Section I, Next Section
Posted on Tuesday, 13-Oct-98
Darcy looked up from the remains of his breakfast, and glanced out the window of his London house. The weather, which had initially promised to be sunny and unusually warm for early May, was rapidly turning overcast. Great, Darcy thought, it matches my mood perfectly. Ever since he had returned from Kent in April, Darcy had been unable to shake a deep depression. Georgiana's departure three days previously for a visit to Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam had only made matters worse. She at least was occasionally able to distract him from his gloom, and force him to at least pretend to be cheerful. With her departure, the house felt unbearably empty. His aunt and uncle had also included him in the invitation, but Darcy suspected that his uncle would be perceptive enough to sense that something was wrong, and he didn't feel like explaining.
The chiming of the clock interrupted his thoughts. Remembering an errand in town, Darcy ordered his horse saddled and set off. The errand which had brought him out was quickly accomplished, but wishing to avoid returning to the empty house, Darcy rode about for a time. Lost in thought as he was, he was somewhat surprised when the dark clouds began to pour forth a heavy, cold rain. Darcy was several miles from his house, and by the time he returned, his cloths were soaked through, and his teeth were chattering.
After a hot bath and something to eat, Darcy went to his study in the hopes of dealing with several matters which he had been neglecting. His mind, however, soon wandered, as it so often did, back to Hunsford, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and how horribly he had behaved. If this were not enough to prevent any progress with the account books, he was soon overcome by a pounding headache. He pushed the papers in front of him aside, and put his head down on the desk. After a time, he fell asleep, but it was not a peaceful sleep, tormented as he was by the same nightmares which had been with him for the past month.
He was awakened by a servant, who inquired about his plans for supper. The pounding in his head had not subsided, and his stomach revolted at the thought of food. This, combined with a raw sore throat, convinced him he was probably coming down with a cold, and he retreated to his bedchamber.
"You're at Netherfield, Sir," the servant replied.
"Netherfield?!?!" he asked, beginning to panic. What was he doing at Netherfield? Hadn't he gone to bed in his London house? What was happening? He tried to ignore the pounding in his head long enough to hear what the servant was saying.
"Mr. Bingley's house in Hertfordshire, Sir. You came here yesterday." The servant said something about seeing to getting him some breakfast, and Darcy nodded.
After the man disappeared, Darcy looked around him, trying to make sense of his surroundings. He recognized the room he had stayed in the previous fall at Netherfield. "This must be another nightmare," Darcy thought, and pinched himself, hoping to wake up. By the time the servant returned with breakfast, Darcy knew he wasn't dreaming, and his panic was increasing. The pain in his head wasn't helping him any in his efforts to sort things out. "Martin," he asked, "What am I doing here?"
"Sir," Martin began, "Mr. Bingley invited you to join him and his sisters here for a time. He's just rented the place, and I fancy he's looking for your advice on improvements and such." Darcy held his head and groaned. Something was very wrong. "Sir, should I ask Mr. Bingley to summon a doctor?" Darcy suspected a doctor wasn't really what he needed, but readily agreed. The servant disappeared. Darcy reached over and grabbed the newspaper lying on the bedside table. The date on it arrested him. It was October 15, 1811.
There was a knock, and Bingley entered the room. He seemed extremely cheerful. "Martin tells me you're not feeling well. I've sent for the doctor, but I know this is just an attempt on your part to get out of the assembly ball tomorrow." Bingley paused and then added, "Well, you can stay here if you like, but I intend to go and meet my new neighbors. I've heard too much about how pretty the local girls are"
"Bingley," Darcy asked, afraid he already knew the answer, "what day is today?" Bingley looked puzzled, but answered "It is October 17, 1811.... Darcy, I'm sorry, you really do look unwell. I didn't mean to suggest I didn't believe you."
"Thanks." Darcy mumbled, and closed his eyes. Maybe if he went back to sleep he would wake up, and this wouldn't have happened. Sleep, however, evaded him, and in any case, it was perfectly clear that this wasn't a dream. Something very strange had happened.
About an hour later the doctor arrived. By that time, Darcy's headache had subsided considerably, and he had managed to eat some breakfast. The doctor found nothing serious wrong, and recommended rest. Darcy was still trying to make sense of what had happened: Nothing serious wrong-- that's what you think. He readily accepted the doctor's recommendation of rest, however, as it would give him time to think before he had to face other people.
He clearly wasn't dreaming, so what could have happened? Was he experiencing hallucinations brought on by a fever? Was he loosing his mind? He quickly rejected both possibilities. Aside from the residue of the headache, he felt fine. Somehow he really had wound up in October, 1811. But how? and why? How he could not fathom, but why was suddenly crystal clear. Bingley had mentioned the Assembly Ball--- the first time he saw Elizabeth Bennet. Had he not spent the last month wishing he could undo everything he had done wrong, and praying for a second chance? Perhaps his wish had somehow been granted.
Very well Darcy thought. I shall attend the ball tomorrow and as soon as see her I shall ask her to dance. I shall be polite to everyone there. I shall give her no reason to.... Darcy groaned, suddenly remembering that he and Elizabeth had not yet been introduced. He would somehow have to manage to arrange an introduction. How was he to do that? Well, he could wait until Bingley suggested he have Jane introduce them, and this time agree. Darcy rejected this idea. That had been more than half way through the evening. He didn't think he could wait that long. Besides, Elizabeth had heard their conversation, had she not? If he asked her to dance only after Bingley had suggested it, she would think he was only humoring his friend.
Darcy was trying to remember enough of the ball to put together a strategy. Shortly after they had entered the assembly rooms, they had been greeted by Sir William Lucas, who had introduced Miss Lucas to them. Bingley had then asked her for the first dance. Darcy was fairly sure Bingley had danced with Jane shortly after that-- who had introduced them? Darcy couldn't remember-- probably either Charlotte Lucas or Sir William-- most likely Sir William. Darcy supposed if he could somehow manage to be nearby when the introductions were made, he would be included in them.
Having worked this out, Darcy was feeling better. He decided he was up to joining the others, and went downstairs. On entering the drawing room, he was surprised to see Bingley, Caroline, and the Hursts joined by Sir William Lucas. "Sir William!" he said in surprise. All of the party looked at him in astonishment.
Bingley smiled and said, "I can see an introduction will not be necessary. Pray, how are you and Sir William acquainted?"
Darcy was horrified. Of course-- he wasn't supposed to know him. Sir William continued to look at him in surprise. Darcy knew he had to think fast, or they would be accusing him of witchcraft, or worse. He then remembered Sir William's favorite topic of conversation, and recovered himself. "I believe it was at the Court of St. James we met, was it not, Sir William?"
"Oh yes" replied that gentleman. Darcy could see Sir William was struggling without success to remember, but was relived that no one was going to call him on his explanation. He vowed to be more careful in the future.
Later that afternoon, Darcy and Bingley took a walk about the Netherfield grounds. As soon as they were away from the house, Bingley spoke up, "I suspect there is more to the story of you and Sir William than you are letting on, and I must say I am curious. It was quite clear he didn't remember you at all."
Darcy tensed, but said nothing.
