For Three Days He Has Shunned Us
It was a crisp fall day when Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy returned to Netherfield. They rode rather more slowly than either would have liked, in order that Mr. Hurst might keep pace with them. Despite a professed fondness for sport, Mr. Hurst was not by custom an active man. And while he anticipated good shooting at Netherfield, he did not have the same fervor for returning to the Hertfordshire neighborhood that possessed his companions.
Despite their slow pace, neither Bingley nor Darcy seemed inclined to put forth conversation.
As was often the case when out of the company of his wife, Mr. Hurst was quite talkative. Mr. Hurst had been talking of the anticipated sport for nearly half an hour without encouragement from either of his companions. Both Bingley and Darcy hoped that not encouraging the conversation might enable them to make better speed.
Finally Hurst said, "Well, there we have it, we are finally in sight of the place. Fine weather for sport. I shall be glad to arise early for it tomorrow and many days to come."
Bingley smiled, "As will I." Then, surprised as Darcy suddenly galloped away from them across the field to the stables, he cried, "Ho, there Darcy. What are you about?" Not receiving a reply, Bingley urged his horse to give chase. He was grateful for the release after so long holding the animal back.
Bingley laughed as he reined in his horse at the stables. Darcy had already dismounted and handed his horse over to the groom. "Really, Darcy. I had no idea you were so eager to reach Hertfordshire. I am sure the sport will be good, but it may not be all that Hurst would lead you to believe," Bingley said as he dismounted.
"I am not accustomed to traveling so slowly, Bingley. Do not attribute all my zeal to anticipation of the hunt," Darcy replied.
"Oh, but I do, Darcy. I do," said Bingley with a knowing gleam in his eye.
Darcy turned to Bingley, but was spared the necessity of a reply by Mr. Hurst's arrival. "No need to put such strain on the horses! A man could be injured by such recklessness, Darcy."
"Some joys are worth any risk, Mr. Hurst," interjected Bingley. Darcy pretended not to hear him and continued on toward the house. The others followed to the house to settle in for a quiet evening.
Day 1- A Night to Remember
It was on their first night at Netherfield that Darcy decided the place was haunted. Everywhere he looked he saw reminders of Elizabeth.
He had read most of a book before realizing it was one of the volumes he had watched her read during her long ago stay there. He set it down and walked over to the window. The view was of the part of the lawn where he'd happened upon her as she arrived to tend to her sister. He remembered the color in her cheeks and the defiant tilt of her chin at his reception of her.
He walked out of the room and down the long hall, his steps echoing in the lonely quiet, only to find himself in the ball room. There, he remembered strains of the music to which they had danced... and the touch of her hand. Trying to drive it from his mind, he again walked to the window. The panes of glass felt cool to the touch.
He found himself looking out at the entryway where he had seen Elizabeth and her family arrive. That night she had worn flowers in her hair. She had been so lovely by the light of the torches. He walked to the dining room.
Darcy looked around the empty room. He remembered Mary Bennet's over-eager desire to be noticed, and Mr. Collins threatening to entertain them with song. He remembered Mrs. Bennet, mouth full of food, gloating over the prospect of her daughter marrying Bingley. What he could barely remember was his proud and righteous anger over these things. How little it all mattered!
Elizabeth was Elizabeth regardless of her mother, her family, her connections. Without her his life would always be lonely and as haunted as this night.
His restlessness drove him into action. He walked quickly out of the dining room and out of the house to the stables. He led his horse out and walked some distance away from the house. Once he was certain he was out of hearing, he took his place in the saddle and galloped across the fields. The brisk breeze helped clear his mind and the speed was a welcome release of his tension. The moon was low, barely a crescent, and the stars were incredibly brilliant. On and on Darcy rode, enjoying the silence and the beauty around him. He crossed field after field, jumping every fence along the way with abandon and joy in the exercise.
As he passed into a thicket of trees he slowed his pace. It was then that he heard the exuberant laughter of a young girl. Not wishing to frighten anyone he leapt from the saddle and quietly turned to lead his horse back the way they had come. Then he heard the girl cry out, "Higher, Lizzy, higher!"
He stopped in his tracks. His curiosity overwhelmed him. He moved further away from the sound of the voices to tie up his horse and crept quietly back toward them. With so little moonlight it was easy to stay hidden in the shadows of the trees. In a clearing ahead of him were two young women, one seated in a swing flying wildly, and the other standing behind her to push.
The woman standing was indeed Elizabeth Bennet. The younger girl suddenly leaped from the swing while it was at its highest, barely able to maintain her balance on landing.
