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Walk With Me - Chapters 6-7

May 03, 2015 12:43AM
Chapter 6 – An Offer is Made

Elizabeth’s resolve to wait until she and Jane had returned to Longbourn to discuss the happenings at the Parsonage received a severe setback the next day as she, Mrs. Gardiner and Jane were comfortably settled in the family sitting room discussing the engagements which Mrs. Gardiner had planned for the following days. The sound of a carriage drawing up to the front of the house was shortly followed by the maid entering the room and announcing, “Mr. Darcy, ma’am.”

That gentleman’s entrance followed closely on those words and Elizabeth’s surprise left her speechless for several moments until finally, collecting herself and remembering her duties, she said, “Mr. Darcy, may I present to you my aunt, Mrs. Gardiner. Aunt, this is Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire.”

Mr. Darcy bowed to Mrs. Gardiner, saying, “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Gardiner.”

Mrs. Gardiner collected herself sufficiently to respond, “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Darcy. I understand that Elizabeth renewed her acquaintance with you in Kent.”

“Indeed, we dined together several times with my Aunt and I had the pleasure of walking with her several times.”

Jane’s eyebrows rose upon hearing this and her questioning look directed at Elizabeth told the latter that she would not be spared from revealing all that happened in Kent until they returned to Longbourn. None of her sister’s letters had spoken of such intimacy. To redirect Jane’s attention, she responded, “Indeed we did. Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy’s cousin, was also in our company during this time. How is the Colonel, Mr. Darcy?”

“He is very well but has been called unexpectedly to Newcastle to deal with some urgent problems there. I cannot say when he will return but it may not be for a fortnight or more.”

Elizabeth realized that her letter to her father had taken on a greater importance and that she might need to ask her father to contact Colonel Forster himself rather than wait for Colonel Fitzwilliam to do so. Elizabeth realized that Jane’s gaze remained fixed on her and that she had detected something in Elizabeth’s mien that suggested Darcy’s words were of some significance. Fortunately, Jane’s attention was directed back to Mr. Darcy as he greeted her before taking a seat next to Mrs. Gardiner. As Elizabeth watched with some surprise, he conversed with her aunt on their doings in Kent until Mrs. Gardiner mentioned that she had lived in Lambton in her youth and had visited the park at Pemberley several times. The conversation that followed was interesting to both as they exchanged reminiscences of the area. Elizabeth was pleased Mr. Darcy could see her aunt to be a well-spoken and genteel lady; and she found herself equally surprised at his manner. Gone was the haughty and prideful reserve that typified his behaviour in Hertfordshire. If he was not as easy and amiable as his cousin, he appeared to have put aside his reserve and was attempting to be civil and interested in the conversation.

To all appearances Mr. Darcy was not uncomfortable conversing with them all, drawing both Elizabeth and Jane into the discussion of Derbyshire and exploring with them comparisons between that place and Kent and Hertfordshire.

Elizabeth was, she admitted, sorely puzzled by Mr. Darcy’s behaviour. What could he mean by visiting the Gardiners? What was his purpose? And how to explain this change in manners? It was truly vexing. She longed to ask that question but knew it to be impossible. Finally, conversation started to lapse and Elizabeth was recalled from her reflections by her aunt’s rather amused, “Lizzy!”

Becoming aware that she was being regarded by the other three persons in the room, she realized that she had been addressed but had been oblivious to the question. In some embarrassment, she said, “I must apologize. I was lost in thought. Of what were you speaking?”

Mrs. Gardiner chuckled, “Indeed you were – quite lost. Mr. Darcy asked a question.”

Elizabeth directed her eyes at that gentleman, her raised eyebrow prompting him to say, “I simply expressed a desire to walk in the park down the street and for your company in doing so.”

Elizabeth controlled her surprise – not overly difficult she found, as she had become rather inured to surprises this day – and considered her answer. It took but a few seconds to agree to the request since she could think of no good reason to decline. What could he mean by such a request? Her opinion of Mr. Darcy had improved although she still found much to disapprove of the man but to refuse under the circumstances would be uncivil and, if she had learned nothing else from her aunt, it was that there were very few excuses for incivility. Jane was applied to join them but begged to be excused and so Elizabeth - after retrieving her bonnet, pelisse and gloves - accompanied Darcy out of the house.

Darcy’s reticence seemed to return as they began their stroll down the street. His offer of his arm to Elizabeth was accepted gingerly by the lady who laid her hand but lightly in his elbow. They walked in silence for several minutes before Elizabeth ventured to say, “I must admit to considerable surprise to have you call on us, Mr. Darcy.”

“Did I not inquire as to your relatives’ address before I left? What did you suppose I meant by it?” Elizabeth thought she detected a slight amusement in his tone of voice.

