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For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

July 13, 2015 03:09PM
Chapter 2


1812

While I would hope that all who have ventured this short distance into my tale are familiar with those misunderstandings and misbehaviours that characterized the history of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy prior to their near-meeting at Pemberley in the summer of year 1812, I cannot assume it to be so and will here attempt a brief outline of the same and hope that the repetition will not bore you unduly. Should you wish to skip blithely ahead to the next chapter, take comfort that you are most likely not alone and that no one will ever know that you have done so.

Mr. Darcy first made the acquaintance of Miss Bennet when he ventured into her home county, Hertfordshire, to visit a friend, Mr. Charles Bingley, who had leased the Netherfield estate which lay within three miles of the Longbourn estate wherein lived the Bennet family. Mr. Darcy was possessed of those attributes most likely to make him attractive to the gentler sex: a fine, tall figure, handsome features and a noble mien. That he was wealthy only fixed more firmly the general approbation of the neighbourhood until his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for they soon found him to be proud, to be above his company, above being pleased and possessed of a most disagreeable countenance. All this was revealed when he, at the urging of his friend, attended a country assembly where he was to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet for the first time.

Darcy had not been in her presence for more than a few hours when he, unknowingly, had cause to insult her most grievously – an insult which she had the misfortune to overhear - and the very poor opinion she formed of him from that moment was buttressed quite thoroughly by his display of pride, conceit and a general disdain for all those not of his immediate party. Such behaviour was not unusual for Darcy; he truly gave little consideration for the thoughts or well-being of those he considered beneath him and for whom he held no responsibility. For his part, he thought poorly of her at first but, over the following weeks, his opinion changed gradually as to fix his interest on her; although, mindful that her disadvantages – her connections were poor; her dowry, non-existent; and members of her family prone to display the most improper behaviour in public – were such as to make it impossible, in his mind, for any display of his interest to be made known to her or to a wider public. As he had, in the past, been the object of many a young woman more interested in his wealth, estate and status than in his character, he had come to believe that all women were of a like mind. That Miss Caroline Bingley, sister of the friend with whom he was visiting, had similar ambitions and behaved, in the past and during his current visit, in the most forward of manner to attach his interest, greatly tried both his patience and civility but also more forcefully made clear the difference in behaviour between the two ladies, much to the advantage of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Such was the disapprobation of Darcy held by Elizabeth Bennet that, when a man with all the appearance of a gentleman – and even now the name brings a scowl to my face – by the name of George Wickham arrived to take employment with the ______shire Militia and undertook to spin her a tale of misfortune and mistreatment by one Fitzwilliam Darcy, it was believed without reservation and removed the last remaining traces of approbation held by her in regards of Mr. Darcy who was now proven to not only be proud, disagreeable and disdainful of others but dishonourable as well.

While Darcy was doing as much as lay within his power to avoid changing Elizabeth’s disapproval, Mr. Bingley had paid such attentions to Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, from the first moment of their acquaintance so as to earn her most tender regard. A young woman who combined great beauty, common sense, and a willingness to believe everyone as good and kind as herself, Jane Bennet - perhaps as a means of protecting her sensibilities from the effusions of a mother whose primary goal was to arrange a most advantageous marriage for her daughter - had developed a reserve and serenity of countenance as to quite hide her feelings from all but the closest and most discerning observer. Perhaps only Elizabeth knew the true depth of her feelings and, although Mr. Bingley may have gained some awareness, his own natural modesty prevented him from attaching as much credit to that knowledge as he could, or should, have done. For Mr. Bingley was yet a young man, not over three and twenty years of age and possessed of such amiable qualities as to earn him friends wherever he might venture; however, that modesty, which I noted above, was such as to make him repose a great deal of confidence in the opinions and advice of Darcy and this confidence he had never had any reason to question.