"Kitty! Whatever are you thinking?" admonished Elizabeth.
Kitty laughed and replied, "Don't scold so, Lizzy. I want to have fun!"
Elizabeth said, "You won't find much fun in bringing harm to yourself."
"Come now, Lizzy. I have seen you jump from greater heights." Kitty returned to the swing and began to pump furiously. "You are grown nearly as dull as Jane. Though at least Jane has good reason to be unwell, as she is pining for her lover who is but three miles away, as Mamma says."
"I wish Mamma would not say so much," replied Elizabeth.
"Oh, well. Mamma will say whatever she wishes," replied Kitty idly. Then, teasingly, she asked, "What makes you so dull? Are you also pining for a lover nearby?"
Elizabeth turned to look at her sister as she came to a stop, giggling. Elizabeth replied, "Not that I know of."
Suddenly Kitty jumped forward and held Elizabeth fast so she could not move. "Close your eyes, Lizzy. It's mine!" Then she shouted in a singsong voice, "Star light, star bright, first falling star I've seen this night, I wish I may, I wish I might, that you might grant my wish tonight." Then Kitty released her sister, shut her eyes tight, and stood still for a moment.
From Darcy's spot in the trees he was unable to see the star. He watched as Elizabeth asked, "Is it gone? May I open my eyes?"
Kitty laughed, "Yes, silly. Now ask me what I wished for."
"You are the silly one," said Elizabeth. "If you tell me your wish it may not come true."
"Oh yes it will," said Kitty. "A handsome, rich man will tell me he loves me and wants to marry me! Can you imagine anything more lovely?"
Elizabeth paused, "Well, it might be best if you loved him as well."
Kitty laughed, "If he loved me and was handsome and rich I believe I could learn to love him."
Elizabeth smiled and took a seat on the swing, "I should hate to think that you would ever marry without love. I could never do so."
Kitty began to push Elizabeth on the swing. "If all turns out as Mamma hopes, then Jane will marry a rich, handsome man that she loves madly."
Elizabeth answered, "If anyone deserves such happiness it is Jane."
Kitty queried, "Why doesn't Jane show her feelings more? If I did not know her so well, I would wonder if she loved Mr. Bingley at all."
Elizabeth closed her eyes for a moment, "Yes. I suppose one could mistake her reserve for a lack of love if they did not know her well. Realize, however, that Jane will never make a spectacle of herself."
Kitty replied, "Maria told me once that Charlotte thought Mr. Bingley went away because he thought Jane didn't love him."
Elizabeth lay back in the swing, legs outstretched, coasting.
Kitty spoke up again, "It is unfair to have a younger sister already married. How I envy Lydia!"
Elizabeth looked sharply at her sister, "Do not. I do not think that Lydia will always be happy in her choice of husband."
Kitty laughed again, "I think she's right. You do envy her! I know you were violently in love with him yourself at one time.
Elizabeth was the one to jump from the swing now. "I most certainly was not! I am ashamed to admit that I did like him very well, but do not think that I was in love with him. A man who could behave as he has is not much of a man at all."
"Do not be angry with me, Lizzy," replied Kitty. "I did not marry him. Uncle Gardiner did not have to pay to restore my honor. Everyone has behaved as though I am the one who did something naughty ever since we found out they were gone."
Elizabeth looked sympathetically at her sister, "Kitty, everyone would think you less like Lydia if you acted more rational and concentrated less on romantic notions. And do not think that honor can be bought. Regardless of how much money was paid, some things can not be restored."
"Do not scold me," replied Kitty peevishly. "I have had no great romantic success. You, at least, have received a proposal."
Darcy surprised himself with his sharp intake of breath as Elizabeth replied in a choked tone, "You mean Mr. Collins?"
Kitty looked puzzled. "Of course I mean Mr. Collins. Who else has proposed to you?"
Elizabeth bit her lip and replied, "I only meant I never thought to hear that proposal referred to as a romantic success. You know I did not want to hear it."
Kitty laughed, "All I got to hear was Mamma yelling at you to accept him."
Elizabeth chuckled ruefully.
Kitty continued, "What does a man say when he proposes?"
Elizabeth smiled, "I am not an expert in such matters. My experience has been rather unromantic."
Darcy sighed and leaned back against a nearby tree. He could see Elizabeth looking away from her sister awkwardly. How he regretted his words and manner at Hunsford!
Kitty nodded, "Well I should expect as much from Mr. Collins... What is your idea of a romantic proposal?"
