Of Dreams and Memories
On Friday morning, Elizabeth walked out very early, her mind unable to fix on anything other than the events of the previous evening. She recalled the tenderness of Mr. Darcy's address to her, and began to feel compassion for the suffering he must now endure. She began to wonder if she had been overly harsh in her expressions of rejection and disapproval. Yet, further review of the encounter recalled to her his offensive manner of expression and she could not feel sorry for him. She was certain that his feelings of disapproval would soon overcome his regard, and he would in short order be thankful for having escaped the fate that would otherwise have been secured by his imprudent and foolish application. Elizabeth knew that his expressions of affection had been sincere, and she could not reconcile those feelings with his apparent abhorrence with the idea of allying himself to her. She puzzled over this circumstance at length and then gave over her efforts.
When Elizabeth returned to the house after wandering the groves for above an hour, she found Mr. and Mrs. Collins, with grim expressions, engaged in what appeared to be a very serious discourse in the hall. Her object was to walk quietly past them to her room, so as not to disturb them, but Charlotte called to her.
"Yes, Charlotte?" she said, stopping to face her friend.
Charlotte, glancing at her husband, replied, "we have just received unhappy news from Rosings."
Mr. Collins looked as if he was about to interrupt her when she held up her hand and said, "my dear, Lady Catherine is awaiting you. I will join you at Rosings directly."
Mr. Collins left the room and then the house as speedily as he could manage, leaving the two ladies alone. "What is it Charlotte," asked Elizabeth with concern.
"It is Mr. Darcy. He took a fall from his horse last night and has injured his head." Elizabeth gasped. "It seems he was out riding very late. He left us after dinner last evening, and had still not returned before we departed the house. Apparently Colonel Fitzwilliam awaited him for several hours and when he did not arrive, he went to look for him and found him lying on the ground in the woods. Colonel Fitzwilliam could not explain why Mr. Darcy would ride through the woods in the dark. It was rather reckless of him."
Elizabeth sank into the nearest chair and said, with affected calmness, "How is he?"
"He has not yet awoken. The apothecary has seen him and Lady Catherine has sent to London for a doctor and for Miss Darcy. They will arrive this evening. Mr. Simmons believes the situation to be very grave and has said that everything now depends upon how soon Mr. Darcy awakens. Only then can the extent of the injury to his head be determined."
Elizabeth was overwhelmed with this news, and was rendered speechless. Charlotte continued, "Do you wish to come to Rosings with me? Maria has decided to stay at home, she had just gone out into the garden a moment before you returned."
"I believe that my presence can bring no consolation or aid to those at Rosings, I would only be in the way. I will remain here, but I beg you would send word if there is anything I can do."
"Of course," replied Charlotte, before departing the house to follow her husband.
Elizabeth spent the entire day in restless meditations. She could not sit still with her work, nor could she be of company to Maria for very long. She spent much of her day outdoors but no matter what her occupation she could not turn her mind from Mr. Darcy. She was deeply oppressed with feelings of guilt and remorse. She reproached herself again and again for having allowed herself to be ruled by anger, and by expressing her rejection of the man in terms so vehement that he was driven to behave irrationally.
How could she have believed that his disapproval of his own feelings would have tempered their passion enough to shield him from being pained by her bitter words? She had witnessed the strength of his feelings in his look, in his words and in his very manner. They had been fervent enough to overcome his own objections which he had dwelt on which such warmth, had he not said so himself? Feelings such as those cannot easily withstand such intemperate acrimony as she had unleashed upon him. Why had she not been more reserved in her expressions? Every review of her words and actions the night before brought on a greater tumult of shame and mortification.
On Friday evening, the Collinses returned with the news that Mr. Darcy's condition was unchanged, and that the doctor and Miss Darcy had arrived from London. On Saturday, they left the house very early again. Elizabeth was determined to direct her thoughts more productively than she had the day before. She did not believe she could endure dwelling further on her own culpability for Mr. Darcy's situation. Instead, she bent her thoughts towards his recovery, offering prayers that he would soon be out of danger.
As she rambled through the park in the early afternoon, Elizabeth was surprised to encounter Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Miss Bennet," he said in an agitated voice.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, how does your cousin? Has his condition improved at all."
He looked at her intently for a moment and answered, "We have reason to hope he will improve. Early this morning, when Miss Darcy and I were sitting with him, he began to stir and we thought he would awaken. He uttered but a single word and then fell back into a deep sleep, from which we were unable to awaken him."
Elizabeth was elated by this small glimmer of hope as it brought her some relief from her guilt. Her companion, though, may have misinterpreted the reason for her apparent joy. "This is good news, surely, is it not? What said the doctor?"
"The doctor is hopeful. He believes my cousin may awaken fully today. There is something which we believe may help Darcy to return to us."
"Then I hope the doctor's efforts will be successful."
"I have sought you out purposely to ask for your assistance in the matter."
"I will be happy to do anything I can to bring about Mr. Darcy's recovery, but I do not see what assistance I could possibly render."
"Miss Bennet, can I not prevail upon you to return to the house with me and see him."
"That is an odd request, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I wonder what would cause you to seek out me, of all people, to visit your cousin. But, it would hardly be proper for me to enter Mr. Darcy's sick room, and," she hesitated a moment, "I do not believe my presence would bring him any comfort."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed heavily and replied, "Miss Bennet, you should know that the one word Darcy said today was 'Elizabeth.'"
Elizabeth looked at him sharply when this disclosure was made. His eyes, betraying worry and lack of sleep, were pleading with her. At last she replied, "I believe you must have formed a mistaken impression, Colonel Fitzwilliam. You must believe that if there was anything I could do for your cousin, I would, but I know that my presence in his company would have the opposite effect of the one you hope for."
"Is there nothing I can say to convince you otherwise?"
"I would not wish to be responsible for his condition becoming worse. I believe his chances of recovery are far greater if I stay away from Rosings altogether."
"I see," said Colonel Fitzwilliam before he took his leave and walked away.
About an hour later, Elizabeth and Miss Lucas were in the drawing room. The former continued to be plagued with agitating thoughts as she attempted to concentrate on her work. When the arrival of a carriage was heard, she hoped that whoever it was would bring good news. Soon, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy were announced.
Colonel Fitzwilliam introduced Miss Darcy to the ladies and then asked Miss Lucas to walk in the garden with him. When they were alone, Miss Darcy looked timidly at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth tried to begin a conversation, "Miss Darcy, I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I have heard a great deal about you." She paused, then said, "I am so sorry to hear of your brother's unfortunate accident. I hope that he will improve soon."
"Thank you," she muttered quietly, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. Then, summoning up her courage, she added, "I am very happy to meet you as well. I have been wishing it for some time. My brother has spoken very highly of you."
Miss Darcy spoke as if it took the greatest effort to string these words together. Elizabeth began to perceive that the girl was exceedingly shy, and whatever her purpose in coming here, it must be an important one for it had quite clearly taken the utmost courage for her to do so. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that Mr. Darcy had spoken of her to his sister and she began to wonder whether he had confessed the full extent of his regard to her.
"I only wish we could have met under more happy circumstances."
"As do I," replied Miss Darcy. Then, after a pause and a deep breath she said, "I have come here to beg you to reconsider your decision not to see him," with a rapidity that showed her desire to be done with her speech.
"Miss Darcy," said Elizabeth, with compassion for the poor girl, "I would do anything in my power to speed his recovery, but I truly believe that my presence would do him more harm than good. I am afraid that we did not part on friendly terms when we last spoke."
Miss Darcy was again silent for a long moment, and appeared as if she was enduring an internal struggle. At length she said, her voice trembling, "Miss Bennet, may I speak frankly?"
"I do not know what is or is not between you and my brother, but I do know that after a day and two nights without so much as stirring, he awoke and spoke your name this morning, of all words that he might have uttered. I cannot help but believe that thoughts of you must be occupying his mind. If that is the case, then there is a possibility that you can reach him. He has always done so much for me, and now, in his time of need, I am powerless to help him. There is nothing I can do but persuade you to see him. You are our only hope, Miss Bennet, will you not try, will you not come and speak to him?"
By now tears were falling down Miss Darcy's cheeks. Her plea was so earnest and her affection for her brother so sincere, that Elizabeth could not help but be moved. Elizabeth took Miss Darcy's hand and said, "very well, I will try."
Miss Darcy smiled and began wiping the tears from her face. Elizabeth left her to compose herself while she sought out Colonel Fitzwilliam in the garden. When he saw her she could perceive the unspoken question in his gaze. She answered it by saying, "it seems that I am to return to Rosings with you and Miss Darcy, sir."
The short ride to Rosings was passed in virtual silence. Elizabeth was anticipating her visit to Mr. Darcy with some anxiety, while the other two occupants of the carriage could not help themselves from wondering what must have passed between Darcy and Elizabeth.
When they arrived at Rosings, they did not go to the drawing room, where Lady Catherine and her daughter sat with the Collinses. Instead, Colonel Fitzwilliam escorted the ladies directly to the sick room. When Elizabeth entered it, she was arrested by the sight of Mr. Darcy. He appeared weak and pale, only a shadow of the dignified man she knew him to be. His head was bandaged, and he lay still with his eyes closed. The doctor was seated next to him and upon seeing the others, he rose. After the doctor and Elizabeth were introduced, the gentlemen left the room. Miss Darcy sat down in the chair furthest from the bed, in a corner of the room and took up some sewing, giving Elizabeth a last hopeful look.
Elizabeth sat down in the chair next to the bed. At first she was too embarrassed to speak with Miss Darcy present, but she knew she must say something if the patient was to learn of her presence at his bedside. "Mr. Darcy," she whispered, "it is me, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Your sister and your cousin asked me to come visit you. It seems that you have injured yourself." She glanced toward Miss Darcy who seemed not to be attending her. "Will you not wake up, Mr. Darcy? Your family are all here waiting quite anxiously for you to return to them. Please, sir, try to awaken."
There was no response. Elizabeth continued to talk about the weather and how much she had enjoyed meeting Miss Darcy, but Mr. Darcy did not stir. After some time, Elizabeth said, "Miss Darcy, this is not helping, I believe I must go."
Miss Darcy arose and moved to her brother's side. Elizabeth watched as she took his hand in hers and touched his face. "Dearest brother," she said with such tenderness and affection that Elizabeth could not help believe must have been inspired by a worthy man, "Miss Bennet has come to see you. Will you not awaken and speak to her?" There was no response. Then, coming around to the other side of the bed she spoke to Elizabeth, "please stay a little longer, I will go order some tea for us."
When Miss Darcy had left the room, Elizabeth looked at the patient. What could she do? She remembered Miss Darcy's tender expressions and her easy manner of touching him. Elizabeth looked at Darcy's face and then his hand. She glanced to the door, and then tentatively placed her hand in his. She then stood and leaned over his face. "Mr. Darcy, it is Elizabeth, will you please wake up and speak to me?"
She felt him exert a small amount of pressure on her hand and, encouraged, she placed her other hand over his and smiled. "Mr. Darcy, I know you wish to awaken. Your family have been very worried for you. Miss Darcy quite clearly adores you and she is sick with grief. Will you not awaken and reassure her that you will be well?"
He began to stir and moved his lips to form the word "Elizabeth," though no sound could be heard from him.
"Yes, it is Elizabeth," she said, hoping he would awaken.
"Elizabeth," he said again, with more clarity.
"Yes," she replied, laughing lightly with the joy of success and of shedding at least some of her burden of guilt.
He opened his eyes the next moment and when he beheld her he smiled. "You are here," he whispered hoarsely. She was somewhat relieved, she had not known what reaction to expect from him when he saw her. She half expected him to order her out of his room in anger.
"Yes, I am here," she replied, turning away with the intent of informing the others that he was awake. She made a gentle effort to withdraw her hand, but he held it tightly. She was surprised, but remembering that he had once awoken only to fall back into a deep sleep and not wishing to risk it again, she simply looked back at him."
"May I please have some water?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," she said hastily pouring a glass of water from the pitcher on the table near his bed.
He raised a quivering hand to reach for the glass, but she helped guide it to his mouth. When he was finished, she returned the glass to the table. He thanked her as she sat back down in the chair. He turned his head, following her with his eyes, when she moved to sit down. When she was settled in the chair, she met his gaze. "I had a terrible dream," he whispered.
"What was it about?"
"I dreamed that you and I had a fierce quarrel. And, . . ." he hesitated, "that you despised me."
She was filled with sorrow and compassion, but could not speak.
"But you are here now and I am much relieved," he finally added.
"I am sure you will recover completely, now that you are awake."
"How long have I been otherwise?"
"Nearly two full days."
"What happened to me, Elizabeth?"
She was surprised by his persistence in addressing her informally, but replied, "you fell off your horse and injured your head. Do you have no recollection of it at all?"
"No. I fear I have forgotten a great many things. Some of them, I am sure, I would prefer to remember," he said, giving her an apologetic look.
She reflected that it might be best that some of his memories remain forgotten. "Perhaps you may still recall them," she said. "Please allow me to tell the others the good news that you have awoken. I am sure your family will wish to be with you."
As she arose to exit the room, he said, "thank you, Elizabeth."
She left the room to find the doctor, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Miss Darcy in the adjacent sitting room. "He is awake," she said, wondering why Miss Darcy had not returned to the room.
"Yes," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam with a grateful smile, as the doctor stood to go and examine his patient, "Georgiana saw you speaking to him."
"Why did you not come in?" asked Elizabeth, turning to Miss Darcy.
Miss Darcy blushed lightly as she replied, "Please forgive me. I intended to return to you, but when I saw you talking from the doorway, I thought he might like a moment with you."
Colonel Fitzwilliam left the room to give his aunt the good news. When he returned, Lady Catherine and Miss De Bourgh were with him. The former looked at Elizabeth, who was still talking to Miss Darcy, with surprise when she entered the sitting room, but moved purposefully towards the bedroom door without speaking. Colonel Fitzwilliam stopped her, explaining that she should wait for the doctor to conclude his examination of Mr. Darcy before entering. When the doctor reappeared he reported that the patient was as well as could possibly be expected.
Some time after Lady Catherine had been admitted to the sick room, she emerged from it to profess that Darcy had awoken, that he looked well, and that she expected him to make a full recovery. Elizabeth wondered why Lady Catherine had bothered to send for a doctor. Then Lady Catherine continued, "Anne will remain with him until dinner. Let us return to the drawing room."
Elizabeth noticed that Miss Darcy looked at her with alarm when Lady Catherine spoke of Anne remaining with Darcy, but Elizabeth herself could not help but be amused by the great lady. They returned to the drawing room, where they remained until dinner. Miss De Bourgh did not return to the others until it was time for dinner. Lady Catherine had sent her carriage for Miss Lucas, and after tea it returned the entire Hunsford party to the parsonage together.
Elizabeth and Miss Darcy had become better acquainted during the course of the evening. Elizabeth found that she liked her new friend very much. Miss Darcy had been glowing the entire evening with the happiness caused by her brother's impending recovery. Miss de Bourgh, on the other hand, appeared the same as she always had. Elizabeth had finally had the opportunity of hearing Miss Darcy play, and was happy to find that her playing was as delightful as reputed.
Elizabeth was happy to see her friend still in good spirits in church on Sunday. After the service, the Hunsford party spoke briefly with the Rosings party and learned that Mr. Darcy continued to improve. While the others were talking, Elizabeth addressed Miss Darcy quietly, "I hope Mr. Darcy was well this morning?
"Yes, thank you."
"I am sorry that you did not have the opportunity to spend time with him after he awakened yesterday. I am afraid that by being there, I deprived you of his company in those first moments after he awoke."
"Oh do not be concerned, for I spent the entire evening with him after your party's departure. We spoke at length. He seems much like his old self."
Elizabeth smiled, "it must be a great relief to you to see his improvement."
"It is a great relief to all of us, I am sure."
After returning from church, the Collinses went immediately to Rosings, and Elizabeth remained behind with Miss Lucas.
Later in the day Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam called on Elizabeth. The former's acknowledged purpose was to thank her properly for bringing her brother back to her. After they had been speaking for a few minutes, Miss Darcy ventured further, "he was disappointed not to have the pleasure of your company again today."
"I am sorry, Miss Darcy, I simply do not feel that I should be in his sick room."
