Twelve

                                   

Elizabeth and Darcy

 

One morning, about a week after Bingley had proposed to Jane, a carriage arrived outside Longbourn House. Elizabeth, Kitty and their mother were in the sitting-room, when suddenly the door was thrown open, and their visitor entered. It was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. They were all extremely astonished. Mrs Bennet, flattered to have such an important visitor, received her with great politeness. After sitting for a moment in silence, Lady Catherine said very stiffly to Elizabeth, ‘I hope you are well, Miss Bennet. That lady, I suppose, is your mother. And that, I suppose, is one of your sisters.’

Elizabeth replied that she was correct in thinking so.

Lady Catherine rose and said, ‘I would like to have a walk in your garden, Miss Bennet, if you would accompany me.’

‘Go, my dear,’ cried Mrs Bennet. ‘Show her ladyship the different walks. I’m sure she will like them.’

As they passed through the hall, Lady Catherine opened the doors into the different rooms, looked in, and declared them to be reasonable-looking rooms. They went into the garden in silence. Elizabeth was determined to make no effort at conversation with a woman who was being more than usually rude and disagreeable.

Lady Catherine began speaking when she was sure they were alone. ‘You must know, Miss Bennet, why I have come.’

Elizabeth looked surprised. ‘Indeed, you are mistaken, madam. I have no idea why you are honouring us with a visit.’

‘Miss Bennet,’ replied her ladyship angrily, ‘however insincere you may be, you shall not find me so. A most alarming report reached me two days ago. I was told that you, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would soon be engaged to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr Darcy. Although I knew it must be a shameful lie, and I would not offend him by supposing it to be possible, I decided at once to come here, to let you know my feelings.’

‘If you believed it to be impossible,’ said Elizabeth, with disdain, ‘I wonder why your ladyship took the trouble of coming so far.’

‘I came to insist on having this report contradicted. Tell me, is it true?’

‘Your ladyship may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.’

‘This is too much! Miss Bennet, I insist on an answer. Has my nephew made you an offer of marriage?’

‘Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible.’

‘It ought to be impossible, but your skilful charms may have made him forget, in a moment of foolishness, what he owes to himself and his family. You must tell me. I am almost his nearest relation, and I have a right to know his plans.’

‘But you have no right to know mine.’

‘Let me speak plainly. This marriage, which you dare to hope for, can never take place, because Mr Darcy is engaged to my daughter. His mother and I planned their marriage, when they were still children. They are an ideal couple, both from respectable, honourable, ancient families, with an excellent fortune on both sides. What can possibly divide them? The desperate ambitions of a young woman without family, connections or fortune? It cannot be! And I warn you, Miss Bennet, if you marry him, do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends. Your name will never even be mentioned by any of us.’

‘These are heavy misfortunes, but the wife of Mr Darcy must necessarily be so happy that she could not regret her marriage.’

‘Obstinate girl! Tell me, are you engaged to  him?’

Elizabeth could not avoid saying, after a moment’s thought, ‘I am not.’

Lady Catherine seemed pleased. ‘And will you promise me never to enter into such an engagement?’

‘I will make no such promise. You have totally misunderstood my character if you think I can be persuaded by such threats. I do not know whether your nephew would approve of your interference in his life, but you certainly have no right to interfere in mine.’

‘To all the objections I have mentioned, I add one more. I am aware of your younger sister’s elopement. Is such a girl to be my nephew’s sister-in-law, and bring shame on the ancient name of Darcy?’

‘You can now have nothing more to say,’ Elizabeth said coldly. ‘You have insulted me in every possible way.’ She rose, and started walking back to the house. Lady Catherine also rose, and walked with her.

‘Unfeeling, selfish girl! So you are determined to have him?’

‘I have not said that. I am only determined to do what in my opinion will bring me happiness, without reference to you.’

‘Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that you will ever achieve your ambition.’ When they arrived at her carriage, she added, ‘I send no compliments to your mother. You do not deserve such politeness. I am most seriously displeased.’

