Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mr. Darcy's Letter at Hunsford - Short

As she had done every morning since her arrival at Hunsford Lodge, Elizabeth Bennet walked the grounds of Rosings Park. As she neared the main gardens, she would stop and briefly chat with Mr. Garvey, the head gardener, and he would tell her of all the work that was now being done so that Lady Catherine would enjoy the blooms of late summer. But this morning, with her rejection of Mr. Darcy’s offer of marriage forefront in her mind, she sought solitude and headed for her favorite spot, a small pond and the home to two swans and their four cygnets. Because she was totally taken in by this family of six gliding across the water, she did not hear Mr. Darcy coming down the path until he was almost upon her, but when she did see him, she groaned inwardly.

After yesterday’s awful scene at the parsonage, what could be his purpose in seeking her out, Lizzy wondered? Perhaps, he had come to expand on his list of reasons for not wanting to marry her—to tell her of another struggle he had to overcome, another hill he had to climb. His purpose was shortly revealed.

“Miss Elizabeth, will you do me the honor of reading this letter?” and after placing it in her hand, he departed, and she could hear the crunch of gravel as he walked in the direction of the manor house.

As soon as she was sure that Mr. Darcy could no longer see her, she broke the seal. It was obvious from all the ink stains that the letter had been written in haste, and it was quickly apparent that he had put pen to paper when he was still angry over her rejection of his proposal.

Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you or humbling myself by dwelling on wishes which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten.

“Well stated, Mr. Darcy, and on this we are in complete agreement as it is my intention to put this unfortunate episode behind me as quickly as possible.”

The effort which the formation and perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention. Your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.

“Justice? After all of his insulting remarks, he thinks he’s the injured party! Well, I shall read on and learn how I have erred.”

I had not been long in Hertfordshire before I saw that Bingley preferred your elder sister to any other young woman. But it was not till the evening of the dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension of his feeling a serious attachment. I had often seen him in love before.

Lizzy reread the last sentence. “What did he mean he had often seen Mr. Bingley in love before? I don’t like that at all.”

From that moment I observed my friend’s behavior attentively, and I could then perceive that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond that I had ever witnessed in him.

“Now that’s better. I would not like to think that Mr. Bingley was honoring Jane with his attentions just because she was the prettiest girl in the neighborhood, and that he would soon forget her when he returned to town.”

Your sister I also watched. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of regard. I was convinced from the evening’s scrutiny that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment.

“Good grief! What would he have her do? If Jane had shown any ‘symptom of regard,’ he would now be accusing her of being a flirt and of acting improperly.”

If you have not been mistaken here, I must have been in error. Your superior knowledge of your sister must make the latter probable. However, the serenity of your sister’s countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that her heart was not likely to be easily touched. That I was desirous of believing her indifferent is certain.

Lizzy could feel the heat rising in her face. “How dare he set himself up as the person who would determine whether or not Jane was in love with Mr. Bingley. And how did he arrive at this conclusion? Had he made any attempt to converse with Jane, so that he might know her better? No, he had not, but if he had done so, he would have had a very different opinion of her. But worst of all, he has the audacity to admit that he wanted her to be indifferent. What a contemptible man he is.”

She needed to walk to cool her anger, and assuming that Mr. Darcy had returned to the manor house, she took the same path as he had. But Darcy had not returned to Rosings Park. In fact, he was sitting on a boulder above the path that allowed him to see Elizabeth without being seen. He wanted to watch her as she read the letter and to see the look of remorse on her face when she realized that she had been completely wrong about him. But what he was seeing was not contrition, but anger, and now she was walking in his direction. He looked about him to make sure that he blended in with the greenery and hid his face in his lap so that the only part of him that would be exposed would be his green coat and tan breeches and let out a sigh of relief when she walked past him. But then she stopped at a bench that was a little more than ten yards from him, and he froze much like the deer that wandered the Rosings parkland when they sensed danger. But it was worth the risk as he soon discovered that from his shady perch, he could hear everything Elizabeth said out loud.

My objections to the marriage were not merely those which I last night acknowledged to have required the utmost force of passion to put aside in my own case.

“I was correct. That awful man has even more reasons for not wanting to marry me,” and Lizzy read on.

“Awful man?” Darcy mumbled to himself and wondered what part of the letter she was reading which would cause her to make such an unfair remark.

