The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
In the evening Miss Elizabeth joined their party in the drawing room. The loo table, however, did not appear. Mr Hurst and Mr Bingley were at piquet, and Mrs. Hurst was observing their game. Darcy sat down to write again to Georigiana, but as he wrote his greetings, he was dismayed when Miss Bingley took a seat beside him and watched the progress of his letter, and repeatedly called off his attention by messages to his sister.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
He made no answer, in a vain hope that she would leave him in peace.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
He continued writing. Unfortuanteley, he could not be as intimate with his sister as he would have liked, not with Miss Bingley looking over his shoulder.
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours."
If he were not a gentleman, or he did not live in a time when prorpiety was the rule, he would have behaved in a less than gentlemanly manner towards Miss Bingley. Instead, he was forced to put up with her.
"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
He looked up to near the beginning of his letter. It was already done.
"I have already told her so once, by your desire."
His grip on the pen tightened in his annoyance.
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
"Thank you - but I always mend my own."
"How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.
"Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp, and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley's."
"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? -- At present I have not room to do them justice."
If you wish to say so much to her, why don't you write to her yourself? he thought savagely. I know that you have memorised our address.
"Oh! it is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr Darcy?"
"They are generally long; but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine."
His temper was not improved in that he could sense Miss Elizabeth watching them and silently laughing.
"It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter, with ease, cannot write ill," said Miss Bingley. Ill. That is probably the nature of your short missives.
"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," cried her brother, "because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"
Bingley did his best to do as little reading and writing than was absolutely necessary.
"My style of writing is very different from yours."
"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley, "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest."
Darcy smiled a little. He knew how hard it was to read one of Bingley's letters.
"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them - by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley," said Miss Elizabeth, "must disarm reproof."
Darcy put down his pen. It seemed to him, that as easy-going as Bingley was, he took pride in his ability to write quickly.
"Nothing is more deceitful," said Darcy, "than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."
"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?" asked Bingley.
"The indirect boast; -- for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting." He turned in his chair to face him. "The power of doing any thing with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself - and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or any one else?"
If I acted in such an . . . . irresponsible manner, my father would be rolling in his grave.
"Nay," cried Bingley, "this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believed what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to shew off before the ladies."
Darcy sighed at Bingley's selectively short memory.
"I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependant on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, 'Bingley, you had better stay till next week,' you would probably do it, you would probably not go - and, at another word, might stay a month."
"You have only proved by this,'' cried Miss Elizabeth, "that Mr Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself."
Though Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness and ductility of his temper, deep inside himself Darcy knew that he sometimes took advantage of it. It was what made it so easy for him to order Bingley's life around for his friend. He squashed that voice by telling himself it was for Bingley's own good.
"I am exceedingly gratified," said Bingley, "by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that gentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly think the better of me, if under such a circumstance I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could."
"Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intention as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?"
Miss Bingley, having nothing to add to his letter or the conversation moved away to sit beside her sister.
"Upon my word I cannot exactly explain the matter; Darcy must speak for himself."
Darcy was about to continue his letter when he heard Bingley's answer to Miss Elizabeth, which required a response.
"You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety."
"To yield readily - easily - to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you."
"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either."
He ignored that voice inside him.
"You appear to me, Mr Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs, before we discuss the discretion of his behaviour thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?"
Darcy found himself enjoying this polite argument with Miss Elizabeth. Very few people dared to seriously argue with him, and it was pleasant to find someone who was willing to do so.
"Will it not be advisable, before we proceed on this subject, to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to appertain to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties?"
"By all means," cried Bingley; "Let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do."
Darcy was rather offended by Bingley's remark, but politely smiled.
Miss Bingley warmly resented the indignity he had received, in an expostulation with her brother for talking such nonsense.
"I see your design, Bingley," said Darcy. "You dislike an argument, and want to silence this."
"Perhaps I do. Arguments are too much like disputes. If you and Miss Bennet will defer yours till I am out of the room, I shall be very thankful; and then you may say whatever you like of me."
"What you ask," said Miss Elizabeth, "is no sacrifice on my side; and Mr Darcy had much better finish his letter."
Darcy took her advice, and did finish his letter.
When that business was over, he applied to Miss Bingley and Miss Elizabeth for the indulgence of some music. Miss Bingley moved with alacrity to the piano-forte, and after a polite request that Miss Elizabeth would lead the way, which the other as politely and more earnestly negatived, she seated herself.
Miss Elizabeth sat down near the instrument and tapped her foot slightly to the beat of the song. Darcy watched her as she turned over some music, and the image of her playing in the garden that evening came to mind. He smiled, but the smile disappeared when he noticed that she was looking back at him.
After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air. He remembered the time at the Lucas Lodge party when she had declined to dance with him, and soon afterwards Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her, "Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?"
She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.
"Oh!" said she, "I heard you before; but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say 'Yes', that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all - and now despise me if you dare."
"Indeed I do not dare."
He was, again, surprised at her answer. To decline a man such as he, not once, but twice, was difficult to comprehend. But there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
Miss Bingley saw, or suspected, enough to be jealous; and her great anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane received some assistance from her desire of getting rid of Elizabeth.
"Miss Eliza, how does your sister do?" she inquired. This question was immedietly followed by a short answer from Miss Elizabeth saying that she would see, and the departure of the lady.
Miss Bingley turned back to the rest of the room's occupants with a small, triumphant smile.
"I must observe that I find Miss Eliza is quite impertinant at times, what say you, Mr Darcy?"
I say that her impertinance is welcome after the hypocrisy and falseness of some, he thought. But it would do no good to say such a thing to Miss Bingley in front of her brother. He made no reply, but excused himself and went to bed.
He slept peacefully, as the last thought he had before slumber was of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
The next afternoon, Darcy left the house to take a turn about the grounds. His hopes for privacy were shatterred as Miss Bingley attached herself to him and began talking of his supposed marriage to Miss Elizabeth and even going so far as to plan his happiness in such an alliance.
"I hope," said she, as they walked together in the shrubbery, "you will give your mother-in-law a few hints, when this desirable event takes place, as to the advantage of holding her tongue; and if you can compass it, do cure the younger girls of running after the officers."
He let her ramble on. The idea of him marrying Miss Elizabeth was pure fantasy, created by Miss Bingley herself. But it was annoying, that she should have the presmption to organise his married life for him - even if it was fiction.
"And, if I may mention so delicate a subject, endeavour to check that little something, bordering on conceit and impertinence, which your lady possesses."
She is not, 'my' lady, nor do I wish her to be!
"Have you any thing else to propose for my domestic felicity?"
He immedietly regreeted saying that, for it invited Miss Bingley to continue.
"Oh! yes. Do let the portraits of your uncle and aunt Philips be placed in the gallery at Pemberley. Put them next to your great uncle, the judge. They are in the same profession, you know; only in different lines."
Now, this was getting to be too much! There was no way he would marry a girl with her connections. And imagine that - having the protraits of people in trade in the gallery? That was insupportable even as a suggestion. His pride would never allow that.
