There has been much speculation about the transformation of a 'man of so much pride' to a man of 'ease and friendliness'. JA offers no clues at all as to how this takes place. This is my interpretation.
"Read on, Lizzy".
Morning found Fitzwilliam Darcy walking in the grove near Hunsford Parsonage in a very agitated manner. "If she does not come soon", he thought, "I shall have to deliver it to the parsonage in person." 'It' was a letter, addressed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. A letter which would, he hoped, go some way towards putting the record straight by explaining his relationship with Wickham, and also why he felt the need to interfere in the affairs of his good friend Bingley, and his relationship with her sister Jane.
What was it that Elizabeth had said? Proud, arrogant, conceited, unfeeling, disdainful. These were adjectives never before used in any description of his character, and their use in this instance had left him feeling very angry. Just then he heard a noise, and turned sharply to find himself faced by Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"Miss Bennet," he said.
"Mr Darcy," she replied.
"I have been walking in the grove for some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honor of reading that letter?" he continued, and then, with a brief bow, turned on his heel and was gone.
He returned immediately to Rosings Park, and went straight to his room, avoiding any contact with the other residents. He wished to be alone with his thoughts, to take some time understanding recent events.
He had been certain of success. "How could my interpretation of her manner have been so inaccurate?" he wondered. He embarked upon a period of self-examination, itself a new phenomenon. He attempted to decipher his feelings, but could not. They were too confused. True he was angry and hurt, but other feelings were also evident. Bitterness at rejection certainly, but what else? After a considerable time spent in meditation, he found that the strongest emotion that he felt at that moment was disappointment. He had been so sure of his reception. "What to do now?" he thought. While his mind was thus engaged, he heard someone calling to him. Colonel Fitzwilliam had returned from Hunsford, and was inquiring after his well being.
"Well Darcy, where did you get to?" said the Colonel, " I understood that we were to take leave of Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas together, but you disappeared."
"Did you see them?" said Darcy.
"I talked to Miss Lucas, but Miss Bennet was nowhere to be seen. I waited for half an hour, but she did not return. I realized that I could wait no longer, since we are to return to London tomorrow, and the arrangements were yet to be made."
"Yes," said Darcy. "I went walking in the grove. I had need of some fresh air."
"Did you see Miss Bennet?" inquired the Colonel.
"No," came the reply, "I did not. It was disappointing, but unavoidable." With this comment he lapsed into silence. He was unhappy with this falsehood, but in no humor to provoke further comment from his cousin. No amount of conversation offered by the Colonel could provoke more than a monosyllabic response, and at length he ceased the attempt. He could see that Darcy was preoccupied, but decided to let the matter rest for the moment and took his leave, curiosity filling his mind.
Darcy just stood by the window, staring out but seeing nothing. He found the situation difficult to accept, but after passing some time in earnest meditation, decided that accept it he must, and quit the room to join the others. He was in no humor for company, but one more night's endurance and then he could go home to London.
After supper, at which he ate little, he excused himself and retired to his room. He bathed and then sat by the window. He could settle to nothing. Whatever activity he attempted to occupy his mind brought no comfort. His thoughts soon returned to Elizabeth. "How could my judgement have been flawed to this degree?" he thought. He had sincerely believed her to be wishing, even expecting his addresses. To have been so inaccurate in his assessment of the situation was a new and unpleasant experience. "What had she also said?" He tried to remember her words. One comment chilled him to his very soul. "Had you behaved in a more gentleman like manner." He had always considered that his manners were perfectly gentlemanly. Was his opinion on that subject also flawed? With that thought, and the others spinning around his mind, he knew that there would be little or no rest that night.
The night was indeed long, but it passed and on the morrow, the two gentlemen departed for London. Darcy's countenance was unchanged. He looked through the window of the carriage and saw nothing. His mind was elsewhere, and still full of conflicting emotions. His companion took note and wondered as to the reason for the recent alteration in his mood.
"Forgive me for asking, Darcy," said the Colonel, " but might I inquire of your health. You have hardly said a word since yesterday morning. Is there some matter causing you discomfort?"
Darcy thought for a moment, and then said "Thank you Fitzwilliam, I am quite well. My mind is a little preoccupied at this moment, that is all".
"Is it something that you wish to discuss?" said the Colonel.
"Perhaps, in time," said Darcy, "but not now," and with that he lapsed into silence again.
