Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2014-12-16
Elizabeth was engaged one day, as she walked, in re-perusing Jane's last letter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Jane had not written in spirits, when, instead of being again surprised by Mr. Darcy, she saw on looking up, that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting her. Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said, "I did not know before that you ever walked this way."
"I have been making the tour of the Park," he replied, "as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much further?"
"No, I should have turned in a moment."
And accordingly she did turn, and they walked towards the Parsonage together.
"Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?" said she.
"Yes - if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases."
"And, if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least great pleasure in the power of choice. I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy." As Elizabeth thought further on the Colonel's words she wondered at the reason for Darcy having delayed his departure. Certainly he had said nothing to her; nor had he seemed to be overly engaged in estate matters since he had walked with her very frequently. Could he have postponed that departure in order to do so? It was unfortunately a question that only one person could answer but it was also one she could not ask. Her attention was reclaimed by Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"He likes to have his own way very well," he replied. "But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence."
"In my opinion, the younger son of an Earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy for?"
"These are home questions - and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."
"Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money."
"Is this," thought Elizabeth, "meant for me?" and she coloured at the thought he might feel it necessary to warn her away - an unnecessary tactic since she had formed no attachment to him; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, "And pray, what is the usual price of an Earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds."
He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped. To interrupt a silence which might make him fancy her affected with what had passed, she soon afterwards said, "I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and, as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her."
"No," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, "that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy."
"Are you, indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way."
As she spoke, she observed him looking at her earnestly, and the manner in which he immediately asked her why she supposed Miss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced her that she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth. She directly replied, "You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of her; and I dare say she is one of the most tractable creatures in the world. She is a very great favourite with some ladies of my acquaintance, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them."
"I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant gentleman-like man - he is a great friend of Darcy's."
"Oh! yes," said Elizabeth drily, "Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him."
"Care of him! - Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something that he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him. But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture."
"What is it you mean?"
"It is a circumstance which Darcy, of course, would not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the lady's family, it would be an unpleasant thing."
"You may depend upon my not mentioning it."
"And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley. What he told me was merely this; that he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer."
"Did Mr. Darcy give you his reasons for this interference?"
"I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady."
"And what arts did he use to separate them?"
"He did not talk to me of his own arts," said Fitzwilliam smiling. "He only told me what I have now told you."
Elizabeth made no answer, and walked on, her heart swelling with indignation. After watching her a little, Fitzwilliam asked her why she was so thoughtful.
"I am thinking of what you have been telling me," said she. "Your cousin's conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was he to be the judge?"
"You are rather disposed to call his interference officious?"
"I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide on the propriety of his friend's inclination, or why, upon his own judgment alone, he was to determine and direct in what manner that friend was to be happy." "But," she continued, recollecting herself, "as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case."
"That is not an unnatural surmise," said Fitzwilliam, "but it is lessening the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
This was spoken jestingly, but it appeared to her so just a picture of Mr. Darcy that she would not trust herself with an answer; and, therefore, abruptly changing the conversation, talked on indifferent matters till they reached the parsonage. There, shut into her own room as soon as their visitor left them, she could think without interruption of all that she had heard. It was not to be supposed that any other people could be meant than those with whom she was connected. There could not exist in the world two men over whom Mr. Darcy could have such boundless influence. That he had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Mr. Bingley and Jane, she had never doubted; but she had always attributed to Miss Bingley the principal design and arrangement of them. Now it must appear that he had an equal or greater share of the responsibility. That his opinion might well be held in greater esteem by Mr. Bingley than his sisters, she could easily believe and, if so, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the principal cause, of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might have inflicted.
"There were some very strong objections against the lady," were Colonel Fitzwilliam's words, and these strong objections probably were, her having one uncle who was a country attorney, and another who was in business in London.
"To Jane herself," she exclaimed, "there could be no possibility of objection. All loveliness and goodness as she is! Her understanding excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating. Neither could anything be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities which Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain."
When she thought of her mother, indeed, her confidence gave way a little, but she would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whose pride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in his friend's connections, than from their want of sense. The more she considered the matter, the greater her agitation until finally she realized that she was letting her emotions, her anger to be precise, spiral out of her control and oversetting all her carefully ordered reasoning. Forcing herself towards calmness, she gradually mastered that anger; and, once able to consider the matter in a less fraught manner, she could see that she was attributing to Mr. Darcy, the worst possible motives. If nothing else, she had come to realize that he was an honourable man. If two gentlemen such as Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam considered him to be so, then she could not gainsay them. If he had opposed the attachment between her sister and Mr. Bingley, she owed it to herself to find out the truth behind that opposition.
When she considered the matter in light of her previous resolutions, she could not see that there was a reason to change them. She had already come to believe that Mr. Bingley must accept the majority of the responsibility for his decision to remain away from Hertfordshire. His friends and relations could advise but upon him lay the responsibility for his actions. Her distress at the moment was a matter of the heart, not the mind. Her opinion of Mr. Darcy had improved appreciably over the last se'nnight but she also realized that her feelings were too raw, too exposed at the moment for her to contemplate receiving an offer from Mr. Darcy and while she could have wished to avoid his company altogether tonight, being in his company amongst a larger group was her best assurance of avoiding a private interview. Not even Mr. Darcy would attempt a proposal in the company of his aunt nor would she, Elizabeth, agree to a private talk tonight. As a consequence she was determined to attend her cousins to Rosings, where they were engaged to drink tea. Upon their departure, Mrs. Collins, seeing that she was discomposed encouraged her husband and sister to walk ahead of herself and Elizabeth so as to afford her a few private minutes with her friend.
"Is there a problem, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth's initial reluctance to reveal the cause of her problem did not last beyond the recognition that Charlotte already knew most of the particulars and that the Colonel's revelation was not totally unexpected. "Colonel Fitzwilliam revealed - without knowing he did so - that Mr. Darcy was the principal cause of separating Mr. Bingley from Jane."
Charlotte did not seem overly impressed, "I had always believed him involved, to be sure. Mr. Bingley obviously held his opinions in high regard. Should this have any particular significance now? Surely you were not surprised?"
"I believe I held his sisters to the major share of the blame. I do not know if it changes anything but to treat Mr. Darcy with civility tonight will be difficult I fear."
"I have no fear of your behaviour, Lizzy." Charlotte smiled, "Perhaps you should tease him a little more tonight. That will surely restore your humour and upset his."
Elizabeth smiled back, suddenly feeling better and looking forward if such were possible to the evening before her. "I believe I shall, Charlotte! I believe I shall! And I have just the subject to tease him on." If there was a trace of glee in the tone of her voice, Charlotte pretended she had not heard. She was confident that Elizabeth inherent kindness would not allow her to be malicious.
Their time spent at Rosings went much like previous occasions with Lady Catherine dominating the conversation and requiring that Darcy attend her and her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam, as was his usual practice, quickly claimed, a seat beside her and they were soon conversing as easily as ever. To her surprise, Darcy, seeing his aunt fully engaged in lecturing Mrs. Collins about her menus, rose and came to sit in the chair next to Elizabeth who, seeing her opportunity to tease, seized it.
"Shall I play for you, gentlemen?"
Receiving their assent and, before either could offer to do so, she asked Darcy to turn the pages for her; and, turning to Colonel Fitzwilliam, said, "I believe, sir, that you will be able to appreciate the music quite well from your present seat."
The Colonel, who had made as though to rise, realized that she wished to speak privately to Darcy, immediately relaxed back into his chair, nodding agreement and waved his hand for them to proceed. Elizabeth and Darcy moved to the pianoforte and Elizabeth, selecting a piece with which she was quite familiar, began to play. That Darcy was puzzled by her actions was evident and she resolved to allow him to remain so for several minutes before beginning, taking care to pitch her voice so as not to be audible to anyone else.
"I understand, Mr. Darcy, that you are to be congratulated."
"I am! For what pray tell?"
"I have been given to understand that you can take pleasure in affording a friend such advice as to spare him an unfortunate attachment. I am happy for your success and I hope your friend is happy with the result. My own efforts do not admit of such a happy conclusion. You see I assured my sister that a young man returned her affections and gave her leave to fall in love with him which she was most pleased to do. Unfortunately, it seems my assurances were in error and she was been left with disappointed hopes and a damaged heart when he left, never to return.
While Elizabeth's tone was light, she could not altogether help injecting a tartness to her tone and it was with no little satisfaction that she observed the sudden pallor of Darcy's countenance but his haughty mask descended quickly over his face and they sat in an uncomfortable silence for several moments before he slowly started to turn and look at the Colonel. Elizabeth quickly said, "Do not blame your cousin. He could not have known."
Darcy returned his gaze to her, turning a page almost by rote. She marvelled that he was following the music closely enough to have done so at the correct interval. Elizabeth continued.
"I would be quite interested in your methods of persuading your friend. Was the young lady deficient in understanding? Or in behaviour? With a small dowry perhaps? Or may it have been a want of connections? What would be those considerations to which one should attach the most importance? I ask only that I might be more successful in the future."
Darcy looked as though he might wish himself anywhere else but did not refuse her implicit challenge.
"In the case of my friend, the young lady was everything that was proper, did not lack understanding to my knowledge and was quite beautiful."
"And yet she was unsuitable? There were objections to the lady?"
"I could not detect any sign of affection for my friend and advised him accordingly. He is a kindly man with an affectionate nature and I would not wish him in a marriage where there was an inequality of affections."
"And you were the judge of her affections?"
"I was. I observed her very carefully at a dance and her manner was open, cheerful and as engaging as ever but without any symptom of peculiar regard. It appeared to me that while she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment."
Her own temper was aroused but little and while she had no objections to teasing Darcy, she did not want to distress him unduly. Moreover she could remember quite clearly Charlotte's comments about Jane hiding her feelings from all but her closest confidantes. So she simply replied, "Your concerns have merit, Mr. Darcy. I do hope that you have judged the matter correctly, although it may be that you have not. As one who is known for a reserved character, I would expect that you can readily ascertain such in others. But perhaps not. My sister is one such and I would expect only her closest acquaintances can detect her feelings."
Darcy looked thoughtful, "Truly? I...that bears thinking on, I admit."
"I trust Mr. Darcy, that I have not distressed you greatly. While I was, I admit, quite angry at Mr. Bingley's sisters and yourself for your efforts to separate him from my sister, I have since come to realize that the blame must rest largely with Mr. Bingley himself. His want of resolution is at the heart of the matter. Perhaps he is a most inconstant lover."
Elizabeth played for a few more minutes when her attention was diverted from the music by Darcy saying, "Are you planning to walk tomorrow morning, Miss Bennet?"
"Indeed, should the weather permit me to do so."
"Perhaps, if you are agreeable, I could join you on your walk once more?"
Elizabeth played for several minutes without answering before replying, "That would be agreeable, Mr. Darcy. At eight then. "
Their privacy was interrupted by the approach of Colonel Fitzwilliam who suggested to Darcy that their cousin Anne looked to be in need of his attention. Once Darcy had departed, the Colonel claimed his spot beside Elizabeth saying, "I believed it best to disturb your tete-a-tete since my aunt appeared to be a little concerned about Darcy's attentions to you."
Elizabeth smiled and nodded, continuing to play and the Colonel continued, "It appears that I was unknowingly rather improper today during our walk in confessing matters of a private nature. Please accept my apologies for distressing you."
"I do not hold you accountable for your cousin's action, Colonel but will accept your apology in the spirit that it was offered."
"I would hope that my betrayal of my cousin's confidences has not lowered him in your eyes."
"You need not fear. He stands as high as he ever did."
This ambiguous statement appeared to appease the Colonel and Elizabeth continued to play for a further quarter hour until the carriage was called to return them all to the parsonage. When she retired to her room later that evening, Elizabeth had time to reflect on her brief encounter with Darcy that evening. She recalled his words 'It appeared to me that she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment'. Was this the impediment, his 'strong objection'. Surely not, could he not see Jane's affections. But then Elizabeth remembered Charlotte's comment that Jane's feelings were not readily or easily seen by those not closely familiar with her - and Darcy certainly was not a close acquaintance. But surely Mr. Bingley was not in doubt. But if one is to believe Mr. Darcy, he apparently was. How was that possible? Since there was no means of addressing that question, she forced herself to read until sleep almost overtook her. Blowing out her candle and laying herself down, it took but a few minutes for sleep to claim her.
