A Few Weeks at Rosings
Part 1 - Fitzwilliam and Darcy travel to Kent
The two gentlemen in the carriage passed the time on the journey from London into Kent with amiable conversation and reflections on the early spring scenery. The weather was finally warm enough to allow outdoor exercise, which was a welcome change from the confined indoor entertainments of the winter in town.
"Did you find the countryside of Hertfordshire as pleasant as that of Kent, when you visited there several months ago? I dare not hope it could compare with Derbyshire." The speaker was Colonel Fitzwilliam, a man of about thirty with a countenance that wanted only a little to be perfectly handsome, as all of his female acquaintance in town would agree. The fact that he was only the younger son of an earl, and therefore not due to inherit, was the unfortunate cause of the imperfection. Despite that, they would hurry to assert, his manners were charming and his conversation excellent.
"The countryside was pleasant enough. The same could not be said of the inhabitants." The other passenger in the carriage was Colonel Fitzwilliam's cousin, Mr. Darcy. The ladies in town universally considered him to be handsome, as much for his striking countenance, dark hair, and dark eyes, as for his being the master of Pemberley, a large estate in Derbyshire which provided him with an income of 10,000 pounds a year.
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed at his cousin's reply. "Say you so? You are so demanding of your acquaintance and trouble so little to delve beyond the polite social facade of others that I can well believe it. However, I hope your friends enjoyed meeting their new neighbors."
"They did, although to varying degrees. The ladies in the party were somewhat disappointed to exchange the pleasures of town for the limited amusements of the country, and only found one or two people worthy of their acquaintance."
"And what of the gentlemen in the group? Were they more successful in finding friends who met with their approval?" Fitzwilliam was taking a wicked enjoyment in the conversation; he knew his cousin did not like to engage in anything remotely resembling gossip. But surely there must have been some interesting occurrences with this group of friends? After all, Darcy had spent almost the entire summer with them.
"One of my friends enjoyed himself so much that declared he would prefer a country life to being in town! He approved of everyone he met, and he has a disposition that allowed everyone to approve of him in turn. Unfortunately there proved to be one lady of whom he approved rather too much." Darcy continued to stare out the window of the carriage, but it was doubtful whether he actually saw the newly budding trees that lined the road. He was afraid he had said too much, and knew Fitzwilliam would not allow the subject to drop.
"You did not mention this before! Was the poor man smitten by a winning smile and a pair of sparkling eyes? And did the beautiful face hide a heart of gold? Was he inspired to compose a sonnet or two?" Fitzwilliam clasped his hands at his breast and gazed skyward in mock rapture.
"You jest, but I assure you the situation was more serious. I have often seen my young friend in love before, but never to such an extent as this."
Fitzwilliam returned his gaze to earth once again. "And pray, what is the difficulty with being in love? It is said to be a very pleasant experience. I myself have found it so, upon a few occasions."
Darcy finally turned to address his remarks directly to his cousin. "It can be very pleasant, when the affection is felt equally by both. In this case, however, I am afraid it was all on the side of the gentleman. In addition to this, it would have been a very unsuitable match. The lady had beauty enough, but she had no advantages of family or connections or fortune."
"These are heavy objections indeed! And did you endeavor to make your friend aware of this?"
"I did, and I am happy to say with complete success. When his sisters and I met him in London, we made the impropriety of the match very clear. I doubt if he will be returning to Hertfordshire."
"Poor fellow. I hope he may recover quickly." Colonel Fitzwilliam was silent after this, contemplating his cousin's actions and thinking it was very kind of Darcy to show such a concern for his friend's future happiness. His reverie was only disturbed when the carriage came into the driveway of their destination, Rosings Park.
Part 2 -- Fitzwilliam And Darcy Receive Some News From Their Aunt
Darcy and Fitzwilliam found Lady Catherine de Bourgh, their aunt, in the midst of her extensive correspondence, when the butler brought them to the morning room. They each bowed over the hand she gracefully extended as she greeted them.
"Darcy, Fitzwilliam, it is good to see you again. I trust your journey was comfortable?"
"Perfectly so, I thank you, madam. It was very kind of you to allow us the use of your carriage," Darcy replied.
"I thought it only proper that I should do so. I could hardly allow my nephews to arrive at Rosings in a hired conveyance! I am exceedingly attentive to these matters."
"We certainly appreciate your attention, Aunt," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. He seated himself on a nearby chair as she indicated he should do so. "How is my cousin Anne? Is there any news in Rosings and Hunsford since our last visit?"
"Anne is very well, I thank you. Her health continues rather delicate, but I ensure that Mrs. Jenkinson takes excellent care of her. She carefully follows all my advice for Anne's welfare. As for Hunsford, you should know that Mr. Collins is lately married. I advised him to take a wife, you may remember, and he found a suitable young gentlewoman when he was recently visiting his relations in Hertfordshire several months ago."
Darcy, who had been standing by the fireplace, seemed a little startled by this information. "Indeed, madam? Fitzwilliam and I must pay a call at the parsonage to congratulate him on his good fortune. Of what family is the young lady?"
Fitzwilliam was a little surprised at his cousin's interest in the marriage of the clergyman who held the living at Hunsford, but assumed it was only out of politeness. He turned his attention to his aunt to hear her reply.
