the drawing room, Elizabeth continued to feel ill at ease on account of Georgiana, who, for a time, sat quiet and withdrawn. Miss Netherby engaged Georgiana in conversation concerning a particular Mozart piano sonata, and when it transpired that Georgiana had the music, Miss Netherby very soon had her playing it for them.
When the gentlemen joined them, Lord Netherby was immediately at Elizabeth's side, where he remained for much of the evening, although he was careful to allot some attention, also, to his hostess, Miss Darcy, with whom he sang some splendid Italian love songs. In the drawing room, at least, it was possible to find a pretext to move away from Lord Netherby from time to time; yet Elizabeth was afraid that no one could have failed to observe the partiality he showed her.
The following morning, Jane remarked upon the surprising seating arrangements at the Pemberley dinner, and even more surprisingly at the consequent animation of the conversation at the dining table.
"I must own," replied Elizabeth, "that I was astonished at Lord Netherby's warmth and enthusiasm; it was beyond anything he exhibited when I was at Fendalton Park. I fear that poor Georgiana must have been quite distressed by his behaviour."
"Yes, it was all so unexpected, although I must confess myself unsurprised that any young man should be enchanted with you, dear Lizzy. Lord Netherby is a very charming and eligible young man, and since you have in no way encouraged him, you have no reason to feel guilty on Georgiana's account if he should prefer you."
"Indeed he is charming and amiable, and yet "
"Lizzy, my dear, if you will pardon my presumption well, if you are thinking of a different gentleman who was also present yesterday, I must say that despite his being aware, for some months now, of the deception which formerly caused him to think ill of you, his recent behaviour cannot be seen in a very hopeful light."
"Yes," agreed Elizabeth sadly, "he has been aloof, awkward, and taciturn."
"It is not just the regrettable manner in which he has conducted himself towards you to which I refer, but more particularly to the preference that he showed yesterday for Miss Netherby."
"Victoria Netherby?" asked Elizabeth in surprise.
"Surely, Lizzy, you could not have failed to notice that they spent a good deal of the meal engaged in conversation. I must admit that I was astonished at the contrast between his willingness to engage in conversation with Miss Netherby yesterday, and his almost total silence when seated beside you at our dinner table just a few days earlier."
"I must confess, Jane, that I hardly noticed it," said Elizabeth. "Please do not believe for a moment that I doubt the accuracy of your observation it is only that Lord Netherby kept me engaged in conversation from the moment we seated ourselves at the table until the moment we withdrew to the drawing room. In my growing alarm at the warmth of Lord Netherby's attentions, I noticed very little of what was going forth amongst the rest of the party. Mr. Darcy was, I recall, also seated beside Miss Netherby when the gentlemen later joined us in the drawing room, although I paid little regard at the time, so conscious was I of Lord Netherby's constant attentions and how it must appear, most especially to Georgiana, whom I fear I have injured most grievously."
"You must not say that, Elizabeth; you have done nothing of the kind! If anyone is to blame for injuring Miss Darcy, it is Lord Netherby. Certainly, Georgiana appeared to be confused and discomposed; however, it may well have been on account of no one being seated beside the person she had intended. From the report she gave us a few days ago regarding her visit to Fendalton Park, while she appeared to be well disposed towards Lord Netherby, it was not my impression that Georgiana is in love with him. She is yet young, and from our many conversations, I have never understood her to be ready to marry apart from during that brief period when it seemed that Caroline Bingley was destined to become her sister."
"From what you tell me, Mr. Darcy and Miss Netherby had a good deal to say to each other?" asked Elizabeth, hesitantly.
"Indeed they did," replied Jane. "Victoria Netherby is a most intelligent and well-read woman, and she had little difficulty in engaging Mr. Darcy's attention. Although sitting at the head of the table, as he did, he had little other possibility of conversation, for Lord Netherby, on his right, was so entirely devoted to you."
"Jane, there is something I must tell you. Victoria Netherby gave me to understand, when I was her guest at Fendalton Park, that she was as yet undecided as to whether she wished to marry. However, if at some future time she did choose to marry, it seemed evident that she had already decided to whom it would be Colonel Fitzwilliam. She had her brother invite him to stay so that she could further consider the desirability of marriage and the likelihood that she might bring him to the point of paying her his addresses.
"Before we entered the dining room, yesterday, Victoria intimated to me that she had decided in the affirmative with regard to marriage. I expected to see her sit beside Colonel Fitzwilliam as Georgiana had intended, but it now seems that she has decided that Mr. Darcy would suit her better."
Jane was about to comment that it would be a most suitable match, and that furthermore, their behaviour yesterday did nothing to contradict Elizabeth's conjecture. However, she chose to keep her silence, for it was evident that notwithstanding Mr. Darcy's unsociable behaviour towards her sister of late, that she was still very much in love with the gentleman.
"Victoria also hinted to me that another marriage was in the offing," continued Elizabeth. "At the time, I wondered if she was alluding to her brother and Georgiana or possibly, even, to myself and Mr. Darcy but now her meaning is evident: It was to Lord Netherby and myself."
"Miss Netherby must know her brother's heart, Elizabeth. If that was her meaning, then it is not unlikely that Lord Netherby intends to pay you his addresses. I advise you to think carefully on the subject, and to be prepared to give him your answer."
"There is nothing to consider, Jane. He is a most amiable, handsome, and charming young man, with many fine qualities. I greatly admire him but that is all and it is not enough. I do not love him."
Jane sighed; it all seemed so hopeless. "Then how shall I arrange the seating when the party from Pemberley come to dine with us in three days time? Beside whom do you wish to be seated?"
Elizabeth shook her head sadly. "I have no preference, Jane; it is of no material concern to me. Given the surprising animation of yesterday's table, you might do worse than simply allowing your guests to sit beside whomever they please."
Chapter 16 ~ All the World's a Stage
Posted on 2010-11-29
The guests from Pemberley arrived in two carriages. In the first, were Lord Netherby, his sister, and Georgiana Darcy, who arrived some ten minutes ahead of Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam in the second.
Lord Netherby was almost immediately at Elizabeth's side. "Miss Bennet," he said, "I contrived that I should arrive here before the other gentlemen, as I was eager to be the first to make a particular request of you."
"Oh?" responded Elizabeth apprehensively. "And what is your request, sir?"
"Only the pleasure of the first two dances at the Pemberley ball."
Elizabeth smiled. "It will be my pleasure, also, Lord Netherby. But have you considered that you must certainly invoke the disapprobation of Lady Netherby, whom I feel certain would wish to hear that you had opened the ball with the young lady whose birthday it is intended to celebrate."
Lord Netherby smiled. "Most regrettably, I choose my own pleasure and I sincerely hope that of my intended partner, above the wishes of my dear mother."
"And is not the pleasure of the young lady in whose honour the ball is held to be likewise considered?" asked Elizabeth softly, not wishing the others Georgiana, most especially to hear.
"Certainly," replied Lord Netherby quietly. "But it is my belief that it would be a pleasure of no great moment to the young lady in the way that it would be to my mother, or to her brother. I think you comprehend my meaning, Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth nodded. Lord Netherby wished her to understand that, in his opinion, Miss Darcy was not in love with him. Elizabeth reflected that Georgiana had said nothing to indicate that he was mistaken in the matter.
When the second carriage arrived, and greetings had been exchanged, Elizabeth was surprised at the immediate approach of Mr. Darcy. "Excuse me, Lord Netherby," he said. "If Miss Bennet will consent, I wish to have a private word with her."