Elizabeth woke the next morning surprisingly refreshed. Her sleep had come easy - why she was not sure since the day could prove to be exciting - no, that was not quite the word for which she was searching. Portentous perhaps. Yes that was more apt. Dressing quickly, she thought to walk out and arrive at the grove early to afford herself time to gather her composure. She could not be sure, of course, but it seemed possible that Mr. Darcy would offer to court or, possibly, wed her. The latter still seemed quite unlikely.
Grabbing two scones from the kitchen table and bestowing a brief smile of the cook, who had become quite accustomed to her early morning departures, she slipped out the door as quietly as possible. She really had no fear that Mr. Collins would be awake so early but she had no desire to risk any ill-conceived efforts on his part to curtail or prevent her walk. The day promised to be rather warm for the time of year and she noted with pleasure that the trees and shrubs had assumed their full foliage with that fresh green look that marks springtime. It was her favourite time of the year - everything fresh and clean. It was the time of hopes and hers were growing quite favourably.
As she walked towards the grove her mind replayed those conclusions, and the thoughts that underlay them, which had consumed her attention for the past days. The inescapable conclusion that Darcy held her in considerable esteem was evidenced in his looks which she had once mistakenly assumed as disdainful; by his requests for her to dance; and by his recent manner towards her. If such was the case, her earlier opinion of his dislike - founded on that very first insult - must be cast aside. Whatever the reason for that insult, she could no longer hold it against him since he had so very clearly rendered it meaningless. The most puzzling aspect was the inconstancy of his attentions. If she had, in retrospect, identified his interest as beginning during her stay at Netherfield - and possibly earlier - why had he made no attempt to converse with her or call on her while there? Why had he left and made no effort to see her in the almost half year afterwards? Why, when he arrived at Rosings, had his attentions been so slight for the first week or so and then more consistent? What did such inconstancy say with respect to the constancy of his affections now?
His actions against Wickham were another matter. She was hardly satisfied with his refusal to be involved but was it a matter of disdain for the people of Meryton - of thinking them below his notice and therefore his concern; or was there a more legitimate reason which would not allow him to act. That was something to be discovered although she saw no immediate need to do so. But she would have an answer from him eventually.
His manner throughout his stay in Hertfordshire had not recommended him to her. He gave offence to almost everyone outside his party by his incivility, arrogance and appearance of disdain. That Wickham's tale was so readily believed attested to the degree of disapprobation he had incurred everywhere. Only Jane and herself, of all of Meryton, had spoke on his behalf and even her support had been mainly because she distrusted Wickham's account. Nevertheless, as his recent efforts also attested, he could be amiable should he choose to be so. That extracting such behaviour had required a substantial effort on her part was puzzling. He was more reserved, more reticent than anyone she had previously known and yet had shown pleasure in their talks. Both Bingley and the Colonel had affirmed that he was quite different amongst his close acquaintances. Was that because they were of his station in life or because he was simply comfortable in their presence? She simply could not tell which, with any certainty, was the reason; and she was not inclined to risk her future by guessing on such a matter.
Finally, there was the matter of her sister and Mr. Bingley; and there she could only hope that Mr. Darcy had credited her statement of the previous evening. She could not secure her own happiness at the expense of her sister's but thought that such would be unnecessary in any event. That he had acted to separate them was irrefutable and he had not tried to deny it - which was wise of him. If Darcy had believed Jane to be indifferent, which she could not discount, how much was that opinion biased by his disapproval of her connections and the propriety of her family? His disgust with such impropriety was, once again, quite obvious. Almost every encounter with her mother and younger sisters had earned from him scowls of disapproval. Not that she could truly blame him as the unhappy defects of her family were a subject of heavy chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters; and her mother, with manners so far from right herself, was entirely insensible of the evil. Elizabeth had frequently united with Jane in an endeavour to check the imprudence of Catherine and Lydia; but while they were supported by their mother's indulgence, what chance could there be of improvement? Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable, and completely under Lydia's guidance, had been always affronted by their advice; and Lydia, self-willed and careless, would scarcely give them a hearing. They were ignorant, idle, and vain. While there was an officer in Meryton, they would flirt with him; and while Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there forever. As she considered this anew, she realized that her distress and embarrassment had somewhat inured her to their impropriety and she could readily understand how dismaying it would be to one not used to it. That her father let such behaviour tarnish his family's reputation spoke poorly of him despite his other fine qualities. In this she thought that Mr. Darcy would be someone to respect. His attentiveness to his sister and his responsibilities to managing an estate spoke well of him. She little doubted that he would not tolerate any child of his behaving in the manner of Kitty or Lydia.
As she approached the grove, she was surprised to see Darcy sitting on a bench with a horse tied to a small tree and happily grazing. His smile was warm but, she thought, a little apprehensive.
"I am surprised to see you so early, Mr. Darcy. I quite thought to have a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the morning before you apprised me of the reason for this meeting."
Darcy seemed somewhat embarrassed, "My aunt had asked me last night to attend her after breakfast for some reason which she would not vouchsafe to me. I was concerned that she may have suspected a meeting between us and thought to leave before she awoke. I admit to a deception and rode off in the opposite direction in the hopes of allaying such suspicions. I came here by the back roads and trails."
Elizabeth grew thoughtful and considered the possible reaction of Lady Catherine should Darcy seek to court her. It would most likely not be pleasant given that lady's oft expressed hopes for a match between her daughter and Mr. Darcy. Her thoughts were brought back to her surroundings when Darcy continued, "I am sorry to deprive you of your expected enjoyment of solitude and would willingly sit with you and share the pleasure if I may."
Elizabeth nodded in acceptance and, seating herself beside, gave herself over to the prospect before her. She sensed his presence; his tension was palatable and she deliberately forced herself into a calmness that she hoped was communicated to him. Whether it was as a result of her efforts or by his own she knew not but after some few minutes, he began to relax. After a quarter hour of silence broken only by the soft snuffling noises from the horse and the early morning calls of the birds, she felt ready to begin. That he would await her signal, she understood and now felt herself ready to face whatever might arise.
"Mr. Darcy, we meet at your request. I must assume you have some purpose, sir."
Darcy's nervousness had immediately returned and he stood, moved off some five yards and began to pace in front of her. His opening words were not overly surprising since she had expected that he would address the issue of her sister and Mr. Bingley at some point this morning. That he chose to do so immediately met with her approval. She wanted to hear his reasons for his actions.
"May I ask of you two things; first that you let me relate my actions without interruption which I fear would distract me from my purpose, and, second, that you accept my apologies in advance if anything I say offends you. I can assure you that such is not my intention - I no longer hold some of those feelings which dictated my actions then but must relate them if my actions are to be understood."
Receiving Elizabeth's reluctant acquiescence, he began. "I had not been long in Hertfordshire, before I saw, in common with others, that Bingley preferred your eldest sister to any other young woman in the country but it was not till the evening of the dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension of his feeling a serious attachment. I had often seen him in love before you see. At that ball, while I had the honour of dancing with you, I was first made acquainted, by Sir William Lucas's accidental information, that Bingley's attentions to your sister had given rise to a general expectation of their marriage. Sir William spoke of it as a certain event, of which the time alone could be undecided. From that moment I observed my friend's behaviour attentively; and I could then perceive that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him. Your sister I also watched. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not return them to any appreciable extent. If you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in error. Your superior knowledge of your sister must make the latter probable. If it be so, if I have been misled by such error, to inflict pain on her, your resentment has not been unreasonable. But I shall not scruple to assert that the serenity of your sister's countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, however amiable her temper, her heart was not likely to be easily touched. - That I was desirous of believing her indifferent is certain, - but I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears. I did not believe her to be indifferent because I wished it; I believed it on impartial conviction, as truly as I wished it in reason."
He cast a glance at Elizabeth as he related the last and, seeing no sign of condemnation, continued, "In respect of the possible marriage, my objection in regard to the situation of your mother's family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly, betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father. - Pardon me. - It pains me to offend you. But amidst your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let it give you consolation to consider that to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censure is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your eldest sister, than it is honourable to the sense and disposition of both. I will only say further that, from what passed that evening, my opinion of all parties was confirmed, and every inducement heightened, which could have led me before to preserve my friend from what I esteemed a most unhappy connection. I was afraid, you must understand, that your sister would not be allowed by her mother to refuse an offer should it be made. Your mother spoke quite firmly about her expectations in my hearing. I am sure you remember it as well."
He paused and resolutely refusing to look at her - as though he feared the expression on her face - he continued, "Bingley left Netherfield for London, on the day following with the design of soon returning. His sisters' uneasiness had been equally excited with my own; our coincidence of feeling was soon discovered; and, alike sensible that no time was to be lost in detaching their brother, we shortly resolved on joining him directly in London which we did. There I readily undertook to point out to my friend the certain evils of such a choice. I described, and enforced them earnestly. But I do not suppose that this remonstrance would ultimately have prevented the marriage, had it not been seconded by my assurance of your sister's indifference. He had before believed her to return his affection with sincere, if not with equal, regard. But Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgment than on his own. To convince him, therefore, that he had deceived himself, was no very difficult point. To persuade him against returning into Hertfordshire, when that conviction had been given, was scarcely the work of a moment. It was his modesty not his inconstancy which betrayed him in this instance and for that I must assume responsibility. There is but one part of my conduct in the whole affair, on which I do not reflect with satisfaction; it is that I concealed from him your sister's being in town. I knew it myself, as it was known to Miss Bingley, but her brother is even yet ignorant of it. I acted so because I believed that his regard for your sister did not appear to me enough extinguished for him to see her without some danger. This concealment, this disguise, I must now consider beneath me. I have no other apology to offer other than I believed myself to be acting in the best interests of my friend. If I have wounded your sister's feelings, it was unknowingly done; and though the motives which governed me may to you very naturally appear insufficient, I had not, until now, learned to condemn them."
Elizabeth did not deign to answer at once. He had not revealed anything that she had not already surmised and, if the opinions expressed in regards of her family were painful, were they anything more than she had already acknowledge herself? She could see that he expected a response and, perhaps, expected her to be offended - which she was in truth since no one wished to hear their family disparaged - but confined herself to a simple and quiet question, "Now that you know the true state of my sisters feelings, what do you intend?"
"I have given some thought on this last night. It is not that I doubt your word but I cannot, of my own knowledge, say that your sister's regard for Bingley is equal to his for her. I can and will advise him that I have reason to believe my observations, my opinion if you will, to have been in error and that he should seek, of his own volition, to determine your sister's affections."
Elizabeth nodded slowly and thoughtfully, "That will suffice. I believe if left to themselves they will quickly come to an agreement. I am also glad to hear you absolve your friend of the charge of inconstancy." She paused for a few moments before saying, "Mr. Darcy, there is one matter that remains between us on which I wish you to explain. That is the matter of Mr. Wickham. You have twice made rather rather cryptic comments about matters which would preclude your taking any action against him. As a result, my sisters and friends might have been at risk and certainly his debts in Meryton could have been reduced had his nature been discovered earlier. At first I was inclined to believe that it was a reflection of your disdain for us - that we were not worthy of your attention. Now I suspect that other reasons may exist. Do I have the right of it, sir?"
The angry look that transfixed Darcy's face was gone in seconds, replaced by a stern, cold appearance; he straightened his shoulders, sighed and, gradually relaxing, appeared to have come to a decision as if prepared to perform a most distasteful duty.
"Miss Bennet, I do not know for a certainty what story Wickham told to my discredit in Meryton. I can therefore only lay before you my history with him. He is the son of a very estimable man who was my father's steward for many years and who had the misfortune to marry a spendthrift wife who managed to waste much of her husband's income. My father, to recognize the contributions of his steward, stood as godfather to his son and, since he lacked the means to do so, undertook to afford Mr. Wickham a gentleman's education at school and university, and to ensure that he had the means to gain decent employment. To this end, at his death, my father left Mr. Wickham a bequest of one thousand pounds and instructed that, since my father hoped he would take orders, a living was to be his when it became vacant. My father died some five years ago and Mr. Wickham's father did likewise a few months later. Mr. Wickham received the bequest following my father's death and about six months later approached me once more to state that he had decided against taking orders and wished to study law instead but that he lacked the funds to do so and requested to be compensated in lieu of the living promised to him. I was more than willing to accede to this request since I knew that he should never be a clergyman - I had observed closely his licentious behaviour, his want of principle at school and university - and, after some negotiation, a sum of three thousand pounds was agreed upon as compensation. Wickham signed a document releasing all claims to the living, received his monies and disappeared - into London I believed although I had no personal knowledge or interest in his activities.