"Their name is Lucas, I believe. Her father was recently elevated to the knighthood, but thankfully her sensibilities do not seem overly affected by it. She seems to be an active, useful sort of person who will ably assist Mr. Collins with his duties in the village. Her father, Sir William, departed only last week, after having stayed at the parsonage a fortnight. He seems to be a very respectable gentleman, and of course he was exceptionally grateful for my patronage of his son-in-law."
"Indeed, madam, who could not be sensible of the honor you do Mr. Collins? Surely no other clergyman in the country has such a superior benefactress." Fitzwilliam's voice was sober, but his eyes were twinkling. Darcy was forced to turn his back to his aunt to hide his reaction.
Lady Catherine either was unaware of her nephews' actions, or did not consider them worthy of her notice. "One of Mrs. Collins's sisters is also visiting at the parsonage at present, and with her a young friend of Mrs. Collins, one Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I suppose I must invite them to dine while you are here. Now leave me, as I must finish this letter."
Darcy seemed to barely remember to bow before he quitted his aunt's presence. Fitzwilliam rose from his chair, bowed, and followed Darcy out of the room. What an extraordinary expression on his cousin's face! Really, there seemed no explanation for it. He had to hurry to catch up to Darcy in the hallway.
"So, Mr. Collins also succumbed to the allure of Hertfordshire, like your friend! I must visit the place myself if all men going there -- saving yourself, of course, Darcy -- are similarly affected. I suppose you were not seriously suggesting that we visit Mr. Collins and his new bride?"
Darcy, however, seemed entirely serious, although still somewhat agitated, as he answered. "It would only be polite to offer our congratulations to Mr. Collins. Besides, we must welcome Mrs. Collins and her guests to the neighborhood. We may as well meet them now as later, since my aunt intends to invite them to dine at Rosings. You need not accompany me, if you find it so tiresome."
"That is prodigiously civil of you," said Fitzwilliam, "and of course I will come. It may prove amusing."
Part 3 -- Fitzwilliam And Darcy Walk Back To Rosings
The passage of a few hours' time found Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy walking through the park that surrounded Rosings, returning from the Hunsford parsonage. They would just have time to change for dinner when they returned, and they knew from prior experience how much Lady Catherine insisted upon punctuality at her table. It was apparent that Colonel Fitzwilliam was in a fine mood, as could be seen from the energy of his step and the merry whistling that flowed from his lips. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, seemed just as distracted as he had been when they left Rosings earlier. Not only did he seem insensible of the fine weather, but he also seemed almost completely unaware of his friend's presence, at least until Fitzwilliam mischievously shied a pebble at him and knocked his hat to the ground.
"You see to what lengths I must go to retrieve your attention from wherever it was wandering," he said. "I did not think you would speak a word to me before we reached the house."
"It is nothing compared to the lengths to which I must go to retrieve my hat!" Darcy replied, moving to where it had fallen and stooping to pick it up. As he brushed it off, he tried to scowl at his cousin, but the laughter in his eyes showed that he did not really mind. Fitzwilliam often tried to lighten Darcy's solemn moods by resorting to jokes and tricks, and he usually succeeded. "I apologize if I have been too silent, Fitzwilliam. My mind was indeed wandering."
Fitzwilliam was determined to continue some conversation, now that he had gone to such trouble to get Darcy to participate. "I hope your mind was at least as agreeably occupied as mine was! I was thinking that Miss Bennet is entirely charming. I cannot ever recall having such a pleasant time at the parsonage before."
"For the moment we will ignore the fact that until now you have rarely spent more than two minutes at the parsonage, which, you will admit, is hardly sufficient to determine whether the time was pleasant or not." The laughter had not completely left Darcy's eyes or voice. "Yes, I noticed that you seemed very well entertained while you were talking with Miss Bennet."
"And you, on the other hand, only sat on the sofa and said hardly a word, except to ask Mrs. Collins whether she planned to grow radishes in her garden this year. Radishes! You are the one who suggested we pay the call, after all, and I expected you to be a little more lively. Come, Darcy, you must get over this habit of being so reserved before strangers. I don't know what they must think of you."
Fitzwilliam did not understand the strange grimace that appeared on Darcy's face, or his reply. "I know precisely what they must think of me. And they are not strangers. Did I not tell you before? I had the honor of becoming acquainted with Miss Bennet and Mrs. Collins -- Miss Lucas as she was then -- while I was in Hertfordshire." They were nearing the front of the house by this time. Darcy made no further answer, but stopped to contemplate a nearly flower bed.
"I gathered that you had some slight acquaintance with Miss Bennet, since you took the liberty to inquire after the health of her family, but that was the first I knew of it. You told me that your friend had mistakenly fallen in love with a pretty girl in Hertfordshire, but made no mention of any other young ladies. Were there any in the neighborhood that caught your eye, hm? I can hardly blame the gentleman for falling so desperately in love, if the county has many ladies like Miss Bennet."
Again that strange almost-smile from Darcy. "You have delighted in teasing me since we were boys, Fitzwilliam. You would be disappointed to find, should you go to Hertfordshire, that Miss Bennet is unique. Thankfully I believe she is the only one of her kind."
"In that case, Darcy, it would seem all the more wise to enjoy her company and conversation for the time we are here."
