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Posted on 2012-03-14
Should I live fifty years and never cross the path of another Bennet, I would consider myself quite fortunate indeed. Though Charles was not moved by the arguments his sisters and I presented about Jane Bennet's reprehensible connections and the impropriety of her family, severe disappointment registered on his face as I revealed Jane Bennet's indifference. It was more than I could bear. It is never pleasant to cause pain to such a good-natured man, but in this situation, it was necessary. Jane Bennet is surely a sweet girl, but though her smiles seem sincere, they were bestowed as readily onto any man as they were to Bingley; I am convinced her heart is not likely to be touched. Misgivings may intrude, but I am certain this course of action will save my friend from a great deal of regret in an unequal marriage. He will forget; as he has many a time before, until distracted by a new angel - I am sure of it. I feel no regret: I rejoice in my success. For the most part.
In the fifty years that I never cross another Bennet, I doubt I shall find another Elizabeth. True, she may not have mastered all of the traditional ladies' pursuits, but her talents; together with her warmth, sincerity, grace, wit, and of course, her beauty, present a worthiness far superior to the typical accomplished lady of the ton. Yet to all this she adds something more substantial: modesty; a trait sorely lacking in the average London debutante. She has no need to posture for society; her free spirit would not allow it in any case. She will remain, in my mind, the ideal of what a woman should be; the measure against which all others will be compared, and fall short. But, soon enough, I too will forget. Christmas at Pemberley with Georgiana and a few months in London's finest society will serve to remove the image of Miss Elizabeth Bennet from my heart. Enough of this. I am resolved to think on her no more.
It is a truth universally ignored that a woman has little control over her own life. Had I been a man, I would have recently finished school and set out to make a name for myself. Had Jane been a man, she would not have to wait and wonder if Mr. Bingley will ever return, which even I am now beginning to lose hope of. Had Charlotte been a man, she would not have resigned herself to marriage with a man who she could can neither respect nor esteem. Had even one of the Bennet girls been born as men, we would not be at the mercy of an entailed estate, I would not have had to endure the most ridiculous marriage proposal ever, and Mama would not be grieving my refusal of it. But, alas, we are all female, and as such, can only hope for a good man to change our fortunes.
Nearly two months have passed since Mr. Bingley left Netherfield. Dear Jane's serene countenance belies her deep feeling. I know she hurts; both for her own heart's disappointment, and for the security that the connection would have brought our family. Dear Mama has not allowed a single day to pass without making mention of Mr. Bingley, or rebuking me for refusing the hand of Mr. Collins. I cannot be sorry for my part in Mama's lamentations. I am not yet ready to sacrifice myself to such a fate, and doubt that I ever will be. I am quite determined to be beholden to no man that I do not truly love, and the possibility of finding a sensible man who would love me enough to have me for fifty pounds per annum weakens daily. The conversation I inadvertently overheard today this morning as I walked, only served to reinforce this reality.
As is my habit, I walked the grounds around Longbourn soon after the sun appeared. I had wandered closer to Meryton when I heard two familiar, distinctly male voices. The first, low and hushed, belonged to Captain Denny: "I see your attentions have shifted over to Miss Mary King; do you know what you are about, Wickham?"
Attentions shifted? From whom, me? Surely, I did not give him the impression that I sought Mr. Wickham's attentions, I wondered. Or perhaps I did. I cannot deny that I found much to admire in his person and manners. He is decidedly handsome, and a most talented conversationalist; though he may have been the most agreeable man of my acquaintance, I am by no means in love with the man. Even if I had been, the following conversation, which shook me from my reverie, would surely have countered any tender feelings I harbored.
"She is pleasant enough man." Mr. Wickham countered defensively. But Captain Denny was of no mind to allow the issue to drop.
"I agree, but she has little to recommend herself against the charms of, say, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who, up until now, you have been paying most particular attention."
Wickham sighed, "I admit, I find Miss Bennet's form and countenance far more pleasing, and her manners most engaging, but thanks to my old friend Mr. Darcy, I find myself in need of fortune; a man must have something to live on." I began to feel the justice in his complaint, and even to pity his situation, but unfortunately, he had not done.
"Miss Bennet is certainly not the type to allow me liberties…her youngest sisters, however,"
"Are the daughters of gentlemen!" interrupted Captain Denny angrily.
I stood, stunned; somewhere between revulsion at the comments made by Mr. Wickham, and gratitude for Captain Denny's ready defense. Mr. Wickham mumbled some type of apology, and as they continued walking, I could hear no more, for which I was quite relieved. As soon as I was certain I would not be discovered, I ran back to Longbourn as quickly as I could, trembling with rage.
Thankfully, the first person I happened upon was my Aunt Gardiner. She, my Uncle Gardiner, and their four children were nearing the end of their holiday visit. Being my most sensible female relation, and only a few years older than myself, I often confide my concerns in her. Excepting Jane, and perhaps my father, Aunt Gardiner knows my disposition better than anyone, and understands my feelings equally well. Though I had stopped running before I reached the house, she quickly apprehended my agitation, and bade me to sit upon the nearby bench. After allowing me a few minutes to collect my thoughts, she gently persuaded me to unburden myself. I recounted the conversation between Wickham and Denny as she listened quietly.
"I am very sorry you heard that which must distress you greatly." she said finally, after a moment's reflection. But my anger was not for myself and Mr. Wickham's defection.
I was much more concerned with the implications for Kitty and Lydia, and thus asked my aunt, "How shall I warn my sisters? Lydia will likely laugh it off and think it a good joke. She is so foolish, she may even be flattered!"
But Aunt Gardiner, sensible as she is, steered me toward the obvious solution. "Uncomfortable as it may be, you must inform your father of what you heard, that he may take the necessary steps to protect them. Though he may often prefer to allow things to take their natural course, in this instance, he will have to take some action. I know you, too, prefer to keep silent on difficult topics, but you must see that this cannot be."
I knew she was right. Papa may enjoy whims and follies as I do, but this is not something that can simply be laughed at. And while I had made a habit of keeping my problems to myself, this affects more than just me. The heaviest burden relieved, my aunt gently prodded me, "Perhaps in light of this behavior, Wickham's account of his dealings with Mr. Darcy may not be so readily believed?"
Mr. Darcy. Oh, the most infuriating man of my experience! He scarcely speaks, unless expected to say something that will amaze the whole room. Instead, he stares; taking a silent inventory of everything which he despises. In Meryton, that list is quite long, with myself holding a prominent position, being only tolerable. I am almost certain that he, in company with Mr. Bingley's sisters, worked to keep Jane away from the surest chance for love and happiness she had ever met with. He never looked on us with justice, so why should I afford him that courtesy? But, of course, my aunt is right. The impropriety of Wickham's having related such a private, slanderous tale, and the inconsistencies in his words and actions never truly escaped me, I was just so very willing to believe the worst of Mr. Darcy that I chose not to acknowledge it. I sighed, "I suppose I might be wise to give that some thought, but I still do not like the man!"
My aunt smiled. "I would not expect you to alter your opinion so dramatically; just to consider that there may be more to the man than you have allowed yourself to see".
I felt the truth of her words. That Mr. Darcy is an interesting man, I cannot deny. However poor his manners may be, however proud and vain his attitude, he certainly is well informed, and I would be deceiving myself if I said I did not find him at all handsome. Though his behavior is not pleasing, in Netherfield he was not altogether unpleasant. In fact, he was unfailingly polite. But it was a cold, detached sort of politeness that I cannot like. That said; I should not be sorry to never see him again.
My aunt and I then began walking towards the house, discussing lighter topics, such as their new acquaintances, a Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam of Matlock. Apparently, after a chance encounter, my uncle, a well respected business man, had some type of dealing with Lord Fitzwilliam; they each enjoyed the other's company so well, that Lord Fitzwilliam invited them all for tea, and the two families have shared several visits since. That my uncle has impressed someone so far above his own social sphere is no surprise; his genteel manners and excellent mind have gained him favor with many men of quality. I only wish that men like Mr. Darcy were able to look beyond the status of land and connections into the value of the man-or woman-before him.
Eventually we came upon the subject of Jane and Mr. Bingley. She agreed with me that Jane might benefit from a temporary removal to London. Surely the theater, shops, and dances would lift her ailing spirits, and perhaps allow Jane to happen upon Mr. Bingley. At length, we speculated on the reasons for his absence, and I allowed my frustrations to finally overflow. "I for one, shall never marry. Men are either too poor to marry as they please, too eaten up with pride to take notice of those beneath them, too ridiculous to make a woman happy, too easily persuaded from their own inclinations, or, completely immoral!"
She merely smiled at my vehemence, "Oh, take care, love; that speech savors strongly of bitterness." Well, she has the right of it; I am bitter.
Christmas at Pemberley was rather lonely this year. Of course, I was with Georgiana, but she still suffers the melancholy that overtook her after Wickham's betrayal. My love for her knows no bounds, but I know not how to support her spirits during this difficult period of time. Her new companion, Mrs. Annesley, is of great assistance, but what she really needs is the guidance of a mother. Or a sister. Elizabeth would know what to do.
It has been nearly two months since I thought of her as Miss Elizabeth. After convincing Bingley to stay away from Hertfordshire, we, as planned, fully immersed ourselves in social engagements for the three weeks before I headed back to Pemberley. Plays, soirees, dinners, balls; nothing seemed to ease the unrest that enveloped us both. That Bingley was suffering was apparent. I believe he does still. My unease is of a different type. Bingley wanted to dwell on the pain of losing Miss Bennet; careful to avoid her name, but obvious in his recollections. I was searching for anything to drive the memory of Elizabeth from my mind. He danced less, I danced more. He was inattentive, I was rapt. But it was all a guise, and disguise of every sort is my abhorrence, so quickly, I became angry with myself. He and I are such different men. For Bingley, brooding means that his smile does not quite reach his eyes, but for me, it leads to a shortness of temper that makes me quite unbearable.
The carriage ride back to London with Georgiana was very quiet. She, trapped in her own thoughts, ventured to say little, and I was not master enough of my emotions to avoid being terse. So when I saw the note from my Uncle James, I responded almost as soon as I could refresh myself. Travel weary I may have been, but I needed to escape myself. James Fitzwilliam; the head of the family, a symbol of the duty and honor expected of me, would reinforce the wisdom of every decision I made the month before. By reminding me what I owe them, what I owe Georgiana, he would drive Elizabeth from my heart and free me to pursue a woman more appropriate to be the mistress of Pemberley.
It was quite late in the evening when I arrived at the Fitzwilliam townhome. My uncle and aunt had just finished eating dinner, so after giving my Aunt Sophia a kiss, I joined my uncle in the study. I have often heard it said that I am a formidable man, though my uncle may not possess my size, he certainly has a forbidding appearance as well. Nearing sixty, his hair is still as thick and black as it was twenty years ago, only graying at the temples. His eyes; dark and piercing, seem as if they could penetrate one's most private thoughts. I have sometimes wondered if people view me in the same fashion, as I have inherited my eyes from the Fitzwilliam side of the family.
These musings aside, my uncle is the only man, other than my own excellent father, who has ever had the ability to intimidate me. He is by no means a frightening man, but generally quite serious, so I was more than a little surprised at his cheerful manner, and quite curious as to the source of the gleam of humor in his eyes as he sat behind his desk.
He poured two drinks, and we sat together in a comfortable silence for some minutes, and then talked of trivialities, when he abruptly reverted to the stern demeanor that I was familiar with-and often emulated. "Darcy," he began, "I have been doing a great deal of thinking of late, and I have become concerned that we have not properly prepared you to carry on the next generation." With such a promising opening, I was certain that Elizabeth would soon be banished from my mind. I was half anticipation, half agony, not yet ready to let her go, but I had grossly misunderstood the direction of his thoughts. "I know your father and I taught you how to manage your affairs in regards to your estate and societal demands, but that is not quite what I want to impart." Here, he paused, flustered, "No, no, I am going about this all wrong; let me tell you from the beginning."
"Darcy, you are not like most first-born sons." he began. "Most, like mine, are raised with few responsibilities until the time comes to marry and take over the family holdings. Most, like mine, will not encounter that responsibility until they are well into their third decade. Most, like mine, have far too much wealth, and take far too much pleasure in spending it. You, on the other hand, from the time you finished your studies, were being prepared to take your father's place. His poor health made this a necessity. While I will always feel your tragedy of having lost both your mother and father at such a young age, I cannot help but feel that you are better equipped for the demands of a landowner than most sons." While my uncle and I have always shared a mutual respect and understanding, this was the most complimentary speech I had ever heard from him. I stumbled on a "thank you" in reply. He continued, "William, you have done more with your father's estate than I ever expected. Truly, I am proud of you. I am only sorry that you had to sacrifice your youth in the process." He stopped and cleared his throat. I looked down at my half-empty glass.
"For some time I have known that Julian's habits of expense would exceed the income he will yield. I know I should have done more to guide him at an earlier age, but as I was in robust health at the time, I did not look so far to the future. Now that his tendencies have been established, I worry that they will be difficult to change. I am aging, and I begin to feel it, and I hope to be able to turn over the estate in the next ten years, but I am frightened. Julian is not an immoral man, but habits of excess and a lack of restraint have left him ill-prepared for estate management. So, about six months ago, I set out to increase my capital through investments, in order to protect against the mishandling of affairs that I felt would be inevitable. I had all but promised a large sum to invest into a particular bank, at the suggestion of Lord Murdock, who I am sure you remember." I did remember Lord Murdock; I knew that his father was close with my grandfather, and therefore the families maintained a connection. I also knew that he was generally regarded to be a shrewd man with a not altogether honest approach to procuring his fortune, though masked by a disarming demeanor. In short, I did not trust him, and was surprised to hear that my uncle did.