Elizabeth stopped to consider, "Well... as I have indicated before, I could only marry for the deepest love. I would have to love the man passionately and know that he loved me as much in return. We would have to have great respect for each other. He would have to be generous and considerate and intelligent. Almost any proposal would be romantic in such a situation."
"Especially if the man were tall, dark and handsome, too!" laughed Kitty.
Elizabeth smiled, "Yes. That would be an added incentive."
Suddenly, Elizabeth cried out, "Oooh! Mine! "Star light, star bright, first falling star I've seen this night, I wish I may, I wish I might, that you might grant my wish tonight." Darcy looked at her upturned face. Her eyes were tightly shut and her arms outstretched.
"What did you wish for?" asked Kitty. Elizabeth opened her eyes, smiled and shook her head in reply.
"Do you think you will ever marry, Lizzy?" asked Kitty as she sat back down on the swing. Elizabeth began to push again. "I do not..."
From the house came a shrill cry, "Girls! Girls! Come in before you catch your death of cold!"
Elizabeth and Kitty exchanged glances and replied, "Coming, Mamma!"
After they were gone, Darcy walked over to the swing and sat down for a moment. He looked up into the sky and pondered what he had overheard regarding Bingley and Jane, Wickham, and most importantly, love. He saw a star shooting down from the heavens and whispered, "Star light, star bright, first falling star I've seen this night, I wish I may, I wish I might, that you might grant my wish tonight." As he had seen done, he closed his eyes tightly for a moment and made his wish.
With a heart full of questions and doubts, Darcy returned to Netherfield to retire for the night.
Day 2--An Unsuccessful Day of Sport
The next day brought fine weather and a full morning of sport. Bingley and Hurst shot well. Darcy's concentration was off and though he did not entirely disgrace himself, he did not do so well as usual. The longer they were in Hertfordshire the more thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet occupied his mind. He found himself looking around as they walked back toward the house for refreshment as if he expected her to appear from nowhere.
No matter how hard he tried, he could not forget the conversation he had overheard the previous evening. He thought of her tone as she'd said her experience with marriage proposals had been unromantic. Her sister's reply that such was to be expected of the clergyman Collins only served to make Darcy feel worse. He wondered which proposal had come out the more unromantic of the two. Mr. Collins might be a pompous fool, but he would have had to really outdo himself to make more a mess of a proposal than had been offered to Miss Bennet in the parlor at Hunsford parsonage!
When they arrived back at the house they found Sir William Lucas waiting on them in the drawing room.
"Mr. Bingley! I am delighted to welcome you back to Hertfordshire. Gentlemen, good day and welcome," said the older man.
Mr. Bingley responded with easy friendliness. Mr. Hurst turned to his drink, unhappy that their afternoon sport would be delayed. Darcy stood by the window, unsure of how to behave. Sir William turned to Darcy and said, "It is good to see you again, sir. Your kind aunt was all generosity during our visit this past spring. We could not have been received with greater condescension. I was sorry indeed to hear that I missed the chance to visit with you and your cousin."
Darcy recalled, "Yes. I believe that we arrived just a few days after your departure, or so your daughter informed us. I am glad you enjoyed your visit there." He noticed how much a small effort on his part seemed to mean to Sir William.
Sir William fairly puffed up under Darcy's attention. "Yes, indeed. Your aunt was quite gracious to us. She has been all kindness to my Charlotte. And of course she was most attentive to Maria and Miss Elizabeth as well."
Bingley looked quickly at Darcy and then turned to Sir William. "Do you mean Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sir? Was she at Rosings?"
Darcy turned to look out the window, a slight blush evident in his cheeks.
Sir William smiled and nodded, "Yes, Miss Elizabeth Bennet accompanied my daughter Maria and I to visit my Charlotte and her husband. Lizzy and Charlotte have always been good friends. We didn't actually stay at Rosings itself, however. We stayed at Hunsford Parsonage. It is separated from Rosings by only a lane, you see. But we did dine quite often at Rosings. Lady Catherine is a very attentive patroness. My daughter is well situated."
Darcy winced slightly, but continued in his polite efforts, "I enjoyed visiting with Mrs. Collins. She is a fine woman. I believe that Mr. Collins is quite fortunate in his choice of a wife." Darcy uttered a silent prayer of thanks to himself that Collins' first marriage proposal had been unsuccessful.
Sir William was completely overwhelmed. Darcy had never willingly spoken more than two words together to him before. He responded with evident pride, "Yes, indeed. My Charlotte is a good girl. You do her great honor with your compliment, sir."
Darcy bowed slightly and turned back to the window.