"As for your Elizabeth's picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?"
True . . . .
"It would not be easy, indeed, to catch their expression, but their colour and shape, and the eye-lashes, so remarkably fine, might be copied."
I doubt there is an artist in the world who could paint a likeness of her that displays her spirit and liveliness, he thought.
At that moment they were met from another walk, by Mrs Hurst and Miss Elizabeth herself.
"I did not know that you intended to walk," said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
"You used us abominably ill," answered Mrs Hurst, "in running away without telling us that you were coming out." Then taking the disengaged arm of Mr Darcy, she left Miss Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three.
Darcy felt their rudeness and immediately said, -
"This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue."
But Miss Elizabeth laughingly answered,
"No, no; stay where you are. - You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good bye."
She then ran gaily off.
He looked over his shoulder, watching her disappear. Another refusal to spend time in his company! Miss Bingley, he knew, would have jumped at such an invitation.
He noticed that the two ladies on his left and right looked meaningfully at each other and then they walked him away in the opposite direction from Miss Elizabeth.
When the gentlemen entered the drawing room that evening, they were surprised and delighted (Bingley most especially) to find that Miss Jane Bennet had recovered enough to join her sister and her 'friends'. Darcy ignored the comment Miss Bingley addressed to him and politely congratulated Miss Jane on her recovery. He intended to sit beside the fire and read the book Miss Elizabeth had read the first evening she was at Netherfield, but before he did so, he watched with interest and a little degree of alarm as Bingley sat near the invalid and talked to her and nobody else.
As he pulled up a chair, Mr Hurst invited Miss Bingley to play cards again. But for some reason, she declined, and more surpirsingly, picked up the second volume of his book and began to read, probably remembering his remark about his idea of an accomplished woman also being an extensive reader. Having no one to play with, Hurst stretched out on the sofa and went to sleep.
To his increasing annoyance, Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, she threw it onto the mantle, gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."
In the cover of his book, Darcy rolled his eyes at her comment. Obviously she was thinking about his library at Pemberley, which she had rarely set foot in, except when he was occupying it.
No one made any reply. She then yawned again and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement; when, hearing her brother mentioning a ball to Miss Bennet, she turned suddenly towards him and said,
"By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure."
Her attempt to gain his good opinion, by expressing what she imagined to be his views on the upcoming ball, was not successful.
"If you mean Darcy," cried her brother, "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins - but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards."
"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
Oh? And I thought you enjoyed dancing, as it is a certain step towards falling in love.
"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball."
Bingley was obviously eager to resume his conversation with Miss Jane Bennet.
Miss Bingley made no answer; and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. She walked towards and away from him; she walked past her sister who patted her hand. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; - but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious.
Then she walked to the table where Miss Elizabeth sat. To his curiosity, she said to her, "Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. - I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude."
Miss Elizabeth agreed to it immediately. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Miss Bingley link arms with Miss Elizabeth and walk around the room.
Darcy raised his head to get a better look. He unconsciously closed his book, and sat back to watch the two, or, more specifically, Miss Elizabeth in their indoor stroll. It seemed to him, had she been outdoors, Miss Elizabeth would break out into a run. He smiled at the thought - Miss Bingley would be left behind and Miss Elizabeth would continue alone. The picture would be more pleasing to look at with Miss Bingley out of it. Then maybe he could take her place beside Miss Elizabeth . . .
"Would you join us, Mr Darcy?" asked Miss Bingley. The question was probably to prove that her voice was working, for she had an alarmed look on her face.
"I thank you, but no. I can imagine only two reasons why the two of you would be walking about the room, and I would interfere with both"
"What could he mean?" asked Miss Bingley to her companion. "Miss Eliza, can you understand him?"
"Not at all," was her answer; "but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it."
"Nonsense. We insist on knowing your meaning, sir!"
Miss Bingley was incapable of disappointing him in anything.
"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them," said he, "You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss," which I sincerely doubt, he thought, "or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I should be completely in your way; and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."
"Oh! shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard any thing so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?"
"Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination," said Miss Elizabeth. "We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him - laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done."
Of course, only a lady of her impertinance would think of that.
"But upon my honour I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no - I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr Darcy may hug himself."
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief. One of his prime hates was to be laughed at and/or ambarrassed.
"Mr Darcy is not to be laughed at!" cried Miss Elizabeth. "That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh."
"Miss Bingley," said he, "has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."
"Certainly," replied Elizabeth, "there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without."
"Perhaps that is not possible for any one. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.''
"Such as vanity and pride."
Her answer seemed to accuse him of being proud, which, he thought, was not true, and he tried to defend himself and show her the difference between vanity and pride.
"Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride, where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation."
Miss Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
"Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume," said Miss Bingley; "and pray what is the result?"
"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."
Wait, that is not true!
For an instant, he hated her. Hated her for being cleverer than he was in this conversation, hated her because he found her attractive and to top it all, he had the Bingleys as an audience.
"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension."
Darcy then proceeded to do something he usually would not do - admit to and list all of his faults that he could think of. "I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is I believe too little yielding - certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever."
"That, is a failing indeed!" said Miss Elizabeth seriously. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. - I really cannot laugh at it; you are safe from me."
He would not let her get away so easily - not after letting his guard down in front of Miss Bingley and her relations. Besides, he was enjoying his conversation with this attrctive and witty young lady.
"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."
"And your defect is a propensity to hate every body."
"And yours," he replied, favouring her with one of his rare smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them."
"Do let us have a little music," cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. "Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr Hurst."
Her sister made not the smallest objection, and the piano-forte was opened, and Darcy, after a few moments recollection, was not sorry for it. His attraction for her was becoming all too obvious. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.
But it was more than that. In their conversation, he felt as if she controlled it, not he. She had skillfully manipulated the conversation so that his weaknesses were revealed and she had the opportunity to laugh and joke at his expense. She was remarkably clever, and that was what he most liked and admired about her.
On Saturday morning, Miss Elizabeth sent a message to Longbourn asking for the carriage to return home. Darcy wasn't too surprised when their mother wrote back saying that the carriage could not be spared before Tuesday. But in the end as they were very eager to leave, Bingley relunctantly agreed to lend them the carriage on Sunday.
To Mr Darcy it was welcome intelligence - Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked - and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her, however sorely he was tempted to.
Bingley seemed as if he would miss their company, and went so far as to bid them adieu standing outside in the cold morning while the rest remained indoors at breakfast.
Darcy stood at the wndow and watched as Bingley leaned into the carriage, then stepped back as the carriage drove away.
"How pleasant it is to have one's house to one's self again!" sighed Miss Bingley, sitting at the table.
"But I fear Mr Darcy is missing Miss Eliza Bennet's pert opinions and 'fine eyes'," she added.
"Quite the contrary I assure you," replied Darcy.
But he still didn't turn away from his position, watching the carriage carrying Miss Eliza Bennet away.
