We’ve still got a few chapters to go and yes, there’s still more heartache to follow. But every step on this path brings them closer.
Darcy growled in frustration as the words and numbers before his eyes blurred. His eyes would not focus; they were too strained from constant work. His back ached from hunching over his desk. Tossing aside his pen, he reached for his cup of coffee and grimaced at the taste. Cold coffee was his abhorrence. Hearing the clock chime midnight, he considered tossing another log on the fire and trimming his lamp to continue working through the night, but it was no use. One week of separation, and continual activity and work had done nothing to lessen the pain he felt at Elizabeth’s refusal.
This time a week ago, he confidently planned his encounter with Elizabeth. He would honour her request to know about his dispute with Wickham. It was not something he would speak with many about. He had known Bingley for years before he told him anything about his experiences with the cad. She would understand how much he respected, trusted and cared for her. Instead, he fulfilled only his own selfish impulses by kissing her and his brain was in too much of a fog to think coherently.
He felt as though he had been living in an eternal nightmare since she refused him. For Georgiana’s sake alone he went through the motions of life. He could not be angry at Elizabeth, though. Perhaps she had planned with Wickham to entrance him, he could not know for sure, but the fault was his. If he had never sought to interfere with Bingley’s life… If he had told her about Wickham earlier…
He had thought only of himself countless times in their acquaintance. He considered, at first, only how her connections and position in life would affect him. He had not considered at all how she would feel in his world of heartless vultures whom he despised. He considered only saving his friend from a marriage based on a fickle choice. Once he realized his actions were unwarranted, he had never considered how Elizabeth would have perceived them. One of his primary concerns about Bingley’s attachment to Jane was the shortness of its duration. It had not even occurred to him, before proposing, that he had known Elizabeth for an equally short amount of time. He had not trusted her with the truth about Wickham when he knew the man was up to no good and had known of her curious nature. He had wanted to preserve his pride. Now, he realized to fall in love was to lose all pretension and assuredness.
Resigning himself to another sleepless night of misery, he lit a candle and extinguished the lamp at his desk. After his father’s death five years ago, he found comfort in routine. He would go to his club on the morrow because that is how he passed Friday mornings. Blessedly, it would be nearly empty as it was still the holiday season. Then, he would sit in the drawing room while Georgiana played the newest pianoforte piece she worked on perfecting this week. His aunt had sent around a note today, inviting him and Georgiana to dinner on Saturday. Darcy wondered if Arlington would come. He always got testy this time of year with his parents.
And so life would go. One day at a time. Without Elizabeth.
The next morning came without a hint of sunshine. A cold rain greeted the busy city of London. Darcy entered his club thinking, at least, the foul weather would keep the dandies indoors lest they get mud on their boots. He looked around for some acquaintances and found a group having a rousing political debate.
“What do you think of these lunatics up North, Darcy?” An older gentleman named Mr. Morris, who served as a Member of Parliament for Nottinghamshire asked.
Darcy raised his eyebrows in question and another in the group, Lord Peters with a minor barony, fulfilled his inquiry. “The followers of the so-called King Ludd. Frame breakers.”
“I had not heard of more recent attacks,” he said.
“You may not have been in London, but it must be a concern in Derbyshire,” Lord Peters said.
“I was not at Pemberley,” said Darcy. “I have been visiting a friend in Hertfordshire. I have heard nothing of it from my steward.”
“You do not have any interests in factories, do you, Darcy?” Mr. Morris asked.
“A little, but as a magistrate I could be called on to judge in a case.” That he also had several collieries which powered the factories, he chose not to mention.
“Well, transportation for the crimes is not nearly enough. These are mad men! They are not satisfied with merely breaking the machinery. They want to kill the owners.”
“You would have compassion on them if you saw what their life has become, with factories stealing their livelihood,” a young man about Bingley’s age that Darcy did not recognize said.
“Be silent, Byron,” Lord Peters said and Darcy understood the man to be Lord Byron who, although he had inherited his barony at age ten, had spent years travelling. “Your soft heart will be the ruin of us all. Do you want to encourage rebellion like in France? There must be rule and order.”
Rather than continuing to listen to insults, Lord Byron left and Darcy considered his tenants. Many of them contributed to their income with crafting textile goods. He sold the wool from the sheep on his home farm to mills that he invested in with Bingley, and had a keen interest in their welfare, but many of his tenants harvested their wool and knit it in their homes. Even more, he knew of many estates that were losing farmers as young people increasingly chose to live in the cities and hoped to work their way up in the factories.