The Colonel now had nothing to occupy his mind, and so he began contemplating when Darcy's mood change had occurred. He had appeared to be his usual self, two days ago, but was plainly distracted upon his return to Rosings in the evening. He had retired immediately to his room, shunning contact with anyone. Whatever had happened would appear to have occurred during that evening. "Where did he go?" thought the Colonel. "Oh yes, that was when he had gone to inquire after Miss Bennet's health since she had not joined the party at Rosings." The more thought that the Colonel gave to the subject, the more he became convinced that Darcy's preoccupation must concern Miss Elizabeth Bennet in some fashion. He decided that, by some means or other, he would discover the reason for his cousin's discomfort, and offer any advice or assistance that was in his power.
A short time after arriving in London, they went their separate ways, but not before the Colonel had been able to acquaint Georgiana with his concern for her brother and to request continuing information on the subject. This was not difficult to arrange. Darcy had greeted his sister, bade Fitzwilliam farewell, and then retired to his rooms, to be alone again. Despite her rejection he still loved her, there was no doubting that. The depth of his feeling for her would not dissolve in an instant. What to do now. Forget her? That might be more easily said than done, and would likely take some time. Was there an alternative? He began to realize that he had no one in whom he could confide. Georgiana was too young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, Bingley hardly knew his own mind in matters such as these, and Fitzwilliam was seldom in his company.
In addition, there was another consideration that caused him pain. Bingley had an estate at Netherfield. If they were ever to return there, the possibility existed that they would both come into contact with the sources of their unease.
A few days later, Darcy finally resolved to return to his normal life as far as possible. While he was busy with his business affairs, he could put other thoughts to the back of his mind, but the nights were quite another matter. "Oh, God," he thought on several occasions. "Will it never end, what am I to do?" Such thoughts of hopelessness and despair he had never experienced before, this being the first time that he had really lost his heart. He could have had his choice of numerous, well connected ladies of fashion, at the drop of a hat, but the only woman he had ever truly loved would not have him. It was a new experience, and one that he was ill qualified to resolve. Thoughts of Elizabeth were never far from his mind.
Georgiana was observing her brother from a discreet distance. Apart from the usual pleasantries, she asked no pointed questions, but it grieved her to see him so. Colonel Fitzwilliam maintained a regular correspondence with her and was therefore fully informed. Some weeks later, when it appeared that the situation would never be resolved, he decided to act. He knew that the Bingley family would soon be joining Darcy, and that they would all be travelling to Pemberley for the summer, so at the first opportunity, he left his regiment, and joined Darcy in London.
Darcy was both surprised by and pleased with the visit. "It is always a pleasure to see you Fitzwilliam, but to what purpose do I owe the honor?" he said.
"I thought it time for us to talk" replied Fitzwilliam.
"Talk?" said Darcy. "Is something troubling you?"
"No, not me personally" said the Colonel, "but there is something plainly troubling you, and it has been so since our return from Kent.
"I'm not sure I understand your meaning, Fitzwilliam," said Darcy, feeling momentary embarrassment, "There is nothing to concern you at all, I assure you."
"My information is to the contrary," came the reply, "and we shall discuss it sooner or later and if you like it or not. I am most insistent Darcy, so the sooner I am made aware of whatever troubles you, the sooner it shall be mended and I can return to my regiment, unconcerned by thoughts of your welfare."
Darcy thought for a few moments, then sighed deeply. "Am I transparent to such a degree?" he thought. "Very well, Fitzwilliam," he said, in a tone of resignation. "I have business with the estate to attend to, but later we shall take supper and retire to the library, where I shall tell you all."
Later, after supper, they retired to the library and sat down. There was a momentary silence, and then Darcy spoke.
"Fitzwilliam," he said, "have you ever felt the pain of desiring something more than life itself, and discovering that despite all your wealth and consequence, you cannot have it?"
" No, I cannot say that I have," was the reply, "I am not wealthy, so there are several things I should like but cannot have. The thought does not concern me to any great degree. You must be more specific."
"At Hunsford Parsonage, I declared my heart to Miss Elizabeth Bennet" continued Darcy. "I made a proposal of marriage to her. I informed her that despite the inferiority of her situation in life, and the objections sure to arise from within my own family, my feelings would not be repressed. To my utter amazement, my proposal was refused. I had obviously made a false interpretation of her manner, for I was certain of acceptance. Worse was to follow. She not only refused me, she was extremely forthright in giving me her reasons for doing so. She accused me of ruining the happiness of her elder sister, of displaying cruelty towards Wickham, and of being proud, arrogant, conceited, selfish, disdainful, and without feeling. I wrestled with these accusations during the night, and wrote a letter to her explaining my actions, which I gave to her on the following morning. I even quoted you as a referee, should she choose to give no credence to my explanation. I told her everything, in the hope that it may lessen her ill opinion of me. As to the success of this I am ignorant. The strong feelings of hopelessness and despair, brought on by these events have, however, remained undiminished ever since."