True to his word, Bingley began to make arrangements for the long-awaited Netherfield ball. An eight-piece orchestra was hired from London, orders to the florists were sent.
During this time, Darcy could tell that his friend was missing Miss Jane Bennet. He often referred to her in conversation and often expressed a wish of going to Longbourn to see her. This was prevented by his sisters, and sometimes by Darcy as well.
Finally one day, Bingley was firmly resolved on seeing the Miss Bennets. Darcy was invited to join him and he accepted. A morning ride would be refreshing.
Maybe he would even see Miss Elizabeth.
As they rode through Meryton, they were surprised to see all five Miss Bennets in the company of a man who would was be a clergyman by his clothing, talking with an officer and another man.
When they came within sight of the group, Darcy saw one of the sisters nudge Miss Jane and looked pointedly at Bingley. The man in question dismounted, led his horse over to the group and greeted them. Darcy remained on his horse.
He observed Miss Elizabeth and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger.
Mr Wickham had not changed much in the past year. He was a little thinner, perhaps, but that was all. His eyes though - now Darcy could see a predatory gleam in them, and he wondered how he had been able to miss it before.
Shock and anger were his first feelings. The sounds of conversation and general noise were blocked out. The images of everyone - even Miss Elizabeth - disappeared. Only Wickham remained.
Seeing him, Wickham looked up. He mockingly touched his hat, though his face was white with fear. Darcy did not deign to return his salutation, but rode off to get as far away from his presence as possible.
He dimly heard Bingley riding after him, calling out.
"DARCY! What on earth - ? What's wrong with you?"
He ignored his friend. Once away from the town, he rode as fast as he could back to Netherfield.
In a black mood, he flung the reins to the groom, then stormed into the house.
How dare he show his face here? he thought angrily.
He strode into the library and collasped in the nearest chair.
Damn the man! He seems to follow me everywhere!
Seeing Wickham again had brought up all the memories Darcy had most wanted to forget. The incident last summer - coming to Ramsgate with hopes of peace with Georgiana, only to find Wickham touching her arm, Georgiana crying, calling to Mrs Younge if what Darcy said about Wickham being after her fortune was true, Wickham laughing at Georgiana's tears, that interview in his study, Georgiana blaming herself and weeping on his shoulder . . . .
Bingley's worried voice roused him from his trance.
"Darcy, whatever is the matter?"
He did not reply for some minutes.
"That man . . . the one who was with the Miss Bennets . . ."
"Who? Mr Denny? Their cousin?"
"No, the other . . . "
He paused, unsure just how much he could tell his friend.
"Do I know him? I think I have seen his face."
"His name is Mr George Wickham. He is the son of my father's steward."
"The picture in that room . . . What has he done to you?"
"I will not give you the explicit details, Bingley . . . let me just say despite my kindnesses to him in the past, he has treated me in a most infamous manner. His sudden appearance this morning was a terrible shock - I have heard nothing of him until today which was most agreeable. Not even his name was spoken in my presence."
Bingley looked as if he wanted to hear more, but Darcy said, "Please, would you see that I am not disturbed for some time, old friend?"
He quietly closed the door and left Darcy to his painful memories.
Though he took his dinner alone, Darcy did join the rest of the party in the drawing room. It seemed that Bingley had warned his sister, for Miss Bingley did nothing more than inquire after his health. Bingley himself did his best to distract Darcy.
"The cousin of the Bennet family is staying with them. His name is William Collins and he is the man who will inherit Longbourn after the death of Mr Bennet," His smile faded. "Oh, this means I shall have to extend the invitation to him for the ball." Another realisation struck him. "Oh . . . "
"What is wrong?" asked Darcy.
"Mr Wickham is to join the officers of the militia, and I have invited every officer to the ball."
Darcy closed his eyes. To see Wickham again, at a ball . . . .
"You cannot very well avoid including him in the invitation . . . " he murmered.
"Perhaps he will have the decency not to come," said Miss Bingley.
Darcy wondered how much Bingley had told his sister. It did not matter - all they knew was that he detested the man for a reason he would not divulge, they knew not how it involved Georgiana.
"I sincerely hope so."
Darcy was unable to sleep that night. His mind kept replaying the time at Ramsgate.
On the cliff . . .
"I won't do it, I won't leave you," said Georgiana.
"Georgiana . . . . you must know the truth. Wickham does not love you. He wants only your fortune. . . . "
"Is this true, Mrs Younge?" cried Georgiana.
"Yes . . . "
Georgiana turned to Wickham, who was looking at her, laughing softly and shaking his head.
"Georgie, it was so easy to convince you."
In his study . . .
"How could you do this? After all my father did for you, after all I have done for you, you take advantage and try to seduce my sister?"
"I am disgraceful!" wept Georgiana.
Nothing he said could comfort her . . . .
He couldn't sleep - all he could think of was Georgiana, Wickham, Georgiana, Wickham, Wickham in the street near
Miss Elizabeth . . . .
Elizabeth . . .
He sat bolt upright.
Wickham and Elizabeth . . . .
Darcy rarely left the house between his encounter with Wickham and the Netherfield Ball. He did not wish to go to Meryton in case he should come across him again, nor did he want to go with Bingley and his sisters to Longbourn to invite the Bennets to the ball, for he did not know what Wickham had told Elizabeth or how much she believed his lies.
No hint of Wickham's plans had reached any of the Netherfield party. Darcy was dressed in black for the ball, but was still debating whether he would attend. He decided that if Wickham did come, he would remain upstairs, but if Wickham did not, then he would join in.
He stood in the room above the entrance and watched as guests arrived. He saw many carriages, gentlemen and ladies, but the officers he saw no sign.
Finally the red-coats arrived, laughing and joking amongst themselves. In twos and threes they entered Netherfield house and Darcy scanned each face quickly.
He did not find Wickham.
Darcy thankfully turned away from the window, but then turned back as another carriage pulled up.
Mr Bennet stepped out of the carriage, followed by his entire family. He looked closer, searching for one face in particular.
He found Miss Elizabeth just as she looked up towards him.
Darcy averted his gaze. When he looked back, she had disappeared.
Well, maybe he would join in.
He left the room and went downstairs.
Darcy stood at the back of the room, near a group of officers. He searched the group, fearful he might have missed Wickham, but his attention was diverted when he saw Bingley enter the room, with Jane on his left and Elizabeth on his right. He watched as one of the officers approached the trio and speak to Elizabeth.
Suddenly the officer and Elizabeth looked directly at him. He knew they were talking about him, and most likely Wickham as well. Perhaps the officer was informing Elizabeth of Wickham's absence.
Darcy moved away from his position. From a safer and less obvious place he looked at Elizabeth.
She was breathtakingly lovely in her simple ivory gown. There were small flowers in her dark hair, and around her neck was a cross. Darcy wondered how he could have ever thought Elizabeth 'just tolerable'.
How long had he been calling her Elizabeth? Not Miss Bennet, not Miss Elizabeth but just Elizabeth. He said her name under his breath, revelling in how pleasant it sounded.
