My husband’s out of town for a week. The first of many such trips. It’s a lot easier with my mom living with us than it used to be but still, I’m going to need this reminder this week. I can do anything. And so can you! What would you do if you could do anything in the world?
I’m still waiting on iBooks and the paperback will be a few more days. I’ll post a few more chapters here but am also working on creating a page where you can read the chapters in a more streamlined way.
Thank you ever so much for your miniature of my beloved B. I do miss him terribly at times. Have you recently heard from your friend, Lord Cathcart’s daughter? I have read of plague in Moscow and worry for the Hamiltons as well as the Queen. It would be devastating for Russia to lose their enlightened monarch. She should serve as an example to our own King and Queen of German blood.
The Monday after Easter, Elizabeth awoke determined to walk. Fresh air would clear her mind of the excruciating evening spent at Rosings the night before. It was their first invitation to the house since the arrival of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and Mr. Collins was beside himself in both pleasure and anxiety. Elizabeth shook her head. It seemed more likely that her cousin was related to her mother rather than her father given they both thrived on feelings of anxiousness.
The night was only tolerably better than previous visits to Rosings. Lady Catherine invited Elizabeth to play the pianoforte and seemed to take pleasure whenever she erred. In the course of one sonata, she referenced Anne’s imaginary but undoubtedly superior abilities at least a dozen times. Occasionally, Darcy would glance in Elizabeth’s direction. His blue eyes burned with intensity, likely with his disapproval of her. She was saved conversation with him, however, for Lady Catherine frequently called his attention back to herself. Elizabeth was not sorry for it. She had often heard of Miss Darcy’s superior abilities, and while the girl was everything sweet, the brother must be in the habit of hearing only the best performers — his aunt said as much.
Just before leaving, the post arrived. It was too early for a reply from her aunt, but there was a letter from Jane. Mr. Collins was away on parsonage matters, and Mrs. Collins and Maria had gone shopping in the village, allowing Elizabeth the freedom to take the letter on her walk and read in privacy.
Wednesday, March 25, 1812,
Gracechurch Street, London
Mr. Bingley called today.
I do not know what he planned to say, if anything, for his actions in the shop or the reason for his never returning to Netherfield or calling earlier. I refused to see him.
I have waited and hoped every day since November 27th for him to arrive on my doorstep again. I will no longer wait for his explanations. The time for that is long past.
Do not imagine me angry or sad, my dear sister. I am alarmingly at peace with the matter. Some blessing will come of this.
I hope all is well in Kent. Give Charlotte and Maria my love and greet our cousin for me.
Elizabeth was incensed as she left the Parsonage for a fitful walk, heedless of the rain clouds quickly gathering. She walked along the path to Rosings. As soon as she was out of open view from the main road, she intended to run.
As she walked, she muttered to herself. “I am sick of them all! Charming men who prey on the silly and vain! Other charming and amiable men who prey on the sweet and innocent! Senseless goats that rattle on about nothing! Indolent fathers who sit in their libraries! Confusing, arrogant and wealthy young men who think they can order everything to their own choosing!
As she had weeks before, Elizabeth exclaimed, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?” She certainly wished she could kick a young man or two the way she kicked the rock the day she heard Wickham’s insane boast. And a mountain might be climbed and therefore vanquished. But young men would apparently always persist in deceiving and confusing her.
“Miss Bennet!” the last voice in the world she wanted to hear called out, much, much too cheerfully.
She turned as though she did not hear him, but it was for nought. His long legs had him meet with her in a moment.
“Miss Bennet, I am surprised to see you out walking. I was just about to call on the Parsonage.”
“The Collinses and Maria are out,” she replied testily. She thought she saw a hint of a smile and it angered her again. Whether he felt himself better than them or just did not want to practice his conversational abilities on them, it was nearly the same thing.
“Perhaps, I could join you on your walk before it rains?” He held out an arm.
She looked up at the sky thick with swollen clouds. She had not realised until that moment how soon it was likely to begin raining. Then why should he call now? “No, I had not realised the weather had turned so severely. It is why I turned back.” She took a step closer to the Parsonage, but he spoke again.
“Have you had an agreeable day?”
What a ridiculous thing to ask! No day was truly agreeable here. She enjoyed Charlotte’s companionship, but the presence of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine detracted from all enjoyment she could find indoors. And then her letter!
“Not especially, Mr. Darcy. I have just had the most distressing letter from Jane. Weeks ago, she saw your friend Mr. Bingley and his sister outside a shop. They did not see her, but she easily saw Mr. Bingley lavishing attention on a young lady she believes was your sister. It is evident Jane was considered not good enough, and Bingley was just toying with her feelings the entire time.”
Darcy paled at her words, but she pressed on. “This is not the first time she has been treated as such from your friends. In January, Jane called on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They claimed they never received her letters announcing her presence in town, and did not seem very pleased to see her. They waited over a month to return the call!”
“That is horrible…”
“But exactly what you wished, is it not? You need not fear; your friend is now entirely free from my sister. Not only were you able to separate them in Hertfordshire, but you were able to conceal her presence in town. Jane has the gentlest soul! She does not deserve such ungentlemanly treatment! Do not worry, sir, she refused to see Bingley and will never consider him a suitor again.”
“She visited with Miss Bingley?”
Elizabeth clenched her fists as he seemed to latch on to the least important piece of information she relayed. “Yes, nearly as soon as she arrived in town. Hardly the actions of an indifferent lady. Or do you think her forward and mercenary now?”
“It is not what I think that matters.” He took a step backwards, and she advanced toward him.
“Is it not? And then I think of another one of your good friends. George Wickham is a scoundrel, and you knew it! You grew up with him and saw his ways, yet never warned the people of Hertfordshire when he arrived.”
“Did you not explain only yesterday how little faith anyone in the area has in me? Gentlemen do not go about slandering other people without the most extreme cause of provocation.”
“You left us defenceless!” Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. How did he not see it? As a man, and a wealthy one, he simply could not understand how little freedom ladies had.
Darcy scoffed. “Hardly! You said you would judge a man by his words and actions. What truly gentlemanly behaviour has Wickham displayed? He has entered the militia, and anyone who believes all men in a red coat are upstanding is the worst kind of ignorant and silly!”
Enraged as he dismissed her concerns, Elizabeth stepped forward again. “Since nearly the first moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with an immoveable dislike. I was frequently a victim of your constant arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. It is not lost on me that the common element between the ungentlemanly men I mentioned is you.”
Darcy’s jaw tightened. “What do you mean?” He spoke with extreme coldness.
Elizabeth deflated. She had done it again. She aimed to cruelly wound him to mask her own pain. He had explained, and it made a certain amount of sense, that he found it difficult to converse with strangers. She had seen enough truth in Darcy’s looks the other day to know that he would never be complicit in any of Wickham’s actions. And did he not mention his concern over Bingley’s steadfastness? No quality could be further from Darcy’s character.
Elizabeth had always thought she behaved correctly, in light of the poor example from her mother and youngest sisters, but now she saw how her own actions may have made Bingley and Darcy feel her family too improper. She should have recommended herself more to Bingley’s friend, for her sister’s sake, rather than attempt to cleverly mock him and provoke him. Her manners were at fault as well, and her spirits lead her wrong.
In her silence, he assumed a meaning of his own. “I understand your meaning entirely.” He turned to leave her.
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth pleaded and walked after him. “I am sorry I spoke in anger. I cannot claim to know you well, but I know you are nothing like Wickham and, whatever your faults are, they are certainly not the fickleness of Mr. Bingley.
“Pray, forgive me. I have only recently recognised my own behaviour, and my poor treatment of you must have contributed to your feelings of the inadequacy of my family. I am uncertain now if I would desire Mr. Bingley to return my sister’s affections if his heart is not to be trusted, but it grieves me to suspect that I cost my dearest sister, such great love.”
Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “What mean you now?”
“That your justified dislike of me motivated you to separate my sister from your friend.” She hung her head low in shame.
“I will not be accused of such again! Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish to marry you!”
Immediately, Darcy paled as though he realised what he said and wished he could collect his words back. Crickets hummed, and birds chirped, proving the world went on existing, and yet Elizabeth could not fathom a sphere in which Mr. Darcy wished to marry her.
“What?” She asked, shaking her head to dispel the insanity which made her mishear him to such an extreme degree.
A look of warmth and gentleness took over Darcy’s face. “I realise you dislike me, and perhaps rightly so. I did endeavour to separate your most beloved sister from my friend, though not as you suppose. And for this, you may never forgive me.” He paused as though drawing strength. “I am acutely aware my sentiments are unwelcome to you, but I would be pleased if you accepted my hand in marriage.”
Elizabeth stared at him, quite disbelieving. “You cannot be serious.”
“I am quite convinced you are the perfect woman to be my companion in life.”
“How can you possibly think that?” She blurted out. All they did was argue! Elizabeth shook her head. It was still entirely unfathomable. “Why?”
