Some will say that Love is like a rose, other will compare it to a flame. There are many comparisons. I myself, I have to admit, did not think of love at all for many years. Until I was seven and twenty, I had not known love in the most profound way that poets talk about. I will also admit that I did not want to. I have no great love for roses, and I never felt the need to be eaten alive by fire. But now that I know what love is, I know it is neither a flower, nor a flame. To me, love is a journey.
Do not worry, I will tell you the story of this wonderful and terrifying journey. A journey comprised of so many mischances, or some will say chances. Yes, at the time I thought them mischances, but looking back, they gave me a chance to be a better man and I can't bring myself to resent them.
I will start with the beginning. It is, after all, a good place to start. By chance, I concluded my business in town early and left London to visit my sister in Ramsgate, two days earlier than planned. That gave me a chance to save her from a most horrible fate, as she was planning on eloping with the worse scoundrel in all the land. Now, you must understand that my sister is a most trusting creature, and, my fault I admit, I never told her how her dearest childhood friend turned out to be a gambler and seducer of the worse kind. I didn't want her to hurt, and so of course, she hurt much worse by having her heart broken. At the time, I berated myself for so many things in that fiasco, instead of looking at the good things in life and appreciating the timing of my arrival. I learned the art of counting my blessings later on.
On with the story, chance number two. Charles Bingley invited me to join him for some time in the country, he had just leased a new property in Hertfordshire. I agreed only after my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, urged me to go. He said, and I quote, you are hovering about like a vulture, leave poor Georgiana to lick her wounds alone. He always enjoyed an animal metaphor. Anyway, I joined Bingley in Netherfield, just in time to see the neighborhood at an assembly nearby. It might be prudent to add that I hate assemblies. No, scratch that, I loathe them. As I hovered around, like a vulture again, I have heard, quite by chance, a conversation between a young lady and her mother.
"I don't think he was quite so handsome if he was not quite so rich."
I don't know why it struck me, that one sentence. Maybe it was the way the mother was absolutely clueless of the cynicism her daughter applied, mayhap the spark in the daughter's eyes. Perhaps it was so close to the truth of how mothers and daughters usually saw me. But it made me smile. Not a big wide smile, at the time I didn't believe I possessed the talent of smiling widely. But I admit to a small twitch of my lips. Said daughter saw it and smirked at me, in a very non-flirty way, I must add.
Her mother kept blathering on and her daughter answered her with another well aimed retort. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife," was what she said.
Some time later, Bingley came over and urged me to dance, and I believe, in retrospective, that this moment was the biggest chance I've got in my road to happiness. I was so close to batting Bingley off, I even had the answer ready. "I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable."
I was going to say that, but then, by complete chance, my eyes rested on the sarcastic girl's visage. She wasn't ugly, not as beautiful as her elder sister, but not a bad thing to watch, I'd say she was tolerable. I already knew she had a sharp wit to show and thought to myself, it truly wouldn't be so bad to dance with her. She didn't seem insipid enough for me to feel it a punishment. Bingley looked imploringly at me and I remembered how important it was for him to make a good impression on the neighborhood.
"Fine," I heard myself say. "Introduce me to your angel's sister."
There was nothing to say about the dance, it was like any other dance I've had before, in the sense that it wasn't my favorite setting. It is usually boring, enough for me to wish to gouge my eye out with a spoon from sheer boredom. When it is not, I find myself halted in the middle of a sentence because of the direction the dance leads me, it is most annoying. So, you see, it's a lose-lose situation. I fear this dance fell on the second happenstance. Miss Elizabeth Bennet turned out to be an interesting creature, and every pause in our conversation irritated me. When the dance was done and I offered to escort her to the refreshment table, she refused politely.
"Mama will start sizing your estate by the time we return. It is best to leave it at that."
"You do not wish to raise your status by association?" my lip again twitched.
"I believe you are safe from Me." her eyes sparkled.
That was the moment I've let my guard down, for I truly believed I was safe from her. After all, she had such a small fortune and no connections, and no aspirations to be my wife. I was safe.
What a fool I was.
We are at chance number four. By chance, Miss Bennet the eldest is ill in Netherfield and Miss Elizabeth comes to play nurse. I tried to keep my distance, by God I tried, but it was quite impossible. She was charming and knowledgeable and witty, I could not keep away. I even found myself alone with her at the library one time, talking for half an hour about the book I was reading. I never before spoke with a woman about books, in the serious sense of the word. I believe Miss Bingley tries to talk to me about books all the time, but it is a bit ridiculous to try and talk to me about the second volume while I am in the middle of the first. Back to Miss Elizabeth, we had some interesting conversations during her stay and when she left I truly felt we were friends.
Fifth chance? I saw her next to Mr. Wickham, the scoundrel from the third paragraph. I walked away extremely upset, but later on she convinced me to tell her what happened with him. She's a very convincing person. I told her about how he took the money for law school and spent it on God knows what, along with a few well-chosen debt stories. I omitted the story of my sister, I did tell her that on a later time though, but at the time it felt that we were not close enough for that particular story. By the next week, everyone in the area knew that Mr. Wickham did not honor his debts, though no one could trace the source. Wickham did not receive credit anywhere, and for some unknown reason he found it a good enough reason not to stay in the area and so he did not purchase a commission. Very odd, that story.