Miss Darcy glanced at Colonel Fitzwilliam, who said, "he would very much like another visit and Miss Darcy would stay there with you. There would be no impropriety."
Elizabeth was going to decline to return to Rosings, but Miss Darcy's assurance, the next moment, that Elizabeth's presence would speed her brother's recovery recalled all of Elizabeth's feelings of guilt and remorse for having been the cause of his injury, and she consented.
Once again, upon entering the house, the three avoided meeting with its other inhabitants and repaired directly to the sick room. When Elizabeth entered the room, Darcy looked at her and smiled. "There you are," he said, looking at her affectionately, "I wondered what had become of you."
Miss Darcy took the same chair she had occupied the day before and Elizabeth sat in the one near the bed. As she did so, Mr. Darcy extended his hand to her. She hesitated for a moment and then placed her hand lightly in his. "You are looking very well today, sir."
"I am told that my looks are much improved, but my memory, I am afraid, still eludes me. I remember most things, about my life and my family, but I have had to ask questions of my relatives about some particulars. But there are some things that even they cannot help me to recall."
Elizabeth was surprised when Darcy drew her hand to his lips. She glanced at Miss Darcy, who was working diligently. Darcy smiled at her and said quietly, "I fear that I will not be well soon enough to travel to Hertfordshire. I am afraid I am going to have to write to your father instead."
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. At first she did not know what to make of his words, but their implication did not elude her for long. She paled as she realized that she would have to tell him the truth. She would have to be the means of paining him all over again. She was about to speak, though she had little idea of what she would say, when she heard Lady Catherine's voice in the sitting room. She relinquished Darcy's hand immediately, and moved to exit the room as her Ladyship entered it.
"Miss Bennet, what a surprise to find you here," she said.
Miss Darcy intervened, and explained to her aunt that she had invited Elizabeth to come and sit with her. When Elizabeth returned through the sitting room, she acknowledged Colonel Fitzwilliam and then moved quickly into the corridor with the intent of leaving the house. Colonel Fitzwilliam, however, followed her, calling her name.
She stopped in the hall, and turned to face him. "What is the matter?" he asked her.
Elizabeth was hesitant to disclose her troubles. She was unaware of the extent of Colonel Fitzwilliam's knowledge regarding Mr. Darcy's affections, and had no desire to embarrass the latter by disclosing her rejection of his suit. If she said nothing, she could return tomorrow and correct Mr. Darcy, with no one else being the wise. Suddenly, though she considered that if Mr. Darcy believed himself to be engaged, he would not hesitate to tell all his family. It was at this moment that she finally understood the behavior of Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, they believed that she and Darcy were engaged. If she waited until tomorrow, Mr. Darcy might tell his aunt, or worse yet, write to her father before she could stop him. Having resolved the Colonel Fitzwilliam must be under the misapprehension that she and Mr. Darcy were engaged, and realizing that while she would not be able to see Darcy again that evening, Colonel Fitzwilliam might be of some assistance to her, she said, "Mr. Darcy seems to believe, sir, that he and I are engaged."
Colonel Fitzwilliam's surprise was evident, "you are not?"
"How could you believe that we were? Did I not tell you when he was first injured, that I believed my presence would cause him pain?"
"Yes, but you could have been engaged and had a quarrel."
"We are not engaged, sir, though Mr. Darcy seems to believe that we are. Someone must tell him the truth. I suppose it shall have to be me. If it comes from anyone else, I believe it would bring him great embarrassment."
"No, I beg you would not tell him," he said with feeling.
"How can you ask me to allow him to remain deceived?"
"Miss Bennet, Mr. Darcy does indeed believe that he is engaged to you. I believed it as well until this moment, as he confided his feelings to me yesterday, and told me as much. He spoke of you in the highest terms. He obviously believes that he proposed and you accepted him, and that he simply does not remember it. You are not so pretentious as to insist on a formal proposal. What does it signify if there was not one? There is no harm in leaving things as they now stand."
When Elizabeth realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam assumed his cousin had not proposed and if he had she would have accepted him, she feared she could no longer avoid telling him the truth, as much as she loathed the idea. "Colonel Fitzwilliam, you assume too much. It is not that simple." She hoped he would not pursue the subject further.
"I do not understand why, . . ." he stopped suddenly as if struck with enlightenment, then said, "you mean you would refuse him?" She said nothing. "Or, you already have?" Still she was silent. "His dream . . . that was what really happened?"
"He told you of it?"
"He believed it to be a dream, but he did not give the particulars. He only said that in the dream he proposed to you, the two of you quarreled and that you said you despised him in rather vehement terms. If that is what truly occurred, then it must be the reason he was riding so recklessly."
"Yes, it is all my fault," she said as the feelings of guilt once again overtook her and the tears began to tumble down her cheeks.
"Miss Bennet, you cannot blame yourself."
"I was intemperate and I drove him to the irrational behavior that caused his current condition."
"Miss Bennet, my cousin is a grown man with his own mind. As you said not so long ago, he is a man of sense and education. He should have known better." Seeing that her tears were unabated, Colonel Fitzwilliam tried another tactic, "he would not have you blame yourself."
"Oh he would blame me if he could remember the truth, I am sure of it."
"He would not. He is not so ungenerous, and . . . he loves you." She said nothing. "Still, I cannot comprehend why he would choose to believe his memory to be a dream and believe further that something entirely different occurred that he cannot remember."
"Because when he awoke, I was standing at his bedside holding his hand! I was smiling to him, speaking to him, and I did not object when he addressed me by my Christian name! It is no wonder that he believes as he does, considering the nature of his injury. I knew I should not have gone to him."
"Please do not speak so, it is because of you that he finally awoke, Miss Bennet. His situation was grave, as you well know. As for your account of his understanding, I believe it is reasonable. He has forgotten other memories. It truly grieves him to believe he has forgotten your acceptance of his proposal."
"That is all the more reason I must set him to rights."
"Miss Bennet, I only beg you to wait until he is more fully recovered to tell him that you are not engaged. I do not think that his feelings could withstand such a blow in his present weakened state."
His words caused Elizabeth to think of what her rejection had already done to Darcy. She dreaded hurting him anew in such a way, particularly while he was injured. Nevertheless, she said, "I cannot go on as if I am engaged to him."
"You will be departing the country in only a few days. The doctor said that it is these first few days that are critical. He will be much stronger by the end of the week. Can you not allow him to be happy for a few days?"
The opportunity to bring Mr. Darcy some happiness was appealing to Elizabeth, as it would help assuage her own feelings of guilt. It was within her power to let him be happy for a brief time, would she withhold that power now? But would not his pain be all the more worse when he inevitably learned the truth? Finally, she replied, "he told me that he abhors disguise of every sort."
"That is true, but I am not asking you to deceive him. Merely to refrain from telling him that he is mistaken."
"But he has spoken of his plans to write to my father."
"I will ensure that he does not."
"That is very well, but if he continues to speak openly to me of our engagement then I will be guilty of deception by not correcting him. And there is nothing to prevent him from speaking of it to others." Her arguments were growing weak, her resolve was melting.
"Please Miss Bennet, I am only asking for you to give him a few days, to wait until Friday to tell him the truth."
At last she relented, "very well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I will not tell him for now, but only because I would not wish to hinder his recovery. But you cannot expect me to be always coming here to sit with him. I could see that your aunt was very put out by my presence today."
''He will expect to see you. I hope that you will agree to spend some time with him. As for my aunt, please do not concern yourself with her."
"But what if Mr. Darcy tells her that we are engaged?"
"I do not think he would speak of it to anyone, especially Lady Catherine, until he has gained your father's consent. He has only told myself and Georgiana so far, but I will speak to him of it and make sure the news is not spread about. I will also have to speak to Georgiana, she will be very disappointed to learn the truth."
"I am truly sorry for that."
With that, Elizabeth took her leave of him and returned to the parsonage, after Colonel Fitzwilliam agreed that he would come and fetch her tomorrow as he had done the past two days. Elizabeth walked back with a heavy heart. She did not wish to carry on a deception, yet she felt she should spare Darcy from further pain while he was still recovering from his injury. She told herself that he would be able to bear the disappointment much better after his strength returned. She was in the uncomfortable position of not knowing what was the right thing to do.
For his part, Colonel Fitzwilliam was left to ponder what he had learned. He could not conceive of a reason any woman, particularly one with no fortune, family or connections, would reject the suit of his cousin. Darcy was wealthy and handsome, as well as honorable, sensible and generous. If Darcy's dream had been a memory of what had really occurred, then Miss Bennet despised Darcy, but why? He could not readily answer the question, but it remained in the back of his mind.
Elizabeth was working diligently in the parlour by herself on Monday, as Miss Lucas had gone to Rosings with the Collinses in the morning, when she heard a visitor at the door. She wondered why Colonel Fitzwilliam had come earlier than he had previously done and stood to greet him. A moment later, she was astonished to behold Mr. Bingley in front of her instead.
"Miss Bennet," he said, "what a pleasure it is to see you again. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to learn that you were in residence here."
"Mr. Bingley! I am happy to see you as well. May I assume that you have come to visit your friend?"
"Yes, I expected him in town on Saturday. I called at his home yesterday, after church, and was told by his housekeeper that Mr. Darcy had suffered an injury and that Miss Darcy had been sent to Rosings to be with him. I did not know whether his condition would permit him to attend his correspondence, so I had planned to have my sister write to his at Rosings today to inquire after him; but I received a letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam this morning, apologizing on Darcy's behalf, for not appearing in town as planned and explaining what had happened. I suppose I should have sent word ahead that I would call, but I simply decided to ride down here at that very moment." Here Elizabeth smiled as she recalled a conversation at Netherfield wherein Darcy had criticized Bingley for his propensity to drop everything and quit a place at a moment's notice if requested to do so by a friend. It was ironic that he had now done so for Darcy himself, without even being asked. Bingley continued, "Colonel Fitzwilliam has been kind enough to offer me a room at Rosings, though I do believe his aunt required some persuading to allow him to extend the invitation."
"I hope you found your friend well?"
"Yes, thank you, better than I expected. I do believe he will make a full recovery. His memory is not completely intact, but the doctor gives hope that he may yet recall everything."
Elizabeth secretly hoped, for Darcy's sake, that he might not regain some of his memories in particular. "And how have you been since we last met, sir? I hope you have spent a pleasant winter in town and that your sisters and brother are all well."
"Yes, thank you, we are all quite well. The winter was tolerable. I am most anxious to return to the country. Darcy had invited us to Pemberley this summer, but now with his injury, perhaps . . . well, our plans are not yet settled. And I do hope you have had a pleasant winter as well. It has been far too long since we last met. I do believe it has been nearly five months. Yes, since the ball at Netherfield on November 26th. That was such a pleasant evening."
"Indeed it was, sir."
"And how are your family, Miss Bennet? Are they all well?"
"Yes, they are all in very good health, I thank you."
"And your sisters, are all of them still at home?"
Elizabeth could perceive that he intended to ask after Jane in particular, which caused her to be surprised by his turn of phrase, since he knew her to be in London. "No indeed, sir, my sister Jane has been in town since January."
Bingley's surprise at this revelation was evident, "has she? I had no idea. I wonder that she did not write to Caroline and tell her of her presence in London. I had thought the two of them carried on a correspondence."
"She did write to your sister, sir. Jane even called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst at Grosvenor Street, and they returned the visit some three weeks later. I do recall Jane writing that Miss Bingley assured her that she had told you she was in town."
Bingley's eyes grew wide, "no, I had no knowledge of her being there at all."
"Perhaps Miss Bingley simply forgot to inform you."
This observation helped Bingley to remember himself and he said, "perhaps," as he sank back in his chair contemplatively.
A few moments later, while Elizabeth and Bingley were talking agreeably, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy were shown into the room once again. The former seemed surprised to find Mr. Bingley there. "Are you acquainted with Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Yes, we met last fall in Hertfordshire, and have just renewed our acquaintance." A look of understanding crossed Colonel Fitzwilliam's features, as everything now fit together. His assumption was erroneous, but not too far off the mark.
For her part, Elizabeth took the opportunity to watch Mr. Bingley and Miss Darcy together. When they greeted each other, she noted no look of understanding and no sign of partiality on either side. Yet, a few seconds of observing them together was hardly sufficient. She then turned to Mr. Bingley and said, "but how did you know I was here if Colonel Fitzwilliam did not tell you?"
She knew the answer before he spoke it. "It was Darcy who told me."
As the others entered into a pleasant conversation, Colonel Fitzwilliam struggled with his thoughts. He began to suspect that Miss Bennet was the very woman who had been attached to Bingley until Darcy had parted them, and he reflected ruefully, that he himself had told her of his cousin's actions! That his own disclosure regarding Darcy's interference in Bingley's prior attachment had influenced her decision to reject his cousin, he could not doubt. As he observed Bingley and Miss Bennet together, their mutual ease and comfort with one another as well as their evident delight in meeting again confirmed all his suspicions. (Indeed, Colonel Fitzwilliam had no way of knowing that Bingley's intent looks towards Miss Bennet were only made in an attempt to find some trace of resemblance to her sister, Jane.) This suspicion also answered Colonel Fitzwilliam's questions about Elizabeth's rejection of Darcy. The only inducement that would lead a woman, particularly one in her situation, to reject his cousin was that her heart was already engaged. She was in love with Bingley, and Bingley with her. It all made sense, except that he knew his cousin would in no way be so deceitful as to interfere with his friend's suit only to clear the way for his own. Yet, there was no other explanation; and, other than being so contrary to Darcy's nature, it made perfect sense. Though, he was confident there must be some further explanation for Darcy's actions.
While the colonel was lost in these contemplations, Elizabeth was preoccupied with the demeanor of his cousin. Georgiana was even more subdued than she had ever been. She was sad. When Elizabeth asked about her brother, though, wondering if his condition had worsened, the girl merely perked up and said that he was still doing very well.
After they visited for about half an hour Colonel Fitzwilliam indicated that they should return to Rosings, and invited Elizabeth to return with them. The four of them then left the house together. When they arrived at Rosings, Colonel Fitzwilliam directed them to a small parlour and then took Bingley out of the room on some pretense, leaving the ladies alone. "I suppose I am to take you to my brother," said Miss Darcy. "I understand that Colonel Fitzwilliam would not wish Mr. Bingley to know that you are visiting him." Elizabeth said nothing as her companion continued timidly. "He told me . . . what passed between you and my brother."
"Miss Darcy, when your brother awoke on Saturday he was under the mistaken impression that we are engaged. I did not realize this until yesterday, and your cousin insisted that I not reveal the truth. For that reason, Mr. Darcy expects to see me, but if anyone else knows I am visiting him they will be suspicious. I do not like it, but I have agreed to it."
"I thank you for that. I have never seen my brother so happy as he is when you are with him. His spirits are so improved. You do not know because you do not see him when you are not there." Then realizing that she might sound as if Mr. Darcy was unbearable, she quickly said, "he is not unkind. Indeed, he is always in a good humor and he tries to spare me from knowing of his suffering. I just cannot comprehend why you would reject his suit, Miss Bennet." She said the last sentence in almost a whisper.
Elizabeth's anger began to stir, she was already doing so much with this deception, she did not now wish for her motives in rejecting Darcy to be scrutinized by his relations. Yet Miss Darcy was so sweet and sincere, that Elizabeth could not help but feel a twinge of guilt for being angry with her. At last she asked lightly, "why do you find it incomprehensible, because I have nothing, and his situation is so eligible?"
Miss Darcy was clearly appalled by this assertion, "no indeed. It is just that he is the dearest, sweetest, most honorable, most generous man in the world." Elizabeth smiled, amused by Miss Darcy's undoubtedly biased view of her brother. Miss Darcy seemed affronted by Elizabeth's smile.
"Dear Miss Darcy," she replied, "I am certain that he is a wonderful brother. His affection for you is obvious. He is very proud of you." Here Miss Darcy cast down her eyes as if in shame. Elizabeth was puzzled but continued, "I simply do not have those kinds of feelings for him."
"I understand," she replied, "please forgive me for speaking of matters that do not concern me. Shall we go to him now?"
"Yes, of course," replied Elizabeth. As they ascended to the sick room, she suddenly felt unsure of her actions. Was she doing the right thing by allowing Darcy to believe they were engaged? She could not defend her actions to herself adequately, and she could not help but feel that the longer this deception continued, the worse things would be in the end.