“Why?” He started as though he never expected to be asked such a question. He raised his hands up and helplessly motioned at her. “Because of you. Because of the thousand and one unique things that make up who you are! You are kind, intelligent, witty, clever, playful, lively. I admire your stubbornness and loyalty — even when it’s directed away from me. You are the perfect companion for me in every way.”
Elizabeth shook her head once more and held up her hands. “You are mistaken, sir. I tease, and you hate it. I am silly and outspoken, and you are silent and taciturn.”
“It does not follow that I enjoy those qualities about myself or must dislike that you are quite the opposite.”
“I have no fortune, my relatives are in trade and my family is improper.” Darcy’s initial silence spoke volumes to her.
“I will not lie and say these things did not hinder my regard. I did think marriage to you imprudent, at first, but I have conquered those objections.”
“Then why are you only now speaking of it?”
“Instead of when I knew you in Hertfordshire?”
“Because of every reason I had against Bingley’s match with your sister. I needed to be sure of my regard. Six weeks is not a very long acquaintance. I could not trust my judgment in my affections.
“I knew I enjoyed your company more than any other lady’s, but what if it were mere infatuation? You deserved more than that from a spouse. And as I acknowledged with Bingley’s situation, there would be some — even in my own family — that would dislike the union. I would not put you through being slighted by spiteful members of the ton, and my aunt, if we did not have a strong foundation.
He began to pace and ran his hands through his hair. “In the last week, I attempted to ascertain your feelings. As I explained with regard to your sister, it was difficult to make out how you felt in Hertfordshire. Here I thought, I had hoped…but it must have only been my vain pretensions.”
Elizabeth trembled slightly as she considered the compliment of being his object of affection. “What is it you want from me, Mr. Darcy?” They had reached the Parsonage gate.
“I ask nothing of you. What I want most you cannot give. I hope it was not selfish of me to declare my sentiments, but I could not be accused of disliking you again. I could not allow you to think ill of yourself, or that I found you unworthy in any way.”
Thunder cracked, and the clouds unleashed their bowels at last. Darcy closed his eyes, Elizabeth believed against the pain even her face must cause him now. “Good day, Miss Bennet.” After a slight bow, he departed.
Elizabeth would have stood still in her bewilderment longer, as she stared at Darcy’s back, if not for the rain. Instead, she dashed into the house and grabbed two umbrellas stored at the entry.
“Mr. Darcy!” She yelled loudly over the rain.
He momentarily ceased walking before shaking his head, as though chiding himself, and continuing onward. She called again as she ran to him and this time he stopped. He had not walked far; he was walking rather slowly, Elizabeth thought. He turned around just as she reached him.
“Mr. Darcy, please will you wait in the Parsonage until the rain passes?”
“Your cousins are not home, it would not be appropriate. I believe the last thing you would want is gossip about a compromising situation.”
Elizabeth blanched but pressed to her secondary plan and produced the other umbrella. “I knew you would decline out of stubbornness, if nothing else. Here, take the umbrella.”
Darcy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes, that part of my character you would have made out very well, of course!”
He took the umbrella and made a small bow, but they both turned as they heard a carriage followed by Mr. Collins calling. “Make haste, Mrs. Collins, Maria! Make haste!” Darcy began to walk again, but it was too late. “Mr. Darcy! You must come inside.”
“I thank you, Mr. Collins but I would not like to get your furniture damp. It is better I continue on to Rosings. Miss Bennet was kind enough to loan me an umbrella when she saw me outside.”
“Walk back to Rosings in your wet clothes? Certainly not! Why Lady Catherine would never forgive me!” Her cousin was truly panicked, but Darcy looked towards Elizabeth.
“My cousin is correct. We would not wish you to catch your death. Please come in, Mr. Darcy.” He gave her a sad smile, but acquiesced.
Darcy was quickly ushered upstairs to dry off, and a servant sent to retrieve fresh clothing for him from Rosings. By the time he returned, dinner was being served, and Mr. Collins insisted Darcy remain. He spoke little during the dinner, which Elizabeth fully understood, between the rain and their conversation, he must be desperate to leave her presence.
She was surprised when he cleared his throat and addressed the table. “My aunt sent a note with the servant. She invites the whole party to dine at Rosings the day after tomorrow.”
Mr. and Mrs. Collins and even Maria exclaimed in delight, for they had not been invited to Rosings with the same regularity now that Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived.
“Eliza, is this not grand news?” Charlotte asked her. Elizabeth readily saw Darcy slyly observing her.
“Oh, yes. It is always a pleasure to dine at Rosings.” She hardly knew what else to say.
It was a simple dinner of a single course and before the hour was through Darcy was returned to Rosings in Lady Catherine’s coach that was sent for him. Elizabeth wisely pleaded a headache and excused herself upstairs before her friend could question her.
Darcy returned to Rosings and pleaded illness rather than join the ladies. He was surely the weak link in the Darcy line. Not only could he not even propose to a lady correctly but she had no idea that he had long admired her. His pride thanked the Lord he never confessed love to her.
He and Anne had developed a plan. Darcy would take the time at Rosings to court Elizabeth, and prove that he could treat her as an equal and listen to her concerns. He would persuade his aunt to secure an invitation for her to Knole Park. He would support her interest in architecture. All the while, Richard would work to separate Wickham from the Regiment in Meryton, thereby keeping the Bennet sisters safe from his dastardly schemes.
Darcy would confess his story to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. His pride did not like exposing himself and acknowledging he was not without fault, but he would further prove to Elizabeth he was not ashamed of her relations. While in Meryton, he could make amends to the shopkeepers of the area. Additionally, he would encourage Bingley to return to Netherfield and, if Miss Bennet wished it, resume their courtship. Once in Hertfordshire, Darcy could properly court Elizabeth. She could see his merits after he had secured the happiness and safety of so many in her life. Not that she would marry him out of gratitude: he did not think she would do such a thing. But that it might enliven her feelings toward him.
If all went as planned, he would be married by Michaelmas. They would honeymoon at Pemberley and go to London for the Season. She would be an instant success and fit in the Bluestocking Club perfectly. They would be the envy of the ton, disgustingly happy. Georgiana would become so fastidious in desiring a love match, and confident in the friendship of Elizabeth, she would not wed for many years.
Yes, Darcy had verily planned the next five years of his life. Of course, that was without even speaking to Elizabeth and discussing her desires, let alone understanding just how deep her dislike for him went.
She had been quick to apologise today but had firmly believed he disapproved of her. Overcoming her prejudice and the wound he served her pride would not be easily won. Matters were progressing nowhere with Wickham as Richard had yet to hear from his comrade about reassigning the rogue. Nor had Elizabeth received a reply from Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Gardiner yet.
To hear that Bingley had cut Jane in a shop had been more than Darcy could believe. He had thought his friend too embarrassed to speak and pulled away by his sister. Darcy ought to have anticipated that Bingley might call on the Gardiners to make amends. He ought to have warned his friend or been with him. He should confess to Jane Bennet that it was he who suggested Bingley not return to Netherfield. That he alone was the cause of her heartbreak, not Bingley. From the sound of how she turned Bingley out on his ear, Darcy rather thought he also would not be welcome at the Gardiner house. How would he speak with Mr. Gardiner about Wickham?
Elizabeth could never love him now. Not when he had ruined, perhaps forever, the happiness of her most beloved sister. At the very least, he could not expect Elizabeth to choose him, when she did not love him, over her sister whom she loved more than any other person on this earth.
A light tapping on his door broke his thoughts. “Leave it,” he cried to the maid who brought his supper tray.
The maid continued to knock. “I said leave it!” he called louder.
The rapping did not cease. Shooting from his chair, he began yelling before he pulled the door open. “Leave it before I tell your mistress you’re incapable of following simple commands!”
He wrenched the door open, and his cousin’s small frame stood before him. She held her chin high.
“Am I supposed to be frightened of your bellowing?” she asked and bent her head, edging her way under his arm and into his chamber.
“Anne, what are you doing?” he hissed, scanned the hall and then quickly shut the door.
“And you should know our servants hear enough screaming from my mother that your antics will not scare them. They are far more terrified of her.”
“Anne,” Darcy pressed fingers to his temples. They had avoided each other for the better part of a decade. Since he cleared the air with her, they had slipped into the easy friendship of their youth. However, he now desired solitude.
“No, I won’t leave you alone with your mercurial thoughts,” she said and sauntered to a chair.
Darcy stared at her. He had not spoken his thoughts aloud.
“You did not have to say anything. Anyone would know you wish me gone.” She scrutinised his face. Her thin brows joining together. “What have you done?”
Darcy walked to his sideboard and poured himself a glass of port. He considered not answering her. “Do you care for anything?” He motioned to the contents.
Anne licked her lips. “I take a glass of sherry in the evening.”
Darcy filled a tumbler and brought it to her. “You, no doubt, know that I was caught in the rain and had to stay at the Collinses. I dare anyone to be in good spirits after that.”
