Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome, rich and proud, was lonely. At twenty-eight, he had had a few affairs -- with women whose reputations could not be injured -- but he had never been in love. Marriageable women fawned on him, laughably and sometimes appallingly. He was fastidious and doubted he would ever find a woman he would want to marry.
A small circle of people mattered to him. His father had died five years earlier, his mother many years before. He was master of his family's Derbyshire estate, Pemberley; and co-guardian with his cousin of his young orphaned sister, Georgiana.
This cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, was only two or three years older than Darcy. All their lives the cousins had treated each other like brothers. As the younger brother of a lord, with no expectation of ever becoming a lord himself, Colonel Fitzwilliam had always enjoyed lording it over his younger cousin. And Darcy, who had no brother of his own and felt the responsibilities of being an older brother, valued his brotherly relationship with his older cousin.
Darcy had also had another childhood companion, the son of his father's steward. As a child, George Wickham had seemed to those around him -- especially Darcy's father -- to be handsome, intelligent and good. However, as a young man he had shown himself to Darcy to be selfish and deceitful. After his father's death, Darcy fulfilled his father's generous bequests to Wickham and washed his hands of the man.
When Georgiana turned fifteen, her guardians felt their ward was old enough to live suitably sheltered in town, and so they formed an establishment for her there, presided over by a paid companion. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would never have entrusted Georgiana to Mrs. Younge's care had they known she was acquainted with Wickham.
With Darcy's approval, Georgiana had planned to spend much of her fifteenth summer with Mrs. Younge in Ramsgate, where the older woman had many friends. But when Darcy paid an unplanned visit, he arrived in time to thwart Wickham's plans to elope with Georgiana with Mrs. Younge's connivance. Darcy knew Wickham was impelled by a desperate need for Georgiana's thirty thousand pounds. After Darcy made Wickham understand what Darcy would do to him if he ever approached Georgiana again, Wickham disappeared without a word to her. She was devastated when she realized that Wickham had only wanted her money. Darcy accused himself of not having exercised sufficient care, of having rescued Georgiana from Wickham only through luck. He doubted that he had seen the last of Wickham.
Georgiana had become a lovely young woman, accomplished but exceedingly shy. She practiced her music constantly and loved to sing and play for her brother. He believed her sweet, true voice was a reflection of her character.
Darcy had many male acquaintances with whom he could pass the time pleasantly, but besides his cousin had only one other valued friend. Charles Bingley was a man several years Darcy's junior whom he had known for only a few years. Bingley was honest, kind, generous, cheerful, and saw the good in everyone without blinding himself to their faults. Darcy thought Bingley might eventually be a good husband for Georgiana, and he knew he would like Bingley as a brother.
Of Bingley's two sisters, Darcy had long recognized the unmarried one, Caroline, as one of those desperate women hoping to draw him in. He knew her interest in him was not love but a hope of marrying into an aristocratic family, and she probably felt his close friendship with her brother gave her an advantage over any rivals. Transparently, she also hoped her brother would marry Georgiana, to form a double alliance between the Bingley and Darcy families.
Darcy felt he knew himself. He was intelligent, knowledgeable, honest, dependable, but rather inflexible and not socially adept. Other men, often with fewer apparent advantages than he enjoyed, were usually easier in company, less embarrassed, more entertaining. He was proud, as any man with his attainments and material advantages should be, but he kept his pride under good regulation.
That fall, Darcy accepted Bingley's invitation to join him, his sisters and his brother-in-law at an estate called Netherfield, which Bingley had just taken near the Hertfordshire town of Meryton. They were all to attend a country dance there, although Darcy generally felt awkward with those outside of his social class, with whom he had nothing in common. He hated feeling he had to perform for such people, pretending to be affable and interested when he was not.
For Bingley, the Meryton assembly proved a complete success. He danced with the prettiest woman there, Jane Bennet. He thought he might already be in love, a frequent state with him. She seemed to like him too. But for Darcy, the evening was an embarrassing failure. He had snubbed Jane Bennet's almost equally pretty sister, Elizabeth, and was immediately punished by hearing her mock him with her friends and knowing himself generally judged to be arrogant, conceited, proud, disagreeable, shockingly rude, detestable, etc. While he did not care whether he was liked by people who meant nothing to him, he hated being thought ridiculous. I was rude, he thought, I brought their mockery on myself.
As the Netherfield party began visiting in the neighborhood, Darcy became interested in Miss Elizabeth Bennet after all. After initially criticizing her looks and manners, he soon had to admit that her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes, her figure was light and pleasing, and he was attracted by the easy playfulness of her admittedly unfashionable manners. Because honesty was a first principle with him, he was surprised to discover that he had at first concealed from himself his interest in Miss Elizabeth.
At a large party given by Sir William Lucas, he listened to Miss Elizabeth play and sing. Though her performance was not polished, it was easy and unaffected, and he heard it with pleasure. It contrasted with the mechanical proficiency of the performances of Bingley's sisters.
When he asked Miss Elizabeth to dance, however, she refused. He was not offended, because he admired the spirit of a young woman who could refuse the most eligible bachelor she was likely ever to have the good fortune to meet. It did not occur to him that she could still be punishing him for his rudeness to her at the Meryton assembly.
Darcy was thus complacently regarding Miss Elizabeth when Caroline Bingley tried to flatter him by guessing that he was observing Sir William's party with disdain. When he demurred that he had been agreeably meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow, Miss Bingley teased him about his imminent marriage. Darcy ignored her shrewishness while he continued his enjoyable meditations. There, I've said it aloud! And I don't care if Caroline is jealous. It's not my fault if she stirs her own frustration by her impertinence.
One afternoon about a week after Sir William's party, Darcy and Bingley returned from dining out to find that Miss Jane Bennet, while visiting Bingley's sisters at Netherfield, had become too ill to go home. She stayed the night but in the morning was still too ill to move, and a message was sent to her family.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet appeared a little later in the morning, her hair untidy, boots caked in mud, stockings and petticoat muddy as well, and her cheeks glowing from having walked the three miles from Longbourn to attend her sister. While Darcy and Bingley admired the effect, Caroline and Louisa thought she was ridiculous.
That evening while she was upstairs with her sister, the others discussed Miss Elizabeth Bennet at length. When Darcy agreed with the ladies that he would not wish his sister to make such an exhibition, Caroline said, "I am afraid, Mr. Darcy, that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes." Irritated at both Caroline and himself, he replied, "Not at all, they were brightened by the exercise." Adventure, indeed! Gallant of Bingley to say he hardly noticed the mud. I noticed it, and I liked it; it shows her concern for her sister and her independent spirit. Dirt in the country is hardly improper. Not wanting to see my little sister glowing like that doesn't mean I don't like to see it in another woman.
The group discussed the fact that the Bennets had an uncle in trade living in Cheapside and another uncle who was a lawyer in Meryton. Darcy agreed with Bingley that the circumstance did not make the sisters any less agreeable, but said it must very materially lessen their chances of marrying men of any consideration in the world. He was confident he could withdraw his admiration of Elizabeth -- as he now thought of her -- if he wished, but it annoyed him that his words only seemed to stoke the Bingley sisters' derision of the Bennets. After all, the Bingleys owed their enjoyment of this world's comforts to their own grandfathers' successes in trade.
As he was going to sleep that night, Darcy discovered that, since Caroline's jibe a few days ago about marrying Elizabeth, he had more than once imagined just that. No doubt those secret imaginings had prompted his remark this evening about the disadvantages suffered by unmarried women with connections in trade. Another small instance of self-deception, he thought without alarm, because he certainly had no idea of actually marrying Elizabeth.