Elizabeth blushed slightly, “I knew not…I did not expect you to call. Miss Bingley apparently had made her disdain for my relatives quite clear. I believed you to share her opinions.”

“I will not deny that there is some merit in what you have said. I was too ready to consider those outside my circle as beneath my notice. My behaviour is not something I can now view with pleasure.” He walked on in silence for a few moments before looking down at Elizabeth, “Miss Bennet, I would recall to your memory our last walk in Kent. Before we parted, I gave you to believe two things.” He shook his head before continuing, “Even as I said them, I knew that one of those statements was a falsehood. I spoke in anger, in disappointment. I said, if you remember, that I did not dislike you at all, quite the reverse in fact. I also said I was ashamed of what my own feelings had been. That was untrue. I was not ashamed - my feelings have not altered at all.”

Elizabeth could not conceive of any possible answer. That he regarded her with affection, she struggled to believe. His next words compounded her confusion - or rather the tone of his voice did so - since she had never heard Mr. Darcy speak so gently, “You do not like me, do you Miss Bennet?”

Elizabeth glanced up at his face quickly but could see no anger, no disdain, nothing but a quiet concentration, his eyes intent on her face. It was much the same look he had directed at her at times in Hertfordshire and again in Kent. Now she recognized it for what it was. He was not glaring at her, at least, not now. She forced herself to respond, “I feel I have been given little reason to like you, sir.”

Darcy nodded, “I agree.” He could not help but smile at the amazement that spread over her face, “Truly, Miss Bennet, I can hardly fault you for being confused about my feelings when I battled them myself for months. In Hertfordshire I found myself attracted but fought the attraction and – to my shame – made every effort to hide it. Most successfully it appears, would you not agree?”

Elizabeth found herself smiling in return, “Very successfully, sir. I might add that even Charlotte Collins, who once thought you to admire me, came to believe herself wrong when she observed your behaviour in Kent.”

“And yet – to my embarrassment – I had believed you to be aware of my interest, of my attentions; that I was showing my interest by my calls at the Parsonage and joining you on your walks; and that you were, in fact, soliciting my interest there. That was not your intent, was it?”

“No, Mr. Darcy, it was not. I believed you to dislike me and was trying to suggest you could avoid me by walking a different path. Your continued presence confused me greatly.”

By this time they had entered the small park and were walking the path that wound its way around the perimeter. Darcy opened and closed his mouth several times, obviously struggling to express his thoughts. Elizabeth watched and wondered. What ensued left her equally bereft of words.

“Miss Bennet, my feelings for you are…you must allow me to tell you how much I admire and love you.” He turned to face her and held up his hand as though to prevent her from speaking although she was too overcome with surprise to do so, He then said, “Please, I can see that you are shocked. I expected it to be so. If I thought there was any chance of you accepting an offer of marriage, I would make it but your …opinion of me that you expressed so strongly in Kent leads me to believe such an offer would not be accepted. I am not wrong, am I?”

Elizabeth’s answer was so quiet as almost to be inaudible, “No sir, you are not.”

“That is as I thought.” They walked without talking for several minutes, Elizabeth struggled to assimilate what she had been told and confused as to where he planned to direct their conversation. That he had a direction, she was now sure. He appeared to have anticipated her responses and, if so, must have a goal in mind. Clearly, he would not have visited Gracechurch Street if he had planned to withdraw. His next words did not altogether surprise, although she had not expected them.

“Miss Bennet, I would like the opportunity to change your opinion of me. I have spent much of the past week trying to view my behaviour and understand how I could have earned such disapprobation from you. I do not like what I found, what I saw. I believe that I have not behaved towards you as a man should behave if he wants to obtain the good opinion, the affections if you will, of a woman for whom he has developed an attraction. In essence, Miss Bennet, I wish to court you properly with the objective of making you an offer of marriage when the time is right.”

Elizabeth knew that she must respond in some fashion although her thoughts were too jumbled to admit of a coherent and thoughtful answer and so she temporized, “I cannot deny or hide my surprise Mr. Darcy. Even if I were to agree to a courtship, I cannot promise that my opinion will change or that my answer will be favourable.”

“I am quite aware of that Miss Bennet. I do not expect an answer today. Could I call on you on Tuesday to receive your response? Is two days sufficient time?”

Elizabeth continued to walk in silence. She could feel a degree of frustration and confusion that she had never before experienced. Why could he not leave her in peace? She controlled the urge to reject his offer, knowing that it was frustration and her anger and dislike of him that was driving such a precipitous response. His manner today and her many errors of judgement with regard to him, required that she treat him with more consideration and so she replied, “Very well, Mr. Darcy. If you call on me on Tuesday next, I will have your answer.”