"You may do so if you please, Fitzwilliam, but I do not think it likely I will be calling at the parsonage again before we must return to London. Come, let us go in. You know how my aunt will be vexed if she must wait dinner for us."
Part 4 -- Some Guests Are Invited To Rosings
Over the next week, Colonel Fitzwilliam called several more times at the parsonage, and each time he came away with a better and better opinion of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her manners were open and friendly, she was possessed of an obvious intelligence and quick wit, and Fitzwilliam felt he could never tire of seeing the charming smile that frequently lighted her features. He found himself rather absurdly hoping she smiled more for him than for anyone, but of course this was impossible to determine, since he did not know anyone else in her acquaintance besides the Collinses and Mr. Darcy. It was no great task to be better at entertaining a lady than Mr. Collins, and Mr. Darcy's skill could not be tested, since he had so far followed his intention of not calling again at the parsonage. Rather than worry over the question, Colonel Fitzwilliam simply turned his not-inconsiderable powers of amusement to making certain that the exquisite expression remained on Miss Bennet's countenance as much as possible while he was in her company.
Fitzwilliam was also glad of his visits to Hunsford because there was not much diversion to be had at Rosings. Lady Catherine was continually engrossed with the affairs of her estate, making sure the laundresses had cleaned the linen properly, watching that the grooms in the stable did not feed her carriage horses a hot mash above once a week, and settling any grievances from her tenants. His cousin Anne was frequently indisposed and was easily tired merely by the suggestion, it seemed, that they take a turn in the garden while the weather was fine. In any case, her companion Mrs. Jenkinson was constantly fluttering about with wraps, shawls, and suggestions for soothing draughts while he was with his cousin, which made conversation all but impossible. Darcy, for his part, also did not provide much variety: he would enter into conversation with his cousin and even return his jests readily enough, but all too often he would lapse into silence again and pursue some inner discourse. When this occurred on one occasion in the billiard room, Fitzwilliam considered that he might regain his cousin's attention by heaving one of the cues at him. All of his attempts to discover the subject of Darcy's reveries failed, so he was often left to his own devices and increasing frustration. It was with great relief that he found, after church that Sunday, that Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins, Miss Lucas, and Miss Bennet had been invited to Rosings for the evening.
If the servants noticed Colonel Fitzwilliam was in a particularly good mood because he was whistling the entire time he was dressing for dinner, they made no mention of it. His valet also made no comment about the unusual incident of Colonel Fitzwilliam's tying and re-tying the knot of his cravat for a full ten minutes, although he was not a man who was generally so fastidious about his appearance. Fitzwilliam himself was privately wishing that he had not followed his cousin's advice of leaving all of his uniforms behind in London, or that he had taken the time to have some new evening clothes made up before he left town. However, he reflected, Miss Bennet was not one of those shallow women who judged men only according to the rules of fashion. Lady Catherine might prefer that her nephew be more stylishly dressed, but Fitzwilliam was not planning to spend much time in his aunt's company this evening.
Dinner had never seemed more interminable. Although the food reached its usual level of excellence, the accompanying sauce of Lady Catherine's comments seemed to Colonel Fitzwilliam to drown all of its flavor. He tried to remain perfectly attentive to his aunt, but his answers to her comments rarely went beyond one syllable. Darcy, sensing his cousin's distracted frame of mind, even if he was not entirely sure of the reason for it, quickly made himself the focus of his aunt's conversation, agreeing about the difficulty of dressing pheasant properly and assuring her he would raise the subject with his cooks at Pemberley. The only person who ate less than Colonel Fitzwilliam was Anne, whom Mrs. Jenkinson constantly cajoled to try one more taste, or would she rather have the kitchen send out something else?
The two gentlemen retired to the library for the precise quarter-hour that Lady Catherine would permit them to be absent from her enlightening company after dinner. She insisted on upholding propriety to the extent that any gentlemen at her table had some time to themselves before joining the ladies for coffee, but feared for the state of their moral improvement (and her winecellar) should they be gone too long.
"Pour me a brandy, will you, Darcy?" said the Colonel, gratefully unkinking his shoulders after an hour of feeling trapped at the table. "Thank you."
"You were much more quiet than usual this evening, Fitzwilliam," said his companion, as he handed him a glass. "Our visits to Rosings usually find you in a more animated mood."
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. "That is true! Although my aunt is entirely capable of dominating the conversation by herself, and requires no response from her dinner companions, I occasionally try to contribute some wit of my own." He took a sip of brandy and turned to face his cousin. "I am extremely grateful to you for relieving me of the burden of my aunt's attention tonight."
"The price of my assistance shall be the explanation for your inattentive behavior."
"Surely you can guess it? I have been so looking forward to seeing Miss Bennet again this evening that my only thought was to get through dinner as quickly as possible. Darcy, I have never met such a supremely wonderful lady as she! Such intelligence, such beauty, such ease and grace!" He laughed again, this time at himself. "You will think me quite mad, I am sure. I am surprised at my own feelings for her, considering how short a time we have been acquainted."
Darcy was indeed surprised. He could not deny the attractions Miss Bennet possessed, having seen them for himself in Hertfordshire. He had thought he would be able to forget them by staying away from the parsonage during the week, but his cousin's catalogue of her charms brought them all to mind again, with just as much force as they had previously affected him. He did not have time to identify the disturbing emotion rising within himself before he realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam had not stopped speaking.