Bingley and Sir William carried the conversation for the rest of the call. After Sir William left, Bingley turned back to Darcy. "I did not know that you had seen Miss Bennet in Kent this spring." Darcy turned to look carefully at Bingley.
Hurst spoke up, "Which one is that, the sweet blond or the fiery brunette that always fights with Darcy? Neither of 'em hard on the eyes. Pretty girls."
Darcy couldn't help but smile slightly at Mr. Hurst's description. Elizabeth was indeed a 'fiery' young woman.
Bingley looked at Hurst and hesitated before replying, "Miss Elizabeth is the dark-haired sister."
Hurst replied, "Oh, yes. I remember now. You were wild for the blond one. Jenny? Janet?"
Bingley replied rather coldly, "Jane." His discomfort was evident. He would not meet Darcy's gaze.
Hurst replied, "Yes, yes. That was the one. Come now, let us eat before the rest of the neighborhood swoops down on us. I want to get back to the sport."
The gentlemen took their refreshment and headed back out to hunt for the rest of the day.
Darcy's luck continued in much the same fashion as it had in the morning, and Bingley's was markedly worse. Mr. Hurst could not help but speculate that either of the other two gentlemen might benefit from a good stiff drink, his own affected aim being the best of the party.
Day 2, That Evening--Deciding to Go To It
After dinner that night, Bingley went in search of Darcy. He stopped in the hallway as he heard the sound of billiards play. He walked through the doorway of the billiards room. Darcy started when Bingley appeared.
"Did I frighten you, Darcy? Who did you think I was?" Darcy just looked at Bingley. "May I join you?" asked Bingley.
"Of course," replied Darcy, setting up the new game. The two played for some time before Bingley said, "I do not recall your mentioning seeing Elizabeth Bennet in Kent." Darcy missed his shot.
"Really?" he replied. "I thought I had mentioned it. As Sir William said, she was visiting her friend at the parsonage. It was while Fitzwilliam and I were there over Easter."
"Well I had noticed that you seemed on friendly terms with her when we met her at Pemberley," Bingley said. "I was sorry not to have her company there longer."
"As was I," replied Darcy. He was acutely aware of the tension between Bingley and himself.
Bingley stopped the shot he had been preparing, "Would you like to call on the Bennets tomorrow? I should feel remiss not to do so." He looked away from Darcy's eyes, down at the table and took the shot, but missed as his hands were shaking rather badly. Darcy pretended not to notice.
Darcy breathed slowly in and out in an effort to compose himself. "Yes, that would be a good idea. I suppose that first we must return Sir William's call. And then we may call on the Bennets." Despite his efforts, Darcy too missed his shot.
Bingley laughed, "Perhaps we should give up billiards for the evening. I think both our thoughts are elsewhere."
Darcy smiled and nodded in agreement. The two went into the drawing room and sat before the fire to have a drink. Darcy swirled his brandy around in the glass, looking into it as he asked, "Do you still think of her?"
Bingley looked up in surprise. Darcy had not spoken to him about Jane Bennet since the previous November. He started to dissemble, but as Darcy looked up from his drink Bingley saw that he was all seriousness and compassion. Bingley replied, "Yes, I think of her... constantly. Jane Bennet is the ideal against which I find all other women failing. I have never met any woman who touched my heart so deeply. I still wonder how I could have been so wrong about her feelings for me. I cannot decide which I now feel more, trepidation or joy at the prospect of seeing her again. But I must see her."
"Perhaps you were not wrong," replied Darcy.
Bingley looked at him, both stricken and amazed. "But you said..."
"My judgment is far from perfect, Charles," said Darcy. "Remember, I once told you that Elizabeth Bennet was not handsome enough to tempt me." Darcy looked down at his hands and twisted his pinky ring with a self-conscious grin.
"Oh. Well I did think you had changed your mind on that score," smiled Bingley. "You seemed quite enraptured by her at Pemberley. I just wasn't sure if you had admitted as much to yourself yet."
"I have known for many months," replied Darcy, unable to meet Bingley's eyes.
"Then perhaps you have decided that the Miss Bennets' connections are not so very bad after all?" asked Bingley.
Darcy looked Bingley in the eye and chuckled, "Let us say that I have decided that that is not so very important as I once thought."
"Even now when their youngest sister is married to Mr. Wickham? I should think that that connection alone would be enough to disgust you." Bingley watched Darcy closely for his reaction. "Unless of course you had a hand in it?"
Darcy was caught off guard. "What?"
