Summary: What if Elizabeth had met Darcy once more at Rosings after reading his letter?

Disclaimer: All characters are the creation of Jane Austen.

- 1 -

It would not be acceptable, no matter how sorely she was tempted to do so, to feign another headache and let this be her excuse for not attending dinner at Rosings that evening. So Elizabeth had to feign contentment and equanimity instead and suspend all her most pressing thoughts until she could retire to the privacy of her room at the parsonage again. When they approached the house and Mr. Collins once again took on the enumeration of its many windows, it seemed to her that their number must have doubled now that she knew he would be behind none of them.

How did he feel about her at present? Was he angry or distraught? His letter had not truly betrayed his feelings and this morning in the park, she had barely dared to look at him. She could not have said whether he had seemed indifferent or grave. The triumph of having wounded his pride - was that not what she had attempted to do since their first encounter or at least their second? - had not been as great as she had expected. To speak the truth, she did not feel triumphant at all. She still resented him, for his highhandedness in having separated Bingley and Jane and for the way in which he had exposed her own shortcomings. How blind she had been when it had come to Wickham!

She had no desire to ever see him again. And yet she would note his absence; she could almost feel it. Tonight, if she were invited to sit down at the pianoforte, she would be equally aware of his not looking at her as she had been of his staring before. He had certainly succeeded in making himself memorable: she would always be conscious now of the life that she could have lived, although she did not want it. He had created the possibility and it was she who would now have to live with it.

What could he have been thinking? True, their conversations on the morning walks had seemed more cordial than they had been at Netherfield, but they had none of the informality that she had felt with Wickham or the Colonel. How could these few oddly unconnected sentences have led her to believe that he was ready to offer for her? Not once could a word he had spoken have been mistaken for flirtation. In this, he was the exact opposite of Wickham or his cousin, who spoke in such a manner frequently, but meant nothing. It was she who must have misled him, he must have read more into her lively manners than she could have guessed. Or else his arrogance knew no bounds and he was ready to marry a woman who did not return his attentions, simply to see his own desires satisfied.

Love. He had spoken of love. And "ardently". Whatever could he have meant? How did he even know such a word, such a dour man who did not even take pleasure in a dance! He had admitted that he could feel passionate resentment, but was he capable of loving with equal determination? If he had meant it, if he knew the significance of the word, then he would be the first man who ever loved her. For all she knew, he might be the only man who would ever love her.

Could he have expected a kiss when he had hurried to the parsonage? A memory of one evening at Netherfield came back to her, when he had claimed to admire Miss Bingley's and her own figure from his position. How many times had he admired her figure since then? She clutched her wrists rather awkwardly in front of her, as if she wanted to protest clearly the part she might have played in the man's imagination. And no matter how much it shamed her - she could not help but feel the compliment.

It was impossible to account for it: she was not beautiful - pleasing, was the most even her mother would allow. What could he have seen in her that others had not? He was undoubtedly handsome, more so than Bingley. On the few occasions when she had allowed herself to think about the man she might marry, that man had been nothing like Mister Darcy. She imagined a kind, simple man, not one that other ladies would look at jealously. They would wonder what Elizabeth might have done to draw him in and would never believe how little she had done. On the contrary, she had done everything that was in her power to anger and repel him. What a strange man he must be! To be so proud and then let himself be moved by impertinence rather than flattery! What could he have been thinking: what talk their engagement would have caused, what rumours would have been circulated!

Elizabeth did not know how they had made their way to the entrance. She was sure that she had heard Mister Collins ask her a question and that she had replied distractedly and absurdly out of context. He had been talking since they had left the parsonage. Elizabeth had found that with very little effort his speeches could be reduced to a distant buzzing. She wondered how often Charlotte resorted to the same artifice.

Why could she regard one applicant for her hand as a comical episode and feel so differently about the other? Her feelings towards him were impossible to determine and she feared that she would never reach a definite conclusion in the matter. He would always remain a mystery to her and one no amount of mulling over would solve. And yet, mull over him she would.

Yes, she hated him, if only for the power he had gained over her, no matter how she resisted it. In the hours that had elapsed since first reading his letter, she had almost come to understand his reasons for separating Jane from Mister Bingley. How firmly she had held that grief, how acutely she had felt it! And yet a few neatly written lines from his hands had almost convinced her of the justice of his actions. How dangerous it would have been to let such a man into her life - she would never again have been sure of anything and with time he would have replaced her own good judgement with his own!

This evening too would pass and soon enough she would be on her way to London and then she would return to Longbourn and life would go on just as it had before. This train of thought that she had started in the hope of giving her comfort all of a sudden made her feel uneasy. Life would indeed go on as it had before and the pleasures of the quiet day-to-day were the most that she could expect. And then everything would change for the worse on the day her father would pass away and no one could tell when that would be.

Jane was still grieving for Bingley, Elizabeth was sure of that. She had not spoken of any new acquaintance she would have made in London - it was far from certain that another suitor would ever present himself. At home, Lydia would be Lydia, Mary would be dull, Kitty would be unable to decide whether she would rather be Lydia or rather be dull, her mother would grow from exuberant to desperate, as time progressed and her daughters remained unmarried. As for her father, he would be indifferent - or pretend to be, to avoid causing concern to anyone, foremost himself.

Another question forced itself upon her: what if she had been able to guess at his intentions? What if he had been more explicit, if she'd had time to ponder the possibility of his proposing, would she have reacted differently? What if she had not encountered Colonel Fitzwilliam only hours before, if she had not been able to know for sure about Mister Darcy's interference concerning Jane and Bingley, would her reply have been the same?

Yes, she decided after a few moments of reflection. She had promised herself that only the deepest love would induce her into matrimony and she most certainly did not love him. How could she? To her he remained a stranger - in his letter he had said more than in all the time of their acquaintance. Now he was someone she knew. He was not a friend, by no means. An enemy? Then what was he? Mr. Collins addressed her again and she was just about to formulate another vague reply, when she heard his voice.