A/N: This story has been edited rather extensively since I first posted it last summer. Also, just in case anyone is curious, I just changed my penname today (4/22/12), in case I have any readers who are confused.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, an amiable and pleasant sort of man, was more perceptive than he was given credit for.
He saw immediately that his cousin had some sort of feelings for Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Whether they were good or ill was not at once certain, but strong feelings they certainly were. Darcy, though never as lively as Miss Bennet, was much less stoic when he was not in the presence of said lady. Something about her proximity enticed an involuntary reaction in Darcy. Fitzwilliam was curious and determined to get to the bottom of it.
"Well, Darcy," said the colonel good-naturedly as they returned to Rosings from their first visit at the Parsonage, "It almost appears to me that Miss Bennet seems to believe you think ill of her! I cannot imagine where she drew such a conclusion." It was an unsubtle pry for information. Darcy clearly recognized it as such and remained silent.
"She is a very handsome woman, is she not?" Colonel Fitzwilliam continued, watching his cousin carefully. Fitzwilliam had spent much time with Darcy during their childhood and had learned to read the subtle expressions in Darcy's face that revealed the man's emotions. Fitzwilliam examined his cousin's countenance, but saw nothing – Darcy was intentionally hiding something from him. "I must say that I wonder she is not married yet; a woman of her beauty would surely have wed before now."
"She has low opinions of men," Darcy replied tersely, his gaze focused upon Rosings, rather than Fitzwilliam. Darcy continued, "I highly doubt that any man has secured from her any feelings stronger than a passing fancy. Indeed, with such low connections, it is doubtful that she will encounter any respectable man who will inspire such feelings."
"Do not talk so, Darcy!" cried Fitzwilliam. "The poor woman can hardly help her connections." Fitzwilliam lowered his voice as they passed a gardener. "Have you forgotten our own connection to Lady Catherine? I find Miss Bennet quite amiable and pleasing, and am beginning to wonder if you feel contrary."
Darcy abruptly turned to face his cousin. Fitzwilliam instantly recognized Darcy's expression – it was the mask that Darcy wore when in society, when he was uncomfortable and wished to conceal his emotions. It was another sign – Darcy did not want Fitzwilliam to know something. But what was it that he so wanted to hide?
"On the contrary, Fitzwilliam," Darcy said in a calm and detached tone, "I find Miss Bennet charming and lively. I cannot imagine why you believe I dislike her."
"Cannot imagine? Darcy, you hardly speak when in the room with her. I realize that you are uncomfortable when not among those whom you know intimately, but you were hardly civil! You pride yourself on being a model of civility, yet you hardly unclosed your lips. I cannot understand you."
"Do not accuse me of incivility. You well know that I have not the talent of conversing easily with those I do not know well. I took great trouble to speak when civility required, though it pained me."
"Did you not tell me that you were acquainted with Miss Bennet while in Hertforsdshire?"
"I admit that I am better acquainted with Miss Bennet than with the Collinses, but when conversing with her, I sometimes find it difficult. Her vivacity contrasts rather too sharply with my own difficulties in speaking to strangers."
"Very well, Darcy, I absolve you from any incivility, but you have yet to answer my question. Why should Miss Bennet believe you dislike her?"
"I do not know. She seems to be agreeable to all; it is difficult to imagine anyone disliking her."
With that statement, the conversation ended. Colonel Fitzwilliam soon became lost in thought.
Why would Darcy conceal something from him? Fitzwilliam had been among Darcy's closest friends since they were children. Darcy had never hidden anything from him. More importantly, what was Darcy concealing? It certainly related to Miss Bennet – but what about that lady would force Darcy to hide something from his cousin?
Could Darcy be in love with Miss Bennet?
He instantly rejected the thought. Darcy? In love? It was preposterous. Darcy was not a man who would simply fall in love and become captivated by a pretty face. And yet, as Fitzwilliam considered it, it did not seem as unreasonable. Miss Bennet was amiable and pleasing. Darcy himself had acknowledged such, which was indeed the highest praise of a lady Fitzwilliam had ever heard pass his cousin's lips. She had a small dowry, to be sure, but Darcy was certainly rich enough that he could afford to marry a dowerless woman.
That Darcy was in love with Miss Bennet was no longer nonsensical to Fitzwilliam. But now, Fitzwilliam needed proof. Instead of fighting Bonaparte, he would now be embarking on a mission to determine his cousin's feelings – or, perhaps, lack thereof – for Miss Bennet.
Colonel Fitzwilliam often called upon the parsonage during his first week at Rosings in order to become better acquainted with the mysterious Miss Bennet. Darcy never came and preferred to stay at Rosings. Fitzwilliam, however, found the company of Miss Bennet and Mrs. Collins quite pleasing. Mr. Collins, though amusing at first in his deference and unceasing attention, soon wore on the colonel's nerves. Fitzwilliam, however, was much too well bred to behave in the manner that would best silence Mr. Collins, and so he endured the man's sycophantic behavior with the politeness that came with good-breeding. Mrs. Collins' sister, Miss Lucas, was also rather empty-headed, but she was a sweet girl, and so her company was not as torturous as that of her brother-in-law.
