The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
Part 23 -- Telling the Truth
Darcy stormed out the Hunsford Parsonage, his mind reeling. The events of the last few minutes were too unbelievable to comprehend. A rejection! His proposal of marriage to Elizabeth had been rejected!! But that wasn't the only shock. More astonishing were Elizabeth's reasons for refusing him.
He felt a rush of anger at being humiliated by the woman he - no used to - love. As he walked towards Rosings, he thought over her words.
Was he proud and arrogant? Elizabeth was the sharpest lady he had ever met and it was worth at least considering her words. He reviewed his manner of proposal and winced. Upon reflection she seemed to describe him very well. Her words rang in his ears.
You are the last man in the world whom I could ever marry. Did you think any consideration would tempt me? Your arrogance, you conceit and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. Darcy leapt up the steps to the house then slowed. My opinion of you was decided when I heard Mr Wickham's story of your dealings with him.
"Well, at least in that I may defend myself," he muttered aloud. It was actually the only thing that he could find fault with. Everything else Elizabeth had said of him was looking fairly accurate.
Darcy winced when he remembered what he had said to her.
Did you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?
When one thought about it, if that was the way he had treated her during their aquaintance, perhaps her opinion of him wasn't so surprising. Darcy stood in the doorway, unwilling to go further where his relations were talking.
But Elizabeth's last rebuke - oh that stung like nothing else she said did.
You are mistaken, Mr Darcy. The mode of your declaration merely spared me the concern I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more genltman-like manner.
But not everything she said was correct, he thought. She has misunderstood - or has perhaps been misinformed about Wickham, and as for Bingley . . .
"Who's there?" demanded his aunt from the sitting-room. Darcy turned and saw his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam walking to greet him.
"Darcy, we quite despaired of you - " began he before he was interrupted by Lady Catherine saying,
"Is that my nephew? Where have you been? Let him come in and see me!"
Company was the last thing Darcy wanted at the moment. He needed solitude to think over what had just happened and nurse his wounded pride.
"No, if you will forgive me . . . . you will forgive me . . . " he said absently. He started up the stairs towards his room.
"Darcy, you are unwell?" inquired the Colonel.
"I am very well, thank you. I . . . I have a pressing matter of business to attend to . . . . " He resumed his ascent. "Make my apologies to Lady Catherine, Fitzwilliam." He quickly climbed the stairs, went to his chamber and locked the door.
He flung his hat and walking stick into a corner and took a deep breath. Though Miss Bennet's assessment of him had probably been accurate, there were some things that he could explain. His dealings with Bingley and Wickham were the accusations he could defend himself against.
I cannot face her, not after this evening. I doubt she would be even willing to listen to me.
But he would have to swallow his pride and tell her the truth no matter what.
Darcy soon came to a decision, went to the desk and pulled out pen and paper.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet,
Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were this evening, so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly . . . .
With this introduction, Darcy put down his pen and leaned back in his chair, wondering what exactly to tell her.
. . . . but I must be allowed to defend myself against the charges laid at my door, in particular those relating to Mr Wickham which if were true, would indeed be grevious; but which are wholly without foundation and which I can only refute by laying before you his connection with my family . . . .
He got up and walked to the wondow and watched the fading light Outside, birds were singing which did not lighten his mood at all. In his mind he mentally wrote his letter to Elizabeth Bennet.
. . . . Of what he has particularly accused me, I am ignorant; but of the truth of what I shall relate, I can summon more than one witness of undoubted veracity. Mr Wickham is the son of a very respectable man, who had the charge of our family estates, and my own father was fond of him and held him in high esteem. We played together as boys . . . .
Darcy thought back to his childhood. He and George Wickham had been the best of friends and Wickham had been his only companion before Georgiana's birth. He bitterly smiled at the memory. Their favourite pastime had been fishing - down by the river under the tree was where the fish usually were. Wickham had fallen into the river once, and he, without thinking, had dived in to save him, quite forgetting that they could not swim. Luckily a servant had been on hand to rescue them and after that incident his father had decided that they should both learn to swim.
But that was many years ago, and his relations with Wickham had drastically changed. And Wickham had persuaded Elizabeth that his lies were ture. Darcy went back to the desk, removed his jacket and began writing furiously.
. . . . After his father's early death my father supported him at school and afterwards at Cambridge. most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman's education . . .
Darcy paused and thought back to that day when he had finally acknowledged that Wickham was no longer the honourable friend of his childhood. He had been walking back to their rooms at Cambridge after lectures . . . .
. . . . He hoped he would make the church the profession . . . .
Arriving outside the door he had thought he heard some rather suspicious noises . . . .
. . . . But by then George Wickham's habits were as dissolute as his manners were engaging . . .
He had flung the door open to find his friend half-dressed kissing a young lady who was sitting in his lap, also half-dressed. Upon his arrival, the girl spraung up and rushed to Wickham's bedroom and locked the door. Darcy leaned on the door, shocked but not surprised. Wickham slowly rose out of his seat and defiantly looked at him.
. . . .It is many, many years since I first began to think of him in a very different manner. The vicious propensities - the want of principle, which he was careful to guard from the knowledge of his best friend, could not escape the observation of a young man of nearly the same age with himself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not have. Here again I shall give you pain - to what degree you only can tell . . . .
Darcy was painfully aware that Wickham's lies could be too deeply rooted in Elizabeth's mind for her to take notice of his information. He knew only too well what Wickham's charms were capable of, and it was very likely that Elizabeth believed herself to be in love with him.
But you should at least try to warn her. It would not be a gentlemanly thing to do if you did nothing to stop Wickham.
He loosened his collar, rremoved his cravat and continued writing.
. . . . My own, excellent father died five years ago . . . .
That memory was too painful to dwell on for long. The candle was almost burned out - Darcy paused for a moment, rubbed his hand and replaced it. The room was getting rather warm so he half-unbuttoned his shirt.
. . . . and his attachment to Mr Wickham was to the last so steady that he desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it was vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. Mr Wickham declined any interest in the church as a career and received three thousand pounds instead of the living. He expressed and intention of studying the law . . . .
Darcy remembered that day well. It would be last time he would see Wickham for three years. He had to force himself to write the cheque for three thousand pounds, not because he was unwilling to give such a large sum away but because he was certain that Wickham would spend it unwisely. He handed it to Wickham, who had been pacing the room, a smile on his face.
"Thank you," said Wickham softly. Darcy did not reply, but fiddled with his pen. Wickham went to the door to let himself out.
"I am most exceedingly obliged," he added. He bowed mockingly and left.
Darcy wished it had been forever.
. . . . All connection between us seemed now dissolved. Being now free from all restraint, his life was one of idleness and dissapation . . .
His hand was cramping, he stopped again and looked back on what he had written. It was his second sheet of paper and it was beginning to fill. Darcy glanced around the room, dimly aware it was very late and a servant had entered without his noticing leaving a tray of food. Having no appetite as of yet, he continued.
. . . . I thought too ill of him to invite him to Pemberley, or admit his society in town. In town, I believe, he chiefly lived, but his studying the law was a mere pretence, and being now free from all restraint, his life was a life of idleness and dissipation. For about three years I heard little of him; but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for him, he applied to me again by letter for the presentation. His circumstances, he assured me, and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained, if I would present him to the living in question - of which he trusted there could be little doubt, as he was well assured that I had no other person to provide for, and I could not have forgotten my revered father's intentions. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreaty, or for resisting every repetition of it. His resentment was in proportion to the distress of his circumstances - and he was doubtless as violent in his abuse of me to others, as in his reproaches to myself. After this period, every appearance of acquaintance was dropped . . . .
How Darcy wish it had been reality, and not appearance!
. . . . How he lived I know not. But last summer, our paths crossed again under the most painful circumstances, which I myself would wish to forget. and which no obligation less than the present should induce me to unfold to any human being.