Bingley’s great-grandfather had been the son of a small freeholder and weaver but became a manufacturing inventor. He was one among many but managed to patent his creations through money won in a card game. From there, his innovations proved invaluable. His son moved up from the factory floor to an overseer and invested in several successful mills. Bingley’s father removed himself from daily overseeing the functions and intended to purchase his own estate but did not live to do it. The task now fell to Bingley.
The Bingley success story, and several like it, filled the imaginations of many ambitious factory workers. For them, this was an exciting era to live in and full of opportunity. However, for the men before Darcy, they only felt the fear of changing winds disrupting their own privileged lives. Fewer tenant farmers meant less rental income for the landowners. Many attempted to adapt by investing in industry and yet dissatisfied cottage workers could destroy all of that with the toss of a match. Lost income always equated to a loss of power, and there would always be men desperate to keep their scrap of it.
“To you it is a matter of pounds and pence,” Darcy said, “but you forget that to the workers on both sides it is a matter of their ability to live. We must learn to live in harmony. Consider why the frame breakers feel the loss of income so acutely. They are not living in the lap of luxury.” His eyes drifted to the buttons that strained against Lord Peters midsection. It was an expensively made suit and yet the man would soon need a new wardrobe, again, if he did not restrain his gluttony.
Morris shook his head. “Come, Peters. We will get nowhere with him. He is friends with a Bingley, after all.”
The other man agreed. “Then there is his uncle! Do not forget how he defended the Americans and their rebellion.”
“If we are at all lucky the next session will teach the upstarts—both weavers and the Americans—a lesson,” Morris said while leading Peters away.
Darcy sighed and called for his coach to be sent for. He had always been seen as tooliberal to the poor by the Ton, as was his father before him, but the debate only brought to mind memories of assisting the Harrison family in Hertfordshire. They were far from the disturbances of the North, but it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Harrison’s loom, that sat in the corner of their hearth room would be of no use. He wondered if Mr. Bennet and the other gentlemen of the area were prepared for the changes. The manufacturing craze had taken the Northern landowners by surprise, but the South ought to see it spreading.
Worse, the attitudes his peers had about their lessers was precisely why he had been concerned, originally, about a match with Elizabeth. Now, he recognized precisely how pretentious he had been. His treatment to those in Hertfordshire was nigh on unforgivable.
Arriving at his home, he found Arlington waiting for him.
“Ah, you emerge, at last,” Darcy said to his cousin as he handed him a glass of wine.
“My last hurrah,” the bleary eyed Viscount replied. He looked the worse for the wear from what must have been too much entertainment and not enough sleep over the last week.
“Last?” Darcy raised his eyebrows. Had Miss Bingley changed her mind?
“I finally visited her grave,” Arlington said softly and without meeting Darcy’s eyes.
Darcy’s surprise turned to astonishment. Ten years ago, Arlington had loved a young French émigré who worked in the Matlock household. Their cousin, Anne, had just come out and, at last, it looked as though the wishes of their families would be fulfilled. The arrangement between the parents had been planned since Anne’s birth. However, Arlington refused to submit to their expectations, and his father retaliated by cutting his allowance.
Miss Claire Du Val’s father had worked in the King of France’s household and was among the first to flee for Britain after the storming of the Bastille. Her father and mother were hired by the Matlocks in junior positions. Claire eventually became a housemaid. Her family was of absolutely no distinction and had little money. Arlington struggled with the thought of a life of poverty and Claire refused to put him in such a position. After months of consultation with a solicitor, it was learned that Arlington could sell a London house inherited from his mother’s line that the family rented out. They would not live in style, but the interest from the sale would be adequate to support them. Unfortunately, Claire had already quit her position in the Matlock household and lived with an aunt at the coast where she caught a cold which quickly turned to Scarlet Fever. Arlington had made it to her death bed, but there was nothing that could help her. He refused to speak to his parents for years and, until now, had never visited Claire’s grave site.
“Congratulate me. I am to be married,” he said without enthusiasm but raised his glass.
“You have been back to Hertfordshire as well, then?”
Arlington furrowed his brows and then settled them in understanding. “Ah, no. No, that was a misguided effort to punish my parents again.”
“They are sorry,” Darcy said. He did not always agree with his older relations’ values in life, but he hated the division in his family.
“I know,” Arlington said. “Claire is buried in Kent. Hertfordshire would be rather out of the way.”
“You went to Rosings,” Darcy said while leaning back in his chair. He never would have imagined Arlington would agree to marry Anne after all these years.