After spending so much of his time in the society of Miss Bennet, Fitzwilliam could not easily comprehend why Darcy would behave in so stoic and cold a manner in her presence. Her nature was such that even the most shy of characters could have been brought to speak. Fitzwilliam could not help but think of Darcy's sister, Georgiana, and wonder if even Miss Bennet's vivacity would be enough to draw Georgiana out of her shyness.
In addition to her wit and vivacity, Miss Bennet was a very lovely young lady. Though, to be certain, there were many prettier girls in London, he found Miss Bennet's society and conversation to be much more pleasing than that of any young lady in town. She gave the impression of being interested in anything and everything that one chose to speak about, thus even making Mr. Collins believe that she was truly intrigued by his tedious commendations of Rosings.
"I am expecting Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Miss Lucas, and Miss Bennet to dine with us to-night," Lady Catherine announced suddenly. Fitzwilliam blinked rapidly before recalling that he was, in fact, sitting in the drawing room with his cousins and Lady Catherine; he was not alone in the peace of his bedchamber, where he was blessed with the freedom of contemplation without interruption.
"I am quite delighted. They are indeed very amiable people," Fitzwilliam said.
Darcy was silent.
"Have you heard Miss Bennet play? She plays well, but I have often told her that she will never play really well unless she practises more."
"Perhaps she will be induced to play tonight, that Darcy and I might be able to judge her performance. I am certain it shall be quite impressive."
Lady Catherine assured him that he must not expect an excellent performance, as Miss Bennet was not nearly as proficient as she or Anne would have been had they ever learnt.
The hour soon arrived for their guests' coming. Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Miss Lucas, and Miss Bennet were quickly shown into the drawing room. Fitzwilliam was fully prepared to rescue the guests from the snares of his aunt, but, to his shock, he found that Lady Catherine rarely spoke to her company, instead choosing to bestow her attention on her nephews. She lavished particular attention on Darcy; the poor man did not appear to be pleased to be singled out in such a way.
Fitzwilliam quickly made use of his aunt's preoccupation with Darcy and moved to take a seat near Miss Bennet. He talked of nearly anything that occurred to his mind, and, to his delight, Miss Bennet appeared to be quite pleased with his company. They were beginning a lively discussion on music when Lady Catherine decided that she had not been privy to all conversations taking place in the room and that such a fault must be remedied at once.
"What is it that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of?" she demanded from across the room. All conversations were very nearly silenced in the face of her volume. "What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is."
"We are speaking of music, madam," replied the colonel, embarrassed by his aunt's ill-breeding.
"Of music!" cried she. "Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?"
Fitzwilliam, quite frankly astonished that his aunt had managed to say so much in a single breath, watched as his cousin spoke of Georgiana's talent in music. Lady Catherine continued to bestow compliments and unnecessary opinions for several minutes. Hardly anyone paid attention to the woman; Mr. Collins and Mrs. Jenkinson appeared to be the only occupants that were attentive to the lady. Fitzwilliam paid her no mind until he heard Miss Bennet's name.
"I have told Miss Bennet several times," Lady Catherine was saying, "that she will never play really well unless she practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day and play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson's room. She would be in nobody's way, you know, in that part of the house."
The colonel was briefly torn between amusement at his aunt's expense and embarrassment at her behavior. He had not expected his aunt to say such things before company. Darcy also looked mortified at his aunt's behavior. There was nothing to do, however, but to continue on in the evening without reaction.
After the coffee had been drunk, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Miss Bennet that she had promised to play for him and, to his delight, she immediately made her way to the pianoforte. He moved a chair near the instrument so that he might listen carefully. His aunt listened with disinterest for hardly half a song before turning her full attention to Darcy once again.
Darcy, obviously uncomfortable with his aunt's particular notice, made his way to the pianoforte as soon as he was able. A smile played upon Miss Bennet's lips when she noticed his close proximity, and, with a teasing air, she spoke to Darcy.
"You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed through your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that can never bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me."
Fitzwilliam, though reluctant to divert his attention from the music, turned to concentrate upon the conversation taking place between his cousin and Miss Bennet. His cousin appeared to be very much focused upon Miss Bennet; so overwhelmingly so, in fact, that the colonel thought of the nearly blank paper in his chamber and decided that such concentration was indeed evidence.
"I shall not say that you are mistaken because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."
Miss Bennet laughed melodiously and turned to Fitzwilliam, a wry smile upon her face. "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach not to believe a word I say." Fitzwilliam highly doubted that anything Darcy said would lower his opinion of Miss Bennet. She continued, "I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous of you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out, as will shock your relations to hear."
His interest was piqued at such speech; what could Miss Bennet have to say about Darcy that would possibly surprise him?
"I am not afraid of you," Darcy said confidently, a small smile upon his face.
"Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of," interjected Fitzwilliam, now very intrigued by the conversation. "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers." Fitzwilliam knew, of course, that Darcy hardly spoke, but he wished to hear of him from one who saw him personally.