Bingley continued, "You look horrified, Darcy, it must have been something awful? No, let me guess-- How much champagne had Sir William drunk that night? It must have been quite a bit for you to remember him so very clearly, and for him to remember nothing at all."
Darcy silently blessed Bingley for supplying so sensible an explanation. Not wanting to actually slander the gentleman, he merely said, "I prefer you not mention this subject to your sisters. I wouldn't want to be the source of embarrassing gossip."
"Of course." Bingley replied. "We will speak of it no more." Bingley quickly changed the subject. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. I trust there will be no further attempts on your part to get out of tomorrow's assembly ball."
Darcy laughed. "Thank you," he said, "I do feel better, and am looking forward to the ball, though I assure you, my headache this morning was no act."
"I didn't mean to suggest it was," Bingley replied, "but I am glad you're looking forward to the ball... can I assume that means you will actually dance?"
"Well, at least a few dances," Darcy replied with a laugh.
Chapter 3 Part A
The next evening they set out for the assembly rooms, the Hursts occupying one carriage, Darcy, Bingley and Caroline another. Caroline spent most of the journey voicing her suspicions that the evening would be a waste and the company indifferent. Bingley was clearly getting annoyed. "Caroline, I have never known you to object to attending balls in town."
"But Charles," she replied, "can't you see that this is different? In London the dances are attended by people of taste and fashion." Caroline continued in this vein until finally she was silenced by their arrival at their destination. Darcy tried to calm himself, but he was incredibly nervous. What if he couldn't manage to get introduced to her? What if he said the wrong thing?
They entered the assembly hall, and Darcy immediately scanned the room, spotting Elizabeth off to one side speaking with several officers. He quickly looked away, not wanting to be seen to stare. The party was met by Sir William Lucas, who greeted Darcy as an old friend, and eagerly introduced his daughter Charlotte to the party. Bingley lost no time in securing Miss Lucas's hand for the first pair of dances. As the music started, Darcy noted Elizabeth joining the dance with Colonel Forster. Darcy was apprehensive about speaking further with Sir William, least the subject of their former "acquaintance" should come up again, but as he was not supposed to know anyone else, his only alternatives were to stand about looking foolish, or to speak with Caroline, neither of which were appealing. He needn't have worried. Sir William was sufficiently embarrassed by his failure to remember the meeting, that he inquired about Derbyshire, the condition of the roads between London and Meryton, and the latest war news-- in short, everything except the subject Darcy wished to avoid. While Sir William's thoughts on these topics were uniformly silly, Darcy was too nervous and distracted to really notice.
While the gentlemen were thus engaged, they were approached by a young man whose attire was the very antithesis of high fashion. Sir William introduced him to Darcy as Mr. Deighton. The gentleman bowed and stammered a nervous greeting. After several moments, he hesitantly asked Darcy if he would introduce him to Miss Bingley. Darcy suppressed a laugh and readily agreed, reflecting that he might later ask him to return the favor and also perform an introduction. Darcy and Deighton walked over to where Caroline was standing, and the introduction was made. Darcy immediately returned to Sir William, and was soon amused to note Deighton and Caroline joining the set, the face of one covered in a grin, the other looking angrily in his direction.
When the first pair of dances ended, Bingley joined Darcy and Sir William. He discreetly pointed in the direction of Miss Bennet, and asked Sir William who she was. Sir William laughed, "That," he said, "is Miss Jane Bennet, and the young lady next to her, whom your friend can't keep his eyes off of, is her sister Elizabeth. Come, let me introduce you."
Chapter 3 Part B
Darcy was horrified to know that it had been that obvious. Had anyone else noticed? Darcy did not relish the thought of Mrs. Bennet having made a similar observation. What if Elizabeth had noticed? What would she think? With these thoughts flashing in his head, Darcy found himself standing before the sisters.
He was relieved to note that Mrs. Bennet was standing some distance from her daughters, engaged in conversation with Mrs. Long. Darcy was nervous enough, without having to endure that woman's calculating scrutiny. Darcy held his breath as the introduction was performed. She was even more beautiful than he had remembered. How could he have ever thought she wasn't handsome enough to tempt him? Darcy tried to think of something to say, but words failed him. Bingley asked Jane for the next dance, and the two of them moved away to join the set.
Finally, Darcy managed to ask, "May I have this dance?"
Elizabeth accepted with a smile, and they followed her sister and Bingley into the dance.
Darcy knew he had to say something, but he abhorred the small talk that was expected between new acquaintances, and his nervousness had tied his tongue in a knot. Elizabeth broke the silence by inquiring if this was his first visit to Hertfordshire.
"No,..I mean yes,.... That is, I have often traveled through this country between London and my home in Derbyshire, but this is the first I have actually visited here."
"Do you spend a good deal of time in London then?" Elizabeth asked.
"My younger sister has spent most of her time in London since our father died. A lady lives with her there and superintends her education. Her presence in London keeps me there more than I might otherwise choose." Remembering that she had an aunt and uncle in town, he asked, "Do you ever visit London?"
"Occasionally," she replied, adding, "my aunt and uncle live there, and I sometimes visit them. My sister and I spent a fortnight with them last spring. We enjoyed seeing our young cousins, and we went to the theater several times."
Darcy inquired what plays she had seen, and they spent the remainder of the dance in an agreeable discussion of the theater.
Darcy was greatly disappointed when the music stopped, and he and Elizabeth continued their conversation as they retreated from the dance floor. They were soon interrupted, however, by the approach of another gentleman who asked Elizabeth for the next dance. With a slightly apologetic look in Darcy's direction, she accepted. Darcy could not help feeling jealous. He knew he could not dance every dance with her, but it pained him to see her dancing with another.
Hoping a drink would calm his nerves, Darcy headed for the refreshment table. There he was accosted by Caroline Bingley.
"Well, you seem to be enjoying yourself!" she said sarcastically.
Darcy nodded and said, "As a matter of fact, I am. What about you? did you enjoy your dance with Mr. Deighton?" Darcy suspected this subject would provoke an outburst, but hoped it would distract her from saying anything about Elizabeth.
Caroline glared at him. "Why exactly did you find it necessary to introduce me to that fool!?"
"Why, because he asked me to," said Darcy in mock surprise. "What was I to say--- 'Miss Bingley only associates with fools in town, not in Hertfordshire?'"
Caroline realized it would have been rude for him to refuse to perform the introduction, but she was certainly not going to admit it. Changing the subject, she said, "My brother seems to be enjoying himself a great deal. Who is that freckled creature he is dancing with?"
Darcy looked in Bingley's direction and recognized Mary King, but remembering he was not supposed to know who she was, merely shrugged. The end of the third pair of dances brought Bingley and Mrs. Hurst over to join Caroline and Darcy. Caroline attempted to entertain them with sarcastic comments about the local population. Wishing to escape Miss Bingley's diatribe, Darcy asked her sister for the next dance.