Afterwards, I danced another dance with her at a ball held at Netherfield, and it was then when I felt myself to be in danger. The jealousy I felt when she danced with that idiot parson left me reeling. By the end of that evening I had two insights. One was that I needed to get the hell away from her, the other was that Bingley needed to do the same before he found himself leg shackled in a marriage without affection. And so, I made the most horrid mistake of my life and followed Bingley to London with his sisters and brother in law.
I spent nearly five months in pure agony, love sick in the most acute kind. It was then that chance number six landed in my lap. I went to see Aunt Catherine, as I do every year at Easter time, to find the lovely creature visiting her cousin and friend. If I ever thought I might be cured of my infatuation, the thought was crushed the moment I heard my aunt talk about her over dinner. Just a small mention of her name and I was completely gone. I could not help myself, I had to go and see her, and how I regretted that impulse! For I was made to watch her flirt with my cousin and felt my jealousy rise with every moment passed. In retaliation, she hardly spoke to me. I had to find out why, and I hounded her trail until I found her walking in the grove at Rosings Park the next morning. It took me a while to find out just why I was getting the silence treatment, but luckily for me Miss Elizabeth was never one to hold a grudge in her anger and she admitted she was hurt by my hasty departure.
"I believed us friends," she said and I felt her hurt behind the bravado.
"We were! We are!" it was an absolute lie. The last thing I wanted for us was to be merely friends.
"I was worried, I feared something has happened. I was sure that you'd inform me if you planned to leave. It was only after Jane received Miss Bingley's letter that I realized how foolish I was. Mr. Darcy was truly too grand to confide in me."
I felt the sting of it. It was worse knowing that I hurt her. The right thing to do was to leave her alone, never hurt her again. But I could not. Instead, I strove to rebuild what was lost.
"I am not one to wallow in misery," she told me on one of our morning walks. "I rather laugh about what happened and start anew."
"I cannot agree with being laughed at," I reminded her of a conversation we had at Netherfield with Miss Bingley, it brought a smile to her face. "But I would very much wish to renew our friendship."
After that day, she did not raise the subject again and I, coward that I am, did not as well. We talked about books and music, about nature and architecture. But we did not delve deeper and her eyes did not sparkle at me anymore. I felt the loss keenly.
Things were progressing rather well, I believed. Until one evening Mr. and Mrs. Collins arrived, with only Miss Lucas in tow. Miss Elizabeth is ill, her cousin informed us, and my own cousin admitted he had met her earlier and indeed, she suffered from a headache. My aunt launched into a litany of headache prevention, quite ironically giving me a headache. But it was that moment when I felt that I could not take it anymore. I wanted to care for her, with all I have. I wanted her safe and sound, in my arms. I wanted to marry her.
Quietly, I slipped away and walked to the parsonage. The moment I saw her I knew she was upset, but I was so wrapped up in my own sense of rightness that I felt sure that my address will help her recover from her illness.
I did say I was a fool, did I not?
I gave the most horrendous offer of marriage that any woman could ever get, and in return I received the dressing down of the century. She blamed me for her sister's misery, she said I was a snob of the worse kind, arrogant and conceited, and refused my offer of marriage.
"I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. If I recall correctly, I made it clear that I have not the least intention of marrying. If I wanted a marriage of convenience, I would have accepted my cousin's offer."
I truly had no idea he offered. The thought that I might have come to visit my aunt and found her as the new Mrs. Collins ate me alive for months afterwards.
"I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one," she continued. "It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation." That was her answer. I remember it to this day.
I said that I am honest above all, and I wanted her to know my struggle. She laughed a bitter kind of laugh that did not bode well.
"I do not trust you," she said when I foolishly inquired for her reasons to refuse me. "And I do not respect you. It is most sad that you do not respect me as well. Affection and love are wonderful things, but what is a marriage without trust and respect?"
To say I was heartbroken would be the understatement of the year. I felt like she tore away my heart from my body, using only her fingers, then tied it to my horse's tail and let it drag around. I was absolutely crushed. I wrote her a letter, bitter and resentful, trying to explain my motives and behavior. I was careful not to mention my feelings again, but I did write about my sister, in hopes that she might understand my state of mind at the time. By morning I searched for her and gave it to her. As I walked away, I realized that I would probably never see her again. It was the worst moment of my life, even worse than being refused by her. The understanding that I would never again hear her voice, see her fine eyes, it was too much to bear.
I'm afraid that the next few weeks held nothing but drinking. I'm not one to usually drown my sorrow, but I guess everyone has their limit. Losing Elizabeth was my limit. When I finished mourning her, I spent my spare time boxing and fencing, trying to rid of my anger. I was at my lowest point.
