It was not with a light heart, that Mr. Darcy woke up on the mornings following his return to London in April. Indeed some days, he felt it would have been better to just ignore the morning light and remain in the dusky solitude of his bedchamber. His strong sense of propriety and the consciousness of what was expected of him, always conquered such tendencies to weakness. He would rise with a sigh and dress with his usual care. Though his valet noticed that he paid little attention to the choice of waistcoat or other details of attire, which would in former days have attracted some consideration. He went about his daily business with his customary accuracy but without any real interest in the matter at hand.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had left London two days after their return from Rosings, and when he did so, he was not at all pleased with the results of his effort to humour his cousin. They had both set out with a firm intention to drench their sorrows in wine; forget about their troubles in the presence of beautiful and pleasant ladies and drive any disturbing thoughts away with the help of cheerful and lively tunes. This had appeared to be a line of action more difficult to Darcy than it was to the colonel. To be sure, he had watched his cousin consuming large quantities of wine with his supper and after that, they decided to visit a musical evening entertainment. This was held in the house of a politician whose wife was an actress. She used to invite her friends from the theatre. They came to eat and drink and in return they sang, recited poems or played small scenes for the amusement of the other guests. This was not at all the usual evening society for the cousins, and Fitzwilliam believed it a good idea to go somewhere where there were not too many familiar faces.
Darcy seemed determined to mingle with the other guests and made an effort to be gallant and easy. This made him quite popular among the ladies. A new cavalier was always welcome, especially one as handsome and elegantly dressed as this one, and he spent considerable time conversing and even occasionally on the dance floor. There was particularly one fair-haired beauty, with whom he had been dancing in a wrought-up way and in whose company he had been seated in seclusion near a window. Talking and occasionally laughing out loud in a fashion highly dissimilar to his normal mode of behaviour. Fitzwilliam, who had a jolly good time himself, and whose judgment might have been slightly afflicted, was relieved to see Darcy enjoy social life in this easy manner.
But, alas, on his returning to the salon after a pair of dances, he found Darcy in high dudgeon on the point of leaving the party. When he followed him into the hall trying to protest and make some, in his own opinion, highly tempting suggestions, he was baffled to hear Darcy's reply. His cousin was in a terrible mood, and did not bother to conceal it. He had ordered his carriage, and while he waited for it to arrive at the gate, he marched furiously up and down the hall and the only discernible sounds he made were clearly reminiscent of curses. Fitzwilliam was very surprised that Darcy, usually considerate and polite, had intended to leave without informing his guest. He inquired after the reason for this and tried to find out if Darcy was somehow offended by any behaviour of his during the evening.
The answer was amazingly blunt: "Don't be a damned nuisance. I want to leave this place at once! That's all you need to know. The carriage will of course return immediately to be at your disposal!" It was obvious that he wanted no further argument on the matter, so the colonel reluctantly said something of getting his cloak to accompany Darcy. But this was not approved of. "No, no, you stay and enjoy yourself as was your intention. You appeared happy enough." A sulky grin passed his face. "I'll see you tomorrow morning then. Good night!" Darcy made a vague wave of his hand, indicating a salute and rapidly climbed into his carriage.
However uncomfortable this abrupt and puzzling conclusion of the night had made Fitzwilliam feel, he still preferred that behaviour of his cousin's to the gloominess emanating from his entire being when he entered the breakfast room on Sunday morning. He tried a smile, but it was painful to see his sad face make such an awkward grimace. There was an embarrassed expression on it, as he went over to the fireplace. He turned his back on the table, clearing his throat, and said, "I must ask your forgiveness, Fitzwilliam. I am so very sorry for my ...hrm ... behaviour towards you last night. Please accept my sincere apologies." The colonel attempted to minimize the incident, but was interrupted by Darcy's distinct exclamation. "It was a disgusting performance!" And he turned around to look his cousin straight in the eyes. In his head the same words had been echoing for the last hours ... 'your .. selfish .. disdain of the feelings of others' ... Yes, he could begin to perceive her meaning ... It was not pleasant to recognize one's innate imperfections.
Darcy looked at his cousin, whose friendly face had a worried expression. He felt how important this man was to him, how dear, like an elder brother and how had he treated him? Abominably! Who indeed was he, to think himself above the consideration for his fellow beings? And who were his fellow beings? Those of wealth and ancient descent? This same kind of rumination had tormented him from the moment the sedative effect of the wine had ceased. He was exhausted and sank down on a chair, passing one hand over his eyes and forehead and reaching out for his tea.
"Darcy, are you unwell?" There was concern in his cousin's voice.
"I would not put it like that. I am becoming aware of who I really am. It is a disturbing experience, my friend. But let's not discuss it any further, if you please." And though the colonel was full of questions, he was not insensitive, and he could see that Darcy needed to be left alone.