I saw nothing of him for three years until the living became open upon the retirement of the rector and shortly thereafter I received a letter from Wickham stating that the study of law had proven unprofitable - if indeed he had studied at all - and his situation quite dire, of which I had no doubt, and stated his intention to take orders and to be given the living as requested by my father. You can, under the circumstances, not censure me for refusing his request. His anger and distress at this decision were in proportion to his circumstances which were extremely poor. I received several abusive letters and I do not doubt he was equally unkind when speaking of me to others. I heard nothing of him until last summer when he intruded quite painfully once more upon my family. I trust to your secrecy in what I am about to relate."
At her nod, he continued, "My sister who is some ten years my junior had travelled to Ramsgate accompanied by her companion in whom we - Colonel Fitzwilliam and I - were badly misled. The lady was known to Mr. Wickham and we suspect the whole of the plan to travel to Ramsgate was by her instigation. There Mr. Wickham did go and, over the course of several weeks, persuaded my sister, who had only fond childhood memories of Mr. Wickham, to believe herself in love with him and to agree to an elopement."
He paused as Elizabeth gasped and then nodded, "Yes, an elopement. She was but fifteen which must be her excuse." After a pause of several moments, he said, "Fortunately, I had cause to travel to Ramsgate wishing to surprise my sister by a visit and arrived two days before the elopement was to take place. Georgiana revealed all to me and I am sure you can understand my distress. Mrs. Younge, the companion, was released from service and Wickham left Ramsgate that very day. While undoubtedly my sisters dowry was the main reason for his efforts, I also believe he hoped to avenge himself on me."
"Your sister, she is well?"
"She has taken some time to recover. Her confidence, her assurance has been harmed. She was a shy creature to begin with and has become slightly more so although I have seen signs that she is improving."
While Elizabeth was still considering what had been revealed, Darcy claimed her attention once more.
"My primary concern or fear at the time and for many months afterwards was that news of this...event did not become generally known since it would most seriously damage her future marriage prospects and the Darcy name. You questioned my motives for concealing Mr. Wickham's character. That was of the foremost importance. I will also admit that I have, over the past few years, developed a habit of privacy and, in this instance, have believed that my character was the best rebuttal of Mr. Wickham's slanders. This latter decision I have come to regard as flawed. My concern for privacy has hid my character from most of the world. I have come to regret my lack of action in Hertfordshire but at the time I was unable to see how I could risk exposing Georgiana's mistake. Your actions and those of your aunt amply prove the fallacy of my decision but again I can only plead an excess of concern for my sister. That is my defence, Miss Bennet. It was not my finest moment and I am most acutely aware that I could have behaved more honourably."
Elizabeth could only nod slowly, "I am not now inclined to judge you too harshly on the matter, Mr. Darcy. I can agree that it was a mistake but one done to protect someone very dear to you and that I can never censure."
A silence fell which lasted for several minutes. Elizabeth felt no desire to bring it to an end. Mr. Darcy had sought the interview and upon him rested the responsibility for initiating any discussion. On this matter, he would receive no assistance from her. At last, he was moved to speak, "Miss Bennet, I spent several hours last night attempting to order my thoughts and wishes, to find some elegant words and phrases to express my desires and intentions. I am glad I did so because I fear that if I had not, I would have blurted out that which would have offended you greatly. Those sentiments which I confessed when relating my actions in separating your sister from my friend, I have put aside as they do not bear on my desires. I must speak plainly therefore to ensure that you have no doubt of my meaning, my intentions. But before I speak of these, I have another confession I must make."
Elizabeth at once realized he was going to make her an offer; but what could he possibly have to confess? She made no effort to mask her surprise but did afford him a nod to encourage him to proceed.
He was silent for several minutes, his haughty look, which she was coming to believe, was as much a reflection of his reserve as his pride and arrogance, replaced by one more thoughtful and abstracted.
"I quite tried to forget you, you know. I left Netherfield and, if one reason was to protect my friend, I was equally fleeing you. I did not wish to allow my attraction, my interest to grow. I felt I must put you behind me and that your absence would allow me to forget. It did not. I tried to bury myself in work but I could not but think of you. I tried to distract myself in society, balls, dinners, theatre - but to no avail. Every woman I met was compared to you and found wanting. And then I came to Rosings and there you were also. For a week I tried to deny my interest but could not. I knew I was lost when I visited the parsonage and found you alone. And when I began to join you on your walks, I was lost altogether. I could no longer deny my feelings. It was, I believe, your efforts to converse with me that made me most aware of you and when I began, I believe, to fully appreciate your character. And as I did so, thoughts of our previous meetings - my previous behaviour if you will - could afford me little satisfaction. I began to see my behaviour through your eyes - I compared your civility and kindness under my aunt's manner and when dealing with Bingley's sisters who showed little but the coldest civility to you - and often not even that in your absence - and such comparisons were greatly in your favour. I could not view my own behaviour other than with abhorrence."
He looked at her closely. "I had many hours to reflect - my aunt's company is not all that engaging - and I began to review my behaviour towards you. Your words that first evening at Rosings, I could not forget. 'to my certain knowledge more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner'. You heard, did you not, those most ungentlemanly words I spoke to Bingley?" At her assenting nod, he grimaced, "If I had only known. I would have tendered my apologies sooner. I will make no excuses. I was in a most foul mood; Bingley was pressing me greatly and I truly do not enjoy dancing unless I know my partner very well. Nonetheless, such words should never be uttered in such a setting and I am heartedly ashamed to have insulted one who, within a very short time, I had come to believe as one of the handsomest of my acquaintance."
"You are indeed forgiven, Mr. Darcy. I had done so some days previously when I realized that your opinion had changed greatly."
"You are too kind, Miss Bennet."
"No indeed I am not! I may well tease you in the future about it."
Elizabeth suddenly realized that she had inadvertently let slip the possibility of a 'future' with Mr. Darcy and could see that the gentleman had not failed to appreciate the import of her words. He did not, however, allow himself to be diverted as he responded, "As I have stated, I was afforded the opportunity to reflect on my behaviour and have come to realize that yours, throughout our acquaintance in Hertfordshire, was one of some antagonism to me. What I believed to be flirting - if you will - on your part was, in fact, an expression of your dislike and dissatisfaction with my manners, my behaviour. I am correct, am I not?"
Elizabeth was forced to assent and he waved off her attempt to explain, "You were fully justified in your censure. You did not like me and I had, by virtue of my own behaviour, given you little cause to do otherwise. My reflections here have caused me to realize that I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, although not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (and for many years an only child), I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still be if I had not met you again here."
"I do not understand. How could I have effected such a change?"
"By your actions with my aunt, you held before me such a mirror as to show me how grievously I had departed from my parent's teaching. If you can be honest with me about your family, then I cannot be less so with you about my own. My aunt, in my presence, was condescending, rude, presumptuous in the extreme. I spoke to my cousin Anne, who admitted that her mother had been even more uncivil during your previous visits. I have never been blind to my aunt's faults but, for the first time, was shown the contrast between her behaviour and that of a true lady. I was ashamed that I had not previously attached much importance to the fact, preferring to ignore rather than confront."
He paused for a few moments and said, "Perhaps if I had not come to...hold such affection for you, I might not have thought much on it. But I knew enough of your character to believe you deserved the greatest of civility and respect. And when I thought of my aunt's behaviour, I was forced to consider my own. As I contemplated my actions, my behaviour, I came to realize the hypocrisy that they represented. I could not scorn your connections with trade without considering that I had accepted as my closest friend, a man whose roots were steeped in trade. I could not disdain the improprieties of your younger sisters and your mother without weighing in the balance those of my own relations. My aunt's behaviour was no less improper and I can assure you that she has displayed it in a broader society than you experienced. I believe only her rank has spared her from general censure although I believe she is not generally welcome in London society."
He paused and facing her directly for the first time since he began to speak, knelt in front of her and took both her hands in his. Elizabeth was too perturbed by all he had related to act and listened as he said, "Miss Bennet, I most ardently admire and love you. I have, over the past months, come to the realization that you are the only woman who can satisfy my expectations for my wife. I admire, am entranced by your beauty, your intelligence and your kindness. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
Elizabeth could see that his manner even while expressing such tender sentiments bore every sign of uncertainty that his offer would be accepted. That he had every reason to expect her to view his offer with favour, she knew; would not any other young lady of his station accept without any consideration other than the material advantageous that he provided? However from his declaration, she knew that he believed her to want more - or perhaps better - from her husband. His declaration had overset all of her plans and she found herself quite adrift.
"Mr. Darcy, I find myself in a state of considerable indecision." She glanced up at his face, which she could see an expression of great surprise, and then concentrating her eyes on their hands clasped in her lap and not giving him a chance to respond, continued quickly, "I can see I have surprised you. I can only hope that my explanation will satisfy your...concerns." Pausing once more to gather her composure - this was proving more difficult than she had expected - before saying, "The problem you see is that I simply do not, at this time, return your affections in equal measure to your own. In truth, I was unsure that you held me in any particular esteem until very lately - as your own reflections had surmised; for many months, I was convinced that you held me in the utmost disapproval and disdain. I, to my shame, reciprocated such feelings and it was only the advice of someone I hold in the greatest esteem that forced me to reconsider my opinion. You can perhaps imagine how mortifying it was to realize that I have so completely misjudged you. That is not to say that my affections had become engaged but simply that much of my dislike was dissipated; but it was not until we met here that I began to see you in a more favourable light."
Now she paused to look directly at Darcy and forced herself to maintain that gaze despite a desire to inspect her hands once more. He once more seemed the haughty Mr. Darcy of her Hertfordshire acquaintance and her nerve almost failed her until she remembered her resolve to give him a full explanation. It was not done she knew, in situations like this, for proper young ladies to be so bold and direct but she knew of no other way to convince him of her sincerity.
"I will not deny, Mr. Darcy, that I had suspected that you might make such an offer today and have accordingly spent no little time considering my response." She gave him a brief smile, "I will confess to you, sir, that had you asked me before you left Hertfordshire, my answer would have been decidedly negative. The mode of your declaration has completely overset all my expectations and I find myself very much lost. I am not insensible to the honour of your offer and, if I were convinced that I could make you happy and that you could do the same for me, I would accept it most gladly. The problem, Mr. Darcy, is that I do not know you."
She shook her head at the look of amazement and disbelief that crossed his face, "Mr. Darcy, how could I come to know you when our acquaintance has, for the most part, consisted of several walks over the past fortnight and a few brief words when you call or when I visit Rosings. I will say that I no longer hold you in extreme dislike and have come to regard you much more favourably and your declaration has done nothing but raise you in my esteem. When I came here today I intended to express my concern that your affections, your love might not long survive our marriage. That disdain you have admitted for my family - and that which you so clearly displayed for all of my neighbours whilst in Hertfordshire - and the contempt in which my connections are held, led me to question whether such affection as you held would long survive my exposure to your society and yours to mine. I have before me, in my own family, an example of a marriage where one partner holds the other in little respect and, in behaviour, displays it to the children of the union. In such a situation I would not be as insensible to such disparagement as my mother. I could not live in such a marriage lacking the respect of my husband. You must forgive my candour, sir. I would not - should not - speak so of my parents and only the need to make my feelings understood have led me to do so."
After the briefest of pauses, she continued, "However, your declaration has convinced me that my fears may have no merit; and, if you are content to allow my affections to grow - as I believe they will - to match your own, then I would most gladly wish to become your wife."
At this Elizabeth fell silent. She must await Mr. Darcy's response. It was not long in coming. The happiness which her reply produced was such as he probably had never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be expected to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but though she could not look, she could listen; and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
Finally, the urge to move, to walk was realized by both and arm-in-arm they walked on without knowing in what direction except that it put Rosings behind them. With the horse trailing placidly behind, they walked and talked more freely than ever before. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. She soon felt that if she did not, in full measure, return his affection, that it would not blong for such a happy event to occur.
