Hopes and fears
Charles Bingley and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy were sitting in the library at Netherfield House, drinking brandy and contemplating the day's events.
"Well, Darcy," said Bingley, " the sport was excellent today, was it not?"
"Indeed it was" was the reply. "The birds were plentiful. We should send our compliments your gamekeeper."
Bingley regarded his companion with a quizzical eye. "Perhaps so," he said. "Darcy suggesting the passing of compliments to the staff," he thought. "Whatever next?"
Both men sat in silent meditation, quietly enjoying each other's company and their own thoughts.
Bingley had noticed a remarkable transformation in his friend's manner recently. Gone was the air of reserve and hauteur, and in its place there was a new openness in his behavior and a willingness to socialize with those he would have previously wished to avoid.
Bingley had not the smallest idea of the reasons behind the alteration in his friend's demeanor, and his respect for and admiration of him had prevented his inquiring of it. Whatever these reasons may be, he felt that his friend would volunteer the information should he ever have the desire to share it.
Darcy's thoughts were on a different subject entirely. He was thinking of a young lady with dark hair and fine eyes. A lady whose smile could illuminate her surroundings and touch his heart, and who lived not three miles from where they were sitting. Indeed she had never been far from his thoughts since they had last met some months earlier. He had visited her at the inn at Lambton and had found her in a distressed state. He had inquired of her the reason for her misery, and she had informed him of the details of her sister's elopement with George Wickham. He had commiserated with her but felt obliged to leave. He had never before felt so helpless. He had so much desired to comfort her and to alleviate her distress but could not. Very soon after his departure from the inn, he had understood the course of action that he must undertake. The pain of seeing the beautiful face of the woman he loved more than life itself stained by tears had never left him. He never wanted to see it again. He had later realized that her distress and suffering was a result of his own actions. He had never broadcast his dealings with Wickham and had sworn her to secrecy when he informed her of them in his letter. This secrecy had resulted in Elizabeth being unable to make Wickham's true character known to her family, thereby permitting what had happened to her sister. She had blamed herself, but he felt that she also held him to be partially responsible. So he had gone to London, found the couple and, with the assistance of her uncle Mr. Gardiner, had arranged their marriage at his own expense, insisting that his part in the proceedings remain unknown at large, and that Mr. Gardiner was to claim any credit. He wanted her love, not her gratitude.
He was roused from these thoughts by the sound of Bingley's voice. "Do you think it would be a good idea if we were to visit Longbourn?" said Bingley. "I know that I enjoyed the company of that family when last we were here, despite the ministrations of Mrs. Bennet and the exuberance of her younger daughters."
Darcy thought he knew exactly why Bingley wished to visit Longbourn, and the thought reopened another wound, since it had been he who had separated Bingley from the elder Miss Bennet, an action which had obviously caused his friend much pain, and one which he now regretted.
"I believe that is an excellent suggestion Bingley," said Darcy. "I, too, derived much pleasure from the company of some in that household and would not be opposed to a renewal of my acquaintance with them." Upon saying this, Darcy noticed an illumination in his friend's countenance, and had no need of speculation as to the cause.
"Well," said Bingley, "when should you be disposed to make the journey, do you think?"
Darcy was thoughtful for a moment, noting that Bingley's continuing anxiety to please those around him had prevented him from even making such a simple decision as this.
"We have had two good days of sport, we could go on the morrow, after breakfast?" he replied.
Bingley became animated. "An excellent idea," he said. "I shall make the arrangements directly," and with that he hastily departed the library in search of his groom, leaving Darcy to his own thoughts.
"Am I ever in your thoughts, dear Elizabeth?" he wondered, "Shall you ever be pleased to see me?" Similar thoughts had haunted him since his conversation with his cousin, after which he had come to realize that his despair had been of his own making.
Bingley soon returned. "The arrangements are fixed," he said. "Our horses shall be ready immediately after breakfast, and then we may be off to Longbourn."