Elizabeth was surprised to see a look of relief cross his countenance and guessed that he was concerned she might even refuse him directly. Oddly enough, that uncertainty pleased her although she knew not why.

They walked on in a strangely comfortable silence for several minutes until Darcy rather hesitantly said, “I wish you to know something else. I have considered your words very carefully - your charges against me in regards to your sister and Bingley. I am prepared to believe that I could be wrong about your sister’s affections for him. That I cannot hold with the same certainty as before that my opinion is, in fact, correct. In such a circumstance, I should not advise my friend on that matter at all. I have written to Bingley – he is in the north at the moment visiting his relations there – and asked him to call on me as soon as he returns to town. I am resolved to admit to him then that my opinion may be incorrect and advise him to determine for himself the state of your sister’s affections.” He paused to look at Elizabeth and the satisfaction which greeted his words was clear. Nevertheless, he felt obligated to caution her expectations, “I do not believe Bingley likely to return for a fortnight at least. I assume your sister also returns to Longbourn in a few days. I will also assure you that I will do what I promised, regardless of the answer I receive on Tuesday.”

Elizabeth considered him closely. She realized that she had no doubt that he would act as he had stated. His honour, she comprehended, would not allow him to do otherwise and so she nodded in acknowledgement before adding, "Yes, Jane returns to Longbourn on Tuesday next, as will I.” She paused to consider that she was to give him an answer that day and then said, “Our schedule is not fixed and for us to stay an extra day or two would not burden my aunt and uncle.”

By this time they had reached the front door of the Gardiner house and Elizabeth removed her hand from his arm – oddly enough, she thought, it had been rather comfortable there – as they entered the house. Darcy’s carriage was called and, while waiting for it to arrive, they returned to the sitting room for him to take his proper leave of Mrs. Gardiner and Jane. Shortly thereafter he left and Elizabeth turned to face the combined gazes of her aunt and sister and, realizing that she would have much to discuss with them both, murmured, “There is no time at present to discuss all that has happened. I will need your advice and guidance but not now. Later tonight perhaps, and certainly tomorrow, we will have much to discuss.”

Although clearly not happy to defer such a discussion, both ladies recognized that time did not permit it since they were required to prepare for the evening’s engagement. Mrs. Gardiner’s parting comment, however, warned Elizabeth that nothing less than the complete truth would do, “I wonder at your description of Mr. Darcy, Lizzy. I found him to be perfectly amiable and pleasant. Your letters have not suggested the degree of familiarity and amiable behaviour that he showed today. Would you not agree?”

“True aunt, although I have never seen him as amiable as he was today.” Elizabeth would not be drawn further on the subject and quickly removed to her room to prepare herself for the evening.

An evening in company with close friends of her aunt and uncle who were slightly known to both Elizabeth and Jane from previous visits and who were themselves pleasant and intelligent, should have made for a delightful engagement; but Elizabeth found it most difficult to keep her attention engaged in the conversation that surrounded her. All too frequently her thoughts would meander towards Mr. Darcy and the conundrum that he was posing for her. Elizabeth’s distraction did not go unnoticed by the others whose civility was such as to preclude their making mention of it. Nonetheless, her aunt, in particular, was determined to interrogate her niece, whom she knew to be both sensible but extremely reserved in her private affairs, as soon as was possible. So firmly were her intentions fixed in this regard, that the Gardiners and their nieces separated from their hosts, in order to return home, rather sooner than was their usual wont.

They had but gained the Gardiner home for a few minutes when Mrs. Gardiner, with a speaking glance at her husband, saying, “Now my dear, it is not too late for you to enjoy a glass of port and a book in your study. Perhaps Jane might join you?” Jane looked rather surprised at such a directive, clearly having hoped to be part of any discussion with her sister, but also understanding that her aunt might wish to have a more private interview with Elizabeth.

Mr. Gardiner was not unaware of the day’s events involving Mr. Darcy, of his wife’s concerns or that his niece had been unusually distracted that evening and simply nodded and said, “That is an excellent idea, my dear. Should you desire my presence or help, you know where to find me. Jane, will you join me?” to which she assented, since it was too early to prepare for bed and she hoped, rather than expected, that she might have the opportunity to talk later with her sister.

Mrs. Gardiner first checked on her children before arranging to have tea and biscuits delivered to her sitting room where she subsequently directed her steps, considering as she went how best to approach the matter with Elizabeth. Upon entering the room she found her sitting in a chair near the fire – the evening was cool and the warmth of the fire quite pleasant. Taking the opposing chair she returned to her internal deliberations and, finally seeing that Elizabeth was reluctant to open the discussion, opined, “I cannot reconcile the Mr. Darcy I met today with the one you described to me at Christmas.”

Elizabeth grimaced, “Neither can I aunt. And he did not behave so in Kent.”

