Darcy leaves for the Continent after his ill-fated proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but a happy family event reunites them a year later.
"I am not leaving until you have read the letter, Miss Bennet," Mr. Darcy said firmly, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against a tree.
"Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth said incredulously. "I wish you to leave."
Mr. Darcy did not budge. "I spent most of the night and this morning writing that letter, Miss Bennet. I intend to remain not only to ensure that you read it, but so that I might be here to answer any questions you may have regarding its contents. Do not be alarmed, madam, that it contains any renewal of those sentiments or offers which last evening were so disgusting to you."
His voice was calm, but his expression was not. His eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep (My God! Elizabeth thought, has he been weeping?) and his complexion was pale.
She nodded. "Very well, Mr. Darcy," she said, and sat on a tree stump to read the letter. Had she not been so absorbed in its contents, she might have seen that Mr. Darcy's eyes never left her face the entire time she was reading.
Elizabeth was so strongly affected by the letter's disclosures that she postponed looking at Mr. Darcy until she composed herself. When she finally was able to meet his gaze, Mr. Darcy was startled to see she had tears in her eyes.
"Well?" he said.
"What you write of Mr. Wickham. It is all true?"
"Believe me, Miss Bennet, I could have written more. Should you despise me so much as to question my truthfulness, you may apply to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was party to all these proceedings."
She coloured. "I do not despise you, Mr. Darcy."
He shrugged, as though he did not care, although he did care, very much.
"I will speak to Bingley when I return to London, Miss Bennet, and inform him that I was mistaken as to your sister's sentiments. I am still not convinced of the suitability of your family, but if Bingley's affections are returned, it would be wrong of me to interfere."
"Very generous of you," Elizabeth
said sarcastically. "Why is it you were willing to overlook my
family's suitability in making an offer of marriage to me?"
"Because, Miss Bennet," he answered, "I loved you so hopelessly and passionately that I thought I could not live without you. And I am not a man normally given to using such words as 'hopelessly' and 'passionately.'" He laughed, but there was nothing of humour in his tone.
"Mr. Darcy, please let me assure you that I had no idea of your regard and would not have encouraged it had I known of it."
"Well, I must say, Miss Bennet, that that was a far more civil reflection than your informing me I am the last man in the world you could be prevailed upon to marry. I thank you for that improvement in expression.
"And now I must bid you good day," he said, taking one long last look at her before he departed. I must learn to live without her.
Elizabeth had a mad impulse to run after him to...to...to do what? Apologize? Throw my arms around him? No, no...I will think about it and decide how to approach him when next I see him.
As it happened, Mr. Darcy, true to his word, did speak to Mr. Bingley, who called upon Jane Bennet with alacrity. Bingley quickly made amends for his neglect, assured Jane of his love, and within a month, they were man and wife.
Elizabeth decided that when next she saw Mr. Darcy, she would not only apologize for her harshness in refusing his proposals, she would thank him for his role in reuniting Jane and Charles. She assumed she would be able to do so at her sister's wedding, but to her surprise, Mr. Darcy did not attend. In a letter to Charles Bingley, he explained his absence by revealing that he would be touring the Continent with his sister and was unsure as to when he would return.
It would be close to a year before Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy would meet again.
When Mr. Darcy had had some time to contemplate the events at Rosings, he convinced himself that Elizabeth's refusal had been for the best. He had never been in love before; indeed, upon reflection, he thought perhaps he had not truly been in love with Elizabeth Bennet. He decided that distancing himself from her would be the best course of action. His sister Georgiana had just turned sixteen, he had long been promising her a European tour, and as they both had been recently disappointed in love, perhaps they could each help the other recover.
His plan, to some extent, was a success. As the weeks and months passed, the piercing pain in his heart was reduced to a dull ache. Georgiana was young and resilient, and as her love for Wickham was little more than infatuation, she was quicker to recover than her brother. Darcy never confided in his sister about what caused his melancholy, but Georgiana guessed there was a woman behind it. She enjoyed her brother's companionship, and Darcy delighted in Georgiana's enjoyment of all there was to be seen in the European capitals. They celebrated Darcy's 29th birthday at a cozy ristorante in Rome, and for the first time in many months Darcy allowed himself the luxury of thinking of Elizabeth and how different he had hoped this birthday would be.
