Pride Prejudice and Perjury
A mystery, which departs from the original story at the very end – Darcy does not return to Longbourn to propose to Elizabeth. At Jane and Bingley's wedding he ignores her and subsequently shuns her. Can Elizabeth discover why Darcy has turned against her? Is there any hope of a happy ending?
Sincere thanks to my wonderful betas, Beth1, Debra Anne, LauraLoo and Scarlie, for all their help and hard work.
Note: This story is completed... there are 17 chapters plus an Epilogue and I will try to post a chapter every day.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church…"
Elizabeth felt her eyes unwillingly travel to the man standing beside the groom. She endeavoured to control her giddy emotions, struggling for breath, and fighting the nausea and dizziness which had assailed her from the moment he had entered the church.
"Wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?"
"I will," said Charles Bingley, eagerly.
"Wilt thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"
"I will," replied Jane Bennet.
Elizabeth stood beside Kitty, with whom she shared the honour of bridesmaid. She had not seen Mr. Darcy since the dinner her mother had given in September with the intention of forwarding a match between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy had soon afterwards departed Hertfordshire for London and had not returned, despite his friend's expectation that he would do so within ten days. He came neither to congratulate Mr. Bingley upon his engagement to Miss Bennet, nor to lend his support during his friend's season of courtship, with the multitude of invitations about the neighbourhood. Mr. Bingley was too full of delight and joy at his own good fortune, and far too much in love, to allow his friend's inconsiderate behaviour to diminish his happiness.
"With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," recited Bingley as he slid the wedding ring onto his bride's finger.
Why had Mr. Darcy stayed away from Hertfordshire until today – in breach of what was owed at such a time to his closest friend? Elizabeth asked herself. And like the countless nights that she had lain awake, brooding over that vexing question, she inevitably arrived at the same inescapable answer: To avoid seeing me; it is the only explanation.
"O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this Man and this Woman, whom we bless in thy Name…"
On what should have been the happiest day of her life, thus far, Elizabeth struggled to overcome her own heartache and confusion. She was truly delighted for Jane; but it was a bittersweet emotion, for Jane's union must inevitably bring her into the company of Mr. Bingley's friend. Elizabeth drew a deep breath; she must find the strength to control her emotions and force herself to behave with civility and disinterest towards Mr. Darcy – for Jane's sake.
"…I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
As fate would have it, just as Elizabeth turned to follow the bride and groom from the church, Mr. Darcy also turned. For the briefest of moments, they faced each other across the aisle and their eyes met. His cheeks crimson, Mr. Darcy immediately withdrew his gaze and fixed his face in a steadfast mask of haughty disdain that pierced Elizabeth's heart like a jagged shard of ice. "Give me your arm, Kitty," she begged, "for I feel faint."
Kitty obliged. "Why Lizzy," she whispered, "I do believe you have fallen into a swoon; I am surprised to see you so affected by our sister's wedding."
As they exited the church into the pale sunlight, all eyes were upon Jane and Mr. Bingley, thus allowing Elizabeth to escape scrutiny in her agitated and distressed state. As she walked towards Longbourn, still resting on her sister's arm, Elizabeth drew deep breaths of the invigorating air of the cool October morning, which somewhat revived her. I have only the wedding breakfast to endure, she thought. Then he will be gone, and I shall be myself again; I shall be once more at my ease.
As it transpired, Elizabeth had no further trials to endure that day, for against all propriety and what was expected of a groomsman, Mr. Darcy absented himself from the wedding breakfast, straightaway returning to London.
Chapter 1 ~ A Husband for Miss Bennet
Jane and Bingley decided to wait until the spring, when the weather would be warmer, to take their wedding tour, and thus passed the first months of their married life in London, returning only briefly to Netherfield Park for the Christmas festivities, after which Bingley gave up the Hertfordshire residence entirely. Jane had wished for Elizabeth to accompany her to town, but her mother insisted that she was needed at Longbourn, and so Kitty went in her stead. Elizabeth was well aware of why her mother required her at home; with Jane now married, she was next in line for her mother's matrimonial schemes – it being a rule universally acknowledged, that an elder daughter must be married before her younger sisters are put forward. Lydia, of course, wilful creature that she was, had taken matters into her own hands – and in contravention of far greater proprieties than that of awaiting her turn at the altar.
The husband Mrs. Bennet had settled upon for her second daughter was the new rector of Longbourn, Mr. Septimus Tiddlington, who had officiated at Jane's wedding. Mrs. Bennet took every opportunity of inviting the young rector to dine with them, and always contrived to seat him beside Elizabeth. He must be a complete fool, thought Elizabeth, if he does not see what my mother is about.
