There must be no further delay. I must speak directly to Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I must speak today. To delay further would be a great unkindness. She is expecting my addressees this evening—she must be. She has feigned illness in order to remain at Hunsford Parsonage while her companions are at Rosings. There can be no doubt - she is in love with me and wishes to be my wife. But of course, marriage between us is not possible. I have resolved that matter many times in my mind. She is pleasant enough and her company is pleasing to me. More than pleasing. It may even be that I am in love with her - but that, however, is irrelevant. In any case it is not possible for us to be married. I understand that, and she must be taught to understand that as well. Our circumstances are simply too different. The degradation for the Darcy family would be too great. I have my responsibilities.
Except for her ancestry, Miss Bennet herself would be a welcome addition to Pemberley. Her wit and conversations would make her welcome in the finest company. She would be at ease in court as well as at any great estate. In personality as well as demeanor, she would the kind of wife which a gentleman like myself could view with pride and introduce to his friends without fear of embarrassment. I cannot say the same for her family. I could overlook the defects in her heritage, were it not for the conduct of her family. Her mother... Her sisters... even at times her father - and he a gentlemen. She even has relatives in trade. No, it is not possible. It would never do. I have thought it through. I am resolved. I will go to the parsonage this minute. If I hurry, I will not be missed.
This will be painful for Miss Bennet. Her disappointment will be great. I must be kind and ease her discomfort as best I can. But it must be said and it must be said this very night. Colonel Fitzwilliam and I leave for London in two days time. There may be no other opportunity for Miss Bennet and me to speak privately. To depart without speaking and prolong her misconception would be unnecessarily cruel. It is my duty as gentlemen to say what must be said.
I know too, this parting will be painful for me as well. I shall regret her loss - but I shall get over it. I have indeed become quite fond of her. I think, to a degree, I love her. Time spent in her presence is bliss, and time spent away from her is interminable. The sound of her voice is delight. No other woman has ever affected me in this manner. No other woman has ever touched me in this way.
Her face looks drawn, strained. I believe she must have despaired of my coming - surely that is the cause of her anxiety. Laughter and merriment sit much better on her face than distress and anxiety. Does she know what I am to say? Has she anticipated my thoughts?
Is it possible that I might never look into those eyes again? Must I never hear that voice? Must I never again be in her company as I am now?
I must put an end to these sentiments immediately. My better judgment must and will prevail over my emotions. I will speak to her now and return to London where I shall marry someone of my own station. Elizabeth Bennet will remain in Hertfordshire, where she will marry - will marry - someone else. I shall never see her again.
...never see her again...
I must speak now.
Why can I not form the words? Why am I unable to say what it is my duty to say? My only thoughts are those of admiration. You have intoxicated me with your presence. I am a rational being, I cannot be bewitched. I am too fond. I love you too much to give you up. I must speak now. To delay further would make denial impossible. Minutes ago, I knew what to say. For days I have known what must be said. I must put an end to this delusion once and for all. This must be our final meeting. I cannot bear to think of our division. To never see you again would be insupportable. It is my duty...
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
"I have been walking the grove sometime in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honor of reading that letter?"
Fitzwilliam Darcy placed the letter into the hand of Elizabeth Bennet, turned on his heel and walked away. With that gesture, he put an end to an unpleasant episode in his life. Four months of uncertainty and turmoil, soul searching and questioning, had ended just yesterday, and he had spent the greater part of the night putting the incident behind him. It had been necessary for him -- for his sense of justice -- to explain his actions on some matters, and, having done that in the aforementioned letter, he was resolved to move on. He had made a bad decision. For a brief interlude, he had let his heart rule his head. But the matter had been resolved once and for all, and it was all for the best.
Darcy returned to his room at Rosings and made the final preparations for his departure, an event which could not happen too soon for his peace of mind. He was relentless in his preparations and was distracted from his business only by the voice of Colonel Fitzwilliam reminding him that they could not depart without taking leave of the residents and guests of Hunsford Parsonage. This, of course, was the one thing that Darcy did not wish to do. But he was a gentleman, and as such, he had responsibilities as well as standards to uphold. It was with great relief that he heard, upon their arrival at the parsonage, that Miss Bennet had not yet returned from her morning walk. Miss Bennet would be most disappointed, Mrs. Collins assured him, to have missed the opportunity of bidding him farewell. Darcy was confident that this was not the case, but he did not contradict Mrs. Collins. Having discharged his duty as a gentleman, he took his leave and returned to Rosings. Colonel Fitzwilliam, on the other hand, was not so easily deterred. He insisted on remaining longer in hopes of seeing Miss Bennet one last time, and only returned to Rosings some hour-and-a-half later when it became clear that Miss Bennet had extended her customary walk.
The next morning, Col. Fitzwilliam found an impatient Darcy waiting for him at the carriage door. Darcy was eager to return to London. For four months he had allowed some important matters to slip and had left some business unattended. But the source of the distraction had been removed from his mind -- he had finalized that when he signed his letter -- and now he was resolved to return to life as he had previously known it.
Upon his return to London, he thrust himself into the business at hand. There were matters relating to Pemberley that required attention. There was neglected correspondence to be written. He had long planned to purchase a new pianoforte for Georgiana, and now he invested many hours in selecting just the right instrument. He attended the opera and the ballet. He made a trip to Cambridge in pursuit of volumes for his library. He purchased a new horse and rode it daily in St. James Park. He accepted more social invitations, including ones he would have dismissed out of hand in the past. He derived little pleasure from these events - the inconsequential chatter was trying to him and every new conversation was an effort. But try he did, and even found that with practice, the light conversation of parties became easier, if not more pleasurable.
His life was filled with events and he moved through each day with the satisfaction of knowing that he was filling his role as a responsible gentleman. Each evening he returned to his room, exhausted but filled with self-righteousness, to rest and prepare for he next day. This was life as it should be, he told himself with absolute assurance.
As always, much of his time was spent with Charles Bingley. His friend, too, was thoroughly occupied with life in London and seemed to be content. Darcy did notice that at times his friend appeared distracted, absent even, when they were talking. At other times, Bingley's normally cheerful disposition seemed, well, less cheerful -- more reflective and introspective - almost bordering on melancholy. Darcy did not inquire of his friend if there was a reason for his apparent low spirits. He observed Bingley carefully and concluded with his usual clarity that the city air (and nothing more) was having an adverse effect on his friend. That was easy enough to remedy. This summer, Darcy would be spending time at Pemberley. He would make sure to invite his friend and his sisters to join him there. The fresh air of Derbyshire would quickly restore Bingley's spirits. Darcy was pleased to have resolved the question so satisfactorily, and even more pleased to be able to be of service to his friend in his time of need.
At no time during this period did the name of Elizabeth Bennet cross the mind of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Darcy maintained this pace for a fortnight and more. As the fourth week progressed, he found his enthusiasm waning and his pace unaccountably slowing. While he had earlier been able to busy himself with correspondence and reading, he no longer had the inclination to do so. Georgiana's pianoforte had been selected and ordered, and the date for its delivery to Pemberley had been set. There was no longer any need for his attention in that quarter. He had seen his tailor. He had seen his boot maker. He had diligently discharged all pressing responsibilities, and the several others were not pressing enough to interest him. While he was now finding himself more comfortable conversing in a social setting, he was deriving less and less pleasure from it. Though the speakers were often well intentioned, the subject matter lacked substance and the speakers, while of the same social class as himself, often seemed uninformed or uneducated. There was much talk and little said. Much shallow conversation and few real insights. Darcy fared better at his club, but he was continually amazed that the women of his acquaintance seemed so eager to talk but were lacking in true intelligence and wit. He wondered that this had escaped his notice before.
What the women of his circle were not lacking in was flattery. Lead by Caroline Bingley, the women around him seemed all too eager to compliment him. They hung on his words, they admired his discernment, they noted with great enthusiasm the title of any book he mentioned, earnestly professing a desire to obtain and read the book at the earliest possible moment. At one time he might have believed their sincerity, but now he could only imagine with contempt the image of them all scampering to the bookseller at dawn, and then struggling with a tome that was well beyond their intellectual reach, probably tossing it aside after the first paragraph. Oh, they meant well, he supposed. They were not bad people, but they offered little to hold his interest. Only a truly accomplished lady could do that, and as far as he could see there were few, if any, of them within his current circle of acquaintance.
At the midpoint of his fifth week in London, he was expected at a school friend's home for dinner followed by an evening of cards. When the appointed day came, he dutifully dressed and prepared to attend despite the fact that he was lacking enthusiasm for the dinner and that he had a lifelong distaste for cards. Only his fondness for his friend had made him accept the invitation. With a notable lack of enthusiasm, he picked up his hat and gloves and started for the door. He has gone only a few steps down the street, however, when the dread of the event overwhelmed him. Darcy had not, until that moment, realized how he longed to spend a quiet evening at home. He hesitated only long enough to decide that he had neither the strength nor the desire to attend the party. He abruptly returned to his house, dropped his hat and gloves on the table, and penned a hasty note.
