Elizabeth thought that she had never had such a good time during an interview before. George Wickham was very handsome, witty, open and kind. He far exceeded her expectations. He had answered all her questions with humor, and had even asked her if she wanted to inquire after his personal life, saying: “I must admit that I hate it, Miss Bennet, but I know that the public is eager to know. And, honestly, I doubt I could deny you anything.” Elizabeth found his smile irresistible and redeemed him with one of her own famous smiles as she assured him that no one expected her to write such things in her articles. They continued talking pleasantly and just before the end of their conversation Elizabeth mentioned his father.
“I know that you must be tired of comparisons, Mr. Wickham, but I would like to hear your own description of him.” “I am never tired of talking about my love, admiration and respect for my father’s life and work. He was one of the best men I’ve ever known. He was a successful businessman, a brilliant man and such a philanthropist! His devotion to children was total. The program ‘Security in public schools’ was his idea! And look how effectively juvenile criminality was reduced! Comparisons with him can only make me proud.” He replied with an earnest look while Elizabeth was thinking of William and his attitude whenever his parents were mentioned. It was not a pleasant thought, so she looked back at her notes.
“So, Mr. Wickham, are you trying to create your own path in life or continue the family tradition?”
“Definitely continue the family tradition,” he answered without hesitation.
Elizabeth smiled at him again, saying that she had nothing further to ask and thanking Mr. Wickham for his time.
“The pleasure has been mine, Miss Bennet,” he replied gallantry. “Though, I must say that you took me completely by surprise when you asked for an interview.”
“Mr. Wickham, I didn’t think you were so modest.” She looked confused. “I doubt that there is any newspaper or magazine in England that is not begging you for an interview.”
“Oh, Miss Bennet, you are mistaken. No one who works for Will or his family has ever mentioned my name.”
Elizabeth almost choked. First of all: Will? Did they know each other personally? And, secondly, she did work for Will and was informed of no embargo on Wickham’s name. It took her some seconds to recollect her thoughts and ask him in an almost calm voice what he meant by his formidable declaration.
“I see, Miss Bennet. You haven’t asked Will if you could interview me.”
“Mr. Darcy has left the country this morning, so I didn’t find the time to inform him of my exact plans, but he knows that I am writing about the Ministry of Education and its projects,” she said gravely.
“That explains a lot.”
“Mr. Wickham, I really do not see…” she began, but he interrupted her immediately.
“Miss Bennet, can I rely on your secrecy? Even though you’re a journalist?” He tried to remove some of the tension.
Elizabeth now thought that she had never been more surprised during an interview, but she assured him of her secrecy.
“I will tell you a story, though I wish I could forget it myself. You must know it, however, because I fear that your employer will forbid you to write anything about me. And he will give you no explanation. You don’t need to be afraid of my reaction to such a decision. I will understand it completely. But a woman like you deserves to know.” Elizabeth’s every feature bespoke of her utter puzzlement.
“Will was my best childhood friend. Our fathers were the best of friends as well. They had known each other for years. They were together at school and in University. Mr. Darcy was my father’s best man and my godfather. They were truly inseparable until the unfortunate day that Mr. Darcy met Anne Fitzwilliam.”
‘Not her again!’ Elizabeth thought.
“Anne was the black sheep of the great Fitzwilliam family. She refused to attend social gatherings, she left her home and went to live alone in a tiny apartment, she even worked to pay for her studies,” Mr. Wickham stated with disgust but Elizabeth found the late Mrs. Darcy’s independence rather charming. After all, this description matched the one she had heard from the people at ‘Meryton’ who had known her. Everyone there seemed to love her and admire her exceedingly. Some of them had even told Elizabeth that their styles in writing were alike and that they were both blessed with the same degree of intelligence, honesty and determination. Elizabeth could not but feel uncomfortable, listening to someone abusing her for the second time in three days. Wickham was oblivious to all this, however, and he went on.
“When the Fitz.Net announced the union with Pemberley.Net everyone was pleased. You cannot imagine how many billions of pounds this would bring to both Corporations! Oh, no, you can, you are an intelligent woman. Who was opposed to the plan? Anne Fitzwilliam, of course! She tried to fight it, but then she met George Darcy. Well, I have no idea what he found in her, but he fell in love with her. He was completely, totally infatuated. He was trying for months to win her love. Poor man, he had no idea that Anne Fitzwilliam had no heart to lose, that she could love nothing but herself and her stupid ideas!” Wickham’s eyes were blank, but then he sensed Elizabeth’s uneasiness and tried to find his former civility.