“There were other causes of repugnance in preventing a match,” Lizzy read aloud, and Darcy could see her free hand ball up into a fist.

“Not the best choice of words,” Darcy admitted to himself.

The situation of your mother’s family… total want of propriety by your mother, your three younger sisters, and occasionally, even your father… the defects of your nearest relations… the need to preserve my friend from what I esteemed a most unhappy connection… evils of such a choice...

Lizzy put the letter down on the bench next to her bonnet. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes, and she put her head back in an unsuccessful attempt to keep them from streaming down her face. No matter how unkind, what had Mr. Darcy said that was not true? The behavior of her family at the Netherfield ball alone merited such censure. He obviously believed that he was acting in Bingley’s best interest in convincing him to put as much distance as possible between his friend and those awful Bennets.

When Darcy saw Elizabeth’s tears, he instinctively reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, but, of course, he could not give it to her, nor could he provide any comfort for the hurt he had caused her with his harsh words. “I wrote that letter so that I might address her unjust accusations, but now… No, that’s not why I wrote it. I composed that letter to punish her for refusing me. I wrote in anger, and now look what I have done.” Darcy realized that it was not Elizabeth, but he, who was feeling remorse.

With great effort, Lizzy continued reading the letter.

I do not suppose that my actions would have prevented the marriage had it not been seconded by the assurance of your sister’s indifference. Bingley had believed her to return his affection with sincere, if not with equal, regard. To persuade him against returning into Hertfordshire, when that conviction had been given, was scarcely the work of a moment.

Scarcely the work of a moment,” Lizzy said, repeating the hurtful phrase. “A mere moment to destroy my sister’s happiness. But was Mr. Darcy really at fault when it was Charles who had so easily given in to the pressure from his friend. How did Mr. Darcy put it?” and she returned her eyes to the letter. Bingley has a stronger dependence on my judgment than on his own. “No doubt about that. If Mr. Bingley is so easily persuaded about such an important matter, then perhaps, Jane is better without him.”

After sitting in a crouched position for such a long time, the muscles in Darcy’s legs were starting to burn, but considering how he had wrongfully interpreted Miss Bennet’s feelings for Bingley, and the hurt he had caused Elizabeth, it seemed appropriate that he should suffer.

With respect to that other more weighty accusation of having injured Mr. Wickham, I can only refute it by laying before you the whole of his connection with my family.

Mr. Darcy wrote of  Wickham’s relationship with the elder Mr. Darcy, who had been most generous to the son of Pemberley’s steward, not only during his lifetime, but by providing a living for him as a bequest, he had offered Wickham an opportunity to promote his advancement and had provided additional funds to see to his expenses. But Wickham had wanted more—much more.

My father had hoped that the church would be his profession and provided for it. However, I knew that Mr. Wickham ought not to be a clergyman. After my father’s death, the business was therefore soon settled. He resigned all claim to assistance in the church and accepted in return three thousand pounds. For about three years I heard little of him, but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for him, he applied to me again for the presentation. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with his entreaty.

Lizzy now understood why Mr. Darcy took umbrage when she had attempted to defend Mr. Wickham. “Mr. Wickham accepted the value of the living, but chose not to take up the position. And when he ran out of money, he once again wished to be a clergyman.”

Lizzy conjured up the evening when Wickham had first told her of Mr. Darcy’s transgressions against him. Why had she been so willing to believe this stranger? Why did she not recognize how inappropriate it was for a man so new to her acquaintance to reveal such a personal story to her? But she knew the answer to that question. She had been perfectly willing to believe anything that showed Mr. Darcy in a harsh light because he had injured her pride. This revelation was bad enough, but the next part of the letter shocked her to her very core.

Last summer, my sister, Georgiana, went with a lady to Ramsgate, and thither also went Mr. Wickham. He so far recommended himself to Georgiana that she was persuaded to believe herself in love and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen. Wickham’s chief object was unquestionably my sister’s fortune, which is £30,000. But I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me was a strong inducement.

“Oh, poor Miss Darcy. How awful for her to be preyed upon by such a man. How Mr. Darcy must have suffered, and if Wickham had succeeded… No, I shall not think about that,” and after uttering that statement, Lizzy looked in Mr. Darcy’s direction. For a moment, he feared that his position had been discovered, and he thought how ridiculous he would feel if found perched on a rock while hiding in the bushes. But when she continued, he knew that his presence remained hidden from her.

