Posted on: 2012-01-25
"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.''
The words hung in the air between them as Darcy watched her beautiful eyes widen in surprise, and eagerly awaited the exclamations of pleasure and gratitude that he was sure would follow. The ensuing pause seemed to last forever. Nevertheless, he soldiered on, detailing the depth of his passion, the obstacles he had overcome in order to be with her, and unconsciously echoing the ill-fated proposal of Mr. Collins in his assurances that he would not reproach her for any lack of dowry or connections after their marriage. He finished by expressing his hope that he would be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand, and awaited her response.
Elizabeth stared at him, took a deep breath, and spoke. "In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot -- I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.''
Mind whirling, Darcy struggled to make sense of her words. Was she actually refusing him? She professed to have been unaware of his regard, but surely his attentions had been obvious! He had anticipated that she might not return his affections equally, perhaps that she would feel unworthy of his hand, but never had he expected an outright refusal, particularly one unaccompanied by any genuine expressions of regret. He knew that if he once opened his lips he would say something dreadfully bitter, and pressed them together until he could be sure that his answer would be at least marginally civil.
"And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.''
Forcible as his own response was, it must be said that he was under the influence of genuine surprise and a most profound disappointment, such as he had likely never experienced before. Had he not been leaning on the mantelpiece, his knees might have buckled--as it was, he betrayed himself only by swaying slightly and tightening his white-knuckled grip on the mantel. A rushing sound filled his ears, and he scarcely registered her next remarks, until a key phrase penetrated his senses.
"Do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?"
A most beloved sister? His mind raced. Georgiana! How could Elizabeth know of that affair? What had Wickham told her? He had ruined her happiness? Was that how Elizabeth interpreted his part in separating the two? Wait, what was she saying now?
"I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other, of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind." Elizabeth's angry eyes practically shot sparks in his direction, and he noted even in his shock and confusion that they were rendered more beautiful than ever in her outrage.
However, he could scarcely believe what he was hearing. What cared he for Wickham's disappointed hopes? As for his sister, no one knew better than he of her misery and of the risk of society's disapprobation if the attempted elopement were to become widely known. Yet she dared to lecture him as if he had done something wrong in preventing Wickham's nefarious plans!
"Can you deny that you have done it?'' she repeated.
With assumed tranquility he then replied, "I have no wish of denying that I did every thing in my power to separate them, as any gentleman with a shred of honor or decency would have done when faced with an unscrupulous fortune-hunter who seeks material gain at the expense of an innocent."
"A fortune-hunter? How dare you, sir!" Elizabeth exclaimed with some heat. "On what do you base such slanderous accusations?"
"On my own observations," he stated unequivocally. "Which, I might add, are necessarily of greater duration and therefore weight than your own!" Why could she not see that he had known Wickham since boyhood--had seen him grow up and exhibit vicious tendencies unbecoming a gentleman? On her short acquaintance with Wickham she could not be privy to his proclivities, could be easily blinded by his smooth manners. How to make it clear to her that despite her romantic inclinations, the attempted elopement was spurred by money, and not by love? He tried again. "Further, without casting aspersions on the relative merits of each party, the difference in situation between the two made it clear that at least on one side, the motivation for an alliance was strictly mercenary."
"I see," she said icily. "In your opinion, then, anyone who seeks to marry above their station must be in pursuit of material gain, rather than affection? What, then, must you think of me?"
Stung, Darcy hastened to retort, "You know very well, madam, that the two situations are completely different! My interference in that matter was absolutely justified--where the disparity in fortune is so apparent, one cannot expect an innocent to be aware of the potential machinations of someone intent upon improving their situation through marriage! I felt it my duty as an elder guardian--"
"Enough, sir!" Elizabeth cried. "I will hear no more! You display your arrogance and high-handed disregard for the feelings of others with every word you speak! You have insulted me and my family in every possible manner, and can therefore have nothing more to say. Sir, you are no gentleman!"
"I?" he asked incredulously. The injustice of the accusation rankled--he was no gentleman, yet Wickham was apparently to be trusted? He wrestled with his twin urges to kiss her senseless and to shake some sense into her. "I have said and done nothing that was not right and moral! I thought better of you than to form an opinion based on an inherently biased source!"
"Biased?" she gasped. "Impossible! You have known him since childhood, and he told me himself that you had confessed to interfering in the relationship! As for the affection between the two, it is true I can know the heart of only one of the parties, but the public interactions between them were common knowledge. If more affection was shown than was intended, it was not the fault of the so-called fortune hunter!"
Darcy flinched. His worst fears were true, then--Wickham had spread the story of Georgiana's attempted elopement through Hertfordshire. The blackguard would stop at nothing to exact his revenge on the Darcy family, it seemed. And Elizabeth apparently sympathized with him! He never would have credited it, but it was true. It was too much to hope that she had simply been deceived--she had made it clear that she held Georgiana to blame for being indiscreet in her affections, and that she sided with Wickham in the matter. With a heavy heart, he admitted to himself that she was not the woman he had thought her to be.
``You have said quite enough, madam," he said with a heavy heart. "I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.''
And with these words he hastily left the room, and Elizabeth heard him the next moment open the front door and quit the house.
Posted on: 2012-01-30
The two gentlemen left Rosings the next morning; and to Rosings Mr. Collins then hastened to console Lady Catherine and her daughter; and on his return brought back, with great satisfaction, a message from her ladyship, importing that she felt herself so dull as to make her very desirous of having them all to dine with her.
Elizabeth, having spent the night reviewing the extent of her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy and reinforcing her prior conclusion that he was the most disagreeable, arrogant, and unpleasant man she had ever had the misfortune to be in company with, nevertheless could not see Lady Catherine without recollecting that, had she chosen it, she might by this time have been presented to her as her future niece; nor could she think, without a smile, of what her ladyship's indignation would have been. "What would she have said? -- how would she have behaved?'' were questions with which she amused herself.
Their first subject was the diminution of the Rosings party. - "I assure you, I feel it exceedingly,'' said Lady Catherine; "I believe nobody feels the loss of friends so much as I do. But I am particularly attached to these young men; and know them to be so much attached to me! - the dear Colonel was excessively sorry to go, though Darcy appeared most distracted at the last--most eager to be off. One might almost suspect he had urgent business of a personal nature--" and here she gave a significant glance to Anne, which dubious subtlety was promptly obliterated by Mr. Collins's voluble allusions to the upcoming joining of two great houses. Elizabeth hid her smirk behind her hand and made mental notes for the later amusement of herself and Mr. Wickham, with whom she fully intended to laugh heartily over the just deserts of the arrogant Mr. Darcy and the taciturn Miss DeBourgh.
