10 Days in London
This humble work of mine, is my endeavour to relate Darcy's point of view from chapters 55 to 58 (the bulk of which was written in three days), how Lady Catherine came to learn of Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement and the reason for Darcy's return to Netherfield. I own that I have shamelessly borrowed from Jane Austen, especially the latter half of the story, which covers the second proposal. I know that I cannot ever hope to replicate her works, but I have attempted to imitate her style of writing as closely as possible, and blend it as seamlessly as I am able with Pride and Prejudice. I hope that my effort does not offend.
"Then go to it."
With these words, Mr Darcy left his friend free to pursue his own heart. He had felt it necessary for him to accompany his friend to Hertfordshire, if only to determine for himself the truth of the matter between Bingley and Miss Bennet. During the two visits he had lately made there, he had observed them both most carefully, and had found nothing wanting in their preference for each other. He had further evidence during dinner on Tuesday, that Miss Bennet did indeed, have a particular regard for his friend; and as for Bingley, it was impossible that his regard could be for anyone else in the room.
Having allowed himself to be convinced that Miss Bennet was not indifferent to him, as he had previously thought, it needed only the communication of this to Bingley, to persuade him to pursue the object of his affection; that is, her hand in marriage, the application of which, Darcy had not the slightest doubt of its being accepted. Last evening, he had confessed to Bingley his part in separating him from Miss Bennet, including that he had purposely concealed her being in town for three months last winter. He stated his belief that his interference had been formed from the assumption of her being indifferent, to which he was now convinced was false. Darcy apologised for his presumption, saying that it had been wrong of him interfere where he had no right, and hoped he would be forgiven for his intervention.
Bingley had been understandably offended, but it was to his credit that his anger had lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of Miss Bennet's sentiments. Bingley's esteem and reliance on Darcy's good judgement was such that it was not difficult to convince him of this, and his amiable and generous nature found it easy to for him to forgive his friend. Knowing his friend as well as he did, Darcy could easily guess where Bingley's thoughts now lay; and to where, in all probability, he would now be heading, and could not repress a small smile. For his part, the confession last night had relieved him of one burden that had been troubling him ever since Elizabeth's accusations to him last April.
He sighed expressively and rubbed his temples. Would that his own affairs could be so agreeably resolved. The other reason he had travelled to Netherfield was to ascertain the heart of one in particular, and judge whether he dared entertain the hope of making her love him. It had been four months since he had proposed and been rejected, yet despite all his efforts, he could not entirely dismiss her from his thoughts, and the meeting at Pemberley had only reawakened his admiration and passion for her, emotions which he thought he had conquered.
Before the unfortunate incident, which had necessitated her sudden departure from Lambton, Miss Bennet had not seemed wholly averse to his company, an impression that had influenced to his decision to accompany Bingley to Netherfield. Their unexpected encounter at Pemberley has surprised him greatly; it was the last place he had expected to meet her, and she had seemed just as disconcerted as he on finding her there. His surprise was such, that he had hardly been master of his own thoughts to attend fully to what was said between them, and it had only been afterwards that he had first entertained the idea that he might still win her affection. It was solely with this thought in mind, that he had rejoined the group and gone out of his way to engage her relations in conversation.
His intention then, had been to earn her forgiveness and show her by every courtesy available to him, that he was not so mean as to resent the past. He had hoped that by doing this, he could lessen her ill opinion of him, but as to how far that had gone, he was ignorant. Elizabeth had willingly and enthusiastically agreed to his suggestion to allow him to introduce her to his sister, but it was her generous and unselfish behaviour to Georgiana the following morning, when the subject of the -shire militia being gone from Meryton had been raised, that had greatly increased his esteem of her. Her behaviour at the time told him that she felt his sister's consternation keenly and wished to alleviate her distress; and, did he dare hope, his own discomfort of the whole affair? It had occurred to him, that it could merely have been that her affection for Georgiana was such that she would not wish to see her so distressed, however, the look of perfect understanding that had passed between them at the time, had implied that she had not been thinking solely of his sister. It was this unselfish display of generosity, which had confirmed in his own mind that there was hope for him after all.
It also spoke of a change of heart concerning that gentleman, for, if she had discredited the whole of his letter, she would not have scrupled to defend him to Miss Bingley. After her accusations of injustice to him last April, had she still believed them to be true, she would not have hesitated to assert it. Through careful and discreet inquiry with Fitzwilliam, he knew that she had not spoken to him on the subject. Dare he believe that to mean that she had cleared him of all guilt on the subject? He could only hope it was so.
He sighed in remembrance. A more perfect morning he could not have imagined, however it was not to last the day. She had quitted Lambton before he had had a chance to thank her for her kindness to Georgiana, and it was irony itself that the very matter which had precluded her staying a day longer, had also revealed to her Wickham's true nature, had she doubted it before. His whole character was brought into question and everything that he had said must likewise be re-examined. She must at least doubt whatever account of himself that Wickham had imparted. The one good thing that had come from that sorry affair was that, whatever the general conception of him in Hertfordshire, at least she was not insensible to the true nature of Mr Wickham's character.
The chaise rattled on towards London, yet his eyes saw nothing of the scenery before him, he thought only of Elizabeth. What had caused her sudden change of countenance? She had been so serious, so grave when they met at Longbourn, that he could not tell which way her thoughts lay, and so consumed was he, by the desire of his seeing her again, that, he could not consider himself to be a good judge of her demeanour. He could suppose some of her solemnity arose from shame of her sister's situation; perhaps she regretted his knowing the whole of the matter. Once or twice, she had glanced his way, but her expression was such, that he could not detect a renewal of the regard she had begun to show him at Pemberley.