“While Wickham gives all appearances of being a good man, it is Mr. Darcy who is good,” she said, shaking her head at her own failings.

“What does she mean by Wickham giving all the appearance of being good, but that I am actually the one who is good?” Darcy asked himself “I think she means that as a compliment, and so I shall regard it as such. But still, she could have phrased it better.”

“Well, there is nothing to be done. We were both wrong. His pride and my prejudice have doomed us, and now I know that if I had to do it all over again, Mr. Darcy might have received a different answer.”

“We were both wrong.’ Did I hear her correctly? Yes, I did. She said that we were both wrong, and if that is the case, then there is the possibility that if I forgive her, then she will forgive me.”

Lizzy folded up the letter and put it into the pocket of her pelisse, and after putting on her bonnet and tucking in her curls, she continued her walk. When Darcy was sure that he could move about without Elizabeth seeing him, he climbed off the boulder, and while keeping close to the shrubs, he circled around so that he would meet her on the path coming from the opposite direction.

Again, Lizzy heard the crunch of gravel and only hoped that it was not Mr. Collins. Two days earlier, he had surprised his cousin by offering to show her the upper gardens. Although a man of meager intellect, she now knew him to be a kind man. Even so, it was still difficult to be in his company as he rarely spoke about anything that did not concern his patroness, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, or her daughter. But it was not Mr. Collins on the path, but Mr. Darcy. Lizzy had been sure that rather than risk seeing her again, he would immediately leave Rosings. As he approached her, she couldn’t recall another situation in which she had been more uncomfortable, and she was trying to think of what to say when Mr. Darcy asked, “Did you read my letter, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Was there anything in the letter that caused you to change your mind about me? I mean the part about Wickham? Do you believe me?”

From what Darcy had overheard, he knew that Lizzy regretted her accusation that Wickham had been dealt with unfairly. It was best to start there because he had been in the right, and now she knew it.

“Mr. Darcy, you have your faults, as do I, but I have never thought of you as being capable of lying. What Wickham did was despicable, and if I had any doubt as to the veracity of your claims, it went away when you mentioned your sister. You would never have invented such a story about Miss Darcy. I can only imagine the anguish you must have felt when you uncovered Wickham’s plan. But do you really think she would have proceeded with an elopement?”

“I would like to think that she would not have,” Mr. Darcy answered, relieved that Elizabeth had recognized the truth of his assertions. “Although she was only fifteen, Georgiana was beginning to suspect that something was not right when Wickham kept insisting that the marriage be kept a secret. He had tried to convince her that I would be pleased when I learned of the elopement, but, to her, his words rang hollow.”

“Miss Darcy was not the only one taken in by him,” Lizzy said and looked away from Mr. Darcy.

“Please do not be too hard on yourself, Miss Elizabeth” and he gestured that they walk farther along the path so that they might sit down on a bench. “Wickham is a practiced liar, and he knows exactly what to say to a woman in order to gain her trust. I am sorry to say that his deceptions succeeded in fooling my father as well.”

“You are being generous, Mr. Darcy. Because I was so prejudiced against you, I was willing to imagine that you were capable of the very worst behavior.”

“You say that you were prejudiced against me. May I ask why?”
“Mr. Darcy, such a discussion would benefit neither of us.” But by his looks, Lizzy could see that he really did want an answer. “Do you not remember all that I said to you just yesterday? ‘From the moment of our acquaintance, your manners impressed me with your selfish disdain for the feelings of others.’ I would have said more, but you told me that I had said quite enough.”

“But those are generalities. Are you referring to the time when you came to Netherfield Park to care for your sister, and I commented that I would not have allowed my sister to walk such a distance and to appear with mud on her petticoat?”

“I did not hear those remarks, sir. You must have voiced your opinion to Mr. Bingley and his sisters while I was upstairs with Jane.”

“Are you referring to the time we were together at Lucas Lodge, and I stated that ‘any savage can dance?’ I certainly did not mean to infer that you were a savage.”

“I am happy to hear it, but I did not hear that remark either,” Lizzy answered. “You must go back further.”

“Further than Lucas Lodge? But the only time I saw you before that day was at the Meryton Assembly…”

“Where you said that you would not dance at such a gathering,” she said, interrupting him, “and where you singled me out in particular by saying that I was merely tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt you to dance.”