"I see what you are thinking," he said, and it seemed that he did, "you are wondering why I would ever trust this man who is known to look out only for himself. I admit that it was not the wisest choice, but I discussed it with others, and it seemed to be a sound investment. But something did not feel quite right, so I waited another day to reflect on it. I was walking through the business district, crossing in front of some warehouses, when I overheard two gentlemen discussing the man in question. It seems he has led several gentlemen into false investments. One of the gentlemen, a Mr. Gardiner, a tradesman, is brother in law to the lawyer who is investigating Lord Murdock. I questioned him, and he urged me, most passionately, to be on my guard. My initial reaction was one of distrust. You see, I wondered why I should take the word of a tradesman over that of a member of the peerage. But I took the man's card, all the same, and not three months later, I started to hear the whispers of Lord Murdock's exposure. You, of course, were not in London at the time. When it became public knowledge that her had led several to financial ruin at is his personal gain, Lord Murdock still continued about town, and was afforded the same respect as always."
His voice heightened with emotion at this point. "We call ourselves 'polite' society, and look down on others, yet many of our sphere are responsible for most reprehensible behavior. Our first born sons drink and gamble family holdings, our Prince Regent has engaged in countless illicit affairs! While Julian wastes the family fortune, Richard fights for the Crown, yet he will inherit nothing! A man is dishonest to the core, preys on the misfortunes of others, yet we regard him as a gentleman simply because he bears the title 'lord'. Another man, who earns a respectable income in an honest fashion, is disregarded because his money comes from trade. Our society has become too cold, too unforgiving; we treat all below us with disdain, and it will hurt the wealthy landowners very soon. With the increase of industry, our unsatisfied tenant farmers are going to begin moving to the cities to make their own way. It is the tradesmen who will carry the future generations." I stayed quite still, unsure what to make of what I was hearing, while my uncle rose and began to pace furiously, and as I followed him with my eyes, I wondered if I might have inherited that habit from him, as I cannot remember my father doing it.
"With these reflections on my mind, I decided to pay this Mr. Gardiner a visit. And I was pleasantly surprised to find his home to be quite handsome, well kept, and his wife and children to be very lovely." Here, he stopped to look me in the eye. "To make this rather long story as short as I can, your aunt and I have befriended the family, though I know that many will not accept them, your name carries as much weight as ours in the ton, if not more, and we would like your help in introducing them to society."
I weighed all that my uncle had related, which to him must have felt like apprehension, for he added, "You need not feel obligated if it gives you discomfort." But if he thought he knew my thoughts this time, he was utterly wrong. I looked down at my glass again, which, this time, appeared to be half full. If my uncle wanted my support in introducing an honorable tradesman's family to London's elite, then what objection might he have to a gentleman's daughter, albeit a poor one? I quickly assured my uncle of my support, and vaguely heard him say something about a theater engagement, a niece coming to visit, teaching Julian about estate management, and Richard's militia being stationed in London, but my mind was elsewhere.
I came to my uncle's house seeking freedom from my affliction; instead, I was gifted with the freedom to unlock my heart to love Elizabeth unreservedly. With my most forceful objection against her all but eliminated, I felt lighter than I had in months. A part of me thought to ride back to Hertfordshire and beg her to marry me, but, I knew what I needed to do. My interference in Bingley's affairs had gone far enough. He was unhappy; whether Miss Bennet loves him or not must be for him to determine. Thus energized, I went directly to Bingley's townhome. Well past the polite visiting hour, I found Bingley in the billiards room. That he was surprised was evident, but he received me with all the affability he is known for.
"Charles," I began uneasily, "I have something of great import to discuss with you." His eyebrows shot skyward.
"Well, let's have it man, it must be something serious to bring you here at this hour."
I nodded emphatically, "I have been thinking that I may have been ill-advised in my words to you when we left Netherfield." Confusion, comprehension, and finally, elation registered on his face.
"You think she does love me?" The unspoken she, clearly indicated the direction of his thoughts.
"No," I replied slowly, searching for the correct words, "what I mean is, I still stand by my observations; I perceived no particular regard from her, but on further reflection, it is not for me to determine whether it exists. Perhaps she does not put her emotions on display; Lord knows I do not."
Bingley seemed thoughtful. "I see," he said quietly, "and as to your other objections?"
I smiled, "I have been taught, by an unlikely source, to look beyond concerns of consequence and wealth when forming acquaintances."
Bingley merely nodded, a smile slowly spreading across his face. After a few silent minutes, his buoyant spirit returned. "Well I say, Darcy, this is most unexpected. I had been thinking about returning to Netherfield, and now I think my course is set. However, I think the best course of action would be to seek a courtship, in order to better understand Miss Bennet's heart." I understood his caution. As much as I might relish the idea of riding to Longbourn at first light, it was far too soon. As I rose to leave, Bingley's voice interrupted my reverie.
"Darce, forgive me if I am presumptuous, but, what do you think of Miss Elizabeth?"
I started, recovered, and replied honestly. "She is the most enchanting woman I have ever met." She truly is.
"I thought that might be the case." Bingley replied. I looked down, somehow unable to meet his gaze, a rare occurrence for me.
"Was I so very obvious?" I asked humbly.
"No indeed!" He said emphatically, "At least, certainly not to someone who does not know you as I do. In fact, I believe she is completely unaware of your regard. Jane told me Miss Elizabeth is quite convinced you dislike her, but I was certain that was not the case. Again, forgive my boldness, but if you mean to do something about it, you might consider changing your approach. As I understand it, though it pains me to say it, Miss Elizabeth is not very fond of you."
Though his revelation did in fact pain me, I was quickly able to put it into perspective. "No, Charles, you are absolutely right. I was foolishly trying to fight my attraction. Now, I know what a wretched mistake I was making." If I am being truthful, I would have preferred to learn that Elizabeth is as bound to me as I am to her, but that cannot be. I did nothing to earn her regard. In fact, her disinterest increases my admiration for her. The very thought that my wealth and consequence hold no sway with her makes her a prize more worth the earning.
"Shall we travel to Netherfield then?" Bingley asked expectantly. But I would have to wait.
"Unfortunately, I cannot yet join you Charles. I have some obligations in town with my family for at least a fortnight, but I hope to join you before heading to Rosings for Easter."
He nodded; a bewildered look flashed across his face. "What is it about those Bennets?" he laughed.
As I sat in the carriage on the way home, pondering that very question, it struck me that the very family I found so objectionable, was, in actuality, most deserving of my gratitude. That Elizabeth could be such an extraordinary woman is not a miracle, in spite of her family's oddities; but rather, she is the amazing woman she is because of them. Despite the knowledge that I would have to work hard to earn Elizabeth's favor, a wave of contentment washed over me, leaving me more tranquil than I had felt in several months. As much as I wanted to begin the journey towards my own happiness, however, it would have to wait. I had made a promise to my uncle; in London I would stay.
With Charlotte gone off to Kent to be Mrs. Collins, Jane out of spirits, and a succession of rain keeping me indoors, I quickly tired of needlework, the pianoforte, and even reading. I reflected on all the mishaps surrounding Longbourn of late. It seemed like excellent fodder for a novel; so, I began to write. The words seemed to flow seamlessly onto the paper; characters and stories, based on realities, began to take shape before my eyes. I wrote a story about the Netherfield Ball, featuring Jane as the heroine. In it, my family still conspires to humiliate us, but the antics are even more ridiculous and Jane gets her happy ending. I then wrote a story about Mr. Collins' proposal, except, at the end, I gave him his due by pushing him into the cows' water trough, saying, "You dance with the grace of a bull, now bathe like one!" It was a way to pass the time, and I must say, I rather enjoyed the mental exercise. In telling these little stories, I can give relief to my emotions, and even amend reality a little to my liking. Perhaps I may even be able to provide my currently somber family with some humor. This thought in mind, I grabbed my latest composition, and went downstairs in search of Papa.
I had not yet shared with him the conversation I had overheard between Captain Denny and Mr. Wickham. The rain had prevented the danger of any Bennets meeting with officers, so I had felt no urgency. But the Gardiners were leaving on the morrow, and I was determined to warn Papa before they left, lest I needed Aunt Gardiner's support. It was hard enough to tell Jane; even her sweet sensibilities were affected; though she would prefer to think the best of everyone, Mr. Wickham made that impossible. When I finally gathered the courage to approach Papa with this information, his reaction astonished me. Generally a tranquil man who prefers indolence to action, I was surprised to see him visibly shaken. He bolted upright and began pacing restlessly.
"And when did this happen?" He demanded. "But three days ago sir." I replied quietly. He was clearly unsatisfied. "And why did you wait to tell me?" After I explained myself, he calmed somewhat, realizing that his anger was misplaced. He resolved that none of us should leave Longbourn unaccompanied while the militia continued in the neighborhood (which vexed me greatly), and he was determined to discuss the matter with Colonel Forster. He stopped his pacing abruptly, and turned to look at me, a wistful expression playing across his face. "My dearest Lizzy," he said, "it seems but a few years ago that you were a small child. How has it happened that all my girls are now women? It pains me that you are in a position to require protection. Though I may have favored my solitude in the past, it seems I must adopt a different approach." He smiled sadly. His rare outburst of emotion pulled me across the room to bestow a kiss on his cheek. He patted my hand. "Fear not child," he reassured me, "I will take steps to protect you, but I shall not abandon my book room altogether!" I smiled at his attempt at levity.
Attempting to restore his good humor, I shared the story of Mr. Collins' proposal, entitled "Tale of a Toad". Papa laughed heartily at its conclusion, but once his mirth subsided, he became quite serious. "Oh, my dearest child, I should have taken better care of you girls that your Mama would never have put you in that position," he said wistfully. Though there was some truth to his complaint, I was not angry enough to desire his pain. "But Papa, you cannot wish to be deprived of such a veritable source of amusement!" I offered in false enthusiasm.
"No, indeed," he smiled, shaking his head, "I do not wish it." But truly, I had would have preferred to have gone without it. Mama's ire with me, rather than easing with time, actually increased; with her complaints more frequent, I desperately wished to escape.
The next morning offered a welcome respite from the rain, and as none of my sisters could be compelled to traverse the muddy ground with me, I kept to the grounds near the house. I was reminded of the horror on the faces of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and the smirk on Mr. Darcy's, when I walked the three miles to Netherfield to see Jane. From there, my thoughts wandered toward Mr. Darcy; I again tried to understand his complexities. That he is a complicated man is certain, but when he was here, I had no desire to understand him. He possesses every quality that a gentleman should, yet his thinly veiled disgust towards his social inferiors is unforgivable. Who is he to fancy himself my father's superior, simply due to an accident of birth? Though I still cannot like him, with doubt cast on Wickham's tale, I found myself feeling decidedly curious. Of course, our paths would never cross again, so all speculation was irrelevant.
I returned home to news of a most unexpected visitor. Mr. Bingley had returned! The house nearly vibrated with activity. Mama fluttered about, preparing for his arrival, as she would if he were the prodigal son. Embarrassment was etched on Jane's beautiful face as she hurriedly gathered the sewing materials, so I moved toward her to lend my support. Mary played the pianoforte, while Kitty and Lydia giggled in a corner. Even Papa exerted himself to welcome our guest. Whether this was meant as a compliment to our impending guest, or as an adherence to his resolve to mind his daughters, I know not. When Mr. Bingley was finally announced, we took on an assumed air of tranquility, masking the chaos that was evident moments before.
I studied his face as he greeted us. It was obvious that he sought out Jane's face first. When his gaze met hers, he smiled; tentatively, then broadly, and as I looked back to Jane, I saw that her smile matched his, though her eyes were lowered. I greeted him warmly, then moved towards Papa as we all took our seats. Conversation was stilted for a time, and not worth noting, except for the frequent glances between Jane and Mr. Bingley. The Gardiners, having just met Mr. Bingley for the first time, carried much of the conversation, and seemed well pleased. Unable to suppress my joy, I impulsively grabbed Papa's hand briefly, and he squeezed mine in return. Lydia then asked Mr. Bingley when he would be hosting another ball, to which he had no ready answer, as he was alone at Netherfield for the present. Dismayed, she had little else to say.
Mr. Bingley had just arrived from town, therefore, he soon rose to take his leave, promising to return.
"And will your sisters soon join you, Mr. Bingley?" Mama asked.
"No, madam, they will continue in London for some weeks." I imagined they were likely none too pleased that he had returned.
"And your friend, Mr. Darcy?" She persisted.
"He has some business in London, but hopes to join me soon." Indeed. As soon as pigs sprout wings, he will grace the village with his exalted presence, I thought to myself. "And do you plan a long stay, Mr. Bingley?" I ventured.
He turned his smiling countenance towards me. "My stay is indefinite at the time, Miss Elizabeth, but will be of some duration. There is nothing in town to keep me away any longer." This was said with an intent look at Jane. She blushed furiously. I grinned .
"Very well then," Mama continued, clearly attempting to draw out his visit, "You must return for a family dinner soon, I have not forgot! At least two courses!" She happily reminded him. With assurances to return two days hence, he was finally allowed to leave.
"Well, Jane," Mama announced, "now that Mr. Bingley is come back you must stay home, go tell Hill to unpack your trunk."
"But Mama!" Jane cried, "Mrs. Gardiner is relying on me to assist with the children. I cannot disappoint her now when we are to leave tomorrow." But Mama was by no means dissuaded from her purpose. "Nonsense, Jane! Miss Lizzy will do just fine, though she is not her cousins' particular favorite, nor does she deserve a holiday after she used me so abominably. I dare say she will do quite nicely." Though I would, in normal circumstances, take exception to mine and Jane's life being planned without our wishes consulted, in this case, I could not deny that her proposed change of plans had some merit. Jane would have the opportunity to further her acquaintance with the charming Mr. Bingley, and I would escape Mama. Indeed, the idea was quite appealing.
I looked to my aunt who was engaged in ascertaining Jane's feelings. "Jane, you are too good, but it would be no trouble at all. If Lizzy would like to join us we shall be happy to have her instead," as Jane smiled her assent, she added, "the children will be quite delighted either way." This last was said with a fleeting look of chagrin shot towards my mother. She then turned to me. "What say you Lizzy? Shall you join us? I shall help you pack directly if you like."