The arrival of the maid with the tea service stopped all conversation until she had left and both ladies had prepared a cup of tea to their satisfaction. Mrs. Gardiner considered her niece carefully, thinking about what had happened that day before speaking, “Lizzy, you appeared much as you ever were before Mr. Darcy appeared. It is only after you returned from your walk with him that you seemed seriously discomposed. What happened on that walk?”

Elizabeth sighed. She knew that this conversation was necessary – indeed, she had almost wished for it – but it would not be an easy one to endure. To reveal her mistakes, errors of judgement, foolish preferences and vanity to her aunt, a woman whose opinion she valued almost as much as that of her father, would be embarrassing and distressing. Reluctantly she began, “Mr. Darcy asked to court me.”

Mrs. Gardiner sat back in surprise. Clearly she had not expected such a response, “Court you! Are you sure? Of course you are! How stupid of me! What did…How did you respond?”

Elizabeth gave a rather mirthless laugh, “You are no more surprised than I, aunt.” Several seconds passed before she said, “He must have realized how shocked I was because he did not insist on an answer immediately. He is to call Tuesday. I have promised him an answer then.” She looked at her aunt, “I need your advice, your guidance because truly I am too confused to know how to answer.”

“Well, we do have time to consider the matter Lizzy. We do not have to reach a decision tonight.” She sat quietly for a few minutes, her face not concealing that her thoughts absorbed her before finally saying to Elizabeth, “I would wish to understand your dealings with the gentleman from the very beginning. I know we talked of him last Christmas, but I would like to know the particulars from your very first meeting.” She paused for a moment, “You may find the telling to be helpful as well, do you not think?”

Elizabeth nodded but sat in silence for several minutes, her aunt watching her closely as she organized her thoughts. Finally Elizabeth spoke, “I first saw Mr. Darcy at the Assembly in Meryton when he and the Bingleys were introduced to us all.”

Mrs. Gardiner interjected, “What was your first impression of him, Lizzy?”

Elizabeth’s smile was rueful, “I quite thought him the handsomest man I had ever seen.” Her pause was almost imperceptible as she continued, “However, within a very few minutes I was irritated by his incivility and, by the end of the evening, insulted and believed him to be the rudest, most conceited and arrogant gentleman I had the misfortune to meet.”

“Was that the whole of his incivility? It seems rather trifling to me to warrant such disapproval as you expressed to me. I believe I must insist on your full confidence in this Lizzy. You must tell me all!”

Chapter 7 – Mrs. Gardiner Advises

If Elizabeth had any doubts as to her aunt’s determination that her niece make a full disclosure of her dealings with Mr. Darcy, they were of a short duration. What followed was by turns embarrassing and humiliating in equal measures with moments of humour and mortification and confusion interwoven. Mrs. Gardiner did not allow her to escape the revelation of any detail of Mr. Darcy’s experiences in Hertfordshire; from the blow to her vanity when called ‘not handsome enough to tempt me’ and ‘slighted by other men’; from her revenge in mocking Mr. Darcy to her friends and family; from the time spent at Netherfield nursing her sister and enduring the slights and incivilities from Mr. Bingley’s sisters which she confessed that she had – at that time - believed to be shared by Mr. Darcy; from the revelations made by Mr. Wickham; and finally the dance Elizabeth shared with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball.

Mrs. Gardiner probed and questioned until satisfied that Elizabeth had omitted no salient fact. Elizabeth sat back somewhat exhausted after nearly two hours of reconstructing her history with Mr. Darcy. The evening was advanced, she knew, and they had not touched on those matters that arose from her visit to Charlotte at Hunsford. She looked at her aunt with something akin to dread as she said, “I hope that you will grant me some relief. The hour grows late and I am sure we are both quite tired. Can we not continue this tomorrow?”

Mrs. Gardiner surveyed her niece with concern. She was not altogether pleased by what she had heard so far and while loath to chastise Elizabeth too harshly, felt that she should not hide her displeasure altogether. Cautiously, she responded, “I find myself rather concerned by your account so far, Elizabeth. I wish now we had talked more openly when I visited at Christmas. I will not hide from you that I believe that while you have grounds to be annoyed with Mr. Darcy based on your initial meeting; your subsequent behaviour was quite immoderate in relation to the offence against you. I had thought you more sensible than this.”

Elizabeth could not hide her chagrin, “I had thought so also. I disparaged Mr. Darcy for his improper pride and yet mine was no less improper.”

“Well, my dear, I will allow you to escape for now. I can see you are tired and need to rest. I will speak with Jane to ensure she does not importune you for explanations tonight.” She rose and approached her niece and gave her a soft kiss on her forehead, “Get some rest, my dear. We will speak further in the morning after we break our fast.”

