A Vist to Longbourn: Darcy's Story; An Honorable Man
Darcy took a last sip of his morning coffee. Glancing over at his close friend, Charles Bingley, he felt a twinge of guilt, which overlay his nervousness. Bingley and Darcy had been in Hertfordshire for three days. The hunting, which was the assumed purpose of the trip, had been fair, the hounds enthusiastic, the weather fine and warm. But in spite of the fact that they had been welcomed and even entertained by the local gentry no member of the Bennet family had been present at any of the gatherings.
Darcy glanced down at the coffee cup, then over at the pot on the sideboard. Should he have one more cup and think about how to frame his next statements to Charles? No, better to do it, say it, get the real purpose of the Hertfordshire trip into motion.
"I thought we would see the Bennet family at the gathering at Lucas Lodge last evening, and since their presence was wanting, we may as well call on them this morning." Darcy said this as calmly as possible, draining the last drop of coffee, and resolutely putting the cup aside. Charles Bingley looked up, startled, but stammered..."Well of course, you are perfectly right. They weren't at Lucas Lodge last night, and we haven't seen them to pay our respects. Letís go there this morning, capital idea."
In a few minutes arrangements were made to have their horses ready in one hour, giving them time to prepare themselves for the visit.
In the room allotted to him Mr. Darcy arranged his cravat, coat, and selected a hat. He dressed with care, hoping his valet wouldn't notice how nervous he was. Nervous and guilty. Angry words continued to reverberate in his brain. "Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner....!" His throat went dry at the memory. "That reproach! So richly deserved! So cutting! "
Fitzwilliam Darcy had been born and bred a gentleman. He was brought up on the proud and beautiful estate of Pemberley, taught from an early age that gentlemanly behavior included courtesy, respect for elders and for his betters, conscientiousness in carrying out his duties, timeliness, concern for the many workers, farmers, and yeomen on the estate and in the neighborhood, justice and fairness. As a man of honor he had always prided himself on living up to the standards set by his parents, especially by his father, and had believed he always lived and behaved in a "gentlemanlike manner." His lineage and his connections were among the best in England. He had a family heritage that demanded respect, even awe, from people in his circle.
He had confided his distress only to his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Colonel Fitzwilliam was his cousin and a close friend. He had understood Darcy's infatuation with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and in fact, had his own financial situation been happier, would have been a rival for her hand. But enough of these thoughts! The hour was gone, he was dressed for the visit, the horses were ready, and Charles Bingley, who so loved the eldest Miss Bennet, Miss Jane Bennet, deserved an opportunity to determine whether his feelings were returned, and if they were, to seek her hand. Darcy walked down the main staircase of Netherfield, forcing himself to walk slowly, in a measured pace, as he approached the drawing room. As he descended, a bothersome voice intruded into his thoughts. "Would a gentleman deceive a friend? Would a gentleman interfere in a friendís private love, given that the couple in question were principled, upright, and good people?"
"Are you ready to go, Bingley? It looks like a fine morning for the ride over to Longbourn. I am looking forward to the fresh air."
Charles turned, grabbed his hat, and whip, and hurried after Darcy. Darcy went over to his horse, mounted, nodded his thanks to the stable boy and started off, Bingley slightly behind him.
At first Darcy's thoughts entertained him. There was much to think about. He was curious about the changes in the Bennet family. The second daughter, Elizabeth, was uppermost in his thoughts. He remembered how he had last left her, at the inn in Lambton, in Derbyshire. She was recovering her self control, although her face was still streaked with the tears that she had shed. He still felt pangs of guilt over his own part in that sorrow. For the hundredth time he castigated himself : "If I had been less proud and had told Miss Bennet that she could protect her family and acquaintances with her knowledge of Wickhamís true character she and her family would not have suffered the pain of Wickhamís behavior to Lydia. He had done what he could to improve the situation by removing the disgrace of her sisterís act, and seeing to her marriage to Wickham. However, the prospects of happiness in that marriage were so poor that he felt little triumph, nay, even little relief in the successful conclusion of his efforts. He only hoped that he had removed one source of difficulty from Elizabethís life.
