So Great a Change
Darcy strode off, white with rage. He knew not how he reached the grounds of Rosings, or the house at length.
"Shall I inform her Ladyship, Sir, that you would be joining the guests presently?" asked the manservant that let him in. Darcy recollected that his relations were with the visitors from the Parsonage. He did not feel inclined to meet anyone then and told the servant that he was repairing to his quarters for the night and asked him to convey his apologies to Lady Catherine.
"Could you ask my man to prepare hot water for my bath?"
"Very well, Sir," said the man and left Darcy by the stairway. Darcy ran up into his room and shut the door forcefully. The 'bang' of the door closing coincided with his frustrated outburst,
"All this while I have struggled to control my feelings and conquer my passion; only a belief that she would accept me led me to- confess myself. Such a shameful rejection! I wish I had followed the good advice I gave Bingley!"
"...so immoveable a dislike... your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others...you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry..."
Her unbelievably mortifying words leapt into his brain at random.
"Do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?"
"It is on her sister's account that she has rejected me! I could not have been wrong in that instance at least-I watched Jane Bennet so closely-although Elizabeth Bennet is probably in her sister's confidence and may be right; or she wishes to be right!"
"In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself?"
"That abominable Wickham-interfering with my life again! Is she in...love with him? I wish I knew! She thinks I wronged him?! She does not know what a rogue he is!"
"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"
He tore off his coat and waistcoat and tossed them on a chair by the fireside.
"Does she love him? Oh! If only I knew! First, my sister; now, Elizabeth..." He had to hold on to the railings on top of his four-poster bed to stop himself from shaking.
"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it"
"While I have been developing an admiration, affection for her, she has been nurturing abhorrence towards me! I will not, I cannot let her keep her false impression about what happened between Wickham and me. She must know the truth. At least in that I must defend myself!"
The fact that Elizabeth thought so ill of his disposition made Darcy's head ache with shame and frustration. A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
"Your bath is ready, Sir," announced his valet.
Darcy immersed himself into the almost-stingingly hot water.
"How do I explicate myself?" he pondered, "I cannot face her again, 'You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it...' Oh! It tortures me! I will write to her, yes, I will write to her my reasons for keeping Bingley from her sister and of my dealings with Wickham. Dare I tell her about Georgiana, though nothing exposes Wickham for what he is more then his behaviour to my beloved, innocent sister?"
His valet poured a basin of water over his heated head.
Darcy completed his bath and in a little while lay on his bed tossing, and turning; trying to sleep. He could not help going over in his mind repeatedly, the disastrous scene of the evening. As an uneasy truce between wakefulness and sleep settled on him, her condemning expressions kept recurring in his dreams.
When the first rays of the early sun fell on his face and woke him from his stupor, he had made up his mind on what he would say to Elizabeth and how much he would reveal. After washing his face, he sat down at a table near the window and began to write. Words flowed effortlessly from his pen-he never had any trouble expressing himself thus-the bitterness oppressing his heart made him more eloquent than usual.
As he neared the end of his epistle, Darcy could not help feeling that this, in all probability, was the end of any real interaction between the two of them. Tenderness made him excuse her prejudice and blame it on ignorance instead. He finished at last; he had not written such a long letter even to Georgiana. His heart bled as he added the final "God Bless You!"
The letter safe inside his coat pocket, Darcy proceeded down to the breakfast parlour. He wanted to talk to Colonel Fitzwilliam before giving Elizabeth his letter. He knocked on his cousin's door, hoping he was still in. The Colonel opened his door, and to his surprise, saw his cousin standing outside.
"May I come in? I want a word with you," said Darcy. The Colonel ushered him in. "I request a favour from you Richard, which I hope you will grant me."
Intrigued, the Colonel assented.
"If Miss Bennet, during the course of this day, asks you any thing concerning me or Georgiana, even regarding Wickham, I pray that you answer her questions, whatever they maybe."
"Whatever they may be, Darcy?" echoed his cousin, frowning, "Even of her scrape with that loathsome man? We have kept those particulars so carefully from every one..."
Darcy had the highest regard for the Colonel, and knew that he took his responsibilities towards Georgiana very seriously.
"You realize of course, that I have no wish to discredit my own sister. I am confident of Miss Bennet's secrecy. I fear Miss Bennet has misunderstood Wickham's true nature and I feel it is of the greatest importance that she should know what he really is."