I had every intention of being with you and your company this evening. Unfortunately, I find that I am now indisposed, and must send my regrets. I hope that this condition will be fleeting and that I will see you at the club on Saturday as planned.
Yours, etc., etc.
He commissioned his man to deliver the message immediately, and pulling off his top coat, retreated back into his home.
A few moments later, in more comfortable attire, he told the servants they could retire, and he slipped into his much loved library.
This was his room, his haven. It had been his father's before him. In the years since his father's death, it -- like the rest of the London house and like Pemberley -- had come to reflect the tastes of the current owner. Darcy preferred simpler furnishings, though of no lesser quality, without ostentation. This room was now truly his.
All of his life, this room had been his roadstead, yet since his return to London five weeks prior, he had spent very little time there. Tonight it welcomed him. Though the month was June, the night was chilly and damp and there was a fire awaiting him, with two familiar comfortable chairs close by. For a fleeting instant he could almost see his parents sitting in those chairs, where they had so often sat, with he and Georgiana sitting on cushions nearby. Tired from the frenzied pace of London, he collapsed into the chair that had been his father's and was now his own favorite. Briefly he gazed into the fire before his eyes closed and he fell asleep.
The fire was lower and breaking into embers when he awoke. He sat very still, enjoying the warmth and the sound of the fire. The noise and prattle of his social circle were far away. This, he thought to himself, was what he needed most: an evening of quiet, in his favorite room, with only a book, a glass of port and a fire for his company. This had always been perfection in his view, and still it was today. Yet even as he was telling himself that this was all he needed to achieve contentment, he was plagued by a lingering sensation that something was not as it should be. He brushed off the thought as he strode to the bookcase, and carelessly selected a volume. This one would do for tonight. He would read for half-an-hour and then retire. He poured a glass of port, settled into his chair, moved the candle closer, and began to read. He achieved, however, only half a page. Concentration eluded him. His mind drifted and his eyes wandered back to the fire.
He had done the right thing, he reflected, by foregoing the party. Frederick would understand. He was better off here tonight. In fact, upon reflection, the lifestyle he had been leading was not very satisfying. Busy, but not satisfying. He must spend more time at home, here in his library. He closed his eyes to savor his contentment. To his surprise and vexation, the contentment did not come.
Always a man devoted to the truth, he acknowledged to himself that something was not right, that something in his life needed mending. He eyed the room, searching for an answer. His eyes roamed the towering bookcases filled to overflowing with the collection of several lifetimes, but a small portion of the Pemberley collection. The simple but spacious desk. His favorite pens. The maps on the walls. The chairs placed comfortably close to the fire. His eyes rested on the other chair while his mind wandered. It was the other chair. The other chair was the difficulty. Not because it was there, but because it was vacant. It should be occupied, not empty. Suddenly, solitude was no longer supportable to him. He was lonely. No, this was more than loneliness. This was a crushing ache, a longing to have someone sitting next to him to share a look, a smile, a confidence, a touch. He felt a tightening in his chest.
He had not thought about Elizabeth Bennet for five weeks. Now she was vividly before him. And yet not before him. The only person who can fill this void in my life is Elizabeth Bennet and she is not here. Nor will she ever be. Elizabeth Bennet. Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.
Again, Darcy tried to shake off his reverie. He had put that part of his life behind him. In any case, Elizabeth Bennet was part of his past, and not of his present nor of his future. If he needed a companion-- dare he say a wife -- he would need to find someone else. If he wished to share such moments as this with someone, it would have to be with someone other than Elizabeth Bennet.
What about -- what was her name? -- Miss Jordan. He had met her only a few days before, and had found her lovely as well as charming. She came from an excellent family and had an independent fortune -- qualities which could not be ascribed to certain other individuals. But as his memory cleared, he was reminded that while her conversation has shown promise early on, she had quickly become tiresome and he had soon excused himself from her company. Giving the matter more thought, he was forced to concede that most, if not all, of the women he had met since his return to London, had fallen short of his expectations. They were all lackluster and tedious, especially when compared with... But what is the use of making such comparisons. Caroline Bingley? With a certain lack of subtlety, she had long made her wishes obvious. She would be more than willing to fill that chair. But she would never read her own book and would never know her own mind. She was tolerable enough, but offered little to attract him. She would always be welcome in his house as Bingley's sister, but nothing more. No, Caroline Bingley would not do.
Darcy felt defensive. It is unfortunate that Elizabeth Bennet did not have the good sense to accept my proposal. Look what I could have done for her. But no, she had shown a lack of discernment and good breeding in so rudely rejecting his proposal.
"I might as well inquire why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?"
What had he said that was not true? He had merely pointed out the inferiority of her connections, an undeniable fact. But at the same time, he had assured her that his attachment to her was such that he was willing to overlook this -- this degradation -- in order to ask for her hand in marriage. The truth was on his side.
In the rush of agitated thoughts going through Darcy's mind, there was a long pause.
In this case, what was the truth? When carefully viewed, the truth had little to do with what he had said to Elizabeth Bennet that day. Oh yes, he had spoken the truth, but the most important truth (and the most painful to admit) was, and still is, that Fitzwilliam Darcy is deeply and truly in love with Elizabeth Bennet. There were other "truths" -- the truths about her connections -- but just as other young women paled when compared with Elizabeth, these other truths were insignificant when compared with Elizabeth's importance to his life and her role in his future happiness.
He shuddered now when he reviewed his own words. He shuddered, too, when he thought of his absolute confidence that day that she would accept his proposal. At a time when he should have found a hundred ways to tell her he loved her, he had treated the woman he loved -- loves -- abominably, and had hurt her deeply. Instead of inspiring her affection, which he so deeply wanted, he had inspired her hatred and her contempt.
Of course she had declined him. She did what few other women in England would have done. She rejected his proposal, and put him in his place. And he had hated her for it.
What if she had accepted? They would have married, and perhaps they would have been happy. But he would have gone through life patronizing her, always with the knowledge that she was his inferior, someone for whom he had sacrificed his values and ignored his scruples to raise up to a higher strata. What a dreadful husband he would have been and what a dreadful life that would have been for someone with the character of Elizabeth Bennet. But there was no point in even contemplating it. Elizabeth Bennet, the Elizabeth Bennet he knew and loved, would never have accepted such a proposal. It would have been against her character. With great difficulty, he admitted to himself that she is the one in possession of the truth. She has never been my inferior, but rather my equal. No, my superior. It would have been ludicrous for her to accept me. Almost as ludicrous as if she was to accept ... someone of the character of Mr. William Collins, for example, should he have ever had the effrontery to ask for her hand in marriage.
With this difficult realization came a broadening and deepening of Darcy's love, for now it was enriched by respect -- respect for a woman who would not lower herself to accept such a proposal, even when it brought with it great wealth and social position. He had thought he was in love with Elizabeth Bennet that day in April, but the affection he held for her today far overshadowed that older sentiment.
"From the very beginning ... your manners impressed me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others... I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man on earth whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
The words stung him as sharply now as they did when she spoke them last April. And the shattering blow --
"You are mistaken if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way than has it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman like manner. You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."
This indeed is the woman I love. If I am unhappy tonight, lonely in my solitude, I have only myself to blame. My behavior to Miss Bennet, and to many others, has been unpardonable.
In the distance, Darcy heard the sound of a knock at the door. This was unusual at this hour, and he moved quietly to the library door. He heard his man answer the door and then heard the familiar voice of Charles Bingley. He was en route home from the dinner party and had stopped in to inquire after his friend's health. He was reassured to hear that Mr. Darcy was not seriously ill and that some rest was all that was required. He was certain to be more fit in the morning. Bingley sounded relieved, sent his greetings, and departed.
Darcy returned to his library. Bingley was a good friend. Darcy was fortunate to have such a friend. It was too bad his health had been so indifferent this spring.
Darcy stopped in the midst of refilling his glass. Again, he had been blind. Of course it was not the London air that was compromising Bingley's health. It was the absence of Miss Jane Bennet that was affecting his spirits. His attachment to Jane Bennet must be deeper than I realized, and if Elizabeth is correct, which surely she is, Jane's attachment to Charles is deeper that the serenity of her countenance had shown. Certainly Charles, and probably Jane are now suffering the sad consequences of my righteous, albeit misguided interference. I understand my friend's sadness more, now that I have become acquainted with the source of my own. Never in his life had Darcy felt more humble and regretful.
The fire burned low and the pile of ashes grew.
But what of Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Was there reason to think that she might now be suffering some regrets, perhaps having a change of heart? When last Darcy had looked into her "fine eyes" they had been filled with anger and contempt. The damage he did that day, and on the occasions of their meetings before, had been severe. No, it was unlikely that she would ever fully reverse her opinion of him. He must teach himself to live with the consequences of his actions.
He eased himself back into his chair. What of my letter? Is there some cause for hope in that quarter? Perhaps it had brought about some change? But I fear it is unlikely. I was angry and resentful when I wrote it, and offered only justifications and no apologies. The most I can hope for is that it changed her opinion of my actions toward George Wickham. More than that I cannot expect.