Unfortunately for them both, that reserve and serenity of countenance possessed by Jane Bennet quite convinced Darcy that her affections had not been awarded to his friend and this, in conjunction those other considerations of dowry, connections and the improprieties of her family inherent in her situation, convinced Darcy, when his friend had cause to travel to London, to join him there for the purpose of severing the attachment to Jane Bennet. In this task Darcy was supported by Bingley’s sisters who had aspirations of rising to a higher level in society and such hopes were not likely to be achieved by their brother’s marriage to a young lady who lacked both fortune and connections. Their intent being to dissuade their brother from pursuing his interest in Miss Bennet, they willingly joined their efforts with those of Darcy to this end. It is doubtful that any consideration would have worked upon Bingley other than the fact that his closest friend believed Jane Bennet to be indifferent to him. Bingley chose to credit such assertions, decided not to return to Hertfordshire and Jane Bennet was left to repine in the acutest of misery attached to disappointed hopes.

Darcy himself desired to remove himself from Hertfordshire in order to separate himself from Elizabeth Bennet and what he understood to be his growing attraction for her. Her circumstances conflicted totally with those considerations of wealth, status, connections and propriety which he had long believed to be essential in any woman with whom he allowed himself to become attached and the conflict between his expectations and his wishes was such that he feared a victory by the latter unless he removed himself from her presence. Time and distance would, he was sure, allow the memories of Elizabeth to fade along with the attraction to her that he harboured.

On Elizabeth’s part, she missed Darcy not at all. She had more pressing concerns to plague her for some weeks. A distant cousin, William Collins, heir to Longbourn and a rather stupid and obsequious gentleman – which is quite a charitable description of him - had visited the Bennet family with the intention of taking one of Mr. Bennet’s five daughters as his wife. In such an aspiration, he was willingly aided by Mrs. Bennet who first dissuaded him against Jane – whom she thought might attach Mr. Bingley – and found no objections when he directed his attentions to her next eldest daughter, Elizabeth. His subsequent proposal and her refusal quite overset Mrs. Bennet; an appeal by her to Mr. Bennet proved unavailing and Mr. Collins was so discouraged by the whole business as to, within two days, propose to, and be accepted by, Charlotte Lucas who, although Elizabeth’s closest friend, was also seven and twenty and in danger of never finding a husband and independence from her family. Their marriage followed in a matter of weeks and Charlotte left Hertfordshire to take up residence at Hunsford Parsonage in the county of Kent where Mr. Collins held a clerical living given him by Lady Catherine de Bourgh who, coincidentally, was sister to Darcy’s deceased mother and aunt to Darcy.

This connection proved fortuitous, although one hesitates to so describe the events that followed. Mrs. Collins’ request that Elizabeth visit her over Easter at her new home was eventually agreed to, although not without some misgivings, and to Hunsford, Elizabeth did go, accompanied by Charlotte’s father and younger sister. Lady Catherine was found to be all that she had expected: self-important, domineering and gifted with the greatest desire and ability to condescend to everyone and to provide advice on any matter within her purview, on most of which she possessed little knowledge. Unfortunately for Elizabeth’s peace of mind, Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam visited their aunt, Lady Catherine, for some weeks during Elizabeth’s visit and was thrown much into her company. Elizabeth saw nothing in Darcy’s behaviour to change her opinion of him; however, he quickly found himself more enamoured of her than ever. His initial attempt to avoid her company lasted but a week and then he began to seek her out, whilst she was out walking, in order to court her interest. It is a testament to his demeanour that his interest in Miss Bennet quite escaped the notice of his aunt or his cousin, the Colonel.