Elizabeth walked over to her friend, Miss Lucas. She smiled and laughed, but it soon disappeared when a man came up to her as the music for the dancing began.
Darcy recognised her cousin, the clergyman. His name escaped him, but he remembered that the man was to choose one of the Miss Bennets for his wife.
He looked as Elizabeth. She did not seem pleased to have her cousin for her dancing partner. Nor could he blame her - the man seemed to have two left feet, and often moved in the wrong direction.
Darcy kept moving around the room in order to keep Elizabeth in his sights. He tried hard not to laugh at her bumbling partner.
When the dance ended (Darcy could not help but notice she looked relieved when she and her partner seperated), he thought about asking her to dance. She had declined him twice. Maybe this time she would accept him.
Not only that, it would make Miss Bingley absolutely furious.
But still his shyness prevented him from asking her. In the end, one of the officers claimed her for the next dance.
He contented himself with watching her, and with each minute that passed, he found himself even more determined to dance with her.
Darcy had his chance when Elizabeth left to speak with Miss Lucas.
For some reason, Elizabeth was quite upset about something. As he drew closer, she spun away and was so caught up in her speech to Miss Lucas, she did not see him and in the end her friend called her attention to him.
He bowed, and then he spoke.
"If you are not otherwise engaged, would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me, Miss Bennet?"
He waited patiently for his answer, hoping it would not be another refusal.
"Why . . . I . . . had not . . . " She paused, as if finding her tongue. "I thank you, yes."
He bowed and walked away, delighted but also wondering what he had let himself in for.
The music began; a familar dance in G minor. The dancers took their places; Bingley and Jane among them. Darcy and Elizabeth stood at the end.
Darcy wondered why his neighbour was staring at them with a look of utter amazement. He ignored it, but looked into his partner's face. She did not smile.
The last phrase began; Elizabeth curtsied and Darcy bowed. Their hands reached out as they stepped towards the other.
When his hand grasped hers, Darcy felt something akin to a shock run up his arm. The feeling was quite pleasant, and whenever his hand touched hers, he felt it again.
For the first part of the dance, neither spoke. Darcy was trying to think of something to say when the lady solved his problem for him.
"I believe we must have some conversation, Mr Darcy," said she. "A very little will suffice."
The dance commanded that he move away from her, preventing him from replying.
"You should say something about the dance, perhaps. I might remark on the number of couples," she continued when they met up again.
"Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?" he asked.
"Sometimes it is best. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible."
They seperated again.
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?" he asked when they came back together.
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for 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 all the eclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he. Again, they moved away and then back towards each other. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
They were silent for a while. Darcy though, wanted an answer to the question that had plagued him for days; what was Elizabeth's opinion of Wickham?
"Do you often walk into Meryton?" he began.
"Yes quite often."
That answers nothing.
She added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he said not a word. Inside, he was saddened and angered that she had made an aquaintance of his enemy.
At length Darcy, in an attempt to warn her of Wickham's true character without giving too much away, said in a constrained manner, "Mr Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends - whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
His heart sank - it seemed that Wickham had told her his usual story, of Darcy depriving him of the living the late Mr Darcy had promised him. And what was worse, she believed him.
Darcy made no answer, and was desirious of changing the subject. They had reached the point in the dance where they stood still, and in this brief moment, Sir William Lucas spoke to them.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear Sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley), shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy: but let me not interrupt you, Sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."
He took Elizabeth's hand and led her away, with Sir William's exclamations of 'Capital, capital!' echoing behind them.
His body automatically moved with the music, but he chanced a glance towards Bingley adn his partner.
Though he saw them for one second, the image was burned into his mind. Bingley was looking at Jane with a look of adoration . . . and love.
Darcy realised that in his preoccupation with Elizabeth, he had missed his friend's growing affection for Jane. This time it seemed that Bngley's love for the girl, before but a passing phase, had become more serious than he had expected.
He brought his mind back to the dance and Elizabeth.
"Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we were talking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted any two people in the room who had less to say for themselves."
What on earth could she mean?
"We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine," she continued.
Remembering her days at Netherfield, and how she spent most of the time reading, he asked, "What think you of books?" He smiled at her.
"Books - Oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."
"No - I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."
"The present always occupies you in such scenes - does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied absently. Darcy noticed her thoughts had wandered far from the subject and her mood was more serious.
"I remember hearing you once say, Mr Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."
"I am," said he, with a firm voice.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
Am I blinded by prejudice? he questioned himself. No, of course not!
They seperated again, but as always, the dance brought them back together.
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first," said Elizabeth.
"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of your character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
The dance drew to a close, and the reverence came with a tierce dipicardi.
The dancers began to disperse; Darcy took Elizabeth's hand and reluctantly lead her away.
"I can readily believe that report may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either," he said.
His comment implied that Wickham's account of him was not to be believed. Darcy hoped that Elizabeth would find out more about him defore drawing any conclusions about his character.
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity," she replied.
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied.
Darcy bowed to her. He left her dissatisfied and uncomfortable. He wanted to think ill of her for believing Wickham. But in Darcy's heart there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against another.
But for the present, he had to determine what to do about Bingley and Jane.
Darcy carefully observed Bingley and Jane Bennet for the rest of the evening. He watched as Bingley danced with Jane - again. Only now did he realise that Bingley had danced with no on else. Sometimes, Jane was obliged to dance with another. Darcy looked with concern as his friend watched Jane dance with a pained looked on his face.
Jane on the otherhand, did not seem at all concerned.
Darcy's attention was diverted during the dinner when he saw Miss Bingley speaking to Elizabeth. Elizabeth seemed upset by Miss Bingley's words, and angrily walked to the punch bowl. Her sister joined her and they spoke quietly together. He sipped his wine as he wondered what Miss Bingley had told her.
The gentle murmer of conversation quietened as Bingley stood up from his seat. . . beside Jane.
"Shall we have some music? I have a great desire for a song," said he. Bingley smiled - it seemed he was having a good time. "Caroline, can we persuade you?"
As the last words fell from his mouth, Mary Bennet scooped up some music and rushed to the instrument.
"Miss Mary Bennet," said Bingley without much enthusiasm. "I see you anticipated me."
Darcy watched as Miss Mary adjusted her glasses and begin to play.
She began to play a Handel piece with a pedantic air and a conceited manner. Upon hearing the first notes, Darcy turned away. But then she began to sing, a high note on which her voice wobbled and struggled to hold. He turned back with a look of surprise and amazement. He looked away, trying to determine the problem of Jane and Bingley but it was difficult to concentrate with the terrible noise.
It was obvious to Darcy, knowing his friend as he did, that Bingley preferred Jane Bennet to any other woman in the country. But that was the usual beginning to any of his friend's infatuations. But now, it seemed that Bingley's interest in the woman was actually becoming - nay, had already become - a serious attachment.