At length--and after numerous questions from Lady Catherine which from any other less august personage must have been deemed nothing less than impertinent--dinner was at an end. Nonetheless, their engagements at Rosings were as frequent during the last week of her stay as they had been at first, and while Elizabeth found in them much food for amusement, she had as a result rather less time for reflection on Mr. Darcy's transgressions and Jane's resulting melancholy. This could only be to Mr. Darcy's benefit, though it did not suffice to absolve him of wrongdoing in the slightest.
It was with rather more relief than regret, therefore, that Elizabeth found herself in a carriage heading towards London, where she would meet with dear Jane before returning home, at last, to Longbourn.
Elizabeth's impatience, once finally ensconced in their shared bedroom upon their homecoming, to acquaint Jane with what had happened could no longer be overcome; and at length resolving to suppress every particular in which her sister was concerned, and preparing her to be surprised, she related to her the next morning the chief of the scene between Mr. Darcy and herself.
Miss Bennet's astonishment was eclipsed only by her unhappiness on Mr. Darcy's account, that must be occasioned by her sister's refusal.
"His being so sure of succeeding, was wrong,'' said she; "and certainly ought not to have appeared; but consider how much it must increase his disappointment.''
"Indeed,'' replied Elizabeth, ``I am heartily sorry for him; but he has other feelings which will probably soon drive away his regard for me. You do not blame me, however, for refusing him?''
``Blame you! Oh, no.''
Elizabeth briefly considered alleviating so much of Jane's sadness as resulted from pity for Mr. Darcy by relating his unbridled arrogance in his accusations towards their family and indeed towards Jane herself, but instantly dismissed the thought--what good could possibly come of telling poor Jane that such willful blindness and misunderstanding could exist, particularly in the friend of a gentleman to whom she was still clearly attached? No, far better to allow Jane the comfort of silence on the matter.
Accordingly, she turned the conversation to happier matters--among others, the fact that with Mary King gone to Liverpool for reasons unknown, Mr. Wickham had apparently called twice at Longbourn and had inquired after Elizabeth most particularly. While she did not intend him to be in love with her if she could help it, she nevertheless felt the compliment and was not averse to being his object once more for so long as the regiment remained in Meryton.
On the very last day of the regiment's stay, the dashing Lieutenant Wickham dined with others of the officers at Longbourn, and as Elizabeth had had little opportunity to speak with him of her trip to Kent she was pleased to see that he seated himself near her when the sexes convened after dinner. Eager to acquaint him of the fresh evidence of Mr. Darcy's perfidy, she mentioned Colonel Fitzwilliam's and Mr. Darcy's having both spent three weeks at Rosings, and asked him if he were acquainted with the former.
He looked surprised, displeased, alarmed; but with a moment's recollection and a returning smile, replied that he had formerly seen him often; and after observing that he was a very gentlemanlike man, asked her how she had liked him.
"Extremely well," she replied warmly. "So amiable, so gentlemanly! His manners are very different from his cousin's."
"Indeed," said Mr. Wickham, smiling expressively, which was sufficient encouragement for Elizabeth to continue.
"I wonder that he and Mr. Darcy appear to be on such good terms," she mused, "though perhaps Mr. Darcy merely wishes to have someone at his disposal, to see to his wants and applaud his triumphs." This last was said rather bitterly, which was not un-noted by her companion. In his most unctuous tones, he queried,
"Do you speak from rumor, Miss Elizabeth, or from your own observations?"
"Both," she replied shortly, in a temper once more at the mere remembrance of her last conversation with the gentleman in question, which made her countenance perhaps more severe than she knew. "My conversations with both cousins revealed a truth I had perhaps expected, but never hoped to be the case." Here she paused to take stock of their surroundings, and noting that several other officers were within earshot, lowered her voice out of delicacy for the feelings of all involved. "To my great shock, Mr. Wickham, I was made aware of Mr. Darcy's vehement feelings of antipathy for all whom he deems 'fortune-hunters,' and of his recent history of interference with an affair of the heart involving one such. I am given to understand that at least one party remains heartbroken as a result."
Expecting only such delicate expressions of sympathy as could be expressed without specifically acknowledging the identity of her sister Jane, Elizabeth was most surprised to see Mr. Wickham's countenance pale, and with great agitation he stammered out his reply.
"I--I would not go so far as to characterize the matter as an 'affair of the heart,' but rather--that is to say, Miss Darcy has always been extremely fond of me, and could easily have mistaken my, er… attentions for something that was--in fact, the affections of a fifteen-year-old are easily--I mean…a few letters and an embrace are hardly-- I never had any intention of pursuing… "
At the start of this extraordinary declaration Elizabeth fully intended to disabuse Mr. Wickham of his apparent mistake as to her meaning, but as his recitation unfolded she realized with dawning horror that he was disclosing information that, if true, could only injure his apparent pretense of gentlemanliness. He had paid attentions to Miss Darcy, then only fifteen years old? Without any serious intentions of pursuing her hand? Good heavens! What else might the Darcys properly hold against him, if he had engaged in such improper conduct towards someone so young?
"… and he refused to sign over her dowry until she came of age in any circumstance-- dash it all, Darcy is a fool if he ever thought I had any serious designs on his 'most beloved sister!'" he sneered at last, unaware that his last words had sealed his fate.
For her part, Elizabeth had been struck dumb by his turn of phrase, last used by herself in reference to her sister Jane but which she could only interpret now as Mr. Darcy surely had--as speaking of Miss Darcy herself! Too late did she review the details of their ill-fated exchange at Rosings and lament the misunderstandings that had arisen from the simple failure to communicate!
Perhaps her shock and dismay showed on her face, for he seemed to realize that he had gone too far in his remonstrances against certain parties. For a few minutes he was silent; till, shaking off his embarrassment, he turned to her again, and said in the gentlest of accents,
"You, who so well know my feelings towards Mr. Darcy, will readily comprehend how sincerely I must rejoice that he is wise enough to assume even the appearance of what is right."
Elizabeth could not repress a frown at this, but she answered only by a slight inclination of the head. She saw that he wanted to engage her on the old subject of his grievances, and she was in no humour to indulge him. The rest of the evening passed with the appearance, on his side, of usual cheerfulness, but with no farther attempt to distinguish Elizabeth; and they parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again.
Posted on: 2012-02-05
Fitzwilliam Darcy was a decisive man, and not prone to questioning his decisions once made. He had once said that his good opinion, once lost, was lost forever, and he found no reason to now change that attitude, even where the object of that opinion had previously been the woman with whom he had wished to share his life and his hand. Despite the rejection of his suit, therefore, which might have been crushing to a man less tenacious in his resentments (one might almost call it stubborn), he spent little time regretting the events of the night before and instead sprung into action.