In consequence of the abundant opportunities thus afforded her for conversing with him, Elizabeth decided that notwithstanding his complete innocence with regard to her mother's matrimonial schemes, he was not in the least bit a fool; although due to a propensity to self-effacement and an idiosyncratic character, he might, upon superficial acquaintance, be taken for one. He had reddish hair and a large round face with generous ears protruding on either side. Elizabeth found his appearance more comical than repulsive. He was excessively shy, but when encouraged to speak, revealed himself to be thoughtful and learned, with a good grounding in the classics. He was exceedingly fond of music, and his greatest love was playing the violin – although he steadfastly refused to perform before others. Regrettably, his affinity for music caused him great unease, for he feared it betrayed an inclination towards worldliness which was unbefitting a clergyman.
"But surely music is a gift from God," Elizabeth reassured him. "Does it not behove us to welcome His gifts and appreciate them?" They were at the dining table, and the rector had been speaking enthusiastically of an Italian composition he had recently mastered, but his joy and happiness at contemplating the beauty of the music had very quickly given way to guilt and self-admonishment. Elizabeth's attempt at relieving his suffering had a most marked effect.
"Do you really think so, Miss Bennet?" he asked earnestly. "Of course I have often dared to entertain that very thought myself; but then I begin to wonder if I am not being tempted by the Devil into believing that music is Godly simply because I love it so. Do you not see my predicament, Miss Bennet?" he beseeched.
Elizabeth noticed the wry smile on the face of her father at the head of the table, and struggling to maintain an air of seriousness, she reassured him, "Indeed I do believe it, sir, most wholeheartedly. And since I am no great lover or performer of music myself, you must agree that my opinion must be wholly without self-interest, and may thus be relied upon."
"Miss Bennet, I am greatly indebted to you, for your wise counsel," he said, bowing his head so low that his pince-nez fell from his long, narrow, sensitive nose into his soup. Elizabeth endeavoured to maintain a straight face as the poor man awkwardly fished them out and attempted to clean them on his napkin. She dared not look in the direction of her father, whose expression was certain to unleash the laughter she was barely managing to suppress. Mr. Bennet derived great enjoyment from the eccentricities of his fellow man, and was especially appreciative of the abundant foibles of the young clergyman. He was grateful to his good wife for the frequent invitations she extended him; and while easily comprehending her motive, he was not in the least concerned that her scheme would meet with the slightest success.
Elizabeth was unable to share her father's complacency, for she sensed that the time was inevitably approaching when the young clergyman, girded by her mother's constant encouragements, might summon the courage to pay her his addresses; and she dreaded having to refuse him. He was so gentle and artless; rejection, she feared, would cause him great pain.
The idea of marriage, she was convinced, had not yet crossed his innocent mind prior to his acquaintance with Mrs. Bennet, who took every opportunity to extol the virtues of the institution and to assure the young man that he would be far happier, and his life made inestimably more comfortable, by the addition of a mistress to the parsonage. She questioned him concerning his household affairs, and invariably concluded that his servants were cheating him and taking gross advantage of his amiable nature; a wife was essential for the proper running of the establishment, she assured him, and would soon take his wayward servants in hand.
However, the unworldly clergyman was so disinterested in such mundane considerations that these attacks had little effect. Mrs. Bennet had more success when she amended her strategy and approached from the side of duty, with frequent exhortations on the responsibilities of a clergyman – the chief of them being to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Entirely unaware of Mrs. Bennet's self-interested scheming, the young man took this advice to heart, and it was but a very small step from being persuaded that he must marry to deciding that the elder Miss Bennet might do admirably – if she would deign to have him. He had always been excessively shy in the company of young ladies, but Miss Bennet possessed the gift of putting him at his ease. Had she not soothed his anxieties about the probity of his attachment to music? And was her company not pleasant and enjoyable? His only qualm was with regard to Miss Bennet's beauty, to which even he could not be insensible. Is it reasonable to hope that so beautiful a lady could be reconciled to accepting a person as undeniably plain as myself? And does not an attraction to physical form signify a tendency towards lustfulness? He feared very much that it might.
While the young rector was struggling inwardly with this sudden surge of desire, and endeavouring not to be led into temptation, Elizabeth was contemplating the vexing problem of how to decline the young man without causing him undue suffering. As to her mother, Elizabeth had little doubt of the angry outpourings that would be levelled at her. Having expended so much effort on her ungrateful daughter's behalf, Mrs. Bennet would be apoplectic with rage. It would be worse, even, than when she had refused Mr. Collins. Her father would most certainly support her actions; but rather than mollify her mother, it would only serve to further infuriate her.