I immediately knew my answer. Glancing at Papa, Jane, and my aunt and uncle, I attempted to restrain my enthusiasm, lest I seem too eager for Mama's liking. "Well," I said, "it seems to London I must go."
After Bingley returned to Herfordshire, I immersed myself in estate business, desperately trying to keep busy. Even Georgiana sensed my restlessness, and suggested I join her with the Fitzwilliams for tea that afternoon. What she did not know is that my restlessness stemmed from my desire to see Elizabeth, and jealousy that Bingley was doing just that. "No, thank you dearest, but I have an appointment with my solicitor this afternoon." It was not a lie. I did indeed have an appointment, though I could have easily sent my steward.
"I understand that they are to have some new friends with them, the Gardiners, and a niece," she added. The last thing that I wanted was to be thrust in the company of a woman that I do not know. Though my uncle asked me to support him in welcoming the family in society, I understood him to mean this as a public gesture, and we were engaged for the theater the following night, so I did not feel a great deal of guilt, except for the fact that Georgiana is as uncomfortable meeting people unknown to her as I am.
"I hope Richard will be there, then, so you are not alone," I said in an effort to assuage my rising guilt.
"Oh! I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Gardiner briefly already, and she is quite friendly, I do believe I will manage; I am not expected to say a great deal as it is. But I do expect Richard will be there in any case."
"I am glad to hear that," I answered in relief. There would be plenty of time to make their acquaintance tomorrow night. "I should be off, then, shall I see you for dinner?" She nodded.
It was just as well that I chose to handle the solicitor on my own, as there was a great deal to discuss. Nearly three hours later, I felt satisfied with the progress made. Business completed, I looked forward to a quiet dinner at home that evening. I was instead greeted with the welcome presence of my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, who had just returned with his regiment the day before.
"Richard! What brings you here, Cousin?"
"Well, I had such a lovely time with Georgiana, so I decided to escort her home and join you both for dinner. You don't mind, old man, do you?"
"No; I am glad," I replied, and I meant it. Richard is my closest male relation; much like brothers, we grew up fighting, playing, and learning together. The habit of being quite answerable only to myself prevents me from seeking advice in others, but if I ever do, he is the one I am most likely to rely upon. His personality is a perfect foil to my own. I am serious and grave; he is light and jovial. I respect polite society; he mocks it. I weigh my responsibilities heavily; he is care free. Actually, he is much like Elizabeth in many respects. He, too, enjoys the ridiculous and absurd. He, too, compels me out of my reticence. He, too, brings joy to those around him.
As dinner continued, I noticed a strange silent communication between Richard and Georgiana. It is unlike Georgiana to engage in mischief, so my curiosity was piqued. I raised an eyebrow at her. "What, William? Is there something the matter?" She asked, rather impishly. Richard stifled his laughter in a snort. "Yes, William," he bantered, "whatever is the matter?"
I shot him a steely glare, but it affected his countenance not a jot. Dismayed, I grunted to myself, which only provoked him further. "Why, Darce, you look rather like a spoiled child who has been denied a new toy." At the sound of Georgiana's laughter, a rare delight, I softened.
"What is the private joke you two are sharing?" When I received nary a response, I added, in my best impression of our imperial Aunt Catherine, "I must have my share of the conversation!" This sent both Richard and Georgiana into peals of laughter, and even I relaxed a little.
Georgiana then launched into a recitation of their tea engagement with the Gardiner family, who, by her description, seem to be quite admirable. All ease and friendliness, she heralded their lack of artifice and gentle manners. Not having seen her speak with such animation in some time, I simply listened, and observed, noticing the surreptitious glances that she and Richard shot one another. She dropped her gaze and offered rather sheepishly, "their niece is quite nice."
Now I understood their game: matchmaking. I groaned and rolled my eyes. "I have no doubt," I replied drily.
I noticed Richard eyeing me as he added, "She really is lovely; I think you shall like her very much indeed."
Weary of women, save one, I wasted no breath with my reply, but a very ungentlemanly snort escaped me before I was able to check it. Richard and Georgiana tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle their amusement. Suddenly, I was not so sanguine with the prospect of going to the theater the next night.
Of all people, my Uncle Gardiner befriended the uncle and aunt of Mr. Darcy! I can scarcely believe it. I do hope I concealed my surprise somewhat, yet I sincerely doubt it. As we rode back to Gracechurch Street on the afternoon after our arrival in London, I reflected on what had passed within the Fitzwilliam townhome.
We were welcomed graciously By Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam. Their home was grand, as I expected, but not ostentatious, as I feared. The furnishings and art reflected a stately, elegant taste. As the footman led us to the drawing room, we were greeted by the sight of two younger people seated on the settee. They rose to greet us, and were introduced by Lord Fitzwilliam as "my younger son, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and my niece, Miss Georgiana Darcy."
I was stunned. Surely, it is not so common a name that she could be any other but the sister to Mr. Darcy. This timid girl, however, bore no resemblance to the proud picture painted by George Wickham, but as his word can easily be called into question, this fact did not confound me. Rather, it was that Miss Darcy seemed so very different from her brother. Her manners, gentle and unassuming, her demeanor was cheerful, even if reserved. The Colonel was another shock. Not quite so handsome as his illustrious cousin, he was very gentlemanly in his appearance, and possessed an openness in his countenance which was immediately discernible. I was quite certain that we would all get along famously.
"Richard, Georgiana," The Earl's voice interrupted my musings. "I am pleased to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner, and their niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet." I noticed that the eyes of both the Colonel, and Miss Darcy widened at the introduction, and was puzzled at the meaning behind it.
"You are Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" Miss Darcy asked, quite startled by her own forwardness. "I am so pleased to meet you," she added, more subdued. "My brother has written of you."
Mr. Darcy wrote of me? Surely, he meant only to disparage me. I felt ill at ease to have been mentioned to these people, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass with some degree of credit, by my severest critic. I looked up at the Colonel, and, seeing a slight smirk on his face, raised a brow in inquiry, which caused him to smile broadly. I could not but return the gesture. The Earl and Lady Sophia, as she later bade me to call her, were already seated with my aunt and uncle by this time.
We three younger people sat at the opposite side of the room, and began conversing in earnest. "Miss Darcy, I understand you are quite an accomplished lady," I offered tentatively, hoping to encourage her. "I do not think I am so very accomplished, I mean, I do enjoy music and drawing very much, but I do not think my skill is out of the common way." She answered, clearly a bit uncomfortable with the praise. I decided not to press her too much.
"I have once heard your brother list a litany of talents necessary for a woman to be deemed truly accomplished. I expected, at the time, that he had considered his sister when compiling that list, however, in light of your declaration, I see that his expectations are, as I suspected, unreasonable. I should very much like to hear him concede the point!" I exclaimed.
"How very like Darce." The Colonel laughed.
"Oh?" I asked, pleased to have been proven right. "Are his standards so very exacting?"
"Not so very," ventured Miss Darcy. "He is quite pleased with my progress in my studies." I smiled at the artless girl, so relieved to not have found in her the acute observation that I had witnessed in her brother.
"Are you to join us at the theater tomorrow night?" I asked, changing the subject. "Do you know what we shall see?"
"No," she said simply, then recovered herself. "I mean, I am not going to the theater; I am not yet 'out', but I do know what play you shall see. Are you familiar with 'Taming of the Shrew '?"
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "How wonderful! I enjoy all of Shakespeare's plays. My father has the complete volume in his library. I have never seen this one performed however."
"Then you shall enjoy it," Miss Darcy explained, "William told me this is an excellent troupe. He is looking forward to it himself."
"Mr. Darcy is to join us?" I asked; just short of horrified.
"Indeed," answered the Colonel, "as am I." I schooled my expression into a placid smile. "That should be lovely." ," I replied, feeling a little uneasy at the prospect.
I turned my thoughts toward Miss Darcy. She could not be more than sixteen, which places her between Lydia and Kitty in age. I could not help but be struck by the vast difference. Though less worldly than my youngest sisters; in comportment, she was by far their superior.
I began to attend to the conversation my aunt and uncle were having with Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam. I was surprised to find Lady Sophia's manners so very different from what my limited experience with members of so-called 'high society'. Her manners were pleasing, her smiles sincere, and her laughter rich. Observing the Earl, I could not describe him as a gregarious man, but he seemed warm and intelligent, and quite clearly held my aunt and uncle in high esteem. I was proud that I have some relations for whom I needn't blush.
Lord Fitzwilliam turned to me, saying, "I understand from your aunt and uncle here, that you have made the acquaintance of my nephew when he was lately staying with Mr. Bingley."
"Yes, my lord."
"And, did he acquit himself nicely thereabouts?" My burning cheeks provoked the Earl's laughter. "Never you mind, young lady, I know what a boor my nephew can be when he is uncomfortable in company. Here, among friends, you shall see him in a better light."," hHe reassured me with a wink. Gathering my courage, I ventured a response, "I certainly hope so, my lord, for if he speaks any less than than he did in Hertfordshire, he shall be mistaken for a mute!" The Earl and Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed openly. The Colonel, shaking off the last of his merriment, simply said, "You'll do."
For what? I dearly wanted to ask, but didn't dare.
As we took our leave, I assured Miss Darcy of my hope to see her again soon, and decided on a walk in the park two days hence. The Colonel made a grand show of kissing my hand in an overtly gallant manner, and said, "In honor of the Bard, whose work we shall enjoy on the morrow, I shall only add, parting is such sweet sorrow." I laughed aloud at the Colonel's feigned formality, and his clever inversion of the most famous line from Romeo and Juliet. I left with high expectations for an entertaining evening at the theatre; and with only a little apprehension for the expected addition to our merry party.
Posted on 2012-03-22
Though I am generally meticulous in my preparations for social engagements, on this occasion, I had not the heart for it. Despite the fact that the Gardiners were endorsed heartily by my uncle, cousin, and sister, I could not help but to expect that I would find them somewhat brash. In most instances, I would not dream of calling my uncle's good judgment into question, but these societal expectations have been ingrained in me for so long, I find it hard to disregard them completely.
I supposed, at the very least, they must be pleasant, and I do enjoy Shakespeare, but I was still apprehensive. What worried me the most was the niece; in my mind, I envisioned someone like Miss Bingley, a self-important social climber who would attach herself to me like a leech, but without even her façade of fashionable breeding. I shuddered at the thought. And, judging from Richard and Georgiana's cryptic remarks yesterday, I could not ignore the feeling that there was some mischief afoot.
But, nonetheless, I readied myself, kissed Georgiana goodbye, and climbed into the carriage.
I was to meet the party a half-hour before the curtain, but an unusually busy night at the theater caused a delay. Now late, I had to brave my way through the crush of people, doing my best to avoid those who might wish to speak to me. Of course, some were more determined that others, and after a few artificial conversations with some matchmaking mamas and their offspring, I finally escaped and neared my box. Irritated, I unknowingly donned my best scowl, and was thus accosted by my uncle, who reached out to shake my hand, saying, "What, Nephew, have you an appointment with the gallows?"
He gave me no opportunity to respond before performing introductions. "Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, allow me to introduce my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley."
The men bowed, the lady curtsied, and we were all delighted. I must admit to some surprise. The Gardiners, at a glance, appeared to be people of fashion, and after some conversation, I could see that they were decidedly well-informed. Mrs. Gardiner, it seems, spent much of her youth in Lambton, a small village not five miles from Pemberley. We spoke for a few moments about mutual acquaintances, and in the midst of the conversation, I could see how this gregarious man and gentle woman won my uncle over so easily. One would never have supposed that they came from a fortune laced in trade. But these reflections would wait, as the play was shortly to begin; I noticed one was missing from our party.
"Where is Richard?" I asked. Looking around, I spotted his head above the crowd, an easy feat, as he is nearly my height. He was smiling down at someone whom I could not see, most likely one of the many heiresses of his acquaintance-or perhaps the mysterious niece; I had forgotten about her. I smiled to myself at Richard's shameless flirtation; I looked back over, then gaped, assuming my very best impersonation of a trout, for as he came closer, I was able to discern that the lady on his arm was none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
How long I stood captivated, I cannot say, but Mrs. Gardiner's soft voice called me back to the reality of my expression, which was visible to all. "I believe you have met my niece, Mr. Darcy." I willed my mouth closed, then turned to see her eyeing me curiously.
"Yes, I have," was my concise answer.
I chanced a look back. Engrossed in the conversation with my cousin, she had not noticed me yet. I indulged in the guilty pleasure of watching her from afar, as was my wont in Hertfordshire. Though 'breathtakingly lovely' is a hackneyed phrase, it was the only one which seemed to suit, as I quite forgot to breathe for a moment. So natural, so at ease, so full of life. She wore an elegantly simple gown, which called forth fond memories.
The Ball at Netherfield. It was the same one she wore that night, and, like then, she had ribbons and fresh flowers woven through her playful curls. On that day, her eyes were on fire when she spoke to me; today, looking up at Richard, they danced with joy. I felt the first stirrings of an emotion that I was altogether unfamiliar with.
She still had not seen me, but Richard had. He looked over at me with a gleam in his eye, then turned his attention back to his fair companion. She laughed at something Richard said, and my heart ached; she never laughed for me. However, I reminded myself, I had never truly attempted to draw a favorable response from her, and, I reasoned, her heart being so generous, it would take but a small effort to gain her favor.
Or, perhaps not.
For as she turned her cheerful countenance toward me, her face fell. My heart dropped; a mask of cool indifference hid her brilliant smile. Though Bingley had warned me that her opinion of me was not favorable, to actually witness it was quite disconcerting. I felt myself flinch under her gaze.
"Mr. Darcy," she said coolly.
"Miss Bennet! What an unexpected pleasure!" Unskilled in the fine art of trivial conversation, and unprepared for something more, I grasped for something appropriate to say. I settled on the obvious, "Have you been staying in London long?"