And what of Charles Bingley? Could he mend there? The mere thought of Bingley married to Jane Bennet while he lived without his Elizabeth was insupportable. He would be often thrown into her company: such contact would be unavoidable, and it would be unbearable. But he owed it -- more than owed it -- to his friend, to attempt to remedy the situation. Perhaps he would find a way to bring the two of them together again, and perhaps he would find the courage to apologize to his friend, and to fully reveal what his role had been in their sad separation.
There was a noise at the door. Darcy turned to see Georgiana, draped in her robe, with her candle in her hand. Beautiful, naive, generous-hearted Georgiana, who looked up to her brother as if he could do no wrong. An awkward, shy child, now growing into a graceful, but still shy woman. The look on his face made her start with amazement.
"My dearest brother. Something serious has distressed you. Is there some way I may help?"
"No, Georgiana, I thank you." Then after a pause, "I have spent the evening becoming better acquainted with myself, and I have found that I am not the person I thought I was. Now I must learn to live with the person I am." She looked perplexed.
"Please do not distress yourself about me," he continued. "As you yourself know all too well, there are many difficult lessons to be learned in life. Today, it has been my turn to learn one of the most difficult." He looked briefly into the dying fire before rousing himself.
"Both of us need our sleep. Goodnight Georgiana. Thank you. I will be better in the morning."
But he was not better -- not the next day, nor the day after, nor the day after that.
For as long as Georgiana could remember, her brother had been a model of stability in her life. He had always been the adored older brother. Ten years her senior, she had looked up to him all of her life. Upon the death of their parents, he had become a kind of father to her. He was a loving but demanding brother, with high expectations for her abilities. She always worked hard to please him and he was generous with his praise of her accomplishments.
They had been through a lot together, most recently her near elopement with George Wickham. At first she had been puzzled and surprised at her brother's intervention. So charming a man as Mr. Wickham, she had thought, could only have her best interests at heart. Now she realized that her brother saved her from a disastrous marriage and a lifetime of unhappiness. Having once been, as she saw it, a great disappointment to her brother, she was eager now to be as little trouble to him as possible.
Through all of their trials, she could always count on her brother to be unchangeable. The brother she had looked up to ten years ago was the same person as the brother who confronted Mr. Wickham just under a year ago. But a few months ago, he who had seemed so securely moored, had altered.
Several months prior, Fitzwilliam had visited the country home of Charles Bingley and had returned to London unsettled and distracted. At times, his mind would wander, or she would be unable to get his attention. This continued for a couple of months, and then there was another abrupt change. He returned from a visit to Aunt Catherine as a man who was tense and withdrawn, angry and fitful. It appeared to Georgiana that he had built a shell around himself, that he wished to appear invulnerable. And yet, much to her surprise, he had hurled himself in the social life of London, a pastime he had previously found distasteful and eschewed whenever possible. Georgiana had long understood that her brother preferred to attend only small parties at the homes of close friends. Now he accepted every invitation that came his way. More often than not, he returned home from these soirees in a bad mood. It appeared to Georgiana that the less he enjoyed himself, the more he attended.
A few nights ago she had met yet another side of Fitzwilliam. This one was sad. This one seemed to carry a great burden. This one was humble. And this new Fitzwilliam was suffering. He did his best to conceal it -- Georgiana could see that. But in his unguarded moments, when she saw the sadness in his face, she thought her heart would break for him. Her greatest desire was to reach out and touch him, to take his hand, to offer him what comfort she could. But this was impossible: she was far too much in awe of her brother. What could she, who had lived such a sheltered life, offer him, who had seen so much of the world.
As Georgiana lay in her bed one night, she contemplated her brother and his troubles. How little she knew him. She knew nothing of his most personal thoughts and hopes. His personal life was very much his own. It was impossible for her to know the source of her brother's sadness. But at the back of her mind was the lingering fear that she had done something to hurt or disappoint him. She knew that she had done that once -- she was deeply afraid that she had done that again. It would be difficult for her to find the answer but she was resolved to seek an opportunity.
The opportunity presented itself but a few days later. Since that night when she discovered him in the library, Fitzwilliam's life had returned to a familiar pace. He was more often home of an evening. Once again, he had time to sit with her as she played the pianoforte after dinner. On this evening, she played several pieces and then, as was her custom, finished the evening with a song.
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly today,
Were to change by tomorrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy gifts fading away.
Thou would'st still be adored as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.
It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sunflower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look which she turn'd when he rose.
When the song was finished, she put away her music and turned to her brother to say goodnight. Again she was startled by his face. His mind seemed to be many miles away and his eyes were filled with tears. Unable to speak, Georgiana waited until the moment had passed. Her brother blinked and once again he was back in their London music room. She must speak now.
"My dearest brother," she began timidly. "I know it is not in your nature to confide in me. But please relieve my suffering by telling me if it is something I have done that has brought on this great sadness."
He moved quickly to her side, embraced her, and then taking her face in his hands said, "Please know that you have done nothing, absolutely nothing to distress me." Georgiana's face was radiant with relief. "I am most heartily sorry if I have given you reason to think that." Fitzwilliam studied his sister for a long moment. She had always been his baby sister, almost his own child, and it had never occurred to him before that he might confide in her. What insight can she offer me? Why should I burden her with my troubles? But perhaps it is selfish of me to not share my thoughts with her. In doing so I may help her to avoid the same mistakes that I have made. I need not tell her all, but if I can spare her some future pain by sharing my experience, it is my obligation to do so.
"Too often I have kept my feelings to myself at the expense of the feelings of others. I know that I have been moody of late and have been poor company for you. Perhaps if you hear some of the story you will understand." He began haltingly. "Several months ago while in Hertfordshire, I met a young woman. Almost before I realized it, I had formed an attachment for her." Georgiana's eyes widened. "At the same time, it seemed to me that there were important objections to the lady, objections which I thought outweighed my fondness for her. I told myself that an alliance with her was out of the question and attempted to put her out of my mind."
After a pause, he continued, choosing his words carefully. "For some months I did not see her. But during my visit to Rosings last April, I saw her again, quite by chance. During my visits with her there, I found that my attachment to her had become something much deeper, much dearer. In spite of my misgivings, Georgiana, I asked her to be my wife."
"When I did, I quickly learned that while I had been falling in love with her, she had been forming an ill opinion of me, based on my behavior to herself and others. I confirmed that ill opinion that day because when I spoke to her, I spoke to her in a manner not befitting a gentlemen."
"But Fitzwilliam, you have told me of no engagement."
"My proposal was rejected, which was no more than I deserved. She is a lady worthy of the very best and that was not what I offered her that day. At the time, I did not understand this. I was wounded, angry, and bitter. With time I have come to see the justice of her rejection and to know that I have driven her away. I have only myself to blame for my present unhappiness."
"Perhaps it will be possible to make amends..."
"My heart wishes that it could be so. My reason tells me it will never be possible. She rightfully found many faults in me and I am daily attempting to correct them. But it is unlikely that our paths will ever cross again. Even if they did, her feelings against me were so strong that it is difficult for me to believe that her opinion of me could undergo a material change. I do not even allow myself to hope for it."
Never had Georgiana seen her brother so despondent. "Fitzwilliam, I am too young and too unworldly to advise you. I only know that it distresses me to see you in such low spirits. Whatever opinion this woman may have formed of you, I know you to be a good, kind, generous, and loving man. It is my hope that when the time comes that I should fall in love, I hope that I may find a man of your character. I cannot believe that there are many like you." Darcy's spirits, while still low, were lifted more than a little by the devotion of his sister. Her confidence buoyed his flagging spirits and he embraced her again.
"That is my tale, Georgiana. I have told it to you, not to engage your sympathy, but so that you might learn from my mistakes." He did not regret his decision to confide in her.
Georgiana sat awake late into the night, pondering her brother. So he had been in love all this time. She had never thought of her brother as being in love. She had seen him around women. While these women were always most attentive to him, he rarely showed more than a casual interest in them.
From time to time she had heard Mrs. Reynolds lament this. "It is my greatest desire to see our boy married and settled here at Pemberley. Of course, it will not be easy to find a young woman who is good enough for our Fitzwilliam. He is a very extraordinary man, your brother, and it will take an extraordinary woman to be his wife. Of course, my dear, he could have any women in England that he wants. But the right woman -- the one who will draw him out and make him happy -- she is very special. She will not be easy to find. One day he will meet her and then we will have a true family here at Pemberley again. Then we shall again hear the sounds of children's voices in these great halls."
It would seem to Georgiana that Fitzwilliam had met the woman of whom Mrs. Reynolds had been speaking. Georgiana longed to meet her, to know her better. What would the woman be like, she wondered, who had so completely captured the heart of her brother? But if what Fitzwilliam said was true, she might never have the opportunity. She sincerely hoped that her brother was wrong.