Elizabeth was resigned to the mortification she must cause her mother. At least it shall serve one useful purpose, she thought. It must surely put an end to my mother's attempts at finding me husbands. It may even convince her that I was entirely sincere when I confessed to her that I had no wish to follow my elder sister into matrimony. When Elizabeth made this startling revelation, shortly after Jane's marriage, her mother had refused to believe her. "Don't be silly, Lizzy, of course you must marry. You do not know what you are about, child! It is only that you have not yet met the right man; that is all."
If only she knew, reflected Elizabeth. Indeed, she had met the right man – the one whom she wished to marry above everything else in the world; but he had disappointed her. She had been driven almost to distraction, attempting to fathom Mr. Darcy's feelings for her. She had relived their meetings in Derbyshire a thousand times, and could come to no other conclusion than that he had forgiven her the angry and unjust rejection of his addresses in Kent – and that against all the odds – he still loved her. All his actions confirmed it: his eagerness to introduce her to his sister, and the warmth and passion of all his looks. What other explanation could there be for him riding to Lambton on the very morning that Jane's alarming letters concerning Lydia had arrived, other than to renew his addresses?
And why would he have subjected himself to the degradation and considerable financial cost of bribing George Wickham to marry Lydia; a foolish young girl whom he could not possibly respect or care about? Elizabeth could see no explanation other than that advanced by her Aunt Gardiner: he had done it for her, to ease the abject suffering he had witnessed at their last meeting at the inn at Lambton. And, conjectured Elizabeth, for himself also: Darcy could not have made her his wife in the face of the deep disgrace that would have been the lot of her family, had Lydia not been either swiftly detached from Wickham and closeted somewhere, away from the world, or else very quickly wed to the rogue.
Elizabeth was all too aware of the danger of misjudging Mr. Darcy's feelings – as she had so abjectly misjudged them in the past. She was alive to the temptation of interpreting events in the best possible light – which might confirm what she so ardently wished to believe. But what other explanation could there be for his returning into Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley, if it was not with the resolve of renewing his addresses to her? And if he had behaved awkwardly, and without the openness and warmth he had shown in Derbyshire, it was not very surprising. Her mother had gone out of her way to make him feel unwelcome; in such circumstances he could hardly be expected to feel at ease. Elizabeth understood him well enough by now to know that in such situations he appeared haughty and reserved, when in fact he felt awkward and embarrassed.
After Mr. Darcy's departure for London, Charles Bingley had spoken with conviction of his friend's intention of returning within ten days. But Mr. Darcy did not return. Why? Why has he forsaken me? Elizabeth asked herself again and again. The recent awkwardness aside, his every action up to that point had suggested the constancy of his love, and his desire to marry her. What was it that caused him to change his mind?
The words of his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, echoed in Elizabeth's mind: Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.
Lady Catherine must have travelled directly to London after the unsatisfactory interview at Longbourn, and there met with her nephew and persuaded him not to marry her. That much was clear. But how, wondered Elizabeth, did she succeed in prevailing upon him?
Elizabeth could think of nothing. There was no argument, no assertion the aunt could have made of which Mr. Darcy was not himself already aware. He knew better than his aunt the circumstances of her family; the history of her younger sister, Lydia; the identity and descent of her new brother-in-law, Wickham, by whom the shades of Pemberley were to be polluted. Certainly the aunt would have given a most disparaging account of Elizabeth's conduct and language and all that transpired in their acrimonious conversation in the wilderness at Longbourn. She would have acquainted her nephew with her unequivocally unfavourable judgement of herself as an unfeeling, selfish, obstinate, and headstrong girl.
But how could Mr. Darcy have been swayed by such prejudiced remarks? Elizabeth asked herself. Surely he must know that his aunt was acting from self-interest, from her wish that he should marry her own daughter. I cannot believe that he would place his aunt's estimation of my character above his own.
All through the dark, dreary months of winter, Elizabeth found herself unable to prevent her thoughts from straying endlessly into conjecture upon the cause of Mr. Darcy's behaviour. The weather was mostly bad, and lacking her customary vigour, she hardly set foot out of doors, even on the few mild days. Her mother, alarmed at her daughter's frequent listlessness and want of spirit, determined to call the apothecary, but Elizabeth would not countenance it. She knew very well what was the cause of her decline, and that there was nothing an apothecary could do to remedy it. She spent much of her time brooding alone in her room. Even when she was obliged to sit with her mother in the parlour, her mind was habitually engaged in the conundrum of Mr. Darcy's behaviour; the customary exchange of small talk with her mother and sisters requiring only a very small allotment of her faculties.