They both fell silent at one point and Elizabeth noted a rather stern cast to his features and enquired of him for the cause. He took a few minutes to reply and she found his words heartening.
"Miss Bennet - Elizabeth - I was but thinking of your concerns that my affections might not survive your introduction to society as my wife. I wish to give you some assurances now; first, you will be accepted by all my relatives - with the exception of Lady Catherine - if not joyfully, at least civilly since they have no choice - I will not tolerate any disrespect to you. I am my own man and they have no control over me. They will honour and accept my choice of wife or we will have nothing to do with them. As for my friends, I have no doubt that you will charm them and that they will accept you willingly. As I said, I will tolerate no disrespect to you. I can only promise you, I will never repine my choice of a wife as I hope you never have cause to repine your decision to accept me."
Elizabeth, knowing that his honour had been engaged on her behalf, could not doubt the faithfulness of such assurances and found that she had stopped to gaze up at him. Placing a hand on his chest - and astounded at her forwardness - she could only say, "Thank You, Mr. Darcy."
""Elizabeth,do you think - when we are alone - that you could call me 'William'?"
Elizabeth savoured the name to herself before smiling, "I think I would like to do so,....William."
Before she realized what happened she felt his lips pressing down on hers, his hands encompassing her face as the kiss deepened. She felt her surprise disappear and her pleasure increase and - without any knowledge of doing so found that her own arms had encircled him to bring him closer. It was with a wrench that she was released and her face brought to rest against his chest. His breathing was heavier than she had ever heard and she could feel herself breathing more rapidly as well. His voice was almost a rumble as he spoke, "I will not apologize, Elizabeth. I have wished to kiss you for months. I will apologize for not asking permission first."
Her breathing still lacking control, she replied, "I am not of a mind to seek any apology for something I enjoyed so thoroughly,...William."
They separated to allow themselves to regain their composure and, as though of one mind, they found, on examining their watches, that it was time to return. Their conversation as they did so was, due to the imminent departure of Darcy, perforce to deal with several practical problems. The first was to obtain Mr. Bennet's consent and here Elizabeth had to admit that he, along with most of Meryton, had a poor opinion of Darcy which would make that gentleman's task more difficult. To this end Elizabeth thought it best to pen a letter to her father explaining her reasons for accepting the marriage offer. Her request that the engagement be kept secret until she returned to Longbourn and could inform her mother herself was harder for Darcy to accept but realizing that Elizabeth would remain in Hunsford for another week and that such news could reach Lady Catherine before she left, compelled him to agree. Any public announcement, including informing his aunt, of the engagement would await Elizabeth's return.
The matter of the wedding itself, Elizabeth was content to leave in Darcy's hands although she admitted to a preference of a short period as she ruefully stated, "My mother will most assuredly want at least three months to plan the most elaborate and expensive wedding as fitting to a man of your stature. I doubt I could retain my sanity were the period more than half that long." After much discussion a date of June 1 was agreeable to both although Darcy acknowledged a desire for an even shorter engagement period.
The final matter to be decided was Elizabeth's removal to Hertfordshire and here Darcy was adamant that she would return in his carriage, accompanied by himself and a maid for propriety, which would be sent the day she was to leave. On this he refused to be swayed and Elizabeth was forced to yield despite knowing it would be a most public announcement of their engagement.
They separated before coming in view of the parsonage and she continued inside to make her apologies for being so delinquent as to forget how much time had passed. Her primary concern was to pen a letter to her father and to this purpose retired to her room directly after luncheon.
The two gentlemen from Rosings called later that afternoon to take their leave and Darcy, enquiring of Mrs. Collins and Elizabeth, if they had correspondence which they might wish to have carried to London to be posted, received from Elizabeth her letter to her father and from Charlotte, a request that they stop at the parsonage the next morning as they left, to carry one to her parents. This was agreeable to the gentlemen and on that happy note, took their leave.
Part VPart V
Posted on 2014-12-22
The two gentlemen left Rosings the next morning; and Mr. Collins having been in waiting near the lodges, to make them his parting obeisance, was able to bring home the pleasing intelligence of their appearing in very good health, and in as tolerable spirits as could be expected, after the melancholy scene so lately gone through at Rosings. To Rosings he then hastened to console Lady Catherine and her daughter; and on his return brought back, with great satisfaction, a message from her ladyship, importing that she felt herself so dull as to make her very desirous of having them all to dine with her.
Elizabeth could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that, had she chosen it, she might, by this time, have been presented to her as her future niece; nor could she think, without a smile, of what her ladyship's indignation would have been. "What would she have said? How would she have behaved?" were questions with which she amused herself. That the response would be unfavourable, she had little doubt and she could not be sorry for the discretion to avoid and spare herself and the Collinses the discomfort of such attentions, where it served no purpose to suffer them. If her engagement had been made known, she was certain that her presence would have been equally distasteful to Lady Catherine and to her cousin, and her continued stay at the parsonage very much in doubt.
Their first subject was the diminution of the Rosings party. "I assure you, I feel it exceedingly," said Lady Catherine; "I believe nobody feels the loss of friends so much as I do. But I am particularly attached to these young men; and know them to be so much attached to me! They were excessively sorry to go! But so they always are. The dear colonel rallied his spirits tolerably till just at last; but Darcy seemed to feel it most acutely, more, I think, than last year. His attachment to Rosings certainly increases."
Mr. Collins had a compliment, and an allusion to throw in here, which were kindly smiled on by the mother and daughter. Lady Catherine observed, after dinner, that Miss Bennet seemed out of spirits; and immediately accounting for it herself, by supposing that she did not like to go home again so soon, she added, "But, if that is the case, you must write to your mother to beg that you may stay a little longer. Mrs. Collins will be very glad of your company, I am sure."
"I am much obliged to your ladyship for your kind invitation," replied Elizabeth, "but it is not in my power to accept it. I must be in town next Saturday."
"Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks. I expected you to stay two months. I told Mrs. Collins so before you came. There can be no occasion for your going so soon. Mrs. Bennet could certainly spare you for another fortnight."
"But my father cannot. He wrote last week to hurry my return."
"Oh! Your father of course may spare you, if your mother can. Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father. And, if you will stay another month complete, it will be in my power to take one of you as far as London, for I am going there early in June, for a week; and as Dawson does not object to the Barouche box, there will be very good room for one of you and indeed, if the weather should happen to be cool, I should not object to taking you both, as you are neither of you large."
"You are all kindness, Madam; but I believe I must abide by our original plan; however, I see no reason why Maria should not avail herself of your generous offer." Elizabeth had just realized that Maria's company on their return to Hertfordshire with Darcy would severely inhibit conversation and, if Maria could be persuaded to stay at the parsonage for an extra fortnight, she would be able to more easily enjoy the ride with her betrothed.
Maria was applied to and, with very little persuasion, was agreeable to remaining for another fortnight. Elizabeth did not fail to notice that Charlotte had been surprised at her suggestion and had favoured her with more than one sharp look during the ensuing discussion but had, nevertheless, ably supported an extension of her sister's visit. Lady Catherine seemed resigned to the loss of Elizabeth's presence but her desire to be of service was soothed by the knowledge that Mrs. Collins' sister would remain behind. "Mrs. Collins, you must send a servant with Miss Bennet. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of a young woman travelling post by herself. It is highly improper. You must contrive to send somebody. I have the greatest dislike in the world to that sort of thing. Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their situation in life. When my niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of her having two men servants go with her. Miss Darcy, the daughter of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, and Lady Anne, could not have appeared with propriety in a different manner. I am excessively attentive to all those things. You must send John with Miss Bennet, Mrs. Collins. I am glad it occurred to me to mention it; for it would really be discreditable to you to let her go alone."
"My uncle is to send a servant for me."
"Oh! - Your uncle! - He keeps a man-servant, does he? I am very glad you have somebody who thinks of those things. Where shall you change horses? - Oh! Bromley, of course. - If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to."
Lady Catherine had many other questions to ask respecting her journey, and as she did not answer them all herself, attention was necessary, which Elizabeth believed to be lucky for her, for, with a mind so occupied, she might have forgotten where she was. Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours. When they at last returned to the parsonage, she had not long been removed to her room when she was visited by Charlotte, who wasted no time questioning her friend's reasons for encouraging the extension of Maria's visit.
"It is certainly not that I object to her company, as you well know. You both have been most welcome but I must wonder at your reason for proposing it?"
Elizabeth tried to disclaim any reason other than a concern for her friend's comfort and happiness but Charlotte would have none of it.
"It will not do, Lizzy. It will not do!"
It was clear to Elizabeth that her attempt to deflect her friend had added weight to her supposition that Elizabeth had an ulterior motive and, Charlotte's remembrances quickly gave a direction to the cause.
"This has to do with Mr. Darcy, does it not? What...?"
Elizabeth interrupted to say, "Please. Do not importune me further on this matter. I cannot satisfy your curiosity and I believe you would not wish me to do so. All will become clear after I leave and all will, I believe, be well."
With this Charlotte was, after a silence lasting several minutes, forced to be content and, if during the remainder of Elizabeth's stay, she allowed her gaze to rest on her friend with a rather wondering look, she refrained from further comment.
Whenever Elizabeth was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of pleasant recollections. Their engagements at Rosings were as frequent during the last week of her stay as they had been at first. Two days before she was to leave she received a very thick letter from Jane which, after retiring to her room for privacy, and upon being opened was found to contain, in addition to that from Jane herself, a letter from her father and one from Darcy. Unsure which to read first, she chose to read that from her father.
My dear child,
I hardly know what to express in this letter. I am sure you can appreciate my surprise when Mr. Darcy sought an interview with me. That he had asked for your hand in marriage and you had consented must rank with the most unexpected of events. My immediate thought, to be sure, was whether you had taken leave of your senses or had been overwhelmed by the gentleman's wealth and position.
Do not be alarmed. I have given my consent and truly I do not think I could refuse a man of such consequence. I was, I admit, most comforted by your letter although I had to read it a second time to begin to grasp the change in your feelings for him. I rather thought that you disliked his manners and attitude even as you respected his character. That you allowed yourself to understand him and to appreciate him speaks well, I believe, for your future together. I do not pretend to know him well, although he was courteous enough to remain for more than an hour to converse with me. I think I could come to like him quite well although he is deficient in that foolishness which I had thought a most desirable trait in a son. Unfortunately, he is too intelligent to miss my attempts to make sport of him - but appears good-humoured enough to not take offence - and quick enough to take a bit of sport with me.
I am pleased for you, Lizzy. I do not think I could lose you to anyone less worthy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband, unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. That you have professed to esteem and respect Mr. Darcy, is of great satisfaction to me. If, as you have confessed, your esteem does not match his at the moment, the thoughts expressed in your letter lead me to believe that any inequality in affection that may currently exist will be of a short duration.
You will be relieved to know that your betrothal has yet to be made known to your mother; that pleasure I would prefer to allow you on your return; however, the prospect of her reaction at the time of your return does not bear thinking on. I will undertake that task myself - although you may be assured it will be left to the very day you shall arrive and no sooner. That the happy event of your return will soon follow upon this letter, will be no little comfort since there have been not two words of sense spoken here since you and Jane departed.
Your loving father
Her pleasure at her father's support and approval - she knew he must have suffered some disquiet over the thought of losing his most favourite daughter - drew forth a few tears. That he had read her letter and accepted her reasoning - despite his possible reservations - spoke well, she thought, for the conversation that had taken place between her father and her betrothed, who must have made an effort to address and alleviate them. Satisfied with her father's support, she could no longer refrain from opening the letter from Darcy.
Curzon Street, London
My dearest Elizabeth,
You can have no idea how much it pleases me to be able to call you such. I have met with and obtained your father's consent and blessing, as I am sure his letter will confirm. It was a most interesting interview and one that may well have been more uncomfortable had it not been for the letter you so thoughtfully provided. Your father read it twice; I believe the second time more slowly and carefully than the first. His mien when he had finished was considerably relieved - I cannot say happier because I could see that he did not wish to lose you to another, a feeling I am quite able to comprehend.