For a moment he paused, wondering at the wisdom of revealing Georgiana's near-disaster at Ramsgate to Elizabeth. Would she tell? No, he decided. He knew her well (but not well enough to predict her response to his proposal obviously) to know she would not tell. And this, he told himself, if nothing else does, will hopefully persuade her of Wickham's deviousness.
. . . . Having said thus much, I feel no doubt of your secrecy. My sister, Georgiana, who is more than ten years my junior was left to the gurgianship of Colonel Fitzwilliam and myself. About a year ago, she was taken from school, to Ramsgate and placed in the care of a Mrs Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily decieved. And thither also went Mr Wickham, undoubtably by design. She was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen years old . . . .
His grip on his pen tightened with anger at Wickham and Mrs Younge. He had trusted her with his sister and she betrayed his trust! And Wickham! At the time he had thought his former friend would have the honour to not take advantage of his former relations with him. But no. His trust in people had declined noticably since that day.
. . . . A day or two before the intended elopement, I joined them unexpectedly . . .
And I thank God I did.
The memories of that day were as clear in his mind as if it had happened yesterday. He had climbed out of the carriage and gone to look at the sea from the cliff. To his shock and horror, he had seen Wickham touching Georgiana's arm in a manner that was not gentlemanly and whispereing in her ear. Then Georgiana had looked up to see him with an expression of relief on her face. She had run into his arms and poured out the entire story.
"I won't do it, I won't leave you," said Georgiana.
He had realised Wickham's reasons for gaining Georgiana's affections. Darcy told Georgiana who asked Mrs Younge for the truth and when Wickham laughed at her gullibility, she began to cry.
. . . . Unable to support the idea of grieving a brother, to whom she looked up to almost as a father, she acknowledged the whole plan to me at once. You may imagine what I felt, and how I acted . . . .
He saw Mrs Younge first, and discharged her from his service. Then he saw Wickham. Darcy remembered how disappointed he was, with Wickham and with the fact that their friendship had become hatred.
. . . . Regard for my sister's credit and feelings prevented any public exposure, and Mr Wickham left the place immedietly and relinquished his object which of course was my sister's fortune of thirty thousand pounds. His second object must have been to revenge himself on me. Had he been successful, his revenge would have been complete indeed.
This, madam is a faithful narrative of all my dealings with Mr Wickham.
Darcy slammed down his oen and leaned back in his chair, exhausted, both physically and mentally. He rested his head for a while, wishing he could sleep. But rest was too far away.
What if she does not believe me? Then he realised something, picked up his pen and continued writing.
. . . . and for its truth I can appeal to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who knows every particular in these transactions. I know not under what form of falsehood Mr Wickham imposed himself on you but I hope you will aquit me of cruelty towards him.
The explanation of his dealings with Wickham was finished. But the other matter of Bingley and Jane was difficult. According to Elibeth, Jane was not indifferent to Bingley, but did in fact have feelings for his friend. Darcy groaned - what hurt had he done to Jane who was the most angelic creature in the world?
I cannot blame myself. I observed Jane and my observations told me that she was indifferent. Perhaps I misunderstood her expressions - if so I have not acted maliciously but labored under a misapprehension. Surely Elizabeth cannot blame me for something unintentional.
He picked up the pen again and continued with grim determination.
. . . . The other charge levelled at me, is that regardless of the sentiments of either party, I detached Mr Bingley from your sister. I have no wish to deny this, nor can I blame myself for any of my actions in this matter.
I had not long been in Hertfodshire when I saw that Bingley admired your sister to any other woman in the country. But it was not until the dance at Netherfield that I suspected a serious attachment . . . .
Darcy thought back to the Netherfield Ball. It was there he had first acknowledged that perhaps Elizabeth did mean more to him than he cared to admit, and when he first had the pleasure of dancing with her . . .
Stop it. Keep your mind on the business at hand.
. . . . His partiality was clear - but though she resived his attentions with pleasure, I did not detect any symptom of peculiar regard. The serenity of her countenance convinced me her heart was not likely to be easily touched. I did not believe her to be indifferent because I wished it - I believed it on impartial conviction. If you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in error. Your superior knowledge of your sister must make the latter probable - if it be so, if I have been misled by error, to inflict pain on her, your resentment has not been unreasonable . . . .
He stopped again in his writing. The next part he intended to write would in all probablity, insult Elizabeth and cause her pain. But Darcy had to be truthful and honest.
. . . . As to my objections to the marriage, (which this evening I acknowledge to have required the utmost force of passion to put aside in my own case), the situation of your family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to the total want of propriety so frequently betrayed by your mother, your younger sisters, and even ocassionally, your father . . . .
It was not difficult to recollect Mrs Bennet's loud and vulgar conversation at the dinner table, Mary Bennet's untrained singing or her father's obvious humiliation of her. Elizabeth's embarrassment at the youngest Bennet girls dancing around the room with an officer's sabre was all too fresh in his memory.
. . . . Pardon me - it pains me offend you. But admist your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let me give you consolation to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censre, is praise no less generously bestowed on you and your eldest sister.
My friend left Netherfield for London the following day, as you, I am certain, remember, with the design of soon returning.
The part which I acted is now to be explained. - His sisters' uneasiness had been equally excited with my own; our coincidence of feeling was soon discovered; and, alike sensible that no time was to be lost in detaching their brother, we shortly resolved on joining him directly in London. We accordingly went - and there I engaged in the office of pointing out to my friend, the certain evils of his choice of your sister as a prospective bride. I described, and enforced them earnestly. But, however this remonstrance might have staggered or delayed his determination, I do not suppose that it would ultimately have prevented the marriage, had it not been seconded by the assurance, which I hesitated not in giving, of your sister's indifference. He had before believed her to return his affection with sincere, if not with equal, regard. - But Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgment than on his own. It was not difficult to convince him of your sister's indifference to him . . . .
Darcy thought for a moment. If her had not interfered with Bingley's life then he and Jane would probably be happily married. But it was not so, and Darcy had instead kept his friend from the best of happiness. Perhaps it was not right for him to interfere so much with the life of his friend.
. . . . I cannot blame myself for having done this much. There is but one part of my conduct in the affair on which I do not reflect with satisfaction. That is I concealed from him your sister's being in town. I knew it myself, as it was known to Miss Bingley, but her brother is even yet ignorant of it. That they might have met without ill consequence is, perhaps, probable; but his regard did not appear to me enough extinguished for him to see her without some danger.
Perhaps this concealment, this disguise, was beneath me. It is done, however, and it was done for the best. On this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. If I have wounded your sister's feelings, it was unknowingly done.
There was nothing more ha could say to her. He could not blame himself for seperating Jane and Bingley but he still felt a pang of guilt.
You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night. But I was not then master enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed. I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.
He put down the pen and stared at the sheet. The paper was scarcely seen for the amount of writing on it.
God bless you. Why did I write that?
He was too tired to think any more. Trying to make as little noise as possible, he readied himself for bed. When the candle was blown out and he was waiting for sleep to come, only then did the full impact of the day's events come crashing down on him. The woman whom he had loved for so long hated him. Darcy would not be triumphantly bringing her to Pemberley or visiting Georgiana, or seeing Miss Bingley's face go green with envy.
Depression fell upon him and though he desperately wished for sleep, sleep would not come. He lay there, listening to his mind replay the entire scene in the Hunsford Parsonage. In his mind's eye he watched her face reflect her disgust and resentment.
In one blow his dreams and heart had been broken.
How long he lay there, half-awake and half-asleep he did not know. Finally abandoning all attempts to sleep he got up and relit the candle. Darcy drew the curtains and saw that the east was just turning light.
He looked at the desk. It was covered in writing materials and sheets of paper not yet sealed. He sat down and slowly folded it, until he could no longer see his writing. Then he sealed it, and on the front he wrote,
'Miss Elizabeth Bennet'
The dawn was fast approaching. Darcy went to the basin and washed his face. The water was cold but it certainly woke him up. He sighed, put out the candle and got dressed, all before the house had even begun to stir.