He watched the two from his seat. Bingley leaned close to her, talking and laughing without a single glance at any other person. If this were a usual infatuation of Bingley's, by this stage in their aquaintance Bingley's interest in her would be diminishing. It wasn't - in fact it seemed his partiality for Jane Bennet had actually increased.
Darcy began to wonder - was his friend serious enough about Jane to actually propose to her?
He was lost in his own thoughts, when he became aware of a man approaching him. He looked up into the face of a heavyset, rather sweaty man in a clergyman's clothing. He recognised the cousin of the Bennets. He vaguely remembered that he was the clergyman to his aunt Lady Catherine, from the information Bingley had told him. Again, the name escaped him.
The man deeply bowed and began to speak.
"Mr Darcy, I have made a remarkable, I must say, an amazing discovery! I understand that you are the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park!"
Darcy's astonishment at being addressed by the man was great. They had not even been introduced and this pompous fellow had the effontry to address him!
"Well, Mr Darcy, I am in the happy position of being able to inform you, that her ladyship was in the best of health . . . " (he counted under his breath) " . . . eight days ago!"
He gave Darcy a smile which he did not return.
"I'm glad to hear it," replied Darcy with thinly veiled contempt. He stood up to his full height and towered over the fool who was still half-bowed.
"And what is your name, sir?" he asked with distant civility.
"My name is William Collins, Mr Darcy, and I am greatly honoured . . . "
The rest of this dialogue was lost on Darcy, for he walked away, past Elizabeth (who was looking as if she wanted to fall through the floor) and to the back of the room where he stood beside Miss Bingley. He put Mr Collins out of his mind and turned his attention back to Bingley, who was sitting next to Jane engaged in conversation.
Mary Bennet came to the end of her song. She turned the last chord into an arpeggio and looked up awaiting the applause.
The applause was polite, and only polite. Her performance was not one that encouraged an applause of considerable proportions. Darcy though that the girl would walk away when there was very little encouragement to continue her performance, but instead she began another, faster piece.
"My mother bid me bind my hair, with ties of rosy hue . . . "
The music trailed off as Mr Bennet walked towards her. He bent down as if to say something only to her, but in a voice loud enough for the whole room to hear.
"That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."
Darcy could not help but feel sorry for the girl. To have her own father humiliate her in public! Granted, he was grateful for Mr Bennet's interference, but surely there could have been a more diplomatic way to stop her.
The trial was not over yet, for Mr Collins stood up to speak.
"If I," said Mr Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. I do not mean however to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have attentive and conciliatory manners towards every body, especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion of testifying his respect towards any body connected with the family." And with a bow to Mr Darcy, he concluded his speech.
Darcy did his best not to walk out of the room.
Wanting to prevent any further speeches, Miss Bingley nodded to her sister, who walked past Mr Collins to the instrument and begin to play.
Over the music, Darcy could clearly hear Mrs Bennet speaking to Lady Lucas at the top of her voice.
"Mr Collins is such a sensible, respectable young man . . ." (Darcy tried not to laugh at this) " . . . and he's taken quite a fancy to Lizzy and I don't think he could find a better wife."
Darcy had again tried to turn his attention to Bingley but the last comment of Mrs Bennet stopped him. Mr Collins was to marry Elizabeth?! No, that cannot happen, he would not allow it to happen!!
"He favoured Jane at first, but Bingley was there before him."
Her loud voice carried over to the couple who tried to ignore her, though both turned red.
"Now there will be a great marriage! and you know, that will throw the girls into the paths of other rich men!"
The woman's vulgarity was absolutely shocking! To speak of a supposed alliance, even though it was only an expectation showed a total want of propriety that lowered his estimation of Mrs Bennet even further. At first Darcy had believed her to be empty-headed, but now she was rude, ill-mannered and crude.
It seemed that the Bennets (excepting the two eldest sisters) were determined to do their best to be uncilvilised and expose themselves to the ridicule of all present. Darcy heard a voice crying, "Lydia! Lydia!" He saw the youngest Bennet girl dancing about with one of the officer's sabres around the table. She was laughing so hard that she collasped into the nearest chair and struggled with the owner of the sabre for the prize before relinquishing it, gasping to Denny to get her a glass of wine, "Lord, I'm so fagged!"
Before this, Darcy had done his best not to notice the faults of the Bennets, but now it was too obvious to ignore. The situation of the Bennet family were off-putting enough, but the vulagrity of the mother, the want of propriety displayed by the three youngest daughters and the lack of tact shown by the father were appalling. How Elizabeth and Jane could live with such an abominable family was beyond him.
There was no way he would allow his friend to connect himself with such a family. He himself would never even think of an alliance with any of the Bennets, let alone actually marry one of them! Darcy resolved to speak to Bingley about the matter as soon as possible.
But he realised that opening Bingley's eyes would not sway him in his resolve to marry Miss Jane Bennet if he was serious about it. Charles Bingley was rarely truly serious about anything or anyone, but when he was, it was extremely difficult to persuade him otherwise. Darcy would have to find another reason to prevent Bingley from carrying through with his matrimonal intentions.
He stared at Jane and Bingley. Bingley said something that he considered quite amusing, for he laughed happily. Jane in contrast, merely smiled and looked away.
Darcy studied her countenance closely. Her looks and manners were open, cheerful and engaging, but he could not detect any particular regard for his friend. It seemed to him that she took pleasure in his attentions, but she did not invite them. The serenity of her expressions and air made him wonder - was Jane Bennet indifferent to his friend?
That was a thought that required further attention.
For the rest of the evening, his opinion of the Bennet family (saving the two eldest daughters) gradually sank further and further. Their behaviour was not missed by Miss Bingley or Mrs Hurst either; their insolent smiles at having further reason to ridicule the family were obvious. His silent contempt was not so easily noticed, he believed.
Darcy was diverted at times by Elizabeth and her attempts to rid herself of Mr Collins. She was teased by the clergyman, who continued most perseveringly by her side, and even though she declined his offers to dance, he still would not leave her. Darcy considered talking to Elizabeth to help her escape her human shadow but remembered her allusions to Wickham and decided not to.
For some reason, (Darcy wondered if it was another of Mrs Bennet's schemes) the Longbourn party had to wait a quarter of an hour for their carriage to arrive, and so the majority of the Netherfield party were obliged to suffer through fifteen minutes more of the Bennets' company.
Darcy heartily wished them away, as did Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. They scarcely opened their mouths except to complain of fatigue and repulsed every attempt at conversation. Most of the silence was filled by the long and pompous speeches of the clergyman, and Darcy wondered how his aunt could bear him. He then realised that the simpering toady would be exactly what she would want and so the mystery was cleared up.
In a little way away from them, Bingley was earnestly speaking to Jane. Darcy considered the idea that Jane was indifferent to Bingley. If she was, it would be a great asset in convincing Bingley not to marry her.
He questioned himself - was he convinced that Jane was indifferent to his friend because he wished it? In his determination to find another weapon against a Bingley-Bennet maarriage, were his eyes deluding him? Darcy decided they weren't. His investigations and judgements he believed, were not influenced by his hopes or fears and his conscience was put at ease.