“I am sorry, Miss Bennet, I let the painful memories get hold of my good manners. It’s just that this cold hearted, ambitious woman has destroyed so many people’s happiness, mine included!”
Elizabeth wished she were a girl so she could run away from the room and the conversation that made her so uncomfortable. Wickham had a lot more to add to his story, however.
“I have no idea why, Miss Bennet, but the fact remains that Anne Darcy never liked my father. She put up with him of course, and let me play with her son, but she never tried to hide that we were not welcome at her home. As you may know, she left her husband and two children without explanation… But you know, they all say how much she appreciated the services of her husband’s chauffer…”
“For God’s sake, Mr. Wickham, we’re talking about a dead woman!” Elizabeth said very sharply.
“You are right, I am sorry. Whatever may have transpired in that area, the real problem is that her previous venomous attacks to my father were very effective. Our fathers’ friendship was destroyed, as were her children’s lives. My dear Georgiana—Will’s sister you know—so insecure, so unsure of her qualities, so shy! And poor Will! I do not hold anything against him, Miss Bennet. It’s not his fault that he lost the ability to love. He has no idea what love, tenderness, or human contact is. He thinks that women exist only to satisfy our sinful carnal desires, and he doesn’t want his sister to have the same fate,” he sighed, but then noticing Elizabeth, he asked immediately,
“Miss Bennet, are you unwell? You are ready to faint! Here, have a glass of water. I’ll open the window. The cold air will be just the thing for you. There, are you feeling any better?”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Wickham, I am much better, thank you. I am sorry for the inconvenience,” she said weakly. Wickham then apologized for having caused distress with his story and declared that he would stop it immediately, but Elizabeth now really needed to know the end of it.
“Eight years ago, Miss Bennet, I met Georgiana again. She was eighteen, but a woman already! She was charming, intelligent, kind and beautiful. Much like you, Miss Bennet. I fell in love with her. Deeply, passionately. She was dating someone else and she looked happy. Later, however, I was informed that he was just playing with her. I had to protect her. I told her the truth and tried to support her as the world was collapsing around her. She had lost her father recently, you know, and I was afraid that she couldn’t stand another blow. I was there for her, Miss Bennet, when her brother was not. I repeat: I do not blame him. His heart was cold; it had been cold since the day his mother had left them. I had the pleasure of watching Georgiana fall slowly in love with me. But when her brother found out that we were dating, he thought that I was trying… oh, I don’t know what he thought, Miss Bennet! Just because I was some years older than her and I had a number of relationships in the past, he could not believe that I loved his sister. He threatened my life should I approach her again and he sent her to the States, all alone and devastated. It’s not his fault, but he continued unintentionally his mother’s plan to make everyone bearing the name of Darcy unhappy!”
A long silence followed this speech. Finally Elizabeth sensed that her legs had regained some strength, so she stood up and gave her hand to Wickham.
“I am very sorry for…” She tried to fight the tears in her eyes, but it was not easy, as she felt every irrational dream she had ever made shattering that very moment. “…for you,” she added, when she wanted to say: for all of us.
If Elizabeth had wanted to protect her sanity, she should have taken the week off and tried to forget everything related to the meeting between Wickham and herself. Unfortunately, her reaction was quite the opposite. Everything she could think of and work on was the interview. She listened to it again and again. She was almost certain that William’s reaction would be the one George Wickham had predicted. But an urge she could not fight made her write the article and focus her full attention on Wickham. It was as if she wanted to provoke Darcy. She felt very tired, as if she had no power to fight for a love that would never be truly hers. Every time she thought of Scotland, of the precious moments they had shared, their kiss, their night together, her despair only increased. Things would have been a lot easier without that weekend, because that weekend had given her hope. And now she was mourning for its loss.
William had gone to the States that week. He had called twice and was rather surprised by the coldness in her voice. On second thought he attributed it to the distance. He was too happy to pay attention to details. He had found his sister calmer and happier than ever. He was bringing her back with him for Christmas and his famous cousin was joining them. He had also received very pleasant news from his uncle. Michael Fitzwilliam had decided that it was time he retired. In two months’ time, William would be the CEO of Pemberley.Net at last. For the first time in years everything was going right in his life. The memories from the previous weekend could only increase his mirth. He was looking forward to his next encounter with Elizabeth.