The following morning after breakfast, the two gentlemen set off. Darcy had mixed feelings. He was certain that his friend's reception would contrast sharply with his own. He had concluded that this was his own doing also, since his behavior when in the locality had never been calculated to endear him to local society. The guilt he felt at his interference in Bingley's affairs weighed heavily in his heart. "I must discover if Miss Jane's regard for him is unchanged," he thought. "Only then may I unburden myself to him."
Within a short while they arrived at their destination. It was just as Darcy had suspected. The effuse welcome applied to his friend was markedly different to the cool civility of his own reception. After acknowledging Mrs. Bennet's welcome, his eyes immediately sought out her second daughter. She was busy with some needlework but did look up momentarily, and he thought, for that instant, that she did not appear displeased to see him.
When the opportunity arose for conversation with her, while Mrs. Bennet was enthusiastically informing Bingley of Lydia's marriage and complaining of it's mode of publication, he inquired of her aunt and uncle. "How are Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner?" he quietly said.
Elizabeth seemed confused. "I thank you, I believe that they are very well," she replied.
"I am gratified to hear it" was all he could say, since no other members of the party were aware of his acquaintance with the Gardiners or that he found their company most agreeable.
Darcy went to stand near the window and lapsed into silence. He was discreetly observing his friend and forming the conclusion that his affections were unchanged. The elder Miss Bennet seemed pleased to be in Bingley's company again. Mrs. Bennet invited them both to dine at Longbourn, and an engagement was fixed so to do. There were few opportunities for either gentleman to join the conversation. Mrs. Bennet's verbosity was in full flow. Bingley sat and looked at the elder Miss Bennet and provided monosyllabic responses to her mother where appropriate. Darcy could only look on in a detached manner, attempting unsuccessfully to decipher Elizabeth's thoughts on the few occasions that their eyes met.
After partaking of some refreshment, the two gentlemen then departed. During the ride back to Netherfield both were silent, each with very different thoughts. Bingley was obviously thinking of Jane, while Darcy was thinking of Elizabeth, and of his friend. He resolved that if his suspicions were confirmed when they next visited Longbourn, he would inform Bingley of his unwarranted interference in his affairs, and risk the loss of his friendship.
"If it must be done," he thought, "then it shall be done, and the consequences must be borne." He had no wish of losing Bingley's friendship, but the burning desire of clearing his conscience and of righting a wrongdoing was overwhelming.
During the few days before their dinner engagement, the two gentlemen amused themselves with more sport and conversation. Darcy noted that the house seemed quiet in comparison with his last visit. That was when Miss Jane Bennet had become ill, and Elizabeth had arrived to minister to her. Bingley's sisters were also present and he fondly remembered some lively conversation, although reluctant to admit it at the time.
On the day of their dinner engagement, they were punctual in their arrival at Longbourn, where a large party was assembled. Darcy took note of Bingley's immediately placing himself at Jane Bennet's side at the dinner table, also noting that he was to be afforded no such pleasure, being placed at the side of Mrs. Bennet and almost as far from Elizabeth as was possible. He bore it, however, in the hope that at some point in the evening, he may be granted an opportunity for conversation with her. Little was said by or to him during dinner. When the meal was concluded, the gentlemen retired to their refreshment while the tables were cleared.
When at last they rejoined the ladies, his hopes were dashed, as he saw Elizabeth pouring coffee and surrounded by other ladies to an impenetrable degree. He had no choice therefore but to take his coffee and move to another part of the room, entering into conversation with whosoever wished it. After some time an opportunity did present itself, so he returned his coffee cup and was delighted when Elizabeth smiled and spoke to him. "Is your sister at Pemberley still," she asked.
He returned her smile. "Yes, she will remain there until Christmas" was the reply.
She continued "And quite alone? Have all her friends left her?"
"Mrs Annesley is with her. The others have been gone to Scarborough these three weeks," he replied and then lapsed into silence again. The intrusion of some of the other ladies rendered further private conversation impossible, so he had no choice but to move away again. The card tables were soon brought forward, and he fell victim to Mrs. Bennet's appetite for whist players. Being seated at a different table to Elizabeth caused him to lose all hope of further pleasure from the evening. When he found the opportunity to glance in her direction, he did, however, discover her eyes upon him more often than not.