Finally, with one more of Lydia's yawns and exclamations of, "Lord, how tired I am!" the Bennets left. Darcy noticed that Elizabeth was very glad to leave. Mrs Bennet pressed them all to come to dinner (Darcy vowed he never attend) and Bingley agreed to go on his return from London, where he was required to go the next day.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth one last time before she left. She looked straight back, and there was no hint of pleasure or happiness in her eyes. She looked relieved and embarrassed and rolled her eyes when Mr Collins hurried to hand her into the carriage.
When the door was closed on them, Miss Bingley sighed gratefully.
"Thank goodness they finally left! If I had to stay in their company for one minute longer I would have screamed!" she declared. "That pompous cousin of theirs - have you ever seen such a windbag? And the mother - her barbarous manners! Her indecorous behaviour! Even the father, who I had believed to be a gentleman with an unfortunate wife, he is as bad as his family! And do not even speak of those younger sisters!"
Darcy agreed wholeheartedly with her.
Then, with a significant look at Darcy, Miss Bingley said, "And Miss Eliza, when I tried to warn her about Mr Wickham's less than honourable character (being the son of a steward I am not surprised) she rebuffed me and rudely implied that I should mind my own business!"
Darcy was surprised that Miss Bingley had been kind enough to tell Elizabeth the truth about Wickham. But he was crushed that Elizabeth still did not believe the truth.
"Well, I had a wonderful time. I do declare the ball was a great success!" said Bingley contentedly.
Speak for yourself! thought Darcy.
Darcy was now convinced of Jane's indifference to Bingley. From what he had witnesses of the Bennet family, he was even more determined to save his friend from what he believed to be an unhappy marriage. He resolved on informing his friend as soon as possible if it was proved that Bingley did intend to ptopose to Jane.
But he needed an ally to aid him in his mission, and he knew he could find one in Miss Caroline Bingley.
The next morning, Darcy awoke to find that Bingley had already left for London. He knew his friend had business in London, but he needed to know if Bingley was also thinking about possible matrimonial plans. He went in search of Miss Bingley.
Darcy went down for breakfast and found Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst engaged in a discussion of last night's ball. He listened to their conversation as he approached the room
"But Louisa, I cannot think why Mr Darcy asked Miss Eliza Bennet to dance! She is so impertinant to him and does not respect him, I don't know why is still attracted to her!"
"What else is there that attracts him apart from her fine eyes?" replied Mrs Hurst. "Though personally I do not see anything wonderful about her eyes."
Well, he thought absently, she is beautiful, independent, spirited, has a sense of humour, a sharp wit, and a capacity for great affection . . . .
"Why did he not dance with me? I am everything she is and more! I do not have relatives in trade or such a vulgar family and of course I am much more beautiful than her. All this time I have tried so hard to win his affections and . . . . "
With this reminder of Elizabeth, he allowed his mind to drift back to the ball. In his mind he re-lived the moment when she agreed to dance with him. Then the dance, and the pleasant feeling he experienced when their hands met . . .
By this point Darcy had reached the door. It was half-open and he knocked so that the ladies would have the chance to stop their conversation with dignity.
"Why, good morning Mr Darcy!" said Miss Bingley with a false smile. She exchanged a look with her sister across he table which Darcy did not miss. "I trust you slept well."
"Yes, I did, thank you," replied he.
Darcy really needed to know Bingley's intentions about Jane and decided to ask his sisters.
Mrs Hurst excused herself from the table, saying that she had better rouse Mr Hurst.
Or just Miss Bingley.
Darcy got a cup of tea and walked to the window.
"Miss Bingley, I have a matter of some importance to discuss with you . . . ." His words trailed off as he saw Miss Bingley's hopeful and eager face reflected in the glass. He decided not to mention it.
"It concerns your brother."
He watched as her face fell.
What was she expecting, a proposal of marriage?
"Miss Bingley, are you aquainted with your brother's intentions towards Miss Jane Bennet?"
"Why, yes," she said in a disappointed tone. "I believe there is some partiality for her on his side. But I, we have seen him in love many times so I doubt he is serious about her."
"Did he tell inform you of his business in London?"
Miss Bingley remembered vaguely - business with his attorneys, renew old aquaintances and such. But what caught Darcy's attention was a visit to the jewelers for a ring. Miss Bingley's information about Bingley going to the jewelers was the final proof that his friend was seriously thinking about proposing to Jane Bennet.
"Miss Bingley, I have reason to believe that your brother's affection for Miss Bennet is different from his earlier infatuations. It is very likely that he is serious enough to actually propose to her."
Miss Bingley was silent as she thought over this.
"I imagine that you share my opinion that Miss Bennet is not a good match for Bingley."
"Oh, yes, of course!" she cried, "But most of the Hertfodashire neighbourhood seems to share the expectation that there will be a marriage between the two. Mrs Bennet certainly wishes it - she voiced her desire loudly enough last night."
"Yes, she did." Darcy sipped his tea and grimaced at the memory.
"Jane herself is a sweet girl, but her family and connections! Relations in trade, a lack of fortune, their cousin Mr Collins is to inherit the estate. No, such a match would be a disgrace to our family. I have no doubt you would never be prevailed on to marry someone like the Miss Bennets."
"Certainly not. So such a marriage must be prevented."
"We could ensure that they do not meet."
"Keep them apart intentionally? No, that is . . . . . unethical. Besides, it would not work forever." He turned to face her. "The best course of action would be to convince either Miss Bennet or Bingley that a marriage between them is not a good idea."
"It would not work with Jane. Her mother would convince her otherwise."
"Then we must convince your brother. When he returns in five days you, we will speak to him about this."
"But by that time he might be so fixed in his decision that nothing we say will affect his resolve." Miss Bingley smiled widely. "Mr Darcy, is not your sister Georgiana in town?"
"Yes she is," replied he, wondering what she was thinking of.
"Do you not wish to see her?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then why don't we go to London? There, we can convince Charles the error of his choice of wife, without Jane being present to help convince him otherwise. If anyone inquires as to why we have all gone to Town, we can say you wished to see Georgiana."
Darcy considered that.
"And away from Hertfodshire and its populace Charles can more easily forget Jane and fall in love with a more appropriate young lady."
Darcy had a feeling there was an underlying meaning to Miss Bingley's last comment but didn't know what it could be.
"Yes, that is true. Shall we leave tomorrow then?"
Miss Bingley agreed and left to tell her sister of the travel plans.
The next morning found Darcy riding beside the carriage carrying Miss Bingley and Mr and Mrs Hurst. He glanced at the windows to see Miss Bingley smiling at him. He did not smile back but turned his attention back to his riding.
He kept telling himself this was for Bingley's own good. But what if he was wrong, and Jane really did love him?
No, that is not possible. She never looked as if she was in love with him.
They passed the fields. In the distance he could see Longbourn.
Darcy wondered what Elizabeth was doing. Was she walking in the fields? Was she reading a book?
