I hope everyone had a good weekend. Does anyone have fun plans for June?
Elizabeth has some hard conversations and hard decisions to make in this chapter.
I know many of you wondered how Elizabeth could even think of refusing Darcy now that she knows she’s pregnant. I think this chapter will answer some of the reasons she is willing to entertain the idea. It would not necessarily mean total ruin of all her family. The girls would still be good catches to tradesmen. If they are rejected in their local company, they still have many comforts left to them. Additionally nothing lasts forever. Time is the great healer.
In studying real life examples of scandals, our 21st impressions might be incorrect. Out of wedlock births were very common place, and not just for lower classes. This is before the Victorian age where they pretended more that such things did not happen. I have found the eldest son of a duke who impregnanted the daughter of an earl and they did not marry until after the child was born–and only then with the help of the Prince of Wales (Frederick, George III”s father).
Over the next several days, Elizabeth tried her best to act her usual self around her family. She had to contemplate who to tell first and what to say. Knowing that it would take a week or more for her letter to Darcy to arrive, she determined that would be her first priority. Of course, she had no notion how to explain matters to him, especially in writing. On the other hand, surely a letter would be preferable to conversing face to face. Elizabeth hoped by the time he would reply or, even more likely, arrive at Longbourn, she would have decided how to answer the question he was bound to ask.
More than once in the next week, Elizabeth noticed Jane peering at her in concern when she thought Elizabeth was not watching. Finally, the time came when Jane asked her sister if all was well as they readied for bed one night. Elizabeth had determined she must confide in a few people, and Jane was the closest at hand, even if she were the least knowledgeable about such things.
“Lizzy, will you tell me what is ailing you? I know Mr. Jones said you would be well, but you are not at present despite no outward signs of illness. You have not been your usual self since you returned from Kent.”
“I am sorry to distress you,” Elizabeth said. “I will be well. Indeed, I am physically.”
“What is it that anguishes you?” Jane reached for Elizabeth’s hand and squeezed it. “My joy can only be half as complete as it should be when you suffer so.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I have done something quite terrible and am paying the consequences for it.”
“What can you mean?”
“This shall be a very long discussion, and I am sure it will shock you. Are you certain you want to hear it all?”
Jane insisted that she did. Elizabeth reminded Jane of Darcy’s proposal and his subsequent letter as well as her change of opinion about him.
“You have told me all this before, but I do not see why it should cause you such heartache. Do you regret refusing him?”
“Yes. No.” Elizabeth threw her hands up and shook her head. “I hardly know. Do you still think one should only marry for love? I remember you defending Charlotte’s marriage.”
“I think marrying for love is best for all parties. However, I do understand that others feel differently. Surely, you have not changed your opinion. Mr. Darcy is rich, and you now have every reason to esteem him, but that is not love.”
“I may not have a choice,” Elizabeth whispered.
“I do not understand.”
“As dreadful as my errors in understanding Darcy’s character have been, they are nothing compared to my conduct during the proposal.” Elizabeth blushed profusely. “I—he—we—.”
She paused a moment and willed the fierce beating of her heart to slow. “Has Mr. Bingley kissed you?”
Jane’s cheeks reddened. “I know some would say we should not indulge, but it is so terribly hard to be so deeply in love and not express ourselves.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I am not condemning you. Have there been any other liberties?”
“Of course not!” Jane said with widened eyes.
“I would not have scolded you if there had been,” Elizabeth said. “I am sure being so in love can make a person lose their better judgment. However, I have no such reason for my lack of sense.”
“What are you saying, Lizzy?”
Instinctively, Elizabeth’s hands fell to her growing belly. “I am with child. Do you understand what I have done?”
Jane gasped. “How can this be?”
Tears spilled from Elizabeth’s eyes. It was a relief and, at the same time, unbearably painful to speak of it. “I was insulted by Darcy’s proposal. I have told you how cruel I was in my rejection, but I did not explain it all. I goaded him. I was sure his feelings were imaginary, that it was all some joke to him. I said to him, ‘Even if my feelings were not against you, even if they were indifferent, you have said nothing that has impressed upon me there is any truth behind your declaration. A man with such coldness I could never marry.’”
Jane’s grip on Elizabeth’s hand tightened, giving her the strength to go on. “I only wanted to crack his armour. I had no idea what would happen if I succeeded or how helpless I would be against it. He had not been looking at me, but finally turned to face me again. I will never forget the anguish I saw in his eyes.”
“He said, ‘You think me too cold to be passionately in love? I will leave you forever, but not before you see the proof of how you have tormented me.’ He leaned forward, and I knew he would kiss me, but I did nothing to stop him. I wanted him to do it.” Elizabeth covered her face with her hands. “I am very wicked.”
“Why did you want him to kiss you?” Jane pressed.
“I have asked myself that question every day for weeks now. I do not know. I have always wanted proof that he was not as terrible as I thought he was. I wanted his approval. I wanted him to see me.”
“You wanted him to love you,” Jane whispered. “Maybe you have always loved him.”