"It is just that I have wondered at some coincidences of timing and circumstance," remarked Bingley. "Miss Elizabeth left Derbyshire in a great hurry due to an emergency. You were not at all yourself that evening. The next day you left for London on urgent business though no post had arrived at Pemberley since we'd been there. During the following week Mr. Wickham married the youngest Miss Bennet and somehow had enough money not only to pay off great debts, but also to purchase a commission in a regiment far north where I happen to know you have friends from school... What would you have me think?"
"I do not know what to say," replied Darcy.
"Well, then. Just allow me to thank you for the sake of all of the Bennet family. Regardless of who your thoughts were with, they all owe you a great debt of gratitude," replied Bingley.
Darcy looked at Bingley and responded quietly, "I do not seek their gratitude. The Bennets believe their Uncle Gardiner responsible for their sister's situation. I should like to keep it that way."
Bingley looked doubtful and shrugged, "As you wish, Darcy. Far be it from me to advise you on such a matter. I shall content myself with having had the opportunity to thank you on Jane's behalf."
From the couch across the room, Hurst sat up sluggishly and groaned, "Darcy, Bingley, you're both lovesick fools. Quite tiresome. I don't want the company of either of you until after you've seen those girls. I'll sleep in late tomorrow and spend a quiet day here alone. Go and make your calls. Go see them and be done with it. I don't care what Louisa and Caroline have to say on the matter. Go to it!" He stumbled out of the room, leaving both men looking after him in embarrassed wonder.
Bingley chuckled ruefully and raised his glass to his friend, "You heard the man. We should go to it!"
The Third Day
Bingley arose early that morning. It looked to be a fine day. Overcome by nerves, Bingley was also aware that it had been a fine night. He had slept perhaps three or four hours before the jumble of his thoughts drove him from the bed. In vain had he returned there. Sleep never came to him again that night. Never one possessed of much patience with situations he was unable to overcome, he was grateful for the paling of the sky. From his bedroom window he watched the sun rise over the Hertfordshire countryside.
He was therefore surprised to find that he was not the first of the household to breakfast. Darcy was already at the table when Bingley entered the dining room. He was reading a book which he politely set aside on Bingley's entrance. He greeted Bingley, "Good morning. I hope you slept well."
Bingley did not reply immediately, but noted that Darcy looked fatigued as well and had progressed quite far in his reading since the previous evening. "Good morning, Darcy. I had no idea you had progressed so far in your book. You must have been up half the night reading."
Darcy looked up at him tiredly and grinned. "Well, it is very interesting. Won't you join me for some breakfast?"
"I will, and then perhaps we might take a morning ride? It looks to be a fine day. I would like to make the most of it," said Bingley.
Darcy leaned back in his chair and stretched. "Excellent idea. The only thing that would clear my head more would be a good swim."
Bingley drank some tea, "Actually there is a small lake on the estate, but I fear we would suffer rather badly from the cold this time of year rather than gaining a sense of refreshment. I think a ride would be a better way of passing the morning. Then, perhaps we can call on some of the neighbors."
After a long, hard ride, the two gentlemen returned to Netherfield to freshen up. Both did so with great alacrity and set out for Lucas Lodge in very good time. Their reception there was all that they would have expected from Sir William and Lady Lucas. Their daughter Maria was also present.
Though apprehensive of Mr. Darcy, Maria felt called upon to recollect their last meeting to him. "Why I believe it has been over six months since I last saw you at Hunsford Parsonage," recalled Maria. She was not at all encouraged by Darcy's grimace.
He attempted to hide his feelings as he responded, "Yes. We last met when my cousin and I called to take our leave from you and your sister. I hope she is well."
Maria took a deep breath to overcome her nervousness and replied, "Yes, Charlotte and Mr. Collins are doing quite well. I expect to be an aunt in a few months."
Darcy's eyelids fluttered as he tried to not think too much on Charlotte's situation. He simply nodded and responded with a non-committal, "Well!"
Maria was emboldened by her joy at the prospect of a niece or nephew and continued to talk with Mr. Darcy. "I hope that your cousin is quite well." Darcy bowed slightly in the affirmative. "We did enjoy meeting him." Maria turned to include her mother in the conversation. "He is a very pleasant gentleman. Charlotte and I teased Lizzy quite a bit over his attentions to her." Maria laughed at this last. Her parents were very impressed with her for talking with Mr. Darcy at all. They were comfortable with Mr. Bingley, but had never been able to feel comfortable around Darcy.
