Chapter 1 Letters
After wandering along the lane for two hours, giving way to every variety of thought; re-considering events, determining probabilities, and reconciling herself, as well as she could, to a change so sudden and so important, fatigue, and a recollection of her long absence made her at length return home; and she entered the house with the wish of appearing cheerful as usual, and the resolution of repressing such reflections as must make her unfit for conversation.
She was immediately told, that the two gentlemen from Rosings had each called during her absence; Mr. Darcy, only for a few minutes to take leave, but that Colonel Fitzwilliam had been sitting with them at least an hour, hoping for her return, and almost resolving to walk after her till she could be found. Elizabeth could but just affect concern in missing him; she really rejoiced at it. Colonel Fitzwilliam was no longer an object. She could think only of her letter.
Once Elizabeth finally reached the refuge of her room, she tried to comprehend the intentions of the callers she had missed. She thought that Mr. Darcy's visit must have been one of pure obligation for he could not have actually wanted to see her after all that had transpired between them. His object in coming certainly must have been to avoid the speculation that might have arisen had he left Kent without taking leave of the inhabitants of the parsonage. She wondered how they both would have bourn the interview had she been home. The Colonel's visit she ascribed to his natural amiability and his willingness to wait for her to the possibility that he held her in special regard. She then remembered their recent discussion in the grove concerning the limitations of a second son and thought better of it. Given her recent discovery of how limited her powers of perception could be, she vowed to examine the facts more thoroughly before determining their meaning.
As she turned back to Mr. Darcy's extraordinary letter, a connection between some of the sentiments in it and the Colonel's visit soon began to form. She reread the last passage of the letter.
For the truth of every thing here related, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who from our near relationship and constant intimacy, and still more as one of the executors of my father's will, has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning.
Could the Colonel's willingness to wait so long to speak to her be related to his cousin? Had Mr. Darcy, as his letter implied, informed the Colonel that she might wish to speak to him regarding Mr. Wickham and then asked that he make himself available to her to verify the events recounted in his letter? If he had, what explanation had Mr. Darcy given the Colonel for why she should be granted access to such intimate family details? She flushed hot with embarrassment at the prospect.
As she reread Mr. Darcy's words, they took on new meaning. It was evident that he believed that her dislike of him was so intense that she might reject his explanation as to his dealings with Mr. Wickham without corroboration. The thought brought her shame. That Mr. Darcy believed her capable of such willfulness, after he had disclosed his sister's involvement, made her realize how unfairly and forcefully she had accused him regarding Mr. Wickham. The fact that he felt it necessary to go to the extreme of revealing his sister's association with Mr. Wickham demonstrated how strongly he wanted her to believe him and his fear that she might not. It briefly crossed her mind that Mr. Darcy's motive might stem less from a desire to clear his name and more from the mistaken belief that Mr. Wickham held a power over her that he did not.
Elizabeth suddenly came to the startling realization that she was sorry to have missed Mr. Darcy's call. Despite the mortification it surely would have caused them both, she recognized that she owed him an apology and would never have the opportunity to offer it. At the very least, she wanted to let him know that she believed him and would no longer champion a man who deserved no sympathy. Her desire to provide an apology, however, did not make her repine her rejection of his offer or forgive him his treatment of Jane. She knew, though, that his sins did not negate her own. Given that Mr. Darcy had felt it within his power to lay bare all of his dealings for her scrutiny, she owed him, at the very least, an acknowledgement of his effort. However uncomfortable the visit might have been, the burden would have been worth the opportunity to let him know, that whether or not she accepted all of the reasons he offered for his actions, she believed the sincerity of his explanations.
As she pictured the reunion in her mind, she could not help but admit that the encounter would have been a torture for her. She rationalized that her reaction was understandable given that even Mr. Darcy had opted to avoid such a scene by taking the more risky measure of writing to her. He could have just as easily attempted to explain himself in person when he found her in the grove. Not for the first time, she lamented the differences between the sexes that allowed a man to take risks that a woman would be foolish to consider. At that thought, a plan began to form in Elizabeth's mind.