Elizabeth did not answer, and entered the house, while Lady Catherine drove away in her carriage. She had to tell a little lie to her mother to explain Lady Catherine’s unexpected visit and speedy departure, and then she shut herself in her room to consider what it all meant. Perhaps the Collinses had imagined, after the news of Jane’s engagement to Bingley, that Darcy might marry her. They must have told Lady Catherine, who had made a special journey to Longbourn in order to break off this supposed engagement. Elizabeth began to feel depressed. If, as seemed likely, Lady Catherine now went straight to London to talk to her nephew, she might easily convince him of the inferiority of Elizabeth’s social position. He would probably feel that his aunt’s objections, which to Elizabeth appeared laughably weak, contained much common sense. In that case, he might make up his mind not to marry her under any circumstances, and to keep away from Longbourn altogether.

The next morning, Mr Bennet called Elizabeth into the library. In his hand he had a letter, which he had just received. ‘Lizzy, I did not know I had two daughters about to be married. I congratulate you on a very important conquest.’

Elizabeth blushed, thinking that Darcy himself had written.

‘You seem to know what I mean, but I think even you will not be able to guess your admirer’s name. This letter is from Mr Collins, and he first congratulates me on Jane’s engagement, of which the gossiping Lucases have told him. Apparently the Lucases also think that my daughter Elizabeth might soon be marrying one of the great gentlemen in the country – Mr Darcy, in fact! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he have chosen anyone we know as a more unlikely husband for you? Mr Darcy, who never praises, only criticizes women, and who probably never looked at you in his life! What an admirable choice!’

Elizabeth tried to share her father’s amusement, but had never appreciated his humour so little.

‘He goes on to say that when he dutifully gave this news to her ladyship, she made many objections, and stated that she would never agree to the marriage. He kindly gives us this information, he says, to prevent his cousin Elizabeth and her admirer from rushing into a marriage not approved by their families. Well, Lizzy! What do you think of that? I do enjoy Mr Collins’ letters. And I am delighted the Lucases thought of Mr Darcy. His perfect indifference to you, and your strong dislike of him, make it so extremely amusing. Don’t you agree?’

Elizabeth had great difficulty in pretending to be amused by the letter. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly hurt her by speaking of Darcy’s indifference, and she began to wonder whether perhaps, instead of his seeing too little, she might have imagined too much.

In spite of Elizabeth’s doubts, however, Mr Darcy returned to Netherfield a few days later, and he and Mr Bingley came to Longbourn soon afterwards. Bingley suggested they should all go for a walk, and while he and Jane concentrated on their own private conversation, some distance away, Elizabeth found herself alone with Mr Darcy. Taking a deep breath, she said bravely, ‘Mr Darcy, I can no longer stop myself from thanking you for your extraordinary kindness to my poor sister. If the rest of my family knew of it, they would add their grateful thanks to mine.’

‘I had hoped to keep it a secret,’ he answered, ‘but if you must thank me, let it be for yourself alone. I shall not attempt to deny that wishing to give happiness to you was one of my reasons for helping your sister. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.’

Elizabeth was too embarrassed to say a word.

After a short pause he added, ‘You are too generous to play with my feelings. If you still feel as you did last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will prevent me from ever mentioning them again.’

Elizabeth forced herself to speak, and immediately, though hesitatingly, gave him to understand that her feelings had changed so considerably since that time that she was now grateful and pleased to accept his proposal.

When Darcy heard this, he was probably happier than he had ever been before, and he expressed himself as warmly and sensibly as a man violently in love can.

They walked on, without noticing in which direction. There was so much to be thought, and felt, and said. She soon learnt that his aunt had indeed seen him in London, after her disappointing visit to Longbourn. But unluckily for her ladyship, her critical comments and description of her conversation with Elizabeth produced exactly the opposite result to what she had intended. ‘It taught me to hope,’ Darcy explained, ‘as I had hardly ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew that if you had decided never to marry me, you would have admitted it to Lady Catherine openly and honestly.’

Elizabeth blushed and laughed as she replied, ‘Yes, you have experienced my honesty. After scolding you so rudely to your face, I was obviously quite capable of criticizing you to all your relations.’

