The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
Part 42 House of Memories
After this confrontation, Darcy was careful that he and Miss Bingley were never alone in each other's company. He avoided her as much as possible, without his behaviour being deemed impolite. Thankfully, Miss Bingley did the same.
Bingley was pleased at the prospect of returning to Netherfield, even more so when Darcy confirmed that he was accompanying him. Unfortunately, Bingley's sisters declined the offer to come also, as did his brother-in-law. They would instead go to Scarborough for three weeks. Georgiana also could not come; she would remain at Pemberley with Mrs. Annesley.
When Georgiana was informed of her brother's going to Hertfodshire, as soon as they were alone she said to him,
"Will you call on Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
To which Darcy replied,
"I don't know."
Georgiana, although not at all satisfied with such an answer, did not press her brother any further.
Bingley and Darcy were to leave in about two weeks, arriving at Netherfield on Wednesday.
Darcy was more than slightly apprehensive about returning to Hertfodshire and more especially, to the company of a certain inhabitant of the area. He was sure that Bingley felt the same. It was inevitable that they would, sooner or later, come into the Bennet's company. What would happen at such a meeting was impossible to foresee.
A letter was sent to the housekeeper a few days before they left Pemberley, ordering that the house be prepared for the returning master and his friend.
Darcy, as he and his friend rode slowly along the road in Hertfodshire, watched as the surrounding countryside grew more and more familiar and when at length they turned to head towards Netherfield, he began to ask himself just why he had come.
Neither of them spoke; it was a comfortable silence and they were unwilling to break it. Each was lost in their own thoughts, and very similar thoughts they were too.
Darcy was uncomfortable. What was his business in Hertfodshire? He had no reason at all to return. But he knew that he must see if Bingley could win Jane Bennet for his wife - and this time, Darcy would help him instead of plotting to sabotage their relationship.
He had not yet apologised to Bingley for his deception last winter, of hiding the knowledge of Jane's presence in London from his friend. He had to do it soon. Better for Darcy to tell him personally, before Bingley found out about his friend's deception in a less desirable way. Though the day was fine, he shivered when he thought as to how to confess his actions to Bingley.
Out of the corner of his eye, there was a flash of ochre. Immediately his thoughts turned to Elizabeth.
How changed he was since he had last come here. He was no longer the empty, proud young man that had thought Elizabeth just 'tolerable', but a man he hoped was amiable and kind, a gentleman who now took an interest in the world around him.
Not only that, a gentleman deeply in love.
Would it be better if I had never accepted Bingley's invitation to stay at Netherfield? he wondered. Never set foot in Hertfodshire, the assembly rooms of Meryton? I would never have had to bear such pain as I did during those months in London.
But then I never would have met Elizabeth, never known the truth of myself . . . never known what it was to feel love.
Having experienced love, unrequited though it may be, he was now more human rather than the cold marble statue he had sometimes been whenever he wore his mask of indifference and rejection that had nearly been second nature to him. Love had prevented him from becoming so accustomed to the mask that one day he never would have removed it.
Life had been so meaningless before I knew I was in love, and surely it is better to know what I can never have than to go through life knowing I lacked something but never knowing what it was.
But even though he had come to terms with never having Elizabeth's love, he still could not help but hope.
By this time, they had arrived at the gates of Netherfield.
"Here we are at last," sighed Bingley tiredly.
Darcy nodded. Netherfield; where the beginning of his change had begun.
The two men dismounted and gave the reins to the servants that had magically appeared. Their belongings had already arrived, and they entered the house to rest for the trials that awaited them.
When Darcy went to bed that night, he had decided that either Netherfield was haunted, or he was going mad. Being of a practical nature, the idea of spirits living in the house was immediately dismissed, and because he thought he was going crazy, it ruled out the fact of him being out of his mind. Having rejected these hypotheses, the only theory that was left was that Elizabeth had become so much a part of his life that even when she was not present, she still affected him
In the garden, he remembered when he had come upon her walking to inquire after Jane, the hem of her dress coated in mud and her face radiant. The ballroom was even worse, if he closed his eyes he could almost hear the music to which he and Elizabeth had danced to together.
When he stood, alone, in the dining room, he recollected how Jane and Elizabeth had been embarrassed at their family's behaviour. Mary's eagerness to be noticed and applauded, and her subsequent humiliation by her own father. Mrs Bennet's loud boasting of Jane and Bingley's supposed marriage, turning a blind eye to the antics of Lydia and Catherine. Darcy shook his head at himself when he thought of his disgust when he witnessed it. Now, he no longer cared. It no longer mattered.
However her family may conduct themselves, whatever her connections and fortune may be, it is of no importance. Elizabeth is Elizabeth, regardless of everything else.
The house was full of memories. He smiled sadly at them, remembering the past for the future..
(Haha! I don't think three weeks break has dulled my skills. Uhhhh, what did they do for three days before going to Longbourn - any suggestions?)<
Part 43: Doubt
(A BIG thankyou to Ailsa for this idea :p)
The two friends arose early, eager to begin the day's activities, but before they had even finished their breakfast, Sir William Lucas arrived to give his greetings.
"Ah, Mr. Bingley, welcome back to Hertfodshire. I hope you have been well?" asked he.
Bingley looked pleased to see Sir William, but also disappointed, as if he had been expecting someone else.
"Very well, sir, and yourself?"
The exchange of pleasantries continued for a few moments. Darcy stood off to one side, unsure of what to do. He knew that everyone in Meryton still viewed him as proud and disagreeable; and now he had to do his best to change all that.
"Sir William, may I inquire after your daughter, Mrs. Collins?" he asked finally, thinking it a safe topic of conversation.
The man looked astonished at being addressed by him. He puffed a little, then said, "She is very well. I believe you saw her when you were visiting your aunt, the illustrious Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Easter. I am sorry that I missed your visit, but may I say sir, that your aunt is all affability and generosity. I believe that Charlotte has done very well. Lady Catherine has treated her and Mr. Collins exceedingly well."
Darcy hid a grimace. His aunt enjoyed domineering over others and interfering in business that had nothing to do with her. He pitied Charlotte, yet was grateful that it was she who bore the name Mrs. Collins instead of Elizabeth.
"Mrs. Collins is a very good woman. She seems very happy with her situation," he said instead.
Darcy watched Sir William's face. The man looked quite astonished, and was nearly openly staring at Darcy as if he had never seen him before. Darcy had never initiated a conversation between them before of his own will, and Sir William was unsure of what to make of him. Darcy shook his head slightly at what everyone must have thought of him last autumn.
"Ah, yes. Thank you sir," said Sir William. He turned back to Bingley. "I wonder, Mr. Bingley, if you and Mr. Darcy would do myself and Lady Lucas the honour of dining at Lucas Lodge this evening?"
Bingley turned to his friend. "I certainly would enjoy it. What say you, Darcy?"
Darcy thought for a moment. Preferably he would remain at home, but he had to do his best to show everyone that he was different from last year. What better way than to dine at Lucas Lodge the home of the most eminent family in the neighborhood?
"I would be happy to join you."
Sir William looked flustered. "Well, then, sirs, I look forward to your company this evening. Perhaps you would tell us of your winter in London. I dearly would have liked to stay there myself and take my family St. James court. Did you go there yourself?"
Bingley politely answered in the negative. Darcy, with the greatest patience, bore up with the man's overbearing manners.
The visit did not last much longer. With many prolonged farewells by Sir William and hopes for the evening, Darcy and Bingley were finally able to go about the day's activities.They left the house, hoping for a few hours, to forget the thoughts that had kept them both awake. But none of their them seemed to be on sport, and though the expedition was not an entire failure, the amount of game killed was less than usual.
Darcy tried to think of the best way to confess to Bingley. It would be painful for both of them. What Bingley would do when he knew of his oldest friend's deceit, Darcy could not help but wonder - and fear.
Sir William Lucas, Lady Lucas, Maria Lucas and the younger children greeted their guests cordially, but it was painfully obvious they were much more at ease with Bingley than Darcy. Only Sir William spoke to him; after the initial pleasantries, Lady Lucas hardly said a word to him, the younger children had much more interest in talking to each other and Maria was too frightened of him.
He began to realise just how his behaviour had alienated others - not just Elizabeth. Other people, who may not mean much to him, but who were still people.