"You shall hear then—but prepare yourself for something very dreadful." Though her tone was solemn, her eyes danced and she smiled mischievously. "The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and, at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you—but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact."
"I had not at that time the honor of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam," she said, abruptly turning to him. "what do I play next? My fingers await your orders."
Fitzwilliam was rather surprised by her addressing him. He had been so focused in her conversation with Darcy that he had neglected to notice the end of her song. He attempted to organize his thoughts so that he could reply, but, fortunately, Darcy continued the conversation as if Miss Bennet had not addressed Fitzwilliam at all.
"Perhaps I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."
"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" Miss Bennet said again to Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
Fitzwilliam, having gathered his thoughts by this time, was now fully paying attention to the conversation and was thankfully ready to reply to Miss Bennet.
"I can answer your question without applying to him," Fitzwilliam said, a twinkle in his eye. He looked up at Darcy, enjoying this opportunity to tease his cousin who so often gave little opportunity to do so. "It is because he will not give himself the trouble."
Darcy was furious with Fitzwilliam for joining with Miss Bennet and laughing at his expense, but he hid it well and was able to reply civilly, "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
As Miss Bennet replied instantly, Fitzwilliam idly wondered if the woman spent her time thinking of rebuttals for her verbal duels or if she was so witty that she was simply able to answer without particular thought.
"My fingers do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do," she replied, arching her eyebrows at Darcy. Fitzwilliam, now certain that he was no longer needed in this conversation, paid less attention to her words and more to how Darcy reacted to them. "They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
Darcy's reply was exactly what the colonel was thinking: "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."
At that moment, Lady Catherine chose to interrupt, thus breaking up the conversation. The colonel was disappointed at losing his opportunity to gain more insight on the strange relationship between Darcy and Miss Bennet. That Darcy felt a particular regard for Miss Bennet, he was almost certain; of Miss Bennet's feelings, however, he was less sure. Her behavior towards Darcy seemed to be constantly changing; one moment she was cordial and even friendly, the next she was challenging him and arguing politely with him.
Fitzwilliam, frustrated with the situation and behaviors of the two most occupying his thoughts, resolved to put such ideas out of his head for the rest of the evening. For the rest of the night, until the Collinses left with Miss Lucas and Miss Bennet, he thought no more on the subject.
As soon as they had left, however, Fitzwilliam immediately confronted Darcy.
"Miss Bennet looked uncommonly beautiful this evening, did she not?"
Darcy, still rather irritated at his cousin, did not speak.
"It is no wonder you were so captivated by her."
This caught Darcy's attention. "Captivated? I am sure I do not know what you mean."
"Come now, Darcy, it was obvious!" As Darcy blanched, the colonel amended his statement. "Not to all, of course, but to one who knows you as well as I, it was easily seen."
Darcy's color returned as he spoke. "Miss Bennet did look lovely this evening, but I did not see anything out of the ordinary in her appearance. She looks much as she did the last time we met."
"Perhaps." After a pause, the colonel added, "Did you love her as you do now when you last met?"
Darcy made a choking sound. Fitzwilliam looked over, as such a reaction was entirely uncommon with his phlegmatic cousin, but Darcy was well.
"Love Miss Bennet?" said Darcy, recovering himself. "I cannot fathom where you got such a notion."
"Can you not? Come now, Darcy! We have been like brothers since we were children! I will not compromise your secret, if that is your fear."
"Fitzwilliam, I cannot help but wonder how you came to be a colonel in his majesty's army if your mental capacity is so very small."
This was not a direct denial, and the colonel knew it. Contrary to what Darcy had just said, the colonel was indeed very clever and, from his time in the army, was well-learned in how to interrogate those who did not wish to reveal their secrets.
"Darcy, I will not be deterred from my purpose. I have seen the proof with my own eyes and now only seek your confirmation: are you in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"That is of no consequence."
"You did not deny it!" cried the colonel triumphantly. "You are in love with Miss Bennet!"
"For God's sake, man, lower your voice! Do you wish to inform Lady Catherine of the subject of our discussion?"
Fitzwilliam instantly lowered his voice to what could nearly be called a whisper. "Darcy, I beg you, cease deflecting the mode of our conversation! You have all but declared it!"
"I have done no such thing."
Fitzwilliam knew it was quite a hopeless case, but, in one last effort, he decided he would do what he had not wanted to do before. He would invoke jealousy. "If you do not love her, then surely you will not mind if I court her? She is a beautiful woman that I would love to have for a wife."
In all truth, Fitzwilliam had no intention of doing so. She was lovely and enchanting, but, not only could he not afford to marry a woman with no dowry, he would not pain his cousin by doing so. Having seen the proof of Darcy's attachment with his own eyes, he would do nothing that would pain a cousin that he loved like a brother.
Unfortunately, this tactic had absolutely no effect upon Darcy. Darcy knew his cousin too well – Fitzwilliam would hardly marry a woman whose dowry was not of a sufficient size. As a second son of an earl, Fitzwilliam would not inherit what his elder brother would.
"You could not afford to marry such a woman," Darcy said calmly, a bored expression upon his face.
"But you could," Fitzwilliam shot back.