“Well, I do dislike the London ladies and Anne has rarely left Rosings.” He shrugged. “If I am to make a marriage without affection, I might as well please the family and save Anne from her mother. I likely saved you as well,” he said before taking another sip.
“I never would have agreed. Especially now…” he trailed off and looked at his wine. “I do not intend to marry at all.” The silence between them was deafening.
“Your pain will wane,” Arlington said at last.
Darcy returned to the sideboard to refill his glass to create distance between them. “Your Claire has been gone for ten years. As long as the woman I love lives, I cannot extinguish any hope through my own actions.”
Arlington mutely nodded his head. “Mother is including Anne and I in the engagement party she is holding for Richard and his betrothed. I know he plans on calling tomorrow before the dinner. Prepare yourself. Mother is expanding the guest list and has set her mind to matchmaking the last bachelor in the family.”
Darcy frowned and showed Arlington out. He went upstairs looking for Georgiana but did not find her in the drawing rooms. Instead, he found a letter in Elizabeth’s handwriting on the pianoforte bench. He doubted he would feel anything but pain at reading her words. No matter their ending, he was grateful for her assistance with Georgiana. Against his better judgment, he read.
My new friend, if I could say anything to you without regard to our situations in life or the duration of our acquaintance, I would caution you about unfaithful friends. Beware the cunning arts of flattering individuals. While we are young, it is so tempting to please others, but friendship is not worth the cost of integrity. Matters of the heart should not be consigned to material advancement. Be not in a rush to consider yourself in love, especially.
There were signs that Georgiana had read over that section quite often. The next lines appeared to be written in agitated spirits.
When I wrote the above lines, I could not conceive their being relevant to my own life. I have just heard dreadful news. My dearest friend has accepted a proposal from a ridiculous man, my cousin. He can do nothing to bring happiness to her life except through his position as a well-established rector and the heir of an estate. Of his eleven days in the county, he spent almost all of them in Longbourn. Not three days ago he proposed marriage to me—and was adamantly refused. They cannot love each other. They barely know a thing about each other’s temperament. How has my one friend, save dear Jane, had such different opinions about marriage all this time yet I knew it not?
She would have me believe she does it out of duty to her family and concern for them having to care for her. If that be the case, she might have married another gentleman. I declare this without reserve: There is nothing in the world, no attachment exists, where I would act with such self-interested motives. There can be no happiness in a marriage which owes its beginnings to dishonesty and scheming.
Elizabeth soon calmed herself and ended the letter. Darcy looked at the paper in confusion. How had she agreed to Wickham’s plot only days after writing this letter? The Elizabeth he knew, and confirmed in the letter, would not hesitate to call encouraging his suit to secure her sister’s engagement as dishonest. His grip on the paper tightened as he recalled, for the countless time, her arguments against him. They were on matters of honesty and integrity. While he did not doubt a person could be blind to their own faults, they could not feign the righteous indignation she expressed.
It taught him to hope as he had scarcely allowed himself to hope since her refusal. If she had truly refused out of her stated reproofs and not as part of a pre-ordained scheme, then he could hope to obtain Elizabeth’s forgiveness. He would show her he attended to her reproofs and would lessen her ill opinion. He would meet her again at Bingley’s wedding with no resentment of the past and there he would determine if he could ever hope to make her love him.
Elizabeth huddled near the drawing room window. It was a cold and cloudy late December day, but she needed the light to see her work. She ran her fingers over the smooth white fabric of an infant gown. She could not bring herself to visit the tenants on Boxing Day. Instead, Jane and Mary went to deliver the usual packages of coins, food, and clothes with sweets for the children. Her father grumbled about the boxes more than usual this year, but she had thought it was only because her mother was planning a lavish wedding breakfast for Jane.
Elizabeth could not stay away forever, though. Mrs. Harrison’s time was drawing closer and Elizabeth expected news of the arrival any moment. It was a cold time of year to bear a child and the three eldest Bennet daughters had taken the time to contribute to many blankets and clothes. She knew the tenants on her father’s estate were fortunate compared to many. Their charity trips were saved for Meryton residents rather than any Longbourn village dweller or tenant farmer.
As she worked, her mind turned again to the day she spent at the Harrisons’ with Darcy. Her heart ached to call him Will, but her mind refused to allow it. He was as generous as any man of his sex towards the poor in his care, she had no doubt, but she would have hated to be viewed as his newest philanthropic endeavour. It was more than her vanity and pride. She desired a marriage of equals, a partnership, as much as men and women could share one. If he could not respect her family or origins, how could there be unity between them?