I made every effort to assure him of my affections and respect for you and, to alleviate his concerns, spoke of our meetings. That there was an inequality of affection I admitted but that I had been assured of both your esteem and respect and these, I firmly believe, will form a basis for a most felicitous marriage.
We conversed for over an hour and, at the end, I had come to appreciate your father's wit and intelligence and, as well, the source of your own. I will not pretend, however, to understand your father fully. An hour or so is not sufficient to that purpose, but I propose to spend most of our engagement period in Hertfordshire and look forward to spending such time as I am not in your company, in his to my benefit.
I will add that I visited your sister, Miss Bennet, at Gracechurch Street and was most pleased to meet your Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They invited Georgiana and me to dine, once informed of our engagement. I like them both very well indeed and look forward to improving our acquaintance. My sister was most happy to meet your sister and aunt and they both made her more comfortable in company than I had ever previously seen, apart from family. Of course, they will become part of her family and that is a happy thought for us both. Georgiana is most desirous of making your acquaintance and, to that end, has insisted that she accompany me when I travel to Rosings to bring you home. I was not inclined to disoblige her and you will therefore be introduced when I arrive. We are both of us looking forward to that happy event. I have found that I miss your company exceedingly and can hardly wait to see you once more.
Some news of a practical nature must be imparted. First, I have apprised Bingley of my error in respect of your sister's affections and also of my actions in regard to concealing her visit to London. He was exceedingly angry with me and even more so with his sisters. I have been forgiven but I cannot speak to his relations with his sisters. I will reveal that he has visited Gracechurch Street, but more than that I will leave to your sister to confess.
We shall stop overnight at the Gardiners before travelling to Longbourn the next day. Bingley will accompany us - including your sister - and Georgiana and I will reside at Netherfield at Bingley's request.
There is much more to discuss which I will reserve for our trip back from Rosings. These days until we meet again will pass with interminable slowness. To have to be separated from you so soon after you gifted me with your hand, has made the lack of it in my own almost unbearable. I find I miss you greatly.
With all my love,
Elizabeth was not satisfied with but a single reading of this letter but must read it several times in order to extract all possible meaning and pleasure from it. That her father and betrothed were able to meet on an amiable basis was immensely satisfying. Despite his faults, she loved her father dearly and could not wish for more than that he and Darcy were comfortable in each other's company. That Darcy had met and enjoyed the company of her aunt and uncle Gardiner, to the extent of dining with them, was both gratifying and surprising. That he had done so on his own initiative spoke well for the durability of the changes in his manner that he had effected. Finally, when considering that his sister was to accompany her on the return to Town, she was glad to have persuaded Maria to remain in Hunsford. A carriage ride of some four hours should provide a good opportunity to start developing an acquaintance with one who was to become as a sister to her. 'I find I miss you greatly' Elizabeth's thoughts kept returning to those words and knew that they had awakened an echo in her. She had come to rely on his company as well and his absence had lowered her own spirits. With a sigh, she turned to her sister's letter.
We have much to speak on when you arrive in London and, be warned now, that I will have it all. Not one morsel shall you conceal from me and not a moment's sleep until you have done so. To be engaged to Mr. Darcy! You have scarce mentioned his name in your letters. Our aunt and I agree, you have been most sly! If you have come to love him - and I never thought poorly of him, as you know - then I will only say that I am most happy for you. Have I said I like him very much? If he loves you, he must be a good man.
I m sure that Mr. Darcy has told you all - I assume you read his letter first or at least I hope you did - and hence that Mr. Bingley has called us. You cannot imagine my surprise or my distress upon seeing him again today. He stayed but a quarter hour and asked to call again which he will do tomorrow. Now that this meeting is over, I feel perfectly easy. I know my own strength, and I shall never be embarrassed again by his coming. I am glad he dines here tomorrow. It will then be publicly seen that, on both sides, we meet only as common and indifferent acquaintance. I cannot think myself so weak as to be in danger now.
I can almost hear you laugh and tease me, Lizzy but I speak the simple truth. Although he remains the most amiable man of my acquaintance, I cannot allow myself to hope for more. One thing he did mention to my aunt caused me considerable surprise. Apparently his sisters did not inform him of my presence in Town these last months. He learned of it from Mr. Darcy but yesterday and would, he told my aunt, have called sooner had he known.
There must be some great misunderstanding here, Lizzy because I am certain that Miss Bingley gave me to believe that she had told him of my presence. I cannot understand why she would do so unless my suspicions of duplicity on her part are justified. If so, I am most sorry for her.
I will not try to speak of more in this letter. You will be joining me in a matter of days and we will have many opportunities to discuss all that has happened. Please give my regards to Charlotte. I hope that all is well with her.
Your most impatient and curious sister,
That Darcy would speak to Bingley she had never doubted; but whether that gentleman would wish to see Jane once more had been cause for some concern, and she had never expected that he would visit so quickly. From the speed with which he responded, and knowing her sister's heart, she now had every hope that the attraction between them would develop in the most felicitous manner. Her sister might try to dissemble, but her heart on this had never been closed to Elizabeth and she was in no doubt that her sister would be engaged in a matter of a week or two.
The very last evening was spent at Rosings; and her Ladyship again enquired minutely into the particulars of her journey, gave directions as to the best method of packing, and was so urgent on the necessity of placing gowns in the only right way, that Elizabeth almost thought herself obliged, on her return, to undo all the work of the morning, and pack her trunk afresh.
When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension, wished her a good journey, and invited her to come to Hunsford again next year; and Miss De Bourgh exerted herself so far as to curtsey and hold out her hand to her.
On Saturday morning Elizabeth and Mr. Collins met for breakfast, a few minutes before the others appeared; and he took the opportunity of paying the parting civilities which he deemed indispensably necessary.
"I know not, Miss Elizabeth," said he, "whether Mrs. Collins has yet expressed her sense of your kindness in coming to us, but I am very certain you will not leave the house without receiving her thanks for it. The favour of your company has been much felt, I assure you. We know how little there is to tempt anyone to our humble abode. Our plain manner of living, our small rooms, and few domestics, and the little we see of the world, must make Hunsford extremely dull to a young lady like yourself; but I hope you will believe us grateful for the condescension, and that we have done everything in our power to prevent your spending your time unpleasantly."
Elizabeth was eager with her thanks and assurances of happiness. She had spent six weeks with great enjoyment; and the pleasure of being with Charlotte, and the kind attentions she had received, must make her feel the obliged. Of her engagement she could say nothing, but that it alone made the visit exceptionably pleasant added warmth to her expressions of gratitude to Mr. Collins.
Mr. Collins was gratified; and with a more smiling solemnity replied, "It gives me the greatest pleasure to hear that you have passed your time not disagreeably. We have certainly done our best; and most fortunately having it in our power to introduce you to very superior society, and, from our connection with Rosings, the frequent means of varying the humble home scene, I think we may flatter ourselves that your Hunsford visit cannot have been entirely irksome. Our situation with regard to Lady Catherine's family is indeed the sort of extraordinary advantage and blessing which few can boast. You see on what a footing we are. You see how continually we are engaged there. In truth, I must acknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of this humble parsonage, I should not think anyone abiding in it an object of compassion while they are sharers of our intimacy at Rosings."
Words were insufficient for the elevation of his feelings; and he was obliged to walk about the room, while Elizabeth tried to unite civility and truth in a few short sentences. "You may, in fact, carry a very favourable report of us into Hertfordshire, my dear cousin. I flatter myself, at least, that you will be able to do so. Lady Catherine's great attentions to Mrs. Collins you have been a daily witness of; and altogether I trust it does not appear that your friend has drawn an unfortunate - ; but on this point it will be as well to be silent. Only let me assure you, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that I can from my heart most cordially wish you equal felicity in marriage. My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is in everything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideas between us. We seem to have been designed for each other."
Elizabeth could safely say that it was a great happiness where that was the case, and with equal sincerity could add that she firmly believed and rejoiced in his domestic comforts. She was not sorry, however, to have the recital of them interrupted by the entrance of the lady from whom they sprung. Poor Charlotte! - it was melancholy to leave her to such society! - But she had chosen it with her eyes open; and though evidently regretting that her visitors were to go, she did not seem to ask for compassion. Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.
At length the coach arrived and, if Elizabeth had been less focused on the gentleman who stepped out, she might well have marvelled at it. But indeed her eyes and thoughts had but a single interest and she could hardly account for the surge of pleasure she felt upon seeing him smile at her. Most observers might be forgiven for having missed it altogether since it was confined to a slight curve of his lips and a softening of his eyes but in the past weeks she had come to know it well. A soft murmur from inside the coach reclaimed his attention and a tinge of blush was the only sign of discomfit as he turned to assist a young lady to descend.
Elizabeth walked towards them, eager for the formidable introduction to take place. With astonishment did Elizabeth see that her new acquaintance was at least as much embarrassed as herself. From Wickham she had been told that Miss Darcy was much like her brother - proud, very proud - and while she was not inclined to believe much of what he had said, she could not escape the thought that in this respect he might not have been wrong. The observation of but only a few minutes convinced her that Miss Darcy was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable.
Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth; and though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsome than her brother, but there was sense and good-humour in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Elizabeth, who had expected to find in her as acute and unembarrassed an observer as ever Mr. Darcy had been, was much relieved by discerning such different feelings. Elizabeth turned to Darcy saying, in a teasing manner, "I believe, sir, I am much in your debt. You have gifted me with a delightful sister."
After she spoke, she heard a gasp behind her and turned to see Charlotte looking at her with a wondering eye. A brief nod from Elizabeth was all it took to satisfy that lady's suspicions, but the reaction of her husband was altogether different as he reddened and prepared to speak.
"Cousin Elizabeth, how dare you to ..."
Mr. Darcy's rather crisp tone interrupted the flow of words before it could properly get underway, "Mr. Collins. I thank you for your care of my betrothed. I will relieve you of all further responsibility and will be taking Miss Bennet with me back to Longbourn." He paused and looked quite sternly at Mr. Collins, "I am sure you wish to express your congratulations to your cousin on our engagement!"
Mr. Collins seemed bereft of the ability to form a comprehensible sentence and, it was clear to all - except perhaps Maria -, that thoughts of his patroness's extreme displeasure, his cousin's impropriety in aspiring to rise above her station, perhaps even a sense of injustice that a woman who had the effrontery to refuse his proposal could, by some means that he could not fathom, have been offered and accepted an offer of marriage that was so materially superior to his own. Fortunately for them all, his wife, sensible to the implications of her friend's engagement, had drawn him aside to talk quietly and forcibly with him. A firm hand on his arm seemed sufficient to prevent his departure for Rosings, a trip he seemed to wish to make if his frequent looks in that direction were indicative of his intentions. Elizabeth thought she heard her friend murmur 'cousin' with extra emphasis although she did not detect any appreciable change in Mr. Collins' demeanour.
As Darcy, Elizabeth and Miss Darcy conversed quietly together - keeping a wary eye on the Collinses - footmen were loading and lashing Elizabeth's baggage to the coach. That done, the Darcys and Elizabeth took their leave; Elizabeth, whispering her intention to write and inform her friend of all that had taken place and, although receiving congratulations from Charlotte, was unsurprised at her cousin's curt bow and silence on the matter. The omission of any sign of approval was not unexpected; nor was she disturbed by the lack, although the thought that her friend would bear the brunt of displeasure from her cousin and Lady Catherine could not fail to cause some unhappiness.
As she stepped into the coach, she realized that never, in her brief existence, had she seen a finer coach, let alone travel in one. To say it was large was to do it little justice; it could apparently seat six with much ease; was strongly built and well-sprung with an eye to comfort and security. The windows had glass panes to reduce the discomfort of dust and the exterior was not ostentatious, being a glossy ebony, despite a patina of dust, and sporting a small discrete family crest on the door. Having travelled in Lady Catherine's coaches, she could not but hope that the differences between the Darcy and de Bourgh coaches would be reflected in the Darcy homes.