"How does Miss Bennet know Wickham? I thought he was in Foster's regiment..."
"The regiment was stationed in Meryton-the neighbourhood to which Miss Bennet belongs."
"Well, will not your explanation be sufficient to convince her?"
"I truly hope it will be! Have confidence in my motives, cousin, and do not ask me anything more now."
Colonel Fitzwilliam appraised Darcy. He hesitated for a second before making his decision. "I still feel it unwise, but I leave it to you. If Miss Bennet does approach me, I will do as you wish, Darcy." Darcy thanked him and left.
Darcy would gladly have skipped breakfast, but such a long absence from his relatives would be too much of a breach of propriety and would seem disrespectful of his aunt- he had no choice but to go. Lady Catherine, impatient at his long absence, immediately accosted him with, "Darcy! There you are at last! Where were you all last evening? James told us that you did not wish to join us for dinner," she said with a hint of inquisitiveness and disapproval in her voice.
Darcy excused himself as well as he could.
"Well, well, you are not going to disappear again today, are you? I still have many things to discuss with you before you leave tomorrow."
"I am going to take my walk now, aunt. As this is going to be our last day in Kent, I might as well go to the Collins's and take leave of them on my way back," said Colonel Fitzwilliam after breakfast was over. Soon after, he left. Darcy now seemed to be in danger of being overpowered by Lady Catherine's determination to keep him in her sight for the day. Hastily rising therefore, he excused himself with having the same intention as the Colonel, and proceeded out of the house.
Having observed Elizabeth for the past few weeks, Darcy knew that she would probably be walking on the grounds this time of the day. However, he wanted to be sure. With that intention, he first proceeded to the Collins's. He did not know how he would to manage to give her the letter with the others at hand; he was determined to contrive it some how.
When he reached there, he was relieved to find that Elizabeth had indeed gone for her walk. He took leave of the rest of them in the Parsonage and advanced to the grounds, trying to conjecture where she might be. He first went to her self-confessed favourite walk. Not finding her, he recollected having seen her at times in the Rosings grove, and went to look for her there. At length he espied her leaning over the railings into the Park grounds.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet!" he called out eagerly, taking out the letter as he approached her. He held out the letter, which she took, and said stiffly,
"I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?''
With a slight bow, he turned again into the plantation, and was soon out of sight.
He had half expected her to refuse his letter. Thankfully, she had not, though he wondered if she would tear it up believing him to be renewing his addresses to her. He blushed at that thought. He did not wish to discomfit her or degrade himself ever again in such a manner! That was why he had begun the letter with assurances that he had no such intentions...
(Well, as you all probably are in a fair way of knowing Mr. Darcy's letter by heart, I will not plague you by restating or rewriting it!)
The last night of his stay at Rosings was probably the worst for Darcy. He was impatient to escape his overbearing aunt and be off to his home in London.
"It is a relief that I can be free there for a week at least before I am accosted by company!" he exclaimed inwardly after having just heard out a lengthy speech from his aunt on the imprudence of some parish farmer who had dared to buy two cows when he could ill afford to keep one!
"How fare your tenants in Derbyshire, Darcy? Have they been giving you any trouble?" asked his aunt, when she had finally finished her narration.
"No problems at all, ma'am," said Darcy, thinking to himself "...If I started interfering in my tenants' lives this way..."
"Ah! Men never espy troubles that seldom escape a woman's perception. Many a time, some peculiar difficulties have been brought to the notice of your late father by my sister's keen eye," said Lady Catherine.
Darcy knew where this conversation was going and it was the last thing he wanted to hear then. "You need a woman's management at Pemberley. How long are you going to put off your wedding, Darcy? You know how eagerly this event is anticipated in our circles; it will be a match of felicity supported by equality in rank, fortune, and consequence."
Darcy replied, "I have always told your Ladyship that I have no wish of making my cousin wait for me. You know I am not contemplating marriage until Georgiana is married, or older."
"That's absurd!!! I do not see why, but I trust you remember your duty to your family. Pemberley and Rosings must not be left without an heir from the direct family line!"
Colonel Fitzwilliam, in concern for his cousin, changed the topic.
Darcy knew that Elizabeth had not approached his cousin with any questions. He did not know how to interpret it -whether she had believed in the veracity of his account or she had not considered it appropriate to question the Colonel, he could not determine.