He was quiet and distant, and Georgiana reached across the table to put her hand over his.
"What are you thinking of, brother?"
"Nothing in particular," he said.
"You are unhappy," she stated.
He sighed. "It's been ten months," he said, "and still I cannot forget."
"Tell me," she answered.
Darcy searched her face. Gone was the little girl; her eyes shone with a woman's compassion. He nodded, took a sip of his coffee and began to speak.
Once he began, the words came with a rush. Darcy was rarely expressive of his feelings, so when he said he was "disappointed," Georgiana guessed he was heartbroken and that what he termed "deep affection" for Miss Elizabeth Bennet was undoubtedly passionate love. She wisely did not interrupt, knowing that if she did, he was unlikely to continue. Interspersed with his retelling of the events of last spring and the preceding months were descriptions of Miss Bennet. He could not help himself; he had rarely spoken of her to anyone and once he started, he found it difficult to stop. What Georgiana surmised from his sometimes rambling speech was that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was a most remarkable young woman, that she had a keen wit, beautiful dark eyes and playful manners, and that her brother had been, and still was, deeply in love with her.
"Fitzwilliam, we have hidden away licking our wounds long enough. It is time for us to return home," she said.
"For what reason, Georgiana? Do you miss Pemberley?"
"Of course, and I am sure you do as well. But that is not the only reason, Fitzwilliam. I want to meet your Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Except for her inability to recognize your admirable qualities, she seems a perfect creature! Although it would seem you did quite a thorough job of obscuring your admirable qualities, Fitzwilliam. Good God, brother, did you truly point out her family's shortcomings before making your proposals? What were you thinking?"
Darcy shook his head.
"I wonder if I was thinking at all, Georgiana! I believe that in some convoluted way, I was trying to convey the depth of my affections by emphasizing how much I had been required to overlook before deciding to ask Miss Bennet to marry me. Of course, I only succeeded in angering and insulting her. Not that it would have mattered had I made my proposals in more suitable language. As Miss Bennet herself told me, the manner of my expression merely spared her the concern she might have felt in refusing me had I...had I..."
At this point, Darcy hung his head, remembering the words seared into his soul.
"Had you what, Fitzwilliam?"
His response was no more than a whisper.
"Had I behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."
He looked up at his sister pleadingly.
"You cannot imagine how much those words have tortured me, Georgiana. I will never forget them for as long as I live."
"How could she say such a thing to you, Fitzwilliam? You are every inch the gentleman, you..."
"No, Georgiana, my conduct was indefensible. Miss Bennet said nothing of me that was not deserved. Do you understand now why I wish never to see her again?"
"I am afraid I do not understand why you want to allow Miss Bennet to continue to labour under the misconception that you are not a gentleman! Yes, you said some very stupid and ill-advised things, Fitzwilliam, and yes, it will be difficult to face Miss Bennet, but do you not see it is something you must do? For yourself?"
"Too much time has passed."
"And by tomorrow, one more day will have passed, Fitzwilliam! There is no time like the present to begin to set things right."
"She might well have married another by now, Georgiana."
"Perhaps. But are you content to never know?"
Darcy had no answer to that simple question, but the very next afternoon, he had his first news of the Bennet family since he last saw Elizabeth. He received a letter from Charles Bingley, informing him of the birth of his first child, Charles Thomas, and requesting that Darcy return to England so that he might stand as godfather for the baby in April. Dear, generous-hearted Charles, Darcy thought. Not a word of remonstration for missing his wedding or his lack of communication since.
The baby's godmother, it was noted, would be Elizabeth
Elizabeth Bennet. So, he thought, she was still "Bennet." She had not married another. Not that it was surprising, Darcy thought. He was convinced that Elizabeth was that rare female who would marry for love and love alone. After all, if she had wanted to marry for material gain, she might have accepted him that awful evening at Rosings!
No, Elizabeth Bennet did not love easily. Certainly she realized she must marry someone who could provide for her, but Darcy sensed she would also require a partner who was her equal in intellect, discernment and, for lack of a better word, simple goodness of character. Darcy's perception of himself had evolved so thoroughly these last ten months that he was fully aware on which count he had failed to meet Miss Bennet's requirements.