After the meal, he decided to talk to Maria.
"I hope you enjoyed visiting your sister in April?" he asked her. Bingley was talking to Sir William and Lady Luas on the other side of the room; the younger children had left to prepare for bed.
Maria jumped a little. She looked towards her parents as if searching for help, then replied, "Yes I did. Papa says she has done very well, and I agree. But la, I was quite frightened of Lady Catherine. She is very kind to Charlotte, but very, very grand. Did you know," she continued, her face lighting up. "Charlotte writes that I am to become an aunt in a few months!" It seemed that when given the chance to speak, her apprehension was disappearing.
The girl's delight was evident. To this information, Darcy made no reply. He did not dwell on it but merely nodded.
Maria continued. "I enjoyed meeting Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was very pleasant gentleman. Was he well when you last saw him?"
Darcy answered in the affirmative. His cousin had been of great support to him after their visit in Kent. He had not seen him since Colonel Fitzwilliam left for the North, but knowing his cousin's temperament, he was sure he was well.
"Charlotte and I teased Elizabeth about him," said she smiling. "He was very attentive to her. I had hoped that Elizabeth would receive a marriage proposal while we were at Hunsford, but it all came to nothing. Still, I do hope the Colonel will see her again. Lizzy liked him very much. She was quite out of sorts when you both left."
Darcy froze. Maria recalled to him all-to-vividly how his cousin and Elizabeth enjoyed each other's company. He knew that Richard Fitzwilliam admired Elizabeth very much, and she, him.
Perhaps Elizabeth felt more than he thought for his cousin?
He told himself no. He had observed her behaviour while he visited Hunsford in April, and had come to the conclusion that Elizabeth did not love his cousin.
But what if he had been mistaken? Maria knew Elizabeth better than he did, and at the time, Darcy had been blinded by his pride. What if he had persuaded himself to see only what he wanted to see?
When he was compared to his cousin, he was found badly lacking. Colonel Fitzwilliam's easy manners, humour and amiability were much better qualities than Darcy had.
The longer Maria talked to him, the more Darcy convinced himself that his cousin was better for Elizabeth. Colonel Fitzwilliam, though not as well off as he was, certainly had enough to support himself and a wife. If one was to forget fortune, Darcy could see no reason why Elizabeth would not want his cousin.
Darcy remembered very well what jealousy he had experienced whenever he had observed Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth talking, laughing, both enjoying each other's company.
Fitzwilliam had told him that he had no intention of marrying Elizabeth. But should be become of her feelings, would that change?
"What a pity that the militia have left! Their company was greatly welcome; though would you believe, when Lydia went away, it was said that Mr. Wickham was a very bad man indeed. I can't see why people would say that - I liked him very much. Lydia is so very lucky!"
Darcy closed his eyes. He wondered how Elizabeth had fared when Mr. and Mrs. Wickham had come to visit.
By now, Bingley began to draw the visit to a close. Darcy thankfully joined in the farewells, eager to get away from Maria's conversation that was causing him so much pain and doubt.
Part 44 Decisions
The second day passed in much the same way as the first, though there were no visitors. Darcy was grateful for this, he needed privacy to sort out his thoughts and feelings.
He kept thinking of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed to him that Elizabeth had a great affection for his cousin.
But troubled as he was, he was not blind to the behaviour of his friend. Bingley seemed increasingly uncomfortable. Sometimes he would begin to say something to Darcy, then suddenly break off. Finally, in evening of the second day, Darcy confronted Bingley over it.
"What is it you keep wanting to talk to me about, Bingley?"
Bingley blushed a little then said, "It's nothing of importance."
Darcy was not one to give up easily and pressed his friend further.
Bingley did not look at him as he spoke. "I was wondering, would you like to visit the Bennets tomorrow?" At Darcy's expression, he hurriedly added, "We do not have to go so soon, we could wait for a few more days."
Darcy closed his eyes. Did he want to see Elizabeth? He did not know where they stood with each other. He loved her, but what did she feel for him? Friendship at the most, while perhaps her heart belonged to another.
But he did not have to go for her. He had to see if Jane still loved his friend.
"Do you want to see Jane Bennet?" he replied simply.
Bingley looked up. Darcy smiled at him.
Bingley looked down at the floor. "To tell the truth - yes." He sighed. "I still think of her, I suppose I still harbor affection for her. I know that you told me that she is indifferent to me, but I still cannot stop myself from wanting to see Jane again."
"Perhaps I was wrong." His friend stared at him. Darcy continued, "What if my observations of Miss Bennet were incorrect? As much as your sister believes the contrary, I am far from perfect." He smiled at his statement.
"But, but - " stammered Bingley.
"Bingley, I am not always right in my judgements," he continued. "I can even be wrong about my own feelings. Remember how I once said Elizabeth Bennet wasn't handsome enough to tempt me? Look at how wrong I was about that."
His friend thought about this for a while. "Yes, you have seemed to have altered your opinion on that. I didn't know you had admitted it to yourself."
Darcy looked away. "I have known for a long time," he said softly.
"So you believe that Jane returns my affections?" said Bingley earnestly. "You think that her connections and family are not so bad as you once thought?"
"They are no longer important, if you love her."
Bingley sat back in his chair, looking away.
"So I have your approval?"
"It is your decision," chastised Darcy. "All I will say that if you intend to court her, then I shall not protest."
Bingley thought, then said determinedly, "Right, then we shall visit Longbourn tomorrow."
Darcy smiled, partly sharing Bingley's happiness, partly to hide his own uneasiness.
He lay awake in his bed that night, wondering what to do during their visit, how to behave. He would not be comfortable, not with Elizabeth there, knowing that she would never be his.
Unable to sleep, he got out of bed and looked out the window, across the field, his mind three miles away.
If all goes well, Bingley's happiness is but days from being fulfilled. How could I have been so proud as to think Jane wrong for Bingley? There is no one who can make him as happy as she can.
He sighed. And Elizabeth? There is no one who can complete my life except her. But if her heart does not lie with me, then I will not force it. Her happiness is all I desire.
Darcy turned back to his bed. Tomorrow, he would see Elizabeth and he would do his best not to let his emotions overcome his good sense. He would merely watch Jane Bennet for any signs of regard for his friend, and then confess all to Bingley.
Perhaps he should go to London for a while. Bingley would want privacy to court Jane, and Darcy did not know if he wanted to be in Bingley's company after telling him of his deceit.
Decision made, he slept. His slumber was uneasy though, as all he dreamt of was that evening in Rosings, when he, an outsider, watched as Elizabeth had played the piano, his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam by her side.
Part 45 Visit to Longbourn
Soon after breakfast, Bingley and Darcy were leisurely riding across the fields to a destination three miles away. As the distance between them and Longbourn decreased, Darcy did his best to calm himself.
Don't look at her; remember, you are to observe Jane, he kept repeating to himself.
Soon, they had entered the paddock near Longbourn and were riding towards the house. Darcy fancied he saw some movement behind one of the windows but ignored it. All too soon, they had arrived. They dismounted and entered the house.
They were greeted at the door by the housekeeper. She asked them to wait while she announced their arrival. From the muffled sounds coming from the drawing room, Darcy imagined the female members of the Bennet family were quickly preparing for the gentlemen's visit.
"Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, ma'am," announced the housekeeper, entering the room before them.
Bingley quickly walked inside, a large smile on his face as he saw the ladies of the family inside. Mr. Bennet, Darcy imagined, was enclosed in his library. Quietly, seriously, Darcy followed Bingley. Proceeding through the usual ceremonious greeting, he chanced a quick glance at Elizabeth. There was no smile on her face like he so fondly remembered.
Bingley was warmly received by Mrs. Bennet, who in contrast, was pointedly cold and polite to Darcy. Darcy did not mind so much as he might have, knowing her bad opinion of him had been well founded. However, when he looked again at Elizabeth, she blushed slightly, as if ashamed for her mother. He wished that he could reassure her, that he did not hold any resentment against Mrs. Bennet but it was impossible to do so.
Mrs. Bennet quickly accosted Bingley in conversation, leaving her daughters, sitting at the table working at their embroidery and Darcy, standing to one side. Though he stood close to Elizabeth, she did not look at him.
"Miss Elizabeth," Darcy addressed her after some minutes, "how do your aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner?"
She turned slightly to look at him.
