Posted on 2008-11-06
In the library at Netherfield, Fitzwilliam Darcy sat at a desk, surrounded by several papers. At times it became a truly daunting task to attempt to arrange the matters of his estate, as well as his own business investments, at a distance, but he had gladly come to Hertfordshire to assist his best friend, Charles Bingley, with settling at his own estate for the first time. The two had been students together at Cambridge, and had become as close as brothers. Since their arrival in Hertfordshire, the new young estate holder had eagerly been welcomed into local society, and a young lady from a neighboring estate soon caught his eye. Darcy smiled to think of his friend's happiness and good taste: Miss Jane Bennet was amiable and polite, with a kind heart and a serene disposition, not to mention being a radiant beauty, in short, a paragon and a most appropriate wife for any gentleman, especially one whose character matched hers as Charles's did. Soon, Darcy imagined, Charles would propose matrimony to her, and might even ask him to stand as groomsman at their wedding. However, the gentleman had reasons of his own for happiness, for he was becoming attracted to Miss Bennet's sister Elizabeth, to her fine eyes and her light and pleasing figure, her intelligence in conversation, the integrity of her character, and her spirited delight in life. As for the improper behavior of some of the Bennet relatives, this was not a consideration for Darcy, for he needed only to think of the overbearing demeanor of his aunt Lady Catherine De Bourgh to feel shame. Would it be an extreme flight of fancy for him to imagine a double wedding, to be held at the church of the nearby village of Meryton? The pleasant turn of his thoughts rather slowed his progress with the papers.
Darcy's smile quickly turned to a frown as he heard the library door open and beheld the entry of a young lady with blond hair, dressed in the most expensive and elaborate finery that the shops of London could offer. The lady was Miss Caroline Bingley, Charles's younger sister, whose aspirations to belong to the most fashionable and wealthy sphere of British society and disparagement of all those who did not belong to it were legendary. She had hounded her brother about the abasement of connection with the Bennet family and the inferior quality of the inhabitants of Hertfordshire to such an extent that he, normally the most even-tempered and obliging of men, was a step from threatening to disown her. Unfortunately for Darcy, she viewed an attachment to him as her best opportunity to establish herself as the finest and most envied lady of the ton.
"Good afternoon, Miss Bingley," he said in a civil but reserved tone to her as he stood up.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy," she said with a wide smile, but then her speech became more hesitant, "I came to r-return a b-book, but I m-must have forgotten it..."
"Is there any way that I could be of assistance?"
Miss Bingley stammered for a moment, and then said, "In vain have I struggled! It will not do! My feelings will not be repressed! You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Had a rhinoceros wandered into the library speaking fluent Latin, Mr. Darcy could not have been more astounded. Thus he was rendered temporarily speechless.
"The rules of propriety can restrain me no longer. You are my heart's fondest desire and we are ideally matched. We both belong to the highest echelons of polite society, far above any that we could find in this district. My dear brother is your best friend. Your sister Georgiana is a most accomplished young lady that I would delight in calling sister and introducing to the ways of society. We are suited in mind, agreeing on every subject that you could bring yourself to mention. We have danced together in a most wonderful fashion. What possible impediment could there be to our happiness together? Tell me, dearest, handsomest Fitzwilliam, that you agree to become my husband and to make me the most joyful of women as your wife."
"In such circumstances as these," Darcy said, "it is the established mode to profess some obligation or regard for the sentiments with which a proposal is expressed. In this case, however, I can do no such thing, for I suspect that your motivation is not sincere love of my person or character, but a wish to bear the name of Mrs. Darcy and the standing in society that it entails, and enjoy the facilities of my London townhouse and my estate at Pemberley. Can you tell me truthfully, Miss Bingley, that if I were a poorer man you would regard me with the same consideration?"
"What nonsense is this, you teasing man! If you were poor, we would belong to different spheres and thus have no occasion or cause even to meet. We are true equals, as you are a gentleman and I am a gentleman's sister. What form of temporary insanity makes you reject me in this manner, with nary an attempt at civility?"