"Fitzwilliam, please, leave me be. I am in no humour to endure any more interrogation." Darcy's voice was weary, and his countenance suddenly bore the proof of it.
"Very well, cousin. But I expect a full explanation of you when you are in better humour."
"You shall receive no such thing." Before Fitzwilliam could reply, Darcy stood and, with a small bow and a quiet, "Good night," he left the room.
Fitzwilliam did not move, rather frustrated at how his best efforts had yielded nothing. That Darcy felt something he was certain, but why did the man not confess it to him? Darcy surely knew Fitzwilliam only had his best interests at heart, so why did he not confide in him? Perhaps Darcy felt that loving Miss Bennet would go against his duty to marry a rich woman.
And suddenly, Fitzwilliam knew how best to force a confession out of Darcy.
The next morning, as soon as Darcy exited his chamber, Fitzwilliam accosted him loudly, saying, "Good God, Darcy! I have never realised how extraordinarily long you take to dress!"
Darcy looked at him with raised brows. "I beg your pardon, cousin. Were you lurking outside my chamber door for a particular reason, or are you merely seeking to put me in ill humour?"
"A very particular reason. Come, walk with me on the grounds. I must ask you about something and it would not do for anyone to overhear our conversation."
Darcy looked rather skeptical that it could be anything of import, but he acquiesced with a small nod and followed Fitzwilliam out of the house. When they were a sufficient distance away from the building, the colonel spoke.
"Darcy, you would not answer me last night as a friend, so now I must ask you as a concerned relative. Surely you have not so forgotten your duty to marry someone of our social standing as to fall in love with a dowerless young woman of no birth?"
Darcy looked incredibly offended at this speech. "I have never known you as a man to question my fulfillment of familial duty."
"I have never known you as a man to become enchanted by some country miss!"
"I was under the impression you had a favourable opinion of Miss Bennet. I have never before heard you describe her as a 'country miss'."
Fitzwilliam silently cursed. "Very well, Darcy, you have seen through my ruse. But now, as your friend and close relation, I ask you – do you love Miss Bennet?"
Darcy stopped walking, looking at Fitzwilliam in irritation. "Why do you continue pestering me on this subject?"
"Because I believe she could make you happy and because I have seen how you look at her. I had always feared, Darcy, that you would marry Anne simply to please Lady Catherine or that you would marry a rich woman to increase Pemberley's wealth. If you truly love Miss Bennet, nothing could please me more."
Astonished at the shockingly sentimental speech from his cousin, Darcy gaped at Fitzwilliam. He walked several feet away from Fitzwilliam before saying, with his back still to his cousin, "Yes."
"I beg your pardon?"
Darcy turned slowly. "Yes. I love her."
The colonel smiled. "Why do you not court her, then?" he asked.
"Think, Fitzwilliam! Have you already forgotten your speech about familial duty? Would any of our family approve of the match? Their expectations are set much higher, I assure you! Would they wish me to wed a young woman of inferior birth, with connections to trade, and hardly any dowry to speak of?"
"Good God, Darcy!" cried Fitzwilliam. "And this is how you speak of the woman you profess yourself to love? You do not effuse her many attractions, but instead dwell upon things the poor woman can hardly control or help? Dowry and family are not things one is able to choose, I assure you!"
"I am well aware of this, Fitzwilliam, but you have not seen her family. Miss Bennet and her elder sister are the only ones in the entire family who behave with propriety! The behavior of the mother, the three younger sisters, and even the father are highly reprehensible! The two youngest are the most determined flirts I have ever seen, the middle girl seems to pride herself that she is accomplished when she is in fact anything but, and the mother will not cease her matchmaking attempts with any eligible man within twenty miles!"
"Darcy, the mother's behavior is hardly anything different than what one would see in London."
"Do not speak of things that you do not know. You have not witnessed her behavior."
"In any case, Mrs. Bennet will surely not be residing with you at Pemberley. If you so desire, you will not have to see her above once every year or two. Surely the family is not enough to deter you from the charms of the woman you love?"
"Fitzwilliam, as I have stated before, you have not seen her family! You argue that it is unfair of me to consider all angles of a prospective match, yet you have not even the slightest idea of what I have gone through! I have known that I cannot marry her and have thus tried to contain my feelings. She has bewitched me almost since I first laid eyes on her. It was all in vain. But to marry a woman whose family so readily discards propriety and any other respectable behavior? I cannot."
"Upon my word, I no longer believe you love this woman. I have not the slightest notion of what you do feel, but I am now certain it is not love," Fitzwilliam spat. "Miss Bennet is a respectable young lady, whatever her family and dowry may be. If you cannot see that, you do not deserve her."
Incensed at his cousin's behavior, Fitzwilliam turned on his heel and walked off, leaving a shocked Darcy behind.
Just before supper that evening, the colonel repaired his friendship with Darcy and, though they were uneasy in each other's company for a short while, they wholly forgave each other. They did not speak of their argument or of Darcy's confession again.
The next morning, Darcy suggested calling at the parsonage, quite to the colonel's surprise and consternation, for he would be unable to accompany Darcy, having already given his word to Lady Catherine that he would spend the morning with her and Anne.
