April 24, 2015 02:04PM
Chapter 2 – Colonel Fitzwilliam Explains

Rising at her usual time, Elizabeth broke her fast with the others. Charlotte had to walk to Hunsford to make a few calls and welcomed Elizabeth’s company. Returning around noon, they enjoyed a light lunch and then Elizabeth’s desire for exercise led her to suggest a walk; however Charlotte could not spare the time and Maria disclaimed any interest, and so Elizabeth ventured out alone. She was proceeding directly to her favourite route, when the recollection of Mr. Darcy’s sometimes coming there stopped her, and instead of entering the park, she turned up the lane which led her farther from the turnpike road. The park paling was still the boundary on one side, and she soon passed one of the gates into the ground.

After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the park. The five weeks which she had now passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the early verdure of the trees. She was on the point of continuing her walk, when she caught a glimpse of a gentleman within the sort of grove which edged the park; he was moving that way; and fearful of its being Mr. Darcy, she was directly retreating. But the person who advanced was now near enough to see her, and stepping forward with eagerness, pronounced her name. She had turned away, but on hearing herself called, though in a voice which proved it to be Colonel Fitzwilliam, she moved again towards the gate.

“I have been making the tour of the Park,” he said, “as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?”

“I thought to stroll in the park for some little way.”

“I would join you, if I may.”

“I would certainly not object to your company, sir.”

They walked with little conversation until the Colonel, glancing at her countenance, asked, “I could wish that your headache no longer bothers you, although it appears that it may do so still.”

Elizabeth looked at him in some confusion, “My headache is quite gone, I assure you.”

“Ah. I am glad. I thought perhaps it had deprived you of sleep.”

“I admit to sleeping poorly, Colonel but you are being most ungallant indeed to remark on the effects on my countenance,” she teased.

The Colonel was not to be diverted. He had a suspicion that his words of the previous day had contributed to Miss Bennet’s discomfort and sought to make amends. He had recollected afterwards that Darcy had met Miss Bennet when he was visiting Bingley and wondered if Miss Bennet was the lady in question. He could not ask directly but thought he might probe further, albeit with as much delicacy as possible.

“My cousin is not one to disclose much of his activities even to his closest acquaintances. I recollect he met you in Hertfordshire. Were you much in his company there?”

“Not a great deal - although, I stayed at Netherfield Hall, where he was visiting, for several days while nursing my sister. We met on a few other occasions as well.”

“He is not an easy gentleman to get to know. He has difficulty recommending himself to strangers.”

“That I can well believe, Colonel. I hear such varying reports of him as to confuse me greatly. And, as you have stated, he does not converse readily with others.”

“Yes, he has certainly behaved similarly here,” he laughed. They walked in silence for several minutes until Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at Elizabeth and asked, “Something you have said puzzles me greatly. You spoke of varying reports of my cousin. I would guess that Bingley would speak favourably of him since he and Darcy are great friends. I was not aware that he was known to others while in Hertfordshire. May I inquire as to the source of the other reports?”

Elizabeth was reluctant to reveal that Mr. Wickham had confided in her but then remembered that the gentleman had spoken to others of his grievances against Mr. Darcy and that the tale of his misfortune was widely known around Meryton. Finally she replied, “A gentleman intimate with the Darcy family joined the ____ Militia and spoke of his dealings with them.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam made little effort to conceal his surprise and responded, “I find it hard to believe that any gentleman with a close acquaintance with the Darcy family could speak ill of them. May I enquire into the gentleman’s name?”

Elizabeth could not explain her hesitancy and trepidation in revealing Mr. Wickham’s identity. It was not that she doubted Mr. Wickham’s account. Its verity was revealed in his countenance and assurance when he spoke of his dealings with Mr. Darcy. Nonetheless, she hesitated before saying, “Mr. Wickham.”

“George Wickham!”

Elizabeth suddenly found herself walking unaccompanied and looked around for Colonel Fitzwilliam only to find that he had stopped several paces back. The glare directed at her startled her and when the Colonel, in two quick steps, towered over her almost threatening in his intensity, she drew back involuntarily.

Colonel Fitzwilliam, aware that he had seriously disconcerted her, took a deep breath and, stepping back, assumed a less threatening mien. “I apologize, Miss Bennet, for disturbing you so. I can only plead my surprise at your mentioning Mr. Wickham. But I must know! What has that scoundrel done now?”