When they entered the room, Darcy's face lit up when he saw her. Miss Darcy appeared as if she would burst into tears and immediately went to her usual chair. Elizabeth noticed that Darcy was propped up on many pillows now, partially sitting up, and was wearing a lawn shirt and a waistcoat. She was happy to observe that he had also regained much of his color. After greeting Elizabeth Darcy turned to his sister and asked, "Georgiana, what is the matter?"
Miss Darcy turned to her brother and said, "it is nothing, dear Fitzwilliam. I am quite well."
He called her over to him and after standing with him a moment and assuring him that she was well, she excused herself from the room.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth, who was now sitting in her usual chair, "I wonder what can be troubling her." Elizabeth said nothing. "She does not always confide in me, and I do not wish to press her confidence. I wonder if she would be more comfortable talking to another woman," he hesitated, then added, "would it be too much to ask you to speak to her?"
"Not at all, I will try to talk to her."
"Thank you," he said, taking her hand. "I hope that you are also well."
"Yes, I am. Mr. Bingley came to see me." She was more than a little uncomfortable with his holding her hand, but she did not resist.
"I knew he would go to the parsonage directly when I told him you were there."
"We had a lovely visit. It was a very pleasant surprise."
"I am glad to hear it."
Elizabeth wondered whether speaking of the matters about which they had quarreled would cause Darcy to remember the conversation. In spite of the risk, however, she said, "he had no idea my sister, Jane, had been in town since January."
Darcy knitted his brow and then said, "I must confess something to you, Elizabeth, that has grieved me since it occurred. I am not sure whether we have already talked about it."
"What is it?" asked Elizabeth, expecting to hear the same information that had been previously disclosed to her by Colonel Fitzwilliam, and that she had confronted him with during their quarrel.
"I knew your sister was in London. Miss Bingley told me. She and Mrs. Hurst and I agreed to keep the news from Bingley." He could see that she was angry. He leaned forward, tightening his grip on her hand, and said, "it was beneath me to employ such arts. I know it was wrong, and I regret having done it."
It took great effort for Elizabeth to maintain her composure, but not wishing to repeat the scene of last Thursday evening, she said calmly, but with feeling, "why did you do it?"
"For the same reason I persuaded him not to return to Hertfordshire. Did I not explain this to you?"
"What was your reason, that she was an unsuitable match for him?"
He smiled ruefully, "I will not deny that I did object on those grounds, but considering my own subsequent behavior, I do believe my doing so was both absurd and impertinent. But, the real reason I did not wish him to see her in London, was that I did not wish him to suffer more. I knew he could not yet meet her as a common and indifferent acquaintance. Yet I also knew that she did not return his feelings."
"You believed that she did not love him?" she asked in a surprised tone.
"Yes, it was my conviction in her indifference that held sway with Bingley. I do not think I would have prevailed upon him with any of my other arguments." Then seeing the severity of her countenance, he said, "Elizabeth, what is the matter?"
"You were mistaken, that is all."
He looked at her in surprise, then said, "do you mean that she did return his regard?"
"Yes, of course she did, I cannot believe that you did not see it. She still suffers from the loss of his society."
Darcy was thoughtful for a few moments, then replied, "perhaps there is still hope for them, then. I know Bingley's affections are unabated."
"Then I dare say there may be hope, if only they could meet again."
"I am sure they will," replied Darcy smiling to her. Then he said, "do you forgive me, then?"
"It is not my forgiveness that you require."
"I would not wish you to think ill of me." She said nothing. He lifted her hand to his lips and said, "I have missed you, Elizabeth."
She was very uncomfortable as she blushed and replied, "since only yesterday?"
"Indeed," he said, smiling. Then he continued, "I spoke to my cousin yesterday of our situation, after you left. He believes we should not make our understanding generally known. He said that you agreed with him. For this reason, I have not yet told Bingley. But, I would like to at least tell my aunt."
Elizabeth sighed deeply, she could not continue with the deception. In spite of her promise to Colonel Fitzwilliam, she felt that she must reveal the truth. Her deception to Darcy was a far greater evil than breaking a misguided promise to Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Mr. Darcy," she said, "I can go on with this no longer." She was stifled, however, by the sound of Lady Catherine's voice in the sitting room with Miss Darcy.
Elizabeth had just enough time to withdraw her hand from Darcy's and rise from her chair before Lady Catherine entered the room. "Miss Bennet, you will excuse us."
Elizabeth left the room just as she heard Lady Catherine say, "that is the third time I have found Miss Bennet here with you, Darcy. She has no business in your room. I demand an explanation." Elizabeth quickly left the house to return to the parsonage, hoping that Darcy would refrain from satisfying Lady Catherine's inquiry.
Elizabeth was consumed with a contrariety of meditations and emotions throughout that evening and into the following morning. She felt that she should never have agreed to go along with pretending to be engaged to Darcy, and she regretted that she had not had the opportunity to tell him the truth. She had to admit to herself that she was touched by his affectionate attentions, but she knew he would be humiliated when he learned that she had only been indulging his misconception of their relationship. And, dear Miss Darcy was already so distraught over the matter.
Elizabeth also thought extensively about what Darcy had told her of Jane's situation. He had believed Jane to be indifferent to Bingley. And, though Elizabeth still could not approve of his interference, she recalled that Charlotte had also observed that Jane was reserved in her expression of admiration for Mr. Bingley. She also thought about his confession that he had kept the knowledge of Jane's presence in London from Bingley. Though she had not before realized the extent of his duplicity in the matter, her anger in consequence of learning of it was softened by his sincere apology for having done so, and by his expression of hope that Mr. Bingley and Jane might still find their happiness together.
Her sister's happiness being her foremost priority, she had immediately, upon arriving home, written to Jane and told her of Mr. Bingley's coming to Rosings and of his ignorance of her presence in London. She was cognizant of the risk that Jane's hopes might be again raised only to be disappointed, and she tried not to disclose too much, yet she felt confident that all would turn out well between them. Her confidence was brought on as much by Darcy's profession of hope that such an outcome might be reached as by Bingley's demeanor and expressions during their conversation earlier that day.
Thoughts of the previous day continued to pervade Elizabeth's mind on Tuesday morning. She was lost in her own meditations during breakfast, when the entire Hunsford party was surprised by the unexpected arrival of Lady Catherine de Bourgh at the parsonage. Elizabeth's surprise was doubled when Lady Catherine asked for her company for a stroll in the gardens. She did not understand the lady's motivation in making the request, but she readily assented to it. Once they had reached an area of the garden that afforded some privacy, Lady Catherine began in the following manner, "you can be at no loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason I requested this private interview with you."
"Indeed, you are mistaken, madam. I am quite unable to account for it.
"Miss Bennet, you ought to know that I am not to be trifled with. But, however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this I shall certainly not depart from it. The reason for my wish to speak to you is that my nephew, Mr. Darcy, has informed me that you are engaged to him. I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible if I had not heard it from his own lips, yet he cannot be in a proper frame of mind to make such an assertion himself."
"If he has said it to be so, I wonder what your ladyship could propose by speaking to me about it."
"At once, to insist that you break off this farce of an engagement immediately, then pack your things and return to Hertfordshire where you belong."
"I am afraid, Lady Catherine, that my traveling plans are fixed. I have no intention of altering them."
"Obstinate, headstrong girl. Have you no shame? How can you think of continuing in residence so close to his family after the infamous manner in which you have taken advantage of his condition? Your arts and allurements have drawn him in while his frame of mind was weakened. He fancies himself in love! You have made him forget, in a moment of infatuation, what he owes to himself and to all his family."
"If I had, I would be the last person to confess it."
"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world. It is my duty to protect him from the likes of you."
"You must do what you feel is right, Lady Catherine, and so must I."
"Let me be rightly understood. This match to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy has been engaged to my daughter since before his unfortunate accident. Now, what have you to say?
"Only this: that if he is so, then he certainly would not be telling you of his engagement to me."
Lady Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then replied, "the engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy they have been intended for each other. It was the favorite wish of his mother, as well as of hers. While in their cradles, we planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends - to his tacit engagement with Miss de Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?"
Elizabeth was becoming angry. Though she had no intention of marrying Darcy, she had not yet had a chance to settle things with him, and she could not disabuse the aunt of the falsity of their engagement without first informing Mr. Darcy of it himself. As further motivation, she certainly had no desire to satisfy Lady Catherine. Being obtuse had not brought her any success with the lady, who seemed steadfastly resolved to her purpose. "Yes, and I had heard it before. But what is that to me? If there is no other objection to my marrying your nephew, I shall certainly not be kept from it by knowing that his mother and aunt wished him to marry Miss de Bourgh. You both did as much as you could, in planning the marriage; its completion depended on others. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? and if I am that choice, why may I not marry him?"
"Because honour, decorum, prudence - nay interest forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends if you willfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised by every one connected with him. Your alliance would be a disgrace; your name will never be mentioned by any of us."
Elizabeth now recalled the mode of Darcy's proposal to herself, he himself had dwelt warmly on these very objections. This reminder not only inspired feelings of anger towards her present companion, but rekindled all the anger she had felt during Darcy's address to her. Nevertheless, she could not fail to apprehend that the reality of the extent of his relation's disapprobation was even more severe than he had described. Yet, he still wished to marry her. "These are heavy misfortunes, indeed," she finally said, "but certainly not such as would induce me to behave dishonourably by breaking an engagement." Once Elizabeth had begun to defend the engagement, she could not recede, nor did she wish to, considering Lady Catherine's hostile demeanor. Yet, she now began to feel worse for perpetuating her false engagement. Not only was she allowing Darcy to believe they were engaged, but she was now misleading his aunt to believe it as well. She must put a stop to it.
"How dare you speak of honour. You have used Mr. Darcy in the worst kind of way. You have prevented him from honouring his own obligations to himself and his family. Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you? Is nothing due to me on that score? You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person's whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment."
"That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me."
"I will not be interrupted! Hear me in silence. My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the fathers', from respectable, honourable, and ancient, though untitled families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured? But it must not, shall not be! If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"In marrying your nephew I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter: so far we are equal."
"True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do you imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever my connections may be," said Elizabeth, "if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."
"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Tell me once and for all, will you promise to break this engagement with him?"
"I will make no promise of the kind."
"Miss Bennet, I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."
"And I certainly never shall give it. I would not satisfy your attempt to intimidate me even if what you are requesting were my own dearest wish. Whatever is between myself and your nephew is his business and mine alone. He may share it with you as he pleases, but I am under no obligation to discuss it with you. Moreover, your request is wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? If he is attached to me, would my refusing to marry him make him wish to marry his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no further on the subject."
"Not so hasty, if you please. I am by no means done. Do you suppose that I shall stand by and see my dear nephew succumb to the basest of inducements offered by a woman who has nothing else to recommend her? To allow him to make a mistake he never would have made while he retained his reason? A mistake orchestrated by a conniving, mercenary, common young woman who moved in on him after he had lost use of his senses due to an injury that brought him near death? Heaven and earth - of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? Nay, I will avail myself of every means within my power in my efforts to protect him. I will not hesitate to use my rank and connections to preserve him from falling further into your web. You will find me a formidable adversary, Miss Bennet."
"You can now have nothing further to say," Elizabeth resentfully answered. "You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house."
She turned, as she spoke, towards the parsonage. Lady Catherine turned back with her, highly incensed.
"You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephew! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace him in the eyes of everybody?"
"Lady Catherine, I have nothing further to say. You know my sentiments."
"You are then, resolved to have him?"
"I am only resolved to act in that manner which I believe to be proper without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."
"It is well. You refuse to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world."
"Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude," replied Elizabeth, "has any possible claim on me in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me a moment's concern and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn."
"And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point." As she scurried towards the house, Lady Catherine finished, "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet, you deserve no such attention. I am seriously displeased." Elizabeth remained outside while Lady Catherine went indoors.
Elizabeth waited in the garden for a few moments after Lady Catherine went into the parsonage. It was not long before she could perceive her ladyship's carriage returning to Rosings. She felt unequal to facing the Collinses, however, and instead of returning to the house, she turned her steps into the grove, with her mind in a turbulence of confusion. The discomposure of spirits which this extraordinary visit threw her into could not be easily overcome. She was angry and appalled with Lady Catherine, and puzzled about her own situation, which had now grown far out of hand. She was severely distraught by the knowledge that now someone else was laboring under the misapprehension that she and Darcy were engaged. She consoled herself with the conviction that Lady Catherine was unlikely to spread the news. Nevertheless, she must tell Darcy the truth as soon as may be, but it would be impossible for her to go to him now.
She meandered for some time, not knowing in what direction she walked, lost in her own reflections. She considered at length every offensive remark that had been uttered by Lady Catherine, and could not help but feel indignation and resentment in response. Every review of the conversation only added to the fervor of her anger. That Lady Catherine would presume to impose upon someone so wholly unconnected with herself in such a way, making vicious accusations in one breath and officious demands in the next, was incredible.
Nor could Elizabeth ignore Lady Catherine's revelations of Darcy's defense of his choice. His reaction to her attacks had shown him to be a man of strength and conviction. Her understanding of the depth of his feelings for her was again reinforced. How she had gained such a level of steadfast loyalty she knew not, except for having unwittingly procured his regard. That he could stand up to an assault led with arguments that he himself had long entertained as just and worthy and from a source that could claim the right to call forth his duty to the considerations that gave birth to those arguments was much to his credit. Such actions bespoke a strength of character that could only be admired.
At length, as she continued to walk through the grove, without heeding her direction, she encountered Colonel Fitzwilliam, riding on horseback from Rosings towards the parsonage. When he perceived her, he stopped and dismounted.
"Miss Bennet, I am so glad to have encountered you."
Elizabeth could scarcely make him a civil response.
Her distress was evident in her features, and Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "I hope you are not unwell, I have a particular matter that I would speak to you about."
"What is it?" she asked.
"It is my aunt, Lady Catherine. Darcy told her yesterday that he is engaged to you and she did not take the news well. I fear that she may confront you about the matter."
"She called at the parsonage this morning."
"She was there already?"
"Yes, she came while we were still at breakfast."
"Is this the reason for your present distress?"
"Yes, I confess that it is. She insisted on speaking to me privately to extract a promise that I would break an engagement that does not even exist."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was clearly appalled by his aunt's behavior. "Did you tell her the truth?"
"I could not tell her the truth without first telling Mr. Darcy. And, I was so offended by her manner, that I do not believe I could have, though I did not lie to her either. Yet, I fear my defense of the supposed engagement only made matters worse."
"We knew she would disapprove the match, but none of us anticipated that her opposition to it would be so violent. I have never witnessed anything so terrible. Darcy was so disgusted with her yesterday that he was determined to leave Rosings as soon as their conversation was over. Only the doctor and dear Georgiana convinced him to remain, for his own health. As it is he has asked his valet to make inquiries into securing lodgings nearby. He insists that if he is not well enough to travel to London, he can at least move to an inn. I hope he changes his mind and remains at Rosings."
"I am so sorry to have been the cause of such discord in your family, and for nothing."
"You are not the cause of it, Miss Bennet, and it was not for nothing. Lady Catherine is being wholly unreasonable. By the time I returned to Darcy's room yesterday, shortly after you had departed, he had already made the disclosure and she had begun to abuse you grievously. Darcy would not hear it. He insisted that she leave his room at once and when she refused, he began to arise himself to take his leave. It was only then that she left him and he was prevailed upon to return to bed."
"I hope his condition has not become worse as a result."
"The doctor is exceedingly concerned for him. He says that Darcy needs peace and quiet, rather than this unrest."
"Do you now see why it was wrong of me to go to him on Saturday?"
"I will never agree that it was the wrong thing to do, Miss Bennet. I do not know when he might have awoken otherwise, if ever. And, he would not have survived much longer if he had not. Though, I will admit now that it was wrong for me to have convinced you to allow him to remain deceived. This unfortunate situation is entirely my fault."
"And now how is he to learn the truth? Is it you who will tell him? For I do not believe I shall be welcome at Rosings."
"I will grant you that the situation has become very difficult, and I am truly sorry for the position that you now find yourself in. He does have to learn the truth, and I believe that you should be the one to tell him, although it is most unfair to ask it of you. Yet, I do not think he would believe it from anyone else."
