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In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

Roslyn
June 09, 2018 07:00PM
Chapter Three

Once Darcy and Elizabeth had arrived at the house, their plans for a tour of the grounds were soon thwarted by her ladyship’s discovery of her nephew’s early return. He had barely come down after making himself presentable when Lady Catherine, with Anne in tow, rushed downstairs herself to greet her future son-in-law, and thrust his blooming future bride before his notice.

It was decided then—primarily by her ladyship—that it was too late in the day for a tour of the grounds, and that the three young people might do so all together the next morning instead. Mrs. Collins would not mind going along as chaperone, would she?
A little later, the party reconvened for a light supper. Calmed after the initial excitement of Darcy’s early return, Lady Catherine was mollified enough by the long journey to be even a somewhat pleasant dinner companion.

“So your plans for Mansfield Park were cut off by a sudden family illness?” asked Darcy of the ladies, mainly of Elizabeth.

“Indeed,” answered Lady Catherine. “Poor Tom Bertram. Such a handsome young man, but unfortunately very wild, very headstrong. Full of romantic notions but very little sense of duty to the family. It’s a miracle some calamity hasn’t befallen him sooner.”

Darcy and Elizabeth’s eyes met briefly across the table, Elizabeth’s eyes alight in amusement over the force of this pronouncement, and Darcy, knowing Elizabeth would find this unilateral decree of his aunt’s amusing, eager to see the subtle flash of mirth across her features.

“Were not you great friends with Lady Bertram at school, Mamma?” asked Anne.

“Yes, inseparable! Indeed, I am sorry for Maria’s sake, but I daresay she may even agree with me, poor woman. There’s no accounting for wildness in young men these days. Especially elder sons. Would they were all like Darcy. You are extremely fortunate, Anne.”

The younger people all shifted somewhat uncomfortably at her ladyship’s reference to the supposed understanding between her daughter and her nephew, and silently agreed to let it pass unanswered.

“When are we to see Georgiana, Darcy?” continued Lady Catherine, unawares. “When does she arrive from town?”

“When I left London, her plan was to depart with some friends on Sunday, and to be here early next week.” He sought out Elizabeth’s eyes again. “She comes with Mr. Bingley and his sisters.”

“Oh,” replied Elizabeth, finding her cheeks growing unaccountably warm.

“Are you acquainted with Mr. Charles Bingley, Mrs. Collins?” asked her ladyship.

“Indeed, Lady Catherine. Mr. Bingley was the tenant at Netherfield Hall last autumn, which is not three miles from Longbourn. The Netherfield party were much in company and we saw them quite often – in fact,” she added, refusing to look across the table at their host, “I owe my first acquaintance with Mr. Darcy to that time.”

“Oh yes, of course,” responded her ladyship, not finding this piece of information very interesting after all. “I seem to remember meeting Mr. Bingley some years back in town. He is a pleasant enough young man, though his family were in trade. Miss Caroline Bingley, on the other hand, is very trying. Such airs that woman gives herself! She has undoubtedly set her cap at Darcy, as if anyone could be so bold as to commandeer Anne’s betrothed. Horrible woman!”

Darcy finished the contents of his wine glass before replying dryly, “have no fear, Aunt. I am in no danger from Miss Bingley . . .”

For at least the second time that evening, Elizabeth found herself training her eyes staunchly at the table, refusing to catch her host’s eye. Lady Catherine, not hearing anything in her nephew’s reply to give her anything but reassurance, continued to talk of matters incidental to their travels, and before long the party, all tired from their long journeys, parted ways to retire for the evening.




The next morning was unseasonably chilly, but Miss de Bourgh insisting she was undeterred by the weather, the little party set out to tour the grounds as planned. Sensible that his cousin, though undeniably heartier than when last he saw her, was not nearly as strong a walker as himself or Mrs. Collins, Darcy determined to drive the ladies out in the phaeton. It was just large enough to accommodate three, especially as Anne was so slender, and the drive would have the added benefit of giving Mrs. Collins the full aspect of the park.