Elizabeth could not help but feel angry that Mr. Darcy had prejudiced all his relatives and friends against Mr. Wickham. With cold civility, she responded, “Scoundrel? I would not call him such.” Seeing a look of incredulity on the Colonel’s face, she snapped, “It is the character of Mr. Darcy that was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham.” The Colonel’s mien encouraged her to continue, “Mr. Darcy reduced him to his present state of poverty, comparative poverty, by withholding the advantages, which he knew to have been designed for him. Mr. Wickham has been deprived, during the best years of his life, of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. Mr. Darcy did all this! And yet when I spoke to him of it, his contempt and disparagement was plain in his voice and countenance.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s countenance changed from incredulity to contempt to anger as he listened to her defence of Mr. Wickham. “And this,” he cried, “is your opinion of my cousin! This is the estimation in which you hold him! I thank you for explaining it so fully. His faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed - if the calculation were true!”

Elizabeth coloured as she heard the contempt in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s voice and manner. She thought well enough of him as to be aware that he would not have reacted in such a manner without cause. Her response was firm but contained less anger than before, “You deny that it is true?”

“I do indeed, Madam! And in every particular!”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement, and with little further ado, began, “I know not all that George Wickham has said to you and I can only refute it by laying before you the whole of his connection with the Darcys. Of the truth of what I shall relate, I can summon more than one witness of undoubted veracity and documents which attest to the truthfulness of my words.” He paused as though wishing her to acknowledge this fact, which she reluctantly did by nodding, and then he continued, “Mr. Wickham is the son of a very respectable man, who had for many years the management of all the Pemberley estates; and whose good conduct in the discharge of his trust naturally inclined Darcy’s father to be of service to him; and on George Wickham, who was his god-son, his kindness was therefore liberally bestowed. Darcy’s father supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge; most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman’s education. Darcy’s father was not only fond of George’s society, since his manners were always engaging, but had also the highest opinion of him and, hoping the church would be his profession, intended to provide for him in it.”

Elizabeth could not but help cry out, “This I had from Mr. Wickham himself. He did not try to hide his connection with the Darcy family.”

“All good lies contain some truth, Miss Bennet, else they would be easier to discern.” Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head, only a little of the anger having leached from his voice, “As for Darcy and myself, it is many, many years since we first began to think of him in a very different manner. The vicious propensities - the want of principle, which he was careful to guard from the knowledge of Mr. Darcy, could not escape the observation of young men of nearly the same age as himself, and who had opportunities of seeing him in unguarded moments, which Mr. Darcy could not have. Here again I shall give you pain - to what degree you only can tell. But whatever may be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created, a suspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from unfolding his real character. It but adds even another motive. Mr. Darcy died…”

Elizabeth felt compelled to interrupt, “I have no particular affection for Mr. Wickham beyond friendship!”

Colonel Fitzwilliam looked relieved as he resumed his explanation, “For that I am thankful indeed. But as I was about to say, Mr Darcy died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr. Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow, and, if he took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. As one of the executors of the will, I am quite familiar with these details. Mr. Wickham’s own father did not long survive Mr. Darcy, and within half a year from these events, Mr. Wickham wrote to inform Darcy that, having finally resolved against taking orders, he hoped Darcy should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the preferment by which he could not be benefited.”

Elizabeth sensed rather than heard a soft snort from the Colonel as he said, “He had some intention, he added, of studying the law, and that Darcy must be aware that the interest of one thousand pounds would be a very insufficient support to do so. Darcy and I rather wished than believed him to be sincere; but, at any rate, Darcy was perfectly ready to accede to his proposal. He knew very well - as did I - that Mr. Wickham ought not to be a clergyman. The business was therefore soon settled. Wickham resigned all claim to assistance in the church and accepted in return three thousand pounds. All connection between Darcy and Wickham was now dissolved.”

Elizabeth could not help but exclaim, “Four thousand pounds! So much!”