Anne looked dubiously at him. “Rain never hurt anyone. And the lovely Elizabeth was there, was she not?”
“She was,” he answered neutrally and took a sip of wine.
“Usually, after a morning with her you can bear anything even my mother dishes out, and tonight you are out of spirits because of Mr. Collins? No,” Anne shook her head. “Do not forget that I am Mistress of Hearts. You quarrelled with Miss Bennet.”
“When have I not quarrelled with her?” Darcy bit out in disgust. It was as Bingley had tried to say. All the times Darcy thought they were merely debating and learning about each other’s character, she was arguing with his false pride. He had been too arrogant to see it. “I have ruined everything.”
“If you frequently argue then how can this one ruin everything?”
Darcy’s heart lurched at the hope Anne offered. “You do not understand. She has so many faults against me.”
“Are they true?”
“They are…complicated,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw.
“Are they true,” Anne repeated slower and raised her brows.
“Very well,” Darcy said and put his glass down on the nearby table. He blew out a deep breath and leant forward, earnestly meeting his cousin’s eyes. “A significant number of them are. There — I am an arrogant ass!”
Anne shrugged her shoulders. “Better she knows it now.”
Darcy sagged against the chair. “Where’s your sense of familial pride. Should you not be outraged?”
“Think of who I live with,” Anne said and took a sip of her sherry. “We have arrogance in abundance.”
“Perhaps, but I am attempting to reform,” Darcy said.
“Bah,” Anne cried. “Do not reform. If she cannot bear your faults, she should not marry you.”
“I unjustly accused her sister of being a fortune hunter,” Darcy levelled. “I encouraged a friend who I knew depended upon my advice to leave the house he leased without a word to the neighbourhood and not return.”
“Ah, I see. And if he had decided to marry the lady instead, would he have needed you to tell him what to say?”
Darcy stared at his drink. “If he did then I would have ruined that too, no doubt.”
“Darcy! Do you mean to say…that is… no, it’s impossible!” Anne exclaimed.
Looking up from his glass, Darcy met her gaze. “That I proposed to Elizabeth Bennet today and she refused me? Naturally. I have the grace and tact of an elephant tiptoeing on ice.” He swallowed his remaining port in a large gulp.
Anne guffawed. “An elephant tiptoeing on ice! And people find you droll!” Darcy scowled further. “Come. The lady rejected her cousin and now stays under the man’s roof.”
“For the sake of visiting her friend,” Darcy said.
“Yes, and you are assisting her with Wickham. Once you return to London, you might ease the way between her sister and your friend.”
“I do not know that she can ever forgive me,” Darcy said.
“What has changed in the last day?” Darcy related the contents of Jane’s letter. “Excellent,” Anne nodded. “She should turn him out. He should work for her admiration! As should you!”
Anne stood and paced the room. “You men think everything is owed you on a silver platter! I read it time and time again in my article.” She paused upon seeing his raised brows. “Yes, gentlemen write to me. You accepted my help.”
Darcy did not bother telling her that it was hardly the same thing as accepting the advice of a stranger. “What would you tell another?”
“Time will prove that her sister will either recover from her heartbreak or that the gentleman was never worthy. You will not be the fair-weather sort of suitor. Between previously meeting her London relatives, and then your plan to speak with them and her father regarding Wickham, you will be in her sphere of acquaintance. Stay the course.”
“What if she wishes to never see me again,” Darcy said while shaking his head.
“See how she behaves for the rest of her time here. Do not force her but you must remain constant. She has had too many men prove they are unreliable. You can be the rudder in her ship. Help steer her safe even in troubled waters.”
Darcy did not immediately reply. Perhaps all was not as hopeless as he had first considered. She had seemed to forgive him before, and in general, forgiveness was not an overnight act. It often took quite some time. And time had persuaded her to visit Kent even when she detested her cousin. A slow smile spread across his face.
“You see I am correct,” Anne said and began walking toward the door.
“Really, Anne,” Darcy gave her a false frown and shook his head. “Navy references?”
“Nautical,” Anne corrected and winked. She inched open the door and upon determining the hall clear, promptly left.
You have asked for my advice regarding a proposal you found repugnant. You were right to seek my counsel. Despite your mother’s worries, do not wed where your heart is not attached. You have overcome too much to be the victim of alliances and convenience. I will write her directly and speak with her when I am next in town. I have enclosed volumes by the late George Edwards. With six hundred drawings to duplicate I believe it shall keep you busy for some time.
Elizabeth sat on the chair in her bedchamber at the Parsonage. Charlotte had taken care to be an excellent hostess, despite the tension in their friendship, and her favourite flowers were frequently in a vase on the table. Also on it were a small stack of books borrowed from her friend. They must be from the Rosings library because Mr. Collins did not keep such works. Elizabeth nearly snarled recalling the conduct books he thrust at her. She picked up the novel she had been reading, it held no interest to her tonight.
What would Darcy’s opinion on such a book be? Her memory flashed to their dance at the Netherfield Ball, he had asked her opinion of books then, but she was so determined to be displeased. Even during her stay at Netherfield, there was once a discussion on female accomplishments, and after Miss Bingley’s ridiculous list, Darcy added a woman should have an improved mind through extensive reading. Elizabeth had held a book in her hand at the time, although she was too preoccupied with the discussion of the room to pay any heed to the volume. She had thought then he was mocking her, but it now seemed he was genuinely interested in her opinions.
After Darcy’s insult to her, she was determined to never dance with him. At each refusal, she was quite aware she was likely the only woman in the world to do so. She thought the revenge rather complete when she was able to refuse him twice to his once.
When she could not refuse him at the Netherfield Ball, she made it quite an unpleasant dance for him. She knew the mention of Wickham would provoke him. She blindly trusted Wickham because his tales supported what she most wanted to believe about Darcy.
She had spitefully blamed him for her sister’s pain because she did not want to see anyone else’s responsibility in the matter. Bingley was fickle. Jane was too reserved and too naive to see his sisters’ machinations. Her family behaved improperly, and yet it was quite accepted among her community while they all blasted Darcy as the most disagreeable man in the world off his behaviour in less than one evening. To those outside their circle, however, her family behaved so badly it may have put off an agreeable suitor for her most deserving sister.
What a humiliation! Was nothing in the world as she thought it?
Mr. Darcy wished to marry her. He, who she had thought was proud and arrogant, who must have seen the greatest beauties of London for years, who could have fortune and rank, wanted her. It was humbling.
She knew Wickham was not to be trusted for several weeks now, but still, she did not discount all of his words against Darcy. Even in the last few days, she persisted in believing he would separate Bingley from Jane only due to desiring fortune and circumstance for his friend. Her opinion of Darcy was so wrong that the entire time she had been convinced he wished to keep Bingley from her sister, he was examining her character.
The times she had been certain he had looked at her in contempt, he admired her from afar. It seemed every time she took offence to something, he had only attempted to compliment her. Now, she could even see the times he had tried to court her good opinion. All the while she had courted prejudice and willful ignorance! How blind she had been!
Elizabeth’s eyes had been opened, however, and it was a new world to her. She could not repent her words on his behaviour in Meryton, but neither could she ignore the unjust accusations she made. To compare him to Wickham, to blame him for Bingley’s defection was terribly wrong of her. She also could not forget the look of pain when he acknowledged she must refuse him or the resigned air in which he tendered his aunt’s invitation.
She must prove that no matter her silly ignorance she could behave correctly. She could hardly determine if she wished to welcome his attentions, but she would prove she was worthy of the respect and esteem he held for her. She was through acting like a spoiled child over insults, imagined or real.
Elizabeth’s pride did shirk, momentarily, at having to apologise and confess to her vanity, but her honour demanded it. Darcy deserved it, and her duty required it to ensure his help to her family. For them, she would bear any degradation. Her only hesitance was should he not wish to converse on the subject, or worse, seek to blame himself. Additionally, she admitted to a minuscule amount of concern that he had only offered his help out of thinking he helped his future family. She told herself that was merely old prejudice and he could only act out of honour. Darcy would not revoke his assistance at disgust with her incivility or hurt pride at her rejection. However, he was a mortal and who could have the strength to frequently meet with the woman who so callously spurned him?
Choosing to not ask herself why it mattered if he had already overcome his preference for her, she decided to write a brief note of apology to give him in case conversation proved impossible. She could only hope he would overlook the impropriety. She had the greatest trust he would not betray her.
Sitting at the little table in her room she drew out a sheet of paper from her writing box and began to swallow her pride.
Dear Mr. Darcy,
I pray you will forgive me for the terrible breach in propriety I am making by writing this letter but, like a great many things, men do not hold a monopoly on honour and mine demands I apologise for my unforgivable words yesterday. I hope we can put our differences behind us as we work on our project.
Despite Anne’s words of encouragement, Darcy believed he could not treat his last argument with Elizabeth as no different than the ones before. He had not understood at the earlier times that she had specific accusations against him. He rather thought she was testing to see if he felt similarly about the world. Now, every conversation they ever had seemed to take on a new light.