The time soon arrived for their departure. By the time they had returned to Netherfield, Darcy had decided upon his course of action. His observations of his friend and Miss Bennet had confirmed his suspicions. After they had both entered the library, Darcy engaged his friend.
"Bingley," he said, "there is a matter of great importance that I must discuss with you."
Bingley was surprised. "Of course, Darcy. Of what nature is this business?" he asked.
Darcy thought for a moment, deciding on the best mode of declaration. "You may recall a conversation between us after our departure from Netherfield last year, the substance of which was to inform you of Miss Bennet's indifference to your affections."
Bingley nervously anticipated the next sentence. He could only nod his head, not trusting himself with speech.
Darcy continued, "I remember informing you that your feelings for her were not reciprocated, and furthermore, informing you of the indelicacy of such an alliance, due in part to the inferiority of her family's situation and a lack of propriety in the behavior of some members of it. A view which, you may recall, was shared by your sisters."
"Indeed I do remember the occasion well," said Bingley, "and I also recall being extremely grateful for your intervention and guidance, which had spared me a great deal of embarrassment. What possible circumstance could bring you to reopen the subject?"
Darcy was again thoughtful but continued, "Since that time, I have received information which has convinced me that I was completely mistaken in that assumption, and which renders my interference in your affairs absurd and impertinent."
Bingley was shocked. For a few minutes speech was impossible. When he had collected himself, he said, "This cannot be true, can it? I have thought of her on many occasions since that time, but find it difficult to believe that you, of all people, could have been erroneous in your judgement. From what source does this information come?"
"Bingley," said Darcy, "the source is unimportant. Unbelievable though it may be, you may rest assured that it is nevertheless true. While Miss Bennet's feelings are little displayed, they are nonetheless fervent and deep. She holds you in high regard, and has done almost from the beginning of your acquaintance."
Bingley was silent. Thoughts conflicting were rushing through his brain. "Are you certain Darcy, absolutely certain that she returns my affections?" he said.
"I am" came the reply. "I have never been more certain of anything. Indeed, her future happiness depends upon it."
Bingley grabbed his friend's hand and shook it vigorously. "You are a true friend, Darcy," he said, "for whom else would take such a concern in my affairs and endeavor to lead me along the correct path?"
Darcy returned the handshake, but his countenance lacked enthusiasm. "There is one more thing that I must tell you, my friend, something that may cause you to question the value of my friendship."
Bingley's anxiety returned. He was having great difficulty comprehending what his friend was saying. "Darcy," he said, "there is nothing you could possibly say to me that would cause me to question our friendship, of that I am certain."
"Nevertheless," said Darcy, "what I have to say may be of sufficient gravity to alter that opinion. When we were in London last winter, Jane Bennet was also there, staying with her aunt and uncle and hopeful of seeing you. My confession is that I knew of this and, with the agreement of your sisters, deliberately kept it from you. I can offer no justification for this behavior. It was an arrogant presumption on my part, based upon a failure to recognize your true feelings, or those of Miss Bennet."
Bingley looked aghast. He sat down and mopped his brow. Darcy could only stand and watch. At length Bingley regained his composure. "She was in London all that time, and you concealed it from me?" he said, his tone betraying some anger.
Darcy looked humble. "I confess that I did. As I have said, there is not the slightest justification of any of my actions throughout the whole of it. I can only apologize, which I now do unreservedly."
Bingley's anger lasted but a moment. The appearance of his friend was quite something he had never seen before. As his anger subsided he smiled, "You are certain of Miss Bennet's regard for me, beyond all doubt?" he asked.
"I am," said his friend.
"Then do I have your blessing?" continued Bingley.
"You do not need my blessing, nor that of anyone else. You love her, she returns your affections, what more need be said?" was the reply.
"I am aware that I do not need your blessing, Darcy," said Bingley, "but I should like to be secure in the knowledge that I have it, just the same."