“Indeed! A sum which a prudent man could use to support himself for ten years or more. I gather Mr. Wickham omitted that little portion of the story.” The Colonel snorted more loudly this time, “Four thousand pounds was certainly enough to allow Wickham to study law should he have chosen to do so. Anyway, Darcy thought too ill of him to invite him to Pemberley, or admit his society in town. In town, I believe, Mr. Wickham chiefly lived, but his studying the law was a mere pretence, and being now free from all restraint, his life was a life of idleness and dissipation. For about three years we heard little of him; but, on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for him, he applied to Darcy again by letter for the presentation. His circumstances, he assured us, and Darcy and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained, if Darcy would present him to the living in question - of which he trusted there could be little doubt, as he was well assured that there was no other person to provide for, and that Darcy could not have forgotten his revered father’s intentions. You will hardly blame Darcy for refusing to comply with this entreaty, or for resisting every repetition of it. Wickham's resentment was in proportion to the distress of his circumstances - and he was doubtless as violent in his abuse of Darcy to others, as in his reproaches to Darcy himself. Your previous reaction attests to this, I believe.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s face had gradually lost much of its anger and had settled into a cold, hard cast which Elizabeth found more frightening than his anger. She knew the gentleman was an experienced soldier but for the first time she thought she saw that part of him which he hid from gentle society. She could not doubt his words.

“Enough! Colonel Fitzwilliam enough! I believe you!”

Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head in denial, “No Miss Bennet, there is more you must hear. What I have said so far is in defence of my cousin’s honour and reputation. What I must impart now is for your benefit alone lest George Wickham impose himself on you.” His pause was obviously to organize his thoughts but his voice took on a more savage note as he spoke and Elizabeth could not help but believe that the subject touched him very closely.

“After this period, every appearance of acquaintance was dropped. How George Wickham lived I know not. But last summer he was again most painfully obtruded on my notice. I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish to forget myself, and which no obligation less than the present should induce me to unfold. A young woman of my family was, about a year ago, taken from school, and an establishment formed for her in London; and last summer she went with the lady who presided over it, to Ramsgate; and thither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design; for there proved to have been a prior acquaintance between him and a certain Mrs. Younge, in whose character the young woman’s…family were most unhappily deceived; and by her connivance and aid he so far recommended himself to…the young lady, whose affectionate heart retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child, that she was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse; but, after stating her imprudence, I am happy to add that we owe the knowledge of it to herself. Her brother joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement; and then she acknowledged the whole to him. You may imagine what he felt and how he acted. Regard for her credit and feelings prevented any public exposure, but Wickham left the place immediately and Mrs. Younge was, of course, removed from her charge. Wickham’s chief object was unquestionably the young woman’s large fortune; but I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on my family and Darcy for our role in depriving him of the living was a strong inducement. His revenge would have been complete indeed.”

He paused once more for a few seconds before continuing, “Lest you think that George Wickham’s vicious behaviour towards young women is limited to those with a substantial dowry, you should know that he has most successfully importuned several young women in Lambton and Pemberley, some of whom were left with child. None had any dowry other than their attractiveness. No young lady is safe with George Wickham, Miss Bennet. None!”

“This, Miss Bennet, is a faithful narrative of every event in which Darcy and Wickham have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit Darcy henceforth of cruelty towards Mr. Wickham. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood, he has imposed on you; but his success is not, perhaps, to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of everything concerning either gentleman, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam had, during his recitation and without any conscious thought, been directing his footsteps towards a bench situated under a large elm tree. He finally looked at Elizabeth once more and was immediately concerned; her cheeks glistened with tears and her face was had lost all trace of colour. His concern overrode all proprieties and he quickly assisted her last few steps, sat her upon the bench and pressed a handkerchief into her hands.

He was surprised when she spoke, since he thought her too distracted for coherent speech but her words were clear and her voice surprisingly strong, “I am well Colonel. I need only time to think of what you have revealed to me.” Wiping her eyes, she gave him a watery, weak smile and said, “I thank you for revealing the despicable behaviour of Mr. Wickham. I know it cannot have been easy. It certainly was hard for me to hear. I do not mean to be ungracious but I must ask of you to allow me solitude to consider all that you have revealed. The truth of what you have told me, I cannot doubt but I am having great difficulty in reconciling your words with those imparted to me by Mr. Wickham and understanding how I could have been so badly misled.”

“I would not wish to leave you while you are in such distress, Miss Bennet.”

“Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.” She replied, ‘Do not worry Colonel. I will be well.”