Jane and Bingley conversed in the corner of the room. Their twin smiles were evidence enough of the love between them. A love Elizabeth believed she would never know. Inhaling, she determined to content herself with life. She would never work on baby clothes for her own. Instead, she would be the doting and spinster aunt as each successive sister married. Refusing the man, she loved made it impossible to view any other offer but as abhorrent.
Immersed in her thoughts, she did not see Mr. Wickham draw near until he greeted her, causing her to jump. “I am sorry to interrupt your solitude.”
She shook her head and forced out a lie. “It does not follow that the interruption was unwelcome.”
“I should be sorry if I did. I had thought we were becoming good friends,” he said with a disarming smile. Had she not carried the memory of another as first in her heart, she would say he was the best looking gentleman of her acquaintance.
“True,” she said. She had to agree she enjoyed the consistency of his presence in the absence of others she cherished. They both mourned their ill-treatment by Darcy in silent but shared camaraderie.
“Would you care for another rematch then?” he said and nodded to her father’s study.
A cloud passed by, blocking the sun again and Elizabeth realized the futileness of her attempts of sewing by sunlight on this day. “Very well,” she agreed and followed him to the library. Mr. Bennet only nodded at their arrival and returned to his book.
Wickham left shortly after completing the match—another win.
“It is nice to see you smile again, Lizzy. Even if you keep making careless mistakes in your game,” her father said before she left. “Besides everything else, I am excessively partial to Mr. Wickham for bringing you some cheer.”
“He is very amiable,” she admitted, but she had thought his mind inferior to the object of her affections.
“You get on very well. Very well matched,” she heard him mutter as she shut the door. As it did not seem an invitation for more conversation she did not ask for enlightenment, but she found it peculiar. Mr. Wickham could never afford to marry her and there was no attachment between them.
The next day, Wickham and several other officers were invited to dinner again as it was the last night with the Gardiners and Jane. They were invited into the library to sit with her father, as usual. Annoyed with herself for failing to pay adequate attention to her matches with Wickham, she vowed to focus on their guests.
When the other officers entered the drawing room, Wickham again invited Elizabeth to a chess match. She agreed and applied herself to the game and to the conversation. She knew it was easier to distract an opponent who felt obliged to speak. She asked many questions and appeared to find every detail fascinating. Wickham’s wit flew long and Elizabeth easily saw how he felt too self-assured with his abilities to check his failing attention.
“Checkmate!” She exclaimed and clapped, interrupting his story about winning a horse race when he was only ten years old.
He jerked back, stunned and surveyed the board. For a moment, his face took on a black look as though he were angry to lose, but then he threw his head back and laughed. “Your more animated conversation today was simply to distract me so you might win,” he accused, but smiled.
She shook her head. “I have no idea of what you are suggesting, sir,” she said with an innocent look.
He leaned forward. “I am accusing you, Miss Eliza, of trickery! Bewitchment! A man cannot care about a chess board when a lovely lady finds his conversation so interesting.”
His smile made Elizabeth feel the force of the truthfulness behind his words. She blushed. “It is only a game,” she said while putting away the pieces.
“Do not think that I am displeased. I admire you all the more for your cunning,” he said then winked. “My compliments to you, Mr. Bennet,” he said over his shoulder. “The lady is cleverer than any I have met.”
Elizabeth would have been cross at Wickham for his flirtatious praise had it not brought a smile to her father’s face when he had seemed so indifferent or angry of late. After taking his leave of the family, he bowed over Elizabeth’s hand when the others were not watching and kissed it. Immediately, she felt a panic seize her. She could never accept his attentions. Her only relief was that her aunt and uncle would leave for London on the morrow, and then her mother would not be inviting him so often. It was determined Jane would go with the Gardiners to shop in London and, while they invited Elizabeth as well, she declined. She would miss Jane, but she had no desire to go closer to Darcy’s presence.
She hated even more the thought that, as the day of Bingley and Jane’s wedding drew closer, so did the day she would see Darcy again. As she sat by herself before supper, it occurred to her that one day she would see him marry. Another woman would sew clothes for his children and Elizabeth would have to see it all. Worse than all that, she would see him gaze at his wife with affection without the smack of regret over that lady’s position in life.
Tears pricked her eyes. A handkerchief slid into her hand. She looked up to see Miss Bingley standing in front of her, blocking her view from the inspection of intrusive members of her family. The other woman said nothing, but neither did she look disgusted. Elizabeth quickly dried her eyes and handed it back to Miss Bingley with a slight nod. She was called away by Mary but gave Elizabeth a small smile before leaving.
She determined she must gain control of her feelings. All hope may be gone, but she could not repine having met Darcy.