“But I was wrong, so very, very wrong,” he answered, the sincerity evident in his voice. “In fact, I mentioned to Caroline Bingley the beauty of your fine eyes and to both of Bingley’s sisters that you were one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”

“Obviously, if you said these things to Mr. Bingley’s sisters, I did not hear them. What I did hear you say was that there wasn’t a woman in the room that it wouldn’t be punishment to stand up with.”

“But I recognized my error almost immediately. You are so very beautiful.”

“Mr. Darcy,” Lizzy said, softening her voice, “I’m afraid that you are a little late with the compliments.”

The change in Mr. Darcy’s behavior was as surprising to Lizzy as it was welcome. But even though she had been wrong about Mr. Wickham, she was correct in gauging his interference in the romance between Mr. Bingley and Jane. “Of course, there is the other matter of Jane and Mr. Bingley.”

“With regard to your sister, my only defense is that I was confident that I was acting in the best interest of my friend,” Mr. Darcy explained. “The Bingley family is well aware of how new they are to society. Every action is examined in light of how it will affect their social standing, and no one is more aware of this than Charles Bingley. His father gave him the lion’s share of his wealth so that Bingley would never have to earn a living and would be looked upon as a gentlemen. In order to achieve that goal, he had the best masters in riding, dancing, and the manly arts. He was enrolled at Cambridge and was made to learn Latin and to speak French. Similar efforts were made on behalf of the five Bingley daughters so that they would be among London’s most accomplished ladies.”

“If I understand you correctly, sir, you are saying that if Mr. Bingley had married my sister, his position in society would have been in jeopardy. Do you really believe that it would be better for him to be unhappy in his private life, so that he might flourish in public?” Lizzy asked, shaking her head in dismay. “But, apparently, your arguments were persuasive and achieved the desired result.”

“Actually, I said very little. As soon as we got in the carriage to return to London, Caroline and Mrs. Hurst went to work on their brother. I merely supported their arguments. By the time we arrived in town, he had already agreed that it would be best if he did not return to Netherfield.”

It was just as she had suspected. His sisters had managed to convince their brother that Jane did not love him because they believed that such a marriage would harm them socially.

“He yielded so easily,” she said again with real grief in her voice, and she went quiet and stared off into the distance. But the more she thought about it, the angrier she got. “Mr. Darcy, in one thing we are in complete agreement. It is true that Jane is not Mr. Bingley’s equal. She is better than he is. She could never have been persuaded that she was not in love with him.”

“But does Miss Bennet not share in some of the blame?” Mr. Darcy asked. “I repeat what I wrote in the letter. Your sister’s countenance was such as might have caused anyone observing her to believe that her heart was not likely to be easily touched. I did not believe her to be indifferent because I wanted it to be so. It is what I observed.”

Lizzy remembered a conversation she had had with Charlotte in which her friend had counseled that it would be better for Jane to show too much emotion rather than too little. Charlotte had been right.

“But before you judge me too harshly,” Mr. Darcy continued, “let me say that I have often seen Bingley in love. When he was in the country, he was in love with Miss Smith, but adored Miss Carter when he was in town. And was there anyone who could ride as well as Miss Davis? And what of Miss Elvin’s accomplishments on the pianoforte? There are other examples of his mistaking love for something else.”

“You are an expert on love, Mr. Darcy?”

“To the contrary. I have never before been in love and was completely bowled over. This feeling, so new to me, brought me to the greatest heights and the deepest depths. But I will not lie. I did everything I could to put you out of my mind.”

“Yes, I know. You told me why you struggled so. The degradation to your family and their opposition to such a match, my inferior connections, and…”

“You have a right to be angry. But please believe me when I say that I was not only considering my own situation when I voiced my concerns, but I was also thinking of you. There were times when you were at Rosings Park when I cringed at some of the things said to you by Lady Catherine. When she suggested that you improve your skills on the pianoforte in the servants’ hall, I was deeply offended. Now, multiply my aunt’s objectionable behavior by a hundred, and you will have some idea of what you would experience in London society.”

“You must think of me as a babe in the woods, but I am not, sir. Granted, I do not move in the highest tiers of London society, but do you not think that such things go on in every ballroom? Do you not know that there are those among the gentry who are as rude and abrasive as Lady Catherine? You need only think of Caroline Bingley and her sister and how they delight in diminishing others. But their remarks do not wound because I am better than they are. When provoked, I will respond to unkind statements. You have seen as much. But I will not initiate them.