The warmth of Darcy's hand as he assisted her to enter, caused her a frisson of pleasure as she took a seat and her decision to sit beside Miss Darcy was to allow her to further the acquaintance as they travelled to London. Once Darcy had entered, the coach lurched off and, to Elizabeth's surprise, not towards London but Rosings instead. Darcy, noticing her surprise, quickly spoke to allay her concerns, "I must inform my aunt of our engagement and, while I could write from London, I prefer to face her directly." At Elizabeth's quizzical look, he grimaced, "I can predict her displeasure with ease in either event but would not preclude her visiting London to express it should I inform her by letter." A gentle snort came from the young lady beside her, caused both Darcy and Elizabeth to grin and Darcy to continue, "Yes, well... as I said, I fear I must face her in either event, and felt it best to do so while I am now here. If I don't, she will learn of it from Mr. Collins and that is not acceptable."
Elizabeth nodded, "I had not thought of that aspect. Poor Charlotte. I fear her life will be ... uncomfortable for some time."
By this time, they had drawn up to the front of Rosings and Darcy wasted no time seeking entrance o the house. Once he had left, Elizabeth directed her attention to Miss Darcy and gently began to draw her out. It was not an easy process but by the time that Darcy rejoined them, they had progressed to calling the other by their given names and had found several topics of interest including music, Pemberley and Mr. Darcy himself. Elizabeth's desire to know her future husband better made her receptive, even eager, to hear stories about him and that appeared to be a subject on which Miss Darcy was prepared to expound.
Elizabeth realized that Darcy must have been gone over a quarter hour and was beginning to wonder at the extent of his aunt's displeasure when he abruptly exited the house and threw himself into the carriage, pounding the roof to signal their departure. His anger was palatable on both countenance and body, and both young ladies shared a brief look before studiously ignoring his presence for some five minutes or so. Finally, sensing that his mood had lasted a sufficient time, Elizabeth leaned forward and, ignoring propriety, placed her hand on his resting on his leg and teased, "A visit rendered pleasurable only by its brevity, I gather."
Darcy jerked at her touch and her words failed to register at first and then one of his brief smiles emerged as he turned his eyes from the window to Elizabeth's face. "Indeed. My aunt outdid herself today. I will not offend you by a recital of her expressions of displeasure against you and me. It is sufficient to say that I have informed her that all contact between us is severed until she is willing to accept you as my wife with respect and civility."
Elizabeth could not be happy to have caused a breach in his family but her concerns were, not dismissed exactly, but allayed by Darcy. "Elizabeth, do not concern yourself unduly. She would have been unhappy and probably just as abusive of any choice I made that was not my cousin Anne who, I might add, has never expressed a desire for a union between us and who is, as I am sure you have realized, quite ill-suited to the role you will fill."
Elizabeth was about to withdraw her hand and sit back but her efforts were thwarted by Darcy's reluctance to release her hand. Keeping a firm hold, ignoring her blush - or perhaps appreciating, if the look on his face that Elizabeth detected was an indication - and looking rather sternly at her, said, "I have a...request to make of you. My aunt's words were quite intemperate and I doubt that her abuse will have ceased. That she may write to you directly in the most abusive terms, I doubt not. My request is simple. Please do not read any letter from her but destroy it, or better: give it to me unopened. She is my aunt and my responsibility to deal with."
"I am not afraid of your aunt, Mr. Darcy."
"I know that, but I would not have you bear her insults, if I can prevent it."
Elizabeth was thoughtful as she considered his request. That it was a request and not a demand was, she thought, a good portent for the future; and, since it was not an issue that bothered her greatly, she was willing to agree to it and did so. With an obvious sense of relief, he released her hand, allowing her to sit back once more.
On the subject of his Aunt Catherine, Darcy was unwilling to converse further and was easily induced to speak of his activities of the past week, which he did with great enthusiasm. Of his meeting with Mr. Bennet, he had little to say and Elizabeth finally realized that he would prefer to talk on that subject without his sister being present. On his meeting with Mrs. Bennet, he only commented that, "Your mother and I talked but briefly - as I waited to speak to your father. She was obviously quite curious as to my reasons for calling and I gave her to understand that I was only passing through and wished to speak on business with your father." He smiled, "If she believed it to involve Bingley, I was, unfortunately, not able, at that time, to satisfy her curiosity."
"When did you speak to Mr. Bingley?" Elizabeth was curious but not overly concerned.
"I sent him a note after I returned from Longbourn; he called that evening and we visited Gracechurch Street the next day."
Another topic, Elizabeth realized, that would have to be deferred until they could talk in private. "What are Mr. Bingley's plans or has he even discussed them as yet?"
"Oh yes! He has been quite enthusiastic. He has sent instructions for Netherfield to be opened and made ready for himself and Georgiana and myself. He will be journeying with us tomorrow."
"And Mr. Bingley's sisters? Are they not to accompany him?"
"I do not believe he has invited them. He is still quite...annoyed with them both."
Miss Darcy looked surprised at this revelation and looked as though she wished to learn more on the subject but subsided after a glance at her brother. Elizabeth saw no reason to dissemble on the issue and addressed her directly, "Georgiana, as it happened Mr. Bingley's sisters were not pleased at their brother's attention to my sister Jane when he stayed at Netherfield. They ... acted to separate them when Mr. Bingley had cause to visit Town, which led him to sever the acquaintance with my sister. Their actions were quite ... unkind. Mr. Bingley only recently learned of what had occurred and was understandably angered." Elizabeth paused - she did not know the nature of any relationship between Miss Darcy and Mr. Bingley's sisters and was hesitant to express her own reservations about them. "I believe, knowing Mr. Bingley, that he will forgive them and all will be well."
Strangely, Miss Darcy did not appear overly perturbed at the discord in the Bingley family and simply nodded in acquiescence.
Darcy reclaimed their attention. "I must say that Bingley's attentions to your sister have not suffered from the passage of five months. He appears to be as absorbed in her as ever he was." Reading Elizabeth's raised eyebrow, he responded, "I would not expect too long a time to pass before he makes her an offer. I think he feels that he needs to ensure her forgiveness - her approval - before doing so."
"I am sure my sister will not expect him to suffer unduly."
"If her demeanour is any indication, he should have little doubt as to her affections." The glance that Darcy sent to Elizabeth acknowledged his mistaken judgement. "Even I, as deficient in such discernment, can perceive as much."
"I believe my sister may feel more comfortable in displaying her feelings in Gracechurch Street than at Longbourn, Mr. Darcy." Darcy nodded in understanding and then changed the topic once more.
"I informed my uncle, the Earl of ____, of our engagement."
Elizabeth was not sure from his expression how this news had been received. She rather thought that, if the earl was much like his sister, it had not been welcomed and Darcy had been subject to another session of abuse.
"Should I anticipate that he also does not favour the match, Mr. Darcy? Does his opinion match that of your aunt?" Elizabeth could not altogether hide the concern she felt at the negative reaction of his family. It was not unexpected, but that fact did not lessen the discomfort attached to it.
"My uncle is much more sensible than my aunt. I will not deny that he had expectations of a more prestigious match, but he was not abusive to you at all. His concern, if I may be frank, was that I knew my own mind and that I had not been trapped or compromised into a marriage by a mercenary young woman. I believe he accepted the assurances which I tendered although it took, I admit, a full hour to persuade him to my way of thinking."
He smiled once more at Elizabeth, "His wife, the countess, was surprisingly not astonished by the news. I believe Richard must have said something to her when he returned. I suspect that both my aunt and uncle had begun to despair of my ever taking a wife, knowing as they did my dissatisfaction with those ladies I had encountered in society. They both warned me about Lady Catherine's reaction and it was, in fact, my uncle's suggestion that I speak to her immediately that I followed. So, to answer your question, they have assured me that that will receive you with interest and I have promised to bring you to London to meet them before we marry."
Elizabeth was not sure how she felt about that prospect and her feelings must have been evident as Miss Darcy offered, "I like my Aunt Ellen very much. She is very kind to me."
Elizabeth laughed, "I cannot imagine anyone being unkind to you, Georgiana. And I am sure that with you and your brother to support me, I will survive the introduction quite well."
Darcy spoke quietly, "Our aunt is much like our cousin - Richard - quite amiable in almost any company; not like myself, unfortunately."
"Then I shall have to ensure that you follow your Aunt Catherine's advice and practice. I am sure you will become a great proficient." Elizabeth teased.
A subdued chortle beside her and Darcy's amused look seemed to lighten the atmosphere considerably and the remainder of the journey passed very comfortably. After a short stop at ______ to refresh themselves, they continued on to London arriving at Gracechurch Street by mid-afternoon. Their reception there was all that she had anticipated. Her young cousins welcomed her joyfully - a visit by Cousin Lizzy was always a source of pleasure and they were only dismayed that she would remain but a single night. To Elizabeth's surprise, the Darcys were also welcomed by her cousins and both appeared comfortable with the exuberance displayed. An invitation to dine that evening was extended to the Darcys who gratefully accepted and departed shortly thereafter to their home to refresh themselves, promising to return as soon as possible.
Elizabeth had no sooner bid them adieu when she was hustled upstairs to Jane's room by her sister and aunt who both expressed a determination to have the full story behind her engagement. Pleading fatigue and a need to rest and refresh herself, Elizabeth, recognizing that nothing short of a full confession - although, as she reminded herself, not all details need be imparted - would satisfy their curiosity (and in the case of Jane, concern), she assured them of a full recounting of events after their guests left that night.
The Darcys did return, accompanied by Mr. Bingley, and the evening passed enjoyably for all and Elizabeth took satisfaction in the obvious comfort and ease that the Darcys displayed in the company of her aunt and uncle. In particular, Darcy and her uncle engaged in a lengthy discussion of angling and the sport to be had in Derbyshire. She could not be certain but it seemed to her that plans were being laid for the Gardiners to visit Pemberley that summer, plans of which she knew nothing - not that she would ever object to such a visit; indeed, quite the reverse - were she to be asked for an opinion.
The Darcys did not prolong their stay after dinner was completed. The journey had obviously fatigued Miss Darcy and her brother, if reluctant to be separated from Elizabeth, recognized his sister's discomfort and called for his carriage. If he and Elizabeth stole a few minutes to converse while awaiting the carriage, the rest of the party were content to afford them the privacy. Elizabeth hoped that he could discern the fondness and pleasure she took in his presence as they stood quietly talking in the hall.
"William, thank you once more for everything and, if I have not said so before, I like your sister a great deal."
"I hope that means you like her brother a great deal also, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth's assurances that she liked Miss Darcy's brother a very great deal indeed was rewarded by a swift, light kiss that both pleased and failed to satisfied either of them. Within moments, the arrival of the Darcy carriage signalled the return of strict propriety and, shortly thereafter, the Darcys departed, plans in place to meet after church services the next day in order to effect a return to Longbourn. Mr. Bingley, sensing perhaps a desire of the Gardiners and Jane to talk privately with Elizabeth, did not prolong his stay and departed soon after.
Elizabeth was allowed the briefest of respite after his departure before her relations demanded of her a full accounting of her stay in Hunsford and her engagement for, as Jane, noted, "When you left, Lizzie, your opinion of Mr. Darcy seemed to be to reflect a distinct dislike. Yet now ...?"
"In cases like this, a good memory is insupportable. I am quite ashamed of my....let us be honest, my prejudices which were nourished by a wounded vanity. It was no less, I assure you."
"Yet now you esteem him enough to accept his offer of marriage?" queried her aunt.
Elizabeth realized she would have to reveal much of her reflections over the course of her stay as well as some information that she had learned. Darcy's involvement with persuading Bingley to not return to Netherfield was skirted; she could see no purpose in revealing it since Bingley was now paying his attentions to Jane. His role had always been surmised but revealing the predominance of those efforts would serve no useful purpose now. Everything else - excepting only Georgiana's treatment by Wickham - was revealed and commented upon. Elizabeth had the satisfaction, after finishing, of having her uncle congratulate her. "I am very pleased, Lizzie, that you approached this proposal with so much thought. You were, I believe, very sensible and I have little doubt that you will be happy in this match. While I have met Mr. Darcy only a few times, I have been most favourably impressed by him. He is perfectly well-behaved, polite and unassuming."
"There is something a little stately in him, to be sure," replied her aunt, "but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. Though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it. He has not an ill-natured look. On the contrary, there is something pleasing about his mouth when he speaks. And there is something of dignity in his countenance that would not give an unfavourable idea of his heart. I like him very well indeed."