Lord Netherby nodded his assent somewhat ungraciously and crossed the room to speak with his sister, leaving Elizabeth alone with Mr. Darcy, whom she now regarded. He looked ill at ease and tense, seemingly steeling himself for some most formidable task.
"Err Miss Bennet, I wish err, that is to say if you are not otherwise engaged, I wish to request the pleasure of the first two dances at the Pemberley ball," he said nervously, unable to quite meet her eyes.
"I thank you, sir; but I regret to inform you, that I am already engaged for those two dances," said Elizabeth.
Darcy stiffened, and looking away, he turned his gaze to the other side of the room, where it came to rest, resentfully, upon Lord Netherby, whom, he surmised, must be the gentleman to whom Miss Bennet was engaged for those two dances.
Elizabeth felt awkward and embarrassed, and could think of nothing further to say. If Mr. Darcy truly wished to dance with her, rather than simply to triumph over Lord Netherby in some sort of schoolboy rivalry, he had only to request the pleasure of dancing a subsequent set with her; but it was not her place to suggest it.
Darcy turned back to her and said aggrievedly, "Miss Bennet, my motive for wishing to dance the first set with you is on account of my particular desire that it should be noticed by all those present at the ball. It would be understood as an unambiguous acknowledgement that I was mistaken in my reasons for excluding you from my society, and of my incontrovertible belief in your respectability. I must tell you that although the stated intention of the ball is to celebrate my sister's birthday, my real reason for holding it is my earnest wish to undo the damage I have done to your reputation."
Elizabeth blushed. "Your good intentions do you credit, sir. I believe that your object will be principally achieved by the simple fact of my presence at the ball. I am most appreciative of your efforts on my behalf; however, I earnestly hope that if you do request the pleasure of dancing with me, it will be because you truly deem it a pleasure and not merely a duty."
Darcy knew not how to answer, and as he searched for a suitable reply, the butler announced the dinner. Darcy was momentarily distracted by the approach of Miss Netherby, and when he turned back to Miss Bennet, he saw Lord Netherby offering her his arm to escort her to the dining table, leaving him to accompany Lord Netherby's sister.
Whether by accident or design, Darcy was seated at the bottom of the dining table, with Victoria Netherby on his left side and Elizabeth on his right, next to whom sat Lord Netherby, then Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Charles Bingley at the top of the table. To his right were Georgiana, Jane, and Victoria Netherby.
Elizabeth reflected that if Colonel Fitzwilliam had developed a preference for Miss Netherby, as Georgiana thought possible, then he would be unhappy to once again find himself seated so far from her and more particularly, to see her again seated beside Mr. Darcy. Miss Netherby's partiality for his cousin was becoming all too apparent.
This entirely unexpected turn of events both puzzled Elizabeth and disturbed her. She endeavoured to more closely observe the behaviour of the other members of the party, most especially Victoria Netherby, who sat opposite her, and whose conduct with regard to Mr. Darcy she found more than a little provoking.
Elizabeth's task was not made any easier by Lord Netherby, who was eager to engage her in conversation, and to her surprise Mr. Darcy, who made repeated efforts to converse with her albeit somewhat clumsily. Whenever he did succeed in winning her attention from Lord Netherby, Miss Netherby, inevitably intervened and deftly drew Mr. Darcy's attention back to herself.
Never in her life had Elizabeth experienced such a meal. So engaged was she in conversing with one or other of her neighbours, or observing the intercourse between Miss Netherby and Mr. Darcy, that her dishes were all cleared away unfinished. Colonel Fitzwilliam, too, she noticed, was closely observing Miss Netherby and Mr. Darcy, and appeared most dissatisfied with what he saw. Georgiana, Jane, and Charles Bingley seemed amused and somewhat bewildered. Elizabeth, however, was by this time becoming exceedingly suspicious of both Miss Netherby and her brother.
When the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, Elizabeth seated herself beside Victoria Netherby, and smilingly raised an inquiring eyebrow. Miss Netherby looked away. Georgiana was standing beside the pianoforte with Jane, selecting the music she would play when they were joined by the gentlemen.
"When I think back to the wonderful time I spent with you and your brother at Fendalton Park," said Elizabeth, "one of the highlights was those occasions when we were reading from Shakespeare's plays. I imagine that you and Lord Netherby must spend many hours together enjoying such amusements?"
"Indeed, we do. It is a favourite pastime of ours, and one that our mother has encouraged from an early age."
"Then please give Lady Netherby my sincere compliments for promoting such a worthy enterprise; anyone who has seen you perform cannot but agree that her efforts have not been wasted and I do not refer to Shakespeare's plays."
"Oh," said Victoria, smiling. "So you have discovered my little ruse? I should have guessed you might."
"I am only ashamed that it has taken me so long," said Elizabeth.
"I think it has all worked rather well. I must confess I am rather pleased with it. You know, of course, that I plan to one day write a romance? I think I shall make use of a similar stratagem; it will add a delightful element of amusement, I believe."
Before Elizabeth could reply, they were joined by Jane, who was concerned that her sister was not well, for she had not finished her plate in any of the courses served.
"I am very well, Jane, and your cook excelled himself this evening; all the dishes were excellent. It is only that Lord Netherby and Mr. Darcy kept me talking the whole meal long; I barely managed to eat at all."
"Well, it was most rude of them to keep you talking so relentlessly," said Victoria, and then smiling, she added, "I did my best, you know, to distract Mr. Darcy, and afford you some peace, but I must concede that I was unequal to the task of preventing his attentions from repeatedly returning to you."
When the gentlemen joined them, Lord Netherby approached Elizabeth and adroitly steered her towards a sofa to the side of the room, away the rest of the party.
"I have just been asking your sister to congratulate Lady Netherby on my behalf," said Elizabeth, smiling mysteriously.
"And on what account are these congratulations in order?" enquired the gentleman.
"For encouraging you both, so successfully, to develop such prodigious acting abilities."
"Oh? So you have guessed our little game, then? To do my sister justice, I must acknowledge that the authorship is all hers; I am merely an actor playing my part."
Lord Netherby looked a little embarrassed and guilty, thought Elizabeth. "Nevertheless, you played your part exceedingly well; I must concede that I was entirely taken in."
"Miss Bennet," entreated Lord Netherby anxiously. "Please tell me that you have not well, that is to say I sincerely hope that your heart has not been touched by the enthusiasm of my performance."
"You may rest assured, Lord Netherby, that in spite of your considerable charms and the verisimilitude of your performance, no damage has been done," said Elizabeth, eager to set his mind at rest, for the sincerity of his concern was evident.
Lord Netherby sighed with relief. "My sister assured me that there was no likelihood of your being swayed by my pretence; for she was quite certain that your affections were elsewhere engaged," he said, looking in the direction of Mr. Darcy, who was seated beside his sister.
"Miss Netherby assumes too much," said Elizabeth curtly, following the gentleman's gaze. Mr. Darcy, she observed, was looking back at Lord Netherby, not with the same barely-concealed hostility with which he had regarded him at the table, but rather with a look of expectation.
Lord Netherby, evidently comprehending the meaning of Mr. Darcy's expression, said, "Miss Bennet, I have a rather unusual request to make of you."
"Yes?" said Elizabeth smiling, encouragingly.
"I wish to withdraw my application to dance the first two dances of the ball with you."