When he showed up in the office on Friday morning, Elizabeth was perfectly calm. She had already shed many tears and had spent many hours in inexplicable trepidation. She welcomed him quietly and sat in her office waiting for him to call her. She was not at all surprised when Charlotte approached her and whispered somewhat uneasily, “Liz, he wants you in his office. And he doesn’t look very happy. Please don’t lose your temper either.” Charlotte really loved her friend and step-sister but she knew that she didn’t always show the proper respect to the people she considered important. Lizzy smiled faintly and headed to the office. She was finally ready to confront him.
She found him pacing back and forth, anger evident in every feature of his handsome face. “What is this?” he asked not even trying to lower his voice. Elizabeth didn’t care that the whole building was probably listening to them and answered him very calmly,
“This is my article.”
William did not seem very pleased with the answer.
“Thank you for the information, Elizabeth. May I be so bold as to ask who gave you permission to interview George Wickham?”
“Is there any problem with that? You gave me your permission to investigate the Ministry of Education’s projects and I thought that an interview with Mr. Wickham would be very enlightening. You have not forbidden me to interview Mr. Wickham or anyone else.”
“Go back to your office and write your article again without the slightest reference to him! Now!”
Elizabeth did not stir. “Won’t you honour me with an explanation?”
“You dare to ask for an explanation? I give orders here Elizabeth! Don’t try my patience. Go, before I lose it!”
“Oh, I see.” She smirked. “Now you’re being patient with me. Well, I would like to make use of your patience and repeat my request for an explanation. It will not be very good for my career to take interviews from the most prominent people in England and not having them published.”
“You shouldn’t have taken the interview in the first place! Who told you to?”
Elizabeth was becoming really angry. He was supposed to be her boyfriend and he was treating her with far less respect than the rest of his employees.
“Usually, I don’t…” she began, but he interrupted her with an angry whisper.
“Just because we’re sleeping together, you can’t do anything you fancy.” He regretted it the moment he had said it, but he had said it and she had heard it.
If a look could kill, this story would end in a few pages, describing William Darcy’s funeral. Even though Elizabeth’s look didn’t kill him, it was effective enough to make his knees tremble. Unable to bear the intensity of her eyes, he buried his face in his hands, before mumbling,
“Elizabeth I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. It came out horrible, I know, but it was not my intention to... Alright, you have every right to be angry. Elizabeth? Are you listening to me? Elizabeth!”
She didn’t move; she didn’t speak. She continued staring.
“Elizabeth, please.” He tried to reach her hand. No response. He moved towards her. That produced an effect at last. She quickly moved away, hissing,
“Don’t touch me!”
“Elizabeth, please. I was angry. I shouldn’t have said such a horrible thing, but I was angry.”
“The problem is not that you said it. The problem is that it even crossed your mind.”
“I was enraged, ok? We say things we do not believe when we’re enraged.” William became defensive but sensing that this was deteriorating the condition, he changed his attitude once again.
“Elizabeth,” he resumed softly. “Please sit down. I will tell you everything. I promise. I had hoped that I would never have to look back—it’s just too painful.” He stopped for a moment and closed his eyes at the memory. Elizabeth sat down, but her expression lost nothing of its harshness.
“I will tell you everything about my history with that man,” he began, but she interrupted him. Now her voice was full of irony.
“Oh, lucky me! I’ll have yet another version. At least you both agree in something: You hate Anne Darcy.”
William couldn’t hide his surprise: “What has she to do with that?”
“You, boys, seem to consider her responsible for every failure in your lives. Well, she left twenty years ago! Get over it! Get a life and stop finding idiot excuses.”
William’s look had lost every trace of tenderness. There was almost rage in his eyes.
“I am very disappointed in you, Elizabeth. I thought I knew you better; I thought that you could react like an adult. You can’t forgive a mistake. You’re just trying to hurt me back as much as possible. I will not indulge you, Elizabeth.”
‘Now, we’re coming to the point’, she thought and got ready for the rest.
“We must have a very serious talk about what’s going on between us, but it’s not the time, nor the place,” he continued with a voice as cold as ice. “However, I will tell you what the problem with Wickham is, because I do not stand being accused so grossly and unjustly. And you will listen to me, Elizabeth.”