"Would he not?" Elizabeth had never thought of this.
"You should have heard the way he defended you, his expressions of affection; I have never heard him speak so, with such tenderness and conviction together. He would be furious, I believe, if he knew my aunt had confronted you. He is very protective of you. She laughed when he told her that he loves you. She taunted him by assuring him that you did not return his love, and by accusing you of mercenary intentions." Elizabeth sighed heavily. "He said he knows otherwise. He is convinced that you love him."
"How can he be? I have never said so," asked Elizabeth with alarm.
"He believes that you must have, but he simply cannot remember it. He spoke of your look when he awoke Saturday morning. He said he did not require words to understand your feelings."
Elizabeth gasped, she could not but acknowledge Mr. Darcy's vanity as evidenced by his conviction in her feelings; yet she also acknowledged that the circumstances of his awakening and everything that had occurred since then had given him every reason to believe as he did. At last, she said, "do you see? Did I not tell you that this was the case? He mistook my feelings of compassion and relief for more tender sentiments. His pain and disappointment on now learning the truth will be far worse than when I first rejected his suit."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was solemn. He knew she was right, but he would make one last attempt. "Must he suffer that pain, Miss Bennet? Does he truly have to learn the truth? Can you not be prevailed upon to change your mind?"
"How can you ask it of me? How can I marry a man I neither love nor respect, merely to perpetuate a wrong that should never have been committed? You must see that such a circumstance would be to the benefit of neither him nor me. You would spare him this pain only to expose him to a far greater evil. I cannot do it. Mr. Darcy must learn the truth, and the sooner the better."
"You are right, of course. Forgive me for suggesting anything but the proper course of action. I will make arrangements for you to see him so that it can be done."
"I thank you."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed, as if to fortify himself, and then forged on. "Miss Bennet, you said something that I cannot allow to go unaddressed: that you can neither love nor respect my cousin. I understand that you might not love him, and that you might refuse him on that basis, alone. But I cannot conceive that you do not respect him. He is the most honourable gentleman of my acquaintance. His adherence to his principles, to morality and propriety is steadfast. He is revered as a landlord, a master and a brother. I have never heard anyone speak ill of him. I cannot imagine what has caused you to despise him as you do, or how he could possibly merit your disdain."
Elizabeth was silent, but looked uncomfortable.
Seeing that no explanation was forthcoming, Colonel Fitzwilliam continued, "this man, whom you despise, was established, at the age of twenty-two, as the master of one of the largest estates in Derbyshire. In addition he was entrusted with the care and guardianship of his young sister. He has hundreds of tenants and servants, who depend on his good will. All within the sphere of his influence extol his generosity and justice. He has always acted fairly, even to those who, perhaps, deserved less. He has protected those he loves fiercely, and has had his share of unhappy dealings with lesser men. This is the man you refused, and I cannot understand it."
"He is prideful." It sounded pathetic in comparison to Colonel Fitzwilliam's praise, even to her own ears.
"Yes! and with good reason, for he has much of which to be proud. Is he not allowed one fault? Have you not heard everything I have said in his favour? Do those things not outweigh his pride? If this is your only objection, Miss Bennet, then I hope, for your own sake, as well as his, that you will not be hasty in casting him off. The regard of such a man is something to be valued, and you would do well to consider your actions carefully. I do not dare question your worth, as his esteem of you is reliable enough for me, but I do believe you have severely underestimated his."
"Have I?" she replied with feeling, "in extolling his virtues, you spoke of fairness and justice. What fairness was there in his treatment of Mr. Wickham?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam's eyes flashed when she spoke that name, then he relaxed a bit, "so you have met Mr. Wickham. Darcy told me that he happened upon him in Hertfordshire. It is not to be wondered at, if you have admitted Mr. Wickham into your friendship, that you have a low opinion of Darcy, for one cannot think well of both men. Which of them receives the credit for being honourable in one's mind, I suppose, depends upon whose account you have had of their history."
"I have only received an account of their history from one of them as the other was not inclined to offer any."
"Have you asked him for it?"
"I mentioned it when we spoke on the night of his injury."
Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed shocked, and said incredulously, "he asked for your hand in marriage and you confronted him in defense of Mr. Wickham? He has endured much at your hands. I pray that he never remembers the encounter."
"His manner towards me that evening was not above reproach either, Colonel Fitzwilliam," she said pointedly. After a pause, she continued, "since he did not deny refusing to give Mr. Wickham the living that his father had promised him, I can only believe that it must be true."
"Yes, it is true. Yet, does it then follow that he must have been wrong in doing so?"
"I do not see how it could be justified."
Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed. "My uncle was blind when it came to Wickham. But Darcy and I knew him much better. We were able to see him in unguarded moments that were well concealed from his godfather. He proved himself at an early age to be a worthless man, vicious in his propensities and in want of any principle. My uncle Darcy never learned his true nature and, wishing him for the church, bequeathed him a valuable living at Kympton, a parish within Pemberley's patronage. He professed a lack of interest in the church, much to my cousin's relief, and was given three thousand pounds in exchange for his resignation of the living. When he returned, two years later, having spent or lost all of the money, and requested the living, Darcy refused."
Elizabeth stood in shocked silence staring at Colonel Fitzwilliam. "This cannot be true," she finally said.
"It is, I assure you."
She stared at him for a moment and then said flatly, "I cannot believe it. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Wickham, other than your word, which must by its very nature be tainted with bias in favor of your cousin."
"You certainly cannot believe Wickham's relation of past events to have been disinterested!"
"You censure me for readily believing him, yet you expect me to throw over those beliefs even more readily, in favor of your relation which must be at least equally unreliable."
You have no more reason to believe me than him, that is true; but you likewise have no more reason to believe him than me Therefore, you must allow my disclosure to at least shed doubt on his words."
"I do not know what to believe now, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"Concede to me at least, that if my account of Darcy's dealings with Wickham is the accurate one, then his respectability must be reestablished in your esteem."
"Yes," she replied grudgingly, "it must be."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled, "perhaps then if you could be convinced of Darcy's innocence in that regard, you could be prevailed upon to revisit the question of whether Darcy must suffer learning the truth of your current relationship."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I appreciate your attempts to enlighten me about these circumstances, but even if I can accept your version of them and discard Mr. Wickham's, my mind will not change in that regard. Mr. Darcy must learn the truth."
After a moment's contemplation, and an apparent change of heart, he said, his voice heavy with resignation, "I suppose it is for the best. The pain of learning the truth will at least be transient. And that, I suppose, is preferable to the lifelong suffering that must result from marriage to a woman who is in love with another."
Elizabeth regarded Colonel Fitzwilliam with a surprised expression, then blushed as she recalled Darcy's suggestion of her eager interest in Mr. Wickham's concerns. Clearly he had suspected an attachment, did Colonel Fitzwilliam now suspect one as well? Seeing her blush, Colonel Fitzwilliam continued, "you need not confirm my suspicion madam, I can see that I am correct. There can be no other reason for your refusal of him and your continued persistence in that choice even once your objections to his person have been addressed. I believe I have some idea as to the identity of his rival for your affections. It will only be a source of further pain for my cousin, when he learns of it."
"You are quite mistaken in your supposition, sir," she said indignantly. "My reasons for rejecting your cousin's suit were solely attributable to him."
"If that be the case, madam, then I sincerely hope that you will heed my earlier words."
"I will give them due consideration."
"In that case, I will leave you to your thoughts."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, before you go, may I ask something of you, sir?"
"I had planned to call on Miss Darcy today. I had promised Mr. Darcy that I would speak to her. But, I do not believe it will be possible for me to go to Rosings, under the circumstances. May I request that you bring her to the parsonage?"
"Of course. I will escort her there as soon as I return. I will leave her with you and return later to fetch her back to Rosings for dinner."
"Thank you, sir."
Chapter 7When Elizabeth returned to the parsonage, Mr. Collins was waiting for her. "My dear cousin Elizabeth, whatever did you say to Lady Catherine this morning to distress her so?"
Elizabeth did not feel equal to speaking civilly to her cousin, and replied, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Collins, but I would prefer not to discuss the matter."
Mr. Collins, however, would not be deterred. "Her ladyship was most seriously displeased. You would do well, dear cousin, to learn to temper that vivacity of spirit which may have an adverse affect on the sensibilities of those more refined than yourself. If you expect the privilege of keeping company with those of a superior status, then it is you who must take care not to offend."
"I would remind you, Mr. Collins, that it was Lady Catherine who sought my company this morning, not the reverse."
"That, my dear cousin, is all the more reason for you to conform your manners to her expectations and wishes. You must show the proper amount of gratitude for her solicitous attention."
Charlotte intervened, "my dear, you must comprehend that her ladyship summoned Lizzy outdoors for the purpose of maintaining the privacy of their discourse." Then turning to Elizabeth, she said, "we will not press you for the particulars, Lizzy."
Mr. Collins looked confused, then said, "of course, my dear, I do not wish to learn what was said between them, only to caution my cousin against failing to show her ladyship the proper deference that she is owed."
"I will keep your advice in mind, Mr. Collins," replied Elizabeth. Then to her friend she said, "thank you Charlotte. I believe I will go to my room. I am expecting Miss Darcy to call. Please send for me when she arrives."
"Of course," said Charlotte.
Elizabeth sat by herself in her room for a long time, thinking of all that had transpired only that morning. She had already spent much time, earlier, reflecting on her unhappy encounter with Lady Catherine. Now, her more recent conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam, and all of its revelations, was the object of her reverie. She recalled the entire conversation from the beginning. His description of Darcy was far from how she had previously perceived him. Yet he spoke with such sincerity and conviction, that left little room for doubt. And what basis did she have to doubt him? Only Wickham's word. True, she had witnessed Darcy's behavior firsthand and he had been proud and haughty, but his manner never showed him to be dishonourable or unrespectable. Yet Colonel Fitzwilliam's perception must certainly be biased. She almost laughed out loud when she had this thought. Suddenly the idea that Wickham's account could be objective was preposterous. Everything she had relied upon to truly call Darcy's honour into question had come from Mr. Wickham. Was this unsupported account from one man, whom she scarcely knew, not counteracted by the friendship of Mr. Bingley, the loyalty of Colonel Fitzwilliam, and the affection of Miss Darcy?
Then she considered with much agitation all that had been said by Colonel Fitzwilliam about Darcy's dealings with Mr. Wickham. How could she be sure of what had really occurred between them? She was not sufficiently well acquainted with either Colonel Fitzwilliam or Mr. Wickham to be certain that she could believe one over the other. She was confused. She liked both men, both had been sincere and unassuming, both had spoken with conviction and both had seemed artless in their speech. If it were not impossible, she would have concluded that both men had been telling the truth. Then, it occurred to her that one of them might merely believe he was telling the truth. Like Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam might have received his account of the matter from Mr. Darcy. If that was the case, then Mr. Darcy's iniquities were increasing in number, for to deprive Wickham of the living and then deceive others as to what really occurred, all the while besmirching the good name of his father's favorite, was a heavy charge to lay at his door.
She recalled Darcy's words during their quarrel and his reactions to her defense of Wickham. His demeanor during the whole, his anger and indignation, could be in accord with either version of the events as they had been related to her. Yet, if Colonel Fitzwilliam's version was the correct one, then why had Darcy not defended himself at the time of their quarrel?
Then Elizabeth recalled the circumstances in which each had given her his account of the history. Colonel Fitzwilliam had revealed it only after she raised the issue, and only under the highly unusual circumstances that had given rise to that conversation. Wickham, however, had given the information voluntarily, almost upon their first meeting, and with no other provocation than an understanding that Darcy was in the vicinity. She realized now the impropriety of such a personal disclosure at that juncture in their acquaintance. What would motivate a man to speak openly of such a thing to a young woman he was scarcely acquainted with? This question, she could not answer, but it led to further reflection regarding Wickham's subsequent actions. As soon as Darcy had left Netherfield, Mr. Wickham's tale of their dealings had become common knowledge. He had spoken of it openly, and without scruple, to everyone. She now considered the gravity of Wickham having done so; yet, when it was happening, it had not given her a moment's concern, because in her mind Darcy had deserved to be publicly disgraced for his treatment of Wickham. It was this reflection that brought another memory from the recesses of her mind to its forefront. She distinctly recalled Wickham saying he would not speak ill of the son out of respect for the memory of the father. Yet he had done just that. This, in turn, called forth the recollection of another inconsistency between Wickham's words and his actions. He had avoided the ball at Netherfield because of Darcy, yet before that occasion he had said it was not for him but for Darcy to avoid a meeting between them. She wondered that she had never noticed these inconsistencies before. Still, did all of this mean that Wickham's relation of Darcy's treatment of him was false?
Elizabeth was caught up in these confusing meditations and no closer to drawing any conclusions about the matter than she had been when she began, when she was informed that Miss Darcy was waiting for her in the parlour. She went down to her, and the two young ladies walked out into the park, so that they might talk privately.
"Miss Darcy, how is your brother?"
"I am afraid he is not well today. He is very agitated. He wishes to leave Rosings, and he misses you dreadfully."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam told me of his interview with Lady Catherine yesterday. I cannot tell you how sorry I am with the way recent events have unfolded."
"You are not at fault. Colonel Fitzwilliam and I pressed you to go to him and he misunderstood your gesture, yet I cannot regret it. It was not until yesterday that I realized the extent of the evil that will result from it. Fitzwilliam will be pained so much, I cannot be easy knowing what is to befall him."
Remembering her purpose, and being sure that this was at the root of Miss Darcy's despondence the previous day, Elizabeth attempted to ease the girl's concerns, "it cannot be that terrible, Miss Darcy. Perhaps he will be pained at first, but I am sure he will be fine in very little time, you will see."
Miss Darcy looked at Elizabeth with tears brimming in her eyes. "You cannot be aware of how deeply he feels for you."
"Perhaps the anger he will feel towards me when he learns that I allowed him to believe we were engaged will help temper the pain."
"He will not be angry with you."
"Dear Miss Darcy, you must realize that he will be, how can he not? And he would be very justified in his feelings."
"Even if you are right, I do not see how being angry would make him feel any better."
"Perhaps his feelings are not so strong as you imagine."
"No, Miss Bennet," she replied quietly, "for he told me how he feels. But even if he had not, I can see it in his expression. Indeed, you must have been able to see for yourself how he looks at you? Even when you are not there his feelings are quite evident in his looks when he speaks of you. I thought once that I knew the look of a man in love, but I soon learned I was wrong. My brother told me then that I would know real love when I saw it. I didn't understand how, at the time, since I had been so easily deceived, and it was not until I saw him with you that I truly witnessed it. I was so happy when I first realized it, because I had feared that he might not marry for love." This last observation seemed to make Miss Darcy more sad, perhaps due to the realization that although her brother had chosen to marry for love, it was not likely to occur after all.
Elizabeth sought to lift Miss Darcy's spirits by making light of her previous mistaken understanding of her brother's feelings. "I wonder whether you were disappointed or relieved to learn that your brother was not really attached, as you had once imagined. For, I have met some of the fashionable ladies of his circle."
Miss Darcy knitted her brow, and after a moment's reflection, replied, "you are mistaken, Miss Bennet, I have never before seen or believed him to be attached to any woman. I was speaking of my own experience." Her voice lowered to almost a whisper. "I formed a most imprudent attachment last summer."
"I see, and your brother objected to the gentleman?"
"Yes, very much. I did not understand why, at first, for my brother knew him very well. When I met him at Ramsgate I remembered him fondly from my youth. He told me that he loved me, that he had always loved me and that he had simply been waiting for me to grow up enough to return his love." By now the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
"You need not go on, Miss Darcy, I did not intend to force your confidence."
"Please, I would like to tell you. My brother has forbidden me from speaking of it - not that I would wish to - but only for my own good. I do believe, though, that he would not object to my trusting in your confidence. He told me as much when he learned I was coming here today to visit with you. He said I should speak to you about anything that I wished to, and though he only said it because he believed that you are to become my sister, I know that he trusts you, even with me."
Elizabeth was touched by this last observation, for she now understood how precious his sister was to Mr. Darcy. "I will listen to you, if that is your wish."