Unfortunately for his suit, all of his attention was directed to overcoming his own objections to a possible match and none of it to winning the lady’s approval which he assumed he had; for he had come to believe, by dint of the interest shown in him by the usual collection of ladies pursuing him, that any lady would be wishing to attach herself to one such as he, possessed of both wealth and status. Her interest, her compliance he assumed to exist. Mayhap he misunderstood her lively manner as flirtatious. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s dislike of him was augmented when Colonel Fitzwilliam inadvertently revealed Darcy’s role in separating Bingley from her sister, Jane. Elizabeth’s anger was monumental and the exquisite as Darcy chose that same evening to make her an offer of marriage and couched it in such terms as to speak more of the degradation he had to overcome, the poverty of her connections and the impropriety of her family, than of his affections. Such treatment served only to further fuel Elizabeth’s anger and her refusal was as disdainful of his character as his proposal was of hers, calling into question, as it did, his honour in his treatment of Wickham, his role in separating her sister from his best friend and his treatment and manners to those he considered beneath his notice which, in Hertfordshire, seemed to include just about everyone.

The last meeting between them took place the next day when Darcy handed her a letter which outlined his reasons for acting as he did in the case of Wickham and Bingley. In respect of Wickham, Elizabeth could only be mortified by the revelations of that man’s character and misdeeds. With respect to Bingley, if the letter did not absolve Darcy of all responsibility for his actions on behalf of his friend, his motivation - to protect him from entering a marriage where Jane’s affections were absent – was, at the least, honourable. She could hardly fault his error in this respect, given her own misjudgement of Darcy’s character.

Such thoughts were Elizabeth’s constant companion for the months that followed and, while she never repented her decision to refuse Darcy’s offer of marriage, she soon enough regretted the manner in which she had done so. That she could not be happy in a marriage with a man of such disagreeable manners and pride was her firm conviction; she thought better of him and had gained some respect for his character, was gratified that he had developed an affection for her but was sure that those objections he had voiced would, given the vehemence of her refusal, soon cause that affection to wither away altogether. That he might renew his addresses, she discounted altogether; for what man will make a second offer for a woman who abused him so dreadfully in rejecting his first offer?

Elizabeth had been invited to accompany her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner who initially had planned a tour of The Lakes but were forced, by circumstances relating to Mr. Gardiner’s business, to limit their tour to Derbyshire where Mrs. Gardiner had once lived. Their travels had taken them to Lambton, and, while there, to Pemberley – Mr. Darcy’s home – which was but five miles distant. Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s housekeeper, had guided their tour of the house and given such a positive account of Darcy as to completely overset many of Elizabeth’s opinions of that gentleman. She did not believe herself to be in love with him but regret that she could not know him better was accompanied by a wish to do so.

For Darcy's part, the passage of time and reflection on those charges flung at him by Elizabeth had worked such changes in him as to allow him to accept their justice and to effect such changes in his manners and behaviours as were appropriate. That he might wish to renew their acquaintance, he conceded to himself but that his attentions were still unwelcome by the object of them, he had no reason to doubt. If he had acquitted himself in her eyes in regards of Wickham, against him remained his actions in respect of Bingley and her sister – undoubtedly a barrier, as he knew Jane to be her most beloved sister. He had had little opportunity to be in Bingley’s company since leaving Hunsford and he was quite unsure how he wished to proceed in the affair of Jane Bennet. He accepted Elizabeth’s assurances in the matter. That she was convinced her sister held Bingley in some regard, he could not question. She must know her sister’s heart better than he; however, his advice to Bingley was based on his own observations and conclusions. He could not, in good conscience, advise his friend towards any course of action based on another’s opinion. He also could not disclose Elizabeth’s opinion without providing a full account of how he came into possession of such knowledge. He knew his friend too well to believe him willing to accept the knowledge otherwise and too perceptive to accept anything less than the truth. Indeed his own honour would not allow him to dissemble in this instance. Darcy could not bear to reveal the humiliation attending his rejected proposal and so his only choice was to convince his friend to return to Netherfield and ascertain the truth of Miss Bennet’s affections for himself. Darcy could not bear to face Elizabeth’s disapproval once more and therefore knew he could not accompany Bingley. Perhaps if Bingley were to attach himself to Jane Bennet – marry her, in fact – he could come into Elizabeth’s presence on occasion. If her attitude towards him was as before, he would have to, in future, avoid her altogether; if it were not, then he could consider renewing his attentions.