With considerable reluctance, Colonel Fitzwilliam resumed his tour of the park and was soon lost from her sight.

When she considered, with somewhat clearer attention, the relation of events, which, if true, must overthrow every cherished opinion of Mr. Wickham’s worth, and which bore so alarming an affinity to his own history of himself, her feelings were yet more acutely painful and more difficult of definition. Astonishment, apprehension, and even horror, oppressed her. She wished to discredit Colonel Fitzwilliam’s story entirely, repeatedly exclaiming, “This must be false! It cannot be! It must be the grossest falsehood!”

In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on nothing, she rose and walked on; but it would not do; in half a minute, collecting herself as well as she could, she again began the mortifying consideration of all that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine the meaning of all that Colonel Fitzwilliam had revealed.

The account of his connection with the Pemberley family was exactly what Mr. Wickham had related himself; and the kindness of the late Mr. Darcy - though she had not before known its extent - agreed equally well with his own words. So far each recital confirmed the other; but when she came to the will, the difference was great. What Wickham had said of the living was fresh in her memory, and as she recalled his very words, it was impossible not to feel that there was gross duplicity on one side or the other; and, for a few moments, she flattered herself that her wishes did not err. But when she remembered the particulars immediately following of Wickham’s resigning all pretensions to the living, of his receiving, in lieu, so considerable a sum as three thousand pounds, again was she forced to hesitate. She weighed every circumstance with what she meant to be impartiality - deliberated on the probability of each statement - but with little success. On both sides it was only assertion but Colonel Fitzwilliam’s testimony proved that the affair, which she had believed impossible that any contrivance could so represent as to render Mr. Darcy’s conduct in it less than infamous, was capable of a turn which must make him entirely blameless throughout the whole.

The extravagance and general profligacy laid to Mr. Wickham’s charge, exceedingly shocked her; the more so, as she could bring no proof of its injustice. She had never heard of him before his entrance into the ——shire Militia, in which he had engaged at the persuasion of the young man, who, on meeting him accidentally in town, had there renewed a slight acquaintance. Of his former way of life, nothing had been known in Hertfordshire but what he told himself. As to his real character, had information been in her power, she had never felt a wish of enquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from the attacks of Colonel Fitzwilliam; or at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors, under which she would endeavour to class what he had described as the idleness and vice of many years continuance. But no such recollection befriended her. She could see Mr. Wickham instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess. After pausing on this point for a considerable while, she once more continued her walk. But, alas! The story of his designs on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s acquaintance, which she thought might actually be Miss Darcy, given what had passed between Colonel Fitzwilliam and herself only the morning before, could not be gainsaid. At last she was forced to accept the truth of every particular related by Colonel Fitzwilliam who, as she had previously learned, was closely concerned in all his cousin’s affairs, and whose character she had no reason to question and who had offered proof of his assertions.

She perfectly remembered everything that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself in their first evening at Mr. Philips’s. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory. She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered that it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward as he had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct. She remembered that he had boasted of having no fear of seeing Mr. Darcy - that Mr. Darcy might leave the country, but that he should stand his ground; yet he had avoided the Netherfield ball the very next week. She remembered also, that till the Netherfield family had quitted the country, he had told his story to no one but herself; but that, after their removal, it had been everywhere discussed; that he had then no reserves, no scruples in sinking Mr. Darcy’s character, though he had assured her that respect for the father would always prevent his exposing the son.

How differently did everything now appear in which he was concerned! His attentions to Miss King were now the consequence of views solely and hatefully mercenary; and the mediocrity of her fortune proved no longer the moderation of his wishes, but his eagerness to grasp at anything. His behaviour to herself could now have had no tolerable motive; he had either been deceived with regard to her fortune, or had been gratifying his vanity by encouraging the preference which she believed she had most incautiously shown. Every lingering struggle in his favour grew fainter and fainter; and in farther justification of Mr. Darcy, she could not but allow that Mr. Bingley, when questioned by Jane, had long ago asserted his blamelessness in the affair; that, proud and repulsive as were his manners, she had never, in the whole course of their acquaintance - an acquaintance which had latterly brought them much together, and given her a sort of intimacy with his ways - seen anything that betrayed him to be unprincipled or unjust - anything that spoke him of irreligious or immoral habits. That among his own connections he was esteemed and valued - that even Wickham had allowed him merit as a brother, and that she had often heard him speak so affectionately of his sister as to prove him capable of some amiable feeling. That had his actions been what Wickham represented them, so gross a violation of everything right could hardly have been concealed from the world; and that friendship between a person capable of it, and such an amiable man as Mr. Bingley, was incomprehensible. She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd.