"I believe they are quite well, or they were when I saw them last," replied Elizabeth, sounding somewhat confused.
Darcy nodded, knowing he must put some distance between himself and her before he was tempted to further the conversation. He quietly moved to stand behind Bingley, who was seated facing Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet was still gaily chatting to Bingley, completely ignoring him. Her daughters were silent, their eyes lowered to their work.
Thoughtfully, he turned his eyes to Jane Bennet.
Time had not dimmed her beauty, and though she seemed busy, he fancied he observed her glance every now and again at Bingley. Though she seemed serene, there was something of hope and longing reflected in her eyes whenever she looked at his friend.
Opposite Jane sat Elizabeth. Darcy found his eyes wandering to her and had to keep reminding himself of his objective on this visit. When he had caught himself looking at Elizabeth for the fifth time, he mentally chastised himself and turned his eyes to the floor. Suddenly, she asked him,
"Mr. Darcy, I hope Miss Darcy was well when you left her?"
Surprised, he glanced up and replied, "Yes, she is very well."
There the conversation ended.
"It is a long time, Mr. Bingley, since you went away," said Mrs. Bennet.
He readily agreed to it.
"I began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say that you meant to quit the place entirely at Michaelmas; but, however, I hope it is not true."
Darcy smiled to himself; of course Mrs. Bennet wanted to Bingley to remain at Netherfield. She had obviously not lost her hopes of Bingley marrying Jane, and if Darcy had anything to say about it, her wish would be granted.
Tea was called for and Mrs. Bennet continued talking to Bingley.
"A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. And one of my own daughters."
Darcy flinched slightly, surely Mrs. Bennet was not going to speak of Mr. and Mrs. Wickham?
"I suppose you have heard of it; indeed you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier, I know; though it was not put in properly. It only said, 'Lately, George Wickham, Esq. to Miss Lydia Bennet,' without a syllable said of her father, or the place she lived, or anything. It was my brother Gardiner's drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?" Mrs. Bennet asked Bingley.
During this rendition, Darcy had disgustedly turned away from the company and forced himself to look out the window. Bingley replied that he did, and gave his congratulations.
The notice was done a-purpose, with the knowledge that the less said of Lydia's actions, the better. Some people might not have wanted it announced to the world that their relation's reputation had to be mended with a patched-up marriage, he thought to himself.
He did not dare look back at Elizabeth, remembering how she had been when he had come upon her in the Lambton Inn, soon after receiving news of Lydia's elopement. How she looked now, he could not tell.
Without a thought as to the tension in the room, Mrs. Bennet continued again.
"It is a delightful thing, to be sure, to have a daughter well married," (here Darcy restrained a contemptuous laugh) "but at the same time, Mr. Bingley, it is very hard to have her taken such a way from me. They have gone down to Newcastle, a place quite northward, it seems, and there they are to stay, I do not know how long. His regiment is there; for I suppose you have heard of his leaving the _______shire, and of his being gone into the regulars. Thank Heaven! he has some friends, though perhaps not as many as he deserves," she finished pointedly at Darcy, who remained facing the window. However, he did turn slightly, thinking how ignorant Mrs. Bennet was as to the true circumstances of Mr. Wickham's friends.
But at least this shows that she has no idea as to my involvement.
Provoked, perhaps by her mother's remark, Elizabeth spoke up.
"Do you intend to stay long in the neighbourhood, Mr. Bingley?" she asked.
After some hesitation, Bingley replied that they would stay some weeks, "I hope very much, we shall stay a few weeks," he said. A glance behind him told Darcy that his friend was looking with some eagerness at Jane Bennet.
Jane seemed very pleased with Bingley's decision.
Perhaps she still felt affection for his friend?
He turned to Elizabeth. She, however, seemed half-alarmed at Bingley's announcement, as if not knowing whether to delight in it or fear their stay.
"When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley," said Mrs. Bennet, "I beg you will come here and shoot as many as you please, on Mr. Bennet's manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you."
Darcy pretended not to notice the unnecessary and officious attention Mrs. Bennet was giving to Bingley.
"I suppose you may bring your friends," said Mrs. Bennet, in a tone that said the very opposite.
Darcy could see Elizabeth's ashamed expression reflected in the window. He wished he could somehow tell her that he could now look past her mother's behaviour. He may not like Mrs. Bennet, but could bear her rudeness and coldness to him.
Tea was now served, and though he spoke to no one, Darcy carefully observed Jane Bennet as she, responded to Bingley's attentions. Bingley seemed uncomfortable at first, speaking to Jane, but after some minutes, his hesitancy dissolved and he was soon carrying the conversation. Jane spoke little, but her eyes spoke volumes. She kept looking at Bingley with a controlled passion and hope that Darcy mentally kicked himself for having missed before. Had he not interfered, Bingley would now be happily married.
So absorbed was he in watching his friend and Jane, he did not notice Elizabeth coming to stand beside him.
She remained silent at first, uncomfortable as he could easily see. He hoped that none of his own discomfort was apparent.
"I hope your family is in the best of health," she said finally.
Darcy looked at her. She did not look back at him.
"Yes, Georgiana is intently improving her music skills this winter. I must thank you for helping her overcome her discomfort in performing to others."
Elizabeth blushed slightly and thanked him.
"I'm very glad to hear it," she said "And your cousin, how is Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
Darcy hesitated before answering. "He is very well also."
Elizabeth nodded. When none of them ventured to further the conversation, Darcy quickly moved away, not wanting to remain so close to the love he could never have.
When the gentlemen rose to go away, Mrs. Bennet invited and engaged them to dine at Longbourn in a few days time.
"You have quite a visit in my debt, Mr. Bingley," she added, "for when you went to town last winter, you promised to take a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. I have not forgot, you see; and I assure you, I was very much disappointed that you did not come back and keep your engagement."
Bingley looked a little silly at this reflection, and said something of his concern, at having been prevented by business. They then went away.
Darcy did not look back as they rode down the road back to Netherfield. He was too deep in thought to respond to Bingley's jubilant delight at returning on Tuesday. If he had ever wished for proof that Elizabeth cared for his cousin, he now had it.
Don't dwell on that now, he told himself, such thoughts will only depress you. You would not wish to wreck Bingley's coming happiness.
Jane, he was happy to see, still showed signs that she still loved Bingley. Darcy resolved to confirm this, during the dinner on Tuesday.
After that, he promised himself to tell Bingley everything.
How lucky his friend was! Darcy wished that he could only have half of Bingley's luck in love. If he had that, his life would be complete indeed.
If I had Elizabeth, he thought sadly as they arrived home.
Part 46 A Tuesday Dinner
On Tuesday, Darcy and Bingley, to their credit of their punctuality as sportsmen, arrived in very good time. There was a rather large party assembled at Longbourn, including Mrs. Long and the Gouldings. After the usual ceremonious salutation attending the gentlemen's entrance, the entire party repaired to the dining room.
Darcy watched his friend carefully, to see if Bingley would take tha place, which, in all the former parties, had belonged to him, by Jane Bennet. On entering the room, Bingley seemed to hesitate; but then Jane happened to look around, and happened to smile: it was decided. He placed himself by her.
Darcy bore it with a mask of noble indifference that hid his happiness for his friend. When Bingley turned his eyes towards Darcy with an expression of half-laughing alarm, Darcy allowed some of his delight to reveal itself, letting Bingley know that he whole-heartedly approved of his action.
Bingley's behaviour to Jane was such, during the dinner-time, as showed that his admiration of her had indeed not faded, but rather deepened. Though perhaps more guarded than formerly, it persuaded Darcy, that if left to himself, his happiness and Jane's own, would be speedily secured. Darcy had found the ample proof he had sought; that Jane loved his friend and was even now responding to her lover's attentions.
This, however, was all the animation his spirits could boast, for he was in no cheerful humour. Elizabeth was almost as far from him as the table could divide them. He was seated beside Mrs. Bennet.
Darcy had very little desire to speak to the woman, and she quite obviously returned the sentiment. They hardly spoke, and when they did, what little was said was overly formal and cold. He had tried once to break the ice between them, by remarking that the partridges were remarkably well done, but her curt reply discouraged any further attempts at conversation.