Late spring turned into summer. The daffodils in St. James Park had long since bloomed and faded. Georgiana went to Pemberley for a visit, but her brother remained behind in London. He told Georgiana that he had pressing matters to attend to in London and would wait until his visit in August. While this was true, it was not the whole story. Fitzwilliam Darcy had no wish to return to his boyhood home just now. In one reflective moment he had allowed himself to imagine crossing the threshold of Pemberley with Elizabeth Bennet on his arm. The thought had brought him such joy that he now had little desire to be there without her. This feeling would pass, he was sure, and Pemberley was, after all, the place he loved most in the world. He would return there in August, accompanied by Bingley and his sisters. That was already settled. By then he would be ready. August would be soon enough.
Darcy and Georgiana did not talk again that summer about the mysterious woman. Georgiana did, however, have other revelations. During tea one day at the Bingley's, Georgiana heard Caroline Bingley make some slighting reference to one Elizabeth Bennet, and Georgiana saw her brother's back stiffen at the mention. Only Georgiana would have noticed. Caroline was oblivious to the effect of her remarks as she blundered on, finishing her caustic comments with a mention of Miss Bennet's fine eyes. Darcy said nothing; his face was stoic. Georgiana could only helplessly wish that Caroline would focus her ill advised chatter on someone else. So distressed was Georgiana on her brother's behalf that she exerted herself to engage Caroline in conversation, thereby distracting her and turning the conversation in a different direction. She did not see her brothers grateful, affectionate glance. What she did see, when she turned her attention back to her brother, was that he in turn was studying Charles. Charles, too, had become distracted since the mention of Miss Bennet's name and was staring out of the window. Georgiana had always suspected that there was more to the story than her brother had told her. Now she was sure of it. Now, at least, she knew the lady's name.
The heat in London meant to all who were able, that it was time to repair to the county. It was August. It was at last the time for the long planned party at Pemberley. The arrangements had been made -- the group would travel together from town and would stop over for two nights along the way. They would travel on the first and third days, using the second to refresh themselves and the horses. Darcy and Charles would ride, and the ladies, Caroline Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, and Georgiana, along with Mr. Hurst, would be passengers in Darcy's carriage. All went as planned on the first day. On the morning of the second day, however, Darcy abruptly changed his plans and declared the intention of riding on ahead of the group. The ladies would be fine escorted by Charles, and Darcy had some matters of business to attend to at Pemberley before their arrival. It was all settled.
Leaving the others behind, Darcy rode toward Pemberley. He most certainly had business awaiting him, details that he needed to discuss with his steward. But more than that, he wanted to approach Pemberley alone. He had fortified himself, but despite the passage of time, he still dreaded this homecoming. Under other circumstances, he might now have been escorting his bride to Pemberley. Since this was not the case, he preferred to enter Pemberley on his own terms without, at least for a short time, the responsibilities of a host.
He covered the familiar road quickly. By early afternoon, Pemberley rose before him. This was his home, the home of his parents and his beloved sister. Here he had spent his happy childhood. He knew every stone and every tree. He knew every bend in the river and every fishing spot on the lake. This is my home. I am being childish. From this day, I shall truly put the past behind me. Elizabeth Bennet is gone. The rest of my life is before me.
And yet, as he entered the gates and approached the door, his resolve faltered. He dismounted and handed the reins to his startled groom who was muttering about not expecting him until tomorrow. No, he would not go inside just yet. There was no need to rush. The ride had been long and he needed to walk before going indoors. Knowing full well that he had only postponed the inevitable, he strode into the shrubbery toward the lake.
Only a few minutes later, Darcy walked absently thought the door of Pemberley, and collapsed into the nearest chair. His face was burning and his mind was spinning. While no one had struck him, he felt as if he had taken a blow to the chest, and it was difficult to draw breath. His mind raced. Elizabeth Bennet is in Derbyshire. She, who he had feared he would never see again, was even now strolling on the grounds of Pemberley. He had been walking toward the lake and suddenly they were face to face. They had spoken, neither of them at ease, both of them civil. He could not even remember what he had said. He only knew that they had spoken briefly, until words had failed them both. He had excused himself and entered the house. Elizabeth Bennet is here. What is she thinking now? Why am I within these walls when she is so close? Why am here when the only place in the world I want to be is by her side? Is it possible that she might leave the grounds without my seeing her again? It is not possible -- I cannot allow it to happen. This is my opportunity to gain some part of her good opinion. Elizabeth Bennet may never be my wife, but it would be a great comfort to me to know that she no longer despises me. I must have this opportunity to redeem myself in her eyes. The time is slipping away. I may only have a few minutes to demonstrate to her that I heard her reproofs and that I have attended to them. He was on his feet in a second.
"Robert -- The guests who were touring the grounds just now -- in which direction did they set off?"
An hour later, the encounter was over and the guests were leaving. Darcy handed Elizabeth and her aunt into their carriage and bid them all farewell. His mind swirled as he walked slowly back to the house. In spite of their apparent mutual discomfort, they had spoken on amiable terms. He could not be certain -- perhaps his wishes had affected his vision -- but he thought he saw some warmth and perhaps even appreciation in the way she looked at him. Had his manners changed enough to attract her notice? I believe I may dare to take some comfort from this meeting. Whatever she may feel about me, I believe she no longer hates me. Darcy felt an infusion of relief and happiness such as he had not felt for many months.
Her aunt and uncle -- he had been surprised that her traveling companions were her relatives. He judged them to be charming people, people he would wish to know better. The opportunity might come in the next few days as this was not to be their last meeting during Elizabeth's visit. He had obtained Miss Bennet's permission to be introduced to Georgiana while she was in Lambton. It was agreed that he and his sister would call upon her at the inn two days hence, the day after Georgiana's arrival. How slowly the time would creep until then. Dare he think that Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle might then be persuaded to dine at Pemberley while they were nearby? Perhaps if the invitation came from Georgiana...
Darcy entered the house and a chiming clock caught his attention. He registered immediate gratitude for the friendly impulse that had lead him to come home a day early. He rejoiced that he had not by some circumstance been delayed on the road; half-an-hour later and Miss Bennet and her companions might have been gone from the grounds of Pemberley, and this almost unbelievably fortunate meeting might never have taken place.
The remainder of the Pemberley party arrived on schedule the next day. Their late breakfast was ready, waiting on the table when they arrived and they approached it eagerly. Hungry as she was, Georgiana could barely give her attention to her food. All of her watchfulness was taken in observation of her brother. Something in his countenance was different. The sadness which had of late so often haunted his eyes was gone and it had been replaced by -- eagerness? anticipation? expectation? Georgiana smiled inwardly and was warmed by the thought that her brother was in better spirits. What could be the reason? What could have happened since his departure from the inn only 24 hours before? Would he tell her?
Immediately after they dined, they retired to the music room where Georgiana was ceremoniously presented with her new pianoforte. A fine instrument it was, and Georgiana could hardly contain her delight at her beautiful gift. She eagerly tested the keys, but was too excited to do more. After being promised a recital before their departure, the others excused themselves, wanting to rest after their journey. Georgiana lingered in the music room, as did her brother. When they were alone he took her hand and spoke to her in a low voice.
"Georgiana, I have something to tell you, and a favor to ask." Georgiana encouraged him with a smile and a nod. "Do you remember some months ago, I spoke to you of a young woman...?"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" She said. Darcy was surprised. He did not remember mentioning her name.
"Yes, that is the lady. I have recently discovered that she is here now in Derbyshire, visiting in Lambton. She visited Pemberley yesterday -- she is touring this summer with her aunt and uncle. Quite by chance, I arrived while they were here."
"Is she well?" Georgiana dared venture no further.
"Very well, thank you." He paused thoughtfully and then continued. "They will be staying in Lambton for several more days. I should very much like for you to meet Miss Bennet while they continue in the neighborhood. I thought perhaps tomorrow, when you are rested and refreshed from your journey, we might call upon them at the inn." Georgiana's response was immediate.
"Must we wait until tomorrow? I am refreshed now. I could not possibly think of waiting until tomorrow. We must go this very day." Momentarily unable to speak, Darcy looked at her with eyes full of gratitude and respect.
"You summon the carriage, and I shall change my dress." Then after a thought, she added, "Do you think that Charles Bingley would like to accompany us?"
The earliest gray light of morning had penetrated the windows of Darcy's room. The day was not yet born: no longer night and not yet dawn. Most of England was still asleep. Fitzwilliam Darcy had been awake for some time.
There was a rare silence resting over Pemberley this summer morning. In that quiet Darcy could reflect -- yet again -- on the turn his life had taken only three days ago. In the ensuing time, the surprise of seeing Elizabeth Bennet once more had given way to the delight of being again in her presence. Euphoria had replaced shock. Pleasure had replaced grief.