Immediately upon returning to Rosings after the disastrous interview, sneaking in the side entrance to avoid detection by his aunt, he went in search of Colonel Fitzwilliam. He found the colonel en route to the library which, fortunately, was a good distance from the parlor in which Lady Catherine was currently holding court.
"Richard!" he hissed from behind a large ornamental vase. "Richard, over here!"
Colonel Fitzwilliam paused, then, unable to resist teasing his cousin, theatrically cupped a hand to his ear. "What's that I hear? Could it be? It sounds like my cousin Darcy!" Casting a sidelong smirk at him without turning around, he continued. "But that cannot be! My cousin was supposedly unwell this evening! Could it have something to do with the delightful Miss Elizabeth Bennet's similar claim of illness?"
"Do not speak to me of Miss Bennet," Darcy said through gritted teeth. "Ever." He glared at his cousin. "Now, if it is not too much to ask, Richard, I must speak with you privately."
Surprised at Darcy's reaction to his mention of the lovely Miss Bennet, the colonel could do nothing but acquiesce. "Now, what's this all about?" he demanded, once they were sequestered in Darcy's chambers and away from the prying eyes of servants.
"It is Wickham," Darcy responded tersely, fists clenching. He immediately had the satisfaction of seeing the colonel's demeanor stiffen in anger, mirroring his own reaction. "He has been spreading his lies in Hertfordshire."
"Hertfordshire?" the colonel queried, "Isn't that where Miss B--er, where you spent last fall with your friend Bingley?"
"The same," Darcy replied. "While he was apparently circumspect during my stay, I am informed that he was not so cautious once I had left the county."
"Ah," the colonel said enigmatically, noting his cousin's refusal to name his "source" outright. "But Darce, why does it bother you so? You know he's been doing this sort of thing for years--telling his sad tale to pretty young women to convince them of how ill-used he has been and how he could have been a gentleman. What's changed?" Apart from Miss Bennet being the object of his lies this time…
Darcy looked grim. "He has not limited his story-telling to myself this time." He nodded as the colonel paled. "The blackguard has stooped to defaming Georgiana as well."
"Bloody hell!" Richard exploded. "I thought he might have some shred of decency left in him, but--damn it all! I told you I should have been allowed to call him out! But you, you insisted on paying him off! There's not enough money in the world to keep Wickham's cursed mouth shut!" Seeing his cousin's forehead crease in pain, the colonel moderated his tone. "All right, Darcy, what exactly has he been saying and how can we stop it from spreading further?"
"I'm not exactly sure what he has said, and to whom," Darcy admitted ruefully. "I'm afraid that when I heard that he had spread the tale at all, I lost my temper and failed to obtain the details." He raked his fingers through his hair. "Infuriating woman!" he muttered to himself, then looked up at his cousin (who let an inexplicable quirk cross his lips). "I should have taken the time to find out what he was saying. " He hung his head. I" have failed Georgie again."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Richard. "I am damned tired of hearing you moan about 'failing Georgie.' If anything, you have once again managed to protect her from what is sure to be a slanderous exaggeration on his part." He clapped Darcy on the shoulder. "Come now, tell me exactly what you know." And incidentally, how Miss Bennet came to tell you.
Darcy paced over to the fireplace and leaned against it. Searching his memory for Elizabeth's exact words, he tried to recall what had been said. The public interactions between them were common knowledge. Wickham must have described his encounters with Georgie in Ramsgate, which were in truth completely innocent--no matter how naïve and in love, Georgie would never have acted improperly in public. If more affection was shown than was intended, it was not the fault of the so-called fortune hunter! No doubt Wickham had gleefully exaggerated Georgie's innocent signs of her growing affection for him--a touch on the shoulder could have become an embrace, a kiss on the hand something much more sinister. How could Elizabeth have believed the scoundrel? Surely she did not suspect that he would have been so remiss as to raise his own sister to publicly flaunt decorum and allow someone to take liberties with her person? He explained his suspicions to the colonel. Richard frowned thoughtfully.
"It may not be as bad as it appears, Darce," he said finally. "For all we know, Wickham may simply have boasted of his association with your family, which he has been doing for years."
"No," Darcy answered with a sigh. "She accused me of separating the two, and said that Georgie was exposed to society's derision for caprice and instability. What could she mean, if not that Wickham has disclosed the details of their intended elopement?"
Richard looked at him narrowly, wondering if he realized that he had all but admitted to having the information from Miss Bennet. He decided to take a chance on inserting her name into the conversation. "Perhaps Miss Bennet was referring only to private confidences from Wickham, rather than public disclosures."
"Unlikely," Darcy mused absently, distracted by his thoughts from noticing his slip. "We must determine precisely what lies he has been spreading before deciding how to act next." Looking his cousin in the eyes, he set his jaw. "If he has cast aspersions on Georgiana's honor, I will not fail to act this time. I will call him out myself."
Richard nodded soberly. Though he would have preferred to take on the cad himself, Darcy was no mean swordsman, and he recognized his cousin's superior claim to avenge his sister's honor. "I'll go to Hertfordshire," he volunteered. "I can easily claim to be there on military business, and inquire as to what Wickham has been up to."
"Thank you, Richard," Darcy said, his expression warming for the first time since the interview had begun. "I knew I could count on you."
The colonel wasted no time, and was soon off to his chambers to pack, ready to leave at first light. Darcy, for his part, began his preparations for a task of a different kind. He had to protect Georgiana at any cost. Bingley too, now that he thought of it--if Elizabeth was any indication, the Bennets were easily led if best, mercenary at worst. While Bingley appeared to be safe from the clutches of the too-sweet Jane Bennet (and, more importantly, her grasping mother), it would be best if he never knew of Jane's presence in Town. Darcy resolved to return to London to (shudder) acquiesce to Miss Bingley's previous pleas for assistance in her endeavors to keep the two from meeting. As for himself--
Darcy took a fortifying breath. Even if Colonel Fitzwilliam succeeded in containing the gossip in Hertfordshire, there was still the chance that it could spread to London and the Ton. Georgiana's reputation could be irretrievably damaged, and could only be made worse by his apparent condoning of her conduct by keeping it secret. He had to ensure her safety by making sure she had her family's full support in the face of society's potential disapprobation. Who knew how Lady Catherine, and even Lord and Lady Matlock, might use this apparent misstep to remove her from his guardianship? No. He took another breath and crossed the room to pour himself a glass of port, which he drank mechanically. He hated to admit it, but he had known all evening that there was only one thing left to do.