Miss Darcy nodded, and then continued, "I believed that he loved me. He was so handsome, and so charming that I believed everything he said, and soon believed myself to be in love with him as well. My companion at the time, Mrs. Younge, did not object to any of it. In fact she forwarded the attachment, and my brother had trusted her, so I did not feel uneasy. I should have been sensible of the impropriety of it in spite of her approval, though. I should have known it was wrong when he insisted that I not tell Fitzwilliam of our engagement. He said he wanted to surprise him. I thought they were friends. Indeed, I recalled that my own father esteemed him. And I believed that my brother would not only approve our marriage, but that he would be pleased by it. So, I agreed to an elopement."
Elizabeth was overcome with compassion for the poor girl, and took her hand as they continued to walk.
"The day before we intended to depart for Scotland, Fitzwilliam surprised me with a visit. I confessed everything to him, unsure of how my news would be received, but all the while hoping for a happy reaction. He was shocked and grieved. I do not know what he did after I told him, but I have never seen either Mrs. Young or Mr. Wickham since then."
"Yes, he was my father's godson."
Elizabeth was astonished by this revelation. She took several seconds to simply absorb this information. And when she did, things began to make more sense than ever. Everything Colonel Fitzwilliam had said earlier in the day returned to her mind with a clarity she had not previously been capable of. How could she have doubted him? She recalled his admonition of her confronting Darcy with his past treatment of Wickham when he had proposed. It was no longer to be wondered at that Darcy was so offended by the mention of Wickham. She imagined how he must have felt in supposing that she might have been attached to him.
Elizabeth's meditations were interrupted by her companion's query, "are you acquainted with him?"
Elizabeth struggled to regain her composure sufficiently to answer quietly, "yes, he is quartered with the militia in a village near my home" her mind still reeling from her present realizations.
Miss Darcy was quiet for a moment. Then she continued, "I expected my brother to be angry with me, but he simply explained to me very patiently that Mr. Wickham had intended to secure my fortune by marrying me without any settlement agreement. Fitzwilliam explained that he and Mr. Wickham were friends when they were very young, but that Mr. Wickham had proven himself to be most . . . ungentlemanly," this brought to Elizabeth's mind her own condemnation of Darcy's ungentlemanlike manner, but now she realized that the two men were incomparable, "and they had a falling out. My brother believes that Mr. Wickham's designs on me were motivated as much by revenge as by greed. I know now that if Mr. Wickham had truly loved me, he would have asked my brother for my hand, he would have courted me openly, he would have agreed to a reasonable settlement for my protection, and he would have waited for me until I was of age."
Elizabeth could not help herself from asking, "do you believe that your brother would have allowed it, even if he had done these things, given the disparity in your situations?"
"If he had been a worthy gentleman, and if our love had been true, I know he would have."
Elizabeth paused to reflect on Miss Darcy's answer. It was spoken with conviction, yet Elizabeth could not help but doubt it considering Mr. Darcy's confession regarding his own struggles in determining to proposed to her. She recalled his words regarding Bingley's situation, "towards him I have been kinder than towards myself." Surely he would not wish to be so unkind towards his sister as to allow her to make such an imprudent connection.
They walked on in silence for some time, each content to meditate on what had just passed. One, relieved by the shedding of a burden she had long carried. Having spoken openly of a matter that had for so long caused her only feelings of guilt, shame and self-reproach, without receiving judgment in return, Miss Darcy felt a freedom she had not experienced since before the previous summer.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, was deliberating all that she had learned and repenting her misguided judgments, her self-reproach only beginning. Miss Darcy's silence giving her leisure to re-evaluate her former opinions, she considered what she knew of Mr. Wickham in light of Colonel Fitzwilliam's assertions. She had never heard of him before his entrance into the ---shire militia. Of his former way of life, nothing had been known in Hertfordshire but what he told himself. As to his real character, if information had been in her power, she had never felt a wish of inquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from the charges laid at his door by Colonel Fitzwilliam; or, at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors under which she could endeavour to class what had been described as his idleness and vice of many years continuance. She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the neighborhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess. Every lingering struggle in his favour grew fainter and fainter; while her awareness of Darcy's innocence grew keener and keener.
When she added to her consideration Miss Darcy's disclosures, there could be no doubt where all the guilt lay in the former dealings between the two men. Mr. Wickham was now established as the worst of men, and Mr. Darcy the best. Miss Darcy's description of his treatment of her following her indiscretion showed him in an even more favorable light. She recalled everything that she had learned of him in the past few days and was forced to admit that she could find no fault in him. Even when she delved further back into her recollection she could recall no instance to truly contradict the goodness of his character. Though his manners had been proud and repulsive, she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance seen anything that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust, or anything that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits; and among his own connections he was esteemed and valued. She began to realize that, pleased with the preference of one and offended by the neglect of the other on the very beginning of their acquaintance, she had courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. She was humiliated by her own blindness and her vanity in her abilities to discern the characters of others. She had allowed herself to be guided by prejudice rather than reason and observation. Looking in the opposite direction of her companion, she could see through a clearing in the trees, Rosings house at a distance, and she wondered which window was his, and whether he could perceive her now, walking in the distance with his sister. She shook her head in shame and disappointment thinking, "till this moment, I never knew myself."
At length, when Elizabeth had sorted through her thoughts as well as could be expected without the opportunity for solitary reflection, she recalled her friend's presence and broke their companionable silence by saying, "I feel I should tell you that Mr. Wickham related to me a very different story of his dealings with your brother, but Colonel Fitzwilliam told me something of his true character earlier today, though he did not mention that which you have now disclosed to me. These revelations have greatly altered my opinions of both Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy."
"Was it Mr. Wickham, then, that made you think ill of my brother? I cannot blame you for believing him. I know how persuasive he can be. But at least you have learned the truth, now. Perhaps I have been able to be of service to my brother at last."
"I am grateful to both yourself and Colonel Fitzwilliam for informing me of the truth regarding Mr. Wickham. I will not deny that I am ashamed to have erred so greatly in my opinion of the characters of both him and Mr. Darcy." Then she smiled to herself, and added, "your brother even warned me against sketching his character, while he was at Netherfield, as he feared my performance would reflect creditably on neither of us."
"Yes, when we danced together at Mr. Bingley's ball last November. I was determined to believe Mr. Wickham, and indignant that Mr. Darcy could offer me no reason to discredit him. Now I understand why he could not divulge those details."
"If only you had known how my brother dislikes dancing, perhaps you would have had some idea of his partiality by his having asked you. He told me all about the ball, and I know he did not dance with anyone else except for Mr. Bingley's sisters."
"But I did know of his dislike for dancing! I am afraid I was determined to willfully misunderstand him, and yet he warned me that doing so was my greatest fault! Your brother does not say much, to be sure, but I am beginning to realize that when he does, it is worthwhile to listen. It seems he said a great many things to me to which I should have given more credit than I did."
"If your opinion of him has indeed improved so much as a result of my disclosures, then I will no longer feel any doubt as to whether I was right in having told you."
"Please be assured that I will never betray your confidence, Miss Darcy."
"I know that you would not. In consequence of the strength of my brother's feelings for you, I know that I can trust you implicitly."
Elizabeth smiled, "you give a great deal of credit to his judgment."
"He does not err, Miss Bennet."
"Oh, I know for a fact that he does, my dear Miss Darcy, but only with the best of intentions," replied Elizabeth, thinking of Darcy's impression of her sister's feelings towards Mr. Bingley. Upon seeing her companion's look of concern, however, she added, "I am only teasing you. I would not dare attempt to upset your earnest opinion of his perfection."
The two women were now much easier in each other's company and, as the time was growing near for Colonel Fitzwilliam to return for Miss Darcy, they turned their steps back towards the parsonage.
When Elizabeth and Miss Darcy arrived at the parsonage, they found that Colonel Fitzwilliam was already there and that he had brought Mr. Bingley with him.
The Rosings party remained and visited with the Hunsford residents for another half hour before they departed. During this time, Elizabeth was pleased to enjoy a few minutes of private conversation with Mr. Bingley. "How have you spent your time at Rosings, Mr. Bingley? I hope you have found ample amusement during your time away from the sick room."
"Indeed, I have, Miss Bennet. Colonel Fitzwilliam has kept me well entertained."
"Have you decided how long you will stay?"
"I will return to London on Saturday. I believe that is the same day you will be traveling as well."
"Yes, it is. We will be collecting my sister Jane in London before returning to Longbourn."
Bingley's eyes grew wide with interest. "How long will you be in London?"
"Almost three weeks. And you?"
"I have not settled on any plans as of yet. I have determined, however, to return to Netherfield for the summer."
Elizabeth smiled, "that is wonderful news, I am sure that your return to the neighborhood will be most welcome."
He seemed pleased by her words. "I only wish Darcy could join me again. But, he does not know how long he will be convalescing and he urged me not to delay my return on his account."
"Did he?" asked Elizabeth in surprise.
"Yes, it was he who suggested that I return there. I had already been considering the idea, but his approbation of it confirmed my plans." Elizabeth smiled at Bingley's easy manner of yielding to his friend's judgment. "Perhaps I can call on you while you are in London. I believe you will be staying with some relations?"
"Yes, my aunt and uncle Gardiner, in Gracechurch Street. I would be very pleased to receive your call, sir, and I am certain that my sister, Jane, would enjoy renewing her acquaintance with you as well." This last observation elicited a contented smile from Mr. Bingley. Further conversation was soon foreclosed, however, by their being addressed by the others in the room. Colonel Fitzwilliam had overheard bits and pieces of the conversation between Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth, and it was just enough to make him feel certain of their mutual attachment.
Elizabeth was surprised to discern during this visit that Bingley did not seem to be apprized of his friend's belief that he was engaged, nor of Lady Catherine's apparent disapproval of it. Elizabeth was able to learn that Lady Catherine had been so agitated the previous evening, that she had dined alone in her chambers, and that Mr. Bingley had spent much of his day in gentlemanly pursuits with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
The gentlemen and Miss Darcy finally rose to depart as the dinner hour drew near. While Mr. Bingley was paying his respects to Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas, Colonel Fitzwilliam approached Elizabeth to bid her good bye. He drew her aside and asked if she was feeling better from this morning. She acknowledged that she was, and that her visit with Georgiana had improved her spirits. She then asked quietly, "I am troubled by the fear that Lady Catherine might spread the news of this supposed engagement."
"I do not think she will, since she wishes it to be broken. The only person she might tell would be my father. Please do not worry Miss Bennet." He then removed a folded paper from his coat, and pressed it into her hand as he said, "Good evening, Miss Bennet." She looked at it in surprise, but comprehending that it must contain intelligence of what arrangements he had made for her to see Mr. Darcy without Lady Catherine learning of it, she quickly hid it away in her sleeve as the others were walking from the parlour towards the door to see the gentlemen and Miss Darcy to the carriage. In a moment she joined the others in the foyer, where Mr. Bingley and Miss Darcy were waiting to bid her farewell.
Elizabeth went to her room to prepare for dinner immediately following their departure, and as soon as she was alone she opened the letter, which had been sealed. She quickly skimmed the closure and was surprised to note that it was from Mr. Darcy, rather than Colonel Fitzwilliam.
My Dearest Elizabeth:
Please, allow me to apologize for my aunt's manner of treating you this morning. Such a thing could not have happened if I was not in this condition. I have been severely oppressed since she told me of her meeting with you, upon returning to Rosings this morning. It took me several hours after speaking to her to compose myself enough to write to you. I was determined to quit the house immediately, but when I tried to stand, I was unequal to it. I am not yet recovered enough to walk about steadily. Colonel Fitzwilliam, the doctor, and Georgiana, have all convinced me to remain here for the time being. My aunt, however, refuses to welcome you into her home. I cannot stay here under such circumstances, but it seems that I am a prisoner. Colonel Fitzwilliam has counseled me to remain at Rosings. He believes he can bring you to see me without my aunt's knowledge. I cannot be easy with such an arrangement, and I cannot imagine that you would wish to go where you are not made welcome. But, I will follow my cousin's advice and leave the matter to your determination. If you wish to see me here, I will await you; if not, I will make other arrangements. I do, however, long to see you.
Colonel Fitzwilliam also advises me not to tell even Bingley of our engagement. I cannot like all of this secretiveness, but I have not yet mentioned it to him. I know he plans to return to London on Saturday, and that he plans to call at Gracechurch Street sometime next week. I hope that you will be pleased by this circumstance. Now, though, I cannot think of Bingley's eminent departure without being reminded of yours. I am sure you will be happy to be gone, considering the circumstances, but I shall miss you terribly. I hope to be well enough to travel within a fortnight of your departure, though the doctor believes it may take longer. I understand that Georgiana is with you as I write this. I am very pleased to know that the two of you are meeting as I am most eager for you to be friends. She has told me that she likes you very well. As I look out the window to think what to write next, I see two figures walking along the lane in the distance. I know they must be you and Georgiana, and it warms my heart to see it. I hope you are both enjoying your time together.
Elizabeth, I had hoped to see you during the course of the day, but I understand why it was impossible. Please know that you are in my thoughts constantly. I have not forgotten your parting words to me yesterday, and I long to know what you cannot go on with any longer. You must know how greatly your distress troubles me, and how I long to offer any assistance within my power to alleviate it. I hope to speak to you about it when next we meet. Until then, I remain
Your ever devoted,
Elizabeth's first notion, after reading the letter, was to destroy it. She could not leave behind any evidence of this false engagement. The concrete existence of proof of an engagement made her wonder for the first time whether she had trapped herself into a marriage. And yet, she was surprised to find herself less disturbed by that idea than she ought to have been, and though she stood holding it over the fire some time, she could not bring herself to destroy the letter.
Her thoughts continuously bent towards all of the new information she had learned during the course of this very long day. That Mr. Darcy was the best of men, she could no longer doubt. His interference in Jane and Bingley's affairs, though misguided, had been with the best of intentions. And as for Mr. Wickham, Darcy was wholly exculpated of any wrongdoing. The only remaining objections to marrying him were her own opinions of his person. Yet, she even began to doubt those. It was quite clear that he was not the person she had perceived him to be. She considered carefully, the words of Colonel Fitzwilliam, warning her not to cast Darcy off lightly. The colonel had been right, Mr. Darcy's love was something to be valued. Nor could she be unmoved by his tender expressions. Never before had she seen his demeanor so unmarked by haughtiness as in the few times she had met with him since Saturday. She herself had borne witness to his kind and affectionate solicitude towards his sister. In addition, his words to her in his letter conveyed a deep concern for what was troubling her. He was far from selfish, and she realized that in calling him so she had been wrong.
As for whether he was arrogant and conceited, she could not discard those observations as readily. She acknowledged that his belief that she had accepted his marriage proposal was an arrogant presumption, yet she had to concede that the circumstances justified his assumption. She recalled Colonel Fitzwilliam's indignant inquiry as to whether Darcy was not allowed to have one fault. She could not but feel that the relative significance of his pride paled in comparison to his favourable qualities. The praise liberally bestowed upon him by all who knew him intimately was not to be taken lightly. She recalled her own fault in misjudging him as she had. Was his pride any worse than the prejudice she had exhibited in doing so? He had identified her fault well, when he had said it was the propensity to willfully misunderstand others. As for his own fault, she would say it was pride, but he had owned that it was resentment and an unwillingness to forgive. These meditations inevitably caused her to wonder whether she would ever gain his forgiveness for misleading him these past few days. She was a little surprised to learn that she desired it.
This, in turn reminded her that she must tell him the truth, and she dreaded the pain she would have to inflict on him. Then she recalled Colonel Fitzwilliam's suggestion that he would not have to suffer through that pain if she were to change her mind. She considered that perhaps his injury had been a design of Fate, to grant her the opportunity to learn the truth about him and amend the mistake she made in refusing him. Yet, as she recalled the evening in question, even with all that she now knew of Darcy, she could not call her refusal a mistake, considering the manner in which he addressed her. His failure to behave as a gentleman should on the occasion was inexcusable. Nevertheless, now, nearly a week later, her anger and indignation at being so addressed had softened with all that she had learned of the man. She would be willing to reconsider accepting him now, but was it within her right to do so? Could she retract her rejection merely because he did not recall it? She realized how wrong it would be to carry out such a deception. Even if she did change her mind about marrying him, she would have to tell him the truth. There was no avoiding it. These meditations preoccupied Elizabeth for the remainder of the evening. She retired shortly after dinner, and after trying to read a book , she spent more time in solitary reflection, and then went to bed, but sleep eluded her for most of the night.