Elizabeth arrived at Rosings early the next morning. She watched carefully to be sure that none of the family was in evidence before stepping forward. She found the servants busily loading Mr. Darcy's carriage for the trip out of Kent. His groom, who was inspecting the bridle of one of the horses, noticed her first.
"Sir," Elizabeth inquired with a forced calm, "Excuse me, but are you in Mr. Darcy's employ?"
"Yes, Miss, I have the honor of being his groomsmen. May I be of service?"
Smiling warmly, Elizabeth replied, "Yes, as a matter of fact you could. I borrowed a book from Mr. Darcy and I wanted to return it before his departure. I only realized that I still had it yesterday after sunset. I usually take some early morning exercise and I thought I would use the opportunity to return the book, but I do not want to disturb the household at such early an hour with a visit. If you would be so kind to give him the volume when he comes out, I would be in your debt."
"Certainly Miss. But it'd be no bother to fetch him. He has been up and out riding already. He is just inside seeing to some details. I'm sure he would wish to thank you himself."
"That is very kind of you and I would otherwise accept your offer, but I am afraid I would also interrupt Lady Catherine at her breakfast and I know she likes to maintain certain schedules." As Elizabeth mentioned Lady Catherine's name, she indulged in the faintest of smiles and the groom nodded knowingly.
"Ah, yes, Miss. I see what you mean. If you like, I will take the book and give it to the master when he comes out."
"That would be most helpful. Thank you."
Darcy sat back as the carriage began to move. He had been astonished when his groom told him that a lady had come to returned a book. That emotion, however, was nothing compared to the shock he received when he opened the inside cover to read the bookplate: "Elizabeth Bennet, August 26, 1810." His groom had handed him the book as he was entering the carriage, with his cousin on his heels. To Colonel Fitzwilliam's surprise, once they were inside, his cousin turned and left. With his heart beating madly, Darcy scanned the horizon for a glimpse of her. If he saw Elizabeth, he would go to her, despite the suspicion it might cause. He had been fighting the desire to do just that all morning and this seemed an omen of sorts. The anger and bitter disappointment that he had nursed the night before dissipated the moment he realized that she was initiating contact with him. It was replaced with a wild hope that she might have changed her mind and regretted the criticism she had leveled against him. When he failed to locate her, he immediately began questioning his groomsman as to all that had transpired. Understanding that she had come more than an hour ago and specifically opted not to have him informed of the visit, he stood in puzzlement, until the Colonel called from the window. "Darcy, are we to leave or not? Despite the comfortable weather, it is infernally hot in here without the aid of movement. If you intend on delaying our departure, I would rather wait where I can breath."
Darcy stood as conflicting emotions fought within him. His Aunt and cousin Anne were on the steps waiting to see them off. If he dallied any longer, his Aunt would undoubtedly want to know the reason why. Even if he could invent an excuse, he knew his cousin would see through any attempt at deflection, since he had seen the book delivered and would connect the events. He had previously aroused the Colonel's curiosity regarding Miss Bennet by informing him that he had told her about Wickham and given her leave to corroborate his history with him. When the Colonel pressed him for further details, Darcy stiffly explained that he had confided in her because she had let slip that Wickham had been spreading his lies around Hertfordshire. He wanted Miss Bennet to know the truth so that Wickham could not opportune her further. The Colonel was initially reluctant to accept this explanation at face value, but relented when Darcy entreated him to trust in his judgment that Miss Bennet needed to understand what Wickham was capable of.
