I have found previously that subtly hinting that reviews are quite pleasing have a great effect upon those who may, perhaps, be unsure as to whether or not to do so. Therefore, I shall repeat such a method now and will even dare to thank you in advance.
The sound of footsteps permeated the air outside of Hunsford Parsonage. A gentleman paced agitatedly upon the ground, wringing his hands together and looking very wretched indeed. At last he ceased his pacing and made his way to the door, ringing the bell and waiting impatiently. A servant answered the door and, seeing that he would not tolerate any delay, immediately admitted him to the sitting room.
There he found the object of his agitation. A young woman sat in a chair, a large pile of letters evidently occupying her attention. Her rich chestnut curls were pinned in a style that, while not that of the fashionable ladies in London, was flattering in its own manner. She was looking to the door – it was evident that she had heard the bell. She was, however, quite unprepared for his entrance, it seemed.
"Mr. Darcy!" she cried, standing hastily. The letters fluttered to the ground, forgotten. He glanced at them for a brief moment, determining that they were written by the hand of a female, before turning his attention back to her.
"Miss Bennet," he said hastily. "Forgive me for my intrusion, but I hope I find you well? Mrs. Collins informed Lady Catherine that you were ill."
"I thank you for your concern," she answered. Her arched eyebrows revealed that she did not believe the gentleman before her to have experienced any such feeling, but he was quite oblivious to her skepticism. "I am indeed feeling much better. It was merely a headache and has nearly passed."
"I hope that my intrusion has not increased your ailment?"
"Not at all."
She gestured for him to sit and he obeyed briefly before standing and pacing about the room. She watched and her eyebrows rose sardonically in a manner that reminded him uncannily of her father. His jaw tensed and his hands clenched as he paced, fighting a vicious internal battle that was quite invisible to his companion.
He had been violently in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet since November. It was now April and, having struggled valiantly during those months to repress his affection, he was unwilling to see it come to such an unsatisfying result, yet he could see no other way.
He must marry Miss Elizabeth. The inferiority of her birth, his rank, her family's lack of connections, even the impropriety consistently shown by her three younger sisters and mother were not enough to extinguish his love.
To stop his thoughts from dwelling upon her was impossible – he had hoped that time would lessen his attachment, but it was now obvious that it had not. To fight his feelings any longer was futile. It would only destroy him.
He turned toward her and spoke almost without thought. "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
The lady appeared quite speechless. A slight blush colored her cheeks and, encouraged, he continued. "I have fought against these sentiments for many months now. Every fiber of my being is against such a match, but it was all for naught – I must have you. I have struggled against my family's expectations, the inferiority of your birth, my rank, and, I need not add, my better judgment. I love you most passionately and, despite my efforts, such affection will not be quenched. My struggles having been in vain, I now wait in agony for your answer.
He was, in truth, in no doubt of her answer. His prestige and his family connections were such that any woman in London would be immensely pleased to marry him. Surely the daughter of a country gentleman, with hardly any dowry to speak of, would not be displeased with the proposals of a man with ten thousand pounds a year?
And yet she was. She described her displeasure in such eloquent terms that he felt the sting all the more sharply. She spoke of regret at having caused him pain, but it was quite clear that such a sentiment was not felt by her. She observed him with a clear expression in her eyes that he had formerly mistook for admiration or flirtation but now recognized as intense dislike.
Such an answer he had hardly expected, and was thus in no way prepared to answer. His skin paled, not only with anger at how she so easily rejected such an advantageous proposal, but at how she seemed have such a low view of his attachment to her that she believed it would fade naturally despite the months he spent attempting to quench it.
"And this is the reply to which I am to have the honor of expecting," he at last said. He clenched his jaw briefly before adding, "I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance."
Her eyes flashed angrily as she answered. "I might as well inquire why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you choose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?" He winced. "Was this not some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings been decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favorable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?"
He blanched further. He could not fathom what circumstances had made his interference with the elder Miss Bennet and Mr. Bingley known to Miss Elizabeth, but it was quite clear that she had learned of it and was furious on her sister's behalf.
"I have every reason in the world to think ill of you," she continued. Her eyes – the eyes that had so easily bewitched him – flashed angrily as she spoke. Her hands were clenched at her sides. "No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other, of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind."
Having now recovered, he resumed a mask that hid the wounded feelings and disappointed hopes he felt. Now quite angry himself that Miss Bennet had hardly allowed him a moment to defend himself against the charges she laid at his feet, he smiled to disguise such emotions. His confidence in his actions returned, despite their foundation having momentarily swayed under the weight of Miss Elizabeth's accusations. The feelings of a woman whose sister has been disappointed in her hopes of marriage would surely not be rational. Perhaps Miss Elizabeth was mistaken in believing that her elder sister held true affection for Mr. Bingley. He had observed her carefully and was quite certain that, though Miss Bennet was indeed a sweet girl, her heart was not to be touched.