And so Darcy set off alone. Fitzwilliam, unable to bear his aunt's company, managed to convince her that the trees in the gardens were looking rather dry and that the gardeners obviously needed her immediate attention and advice if they were unable to keep the trees well-watered.
As soon as the insipid Lady Catherine quit the room, Anne was instantly more at ease. Despite what Lady Catherine proclaimed to all, Anne was not as sickly as she appeared. It was largely her mother's presence that gave Anne the appearance of being perpetually ill.
To Fitzwilliam's surprise, Darcy returned within two hours. After being interrogated by the colonel as to whom he saw at the parsonage, Darcy reluctantly revealed that only Miss Bennet had been there at the first and that he took his leave soon after Mrs. Collins and her sister returned from a walk.
"What did you speak of with Miss Bennet?" Fitzwilliam enquired.
"I am at a loss to understand how that is of any consequence to you. My conversations with others are hardly any business of yours."
"Ah, but I am privy to your secret admiration and must judge if you have treated Miss Bennet with the respect that must be given to the woman one loves."
Darcy rather uncharacteristically rolled his eyes at the colonel and did not reply.
"Come now, Darcy, you will not tell me?"
"Upon my word, you begin to sound like Lady Catherine."
Fitzwilliam, horrified that he might sound anything like his aunt, immediately ceased his line of questioning and quit the room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, being employed in his majesty's army, had also learned not only how to interrogate a person without it being evident to said person, but other questioning tactics. As Darcy was not forthcoming in his information, the colonel decided to shift his focus onto Miss Bennet.
He was not, however, entirely certain how such a thing was to be done. He could hardly speak to Miss Bennet of her opinion of Darcy's behavior in company of Darcy himself, or, for that matter, anybody else's company. He would have to find her alone, or at the very least in an area where there were others, but they could speak without fear of being overheard.
Luckily for Fitzwilliam, he happened upon Miss Bennet quite by accident while walking. Several papers were in her hands and a small frown was uncharacteristically upon her face.
"Miss Bennet!" he called. She looked up and smiled genuinely.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," she replied in salutation. "I did not know before that you ever walked this way."
"I have been making the tour of the park," answered Fitzwilliam, "as I generally do every year and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?"
"No, I should have turned in a moment."
Fitzwilliam, delighted with the circumstances, walked with Miss Bennet towards the Parsonage. He was silently contemplating how to introduce the subject on his mind with Miss Bennet when she spoke.
"Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?"
"Yes," Fitzwilliam began, before deciding this may be an opportunity to introduce the subject of Darcy to the conversation. He continued swiftly, not having fully paused and thus having given no indication to his companion that he had intended to leave his reply at that "– if Darcy does not put it off again." Fitzwilliam chuckled good-naturedly. "But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases."
"And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least great pleasure in the power of choice." Fitzwilliam looked at Miss Bennet, unable to surmise whether such a remark was an insult or a compliment to his cousin. "I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy."
Fitzwilliam was now quite bemused at Miss Bennet's meaning. She did not seem the sort to insult a man behind his back to his own cousin, but neither did her remarks seem like compliments or neutral conversation.
"He likes to have his own way very well," replied the colonel, masking his confusion well. "But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence."
"In my opinion," said Miss Bennet smilingly, "the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going whether you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy to?"
"These are home questions – and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature," Fitzwilliam admitted. "But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."
"Unless they like women of fortune," Miss Bennet countered, "which I think they very often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money."
Miss Bennet, for reasons quite unknown to Fitzwilliam, flushed slightly at his words, but recovered herself rapidly and spoke as if nothing had occurred.
"And, pray, what is the usual price of an earl's younger son? Unless the elder is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds?"
He answered as teasingly as she had and silence fell. Struggling to find a way to once again broach the subject of Darcy, Fitzwilliam was pleased when, once again, Miss Bennet introduced the subject for him.
"I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and, as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her."
Fitzwilliam registered such a remark as a subtle slight to Darcy and defended him in what way he could.
"No, that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy."
"Are you, indeed?" Miss Bennet looked rather surprised. "And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way."
Fitzwilliam gave a start, fearing that Miss Bennet knew of Georgiana's near elopement. Miss Bennet's manner had been teasing, but for her to unwittingly strike so near to the truth seemed unlikely.
"Why would you suppose that Miss Darcy is likely to give my cousin and myself any uneasiness?" he replied too quickly.
"You need not be frightened. I never heard any harm of her; and I dare say she is one of the most tractable creatures in the world. She is a very great favorite with some ladies of my acquaintance, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them."
"I know them a little," Colonel Fitzwilliam said evasively. He did not wish to reveal that he thought them very ill-bred women indeed and that he hardly had any wish to spend more time in their society. "Their brother is a pleasant, gentleman-like man – he is a great friend of Darcy's."
"Oh! Yes," said Miss Bennet, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Fitzwilliam did not at all understand this, but disregarded it for the moment. "Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley and takes a prodigious deal of care of him."