From his bed, he could see the portrait of his mother hanging over his fireplace. It had been taken when she was about 21 years of age, Elizabeth's age today. So many women had touched his life of late. Elizabeth, of course, who had so unexpectedly reentered his life -- dare he hope that she would stay? Georgiana, whose quiet, shy exterior hid a keenly observant, deeply sensitive young woman. The ever strident Caroline Bingley. Mrs. Gardiner, a total stranger only a few days ago, who had viewed at him at first with pleasant acknowledgment, followed shortly thereafter with questioning surprise, and most recently with warm understanding and gentle encouragement. Even Mrs. Reynolds. Despite his distracted state, he could feel her eyes watching him as she had never done before. At the same time, those eyes were watching Elizabeth, appraising her, scrutinizing her, and finding her to be worthy.
The events of the last three days filled his thoughts this morning. The encounter with Elizabeth at Pemberley - his mind still reeled with the suddenness and unexpectedness of it. The introduction of Georgiana and Elizabeth at the inn at Lambton, which had been a interlude of great pleasure and satisfaction for him. By all appearances, they had warmed to each other almost immediately, with Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner generously drawing out the tentative Georgiana and encouraging her participation in the conversation. He had expected no less. On the other hand, Elizabeth herself had appeared nervous - she was clearly surprised and discomposed by their early arrival—and she seemed to Darcy's observation, to be eager to please her guests. In Darcy's view, there was no need for her to have worried.
Georgiana had bravely taken on the role of hostess and had secured the visitor's assurances that they would dine at Pemberley two days hence. In his own right, Darcy felt that he had found a new friend in Mr. Gardiner, who had agreed to join him and Mr. Bingley for a fishing expedition at Pemberley.
As scheduled, Mr. Gardiner had joined the gentlemen the following morning and the meeting had been rewarding to all both in terms of fish and of companionship. Mr. Gardiner was a well-educated, well-informed man, who spoke easily and intelligently on a broad range of topics. He could discourse as readily on government, commerce and literature as easily as he could on the fine art of fishing. The irony of the connection was not lost on Darcy. A few months ago, I would have thought him beneath my acquaintance. Now I see that my pride and my insistence on the proprieties of class has deprived me of the good company of such interesting persons as Mr. Gardiner.
Despite his delight in the fishing party, Darcy had inwardly regretted the passing of a day without seeing Miss Bennet. Even as his thoughts were again drifting from the lake to Lambton, he learned from Mr. Gardiner that the ladies were, in all probability, on the premises. Indeed, he found them a short time later in the saloon, having recently finished their refreshments. It was difficult for him to keep his face composed during that meeting; he hoped that his countenance did not betray the secrets of his heart, as he inwardly rejoiced in Elizabeth's presence in his home. He could not, however, tell if Elizabeth was glad to see him. Perhaps, he had thought to himself, she is uncertain herself.
His respect for Elizabeth grew as he watched her ability deflect the ill-natured barbs that Caroline Bingley had sent her way. While he resented Caroline's display of ill-breeding in her treatment of his guest, the exchange between Caroline and Elizabeth served to increase his admiration and appreciation of Elizabeth. It was readily apparent that she could handle herself with composure and credit in any company.
While Darcy's mind had been thus occupied, the gray dawn had turned into gold morning. The sun was higher now and it was warming the room. Darcy roused himself from the bed and found his robe, only to seat himself again in a chair near the window. Pemberley was coming to life now. The silence of half-an-hour ago was long gone, replaced by a hum of activity. The servants were stirring below and he would soon be expected for breakfast. His mind however, was too unsettled for company and Darcy was in no mood to leave the room. His breakfast would wait. The others could dine without him. He needed more time for reflection.
The night before, he had laid awake for some time, deeply engrossed in thought. His mind, as it had so often done of late, had traveled again to the inn at Lambton. What thoughts are in her mind tonight? He had tried, by every means at his command during their meetings to show Elizabeth that he bore her no ill will. She, in her turn, had softened her demeanor toward him. With hindsight, he wondered how he could have ever mistaken her past manner for encouragement. It was now vividly clear to him that she had never encouraged him during their meetings at Rosings. She had used every weapon in her arsenal to discourage him and his pride had blinded him to her message. How foolish he must have appeared. Even now, his face burned with embarrassment.
By contrast, her behavior to him during the last three days had been very different. He would not again be so bold as to think that she was encouraging him. But he could also not definitively say that she was discouraging him. She was open. She was attentive. She was friendly and demonstrated a spirit of good will. His reason told him this was more than he deserved, and his heart was grateful for her generosity of spirit.
Dare I think that one day I might ask her again to be my wife? Any other gentlemen might dismiss the idea out of hand. No man who has ever been refused would think of proposing a second time to the same woman. His pride would not allow it. But pride has come between us before, and my desire for happiness, my desire to spend the rest of my life in the company of Elizabeth Bennet, is far stronger that my pride.
My proposal and her refusal were both founded on misunderstandings. But time has passed and I have come to a greater understanding of myself and of her. Perhaps she has come to a greater understanding of me, or may do so with time.
My desires and wishes have never changed. It is impossible for me not to ask her again. But before I do, I must have reason to hope that the answer will be different. The answer must come from Elizabeth. I have every reason to think that her opinion of me has improved, is improving. Have I undone the damage I did at Meryton and Netherfield? Have I undone the damage of that evening at Rosings? The future -- my future, her future, our future -- is in her hands now. I can do no more than I am doing without a sign of encouragement from her. Will she give me that sign? And if so, when will she give it? Perhaps during her stay at Lambton. I wish it could be so, but that would be so soon. They only plan to remain here for two more days. If not in Derbyshire, then when? When and where will our paths cross again? Or if our paths do not cross, who will be our messenger? Who will be the one to tell me that I may speak to her with some degree of expectation? Elizabeth Bennet possesses the power, if chooses to use it. I must teach myself to be patient.
With these thoughts crowding his head, he had finally fallen into a fitful sleep. These same thoughts, he found, were still with him this morning. He was looking forward to a day to be endured, many hours to be tolerated until the arrival of Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle for dinner this evening. But did the day have to be spent thus? Every minute spent in the company of Elizabeth was a minute of joy to him. Why did the day have to be wasted? He could make excuses to his guests and take himself to Lambton. It was far better to be with Elizabeth than without her. He rose from the chair and noticed that a slip of paper had been pushed under his door. He immediately recognized Georgiana's graceful hand.
My Dearest Brother,
You were missed at breakfast. We have all dined -- when you are ready you will, regrettably, be dining alone. Caroline Bingley has expressed a desire to see the northern orchard today. The others have agreed to join us. We have decided to take a picnic lunch and leave shortly, with plans to return in time for tea. I took the liberty of telling our guests that you had recently visited the orchard and would probably choose not to join us. If this is not your wish, there is still time for you to be included in the expedition. You must, however, make haste.
We have had no chance to speak privately since our trip to Lambton. If we had, I would have told you how much I admire Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She is, in all ways, most pleasing to me. Even though I have been most blessed to have you as my brother, there have been times in my life when I wished that our parents would have given me a sister. That, of course, did not happen, and I have no regrets. But since our visit to Lambton, I have had occasion to think that, if I could choose from among all the women of my acquaintance, who I would wish to have for a sister, it would be Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
We will miss you during our outing, but will understand if you choose not to join us.
He glanced out the window, just in time to see the party departing. I will have to try in future to be more worthy of my sister. I have never fully appreciated her gifts. I have always thought her accomplished, but today I have learned a lesson about the meaning of being truly accomplished.
There was a knock at the door. Robert had brought him a tray of breakfast.
"Robert, I will be riding to Lambton this morning. I shall need my riding clothes. Please inform the stables that my horse should be saddled."
His wishes had never varied. Above all, he wished for Elizabeth Bennet to be his wife.
"Are Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet within?" The aging innkeeper recognized the young Mr. Darcy immediately -- the son was a mirror of the father. "I should like to see them, if they will receive me."
"I believe I saw them going out sir, not half-an-hour ago. No -- now as I think about it -- Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner went out but I believe Miss Bennet was not with them. She must still be within. Would you care to wait upon her until the Gardiners return?" Darcy could only nod in the affirmative. He had not been alone with Elizabeth since that evening at Rosings. He had not even anticipated that he would be alone with her today. Was this what he wanted? The answer was of little consequence. His only desire was to be with Elizabeth -- whether it was alone or in company mattered little to him. He followed the housemaid to her room, and heard the housemaid announce him by name. But as he turned the corner and faced Elizabeth, the look on her face shook him to his soul.
"I beg your pardon, but I must leave you. I must find Mr. Gardiner this moment, on business that cannot be delayed: I have not an instant to loose."
This is not a face I recognize. This indeed is Elizabeth Bennet, but this face is a pale, anxious face. I have never seen this face before. The change is too startling. It frightens me. What can be the cause? Where can she be going?
"Good God! what is the matter?"
Will you not answer? She will leave if I do not stop her. Elizabeth is ill. She must be. What else can have caused this change in her appearance? She must not go out -- someone else must go instead.
"I will not detain you a minute, but let me, or let the servant, go after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. You are not well enough; you cannot go by yourself."
You must sit. You are too weak to stand. Your legs will give way at any moment. This chair will do.
"Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take to give you present relief? -- a glass of wine; shall I get you one? -- You are very ill."