Several days after she and the Gardiners had arrived in Lambton, Elizabeth received two letters which caused their rapid departure in order to return to Longbourn and London. The letters, from Jane, disclosed that their sister Lydia, who had accompanied the wife of the Colonel of the _____shire Militia when it removed to Brighton, had run off with George Wickham. Lydia’s expectation that he would marry her were as misguided as could be expected of a young girl of but fifteen years, who had never learned proper behaviour and had engaged in the little but the most frivolous of activities and flirtations. By the time their carriage rolled to a stop in front of Longbourn, Elizabeth had convinced her relatives of the worthlessness of Wickham and that the prospect of a marriage to Lydia was unlikely in the extreme - Lydia’s expectations notwithstanding. The accuracy of her assertions was soon proven as no trace of either could be found and news of a marriage, eagerly though it might be hoped for, was never received. Within days of the news of Lydia’s disgrace becoming general knowledge, the Bennet family was being shunned by the neighbourhood. Calls were not accepted nor returned and public conversations were avoided. Mr. Bennet noticed little change – his disposition never being one to take pleasure in company – but his wife and daughters suffered greatly as it soon became clear that, of all their acquaintance, only the Philipses would deign to visit and they only because they were related.

Long before the full implications of Lydia’s disgrace had begun to fully weigh down on the residents of Longbourn; Darcy had attempted a private conversation with Bingley on the matter of Jane Bennet. Wishing to find the most appropriate moment, he had, for over a week after their arrival, delayed the interview until finally, recognizing his excuses for what they were, he had broached the subject as they lingered over a late night glass of port. Secure in the knowledge of their privacy, Darcy had opened the subject.

“Charles, have you considered returning to Netherfield?”

Bingley looked at Darcy, surprised and puzzled. Darcy rarely called him Charles and usually only when talking of the most personal of matters. The last time he had done so was when he had cautioned him about Jane Bennet’s affection, or rather the lack of it. Was this to be of a similar nature? He took a few moments to collect his thoughts before responding.

“My lease is up at Michaelmas. I had not planned to visit there again. There seems no point, does there?”

“It is a very decent estate, Charles, and conveniently located to town. On those merits alone, it would not be a poor investment.”

Bingley considered his friend more closely. This line of conversation puzzled him exceedingly and he made no effort to hide his confusion.

“I do not comprehend your meaning, Darcy. You know very well why I would be reluctant to return. While I cannot say that my affections for Miss Bennet have totally abated, I am, I hope, much more sanguine about her. Nevertheless, I would not wish to be in her company once more and I could not avoid that without being totally uncivil.”

"You do retain some feelings for Miss Bennet, then?”

Bingley sat quietly for several minutes canvassing his feelings about Jane Bennet. Finally he admitted, “My feelings, my affections are…I still consider her one of the most delightful women I have met – and certainly the most beautiful.”

Darcy did not reply immediately, wondering how he might best pursue the matter, “It is her feelings then that remain at issue?”

“That has always been the only issue, Darcy. You must have realized that!”

“Hmmm. True….and it was my assurances that convinced you?”

“You know that is so! I fail to understand why we are discussing this now.”

“I have reason to believe…”

“Yes?” Bingley was feeling a little impatient at the direction of the conversation. It was almost as though his friend was…surely not!

“Darcy, are you saying that you wish me to return to Netherfield? Why?”

Darcy’s reply was slow in coming and his hesitation, obvious. “I have…over the past few months…had cause to reconsider my…opinions about Miss Bennet.”

“Reconsider? What does that mean? You were quite confident that she did not hold any affection for me. What has changed?”

Darcy was slightly taken aback by his friend’s vehemence and to calm matters, rose to refill their glasses and give himself a few moments to consider what to say. Finally he ventured, “It is not so much that I have changed my opinion. How could I? I have not seen Miss Bennet for more than eight months.”

“I detect a "but" here, Darcy.”