"But two days, sir. I am visiting with my aunt and uncle, whom I believe you have just met." So she was the mysterious niece. Considering the revelations of the past few days, one might expect me to have felt pleased, eager, delighted. But no; instead, I was in a mild panic. My heart's desire was only an arm's length away, and yet, I had no way of knowing how to close that gap. Though well experienced with the world, I have had little experience with the heart. Her eyes gave me no clues; they were pools of icy indifference. I would certainly have to earn my keep, if she was indeed ever to be mine.
"And is it to your liking?" Perfectly pathetic. I could not have been more banal had I planned it.
She pursed her lips together, and with a nearly imperceptible shrug, and a disinterested air, replied, "What, London? Oh, it is tolerable, I suppose, but there is not much here to tempt me." She flashed her eyes at me, a slight smirk on her face. The bell rang for the curtain; she curtsied, and walked away.
A faint snort emanating from Richard recalled me from Elizabeth's retreating figure. "I shall not ask what that was about," he said, "yet, anyway."
Though any other man would quake under the look I leveled at Richard, it only caused his smile to broaden. I am not accustomed to being laughed at, and here, two people, whom I hold in the highest esteem, had made a great joke of me. Despite all my best intentions, I was indignant, and I took my seat in a huff. I paid no heed to the players on stage, but instead, chose to sulk, until I realized that, just as any noble tragic hero, I had initiated my own downfall. That I made such an abominable remark in the presence of the lady deserved to be laughed at. I swallowed some pride, and shifted my attention over to the stage. The play was skillfully executed, and I allowed myself to enjoy it.
When the curtain rose, Richard and I went off to procure refreshments for the rest of the party. I asked the question which had burned at the back of my mind since I first saw Elizabeth. "Why did you not tell me it was she?"
Richard, his face a perfect guise of innocence, replied, "Why, cousin, you only mentioned her once or twice; it had not occurred to me that it would be of importance, but, perhaps Iit should have?" he quirked a brow at me.
I had no interest in falling into my cousin's trap. I was not ready to play the part of the besotted fool just yet. I replied evenly, "You were aware that I was acquainted with her; you should have mentioned it."
Relenting, he said, "You know I am no great lover of the theater, Darce. But to watch a living drama unfold before my own eyes, now that is quite entertaining. I should not sacrifice that pleasure for anything." I rolled my eyes and grunted; we completed our task, only waylaid a few times as we made our way back to our party.
Had Mr. Darcy not been such a disagreeable man, I may have felt some remorse for the barb I threw him before the play began. However, true to his haughty persona, instead of revealing embarrassment, he merely glared and remained silent for the next half hour. Granted, the actors were playing, but all the same, I was out of charity with him. So when he and Colonel Fitzwilliam returned with refreshments, I was more than a little surprised to hear him say as he handed me a drink, "It is a pity you do not find London more tolerable; I, for one, have rarely found myself in the company of ladies more handsome, or, tempting." His intent look caused me to blush; a tiny gasp escaped me before I was able to stop it, and Mr. Darcy looked quite pleased with himself.
Mr. Darcy, flirting? Had I not born witness to it myself, I should never have believed it. I took a short moment to recover from my shock, then countered, "My aunt is a married woman, Mr. Darcy; you would be wise to remember that." The Colonel laughed openly; Mr. Darcy actually smiled. There is a first time for all things, I suppose.
I turned to Lady Sophia who had been observing the exchange, a thoughtful expression on her face. "He is entirely too serious, you know," she said, "but you seem to handle him quite well." She deftly turned the conversation, effectively silencing my reply, "Georgiana was very pleased to have met you."
The effect was immediate; I smiled at the mention of the dear girl, so very different from her brother. Compared to his proud and judgmental persona, I found her to be quite modest and gentle. "I too, enjoyed our meeting. I am looking forward to furthering our acquaintance while I make my stay here." I must admit, I was in earnest.
The rest of the play continued with little incident. It was done well, and enjoyed by all; Mr. Darcy was silent and taciturn as usual, and the rest of the party was merry. As we waited for the crowds to clear, curiosity brought several members of the ton through to Mr. Darcy's box. I was amused to see how people received my uncle and aunt. Most seemed affable enough, if not inquisitive. The recommendation as friends of the Earl of Matlock seemed enough to draw their notice; I wondered how many would still curry their favor once the scent of trade had been unearthed.
As the seemingly endless stream of inquisitive lords, viscounts, and gentlemen continued, I turned to Colonel Fitzwilliam and asked, "You must know, Colonel, that we country girls are not accustomed to the pace of London; are people always so, welcoming?"
He barked out a laugh. "Welcoming, do you call it? Most of them are impossibly nosy!" I could not stop a smile at such a reply. Calling my attention to a gentleman who had just entered, he continued, "Ah, here's a good man; Dr. Greene, welcome; it is good to see you. Allow me to introduce you to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Hertfordshire."
Dr. Greene, l learned, was like the Colonel, a younger son, but unlike the Colonel, had pursued a career as a clergyman. He was of an average height and build; handsome, but not strikingly so. More importantly, however, he bore an amiable countenance. Not quite open, like the Colonel, or expressive, like Mr. Bingley, but neither was he brooding like Mr. Darcy.
"Delighted, Miss Bennet; have you enjoyed the play tonight?" He politely enquired.
"The players were excellent, and I found it very amusing, but I must admit, I am not particularly fond of the themes represented."
Mr. Greene seemed intrigued. "You are not of a mind that a wife should be subservient and obedient?"
"I am of no mind as to what a wife should be, as I have never been one, but I have a disinclination for the arts used to subdue Kate's spirit."
"Ah, Miss Bennet," said the Colonel, "you object to Petruchio's method of killing his wife with kindness?"
"He showed no kindness, sir, only manipulation."
Mr. Darcy was roused from his silence. "Are not all methods of courting a woman's favor in essence, manipulative, Miss Bennet?"
I wanted to disagree with him, but in truth, I was not sure that I could. For does not every man, in trying to woo his fair maiden, put on airs meant to impress? Is not every flattery an attempt to influence the lady's feelings?
"Perhaps you may be right, Mr. Darcy, which is why I want no part of it." Though I could not disagree with him, I certainly did not have to kowtow to him either. His eyes widened slightly at my reply before he assumed his usual severe demeanor.
As we began to make our way to the waiting carriages, Mr. Darcy offered his arm, which I took after a slight hesitation. We were silent as we slowly traversed the distance of the lobby, and I was astounded by the number of people who approached our party; most of them pressing insincere flattery or unmarried daughters toward him. I tried to subtly extricate my arm as one such lady made her way over, a Miss Fletcher. He tightened his grip, which maddened me, as I sensed I was being used as a shield. Miss Fletcher was a beautiful young woman whose overt flirtations rivaled Miss Bingley's best, and whose enmity for perceived competition was unmistakable. I laughed within as she eyed me, clearly seeing me as an impediment to a prize that could surely be hers. Would that these women could know that I have no desire to take their toy!
"Mr. Darcy!" She cooed. "It has been such a long time since we have had the pleasure in seeing you about town." She shot daggers at me, then resumed batting her eyelashes at him. "I can't imagine what has kept you away for so long."
"I have much occupied with my sister and estate," he replied apathetically. "Please allow me to introduce Miss Bennet, Miss Fletcher. She is staying with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who are here at the Earl's invitation tonight."
She narrowed her eyes as she spared one word for me, and laced it with hostility. "Charmed."
As she attempted to attach herself to Mr. Darcy's other arm, he said, with some urgency, "pray, excuse us; our carriages are waiting." She was left to pout.
The carriages were in fact waiting, but that did not prevent more exalted personages from seeking the attention of our illustrious company. It was farcical, in a way. Very few people said anything of importance, yet all were insistent on having the meaningless conversation. In a way, I felt that I might have sympathized with Mr. Darcy. Regardless of how arrogant he may be, he clearly took no pleasure in these pointless interactions, and at moments, seemed thoroughly uncomfortable. No, indeed, I could not blame the man for his reserve, not in a society where most exchanges drip with artificiality. But in the country, we are made of different matter; had his pride not prevented him from seeing that, he may have had my complete empathy on this evening.
We finally exited the building and neared the carriages. The Fitzwilliams finalized plans for a dinner with the Gardiners; Colonel Fitzwilliam handed me in, and Mr. Darcy glowered, as usual. We bid our farewells to one another, and I felt that I was beginning to piece together the enigmatic Mr. Darcy.
If I had hoped for a solitary night of reflection, I would have been most disappointed, but, as he has a habit for appearing when least expected, I was not altogether surprised when Richard jumped into my carriage, announcing his intention to stay at Darcy House for the night. But, neither was I of a good mind for company, so I greeted his proclamation with silence. At length however, I was moved to conversation. "What is your opinion of the Gardiners?" I asked flippantly.
"They seem to be honest, good people, and I am glad to know them. They seemed to be well received at the theater tonight," he responded.
"Certainly," I replied, "for they are genteel people, respected by my uncle, but no one yet knows they are of trade. There will certainly be social repercussions once the truth is discovered."
Richard was unperturbed. "Darce, my years of fighting in the army have gifted me with an early realization that man's value is in honor-not wealth. If I enter battle with the son of a blacksmith on one side, and the son of a duke on the other, which life is worth more? If my father acts in accordance with the standards of the ton, will they mourn him more when he leaves this good earth? No; they will begin placing bets on how soon Julian will waste away the family legacy. I think my father has reached an age where he is unconcerned with what society might think, insomuch as he is ready to act according to what he feels is good and right, rather than to be influenced by others. Certainly, some will not accept his liberal views, but I think most will be too wise to join in the scorn. I, for one, welcome the change. It certainly makes the plight of being a second son easier. My family cannot very well demand I marry a wealthy woman when they have friends in trade, now can they?"
I pondered his words for some moments. Though Richard is not generally regarded as a man of deep feeling, his experience has certainly yielded a greater insight into the workings of man's mind and the ways of the world than most can readily appreciate. His next words, however, caught me unawares.
"I noticed many an eye trained toward Miss Elizabeth."
I noticed as well-and I did not like it. I saw the appreciative looks at her person, of which she seemed completely oblivious. Many a man sought her introduction, but in my uncle's presence, none would venture beyond the civil formalities.
"She really is quite a lovely creature, Cousin." This time, Richard successfully baited me.
"What are you about, Richard? What are your intentions towards Miss Bennet?" I demanded.
"My intentions? Oh, no Cousin, you do me dishonor. Miss Bennet and I would not suit in any case. We are far too much alike. After a moment's pause, he added, "I like her very much indeed…much as I may like, a cousin," causing me to start. "Not everyone knows you as I do, Darce, but for me, it is plain as day that you are in a fair way to falling in love with her. My intention, my friend, is to help you, for you certainly know precious little about how to court such a singular woman."
I opened my mouth for a retort, but none was forthcoming. He was right after all. I was well on my way to loving Elizabeth, and I had no idea how to gain her favor, as she was certainly not likely to give it lightly. At the theater, she made it quite clear that the arts which men use to court women would have no effect on her. Any other woman would have delighted in my attentions, and would have subsequently bored me, but Elizabeth, the one woman who delighted me, wanted none of me. I may have found the irony amusing, if it were not for the fact that my heart was the victim of it. But I was not yet ready to concede the point to Richard. "Has it not occurred to you that I may not be in want of your assistance?"
"It is not your want, dear Cousin, but your need, which compels me."
I grumbled in reply, annoyed that I had been so transparent in my admiration that two people had seen fit to mention it. Though I must give credence to the fact that Richard and Charles know me better than most, it would not do to lay my emotions out on display. I would have to be more guarded in my attentions, at least until I further understood Elizabeth's mind. To that end, I had determined to join her and Georgiana for their walk on the morrow; that I may gain further understanding of how to please the perplexing Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Posted on 2012-03-25
The morning brought a most welcome intelligence: Mr. Bingley had asked for, and received, permission to court my darling sister Jane. The missive was sent express, clearly communicating the rapture of Jane's pleasure. I was in high spirits as I readied myself for the outing with Miss Darcy. I wore my favorite morning dress of pale yellow, in reflection of my cheerful mood. My aunt's maid, not having the obstacle of five young women to ready each morning, took her time to arrange my hair in a most becoming style. Pleased with the results, I went off to bid my family a good morning.
The Darcy carriage was soon spotted down the street by one of the servants, so I quickly kissed my uncle, aunt, and cousins, and thanked the footman who held the door. As I skipped lightly down the steps, I was arrested by the sight of Mr. Darcy waiting to hand me in. I had looked forward to furthering my acquaintance with Miss Darcy, unencumbered by her brother's imposing person, but I was far too happy to allow his presence to affect me overmuch.
He bore his habitual serious expression, but offered a slight smile as he greeted me. "Good morning, Miss Elizabeth, you look quite well."
"Thank you, sir; I had not expected you to join us."
I thought my declaration, hinting that his presence was unwelcome, might serve to irritate him, but I was mistaken. He merely looked on with the same small smile and handed me in. Miss Darcy welcomed me as warmly as her timid personality would allow, and introduced me to Mrs. Annesley, her companion, just returned from a holiday with her own family. Her firm, yet gentle presence drew Miss Darcy out of herself a very little. She and I carried most of the conversation, with Miss Darcy venturing to say a little, and Mr. Darcy, nothing at all.
I was much surprised when I found that our destination was the fashionable Hyde Park. That the Darcys of Pemberley put in appearances was nothing to astonish, but I had not expected to be included in such a scheme; not when they could have just as easily chosen a walk far less conspicuous to 'society'. To say the compliment was unfelt would not have been completely honest. Once we arrived, the natural surroundings and open air seemed to relax Miss Darcy, and she became more responsive to my queries. We talked of music, poetry, and books. We discovered many common interests. She and I both, favored Mozart, enjoyed Wordsworth, and preferred novels to histories. As we talked and walked, I noticed that Mr. Darcy listened closely to our conversation, his eyes briefly lighting up at times. At the mention of Wordsworth, he quietly recited: "these steep woods and lofty cliffs, and this green pastoral landscape, were to me more dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!"