‘I certainly deserved all your accusations. As an only son, I was brought up to be selfish and proud, and to consider myself superior to others. I would have continued like that if you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, had not taught me a lesson. I owe you a great deal for that.’

‘And I, how soon I thought better of you, when I read the letter you sent me! When I realized your description of events must be true, all my prejudices against you were removed!’

They talked of their unexpected meeting at Pemberley, which had renewed their interest in each other, of Georgiana Darcy’s immediate liking for Elizabeth, and of the engagement between Jane and Bingley. ‘I guessed,’ smiled Elizabeth, ‘that you had given your permission for their marriage.’

‘My permission! No! But I must admit I confessed to Bingley that I had made a mistake in supposing that your sister was indifferent to him, and I encouraged him to return to Netherfield to see if she still cared for him. I am delighted to hear of their engagement. He will be one of the happiest men in the world when he marries your sister. Only I shall be happier than him, when I am fortunate enough to marry you.’

Their conversation continued in this way, until they suddenly became aware of the lateness of the hour. They returned to Longbourn House, where they separated.

That evening Elizabeth could not help telling Jane her news. However, she almost regretted doing so, when she saw the astonishment on Jane’s face. At first Jane could not believe that her sister was engaged to a man she had so disliked, and she wondered if Elizabeth could really be happy with him. But when she had been convinced by Elizabeth’s explanations and promises, she was delighted, and congratulated her sister with all her heart.

The next day Mr Darcy came to ask Mr Bennet officially for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Mr Bennet also had to be persuaded that his favourite daughter could really be happy with such a proud, disdainful man. Only Mrs Bennet did not need to be convinced, although she was, most unusually, speechless with shock when she heard the news. When she recovered a little, she cried, ‘My sweetest Lizzy! How rich you will be! What jewels, what carriages you will have! Mr Darcy! Such a charming man! So handsome! So tall! I am so sorry I disliked him before. Ten thousand a year! Oh, my dear Lizzy!’

During the weeks of her engagement, Elizabeth was glad to see that all her family were beginning to appreciate Mr Darcy’s good qualities. Determined to protect him from her mother’s overfamiliarity, she was relieved to see that Mrs Bennet respected her future son-in-law too much to say more than a few words to him. In spite of this, Elizabeth looked happily forward to the time when she and Darcy would leave Longbourn and move to all the comfort and elegance of their own home at Pemberley.

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Mrs Bennet was a happy mother indeed on the day when she got rid of her two most deserving daughters. It may be guessed with what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs Bingley and talked of Mrs Darcy. Mr Bennet missed his second daughter very much, and greatly enjoyed going to Pemberley to visit her. Mr Bingley and Jane stayed only a year at Netherfield, before buying a large house in the north, only fifty kilometres from Pemberley. In this way, the two sisters were permitted their dearest wish, and were able to visit each other frequently.

Mary was the only sister who remained at home, as Kitty spent most of her time with her two elder sisters, which greatly improved her behaviour, character and intelligence.

Lydia and Wickham were always moving from one place to another in search of cheap rooms, and always spending more than they should. His affection for her soon became indifference, while hers for him lasted a little longer. They were not too proud to ask Lydia’s sisters for financial help during every crisis, and Elizabeth and Jane both sent them regular gifts of money to pay their bills.

Caroline Bingley was deeply offended by Darcy’s marriage, but she did not show her bitterness, and was always extremely polite to Elizabeth. Georgiana Darcy, on the other hand, became greatly attached to Elizabeth, and had the highest opinion of her. Lady Catherine, however, was so rude about Elizabeth to her nephew that he broke off communication completely with her for a time. In the end Elizabeth persuaded him to forgive his aunt, who eventually forgot her pride enough to visit them at Pemberley. There remained a close relationship between the Darcys and the Gardiners. Darcy and Elizabeth were both warmly grateful to the two people who, by inviting her to Derbyshire and taking her to visit Pemberley, had brought them together.

 

                                            The End