Squaring his shoulders, he opened the door to the hall and beckoned for a footman. The man approached and looked at him in polite inquiry.
"Can you please inquire if Miss DeBourgh will see me now? I have an important matter to discuss with her."
Posted on: 2012-02-10
Colonel Fitzwilliam alighted from the post coach and looked around the courtyard of the inn at Meryton, scanning his surroundings with the practiced eye of a military man. The stables looked clean and well-maintained, the building itself was snug and prosperous, and--ah, there! Just what he was looking for! He strode purposefully towards the pair of officers loitering at the edge of the stable, noting with disapproval the relative sloppiness of their uniforms as compared to his own spotless attire.
"Good day to you, gentlemen," he hailed them, approaching with a deliberately military posture and watching them hurriedly straighten to attention. "Colonel Fitzwilliam here--where is your commanding officer? I must speak with him at once."
"S-sir! Yes sir!" one of them stammered. "Colonel Forster is overseeing maneuvers at the training field at the far side of town, sir!" He gestured in the general direction and was rewarded by a nod from Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Very good. And is the entire regiment accounted for?" At the officer's confused look, he clarified. "Are all of the officers currently in the vicinity, or have any of your company gone missing lately?"
"N-no, sir! All present and accounted for, sir!" He smiled nervously.
"Begging your pardon, sir," interjected his companion, "but is there a particular reason you're asking?"
Richard's eagle eye turned on him. "And you are?"
"Denny, sir! Lieutenant Denny!" he exclaimed, saluting. "I meant no offense, sir! I just thought that--"
"Best not to ask, lad," he replied, with a look intended to forestall further inquiry.
"Sir!" Denny said, eyes wide. "Might I--do you--is it a…. secret mission?"
Richard forebore from further comment, but gave him a knowing look and a hint of a smile--just enough to imply everything while saying nothing. Awed, the junior officers looked after him as he strode away, failing to notice that it was in the opposite direction of the training field.
Richard had no intention of going to the training field--at least not yet. It was not his design to tip his hand by being seen by Wickham before he was ready. On the contrary, he was sure he could get more information from the town's populace than from officers who might be inclined to close ranks against a stranger inquiring about one of their own. And where better to find a source of information than at the local inn and its attendant pub?
As he had expected, the pub was full of potential informants. He settled into a seat at the bar and was soon engaged in conversation with a number of townsfolk over a pint of surprisingly good local ale.
"I hear the militia is soon to depart, eh, colonel?" one gentleman inquired jovially. "A great loss for Meryton--a great loss!"
"Indeed?" the colonel said neutrally, hoping to draw out more discussion.
"To the shopkeepers, certainly," said the gentleman on his other side.
"And to the matchmaking mamas!" interjected another, to general laughter. "I know at least one who will sorely miss the opportunity to gain a son-in-law in regimentals!"
"Of course," said Richard quietly to the first gentleman, once the chuckles had died down, "one cannot expect that all of the officers in such a large regiment will be unreservedly missed. Surely there must be someone who will appreciate the removal of some officer or another?" At the gentleman's inquiring look, he leaned in and continued. "As a superior officer, sir, I would appreciate it if you could disclose any--improper behavior on the part of the militia that I might put a stop to before the regiment's departure."
"Indeed, sir," the man--his name was Sir William Lucas--said, sobering slightly. "If I knew of any, I would put the matter to you for remedy. But thus far, the regiment's stay in Meryton has been… largely uneventful."
"Largely?" Richard prodded gently.
"Sir, I hesitate to discuss such matters without a firm foundation--"
"Sir William, I feel I may speak more plainly." Richard interrupted. "I am in possession of certain information regarding one Lieutenant Wickham, and wish to know anything you can tell me regarding his stay here."
"Ah, Mr. Wickham!" Sir William exclaimed loudly in comprehension, then, looking around in what he believed to be a stealthy manner, lowered his voice. "Not to be a gossip, sir, but since you asked--" Richard nodded intently for him to continue. "It's common knowledge that he was pursuing a certain young lady some time ago--not out of affection, mind you, but for her fortune! It's said that she was quite taken with him, and on the point of accepting him!"
Georgiana! So it was true, the blackguard was spreading the tale here in Hertfordshire. Still, it seemed that his sad story was not being particularly well-received, if Lucas's reaction was any indication. "And did he succeed in his plans?" Richard asked, trying to control the anger in his voice.
"No, no," Sir William assured him, "she was removed from the area by a relative before the affair could go any further. But I hear that the young lady was quite heartbroken over him."
There was a long pause while Richard collected his thoughts. "And you say this is common knowledge here in Hertfordshire?" he asked finally.
"Oh, yes. Everyone knows about the affair." Sir William took a swig of ale. "I don't believe the young lady was actually compromised, mind you, but from what I hear it was a close thing. The two were seen everywhere together in some highly suspect attitudes. It was lucky for her that her relations interfered in time."
"Indeed," Richard said, thinking hard. It appeared Georgie was not being held to blame for Wickham's mercenary conduct. He must be losing his touch, he thought cynically, if he cannot even convince the townfolk of his good intentions when no one is here to contradict him. Darce will be glad to hear that, though not happy that his sister's name is being bandied about so casually by the folk of Meryton.
"It appears that the matter has been resolved, then," Richard said at last. "And he has engaged in no other problematic conduct since he has been here?"
"Not that I know of," Sir William replied. "He may have run up some debts with local shopkeepers, but I have not yet heard any complaints."
That doesn't mean there won't be any once he's safely away… "Thank you for your assistance, Sir William," he said. "I would appreciate it if you would refrain from mentioning this conversation to any of the other officers--it might engender bad feelings amongst the men to know that I did not come to the first for the information. " His companion nodded knowingly. "And I'm sure that the young lady's relatives would prefer that the whole affair be forgotten as soon as may be." Shaking Sir William's hand, Richard put a coin on the counter for his ale and strode out the door.
Sir William took a last swig of his drink and shook his head sadly, thinking of the innocent young girl who had been so deceived by the dashing Lieutenant Wickham, and muttered to himself, "Poor little freckled thing…"
Later that afternoon, after making meaningless small talk with Colonel Forster about the state of the war on the Continent--just enough to provide an excuse for his presence in town--Richard set pen to paper to inform Darcy of his findings.
You were right, Darcy--he wrote--Wickham has been telling all and sundry about his attempts to win Georgie's hand. He has apparently been claiming to have publicly paid her attentions, though luckily for him, he has not stooped to outright slander by claiming to have compromised her. If he had, I would not have been able to stop myself from--but I digress. He is here in Hertfordshire--I saw him from a distance but did not reveal my presence. Rather, I have learned that the regiment is soon to leave for Brighton. I believe I will travel there as well, and possibly prepare a little surprise for him on his arrival?