“How despicably have I acted!” she 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! - Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly! Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either was concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

By this time the day was well advanced and her presence – or rather the lack of it – would surely be missed at the Parsonage to which she now directed her steps. Upon entering she was given to understand that Lady Catherine had invited them to tea. Her feelings were distressed and she knew her composure was hardly certain to be maintained should her hostess question her to the same extent as she had done previously. Nevertheless she could think of no reason to make her excuses and it was not in her nature to pretend ill-health. “Besides,” she told herself, “I have claimed that my courage rises with any attempt to intimidate me. I cannot foreswear myself now.” So, under the not so gentle urging of Mr. Collins, who could not bear to discomfit her ladyship by appearing less than five minutes early, she removed to her room to make her hasty preparations. The face she saw in the mirror showed no signs of the tumultuous walk that she had experienced. How she could face either the Colonel or Mr. Darcy she knew not, but face them she must.

Chapter 3 – A Meeting is Arranged

As she followed behind her cousin and Charlotte as they walked to Rosings, she concentrated her thoughts on how best to deal with those two gentlemen. How much of what had transpired with Colonel Fitzwilliam would be vouchsafed to Mr. Darcy? She suspected that the latter gentleman would be in full knowledge of her dealings with Mr. Wickham and that the Colonel had revealed to her Mr. Darcy’s dealings with him. How would Mr. Darcy respond to her having such knowledge of his private affairs? If his response at the Netherfield Ball was an indication, he would be most seriously displeased. If he was not prepared to respond to her then, how much less pleased would he be to now have the full particulars revealed to her. At least, in that regard, he would hopefully direct his anger at the Colonel and not herself. Should she acknowledge her error to him? As she thought further, she could find no reason to do so unless he initiated the subject. After all, her charges against him had been made at the ball and he had declined then to respond. That subject must now be dead between them and she would not try to breathe life into it; however, if he chose to do so, she could not, as painful and humiliating as it might be, do other than apologize and seek his forgiveness. That he would grant her absolution, she could not say.

Of more moment however, was the issue of her sister and Mr. Bingley. Could she ignore his involvement in their separation? She felt strongly disinclined to do so and yet, courtesy as Lady Catherine’s guest, required her to act with the utmost civility. She could feel her ire rising as she considered the anguish her sister was suffering and, if Mr. Bingley was equally affected, then Mr. Darcy’s interference was most grievous indeed. Breathing deeply she allowed her anger to dissipate as she entered the parlour to face Lady Catherine and her visitors. It would, she thought, be a most uncomfortable and trying visit.

The gentlemen rose as Mr. Collins led them into the parlour and their bows were as precise as ever; however, she could not fail to notice that the gaze of both was fixed on her countenance and she thought she detected a slight expression of concern from them both. Her curtsey was equally precise and she felt herself unable to greet either with anything more than the coolest civility; that her manner to Mr. Darcy was unchanged she recognized, but she had generally greeted the Colonel with warmer civility. She could discern nothing from their countenances nor was she inclined to hazard a guess as to their thoughts.

She chose to sit as far from either as possible, hoping that they would respect her desire to avoid their company. Alas, it was not to be, and Colonel Fitzwilliam was soon sitting in the chair beside her and fixing his attentions on her, “I trust, Miss Bennet, that you are feeling better?”

The Colonel had pitched his voice as not to be heard by others and indeed, Lady Catherine had once more claimed Mr. Darcy’s attention, although Elizabeth could see him glancing at her occasionally. Turning his attention to the Colonel, she replied, “I am well, sir. Quite well. I also must thank you for imparting the particulars of Mr. Wickham’s character to me.” As she spoke, she considered that gentleman’s character and an errant thought struck her with some force; it was not one she could ignore. “Colonel, I would ask…I wonder…is it likely that Mr. Wickham will impose himself on the people of Meryton?”

