A New Life
Posted on Friday, 2 April 2004
He has been walking the grove for some time in the hope of meeting her. He knows that she favours this particular spot, because she told him when he chanced upon her in it a second time. It's not his favourite part of the woods around Rosings, but he thinks he could learn to love it if it continues to bring his Elizabeth to him.
He sees her coming, and his heart races. With clammy palms he approaches her and greets her as politely as he can. She reduces him to a stammering, blushing boy, and all he can do is look at her adoringly. He is reminded of Mr Bingley, and for once he is jealous of his friend's easy temper. He walks a while next to her and makes pitiful attempts at conversation. She answers in monosyllables and he thinks that she is as affected by his presence as he is by hers.
When she doesn't arrive for dinner with her ladyship, he interprets it as a sign and quickly bows out of his obligation to his Aunt, citing business. Fifteen minutes have him in Mrs Collins' parlour, opposite a pale Elizabeth. He notices the mundane things surrounding her; the letters on her lap, the stalled clock on the mantle. Her vehement refusal of his proposal stuns him. He is even more shocked at her reasons for doing so. Mr Wickham indeed. Is he never to be free of the fiend?
He is angry and mortified as he returns to the Park, too angry to be polite to his Aunt and cousins. Sometime during the long, sleepless night he decides that he has to defend himself against Wickham's accusations. He realizes that he is still so much under Elizabeth's spell that he cannot do so in person, and writes her a letter instead. He knows this is inappropriate behaviour for a gentleman but the need of explanation is so great that he disregards propriety.
Once again he haunts her favourite spot. He understands now that she told him she favoured it so he could avoid it, and finds this realization hurts more than her actual refusal of him. He is in luck, this last time, and she arrives, bonnet askew and slightly breathless. He is once again floored by her beauty, but it is lost to him now. He gives her the letter he has toiled over all night and leaves, to let her have the privacy she needs. His only hope as he returns to the Park is that she reads the letter through, and understands why he hid his sister's near misstep from the world. As for the business with Bingley he is certain that it is all for the best.
He leaves Rosings Park the next morning, wanting only to return to the quiet peace his sister gives him. He spends spring in earnest contemplation of the catalogue of faults Miss Bennet (Elizabeth, still), leveled at him. He goes to his club, visits friends and attends parties, but all the while he tries to better himself.
His friend Bingely is subdued that summer, and he can't but remember Elizabeth's angry accusation. Perhaps, he thinks, he was wrong in concealing Jane Bennet's presence in Town to Bingley. Further thought makes him reconsider. If Bingley were to marry Elizabeth's favourite sister, it would mean more contact with her. Contact that would no doubt prove disastrous.
He finally succumbs to the lure of Pemberley in summer, and invites Bingley and his sisters for a week in the country. He used to enjoy Miss Bingley's company, and Mr Hurst can be rather entertaining when there are no women about.
Riding ahead of the party becomes a necessity. A not too urgent message from his steward has been left at the second to last posting-inn, and as he longs for a gallop he decides to go on ahead of the party. He finds his capable steward in the South fields, problem solved. It is a warm day, and he removes his coat as he rides for home, relieved to be out of the heavy wool.
He thinks she is a figment of his imagination when he first sees her. Then he recognizes her female companion from Town before Easter, and realizes some benign power has brought her to his home. He dismounts and greets her, trying to convey to her how happy he is that she has come. After a few awkward moments of stutters and blushes he remembers that he is undressed, and excuses himself, all the while pressing her for a promise to remain until he returns, which she, to his surprise, does.
They spend the afternoon walking his grounds, and he is happy to offer her Uncle an opportunity to fish his trout-stream. They do not leave until he has permission to call on them with his sister the following day.
There is hope again as he rides to Lambton a few days later. Hope that is dashed when he finds her dissolved in tears over the news that her youngest sister has left her family and friends to marry Wickham. He doesn't quite know how to comfort her, but does his best, sending a servant for her Aunt and Uncle, and offering her his handkerchief. For the third time in his life he is in a murderous rage. For the third time this is caused by George Wickham. He is so angry that he excuses himself from her presence.
He feels immense guilt, thinking that he could have prevented her pain if he had told the world what a deviant George Wickham is. He does not tell his sister or the Bingleys why Miss Bennet and the Gardiners call off their evening engagement and leave suddenly. He spends another sleepless night, forming a plan. He needs to amend his earlier mistakes, and make Wickham marry Lydia Bennet, by any means possible.
He contacts Elizabeth's Uncle Gardiner, who is unwilling to play along at first, but then sees reason. Wickham and the youngest Miss Bennet are found, persuaded, married and finally sent to exile in Newcastle. A promise is extracted from all not to breathe a word of his involvement to Elizabeth.
His last act of penance is to tell Bingley about Jane Bennet having been in Town all winter. His friend is livid at first, and he hopes their friendship can survive his duplicity. When Bingley invites him to Netherfield for some sport in early autumn he jumps to the chance of seeing Miss Bennet and his friend in society together. The fact that Elizabeth with all certainty is at Longbourn naturally plays a part in his decision.
When he is called away from Netherfield on business he is almost relieved. Endless afternoons in Mrs Bennet's parlour would grate on the nerves of the most patient of men. He has spent his time well; he is certain that Miss Bennet loves his friend, and tells him so as he leaves. A week later an express with news of his friend's engagement finds him at his club. He is happy for his friend.
When his Aunt descends upon him he is pleasantly surprised. When she states her business he is furious at first, and then realizes what it means. If Elizabeth still thinks the same of him as she did over Easter, she would have told his Aunt so. He promises his Aunt nothing, and sends her on her way home. He is happy he has already planned to leave for Netherfield the next day, as he cannot wait to be close to his Elizabeth.
He doesn't plan his proposal. He thinks that he will spend the rest of his life a bachelor, devoted to his estate and his sister. When Elizabeth looks at him, gratitude and something else shining in her incomparable eyes he cannot help himself. As he proposes to her a second time, he compares her smiles and blushes to her frowns and angry tears in April. He is surprised at her favourable answer, and the joy he feels is immeasurable. A new life begins with the phrase "Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth."
Author's note: Begun and finished March 28th. I blame Julie, who is the best beta a girl can have. I also blame Tam. Thanks for planting the thought, girls.