I will keep you posted of my progress. Give my love to Georgie.
Posted on: 2012-02-15
Elizabeth was extremely vexed. While she was now aware of the extent of Lieutenant Wickham's perfidy, she was unable to do anything to prevent his imposing on others without exposing Miss Darcy to the potential ruin of her reputation. Further, even had she been able to acquaint the townsfolk of Meryton with his true character, the regiment was due to leave the next day--what would be the use, then, of raising the subject? Finally, when she had tried to at least use her newfound knowledge to convince her father to rescind his permission for Lydia to travel to Brighton with Mrs. Forster, the wife of the Colonel of the regiment, her unwillingness to mention specifics made it impossible for her to be sufficiently persuasive as to outweigh the hysterics that both were aware would surely ensue if Mr. Bennet were to forbid Lydia to go.
"You had no concerns with Lydia's accepting the invitation when it was first made, Lizzy," he pointed out. "What could possibly have changed in the past few weeks to make it so imperative that Lydia stay here?"
"I have it on good authority that not all of the officers in the regiment are strictly honorable," Lizzy temporized, trying to convey her urgency while remaining discreet.
"Ah, 'good authority,'" Mr. Bennet smiled, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. "I see that my cleverest daughter is still as susceptible to gossip as the next woman! Come, Lizzy, name your source! Are you still fuming over Lydia's tale of dressing up Mr. Chamberlayne in a gown last month? Or have you heard your mother or your aunt twittering about some supposed slight to a young lady?" He smirked conspiratorially. "You must take things less seriously, Elizabeth. You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?"
Miserably, Elizabeth concluded that her father would not relent, and left the library disappointed. She could only hope that Lydia, being poor and without serious connections, would be too lowly to tempt the likes of Wickham. She resolved to give Lydia some sensible advice regarding conducting oneself with propriety at the earliest opportunity unfortunately, Lydia's habit of sleeping late and procrastinating on her packing left Elizabeth unable to impart much wisdom other than a few hurried words as Lydia waved goodbye from the Forsters' carriage. She was forced, then, to trust in Wickham's inherent self-interestedness to protect her wayward sister.
As Jane was still generally downcast over Mr. Bingley's abandonment the previous fall, Elizabeth's only source of happy anticipation for the past few weeks had been her upcoming Northern tour. While it had been both delayed and curtailed from its original span by Mr. Gardiner's business, the trip remained an attractive prospect, despite the fact that they were to go to Derbyshire, Mr. Darcy's home county. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. ``But surely,'' said she, ``I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.''
Now, at long last, Elizabeth found herself actually on the long-awaited trip and had enjoyed herself greatly in the pleasant and accommodating company of her aunt and uncle. However, upon their reaching the village of Lambton where Mrs. Gardiner had spent her youth, Elizabeth balked at her aunt's suggestion that they actually visit the great house at Pemberley.
``My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much?'' said her aunt. ``A place too, with which so many of your acquaintance are connected. Wickham passed all his youth there, you know.''
Elizabeth was distressed, and attempted to demur, but her aunt would not be dissuaded. The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful! She blushed at the very idea; and thought it would be better to speak openly to her aunt than to run such a risk. But upon inquiring of a chambermaid whether the family were down for the summer, she obtained a negative reply. Her alarms being now removed, she was at leisure to feel a great deal of curiosity to see the house herself; and when the subject was revived the next morning, and she was again applied to, could readily answer, and with a proper air of indifference, that she had not really any dislike to the scheme.
To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.
The next day dawned bright and crisp, and Elizabeth and the Gardiners set off for the house with every expectation of a day well-spent. Indeed, the housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds received them with great civility, and every room, every stick of furniture, even the disposition of the ground made clear the taste and elegance of the owner. Elizabeth spent a happy hour perusing one lovely room after another, including the well-stocked library that had once been the subject of Miss Bingley's saccharine raptures.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned down stairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door. As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables.
They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; then, to Elizabeth's great discomfort, he abruptly turned and walked hurriedly in the opposite direction.
Her aunt and uncle turned to her for an explanation of Mr. Darcy's most peculiar behavior, but aside from a few disjointed phrases about how she supposed he could not be expected to immediately greet such an indifferent acquaintance when he had clearly just returned from travel, she could give none. She was painfully aware that his conduct, though perfectly reasonable in light of her unjust accusations at their last meeting, could only serve to confirm the negative report she had previously given to her relations of his arrogance and disagreeableness. How she wished now that she had been less forcible in her opinions! She could do nothing now but follow as her aunt and uncle hurried to their carriage.
``Perhaps he may be a little whimsical in his civilities,'' remarked her uncle. ``Your great men often are; and therefore we had best be off, as he might next warn us off his grounds.''
Elizabeth felt that they had entirely mistaken his character, but said nothing.
``From what we have seen of him,'' continued Mrs. Gardiner, ``I am inclined to believe Mr. Wickham's tale. But to be sure, the good lady who shewed us the house did give him a most flaming character! I could hardly help laughing aloud sometimes. But he is a liberal master, I suppose, and that in the eye of a servant comprehends every virtue.''
Elizabeth here felt herself called on to say something in vindication of his behaviour to Wickham; and therefore gave them to understand, in as guarded a manner as she could, that by what she had heard from his relations in Kent, his character was by no means so faulty, nor Wickham's so amiable, as they had been considered in Hertfordshire.
Mrs. Gardiner was surprised and concerned; but as they were now approaching Lambton, she was soon pleasantly distracted, leaving Elizabeth to her thoughts.
That evening, as she prepared for bed, Elizabeth could think of nothing but Mr. Darcy and how she had wronged him. Her aunt's readiness to believe the worst of him, based on her own previous report and today's justifiable reluctance on his part to greet their party, weighed heavily on her mind, and she felt all the guilt that could be occasioned by maligning a good and decent man to those wholly unconnected to him. She could not bear the thought that, based on her own willful blindness and accusation, he might be alive in the world and thinking ill of her.
There was only one thing to do. She opened her trunk, retrieved pen, ink, and paper, and sat down to write a letter.
Posted on: 2012-02-25
Darcy reined in his horse, breathing hard from the exertion of his morning ride. He had spent a sleepless night occasioned by the unexpected re-appearance of Elizabeth--no, Miss Bennet, he reminded himself--in his life, and had determined that the best way to distract himself from her damnably fine eyes was physical activity. Accordingly, he had arisen at dawn, slipped off to the stables (avoiding the well-meaning Mrs. Reynolds, who would surely have pressed him to delay for breakfast), and spent the better part of two hours riding aimlessly through Pemberley's extensive grounds.