They passed the time remaining before Fitzwilliam's departure, attending some business matters, visiting the tailor's, going to the races and having dinner at home. There was a secret understanding, that only matters of a neutral kind were to be brought up. And so Fitzwilliam was able to bring his friend some relief, by the mere readiness and ease of his social talents. He was amusing and well-informed and even managed to make Darcy smile once or twice. It was no wonder that Darcy should feel sorry to see him leave on Tuesday morning. As he returned indoors after seeing his cousin off, the great house seemed terribly empty. He hastened into the library to find some favourite book and try to get lost in it.
Mr. Darcy had always considered music to be a source of pleasure and now he found, that it was applicable to give some consolation to his troubled mind. There was on the repertoire that spring, in particular one opera by Mozart that was extremely well sung. Darcy had come to favour it above all others and made it almost a habit to attend on those nights, when The Marriage of Figaro was being performed. Fate would have it that an evening in the beginning of May, when he had just entered his season-ticket box in the dresscircle, a merry party from Cheapside were searching for their seats in the stalls. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had decided to spend the last evening before their two nieces and friend were to return to Hertfordshire, enjoying this much talked of Opera performance. Darcy was used to being deceived by his eyes lately. On several occasions had he believed himself to be looking at Miss Elizabeth Bennet, only to be disappointed the next minute, when on closer inspection, he found that he had been mistaken due to some minor resemblance in colours, height or general appearance.
This time however, he caught a glimpse of a dainty figure walking down the chair rows in conversation with a middle-aged gentleman. There was something engaging and vaguely familiar about the lively gesticulatory way of her movements. He had barely told himself to stop imagining things, when a faint but familiar laughter reached his ears. He instantly got up from his chair and looked down into the stalls guided by that lovely sound. At first he did not believe his eyes. Could it be ... Was it really ... her? The memory of her appearance had haunted his mind by day and by night for the last weeks, and now that she was actually visible, he felt it more likely for her to be a vision from a dream. She had thrown her head slightly backwards, laughing merrily and this sight rendered him immobile for a moment, until he became aware of the time and place of his whereabouts and hurriedly moved to the back of the box, where he was able to hide behind the drapery and could watch without being seen. Her figure in something green and soft-looking seemed to call out for him. His first impulse was to simply rush down the stairs to the stalls and ... But on second thoughts ... What would be the result of that? Some polite and indifferent phrases concerning the health of her and her family. Some greetings from Rosings perhaps? The humiliation to stand next to her with her reproaches fresh in his memory. And it would be awkward for her as well ...She had made it perfectly clear, that she found no pleasure in his company ... Darcy took a deep trembling breath and decided to remain where he was and to conceal his presence from her company.
He was grateful that Georgiana had not accompanied him this evening, thereby permitting him to aim his binoculars wherever he wished to, without anybody's knowledge. His hands were all but steady, as he was eagerly searching for her. Now, ... that was Jane Bennet ...she must be close then ...Yes, there ... he gasped as her face was suddenly quite near and was delighted to see in her eyes that teasing sparkle, that he had come to love so dearly. Her eyes suddenly went serious and forced him to lower the binoculars, for fear of her intuitively knowing that she was being observed. But the next moment she turned around and took a seat next to her sister. He now abandoned all his strict formality and did not care about his overstepping the bounds of propriety. And hence he resumed his unguarded stare, and slowly studied her enchanting profile ... the curve of her rosy cheek ... her dark eyelashes sweeping that same cheek like a fan ... the curls above her ear ... if only ... He was surprised to see the lights go down and hear the overture commence. He could still see her, thank God! ...Or ... was this wise? He had been trying to get over her ... struggling again to repress his love, those feelings so wholly without purpose now ... Maybe he had better leave at once and forget she ever existed!! He stroked his forehead and shook his head in despair ... Who am I fooling ? I can not resist this opportunity to watch her delightful person for hours ... so while the rest of the audience listened to Figaro taking the measurements for his wedding bed, one man was concentrating his attention elsewhere. Being so familiar with the libretto, he needed only the music to tell him what part of the plot it was, that he could see mirrored in her face. He delighted in the tiny smile playing in the corner of her mouth as Cherubin was wondering about love. Now and again he'd let the binoculars sink down on his knee and just stare at the silhouette of her head in the soft semi-darkness. Enchanted by the beauty of the music, he felt as if he was somehow near to her.