As he repaired to his room after supper, he could not help but compare the supercilious statements of his aunt, which he had found so irksome, to what he had himself used with Elizabeth. He felt uncomfortable as a voice from within whispered, "Perhaps I was insensitive to her feelings in so openly disdaining her lack of connections." Though he immediately suppressed that dissident notion, many such like thoughts seemed to take its place one by one in his mind, and he soon began to wonder if there was any justice to Elizabeth Bennet's accusations, at least as far as they related to his behaviour.
As the two cousins sat in the carriage the next morning on their way to London, Darcy's self-introspections grew deeper. Thankfully, the Colonel did not seem to be in a talkative mood himself.
"I have never seen Darcy so dull before!" thought the Colonel, "He looks like he was hit by a ton of bricks! That Elizabeth Bennet, so quick-witted and sparkling! How is she in danger from Wickham? I wish I had been able to meet her yesterday. I waited so long for her... I fear my poor cousin is quite taken in with Miss Bennet! I knew Darcy never wanted to marry Anne, but I always expected him to marry into rank. I wonder what passed between them! I had better leave him to himself; plenty of women fall at his feet anyway! Now, if only my father had..."
Such were the cousins' thoughts as the carriage rattled across the stony roads leading to the inevitable journey's end.
They reached London as night fell. The Colonel dined at Darcy's home, and in the morning, left.
Apart from the time spent on his business duties, the week Darcy was alone before his sister and Mrs. Annesley were expected, he spent much in thought and reflection- both consciously and unconsciously. Once open to the idea that he might have acted reprehensibly, Darcy could not rest until he had arrived at the truth.
He often recollected some of his conversations with Elizabeth in the past. At one of those reflective moments, he recalled one particular exchange at Rosings:
She had said, "You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me?... My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."
He had replied, "I shall not say that you are mistaken, because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."
He realized with a shock, that in all those instances where they had thus verbally 'sparred', her conviction had been serious, if not her manner. He had mistaken her pointed tirades merely as playful banter.
"Your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others," He could not easily ignore those words.
He had been unwilling to leave Georgiana so soon after her near-escape from Wickham. Bingley's insistence that he could not do without Darcy's help had resigned him to going; he had always felt like a protective older brother towards Bingley.
Though open with those in his immediate sphere, he had never felt at ease among strangers. He had to admit to himself that his manners had never been engaging in the Netherfield society. In her presence, he was often uncomfortably tongue-tied, though he always tried to match her wit, given the chance.
Pemberley being in relative seclusion in the country, his parents had not mixed with many outside their own family circle, and had never interacted with the surrounding country-town residents. Hence, Darcy had been generally pre-disposed against country neighbourhoods, and was determined that he could not get any pleasure from staying in Hertfordshire. He had consequently been withdrawn and stiff there, in spite of all of Bingley's good-natured reproofs.
Little had he then known that a country lass would turn him head-over-heels in love.
"Why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?"
He had been brought up to believe that only women of the higher circles could be sensible and desirable companions to men of his elevation.
He had never wished to marry his cousin, Anne. He did not love her, and he knew she returned the compliment.
Caroline Bingley had always been very attentive to him, sometimes irritatingly so. He always made sure that no sign of admiration would ever escape him. Of late however, particularly since they had quit Netherfield, she had become too annoying- always fawning about him, and flattering him. His regard for Bingley kept him civil at the times when his patience wore too thin.
He had always despised the scores of flattering women who tried to catch him. At least a few of them had been his equal as far as status and connections went. However, he had never particularly admired any of them. In fact, no woman had captured his fancy as much as Elizabeth Bennet had. Her sense of humour, remarkably sharp mind, and liveliness -he had never witnessed in any woman before.
He compared Elizabeth's (and even her sister Jane's) demeanour with some the women of rank and fortune in his acquaintance, and realized that not all of Lady Catherine's splendour nor Miss Bingley's elegance nor his cousin Anne's lassitude compared favourably with the formers charm in simplicity, artlessness and good sense.
"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."
Darcy winced at the recollection of what she had said. He thought of the many women in his acquaintance who would fall all over themselves to be his wife. Elizabeth was obviously not tempted by the mere promise of wealth and grandeur. The very fact that she refused him showed her integrity. She probably looked for a high standard in a man to qualify as a husband and he definitely did not measure up to it.
"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner."