Fitzwilliam was silent, thoughtful. After a few moments he said "Darcy, please allow me to apologize for it was I who informed her of your involvement in the separation of Bingley from her sister, however ignorant I was of the lady's identity. Might I inquire how you could possibly anticipate success when your mode of declaration was obviously calculated to offend and insult her?"
"I meant neither insult nor offence," replied Darcy, "but was it not necessary to justify the honor I was prepared to bestow upon her in overcoming the objections to any alliance between us?"
"Darcy," said the Colonel, "you will never recommend yourself to anyone if you persist in emphasizing the importance of social position, and your superiority within it. It is perhaps no surprise that you are held in such low esteem by Miss Bennet and her family. Were we not well acquainted, I should probably harbor similar views myself. Would you not be aggrieved if you had been addressed in a similar fashion?"
Darcy was thoughtful. "Oh dear God" he said. "Fitzwilliam, I have made the most dreadful mistake, one that I shall regret for the remainder of my life. Your assessment is perfectly correct. My conduct up to the event, coupled with the manner of my declaration, has been the means of producing my current despair, and I alone should suffer for it".
That is not completely true," said the Colonel. "By your distracted and melancholy countenance, you are causing suffering to others."
Darcy seemed momentarily perplexed, and then, with the dawning of enlightenment, said "Poor Georgiana," he said. "She is the reason for this visit, is she not?"
"Indeed she is," was the response. "She is grieved to see you thus, and I may say, so am I."
Darcy frowned but was silent.
"How many friends do you have, that is to say, real friends?" said the Colonel.
Darcy thought for a moment. "What is a real friend. I am unsure as to your meaning." he replied.
"Someone in whom you can confide your innermost thoughts and feelings," said Fitzwilliam, "who respects your confidence, who does not question you and offers an opinion only when requested."
"By those values, the answer is none, other than yourself," said Darcy. "I consider Bingley to be a friend, but I cannot confide in him."
"Have you the smallest idea why this is?" continued the Colonel.
"I confess I have not," was the reply.
"Do you remember, at Rosings, when we were both in Miss Bennet's company, at the piano? Do you remember her question to me, 'Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?' and my response, 'It is because he will not give himself the trouble.' That is your failing, Darcy. You retreat behind a facade of noble indifference when confronted by persons from outside your own social sphere, which may then be perceived as conceited arrogance by those who do not know you. You have not found happiness from within that sphere, and I believe that it is unlikely that you ever will. You have to learn to treat people with the same cordiality and respect that you would expect of them when addressing you. To talk to them and listen to them. To express an interest in their opinions and concerns regardless of the consequence that they may or may not possess."
"This is a novel notion", said Darcy. "I was taught to respect the importance of consequence and connection, and have lived by those teachings. I have never been blessed with the gift of easy conversation with strangers, least of all with those whose situation in life is beneath my own."
"That is why you find yourself in this position," continued the Colonel. "Consequence and connections are only as important as you wish them to be. You are an honorable and amiable man, Darcy. Unfortunately, no one outside your immediate circle of acquaintance is aware of this, and you will not allow anyone else to see the real person behind that mask. It is all too easy for you to detach yourself from society at large. At least you can be certain of one thing. Miss Bennet, too, has principles. She will marry for love, not consequence or wealth. If it were otherwise, she would have accepted your proposal at Hunsford. Of how many other women of your acquaintance can that be said?"
Darcy pondered this for a moment. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam," he said. "You are a good friend, in addition to being my cousin. I believe I can now understand her reasons for refusing me. In the unlikely event of us meeting again, I shall endeavour to take heed of your advice, although it will not be easy, and may already be too late."
"Darcy," said the Colonel, "you and you alone know how strong is your desire to win this woman's regard. If that desire is steadfast, you will succeed, of that I am certain. Should the occasion arise, you will know how to act. You are well provided for with Pemberley and its estate, so can have no need of marrying for fortune. Follow the dictates of your heart, in this instance, and not your head."
With that, the two gentlemen conversed casually on numerous other subjects of varying importance for a short while before finishing their brandies, and retiring. Darcy had much to ponder, and these thoughts were with him over the ensuing days and weeks, long after Fitzwilliam had departed.
His general countenance was lifted a little, and he was, at last able to put thoughts of Miss Elizabeth Bennet to the back of his mind, at least during the daylight hours. His nights were altogether another matter, filled with thoughts of her still, and also thoughts of self-recrimination. If only he had talked to his cousin beforehand. Their recent conversation had served only to heighten his sense of loss.
