Posted on Wednesday, 16 April 2008
After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the park. The five weeks which she had now passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. She was on the point of continuing her walk, when she caught a glimpse of a gentleman within the sort of grove which edged the park: he was moving that way; and fearful of its being Mr. Darcy, she was directly retreating. But the person who advanced was now near enough to see her, and stepping forward with eagerness, pronounced her name. She had turned away; but on hearing herself called, though in a voice which proved it to be Mr. Darcy, she moved again towards the gate. He had by that time reached it also, and, holding out a letter, which she instinctively took, said, with a look of haughty composure, "I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?" And then, with a slight bow, turned again into the plantation, and was soon out of sight. ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 35
And then, with a slight bow, he turned into the plantation, and was soon out of sight. He returned to Rosings to break his fast. Darcy knew he was in no state to dine in company with his aunt and cousins, and so he had a tray sent up to his chambers. He was just finishing his meager attempt at pushing the food around on his plate to disguise his uneaten meal when the Colonel unceremoniously stormed in.
"Darcy, what in blazes is the matter with you?"
Darcy did not raise his head to look at his cousin.
"What do you mean, Fitzwilliam? Cannot a man eat breakfast in privacy without something being the matter?"
"You know exactly what I mean. You have been moping about ever since we arrived at Rosings, you mysteriously disappear last night, come back in a rage, refusing to dine in company, and now you are taking breakfast in your room as well. Are you ill? Is something the matter?"
"Fitzwilliam, there is nothing the matter."
"Darcy, don't play me for a fool. I know you too well to not realize something is troubling you, and you know it."
Darcy sighed. There was no fooling Fitzwilliam; the man read him like a book. He also knew that he couldn't afford to burn his bridges if he wanted his cousin's help corroborating his account of his dealings with Wickham, should Elizabeth ask.
"Well, if you must know, I am merely troubled about a discussion I recently had with someone of our acquaintance. I'd rather not go into the details but I find I might require your assistance regarding a matter of honour.
"You know I would be happy to help you in any capacity you wish, Darce. What is it you need me to do?"
In a neutral a tone as he could muster, he replied, "Suffice it to say, I recently engaged in a rather...heated discussion with Miss Bennet in which it was necessary to relate the entirety of my dealings with George Wickham." With a dejected sigh, he added, "I have told her everything, Fitz. You know I would never dare relate the whole sordid tale to any living creature, but I found it was the only way in which my honour could be restored. I would prefer not to recount the circumstance which rendered this disclosure necessary, but I beg that you trust me that nothing other than the unabridged truth would have sufficed. I believe her to be a very trustworthy creature, and I have the utmost faith in her discretion. Should she ask of you anything regarding my past dealings with that gentleman, you are to tell her everything."
"Even about Ramsgate? You are quite certain?" the Colonel asked incredulously.
"You must have had quite a disagreement then, if you believe it essential for the preservation of your honour to relate such personal affairs to a common acquaintance."
Fitzwilliam raised an eyebrow and curiously fixed his eyes on his cousin.
Darcy, knowing exactly what his cousin was trying to accomplish, refused to take the bait. He was quite disinclined to elaborate further on this subject and chose to let his unasked question hang. Unwilling to let himself be the object of his cousin's scrutiny, he grabbed a newspaper and pretended to study it so as to avoid the Colonel's penetrating gaze.
Fitzwilliam, though itching with curiosity, knew his cousin well enough to realize that Darcy was not to be intimidated into revealing that which he chose not to. He had enough familiarity with his cousin's various moods and tempers to recognize that in his present disposition he was not to be trifled with; if Darcy was resolved not to confide in him, it was quite futile to press the matter. After a few minutes, he therefore declared resignedly, "If that's the way you want it, Darcy, so be it. Shall we call at the parsonage this morning to take our leave?"
"I would really rather not," was the terse reply.
"Come, man, you are allowing your foul mood to cloud your reason. It would be unpardonably rude of you to leave without at least paying your compliments."