During the intermission he took care to withdraw into the small anti-room, that connected his box to the general foyer available to box-holders. He knew the risk of discovery was considerable, when there was no action on stage and the audience were walking about. Many a curious eye was aimed at the boxes to notice who was attending the performance and in whose company. Other regulars would of course know that his box was occupied, his behaviour, however, told them that he did not want company. As this had been the case on several occasions this spring, it would not cause any new gossip. But he did not venture to leave his private area. He wanted this evening to be as private as possible and flinched from the idea of having to discuss the music or the performance with anybody. He paced the room to and fro, to ease some tension and get to stretch his legs. He was not unlike a wild beast in a cage. He awaited the last moment and returned to the box just as the music stroke up. He sat down in his chair again and directed his caressing gaze upon her neck and shoulders. He observed some faint glimmering and reached for his binoculars to follow the soft line of her neck to the small pit between her collar bones. He then immediately recognized that tiny crimson cross. It was like a drop of blood against her pale skin and he had wanted to touch it before. He recalled seeing it during their dance at Netherfield ...
Then the Countess on the stage, bemourned the loss of her husband's love, singing her sad and lovely 'Dove sono'-aria. This always made his throat thicken and something inside him ache, and now he saw Elizabeth press her soft lips together and close her eyes. It was obvious that her heart was touched as well. He moaned inwardly and did so desperately wish to kiss that tiny brown mouche close to her mouth, that he took a firm grip on his chair in order to keep his body and mind in place. He leaned his head back, his fingers were squeezing the scarlet velvet on the armrests, as he stared up into the huge glass chandelier, struggling to regain control.
'The last man ... the last man on earth ...But she did get my letter! Surely that must have had some effect on her opinion of me? Must it not? At least her vile accusations on Wickhams behalf ...' He shuddered to even think of her interest in that villain's concerns. 'I believe her to be fair and sensible enough to realize that I have told her the truth. And now she has the complete knowledge of his wicked ways ... She should be able to think less ill of me ... But she resented other things ... so many other things about me. ... I must put her out of my mind. I must.' And then he searched her out again, she was whispering something to her sister. They seemed to be very close. He had always considered their behaviour and general understanding to be much above that of the younger sisters. And now they were smiling in perfect understanding, before they gave the singers their full attention again. She had found something to be amusing!? What could that have been?' I wish ...she had ... I had been ...sitting next to her ... If only she had whispered that to me instead ... My life would have been ... so different ...'
The whole atmosphere at the Opera, the flickering light of the wax candles, the music, his aching heart and her bewitching presence, all of it contributed to weave him into a spell of bittersweet delight. So when the final storm of applause burst forth, Darcy felt as if he had been thrown back into the harsh reality. He rose to watch her party leave the theatre, taking great care to remain hidden. How he envied those fortunate enough to walk by her side, allowed to hear her reaction to the evening. ... Oh what he would give to be teased by her anew. ...
The footmen had started their work putting out the lights, when Darcy finally left. He had lingered to be sure the theatre was empty when he left. For although the boxes had their private entrances, and his carriage would be waiting nearby, he did not wish for any encounters during that short distance. This evening must be a secret. His last moments of weakness. A precious memory that he must put aside in order to proceed with his life.
Towards the middle of May Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley went to Pemberley, but though his sister tried to persuade him, Darcy had no wish to join them. He dreaded the homecoming, so very different from the one he had planned, imagined, even dreamed of. To get to show her everything ...the House, to have her choose which chamber to ..., the Gardens, the Orangery, the dogs ... she might have played with them ..., the Stables, the Pond, the Park, to walk the grounds with her, she was so fond of long walks...And to introduce her to Mrs. Reynolds and the others, let everyone admire her and behold, what a lovely fiancée he had procured. They would all have liked her, she would have had them under her spell in no time, just like she had bewitched him ... But to come home now, would be finally having to realize that those were all vain fantasies. They would never walk arm-in-arm along the lanes. She would never sit by his side at the table, never delight him with her playing at the pianoforte in the Music Room, never let him kiss her ... never allow him to tell her how profoundly he loved her, never ... share his bed, ....never give birth to their children.
He was obliged to see his Steward occasionally, on matters that could not be dealt with by letters, so he made one hasty trip to the north, but only stayed the night and returned to town the following day. It made his heart ache, and he was relieved to be back in London.
Darcy spent hours in his library almost every day and in his bedchamber every night before he was released by sleep, contemplating his misery, what could have been, and her rejection. But above all did he consider her bitter accusations and try to understand why she thought so ill of him. It had been a severe shock to realize, that the woman he had singled out and even believed to be expecting his addresses, had on the contrary, found him disagreeable and not at all attractive.
The thought that this might happen to him had in fact, never entered his mind. He had been led to believe from his early days, that almost every woman in England would be honoured to receive his attention, and would consider a future as Mistress of Pemberley highly desirable. So a refusal would have been a shock whoever the woman. But in this particular case, he was rejected by a young girl from the countryside with no fortune and such low connections. Her relatives, some of them betraying a total want of propriety, had made him recoil from the growing insight that he was in love with her, had made him struggle to get over this attachment. He had been considering what was expected of him. What his family would have him do. And when he understood that his increasing admiration for her, had made her so dear to him that he could no longer imagine a future without her, he had decided to put all these considerations aside. To disregard the probable reactions from his family and friends.