“No,” Elizabeth cried. “I do not think so. I never thought I liked him. But when he kissed me, it felt so good that I did not want it to stop.”
Jane gave Elizabeth a sad smile. “I can understand that sentiment.”
“But you would never do with Bingley what I did with Darcy.”
“I have never been as passionate as you.” Jane’s brow furrowed. “Why did Darcy not do the honourable thing? Why are you not now engaged?”
“Pride goeth before the fall. He offered, and I refused again. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I hoped there would be no consequences, and I could pretend the whole thing never happened, even if it meant never marrying anyone.”
Jane shook her head. “I will not scold you. You have blamed yourself and have been very confused. I am sure you tried to do what was right. Why should you tie yourself to a man that you despised? That would be no way to right the wrong. But what will you do now?”
“I have written to him, but you know it may be several weeks before he replies or can return. I am to the point where I cannot hide it for much longer. I will have to tell Papa. If there is any hope of not bringing reproach on your or our other sisters, I am sure I will have to be sent away. I am hopeful the Gardiners can assist with that as it was already planned for me to journey with them.”
“And when Mr. Darcy does return and ask you to be his wife again? Will you accept this time?”
Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. “I must think about it more. Can we be happy together? We have done nothing but argue and misunderstand one another. I do not want to raise this baby in an unhappy home. I am sure you remember Sarah Williams. She was always treated well by everyone, even though she was the natural child of Mr. Williams.”
“Do you really think you cannot find a way to be happy with Mr. Darcy? If he loves you as much as he said, then he would be quite willing to compromise with you. I know you can be stubborn, but you can also be sensible and admit when you are wrong. Surely, you can make it work.”
“There is another reason to consider refusing,” Elizabeth said. “This would damage Darcy’s reputation and, by extension, his sister. You know what pain she has already endured. Could I do that to them? I still fear that Darcy would come to regret a marriage with me. As much as I hated to hear it, he has much to lose by attaching himself to me. He would grow to resent me.”
“You are thinking of Mama and Papa, are you not?” Jane said sadly. “I have had to think about the exact same thing. You know why Charles was persuaded to leave Netherfield. It stung to hear him confess that. However, I do not think I could love and respect him as much as I do if he had not been sensible to the drawbacks to our attachment. He searched inside himself and overcame them. His love was greater than the potential loss. I believe that we can nurture that and keep regret from growing.”
“Yes, but he came to you of his own free will. Bingley did not feel honour bound to you. He did not do it to save your reputation.”
“Do you really think Darcy’s love could die so quickly?”
“He had to overcome much just to admit that he was in love at all,” Elizabeth answered. Drawing up her courage, she told her sister what she feared most of all. “I remain unsure about his sentiments from weeks ago, let alone now. And yet, despite all reason and logic, he has grown very dear to me. I would be in great danger of acute misery to marry him and see his regard for me sink to hatred.”
“You do love him,” Jane said.
“I do not know,” Elizabeth said. It was a weak protestation. In her heart, she knew it was only a matter of time. It was coming on her like waves over a beach, and she was powerless to stop it.
“Do not be so afraid, Lizzy.”
“I am terrified,” she admitted. “I am selfishly anxious about myself and the baby’s future. I am sure Darcy would see to all of our physical needs, but I do fear marrying him. I am also worried that if I refuse him, our sisters might be ruined.”
“I suppose it is true that some might never accept them into their family, but I do not think any of them will mind that loss. It is not as though we live in London and have the scrutiny of the ton. Surely, our Meryton neighbours would not shun us. Our sisters all have many years before they must fear spinsterhood. Additionally, I am sure they will always be welcomed with Charles and me. I will offer the same to you. If you choose not to marry Darcy, I will speak to Charles. We cannot have you shunned in some cottage somewhere.”
“You are too good! Too kind!”
Jane yawned. “I wish I knew Mr. Darcy’s heart to put you entirely at ease. Do you suppose he has confided in Charles? Would you like me to ask him if he knows anything?”
“Please do not.” Elizabeth would never survive the mortification if Darcy no longer loved her, and Bingley knew of her feelings.
“Very well.” Jane yawned. “I suggest we sleep now. When you talk with Papa, I can sit with you if you like.”
“Thank you, but I think I must do it alone.”
The word resounded in Elizabeth’s ears. Would she always be alone? If she refused to marry Darcy, it would be best if she were away from her family. They might be able to hide the scandal, or at the very least, others would not be so mean to her family if she did not reside in the home. Despite Jane’s offer, it might not be feasible for Elizabeth to live with the Bingleys.
Another fear consumed Elizabeth’s mind. Could she bear to give up the opportunity of happiness with Darcy out of fear of what could be? Jane fell asleep quickly, but it was another restless night for Elizabeth.
Mr. Bennet slammed his fist on his desk, causing Elizabeth to jump. She had confessed her situation to her father and not been able to meet his eyes. She had been unsure how he would react. She knew that she was bringing him pain, all the more because she was his favourite child.
“Who is the father?” Mr. Bennet demanded again.