I would fetch help, but I cannot bear to leave you in this state. It is impossible for me to leave without knowing the source of your distress.
"No, I thank you. There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just received from Longbourn."
Dearest Elizabeth, please do not cry. I can bear anything but your tears. I can bear anything but your distress. I would rather hear your curses than to see you crying in this manner. What tragedy can have brought this about? Would that I could take you in my arms and kiss away your tears. Would that I could hold you until this trouble is past. Would that I could even take your hand in mine. But I dare not. I do not know what I am to you. Am I friend or foe? Am I a source of anguish or may I be a source of comfort? Would my consolation be welcome or resented? No, I must be content for now to offer only my presence. I cannot risk adding to your misery. Please do not cry so, Elizabeth. Dearest Lizzy, speak to me. Tell me what I may do.
"I have just received a letter from Jane, with such dreadful news. It cannot be concealed from anyone. My youngest sister has left all her friends -- has eloped -- has thrown herself into the power of Mr. Wickham. They are gone off together from Brighton. You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to -- she is lost forever."
George Wickham? And Lydia Bennet? Gone away from Brighton? Together? This is impossible. No, it is not impossible. No treachery is beneath that man. Damn you, George Wickham! She is right of course. You will never marry Lydia. Once again you have thought only of yourself. Once again you have used others for your own insidious purposes. Once again you have heedlessly inflicted pain and misery on innocent people. And once again -- this time without even knowing it -- your acts have forced you into my life and into the lives of those I love. I say again, damn you, George Wickham.
"When I consider that I might have prevented it! -- I who knew what he was. Had I but explained but some part of only -- some part of what I learned to my only family! Had his character been known, this could not have happened. But it is all, all too late now.
But how could you have prevented it? I gave you the history, I gave you the knowledge, but I tied your hands by asking for your secrecy. Honorable person that you are, you chose to respect my request. The result of your choice is the disgrace of your sister. No, the guilt is mine, not yours, Elizabeth.
Perhaps you are mistaken...
"I am grieved, indeed, grieved --- shocked. But is it certain, absolutely certain?"
"Oh, yes! -- They left Brighton together on Sunday night, and were traced almost to London, but not beyond; they are certainly not gone to Scotland."
Of course they have not gone to Scotland. That would be too honorable for George Wickham. If they are truly hidden in the bowels of London, they will be almost impossible to find. Some days have passed -- precious time is already lost and their trail is quickly growing stale. But perhaps it is not too late if action is taken quickly.
"And what is being done, what has been attempted, to recover her?"
"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle's immediate assistance, and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour. But nothing can be done; I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope. It is in every way horrible."
Oh, I know how he is to be worked on. Easy money is the only language George Wickham understands. Easy money and lots of it. He lives only for himself and his own selfish pleasures. Mr. Bennet's intentions are good, I am sure, but he will be thwarted at every turn in London.
"When my eyes were opened to his real character. Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not -- I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched mistake."
Not your mistake, Elizabeth, but mine. It was my duty, not yours, to expose Wickham's character. I knew him first. I knew his character from his youth. It was in my power to unmask him. I chose the easy path of silence. And if anyone now has the means and the knowledge to bring about a reversal, it is me. I know his contacts in London. I know how his mind works. I have the resources to change his mind. It is my duty and my responsibility. I must leave for London immediately. My search must not end until the wretched pair has been found and their marriage assured.
I cannot tell you this, dearest Elizabeth. I cannot reveal my intentions to you. I cannot offer you this comfort. It will place you in my debt. I believe that it is in my power to relieve you of this distress. But I do not do it to claim your gratitude. I want your love, Elizabeth, but you must love me for myself. If your affection is accompanied by gratitude, that would be welcome. But if your attachment to me should be formed only out of gratitude, that would be unbearable. For this reason, what I do must remain a secret. Much as I wish to tell you my objective, it is not possible.
"I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence, nor have I anything to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, though unavailing, concern. Would to heaven that anything could be done or said on my part that might offer consolation to such distress. -- But I will not torment you with vain wishes, which may seem purposely to ask for your thanks.
What of this evening? If Elizabeth is correct, they will leave for Longbourn this very day.
"This unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure of seeing you at Pemberley today."
"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologize for us to Miss Darcy. Say that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth as long as it is possible. -- I know it cannot be for long."
Time is of the essence. I must leave you now with our own circumstances unsettled. If an understanding between us was within our reach, it will not come now. It will not be today, nor during this stay at Lambton. It must be postponed for another time. This business with Wickham and Lydia must be settled first. Only then will I be able to look into your eyes again with a clear conscience. For the time being, I must settle for the solace I have found in this chance meeting.
What will you think of me as I leave so abruptly? Perhaps you will think that my pride has gotten the better of me. Perhaps you will think that I now despise you. Perhaps you will think only of my arrogance, my conceit and my selfish disregard of the feelings of others. Or perhaps you will think that we will never see each other again. If that is your thought, will it be accompanied by any regrets?
I cannot bring myself to say good-bye. It must remain unsaid.
Darcy was exhausted. The last four weeks had been among the most trying of his life, and despite the early hour, the oppressive heat of the late August day had already drained away what little stamina was left to him. He felt much older than his youthful twenty-eight years as he stood in the small musty parish church of St. Clements. His mission was complete -- the marriage of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham was taking place. He hoped that he would soon be able to put this month's ordeal out of his mind forever.
"If any man knows why this marriage should not take place..."
If ever there was a marriage that should not take place, it was this one. Silly, shallow Lydia, too gullible to see thorough her lover's motives, and shameless, worthless Wickham, who, were it not for today's wedding, would no doubt have cast Lydia aside in a matter of months -- what a pair they would make. But there was no turning back now. The wheels had been set in motion when they had left Brighton together, and this was the necessary and honorable conclusion to their folly. She had what she wanted -- marriage at any price -- and he had what he would settle for -- his debts paid, his commission purchased, and money to live on. Not as much as he wanted, but enough. They would be happy, by their view of happiness, for a time.
"Do you Lydia, take this man George ..."
Darcy still felt a tightening in his jaw when he recollected his recent encounters with Wickham. It had taken all of Darcy's self-control and restraint to negotiate calmly and wisely with a man for whom he felt nothing but the worst sort of contempt. George Wickham was a man without scruple and without remorse. He cared little for Lydia Bennet and cared even less about the repercussions of his acts. But name-calling and reprimands would have accomplished nothing in these discussions -- in fact, quite the contrary. When Darcy had felt his temper rising, he had only to recall Elizabeth's tears and Georgiana's trusting heart to steady his course and reaffirm his purpose. He had looked George Wickham in the eye and stood his ground. The terms had been settled, put on paper by the solicitor, and the marriage was taking place.
"Do you George, take this woman Lydia..."
Now he was standing next to Wickham as a witness, however unwilling, to the ceremony. It was his duty, despite the fact that he would rather have been anywhere else in the world on this August morning. The honorable estate of marriage had been demeaned today. This too would pass. Happier, more prudent, marriages would occur in days and years to come, those based on mutual affection and respect. Today, he was standing next to George Wickham. Another time, perhaps, he would be standing next to Charles Bingley, hearing his earnest voice repeating these same words. Still another time, he would be standing next to Georgiana, as a father and a brother, hearing her thoughtful, whispered responses, and placing her hand into that of another worthy gentleman. Someday too, Elizabeth Bennet would be married, with Jane Bennet undoubtedly at her side. Where will I be standing on that day, when that ceremony is performed? Darcy forced himself out of his reverie and back to the wedding of today.
"What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
The ceremony was ending. Mechanically, Darcy signed the papers that were placed before him. George Wickham was everything that was gracious and charming: he was truly a master of concealment. Lydia was jocund in her achievement and her strident voice echoed through the stone church.
"That is all done, then," she said, "and I am the happiest woman in the world, Mr. Darcy." He could manage only a nod in response. "Who would have thought that the youngest of the Bennet girls would be the first to get herself a husband? Now, when the Bennet girls walk together, I shall go first and my sisters must go behind, must they not, Mr. Darcy? Oh! -- perhaps I shall call you Fitzwilliam, now that I am a married lady." Another nod. "Oh, la, Lydia Wickham. It is a fine sounding name, is it not, Fitzwilliam? I wonder sometimes. I wonder if my sisters will ever be married. They are certainly not making a good start of it. Jane, poor dear, failed miserably to gain the affection of Mr. Bingley, and Lizzy made the terrible mistake of turning down Mr. Collins' proposal. My mother shall never forgive her for that. I expect that Jane and Lizzy are destined to be old maids, while I alone shall be blissfully married. Wickham and I will have to take care of them in their old age. Oh, Aunt Gardiner, you must look at my ring..."
Darcy was deeply grateful for the for the impulse that drew Lydia away from him. There was nothing to be gained by entering into a conversation with Lydia, nothing to be gained by arguing with her predictions. Whatever he might say would go unheard -- he would be best to save his breath. Her opinions did not matter to anyone but herself.