When the dance was finished and Mrs. Hurst had wandered back to her sister, Darcy reflected that he had still only danced two pairs of dances. He meant to ask Elizabeth again, but wished to wait until later in the evening. Looking about, he spotted Charlotte Lucas standing off to one side. He asked her for the next, but as they took their place in the set, he immediately regretted it, for Elizabeth was sitting down in want of a partner. How could I forget? This was the point where Bingley came up to me and suggested I dance with her. Darcy resolved that when this dance was finished he would ask her for the next, but in the event, Bingley claimed her hand before he was able to. Darcy was somewhat annoyed at his friend for this, and in retaliation, he decided to dance with Jane. They were halfway down the dance when Darcy noticed Mrs. Bennet watching himself and Jane intently.
"Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet," cried his wife when they returned to Longbourn, "we have had the most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. Mr. Bingley was so very charming, and he brought his friend Mr. Darcy, who has 10,000 a year and a fine estate in Derbyshire! Such a handsome gentleman! And Mr. Bennet, they both danced with Jane and with Lizzy!"
Mr. Bennet looked at his two elder daughters in amusement, and asked, "So, have you settled it between you which of you is to marry Mr. Bingley and which is to marry Mr. Darcy?"
Before either of the girls could respond, Mrs. Bennet broke in "I think it would be best if Jane should have Mr. Darcy, for she is far prettier, and that would leave Mr. Bingley for Lizzy."
Jane colored at this, and remarked "I thought Mr. Darcy preferred my sister."
"Oh nonsense" replied Mrs. Bennet, "for that would never work. It is obvious that Mr. Darcy is easily offended-- did you not hear what he said to Mrs. Long? and well, Lizzy is always forgetting herself."
Mr. Bennet chuckled at this and said, "If he is so easily offended as that, I dare say he is not worth the notice of either of my daughters."
When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the latter asked her sister "Tell me, did you tell mother you thought Mr. Darcy preferred me because you believed it to be the truth, or because you preferred Mr. Bingley?"
Jane hesitated a moment, but seeing her sister's smile, she laughed and responded, "Both."
"Mr. Darcy did dance with you," Elizabeth pointed out.
Jane laughed, and responded "Yes, but he danced with you twice, and only once with me, and while he danced with me, do you know what we talked of?" Elizabeth shook her head. "Why all he seemed to want to talk of was you."
Elizabeth laughed at this, and said, "What an odd coincidence, for Mr. Bingley was full of questions about my sister." They both laughed at this.
"You like Mr. Bingley a good deal, don't you?" Elizabeth asked.
"Well, I did just meet him, but yes, he is sensible, good humored, lively, and I never saw such happy manners, so much ease with such perfect good breeding!"
"And what think you of his sisters?"
Jane hesitated, "They seem pleasing enough when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a charming neighbor in her. But Lizzy, you are avoiding telling me what you think of Mr. Darcy!"
Lizzy hesitated a moment, "He lacks his friend's easy manners, that is certain, but he is rather handsome, and I did enjoy talking with him--- but Jane, this is silly, mother is perfectly right-- surely someone like Mr. Darcy would never take an interest in me."
"But Lizzy," Jane replied, "you were the only person he asked to dance a second time, and there were not many he asked to dance at all."
"I don't know Jane, I was sitting down while he was dancing with Charlotte, and he looked at me rather strangely-- perhaps he pitied me, and that was why he asked me again."
The Longbourn and Netherfield parties found themselves in each other's company several times over the course of the next fortnight, and each of those times, Mrs. Bennet was all attention to Darcy, and tried, in a very obvious way, to draw him and her eldest daughter together. This, of course did not endear her to any member of the Netherfield party. Miss Bingley was horrified by it, and though she detected no sign of particular regard on the part of either Jane or Darcy for the other, she nevertheless found it necessary to insult Miss Bennet and her family whenever she was out of hearing. Mr. Bingley feared the partiality for his friend showed by the mother was shared by Miss Bennet. Darcy was angered beyond measure by her presumption, and only his determination not to offend Elizabeth kept him from rudeness to her mother.
Matters stood thus when both parties found themselves at Lucas Lodge one evening. After greeting his host, Bingley quickly moved in Jane's direction, and the pair were soon talking animatedly. Darcy breathed a sigh of relief, and resolved to stay as far as possible from the pair, so as to give Mrs. Bennet no opportunity to interfere. Unfortunately, for the time being that also meant avoiding Elizabeth, who was standing not far from Jane and Bingley, talking with Colonel Forster. Just then he was approached by Mrs. Bennet, who with a nod in the direction of Jane and Bingley, hinted he might be missing an opportunity, and that his friend might be getting the upper hand.
Darcy could stand it no longer, and flatly said, "Mrs. Bennet, I've had quite enough of this," and turning on his heals, walked away. Mrs. Bennet lost no time in finding her second daughter, and venting her disgust at Mr. Darcy's rudeness.
Sensing an opportunity to end her sister's embarrassment, Elizabeth said, "You would not want Jane to become attached to such a rude person, perhaps you should stop forwarding a match in that direction?" Elizabeth was relieved to see her mother agree readily.
Not long after this Charlotte opened the piano, and asked Elizabeth to play. Before Darcy knew what he was doing, he was standing near the piano, entranced by her singing. Darcy could have stood thus all night, but Elizabeth was soon succeeded by Mary at the piano, and Darcy moved to follow Elizabeth, in the hopes of finally having an opportunity to speak with her. Before he had gone six paces, however, he was stopped by his host, who was determined to engage him in conversation. He was thus engaged when he saw Elizabeth move in their direction.
Darcy was trying to find an excuse to break off the conversation with Sir William, when he heard the latter exclaim "My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing?-- Mr. Darcy, please allow me the pleasure of seeing the two of you dance again, you both excel so much in the dance."
Elizabeth, reflecting that Mr. Darcy was certainly tired of having young ladies thrown in his direction, responded, "Indeed, Sir I have not the least intention of dancing-- I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner."
Those words were entirely too familiar to Darcy. He had to somehow change her mind, and gravely asked her to reconsider. Something in his eyes convinced Elizabeth he was not asking her only out of politeness, and after a moment's hesitation, she consented.
Mrs. Bennet was true to her word. From the night of the party at Lucas Lodge, she gave up on the idea of a match between Jane and the 'rude' Mr. Darcy, and suddenly noticed what a handsome couple Jane and Bingley made. It was too bad that this left no one for Lizzy, but the fortunes of her second daughter were never Mrs. Bennet's first concern.
Caroline Bingley was not sure whether to be relieved or horrified by the change in the object of Mrs. Bennet's efforts. While she was more sensitive to anyone's designs on Darcy, than she was to those on her brother, she saw no sign that Darcy had any interest in Jane, and all too many signs of interest on her brother's part. Then there was the problem of Darcy's attentions to Elizabeth Bennet. Whenever Caroline tried to draw Darcy out on that subject, he seemed to change the subject or remember some thing he had to do elsewhere in the house. Caroline wished there was a way to get a better idea of the Bennets' intentions, and discourage them, whatever they were. The gentlemen were to dine with the officers that day--this gave her a perfect opportunity. She would invite Jane over, ask a few pointed questions, and drop some subtle hints about Bingley's attachment to Georgiana Darcy. With a confident smile, she picked up a piece of paper and drafted a short note.
Darcy, Bingley, and Mr. Hurst had dressed for their dinner with the officers, and were waiting in the drawing room for the coach to be brought around. Caroline started making more snide comments about Elizabeth Bennet, and trying to get Darcy to agree with them. Darcy changed the subject: "So, Miss Bingley, how are you and Mrs. Hurst planning to spend your time in our absence?"