On Wednesday morning, Elizabeth was surprised to meet Colonel Fitzwilliam while she was out walking very early. He said, "Miss Bennet, I am so glad to have discovered you here. My aunt has gone into the village for the morning, to settle disputes and dispense advice. Mr. Bingley has gone out for a ride, with the intent of calling at the parsonage later; I suspect that he will wait there for your return. The opportunity is at hand for you to meet with Darcy undetected, and to tell him the truth."
Elizabeth assented to the colonel's plan for her to visit Darcy, and they walked towards Rosings together. After a few moments of silence, Elizabeth spoke. "I would like to thank you, sir, for your intervention in persuading Mr. Darcy to maintain the secrecy of our supposed engagement. I know it must have been difficult."
"Under the circumstances, it is best for all concerned that he not mention it to anyone. Though it is unfortunate that Lady Catherine learned of it. Luckily, though, she is unlikely to spread the news."
"Yes, I suppose her opposition to the match does have its benefits. I was relieved last evening to note that Mr. Bingley was yet unaware of it. Mr. Darcy mentioned in his letter that it was you who persuaded him not to make the disclosure."
Colonel Fitzwilliam glanced sideways at Elizabeth as he said, "I understand why you would not wish him to know of it." Elizabeth was puzzled by this remark, but the colonel continued before she had a chance to speak. "Please accept my apology, Miss Bennet, for trying to persuade you to change your mind. I only desired my cousin's happiness, but I realized last night that such a match, even if you were willing to marry him, would not achieve it."
Elizabeth looked sharply at her companion. She was affronted. "I can understand why you would be influenced by your aunt's opposition."
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed, "you are mistaken Miss Bennet, it is not that circumstance which has persuaded me. Rather, it was a realization of your own feelings and preferences. In attempting to induce you to change your mind, the only consideration that I allowed in determining that he would be happy in marriage to you was his own attachment, but I realized last night that he could not be happy if his feelings were not returned. And, of course, you could not be happy with such a match either."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am not sure that I know your cousin well at all, for nearly everything I knew of him, or I should say nearly everything I thought I knew of him, has been contradicted."
The colonel smiled - her comment might have given hope had he not been convinced already that there was none to be had. "But the nature of his character is of little consequence in the matter."
"On the contrary, Colonel Fitzwilliam, the nature of his character would have everything to do with such a choice."
"Come now, Miss Bennet, even the best of men cannot touch a heart already engaged."
Elizabeth's surprise was evident. "Sir, I wonder that you would persist in such a belief. I had thought I made myself clear on that subject yesterday. But even if I felt as you suppose, do you think such feelings could withstand the disclosures that were made to me yesterday?"
"Miss Bennet, when you and I parted company yesterday, you were still unsure as to whether you could believe my assertions, but you said that you would consider them. Your comments today seem to imply that you have been able to draw some conclusions on the subject. Am I correct in believing that you have determined my account to have been creditable?"
"Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam, your commendation of Mr. Darcy caused me to doubt my prior opinion, and my subsequent conversation with Miss Darcy left no doubt in my mind as to her brother's worth."
"Are you saying then that gaining esteem for one man could overthrow your feelings for another?"
"No indeed. You misunderstand me, sir. The worth of each man stands on his own merit."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was confused, but he she did not appear to wish to reveal anything more and he did not wish to press her for a confession of her feelings for Bingley. Instead, he said, "in any case, I am glad to hear of the improvement of your opinion of my cousin. I hope it will be of some consolation to him to learn that you no longer despise him."
This reminded Elizabeth of the inevitable pain she was about to inflict on Mr. Darcy. "But such consolation can never be rendered unless you can find a way to impart that knowledge to him without disclosing your awareness of my rejection of his suit. You must never tell him you were privy to that information. It would be mortifying to him, I believe, to know that others knew of his rejection and then his subsequent misconception."
"I had thought you would tell him that it was I who pressed you to conceal the truth from him during your own explanation to him today."
"No. I have no inclination to shift any of the blame from myself. It would be better if I bear it all, as he will not have anything to do with me after today. It is not worthwhile to jeopardize your own relationship with him in such a way. Think of the conversations you have had with him about the matter since Sunday. He would resent you for allowing him to remain deceived."
"I cannot let you assume my guilt in this matter. I, alone, am to blame for misleading him."
"Please, Colonel Fitzwilliam," she said earnestly, "you must promise me that you will not tell him that you knew all along that we were not engaged."
The colonel persisted in his refusal to avoid his share of the blame, but she would not relent until he gave her the assurance she required. When she hinted that it was rather selfish of him to wish to alleviate his own conscience at the expense of his cousin's peace of mind, he at last, acknowledged it was for the best.
They entered the sick room to find Miss Darcy reading aloud to her brother. Elizabeth was pleased to see Darcy seated in a chair by the window, across from his sister. He appeared in very good health, though his head was still bandaged.
Both Darcys smiled when Elizabeth entered the room. Upon seeing her, Georgiana closed her book and stood to offer Elizabeth her chair. She and Colonel Fitzwilliam exited the room, to wait in the adjoining sitting room.
Elizabeth sat down across from Darcy and he said, "good morning, Elizabeth."
"Good morning, how do you feel today?"
"I feel very well, thank you, much like my old self. My headaches have abated significantly."
"I am very happy to hear it. You look well. I am pleased to see that you are in this chair by the window. I wondered how you had seen Georgiana and I yesterday while we were walking. Was it terribly difficult to move across the room?"
"No, it was not too difficult. I find that if I move very slowly, I can manage it with little assistance from Colonel Fitzwilliam. But I wish to know, how you are today." He seemed to be searching her for signs of agitation from her encounter with Lady Catherine the previous day.
"I am very well, thank you."
"I am glad to hear it. I had hoped you would not still be affected by my aunt's confrontation yesterday."
"I confess that I was shocked for some time after it occurred, but my subsequent visits with your cousin and your sister, and, of course, your letter, helped me to recover."
He sighed, then said, "I am sorry that we must meet under these circumstances, but I cannot deny that I am pleased you chose to come." He leaned forward and took her hand to bestow a gentle kiss on the back of it, after which he continued to hold it in his own.
"There are some things that we must speak about," she said solemnly.
"Yes, there are," he agreed. "I would very much like to know what you were going to say to me on Monday just before you departed."
Elizabeth was a bit surprised by his inquiry. She knew she had to tell him the truth, indeed that was the purpose of this call, but how could she tell him without hurting him or making him angry, and still preserve some chance to change her mind? It was too much to accomplish. She should just speak the truth and be done with it, but she could not form the words. She was overcome with fear - fear of paining him, fear of losing his esteem, fear of losing her opportunity to change her mind. Yet she knew that the fact such an opportunity even existed was based on a deception, and one which would have to endure should she choose to take that opportunity. She had to tell him. At length, she decided on a less than direct route. "Mr. Darcy, you once told me that you are not of a forgiving nature, that your good opinion once lost is lost forever."
"Yes, this is the second time you have reminded me of it."
"But you acknowledged it to be a fault in your character, did you not?"
"Yes, I believe I did."
"Then you would wish to improve yourself in that regard?"
If not for her grave expression, he might have thought she was teasing him in her usual manner. He was unsure of the direction of her questions and responded carefully, "I would always wish to improve myself in any way that I could."
She rose from her chair, letting her hand slip from his, and stood facing the window for a few moments regarding the view. Then she turned back towards him and said, "then you would consider granting your forgiveness in some situations."
"Of course I would. Please tell me what you are thinking, Elizabeth." Unsure whether her inquiry had anything to do with her parting comments on Monday or about something else altogether, he asked, "are you concerned by this business with Lady Catherine? She will be reconciled to our marriage, and when she is, I believe I will be able to forgive her."
"No, I was not thinking of Lady Catherine."
"Then who? Does this have to do with the talk you had yesterday with Georgiana? Does she feel that she requires my forgiveness for something?"
"No, it has nothing to do with Miss Darcy."
"Then who does it have to do with?"
She turned back to the window and said in a low voice, "me."
He was quiet for a long moment and then he said, "Elizabeth, come here, please."
She sighed deeply, and then turned to face him. His expression showed kindness, and encouraged her to resume her chair. He took her hand again and said, "what could you have possibly done to require my forgiveness, my sweet Elizabeth?"
His tenderness was more than her already faltering composure could bear. Tears began to spill from her eyes as she whispered, "I am so sorry."
Darcy sat up further so that he could lean towards her. He wiped the tears from her cheeks and cupped her face with his hand. "I love you, Elizabeth, please do not fear that my feelings will change. I cannot imagine that you would do anything that could possibly alter my good opinion of you, but whatever it is that is troubling you, you can tell me." He took a breath and added solemnly, "I believe I would forgive you anything. "
Elizabeth gasped lightly, truly touched by his generosity. She remained silent for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Darcy chose this moment to gently lean forward and brush her lips with his. Elizabeth immediately pushed him away, jumped up suddenly, bringing her hand over her mouth, and fled the room.
Darcy immediately attempted to rise from his chair to pursue her, but he became dizzy by the sudden motion and had to sit back down. When Elizabeth appeared in the sitting room, Colonel Fitzwilliam arose. He immediately perceived her distress, as she continued to move to the other door and into the corridor. He followed her, with the intent of escorting her home, while Georgiana went to her brother.
When Colonel Fitzwilliam caught up to Elizabeth, he asked her, "did you tell him?"
"No, God help me, I could not," she said with feeling, as she briskly approached the stairs, "I was unable to find the words."
"But you were so determined. What has made it so difficult?"
She paused, mid-stride, half way down the stairs and looked at him. "He will surely hate me when he learns the truth. And I must tell him." She turned and began to ascend the steps.
"What are you doing?"
"I must tell him. I cannot continue with this deception."
"Miss Bennet, you are very agitated. Please let me get you a glass of wine, and perhaps we can sit down and talk."
"There is nothing for us to talk about." They had, by now regained the second floor landing.
Just then, Lady Catherine's voice was heard from below. Without hesitating, Colonel Fitzwilliam took Elizabeth's arm, and guided her down the corridor to another stairway. They descended quickly and were outdoors in one of Rosings' formal gardens within a moment. Elizabeth quickly got her bearings and then began to walk towards Hunsford.
Colonel Fitzwilliam followed in silence until he perceived that she had calmed somewhat. "Will you not tell me what distressed you so, when you came from Darcy's room?"
"I cannot," she said, blushing.
Observing her heightened color, he replied, "I believe I understand."
She looked at him with a piercing gaze, daring him to speak openly of his suspicions.
"I must return to him tomorrow. I will simply tell him, once and for all. I will not allow anything to prevent it."
"Very well. I will come for you when there is an opportunity for you to see him."
They continued to the parsonage in silence. When they arrived, they found Mr. Bingley sitting with Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas, waiting for Elizabeth to return. They were all surprised to find her with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but both of the newcomers explained that they had once again encountered one another in the lanes. Mr. Bingley thought that the colonel and Miss Elizabeth were running into one another quite often and he began to suspect an attachment between them. He was happy for them, and wished them as much joy as he felt was in his own future with Miss Bennet.
After the gentlemen departed, Elizabeth wished only to be alone with her thoughts but had little time prior to the dinner hour for any private reflection. She was impatient for the evening to be over, but she suffered through dinner and her cousin's company with composure. Charlotte's society made the evening tolerable, but her mind was preoccupied and she was happy to finally be able to retire. When she did, she could think of nothing else but Mr. Darcy and what had passed between them earlier today. She had yesterday acknowledged his worth and even her own temptation to change her answer to his proposal, but today she recognized that her feelings went even further. More had occurred in the past few days than merely the restoration of his character in her eyes. She now began to recognize that her feelings tended far more favorably towards him than just respect and esteem. She examined her motivations in not being able to tell him of her deception outright. She had feared losing his good opinion and she had feared losing the chance to change her answer, a prerogative to which she had come to feel an entitlement due to his assumption regarding the nature of their relationship. But she had no such right. She had refused him, and she must endure the consequences of her own mistaken judgments. Yet, the prospect of being the object of his resentment was oppressive in the extreme. She now understood something of the measure of pain he endured in learning how thoroughly she despised him. With this understanding of his feelings came further insight into her own.
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she would have received benefit of greater importance. She now saw the mutual benefit of such an union and could not help but acknowledge that he had realized it long ago. His tenderness since Saturday, could not be overlooked in considering the cause for her change in feelings towards him. She had experienced something of what it would be like to be his wife. His gentle expressions of affection, his genuine solicitude and his loyalty inspired in her strong feelings of gratitude. The proof that he had given of her own worth in his eyes caused her to value his affection all the more. Although he had harbored objections to their union, he had ultimately decided in favour of marrying her in spite of all the reasons he should not. Once he had made his choice, he had embraced it wholeheartedly, without ever showing any sign of regret, even when his conviction was put to the test by his aunt's opposition. Instead, he had only demonstrated his devotion to her and his faith in his choice; and he had never asked anything of her. Beyond that, he had readily assured her that she would have his forgiveness for a transgression yet unknown to him, in defiance of his own self-proclaimed tendency towards resentment. For all this, her gratitude was awakened, as well as her wish to reciprocate his feelings and his gestures, and to bring him the happiness that had once been within her power to bestow, but which she would instead have to withdraw from him on the morrow. She was convinced now, that she could be happy with him, yet she was equally convinced that her disclosure tomorrow would foreclose any possibility of it. No, it had been foreclosed last Thursday, when she had refused him. She reminded herself again, that changing her answer had never been a choice within her right to make. In spite of his assurances of forgiveness, she could not hope for anything more. That he would forgive her, she could not be certain as his assurance was made with no appreciation for the gravity of her transgression. To obtain absolution was more than she hoped for, and she felt he would be justified in withholding it. Anything more was beyond all hope.
If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth's change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But if otherwise - if the regard springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even before two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said in her defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill success might, perhaps, authorise her to seek the other less interesting mode of attachment. Be that as it may, two startling revelations were made by Elizabeth this night, one of happiness and one of despair. She knew that she loved Mr. Darcy, but she knew, likewise, that her deception would prevent any renewal of his addresses to her.
Chapter 10Elizabeth awoke the next morning to the same thoughts and meditations which had at length closed her eyes. She could not recover yet from the surprise of her own discoveries; it was impossible to think of anything else; and, totally indisposed for employment, she resolved, soon after breakfast, to indulge herself in air and exercise. The realization that she was in love might, under different circumstances, have been a cause to rejoice. The knowledge that the object of her affection returned her sentiments might have served only to sweeten her joy. But Elizabeth's bitter reality was that she would have to pain the man she loved. He would be disappointed to learn they were not truly engaged, she was certain; but she could not help but feel that his greater disappointment would be in learning the deception she had been capable of. Perhaps his understanding of the latter would make the former more bearable for him. Perhaps he would rejoice in his escape from such a woman.
She considered how Colonel Fitzwilliam had hoped all along that she might change her mind, so that Darcy might be spared the pain of learning that she was not truly engaged to him. He had always hoped that such a result would occur if she were to never tell him the truth, and simply go along with the engagement. This she could not do. That Darcy must learn the truth was without question. Knowing that she must pain him had been a burden to her these past few days, but until last night her inevitable communication could not have been tempered with reassurance of her affection. Now, everything had changed. If she could assure him of her regard, the disclosure would not be so painful for him; and perhaps, she dared hope, he might even express a wish to renew his offer, being thus assured of being accepted. Her hope was forestalled, however, by the remembrance that she was not, in truth, engaged to him. As such, a declaration from her would be out of the question, particularly with no certainty as to whether he would wish to renew his addresses, although she could have no doubt of his continued affections. But, surely, she could give him to know of her feelings whilst keeping her words and actions within the bounds of propriety. That it was a breach of propriety for her to be in his room at all, she chose not to acknowledge. She would find a way of assuring him of her regard and her esteem, and then she would tell him that they were not engaged.
She began to feel easier about telling him, as she hoped to assuage his pain by communicating her feelings. His anger, however, was another matter entirely. The resentment he would inevitably feel when he learned the truth seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. He had professed himself to be of an unforgiving nature. How could she expect him to forgive her duplicity? Yet, her recollections of his tenderness towards her these past few days told her something different. Nor could she ignore his assurances the previous day that he would forgive her anything. She chose, at that moment, to have faith in him, in his feelings for her, in the depth and constancy of his affections. She would not put aside her doubts completely, as she must be prepared for the worst; but she had to believe in the possibility that everything might turn out right.