The Colonel’s response was immediate, “I am positive he would. He left many debts behind when he departed from Cambridge and again from Lambton – a village close to my cousin’s estate. I dare say he will do so in Meryton.”

Elizabeth felt an immediate concern, “Sir, the shopkeepers of Meryton are not wealthy. They can little afford to have monies owed them and they have daughters also. Can we warn them? Should I warn them?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam surprise at her questions was quickly overtaken by an understanding of her concerns. His response was not long in coming, “Most assuredly they must be warned. Perhaps your father?”

Elizabeth required little time before responding, “My father will wish to learn - no, he will insist on learning – how I came to such knowledge. May I give him your name as an assurance?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam considered all that he had revealed to Elizabeth and nodded in reply, "Indeed you may. I do believe Mr. Wickham has made a grievous error. He joined the Militia. It will not be as easy to escape his debts now. Perhaps I could write to or visit the Colonel of Mr. Wickham’s regiment as well. Do you know his name?”

“It is Colonel Forster of the _____shire Militia and I thank you, Colonel. You have behaved in a most gentlemanly manner.”

The Colonel nodded once more and considered his next words. He had not been able to discover Miss Bennet’s involvement with Bingley – having been distracted by the discussion of Wickham – now perhaps he could explore that problem and began by saying, “Earlier today I made mention of Mr. Bingley. Are you well acquainted with that gentleman?”

“Indeed I am sir; Mr. Bingley is leasing an estate not three miles from Longbourn where I live.”

However, to the Colonel’s dismay but Elizabeth’s satisfaction – she was reluctant to talk of Mr. Bingley and her sister at this time – Lady Catherine finally noticed them in conversation and did not scruple to call out, “What is it that you are saying Fitzwilliam? What is it that you and Miss Bennet are talking of? Come, let me hear what it is.”

“We are talking of music once again, madam,” said he when forced to acknowledge the interruption. Shortly thereafter he begged Elizabeth to play for them, “I beseech you to humour me on this. I have much enjoyment in your playing.”

Although Elizabeth had little desire to do so, the consideration that she might be required to discuss Mr. Bingley and her sister induced her to agree to the request. No sooner had she seated herself at the pianoforte and begun to search the music available, then Mr. Darcy approached and offered to turn the sheets for her. There being no way that she could see to deny the request, she acquiesced and began to play. The presence of Mr. Darcy did not soothe her nerves and she found it hard to concentrate on the music before her. “There were some very strong objections against the lady,” she remembered and her fingers struck a very discordant note. Aware that Mr. Darcy had noticed her discomfit, she remonstrated with herself to focus on the music. Finishing the piece with a barely audible sigh of relief and her composure somewhat threadbare, she began a search for another with which to pass the time.

Mr. Darcy aided her in the search, suggesting several that he thought she might know but with no success. As she continued her search, he murmured, “Miss Bennet, I would speak with you on a matter of some importance. Would you meet me on your usual walk in the morning, so that we might converse?”

Elizabeth could not credit that he would have anything to say that she could wish to hear. “There were some very strong objections against the lady,” and accordingly responded, "I do not believe, sir, that there are any two people who have less to say to each other.”

“I disagree, Miss Bennet! I disagree most vehemently.”

Before Elizabeth could respond, Lady Catherine once more interjected a question as to their conversation and after Elizabeth satisfied her that they were but discussing which music she would play, was content to return her attention to the instructions she was imparting to Mrs. Collins about the household budget at the Parsonage. Colonel Fitzwilliam had taken the opportunity to escape his aunt’s attention and joined them at the pianoforte thus depriving Elizabeth the opportunity to respond to Mr. Darcy’s request.

Her first inclination had been to reject it outright. After all, what could he say to refute his involvement but, as her fingers danced over the instrument keys, she remembered that she had – not a day earlier – thought it impossible that Mr. Darcy could be found blameless in the business with Mr. Wickham. How wrong she had been there. Could she be wrong again? She did not think so since this time the words were those of Mr. Darcy himself. “There were some very strong objections against the lady,” Nevertheless, since she had been so grievously wrong on the matter of Mr. Wickham, did it not behoove her to afford Mr. Darcy the opportunity to explain his actions there? She could not see how it was possible for him to do so, but surely he was owed the opportunity. Her sense of justice would not allow her to do less. How then, was she to apprise him of her decision? Both gentlemen were according her their attention at the pianoforte but that would soon cease as the Parsonage party would shortly depart.