Elizabeth was not sorry to reach the sanctuary of her room, nor that her aunt would prevent her sister from visiting and insisting upon a full disclosure of today’s surprising events. Surprisingly, she found that her aunt’s efforts to understand all that had happened while Mr. Darcy was in Hertfordshire had quite clarified the matter in her own mind. Her aunt had not spoken much of Mr. Wickham’s story but her mien when that was mentioned suggested a degree of scepticism not previously present and Elizabeth had not even mentioned those details revealed by Colonel Fitzwilliam. Instead her aunt Gardiner had simply questioned the propriety of Mr. Wickham having told such a story to a very new acquaintance, had raised an eyebrow which discomfited Elizabeth exceedingly when she made known how her own disparagement of Mr. Darcy had prompted that story; and had nodded knowingly when Elizabeth acknowledged that Mr. Wickham had provided no proofs of his story. When told that he stated that he would never disparage the son due to his regard for the father, her frown had become of significant proportions and she could not help but exclaim, “And did this not alarm you, Lizzy! That he would claim to maintain secrecy while doing exactly the reverse? Did you not see the contradiction?”

Elizabeth had nodded sadly, “Truly, I was so pleased to get confirmation that Mr. Darcy was even worse than I believed that I ignored what was so obvious. I even congratulated Mr. Wickham on his forbearance in avoiding the Netherfield Ball – so as not to embarrass Mr. Bingley – despite Mr. Wickham having claimed he would not avoid Mr. Darcy, stating that Mr. Darcy must avoid him.”

Elizabeth groaned into her pillow. She could not view her behaviour with anything but abhorrence. It was exceedingly difficult to think of Mr. Darcy without considering how she had misunderstood his character so badly. She, who so proudly proclaimed her ability to sketch someone’s character, had failed miserably in this instance. If her thoughts were directed more to how she had so signally failed in such efforts, it was impossible not to recognize the difference between what she had thought she understood about his character and what she now believed to be the truth. She could not regret avoiding Jane tonight. It was hard enough to endure her aunt’s gentle inquisition. Having to do so again with Jane tonight would be too much. Her nerves were raw as it were and even with Jane’s gentle kindness, the telling would only exacerbate them further.

Her body told her it was tired but she little thought her mind would allow her to sleep and it was with no little surprise that she woke the next morning more rested than she had expected. The hour was early, with two hours to breakfast, and she resolved to venture out for a short walk. Dressing and running down stairs, she found a footman who could accompany her – her Uncle Gardiner insisted that she take a footman on such walks since London was a more dangerous place than Hertfordshire - and was soon walking briskly in the direction of the local park. Banishing thoughts of Mr. Darcy from her mind, she forced herself to walk as briskly as was possible and, to her pleasure, the air – although not as fresh as Hertfordshire – seemed to have been cleaned by an overnight rain and combined with the exhilaration of the exercise, raised her spirits considerably. By the time she entered the Gardiner home over an hour later, she was both happy and hungry.

When she had refreshed herself and ventured downstairs once more, breakfast was ready and she found Jane and her aunt already ensconced at the table and partaking of the meal. Her uncle, having eaten, had already left for his warehouse. Elizabeth felt herself the focus of the gaze of both her sister and her aunt although neither said more than the commonplace greetings. This quietude continued as she served herself and began to eat with the only conversation being about plans for the day and Jane's return to Longbourn on the morrow. If Elizabeth had any expectations that her aunt would not resume their discussion, they were vanquished by her quiet command, “I must check on the children. Jane, will you be able to take them out for an hour or so this morning?”

“Yes, aunt. The weather is warm and clear. We can visit the park.” If Jane was aware that she was being politely excluded from the talk that her sister was going to hold with her aunt, she appeared unconcerned as far as Elizabeth could determine. “After all” she thought, “Jane will have her turn later – probably tonight.”

Mrs. Gardiner then directed her attention to Elizabeth, saying “When you have finished eating, please come to my sitting room.” She then left to check on her children while Elizabeth, with deliberate speed, finished her breakfast.

When she entered her aunt’s sitting room, Elizabeth was slightly surprised that her aunt had not preceded her. In fact, it was some ten minutes before Mrs. Gardiner joined her which did little to soothe Elizabeth’s nerves which had become more agitated as time passed. Her disquietude seemed to be apparent to Mrs. Gardiner when, as she made herself comfortable in the same chair she had occupied the previous night, she invited Elizabeth to do likewise. After asking if Elizabeth had slept well – and receiving a positive answer – she inquired about the early morning walk which led to a brief discussion about how much her niece had enjoyed it and how well it made her feel. Sensing that Elizabeth had calmed, Mrs. Gardiner asked, “Lizzy, Mr. Darcy left Netherfield before December and you did not see him again until you visited your friend in Hunsford. Did you have occasion to think much of him during those four or five months?”