"Mr. Darcy, you are an admirer of Mr. Wordsworth's works? " I asked incredulously. I imagined this cold, proud man, in his finest clothes, reading from a volume of Wordsworth as he perched himself delicately underneath the shade of an apple tree, a handkerchief spread beneath him so as to prevent any dirt from blemishing his ever perfect attire. I bit my lip to prevent the laughter that threatened to erupt.
"Certainly," he replied, "many of his lines call Pemberley to my mind. It feels almost as if he were inspired by the peaks of Derbyshire," he continued wistfully.
I wanted to laugh at the presumption that the poet wrote for Mr. Darcy's precious home, but I checked myself, remembering that I, too, had expressed a similar sentiment about my own environs. I looked over to see a softer look suffused over his face than I had been used to in him. Just then, Mr. Darcy appeared more gentle, earnest, and unassuming than I had ever seen him; and, for that moment, however brief, I could find little to fault him.
As Mr. Darcy and I directed our conversation toward one another, I noticed that Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley had fallen a distance behind, leaving the two of us alone. Whether this had been done by accident, or design, I cannot say, but I was not given leave to dwell on it, as my companion soon introduced the subject dearest to my heart.
"I received an express from Mr. Bingley today." His tone was light; for him, anyway, and, as I was certain that he was the bearer of the same news that I had relished in this morning, I was pleased that he apparently received it without scorn.
My joy was expressed in a broad smile. "Yes! Jane sent a note likewise. It seems they did not require much time to come to the point!"
"I am very happy for them," he said, and he genuinely seemed to be. A wave of guilt washed over me. I had been so determined to think the worst of Mr. Darcy that I continued to think him responsible for keeping Mr. Bingley at bay, yet, here he was before me, openly expressing his pleasure for the impending union between his friend and my sister. He may have behaved badly in Meryton, but I realized now that some of my grievances were based on mistaken premises, and I had treated him unfairly.
I responded to the compulsion to unburden myself. "Mr. Darcy," I began, "I fear my thoughts toward you have been ungenerous." He stopped walking and faced me, looking intently into my eyes with gentle concern. I continued while my courage was still high. "I thought you had kept Mr. Bingley away from Jane those two months without word, and I held you in contempt for it." He said nothing, but looked down.
As an afterthought, I added, "I am sorry." I had not expected to apologize to the man, but he truly seemed pained by my admission.
His discomfort almost caused me to think I had been mistaken in my honesty, until he spoke, "Miss Bennet, please, do not distress yourself. Your assessment of the situation was not wholly inaccurate." He was still looking at the ground, so he missed the fury in my eyes. Better for him, I suppose.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "You admit to playing the ungenerous part there? But why? Whatever could induce you to hurt Jane, who is all that is good and lovely?" My chest was heaving with my unguarded anger.
He looked back up at me momentarily. "Miss Bennet, you are not wrong to be upset."
How very magnanimous of him, I thought.
He continued, "I had not been in Hertfordshire long before I saw that Bingley held a preference for your sister which exceeded anything I had previously witnessed in him. And it was not long after, when I realized his behavior had given rise to a general expectation of an offer. The disparity of their situations was one thing, but what concerned me was the fact that I did not observe your sister showing any particular regard for my friend. Her countenance, always serene, did not, to me, show evidence of love." In an attempt to mollify me, he added, "Your superior knowledge of your sister's feelings must render my interference officious."
I was not subdued, and I needed to know, "What caused you to change your mind?"
He clasped his hands behind his back and resumed walking, reverting into the Mr. Darcy I was accustomed to, as he answered confidently, "I did not, Miss Bennet. However, I witnessed Bingley's suffering, and it was clear his feelings for your sister had not changed. Soon after, I had a conversation with my uncle which then led me to see that my judgment may have been clouded, and that the best person to determine the state of Miss Bennet's feelings for himself would be Mr. Bingley. As soon as I realized my mistake, I told him as much, and we are now witnesses to the happy end of the matter."
Insufferable! Instead of showing contrition, he attempts to take credit for the eventual union? So very arrogant; yet, not at all unexpected. I was furious, and had little mercy. "Oh! So your uncle, the Earl, embraces my excellent uncle and aunt, and you are, of a sudden, able to forgive my family the sin of being lowly born?" As we were very much in a public way, my voice was lowered, but my tone was passionate. "It is fortunate, indeed, that your friend is so readily willing to yield to you," I added, recalling our former debate at Netherfield.
Mr. Darcy was remarkably patient, more so than I would ever have expected, but that did nothing to placate me. "Miss Bennet," he said gently, "you are justified in your anger, but I beg you would consider, at the time, I felt I was acting in the service of a friend. It was not an attempt to wield my influence over him, but a wish to protect him." Deliberately meeting my eye, he added, "I am certain that you, with your generous heart, would do no less if you feared a friend was in danger of making an unhappy alliance."
This drew a heavy sigh from me. An unbidden recollection of Charlotte came to mind. Though her situation was somewhat different, the conclusion was the same. I would not want anyone dear to me to suffer in marriage, and I would take pains to prevent it. I then remembered that she, too, had warned that Jane's behavior was too guarded toward Mr. Bingley. Almost inaudibly, Mr. Darcy added, "Though it matters not, I was unaware the Gardiners were your relations at the time."
Despite my pique, I found myself laughing. He sounded so vulnerable, so very like a penitent child; quite incongruous to his authoritative presence. I realized the wisdom of my aunt's advice to me before we left for London; it could do me no harm to open my mind to the possibility that Mr. Darcy was not all bad. He watched me expectantly, a smile threatening the corner of his mouth.
Without thinking further, I offered reconciliation. "Mr. Darcy, I realize we have had a bad start of it. It would not be very reasonable of me to continue in my anger when you have taken pains to correct your error. Perhaps, in light of the fact that we will be much in one another's company, we can start anew?" I looked up at him to see a tentative smile softening his features. In truth, with such a look about his face, he was exceedingly handsome. Quite unexpectedly, it occurred to me then that he might make an admirable husband for some woman. Some woman; but surely not me.
I held out my hand to him. "Well Mr. Darcy, what shall it be? Are we to be friends?"
She smiled, and her eyes danced with laughter; for me, and no one else, and she gave me absolution. It was more than I had dared to expect, yet less than I hoped for. Though I would have preferred a meeting of hearts, I would have to be satisfied for now; so with a meeting of hands and minds, I was relegated to the realm of friendship. A not altogether unpleasant prospect, as it was a vast improvement over the previous state of affairs. As I well knew, one could suffer a worse fate at the hands of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. So I accepted mine graciously, and placed a chaste kiss on the proffered hand in return.
"I would be most honored if you would consider me a friend, Miss Bennet." If nothing else, I would be a recipient to her glorious smiles more often; that, of itself, would certainly be a reward. She beamed up at me, stilling my heart. On the strength of that smile, her entire being seemed to project an irresistible, joyful energy. Had she smiled at me in that manner, just once, in Hertfordshire, the struggle would have ended far sooner.
We continued talking as we resumed our walk. I learned that she would be leaving London in a few days, disappointing me a great deal, until I learned of her destination: Kent. She would be near Rosings for Easter, where Richard and I would be spending the holiday, as we do each year. The prospect both delighted and frightened me, for I knew my Aunt Catherine would not be quite so welcoming to Elizabeth as the Fitzwilliam side of the family had been.
As if she had been reading my thoughts, she inquired, "What am I to expect of the great Lady Catherine? Is she all affability and condescension as Mr. Collins would have her be?" Only Elizabeth could manage to ask a question like this in such a manner as to disguise the true intent. Had I not been studying her for these many weeks, I would have thought it innocuous, so amiable and natural her tone of voice, but I knew better. The playful gleam in her eye was the only sign of her true intent. If only I had recognized that light for what it was in Hertfordshire. How many barbs had she thrown my way, sweetly delivered, yet laced with a double meaning? I did not dare consider how often I had missed them, not recognizing that I was being outdone by a woman. But, then again, Elizabeth is not a typical woman.
I choked back my laughter, "Condescension? Absolutely. As for affability, you will have to determine that for yourself. I am not in the habit of disparaging my relations."
She laughed lightly, then asked, with real interest, "And what of your cousin, Miss de Bourgh? I do realize Mr. Collins has a penchant for hyperbole, but he described her as the brightest gem of the country. Tell me, what is she like?"
"She is, unfortunately, of a delicate constitution, and very much under her mother's influence, so she rarely has the opportunity to enjoy life as you do. My aunt would have it that she and I are betrothed, but it is not so. Neither she nor I desire it." My aunt, Lady Catherine, has convinced herself that my mother's dearest wish was for me to marry Anne. I was young when my mother passed on, just seventeen, but I am certain that she had never expressed such a wish. She and my father enjoyed a loving marriage, and I am convinced they would want the same for me.
"Oh!" Elizabeth's voice recalled me, and I looked down to see her brows knit in confusion, and I realized that I had said much more than I had intended, and more importantly, much more than was proper, given the fragile state of our understanding, if you could call it such. I know not what it is about this woman which compels me to uninhibited honesty. Something in her deep, dark green eyes-so open and full of emotion-that makes me want to trust in her; perhaps entrust my whole life to her. Overwhelmed by the impression, I cleared my throat and turned away.
Elizabeth then called my attention to the fact that we had long ago outstripped my sister and her companion. As we waited for them to join us, we relaxed our pace, spoke of trivial things, and speculated on how long it would take Bingley and her sister to reach an understanding. We even laid a wager on the length of time for the logical conclusion to be reached. We neither of us anticipated a lengthy courtship; I suggested two weeks, she claimed four.
But, time and Georgiana moved slowly, I suspected intentionally, at least so far as my sister was concerned, for she is generally a good walker, but perhaps not quite as accomplished as Elizabeth.
Though I was thoroughly enjoying my time alone with Elizabeth, the lengthy delay allowed for a most unwelcome arrival: Lord Murdock, whom I have only met a few times, but know well enough by reputation, drew near us. I have little reason to like the man in any case, especially in light of my uncle's recent disclosure, but it was Elizabeth's reaction to him which alarmed me.
A less acute observer would not have apprehended the fleeting look of panic which momentarily crossed her lovely face. However, I had been in the practice of watching her for some time, and, having never seen her thus, I noticed it immediately. She recovered herself quickly, however, and, lifting her chin, her expression became quite bland, but for the venom in her eyes.
"Mr. Darcy, Miss Bennet!" He called out. I responded to the civilities guardedly.
"It has been some time since I have seen either of you. I do hope your families are well. I was not aware that you were known to one another." Lord Murdock's voice was truly as smooth as silk; his face open and smiling, easily disarming the most wary individual. But it had no such effect on Elizabeth.
"Lord Murdock." Elizabeth's curt greeting was paired with a barely perceptible nod of the head. I had never witnessed such coldness from her, not even towards myself. Lord Murdock's roving gaze moved me to step protectively in front of her. I determined it best to end the meeting as soon as was possible.
"Yes, well, as you said, it has been quite some time. We really must be on our way to join my sister. Good day, sir." I touched my hat, and we turned in the other direction. My curiosity burned to know the nature of Elizabeth's association with Lord Murdock, a notoriously immoral man, but she offered no explanation, and I didn't dare press her. It was enough, I suppose, to know that I would never allow him near her, if I could help it. I looked over and noted that she wrapped her arms around herself defensively. I offered her my arm, and she took it, for the first time without hesitation.
By the time we found Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley, all evidence of Elizabeth's former distress had disappeared. She amiably recalled the various sights we had passed, which had actually escaped me, as I had been more focused on my companion. I was amazed by the natural ease which she demonstrates in conversation, easily keeping any audience captivated. Georgiana spoke more than was her wont, even teasing a little, and the ladies continued in an animated discussion of the blessings of nature. I followed behind at a leisurely pace, contemplating all that had occurred, evaluating my ridiculous predicament.
In the past half-hour I had offended, befriended, and protected Elizabeth. She, who inspires my esteem with her every action, is as beautiful in the heat of anger as she is in the raptures of joy. Jovial and wise; loyal and strong; she is every answer to my loneliness, which has prevailed for far too long. I recalled the instinctive need I felt, just minutes before, to guard her against that which caused her discomfort. And in that moment, I knew. I was well beyond admiration. I love her; completely, irrevocably, and hopelessly: for in me, she sees only a friend.
The ride back to Gracechurch Street was rather quiet. Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley were quite tired from the exercise. Mr. Darcy seemed pensive, and I was lost deep in my own thoughts; I was fairly certain I knew what occupied his. Before I was able to hide it, Mr. Darcy, astute as he is, observed my fear. His subtle solicitation of my comfort would have been proof enough even had I not seen the look of worry on his face; in truth, I had never experienced such kindness from him. But with his former disdain still fresh in my mind, and our friendship so new, I had no wish to provide further proof of the inferiority of my family. Mercifully, he stayed silent on the subject.
Not one year ago, during my last visit to the London, I met Lord Murdock at my uncle's offices. He and my uncle were engaged in some type of business dealing, and I saw him somewhat frequently. Though he is nearly the same age as my father, he is still a remarkably handsome man, and when he flirted with me, I was not wholly unaffected. But neither was I naive enough to be taken in by it, so I maintained my distance. The situation caused me embarrassment, and as I had no wish to alarm my uncle, I made no mention of it. This proved unwise, as one day, when my uncle stepped out momentarily, I found myself alone with Lord Murdock.