"I suppose you are right," Darcy replied grudgingly, laying the newspaper on the table. "Can you be ready in a quarter hour?"
"I am ready now, if you are."
Darcy stood up and headed to the door with his back to Fitzwilliam. He would not allow his cousin to see the dejection and anxiety he knew his face would betray at the thought of returning to the spot of his recent complete humiliation. "I am ready, Fitz," he replied quietly, still unwilling to face his cousin, "Let's go."
The stroll to the parsonage was unusually quiet. In place of the customary amiable camaraderie, there was an abnormal but palpable tension between the two cousins, caused by the unwillingness of one to provoke and the unwillingness of the other to confide.
When they reached the parsonage, they found its master and mistress within, conversing in the parlour with Miss Lucas. After appropriate greetings had been performed, and after the incumbent apologies and superfluous compliments thought necessary by Mr. Collins had been offered, the gentlemen were informed that Miss Bennet had not yet returned from her morning ramble. This circumstance of course, sent Mr. Collins into a second round of apologies for his cousin's absence, which both men bore with as patiently as they were able. Colonel Fitzwilliam, by his manner rather than by his words, made it clear that he desired to wait until Miss Bennet returned before taking leave. Darcy was torn between wishing for one last opportunity to see her, knowing it would probably be the last time he would ever be in her company, and fearing for his composure if she should return. At last, growing more oppressed each moment by the memories which haunted him of his last visit in this parlour, he could bear it no longer. He mustered the necessary civilities, remaining in the house as briefly as civility allowed, and promptly took his leave.
Darcy was desperate to leave behind the parsonage-house and all its attendant unpleasant associations and he therefore stalked away from that place at a quick, steady stride. He was relieved beyond expression at last to be free of its suffocating environs and endeavoured to leave behind such unpleasant memories as that cottage afforded as fast as his legs could carry him. Being likewise cognizant of not having slept the night before and justifiably distraught, he knew he was not fit company at that moment to return to his aunt's house. He therefore decided to linger in the park until he felt he could safely encounter his relations' company. He walked aimlessly for a good while, attempting to clear his head and free himself of the oppressive thoughts which continued to overwhelm him after his brief stay in the place of his undoing. His musings over the morning's meeting with Elizabeth and the events of the previous evening weighing heavily on his mind, he decided to ponder these thoughts in his favourite secluded copse of Rosings Park and to that place he accordingly went. He entered the copse, a sunny, grassy area beside a stream encircled by a grove of willows and oaks, and, finding a pleasant sunny spot at the base of an old oak tree sat down with his back against the tree. This sylvan retreat had long been his own private sanctuary while at Rosings, to which he often repaired when he needed to be alone with his thoughts. And there in that copse, feeling safe from being discovered, exhausted by lack of sleep, and overcome with emotion and heartache, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, held his head in his hands and cried.
. . . "I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?" And then, with a slight bow, he turned again into the plantation, and was soon out of sight.
If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave her the letter, did not expect it to contain a renewal of his offers, she had formed no expectation at all of its contents. But such as they were, it may be well supposed how eagerly she went through them, and what a contrariety of emotion they excited. Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined. With amazement did she first understand that he believed any apology to be in his power; and steadfastly was she persuaded that he could have no explanation to give, which a just sense of shame would not conceal. With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she began his account of what had happened at Netherfield. She read with an eagerness which hardly left her power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before her eyes.
And so Elizabeth spent the next couple of hours thoroughly reading, rereading, pondering, and reflecting on her letter and the fresh account of events and explanations it contained, which stood in stark contrast to her own previously held conceptions. As she strolled through the park she doubted, considered and eventually discarded her old ideas and adopted new ones where her former beliefs had been inadequate to coincide with this new information, and her previous notions had been unavoidably proven false.
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried; "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself." Such disturbing revelations as to her own character and conduct incited a just and severe sense of shame for how she had behaved towards both Darcy and Wickham, and on account of this discovery of her own faults and flaws of character, she felt depressed beyond anything she had ever known before.