"Can you deny that you have done it?" she said, looking at him, daring him to attempt it.
"I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from of your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself."
Preventing Mr. Bingley from a marriage that would have caused infinite unhappiness was indeed a success in which to rejoice. He had been lucky enough to detach Mr. Bingley before the man's affection grew too great. He himself had not been so fortunate.
"But it is not merely on this affair on which my dislike is founded," continued Miss Elizabeth. Her eyes blazed furiously and forewarned him of what was surely to come. He resumed his mask and held it in place with an iron will, determined that, despite whatever she should say next, he would not reveal his emotions. "Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham."
At this moment, everything seemed to pause. Miss Elizabeth seemed to stop speaking. His own heart seemed to stop beating.
Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham. His mind recoiled in horror from the thought. His Elizabeth (he mentally abhorred himself for thinking of her in such familiar terms, but it could not be helped) believed the deceitful and slanderous tales of Mr. Wickham. She trusted Mr. Wickham rather than himself.
"On this subject," she continued, oblivious to his utter horror, "what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? Or under what misrepresentation can you here impose upon others?"
His face flushed with anger and he felt himself losing his grip upon the mask he so studiously constructed. "You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns," he said, struggling to restrain his feelings.
"Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?"
Misfortunes. He scorned the word. Mr. Wickham had been fortunate enough to be brought up as if he were the late Mr. Darcy's son. He was given an education at university, something that his own parents could surely not have afforded. He was given three thousand pounds in exchange for the living which the late Mr. Darcy had promised him, and he had the gall to claim that he had been mistreated!
"His misfortunes!" he repeated derisively. "Yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed!"
"And of your infliction!" cried she. "You have reduced him to his present state of poverty – comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages, which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life, of that independence which was no less due than his desert. You have done all this! And yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule."
He watched her, pained that she so trusted Mr. Wickham, and pained that he still loved her despite of it. He adored her, even as she insulted him and accused him of deeds that he had not committed. And, at that moment, he knew that she was wrong in claiming that his affection for her would be soon overcome – he knew at that moment that he would always love her.
In an instant, the delicate emotion vanished and was replaced with fury. She, despite her claims of being a gentlewoman, had thoroughly insulted him to his face and scorned his proposal! She found his honesty, because it was not utter flattery, offensive! His emotions, which he was always quite careful to keep under regulation, were now out of his control.
"And this is your opinion of me!" he exclaimed, pacing once again across the room, having now completely relinquished his mask and any attempt at concealing his emotions. "This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to his calculation, are heavy indeed!" He paused in his steps and turned towards her. "But perhaps these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I with greater policy concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination – by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?"
"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."
He started. Gentlemanlike? He hardly had time to register his astonishment at her accusation before she continued.
"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."
Such a revelation as that of a moment before now seemed quite unimportant when compared to what she had just spoken; her dislike of him was so deeply rooted that it mattered not how he phrased his proposal; she would not have accepted it. The wound she had inflicted upon him now ran so deep that, though he was not previously inclined to such metaphors (they were quite unbecoming in a gentleman), he felt his heart would break.
Most unfortunately for Mr. Darcy, however, Miss Elizabeth had not yet finished expressing her displeasure.
"From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance of you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
He felt the blow more keenly than any of the others she had inflicted upon him today. His breath, for one brief moment, caught in his throat and threatened to choke him. He forced himself to swallow his emotion and reply with as much civility as he could manage.
"You have said quite enough, madam," he managed to say coolly. "I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness."
Knowing that he would soon be quite unable to retain any semblance of composure, he hastily vacated the room, exiting the parsonage as quickly as he had entered it. Finding that he was quite unequal to returning to Rosings and behaving as if nothing had happened, he began to walk very slowly upon the grounds, pondering the events of the afternoon.
She had dared to say that his behavior was not that of a gentleman! She had stated that nothing he could have said would have persuaded her to accept his proposal! It was indeed a blow to his pride, but, had the offense only been in that particular area, he would have been grateful.
But no – his wounds were more severe because he loved her. Every word she said injured more because of his affection. Despite the events of the afternoon, his love would not be extinguished – his efforts previously had failed and he was quite certain any further efforts would also prove fruitless. Left with nothing – his pride stripped from him, his love rejected – he was forced to ponder what lay before him.
A horrid future loomed in his path – a life without Miss Elizabeth Bennet.