Elizabeth could see that Jane remained slightly troubled and suspected that some questions would remain unanswered until such time as they were secluded in the privacy of their room. She had some suspicions as to the cause of her sister's disquiet and hoped that she could allay her fears. Later, after changing into their bedclothes, the two sisters settled themselves comfortably on Jane's bed, eager to discuss the more intimate details of those events that had taken place since last they had met. Elizabeth, despite Jane's pleadings, insisted that her sister tell all that had happened with respect to Bingley.
"Truthfully, there is not yet much to tell, Lizzy. He has visited several times, apologized for his sister's behaviour - which I assured him I did not hold to his account. How could I? And he mentioned his plans to re-open Netherfield. But he has said little of his feelings."
"Well, if I am to be a judge, I think he likes you quite as much as ever he did."
"Lizzy, you must not say so. You must not suspect me. It mortifies me. I assure you that I have now learned to enjoy his conversation as an agreeable and sensible young man without having a wish beyond it. I am perfectly satisfied, from what his manners now are, that he never had any design of engaging my affection. It is only that he is blessed with greater sweetness of address, and a stronger desire of generally pleasing, than any other man."
"You are very cruel," said her sister, "you will not let me smile, and are provoking me to it, every moment."
"How hard it is in some cases to be believed! And how impossible in others! But why should you wish to persuade me that I feel more than I acknowledge?"
"That is a question I hardly know how to answer. We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing. Forgive me; and if you persist in indifference, do not make me your confidante."
Jane was satisfied to escape further inquiry and teasing, and recollecting her concern about her sister's engagement, wondered how she might raise the matter. Elizabeth, though she suspected the source of her sister's discomfiture, was, at first, not disposed to begin the discussion but, after seeing her struggle for a minute or two, chose to broach it herself.
"It is easy to see that you are troubled, Jane; and, I believe I know the cause. We have always intended to marry only for love have we not?" Jane nodded. "And yet I have not claimed to love Mr. Darcy. Indeed some months back, I rather disliked him. You are worried that I have entered the engagement for improper reasons, are you not?"
Jane hesitated, reluctant to be questioning her sister's motives. "I am, I admit, concerned. I would not have you in an unhappy marriage; and, I am concerned that you may have accepted Mr. Darcy's proposal in order that Mr. Bingley would call on me."
Elizabeth began to laugh quietly, "Let me assure you on both counts, my dearest Jane. I was quite convinced that Mr. Darcy would correct his...mistake in regards to Mr. Bingley before I accepted him. That he is an honourable man, I have come to recognize. So banish that thought from your mind."
She smiled at the relief apparent on her sister's countenance. "The other issue should concern you even less. It is true that I do not, I think, love Mr. Darcy. But then I hardly know for sure what my feelings are. I know I now like him - I like him a great deal, in fact. I respect him and believe him to be the best man of my acquaintance. I found that I miss his presence when we are apart - the past week has been almost intolerable." She giggled, "I do like to be kissed by him and could wish for it to happen again!"
Jane looked both shocked and slightly envious, "Lizzy! You did not?"
"Indeed, we did! And, I quite enjoyed it!"
"It does sound very much as if you are in love with him, Lizzy."
"I hardly know, as I said. I am not sure how I am supposed to feel and my feelings are so new as to leave me quite confused. I do know that I will be respected, loved and cared for; and, that my family will be looked after, which is no small consideration."
Elizabeth replied to Jane's querying look, saying, "He has not said as much, nor have I asked it of him; but I am convinced that, as a matter which would concern me, he would wish to be of assistance."
Elizabeth could see that if her sister retained any lingering concerns, they had been, for the most part, laid to rest. The remainder of their conversation, before sleep overtook them somewhat later than was perhaps sensible, took a while - but two sisters, separated for a prolonged period, have much to talk about that renders sleep unimportant.
The journey to Longbourn was amongst the most pleasing that Elizabeth had ever experienced; the company was amiable, the distance not overlong and the carriage, most commodious. With five passengers, all capable and desirous of being entertained, topics of conversation were not wanting and even brief moments of silence were uncommon. Their reception at Longbourn was much more restrained than Elizabeth had expected. Mrs. Bennet, apparently informed of her daughter's engagement, stood in such awe of her intended son-in-law, that she ventured not to speak to him, unless it was in her power to offer him any attention, or mark her deference to his opinion. To Mr. Bingley, she showed no such reserve; and her attentions in that quarter, by their volume and duration, were such as to remove any doubt as to her pleasure in his return. That he had done so in company with Jane, only fixed more firmly in her mind the certainty of his attachment to her.
The Darcys and Mr. Bingley did not linger overlong at Longbourn; staying only long enough to accept an invitation to dine the next evening before removing to Netherfield to establish themselves there. At Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet had been compelled to refrain from inviting their neighbours to join the celebration of the family's good fortune only by the sternest of injunctions from her husband. "We will not impose on Mr. Darcy, or Mr. Bingley tonight Mrs. Bennet. We will, instead, enjoy and be satisfied with the company of our two eldest daughters whose good sense has been sorely missed for many months."
As a consequence, the evening passed in a lively manner. Mrs. Bennet rejoiced to see Jane in undiminished beauty and, after satisfying herself by receiving a full accounting of Mr. Bingley's attentions to her, was much engaged in collecting an account of the present fashions from her; and more than once during dinner did Mr. Bennet say voluntarily to Elizabeth, "I am glad you are come back, Lizzy."
Elizabeth had not been many hours at home - indeed it was a major topic of conversation at dinner - , before she found that the removal of the ____shire Militia to Brighton had given rise to a scheme, for which Lydia appeared to be the primary proponent. It was to have the Bennet family spend some months during the summer at that location. This scheme was under frequent discussion between her parents. Elizabeth saw directly that her father had not the smallest intention of yielding; but his answers were at the same time so vague and equivocal, that her mother, though often disheartened, had never yet despaired of succeeding at last. Since Elizabeth was sure that her father had no intention of agreeing to any such plan, she gave it little further thought.
That evening, her mother finally managed to put thoughts of the possibility of a match between Mr. Bingley and Jane far enough away to direct her attentions to Elizabeth. As Mr. Bennet had related, she had sat silent for a full ten minutes upon receipt of the news that morning and had been, even for her, unusually incoherent when control had been returned to her powers of speech. Elizabeth was much relieved that Mr. Darcy had been spared that exhibition; he had been very civil in his manner towards her mother when they met, but an effusion of that intensity by her mother might well have caused a return of the more reserved and reticent Mr. Darcy. How Miss Darcy - Georgiana - would have reacted, she could only guess but Elizabeth was sure that it would have shocked and thoroughly overset her sensibilities. Now, however, her mother was pleased to share with her - no longer her least favoured daughter - all her joys at the match she had made; and, calling Elizabeth to her chambers as she prepared for sleep, could not bear to do other than give full expression of that pleasure.
"Good gracious! Lord bless me! Only think! Dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true! Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! I am so pleased - so happy. Such a charming man! -- so handsome! so tall! - Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologize for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Everything that is charming! A daughter married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted."
This was enough to prove that her approbation need not be doubted: and Elizabeth, rejoicing that such an effusion was heard only by herself, soon went away. But before she had been three minutes in her own room, her mother followed her.
"My dearest child," she cried, "I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! 'Tis as good as a Lord! And a special license. You must and shall be married by a special license. But my dearest love, tell me what dish Mr. Darcy is particularly fond of, that I may have it tomorrow."
This was a sad omen of what her mother's behaviour to the gentleman himself might be; and Elizabeth found that, though in the certain possession of his warmest affection, and secure of her relations' consent, there was still something to be wished for. But the morrow passed off much better than she expected; for Mrs. Bennet luckily remained in awe of her intended son-in-law and spared him her overt attentions. Such attentions as he did desire or opinions that he expressed were received with a deference that stood in marked distinction to her previous treatment of him, a circumstance of which only Mrs. Bennet was unaware.
Elizabeth had the satisfaction of seeing her father taking pains to get acquainted with him; and Mr. Bennet soon assured her that he was rising every hour in his esteem.
Part VI - Epilogue
Posted on 2014-12-31
There is a certain momentum, an inexorability if you will, in the events surrounding a wedding. Plans must be made, wedding clothes purchased and neighbours allowed to share in the good fortune of the families involved. Yet, in the midst of such pleasures, other events will transpire and, if not deflect, at least capture the attentions of those most intimately involved in the wedding preparations.
One such event took place a week or so after Mr. Bingley's return to Netherfield. Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet saw her most favoured daughter become engaged to a very deserving gentleman; for indeed, Mr. Bingley did shortly come to the point, aided beyond doubt by the machinations of Elizabeth and Darcy and accomplished without that loss of propriety which might have attended any effort by Mrs. Bennet. At Darcy's suggestion, the two couples set out together to walk to Oakham Mount and, since both Darcy and Elizabeth were the more accomplished walkers, a separation of no little distance was soon established. Being careful to remain within sight but too distant for any conversation to be overheard, the foremost couple were soon treated to the sight of Bingley on one knee in front of Miss Bennet. The subject of his application could not be doubted and its reception even less so, as he was soon seen to jump to his feet, embrace Miss Bennet and then swing her around in his arms. Her laughing delight could be heard from where they stood and they quickly closed the distance to extend their congratulations and share the joy being experienced.
Mr. Bennet's approval was sought but a short time later and, if he sported with Bingley for a few minutes, he did not withhold his blessing; not a word, however, passed his lips in allusion to it, till Bingley took his leave for the night; but as soon as he was gone, he turned to his daughter, and said, "Jane, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy woman."
Jane went to him instantly, kissed him, and thanked him for his goodness.
"You are a good girl;" he replied, "and I have great pleasure in thinking you will be so happily settled. I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income."
Elizabeth could rejoice with her sister in her happiness without envying her at all. Although quite liking Mr. Bingley, his character was lacking in that resolve and firmness which she had come to admire in Mr. Darcy. She could not believe that Mr. Darcy would have been dissuaded to walk away from her if placed in a situation similar to Mr. Bingley. In fact, he had withstood his aunt's importuning quite well. As she thought further, she remembered Mr. Bingley's dislike of confrontation and disagreement during her stay at Netherfield while nursing Jane. He had been obviously uncomfortable with those exchanges between herself and Mr. Darcy that had bordered on a pronounced disagreement and, in addition, had done little to curb his sisters' exhibition of poor manners while in Hertfordshire. She wondered at his ability to manage an estate if he was unwilling to deal with controversy and contentious issues. Perhaps her father had the right of it and they would be prey to all manner of cheats. It was not a happy thought or prospect. But neither was it a problem that she could affect at all.
Darcy and Elizabeth were all but forgotten by Mrs. Bennet. Jane was beyond competition her favourite child. At that moment, she cared for no other. Jane's hopes to share her wedding with her sister were for nought, however, as Mrs. Bennet would not hear of the wedding being held with so little time to prepare. Three or fewer weeks were hardly sufficient time, in her opinion, to organize an appropriate celebration. Since Elizabeth was not to return from her honeymoon for four weeks after her own wedding, a date of July 1 was decided upon to the satisfaction of one and all. If Mrs. Bennet treated Jane's intended with more deference than Elizabeth's despite the disparity in their incomes, the pin-money they would have and the quality and number of their carriages, the cause was not difficult to discern. The proximity of Netherfield and the prospect of having a daughter wed and living nearby with whom she could visit whenever convenient was undoubtedly of material satisfaction and raised the value of Jane's attachment greatly.
The only person unhappy with the prospect of Jane's wedding was Lydia. The ____shire Militia was to depart in a fortnight and the ensuing lamentations and complaints issuing from both Lydia and Kitty had not lessened to any noticeable degree. But the gloom of Lydia's prospect was shortly cleared away; for she received an invitation from Mrs. Forster, the wife of the Colonel of the regiment, to accompany her to Brighton. This invaluable friend was a very young woman, and very lately married. A resemblance in good humour and good spirits had recommended her and Lydia to each other, and out of their three months' acquaintance they had been intimate two.