He quickly went to the Park. Knowing that Elizabeth usually took a morning walk along her favourite walk, he decided to wait for her there. He did not know how to face her. He certainly would not let her see how much her words had hurt him, or how humiliated he was by her. All he was doing was pointing out the errors in her judgement - nothing more. He was not trying to explain himself to win her good opinion.
Darcy waited for some time without seeing her. Perhaps she was somewhere else.
He wandered to the edge of the Park and stood under a tree while searching the area.
Suddenly he heard a soft tap of a show on wood. He turned to see Elizabeth, also turning and walking quickly away.
"Miss Bennet," he called as expressionlessly as possible.
She turned to face him without any sign of pleasure.
"I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?" he asked with haughty composure. He curtly bowed and walked quickly away into the trees.
He wandered for some time, not really taking heed of his surroundings, lost in his own thoughts.
He had to forget her. It was unlikely they would ever meet again, for they would each make a concious effort to avoid each other.
And he had to stop loving her.
Darcy collasped under a large tree. That was the crux of it. He still loved her. And no matter how hard he would try to forget her he never would. When he saw her this morning he knew that he still, and always would love her.
Not since the death of his father had Darcy wept. But under the cool shade he silently let the tears fall.
Part 24A -- Leaving Rosings - and other things - behind
How long he sat there under the tree he did not know. When he decided to return to the house he estimated it to be about ten in the morning.
The Park was peaceful and pleasant but none of this lifted Darcy's mood. Soon, the facade of Rosings was seen through the trees. On the steps was a familar figure.
When he arrived at the top of the stairs, he did not bid Colonel Fitzwilliam a good morning but moved as if to walk past him.
"Where on earth have you been, Darcy?" inquired the Colonel, "We woke up to find that were gone. I assumed a walk in the Park but at such an early hour? and for so long?"
"We're leaving," said Darcy without looking at his cousin.
"I beg your pardon? Today?"
"Yes, as soon as possible."
"Patience, we are already leaving tomorrow." Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy strangely. "What is the rush? You have delayed our departure twice already and now all of a sudden you want to leave as soon as possible?"
Darcy glared at his cousin, but finally conceeded that as they were leaving on Saturday anyway, he'd might as well wait.
The two gentlemen went to see their aunt and cousin, who were sitting in the drawing-room.
"Good morning, Aunt, cousin," said the Colonel gaily. Darcy said not a word but got a cup of tea and went to stare out of the window.
Tomorrow he would leave Kent and Elizabeth behind. It was more than possible that they would never see each other again. He had not wish to and he imagined she felt the same way.
Darcy knew he could never love anyone else. Elizabeth had captured his heart so completely that could never get it back. He knew that he could not force himself to marry without love and it would fall to Georgiana to produce an heir for Pemberley.
But what about the things Elizabeth told him - to his face? What should he do about that? Forget them and get on with his life?
"We shall be quite desolate without you, Darcy - Anne especially," said Lady Catherine to him.
Darcy ignored that remark and merely said, "We shall return next year, Aunt."
There was a silence until Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "I think we should say farewell to the Collinses and Miss Bennet before we leave. What say you, Darcy?"
His heart froze for a moment. He wanted to see her one last time before he left - but he did not want to face her either.
Despite Lady Catherine's protests, Colonel Fitzwilliam got up and began walking to the hall.
"I am going - are you coming with me?"
With a sudden decision, Darcy joined his cousin.
They walked slowly, partly because the Colonel found it such a beautiful day, partly because Darcy was reluctant to go.
His cousin frequently shot him curious looks. Finally he asked,
"Is there something troubling you, cousin?"
He looked up to see Fitzwilliam's concerned face.
"Why do you ask?"
"You seem preoccupied, and there are several rather strange aspects of your behaviour lately. Every morning this visit you go for a walk in the Park, you disappeared last evening and now after delaying our trip to London twice you are suddenly very eager to go there. Can you blame me for having suspicions that all is not well with you?"
Iriitated, Darcy replied, "It is of no concern of yours. I am perfectly well!"
The Colonel looked at him with a knowing look and they continued to Hunsford in silence.
Mr Collins either had a sixth sense or a very good view of the path for he and his wife and sister-in-law were waiting for them just outside.
"My dear sirs, you honour us with your visit," said the clergyman, bowing deeply.
The two women at his side curtsied almost as deeply as he did.
"Good morning, Mr and Mrs Collins, Miss Lucas," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. He looked around. "Where is Miss Bennet?"
"She left early this morning to take a turn about the Park," said Mrs Collins, "She looked rather pale when she came down for breakfast and said the fresh air would do her good."
Darcy said nothing. He knew that it was yesterday's event was the reason for her pale face.
"Is she well?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam anxiously.
"I don't know - she has not come back yet and it has been an hour at least," said Miss Lucas.
"We had come to take our leave of you as we are to leave tomorrow morning," said Fitzwilliam.
"We shall be quite desolate without you, my dear sirs," said Mr Collins with another bow.
Not even the man's humourous attempts at imitating his patroness could bring a smile to Darcy's face.
"If you will excuse me, I shall return home," said Darcy. "Sir, madam, I take my leave."
He bowed and turned to his cousin with an inquiring look.
"Ah, no. I think I shall wait a while . . . " replied he. Mr Collins nearly fell over the chance to spend more tiime with one of the noble Lady Catherine de Bourgh's nephews.
Darcy shrugged and left. He was glad and yet regretful that he had not seen her.
As soon as he arrived, he went to his chamber and locked the door.
Leaving his Aunt and cousin behind was a relief - but though he knew he was doing to right thing leaving Elizabeth, he did so with a heavy heart.
He held his head in his hands, willing the tears not to come. He had not slept the entire night. The desk had bee cleaned and the candle replaced. It seemed as if last night's torture had never happened.
Finally, fully clothed as he was, he sat in the padded armchair and went to sleep.
His sleep was fitful and he soon awoke. It was about an hour later when he exited the room to join the others dowstairs for their last lunch in Kent.
As he walked down the stairs, he saw his cousin just entering the door. Fitzwilliam sighed.
"I waited for almost an hour but I did not see Miss Bennet," he said. "I am quite worried and I would go out in search of her if I did not know that she knows these woods almost as well as I."
"Is she all right?" asked Darcy anxiously.
"I am sure she is. She is a very independent lady. Whoever her husband will be is in for a very eventful life."
Darcy looked at his cousin who looked at him significantly.
"I would not know," replied Darcy.
They left early the next morning. Lady Catherine had insisted upon Darcy kissing Anne's hand in farewell. He did so withou protest so that they could leave as soon as possible.
As the carriage pulled away, Colonel Fitzwilliam sitting opposite him laughed at the sight of Mr Collins deeply bowing beside the road.
"Ridiculous little man! When will he grow a spine of his own?"
Darcy did not answer but stared out the window. The Colonel sighed and looked wistfully at a group walking to Rosings.
"And I did not even get to say farewell to Miss Elizabeth Bennet," said he. "I must say this has been the best visit to Rosings we have ever had. Do you not agree?"
Darcy stared after the group and didn't answer. Elizabeth was walking at the back. She turned and glanced at the carriage. He could not tell if she had seen him.
Either way it did not matter.
"Darcy, are you all right?" asked the Colonel. He was staring at his face.
Darcy was suddenly aware of a wetness on his cheek. He angrily wiped away the offending tear and said to his cousin,
"I am perfectly well."
Colonel Fitzwilliam silently shook his head.
"There is something wrong cousin," he said seriously. "I want to help. I will be there for you but if you do not confide in me then I cannot help you."
I don't need - or want - your help.
The rest of the journey was silent.
Part 24B -- Dark Days 1
The carriage arrived in London outside Darcy's townhouse in the late afternoon. Throughout the trip, Colonel Fitzwilliam had tried his best to get his cousin to open up and talk without success.
Georgiana and Mrs Annesley and the Bingleys were waiting to meet them. Their pleasure at seeing the two men were sincere, Georgiana's most of all with Miss Bingley close behind. The greetings were numerous but the contrast between Darcy and the Colonel was obvious. Fitzwilliam smiled and shook hands all round, but Darcy simply nodded to everyone then retreated inside the house.
