After finishing Mr. Darcy Regrets (see post below), I decided to write the same scene, but from Elizabeth's point of view.
Elizabeth Bennet Regrets?
The morning after Mr. Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth was able to leave Hunsford Lodge only after satisfying the Collinses that she was well enough to go on her morning walk. She was eager to get out of the house and away from Charlotte’s probing looks. Charlotte had seen Mr. Darcy leaving the parsonage the previous afternoon, but Lizzy had said nothing about his visit and had kept to her room after dinner. To silence Mr. Collins and hasten her escape, Lizzy had mentioned that she wished to begin a study of Fordyce’s Sermons. Mr. Collins had presented the book to her earlier in the week when he had come upon her reading a novel, a book he considered inappropriate for an unmarried woman to be reading without the supervision and guidance of her father. He would have been horrified to learn that she had read Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy in the library at Longbourn without any supervision and at the recommendation of her father. Finally, after multiple assurances regarding her health, the weather, distances, etc., she had been allowed to leave the parsonage and immediately went in search of a place where she could reflect upon the events of the previous day.
Rosings Park had beautiful vistas at every turn, but Lizzy’s favorite was where woods and pastureland met. The contrast of the dark greens of the forest and the lush bright greens of the pastures made it a favorite stop, and at this slice of Eden, the De Bourghs had placed stone benches paralleling the path. It was the perfect place for reflection. But she was not to be alone this morning as sitting on one of the benches was Mr. Darcy. It was too late to turn away because he had already seen her, so she pretended to be engrossed in her book so that he might pretend not to have noticed her. She soon realized that his being in this particular spot was no accident. On several occasions he had come across her at this very place, looking with awe at the overwhelming beauty of an English autumn. He quickly approached, and after asking her to do him the honor of reading his letter, he had just as quickly departed.
After seeing Mr. Darcy well down the lane, Lizzy turned her full attention to his letter, and after having finished it, had to restrain herself from tearing it to shreds and scattering it to the winds. What pride and insolence! The purpose of his writing the letter was clear. He wished to put behind him forever all memories of the scene at Hunsford Lodge. In this, they were in complete agreement. His words still echoed in her mind: how he had struggled to overcome his feelings for her, the inferiority of her connections, rejoicing in his success in separating Bingley from Jane, her pride, his shame. But before he could truly conclude this chapter of his life, he demanded her attention one last time in order to justify his actions and to refute her assertions.
For several minutes, Lizzy watched as a hundred black-faced sheep moved into the glade with three Border collies nipping at their heels. The shepherd, walking behind his flock, wisely left the dogs to do their work. Was there such a view at Pemberley? Of course, there was. The landed gentry all had the same things: great houses with portrait galleries and magnificent art, balconies and terraces, ballrooms and music rooms, gazebos and follies, lower gardens, upper gardens, servants behind every door. Yes, she could easily picture such a scene at Pemberley. And to think that she might have been mistress of such an estate. Lizzy, who loved to laugh at the ridiculous, might have seen the humour in all of this if her emotions had not been so raw.
Calmly, or so she believed, she began to reread Mr. Darcy’s letter from his point of view. It was easy to understand why he had started his letter by saying that there would be no repetition of his proposal. He was a proud man who believed he had honored Lizzy, someone ‘whose station in life was so decidedly beneath his own,’ by making her an offer of marriage. She had wounded him, and any animal, whether man of beast, would lash out at whomever had inflicted the pain.
There was then Mr. Darcy’s confession that he had willingly, knowingly, almost gleefully separated Bingley from her most beloved sister. As a defense, he had written that Bingley was often in love. That had given her pause. Often in love? Yes, she could see how that could be possible. As a handsome and charming young man in possession of a large fortune, Mr. Bingley must have been sought out by many of the fine young ladies in London, and he could very well have imagined himself to be in love with some of them. In that regard, it was not unreasonable for Mr. Darcy to believe that Jane was just another pretty face who had caught Bingley’s eye. After reading his statement that, "The serenity of your sister’s countenance was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, her heart was not likely to be easily touched," Lizzy recalled Charlotte’s words of caution upon seeing Bingley and Jane together: "If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him." Had Jane’s natural humility and modesty created the false impression that there was little affection on her part?