For his part, Darcy was becoming less and less comfortable with each moment. The sight of Maria had taken him back to that last day when he called at the parsonage. He had hated being back in that parlor dreadfully and had excused himself from it as quickly as politeness would allow. It was not only the fact that he had been refused there. Darcy was unaccustomed to failure. A failure brought about by—as he had only begun to suspect at that time—defects in his own character was very hard to bear. His parting call at Hunsford parsonage had also marked the beginning of his shame over his behavior to Elizabeth Bennet.
Then to have Maria recall that time even more vividly through her conversation! He doubted that she would ever have deliberately given him even a small amount of the pain he felt, but her naïve references to that time were as a knife in his gut. He remembered all too well how he had come up lacking in comparison to his cousin's easy manner and behavior. He remembered all too well his overwhelming jealousy each time Elizabeth had granted Fitzwilliam a smile.
He also remembered her face that day as she took the letter from his hand. Her coolness and her desire to be away from his company were quite evident. He struggled to remember his more recent encounter with Elizabeth and the confidence it had given him. All in all, the call at Lucas Lodge left Darcy more shaken and full of doubt than he had been since before meeting Elizabeth and her relatives at Pemberley.
Bingley ended the call as soon as politeness allowed. He was all eagerness to continue on to Longbourn and call on the ladies there. Darcy envied Bingley in that his eagerness was now so much greater than his trepidation. Darcy attempted to calm his own nerves by resolving to concentrate on Bingley's prospects. He would do his best to ascertain from impartial observation whether or not Jane Bennet would be receptive to his friend's wishes now. This occupation would also draw his attention away from his own concerns, he hoped. Neither man spoke as they approached Longbourn.
As they rode up the lane, Darcy looked about the estate. It was, after all, the first time he had seen the place by the light of day. It seemed a very pleasant, modest sort of estate. He could easily imagine Elizabeth climbing some of the finer climbing trees as a little girl. And he could see her playing on the swing... The conversation he had overheard the other night between her and her younger sister came back to him...
"What does a man say when he proposes?"
"I am not an expert in such matters. My experience has been rather unromantic."
"Well I should expect as much from Mr. Collins... What is your idea of a romantic proposal?"
"As I have indicated before, I could only marry for the deepest love. I would have to love the man passionately and know that he loved me as much in return. We would have to have great respect for each other. He would have to be generous and considerate and intelligent. Almost any proposal would be romantic in such a situation."
"Do you think you will ever marry, Lizzy?"
"I do not..."
Darcy asked himself as he thought of the shooting stars, "What did she wish for? How would she have finished her answer to that question?"
They were greeted at the door by the housekeeper. She led them through the house to a room on the west side. Walking through the door ahead of them, the housekeeper announced, "Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, ma'am."
The Call at Longbourn
Darcy took a deep breath as Bingley crossed the threshold ahead of him and walked into the parlor. Bingley wore a gigantic smile on his face. Darcy's own demeanor was far more guarded. Still, on entering and bowing to Mrs. Bennet, Darcy could not help but glance to his right where Elizabeth stood. His confusion on meeting her intent gaze was great.
Mrs. Bennet's greeting to Bingley was all officiousness and warmth. By contrast, her greeting to Darcy was pointedly cold. He was grateful to be spared a greeting such as the one Bingley had received and therefore did not really regret the coldness of the exchange, except a glance at Elizabeth showed her to have some discomfort.
Bingley moved to the seat across from Mrs. Bennet's and Darcy crossed to stand behind him. The sisters seated themselves back at their worktable. Jane Bennet's countenance showed some tension, but a lack of reproach as she greeted Bingley. Darcy had to remind himself to watch Jane's reactions to Bingley as his new viewpoint placed him facing directly toward Elizabeth. For her part, Elizabeth looked very serious and very intent on her work.
Darcy realized he was so intent on all that was not being said in the room that he was not hearing what was being said. Mrs. Bennet called to her younger daughter to see to tea and then told Bingley (for Darcy held none of her attention at this point) that there had been many changes in the neighborhood, specifically the marriages of Miss Lucas to Mr. Collins and the marriage of her daughter Lydia to Wickham.
As Bingley awkwardly sought an appropriate response to this last information, Mrs. Bennet continued with a comment as to the announcement not being put in the paper properly. Darcy restrained himself from letting out a snort of disgust as he thought, 'So sorry! Mr. Gardiner and I, unlike you, thought that the less that was said of the matter, the better.' Mrs. Bennet continued with some remarks Darcy understood to be directed at him, but he was preoccupied by the look of distress that had come across Elizabeth's face. He remembered her tears on their last meeting and had to restrain himself from crossing the room to take her in his arms. Unable to comfort her as he so desired, he turned to face out the window.
