I Am Most Obliged!
Fitzwilliam Darcy paced up and down in the rather grand library in his London house. The source of his agitation though, was nothing to do with any of the books therein, but rather how to further his quest to win the heart of one Miss Elizabeth Bennett.
He ruminated over the problem, trying to put together the information at his disposal as dispassionately as a man violently in love can be expected to, but was having very little success of it.
On the face of it, the facts were simple. He was, and had been for some considerable time been in love with this particular lady. He had, after a deal of hesitation, proposed to her. She, however, had rejected his suit with a devastating finality that seemed to close any possibility of an alliance.
The rejection, though keenly felt, had not fallen on infertile ground. On recovering from the shock of her reproof, he had taken a long and hard look at himself, and another look at her. In himself, he was less than pleased. In her, he could find no fault. In fact, the more he thought, the more he realized her worth, and his loss.
This realization confirmed his opinion that the qualities that Miss Bennett possessed that had previously attracted him, were well understated. He now understood that he had met a woman for whom the concepts of love and honor were absolute, and who could not be bought for money, possessions or material comfort.
He had been confident of her acceptance based on his pride in his own family, fortune and connections. After all, he had reasoned, given the decided inferiority of hers, she would be unlikely to get a better offer. To refuse him would in all likelihood mean a life of genteel poverty, and possibly even never marrying. It had not even crossed his mind, that in the name of honor and love, she would choose to reject him. Miss Bingley he did not doubt, would have suffered any slur on her family to become mistress of Pemberley. He shuddered at the prospect.
Fitzwilliam Darcy now understood the qualities possessed of some women that make men ready to die for them - and despaired.
He was fixed now by the knowledge that Miss Bennet's good opinion was now even more worth the earning. And he wished mightily to earn it. His sole object from that time had been to work through the things that had caused her resentment, rectifying them one by one. For if he did not, his feelings told him that he would be unlikely to marry - ever. "What then of that proud Darcy name and lineage? What of the family, fortune, and connections? All be lost, and utterly so, if I do not marry and produce an heir. Yet that will be, if I cannot marry Elizabeth Bennett."
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." The warning haunted him. He had had the fall. Now only a miracle it seemed, could avert destruction.
As he paced up and down in the library, he realized that even though he had done as much as was within his power, it seemed he still could not be sure of winning her affection. He could put a further proposal, but it would be his last chance. If he failed, it would be the end of him, his family, his name. Yet if he dared nothing he would get exactly that - nothing. Whichever way he turned, the risks seemed too great. He must do something, but what? Thus were the thoughts tumbling over and over in the mind of the Master of Pemberley.
Suddenly, his butler burst in, and hurriedly announced "Lady Catherine De Bourgh, sir."
The reason for the butler's undignified haste became soon apparent as the Lady herself appeared hard on his heels, and in something of a state as the butler confided to the housekeeper later that night.
"Fitzwilliam, I must speak to you at once!" she exclaimed with a degree of agitation that Darcy had not seen for some time.
"Pray go on Lady Catherine, but surely you would like to take tea first?" he asked moving for the bell.
"Certainly not. I shall be heard immediately." She rejoined impatiently. "A report of an alarming nature reached me a couple of days ago..."
"Alarming?" said Darcy with a lift of an eyebrow.
"Yes, and pray do not interrupt me." She fumed. "Apparently it has been put about that you are to be engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennett! Well, what do you think of that, nephew? Have you heard anything so abominably ridiculous?"
Darcy stiffened in astonishment, unable to speak at first. Eventually, he collected himself, mumbling that he could not imagine where such a rumor could have originated.
This, however, was not good enough for Lady Catherine. She continued, "I, myself have just come from Hertfordshire where I have confronted that scheming vixen, Miss Bennett."
"You spoke to Miss Bennett?" Darcy was incredulous.
"Yes, and I am most seriously displeased at her reply," said Lady Catherine.
Darcy was now all ears, his voice now becoming calm and measured as he framed his next question. "Why, what did she say Aunt?"
"Well, I had at least that satisfaction of knowing that you were not engaged, but she would not oblige me by promising not to enter into an engagement, and that is the reason for my coming here," was the determined response.
"But Aunt Catherine, surely such a refusal in itself does not mean that she would accept an offer. It might only mean that she resented your intrusion, and line of questioning. Perhaps she was as affronted by an idle report of an engagement to me, as you were, but was not prepared to discuss it with someone so wholly unconnected with her family. That, surely, is what a lady of breeding would do." This was delivered with a studied degree of unconcern, but Darcy now directed his mind to Lady Catherine's reply, much as a fox might direct his attention to the chickens, wanting as much from her as he could without raising her suspicions.
"My dear nephew," she said with some degree of exasperation, and a sniff of derision at the thought of Elizabeth Bennett being a lady of breeding. "I pride myself on my ability to judge the intentions of some types of women. I have taken an especial interest in those around you, and I am sure that you know the reason why." This reference to her hopes for his cousin Anne caused Darcy a momentary flicker of impatience, but she soon continued. "When this Miss Bennett dined with us at Rosings, it only took me two minutes to see that she had no interest in you. There was no danger from her then, and had there been, she would have been on the coach to Bromley the next morning, make no mistake. However, on my visit to Hertfordshire, it was an entirely different matter. She has changed her mind and will have you now. I could see it in her eyes and her voice when I mentioned your name. At that moment, I knew you were in peril. She will not rest until she has snared you Fitzwilliam. Miss Elizabeth Bennett is merely waiting till she can get you on your own, to use her arts and allurements for your ruin. But I knew how to act. You had to be informed to avoid being taken in. I trust that you at least, will know what to do now."
Darcy's heart leapt with hope, but he retained his composure. If his Aunt's judgement of Miss Bennet's state of mind at Rosings had been so good, then perhaps her judgement of the last day was also correct. He allowed himself a brief anticipation of the pleasures of being drawn in by Elizabeth Bennet's arts and allurements, and reflected that the man that married her must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to his situation , that he could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.
"Aunt Catherine, you have been most helpful. I shall go to Hertfordshire the day after tomorrow. I assure you that I shall act in the best interests of the Darcy name and fortune. I shall see to it that Miss Bennett is put in her rightful place, and there will be no more rumors of marriage. Would you now stay for some tea?"
Lady Catherine demurred with a smile, saying that since the hour was late, she must hurry back to her own residence. Darcy bowed as Lady Catherine made an exit that was a trifle more stately than her entrance.
He allowed himself the luxury of looking along the bookshelves for a particular book, one well used and familiar. He opened it thinking that this might be his favorite piece of English literature for the next few months, and the "beati omnes" his most anticipated piece of poetry.*
Darcy sat back in his favorite chair, book in hand, with an expression on his face that bespoke of the cat that had consumed the cream. "Yes!" He thought. "I shall most certainly go to Hertfordshire, and I most definitely intend that marriage between Miss Bennett and myself will be no rumor. Thanks to your information, I hope to put her in her rightful place - by my side as my wife. Thank you, dearest Lady Catherine! I am much obliged."
* Mr. Collins alluded to a line from the "beati omnes" in the book, and Miss Bingley along with all other hopefuls in the marriage stakes in England at that time would have known it by rote. So I figure that if it's good enough for JA, its good enough for me, even if her execution is just a little better than mine. In fact, upon reflection, Mr. Collins' execution is probably just a little better than mine - sigh. ;-(
Also apologies for my various shameless plagiarisms from JA, esp. in para 26. MARKS.
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