That conversation this evening about accomplished women. Odd how Caroline's eagerness to flatter often turns my attention instead to Elizabeth. Caroline can't intend that. When she tried to flatter me about Georgiana's artistic and musical accomplishments, I said I know very few women who are really accomplished. Then she tries to remind me of her fine lady's education by saying a woman cannot be said to be accomplished without a thorough knowledge of art, music and the modern languages, and must also possess "a certain something" in her manner. For Elizabeth's benefit, I said that even all of that is not enough, unless a woman improves her mind by extensive reading. Elizabeth likes to read -- she would like the library at Pemberley. To Caroline, a book is just another personal ornament, like a fan. Tiresome of Caroline but enlightening about Elizabeth -- she won't be intimidated. And she knows how to flirt with me in exactly the way I like -- matching wits without flattery!
The next evening, Elizabeth left her sister to join the others for a time. Darcy could not help admiring her as she turned over some music books that lay on the instrument. He hoped she would perform again, but she did not. He asked her to dance, but she refused him again, cleverly throwing back at him a rude remark he had made to Sir William Lucas that every savage can dance. Darcy was disappointed but not affronted. He had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. Only her inferior connections were saving him from falling in love.
Caroline must suspect his feelings, because she frequently teased him about marrying Elizabeth and making her low connections his own, even imagining he would place portraits of his new relations in the gallery at Pemberley. "But as for your Elizabeth's picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?"
He calmly replied, "It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their expression, but their color and shape, and the eye-lashes, so remarkably fine, might be copied." As usual, Caroline's attacks just lead me to pleasant thoughts about Elizabeth's liveliness and her loveliness. And now she's asking me to think of how Elizabeth's portrait would look in Pemberley's gallery! I doubt that my remarks about Elizabeth's beautiful eyes can give Caroline any pleasure, but she will persist in eliciting them.
That evening he and Elizabeth flirted rather more seriously than before. Caroline had tried to draw his attention to herself by teasing him about having a faultless disposition. To Elizabeth, Darcy said that perhaps no one could avoid every flaw, but he always tried to avoid such weaknesses as vanity, which was not the same as pride. He confessed that he had faults enough -- he knew he had a resentful temper, and his good opinion once lost was lost for ever. Every disposition, he said, had some natural defect which even the best education could not overcome.
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody," Elizabeth said.
"And yours," he replied, with a smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them."
I never meant to be drawn into either revealing or defending myself like that. Every conversation with her is exciting -- sometimes risky, too. It's a good thing Caroline changed the subject after that, and that Elizabeth and her sister are going home tomorrow. But why did she say I hate everyone? I don't hate anyone, except Wickham, but she can't know anything about that.
Three days later, Darcy and Bingley were riding through Meryton on their way to Longbourn when they spied the Bennet sisters with a gentleman they did not know. But before they could be introduced, Darcy saw, across the street with a group of militia officers -- Wickham! I knew he would turn up again! First Ramsgate to ruin Georgiana, then Meryton to interfere with the Bennet sisters! Intolerable! Not a word was said, but Darcy saw Wickham turn white. And so he should fear me, after last summer! But Wickham quickly recovered and insolently touched his hat to Darcy, who turned his horse and rode away.
Surely he didn't follow me into Hertfordshire, or he would not have turned pale when he saw me. But why is he here? What mischief is he planning? I wish I knew how long he intends to stay at Meryton; I hope not long. What did Elizabeth and her sisters make of that?
While Darcy had no intentions with regard to Elizabeth, nonetheless he would not allow Wickham to trifle with any member of the Bennet family. However, it seemed best to do nothing further without knowing more about Wickham's situation.
A week later, Bingley gave a ball at Netherfield. By now, Darcy recognized an irreconcilable conflict. On the one hand, he was completely enchanted by Elizabeth. In this quiet corner of England, so near to London by road and so far from London's artificiality, he had found a woman whose like was not to be found in town. She was his intellectual equal, if not in education, at least in ability and fearlessness. She would never bore him, no matter how long or how well they knew each other!
On the other hand, he acknowledged the truth underlying Caroline's jibes and his own hesitations -- the difference in their stations was unbridgeable. While her person and her mind were unparalleled, personal attraction could never be the basis on which the Darcy heir could form an alliance to produce the next Darcy heir. His obligations as master of Pemberley forbade his marrying a country girl whose father's modest estate was entailed away and whose connections were in trade. So his anticipation of this evening was bittersweet. He looked forward to being with Elizabeth but intended to leave for London the next day and was unlikely ever to meet her again.
He also expected the evening to be marred by the presence of Lieutenant Wickham; but when the officers arrived, Wickham was not among them.
When she arrived, Elizabeth was lovelier than he had ever seen her. She had obviously taken great care with her dress and person, and her beauty sparkled -- it must be for him!
Not wanting to seem too eager, he engaged her for the third set. Intending to be charming, he was mortified to find he had nothing to say -- his mind was blank! At last she came to his aid by mentioning some trivialities about the ball to which he could respond.
He was pleased when she said, "I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with the ăclat of a proverb." She doesn't mean herself -- she is never at a loss -- but I'm glad she sees a similarity between us, because it shows she must be inclined toward me.
But just as he was congratulating himself, she mentioned Wickham, saying that he had been so unlucky as to lose Darcy's friendship in a way likely to make him suffer all his life. The unfairness of this attack, when she could know only Wickham's account of the matter, stung him.
He knew his replies must sound cold, but he felt discomposed. He had always supposed his emotions to be under control and had not expected his feelings against Wickham to obtrude as they did this evening. Perhaps Elizabeth was also dissatisfied, because they said nothing further to each other during the rest of the dance.
The evening did not improve. The behavior of every one of Elizabeth's relations except her elder sister was absurd, and Elizabeth was obviously mortified by it. Darcy could think of nothing to say to her for the rest of the evening.
When the guests were all gone, Darcy excused himself to consider in solitude all that had transpired. How could she believe that scoundrel? She thinks I am at fault! But I can't blame her for being taken in -- so many others with greater knowledge of the man have also been deceived. That conversation at Netherfield a few evenings ago, when I confessed to her my resentful disposition. She took me at my word -- she thinks I will be Wickham's enemy forever. Of course, she's right, but she doesn't know how he deserves it for what he tried to do with Georgiana.
Darcy softened any offense he had found in Elizabeth's manner or words that evening. Perhaps she had felt as discomposed as he. But he had to remind himself of the absurdity of all her relations whenever he was tempted to let his imagination dwell on the delights of her lively disposition and delectable person. He ought to go to London in the morning with Bingley, who had some business there. He would not return with Bingley to Hertfordshire.
Darcy planned to stay in London until spring, with nearly four months in which to enjoy London's music, theater and art with his sister. How awkward was his position with regard to her -- less than a parent but more than a brother! He knew from her letters that she had missed him and still felt unsure of herself after the episode at Ramsgate. He reproached himself for not realizing earlier how much that experience had affected her, although neither her person nor her reputation had actually been injured.
About a month after their arrival in town, Darcy learned from Caroline that Miss Jane Bennet was staying with her aunt and uncle in Cheapside. He felt Miss Bennet was bound to hurt Bingley, because her interest in him was obviously much more composed and less strongly felt than his. Having heard Mrs. Bennet describe other admirers of her eldest daughter, Darcy did not think Miss Bennet's interest in Bingley would outlast prolonged separation. So he engaged in the sole deception of his life that he could recall: he concealed from Bingley that Miss Bennet was in town. Instead, Darcy joined with Bingley's sisters to persuade him that Miss Bennet's regard for him was not what he thought, and that he should not return to Netherfield.