Darcy knew that any more odd behavior on his part, such as leaving the carriage minutes before it was scheduled to depart in order to visit the parsonage, would require him to explain himself to his cousin. While Darcy knew he could trust the Colonel, his humiliation was still too raw to share. Before he could come to a decision, his Aunt began to demand a reason for the delay. "Darcy, is there a problem with the equipage? You must be sure that the horses have been properly hitched? You can never be too careful. I always insist that it be checked twice. My stable hands will assist you, if need be." When Darcy made no answer, she simply continued. "Darcy, is the Colonel unwell? Is the sudden warmth of the spring weather too much for him? There is always concern when it is too cold, but the heat can be just as dangerous. Most people are ignorant of its effects. I have always understood its dangers. I never travel when it is either too hot or too cold." As Darcy listened to her seemingly endless soliloquy, he came to a decision. Elizabeth had sent him this book in the hope that it would be accomplished without arousing anyone's interest and it was only right to ensure her goal, even if it meant leaving before he wished it. "No, Aunt Catherine, I simply needed to ask my groom a question before we departed. It has now been addressed and we will be on our way. Good day."
Seated in the carriage, the book itched in Darcy's hands, but he knew his cousin was narrowly observing him. Fighting an overwhelming urge, Darcy put the volume in his coat pocket. He then relaxed his head into the corner of the cushions, stretched his legs, and tilted his hat over his eyes, hoping the Colonel would follow suit. After what seemed an interminable wait, Darcy was able to confirm that his cousin was drifting in and out of sleep. He immediately retrieved the book. He read the bookplate again, admiring her hand. He then looked over the table of contents for a clue as to why she would have sent this particular volume and began to flip through the pages. He knew he audibly gasped when he saw the letter addressed to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy carefully affixed by the letter's seal to the last page of the book. Before plucking it free, he reverently felt its thickness with trembling fingers to determine its length. It was not more than one sheet and the envelope.
Before he could progress further, his cousin stirred and sat up. After stretching, he asked, "So Darcy, are you as relieved to leave Rosings as I am? I must say, though, having the addition of the guests from the parsonage certainly made the time go more swiftly." Darcy could only nod and then stare at him in an uncomprehending manner. He then turned to the front page of the book. After seeing that Darcy was obviously intent on reading, the Colonel accepted the fact that he would have to entertain himself by watching the countryside.
Darcy attempted to focus on the words of the book that were swimming before him. She had written to him. The possible reasons for her having done so assailed him. His desire to open the letter was almost overpowering, but he vowed to wait until they stopped to refresh the horses so that he could read it without his cousin's detection. A part of him was glad to procrastinate. If it were good news, he would risk everything. He would tell the Colonel all that had transpired, pay for his passage on the next post coach to London, and turn the carriage around in order to return to the parsonage before the evening meal. If it were bad news, if it contained a further attack on his character or a reprimand for having the presumption to write her in the first place, or a renewed defense of Wickham, he would rather wait to know and keep the entire sorry affair from his cousin. Until he opened the letter, he had hope. Once he read it, it would be either heaven or hell. He decided to do the only thing he could. He would read her book. The fact that it had once been in her hands held some allure and knowing that her eyes had once scanned these same words gave him a comfort that allowed him to hope for the best.
An hour later, they stopped as they arrived at the outside border of Kent. Darcy quickly told the Colonel that he needed to stretch his legs and would join him later at the inn for refreshments. He then set off down the road and walked off the path to a fallen tree. He opened the letter and began to read.
Please excuse my presumption in writing to you. I hope that the delivery of this letter did not cause you either embarrassment or hardship. My excuse for resorting to the subterfuge necessary to place this letter in your hand must be my lack of opportunity to otherwise succeed undetected. Aside from the unorthodox manner of delivering this missive to you, you also must be wondering at its purpose. Simply put, the contents of your letter seemed to require a response and I knew the chance to do so was fleeting. Consequently, I have endeavored upon this course of action, when I fear more reasoned reflection might dictate a different result.