Eager to please his unanticipated guest and sensible of her love of walking, however, Darcy assured the ladies that there would be ample opportunity to explore the grounds on foot along the river when they reached the northern end of the estate. That he also hoped to create some opening for private conversation between himself and Elizabeth when the two of them inevitably outpaced Anne on foot, he kept to himself.

The drive through the park was exceedingly pleasant. Though the day had started overcast, by late morning the clouds began to part and the weather turned warmer. Elizabeth listened contentedly as Darcy conversed easily with his cousin, answering her questions about the wildlife and greenery in the park, matter-of-factly explaining the various trails and triumphs incident to running so large an estate. While it was obvious to everyone but her mother that Darcy had no design to marry Anne, it was also clear that he had genuine regard for his cousin, and that he took real pleasure in seeing her increase in health and vitality.

At length, the party stopped by the river as promised, and Darcy handed down both ladies from the carriage.

They walked along the bank conversing all together for a time, until, predictably, Elizabeth and Darcy found themselves several steps ahead of Anne. Elizabeth, turning over her shoulder to ensure her friend was alright, saw that Miss de Bourgh had removed her bonnet, was enjoying the warmth of the sun on her cheeks, and seemed perfectly content to linger some ways behind. Prompted by Elizabeth’s turning, Darcy looked back too, and smiling when he observed his cousin’s obvious enjoyment of the scene, he then motioned silently by way of inviting Elizabeth to continue along the river with him.

Once they were effectively alone again, Elizabeth felt all the awkwardness of their situation return, as if the ease they had accomplished that morning and the laughter they’d shared upon meeting the previous evening had been merely a fragile artifice.

“I—”

“Uh, do you—”

“Pray,” said Darcy, smiling a little without looking at her, “continue.”

“I was going to say again, sir, how very unexpected your arrival was. The housekeeper assured us you would not be here for some days, and as such I had hoped that by the time you arrived you would already have received news of my being among the Rosings Party. . . perhaps I ought not to have come.”

“I beg you do not make yourself uneasy. I had planned it so myself, but found I had business with my steward and so rode on ahead of the rest of the party without informing anyone. You needn’t apologize – you are very welcome here.”

Elizabeth colored, but pressed on, despite her embarrassment. “Your aunt was quite insistent – she would brook no refusal!”

Darcy chuckled at this. “You need not explain yourself – I well know how forceful my aunt can be. She ought to have been in parliament. But, despite all that, I hope. . . I hope you did wish to see Pemberley for yourself.”

The blush in Elizabeth’s cheeks intensified, but she could not dissemble. “Yes, very much. Pemberley is every bit as beautiful as I’ve been told to expect, if not more so.” There was a charged silence between them for a moment, which Elizabeth determined to break by remarking, “but I hated the idea that you might think my acceptance of your aunt’s invitation presumptuous. Indeed, you would be perfectly justified in thinking so.”

“Come, madam,” he replied, still looking far out ahead of their steps rather than at her. “I gave up attempting to think poorly of you a long time ago.”

Elizabeth, though effected by this comment, said nothing in reply, and Darcy seemed uninclined to press the subject any further. They walked on in a not-uncompanionable silence for some moments, the light summer breeze toying with Elizabeth’s loosened bonnet strings, fluttering them vaguely in the direction of her companion.

“I look forward to introducing my sister, Georgiana, to you when she arrives next week.”

“I should be very happy to make her acquaintance,” replied Elizabeth, sincerely. The mention of Georgiana Darcy, however, could not help but recall the contents of his letter to mind. She wondered whether it was safe, or rather anything short of abject foolishness, to attempt at some point during her visit to discuss its contents with him. Would he perhaps say something of it himself?

“Your sister spends much of her time in London, I take it.”

“At present, yes. She is exceedingly fond of music and of course the best masters are in town. But she has always loved Pemberley, from the time she was a child, and I endeavor to tempt her here as often as possible by keeping the pianoforte in impeccable condition.”

Elizabeth smiled at this endearing example of his affection for his sister. “Then I shall be most anxious to hear her play upon it when she comes.”