Darcy watched Caroline look momentarily alarmed before saying, "We don't have any particular plans," thereby confirming his suspicions.
He went over to the window, and commented, "It looks like rain, perhaps we should re-think our plans."
"What!?" asked all the others in unison, Hurst and Bingley in surprise, Caroline and Louisa in horror.
His sisters' reaction was not lost on Bingley, nor was the hint of a derisive smile on his friend's face. Bingley looked momentarily puzzled, but Darcy shot him a look that said "trust me on this." After a moment's hesitation, Bingley said "Perhaps you're right."
Caroline panicked, "What do you mean?!" she asked. "Surely you do not want to give offense to our new neighbors. Anyway, what's a little rain, if you're riding in the coach. You can take an umbrella!"
"Since when have you been so concerned about what our neighbors think of us?" Bingley asked pointedly.
Darcy added, "I haven't been feeling too well lately and I don't want to chance getting wet."
Hurst did not care where he dined, so long as there was plenty of good food and drink, so he refused to take sides. Just then the skies opened up. Bingley stuck his head out the door and asked that the coach be put away.
Caroline was still trying to convince the gentlemen that the rain was about to let up when Miss Bennet was announced, and appeared dripping wet. Bingley looked from Jane to Caroline to Darcy in astonishment. Caroline momentarily looked like she wanted to fall through the floor, but quickly regained control of the situation, and invited Miss Bennet upstairs to change into something dry.
As soon as the ladies were out of the room, Bingley looked at Darcy and said, "you knew?" It was more of a statement than a question.
Darcy nodded with a smile, and then added, "I didn't want to be rude when we had already accepted an invitation, but your sister provoked me."
The next morning, Jane sent a note to Longbourn explaining her illness, and Elizabeth, anxious about her sister's condition, decided to go and pay her a visit. Her father offered her the use of the carriage, but Elizabeth allowed she would rather walk. Her mother protested that she would not be fit to be seen when she arrived. Elizabeth hesitated a moment. She did not really want Mr. Darcy to see her six inches deep in mud, but she needed the walk to try to get her thoughts in order. She had not anticipated seeing him again so soon, and was still unsure of her feelings. She decided to walk, but resolved to walk slowly and keep an eye open for puddles. Her youngest sisters decided to accompany her as far as Meryton, and they set off.
When Elizabeth came in sight of Netherfield, she was met by Mr. Darcy, who just happened to be walking in that direction. He greeted her with a smile, and asked "Did you walk all the way from Longbourn?" She replied in the affirmative. "You must be tired," he said, offering her his arm. As they walked towards the house, Darcy noticed there was just a hint of mud on the hem of her skirt. Funny, he thought, I remember her skirt as having been much dirtier than that. Could I be remembering wrong?
Caroline was not pleased to see Elizabeth, and the fact that she came in with Darcy did not help matters. She managed, however, to remain polite, and offered to take Elizabeth to her sister. Jane's condition had not improved, and Elizabeth spent much of the afternoon in her company. When she went downstairs in the late afternoon, she had to report that Jane was no better. Bingley invited her to stay until Jane recovered, but had barely finished the invitation when Caroline protested "Oh, I don't think that's necessary Charles, I will be more than happy to see to Jane, and we can have one of the servants stay with her constantly."
Bingley could see Caroline wanted Elizabeth out of the house as fast as possible, but after what his sister had done the day before, he was in no mood to cooperate. "Miss Bennet," he said, "I insist on your staying. I'm sure it will be a great comfort to your sister." Elizabeth agreed, and her things were sent for.
At half past six, Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. She found herself seated next to Mr. Hurst, who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her. Darcy found himself seated between Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, who were determined with their constant attention to keep him from having a chance to look at the other end of the table. Bingley, seeing his friend's discomfort, vowed this would be the last time Caroline made the seating arrangements. When dinner was over, Elizabeth returned to her sister, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no taste, no beauty.
Mrs. Hurst added, "She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker."
Caroline laughed at this, "Did you see her this morning,?" she asked. "Her hair was so untidy, and the hem of her skirt was all muddy."
"I thought she looked remarkably well this morning" said Bingley, "I didn't notice any mud."
"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,'' said Miss Bingley, "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.''
Darcy was still trying to figure out why Elizabeth had seemed less muddy than he remembered. "Considering the condition of the roads," he said, "a little mud was probably unavoidable."
"But," Caroline repeated, "surely you would not want to see your sister make such an exhibition"
"That reminds me," said Darcy "I have a letter from my sister to read. You will excuse me?"
Elizabeth sat with her sister until late in the evening, when Jane finally fell asleep. She then went downstairs. When she entered the drawing room, Darcy and Bingley both inquired after her sister. "Her fever is still high, but she is sleeping," replied Elizabeth. The whole party were playing cards, and she was invited to join them, but suspecting them to be playing high, she declined it, saying she would amuse herself with a book.
Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment. "Do you prefer reading to cards?'' said he, "that is rather singular.''
"Miss Eliza Bennet,'' said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. She is a great reader and has no pleasure in anything else.''
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth. "I am not a great reader, and have pleasure in many things."
Darcy silently groaned. This was all together too familiar. He had to think of something to say to deflect Miss Bingley...
"Are you ever going to play?" asked Hurst in annoyance. Darcy realized it was his turn, and absently played a card.
Elizabeth selected a book and took a seat, but was unable to concentrate. The conversation at the card table often drew her attention, and when she looked up, Mr. Darcy's eyes were frequently upon her. Elizabeth soon laid her book aside, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Hurst to observe the game. With Elizabeth opposite him, Darcy lost what little ability to concentrate he had until then possessed, and the game soon ended in Mr. Hurst's favor.
"I'm not playing very well tonight," Darcy observed, and declined to continue.
Miss Bingley, suspecting the reason for his sudden lack of interest in the game, protested "But Mr. Darcy, you are such a skillful player, surely your luck is about to change."
"Sometimes," Elizabeth remarked dryly, "the greatest skill is judging when one should quit." Caroline shot her an icy glare, but allowed she was tired of the game. Bingley and the Hursts continued alone.
Elizabeth returned to her seat on the sofa. Darcy was starting in that direction, but Caroline overtook him and claimed the seat next to Elizabeth. Darcy then pulled a chair over to join them.
Trying to think of a subject which would allow Elizabeth little opportunity to contribute, Caroline asked Darcy about the letter he had received from his sister. "How is dear Miss Darcy? what does she write to you?"
Darcy was not sure how to respond to this. Georgiana's letter had been full of anguish and self-reproach about Ramsgate. At last he said, "She writes that she is very happy with her new companion, and is working hard on her studies."
"Is she much grown since the spring? Will she be as tall as I am?"
"She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height, or rather taller," replied Darcy.
This answer did not please Caroline; she tried a different tack "I never met with anyone who delighted me so much, she has such perfect manners, and is always so very careful about her appearance," (here her eye rested momentarily on Elizabeth) "and she is so very accomplished. Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite."
Here Bingley entered the conversation, expressing his astonishment that all young ladies were so accomplished, noting that they all seemed to net purses and cover screens.