At Lucas Lodge, when she declined dancing with him it was revenge for his first insult. Indeed, even at Netherfield, it was. Had she doubted ladies could have good sense and accomplishment or merely that he would deign to know them? On that score, she had been nearly correct. Not for lack of trying, he had to wade through hoards of empty-headed ladies to find the diamonds he sought. Apparently, when they argued over pride and vanity, she meant to expose him as having both.
Darcy stretched his legs out. She was not faultless, but she had apologised. Some would wonder how he would think her worthy if she disliked him and desired to only debase him, but she was not flighty or conceited. She did have pride and for her to apologise must have cost her quite a bit.
He pushed aside any residual anger he felt at Elizabeth’s complaints and assumptions and instead focused on her feelings. When Georgiana had been hurt by Wickham, it was as though Darcy’s own heart bled with her. Elizabeth now felt that for Jane and it was through his methods. Having noble intentions did not excuse the misery he caused. An apology was in order.
The maid arrived with the supper tray, and as Darcy ate, he ordered his thoughts. He had always expressed himself better in writing than with words. Once finished with his light meal, he walked to his escritoire and pushed aside letters of business. His sister and aunt had written, but he would read those letters on the morrow. Tonight, Elizabeth deserved his entire attention.
Withdrawing the writing items and arranging himself as neatly as he could, Darcy paused before he began. It was surely a silly thing to entreat the Almighty for, but he wished to infuse his regret and love into this letter so he might start again with Elizabeth.
Darcy crossed it out and blew out a sigh. That was far too informal. Balling up the paper, he tossed it aside.
No, too cold and formal. How did one begin a letter to a lady he wished to wed? To one he loved but did not offer his heart? A woman with whom he had a long acquaintance, and yet, she would say they were not friends. Annoyed, he settled for the same name all the world called her.
Dear Miss Bennet,
Words can scarcely convey the regret I feel at learning for the many months of our acquaintance you have been under the misapprehension that I disapproved of you. I understand there may have been mitigating factors, and I know in your generosity you would excuse some of my behaviour, but allow me to take the blame I must. My honour demands it. Had I behaved as I ought to have, none of this would now be an issue. As such, I apologise to you, and when I meet with your relations, I shall entreat their forgiveness as well. I understand, too, that I have harmed the citizens of Meryton and when an apology is in my power, I will make amends.
On the matter of making my sentiments known to you, I ask your pardon as well. A gentleman does not force his attentions on a person and had I not been so careless and presuming, I would have known better. I hope I have given no lasting distress.
I remain your humble servant and wish to aid you should you ever need it,
Darcy’s eyes scanned over the words. He hoped to give it to her on the morrow, although letters between unwed ladies and gentlemen were not entirely proper. Nor was the letter exactly genuine. Amongst the things he apologised for there were many things, he was not the least sorry for. His mortified pride hated that he had proposed to a woman who had never seen his admiration or desired his notice, but he felt freer having spoken some of his heart. All the days he had met under the guise of discussing Wickham — and he did worry about the cad — Darcy had had nervously courted Elizabeth. Now, when he met her next, there would be no deceit between them. When he was attentive to her, she would know his honourable intentions.
Of course, it might be that she never wished to speak with him again.
Tossing his pen aside, Darcy peered at the clock in his room through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. If he arose at his regular time, he would have less than six hours of sleep. Before trudging to his bed, he reached for his mail, duty calling to him. As he undressed for the evening, he paused now and then to make out words.
Georgiana was in good health and enjoyed her newest pianoforte master. Mrs. Annesley was a balm to her wounded soul. Richard visited often, and Bingley and his sister called nearly daily. Darcy wished he knew if Georgiana was forming an attachment. He did not believe for a moment that Bingley had any interest in his sister if he was so in love with Jane Bennet as to call on her at the Gardiners’ and without an introduction. Nor did he think Bingley would encourage a lady while his affection lay elsewhere. However, Georgiana was quite young still. Darcy chuckled imagining her face upon such a claim.
Boots and stockings removed, Darcy moved on to the Baroness’ letter. He told himself he would alert her and Mrs. Annesley to the possible complication of Georgiana’s attachment to Bingley, who was rather spoken for. Lady Darcy reported that she had found a new candidate for the Bluestocking Club and asked after his progress. He had come under the guise of asking the Duchess of Dorset’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Jenkinson, to join. Her father was a noted astronomer and had raised his child to appreciate the stars. Mrs. Jenkinson, in turn, relished in her father’s profession. As the wife to a very wealthy and influential politician, Mrs. Jenkinson could be a very powerful patron of science. Lady Darcy also bade him to hurry his “adventure at the Dragon’s” and choose his bride. Darcy frowned. She was not usually the aunt to wish him to the altar in a trice.
Pulling his shirt over his head, he accidentally knocked his still full glass of port and cursed. Dashing to the wash stand, he grabbed the towel to clean his mess. His aunt’s letter had fluttered to the floor, but by the time he had everything settled again, he decided to wait and finish reading his correspondence later. Sleepiness pulled all strength from his body, and he stumbled toward the bed as though he were drunk. Collapsing in it, he slept soundly until awoken with a start as his valet entered at the usual time.
Do not fall prey to melancholy again. Let education be your comfort. I will quote Mr. Akenside, who we so lately lost.
Man loves knowledge, and the beams of truth
More welcome touch his understanding’s eye
Than all the blandishments of sound his ear,
Than all of taste his tongue.
The following morning, Elizabeth left the Parsonage earlier than before. Mr. Collins had said no more insulting words, but it would take far more than a day for her to forget his unjust reproofs. Instead, he glared at her as much as possible. Now and then he asked after her reading selections. Charlotte suggested Elizabeth peruse Lady Catherine’s library. It called to mind Miss de Bourgh’s words on the subject as well.
Elizabeth blew a wayward tendril from her face as she laboured up the hill behind Rosings at an unladylike speed. If life had been different and treated women as equal as men, Jane would inherit Longbourn. Elizabeth and her younger sisters would find professions to make their way in the world. Instead, as females, they were little better than property and expected to marry. As such, their mother viewed every male as a prize. With Elizabeth’s combination of vivaciousness and good sense, she made friends of both sexes the most easily out of the Bennet daughters. However, even she had to admit she viewed male specimens primarily from the consideration of marital partners. Mr. Darcy, who had dismissed her for the enjoyment of a mere dance let alone as a suitable spouse, earned her immediate loathing. While she had fumed at the injustice of his words, she had done the same to him.
Immediately, Bingley seemed a probable match for Jane. Collins’ unsuitability had been clear since his first letter. Wickham had seemed promising and worth her interest, but his income too insufficient. She had seen as much early enough in their acquaintance that it required no exertion to prevent her heart from falling in love with him. By the time her Aunt Gardiner had suggested the same at Christmas, Elizabeth was in no danger. Instead, he had become a gentleman Elizabeth believed she could call a friend when she had been disappointed by so many others in so few weeks.
Yet, now Elizabeth knew Wickham was a cad while Darcy had layers of complexity she had never considered. He had not been innocent in forming Bingley’s defection, but neither had he forced his friend’s hand. Elizabeth acknowledged, that if she saw the imprudence in greater affection for Mr. Wickham after a month’s acquaintance, surely Bingley had as much right to reconsider his attentions toward Jane after the same passage of time. She did not like that Jane had been found unworthy. It was not fair, but perhaps it was just.
Perhaps Bingley — and even Darcy — had disliked admitting the truth of the Bennets’ situation in life just as much as she had Wickham’s. Of course, for Wickham, Elizabeth had fixated on Darcy as the cause for Wickham’s distress. The Bennet ladies had no conveniently-placed person to blame for their situation. Some nameless ancestor many generations ago first put an entail on Longbourn and each generation had continued the provision. Elizabeth had never wasted her anger on what was such a common practice. But now, she detested the men who could decide so entirely the fate of her family. She hated the master from those centuries ago who now wounded his own kin, and she hated the men walking among them who never passed laws considering the care of their mothers and daughters, their sisters and wives.
At this moment, she hated so many. She hated nameless creatures near and far. She hated Charlotte and her husband. She hated Bingley for hurting Jane. She detested Lady Catherine and her insipid daughter. She loathed that her father never reined in her younger sisters and mother. As such, not only were they now prey for Wickham, but had likely cost Jane the affection of Mr. Bingley. She abhorred Darcy — mostly for not being the arrogant man she had assumed. However, she reserved her greatest repugnance for herself.
Although raised in a large family, Elizabeth often needed solitude to gather her thoughts. Jane was the closest thing she had to a confidant among her sisters, and there was much they did not see eye to eye on — such as Charlotte’s marriage and, until recently, Miss Bingley’s friendship. Jane saw goodness everywhere. In contrast, Elizabeth harboured far less charitable thoughts about the world although, unlike her mother, she also had the good sense to not air them. Nor did she think like Mr. Darcy. He saw little good but equally disapproved. Elizabeth enjoyed the follies of others. Sir William could never be called intelligent, but he had always been jolly and friendly. Despite her affront, Elizabeth knew he meant no harm with his words the other week regarding her marriage prospects.