But he had wanted her to know it all. His honesty demanded it. He wanted to tell her: '... some people might object, but I don't care. This marriage is not what my family or any other connections of mine would wish. Our social circles are very different. But you are an intelligent woman with your own independent opinions, just what I like in a fellow being. I love you ardently and I want you for my wife and that is all that matters to me. Please say you will marry me soon. I love you so much it actually hurts. Relieve my suffering!'
When he tried to relive that humiliating and mortifying scene, he had now begun to realize, how it must have appeared from her point of view. This was not easy at first, he was not used to see other human being's side of things. But he had managed to imagine himself in her place and could now understand her reactions better. It was no wonder she had felt hurt and offended by his words.
He had told her of his feelings to be sure ... but he had also told her of her inferiority, of his looking upon their marriage as a degradation for him! ... and of his struggle to rid himself of this inclination ... he could not believe that he had been so rude to her, his beloved!... and his punishment had begun when she answered, that she had never desired his good opinion ... and that he had bestowed it most unwillingly!
Darcy could not remain seated but rose and walked over to a window. The thought of his reply ... that he had had the nerve to accuse her of incivility! was tormenting, and her 'you tell me you like me against your will, against your reason and even against your character,' made him cringe at the memory. To have spoken thus to the person he loved above every living being! It certainly did not make sense. No wonder she was insulted. What an utter fool he had been. Conceited indeed. Telling her that his feelings of superiority were natural and just. Telling her that she might have wanted him to flatter her...oohh, he was so ashamed ... And she had been right in saying that he had not behaved like a gentleman!
But the part that hurt the most was her last words. She had been very upset of course ...and angry...He did not blame her for that. But her words had been so cruel: 'It does not matter how you make me the offer of your hand... I would never be the least tempted to accept! I have disliked you from the first moment of our acquaintance. You are arrogant, conceited and you have a selfish disdain for the feelings of others. I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.' The memory of those last minutes was sure to make him groan as he pictured the turn of her countenance.
As the days passed, he started to realize that his manners had often been offensive and that he had certainly not given much consideration to the feelings of Elizabeth Bennet! In his conceit he simply believed her to be wishing and expecting his addresses. Those painful recollections made him consider his own behaviour from that first dreadful remark of his - which he was now almost certain she must have overheard - . 'Tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me!!' Only a brute would speak such words. And he had not given her feelings one thought at that moment.
Why did I not realize how dear to me she would become? Why did I not endeavour to make her like me? Why did I not court her ? Why did I make her despise me. I am not worthy of a woman like her ... I shall always be grateful to her for making me realize that I have faults. I shall become a more worthy man. I shall not look down on people. I must not always believe myself superior. If only ... No ... This will not do. I shall conquer this and ... .
He was looking forward to Bingley's return from a visit in the countryside. The joviality and lighthearted manners of his friend had always been a counterbalance to his own strict ways. It would be a relief to be no more on his own. And when Bingley did finally arrive, he was pleasantly surprised by the unusual warmth of Darcy's greetings. Bingley was to stay at Darcy's house for the remainder of May and some weeks in June. The two friends endeavoured to fill their days in order to keep their minds occupied. This was Darcy's design and Bingley seemed only too happy to consent. It was like an unspoken but mutual agreement.
They started out early in the morning to go riding on the sandy track in Hyde Park or sometimes even further out. After breakfast, they spent some time making business calls at different tradesmen. Darcy was ordering furniture for a new drawing-room at Pemberley, meant as a surprise for Georgiana. He had amongst other pieces chosen a Carlton House Table, when he was in London in March. He had intended the whole of this purchase for that new room. But when he saw this table again, he realized that he had, unconsciously, had other plans for that neat piece of ladies furniture. He weighed the possibility to cancel the order, but decided to purchase it after all. For his sister he got another writing desk.
She was to stay at Pemberley for some weeks with Mrs. Annesley. Since she was not yet out, there was not much point in her spending time in town during the Season. Later on the ladies were to go to Bath, where Darcy would join them for a week. During that time he planned to have the room refurnished. Not until the beginning of August were they to return to Pemberley for any length of time.
After lunch there might be calls to be made out of politeness, to families who had left their cards during the day. In the afternoons they often stayed at the club for a while to meet with friends and get to discuss the latest events.
One afternoon they went to look at the great art exhibition at The Royal Academy. Darcy was seriously considering the purchase of a rather special portrait of a lady, though he had never heard of the painter. The motif was not painted indoors with the woman seated on a chair or leaning against a table in the customary way. She was outdoors and her face was partly turned away, much to the vexation of some visitor's who thought they were deprived of their moneys' worth. Darcy, however, found that intriguing. What also fascinated him, was that her skirt and bonnet ribbons seemed to be fluttering in a slight breeze. There was a freshness to that painting ... . he had it reserved for him.