The evening Bingley and he had dined at Longbourn had proved no better. Elizabeth was all politeness and civility, yet she had barely spoken to him other than to inquire after his sister, which was more than he could say for Mrs. Bennet. She had made it plain that she did not welcome his presence, that he was merely tolerated for his friend's sake. Her total want of propriety and discretion over the marriage of her youngest daughter was almost more than he could bear. It seemed that not even the disgrace her elopement had brought to her family could check her behaviour, as one would suppose it would; and added to the officious attention shown to Bingley, he was in no doubt of her total lack of propriety. Her only thought was the fortune of Bingley, and that one of her daughters might be mistress of Netherfield was all that concerned her, though it was some consolation that Miss Bennet's attention for his friend stemmed from a genuine affection for him, rather than material concerns.
At one point during the course of that evening, he had the occasion of conversing with Elizabeth, but his awkward unease in social situations such as these, the company of ladies that surrounded her, and his uncertainty as to his reception by Miss Bennet had driven him to seek solitude for comfort. He cursed his lack of ease in society, which he had frequently been wanting since he first met her, that caused him to remove himself. The moment had been lost, and no amount of wishing would bring it back. Had the opportunity re-presented itself, had she not been surrounded by ladies who wanted nothing of him, or her mother not appealed for him to make up a party at cards, he should have taken up the opportunity in an instant.
He rubbed his temples again, and stared distractedly out of the window.
Elizabeth, he thought, if only you knew how often my thoughts turned to you.
It seemed the whole world conspired to separate them, first Wickham, now this. He had known before he left London that he would only be in Hertfordshire a few days; he could not delay his business in town for more than that, however much he might wish it, yet already he anguished over having spent so little time there. Perhaps it was for the best; perhaps it was foolish for him to continue pining over a woman, whose regard he had no assurances of obtaining. Yet he could not help thinking that if only he had found the courage to speak with her, if only he had not had to leave so soon after coming to Netherfield; had so many things worked out differently, he would have more peace of mind than he did now.
The chaise rattled on towards London, carrying the tortured thoughts of a man violently in love, who knew not whether that love may ever be reciprocated.
Charlotte's letter from Maria
When the post arrived that morning, Mrs. Collins was surprised to find a second letter from Maria so soon after her last. Maria was not a frequent writer, and though she had much improved since her visit to Rosings, this letter was something of a surprise, so it was with some apprehension that she opened it. She settled herself in the drawing room, safe in the knowledge that she would not be disturbed for some time, as her husband was attending to his parishioners this morning, and was not due back for an hour or so. The first half of the letter was dated over a week ago.
My dearest Charlotte,
I hope this letter finds you and Mr Collins well, as we all are. You may seem surprised to hear from me so soon after my last letter, but I have such news for you, that you will be both surprised and pleased on hearing it. The news I have is of no great importance, other than that it relates to the sad affairs of the Bennets. Be not alarmed, they are all well, however I shall not hold you in suspense any longer.
It came to our knowledge a few days ago, that a certain gentleman and his friend have returned to Netherfield. I am sure you can guess to whom I am referring. They did not bring any ladies with them, for it was just to be a hunting party, which disappointed Kitty and I, but papa called on them yesterday, and today they returned the visit. Mr Bingley was all charm and politeness, but Mr Darcy scarcely said a word to anyone, and stood around looking all awkwardness and unease. He scares me as much as he ever did at Rosings. Kitty said she thinks he only came to feel superior over everyone else and cannot imagine why he came, or why he inflicts himself on society, if he will not take the trouble to converse with anyone. She dislikes Mr Darcy more than I do, and says he is like none of the officers in the -shire militia, but her mother says they must tolerate him for Bingley's sake, however much they dislike him. They both dined at Longbourn yesterday, since Bingley had promised to dine there before he quit Netherfield a twelve-month ago. From what Kitty told me, the evening went well. It is obvious, she says, that Mr Bingley fancies Jane, for he hardly talked to anyone else all evening, however Mr Darcy was much the same and said hardly a word.
The next part of Maria's letter was dated last Thursday:
What do you think, but I have had the most good news today! I did not managed to finish my letter before, but now I am glad that I did not, for I would have to write you another. You will never guess what it is! What do you think, but Mr Bingley and Miss Bennet are to marry! I know you will feel just as pleased as I do at their sudden good fortune, and here we were all thinking that the Bennets had suffered such grievous misfortune, as to never expect such a match. We have heard rumours of it since yesterday morning, but this morning Mrs Bennet and Kitty called on us to confirm it. The whole town is talking of it; what a good match it is for them both, and how fortunate Mrs Bennet is, to have two of her daughters married. Mrs Bennet said that she cannot help feeling that with her youngest and eldest married so close, the marriage of her other daughters cannot be far off, and that Jane's marriage to Bingley will throw them into the way of other such men. Kitty declares Mary will not be next, and, since the militia has gone to Brighton, there is no one in particular that she fancies, so it must be up to Lizzy. She thinks it would be a great joke for Darcy and Lizzy to marry, with he not wanting to dance with her, and she disliking him so, and fancies he only came because of her. It is not too improbable, I suppose, as he did call often while she was at Hunsford, and dance with her at the Netherfield ball, but I would not wish him on anyone who did not want him, and I do not think she would marry him, if he did ask.