Who did Mr Collins propose to?
He started and reined in his horse. Elizabeth! Mr Collins was planning to marry Elizabeth!
Had he already proposed to her? If he had, what was her response? Darcy knew that she would never accept such a foolish young man, but her mother was certainly wanting her to do so? Did Mr and Mrs Bennet pressure Elizabeth to accept her cousin?
Why are you so damned worried, Darcy? asked the rational part of his mind. Why do you care is Miss Elizabeth Bennet does or does not marry Mr Collins?
Some ways in front of him, the carriage stopped and Miss Bingley looked out back at him.
"Whatever is the matter, Mr Darcy?" she asked, concerned.
Darcy shook himself out of his thoughts and rode towards the carriage.
"It is of no consequence. Shall we continue?"
Miss Bingley drew her head inside and said something to the driver who whipped the horses. They resumed their journey.
Was it his imagination or were they travelling at a faster pace?
No matter. Darcy looked back at Longbourn which was disappearing behind a hill.
Another reason to leave Hertfodshire.
It would be much easier for Darcy to forget Elizabeth.
But at the back of his mind, Darcy resolved to check the wedding announcements in the paper daily. Just in case.
Apart from Darcy's pause on the road, they arrived in London with no other incident. Mr Darcy invited them all to stay at his townhouse.
He saw a face at the window. As soon as he looked up, the face disappeared. Darcy saw it again coming down the stairs, covered in a large smile.
"Brother dear!" cried Georgiana. She looked as if she wanted to leap into his arms but then saw Miss Bingley and Mr and Mrs Hurst behind her and restrained herself.
"It is nice to see you all," said Georgiana shyly. "What brings you here?"
"Many things, Georgiana," replied her brother. "Would you go and arrange rooms for our guests, please?" He smiled at her.
"Oh, yes, of course." Georgiana quickly left to find the housekeeper.
Darcy turned his attention to the manservants unloading the large amount of luggage his guests had brought with them.
Darcy began to regret his invitation when he saw Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst whispering to each other and pointing out various rooms and discussing them. When they weren't dicussing his house from top to bottom, they were constantly praising it to the skies.
He saw Miss Bingley closely scrutinising the drapes in the drawing room when he approached her. Does she look upon this house as her own, or does she see a fault in them?
The lady in question jumped up and turned to face him. "Where is Bingley staying in London?
After a moments recollection, Miss Bingley told him. Darcy thanked her and said that he would go there to fetch Mr Bingley and bring him to stay at his townhouse.
Darcy found Bingley in his room at the Mayfair. A few minutes was all it took to invite his friend to leave and stay with his friends and family. Ten minutes later found the two in the carriage on their way home.
"So what brings you to London, Darcy?" asked his friend. "Is there something amiss with Netherfield? I expected to return to Hertfodshire in three days."
"No, no there is nothing the matter with Netherfield."
"Then what brings you here?"
The carriage rolled to a stop at it's destination and Darcy was spared from bringing up the topic of Bingley's marriage plans at the wrong time. He ordered the servants to bring the luggage to the rooms prepared.
They could hear murmers of conversation from the drawing room. The two friends entered and Darcy went to his sister's side. Georgiana looked to see who their new visitor was and smiled.
Bingley kissed her hand and greeted her like the old friend she was. Darcy failed to notice the pleased look on Miss Bingley's face when she watched her brother and Georgiana.
A topic of conversation was introduced that went on for some minutes but Darcy knew he could not put off his talk with Bingley any longer.
He took a deep breath before he took the plunge of doing something that will hurt his friend badly, but would hopefully be for the best.
"Bingley, I need to speak to you on a matter of urgency. Will you join me in the library?"
His friend looked confused, but followed Darcy. He opened the door to let Bingley through. He looked back and gave a nod to Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst who were watching from the shadows.
Bingley stood in the middle of the room, an aprehensive look on his face. Darcy closed the door and waved him towards a chair. He himself remeined standing, but soon began to walk around the room, unsure of how to begin. He could see that Bingley was beginning to worry, so he decided to be frank.
"Bingley my friend, how serious are you in your attachment towards Miss Jane Bennet?"
He was rewarded with a large smile
"Is that all you wanted to speak to me about? Well, I can assure you I am actually quite serious."
"Enough to make her a proposal of marriage?"
Bingley blushed but answered in the affirmative. To cover his embarassment, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a small box. It was promptly opened and Bingley asked for Darcy's opinion.
Darcy stared at the ring. His worst fears were confirmed.
"If you did marry Miss Bennet, do you know what the you will be letting yourself in for?"
"I cannot think of what you could mean," said Bingley, rather annoyed.
"Think, man! The inferiority of her connections, the lack of propriety of her family! Can you afford to ignore them?"
Bingley half-rose from his seat. "Yes, I can!"
"No, you cannot!" Darcy calmed himself. "A man of your position cannot afford to . . . . degrade himself with such a woman, as beautiful and agreeable as she is. Her relatives - an uncle in trade in Mertyon and another who lives in Cheapside."
"I do not care," said Bingley stubbornly.
"Her family! Did you not see their shocking behaviour at your own ball? In your own house!"
Bingley was silent.
"The mother, crying to the world about how a match between you and her daughter would 'throw the girls into the paths of other rich men'! The third sister, not knowing when to stop, when enough was enough. And the two youngest, chasing after the officers, flirting with them with not a single thought as to how they were exposing themselves."
"I do not care!" said Bingley. He did not look at his friend. "I love Jane and she loves me - "
"Are you sure?"
Bingley stopped and looked at Darcy.
"What do you mean?"
"In the whole of your aquaintance with her, has she ever told you that she loved you?"
"Yes! Well . . . to be specific . . . no. It was every day implied but never actually . . . said."
"I am sorry, Charles, but I must tell you. I believe that Jane does not return your affections."
"A - are you certain?"
"She has never said such to your sisters. I myself am convinced of it. I have watched her, Charles and I believe her regard for you is no more than maybe brotherly affection."
Bingley looked away, Darcy's words finally making sense to him.
"I know you care for her a great deal, my friend," said Darcy gently. "But I do not wish to see you throwing you life away on a woman who does not love you. Would you subject her tothat? To be locked in a loveless marriage?"
"No . . . . "
Darcy felt extremely guilty as he saw tears welling up in his friend's eyes.But he knew what he said was true. Bingley had to know the truth.
But the truth hurt.
They stood there in silence for a while. Darcy watched sadly as his friend looked at the ring which before had held such joy for him but now held broken dreams. He could find no way to comfort him.
"I - I am sorry, Charles."
He turned and walked out of the room, leaving Bingley alone in the library.
He closed the door, to give Bingley the privacy to shed his tears. He saw Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, waiting outside to hear the result. The unspoken question was clear. Darcy did not answer but nodded his head. Then he walked away from them to his study.
Darcy sat in his chair and leaned his head back. It was done. It was difficult but it was done. It had hurst him greatly to cause pain to his friend but it was necessary.
Darcy had done the best for his friend.