Perhaps the only advantage of his seating arrangement, was that he commanded a virtually unobstructed view of Elizabeth. He looked at her often, noticing that she seemed slightly disappointed about something. But as there were thirteen pairs of eyes, not including him, able to watch his activity, he could not look at the object of his love for long.
Seeing her, he could not stop the pang of jealousy and pain that pierced his heart, knowing that he loved her so utterly, but her heart belonged to his cousin of all people. Much as he would have wanted to, he could not hate Richard Fitzwilliam or Elizabeth.
All he could do was bow his head and accept it.
After the dinner had finished, the gentlemen; Mr. Bennet, Mr. Goulding, Bingley and Darcy retired to the library. While Bingley and Mr. oulding talked much about the events in Hertfordshire during Bingely's absence, Mr. Bennet adding his own observations and comments now and then, Darcy remained for the most part, silent. He responded to any questions and such that were directed towards him, but he did not initiate any conversation.
Darcy then realised, that sonce his and Bingley's arrival in Hertfordshire, he had rarely spoken to Elizabeth. Hardly surprising, considering his current emotional state. But just because they could not be man and wife, did that mean tat they could not be friends? It was difficult that they could not be easy in each other's company - perhaps he should try to change that?
Perhaps. He would try talking to her when they rejoined the ladies in the drawing room.
Soon, the gentlemen did leave the library and proceed to the drawing room where the women sat talking. Bingley immediately sought out Jane, while Darcy took a deep breath and headed towards Elizabeth.
Unfortunately, the ladies crowded around the table where Mrs. Bennet was serving tea, and Elizabeth pouring out coffee, in such close confederacy, that there was not a single vacancy near her, which would admit of a chair. His resolution faltering, Darcy hesitated, for on his approaching, one of the girls moved closer to Elizabeth than ever and whispered to her. Quickly, he walked away to another part of the room.
To cover his discomfort, he took a cup of coffee and spoke to a few people in the room, sometimes Bingley, once to Jane and now and then to William Goulding, but the lady whose conversation he longed for most, he could not speak to.
Enraged at himself for being so silly, he said to himself,
A man who has been once refused! How could I ever be so foolish, enough to expect her to love me? Is there not one among the sex who would alter her frame of mind after so determinedly declaring her feelings outright?
But however mush he lectured himself in this manner, he still could not resist bringing back his coffee cup to Elizabeth. He was very surprised when she said to him,
"Is your sister at Pemberley still?"
"Yes, she will remain there till Christmas," replied he.
"And quite alone? Have all her friends left her?" pressed Elizabeth.
"Mrs. Annesley is with her. The others have been gone on to Scarborough, these three weeks."
Elizabeth did not reply. Happy that Elizabeth had asked after Georgiana, unhappy that Elizabeth did not continue the conversation, Darcy stood by her, for some minutes, in silence; and, at last, on the young lady's whispering to her again, he walked away.
When the tea things were removed, and the card tables placed, all the ladies rose. Thinking of joining Elizabeth, Darcy began to make his way towards her but was suddenly stopped my Mrs. Bennet. Her rapacity for whist players soon caused him to be seated with the rest of the party. He now lost every expectation of pleasure, not that he had expected much of it in the first place. Longingly, he kept looking towards the side of the room where Elizabeth sat. His wandering eyes and attention caused him to play most unsuccessfully.
The evening ended soon after. Their carriage being ordered before any of the others, Darcy and Bingley took their leave. Darcy's disappointment of the evening was slightly alleviated by his observations of Bingley's farewell to Jane. Distanced from the rest of the group, they were in earnest conversation, until Bingley finally realised that the time of his departure had arrived.
With many hearty goodbyes and much pressing on Mrs. Bennet's part to come again, the two gentlemen left.
Bingley was characteristically jovial, taking the burden of conversation away from his taciturn friend. Darcy was grateful for this, troubled as he was trying to think of the best way to tell Bingley that his oldest friend had plotted against his happiness. He wondered how Bingley would react.
To give his friend the privacy to court Jane - and to allow both of them time away from each other after his confession, Darcy decided to go to London.
"I shall be leaving tomorrow," he said aloud.
Bingley stopped in his speech and stared at Darcy. "Why for? Where to?"
"It shan't be for long, no more than ten days," Darcy reassured him. "I merely need to go to London, on a matter of business."
"Business?" queried Bingley. "I do not recall a letter arriving for you here. May I inquire as to what business?"
"It is nothing of much consequence, just some things I need to do."
Bingley was hardly satisfied with this, but as Darcy ventured to speak no more, he had to be content.
The reason for Darcy's silence was quite frankly, fear. Fear that Bingley's normal good nature might not be enough to forgive Darcy for his deceit, and fear that this episode might herald that their friendship would no longer be as close as it once was - or even the end.
Part 47: Confessions and Blessings
The next morning, Darcy rose early, and was soon dressed and waiting for Bingley downstairs. His carriage stood outside ready to leave at a moment's notice.
He did not have to wait long. Bingley soon appeared, happy and cheerful.
"Good morning," he said brightly. "So early? I can't imagine what is so urgent that you need to leave at first light."
Taking a deep breath, Darcy said, "May I have a word with you, Charles?"
Bingley stopped short at the use of his name. Only a matter of grave import would cause Darcy to call his friend such.
"On what subject, pray?"
Darcy did not look at his friend. "Do you remember, last November, when I spoke with you about Jane Bennet?"
"Yes, I do," Bingley looked distressed. "Surely you do not mean that you still think Jane indifferent?"
"No, no," reassured Darcy quickly. "As a matter of fact, I believe the opposite."
Bingley blushed slightly. "Ah, I am glad of that."
"And why?" asked Darcy with one raised eyebrow.
Bingley shyly looked at his boots. After some hesitancy, he said, "For I had intended upon giving her a proposal of marriage."
Darcy smiled genuinely. "That is wonderful news. You will do very well."
"So you believe her feelings for me have changed?" asked Bingley hopefully.
Darcy's smile disappeared. "They have not changed. They have remained constant all this while."
Bingley stopped, confused.
"Let me explain myself, Charles," continued Darcy. "I owe you the deepest of my apologies, for my proud behaviour and my consequent actions against both you and Jane Bennet."
"What have you done?"
"Last year, not only did I persuade you not to return to Hertfordshire or propose to Miss Bennet, believing her indifferent to you, I also conspired, with your sisters, to keep you separated from her."
"What?" exclaimed Bingley incredulously. Darcy winced.
"Out my own mistaken pride, I thought that the Bennet family were not good enough for you. My belief of Miss Bennet's indifference only strengthened my argument against your marriage. I now know that I have been mistaken. She was never indifferent to you. She loves you with all her heart, and I am happy for you." He paused, not looking at his friend. "I am truly sorry, for how I have hurt you."
"When did you find out that she loved me?" pressed Bingley.
Darcy stopped. Must he tell Bingley of his failed proposal in April? Bingley was earnestly looking at his friend for a reply. Darcy took a deep breath.
"I was actually informed of my error last April, when I saw Elizabeth Bennet. She was visiting Mrs. Collins the same time I was visiting Lady Catherine."
"You saw Elizabeth Bennet? Why did you not tell me?"
"Because I did not want to be reminded of it." He sighed and closed his eyes. "You will now know why I was so . . . difficult after my return. I had offered Elizabeth Bennet a proposal of marriage, which she refused. During the evening when I had seen her, she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she could never accept a man who had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her beloved sister. It was then that I became aware of my error in judgement, but, caught up in my emotions at the time, the seriousness of my actions, of how I had hurt my oldest friend and the sister of the one I loved, did not hit me until some time after."
Though he had said this as unemotionally as possible, any casual observer could have easily seen how affected Darcy was. Bingley stared, stunned.
"At least this explains your strange behaviour. I never knew you felt that way about her," he said at last. "Then must you know how much I have suffered." He said this in a bitter-sweet tone of voice.
"Yes," replied Darcy.
Is he going to pardon me for my actions? Or does he pity me?
"My love is unrequited, Charles," continued Darcy as calmly as possible. "Yours is not. I know that I was wrong in my deception. Miss Bennet had been in London at the same time that we were. She had corresponded with your sisters and even visited the house once. Though I knew of this, at the time my abominable pride prevented me from telling you, acknowledging that I had been wrong in my assumptions of Miss Bennet's feelings."
Unable to bear it any longer, Darcy exited the house, Bingley following.