As it turned out, no opportunity was afforded her to communicate her intentions to Mr. Darcy until it was time to depart and, as Mr. Darcy assisted her to enter Lady Catherine’s carriage, she murmured very softly, “I will be walking in the morning.” That he grasped her meaning was apparent from the slight nod of his head. She was uncertain as to what he expected to accomplish or what he might say and she only hoped that her temper would not betray her as it had done on occasion in her past dealings with the gentleman.

After supper Elizabeth excused herself to her room claiming fatigue from the day’s exertions and the residue of the previous day’s headache. Once there she first resolved to read Jane’s letters once more but, after thinking on the matter further, she considered that nothing would be gained by doing so. Of the despondency felt by her sister she was fully aware. Nothing would be gained by the exercise other than to rekindle her ire against Mr. Darcy and that, she realized, would have little value other than to render it more difficult for her to listen to him on the morrow. And listen to him she would. She owed him that after her egregious error in regard of Mr. Wickham. How badly had she sketched his character in this regard! As she was considering the morrow’s meeting, she heard a soft knock on her door and Charlotte entered after Elizabeth’s answer.

“I would ask if you are well, Eliza? You seemed to have been distracted and even a little despondent today.”

“I am well, Charlotte. I have received today a sad, but much deserved, blow to my pride.”

Charlotte considered her friend carefully. She knew her well enough to know that should Elizabeth not wish to discuss a subject, she would refuse to do so albeit her refusal would be expressed most pleasantly. She could not discern whether Elizabeth was so inclined on this occasion and asked lightly, “Ah, a most rare event then. Perhaps you can share it with those of us who suffer such with some regularity.”

Elizabeth gave a rueful chuckle, "I fear my judgement of Mr. Wickham has been sadly and completely overturned by Colonel Fitzwilliam today.”

At Charlotte’s questioning look, she briefly outlined the particulars of the situation involving Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy. “As you may see, there is but such a quantity of merit between them – just enough to make one sort of a good man – and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For myself, I am now inclined to believe it all Mr. Darcy’s.” She grinned at Charlotte, “But you may choose as you wish.”

Charlotte could not have been more surprised. “I do not know when I have been more shocked.” said she, “but is it certain?”

“Oh yes, I fear it is. Colonel Fitzwilliam was quite prepared to provide witnesses and documents to support his claims.”

“This does appear to place Mr. Darcy in a more favourable light, does it not Lizzy?”

“Perhaps a little, Charlotte, although it does not materially affect my opinion of the gentleman. That he is an honourable man, I will concede but his pride and disagreeable nature, his disdain and contempt for me, my family and my neighbours do not recommend him to me. That he is not as bad as I thought I will admit, but no more.”

“Lizzy, I will not try to change your opinion. I think you are wrong but I have learned from experience that you are stubborn in defending your opinions and reluctant to reconsider those opinions even when there is reason to believe you are wrong. I will limit myself to several observations and ask that you not dismiss them as is your usual wont. Will you grant me this – to seriously consider what I say and that I might be right? Will you?”

Elizabeth looked at her friend with some surprise. She had rarely seen Charlotte so determined and reluctantly assented to her request, “Very well. I will attempt to consider your words carefully.”

Charlotte sighed with some relief. She had enough trust in her friend’s integrity to believe that Elizabeth would indeed give careful thought to what she was about to be told. “First of all, I know I have said this before but I am not convinced that Mr. Darcy views you with disdain or contempt. Apart from his very first comment it seems to me that he has found your company to be of interest. No! Hear me out!” Charlotte spoke sharply as she could see Elizabeth about to interject a comment.

“Please, let me finish. As I said I thought I could see some signs of interest. He did ask you to dance at the gathering at our home and you were the only lady, apart from those in his own party, with whom he danced during his stay at Netherfield. The only one, Lizzy!” she paused for a moment before saying, “I know his behaviour here has been odd but it certainly is not consistent with a man who disdains you. In fact, if incivility is a sign of a man in love, he may be besotted!”

Charlotte laughed at the expression on her friend’s face, “Although I am not claiming such in this case. I would also ask that you answer the following; first, how old is Mr. Darcy?”