The realization hit him like a bolt of lightning. Even if Elizabeth had felt any romantic attraction for him at all (and indeed, she had not!) , she would have resisted it because she found his character lacking. It was as simple as that. Of course, her perceptions of his character had been erroneous, based on misinformation and prejudice, but Darcy realized his own behaviour - the haughty air of superiority he exhibited to the world at large - had reinforced her opinions. She did not find him likable, let alone an attractive marriage partner!
I want Elizabeth to like and respect me, even if she can never love me. Darcy smiled to himself, amused at his own simplistic thinking. Because of his wealth and lineage, Darcy had never been required to exert himself in any way in order to be liked and respected. It was up to others to make themselves likable to him, and their efforts in this respect he had come to expect as his due! Only Charles Bingley, for some odd reason, had managed to penetrate Darcy's reserve, with his innate cheer and goodness...
There it was again, that word, goodness. Everything about Elizabeth Bennet bewitched him, but it was her goodness that kept her anchored firmly to his heart. He would never love another, and there was an emptiness inside him that would never be filled without her.
It had taken ten months, and Georgiana's gentle prodding and urging, and Charles Bingley's timely letter, but Darcy was finally convinced. He must return to England immediately.
Once Darcy's mind was made up, he set about expediting their departure from Italy. He posted a letter to Charles, although he was unsure whether his letter would arrive in England before he and Georgiana did.
28 February Dear
Charles, I have received your letter today requesting my
presence as godfather at the christening of your son. I thank you
deeply for this honour and humbly accept. I have booked passage on
the next ship to England which will depart in ten days' time, and
after a brief stop at Pemberley, I will be on my way to
Hertfordshire. Please accept my apologies for my hasty
departure last spring. I fear I allowed a deep disappointment I had
recently suffered to influence my behaviour, and I sincerely regret
having missed your wedding. I am touched that your generous nature
has allowed you to excuse my behaviour to the extent that you have
requested that I stand as godfather to your child. You are a dear and
true friend, Charles. Please convey my best wishes to Mrs.
Bingley and to all her family, and I look forward to seeing you
soon. Yours, Fitzwilliam Darcy
I have received your letter today requesting my presence as godfather at the christening of your son. I thank you deeply for this honour and humbly accept. I have booked passage on the next ship to England which will depart in ten days' time, and after a brief stop at Pemberley, I will be on my way to Hertfordshire.
Please accept my apologies for my hasty departure last spring. I fear I allowed a deep disappointment I had recently suffered to influence my behaviour, and I sincerely regret having missed your wedding. I am touched that your generous nature has allowed you to excuse my behaviour to the extent that you have requested that I stand as godfather to your child. You are a dear and true friend, Charles.
Please convey my best wishes to Mrs. Bingley and to all her family, and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Charles Bingley smiled.
"Ah, Jane, good news! Darcy has responded to my letter, and he will be here for the christening."
Jane looked up from the divan where she sat next to her sister Elizabeth, who was holding little Charles Thomas Bingley in her arms. Elizabeth's reaction - a slight stiffening of her body - to hearing Darcy's name was so carefully controlled, that it was noticed only by Jane, because of her proximity.
"That is wonderful news, Charles. I know how much you miss your friend's company...he has been absent for many months now, has he not? I still cannot understand why he took his leave so suddenly and with so little explanation."
"He alludes to some disappointment he suffered last spring. I have no idea of what he speaks," Charles replied. "Darcy was never one for sharing confidences!"
A look, brief but meaningful, passed between the two sisters and went unnoticed by Charles Bingley.
"He left for England on the 10th of March and will stop at Pemberley before proceeding to Hertfordshire. Of course, he will be staying with us until the christening on the 21st of April."
He glanced at Elizabeth and Jane and smiled. "He concludes by offering his best wishes to you, Jane, and all your family." Luckily, Charles failed to notice that Darcy had neglected to extend his regards to his own two sisters!
"Our son will be a
lucky little fellow, indeed," said Jane sweetly, "to have
both his godparents staying at Netherfield."
Elizabeth shot her sister a suspicious glance, but Jane's expression was as innocent as ever.
After Charles left the room, Elizabeth said, "The 21st of April! Do you realize the significance of that date, Jane? It is one year and one day after Mr. Darcy proposed to me at Rosings."
"Will it be awkward for you to encounter Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth?"