"... I said, do you think we could convince her to play for us? We almost never have music when we come to Rosings."
"Oh, certainly, Fitzwilliam. Come, let us go in. I think I hear our guests arriving."
Part 5 -- In The Drawing Room
Lady Catherine was reigning over the drawing room from her customary seat on the best sofa. Impeccably dressed and coifed, as always, her perfect posture expressed silent disdain for any support the back of the sofa might have dared to offer. Mr. Collins had chosen his chair with extreme care, being close enough to her Ladyship to offer comments and compliments, should she desire them, but far enough away that he could be easily ignored, should she so choose. His wife Charlotte sat beside him, more because that was the position Lady Catherine expected of a dutiful wife than from any wish of her own; she would much rather have been placed next to her dear friend Elizabeth, whose company was sure to be more enjoyable.
Charlotte's sister, Maria Lucas, sat on another sofa, so stunned by Lady Catherine's dignity that she could barely find the composure for an occasional "Yes, of course, your Ladyship," or "No, indeed, your Ladyship." Elizabeth Bennet sat with her, a small smile on her face betraying her inner amusement with the scene. She was the only one of the party who seemed able to rally enough spirit to maintain any conversation; and indeed, Lady Catherine was beginning to look slightly annoyed that her own was not to be the only opinion expressed that evening.
Darcy looked at Miss Bennet as he entered the drawing room, but he chose a seat near his cousin Anne, who was sitting near the fireplace with her companion, Mrs. Jenkinson. This was her usual place, since her mother was constantly admonishing her on the danger of becoming chilled after dinner. Fitzwilliam gave a mental shrug at his friend's behavior but rejoiced that this allowed him to once again enjoy Miss Bennet's conversation. He promptly claimed possession of the chair nearest to her, and in moments they were having a pleasant discussion of the delights of traveling and the scenery of Kent and Hertfordshire.
Darcy had intended to watch his cousin, to see if Fitzwilliam's behavior towards Miss Bennet reflected the feelings he declared he had for her. However, Lady Catherine took the opportunity to notice Darcy's choice of seat and to subject him to yet another tirade about her expectations that he was someday to marry his cousin Anne. As Darcy had little interest, let alone affection, for his cousin, such raptures from her Ladyship about the eventual match were certainly painful. Since he had no intention of marrying Anne, he made his present endurance the price for the future pain his refusal must bring her and her mother.
During the few moments that he was able to turn his attention to Fitzwilliam and Miss Bennet, he experienced a familiar pang of envy. Where had his cousin come by his open and friendly manner, that was always so pleasing in company? Never did he seem to lack for conversation. From the few words that Darcy could hear, Fitzwilliam and Miss Bennet now appeared to be talking of music and their favorite composers. Darcy had often tried to imitate his friend's behavior, but with little success. Apparently there were some skills he had yet to master.
Lady Catherine had also noticed how much her other nephew was engrossed by Miss Bennet, and immediately demanded to know of what they were speaking. Really, it was not at all proper for Fitzwilliam to allow himself to be so monopolized by one guest! Lady Catherine was rather disappointed, therefore, that her nephew appeared totally insensible of this. He failed to return his attention to his aunt, and he used her interruption as an excuse to remind Miss Bennet that she had promised to play the piano-forte for him.
Darcy continued to watch, becoming more and more miserable as he saw how readily Miss Bennet assented to Colonel Fitzwilliam's request. He wondered whether she would have done the same if he had asked, and rather doubted it. That unfamiliar and still unrecognizable emotion rose within him again as he saw Fitzwilliam seat himself near the piano-forte, where he could helpfully hold Miss Bennet's gloves and turn the pages of her music. Lady Catherine had begun speaking to Darcy again before Miss Bennet finished a single song, but he hardly heard a word she said. Finally he determined to make at least an effort to match his cousin's behavior, and walked across the room to join the couple at the instrument.
Part 6 -- A Friendly After-Dinner Conversation
After Lady Catherine's carriage had been brought round and their guests had departed for the parsonage, Darcy and Fitzwilliam found they were not yet ready to seek repose. Fitzwilliam had little trouble persuading his cousin to join him in the library.
"Besides, with my aunt gone to bed, we will be able to enjoy another glass of brandy quite undisturbed." After checking on the state of the fire and supplying himself with a full glass, Fitzwilliam settled himself comfortably into an armchair. "I was very pleased that you exerted yourself to converse with Miss Bennet and myself. I was worried you might be trapped between my aunt and Mr. Collins all evening."
"I decided to let myself be taught by your example, and attempt to be less reserved in company. Unfortunately, the conversation did not go exactly as I wish." He smiled a little at the recollection.
His cousin smiled also. "I should say not! Did you really dance only four dances at that ball in Hertfordshire? For shame, Darcy! After meeting Miss Bennet, I am surprised your first impulse was not to claim a dance with her."
Darcy took a sip of brandy and chose not to inform his cousin of what his attitude towards Elizabeth Bennet had been on that particular evening. "I am sure it would have been your first impulse, Fitzwilliam, whether you had yet been introduced to her or not."