“As for not lying about doing everything in your power to resist my charms, you seem to think you only have two alternatives: tell the truth or tell a lie. But there is a third. You need not say anything. By the time you came to the parsonage, you had looked at all the obstacles to the match, and despite the weight of your concerns, you made your decision in favor of asking me to be your wife. Was it necessary for you, in declaring your love, to say that your preference would have been not to have fallen in love with me at all?”

Now it was Darcy’s turn to be silent, and he didn’t say anything for several minutes. “I now see that I have been a selfish being my whole life. As a child, I was taught what was right, but not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. I cared for none beyond my own family circle, and I thought meanly of the rest of the world and their worth when compared with my own.”

“Mr. Darcy, now you are being too hard on yourself. The person you describe would not have befriended Mr. Bingley. And what of your behavior towards Mr. Bingley’s sisters? You could easily have put them down, but chose not to do so because of your affection for their brother. Is that not an example of tolerance?”

“Miss Elizabeth, are you saying that I am not an ogre?”

“I will stipulate that you are not an ogre, but real damage has been done. My sister’s heart has been broken, and she grieves for the loss of Mr. Bingley.”

“I confess that I was very wrong to have interfered in their romance as I must acknowledge that no one knows your sister better than you. It is my intention to reveal all to Bingley as soon as I return to town. I will admit my error and encourage him to follow his heart.”

For the first time since Mr. Darcy’s awful proposal, Lizzy smiled. She could just imagine Mr. Bingley riding post haste to Longbourn to make Jane an offer of marriage. There was an excellent possibility that her story might yet have a happy ending.

“That is very good of you, Mr. Darcy. That will go a long way in smoothing the path to our becoming friends.”

“Friends?”

Lizzy looked confused. “But you told me that you were ashamed of your feelings for me, and in your letter,” and she retrieved his letter from her pocket and waved it in front of him, “you wrote that there would be no repetition of the sentiments you expressed at the parsonage.”

“Elizabeth, when I wrote those words, I was deeply hurt by your rejection of my offer. I would ask that you forget everything I said at the parsonage—well not everything—but most of what I said, and I would further ask that you burn my letter.”
“Sir, both of us said some terrible things, and I agree that they cannot be forgotten soon enough. However, as to your letter, I think there may be occasions in the future when having it will be beneficial.”

“Something to hang over my head? Is that what you are saying?”

“I cannot predict the future, Mr. Darcy. Who is to say that I will not say or do something that will anger you? The letter may serve as a reminder that you are capable of error.”

Darcy started to laugh, and because she had spoken of a time when they would be together, it gave him hope. “This is one of the reasons I fell in love with you.”

“My impertinence? Yes, I daresay you were tired of too much deference.”

Darcy slid along the bench and sat next to her, and after taking her hand, he said, “But now we must be serious. You said that if you had to do it all over again that you might give a different answer.”

“I don’t remember saying that to you, Mr. Darcy.”

“Oh, really. Ummm. I thought I remembered you saying something like that,” Darcy answered with a nervousness in his voice.

“I did say those words, but to myself, while I was reading your letter.”

“Apparently, I’m a good guesser,” he said, smiling.

Then Lizzy noticed that Mr. Darcy’s breeches were dirty. “Mr. Darcy, I do believe that you were watching me while I was reading your letter, and you heard the comments I spoke aloud. And there is no point in denying it. You have leaves clinging to your coat.”

“It seems I walked too close to the shrubs,” he answered, while brushing the debris off of his pants.

“Or was hiding in them. Shame on you, sir,” she said, and then the absurdity of the situation caused her to start laughing, and realizing that any further protests that he was innocent were useless, he joined her in mocking his behavior.

“Elizabeth, you are too generous to trifle with me. Do I have reason to hope that you may change your mind about sharing a future with me?”

Lizzy looked into Darcy’s eyes. Her heart was touched by the love she saw there, and she said that a change of mind was possible, but added that in consideration of their history, they must go slowly. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, and she felt all of the hard feelings that she had nurtured against him crumble into dust and blow away.

Thank you for reading my very short story. Comments are greatly appreciated. Mary

2 comments:

  1. This is so sweet! They are able to talk to one another openly and honsetly for the most part.

    I think your characters are acting more modern than they would have back in the day, and I like that.
    Good story!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Jenny. Glad you enjoyed the story. It's always nice to have comments. (Pls excuse the late reply; I've been on vacation.)

    ReplyDelete