Dare We Entertain the Hope....?
"Jane, dear," Bingley said one afternoon as he and his fiancee strolled through the gardens at Longbourn.
"Yes, Charles." His given name still came shyly from her lips. It had been less than a week since his proposal, and the familiarity was still new to her.
"I must.....I need to ask you something. It concerns your sister, Elizabeth." He didn't quite know how to go on, so, boldly, he plunged right in. "What does she think of my friend Darcy?"
Jane cast her eyes downward. "I'm afraid that Lizzie does not possess a very high opinion of Mr. Darcy. In fact, she does not like him very much at all."
Bingley momentarily looked defeated, but then his face brightened. "Perhaps, after we are married, and she gets to know him better, she will grow to like him?"
"I'm sorry, Charles." Jane disliked causing him any distress. "I fear that when Lizzie makes up her mind, it usually stays that way. I know how much you value your friend, as I value my sister, but we must not hope for a union between them merely because it would make us happy. They must want it, too."
Bingley did, indeed, appear distressed. "That's just the problem, Jane. I know for a fact that Darcy is violently in love with your sister. Positively mad about her! I've never seen him so much as offer a sincere compliment to any other woman but his sister, yet he constantly sings Elizabeth's praises. Perhaps she may be persuaded to change her mind if he makes her an offer, as I suspect he may do very soon."
Jane was sympathetic but no less firm in her conviction. "Charles, I fear I must betray a confidence. I hope you do not think less of me for it, but it is to spare Mr. Darcy further pain that I must relate it, if only to stop you from encouraging him in an avenue that is clearly hopeless."
Bingley's inquiring glance bade her to continue.
"Some weeks back, Lizzie confessed to me that Mr. Darcy had already approached her with an offer of marriage, which she had flatly refused."
"Why on earth would she refuse him?" he cried, shocked that any woman would reject his rich and powerful, if somewhat distant, friend. He knew Darcy to truly be a good, beneficent man, who would have worshipped Elizabeth as his wife.
"Lizzie's reasons are her own, to be sure, but I know that she would not marry any man she did not truly love. Unfortunately for Mr. Darcy, he also inquired of her reasons, and she obliged him with an answer."
Bingley felt all the pain and humiliation that Darcy must have experienced upon Elizabeth's disclosure. Bingley had thought his own pain great, believing that Jane had been indifferent to him, but Darcy's suffering must be intolerable. To have the object of his affections tell him to his face that not only would she not have him, but that she disliked him as well!
A new thought entered Bingley's head as he recalled the past summer at Pemberley when Miss Bennet and the Gardiners had been guests for dinner at the Darcy home. He had first noticed, nay, it was when he became convinced of Darcy's regard for Miss Elizabeth, and had thought she had expressed a similar, if less enthusiastic affection. He could have sworn that she had been receptive to and, indeed, encouraged Darcy's attentions. It explained much, now. Darcy's early rising that morning, riding off to Lambton without a word to anyone, then returning in a humor so foul as to cause even Caroline to retreat to her rooms! Darcy had informed them that Miss Bennet and the Gardiners were required at Longbourn on an urgent family matter, and would not be able to join them that evening. Then the following day Darcy, himself, had quit Pemberley for London. Bingley now understood what had happened. That was when his friend had proposed and, upon her refusal, Elizabeth, in her embarrassment had left the county. Darcy had retreated to London to lick his wounds in private.
"Oh, what agonies he must have felt!" Bingley grimaced. "You are right, my dear. I must stop teasing him about his attraction to her. I don't know that he will ever get over Miss Elizabeth, but from this day on I shall not be the one to mention her to him."
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