It is to be supposed that the happy couple will remain at Netherfield, which will be such good fortune for us, as his sisters will visit often, and there will be balls aplenty for Kitty and I to attend, I only hope Mr Darcy does not come unless he means to dance, for, without the militia in Meryton, we shall be scarce on gentlemen, but I will say no more on that and leave you here. Yours &c.
Charlotte was pleased to hear of Jane and Bingley's engagement; indeed, it could not have come too soon for Mrs Bennet's satisfaction. It was no great secret that she had intended Jane to marry Mr Bingley from the moment he took the residence at Netherfield, and he and Jane were well-suited for each other, so she was pleased that things had turned out well for them. She re-read the letter again, but frowned when she came to Mr Darcy. What could he have intended by coming thither? It could not be solely out of support for Bingley that he came, since it made no sense that he came for the sole purpose of supporting his friend, yet left so soon afterwards. Darcy could hardly be ignorant of the general sentiment of the neighbourhood towards him, so it was not for their society that he came. Perhaps he came seeking the society of one in particular?
She had been surprised, those many months ago, at the attention Mr Darcy had shown to Elizabeth while she had stayed with them at Hunsford. Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had called on them unexpectedly, indeed the very day they had arrived at Rosings - something she was sure would not have occurred had Elizabeth not been staying with them; yet Elizabeth had always laughed at the notion that Mr Darcy could have a particular regard of her. Both gentlemen had called often, sometimes together, sometimes not. Colonel Fitzwilliam's manners were open and easy, and it was plain that he enjoyed their society, yet Darcy's reasons for coming were disputable. When he spoke, it seemed out of necessity rather than choice, and he seldom appeared animated. Colonel Fitzwilliam had given them to know that the Darcy he knew was generally different, giving rise in her mind that his change in countenance was due to his partiality for Elizabeth. She had observed them closely after that, yet had concluded that his regard held no admiration that she could see. Eventually she had conceded that Elizabeth's belief that the frequent visits paid to them would, in all probability, be due to the lack of anything better to occupy them.
In light of this new information, though, perhaps her suspicions were not so far from the truth after all. Kitty had thought the idea amusing, but she had not had the benefit of seeing them at Hunsford and at their engagements at Rosings. He had paid her particular attention then, and she and Maria had surprised them alone at Hunsford one morning. Was there more to this that she was not seeing? Lady Catherine had commented the evening after the gentlemen had left, that Mr Darcy in particular, had seemed greatly out of spirits when he left. She had claimed it stemmed from his love of Rosings, but could it not also be attributed to his leaving Elizabeth's society? Elizabeth had made no secret of her dislike of him, but surely, that would be nothing if he truly loved her. With his friend being married to Jane, and Jane being Elizabeth's sister, it was not unreasonable to suppose that they would see much of each other.
However, it was all speculation at this point, and she did not want to stir where she had no right. Possibly what bothered her more, was Maria's continual reference to Kitty. It would seem that they saw each other often, and Maria's continual reliance on her opinion, rather than her own common sense was worrying. How much influence did Kitty have? Maria was young and easily influenced, and Kitty being Lydia's sister, was not the sort on influence she would wish for her. Already she imagined she could see that some of Maria's opinion's had a different tone to them, especially with her references to the milita; she would never have talked of such things a few months ago, she would have to write to her about this.
Mr Collins returned at that point, and on noticing that the post had arrived, inquired after her family, which Charlotte readily assured him were all in good health. She related the good news of the forthcoming wedding at Longbourn, to which her husband was all congratulations and best wishes for the joy his cousin must be feeling at this moment. He went on for some time about the happiness she must feel at being married to such an agreeable man, the fortune of which was not inconsiderable given her family's pitiable situation.
"One can only pray that her sisters will find equal felicity in marriage, as their youngest sister's unhappy situation must have sorely damaged their material prospects in life. It will be a great comfort to them, that, if their sister can find such an amiable young gentleman, they may find another such man as Mr Bingley; who has a generous nature indeed, if he can overlook their unfortunate condition. Such affability and generosity as becomes a young gentleman of wealth and fortune, and with such a respectable gentleman, with connections such as his, Mrs Bennet will take great comfort that at least one of her daughters has not suffered their misfortune, and one can only hope that her other daughters will be equally favoured in their choice of husband."
Charlotte merely smiled and nodded contentedly. She mentioned that it seemed the happy couple intended to remain on at Netherfield after their nuptials. "It will please Elizabeth to see so much of her sister, since she is very fond of Jane, and she of her. I dare say she will often walk to Netherfield while they are there."
"Yes, it must be a great comfort for her family to be settled so near. I always think it must be of great advantage to both families that one be settled near ones relations, though," he recollected that his wife was not so near as she might like, "it is good to see something other than one's neighbourhood. Lady Catherine always says, and I agree most readily with her, that it gives one a most gratifying sense of achievement to know that one might enjoy the benefit of assisting others in advancing their general knowledge of the country. One cannot know too much of the world, she says, and I agree that nothing can be more delightful than in exploring a part of the country one has never seen before. Does Maria know when the happy event is to take place?"
"She does not say, she only writes that she is sorry that Mr Bingley did not bring any ladies with him this time, since it was just to be a hunting party, but she adds that, since Mr Bingley is to take up residence at Netherfield, it is not unreasonable to suppose his that sisters and Mr Darcy will be there often. Maria says Mrs Bennet is well pleased with the match, and feels it cannot be long before her other daughters are similarly married. She and Kitty call on each other often, it seems, and talk as much about the militia as they do the wedding and Mr Darcy, and seem to have fixed on Eliza as the next to marry." She paused, and said almost absently, "They are close friends, and it would seem that they see each other frequently; I wonder if that is such a good thing."