During the ensuing days and weeks, whenever the opportunity arose, he endeavored to display a more open attitude to every new acquaintance. He was a little surprised to discover the satisfaction and respect that his new manner promoted. There was still a tendency to revert to his former self, but he fought the urge, and at length became more comfortable with himself. The habits of eight and twenty years could not be overcome in an instant, but, as he often thought, "without the effort, I shall never gain the prize."
The time soon came to return to Pemberley for the summer. Arrangements were made with Bingley and his family to join him and his sister Georgiana on the journey. Two days before their agreed departure, Darcy received word that his steward needed his presence earlier. He therefore departed a day before the remainder of the party. They were to travel as arranged.
He was wild to be in Derbyshire, so rode long and hard, pausing only when necessary. On his arrival, he went directly to the stables, where his groom took charge of his horse. He was tired and disheveled, so he quitted the stables and walked quickly towards the house, desirous of a bath, some food and some rest, when something he saw caused him to stop abruptly. There was someone before him, a lady walking in the grounds, a figure that seemed familiar. Upon closer examination, his surprise became stunned shock. There, not twenty yards from him was the vision of loveliness known as Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
She seemed to be as shocked as he was, and they both felt acute embarrassment. After a few moments of awkward silence, he collected himself sufficiently to inquire of her health and that of her family, of her reason for being in this part of the country, and of her place of residence during her stay. The repetition of some of these inquiries betrayed his discomfort, and he was certain that this had been noticed, although the responses from Miss Bennet seemed to indicate a similar state of mind. At length, unable to prolong the conversation, and with his thoughts distracted, he took leave and continued toward the house.
While thus engaged, his mind was busy. "This may be my only opportunity to redeem myself in her eyes." He thought. It was time to put Fitzwilliam's advice to the ultimate test. He rushed into the house. Quickly, aided by his valet, he washed and changed into clean clothing, then rushed outside to begin searching for her again. At this time he noticed that she was not alone, and upon regaining her company, asked to be introduced to her companions. He was a little surprised to discover that they were her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner from Cheapside. Upon entering conversation with them, he soon discovered them to be cultured and educated people, and derived much pleasure from their company. He inquired of her aunt's childhood in the neighborhood, exchanging pleasantries. The conversation with her uncle soon turned to fishing. He discovered that Mr. Gardiner was a keen angler, and invited him to fish there as often as he chose, even offering to supply suitable tackle.
When he was able to talk to Elizabeth alone, the conversation was at first strained. She apologized for the invasion of his privacy. He allayed her fears by admitting that his arrival had not been expected by his staff, and then informed her of the impending arrival on the morrow, of his guests and his sister.
The mention of Bingley caused them both momentary pain, but this was eased when he asked to be allowed to introduce his sister to her during her stay in Lambton.
"I shall be happy to make her acquaintance," replied Miss Bennet.
"Thank you," he said. "Her opinion of me must have improved," he thought, "she has agreed to be introduced to Georgiana."
All too soon the visit was to end, and they walked toward the house, where the carriage awaited them. Whilst awaiting the arrival of the Gardiners, who were some distance behind, he invited her to take refreshment but she declined, and so they continued to talk about Pemberley House, its estate, and the neighboring countryside.
When the Gardiners finally arrived at the carriage, Darcy handed the ladies into it, savoring the touch of Elizabeth's hand.
"Thank you" she said.
"I hope we shall meet again very soon", he said. "Good day, Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner," and in a tone echoing much deeper feeling, "Good day, Miss Bennet."
He watched as the carriage departed. Elizabeth turned to look at him. He hoped this was an encouraging sign. He reflected that she did not seem to be angry with him, and she had agreed to meet his sister, perhaps she had forgiven him and all was not lost. His spirits felt lifted. He had not felt thus for three months. He walked back to the house, rejoicing in his good fortune and thanking a much higher authority for it.
He was now certain that his feelings and wishes were unchanged, that his efforts to forget her had been unsuccessful. "Oh, those eyes," he thought. He had made a promising beginning, all that remained now was to continue in the same manner and hope for a new understanding. Strangely, he found himself at ease with this new mode of behavior. "If onlyÉ" he thought, but there was nothing to be gained from dwelling in the past. He must proceed in a positive manner and attempt to be in her company as often as possible while she remained in that part of the country.
He also thought about Bingley. If he himself could have such feelings for Elizabeth, surely Bingley was justified in having similar feelings for her elder sister. This was a matter that he could, and would resolve, but not now. The immediate situation was of greater importance to him. He had to win her. He must succeed. His future happiness depended upon it.
"Now, Miss Elizabeth Bennet," he said to himself, "is this the way to win your affections? Is this the way to win your heart?"
"Oh, I hope so. I so desperately hope so".
Very special thanks to Kathi for her assistance and encouragement, and for getting the ball rolling.
© 1998 Copyright held by author