He wordlessely handed the servant his coat and hat then went to his study. Behind him he coud hear Georgiana inquiring about him to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Is there something the matter?"
"I don't know," said he slowly.
Darcy didn't care - he slammed the door and collasped into the chair.
The fireplace was dark - the servants had not yet had a chance to light it. And many of them were well aquainted with their master - he did not want to be disturbed, and the only one who had the courage to knock on the study door was Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Darcy, what are you doing in there? Why don't you come and greet your friends and sister properly?" When Darcy did not answer, he opened the door and stood there, blinking his eyes against the darkness.
"Georgiana has not seen you for some time and she says you have also neglected to write to her," he said.
Georgiana came up behind her cousin, then stepped past him into the darkened room.
"Brother, are you well?"
Darcy got up. He needed comfort right and took Georgiana into his arms.
"I am . . . perfectly well," he lied. Over her shoulder he could see Colonel Fitzwilliam staring at him. He shot him a look that convinced his cousin not to bring up the subject of Darcy's trouble at the present moment.
A maid respectfully bobbed a curtsey in the corridor.
"If you please, sir, ma'am, dinner is ready."
They left the room.
"And how was your visit?" asked Miss Bingley. She sat beside Georgiana with her brother on her other side.
"Quite interesting, actually," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. Some aquaintances from your visit to Hertfodshire was there," (here Bingley looked up), "Mr and Mrs Collins and Miss Lucas and . . . "
Darcy didn't listen to his cousin. But when it seemed that the Colonel was to reveal Elizabeth's presence in Kent, he looked up with a pained expression. His cousin saw it and said,
"And Aunt Catherine seemed to enjoy their company very much."
Conversation continued, dominated by Miss Bingley, who tried to get Darcy to talk and Colonel Fitzwilliam who answered all of her questions.
Darcy was not hungry. The food and wine sickened him and he soon gestured to the servant to take it away. He left the table withouit a word and went to the library.
He felt everyone's questioning gaze upon him as he left.
The library was large with a fireplace at one end. Darcy sat in the large chair beside it and stared into the fireplace. It was too warm for it to be lit fully and there were only embers.
He sat back in the shadows. Wherever he went, he still saw her. But last time it had been a pleasant memory - this time it was not. Before him the image of her rose unbidden.
You are the last man in the world whom I could ever marry . . .
Anger rose at the memory. She had humilaiated him - thankfully she was the only witness to it. Her accusations still rankled with him. Though he had explained to her why he had seperated Bingley from her sister, he could not see Bingley without being reminded of it. His friend was withdrawn and he felt guilt at being the cause of it.
And Wickham! - If the man was in his reach right now, he would not have been able to prevent himself from doing something harmful to him. But Darcy had explained himself to Elizabeth had he hoped she would believe him.
Was it right for him to have told her about Georgiana's incident witht he man? Was eh willing to threaten his sister's position just to win the approval of a woman he loved?
Why did he do it in the first place? It would not have changed her opinion of him - her hatred was too deeply rooted to be moved easily. She would probably tell the world about it out of spite!
Anger flared again - this time at himself.
She would not tell. She is honourable and she would understand that it is a delicate matter. How could you even think such a thing? If there is someone in the wrong, it is you!
His wallow in sorrow was interrupted by the opening of the door at the other end of the library.
"Why is Fitzwilliam so sad?" came Georgiana's voice. "He has not said ten words to me since you returned, he shuns our comapny - what on earth happened in Kent?"
"Georgiana," said Colonel FItzwilliam, "I truly do not know - " He stopped.
"Actually, I have an suspicion - more than an suspicion - of Darcy's troubles. Whether I am at leave to tell you I don't know, it is a very personal matter of his."
"But I want to help him, and I cannot if I do not know what is wrong."
"I - " Frustration coloured the Colonel's voice. "I tell you what, dearest, if Darcy doesn't improve by next week, then I will tell you. But I am hoping that this is just a simple, temporary matter."
Darcy listened to his cousin. Though he could not see his face, he could tell his cousin did not think it was a simple matter.
Georgiana on the other hand, did.
"Very well. Please try and make him feel better. I am only a child - I cannot help as well as you can, cousin."
"You are growing up, Georgiana, and though I can see it, I don't know if Darcy can . . . " The rest of the conversation was lost as the pair moved out of the library.
Darcy remained where he was for a few moments longer, then went to his bedchamber without saying goodnight to anyone.
He had a dream that night - a nightmare really. He dreamed he was in a darkened room. There was moonlight shining in the window and by the window was the figure of a woman. Thinking it was Elizabeth, Darcy apologised again and again. Finally he asked her for her forgiveness.
The figure moved out of the darkness and into the moonlight.
"I forgive you," said Miss Bignley.
Darcy woke up, and groaned. He wanted Elizabeth's forgiveness badly - but how?
Part 25 -- Dark Days 2
The advantage of fencing was that it occupied the mind and the body. Thus it was that it allowed Darcy to forget his troubles that had plagued him for the past fortnight for a few moments and concentrate on something else.
Before Rosings, Darcy had been only moderately adept at the sport, but now he threw himself into it. He brushed his hair back and looked at his opponent. Colonel Fitzwilliam looked back and nodded. More young men and the fencing master watched from the sidelines.
His cousin made no move to attack; it was obvious he intended to be on the defensive this time. Darcy was happy to oblige and lunged. The rapier was parried and the two moved away again.
Suddenly, unbidden (and most certainly unwanted) rose the memory of that humiliating evening in Hunsford. He had lost that duel - very badly.
Dertermined that this time he would not lose, Darcy attacked with such ferocity that the Colonel was taken aback and was pushed backwards until his back was against the wall, trying to block the rain of blows coming down on him. Finally, he lowered his rapier in a gesture of defeat.
Darcy took no notice, but slashed down. Thankfully, the Colonel leapt nimbly away and dashed to grab Darcy's sword-arm. He held it tightly until Darcy lowered the weapon.
"Alright, I surrender. You do not have to injure me to win, Darcy," said he in half-jest.
Darcy did not answer. There was no indication if he had even heard his cousin speak.
The library or his study was his favourite rooms at the present moment. Few dared to disturb him there, and whenever he needed a distraction from his gloomy thoughts he could turn to one of the numerous books that filled the shelves.
Today, he was too tired to reach for a novel. The duel with the Colonel, on top of many sleepless nights, had exhausted him. Too weary to resist, his guilty conscience took hold.
He had nearly seriously hurt his cousin! He had let his emotions rule his good sense and in doing so he had nearly done something terrible. Had he not always tried to dissuade Bingley from that habir, of letting one's heart rule his head? See the consequences of it!
Usually Darcy would never have let such a thing happen. But so many things about him had changed ever since . . .
He knew what - who finished that sentence. But he tried to turn his thoughts away from - her.
Soft footsteps behind him.
"Why are you here in this dark library?" asked Georgiana, touching the back of the chair Darcy sat in. "We are all missing you."
Darcy wished that Elizabeth and his sister could be friends. But if she despised him, then she in all probality wanted nothing to do with his sister.
He said nothing in response to his sister's query.
"What is troubling you, brother?" said Georgiana, voice trembling. "You have been so unhappy ever since your return from Kent. A whole day passes in which I do not see you - you spend the entire day either in your room or study or here. Whenever you do come into our company, you never speak unless it is absolutely necessary. You are so distant - it has been as if I have been living with a stranger." Darcy heard a sob in his sister's voice. "What is wrong? Will you not confide in me?"
He desperately wanted to talk to someone - but he could not burden his sister with his troubles.
"Forgive me if I do not. It is nothing that I should trouble you with." He sighed. "I don't even know myself anymore, if I am a good man or a bad one? is it possible for a man to change his way of thinking? Will I allow myself to change?"
Silence fell. Darcy said no more.
"Come and join us, Fitzwilliam," said Georgiana, laying her hand on his shoulder.
He ignored the gesture.