"You tell me now, that she was in London, all those months, and you concealed it from me?" demanded Bingley as he trailed behind Darcy down the steps.
"Yes. I can offer no justification. It was an arrogant presumption based on a failure to recognize your true feelings÷ and Miss Bennet's." They stood, facing each other beside the carriage. "I should never have interfered. It was very wrong of me, Bingley, and I apologise."
"You admit that you were in the wrong?" asked Bingley astonished.
"Utterly and completely."
"Then I have your blessing?"
It was Darcy's turn to be astonished. Hat Bingley would still turn to him for advice, after what he had confessed, was amazing.
Charles Bingley was such a good natured, warm-hearted man, and Darcy felt truly lucky to call him friend. That Bingley had forgiven him without reproach touched him deeply.
But still, Darcy felt that Bingley should learn to rely on his own judgement.
"Do you need my blessing?" responded Darcy.
Bingley smiled. "No. But I should like to know I have it all the same."
I give it to you anyway.
"Then go to it!"
With that, Darcy climbed into the carriage.
From inside, he looked at Bingley. His eyes were radiant, hopeful. But between them, was an unspoken, concerned question from Bingley, "What about you?"
Darcy smiled briefly at his friend, letting him know that he would be all right.
The carriage rolled down the driveway, out of Netherfield, and out of Herfordshire, on the way to London with its single, lonely occupant.
Part 48: Loneliness
Darcy peered out the carriage window, wondering if he could see his friend. His wish was immediately granted - he saw Bingley tearing across the fields as fast as his horse could take him in the direction of Longbourn.
I do think it's rather early for visiting - oh, never mind, thought Darcy. Bingley deserved happiness quickly after all he had been through.
Though I would not be surprised if he arrives before the ladies have even dressed.
He smiled a little at the thought, then shook his head ruefully at himself when he realised he was imagining what Elizabeth looked like early in the morning.
Fantasies are all I will ever have of that.
The road to London was not particularly long and the carriage was travelling smoothly - so smoothly, that it soon sent its occupant into troubled slumber.
It was late evening when he finally arrived at his London townhouse. The servants greeted him with surprise, for he had sent no notice of his coming. They did not disturb him, for which he was grateful. He was in no mood for anything more complicated than bed.
Darcy had a quiet meal by himself. The house was eerily quiet, save for the subdued activity of the servants. He found himself longing for company - Georgiana, Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth . . .
The revelation that Elizabeth held a great affection for his cousin had hurt him more than he cared to admit. He had hoped that, despite everything, that Elizabeth had come to love him.
The idea that she would be in love with another had never entered his mind. And for it to be his cousin, of all people! His good-natured, amusing, gentlemanly cousin.
Sorrow, depression and jealousy in equal parts filled him.
I wonder if he knows, thought Darcy. If Fitzwilliam knows how lucky he is, that he has Elizabeth's heart.
After all he had suffered, all the soul-searching and self-doubt and change he had undergone - for no other reason than to have Elizabeth's good opinion - this was reward?
No. Don't think in terms of rewards and gains. She has made you a better person - is that not enough?
Yes. No - no.
Darcy wished he could talk to someone, someone whom he could trust and was sensible enough to help steer him through his problems. But Georgiana was at Pemberley, Bingley was probably even now proposing to Jane, Colonel Fitzwilliam - he did not know if he could see his cousin without forcing himself not to do something harmful to him.
I still love her. I always will, even if she does not return my love.
He glanced around the house, before ascending the stairs to his chambers. Beautifully appointed, luxurious - yet empty and cold.
He was very lonely.
Part 49: Two Letters
The foils touched then quickly sprang away again, singing. Baines nodded approvingly at his opponent, who half smiled.
"Very good, sir," said the fencing master. "You have improved much these last few months."
"I thank you for the compliment," replied Darcy. "I have had much to think about."
"It has done you good, there is less anger in you."
"I'm glad to hear it."
Darcy left the fencing masters soon after, but was in no hurry to go home. Home at the moment was empty and cold. So he decided to walk to his house instead. It was not far, and the day was fine.
He wondered how Bingley was going with his courtship of Jane. Had he been successful? He sincerely hoped so - his friend deserved some happiness after all that had happened.
But if, whenBingley became engaged to Jane, then Darcy would see more of Elizabeth. He did not mind that, but it would hurt, to see her. Not that he was going to start avoiding her, of course not, but still . . .
He realised that he was being, quite frankly, a coward. He ran away from those who had, or could cause hurt. First he had left Netherfield immediately after confessing to Bingley, afraid of Bingley's reaction.
And leaving Hertfordshire meant leaving Elizabeth, afraid of what would happen. He loved her, so much it sometimes frightened him, but he couldn't forget that where the heart was, there the most danger lay.
An emotional wound was deeper and more painful than any wound to the flesh.
They were also much harder to heal.
Could he bear it if she broke his heart again?_______________________________________________________________
There were two letters waiting from at home, one forwarded from Netherfield. Darcy sat down at his desk and opened the first. It was from Georgiana, written nearly a week ago.
My dear brother,
I write to you in good spirits, and I hope this letter finds you and Mr. Bingley the same. It is very peaceful here though sometimes I long for something of interest to occur to relieve the monotony. But such thoughts are rare - Mrs. Annesley is a patient and good teacher and companion and I have everything I wish for save your company.
Miss Bingley and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst left some days ago for Scarborough. I was quite surprised during the days between your departure and theirs. Miss Bingley had been unusually quiet and thoughtful. We talked much and I confess I like Miss Bingley very much now. When she was overly attentive to you or spiteful I almost disliked her but at the present, oh, you would not believe she is the same person. I sincerely hope she finds happiness in marriage - I understand she has let go of you.
Cousin Richard has also written to us. He says he is on leave again, this time for several weeks, and is in London at present. I have told him that you have gone to Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley - I have yet to receive a reply since then, though I believe you also shall be receiving a letter from him in the near future.
I almost fear to ask but I shall, otherwise I will die of curiosity - have you met Miss Bennet again? I confess I shall be, as Aunt Catherine so eloquently says, 'most exceedingly displeased' if you have not. Please convey my regards to her when you see her - I will never tire of saying just how much I like her.
Darcy reread the letter several times going through a series of emotions. He was happy that Georgiana was well, though as he read the first paragraph he realised that his sister was restless and would soon need to 'come out' into society.
Miss Bingley's turnabout was somewhat of a surprise and relief. He had not intended to hurt Miss Bingley but neither did he want to have the lady behaving as she did to him. Perhaps this change was for the better, and Miss Bingley would be a more agreeable person.
When he was informed that Colonel Fitzwilliam was in London, he was apprehensive. He was not sure if he wished to see his cousin, knowing what he knew about Elizabeth, but he longed for the Colonel's company. He was someone to talk to, someone to make him see things clearly.
I will cross that hurdle when I come to it.
As for the last paragraph - well. Yes, he had met Elizabeth, but had taken little joy in the occasion. Darcy was at the moment in no hurry to rush back to Hertforshire after two days, however much he wanted to.
He reached for the second letter and stopped as he saw the seal on it - Lord Fitzwilliam the Earl of Matlock.
Darcy took a deep breath and opened it. It had been written that very morning.
This letter had better find you well, or I shall be, as Aunt Catherine says, 'most exceedingly displeased.' If this is not true, I shall come right over following this letter and demand that you cheer up. But circumstances being as they are, I demand to know what you are doing in London instead of Hertfordshire in Miss Bennet's company.
At present, I am staying at my parent's townhouse, quite alone. Today I have some business to finish, but I am at liberty tomorrow. Perhaps I shall come and visit you? I am longing to know what happened at Pemberley - Georgiana wrote to me and said that your Miss Bennet had been there the same time as you.
Mr. and Mrs. Wickham have settled in quite comfortable in Newcastle, so General __________ tells me. I confess I read every missive from him with a sense of foreboding, wondering if the scoundrel caused any trouble. And that is another thing I wish to know - what caused you to give the man such a sum of money and send him North?
We have much to talk about cousin, and not the least is how you are faring.
The opening of the letter brought a smile to Darcy's face. No doubt his cousin was still worried about his emotional state.
Little does he know.