After wandering heedlessly around the park for nearly two hours, contemplating all that she had learned and reconciling herself, as well as she could, to a change so sudden and so important---fatigue, and a recollection of her long absence, made her at length decide to return home.
She felt how difficult it would be to appear tolerably cheerful after spending the morning in such disturbing recollections and wished for a secluded spot in which she could sit for a few minutes to collect her thoughts and compose herself before returning to Hunsford. Remembering a cozy little copse she had happened on some days before, Elizabeth rambled on in that direction. This particular spot was a particularly quaint little wooded area which had the added advantage of affording easy access to a cool stream. She kneeled down and splashed some of its refreshing water on her face to soothe her and bring some colour to her cheeks.
Her mind was so busily engaged in her meditations that at first she did not see the very object of her thoughts sitting underneath a shade tree on the opposite side of the stream. Not realizing she was not alone in the little copse, she was recalled to her surroundings by a sudden flash of white and a strange sound which resembled a half-choke, half-sob. She then was startled to perceive Mr. Darcy, seated at the base of an oak tree, at no very great distance. In fear of being discovered, she quickly hid herself behind a large bush and was determining the best way to make a hasty retreat, when he suddenly looked up, almost in her direction. She was forced to stay concealed behind the bush in order to be shielded from view. Fortunately, he did not appear to take notice of her and she silently looked on in astonishment, hardly believing what she saw; for his face, so altered from the mask of reserve to which she had grown accustomed, was now glistening with tears and wearing an expression of unaffected despair.
She knew not whether from curiosity, surprise, or pity, but instead of quietly slipping away as she should have done, she lingered for a few moments. Being persuaded that he had taken no notice of her, she continued to observe him, in silent compassion.
Her mind hardly knew what it thought; her heart hardly knew how it felt, upon seeing the man whom she had so recently rejected and berated, openly weeping. She felt conscious, realizing that she must certainly be the cause of such distress. How odd it seemed, to see this man of so much pride, stripped from of his usual mask of haughtiness unable to control the sobs which wracked his body. She reflected for a moment on the power she unwittingly held over him, and found it ironic and somewhat surreal, that a country nobody with only ‘tolerable' beauty and insignificant connections could reduce a man of such substantial pride and importance to tears. It was gratifying to have unknowingly inspired such affection. She knew not how long she sat hunched behind the bushes surreptitiously watching him in this humbling display of human emotion.
Elizabeth could not help being affected by witnessing how deeply her refusal hurt him. She now began to doubt her conviction that his affection for her had been merely a passing fancy, or at least to admit that even if fleeting, his present feelings for her were indeed sincere and profound. She wondered once more what she could have done to so ensnare the affections of a man of such importance and how she could have been so blind as to be oblivious to it. Seeing him in this unguarded moment without his usual façade of dignity made him seem somehow more human, and demonstrated more clearly to her than words could ever have done (especially such ineloquent and degrading words as he had last night spoken) that his affections for her were genuine and his suffering severe. She began to feel a renewed sense of sympathy for him, on discovering that he was not so totally devoid of feeling as she had supposed.
Elizabeth knew she must leave, for if he discovered her, what mortification it would be to both parties for him to know that she, of all people, had observed him in such a state. She quietly rose, brushed a sympathetic tear from her own cheek, and discreetly retreated down the path along which she had come. She headed in the direction of the parsonage, now having even more to reflect on than before. She could not reproach herself for refusing his proposals, but neither could she be unfeeling, and now began to feel a newfound and almost overwhelming sense of shame and regret for having so harshly upbraided him. She recalled the hurtful words she hurled at him the previous evening which, at the time, seemed wholly merited when compared with his almost equally insulting and offensive address, but then she recollected with compassion that while he had insulted those things over which she had no control or power to change, she had directly and frankly insulted his very character. Such a consideration only heightened her remorse, as she also realized that her reproofs of him were likely to cause him more pain than his insulting behaviour did to her, considering how deeply he cared what she thought of him while she could claim no similar concern; for she had long since made up her mind not to be affected by his opinion of her. She earnestly felt for him in his disappointment, but could not be so affected as to induce her to accept him out of pity nor to give him any false hope. The only thing she could regret is that as he was to leave on the morrow, it was unlikely that she should have the opportunity to apologize for having accused him so unfairly and spoken to him so cruelly.