Darcy was silent for an instant. "After everything I have recently admitted, he still values my opinion," he thought. "Such loyalty is more than my conduct deserves." "Then you have it, and with my compliments," he said.
"I must go to her tomorrow," said Bingley. "It is rather late, otherwise I should go now, at this instant. Will you accompany me?" He was finding it difficult to contain his emotions.
"No, Bingley, I cannot. I have some pressing business in town that needs my attention, but I shall return in about ten days, and I expect to be in a position to offer to you both my sincere congratulations."
Early the following morning, after wishing him a successful outcome to the day's events, Darcy bade his friend good-bye and departed for London. In truth there was no need for him to go, but the thought of seeing Bingley's happiness being openly displayed, while his own was more uncertain was more than he wished to encounter.
Within a few days of his arrival, the anticipated communication was received. Miss Jane Bennet had accepted his friend's proposal of marriage, and his joy was overflowing. One other comment caused Darcy some distress. Bingley had related that he was able to enjoy the company of Miss Elizabeth, when Miss Jane was busy with her mother.
"Shall I ever be in such a position, shall I ever experience such joy," he thought. "How I hope that I shall, but there is but one woman who can make it possible, and one woman alone. Oh Elizabeth."
Darcy then wrote to his friend, wishing both him, and Miss Bennet, immeasurable happiness and reminding him of his own return very soon.
A few days after receiving the letter from his friend and sending his reply, he noticed a large carriage draw to a standstill outside his house. A glance at the livery left him in no doubt as to its owner. Lady Catherine de Bourgh had called. In truth he was in no humor for exchanging pleasantries with his aunt or for fending off her barbed comments concerning the possibility of a match with his cousin, Lady Anne, but the contact could not now be avoided.
As his servant opened the door, he was waiting. Lady Catherine entered the vestibule, and it was obvious that she was not best pleased. Darcy attempted to greet his aunt, but his words were curtailed by her sudden outburst.
"Darcy," said she, "I am most seriously displeased. I have heard a report which has annoyed and alarmed me to an immeasurable degree."
"A report, Aunt?" replied Darcy. "Of which report do you speak?"
"The report concerned a subject which drew me to Longbourn House immediately, in order to have it universally contradicted."
Darcy felt his blood run cold. His aunt had been to Longbourn. He could think of no reason for her undertaking such a journey save that this report concerned Elizabeth Bennet in some way, since she was unknown to anyone else in that household.
"You have been to Longbourn," he said, his curiosity excited. "What possible motive could encourage you to undertake such a journey?"
"The report," she continued, "which came from a hitherto reliable source, stated that not only was the elder Miss Bennet to be most advantageously married, but that her sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would in all probability, soon afterwards be united with you, Darcy. I knew that it must be a scandalous falsehood, and I immediately resolved to go there for the express purpose which I have already related." Darcy regarded his aunt in stunned disbelief. He and Elizabeth were to be married? It was beyond his comprehension.
Struggling to maintain his composure, he said in reply, "My dear aunt, please allow me to be perfectly clear about this. You have been to Longbourn because you have heard a report stating that Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I are soon to be married. Is this correct?"
"Indeed it is," replied his aunt.
"Pray tell me, what is Miss Bennet's opinion of this report?" he said.
"She was, as I expected, insincere," replied his aunt. "She denied all knowledge of it, and said that my going to see her would only serve as a confirmation of its contents, if such a report existed. When I asked her if there was any foundation for such a report, she refused me a response, which I took as a confirmation of its existence."
While Darcy remained silent, his mind was busy. "Elizabeth had refused to admit that the contents of the report were without foundation. What could this mean? Could it be that she would now accept him were he to renew his addresses?" His spirits were lifted, as his aunt vented her wrath.
Lady Catherine continued. "I asked her if you had made an offer of marriage to her. She replied that I had already declared such a match to be impossible. When I informed her that you are engaged to your cousin Anne, she then replied that if that were so, then I could have no reason to expect you to make an offer to her."