"Not the slightest insanity," said Darcy, "for I could not marry a lady for whom I did not feel the greatest affection. Do you expect me to rejoice in the pretentious displays in which you engage in every gathering or your disdain of all your neighbors and acquaintances before they have the opportunity to show themselves worthy of it? And how could I possibly attach myself to a lady who is determined to thwart the happiness of my best friend, her own brother?"
"Are you so blind as to believe my brother capable of judging what sort of connections are the best for him? I am merely seeking to keep him from joining a most unworthy union that will demean him in the eyes of society and besmirch the name of the distinguished house of Bingley. He has succumbed to the arts and allurements of a mere country upstart." Miss Bingley engaged in a contemplative pause. "May I ask whether your own sentiments are tending in a similar direction?"
"You should not concern yourself on that subject, Miss Bingley. Your proposal might have had a different fate if in all the time of our acquaintance you had conducted yourself in a more ladylike manner. Only one month after our first acquaintance, from what I observed of your character, I determined that you were the last lady on Earth to whom I would ever make an offer of marriage. Besides, you must know that you are what you despise the most. You speak of distinguished houses and spheres of society, when both your father's and your mother's families have made their fortunes in trade. Without trade, you could not afford your fine clothing, just as I could not afford my own education without the work of previous generations."
Darcy would have expected to see Miss Bingley angered, dejected, or possibly even in tears. Instead, she only smiled maliciously and said "In that case, Mr. Darcy, you need only to look out the window to see that your heart's greatest desire shall never be in your possession."
He could not prevent himself from looking out the window. And what did he behold? On the very grounds of Netherfield, the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet held in a passionate embrace and kissed several times by none other than... George Wickham!
Fitzwilliam Darcy then engaged in most un-gentleman-like and un-Darcy-like behavior. He SCREAMED.
"Dear God in Heaven," he said as he awoke drenched in perspiration, "that was the mother of all nightmares. I really overdid it with the brandy this time." An empty decanter at the foot of the bed only confirmed this observation.
In his bedroom at Rosings, his aunt's estate, Fitzwilliam Darcy was in a truly unhappy mood. His nightmare had woken him when it was still dark, and he was not even in his own house, where at least he could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or an early breakfast or some similar cosseting. Instead, he would have to stay in his bedroom for some more hours before going down to breakfast and attempting to engage in civility with his haughty aunt and his two cousins, one ailing and silent, the other jocular and merciless in his teasing. Had he told them the true reason for his displeasure, the fact that his proposal of marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet the previous evening had been utterly and completely rejected, their reactions would have been too intense for him to countenance.
He struggled to remember the words spoken in his nightmare. They were familiar, in fact, they were markedly similar to parts of his own proposal to Miss Bennet at Hunsford and her rejection of his offer. Could it be that she was correct in her observations, and his character and behavior truly fell short of the manner of a gentleman? As he considered the question, he realized that he had indeed failed to make a favorable impression upon her, and that many of his actions had been incorrect. He wished that he had not become angered, and had had the opportunity at least to explain his point of view, and allow for its correction if necessary. He found that he did not wish to forget Miss Bennet and find another young lady to pursue; what he desired was to redeem himself in her eyes, so that at the very least she could see him as a decent man. On one subject at least, his dealings with George Wickham, he was sure that he could correct her mistaken impression; she was a sufficiently intelligent young lady that if the points were made to her clearly, she would understand.
Darcy sighed and began to think of writing a letter to Miss Bennet.
The subsequent details of the story are well known to the esteemed readers; thus the author will not trouble them with another tiresome repetition. Suffice it to say that eventually Mr. Darcy did make a more gentlemanly proposal, and the only screams that took place were those of Elizabeth's mother on first hearing of its acceptance. While irritating to the ears, they were screams of joy, expressed with a passion almost as great as that of the newly engaged couple's first kisses.The End