I was cleaning out old files on my computer and came across my very first efforts at writing Jane Austen fan fiction. (I thought they were long gone.) At the time I published, Searching for Pemberley, an historical novel, I didn’t even know fan fiction existed, but then I found meryton.com. Not knowing if I had any talent for writing fan fiction, I posted two short vignettes. The response was very encouraging. These vignettes became the seeds from which other stories would grow.
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 alone. Charlotte had witnessed Mr. Darcy’s departure from the parsonage the previous afternoon. Despite her friend’s probing looks, Lizzy had said nothing about the gentleman’s visit and had kept to her room after dinner, complaining of a headache. In order 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.
RosingsPark 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—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, and so she pretended to be engrossed in her book providing him with an opportunity to pretend not to have noticed her. She soon realized that his being in this particular spot was no accident as on several occasions he had come across her at this very place. He quickly approached, and after asking her to do him the honor of reading his letter, he just as quickly departed.
After seeing Mr. Darcy well down the lane, Lizzy turned her full attention to his letter. After having finished it, she had to restrain herself from tearing it to shreds and scattering it to the winds. What pride! What insolence! The purpose for 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. 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 she might have been mistress of such an estate. Lizzy, who loved to laugh at the ridiculous, might have seen the humor 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. It was easy to understand why he had started his letter by saying 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.” 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 confirmation 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 would have attracted the attention of many of the marriageable young ladies of 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, someone 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, in the end, 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. 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. But was there any greater proof of Wickham’s true character than his actions regarding fifteen-year old Georgiana Darcy? It was impossible 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 her defense of Wickham, and she knew in her heart that all that he had written was true.
Lizzy removed her bonnet hoping the breeze would clear her mind of all the horrible things she had said to Mr. Darcy, including the accusation that he was responsible for Wickham’s current state of poverty. As for Jane, it was true he had greatly injured her, but she now realized that Mr. Darcy’s actions had been 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! Because of the unkind remarks he had made at the assembly, she had refused to see any good in him. As for his part, he had honored her with his attention and proposal of marriage but had found it necessary to tell 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 learned 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, merited his attention. From looks exchanged between them, Lizzy suspected that he had a good relationship with 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 believed 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 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.
After arriving at the parsonage, she sat in the garden and 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?
Mr. Darcy Regrets
Mr. Darcy stood by the tall window of the second-floor library of Rosings Park. From this view, he could see the vine-encrusted stucco of Hunsford Lodge with its rust-colored roof and flower-lined walk. This was the only room in the manor house from which the front door of the parsonage could be seen, and Darcy was waiting for Elizabeth Bennet to walk through it.
After Miss Elizabeth’s refusal of his offer of marriage, Darcy had gone directly to the stables and had told the groom to have his carriage ready at first light. But after a sleepless night, he had changed his mind: Elizabeth’s accusations must not go unanswered. The whole of the morning had been spent in writing a rebuttal to her charges, and his ink-stained fingers were proof of the urgency with which he had set down his words.
Looking out the window, he realized he was still angry—but not with Elizabeth. What had possessed him to propose to someone whose situation in life was so decidedly beneath his own? He could just imagine the reception that news of his engagement would have generated. His friends would have derided him, and society would have shunned her. The whole episode had been a mistake, and he must view her refusal as providential. He would return to London, and in a matter of months—no weeks—all would be forgotten.
There was just the matter of the letter. As soon as he saw Elizabeth return from her walk, he would know that she had read it, and his reputation, at least with regards to Wickham, would be restored. How could it be otherwise? Her charges were not only wrong, but unjust.
Once the lady became acquainted with the truth of his dealings with Wickham, she would see him in a different light and understand that he had acted honorably. From the revelations set forth in his missive, she would understand why he had acted as he had in the months following his father’s death. Knowing him to be a scoundrel, and in order to be rid of him all the sooner, Darcy had provided Wickham with a cheque for the full amount of his inheritance shortly after the will had been read. He now knew that he had acted rashly there—that any animal will return to the place where it has last eaten. And Wickham had returned to Pemberley with hand fully extended, wanting more. What he had not anticipated was that Wickham’s unctuous charm would play so well on the feelings of fifteen-year old Georgiana. By concealing Wickham’s true nature, he had set the stage for the attempted seduction of his sister at Ramsgate.
Darcy remembered the day when he had first seen Wickham in Meryton and the disgust he had felt upon seeing Elizabeth conversing with him. How had Wickham been able to convince her that he, the scion of a distinguished house, was the villain? Did she think him such a brute that he would cheat the son of a steward out of an inheritance? But she did not know Wickham, and truth to tell, she did not know him either. In their conversations, he had revealed so little of himself, and the tension that existed whenever they were together was such that it had acted as a barrier to any greater intimacy between them.
Where the devil was she, he asked, his impatience growing? Elizabeth had been in possession of the letter long enough to have read it through several times. Was she chewing on each sentence as a dog would worry a bone? Or was she concentrating on the part that dealt with her beloved sister, Jane? Darcy held firm in his belief that he had done his friend a service by removing him from Netherfield Park. Bingley, who had barely established his own place in society, might very well have sunk under the weight of an unfortunate marriage.
In the letter, Darcy had revealed that he had known of Miss Bennet’s presence in London, but had deliberately kept that information from Bingley. He was less sure of himself regarding that action. But what would have been gained by such a meeting? It would have been painful for Miss Bennet, and it would have only confused Bingley who had accepted Darcy’s opinion concerning a lack of regard on the lady’s part. But now that he knew that Miss Bennet, in fact, did care deeply for his friend and that only her sense of modesty had prevented a more open display of affection, he was uncomfortable with how forcefully he had pushed the matter to its conclusion.
Damnation! All of this may have been avoided if Miss Jane Bennet had only been as animated as her sister. It was difficult to imagine such a situation happening with Elizabeth. There was no guessing at her feelings. Her eyes revealed everything: the joy she experienced in dancing, her annoyance when in Mr. Collins’s company, and the puzzlement she had shown when she had tried to ‘take his likeness’ at the Netherfield ball. He had seen something yet again when she had refused his proposal. Her anger was real and deep, and the contents of his letter may have caused further injury.
What would her eyes show now? Was there any possibility that she might regret her hasty dismissal of his offer? Upon reflection, could she find any good in him or had he left her with the impression that he was an unfeeling, boorish man? At that moment, he saw a flash of yellow, the color of the bonnet she had worn in the grove that morning. He stood up and drew nearer to the window. This would be the last opportunity he would have to look upon the woman he had hoped to take as his bride. He would drink his fill, and then move on.
Elizabeth stood outside the parsonage but did not go in. Instead, she sat on a bench outside the front door holding his letter to her breast and looking up at the sky as if to hold back her tears. After sitting quietly for several minutes, her gaze followed the contours of the hill leading to Rosings and up to the window where Mr. Darcy stood. Could she see him? What was she thinking? If only he had been closer, he could have looked into her eyes. Her eyes would have revealed everything.