Mr Collins looked concerned at this, but for once, had nothing to say; he was too busy considering the implications of her remark. Charlotte had only meant to comment on Kitty and Maria's close friendship, and had not the slightest notion of her words causing mischief. Had she realised that her innocent remark had been so misconstrued she would have set the matter straight at once, but she was far more concerned that her sister was being led astray, and relied entirely too much on what Kitty said. With such musings to distract her, and a letter to write to her mother, she did not notice that Mr Collins had lapsed into thoughtful silence, and when he declared a short time later, that it was his intention to go to Rosings this afternoon and inform Lady Catherine of his cousin's good news, she thought nothing of it at all.
Part 2: An Unexpected Visitor
For the fifth time that evening, Darcy recollected his thoughts, and tried to focus on the letter he was writing to his sister. It was proving to be more difficult than he had imagined, though he felt not the slightest ill will or resentment towards his friend for his choice. Indeed he had encouraged it, and had already given him his blessings and best wishes for his happiness before he quit Netherfield. Just this morning he had received the glad tidings of Bingley's engagement, and it had been his first desire to share this news with his sister immediately. Unfortunately, his time had been otherwise occupied with business affairs, and his thoughts much to distracted, for him to attend to it until now.
Dearest Georgiana,he began,
It will be of no small delight to you to hear that Charles is to marry Miss Bennet. I know you will join me in sending them our heartfelt congratulations, and sincerest best wishes for their health and happiness.
'My own, I cannot be too certain of,' he thought with a sigh and put down his pen. Why was this letter so difficult to write? He was truly happy for them both, and nothing could have given him greater pleasure than to relate this news to his sister, yet no matter how often he tried, he could not think of Bingley without think of his bride to be, and thence his thoughts naturally progressed to Elizabeth. Repeatedly, her image would appear before him, to torment his soul and remind him of all he had lost.
He stood up in disgust and poured himself a glass of wine. The more he reflected on his time at Longbourn, the more he had convinced himself that Elizabeth held no particular affection for him. She had seemed so distant, so unreachable, that he knew he must endeavour to put her completely out of her mind; yet how to do so? For months he had struggled in vain to do just that; why was he to have any better success this time?
His thought were interrupted by the sound of the bell, announcing a visitor.
'Who could be calling at this hour?' he pondered.
His questions were soon answered when Lady Catherine de Bourgh entered the room with a dignified air, yet looking more agitated than he had ever seen her.
"Lady Catherine," he said, with concern. "What brings you to London at so late an hour? Is something wrong?"
"There most certainly is. You will forgive me, I hope, for calling on you so late in the evening, but what I have to say will not wait until the morrow." She declined the seat he offered her. "I have received word, not two days ago, of a rumour, most vicious and vile in nature, concerning you, dear nephew. I do not doubt that it was devised and most vigorously circulated by those Bennet's; they know no better than to attack the reputation of a most illustrious personage, who is not without connections of his own. I am convinced they have no decency, honour, or good breeding among them."
"I have heard no such rumour concerning myself, save that I am not well liked in Hertfordshire. If it is to this that you refer, pray, do not distress yourself, for I care not what they think of me."
Unless that person is Elizabeth Bennet, he added silently.
"That is as it should be, but if it were merely that, I should not have troubled myself to come all this way. No, it is a rumour of another nature that I speak, one that has vexed me greatly. I was informed, by Mr Collins himself, not two days ago, that the infamous Bennets expect to have a third daughter married, not long after the eldest has given up her name. I am certain the daughter in question, had some hand in it; I had believed her to be above such dealings, but in that, it seems I was most cruelly deceived. In short, nephew, I was informed that you would soon become engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"
Mr Darcy could not conceal his astonishment, and coloured, a fact that did not escape Lady Catherine's notice.
"I see that you share my sentiments. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom I had condescended to include in my invitations to Rosings. A girl, whose name I cannot bear to hear mentioned without thinking ill of her; that she should aspire to be associated with your family, is not to be borne. The infamy of it all. I was so alarmed on hearing such news, that I instantly resolved to journey to Longbourn at once, to see such a report universally contradicted, but I was most disappointed with her behaviour. To think that I once thought her agreeable, I shall not be so misled again.
"I was most seriously displeased with her behaviour towards me. At first, she denied all knowledge of such a report, but I know that to be a scandalous falsehood, for who would circulate such a rumour but her? I cannot conceive why she would devise such a scheme, nor why she would circulate it so vigorously. Eventually she owned, under much duress, that there was no truth to it, but it was only through my insistence on knowing the truth, that she finally acknowledged she was not presently engaged, and the manner in which she attempted to avoid my questioning, convinced me that she was not entirely honest in her dealings with me." Her eyes narrowed in remembrance.
Her pause allowed Darcy to collect his thoughts somewhat. "And was this all she said?"