The next part of the letter was particularly painful. Lizzy could hardly bring herself to reread Mr. Darcy’s description of the behavior of her mother and sisters. But what did he say that was not true? In her understandable concern to see her daughters well married, her mother had acted inappropriately in her search for the family’s savior who would rescue them from the consequences of the entail. After Darcy had learned that there was a general belief that Bingley and Jane were to become engaged, he had done everything in his power to separate them, but was that not something a true friend would do? Lizzy knew that Bingley had a strong dependence on his friend’s judgment and had yielded to what he considered to be Mr. Darcy’s better understanding of such matters.
And then there was the matter of Mr. Wickham. If Mr. Darcy had been unable to judge the depth of Jane’s regard for Mr. Bingley, then she had failed in discovering Wickham’s true nature. Lizzy closed her eyes and visualized Wickham taking her into his confidence and whispering to her of Mr. Darcy’s scandalous behavior in denying him his rightful inheritance. She remembered, with embarrassment, how eager Wickham had been to expose the defects of Mr. Darcy’s character to someone so new to his acquaintance. She recalled how quickly he had turned his attention away from her to Miss King and the haste with which Miss King’s relations had removed her from Meryton. What did Miss King’s guardians learn about Wickham that had caused such an aggressive response? And had not Jane been skeptical of Wickham’s assertions, wondering how it was possible that all of Darcy’s intimate friends could be so deceived as to his true nature. And was there any greater proof of Wickham’s true character than his actions regarding sixteen-year old Georgiana Darcy? It was impossible for her to believe that a brother would invent such a sordid tale about his sister and then share it with another. In light of the events revealed in his letter, she shuddered at the memory of the attacks she had made on Mr. Darcy in her defense of Wickham, and she knew in her heart that all that he had written was true.
Lizzy removed her bonnet hoping that the breeze would clear her mind of all the horrible things she had said to Mr. Darcy regarding Wickham, including the accusation that he was responsible for Wickham’s current state of poverty. As for Jane, it was true that he had greatly injured her, but she now realized that he had never intended to cause Jane any pain. His actions were dictated by his concerns for his friend.
With the sun on her face, it was all becoming clearer: why Mr. Darcy had attended her Aunt Philips’ card parties, why he had followed her movements at Lucas Lodge, his visit to the parsonage, his meeting her on her daily walks, and his words at Rosings: “No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting.” And most of all, his declaration of love, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Elizabeth refolded the letter. At Rosings, Mr. Darcy had said that “neither of them had performed as strangers.” Oh, how true that was! She had refused to see any good in him because of the unkind remarks he had made at the assembly. As for his part, he had honored her with his attention and proposal of marriage but had found it necessary to remind her of her inferior position in society and the defects of her family.
Her emotions were in turmoil. From the time she had come into Kent, she had learnt so much about him, and if she had not been so prejudiced against him, she would have seen a very different Mr. Darcy from the gentleman she had known in Hertfordshire. His cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, held him in the highest regard and spoke of an amiable and conversant Mr. Darcy when amongst his friends. Despite his aunt’s overbearing nature, he visited Rosings because Lady Catherine was his mother’s sister, and as such, was worthy of his attention, and Lizzy suspected, by looks exchanged between them, that he had a good relationship with Miss Anne De Bourgh when her mother was not about. But was there anything that showed him in a better light than his affection and concern for his sister and the fear that had gripped him when he had believed that he had lost her to a man with no conscience?
Elizabeth walked the lane trying to sort through all the images flashing before her. If things had gone differently, could she have loved him? After a moment’s reflection she realized that she could have. If only they had been able to break through the barriers that separated them, his pride and her prejudice, yesterday would have ended very differently.
When Elizabeth arrived at the parsonage, she sat down on a bench outside the entrance to the house. She read the letter once again, but with understanding and not in anger. A wave of regret passed over her as she realized what had been lost. Clutching the letter to her breast, she felt the tears well up in her eyes. And through her tears she looked up towards the manor house and to its second floor. Someone was standing in front of the window looking down at the parsonage. Was it possible that Mr. Darcy was still at Rosings Park? Was he looking at her? And if he was, what was on his mind or, more importantly, what was in his heart?
These two vignettes evolved into the fan fiction piece, From Longbourn to Pemberley, which I posted at fanfiction.net and AHA. (It has been taken down at both sites.) I submitted the manuscript to Sourcebooks, and they offered me a contract. The result was the retitled (and edited) The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy that was released in January.
Coming Thursday: A vignette that complements The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy.