Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2015-06-25
Chapter 45 -
Gad! I wonder--can I kill Caroline Bingley and not hang for it?
The day started out well enough. Mr. Gardiner proved himself to be an excellent angler. By that, I do not mean his skill with tackle, which was excellent. No--the man knows when to be quiet.
It is a lesson Bingley should learn. I do believe in the two hours we spent in pursuit of trout I can put together a full ten minutes that Bingley was not talking. Talking about the weather, talking about the water, talking about Miss Elizabeth, talking about Hertfordshire... always talking, blast him! How we caught anything is a wonder. Oh, well, at least Hurst was silent--mostly--when he was not complaining.
Truly, I did not need Bingley or Hurst to distract me from my fishing. My mind was more anxiously occupied by what was happening in my house. Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner were to call on Georgiana, and I longed to be there. Drat my duty to my guests! Still, I was reserved to do right by them until Mr. Gardiner sighed.
"Mr. Darcy," said he as he lowered his rod, "forgive me, but I cannot help but notice that your attention is not fully engaged in our sport." He gave me a most amused yet penetrating look. "Perhaps you are distracted by unfinished business? I for one would not be offended if you excused yourself to see to pressing matters--indeed, your hospitality exceeds any measure of what is usually extended to common and indifferent acquaintances." He studies me closely.
Good God, does he know? Did Elizabeth tell him of Hunsford? No--she would not, I am sure of it. I must be more transparent than I thought. This realization is only scarcely less mortifying.
However, I grasp this opportunity like a drowning man a life ring. I make hurried excuses to Bingley and Hurst, quickly turn over my tackle and creel to the footmen who attended us, and make my way to the house. I redden, remembering Mr. Gardiner's words and glances. My anticipation and anxiety increase with each step, as I fight for self-control of my expression. Only Elizabeth's sweet presence can rescue me from this humiliation of discovery.
Once I reach the house, I make a beeline to my study. A quick change of dress and I am at the saloon's door. I draw a deep breath and indicate that it be opened.
The ladies were gathered about the table, enjoying the fruits of Pemberley's gardens, orchards and conservatory. Georgiana smiled at my entrance, but I admit I hardly noted it. My eyes were full on Elizabeth.
Her dress, of pale yellow, set off her light and pleasing figure without being vulgar. The skin of her arms and cheeks held a most becoming glow of health. Her full lips were parted in surprise. And her eyes--her mesmerizing eyes, wide in surprise--held me captive. Oh, but if I could properly claim her as my own!
The moment passes and I recall myself. I greet Mrs. Gardiner first, as I should, before turning to Elizabeth. My eye catches Caroline's pinched expression and I resolve not to embarrass Elizabeth before her. My greetings to her and the rest of the ladies is all that is proper, and if I allow my gaze to linger an instant more on Elizabeth than the others, so be it.
To keep myself safe, I sit by Georgiana, keeping her between Elizabeth and myself. This way I can take my fill of her without raising suspicion, I thought at the time. I also wanted to promote Georgiana to Elizabeth's close acquaintance and forwarded as much as possible every attempt at conversation between them.
"Pray, Miss Eliza," came Caroline's sneering comment, "are not the ----shire militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to your family."
WHAT? That dammed harlot dares raises the specter of He Who Shall Not Be Named in my house? In front of Georgiana? What does she know? How does she know about Ramsgate? Why does she attack Georgie?
In the next instant, I see more clearly. Caroline's target is Elizabeth, not Georgie. She means to promote herself by reminding me of Elizabeth's partiality for the ingrate. Apparently, Georgiana's secret is safe.
Stupid, selfish girl! In this, as in all matters, Caroline's aim is misguided. Instead of injuring Elizabeth, her bolt strikes Georgie. Blast her! I will toss the baggage out the front door myself!
Elizabeth, for her part, shows her superiority. I have no idea whether she believed me about Useless, but in her actions and words, she quickly, calmly, and effectively deflects Caroline's ill-judged and ill-bred attack. My respect, approbation, and affection for Elizabeth grow. I will no long hide my feelings and care not who knows it. If Caroline is unhappy about my now-and-forever undisguised admiration for Elizabeth Bennet, why she can go to the devil!
The visit does not long continue after this incident. As the ladies rise, I step quickly to see them to their carriage, probably making an earnest fool out of myself. But I would slap on a false nose and call myself a clown if it meant I could be in Elizabeth's presence a moment longer. Perhaps I did hold her hand longer than necessary to hand her up. No complaint does she utter--only blushes--and that is capital with me.
When I return to the saloon, Caroline is holding court. "How very ill Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy. I never in my life saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."
Damned witch! I will hold my temper, though. "I perceived no alteration to Miss Bennet, save she was rather tanned. No miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer."
Caroline does not take the hint. "For my own part, I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin, her complexion has no brilliancy, and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable but not out of the common way. And as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look which I do not like at all, and in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion which is intolerable."
I bite my tongue, but not out of any respect or deference to Caroline Bingley, for she deserves none. Georgiana, however, is perplexed and offended. Elizabeth had left her mark on her as she has on me, and I can tell she cares not to hear any ill of her new friend. Oh, Elizabeth, you have such power over us Darcys!
Caroline continues on, like the wicked witch she is. "I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty. And I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, 'She a beauty!--I should as soon call her mother a wit.''
She laughs a little at this, and Georgiana throws an accusing look my way. I am at my limit.
Caroline clears her throat. "But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
I contain myself no longer. "Yes, but that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance!"
I cannot stand to be in that witch's presence a moment longer and stalked out of the room.
Chapter 46 -
The next day I am on my best charger, riding to Lambton. It is not too early to call--surely Elizabeth and her relations have had their breakfast--and I must apologize personally for their treatment by Bingley's sister yesterday.
My own breakfast was pleasant, as it usually is when I share it with Georgiana. She reports that she slept well. I hope that my explanation for my outburst yesterday did something to soothe her delicate feelings.
As for my feelings, I own that is a difficult thing. Hope and caution war in my breast, and I know not which will triumph. I tell myself I only go to Lambton to beg their pardon, but that is only half the truth. I long to see Elizabeth again, to see whether her opinion of me is better, and learn whether I do have a chance with her. I must guard my tongue; I cannot blurt out another proposal as I did in Kent--
Proposal? Fool! You must court her first! Have I learned nothing about how to please a woman worthy of being pleased?
I take a breath before I dismount at the inn. Steady, man! Once inside, I ask to be shown to the Gardiners' room. The Gardiners' man shows me up. We make our way upstairs, and I am announced--
WHAT? Elizabeth is crying!
"I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. I must find Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot be delayed! I have not a moment to lose!"
"Good God! What is the matter?" Calm down, Darcy! She needs a man, not a maniac. "I will not detain you a minute, but let me, or let the servant, go after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. You are not well enough--you cannot go yourself."
Elizabeth hesitates, but agrees to my calling back the servant. In a breathless, almost unintelligible accent she commissions him to fetch his master and mistress home instantly. Once he quits the room, she almost falls into a chair. I am beside myself with worry.
"Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take to give you present relief? A glass of wine--shall I get you one? You are very ill."
"No, I thank you. There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well." She gulps. "I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just received from Longbourn."
She bursts into tears and for a few minutes cannot speak another word. In wretched suspense I stand, helpless and powerless. I can only watch her in compassionate silence while my guts turn inside out.
Finally, she says, "I have just had a letter from Jane with such dreadful news! It cannot be concealed from anyone. My youngest sister has left all her friends--has eloped--has thrown herself into the power of--of Mr. Wickham."
Elizabeth continues, "They are gone off together from Brighton. You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to--she is lost forever!"
WTH? WICKHAM! That bounder! That scoundrel! That no-good, two-faced, egg-sucking, inadequately-endowed piece of pond scum! He has hurt Elizabeth's family! Something must be done!
"When I consider," Elizabeth adds in a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it! I who knew what he was. Had I but explained some part of it only--some part of what I learnt--to my own family! Had his character been known, this could not have happened. But it is all, all too late now."
Her words strike me like a hammer. Stunned, I manage, "I am grieved, indeed--grieved--shocked. But is it certain, absolutely certain?" Meanwhile, my stomach is trying itself into knots.
Elizabeth nods. "Oh yes! They left Brighton together on Sunday night and were traced almost to London, but not beyond. They are certainly not gone to Scotland."
My mouth is as dry as ashes. "And what has been done--what has been attempted to recover her?"
"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle's immediate assistance, and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour." She shakes her lovely head. "But nothing can be done. I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope. It is every way horrible!" She begins to cry again. "When my eyes were opened to his real character--Oh! Had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not. I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched, mistake!"
I make no answer. Her words are more painful than at Hunsford. I know of what she speaks. Who was it that opened her eyes to Wickham's capacity for perfidy but practically swore her to secrecy? Who was too proud to share his family's shame with those he called his friends? Who let a monster run free in Hertfordshire? Me--Fitzwilliam Arthur George Darcy.
This is my fault. She all but said it. There is nothing I can do to wipe my shame from her memory. She can never forgive me; indeed, I do not deserve her forgiveness. Elizabeth is lost to me forever.
But I can do her one last service.
"I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence; nor have I anything to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, though unavailing, concern. Would to Heaven that anything could be either said or done on my part that might offer consolation to such distress! But I will not torment you with vain wishes which may seem purposely to ask for your thanks." Thank goodness my voice is level, that it gives no hint of my disappointment. This is not about me, but about Elizabeth! "This unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure of seeing you at Pemberley today." And me, as well.
"Oh, yes," she readily agrees. "Be so kind as to apologize for us to Miss Darcy. Say that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth as long as it is possible." She sobs. "I know it cannot be long."
She is leaving. I will never see her again.
I manage some inane parting comment--expressing sorrow for her distress, wishing a happier conclusion than there was at present reason to hope, and leave compliments for her relations. My heart is breaking as I take one last, long look at her lovely face, committing to my memory. She is trying so hard to be brave, to behave like the lady she was born and raised to be, all the while knowing that this event puts her reputation and that of her family in peril.
This will not stand, I vow. Fear not, my love. I know you are lost to me forevermore, Elizabeth, but I will not allow Wickham to ruin your family! No matter the cost!
I leave before I embarrass and distress her further. I have planning to do.
Chapter 47 -
I lock myself in my study, reviewing old correspondence, refreshing my mind as to Wickham's habits and acquaintances in London. Several hours pass and I am interrupted by a knock on the door. It is Georgiana.
"Brother," says she nervously after she takes a chair by my desk. "Why did the Gardiners and Miss Bennet beg off coming to Pemberley today? Was it--was it something I said?"
I cringe. Here is more evidence of my thoughtlessness, my selfish distain for the feelings of others. "No, sweeting. I apologize for my abruptness to you, the Bingleys, and the Hursts when I returned from Lambton. I saw Miss Bennet, and she was very sorry not to come. She received news from home, and it was necessary for the entire party to depart as soon as could be."
Georgiana paled. "Nothing terrible, I hope!"
Bad enough. "I was assured of her family's good health."
Just then, the butler stepped in. "The express rider is here, sir."
"Excellent." I stand and hand over the letter I prepared for the housekeeper at Darcy House in Town. As I return to my chair, I see a suspicious look in Georgiana's eye.
"Why are you sending a note to Town? Are you leaving, too?"
Blast, Georgie saw the direction! "Yes. Urgent business calls me away."
Georgiana gives me a hard look, one I remember seeing on my mother's face. "Fitzwilliam, you are hiding something. I can always tell."
I make a decision. "I cannot share the particulars, but I go to help a friend."
A bright smile breaks over her face. "Then I shall ask no more." She stands. "I will see to your packing and play hostess to our guests. How long shall you be away?"
My sister is growing up. "I do not know. It could be several weeks."
She nods. "Very well." She then gives me a knowing look. "Give my best regards to 'your business' when you see her." With that she leaves the room.
She certainly did not see the despair that I am sure was clearly written on my face. I wish I could, Georgie.
Posted on 2015-07-03
Chapter 48 -
As it turned out, finding Wickham was ridiculously easy. A few words and a few coins to his former confederate, Mrs. Younge, were all that were required to determine his address. The boarding house was not as bad as it could have been, but it was no place for a gentleman's daughter.
Unfortunately, Miss Lydia proved as stubborn and foolish as she was lovely. She utterly refused to leave her lover. She was sure they were to be married, and it did not particularly matter when. She went on and on about her wedding, how many of her sisters would stand with her, and how jealous all would be when she could sign her name "Mrs. Wickham."
As for Useless, he was truly in desperate straits. What he owed to barmen and shopkeepers were as nothing compared to his gambling debts and other matters of honor among his comrades in the militia. He saw no other recourse but to flee, even though desertion in time of war was a capital offence--we were fighting Napoleon, after all.
His plans were, as usual, half-thought out. He was to escape to the Continent where, as an English gentleman of easy manners and fine looks, he was sure to secure his future with a lady of large dowry. I sighed. Only an idiot who had never gone on a tour could believe such nonsense.
It seemed he had no intention of running away with Miss Lydia. The baggage had invited herself along, and Wick-head, typically thinking with the wrong head, offered no discouragement.
I could see why he was so weak. Miss Lydia was just the way he liked his ladies: young, well-formed for their age, immature, and easily led. Like Georgiana, I recalled sadly. Wickham never stood a chance with a lady of sense and maturity.
Which gave me some comfort. Elizabeth might have been taken in by his words, but she did not, could not, care for him.
Miss Lydia was well and permanently ruined, and (according to Pond Scum) perfectly happy about it. When I informed him he should then marry her, he laughed.
"Darcy, I admit she's a jolly and generous girl, and pleasant to look at to boot--there's no doubt about that--but she has nothing! How does that help me?"
"Wickham!" cried I. "You claim to be a gentleman, yet you refuse to do the gentlemanly thing!"
"Certainly! We'll just pop over to St. ---- and have the priest make everything nice and proper," he sneered. "And when the militia drags me off to the guardhouse, what good does that do me--or her?"
She would be your widow. That should give her some measure of respectability, I thought at the time. "You cannot abandon her."
To my surprise, he actually colored. "What can I do? She has no dowry, does she?"
Money. It always comes down to money. "Grant me a couple of days, and we will see." My former friend brightened, and I added, "But you must keep Miss Lydia safe. Allow her to come to harm, and I will inform the army of your whereabouts. Understand?"
My anger gave my threat weight. Straw For Brains blanched. "Never fear, Darcy. I will protect her with my life!"
"Funny you should say that, Wickham," I growled as I rose to leave. "Your life indeed depends upon her safety."
Chapter 49 -
It is passing strange that the most difficult part of rescuing Miss Lydia was speaking to her relations. I did not want to do it. I wanted no thanks or gratitude for doing my duty, for patching up what never should have happened had I been open about my history with Wickham. But there was nothing for it. Elizabeth's relations had to be told. I was thankful I had to bargain with Mr. Gardiner and not Mr. Bennet, though. Elizabeth must never know of my involvement.
My secret might be safe, but I paid a heavy price for it! Not the money I settled on Useless and his bride. I can surely afford it. No--the interview with Mr. Gardiner was one I should never like to experience again.
I first stopped by Gracechurch Street and learned that Mr. Gardiner was unavailable, as he was meeting with Mr. Bennet, who was leaving in the morning. I left straightaway, not leaving my card, thanking my lucky stars. I did not think Mr. Bennet was in any mood to be reasoned with, and I did not trust him not to tell his whole family about my participation.
The next day I returned. Mr. Gardiner was surprised to see me--you would think I had never traveled through Cheapside before. His astonishment was doubled when he learned that I not only knew of his family's troubles, but had located his nonsensical niece and her dubious lover. He had despaired of finding them and was overjoyed at my success. Mr. Gardiner threatened to shake my hand off.
"This is wonderful!" said Mr. Gardiner. "My brother left for Longbourn only this morning. I shall send an express straight away, begging his immediate return. Where is Lydia?"
I told him that she was with Pond Scum in a disreputable part of London, and she was not willing to leave him. As a precaution, I had left men watching the establishment. "Not that it is truly necessary," I assured him. "Wickham is awaiting my return; he has nowhere to go. I must regretfully inform you marriage is the only proper option, and Miss Lydia's dowry is ... insufficient to be an inducement."
Mr. Gardiner darkened. "So the scoundrel will have to be bribed, eh? Well, so be it. Give me the direction, and I shall see to it."
"Do not concern yourself over that."
"What do you mean? You just said arrangements must be made."
I said as evenly as possible, "I will see to this matter."
"Are you saying you will pay the money for the marriage? What are you about, sir?" demanded Mr. Gardiner incredulously.
I had hoped to avoid this explanation. "Mr. Gardiner, there are reasons I feel I must inject myself into this, your family's matter. I know Mr. Wickham very well--far more that I would like. I knew of his dishonorable habits and behaviors, and this is not the first time I had to make right what he has done. He has injured my family and friends before. I am reserved by nature and feel it beneath me to share such information.
"That is why when I was in Hertfordshire, I failed to let the residents, including the Bennets, know what sort of man Mr. Wickham is. It was very wrong of me. Had I done so, Mr. Bennet would never have allowed his family to cultivate any sort of acquaintance with Wickham. There would have been no need for an elopement. My false pride is the root cause of this calamity, and I must make amends."
Mr. Gardiner considered my confession for a moment. "Mr. Darcy, I think you take too much upon yourself. This is not your doing."
"I think it is. The fault is mine, and so must the remedy be. I shall not be moved."
"You shall," vowed Mr. Gardiner. "This is my family, not yours, and you will give way!"
For the better part of an hour we talked and argued, firmly and reasonably, as gentlemen do. I was forced to give details about The Shiftless One's past, but I never spoke of Ramsgate. Mr. Gardiner proved to be as obstinate as I; I think the better of him for it. In the end, we had made no progress except to agree to meet again the next day after church.
"I must meet with Wickham later today in any case," I said as I rose to leave. "I hope to have final details for you tomorrow."
"Then I will know the exact cost," said Gardiner.
"Which shall be nothing," I responded with a slight smile.
"By thunder, Darcy, you are hardheaded!" he cried as he extended his hand. By common agreement we had moved on to a more familiar manner of speaking to one another.
"You are as well, Gardiner. I can see why you are successful."
"Will you not stay for dinner?"
My smile faded. "Thank you, no. My business with him cannot wait."
On Sunday, Mrs. Gardiner greeted me as I entered, her knowing look indicating that her husband had shared what had happened the previous day. We three enjoyed a bit of tea before Gardiner and I retired to his study.
For an hour we again battled--politely, respectfully, but it was a battle, nonetheless. The honors were divided, and all we could agree to was to meet again on Monday. As I took my leave, I made a request of both of them.
"I must ask, most firmly, that you do not reveal to Mr. Bennet my involvement in this matter." At their incredulous looks, I added, "I know this is extraordinary, but I must insist. Look at it as an apology for my bad behavior in Hertfordshire."
They looked at one another and agreed, reluctantly.
On Monday, Mrs. Gardiner was a witness to the negotiations. Perhaps Gardiner thought her presence might help his cause; it did not. In the end, he would not capitulate until I told them of what that reprobate had attempted with Georgiana. Mrs. Gardiner gasped while Gardiner held his head in his hands.
"And my niece is to marry such a man," he said.
"I am sorry." I knew of nothing else to say.
Gardiner sighed, looked up and said slowly, "You win. It shall be as you request. We shall pay Wickham's debts in Meryton, and my brother shall guarantee one hundred pounds a year for Lydia, as well as her share of her mother's dowry when the time comes. As for your part--"
"I shall see to his debts in London and Brighton, including what is owed to his fellow officers. My cousin the colonel has learned of a lieutenant's vacancy in a regiment in Newcastle. I shall purchase that and provide a little more to augment their income." I relaxed for the first time in three days. "There is no victory here, Gardiner, save that the Bennets' honor remains intact."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner shared an unreadable look before he rose and extended his hand. "You know, Darcy, I would have given way to no one but you."
A suspicion was planted in me as I shook his hand, one that grew when Mrs. Gardiner kissed my cheek. "Now that all this disagreeable business is done, you shall stay for dinner," she said sweetly and firmly, "I insist this time!"
I think they suspect my admiration for Elizabeth, not that it matters. She is utterly lost to me.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," I tell her.
She left us to work out the details of the settlement.
Chapter 50-51 -
I sit alone in my study, contemplating the wreckage of my life.
Oh, everything with Useless and his intended went smoothly. It was as fine a wedding as could be expected for an elopement-turned-proper marriage between a foolish bride and a bribed seducer. As least some good came out of it--my friendship with the Gardiners, for one, and the Bennets are still a respectable family.
Elizabeth can marry--someone else. She will never forgive me foisting Straw For Brains on her sister. Meanwhile, I must find a way to live without her. Damn it!
I am roused from my unhappy ruminations by the butler. "A letter for you, sir."
It is from Bingley. It takes no little time to translate his blotches. He is returning to London and wants my opinion about Netherfield.
Netherfield. That is how this whole mess started. How can I go there and see Elizabeth again?
Drat it, man. How can you not go?
Posted on 2015-07-10
Chapter 52 -
A fortnight after Bingley's invitation, I find myself in my coach bound for Hertfordshire, a bundle of impatient nerves. My avowed purpose in traveling to Netherfield was to see whether Jane Bennet is still partial to Bingley. If she is, I shall relate all I know to him, confessing my part in separating him from his "angel." He deserves to know all if he is to move forward. I hope it does not cost me my best friend.
But I fool myself. I know the real reason--to see Elizabeth Bennet again.
My head battles with my heart. Surely, Miss Elizabeth would want nothing to do with me, now that her sister is married to Useless--a marriage I could have prevented if only I had been more forthcoming. Lord knows what she would think if she knew I had actually arranged the blasted event!
That was just the point. Elizabeth does not know. Might I have a chance to engage her tender feelings if she remains ignorant of those facts for a short time? I know I have often said that disguise of any sort is my abhorrence, but for once, can I keep my big mouth shut long enough to earn Elizabeth's affection? I want neither her gratitude nor her disgust. I want--need--her love.
But no matter what my desires are, it is Elizabeth's that are paramount. I will not impose myself on her. She taught me a hard lesson and properly humbled me. How insufficient are all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased! I am a thousand times a fool! I shall do nothing, say nothing, unless Elizabeth makes it clear that she welcomes my company. Then, I shall act. Otherwise, I must accept my defeat like a gentleman.
I can scarcely dream to hope.
Blast! Cannot this carriage move faster?
Chapter 53 -
I straighten my jacket after I dismount before Longbourn. My stomach is sick due to my nervousness. I must steel myself to my duty. I am here for Bingley, not myself.
Bingley, of course, is trembling with uncertainty. It took him three days to work up his courage to visit. I half-feared he was going to turn back to Netherfield during our ride. Pale, he swallows hard, blinks, and knocks on the door. The servant answers immediately, no doubt alerted to our arrival, and shows us to the parlor without delay.
I fight mightily not to look for Miss Elizabeth as we are announced to the ladies. My efforts are so all-consuming I fail to say more than a few syllables. At Mrs. Bennet's cold welcome, the only thing that comes to mind is to inquire about the Gardiners. I start at her puzzled expression. Of course she has no idea of the level of acquaintance I enjoy with her relations. Stupid man! Shut up! Do you want Elizabeth to know what you have done?
Bingley is hardly better. He mumbles and stumbles, his eyes all the time focused on Miss Bennet.
I give in to the siren's call of my beloved and glance at Elizabeth. My heart sinks. She is bent over her work, her eyes never leaving her needle. Is she as nervous as I, or is it that she cannot bear to look at me? I cannot tell.
Mrs. Bennet is saying something about her youngest daughter and Straw For Brains.
"It is a delightful thing, to be sure, to have a daughter well married! But at the same time, Mr. Bingley, it is very hard to have her taken such a way from me. They are gone down to Newcastle, a place quite northward, it seems, and there they are to stay; I do not know how long. His regiment is there, for I suppose you have heard of his leaving the ----shire and of his being gone into the regulars." Her tone darkens. "Thank Heaven he has some friends, though perhaps not so many as he deserves."
I cannot help flinch at the insult and turn to the window. I must control my temper. In a moment, I return to the company and focus on my resolution to observe Jane Bennet. At first, she seems the same--quiet, calm, receiving my friend's attentions with pleasure but without any particular warmth. She is rather pale, though.
Then I see it. Her fingers are nervously working at her needlework. I observe further and note she is blinking more than I have ever noticed her do before. She is nervous, affected by strong emotion, I am certain of it. But what does it mean? Is it love or anger? Mortification or relief? Hope or despair? I am well versed with all of those emotions. It could be any or all or none.
Further study is warranted, but I will say this: Jane Bennet is not indifferent to Bingley.
Mrs. Bennet is continuing her nonsense.
"When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley, I beg you will come here and shoot as many as you please on Mr. Bennet's manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you and will save all the best of the covies for you."
Poor Elizabeth! I hope she does not suffer to hear such transparent matchmaking! But she will not look at me. My hopes are fading as fast as Bingley's are rising.
I cannot leave this house soon enough.
Back a Netherfield, I am increasingly thankful that Bingley's relations did not come to Hertfordshire with us. I must think, and that is best done alone in Bingley's mostly bare library.
Mrs. Bennet invited us to dinner on Tuesday. Three more days before I see the Bennets again. The first part of my mission here is going well. The second part is not.
I am coming to the conclusion that I was wrong and Elizabeth was right about Jane Bennet. While that lady gives no overt clue as to her feelings, some little gestures and signs are there, if one takes the time to look for them. A light blush to the cheek. A widening of her eyes when Bingley is talking. She leans slightly forward, towards him.
On Tuesday, I expect to settle the matter once and for all.
As for Elizabeth, how am I to know what she is thinking and feeling if she will not speak to me, or for that matter, even look at me? Where is the courageous young woman who teased my fearsome aunt to her face? The charming, kind lady who graced Pemberley for too short a time?
I must have my wits about me.
Chapter 54 -
I sit in my room at Netherfield, brandy in hand, and bemoan the events of the day. The Bennets' dinner was a disaster--a complete disaster.
I had hopes that I would have the opportunity to speak to Elizabeth, to learn whether she holds me responsible for her poor sister's predicament. If she would give me half a chance, I would begin wooing her in earnest. I also planned to further my observations of Jane Bennet.
Nothing worked out as I hoped.
First, there were far too many people there. Apparently, Mrs. Bennet desired to prove her boast of knowing "five and twenty families" in the district, for it seemed she invited all of them. I could hardly move about the room.
Then, I found myself seated next to Mrs. Bennet, which was as far from Elizabeth's side as could be arranged! At least she hardly spoke to me except for the occasional caustic remark. As for myself, I wondered whether my placement was by fate or design. Had Elizabeth engineered it to save herself from my company?
The separation after dinner dragged on and on. I barely said ten words together, so occupied was I by my thoughts. I settled that I would give myself one last chance. I would seek out Elizabeth once we rejoined the ladies. I would see now and forever whether she desired my company or not.
There she was, pouring the coffee. It was my opportunity! I moved towards her to refill my cup--only to be thwarted by a young lady, one of Elizabeth's friends, who deliberately stepped into the only opening.
"The men shall not come and part us, I am determined," she said in a loud whisper that I was clearly meant to hear. "We want none of them, do we?"
I made my way to the fireplace, sharing some meaningless conversation with Sir William Lucas, wondering whether Elizabeth agreed with her friend. Then, the crowd parted, and while there was still no chair near her, I could speak to her without seeming a demanding, arrogant popinjay. I walked over.
She greeted me. "Is your sister at Pemberley still?" Oh, Elizabeth! Is Georgiana your only interest?
"Yes, she will remain there till Christmas."
"And quite alone? Have all her friends left her?"
Good Lord, she reproaches me! "Mrs. Annesley is with her. The others have gone on to Scarborough these three weeks." Say something, please! Say you are happy to see me!
She says nothing else to me. She only whispers to the other ladies, and my hopes die.
During whist, my eyes sought her lovely form across the room so often that my playing suffered. Even Mrs. Bennet decried my stupidity. We did not stay for supper, and Bingley and I left for Netherfield.
Now, in the quiet of my room, I come to the summation of my trip here. On the pleasant side, I now am convinced that Jane Bennet likes my friend very much--might even love him. The few times I watched them, there was no mistaking her pleasure in his company, and her withdrawal the few times he was not beside her.
As for Elizabeth, my thoughts are bleak. While there were not many opportunities for Elizabeth and me to converse, on the few occasions we were in company, she was grave and silent and gave no encouragement. I can only conclude my hopes are in vain.
I throw the rest of my brandy down my throat. There is hard work before me. I will confess all to Bingley tonight, which could well cost me my best friend. And in the morning, I must return to London, see to business, and try to forget Elizabeth Bennet.
Chapter 55 -
"Darcy," says Bingley as I climb into my carriage the next morning, "you shall return, shall you not?"
I look carefully at him. "Do you wish for me to return?"
"Of course--you are my friend!"
"An ill-serving friend. You should be angry with me."
Bingley shakes his head. "Nonsense! I thought about what you said last night, and while I am disappointed in you for not telling me that Miss Bennet was in London last spring, I believe you when you say you did so under a mistaken understanding of her feelings. I would be a hypocrite indeed if I held that against you, for I had the same doubts. You have confessed your errors and deeds, and that is the sign of true friendship!" His open, pleasant countenance darkened. "That is more than I can say for my relations!"
As there was nothing I could say to exonerate Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst, I kept silent.
"Ten days," Bingley insisted. "You say it should not take more than ten days to settle your business. I will hold you to that, Darcy!"
The last thing I want to do is return to Hertfordshire. "I shall do my best, Bingley. Farewell and good hunting."
He frowned. "The hunting has been awful--oh!" A bright smile broke out. "Yes! Hunting, ha! Good hunting, indeed! Safe journey, Darcy!"
Posted on 2015-07-17
Chapter 56 -
I sit in my study, my papers before me, and think of her.
Almost a fortnight has passed since I left Hertfordshire. I know I told Bingley I would return to Netherfield in ten days' time once my business in London was completed, but now I wonder if my presence is needed or desired. Bingley writes that he has secured Jane Bennet's tender feelings and is engaged to be married. His mission has been successful, and I wish them both well from the bottom of my heart. My help is unnecessary.
How can I bear to be in Bingley's happy presence, fearing my heart's desire is forever lost to me? Could Elizabeth be generous enough to pardon my failure to warn her family and friends about Wickham's true nature? She is the most excellent woman I have ever met, but how can anyone emphatically forgive and forget? I cannot bear to hope.
In my dreams she sometimes welcomes me with open arms and warm lips. Other times, she slaps my face. She is unattainable, just out of my reach. I get no rest, no comfort...
What is that noise from the front hall? Good heavens, it is Aunt Catherine!
I rush out of my study and see she is standing by the parlor door, berating my butler. "There you are, Darcy!" she exclaims. "I demand you dismiss this man straightaway! He dared to lay hands on me!"
A few moments' questioning reveals that my butler refused to allow Lady Catherine to barge unannounced into my study and was forced to restrain her physically. I assure my aunt that I will take the proper steps later. My nod to my butler lets him know that those proper steps involve a bonus to his pay. Once the parlor's door is shut, Aunt Catherine begins directly.
"Darcy, I journey to London to be immediately satisfied. You must throw off forever all acquaintance with that unsuitable family in Hertfordshire!"
What? "Hertfordshire? Are you perchance speaking of the Bennets?"
"Yes, yes, that is their name. I have just come from there and never have I been so rudely treated! Such ingratitude for my remarkable attentions last Easter! But what can one expect from someone with such low connections?"
"You were in Hertfordshire--at Longbourn?"
"What is the matter with your hearing, Darcy? You are not usually this slow! Yes, I condescended to call upon that tiny estate, and out of the goodness of my heart warned that impertinent creature that all her plans were for naught. Instead of gratitude for my kindness, I was practically thrown off the place!"
I cannot make sense of what she is saying. "Aunt, forgive me, but I must ask. You went to Longbourn and spoke to--?"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of course!"
My mind goes blank. "What on earth for?"
"Why? To put an end to her schemes, of course!"
What schemes? Somehow, I keep my mouth shut as I guide my aunt to a chair. She rages on, chattering of insult and slanders, of arts and allurements, of engagements real and imagined. All I can truly focus on is that Lady Catherine confronted Elizabeth, and she seemed to defend me to my aunt!
"She is a wicked, wicked girl, false from first to last. She had the audacity to claim that your position in the world meant nothing to her, but she revealed herself all the same! How did she put it? Ah! 'The wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.' You see? Your money and your house is what she desires! Hateful girl!"
It is passing strange how one's mind works in times of extreme distress. I am deeply offended on Elizabeth's behalf, and yet, I am amused at the irony of my aunt's logic. Is not my fortune and Pemberley at the center of her desires for marriage between myself and Anne?
"You must be on your guard, Darcy! I demanded that the baggage promise to leave you in peace, and do you know what she said? She refused to refuse to marry you!"
She rants on, but my attention is transfixed by my aunt's awkward statement: She refused to refuse to marry you. I know Elizabeth's character, and if she was as decided against me as she was in Kent, she would not hesitate to tell any and all. Instead, she practically stated that she welcomes my suit! Can it be true? Was she only confounding my deluded relation, or is there a message here? I must know!
Lady Catherine stares up right into my face. "Now, I demand that you tell me the truth! I know it to be a scandalous falsehood, but I must be satisfied. Are you engaged to Miss Bennet?"
I must answer truthfully. "No, Aunt, I am not."
"Of course, you are not," she says with a relieved smile. "You are engaged to Anne."
"No, Aunt, I am not." As I said, I must be truthful.
She turns white. "What? But--"
I hold up my hand. "You wanted the truth, and you shall have it. I am not engaged to anyone--not to Anne and not to Miss Elizabeth. When I am engaged, I shall inform you of the fact. Do not presume such things, for it is beneath you."
"This is not to be borne!" She raps her cane violently for emphasis as she rises from the chair. "Your mother and I planned the union between Pemberley and Rosings while you were in your cradles!"
I must have the housekeeper see to any marks that may remain on my floor.
I answer calmly. "As you have said before." I do not know if her oft-told tale is true, and at the end of the day, it matters not. I shall marry not to please my relations but myself. "Still, it is the expected practice for the gentleman to propose and the lady to accept before there is an actual betrothal."
"Perhaps. Still, I will follow with the usual custom."
Lady Catherine's tone moderates. "Then I will expect you to come back to Rosings soon. You are not getting any younger, and Anne grows impatient. You must marry."
I allow myself a small smile. "I hope it gives you comfort that I am beginning to come around to your way of thinking." At her elation, I continue. "But I shall act in my own good time." Yes, I wish to marry, but you will not like my choice of bride.
"Oh, you just like your father! There was no moving him when his mind was made up!"
I do not recall my mother having any such complaint with my father, but I am sure she had means of persuasion unavailable to other people.
It takes me a few more minutes to placate Lady Catherine enough for her to take her leave. She returns to Rosings and Anne without delay, her farewell a demand that I soon follow. It just so happens that I do plan to leave London, but my direction is not south into Kent but north to Hertfordshire.
Chapter 57 -
I sit in my carriage, a bundle of nerves. I hope as I have not allowed myself to hope before. Elizabeth's disavowal to Lady Catherine is the sign I thought I would never see. She must have changed her mind about me! She might not hold Wickham's seduction of her sister against me. With that courage I have so often admired in her, she stood up to my Gorgon of an aunt.
"The wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine." That is what she said. She never would have uttered those words if she still despised me.
But that does not mean she likes me enough to marry. Liking is not love, and I must have her love.
Bingley, for once, quickly responded to my express, begging his hospitality in Hertfordshire. Still, I have been in agony for three days! Three days of packing and waiting and traveling. And by the time I reach Netherfield, it will be too late to call on Longbourn. I must wait until tomorrow.
Another dreaded night looms before me--another night of hoping and despairing, of dreams and nightmares. Added to my anxiety is the knowledge that my fate shall be finally decided tomorrow. Tomorrow shall settle whether my future is full or empty.
Posted on 2015-07-24
Chapter 58 -
"Lizzy, may I go on my own to the Lucases'?" asks Miss Catherine Bennet. "Maria has a new kitten, and I so wish to see it."
"Of course," says Elizabeth. "Do not linger too long."
We continue on in silence, the fallen leaves crunching agreeably under our steps. Bingley and Miss Bennet have allowed us to outstrip them, caught up as they are in their conversation. I suppose they are talking of their upcoming wedding, a subject that has apparently commanded the complete attention of the Bennet household. It is a clear October morning, cool and calm--which does nothing to relieve the tension between my beloved and me.
Bingley was in a mind to be obliging this morning, and we found ourselves before Longbourn's front door at an hour almost too early for callers. I am surprised I slept as well as I did last night; I supposed that knowing I would be in Elizabeth's most welcome presence was the cause. No matter what happens today, any interaction with her must do me good.
Mrs. Bennet was not as unwelcoming as she was when last I called. The anticipation of a daughter well married must be her excuse. Elizabeth said hardly a word; in fact, she appeared slightly alarmed until Bingley proposed a walk to Merton. Her obvious relief at his suggestion told me it was not my company that distressed her. Oh, if I could but know of her troubles, so that I might offer comfort! But I have no right to do that--yet.
Miss Mary proclaimed she would remain at Longbourn to practice her instrument, but Miss Catherine was agreeable to the scheme. Now, she has abandoned us, and Elizabeth and I are virtually alone as we walk along the road.
Elizabeth has said nothing since I arrived in her family's parlor not a quarter-hour before. My courage begins to fail as my confidence fades. Have I misjudged my aunt's report? Does Elizabeth truly look favorably on me? Liking is not loving. Respect is not affection. Does Elizabeth feel all, some, or none of those emotions? How can I learn the truth? How do I start?
Elizabeth breaks the silence. "Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature, and, for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express."
During the whole of this extraordinary speech, her eyes are downcast. I can only see the top of her bonnet.
Damn! I never wanted Elizabeth to know of my dealings with Wickham! Why did the Gardiners not keep my secret? I react without forethought. My feelings will not be repressed.
"I am sorry--exceedingly sorry--that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness! I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted."
"You must not blame my aunt," Elizabeth cries. "Lydia's thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter. And, of course, I could not rest till I knew the particulars." Finally she turns her fine eyes to me. "Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them."
"If you will thank me," I blurt out in relief that I had not been betrayed, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owes me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."
Good God, did I really say that? Oh, to the Devil with caution! I must know all now!
"You are too generous to trifle with me! If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
Her eyes go wide, her cheeks redden. I have shocked her.
We stand still as statues in the middle of the Meryton Road, alone in the world.
I wait in dreadful anticipation for her response.
She accepted me! She loves me!
My dearest Elizabeth forgave me and accepted my suit. She will be my wife and helpmate and lover and mother of my children and--most importantly--my best friend. Life will never be any sweeter than the moment she confessed her love for me.
How did she answer me, you ask? Ah, ah, ah--a gentleman never tells. Let me say my response was affectionately effusive and left Elizabeth with absolutely no doubt of my esteem and constancy.
After everything was settled between us, I told her of Lady Catherine's visit to me after her own interview with her. Elizabeth laughed when I said that her refusal to refuse me gave me hope like never before.
"Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations!"
Delightful woman! We entered into a small disagreement about who was most at fault at Hunsford. I, of course, took the lion's share, for what did Elizabeth say that I did not deserve? For her part, she denied it all, blamed herself for blindness and prejudice, and owned herself heartily ashamed. I could not have that, and detailed in full all of the faults of character she inspired me to overcome. There were tears in her eyes at the completion of my recital.
Our conversation turned to my involvement with her sister and Straw For Brains. The proud gaze with which she gifted me, when I admitted that my gravity at Lambton was solely due to my instant resolution to hasten to London in quest of her sister, made me feel like one of the Knights of the Round Table.
"What could become of Mr. Bingley and Jane?" Elizabeth laughingly speculated. I knew not, although I suspected that Bingley used the opportunity of finding himself alone with his intended to good purpose. As we strolled on the public road, I could not do likewise, no matter how much I hungered for Elizabeth's sweet lips.
And yes, her lips are sweet indeed, as I have verified numerous times since.
We next talked of Bingley, and Elizabeth's archness returned when I admitted I had guided Bingley back to Netherfield. We continued to speak uninterrupted, until we returned to Longbourn.
Chapter 59 -
Dinner at Longbourn was a dull and frustrating experience. Jane and Bingley, as the acknowledged lovers, talked and laughed and were talked and laughed about. Elizabeth and I, however, remained silent, for I had yet to speak to Mr. Bennet. It did not help that my physical distance from Elizabeth was as great as the dinner table would allow. I had Mrs. Bennet on my right and Miss Mary on my left. Neither was of a mind to converse with me, a wish I echoed. Elizabeth was of a like mind, for she was unusually quiet. Her blushes when she glanced in my direction were the saving grace of the evening. Only my self-control prevented me from staring at Elizabeth the whole time like a love-sick puppy.
When we parted, Elizabeth whispered that she planned to tell Jane of our understanding, and I said I would do the same with Bingley.
As I suspected, Bingley had no idea of how things stood between Elizabeth and me.
"Miss Elizabeth? My word, are you in earnest? You are to marry Miss Elizabeth? I declare, you have entirely surprised me! I never saw a thing of it!"
"Bingley, my friend, have you seen anything but your angel since Miss Bennet accepted you?"
Bingley laughed. "Too right, there! Is not Jane perfect? But Miss Elizabeth? I thought she disliked you!"
My mirth faded a touch. "She did. But she changed her mind."
Bingley grinned, a knowing look in his eye. "Or perhaps you changed it for her. I know there is no stopping you when your mind is intent upon its purpose."
"Bingley, you have no idea!" I told him of Hunsford and my determination to change my ways. His astonishment grew and we talked on into the night.
As we retired, Bingley patted my shoulder. "Darcy, you are the most humbling friend. I wish I knew of your struggles, that I could have been of service to you. But you did it all on your own and won the prize. Congratulations. Ha! You will be my brother in truth! Wonderful!"
He paused, suddenly thoughtful. "Caroline..."
"Yes... Caroline," I said.
"She will not be happy."
"I expect not."
Bingley shrugged. "I suppose we will just have to get her married."
"Gad! Leave me out of this!"
Bingley would have nothing of it. "She will be your relation, too, and I know you like nothing more than to be of service to your family."
Blast! He knows me all too well.
The next day verified I am lump-headed idiot. One look at Elizabeth's dear face when Bingley and I walked into the Bennet's parlor proved that I knew nothing of ladies--nothing at all. How could I have confused Elizabeth's saucy looks before with the clear adoration in her eyes now? I was a hundred times a fool. I hope I have improved since.
Mrs. Bennet suggested that Elizabeth, Miss Catherine, and I walk out to Oakham Mount. Fortunately, Miss Catherine demurred. During our walk, Elizabeth confided that she was instructed by her mother to suffer the inconvenience of walking out with me and keep me out of Bingley's way.
"She trusts you alone with me?" I smiled. "She may yet become my favorite Bennet."
Elizabeth's laugh held more than a little of nervousness and I vowed not to take too much advantage of the situation. I behaved myself until we reached the summit, where we shared our first kiss. It was all I ever dreamed about.
We did talk, too. It was decided that I should approach Mr. Bennet after dinner. I think Elizabeth wanted to spare me her mother's raptures of joy at news of our engagement. I agreed to her request, but I also let my beloved know that I would bear anything to be by her side.
She smiled. "Well, sir, with my mother, it seems you shall have a lifetime to prove it!"
To say Mr. Bennet was surprised by my petition would be an understatement. The gentleman was flabbergasted.
"You... you wish to marry Lizzy? My Lizzy?"
"Indeed, sir." Having learned my lesson from my first proposal, I dealt with only the pleasant aspects of our proposed union. In short, succinct sentences, I assured Mr. Bennet of our mutual affection and my intention that Elizabeth would be well-cared for.
"And... she has accepted you?"
I thought I had made that clear. "Yes, sir."
He blinked. Obviously such an idea had never occurred to him. "Very well, young man. You have my permission and my blessing." Perhaps it was my imagination, but I think he hesitated on the word blessing.
"Very good, sir. I shall have the marriage articles drawn up for your approval straight away." I bowed.
Just as I made to leave, he asked, "Pray tell Lizzy I would like to talk to her, Mr. Darcy."
After my interview with Mr. Bennet, I tried to relieve Elizabeth's anxiety with a small smile. I approached the table where she was sitting with Miss Catherine, I whispered her father's request, and she was gone directly.
With nothing else to do, I took Elizabeth's seat, to her sister's surprise. I pretended to admire her needlework. "That is lovely, Miss Catherine," I observed.
"Kitty," she said timidly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I prefer Kitty. Catherine sounds so... serous." She laughed nervously. "I should hate to be called serious. Papa says I am not serious at all."
Too right, there.
"Serious is so boring. None of us are serous, except Jane and maybe Lizzy. Not that they are boring, of course! No one would call them boring."
"No, I would not."
"Oh! Mr. Darcy, I do not mean to call you boring, even though you are so serious!"
I cannot take offense at her foolishness. She is young, after all. "No, you have the right of it. I am afraid I am very serious and, therefore, boring at times."
She looked at me with wide, surprised eyes. "I think you are teasing me."
I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. "Do you think a serious man like me is capable of teasing, Miss Kitty?"
I could see her mulling over my statement. She finally brightened. "I think so, yes."