Georgiana left. He heard her trying to hold back tears. Out in the hall, he heard her whisper, "Richard, cousin, nothing has changed . . . " The door swung shut, and Darcy got up and locked it.
He tried to read, but he found his attention wandering. Frustrated, he unlocked the door. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy stood there. He ignored them both and brushed past them to his study. Again, he locked the door.
The best distraction was lying on his desk in a rather large pile. Letters to answer, accounts to manage and so much more were things that required his undivided attention. He flung himself into the chair beside the desk and grabbed a pen.
There were five letters. He answered them as shortly as possible. Bills, accounts were soon all done. Numerous invitations to parties and balls - all answered, all declined.
It was soon all done. With nothing to tkae up his attention he all too quickly lost himself in his suffering and sorrow.
Her words haunted him wherever her went, whatever he did.
Had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner . . . . You are the last man in the world whom I could ever marry . . .
He had tried his best to forget them but they were acid-etched into his memory. Even harder to forget was Elizabeth's expression as she said those words.
Darcy stared at the luxurious room. Large, tastefully decorated with expensive furniture and shelves that held many generations worth of books. The accounts and bills, even when all paid, still left him many thousands of pounds. Yet he would trade it all for one kind word, one approving glance from the woman he loved, but who did not love him.
The pile of paper on his desk was a mute testimony as to how dull and empty his life was. In fact, when he thought about it, the most exciting times in his recent life, the times when he had felt the most alive were in Elizabeth's company; talking, dancing . . .
For all his duties and responsibilities, Darcy was still a young man, insecure in the ways of his own heart. He had 'lived in the world' as Elizabeth put it, but he had not lived. He did not know what to do - forget her or remember her, love her or hate her. He did not know how to seperate his emotional problems from everyday life - that was why he had nearly injured his cousin that morning.
He wished he could talk to someone, expose himself and let his shields built around himself down just once.
But the last time he had did that, he had been hurt and humiliated. Never again. He was a man grown and could deal with his feelings himself!
Darcy was tired - for one moment he envied Wickham's indifference to what others thought of him. But it was only for a moment - he did care about what others thought of him. Most of all he wanted them all - especially Elizabeth - to think well of him.
Was what Elizabeth said true? Did his friends and aquaintances see him in such a light? Arrogant, concieted with a selfish disdain for the feelings of others.
Darcy wanted to know - but feared to ask. Scared of what the answer would be.
Part 26 -- Dark Darys 3
Time passed as time does, slowly or fast at times. Darcy's twenty-eighth birthday came and went - it was celebrated very quietly with nothing more than congratulations and many happy returns of the day given by all his friends and family.
He himself could find no joy on the day. It was unhappy - he wished he could have seen his birthday with Elizabeth at his side.
It seemed that ever since their return from Kent, Darcy's life had been one continous spiral downwards. He could not break out of it - and he did not know what he would find at the bottom.
Three weeks it had been since their return; three weeks in which Darcy's moods unpredictably swung from depression, irritable (usually when Miss Bingley was around) anger and despair. He was short-tempered and found fault in everything and sometimes could not refrain from snapping at everyone.
Darcy could not see Bingley without being reminded of how he had hurt Jane Bennet (unintentionally but done all the same) nor could he face his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam without a surge of jealousy at how Fitzwilliam had enjoyed Elizabeth's company and she his. When he saw Georgiana he remembered Wickham and how he had helped turn Elizabeth against him.
But the worst was that there was not a single minute in the day that he did not think of her, and his behaviour towards her during their aquaintance. Reflecting upon all their meetings together he realised that Elizabeth's accusations were not without foundation.
In fact, he sometimes wondered how he could face himself everyday with the knowledge of all that she had said.
It was late evening. The curtains were shut in the library and the only light was from a dying fire. Darcy sat in a large chair by the fire, his face hidden in the shadows. He was not concerned - the shadows seemed to reflect what he was feeling.
He sensed, rather than heard, his sister come in. Nowadays, it was something of a routine for Georgiana to try to persuade her brother to join their company. She had had no success.
"Will you be joining us tonight?" she asked.
Silence for sometime.
Darcy heard Georgiana stifle a sob. Suddenly she walked determinedly away in the direction of the piano. He heard her sit and open it.
Though it was dark, he knew his sister needed no light if she was playing from memory. Darcy gave no thought to his sister's actions until she began to play.
Mozart's Sonata in A, 1st movement. The piece Elizabeth played at Rosings. Though Georgiana played beautifully, he could not bear to hear her play this particular piece.
"Stop!" he cried.
The music broke off abruptly. It was replaced by stifled sobs, and then running feet. A door slammed and then silence returned.
Darcy felt guilty about what he had done to his sister but that feeling was soon eclisped by anger. How dare she play that piece! It was Elizabeth's piece.
Suddenly the door opened again and was shut decisively. Darcy did not know who had entered but the mystery was soon cleared up as the one who entered spoke.
"Are you alright?" asked the Colonel in a tone of impatience, as if he knew what the answer would be.
"Yes," replied Darcy shortly and tightly from his position in the chair.
"No you are not." The Colonel came around to face Darcy, trying to see past the darkness shrouding him. "You have been in a foul humour ever since Kent. If you have to take your bad temper out on someone, take it out on me and not Georgiana! Can you not see how worried and upset she is?"
Darcy made no answer to this outburst, which had obviously been building for sometime. He merely stared in to dying flames.
"Everyone is worried about you and I myself am beginning to tire of this!"
Again, no response. Darcy saw his cousin take a deep breath, as if taking the plunge.
"What happened between you and Miss Bennet?"
His head jerked up and life returned to his eyes.
What on earth does he know?
Seeing his reaction, the Colonel went on. "Don't try to deny anything, cousin; I have eyes. What happened between you and Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
Regaining control, Darcy retorted, "It is none of your business and I do not want to talk about it."
"If you will confide in me I can help you and - "
"I don't want to talk about it!"
He would never ask for help. His pride would not let him.
The Colonel sighed, frustrated. Darcy wished he would leave him in peace to nurse his wounded pride. But the lonliness also made him wonder and worry if what Elizabeth had said of him was true.
He did not want to know the answer to that - but he couldn't spend the night worrying about it.
As his cousin was leaving, he asked, "Fitzwilliam, tell me truly and honestly, do you think me guilty of pride?"
"What do you mean?" came the confused response.
"Exactly what I said, cousin," said Darcy impatiently. "Am I arrogant, concieted, with a selfish disdain for the feelings of others?"
"At the moment, I think yes!" came the near-shouted answer.
So it was true.
Depression and self-loathing fell over him. His face contorted with hurt and pain. As his face was in shadow, the Colonel could not see what effect his words had on him.
"For the last three weeks, you have wrapped yourself up in your own . . . self-pity, hurt pride and sorrow and you are taking it out on everyone else without a single thought as to how you are hurting them! Even your own sister - you should be ashamed at how you have neglected your responsibility to care for her!"
Darcy literally flinched with each word. Everything his cousin had said had opened up half-healed wounds. It was true, everything Elizabeth had said was true. Even his own cousin was telling him so to his face.
"Why you behaving so? What happened with you and Miss Bennet?"
Darcy did not hear him. He refused to let his cousin see how deeply he was hurt. He looked up and imagined he saw Elizabeth standing behind Fitzwilliam, looking at him. Darcy choked back a sob but made no answer to his cousin.
The Colonel looked down at him, waiting for Darcy to speak.
"I wash my hands of you. Solve your problems yourself if you will not ask for help."
Colonel Fitzwilliam stormed out of the room, slamming the door beind him in his frustration.
Darcy sat there, frozen to his seat. Though it had been nothing in comparison to that evening, nevertheless what his cousin had said stung.
There was some wine on the side table near by. Darcy pured himself a glass and drank it quickly. He looked at the empty glass for a while and toyed with the notion of getting himself well and truly drunk. It would numb the pain at least.
But that would make him as bad as Wickham, and he had seen the man with too many hangovers to relish the idea of finishing the wine off. That would certainly be ungentlemanly behaviour.