The letter had removed any of his reluctance to see Colonel Fitzwilliam. He quickly wrote a reply, inviting Fitzwilliam to stay at his house for the duration. If they had much to speak of, it was unnecessary that they should stay in separate houses. Darcy asked a servant to take the letter and leaned back in his chair.
It will be good to see Fitzwilliam again, he told himself. There is no need for any kind of confrontation . . . .
However much he told himself this, it did not dispel his jealousy
Part 50: A Glimpse into One's Psyche
Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived at Darcy's townhouse just as the latter gentleman had finished his lunch. The servant announced the Colonel's presence to him and Darcy came out to the hall to observe his cousin, dressed in civilian clothing, directing the servants to bring his belongings inside. His crisp, military-like activity came to a halt when Darcy arrived, and changed to a more informal greeting.
"Darcy, how are you?" he asked, giving him a piercing look. Darcy smiled at him which somewhat alleviated his cousin's glance.
"Very well, thank you. I am glad you have come, my time here has been, so far, most monotonous."
"I am sure we can change that. Shall we go inside?"
They did, Darcy doing his best to remain casual and appear relaxed to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Darcy was surprised when Fitzwilliam kept to lighthearted subjects for most of the afternoon, relating tales of the antics of the officers. It was not until the two were playing a game of pool that the Colonel began the subject Darcy had known to be coming for some time.
"What are you doing in London, Darcy?" he asked, while Darcy began to take his shot. "Why are you not in Hertfordshire, near Miss Bennet? I'm sure her company is much more appealing than mine."
Darcy pretended to concentrate on the ball. He hit it into the pocket, then slowly turned to his cousin, deciding to be absolutely frank and true to whatever Fitzwilliam asked.
"Bingley has decided to renew his attentions to the eldest Miss Bennet. I believed that an engagement would soon be approaching, and so I left in order to give him the privacy he undoubtedly needs for such a venture."
"Would I be wrong to assume that you had a hand in that?"
"Not quite. I confessed my deception to him the morning of my departure. He took it well - too well for my liking. I feel I deserve his resentment yet it seems that he will forgive me utterly."
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood up to take his turn. "And rightly so. You did not deceive him out of malice - you were merely mistaken. But you are avoiding telling me about Miss Elizabeth Bennet. You know perfectly well it is she I wish to talk about."
Darcy made no answer. His cousin hit the ball but did not look where it went, concentrating instead on Darcy.
"Have you seen her? Was she not at Pemberley?"
"Yes, she was."
"And? What happened? Has she forgiven you?"
Darcy sighed. "I do not know how things stand between us now. I believe that she no longer hates me, but I don't know what she thinks about me now."
"Conflicting matters that make me wonder what opinion she has of me now. For example, I ran into her on my grounds, after I had had a swim in the lake. What opinion do you think she would have formed of me, when I suddenly appeared less formally attired than usual and soaked to the skin?"
His cousin laughed out aloud at this and at Darcy's woeful look. "I can't imagine, though it must have been somewhat of a shock. What else?"
"Georgiana and I invited her and her aunt and uncle to dine at Pemberley the next evening. She sang for the company and . . ." He trailed off, a dreamy look on his face as he remembered the occasion. He returned to the present when he heard his cousin laughing again.
"I will not ask why you look as if you are reliving a fond memory. If that is the effect she has on you, perhaps the next time I see her I will ask her to perform for me!"
The last was said in jest, but Darcy did not share in his cousin's effusive laughs. His expression darkened and he glared at his cousin.
Fitzwilliam stopped and looked at Darcy. "Have I said anything that has offended you?"
Reminded of what he believed were Elizabeth's feelings for Fitzwilliam, Darcy became caught between jealousy and guilt at harboring such feelings for his cousin. The anger in his face drained away to be replaced by a look of despair and resignation.
Frowning, the Colonel asked what was the matter. When Darcy did not answer, Fitzwilliam replied, "You cannot hide from me, Darcy. Something about Miss Bennet has affected you again, I am sure. What is it? Perhaps I can help."
Darcy could not help but laugh bitterly at this. "I doubt you can help me deal with jealousy against you, Fitzwilliam."
His cousin stared incredulously at him. "What on earth do you mean?"
"I mean that I am exceedingly jealous that you are the man to have secured Miss Elizabeth's affections."
Fitzwilliam stared at his cousin in confusion.
"Miss Bennet harbours an affection for me? Where on earth did you get that preposterous notion?"
Darcy stopped and thought. "She seemed to enjoy your company at Rosings. When I spoke to Miss Lucas she said she had been hoping for a marriage between the two of you."
"Those are not solid arguments, Darcy."
"Do you deny that you love her?" snapped he.
"Yes." The Colonel stood up and looked at Darcy straight in the eye. "Though I would have been perfectly willing to further our acquaintance, if she had wished it, it was clearly signaled to me that she had no intention of taking our relationship beyond mere friendship, and I respect that decision. We enjoyed each other's company, that is true, but your jealousy is making you create situations where there are none."
It was Darcy's turn to stare. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, you blind fool. I personally thought at first that she was in love with you, until careful observation told me otherwise, for whenever I spoke to her, all she could talk about was you." Fitzwilliam began to laugh again. "Miss Lucas hopes for too much, and is rather innocent of the ways of love. Miss Bennet and I are no more than friends. All of your suspicions are wholly unfounded and you are jumping to conclusions."
"Yes." His cousin returned to his seat and poured a glass of wine, the game forgotten. "You feel she could never love you and so you find reasons to prove to yourself that Miss Elizabeth Bennet has turned her attentions to others whom you see as more worthy of her love."
"Are you implying I am crushing my own self worth?" asked Darcy in disbelieving anger.
"That is precisely what I mean. You are so used to feeling sorry for yourself that I think you are creating reasons to prolong your own torture."
"Why on earth would I want to do that?" demanded Darcy.
"You hurt yourself because you feel you deserve it. Before, your pride made you believe that whatever you were always in the right, but now it is the opposite. You feel you deserve punishment for hurting your friend, your love's dearest sister and Miss Bennet herself. How can I convince you that you have suffered enough? Why must you hurt yourself?"
Darcy looked at Fitzwilliam, amazed at his cousin's insight.
Can this be true? Were my suspicions entirely of my own making?
He thought carefully about when and why he had believed that Elizabeth was in love with his cousin. Now that he really thought about it, he had jumped to conclusions.
A profound feeling of relief swept over him. He would not have to compete with his cousin for Elizabeth's affections. But it did not automatically mean that he had Elizabeth's love, which was what he desperately longed for.
"Where is your resolve, man? Do you find it so hard to believe that Miss Bennet could love you?" asked Fitzwilliam. Darcy slowly shook his head.
"I will agree that I am creating fantastical ideas of my own imagination, but I cannot agree with you that Miss Bennet loves me. I find that an impossibility."
Fitzwilliam sighed and said, "Believe what you will. I have not seen Miss Bennet since Rosings so I would not presume to know her feelings at this point. But, I know yours and mine. There is nothing for you to worry about; understand that there is nothing between me and your Miss Bennet."
Darcy smiled sadly. "She is not my Miss Bennet."
Part 51: News of an Engagement
The two cousins were quietly eating breakfast when the mail came. Darcy looked at the one letter that boasted a very familiar seal. He immediately took the letter with an expression of thanks to the butler and opened it.
"Who is that from?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam curiously.
"Bingley. I am predicting it holds the news that I have been hoping for some time," replied Darcy, his eyes devouring the rather short missive. Working his way through the blots and half-illegible writing, Darcy read it aloud.
My dear friend,
Wonderful news indeed! My beloved Jane has consented to be my wife. We have been engaged for several days and I beg for your forgiveness in being so lax in writing to you with this news. I have been too happy to write.
I could not be more content. I visit the Bennet family everyday and on the rare occasion when I cannot spend time with Jane I speak to my sister-to-be, Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic with joy and Mr. Bennet shares her happiness, though perhaps less vocally.
My own happiness will be complete when you come back to Netherfield. The wedding is to take place in December and I sincerely hope you will stand up for me as groomsman.
There is one thing I am at a loss at, though. How shall I break the news to my sisters? You cannot imagine how many letters I have begun to write to them and discarded. I know they will not approve of my engagement but whatever their feelings, I will not give up Jane. Caroline and Louisa will have to bite their tongues and accept my dearest Jane as their sister.
I must conclude, for I now leave for Longbourn.