They usually had dinner at home and then spent the evenings either at the theatre or attending some soirée or concert. As the season was in full bloom, they had an abundance of ball invitations to chose from. They were certainly sought after, Darcy in particular, being regarded as one of the most eligible young men in England. They were not too anxious for that way of spending their evenings, as it required somewhat higher spirits than they were able to provide. There would, however, have been lots of idle gossip and wild speculations, if they did not show up now and then. Besides, Caroline Bingley certainly expected her brother to bring Darcy as often as possible. So they accepted two invitations a week, and their arrival after the theatre or a dinner party contributed to raise the expectations of the parents of young girls present. The same poor parents would be devastated to see them leave around midnight, when there was still to be several hours of dancing. This was however the time picked by Darcy, who had told Bingley that he considered their duty towards family and society done after two hours of polite conversation and occasional dancing.
Thus was it, that not until a full week had passed, did they decide on spending an evening at home. Dinner was coming to an end and they were at their Port nibbling some Stilton cheese, when Darcy fully perceived that he could no longer fool himself. Bingley was not his usual merry friend. When he believed himself to be unnoticed his face got a sad expression and there was no spark in his eyes. Darcy had allowed his thoughts to rest upon this fact once or twice briefly, but now he had to acknowledge that his friend had been behaving differently since Christmas, actually, since they left Netherfield. He could not bear to watch Bingley's listless cheesepicking and suggested that they retire to the library. Bingley looked up and it was as if he was surprised to find himself, where he was. He smiled politely and consented to this proposal.
The armchairs in front of the fireplace were very comfortable and so deep that it was possible to believe oneself alone in the room, had it not been for the legs of your company that were visible. It was a most appropriate place for a confidential talk between friends. But this pair of friends remained silently seated side by side in front of the fire and spoke only stray remarks. They were able to relax in each other's company and though they did not say much, their inner reflections were plentiful. Darcy did once again give some thought to the statement of Elizabeth Bennet's that her sister was indeed favourably inclined towards Bingley. He even considered whether he should convey this information to his friend.
But on two grounds did he decide not to do so. One was, that several months had now passed since they last met in November. And if time, as he believed to be very probable, had started the healing process, it would be unwise to open old wounds. He still believed that Bingley would be better off in society without such family connections as would result from an alliance with Jane Bennet! The other was that he had entertained some plans on a union between Georgiana and Charles Bingley. A wish to see her safely in haven had arisen after that unhappy event last summer. And he trusted Bingley to be a kind and tender husband to his dear sister. There was still another cause for him to avoid this mesalliance. He imagined what it would be like if the marriage did really take place. He would be forced to meet with the bride's sister not only at the wedding, but very likely several times a year, since Bingley and himself were seeing each other rather frequently. And as he had gathered that the two eldest Bennet sisters were very close. He did not think that he would ever be able to meet with her in an unaffected manner. It would always be embarrassing and awkward for them both. No, he meant to conquer his own foolish heart and he would endeavour to have Bingley do the same.
Darcy poured out wine for his friend and himself and handed one glass over to Bingley. The latter received it with a friendly smile, but immediately resumed his staring into the fire. He went over his memories from those weeks in Hertfordshire. Jane Bennet. How delighted he had been to meet with this pleasant girl so soon after his arrival. And they had always been comfortable in each others company ... that is, he had been .. she did not speak much and he had come to believe, that she had simply been listening politely to his babbling. She was so handsome, quite like an angle! Even Darcy admitted as much. But he had pointed out the obvious behaviour of her mother. Constantly trying to marry her daughters off. And Jane being such a mild and obliging girl, had probably just put up with his attentions to please her family. At least that was Darcy's impression and he was always more keen-sighted. Caroline and Louisa had agreed on this and even pointed out the embarrassment and degradation it would mean to associate with such people. He had to admit that there was truth in those notions. If only he had not been so fond of her. He found it hard to forget about her. He felt awfully low these days. Darcy was rather silent too. Maybe some trouble with tenants at Pemberley?