"How extraordinary," said Elizabeth, feigning offence. "I have never heard of such a thing. There is no precedent, surely, for a gentleman to recant an invitation to a lady to dance with him? You must have a very serious reason for so un-chivalrous a slight," she said, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Indeed I do, and please believe me, that no insult of any kind is intended. I beg you, Miss Bennet, please do not understand my unusual request as representing a diminution of my regard for you; it is only that Mr. Darcy was most forceful in his demand that I relinquish the honour in favour of himself. He took me aside while we were at our port and cigars, and requested a private word with me. For a moment I feared that he intended to challenge me to a duel, so stern and grave was his demeanour."
"Doubtless, it was his intention to do so, had you not acceded to his demand," said Elizabeth ironically. "I must tell you, sir, that I am most disappointed that you were not willing to die for the pleasure of dancing with me. You are not at all the romantic young gentleman I had believed you to be."
Lord Netherby laughed. "I fully intend to dance with you, Miss Bennet, but not those two dances. And I wish you to know that I did not give them up lightly."
"And how, exactly, did Mr. Darcy succeed in making you give way to him in the matter?"
"He explained that his desire in wishing to engage you for the first two dances was that it would be understood by all those present at the ball, and very soon afterwards the entire neighbourhood, as an unequivocal acknowledgement that his former reasons for excluding you from his society had been entirely mistaken, and of his incontrovertible faith in your respectability. It is his earnest wish that your good name be restored. That also being my own sincere wish, I was most willing to comply with his request."
Their conversation ended abruptly at this point, as Lord Netherby was called upon to join his sister and Miss Darcy in a song. Upon its commencement, Mr. Darcy approached and seated himself beside Elizabeth. "Miss Bennet," said he, "am I correct in understanding that you are no longer engaged for the first two dances?"
Elizabeth nodded her head, scrutinising her interlocutor carefully.
"In that case, may I reapply for the pleasure of engaging you for those two dances?"
Elizabeth nodded again, but remained silent.
"Then you agree to open the ball with me?" he asked tentatively.
"You are getting somewhat ahead of yourself, Mr. Darcy. I merely agreed that you might make your request again; I have not yet assented to it," said Elizabeth pointedly. "Furthermore, it would seem strange, would it not, if any lady other than your sister, in whose honour the ball is to be held, should stand at the top in the first set."
"Of course, you are quite correct, Miss Bennet. My sister and her partner will indeed lead off the first set. I only intended that you and I should be the first couple to follow them."
"But I have not yet consented to be your partner."
Darcy's face took on a reddish tinge, as he looked silently and imploringly at Elizabeth.
"As I informed you, Mr. Darcy, upon your earlier application this evening, while I am most appreciative of your efforts on my behalf to undo the damage to my character that you have inflicted, good intentions, alone, are an insufficient inducement for me to accept an invitation to dance with a gentleman. If you wish me to agree to be your partner for the first two or indeed any dances, then you will have to convince me that your request springs from a sincere desire for the pleasure of my company and of dancing with me and not merely a feeling of guilt and a sense of duty. Please excuse me, sir," said Elizabeth, quickly rising and crossing the room to sit beside Jane, leaving Mr. Darcy perplexed and dissatisfied.
Elizabeth adroitly managed to deny Mr. Darcy any further opportunity of a tκte-ΰ-tκte during the remainder of the evening. He sat alone, unhappy and discontented. Miss Netherby was otherwise engaged, for Colonel Fitzwilliam, taking full advantage of the greater freedom of movement possible in the drawing room, was constantly beside her and entirely successful in engaging her attention.
The following morning, the first snow of the winter began falling heavily. Consequently, Elizabeth and Jane put off their intended visit to Pemberley to wait upon Miss Darcy and Miss Netherby, and instead sat in the morning room recounting the events of the previous day's dinner. Jane commented on the seating arrangements, which, at her sister's suggestion, she had left entirely up to her guests to determine. "It was quite similar, I think, to the Pemberley dinner and entirely contrary to how I should have arranged things. And yet, once again, conversation was abundant and greatly animated; I must confess that I was quite baffled by it all. Something strange is afoot, Lizzy. I cannot quite put my finger on it. Do you have any inkling of what it can be?"
"Indeed I do, Jane. I began to suspect that everything was not quite what it appeared to be when we dined recently at Pemberley; and so yesterday I closely observed all the party, and by the end of the meal, I had uncovered the mystery: Miss Netherby and her brother have been enacting a rather elaborate and I might add, successful little deception upon us all."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Jane. "Surely you do not believe that Miss Netherby's attentions to Mr. Darcy and those of Lord Netherby to yourself are not genuine? Why, Lizzy, that would be scandalous! I cannot believe it to be true!"
"It is entirely true. I challenged Victoria when we withdrew to the drawing room and she conceded it all without, I might add, the least embarrassment. It was all her idea, her brother was simply acting the part she had devised for him. She even expressed her satisfaction at the result."
"How shocking!" said Jane, shaking her head. "It is the sort of outlandish thing that one might expect to encounter in an amusing novel! Miss Netherby is indeed an eccentric lady! I find myself unable to approve of her extraordinary behaviour."
Elizabeth laughed. "Indeed, she cares little for social conventions; and yet I must admit to a certain admiration of her spirit. You will be unsurprised to learn that she intends one day to write a novel, and remarked yesterday that she may very likely employ such a device in her story. In any case, you must admit, Jane: she achieved exactly what she intended."
"If you mean that Miss Netherby made Colonel Fitzwilliam jealous by pretending to favour Mr. Darcy, then yes, it seemed so. Having failed to be seated near her at the table, the colonel wasted little time in seeking out her company in the drawing room. As I recall, he similarly sought Miss Netherby out at in the drawing room at Pemberley, but on that occasion she stayed so close to Mr. Darcy, that he was hardly able to converse with her. Yesterday, however, Miss Netherby allowed Colonel Fitzwilliam greater opportunity, and he took full advantage. In fact, I must confess to overhearing him applying for the first two dances at the ball, and being accepted with pleasure."
"Yes, that part of her scheme worked well, indeed," said Elizabeth.
"Was her pretence at favouring Mr. Darcy also intended to arouse your interest in him, by making you jealous of her?" asked Jane coyly.
"Yes, very probably; although it was merely a side effect. I suspect that Miss Netherby believes that despite the abominable way Mr. Darcy has treated me that I still care for the man, and am consequently in no great need of encouragement. Her scheme, in that regard, was more in the nature of provoking Mr. Darcy, by making him jealous of Lord Netherby; an endeavour in which she succeeded admirably."
As her sister had introduced the subject, Jane took the opportunity to ask the question which she had wished to ask ever since her return to Willowbank. "Lizzy, I hope you do not mind me asking you, and I will quite understand if you choose not to answer. Is Miss Netherby correct in her belief that you still have feelings for Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth was silent for a long time while she considered her reply. "Sometimes I fancy that I do still care for him. But at other times, he makes me so angry that I feel as if I would be happy never to see him again."
"I can certainly understand how angry you must have been with him all those long months when he treated you so coldly and refused your society. And then to discover the reason for his behaviour that he had believed the lies of his aunt rather than trusting in your good character your anger and scorn were entirely justified. But Lizzy, has he not shown true remorse for his errors, and begged you to accept his sincere apologies? And consider what he has done for Lydia; his extraordinary generosity. Can you never forgive him his mistake?"
"I believe that I forgave him after his visit to Longbourn, when I learned of what he had done for Lydia. It is not that which now sometimes makes me angry although anger, perhaps, is not quite the right word."
"Then what is it?" asked Jane.