"That is wonderful news indeed!" exclaimed Colonel Fitzwilliam. "From what I have heard, I believe Bingley and Miss Bennet will be a fine example of matrimony."
"You are not far wrong in your estimation," replied Darcy, putting down the letter. "There couldn't be another woman in the world so perfect for Bingley. She is of a sweet disposition and as beautiful as an angel."
"Though I am sure the sister is, to you, a goddess," laughed Fitzwilliam.
Darcy smiled but did not protest at his cousin's words. He stood up to leave, but his cousin stopped him. His usually jovial face was serious.
"I think I must confess something to you, Darcy," said he.
Darcy sat down again. "What is it?"
Richard Fitzwilliam sighed and looked away. "I have just realised, that perhaps what we spoke of last night was not entirely your fault."
Darcy frowned, not understanding. The Colonel continued.
"Seeing you felt a great affection for Miss Bennet, perhaps I was purposely attentive to her. I will admit that I enjoyed your envy - it is rare indeed when I find myself at an advantage over you but I would never continue with such an activity if I knew I was causing you pain. I was not sure just how strong your feelings were at that point and so I perhaps prolonged my attentions to Miss Bennet for too long."
At Darcy's look, Fitzwilliam said, "I apologise, Darcy. It was very wrong of me to play with your emotions in such a base manner. Will you forgive me?"
Darcy stared at his cousin for some time. He willed himself to be angry at his cousin, but the anger did not come. Instead, he smiled. "I do. But do it again and I will punish you," he said in mock-severity.
Fitzwilliam smiled with relief and extended his hand. Darcy shook it then rose to leave. "I hold no crime against you. We are but fallible mortals and Miss Bennet is the most attractive woman in the world. But, now I must leave."
"Where are you going?"
"Business, and I am going to visit some acquaintances of mine."
"Who, pray, are they?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, of Gracechurch Street. They are the aunt and uncle of Miss Bennet."
His carriage traveled at a sedate pace that allowed Darcy plenty of time to think.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's confession had startled him. Darcy had not been completely wrong in his supicions of his cousin's attachment to Elizabeth. His observations had been, in a way, correct.
He began to worry again about his cousin and Elizabeth, but then smiled and shook his head at himself.
Can I not trust the word of my own cousin? Fitzwilliam will never intentionally act in such a way that would cause me hurt. He knows how I feel about Elizabeth.
But still, he had not been wholly in error regarding the Colonel and Elizabeth. The fact that he had been correct in a way increased his confidence in himself and his judgements.
He was beginning to trust himself again.
By now, the carriage had arrived at the Gardiner's house. Darcy exited and ascended the steps and knocked on the door. The servant opened it and her surprise was evident on her face. Darcy asked the girl to announce him and waited in the hall whilst she did so.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were likewise surprised by their visitor, but greeted him warmly.
"Mr. Darcy, this is an unexpected pleasure. How do you do?" asked Mr. Gardiner shaking his hand.
"Very well and you, Mrs Gardiner?" asked Darcy.
"I am very well, thank you," said she.
Behind her, Darcy could see her four children. Alice and Kate bobbed a curtsey while William and Robert bowed. He greeted each child in turn.
"Play quietly, dears," said Mr. Gardiner to them. He motioned for Darcy to be seated and he and his wife sat opposite.
"What brings you here?" asked Mrs. Gardiner.
Darcy looked around the room. He noticed that William was seated in the corner, building another tower out of blocks. From what he could see, it seemed to Darcy that the child had progressed far in his architecture for the tower was more complex, yet very stable.
"I have been in London for a few days. I have business to attend to, but I thought that I would come by and visit first," he replied, attention back on the conversation. "I have just received word that my friend, Mr. Bingley is engaged to your niece, Jane Bennet."
"Ah yes," smiled Mr. Gardiner. "Jane and my sister wrote to me as soon as the event occurred. Mr. Bingley, from our brief acquaintance last summer, is a good young man and he will make Jane very happy indeed."
"And I believe Miss Bennet will make Bingley very happy. I could not imagine a better match for my friend."
"It has been a long time in coming," said Mrs. Gardiner. "When you left Netherfield last winter Jane was quite desolate, but all is now right."
Darcy felt a pang of guilt at this reminder of his part in deceiving Bingley but it was soon gone. As Mrs. Gardiner said, all was now right.
"Will you be coming for the wedding,, Mr. Darcy?" asked Mr. Gardiner.
"Yes, I shall. The ceremony is in December I believe Bingley said."
Mr. Gardiner nodded. "Quite right. My sister is already making plans for Jane's gown and her letter was full of joy that she had a second daughter married."
"Think of her joy when Lizzy, Mary and Kitty marry," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Imagine the pride and joy Fanny will express on the day her last daughter marries," laughed Mr. Gardiner.
"Well deserved pride, I may say," said Darcy.
"It will be. But for now, that is in the future, though not too distant I hope. What of yourself, Mr. Darcy? How does your sister do?"
"She is at Pemberley for the present with Mrs. Annesley. You must come to my estate again, sir. I would be happy to have your family there." Darcy smiled at his cryptic statement.
"We would be delighted if circumstance were to bring us to Pemberley again in the near future," said Mrs. Gardiner with an underlying meaning Darcy did not miss.
It pleased him to know that Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner approved of a marriage between him and Elizabeth. Though Elizabeth's blood parents might dislike him, her spiritual parents did not.
But she is not my wife, nor is she likely to become my wife, however dearly I long for such a thing to be.
They soon talked of other things, but Darcy's visit did not last for long after that.
"I must leave now, but I hope to have the pleasure of your company again soon," said Darcy, shaking hands with Mr. Gardiner.
"Would you like come for dinner sometime?" asked Mrs. Gardiner.
Darcy smiled. It was a very pleasing idea.
"I would be happy to."
"Does the day after tomorrow suit you?"
"Yes, it does."
Part 52: Prayer
It was Sunday, and as was the norm, Darcy and Fitzwilliam attended church.
"So you are to dine at their house tomorrow?" asked the Colonel as they took their seats.
"Yes, I am. Surely you can do without my company for one evening," said Darcy.
The service began. As he bent his head in prayer, Darcy found his thoughts wandering, a very unusual occupation for him to do during church. His thoughts were, as usual, centered on Elizabeth.
The news of Bingley's engagement to Jane, though it gave him joy, also depressed him. His friend had found someone to share his life with, while he remained alone.
He glanced across the aisle where a young couple shared a hymn book, holding hands. He looked back to his own page, listening to his cousin's voice but not singing himself.
How Darcy wished Elizabeth was there with him, a wife who was not just as a lover but also as a friend, companion, counselor, a partner who would share all aspects of his life.
He sighed. The action caught the attention of the Colonel who looked at him curiously. Darcy gave him a reassuring smile and turned his attention back to the service.
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
"Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13)
"This is the word of the Lord. Amen."
Darcy listened to the words with his heart and mind. He felt revived and at peace.
(I had to put in a churchy thing, cause religion played a pretty big role back then, but since I'm not that religious, I didn't make a really big issue in this chapter. Hope you don't mind - I want to get to the dinner!)
Part 53: Elizabeth
It was Monday evening and Darcy paused for a few moments before knocking on the door of the Gardiner's house in Gracechurch Street He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and smiled as the face of Elizabeth floated before him.
The pleasure of this evening would be complete if she was also here, he thought wistfully.
His smile broadened in amusement at himself, then he made his presence known.
The servant opened the door and seeing who the visitor was, immediately let him in. The Gardiner family soon followed and greeted him warmly, and the adults were soon pleasantly engaged in conversation, while the four children were aptly occupied in their games.
"And how are you today, Mr. Darcy?" asked Mrs. Gardiner. "I hope your business is not too taxing."
"Indeed, it is quite the opposite," he replied. "Merely a few short visits to my attorney and banker and then I am quite finished."
"Then why on earth did you come to London for so long?" inquired Mr. Gardiner. "Unless your stay here is also one of leisure as well as business."
"My cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam is also in town and so my visit is extended to spend time in his company before he is called away again," said Darcy. It was mostly true though he decided to leave out the rest involving Bingley. "If I were to take a sojourn away from my affairs I would go to Derbyshire. I find it much more pleasant and restful than London, which, after a while, seems to me most confining."