Darcy and Mr. Gardiner acknowledged each other silently across the room. No words need be exchanged between the two them at this time. They were of one mind regarding the matter of Lydia and Wickham, and thus words were not necessary. The one satisfying consequence of these few weeks had been his meetings with Mr. Gardiner. The two men were brought together by necessity. Very shortly thereafter, however, the association that was born out of commonality of purpose had quickly blossomed into a firm friendship based on mutual respect and collegiality. For many hours they had deliberated together behind closed doors, considering strategy and weighing options for dealing with this distasteful business. Mr. Gardiner had undertaken -- however unpleasant -- the role of Lydia's father, and Darcy had acted in the capacity of negotiator. During that time, Darcy had come to look upon Mr. Gardiner as he might a favorite uncle, a relative somewhat older -- thought not as old as his father would have been -- whom one could talk to as a peer, while still benefiting from his greater experience and worldliness. Darcy was grateful for his support and wisdom. Their friendship would outlive this ordeal, whatever the future might hold.
The small group was dispersing now. The wedding was to be followed by a luncheon at the Gardiners' home, after which the newlyweds would repair to Longbourn before journeying north. Darcy had been invited to join the group for the meal, but had declined, claiming prior commitments. His hosts had understood. Instead he would dine with them privately on the morrow, when they could talk without restraint and be at ease in company they enjoyed. As the wedding celebrants departed, Darcy lingered behind, and soon found himself alone in the church of St. Clements. The cool stones of the church could, at least for a time, provide him with relief from the relentless summer heat, and except for the sounds of commerce outside on the street, the church was now quiet, a very welcome change from the din of minutes before. The sexton was at his work, busy with his broom, but he gave no thought to the man at the rear of the church who had sunk into a pew and appeared to be resting.
Tomorrow would be September 1, in the year of our Lord 1812. Just less than a year before, Darcy had traveled with his friend Charles Bingley, to Hertfordshire to a place called Netherfield. Their mission had been twofold -- to settle Charles Bingley into his new home, and to do some hunting. Word travels fast when two single men possessed of good fortunes come into a neighborhood, and he and Charles had quickly found themselves at the center of attention. Barely a fortnight had passed when Darcy first set eyes on Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the assembly ball.
"Oh, she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.
The irony of his comment was not lost on Darcy -- he smiled in spite of himself. He felt himself smiling at his own folly and realized that he was unaccustomed to finding humor in his own actions.
How blind he had been, to dismiss Miss Bennet out of hand that night, when he now knew that despite the fact that he had probably spent less than twenty-four hours in her company, her mark upon his life was indelible. Whatever might happen in the future, he would never again view people and their actions in the same way he did a year ago, and this transformation was brought about by Elizabeth Bennet.
The sexton was still busy sweeping. He paid little attention to the sole occupant of the church, the young man who sat so deeply in thought.
Lydia's words came back to Darcy. So Mr. Collins had asked Elizabeth Bennet to marry him. That fool! A greater disparity of temperaments and minds had never existed. He felt no jealousy. It would not have been possible for Elizabeth Bennet to accept Mr. Collins. But Darcy now knew that on at least one other occasion, Elizabeth Bennet had shown great insight in her rejection of her suitors.
But what of George Wickham?
"Here again I shall give you pain - to what degree you only can tell. But whatever may be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created, a suspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from unfolding his real character. It adds even another motive."
Darcy had always suspected that George Wickham had attracted Elizabeth's attention for a time. He had certainly taken possession of her ears as well as of her sympathies. And perhaps, for a time, her heart. His comfortable manner and easy charm (when he chose to use them) had already proved an invaluable asset to him. If I did not despise him so much, I would envy his dashing looks and effortless charm. It was of no moment -- George Wickham was out of his life, at least for the time being.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had taken notice of Elizabeth Bennet as well. For her part, she had made no secret of the fact that she enjoyed his attention and companionship. But Darcy knew his cousin was a realist - whatever sentiments Colonel Fitzwilliam may have felt for Miss Bennet, he knew that it was impossible for him to marry without consideration for fortune. Miss Bennet may be attractive, but she was not a wife for Colonel Fitzwilliam.
What Darcy wanted most now was to see Elizabeth Bennet again. A month had passed since their parting at Lambton. The last time he had looked upon her face, it had been strained and awash in tears. He could be confident that those tears were dry now, and therefore this was not the face he carried in his mind. The face he preferred to remember was that from the preceding day. When it came time for Elizabeth and her aunt to depart from their call at Pemberley, Darcy had again escorted them to their carriage. After she was seated, Elizabeth had looked out of the carriage, directly into his eyes. His heart had seen it as a look of great feeling. Her eyes seemed to say I want to know you better, and I need to understand my own emotions. He had smiled warmly in return as if to say My heart is yours if you will have it. He smiled again now at the recollection of that unspoken exchange, feeling as if a cool breeze had blown through the torpid heat of London. Darcy blinked at the rush of emotion which the recollection prompted.
Yet less than 24 hours later, he had walked away from Elizabeth, leaving her alone in a time of great misery, with no explanation for his departure. He did not reveal his reasons then, nor did he intend to in the future. He had gone to London. She had returned to Longbourn. How does she think of me now? If my face passes across her mind from time to time -- as I hope it does -- does she recollect me with fondness or bitterness, with affection or resentment? With warmth or disappointment? He ached to know. As he was unlikely to see her anywhere else, the only way to find out was to travel again to Hertfordshire.
It was now past noon, past the ability of even the coolest stone church to provide sanctuary from the August heat. Darcy rose and collected himself with a renewed sense of purpose. He had been lost in his thoughts long enough and he still had business to attend to before returning to Pemberley. There was one particular errand commanding his attention and he had set aside the afternoon to attend to it. With a nod to the sexton, he dropped a handful of coins into the box and took his leave.
The sound of a gunshot shattered the solitude of Pemberley, but it was followed immediately by the sound of Charles Bingley's laughter.
"It is a fine weapon, Darcy. Your finest yet, I must say," He fired again, into the sky, at no target in particular, enjoying the feel of such a well crafted weapon. "Where did you find it?"
"My dealer in London knew I was looking for a new rifle and he contacted me when this one became available. I must confess, I am most proud of it."
Bingley fired again, and then appreciatively rubbed the fine wood. "You have done well, my friend. I am, quite frankly, very jealous."
"You are welcome to use it whenever you like. However, I do not think we shall have good hunting here this year. It looks to be a disappointing season. Nothing at all like the fine hunting we had in Hertfordshire last year." Bingley paused in the process of reloading.
"Yes, we did have good hunting last year. I had quite forgotten." He finished reloading and fired again -- though something seemed to have robbed him of his pleasure. He handed the rifle back to its owner and started back toward the house. "You give it a try, Darcy. I am going in for some refreshments." Darcy's words stopped him.
"Do you think, Charles, that you might consider a trip to Netherfield this fall? The property is yours to command, and it does seem a shame to let such good sport go to waste."
"Perhaps you are right, Darcy. It is a waste to let Netherfield stand vacant. I could go -- say, for a fortnight -- and then depart or extend my stay according to the quality of the hunting. Of course, you would accompany me. My sisters already have plans to return to London, but you and I may be free with our time." Bingley's countenance had brightened, but as Darcy watched, it darkened again. "But no, perhaps not..." His voice trailed off again.
"Besides the hunting, we might be able to renew some of our acquaintances in the neighborhood while we were there. Our visit with Elizabeth Bennet in Derbyshire was regrettably cut short. Perhaps we might call upon the family at Longbourn."
"Yes, we might. I should very much like to see Elizabeth Bennet again. I should like that. But do you think we should?" Bingley was uncertain, considering, and he searched Darcy's face for direction. Should they go? Dare he risk seeing Jane Bennet again? He had once thought they had shared a tender affection, but wiser heads had convinced him that his attachment was not returned. While his feelings had not abated, he had gone to great pains to put Miss Bennet out of his mind. He had been largely unsuccessful, and at the thought of her name, longed to see her again. He looked, as was his custom, to Fitzwilliam Darcy for guidance.
"I think, that if preparations were begun today, we could be at Netherfield in a fortnight. That is what I think. Now, perhaps, you would like to try a bit more target practice before we go in for tea."
The carriage would be at Netherfield within the hour. When he departed ten days prior, Darcy had always planned to return to Netherfield on this day. He had long been certain that when he returned there would be joyful news --- Bingley and Jane Bennet would be engaged. He had gone away confident that this would happen during his absence.
Six months ago, two charges had been laid at his door by Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The first, the matter of his dealings with George Wickham, he hoped had been resolved by the explanation in his subsequent letter to that lady. The second, the matter of Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley, had presumably, in the last few days, been resolved, through Darcy's intervention, to the satisfaction of all. Now Darcy's time had come. If he was ever to speak again of marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, it must be now, during the course of this visit to Netherfield.