Elizabeth settled herself on the grass and laid out her drawing materials. Thankfully, no wind blew. She looked at the view and saw Westerham. In the distance, she could see the tallest spire of Knole House. She had read that it was considered a Calendar House. Very rare, they were built with references to the calendar. Some homes had three hundred and sixty-five windows and fifty-two rooms. As one of the largest homes in England, Knole House reported three hundred and sixty-five rooms, fifty-two staircases, twelve exterior doors, and seven courtyards.
Elizabeth was not impressed by the wealth of the structure and its furnishings or artwork. Nor did she care about the noble family who resided there. Once the property of an Archbishop of Canterbury, it had long been in possession of the Dukes of Dorset. Instead, she was intrigued by the architecture. How much engineering would it take to build such a massive home? What unique secrets did it hold?
Elizabeth loved the architecture of centuries past. She tired of the symmetrical lines of the current fashion. Recreating Greek and Roman spaces never seemed to fit in England. It seemed far too artificial to place those buildings here as though one would mistake Kent for Italy. Additionally, she enjoyed the unexpected and incongruities in life. She lamented that society stood rigidly, and their expectations of behaviour were no different than their tastes in buildings. Everyone must fit into certain moulds. Like a mason pouring clay into his cast, any undesirable excess can be scraped off and cast aside.
The Bennets were hopelessly a family of excesses. They nearly exceeded their income with their impulsive purchases. They exceeded acceptable manners by unreserved feelings and high spirits. Even Mary, although quiet, gave in to her feelings too much by choosing to ignore others and read or desired to sermonise at inappropriate times.
While Elizabeth reined in her emotions better, she felt them intensely. She had disliked Darcy immensely, and imprudently welcomed Wickham’s lies. The only one who acted with any sense was Jane, and yet, it seemed to only break her heart. Darcy had said that both he and Bingley could not determine if Jane had any feelings for Bingley beyond friendship. It appeared Charlotte had been correct and Jane should have been less reserved. Now, after so many months of separation, it seemed Bingley felt nothing for Jane.
An alarming though built in Elizabeth’s mind. In comparison to all other Bennets, Jane was very reserved. It would not take much to consider her reserve, in light of such a family propensity for liveliness, to be emotionless. Elizabeth had not acted as foolishly as Lydia, but she did mock Darcy and Miss Bingley often, and frequently to their faces. Indeed, she could not hoist the blame of her family’s behaviour on others. If Elizabeth had acted more carefully, then perhaps Darcy and Bingley would have taken more care to investigate Jane’s feelings. They would see that of the five daughters, two were different. Instead, Elizabeth’s poor behaviour could have directly affected her sister’s chance at happiness with Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth ceased her sketching and pulled her knees to her chest, resting her head atop them. She had, at last, restored some of her opinion of Mr. Bingley. Darcy was now excused from nearly all complaints she had against him. If she could forgive Bingley and find him innocent, then Darcy was by extension as well. Her only complaint that had any merit was his behaviour the night of the first ball, and that he had not only explained but apologised for.
Now, Mr. Darcy attempted to help her regarding Wickham and his possible schemes against her family. She ought to forgive him for his first slight. He had more than made up for it with his attention to her since then. It was not as though he paid every lady in Hertfordshire or Kent the same attention.
The thought which should have soothed, gnawed at her. Was his kindness to her due to the guilt he felt? His absence today in the grove was a testament of such. He would have nothing to report yet and had no need to speak with her. In such a situation, she ought to be grateful, but she could not be. She would rather have merited his good opinion and respect. Instead, she was nothing more than a call on his honour. If she were less selfish, she would release him but not until after she learned the truth of Wickham and heard of Lydia being safe.
As the sun climbed high in the sky, Elizabeth gave up her intentions to draw. It now cast shadows over her view, and she rather thought it did over her life as well. Her family was whole and healthy. No calamity had struck them, and yet it did not mean they were happy or content. Nothing short of a crisis would jerk any of them out of their behaviour and, for that, shadows loomed over their sunlight. When Elizabeth had gathered the mental fortitude to return to the Parsonage, she stood and vowed she would be an exception to her family. Unlike her drawings of old buildings, which a rare contemporary man might find value in replicating, Society would level people off and force them into their rectangular moulds then paint them all with the same shade of stucco. She had better amend her ways now before she was too old to do so.
Darcy paced in the grove awaiting Elizabeth. The day before he and Anne had gone over some possibilities of his conversation today. In the past, he had felt too nervous and had allowed Elizabeth to steer their conversations. He did not miss that such behaviour did little to recommend him to her. She frequently seemed annoyed at bearing the load of discussion. Beside her sparkling wit and lively teasing, he must have seemed dull and cold. If it were not for her request of assistance regarding Wickham, Darcy had little delusions that she would desire to spend any time in his presence. He had been inclined to think it ungentlemanly to press his advantage there, but Anne had insisted all was fair in love and war.
At last, he recognised her figure as it approached in the distance. He felt his lips turn up in a grin and, as she was too far away to see the effect she had on him, for one delicious moment he allowed himself to feel without rebuke. The moment passed too quickly, and as she came ever closer, he chided himself to calm his racing heart and arousal. Scaring the dickens out of a maiden with lust in his eyes and body would not help his suit. Memories of their one embrace, which she had been kind enough not to slap him for, were reserved for once he retired to his chambers for the evening.
Belatedly, he recalled Anne’s direction that he not stop and stare at her. He turned and began walking, quelling the urge to hail her.
“Good day, Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth called, and he heard the sound of her steps quicken.
Turning, he bowed. “Miss Bennet.” He began to turn and out of the corner of his eye saw her smile fall. “Would you care to walk with me?”
In the past, he had offered to escort her. The phrasing of his words was entirely proper and yet were such that she had little choice in the matter. Anne had recommended that he allow Elizabeth more power.
Elizabeth appeared surprised but smiled shyly as he extended his arm. “I would. I wish Charlotte or Maria walked more,” she said as her small hand wrapped around his arm.
Although their skin did not touch, he felt a spark just the same. Glancing to his right, he wondered if she did as well. She appeared more flushed than usual.
“I had thought you preferred solitary walks,” he said.
“I do,” she nodded. “However, that was in Hertfordshire with Longbourn being so full and noisy. Here…” she trailed off and bit her lip.
“What is it?” He asked gently, hoping she would confide in him again.
“My friend and her husband have a very strange marriage.” She shook her head. “No, that is not right. I suppose it is rather average, but it is not what I would wish to have, and I know not how she bears it!”
“Ah,” Darcy said. “And this makes you seek to be out of doors more often than usual?”
She cast her eyes to the trees. “I have found that I greatly prefer the Kent countryside. After all, I do not know when I shall view it again so I should take it in as often as I can.”
“And the effects of early spring are more…shall we say, interesting than a country Parsonage.”
“Precisely,” she nodded and grinned. “You must feel similarly. All of this,” she motioned to the woods beside the lane, still partially barren, “must appeal more than the splendour of Rosings.”
“Aye,” he said. “So few understand.”
Elizabeth’s step slowed, and he glanced down to her. She shook her head as though clearing thoughts but a look of wonder remained. Had she been surprised to hear they felt similarly about such things?
“I believe you have an added inducement which I do not,” he said and with his free hand motioned to the sketchbook she held. “Is there a particular view you prefer?”
“What makes you believe I sketch something other than manicured gardens and landscapes?”
“We are not walking in the direction of manicured gardens, and there is little view to draw yet.”
“And you do not find it unladylike?” Elizabeth asked with a challenging tone and arched eyebrow.
“Why should a lady have different interests than a gentleman? Or that there be less variety in the things that interest them. I ought not to have presumed it was a view at all. You may prefer some grand historical moment.”
“You have put much thought into this,” she said and eyed him suspiciously. “What would you draw?”
Darcy stroked his jaw before replying. “Methought I saw my late espoused saint Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave, Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave, Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom wash’d from spot of child-bed taint Purification in the old Law did save, And such as yet once more I trust to have Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind; Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin’d So clear as in no face with more delight. But Oh! as to embrace me she inclin’d, I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.”
“How sad and yet beautiful,” Elizabeth said.
“Milton,” Darcy shrugged. “It was my father’s favourite after my mother died. They had seen Herr Gluck’s opera Alcestis the night I was born. Do you know the story?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Alcestis loved her husband so much she volunteered to die in his place.”
“Yes,” Darcy agreed solemnly. He had never thought of how backwards such a story was until he considered the woman beside him. He would lay down his life for her. It should never be the other way around. Of course, now was not the time to discuss such matters. “If I had the talent to draw, I think I would portray the scene of her reunion with her husband. Of course, the difficulty is not merely in creating figures and scenery. It is capturing the emotion. I had often seen my father mourn my mother and wish her to life. It is an image that is ingrained in my mind.”