Darcy rang the bell for more wine. He still had not been able to regain any constant peace of mind, as the painful fragments from the scene at the parsonage would keep coming back to trouble his conscience. And by no means loosing any of their acerbity. On the contrary, the more he contemplated the entirety of it, the deeper he sank into selfdisgust and mortification at the memory of her obvious resentment. 'I had not known you a month, before I knew ... you were the last man ... whom I could ... ever marry.' He examined himself, went back to the first weeks of their acquaintance to find the cause for her statements. How he regretted his utterance to Bingley at that terrible assembly... About her not being 'handsome enough' ... what a lie! ... 'to tempt' him ... well it was not long before she was doing precisely that, and to an extent he had never thought possible! And he had really only said it to get Bingley off his back. Not wishing to go through the awkward ritual of introduction, attempted smalltalk ... knowing he was no good at it; ... and finally dancing with her, feeling all the eyes on his back, the speculations sure to result, every mother in the room hoping to get him to dance with her daughter next. Oh he was so thoroughly tired of that! It did not appear then, to be worth while ... If only he had known better! And then there was this frightful suspicion, that she might have overheard his rude remark. He had got a feeling she actually had, when on their first visit to Hunsford, she told Fitzwilliam, half in jest, that Mr. Darcy was her severest critic, that she believed in First Impressions and that his good impression of her was lost for ever. Then she had answered a request from Fitzwilliam, - ... during their highly animated chat at Rosings ... the one he had tried to join in when he got jealous of their merriment ... - to let him know how Darcy behaved among strangers. She had told of his dancing only four dances at Meryton, in spite of the number of ladies in want of a partner. Regardless of that odious snub, his behaviour on that occasion, now struck him as ungenteel and, from her point of view, certainly very unpleasant. He had to admit she had every reason to think ill of him. If only he could let her know he was a different man now. Humbled by her reproach and not resenting it. He gazed into the remainder of the fire and was just about to ring for wood, when he happened to look at the clock. It was indeed very late and he cast an eye on Bingley. He seemed to be asleep, but on Darcy's call he looked up and said, 'Bedtime?' Darcy smiled in a melancholy way at his friend and nodded. 'Yes I think that would be wise, Bingley!'
When Bingley had left, Darcy devoted even more time to physical exercises. He had noticed that his mind was more at ease after he had exhausted his body. He continued the habit of early morning riding tours, tending to extend them to avoid the social obligations that were associated with Hyde Park. They were now of a duration that forced him to change his breakfast time. As soon as business matters allowed it, he went for fencing practice, and had soon achieved great skill in performing the usual hit, delivered with a forearm slash from the elbow. He now wished to learn the Hungarian method using the wrist instead. He made an arrangement with Mr. Baines, that he would be attending fencing practice every afternoon unless he told him otherwise. Darcy being a such a committed person, had always been seriously engaged while practicing and his style was precise, formal and elegant. But Baines was secretly a bit hesitant at those repeated and extended sessions of training.
Even during his short stay in Bath, Darcy had devoted himself to different sorts of physical activity. Going away on riding tours in the surroundings to try to obtain a feeling of freedom and be released from society and the throng of people in the Pump room for some hours. Getting Georgiana to join him for extended walks or driving her in a phaeton to see the countryside.
For his entire life, Darcy had been appreciating the summer months above other parts of the year. But this year they had so far not brought him much joy or relaxation. The splendour of verdure and the brightness of nature, the impression that all beings alive were eagerly mating and procuring the continuance of their species. This was all such a cruel insult to his own state of mind.
He had been suffering from the repercussions of that evening in April for nearly four months now. He had been working his way with difficulty through that experience; from the initial state of shock, through hours of painfully detailed thoughts of all that was said at Hunsford Parsonage on the ninth of April. It had made an ineffaceable impression on him.
Not only could he hear her voice from that first unexpected, 'I believe it is the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed ... and if I could feel gratitude I would ... but I cannot.' To the grand finale on the ground-work of disapprobation and her immovable dislike.
The cruelty of her last sentence, probably to be the last words from her lips to him, ever, would sometimes in the loneliness of his chamber, bring tears of despair to his eyes. 'The last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.'
He was also capable of recollecting her countenance during this hour of mortification. The expressions changing on her face, her every reaction to his unpardonable behaviour was fresh in his memory.
Whenever his meditations focused on her 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner' it was a renewed torture, continually inflicting a sense of humiliation that was inexpressibly painful. Gradually, he had been forced to realize that his behaviour had often been that of a conceited snob. He could not but admit that his pride had brought on a selfish way of looking at the world.
After his first angry reaction to the ignorance of Miss Bennet's accusations, he had been more and more inclined to feel a sense of obligation towards her. Her fearless and honest reproach, had really taught him a lesson. She had been holding a mirror to him, whose reflections enabled him to recognize, much to his shame and mortification, what kind of man he was! And he was resolved to change that man.
Georgiana returned to the London House somewhere in the middle of July, and though she found that her brother was still rather low in spirit, she was too shy to inquire into the matter. She had attempted an approach while he was visiting her in Bath, but Darcy's reaction to it had made her feel awkward and obtrusive. She knew him to be excessively reserved concerning his private affairs, though he was tender and kind if she ever needed his advice or help. She would wish to be a support to him, that he would confide in her, but she assumed he considered her a child still. As she was aware that her behaviour last year had been utterly foolish and not in the least mature, she did not blame him for doubting her judgment.