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments has too much truth," commented Darcy. "The term is often applied to women who deserve it for nothing more than netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am far from agreeing with your definition, and I can not boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, who are really accomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure," added Caroline.
"Then", replied Elizabeth, "you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman."
"I do," replied Darcy, looking meaningfully into her eyes.
"Oh certainly!" chimed in Caroline, laying out a long list of accomplishments closely matched to those she believed herself to posses. She hoped this recital would convince Darcy of Elizabeth's inferiority, but was dismayed to note that Darcy's eyes never left Elizabeth.
When she finally finished her list, Darcy added "To this she must also add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."
Unable to mistake his meaning, Elizabeth blushed slightly, but responded "I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women, I rather wonder now at your knowing any."
"Do you?" he asked.
Caroline did not like the turn the conversation was taking at all, and desperate to get rid of Elizabeth, expressed her concern about how "dear Jane" was doing. Elizabeth of course could then do nothing but excuse herself to check on her sister. As soon as she was out of the room, Caroline began to abuse Elizabeth again. Ignoring her, Darcy collected a book from the shelf, and moved to sit by the fire. Elizabeth returned only long enough to say that her sister was worse, and that she would need to stay with her.
The next morning Jane had improved somewhat. Elizabeth considered requesting her mother visit and form her own judgment on Jane's condition, but remembering her mother's recent behavior, thought better of it. Mr. Jones was summoned, and while he did not recommend that Miss Bennet be moved, he pronounced her to not be in any danger. Elizabeth drafted a note to her parents, assuring them that there was no cause for concern.
While Jane was napping that afternoon, Elizabeth ventured downstairs. On entering the drawing room, she found Mr. Hurst stretched out on a sofa snoring, and Bingley and Darcy engaged in a discussion about Bingley's plans for the improvement of the Netherfield grounds. They informed her that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had gone into town, but were expected back shortly. Bingley immediately asked about her sister's progress, and was heartened by Elizabeth's reply.
Gesturing out the window, Darcy said, "I was just telling Bingley that I thought that corner over there particularly well suited for a rose garden,"
"Why, there once was one there," replied Elizabeth.
Both gentlemen looked surprised. "When was this?" Darcy asked.
Elizabeth thought for a moment. "It must have been more than ten years ago, when the Knowlton family lived here. Jane and I were friendly with their younger daughter, and we used to visit here."
"Do you remember much about the grounds from those days?" Bingley asked.
"I was only nine or ten, Elizabeth replied, "but I do remember a fair amount."
Bingley suddenly had an idea. "Perhaps we could all walk outside, and you could tell us what you remember." He suggested.
Elizabeth was hesitant. "I'm not sure I should leave Jane for long," she said.
"She will be all right," Bingley insisted, and requested a servant check in on Miss Bennet periodically. At length Elizabeth agreed, and they set out.
As they wandered about the grounds, Elizabeth was surprised by how much she remembered. There were various hiding spots from long ago games of hide and seek, there was the hole in the fence she and Margery Knowlton used to slip through. (Several other holes had joined it in the intervening years.) Elizabeth remembered an apple tree she and Margery used to climb, and led the gentlemen to it.
Bingley expressed his surprise "I had no idea there was an apple tree on the property."
"Oh" replied Elizabeth with a smile, "there are, or at least there were, several more at the bottom of the hill, but they didn't have branches in the right places for climbing." Darcy could not help laughing at this. He tried to imagine Elizabeth at nine, scampering up the tree in search of the best apples.
The sound of a carriage coming up the drive interrupted his thoughts. "I expect that will be my sisters," commented Bingley. "I had better go up and meet them, there are some matters I need to discuss with Caroline, but why don't you two continue?"
Darcy and Elizabeth wandered about for some time, talking and laughing. Suddenly, Elizabeth turned and walked quickly towards the corner Darcy had suggested for a rose garden. Darcy followed close behind. What they saw when they reached the spot was not too promising. There was no sign of any roses, and the whole area was overgrown with brush and thorns. Much to Darcy's surprise, Elizabeth plunged determinedly into the brush. She seemed to be looking for something. Darcy hesitated a moment, and then followed her, occasionally noting the decayed remains of a rosebush at his feet. At last she seemed to find what she was looking for. Darcy approached, and beheld a single rosebush which had not only remained alive, but despite the November chill, still had a few determined blooms on it.
"Amazing," breathed Darcy, "I never would have believed something so beautiful should be found in such a place."
When they returned to the house, Elizabeth went directly upstairs to check on her sister. Darcy joined the others in the drawing room. "What happened to you?!" asked Caroline.
"I went for a walk," answered Darcy.
"It looks as if you fell into a thorn bush or rolled around in a pile of leaves," She said. Darcy looked at his clothing and realized she was right.
"Perhaps I should change," he muttered, and disappeared upstairs. After changing, he sat for a few minutes, contemplating the last few weeks in general, and the past day in particular. Was he doing better this time? Darcy thought he had managed to avoid doing anything to offend her, and she gave every appearance of enjoying his company, but beyond that he was not certain. Was it possible she felt for him even a fraction of what he felt for her?
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was sitting with her sister, who was definitely on the mend. Noting the thorns and twigs on her sister's skirt, Jane asked her where she had been walking. "Do you remember the rose garden from when the Knowltons were here?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yes, I think so," Jane replied.
"Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy expressed an interest in what I remembered of the property from those days, and we went out to have a look. I'm afraid the rose garden has seen better days--the whole area has become overgrown-- but there was one bush which had managed to hang on, and even had a few blooms."
Jane laughed, "I might have known you would find it. But Lizzy," she added, "You had better change, I can imagine what Caroline Bingley would have to say if she saw you like that."
"That woman," muttered Elizabeth. "I'm sorry Jane, but I just can not see how she and your Mr. Bingley can be brother and sister."
"I'm sure she is not that bad," Jane replied, "and Lizzy, he is not my Mr. Bingley."
"Oh, I think he is," Elizabeth answered with a smile. "I can not walk into a room without him anxiously asking how you are doing."
"Well," replied Jane, with a smile, "are you enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with your Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth blushed at this, and replied "He is not my Mr. Darcy, though.... I don't think I would mind if he were.... I enjoy his company well enough when Miss Bingley is not around, but she has been insufferable."
Jane laughed, "Lizzy, I think maybe she is a little jealous."
"I don't doubt it," Elizabeth said with a laugh, "but that does not make her any less insufferable."
That evening, the party once again gathered in the drawing room. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley started a game of piquet, and Mrs. Hurst sat nearby to watch. Elizabeth had brought some needlework, and Darcy, recollecting that he had not yet responded to Georgiana's letter, sat down at the writing table to do so. Caroline stationed herself nearby, alternately calling off messages for Miss Darcy and commenting on Darcy's style of writing. Elizabeth could see that Darcy did not care for Caroline's constant interruption, and at length she suggested, "Miss Bingley, since you have so much to say to her, why do you not write to Miss Darcy yourself?" Darcy stifled a laugh at this, as Caroline said something about never finding the time to write letters.