What followed is something I would prefer not to remember, but know I will never forget. He came around the desk where I had been sitting, attending to some correspondence for my uncle. He stood directly behind me, and put his hands on my shoulders. Bending low, he whispered repulsive declarations about my physical attributes; I was absolutely horrified, and told him as much as I jumped out of my seat. When my uncle returned moments later, Lord Murdock had me pinned between his arms and the desk. My uncle was furious, and threw him out without ceremony, thus cutting off all business connection as well. Filled with guilt and concern for my reputation, he set about having Lord Murdock investigated in order to find information he could use as leverage against the earl, should he attempt to discredit my character. We judged it best to discuss the matter with no one other than my aunt, and have never spoken of it since.
Had I not been gripped by a moment of terror when I saw him in the park, I would have thought the entire incident had been a fabrication of my imagination, as his demeanor was so completely unaffected. I felt grateful for Mr. Darcy's presence, as I cannot imagine what might have occurred had I been only with ladies; or worse, alone.
I shuddered slightly at that last thought, and as I looked up, I met the eyes of Mr. Darcy, soft with concern. "Are you cold, Miss Bennet?" he gently asked as he moved to remove his greatcoat.
"No, sir, I am well." I looked at him meaningfully. "Truly." Then, in an effort to lighten the mood, I asked, "Do you always take such prodigiously good care of your friends?"
"Yes, I do." He said gravely.
Grinning at his solemnity, I replied, "In that case, Mr. Darcy, I think I shall like being your friend."
"I sincerely hope so, Miss Bennet." He held me in his gaze until I looked away.
Next to him, I noticed Miss Darcy, seemingly asleep, with a curious smile on her face.
When we arrived at my uncle and aunt's house, I invited the party in for tea. Though Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley seemed a bit tired just moments before, they readily accepted the invitation. Mr. Darcy quietly joined us. As the door opened, I could see Mr. Darcy's face register surprise. He had come to respect my aunt and uncle from their first meeting, of that I was certain, but I am convinced he did not anticipate their wealth and taste. Not extravagant by any means, the Gardiners' home is both elegant and charming, and is conveniently located close to my uncle's offices, much to Miss Bingley's amusement.
We were soon greeted by my Aunt Gardiner and the four children. "Oh, Lizzie, your uncle is at his office; he shall be back soon, but please, come in for tea. Welcome, Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy, it is very good to see you again."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gardiner, you have a lovely home." I smiled to hear Mr. Darcy voice his approval, for certainly, he would not say it if he was insincere.
My aunt had not yet met Mrs. Annesley, as she just recently returned from a holiday, so I performed the necessary introductions. Miss Darcy was immediately taken with my youngest cousin, three year old Jonathon, who shared Jane's angelic temperament, while Mrs. Annesley was being entertained by the two eldest, Michael and Isabelle, aged eight and seven, as they impressed her with their sums and geographical knowledge. The fourth little Gardiner, Lillian, a six year old sprite, who resembled my aunt in appearance, but shared the same proclivity for mischief as myself, had firmly attached herself to Mr. Darcy. He actually seemed to enjoy the attention; so differently from the way he reacted to the flirtations of grown women. He laughed at her inquisitive questions, and met her forthright honesty with like frankness. As she quizzed him on every topic from horses to history, he patiently responded, matching her solemn tone.
I found it all quite amusing until I heard her declare, "Mr. Darcy, you do know that cousin Lizzy does not like you, do you not?" I nearly choked on my tea. Dabbing my lips, I met his satirical eye.
Aunt Gardiner's eyes went wide, and she quickly reprimanded Lily, but Mr. Darcy took no offence, instead, he seemed to take pleasure in my discomfiture. With a slight smirk, he admitted, "Ah, yes, I have been made aware of that fact. However, I am persuaded your cousin Lizzy is a very intelligent woman, and has realized her error in having disliked me; I do believe we are to be great friends from this point forward."
With eyes only for him, she responded, "I am glad to hear that, Lizzy, for I would have had to give you a set down for being mean to Mr. Darcy; he is so very nice." I laughed openly at such a declaration.
"Indeed, as would I," he added in a severe tone, a mischievous twinkle brightening his eyes. I had despised the proud Darcy of old, warmed to the kind Darcy of late, but this lighthearted version of Mr. Darcy was unfamiliar ground; I did not know whether I wished most to throttle him for his arrogance, or laugh at his playfulness. Choosing neither, I settled for another sip of tea instead.
Georgiana came into my study that evening, before retiring for the night. She sat quietly, reading a novel, or rather, turning the pages of one, for her mind was clearly elsewhere. Unable to focus myself, I directed my attention towards her. "What is it, dearest?"
She looked up and quickly shut her book. "What? Oh, nothing." Then after a moment's pause, she asked, "Shall I send a note to invite Elizabeth for tea Monday? I should like to see her once more before she leaves for Kent."
I smiled at the use of Elizabeth's given name, which they had given each other leave to use before parting this afternoon. It felt, to me, as though the intimacy between the two of them brought me closer to her as well. "Certainly, if it gives you pleasure."
We went back to our respective tasks. I saw Georgiana fidget with her book from the corner of my eye. A few moments later, agitated, she asked, "William, did she truly dislike you?"
The remembrance of little Lillian's inquisition brought laughter to my reply, "Yes dearest, she did not like me very much at all."
Disbelieving, she asked, "Why ever not? You are an excellent man, and the best of brothers!" Her defense of me filled me with both pride and guilt, as I knew my behavior towards Elizabeth had not merited it.
I am unaccustomed to exposing myself, even to those dearest to me, but I answered honestly, "She did not like me, because I gave her little reason to like me. I was dreadfully rude to her, and even insulted her when we first met."
"But William, that is not like you. Why would you behave in such a way?" It pained me to expose myself to Georgiana, who had, to this point, looked up to me almost as a father, but it was not in my nature to be dishonest either.
I sighed, "I arrived in Hertfordshire shortly after, well suffice it to say I was in a foul temper, and while attending a local assembly Bingley was pressing me to dance with her, and I refused..."
"William!" she cut me off, then quickly sobered, as the realization struck her; she whispered, "You were in a foul mood because of- Oh, no! It is because of me that did not get on well!"
I rushed to her side to see tears forming in her eyes. "No, dearest, you cannot take the blame for this. I should have been master of my emotions, regardless of the source of my discomfort. It was not merely that incident; I always feel uncomfortable, as you know, in new company, and the people thereabouts were all noise and nonsense-not a refined person among them, save Eliza-Miss Elizabeth and her eldest sister." Calmed by my real contrition, Georgiana resumed her examination of my performance, which was not faring well.
Incredulous, she exclaimed, "This is worse and worse! Please do not tell me you expressed those thoughts out loud! You are talking about her family and friends-people she loves!"
The truth of Georgiana's heartfelt declaration struck me with brute force. I had never before heard her speak with such vehemence, and I suspected I knew who to thank, or blame, for her new found boldness. I rubbed my eyes with my palms, I suppose in an attempt to hide myself from my poor behavior. "You are absolutely right. No, I never expressed these thoughts out loud, but my actions made them perfectly clear to Miss Elizabeth. The truth is-I did not think it would matter. I saw these people as inferior, and I did not care to make myself agreeable."
"There is no excuse for incivility. Were they unkind to you?"
"No," I answered thoughtfully, "in truth, they were not much different from those of the first circles in their evaluation of my person; they were simply coarse, and I was not at ease."
The wisdom of her next statement humbled me, "If one person has not had the same advantages as another, one cannot expect that person to behave with the same decorum. We are, all of us, doing the best as we are able."
As I was doing the best as I could to replace a beloved mother and father, and often falling short. It seemed, at the moment, that Georgiana's sense exceeded mine by far. "You have grown up very quickly these past months," I observed.
"The circumstances of the past year have led to a great deal of reflection, Brother." We had both avoided any talk of the events at Ramsgate since they occurred last summer. I thought it enough that she knew I did not blame her, but today, it seemed she needed something more.
"Please, Georgiana, I know I have not welcomed discussion of last summer, but should you ever need…"
"No," she stopped me short. "I know you would like to think I am not at all to blame, but though I was naïve, I was not stupid; I knew it was wrong. It is not so much that I was deceived which bothers me, but rather, that I allowed it to happen. But, I feel I have learned from my mistake, and thanks to your timely intervention, I will not suffer unduly for it. I have never really thanked you, have I?" She stilled my objection with a hand. "No, let me say it. You need not blame yourself for not having been there to prevent it. You saved me from a life of misery that day. Many other brothers would not, on a whim, decide to visit a sister over ten years his junior. Your attentiveness was what protected me, and I will ever be grateful to you for it."
What was I to say? I wrapped her in my embrace, and said the only thing I could say: "I love you, Georgie."
"I love you too Fitz." We both smiled warmly at the use of our childhood names. After some moments, she pulled back to look at me. "William, I have one other question."
"How did you learn that Elizabeth disliked you? Did you quarrel? I cannot imagine her being unkind to anyone." No, Elizabeth had never been unkind. I realized now, that when I thought she had been receptive, perhaps even flirtatious, she was merely tolerating my presence, but she was never truly unkind.
"No, Georgiana, you are right. She is far too compassionate to be intentionally cruel. She may have hinted to me of her distaste, however, in my arrogance, I did not see it. It was not until Bingley made mention of it that I understood the state of her feelings in regards to me."
She seemed to be weighing something, and then suggested, "Perhaps then, William, you might apologize to her? I truly believe apologies go a long way in establishing harmony."
As I gently pushed her through the door, I smiled and replied, "If that be the case, I should apologize for having allowed you into my study. Goodnight, Georgiana!"
If all went well, I would see Elizabeth in three days. In my home, no less. And maybe, if I found the opportunity to talk to her alone, I would take Georgiana's advice and apologize.
Posted on 2012-03-28
I can, at times, be stubborn to admit when I have been wrong, so I avoided speaking to my aunt about Mr. Darcy, busying myself with the children instead, though I knew it was only a matter of time before she confronted me. My thoughts still unsettled, I had no desire to enter the conversation any time soon. On the morning I was to have tea with Georgiana, she cornered me in the breakfast room, before the rest of the family had arisen, as I was finishing a letter to Jane.
"So you are to take tea with the Darcys today?" she began innocently enough.
"Yes, Aunt." I was of the mind that the less said, the better.
"Your opinion of Mr. Darcy seems to have improved, my dear."
There would be no more avoidance of the issue. "Oh, Aunt, I know not what to make of him. I find it difficult to reconcile his kindness yesterday with the hauteur he displayed whenever we met in Hertfordshire. I realize I judged hastily in condemning him so, but, on the other hand, if he well knows how to be amiable, is it not that much less excusable when he chooses not to be?"
"What is it that continues to pain you in his manner? He is, to be sure, in want of a little liveliness, but he shows no improper pride."
"Oh, I don't know! If I were Jane, I would say that perhaps he feels he made a mistake and is sorry for the way he behaved, but I am not Jane, and I cannot help but think that had it not been for the Earl and his wife, that he would yet persist in holding us in contempt for our situation in life, but when we saw Lord Murdock-" I stopped once I realized what I had said, and looked up to find my aunt's hand pressed to her chest, her eyes wide with fear.
"You saw him?" she whispered, "Did he harm you?"
I was anxious to reassure her. "No, Aunt, he did not. In fact, he behaved as though we were common and indifferent acquaintances; you need not fear." After weighing whether I should say more, I continued, "Mr. Darcy noticed my discomfort, I am sure of it, and while I cannot tell him what occurred, it distresses me that he may believe that something untoward happened!" I stifled a gasp as I suddenly realized the root of my problem: I now liked Mr. Darcy well enough that the idea of him thinking ill of me pained me.
"Did Mr. Darcy inquire about it?"
"No Aunt, he was only kind and solicitous."
"Then it seems he respects your privacy, and there is nothing to concern yourself with. His manner following your walk was not that of a man who held you in scorn," she concluded, and kissed me on the cheek, leaving me to consider her sage advice.
When I arrived at the fashionable town home that afternoon, I wondered whether Mr. Darcy would be within, and if so, which Mr. Darcy it would be. The home was stately and fine, but not ostentatious. As I was shown through the foyer, I noticed the furnishings were lovely; denoting a sophisticated style and good taste. I was promptly taken to an elegant drawing room where Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley awaited me.
As it turned out, there was no Mr. Darcy to contend with, and I was quite delighted with the novelty of having the ladies to myself. Conversation flowed freely amongst the three of us; we extolled the virtues of the country versus town, expounded on literature, and exclaimed over ladies' fashions.
After partaking in a leisurely tea, Georgiana and I moved to the music room where I was able to convince her to play a simple piece for me. Miss Bingley could be trusted on one thing: Georgiana is a very accomplished musician. Technically, her performance was flawless, and she played with a poise and grace that was to be envied. I told her as much, and her response surprised me, as she said, "I should dearly love to hear you play, and sing. My brother has said he has rarely heard anything that gave him more pleasure."
"Has he?" I asked incredulously, "Then I am afraid you are to be most severely disappointed!"
Nonetheless, I played a child-like, playful piece, Mozart's Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman, to which she clasped her hands together and happily cried, "Oh! You play with such feeling! No, Elizabeth, my brother was correct in his assessment. Please, do play another-and will you sing as well?"
And so I did. I may not have played the song faithfully, but I enjoyed every moment. Lost in the music, I failed to notice the shadows darkening the doorway. When I struck the last key and sang the final note, I raised my head slowly to the image of Mr. Darcy watching me with a slight smile on his face, his head of unruly curls resting against the door frame. Removed of the air of superiority I had come to expect, in this relaxed form, he took on a boyish charm, and I was fascinated by it. I stared for I know not how long, until the sound of applause alerted me to Colonel Fitzwilliam's presence, and Mr. Darcy reflexively straightened, assuming his rigid stance. "That was lovely, Miss Bennet," he said, almost inaudibly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was much more effusive in his praise while coming forward to greet me, "Bravo, Miss Bennet!" I thanked him graciously, and he continued on to say, "I have just learned that we will have the great pleasure of seeing you again when we visit Kent! I hope we will be awarded the privilege of hearing you play again."