Hot, somewhat sweaty, and in search of a method of cooling off, he briefly considered taking a dip in the pond but realized that he was quite a distance from the house--in face, close to the borders of his lands. Sighting a familiar path, he decided to ride into Lambton for a refreshing pint (yes, it was early, but the pub was sure to be open to accommodate those in search of a liquid breakfast, and if he ever needed such refreshment, now was the time). Once there, it was a simple matter to add some fresh bread and fruit for a simple meal. The pub's owner, seeing his state of dishevelment, gave him a strange look but forebore to comment. Far be it for him to discourse on the state of the master of Pemberley!
Thus fortified, Darcy set out on foot, observing the morning routine of the town and absently noting that he had rarely visited the area at such an early hour. He was intrigued at the hustle and bustle of shopkeepers opening their storefronts, which had never before had occasion to see, and saw with pleasure that his favorite bookshop appeared to have some new titles in its front window. The advantages of being up early…
Eagerly, he entered the shop, intent upon having first crack at the new merchandise. Unfortunately, it appeared that he had been preceded by a similarly early riser. As the young woman at the counter turned, he realized with shock that it was Elizabeth!
He froze in the doorway, stiffening, as Elizabeth gasped in surprise. But before he could recover himself sufficiently to turn and exit the shop, she started towards him, reaching into her reticule.
"I had not--that is, I had little hope of encountering you here this morning, though I count myself fortunate to have this opportunity of speaking with you." Here she held out an envelope. "Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?'' -- And then, with a slight curtsey, she stepped past him and left the shop.
Darcy knew not what to think. It was most improper for her to have written to him, and his first inclination was to discard the letter unopened, so sure was he that she could have nothing more to say to him that had not been discussed during their conversation at Hunsford. Such thoughts occupied the whole of his trip back to the house, and he had almost resolved to burn the letter and think no more of the affair, when it occurred to him that it might contain clues as to the extent of Wickham's perfidy. He could not let such information go unread, despite Colonel Fitzwilliam's previous assurances that the gossip in Hertfordshire was not nearly as bad as he had expected.
With no expectation of pleasure, but with the strongest curiosity, Darcy opened the letter, and, to his still increasing wonder, perceived an envelope containing two sheets of letter paper, written quite through, in a very close hand. -- The envelope itself was likewise full.
``Be not alarmed, Sir, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, which I so intemperately and (I now see) undeservedly avowed on the occasion of our last meeting. I write without any intention of paining you by dwelling on statements which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon repudiated; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.
Your party had not been long in Hertfordshire before I saw, perhaps alone in my intimate knowledge of my sister Jane, that she preferred your friend Bingley to any other gentleman of her acquaintance. Indeed, it was clear to me that she was on her way to being very much in love, and was in hopes of having her sentiments returned. It was not until the day after the dance at Netherfield, when your entire party left abruptly for London, that I had any apprehension that my sister's serious attachment might not be reciprocated. Based on Jane's account of her subsequent trip to London and my own previous observations of Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, and--forgive me--yourself, I was convinced that Mr. Bingley had been influenced to abandon my sister for many of the same reasons you listed during your proposal at our last meeting. From that moment I reviewed my memory of the behavior of all parties most attentively, and I could then perceive that while Mr. Bingley's look and manners were indicative of affection for my sister, those of yourself and his sisters bespoke some measure of disapprobation. If I have been mistaken here, I apologize, but I shall not scruple to assert that the severity of your countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, however honorable your character, your pride would not support a match between your friend and my sister. That I was desirous of believing you to have interfered is, unfortunately, the case--I had been influenced by my own vanity and the insinuations of Mr. Wickham by that time--but I will venture to say that your manners lent themselves to such a conclusion, which was only borne out in Kent. My discussions there with your cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam only cemented my conclusion that you had personally acted to separate my sister from your friend.
It was that action to which I referred when I rashly accused you of arrogance and disdain for the feelings of others, and of ruining the happiness of my most beloved sister. Your own response to my accusation, which I now realize stemmed from your having interpreted it in a completely different light, only inflamed my prejudice against you and seemed to confirm all of my previous dislike--so much so that I made many comments at which I can now only blush, aware as I am now of how they must have been interpreted.
However true it may have been that you acted to interfere in your friend's attentions to my sister, I realize now that I know not your reasons for doing so. In light of Mr. Bingley's failure to call upon my sister in town, it now appears that his affections were ephemeral at best. I can only assume that you were aware of this tendency and acted to protect both from an alliance that could only end in indifference. Thus, if you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in an error in my initial observations of his partiality towards my sister. Your superior knowledge of your friend must make the latter probable. -- If it be so, if I have been misled by such error to come to the erroneous conclusion that your pride, rather than your care for your friend, was the impetus for your actions, you would not have been unreasonable in resenting me for it.
As for Mr. Wickham, please believe me, sir, that I had not the slightest idea that he had ever, in any way, imposed upon your sister, and would never have referred to it had I known. I assure you that such is not general knowledge, and in fact was imparted to me by Mr. Wickham only after my return from Kent, in what I can only assume was an attempt to clear himself of all blame and once again cast aspersions on your character. I do not pretend to know his motivations for thus slandering you, nor the particulars of your past dealings with him, but his statements against you and your family, unsupported by any semblance of truth, have made his character clear. I am now convinced that your conduct with regard to the matter was completely irreproachable, and that Mr. Wickham is a cad of the lowest order. It remains only for me to be ashamed of the violence of my accusations towards you.
I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of my stay in Lambton. I will only add, God bless you.
-- Elizabeth Bennet
If Mr. Darcy, when Elizabeth gave him the letter, did not expect it to contain a renewal of her accusations against him and a defense of Mr. Wickham, he had formed no expectation at all of its contents. But such as they were, it may be well supposed how eagerly he went through them, and what a contrariety of emotion they excited. His feelings as he read were scarcely to be defined. He read, with an eagerness which hardly left him power of comprehension, and from impatience of knowing what the next sentence might bring, was incapable of attending to the sense of the one before his eyes.