Elizabeth contemplated how best to explain what she felt, for she was not entirely certain in her own mind. "Last night, before the meal, Mr. Darcy requested the first two dances at the ball. Unfortunately for him, Lord Netherby arrived ahead of him, and had already secured them no doubt it was all part of the plan to make Mr. Darcy jealous. Mr. Darcy, however, was determined, and after the ladies had withdrawn from the dining room, he persuaded Lord Netherby to relinquish the engagement. When the gentlemen joined us in the drawing room, Lord Netherby revealed what had transpired, and that he had acceded to Mr. Darcy's request. Soon afterwards, Mr. Darcy approached me and reapplied for the first two dances."
"Then he must still love you, Lizzy," said Jane eagerly.
"Of that I am not at all certain. He made it clear, both to myself and to Lord Netherby, that his purpose in wishing to dance the first set with me is to publicly acknowledge that he was mistaken in his reasons for excluding me from his society. He intends it as an unequivocal statement of his belief in my respectability. He even revealed that this was, in fact, his true reason for deciding to hold the ball Georgiana's birthday is merely a pretext."
"It will most certainly have the desired effect, Lizzy. The news will very soon spread throughout the district, and your reputation will be entirely restored. Does not the willingness of so proud a man to humble himself by publicly acknowledging his error, indicate his love for you?"
"No," said Elizabeth, shaking her head. "Consider the trouble and expense he undertook on account of Lydia, whom he most certainly has never loved."
"Lizzy, have you never considered the possibility that, contrary to his stated reasons for what he has twice done on our sister's behalf, that he very likely did it for you. In fact, if I recall correctly, from your account of our Aunt Gardiner's letter, she was of just that opinion."
"Our aunt may have been mistaken; but even if she was not, that was a full year and a half ago, and prior to Mr. Darcy coming to hold the most abominable opinion concerning me for over a year. I believe Mr. Darcy was being entirely honest in the reasons he gave for helping our sister on both occasions: it is his obsessive sense of duty."
"Do you really believe that, Lizzy?"
"Indeed I do. His efforts at securing the first two dances and his many attempts at conversation during the meal all speak of his sense of duty. He is ashamed of the way he mistreated me, and of injuring my reputation. He feels guilty for his actions and is eager to make amends. I do not call that love, Jane. In fact, it has nothing to do with his feelings for me in the least bit it is rather about himself, and the standard of behaviour he believes is demanded of a gentleman of his elevated rank. I fear that what induces his actions is nothing but pride, and his precious sense of duty."
Jane reflected for some time upon her sister's words but she could not agree. "Really, Lizzy, you do not know for certain; this is all surmise. Have you never been wrong?" she asked gently.
Elizabeth gave a wry smile. Jane was referring, she knew, to how her opinions of both Wickham and Darcy had both been entirely mistaken. Luckily, her sister was unaware of the ridiculous delusion she had briefly entertained at Longbourn that Darcy, having killed Wickham, was determined to marry Lydia in recompense. Though it now seemed absurd, was it in fact so utterly unthinkable? Mr. Darcy had been willing to marry Caroline Bingley, without the hint of affection on either side, so why would he not have married Lydia? If he had, in fact, killed her husband, might he not have been persuaded that it was his duty?
"I concede, Jane, that I have sometimes judged the character of others too hastily, and without sufficient information. However, I have now known Mr. Darcy in excess of two years, and I am confident that I understand his character very well."
"And you believe that he does not care for you in the least? That having done his duty at the ball to set the public record straight, he will treat you as a common and indifferent acquaintance?"
"Perhaps," mused Elizabeth. "What I fear more than him treating me with indifference is that he will, again, ask me to marry him."
"What?" demanded Jane in confusion. "I do not understand you at all, Lizzy. You say he is indifferent, and in the same breath that you fear he will pay you his addresses. How can that be?"
"Consider, Jane: Mr. Darcy has determined that it is time he was married; he wishes to produce an heir it is his duty, after all! He was even prepared to settle on Caroline Bingley, so evidently love is in no way a consideration. By dancing the first set with me at the ball, he may rehabilitate my reputation, but he will hardly consider it full restitution for all that I have suffered. Mr. Darcy will continue to feel guilty, and consider himself honour bound to make amends for the pain he has caused me. Furthermore, Georgiana has, I imagine, alluded to how happy it would make her to have me as her sister."
"So you truly believe that he may pay you his addresses?"
"I consider it quite likely. Lord Netherby's pretence may have added urgency, and spurred him to action; but it is something, I suspect, that he has contemplated ever since he learned the truth of his aunt's deception, and broke off his engagement with Caroline Bingley. When I consider his behaviour yesterday, his unexpected eagerness to engage me in conversation, his motive was not, I believe, solely his scheme regarding the first two dances at the ball that is his first objective only he means to court me."
"And yet you are convinced he does not love you?"
"Love has nothing to do with it, Jane. Mr. Darcy is a creature of reason, and he has three very good reasons for wishing to marry me: He feels obliged to produce an heir; his guilt regarding the evil he has done me would be assuaged and his duty discharged; and it would gratify the fond wishes of a beloved sister."
Chapter 17 ~ A Walk in the Snow
Posted on 2010-11-29
By the following morning, the snow had stopped falling. The sky was blue and the ground was covered in several inches of pristine snow, almost blindingly white in the sunshine. Bingley advised Jane and Elizabeth against attempting the drive to Pemberley to wait upon the ladies; although he reassured them that unless there was further heavy snow, which seemed unlikely in November, the journey to Pemberley should be possible by the time of the ball, in three days time.
As they sat by the blazing fire in the morning room, drinking tea, Jane began to speculate upon who would partner whom for the first set. "Do you think that having withdrawn his invitation to you, Lord Netherby will ask Georgiana?"
"Yes, almost certainly, it being the fond wish of his mother, and also doubtless that of his host, Mr. Darcy and quite probably, Georgiana, herself," reflected Elizabeth.
"And perhaps, himself, also?" suggested Jane. "While Victoria's deception required that he be excessively attentive to you, I noticed Lord Netherby stealing glances at Georgiana on several occasions at both dinners."
"Yes you may be correct. Last night in the drawing room, after I had revealed that I was aware of his sister's game, he paid a good deal of attention to Georgiana. Perhaps he does favour her, after all for he is not the young man who would pretend to favour a lady, simply to please others unless, of course, he is acting a part!"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, we know, will dance with Victoria Netherby, and you with Mr. Darcy," continued Jane.
"I dance with Mr. Darcy? Who told you that, Jane?"
"Why, you did, only yesterday. You said that Lord Netherby had given way to Mr. Darcy, who had again asked you to dance the first two with him."
"Yes, it is true that he asked me but I did not accept his offer; although neither did I decline it."
Jane gasped. "Good gracious, Lizzy, how could you not accept him when his purpose is to redeem your reputation and restore your good name in society?"
"I told him that while I was most appreciative of his worthy intentions in that regard, they were, nevertheless, insufficient inducement for me to agree to dance with him; and that if he wished to be accepted, he must convince me of his sincere desire to dance with me for the pleasure of my company alone and not merely out of a sense of duty or guilt."
"Lizzy, sometimes you surprise me with your frankness. How did Mr. Darcy respond?"
"I did not give him the opportunity, for I was vexed with him. I immediately walked across the room and sat beside you, and I was careful to deny him any further opportunity to pursue the matter. I was tired of hearing of his noble intentions!" exclaimed Elizabeth.
"For you were wishing rather to hear of his regard?" suggested Jane.