Bed was the only attraction the night held. He replaced the glass and walked slowly upstairs to his room.
Darcy slept uneasily - he had another nightmare. It was the same as the first one he had had, the night of their return to London.
Again, he was in a dark but moonlit room. There was a lady sitting by the window in the shadows. Darcy fell to his knees and apologised over and over to the figure he imagined to be Elizabeth.
Again, he asked for her forgiveness.
The figure stepped into the moonlight.
"I forgive you," said Lady Catherine.
She reached into the shadows and pulled Anne into the moonlight.
"I have waited a long time for this day, nephew," said she with a laugh.
Darcy woke up, gasping.
How much longer would he have to endure such pain and torture? When would he conquer it?
Would he ever conquer it?
Part 27 -- Dark Days 4
The next day dawned. It was one of those typical summer days; bright and warm. None of this lifted Darcy's dark mood, however. The Colonel's words last night had again thrown him into a mire of depression, self-pity and self-loathing, just when he thought that perhaps the pain dating from that day in Kent had diminished ever so slightly.
Bingley had accompanied his two sisters and brother-in-law to the shops. Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were fine ladies, but in a habit of spending more than they ought. They had extended an invitation to Georgiana and Darcy to join them but as Darcy declined, Georgiana also could not go.
From his usual chair in the library he could hear the sounds of people going about their lives. Carriages rolled past, pedestrians chatted gaily, peddlars crying their wares. Their lives sounded happy, meaningful. Darcy's life, however, was bleak and empty.
One of the doors to the library was opened. Darcy could see his cousin standing in the doorway holding a rapier. Behind him stood Georgiana with a worried look on her face. Darcy turned away ignoring them until the Colonel spoke.
"You have been sitting in this room for too long. Come, why don't you come and fence with me?" Though the tone was casual, there was something in the Colonel's voice that implied that the question was not a request, but rather, and order.
"No, thank you."
"I insist." It was now clear that it was an order, and being a man of military background, the Colonel was accustomed to being obeyed.
Darcy began to refuse again, then gave up. It was obvious that his stubborn cousin was determined to spar with him so he might as well get it over and done with.
"Very well then." He rose rom his seat and brushed past his cousin and sister and headed towards the ballroom. Colonel Fitzwilliam followed behind.
As he left, he fancied he heard Georgiana quietly say to the Colonel, "Don't hurt him, Richard," and his cousin replying, "If all goes as planned, the only one to hurt Darcy will be himself." But lately, his eyes had been playing tricks on him, seeing her when obviously she was not there. Perhaps his ears were also beginning to decieve him.
He entered the ballroom, the only place large enough for such excersise and chose a rapier. Behind him, the Colonel closed the door - and locked it. Darcy did not notice, but removed his outer clothing, his cousin following suit. Once ready, the two men saluted and faced each other.
Darcy was certainly not in the mood for games - all he wanted was to be left alone. Unwilling to begin, he remained on the defensive. But it seemed the Colonel had also decided to go on the defensive and so none of them made a move to attack.
After some minutes, Fitzwilliam said, "Aren't you going to attack, coward?"
Darcy turned red at this but made no move.
The Colonel continued to taunt him.
"You really are pathetic, cousin.You are not man enough to face criticism and try to change your ways. Are you so easily humbled by words?"
At this, Darcy felt his carefully kept control slipping away.
"Stupid fool - you, the man who has everything one could wish for cannot even procure the good opinion of one lady!" He waved his foil mockingly at his opponent.
This had gone too far. Stung into the offensive, Darcy angrily lunged at his cousin, who easily parried the blow and backed away. He attacked again and again. Each blow was blocked and the Colonel laughed and taunted his cousin every step of the way.
Finally, in a great rage, Darcy overextended and left himself open. The Colonel caught him with a feint not even a beginner could fall for and disarmed his cousin, ending up holding both blades. He held his own to Darcy's chest.
Darcy breathed hard, exhausted. The Colonel on the other hand did not show a hint of fatigue.
"Good," replied Fitzwilliam. He threw the rapier back to Darcy. "Now you are ready to talk." He approached Darcy, and firmly taking his arm, seated him on a bench before the latter had the presence of mind to protest.
"What?" asked Darcy, confused.
"Georgiana and I are very worried, and as we know you well enough to know that you will never confide in us, we developed this method of getting you to open up." He looked at Darcy sideways. "We truly want to help you, but we cannot unless we know what is wrong. I have an idea, but I need to hear it from you." He paused. "I am sorry about what I said last night. Nor did I mean what I said just now. You are not proud and arrogant. I know perfectly well that you do care about others. Look at how you assisted Bingley out of that unfortunate marriage." (Darcy winced - that was not a good example) "Why did you ask?"
Darcy gave a ragged sigh, too drained and left with no will to resist. Which, he reflected ruefully, had probably been the idea of the duel.
"Some . . . someone accused me of pride, and I believed that she - (too late, he caught himself) - that that person was correct."
Fitzwiliam looked pleased, as his suspicions proved correct.
"This person wouldn't be Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would it." A statement, not a question.
There was no use in denying it anymore. "Yes."
"Well, she is mistaken - "
"You did not see my behaviour towards her that evening," said Darcy, cutting off his cousin's words. "when I went to Hunsford and - " He broke off, unwilling to say more.
"And - ?" prompted the Colonel.
"Proposed marriage to her."
There was a shocked silence.
"You asked for her hand in marriage?" asked the Colonel increduously. "You, Darcy, in love?" His cousin made no answer. "I knew you held her in high esteem but love? It is amazing!"
"You did not let me finish," continued Darcy as expressionlessly as possible. "She refused."
"She refused?" repeated the Colonel.
Darcy nodded and did not look at his cousin.
"My ears have not heard such incredible news in all my life. It is nearly impossible to believe! Miss Bingley, any woman, would have jumped at such an offer. And did she give her reasons for doing so?"
"Give her reasons for doing so?" Darcy gave a bitter laugh. "Oh yes. Frankly and openly."
"What did she say?"
Darcy leaned back on the cool stone wall. "Firstly, that I had ruined her sister's happiness by seperating Bingley from Miss Jane Bennet."
"Bingley? Oh, don't tell me that it was Miss Bennet's sister you were speaking of."
"I am." Anger tinged Darcy's voice as he related the next. "Second was that I had denied Wickham the living promised to him by my father."
"That's preposterous!" snorted the Colonel derisively.
"Obviously he has decieved her. But that is not all," he continued. "Lastly, she accused me of . . . of not behaving in a gentlemanlike manner towards her, that I was proud and arrogant."
Colonel Fitzwilliam made no reply to the last. To fill the uncomfortable silence, Darcy said, "The first two I could defend myself against - I wrote her a letter and gave it to her the next day explaining my actions in the first two accusations. The third, however, I cannot defend myself against."
Fitzwilliam spoke slowly. "Darcy, I know that you would not have dissolved Bingley's relationship with Miss Bennet without a good reason, if you truly believed that it was a bad marriage and that the lady was indifferent to him. And with Wickham I know perfectly well that the tales the man tells are untrue and malicious. But as for the third - " He coughed awkwardly. "I hate to tell you this, Darcy, but I am in half-agreement with Miss Elizabeth's last assessment." Darcy looked at him, hurt and the Colonel quickly continued, "In company you are familiar and comfortable with, though you are quiet, you are the perfect gentlemen. But with those whom you do not know you are even more reserved. You are not comfortable in large gatherings of strangers so you hide your discomfort and remain aloof and distant. To others, those who do not know you like I do, it may seem like pride - for who would believe that a man or your position and wealth is uncomfortable with strangers? and so you alienate many before you even know them. And this will create problems with those you later do wish to know better - like Elizabeth Bennet."
"I am such a fool!" exploded Darcy. "I arrogantly gave her a proposal of marriage, fully expecting an acceptance. I should have known she was not the kind of woman to accept me without true regard. And as for what I said - oh I am ashamed to even remember what I said to her!"