He perfectly remembered every thing that had passed in conversation between Elizabeth and himself in their evening at Hunsford. Many of her expressions were still fresh in his memory. He was now struck with the inconsistencies in their conversation which should have alerted him to the fact that they were speaking at cross-purposes, and wondered that it had escaped him before. How differently did every thing now appear in which he was concerned! Her comments regarding the motives of the so-called "fortune hunter" were no longer supportive of Wickham but defensive of her own sister; and her indignation at his supposed disparagement of those who sought to marry above their station was no longer to be wondered at. And in reading her confident conclusion that his separation of his friend from her sister (who apparently had had strong feelings for Bingley!) must have been based on his concern for their well-being, he grew absolutely ashamed of himself. Of neither Bingley nor Jane Bennet could he think, without feeling that he had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
``How despicably have I acted!'' he cried. -- ``I, who have prided myself on my discernment! -- I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. -- How humiliating is this discovery! -- Yet, how just a humiliation! Having prided myself on withholding evidence of my own fascination with her, to have blamed her sister for not being obvious enough in her affection for my friend--and to be lauded for my seeming generosity in preventing their eventual heartbreak! Till this moment, I never knew myself.''
Indeed, it was her apology for misunderstanding his motives for keeping Bingley in town that struck him most forcibly--for he had not been motivated by his fear of Bingley's eventual defection, but, as he now admitted to himself, by his pride. Elizabeth's first impressions had been sadly correct, and he winced now at the strength of his prior objections. Had he not disregarded them, deeming them inconsequential when applied to himself? How could he now maintain the evil of the same connection when referring to Bingley, particularly where, unlike her sister, Jane Bennet appeared to return the affections of her suitor?
Putting aside the letter at last, he resolved to tell Bingley of his interference at the first opportunity. Luckily, the man himself was due to arrive that very day, accompanying Georgiana on her return to Pemberley. He would take Bingley aside, confess the entire situation, and hope that they could remain friends. As for Elizabeth--for he had regressed to referring to her as such despite his initial determination to maintain formality--he could not let her continue in her misapprehension as to his motives. Though he might forfeit her good opinion by confessing his part in the affair, his honor would not let him keep his silence. He would tell her all, and hope thereafter to keep her friendship, if not obtain her affections in time. For he admitted now to himself that he had never ceased to love her, even when he believed her taken in by Wickham. Then, he had been angry, worried for Georgiana and yes, resentful that Wickham had been believed over himself. But he had never truly directed that anger or resentment at Elizabeth. With the obstacles of their misunderstanding removed, his emotions struck him again with full force, and he could only hope to continue in her acquaintance with a greater understanding and accord than had previously been theirs.
With a smile on his lips--truth be told, the first such that had appeared since their argument at Hunsford--he rose from his desk to prepare for Bingley's arrival. But before he could ring for a servant, a knock sounded at the library door.
"Enter," he called. A footman entered the room, bowed slightly, and announced the arrival of his guests. "Miss Darcy and Mr. Bingley have arrived, sir," he said. "And Miss--"
"Darcy!" interrupted a feminine voice as its owner pushed past the footman. "I must speak with you!"
"Anne!" Darcy was astounded. "Whatever are you doing here?"
"I have had a letter from Richard," Anne DeBourgh-- for indeed, it was she-- announced, waving the footman away with an impatient gesture. "We must talk about Wickham and what we are to do about him."
"We?" Darcy repeated incredulously. "What the blazes are you talking about? How are you involved in all this?"
"Yes, we," she retorted. "And as for how I'm involved, I became involved the moment I agreed to help you in your ridiculous plans!" She raised an eyebrow. "And please to watch your language," she said primly. "Is this any way to be speaking to your fiancée?"
Posted on: 2012-05-16
Elizabeth was in a state of high anxiety, which, given her generally sunny disposition, was an unfamiliar one for her. More than once that morning did her aunt look at her strangely as she paced the room, but as Elizabeth could not, in all propriety, disclose the fact that she was fretting over Mr. Darcy's response to her (most improper!) letter, Mrs. Gardiner was forced to accept her stammered explanation that she was simply restless for want of exercise, while Mr. Gardiner simply shook his head in amusement over his newspaper.
What must he think of her? Did he believe her explanation for the improbable misunderstandings they had both suffered? And what of Mr. Bingley and Jane? She continued to pace up and down the room, unable to keep her mind from wandering to that very spot in Pemberley, wherever it was, that Mr. Darcy happened to be.
Still fretting, she took up her sketchbook, hoping that an occupation would prove a welcome distraction. However, with every attempt to commit to paper her memories of the scenery from their travels, she found herself inevitably picturing Mr. Darcy, reminded of him by the most harmless of recollections. A tall poplar tree recalled his firm and upright posture; the line of a peak echoed his strong jawline; and for some reason, a picturesque lake made her wonder what he would look like if he were to plunge into--
The faint sound of a sudden knock at the outer door startled her out of her reverie, and she listened curiously as the visitor's footsteps sounded in the hallway as he (for they were heavy boots, rather than more ladylike slippers) was ushered inside. The door to their sitting room opened, and when Mr. Darcy entered she owned to a guilty start of surprise that he was not, in fact, wearing a shirt drenched in lake water.
"Mr. Darcy," she greeted him anxiously, searching his face for any sign as to his feelings.
"Miss Bennet. Mrs. Gardiner. Mr. Gardiner." He bowed.
After what seemed an interminable pause, Mrs. Gardiner invited him to sit, and he did so, stiffly. As they exchanged pleasantries on their travels thus far, speaking lightly of Matlock and Dove Dale, Elizabeth noted with astonishment that he had apparently taken the time to find out not only the name of her relations and the inn in which they were staying, but the course of their trip thus far and the especial beauties they had discussed with Mrs. Reynolds. Perhaps he had taken her words to heart after all?
The conversation soon turned upon fishing, and she heard Mr. Darcy invite her uncle, with the greatest civility, to fish at Pemberley as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who well recalled the awkwardness of the previous day, gave Elizabeth a look expressive of her wonder. Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme; and continually was she repeating, ``Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? My letter could not work such a change as this. It is impossible that he should still love me.''
After talking some time in this way, Mrs. Gardiner was obliged to bring the conversation to a close, citing a prior engagement with old acquaintance in the village. Elizabeth, who was meant to go with her, stood to leave with mixed feelings, unsure whether to be relieved or saddened at the cessation of the newly-civil interaction with Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy, for his part, had no such hesitation, and promptly offered to escort them to their destination. Bidding farewell to Mr. Gardiner, the ladies exited the inn with Elizabeth on Mr. Darcy's arm--her aunt having decided, after all, that discretion was the better part of valor and resolving to allow whatever relationship that might be brewing, to unfold naturally.
After a short silence, Mr. Darcy first spoke. He wished to apologize for his abrupt departure on the occasion of their encounter at Pemberley--"I can offer no excuse," he added, "but can only say that I was laboring under a dreadful misunderstanding." Here he looked at her warmly. "Luckily, I was enlightened shortly thereafter by a most timely letter." Holding her gaze, he offered a hopeful smile which, she noted absently, quite became him.