Besides, Miss Bennet's connections were Elizabeth's, no more suitable for Bingley than for himself. Though the origin of Bingley's wealth had been in trade, Bingley thought and acted like a gentleman. Once he purchased an estate, he would be a gentleman. His station in life thus required a suitable alliance nearly as much as Darcy's did. Darcy convinced himself that he was acting for the best, because his friend's situation demanded it and not because he wished to avoid Elizabeth.
Darcy thought long about his own infatuation with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It's an impossible conflict! I know men who simply marry advantageously but keep a mistress. I could never -- I'd have to conceal my doings from everyone, or at least make sure my wife could pretend I wasn't deceiving her. I feel sick thinking of it. Elizabeth would never accept such a role in any event -- she's too proud. I just have to forget her and devote myself to Georgiana's happiness. And I'm only twenty-eight -- there's still time to find someone suitable.
In late March, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam made their annual visit to Rosings, the estate of their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in Kent. They would inspect the house and park and report to her and her steward. A secondary purpose, which they would not report to their aunt, was to encourage their cousin Anne, who seemed oppressed by her overbearing mother's insistence that she was too weak and sickly to do anything. Anne's cousins knew that her mother expected Darcy to marry Anne in order to join the Darcy and de Bourgh fortunes, and that he had no intention of doing so. Anne had never indicated to either cousin that she expected such a marriage.
Lady Catherine was as imperious, and Anne as sickly, as they had expected. Recounting the news of the neighborhood, their aunt said her clergyman had recently married the former Charlotte Lucas of Meryton. Darcy recalled that Mr. Collins was a cousin of Mr. Bennet's, an awkward, pridefully obsequious man, and that Charlotte Lucas was the eldest daughter of the Sir William Lucas who had given the large party where he had heard Elizabeth play and sing. This was the man whom Darcy had seen in Meryton that day he met Wickham. Mr. Collins was the rector of Hunsford, whose parsonage was across the lane from Lady Catherine's park. Lady Catherine said Mrs. Collins was at present visited by one of her unmarried sisters and by her friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy was stunned. How can I forget her when she's staying so near? My aunt probably commands her presence every evening so she can dominate her, like everyone else. I don't think she can easily dominate Elizabeth, though. If I can't avoid her, I'd better meet her right away.
The next day, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam called on Mrs. Collins and her guests at Hunsford Parsonage. As usual, Colonel Fitzwilliam charmed everyone with his well-bred ease and pleasant talk. Feeling uncomfortable, Darcy fell back upon his usual reserve, but at last he asked Elizabeth about her family. She replied that her eldest sister had been in town these three months, and asked if he had never happened to see her there. Conscious that this question touched on his deception of Bingley, Darcy felt confused and merely answered that he had never been so fortunate as to meet Miss Bennet. What an unfortunate topic for conversation! Lucky I didn't actually have to lie to her.
Some days later, Lady Catherine invited the Hunsford party to drink tea in the evening. Darcy could only look forward to the meeting with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. He would be near Elizabeth again, no doubt with opportunities for their peculiar kind of gravely flirtatious conversation they had pursued at Netherfield, which could exclude everyone else without impropriety. On the other hand, he was resolved not to further his own feelings of attachment or raise hopes on her part that he could never fulfill. He could hardly avoid these while also flirting!
In his aunt's stiffly formal home, Darcy watched Fitzwilliam conversing pleasantly with Elizabeth about music and thought of his cousin as his surrogate. She might be speaking with me with the same ease and pleasure she takes in conversing with him.
After coffee, Elizabeth sat down to play, and Darcy stationed himself so as to command a full view of her countenance. Elizabeth said, with an arch smile, "You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."
"I shall not say that you are mistaken," he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."
Laughing at this picture of herself, Elizabeth said teasingly, "Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire -- and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too -- for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear."
"I am not afraid of you," he said, smiling.
She recounted to Colonel Fitzwilliam how she had first seen his cousin in Hertfordshire at a ball, where he had danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce and more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Generous of her not to reveal how rude I was to her that first time!
Darcy explained that at that time he had not the honor of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond his own party. "Perhaps," he said, "I should have judged better had I sought an introduction; but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."
Elizabeth continued, "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
When Fitzwilliam said it was because Darcy would not give himself the trouble, Darcy sought to defend himself by saying, "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
Elizabeth replied that her imperfect execution at the piano was not the result of a lack of ability but was her own fault; she would play better if she would only take the trouble of practicing.
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."
That's what she said to me at the Netherfield ball, when she said we're each of an unsocial, taciturn nature, unwilling to speak unless we can amaze the whole room by it. And did she understand my compliment, that the expressive confidence of her performance outshines any little deficiencies in her playing?
Despite further ill-natured criticism by Lady Catherine for not practicing more, Elizabeth gratified Darcy and his cousin by continuing at the piano until it was time to leave. She doesn't let herself by intimidated by anyone! I wish Anne had something of her spirit.
After this evening, Darcy realized that his determination not to think of marrying Elizabeth was failing. It would not do. Her connections were low and his were high -- his mother had been daughter to an earl, his uncle was the present earl. Elizabeth's mother and youngest sister were probably the silliest two women he had ever met, her cousin Mr. Collins was probably the silliest man, and her relations were all in trade. He owned a grand estate, and her father's estate was not even his own to bequeath. All his family, particularly Lady Catherine, would oppose such a union as beneath him, and he agreed with them -- the gifts of position and wealth which were his by right would not sustain themselves without careful stewardship, including suitable marriage. Nevertheless, family pride seemed to be losing out to his infatuation.
If passion was going to overcome pride, then at least he ought to know Elizabeth better. He sought opportunities to talk with her at Hunsford Parsonage or when she walked alone in the park. He liked her company, even though they seemed to have little to say to one other. Sometimes he asked what might seem to her odd and unconnected questions, and sometimes she seemed to answer questions he had not asked aloud. Thus, for example, he learned that her only objection to traveling was the expense, and that she thought in some circumstances a woman might live too near her parents. That's good -- she wouldn't mind living in Derbyshire. While she did not think Mrs. Collins had wisely chosen her husband with regard to his personal attributes, she nevertheless believed that in a prudential light Mrs. Collins had made a good match. That's good too -- women want to marry wealthy men, and poor women musttry to do so. Elizabeth is poor, so she must want to marry me.
He tried to discover whether Elizabeth could love Georgiana as a sister. He learned that Elizabeth loved all her sisters, not only her beautiful, serene, and well-mannered eldest; she also loved her two silly youngest sisters, who were about equal in age to Georgiana. She did not seem repelled by irregularities in the behavior of others and thus would probably not be much disturbed by Georgiana's conduct at Ramsgate, which undoubtedly she would discover. She seemed to find interest in everyone, the absurd as well as the sensible.
Two evenings before Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were to leave, those at Hunsford Parsonage were expected to drink tea at Rosings. When they arrived without Elizabeth, Darcy could hardly stand the disappointment. Barely hearing that Miss Bennet was ill with a headache, he hurriedly excused himself.
His conflicts about Elizabeth were suddenly intolerable. He must do something about them. He hastened across the park toward Hunsford Parsonage. What he would say when he got there he did not know.
She rejected me! Said I insulted her by offering to marry her! As he strode back through the park, Darcy felt hot with anger and embarrassment. How could a woman of no family and less beauty reject me? Fitzwilliam Darcy! Grandson to an earl! Nephew to the present earl! Sought after -- fawned over -- by every eligible woman in the kingdom!