Elizabeth said nothing, and rose to admire the silent beauty of the white world beyond the window. "What beauty, what pristine, uncomplicated simplicity is the world of Nature. Oh, that our lives could be equally uncomplicated."
Jane smiled, and joined her sister at the French windows that afforded a panoramic view down to the river where the willow trees stood silently, coated in snow.
"Let us put on our pelisses and boots, and walk outside; it looks so inviting," said Elizabeth.
"You may go out if you wish," replied Jane, "but I shall remain by the fire; it looks far too cold."
"It is only that the snow makes it appear so; but it will be no colder than any other clear winter's morning."
"Look, Lizzy, there is someone approaching on horseback. I wonder who can be out on such a day."
"Really, Jane, it cannot be all that cold; and as you can observe, the horseman has no great difficulty in traversing the driveway. But who can it be? A messenger from Buxton, for Charles, perhaps?"
"Or Colonel Fitzwilliam?" suggested Jane. "He is fond of riding, as you well know. Nevertheless, it must be a long, cold, difficult journey to ride all the way from Pemberley in this snow. He is a most adventurous man."
"It is not the colonel," replied Elizabeth, "for that is not his horse. My goodness! Can it be ?"
The horseman had, by this time, arrived at the house and the stable hand took his mount to the stables to attend to it.
"Mr. Darcy," said Jane, seating herself and taking up her sewing. "If he has ridden all this way to receive an answer to his request for the two first dances, you can hardly refuse him now, Lizzy."
"Indeed I can," said Elizabeth, seating herself beside her sister and taking up her book. "It depends entirely upon how he asks," she said decidedly. "And please, Jane, do not make an excuse and leave me alone with him."
"Lizzy, you are cruel. You know that he must wish to speak with you privately."
"Perhaps. But I may not wish to speak with him. If I do, I shall give you a glance."
The servant entered and showed Mr. Darcy into the room. The ladies rose again and exchanged greetings.
"You must be frozen, Mr. Darcy. Pray sit here, by the fire. Dixon, please bring more tea," said Jane, attempting to set her guest at his ease; for his discomfort and embarrassment were manifest.
Fortunately, Bingley had seen his friend arrive from his upstairs library, and he now joined them. "Good lord, Darcy, whatever can have induced you to ride such a distance through all this snow? Are you determined to kill yourself or your horse, perhaps?" he asked, pulling up a chair beside their visitor.
Darcy relaxed somewhat. "Not at all, Bingley; the ride was hardly more difficult than usual." Then, after taking out his watch and consulting it, he added, "It took around thirty minutes longer than it normally would that is all. There were snow drifts on the other side of Buxton, which forced me to slow to a walk for some time, but other than that, I rode mostly at a canter. I believe that the snow actually assisted the horse by cushioning his step."
The servant brought tea and served them all. There was further conversation between the gentlemen concerning the roads and the weather, and the possibility that it might prevent some of Darcy's guests from attending the ball.
"Old Rowlands, the coachman, predicts that the weather will remain settled for some days to come; and he is seldom wrong," said Darcy. "He is confident that we are in for at least several sunny days, and cold frosty nights. Unless he is mistaken, in three days time, when you drive to Pemberley, the snow should have melted from the roads, giving you a nice clear run."
Though Darcy and Bingley continued speaking in a similar vein, it was evident to Elizabeth, from the furtive glances that Mr. Darcy directed towards her from time to time, that he was eager to speak with her privately. When he had finished his tea, Elizabeth confessed that she was impatient to be outside, walking in the pristine splendour of the snowy landscape. Darcy immediately rose to join her, and when Bingley proposed to be of the party, his wife informed him that he was needed within for some unspecified purpose. The private look she gave him convinced him to inquire no further.
"Miss Bennet," said Mr. Darcy, as they walked, side by side, across the snow-covered lawn towards the river, "I beg your indulgence to allow me to speak on a matter which has been weighing most heavily upon my mind for many months now."
Without looking up at her companion, Elizabeth nodded her ascent, as she walked through the snow, her gaze fixed upon the ground before her, hands clasped together inside her fur muff.
"I wish to tell you how heartily ashamed I am of being taken in by Lady Catherine's heinous deception. Nothing can excuse me for having allowed myself to think ill of you and to lose faith in your virtue and honour. Please understand how unthinkable it was to me that my aunt, whom I have, since my earliest years, believed to be a paragon of righteousness and integrity, could perjure herself, let alone construct so unimaginable an edifice of unprincipled deceit. You may ask my sister, or my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I am certain they will concur that it was as impossible for any of us to believe that our aunt who was one of life's verities could behave in so immoral and dishonourable a way, as it was to believe that the sun would rise in the west."
Elizabeth said nothing, and continued walking with eyes fixed firmly on the snow-covered ground.
"Please do not believe that I offer this by way of an excuse, for there is none, I know, that can be in any way acceptable. Nor do I consider that I have any right to expect you to forgive me either for allowing myself to be deceived concerning your character, or for my consequent abominable behaviour towards you."
"I forgave you some time ago, Mr. Darcy," said Elizabeth, without looking up.
"What? Really?" he asked, astonished. "When?"
"When you visited Longbourn, and I learned of what you had done to protect my name from Mr. Wickham's evil lies; and moreover, of what you intended to do for my sister. I found myself quite unable to continue feeling aggrieved in the face of such gallantry, and kind-hearted generosity."
"Oh?" said Darcy, pausing in surprise. Elizabeth, however, continued walking, looking steadfastly ahead of her, obliging Mr. Darcy to quicken his pace to catch up. "I had not realised, for if you will pardon me for saying so, it seemed to me that since your return from Hertfordshire that you have continued to be displeased with me."
"I said that I had forgiven you, Mr. Darcy I did not say that your society pleased me. Do you imagine that I am able to feel cheerful and at ease in the company of a person who could be persuaded to believe such vile slander about me? Particularly a gentleman whom I ranked as more than merely a passing acquaintance, but one whom I once thought knew me well, and held me in high regard."
"Then you still blame me," said Darcy, disconsolately. "Miss Bennet, can you not comprehend the utter impossibility of my having doubted the word of my aunt? Please believe me that nothing less compelling could have caused me to doubt you. I earnestly entreat you to understand that I was blinded by the certitude of faith in the honour of a revered family member which rendered me wholly incapable of imagining, for even a moment, that I was being cold-bloodedly duped. I beg you, do not believe it to be a reflection upon my my great esteem for you."
Elizabeth momentarily looked up at Mr. Darcy, who was staring down at her imploringly. "I see," was all she said before lowering her gaze once more. They had now reached the river and struck out along the snow-covered path which ran along the near bank.
"I fear, Miss Bennet, that you remain unconvinced. I sincerely hope that you do not believe that I am being dishonest or attempting to deceive you; I would never lie to you, I swear it!"
"I do not suspect you of being dishonest with me, Mr. Darcy; only of being dishonest with or at least deluding yourself."
"I am sorry, I do not comprehend your meaning," said Darcy, bewildered. "In what way do you believe I am deluding myself?"
"In believing that you hold me in high esteem. For I must tell you that I saw not the least trace of esteem in that cold, haughty, disdainful expression upon your face when our eyes met across the aisle at my sister's wedding. That scornful mask is etched indelibly in my memory, and for a full twelvemonth, there was nothing with which to dislodge it, for you avoided my society as though I were a leper. You fled before me and excluded me from your society. On those few occasions when you could not avoid me, you refused to look at me. You behaved as if I did not exist. Where, Mr. Darcy, was your great esteem in all of that time?"