The rapture of Lydia on this occasion, her adoration of Mrs. Forster, the delight of Mrs. Bennet, and the mortification of Kitty, are scarcely to be described. Wholly inattentive to her sister's feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy, calling for everyone's congratulations, and laughing and talking with more violence than ever; whilst the luckless Kitty continued in the parlour repining at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish. In vain did Elizabeth attempt to reason with her, and Jane to make her resigned.
As for Elizabeth herself, this invitation was so far from exciting in her the same feelings as in her mother and Lydia, that she considered it as the death-warrant of all possibility of common sense for the latter; and detestable as such a step must make her were it known, she could not help secretly advising her father not to let her go. She represented to him all the improprieties of Lydia's general behaviour, the little advantage she could derive from the friendship of such a woman as Mrs. Forster, and the probability of her being yet more imprudent with such a companion at Brighton, where the temptations must be greater than at home. Seeing him reluctant to oppose the plan, Elizabeth and Jane then petitioned their mother as to the desirability of having Lydia present for both weddings. After some thought, persistent urging on the part of her two eldest daughters and the vocal support of their intended, Mrs. Bennet was persuaded to agree; however, she could see no reason not to allow Lydia to join her friend following Jane's wedding and with this her eldest daughters were forced to be satisfied. Elizabeth made one last effort to persuade her father to forbid the project but her pleadings had little effect upon him.
He heard her attentively, and then said, "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."
Elizabeth was not content with this response and disclaimed, "Our importance, our respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia's character. Excuse me - for I must speak plainly. If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. A flirt, too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond youth and a tolerable person; and from the ignorance and emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion of that universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite. In this danger Kitty is also comprehended. She will follow wherever Lydia leads.--Vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled! Oh! My dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?"
Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject; and affectionately taking her hand, said in reply, "Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known, you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of - or I may say, three - very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton. Let her go then. Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief; and she is luckily too poor to be an object of prey to anybody. At Brighton she will be of less importance, even as a common flirt, than she has been here. The officers will find women better worth their notice. Let us hope, therefore, that her being there may teach her own insignificance. At any rate, she cannot grow many degrees worse without authorizing us to lock her up for the rest of her life."
With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content; but her own opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointed and sorry. It was not in her nature, however, to increase her vexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of having performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.
As well, her own wedding was approaching and she would not allow herself to suffer a diminution of that pleasure. She was bound for London to purchase her wedding clothes under the guidance of her Aunt Gardiner - Mrs. Bennet being convinced to remain at Longbourn to organize the wedding celebration. This task took the best part of a week during which she found little time to spend with Darcy. The evening before her return to Longbourn, a meeting took place which, for much of the week, she had resolutely forbidden herself to contemplate. She and Darcy were to dine with the Earl and Countess of Matlock, Darcy's uncle and aunt. The earl was Lady Catherine's brother and, despite Darcy's reassurances, the prospect of possibly facing an even more intimidating version of that lady was not one to create much pleasure. In fact, however, appearances apart, the earl was in no wise comparable to her ladyship. His reserve was not unlike that of Darcy himself and, if he was uncertain as to the wisdom of his nephew's choice of a wife, it was not betrayed in any lack of civility. The countess was all that was amiable and it was clear the Colonel Fitzwilliam had derived both appearance and manners from her. If her comments were to be believed - and Elizabeth had no reason to think otherwise - she was not only prepared but delighted to assist Elizabeth's entry into society. If Elizabeth had little inclination herself to spend much time in such activities, she was aware that Georgiana would need her assistance and that of the countess when it came time for her to be introduced into society. The dinner could be considered a success. It was not long enough to establish a firm relationship with Darcy's uncle and aunt but it had passed smoothly enough to make a future meeting less fraught with anxiety. She rather thought that their first impression of her was favourable and she believed that she could come to like them quite well indeed. Certainly Darcy had had no qualms about the evening and was frequently heard to exclaim, on their return to Longbourn the next day, that Elizabeth had charmed them completely.
If her mother was unhappy with being allowed only several weeks to prepare a wedding celebration, it seemed only to spur her to greater efforts to organize as many events as possible to allow her neighbours numerous opportunities to appreciate in full the great benefits being accorded to the Bennet family. When Elizabeth was at Longbourn, dinner followed dinner as the principal families all decided to acknowledge Elizabeth's good fortune. Elizabeth's only concern was the discomfort of Darcy. That he was extremely uncomfortable in such surroundings, she well knew but he bore it with admirable calmness. He could even listen to Sir William Lucas, when he complimented him on carrying away the brightest jewel of the country, and expressed his hopes of their all meeting frequently at St. James's, with very decent composure. If he did shrug his shoulders, it was not till Sir William was out of sight. Mrs. Philips's vulgarity was another, and perhaps a greater, tax on his forbearance; and though Mrs. Philips, as well as her sister, stood in too much awe of him to speak with the familiarity which Bingley's good humour encouraged, yet, whenever she did speak, she must be vulgar. Nor was her respect for him, though it made her more quiet, at all likely to make her more elegant.
Elizabeth did all she could to shield him from the frequent notice of either, and was ever anxious to keep him to herself, and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure, it added to the hope of the future; and she looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley. That Darcy and her father were slowly becoming both comfortable and pleased with the company of the other was a great satisfaction; and one day as she watched them playing a game of chess, such a feeling of happiness came over her that she could not bear to remain in the room and quickly exited the house into the nearest garden. She had not time to control her tears when she heard approaching footsteps and Darcy's voice enquiring as to the cause of her distress. Wiping her eyes, she quickly sought to embrace and murmured into his chest, "I am not distressed! Indeed I am not! I am happy!"
She could hear the confusion in his voice, "But you are crying?"
"Indeed I am happy. It was the sight of you and my father playing chess together that made me so. The sight of the two men I love most being so content in each other's company was...I don't know how to express it!"
"You love me!" Elizabeth could not miss the exultation mixed with uncertainty in Darcy's voice.
"Indeed I do, William! Most ardently!"
At this Elizabeth paused but, before she could continue, she found her lips otherwise engaged most delightfully and, she thought, rather ardently - the meaning of which she was coming to appreciate and understand more fully. The expressions of love that flowed from Darcy were a surprise to her and she realized that he had tempered his own effusions perhaps in deference to an unwillingness to overset her feelings. Now, it seemed, all restraints were loosed and it was only their proximity to the house that moderated his expressions of happiness.
In a calmer manner they prolonged their escape from the celebration inside and strolled around the garden. Elizabeth's spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. "How could you begin?" said she. "I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?"
"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."
"My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners - my behaviour 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."
"You may as well call it impertinence at once. 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. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; 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."
"Was there no good in your affectionate behaviour to Jane while she was ill at Netherfield?"
"Dearest Jane! Who could have done less for her? But make a virtue of it by all means. My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarrelling with you as often as may be."
Finally the wedding day arrived, vows were exchanged, the registry signed and Miss Elizabeth Bennet surrendered that name and became, to her great pleasure, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy. The newly wedded couple stayed but an hour for the wedding breakfast and took their leave to honeymoon for nearly a month in Weymouth. I cannot divulge much of what transpired there other to say that Mrs. Darcy had no cause to repine in those marital intimacies which ensued and indeed the frequency with which she and Mr. Darcy enjoyed each other's company in the privacy of their bedchamber must stand as testimony to their mutual happiness.
Their return to Longbourn, a scant two days before her sister's wedding, was an occasion of great joy for Jane Bennet. The newly wedded couple had been offered and accepted the chance to stay at Netherfield and Jane had not needed more than an hour to determine that her sister was indeed most happily married. Neither Darcy nor Elizabeth were of a nature for public displays of affection but Jane could discern - in a host of small incidents: a frequency of small touches, a tendency to walk closely together, exchanges of lingering glances and a desire to retire early in the evening - that her sister and her husband were quite pleased with each other. One startling fact Jane was to discover was that her sister and her husband shared but a single bed and had done so from the very first night of their marriage - a fact which gave her pause for considerable thought.
Following the Bingley wedding, the Darcys removed to Pemberley and were joined a month later by the Bingleys who had travelled to visit for a month with his relatives in the north of England. The two happy couples had not enjoyed each other's company for more than a fortnight when an express from Mr. Bennet overset all their plans. Lydia, foolish Lydia, had been caught in a most compromising position with an officer in the ____shire Militia. Fortunately the officer, Captain Carter, who was well known to them all, was prepared - perhaps one might even say, delighted - to act in an honourable manner and wed the young lady. The alacrity with which he signalled his intentions might have been cause for concern as to how much blame could actually be attached to Miss Lydia's role but his interest in her seemed genuine and no one doubted the necessity of their marrying. Indeed, given Lydia's behaviour, she could not, under the circumstances, have been wed to a more capable gentleman. The Darcys and Bingleys returned to Netherfield posthaste and it was but a matter of days for the details of a marriage settlement agreeable to Captain Carter were finalized. Contributions of 1,000 pounds from both Bingley and Darcy, a guarantee of 100 pounds per annum from Mr. Bennet, an equal share of her mother's portion upon the death of both her parents and the purchase of a Captaincy in the regulars for Captain Carter, was sufficient to settle the matter. That the captain had a modest income from a family bequest of about 4,000 pounds, in addition to his salary, would provide him, his wife and the subsequent children with a modest, but comfortable, life. Fortunately - or perhaps not, from Lydia's viewpoint - the captain was not inclined to allow his wife to waste their income on fripperies which they could ill afford.
The Carters were, for the first months of their marriage, settled in Essex; however, towards the end of the year, the captain's regiment was designated to travel to Canada to defend that country from its American neighbours. His wife was to accompany him, at his request, since his sojourn there was to be of no short duration. At the conclusion of that war, the captain resolved to remain in the country, adopting as his new home the port of Halifax. In this endeavour he was supported, albeit somewhat reluctantly, by his wife who rather wished to see her parents once more. In time she found that the less restrained lifestyle that could be lived in Halifax was much to her liking. While Captain Carter remained in the military, Mr. Gardiner, who hoped to expand his presence in the Americas, was convinced to begin employing him as his agent to their mutual benefit; and, in the course of time, the captain's effort proved so successful as to allow him to resign from the military and devote himself full-time to Mr. Gardiner's business.
The wedding of Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley was the pinnacle of Mrs. Bennet's happiness. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. The marriage of the daughter she favoured above all others could not be the subject of excessive praise; although such satisfaction as she could realize was lessened considerably by that daughter being settled so far away as to preclude the possibility of visiting. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.
Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him oftener from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected. Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his wife and sister was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighbouring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.
Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia's example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.
Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy's marriage; but as she thought it advisable to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, she dropped all her resentment; was fonder than ever of Georgiana, almost as attentive to Darcy as heretofore, and paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth.
Pemberley was now Georgiana's home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended. Georgiana had the highest opinion in the world of Elizabeth; though at first she often listened with an astonishment bordering on alarm at her lively, sportive, manner of talking to her brother. He, who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she now saw the object of open pleasantry. Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen in her way. By Elizabeth's instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself.
Lady Catherine was extremely indignant on the marriage of her nephew; and as she gave way to all the genuine frankness of her character in a letter which denounced its arrangement in language so very abusive, especially of Elizabeth, that for some time all intercourse was at an end. But at length, by Elizabeth's persuasion, Darcy was prevailed on to overlook the offence, and seek a reconciliation. After a little farther resistance on the part of his aunt, her resentment gave way, either to her affection for him, or her curiosity to see how his wife conducted herself; and she condescended to wait on them at Pemberley, in spite of that pollution which its woods had received, not merely from the presence of such a mistress, but the visits of her uncle and aunt from the city. With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest pleasure in the company of thosepersons who, by the excellence of their manners and intelligence could not but bring credit to themselves and those connected to them..
It is not to be supposed that a couple, both of whom are possessed of strong opinions, lively tempers and a goodly measure of stubbornness, could hope to avoid arguments and disagreements; however, since both were also possessed of a very strong affection for the other and the ability to consider the other's viewpoint, such disagreements were rarely of a long duration. By Elizabeth's liveliness and happy nature, Darcy was enlivened while Elizabeth found her understanding improved by Darcy's experience and knowledge and, if she found, more frequently than she expected, that her opinion needed to be modified once exposed to his information, she could be satisfied that her husband was quite willing to defer to her judgement in those areas where she had proven her superiority.The End