If he had been more open with her, if he had not requested her confidence when he told her of Wickhamís perfidy with regard to his sister Georgianna, his visit to Lambton that day may have had a very different conclusion. He had hoped to arrange more time in her company, to spend time with her in the beautiful countryside of Derbyshire, show her by his attention and consideration that he esteemed her, respected and admired her relations, and had corrected the arrogant and crude manners that had so offended her when they first met.
The memory of his first proposal was painful indeed. How he had, in the name of honesty, a virtue that he valued, described in such detail all of his reservations and inhibitions in associating her family with his! Honesty had won out over kindness, honor, consideration. Honesty had taken on its most virulent, arrogant form. He had pointed out every disadvantage to her name and her connections in an attempt to make her his wife!
Today he would see her again. Would she recall his improved behavior at Pemberley, or would she respond to him as the cold arrogant man that he had appeared to be at Hertfordshire and again at Kent? How he would welcome her smile, a warm greeting, a glance from her sparking eyes that told his she valued him, that she held him in high esteem, that her feelings were kindly toward him, that there was the possibility of love.
He slowed his horse slightly, realizing that he had sped up, so eager was he to reach Longbourn. He also recalled his earlier determination: this visit was for Charles Bingley. Until he made a determination about the eldest Miss Bennetís feelings for his friend, he had no right to promote his own happiness. Honor required that his previous interference in the happiness of Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley be addressed.
He dropped back so that he was at the side and slightly behind Mr. Bingley, so that conversation would be easier. Charles had been silent so far, quite unusual for such a social, even happy go lucky fellow. Darcy could guess at his friendís discomfort, and was strongly tempted to come clean about his own part in the matter. However, if Miss Bennet was attached to someone else, or if she was genuinely indifferent to Bingley, then the less said the better. There was nothing to be gained by raising Charlesí hopes if the outcome would be negative. He did not need to wound another person by honesty without regard to feeling! So the conversation was stilted and focused more on the weather and the state of the fields which promised a good harvest than on more personal matters.
And so they reached Longbourn, midmorning, with anticipation, delight, and dread.
Mrs. Hill, the Bennet housekeeper, showed them into the drawing room where most of the Bennet women were gathered. Darcy noticed that four women, Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bennet, and Misses Elizabeth, and Kitty were sitting at a table, in various studied poses, working on needlework.
"Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Madam." Mrs. Bennet rose quickly and walked to Charles,warm and smiling. "Welcome Mr. Bingley. It is so good to have you back in Hertfordshire. We are all looking forward to you increasing our pleasure in the Hertfordshire society." Charles said "You remember my good friend, Mr. Darcy." "Yes you are very welcome here, Mr. Darcy." This was said with a noticeable lack of warmth and was a contrast with her enthusiastic welcome to Charles. Mrs. Bennet continued, "You remember my daughters, I am sure, this is Miss Jane Bennet, and two of my younger daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine." The three young ladies stood and greeted them more demurely than their mother. Darcy noticed that Jane was calm as she greeted Mr. Bingley, a bad sign perhaps, but it might also speak well of her composure under difficult circumstances, and may be a credit to her disposition. Miss Elizabeth scarcely looked at him, but bowed her head as she curtsied.
Elizabeth was simply dressed, but the dress showed off the slenderness and strength of her figure. She moved with the grace of a young woman who spent much of her life in motion. He hair was arranged simply and gracefully, with her curled hair swept up away from her face and restrained loosely, so that her curls were visible. Darcy was caught up in his admiration of her, looked for something that he could say, and remembered to ask about the Gardiners.
"Mrs. Bennet, may I inquire about the health of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner?" Mrs. Bennet looked at him, as if impatient that she had to attend to him at all. "Quite well, Sir, thank you ." Darcy from then on was allowed to entertain himself, as all of Mrs. Bennetís attention went back to Mr. Bingley. "I hope your trip from London was uneventful Mr.Bingley? The roads at this time of the year can be so trying, but the weather has been fine, so I suppose you did not have too much mud. Indeed, Mr. Bennet was saying the other day that we could probably use some rain. But I said to Mr. Bennet, "Please Sir, enjoy the good weather while we have it. I am sure that travelers enjoy the roads without getting caught up in mud, which can so delay their journey. I am sure that you did not have any such problems.