"In that you are entirely correct. But did you never have the pleasure of dancing with Miss Bennet while you were in Hertfordshire? Surely that one ball cannot have been the only entertainment while you were in the county."
"I had the honor to dancing with Miss Bennet at a ball my friends gave at Netherfield. And, since I know what your next question will be, yes, she is as accomplished at dancing as she is at everything else."
Colonel Fitzwilliam gave a surprisingly heartfelt sigh. "Ah, Darcy, now I truly envy you your previous acquaintance with Miss Bennet. Lady Catherine will certainly never give a ball while we are here, and therefore I shall never discover for myself the truth of your claim -- although I do not doubt it for a moment."
"Surely you are not missing so much in only a dance, Fitzwilliam?"
"But it is not 'only' a dance, Darcy! It is the whole experience of seeing a woman at a ball. To look for her in the crowd of people, although you try to convince yourself that she is not the person your eyes seek. To see her dressed with particular care -- I am sure Miss Bennet appeared even more beautiful at Netherfield than she does here. To inquire whether she is enjoying the music, the room, the company -- you say anything to have some conversation with her, and you hardly know whether you are making sense. To feel that moment of doubt when you ask whether she will consent to dance with you, and the elation when she accepts! And then the dance itself, when you feel the warmth of her hand in yours, you hear the music of her voice, and you see her beautiful eyes only inches from your own. And to know that for the space of a few minutes, she belongs only to you. That is what I missed, and why I envy you. Why, Darcy, whatever is the matter?"
Darcy had sprung out of his chair and was pacing up and down before the fireplace. He found his hand was trembling, when he took a sip of brandy in an attempt to calm himself. Finally taking a deep breath, he forced himself to stop moving. Trying to make light of his behavior, he said, "I did not know you had such romantic sensibilities, Fitzwilliam! You will forgive me, but I had never heard you speak in this way. But tell me," he continued, seating himself in another armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace, "would you expect to feel these things for any woman, or only for Miss Bennet?"
"To some degree this occurs with every woman who is my dance partner, but there are some few for whom these feelings are intensified. I am sure Miss Bennet would be one of those few." Fitzwilliam answered seriously, since he was aware of the sudden intensity of his cousin's question.
Darcy stood up again, having finished his brandy. To Fitzwilliam, he appeared to be almost physically forcing the subject from his mind. "But, as you say, you are unfortunate in that you may never find out. You must excuse me, Fitzwilliam, I need to get some sleep."
Part 7 -- Another Conversation In The Library
Whatever thoughts about Miss Bennet had been awakened in Mr. Darcy's mind during that conversation in the library, Colonel Fitzwilliam was not to discover. His cousin was maddeningly capable of keeping his own counsel. However, Fitzwilliam was pleased to see that Darcy was attempting to shed more of his customary reserve, by taking the trouble to call upon Miss Bennet at the parsonage, either in his cousin's company or even by himself. Darcy also told Fitzwilliam that he had the pleasure of some conversation with her when they met on occasion in the park surrounding Rosings. Fitzwilliam had long been convinced that all Darcy needed, in order to be drawn out of his somewhat shy nature, was the stimulation of an intelligence equal to his own; and that Miss Bennet certainly possessed.
Darcy had decided to delay their departure from Rosings, saying that his business affairs in London did not yet require his presence. Lady Catherine assumed the reason for this was his desire to stay near Anne. Fitzwilliam knew better than that, but simply took advantage of the delay to call at the parsonage or to walk through the park with Miss Bennet a few more times himself.
It was on a rainy afternoon a few days later that Fitzwilliam found Darcy in the library. "Can I interest you in a game of chess, Darcy? Or perhaps cards? Billiards? We must have some amusement since it is too wet walk out today."
Darcy motioned for him to come into the room and sit down. "And I know how irate you can become when you are trapped indoors with nothing to do. Especially when you would rather be at the parsonage conversing with a certain young lady." He looked at his cousin sharply. "Fitzwilliam, are you in love with her?"
Fitzwilliam was taken aback. "What a question, Darcy! It's odd you should ask, though, because there is something in that direction on which I wanted your opinion. I know we are to leave Kent on Saturday, and I know I have been acquainted with Miss Bennet less than a month, and yet... Darcy, I was thinking of asking Miss Bennet to marry me. Do you think she would accept?"
Now it was Darcy's turn to be stunned. "I'm certain she admires you, Fitzwilliam," he said. Honesty was suddenly and unwontedly painful.
"I'm sure you are right, but I dare hope it is more than simply admiration. I believe she has a sincere affection for me."
"But Fitzwilliam, leaving the state of Miss Bennet's heart aside for the moment, are you in a position to marry? You have a modest income from your regiment, but is it enough to support a wife and family, and the household of a married man? You live barely within -- and sometimes beyond -- your means already. Could you change your habits of expense? Miss Bennet has no fortune beyond one hundred pounds per year."
Fitzwilliam sighed. "This is true... but surely I could find my way to a promotion. You know Lord B-- said he would sponsor me, and I have nearly enough to purchase a higher commission. That would certainly increase my income."
"And if your higher rank led to a transfer to a different regiment -- one that was more involved with the situation in France, or one that was sent overseas? Would you drag your family with you, or leave them behind? Surely it must be difficult for them to find happiness in either situation."