“I—I have written to him, and I am sure he will do the right thing.”
“The right thing would have been to never touch you before marriage! I cannot believe this of you, Elizabeth.”
His voice was raised, but Elizabeth had waited until her mother and sisters had left the house to walk to Meryton. The servants were all busy in other parts of the house. There was no one to overhear Mr. Bennet’s ire.
“I do not know that you should marry such a scoundrel.”
“Please do not talk so ill of him,” Elizabeth pleaded. “He did not force himself on me. There was no long seduction. I was a very willing participant and allowed my passions to lead me astray. By the time my mind caught up with me, it was too late.”
“You have no reason to fear that I am excusing you of blame. What shall we tell your mother and sisters?”
Elizabeth finally met her father’s gaze. His face was red with anger, but fear shined in his eyes. “I was already meant to go with the Gardiners this summer. I know I must be in seclusion until I am married.”
“If! You mean to say if, for any man who would part with you after such an encounter and not see that it was all arranged—”
“I refused him!” The words burst out of Elizabeth’s mouth before she could stop herself. She could not bear to hear her father abuse Darcy. She clamped her mouth shut.
“Pardon me?” Mr. Bennet blinked in confusion. “Did you say that you refused to marry him?”
“Yes.” Elizabeth squeezed her hands together. “I was confused and ashamed. I thought he only proposed out of honour while there was still every hope that no one would ever know.”
Mr. Bennet scrubbed a hand over his face. “All is lost, then. I am happy to hear that you did not throw yourself at a young man so entirely devoid of morals and principles as I had first feared—but if you have already refused him, I do not know that he could bear the insult to his pride to ask you again.”
“I have worried about that as well, but I am confident he will ask again. His honour demands it.”
“Have you not considered that he may be engaged to another? Four months is more than enough time for him to have found another lady.”
Elizabeth blanched. She had not considered that.
“We must proceed as if marriage is not a possibility.”
“Can we not wait to hear from him? I do not think—”
Mr. Bennet held up a hand, and she ceased speaking. “Will you name him? You seem very certain of him after knowing him for only a few weeks.”
Attempting to explain to her father how she lost her virtue to Mr. Darcy when the last he had heard she hated him, would only complicate matters. It would not give her father any peace of mind or assurance. Elizabeth remained silent. Bennet sighed.
“Then, we will continue as I say we should. If I recall correctly from Gardiner’s last letter, he was needed in London by mid-August and could not go as far as they had first planned. However, if they were traveling expeditiously instead of leisurely, I think there is enough time for him to escort you to Scotland and come back.”
“What will we be told when I do not return with them?”
Bennet’s shoulders slumped. “Perhaps Meg can stay on with you. You will need a woman with you until your time comes at any rate. We can say you grew too ill to travel. Eventually, we can say that you married, and he died in the war.”
A tear trickled down Elizabeth’s cheek. “And we will not have to worry if the babe never looks the right age, for I will not be allowed to visit, will I?”
“Someday, child. Some day.” He withdrew several sheets of paper from a drawer in his desk and laid out his writing supplies. “I must write to your uncle. We will have him procure a London solicitor to arrange matters for you, so Phillips need not know the truth.”
“I am sorry, Papa,” Elizabeth said.
“We will all be sorry about this.”
He looked so sad and mournful that Elizabeth’s heart broke. He did not deserve the pain she had brought him. “I do think he will come for me, and he is more than worthy of my hand. It is my character that is not good enough for him. However, if I am wrong and must bear this on my own, with the unmerited generosity from you and the Gardiners, I will do better. I have learned that my understanding of myself was extremely flawed.”
She walked around to his side of the desk and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Bennet laid his pen down and held her face in his hands. “I had wanted better for you, my dearest daughter. If you have stumbled, then I must be most derelict in my parenting. I wish I could erase all this trouble for you, but many things in life are beyond even a parent’s ability.”
“I know,” she said. “I also know that I have grieved you and disappointed you in such a way that nothing can repair. A mere apology will never be enough. Do not blame yourself for my folly.”
“I am angry and will be for some time, Elizabeth. However, that does not mean I do not love you. If I seem harsh, it is only because this is the way it must be for everyone’s sake.”
Elizabeth nodded, knowing that her relationship with her father had changed forever. She had been the apple of his eye and now could be the downfall of the entire family. She fully understood that she would deserve any censure he gave her, and he had no obligation to be considerate of her feelings in the process. Despite his anger and disappointment, his kindness wounded her. It would have been easier to bear if he had ranted and raved.
“I will send this by express and expect an answer by nightfall.” He eyed her middle. “Regardless of what Gardiner says, you must be gone soon.”
Again, Elizabeth nodded her understanding. She slipped to the door. When she hand touched the handle, she looked over her shoulder to see her father bent over the paper, lines creasing his forehead. She spoke just loud enough for him to hear her. “I love you, Papa.”
As she awaited the Gardiners’ reply, Elizabeth wondered if it would be one of the last times she would say the words to her father. She wondered, too, if there was another man to whom she could trust her heart.