"I will not wholly disagree with that assessment," said Mr. Gardiner. "Thankfully, my family is able to travel to Hertfordshire relatively frequently and now and then we can go on longer trips, such as our latest journey with Elizabeth to Derbyshire where had the pleasure of making your acquaintance."
"I would be delighted if you would to come again."
"Perhaps, when circumstance allows," replied Mrs. Gardiner. "I cannot think of a more perfect place to visit - or live, for that matter, than your beautiful estate."
Darcy smiled at the compliment and thanked her quite modestly.
"Why so humble, sir?" she said teasingly. "I speak nothing but the truth. Pemberley is a wonderful place, and Mr. Gardiner and Lizzy are of my opinion. Why, she declared she would be happy to spend her whole life in Derbyshire!"
It pleased him greatly to know that his love felt a deep emotion for his home. A pity it was not her home as well as his, for the addition of Elizabeth to Derbyshire, or, more specifically, Pemberley, would have completed the happiness he already felt whenever he was home.
"I am glad she approves of it, for her approval is given so rarely that it is well worth earning."
"Why do you say that?" asked Mr. Gardiner.
Darcy blushed, then tried to explain. "I merely meant that she takes pride in her intelligence, which she deserves to do, and can be perhaps more critical of places and people than her elder sister."
"Ah," said Mr. Gardiner. "It is true that Lizzy has a quickness of mind, but sometimes she can be too hasty in her judgements of people. She takes pride in her intelligence, and so will sometimes be over-confident in her assumptions. But," added Mr. Gardiner, "she is not so proud as to not admit to her mistakes. She will forgive, and forget any past conflict."
"Yes, once she has made a decision about someone, it can be quite difficult to convince her otherwise," said Mrs. Gardiner. "I remember during our visit to Longbourn in Christmas, speaking to Elizabeth about Mr. Wickham. At that point in time, her resolutions concerning Mr. Wickham and yourself, Mr. Darcy, seemed fixed in stone but when confronted with her error, she was quick to change her opinion.
"Though she may make fun of other's absurdities, Elizabeth is deeply serious about the power people can hold over others. She believes those is power are in positions requiring much responsibility, and if they abuse that position, they are undeserving of the privileges they hold, and happiness. In the matter of love, she may not give her heart easily, but once she does, she has a great capacity for affection."
"Yes, I remember last year she walked all of three miles to Netherfield to visit her sister who was ill," said Darcy.
"Ah, yes her spirit will never be restrained," said Mr. Gardiner. "Her liveliness and wit enchant the hearts of many men - whether she returns their affections is another question entirely. Jane may be as sweet as an angel, but Lizzy has a fiery spirit that sets her aside from many of today's young ladies."
Darcy listened to all of this enraptured. He thought about it all through the dinner, which was announced soon after.
Elizabeth was certainly one of those 'intricate' characters they had spoken of long ago, but the intricacies were gradually becoming understandable to him.
Where do we stand with each other now he wondered.
He spoke again with Mr. Gardiner in the gentleman's study.
"I thank you for the loan of this," said Darcy, handing Mr. Gardiner the book he had borrowed.
"You are very welcome," replied Mr. Gardiner, placing it back on the shelf. "Did you enjoy it?"
Darcy acknowledged that he did.
"Then you and my niece have much in common for she also enjoyed it immensely."
Unsure how to answer this, Darcy replied, "I thank you, sir."
Perhaps sensing his discomfort, Mr. Gardiner changed the subject and they spoke a great deal about fishing and books. At length, however, the hour grew late and Darcy took his leave of them.
As he left the study, Mr. Gardiner said, "Mr. Darcy, I hope that you will not think me too forward if I tell you a saying I had heard once."
Curious, Darcy asked what it was.
" 'A difficult courtship, leads to a strong marriage.' "
At these words, Darcy smiled.
"I thank you sir. It was most welcome."
Mrs. Gardiner also came to bid him farewell.
"A pleasure, as always, Mr. Darcy."
"Likewise, Mrs. Gardiner. I hope we shall meet again very soon."
"We shall see you at the wedding of Mr. Bingley and Jane?" asked Mr. Gardiner.
"Of course!" said Darcy smiling. "I would not miss it for the world."
With more farewells, he left them, noting on his departure a tower of blocks hidden in one corner. Despite a doll leaning rather heavily against it, it did not topple.
He pondered over what he had learnt on this very enlightening visit to the Gardiners.
There was something else, he realised.
I have power over so many, but only she has power over me.
I wouldn't want it any other way.
(Phew! Thank goodness I studied P&P in school and so, can write the above relatively well. And I brought the blocks back - this time however, their inclusion was intentional :P)
Part 54: One last Doubt
Perhaps the Colonel could read his mind, or maybe it was his posture at the window that alerted his cousin to his unease. Either way, something betrayed Darcy's troubled thoughts to his cousin, who was quick to ask him about it.
"What is on your mind at present? Did you not enjoy yesterday evening's dinner with Miss Bennet's aunt and uncle?"
Darcy turned away from his mindless observation of the outside world.
"Perceptive as always, Fitzwilliam," he replied. "I enjoyed my visit very much. It is not that which is troubling me, though."
"Then what is?"
Darcy sighed and sat down. "I am confused," he admitted. "I know that it is impossible that Miss Bennet would love me, but her aunt and uncle seem to be in favour of me marrying her."
"How on earth do they know? You have been quite secretive over your feelings with myself and Georgiana, I find it impossible that you would confide in two relative strangers."
"Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are very perceptive gentlefolk. I am not surprised they have noticed my affection."
Colonel Fitzwilliam thought. "Perhaps you should take their encouragement as a good sign. I am sure they would be aware of Miss Elizabeth's feelings for you."
"I wish I could," said Darcy. "But it was only vaguely implied, there was no actual proof."
"Darcy, are you sure you want to propose to Miss Elizabeth Bennet again?" asked the Colonel seriously.
"Why do you ask that?"
"I am not being pessimistic, but what if she were to refuse you a second time? Dealing with your broken heart during those months after Kent was bad enough - I fear to imagine what would happen were you to again be disappointed."
"Do you believe that she holds no regard for me still?"
"I do not believe anything about the matter at present, for I have no information, save what happened at Kent and afterwards. I am being realistic. There are other concerns, though. Is not Mr. Wickham married to Miss Elizabeth's younger sister?"
"Yes . . ." said Darcy cautiously.
"Are you willing to connect yourself with him?"
Darcy pondered this. He had never thought about it before.
Wickham was perhaps the one being in the world that Darcy hated. He had never had such strong feelings to anyone, except for Elizabeth and she was at the very opposite end of his emotional spectrum.
He realised that if he were to marry Elizabeth, Wickham would be related to him in the closest manner possible, as his brother-in-law. The connection Darcy had narrowly avoided two summers ago would occur.
Could he overlook it, were he to marry Elizabeth?
Why should I care about that? he asked himself. As children, we were already brothers in everything but name and blood. As adults, I may not like it, but do not have to have anything to do with him.
If I were to marry Elizabeth, Wickham may become my brother-in-law - But I would have Elizabeth by my side. That is all that matters.
"Yes, I can. Do you object?"
"Not at all. If you love her, then I am perfectly satisfied. But tell me truthfully, are you seriously considering giving her a second proposal of marriage?"
Darcy sighed. "I do not know. I - " He stopped, at loss for words.
"You are still in love with her."
"Yes. She dominates my every thought, every waking moment. It is quite ironic, actually," said Darcy, smiling in slight amusement, but it was brief. "The only woman I can imagine myself marrying is the only one I can never have."
His cousin looked at him in sympathy and wonder.
"I will never cease to be amazed at the change Miss Bennet has woven over you. Before, it would be an unheard event for you to open yourself and speak of your deepest feelings to even your closest relatives. You would never swallow your pride admit to your faults and mistakes, nor would you let anybody else take the burden of responsibility from you."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. "I sincerely hope that this change will not go unrewarded. I fervently wish to see you happy."
Darcy shook his head. "But I have no knowledge of her feelings for me. They have altered so drastically during our acquaintance. If I knew that she loved me, then I would race to Hertfordshire at once. If I knew that she loved me, for myself then I would have no qualms at all to proposing a second time."
He stood up and went to stare out of the window again.
"But I do not know. I wish I did. It would save me many sleepless nights."
Continued in Part 8
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