"I should imagine so, Jane! I have told you of the manner in which I rejected his proposals. He might well arrive with his sword drawn!"
"You are joking now, Lizzy, but you were not mirthful when you first related those events to me."
"No, Jane, and I must confess that a part of me wished that Mr. Darcy would have refused to attend the christening! I am a selfish creature, I know, as Charles was obviously very well pleased at the prospect of seeing Mr. Darcy again. But spending a period of many days under the same roof with him...I must say I find the prospect somewhat intimidating."
"You, Lizzy, intimidated by Mr. Darcy? You certainly did not seem intimidated by him when he was in Hertfordshire!"
"Very true, Jane! I was neither intimidated nor particularly insightful in my dealings with him. I took particular pleasure in skewing him in conversation and judging him as the most villainous of men with little evidence to support my opinions. Quite clever of me, was it not?"
"Do not be so harsh on yourself, Lizzy. Mr. Wickham's story was very convincing, and you said yourself you would have apologized to Mr. Darcy had you had the opportunity."
"And I suppose I must make an attempt to do so even now, Jane. More now than ever, truth be told, as our family owes him much. Had he not told me of Wickham's villainy, Papa might have allowed Lydia to associate with him while she was in Brighton! Luckily, Colonel and Mrs. Forster were discreetly warned, and when Wickham attempted to ingratiate himself with Lydia, he was immediately thwarted. I shudder to think what might have happened had it been otherwise. Lydia seemed quite taken with him!"
"Oh, she got over it easily enough, Lizzy. There was no true attachment on her part."
"No, fortunately there was not. Had she been tempted by Wickham, I dare say it would have been due to a desire for adventure rather than any depth of feeling. Still, had their acquaintance been allowed to continue, the consequences might have been disastrous. I shall be eternally grateful for Mr. Darcy's willingness to reveal a very painful and personal episode in his sister's life, especially as he does not generally make a habit of being so open. As Charles said, he does not easily share confidences."
do not regret refusing Mr. Darcy, Lizzy?"
"No," Lizzy said thoughtfully, "although..."
Jane looked at her quizzically.
"It is just that...well, I may have judged him differently had I known his true character. The opinions I formed of him were almost entirely based on misinformation, and his arrogant manner reinforced those opinions. I realize now that he is not a bad man, Jane, just a rather difficult one!"
"And no doubt you could have mellowed him, Lizzy, is that what you are thinking?"
"Oh I do not flatter myself, Jane! Why should a man of Mr. Darcy's standing reform himself for the likes of me?"
"People have been known to do a great deal more for love, dearest Lizzy," Jane said with a smile.
"Hmmmph," Lizzy said. "Here I am extolling Mr. Darcy's virtues when, undoubtedly, if he were here before me, I would be finding fault with him. He does have a contrary way about him."
"Not unlike someone else we know," Jane said under her breath. "But no matter, Lizzy, you need not worry about pleasing Mr. Darcy! It is not as though you have a lack of suitors. Mr. Clifton has been particularly attentive, I have noted. Charles is sure he will soon make you an offer."
"He is very, very nice Jane. Handsome, rich, amiable. He would be a perfect match for you, were you not already married!"
"Lizzy!" Jane exclaimed. "And why would such a paragon not be a perfect match for you, may I ask?"
"He agrees with everything I say, Jane."
"And of this you do not approve?"
"It does not make for interesting conversation when I know I might say 'the sky is red' and Mr. Clifton would readily concur."
"Well then, Lizzy, perhaps you and Mr. Darcy are better suited than you may think! Were Mr. Darcy to remark that the sky is blue, I have no doubt that you would insist it was red, and Mr. Darcy would not allow your statement to go unchallenged, of that I can assure you!"
"Oh, Jane, how well you know me! Enough of Mr. Darcy. This little fellow has been nibbling on my shoulder, and I believe he needs feeding, and for that he requires his mama!"
Jane reached for the baby and settled him at her breast.
"Excellent timing on your part, little man! You have saved your Aunt Lizzy from having to continue to discuss a subject that is not pleasing to her."
"Not at all, Jane!"
"Mark my words, Lizzy. You and Mr. Darcy are going to be in each other's company for several weeks. You will have to come to some sort of understanding."