He smiled at her, and then, seeming to gain courage from the growing ease of their exchange, volunteered, “I hope the disclosures I made to you in my letter some months back about our history with Mr. Wickham did not trouble you unduly. Perhaps I ought to have spared you that. But I could not bear that you should be ignorant of the true nature of his character, even if it necessitated the revelation of one of the most painful episodes of my own experience. I have complete faith in your confidence, of course— but perhaps it was pride, rather than an entirely impartial desire to inform you of the truth, that governed the manner in which I went about it.”

He sighed, seeming to really wrestle with his thoughts as he spoke them to her. “If I said more than I ought, then I hope you will forgive me.”

Elizabeth, who could not at this prompting fail to remember all the things he had said to her in Kent, was silent a moment, willing the heat from rising to her cheeks and carefully considering her response.

“I was surprised, upon reading your letter, to hear all that had transpired between your family and Mr. Wickham, especially as regards Miss Darcy. But, upon reflection, it was not difficult to accept its truth. There was plenty in my own knowledge of Mr. Wickham to persuade me that his obliging manners and eagerness to please wherever he went were in fact contrived to conceal more glaring faults. I could not blame Miss Darcy, who had known him from childhood, for thinking him at first every bit as agreeable as all of Meryton did. I was sorry she had to learn so harsh a lesson at so young an age, but I am glad that ultimately no harm came to her.”

Elizabeth paused, then added without looking at her companion, “she must love and trust her brother very much.”

His manner in answering was serious. “I endeavor daily to deserve it.”

They walked on for some minutes in silence, both lost in their own reflections. When they had gained the summit of a small hill, at which they both naturally paused to take in the pleasant prospect which the vantage point presented of the house, now small in the distance, he spoke again.

“I have a proposition for you. Not,” he said, with a little self-deprecatingly smile when she half-started at his words, “as before. But I do wish, very much, madam, for your friendship. I hate the idea of being a perpetual burden to your peace of mind, in spite of all that’s passed between us. I have no scruple in telling you that I enjoy the company of few people as much as I enjoy yours. It would pain me to alienate such a person, and I very much hope you might see your way to viewing things as I do.”

Elizabeth stood silently for a moment, looking back toward the house, the sun warm on her face, considering his proposal. She smiled then, and replied “my father used to say that we should think of the past only as it gives us pleasure. Let us not quarrel then, Mr. Darcy, about the past. Let us be friends.”

For the first time in their conversation, indeed, almost for the first time since their meeting the night before, both regarded the other openly, and a warm smile soon passed between them. Before the moment lingered too long, Darcy pronounced, “Good. Good. Shall we return to my cousin? I fear she has fallen rather far behind.” He motioned the way, Elizabeth nodded, and side-by-side (though not too near the other) they walked back down the hill, toward Anne and the carriage.




“What think you of my cousin Darcy, Mrs. Collins?” asked Miss de Bourgh of her friend that afternoon, while the two ladies were taking their tea on the terrace adjoining Miss de Bourgh’s rooms.

Her companion, who had lately spent a great deal of her time trying not to think of the gentleman in question, was somewhat startled by the inquiry. She regarded her friend inquisitively, but Miss de Bourgh’s expression betrayed no suspicion of anything beyond idle curiosity.

“Mr. Darcy? . . . it is not difficult to think well of your cousin— he is clearly an honorable, generous man. But I have not had the benefit of a life-long acquaintance with him as you have in forming a more complete opinion.”

“But you were much in company together, were you not? Last autumn in Hertfordshire, before your marriage?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Although, Mr. Darcy did not seem particularly interested in Meryton society, and kept much to his own party then.”

“Hmm, yes. That is not really surprising. William has always been reserved, sometimes shy even.”

“Miss de Bourgh, may I ask—to what do all these questions tend?”

Anne sighed. “Doubtless, you know my mother’s long-held design that I should wed my cousin.”

“Yes,” replied Elizabeth, in as tactful a tone as she could manage.