In considering her own behavior, for which she hoped to gain his forgiveness, she could not help but reflect that she had attempted to undeceive him from the moment that she had realized his mistaken conception. She had been prevented from telling him due to interruptions three times. The only time she had allowed him to remain deceived of her own accord had been Monday during most of her visit, but even then she had determined to tell him just before his aunt interrupted them. But how could all of this be explained to him? She had not the heart to reveal to him the entirety of his cousin's part in perpetuating his deception. In the end, she knew she would tell him the truth. She would reveal whatever was necessary during the course of the interview to satisfy any inquiries he might make and to facilitate his understanding of the situation. Thus, she would give him her reassurance, reveal the truth of their situation, and provide him with an explanation of her actions. The success of such a course seemed highly probable if she took care with her manner of expression and if he would cooperate so far as to be disposed to hear her explanations once the disclosure was made. She came to see that the outcome of their next conversation was within her hands. She could now entertain every hope of happiness with only the smallest doubts as to its possibility still finding expression within the realm of her mind.
Elizabeth was now prepared to meet Darcy. She knew what she wished to say, how she wished to say it, and what goals she wished to achieve as a result. She need only await the opportunity. She returned to the parsonage house to sit with Charlotte and Maria, but she was no more fit for working now than she had been after breakfast. The safest employment for her to undertake if she hoped to hide the preoccupation of her thoughts, was to read a book. Thus, she selected a title from her cousin's limited library and settled herself with her companions in the drawing room.
Her anxiety grew as the hours passed. She had some conversation with Charlotte and Maria to distract her, but on the whole the minutes crept by slowly and still Colonel Fitzwilliam did not appear. It was close to one o'clock when the doorbell finally rang, but Elizabeth was surprised when only Miss Darcy entered the room.
After initial greetings were exchanged, and a general update as to her brother's condition was given, the ladies visited for about half an hour. Miss Darcy had borrowed her cousin's phaeton for the morning, and when it was time to depart, she asked Elizabeth, "would you accompany me for a drive around the park, Miss Bennet?"
"I would be honored, Miss Darcy," replied Elizabeth. She got her things quickly and the two girls were soon settled in the small carriage. The maid who had ridden over with Miss Darcy would remain at Hunsford until Elizabeth was returned there.
As soon as they were on their way, Miss Darcy said, "my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, is spending his morning with Mr. Bingley. He asked me to bring you to my brother while my Aunt Catherine and Cousin Anne are out today. They were engaged to call on Lady Metcalfe at two o'clock."
"Is Mr. Darcy expecting me?"
"I told him of my plan to bring you to Rosings. He did not say anything. I know how he abhors having to meet with you clandestinely. I do not believe he will remain at Rosings much longer. I expect he will take his leave by Saturday."
"Will he be well enough by then to travel? I did not think he had even left his room."
"He was able to walk about his room on his own this morning. I think he is quite capable of leaving his room, but does not wish to see my aunt. I do not know if he will be fit to travel so far as London by Saturday, but he is determined to quit my aunt's house as soon as may be."
They continued in silence along the main drive towards the house, until Miss Darcy turned onto a lane that led towards the pleasure gardens on one side of the structure. "Are we not going into the house?" asked Elizabeth.
"My brother expressed a wish to take advantage of my aunt's absence from the house to get some fresh air. I told him I would bring you to the garden to meet him."
Elizabeth was anxious about meeting Darcy during their drive, but she recollected her plan of what to tell him and how she would say it, and reassured herself that a happy resolution was possible. By the time the figure of a man seated on one of the stone benches among the rose bushes came into view, she felt confident in her purpose, and light of heart.
Miss Darcy stopped the carriage near him and whispered, "I will drive to the entrance to the house and make sure that my aunt is not there. If, for some reason, she is presently at home, I will return for you directly. Otherwise, I will circle the garden and return to collect you later." Elizabeth assented to the plan with a nod and then disembarked from the carriage.
Darcy had been looking at the carriage since it had pulled up in front of him. As it drove away, Elizabeth searched for his eyes with her own, hoping to draw strength from the tenderness she knew she would see there.
Instead, she was shocked when he regarded her with an icy gaze. She quickly surmised that he was unhappy with her behavior of the day before. In spite of his mood, however, she was determined to carry her purpose.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," she began as she sat next to him on the bench.
He nodded to her and looked away.
Elizabeth took a breath and was about to speak when, without looking at her, he said, in a tone of bitterness, "when were you planning to be so kind as to enlighten me as to the true state of affairs between us, Miss Bennet? Was I to learn that you regarded me as the last man you could ever be prevailed upon to marry while I awaited you at the altar?"
Elizabeth gasped. She took several moments to gain an understanding of the situation and then to regain her composure. She stood up and took a few steps away from the bench as she collected herself. Her plans were overthrown. She could no longer make the disclosure according to her own design. Her hopes were lost. Her wish of retaining his regard could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this. She was grieved, she repented not only her failure to disclose the truth at once upon learning of his misunderstanding, but also her mistaken judgments that had occasioned the truth being otherwise than he had believed it to be. Her power with him had sunk, everything must sink under his realization of her duplicity. She could neither wonder at his resentment nor condemn him for it. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make keener her understanding of her own wishes. She had only acknowledged her feelings last night, and it was not lost on her that she had come to love him at just such a time when all love must be in vain. She wondered whether his enlightenment had occurred simultaneously with her own, the night before. For some reason she considered what a triumph it would now be for him to know that the proposals which she had proudly spurned only a week ago, would now have been gladly and gratefully received, now that he must no longer wish for her acceptance of them. He was as generous, she doubted not, as the most generous of his sex; but while he was mortal, there must be a triumph.
At length, she turned to face him and said with grave sincerity, "I intended to tell you all along, but I was always prevented. I was going to tell you today, just before you spoke. I never meant for this to happen. Please believe that I never wished to cause you further pain."
He said nothing for a long moment. And then, with the same bitterness he spoke again. "Please accept my apologies for my behavior yesterday, Miss Bennet, it was inappropriate under the circumstances."
"You need not apologize, you believed that you were behaving within your rights."
He then caught her gaze and held it as he said, "when Lady Catherine related to me her conversation with you, I had thought your defense of our . . ." he faltered for a moment, and then said, ". . . engagement was an indication of the strength of your feelings . . ." he stopped abruptly, as he struggled to maintain his composure. Then he looked away from her and continued in a voice heavy with resentment, "but it was merely a performance, designed to perpetuate your deception."
She recalled his observation not so long ago, that neither she nor he performed to strangers. His accusation that she had performed for his aunt was an indication to her that his opinion of her had diminished. It was a painful blow. But, Elizabeth had been prepared for his anger, and tried not to let it affect her. Instead, she was moved by the emotional struggle which had been visible in his features during this speech. She resumed her seat next to him and said, "I will confess that I did not feel I could tell Lady Catherine the truth before I had told you. But, I did not say anything to her that was not true or sincere. Before you condemn me for failing to undeceive you, please consider my motivation for doing so. I wished only to protect you from further pain and distress during your time of weakness following your injury." He seemed to start when she said the word 'weakness,' but he did not speak, so she continued. "I would have told you immediately when I realized your mistaken belief last Sunday, but before I could form the words, we were interrupted. On Monday, I will confess that I had decided to allow you to remain deceived because I did not wish to distress you so soon after your accident. I had resolved to tell you later in the week. But, even then, I had changed my mind by the end of the visit and was about to tell you when we were again interrupted." A look of understanding crossed his features as he seemed to be recalling her parting words to him on Monday. "Then, when I saw you yesterday, I was trying to find a way to tell you, when . . . ." She stopped abruptly, not wanting to voice what had occurred the day before.
When it seemed that she would say no more, he took the opportunity to say, "this is why you spoke to me yesterday of forgiveness?"
"Yes. You cannot know how truly sorry I am for allowing things to progress as they have. I would wish you to know that it was neither my desire nor my intention."
He was moved, by the earnestness in her voice, to look at her. Her eyes were brimming with tears and she wore a look of true contrition and remorse. He looked away again, but could not avoid looking at her for long. He glanced at her again, but felt his resolve melting. He turned away, with his usual deliberation, and said in a tone of resentment, "you wished to secure my forgiveness before rectifying your misdeeds. I can infer then that you would not have confessed the truth to me if you had not been assured that you would be forgiven?"
"No. I intended to tell you the truth regardless of your answer, but your subsequent actions prevented it."
He blushed slightly at her reference and said, "and you have said that I cannot be held culpable for that."
"Yes, I have." His continued bitter demeanor caused her to feel compelled to defend herself. "But how culpable am I for having behaved as I did, when my sole motivation was to protect you? My behavior these past few days is certainly no worse than your behavior towards Mr. Bingley in allowing him to remain deceived about my sister's presence in London, which was done for his own good, according to your judgment." He cast his gaze upon her abruptly, in response to this observation. "Yet, you too hoped to be forgiven."
"But you would not grant it."
"I merely said it was not I from whom you should seek it, but Mr. Bingley. And I dare say you have received it."
He looked away from her again, indicating that she had hit on the truth.
"But Mr. Bingley and I have a friendship to preserve. Why should it matter for you to obtain my forgiveness in the present circumstance?"
This time Elizabeth blushed, and looked away, tears forming in her eyes. Then she turned back to him and repeated his words to her in almost a whisper, "I would not wish you to think ill of me."
Darcy caught his breath and captured her gaze with his own, his eyes moist, as he recollected what he had been feeling when he uttered those same words to her only a few days ago. His last vestiges of anger dissipated. He sighed heavily, then leaned towards her and whispered, "I could not." A tear spilled from one of her eyes, and he lifted his hand to catch it, but stopped himself and withdrew his hand. "You have my forgiveness, Miss Bennet. Though that is all you want from me, I give it willingly."
"Thank you," she whispered.
At that moment, the sound of the carriage drew their notice, and Elizabeth waved to Miss Darcy, who pulled up in front of them. Darcy arose with Elizabeth, and she was happy to see that he seemed steady on his feet. As he handed her into the phaeton she said, "will you be alright out here alone?"
"Yes, my valet is to come around shortly and walk with me into the house."
After a very subdued leave taking, Miss Darcy and Elizabeth returned to the parsonage in virtual silence. As Elizabeth reflected on what had passed, she could not be satisfied with it. She had obtained his forgiveness, but he still believed she did not care for him. Oh why had she not given him some hint about her feelings? She recalled his sadness in observing that she wanted nothing more from him. How she longed to tell him that he was wrong! Yet, how could she? They were not engaged and there was no offer pending. It would not do for her to go about declaring her feelings or even revealing them to him in less obvious ways, without some certainty that he still wished to marry her. How would it seem for her to now, after rejecting him so soundly, cast herself in his way in the hope of bringing on a renewal of the proposal she had scorned? The very idea of it was absurd. In any case, it was now too late. She would be leaving in less than two days, and they would not see each other again. Perhaps their paths would cross at some future time, but she was sure that after being rejected and then deceived by her, he would never wish to renew his addresses.
When Elizabeth and Miss Darcy arrived at the parsonage, they were surprised to find Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley there. As much as Elizabeth usually enjoyed their company, she felt unequal to meeting them now. Nevertheless, she could do nothing but join them in the drawing room.
Elizabeth found herself seated near Colonel Fitzwilliam and they shared a few moments of private conversation together. While the others were engaged, Colonel Fitzwilliam took the opportunity to ask Elizabeth quietly, "have you come from seeing Darcy?"
"Yes, I was able to spend a few minutes with him."
"And were you able to communicate that which you had hoped to disclose?"
Elizabeth's cheeks grew pink as she replied, "no, unfortunately, I could not."
"You were prevented again? Did my aunt return to Rosings? I suppose I can try to bring you to him tomorrow, or I will have to tell him myself."
"Neither of those schemes will be necessary. I was not prevented from telling him by any interruption, but by his own previous knowledge of the matter." Colonel Fitzwilliam looked surprised. Elizabeth continued, "he gave me to know that he was aware of what I intended to disclose even before I was able to speak. I had hoped you might be able to advise me as to the source of his knowledge, but you are obviously surprised to learn of it so I must believe he remembered everything of his own accord."
"I certainly have not spoken to him of it."
Elizabeth sighed, "it is done, in any case. He knows the truth."
By this time, the colonel was almost whispering. "I hope your interview with him was not . . . unpleasant, Miss Bennet."
"No, we were able to be quite civil to one another," murmured Elizabeth in reply. "Neither of us, I believe, wished for a repetition of the conversation we had on the day of his injury."
"You must be very relieved that he now knows the truth."
"I do thank you for troubling yourself on his behalf. I know how distressing these past few days have been for you, but you have borne it all very graciously."
Elizabeth smiled. "Thank you, sir."
"I suppose you are looking forward to going away on Saturday."
"I confess that I am," she replied, "I shall miss Mrs. Collins and Miss Darcy, but I am eager to see my sister, Jane, again."
"It appears that Mr. Bingley is eager to return to town as well, now that he has ascertained that his friend is out of danger. But you will not be losing his society, I understand."
Elizabeth's smile grew. "No indeed, I will not. He has promised to call at my uncle's house. I believe we shall be very happy to have his company."
"You will not even be able to escape him by going home, for he plans to return to Netherfield, which I believe is very close to your house."
"Yes," replied Elizabeth brightly, "it is only three miles from Longbourn." She blushed as she recollected the morning she had walked from Longbourn to Netherfield, and her disheveled appearance upon her arrival. "But I have no wish to escape him. His return to the neighborhood will be very welcome."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled with mixed emotions. Even though he had learned to accept the fate of the couple who seemed so happy together, he could not help but feel sadness for his cousin's loss. "I am glad to hear it, he is a most deserving young man."
"That he is, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"And he is independent."
Elizabeth smiled again, "that is to say, he does not suffer the deprivations that you do."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled in response to her teasing. "Yes, and consequently he can marry where he likes."
"A rare privilege indeed, Colonel Fitzwilliam," said Elizabeth in a tone that was almost mocking.
"And a happy one," replied the colonel, "at least so long as the object of his choice is well disposed towards him in return."
Elizabeth started at this remark and was visibly flustered. Colonel Fitzwilliam immediately realized his transgression and said, "forgive me, I meant no reference to that situation."
"It is quite alright," she murmured, regaining her composure. "Your observation was not amiss."
"I do not think that Bingley's efforts in that direction will meet with any resistance, though. He is so affable."
"No, I do not imagine he will have any trouble in that regard."
"And, I am sure that when Bingley makes his choice my cousin will not object, as he did before."
Although Elizabeth had discussed the match with Darcy, she asked playfully, "even if Mr. Bingley makes the same choice?"
"Especially if Mr. Bingley makes the same choice," he replied, a bit concerned that she could speak so lightheartedly of the matter.
"Are you aware then, of the identity of the young lady who your cousin was instrumental in separating his friend from?" she almost whispered.
"I have an inkling of who she might be," returned the colonel, "though Darcy and I have never spoken of it openly."
"I believe he is now so far from objecting to the match, that he has even learned to be pleased for his friend," ventured Elizabeth.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked surprised and was about to express his doubt that Mr. Darcy's generosity had extended quite so far so soon, when he was interrupted by Mr. Collins to settle a point of contention between himself and Mr. Bingley regarding the current state of matters in France.
The conversation between the gentlemen drew on, whilst the ladies talked among themselves, until the Rosings party departed.
On Friday, Elizabeth spent the entirety of her day with Charlotte. They divided their time between wandering outdoors and sitting indoors, conversing amiably. It was late in the day when Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam called at the parsonage to take their leave of Elizabeth and Miss Lucas. They explained that Mr. Bingley was spending his time with Mr. Darcy, as he would also be departing in the morning. They stayed only half an hour, but Colonel Fitzwilliam was again able to secure a few moments of private conversation with Elizabeth.
"I would like to take this opportunity to wish you every happiness, Miss Bennet. I can think of no one who deserves it more."
Elizabeth smiled, "I thank you, sir, and return the sentiment most sincerely. I have greatly enjoyed our acquaintance these past weeks."