If you ever made a long journey, you will recognize this point as the lowest moment of the trek. You may have been robbed, fell off a bridge, or caught a disease. Yes, to all. I have been robbed of my happiness, fell off my high chair and fell ill in depression. But, if you ever made a long journey, you know that after those dark times the sun always rise and things start to look a little better. A stranger's kindness, a beautiful flower on the side of the road, a lovely voice singing, wafting through the air. My ray of sunshine was my seventh chance, and I was going to grab it with both hands.
I was traveling with my sister and friends towards Pemberley. It was horrible in every way. I was eaten alive by my own thoughts, the realization of what a disgusting human being I was, and the bleak future that awaited me, all those usual things that happen when you're depressed. You can add to that my friends' aimless chatter and Mrs. Hurst's shrill voice. But worst of all, the knowledge that I was heading home after months of absence. I love Pemberley with all my heart, but after believing that I will spend my days there with my beloved, it was hard coming back knowing it will be empty. Suddenly, I couldn't bear the thought of coming home with this company with me. I wanted to mourn alone. And so at the next stop I grabbed my horse, invented an important meeting with my steward and rode ahead.
I reached home in record time, and right there, in the middle of my park, there she was. My ray of light. I know not what I said or done in those moments, it was awkward and painful, but a few minutes later when I was undressing from my traveling gear, I had a realization. This is my chance!
I couldn't dress fast enough, I was so eager to get back to her, to the light. I found her again and we had a lovely, if stilted, conversation. I asked to introduce my sister to her, she agreed and we spent the rest of the walk trying to regain the friendship we used to have. At this point, I was so desperate, I would have agreed to anything from her. I'd rather be the rug under her shoes than not see her again. I would do anything for the friendship I once threw away.
The next day I came to visit her with my sister and Bingley, and seeing Elizabeth so kind towards my sister made my heart soar. Georgiana invited Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle for dinner the next day, and I was so happy I bought her a little trinket in Lambton as a thank you.
I believe I have never enjoyed a dinner party as I enjoyed myself that evening. Elizabeth's aunt and uncle were genteel and knowledgeable, and it was obvious they adored their niece. We had common ground to start from and much to talk about. Elizabeth was a joy, seeing her singing with my sister managed to extract that wide smile from me, I was elated!
That night I couldn't sleep. I knew that I must grab the chance I received, but I didn't know how. What should I do to make her see me as husband material? I needed more time. By morning I had the solution. I will invite Miss Elizabeth and her family to stay at Pemberley instead of that inn, and we could spend more time together. As soon as politeness allowed, I was at the inn's doorstep, only to find Miss Elizabeth on her way for a walk. After our greetings I was invited to join her and we walked pleasantly through Lambton's roads. I was going to ask her to stay at Pemberley, I swear it! But then she smiled at me and her beautiful eyes sparkled as they did when I was in Hertfordshire, and something else left my mouth instead.
"You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."
For one torturous moment, I feared I have lost my chance. I rushed her and she would refuse me again and I would have no hope at all. But though her shock was evident, the sparkle in her eyes did not die, and it tethered my hope to life as well.
"You do not have to answer now; just tell me if I have a chance. That is all I ask."
Elizabeth blushed prettily and nodded, "yes, you have a chance."
If I thought my smile of yesterday was wide, it was nothing to the one I wore that morning. I have a chance!
We met her aunt and uncle shortly after and I suggested what I planned all morning but forgot when faced with their niece. They agreed and I rode back to inform my housekeeper.
That evening we spent together, as one big party of family and friends. When the rest retired, Elizabeth and I stayed at the library for a long while, talking of everything and nothing. I felt so close to the end of my journey, but knew I had to unburden myself to reach the top of the mountain. I broached the dreaded subject, though I saw that she was unease as I was.
"My behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof," I told her. "It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence."
Elizabeth tried to make light of the situation, as is her wont. But I had none of that.
"I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said - of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it - is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget."
"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."
It hurt to realize that she did not think she had a lasting impression on me. "I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling; I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."
"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you, that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."
I didn't want her to feel ashamed. I knew the whole ordeal was my own fault and so I should find the remedy. I told her this and her eyes widened, but then I looked at her full lips and could look at nothing else. Slowly, ever so slowly, I brought my lips closer to hers, but didn't touch her. I was waiting for permission, you see. Her lip twitched in a tease, just a bit, and that was the only sign I needed. I delved deeper and kissed her softly.
Oh, how soft her lips were, how sweet and moist. At that moment I felt I have reached my journey's zenith. I could not love her more than this moment, it was not possible. Nothing could be better than kissing her, nothing tasted better than her lips on mine and her fingers in my hair. Nothing.
I did say I was a fool, you remember.
We married two months later, in a double wedding with Bingley and our sister Jane. By the time we were alone together in my room, I already knew one thing for sure. Love is a journey that never ends, for every moment with Elizabeth brings me to new peaks.
Even now, fifty years later I still hold to that idea. Every morning I wake up to see her next to me, her dear face pressed to my pillow, and I love her more than the morning before. Every day I love her more, even though the day before my heart was so full I could not believe it could get any larger.
Yes, love is a journey that never ends. You can choose to give up at the rough times, but then, how will you see the sunrise from the highest peak of the highest mountain? And now I must ask you, how can a rose or a flame even compare to it?