She wanted to leave, but she didn’t. ‘Maybe it’s our last intimate conversation.’
“Wickham and I were friends as children, as our fathers were. After my mother left us, our fathers had a fight over something. I have no idea what exactly it was, but my father warned me against his family. My father may not have been tender and we never knew what exactly he had in his mind, but he never lied to us. Perhaps he didn’t tell us the whole truth; but he never said lies.
”Eight years ago, my sister started dating someone and she seemed very happy about it. I was a bit worried, since she denied giving me the slightest information about him, but I remained silent. Wickham, however, got in her life as well and he did not remain silent. I don’t know if he was the reason Georgie broke up with her boyfriend. All I know is that she did and that she was devastated about it. I was not there for her, and I will never stop feeling self-remorse for that. Anyway, I found out that Wickham was flirting with my sister. Georgie was not too enthusiastic about it, but, once more, she refused to talk to me. I must admit I am not good at talking. I had never been Georgie’s confidant. Furthermore, all I could tell her was that our father had warned me against George’s father several years ago. I had no evidence that Wickham would harm her.”
He winked again, as he was obviously approaching the hardest part.
“Well, the evidence came. Someone, a slight acquaintance of mine, in fact, decided to warn me. He informed me that Wickham was just trifling with Georgie, as much as her ex-boyfriend did… They…” He stopped to regain his breath, and then went on, speaking as fast as he could, to be done with it: “Everything was about a bet, between Wickham and her boyfriend. Ten thousand pounds for my sister’s innocence! What do you think about that?”
Elizabeth made no response.
“I still marvel at how I kept my composure and didn’t strangle him when I went to meet him. I had to, you know, to learn the name of her boyfriend. Georgie never gave his name up. She never really got over him. And, surprisingly, Wickham said that his honour did not allow him to reveal the name. His honor! I tried to bribe him, and to threaten him. But it seems that Georgie’s boyfriend had found the means of keeping everyone silent. I never got his name. Even the man who had initially informed me of the bet said that he could not speak any further…”
He was getting closer to the end.
“Georgie was depressed, and she could not fight it as long as she remained here. We talked and she decided to go to the States, and keep her mind busy with maths. I stayed here, feeling unable to offer the slightest comfort to her!” He looked at Elizabeth; she was surprised and scared by the hostility in his eyes.
“And now you come and you think that you know everything, that you can explain everything; that you have answers for all the questions! You have no idea what I have been through, yet you think that I am behaving like a selfish boy! Who do you think you are?”
Elizabeth was not angry, nor insulted. She grieved for him, for her, for their sisters, whose fates were equally hard. Her tone was wistful as she replied:
“I thought I was someone close to you, someone who knew you. We’ve got so many things to get over... I am not sure if we can, I am not sure if we should try.” He tried to interrupt her but she continued, “I agree with you, however; it’s not the right moment to talk about it. You’ll have my new article on Monday morning. No references to Wickham, I promise. I am very sorry for your sister, William. Is it ok if I leave the office now?”
“Elizabeth…” he began again, his voice now tender, with a hint of sorrow.
“Please, William, I really have no energy left. I am completely exhausted. I’ll see you on Monday.” Tears were dancing in her eyes.
William was feeling worse every moment that passed. He had been thinking about her the whole week. He had hurried his return, so that he could take her in his arms and experience the wonderful sensations of the previous weekend once again. What had happened instead? They had had a fight over the man he hated the most and they had both alluded to…separation. Could his temporary crisis have come to an end? The mere thought brought him close to despair. His heart was telling him to fight for her, beginning from that very moment. But he had no idea how.
“Elizabeth, I don’t want us to part like this.”
“I am not angry at you.”
“But you are disappointed, aren’t you?”
“Not by you. By us. We reached this point together.”
“Elizabeth…” he tried once again, but words failed him.
“I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Wait! We can meet during the weekend. How about lunch or dinner tomorrow?”
“I am sorry,.” she answered with a tired smile. “I am leaving for Hertfordshire this afternoon and won’t be back until Sunday night.”
William sensed that she was abandoning him little by little. That she was giving up. He had his pride, he wouldn’t beg her. Maybe some time apart would do them good…would help them to think more clearly. Nonsense! She is leaving at the first difficulty. Everyone leaves at the first difficulty! I am not going to pine the loss anymore. They don’t deserve it!