As she hastened towards Hunsford, she was struck by the idea that it was conceivable and even likely that the man himself, perhaps in the company of his cousin, would stop by the parsonage to take their leave. If this should happen, she quickly endeavoured to think of an appropriate veiled apology that could be delivered in company. She was halfway inclined to believe that Darcy would decline calling, but might send Col. Fitzwilliam in his stead---and if so, he would be able to deliver the message. She quickened her step with the thought that half the morning was already past and it might be too late by the time she got to the parsonage. She had just fixed on an appropriate apology, and rehearsed it as she walked. "Col Fitzwilliam," she would say, "I'm sorry to have disappointed the Rosings party by not being in attendance last evening. Will you be so kind as to extend my apologies for my absence, to your Aunt and cousins---especially to Mr. Darcy as it was the last time I would have been able to see him? Please convey my apologies for having disappointed him." She hoped her message was oblique enough for an outsider yet plain enough for Mr. Darcy to understand its hidden meaning.
On finding herself again at the parsonage, she entered the house with the wish of appearing cheerful as usual, and the resolution of repressing such reflections as must make her unfit for conversation.
She was immediately told that the two gentlemen from Rosings had each called during her absence; Mr. Darcy, only for a few minutes to take leave---but that Colonel Fitzwilliam had been sitting with them at least an hour, hoping for her return, and almost resolving to walk after her till she could be found. Elizabeth could but just affect concern in missing him. The momentous events of the past four and twenty hours overshadowed all other concerns; Colonel Fitzwilliam was no longer an object, except as regards his cousin. She knew not how much the colonel would be acquainted with his cousin's affairs, but she felt the awkwardness of the situation and though she half-regretted not being able to relay a message for Darcy through him, she could not help feeling relieved. She was thus absolved of her duty with a clear conscience, for she certainly couldn't deliver a letter to Mr. Darcy at Rosings, nor could she in propriety call on him. It hardly signified either, she reasoned, as their paths would likely never cross again. Her mind was quite distracted by all that occurred and she soon excused herself from company and went upstairs to reflect on her letter and its author.
A few days later as Elizabeth and Maria were in the coach traveling to London, each was occupied by thoughts of the events of the preceding weeks.
"Good gracious!" cried Maria, after a few minutes silence, "it seems but a day or two since we first came!---and yet how many things have happened!"
"A great many indeed," said her companion with a sigh.
"We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea there twice! How much I shall have to tell!"
"And how much I shall have to conceal," Elizabeth privately added. Though she had been six weeks at Hunsford, her mind was too full to ponder aught but the events of a particular four-and-twenty hour period; for her mind's eye continued to replay the events of an insolent proposal and her later perusal of the attendant explanatory letter, but the most poignant memory on which her mind continued to dwell, was that of a little wooded copse in the park in which a man was sitting alone under an oak tree, weeping.
My Dearest Lizzy,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and high spirits. How quickly time passes---it seems but yesterday we were at Pemberley bidding our adieus. I hope that plans for the summer ball are coming along satisfactorily. How is dear Georgiana getting along? I hope she is not too terribly nervous still about her presentation. Are the roses in the garden very beautiful yet? I can still remember how beautiful the daffodils were when we were there at Easter.
Dearest Lizzy, I beg you not to be too distressed at my next more important communication, but to bear with it as best you can. The happy event of which I informed you when Charles and I visited that should have occurred this coming winter will not be taking place, or at least not this year. I know you were eagerly looking forward to becoming an aunt, but it is not to be. Do not be alarmed however; I am well, though somewhat out of spirits. Charles has been very kind and supportive, and all that a good husband should, but I cannot help but grieve and be occasionally melancholy. I only wish that my mother, bless her, could have pity and forebear to mention the loss, which she seems to feel as acutely as I, quite so often in my presence. How I wish the distance from Meryton to Pemberley were not so great, as I long to see you, my dearest sister! I shall soon be in better spirits, and I trust that time will work its magical cure, so I beg you not to worry about me.