And how has your hunting gone? I know that you have had good luck and you have shot many birds. Hunting is such a good sport for men. I recall that my own dear father used to hunt successfully every fall, and provided us with many a feast. There is nothing more succulent than pheasant freshly hunted and I am sure that you are having some wonderful feasts. I will be happy to ask Hill to supply your cook with some excellent recipes if you run short of new ways to prepare your birds. I will say that I have always kept up a good table. If you need any vegetables or herbs for your stuffing I will tell Hill to provide you with such. Since you have not been here for the summer, your own provisions may not have been kept up and certainly cannot be as fresh as if you were here. Certainly, while London has many attractions and pleasures, you will miss having provided for your table the herbs and vegetables that are usual here in Hertfordshire. If you find yourself short of victuals, I will send some over so you will have a full table." She gushed on in this manner, leaving Mr. Darcy free to have his own thoughts and observations.
"Miss Elizabeth gives me no encouragement," was is chief thought, as he wandered over to a window and glanced out at the park. If only I could engage her in conversation..." But he remembered the purpose of this visit and turned his attention back to Miss Jane Bennet, who was seated again at the table, with Charles at a chair conveniently close by.
"Kitty, send Hill for some tea, and hurry about it. I am sure the gentlemen would like some refreshment after their long ride." Kitty exited, and Bingley accepted the suggestion of tea. Jane asked Charles how he found Netherfield, and Charles started describing how he had found the house and the grounds. Darcy watched them and as they conversed. The initial awkwardness and stiffness in Miss Bennetís manner disappeared. She smiled genuinely at Charlesí descriptions, laughed at his story of the antics of the hounds, agreed with him when he described the good company that he had encountered during the last three days that they had been in Hertfordshire. When Hill brought the tea he was so boyishly eager to accept the cup from Janeís hand that Darcy had no doubt of the state of his friendís heart. He also noted that Jane, although calm, was attentive, kind, and devoted to Mr. Bingleyís every word. Mr. Darcy began to see, that rather than being indifferent, Janeís unusual degree of self control framed a woman whose caring was deep, perhaps even passionate. It was as if she had trained herself to behave in a way opposite her motherís excessive emotional display, and to constrain strong feelings into a well that was virtually bottomless. "This is a contrast between the noisy, shallow brook and the deep wilderness lake, seen only by the few." Darcy began to see that his friend, rather than needing his protection and guidance, may be in an enviable position that promised him much affection and happiness.
Jane smiling poured tea out for both of them, but there was no mistaking that although she handed Mr. Darcy a cup well poured and gave it to him in a gracious manner, the cup she then handed to Mr. Bingley was more like a special gift. "This is just for you" her eyes and her smile said. Mr. Darcy found he had to look away, believing that he was intruding on their growing love by his examination of it.
Elizabeth used the opportunity to take a cup of tea from her sister to inquire of him about his sisterís health. . "She is well, thank you, Miss Bennet. She has stayed at Pemberley, and continues to do well under Mrs. Annesleyís supervision." "I am glad to hear that. Please send her my regards." Darcy bowed his acquiescence. He hoped she would stay and talk more of Pemberley, but she returned to her place at the table and again took up her handiwork. He remembered her presence at Pemberley and at Rosings, and realized again how much he wanted her to be in both places with him, as his wife. "What are you thinking, lovely Elizabeth? Do you despise me for leaving your family so vulnerable to Wickhamís mischief? Do you continue to see me as arrogant? What can I do, what can I say to show you that your esteem is more important to me than is the esteem of all the gentlemen in the world ."
Mrs. Bennetís voice broke in. "Mr. Bingley, a great many changes have happened in the neighborhood since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. And one of my own daughters. I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, "Lately, George Wickham, Esq. to Miss Lydia Bennet," without there being a syllable said of her father, or the place where she lived, or any thing. It was my brother Gardiner's drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?''