"Miss Bennet, you seem to be implying that our acquaintance is at an end, but I am fairly certain that our paths will cross again in the future."
At first Elizabeth was puzzled by what he could mean, she dared not hope he could be referring to her own future with Darcy. But then she realized that he must be referring to Mr. Bingley's imminent marriage to Jane which might bring her together again with Mr. Darcy's family through the friendship between the two gentlemen. There was also the matter of her friendship with Miss Darcy which, she doubted not, would remain intact. Yet, she would not wish to impose her company on Mr. Darcy through either of these connections. She replied, "I do hope that we may see each other again, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I would not say that it is certain to occur."
In making his previous comment Colonel Fitzwilliam had, of course, been thinking of Elizabeth's marriage to Bingley. "Come now, Miss Bennet," he began with a smirk, "I believe we can both be certain about the direction of your future."
Elizabeth was taken aback by the boldness of this comment. "My future, sir?" she asked, puzzled.
"Indeed," he chuckled, "you needn't pretend that you do not understand me. But that is the way with ladies, they will not admit their feelings for anything."
Elizabeth blushed heavily at such a pointed reference to the direction of her own hopes, as she realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam had indeed been referring to herself and Mr. Darcy. She recalled their conversation from the previous day and tried to determine if she had said anything to betray her disappointment resulting from her interview with Mr. Darcy. She had then tried to regulate the expression of her emotions, but he had apparently seen through her. That he could still believe that she and Darcy might yet find their way together was extraordinary. Instinctively, she wished to quell the colonel's suspicions regarding her affections. Then, she recalled her prior regret that she had not had an opportunity to give Mr. Darcy some idea of what she felt for him. She abhorred the idea of using the colonel as a conveyor of her regard, but she had few choices and she did not wish to leave Kent with Darcy believing that she did not care for him.
"You would presume to know the contents of a lady's heart, sir?" she said at last.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked about the room, and whispered, "I know the look of a woman in love, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth's cheeks blazed again, confirming to the colonel that she was not a stranger to such sentiments. "And it is your belief that such feelings of mine will cause us to be in company together again at some future time?"
"It is, unless the object of your affection sees fit to lock you away in seclusion from all of society."
Elizabeth could not help laughing at such a prospect, though she felt that the conversation had become far too personal. She attempted to put an end to it by saying, "I do hope with all my heart, Colonel Fitzwilliam, that you and I may someday enjoy each other's company again."
Colonel Fitzwilliam could not help but notice the earnestness with which she spoke and the brightness in her eyes when she revealed her hopes. He smiled, "I do not doubt that we will both have that pleasure, my dear Miss Bennet."
She smiled in response and he then suggested to Georgiana that it was time to return to Rosings to prepare for dinner.
During her last night at Hunsford, Elizabeth could think of little else besides Mr. Darcy. That he continued to love her in spite of learning of her deception, she could not doubt. Being at leisure to now consider fully the implications of the colonel's strong belief that she and Darcy would marry, she could not help but wonder whether Darcy had said anything to him to give him such confidence in the prospect of a match between them. She drifted to sleep with hopes of meeting Darcy at some future time, perhaps at the wedding of Jane and Mr. Bingley, and of the possibility of a renewal of his addresses resulting from that connection.
The following morning, Elizabeth arose feeling a mixture of sadness and hope. As the rest of the household had not yet arisen, she took the opportunity for a last walk in the grove. She looked about her sadly, recalling all that had occurred on this visit. She remembered her walks with Mr. Darcy through these paths, how she had disliked him then! She knew that he had fallen from his horse somewhere in this vicinity and she contemplated on all that had happened since, and how dramatically her feelings had changed.
As she rounded a bend in the path, lost in these meditations, the tall figure of a man was revealed ahead of her. She gasped. He turned to face her. It was the very object of her troublesome reverie.
"Miss Bennet. I have been walking in the grove for some time in the hope of meeting you," he said as they approached one another.
"Mr. Darcy. Are you well enough to be out walking?"
He smiled, "yes, I am quite well so long as I make no sudden movements."
"You did not walk here all the way from the house?"
"No, my carriage is awaiting me in the lane," he replied, gesturing in the appropriate direction.
"What did you wish to speak to me about?" she asked apprehensively.
"I . . . was not . . . satisfied with the conclusion of our last meeting."
"Do you wish, then, to retract your forgiveness?"
Darcy smiled softly, "No indeed, Miss Bennet. You persist in willfully misunderstanding me. I wish only to beg for yours."
Elizabeth's surprise was evident. "Whatever for?"
"I spoke to you unkindly on our last meeting . . . and on the day of my injury."
"You had every right to be angry when we last spoke."
"No, I did not. You have shown me excessive kindness since my injury. I did not deserve your consideration at all after the way I addressed you last week, yet your actions since then have always been guided by compassion and goodness. It was wrong of me to blame you for my assumption."
"Mr. Darcy, if you truly wish for my forgiveness for your justifiable anger on Thursday then you have it, though I do not believe it is required. I thought it generous of you to relinquish your anger so quickly."
"It was a trial for me to be angry with you at all. I thank you for your generous forgiveness for this past Thursday, though I did ask it of you for last week as well, but that was a weightier transgression. I would understand if you could not forgive me. My behavior to you then - my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it - merited the severest reproof, I cannot think of it without abhorrence."
"I cannot disagree with your description, but yours was not the only behavior deserving of reproach. I abused you abominably. So detestable was my treatment of you that it caused you to behave irrationally and injure yourself." She began to tremble with feelings of guilt.
He quickly took a step towards her and took her hand in his. "You do not blame yourself for my injury?" Elizabeth looked away to avoid his concerned gaze. "It is not your fault. I should have known better. I did know better." She looked up at him tentatively, as he continued earnestly, "I am solely to blame for being injured." Suddenly realizing that he still held her hand, he relinquished it reluctantly. "Your behavior that evening cannot be faulted. You tried to be quick and gentle in your refusal, but I provoked you to speak further; and nothing you said of me was undeserved." Elizabeth was silent and looked away from him again. "But," he continued, "I have reason to hope that your opinion of me has improved. And, as I know you are too generous to trifle with me, I hope you will oblige me in confirming whether that is the case."
Elizabeth's heart began to race. "You are correct, sir," she replied, without looking at him. "I have come to learn that I was very wrong in my assessment of your character."
He smiled. "I know that Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam have made some disclosures to you which should have served to dispel your mistaken notions of my treatment of Mr. Wickham. And, we have already discussed and, I hope, resolved the matter of my unjustifiable and officious interference with Bingley and your sister." Elizabeth smiled. "That leaves only my arrogance, my conceit and my selfishness . . . ."
"But you are none of those things," she said with zeal, "I should never have spoken to you in such a way." When she realized how her sudden defense of him must appear, she blushed.
"No," he replied gravely, "you were right about me." Elizabeth was astonished. She wanted to protest, but was rendered speechless by his declaration. He continued, "I have been all of those things. I had no expectation, or even any desire that you might change your opinion there. In fact, I am indebted to you for opening my eyes to my faults. And, I have every intention of taking full advantage of the lesson that has been afforded to me by improving myself." Elizabeth continued to stare at him in undisguised wonder as each word that he spoke added to her astonishment.
When Darcy looked into her eyes, he finally discerned what he had been longing to see there. He took in a deep breath as she held his gaze. He had come to her this morning with hope, but her spontaneous and ardent defense of his character against her own criticisms - the very reasons she had professed she could never accept him - gave him something beyond hope. It gave him security. And, any doubts he might have still harbored after her speech were removed by the look she now gave him.
He lifted his hand almost involuntarily and brushed her cheek lightly with his fingertips. She was overwhelmed with the sensation of his touch, and she closed her eyes without realizing it. That was enough for him. The next thing she felt was the soft warmth of his lips touching hers tentatively. The sensation this gesture evoked in Elizabeth, unencumbered by the guilt she had felt the last time it happened, brought only pleasure. This felt so natural, so right, that she could not bring herself to stop him. After only the briefest moment, though, he stopped of his own accord. She opened her eyes to see him smile and he was both relieved and pleased when she smiled back at him. He knew she was his. "I love you, Elizabeth," he said.
Her heart flooded with relief and joy. "Still?"
"I hope you do not think my feelings so inconstant," then he smiled ruefully and said, "though I certainly hope yours will prove to be so. Can I suppose from your agreeable response to my . . . overtures of affection, that you have changed your mind about marrying me?"
Elizabeth smiled and said, "Yes, I believe I have."
Darcy let out an audible sigh of relief as an expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face. Elizabeth brought her hand to his cheek and, moving her own face very close to his, whispered, "I love you." There was no other possible response to her declaration than to kiss her again, more fervently than before. For her part, she was more than pleased with the manner in which he chose to express his delight with her declaration.
A few moments later they halted their pleasant activities and Darcy asked her, "how, Elizabeth?"
She was pensive for a moment, then said, "ever since last Saturday, I have learned the true worth of your character, not only from your relations, who said much in your favour, but from my own observation of you. You defended me admirably to your aunt, and you were uniformly charming during each of my visits with you. Your kindness and tenderness towards me, together with the reports of your goodness from your family, far overtook my feelings of dislike. I soon realized that you are the best man that ever breathed."
He chuckled softly and said, "I cannot agree. As I said, there was justice in your previous opinion of me. My behavior when I was in Hertfordshire was not as it should have been. I did feel as though I was above my company and I disdained them for it." He stopped for a moment of contemplation and then said, "I believe I was spoilt too much as a child, and taught to think meanly of all the world outside my own family circle. My parents were excellent people who taught me good principles; but I was left to follow them in pride and conceit. But you would not have any of that, my dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. Do you need any further proof of the justice of your prior opinion of me than my behavior towards you last Thursday evening? I offended and insulted you whilst proposing marriage, and then, instead of accepting your graceful refusal and quitting the house, I allowed myself to be ruled by anger."
"But if we had not quarreled, I do not believe events could have unfolded in such a way as to bring about the happy situation in which we presently find ourselves."
"The result achieved by my having fallen from my horse, then, was quite worth the injury I suffered in doing so."
"I did not mean to imply that I was pleased you had been injured."
"Did you not? I suppose I misunderstood you. Perhaps we should attempt a more decipherable form of communication?"
He kissed her before she could respond, but he felt the smile on her lips with his own. When they withdrew from one another, she said, "now you must answer my question. How did you learn the truth?"
"I remembered." She looked surprised. "Thursday morning when I awoke, I simply remembered everything, and I realized that what I thought had been a dream was, in truth, a memory." His countenance became sad as he recollected his feelings at the time. "It was quite devastating, Elizabeth. Everything I had hoped and planned for, my whole future was overthrown."
"I am sorry that the realization caused you such pain. I confess that I was unsure whether you would be relieved or pained by the truth. But if it was the latter, I had hoped to assure you of my regard upon making the disclosure."
"You could not truly expect that I would be relieved?" he asked incredulously.
"I considered it a possibility."
"I suppose it is no wonder after the things I had said to you. You had such doubts and yet your concern was for any pain I might suffer. And I repaid your compassion with anger."
Elizabeth raised a finger to his lips to quiet him and said, "That has already been forgiven and therefore should not be mentioned again."
"Another example of your generosity."
Elizabeth smiled. "And did you come here this morning merely to beg my forgiveness? Or did you intend any more serious consequences?
"You must know that I hoped to secure your hand as well. I had to speak to you before you left the country."
"But you waited until the last possible moment. Were you unsure of your feelings after realizing the truth or did you simply wish to keep us both in suspense?"
"My affections and wishes have remained unchanged at all times, Elizabeth. When I realized that we were not engaged and remembered all the things you had said to me, though, I had no hope that you might return my feelings. It was not until yesterday evening that I could allow myself to even consider the possibility."
"What happened yesterday evening to cause such a change?"
"I spoke to Colonel Fitzwilliam. The conversation began due to his excessive concern that I would be heartbroken by your feelings and inevitable marriage to Mr. Bingley."
"What?" she cried.
"I learned yesterday that my cousin has been convinced since Bingley's arrival here on Monday that you and he were attached; and, that you were in fact the woman from whom I separated Bingley. He even suspected that I did so for selfish motives." Elizabeth's astonishment was evident. This was an incredible revelation. How clear this now made certain references Colonel Fitzwilliam had made to her. Darcy continued, "once I realized what he was going on about I could not help but laugh. He did not believe my reassurances that he was mistaken at first. He believed that I was deluding myself. When I finally disclosed to him the identity of the true object of Bingley's affection, he ceased doubting me. Then he began to relate to me in great detail the conversations he had with you yesterday and Thursday. When I reviewed my own conversations with you in light of his revelations I began to recognize many hints of your feelings. I thought about it at length and by the time I went to sleep I was confident enough of the possibility that you might love me to resolve to learn the truth from you as soon as may be. I had made the mistake of being presumptuous about your feelings in the past and was wary of repeating it, but upon every review of the circumstances I could come up with no other conclusion than the one I desired. I remembered your concern and your tenderness in speaking to me on Thursday. I recalled your repetition of words that I had spoken when I had been overwhelmed by my feelings. I also knew that if you were still indifferent to me, you would not have sought my forgiveness. I considered carefully Colonel Fitzwilliam's revelation that you did not deny being in love. Since I knew you could not be in love with Bingley, I could only conclude that there was at least a chance that it might be me. The idea that you might have fallen in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam did cross my mind as well; but when I recalled your manner towards me I could detect nothing that would indicate such an attachment. I knew you would have shown signs of discomfort around me if that had been the case. All of the signs indicated that my hopes were justified, and now they have been answered."
He punctuated this speech with a kiss and then drew his beloved into an embrace.
"You have given this much thought," said Elizabeth.
"I have thought of nothing else," he replied.
They stood together in a silent embrace for several minutes until Elizabeth realized she had better return to the parsonage. They agreed not to make their engagement public until Mr. Bennet had given his consent, though Darcy would tell Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth would tell Jane. They parted reluctantly after exchanging a few more kisses and words of affection. Darcy returned to Rosings and Elizabeth to the parsonage with their hearts full of joy. Elizabeth undertook the journey that she had anticipated would bring her some anguish with a glow of happiness, reflecting contentedly on her situation the whole way to London.
Darcy's happiness was so complete that he allowed himself to be convinced to remain at Rosings at the request of Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam, in spite of his aunt. Darcy's sister and his cousin were delighted with his good news and neither could help but feel satisfied that their efforts had borne fruit. After another week, Darcy was well enough to travel to Hertfordshire. His interview with Mr. Bennet was short and to the purpose as Elizabeth had prepared her father for it by letter.
When he returned to London, Darcy took Georgiana to call upon Elizabeth at the Gardiners' home and Colonel Fitzwilliam accompanied him. Mr. Bingley was there, calling on Jane, and Colonel Fitzwilliam saw confirmation of Darcy's previous information of their attachment. When the engagement of Darcy and Elizabeth was announced that evening, Mr. Bingley was very surprised, and his glance at Colonel Fitzwilliam revealed where his speculations had directed him. Later, Elizabeth and Darcy privately expressed their mutual amusement of such a circumstance to one another.
Elizabeth and Jane returned home to Longbourn during the first week in May, where the former was greeted with excessive excitement from her mother and much more subdued expressions of hope for her future happiness from her father. Elizabeth spoke to him seriously and dispelled his doubts about the prudence of her choice.
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had returned to Netherfield at the same time, and the former was engaged to Jane within a month. The marriages took place on a clear, pleasant day in mid-August bringing every happiness to Mrs. Bennet's maternal feelings, and a mixture of pleasure and sadness to her husband. The two couples themselves lived out their days contentedly. The Bingleys remained at Netherfield only a year and then purchased an estate in Derbyshire less than thirty miles from Pemberley. For her part, Elizabeth was delighted with her new home, which was where Georgiana resided after their wedding as well. The two ladies came to love one another as true sisters in answer to Darcy's hopes. Kitty and Lydia made frequent visits to the homes of their sisters, but never together. They improved so much when apart from one another and under the influence of conscientious guardians, that they both earned the pride of their father by their improved manners, and the joy of their mother, by marrying well. Mary remained at home and eventually married a young man from Meryton. Colonel Fitzwilliam was a frequent visitor at Pemberley and was ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards himself from the Darcys who considered his actions in response to Darcy's unfortunate injury as the means of uniting them.
© 2003 Copyright held by the author.