Despite her own less than idyllic experience of the institution, Mrs. Bennet was a resolute believer in the virtues of marriage. To her it was the panacea for every maidenly ill. What her daughter needed, she was convinced, was a husband – matrimony would set her right. Thus did she redouble her efforts in exhorting Mr. Tiddlington to take a wife, even going so far as to suggest, in private, that Miss Bennet would be an entirely suitable match for a clergyman such as himself, and that should he pay her his addresses, there could be no doubt of his being accepted.
"Elizabeth, my dear," said her mother, one afternoon following dinner, to which the good reverend had been invited, "it is such a lovely mild day; why do you not show our charming wilderness to Mr. Tiddlington; for I am certain he would enjoy it."
Elizabeth was alarmed at the meaningful wink she caught her mother giving the young rector, who blushed and stuttered his consent to the scheme. There could be no doubt that a proposal of marriage was imminent. How could she reject his addresses without hurting him and injuring so timid and gentle a soul? she wondered.
They walked silently towards the wilderness in the weak winter sunlight, the young clergyman desperately attempting to gather his courage for the daunting task that lay before him. Elizabeth's mind was so wholly engaged in finding a solution to her present predicament that, for the first time in many months, Mr. Darcy was entirely forgotten. Her best strategy, she decided, was to convince him of her lack of suitability; and if she could do so before he actually came to the point, then he might be spared the suffering of feeling rejected.
"Mr. Tiddlington, you must excuse my dear mother if she is sometimes a little over-zealous in espousing the benefits of matrimony and wishing that her every acquaintance should share in the joys of connubial felicity."
The rector froze; his face crimson. "I b…beg your pardon?" he whispered nervously, unable to look Elizabeth in the eye. He possessed very little information regarding the manner in which a gentleman should conduct himself when wishing to pay his addresses to a lady, and had only a very rudimentary idea of the formalities involved; however, he had always believed it to be the prerogative of the gentleman to instigate matters.
Elizabeth stopped walking also, and with a gentle sigh she added, "My sisters and I are quite inured to our mother's great enthusiasm for the institution of marriage, but for those who do not know her as we do, it is well to temper the zeal that she might engender with an equal portion of discretion."
"Discretion?" the rector asked, perplexed, before giving a nervous cough and walking on. "I regret to say that I am rather puzzled, Miss Bennet. Are you not disposed to… err, excuse me, what I am meaning to say is… err, do you disagree with your mother's views regarding marriage?"
"What I mean to say, sir, is that while marriage may be an excellent institution in general, it is only so if one chooses a suitable partner."
"Oh?" responded the rector. They had now entered the wilderness, and he stopped to ponder Elizabeth's words. "Yes, I had not considered that point at any great length. I imagine one must be guided by the recommendations of others. How else can one know who might be suitable?" he asked anxiously.
"I see, sir, that this is not a subject upon which you have much dwelt. Let me assure you that it is not quite so difficult as you imagine. One begins by undertaking an honest assessment of oneself: one's disposition, pastimes, interests; the things that one holds dear in life and considers important."
Mr. Tiddlington sat silently upon one of the stone benches with a furrowed brow, deep in thought. Finally he said, "Why, I hardly know; these are matters that I have never much contemplated."
"If you will allow me to take the liberty, sir, having recently spent some time in your company, perhaps I can be of some assistance, for I am a keen judge of character."
"Err… yes, by all means, please proceed if you will, Miss Bennet," he said warily.
"You are a thoughtful man, sir, more interested in knowledge and books on serious subjects than mere entertainment or the social round. You love music: both listening and playing. And you are a most diligent clergyman, who is anxious to perform his religious duties with dignity and respect."
The rector sat for some time in contemplative silence before responding with uncharacteristic animation, "Your perspicacity astounds me, Miss Bennet. Yes, yes, I think you must be right. I am entirely in accord with your analysis. And in order to find a suitable marriage partner I must identify a lady with similar qualities – is that it?" he asked, looking up uncertainly at Elizabeth, who was seated upon the bench opposite him.
"Yes, exactly," replied Elizabeth encouragingly.
Mr. Tiddlington lowered his gaze, and stared thoughtfully at the turf between them for some time before confiding uneasily, "I fear that I lack your abilities in judging character, Miss Bennet. It is not an exercise I have ever seriously engaged in."
"Oh, it is not at all difficult, sir, I can assure you. Take myself, for example. I read novels rather than serious books. I cannot imagine what my sister Mary finds so interesting in Fordyce's Sermons, but then she is more inclined to religion than am I. It is hardly surprising, I suppose; for unlike myself, my sister has a serious disposition. Her only concession to amusement is music."