On a happier note, the redecoration of my favourite parlour has just been completed, and it is so much more beautiful than I had imagined it would be. I can't wait for you to see it when next you visit. There is not much news from Meryton, other than that Maria has gone to visit Charlotte for a few weeks with Lady Lucas for the purpose of attending her niece. I hope that Darcy is well and that you are still as blissfully happy together as when last I saw you. Please write soon and tell me of all the happenings of Derbyshire.
P.S. My dearest, I just reread what I wrote and found it to be more despondent than I had intended. Do not fret; it is only that the disappointment is so recent that I feel so distressed. I will soon recover.
P.P.S. I forgot to send Charles' and my warmest greetings to your husband and to Georgiana. Please convey our regards and tell Georgiana we will be thinking of her on her upcoming debut!
Elizabeth was in her study, having just read this correspondence from her sister when Darcy entered. She was so engrossed in her own thoughts and concerned for her sister that she did not hear him. He gently put his hands on her shoulders, and she turned to face him, the sadness and worry plainly written on her face. He immediately realized that something was amiss and led her gently to the sofa. He did not have to ask her what was wrong; he knew she would tell him. She related the contents of her sister's letter and upon repeating the melancholy news to him began to cry. He gently took her into his arms and endeavoured to kiss away her tears.
"I am so grieved for my sister. She was so excited. I hate to see her suffer."
"I know, my dear. You love her so dearly."
Elizabeth, in an even more agitated manner cried, "It is so hard for me not to be with her. I so wish to be able to comfort her in her time of grief. We have always been there for each other, yet we are now separated by so many miles. I know she misses me exceedingly."
"My dear, would you like to go and visit her?"
Sniffling, she turned to face him. "Really?"
"Absolutely. There is no reason you must remain here when you wish to be with your sister to comfort her. We can leave tomorrow."
"Fitzwilliam, you are too generous but I really ought to remain here. The ball is in less than a month and there is still so much to do."
"My dear, family is more important than the ball, and as you said, it is still a month away. You could easily spare a week or two visiting her and be back here in time to finish the final preparations. Ms. Reynolds is a very capable housekeeper and she will manage everything. Besides, you can certainly maintain correspondence with her through letters and write her with your instructions."
"But dearest, it seems wasteful to travel to Hertfordshire and back for only a week or fortnight's visit, just to indulge me on a silly whim to see my sister."
"You said it yourself, my love, ‘Where there is fortune to make the expense of travelling unimportant, distance is no evil.'"
"How precisely you remember my every word. I should so love to see her. It is so hard being away from her and being unable to comfort and cheer her."
"Yes, I know that sentiment well. Do you know, the most frustrating moments of my life were when I saw you in the inn at Lambton, crying inconsolably for your sister, and I could do nothing to comfort you? At that moment, I silently cursed the social convention that prevented me from taking you into my arms. It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to throw propriety to the wind and hold you as I'm doing now, and dry your tears. It is the most frustrating thing imaginable, to love someone so much and not be able to relieve their suffering."
"Yes," she agreed, "I also know that sentiment well and experienced it not so long ago."
Darcy, thinking she must be alluding to Jane's disappointment after Bingley had left Netherfield, looked rather sheepish, and replied, "I still feel so badly about interfering with your sister's happiness last year."
Elizabeth turned and faced him, wearing a confused expression. Realizing that he had completely misunderstood the situation to which she was alluding, immediately replied, "Oh, no, my love. It has nothing to do with that. It was not Jane that I was thinking of, but..." She stopped, aware that she had let something slip which she did not intend to reveal.
"You." She sighed. Seeing his confusion, she took a deep breath.