When Darcy finished the letter, he applied to Miss Bingley and Elizabeth for some music. Miss Bingley moved with alacrity to the pianoforte, and after a polite request that Elizabeth lead the way, which the other as politely negatived, she seated herself. Mrs. Hurst sang with her sister. While they were thus employed, Elizabeth could not help noticing as she turned over some music books how frequently Mr. Darcy's eyes were fixed on her. She found it rather pleasantly disconcerting.
When Caroline and Louisa had finished, Elizabeth seated herself at the piano and began to play. Darcy immediately moved towards the pianoforte, stationing himself so as the command a full view of the fair performer's countenance. Elizabeth knew the piece well enough that she was able to look up from the music now and then, and meet his eyes with her own. The second time she looked up, he smiled, and Elizabeth very nearly forgot which keys her fingers were supposed to be on. She returned her eyes to the music for a moment, then looked up again, her smile nearly stopping Darcy's heart.
The next evening, Jane felt well enough to join the ladies in the drawing room after dinner. Caroline and Louisa both expressed their great delight to see her better. Elizabeth correctly guessed that they were more delighted with the prospect of the sisters' departure, than they were with Jane's improvement. When the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the first object to Caroline and Louisa. Miss Bingley's eyes were instantly turned towards Darcy, and she had something to say to him before he had advanced many steps. He addressed himself directly to Miss Bennet, with a polite congratulation; Mr. Hurst also made a slight bow and said he was "very glad." Bingley was full of joy and attention. The first half hour was spent in piling up the fire, lest she should suffer from the change of room; and she removed at his desire to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be further from the door. He then sat down by her and talked scarcely to anyone else. Darcy had taken a seat near Elizabeth, but Caroline quickly moved to place herself between them. Darcy was in no mood to listen to Caroline, so he picked up a book from the shelf, and settled down to read. Caroline followed his example, selecting the second volume of his.
Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation, and when he looked up, it was only to glance at Elizabeth, who was concentrating on her needlework. At length, Caroline gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all that there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than a book!-- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if it have not an excellent library." No one made any reply. Soon afterwards, Caroline got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings, she resolved on one effort more; and turning to Elizabeth, said, "Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is quite refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude."
Elizabeth was surprised, but out of politeness, agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility. Mr. Darcy looked up, and closed his book. He was immediately invited to join their party, but declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere.
"What can he mean?" asked Caroline, "Can you at all understand him?"
"Not at all" said Elizabeth with a smile, "but since he wants to tell us, perhaps we should disappoint him by not asking." Miss Bingley, however, persevered in requiring an explanation of his two motives.
"I have not the smallest objection to explaining them," said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. "You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence and have secret affairs to discuss...." Elizabeth could not help laughing at the preposterousness of this suggestion. "or," Darcy continued, "because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I should be completely in your way; and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."
"Oh! Shocking!" cried Miss Bingley. "I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?"
"Nothing so easy," said Elizabeth with a laugh. "Tease him, laugh at him, intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done."
"Upon my honor, I do not." replied Caroline. "I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject."
"Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!" cried Elizabeth, "that will no do, for I dearly love a laugh. Mr. Bingley, your sister and I are at a loss to find something to tease Mr. Darcy about. As you have known him the longest, perhaps you can assist us," Darcy was not at all encouraged by Bingley's broad smile.
"Where should I begin?" asked Bingley. "Ah, I have it, the ball last spring at the Harringtons"
"What about the ball?" asked Darcy, trying to remember. He explained to Elizabeth and Caroline that he and Bingley had gone to visit their friend John Harrington in Northamptonshire, and there had been a coming out ball for his younger sister, Miss Margaret Harrington.
"Why," replied Bingley, "Darcy only danced two dances the whole night."
"Bingley," replied Darcy, "I did not know anyone besides you, Harrington, his father and his sister, and I did dance with Miss Harrington."
Elizabeth could see Darcy was very uncomfortable with this subject, so she asked, "Mr. Bingley, surely you can do better than that. Can you not think of anything really funny?"
Bingley thought for a minute, and then a devilish smile appeared on his face. "Well, Darcy," he said with a laugh, "shall I tell them about a certain bird incident two years ago in Derbyshire?"
Darcy groaned. "Do I have a choice?" he asked.
"No," replied Bingley. "Two years ago, Darcy, his cousin Col. Fitzwilliam and myself were hunting at Pemberley. Fitzwilliam shot a bird, but he only wounded it, and rather than trying to fly away, it came toward us. It seemed to lose the ability to fly right when it was over Darcy's head, and there it hit briefly, before continuing its descent."
Elizabeth burst into laughter at this, but stopped to inquire with a sympathetic look, "Were you hurt?"
"My pride was hurt rather worse than my head." replied Darcy. "My cousin never misses an opportunity to tell that tale, but Bingley is usually kind enough to refrain."
"I hope," said Elizabeth, "that the bird paid a heavy price for its insolence."
"Luckily," said Bingley, "it did not survive the fall, else it might have escaped, as Fitzwilliam and I were laughing too hard to do anything about it."
Chapter 12 Part A
The next morning Jane and Elizabeth agreed that Elizabeth should write to their mother and request the carriage be sent for them that day. Mrs. Bennet, however, sent word that the carriage could not be spared until Tuesday. Miss Bingley all too readily offered to put their carriage at the Miss Bennets' disposal whenever they were ready to leave, but Bingley insisted they stay at least another day, and at length it was agreed that they would go home on Sunday after morning service. With that settled, Bingley announced his intention of following through on his earlier vague promise of holding a ball, and of doing so within the next fortnight. Darcy was startled by this, not because Bingley was planning to hold a ball, but because it suddenly occurred to him that Mrs. Bennet and the younger girls had not come to visit and suggest the ball. How had he managed to escape that?
That afternoon, Darcy at one point found himself alone in the room with Elizabeth, and seizing the opportunity, suggested that they go for a walk. "So," said Elizabeth, as soon as they were outside, "are you really so wholly without faults as Miss Bingley would have us believe?"
"I do not think that possible for anyone," he said. He tried not to think of the litany of faults Elizabeth herself had pointed out to him. "Bingley alluded to one fault last night: I am often ill at ease with people I do not know." He hesitated a minute. "I don't always give as much thought as I should to the feelings of others. I have at times been too arrogant." One time in particular comes to mind.
Elizabeth smiled and said, "All this may be true, but I must say I have seen no evidence of it."
"I am glad to hear that," replied Darcy.
"Well," said Elizabeth, "since you have confessed all your faults, I suppose I must confess mine."
"I was not aware that you had any," replied Darcy with a smile.
"Now," said Elizabeth with a laugh, "you said yourself not a moment ago that was not possible for anyone. I am sometimes too quick to judge people, too quick to find fault with people. And I am far too impertinent."
"I am sure you find fault only where it is deserved," replied Darcy, "and I am not sure impertinence qualifies as a fault, at least not in you."
Elizabeth laughed. "You are far too gallant," she said, "but as I can find no evidence of your faults, I will not object to your overlooking mine." They walked on for a time, talking of all manner of things: of books, of their childhoods, their families, places they had visited.
They reached the edge of a small stream where there was a bench and sat to rest for a moment. Gathering all his courage, Darcy turned to Elizabeth, and with great agitation said, "Miss Bennet, I...."