“Have a nice weekend, Will.” She said as she left his office.
Oh, why did her parting look remind him of Sarah in the film? ‘ “Love does not end because we stop seeing each other.” … Wait a minute…Love?’
Later that afternoon Will sat with his sister and they talked for a long time. The years abroad had worked wonders on her. She still looked fragile, but she had gained in confidence and charm. She had a somewhat cynical air, but he suspected that this was only a way to protect her heart, which had recovered from the blows slowly and painfully. Georgiana had cut her long, beautiful hair just before she left England and had never let it grow since. But even though it was short, her dark hair still created an impressive image, contrasting with her white skin and green eyes. She was very thin and relatively short; she had no curves at all. Her face was not a smiling one. She seldom laughed. But sometimes her eyes spoke volumes of her feelings and their ‘smile’ was the second most irresistible William had ever seen. The angles of her face were a bit too pointed. But overall she created a sense of good humor. She was witty, very intelligent and ready to defend her ideas and the people she loved with all the strength she possessed, despite her exterior mask of apathy. William really regretted all those years that he had not taken the pains to know her better. ‘But now, I have a second chance and I will make good use of it. Thanks to the man who warned me, so that I could save her from Wickham’s trap just in time. Thanks to Jason Younge.’
Charles was bored to death at this party where Caroline had dragged him. He wished he had stayed with Jane in the evening. After all, she would leave on Saturday to spend the whole weekend at her mother’s home. “Lizzy called from Hertfordshire and told me she really needs me. I am very worried. She has not asked for my help in ages,” she had told him in a very concerned voice that very afternoon. So, she had not accompanied him this evening but had insisted on his going for his sister’s sake. Jane was always good and kind. He smiled. But she still remained distant, even after what had passed in Scotland. The smile faded off his face. He couldn’t figure her out.
Caroline approached him, bringing a man with her. He was tall, very handsome, with light brown hair and green eyes. His body was to die for, according to all the ladies who attended the party. Charles felt relieved that his sister had found a new interest. ‘Perhaps she will stop running after Will. I hope this one is ready for what is coming on him.’ He checked his smile, as Caroline spoke.
“Charles, dear, I’d like to introduce you to a very important person that I met tonight. I am sure you’ll discover that you have a lot of things in common.” Charles didn’t like her look; it seemed positively smug and somewhat spiteful, so he turned his gaze to the man. He could not make out his expression. There was something hidden behind his polite smile, which made him uneasy.
“Charles, this is Jason Younge. Jason, this is my brother, Charles Bingley.” Caroline said with a triumphant smile. She disappeared immediately, so that they could speak freely. She couldn’t wait to see Charles’ face when he would hear Jason’s story. And from what she knew of her brother, it would not be long before William heard it as well. The Bennet girls’ charm could never recover after that. She grinned completely ungraciously. ‘This evening turned out much better than expected,’ she thought as she took another sip of her champagne.
William instinctively looked at the clock, when he heard the telephone ringing. ‘Three in the morning?’ He was almost certain that it was Elizabeth and he couldn’t decide if he should be pleased or alarmed. It was consoling, nevertheless, to know that she couldn’t sleep either. However, the voice that he heard when he picked up the phone took him completely by surprise.
“Charles!” he exclaimed. “What’s the matter?”
“Oh, Will, I am at such a loss. I don’t know what to think. Maybe Jane has deceived me, still… she doesn’t look like this kind of woman…Oh, Will what am I going to do?”
William’s voice was unmistakably angry when he spoke.
“You are calling me at three in the morning to ask advice about your love life?”
“You don’t sound as if you were sleeping, Will.”
“And just because I happened to have a headache tonight, it is justifiable to terrify me by calling in the middle of the night, right?”
“Will, you can’t imagine what this Younge person told me.”
William was certain that his ears were deceiving him.
“Hold it. Can you repeat the name?” He had completely forgotten everything about his previous anger.
“Younge. Jason Younge.”
Will thought that fate was playing a trick on him. He had not thought about Jason Younge for years, and it was the second time in twenty-four hours that he was intruding in his mind.
“Jason Younge,” he repeated slowly, trying to collect his thoughts. “What has he to do with your life?”