One of the first days in August she was invited to join her brother as a dinner guest at Mr. and Mrs. Hurst's house. Darcy thought it a good idea that she got used to some mingling in smaller parties, to maybe help her get over her shyness until next year, when she was coming out. Georgiana was glad to be considered grownup enough, though she was always a bit uncomfortable in the company of Caroline Bingley. She feared her sharp tongue and never knew how to answer her somewhat ingratiating comments. She always had doubts on whether they were sincere.
She had better get accustomed to the whole of tonight's party, however, as they were invited by her brother to travel with them to Pemberley in a few days.
After dining at Mr. Hurst's House, Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley went home, whereas Darcy and Bingley escorted Miss Bingley to a private ball held by a Mr. and Mrs. Hayter. The main purpose of this ball was generally expected to be the offering of a festive opportunity to announce the engagement of their youngest daughter. The bridegroom to be was a former school-fellow of Darcy's and Bingley's. Peter Watersby was one of the boys who had followed Darcy through his years at Cambridge. He had always been rather serious and shy, not one of those young men who know how to take the easy way out, no matter what. Their personalities had been in accordance, and they had spent many hours together in the seclusion of their study, while the more irresponsible and wild amongst their comrades had been wasting time being on the rampage.
Darcy had not been seeing much of him those last years and was not at all acquainted with his fiancée. When they arrived and had been most heartily welcomed by the host and hostess, Watersby took Darcy aside, looking sort of eager and abashed at the same time. 'I say Darcy, I've always liked your outlook on life, you impressed me with your way of taking things seriously. You were never inclined to rattle along like some of the lads. I hold you in high esteem and this is the reason for my wish to have you meet my dearest Aleksandra. It would give me the greatest pleasure to introduce you to Miss Aleksandra Hayter, my fiancée to be.' His face was glowing from an inner light, at the mentioning of the lady's name and his obvious wish to renew their former intimacy was rather touching. His self-reliance seemed to have benefited from this change in his life and rendered him somewhat different from the young man Darcy remembered.
He consented gladly, saying he would be honoured to make Miss Hayter's acquaintance and Watersby accompanied him into a smaller salon, where some ladies were seated. Among them was one young woman in an ice-blue satin gown, politely conversing with two older ladies, one of whom Darcy recognized as Mrs. Watersby, Peter's mother. He saluted her and discreetly ogled Miss Hayter. She looked rather nice, though there was nothing extraordinary about her. Peter had approached her saying, 'My dear Aleksandra, I have met with an old friend from Cambridge, whom I would very much like you to meet.' Her face brightened up as she turned her head to look at her fiancé.
Darcy was amazed to see the difference in her entire person. She was suddenly almost beautiful, certainly exceedingly lovely, and her blue eyes were beaming when she smiled at Watersby. She got up to curtsey and nod, letting Darcy have his tiny share of that sweet smile, as he was formally introduced to her. She appeared to be a pleasant enough young woman and her remarks impressed Darcy with the belief of her sense and quick-witted mind. He spent some time conversing with his amorous friend and his future bride, but, though they were by no means lacking in civility, it was obvious, that they preferred each others company and, that any questions put or answers made were the results of sheer politeness.
He soon excused himself and went to find Bingley. During the evening, he could not help but watch the loving couple closely. Though it meant getting himself into a state of distress, as every sign of affection exchanged between those two was bound to add to his feeling of desolation. He was profoundly envious, wondering what it would be like to have a beloved woman look at you like that. To have a pair of pretty eyes searching for him, the way the eyes of Miss Aleksandra Hayter's were whenever Watersby was not by her side. To approach her and be welcomed with an expression of such tender affection as was sure to be bestowed on Peter from his lady.
He had made himself dance the obligatory pair of dances with Caroline Bingley, and was just gone to fetch her something to drink, as he happened upon Watersby once again at a table where refreshments were offered. He took this opportunity to compliment him on his fiancée and express his sincere wishes for their future happiness. Watersby thanked him with a smile and then asked, 'Are you to marry soon Darcy? I want everybody to be as happy as I am, you see! I bet you are able to pick and chose among the fairest in the land. Have you not yet found the queen of your heart?' Darcy looked into the warm smiling eyes of this old friend and for a moment he was tempted to unburden his heart and tell him. 'Yes I have, but she wont have me. She hates me. And I can't stop thinking of her and comparing every other woman to her. What am I to do?' But then he managed a joke and laughed it off. He felt miserably lost. Watersby was so deeply in love and such happiness must indeed be envied.
When Miss Bingley and her brother had left the carriage, Darcy asked his coachman to drive a tour at random and then make for home. He wanted to contemplate the evening before he went to bed. Then maybe he would be able to sleep and get some rest as he meant to go to Pemberley on horseback in the morning.