"Well, what did you say?"
Darcy held his head in his hands. "That her relations would be a degredation to me. It was a complete farce of a proposal, Fitzwilliam. I gave the impression I was doing her a favour." Darcy's voice became calmer, more sad and bitter. "In fact, now I see that she would have been doing me a favour, in accepting me."
The Colonel looked at him with sympathy.
"At least this explains your strange behaviour over the last few weeks. I could not tell it was love that was causing you pain - I have never known you to be in love before. I must say with Miss Elizabeth, I cannot blame you." He paused. "You still love her."
Darcy looked up startled. His cousin was looking at him with a small smile.
"You do. And though you may try to deny it, you cannot decieve me - or yourself, Darcy."
"What does it matter if I do or not? She despises me."
"But perhaps you can change that. You have explained yourself with Bingley and Wickham. I am sure she will at least think about what you have said. And as for the 'ungentleman-like manner' - you can change that."
"I can?" said Darcy in disbelief.
"Of course. People themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them forever."
With a start, Darcy remembered that day when Mrs Bennet and the two youngest Miss Bennets had come to see Elizabeth and Jane at Netherfield. Elizabeth had said those exact same words.
"Can you help me, cousin?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam grinned. "Of course! This will be the first time, when I help you instead of vice versa. And," said he, getting up and extending a hand to Darcy, "your first task is to explain yourself to Georgiana and apologise to her."
Darcy looked at the offered hand and took it.
Part 28 -- Dark Days 5
Georgina must have been relieved by the Colonel's smile as the two men exited the ballroom, for she leapt up from her position in the hall and caught Darcy in a warm embrace. She then pulled away from him and when Darcy gave her a small smile - sad, but a smile all the same - she said,
"It is good to have you back, brother."
Yes, I have . . . . not been here lately. But I vow that I wil make it up to her. To everyone, in fact, thought Darcy.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood slightly off to one side as this reunion of sorts took place. When he caught Darcy's eye over Georgiana's shoulder, he gave his cousin a meaningful look and nodded in the direction of the drawing-room.
"Darcy, I think you owe Georgiana an explanation of your recent behaviour," said he. "For all that she is brilliant in devising schemes, she is not quite able to read your mind."
"Yes, I do," replied Darcy. Georgiana took his hand and led him into the drawing-room, closing the door behind them.
She sat down, unsure how to begin. Never had she had to play the part of listener rather than speaker in moments like these. Darcy also was uncomfortable. He was still unwilling to burden his little sister with his troubles, but it seemed that she was stronger than he had first thought. "I do not know how to begin . . . " said he.
"Then why don't I?" responded Georgiana. "What happened in Kent?"
Slowly but surely, Georgiana eventually extracted the explanation for Darcy's withdrawn behaviour. He told her everything - his feelings for Elizabeth and how those feelings had led to a proposal of marriage. She listened as he told her what Elizabeth had said, and how those words had affected him.
"Don't blame her for what she said, Georgiana," said Darcy, when the expression on his sister's face revealed something akin to shock and anger. "I now see that she was perfectly right in saying what she she did. If any man is so arrogant as to propose to you in such a manner, I hope you will follow her example and refuse him."
Georgiana sat without speaking for sometime, digesting what had just been revealed to her. Then she said,
"Don't you wish that you could see her again?"
"If I could look upon her face and know that she sees me not as a monster, then I would be a happy man indeed. But," added he as an after thought, "I fear to, after that evening." He sighed. "Georgiana, I am sorry for how I been these last few weeks, and I apologise from my heart if I have hurt you in anyway. Will you forgive me?"
Georgiana smiled, got up from her seat and walked closer to him.
"I forgive you."
Darcy had closed his eyes as she said the last, and wondered for one moment if he had been dreaming again. He looked up to see Georgiana, not Miss Bingley or Lady Catherine or some other apparition.
But of course she would forgive me. She is so good, she would forgive me for anything.
"Thank you," said he.
Again, she embraced him. He kissed her hair. Though her forgiveness had touched him, he still could not help but wish he could have introduced Georgiana to Elizabeth. That notion was now an impossibility.
Georgiana drew away from him.
"I believe that you should bathe," said she playfully, wrinkling her nose.
Darcy looked down at his sweat-soaked shirt from his bout with the Colonel.
"I believe so too."
Georgiana laughed and embraced him once more.
That evening at dinner, Darcy tried his best to join in and contribute to the table conversation. It was meaningless, mostly about what new gown Miss Bingley had bought or what hopes Mrs Hurst had for the purchase of the latest material from an overseas country, but Darcy did his best to appear interested.
In the middle of the meal, a servant came bearing a letter on a silver plate addressed to the Darcy household. Darcy opened it and read it aloud. It was yet another invitation to yet another ball, this time held by Sir Wilkins, a rather old man with a fortune of six thousand pounds a year. He was but a small aquaintance of Darcy's but held Darcy in high esteem.
"We do not need to go, brother," said Georgiana. There had been many invitations to such balls and parties, but all had been declined by Darcy who at the time was in no mood for socialising. Georgiana had wished to attend some but as time went on and Darcy still declined any invitations, she began to resign herself to not attending any. The Bingleys had attended some, but Miss Bingley, in an attempt to gain Darcy's attention, had said that Mr Bingley had danced with no young women at all.
This time was no exception. It was plain to Darcy that his sister obviously wished to go but was thinking of his dislike for such gatherings.
Darcy caught Colonel Fitzwilliam's eye. He was looking at Darcy carefully, gauging his reaction.
"Actually, Georgiana, perhaps we should attend. Sir Wilkins's daughter would enjoy your company."
"You will be coming with us, Mr Darcy?" said Miss Bingley. "That is wonderful news. I must say I found your absence at these functions quite distressing."
Darcy restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Instead, he politely answered, "Thank you, Miss Bingley."
"So we shall go?" said Georgiana hopefully. Bingley and his sisters were also looking at Darcy with amazement.
"Yes, I believe we shall. It is in three days - and you shall have a new gown to wear to it, Georgiana."
As Georgiana and the Bingleys expressed their delight, Darcy looked at his cousin with a questioning glance. His cousin looked back and smiled approvingly.
"I must say, Darcy this is quite a relief, seeing you so well again," said Bingley that evening after the ladies had retired. "I was quite worried - it is so unlike you to behave in such a manner."
"Well, I am beter now, Bingley," replied Darcy. "I confess I have not been quite myself lately, but hopefully that is now behind me."
"I certainly hope so too," said Colonel Fitzwilliam from his chair by the fire. "By the way, my leave expires in five days, so in four days I shall be leaving for my regiment."
"You are leaving?" asked Darcy. He had been counting on his cousin to help him solve his problems, both concerning his behaviour and the feelings he still harboured for Elizabeth.
"Yes, I am afraid so, cousin," replied Fitzwilliam. "Will you be needing me?" he asked.
Darcy thought for a moment. Though his pride had lessened, he was still determined to work through this time on his own. Georgiana, he knew could also help if need be.
"Actually, I don't think so."
The Colonel looked relieved, spared from having to choose between his duties and his family.
"Well, I shall leave you two here," said Bingley, rising and openeing the door. "Caroline is probably still gloating over her new orange gown that she plans to wear to Sir Wilkins's ball, and so I shall have to tell her to get her rest."
The men laughed and Bingley left, closing the door behind him.
"I am sorry I will not be present for Georgiana's birthday," said the Colonel reproachfully.
"That is a pity. What do you think we shal give her?"
"Perhaps a new pianoforte?" mused the Colonel. "There is a new one in the shop near her music master's; we could look at it someday."
"I care not about the expense - she deserves the best instrument there is."
The two sat for a while in comfortable silence. Then Darcy spoke.
"So how did I do this evening?"
The Colonel thought for a moment, then grinned broadly.
"It's a start."
Darcy laughed, for the first time in many weeks.