And not content with a polite "no, thank you, though you honor me, it is not possible, etc., etc." She had to insult me too! How could I be so mistaken? She was expecting my addresses, I'm sure of it! She flirts with me openly, and she as much as said she wants a prudential marriage. She knew she would be getting one with me, twenty times better than her friend's. What went wrong?
I told her how ardently I admire and love her, almost since our first meeting. How the strength of my affection overcame everything, even my duty to my family and myself. How I was humbling myself by offering her my hand and that nevertheless my feelings compelled me. How I've tried in vain to conquer my love and that even the inferiority and absurdity of her connections are insufficient in the face of my ardor.
She said I'm ungentlemanlike! Said I could not have offered my hand in any possible way that would have tempted her to accept it. She hates me! Why?
She said she was influenced by two offenses -- she called them that. One is my protection of Bingley. She said her sister loves him, and that by interfering, I've made them both miserable. But I know I'm right -- I've been kinder to my friend than to myself. The matter of Wickham is worse -- her impassioned defense of the man proves she believes his lies.
What else could I have said? I know I was impulsive -- that's not like me. Perhaps if I had been better prepared she would have accepted me. Or if I had some of Bingley's or my cousin's charm, perhaps I would not have offended her and she would have understood me -- at least she would have refused me with civility if for some reason she could not accept me.
What hurts the most is that I exposed myself to her, and still she rejected me! I've never exposed myself like that to another soul. I showed her all my vulnerabilities, -- my powerful feelings for her, how I've struggled to bring my desires under the control of duty, how completely I've failed. I showed her all there is to know about me -- at least the essentials if not the details -- and still I'm not good enough for her. What else could I have done?
There's one thing I can still do. I was unprepared, felt pressured by her disdain, omitted things I should have said, presented myself in a worse light than I deserve. Very well, I'll write her a letter and I'll thoroughly explain myself, without abasing myself further. Even if she never speaks to me or sees me again, she can't refuse to read a letter.
By the time Darcy returned to his aunt's house, the Collinses had left. He went to his room and wrote. While his early drafts reflected all his anger, eventually he felt calmer. In the heat of the interview, he had doubted whether he should mention Wickham's treatment of Georgiana. Now, however, he was sure he could entrust his sister's reputation to the woman to whom he had just offered his hand. He hoped at least to make Elizabeth see what that man really was, so that she could arm herself against him regardless of her feelings against himself. And so he described the entire history between himself and Wickham.
As to Elizabeth's accusation of his interfering with the happiness of his friend and her sister, he saw that Elizabeth probably understood her sister's feelings better than he did and frankly told her so, at the same time explaining to her why he felt his actions justified.
To his surprise, as he wrote he discovered a great change in himself. He felt liberated by his self- exposure just now to Elizabeth. Though the result of his proposal had been the opposite of his intent, he found an unexpected benefit -- his inability to speak to her easily must have been a kind of timidity which he no longer felt. Now he could tell her anything -- everything -- the truth could not hurt him with her. Of course, he might never have another chance after this letter to tell her anything or everything. The letter would speak for him.
It was nearly dawn before he was satisfied with his letter. By the time he had finished, his bitterness toward its recipient had evaporated, and he felt only tenderness and regret. He therefore ended, "I will only add, God bless you. Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Two days after delivering his letter into Elizabeth's hand, Darcy was back in London, to stay until the end of July. His hopes regarding Elizabeth were ended. Her rejection had resolved for him his former struggle between his duty and his desires. Duty had prevailed, although not through his own exercise of will.
His life seemed grey, as he withdrew from company and often avoided even the masculine camaraderie he had previously enjoyed. He had thought he knew himself; but if Elizabeth's criticisms were correct, he must have been blind! Now his self examination became intense, often consuming whole days.
His reflections led him to some delightful discoveries about Elizabeth, although they could hardly matter to him any longer. She had an innate value for herself, a confidence which Caroline called "conceit and impertinence." Elizabeth's belief in her own worth could not arise from her family connections -- he had observed her embarrassment when members of her family had made themselves ridiculous in her presence. Nor could it be founded on wealth -- whenever her respected father might die, she would be left homeless, with nothing to her name except for what little dowry she might have. Her pride arose from something else -- he did not know what -- that he had seen as a spirited independence never intimidated by circumstances or by the ill nature of the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine. She was unlike Caroline, whose seeming confidence was in manner only. Elizabeth required respect.
Despite her relative poverty, Elizabeth was not desperate to marry. Were she mercenary or ambitious, she would not have refused him. Since she required an advantageous marriage hardly less than Mrs. Collins, he had mistakenly supposed she was thinking of her own situation when she remarked that Mrs. Collins' match was a good one when seen in a prudential light. Rather, the "prudential" remark showed that Elizabeth recognized a woman's obligation to self and family to marry as well as she can. But Elizabeth would not sell herself.
Nor was she vain. Except for that night at the Netherfield ball, she never paraded her beauty. She was simply a naturally lovely woman with no need of such artifices as Bingley's sisters and other women used. Nor did she parade her accomplishments. Her musical performance, while not perfectly executed, was expressive and charming -- like herself. She was widely read and seemed to prefer reading to such idle pastimes as gossip and cards. Her conversation was interesting, good humored, arch but not malicious. She had not set out to captivate him with her beauty and manner -- quite the contrary, as he had learned!
As days of self examination wore on into weeks, Darcy made equally important discoveries about himself. The first was that in so fully revealing himself to Elizabeth he had incautiously cast away the reserve which he had carried since boyhood as a shield against hurt and ridicule. While his shield had certainly been useful, he now saw it as too efficient a barrier between himself and other people. Although he had been severely wounded, abandoning his shield in his proposal to Elizabeth had not killed him. His supposed protection of reserve was unnecessary.
Other self-probing took longer and was more painful. Elizabeth had accused him of being unjust, ungenerous, deceitful, arrogant, presumptuous, conceited, selfishly disdainful of the feelings of others, and ungentlemanlike. He examined each of her accusations.
I have disregarded the feelings of others. Why did I slight Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly? Even though Bingley really was in love with Miss Bennet, I doubted heraffection, and I based my interference solely on my own opinion. Why? I wouldn't have interfered if Bingley had wanted to marry some well-connected woman who showed as little regard for him as Miss Bennet showed. What about Mr. and Mrs. Hurst -- they may be fashionable, but where's the affection? Elizabeth says I'm wrong, and she even accused me of being unjust, ungenerous and deceptive. I did deceive Bingley -- he still doesn't know that Miss Bennet was in town during the first three months of the year.
And I certainly disregarded Elizabeth's feelings when I proposed -- I didn't think of them at all. I thought she had been flirting with me because I enjoyed our encounters so much, and I would have been a brilliant conquest. I never considered that I might have misunderstood her, or that she might have misunderstood me. That she might not even like me! I never thought how my proposal might appear to her -- all I recall telling her was why she and all her connections are beneath me. Imagine Georgiana's feelings if a marquess with an income of eighty thousand a year and an estate as large as Chatsworth were to propose to her by explaining that he could no longer repress his passion for her and had decided to marry her despite her relative poverty, her father's lack of a title, the disapprobation of his family, and the degradation which such an alliance would bring him. It's laughable, but how can I so easily imagine Georgiana's mortification in this hypothetical situation when I never thought how Elizabeth would probably feel about my proposal? How could she not be insulted by the manner of my offer?
He recalled how his parents had explicitly and by example taught him to think meanly of persons beneath him in station and wealth; taught him that, while he might owe such persons certain obligations as their master, their feelings did not deserve his consideration. He respected the memory of his parents, but in this they were wrong. Elizabeth was right that he selfishly disdained the feelings of others.