I nodded, sat back and pulled from my pocket a book of poetry to read. For the next hour, I lost myself in the verses of Scott until Elizabeth returned. Her relaxed smile was all I needed to assure me all was well. There was no announcement, no celebration--that was for another day. The time passed tranquilly away until Bingley and I made our exit.
"I tell my mother tonight," was Elizabeth's whispered farewell. Her apprehension of the upcoming interview was transparent.
"That should be eventful," I replied.
"That is remarkably easy for you to say, sir!" she returned with mock severity. "Off with you!" As I began to turn, she added softly, "And be all the sooner tomorrow, I pray."
"You may depend upon it, my dear."
Posted on 2015-07-31
Chapter 60 -
The weeks of our courtship were delightful. My lovely Elizabeth became again the intriguing, impertinent imp I fell in love with almost a year ago. Was it a year ago? I do not know for certain. Elizabeth even asked me when I had fallen in love, and I could not answer. I was in the middle of it before I knew what I was about.
"My beauty you had early withstood," she claimed soon after our engagement, her enchanting eyes twinkling, "and as for my manners! My behavior to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now be sincere--did you admire me for my impertinence?"
"For the liveliness of your mind, I did." I did not add her light and pleasing figure had haunted my dreams for months. She would learn of that soon enough.
"You may as well call it impertinence at once!" she laughed. "It was very little less. The fact is you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them."
How very true.
"Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it," she continued, "but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just. And in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There--I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it! And really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me. But nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."
Fall in love. I kissed her heartily for that.
The Bennets were very surprised at our news. Mrs. Bennet could not utter more than a polite request as to my opinion of what to serve at dinner for almost a week whole! It did not last, of course, but I began to see her silliness in a more understanding light, particularly when I compared her behavior to my aunt's.
Lady Catherine took my engagement as a personal affront. She wrote to all her relations and friends, demanding that they renounce their acquaintance with me for as long as "that scheming baggage pollutes the shades of Pemberley." My uncle, the Earl, shared his sister's message with me, you see. As I hoped and expected, my remaining Fitzwilliam relations were far more reasonable, withholding any opinion about the matter until Elizabeth was introduced.
The countess was instantly charmed, and by the end of the evening the earl privately admitted that I could have done far worse. It did not hurt that Georgiana and my cousin Fitzwilliam were strong supporters of Elizabeth. As for the Viscount and his wife, they agreed not to oppose the match. That is the best I can hope from that quarter.
"The treason of the family" (Lady Catherine's words, not mine) sent my aunt into a rage. She has refused to communicate with any of us. Small loss. I am sorry for Anne, though.
Elizabeth's family and friends were far less taxing. Oh, Mrs. Bennet struts about Meryton, crowing over her "clever Lizzy's good fortune" as if she herself had anything to do with our engagement. If she drops one more hint about throwing Elizabeth's remaining sisters into the path of rich men, I think I will drink myself into a stupor. Mr. Bennet has exerted himself to actually emerge from his library--I swear he acts like a bear with a cave--and speak with me. We get along pleasantly, as long as I let him occasionally win at chess. Miss Kitty has taken pains to know me, which is more than I can say for Miss Mary. As for Elizabeth's other relations in Hertfordshire, the less time I spend with Mrs. Phillips, the better.
Compared with her, I can tolerate the parading and obsequious civility of Mr. Collins and the inane comments of Sir William Lucas with reasonable ease. I just nod at the appropriate moments, keep my face as neutral as possible, and shrug only when no one sees me.
I do not spend a moment's time thinking of Useless or his bride.
The true joy at our happiness from those closest to us--Georgiana, Fitzwilliam, Bingley, Jane, Mrs. Collins, and the Gardiners--were all I could hope for. They made the time between our betrothal and wedding pass as pleasantly as one could wish.
However, I must admit Elizabeth's behavior during our season of courtship was a trial. Not that she was anything less than a delight. That was the problem. Elizabeth made it her purpose in life to shield me from the ridiculousness of her acquaintances by stealing away with me as often as could be managed. The temptation she offered! As my darling girl had no true understanding of the effect her intoxicating presence had on me, I was forced to exercise great willpower by reminding myself I am a gentleman, and thereby should resist the innocent inducement of my intended. It was a very great struggle, particularly since Elizabeth took prodigious pleasure in kissing me when least expected.
The trials of being me.
Chapter 61 -
As I look back on events, I am relieved that everything is over and done. Marriage to my dear Elizabeth is more pleasing than I ever hoped for. We are of one mind about almost everything, and when we are not, we find the most delightful way of "convincing" one another of the validity of our opinions. I find losing such arguments not distressing in the least.
I recall very little of the marriage ceremony, except how beautiful Elizabeth appeared descending the aisle on her father's arm. As for that evening, I will only say I shall never forget the breathtaking sight of her coming to me with her hair down about her shoulders. Other memories are mine and mine alone.
I am elated that Elizabeth wishes to spend most of our time here at Pemberley. I think sometimes she loves the dear place more than I. Chief among its manifold charms is its remoteness, particularly from Hertfordshire! I will not say I do not get along with my new family, but distance makes my heart grow fonder when it comes to Longbourn, principally for my new mother. It is a relationship that should not be endangered with close intercourse. Happily, Elizabeth agrees with me.
If only Mr. Bennet would stop appearing at my doorstep at the most inopportune times! Drat the man! At least he loses himself in my library; if we are fortunate, we only see him at dinner.
I wagered that Bingley and Jane could only last a year at Netherfield, and I was right. Elizabeth forgave my smugness over the prediction when I found an estate for the Bingleys not thirty miles from Pemberley. Now, there is good company and no mistake!
To be honest, my sister Catherine--no, Kitty. I must remember that she wants to be called Kitty. My sister Kitty has been good company, too. She spends the majority of her time visiting us or the Bingleys. She and Georgiana have had a good influence on each other and are now as thick as thieves.
I cannot say the same about my other sisters. Mary remained at Longbourn, and I see no material improvement there. As for Lydia and He Who Shall Not Be Named, the less I hear about those two, the better. I wish I could say they did not have their hands in my pocket, but I can afford a little occasional generosity and make Elizabeth happy, as long as Straw For Brains never sets foot in any of my houses. So I grumble and make a show, help Useless in his profession, and make sure I am at Matlock or on a shooting trip with Bingley when Lydia comes to visit.
I never thought I could change so. Elizabeth even convinced me to forgive my Aunt Catherine for her intolerable interference and invite the old hag to Pemberley. Wonders of wonders, she came! To this day, I do not know if it was to see if Elizabeth could bear up to the responsibility of managing Pemberley (my thinking) or if the irritating battle-axe actually owns some affection for me (Elizabeth's insistence). Elizabeth is probably right. She usually is.
Ah, guests are at the door! The Gardiners are here for the summer. Excellent!The End