Chapter 12, Part B
Darcy turned to Elizabeth, and with great agitation said, "Miss Bennet, I...."
At that moment they were interrupted by the sound of Caroline Bingley's voice, "There you are, I wondered where on earth you could have disappeared to. Louisa and I had given you up for lost. Miss Eliza, shouldn't you be keeping an eye on your sister?" Caroline could see that both Darcy and Elizabeth were livid, and guessing at what she must have interrupted, congratulated herself on her timing. Elizabeth waited a few minutes hoping Caroline would leave, but when she didn't, resignedly got up and started walking quickly back to the house. Darcy followed immediately. They set a swift pace, but Caroline was determined to keep up with them, even if it meant sore feet for a week.
Darcy and Bingley had set out for Longbourn, on the pretext of inquiring after Jane's health, when Bingley spotted the sisters. As they approached, Darcy caught sight of Elizabeth, and smiled broadly. Elizabeth returned his smile with equal warmth, their eyes locking for a moment. Just then Wickham turned, and the smile disappeared from Darcy's face. He cursed himself for forgetting about Wickham's arrival, but all he had been able to think of since Saturday was Caroline's interruption of his proposal, and how he could get Elizabeth alone to try again. Darcy's anger at Wickham for what he had done to his sister and how he had blackened his name with Elizabeth overpowered him, and he knew if he stayed there one minute longer, he could not be responsible for his actions. With a regretful look at Elizabeth, he made his apologies, and departed. Bingley soon joined Darcy, and inquired what had happened. Darcy hesitated, and then said "suffice it to say that Mr. Wickham and I are not the best of friends, and had I remained there another moment, I could not be responsible for my actions.
Bingley looked concerned. "Darcy," he said, "he is to join the regiment, I fear we will not be able to avoid him completely." After a pause, Bingley asked "Should I exclude him from the invitations to the ball? I had meant to invite all the officers." Darcy, remembering Wickham's non-attendance, assured Bingley he might issue the invitation, for Wickham was sure to decline it.
Elizabeth had seen the countenance of both gentlemen as they looked at each other, and was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine, it was impossible not to long to know. The sisters soon afterwards called on their aunt, and Mrs. Phillips persuaded them to attend a supper party the next evening.
On Thursday, Bingley, his sisters, and Darcy went to Longbourn to personally deliver the invitation to the ball, which was to be held the following Tuesday. They were shown into the drawing room, but Darcy was disappointed to note that Elizabeth was not present. Jane rather awkwardly excused her sister's absence by saying she wasn't feeling well. There was genuine concern on her face, but Darcy sensed she was concealing something. Was Elizabeth really ill? Or was she unwilling to see him after listening to Wickham's tales? How could she believe Wickham over him? In spite of everything, did she still prefer that monster to him? Darcy reflected, however, that Elizabeth had not heard his side of the story, and resolved to call again at Longbourn and speak with her at the first opportunity. In the event, however, the weather prevented him from venturing in that direction before the ball.
The night of the ball finally arrived, and Darcy nervously rehearsed what he would say to Elizabeth. He anxiously paced about, occasionally nodding to someone in the slowly filling ball room. He was just starting to regain some of his confidence when he saw Wickham enter with several other officers. Darcy quickly exited the room before Wickham could spot him, and headed for the library. He had to be alone to think for a few moments. He was quite certain Wickham had not attended the ball the last time. What was he to make of his appearance? What had changed? Darcy knew he had to sort it out, but he was too angry to think rationally. All he could think of was the prospect of Elizabeth dancing with Wickham. The thought was more than he could bear.
After a while Darcy managed to calm down somewhat. He knew if he hid in the library, Wickham would win by default. He tried to remember everything he could of the ball. His knowledge should give him some advantage over Wickham. He remembered that Elizabeth had danced the first two dances with Mr. Collins. After that, she had danced with an officer, he could not remember whom. After that, she had gone to talk with Charlotte, and he himself had approached her. He suspected that Mr. Collins had secured the first two dances before their arrival at the ball, but after that, if he could beat that officer in asking her for the next two, he would have an opportunity to talk to her. Having worked this out, Darcy returned to the ballroom just in time to see the Bennets make their entrance.
Darcy moved towards the entrance, where he could see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Jane making their way down the receiving line. He could see Mary, Kitty and Lydia behind them, but where was Elizabeth? He assumed she must have stopped to speak with someone or gone back to fetch something from the carriage. Soon, however, it became apparent that Elizabeth had not arrived with her family. At the first opportunity, he approached Jane and Bingley, and asked Miss Bennet if he might have a word with her. Bingley, guessing the cause of his friend's agitation, excused himself to greet the rest of his guests. Darcy did not know how to begin, so he was relieved when Jane volunteered, "My sister said she did not feel well this evening. Mamma tried to persuade her to come anyway, but she was insistent. My cousin offered to stay with her, so the rest of us came."
"Is your sister ill?" Darcy asked, somewhat agitated. If that was all it was....
Jane hesitated for a long minute before replying, "I do not think so."
Darcy tried to think what to say, how to ask what he had to find out. Finally he asked, unable to conceal the anguish in his voice, "Can you tell me what is wrong?"
Jane shook her head sadly. "I do not know. She simply will not confide in me."
Darcy started at this. He had been under the impression that Elizabeth and Jane told each other almost everything.
Jane seemed to hesitate, then said, "perhaps it is not proper for me to tell you this, but I am so worried..." at length, she continued, "Wednesday evening we went to a supper party at my Aunt Phillips. Lizzy seemed a bit agitated that evening, but I didn't think much of it. Then, first thing the next morning, our cousin suggested Elizabeth show him our gardens. She assented very quickly, which I thought rather odd, as she did not seem to..." Jane tried to find a polite way to explain, "she did not seem to enjoy his company. They were outside for maybe five minutes, after which Lizzy came inside, seeming very agitated. She went upstairs to her room, and locked the door. She would not let me in, but I could hear her crying. Mr. Darcy, I'm not sure I should be telling you this....." Jane's voice trailed off. Finally, she continued "Mr. Darcy, I am at a loss to explain this, and I am very worried about my sister. She hasn't been herself since that morning. Do you have any idea...." Her voice again trailed off.
Darcy tried to absorb what he had just heard. He was surprised, and very grateful that Jane should confide so much. It was obvious that she not only trusted him, but believed there to be such a degree of intimacy between himself and her sister as to make it possible he would have some insight into her distress. His instincts told him that Wickham was at fault. He looked about the room, and found that gentleman some distance away, watching himself and Jane intently, with an amused look on his face. Darcy somehow managed to maintain his temper. He then asked, his voice choking with emotion, "Has she been much in Mr. Wickham's company?"
Jane was surprised by this question. She thought for a while, and then answered "He was at the supper party at my aunt's, and I believe she spoke to him for a while there, but I am quite certain she has not seen him since then. What can he have to do with this?"
"Miss Bennet, I can not say this strongly enough. Mr. Wickham is not to be trusted. I have a rather long list of grievances with him, which I would prefer not to go into..." Jane nodded, but she still looked puzzled.