“I have nothing against Darcy, in fact, I think very highly of him. Indeed, my cousin, I suppose, would make as good a husband by any standard as could be got . . . but I have no intention of getting one.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at this. “Indeed?”

Anne nodded enthusiastically. “Indeed. Why should I? I have the luxury so many women lack of one day inheriting my family’s estate. Marriage would do nothing but require me to give over that inheritance to my husband directly we are wed. My cousin has plenty with which to concern himself here at Pemberley — why should he wish to take on Rosings as well? And for my part, I’d much prefer to be mistress of Rosings in my own right. So you see it is really better for us both in the end that this whole notion of a marriage between us is abandoned. And really, I don’t think that Darcy intends to make me an offer any more than I intend to accept one.”

Elizabeth regarded her companion with both surprise and approbation, having never expected to hear such modern ideas from Miss Anne de Bourgh of Rosings Park. But she could not fault her. The idea of running one’s own house entirely as one saw fit, without the interference of a husband often under-foot, plaguing one with his inferior ideas and ridiculous deference to his betters, had great appeal. But to run an estate as the equal partner of a considerate, wise, and capable husband whom one loved and who respected one’s judgment— that, might be an entirely different proposition. . .

“But I think I must ask for your aid, my friend, if the day comes when I must defend this position to Lady Catherine.” Anne smiled at her friend, almost conspiratorially. “She will not take kindly to it, I think.”

Elizabeth laughed at the absurdity of the scene which her friend had painted. “No! No, my dear, I am sorry to say she most certainly will not. But never fear, you will have my assistance. Poor Mr. Collins will never forgive me, but you will have it none the less.”

The girls smiled at each other furtively over the rims of their tea cups and spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the many natural beauties of Derbyshire.




The next day brought with it a letter from Jane in London, which Mr. Collins had intercepted at Hunsford and dutifully forwarded on to his wife in Derbyshire, Elizabeth having lacked the time before leaving the parsonage to inform her elder sister of her intended journey. She had, fortunately, had the presence of mind to send her husband an express from Bromley, communicating to him the reasons for their change in plan and their anticipated date of arrival in Derbyshire. In this small way, she satisfied herself, she had performed the role of a considerate and assiduous wife.

Mr. Collins sent with Jane’s letter a brief note hoping that the Rosings Party had arrived at Pemberley in comfort and safety, lamenting Tom Bertram’s sudden illness, and desiring that his good lady was taking every opportunity to thank Lady Catherine for her ladyship’s great condescension.

. . . I trust, my dear, that Lady Catherine’s most particular generosity in including you in her traveling party has not escaped your notice, and that you have not failed to remark upon it often and with sincere gratitude to her ladyship. Your friendship with Miss de Bourgh is indeed a success beyond what I could have hoped for, and I know you will be sensible of the fact that Miss de Bourgh’s confidence is a credit to us that should be carefully employed to its greatest possible advantage . . .

Finding her desire to continue showing herself to be a dutiful wife to Mr. Collins waning with every word of his note, she set aside her husband’s correspondence in favor of the real prize, the letter from beloved Jane. Elizabeth’s travels and Jane’s activities in town had conspired to make it nearly three weeks since Elizabeth had heard from her sister, and Elizabeth was eager to hear the latest from London. While the letter, as a result of its lengthy and circuitous journey to its recipient, was dated a full fortnight before the present date, any news was welcome news.

My dearest Lizzy,

Here we continue at Gracechurch Street to be quiet and comfortable. My aunt and uncle could not be kinder or more attentive. All I lack here, dear Lizzy, is you to make me laugh at myself.

You perhaps have heard from Mamma or Lydia already (though both are such poor correspondents as a rule, perhaps you have not) that our youngest sister has gone to Brighton as the particular guest Mrs. Foster, where the regiment is encamped for the summer.

While I cannot say I entirely support the scheme myself (poor dear Papa has not been in his grave a year and yet Lydia is off to summer at the seaside), it does have its benefits— she will be in Colonel Foster’s care the entirely of the summer, sparing Mamma the cost of Lydia’s maintenance at home. Further, I think some additional domestic peace may be achieved at Longbourn while Lydia is away, as you well know that Lydia, Kitty, and Mamma all under one roof together can produce rather more heated squabbles than when a steadier character such as yourself, our dear father, or even me is present to help them make peace.