“Seven or eight and twenty, I believe.”

“How long has he been master of his estate?”

“Five years I think – since his father died. To what do these questions tend?”

“Patience, Lizzy. He has the guardianship of a younger sister I believe, does he not?”


“How old is she now?”

“I believe Miss Bingley said she was about fifteen or sixteen – Lydia’s age, in fact.”

Charlotte nodded, “So we have a young man of two and twenty years, taking over the management of a large estate and the guardianship of a much younger sister. A serious responsibility was it not? Most young men of his age are playing the fool in town.”

Elizabeth could only nod and Charlotte took some satisfaction from the pensive look on her friends face. “Excellent, perhaps she is beginning to think clearly for once.”

“Finally, I will repeat something I mentioned before. If two such amiable men as Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam like and esteem Mr. Darcy, is it not possible that your perception of that man may be in error?” Charlotte rose from her seat, “Now, I will plague you no more. I believe you have much to think on and will leave you to that effort.”

Alone again with her thoughts Elizabeth knew not what to think. She was not insensible to all that Charlotte had imparted. She recognized that her dislike of Mr. Darcy was founded to a certain extent on a mistaken belief in the goodness of Mr. Wickham and, with a humiliating awareness, she saw that it had been that dislike which allowed her to give credit to Mr. Wickham’s tale. It was the cause of her dislike which troubled her. That the man held in her low esteem he had shown by his very first words – she was not handsome enough to tempt him – and the glares he directed her way certainly confirmed his dislike and disdain. No, she thought, she found it difficult to credit Charlotte’s words that he was attracted to her. However, she was prepared to concede that he was frequently civil to her particularly when she resided at Netherfield nursing Jane. That he had danced with her, and her only, she could not understand particularly since he had paid her no other attention that evening and had separated from her after the dance in some anger. That, she admitted to herself, was caused mainly by her harsh words with him during the dance. Nevertheless, he had wasted little time in departing Netherfield after the dance - never to return. And his behaviour here in Hunsford was puzzling in the extreme. She could not understand his calling at the Parsonage or his meetings with her on her walks and his discomfort and reluctance to converse. Was she to interpret this as an interest? When she thought about the time they spent a full thirty minutes in company together in the Netherfield library with nary a word exchanged, that seemed more the action of a gentleman with no interest; and of ensuring that a lady perceived his lack of interest.

When she remembered his behaviour at the Assembly and again at the ball, she could detect nothing other than a disdain and contempt for those with whom he was forced to associate. He had made no effort to engage them in conversation and, when such was forced upon him, his words were barely civil and frequently designed to indicate his contempt for the company – ‘every savage could dance’ he had said -- which told much about his view of her friends and neighbours. No, she found little to admire or like in Mr. Darcy.

And yet, when she considered that both Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam, both truly amiable men, considered him to be an honourable man and a good friend, she was confused. That Mr. Bingley avowed him to be amiable among close friends and relations, she was prepared to concede, and he had been civil during her sojourn at Netherfield – certainly much more so than either of Mr. Bingley’s sisters. But how, she thought, could one expand one’s circle of acquaintances, if one disclaimed any interest in being introduced to and conversing with new acquaintances?

And what, she wondered, did this portend for the morrow? Mr. Darcy’s interference in the matter of Mr. Bingley and her sister did not admit of any doubt. He averred his actions and appeared to feel them justified and reasonable. “There were some very strong objections against the lady,” Those words could not be denied and she was certain that those objections encompassed an uncle who was a country solicitor and another in trade in London.

Her reflections gave her little respite until at last she resolved to think on them no more and await the morrow with more patience. She would allow Mr. Darcy his chance to explain his actions and, once he had done so, think of him no more. Their paths were not likely to cross in the future and she would attempt to ensure, should she visit Charlotte in the future, that Mr. Darcy was not expected to be of the company at Rosings. Nevertheless, sleep did not find her for some time and her thoughts could not be as ordered as her wishes.

Walk With me - Chapters 2 & 3

PeterApril 24, 2015 02:04PM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 2 & 3

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Re: Walk With me - Chapters 2 & 3

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Lucy J.April 27, 2015 04:46AM

Re: Walk With me - Chapters 2 & 3

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