Elizabeth spoke up in a tight, tense voice, inquiring as to the intended duration of their stay in Hertfordshire. Darcy could hear Bingley's hesitation, and fancied he could almost feel Bingley looking to him for permission of some sort. A glance at Jane Bennet showed her well pleased with Bingley's intent of staying some weeks... at least. She looked radiant and, to Darcy's way of thinking, very much in love with his friend.
The housekeeper arrived with the tea. Jane moved to serve and Elizabeth to assist her. The eyes of both gentlemen were on the sisters. Darcy felt fortunate that, unlike Bingley, he was not expected to carry on conversation with Mrs. Bennet throughout the visit. This left him free to concentrate his attention more agreeably.
As Jane served Bingley his tea, Elizabeth turned to Darcy. "Would you care for some tea, Mr. Darcy?" she asked quietly. He took the opportunity to move next to her and breathed in the scent of roses from her hair. Having always been pursued by women who took extreme care to try to attract him, Darcy saw irony in wishing that any of the things that so enchanted him about Elizabeth were planned by her. Overcome by her nearness, he only nodded in reply to her query. She motioned to the sugar and looked at him, a faint twinkle in her eye. He choked out, "One, please." She carefully handed him his tea, her fingertips just touching his in the exchange. Her look seemed quite serious to him in that instant.
Quickly, he stepped back to his place by the window. Elizabeth served her mother, whose eyes narrowed at the blush apparent on her daughter's face. Then Mr. Darcy glanced up from his tea to see Mrs. Bennet's eyes on him. He had seen that look before. It was a look of speculation, common to mothers eager to engage his attentions to their daughters. What Mrs. Bennet lacked in wit, she certainly made up for in instinct!
Darcy's momentary distraction caused him to miss the tender look of longing on Elizabeth Bennet's face as she regarded him. He had no way of knowing her dismay as she wished that her touch had affected him as his touch had her. She thought he seemed formal, unaffected, and eager to be away from her. She blushed again as she realized that Mr. Bingley had noticed her attention to Mr. Darcy. She returned determinedly to her needlework.
Darcy turned to look out the window for some moments. Then he noticed that his friend and Miss Jane Bennet were engaged in quiet conversation, Mrs. Bennet's attention having turned back to the housekeeper. As Mrs. Bennet reclaimed Bingley's attention with a dinner invitation, Jane's eyes turned to Bingley with a quiet passion and adoration that left Darcy both surprised and ashamed. He felt deeply ashamed for his part in keeping his friend from a woman who loved him so much.
Bingley declined Mrs. Bennet's invitation due to prior plans. Darcy's discomfort throughout the call was great. He did perceive that Bingley had great reason for hope with Jane Bennet. The success of that determination that had been his professed cause in calling at Longbourn gave him no comfort now. His own uncertainty of Elizabeth Bennet's feelings for him preoccupied him entirely. Unable to withstand anymore awkwardness, Darcy pointed out that the time to depart had come. Mrs. Bennet looked disappointed. Jane smiled at Bingley. Elizabeth's reaction could not be determined.
Bingley smiled and promised to return soon.
As the two gentlemen rode away, Bingley was overflowing with happiness. He turned to Darcy, "I shall have to thank Mr. Hurst for suggesting we call at Longbourn, Darcy. I enjoyed seeing the Bennets again very much."
Darcy did not reply. He only wished he had as much reason for joy as his friend.
After dinner that night Darcy retired to his chamber quite early. His given excuse was that he must pack to leave for business in London early the next morning. He pointedly asked that Bingley join him for an early breakfast.
He was in no mood to sit with Bingley and listen to his friend dwell on his anticipated happiness. Additionally, he felt certain that he was about to lose the friendship of Mr. Bingley... for he also wished to plan the way he would inform Bingley of his deception of the previous year.
Finale- Day Four, Breakfast with Bingley
When Bingley entered the dining room the next morning, he found Darcy pacing back and forth in front of the windows. Darcy turned and looked seriously at Bingley as he entered the room.
"Good God, Darcy! You look ready to challenge me to a duel. Whatever is the matter?" joked Bingley as he moved to sit at the table.
Darcy nervously took a seat at the table and sipped his tea. "Have some breakfast, Charles. Then I should like to talk." Bingley looked curious and surprised. For Darcy to use his Christian name so seriously, the conversation must be of great import.
Bingley ate some eggs and a piece of bread rather quickly. He looked up into Darcy's flat, serious gaze. He drank some coffee and sat back in his chair.