He further considered his contempt for the Bennets' connections with trade. He could offer no reason for disdaining their aunt and uncle in Cheapside or their uncle Philips, the lawyer in Meryton. Bingley's ancestors got their wealth through trade and Bingley doesn't care -- his sisters do, though. His manners are what a gentleman's should be. He only lacks confidence in his judgments. But his sisters' manners are haughty, and their judgments are usually mistaken. It must be Caroline's desperation to raise her status through marriage -- Charles' and her own -- that makes her sneer at the Bennets and all the Meryton neighborhood for their low connections. Why does she disdain them with me -- does she think I feel the same way?
After all, why should earning one's bread through trade make one inferior to one who lives from the labor of tenants and servants? I've always preferred the activity of Elizabeth's mind to the idleness of Bingley's sisters -- to them any sort of mental activity is equivalent to work, which they abhor. And I admire how Elizabeth disregards dirt and discomfort in a good cause. It makes me feel disloyal to my family, but I think reason requires me to keep an open mind; I ought to judge others by their deeds rather than by their connections. But it's not easy to alter established habits of mind!
Lady Catherine -- she's every bit as objectionable as the most ridiculous member of the Bennet family. She's ignorant and goes out of her way to offend. But none of us openly despise her, however much we hope to escape her attentions. She's too rich to despise.
What of Georgiana -- was he treating her thoughtlessly while he wallowed in self criticism? In other words, was he selfish even toward his beloved sister? She was a woman now, in physical development and probably in her emotions and interests as well. After all, if he had not been on the spot last summer, she would be married and most likely carrying a child by now. Having opened himself to Elizabeth, he should open himself to his sister as well. He began to do so, telling her about his hopes and disappointments in Hertfordshire and Hunsford. He portrayed Elizabeth as the woman he loved, not the one who had scorned him, and told Georgiana he believed Elizabeth would have been a loving sister to her. She told him about her hopes and fears, including her fear than she was continually disappointing him. He tried to reassure her. She counseled him. Their relationship gradually became more equal.
He had always looked for ways to delight Georgiana. At Pemberley he had redecorated a room to please her. Now, as a surprise for her, he purchased one of the new grand pianos from the Broadwood firm and arranged to have it delivered to Pemberley. He also found some Scottish and Irish songs by Haydn and Beethoven that he thought she would like. She would discover these gifts when they arrived at Pemberley in early August.
His amendments of his own character were not made with the hope of persuading Elizabeth to reverse her dislike of him. He expected never to see her again nor to renew his application. What man of any proper pride, once rejected, would humble himself by offering himself a second time? No, he had been compelled to recognize flaws in his character and had taken and was still taking the necessary steps to correct them, simply because he wanted to be a better man. His pride required no less.
Elizabeth! "Miss Bennet." (Bow.) What is she doing here?
"Mr. Darcy." (Curtsey.)
What should I say? Tongue-tied. She seems confused too. She'll see I'm blushing. She is too. "Your family, are they all well?" Did she answer that? What did she say? Should I ask her again? "How did you come here?" I was just picturing to myself how it would be to return to Pemberley if Elizabeth were here, and now she is.
"I am traveling with my aunt and uncle."
"And is the rest of your family at home? How are they?" I must be repeating myself. Why doesn't she look at me? If she still hated me, she wouldn't come here. "And are you enjoying your travels? How long have you been from Longbourn?" Can't the master of Pemberley do better than that? "Where are you staying? In Lambton?" Where else? "That is quite nearby." Yes, you fool, she knows it is. I think she's been speaking to me, but I don't know what she said or what I said. I had better go change my clothes and try to collect myself.
Did she read my letter? What did she think? Did it change her opinion of me, even a little? Is she here because she has forgiven me? I know why I'm embarrassed -- it's because I never expected to see her in my home, certainly not if I could not have brought her here. I want her to like it. It shows me at my best. If she likes Pemberley, she must like me. But why does she blush? Is she embarrassed? She can have no reason to be. Is it possible she would give me a second chance? Is that what brought her here? If she's still here when I come out, I can show her how I've taken her reproofs to heart. She'll see how civil I can be -- maybe even charming. She'll see I've changed. I'll show her I can even be gentlemanlike in her presence.
There she is, wandering toward the house. That's a good sign. At least she didn't run away. Those people with her must be her aunt and uncle. I'll be a little better prepared this time, now that I'm wearing clean clothes and I see them before I nearly bumped into them. Maybe she'll introduce me.
Her aunt and uncle Gardiner, from London -- I didn't expect to meet that aunt and uncle. They seem to be fashionable, well-bred people with taste, not how Caroline described them after she called on Miss Bennet in Cheapside. Odd that Mr. Gardiner could be Mrs. Bennet's brother. They are so different. Of course, mother was so very different from Lady Catherine. And Charles from Caroline.
Seeing that Elizabeth still seemed embarrassed, Darcy spoke politely with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to give her time to collect herself. He had been in Elizabeth's home, but until today she had never been in his. He desperately wanted her to feel comfortable here. He discussed fishing with Mr. Gardiner and invited him to fish in Pemberley's river and ponds.
Somehow there was a little alteration as they were walking, and Darcy found himself beside Elizabeth while Mrs. Gardiner accompanied her husband. Elizabeth said they would never have come to Pemberley if they had known he was in residence. He explained that he had just arrived, coming a few hours early to meet with his steward, and that the rest of his party -- including Bingley and his sisters -- would arrive the next morning from London. He respectfully asked permission to introduce her to his sister, who particularly wished to know her. She'll see she's still so important to me that I've spoken well of her to Georgiana.
Reviewing the events of the morning, he knew he was more at his ease in Elizabeth's presence than he had ever been, because he was at home. Now she's seen me where I belong, and can see how I've changed because of her. Did she notice? Today I opened myself to her even more than in Kent -- this time not my desperation but my strengths. And not the power of my situation but the pleasures and comforts of home and park that taste and care and resources can provide. I don't even care that I stammered a lot this morning. She was uncertain too -- none of the prejudice and disdain of our last meeting. I've never seen her so thoughtful or so accepting of me. Perhaps one day she might allow me to persuade her to love me!
When Georgiana and the others arrived the next day, she immediately asked to be taken to call on Elizabeth, choosing to defer enjoyment of her new piano until after she could meet the woman of whom her brother spoke so often and so warmly. Bingley asked to accompany them.
In the inn at Lambton, Darcy introduced to each other the two people he most hoped would approve each other. Elizabeth was as sweet and lovely as he had ever seen her, and more composed than she had seemed yesterday at Pemberley. Georgiana, nearly five years younger than Elizabeth, was womanly and graceful, with a look of sense and good humor in her face. How can those two women not love each other once they know each other? Darcy had never felt so contented, as he talked with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and heard Elizabeth conversing comfortably with Georgiana and with Bingley. Before they left, he persuaded his sister to invite the travelers to dinner in two days, and the invitation was accepted. The next day, Mr. Gardiner was to fish at Pemberley.
The next morning, spent with Mr. Gardiner and other men of the party, was even more pleasurable than Darcy had expected. Elizabeth's uncle was intelligent, well-read and well- spoken, informed on the issues of the day -- and a skilled fisherman. When Mr. Gardiner happened to mention that his wife and niece planned to call on the ladies of Pemberley that morning, Darcy excused himself.
Upon entering the house, he found Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner eating fruit and drinking tea with Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley and Bingley's two sisters. Presently he heard Caroline say to Elizabeth, with sneering civility, "Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the _____shire Militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to your family." How dare she mention Wickham, even if she doesn't use his name? What will Elizabeth and Georgiana do? Georgiana is so ashamed she won't even look up. But Elizabeth -- she calmly says the militia are gone to Brighton and are not expected to return to Meryton, and her family are all well and occupied by their usual pursuits. Caroline only spoke to discompose Elizabeth and to injure her in my opinion, and she's trying to claim Pemberley as her home.