Elizabeth took a few seconds to answer, “Not really, aunt. Apart from the stories spread by Mr. Wickham, there was no reason to do so. I suppose I must have thought of him once in a while but mainly in connection with Mr. Bingley. Mama’s lamentations were a daily event I am afraid.”

“What did you think of him?”

“I saw no reason to change my opinion. I suppose his absence moderated my dislike and when I met him again in Hunsford, I do believe I found him less irritating but only a little. He remained a puzzle.” Elizabeth thought for a moment before adding, “Charlotte did raise one issue when we were discussing Mr. Darcy although it had more to do with Mr. Wickham. She was less impressed with him than I and noted that he did not appear to have had an occupation for the years after he left university. She wondered at how he made his living.” Elizabeth’s voice took on a bitter note, “Well, now I know. He was living off – wasting - the money that Mr. Darcy gave him.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Wickham. I wish to know more about that gentleman and I believe you have much to tell me; but, before you do, I would prefer you to tell me what happened from the day Mr. Darcy arrived at Hunsford. I will allow you a few minutes to collect your thoughts while I arrange for some tea. I suspect we both will need it before we are done.”

Elizabeth gazed into the fireplace where the fire had been banked to moderate the heat it threw off. The morning had been slightly chilly and the room itself had retained the chill and was only slowly warming up. When her aunt offered her a cup of tea, prepared as she preferred it, she settled back and began to revisit those three weeks that Mr. Darcy had been visiting his aunt. His visits and behaviour during them and his meeting her on her walks were noted with little questioning from her aunt other than, “And truly, you did not realize that he was deliberately meeting you on your walks?” That she could have been so blind was embarrassing for Elizabeth to admit but on the overall scale of the embarrassments she experienced, it was of little moment.

It was not until she began to talk of her final two walks with Colonel Fitzwilliam and the subsequent walks with Mr. Darcy that her aunt began to question her more closely with the evident purpose of extracting all pertinent details. When told of Mr. Wickham’s actual dealings with Mr. Darcy as revealed by the Colonel, her concern became particularly noticeable when apprised of Mr. Wickham’s alleged behaviour. Questioned about the possibility of that gentleman’s imposing himself on young women in Meryton and on the shopkeeper fathers there, Elizabeth imparted Colonel Fitzwilliam’s opinions and that she herself had written to her father and asked him to take appropriate action. Mrs. Gardiner was not particularly relieved by this news given her experience with Mr. Bennet’s indolent habits. That the Colonel planned to write the Colonel of the ____shire Regiment, appeared to give her more comfort.

Elizabeth considered whether to reveal that the young heiress that Mr. Wickham attempt to induce into an elopement was Mr. Darcy’s sister but decided her promise of secrecy to that gentleman should be honoured and she could not see any particular benefit would accrue if Miss Darcy’s involvement was revealed. One thing did puzzle Elizabeth. Her aunt, while clearly shocked by the revelations of Mr. Wickham’s misdeeds, was nowhere as seriously discomposed as she herself had been. She sought an explanation from her aunt who was not slow to respond, “When you informed me of Mr. Wickham’s attentions to Miss King, my opinion of him began to change or rather I questioned his behaviour. You refused to impart any mercenary motives to him but I could see nothing else and, if he could act so blatantly mercenary in that matter, what other flaws might he have and be concealing? I am surprised at his perfidy but not as much as you since my suspicions were already aroused.”

If Mrs. Gardiner’s opinion of Mr. Darcy was materially improved when his dealings with Wickham were described, that opinion suffered no little damage when Elizabeth described how he had been involved in separating Jane from Mr. Bingley. Her meeting with Mr. Bingley’s sisters had not imparted to her a favourable impression of either sister. That they would decry the possible union for reasons of Jane’s lack of connections, dowry and station, she could easily believe; but that Mr. Darcy would base his objections primarily on Jane’s perceived lack of affection, she could not readily accept until she considered her niece’s extreme reserve. After a few minutes she asked Elizabeth, “You have had more time to think on this. What is your opinion of his actions?”

“I admit it was difficult at first to be fair on this matter; however, I have come to believe that he was honest in his intent to protect his friend. I once called his actions ‘officious interference’ but was forced to realize that I would have done the same if our positions were reversed. His purpose was well-meant but he made a mistake – unfortunately one based on his arrogant belief in his power of discernment. If he had limited himself to stating that he could perceive no affection, I suspect that Jane would be engaged to – and possibly married to – Mr. Bingley as we speak. But his arrogance led him to assume the absence of any indications of a revealed preference was the same as its absence. Perhaps I am too harsh but this is the fault I find – and so I have told him.”