"I would hope my wife's happiness would chiefly lie in being with me, wherever I am sent. But let that pass. You are right again -- it may not be right to ask Miss Bennet to share the privations of a military life. Wait... but surely I could ask my relations to care for my wife and family while I was away."
"Oh, yes. Certainly you can picture Lady Catherine inviting Miss Bennet -- your pardon, Mrs. Fitzwilliam -- to remain with her while you are fighting the French. She would surely revel in caring for a niece with such exalted social connections."
Fitzwilliam smiled at the idea of his aunt's sharing Rosings with Elizabeth Bennet. What an uproar there would be! But again, he was forced to consider the truth of his cousin's argument. "Miss Bennet's social position is not of so much concern to me. Nor would my father be terribly interested, since my actions make little reflection on the title my brother is to inherit; but you are right that my aunt would be very dismayed by my alliance with her. I am beginning to understand better how you were able to persuade your friend to leave his lady-love in Hertfordshire. All of your reasons are sound. And, I must admit" -- he sighed again -- "I am not quite in love with Miss Bennet. It is just that she is the most amiable lady of my acquaintance, and it would not take very much more time in her company to become completely enamored of her."
Darcy got up to tend the fire. His cousin watched him closely, and continued. "However, there is one argument against my marrying Miss Bennet that you neglected to use."
"And that is...?" Darcy inquired.
"That you are in love with her yourself."
Part 8--The Conversation Continues
Darcy turned around slowly. "I am in love with Miss Bennet?"
"You must be. It's the only reason you could possibly have for being so jealous that would try to convince me not to marry her. Even if she is not the most suitable wife I could find, unless you believed I could not be happy with her -- and we both know any man she marries will be supremely happy -- why should you prevent it? Surely you must have some feelings for her, or why do you watch her so constantly? And the way you suffered her wit so patiently only a few nights ago -- I have never known you to tolerate that from anyone. And your sudden visits to the parsonage, when you swore you would not call on her while we were here. I am convinced, even if you are not." Colonel Fitzwilliam was smiling at his cousin.
Darcy suddenly felt he had to sit down, or topple where he stood. Jealousy! That was the feeling he had never quite been able to name. It was what he felt during all the times he had seen his cousin with Miss Bennet, or known Fitzwilliam was going to visit her, and wished it had been himself instead. It was what he had felt before in the drawing room, seeing how happy Miss Bennet was in his cousin's company.
"Well?" Fitzwilliam was becoming concerned because his cousin had been silent so long.
"I am in love with Miss Bennet..." It was no longer a question, but tentative, as if Darcy were still wondering about his own feelings. "Is it possible? I have known she was unlike any other woman of my acquaintance, almost from the moment I met her, but never did I consider... or perhaps I only refused to consider... and yet, it would explain so much... Fitzwilliam, what must I do?"
That plaintive question convinced Fitzwilliam, as nothing else could have, that his suspicions had been correct. "You may wish to think on this matter further. I would not wish to make you believe you feel something, if you do not. And you must find out how she feels, of course. Obviously, if she returns your affection, you must ask her to marry you."
"But how could I?" Darcy leapt up and started pacing again. "Even if I was so fortunate as to secure her good opinion, what of her family, her fortune, her connections, the displeasure of my relations -- all the arguments I used on you! How can I overcome that?"
"Darcy. Darcy, stop storming up and down and listen to me." Fitzwilliam stood up, placed his hands on his friend's shoulders, and looked him in the eye. "Consider the happiness that will be yours if she is your wife. Weigh that against all those arguments, and then decide what is more important to you. Besides," Fitzwilliam decided the situation needed to be lightened somewhat, "she is hardly likely to refuse once she knows what a great and respected man is in love with her, and what struggles he has undergone to declare himself."
"You are right. Excuse me, Fitzwilliam, I must have some time to myself to think about this."
Part 9 -- A Walk Through The Park
Fitzwilliam was in a contemplative mood as he walked through a grove of trees on the Rosings grounds. The weather was beautiful, there were birds singing, but he did not seem to be enjoying the spring atmosphere as he usually did. It had been a stroke of good fortune to encounter Miss Bennet while he was making his customary circuit of the park, but he still felt some regret about what he felt his honor required him to tell her.
How he wished it could have gone differently! The pastoral setting would have been ideal for a proposal of marriage. However, even if his cousin had not been in love with Miss Bennet, Fitzwilliam must still admit the force of Darcy's other arguments. He had tried to phrase the matter delicately, yet without any doubt of being understood: commenting that the younger sons of earls cannot marry without some attention to money, that their habits of expense make them dependent... He hardly knew what he had said, only that he had been so afraid of causing her any distress.
She had responded with a jest of her own, inquiring as to the usual price of an earl's younger son. But then for a moment she had laid her hand on his arm and given him such a look from those marvelous eyes, full of comprehension and compassion, as if to say, I understand you, and you honor me with the regard you cannot express... Fitzwilliam would surely remember that look for the rest of his life. Then she removed her hand and they had continued their walk, still secure in each other's friendship.
Fitzwilliam felt he would have been content to keep walking with Miss Bennet all afternoon, so it was with severe disappointment that he had realized they had nearly arrived at the parsonage. And just when they were having such an interesting conversation about Darcy and his friend in Hertfordshire! Fitzwilliam had been attempting to praise his cousin's actions and determine by Miss Bennet's response whether she had any feelings for Darcy. He had been forced to take his leave before he was satisfied with her reply.