"Privilege or not, that will be dependent upon the availability of an instrument, for I do not believe my friend Mrs. Collins keeps one in her home." I well knew that Charlotte did not play, and I could not expect that I would be invited to do so by Lady Catherine.
Mr. Darcy took it upon himself to offer on her behalf, "There is a fine instrument at Rosings, Miss Bennet, and my aunt is fond of music, so I certainly expect we shall have the opportunity." I bit my lip to still a reply on the subject of Lady Catherine's condescension and affability, deciding to take Mr. Darcy's advice and learn the truth through my own observations. Mr. Darcy, seemingly anticipating my thoughts, smiled and arched a brow at me.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, with a sharp eye, caught the exchange, to which he added satirically, "Ah, yes, but then we will have the good fortune of bearing with our Aunt Catherine." Despite all their good breeding, I was amused to see three matching grimaces on the cousins' faces.
A messenger momentarily required Mr. Darcy's presence, and I was left with the Colonel and Georgiana.
As soon as Mr. Darcy had exited the room, Colonel Fitzwilliam began with, "I understand from Georgiana that my cousin's manners in Hertfordshire afforded few charitable thoughts thereabouts." This opening line of conversation caused me to blush in spite of myself, but I was not afraid to match the Colonel's candor.
"Yes, it seems he was not best pleased with the company, though I must say he has improved upon further acquaintance here in London," I answered with the desire to be truthful, yet not completely unkind.
A broad smile accompanied the rejoinder, "I am glad to hear it! He certainly has not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those he has never seen before. Despite all of his confidence, he feels ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers."
It was clearly an attempt to improve Mr. Darcy in my eyes, to what end, I was not certain, but I countered, "I wonder at that, sir. Why would a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, feel ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?" I arched my brow in a silent challenge.
Apparently, Colonel Fitzwilliam's defense of Mr. Darcy only ventured so far. "I can easily answer that," he laughed, "it is because he will not give himself the trouble!" I could not contain my own laughter at so apt a characterization, though I faulted him less for it than I might have a week ago.
Georgiana seemed a bit uncomfortable as she pleaded hesitantly, "Oh, Richard, do be kind! William has been his own master for far too long, and has not had the advantage of a guiding influence."
Though I ceased my laughter immediately at the gentle reminder, the Colonel had no such compassion, and instead, added, with a wicked grin, "Perhaps then, dear Georgiana, we should set about securing a governess to set him straight!" The thought of Mr. Darcy as a recalcitrant schoolboy at the hands of a stern governess sent all three of us into peals of laughter, at which point the man in question returned, with a look of bewilderment on his face.
"Of what were you speaking?" he asked curiously.
"You." If Mr. Darcy had hoped for elaboration, the Colonel was determined to disappoint.
On the morning that Elizabeth was to take tea with Georgiana, Richard and I had some business to tend to with his father. Needless to say, I was anxious to return. We were welcomed home to an enticing melody coming from the music room. I would have judged better to have refreshed myself before joining the ladies, as I was still disheveled from the ride, but, like a siren's call, a sweet soprano drew me forth, and I was powerless against it.
Seeing my dear sister seated next to Elizabeth as she played gave me a momentary glimpse into the domestic felicity I might enjoy if I was ever to be the fortunate possessor of her heart. As her song filled my senses, it soothed the all tension from my body, lulling me into a trance. Without realizing it, I was leaning against the doorway, absorbing the sound. I felt a bit foolish to be caught in such an undignified state, but for those minutes, it felt so very natural to lose myself thus. When her eye met mine, there was a tenderness there that I had never seen; at least not directed towards me. The enchantment of that moment was interrupted by Richard's vociferous applause. If this was to be his method of helping me win the lady, I would have to remember to throttle him later.
I was called away momentarily by a messenger, and when I returned, it was to find all three laughing gaily, apparently at my expense, though I was to be offered no explanation as to the source of their merriment. It was not long after that when Elizabeth rose to take her leave. Though I would have happily, and readily, taken on the task of escorting her to the carriage, it was Georgiana who slyly suggested that I might do the honors, for, as she put it, she needed to "tend to something with the housekeeper." Apparently Georgiana does not find deceit as reprehensible as I do, for she rarely engages in business with the housekeeper. I looked to her to see her eyes lowered, a slight flush to her cheeks, and decided to let her scheme go unremarked upon at present. Richard was busily covering his laughter with a napkin and a cough, and Elizabeth, oh Elizabeth-her eyes met those of one conspirator, then attempted the other, and finally, meeting mine, she arched her brow in a challenge and simply said, "Shall we?"
My arm reacted before my mouth was able to form a reply, and in offering itself to her, was rewarded with the light pressure of her hand. We had just reached the door when I remembered my discussion with Georgiana, which, unfortunately, I had not yet given much thought. Unsure how to begin an apology, I considered how little I knew of the art of peacemaking. One benefit of being master of Pemberley is that no one would dare to gainsay me. I had not actively sought reconciliation from any mortal since childhood. I realized, however, that if I fancied a future with Elizabeth Bennet, I would likely have many occasions to practice this skill, so when I looked into her expectant eyes, I began, "Miss Bennet, it has come to my attention that the behavior I exhibited in Hertfordshire was less than pleasing to the populace, and I would like to apologize for any offense I have caused."
I very much wished she would have mercy on me, and accept my offering as it stood, but it was not to be. "Is it the action, sir, or the offence, for which you apologize? For if one apologizes for having given offense, but still stands by the actions and sentiments which caused it in the first place, there is nothing to be gained by apologizing. If, however, one has learned from and wishes to make amends for the actions which led to error, then, I believe, a solution can be within reach." She smiled up at me impudently, and I knew that I was forgiven, at least in part..
"Miss Bennet, I am sorry both for the actions as well as for the offense they have caused. A wise young woman told me there is no excuse for incivility, and I believe she is right. I hope to remember this lesson for future application."
Elizabeth laughed nervously by the end of my response, saying, "I am not your governess, Mr. Darcy, nor your aunt, but your friend, as I believe we agreed. Your apology is accepted, sir, you need not explain yourself to me." I looked back at her, confused, for I was quite sure she did indeed ask me to do precisely that, but she then unsettled my normally restrained composure further as she leaned toward me, adding, "And the next time Georgiana or Colonel Fitzwilliam wish to conspire to leave us alone, you need not comply for my sake. We certainly would not want to lead them to a false assumption, would we?"
Would my masculinity be called into question if I admitted to a slight flush on my face at that moment? The teasing glint in her eye and her close proximity caused me to forget the sting of her final assertion, so as I leaner in closer, I countered, "And what if I do?"
Suspiciously, she asked, "Do what?" As if she didn't know.
"Good day, Miss Bennet." I bowed and left her to draw her own conclusions.
When I reentered the house, Georgiana was practicing her instrument, so I strode into my study where Richard had anticipated me. He was reading a newspaper, his feet crossed on top of my desk. Petulantly, I pushed his boots aside, then sat heavily in my chair. He looked up, nonplussed, and replaced his feet, much to my chagrin.
"You have not read the society papers of late, have you?" He tossed the opened page in front of me. In it, a brief article made mention of our outing at the theater, though Elizabeth and the Gardiners remained unnamed, thankfully. "You know it is only a matter of time before the hounds sniff them out, and the real gossip begins." Richard always had a propensity to identify the obvious.
I sighed, "I do, and I am not quite sure how to shield them against it." The ton could be brutal, and I did not relish seeing these good people being at the center of their cruelty, nor did I look forward to defending my own family's reputation, but it must be done.
"Damn society," Richard said grimly, "It will be a nuisance, and nothing more. With Father's and your support, it will soon pass into insignificance." I hoped, rather than believed it to be true.
But the discussion brought something else to my mind, and in the hope of gaining further information, I asked, "What do you know of Lord Murdock?"
"Very little, other than the fact that he and Father had a falling out over a failed business deal, why do you ask?"
It seemed that the connection with Elizabeth would remain a mystery. Not wishing to divulge what I had seen, as she had not confided in me, I merely answered, "I have reason to believe he may prove to be a problem. Apparently Mr. Gardiner does not think well of him."
"Well, not many do," he replied. Which was true, and it made my uncle's observations all the more poignant. While no respectable person could find a good thing to say about Lord Murdock, he would still be afforded more respect in society than the excellent Gardiners ever would.
He changed the subject, lightening the tone of the conversation. "Miss Bennet's dislike of you seems to have abated somewhat."
"No thanks to you, Dear Cousin," I muttered peevishly.
His arms were outstretched in surrender. "What? I was merely attempting to gain some insight into the current state of her opinion towards you," he replied with a contrived innocence.
"By encouraging her to laugh at me? I thank you for my part of the favor, but I'm not particularly sure I like your way of helping me." I threw the paper aside to punctuate my statement.
He shook his head, "Oh dear. Darce, I know you are capable of humor, and I can assure you that the very last person you want to abandon that for is Miss Bennet."
I was reminded of one of our exchanges in Netherfield, in which Elizabeth asserted that she "dearly loves to laugh" and I sighed heavily. I have lived for eight and twenty years, and had rarely had occasion to call my behavior or judgments into question, but in the past week, it seemed as if nearly every conviction I had labored under had been proven to be faulty in some small way.
Truly, I was beginning to tire of the people around me being right so often as of late.
Posted on 2012-04-03
The next two days were filled with preparations for my upcoming journey, and amusements for my young cousins. Lillian continued to extol the virtues of Mr. Darcy, which according to her, were quite numerous. Mr. Darcy; the tallest, handsomest, kindest, smartest man who ever lived was weaseled into nearly every conversation. I very nearly readopted my former dislike, solely for the fact that I had grown heartily sick of hearing of him.
But at length, the time came to embark upon the journey to Kent. As I made my final preparations, Maria Lucas and her father, Sir William Lucas, who had arrived the evening before, both awaited me in the carriage, as they were eager to see Charlotte. So, without further ado, I wrapped each of my cousins in a tight embrace and bade a fond farewell to my aunt and uncle, comforted in the knowledge that I would see them again in less than six weeks.
As I climbed into the carriage, Lillian called out, "Lizzy! Lizzy!" I stopped to turn to her as she drawled my name out. "You will tell Mr. Darcy I said hello, won't you?" The other young ones valiantly attempted to stifle their giggles, however unsuccessfully.
"Oh, hush child!" my Aunt softly chided her.
I smiled; it would have been impossible not to. "Yes, Lily, I will tell him."
"And, Lizzy, do be nice to him!" she cried out. I simply laughed.
The trip was relatively uneventful, so after some hours of mindless banter, a stop for refreshments, and a change of horses, we arrived at the Hunsford parsonage. Charlotte and Mr. Collins stood outside, anticipating our arrival. The joy on my oldest friend's face was contagious, and I embraced her fiercely.
She led us into the parsonage, which I found to be quaint, and well-kept. The windows in the main parlor overlooked the lovely gardens which Mr. Collins tended himself; I had to admit he certainly had a talent for that, even if he was somewhat ridiculous. Charlotte admitted that she encouraged him to spend as much time outdoors as possible, and she herself spent much of her time in a smaller parlor dedicated to her particular use, so some days passed in which they spent little time in one another's company other than while sharing meals. She truly seemed content in her situation, and I was very glad of it. Now able to put my concerns to rest, I was determined to enjoy my stay.
It was not long before I was afforded the privilege of meeting Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter. Our first visit to Rosings came just two days after our arrival in Kent. Our party was invited to tea, and Mr. Collins was beside himself with obsequious gratitude. He admonished me to wear the finest gown I had packed, though he then reflected that Lady Catherine would not mind seeing me more simply dressed. We were repeatedly warned that her Ladyship abhorred tardiness, and so, at the agreed upon time, we set off with no delay.
The walk to Rosings Park was less than half a mile, as the parsonage was separated from it only by a lane, and the house was visible almost as soon as we set out. The view of the building was quite grand, and even Sir William Lucas was stunned into silence. Poor Maria nearly trembled with fear. While I can readily admit that it is the most impressive estate I had ever had occasion to enter, I cannot say that I felt intimidated by it. Charlotte was clearly at ease, and that was enough for me.
The house was everything I expected from Mr. Collins' high praise. The windows and chimney pieces, too numerous to count, were every bit as fine as promised. The grandiose furnishings, all finished in dark, heavy brocades, gave every impression of wealth and consequence. But of the woman herself, I remained curious. Between Mr. Collins' account of Lady Catherine, and her nephews' vague insinuations, I fully expected to meet with a self-important, imperial matriarch.
I was by no means disappointed.
Lady Catherine is a fine looking woman, and might once have been very handsome, but wrapped in a commanding air, her manner was anything but inviting. I glanced over to Miss de Bourgh, and confirmed what Mr. Darcy had already related. She was indeed a delicate woman, and her companion, a Mrs. Jenkinson, fluttered about her quite constantly. Even I felt stifled in her presence, and I decided, if at all possible, I would try to draw Miss de Bourgh during my stay in Kent.
Lady Catherine dominated most of the conversation that afternoon. Mr. Collins certainly had not exaggerated the lady's condescension; everything was remarked upon-from the latest sermon to the proper methods of ordering meat. I was declared to be a "prettyish, genteel sort of girl," and beyond that, nothing which was said in regards to me or my family was at all complimentary. It was determined that my mother was a fool to not have employed a governess, and my father was a dupe to have allowed his estate to be entailed away. I was prepared to explain to her the nature of entails, when affection for her niece and nephews stopped me. Out of respect for them, I would be at my best. I tolerated her admonishment for me to practice the pianoforte, because I really should practice. I smiled at her declaration that had she ever learned, she "would have been a great proficient." I limited myself to a reasonably polite remark when she exclaimed that my younger sisters should not be out "before the elder are married," because, if I am honest, I do agree, a little. But when she declared my Aunt and Uncle to be unfit company for her family, I could hold my tongue no longer.
"I understand that my brother and his wife have been in the company of your Aunt and Uncle of late," she declared, her nose pointed in the air in an obvious display of disdain.