“He is Jane’s ex-husband.” Charles answered in despair.
“What?” William practically shouted. Then lowering his voice, he said, “Jane Bennet’s ex-husband? Elizabeth Bennet’s brother-in-law?” He had to check himself in order not to add, My Elizabeth’s brother-in-law?
“Yes, Will.” Charles sounded resigned.
“Now you’ve got to tell me everything.” William had forgotten all about the late hour, as apprehension took hold of him. Clearly, something was amiss and it concerned two people that were very important to him.
Charles began recounting what Jason had told him. The latter had been informed by Caroline that Bingley was intimately acquainted with Jane and his irrational jealousy made his accusations against his ex-wife even more exaggerated than usual. Charles’ uncertainty and his difficulty to see past Jane’s mask of polite indifference made him an easy prey. As Jason was speaking of Jane’s coldness, of her tricks that gave hope one moment and destroyed it the very next, Charles thought that he could discern the exact symptoms in his case. ‘Jane is trifling with me.’ It had never occurred to him before, but now it seemed a logical explanation. Even though at first Charles could have vouched for her integrity, it seemed a very strange coincidence that she was dating only rich men. And the pregnancy… It was difficult to believe her capable of such a scheme, but then… what else would have induced Jason to elope with her at eighteen? And Jason’s parents to consent?
And the other men… Jason swore that he had caught her with lovers, but had forgiven her repeatedly. This time, Charles should have doubted his interlocutor’s words; after all Jane never seemed interested in anyone else. ‘Come to think of it, she didn’t seem interested in me, either.’ And the thought of Jane in other men’s arms filled him with sick jealousy that clouded his judgment. Jason had fulfilled his goal once more. Presenting them under a different light, he had turned Jane’s virtues against her.
There was only one resistance that Charles was left with: his heart and the memories from Scotland. But his heart was not used to being in love. Uncertainty and doubt offered no help. He needed clear signs. Jane did not provide him with them; Jason did. He tried to fight the horrible suspicions; he really did. But he was not very strong for this. William was his final refuge. And he related everything to him, as a child speaks to his parents of his fears; praying that the parent will take care of them. He almost hoped that Will would find fault with Jason’s story; that he would advise him not to trust him. He would be more than happy to follow such advice. So, he finished his narration, commenting with a hint of trembling in his voice.
“As you see, Will, it is my knowledge of Jane against Jason’s story. Whom would you trust?”
William had listened very carefully. When Charles posed his final question, he hesitated for a moment. Jane seemed to be a good woman. She was Elizabeth’s sister. But he had hardly exchanged a few sentences with her. And he knew only too well that family members could have very different characters. Besides, why had Elizabeth never revealed her brother-in-law’s name? Then he thought of Jason and the gratitude his actions had inspired. The moment passed. He hesitated no longer.
“I am sorry, Charles, but I must have you know that Jason Younge has my complete trust. He has saved my sister; whatever family peace I have now, I owe it to him. I believe him.”
Charlotte Lucas was tired. She had planned not to stir from her apartment that weekend. However, after receiving two calls in the morning, she found herself driving to Hertfordshire as fast as she could. The first call was from her stepmother who had gone into hysterics. She was talking about a man who wanted to meet her daughters. But the unfeeling egoists she had given birth to had not stopped crying all day long and their eyes were red and their skin wrinkled, and who would look at them in such a state? The second call was from Elizabeth, who, after exclaiming in the most unusual manner: “Oh, Charlotte, how right you were!” had begged her to come. Elizabeth had concluded with grave formality: “Your presence here is necessary for our peace of mind.”
Charlotte arrived and Fanny sent her immediately to Jane’s room, calling to her as she was going up the stairs,
“Tell them to use some make-up at least, dear! And make haste, Mr. Collins will be here in an hour!”
She found Elizabeth and Jane in an even worse state than she had anticipated. When she heard what had happened between Charles and Jane that very morning, she could account very well for Jane’s reaction. Elizabeth did not give any further explanation for her turmoil. Charlotte suspected that there was more than sisterly compassion that had brought on Elizabeth’s despair. But she was kind; she loved and grieved for the two sisters, so she didn’t push the subject any further. Jane had already a lot to recount.