"By no means. She continued to the last to defy me, full of abominable pride, and did not speak but to contradict and give offence. I attempted to reason with her, and appeal to her and better judgement to own that such an engagement was impossible, yet she flatly refused to accommodate me. She became most obstinate and unreasonable, and refused to consent to my wishes. No persuasion of mine could sway her on this point, and I declare that girl has a most perverse nature. With such a decided temper, it is impossible to believe that anyone but the most reckless man would own her. Not honour, not duty, nor gratitude for my kindness to her; even the knowledge that you were intended to marry my daughter would influence her on this point. Such impertinence and conceit; her behaviour to me was unforgivable. She is merely concerned with her own welfare, and cares not for how her wild allegations might affect your reputation, or those around you. She is entirely insensible to the disgrace that such an alliance would bring and is determined to ruin you, I am sure. I am heartily ashamed to have known her. The abominable conceit of it all; that she should presume to marry you."
Lady Catherine continued at some length on the subject, and the indignant silence by which her nephew withstood the attack on the woman he loved, led her to the mistaken conclusion that he felt all the aversion of such an alliance, as deeply as she did.
Mr Darcy, however, was feeling nothing of the sort. His mind was all in confusion. Surprise, love, hope, bewilderment; all these passed through his heart in the space of a few moments, and it was some time before he could fully attend to what his aunt was saying. It was a wonder, when he thought on it later, that he could think at all, much less speak without emotion.
"Selfish, unfeeling girl. Your mother would never have allowed it, I am sure, and when I think of her younger sister's infamous elopement; that the son of your father's steward should be your brother? It is not to be borne. You, I am sure could not allow such a report to go unchecked, and seeing that she would not oblige me by denying such an engagement as impossible, I determined to come straight to you."
He coloured again, because he had long since entertained the idea she now expected him to refute, and given such information, how could he ever hope to? Miss Bennet had refused to give his aunt assurances that she would not marry him, were she asked, impling that it was a possibility. Could that mean she did not dislike him as much as he had feared; had he misinterpreted her feelings for him? What could he say that would satisfy Lady Catherine? It was certain that he could not maintain that an engagement to Elizabeth was impossible, yet still remain true to himself. His answer, however, was not immediately required, as Lady Catherine continued.
"How is such a vicious rumour to be silenced? I cannot hope to appeal to that girl's parents, since I am sure it was they who encouraged it, yet if they cannot be applied to, I do not know how it is to be checked. What should be done, nephew, to instantly and irrevocably silence all talk of the matter? I know how I would act in this instance, but since this affair affects you, I thought to consult you as to what should be done."
Her words stirred Darcy from his internal turmoil, and he paused for a moment to calm himself and consider what to say that would be acceptable to her.
"Since I am the one most affected by these reports," replied he, "it is only right that I should be the judge of how best to deal with them; if I do not give credit to these reports, it cannot be long before it is considered to be but idle gossip. They will soon have nothing to talk of but the marriage of the eldest Miss Bennet, and all talk of me will cease."
"But what will you do? What course of action are you to take against this vile slander?"
"Perhaps it is best that nothing should be done. Were I to attempt to deny these rumours, they would construe that I had something to conceal from them, lending substance to their suspicions. No, let them speak of me what they will. I care not what the general conception of me is in Hertfordshire, good or ill; I have friends enough of my own, without seeking their society."
All but Miss Bennet, he amended silently. For your society, I would move heaven and earth to obtain.
Lady Catherine appeared satisfied with this, however she was my no means finished. "Then you must consider giving up your friendship with Bingley. Were you to visit Netherfield, with Mr Bingley the husband of Miss Bennet, people will mistake your association with Bingley as a regard for the sister. It cannot be seen that you allow yourself to be connected with her family, in any way, not if you wish to silence these rumours, therefore let me most strenuously advise you to think the better of it, and discontinue your friendship, or in the very least continue it from afar."
Such advice roused Darcy out of his preoccupation somewhat. That she should presume to dictate with whom he should associate angered him, however, with an effort he controlled his indignance, and with such small assurances as he could give, informed her that he would consider her advice. With this, she would have to be content, as he would be drawn no further on the subject.
The rest of her visit was a trial to his composure. His aunt owned that she was most vexed with the whole affair, and would not rest until the matter was properly settled. He assured her as best he could that it would be speedily attended to, and with such vague assertions, Darcy was able to withstand the rest of her stay, though he knew not what else was said. Already his thoughts were busy making plans and noting what arrangements would need his attention before he might leave London.
Lady Catherine could see that her news had affected him much more than he had claimed, noticing that he was more silent than usual, - if that were possible, and, satisfied that her visit had the intended result, she did not stay overly long, saying she would much rather return to her house in town, as she had travelled much that day and needed several days rest to recover.
Eventually Darcy found himself alone and able to think in peace. His aunt's appearance this evening with such news, instead of disgusting him as she intended, had achieved the complete opposite. A few hours ago, he had reconciled himself that there was no hope of him ever winning Elizabeth's admiration, yet, had his aunt known the effect her visit had made on him, she would never have left Rosings with such a undertaking in mind.
That the rumour existed was not so surprising, considering Mrs Bennet's character and her love of match making where her daughters were concerned; it had been apparent from the moment of the Assembly ball, that Mrs Bennet had her eye set on Bingley, but that Lady Catherine should have given it enough credit, that she should feel obliged - nay, driven to seek confirmation of its being false, was beyond wonderment.
Even more of a revelation was that it had not been given. Though he had only his aunt's account of what had transpired, he had not known her to be one prone to exaggeration, even when distressed. Under much duress, it seemed, Elizabeth had admitted she was not engaged, but her very unwillingness to do so, her emphatic refusal to promise that such an alliance could never be, had given him cause for hope. Hope, where no other hope had existed before. If she had utterly and irrevocably decided against him, she would willingly have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, yet she had not.