"When have you seen me upset by something and not been able to comfort me, my dearest? For that matter, since we have been married, I don't even remember having been distressed."
"It was before we were married." Elizabeth could see that his curiosity had been aroused and that nothing but revealing the entire story would appease him. "It was an event which I have not ever mentioned, because I knew that it would be painful, or discomfiting at least, for you. Would you still like me to continue?"
"I must admit you have me quite curious, Elizabeth."
"You must promise me not to become angry with me, for it was long ago and I am certain it is something you would not want me to have known about, but please keep in mind that the occasion to which I refer merely helped improve my opinion of you, in a way."
"If that is the case, I am not afraid of knowing whatever it is, my dear."
"Very well then. Do you remember that day you gave me the letter in the park at Rosings?"
Darcy sensed where this conversation was going, and Elizabeth saw his face change expression from that of curious playfulness to mingled embarrassment and resignation. "How could I forget?"
"Well, I can tell you already know where this is leading, but after having read your letter and contemplated it for nearly two hours, I happened upon you in the park. I had just reconciled myself to the idea that your assertions were valid, or at least justifiable, and that I had greatly wronged you and had been unfairly and unforgivably prejudiced against you when I happened to look up from the stream I had knelt down beside, and saw you there on the grass under the tree."
Elizabeth ventured a glance at him to see how he bore her revelation, but he had turned away, being torn between the remembrance of the pain he felt then and embarrassment at knowing she had witnessed his most undignified display of emotion. She sighed and took his hand in hers, entwining their fingers. She continued, "I knew that you would probably react so, but I had hoped you could put this behind us as well. I should not have told you."
"I believe I remember asking you to tell me. Do not distress yourself, my dearest wife," he said, turning towards her and forcing a half-smile, "it was only a fleeting moment of painful recollection, and I assure you, it will also be speedily forgot, as I have dedicated myself to your philosophy of remembering only the happy events in the past, and forgetting the unpleasant."
"Also bear in mind, Fitzwilliam, that far from causing me to think ill of you, I think seeing you in there then might actually have been the first moment I started to love you, though I had not then realized it. I had never seen you before that meeting free of your customary mask of reserve and the shield of pride which you so assiduously carried. It was that haughty pride which I then so abominated. I saw you for the first time as simply a man with everyday human emotions and not as the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley image that you present to the world. I loved you more for it, my beloved, not less. It was quite likely this very event in which I first began to fall in love with you."
"I shall have to keep that in mind if ever unpleasant recollections of that day intrude. That particular copse, by the by, is my favourite of the park. I consider it my own private refuge when I am there. My aunt's society can be somewhat...suffocating at times and I frequently retreat to that place when I need to get away."
"Yes, I had discovered it a few days before and found it quite charming."
"I must say that you do have excellent taste in secluded wooded copses, my dear, as in so much else. I have always thought our tastes very similar. Perhaps we should visit it together next time we're in Kent."
"A fine idea indeed. I am certain we will both, hopefully, be in better spirits to visit it in future than we were then. On that day I was quite out of sorts by the events of the previous night, but more so from the complete shame and mortification I felt on reconciling myself to the inaccuracy of my opinions and chastising myself for my poor judgments after reading your letter. By the time I left you there, I was more depressed than I had ever been before. I felt very badly for you, and overwhelmingly ashamed of myself. I knew it was impossible for me to comfort you, let alone inform you that I had seen you, but I wished then for a chance to apologize to you for both my misunderstandings about you and for the unnecessarily harsh way in which I had rejected you."
"Perhaps you might apologize to me now, my love," he offered suggestively.
She smiled and responded cheekily. "You, sir, are incorrigible."
He helped her to her feet and they started down the hall towards their chambers. "I shall just inform Ms. Reynolds that we shall be leaving tomorrow for Hertfordshire and I will join you directly."
And the next several hours she endeavoured to apologize and make it up to him, although whether or not she felt contrite on the occasion shall be for the reader to decide.