Darcy stopped walking, and Elizabeth, too, stopped, and looked up at him with an expression of pain and anguish that pierced him to the core. For some time, he was struck dumb, as he attempted to quiet his galloping heart and gain some control of his wildly racing mind. There was nothing for it, but to reveal the true depth of the feelings which for so long he had been entirely powerless to subdue.
They had come to one of the ancient stone bridges that crossed the river, and Elizabeth stepped onto it with the intention of crossing to the other side and thence walking back in the direction of the house.
Darcy followed her silently, thinking all the while as they crossed the bridge of what he must say. He did not know what were her true feelings for him, and he feared the worst; yet he must bare his soul and expose the full fervour of his passion nothing less would answer.
As they set out along the path on the far bank or the river, he spoke. "Miss Bennet, I have been in love with you for the past two years, since I was first in Hertfordshire. Though you rejected me in Kent, and quite rightly so, for my behaviour at the time was unpardonable, I did not cease to love you as became abundantly manifest when we met unexpectedly in Derbyshire, some months later. I rode to Lambton on your final morning there, with the express intention of again paying you my addresses; but most regrettably, you had just received the awful news concerning your youngest sister, before which everything else gave way. In September, when I visited Longbourn with Bingley, and we dined with you, it was once more my intention to pay you my addresses; but I hesitated, for I was uncertain of what were your feelings for me; you were so grave and silent. Though I was obliged to go to London on business, I had fully determined to return to Hertfordshire and again attempt to comprehend whether I might ever hope to make you love me.
"However, as you know, I did not return into Hertfordshire; for, while in London, I received the letters from Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins, and my aunt which finally persuaded me of the truth of Wickham's allegations and threw my life into utter turmoil," he said, sighing mournfully.
"Miss Bennet, please do not doubt me when I tell you that though I believed you to have lost your character, you never lost my love; for it simply refused to die. I know that I treated you abominably, but it was not because I no longer cared for you but on the contrary, because my love remained true. Believing what I did about you, and knowing it to be impossible that we might ever marry, it was an absolute torment for me to set eyes upon you; I could not bear to be in the same room as you.
"There is no excuse, I know, for my cowardly and irrational behaviour in attempting to avoid your society but the strength of my emotions overcame all reason. I absented myself from Hertfordshire last year when the obligations of friendship demanded my supporting Bingley at the time of his marriage. Though I determined to stay some days at Netherfield Park following the wedding ceremony, when our eyes met in the church, the feelings that were unleashed overcame all reason, all sense of propriety and duty. I fled Hertfordshire like a cowardly cur the shame I felt was unbearable," he said, shaking his head.
Though he looked at her imploringly, Elizabeth continued walking; her gaze focussed on the water flowing beneath the white skeletal branches of the willows overhanging the river, and the ripples made by those long enough to touch the water.
"And again I fled from you, as you must recall, when you came to London. I am thoroughly ashamed of the way I conducted myself with Bingley, when he was considering the purchase of Willowbank, which I had learned was to be your home, also. The low, deceitful, and despicable means I used in endeavouring to dissuade him from purchasing the property were unconscionable. My behaviour was so utterly shameful, and so totally out of character, that, for a time, I feared that I might be losing the balance of my mind.
"When later you settled at Willowbank, I found myself utterly incapable of being in your society. Had my feelings been less, then for the sake of my friendship with Bingley, and the conduct that was demanded of me as a gentleman, I would not have prevented you from visiting Pemberley, and I would have dined at Willowbank. But my feelings would not be tamed. It feels to me, Miss Bennet, as though I have spent a twelvemonth living in hell."
Elizabeth stopped walking, and looked up tenderly at his forlorn face. There were tears in her eyes. "You poor man," she said. "You have suffered as much as I."
"We have both of us suffered, for far too long, Miss Bennet. Is it possible, do you think, that a time might come when you would be able to feel more for me than mere pity? Can you find it in your heart to at least permit me the opportunity of trying to please you? Perhaps in time you might find it possible to return, in some small measure, this all-consuming passion that I feel for you?"
Elizabeth withdrew her gaze from those ardent imploring eyes framed by his handsome, tragic face, and recommenced walking along the snow-covered path. Seemingly, ignoring his heartfelt plea, she said, "I had not the least idea, Mr. Darcy, of what you felt for me, or of the torment you have suffered. And yet, I do not believe that I have suffered in any way less than you. This might strike you as callous; it might seem to you that I make light of the terrible pain and anguish which you have revealed, which is clearly of a different order of magnitude to the ostracism that I have endured."
Darcy said nothing as he walked beside Elizabeth.
"My exclusion from society has been in no way the worst of what I have suffered, Mr. Darcy. For I have loved you, if not quite so long, most assuredly, as fervently as you have loved me. And to have been spurned and repudiated by the one I loved has been the hardest of all things to bear."
Darcy stopped and turned towards Elizabeth, "You you have loved me all this time?" stammered Darcy, incredulously.
"Yes," said Elizabeth, smiling up at him. "I cannot say with any degree of certainty exactly when it began. Perhaps in Kent, when I read your letter. It had quite an effect upon me; it served to overturn all of my former prejudices against you. I felt quite ashamed of the unjust words with which I had abused you at the Hunsford Parsonage, and began to acknowledge your many fine qualities, which had been previously obscured by all my mistaken notions. My good opinion of you was greatly advanced by the favourable testimony regarding your character that I heard from your housekeeper, who conducted our tour Pemberley, just prior to the most unexpected meeting with you in the grounds."
"It seems that I owe Mrs. Reynolds an enormous debt of gratitude," said Darcy, beaming.
"Indeed you do," replied Elizabeth. "But it was your own behaviour which made the strongest impression upon me, and truly earned my esteem. After the acrimony of my rebuke at Hunsford, I had no right to expect to be even noticed by you; yet you treated me with such extraordinary politeness and amiability; and the meaning of your desire to introduce me to your sister was unmistakeable. Had not the news of Lydia prevented you from paying me your addresses at Lambton, you would have been accepted. I will own that after the warmth of your conduct to me in both Pemberley and Lambton, it would not have been unexpected, and I had determined what my answer should be."
"Oh," whispered Darcy, staring open-mouthed at Elizabeth.
"And had you paid me your addresses in Longbourn, in September, I likewise would have accepted you."
"And if and if I were to pay them to you now, Miss Bennet?" he whispered, regarding her longingly.
Elizabeth removed one hand from her fur muff and pushed it up her forearm to free her hands, with which she reached out to grasp his. "The answer, Mr. Darcy, would be yes."
"You will marry me?" asked Darcy, almost disbelievingly. An expression of heartfelt delight suffused his face, which in a few short minutes had been transmogrified from a visage of abject misery, to astonishment and wonder, and then finally to ineffable joy and ecstasy.
"I have been waiting a long time to get the answer to that question right," said Elizabeth, playfully alluding to her ruthless rejection of his suit in Kent.
"Elizabeth my dearest, darling Elizabeth today you have made me the happiest of men," he said, his heart overflowing with joy. "May I announce our betrothal at the ball at Pemberley?"
"Certainly although your guests may begin to believe you incapable of giving a ball without announcing your engagement," said Elizabeth, ironically.
Darcy shook his head. "You must wonder, dear Elizabeth, how I could ever have contemplated marriage to Caroline Bingley."
"You were in love with her, I suppose?" teased Elizabeth.