His aunt was known to be intimidating and was not accustomed to being crossed, and Elizabeth's directness in giving her opinions with such decidedness would easily have provoked her, yet, by his aunt's own account, she had refused to give such assurances as Lady Catherine sought, however hard she had been pressed. Though her obstinacy could have resulted from her resentment to his aunt's direct and brusque manner, he did not believe Elizabeth of the sort to be easily intimidated. Had she not once said that her courage always rises at every attempt?
Lady Catherine's appearance had determined his course of action so decisively, that only the knowledge of her absolute refusal, could have prevented him from journeying to Longbourn without delay, to determine her true feelings towards him. As soon as he had concluded one or two small, but important, items of business, nothing but the most urgent news could delay him from leaving on the morrow. He already regretted the necessity that prevented him from leaving as soon as it was light; if it had not been so late in the evening, he would be sorely tempted to leave immediately, however it could not be helped. He had already spent several days in London, a few more hours would not signify much, except to increase his anxiety. With such a wait, he was convinced that he would not sleep a wink that night, but having previously spent many restless nights agonising over the loss of the woman he loved, and with the decision made to leave on the morrow as soon as he was able, sleep had no difficulty in claiming him.
He awoke early the next morning, charged and refreshed, having slept better than he had in months. His sudden animation caused no little comment among the servants, who had found him restless and agitated ever since his arrival. With such renewed vigour, he was able to conclude his business shortly before noon, a good hour earlier than expected, and after a short luncheon, he set off for Hertfordshire. His impatience to reach Netherfield knew no bounds, but impatience alone could not speed his return.
It was dark by the time he arrived, as he knew it would be. His unexpected arrival had the servants in a flutter, having had no word of his sudden return, and on enquiry, he discovered that Bingley was dining with the Lucases tonight, but was not expected back very late, as he had an engagement with Miss Bennet in the morning. He nodded absently at this, and mentioned that he could be found in the drawing room.
Now that he had arrived at Netherfield, some of his impatience left him. He felt slightly foolish for having hurried all this way only to have to wait until morning, but at least now, he would have the whole day in which to find an opportunity to speak with Miss Bennet. It was a meeting he anticipated with both fear and hope. There was, however, nothing to be done about it until tomorrow; the morning would come soon enough.
Bingley arrived after a few hours had passed, and came directly to the drawing room when he heard that Darcy had arrived, beaming with much pleasure and enthusiasm.
"Well Darcy, I must say, this is a pleasant surprise. I take it your business in London was concluded quickly."
"It was," Darcy said with a smile. The prospect of marriage and not dampened Bingley's naturally high spirits, indeed it had only heightened them.
"Yes, of course it was, else you would not be here. I thought you could not be here to congratulate me, as you gave me your blessing before you left, and I received you and your sister's congratulations in the post two days ago." He seated himself in a chair across from Darcy, who stood by the fireplace. "I did not think you would return until tomorrow. Do you enjoy my society that much, or rather is it Hertfordshire that agrees with you?"
"I can never tire of your company, Bingley," replied he. "There are few whose company I would prefer above yours, and your friendship, I value more than most. Tell me, how is Miss Bennet?"
"She is more radiant and charming than ever, and grows lovelier every day. I must confess, I have never seen her looking more beautiful than she does at present. I spend much of my day at Longbourn, you know, however, I felt obliged to accept Sir Lucas' invitation to dine with them tonight, else I would be there this very minute."
"You do not find their company somewhat tiresome?"
"Not at all. Mr Bennet is quite an agreeable man, if you would take the trouble to know him. He has very graciously allowed me to shoot as many coveys on his estate as I please, and when I am not out shooting or with my dearest Jane, Miss Elizabeth's company does very well."
His heart quickened a pace. "I understand that you are to visit there tomorrow morning."
"I am. Why don't you join me, man? I know you take little pleasure in socialising when you are not intimate with the family, but it does you good to get out once in a while. The Bennets are not all that bad, you know, once you get used to them. I seem to recall you saying to me once, that Miss Elizabeth was not so disagreeable to you as she once was. If Jane is to be my wife you cannot avoid them, unless you mean to never visit us, and, if that were the case, I should be exceedingly sorry to lose your company. I own the mother has faults enough, but surely, you can overlook them if I can. I would dearly love for you to oblige me, just this once."
"Thank you, I will."
"You will?" Bingley appeared surprised by his ready agreement to the plan; he had been prepared to argue his case. "Well, that is splendid. What a day we shall have, then. However, I do hope you shall try to talk more, and not stand about in that awkward manner of yours. Honestly, Darcy, you should try to speak more; people are much pleasanter if you talk to them."
Darcy assured him he would try, suggesting that if the weather remained fine, perhaps they could take a walk.
"An excellent idea, Darcy. Why did I not think of it?" He looked exceedingly pleased at his success at being able to persuade his friend to socialise more. "I did think you looked rather ill when I first saw you; the air in London must not agree with you so well as the country." He then proceeded to relate the rest of his news, the larger part of it pertaining to his upcoming wedding; adding, almost as an afterthought, that they had been surprised to see Lady Catherine de Bourgh yesterday.
"Yes, she called on me in London and informed me of her visit."
"She did? And did she tell you her reasons for the visit? Jane and I could not imagine what would bring her to Hertfordshire, but we supposed that, as she was passing this way, she thought to bring word of Mrs Collins to Elizabeth. However we both thought it strange that her appearance should be so abrupt, as I do not believe she stayed longer than half an hour."