"Care of him!" Fitzwilliam thought this an understatement. "Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him." Fitzwilliam recollected then that Darcy had not specifically named Bingley as the man in the circumstance of which he had been speaking. "But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person met. It was all conjecture."
"What is it you mean?" Miss Bennet asked curiously.
"It is a circumstance which Darcy, of course, would not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the lady's family, it would be an unpleasant thing."
"You may depend upon my not mentioning it," replied his companion.
"And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley," continued Fitzwilliam. "What he told me was merely this: that he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer."
Fitzwilliam saw Miss Bennet stiffen and he looked at her, shocked that his words had such an effect on her. He could hardly see the occasion for it – if it indeed was Bingley whom Darcy had saved, surely Miss Bennet would be grateful that Bingley had been prevented from such a marriage. Perhaps it was horror at the thought of what may have happened. Yet Fitzwilliam felt that this was not the case.
"Did Mr. Darcy give you his reasons for this interference?" she asked, attempting and failing to fully regain her composure.
"I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady."
"And what arts did he use to separate them?"
"He did not talk to me of his own arts," replied the colonel with a smile that he hoped would diffuse the tension. "He only told me what I have now told you."
Miss Bennet did not reply and appeared to be deep in thought as they continued along the walk. Fitzwilliam watched her, curious about what he had said that made her so thoughtful. He asked her why she was lost in her thoughts and she replied.
"I am thinking of what you have been telling me. Your cousin's conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was he to be the judge?"
She sounded rather indignant on behalf of the parties that were separated. Fitzwilliam could not imagine why and resolved to ask Darcy later that evening.
"I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide upon the propriety of his friend's inclination, or why, upon his own judgment alone, he was to determine and direct in what manner that friend was to be happy. But," said she, seeming to realize that she was very close to insulting Darcy, "as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him." Despite her words, it appeared as though Miss Bennet already had condemned Darcy, fair or not. "It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case."
"That is not an unnatural surmise, but it is lessening the honor of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
Fitzwilliam had meant for his words to be taken as a jest, but Miss Bennet seemed to become even more irritated on behalf of Darcy's friend, and changed the subject quite abruptly and spoke of nothing of importance for the rest of the walk. She seemed as if her mind was elsewhere, and Fitzwilliam felt a slight spasm of guilt that Darcy would perhaps be unhappy of what he had told Miss Bennet."
Miss Bennet, as soon as they arrived at the Parsonage, was not much changed as far as her behavior from the end of their walk. Colonel Fitzwilliam, seeing that Miss Bennet was longing to escape to her room, took his leave soon after his arrival and returned to Rosings.
Fitzwilliam remembered as he drew near Rosings that Lady Catherine had invited the Collinses, Miss Lucas, and Miss Bennet to dine once again at Rosings. Fitzwilliam was pleased, knowing that, as he was to leave Kent soon, he had a limited amount of time to discern Miss Bennet's feelings for Darcy.
Unfortunately, he was beginning to feel that not only were they not reciprocated, they were negative. Miss Bennet seemed to dislike Darcy very much indeed, though it had only been obvious during their walk. That Miss Bennet was angry at Darcy's interference with Bingley was certain. It had almost seemed as if she were furious on behalf of both parties – Mr. Bingley and the mysterious lady. The colonel began to suspect that the lady in question was perhaps a close friend of Miss Bennet, for what other reason could there be for such anger?
The colonel was eager to continue unraveling the puzzle, but when the Collinses arrived, only Miss Lucas was with them. Lady Catherine instantly demanded to know why Miss Bennet was absent.
"She is unwell, your ladyship," Mrs. Collins explained. When Lady Catherine sniffed in indignation, Mr. Collins hurried to reassure his patroness.
"We feared, your ladyship, that what ails Miss Bennet would cause Miss de Bourgh to become ill as well, and deemed that, for the sake of Miss de Bourgh's health, Miss Bennet ought to remain at the Parsonage."
Mrs. Collins' lips pursed at her husband's explanation, clearly irritated that Mr. Collins had made it appear that the only concern they had regarding Miss Bennet's illness was that Anne might contract it.
Fitzwilliam glanced towards Darcy to determine how he felt upon learning of Miss Bennet's indisposition. Darcy had blanched and was now looking almost ill himself. Darcy looked around the room for a short period of time before standing and excusing himself with no explanation. Lady Catherine was surprised her favorite nephew's behavior, but chose to interpret in a way that would most benefit her, as she proclaimed loudly to the room that Darcy must also have become ill and that it was very thoughtful of him to think of Anne and leave the room so as not to make Anne ill as well.
The Collinses and Miss Lucas appeared surprised at Darcy's abrupt exit and were clearly at a loss to explain such a hasty retreat so soon after their arrival. Fitzwilliam was the only one whose explanation was correct, though of course he did not declare it to the room. Darcy had, Fitzwilliam surmised, been so distraught at Miss Bennet's illness that he had left to see her himself.
Fitzwilliam could not say he was surprised, except perhaps that Darcy had done so while they had company. But, if one was speaking in strict terms, the Collinses and Miss Lucas were Lady Catherine's guests and not Darcy's or his own. They themselves were guests at Rosings and so were not necessarily obliged to greet those that Lady Catherine invited.