"Why, yes," said the young clergyman thoughtfully, "you are entirely correct. How extraordinary that I should not have noticed," he mused, more to himself than to Elizabeth as he continued staring fixedly at the ground for some minutes before rising abruptly and turning towards Elizabeth. "This has been a most rewarding conversation, Miss Bennet, I thank you," he said, bowing solemnly.
As they walked back towards the house, Septimus Tiddlington shook his large head and wondered how he could have so badly misconstrued Mrs. Bennet's intentions; in naming Miss Bennet as a suitable marriage partner, she had clearly been referring to Miss Mary Bennet – not her elder sister Elizabeth! What a blind fool I have been, he admonished himself.
Following the reverend gentleman's next visit to Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet took Elizabeth aside. She was greatly agitated. "My dear Lizzy, I do not know what to make of it at all! Only last week I was quite certain that Mr. Tiddlington was on the point of paying you his addresses. Why, I had even hinted to him that he might do so in the expectation of receiving a favourable reception. But upon entering the dining room today, he immediately seated himself beside Mary, instead of you!"
"Yes, it was quite unexpected," replied Elizabeth suppressing a smile. "Although not perhaps entirely surprising. I have always thought that Mary's temperament was more in keeping with that of the rector than my own. It certainly seemed that they had a good deal to say to each other at the table; and there can be no doubt that he deliberately sought my sister out in the drawing-room, where they were again engaged in serious conversation. I cannot recall ever seeing Mary so animated."
"It was entirely vexing! I cannot understand what has gotten into that young man's head! I could hardly drag Mary away from him to open the instrument!"
"Yet when she played, her performance was uncommonly good, I thought, and rendered with a passion that is often wanting in her recital. Mr. Tiddlington looked to be deeply moved by her performance. I think, Mamma, I must resign myself to the truth that he prefers my sister Mary, to myself."
"Ridiculous!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. "Your sister is nothing compared to you, my dear! While I would be the last woman in the world to speak unflatteringly of any of her daughters, the truth of that matter is that Mary is dull and plain. She is the last one of you for whom I ever hoped to find a husband. Indeed, I believed it to be all but impossible. How could any man prefer her to you? It is entirely incomprehensible!"
"What you say, Mamma, may be true of most men; but Mr. Tiddlington, I suspect, is not like most men; he is quite unique. And wise too, I think, in perceiving that my sister, while not possessing those qualities that are generally valued in a prospective wife, nevertheless has the disposition that would best suit his own temperament."
"Yes, perhaps that is so," conceded her mother grudgingly. "Your sister will have a very pretty establishment at the parsonage. I am sure they will live very comfortably."
"And happily too, I imagine," added Elizabeth. Although she had planted the idea of the suitability of her sister in the rector's mind to deflect his attentions from herself, it was done in the firm belief that Mr. Tiddlington and Mary were indeed well suited to each other; a belief which their behaviour today seemed to confirm.
"But what of yourself, my dear? I begin to worry that I will never find you a husband," said her mother with a heartfelt sigh.
If only she would stop trying to find me one, thought Elizabeth, but there is no way to convince her that I do not wish to marry.
Following her disappointed hopes with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth had decided that courtship was fraught with far too many difficulties and pitfalls. There seemed little likelihood of her ever meeting another gentleman so well suited to her temperament and with the superior qualities of character and mind which she had eventually come to apprehend Mr. Darcy possessed in abundance. And having known such a man, she knew that she would never be happy settling for anything less. Yet she doubted very much that she would ever meet his equal, or that another such as he existed in all of England.
With Jane well-married, and to so amiable and considerate a gentleman as Charles Bingley, Elizabeth knew she would always have a home with her sister, and that marriage was no longer a necessity for her future security. Not that this was in the least bit likely to deter her mother from endlessly attempting to marry her off. Mrs. Bennet quite clearly would not be happy, nor feel that she had discharged her maternal duties, until she had found husbands for all five of her daughters. And how lonely my poor mamma will then be, Elizabeth reflected wryly.
"With your sister Mary having gained Mr. Tiddlington's affections, I am quite at a loss as to whom you might try for. He is the only eligible bachelor in the entire district," said her mother, withdrawing into silence as she racked her brain for potential suitors for Elizabeth. "It is no good," she finally said. "I cannot think of anyone. I know! You must go to town and stay with your sister Jane; it is but the middle of February, London must be full of eligible young gentlemen, come up for the season. Lizzy, you must go at once!"
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