Elizabeth's collected behavior in the face of Caroline's attack soon calmed Georgiana and Darcy too. She had ably defended both herself and Georgiana, all the while appearing to return merely a polite response to Caroline's rudeness. In a room where Caroline had been asserting her right to feel at home, Elizabeth had refused to cede her that right. Darcy's cheerfulness increased as he imagined Elizabeth as mistress of that room one day.
When Darcy returned from attending Elizabeth and her aunt to their carriage, Caroline had to vent her feelings. "How very ill Eliza Bennet looks this morning, Mr. Darcy," she cried; "I never in my life saw any one so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have known her again."
Unwilling to abandon his contentment, Darcy coolly replied that he perceived no other alteration than her being rather tanned -- no miraculous consequence of traveling in the summer. But Caroline would not give up.
"For my own part," she rejoined, "I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character -- there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."
His refusal to take the bait must have provoked her to continue -- "I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, 'She a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first knew her; for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."
He left the room with the satisfaction that it was Miss Bingley who forced him to say what could give no one any pain but herself. Her jealousy had given him the opportunity to express aloud some part of his admiration for Elizabeth. His contentment returned.
Darcy rose the next morning to call on Elizabeth as early as good manners could allow. He wanted to show her by every civility in his power that because of her he had truly changed, while he admired her as much as ever. Her manner suggested that perhaps she no longer hated him and might receive his addresses. Since her appearance at Pemberley only three days ago, there had been little opportunity for the kind of leisurely walks they had sometimes taken in Rosings park which he had enjoyed so much -- and had so mistakenly thought she enjoyed as well. Now he might see if perhaps she could enjoy his company.
Pemberley might be his ally in his suit. Not as an inducement, because Elizabeth would never marry for material advantage, but because Pemberley was a faithful reflection of who and what he knew he now was -- gracious, dependable, organized but not rigid, rightly proud, appearing to be no more and no less than what it was. Darcy had grown up here, as had generations of his ancestors, and had been formed by Pemberley. And he had had some hand in forming Pemberley. If he could show Elizabeth Pemberley's glories, she would know him just as thoroughly. And so he approached Lambton Inn with hope.
When the servant announced him, however, he found Elizabeth looking miserably ill. She burst into tears, saying she had just received letters from her sister Jane, informing her that five days previously their younger sister Lydia had eloped from Brighton with Wickham! They were probably somewhere in London. Elizabeth's father had gone to London, and Jane had written to ask their uncle's immediate assistance. They would leave Lambton as soon as possible, though she knew very well that nothing could be done. With no money, no connections, nothing that could tempt Wickham to marry her or even to bring her home, Lydia must be lost forever. Elizabeth blamed herself for not making Wickham's real character known to her father when hereyes had been opened.
Darcy paced the room, scarcely noticing Elizabeth's distress as he thought about what he could do -- should do -- to rectify the situation, if it could be rectified. He was at fault. Of course Elizabeth had not told her family about Wickham -- he had asked her not to, never doubting she would honor his request. He knew from Elizabeth's accusations at Hunsford that Wickham had not scrupled to spread lies about him after Darcy had left Netherfield. After Wickham tried to seduce his own sister, he should have made it known that Wickham was not to be trusted.
If Wickham and Lydia were indeed in London, there might be ways to find them, even in that great city. If he could find Mrs. Younge, perhaps he could induce her to lead him to her friend. These were plans he could not impart to Elizabeth, in case he could not carry them out.
He realized that Elizabeth might mistakenly think his silence reflected disapprobation of her. It would hardly be appropriate to assure her that his admiration of her was not lessened in any way by the apparent misfortunes of her family. With compassion, therefore, he expressed his concern and excused himself, so she could be alone when she had to acquaint her aunt and uncle with this unhappy news. He did not know how else to comfort her.
At home, he spoke privately with Georgiana, explaining to her all that he had just learned from Elizabeth. For the first time, he informed his sister that Elizabeth had known about Ramsgate since April and had kept Georgiana's secret. He told her what he intended in London and promised to inform her of his success.
In London, Darcy sought out the persons who had recommended Mrs. Younge as a suitable companion for Georgiana; but they knew little about her except for the glowing reports from their friend, who rather unwillingly gave the address of a house in which Mrs. Younge had formerly lived. Darcy finally found Mrs. Younge in a large house in Edward Street, where she maintained herself by letting lodgings. The appearance of some of the lodgers suggested that she might have less respectable means of maintaining herself as well.
It took Darcy two or three days to persuade Mrs. Younge to disclose where Wickham could be found, but he had rightly surmised that her loyalty might yield to bribery, once she felt assured that Wickham would never know who had betrayed him.
Darcy found Wickham and Lydia in lodgings, where Mrs. Younge had directed him. Lydia refused to change her situation, but Darcy found Wickham amenable to threats and bribes.
At first Wickham mocked Darcy. "Your father loved me more than he loved you."
"No, you know nothing about how my father loved my sister and me. He was fond of you to the end, it's true, but only because during his last illness I concealed from him all the things you had done or were rumored to have done that he would have hated -- womanizing, gambling, thievery, deceiving your creditors, involving yourself in dangerous intrigues, even fathering a child, it was said. You can thank me for my father's generosity to you!"
"I never loved your precious sister Georgiana. I intended to marry her only for her money. She was not very pretty -- not very promising at all, in fact. She had no spirit, she was weak and would have cried all the time. She never would have been able to tolerate the kind of life I lead. Miss Elizabeth Bennet -- now there's a woman of spirit. She liked me, and we would have had a good time together. I only turned my attentions to that other girl, Miss King, because of her ten thousand pounds.
"I'm your opposite. Everyone likes me and nobody likes you. You don't know how to talk to people. Everybody thinks you're arrogant and cold, and they want to believe the worst of you. Everybody likes me and trusts me, and I can get people to do what I like.
"I have no intention of marrying Lydia. She's pretty now, but not in ten years' time after a few babies. Her head is empty except for thoughts about men. I'm the man who happens to be within reach at the moment, but she would have been as happy with any other man in a red coat. She's a lively companion, and having her with me is better than being alone, but I have other plans. I didn't get your sister or Miss King, but I can find someone else with good looks and enough money, and I will. Don't think you can force me to marry Miss Lydia."
Darcy replied, "I have listened to your taunts. Now I will tell you the truth about yourself. You are weak and selfish. You have no pride. You had many gifts -- my father's trust and good will, an education, the promise of a valuable living if you wanted it, a generous cash settlement in lieu of the living, good looks, a pleasing manner, all the appearance of goodness. You squandered them all. You want nothing more than to find a rich woman to support you. You are a liar, a cheat, a coward, and now you are a fugitive.
"Even so, I will give you a chance to make a new start, to become a better person than you are now. If you accept my terms -- if you agree to marry Lydia -- I will see that your debts are paid, both tradesmen's and debts of honor, from both Brighton and Meryton. You only have to let me know what they are. I will do my best to get you a commission in the regular army. And I can supplement the settlement Lydia will receive from her parents, so that you will have a sufficient income if you live prudently. You and Lydia will settle in a new place where your past conduct is unknown.