But Darcy – Darcy, who had prided himself upon always behaving with propriety, had behaved in a rude way towards the Collinses, Miss Lucas, and even Lady Catherine! The occurrence was so unusual that Fitzwilliam resolved to tease Darcy endlessly once he returned, for it was not often that Fitzwilliam was able to laugh at his cousin's mistakes, for Darcy rarely made errors in Fitzwilliam's company.
Darcy returned soon after dinner. As the ladies and gentlemen separated, Fitzwilliam found that he could hardly bear being alone in Mr. Collins' company and hastily contrived an excuse. Mr. Collins' sycophantic praises followed Fitzwilliam from the room, and he found himself grateful that Mr. Collins was so deferential towards the nephews of his esteemed Lady Catherine de Bourgh that he was willing to allow Fitzwilliam to leave him to himself until the ladies saw fit to rejoin the party.
Fitzwilliam very nearly ran into Darcy as he was leaving Mr. Collins' odious company. Darcy's skin was flushed and his countenance was caught between fury and despair. Seeing any emotion on Darcy's face was rare, and two such different emotions on Darcy caused Fitzwilliam alarm.
"Darcy!" cried Fitzwilliam. "Good God! You hardly look anything like yourself!"
Darcy did not appear to appreciate Fitzwilliam's concern and seemed to think Fitzwilliam's remark a jest. Darcy glowered at his cousin, the fury fading from his face and despair becoming more prominent. Lady Catherine's loud voice issued from the room Fitzwilliam had just quit, Darcy hastily took his leave of Fitzwilliam and rushed up to his bedchamber only moments before Lady Catherine emerged.
"Fitzwilliam!" cried Lady Catherine. "Come join our party! I say, is Darcy not yet returned? I am sure I expected him back much sooner!"
"He is just returned, Lady Catherine, but has retired to his chamber."
Lady Catherine looked very vexed, but Fitzwilliam cut her off before she could reply and led her back to the rest of their party so as to leave Darcy in peace.
When the Collinses and Miss Lucas returned home, Fitzwilliam retreated upstairs and knocked on the door of Darcy's chamber. A hoarse voice beckoned him in, for it seemed that Darcy had anticipated his coming.
"Well, Darcy, I – " Fitzwilliam began before stopping short. Darcy looked nothing like himself. His hair was disheveled, as if he had continually run his fingers through it, his coat and cravat hung messily over the back of a chair. Darcy himself sat at his writing desk, several sheets of paper before him. His pen was, at present, still in his hand.
"What is it you require, Fitzwilliam?" Darcy asked brusquely. "I have no time for trifling matters."
"Good God, Darcy, this is hardly a trifling matter!" cried Fitzwilliam. "You must tell me what has happened! I know that nothing but the most disastrous of circumstances could have caused this effect on you." Fitzwilliam gestured towards Darcy's appearance. Darcy looked angry for the briefest moment before his countenance crumpled into despair. He dropped his pen and his head fell into his hands.
"She refused me, Fitzwilliam."
This was hardly a comprehensible reply, and Fitzwilliam did not hesitate to tell Darcy as such. When Darcy spoke again, it seemed as if he had quite lost all composure.
"I went to the Parsonage to see if she was truly unwell. She was pale, to be sure, but appeared otherwise quite healthy. I thought that perhaps it was only a trifling headache and asked after her health. I fought against every fiber of my being that was calling for me to secure her hand, but the battle was lost. I proposed to her and she, in no uncertain terms, refused me."
"And a refusal of marriage prompted this reaction?"
Darcy looked up at Fitzwilliam. "I love her, Fitzwilliam, but she absolutely detests me. She said – she told me that I was the last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
Fitzwilliam stared. He could simply not imagine the good-natured and kind Miss Bennet making such a statement. Perhaps Miss Bennet did not realize what effect her words would have on Darcy, but, on any man who loved a woman enough to offer marriage, it would be painful. To Darcy, it was devastating.
"That is not all. She said that I could not have made the offer of my hand in any possible way that would have tempted her to accept it."
Fitzwilliam himself nearly felt ill. Miss Bennet had most likely not considered the possibility of her words causing such a reaction in Darcy, but Fitzwilliam found himself angry on his cousin's behalf. Darcy quite obviously adored Miss Bennet, and Fitzwilliam highly doubted that Darcy had failed to make that known to the lady in his proposal.
"Why does she have such a low opinion of you?" Fitzwilliam asked.
"I do not know. She said that from the first moment of our acquaintance, she disliked my manners. And – she somehow discovered that I had convinced Bingley, who had been forming an attachment to her elder sister, to remove to town. She was rather vexed about that."
Fitzwilliam paled. He had been the person to provide that information to Miss Bennet. Steeling himself for Darcy's anger, Fitzwilliam said slowly, "I believe I was the one who informed Miss Bennet. I thought it would raise you in her opinion. I beg your pardon, Darcy, I had no right to speak of it to anyone."