Such is the news from Longbourn. For myself in London, you will remember that three weeks ago, when our aunt was going into that part of town, I took the opportunity of calling on Miss Bingley in Grosvenor Street. I was very eager to see Caroline again, and I thought she was glad to see me, though a little out of spirits. She reproached me for giving her no notice of my coming to London, and I thought it very strange that both my letters should have gone astray. My visit was not long, as Caroline and Mrs. Hurst were going out. But, they gave me every promise of calling at Gracechurch Street in a day or two.

I waited at home every morning for three weeks, and at length, today she came. I know, my dear Lizzy, you will be incapable of triumphing at my expense when I tell you that I have been entirely deceived in Miss Bingley’s regard for me. She made it very evident that she took no pleasure in seeing me. When I asked after her brother, she made it clear that he knows of my being in town but is much engaged at present with matters of business from which he cannot easily be extricated.

This is a blow, certainly, but perhaps not one to be much wondered at. I confess I had retained some small hope that, even after the Netherfield party’s abrupt removal from Hertfordshire and dear Papa’s death, Mr. Bingley might retain some portion of that regard he seemed to feel for me last autumn, and wish to renew our acquaintance when the opportunity presented itself. Such does not now seem to be the case. I still welcome the prospect of seeing him again, perhaps even in the time before I return to Hertfordshire, but I think I must begin to school my heart to think of him no longer.

Give my regards to my brother, Mr. Collins. I hope you continue to regain better spirits than those you were in when I left Hunsford in April. I am, as always, your loving sister,

J.B.


Elizabeth finished her sister’s letter with a number of misgivings. First, she entirely shared Jane’s skepticism about Lydia’s summer in Brighton, but what could be done now? Lydia had probably been with the Fosters in Brighton a week already, and Mrs. Bennet would most likely refuse to summon her home until she had got a husband, one way or another.

The potential for what ills Lydia might bring upon herself were too numerous to dwell on with equanimity. Elizabeth determined to write to Lydia immediately and urge her to act prudently—she very much doubted this cautioning would have much effect, but at present, it was all she could do.

What concerned Elizabeth even more was the idea that Charles Bingley was in London, knew of her sister’s presence there, and yet had made no attempt to see her. While it was true that a recent family death such as theirs had experienced often made friends and acquaintances alike more hesitant to intrude, an eager young man in love with a bereaved daughter seemed to have more reason than ever to seek her out and win her if he could.

It was also entirely possible that the pernicious Miss Bingley was deceiving both Jane and her brother, doing her best to keep them apart on the basis of mutual misinformation as long as she could. Elizabeth recalled Darcy’s letter, where he had acknowledged his role in persuading Bingley to leave Hertfordshire out of a mistaken belief that Jane did not equally return his regard. Perhaps, Elizabeth now realized, he had shared this genuine, though mistaken belief with Miss Bingley, who was all too happy to perpetuate it in order to save her brother for Miss Darcy. While Darcy had conceded his error in judging the strength of Jane’s regard, Elizabeth doubted very much that Miss Bingley had experienced a similar change of heart.

Elizabeth sighed. While she had felt almost happy these last three days in Derbyshire, her spirits were now depressed a little by the thought that she was too hopelessly far away from any of her family to be of any use to them. Lydia in Brighton, too far to rebuke and instruct—Mamma at Longbourn, too far to govern and protect—Jane in London, too far to comfort and counsel.

She sat down at the writing desk in her room, eager to pen a letter to each of them. For now, that would have to be enough.
SubjectAuthorPosted

In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

RoslynJune 09, 2018 07:00PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

Hannah N.July 03, 2018 08:12AM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

RoslynJuly 13, 2018 03:13PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

Liz GarmanJune 12, 2018 01:41AM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

janasheJune 11, 2018 12:23PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 3

AlidaJune 09, 2018 10:45PM



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