Darcy felt his anger rising. "You told her that I am engaged to Anne, in the full knowledge that it is not true."
"Darcy, I will not be silenced. You will listen to what I have to say. You are aware that it was your mother's wish, as well as mine that you and your cousin should one day be united, and now the upstart pretensions of a young girl without family, connections or fortune threaten to thwart those wishes. It must not and shall not be borne," said her Ladyship.
Darcy was experiencing the most acute difficulty in controlling his anger. "Who does she think she is?" he thought, but Lady Catherine continued in full flow.
"When I informed her that such a match would be a disgrace, that her name would never be mentioned by your family, and that she would be brought into the fullest contempt, she replied that the happiness necessarily attached to your wife's situation would render regrets unnecessary. I then asked her if she were engaged to you, to which she replied that she was not, but when I demanded a promise that she never enter into such an engagement, she refused emphatically to make such a promise. When I told her that her inferior connections would pollute the shades of Pemberley, she replied that whatever her connections were, if you did not object to them, then they could be nothing to me. She went on to accuse me of insulting her, and said that she was resolved to act in that manner which would constitute her own happiness, without reference to anyone so wholly unconnected with her. I took no leave of either her or her family, and came here directly to inform you of these events, and to extract that promise from you which she had refused to provide. Now, what have you to say?"
Darcy fought to control his anger. That his aunt should have presumed to act on his behalf in such a matter was beyond belief, but he had no intention of making any promise of the kind.
"My dear Aunt," he said in a measured tone, "I have neither wish nor intention of procuring your further displeasure, or of provoking your further wrath, but I must say to you that when the time arrives for me to take a wife, she will be of my own choosing. I can assure you that I am in need of assistance from no one in making that choice. I have never considered my cousin as a suitable candidate for matrimony, despite your expectations to the contrary, and have no recollection of it being my mother's wish that I should, being a mere boy when she passed on. I cannot believe that you took it upon yourself to act on my behalf in this matter, and give you neither gratitude nor thanks for so doing. I personally know of no report of this kind and can therefore not substantiate any of its contents. Now if it is your wish to remain and partake of refreshment, I cordially invite you so to do, otherwise you may leave, but be assured that upon this particular subject, I have nothing further to say."
Lady Catherine de Bourgh stood speechless. She had never been addressed in such a way and was incredulous. When her power of speech returned she continued, "So you will have her then?" she said. "Despite all I have said of honor and social position, you are resolved to marry this woman?"
Darcy could bear no more. The tone of his response was calculated to convey his displeasure at her interference. "Lady Catherine, it is obvious that I did not make my feelings clear to you in the first instance. Very well, let me relate them to you once more. At this precise moment, I am contemplating marriage with no one. When the time comes for that view to alter, I shall make my own choice of wife and marry the woman I love. If that choice is Miss Elizabeth Bennet, then so be it. I shall consult no one, neither from within nor from without the family. I shall be steadfast and unconcerned as to any consequences. Do I make myself clear?"
Lady Catherine's response was immediate, and vehement. " Oh yes! I fully comprehend your meaning. You refuse the claims of honor and duty then. You refuse to uphold the good name of the family. Very well, I will bid you good day but depart with this warning to you. If you do not reconsider your position, and accept your responsibilities, then you shall be no longer welcome at Rosings, nor shall I ever wait upon you again." With that she stormed from the house and was gone.
Darcy stood on the steps and watched the carriage disappear. When he returned to his house, he went directly to his library, poured a glass of brandy, and sat near the fireplace, contemplating the visit of his aunt. Many unanswerable questions flooded his mind.
"From what source had this report emanated? Why had his aunt taken it so seriously? Was there any substance to it? Why had Elizabeth Bennet refused to promise never to marry him? Had her opinion of him altered to such a degree?"
No certain answers befriended him. Only one person could provide the answers to these questions, and she was living in Hertfordshire.
As a result of his aunt's interference however, he now had reason for hope. Miss Elizabeth Bennet had declined to inform Lady Catherine of the events at Hunsford. Surely if Elizabeth's feelings were still what they were last April, she would have acknowledged it to his aunt without any fear of so doing.