She had been more than surprised that morning when Charles visited her house at half past seven. The initial shock gave its place to fear when she discovered that Charles was drunk. He tried to kiss her but she avoided him, disgusted by the smell of his breath. He fell on the wall and hurt his forehead, which began to bleed. Jane went near him to see the wound and help him get up, but he pushed her away, shouting: “Get away from me, you slut!” Jane had never been so terrified in her life. Even the crisis with Jason had never been that painful for her. She had fallen on the floor and wanted to go to the other room and ring to Elizabeth for help. She thought that Charles was capable of anything and the idea paralyzed her. She lay there and just looked at him. Then suddenly his tears began flowing, as he whispered, “What have I done? What have I done?” He managed to get up, but then lost his balance and fell on the floor, so that his eyes were at the same level as Jane’s. He resumed his angry expression and he shouted, “What have you done to me? Why does it hurt so much?”
Jane was crying as well. She had hoped that after leaving Jason, she would never have to go through such a scene in her life. It was as if all her nightmares were visiting her once again. But, this time there was a major difference. She was also sorry for Charles. She was terrified and disgusted; but she could also sense that Charles was suffering, perhaps even more than her. But she had no idea as to what to do. She didn’t know where this outburst would lead them. They spent some minutes looking at each other silently, as her agony was increasing. Finally he got up. He stood against the wall as his legs were incapable to support him and resumed shouting. His tears never stopped flowing.
“Pregnant, you told him you were pregnant, right? Lovers, right? How many of them, Janie? How many men have touched you, how many of them have caused you shivers of pleasure? Dirty, illegal pleasure! Idiot me! I thought I was special just because you let me hold you! What a good laugh you must have had at my expense! How many men have fallen in your trap? To how many have you given your body? You have no heart to give, you slut! And why are you playing difficult with me? Aren’t I rich enough? I am number eight! Not enough? Had you set your sights on Darcy?”
That was enough for Jane to understand what exactly had happened. She got up, slapped him with all the strength she could master and shouted with such a loud voice that the whole block must have heard.
“OUT OF MY SIGHT AND MY HOUSE! NOW!”
Her determination took him by surprise and he retreated without actually knowing what he was doing. Jane shut the door behind her. She stopped crying and left for Hertfordshire immediately. As soon as she was in Elizabeth’s arms she had a breakdown. Her sister, having spent a sleepless night, tired and sad herself, listened with shock to Jane’s story. But she was incapable of making her feel better. When Fanny began increasing their distress with her speeches about the eligible Mr. Collins and the beauty of women, Elizabeth knew that Charlotte was needed.
Charlotte’s first impulse when she had heard the whole story was to say, “I told you so.” But she checked herself and tried to calm the sisters down. Jane had not stopped crying since her arrival at Hertfordshire and for the first time in her life, she looked almost ugly. Elizabeth was faring better but not much. Charlotte, the plainest of the three was by far the best-looking that afternoon. That was an unwelcome surprise for Fanny. She cared for Charlotte, in her own way, almost as much as she cared for her daughters. However Mr. Collins belonged to Lizzy, and she could not stand to see all her plans collapsing just because her daughters were being stubborn.
Elizabeth and Jane agreed to meet Bill Collins mostly to make their mother stop shouting. Their headaches were deteriorating and they were not pleasant company. Collins deserved no better, though. He was a bank clerk in London who had inherited a lot of money quite unexpectedly and moved to Hertfordshire with the intention of sitting and doing nothing for the rest of his life. It occurred to him that sitting with company was better than sitting all alone, so he decided to marry. Fanny Lucas was the first person to whom he announced the decision and she had promised him one of her daughters. Even she considered him stupid, conceited and boring, but ‘acquiring the worst of husbands is a better prospect than having no husband at all,’ she thought. So, she was showing the utmost admiration for whatever Collins said and urged Elizabeth and Jane to follow her example. They were too tired to argue with her. To put them out of the embarrassing situation, Charlotte proposed that she, the girls and Collins visited the pub, a plan everyone consented to.
Charlotte found Collins disgusting. As they were drinking, he took liberties with all of them that none approved. He was finding various excuses to touch them. His touch was unpleasant, too confident and too clumsy even to flatter them. Elizabeth, who had already drunk more than she could take, lost her control and slapped him. Jane was equally drunk and didn’t even reproach her sister. The Bennet girls went to another corner of the pub and continued drinking. Charlotte wanted to argue with them, but she was starting feeling dizzy as well. Although she had drunk much less than either Elizabeth or Jane, she was not at all used to alcohol and she was surrendering to its effect.