"I am glad to hear it, sir," she replied, smiling with relief. Then, greatly daring, she smiled back at him and inquired archly, "Are we to be friends after all, then? Shall you learn to find my country manners tolerable?" To her surprise, the tall and stately Mr. Darcy actually blushed!
"It would be my honor, Miss Bennet," he said, dropping his eyes momentarily before staring at her in a most disconcerting way. Flustered, she looked away and stammered, "we should continue on, or my aunt will miss us!" Realizing that they had stopped in their tracks during the course of their conversation, Mr. Darcy nodded his assent and they continued on their way.
He noted then that it was lucky, after all, that he had encountered her party at Pemberley, as business with his steward had occasioned his coming forward a few hours before the rest of the party with whom he had been travelling. ``They will join me early tomorrow,'' he continued, ``and among them are some who will claim an acquaintance with you, -- Mr. Bingley, for one.''
Elizabeth answered only by a slight bow. Her thoughts were instantly driven back to the time when Mr. Bingley's name had been last mentioned between them; and if she might judge from his complexion, his mind was not very differently engaged.
``There is also one other person in the party,'' he continued after a pause, ``who more particularly wishes to be known to you, -- Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?''
The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was too great for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. She immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother, and without looking farther, it was satisfactory; it was gratifying to know that his resentment had not made him think really ill of her.
They continued to walk, and had Elizabeth then been able to sneak more than occasional glances in his direction, she would have been gratified still further by the frequent looks of admiration her companion exhibited towards her. For her part, she knew not what she expected or wanted from their further acquaintance, but was aware that she was very much looking forward to seeing him in the company of his sister, that she might have the pleasure of seeing her recent conclusions regarding the uprightness and tenderness--tenderness? Where had that come from?-- of his character confirmed.
Arriving at Mrs. Gardiner's destination, they parted company with the utmost politeness, Elizabeth having recovered her spirits enough to essay a pert grin as she made her parting curtsey. She was highly amused by the answering twinkle in his eyes and the slight quirk of the lips that she had come to recognize as signifying his appreciation of a private joke. It surprised her to note how much she enjoyed being part of it.
The observations of her uncle and aunt now began; and each of them pronounced him to be infinitely superior to any thing they had expected. ``He is perfectly well behaved, polite, and unassuming,'' said her uncle.
``There is something a little stately in him to be sure,'' replied her aunt, ``but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. I can now say with the housekeeper, that though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it.''
``I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It was more than civil; it was really attentive; and there was no necessity for such attention. His acquaintance with Elizabeth was very trifling.''
``To be sure, Lizzy,'' said her aunt, ``he is not so handsome as Wickham; or rather he has not Wickham's countenance, for his features are perfectly good. But how came you to tell us that he was so disagreeable?''
Elizabeth excused herself as well as she could; said that she had liked him better when they met in Kent than before, and that she had never seen him so pleasant as this morning. Upon their expressing surprise at her opinion, particularly given her previous championing of Mr. Wickham, she felt herself called on to defend Mr. Darcy further; and therefore gave them to understand, in as guarded a manner as she could, that while she had no idea of the particulars, her more recent interactions with Mr. Wickham had given her to doubt his account of Mr. Darcy's allegedly infamous treatment of him.
Mrs. Gardiner was surprised and concerned; but as they were now approaching the scene of her former pleasures, every idea gave way to the charm of recollection; and she was too much engaged in pointing out to her husband all the interesting spots in its environs to think of any thing else. The occurrences of the day were too full of interest to leave Elizabeth much attention for any of these new friends; and she could do nothing but think, and think with wonder, of Mr. Darcy's civility, and above all, of his wishing her to be acquainted with his sister.
Elizabeth had settled it that Mr. Darcy would bring his sister to visit her the very day after her reaching Pemberley; and was consequently resolved not to be out of sight of the inn the whole of that morning. But her conclusion was false; for on the very next morning, these visitors came.
Having been given to expect Mr. and Miss Darcy, as well as Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth was most surprised to see a fourth making up their party as they were announced--at first she expected that Miss Bingley might have deigned to grace the inn with her presence, but was utterly dumbfounded to see that the additional young lady was in fact Anne DeBourgh. And what a different Anne than the one with whom she had previously been presented--gone was the silent, listless young woman she had met at Rosings, and in her place was a most acute and unembarrassed observer whose piercing gaze put even Mr. Darcy's to shame.
Miss Darcy, on the other hand, was as shy and retiring as ever Miss DeBourgh had pretended to be--for it was clear now that Miss DeBourgh was no shrinking violet in truth, despite Mr. Collins's repeated comparison of her to that particular flower in several of his "little compliments"--though Miss Darcy's manners, once she became accustomed to her company, were perfectly unassuming and gentle.
Elizabeth did her best to draw Miss Darcy out with talk of music, and was rewarded with greater animation on the part of the young lady and an indulgent smile from her brother upon observing a particularly spirited discussion of a favorite composer. Miss DeBourgh, for her part, seemed content to observe from her place on the settee and intersperse occasional witticisms that Elizabeth could not quite interpret as being either barbed or good-humored. The young heiress had none of the underlying hostility of Miss Bingley, but neither did she evince the unequivocal desire to please and be pleased that characterized both Darcys on this particular occasion. It puzzled her exceedingly, as she tried to make out the character of this new Miss DeBourgh, and she eventually decided that further character study was impossible with the distractions of Mr. and Miss Darcy before her, as well as Mr. Bingley.
All Elizabeth's anger against him had been long done away; but, had she still felt any, it could hardly have stood its ground against the unaffected cordiality with which he expressed himself on seeing her again. He enquired in a friendly, though general way, after her family, and looked and spoke with the same good-humoured ease that he had ever done. Sometimes she could fancy that he talked less than on former occasions, and once or twice pleased herself with the notion that as he looked at her, he was trying to trace a resemblance. His sister, thankfully, had not accompanied the party to the inn, nor, indeed, to Pemberley, and though Elizabeth was at a loss to explain how Miss Bingley would ever have foregone the chance to visit the grand estate and further her acquaintance with the family, she was not disposed to question her good fortune.
Their visitors staid with them above half an hour, and when they arose to depart, Mr. Darcy called on his sister to join him in expressing their wish of seeing Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet to tea at Pemberley at their earliest convenience. Miss Darcy, though with a diffidence which marked her little in the habit of giving invitations, readily obeyed. Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece, desirous of knowing how she, whom the invitation most concerned, felt disposed as to its acceptance, but Elizabeth had turned away her head. Presuming, however, that this studied avoidance spoke rather a momentary embarrassment, than any dislike of the proposal, and seeing in her husband, who was fond of society, a perfect willingness to accept it, she ventured to engage for her attendance, and the next day was fixed on.