"I know, Jane, and I promise I will be civil. I will bite my tongue and force myself to beam in approval at every word Mr. Darcy utters. I will become the female version of Mr. Clifton!"
For all her attempts at humour, Elizabeth was far more disturbed at the prospect of encountering Mr. Darcy than she cared to admit to her sister, or to herself. That evening, she sat in her bedchamber at Netherfield, and carefully unfolded Mr. Darcy's letter, well worn from being read so many times. As always, she became angered anew each time she read his scathing criticisms of her family, but by the time she reached the letter's conclusion and read his closing benediction, "God bless you," her eyes filled with tears.
And now she was to see him again. She was more confused than ever.
It was not only her conflicting sentiments regarding Fitzwilliam Darcy that kept Elizabeth awake that night. There was the matter of Alexander Clifton.
Alexander Clifton was a good friend of Charles Bingley. In appearance and disposition, he was quite different from Darcy. Like Darcy, he was tall in stature, but he was blue eyed with fair hair and complexion, and his manner was engaging and charming. He smiled as though he meant it!
Charles Bingley had introduced his friend to Elizabeth Bennet during the summer, a few months after Darcy left for the Continent. He and Jane, like most blissfully married couples, thought the certain road to happiness was betrothal and marriage to a suitable partner. It was Jane's fondest wish to see her sister happily settled, and Alexander Clifton was quite taken with Elizabeth from the day he met her. Jane knew Elizabeth had turned down both the Rev. Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy, and perhaps, she thought, the third time would be the charm.
Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Clifton's company. Had she thought to draw up a list comparing Mr. Clifton's good qualities to Mr. Darcy's, the list for Mr. Clifton would no doubt be longer. However, if she were truthful with herself, there would be one quality on Mr. Darcy's list that would not appear on Mr. Clifton's. However (and it was the perverseness of this that disturbed Elizabeth), she could not for the life of her name just what that quality was. It was indefinable, but her intuition was that it had something to do with the conversation she had had with Jane that afternoon. She tried to put it into words as she fell asleep, but all that came to mind was something about the sky being red rather than blue!
The following afternoon, as Elizabeth sat reading in the drawing room, she was told she had a caller. Her stomach did a little flip as for just one moment she thought, "Mr. Darcy," before she collected herself and realized that Mr. Darcy's letter, posted ten days before he left for England, had just arrived yesterday and Mr. Darcy could not possibly have arrived so quickly. It was, of course, Mr. Clifton, but even as she greeted him, she wondered why even the thought of Mr. Darcy's arrival had had such a profound effect on her. She forced herself to dismiss Mr. Darcy from her thoughts, realizing she had to address the man who stood before her rather than think of the one who was yet to arrive.
Jane had spoken of Mr. Clifton yesterday as Elizabeth's "suitor," and the thought made Elizabeth uncomfortable. She enjoyed Mr. Clifton's company and would have been happy for their relationship to continue as it was indefinitely. Jane's assertion that Charles thought Mr. Clifton might be on the verge of proposing put Elizabeth on her guard, and she did not want to encourage Mr. Clifton in that direction.
"Good afternoon, Miss Bennet. As the weather is uncommonly pleasant today, would you care to take a turn around the park with me?"
"That would be most agreeable, Mr. Clifton," Elizabeth responded. It occurred to her that perhaps it would be preferable to be in Mr. Clifton's company in a less confined space than the drawing room. But just to be certain, she called out to her sister as they rose, "Jane, won't you join us outside?"
Jane peered into the drawing room and instantly read Elizabeth's expression.
"Certainly, Lizzy, let me just fetch my cloak."
Try as he might to maintain his composure, the generally imperturbable Mr. Clifton looked just a bit peeved. His object had been to get Miss Elizabeth alone so that he might be frank in his intentions and wishes. He was, however, by nature not prone to ill humour, and as he was still unsure of Miss Bennet's sentiments, he was more than willing to postpone his addresses to a time when she might be more receptive.
And so it was in the company of two lovely ladies that Mr. Clifton walked through the Netherfield woods that afternoon. Elizabeth suddenly said, "I do believe the sky is red today, Mr. Clifton," to which he cheerfully replied, without a moment's hesitation, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor's warning."
"Do you see now, Jane?" Elizabeth asked after he had left. "He never even looked up!"