Mrs. Gardiner was slowly nodding her head as Elizabeth spoke, “I cannot disagree with you too much on this Lizzy but, given what he said about the impropriety of your mother and sisters, is it not possible that those concerns influenced his opinion? From what you have related of the Netherfield Ball, your mother’s declaration of the engagement between Jane and Mr. Bingley must have led Mr. Darcy to believe that Jane – who has the appearance of a most gentle and pliable young woman – would be induced to accept an offer should it be made, regardless of her affections? Is that not a reasonable explanation also? And one that might excuse Mr. Darcy of undue arrogance?”

Elizabeth reluctantly agreed, “It is possible, I suppose. I admit I still tend to look for fault with Mr. Darcy; to question his motives – perhaps more than I should or more than is reasonable.”

“Now, Elizabeth, perhaps we should discuss Mr. Darcy’s visit yesterday. As I have already confessed, I was greatly impressed by his manner and civility. I understand that he did not behave so in Hertfordshire. Is it possible that your words have already induced him to change his behaviour?”

Elizabeth could only shake her head in puzzlement, “I do not understand it at all, aunt. He quite has me in a state of confusion.”

Mrs. Gardiner then asked Elizabeth to reveal her discussion with Mr. Darcy the previous afternoon which was quickly related. Both ladies sat in silence for several minutes considering all that had been revealed until finally Mrs. Gardiner asked, “Lizzy, how do you feel about Mr. Darcy now?”

Elizabeth tried to smile with minimal success before crying, “I am all confusion. Little more than a week ago I quite detested the man and now I scarce know what to think of him. Everything I believed of him has been overset. I am all confusion, self-doubts, frustration – such a conflict – I have had so little time to order my thoughts!”

Mrs. Gardiner smiled, “It is not to be wondered at if you are confused, Lizzy. The circumstances are quite peculiar indeed. But perhaps there is a means of creating some order out of that confusion.” Seeing Elizabeth’s hopeful gaze, she leaned over and patted her hand, saying, “Your uncle has frequently to deal with problems that are quite complex. One lesson he learned, quite young he says, is to simplify – to get down to the basic problem.”

“And the basic problem in this case is?”

“That is quite ridiculously simple, my dear.” And fixing her niece with a firm look Mrs. Gardiner asked, “If you had met Mr. Darcy for the first time while you were visiting your friend, would you accept his offer of courtship?”

Elizabeth took but a few seconds to respond, “Of course!”

“There is no ‘of course’ about it, Lizzy. Why would you do so?”

“He is a reputable man, honourable, can support a family. If his manners are a little wanting, he apparently can please when comfortable with his company. And he is quite handsome,” Elizabeth grinned at her aunt saying, “Which a young man should be if he is able.” A pensive look returned to her face as she said, “And, if I must be honest, had I met him for the first time then, I would have recognized his attentions for what they were and made an effort to get to know him rather than ignoring him as I actually did. A courtship would allow me to know him better.”

“So your answer tomorrow will be?”

“I will agree to a courtship, however….”


“Oh, I was just considering that Jane and I are to leave for Longbourn tomorrow. I dread having to be courted publicly under Mama’s gaze. She will be proclaiming a marriage within a week. Should I decide against him, I will have to come to live with you to escape her censure and lamentations.” The cheeky grin she gave her aunt drew a commiserating smile from that lady who understood very well how Elizabeth’s mother would react to a gentleman worth ten thousand a year courting one of her daughters. After a pause of some moments while they both considered the probable implications of a courtship being carried out under the eyes of a mother more than prepared to advance the match by whatever means available, if not necessarily suitable, Mrs. Gardiner made a suggestion.

“Lizzy, I know you wish to return to Longbourn but would you be agreeable to remaining with us for a fortnight or so after Jane leaves. Mr. Darcy could court you here.” She thought for a few moments, “He would have to get your father’s consent, of course. Perhaps he could ride to Longbourn the following day and see your father then.”

The look of delight that crossed Elizabeth’s countenance told her aunt all she needed to know and her expressions of gratitude were heartfelt, “Oh! That would be perfect. I am sure that a fortnight or so will permit me to determine if I wish the courtship to proceed further.” She grew thoughtful once more before continuing, “I believe we must have some of the courtship at Longbourn. I must learn if he can accept - tolerate - my family and my neighbours. I cannot separate myself from them nor would I wish to do so.”

Her aunt warned, “Your mother’s scheming will take place, you know.”

“True, true. But I shall, I believe, be more secure in my opinion by then. If I think it unlikely I would accept an offer of marriage, I would end the courtship before I returned to Longbourn.”


Elizabeth’s impatience 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 that evening, as they prepared for sleep, the chief of the scenes between Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam and herself.