Throughout the visit Mrs. Bennetís manner to Darcy had been merely civil, bordering on rude. All of her conversation had been directed to Bingley. Darcy had wondered why her attention was delivered in so partial a manner, although he suspected that she did not consider him to be a marriage prospect for one of her daughters and therefore not worth her notice. He was annoyed by her rudeness, but for the most part pleased that he could observe Bingley and Miss Bennet without much distraction. At this last incredible comment he turned and looked out at the park again. "What forwardness! How amazing that she would talk so brazenly about an event that nearly left them with a social stigma that might have marked them for life." As he had tuned his back to the room he had caught a glimpse of Elizabeth shaking and looking down over her needlework. "What a mother she is. How did Elizabeth and her sister Jane tolerate such ill thought remarks and behavior." He remembered with compassion how Elizabeth had struggled for breath, for countenance on hearing the news of her sisterís elopement. He recalled her tears and her shame when she had asked for him to keep her sad news quiet for as long as possible. He remembered her dignity as she accepted the fact that he was leaving the inn, having ensured that her Uncle and Aunt Gardiner were coming to her aid. "And now she is reminded of that in such a manner!" he thought. His countenance changed, became severe, when he thought of the recent conclusion of those events. "Yes there was a marriage indeed. A marriage bought, and insured by the promise of regular income, and the threat of disgrace and physical danger as a result of gaming debts if Wickham did not keep his part of the agreement."
Darcy's back stiffened as he recalled that wedding day. He had experienced some satisfaction that it was done, but he had little joy in the completion, and little faith that the union would be a happy one. It had removed the social stigma that Elizabeth did not deserve, Elizabeth who deserved only respect, love, devotion, and admiration.
He had turned back to face the room at these last thoughts. Bingley had answered something, Darcy didn't know what, to Mrs. Bennetís incredible statement. Bingley knew nothing about the events surrounding Lydia and Wickhamís marriage, and how much he guessed, Darcy could not know. Darcy's glance returned to Elizabeth and he started to draw nearer to her side of the table. She still had her head down, but she was no longer shaking, and Darcy surmised that Bingley had handled the question gracefully. "Ah Bingley, I am starting to really appreciate you. I always thought I was the leader, giving you instruction, but today I see how much you are giving me."
But at that moment, Bingley said "How did you spend the winter months, Miss Bennet?"
Darcy wished for the floor to open up, for himself to be any place but in that room. He kept a measured pace but put more distance between himself and Elizabeth. "Unhappy thought. Unhappy question!" How would Miss Bennet answer? And most important, what would Miss Elizabeth Bennet think? In a few moments she had unhappily been reminded of two difficulties that had largely been of his doing: Wickhamís betrayal of the Bennet family, and Janeís sadness during the winter. Well, amends would be made, but this moment increased his despair that he could ever convince Elizabeth that he loved her and that he deserved her love.
Another glance at Bingley and Jane assured him that they had managed the difficult moment with success. Both were smiling at each other and engrossed in a conversation about their favorite winter pursuits. "Well, Charles, you two will probably be able to enjoy your winter pursuits together. I will do whatever I can to encourage that. I don't know how I will manage to get through this winter. I will behave in an honorable manner. At least then perhaps I can learn to live with myself."
At last it was time to take their leave. They had overstayed the conventional time allotted for a morning call. As they stood to leave, Mrs. Bennet again played her hand with an embarrassing request. "You must come to dine at Longbourne on Wednesday. You are quite a visit in my debt, Mr. Bingley, for when you went to town last winter, you promised to take a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. I have not forgot, you see, and I assure you, I was very much disappointed that you did not come back and keep your engagement." Since this invitation was directed at Bingley, Darcy was spared the necessity of answering, although his presence was also implied by the invitation. Bingley stammered his thanks, and said that he had been detained by business last autumn, but would be able to renew old acquaintances now. Both Darcy and Bingley left, mounted their horses, and started off at a stately pace.
"Why, that went very well.!" said Bingley, a little out a breath, surprising in such a good horseman. "They were so pleasant. It was a good idea to come and spend time with them today!" Darcy smiled, looked back at his good friend, and tried to hide his own anguish.
His thoughts would not leave Elizabeth. "At least I shall see her again in two days time. Perhaps I will get a chance to show her that I esteem her and love her. Perhaps she will perceive that I am not the arrogant man who first proposed to her. She will see that Charles still loves Jane and perhaps she will be less anxious and therefore less angry on that score." Aloud, he only said "Yes Charles, it was a very good idea. I noticed that you and Miss Bennet had a lot to say to each other. I am glad it went so well."
Darcy rode on in front, desirous of hiding his own pain from his friend. He believed now that he had very little to look forward to but to behave as an honorable man, with very little chance of being a loved man. But Honor would be lived.
© 1998 Copyright held by author