Having missed you and your cousin's final visit to the parsonage, I was unable to find an opportunity to put to rest the apprehension you expressed in your letter that I might not believe your explanation as to your course of conduct towards Mr. Wickham. I assure you that I need no further testament than your word. I know that you would never have confided to me the abominable manner that Mr. Wickham betrayed your family for any other purpose than to convey the truth of the matter. I understand how difficult it must have been to share this information with me and I appreciate the trust that you have placed in me by doing so. I want you to know that I am ashamed of the things that I accused you of regarding him, and to have done so on such flimsy evidence makes me understand my own shortcomings in a most painful manner. I owe you an apology and I did not want you to leave Kent, and therefore my acquaintance, without conveying such a sentiment. I am heartily ashamed to have acted in the manner that I usually abhor in others. I condemned you for crimes without bothering to ascertain your side of the story and I did so, I believe, because you did nothing more than fail to please my expectations of civility. I want you to know that from my error I have learned a lesson very dearly taught and I will make every effort to avoid such folly in the future. I realize that this will do nothing to subtract the slight that I have made to your character. As to that, I can only offer my most sincere apology and seek your forgiveness.
I am tempted to end this letter here and avoid other topics, which you yourself recognized might only bring further pain to either of us. But I know that to do so would be less than forthright, given that the course of recent events must assuredly place those other subjects in the forefront of our thoughts. I appreciate that you felt it necessary to explain your behavior concerning Mr. Bingley and my sister to me. I realize from your narrative that you felt your actions were undertaken to protect your friend and that such altruistic motives could never be condemned. I agree that concern for a friend's welfare is always a laudable endeavor, but I cannot help but note that the manner in which it is sometimes accomplished can be an evil in itself. Whether you believed yourself impartial to judge my sister's regard for Mr. Bingley or not, your investigation into the subject left much to be desired. I feel I am a fair judge of that, not only because I know the extent of the deep regard that my sister felt for your friend, but also because your methods seem imminently familiar to me. It was the same sort impetuous decision-making that led me to believe Mr. Wickham's torrid tale about you without ever trying to verify my opinions. Because no one can ever be sure of the heart of another without being privy to their confidence, I do not think that anyone can rightly judge the state of another's desires and affections. It is another lesson that I have dearly learnt and I would hope that you, of all people, would see the merit of that point as well. As to your concerns regarding my family and their behavior, I cannot help but admit that your descriptions were aptly put. I can offer no defense, but to note that every family, no matter what its rank, has its share of the ridiculous and the sublime. I suppose the test of a family is which category is more prevalent. I avoid tallying the totals as to my family members for fear it will not reflect well on anyone. Nonetheless, I would be remiss in not thanking you for your kind words regarding my older sister's behavior and my own. Given the harsh words we exchanged, I do understand the significance of the compliment. I will close in the same manner that you employed in your letter, as the adieu showed a generosity of spirit that I hope we can both share.
God bless you.
Darcy sat and reread the letter. He attempted to reconcile his conflicting emotions. Foremost, he was disappointed that she could still not love him and he was stung by her continuing criticism of his conduct towards her sister and his opinion of her family. She wrote politely, but he did not miss the reference to his own aunt's often-ridiculous behavior or that his own incivility caused her initial dislike of him. She said she did not want to ignore unpleasant subjects, but the most important to him, his proposal of marriage, was never addressed. His heart sank into a painful ache as he realized that she had failed to discuss it because there was nothing to more to say. He stood wearily, knowing that his cousin would be waiting for him. He vowed to put her letter and the entire misadventure behind him, but even as he said it, he knew he would be unable to accomplish the task.
On the long carriage ride home, he discreetly reread her letter, which, by now, he had almost memorized. No matter how he viewed it, her words could not relieve his palpable sense of failure, regret, and disappointment, but if he thought about it, he would have to admit that her letter, at least, had taken away his anger. Given her heartfelt apology, he could no longer blindly resent her. Instead, he was left trying to understand her, an endeavor, that for all his previous obsession with her, he had never before attempted. Unbeknownst to him, it was this change of focus that would allow him to start the long process of self-evaluation and healing that was necessary for him to grow from the experience.
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