"This must indicate some change of sentiment, at least," he thought. "I must return to Netherfield, and very soon. What would my cousin have to say of these events?" With his thoughts in a state of confusion and uncertainty, he immediately wrote to Colonel Fitzwilliam, informing him of the visit of Lady Catherine and her suspicions.
Having arranged the dispatch of this communication, he again sat near the fireplace, in contemplation of the task ahead.
"What are your feelings now, my love?" he thought. "Would you be happy to be my wife now, were I to restate my proposal? Could I bear another refusal?" He soon realized that he was no nearer to knowing with any degree of certainty what her response would be. The intelligence provided by his aunt had made him optimistic but he could not be secure.
A few days later his butler announced the arrival of a visitor. Moments later his cousin entered the library. Darcy was delighted to see him. "I was expecting a letter, Fitzwilliam," he said, "not a personal appearance."
"I daresay you were," replied the Colonel, "but this matter is too important to be trusted to paper. We have to decide upon your best course of action, do we not? Now be so good as to pour me a drink, and then you can relate the fullest particulars of what has transpired since last we met."
After the two gentlemen were seated, Darcy related the details of all the events since their last meeting, omitting nothing, while his cousin listened in earnest concentration.
When the narrative was complete, Fitzwilliam sat for a moment in deep thought. "You have acted in a most honorable manner, Darcy," he began. "Surely Miss Bennet can harbor no ill will toward you after your efforts on behalf of her sister."
"She is in complete ignorance of it," said Darcy, "and I am most anxious that she remain so."
"For what reason?" the Colonel inquired. "Can you not see that it must advance your cause to an inestimable degree were she to be so informed?"
Darcy sighed. "Fitzwilliam, your opinion may be correct, but I do not require her gratitude. I want, no, I need her love. If she remains in ignorance of this matter, and yet still alters her sentiments toward me, then the value of those affections is multiplied, do you not agree?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam was thoughtful for some moments. "On second thought, Darcy, I believe your assessment is correct. What are your thoughts since the visit of Lady Catherine?" he said. "What interpretation do you place upon her intelligence?"
"I know not what to think," said Darcy. "I believe that Miss Bennet's opinion of me may be altered, but cannot be certain."
"Darcy, I should have thought that was obvious," said the Colonel. "If her affections were unchanged, surely she would have related to Lady Catherine every detail of her dealings with you, and rejoiced in so doing. That she declined the opportunity must indicate a significant alteration in her sentiments."
"Possibly," said Darcy, "but what to do now. Should I return to Hertfordshire and renew my addresses?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam felt his patience deserting him. "Come, come, Darcy. You do sometimes display an extraordinary naivete in matters of the heart. Do you expect her to walk through your front door and declare her heart to you?" he said. "Miss Bennet is a gentleman's daughter, and while she is forthright in expressing most of her opinions, propriety would prevent her from so doing. If you still desire her hand, you must seek her and tell her of your feelings. She will only consent to becoming your wife if you ask her."
"I fully comprehend your meaning," said Darcy, "but what if she were to refuse again? I do not think that I could bear it?"
"If you wish to avoid spending the rest of your life regretting her, then you know in your heart what must be done. From what you have told me, I see no reason for disappointment, but until you ask the question, you will never learn the answer. Be grateful to Lady Catherine, for her intelligence has at least prepared the way for you. Return immediately. Rejoin your friend, and share in his happiness, and I am sure that very soon you will have some of your own to share with the remainder of your family. Now I must rejoin my regiment. I took leave only to come and see you, and it would appear that I was fully justified in so doing, for you would never have resolved this matter alone."
Darcy was silent for a moment. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam," he said. "Yet again I am in your debt to an incalculable degree. I shall return as soon as possible. I can live with this uncertainty no longer. I must discover if there is any justification for my aunt's perceptions. If I am to experience any future happiness then I must ask her again, and let the devil take the consequences."
Alan Davis, 1998, UK.
© 1998 Copyright held by author