"You did not know. I do not blame you."
Darcy did not speak again and seemed consumed in his own despair. Fitzwilliam, unable to conceive any way to draw Darcy out of such despondency, simply left his cousin to himself, hoping that time would heal all wounds, as it was said to do.
"Colonel Fitzwillam!" cried Mrs. Darcy, a wide smile upon her pretty face. She ran forward to meet the carriage as it came to a stop. "It is a pleasure to see you again!"
"The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Darcy," said Fitzwilliam. Darcy walked towards Fitzwilliam's carriage at a calmer pace than his wife.
"Thank you, cousin. I say, marriage suits you. You are certainly less cold and taciturn now that you are wed."
Mrs. Darcy laughed gaily and Darcy even smiled, though Fitzwilliam suspected that it was more because of his wife's laughter than his own amusement at Fitzwilliam's teasing.
Georgiana suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. "Cousin!" cried she in delight at the sight of the colonel, rushing down – much in the same fashion as Mrs. Darcy – to meet him. Fitzwilliam smiled as he greeted Georgiana, who, during the short amount of time that Mrs. Darcy had resided at Pemberley, had already much improved and was certainly less shy and reserved before.
Remembering that Fitzwilliam was surely fatigued from his journey and may wish to rest in his chamber, Darcy suggested such a thing to the colonel, who immediately rejected it. Fitzwilliam stated that, as a soldier, he certainly would not be so fatigued by merely sitting in a moving carriage for the entirety of the day. Mrs. Darcy and Georgiana laughed, and Darcy even smiled. Darcy offered his arm to his wife, who took it and beamed at her husband as they led their guest into Pemberley.
The Darcys and Colonel Fitzwilliam gathered in the drawing room, where, after only a short conversation, Mrs. Darcy convinced Georgiana to exhibit her musical talents for the colonel, who had not had the privilege of hearing her play for quite some time.
Darcy and his cousin listened in silence to Georgiana's performance as Mrs. Darcy stood beside her to turn the pages. As the song came to a close, Mrs. Darcy's honest praises could be heard.
"You play so well, my dear Georgiana. I must admit, I am quite envious."
"You have heard me play almost daily, Elizabeth," Georgiana replied. Fitzwilliam was briefly surprised that the two women addressed each other by their Christian names, but quickly recovered. Georgiana continued, "It can hardly still shock you."
"You are quite correct, but hearing your beautiful playing reminds me that I have sadly neglected my own and that I will not take the trouble to remedy the situation."
The two laughed and Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy, wordlessly expressing his thoughts.
"Yes," replied Darcy quietly. "They spend much of their time together. Georgiana has grown much less shy from Elizabeth's influence, though I do believe that the way Elizabeth teases me still shocks her."
"You are quite right, cousin," Fitzwilliam said, looking at the two ladies. Georgiana had been persuaded to play another piece, and Mrs. Darcy was turning the pages and talking with a smile to the girl. "I hardly imagined that such a change is possible. I daresay she will be as lively as your wife soon."
Darcy laughed, a rare occurrence for him that bespoke of his wife's influence on both him and Georgiana. "I doubt such a thing is possible, Fitzwilliam. In any case, I would not wish it. Such impertinence and liveliness is well in a wife, but not in a sister."
"I do not have the pleasure of understanding you."
"She is my sister, but I am still her guardian. Yes, Fitzwilliam, I am well aware that I share that responsibility with you," he said, upon seeing Fitzwilliam open his mouth to protest, "But I am in her company much more often than you. Allowing her to tease me so would erode my authority over her."
Fitzwilliam nodded in comprehension. "Yes, but, in any case, Mrs. Darcy's influence is certainly beneficial for Georgiana."
Darcy looked towards his wife and sister. A genuine, unconscious smile lit up his face. "Yes," he said quietly. "Beneficial for both myself and my sister."
Later that evening, in his own chambers, Fitzwilliam laughed to himself at the irony of the situation. Miss Bennet, who only in April had spurned Darcy's proposals and declared that he was the last man she would ever marry, had somehow fallen in love with Darcy and was now wed to him. It was quite a paradox. Mrs. Darcy was certainly joyful and very much besotted with her husband. A stranger could surely see such a thing, and he was no stranger to Darcy and his wife, though this was the first time he had seen them since their wedding.
He had hardly ever expected that Darcy would marry, or that if Darcy did marry, it would be a marriage of felicity or love. But, to his surprise, his cousin had fallen very deeply in love with a young woman who loved him just as much. That their marriage was very happy indeed was obvious to all.
Fitzwilliam knew that, unless he happened to fall in love with a wealthy heiress, he could not afford to marry for love. Being the second son of an earl, he was respected in society, but did not have the wealth or title of his elder brother. He would be forced to marry an heiress who wanted his connections in society.
He dispersed such thoughts with a shake of his head. Colonel Fitzwilliam was not the type of man to brood over what could not be helped. He would make the best of it and carry on. Perhaps he might find his cousin's felicity in marriage. After all, if such opposite characters as Darcy and Miss Bennet had wed, who was to say that he himself could not experience such a phenomenon?