Chapter One: Sweet Little Lies
Every day, a person makes a hasty decision. Whether their quickly-drawn conclusions are the wisest, only speculation can determine. But what is certain is that even the smallest lie or the flightiest decision can change the entire course of someone's existence.
A small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere—this is what is called the butterfly effect. What life would someone have lead if they had said or acted differently? Would it be for the better or for the worse? And how could someone's actions affect the existence of others?
Yet, all of these questions are not answered when one makes haste. Logic is thrown to side in order to satisfy what seems sensible at the moment.
The Netherfield ball brought on deep disappointment for Elizabeth Bennet. Her new favorite, Mr. George Wickham, had been absent. She was tired and vexed; and relieved to have changed into her night clothes and sprawled out among the warm linen sheets of her bed. She wrapped her shawl around her and stared absently into the ceiling. She could not help but be disgusted with the manners of Mr. Darcy towards her favorite gentleman—and what did he mean by asking her to dance? She let out a deep breath, deciding that she was too exhausted to speculate about such things. The morrow would bring its own challenges.
A knock on the door to her bedchamber caused her to rise, resentfully, as she called out her consent for her visitor to enter. Discussion of balls after their end was a common ritual between Elizabeth and her sister Jane, though she had hoped that it would be deferred till the next day. But, to her surprise, it was not her elder sister who entered; it was her mother. Despite the wearying festivities, she had a smile across her face; Elizabeth invited her to join her on her bed; an invitation which she gratefully accepted.
"You look pleased, Mama," observed Elizabeth. She reached for a hairbrush lying across her pillow and began to comb her hair idly, waiting in vain for her mother to announce whatever happy and trivial news that she had undoubtedly come to inform her of.
"Oh! Yes; very pleased indeed. Of course, why shouldn't I be? Jane and Mr. Bingley are practically engaged you know."
"But that is not what you came to tell me, as I'm sure we all noticed that," replied Elizabeth with a small smile. Despite the absence of Mr. Wickham, she could still rejoice in that her sister would undoubtedly soon be made a very happy woman. Her happiness for her sister was overflowing, though she could not help being slightly envious of her having found such an agreeable partner.
"How very intuitive of you, Lizzy! You see, I have just spoken with Mr. Collins, and he intends to make an offer of marriage to you! Imagine, Lizzy; you will have a comfortable home, and be quite constantly in the company of the amiable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and you will know that your dear Mama will be very pleased having two daughters married."
Elizabeth felt uneasy. She had suspected that Mr. Collins had some inclination towards her, though she had dared not bring up the subject herself. She was well aware that the first priority of her mother was to have all of her daughters well-married and certainly vain arguments that she did not love him would be not at all convincing. She opened her mouth several times to speak, but could not think of which words would make her most convincing.
"Lizzy? Are you not very happy? Surely there can be no reason for you to be displeased, unless you are in love with someone else, but I hardly think that the case."
Elizabeth felt it absolutely necessary to speak now, and, without putting much thought to it, abruptly replied,
"I am in love with someone else."
"Oh dear! Are you, indeed? This does complicate the matter quite inconveniently. Of course, you are in love with Mr. Wickham. You know, I really think he fancies you as well—and a redcoat, too!—but, be reasonable, Lizzy; his wealth is certainly not equal to Mr. Collins'. I hope you are not very much in love with him; certainly I would agree to have such an amiable son-in-law, if it were not for the current situation. Do you not see my logic?"
"I am not in love with Mr. Wickham," said Elizabeth, quite truthfully. Though she certainly think that Mr. Wickham was one of the friendliest men of her acquaintance, she did not believe herself to be in love; and there was no sense in lying about it, since it did not seem to deter her mother's wishes.
"Are not you? Then who, may I ask, is the object of your desire?"
Elizabeth sat in silent contemplation at this question; who could she be in love with that would convince her mother to allow her to reject Mr. Collins? He would have to be wealthier than him, certainly, since she had only heard her speak fonder of Mr. Bingley; and she, unfortunately, knew a limited number of rich men.
"Why—I—Mr. Darcy," she stated, attempting to look satisfied with her words. It was a gross falsehood; that she could be in love with Mr. Darcy was absolutely ridiculous; but after her quick calculation, it seemed that he was the only man eligible enough to defer her mother's newfound fondness for Mr. Collins.
"Mr. Darcy? Is that so? I can't believe it! So disagreeable—oh, do forgive me! Of course, he's not so bad. And you did dance with him at the ball, didn't you? Certainly, certainly; I wonder why I did not see it before. And he is very rich; richer than Mr. Bingley, I dare say! This is very agreeable! I'm sorry that I did not like him better, Lizzy; you must call on him tomorrow, and invite him to dinner. Which dish is he fondest of? Do you think that he will propose very soon? I hope that there is some partiality on his side—"
Feeling incredibly awkward with her mother's speech, she felt that she had better interrupt her.
"Don't worry, Mama. It is as certain that we will be engaged as it is certain that Bingley and Jane will be. I tried to keep it such a secret, of course, since I knew you all disliked him so much; but I hope that you can look past his—well—pride." She began to feel sufficiently satisfied now; and her own story seemed to make sense, even to herself. Mr. Collins would look elsewhere for a wife, and her mother would be exceedingly disappointed, but not blame her dear daughter, who did everything in her power to catch a rich husband, when Mr. Darcy did not propose. The lie became more agreeable to Elizabeth with each passing moment.
"Look past it? For ten thousand a year, I would look past just about anything! And if you really love him, it should not matter what I think. But poor Mr. Collins!—Oh, he can marry Kitty or Mary. But not my dear Lydia, of course; she can do much better than a clergyman. I'm very happy, though, Lizzy, very happy! You sly thing! What a good joke, to keep your love for Mr. Darcy a secret all this time!" As she spoke, she left the room, and once the door was closed, Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. She would be saved from marrying Mr. Collins, and have her mother be exceedingly jolly in belief that she would have a daughter wealthier than Mr. Bingley. She hoped that her raptures, however, would calm down, since she really didn't want her mother crying to the world that she was to marry Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth chuckled at the very thought of being at his disposal, and fawning over him like Miss Bingley. It would all straighten itself out; and she could look back on it all with a laugh.