He tried to sort of close the books, as he meant to put an end to the misery of these last months. They were to go to Pemberley and to make it feel less empty at the beginning, he had invited some guests. He had made up his mind regarding some personal matters. Of one thing he was certain. He would never again try to force himself into a social situation where he did not really wish to be. He would however endeavour to change his mode of behaviour in everyday life. He would try not to be prejudiced on the merits of his fellow man - and woman ... He would take great care to not make up his mind too soon on the value of people he came into contact with. He had little by little started this new way of handling casual encounters and already experienced, much to his amazement, that people tended to be more friendly than they used too.
This was all very well and satisfying. When it came to society and his place in it, he did not wish for so great a change in that field. He would never be a charmer, it did not suit his temper. And he still felt a need to protect himself from the cunning schemes and minor traps set for him by hopeful mothers or even young ladies attempting to procure a big game in their husband hunting. He was even less inclined to share this common interest in matchmaking, than he had ever been. The whole idea was revolting to him. And after meeting with Peter Watersby tonight, he was even more convinced that his resolve against a marriage of convenience was justified. He had had a glimpse of what it might be like to marry for love and now he would never be content with second best.
Then all of a sudden he became aware of something! He had always considered the intentions and hopes of his aunt's regarding a marriage between Anne De Bourgh and himself to be quite absurd and devoid of any connection to reality. Why then would his own plans on an alliance between Georgiana and Charles Bingley be any more sensible and wise? If he believed himself to be the best judge of the deepest wishes of his own heart, why then did he not believe them capable of making their own choice? Was his own judgment superior in every aspect? No indeed it was not, as he had lately become aware. He decided to be very careful in his advice to those two people so dear to him. No further interference without very weighty reasons.
It was late when Darcy finally entered his bedchamber, told his valet that he would not be needing his assistance and bid him good night. Walking about the room he pulled off his jacket and deep in thoughts, slowly untied his cravat. He meditated once more on his decision to avoid marrying someone he did not love. A tender smile came to his face at the reminiscences of those past days, when his parents were still alive. Their happiness had certainly contributed to make his childhood such a warm and safe period of life. He believed it had always been his implicit aim to find that same felicity in marriage. It had never been a matter of much reflection before, but he now realized, that he must have taken it for granted, that he would find a wife to satisfy his requirements. Not until this moment had it worried him that there might not be such a woman for him.
He stopped in front of the mirror unbuttoning his waistcoat while he was earnestly looking into his own face. He got to think of Elizabeth Bennet again. They apparently had something in common after all. He sat down on a chair to gently pull his boots off.
That fellow Collins ... her cousin ... he had obviously proposed to her after the ball at Netherfield. 'Yes it did seem highly likely at the time... and I cannot blame him for trying ... but she rejected him ... Thank God for that, what horror to see her married to that blabbering oily black-coat. But no sooner had she got rid of him, than she had to turn another pompous fool down....
He dropped his boots on the floor and went over to the window that was wide open towards the sounds of the summer night. The disappearing noise of horse's hooves and carriage wheels was heard as Darcy allowed the fresh night air to cool his face. Fitzwilliam was right, she deserves respect for this ... There can not be many women in her relatively modest circumstances, self confident enough to refuse two proposals from men offering a safe future. But she is obviously not looking for that! Like he said, she maybe wants to respect her husband ... even love him ...'
No further incentive was necessary to make him forget his proud resolve of a new life without those senseless speculations. I hope she read my letter ... that her dislike of me did not make her destroy it right away ... Her temper was certainly aroused by my ungraceful manners ... But she seemed to have regained her composure the next day. She did not say a word when I handed it to her. Just looked at me with those dark eyes ... . Did she consider it improper I wonder? But, no, I do believe she's got far too much sense for that ... what did she think of it ... I would not have written it the same way today... It was bitter ... and blunt, I hope she was not too hurt ... and offended by my severe censure of her family. I would not want to hurt her feelings like I did that evening ...
I am ashamed to think of it, I was mortified and acted a base ruffian. She was getting more beautiful because she was so angry, more worth having by the minute. She was so very much alive in her agitation, my love was increasing even during those dreadful moments. I recall her attempts to keep calm, her attempts to breath steadily, but her glowing cheeks and her flashing eyes betrayed her, oohm ... she was simply adorable. And while my desire for her grew more ardent, all she desired was to be freed from my presence.
He stared out into the dusk. Inhaling the night air he was suddenly aware of there being something vaguely familiar to it's scent. The softness of flowery fragrances from the garden roses below filled the room, reminding him .... He abruptly drew the curtains, leaving the window open behind them. He removed his shirt and breeches and threw himself on the bed. The clear and melodious trail from a nightingale made it's way through the curtains and Darcy heaved a long deep-drawn sigh as he pulled the coolness of the newly mangled linen sheets over him.
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