“He must have loved her very much,” Elizabeth said. She sounded regretful, perhaps because her parents did not have the same relationship.
“Yes, he did. I believe it was losing her which made him enjoy Wickham’s company.”
They had reached the top of a hill. Darcy led Elizabeth to a bench. He had long ago left the safety of Anne’s suggestions of conversation. How ruinous to court a lady while regaling her with maudlin stories of your mother’s death and father’s bereavement!
“Speaking of Wickham,” Elizabeth said and smoothed her skirt before gripping her hands. “I do not know that my father will read my letter immediately. Have you heard from your cousin?”
“Yes, forgive me for not mentioning it earlier.” Elizabeth’s brow was furrowed, and Darcy wished he could kiss away the lines of worry from her forehead. “He has been detained. There has been an outbreak of illness, and he is taking duties for another colonel. Instead of being able to visit his contacts, he must write them and await replies.”
“Your suggestion to visit my uncle now has greater merit than I had first credited.”
“Do not worry over the carriage. I have spoken with Anne, and she will secure a maid to chaperone you in the carriage when we depart.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, but Darcy thought he sensed a grudging acknowledgement. She did not like to be indebted to him.
“Over there,” he pointed to a tall spire in the distance, “is Knole Park. My aunt is friends with the Dowager Duchess’ mother, the Dowager Countess of Liverpool, who frequently stays at Knole. The Duke is still at Oxford, and his mother maintains control. The Dowager Liverpool often enjoys battling with my aunt on the matter of her sons vs. Lady Catherine’s nephews.”
“Oh my,” Elizabeth said and covered her mouth to muffle her laughter.
“Of course, Liverpool inherited the earldom nearly a decade ago and has served as Home Secretary. Richard and I can hardly compare.”
“And the other son?”
“Jenkinson is also in politics. He also volunteered for the Austrian Army in ‘05. Richard quite reveres him. He married about two years ago, has one babe and another on the way.” Darcy smiled at the vision of marital harmony Charles Jenkinson and his wife made. “His father-in-law is an accomplished astronomer. Mrs. Jenkinson has interests there as well.”
“How fascinating,” Elizabeth said. “And is the other Mrs. Jenkinson, that is Miss de Bourgh’s companion, a relation?”
“Yes…she is the first earl’s natural daughter.”
“Ah,” Elizabeth blushed.
“Jenkinson and his wife are visiting. We have an invitation to dine there in a few days’ time. I believe my aunt could be convinced to invite the Collinses and their guests.”
Elizabeth’s eyes went round at his words. “Truly?”
“Lady Catherine delights in exposing her favourites to better society.”
“But a duchess?”
“She bows to her mother, who was born the daughter of a squire. The Dowager’s brother-in-law is George Dance, the architect. She invites her family to the estate every Easter.”
“George Dance is there?” Elizabeth said in a voice full of wonder and hopped off the bench. She slowly approached the edge of the hill and stretched forward a hand as though she could touch the spire.
Darcy followed her. This was why he loved her. Meeting a humble architect meant more to her than duchesses and countesses. Investigating an old house meant more to her than trinkets and baubles. And while the coveted Society in London taught their daughters to conceal their feelings and emotions, to suppress everything they enjoyed for the sake of conforming to a mould, Elizabeth Bennet now gazed at a distant hill with wonder and joy. Darcy had never wished more than that he could pull her into his arms and kiss her with abandon. For then, he might have that lightness touch his soul. He suppressed a groan with a cough, and Elizabeth turned her head.
“I must seem very ridiculous to you,” she said with mirth in her eyes.
“Indeed, you do not. Ridiculous is how I describe Lady Catherine. Or do you think you are of the same disposition?”
Elizabeth’s eyes rounded and then she laughed. “I did not believe you ever teased!” Her normally brown eyes turned green with her amusement, and a sparkle in them remained even after she ceased laughing.
“Perhaps, I am learning,” he said. “What a tutor you are!” Darcy watched in horror as her smile fell slightly.
She clasped her hands behind her back and walked toward the bench. “You should take your aunt’s advice and practice more.”
Rather than dwelling on her rebuke, he caught hold of Elizabeth’s hint that Lady Catherine had disapproved of her in some manner. “I apologise for my aunt. I cannot conceive she found you wanting in any way.”
Elizabeth took up her sketch book and ambled toward the path. “Oh, I am not offended. I daresay she controlled herself mightily. For I gave her much ammunition and she only found one thing, thus far, to suggest I improve.” She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “As you have had the displeasure of hearing me perform you could attest that I do indeed need to practice the pianoforte more.”
Darcy lengthened his stride so he might walk beside her. “Your performance was lovely. I scarcely recall a more enjoyable evening from my time in Hertfordshire.”
Elizabeth first raised her brows and then knit them together in confusion. “It is certainly nothing compared to your sister’s abilities,” she said.
“You have not heard Georgiana play and know it only by reputation.”
“This is true,” Elizabeth said. “Do not think that I have not learned from my experiences and mean to judge her without merit. However, I did meet her, and I have heard her speak of her love for music. It is my belief that no lady will spend such time on something if she has no talent.”
Darcy searched for the correct reply. For, she was mistaken. He could not name a dozen ladies who indulged their interests and yet everyone he ever met was cried up as accomplished. It was not that the term was wrongly applied and their endeavours inferior. Surely they could all paint china far better than he ever could. Elizabeth simply had no understanding of how rare she was in the world.
He watched as she hummed a tune and trailed a finger along a bush just beginning to bloom. She looked wholly unspoilt and pure. What did she know of the darkness of high society? He had found her family inferior, but it was really the men and women of the ton who forced their children to cast aside their preferences. Parents used their children as chess pieces, plotting the next familial alliance and ways to improve their standing or financial gain.
While Darcy had taken offence at Mrs. Bennet’s designs on his friend, she had not forced her daughter, as beautiful as any London lady, into a match at a younger age. Nor was Bingley mean or deficient in abilities. Elizabeth had explained Darcy was disliked in Meryton. The Bennets had not suggested Jane attempt to entice Darcy; they apparently cared something about their daughter’s happiness. Neither had they forced Elizabeth to wed Mr. Collins, if what Anne had said was true.
“You have grown reticent, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth interrupted his thoughts. “And have quite the fearsome scowl on your face.”
“I am sorry,” he said. “You have the benefit of having met my sister and no longer cling to the prejudices you first had. Might you tell me something of your sister?”
Anne had suggested Darcy take an interest in Elizabeth’s family to display his respect for them. Elizabeth stumbled, and Darcy grasped her elbow to keep her from falling.
“My thanks,” she said hastily. “You wish to speak of my—my sisters?”
Darcy looked at the path before them. “I do not know that we will have time to discuss them all,” he said and winked.
Elizabeth grinned. Lord, he felt like he could move mountains when she looked at him like that.
“Very well,” she nodded. For the next few minutes, Darcy listened as his beloved explained the gentleness of her eldest sister. As Elizabeth talked, he could feel her love for Jane. He had known, since Elizabeth walked to Netherfield, that she worried over Jane but could now appreciate how Elizabeth depended on her sister. He conceded, from Elizabeth’s explanations, Jane deserved the devotion. His regret for interfering with Bingley doubled.
They reached the Parsonage gate. Elizabeth turned to him. “Will you come in, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy pulled out his watch fob. “I regret I cannot at the moment, but I will call on the morrow.”
“Very well,” Elizabeth said. “Thank you for the pleasant walk,” she genuinely smiled, and Darcy felt his heart race.
Impulsively, he grabbed her hand and bowed over it. “The pleasure was mine, Miss Bennet.” As he lifted her dainty gloved hand nearly to his lips, he thought he heard her gasp. Feeling just bold enough to meet her eyes when he rose, he saw a flicker of confusion before he turned and left.
I am delighted to hear of you have seen our cousin’s new baby girl. A pity she would rather wish for a son. I would suggest she spend more time with her aunt as I know my mother has always wished to be closer to her brother-in-law’s children. When you marry I hope you will not think sons are the only children worth having. Your uncle loves our girls.
As much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, Elizabeth could not mistake the look of pain and hurt in Darcy’s eyes as he left. She had done so much more than wound his vanity. Is that what she wanted all along?
Elizabeth thought over the history of her acquaintance with Darcy. She barely spoke to him without wishing to cause him pain. When had she become such a spiteful creature?
Elizabeth knew not how long she stood in place, alone and crying until she felt someone leading her off the path again.
“Miss Bennet, are you well?” Mr. Darcy had returned!
She could not answer. What must he think of her? Never before in her life had she been so cruel to a person! Always, always he provoked her past the point of civility! She allowed herself to be tugged into a sitting position.
“Please, do not cry for my sake.”