"I see you are all prepared to depart." Bingley remarked. "I cannot imagine what you could say that would make me so angry as to throw you out of the house at first light." Though his comment was spoken in jest, his heart was pounding with dread. He had never seen Darcy so grave.
Darcy raised an eyebrow at the jest. He once again stood and moved to pace before the fire. He stopped suddenly and turned to face Bingley. Bingley started in surprise and said, "Must you be so dramatic? Out with it man! Do you always act this way when you are about to say something you don't want to? I'm beginning to think someone has died or something."
Darcy realized he was acting the way he had the day he had proposed to Elizabeth at Hunsford. A bad omen, indeed! He forced himself to sit in a chair by the fire and motioned for Bingley to do the same. After Bingley was settled, Darcy began, "Please allow me to apologize to you, Charles."
Bingley replied apprehensively, "For the way you are acting now? Or for something else?"
Darcy grimaced, "Both. I owe you the deepest of apologies for my actions of a year ago, when I worked to separate you from Miss Bennet."
Having considered the perplexing questions of his convoluted relationship with Jane quite thoroughly, Bingley was actually relieved at Darcy's words. "Then you really do think that you were wrong when you said she was indifferent to me?" Bingley was conscious that he was holding his breath in anticipation of Darcy's reply.
"Yes," said Darcy as Bingley recommenced breathing. "I believed what I told you at the time, but was later informed that my judgment was in error. I also saw evidence of my error when she called on your sisters in town over last winter." Bingley was stunned into silence, his mouthing hanging open. Darcy continued, "Then yesterday when we called at Longbourn I saw Miss Bennet bestow such a look of love on you as to leave the gods agape with envy at your good fortune. I believe completely and utterly that she loves you at least as much as you love her. I would advise you to pursue your suit with her as soon as possible."
Darcy took a deep breath and continued, "Bingley, I have long valued your friendship. I hope to earn it back again someday. Last year I convinced you that Miss Bennet did not love you. I separated you from the best of happiness mainly because of my own pride and scorn for families without great connections or wealth. I then deceived you further in silence when I knew that Miss Bennet maintained a correspondence with your sisters and that she called on them when she stayed in London over the winter with relatives. She was led to believe that you did not care for her. Despite that she remained completely faithful to you. In that, you are the luckiest of men."
Bingley's head was spinning. He leaned forward and very quietly asked, "Who informed you that your judgment was in error?" His color was high and he looked very agitated.
Darcy's eyes filled with pain. He closed them and said in a very tight voice. "I suppose that telling you this is a well-deserved penance. This past spring Miss Elizabeth Bennet told me that she could never accept the proposal of a man who had ruined the happiness of her beloved sister." When he opened his eyes, he saw Bingley looking at him with somber amazement.
"Then you know the pain I have suffered in the past year," remarked Bingley somberly.
Darcy was somewhat disappointed to see that Bingley seemed about to give him more pardon than he deserved... out of pity. He bitingly replied, "She does not love me Bingley. I know true unrequited love. You have a woman who loves you entirely. Did you hear me say she even called upon your sisters as she stayed three months in London without your knowing it... due to deception?"
Darcy leapt up from the chair and swiftly strode out the door of the room and then out the door of the house. Bingley chased after him.
As Darcy crossed the threshold of the house, Bingley said, "You tell me now that she was in London all those months and you concealed it from me?"
Relieved that Bingley was beginning to understand his transgressions, Darcy replied, "Yes. I can offer no justification. It was an arrogant presumption based on a failure to recognize your true feelings... and Miss Bennet's. I should never have interfered. It was very wrong of me, Bingley, and I apologize."
Bingley looked both angry and confused now. He asked, "You admit that you were in the wrong?"
Darcy calmly replied, "Utterly and completely."
When Bingley asked, "Then I have your blessing?" Darcy was flabbergasted.
He couldn't believe that Bingley would seek his opinion after all he had just revealed. Also, he felt that as Charles was about to marry and become the true head of his household, he should learn to value his own judgment. Darcy replied, "Do you need my blessing?"
Bingley squared his shoulders and replied, "No. But I should like to know I have it all the same." The fervent energy in his eyes touched Darcy deeply.
Thinking of Hurst's admonishment to them, Darcy replied, "Then go to it!" He then continued on into the carriage.
Bingley looked after Darcy in amazement. Darcy's return gaze was serious and sad. How he envied his friend!
After Darcy's departure, Bingley turned to the first servant that passed and called, "Bring me my horse. At once! Quick, man!
Then he rode to his destiny.
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