"How I have belittled her worth! How arrogant have been my presumptions that I could win the heart of such a woman with my ridiculous behaviour! I danced with her once, argued with her several times, but never tried to understand or please her. I had been cautious that neither she, nor any one else, should notice my preference-how absurd that I expected her to want me in spite of all this!"
He was, he hoped, a good master to his servants and a landlord to his tenants. He was always as generous as his father had been in his lifetime, sometimes, even more. However, that did not stop him from having the pride that came associated with his standing, which consequently made him look down on those outside his family circle. He was ashamed to think that he almost resembled his aunt in this regard. Darcy shuddered at that thought! He recollected that his best friend Bingley was relatively new to that circle to which the Darcys had always belonged; but Bingley (unlike his sisters), had never let his position affect his behaviour and was uniformly civil everywhere.
Visions of Elizabeth haunted him every night and recollections of her merit tormented him every waking hour. Though her dislike of him was founded on mistaken premises, he realized that his behaviour to her during the proposal was unpardonable-he had offended her in every possible way. He was also now ashamed at some of the language he had used in writing the letter, especially the beginning. He had been angry and bitter, and it was reflected in the haughty way he had commenced it.
"Have I done any thing right by her?" was his exasperated thought.
Darcy's heart was hard to win. Once won, his affections stood their ground. He was mortified to think that he had probably driven away the one woman who could make him truly happy. He realized then, that he would never be able to love, admire or esteem any woman as much as he did Elizabeth Bennet.
"My only atonement is to conduct myself in a worthy manner in the future and hope for her forgiveness, if I ever chance to meet her again."
Thus, Darcy's first week in London passed. Georgiana arrived with Mrs. Annesley the following Monday evening. Bingley was to join them the next day. Their arrival would inevitably lead to more of the Hursts and Miss Bingley in his life! He sighed as he hoped his new couches would not be ruined by too much of Mr. Hurst's drooling in his sleep!
Brother and sister were soon talking of family matters after dinner. He knew that the Colonel had seen her before leaving for his regiment. She told him of her various engagements, and could not wait to show him her improvement in music since the last time they had met. They also talked of their annual Pemberley visit and the various invitations to be sent out to the intended guests.
Darcy was as kind and affectionate to Georgiana as he always had been. However, she found him quieter and almost sorrowful. She began to fear that she had somehow displeased him and this thought, along with some past recollections brought tears to her eyes.
Shocked, Darcy said, "Georgiana! You are crying! What is the matter?"
At first, she wouldn't say anything, but on Darcy's persistence, replied,
"Oh! William, it is only that I fear I have displeased you in some way!"
"No, indeed! Why would you think that?" Concerned, he put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
"It is just that- you are so quiet and thoughtful. I have never seen you so since...since..." she could say no more.
"My dear Georgiana! I should apologize to you for my absence of mind! You have not displeased me in any way!" said his brother, and paused briefly.
After a moment, he continued, "I was thinking of an estimable Lady I had met, Georgiana."
"Who is she, William?"
"She is a Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I wish you had such a person as a companion!"
As a sister, he had wanted to say, but checked himself.
"What is Miss Bennet like?" asked his sister, wonderingly. She seldom heard her brother praise any one.
"She is brilliance itself -lively, witty, bold, and yes, forthright! Her understanding and quickness are unmatched. She plays the pianoforte and sings exceedingly well. Although I had the pleasure of dancing with her but once, I was delighted with her grace and lightness."
"Did you make her acquaintance when you were with Aunt Catherine?"
"I first met her first when I was in Hertfordshire with Bingley, but we did see each other in Kent."
"I hope I can meet her, brother. Will she be one of the parties that go to Pemberley with us this summer?"
"I wish she were, my dear, but unfortunately, that cannot be. However, it is my greatest wish that the two of you get acquainted."
"I should be very happy to make her acquaintance, brother dear!"
Darcy hugged his sister affectionately and left for his room.
"Will she be one of the parties that go to Pemberley with us this summer?" Georgiana's words rang through Darcy's mind that night.
"How I wished, Elizabeth, that you would always be one of the parties in Pemberley-not as my guest, but as the Mistress of my heart and my home!
"Will you ever get over your ill-opinion of me?
"Even if you do, it does not really signify much, because I know I have lost you!"
The unremitting dull ache in his heart seemed to increase in intensity.
"I shall forget...the pain will fade, but not before it has burned away all of my repulsive pride...then, my heart...then...shall my dreams be free...of her..."
the end© 2003 Copyright held by author