What he had not contemplated, at least not until the preceding day, was the unexpected role his Aunt Catherine might play in his association with Miss Bennet. The appearance of Aunt Catherine at his door in London had been most unanticipated, and the shock had not ended with her arrival. His aunt was livid -- he had never seen her so incensed -- and the source of her anger was, of all people, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Listening to his aunt in amazement, he could barely contain his shock when his aunt revealed that she had actually called upon Elizabeth Bennet at Longbourn the day before. She, who his aunt had formerly found to be so pleasing, so worthy of her notice, had turned out to be, according to his aunt, a stubborn, obstinate girl. Such were her rantings, that Darcy was at a loss to determine why his aunt had called at Longbourn in the first place.
"I know, of course, that the rumor cannot be true -- I know you too well for that, Fitzwilliam -- but I felt it necessary to demand that she publicly deny the tattle and put a stop to it once and for all. And she refused, the ungrateful girl. Absolutely and completely -- and, I might add, quite rudely -- she refused me my simple request. I have never been treated so harshly in my entire life. I know this will be distressing to you, Fitzwilliam, and I do ask you not to be distressed on my account. I shall recover from this humiliation, although it will take some time. You, of course, will want the rumor put to rest yourself. It is now up to you to see it done. I have done all I can. It must be most embarrassing for you to hear it bandied about that you are engaged to Miss Bennet. Well, she will certainly never be received at Rosings again, even if she is a friend of Charlotte Collins. Mrs. Collins would be wise to be more judicious in her choice of friends, and I will most certainly tell her so when I return."
His aunt barely paused for breath. "I put the question to Miss Bennet directly. I said 'Tell me once and for all, are you engaged to him?' and she replied 'I am not.' Thinking that the rest of this distasteful business would shortly be dispatched, I then said 'And will you promise me never to enter in to such an engagement?' Fitzwilliam, it pains me to think again of her answer -- you cannot imagine. I know what you would expect her to say -- what you would expect any such girl to say under the circumstances, so I know that hearing this will give you pain. She looked me directly in the eye and said most adamantly, 'I will make no promise of the kind.'"
The carriage was ever closer to Netherfield, and by extension, to Longbourn. Elizabeth Bennet had refused to refuse to marry him. She had stood her ground in the face of his indomitable aunt, when the easy course would have been to agree, and to have said "no". The same response that had given his aunt so much displeasure, gave him quite the opposite reaction, for he knew Elizabeth's character and his aunt did not. If Elizabeth Bennet was still resolved against marriage to him, she would never have responded in this manner. By her refusal, she told him there was reason to hope. Since that day at Pemberley, he had been longing for a sign, a signal, a message - any indication that Elizabeth Bennet might be willing to listen should he again ask for her hand in marriage. Though indirect -- unknowingly sent, and most certainly, unwillingly delivered -- this missive gave him reason to hope that this time Elizabeth's answer might be yes.
He had seen Elizabeth twice since his return to Netherfield -- once during a brief and strained call at Longbourn, and subsequently three days later for dinner. Ostensibly, much of Darcy's attention during those visits had been focused on Bingley and Jane -- he wanted to watch them together and assure himself of the degree of their attachment. But when not thus engaged, he had looked often upon Elizabeth Bennet, seeking to read her heart in her countenance. The results of his observation were unsatisfactory. She had been grave, restrained, and even ill-at-ease. She appeared to wish to talk to him, and yet created no opportunities for doing so. Conversation was denied them by the circumstances and the company. He had gone away to London disgruntled -- dissatisfied at least until the arrival of his aunt. Now he knew that he might dare to approach Elizabeth Bennet, and he knew, too, that he could not leave Hertfordshire without doing so. He had no assurance that her response would be favorable this time, but he had reason to hope. He only wanted the opportunity.
"You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
They had walked the afternoon away. The day was now waning: it was time for the couple to be turning back toward Longbourn. This remarkable interval of discovery and intimacy would shortly be ended - but only for today. But before they returned to the society of friends and family, there was one final piece of business which Darcy had left undone, and it could not be left so. Taking both of Elizabeth's hands, he spoke to her in the softest of voices.
"Miss Bennet - Elizabeth - I observe that I am in a position few men find themselves heir to. Having made a terrible error of judgment six months ago, I am blessed with an opportunity to make amends. Because of your forgiveness and your generosity of spirit, I am able to ask you again to be my wife. The man who stands before you today is the same man - changed in many ways but still the same man - who stood before you six months ago, but thanks to you, I know myself better. I now know what is important in my life and what is not." He paused, and then continued with great feeling.
"Miss Bennet, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you -- so much so that it is impossible for me to imagine the rest of my life without you beside me. I humbly ask you to do me the honor of consenting to be my wife."
With uncharacteristic solemnity, Elizabeth Bennet replied. "I, too, have been blessed with a second chance. Given that chance, I can now say without reserve and with all my heart, what I could not say six months ago. I, too, have come to know myself better, and I now know that there is only one man on earth whom I would want to marry - with whom I could be truly happy. I only hope that in our years together I shall be able to return to him some degree of the happiness that he has given to me. Yes, Mr. Darcy, I would be very, very, pleased to be your wife."
My Dearest Georgiana,
I send you good - no, joyous - news from Hertfordshire. I learned two days ago that Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet are to be married. Their happiness is only exceeded by mine, for I have news to share as well. I know that you will fully comprehend my happiness when I tell you that Miss Elizabeth Bennet has consented to be my wife. At long last, you will have a sister, Georgiana, and I only hope that you will be able to love her as dearly as I do. I will remain in Hertfordshire for the time being while plans are being made. My fondest hope is to bring Elizabeth Bennet to Pemberley as Mrs. Darcy before Christmas. I know you will welcome her.
Young Fitzwilliam Darcy slipped quietly into the library of his family's London home. Throughout his life, this had always been his favorite room. Certainly the library at Pemberley was larger and grander, and he loved it too, but he had a special fondness for this room with its intimacy and warmth. He has spent many happy hours in this room, his favorite times being those when the whole family was gathered - his mother and father seated in the comfortable chairs before the fire, and he and his three sisters seated on cushions around their feet. Together they would read and talk, sharing joy and sadness. They had always been a close family and these times brought them even closer.
At this moment, he had the house to himself. His mother and father were in town, but had gone out for the afternoon. His sisters were at Pemberley. Alone and yet not alone in the room, he settled himself into his father's chair. Known as Will among his family members and close friends, he looked very like his father - this resemblance was often commented on - but it was always added that while he looked like his father, he had his mother's eyes.
Will had just returned to London from Yorkshire, where he had been visiting a close friend from his days at Cambridge. During his visit, he had accompanied his friend to a dinner party in the district, and while there, his attention had been drawn to a young woman. At first, she had appeared plain, certainly not handsome, and he had paid her little notice. But in the course of the evening, he had occasion to observe her when she was not aware of his presence. When talking with friends, she became animated, her face reflecting her delight in the subject being discussed, and the face that had initially seemed undistinguished, was suddenly quite exquisite. Inexplicably drawn to her side, Will had joined in the conversation, and found her to be a most engaging, bright, educated young woman of one-and-twenty. They had occasion to meet again before his departure and since that time he had found that she was much in his thoughts. A serious young man, like his father, Will's recent years had been absorbed in his education and his responsibilities with the Pemberley Estate. His social life had centered around his school friends -- he had felt slight need for other relationships and had taken little notice of women. But now circumstances had taken a new turn and Will Darcy needed time for reflection. The library at the London house was where he came when he had serious matters to ponder.
Will had always been struck with the happiness of his parents' marriage. As a young boy, he loved to observe them together, and this was true even today. His mother's lively spirits were always a contrast to his father's innate seriousness, and yet there existed an understanding between them that transcended their natural dispositions. So strong was their attachment, Will had observed, that they appeared to know each other's thoughts and were able to communicate with one another simply by a look and a smile. Certainly they disagreed from time to time, but even these disagreements, to his young eyes, appeared to bring them closer together. After 27 years of marriage, they still had the ability to be alone together even in a crowded room. That was the standard Will Darcy had known all of his life, and that was the affinity he wanted in his marriage, when the time should come that he would marry.
He had discussed his parents relationship once with his Aunt Georgiana. She had, with a gentle smile, declined to tell him the particulars of his parents' past, but had said that their attachment was not always so harmonious. It was her understanding that their first impressions of each other had not been favorable and for a time, she told him, they had been separated by misunderstanding. With time they had come to appreciate each other's characters - as well as learning more about their own - and had gone beyond those first impressions. In this way, their love had flourished. More than that, his diffident aunt would not disclose.
Now he had met a young woman. They were barely acquainted, but as he had journeyed south from Yorkshire, Will had, for the first time in his life, felt the sense of loss that accompanies separation. Already he was contemplating a return to Yorkshire. Is this the woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life? Shall I one day bring her home to Pemberley as the next Mrs. Darcy? Will did not know, but he wanted to find out.
He heard sounds in the hallway below. The sound of his mother's voice reached his ears first, followed shortly by his father's. He smiled in contentedness and his eagerness overcame him. With a look around his beloved library, he strode through the door and cried out from the top of the stairs, "Mother! Father! I am only just returned from York. Quickly, tell me the news of London and of Pemberley."
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.