Darcy would really be the luckiest man in the world if Miss Bennet accepted him for her husband! Fitzwilliam would take care to visit his cousin very often after he was married; in that way he would not entirely lose the pleasure of her company. And he could still look forward to seeing her at Rosings for dinner this evening.
Part 10 -- On the Road To London
The two gentlemen were riding in the carriage again, but this time their destination was London. The end of their visit to Rosings could no longer be delayed, since Mr. Darcy had engagements of business in town, and Colonel Fitzwilliam was expected to return to his regiment. The few weeks of their stay had seen the season well advanced, and some of the budding trees along the road were now showing pale blossoms. Fitzwilliam was once again full of admiration for the scenery, but, as on the previous journey, he doubted whether his companion was aware of the view. All of his attempts to make conversation were cut short or completely rebuffed. After unsuccessfully attempting observations on the weather, the condition of the road, and the activities they were likely to find in London, he seized on the one subject that was sure to catch his cousin's interest.
"How very unlucky that we were not able to see Miss Bennet before our departure! I cannot imagine what could have detained her so long on her walk. I declare, I waited nearly an hour for her to return. If I had not known that you were holding the carriage for me, I should probably be at the parsonage still."
"You would have spent the time more profitably in supervising the packing of your trunk, I suppose."
"The wait was no hardship. Mrs. Collins and her sister entertained me well enough, but you must admit their company is not so pleasing as Miss Bennet's. Your trunk must be excellently arranged, since you took your leave so soon after making your farewell to Mrs. Collins. I should have thought our positions would be reversed, since you have an even more particular reason than I for wishing to see Miss Bennet."
"I cannot imagine to what reason you refer."
Fitzwilliam was becoming exasperated with his cousin's short replies and the cold stare he was directing out the window of the carriage. "I mean, that you could have contrived a few minutes alone with her to make your proposal of marriage! After all, you have no idea when you may have another opportunity for it."
"There was no need for me to make such a proposal."
This was too much to be endured. "No need! No need to tell this magnificent woman of your feelings, to finally declare your love for her? Darcy, you mystify me. I suppose you are now going to say that you do not love her, and that I should have proposed to her after all." Fitzwilliam folded his arms and frankly glared at his cousin.
Darcy sighed and turned his gaze away from the window, but he still did not look at his companion. An imperfection in the floor of the carriage seemed to absorb all of his attention. "There was no need, Fitzwilliam, because I have already proposed to her, and ..."
"And she has accepted you, of course! Why, you lucky fellow! Allow me to be the first to offer my congratulations. Now I know why you disappeared yesterday evening. What a cunning fellow you are!" Fitzwilliam seized his cousin's hand and pumped it vigorously. He was perplexed when Darcy wrenched his hand free.
"Pray allow me to finish what I was about to say, Fitzwilliam. I proposed to Miss Bennet, and she has refused me."
Part 11 -- The Journey Continues
Colonel Fitzwilliam abruptly sat back in his seat, utterly confounded. "Refused you? Impossible! There must be some mistake."
"No, there is no mistake. She was perfectly sincere."
"I cannot believe it. Did you tell her everything you told me? How you had loved her for so long, how she was unlike any other woman of your acquaintance..."
"Of course, but I was also bound to tell her of the scruples I had to overcome: her family, her rank, and her fortune. You yourself said she was hardly likely to refuse once she knew how I had wrestled with my conscience before I could declare myself."
Fitzwilliam went pale with surprise and dismay. "I meant that comment as a joke, Darcy! I had no idea you would take me seriously. I apologize -- knowing how serious you were that evening, it was improper for me to make light of your situation. Never for the world would I have encouraged you to act in any manner that would lessen your chance for success."
"Do not blame yourself, Fitzwilliam. It was my pride that turned your humor to ill use, using it to bolster my wretched belief that Miss Bennet could not do otherwise than accept me."
Fitzwilliam still looked uncomfortable, but continued to give his cousin his entire attention. "However, I believe you acted correctly to inform Miss Bennet of your misgivings regarding the match. I well know your honor would require complete truth." He nodded thoughtfully. "But she must appreciate your honesty in such a case, and value your regard all the more for it."
"Perhaps, but the lady had other objections against me. Fitzwilliam, I did not tell you of all my actions with regard to Miss Bennet while I was in Hertfordshire."
"This must mean something other than dancing only four dances at a country ball. What else have you to confess?" Fitzwilliam smiled a little.
"Pray do not jest; I can hardly bear it at this moment." Darcy took a deep breath. "You remember I told you how I had rescued a friend from making a very imprudent match with a lady in Hertfordshire. The friend was Charles Bingley, whom you have heard me mention, and the lady in question was Miss Bennet's sister. She claims that I mistook her sister's behavior, that her sister was truly in love with my friend, and that I have ruined her sister's best chance for happiness."
"But you said you acted only for the good of your friend. Could you have made such an error?"
"I must admit it is possible, since Miss Bennet must have a better understanding of her sister's heart than I do. If it is true, I am heartily ashamed of myself. However, there is more. While I was in Hertfordshire, I encountered a man whose name you will recognize -- George Wickham."