When she still did not speak, she felt something entirely unexpected. Mr. Darcy pulled her into his arms and held her! Near a public path on his aunt’s estate! All men from Derbyshire must be mad!
She pulled back from his arms and looked up at his face. “Mr. Darcy…”
This was madness! Why did he still hold her? Why did she let him?
This time she pushed against him, intent on rebuking him but something in the way he watched her stilled her tongue. She had said enough for one day. How long would she hold a grudge for one statement eight months ago?
“I cannot bear to be the cause for your tears and distress,” he said with an unfathomable gentleness.
Who was this man? Not the Mr. Darcy she knew in Hertfordshire, or even thus far in Kent. He let go of her and Elizabeth was nearly positive she saw regret etched on his face. Yes, he must regret speaking to her if she could not even keep a civil tongue and then resort to tears!
She said nothing as he sat beside her looking straight ahead. She was certain she had the most dumbstruck look on her face.
“Do you truly believe I dislike you and think so little of everyone around me?” His voice was quiet and uncertain.
Still not trusting herself to look at him, she fixed her gaze on the distance. “I confess it has been my firmest opinion these many months.”
Darcy was silent for many moments and Elizabeth hazarded a glance in his direction. Now his eyes remained forward, but she saw his jaw clenched tight and a muscle twitching near his eye.
Darcy plucked a blade of grass and focused on shredding it into small pieces while he spoke. “I do not mean to offend. I become nervous meeting new people. They all look at me, are judging me, estimating my income, presenting their daughters to me, approaching me with a business proposition, wanting to meet my uncle.
“More than that, with all the unwanted attention I am under constant scrutiny. I have been careful to not besmirch my family name. It is one reason I do not attempt to slander Wickham and why I have given into his financial demands before. The one time I did not, it nearly cost me dearly.”
Elizabeth thought over his words before replying. “I never thought you may be feeling that way, but did you ever think what other people might be feeling when the most powerful and richest person they have ever met enters the room, and will not even make eye contact with them? Will not speak with them? And who are you? Only a gentleman. You are not a peer or prince! We have our pride in Meryton, as anywhere.” Belatedly, Elizabeth recalled that he would one day inherit a barony.
“And I wounded yours.” Elizabeth blushed. “I never should have said it. I was in a foul mood but should have danced anyway. Truthfully, I would have danced after Bingley pointed you out but you know how I feel about Bingley’s ability to be easily persuaded. I only grasped at something to say.”
Before she could speak in reply, such as noting that it was the poorest apology she had heard in some time and she grew up with three younger sisters, he pressed on to the more important topic of discussion. “We still must decide how to warn your father. It seems he would not listen to your testimony and he will not listen to mine. Is there someone he may respect?”
Excessively grateful for the turn in conversation, she took a moment to think. She considered suggesting Bingley return, but it did not seem like her father would be willing to take Bingley’s word for it either. “My father greatly esteems my aunt and uncle in London. You have met them and know they have good sense.”
However much Darcy accepted his eccentric and titled aunt inviting the Gardiners to her home, Elizabeth knew it would be a stretch for a man of such pride to visit a tradesman, and was astonished when he did not hesitate to answer.
“If I explain matters do you think he will keep the confidence?”
“Yes, he certainly would. He met Wickham at Christmas. My aunt, especially, enjoyed his tales of Derbyshire and Lambton as she is from there, but they would be very interested in knowing the truth of his character. As you saw, they had no prejudice against you.” Unlike me.
Darcy smiled a little, and she was pleased that he noted her non-stated apology. Then another thought struck her. “Well, they did hear of you,” she could not bear to explain it was from her own mouth, “but they are fair people and enjoyed meeting you in London. My aunt had wondered about Wickham’s sensibilities when he began to pay attentions to a young lady who recently inherited ten thousand pounds when, previously, his affections seemed to lie…elsewhere.” Realising she rambled, she suddenly ceased speaking. She attempted not to blush but could feel the heat on her face.
“I see.” He sounded angrier than she expected. He clenched his jaw again.
“My aunt is predisposed to think well of you as she knew how good your father was.” Unexpectedly, Darcy smiled a sincere smile at that. His expression changed, and Elizabeth recognised that was when he was feeling proud. It was rather becoming.
“When do you leave for London?”
“I am to stay nearly another month.”
“I cannot call on your aunt and uncle without cause.”
A sly smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. “Mr. Bingley could call on my sister, and you could accompany him. I could send a letter with you.”
He began shaking his head before she had even finished her suggestion. “I would prefer you to be present.”
Elizabeth was annoyed he did not respond to her suggestion about Bingley. Of course, Darcy knew Jane as well and could call on her without his friend’s presence, but he seemed to have rejected that idea.
“Might you leave early?” he pressed.
Elizabeth huffed. “I do not have the freedom to order my own life. Mrs. Collins expects me here for another month, and my aunt and uncle are not prepared for me.”
“Perhaps you could write and ask if you may arrive in advance? You could argue the society here is discomforting, and I think that would be rather truthful. If they reply in the positive, you could find some excuse to Mrs. Collins.”
“I suppose you will tell me it is only fifty miles of good road and I might see my friend again frequently,” she said with something nearing sorrow. With all that Charlotte and Mr. Collins had put her through, leaving them would be no hardship but she had the distinct feeling her friendship with Charlotte would suffer forever.
Darcy cast a nervous look at her. “Might we worry about this trouble with Wickham before we borrow more from the future?”
“Very well. I can see, sir that your suggestions are prudent. I will sacrifice my leisure for the benefit of my family and the community. Oh, what I do for my beloved sisters!” She said dramatically, for greater effect.
He smiled at her theatrics. “Again, you cannot be certain what the future holds.”
Darcy pulled out his watch and noticed the time. “Allow me to escort you to the parsonage.” Once they began walking again, Darcy inquired, “When will you write your aunt?”
“I will write today. Things should be arranged in less than a week.”
Darcy frowned. “We had not considered how to convey you. Surely Miss Lucas would desire to stay with her sister longer. Additionally, your relatives might wish for you to remain in Town for a time rather than send you immediately to Hertfordshire, as Miss Lucas would likely prefer.”
Elizabeth chewed her lip. Was there a hint of anxiety in Darcy’s eyes? “I had not thought of that. We were to travel by stage, but my uncle was to send a manservant for us.” Darcy looked away, but Elizabeth saw him wince at her news. Undoubtedly, he would never dream of travelling by stage.
“If I could arrange for a maid to travel with us, might you ride in Lady Catherine’s carriage while I ride on my horse?”
Elizabeth disliked having to accept so much from Darcy, but it was the only feasible way. She could not travel with only a manservant and hated to have to beg for a maid from either the Collinses or the Gardiners. “Thank you.”
They arrived at the Parsonage gate, and Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand. As he left, she sighed. Once again, she could not make him out at all. Fortunately, there were two such people just within who would rectify that feeling immediately.
Darcy knocked on Anne’s sitting room door and looked up and down the hall, hoping no servant would see him.
“Yes?” she called out.
“It’s Darcy,” he said. A memory of them as young children flashed in his mind. They would play “hide from the dragon.” Richard and their other cousin would never let Darcy hide with them. Anne, as a resident of Rosings, always knew the best places to hide. How often had he knocked on a wardrobe or cover and said, “It is me,” and she knew his voice immediately? Now, because of her mother’s scheming, they had grown into mere strangers.
Anne opened the door and also scanned the hallway. “Well?” she asked.
“I need to speak with you privately. Might I come in?” Darcy watched as Anne’s nervousness increased tenfold.
“If you must,” she said and walked toward the seating area. She lowered herself slowly into a chair and motioned for Darcy to do the same. Sitting on the edge of her chair, as though prepared for flight at a moment’s notice, she stared at her hands rather than look at Darcy.
“I must ask for your assistance,” he began nervously.
Anne’s head shot up. She looked a mixture of relieved and sceptical. “You need my help? Whatever for?”
“Miss Bennet finds she must journey to London earlier than previously planned. Neither the Collinses nor her relatives in Town have a suitable conveyance. I have offered to escort her, but she will need a chaperone and use of one of your mother’s carriages.”
Anne’s eyes widened, and she placed a hand protectively over her neck. “I cannot journey so far! London? No, never!” She looked ghost white, and she clenched the arms of her chair in terror.
Darcy gently touched her arm, causing her to jump. “Forgive me,” he said and drew it back. “I did not mean to alarm you,” he said. While some might fear confined places, Anne never did. No, she feared large groups of people. The result of being nearly trampled as a child when taken to see Macbeth with her father and a riot broke out due to an increase in ticket prices.
“Wha — what did you want then?” she asked, her chest still heaving but the fear easing.
“I wondered if you could arrange for a maid to accompany us. Miss Lucas will not wish to leave so early.”
“Oh, is that all?” Anne sagged against the chair in relief and looked younger than he had seen her in ages.
“That shall be hard enough without arousing the suspicion of your mother.” Darcy stood to leave.