Part 29 -- Dark Days 6
Though Sir Wilkins house was quite different from Netherfield, there were enough similarities in the decor and furniture to remind Darcy of the twenty-sixth of November. It seemed like a lifetime ago, though it was but a few months.
Dacy, Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Bingley, his sisters and brother-in-law were greeted by Sir Wilkins himself, in whose manner was very similar to Sir William Lucas, but not quite so long-winded and in possession of a dry sense of humour. He welcomed them cordially, his eldest son Edmund and daughter Isabella by his side. Isabella soon accosted Georgiana and drew her into the crowd. She was a warm-hearted, confident young lady, though perhaps having less than her share of common-sense. Darcy privately thought that Isabella was mostly a good influence on his sister. Hopefully she could persuade Georgiana to be a little less retiring and shy in company.
Edmund Wilkins, on the other hand, was more dignified in air than is younger sister and more modern in his thinking than his father. Though his father had disapproved, Edmund had invited his friend Mr John Barnett, a merchant, and his sister, Miss Suzanna Barnett, to the ball. Sir Wilkins respected his son's opinion, and though disapproving of trades-folk in general, was willing to meet them.
Mr Wilkins introduced Mr and Miss Barnett to Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Mr Barnett looked merely the gentleman, but it was the sister that caught Darcy's attention.
She was perhaps, slightly shorter than Elizabeth and her complexion was more pale. Her hair was a lighter brown and though her smile was pleasing, her eyes did not possess the same sparkle. The similarities were not enough to make Darcy believe that he was hallucinating, but more than enough to put him off-balance.
Darcy blinked and pulled his eyes away from Miss Barnett's face to look at the floor. He had been confident that he would enjoy this evening, trying his best to be amiable and pleasing, but this was quite unexpected. He breathed deeply, trying to regain control.
Colonel Fitzwilliam did not notice his cousin's discomfort, but instead made things worse by suggesting that Darcy dance with her.
"I . . . no. A-another time, perhaps," said Darcy. He knew that he was being rude but he neede to get away. The room was too warm; there was a doorway leading to the balcony. Darcy turned and headed that direction, vaguely aware that the Colonel was following at a rapid pace.
The moment they were alone, Fitzwilliam pulled the curtains behind them closed and said, "Darcy what on earth are you doing? Why did you turn Miss Barnett down in such a manner?"
"I can't and I won't," replied Darcy, closing his eyes, trying to shut out the image of Elizabeth. He needed to forget her, and this was not helping.
"You are reverting back to your former self, Darcy," said the Colonel warningly.
At this, Darcy gripped the cool stone. He sighed.
"What is wrong? You have been very good for the last three days and now something has obviously shaken you."
"Can you not see, cousin?"
"I do not comprehend you," said the Colonel, confused.
"You cannot see the similarities between Miss Barnett and Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"No I cannot."
Of course you cannot. Darcy had spent so many hours studying Elizabeth's face, remembering it. There was no way that he could forget it.
"Can you?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Easily. I still see her. She reproaches me, accuses me. I had thought I had forgotten, these last few days, but it seems that I have not."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed in frustration.
"You cannot spend the rest of your life pining after her, paying for that mistake. Put it behind you."
Ha. Easier said than done.
"Do not withdraw again behind your walls," he continued, "If you remain behind them, you will not seek out new friends, friends who would be willing to help."
Darcy turned to face his cousin. Relieved to see that Darcy would not be going back to his former ways, the Colonel went on.
"Remember her, take her words to heart, but do not let that memory control you. Move on with your life. Even - even learn to love again."
"How can you say that?" snapped Darcy, "You do not understand - "
"I am being realistic," said the Colonel calmly. "And that means accepting that she will, most likely, never come to love you as you do her and therefore, trying to overcome your feelings. Unrequited love, though it may be good for a story, is not healthy for anyone, least of all you."
Give up my love? The only thing I have in memory of her?
But Fitzwilliam is right. I am only hurting myself - and others.
Face it. You are living in a dream, if you hold on to the belief that she will come to love you just becasue you explained yourself to her in a letter.
The dream was not one to let go of easily.
But I must try. No, not try, I will do.
The curtains parted and Georgiana came to join them.
"Is there something the matter?" she asked worriedly.
Having come to his decision, Darcy went to his sister and gently took her arm.
"There was - but there isn't anymore. You do not need to ask our cousin to fight me again, dearest."
From outside, strains of dance music were heard.
"We have been absent for too long - will you allow me the honour of this dance?" asked Darcy, giving a slight smile.
Colonel Fitzwilliam pulled the curtains apart and followed after them.
Darcy took Georgiana's hand and led her to the dance. She looked beautiful, like their mother. She wore her new gown, pale blue with silver lace. Unlike Miss Bingley, who preferred bright oranges and dark, bold colours, Georgiana was content with pale colours and white. Miss Bingley was currently standing to one side, scowling about something.
After the dance had concluded, Darcy saw that Miss Barnett was standing near Miss Bingley. Feeling guilty about his earlier actions, and remembering his cousin's advice, Darcy asked her for the next dance.
Miss Barnett may have looked like Elizabeth, but she had none of the wit and sparkle that had so captured Darcy. He tried to make conversation, but his partner was quiet. If she said more than ten words at a time, Darcy was surprised.
But though she spoke little, what she did say was worth taking notice of.
"Please forgive me for what I said earlier," said he, when the dance had concluded.
Miss Suzanna Barnett smiled. "Do not trouble yourself asking for my forgiveness," said she. "That is past; do not forget though but remember it for the future."
Darcy stared at the woman again. "I thank you," he said finally.
The ball continued uneventfully. Darcy found that he had enjoyed himself immensely. He had danced two more dances - one with Miss Isabella Wilkins, another with Miss Bingley. He had had an interesting conversation with Sir Wilkins - a polite debate on who was the better; King George III or the Prince of Wales who was currently Regent in his father's place. Darcy argued that the King was the better - the Prince lacked his father's ambition to govern and his private life was plagued by rumours, while Sir Wilkins argued that King George III had lost the American colonies and it was rumoured that he was mad. They both enjoyed the argument immensely.
Bingley had even asked three young ladies for a dance.
It had been a pleasant evening for everyone.
Darcy lay awake for sometime that night before he slept. Colonel Fitzwilliam was to leave for his regiment the next morning and Darcy, though sad to see his cousin go, was grateful for his support.
Throughout the evening, Darcy had pondered over his cousin's words. Fitzwilliam was right, it was time to let go of Elizabeth. And what Miss Barnett had said to him - yes, he would remember his mistakes and try not to make them in the future.
Darcy realised with some amazement, that this was the first time he had thought of Elziabeth without pain.
Perhaps he was getting over his love for her.
A darkened room; moonlight shing through the wimdow. A female figure sitting on the window seat, her face in shadow.
Darcy knew this dream, and slowly approached the figure. She looked at him but said nothing.
"I still think of you," said he to the shadowed figure. "I still remember what you said. I am sorry for what I did, unintentionally or intentionally. My interference with Charles and Jane was wrong and I am sorry for it. I am sorry for how I have hurt them. I am sorry for my behaviour to your family and friends. I was rude, arrogant, and I cared not for how I may have offended them. I am sorry."
In his dream, Darcy fell to his knees and did not look at the figure.
"But I am most sorry about my behaviour towards you. I cannot reflect on it without abhorrence. I have listened to what you said, and I have tried my best to take your words to heart and mend my ways. Now, I see that I must thank you for opening my eyes. I have lived twenty-eight years without knowing the truth of my behaviour. I only hope that I can come out of this a better person.
"I am sorry for my past actions. I can ask nothing of you - save your forgiveness."
He bent his head, unwilling to look and see who the figure was.
The figure stepped into the moonlight.
"I forgive you."
Darcy froze. He knew that voice.
A delicate, feminine hand reached under his chin, wet with tears and gently lifted his face to look at her.
"I forgive you," repeated Elizabeth softly.
She lowered her head and kissed him, tenderly, lovingly, full on the lips.
Darcy wished that he would never wake up.
Continued in Part 5
© 1998 Copyright held by author