"You really have no choice but to accept my terms. I have made it my business to ensure that you accept your responsibilities to Lydia. Never think to abandon her, because you can never hide where I won't find you if necessary. I found you here, and I can always find you again. You have nowhere to go. Your former friends in Brighton and Meryton know you deceived them, and will not welcome you. You have no money for travel, unless you can borrow from your few friends, who must know you can't repay them -- or unless you steal. Your colonel wants to find you for deserting your post, Lydia's father is looking for you, and so are any number of other angry fathers. You may go to jail for your trade debts -- in fact jail would be a safer place for you, because of your gaming debts that you can never repay."
Wickham did not immediately respond. Darcy could see he was torn between accepting Darcy's offers on the spot and saving face by refusing, and no doubt he still imagined himself marrying for greater profit elsewhere. But after a day or two, Wickham took what he could get.
All their lives, Wickham had been like a bad brother whom Darcy did not wish to acknowledge. They were about the same age and had been reared together at Pemberley. Darcy's father was Wickham's godfather and had given them equal school and university educations. More than once, Darcy had paid to rescue Wickham from scrapes he had gotten himself into. He despised Wickham not because he was the son of the Darcy family's former steward but because he was predatory and lazy. Now Darcy was going to stand up with Wickham when he married Lydia.
Darcy called at Gracechurch Street and told Mr. Gardiner all that had occurred during the previous week. Darcy insisted on bearing the financial responsibility for the arrangements that were made, but was satisfied that the Gardiners were willing to receive Lydia into their home until the wedding, and that Mr. Gardiner was willing to impose on his brother to the extent of making it appear that he, Edward Gardiner, had made the arrangements and that the expenses involved in clearing Wickham's debts would be less than had at first appeared.
Darcy found a great liking for the warmth, humor and sense of both of the Gardiners and felt he would always be welcome in their home. Secretly, he hoped they would visit him again at Pemberley, when they should be more closely related to him than at present.
During the days and nights occupied by these searches and negotiations, Darcy examined his motives in forcing Wickham to marry Lydia. They were a combination of humility and pride.
He had learned during the past year that pride was not what he had formerly believed. It was not found in wealth or connection, but had to come from within oneself. Nor was it arrogance or selfishness -- they had fallen to Elizabeth's scorn. He could not define the pride that he retained, but he knew it made him what he was. Pride had impelled him to expose his inner self to Elizabeth; to acknowledge the truth in her hurtful attack and not reject it simply because she was wrong in some particulars; to change himself while recognizing and keeping his good qualities. His value for himself and Elizabeth's value for herself were an aspect of pride. He felt proud of Elizabeth for her own pride and her spirit in confronting Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley -- and himself.
Pride had led him to ransom Lydia. He would have to lay out several thousand pounds to clear Wickham's debts in Meryton and Brighton, buy him another commission and provide a sufficient dowry. He certainly had the means to do this; and as master of Pemberley, he felt obligated to repair harm caused by one who was formerly a dependent of the estate. But more than that, it was his fault that Lydia's reputation was lost. It was through his mistaken pride that Wickham's true character had not been made known so that no family would allow its daughters to be deceived by his charms. Darcy had felt it beneath him to disclose his private dealings with Wickham. If others were injured as a result, then pride required him to remove that injury insofar as he could. He alone knew that he might have the power to save Lydia's reputation. If he had chosen not to exercise that power, no one would have blamed him.
He had been humbled by Elizabeth. She taught him that misplaced pride was worthless. Now, in pride and strength, he willingly humbled himself, stooping to redeem Lydia's reputation by bribing her worthless seducer and enduring his insults as the price of ultimately imposing his will.
Though he cherished the hope that Elizabeth would marry him, he had no such assurances. Her civility at Pemberley might be nothing more than good manners, a tacit apology for her harsh treatment of him at Hunsford, with no intention of bestowing future affection. But if she did accept him, then Wickham would be his brother! That would be humbling indeed, and he would be glad of it. He reveled in the thought that if Elizabeth ever accepted him he would be constantly reminded that he had won such a prize at the small cost of voluntarily connecting himself with Wickham.
He wanted Elizabeth to know how willingly he surrendered his pride to her. She had never asked anything of him. By the mortifications he had gladly borne in procuring Wickham's marriage to Lydia, he had given himself to Elizabeth. When she received that gift, she would know him as completely as he now knew himself.
But she must never know, because he wanted her never to feel indebted to him. If he were so fortunate as to gain her hand, it must be of her free will and not out of a sense of obligation. Otherwise their marriage would be unequal -- self-defeating -- because what he loved about her was her spirit, her refusal to be intimidated by him or anyone, her integrity.
Bingley was very cheerful as he planned to return to Hertfordshire in October, and he invited Darcy to accompany him. Seeing that Bingley was still in love with Miss Bennet, Darcy tried, without mentioning his own interference, to encourage in him a greater confidence that Miss Bennet might return his affection. In Hertfordshire, Darcy would have an opportunity to observe Miss Bennet for himself.
Of course he had his own reason to return to Hertfordshire. He knew what he wanted. What he did not know, and hoped to find out, was what Elizabeth now thought of him.
Events between us have unfolded so strangely. Until that humiliating evening in Kent, I thought I knew her -- I observed her with others, admired her liveliness, supposed she saw my admiration and welcomed it. How thoroughly she disabused me of that illusion! I tried to explain myself in my letter, but my old self wrote it -- to vindicate myself rather than to show her she had mistaken my character. Of course she mistook me -- how could she not, when even in my letter I was haughty? But I saw where she was right, and I abandoned my prejudices and changed in other ways.
I never expected to see her again, so how could she know I had changed? And then she appeared at Pemberley! And I knew if she was giving me a second chance that I should reveal myself to her when she was ready, not when I felt a need. So I went slowly -- I conversed amiably with her and her relations, asked permission to introduce my sister, invited her uncle to fish, called on her at Lambton Inn, entertained her in my home. I was hoping these approaches would eventually lead her to reveal her present feelings, perhaps even lead to an understanding between us. But the news about Lydia tore everything.
Now I may have a third chance at happiness. She'll be in her home, as comfortable there as I felt at Pemberley. If she doesn't see me favorably this time, probably she never will.
When Darcy and Bingley called at Longbourn, they found all the Bennet ladies (except Lydia, of course) at home. Darcy felt acutely uncomfortable. In rehearsing this meeting in his mind, he had not pictured to himself the behavior of Mrs. Bennet, so excessively civil to Bingley and so cold toward himself. Instead, he had imagined himself seated next to Elizabeth, conversing easily with her as they had done in Derbyshire. He was not seated near Elizabeth and could only look at her. She, in turn, hardly met his eyes. He could not make her attitude out; it did not seem to be a return of her old dislike but was nothing like that morning at Pemberley (so long ago, as it seemed) when her presence of mind in the face of Caroline Bingley's rudeness had avoided great embarrassment for all of them. He could compare Elizabeth's present manner only to the moments when they first faced each other at Pemberley, each confused in the presence of the other. He spent much of the visit observing Miss Bennet or looking at the floor. When they rose to go, Mrs. Bennet invited them to dine at Longbourn two days later.
What became of the ease I felt at Pemberley, and in town with the Gardiners? Can I get it back? Am I so incompetent that I can speak easily on any subject with her aunt and uncle but find nothing to say to my beloved? Am I afraid of her? At Rosings I told her I wasn't, but that was before she set me down so thoroughly.
And what of her? She seemed embarrassed and tongue-tied as well. Of course, she must have been embarrassed by her mother's flattery of Bingley and incivilities toward me. But why wouldn't she look at me or speak? I could see she was miserable, but I can't see why (setting aside her mother). Did she wish I were not present? Or did more generous feelings silence her? I didn't say much myself, but surely my manner could not have seemed forbidding -- she must have seen that I wanted to be amiable.