"Yes, madam, I believe they share many common interests." I had hoped to keep the conversation dispassionate.
But Lady Catherine had not. "That is well, but for my brother to condescend to entertain a tradesman in his home? It is most unsuitable!"
"I can well conceive how this might seem peculiar to one of your station," she nodded her head in appreciation of my apparent submission, but I continued, "But really, madam, do you not think that the measure of a man should be in the merit of his actions, rather than in the origin of his wealth?"
She was clearly shocked that I dared contradict her, but she bore it well enough, "Certainly, but the distinction of rank must be preserved. Not all of society will be as understanding as my brother and I." I noted Charlotte struggling against a smile from the corner of my eye, and fought to keep my own in check as well.
Returning my attention to Lady Catherine, I inclined my head in acknowledgement, not wanting to bait her further. She eyed me cautiously, and then declared, "You give your opinion very decidedly for one so young!"
How was I to respond? I could not argue the fact.
"I must speak as I find."
"Hmph!" was to be my only answer. And for the rest of the night, she left me alone. I cannot say I was sorry, for I was beginning to feel my ability to maintain civility weaken as the visit continued.
The whispers began shortly after Elizabeth removed to Kent. As Richard predicted, most of the more reasonable people voiced no objections to my uncle's association with the Gardiners, but there will always be those who thrive on their own superiority and the perceived misfortunes of others, and therefore had no reservations in displaying their scorn. While no one would dare openly cut the Earl of Matlock, a respected and powerful man, there were some odd looks, snide comments, and slightly fewer invitations about town. My uncle was not the least bit concerned for his own name, but he was a bit anxious to know the Gardiners' reception of the negative attentions, as the society pages had now discovered the source of their wealth, and set about disparaging the connection.
The Gardiners were to have dinner with my aunt and uncle, and I was to join the party as well. It was no great distance to my uncle's house, less than a mile, so I chose to take the air and walk. It was late winter, but the weather was pleasant; I was lost to all thought, simply enjoying the sights and sounds, when a vaguely familiar voice interrupted me.
"Mr. Darcy! I did not fancy meeting you again so soon."
I was immediately reminded of the fear on Elizabeth's face when we encountered this man, and was not in the least bit prepared to enter a polite conversation with him.
We eyed one another warily, until he broke the silence with, "I could not help but notice you were escorting the lovely Miss Bennet when I saw you last. I had fancied her myself once, but she is a terrible tease; I would be careful of that one, were I you. There are many women, you know, who would have you for your fortune alone."
I strove to keep my voice even, while inwardly warring against intense emotion, "I am well aware that there are those who would wish to take advantage of another, my lord," I nearly spat the epithet, "but as I can assure you Miss Bennet is not one of those people, I would ask that you would refrain from insulting her so."
His was by no means discouraged as he persisted, "I only wished to warn you," he paused and looked at me with a malicious glint in his eye, abandoning all pretense of civility, "Ah yes, how could I have forgotten? Your family has taken up with her tradesman of an uncle. No wonder you are reluctant to heed the warning of an Earl." As he sniffed in disdain, I was only just able to refrain from slapping the sneer off of his face, but then, of course, as one often does when sensing defeat, he went too far in his insinuations. "She is a feisty one Darcy, I dare say she will keep your bed warm."
Using my height to advantage, I drew closer; locking my eyes with his, I forced him to look up at me, and warned him in a dangerous tone, "You will not breathe one word of disrespect toward Miss Bennet or her relations. Should I learn that you have, I will gladly use all at my disposal to ensure your complete ruin." How I wished we were in a more private setting, that I might expound on my words with actions! But I would not torment myself with vain wishes. As it was, he seemed to be uncomfortable enough, and I was far too incensed to wish to remain where I was, so I pushed past him and continued to make my way to Matlock House.
Though I am generally known for my stoicism, I was unable to assume a calm demeanor by the time I had arrived, so in turn, I was greeted with a roomful of astonished faces upon my entrance. My Aunt Sophia was the one to ask the question written on everyone's visage, "William, you look as though you have seen a ghost! What has happened?"
"How I wish that were the case," I thought to myself; aloud, I replied, "No, Aunt, I was gifted with an unexpected meeting," I looked up to meet my uncle's eye, "with Lord Murdock."
I heard a sharp intake of breath, and looked over to see the faces of the Gardiners both pale with anxiety. My uncle noticed this too, and asked, cautiously, "What has he done to have caused you such distress?"
The Gardiners engaged in a silent communication, then Mr. Gardiner spoke, clearing his throat, "Has he, ah, did he make mention of my family?"
"I see." He was clearly uncomfortable. "And were his comments limited to the, Gardiner name?" I knew what he was seeking, and obliged him without delay.
"No sir, he made some disparaging remarks about your niece." I was unable to look at him as I said this, but when I finally raised my eyes, I saw his face flushed with fury.
Mrs. Gardiner gently placed a hand on his arm. Meeting her eye, he nodded, and she spoke in a steady voice, "You must understand, Lizzy was quite blameless, but some time ago, Lord Murdock attempted to force his attentions on her. Thankfully, my husband apprehended him before she could be compromised, but we have feared that he would attempt to discredit her, and have taken steps to safeguard her against that possibility." Her eyes were pleading, willing me to understand, though I needed no such appeal.
With my fists clenched in anger, I quietly replied, "No sensible person would presume Miss Bennet to be at fault." Even as the words escaped me, I knew that this was not the extent of their concern.
Mrs. Gardiner sighed her relief, but her husband had regained enough composure to echo my thoughts.
"That is good of you to say, but it is not the sensible people whom we fear, sir, but the vicious; those who would have no scruples in maligning a relatively poor country girl."
My uncle was quick to offer reassurance, "Though his position still affords him some respect in society, his word no longer holds the weight it once did. I am certain there is little to fear from him."
"Certainly, with our support, no one would dare believe him even if he should start spreading tales. Besides, if I know my cousin," Richard added with a wry smile, "he gave the gentleman fair warning not to even attempt it."
"I certainly did," I responded firmly, and was rewarded with Mrs. Gardiner's grateful smile. Still, I would do everything in my power to ensure that such a situation could never come into fruition.
Though I continued to feel uneasy for a while, a satisfying meal and stimulating conversation soon eased my discomfort, and I was once again impressed by the gentility and good sense of the Gardiners. Their discourse was marked with intelligence and their manners with ease. I noted striking similarities with some of the qualities I had come to love in Elizabeth, and respected them all the more for it.
I was relieved, as were my Uncle and Aunt, to find the Gardiners relatively unconcerned with the petty gossip surrounding them. Mr. Gardiner summarized their feelings on the matter, saying, "We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have built a fortune in an honest trade, and if our association has caused a bit of a stir, I can assure you, the benefit of having the opportunity to enjoy your company far outweighs any unpleasantness we may encounter." I had to admire his pragmatic attitude, and thought I might enjoy some advantages from adopting a similar philosophy.
The conversation soon turned to one which brought a great deal of happiness to all: a letter had arrived that morning from Elizabeth. As it was mentioned, it seemed as though every eye snuck a surreptitious glance in my direction. It was all I could do to not roll mine in response. But I cannot deny that I was interested to hear more. My aunt stole a glance in my direction as she asked, "And how is Elizabeth enjoying her stay in Kent?"
"She is happy to find her dear friend comfortably situated, end enjoys the beauty of the countryside during her daily walks."
Aunt Sophia concurred, "Kent is lovely this time of year."
My Uncle now stood behind the sofa on which Richard and I were seated as he asked, "Has she had occasion to meet my sister and niece yet?"
Mrs. Gardiner smiled in my direction, "Ah, yes, she finds Miss de Bourgh to be a bit quiet, but kind, and has assured me that Lady Catherine is every bit as affable as she was led to believe by her nephews." Coincidentally, Richard and I both found ourselves at the mercy of a violent coughing fit at that exact moment. If anyone else noticed, they were too polite to mention it, but I did feel a firm hand clapping at my back.
"I like Elizabeth," my Aunt said to no one in particular after the Gardiners had gone, "I think, when she returns from Kent, I will attempt to persuade her to stay a few more weeks in London."
She would find no quarrel here.
"She seems quite intelligent," my Uncle added, "What good fortune to find such admirable qualities in a niece." Though it may be presumptuous of me, and him, I considered that he may have been thinking of more than just the Gardiners' good fortune in that regard.
The next four weeks passed cheerfully; I watched as winter turned into early spring, and with it, the beauty of nature thereabouts was enhanced further. Rosings' manicured gardens presented a striking contrast to the wild countryside surrounding Longbourn, but they were lovely all the same. I busied myself with walks, writing letters, and of course, spending time with my dear friend Charlotte. I had a great deal of time at my leisure, so I returned to my diversion of writing short stories which had incited my interest before I left for London. It was an opportunity too precious to ignore; the inspiration for characters and potential situations was unparalleled.
I wrote a few vignettes of scenes that might have occurred at home, featuring my mother's fluttering nerves, Lydia's brash proclamations, Kitty's ill-timed coughs, and Mary's instructive sermons. I composed a short story in which Mr. Collins is attacked by a swarm of bees as he worked in his garden, though I was not cruel enough to write his demise. My favorite story that I penned during that time, however, was one which depicted Miss de Bourgh, under an alias, or course, as she carried on a secret lifestyle, in which she engaged in a series of physical and mental exercises. She then faced her fearsome mother and, coming out from under her mother's thumb, she took over Rosings Park, or, rather, Rockingham Place. It was a silly piece of drivel, to be sure, but I liked the notion of Anne de Bourgh: the heroine.
During the time I had passed in Kent, we had dined and taken tea with Lady Catherine and her daughter at least twice weekly. I was able to make little progress in my effort to engage Miss de Bourgh, as her companion truly hovered over her at all times, thus preventing any discourse of import, but I caught glimpses of yearning at times, which to me, indicated a desire for more from life than she was at liberty to enjoy. Her health, while fragile, was not poor enough to prohibit her from enjoying simple walks, dances, and even music; but Lady Catherine insisted otherwise.
On one occasion, about two weeks after I had arrived, I noticed a wistful look in Miss de Bourgh's eyes as I detailed the various sightings from that morning's walk. I chanced further exploration of the subject.
"Miss de Bourgh, do you also enjoy walks outdoors?"
Her reply was so soft, I had to strain to hear, "I cannot walk far; my health does not allow for it."
So I pressed on, "What form of exercise are you able to partake in?"
"I enjoy driving in my phaeton." Well, this was something, at least.
"Oh, how delightful! Unfortunately I ride very poorly, through my own fault, and we do not keep a phaeton at Longbourn, so my experience with horses is quite limited. It must be a most pleasant way to take in the sights of the country." We continued in a similar vein for some time, until Lady Catherine dominated the conversation with a topic of little interest to either of us, or anyone, for that matter, but I satisfied myself, upon reflection, that it was the longest exchange I had heard Miss de Bourgh take part in.
In the following weeks, I was able to draw her out a little more as we shared opinions on various subjects, generally without much depth, but I was more than pleased to see her smile on occasion. I considered Miss de Bourgh's situation as I was putting the finishing touches on the story I had written of the alter-ego I imagined for her, and wondered if we might ever be intimate enough that I would be able to share it with her.
Sighing, I set the papers aside, and stretched my arms overhead. I succumbed to an unexpected bout of melancholy as I began to miss my home. I had been away for nearly six weeks, and had not received word from any of my family at Longbourn for over a fortnight. My last letter from my Aunt Gardiner only discussed the children and their recent visit with the Earl of Matlock's family, so I was sure that they had heard no more than I from Longbourn. Love had certainly made Jane a most negligent correspondent. In the past, she could be expected to post a note at least once weekly when either of us travelled. Naturally, I wondered how her courtship was progressing with Mr. Bingley. Her last letter was filled with references to him, Papa's growing fondness for him, and Mama's exuberance for the match. Papa had apparently ventured so far as to welcome Mr. Bingley into his library, a privilege that had previously been reserved largely for me. I pushed envy aside as I thought on the many years he has had to suffer the flutters and frippery of living with six females. Until now, I had served as the closest substitute for a man in the home. While I valued our shared observations, readings, and chess games, I recognized that I would never be a suitable alternative to true male companionship. I smiled to myself as I reconciled myself to my loss of position, considering my father would soon lose his position in the eyes of dear Jane as well.
I was not built for unhappiness, so I did not allow the glum state to linger for long. As I surveyed my surroundings, taking in all the wonders of nature before me, my gaze settled on the lovely image of "a host of daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze." These lines from Wordsworth called forth the image of Mr. Darcy, as he had recited h the same poet's work weeks before. The man was truly an enigma; at times he was compassionate and gentle, and at other times he seemed aloof to all around him. After seeing him interact amongst those of his own family circle, however, I sensed that I was a bit closer to understanding him than I had been before meeting him in London, though I felt as though I might never fully comprehend him.
According to Lady Catherine's information, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would begin their stay at Rosings in two days, so I would have the opportunity for further study soon enough. Upon further reflection, I noted - with no little surprise - that I truly looked forward to the arrival of them both.
Had my mother seen me now, I would never have heard the end of how I shamed her; but my mother was not here, and I had walked this particular grove many times, never encountering another soul, so when my hair fell out of the pins, I let it, and when my boots became uncomfortable, I shed them, and when I grew tired, I sat. The hour was growing late, and I would surely have been expected back for tea. I blew an errant curl from my face, and set about righting my appearance before returning.
Finally, with the last pin in place and my boots laced again, I pulled myself up from the ground, and brushed the evidence of earth from my skirts. I judged my appearance presentable, and began gathering my papers, when I distinctly heard my name being called out by a familiar voice. Startled and mortified, my papers scattered everywhere as I jumped and took on a scarlet shade from head to toe. I took a calming breath as I turned slowly, to encounter a pair of laughing eyes, and a smile so striking as to cause my breath to catch, in the face of Mr. Darcy.Continued In Next Section