“Darcy gave his friend a brief grin, “True! There is a "but". He noticed Bingley’s raised eyebrows and retorted, “Well, I have had…cause to remember my own nature - my reserve, my reticence. How I mask my feelings from others. I began to wonder if Miss Bennet was similarly…afflicted.”

“Why would you wonder? What would have led you to such a conclusion?”

Darcy was beginning to wish his friend was less diligent on this matter. He was pressing him harder than he had expected. To reveal Elizabeth’s opinion, he could not do unless he was prepared to disclose all the particulars of his rejected proposal. That he would not do. And, while he was prepared to accept that Elizabeth believed her sister to hold Bingley in affection, he himself did not know that to be the case. He also could not be sure how much Elizabeth’s own partiality for her sister had biased her opinion and he would not claim of his own knowledge that such affection existed on the part of Jane Bennet. Perhaps he could hedge the matter.

“Charles, you may remember I visited my Aunt in Kent this past Easter. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was visiting her friend, Charlotte Lucas, who had married a Mr. Collins, Miss Bennet’s cousin and the rector for my aunt’s parish. I had several…conversations with Miss Elizabeth and she indicated that her sister held her feelings very much in reserve.”

“And that is the basis for your opinion?”

“That and the fact that Miss Bennet visited London for several months last winter, staying with her relatives in Cheapside.”

Bingley sat up, suddenly alert. “Did she? Did she call on my sisters?”

“I believe so.”

“And?”

“That is all I know, Charles. You must solicit your sisters for anything more. But it does suggest some degree of interest in maintaining the acquaintance, does it not?”

“Maybe. Maybe. I must talk to Caroline.” He looked at Darcy with a touch of asperity in his voice. “You knew of her visit and did not inform me. Why?”

“I was wrong not to have done so and apologize most heartedly. My only excuse is that I was concerned at the time that your feelings for Miss Bennet had not abated sufficiently for you to safely meet her. I believe now that it was wrong of me to withhold this information from you.”

Bingley only grunted and a look of displeasure on his countenance remained for some minutes until replaced by one more thoughtful. Further conversation foundered for some minutes on Charles’ abstraction and Darcy was content to have it so until finally Charles returned his gaze to Darcy.

“If I should decide to return to Netherfield, I trust you will accompany me.”

Darcy knew he could not face Elizabeth again. Her parting words and the disdain in her countenance and voice as she said, “I had not known you a month, before I you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” were such as to preclude any hope that she would welcome his presence. And to be in her presence was more than he could bear.

It had taken him some time to understand the full sense of those words; but finally he comprehended the truth. While Wickham had indeed blackened his reputation, and his defence had, he hoped, salvaged and repaired that damage, Elizabeth Bennet had decided against him long before she even met Wickham. Her judgement was based on her understanding of his character, his manners and his treatment of those he and society considered his inferiors. She had judged him, found him wanting and rendered her decision – she never wished to see him again. He could only honour her wish. No, a return to Hertfordshire was impossible.

“No, I am sorry Charles, but that will not be possible.”

Bingley looked slightly surprised and Darcy fully expected him to ask for a reason. He could claim a need to remain at Pemberley to deal with the needs of the estate, having been away for many months. Bingley surprised him, however, saying, “That does not altogether surprise me. You did not enjoy your time at Netherfield. Your dislike – nay, disdain - of the society was clear to everyone.”

Darcy found himself embarrassed at how obvious his incivility had been and was about to apologize when Bingley waved it off.

“It matters not, Darcy.”

Emptying his glass, Bingley made as though to rise and Darcy interjected, “Have you decided to return?”

“Hmmm? Return?....No, I have not decided. I must talk to Caroline.”

Without further ado, he lurched to his feet, stretched and ambled slowly out of the room, leaving his friend to contemplate their discussion. He was a little surprised that Bingley had not been more enthusiastic about returning to Netherfield; and what was his intent in talking to his sister? After a few more minutes he resolved to simply observe his friend’s behaviour and discern if he had reached a decision.