She spoke of the Colonel’s revelations concerning George Wickham which by now she could recall with little effort. What a stroke was this for poor Jane! Who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual. Nor was Darcy’s vindication, though grateful to her feelings, capable of consoling her for such a discovery. Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear one without involving the other.

“This will not do,” said Elizabeth. “As I said to Charlotte not many days past, you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Mr. Darcy’s, but you shall do as you choose.”

It was some time, however, before a smile could be extorted from Jane.

“I do not know when I have been more shocked,” said she. “Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr. Darcy! Dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered at his hands and being acquainted with the knowledge of your ill opinion too! And having to relate such a thing of his sister! It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so.”

“Oh no! My regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of both. I know you will do him such ample justice, that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me easy; and if you lament over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather.”

“Poor Wickham; there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! Such an openness and gentleness in his manner.”

“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”

“I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you used to do.”

“And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one’s genius, such an opening for wit to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.”

“Lizzy when you first listened to Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am sure you could not treat the matter as you do now.”

“Indeed I could not. I was uncomfortable enough. I was very uncomfortable, I may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to of what I felt, no Jane to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! How I wanted you!”

“How unfortunate that you should have used such very strong expressions in speaking of Wickham to Colonel Fitzwilliam and to Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, for now they do appear wholly undeserved.”

“Certainly! But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness is a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. On one point, I must act. I have been authorized by Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam to make known Mr. Wickham’s character except insofar as it relates to Miss Darcy. I have written our father and informed him of Mr. Wickham’s habits in respect of incurring debts and importuning young women. Colonel Fitzwilliam is, I understand, to do likewise with Colonel Forster. I intend, when such news has been made public, to endeavour to undeceive people as to the rest of his conduct. I may not be believed, since the general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to place him in an amiable light. I may not be equal to it but I feel I must do what I can. While Wickham will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify to anybody here what he really is, Mr. Darcy may return. I would not have his character besmirched by my connivance.”

“Mr. Darcy may return?”

Elizabeth’s blushes did not prevent her from replying, “As I informed our aunt, Mr. Darcy has asked to court me. I am to give him his answer tomorrow when he calls.”

Jane interrupted, surprise quite evident in her voice and manner, “Do you expect to accept his offer then, Lizzy? I thought you quite detested the man?”

“Dearest Jane, in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable. I do not love the man, I do not, as yet, even like him very much but he is a much better man than I have previously given him credit to be and he has asked me for the chance to improve my opinion of him. I would be a very silly girl indeed to refuse such an opportunity.”

Elizabeth regarded her sister carefully before continuing, “Our aunt has suggested that I remain here with them and allow the first few weeks of the courtship to take place here in London and away from Longbourn and our mother. You know her too well. She will have it about that I am to marry him as soon as she learns the news of a courtship. Should I refuse him, or even end the courtship, her lamentations about Mr. Collins will pale in comparison to those she then expresses. My days will be a misery. No! I must start here in London and, if I believe that I could accept an offer of marriage, only then will I return to Longbourn.” She paused, “I must ask for your secrecy on this. I have a letter which I will ask you to give papa when you return tomorrow. It simply states that our aunt has asked me to remain with her for a few extra days to help with the children. I would ask that you say nothing more to anyone. This courtship will be conducted in secret here in London although I expect that Mr. Darcy will wish to speak with our father for his consent. It will not be a secret from him.”

That Jane would be reluctant to conceal the courtship from their mother, Elizabeth knew, but since it was an act of concealment rather than an actual falsehood, she was sure that Jane could soothe her conscience, particularly since their father would know of it.

The tumult of Elizabeth’s mind was allayed by this conversation. She had got rid of two of the secrets which had weighed on her, and was certain of a willing listener in Jane, whenever she might wish to talk again of them. But there was still something lurking unmentioned, of which prudence forbad the disclosure. She dared not relate Mr. Darcy’s revelations, nor explain to her sister how sincerely she had been valued by his friend. Here was knowledge in which no one could partake; and she was sensible that nothing less than a perfect understanding between the parties could justify her in throwing off this last encumbrance of mystery. “And then,” said she, “if that very improbable event should ever take place, I shall merely be able to tell what Bingley may tell in a much more agreeable manner himself. The liberty of communication cannot be mine till it has lost all its value!”

She was now somewhat at leisure to observe the real state of her sister’s spirits. Jane was not happy. She still cherished a very tender affection for Bingley. Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than first attachments often boast; and so fervently did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to every other man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to the feelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets which must have been injurious to her own health and their tranquility.

Walk With Me - Chapters 6-7

PeterMay 03, 2015 12:43AM

Re: Walk With Me - Chapters 6-7

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Re: Walk With Me - Chapters 6-7

terrycgMay 04, 2015 01:41AM

Re: Walk With Me - Chapters 6-7 (nfm)

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