Elizabeth and Jane had no idea how they returned home. Thankfully the distance required only a few minutes’ walk and not a drive. They went to Jane’s room and Elizabeth started crying once again. Jane, slightly more sober than her sister, asked her what was really the matter with her.
The alcohol traveling in Elizabeth’s blood was now controlling her mouth. And she started talking about everything. She decided to remove the huge burden from inside her. She was tired of feeling, loving, hoping and despairing all alone. She wanted to share. Perhaps her drunken self was wiser than the sober one. She began her recount from their first day they had met, the day that he had hired her. She described his piercing gaze, his smile and the passion that was born in her almost immediately. She talked of her utter excitement when he had called her the very same afternoon to invite her to dinner. She explained how he made her feel at ease, how gallant and considerate he was during their first date. She remembered their first kiss, two days later, which had given birth to so many feelings in her.
“Love at first sight they would say, Jane, except that it was not love. He never said that he loved me. Did he love me? I doubt he knows himself…We agreed to keep this secret, Jane, that’s what killed us. I didn’t want to be accused of ‘sleeping with the boss,’ and he was more than eager to agree. He said that gossip was the last thing we needed, especially since our relationship was not long and serious… Now I get it Jane. He never wanted it to be serious or last for long, but then I found his arguments logical and I considered him thoughtful. I’ve been a total idiot!”
She went on, relating everything that had passed between Darcy and herself while Jane listened to her with us much surprise as the alcohol permitted her to feel. The night was full of revelations and sleep didn’t come till dawn. The interesting part though, is that Elizabeth didn’t recall having said anything to Jane. Jane remembered every detail of her sister’s story, but she didn’t let her know that. She pretended that she had no idea as to what was causing her sister’s sorrow.
Jane and Elizabeth slept embraced that night, offering comfort to each other. They woke up with horrible headaches. Before their eyes had time to adjust to the daylight, Fanny’s shrieks were heard. Their mother was always prompt to exaggerated reactions, but that was unlike anything they had witnessed before. The noises came from the next room, so they guessed that Charlotte was the unlucky receptor of Fanny’s wrath. Very curious and concerned, because Charlotte had always been at very good terms with her stepmother, they got up and headed to her room. Before they entered it they could distinguish some of Fanny’s accusations.
“You, shameless dirty woman! In my own house! How dare you! This is no longer your house! I don’t want to see you ever again! Next to your sisters’ room! How could you do that to us! Where is your father? Williaaaaaaam!!! Throw them out of the house! Now! As they are! Don’t you dare give them any clothes!”
Elizabeth and Jane felt sick at the thought of what all this implied but they walked bravely into Charlotte’s room. They found her on the bed…with Bill Collins next to her.
Poor Charlotte was as shocked as the rest to find him there. Apparently she had got drunk and the scoundrel had taken advantage of her. Sick with disgust, she had barely had time to wake him up and tell him to get lost when Fanny entered without even bothering to knock at the door. Fanny’s anger, despite her declarations about ‘polluting the house’, was mainly caused by the fact that she had found Collins in Charlotte’s room instead of Elizabeth’s.
All Jane’s efforts to calm her mother down were in vain. The only thing she managed was to give Charlotte some time to get dressed and disappear as quickly as possible. Collins stayed a little longer and tried to apologize. When he mentioned that his intentions towards Charlotte were completely honorable, however, he had a vase thrown at him. He departed hastily, but not without repeating that he would return soon to ask for Charlotte’s hand. Jane wanted to stay in Hertfordshire for the rest of the day to support their mother’s broken nerves. Elizabeth told her if they did that, by the evening they would need someone to support their nerves. So, they bid William Lucas good luck and departed.
Elizabeth drove them back to London, and Jane asked if she could put on some music. Talking was out of the question, and the silence between the sisters was almost haunting. They were both surprised by the song that was playing on the radio; they thought it was yet another ironic wink of fate. But for some unknown reason, none of them attempted to change it:
Some say love it is a river that drowns the tender reed
Some say love it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love it is a hunger an endless aching need
I say love it is a flower and you it’s only seed
It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give
and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live
When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose*
*The Rose, by Amanda McBroom
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