Darcy rolled his eyes. "In love with Miss Bingley? Never! After being comprehensively deceived by my aunt, though my love refused to die, I concluded that that I could never marry you, and thus determined that I must marry someone anyone. I needed to think of an heir for Pemberley. But as a matter of the utmost urgently, I was desperate to regain control of my tempestuous emotions. I prayed that in marrying, my feelings for you might begin to diminish, for it must irrevocably end all of my hopes."
"And Caroline Bingley has made no secret of her eagerness to be your wife!"
"What a punishment it would have been to spend my life with that woman!" said Darcy, shaking his head. "And to think how close to it I came!"
Elizabeth took Darcy's arm, and they commenced walking again, along the river. "I believe we have finally found something for which we can thank your devious aunt."
"Yes," said Darcy, laughing. "She purposely made me an executor of her will so that I would become aware of the payments to Miss Bingley and uncover her part in the deception. Lady Catherine knew that Miss Bingley wished to marry me, and she was determined to prevent it and so she did."
"But unfortunately for your aunt, her ultimate goal of your marrying her daughter, Anne, was never realised." Elizabeth proceeded to recount her acrimonious conversation with Lady Catherine at Longbourn, the previous October.
"I knew nothing of the matter until Colonel Fitzwilliam related what you had said of the interview on the day he came with the letters to Willowbank, when you so brilliantly pieced together the whole fabric of my aunt's extraordinary scheme. So you refused her demands that you promise not to marry me?" he asked, smilingly.
"Indeed I did! The effrontery of the woman! I should have refused her even had I not wished to marry you! Her final words were 'I shall now know how to act depend upon it, I will carry my point!' And then she rode off to London and began weaving her wicked web of lies."
They walked on joyfully arm in arm. "I hope I have not been too hard on Lord Netherby," said Darcy. "I have been rather short and snappish with him, ever since the dinner at Pemberley last week. I became so annoyed at the way he was always engaging you in conversation and monopolising your attention. I became quite jealous, I fear."
"Of course you did, my dear, exactly as you were supposed to," said Elizabeth, with a pert smile.
"As I was supposed to?" asked Darcy, flummoxed.
"Yes, it was all part of a little deception devised by Miss Netherby. Surely you noticed all the attention that she lavished upon you why Caroline Bingley could not have outdone her."
"I did notice I could hardly have failed to. But, please believe me, dear Elizabeth," said Darcy earnestly, "I gave her not the slightest encouragement. From the moment I first discovered my aunt's deception, I have thought about, wished for, and desired to marry, no one but you."
"I do believe you. You see, Miss Netherby and her brother have been acting a part."
"Acting? Why ever would they do that?" asked Darcy, perplexed. They had now arrived at another of the stone bridges, which they crossed in order to complete the circuit which would bring them back to the house.
"Miss Netherby's attentions to you were intended to arouse the interest of your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, by making him jealous. I believe she was quite successful on that score, for he was most eager to engage her for the first two dances at the ball."
"Oh, I see. So she was not really interested in me at all, then?"
"No. Miss Netherby is a most astute observer. She has been aware for some months of my feelings for you, and perhaps even, of what yours have been for me. She instructed her brother to lavish his attentions upon me in order to make you jealous, in order to prompt you to act."
"Well, he certainly did an excellent job!" said Darcy, laughing. "Although it was hardly necessary. I fear I may have been a little overbearing with him when I demanded that he withdraw his invitation to you for the first two dances at the ball. Which reminds me; I do not believe that I have received an answer from you yet, concerning that particular request?"
"I would not dream of dancing them with any other gentleman," said Elizabeth, squeezing his arm fondly.
Darcy smiled with satisfaction. "I suppose it would be considered bad form if I were to dance every dance with you?"
"Indeed it would. You must, of course, dance with Georgiana, in whose honour the ball is held; and as host, you will naturally be expected to dance with some of your guests. When we are married, you may be excused if you monopolise me at a ball."
"Then tell me, dear Elizabeth, that we may marry soon," he implored her. "We have been kept apart far too long; pray let us not prolong the torment with a long engagement," he begged fervently.
"I think we have little choice in the matter, but to marry speedily," said Elizabeth with a smile. "For so long as you remain unmarried, Miss Bingley will continue to receive her most ill-deserved stipend from Lady Catherine's will. When is the next payment due?"
Darcy smiled happily. "In early January, I believe; so we must marry next month and before Christmas, of course. In three or four weeks, perhaps? Will it be possible to make all the arrangements in so short a time, do you think?" he asked anxiously.
"I can see no great difficulty," Elizabeth reassured him. Then suddenly she stopped walking. "Oh, darling, I have just realised that we cannot announce our betrothal at the ball, for you have not yet asked my father. I am entirely confident that he will not deny you, for he holds you in the highest esteem; I can vouch for it. But still, you must observe the formality."
"Yes indeed," agreed Darcy, looking up at the sun to guess the hour, which was not yet midday. "I have it; I shall ride immediately to Buxton and send an express to Longbourn. Your father should have it by tomorrow at the very latest. If he replies immediately, as I shall request, then there is every possibility of my receiving his reply by the night of the ball."
"Yes, do, darling. It will be such a wonderful birthday present for Georgiana."
"Indeed it will," said Darcy. "I believe it is her fondest wish."
They were standing close to the house. Before setting out for the stables, Darcy turned towards Elizabeth, taking her hands in his and smiling at her lovingly. "I can hardly believe this day, that I have so often dreamt of, which for so long has eluded me, and seemed utterly beyond my reach, has finally come."
Elizabeth squeezed his hands. "You speak the exact words, my love, that arise in my own heart."
Elizabeth lost track of how long they stood staring lovingly into each other's eyes. Just as she feared he must turn to go, Elizabeth stepped closer, and standing on her toes, turned her face upwards towards his. He bent down his head, and for a brief, exquisite moment, their lips met.
Georgiana Darcy was so overjoyed at the news of her brother's betrothal to Elizabeth Bennet that she insisted upon them opening her birthday ball. Most of the company had also attended the previous ball at Pemberley given in honour of Mr. Darcy's engagement to Caroline Bingley and thus were astonished to see their host opening the ball with an entirely different lady. Not only was she not his betrothed, but she was a person whom, according to local gossip, might be entirely undeserving of the appellation lady, and the foundation of that gossip was, in fact, due to her exclusion from the society of none other than Mr. Darcy.
Only Darcy's intimates were aware of the abrupt end of his engagement to Miss Bingley; or of the restoration of Miss Bennet's reputation. Imagine the surprise of the remainder of the company when their host, upon being handed an express by his butler during the supper, ordered champagne to be served, and proceeded to announce his betrothal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet!
No one who had been present at the earlier ball could fail to notice the marked difference in his demeanour from that prior occasion, when his appearance was more in keeping with a man bound for the gallows, than of one looking forward to a life of connubial felicity. On the few occasions he had managed a smile, it was in so stiff and wooden a manner as to be entirely unconvincing. Tonight, however, Darcy had no need of pretence, for his heart was brimming with a love and a joy that could not be suppressed, and which was very visibly returned by his beautiful intended bride.
In deference to Mr. Darcy's wishes, the few who were cognisant of the details of Lady Catherine's vile scheme, and the consequent abrupt termination of his engagement to Miss Bingley, kept their silence. However, after the announcement of his betrothal to Miss Bennet, speculation concerning the breaking off of his previous engagement to Miss Bingley was rife not only in Derbyshire, but in the London papers, also.