"What insolence! That he would dare show his face before you, after his scandalous behavior! But what has he to do with Miss Bennet?"
"He was much in company with Miss Bennet, and I am sorry to say, was something of a favorite with her. You know how he can please when it suits him. Apparently he had been circulating some story of how I was responsible for his current reduced circumstances, because I had denied him the living at Kympton. There was no reason for anyone to disbelieve him: how could they, without knowing his behavior towards my sister? And so he was able to portray me as an arrogant, proud, capricious man who deserved no one's respect or friendship."
"Darcy, this is monstrous! But did you not attempt to explain yourself to Miss Bennet?"
"I could not at the time -- I was far too dismayed by her opinion of me to be able to make any coherent response. I was hurt and angry, and you know how I act when my temper is aroused." He looked at his cousin somewhat guiltily. "I had the gall to say that she might have ignored all these objections if I had flattered her vanity by only declaring my feelings and by not mentioning my objections to the match."
"Darcy, that was not well done," Fitzwilliam said. "What was her reply?"
"I shall never forget it. She said that I could not have made her an offer in any way that would have tempted her to accept me. And she said that the arrogance of my proposal had only spared her the concern she might have felt for her refusal, had I behaved in a more gentleman-like manner." He shook his head ruefully. "How she must despise me now! When I think how abominably confident I was, when I entered the parsonage, that she could not do otherwise than accept me..."
"Darcy, you cannot leave the situation like this. You must make some answer to her accusations. You must convince her that you are a better man than she presently believes! Come, we are not so far from Rosings yet. Tell the coachman to turn around, and you may explain yourself to Miss Bennet this very day." Fitzwilliam raised his cane to rap on the roof of the carriage.
Darcy raised a hand to forestall his cousin. "I have already made all the explanation that is in my power. You will remember that when I returned from my mysterious absence yesterday evening, I immediately retired upstairs. I spent a good part of the night writing a letter to Miss Bennet, in which I fully accounted for all my actions. I gave all my reasons for dividing my friend from her sister; I listed every detail of my objections to marrying her; and I even relayed the entire circumstances of my involvement with Wickham. I referred her to you for verification of the matter, so you must not be surprised if she inquires. And this morning I told you I was late to breakfast because I had been out walking. I had gone to the grove near the parsonage, where Miss Bennet frequently walks, in hopes of meeting her there. Luckily she appeared, and I was able to deliver the letter. Whether she will read it, or if she will believe the contents, I know not."
"But then we still must go back!" Fitzwilliam exclaimed. "You must find out her response!"
Darcy shook his head. "It is not likely her disgust with me will disappear as easily as that. If you had only been able to see the expression on her face when she refused me! I can only hope that, after she reads the letter, she will acquit me of the faults she mistakenly believed I possessed, and look on me more kindly hereafter. I would be a fool to believe she could love me now."
Part 12 -- Conclusion
Colonel Fitzwilliam was distressed to see his cousin so unhappy. Never had a woman affected Darcy this deeply before! "But you still love her, do you not?"
"Of course! Perhaps even more than I did before. Only it means nothing if she does not love me in return."
Fitzwilliam was silent, thinking for a time what could be done to relieve his friend's suffering. If only Darcy would allow them to return to Rosings! Then he could confront Miss Bennet immediately, and learn what her true feelings were. How was he to encounter Miss Bennet otherwise? After she left Hunsford, she was likely to go directly home, which meant that Darcy could not expect to see her in town. Could he be persuaded to return to Hertfordshire again? Perhaps if he received another invitation from his friend... Bingley! Of course!
"Darcy, I have it! You will see your friend Bingley again soon, will you not? Did not you say he was to come to Pemberley this summer? You must convince him to return to Hertfordshire."
"What possible reason could I give that would make him do that? I am the one who convinced him to leave, you will remember."
"Any reason will do. Perhaps he must see to the maintenance of his new estate, or maybe you think the shooting will be fine -- if you can wait that long. Whenever he goes, you must accompany him. But you must tell him you were wrong about Miss Bennet's sister. That alone may be enough to hurry him back, if he was as much in love as you say. Then, when Miss Bennet sees what you have done to reunite Bingley and her sister, she will know that you are not the disagreeable man she supposed you to be."
"But is that enough to make her love me? Fitzwilliam, it is impossible." Darcy was sullen, refusing to consider the matter.
"Perhaps not, but it is a beginning. Once you have done this, surely you will find other ways to prove your love for her, and show that you are worthy of her esteem. You must try! Any action which may win her is better than simply regretting you have lost her."
Darcy sat up straighter, finally giving attention to his cousin's suggestions. Could this plan work? It was just possible... Some light returned to his countenance. He glanced over at Fitzwilliam. "You cannot have been very much in love with her yourself, if you are determined to find a way for me to marry her. Any other man would take advantage of my situation to renew his own attentions to her."
Fitzwilliam smiled, and reached for his cousin's hand again. He clasped it warmly. "You may consider it a measure of my affection and esteem for you. I could indeed make my feelings known to Miss Bennet, but I would not buy my own happiness at the price of yours. I would much rather see you married to her, since I am convinced there is no other woman on earth who would be a match for you."
Darcy smiled back at his cousin. Perhaps there was something to hope for, after all.
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