“And what of my suspicions?” She said, and if it were not for the fact that Anne seldom left the vicinity of Rosings, Darcy would despise the way she sounded like her mother. As it was, she could hardly help it.
Darcy raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “You will not dally with Mrs. Collins’ friend, will you?”
“I hardly need to explain myself to you,” Darcy turned to go but at the last moment thought better of it. He was striving to be a better man because of Elizabeth’s rebuke. “Forgive me,” he said and retook his seat.
Anne furrowed her brow, unaccustomed to him caring about her opinion.
“I assure you, I have nothing but honourable intentions toward Miss Bennet, but that is all there is worth saying at this moment.” He took a deep breath and pushed forward. “Anne, surely you know… That is, it can be no surprise…” Blast it. There was a reason he had never discussed the situation of her mother’s hopes before.
Anne squeezed her hands tightly and stared at her feet.
Respect. “No, I will not dictate to you as you have had done your whole life. I will not tell you how you must think or feel and will not presume to know better than you.”
Slowly, she lifted her eyes, tears misted them.
“It was wrong of me to avoid this conversation for so many years. Your mother has made her preferences quite known, and I suspect has even raised you to expect our union.”
Anne timidly nodded.
“I ask your forgiveness. I ought to have discussed my feelings long ago.”
“You love Miss Bennet,” she said with understanding.
“I do,” Darcy confirmed. “However, I had felt since my youth that I could not marry you.” She opened her mouth, but Darcy waved it off. “Please, do not disparage yourself. I do not find you wanting. Another man will be quite blessed to have you as a wife. You deserve a man who passionately adores you. I have always known I am not that man and believed I was doing you a service by not bowing to your mother’s wishes.”
Anne exhaled a long breath and tears streamed down her eyes. “Thank you,” she clapped her hands together. “Thank you! Thank you! I have lived in fear, in dread of your proposal for most of my life.”
Despite his relief that she did not resent his rejection, it stung to hear yet another lady wanted no part of his courtship. “Again, I apologise for not stating my feelings earlier.” He stood to depart.
“I can help you!” She called out as his hand reached for the doorknob. He turned back toward her. “I can assist you with Miss Bennet.”
“What makes you think I need your assistance?”
Anne laughed. “She has not the faintest clue you admire her. She would sooner expect Richard’s stallion to grow wings.”
“And you are an expert on matchmaking now?”
“Those who cannot wed, plan!” Anne exclaimed. “I will tell you a secret.”
Dutifully, Darcy returned to his seat and leaned forward as Anne motioned. “I write for a ladies’ magazine. I am Mrs. Mabel Fairweather, mistress of hearts.” She scurried off to her desk and brought correspondence for him to inspect.
Darcy turned them over, recognising her penmanship. “I do not know what to say. You are accomplished beyond my wildest thoughts.”
“Now, you have begun your courtship on the wrong foot,” Anne grinned and retrieved her letters. “However, Elizabeth is a reasonable woman. She can be convinced to let the past remain there. She is prejudiced against your rank and wealth, and it does not help that she knows my mother,” Anne groaned at the thought.
Darcy silently added that Elizabeth’s other accusations involved Wickham and Bingley. “I have already determined I must show her and her relations greater respect.”
Anne nodded. “An excellent start. And how will you demonstrate this? Just wait for them to appear? Or to be brought up in conversation?”
Indeed, that was exactly his plan. Conversation was not his strong suit. Now, if only Society allowed him to demonstrate his passion for the lady…
“Do not fret,” Anne said. “We can practice some conversation and” she waggled her eyebrows, “we can discuss the appropriate behaviour of suitors. You must not leave her in doubt of your regard.”
Darcy loosened his cravat. The ways in which he desired to show Elizabeth his affection were not suitable for a lady’s ears, or anyone really. He had long struggled with accepting that he could feel very carnal desire for Elizabeth and love her intellect and personality as well. He stood to leave.
“When do you see her again? I imagine in the morning. I have not seen her sketching as early as she used to.”
“Oh yes,” Anne nodded. “She favours the hill overlooking the village. In the distance, you can see the spires of Knole Park. It does not surprise me that she has an interest in architecture.”
Darcy grinned. A true bluestocking. Neglecting fashionable pursuits for “gentlemen’s art.” She could not be more perfect for him than if he had intended to find a wife upon his entering Hertfordshire. He might have searched for many years before finding her.
“We do often meet in the grove,” Darcy answered neutrally.
“Do not go tomorrow,” Anne said. “Leave her wishing she had seen you. Visit me, and we will discuss how to proceed.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said, uncertain he should encourage her meddling in his life.
“And where the devil did you send Richard?”
“He had business in London and is detained by an ill commander. He hopes to return soon.”
“Yes, well, Mother pesters me more about you when he is absent.” Anne waved a hand. “You may go.”
Darcy, at last, left her sitting room, marvelling how much she was like her mother, and yet, that was not an entirely bad thing.
Last week, I discussed Jane Bennet finding independence and if she “deserved” better treatment than Bingley gave her. A friend, who is admittedly protective of Bingley, asked if I would ask the same thing of Captain Wentworth. And the truth is, I think he also deserves better than Anne Elliot’s treatment.
In several of my copies of Pride and Prejudice, the word “persuasion” is italicized in the following passage. I think it’s to draw attention to the fact that such a theme is a favorite of Austen. While not dealt with in detail in Pride and Prejudice, I did find some connections and wrote a blog post about them a few years ago.
“To yield readily— easily— to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”
“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”
If Bingley ends up yielding to Darcy’s persuasion and is undeserving of Jane than Anne Elliot is even worse. She had actually accepted Wentworth’s proposal.
Now, I know all the arguments about why Anne should get a pass. Wentworth had little money, he might have died even. It threatened a breach with Anne’s family and then she wouldn’t have even been able to count on them. Lady Russell, who was a stand-in for Anne’s mother, counseled her against it. She was only nineteen. Wentworth probably should have never proposed in the first place since he had so little to give a wife (a la criticism of Frank Churchill and Edward Ferrars).
However, despite this, I still think Anne treated Wentworth wrong. You see, marriage, even if it’s not a love match (and both couples were), involve feelings. Pesky things, aren’t they?
Nearly all of the arguments about Bingley treating Jane wrongly are due to her feelings afterward. So why are Wentworth’s not considered? It is supposed because Wentworth is a man, he will get over the heartache of Anne’s rejection easier. Because he is a man, he can more easily meet other women. That he should totally understand her situation and feelings without Anne considering his. I am sure she told herself it was for his own good. That it was better for him to be unattached and find his fortune than delay their marriage or worry after a wife. But that’s just it. She belittles his feelings for her. Perhaps it’s because she had been used to think little of herself from her family’s treatment–but Lady Russell, for example, never says that of Anne and instead lifts her up. In her ladyship’s opinion, Anne is worth far more than Wentworth.
Likewise, Bingley had allowed himself to be convinced that Jane felt little to nothing for him. That his space in her heart could be replaced. Again, I say this is far more forgivable because they were not engaged.
At the end of Pride and Prejudice, we have hints that Bingley did talk to Jane about matters. There is some allusion to him mentioning seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley. To my imagination, Bingley never wavered in his love for Jane, but only in his intention. After he learned that although she was “free” for nearly a year, Jane still remained unwed, and after having a chance to resume the acquaintance with Elizabeth (i.e., he was not hated for his departure) he returns to Netherfield and along the way gets Darcy’s blessing. While we don’t see any sort of groveling, and it seems there would have been no time for him to do it before proposing, I do think it occurred.
At the end of Persuasion, Anne Elliot seems as adamant as ever that she was right in breaking her engagement to Wentworth and toying with his feelings. She considers her feelings and not his when she says this:
“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.”
Next, she places the blame on another:
“Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.”
To be absolutely certain she is held blameless, Anne continues:
“But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”
Well, maybe it’s not all about you Anne! This conversation is then followed by Wentworth reproaching himself for not returning to Anne after he had earned his first prize money several years before because he had believed she would have refused him. How was he supposed to know that??? Why is he taking all the blame for this??
For a man who spent most of the book blind to his continuing love for Anne and the justness of her decision, I think he’s blind once more when he says this:
This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me. I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added, with a smile. “I must endeavour to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”
Listen, buddy. You did some wrong, and you are happy it’s all worked out. I will try not to judge the fact that your version of broken and flawed but workable is different than mine, but I don’t feel like this is resolved. I think this is going to be a sticking point in their marriage forever. Not that Anne caved to Lady Russell, but that, allegedly, he’s all wrong. He’s always wrong. Way to emasculate a man. Annie, hun, you need to bring it down a notch.
Between the two of undeserving lovers: Bingley or Anne, I think Anne was more heartless and less resolved than Bingley. In my imagination, it’s one of the things Austen would have worked on had she lived longer. I accept this only as “justice” because Anne did suffer during their separation and then witnessed his flirtation with Louisa. As it is, perhaps JAFF will answer the need for Wentworth to get his justice.