Caroline Bingley, who had even greater reason than Mr. Darcy, to prevent details of the deception becoming common knowledge, developed an urgent desire to tour to the Continent. Though the cause of the broken engagement never became known, it nevertheless resulted in public shame for the lady.
Either she had withdrawn from the engagement disgraceful behaviour indeed or else she had given Mr. Darcy just cause to break it off her failure to seek rightful legal redress through the courts was tantamount to an admission of guilt. Gossip had it that she was guilty of much the same kind of offence as that which she had so assiduously assisted Lady Catherine de Bourgh in attempting to attribute to Elizabeth Bennet.
In common with her brother, Charles Bingley, Mrs. Hurst likewise refused to admit their sister, Caroline, into her society, for she feared the social disapprobation it must inevitably attract. Miss Bingley was thus obliged to remove herself from society, and lived out her days sequestered in a lonely cottage in some distant place.
Elizabeth's wedding was followed early in the New Year by that of her sister, Kitty, to Jonathon Chester. An unexpected addition to those gathered on that occasion, at the church in Longbourn, was a gentleman by the name of Harold Thorpe, who claimed a distant kinship to Mr. Bennet. When the wedding breakfast was over and the happy couple bade farewell, Mr. Thorpe was granted an interview with Mr. Bennet, wherein he revealed his purpose in coming to Longbourn.
Due to a good deal of bad luck, Mr. Thorpe's father had lost his modest estate to creditors. He died very soon afterwards, leaving very little to his only son, Harold, who endeavoured to make his fortune in New South Wales, where he was successful as a farmer. After a dozen or so years there, he decided to sell up and return to England, with the intention of establishing himself as a gentleman farmer.
Whilst waiting in Sydney for his ship to sail, he had met a gentleman by the name of George Wickham, who was down on his luck and attempting to reverse it at the card table. Having drunk immoderately, he regaled those present with stories of his many successes with the ladies; in the course of which he spoke of an elopement, and subsequent profitable marriage, to a Miss Bennet of Longbourn. Upon questioning him, Mr. Thorpe determined that the father of the young lady from Longbourn was a distant cousin of his deceased father. Two days later, he was unsurprised to learn that Mr. Wickham had been shot by an irate army officer, whose wife he had seduced.
Mr. Thorpe obtained an official copy of Mr. Wickham's death certificate before departing the colony, and had come to Longbourn with the intention of giving it to Mr. Bennet. He expressed his sincere regret at being the bearer of bad tidings, and was greatly surprised to discover that his news was received with the utmost complaisance not least of all by Mr. Wickham's widow.
Mr. Bennet invited the gentleman to remain as his guest at Longbourn while he sought a suitable farm in the district. Mr. Thorpe, eager to make up for lost time, was also in want of a wife, and fortunately he did not have far to look Lydia Wickham, he decided, would suit him very well. Lydia was of a like mind, and before the possibility of forwarding a match between them had even occurred to her mother, an understanding had developed.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh's passing was deeply regretted by at least one person her humble rector, Mr. Collins. Having worked most diligently to ingratiate himself and find favour with the great lady, he was now obliged to start all over again with his new patroness, Miss Anne de Bourgh. The unfortunate Mr. Collins found his new task most difficult indeed, for unlike Lady Catherine, who had always been most explicit concerning what did and did not please her, and exceedingly precise in her wishes and demands, the daughter hardly spoke a word. Her anxious rector fretted, knowing not what he must do to please her.
Then, one day, by a stroke of good fortune, a swarm of bees took up residence in an ancient elm tree, situated in a part of the garden where Miss de Bourgh was fond of sitting. The bees terrified her, and none of the gardeners were eager to attempt the removal of the nest, on account of it being at so great a distance from the ground.
Mr. Collins, a keen apiarist, was overjoyed at this unexpected boon. Here was an opportunity to impress, and be of service to his patroness and to earn her gratitude. Having climbed to the top of the estate's tallest ladder, Mr. Collins expertly climbed up along the large branch towards the bees. Whether he would have succeeded in dislodging the nest we shall never know, for the bees attacked the unfortunate rector en masse, and dislodged him from the branch, from whence he plummeted to his death.
Mr. Collins' untimely demise caused a good deal of speculation at Longbourn, to which he was heir; for he had passed away without fathering a child. It was eventually determined that the Mr. Bennet's nearest living male relative was none other than Lydia's betrothed: Harold Thorpe.
Mr Bennet's chief tenant farmer, old Jones, who had become increasingly infirmed, wished to retire, and thus Mr. Thorpe took over the farming of his lands. After wedding Lydia, he took up residence in her parents' house, and Mr. Bennet was exceedingly happy to hand over the entire management of his estate to his son-in-law, and to content himself with reading and frequent visits to his favourite daughter at Pemberley.
If he had hoped that the marriage of all five daughters, and the comfort of knowing that she might live out her days at Longbourn, would finally put an end to his wife's interminable fretting over matrimonial matters, he was sadly disappointed. For Mrs. Bennet had discovered that there was a dearth of male children in the district of a suitable age and social status for her dear little Eleanor and wherever would Lydia find a husband for her daughter?
Charlotte Collins found herself entirely consolable over the untimely death of her husband, and bore his memory not the slightest ill-will on account of his early departure from this world leaving her a widow alone. Mrs. Collins gratefully accepted the invitation of her old friend, Elizabeth Darcy, to stay at Pemberley for as long as she pleased. When a suitable period of mourning had passed, Elizabeth introduced her friend to a number or eligible local gentlemen, and was unsurprised when the rector at Kympton found favour. Although he was an exceedingly amiable and intelligent gentleman and far superior to the late Mr. Collins in every way Elizabeth suspected that Charlotte had decided that being mistress of a parsonage suited her; and that the lovely Parsonage House at Kympton was everything she could possibly wish for not to mention being close to Pemberley.
For a time, it seemed that the much anticipated marriage of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Victoria Netherby might never eventuate. Though he loved the lady, and was well aware that she wished to marry him, and that they would be most welcome to reside at Fendalton Park, the colonel had misgivings on account of her great wealth, which greatly exceeded his own. It troubled him that her fortune was part of her attraction a circumstance of which she must, herself, be well aware. Thus did the colonel hesitate in proposing marriage until the occurrence of a most surprising turn of events.
Anne de Bourgh, who had her whole life long been weak and sickly, passed away within two years of her mother. Her will had been entirely devised by Lady Catherine. Colonel Fitzwilliam's older brother had an earl's inheritance and would have no use for Rosings Park; so Lady Catherine determined that it should go to one of her other two nephews. Darcy was her favourite; but since the will would only take effect if her daughter were unmarried, the fact of its execution meant that Darcy had not married Anne which, he was well aware, was her fondest wish. That being the case, he did not deserve to inherit her estate, and thus it was left in its entirety to Colonel Fitzwilliam who very speedily married Victoria Netherby and took up residence at Rosings Park.
Georgiana was so delighted to have Elizabeth living at Pemberley, that she was not at all eager to marry, despite the blossoming of her affection for Lord Netherby, who was a most frequent visitor. Under Elizabeth's guidance, Georgiana developed greater confidence, and learned to give freer rein to the playful side of her character, which Lord Netherby found enchanting.
The lady's reticence to consider marriage made the gentleman ever more desperate and in love with her. He remained patient and true to Georgiana for several years, until finally, she agreed to marry him upon the promise that they might visit Pemberley or invite Mr. and Mrs. Darcy to visit Fendalton Park as much as her heart desired.The End