When Darcy and Bingley came to Longbourn for dinner, matters were no better. There was a large party, not the family meal he had expected. Bingley was seated next to Miss Bennet and both seemed very pleased with each other. But Darcy was seated next to Mrs. Bennet, almost as far from Elizabeth as possible. Mrs. Bennet continued in her incivilities to him, and he did not put himself to the trouble of replying much. Even his hopes for a moment of conversation with Elizabeth after dinner were frustrated, and the day ended very unsatisfactorily for him. However, Bingley seemed well pleased, and Darcy admitted that Miss Bennet seemed to return Bingley's regard.
Two days later, Darcy had to go to town on business. The evening before he left, he had a long conversation with Bingley. "I must confess to you, Charles, that in January I knew Miss Bennet was in town, and I joined your sisters in keeping that knowledge from you. You must feel I was unpardonably officious, even disloyal. But I really did mean it for the best, because at that time I had not seen any signs of special regard on Miss Bennet's part. Her manners to everyone were always serene and correct, and I couldn't see that she treated you with any special affection. I thought I was protecting you from hurt. But I must place Miss Elizabeth's knowledge of her sister above my own, and she has assured me that her sister's affections were -- and are -- strongly engaged. In fact, I believe your silence and your long absence have made her unhappy. In Derbyshire, I saw that Miss Elizabeth was pleased to see you. Probably her manner faithfully reflected her sister's feelings. And since our return to Netherfield, I have observed you with Miss Bennet. I'm convinced now that Miss Elizabeth was right and I was wrong. So I apologize profoundly for my inexcusable interference, well-intentioned though it was. I was very wrong to suppose my judgment in such a matter could be more correct than yours. Can you forgive me?"
Bingley gave full vent to his anger. At length, when he had to pause for breath, he admitted that Darcy's recent observations confirmed his own. Jane probably loved him as much as he loved her, and was only waiting for him to declare himself. Darcy encouraged these reflections, pointing out that Bingley's way was simple -- all he had to do was present himself at Longbourn in the morning. He would know what to say.
After all the hurt he himself had caused Bingley, Darcy did not want to dilute his friend's anticipation of happiness, and so he did not mention his own uncertain prospects.
Darcy was at home, preparing to return to Netherfield, when Lady Catherine sent in her card. She informed him that she was just come from a most unsatisfactory interview with Miss Elizabeth Bennet at Longbourn. Lady Catherine recounted that conversation in detail.
A report that Miss Bennet intended to marry her nephew impelled Lady Catherine to travel to Hertfordshire to make her sentiments known and to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted by Miss Bennet and all her family. But Miss Bennet had refused to give a direct answer.
Lady Catherine explained Darcy's tacit engagement to his cousin, by which their respective mothers destined them for each other from the cradle. She said the wishes of the two sisters must not be thwarted by an unimportant young woman of inferior birth, wholly unallied to the family.
Miss Bennet replied that if Mr. Darcy were engaged, there could be no reason to suppose he would make an offer to her, but otherwise she would not be deterred by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry his cousin. In planning the marriage, they had both done as much as they could, but its completion was up to others. If Mr. Darcy were not confined to his cousin by honor or inclination, why should he not make another choice; and if she was that choice, why should she not accept him?
To Lady Catherine's assertion that honor, decorum, prudence and interest all forbade such a match and that she would be censured, slighted, and despised by every one connected with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth replied that the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could have no cause to repine.
His aunt called Elizabeth obstinate, headstrong and ungrateful, and said that if Elizabeth were sensible of her own good, she would not wish to quit the sphere in which she was brought up. To this, Elizabeth declared that in marrying Lady Catherine's nephew she should not consider herself as quitting that sphere -- he was a gentleman, she was a gentleman's daughter, and so far they were equal.
When Lady Catherine demanded to know whether Elizabeth was engaged to her nephew, she replied she was not. But she refused to promise never to enter into such an engagement. She said she would not be intimidated into making such a wholly unreasonable promise, and that Lady Catherine's arguments had been frivolous and ill-judged.
Refusing to give up, Lady Catherine threw at Elizabeth her sister's elopement and marriage, which she called infamous, a patched up business at the expense of Elizabeth's father and uncle. "And is such a girl to be my nephew's sister? Is her husband, is the son of his late father's steward, to be his brother? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"
When his aunt's account of her confrontation of Elizabeth became repetitious, Darcy replied coldly and at length showed her out.
His heart swelling with indignation, he pondered this scene for some time. His aunt's pride had misled her. Though she was often rude and overbearing in her own home, to her clergyman, her daughter and nephews, even to her brother and sister the earl and countess, he had never imagined that she would carry her ill-breeding to persons neither connected to nor dependent on her. How could she dare to impose her prejudices, her appalling demands, on a person with no obligation whatsoever to listen to her?
But Elizabeth refused to be imposed upon. She had defended her independence, her dignity, her right to happiness as she understood it. She had not been intimidated by arguments about rank, position or connections, or by attacks on her family. As he recalled parts of his aunt's account, he laughed aloud at how Elizabeth had parried her attacks. She had confronted him nearly as fiercely when he was in Kent; and he could have told his aunt that her approach was likely to leave her bested by a girl she had thought beneath her. Darcy could feel only admiration and pride in Elizabeth.
And he felt hope. Elizabeth had refused to promise not to marry him. She had spoken of "extraordinary sources of happiness" which his wife -- surely she meant herself! -- would enjoy. She considered herself his equal. She was not intimidated by his connections and expected that he would not be unduly influenced by them either. He would act for his own happiness, as she would act for hers.
Darcy knew that his family obligations and allegiances did not lie with his aunt or other connections. He owed happiness only to himself, his sister and, he hoped, to Elizabeth. He knew his cousin Fitzwilliam would welcome Elizabeth into the family. He could not be sure of his uncle the earl and his aunt, but knew that any lack of their good opinion would not affect his and Elizabeth's happiness.
His aunt's extraordinary recital left him bathed in contentment, just as when Caroline had so often tried to prejudice him against Elizabeth. He would return to Hertfordshire, would find the right time and place, and would renew his proposal. His aunt had given him great hopes of being accepted this time. He silently thanked her.
Before leaving London, Darcy visited a music seller's shop and bought a book of piano duets by Mozart and another of songs with harp accompaniment. He wrote a long letter to Georgiana, ending it thus -- "I leave for Hertfordshire tomorrow. I send you these books of duets for luck (my own). I know that at present you do not have anyone to play them with, but I hope within a very few days to be able to send you good news in that regard. Your loving brother, F.D." He wrapped the parcel with care.
As the reader knows, Darcy returned to Hertfordshire, and he and Elizabeth found the right time and place. All his hopes were realized as he discovered that they had also been Elizabeth's hopes. She had given up her prejudices against him when she read his letter, and had begun to love him when they met again in Derbyshire. She revealed that she had learned from her aunt that he had rescued her sister, and she understood the generous compassion that had led him to take so much trouble and bear so many mortifications. He revealed that he learned from his aunt that Elizabeth had forgiven him, loved him and believed she would be extraordinarily happy with him.
On that happy day when Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters, Darcy also became the brother of Charles Bingley, although not in the manner he had at first imagined. Georgiana gained a sister, a friend and a duet partner. Wickham, who had earlier become Elizabeth's brother, became Darcy's brother as well.
Thus did Darcy come into his true inheritance. While his parents had given him pride and good principles, it was not until he was humbled by Elizabeth that his pride became the means through which his essential goodness was fully realized. Joining his worldly gifts and responsibilities with his love for a woman who, because of her pride, was worthy of him, Darcy became a man who could fully enjoy the gifts he had both given and received.
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