Darcy agreed that must have been the case, and owned that it was his aunt's nature to call when she was least expected. It was to his relief that his answer seemed to satisfy Bingley, as he inquired no more about it. After talking further on inconsequentials, they bid each other goodnight and Bingley retired to his room.
Darcy remained a while longer in the drawing room. He did not feel overly tired, certainly not enough to sleep with ease, instead he poured another glass if wine, and stared absently into the fire. He had hardly dared hope to be included in his friend's plans for the morrow; it was better than he had scarcely believed possible. The impatience that had driven him thither returned somewhat. How would she react to his presence? Had he come all this way on a fool's errand? She had been most adamant in April, that he could not have made her the offer of his hand in any possible way that would have tempted her to accept it. The words rang all too clear in his memory. Was he supposing too much of his aunt's account of what had transpired? It could all have been a horrid mistake, and if she refused him a second time, how was he to bear the agony of it all?
Yet, he argued, if she meant to refuse him, why had she not obliged Lady Catherine? If the rumour itself had offended her, she would have refuted it at the first possible opportunity, but if it had been his aunt's demeanour and high-handedness that offended, she would have resisted replying with all the impertinence and perversity his aunt had related to him. Elizabeth could merely have objected to disclose information that she felt his aunt had no right to inquire after. What to do? How was he to proceed from here? Would that his heart was not in such confusion.
His tortured thoughts continued in this manner, until the chiming of the clock as it struck twelve, reminded him of the late hour. He would get no further with this tonight; all deliberation on the subject must wait until there was something that could be done about it, and he was thankful that the glass of wine had settled his nerves enough that he felt able to sleep. Sleep, however, was slow in coming.
Morning found him nervously anticipating the morning's ride to Longbourn. It was with some difficulty that he restrained his impatience to be gone, however, they were eventually under way. They arrived presently at Longbourn, and, before Mrs. Bennet had time to tell him of their having seen his aunt, Bingley proposed their all walking out. It was agreed to. Mrs. Bennet was not in the habit of walking; Mary could never spare time; but the remaining five set off together. Bingley and Jane, however, soon allowed the others to outstrip them. They lagged behind, while Elizabeth, Kitty, and Darcy were to entertain each other. Very little was said by either; Kitty was too much afraid of him to talk; Darcy was forming a desperate resolution; and perhaps she might be doing the same.
They walked towards the Lucases, because Kitty wished to call upon Maria, which suited Darcy plans, as it would provide him with the opportunity to apply to Elizabeth; yet, before he had a chance to speak, Elizabeth spoke up.
"Mr Darcy, I am a very selfish creature; and, for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express."
"I am sorry, exceedingly sorry," replied Darcy, in a tone of surprise and emotion, "that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness. I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted." The last thing he had expected was to receive was her gratitude, indeed, he had taken great care that she know nothing of it.
"You must not blame my aunt. Lydia's thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest till I knew the particulars. Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortification's, for the sake of discovering them."
"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."
A short pause followed, and Darcy, gathering his courage, now spoke. "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
Elizabeth, feeling all the more the common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.
He was silent a moment, overcome with heartfelt delight, and a smile diffused across his face such as she had never seen before.
"Never have such words brought me more joy and delight, than those which those which you just spoke. Words cannot express, you cannot know, how happy you have made me; I scarcely give voice to the joy I now feel."
"Indeed, sir," she replied with a shy smile, "words often cannot do justice to a situation such as ours, however in cases such as these, I believe words are unnecessary. My happiness alone could suffice for the two of us; and if your feelings are anything at all similar to my own, then I can well imagine how you must feel."
"We will neither of us quarrel as to who has the greater share of happiness, and let it be said that no two people in the world can feel happier than we."
"Then it is agreed."
They smiled as only lovers do, and walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. Eventually Darcy said:
"I must be allowed to express my relief at your acceptance of my proposal. After your words to me last April, I had scarcely dared hope my addresses would be so well received."
"In that, I believe, your relief is as great as mine, for after I quitted the inn at Lambton, I did not suspect they would ever be renewed."
"You held some hope, then of their being renewed?"
"Your civilities to myself at Pemberley convinced me of your wish of procuring my regard, however, the events that followed led me to believe otherwise, and I gave up all hope us ever meeting with such civility again."
"Such it might have been, were it not for the timely intervention of my aunt."
"Lady Catherine? What could she have said that would influence you? I had rather despaired that she would convince you of the evils of such a marriage, and that an alliance with me was beneath both your dignity and station in life."
"That, I believe, was her motive for coming thence, but unfortunately, it had not the result she desired. She did, as you have most astutely guessed, point out to me the misery such a marriage with one whose connections were so unequal to my own, would bring, but these arguments held no sway with me, as I had long since discarded such objections. My admiration and love for you made it possible for me to overlook them, as was evinced by my addresses to you at Hunsford, but I shall not dwell on what gives little pleasure to either of us. My aunt informed me, in no uncertain terms, that she was most displeased to find an obstruction to her design, and was not very flattering in her appraisal of you."
"I can well imagine," said she. "Her words to me were very much the same, if I am to understand your account of it, but what was it she said that so decided you to renew your addresses to me? If it was not her abuse of my relations that affected you, dare I flatter myself that could it have been her abuse of my character that set you against her?"