As it turned out, the only further information he was to glean was conveyed by Caroline Bingley who mentioned that her brother had asked about Miss Bennet’s visit. Her manner expressed some displeasure in Darcy’s role in revealing that such a visit occurred and, when queried about what she had told her brother, smiled archly and escaped without saying anything further. Before he left, Bingley revealed his intention to visit his relatives in the north and Darcy could only suspect that any thoughts of returning to Netherfield had been discarded.

What you may ask was Miss Lydia Bennet’s fate. I would not leave you all atwitter with impatience her circumstances. A delicacy of mind forbids that we discuss the particulars of what I suppose to be her fate and I am sure you are all possessed of too much propriety to wish to have them disclosed in all of their particulars. The unfortunate Miss Lydia was deserted by her faithless swain not more than two months after leaving Brighton and the day after her scant funds had been exhausted. Left penniless, alone, lacking any useful skill other than that which she had plied without recompense for Wickham’s gratification for two months, too foolish or unable to return to the safety of her family – if she even knew how to reach them – and deserted in one of the most dissolute parts of London, her prospects were as bleak as could be imagined. All too soon the prospect of life even in a poor brothel would be, to her, a blessing as it at least would ensure the availability of food and lodging. In this condition we shall leave her for the nonce and I apologize to my readers for not affording her a more pleasant fate but all too often the choices we make in life preclude happy endings; and, while it may be kind to say that Miss Lydia’s mistakes should not have resulted in such a fate, the misery she inflicted upon her family through her own thoughtless and improper behaviour really does not warrant as much sympathy as we are usually wont to supply. Miss Lydia Bennet will, however, intrude on this story at a later point and her situation will, I hope, be made clear then.

The months that followed were surprisingly quiet for our hero and heroine. He remained at Pemberley for the winter, only returning to London in February to escort his sister to his aunt, the Countess, who had agreed to supervise Georgiana’s presentation at court and her entry into society.

At Longbourn, the isolation had continued to the point where the Bennet sisters now only infrequently ventured into Meryton where they were treated with minimal civility by all and had forsaken such entertainments as the local assembly altogether. What purpose would be served by their presence at such an event when dancing partners were non-existent? Mr. Bennet seemed impervious to the isolation; his library had always been his refuge and the absence of visitors and entertainments simply allowed him the pleasure of spending more time there. His words, when he returned following his futile search for his daughter, were telling. On Elizabeth’s expressing her sorrow for what he had endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it. Let me, for once in my life, feel how much I am to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

And so it proved to be. To his daughters’ distress, he remained completely oblivious and, to that of his wife, he might well appear pleased. For Mrs. Bennet, such isolation was of the cruelest nature. Her great pleasures were to find husbands for her daughters and to gossip. Denied both such gratifications, she, after some months of bewailing the injustices that her husband, her daughters, Mr. Wickham, Colonel Forster and anyone else she could remember, had inflicted upon her, began a slow decline which saw her retire to her rooms more frequently and for a greater duration. By the time six months had passed, she was not in company with her daughters more than two hours a day and the shrill tones of her voice were noticeably absent within the walls of Longbourn. If her spirits were revived when her brother, Mr. Gardiner, and his family visited them over the Christmas season, the improvement did not survive their departure a week later by more than a few days. The Gardiners were not slow to realize the depression of spirits that permeated Longbourn and a plan was quickly devised as to allow each of the four sisters to visit them in London for a month in turn.

In these unhappy states we must leave our hero and heroine and await the next stage in our story. Some unhappy news has to be imparted and actions taken.
SubjectAuthorPosted

For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

PeterJuly 13, 2015 03:09PM

Re: For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

RoxeyJuly 14, 2015 06:52PM

Re: For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

Lucy J.July 14, 2015 04:06AM

Re: For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

Lucy J.July 14, 2015 04:06AM

Re: For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

terrycgJuly 14, 2015 01:31AM

Re: For Want of a Nail - Chapter 2

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