Bingley returned, and Darcy moved across the room, where he was accosted by Caroline Bingley. "Are you pining for the loss of Miss Eliza Bennet?" she asked sarcastically. Darcy did not bother to reply, and walked away, only to hear Mrs. Bennet speculating to Lady Lucas that her second daughter was likely to soon become Mrs. Collins. Darcy tried to make sense of Jane's information. Elizabeth had apparently become upset after speaking to Mr. Collins. Was her mother pressuring her to accept that gentleman? It was certainly possible, but he could not think why her mother would be pressuring her any more now than she would have the previous time... Darcy knew there was only one way he was going to solve this puzzle. He had to speak to Elizabeth. He headed for the stables and requested his horse be saddled.
On arriving at Longbourn, he was greeted by the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, who informed him that Elizabeth was above stairs. He asked her if she might inform Miss Bennet of his presence. Seeing the anguished look on Darcy's face, she agreed. He was shown into the house, where he was greeted by Mr. Collins. The latter, on learning the identity of the visitor, launched into a monologue on his delight in making Darcy's acquaintance, and his deep gratitude for his aunt's generosity. In his anticipation, Darcy barely heard a word the clergyman spoke. At last Mrs. Hill returned with word that Miss Bennet did not feel up to coming downstairs. Mr. Collins launched into a lengthy apology for his cousin's absence, which Darcy interrupted with a curt good-bye.
As Darcy returned to Netherfield, he felt overwhelmed by the hopelessness of the situation. It seemed it did not matter what he did, Elizabeth simply did not care for him. Unable to face the ballroom crowd, Darcy wandered about the Netherfield grounds. He found himself irresistibly drawn to the old rose garden. He wondered if he could find the rosebush in the dark. He searched through the brush and thorns, and at last found it, but the weekend's rain had removed the remaining blooms. There was nothing left but a few petals on the ground. Resignedly he returned to the house and slipped unnoticed up the back stairs to his bedchamber.
Posted on Friday, 04-Dec-98
Author's note: For those of you who haven't figured out what happened at Mrs. Phillips's supper party...
As the sisters entered their aunt's drawing room, they were informed that Mr. Wickham had accepted their uncle's invitation, and was then in the house. While waiting for Wickham and the other officers to appear, they were forced to listen to Mr. Collins's admiration of the furnishings, and commentary on Rosings. When Mr. Wickham did appear, the two youngest girls were much disappointed to see him take a seat next to Elizabeth. He began with several eloquent observations about the weather, but soon began the subject that most interested Elizabeth. He inquired how far Netherfield was from Meryton; and after receiving an answer, asked in a hesitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been staying there.
"About a month," said Elizabeth. "I gather you are aquatinted with him?" she asked.
"I have been connected with his family in a particular manner from my infancy." Elizabeth could not but look surprised. "You may well be surprised, Miss Bennet, at such an assertion, after seeing, as you probably might, the very cold manner of our meeting yesterday. Are you much aquatinted with Mr. Darcy?"
Something told Elizabeth to be cautious. "I am a little acquainted with him. We have known each other about a month."
"And what is your opinion of him?" Wickham asked.
"I have hardly known him long enough to form much of an opinion of him," said Elizabeth. "You have known him much longer, pray what is your opinion of him?"
Wickham hesitated, then began: "His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men that ever breathed, and the truest friend I ever had; and I can never be in company with this Mr. Darcy without being grieved to the soul by a thousand tender recollections. His behavior to me has been scandalous; but I believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and disgracing the memory of his father." Wickham began to speak on more general topics: Meryton, the neighborhood, the society. He was full of flattery for herself and the community at large. His failure to come to the point led Elizabeth to rather doubt there was one.
Wickham allowed that a military life was not what he was intended for, and added, "The church ought to have been my profession-- I was brought up for the church, and I should at this time have been in possession of a most valuable living, had it pleased the gentleman we were speaking of just now."
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, keeping her voice even.
"Yes- - the late Mr. Darcy bequeathed me the next presentation of the best living in his gift. He was my godfather, and excessively attached to me. I can not do justice to his kindness He meant to provide for me amply, and thought he had done it; but when the living fell, it was given elsewhere."
"But how could that be?" asked Elizabeth. "How could his will be disregarded? Why did you not seek legal redress?"
Looking a little uncomfortable, Wickham replied "There was just such an informality in the terms of the bequest as to give me no hope from law. A man of honor could not have doubted the intention, but Mr. Darcy chose to doubt it."
Elizabeth rather suspected there was more to the story than he was letting on. "What could be his motive for behaving in such a fashion?" she asked.
"A thorough, determined dislike of me," he said, "a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to me irritated him very early in life."
Dissatisfied with her reaction so far, Wickham tried another tactic. "Were it only this, Miss Bennet, had it only been myself he had injured, I could perhaps forgive him, but it has not." Wickham hesitated for a moment. "This is a rather delicate subject. Perhaps I had better not..." Hearing nothing from Elizabeth to either encourage or discourage him, but seeing he had her full attention, Wickham continued, "Mr. Darcy unfortunately is one of those gentlemen who finds great sport in making young ladies fall in love with him. When he arrives in a new place, he chooses a target. A month or so later, when she is sure he will soon ask her to be the next mistress of Pemberley, he suddenly finds he has business in town, or somewhere else, and must depart. My dear sister, unfortunately, was the victim of this scheme some years ago. I tried to warn her that she was being foolish, that he would never dream of marrying someone whose status was so clearly beneath his own, but, she felt herself in love, and would not listen to reason. When it was all over, I was left to console her."
Elizabeth fought to keep her face straight. "I hope," she said, "that your sister is quite recovered from her disappointment?"
Wickham looked a little uncomfortable at this, but replied, "I believe for the most part, yes, she is."
Overhearing Mr. Collins state that the five shillings he had just lost at cards were no object, thanks to the generosity of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Wickham asked Elizabeth in a low voice whether her relation were very intimately acquainted with the family of De Bourgh.
"Lady Catherine de Bourgh," she replied, "has very lately given him a living. I hardly know how Mr. Collins was first introduced to her notice, but he certainly has not known her long."
Wickham thought for a moment, and then continued. "You know of course that Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Lady Anne Darcy were sisters; consequently that she is aunt to the present Mr. Darcy."
"I think I had heard that," Elizabeth answered.
"Her daughter, Miss De Bourgh, will have a very large fortune, and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates." Elizabeth did her best to conceal her shock at this information, but her agitation was apparent to Wickham, who was watching her carefully. At the first opportunity, Elizabeth excused herself and went to sit by her elder sister.
Wickham suppressed a laugh. He had seen the look on Miss Bennet's face as Darcy approached them the previous day in Meryton. It had not really surprised him, women were forever looking at Darcy like that. What had surprised him was the way Darcy had looked at her as he was departing, and it had immediately given him an idea. Wickham was disappointed that Miss Bennet did not seem to give much credence to the first part of his story, but he did not doubt that she would apply to her cousin for confirmation of Darcy's engagement, and once she had received it, she would probably give more credence to the rest of his story. Were he to gain Miss Bennet's affections, it would be the perfect revenge on Darcy, but Wickham would be quite satisfied with merely disappointing Darcy's hopes in that direction.