"You may flatter yourself that I was affronted by her condemnation of you, however, I must point out that her abuse played but a little part in adding to my resolve. It was instead her very motive on coming to London that decided me. You were so determined not to accommodate her wishes, that she resolved to apply to me in the hopes being appeased, and it was your adamant refusal to give the assurances she sought, that convinced me that you were not so against me as I had feared. Your perverse and obstinate nature she dwelt on most emphatically, which, I suspect, was not the least of her objections; that she had more than my respect and position in society in mind when attempting to influence me, I am certain."
"And how does Lady Catherine feel about your coming here? I can imagine she strongly objected to the scheme, and tried her utmost to dissuade you."
"Again, you are correct in your assumptions. My aunt could see that any association with Bingley, and thus your sister, must bring us together often, to which end she most strenuously advised me to discontinue any relationship with him whatsoever."
Elizabeth was alarmed. "And what was your reply? You cannot have agreed to it, else you would not have returned."
"Indeed, I could not. Had I done that, it would have been in accordance with her wishes as far as they involved you, which I could not allow. I must confess that I was forced to deceive her somewhat on this, as she does not know I am in Hertfordshire, nor my reasons for being here. You must understand, that I had just learned of your refusal to acknowledge that a relationship between us was utterly impossible; my thoughts and feelings were in turmoil at the time, and it was all I could do to control my desire to leave at once. By the time I was aware of my deception, I judged it best to say nothing until I was sure of your reasons for denying her request. It taught me to hope, as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly."
Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, "Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."
"What did you say of me, that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: "had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner" Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me; - though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."
"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."
"I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."
"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."
"And what of my letter? Did it," said he, "did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?"
She explained what its effect on her had been, and how gradually all her former prejudices had been removed. "My distress on reading the letter, especially with regards to Jane, did not easily fade, but I soon came to realise that my conception of Mr Wickham was ill-formed and based on ignorance and prejudice. I was blind in my dealings with him, and allowed myself to be grossly misled by his charm and flattery in his attentions to me. Yet, it was only after I believed it was no longer possible that you could have any regard for me, only then did I understand how grieved I was to lose it. I believed that for you to connect yourself with my family would have been the greatest abhorrence to you, and that it was no longer possible for us to meet on such agreeable terms. Much of the change in me was due to what you wrote in that letter; it was enlightening, yet humbling at the same time."
He confessed that he knew that what he wrote must give her pain, but it had been necessary. He had believed himself perfectly calm and cool when he wrote that letter, but was now convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit.
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospection's must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?"
"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses."
"My manners must have been in fault, but not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to deceive you, but my spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening?"
"Hate you! I was angry perhaps at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction."
"I am almost afraid of asking what you thought of me, when we met at Pemberley. You blamed me for coming?"
"No indeed; I felt nothing but surprise."
"Your surprise could not be greater than mine in being noticed by you. My conscience told me that I deserved no extraordinary politeness, and I confess that I did not expect to receive more than my due."
"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you. The rest you know. My sister was most delighted to become acquainted with you. She had long since been wanting to meet you, and, when I told her you were not five miles away, she expressed an earnest desire to meet with you at once; it was her particular wish that you be invited to dinner that evening."
"I was looking forward to it, but it seems it was not to be. Now, however, I shall be able dine with her as much as she chooses."
"I am glad to hear it. She was exceedingly disappointed that your visit was cut short."
"As was I." She sighed in remembrance. "There was a time when I regretted your happening on so soon after I read Jane's letter, but that was before I learnt of your unselfish kindness and generosity in dealing with my younger sister's reckless behaviour. The seriousness of your countenance when you left the inn, led me to believe that Lydia's elopement with Wickham disgusted you; I thought you must have rejoiced in escaping our misfortune."
"I could never have rejoiced in it. On learning the cause of your distress, I had no other thought but how I might alleviate it, and my resolution of following you from Derbyshire in quest of your sister had been formed before I quitted the inn. My gravity and thoughtfulness there arose from no other struggles than what such a purpose must comprehend."
She expressed her gratitude again, but it was too painful a subject to each, to be dwelt on farther.
After walking several miles in a leisurely manner, and too busy to know any thing about it, they found at last, on examining their watches, that it was time to be at home.
"What could become of Mr Bingley and Jane!" was a wonder which introduced the discussion of their affairs. Darcy was delighted with their engagement; his friend had given him the earliest information of it, saying he had felt sure it would happen when he left.
"On the evening before my going to London," said he, "I made a confession to him, which I believe I ought to have made long ago. I told him of all that had occurred to make my former interference in his affairs absurd and impertinent. His surprise was great. He had never had the slightest suspicion. I told him, moreover, that I believed myself mistaken in supposing, as I had done, that your sister was indifferent to him; and as I could easily perceive that his attachment to her was unabated, I felt no doubt of their happiness together. This was my particular reason for coming to Netherfield, to confirm to myself of her continued affection."
Elizabeth could not help smiling at his easy manner of directing his friend.
"And your assurance of it, I suppose, carried immediate conviction to him."
"It did. Bingley is most unaffectedly modest. His diffidence had prevented his depending on his own judgement in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine made every thing easy. I was obliged to confess one thing, which for a time, and not unjustly, offended him. I could not allow myself to conceal that your sister had been in town three months last winter, that I had known it, and purposely kept it from him. He was angry. But his anger, I am persuaded, lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of your sister's sentiments. He has heartily forgiven me now."
Elizabeth longed to observe that Mr Bingley had been a most delightful friend; so easily guided that his worth was invaluable; but she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin. In anticipating the happiness of Bingley, which of course was to be inferior only to his own, he continued the conversation till they reached the house. In the hall they parted.