But if it was for the best, then why did it hurt so much?
Bingley remained alone in the library for most of the afternoon, but roused himself enough to join them at dinner. Darcy saw that melancholy had replaced his friend's usual cheerfulness and for once, attempted to hold a conversation with his guests. He was careful to keep the topics away from Hertfodshire, Netherfield and marriage.
After dinner, Georignana was prevailed on to play for them, but she was shy and declined to. Though Darcy was eager to hear how his sister fared with her music, he did not push her. Georgiana's shyness was beginning to become almost irritating, but he could think of no way to bring her out of her shell.
They all tried to distract Bingley, including him in their conversations, asking for his opinion. But Bingley merely replied or didn't even answer at times until the question was repeated. He soon excused himself and retired for the night, though it was still quite early. His sisters and brother-in-law followed suit and left Darcy alone with Georgiana.
Only now, in their privacy would Darcy embrace his sister. She laughed into his jacket and kissed him.
"It has been so long!" she whispered. "Though you did write often it is not the same as actually seeing you."
"I know, dearest," he replied. He kissed her then held her at arm's length.
"I do believe you have grown taller. You look more and more like Mother every day."
She blushed at the compliment.
"So, brother, how was Hertfodshire? Did you grow tired of Sir William? Did you meet any nice ladies? Will you return there, and if so, may I accompany you?"
Darcy laughed at the barrage of questions and sat down.
"Hertfodshire was quite pleasant, but I still believe Pemberley and Derbyshire are the dearest places in the world. The people I would say that I learnt to tolerate them after some weeks." Wanting to forget the place - and a certain inhabitant - he changed the subject and inquired after Georgiana's studies and her companion, Mrs Annesly.
"I like her a great deal. She is firm, but kind and praises me generously though I do not deserve it. And - I believe she can be trusted," she added, looking at him.
Does she still blame herself for the incident at Ramsgate? It is more my fault than hers; I should have told her of Wickham's misconduct - she should not have to bear this guilt.
"Georgiana, I do hope you are no longer blaming yourself for that incident. He is a cunning wretch and is an adept in deciet. It is not your fault you were taken in; you should no longer blame yourself."
"I no longer do - but the memory is still uncomfortable."
"I am glad to hear it. Worry not - we shall never see or hear from him again."
Darcy had decided that telling her of his meeting with Wickham would do more harm than good, and it was of no importance if Georgiana did know he had seen Wickham in Herfodshire.
They fell silent for a while, until Georgiana asked,
"Why is Chares so melancholy? He was such a pleasant, cheerful man when I saw him last. Did something terrible happen in Hertfodshire?"
Darcy started at this, unsure of what to tell her.
"Will you forgive me if I say that I will tell you at a later date, Georgiana?"
"Oh, well, yes."
He wanted to confide in her, but while he believed - no, knew - that his persuading Bingley of Jane's indifference was in his best interests, he feared that Georgiana would not share his opinion.
"Was Miss Elizabeth Bennet well when you saw her last?"
The sudden change of conversation to the lady Darcy was attempting to forget found him at a loss for words.
"She . . . she was . . . . quite well. I last saw her at the ball Bingley held two days ago. Yes, I believe she was very well indeed."
"You saw her at a ball?" said Georgiana. "I hope you asked her for at least one dance - you letters always mentioned her somewhere I conclude that you have enough interest in her to ask her to dance with you."
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did." He tried to drop the subject but Georgiana would not let him.
"That is wonderful! I wish I could meet her - you said last that you admired her and regarded her quite highly."
"I wish that you will." The chance to speak about Elizabeth was too tempting to ignore. "She is a lovely young woman with dark hair and beautiful eyes - her eyes are always sparkling, full of life. She is independent, intelligent and has a lively personality . . . ." He trailed off as he envisioned her as he saw her last, but when Georgiana laughed at his expression he came back to his senses.
"Are you in love, brother?"
"No, no, of course not!" he replied hastily. "I merely find her to be a lovely and charming woman."
"When will you see her again?"
Darcy had come to London to convince Bingley not to marry Jane and to forget Elizabeth, and returning to that neighbourhood would not help either objective.
"I don't know, but I believe it will not be for a long time. Possibly never again."
"Oh," said Georgiana, disappointed.
"I do not think Bingley has any intention to return to Netherfield. It is a possibility that he might even sell it, but that is yet to be confirmed."
Which was probably true. Seeing Bingley at dinner so withdrawn and unhappy, Darcy thought it was unlikely his friend would wish to return to Netherfield.
"Oh. Then it would not be right for me to ask if I could see Netherfield."
"No. And it is late so you, little sister, must be going to bed."
Georgiana took his advice and left. Darcy sat there for a little while longer before taking his own advice.
They settled in relatively quickly. There was hardly ever a dull moment - visits to friends, business to attend to, but whatever the activity, Bingley lost none of his melancholy. Whenever they proposed a visit to the theatre or the opera, Bingley would go without protest. Usually he did not have the patience for such things and before had usually made a show of not wanting to go. Now he attended these without complaint.
There were visits to friends and balls to attend. Darcy usually did not enjoy balls, but went to see if Bingley would improve in the company of others. It was not so. Bingley did talk to young ladies but was nothing more than polite. He rarely danced, only if Darcy or his sisters prevailed upon him to do so.
Darcy had hoped that Bingley's attachment to Jane Bennet was like his former attachments - short-lived and soon forgotten. But it was not so. Sometimes he caught Bingley in unguarded moments, where he observed Bingley fiddling with the ring he had bought. When he realised he was being watched, Bingley quickly put the ring back in his pocket.
"Do you hate me Bingley, for telling you?" he asked his friend one day when they were alone.
"Wh - ? Oh, no, of course not, Darcy! I could never hate you . . . "
And that was all he would say.
But Darcy had his own problems to deal with. For some reason, the memory of Elizabeth would not leave him alone. If he was idling his time away with a book, he would suddenly find himself wondering what Elizabeth was doing. He checked the papers everyday but he did not find an announcement proclaiming the engagement of Mr William Collins, clergyman to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.
Then one morning he found it.
It was long but all he needed were the names.
Mr William Collins to Miss Charlotte Lucas of Lucas Lodge.
Darcy stared at the announcement, not knowing what to think. Relief flooded through him. She was not married to that simpering clergyman! Then his mind took over and he wondered why he was relieved. It was not as if her matrimonial state meant anything to him.
One day he was trying to keep his attention on his book and off Elizabeth when he heard someone leaving the house. There was the sound of shoes walking slowly down the hall. He went to the landing to see who it was.
He could not see her face, but he had spent a long time studying this lady so he knew instantly who it was.
He stood there for some minutes, tapping his fingures.
Her presence in London was going to present a problem. Did she come to see Bingley's sisters or Bingley himself? Should he tell Bingley?
He decided against it - he did not think Bingley's interest in her had cooled enough for him to see her without some danger.
Darcy returned to the library, his book and his thoughts of Elizabeth.
Continued in Part 3
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